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This Is What Fate Feels Like

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Crowds of people were gathered together, talking and laughing, enthusiasm for their plans spent with family for Christmas the common topic. Winter had settled in, snow falling lightly, but no one seemed to care as they talked and laughed, looking forward to the next few weeks away from campus.

If Bruce were going home, he would not be as happy as he was now, though he didn’t show it at all. He stood far apart from everyone else, a bag slung over his shoulder, his eyes focused on the ground at his feet as he pretty much ignored everyone else. Not that any of them would talk to him. At Princeton, one couldn’t through a rock without hitting a spoiled rich kid, but even amongst those Bruce stood out in the crowd. After all, he was the last surviving member of the Wayne family.

He couldn’t help but hear a lot of the conversations around him, and it only made him wish that Tony would hurry up. Stark drove like a bat out of hell every time he got behind the wheel, but most of the time he still managed to arrive late to wherever it was he was going.

Hunching his shoulders against the chill while shoving his hands even farther into his coat pockets, Bruce couldn’t help but shiver. As he glanced up briefly, his eyes darted up once again at the all-too-familiar car making its way, rather cautiously, down the road toward the front entrance of the building. Bruce couldn’t help but smile as he began walking, stopping on the side of the road just as the car pulled up. He wasn't surprised to find that when he tried the door, it was locked.

Instead of opening the door for him, Tony jumped out of the car, pulling his sunglasses from his face in such a dramatic fashion, that Bruce couldn’t help his smile from becoming wider.

“Question, cupcake," Tony began, looking around at everyone with a look on his face that said 'I am better than all of you'. “Do you want me to come around there and open the door for you like a proper gentleman? Can I kiss you first? On the mouth? For a considerable length of time?”

Bruce shook his head. “Just unlock the door, Tony, so we can go.”

“Fine,” Tony said with mock exasperation. “But don’t think for a second that I am taking you away out of the goodness of my heart or in light of our friendship. I expect you to put out and I mean it.”

Bruce had to laugh at that as Tony climbed back into the car. The door was soon unlocked and Bruce through his bag over the seat and into the back, not caring that it fell into the backseat floorboard. He was just shutting the door, reaching for his seat belt, when Tony peeled out from the curb, nearly fishtailing into several other cars, laughing as they sped off.

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Chapter Two: Secluded

Tony had yet to let Bruce down.

He knew from past experience that when he came and picked Bruce up at Princeton, that Bruce wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t Gotham, wasn’t near any other major cities, or minor ones or towns, and where there wasn’t any people. Someplace where it would just be the two of them, no outside influence, no pretending, no having to be what people expected them to be.

He found the perfect place. A cabin so far off the beaten trail that Tony had doubts his car could make it up the dirt road. It was ill kept, full of ruts, brown, dead foliage so thick that it didn’t seem like a road in any sense of the word, brush scrapping the under carriage of the very expensive car Tony was driving that made both of them cringe constantly. But if the car got scratched, or if the undercarriage was damaged in any way, or if the tires and suspension suffered greatly, Tony didn’t care as long as Bruce was happy.

There was a gate, one with a chain and padlock on it, which Tony had the key to. Once the car was on the other side and the padlock once again in place, it was another 20 minutes to the cabin itself, mainly because Tony couldn’t drive over 5 miles an hour. The road from the gate to the cabin was worse than on the other side of the fence, and they really doubted this was a road at all because there was nothing but weeds, brush, and the ruts were so deep that at one point the car refused to move no matter how much Tony cursed and pressed on the accelerator, only to finally lurch forward violently. At another point the car was titled sideways, to Tony’s side, the noise of the bottom of the car scraping the ground making both of them wince.

For it to be so remote, the cabin itself was lovely and well kept. The man who owned it, a long time friend of Howard Stark, Tony’s father, said that he had come out a week before and made sure that everything was in working order, that the generator was full of fuel and there was some extra when they needed it, and plenty of firewood. How he had gotten to the cabin to check on all this was a mystery to Tony because the road looked like it hadn’t been used in ages, and the condition of it clarified that fact.

“He must have had a four-wheel drive vehicle of some type,” Tony wondered aloud as they gathered their belongings from the car and prepared to go inside. “Or there is a helicopter pad somewhere nearby.”

The cabin was made of logs, giving it a rustic feel, with a wraparound porch, complete with porch swing and a nice set of table and chairs on down toward the back on the left side of the porch, hopefully near the kitchen. It wasn’t a sprawling building, but it was large enough to be comfortable, so they wouldn’t be tripping over each other. Not that Tony minded, and he was sure Bruce didn’t either. They had been in smaller places for differing lengths of time, and most of them not as nice as where they were right now. Tree limbs, bare due to the season, hung over the cabin and Tony imagined that in the summer their thick foliage would provide ample shade.

Snow that had been falling in moderation, sometimes stopping altogether as they had made the journey up to the cabin, was beginning to fall with much more vigor, so they ran up the steps to the covered porch. As Tony fished around for the keys, knowing they were in one of his pockets somewhere, Bruce took the moment to look around. The wind was blowing much harder now, casting snow all around them, so the younger man huddled closer to the other, burrowing deeper into his coat against the harsh cold.

“It’s a good thing we got here when we did,” Bruce said, literally bouncing on his heels in an effort to keep some warmth in his limbs, which caused him to bump into Tony repeatedly, jostling his hand with the keys in it. “That road was bad enough without the heavy snow fall.”

“Yep, lucky us. I get the feeling that we are not going to be getting out of here for a while.” Tony smiled over his shoulder, the smile more impish than anything.

“I don’t mind,” Bruce answered, his smile a reflection of Tony’s. “And I wish you would hurry up and get the door open. Do you have a problem with unlocking doors?”

Tony pushed the door open wide and stepped aside, mock bowing and ushering Bruce in. “There you are, my lord. Is there anything else that you require?”

“Yeah. A fire and something to drink. Something strong, if you don’t mind,”

“You’re wish is my command,” Tony said with a flourish as he closed the door and locked the rest of the world out.

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Chapter Three: Comfort

The fire that crackled in the fireplace bathed the front of his body in warmth. The heat against his back, accompanied with the arm around his midsection, and the breath on his neck was comforting.

Instead of sleeping in one of the two bedrooms in the cabin, they had decided to conserve as much firewood as possible (since neither one of them new a thing about cutting it) and had dragged a mattress from the nearest bedroom and placed it on the floor in front of the fireplace. Combined with three blankets they had procured from both beds, there was no lack of warmth.

It had been snowing nonstop for three days and neither Bruce nor Tony were going to venture out into this weather. The snow had reached and was now covering much of the porch. They had enough food for a few weeks, if they were careful, more alcohol than they should have, and the only real worry was Bruce getting back to Princeton on time. Bruce didn’t consider this much of a worry at all. He wouldn’t mind it if he never went back. The idea of leaving had been a constant in his head for some time now. And since he didn’t want to go back to Gotham either, he had been taking into serious consideration going back to California with Tony. Tony certainly wouldn’t mind this, had even encouraged it in his not-so-subtle way, and it was becoming more and more appealing to Bruce as time went on.

Tony shifted behind him, mumbled something in his sleep, the only word Bruce was able to make out was “arc”, and tightened his hold around Bruce, pulling him even closer if that was even possible. Bruce couldn’t help but smile as he watched the firelight dance in the fireplace a few feet from where he lay. He realized with no uncertainty that in this moment he was more content than he had been in quite some time.

“Tony,” he whispered, turning his head just slightly. Tony’s arm that wasn’t secured around him was pillowing his head, the hand stretched out and hanging off the mattress. “Tony!”

“I love ya, sunshine, I really do,” Tony said, his lips brushing the skin right behind Bruce’s ear. “But unless you are waking me up for something very important, like a bear about to break in or you saw big foot out the window, or sex, then you and I are going to have words.”

“I want to go back to Malibu with you,” Bruce said and Tony was awake in an instant.

He sat up, dislodging Bruce’s head from his arm, and stared down at his friend. “You mean it?” Bruce nodded, turning over on his back, or as much as he could considering that Tony’s knee was keeping him from turning over all the way. “You know what that means, don’t you?”

Bruce nodded. “The media will have a field day when they find out. They will think that there is something going on. Probably see it as the proof to the rumors they are so fond of that we are more than just friends.”

“Neither one of us will be able to go out without being hounded.” Tony watched the firelight reflecting in Bruce’s hazel eyes, and he saw the light that was all Bruce’s own as well, directed at him. Fondness, of course, but so much more. And in truth, it rather frightened Tony just a little bit, not only because he could see it so clearly, but because he himself felt it so strongly. His father had told him once that he and Bruce were too close for what was considered proper. Well dad, he thought to himself, guess what?

“We will just have to go out together to make sure we keep our stories straight.” Bruce was smiling and Tony just had to smile back.

“Then its settled.”

“I just have to go back to Princeton, to take care of somethings and to drop out, and then…”

Tony didn’t let him finish that sentence. He didn’t need to. He literally pounced on the younger man, kissing him like there was no tomorrow, behind ecstatic that he would be able to go to sleep with Bruce there with him, and wake up to him every morning. As frightened as he was of the strength of his feelings for the other man, they paled in comparison to the giddiness he had at the thought of spending the rest of his life with Bruce.

And all was good, so very good, there in that cabin for 2 and half more weeks. It went from being a getaway to being practice for what was to come. To hell with the world and what they thought. After what they had been through in their lives, they deserved to be happy, and to be happy with each other.

Until Bruce got back to Princeton and found what was waiting for him.

They were going to release Joe Chill, the bastard who had murdered his parents.

And all their plans and promises to one another went straight to hell.

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Chapter Four: Inverted

It wasn’t right.

It wasn’t fair.

How could they let the man go who had murdered Bruce’s parents? It didn’t make a damn bit of sense at all.

Tony had spent a great amount of time at Wayne Manor. The only reason he had stopped spending time there was when Bruce went off to Princeton. He had loved it there, especially when Martha and Thomas has been alive.

Martha had been like a second mother to him, treated him like he was her own. Her and his mother, Maria, had been friends since they were teenagers. Thomas had been like a father to him as well. He had been kind, encouraging, patient, and understanding, all the things Tony’s father, Howard, hadn’t been. He always had something positive to say to Tony, no matter what, and usually coupled with a pat on the back, or a guiding hand on his shoulder.

Losing them hadn’t just been Bruce’s pain.

And now the bastard who had murdered them in cold blood was going to be set free. And it was all because the Gotham City Police department were too lazy to do their own damn job and put Falcone behind bars. Of course, Tony would wager that laziness wasn’t the only reason. If the majority of the cops weren’t in Falcone’s pocket, they were sure as hell in some other crime lord’s.

Bruce was beyond upset and he had every right to be. So, Tony suggested the only thing that he knew would have any chance of making his friend feel better, even though deep down Tony thought he had every right to be distressed.

“Pack a bag. To hell with Princeton. I am coming to get you. I am leaving right now.”

It took a few moments for Bruce to answer, and Tony had began to believe that he had been hung up on, when Bruce said in a soft, strained voice: “Okay.”

Tony was on his private jet and in the air in less than an hour. When the plane touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport, he got to the nearest car rental place and was on his way. It took him less than half an hour to get to the University and when he got there, Bruce was sitting on the curb, his arms wrapped around his knees and his face wedged into his kneecaps. Tony left the car running and climbed out.

“Hey, Sunshine,” he whispered as he knelt in front of Bruce. “Come on, babe, look at me.”

Seeing those hazel eyes so full of pain and tears broke Tony’s heart all over again, and then Bruce was in his arms, holding onto him so tightly as if he let go, he would drown. Tony held him back just as tightly.

After a few moments, Bruce pulled back, and Tony could clearly see the pain was slowly giving way to anger. “Get me out of here, please.”

Tony nodded and soon they were in the car and down the road. Tony hadn’t really planned out what they were going to do next, but this wasn’t anything new. They had winged it before, only this time they weren’t jovial about it at all.

They drove and drove, the freeway open and inviting. Bruce remained silent, staring out the passenger window, but his left hand was firmly secured in Tony’s right, as if Tony was his anchor. Tony could do that. He may have been as angry about this as Bruce, and as hurt, but there was a time for him to rant and rave, and now wasn’t it. He was whatever the younger man needed him to be and right now that was someone secure to hold on to.

When it got dark, Tony pulled into the first hotel he could find. He wasn’t a grand thing, and certainly not the kind of place anyone would expect two billionaires to hole up in, but they had done this before. Cheap lodging, questionable cleanliness, it was all part of their “slumming it” as they had began calling it the first night they had stayed in a shoddy hotel.

Tony paid for the room, requesting and getting one on the very end with no one on the side of them, and moved the car down in front of the door. Once inside, both stood in the darkness for a few moments. Tony could see Bruce well enough in the light from the hotel sign coming in through the window. Even in the low light, he could see a man reaching his breaking point, bending with the weight of such injustice. Tony didn’t know what to do to stop it, but he couldn’t let it happen. Someway, somehow he had to keep it from happening.

“Don’t,” Bruce said when Tony reached for the light switch. “Please, just… I can’t… Just…please…make it go away.”

“Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it. You know that, Bruce,” Tony said meaning every word of it.

When Bruce came to him, it wasn’t with the laughter and teasing that was their norm. The kiss was almost harsh. And while Bruce had never been very particular in their roles, 9 times out of 10, Tony took the lead, but this time it was utterly certain that he was not in control of this. He didn’t mind. Whatever made his friend feel better.

And it was rough and full of anger. Anger Tony knew was not directed at him, but at the world, every damn thing outside the door they had locked themselves behind. If it hurt just a little bit too much, Tony bit his lip and took it. He knew without any doubt that he would feel it tomorrow and Bruce would more-than-likely have regrets over that, but Tony didn’t care and he certainly wasn’t going to let the younger man fuss over him at all.

While forceful, it was still great sex, as was their norm in Tony’s opinion. And when it was over, while Tony was trying to regain his senses, they were snapped back into place when Bruce, after collapsing on top of him, began to wail. Not weep, but wail. Tears flowed, Tony could feel them on his shoulder, but the tears were accompanied by screams of anguish and fury. As Bruce buried his face into the pillow that Tony’s head occupied, the older man wrapped his arms around him, as tightly as he could without crushing his friend, and dug his hands into the back of Bruce’s shoulder with one hand and his ribs with the other.

They went to sleep like this, Bruce raging until he literally passed out, and only then did Tony allow himself to sleep. In the morning, when they woke, they were still pretty much in the same position.

Bruce lifted his head up and looked Tony square in the eyes, and while Tony should have been happy that his friend seemed so calm, it didn’t take him long to figure out that Bruce was too calm. Eerily calm.

“I need a gun, Tony,” Bruce stated.

A little voice in Tony’s head said ‘NO’, but he ignored it. Chill couldn’t be free while Martha and Thomas lay in the ground. It was wrong! It wasn’t fair! Tony didn’t even think about the repercussions. He didn’t even think about what shooting a man and killing him would do to the younger man. How it would ruin his life. He just thought of the injustice of that bastard Chill getting out.

“No problem.” Tony said and it was with great affirmation. After all, he was the CEO of Stark International, and they produced weapons of all shapes and sizes. But he knew just the gun that Bruce needed. It was the one in his father’s desk drawer at the home in Long Island.

Later on, Tony would realize the mistake he made. How wrong he was. But by then it was too late.

And if he had known that he wouldn’t see Bruce again for 7 years, he never would have let him go.

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Chapter Five: Waiting

He waited.

 

Tony sat in a chair in his home and listened to the news, eyes focused on the blue sky outside, and waited for the news.

He expected the newscaster to go into the tragedy in Gotham, and how Bruce Wayne had shot and killed Joe Chill outside the courthouse, was then arrested, and was being held without bail on murder charges.

But it never came. Instead, what he heard was that a woman, believed to be an associate (flunky) of Carmine Falcone, shot and killed Chill outside the courthouse. So, then where was Bruce?

Tony doubted Alfred knew about the gun, but he was still reluctant to call him,, not wanting to experience his anger or disappointment if he did know, but he had to know where Bruce was. He had to find him, tell him he was sorry, and glad that he hadn’t killed Chill. Beg him to come to Malibu, like they had planned, and everything would be okay, everything would be right, and they would be happy.

“Master Anthony,” Alfred greeted over the phone. He sounded…strained. He was the only person that tony knew that called him ‘Anthony’.

“Hey, Al,” Tony answered. Alfred used to always smile when Tony called him ‘Al’. “Do you know where Bruce is, by any chance?” Casual, admit to nothing until one has to, that was one of Tony’s rules.

The deep sigh on the other end of the line was not a good sign and Tony’s heart sank.

“Miss Dawes picked him up and took him to the courthouse. She said that after they left, they got into an argument and he got out of her car, and not in a very nice part of the city,” Alfred explained. Tony almost snorted into the receiver: what part of Gotham wasn’t a ‘very nice part of the city’. “She hasn’t seen or heard from him since, nor has he returned home.”

Tony took into consideration that Bruce could just be wondering around, trying to get his head on straight, but he doubted it. When push came to shove, Bruce had to do something. He was angry and hurt.

They talked for a few minutes more. Catching up so to speak. Once Tony hung up the phone, he thought about calling Rachel. He had known here for almost as long as he had known Bruce. Her mother had worked at Wayne Manor as one of the maids way back when before Thomas and Martha’s deaths. Tony, being the oldest, had led them around the estate and into trouble more than a few times.

But he didn’t. Instead he just sat back and kept waiting. Bruce would call him. Bruce would ask him to come and get him and then everything would be fine.

But he didn’t. He never called.

For 7 years, in various degrees, Tony kept waiting. Bruce was always on his mind. Was there when he woke up in the morning and there when he went to sleep at night, just as he should have been, just not physically. And that hurt very much.

Tony wondered if Bruce had even left Gotham. The thought that Bruce could be dead was a thought that resurfaced frequently and one that he fought against with all his might. Bruce had to be alive, somewhere, because if he wasn’t out there in this world, then Tony didn’t think he could live in this world without him.

Then the day came when Bruce Wayne was declared legally dead and Tony’s hope and world shattered.

He began drinking, more so than before, and doing things that suggested he no longer cared about what happened to him. Obadiah, Pepper, and Happy all expressed their concern, but he didn’t care, not anymore. All of them knew how much Bruce had meant to him, even if he felt there were times when he himself did not.

And then, one day, Tony was sitting in his garage located beneath his house, staring at the wall, feeling as if nothing else mattered, when Pepper came bursting in, a smile on her face so wide that he wondered if her head was about to split open.

“Turn on the news, Tony,” she exclaimed as she pushed the button on the remote control herself. “You have to see this! Oh my God, Tony. You’re not going to believe this!”

Tony was about to protest. There wasn’t anything going on that he cared to hear about and he was just about to express that, vehemently, when the woman on the TV said the words he never thought that he would hear again.

“The city of Gotham is in pleasant shock today at the return of their Prince. Yes, you heard me right, Bruce Wayne, after being declared dead just months ago, has returned to Gotham City.”

And everything changed again. But at the time, as light seeped back into his world and his heart seemed as if it were beating once again, Tony didn’t understand just how much change had happened or how much more was to come.

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Chapter Six: Homecoming

Bruce gave every impression that everything was fine. He gave the same reason to everyone for his absence, that he had been so angry and lost over what had happened that day, about Joe Chill being released and then killed, that he couldn’t deal with the stress. So, for the last 7 years he had been in a remote country, undergoing some ancient therapy, in other words: herding and caring for animals in a remote village on a mountain side. He had enjoyed it so much he had stayed an extended period of time. He hadn’t told anyone where he was because the village was not only unused to visitors, but there was no electricity. Not even running water, just a well and a bucket. He had found himself, found his inner peace, and was now ready to resume his role as CEO of Wayne Enterprises.

And he gave all the right impressions, smiled when he had to, answered all questions with patience, and exuded that ‘inner peace’ with his utmost ability.

But the truth was much different. A symbol. That is what Ra’s al Ghul had told him. Be a symbol. So he was going to do just that.

That wasn’t all on his mind, however, becoming that symbol of justice, of fear. He had left a lot of things behind 7 years ago. Alfred, Princeton, his home, but most of all, Tony.

Tony. For seven years, as he survived prisons, gangs, criminals that he watched and learned from, and then of course, the League of Shadows, during all that in all that time, his one regret had been not calling Tony and at least tried to explain to him what he had to do.

How many times had he dreamed of Tony and what their life would have been like in Malibu? How many times had those dreams been so vivid, so real, that when he had woken up and his mind and body had been in such shock that it hadn’t been real? How often had he just wanted to give up on his quest, and run back to Tony, beg him to forgive him, and just let them have that life that they had wanted? How many times had he come close to giving up, breaking down, crying his eyes out, his heart breaking, shattering, because he had wanted to be with Tony so much?

He had fought every step of the way to keep on his self-appointed mission. He had been a struggle in more ways than one, but he had persevered. He only hoped that Tony would understand.

The media he could handle. Shareholders he could handle. He met them all with the dignity of a Wayne, undaunted and sure. But the thought of talking to Tony after all this time frightened him. And he was afraid of seeing the look on his friend’s face, in his eyes, a look of disappointment and unforgiveness. If he was to see that look on Tony’s face, he didn’t think he could deal with it. Of all the pain and regret and frustration he had faced in his life, none would be worse than that. Having Tony be angry at him, hate him, would be as bad as the day he had lost his parents.

So, he avoided that moment as much as possible. As bad as he wanted to pick up the phone and hear that voice that he had missed so much, as bad as he wanted to fly to California and look into that deep brown eyes that had haunted him for 7 years, he was so afraid of what he would hear in that voice, what he would see in those eyes, he kept himself as far away from doing so as possible.

All of it had to be worth it. His cause, his need to do what was right, to make Gotham a better place, it all had to be worth it. He had given up so much. It couldn’t have all been in vain.

Even Alfred noticed, but didn’t comment. He hadn’t needed to. He knew how close Bruce and Tony had been, and while Bruce seemed to be struggling with the surety of that knowledge, Alfred wasn’t worried at all.

And as Bruce found out the night of his 30th birthday, he needed had worried either.

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Chapter Seven: Knowing

After all that had happened at Arkham Asylum with Dr. Crane, aka the Scarecrow, Bruce was really not in the mood to celebrate his birthday, and certainly not with people who he could barely remember from his youth, friends of his parents. The only thing that made him want to go was Alfred’s speech about upholding his family name and not dishonoring it. That and the hope that Alfred had invited Tony. While Bruce was still nervous about confronting his old friend, friend and so much more, he now wanted to see him more than anything.

So, he sent Alfred to take care of Rachel who had been given the antidote for Scarecrow’s fear toxin, and was as ready as he ever would be to join the party. He was going to talk to Lucius about making more of the antidote, because it was going to be needed, and then he was going to find Tony, beg for forgiveness, and then drag him off to another wing of the manor as soon as the other man would let him.

Of course, that wasn’t the way it turned out.

Ra’s al Ghul had shown up at his birthday party forced him to send away his quests in a fashion that would surely diminish him in the eyes of Gotham’s elite and thus tarnish his reputation and his good family name. He had to come to his home, a home that had housed his family for generations. And then it was all burning and he felt regret once again.

He had never even seen if Tony was there or not.

Alfred helped him get out of the burning destruction, down into the cave where his batsuit and the tumbler were. And then he was off to Arkham once again to fight convicts driven mad by the fear toxin, to rescue Rachel, and help Gordon.

The next morning, while reading in the paper that he had burnt down his house in a drunken escapade, Bruce secured his place at Wayne Enterprises and Lucius Fox’s as well.

 

Later that day, while planning how to move his gear and operation from the basement of what was left of Wayne Manor to a secret location in the area of the docks that he owned, Alfred entered the Penthouse, a slight smile on his face.

“Sir, there is someone here to see you,” he announced, rather chipper.

“Who?” Bruce thought that it might be Rachel, but when Alfred stepped out of the doorway and Bruce saw who was standing there, his breath caught in his chest.

“I will leave the two of you alone.” Alfred stated. He nodded his head to Bruce and then turned to his ‘guest’. “Anthony.” And then he was gone.

“Hey, babe,” Tony said from the doorway, a smile on his face, one that reached his brown eyes. He looked good. A little rough around the edges, and Bruce couldn’t help but blame himself for that, but he hadn’t changed much in 7 years. When Tony realized that Bruce wasn’t quite ready to talk, he went on: “I always thought that I would be the one to burn down my house. Not you.”

“I didn’t,” Bruce blurted out and then snapped his mouth shut. He and Tony had a history, one that he had with no one else, but he wasn’t sure where to start or what to say. But Tony did.

“Okay, some guy who you met while out and about for 7 years, came here last night, forced you to send your quests away rather rudely, and then burned down your house.” Tony took several steps into the room, looking around at everything before focusing back on the younger man. “And then you went and took care of all that mess at Arkham. I must admit that all the black looks good on you.”

“What?” Bruce was a little confused, although he had a feeling what Tony was saying to him.

“You. Batman. And don’t you dare try and tell me that it isn’t true, because I know it is.” Tony stopped when he was only a foot away from Bruce. “I know you. Even after all this time, I still do. I know your body and I know how it moves, even when you are enshrouded in blackness and Kevlar.”

“You aren’t mad at me?” There was still the notion that Tony should be.

Tony smiled, chuckled a little bit, and then his arms were around Bruce and Bruce was returning the embrace and he was breathing as if he had just learned how to again.

“I could never stay mad at you,” Tony whispered in his ear.

And Bruce knew at that moment that everything was going to be alright once again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Need

It wasn’t difficult for Bruce to figure out that Tony didn’t want to talk anymore. Yes, they would have to eventually, sooner rather than later. Bruce wanted Tony to know all the reasons why, what had happened to him these last 7 years, and about the Batman and just everything, but that would come tomorrow. Right now, he just wanted to re-familiarize himself with all the things about the other man that he hadn’t forgotten, hadn’t allowed himself to, and never could if he tried.

Alfred had disappeared. The man was smart, that was for sure. Though Bruce doubted that he would be happy to find the trail of clothing when he did return that stretched from one end of the penthouse to the other.

Tony seemed very determined, borderline aggressive as he finished divesting Bruce of what clothes he had left on before shoving him down, rather forcefully, onto the bed. The lights of the city shown through the uncovered windows, and though the Penthouse was the tallest building in the area, Bruce still felt sometimes as if he were being watched. And even though any other time that would have bothered him, right now he really didn’t care.

He welcomed the way the other man held him down, wrists gripped together above his head, pinned to the mattress. He did not shy away from the rough kisses, the demanding way Tony sought entrance with his tongue and then dueling belligerently with Bruce’s tongue. He only whimpered in arousal when the older man bit his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. It had been so long, so many nights of dreaming of being with Tony again, that he accepted the harshness willingly. In some way, he thought he deserved it.

And when Tony released his arms, telling him “Don’t fucking move” he did as he was told, though it was so very difficult. He wanted to touch, run his fingers up and down the length of Tony’s back, dig his fingers into his shoulders, leave half-moon marks in his skin, but he refrained and did as he was ordered.

Control. That was what this was. An exertion of control. If it had been anyone else, Bruce never would have allowed it. He had spent the time with the League of Shadows learning a great many things, but control over his mind, body, and his fears were lessons he had mastered above all else. It was kept him grounded in what he must do and kept him from going too far, from becoming what he had sworn to fight against.

Of course, there was no one else that he would allow to get this close to him. No one but Tony. Before he had isolated himself because of what had happened to his parents and he had lost all faith in the world. Now, he could not risk anyone finding out his secret, about his being the Batman. Tony knew his secret already, mainly because he knew Bruce so well, but even if he hadn’t figured it out on his own, Bruce would have told him. Besides Alfred and Lucius, Tony was the only other person in this world that Bruce trusted.

Even though Tony was anything but gentle as he prepared the younger man for him, Bruce still took it all with fervor, clenching his hands into fists, but keeping them above his head. And even when Tony thrust into him in one quick, violent lunge, his preparation not as thorough as in the past, Bruce moaned through the pain, dealt with the moments of discomfort before giving way to pleasure, a pleasure he had been longing for so long, one that he needed with such desperation.

When Tony began to pound into him, using his intimate knowledge of Bruce’s body, both inside and out, to essentially pummel his prostate with mind numbing accuracy, Bruce reveled in it. Wanting to laugh and cry, and make every noise he knew how to make and several more he was sure he could come up with, he dared move then, wrapping legs and arms around Tony, pulling him into a harsh kiss of clanking teeth and assertive tongue. Since it had been so long, and the pace was ruthless, neither one of them lasted very long, almost coming at the same time.

Tony literally collapsed on top of him. Bruce just held onto him, not wanting him to move away from him, rejoicing in the sensation of being complete and whole and happy and, finally, with the one person he had been convinced for quite some time that he couldn’t be without.

Bruce kissed Tony’s ear, his hair damp with sweat. Their breathing was slowly coming under control, the older man’s heart pounding against his.

“I hate to be the one to break this to you, pumpkin,” Tony exhaled into that area just behind his ear that drove Bruce crazy, “but you are going to have to let me go, babe.”

Bruce did, reluctantly, his legs falling back to the bed as if his muscles were made of jelly. Tony rolled over onto his back and both spent several moments just staring at the ceiling.

“Will you stay?” Bruce took a deep breath, his eyes closing.

“Yeah. Of course I will,” Tony answered, his hand finding Bruce’s in the dark, lacing their fingers together.

Bruce went to sleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Torn

The next morning was not what Bruce had hoped it would be.

When he awoke, he was alone. He got dressed, hoping that Tony hadn’t left, and went to look for him. If he had thought for one second that once he found Tony, he would wish he hadn’t, things might have turned out differently.

He could tell that something wasn’t right from the second he saw the older man. Tony’s back was to him, standing in the kitchen, drinking from a cup and judging by the smell, it was freshly brewed coffee. There was a tightness to Tony’s shoulders that Bruce knew was a sign he was not in a happy mood.

“I lied to you last night,” Tony stated, setting the coffee cup down on the counter.

“About what?” Bruce knew about what already, but it was best to get this over with as soon as possible.

“When I said I couldn’t stay mad at you.” Tony turned to him then and Bruce was taken aback by how much older Tony looked at that moment. “Hell, I’m mad at myself also, so…” He waved his hand in the air as if dismissing what he said, but Bruce pushed on.

“Why are you mad at yourself?”

“Because I gave you that fucking gun!” Tony shouted. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were pools of anger. “I handed you a gun and told you to go kill a man, with no thought about what would happen to you! You were my best friend and I was helping you throw your life away!” He calmed a little, leaning back against the counter, his eyes focused on some point on the island counter in front of him. “And then I waited. Waited for news that you had done it, but nothing came. Not about you. About some flunky of Falcone’s pulling the trigger. But still nothing about you. Not a damn thing for 7 fucking years and then you show up like nothing happened and still not a word from you.”

“I didn’t hear from you either,” Bruce stated, and he wished that he hadn’t.

“I wasn’t the one that everyone thought was dead,” Tony shouted. “I wasn’t the one who just disappeared without a trace! I was the one left here waiting for you, not knowing what had happened, or where you had gone, or if you were ever coming back. I was the one who laid awake at night with these thoughts in my head of you dead somewhere or dying.”

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Bruce began. He slowly made his way closer to the older man, like one would an angry animal. “I didn’t mean to – “

“And then you come back and what are you doing?” Tony wouldn’t let Bruce get too close. He moved farther away as Bruce moved closer. “You come back; you dress up as a giant fucking bat, and stalk criminals all night.”

“I am trying to save this city,” Bruce answered. He was getting a little angry himself now.

“Are you really? Or are you just trying to make yourself feel better? You can’t change the past, Bruce, no matter what you do. It is gone and there is nothing that is going to bring your parents back.”

“I can keep someone else from losing their parents. I can stop these maniacs from taking innocent lives.”

“How? By locking them up in Arkham or Blackgate. The whole system is fucked, Bruce. They are just going to get out again and kill more people and you aren’t going to be able to stop them all. You are just going to get yourself killed! And for what? This city? It isn’t worth it. And have you read the paper. They think you are a vigilante that causes more harm than good. Hell, you destroyed a great amount of the city with that tank of yours. If you die defending this city, do you think these people are going to appreciate it, or anything you do?”

“I am not doing this for accolades or recognition. I am doing this because it is right!”

Tony laughed, a bitter sound that made Bruce flinch inside. “Well, good for you, babe! Fighting the good fight. Hell, maybe you will start a trend and then every idiot with a purpose can take up the mantle and take justice into their own hands. You can have a club and you can be the president and you can rant and rave and maybe someone will care.”

“What do you know about having a cause?” Bruce snapped. “When have you ever cared about something that wasn’t beneficial to you? When have you ever been willing to sacrifice anything for something you cared about?”

Tony took a swaying step back. Bruce might as well have walked up to him and punched him in the gut. He regained himself in a moment, and, picking up his jacket, made for the door.

“Tony?” Bruce wanted to take it all back. He wanted to make everything alright again. “Please, Tony, don’t – “

Tony hit the button for the elevator and the doors opened almost immediately, cutting down what chance Bruce had to fix this. Just before the doors closed, Tony looked at him, a coldness in his eyes that Bruce had never seen before.

“You want to know the answer to your questions?” He was smirking bitterly. He slammed his hand on the elevator door to keep it from closing. “You. I cared about you and yes, you were beneficial to me. You kept me sane. You made me happy. And I would have sacrificed anything for you. You were the only person in my life that meant anything to me. And you left me alone and in the dark.”

He stepped back and the doors closed and Bruce was left alone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Regret

To Tony, it had all been one giant, irredeemable mistake.

He should have done things the easy way. He should have just called Bruce on the phone and talked to him. Maybe then things might not have turned out the way that they had. In a 12 hour period, Tony had treated Bruce horribly. And he hadn’t just done it once. Oh no, he had done it twice.

He had gone there angry and he shouldn’t have, and he had acted as if he wasn’t. He had gone on like nothing was the matter. And the first opportunity he got, he had dragged the younger man to bed. He hadn’t been gentle and he hadn’t regretted until he was on his private plane and on his way back to Malibu and then he felt like shit about it. How could he have treated Bruce like that, like he was some common, cheap fuck and not a man he had known practically his whole life?

There was a part of him that wanted to tell the pilot to turn the plane around, go back to Gotham, find Bruce, and beg for his forgiveness. But the other part of him, the spoiled, stubborn brat, wanted to return to Malibu and stew in his anger.

Did he really have a right to be angry? Yes, Bruce and he had planned to settle down in Malibu and live out their lives together, to hell with everyone else and what they might have thought about it. But something terrible had happened, something that had made Bruce see that he had to do something to make a difference in the world, to help other people, to help those in need. Bruce didn’t want anyone else to go through what he had gone through, and instead of sitting around on the beach, wishing he had done something, maybe regretting it later on, he had done something. Who was Tony to say that if ever found himself in a certain situation, that he wouldn’t do the same thing?

But Bruce could have told him. He could have called him, wrote him a letter, or sent a postcard … something. As close as they were, as much as they cared about each other, and meant so much to one another, Bruce could have at least told him that he was leaving, that he had something to do, something he had to figure out. Tony would have understood. Granted, he wouldn’t have liked it. He would have wanted Bruce to go away from him, would have tried to talk him out of it, and would have offered to go with him.

Truth of the matter was that Bruce was all he had. He had Pepper and Happy and Obadiah, yes, but they were all like family, Pepper and Happy his siblings, and Obadiah an uncle, a father figure in the absence of Howard. But Bruce had been – still was – the one person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, wanted to hold each night, and wake up with each morning. Bruce was and always had been his cornerstone, the one constant and true thing in his life. Bruce understood him on levels that no one else did or ever could. Bruce’s voice was the voice he longed to hear, the smile that all he had to do was image and everything didn’t seem so bleak or hopeless. Just knowing that he was there, alive in the world, made it worth getting out of the bed in the morning.

And he had just left Tony, stranded in this world all alone.

It hurt. It had hurt like hell for 7 years. Why shouldn’t he be angry? Why shouldn’t he still be upset? Tony had thought that the one person who meant everything to him was gone and he had spiraled out of control. Drinking, woman, doing stupid, crazy things, all because he had thought that his shattered heart would never recover, not without the one person in the world who could fix him.

In the end, he did not tell the pilot to turn around. He wanted to – desperately – but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Fool, spoiled brat or both, he didn’t know, but he was sure that no matter what, he had ruined the one perfect and beautiful thing in his life.

And there was no going back from that. Not now.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Diligence

Going on with his day to day life was what Bruce had to do, even though sometimes it was as if he were living in a daze. Going through the motions was something he was becoming very good at.

He went to meetings at Wayne Enterprises. Sometimes he gave the impression that he wasn’t really paying attention: sleeping at the conference table, staring out the window as if bored, or engrossed on whatever was on the screen of his phone (which usually was nothing). Walked around the building as if he owned the place (which he did), smiling and talking to whoever he happened by. Most of the time, he sat in his office, staring out into space, wondering what had gone wrong.

The only time he was truly himself was at night. After the parties and dinners and all the shows he put on, going out as Batman, fighting crime, keeping a watchful eye over Gotham, that was when he was the most at ease, but it was also the time his mind went over things more.

He had thought that he should call Tony and many times he swore that he would the next day, but he never did. With Ra’s al Ghul dead and the Scarecrow locked up in the very asylum he had worked at, the criminals that Batman dealt with were your run of the mill. Sure there were still some dirty cops and Gordon dealt with them mostly, but out on the streets, in the darkened alleyways and abandoned buildings, Batman took care of the bad element. One night, when Batman met Gordon on top of the GCPD building, the newly installed ‘bat signal’ alerting him that he was needed, Gordon made the statement, jokingly, that Batman was bringing in criminals faster than they could be processed.

He stood over the city, gazing down upon it from up high while cloaked in the night, and he knew - knew that he had done the right thing. As much as it pained him to know that he had hurt Tony, it was the sacrifice he had had to make to become what he had needed to in order to protect this city, to become the Batman so he could strike fear into those that wished to harm Gotham and those that called the city home. It was a high price to pay, and he shouldn’t have expected Tony to understand, but deep down he had hoped that the older man would have understood.

Alfred knew there was something wrong. Lucius did also, though he didn’t speak of it or ask about it. Alfred did and Bruce told him what had happened that night with Tony. Not all of it, of course, but about the argument.

“Not that I approve of Anthony’s handling of the situation,” Alfred began after Bruce told him, “but can you blame him for feeling…left out, so-to-speak? Granted, I was worried also, but I know how close the two of you were – still are in spite of what has happened – and knowing the way you feel about one another, can you honestly fault him for feeling the way he does?”

He thought that if he could just explain everything to Tony. Sit down with him and tell him everything that he needed to, then maybe, just maybe, Tony wouldn’t be so angry with him anymore. If he could just make the other man see why, try to make him understand his reasons and feelings, fears and beliefs, then they could work this out, get around it, and go back to the way they were before. Bruce was responsible for this. How many payphones had he passed while escaping Gotham that night? How often over the weeks and months that had followed had he found himself in a position to contact Tony, and let him know that he was alright and what he was doing? But he hadn't, and why, because he knew if he did, if he picked up a phone and dialed that number, Tony would have asked him to come back, and he would have done it. Abandoned his quest for foolery and gone running into Tony's arms.

Bruce knew deep in his heart that there wasn’t any way for them to go back to the way they had been before. Both of them had changed over the years, and Bruce was certainly a different person now, as well as Tony. Bruce knew that even if he hadn’t gone away, if he had gone to Malibu instead of out into the world that they both still would have changed. That was inevitable, but they would have changed together, grown together, and learned each other anew every day and would have known one another on all those levels, and done it all as one.

But the changes that had happened had happened while apart. And, in some ways, they were like strangers now.

 

“Should I talk him?” Bruce stated, looking to Alfred and his wisdom for answers.

“Love is a complicated thing. Sometimes it is best to just give it space and let time deal with it. Tony will come around, you’ll see, Master Bruce, because as angry as it is, and as much as both of you are hurting right now, he still loves you. I just needs a good swift kick in the pants to remember it.”

And Tony got one alright, but it wasn’t exactly the ‘swift kick in the pants’ that anyone had been wishing for.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: Battered

When Tony had left for Afghanistan, waking up with tubes in his nose and connected to a car battery had never even blipped on his radar. But they sure as hell were now.

Once he got up, moved around, got his head wrapped around all that had happened to him and what was happening to him, and his brain kicked into overdrive, a plan fell into place. Well, actually, several plans.

The first was to get out of here, out of this cave, away from these murderous bunch of bastards that wanted his missiles so they could murder some more people, and then out of the desert and back home. That involved several other plans, all which did not have anything to do with him building missiles, but a metal suit, with weapons of his own to use against these terrorists that were holding him captive and making demands of him, and the ability to fly.

He replaced the arc reactor in his chest with one more suitable, more power for both his heart and the armor he was going to build. It would be days, weeks, hell, maybe even more, of work, but he was determined and a genius and he had too much left to do before he kissed this world goodbye. Tony Stark was not going out like this. If those bastards outside thought he was, then they sure as hell had another thing coming.

So he worked. He built a forge, and just like in medieval times, he pounded away on the metal to shape it and mold it. He found that in spite of the situation, it was relaxing really, to work like this. To make something without so much technology, without a machine doing all the work for him. And his mind drifted to other things he could make, and those thoughts took on other shapes, the most dominate being things that were shaped like bats.

Oh damn! Bruce!

His first thought after this realization was that now Bruce knew what he felt like. Granted, Tony doubted he would be missing for 7 years, but no one knew where he was or if he was alive, so Bruce would have some idea of what Tony had gone through.

But then he felt guilty about that. Those years that Bruce had been away, the darkness, the despair, the unknowing, Tony wouldn’t wish that on anyone, and most certainly not the man he loved.

Loved? Tony stopped his hammer swing midway, staring into the hot coals. Had he just heard himself right? Of course he had. It wasn’t something he didn’t already know. He had known it since he was 19 years old, that he loved Bruce, loved him more than anything or anyone. That was why it had hurt so much, but had it hurt because he had missed the one he loved, or had it hurt because the one he loved didn’t love him enough to let him know what he was going to do?

At that moment, it didn’t matter, not anymore. He had been and idiot, a fool, and now he might never get to the chance to say he was sorry, to beg for forgiveness, to tell Bruce how he really felt. How could he have let it happen? When had he become such a jackass?

That was when another kind of determination set in. One that drove him past his limits in both physical and mental. He was going to get out of here. He was going to live. One way or another, he was going to make it back home and then he was going to do whatever it took to make things right, to make them better.

“That is quite a friend you have there,” Yinsen stated coming as close to Tony as the fire from the forge would allow. Tony just glanced up at him in confusion. “I am talking about Bruce Wayne. He stated in a press conference this morning that he would spend his whole fortune just to see you safely returned home because he knows you are alive, even if your American government does not.”

Tony didn’t say a word. He just put his head down and pounded the metal harder. And if the tears that slipped down his cheeks and dripped onto the heated metal, evaporated into tiny billows of steam on the metal, then they only made it – and him – stronger by doing so.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: Undoubtedly

When Alfred woke Bruce up that morning, a little earlier than usual, and told him that Tony had been found and that he was on his way back to California at that very moment, Bruce was ecstatic. He had known that Tony wasn’t dead, had felt it down in his core, and knowing that he was on his way home, safe and sound, was music to Bruce’s ears.

But he understood now.

Sure, the circumstances were different, and though he and Tony hadn’t spoken since that night nearly a year ago, Bruce knew when and where Tony usually was. Pepper made sure of that. She talked to Alfred at least twice a week, and told him everything he needed to know to keep Bruce abreast of what Tony was up to. So, he had known that Stark had been going to Afghanistan to sell the military his latest weapons. He had not known, however, what would happen to Tony while there.

He knew, though, now what Tony had gone through the 7 years Bruce had been gone. A taste of it, a hint of it, and while it had only been a short time comparatively to the Tony had gone through, it was enough to make Bruce realize why the older man had been so upset. It was enough to let him know that he didn’t like it, didn’t want to go through it again.

Pepper had called to give Alfred the news. She had also told him that she would call as soon as the plane bringing Tony back landed.

Bruce watched the press conference where Tony basically shut down his weapons making department, much to the obvious dislike of Obadiah. Bruce knew the man, had met him briefly years before, and while he seemed to care for Tony, there was just something about him that Bruce couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Stark Industries stocks would take a nosedive, that was for certain, but Bruce was proud of Tony for doing it. He also had to wonder what had happened, all of what happened, not just what he told the media, to make him abandon what had made his family a fortune.

Unfortunately, if Bruce had even momentarily thought about taking his plane to California to see Tony, to talk to him, to see for himself if he was alright, it was quickly taken out of his hands to do so.

Between the crime bosses he and Gordon were trying to take down, the new DA, Harvey Dent, and now this new criminal in town who called himself ‘the Joker’, there was no way Bruce could take the chance of leaving the city, not even for one night.

He just hoped that there would be time before it was too late. He wanted to see Tony, to tell him he was sorry for what he had put him through for all those years.

When Alfred brought him the phone, a smile on his face, Bruce looked at it in his hand for a moment before taking it. Bruce hadn’t been back for very long, back in Gotham, after going to China to bring back the mob’s money launderer, and delivering him into the hands of Gordon. He had been sitting here, trying to make up his mind what to say to Tony when he did talk to him, trying to find the words that would make things right again. He watched Alfred leave the room, those words still eluding him, as he put the phone to his ear.

“Tony?” A whisper, barely. He couldn’t seem to get his voice to do anything else at that moment.

“Hey, babe,” Tony stated, and Bruce almost let out a sigh in relief. For hearing Tony’s voice, not laced with anger, and the familiarity of the word ‘babe’. “So, Russian ballerinas.”

Bruce sputtered with an answer, the one he wanted to give, the truth, was on his tongue, but not something he could spell out on the phone. Tony laughed. “I know. You can tell me all about it later on today.”

“Later on today?” Bruce repeated the words, slowly, as if absorbing them, to make sure he had heard right. “You’re coming here?”

“Yeah,” Tony stated, his voice soft, full of…something. “We need to talk, cupcake. About a lot of things.”

Bruce nodded, then realized Tony couldn’t see him over the phone, and smiled to himself at his foolishness. “Yeah, we do. I want…I need to tell you…everything.”

“There’s a few everythings I need to tell you, too.” Tony sighed on the other end of the phone, and Bruce knew in that moment that things were going to be alright. “So, it’s a date.”

Yes, it was.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Meeting

When Bruce went to pick Tony up at the airport, he was surprised when Pepper met him on the runway where the private jet was sitting. It had been quite a while since he had seen her, the last time she had been a freckle-faced wisp of a girl. Now she stood at the foot of the steps to the interior of the plane, professional and cool, having grown into a very lovely young woman.

“Bruce!” Her face broke into a wide smile as she hugged him. “I was afraid I was going to have to deal with Tony on my own there for a while.” She pulled back and looked Bruce square in the eyes, her features serious, and her tone severe. “I was not looking forward to it.” She then proceeded to grip his arm very tightly. “Don’t do that again.”

Bruce was glad she was so formidable. She would have to be. “I promise. I won’t.” He stifled a laugh, but couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face.

Her eyes sparkled, but she kept her face straight and stern. “Tony is on the plane. He chased everyone out. I sent the pilot to get some lunch so Tony wouldn’t kidnap you.”

“Thank you,” Bruce told her before making his way up to the plane.

The steps seemed to go on and on, stretching out before him, but when he stepped foot onto the plane, and his eyes met deep brown, and that moment of truth was before him, there was a brief moment when running away seemed like a good option.

But instead of running away, he found himself moving forward, and then Tony was in his arms, and he was being embraced back, and he clenched his jaw tight to keep it from quivering. They stood there in silence, and in an undetermined amount of time, it could have been minutes or hours, and just felt the distance that had been there melt away and become as minuscule as the nonexistent gap that was physically between them.

And so many things came rushing back to him at that moment. Tony smelled the same he always had. It wasn’t a scent that he couldn’t put a name to, just Tony, and it brought back memories of lying next to him in a bed in some place or another, just being together, and believing that they always would be. It was a scent that would linger on his skin for days, one he had always been reluctant to wash off. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed it until this moment, and now he never wanted to miss it again.

He had suppressed so much over the years. Buried so many memories because if he hadn’t, he would have easily lost focus on what he had to do. Though there had been times when those memories had grounded him, given him an escape into a world that he had left behind, and a time when he had been happy, he had known that to dwell on them too much would have weaken his resolve. They reminded him that he could have very easily gone on like nothing was wrong, like there was nothing he could have done to make things better or right, and could have let Gotham fall to the League of Shadows or whoever else had come along. He could have been in Malibu with Tony, content and oblivious, uncaring as to an entire city’s fate, while he enjoyed the life that he had wanted to have so badly.

But would he have been able to live with himself? Would he have known what he knew now, or just ignorantly went through life, not caring what happened to who and why? Sometimes, he thought that would have been preferable.

Bruce felt the warmth of Tony’s body and more memories came to the forefront. So many nights spent surrounded by that warmth, sometimes the only source of heat that he had. Feeling the other man’s breath on his neck, his heart beating…

There was something different. Something not quite right.

He pulled away from Tony, only just enough to gaze down at the other man’s chest. He had felt metal and pulsating hum. It had vibrated through his body.

“Tony?” Bruce looked up into his eyes and saw so many things there. Things that were familiar to him, but other things that weren’t.

“There’re some things I need to tell you, and show you, cupcake.” Tony tapped the center of his chest, and the sound was not one of flesh and bone. “Something you gotta know, so brace yourself, babe.”

Bruce did. It didn’t help much.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Everything

 

Bruce could only stare in mute silence as he looked at the glowing blue circle on Tony’s chest. He listened in stunned silence as Tony explained everything, starting with the attack on the Humvee convoy, onto waking up in a cave, Yinsen, what the terrorists wanted, and up to building the armor that he had to escape, and then being found in the desert by Roddy and his team.

“So, a miniature version of my father’s arc reactor. Not bad really, considering that most think that it will never work.” He tapped the arc reactor with his knuckles. “Of course, keeping my heart in working order and powering an electromagnet to keep tiny bits of shrapnel from killing me isn’t what ol’ Howard had in mind, but at least it is good for something.”

Bruce reached up and gingerly touched the arc reactor. It hummed under his fingertips, sending a vibrating pulse through his hand and up his arm. It was beautiful, to say the least, and mainly because it was what was keeping Tony alive. He kept thinking in that moment how close he had come to losing this man forever.

“Hey,” Tony said and Bruce drew his eyes up to meet the other man’s. “I am showing you this, telling you all of this, for several reasons here. The first is because I trust you. And the second, and most important reason, is because now I understand. Or, better yet, I am ready to understand. If it is one thing I learned while in Afghanistan, it was sometimes you have to do what is right, no matter what.” He reached up and cupped Bruce’s cheek, his thumb rubbing circles at the corner of his mouth. And then, he dropped his hand, stepped closer, resting his forehead against the younger man’s. “I want you to tell me everything. I don’t want you to leave anything out, unless you feel you absolutely have to, but I wish you wouldn’t hide anything from me.”

So, Bruce did tell him everything. That day at the courthouse, his conversation with Rachel, and then his meeting with Falcone. What that man had said had been what had drove him out of Gotham and out into the world. About the time he spent stowed away on the ship, and where he had ended up. Having to steel food to survive, the criminals he aligned himself with, how he stole only his own property, prison, and finally Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows. Dr. Crane, the fear toxin, and now the Joker. Every thought, every belief, everything he had done, or thought, or felt. He left nothing out. He held nothing back.

When he was finished, he sat and waited for Tony’s reaction. The older man hadn’t said a word the entire time. Finally, Tony sat forward and took Bruce’s hands in his, lacing their fingers together.

“I am so sorry,” Tony began, his voice soft. “Sorry for what I said to you that day and how I treated you,” He shook his head intensely when Bruce opened his mouth to speak. “No, hear me out. I know you want to try and take some of the blame on yourself, but it is all mine. I have cared for you, but if I had been a friend to you, then I would have tried to understand that day, instead of doing what I did. You are the last person in this world that I want to hurt, but I did it anyway because I was selfish and all I cared about was how I felt and what I had been through. I know now that it wasn’t an easy thing for you to do, being gone so long, and I understand now why you didn’t tell me what you were going to do. I would have fought heart and soul to talk you out of it, but you wouldn’t have been able to live like that. You wouldn’t have been able to live with me or yourself. As much as I hate that you had to do it, I am proud of you for doing it. You’re a helluva lot stronger person then I am.”

“You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for,” Bruce said, staring down at their hands still joined together. He looked up at Tony, a smile on his face. “You’re here. In spite of everything you went through, you’re here. You came back.”

“I had a very good reason to,” Tony admitted, returning the smile, and Bruce knew what he meant.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: Inspiration

By the time they were through talking and working things out, it was nearing sundown. Bruce looked out the window and barely managed to hold back his grimace. He didn’t regret his decisions, but the day had gone by so fast and Tony was still here. He had hoped that they could have at least had dinner; Alfred had been dressing up a pot roast when he had left to meet Tony, and it was more than likely done by now.

“I heard from J.A.R.V.I.S. that there was a very unique spotlight here in Gotham,” Tony began, glancing out the window himself. “On top of the GCPD building, I believe he said. When it projects up into the night sky, it looks an awful lot like a bat.”

Bruce chuckled. “Gordon’s idea. He doesn’t have any other way to get in touch with Batman. I hadn’t thought he would want to, but…” He shrugged, turning his attention back to the other man. “Tony, I – “

“Have to go. I know.” He followed Bruce as he stood. Before Bruce could turn to go, however, Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Listen, stay safe, alright. And if you need me for anything, any reason at all, I’ll come running. I mean it, so don’t be a stubborn ass, alright?”

Bruce smiled at him, touched by the sentiment. There was one thing about Tony that many probably wouldn’t believe: he didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep, at least not to Bruce. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’d better,” Tony stated, his tone mock-scolding, but his face set in a very immature pout. He then closed the distance between them, took Bruce’s face in between his hands and kissed him. It was soft and telling, close-mouthed, and still passionate. Bruce appreciated it because anything else would’ve made it even harder for him to go. “When you call it a night, call me.”

Bruce nodded, kissed Tony again quickly, and then left.

Tony watched him go. It took every ounce of his willpower not to call out to Bruce, not to ask (beg) him to come back, but he understood now why Bruce did what he did, and part of that, he realized, was letting him do it and not trying to hold him back. He desperately wanted to though. As he always had, but hadn’t been able to, he wanted to build a dome of protection around the other man, keep the outside world from causing him any more pain and grief. It was part of his nature to want to do whatever he had to do to protect those that he loved from everything and anything, even though he knew that he could very well be one of those things.

And then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit him. Suddenly, so many things became clear, and his mind began working, calculating. He could help. In some way, yes he could.

The suit of armor he had built in that desert cave.

With a little more work, refining, he could make something of it. Something better. Something faster. Something stronger. Something he could use to protect the one person in this world he wanted to more than anything. Power it with the arc reactor like before, only with this arc reactor, which would keep his heart beating for decades beyond a normal life span.

His brain began formulating, mapping out the designs, literally inventing technology that no one was close to inventing yet. Pathways in his brain, running just as fast as a supercomputer. It was all coming together. Yes, he could do this. And he could build it and make it work and put it to good use.

When Pepper found him, he was still standing there, staring off into space.

“Tony, is everything alright?”

His head snapped up and his eyes met hers and he began to smile. “Of course, Pep. Everything is great. We need to get home. We need to get home now. Where’s the pilot?”

The man appeared in the entrance way. “I’m here, sir.”

“Get us in the air as quickly as possible and then pilot your heart out. I have to get back to Malibu ASAP.”

“Yes, sir. Right away.”

Pepper watched the pilot enter the cockpit and shut the door and then turned back to Tony. He had already walked away, was pacing in the back of the plane, mumbling to himself. As soon as they were given the all clear, she told Tony that he needed to take a seat and buckle in. He did so, still muttering, in one of the seats in the very back. Pepper took a seat up front, wondering what her boss was up to now.

By the time they reached California, Tony was literally shaking with excitement. He wanted to get started as soon as he could, and the plane wasn’t going fast enough, and his brain was working overtime, but he was excited about his plan.

He knew it would work. And for the best. He would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: Rapport

Bruce had wanted to inspire. He had wanted to give the people of Gotham hope. He hadn’t expected men to show up in the underground parking garage where the Scarecrow was meeting with a mob drug dealer wearing hockey pads and carrying guns.

The Tumbler provided the necessary distraction so he could sneak around in the shadows and take the men out. Scarecrow almost got away, but he took care of that. But not before one of the mob guys had let loose the Rottweiler dogs he had hidden in the back of his SUV. Batman had faced down men with guns a plenty, but it had been a dog that had brought to light the weakness in his armor.

After a run-in with a concrete pillar, he had recaptured Scarecrow and left them, the mob members he had caught, and the gun-carrying copy cats for the GCPD to take care of and made a quick exit.

Once he got to Wayne Tower, (pretend) slept through a meeting with Lau, a definite money launderer for the mob, he approached Lucius Fox about upgrades and changes for his armor.

“You want to be able to turn your head,” Lucius stated with a smile as he looked at the designs Bruce had drawn up.

“Would make backing out of the driveway easier,” Bruce said, and for some reason his own words reminded him of Tony. It sounded like something the other man would have said.

“I understand you know Tony Stark,” Lucius asked. Almost as if he had read Bruce’s mind.

“Nearly all my life,” Bruce admitted.

Lucius nodded. “I knew his father, Howard. Worked with him and for him from time to time before coming to Gotham.”

“I didn’t know that,” Bruce said.

“Hmm. Yes. Brilliant man. I understand his son is even more so.”

“Tony didn’t inherit his intelligence from Howard Stark, but he did learn a lot from him and his work.” Bruce began walking with Lucius out of the conference room.

“Howard never mentioned that he and Maria had adopted their son, though there wasn’t any reason for him to. Not to me, anyway.” He folded the sheets of paper with Bruce’s designs on them, and put them in the inside pocket of his suit coat. “I will get started on this right away.”

“Thank you, Lucius,” Bruce said, shaking the man’s hand.

“By the way, how is Mr. Stark? I couldn’t imagine being held captive in a cave by terrorists is good on a man.”

“Actually, he seems to be doing alright.” Bruce had thought about talking to Lucius about the arc reactor. Though it kept Tony alive, he couldn’t help but wonder if there were any residual effects from having something like that imbedded in one’s chest. But Bruce wasn’t sure how much Lucius knew about the arc reactor and didn’t think that discussing it in the hallway of Wayne Enterprises in front of the elevator was a good place to do so. “Tony is…resilient, to say the least.” Bruce had to smile at the truth of that statement.

“It’s a good thing that he is, and I am glad he is doing so well, all things considered.”

Once Bruce was back in his office, he sat down behind his desk and looked at all the files waiting for him to look over and/or sign. Of course there were other things that he wished he could be doing, things that he felt he needed to be doing, but his duty to the company was important, and he couldn’t leave it for others to handle all of the time.

He glanced up from a file to see the message light on his phone blinking. Thankful for the distraction, he pushed the button to listen to the message.

“Princess!” Tony’s voice came out over the speaker. Bruce rolled his eyes at the nickname and sighed. “Listen, I have been thinking. Well, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, because I am always thinking, but I mean, I have really been thinking about some of the stuff you said yesterday and I now I have this…thing in my head that I can’t get out. I am trying to get it out, and it is coming along really well, but it got me to thinking that maybe I could help you out if you need it. I mean, with stuff. You know, like …stuff. Because the truth is I worry about you. I am concerned for you.” There was silence for a moment. “I don’t want to be without you again, and certainly not in a way that guarantees I will never see you again or hear your voice or so many other things I would miss about you.” He sighed. “You know what? Just… (sigh). Just ignore this. Really. I am rambling and kind of scattered at the moment and just be careful, okay? I can’t… I just… Alright. I should…go. Stop. Whatever. I…I mean, you should know… Bye.”

Bruce sat there; staring at the phone long after the message was through, wondering what the hell that had been about and what Tony was up to.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: Mission

Tony Stark had one mission.

Well, actually, he had a few missions. Several. More than one.

The first was to get his project done. The suit of armor that he was designing and that he and J.A.R.V.I.S. was building was going to be beyond anything anyone else on this planet could imagine. That wasn’t surprising to him since he was, more-than-likely, the most intelligent and brilliant man on this planet. So, of course he would come up with something that was beyond what was technologically available.

The second was all the gadgets and gizmos that he had dreamed up, designed, and produced for the Batman. He had J.A.R.V.I.S. compile two files. One was for Bruce. Every newspaper article, ever picture, even the ones that he had found in his dresser or a box in his closet, all scanned in, and neatly situated on his computers. The second file was for the Batman. J.A.R.V.I.S. had been strictly ordered to display everything said about the Bat over the Gotham airways.

He watched Gotham news more than he did California’s. He read their papers and had J.A.R.V.I.S. recite any newspaper articles about the Bat, and Bruce for that matter, and then store them in the appropriate file. At one point, J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him that he seemed to be obsessed with Bruce Wayne and the Batman.

“Damn right I am,” he informed the AI.

J.A.R.V.I.S. knew that Bruce was the Batman, and he also was privy to him and Wayne’s relationship and how much he meant to Tony, so the AI was more or less teasing him.

Gadgets and gizmos, however, was not all that Tony was working on for the Bat. Not by a long shot. What few photos there were of Batman were fuzzy, out of focus, and distorted. He wished he had taken the time to go to the Batcave and see the armor for himself. He wanted to know everything about it, see it up close, and, with no insult to Lucius Fox, see what he could do to make it better. He wanted it to be the best, strongest, most reliable armor that he knew Bruce would wear, because it was protecting someone who meant an immeasurable amount to Tony.

Tony also knew that the Tumbler, as Bruce called it (Tony called it the “batmobile” much to Bruce’s chagrin), was designed and built by Lucius Fox. He knew because Fox had tried to sell it to the military, but he had a minor flaw in the bridging technology so the military had backed out.

He also suspected that Lucius Fox also had a hand in the Batsuit, or whatever it was called. So, Tony figured that the person he should talk to was Fox.

His secretary, or assistant, put Tony right through to Mr. Fox, who answered rather quickly.

“Mr. Stark. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.”

“Mr. Fox,” Tony returned. “I don’t mean to just call you up out of the blue, since we have never met.”

“Actually, we have,” Lucius stated, a smile in his voice. “But you were just a child when we did.”

But Tony did remember, suddenly. “You worked with my father.”

For you father, actually. For many years before finding my way to Wayne Enterprises and Thomas Wayne, Mr. Wayne’s father.”

“Howard and you didn’t see eye to eye, if I remember correctly,” Tony said, all of it coming back to him quite clearly now.

“Difference of opinion is what your father put on my walking papers,” Lucius said with a laugh. Truth be told, Tony believed that Mr. Fox had ended up at a much better place and he was glad that he had, for more than one reason. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your phone call? Or do I need to ask?”

Smart man, Tony thought. “I would like to offer my services, as in my technology, to a mutual friend of ours.” J.A.R.V.I.S. had informed Tony that the line was secure, but one could never be too cautious. “I haven’t spoken to him about it yet, but I can help him out.”

“That would be most welcome, Mr. Stark.”

“Tony, please.”

“Very well, and I,m Lucius. It would be a great help, Tony. I, as well as our mutual friend, would be most grateful for anything that you can do.”

Tony smiled. He was looking forward to this.

Because, for some reason, he felt he needed to build up to his other surprise. He wasn’t really sure how Bruce was going to handle it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: Significant

Lucius had called Bruce that morning as soon as he had gotten into his office.

“There’s something you need to see, Mr. Wayne,” Lucius began, a smile in his voice. “A new arrival to our R&D division.”

Bruce took his private elevator down to the basement of Wayne Tower, the R&D department, to meet with Lucius and see the new item, which could only mean that Mr. Fox had finished the new armor for Batman.

“This is incredible, Lucius,” Bruce stated, eyeing the new armor. It was perfect, just what he had wanted and designed, but only better. Not only would he be able to turn his head, but he could tell that his movement would be less restricted. It reminded him of actual armor: there was even areas that resembled chainmail. “Thank you.” He said with all earnest.

“Oh! Don’t thank me, Mr. Wayne,” Lucius stated. His eyes were twinkling and the smile on his face was one that he was trying to keep in check, though he was partially failing. Bruce looked at him in confusion. “Thank your boyfriend.”

“My –“ And it dawned on Bruce at that moment. “Tony? Tony did this?”

Lucius nodded, still smiling. “He called me yesterday, asked if there was anything he could do to help you, so I sent him the designs you had given me and less than 24 hours later, this was delivered.”

Bruce look at the armor again, this time it looked different than it had just moments ago. Now that he knew that Tony had been the one to make it, for him, it took on a whole other meaning to Bruce. That Tony wanted to help him, wanted to protect him, moved Bruce, and made him realize that he had been kind of a jerk these past few months.

“I should have gone to see him when he came back from Afghanistan,” Bruce said, more to himself than Lucius. “I should have taken the time. I should have been there waiting for him when he got off that plane.” Bruce ran his fingers along the armor absently. “I should have called him when I left Gotham. Told him what I was doing and why. Taken the time to explain to him.”

“Why didn’t you?” Lucius took a seat on the desk.

“Because as much as I care about Gotham and its people, I care about Tony more.” He turned his head to look at Lucius. “As much as I am willing to sacrifice for the good of this city, it is nothing compared to what I would sacrifice for him. In all honesty, I would watch Gotham burn and crumble to nothing if it meant keeping him safe. And I knew that if I called him that night, he would have asked me to stay, not to leave, and I would have run to him and forgotten all of this if he had. So, I knew I couldn’t call him, couldn’t talk to him.” He turned back to the suit once again. “And that is exactly why I didn’t go see him when he came back.”

“Because if you had…?” Lucius prompted.

“I might not have come back here,” Bruce admitted. “My resolve in protecting Gotham is firm, except when it comes to Tony.”

“He doesn’t realize the power he has,” Lucius commented, folding his arms over his chest.

“No, and he never can know.” Bruce wiped at his eyes before slipping his hands into his pants pockets. “If he did, he would use it, because he doesn’t think Gotham is worth saving.”

“He doesn’t think that Gotham is worth saving when it comes to sacrificing yourself to do so,” Lucius corrected. “He doesn’t believe it is worth you, but yet he makes you armor, damn good armor by the way, to make sure your safe.” Bruce smiled, though it was laced with sadness. “Maybe he understands you and why you are doing what you are, more than you think he does.”

Bruce nodded. “I guess he and I have some things we need to work out.”

“It would be for the best.”

Bruce considered himself fortunate to have the people in his life that he did. Alfred and his wisdom. Lucius and his guidance. Tony and…just everything Tony.

Before leaving to return to his office, hoping the day would end quickly so he could test his new armor, he turned to Lucius.

“And, just for the record, I prefer the term ‘significant other’.”

That made Lucius laugh.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: Crashing

Tony’s decision to crash Bruce’s party for Harvey Dent and his, future, campaign was one that was guided by opportunity. No, he didn’t have any business getting involved in Gotham politics, but he and Bruce had been so busy the last few weeks, that the need to talk to the other man face-to-face was driving him nuts.

Also, there was something he wanted to tell Bruce, something that he didn’t think he should tell him over the phone.

Iron Man.

The suit worked perfectly. Though his first flight could have gone better, he had worked out the problem of the suit freezing in higher elevations. He had tested it. Gone back to the area he had been held captive in, and taken out several men who were terrorizing men, women, and children, and even taken out a tank. Then he had been chased by a couple of Air Force jets, rescued one of the pilots when he had inadvertently taken out one of his jet’s wings, had an interesting conversation with Roddy, but all-in-all, things worked out pretty well. They could have been a lot worse.

Now he wanted to share it all with Bruce. He wanted to see the look on Bruce’s face when he told him, explained how he had inspired him to do something.

He had thought to just fly up and land on the balcony in his armor, but after careful thought (and persuasion by Pepper), he decided that Bruce might not appreciate that.

He got there before Bruce did. He stood back by the bar, surveying the crowd. Rachel walked in the new District Attorney, hanging onto his arm, so there was no question about how she felt about her boss. She saw Tony, smiled at him, and then excused herself from Dent to come over to him.

“Tony! How are you?” She hugged him, a warm, tight hug of old friends. “It has been so long.”

“I’m good, all things considered,” he told her, considering Afghanistan. “How about you?” He nodded toward Dent who seemed out of place. For a DA, used to standing in front of a courtroom full of people and the media, he didn’t seem too comfortable in a room full of Gotham’s rich and mighty.

“I’m wonderful, actually,” she said cheerfully. She glanced over at her date. “He isn’t used to all this money in one place. He is kind of scared.”

“I can tell,” Tony stated, downing the alcohol he had just been handed by the bartender. “He screams ‘I want to be somewhere else’.”

“Brue insisted,” she explained with a small shrug of her shoulders. She met his eyes, her smile still in place. “He is going to be happy you’re here.”

Tony knew that Rachel knew that Bruce was Batman. It was a secret she kept out of friendship and love. She also knew how much her two childhood friends meant to each other.

He will be at first, Tony couldn’t help but think, but kept that thought to himself. “Go. Don’t leave the poor man by himself for long. He’s like a bucket of chum waiting to be dumped to the sharks.”

Rachel left him with a laugh. Tony downed another drink and was just about to call for his third when Bruce’s helicopter appeared and landed on the private helipad connected to the Penthouse. Out stepped Bruce, with 3 young women who hung all over him. For an instant, jealousy flashed in Tony. Not because he expected Bruce was stepping out with either or all of these women. He knew Bruce better than that. Bruce couldn’t take the chance of anyone finding out that he was Batman, so these girls were in for a disappointment later. No, Tony’s jealousy rose from the fact that he couldn’t walk into a room full of people with the man he loved, not without causing a media storm and financial fallout for both of their companies. It wasn’t fair, and it bothered him immensely, but there was nothing for it. At least, not now.

Bruce’s eyes met his, twinkling when they did, and then he turned his attention to Harvey Dent. The speech he gave the crowd was one that Tony found amusing, just the kind of speech someone with money would give. Then it was over and the party was on the way. Bruce took a glass of champagne from a tray offered him, his eyes met Tony’s again, and then he turned and left the crowd, going out on the balcony.

Tony took his drink, winded his way through the crowd, trying to avoid the people he knew, old money and all, and joined his friend.

“I loved that. Really I did,” Tony stated coming to stand beside his friend. He noticed that Bruce’s glass was empty and knew that the expense champagne had been poured out over the balcony instead of being drank. He looked at his glass, sighed, and did the same with it. “I wonder if he is bright enough to realize the joke.”

“I hadn’t meant it as a joke,” Bruce said, staring out over the city. “It’s good to see you.”

Tony smiled, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He had to in order to keep from reaching out and touching the other man, gathering him in his arms, giving all those people inside something to talk about.

“There’s something I have to tell you.” He figured he should just get it over with. Come out and tell Bruce all about the armor and Iron Man and everything, but he didn’t even get a chance to get another word out.

Because all hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: Clown

Suddenly Bruce was moving, with a purpose. Tony tossed his empty glass over his shoulder and followed.

“What's going on?”

Around they went, avoiding people, until they came to the spot where Rachel and Dent were standing, talking, out of sight or hearing of the party going on in Dent’s honor. Dent’s back was to them, but by the look on Rachel’s face, the conversation was a serious one. Rachel glanced over Dent’s shoulder, saw Bruce and Tony, but before she could say a word, Bruce grabbed the DA from behind in a choke hold. The man struggled but to no avail, and Bruce began dragging the unconscious form to the nearest door.

“What are you doing?” Rachel asked in shock.

No sooner were the words out of her mouth, then there was a commotion from the main room where the party guests were.

“They’re after him,” Bruce said in the way of an explanation. Tony really wished he hadn’t poured out the liquor. “Stay hidden.”

As Bruce took off, gunshots echoed from around the way.

“Where is Harvey Dent?” A voice asked as screams from the women in the crowd issued forth. Rachel moved, going toward danger and not hiding from it like Bruce had told her to do, and Tony had no choice but to follow her.

“Okay, stop,” Rachel said as she entered the room.

There was something seriously wrong with the guy, that was for sure. Tony had never seen anyone outside of a circus or a child’s birthday party with clown makeup on, and this guy certainly would scare the living daylights out of any kids if he showed up at their party.

Tony was an adult and the guy was giving him the creeps. He was definitely adding clowns, especially gun-carrying ones, to his list of things to avoid.

The clown (the guy must be the one Bruce had called ‘The Joker’, Tony realized), grabbed Rachel, holding a knife to her face. There wasn’t anything Tony could do without getting someone, including himself, killed by just walking out there after Rachel. So, he did the only thing he could do.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., deploy,” he said, backing up out of sight and following the route that Bruce had.

“Right away, sir,” was the AI’s answer.

Tony followed the hall, finding several men with clown masks on the floor unconscious and a shotgun that had been dismantled. Going on around, the hallway opened up into the bedroom, where a man and a woman were standing at the foot of Bruce’s bed. The comforter was ruffled. Both looked shocked and perplexed before even noticing Tony.

“That’s just rude,” he said, waving a scolding finger at them. “You see Mr. Wayne?”

“Yeah,” the woman said. She pointed to the wall. “He has a panic room. He just went in there, alone, leaving us out here with whoever is shooting to fend for ourselves.”

How badly Tony wanted to correct her, but he didn’t have the time, and nor could he tell her exactly why she was wrong. “J.A.R.V.I.S., can you get that panel to the safe room open?”

“Of course, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S.

The panel opened and Tony slipped in. Just as the panel was sliding closed, he heard the rude woman shout “Hey!”, but he ignored her. The room was empty, save for Bruce’s suit that he had been wearing. That obviously meant that either he was running around naked (and Tony took a moment to picture that because quite frankly it was a sight to behold and one he had fond memories of) or he had a Batsuit tucked away in here just in case. ‘Always be prepared’ had taken on a different meaning then it had in their younger days.

There weren’t any windows, of course not, so Tony wondered how he was going to get in his suit if it couldn’t get to him without making a really large hole in the side of Bruce’s penthouse wall.

“Sir, might I suggest going out the way that Mr. Wayne did. I can bring your suit in through the open window.”

“Great.” Tony went through the panel opposite the one he had entered, finding himself in a dim hallway. The window that was open must have been the way Bruce, or better yet, Batman, had gone out. Tony could hear the muffled sounds of more gunshots and screams.

“Mr. Wayne has joined the party,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated and Tony wondered if a reprogram was in order.

“Then let’s crash it,” Tony stated as his armor joined him in the hall.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two: Skyward

Tony had just rounded the corner. Just in time to see Rachel slide out into the open air. Before he could even get his thrusters going to send him in that direction, Batman flew out of the shattered window and dived after her.

He knew Bruce was crazy, but this was a new one on him.

Batman caught her in midair, and then spun around. Tony had no idea what the Bat intended to do now that he had caught their frightened friend. The only thing down below to break their fall was a car and that would hurt.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., tap into the Bat’s communication device.”

“Yes, sir,” the AI answered. “Done, sir.”

“Bruce, take your grapple gun and aim up.”

“Tony?” Bruce said, his voice even and without a trace of fear given his current predicament. Tony heard his name repeated by Rachel, only much more shrill and full of panic.

“Just do it!”

They were running out of open air, the car, and concrete looming below. Batman twisted, holding Rachel securely against him with one arm as he used his free hand to do as Tony instructed. The grapple shot up into the air, and Tony dived, catching it, wrapping the rope around his metal covered wrist a few times. Rachel and the Bat’s fall ended, jerking them to a stop at the end of the rope. Batman had the grapple gun gripped tight in his hand, looking up at what had caught them. Tony couldn’t see his face, so he couldn’t read his expression, but he hoped it wasn’t a bad expression.

“Hang on,” he said and propelled upward, his thrusters easily carrying the weight of himself and two other people as he did so.

The nearest building that was higher than the other in the area, and Tony made sure they were safely down before he landed himself. He unraveled the rope from his wrist and handed it to Bruce, while Rachel looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. Bruce – Batman – was looking at him also, but he couldn’t read the look on his face. Mainly, because he couldn’t see most of his face because of that damned cowl.

“Tony?” Rachel finally stated, taking a few steps closer to him.

“Yeah,” he said, clicking his tongue, and shrugging as best as he could in the metal suit. “Are you alright?”

She nodded and then turned back to the Bat. “Thank you. Both of you.” She looked back from one to another. “I am going to take the elevator down, if it is all the same to you. I need to go check on Harvey.” Heels clicking on the stone of the roof, she opened the door and disappeared.

Tony watched her leave, thinking she was handling all of this pretty well, and then turned back to find Batman’s eyes still pinpointed on him.

“I was going to tell you, but then you just took off and assaulted Gotham City’s District Attorney and stuffed him in a closet,” Tony explained. A little humor couldn’t hurt anything – right?

Batman just stood there, all dark and menacing, shrouded in that cape, silent and Tony was starting to think that something bad was about to come of all of this, that Bruce didn’t approve, and this wasn’t going to be a happy ending at all.

“That was you in the Middle East that took care of those men in that village?” Finally.

“I am so going to make you a voice modifier,” Tony stated, removing his helmet. “Talking like that has got to be doing some damage to your vocal cords, babe.” It was a little strange calling Batman ‘babe’, but he could get used to it. “And yes, it was me.”

“Why?” That was Bruce’s voice, not the Bat’s. “Why do this?”

“I was inspired,” Tony admitted in a soft voice.

Bruce sighed, shaking his head, but Tony could see well enough to see that there was a smile on his face. “I have to go and talk to the police. Make them think I was knocked out somewhere. Once they are gone, come back to the Penthouse. Okay?”

Tony nodded. “Sure.”

Bruce took one step toward him, and then stopped. Hesitating for just a moment, he turned and jumped off of the building. Tony walked to the edge and watched him glide back around the Penthouse to the open window.

“I have to ask him how he did that,” Tony said out loud before donning his helmet and taking off.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three: Commitment

Bruce was waiting for him when he arrived. The younger man watched as the Iron Man armor retracted before settling into a compact form, and setting itself up against the wall behind his Batsuit.

“Impressive,” Bruce stated. “I mean that. It really is.”

“Thank you,” Tony said, beaming. “I could build you one if you want. Change the chest plate and the helmet of course, make it lighter and quieter, and paint it black.”

“It’s tempting,” Bruce admitted.

“I’ll build you one and then you can decide if you like it or not,” Tony stated. “Or, better yet, you can take that one for a spin if you want.” Tony motioned to the armor. “Fly to wherever and back. You’ll love it, I guarantee it.”

“That’s tempting also, but later.” Bruce turned his full attention to Tony. “We need to talk.”

Tony wasn’t sure if he liked the sound of that, but he followed Bruce anyway. He wondered if Alfred had made coffee, or made anything for that matter, or if there was some liquor left from the party. He was anxious to see what kind of mess the room the party had been in was in, given all the shots fired when the clown and his gang barged in, but apparently he would have to wait on that. Bruce didn’t lead him back to there. He led him to the bedroom.

“I think a couple made out on your bed before the party crashers broke in and disturbed them,” Tony commented. He noticed that the bed looked unrumpled, very different then it had the last time he had seen it.

“Yeah, I know.” Bruce said with a smile. “Alfred already changed it.”

“Oh. And why are we here?”

“The rest of the place is kind of a mess,” Bruce said, and Tony felt a little let down. “Besides, I figured we would just end up here anyway.”

“And we are going to talk in here?” Tony doubted he would be much involved in this conversation, considering what Bruce had just said.

“Actually, I don’t feel there is anything we need to talk about,” Bruce said while removing his tie and suit jacket. “You’re Iron Man. I’m Batman. You take out terrorists around the world and I beat up criminals here in Gotham. What more needs to be said?”

Tony knew that there was more to be said, eventually, but he sure as hell didn’t care what it was right now. He was not about to turn down what the younger man was clearly offering just to talk.

“Are you going to come over here and help me,” Bruce began, standing next to the bed, his tie, and jacket on the floor next to him. “Or are you just going to stand there and make me take my clothes off myself.”

That spurred Tony into motion. While he did enjoy watching Bruce strip down to his skin, there were times when Tony was compelled to help him along. Now was one of those times. He crossed the room, coming up to Bruce, stopping literally just inches from him. “It’s a shame those two people aren’t still here,” he commented as he pulled Bruce shirt free from his pants and then began to deftly work on the buttons. “We could show them the proper way to rumple up a bed.”

The smile that Bruce gave him was wide, bright, and full of warmth. He brought a hand up and buried it in Tony’s hair at the nape of his neck, and then drew him into a kiss. It was deep and profound, and made Tony’s knees shake and a certain part of his anatomy stand to full attention.

“I swear, if that bat signal suddenly lights up, I am going to go and destroy it,” Tony swore. “I’ll build you another tomorrow.”

Bruce laughed. “I’d let you.”

With the addition to a few scars, some bruises, and an amount of muscle that he hadn’t possessed before, Bruce’s body was exactly how Tony remembered it from before. All the same spots were there: the ticklish ones that made him flinch away when touched, the sensitive ones that made him moan, and the special spots that made him gasp and writhe in pleasure. All of these Tony knew by heart, in the dark with his eyes closed. He knew Bruce’s body like the back of his hand. He had spent hours mapping it with fingers, lips, and tongue, testing and teasing every inch of flesh, memorizing every reaction and movement and sound that the younger man made. The scars added new sensations, were a new learning experience, being as how they were sensitive to touch. Tony spent several moments with each, kissing, licking, and even nibbling on them, storing in his memory all the responses to everything he did produced. The bruises he took care with, not wanting to cause any more pain than what had inflicted the bruises.

His fingers traced every curve of muscle and bone, his lips savored the warm, soft skin, his tongue tasted a flavor that he had missed so much, beads of sweat and just the simple essence that was Bruce, and his teeth left marks that would fade in time, but were in places no one would see, places that were part of Bruce, but were all Tony’s own.

The first time that night, Bruce fucked him senseless, just for old time’s sake. The second time, an hour or so later, sleep still having not found them, they had sex like they were strangers and paying for it. When sleep did find them, it didn’t stick around for long. Tony woke Bruce up in a way he used to every chance he got, swallowing him down, feeling his cock grow to full hardness in his mouth before assaulting it with tongue and teeth. The last time, just as the sun was coming up over the city, Bruce woke him up, and they made love like lovers, soul mates, kindred in every way possible, and then some.

All in all, it reminded Tony that this, being with Bruce in heart, mind, soul, and body, was all he ever wanted.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four: Adored

Tony was trying to figure out exactly what part of Bruce he liked best. As he stared at the other man, who was still asleep, laying on his stomach, arms and legs all askew, naked except for the sheet covering his upper thighs, his face buried in his pillow, Tony decided that he would have better luck deciding which part of Bruce he didn’t like, which was easier for the simple fact that there wasn’t a part of Bruce he didn’t like.

Fuck it, he said to himself. He loved - loved - every gorgeous inch of the man.

He loved the small of his back. The space between his shoulder blades. His neck. His elbows. The spaces behind his knees. He loved his collarbones, jaw line, and Adam’s apple. He loved his hip bones, and his thighs. He loved his nipples, and his whole chest area really. He loved his naval. Hell, he loved the entire area surrounding his naval. He loved the line of hair that trailed down just below his naval, leading the way to the thick nest of hair that surrounded his cock. And it was a good idea for him not to even get started on how much he loved that part of the other man. He loved the dips in his back, just above his ass. He loved his ass (Tony laughed at that), and he swore that he could probably bounce quarters off of it. Maybe even silver dollars. He really wanted to find out if he could, but he didn’t have either coin on him, or in his pants which were…somewhere.

As much as he loved the back view of Bruce like the one he was enjoying right now, he really wanted him to turn over so he could enjoy the front view.

He really did hate waking Bruce up. The man probably didn’t get enough sleep considering he was out every night, almost all night, patrolling the city, and beating up bad guys and stopping crimes, but Tony was needy, very needy. In fact, his need was beginning to stir and wake up, damn near standing up and saluting.

“Bruce,’ he whispered. And then, with a smile on his face, slapped the other man – hard – on the ass.

Bruce’s head jerked up and he turned sleepy eyes on Tony. “What the hell did you do that for?”

“To wake you up,” Tony said and then proceeded to do the exact same thing to the other cheek. He couldn’t help but grin at Bruce’s grimace. He also enjoyed his hand print that so clearly stood out on the other man’s pale skin. “You are going to walk around naked all day.” He commanded.

Bruce scoffed. “Like hell I am.” He buried his face back in his pillow.

“You used to do it without me even having to ask,” Tony reminded him. He felt quite sorry for abusing Bruce, so he decided to make it better by rubbing the red hand marks, which led to squeezing, which then made him want to bite.

Past experience with Tony had taught him a thing or two. “If you bite me on my ass, I am going to punch you in the jaw,” Bruce said, his voice muffled by the pillow. “I mean it, Tony. Don’t do it!”

“Oh, come on! Just a little nibble.” Tony was pouting. He wasn’t trying to hide it. “Please!”

Bruce snorted. “I know you, Tony. It will start out as a ‘little nibble’ and then the next thing I know, there are indents of your teeth on my ass and I’m going to be cringing every time I sit down, hoping no one will notice when I do.”

The argument was settled because at that very moment, Alfred came strolling in bearing a tray of coffee, orange juice, and bacon and eggs and sausage, all for two.

“Good morning you two,” he announced, setting the tray down. Tony was mock glaring at the butler. If he’s had just 2 more minutes, nibbling might have been in his future.

“Morning, Alfred,” Bruce said, pulling the sheet over him as he turned over and sat up. Tony’s lower half was already covered, which was a good thing, for several reasons.

“Hey, Al,” Tony stated, not wanting to sit up and not doing so.

“Anthony,” Alfred said without missing a beat. Tony couldn’t help but visibly cringe. Alfred had won this round.

“As soon as we are done with breakfast, I need to go to my temporary Batcave and do some work.” Bruce looked over at Tony. “Want to come with us?”

“Sure.” Tony didn’t miss Alfred’s smile as he left the room. “Can we shower first? After breakfast, of course.”

Bruce gave him a suspicious look. “Together?” Tony nodded enthusiastically. “Alright. But you still aren’t biting my ass.”

Tony’s pout had no effect whatsoever on reversing that decision.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five: Burn

“Targeting me won’t get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn’t go down easily but this is different. They crossed a line.” His eyes were fixed on the news broadcast on the screens in front of him.

The space was large, but the only things occupying it were computer screens, a few tables, the Tumbler (which Tony was very interested in), and spare parts, including tires, for the vehicle. It was brightly lit, all concrete and secure. Tony had not expected them to enter in through a shipping container in the Wayne owned area of the docks. Safe and sound, and that was a very good thing.

“You crossed that line first,” Alfred began and Tony spun in the chair he was sitting in to glare at the man’s back. “You squeezed them, hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation they turned to a man they don’t fully understand.”

“What choice does he have, Alfred?” Tony inquired. “If he sits and does nothing like the majority of the people in Gotham, then these men run rampant. There are some instances where subtlety is futile.”

“And what about this man? This Joker?” Alfred turned his attention to Tony.

“Everyone has a reason for doing what they do,” Tony answered.

“Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred.” Bruce flashed Tony a smile, one full of appreciation. “We just need to figure out what he’s after.”

“With all due respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man you don’t fully understand either.” Alfred was adamant when he set his mind to it.

“He’s a psychopath. How much more is there to understand?” To Tony it was all cut and dry.

“A long time ago, I was in Burma and my friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of local tribe leaders by bribing them with precious stones, but their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anyone who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.”

“So why steal them?” Bruce was listening intently, which was a good thing to do, so Tony did also.

“Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just wanna watch the world burn."

“There still has to be a reason, right?” Tony began, standing up out of the chair. “Even mad men don’t just wake up one morning and decide that they are going to kill as many people as they can, destroy as much as possible, without motivation of some sort. Something had to push him, drive him, to become what he is. There has to be an explanation somewhere as to why he does what he does.”

“That may be true, but we may never know that reason,” Alfred said with a shake of his head, walking away.

Bruce had opened the receptacle holding his armor and gadgets, and was now standing there, just staring at it. Tony joined him.

“Everything work as it should?” He asked.

Bruce nodded, a smile teasing on his lips. “You did a marvelous job, Tony. Lucius called it ‘out-sourcing’.”

“It isn’t that I don’t trust Mr. Fox. The man is brilliant, but I just had to make sure…” Tony shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pants pockets.

Bruce turned to him. “Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

Tony chuckled. “It means a lot to me, too.” He admitted. His eyes met Bruce’s. “Because it is protecting what means even more to me.”

Bruce then moved closer and leaned in, kissing him firmly. Tony sighed, and returned the affection.

“If you two are going to be doing that all day, I’m going back to the penthouse,” Alfred said loudly from the other side of the room, his voice echoing in the large space.

“Maybe you should!” Tony shouted back as Bruce chuckled. “Though,” he began in a much quieter voice, almost a whisper. “There is a lack of reliable flat surfaces in here. Unless you count the floor and that doesn’t scream comfort to me.”

“Sorry. When I supplied this place, I wasn’t thinking about bringing in things that were both convenient for working space and sturdy enough to have sex with you on.”

“Well, that will teach you,” Tony said, walking away back to his chair.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six: Support

The Joker had struck again. He had left 2 men, one’s last name Harvey and the other’s last name Dent, in an apartment on Eighth and Orchard. While Bruce went to meet Gordon there to see what he could find out, Tony augmented Jarvis to the computers in the temporary Batcave.

This made everything a bit easier. When Bruce returned with a brick containing a fragmented bullet, it didn’t take them long to set up the rail guns to try and find a caliber match. If it was one thing Tony knew, it was weapons. Once that was done, Jarvis had no problem creating a holographic image of the bullet and finding the fingerprint on it that Bruce had suspected.

“From when he pushed the bullet into the clip,” Bruce said as he watched the image. “Can Jarvis search for a match for the print?”

“Ask him,” Tony said. At the look on Bruce’s face, he gave him a scolding look. “Just ask him.”

“Jarvis, can you find a match?” Bruce seemed a little reluctant to ask. Tony had to chuckle.

“Of course, sir,” Jarvis responded. Not a minute later, the AI said, “Since the fingerprint is only a partial one, I have come up with 4 possible matches. However, only one is near the area where the parade in honor of Commissioner Loeb is, sir. One Melvin White. 1502 Randolph Apartments. He has a record for aggravated assault, and has been sent to Arkham twice.”

“Bloody hell,” Alfred swore, though he was smiling. “You weren’t lying when you said Jarvis would make things easier.”

“I’m going to go check it out,” Bruce said. Opening a secret panel, he went inside and pushed a motorcycle out.

“Want me to go?” Truth was, Tony didn’t like Bruce going to a place where there was more than likely to be gunfire without his Batsuit, but it was broad daylight and he didn’t really have a choice, except to let Tony go.

“No. I can handle it.” Very matter-of-fact.

Jarvis tapped into the news crew cameras that were covering the event. Bruce had told Tony that, as Batman, he had talked to Gordon and they had come up with a plan. Tony was able to manufacture a vest for Gordon that would withstand a high caliber bullet, but make it look like he had suffered a fatal blow, leaving everyone, including the dirty cops in the GCPD, believing that Gordon was dead. Bruce had explained the entire plan to him, and it was a sound one, but there were a lot of unknown variables and Tony really hated those.

When Bruce returned, failing to mention that he had been shot at due to a perfectly timed (with an actual egg timer, no less) trap, he told Alfred and Tony that Dent had stolen an ambulance with one of the Joker’s men inside. Jarvis said he would scan the city security cameras to find where the DA had taken the ambulance, while Batman went to talk to a crime boss named Maroni. He was easy to find because he seemed to have a liking for a club called the ‘Alibi’.

Tony doubted that Alfred would agree with what Batman did to Maroni: dropping from a second story fire escape and breaking his legs when he hit the ground feet first, but Tony didn’t have a problem with it. He also didn’t have a problem with what Dent did to the Joker’s henchman, but he understood why Batman stopped him from going too far. He had a feeling that there were things Bruce was going to have to do to stop this mad man, this Joker, that he wasn’t going to be comfortable doing. If it came to that, Tony wouldn’t mind going to whatever lengths he had to, especially to make sure that Bruce didn’t have to live with the consequences.

Dent was just doing what he had to do to protect the woman he loved, because the henchman had been wearing a name tag with the name “Rachel Dawes”. She was a childhood friend of both Bruce’s and Tony, and protecting her was something that both of them would see to, but Bruce had hope for Dent, that he was the ‘white knight’ the city needed, so keeping him as clean and clear of corruption of any kind was a priority to Bruce, almost as important as protecting Rachel.

So, as badly as Tony wanted to be out there, keeping an eye on Bruce from above just in case he needed help in any way, he would have to let Jarvis keep an eye out while he did what he had to do. Because when Rachel showed up at the Penthouse, Tony understood that his job was now keeping an eye on her.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Shelter

Bruce’s Penthouse is the safest place in the city. That is what Rachel had told Harvey. What she hadn’t told him was that it was that much safer because she was pretty sure that Tony was there. And where Tony was, Iron Man was.

They had been reminiscing about old times when Rachel got the call from Harvey. When she hung up, Tony could tell something was wrong.

“Harvey just talked to Batman,” she explained. “He says he is going to turn himself in tomorrow.”

Rachel had decided that it was best to let Tony handle it. If Bruce was going to listen to anyone, other than Alfred, then it would be Tony. So, when the elevator doors opened and Bruce stepped out, Rachel made herself scarce.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” Tony practically shouted. Ever since Rachel had given him the news, he had been drinking rather heavily. Though it had only been half an hour, he had pretty much drank an entire bottle of bourbon. “Turning yourself in? Seriously? Have you been hit in the head too many damn times?”

“I don’t have a choice, Tony,” Bruce said, wearily.

“Yes, you do!” Tony slammed his glass down hard on the nearest surface, bourbon and a few ice cubes splashing out. “You always have a choice. Do you think this bastard, the Joker, is going to stop killing people if you turn yourself in?”

“Maybe not. I have enough blood on my hands. And I’ve seen now what I would have to become to stop men like him.”

All the sudden, Tony just wanted to throttle him. How could the man just stand there, so relaxed, so calm, so resigned to this fate? How could he just be willing to turn himself over and spend the rest of his life behind bars? How could he just be so set on leaving Tony like this after everything? Tony wanted to punch him, beat the hell out of him.

Then the idea struck him, and he took a step back. Mostly because he was very drunk, and very angry, but also because it was such a profound decision, one he knew that no matter what anyone else thought, he wouldn’t regret.

“Then let me,” he said and Bruce turned his head quickly to him, his brow furrowed. “I don’t have a problem being whatever it takes to take this bastard down, or any other fucking idiot who tries to hurt you.”

“Tony, no!” Bruce crossed the distance between them. “I can’t let you do that.”

“And I can’t let you turn yourself in!” Tony picked up the glass and downed the rest of the liquor. Once he had, he tossed it against the wall, shattering it, sending ice cubes and shards of glass all over the floor. “So, I guess we are not an impasse.” He grabbed Bruce’s collar and jerked him closer. “If you do this, if you go ahead and turn yourself in, I will still hunt the sonuvabitch down, and splatter him all over the fucking street.”

“You would regret that,” Bruce said. He gently removed Tony’s hand and then held it in his own. “You would wish you hadn’t.”

“No!” Tony shook his head vehemently. “No, I would sleep very well at night, trust me. I haven’t lost any sleep yet since I became Iron Man. The only thing that is keeping me from suiting up and going out right now to find him, is that I am unfortunately too damn drunk to fly straight!”

He pulled his hand free and walked over to a couch and sat down heavily, leaning back and closing his eyes.

“This is my choice,” Bruce said quietly, but Tony still heard him.

“You bastard,” Tony stated, throwing his arms over his face. “You fucking, idiotic bastard! You would do it. You would sacrifice yourself for this worthless, pathetic, ungrateful city! You would leave me once more; just leave me stranded in this world without you, to save a bunch of unappreciative pricks! How fucking dare you! How dare you even consider doing this to me again?”

Bruce walked to the couch and sat down next to him. When he tried to console Tony, the other man slapped him away. When he tried again, Tony pushed him as hard as he could, nearly forcing him off of the couch and onto the floor. The third time he tried, Tony punched him, hard in the shoulder, though he had been aiming for him face. Tony swung again, missing Bruce entirely, and then just simply collapsed against him, burying his face in Bruce’s neck, and sobbing.

“Tony – “

“No, I won’t go through that again. I’ll be damned if I’m living without you. I don’t care what I have to do or who I have to blast to hell to do it. I…just…can’t…”

And then he passed out, slumping against Bruce. Bruce sighed, moved them around to where he was leaning back against the couch and Tony was held firm, and snug against him. He sat there all night, cradling the other man, wishing there was another way to end this, but not seeing any way around what he had to do.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Resigned

When Bruce had woken up that morning, he had resigned himself to his fate all over again.

At 4 in the morning, his neck stiff from sleeping sitting up on the couch, he had managed to get Tony upstairs and in the bed. He had then laid awake for another hour, just staring at the ceiling and listening to Tony breathe. So many times during that hour, he had come so close to waking Tony up and asking him to take him somewhere, anywhere, far away where no one would ever find them. It didn’t matter if it was just a shack out in the deep woods with no running water or electricity, just as long as they were together and far away from all of this.

But no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t do that. He had wanted to help the city he loved. And as big of a mess as it was all turning out to be, he had to stand by his decision. Tony hadn’t understood that last night, and Bruce knew he still wouldn’t this morning. That was why he got out of bed, got dressed, and he and Alfred went to the temporary Batcave before Tony could wake up.

Even sober, though more-than-likely hung over, Tony was volatile. He always had been and sometimes his anger drove him to do things that weren’t always the best things to do. Now, given the Iron Man armor and what it was capable of, Bruce had to wonder what Tony was really ready to do so if pushed.

“Even the logs, sir?”

“Yes, everything that could implicate Rachel, Lucius, or Tony,” Bruce answered. He hadn’t liked that train of thought. Given what Tony had said to him last night, about the only thing keeping from going after the Joker was the fact that he was too intoxicated, Bruce couldn’t help but wonder what Tony would do once he woke up and came to his senses. Bruce knew that, if faced with a decision, Tony would keep his word and go after the Joker, but would he really go as far as he had said he would?

“You know,” Alfred began, throwing the last of the logs into the furnace. “Mr. Stark was right.”

“How do you mean?” Bruce turned to face his butler.

“Well, he just got you back and you are leaving him again.” Alfred slammed the furnace gate shut. “It doesn’t seem fair to him at all.”

“He’ll hate me for this,” Bruce stated, staring around.

“Hate you? No, sir. He won’t hate you. He’ll be angry at you, absolutely, but he loves you too much to hate you.”

Bruce sighed and closed his eyes. “What should I do, Alfred?”

“You do whatever is in your best interest, sir,” Alfred answered.

“I know in my heart that the best thing for me to do is to go back to the Penthouse, wake Tony up, and beg him to forgive me.” He sighed again. “I love him too, Alfred. So much that it is hurting me right now. But I can’t, in good conscious, allow this with the Joker to go on. He’ll destroy Gotham if I don’t stop him.”

“And how will being in prison stop him? These men are doing all of this because they fear the Batman. Take him away, and they have nothing left to fear.”

Alfred was right, of course. “But still, as long as Batman is there to fear, they will keep killing people.”

“They’ll keep killing even if he isn’t,” Alfred argued. “Batman is the only one who can stop them because he is outside of the law, so he can get what needs to be done.”

“Outside the law,” Bruce repeated with a mirthless chuckle. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

“The truth doesn’t always make us feel better, Master Wayne, but it still needs to be said.”

Bruce nodded, seeing the wisdom. “I still need to be at the press conference, just in case.”

“Very good, sir,” Alfred stated. “You had me worried there for a while.”

“Worried? About what?” They began walking side by side to the platform.

“Well, if you get arrested, I probably will also. As an accomplice or something.” He playfully nudged the younger man with his shoulder.

“Jarvis, the lights if you would, please.” The banks of lights on the ceiling began to shut off from one end of the room to the other, the last shutting off just as Alfred and Bruce stepped onto the platform and it began to rise. “Accomplice? I was going to say the whole thing was your idea.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Disrupted

When Tony woke up the next morning (or afternoon or whatever), he was confused to find that he was in bed and naked. He checked over his body. He wasn’t sore and there wasn’t any trace regarding the fact that he’d had sex and there would have been so telltale sign of that, so he ruled that out.

“Jarvis, close the curtains. It’s too damn bright.” But nothing happened. “I mean it, Jarvis. Stop kidding around.” Still no answer. Sighing, Tony sat up and twisted around to look out the window. Gotham greeted him when he did. Then he remembered: remembered that he was in Bruce’s penthouse and had drank way too much in a short period of time, that he had yelled at and cursed Bruce because Bruce was going to turn himself in today at Harvey Dent’s press conference.

Oh, hell!

He jumped out of the bed and began looking for his clothes. He found them, freshly laundered, and neatly folded, at the foot of the bed. He threw them on, though he borrowed one of Bruce’s ties and a shirt and a pair of socks before heading downstairs, wondering if he could borrow a car to get him to the press conference in time. Hell, he should just fore-go driving and take his suit. Yeah, that would be great, for Iron Man to show up. It would go over really well.

He was greeted by Alfred, who was standing in front of the elevator, his hands clasped behind his back, as if he was waiting for Tony.

“Alfred, you can’t agree with what Bruce is going to do.” Tony was getting pissed off all over again. Only this time he was sober. Hung over, but sober.

“I don’t agree with it, Anthony,” he said. For some reason, the tone of his voice calmed Tony slightly, even in spite of the butler using his full first name. “And fortunately, the choice of turning himself in was taken from him.”

Tony watched a rebroadcast of the press conference. Harvey Dent, the clever bastard, had announced to all of Gotham that he was the Batman. He had been immediately taken into custody, offering no resistance whatsoever as he held his hands up to be handcuffed.

Tony had a new found respect for the man. He might even, though Tony himself wasn’t a Gothamite, throw some money his way when it was time for him to be re-elected for District Attorney.

He was starting to believe in Harvey Dent.

Rachel came into the room and by the look on her face, she wasn’t happy.

“How can Bruce just stand by and let Harvey do this?” She asked both Tony and Alfred.

“First you weren’t happy Bruce was going to turn himself in, now you’re unhappy that he didn’t.” Tony snapped. “Make up your mind, Rachel.”

“Perhaps both Bruce and Mr. Dent believe that Batman stands for something more important than the whims of a terrorist, Ms. Dawes,” Alfred intervened, “even if everyone hates him for it. That’s the sacrifice he’s making. He’s not being a hero. He’s being something more.”

“You’re right. There is nothing heroic about letting Harvey take the fall.” Rachel stated.

“You stupid girl!” Tony said. “You got really high and mighty with him that day you drove him to where Falcone was. Telling him all that stuff about how bad things happen when good people just stand by and let it. You’re all for it, until your boyfriend is the one who takes the stand.”

“You have a lot of room to talk, Mr. Stark,” Rachel snapped back.

“Children!” Alfred cried, quieting the both of them down.

After a moment of tense silence, Rachel turned her attention back to Alfred, though she still cast an angry eye at Tony. “You know him better than anyone, Alfred.”

“I do know him quite well, but not as well as Mister Anthony.”

Tony had to chuckle at that. Rachel gave him a scathing look. “I need to go see Harvey.” And with that, she left.

“Truth be told,” Alfred said after the elevator, with Rachel on it, closed, “he had changed his mind about turning himself in before he went to the press conference.”

“Really?” Tony felt his anger at Rachel ebb away now that she was gone.

“Yes, sir,” Alfred said with a smile. “He decided he would rather deal with crazed terrorists, than have you mad at him.”

Tony sighed and sat down on the nearest thing to sit down on. “I’m going to do all I can to help him, Alfred. Even if it takes Iron Man.”

Alfred, still smiling, came over and gripped his shoulder in a fond way. “I don’t doubt that at all.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty: Promises

They were going to transfer Dent to another location. Bruce knew that the Joker would try something then. The Joker had no reason not to believe that Dent was Batman, so all that had to be done was wait for him to spring the trap.

“You know I am going to be there, right?” Tony was standing behind Bruce. The temporary Batcave, minus all the paper logs that Alfred had destroyed, was officially opened and in operation once again.

“Tony,” Bruce began, swinging the chair he was sitting in around to face the other man.

“Nope. Don’t want to hear it.” Tony waved his hands dramatically in the air before him. “There is no way in hell you are doing this without me. Iron Man is going to be there with bells on. And by bells I mean anti-tank missiles and repulsor rays.”

There was a part of Bruce that wanted to argue with him, to try and convince Tony not to come with him, but the other part of him wanted him there. Come hell or high water, when it got right down to the thread bear truth of it all, there wasn’t anyone else in this world he would want by his side, through anything this life threw at him, good or bad.

“Thank you,” Bruce said in a soft voice. Tony took a step back, looking at Bruce with a half-mocking mien of disbelief in the fact that he wasn’t going to argue with Tony about this. He cocked a brow, tilting his head back, studying the man before him closely. “I mean it,” Bruce said, a smile curling his lips.

Tony stepped forward again, the smile he returned warm and his eyes glimmering with the knowledge that he had believed Bruce all along. “I know, sunshine,” he said and then demeanor turned serious. “I have no problem doing whatever I have to do to protect you. But one thing needs to be clear here: I do what I do for you, to protect you, not this city.”

Bruce nodded. He did understand that, and a part of him resented Tony for feeling that way. Bruce knew what he was willing to sacrifice to save Gotham; he had come very close to doing it earlier, and he knew he didn’t have a reason or the right to ask, or even expect, Tony to do the same.

“I have to go. Gordon is expecting me. We have to catch this man.”

“What do you need me to do?” Tony watched Bruce walk over to the bat suit chamber.

Help protect the people that could get hurt tonight. Help me keep this city from falling. That was what Bruce wanted to tell him, but instead he said: “Just stay in the air and keep an eye out. I’ll let you know when I need you.”

Tony nodded and if he detected a trace of bitterness, of some kind of regret, an amount of affliction in Bruce’s tone, he gave no indication at all that he had. But Alfred had heard it, as clear as day and he knew that Tony had also, but choose to ignore it, and that worried him more than a little.

Batman left a few moments later. Tony was to wait until the Joker made his move. It was obvious to Alfred that Tony wasn’t happy with the situation and not only his part in the plan to capture the Joker.

“Something troubling you, Master Anthony?”

Tony was silent for a few moments and then he turned abruptly to the butler. “Am I always going to have to take second place to this city? Is it always going to mean more to him than I do? Am I going to have to stand by and watch him destroy himself for the sake of Gotham?”

“Tony,” Alfred began, “It isn’t that he cares about Gotham more than he does you, because I truly believe it isn’t possible for him to care about anything in this world as much as he does you. What he is doing is trying to protect a city that has meant so much to his family, back to the days when it was no more than a stop for barges and riverboats. His family built this city, and he is reluctant to let it fall. He feels it is his duty, his obligation, to make sure that doesn’t happen because he is a Wayne.” Alfred placed a comforting hand on Tony’s shoulder. “He can’t do this alone. He needs you. He may not say it, but if he didn’t have you in his life, he wouldn’t have the strength to do what he does, what he must do.”

Tony nodded, sighing deeply. “I won’t abandon him, Alfred. I’ll try to be more understanding and do my best not to make him feel guilty. I just want to protect him, from everything.”

Alfred smiled. “Then you best get to it then.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-One: Sprung

As the Batman charged in, Tumbler at full speed, Tony kept an eye out from up above. When the Tumbler jumped over a passenger car, and literally rammed the dump truck that was trying to wreck the GCPD armored vehicle with Dent inside, and sent the large vehicle flying backwards, Tony had to laugh.

But his attention was diverted from what was going on below a few moments later when Jarvis alerted him to a radio communication sent from the Joker, according to voice pattern recognition, to some of his flunkies.

“Rack ‘em up.”

Tony assumed that he meant for them to take out the police helicopters that were coming in to help out their fellow officers on the ground. Kicking his boosters into high gear, he switched to an infrared scan and found several men stationed on fire escapes just as they were launching grapples. The objective was to crisscross the ropes attached to the grapples between two buildings thus taking out the helicopters when the pilots unknowingly flew into them.

“That’s so not very nice,” Tony stated to himself. He swung up, altering his flight, stopping in midair, and fired his repulsor rays located in the palms of his hands, sending the men and the fire escapes they were stationed on to the ground. This also took out the lines running back and forth, and the helicopters were not hindered as they flew past.

“Sir,” Jarvis said in his ear, “Batman has initiated the self-destruct to the Tumbler. It took a direct hit from a rocket launcher and the damage was catastrophic.”

“Where is Bruce?”

“The batpod, sir,” Jarvis was silent for only a few seconds. “He is now taking a shortcut through the mall, sir.”

“Is the Bat alright?” Tony, though he wanted to, was on route to follow the helicopters, his radar finding several more of the Joker’s men armed with bazookas on lookout.

“All his vital signs are normal, sir, and I am detecting no injuries.”

“Great. Keep me posted.”

Tony had thought about just blowing up the bazookas in the men’s faces, but disabled them instead with a disruptor pulse and then proceeded to pick them up and dump them into a garbage truck sitting on the street not too far away. Once he had rounded them all up, a few of them actually thinking that running was going to save them from being captured, he set down, opened the door, and closed the gate in the back, trapping them inside.

“I will alert Gotham PD that they are here, sir. Also, Gordon and the Batman have captured the Joker.”

“Great,” Tony said with a sigh of relief. He was just about to take off and meet them when he noticed something.

One of the weapons that the Joker’s men had been using was lying on the ground. It was an automatic gun, one designed with a chip to control firing, one that he recognized very well, because he had designed it.

He picked it up off of the ground, examining it, his brow furrowed behind his helmet, shaking his head in disbelief. How did the Joker get his hands on some of Stark Industries weapons? Confused, his anger rising, Tony forced the gate to the garbage truck open, startling the men trapped in there. Ignoring them, he pulled out one of the bazookas only to find that it too was one of his. All of them were. And then he came to a realization that made his anger blaze red hot: all this time the Joker had been using weapons from his company, a division that he had shut down just months ago, not only on the city of Gotham, but against Batman – against Bruce.

He slammed the gate closed once again, much to the dismay of the men inside. How could this have happened? How had they gotten these weapons? And then a suspicion began to take seed and grow in his mind, one that he did not like at all.

“Jarvis, tap me into the Bat, please.” A few seconds later, Jarvis alerted him that communication had been established. “Hey, babe,” he began. “You got a handle on everything?”

“Yes,” Batman answered, all growly. Tony had to smile. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, I just need to get back to Malibu real quick like. Something important has come up, so if you’ve got everything under control…”

“We do. Go take of what you need to. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Stay safe,” Tony said.

“I will. You, too.” That was Bruce, not the Bat. In spite of the nagging notion in Tony’s mind, his smile widened.

Wasting no more time, knowing that he had to get to the bottom of this and soon, Tony propelled into the air, far over the city, and set a course for Malibu at full speed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Two: Interrogation

“Sir, I have managed to infiltrate the Gotham City Police Department’s computer systems. Using the resources I am able to, I have been unable to find any matches to the Joker’s prints. Nor have I found any DNA, or dental records that match either. Also, according to the GCPD, his clothing is all custom, but with no labels and there was nothing in his pockets but lint and knives. No name besides the ‘Joker’, and there are no known aliases that I can find.”

Jarvis was nothing if not thorough. If the AI couldn’t find out anything about the Joker, than Batman doubted any one would. “Jarvis, can you tell me where Tony is?”

Jarvis hesitated for a few moments. Batman was coming in the back way into the GCPD building. He had gotten in touch with Gordon, and the Police Commissioner was willing to let him interrogate the Joker.

“Sir, it appears that the weapons the Joker and his men were using were ones made by Stark Industries.”

Batman stopped mid-step. “Someone is selling them under the table.”

“Yes, sir. So it seems. He went back to Malibu to find out whom.”

“Keep me posted, Jarvis. Let me know if he learns anything.”

“I will, sir.”

 

Batman had been standing behind the Joker as Gordon asked him where Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes were. When Gordon left the room, Batman slammed the Joker’s forehead into the table.

“Never start with the head. The victim gets all fuzzy. He can’t feel the next –” Batman’s fist smashed down onto the Joker’s hand – hard. “See”

“You wanted me. Here I am.” Batman sat down across from the Joker.

“I wanted to see what you’d do. And you didn’t disappoint. You let 5 people die. Then you let Dent take your place. Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”

“Where’s Dent?”

“Those mob fools want you gone so they can get back to the way things were. But I know the truth. There’s no going back. You’ve changed things. Forever.”

“Then why do you want to kill me?”

The Joker laughed. “I don’t wanna kill you. What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers. No, no. No. No, you…You complete me.” Maniacal laughter. “Where is your friend, by-the-way? Now there is one who wouldn’t have hesitated to unleash unholy hell upon me out on the street earlier. No, there wouldn’t have been enough of me left to fit in a shoe box if he had been there? Where has Iron Man gone? You must have quite a hold on him to be able to leash him like that. It’s a shame he isn’t here. He and I would have so much to talk about. I think he and I have a lot in common.”

“No, you don’t. You’re garbage who kills for money.”

“While Iron Man does it for free. And don’t talk like one of them. You’re not. Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak like me. They need you right now but when they don’t. They’ll cast you out like a leper. You see, their morals, their code it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these - These civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

Patience wearing thin, Batman stood quickly, grabbing the Joker by his collar and pulled him over the table. “Where’s Dent?”

“You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you.”

Batman lifted the Joker off his feet and slammed him into the wall. “I have one rule.”

“Oh. Then that’s the rule you’ll have to break to know the truth.”

“Which is?”

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. Now, Iron Man, he doesn’t have any rules. He blasts terrorists away in the Middle East like they are nothing, and they are nothing to him. He understands what has to be done in order to make sure someone like me doesn’t do horrible things to ‘good’ people. You two seem close. You should ask him about it sometime. And tonight you are going to break your one rule.”

“I’m considering it.”

“There’s only minutes left, so you’ll have to play my game if you want to save one of them.”

“Them?”

“You know, for a while there, I thought you really were Dent. The way you threw yourself after her.” With a growl of anger, Batman pulled the Joker off the wall, and then flipped him over in midair, crashing him down hard on the table, which only made the Joker chuckle like the mad man he was. Before Gordon and the other cops could come in and stop him, Batman used a chair to block door. “Look at you go.” The Joker sat up on the table, twisting his neck to pop it. “Does Harvey know about you and his little bunny? Is Iron Man jealous? Does he not like you playing with others, is that why he isn’t here?”

Batman grabbed him by the back of the head, dragged him off the table, and slammed his face into the bulletproof glass, cracking it. “Where are they?”

“Killing is making a choice. Ask your friend in the flying metal suit.” Batman punched him.

“Where are they?” He punched the Joker again.

“Choose between one life or the other. Your friend the District Attorney or his blushing bride-to-be. You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength. Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you where they are. Both of them. And that’s the point. You’ll have to choose. He’s at 250 52nd street and she’s at Avenue X at Cicero.”

Batman threw him to the ground. As he exited the room, Gordon was standing there, waiting for him.

“Which one are you going after?” Gordon asked.

“Rachel!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Two: Exposés

“Hey! Ow! AH! AH! AH!”

That was what Pepper could hear as she descended the steps down to Tony’s work room. Jarvis had informed her that Tony was back, and this surprised her because she hadn’t expected him to return from Gotham…well, ever. She had been advised by Tony not 2 days ago to get their belongings packed up and ready to ship from one coast to the other. She hadn’t been surprised that they were moving to Gotham. She had been expecting it since Bruce returned. She knew Tony couldn’t, wouldn’t, stay away from the other man for very long.

“It is a tight fit, sir. Sir, the more you struggle, the more this is going to hurt.”

“Be gentle. This is my first time.”

Pepper wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, but she had to scoff at Tony’s words. First time? Yeah, right! She put in her code and entered the room, and stopped dead in her tracks at the sight that greeted her.

There was Tony, wearing what looked like a metal suit, with robotic arms trying to pull the metal off of him. Pepper took a few steps closer, and realized she recognized that suit. It had been on the Gotham news that Jarvis displayed for her, just in case Tony got into some kind of mishap while in Gotham. The papers had been dubbing him “Iron Man.”

“I designed this to come off, so… Hey! I really should be able to…” Tony had been so intent to get back to Malibu as quickly as possible that he had all but missed more of the Joker’s goons. Both bazooka blasts had hit him right on, sending him cartwheeling through the air for a few critical seconds before he was able to stabilize and make them regret it. It had messed up his flight pattern for the duration of the trip, and now the suit was being difficult, not coming off like it should, so he had employed the arms to assist him. He was going to have to make sure this never happened again.

“Please, try not to move, sir.”

“What’s going on here?” Pepper asked, her voice higher by an octave or two more than usual.

Tony glanced over his shoulder at her, and he didn’t even have the audacity to look sheepish. “Let’s face it. This isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”

“Are those bullet holes?”

***************

Pepper had left the room for a few moments to wrap her head around what she had seen and learned. Now, as she came back, could see Tony working on his armor, she was a little angry, but clear headed.

“Hey. You busy? You mind if I send you on an errand?” He didn’t even wait for her to answer. “I need you to go to my office. You’re going to hack into the mainframe and you’re going to retrieve all the recent shipping manifests. This is a lock chip.” He held up what looked to her like a flash drive. “This’ll get you in. It’s probably under Executive files. If not, they put it on a ghost drive, in which case you need to look for the lowest numeric heading.”

“And what do you plan to do with this information if I bring it back here?” She held the lock chip in her hand, looking at it as if it were about to come alive and bite her.

“Same drill. They’ve been dealing under the table, and I’m going to stop them. I’m going to find my weapons and destroy them.”

“Tony, you know that I would help you with anything, but I cannot help you if you’re going to start all of this again.”

“There is nothing except this. There’s no are opening. There is no benefit. There is nothing to sign. There is the next mission and nothing else.” His eyes were wide with anger.
“Is that so? Well, then, I quit.” She set the lock chip down on the table, glaring at Tony as she did, before turning and walking away.

“You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction. And now that I’m trying to protect people that I put in harm’s way, you’re going to walk out?”

Pepper stopped before exiting the room and turned back to him. “You’re going to kill yourself, Tony. I’m not going to be a part of it.”

Tony sat down in the nearest chair, staring at the screens before him. “I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do.” He looked at her, silently pleading with her. “And I know in my heart that it’s right. Besides, they are using these weapons against the person I care about most in this world.”

Pepper was confused. “What?” She shook her head. She hadn’t heard anything about Bruce being shot at. That would have most assuredly been in the paper, and Jarvis would have told her even if it had been kept under wraps. This didn’t make any sense at all. And then, out of the blue, a crazy thought came into her head. Crazy but it made sense. “Oh my God! Bruce is Batman, isn’t he?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Four: Trickery

The streets of Gotham were far from the chaos of rush hour, but there were still just enough vehicles on the road to hinder Batman as he maneuvered the batpod through the traffic, trying to reach Rachel in time. He could only hope that Gordon made it to Dent’s location in time as well.

Things would be much simpler if Tony were there. And while this truth was evident, he also understood why Tony wasn’t there. Someone at Stark Industries had taken it upon themselves to keep the weapons division of Tony’s company alive and well by selling to terrorists without Tony’s knowledge. Bruce couldn’t help but wonder who could be capable of this and why the Joker had ended up with Stark weapons.

As he wound through vehicles, he couldn’t help but think about what the Joker had said to him, about how he and Tony were so much alike. Bruce knew that wasn’t true. Yes, Tony had killed several terrorists both when he escaped the cave and then when he returned there when said terrorists had occupied a village and were going to kill everyone there, but Tony didn’t not go out with the purpose to kill, to kill just for the sake of it.

Tony may go about things the wrong way at times, sometimes going on his emotion rather than logical thinking, and his armor may have more armament than an aircraft carrier, but he had never harmed innocent people. He was not a mad man who used his weapons to terrorize an entire city and put good people in harm’s way. He sure as hell wouldn’t have put Rachel in a predicament like the one she was in, just for the sake of proving that he was willing to.

No, Tony and the Joker were nothing alike. Bruce actually managed a small smile when he thought of how Tony would react to hearing what the Joker had said.

The streets seemed to stretch on and on and the batpod was going as fast as it was able, but Batman still wished for even more speed and that the distance wasn’t as far as it was.

If the Joker had been supplied weapons by whoever was selling them in Tony’s company, what all might the Joker know? He obviously knew Tony was Iron Man, and Bruce assumed that it was safe to say that the weapons supplier knew also, which put Tony at great risk. Might they also know about the arc reactor, the one that was embedded in Tony’s chest to keep him alive? If they did, then Tony could be in even more danger. This person could pose a serious threat to Tony’s life.

Batman, eyes on the road, moving at a speed that, if one car swerved into his path at such a time that he couldn’t adapt quickly, would kill him in the crash, while his mind was divided. He had to save Rachel, but he wondered if she was not in danger, would he be going to this great of a length to save Dent? Possibly, but add in the factor that Tony was also in peril, though he was on the other side of the country, would Bruce risk losing Tony for Dent? Would he sacrifice the one person in this world that he knew he couldn’t, didn’t want to live without, for the one person he believed could be Gotham’s saving grace?

He knew the answer without question, and that answer was yes.

The building finally came into view and he stopped the batpod and jumped off of it, racing to the door. He had confidence in Gordon. He would make sure that Rachel was safe, get her out of harm’s way, and then she and Dent could be together. Then Bruce would go to Malibu. Get his plane in the air as quickly as possible and go and help Tony.

But when he opened the door, it wasn’t Rachel that was there. It was Harvey Dent. He hesitated for only a second before rushing in and freeing the DA who was lying down still tied to a chair in a puddle of gasoline. Harvey was yelling at him, cursing him, and he could hear Rachel, over the radio in the room, telling Harvey that it was alright. Bruce glanced at the time left on the bomb and his heart sank as he dragged Harvey out of the warehouse. There was time still. Gordon could make it.

Rachel was still talking, saying that everything was going to be alright, and then the explosion that cut her off, and as Bruce did all he can to protect Harvey, the man still burst into flames, the half of his body that was soaked in gasoline catching fire, his yelling and screaming, but all of it wasn’t due to physical pain. It was also the pain of losing the person that he loved. He knew, as Batman knew, that Rachel hadn’t survived the explosion.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Five: Deceit

Tony had been waiting for Pepper to return, patiently, at least for him anyway. He kept himself busy with working on the odd thing here and there. His mind was split in two, and neither was concentrating on the work he had set himself upon. He was worried about Pepper, hoping whoever was responsible for selling his weapons to the Joker didn’t catch on to what she was doing – for him – and he was also worried about Bruce. He had a bad feeling, something prickling on the edge of his mind, something telling him that he should suit back up and get back to Gotham. Something wasn’t right, on both fronts, and he knew he had to do something, but until he had solid proof of who it was who had sold the weapons, then he had to stay put.

He just hoped, prayed, wished, and whatever else he could think of, that Bruce was okay.

A door closing upstairs alerted him that someone was in the house. Hoping that it was Pepper, wishing (against all odds) that it was Bruce, but thinking that it was more-than-likely Happy, Tony set down his tools, and made his way upstairs.

The house was dark, or at least darker than usual. Tony found that odd, for a moment, but didn’t think any more of it.

“Pepper? Happy?” He called out and received no answer. “Jarvis, what is it with the lights and who is here?” Not receiving an answer from the Aim, now that bothered him. He walked around the fountain and into the living room area. “Jarvis? If this is your idea of a joke, now is not the time.”

The high-pitched noise that assaulted his senses was one he recognized. Hell, he had designed the damned device that emitted it. He fell to the floor, the effect of the sound causing instant paralysis, just as he designed it to do. His breathing wasn’t hindered too much, nor was his sight or hearing. So, as he lay on his back on the floor, unable to move anything except his eyes, it put a damper on the look and actions of surprise when he saw who had used the emitter on him.

Obi?

As Obadiah Stane, friend of his father, a man who had been like a father to him, picked him roughly up off of the floor, and dragged him to the couch, Tony understood the true depths of betrayal. It had been Obadiah that had sold the weapons to the Joker. It had been Obadiah who had lied to him all this time. Obadiah hadn’t been happy that Tony had come back from Afghanistan, just like Obadiah hadn’t been happy about him shutting down the weapons division, had never approved of him and Bruce, and undoubtedly been the driving force behind Tony getting ousted from his own company.

“Breathe. Easy. Easy.” Obadiah said, his tone comforting, as he sat Tony up on the couch. “You remember this one, right?” He held the device up so Tony could see it. “It’s a shame the government didn’t approve it. There’s so many applications for causing short-term paralysis.” He took the special earplugs out that protected him from the emitter, and set them aside. “Tony, when I ordered the hit on you, I was worried that I was killing the golden goose. But, you see, it was just fate that you survived that. You have one last golden egg to give.” He opened a case and removed another device. This one Tony had never seen before, but he had a pretty good idea of what it was used for. “Do you really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you? Your father, he helped give us the atomic bomb. Now, what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you?”

Taking the new device, he attached it to the arc reactor embedded in Tony’s chest. Once it was placed, he activated the device. It attached to the arc reactor, causing smoke to rise as it dug in, and then with little effort, Obadiah pulled the arc reactor free. Now Tony’s breathing became much more difficult.

“Oh, it’s beautiful. Tony, this is your ninth symphony. What a masterpiece. Look at that.” He leaned back against the couch and over, leaning on Tony as he held the arc reactor up. “This is your legacy. A new generation of weapons with this at its heart. Weapons that will help steer the world back on course, put the balance of power in our hands. The right hands. I wish you could’ve seen my prototype. It’s not as; well, not as conservative as yours.” He placed the arc reactor in the case and closed it with two snaps as the locks were secured. “Too bad you had to involve Pepper in this. I would have preferred that she lived.”

He was just about to walk out, leave Tony to die, because without the arc reactor, it was going to happen. But he couldn’t help stabbing one more dagger in Tony’s back.

“I didn’t tell the Joker the entire truth.” He shook his head, smoothing a hand over his bald head. “Coming across him was a stroke of luck. He came to me, you see, but I didn’t tell him what I know. I told him to go after the Batman, not Bruce Wayne. I couldn’t have you being killed before I got this.” He held up the case. “I never did understand you and Bruce’s relationship. But I do know that Tony Stark would do anything to protect the person he loves, and that is Bruce Wayne. So, it wasn’t too hard for me to figure out that Bruce was the Batman.” He was actually smiling. “You should have stayed in Gotham, Tony.” He shook his head as he walked out the door. “Poor Rachel. That’s a shame.”

And then he was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Six: Duplicity

Batman stood amongst the still smoldering rubble. There were fireman trying to put out the remains of the fire and policemen kept the media and onlookers at bay, but he oblivious to all of that as he stood there.

He found Harvey Dent’s coin, one side pristine, the other side damaged, but otherwise they were both identical. It had been in Rachel’s possession when she had died, Dent having given it to her for safe keeping until they saw each other again.

Batman held it in the palm of his hand, a part of him still wondering how all of this had happened and why it had. He knew enough to realize that sometimes there were things beyond human understanding. There were just some things that weren’t meant to be understood, but his mind still wanted to know, was trying to figure it out, even though in his heart it seemed hopeless to try.

He didn’t even bother to return to the temporary Batcave, instead going to the Penthouse. Once on the top floor, he pulled his gloves off, letting them drop to the floor. The cowl was next as he made his way to a chair close to the corner windows. He sat down heavily, suddenly bone-tired, leaving the cowl in his lap, as he tried not to weep.

He wondered where Tony was and how he was. He had a feeling that something was not quite right. Jarvis told him that everything was fine, that Tony had found the perpetrator who had sold the weapons, but Bruce couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t being told everything. If the situation were bad, he knew that Tony would have Jarvis lie to him, which meant Tony also knew what was going on in Gotham. They were going to have to have a serious conversation about this, among other things, when Tony got back. Withholding information from each other was something they were going to have to work on.

Bruce, in spite of everything, had the sudden urge to get his private plane in the air and fly to Malibu. He wanted to be with Tony, help him if he could, to hell with the consequences, but the Joker was on the loose again, more cops had died, Dent was amazingly still alive, and he knew that this wasn’t over – not by a long shot.

He just wanted all of this over with. He wanted Tony back in Gotham, with him, where he belonged, and the Joker behind bars for good this time.

The sun was coming up over the city. Bruce could hear Alfred in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. It had been a long night. Bruce knew he needed to get up from his chair. It was too much of a risk for him to be sitting here, still in most of his Batsuit, in front of a wall of windows, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.

Alfred sat a tray down on the table next to where Bruce was sitting. Bruce glanced at it, but there was no way he was going to eat anything.

“I’m so sorry about Miss Dawes,” Alfred said softly. He had known her since she was a child. She had kept in touch with him all these years, even the 7 that Bruce had been gone, but to think that he would never speak to her or see her again, broke his heart. “Her poor mother…”

Bruce was still trying to hold back the tears. He gazed down at the cowl in his hands. “Is this is my fault?” Bruce said, staring into the empty eye sockets. He could see himself there, in that darkness and it frightened him.

“No, Master Wayne, it isn’t,” Alfred said with a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Something is going on with Tony. I know it is.” Bruce sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Tony needs me. I know he does.” Bruce pulled the com unit from inside the cowl and placed it to his ear. “Jarvis?” There was no answer. “Jarvis?” He tried again, but he knew that the AI was not going to answer this time either. “As much as I want to save Gotham, this city doesn’t mean more to me than Tony does.” He looked up at Alfred, tears in his eyes. “It’s about time I proved that to him.”

“And how will you do that, Master Bruce?”

Something was very wrong. The thought that Tony was in danger, that he was injured or dying, spurred Bruce into action. He had to do something. He had lost a friend in Rachel and Gotham’s hope in Dent, but he would not lose Tony.

The sun was still coming up in Gotham, but in Malibu it would still be night.

He got up from the chair and began gathering his armor up from the floor, all the while cursing the miles in-between he and Tony.

“I have to go Malibu,” Bruce answered. “And there is only one way to get there in time.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Weakened

As soon as the paralysis wore off, Tony was on the move. The effect only lasted 15 minutes, but to Tony it had felt like hours.

As he stumbled to the stairs down to his work room and then tumbled down them, the things Obadiah said to him kept playing over and over in his head.

Obadiah knew that Bruce was Batman. He had sent the Joker to Gotham. He had given him the weapons to carry out his crime wave.

And Rachel. Oh God, what had happened to Rachel?

Though he was upset (an understatement) for what Obadiah had done to him, the absolute rage he felt at what the man he had trusted, depended on, had done to the person he loved, and to Rachel, drove him, gave him the fuel he needed to make it to his work room. Once inside, he went to a work desk, or was on his way to it, when he fell to the ground. Crawling, he pulled an object (he wasn’t really paying attention to what it exactly was) to help him get closer to the object he needed. On top of the table was the gift Pepper had given him not long after returning. The arc reactor he had built in that cave in the desert. Obsolete now, but it was the only one he had. He managed to get his hand on it, but fell once again, his strength ebbing away. Inside of his chest, without the arc reactor, his heart was failing. In his body, without the electromagnet the arc reactor powered, the tiny shards of shrapnel were inching toward his vital organs. Death was coming for him.

And then the glass box containing the arc reactor was being set on his chest. Looking up, he saw Dummy, gazing down at him as only a robotic arm can, and in that moment Tony had never been happier or prouder of Dummy. As far as he was concerned, he could spray him with the fire extinguisher even if he wasn’t on fire whenever he wanted to.

Tony was getting weaker by the moment. He didn’t have much time, but he also didn’t have the strength to smash the glass surrounding the arc reactor. His vision began to blacken and his mind began to play tricks on him because he could barely make out in his failing vision, one of his suits standing over him. And I was reaching down. He heard glass shattering and then the arc reactor that had been inside was placed in his chest.

Tony sucked in several deep breaths as the arc reactor did its job. He lay there for a few moments, his eyes closed, before reopening and focusing on the figure that was now knelt down beside him. The suit was one of his, most definitely, but unlike his Iron Man armor, this one was black and gold, the arc reactor in the center of the chest glowed red and was placed inside the design that he had worked really hard to get exactly right. Oh, and the pointed ears on the helmet, plus several other distinctive changes to make it more…bat-like.

“Are you alright?” The voice that asked that question. The voice filled with so much concern and love. That voice that he knew so well.

“Baby?” Tony tried to sit up, but wasn’t doing very well on his own. A hand gripped his arm, carefully, and helped him sit up, his back against the table behind him. “Bruce?”

The helmet retracted and Tony could’ve started crying like an infant when Bruce’s face was revealed. Tony reached up and with all his strength, pulled himself up and wrapped his arms around the other man, cold metal suit and all.

“Are you alright?” Bruce asked again, putting his arms around Tony, but being careful not to crush him.

Tony nodded while laughing. “You wore the suit. You said you wouldn’t, but you are.” His strength was coming back to him. He pulled away just enough to maneuver himself around so he could kiss the younger man avidly, conveying all his joy and appreciation in the motion.

“I knew something was wrong and I had to get to you,” Bruce explained once Tony allowed him to speak. He couldn’t help but return the smile that Tony was giving him. “This was fastest way.”

“You left Gotham,” Tony said, reaching up and caressing Bruce’s cheek. “I know I made a big deal out of it, but –“

“You are more important to me,” Bruce declared.

Tony’s smile widened, but then it faded with a sudden thought. “Rachel? Obadiah said…”

Bruce sighed and nodded. “It seems both of us have some catching up to do.”

Tony mimicked the nod. “Yeah, but can we do it while I get my armor on? I think Pepper and that Agent Coulson are heading right to where Obadiah is and they aren’t going to like finding him.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Retribution

At first, Tony was hurt by what had happened. Of course he was! The man who he had trusted as a friend and depended on like a father had betrayed him. He had hired terrorists to kidnap and kill him and the only reason Tony wasn’t dead was because they had wanted the latest missile and had wanted Tony to build it.

Greed had gotten him into this mess, and in a way greed had gotten him out of that cave in Afghanistan because if those bastards had been willing to wait for Obadiah to sell them a missile that was just in the beginnings of production, Tony’s bones would have been picked clean by vultures in the desert months ago.

But the more Tony thought about it, the angrier he got. He had been angry before: Obadiah had tried to kill him -- twice, but that was nothing compared to the seething rage that boiled his blood and added fuel to his tired and battered body. Obadiah had made a mistake – a huge mistake – when he had threatened Tony’s loved ones. Obi had said it: that Tony protected those that he loved.

Stane’s greed, his need for avarice for the respect and fear of the people of this world, had driven him to a callous disregard for innocent lives, and thus caused so much pain and regret. He had set a mad man on Gotham, turned him loose with weapons that Tony himself had designed, and in the process cost the lives of policemen and Rachel.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, he had to go and endanger the one person that Tony Stark refused to be without, the one person in this world that he would do absolutely anything to protect. The one person he held most dear.

That pissed Tony off.

Obadiah was going to pay. He was going to pay in the most painful way Tony could think of.

He knew that was mostly the reason he hadn’t wanted Bruce to come to Malibu. Because if there was any other way, then he would take it, he’d look for it, if Bruce was there. But Bruce was here. And after they had told each other everything that had gone on since they had last seen each other, which seemed a helluva much longer time than it actually had been, Tony didn’t think Bruce was too concerned with how Tony chose to stop Obadiah, especially since there might not be any other way to do it.

Tony had also explained to Bruce how the arc reactor he now had wouldn’t be powerful enough to power the Iron Man armor for very long. The only course was to take the one in the armor he had made for Bruce.

“I didn’t bring my other suit,” Bruce said as he helped Tony replace one arc reactor for the other, which was rather difficult since his hands were much bigger than Pepper’s.

“Which wouldn’t do you a damn bit of good against Obi’s suit anyway,” Tony stated, feeling the energy course through him once the arc reactor was in place. “Besides, how is it going to look if anyone finds out that Batman was here in Malibu with Iron Man instead of in Gotham?”

“I can still help,” Bruce argued. His jaw was set in rigid determination and Tony knew how difficult he could be when he was being stubborn.

“Fine. Take my car and get to Pepper.”

When Tony arrived at the site of the full-sized arc reactor, he found Obadiah. He found Obadiah in a large metal suit. He also found Pepper in the line of fire of that large suit.

“Sir, he has integrated your arc reactor to his armor. It is at full power. And I regret to inform you that his suit is more advanced than yours.” Tony thought for a brief second that maybe he and Bruce should have held off getting Jarvis back online.

“I know, Jarvis,” Tony snapped back in exasperation. He had done the math. He knew there was more than one possible outcome here, and the majority of them didn’t end well for Tony Stark, but while Obadiah had greed driving him, Tony had something else. Something else far more powerful than any arc reactor he could build. Anger, of course. Pain at this betrayal, absolutely. But what drove him on with more force than either of those combined was that he had someone to get to, someone to protect.

Someone that he loved and loved him back. And he was going to return to Gotham with Bruce and it didn’t matter whom or what he had to get through to do. And right now, that was Obadiah Stane…in a really big and really powerful suit of armor.

“Stane!” Tony yelled to get his attention. Obadiah turned, locking weapons on Iron Man and firing as Tony slammed into him, sending them both through the roof, jostling through the building, and out a side wall, right into freeway traffic. They crashed through a semi-truck trailer, and Tony could hear the sounds of cars crashing into one another.

An SUV managed to stop just before piling into Iron Monger, the woman and her children inside screaming in fear. Iron Monger got to his feet first, leaving Tony to try to get his bearings while lying flat on this back on the asphalt. Obadiah picked up the vehicle, occupants still shouting, and turned toward Tony, who was in the process of getting to his feet.

“I love this suit!” Obadiah cried out, his voice distorted through the helmet.

“Put ‘em down,” Tony demanded. It wasn’t the best choice of words at the moment.

“Collateral damage, Tony,” Iron Monger stated, taking a few steps closer, SUV still held over his head.

“Divert power to chest arc,” Tony said. The blast knocked Iron Monger off his feet, dislodging the SUV. Tony managed to catch it before it hit the ground grill first.

Tony was grunting with the effort of holding the vehicle up and trying to get it safely back onto the road. The effort brought Tony down on one knee, but he managed to set the vehicle down. Panicking, the woman behind the wheel pushed the accelerator to the floor, causing the SUV to surge forward once all four tires were on the ground.

“Lady!” Tony yelled as he was trapped on the grill of the vehicle, occupants, the woman and four children, still screaming inside as he was dragged down the freeway, the metal of his suit throwing sparks against the road. He tried to hang on, but to no avail, his metal covered fingers leaving marks on the hood as he slid under the car. He had to lift up the back end to get completely free, and as he rolled on the road, the SUV continued on at full speed. “You’re welcome,” Tony muttered as he got to his feet.

The ground beneath him began to shake, and he turned, repulsor rays at the ready, just in time for Iron Monger to hit him with a motorcycle. Tony flew backwards, taking out some of the concrete meridian, smashing into an abandoned car, before landing facedown next to a city bus. The passengers began exiting as fast as they were able.

Iron Monger lifted him over his head. “For 30 years, I’ve been holding you up.” He tossed Iron Man on the ground and then placed a heavy-metal foot on him, pushing down and then lifting his foot to stomp. “I built this company from nothing!” Tony could hear his suit crunching under the onslaught. Iron Monger reached down and picked Tony up off the ground. “And nothing is going to stand in my way.” He tossed Iron Man into the now empty bus. Iron Monger stepped back before turning, his shoulder housing opening to reveal a laser-guided missile launcher. “Least of all - you.” The missile slammed into the bus, and the explosion sent Iron Man several dozen feet in the air, surrounded by flames.

Tony managed to fire his thrusters before hitting the ground once more. “Impressive!” Obadiah chuckled. “You’ve upgraded your armor. I’ve made some upgrades of my own!” His feet casings transformed, and rocket boosters fired, sending Obadiah slowly climbing into the air.

“Sir, it appears his suit can fly,” Jarvis stated.

“Duly noted. Take me to maximum altitude,” Tony instructed. Sometimes Jarvis was really good at stating the obvious.

Iron Man turned and shot up into the air ahead of Iron Monger. Behind him, Obadiah’s thrusters fired again, speeding him up.

Higher and higher they flew. Obadiah’s armor, however, was starting to freeze at such a high altitude, as Tony had learned would happen the hard way.

And then Iron Monger grabbed his foot.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Obliterate

Bruce didn’t listen to Tony.

While the arc reactor in the Bat-armor had been removed to replace the less powerful one, the black and gold armor was not the only set of armor left.

There was the unpainted armor that Jarvis had informed Bruce had just been constructed not too long ago. It wasn’t painted, was still the bare metal with a faint gold sheen, but it had its own arc reactor and was ready to go.

“Sir, the armor has not been field tested, and is more advanced than either your or Mr. Stark’s armors,” Jarvis stated. Bruce had managed to get the AI’s systems back online not long after Tony left to take care of Obadiah.

Bruce thought about what he was planning very seriously, but quickly. He could drive Tony’s car and get to Pepper but it might be too late. He wasn’t familiar with the streets here, and while that wasn’t a strong excuse, but was still one nonetheless. Also, he didn’t think it was a good idea for Bruce Wayne to show up, especially where there were these Agents of whatever-they-called-themselves. And Tony might need help because Jarvis was saying that Obadiah’s armor was much more powerful than Tony’s, so as far as Bruce was concerned, this was the only option left to him.

“No better way to test it then to take it out,” Bruce told Jarvis.

“Very well, sir,” Jarvis replied with a moderate amount of thinly veiled exasperation in his tone. “You sound just like him, sir. I just thought I would warn you of that before it got out of hand.”

Bruce snorted in amusement as the suit opened up and he stepped back into it. “He is a bad influence on be,” Bruce admitted, “but in a good way.” The suit closed around him and the HUB came online. “Besides, I have to admit, being in that armor that Tony made me, flying here, was rather fun.”

Jarvis sighed. “I believe my warning has come too late.” Bruce, always a fast learner, already had the armor off the ground. “You can just use the hole in the ceiling that Mr. Stark made.”

“Thank you,” Bruce stated and did just that.

It didn’t take him long to catch up to Tony either, just in enough time to see Obadiah and his monstrosity of a suit, plummet to the city below.

“Umm, snuggle bunny. That is not my car. Didn’t I tell you to take my car and go help Pepper?”

Snuggle bunny?” Bruce shook his head, swerving down below Tony and then back up again on his other side. “And I decided this was faster and easier. I would hate to get lost or get stuck in traffic. This is California, after all.”

“Point taken,” Tony answered. “So, are you enjoying the flying?”

“Yeah,” Bruce said with a chuckle. “I am. What happened to Obadiah?”

“This high of an altitude, his suit couldn’t handle the cold,” Tony explained. “And my armor has taken some damage. I need to get back on solid ground in a hurry.”

As soon as Tony landed, he started taking off the metal covering his left hand and tossing it aside. “I gotta get out of this thing.” He reached up to begin removing the helmet. “Potts?” He said to Pepper, releasing the latch that held the face plate in place.

“Tony! Oh my God. Are you- Are you okay?” Her voice was, again, an octave or two above normal range. She was clearly upset and worried.

“We’re fine, Pepper. Nothing to worry about,” Tony answered.

“We?” She asked over the com.

“Yeah. I’m here,” Bruce said, landing next to her. Pepper spun around, jumping in surprise.

“Bruce?” She said, smiling wide.

She went to say more, express her relief, but at that moment Iron Monger landed heavily behind Tony on the roof. Tony turned in disbelief, the face plate of the helmet clicking back into place.

“Nice try,” Obadiah said, taking a swing at Tony. He ducked and as he came back up, he held his hand out to blast Obadiah with a repulsor ray. Unfortunately it was the hand that was lacking a repulsor ray. Tony stared at his hand in dismay just as Obadiah’s fist plowed into him, sending him bouncing across the roof. Tony managed to catch himself before sliding off the roof, and using his remaining palm thruster, propelled himself into the air, aiming his metal covered fist at Obadiah. But Obadiah caught him in a bear hug and began crushing him.

“Go, Pepper. Get out of here,” Bruce told her, moving to stand between her and any danger. As quickly as she could in heels, Pepper darted off, taking refuge behind her car.

Bruce took to the air once more, flying above and around Obadiah, and pounded him with a repulsor ray blast, once, twice and then a third time.

“How nice of you to join us, Bruce,” Obadiah said. He released Tony, turning toward the new threat. He opened fire, but Bruce was too fast for him, dodging the barrage, and firing another blast from his repulsor ray.

Tony jumped onto Iron Monger’s back, holding on for dear life. Through the display in his helmet, Tony surveyed the back of the armor’s head. “This looks important,” he announced, reaching in and pulling a group of wires and circuits loose. Iron Monger reached back for him and after several attempts, caught Tony, and tossed him over his head, pulling Iron Man’s helmet off as he did. Tony landed on the glass ceiling, hearing it crack beneath his weight.

Obadiah fired a missile at Bruce, missing him, but it detonated close enough to send him tumbling through the air. He landed in a shower of sparks down where the large arc reactor was. Tony watched him until he saw Bruce move and began to get back up.

“Babe, go the central console and open up all the circuits. When I get clear, hit the master bypass button. It’s gonna fry everything up here.”

The top half of Obadiah’s suit opened up revealing the man within. “I never had a taste for this sort of thing,” he said, Tony’s helmet still in his metal grip. “But I must admit…” He turned his gaze to the helmet in his hand, a sick parody of Hamlet and the skull. “…I’m deeply enjoying the suit.” Then he crushed Tony’s helmet and tossed it at him. Tony looked up. “You finally out-did yourself, Tony.” Heavy steps coming closer. “You made your father proud.” Tony forced himself up on one knee.

“How could you?” Tony stated.

“Betray you?” Obadiah laughed. “It was quite easy, actually.”

“No. That is as much my fault as yours. I stopped caring. I let you run things while I turned a blind eye. I had other things to do, parties to go to, money to gamble away, a life to drink away. No, I’m talking about Rachel. God, Obi, you’ve known her since she was a little girl.”

“I wasn’t the one who tied her to a chair and put her in a room full of gasoline with a bomb,” Obadiah said. He didn’t even have to audacity to sound the slightest bit regretful.

“But you might as well have,” Tony argued. “And why bring Bruce into all of this? This is between you and me.”

“Because Bruce has always been your conscience, Tony,” Obadiah said, shaking his head. “As long as he was around, he influenced you. Sure, you still designed the weapons, but you cared about where they went and who they went to. But once Bruce was gone, you stopped. You began to ignore the company, didn’t give a damn about what went to where and to whom.” He chuckled without mirth. “When Earle had Bruce declared dead, that was when I actually started breathing easier. All those years, I kept waiting for him to show up again, to walk back into your life, and I knew the second he did, that all my plans would be ruined. And then, out of the blue, he does show back up, alive and well. And even though you were pissed at him, you changed. He always had you wrapped around his finger, Tony. I knew it was only a matter of time before you started looking into things. So, I had to get rid of you before you did.”

“You didn’t count on those guys being as greedy as you,” Tony stated.

“I took care of them, as I’ll take care of you. And then when I am done with you, I’m going to take care of your boyfriend.” He raised his arm up, taking aim at Tony. “I really am sorry about Rachel. She was a good kid, and she grew into a fine woman, but once again, Tony, collateral damage.”

Iron Monger opened fire on him, shattering the glass under his feet. Tony barely had enough time to put his hand that was still covered in metal up to protect his face. When the glass gave way under him, he managed to grab a hold of the steel framework, keeping himself from landing on Bruce, who was below him, the falling glass clinking and shattering into tiny pieces on his armor. Tony pulled himself partway up as Obadiah kept firing at him.

“Hit the button!” Tony yelled.

“I got you,” Bruce said and hit the button.

The blast from the arc reactor caught Tony and propelled him up and into the air. As he was just about to plummet back down on the roof, he saw Bruce fly up through the fire, and catch him, carrying him safely away. He was able to turn just in time to see the energy released literally frying Obadiah in his armor. Obadiah screamed as the energy blast spired into the air, hitting the clouds above and causing electrical lightning to flare within them before dissipating. Iron Monger tipped forward, crashing down into the arc reactor, and it exploded, obliterating Obadiah and the Iron Monger armor.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty: Conveyance

With police vehicles and fire trucks beginning to swarm the area, and media vans with reporters and cameras en masse, Bruce and Tony left Pepper to deal with the onslaught and returned back to Tony’s house. Once there, Tony had Jarvis do a rush paint job on the armor Bruce had worn, while he reinstalled the arc reactor to the Bat armor.

Tony sighed, looking sadly at his armor; the one Obadiah had pretty much destroyed. Without a helmet, he could fly a short distance, but definitely not to Gotham. It still bothered him, however. These suits of armor were a part of him, almost like his children in a way.

“Hey, cupcake, how you doing?” He looked over at Bruce. The other man was sitting in front of Tony’s bank of computer screens.

“I’m fine,” Bruce said with a slight smile on his face. “I’m not the one Obadiah put through the ringer. How are you?”

Tony nodded, coming over and sitting on the table as Bruce leaned back in the chair, looking up at him. “I meant, though, about Obadiah. I just broke your one rule.”

“My one rule?” Bruce looked at him curiously. Of course, he knew about his ‘one rule’, but this wasn’t the first time that had brought up in the last 24 hours.

“Jarvis filled me in on the conversation you had with the Joker,” Tony explained. “I know there could have been other ways to handle it, other outcomes, but I’ll admit I didn’t search for them too much. Obadiah should be going to prison for what he has done, but…” Tony sighed. “In all honesty, I kept thinking that if I had gone that route…” He leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling.

“He knew I was Batman. You were afraid he was going to expose me,” Bruce finished for him.

“My only worry is protecting you,” Tony admitted, looking his square in the eyes. “Hell, most of Gotham wants the Batman’s head on a platter. They find out you’re Batman, and they won’t care about anything else. If I had let Obadiah live, if I had searched for that way, he would have done anything he could to make sure that you suffered, that you ended up in prison right along with him. Because he knew that if you suffer, I suffer, and I couldn’t let anything happen to you, not anything more than what already has, because of me.”

“Tony –” Bruce began, but the other man cut his words off with a wave of his hand.

“Those things the Joker said, about me, I don’t want them to be true, but…”

“They aren’t,” Bruce consoled, standing up and stepping in front of the older man. “They aren’t true. You aren’t anything like him. He is a murdering psychopath, who does it just for the hell of it. You protect people, and I know, even in spite of my ‘one rule’, that there are people who can’t be reasoned with. Obadiah couldn’t be reasoned with, just like the Joker can’t be reasoned with.”

“Then why is it different? How can I go over there and kill terrorists, and I can kill Obi here, but I can’t splatter the Joker over the pavement in Gotham?”

“Technically, I killed Obadiah. I was the one who pushed the button, knowing full well what would happen when I did.”

Tony thought about that for a second, his eyes going wide in realization. “No. No, no, no, no. No, Bruce. Oh God, what did I do?” He ran his hands through his hair. “I didn’t even think. How could I make you do that?”

“Hey!” Bruce pulled Tony’s hands down and then took his face in his hands. “You didn’t make me do anything. You aren’t the only one who could have found another way. I had other choices besides pushing that button. You are so concerned with protecting me, and going to whatever lengths you have to do so, that you fail to see that I feel that same way about you. He would have killed you. I couldn’t have let that happen. Any other way there was to stop him, might have cost you your life.”

“Is this a double standard?” Tony didn’t want to start a fight. He certainly didn’t want to upset Bruce or make him feel worse than he already did, but he was having trouble wrapping his head around all this. “I was content with letting Obi die, but I didn’t mean for you to be the one to basically kill him. If we are both willing to do what we have to do to protect the other, why does it go for everywhere except Gotham? If you can make that decision here, and I wish to God you hadn’t had to do that, then why can’t I make that decision in Gotham?”

Bruce sighed and he looked older and tired, and Tony cursed himself for doing this to him. “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for you, Tony. I wish I did, I wish I could make it all make sense, but I can’t.”

Tony hopped off the table and pulled Bruce into his arms. “It’s alright. I’m sorry. Alright? Listen to me. We don’t need to do this. Okay? I will go with you to Gotham, I will help you in any way I can, but I won’t disintegrate your bad guys, okay? I won’t disintegrate anymore bad guys, and I will never put you in that position again, alright?” He ran his hand up and down Bruce back in comfort before wrapping his arms around him and holding his tight. “Okay, baby? We’ll get it right. We will get it all worked out, a working system, and that is that.”

“It isn’t that simple,” Bruce said in his ear, holding him just as tight. “We both know it isn’t. I’m holding Gotham to a higher standard than a I do the rest of the world because it’s my city and I want to make it right. I want to make it good.”

“I know. You want to make it a better place and you want to show the people that there is a better way. If you start killing all the freaks that do horrible things, you are no better than they are. I understand.” He pulled away just enough to look Bruce in the eyes. “How about this? If they get out of line, we line up for the cops to take in. And if the system screws up and lets ‘em out, then we just put them back in again when they step out of line again. We do that. We uphold that example. We be that example.” He couldn’t help but smile and Bruce knew by the twinkle in Tony’s eyes that he was about to say something of center. “Unless they are aliens. Aliens only come to Earth to annihilate us and use us for food and to take our resources. We will have no choice to defend ourselves and make them regret coming here. So, killing aliens is okay. But only aliens. Mean ones. Alright?”

Bruce had to chuckle. “Deal. Aliens. But what are the chances of that happening?”

“Oh,” Tony said with a dramatic shake of his head and flutter of his hands. “One never knows.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-One: Morals

Tony Stark wasn’t a fool. Far from it. He had his moments, he wouldn’t argue with that, but when it came right down to it, fool was not something he subscribed to.

So, he knew without a doubt that Obadiah’s death, and the part he had to play in it, bothered Bruce more than he let on. And Tony knew why. He knew why Bruce had done it. He had done it for the same reason Tony himself had been going to do it: to protect the person that he loved. While Tony was amazed and touched and downright honored at the length that Bruce would go to protect him, a length that Tony himself had been willing to go, it bothered Tony also that Bruce had been forced to do what he did.

Thus Tony had promised to abide by Bruce’s ‘one rule’ and it was a promise he intended to keep.

It did not mean, however, that he couldn’t break someone else’s rules.

This is exactly why he had absolutely no problem helping Bruce build the high frequency generator receiver in the basement of the Wayne Enterprises building. It would allow Jarvis to tap into every cell phone in Gotham, and hopefully help find the Joker, who had escaped from the Gotham PD building, causing a lot of damage, and injuring several policemen in the process. With the bastard running loose again, they could use every available way to find him and get him back behind bars, preferably permanently this time.

Once it was finished, Tony had taken his suit and left Bruce with the finishing touches. He knew that he had a bigger advantage of seeing what was going on from an elevated height.

The city was in chaos as the citizens of Gotham tried to escape whatever threat the Joker had in store for the city. Cars were bumper to bumper along every road to the bridges leading out of the city and the police were trying to keep so semblance of order, but failing. The traffic jam was even more chaotic with hundreds of people out on foot, determined to escape before it was too late.

After the day they’d had, at one point Bruce sacrificing his Lamborghini to save that little sawed off idiot who the Joker had learned supposedly knew the Batman’s identity. And then the hospital that had been blown up, a bus full of people disappearing, only to turn up on TV being held captive by the Joker, Tony was in the mood to take his frustrations out on that idiot clown-face. Oh yeah! And Harvey Dent was missing. Neither he nor Bruce doubted that Dent’s mental state was in much better shape than the horribly burned half of his body. Tony wasn’t too worried, though: he had several weapons built into the suit, and while most of them caused a heavy bit of destruction, not all of them were fatal. There was one in particular that he was itching to try.

As Iron Man flew over the city, making sure he wasn’t spotted, he also kept communications open with Batman, who was still in the basement of Wayne Enterprises. And it was a good thing he did, too.

“Sir, Lucius Fox has just entered the basement,” Jarvis informed him. Tony had to smile to himself as he soared around a building. He was rather proud of the device he and Bruce had built. It was nice to work on something so useful with someone with the brain power to keep up with him.

Beautiful, isn’t it?” Tony heard Batman say, all gravely and hot. Definitely hot. Of course, Bruce was hot no matter what he was wearing, or wasn’t, or…Tony shook his head. This wasn’t the time to be having those images flashing through his mind.

Beautiful?” Tony heard the question in Lucius’ tone and his brow furrowed in confusion. “Unethical. Dangerous. You took my sonar concept and applied it to every cellphone in Gotham city. With half the city feeding you sonar, you can image all of Gotham. This is wrong.

In all fairness, Tony could any concept involving mechanics or physics or whatever scientific and make it better. And it wasn’t as if Lucius had invented sonar, for Heaven’s sake. And he was Tony Stark and his significant other dressed up like a bat and beat up bad guys every night. A bat!. How could he not make the jump to sonar on his own without he input of Mr. Fox?

I have to find this man, Lucius.” Batman reasoned and of course Tony agreed. The Joker was a terrorist, plain and simple, and he had murdered innocent people, including Rachel. The device Tony and Bruce had built was far down the line in the law breaking category compared to what that psycho clown had been doing.

At what cost?” Lucius said and Tony could not believe what he was hearing. The cost would be much higher if they didn’t use it. Tony was starting to get pissed off.

The data base is null key encrypted. It can only be accessed by one person.” Had Tony just heard right? Had Bruce/Batman just given Lucius permission to destroy him and Tony’s baby? Okay, not really their baby per se, it was a machine after all, but they had built it together, so it was special.

“Jarvis, I veto that,” Tony stated. “Tap in to the Hi-Fre-Ge-Re, take full control and monitor the frequencies and let us know if anything turns up.”

“Of course, sir,” Jarvis responded.

This is too much power for one person.” Mr. Fox commented and Tony rolled his eyes behind his helmet. Too much power? Tony had this kinda power every day since he had built Jarvis, and he hadn’t let it go to his head.

That’s why I gave it to you. Only you can use it.” Tony scoffed at the Bat’s words. Bruce may not be happy that Tony had done what he had done, but the way Tony saw it, the machine was half his and he could protect it if he wanted to.

Spying on 30 million people isn’t part of my job description.” Tony rolled his eyes again. Of course it wasn’t in Lucius’ job description. Who would list that if it were?

This is a sample of his voice. If he speaks within any cellphone, you can triangulate his position.” Tony had to hope that Bruce knew he would be listening in.

I will help you this one time, but consider this my resignation. As long as this machine is at Wayne Enterprises, I won’t be.” Tony wanted to scream. He was almost tempted to fly back there and give Mr. Fox a piece of his mind. An insane bastard was bringing the city to its knees, and he was worried about breaking one law that the government more-than-likely broke at least a dozen times a day one way or another?

When you’re finished, type in your name.

“Like hell,” Tony muttered. He would have a conversation with Mr. Lucius Fox later about his high and mighty stand in the face of a terrorist terrorizing Gotham and her citizens. But he would have to save that for later.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Two: Defused

“Tonight, you’re all gonna be part of a social experiment. Through the magic of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate, I’m ready right now to blow you all sky high. If anyone attempts to get off their boat, you die."

The Joker’s voice was broadcasting load and clear in Tony’s helmet thanks to Jarvis.

“Ammonium nitrate?” Tony couldn’t help an eye roll behind his helmet.

“NH4NO3(s) → N2O(g) + 2H2O(g). Commonly used in high-nitrogen fertilizer and an oxidizing agent in 80% of the explosive used in America.” Jarvis chimed in.

“I know that, Jarvis,” Tony said. “Hey babe, you hearing this?”

“I’m zeroing in.” Was the Bat’s response.

"Each of you has a remote to blow up the other boat.” The Joker continued.

“His voice is on the ferry, but it’s not the source.” Batman stated. “West. Send the coordinates to Commissioner Gordon,” he instructed Jarvis. Jarvis, bless his virtual heart, just did as he was told without commenting. No sense in drawing more of Gordon’s attention than necessary.

“I have the Joker’s location. Prewitt Building. Assemble on the building opposite.” That was Gordon. Tony truly liked the guy. He seemed like a standup guy, trustworthy and all.

“At midnight, I blow you all up. If, however, one of you presses the button, I’ll let that boat live. So, who’s it gonna be? Harvey Dent’s most wanted scumbag collection or the sweet innocent civilians. You choose. Oh, and you might wanna decide quickly because the people on the other boat may not be quite so noble.”

“One of those ships is full of prisoners from Blackgate. The other is civilians,” Jarvis informed them.

“Want to guess which one is going to be the first to push the button?” Tony commented. “You want my honest opinion; I think it’ll be a tossup.”

Batman didn’t answer him immediately, and he was sure that the Bat had some kind of hope that most people were still good, even if they were wearing orange jumpsuits or not.

“Can you get close enough to the ships without being detected?”

Covering all the bases, Tony thought. Aloud he said: “You want me to jam the signal. Yeah, I can do that. I can go under the boats. They wouldn’t have thought of that, I’m sure.”

“Good,” Batman said at length. Tony knew there was something else he wanted to say, but he doubted that it would be said. “I’m on my way to the Prewitt building. Jam that signal, Tony. Keep those people alive. All of them.”

Tony liked this less and less. Something was up and the Bat knew it and Tony didn’t like that one bit.

 

****

It annoyed Tony greatly that things never turned out as planned.

He was able to block the signal without alerting the Joker, thus insuring that everyone onboard the ships were safe even if someone decided to push the button. He had assumed that it would be the inmates from Arkham and Blackgate that would willingly and quickly end the lives of the innocent civilians on board the other ship, but once he had tapped into the speaker system of both ships, and overheard what was going on, he realized that maybe he had given those “innocent” civilians too much credit. True, the other ship was full of psychos and in Tony’s opinion not worth saving, Bruce had faith in this city and her people – all her people – and that anyone could be redeemed. Tony didn’t share that sentiment either, especially when that someone was like the Joker, but this was Gotham and Tony had agreed to give Bruce’s way of thinking a chance and he would do so to the best of his ability.

Therefore, when Jarvis warned him that Batman was in trouble, his first thought was to fly off and help. According to Jarvis, the Joker had disguised the civilian’s he had taken hostage from the hospital as his goons, while his goons were playing the part of distraught and terrified captives.

It was a trap. Not only a trap, set for Batman, but a ruse that could very well have Gotham’s finest murdering the very people they were going to storm the building to save.

“Tony, stay away!” Batman ordered sternly.

“Damn it, Bruce, you can’t do this alone, especially with Gotham P.D. about to come busting in.” Tony flew up into the sky out of the river where he had been hiding, cruising around under the ships. “Jarvis, tap into his hub. If he can see it, I want to see it. If he can hear it, I want to hear it.”

“I need to be able to see in the dark,” Bruce whispered, more to himself than to Tony.

“You’re in luck, Sunshine,” Tony said with a grin no one could see as he flew high above the city, come to a halt and hovering over the Prewitt building. “I improved your hub. And guess what I improved it with?”

“Sonar,” Batman answered, a slight hint of amusement in his voice. Tony was proud of that. “Gordon’s men are coming in. I have to make sure that the wrong people do not get hurt.”

“I know, babe,” Tony stated, still hovering. “And I am right here if you need me.”

He heard punching and gunfire and shouting after that, plus the barking of dogs, rather big dogs. He also got tapped into a phone call to Gordon from Harvey Dent.

“Shit!” He cursed. Could this night get any worse?

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Three: Martyr

When Commissioner Gordon flew down the stairs, after making sure his family was okay, he had expected to see the Batman lying on the ground, dead from the fall he had taken from several stories up. Harvey Dent, or what had been left him mentally and emotionally, had lured Gordon here to exact his revenge for Rachel Dawes’ death by threatening his family. The Batman had arrived, though, and not only taken a bullet, but had saved Gordon’s son by tackling Dent, forcing him from the roof, and catching Gordon’s son, handing him safely to his father, before he had plunged to the ground.

As Gordon ran down the stairs, he heard a strange whining sound. He couldn’t quite place it, but it sounded like some kind of machinery. Like a jet had sped through, very low to ground, but also much quieter than any jet he had ever heard, but that was as close to the source of the sound as he could figure. And then he heard the unmistakable sound of metal scrapping the ground. He could even see the flashes from the sparks as he took the last flight of stairs down.

But when Gordon arrived, Dent’s lifeless body was on the ground, and the Batman was standing over him.

“Daddy? Daddy, is he okay?” Gordon’s son asked from above.

Batman was bleeding rather heavily from the gunshot wound in his stomach.

“Thank you,” Gordon said, a little out of breath.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Batman said, obviously in pain.

“Yes, I do,” Gordon insisted. “The Joker won,” he said after a few moments. “Harvey’s prosecution, everything he worked for, undone. Whatever chance you gave us at fixing our city dies with Harvey’s reputation. We bet it all on him. The Joker took the best of us and tore him down. People will lose hope.”

“They won’t,” Batman said, his gaze drifting up to the young boy still looking down on them. “They must never know what he did.” He said, looking to Gordon once more.

“Five dead. Two of them cops. You can’t sweep that – “

“No. But the Joker cannot win.” Batman knelt down next to Harvey Dent’s body. He moved Dent’s head to where the unscarred side was the side that was up. “Gotham needs its true hero.” Batman stood to his feet once again, with some effort.

“No,” Gordon protested, knowing what the Batman was truly saying.

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” A phrase Dent had said to Bruce not too long ago. “I can do those things, because I’m not a hero. Not like Dent. I killed those people. That’s what I can be.”

“No. No, you can’t. You’re not.” Gordon was obviously not happy about this.

“I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” Batman argued, though calm in spite of everything. “Call it in.” He motioned to the radio Gordon held in his hand.

“They’ll hunt you,” Gordon said.

“You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” With one last glance at the open doorway to the burned out building, and a quick nod to Gordon, Batman took off running.

“Batman,” Gordon’s son, James, cried as he came to his father’s side. Batman!” He yelled again. “Why is he running, dad?”

“Because we have to chase him,” Gordon explained, saddened by it all. The sounds of angry cops, and their trained dogs, could be heard. The cops had been waiting at the front of the building for Gordon, and now they were hunting the man they thought responsible for the death of 2 of their own, as crooked as they had been.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” James argued.

“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.”

The cops yelling and the dogs barking ferociously could be heard as Batman made his way through the maze of shipping containers to where he had left the Batpod. The shrill sound of the motor as he sped away, out running the cops, and disappearing into the night.

In the burned out husk of the building that Rachel Dawes had died in, the place where Harvey’s Dent’s descent had taken place, and would forever be hidden, the blue lights of the Iron Man armor flared, a visual, though unseen by any, mirror of the anger that the man inside the armor felt. As silent as he could, Tony made his way out of the charred building, remorse over the loss of Rachel heavy in his heart, and took to the air to follow his heart home, praying Bruce was all right.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Four: Upheld

At some point, Bruce felt himself losing consciousness, from the pain of the gunshot wound and the blood loss from said wound. All things considered, his injuries could have been much worse. If Tony hadn’t swooped in when he had, catching him just a few feet from impacting with the very solid ground, bones would be shattered, internal injuries, internal bleeding, more than likely a shattered pelvis, or a broken back. But Tony had been there, the metal of his armor scrapping the ground for just a second before righting them and putting Bruce on his feet.

“Baby, are you alright? Oh, Sunshine, I am so sorry.” Bruce knew what Tony was talking about: Rachel. That was another loss that he felt too.

The batpod was getting harder to steer, especially at the high speed he needed to maintain to stay ahead of the police vehicles that were sure to be on his tail. He had to keep going. He had to make it home. But his vision was blacking out, the batpod slowing as he was losing the ability to steer it.

And then, once more, he was caught just short of certain disaster, only this time he was lifted up, high into the air. In light of everything that had happened, and all that was going to happen as long as he put on the Batsuit and defended this city, he suddenly felt…safe. There was a secureness here, flying above the city, where no one could harm him. For the moment, the cold metal of Iron Man’s armor comforted the fever that had invaded his body. The arc reactor hummed in his head, soothingly so. And the fact that Tony had him, wouldn’t let him go, wouldn’t allow him to fall, was the one sure thing in this world that he could believe in, even when he didn’t believe in himself.

“Hang on, cupcake,” Tony said over the coms. Bruce couldn’t help but smile, letting his body relax for the first time in so very long. “Jarvis, take control of the batpod. Get it back to where it belongs.”

“At once, sir.” Even Jarvis’ voice, in a way, was comforting.

“Alfred, this is Tony. I need you to call Dr. Thompkins. Bruce has been shot.” Bruce didn’t hear Alfred’s reaction, but he could imagine it, and it made him cringe with guilt. “Hey, babe, you’re gonna be alright.” Tony said to him as they began to dive and when Bruce looked down over his shoulder, he could see the docks where his temporary Batcave was hidden. “Dr. Thompkins is going to fix you up and then we are going to lie in bed and watch reruns of old shows, and eat all the food that Alfred can fix, and I am not going to leave you. Do you hear me?” There were tears in his voice. It took a lot to make Tony Stark cry. “I’m never going to leave you again.”

“Tony,” Bruce said, and his voice sounded foreign to him. It wasn’t the rasp of the Bat or the normal tone of Bruce Wayne. It sounded alien to him.

Shhh. Don’t talk, babe, okay?”

Bruce shook his head, reaching up and grasping the metal covering Tony’s shoulder. Above him were patches of clouds and blankets of stars, and he thought it was so beautiful. “Tony,” he said louder, determined to get the words out. Tony needed to hear them. He needed to know. “I –” A spasm of pain in his stomach made him grimace in pain. When it passed, he tried once more. “Tony, I…I love you.”

“I love you, too, Bruce.” No hesitation. Not any doubt that he meant it.

Bruce believed everything Tony had said to him. He believed him with all his heart and soul, with every ounce and fiber of his being. Like he told Gordon, sometimes people needed to have their faith rewarded, even Bruce Wayne. Even Batman. But he never got to tell Tony this before everything went black as he lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Five: Mourning

As consciousness came back to him, so did the things that had happened. Rachel’s death. Harvey’s fall from grace at the hands of the Joker. The lives lost. All the destruction.

Before he could even open his eyes, Bruce threw his arms over his face, wanting to block out as much of it as he could, but to no avail. The images assaulted him, the grief gnawed at him. All of this was his fault, his doing. If he hadn’t ever become the Batman, Rachel would be alive and Gotham would have the hero it so deserved in Harvey Dent.

“Hey, baby.” The voice that spoke to him drew him out of his self-loathing and regret. He let his arms fall from his face and he opened his eyes, gazing at the person there next to him.

“Tony,” he said, barely over a whisper.

The tears burned his eyes, blurring his vision. He wished they would stop, but they wouldn’t. They kept flowing, scorching in anger, regret, pain, and grief. And just like he had all those years before, Tony gathered him up and held him close, held him tight, and Bruce clung to him and wept like a child, like a child who had lost his parents to a desperate man with a gun, like a young adult who was to see that man released, his parents memory nothing but a shadow in the face of a city teetering on the edge of oblivion.

And like before, Tony felt that loss also. Rachel had been his friend, too, just as Thomas and Martha Wayne had been like parents to him. As Bruce wept, so did Tony, but he whispered comfort and offered solace. Bruce buried his face in the other man’s shoulder, paying no attention to the pain in his stomach until he absolutely had to.

Tony eased him back down until his head was on the pillow once more. Bruce met his eyes to find deep brown swimming in tears, and all the emotions that Bruce himself felt reflected there.

“How long have I been unconscious?” He wanted to add ‘this time’, but didn’t.

“3 days. A new record for you according to Alfred,” Tony said with a smile, but it was small and there was no mirth in it. “Dr. Lesley got the bullet out and stopped the bleeding. She said you need to not move more than necessary for a few weeks.”

Bruce knew there was something Tony was reluctant to tell him. “What is it?”

Tony sighed, and lay down next to Bruce; putting his head on the same pillow Bruce’s was on, his chin on his shoulder. “They had the city wide memorial for Dent yesterday.” There was a flick of bitterness in his voice. “Aired it on TV. Hero and all that.” He paused for a moment, giving Bruce a chance to gear up for the rest. “Gordon destroyed the Bat signal. He hates this as much as I do. Police are on high alert for any sign of the Bat. He is to be apprehended at all costs.” He sighed again, his breath tickling Bruce’s ear. “Rachel’s funeral is tomorrow.”

“I have to go,” Bruce said, turning his head to where his nose was partially buried in Tony’s hair. “We have to go.” Tony’s hair tickled his lips when he breathed.

“Dr. Lesley and Alfred might not be too happy about that,” Tony reminded him. “You were shot three days ago. And, if you show up injured, people might get suspicious.”

“Gordon and his family are the only ones who know Batman got shot,” Bruce explained. “And I don’t think they are going to say anything.”

Tony sat up on his elbow, looking down at Bruce. “Gordon, at least, will be there. He’s more than capable of putting 2 and 2 together.”

“When I was training with the League of Shadows, they taught me several techniques on how to mask pain and push it aside altogether if need be,” Bruce reached up and ran the knuckles of his left right hand over the other man’s cheek. “I’ll be fine. We have to go. It’s Rachel, Tony.”

Tony sighed, shaking his head. “The last time she and I spoke, we kinda got into it. I called her a ‘stupid girl’ and she stormed out.” He fell over on his back next to Bruce. “The entire time I was flying back to Malibu, I kept telling myself not to forget to send her those damned chocolate covered cherries she liked so much. Maybe get Pepper to pick her out a ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. And one of those coffee cups that don’t break because she couldn’t hold onto one to –”

Tony didn’t finish the sentence, cursing the words that had almost come out of his mouth. “To save her life.” Bruce reached over and took Tony’s hand in his, his eyes focused on the ceiling. As close as the two of them were, Tony still couldn’t stand for anyone, including Bruce, to see him cry.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Six: Forward

Tony and Bruce stood side-by-side at the gravesite. They were surrounded by many mourners, friends, and of course Rachel’s mother. She sat in a chair, sobbing, her brother standing beside her, holding an umbrella over her to protect from the cold drizzle that fell. Neither Tony nor Bruce could look at her.

Pepper stood to Tony’s left. She had known Rachel almost as long as she had known Tony and Bruce. They had spoken several times on the phone, always promising to get together and have lunch or something if the occasion ever rose. It never had. Dr. Lesley stood to Bruce’s right. She had been a colleague of Thomas Wayne’s and had held both he and Martha as dear friends. She had been there when Rachel was born, just as she had been there when Bruce had been born. It didn’t seem fair to her that she should be standing here at the final resting place of one of these children she had seen come into the world. The hand that grasped Bruce’s arm to steady her tightened and she prayed she wouldn’t live to see the other one buried.

Happy and Alfred stood behind Bruce and Tony, each holding umbrellas over themselves and the two of the four in front of them. Happy covered Tony and Pepper and Alfred, Bruce and Dr. Lesley. Both stood shoulder to shoulder, mainly so no one behind them could see Bruce and Tony’s clasped hands, hidden behind them from anyone who may be looking from the front. It was a comforting gesture, more than anything, but the reporters and gossipers would make a big deal out of it for sure. Neither one was in the mood to read about it in the papers tomorrow.

When the funeral was over, after everyone had passed the lowered casket, tossing roses onto the surface, Alfred and Happy continued to follow Tony and Bruce as they made their way to Tony’s car.

“We’ll see you back at the penthouse,” Bruce said before getting into the passenger side of the Audi. Alfred nodded and he and Happy, along with Pepper and Dr. Lesley, got into the limo, Happy getting behind the wheel. They watched Tony’s car pull away from the curb, and sat there until the other car was out of site before pulling away themselves.

It was 5 blocks, 5 dreary blocks from the site of Rachel’s funeral, before Tony said anything.

“You really need to get it through my thick skull that we are not going to keep driving until we are far away from this city,” Tony said, his features and tone somber. Bruce knew the other man was serious, and it wasn’t easy for him to disagree.

“As much as I want to do just that…” He stopped himself in midsentence and sighed, leaning his back against the headrest.

“How are you feeling?” Tony asked, changing the subject. Bruce had been in much pain last night, so much so that he had been unable to sleep more than a few moments at a time. He had to be in pain now because he had refused to take any of the pain medication Dr. Lesley had tried to give him, and had walked to the gravesite, stood there, and then walked back to the car without the cane he was supposed to be using.

“I think once we get back to the Penthouse, I am going to take the medication Dr. Lesley left for me,” Bruce admitted, trying to hide a grimace as he shifted in the seat, trying to find a position more comfortable. Tony was only glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, keeping most of his attention on the road and traffic ahead, but he still saw the look of pain on Bruce’s face.

“I’ll get you home, and then we can dope you up, and put you to bed.” Tony sighed, wanting to stop the car, bang his head on the steering wheel, and then jump out of the car and scream his head off. He refrained from doing so with much effort. “Hell, we’ll both go to bed, and sleep the rest of this day away. I hate this day.”

“So do I,” Bruce whispered, his eyes fixed on the area next to them out of the window, but he wasn’t seeing anything there. “We can add it to the list of other days we hate.”

He didn’t even flinch when Tony’s hand gripped his, entwining their fingers together. The action, the warmth of the other man’s skin, comforted Bruce, but it also brought the tears to his eyes that he had fought so hard to keep from falling during the funeral.

Tony knew the tears were both in mourning and in pain, but Bruce held onto his hand as if it were a lifeline, and Tony knew that was exactly what it was because it was the same for him.

“We’re going to get through this. Together.” He said softly and the squeeze of Bruce’s hand on his was confirmation.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Seven: Tagged

“Which suit?” Bruce asked, holding up a light gray suit and a dark blue one.

“Well,” Tony began, setting aside the book he had been skimming, “the gray one brings out your eyes, but the blue one makes your ass look even more awesome than it already does.”

Bruce sighed, going back into the walk-in closet. “The gray one it is.” A moment later, he peeked around the door at Tony. “How is it that most of our conversations, no matter how distant from my ass, always end up with you saying something about it?”

“Because I think about it all the time. I love your ass. I would tattoo my name on your ass.” He sat up, swinging his feet to the floor. “Property of…” He held his hand up, his fingers splayed in what had to be described as a groping motion. He moved his hand a few inches to the right. “…Tony Stark.”

“You’re insane,” Bruce said, ducking back into the closet. “If you think I am going to let you tattoo your name on my ass, you’ve completely lost what little sanity you have managed to hang onto all these years.”

“Oh, well, in that case, I won’t tell you what you don’t want to know.”

Bruce paused in the middle of tying his tie, his brow wrinkling in confusion. What had Tony just said? What was he up to? He turned on his heel, fingers still holding his tie exactly where he had left off from tying, and stepped cautiously out of the closet.

“Tony, what did you do?”

“I just told you I wasn’t going to tell you.” Tony threw himself back on the bed.

“Tony!” Bruce said, giving up on the tie. “Tell me.”

“Bat voice. Doesn’t work on me.” Tony waved his hands in the air. After a few seconds, though, he dropped them and sat back up. “Remember that conversation we had a while ago, about you taking the tracking device I had put in your armor out?” Bruce nodded slowly. “And I said that if you did it again, I was going to put a tracking device in you, tag you like a puppy?” Bruce nodded again, not liking where this was going. “Well, I did it. You are my puppy. If you get lost or stolen, then they can scan you and know where and to whom you belong.”

“You didn’t,” Bruce said. His face was nothing but disbelief. “Please tell me you are kidding.”

“I could tell you that, but it would be lying and we don’t do that to each other.” Tony was sitting still but he was ready to jump up and run if he had to. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you, because I did. I warned you weeks ago.”

“Was I awake?” Bruce just had to ask, wondering exactly where the tag was in his system.

“Maybe. Sorta.” Tony looked up at the ceiling and shook his head. “Nope, not at all. You were sound asleep, or as sound asleep as you can get.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised, should I, that you would do something like this?” Bruce was sure that he could feel the thing inside of him now.

“I made sure that no one but Jarvis can track it, so don’t worry about someone else being able to tap into it and track you.” Tony stood, going over to Bruce, and began knotting the tie he wore. “I know you would rather not be tagged like a household pet, but it gives me more peace of mind, so you are just going to have to live with it.”

“It seems I don’t have a choice,” Bruce stated flatly.

It had been 3 months since Rachel’s funeral, and while he wasn’t one-hundred percent, he was able to go out and patrol as Batman at night once again. He had to be extra careful and not just because of his injury, which still reared its ugly head every once in a while, but because he was now public enemy number one, considering nearly all of Gotham thought the Batman had killed Harvey Dent, as well as several police officers. Gordon knew the truth, but he understood the reason for the ruse. Tony, of course, knew also, and he didn’t like it one bit and made sure Bruce knew this at least twice a day.

“No, you don’t. Not at all.” Tony gave the tie one more little pull, just to make sure it was right, and then he patted Bruce on top of the head. “Now that all that is settled, it is time for you to go to work. Have a great day, dear, and I will meet you at that horrible –“ he rolled his eyes once again, “– little wretch’s boat, and you are taking me to lunch once that little meeting is over.”

Bruce hid his smile as he pulled on his jacket and left the room. He could still hear Tony mumbling as descended the stairs.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Eight: Seaworthy

The Final Offer was not a pretty sight. In fact, it was downright ugly. In Tony’s opinion, the only way this ship was ever going to be worth anything, was when it was at the bottom of the ocean. Then at least some fish would have a place to live. He couldn’t understand how it wasn’t a huge metal aquarium already given the condition it was in. Seaworthy was a distant memory. How it was still floating was one even his mind couldn’t wrap around.

But that idiot, Cobblepot, thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world the way he gushed about it, his beady black eyes swimming with glee, though a tad murky. Honestly, Tony had to wonder why Bruce had dragged him out here.

It was hot, especially for Gotham this time of year, and the one day Tony wouldn’t have minded the sky muted with clouds. But, as luck would have it, Mother Nature decided that today, the day Tony had worn his heavy suit coat, would be one of the few days that Gotham actually got sunshine.

And he was forced to listen to this runt of a man go on and on about this ship and what a great bargain it was and blah blah blah. Tony glanced at his partner out of the corner of his eye, and saw that Bruce actually looked like he was paying attention, as if he agreed with Cobblepot’s assessment of the Final Offer. He wanted to poke Bruce, none-too-gently, in the ribs with his elbow.

This was his punishment, he was sure. Punishment for the “tag” that he had injected into Bruce. But he had just told Bruce about that this morning and Bruce had talked him into meeting Cobblepot a week ago, so it wasn’t punishment. But it still felt like it, and maybe that was why Bruce was so hell bent to make sure he seemed to be enjoying this little tour. He was enjoying Tony’s misery and that was the punishment. Tony fought to keep from sighing aloud, and from yawning. He was miserable and bored. Bruce should be full of glee.

Another thing that Tony couldn’t understand was why Cobblepot had invited them here in the first place. It wasn’t a big secret that the Cobblepots and Waynes had a long history of not liking each other. According the Jarvis, Oswald’s great-great-grandfather, Henry, had blamed Bruce’s great-great-grandfather, Solomon Wayne, for his family’s loss of fortune. Apparently, they, along with Amadeus Arkham and a man named Cyrus Pinkney, had built the foundation for modern day Gotham over a hundred years ago.

Tony couldn’t remember any more details. He wished he had paid more attention, but he was sure he could get Bruce to fill in the blanks later, once they were in the car and on their way to lunch at Dorsia, Bruce’s restaurant/hotel/swimming pool. Whatever the reason, Oswald had made no qualms about carrying on his family grudge in the past, but, yet, here Bruce was, standing on the deck of Cobblepot’s dilapidated pride and joy as if there was no family squabble whatsoever.

“It will take a great amount of time and money to fix her up,” Cobblepot was saying as he waddled around the deck. “But once she is, I will turn her into a floating casino with the finest food, liquor, and entertainment Gotham has ever seen.”

So, that was it, Tony thought, the little creep wanted money, or, better yet, investors.

“How much?” Bruce just had to ask. Tony turned, his back to Bruce and Oswald, giving the pretense that he was looking around, but only so he could roll his eyes.

“Well,” Cobblepot said, and he had the common sense to at least look sheepish. “10 million, but it will returned and then some once it is up and running.”

Bruce was silent for a moment. “You will understand, Oswald, that Tony and I will have to talk about this first. I am sure that he is just as interested in this as I am. Isn’t that right, Tony?”

Tony spun around on his heel, trying not to glare at the other man, and give the impression that he was, in fact, interested in investing in the monstrosity of the sea. “Oh, yes, most definitely.”

“I understand completely,” Oswald said with a greedy little grin.

Five minutes later, Bruce and Tony were safe on the dock, making their way to Bruce’s car. Once he was sure they were not going to be overheard, Tony poked Bruce in the ribs with his elbow.

“What the hell, cupcake? You aren’t seriously thinking of investing in this, are you?” He shook his head in disbelief. “It’s not worth any price to fix that thing up.”

“No, it isn’t,” Bruce agreed. “In fact, I don’t even think he is going to use the money to repair the ship. I don’t believe he is interested in that at all.”

“Huh?” Tony’s face scrunched up in confusion.

“He’s running an illegal weapon’s ring on-board the Final Offer. A massive amount of weapons. Meeting with him was the only way I could put a bug on him so Jarvis can keep tabs on where he goes and who he talks to.”

“And you couldn’t let me in on this?”

“I did. I told you all about it.” Bruce smiled as he opened the car door.

“When?” Tony honestly couldn’t remember a conversation about any of this at all.

“A week ago, the morning I couldn’t make it to Wayne Enterprises because it was snowing so badly.”

Tony paused before getting into the car, thinking hard. Finally, it came to him. “That wasn’t fair. I wasn’t paying attention. I was…preoccupied, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Bruce’s smile was megawatt bright. “That’s the best time to ask you to do something. You just can’t say ‘no’.”

“That’s sneaky,” Tony mumbled as Bruce started the engine and they sped off.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Nine: Black

“Sirs, there has been a disturbance at Blackgate Penitentiary,” Jarvis’ voice rang from the main chamber of the cave.

The penitentiary was a no-fly-zone, so helicopters could not get closer than the bridge leading to Blackgate, and apparently news crews were held even farther back by vehicles and cement blockades that had been haphazardly, but effectively, piled up to keep Gotham’s police from responding to the attack at the prison.

The front gate of Blackgate was nothing but twisted metal, and the west wing of the building was almost completely caved in, bricks lying strewn about all over the front yard of the facility.

“Jarvis, do the police have any idea who did this?” Bruce asked, his eyes darting back and forth, analyzing every angle.

“No, sir. The police are still in-route to the scene, but I have accessed the prison security feeds.”

“Bring those up, please, Jarvis.”

Tony entered the main area of the cave from the side room where his equipment was set up to work on his armor and where he also improved various gadgets in Batman’s arsenal. The gadgets were what he had been giving the most attention to lately, variations on the batarangs (still not the official name – yet), the launcher (improving on Lucius Fox’s original design), and several others that he hadn’t quite worked out yet, but would very soon. He came over and stood behind the chair Bruce occupied, watching the footage from the prison.

“Who in the hell is that?” He asked, not recognizing the man on the screen.

The man wore a three-piece white pinstriped suit with a black shirt and white tie. A nice suit, obviously an expensive one, but what caught Bruce and Tony’s attention was the mask he wore: it was the form of a skull, black, but what exactly it was composed of, they could not tell.

“Roman Sionis. Calls himself the ‘Black Mask’.” Bruce answered, clearly not impressed.

“I take it you are familiar with the guy,” Tony said.

“His family owned the steel mill, very wealthy, but all they cared about were their place in Gotham's high society, more than their son. My parents knew them. The Sionis’ came to every social event and gave the impression of being friends, but…” He shrugged before continuing. “Roman took over running a division of his parent’s company, Janus Cosmetics, but he wasn’t much of a business man. Failed line of cosmetics nearly ruined them, so he pushed out a new line of waterproof make-up without proper testing, and it ended up being toxic. He was forced to pay millions to the women who it disfigured.”

“Ouch!” Tony shuddered.

“That’s not all. He burned down his family home, with his mother and father in it. Police could never prove it was him, but I never had any doubts.”

“And I take it the two of you weren’t friends?”

“I tried to be. I offered to bail out his company, but only if he gave up control and let me appoint the Board of Directors. He agreed, but he considered it a big humiliation. He disappeared for a while, but in the last few years, he has been assembling petty criminals, and I think he is working with Cobblepot, moving illegal weapons.”

“Another freak to add to the already impressive list,” Tony mumbled as the black-masked man on the screen strolled the corridors of the penitentiary as if he owned the place, followed closely by several goons, also wearing masks, though not the same design as their leader’s. “He certainly seems confident. Where are all the guards?”

“There is something else you need to see,” Jarvis chimed in, and the screen shifted to another view from a camera in the prison, only this time it displayed something more worrisome than the black-masked man.

“Oh shit,” Tony swore.

The thing, creature, or whatever on the screen was at least 10-feet tall, and covered in scales, with a bald head and a mouth full of long, razor-sharp teeth. While his upper chest, back, and arms were covered in green scales, his lower belly was a white hue and the scales not so prominent. Though his large hands were wrapped in bandages, as were his bare feet, it was still easy to discern that his fingers ended in claws and he used them efficiently to not only tear through the guards that tried to subdue him, but the stone of the walls and the reinforced metal of the RIOT shields some of the guards carried.

“Reptilian Regressive Atavism Physiology,” Bruce muttered, and Tony nodded unseen behind him.

“Correct, sir, and since it is such a rare disorder, I believe I have found who he is.” Jarvis stated, and while one part of the screen still showed the various prison camera angles, the other side switched to a mug shot, an up close of the scaly menace. “His birth name is Waylon Jones. His mother died in childbirth and his father left shortly after, leaving him in the care of his aunt, an abusive alcoholic. According the police report, he disappeared from his home after partially eating his aunt in a fit of rage.”

Tony took the seat next to Bruce, shaking his head in disgust. “He’s a cannibal. Should have seen that coming.”

“He next shows up as a member of a circus using the name ‘Killer Croc’, but given his appearance, it didn’t take authorities long to identify him, and since then he has been underground, though it is believed he has been hiring his…services as they are, out to various mob organizations.”

“Waylon Jones, aka Killed Croc,” Bruce said, standing up suddenly.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Tony asked, getting up to follow him. He knew the answer already. “If you are thinking of going to Blackgate, you should reconsider that, sunshine. That Killer Croc guy has a pretty good chance of getting through your armor with those claws, and let’s not even talk about those teeth.”

“I have to something,” Bruce argued, going to his bat armor. “I’m going to have a much better chance than the police.”

“You’re gonna let me go, right?” Tony said, motioning in the air, a sign Jarvis correctly took as get his armor powered up. “We aren’t going to argue about this, are we, because…” He motioned again, this time at the screen.

Bruce gifted him with a small smile. “I’m a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. Of course you’re going with me.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty: Warden

The Batwing flew in low over the penitentiary before swinging back around again, landing in the yard near the decimated west end of the building. Iron Man landed next to him, surveying the damage.

“Want me to blast it, make a bigger opening?”

Brue didn’t answer immediately. He was too focused on why the black-masked man would go to all this trouble to break into a prison. What could he possibly gain from doing so?

“Jarvis, take the Batwing out, but keep it close. We have to find out why they are here before Gotham PD finds a way over the bridge.” Tony nodded, having seen the blockade that had been erected on the bridge, blocking all lanes of traffic. There were claw marks on the vehicles that had been stacked up and on the huge and heavy concrete dividers. Clearly, Killer Croc was one strong reptile man.

“So…” Tony said in way of a reminder.

Batman shook his head. “Could do more damage than good.” He went over to a section of the damaged wall, and knelt down. “This goes through.” He began to crawl inside.

“You can’t be serious,” Tony snarled. “This armor was made for flying, not crawling.” He knew that the Bat wasn’t paying a bit of attention to his complaining, so, with a sigh, he followed the other man. His going was much more difficult, his armor scraping the concrete above him, and his knees grating on the concrete below him. Once through, and on his feet, he was surprised to find a black-masked goon unconscious on the ground, and another man, one he recognized as Warden Joseph, sitting on the ground.

“They took the Commissioner.”

“The Commissioner?” Batman said, and Tony swore under his breath. “What is Gordon doing here?”

“Inspection. It’s his job to inspect Blackgate security, make sure we are up to snuff. He called me today and said he would be dropping by tonight.” Warden Joseph reached up and adjusted his tie.

“And you told them he was going to be here.” Batman concluded with a snarl. “Did Black Mask pay you to tell him when Gordon would be here?”

“No,” the warden answered, shaking his head in shame. “He threatened my family if I didn’t help him.”

“So he thinks killing Gordon is going to move him up the criminal mastermind ladder,” Tony stated, his voice only reaching Batman through the HUD. Joseph hadn’t seen him yet.

“Where were they going?”

Joseph only hesitated long enough to take a loud swallow. “Execution chamber.”

Batman grabbed Joseph by his collar, hauling him up from the ground. For a second, Tony thought that Batman was going to punch the warden, but instead he released Joseph and stepped back from him. “Is there somewhere safe where you can wait for the police to arrive?”

“Yeah,” Joseph nodded, finally noticing Iron Man standing off to the side. The warden had a patch over one eye, an injury he had suffered during a prison riot some years back when he was just a guard. He just nodded at Iron Man before following Batman down the corridor. There was a security office just before the heavy doors leading into the main prison. “I’ll wait in here. Don’t worry, Batman. I’ll face what I have done. Tell Gordon that I’m sorry.” He entered the room, locked the door, and sat down, putting his face in his hands.

“If Black Mask is taking Gordon to the execution chamber, then we have to hurry.”

“He has to know that you are going to show up to stop him, so I imagine that he released a few of your friends to greet you.” Tony eyed the security door. “Jarvis, what’s on the other side of this door?”

“All the prisoners in the area directly ahead of you are still in their cells, but you were correct about Black Mask releasing prisoners farther in. There are also several members of Black Mask’s thugs as well. Killer Croc is moving to join Black Mask and Commissioner Gordon. They are nearly at the execution chamber.”

“Jarvis,” Tony said and it was enough. The heavy security door opened with a loud clang, and the sounds of the prisoners in the area beyond was loud as they yelled and through themselves against the bars.

But, they grew silent, so silent it was as if the room was suddenly empty, and backed away from their cell doors at the sight of Batman entering. Tony smiled under his helmet, wanting to laugh out loud, but refrained from it given the situation. There was a doublewide stairway that led down, farther into the prison, in the center of the room, and Iron Man followed, still greatly amused by all those prisoners cowering in the back of their cells, as Batman took the stairs two at a time to the next level.

“Can you do anything to keep that execution chamber from working?” Batman asked Jarvis.

“The mode of execution is gas, but it is controlled by electronic switches. I believe I will be able to delay them.”

“Get ready,” Tony stated as the next security door opened.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-One: Chamber

Through the prison they went, taking out bad guys, putting all of them, even the Black Mask thugs who were just going to end up there anyway, into cells.

The execution chamber was large room behind nearly a full wall of bullet- and shatterproof glass. Gordon was already in the gas chamber situated in one corner of the large room, and Black Mask and his goons weren’t having much luck going through with their plan of executing the Commissioner.

With nothing to do, Black Mask had Gordon tossed into the gas chamber anyway, and the door sealed from the outside, before he left the room, leaving three of his thugs behind.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would swear that they set this up, hoping to get you here,” Tony stated.

“But why? If he has a problem with anyone, it’s Bruce Wayne, not Batman It’s possible I could’ve shut down something illegal he was behind, and he isn’t happy about it. But you’re right: it all seems rather convenient.”

“Well, we’ll look into it, but right now, I think Jim would like to get out of that chamber, working or not.” Shatterproof glass wasn’t really shatterproof, not when it came to Iron Man. One hit was all it took to send a myriad of cracks through it, allowing Batman to jump through it. He came up on his feet, taking out two of the thugs before they knew what hit them. The last one, in body armor no less, was a brave soul, bringing the pipe he had in his hands up like he were a baseball player at bat, but before he could attack Batman, Iron Man’s repulsor ray hit him square in the chest, sending him flying into the wall, unconscious on impact.

“You’ve been waiting to do that, haven’t you?” Batman asked, approaching the chamber where Gordon was, who was obviously relieved to see a friendly face…or cowl.

“You know it!” Tony joined him, knocking on the glass of the chamber door. “What would you do without us, Jim ol’ boy?”

Commissioner Gordon scowled at him, shaking his head, but then smiled with a shrug of his shoulders. “Sometimes I wonder about that myself.” His voice was muffled due to the thick glass. “Now, would you mind helping me out again, and getting me the hell out of here?”

Batman turned the handle, and it gave with a little resistance and a lot of high pitched squealing. Gordon stepped out; taking in deep lung-full’s of air. “The next time I come here to do an inspection, one of you, or both of you, are coming with me. To hell with it!”

“Are you alright?” Tony asked.

“Fine,” Gordon said. “They didn’t rough me up or anything. Warden Joseph gave this guy a heads up, didn’t he?”

“Yes, and he is willing to turn himself in,” Batman told him. “Black Mask threatened him family."

“Figured as much. And that Black Mask character – he really doesn’t like you.” Gordon shook his head.

“What do you know about him?”

“Small time weapons dealing, drugs, and various other crimes. He and his gang have been building quite a reputation over the last few months and then things quieted down for a few weeks, almost as if he had packed it up and moved to another city. Now this. I don’t know what you did to piss him off, but he’s out to get you.”

They filled him in on Killer Croc. “Obviously, Black Mask has hired him.”

“Shit,” Gordon swore with another shake of his head. “I’m going to head back, keep Joseph company until my men arrive. You two be careful. Like I said, this guy is pissed and now this Killer Croc guy. I have a feeling there is a lot more going on here than we think.”

“If we find out anything, we’ll let you know.” Batman told him and Jim nodded once again. He shook both their hands before climbing out the window and heading back.

“Jarvis, you got eyes on Black Mask and Killer Croc?” Tony opened the door that Black Mask had exited through moments before.

“Yes. They are headed to the roof. There is a helicopter waiting for them. Also, sir, there is a drone in the facility. Controlled remotely. I am attempting to trace the signal, but it appears that all the radio towers in Gotham are sending out a jamming signal. It is making it difficult to triangulate where the drone is being controlled from.”

“Another one of Black Mask’s guys, or someone new?”

“We’ll ask him when we catch him.” Batman stated as he led the way after Black Mask, Killer Croc, and now a drone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Two: Drone

They were moving quickly. No more of Black Mask’s thugs were waiting for them. Just as Batman rounded the corner, he looked up to see the drone flying by in the cross-section ahead. It proceeded down the hall, out of sight.

“According to Jarvis, we are almost to the stairway that will lead us up to the roof,” Tony said. He was about to say more when several loud crashes came from the direction the drone had gone in, the last one causing the floor and lights attached to the ceiling to shake. “That doesn’t sound good.”

Down the hallway and around another corner, they came across what was left of the drone. It had been smashed into pieces. The latter up to the next landing had also taken considerable damage.

Batman knelt next to what was left of the drone. Fortunately, the memory card was still intact. He would have to get it back to the cave to see if Jarvis could get anything off of it.

“Hey! Listen!” Tony whispered, pointing upward.

I told you to grab the memory card.” The voice was distant, but it had to be Black Mask.

You wanted it smashed, so I smashed it.” Growly, hissing undertone. Could only be Killer Croc.

It had better be, or the next thing that gets smashed will be your face!

Killer Croc only growled in answer, and no more was said between the two.

“The memory card is damaged, but I’m sure Jarvis can get information off of it,” Batman said, reaching for the bat claw.

“I could just fly us up there, you know,” Tony offered.

Batman just shook his head though there was a small smile on his lips. The bat claw latched onto the railing of the floor above all the damage and Batman propelled upward quickly. It was Tony’s turn to shake his head, firing his thrusters just enough to climb slowly and quietly.

The stairs to the next landing was on the other side, so while Batman ran around to them, Tony hovered. “I could make your life so much easier. If you had just let me, you’d be up there by now.”

“Sshhh!” Was all the answer he got.

“Don’t ‘sshhh’ me. I’m older than you.”

“Age wise, yes,” Batman said as he went around another landing. “Mentally, I have serious doubts.”

“Aww, sunshine, I love you, too,” Tony said with a huff. Then he shrugged,” I have serious doubts about that also. Fine. You win. Run, run, run, if it makes you happy.”

Tony did land behind him once Batman reached the door to the roof. It was rather warped and clawed up, Killer Croc’s work, but Batman got it open, and they stepped out to the whish whish or helicopter blades.

“So much for a no fly zone,” Tony said, his voice coming through the HUD.

“You fly,” Batman answered.

“It says no helicopters unless on prison business. It says nothing about a guy in really cool armor.” He paused for just a second. “You flew in also.”

“I didn’t land on the roof.” The helicopter began to turn, going away from the prison. “Tony…”

“Got it!” Tony took the air, aiming to stop the helicopter by any means necessary, but hopefully without killing anyone. As he got close to the open door on the side of the copter, he saw a sight that made him pull up short, but it still didn’t help him much.

Killer Croc, all 11 ft and 500 hundred pounds of him, came flying out of the helicopter, slamming into Iron Man with the force of his momentum and weight, his claws digging into Tony’s upper arms. Red warning lights began to flash inside his helmet, but there was nothing he could do to slow his descent. Down Iron Man went, Killer Croc latched on, and when his back slammed into the ground, it knocked the breath out of his lungs. Taking advantage of the situation, Killer Croc lifted Tony over his head, and then flung him with all his might, which was a lot, sending Tony tumbling head over thrusters, off the roof. He tumbled down; hitting the rocks that protruded from the side of the cliff the Penitentiary was partially built upon. Once, twice, he hit the rocks hard, the last hit, the hardest one, pretty much on his head, before hitting the reef down below, and then sinking into the deep, cold water.

It all happened so fast, that Batman didn’t have time to react. His eyes followed the red and gold armor as it careened over the landing, and even over the noise from the helicopter, he could hear Iron Man hitting the rocks over the side. His first instinct was to go and help, to make sure Tony was all right, but movement out of the corner of his eye had him rolling the opposite direction. Even with the warning, he was barely out of the way before Killer Croc rammed into the door with his shoulder, sending it flying back into the prison.

He swung around as Batman came to his feet, his eyes darting between Killer Croc and where Tony had went over the side, the railing bent and twisted, and in one area, missing entirely.

“I will feast on your bones, Batman,” Killer Croc growled, stomping a few feet closer, the roof shaking. “I will rip your flesh like paper.”

Batman had to focus on Killer Croc, as much as he wished otherwise, had to keep his eyes on the monstrosity. The HUD was telling him nothing about Tony’s condition, and he was about to ask Jarvis for an update, when Killer Croc roared and charged again.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Three: Crocodile

Batman was able to dodge, having to turn around and dodge again. For a man (a term used loosely) as large and heavy as Killer Croc was, he was agile and quick, much more so than Batman would have guessed.

The helicopter was gone, out over the water, toward the city. Tony was in the water, in what condition he didn’t know. He had hope, but that was all he had time for as Killer Croc advanced once again.

Fortunately, Batman was very close to the wall opposite the door, a reinforced wall. Waiting to move out of the way until the last minute, Batman actually felt Killer Croc’s claws scrap across his left side ribs, throwing his movement off, which caused him to land off balance. He crashed to the ground, rolling onto his shoulder, landing nearly face down. He took satisfaction, though, in the sound of Killer Croc crashing head first into the reinforced wall.

Batman got to his feet, surprised that Killer Croc’s claws had managed to slice into his armor and the flesh beyond. The opening in his armor wasn’t severe, and the bleeding was very little, but it gave Batman an idea of what Killer Croc was capable of if he was able to get a better hold on him.

Taking advantage of the situation, Batman approached Killer Croc who was down on one knee, shaking his head to clear it. There was an indentation in the reinforced wall, which clearly showed a good replication of the side of Killer Croc’s face. With all his might, Batman slammed his fist into Killer Croc’s face, again and again.

With a roar, again moving much more quickly than he should have been able to, Croc brought his very large fist up, catching Batman’s in mid-punch, swung him around, slamming his back into the reinforced wall behind him, and then pitching him across the rooftop to slam into the wall next to where the door had once been.

It hurt, that was for sure. For a few seconds, Batman lay there stunned, though he could see Killer Croc approaching him through the haze that covered his vision. He took in a deep breath, wincing at the pain that laced through his ribs when he did so. His stomach, the area where he had been shot not too long ago by Harvey Dent, was also throbbing with pain.

He had to get up. If Killer Croc got him before he could get to his feet and defend himself, he was done for.

He did manage to get to his feet. Killer Croc laughed, a strange guttural sound, slamming one of his fists into the palm of this other hand. “Ahh,” he began, taking in a deep breath, “the sweet smell of defeat.”

But suddenly, Killer Croc was no longer approaching him. He was flying across the roof before being slammed once again, face first into the reinforced wall. Tony landed on the roof right after, placing himself between Killer Croc and Batman.

“Hey, Swamp Thing,” Tony said. “You know, you would make a really good attaché case, and a pair of boots, and a belt. Hell, maybe even a whole set of luggage. Crocodile is so…durable and stylish.”

“I’ll line my lair with your skin,” Killer Croc roared, getting to his feet, though he was swaying slightly from the impact.

“Try it,” Tony dared, bringing every weapon that his armor had to bare. “Take your pick, you scaly freak. I got 10 major weapon systems and 20 secondary weapons systems. I am damn sure I’ve got one that will leave enough of you to at least get a nice belt out of your hide.”

Killer Croc roared before dashing to his right and Tony began to fire, but once he saw where his opponent was going, he held back.

“Flammable tanks,” Batman said, back on his feet, prepared to fight through the pain. “Are you all right?” He asked quickly.

The man was in pain, and he was asking Tony if he was all right. Tony had to chuckle, though there was no mirth in it, only what could be described as amazed disbelief. “I should be asking you that.”

Displaying his great strength once again, Killer Croc grabbed one of the flammable tanks and lifted it over his head, preparing to throw it at them.

“I got this,” Batman said and threw a batarang at the tank, piercing it, causing it to explode.

Killer Croc roared in pain, but, amazingly, it only last a few seconds before he was once again charging.

“That’s it,” Tony stated. He raised his left hand, palm out, and released a repulsor ray that hit Killer Croc square in the chest and sent him flying backwards into the railing. Tony fired his thrusters, grabbing the now loose railing before it could tumble over the side with Killer Croc. He wrapped the railing around Killer Croc’s wrists, securing him to it. He placed on foot on the railing, keeping it in place.

Killer Croc was too dazed to put up much of a fight, though he did try to free himself. Batman approached him. “You’re boss, where is he going?”

“Only boss is me! Is’a me!” Killer Croc spat.

Batman punched him and as he did so, Tony lifted his foot letting the railing shift back, only being held in place by a few screws, very loose screws.

“You want teeth. I want answers.” Batman punched him again.

Killer Croc moved his head, gazing down at the cold water and rocks below in deep thought. Finally, he chuckled, turning his slitted eyes back to Batman. “Wait until Black Mask’s assassins get through with you.”

“What assassins,” Tony asked, setting his foot down once again to keep the railing from sliding.

“Whichever one wins, is going to be very rich,” Killer Croc chuckled.

Batman punched him again, and this time Killer Croc’s eyes rolled up into his head and he passed out.

“He wasn’t going to tell us anymore,” Batman said. Sirens could be heard approaching Blackgate, meaning that the bridge had been cleared. “We better go.”

Tony nodded, dragging the railing and Killer Croc away from the edge as the Batwing swung in low, allowing Batman to board and take control. As the jet took off, back toward home, Tony followed, his thoughts on assassins, among other things.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Four: Damage

“Though the memory card is damaged, I can still get some information from it,” Jarvis confirmed. “It may, however, take me a few moments.”

“Good,” Bruce said, then winced when Alfred none-too-gently checked the area around his bullet wound.

“You could have torn something inside,” he said in a scolding manner. “You could be bleeding internally. Your ribs are bruised, but not broken, though I wouldn’t doubt there could be a crack or two or more.” He cast a disapproving glance at Bruce. “You should be more careful.”

“I didn’t have any choice,” Bruce said in self-defense.

“He’s right,” Tony piped up from where he was sitting, spinning around in the chair in front of the computer. “Bad guy was set on beating us to a pulp. It’s a shame we had to leave him like that.” Tony shook his head, a sad look on his face. “I was really looking forward to a nice set of luggage.”

“And where would you use this luggage, Anthony,” Alfred said. “You fly everywhere as Iron Man.”

“I could send the luggage ahead. I have a private jet. Bruce has a private jet. Could use one of them to carry my luggage.”

“Ah!” Alfred sounded as if he should have known the answer, as sensible and obvious as it was. Turning his attention back to Bruce, he said, “I am going to call Dr. Thompkins. She should have a look at you.”

“No,” Bruce argued. “I’m fine, Alfred.” He met the butler’s gaze. “I can have Jarvis do a scan in the med-bay and if you need to, then call Dr. Thompkins.” Alfred began to argue, but Jarvis interrupted.

“Pardon the interruption, but I have analyzed the information I could retrieve from the memory card,” Jarvis stated. “I have information on the assassins Killer Croc referred to.”

“Assassins?” Alfred looked at Bruce, worry etched on his features. “What assassins?”

Bruce didn’t answer. Instead, he got down from the table, pulling on his shirt, wincing only a little as he approached the computer. Tony swung around, moving over to allow Bruce to pull up the other chair.

On the screen appeared Black Mask talking to several of his henchmen.

“Each one of these envelopes,” – he held up a bundle of envelopes – “need to be delivered tonight.” He handed the envelopes to one of his men.

The screen switched from Black Mask to pictures of the hired assassins, 8 in all.

“All hired killers, the very best that money can buy. Black Mask isn’t messin’ around,” Bruce said.

“Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke. Former military, dishonorably discharged,” Tony read the brief statement under Deathstroke’s picture. “Subject of a failed experiment, but it doesn’t say what kind of failed experiment.”

“Garfield Lyons, aka Firefly,” Bruce read from the next profile. “Pyromaniac. Has burns over 90% of his body.” He moved on to the next. “Copperhead. She has some sort of toxin (he didn’t notice Tony squirm slightly next to him) in her blood system that she can transfer to her victims via a scratch. Death is almost instantaneous.”

“Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot. Expert sharpshooter. Lester Buchinsky,” Tony went on. “Calls himself the ‘Executioner’.”

“Shiva,” Bruce hissed, his features becoming hard. “Is said to have never failed an assignment. Association: League of Shadows.”

“Damn!” Tony swore. “Next one is Bane.”

“Bane? Here? In Gotham?” Bruce sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “He’s been known to hire himself out as an assassin before, but he only takes his payment in cut diamonds.”

“Well, according to this, the payment for proof of your death is 50,000,000.” Tony whistled. “Wow, sunshine. Black Mask totally undervalued you.”

“The final assassin was Waylon Jones, aka Killer Croc.”

“Who is in jail,” Alfred chimed in. “I pity his cell mate.”

“I don’t,” Bruce said, leaving his chair and going to his Batsuit.

“Master Bruce, I might be stating the obvious here,” Alfred began, “but since the only ones who knows Batman’s true identity is in this room-“ he ignored Tony’s loud whispers of cave and Gordon “- wouldn’t it be wise just to spend the evening here? Wouldn’t that ensure that the assassins fail in their task?”

Bruce shook his head vehemently. “No, Alfred. They would put innocent people in danger just to get my attention. I have to find them before that happens.”

“So putting yourself in danger is a better idea?”

“Sirs.” Once again, Jarvis cut in. “I am still unable to trace the control signal of the drone back to its source. The jamming signal is still preventing me from doing so.”

“Whoever that drone traces back to has been keeping an eye on Black Mask. We need to find out who it is and what else they know.” Bruce reasoned. “There’s only one man I can think of who could get a hold of technology like that drone and that is Cobblepot.”

“Oswald? Really?” Tony decided to needed to start paying better attention to what was going on around here.

“Can you look into what is going on with the towers?” Bruce asked Tony, who nodded. “I’ll go back to the Final Offer, see if Cobblepot knows anything about what is going on.”

“Both of you be careful,” Alfred administered. “I have a most dreadful feeling about this night.”

Tony and Bruce agreed with him. On both counts.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Five: Acquiescence

7 men with guns. That is what Batman saw as he sat in the crow’s nest of the Final Offer.

There had been 8. A sniper with a very good vantage point. It hadn’t been good enough. He lay unconscious on the floor of the crow’s nest not too far from where Batman now stood. His gun had been tossed into the water. He wouldn’t be waking up any time soon.

Two men stood in front of the double doors that led into the ship. Another sniper was standing on a shipping crate just over the overhang over the doors, while the other 4 roamed around on the deck. Since he and Tony had been here only a few days ago, Cobblepot had been busy. Various large wooden and shipping crates were now set up along the back of the ship. There were also a few trucks as well as 3 tanks. Whatever Oswald was up to, it was big. How it tied into what Black Mask was doing, Batman was going to find out.

He bat-clawed the crane that was suspended above the deck and swung around on the upper area, easily making his way to a vantage point behind the other sniper. Not one moment later, this one was also unconscious, his gun disposed of.

For men who were armed, and supposedly vigilant, they were easily taken down. The only ones left were the two under the overhang, guarding the doors.

Batman took the small sphere from his belt, taking a moment to look at it before using it. He had resisted letting Tony ‘upgrade’ his equipment. He had been absolutely stubborn about it, in spite of both Alfred and Lucius telling him that it was not a bad thing to allow Tony to help him. Tony had asked him why he was so adamant about not letting him help, and Bruce hadn’t had an answer – at the time. Eventually, he had caved a little, letting Tony upgrade (always the word Tony used) the batarangs and bat claw (again, Tony’s words), but he had been absolutely unwavering when it came to the Batwing and his armor.

He eventually figured out that the reason why was because he was trying to hold onto his independence in a way. In some twisted sort of way, he saw Tony’s expertise as making things too easy. Better gadgets, armor, the cave powered by an arc reactor, the Batwing much more efficient in flight, silent, virtually undetected by radar, and the computer systems upgraded with Jarvis, who could find out things from any database with such great ease, just didn’t make it seem as if he was working as hard as he had been, as he felt he should have been, to protect Gotham and her people.

He had eventually let go of that, as foolish as it was for him to have held out as long as he had, and let Tony do what he did best, within reason. He knew that there was a fully functional set of armor, like Tony’s Iron Man armor, though it was black, had sound dampeners, and a helmet with pointy bat wars (again, Tony), sitting amongst Tony’s numerous armors. Tony had never said it was there, but Bruce knew that the other man wouldn’t’ be able to resist building it. All in all, Tony had made his self-appointed task easier and safer, and now he wondered why he had been so inflexible about it.

The item he held in his hand now was a good example. Taking a simple smoke pellet and making it even better. The smoke not only spread out much farther than it had, and remained much longer, but it seemed to stick to those trapped in the smoke cloud, assault their senses and sting their eyes so badly, they were completely blinded. And thanks to the HUD in his cowl, the glass that covered the eyes holes, that not only allowed him to see through the smoke, heat signatures, but also gave him a sonar read-out that permitted him to see everything in front, behind, to both sides, above, and below him on the HUD. He had sonar before, courtesy of Lucius Fox, but this was much more advanced.

He tossed the smoke pellet. He landed right between the two-armed men, enveloping them in the thick smoke almost immediately. Batman had no problem whatsoever dodging their futile attempts at trying to shot him through the smoke, taking them down silently and quickly.

“I have mapped the entire ship, sir,” Jarvis informed him. “It is now available to your HUD. I have also included where Mr. Cobblepot’s men are, what weapons they carry, and the areas where the weapon caches are, sir. Also, I have found another drone like the one at Black Penitentiary, although it is not online. I believe that one of Black Mask’s assassins is inside the ship. The one called “Executioner.”

“Thank you, Jarvis,” Batman said as he entered the double doors, and he truly meant it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Six: Puzzles

Whoever this person was who had set up the jammer signals, was really pissing Tony off.

When he reached the nearest GCR Comms Tower, the one located nearly in the center of Coventry District, his HUD went on the fritz. All his readouts began to roll and distort and Jarvis’s voice was broken up by static. That made Tony very, very angry.

Nobody messed with his tech.

There were men guarding the tower. Thugs. Armed thugs. Tony rolled his eyes behind his helmet. As he was diving to land amongst the thugs, his thrusters also hiccupped and he landed not nearly as nicely as he usually did.

It was apparent the thugs had been expecting Batman to arrive, not Iron Man. There was a moment of confusion among the 11 men, which Tony took advantage of. He fired the mini-missiles from his shoulder pods. All 11 men were thrown backward. Although in the past he wouldn’t have cared, Tony knew the thugs were alive. He had, basically, set his weapons on “stun” since this was Gotham and he had made the promise to Bruce after the fight with Obadiah in Malibu that he would not go around killing the bad guys anymore. The men were undoubtedly unconscious, but very much alive.

The same could not be said about the jackass who had set up the jammers once Tony found him.

The chain link door that protected the heavy metal door inside the tower had an electric current running through it. Nothing that would bother Tony in his armor, but it was still annoying, adding to his already spoiled mood upon arriving. The heavy door squealed loudly when opened, but otherwise it wasn’t too much of a problem either.

Once inside, however, was a different story entirely.

The city must have been alerted that the Comm Towers were damaged, because there were workers there to repair the Coventry Tower. There were also several other men, men with guns, and, as his HUD flickered quickly, working just long enough for him to see they were holding the three repair men hostage, he wondered how he was going to save these technicians and stop the jamming signal.

Tony was just inside the door, out of sight of the armed men, but just barely. Once he took three steps forward, they would see him, and the technicians would be in danger. The jammer signal was still doing its job, so without Jarvis, he wasn’t sure of his weapons system. Hitting one of the technicians would be disastrous.

He was starting to think that he and Bruce had switched their tasks. This was more Batman’s forte: sneaking around in the dark, taking out the bad guys, and scaring them senseless in the process. Tony should have been the one that went to the Final Offer to find the guns and whatever else Cobblepot was up to.

Fortunately, the men had separated the technicians and each were guarding one of them in different areas, meaning they had come upon the men while they were busy doing their job. That left just the one up close to the door, guarding it (with his back to it no less). There was only one thing Tony could do now.

The suit, while it would protect him from bullets, other than that it wasn’t useful. With the HUD down, he was pretty much blind, and there wasn’t any way he could safely and effectively fly around inside the tower. Unreliable weapon systems, among other things, and he wasn’t going to be much help to the technicians. There was no other way. He activated the safety latch on his armor, and it opened up, allowing him to step out.

He was going to have to depend on his training. Okay, it wasn’t much training. Granted, he had been working out with Bruce, trying to learn things, but the man was fast and strong and agile and highly trained in over 120 forms of armed and unarmed combat. Tony had boxed, mainly with a well-padded Happy. He wasn’t nearly at the level that Bruce was. But he hoped he had picked up enough to be able to get through this without getting himself or the technicians dead.

The guy with the gun was ahead of him, unaware he was there. If Tony didn’t know any better, he would swear he had ear buds in his ears and was listening to something. And, memory serving, from what he had seen on the HUD for the brief time it had worked, the other three had no line of sight to one another, which was a good thing.

Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm himself, just as Bruce had taught him. He took a few seconds to smile – Bruce had accused him of not paying attention. In Tony’s defense, he’d had other things to pay attention to at the time: Bruce in sweat pants and nothing else, his hair messed up, sweat running down his skin, that one particular drop that had slowly trailed between Bruce’s shoulder blades, down the center of his back. Tony had wanted to follow him with his lips, taste, touch, tease, enjoy the gorgeous sight that tormented him and not even intentionally. Bruce had been intent on the task at hand, serious about Tony learning something about defending himself just in case he ever had to, for whatever reason. And so Tony had paid attention, hung on his every word, watched his every move, and in the end, had been rewarded with a kiss and then the shared shower, which had been more than worth the exertion and bruises he had endured while learning.

And Tony had learned something. He really had. He just hoped that he could actually do what he had learned, especially to the effectiveness that Bruce had.

Taking another deep breath just to be sure, Tony sneaked up behind the man.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Seven: Arena

If Tony had thought the Final Offer was horrible above decks, then below decks would’ve confirmed that it should be sunk to the bottom of the ocean and forgotten about.

Pipes were broken, water flooding in, knee deep in some places. The air was filled with smoke due to a fire that burned spilled oil in one flooded room. Over the speaker system, which was amazing that it was working, confirmed that the decks further down were flooded even worse as the woman, with a very thick Australian accent, ordered someone to go down and fix the leak right at that moment.

Batman traversed the area, trying to reach some way down to the next floor, but flooding and fire prevented him from taking the quickest way. Jarvis was still a little fizzy, meaning Iron Man had not gotten the jammer signals stopped yet, which was a concern. Not only because of the obvious hindrance to the HUD, but also because it shouldn’t take Tony Stark very long at all to take care of something technical. Batman wondered what could be delaying his friend, but he decided to give it more time. Besides, he had just now managed to get to the next level of the Final Offer, and from what he could hear, something big was going on further ahead.

Dodging the superheated steam from several pipes, he made his way up and around the area where all the noise was coming from. A vent led him to a vantage point to see what was going on without being seen himself.

“Sir,” Jarvis stated. “I…detect…veral…ns…nu…er…5…” The distortion was annoying, but he could see what the AI was trying to tell him. There were around 15 men standing and cheering, overlooking a round area that served as an arena of sorts. There was debris on the floor – broken bottles, baseball bats, and metal pipes – and several large bloodstains, both old and not so old. Graffiti was spray painted on the walls and floor in bright colored paints. Throughout the ship, Batman had seen hand painted signs advertising various weapons and also the fights in the arena. Cobblepot was setting himself up as a crime lord, and this ship was the perfect hiding place for such legal activities.

“Al…” Jarvis began again. “…sin…Elec…tioner…”

So, one of the assassins was here, Batman thought. Black Mask hired the assassins, and one of them was here, so that meant that Cobblepot was in league with Sionis. Why then, was had he been spying on him with the drone. Batman had also found another drone, exactly like the one Killer Croc had destroyed at the prison, but Jarvis had been unable to link up to it. Batman had decided that he would pick it up on his way out -- it could prove useful later on.

“Al’ight, boys,” the same woman who had been squawking over the PA system was yelling over the noise in the ‘arena’. “Who wonts to step it up and fi’ht?”

Batman didn’t really want to fight, but he needed answers, and he had to go through these men, and Executioner, to get to Cobblepot. There were only 15 or so of them. Shouldn’t take him too long.

He stepped out of the vent opening, his cape flaring out to stabilize his descent, landing so silently amongst the ruckus that it took several moments for the crowd to realize he was there. It went completely quiet, everyone just staring at him as if they couldn’t believe he was there – that he was real.

“Well, well, well,” Cobblepot stated, flicking ashes from his cigar. “Lookee at what we got here, boys. The Bat. Live and in person.” He chuckled, puffing smoke. “Tracey, get this started!”

Tracey leaned over the railing. “Hey, Batman, say hello to the Executioner.” She cackled, stepping back from the railing. “Odds look good, boys. Get ‘im.”

The Executioner was a big man, taller than Batman, arms as big as tree trunks, but the most noticeable of his features was the gloves he wore: as soon as he began to beat his knuckles together, electricity began to arc back and forth between the gloves.

“Sir, h… gloves…gen…ate …ugh …ctrici…” There was still a problem with communications. Bruce wondered what was taking Tony so long, but he could figure out what Jarvis had been trying to tell him – enough electricity to stop someone’s heart.

“Prepare yourself, Batman,” the Executioner yelled, slamming his fists together over and over again. “This will be a short fight.”

Batman readied himself, digging his heels in, waiting for the fight to start. With a loud roar, the Executioner charged him, gloves glowing with energy. At just the right moment, Batman ducked the electrified fist coming for his face, come up behind the man who was now flailing when his fist did not connect with his target, kicked his feet out from under him, spun back around, coming back in front of the Executioner, punching him in the face just as his knees connected with the ground, slamming him backwards, flying a few feet in the air, before landing on his back, out cold. A short fight, indeed.

The silence was comical. Ducking his head, Bruce allowed himself a small smile. He knew the other assassins would not be this easy, but it was nice for once for things to go without difficulty. Even when Tracey ordered Cobblepot’s goons to jump down and continue the fight, Batman didn’t worry then. After all, there were only 15 of them.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Eight: Stealth

The man standing with his back to the entrance, machine gun in hand, was either easily distracted by absolutely nothing or Tony was better at sneaking up on people than he had given himself credit for, because, doing exactly as Bruce had taught him, he was able to take the guy down, render him unconscious, and all without alerting the other three thugs in the communications tower to what had happened.

Feeling rather proud of himself, Tony recalled the layout to the tower from the brief layout he had seen in his HUD. The other three armed men were guarding the three maintenance workers who had been dispatched to repair the problem. All of them were, fortunately for Tony, in different areas, and none of them in line-of-sight of each other. Though he was without Jarvis, Tony could picture the schematics to the tower without effort. He hated being without his AI, but he hated being without his suit more. He felt not only vulnerable, but also naked without his neigh-impenetrable metal skin, without all the read outs and weapons. He actually had to run his hands over his arms and stomach just to make sure he really wasn’t naked.

He was confident, however, that he could do this without Iron Man. He considered it a test of sorts, not only of how well he had listened to Bruce, but if he could actually handle himself if this situation ever rose again. Though he bragged that his armor was damn near impervious to damage, there were always exceptions. Things could always happen unexpectedly, and while he hated being proven wrong, especially where it concerned his own creations, it was not impossible.

Once the unconscious man was secured, Tony took a deep breath. He eyed the gun before picking it up and hiding it in a barrel off to the side.

The easiest one to get to would require him to crawl through a vent on the far right half-wall. Keeping low, because that was apparently important, he crept silently along the wall, keeping to the shadows (which was also important) and peered around the corner, trying to locate the vent in the dark.

Crawling through the vent was the hardest part, but once near the opening, he found the man standing, once again, with his back to the vent opening, the maintenance worker huddled in the corner, hands over his head, asking to be let go. Tony crept out, grabbing a metal pipe, miraculously, without a sound, and bashing the armed man in the back of the head with it. Not too hard, just enough to render him unconscious, or so he hoped. It was very hard to judge these things.

He knelt beside the mechanic and whispered to him to keep quiet and that he could leave via the vent. He also warned the man about the Iron Man suit standing in the exit from the tower, but that he would still be able to leave. The man nodded, thanking Tony, before crawling through the vent.

The next gunman was easy also, standing in the open doorway of an office. Another tap from the metal pipe, and the man went down. The hostage once again thanked Tony after getting the same instructions on the exit of the tower, and that left just one more thug and one more hostage.

This one was a little more complicated. The thug was in another office, but the door was closed. He was standing in front of a large, dirty window, that allowed Tony just enough access to see the hostage tied to the desk chair that the armed man had wheeled into the corner across from the door.

The only way Tony could see was either get the thug’s attention, hoping he came out of the office to investigate, but he could very easily grab the hostage and use him as a shield since he was strapped to a chair with wheels, though Tony was sure he could still get the thug with the pipe without hurting the hostage, but there was still the gun to consider.

“Okay. Let’s hope this works,” Tony said to himself just before he smashed the glass with the pipe. The thug was startled, but he had no time to react as the pipe connected with the side of his head, following through the flying glass to do so. The man tumbled forward, landing halfway on the desk before sliding to the floor.

Tony untied the hostage and escorted him to the exit. The other two were already gone. The third had no problem leaving as quickly as he could, thanking Tony for the fifth time as he did so. Tony was rather proud of himself. He had rescued 3 men from armed thugs without anyone getting hurt (save the bad guys). He still had to go do something about the signal jammer, but before he did, he patted his armor on the chest plate.

“Not too bad, huh?” He turned to walk away back farther into the tower to do something about that signal.

“No, not bad at all,” a voice answered. Tony stopped dead in his tracks. That wasn’t Jarvis’ voice. How could it be? He turned slowly back to his suit and watched as the red and gold paint faded to the color of clay and as the Iron Man armor began to melt. “How fortunate that your armor was not a problem. Remind me to thank Enigma for setting this up.” And, before Tony could move, the glob that had once been his armor surged up and enveloped him, suffocating him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty-Nine: Heir

Cobblepot’s thugs only stalled Batman for a few moments, but it was enough time for their boss to waddle to safety. Tracey was barking orders over the intercom system, threatening the men still standing in other areas of the ship to make sure they stopped the Bat or there would be hell to pay.

There were only small groups between Batman and where Tracey was held up, trying to run the show. There was an area of the ship that was submerged in water, and the oil on top of the water was on fire. Batman had to swim under this, since the fire was so close to the ceiling. He shook his head, cursing the water that had managed to find its way inside his suit. Tony was right: how this ship still floating was a mystery.

Tracey announced over the PA system, that the Executioner had abandoned ship. Batman cursed under his breath: he was really hoping to interrogate him about the other assassins, but he was sure he would run into him again later on. In fact, he was sure that once he had access to Jarvis again, that the AI would be able to track the signal from Executioner’s gloves.

Thinking of Jarvis, made him think of Tony. He still wasn’t able to hear Jarvis, and that meant he couldn’t get in touch with Tony, and that bothered him greatly. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Whoever had made the jamming signal and had sabotaged the towers was good, but Tony Stark good? He highly doubted that. Five times they had run Tony through the tests that would put a number on his intelligence, and five times they had failed. Off the charts, they had said. Batman still couldn’t help wondering and worrying. He also had a feeling that this was not only going to be a long night, but that it was going to be awhile since he saw Tony again.

More armed and armored men stood between Batman and finding Cobblepot’s office. All were taken down. Inside the theater, six of Cobblepot's men were holding another man hostage, tied up with a hood covering his face in the center of the room. Batman grappled to the nearest vantage point, a bronze gargoyle that was sticking out above a balcony and surveyed the room. Using the sonar in his cowl, he traced the movements of the six armed men. He needed to take them down quickly and quietly. He could hear the Penguin in the next room, and if Cobblepot knew the Bat was this close, he would throw everything he could at him just to make his escape. Quickly and quietly. That was the name of the game.

There were two men up in the balconies of the theater, armed with infrared-scoped rifles, both trained on the door Batman had entered. Bruce smiled to himself, silently thanking Tony for making his Batsuit out of an element that did not give off heat in the infrared spectrum. He had walked right in and they had not seen him. Of course, he hadn’t seen them either. Not using the sonar in his cowl was something he had to do or one day it could cost him his life.

The two men were so intent on the door below that Batman was able to land behind one, gliding down from his vantage point, and silently took him down before he could alert the others. Batman grappled back up to his vantage point and around to the other balcony, the second gunman silenced in just moments later.

Taking advantage of the shadows, the other thugs were out of the equation in mere moments. Batman approached the man, tied up and hooded, in the center of the room, and pulled off the hood revealing a man named Guido, one of Alberto Falcone’s bodyguards.

“Penguin has your boss,” Batman stated, untying the man.

“Yeah,” Guido answered, rubbing his wrists to get the circulation back. “It was just Alberto and me leaving a restaurant downtown when they jumped us and brought us here. I don’t know what that stubby bastard wants with Alberto: everybody knows he sure as hell isn’t his father.”

Alberto was Carmine Falcone’s one and only son. Carmine Falcone was a man Batman had put in prison years ago, not long after taking up the mantle of the Bat. But the man had been driven mad by Ichabod Crane’s, aka the Scarecrow, fear toxin and now was a permanent resident of Arkham Asylum. And Guido was right – Alberto was nothing like his father. Carmine had been a feared and diabolical mob boss. Alberto was soft-spoken and by all accounts, running his father’s business into the ground. Many of the remaining flunkies that Batman had not managed to put in prison, had jumped ship and found other forms of employment, mainly for Cobblepot and whatever other tyrant was trying to make a name for themselves in Gotham. There was also a rumor that Alberto was mentally unstable, suffering from dissociative identity disorder, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, as diagnosed by the new Head Psychologist at Arkham, Professor Hugo Strange.

“I’ll free your boss,” Batman said, walking toward the hallway that led to where he could hear Cobblepot and Candy, talking to Falcone. “Once he’s free, get out of here fast and don’t make me regret not leaving you here with the other thugs for the cops.”

“No problem, Batman,” Guido said, straightening out his rumpled suit. “You know, you aren’t so bad. Why the cops got such a problem with you, huh? They should be thanking you for doing their job for ‘em.”

Batman didn’t answer. He reached the door and entered without a sound.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty: Undercity

Tony didn’t want to open his eyes. He didn’t want to know where he was at or what was going on and he sure as hell did not want to leave the dream he was having because he knew that it was much better than the reality that he was trying so desperately to pretend was not real.

In the dream that he was trying not to wake up from, he was with Bruce. He didn’t know where, and he didn’t care, only that they were together. Together and naked.

There was a tug on Tony’s sleeve and an insistent voice near his ear, whispering to him to wake up, so he squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated on the skin and eyes, mouth and lips and tongue and teeth and muscle and heat of the man he loved more than anything. Yes, this was where he wanted to be and nothing else mattered.

But reality was not to be rejected for long. The whispering at his ear was almost frantic now and the tugging on his sleeve was nearly violent. Cursing, Tony let go of the dream and opened his eyes.

And immediately wished he hadn’t.

What he was looking at was strange for many reasons. He had the feeling that he was underground. There were no windows and the ceiling above him was metal and stone. There were pipes running along the ceiling, glass pipes, that were glowing green as some kind of liquid was being pumped through them.

There were store fronts – from where he was he could make out The Tea Hut, Muftic Barbershop, Grimberg’s Occult Store, and there were more farther down that he couldn’t read. While the buildings and even the glass of the stores were in pristine condition, Tony couldn’t shake the impression that this place was old, as if frozen in time. Down the street, there was even a horse drawn carriage, minus the horse of course, but otherwise it looked as if it were waiting to take passengers to another store on another street. The only obvious impediment was the numerous vines and roots that were growing up through the stone and brick. Even the street itself was cluttered with the vegetation, though it was old and brown, as if dead.

“Weird, huh?”

Tony jumped, his head coming in contact with the wall he was leaning back against. Correction: the wall that he was tied to. Looking up, he saw that his hands were secured to a metal ring embedded in the wall. That wasn’t right; there was only one person in this world who was allowed to tie Tony Stark up and he evidently wasn’t here or Tony wouldn’t be either.

He looked sideways at the source of the voice only to find a young boy. Maybe twelve or so. Tony had never been very good at guessing the age of children, not having much experience with them. This one was an oddity himself: pale skin, hair so black it shown blue in the bright light of wherever-the-hell they were, but what was the more observable were the boy’s eyes. They were what Tony could only categorize as electric blue, so bright they were almost otherworldly.

“Where are we?” Tony asked, trying the bonds with no success.

The boy shook his head and pulled a knife out of his pocket, sitting up on his knees to reach the rope. “Some place called Wonder City, or at least that is what that one guy calls the place.” He began sawing through the rope.

“Wonder City? Never heard of it,” Tony mumbled to himself. His arms were suddenly free, his arms flopping down uselessly at his sides. “How long have I been here?”

“Not very long. An hour or so. I watched them bring you here and tie you up. They took your armor somewhere else.”

“My armor?” Tony flapped his arms around, trying to get the circulation back. “They have my armor?”

“Yeah. All bright red and gold. You are Iron Man, right?” The boy stood, dusting himself off. Now that Tony got a better look at him, he seemed very thin for his age, and dirty. His clothing was torn and worn.

“Yeah, that’s me. But you can just call me Tony. What about you?” Tony managed to get to his feet. He felt no worse for wear in spite of everything. He suddenly remembered the brown blob that had enveloped him. Add that to the list of oddities he was determined to figure out. “How long have you been down here?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. I have been following them.” He motioned vaguely. “Ever since Bludhaven.”

“Bludhaven? Why?” Tony asked. The boy had turned and was making his way down the street.

“They killed my parents.” That was not an answer Tony was expecting, though he couldn’t say which answer he had been expecting. “Come on. We need to hide before they come back.”

Tony hesitated a moment, wondering about his armor, if Jarvis could reach where ever it was they were, and if Bruce was alright. Please let him be, he whispered to himself, a silent prayer from the bottom of his heart.

“Hey, kid, wait up,” he called softly, rushing to catch up with the boy. “You know who I am, but you didn’t tell me who you are. I think that if you are rescuing me and helping me out, I should at least know your name.”

The boy stopped and turned to him, his strange blue eyes seeming to glow in the low light at the end of the street. “Richard,” he said. “Richard Grayson.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-One: Deathstroke

Cobblepot wanted something. And he was willing to beat the son of a once notorious and feared crime boss, Carmine Falcone, to get it. Where Cobblepot would have once been terrified to even think of crossing Carmine, which explained why he hadn’t tried to make his mark among the crime lords in Gotham before, Falcone’s son wasn’t any reason to cower. Not yet anyway. Batman, especially after reading Professor Strange’s file on the young man, believed it was only a matter of time before the young man snapped. He hoped someone in the Falcone organization was making sure he was staying with his medicine regimen.

From the voices, Candy was the one interrogating Falcone. Candy, like Tracey, was mostly there for show, hanging onto Cobblepot. Apparently, he had money that no one knew about; because there was no other reason Batman could see as to why those two young women were so loyal and clingy.

One solid kick to the door and it splintered, catching the three thugs off guard, neither of them having enough time to recover and put up a fight. Once they were down, Batman focused on Cobblepot who was cowering behind Alberto Falcone, tied to a chair and his face looking as if he had gone a few rounds with several fists.

“Just don’t hurt me, Batman,” Cobblepot whined. His hunched form was shaking almost violently, but not enough he was letting loose of his umbrella/walking stick and certainly it wasn’t keeping him from puffing out smoke from his cigar. “I was trying to get the kid to give me what I’s owed, that’s all.”

“Yeah, the Penguin just wants what he is owed,” Candy chimed in. Unlike her boss, she wasn’t cowering at all. Instead she was sitting on a table; legs crossed, and actually busy filing her nails as if nothing were going on.

“Penguin?” Batman echoed. “You couldn’t be more creative than that?”

Cobblepot stepped out from behind Falcone, and shook his fist at the Bat. “And just what is that supposed to mean.” He slammed the point of his umbrella onto the floorboards, suddenly no longer shaking in fear. “You’re going to regret that, Batman. And I’m going to be the lucky one who has a ringside seat when you do.”

Batman didn’t have time to question Oswald because at that moment something grappled onto his ankle, and as he looked down to see the object that was latched onto him, he was jerked off his feet, through another doorway and over a railing, landing very heavily on the floor of the boiler deck.

Senses attuned to his surroundings, Batman rolled to his left and came up on his feet, missing the blow aimed for his head. Turning quickly, he came face to face with Deathstroke, bringing his gauntlet up to catch the blow from Deathstroke’s ballistic staff.

“Slade Wilson,” Batman snarled as the other man took a few steps back, every move calculated, looking, and waiting for an opening.

“Batman,” Slade snarled back, keeping his left side to Batman, while keeping his weapon tucked close to his right side. “I must admit, the reason why I took Black Mask up on his offer was to see if you are as good as they say you are. The money, of course, is nice, but beating you, being the one to take you in – that’s even better than the 50 million bounty.”

“If all you cared about was the money, then you would have used the advantage of surprise to take me out without a fight,” Batman snarled, watching intently, and silently cursing himself for having given Slade the upper hand. Not paying attention to ones surroundings was a rule that, if broken, could lead to a severe punishment. “So, obviously it’s a fight you want.”

“Yes.” Deathstroke admitted, shifting from one heel to another, twirling the ballistic staff once, quickly, behind his back. “I have heard of the great skill of the Batman. I wished to see if it is true firsthand.”

Batman mentally ran through all Jarvis had found on Deathstroke. His real name was Slade Joseph Wilson. He had once been a member of Special Forces, and the distinction of his service had guaranteed him in a rare membership into a secret agency specializing in covert operations. Once recruited, he’d had to undergo intense physical and mental augmentation. This gifted him with increased mental function, plus improved speed, strength, healing, and stamina, but his enlistment didn’t last long. He was discharged from the military due to unknown circumstances (Jarvis said that the files had been severely redacted), after which he became a mercenary. His augmentations, alongside his mastery of hand-to-hand combat, made him a formidable opponent. He was, without much doubt, one of the most dangerous foes Batman had ever faced.

As he and Slade continued to size the other up, he couldn’t help but wonder where Tony was and if he was alright. But he shook the thoughts of his friend/lover out of his mind. He would need all his resources to fight Deathstroke, and having his mind – even a part of it – not on his enemy, could spell disaster for the Dark Knight.

“Let’s get this over with,” Batman snarled, tiring of this game already, but patience was a virtue he had to be able to afford.

“Ha!” Deathstroke’s stance changed ever so slightly. A sign. A warning. “I will enjoy taking you down almost as much as I will enjoy spending the 50 million.”

“You shouldn’t make plans for money you haven’t earned yet,” Batman retorted.

Deathstroke laughed again, throwing his head back, leaving himself open, but Batman didn’t take the opening and attack. He steeled himself, set his feet firm, and when Deathstroke moved, he was prepared for the onslaught.

Or, at least, he had thought he was.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Two: Just

Tony remembered the exact moment that he knew.

He had been twenty, just a week after his parents had been killed in a car accident on Long Island. He hadn’t wanted to be bothered. He hadn’t wanted just anyone to see him in his grief. He had fled to Gotham as soon as he was able; ignoring Obadiah who had wanted him to stay in front of the tragedy – which meant, in other words, display it for the media. He sure as hell hadn’t wanted a media circus/pity party all rolled into one, so he ran to the one person in his world who knew what he was going through. He ran to shelter and safety of his best friend.

So he had gone to Gotham. He had had that intent anyway, since he and Howard had gotten into it over the phone just a week before the car accident, and Tony, in anger, had told him that he was going to spend Christmas in Gotham with Bruce instead of meeting his parents in New York. It had broken his mother’s heart that they weren’t going to spend the holidays together, but Tony – at the time – hadn’t cared about that. It had pissed Howard off and that was what made it all worth it. And then they were gone and he had never had the chance to make it up to his mother, to call her, and tell her he was sorry and would make it up to her.

That first night, after the home cooked meal that Alfred had lavished on him, sitting on the floor in Bruce’s room in front of the fire place, so close it was making his skin feel hot, but still unable to reach the coldness that was creeping into his bones, he had looked over at his friend. In that moment, it hit him. Out of the blue. Out of left field. He had just known. And when Bruce turned his head, their eyes meeting in the fire light, he saw the same realization come to the younger man, and he knew that Bruce knew also.

And that was all it took. There was no slow build. No awkward movements. No embarrassing giggling or virginal blushing. It just happened. As natural as if they were just rekindling emotions between them that they had been experiencing for countless lives before this one. As if their souls had finally found each other again as it had over countless alternate universes.

Twenty-year-old Tony had kissed a few people before, girls mostly, but it had never been more than what it was, an act, only serving to move him to something carnal and meaningless beyond the act itself. He was very sure that sixteen year old Bruce had not kissed anyone, because he kept to himself, but none of that mattered because that moment was perfect and beautiful and had more meaning than anything else that they had ever done with anyone else before.

It had just happened.

It had just been meant to be.

It just was.

That was what Tony thought about as he followed the boy through tunnel after tunnel. He thought about that and how it was unfair that Bruce’s first time had been on the floor in front of the fireplace in his childhood room. Tony still to this day apologized for his thoughtlessness. Bruce still just laughed.

Tony took a moment out of his thoughts (and it was a good thing to because thoughts of Bruce led to other thoughts of Bruce and, well, it just went down a path he didn’t need to be going down at the moment) to realize that the boy…err young man…Richard seemed to know where he was going.

“You’re very familiar with this place,” he stated, looking up to study the very old - in fact damn near ancient - copper and glass tubing running the length of the ceiling on both sides and some strange green liquid coursing through them. “You been running around down here for a while I take it.”

Richard was silent for a few more moments. They had passed through a few straight passages and now Tony could see ahead that they were coming upon another block of the under city. Richard stopped and listened closely before approaching the open door and peering around the side to check for guards. Tony knew they had to have discovered he was gone by now and would be looking for him.

Richard motioned him forward and they stepped out into the street, as old as the others, but so eerily preserved. “I have been here for a few months or so I guess. I came not that long after they arrived.” He didn’t have to say who “they” were, although Tony didn’t quite understood who these people where and what was going on.

“Because they killed your parents,” Tony stated. Seeing a bench, he decided “to hell with it” and sat down. It not only held his weight, but was much more comfortable than it looked.

“I followed them here,” Richard admitted, taking a seat next to Tony on the bench.

“To accomplish what?”

The boy decided to go with the silent treatment once again and Tony wasn’t sure if he would answer or not.

“My family,” Richard began, his voice so low Tony had to lean closer to hear him, even in the silence of the ghost town around them. “Were the Flying Graysons.”

Tony thought about that. That name sounded so familiar. Where had he heard it from? And then it hit him. The Flying Graysons had been a circus act, a high wire act, a very good one, but they had been killed one night while performing. The papers had said it had been faulty equipment, which a line had broken, killing the two adults, and leaving behind their one and only son. It had happened in Blüdhaven several months ago.

“Oh shit!” Tony cursed. He had no idea what to say to the kid. No idea what to do in that moment, even though he knew exactly what the boy was going through, but he didn’t have to worry about it for long because suddenly there was a loud noise, a screech that was so loud it hurt his head, and so shrill it made him feel as if his teeth were moving of their own accord around in his gums, and it was very close.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Three: Proof

Deathstroke was good. There wasn’t any doubt about that. He was fast. He was strong. He was proficient and thus it was understandable why he had been one of those selected to take down the Bat.

He was the best radical and questionable experimentation could produce in this day and age.

Yes, he was good. But not good enough.

Batman knew what training Deathstroke had, but he also knew that Deathstroke didn’t know what training he had. There wasn’t any way that Slade Wilson knew about his training with the League of Shadows. He probably just assumed that the Bat’s training was inadequate compared to his own.

It proved to be a great mistake.

Batman allowed Wilson a false since of supremacy. He gave the impression that he was barely able to deflect the blows Deathstroke pummeled him with. Even let him score a few hits, ones that Wilson would undoubtedly see as serious, and it was obvious he was buying the ruse because he was not only laughing, but letting his blows come just off timing, leaving openings anyone without the proper knowledge would not see. Or know how to take advantage of.

The first significant blow Batman struck, his fist in the side of Deathstroke’s face, shattering the mask he wore, revealing the eye patch and scarred features, could have been taken for a lucky shot. Certainly that was all it must have been. As angry as losing his mask had made Wilson, surely it had been nothing more than the Bat happening upon the right moment. No amount of true skill could be involved; certainly any skill near what Slade Wilson himself was capable of.

And when Batman scored not one, not two, but three blows in quick succession, Wilson unable to block – hell, he didn’t even see them coming – and then managed to take the quarterstaff from him and break it in two, that was a fluke also. Right?

When Deathstroke used his grapple gun to toss gas canisters at the Bat, and the Bat threw them back, he knew that Batman was not just another opponent, that he was not one who was going to go down without a fight, and that in spite of Deathstroke’s earlier belief, was an opponent worth battling.

And then when Batman ended the fight only moments later by delivering blow upon blow with expertise and then not only disarming Deathstroke of his katana, but throwing it and embedding it in the wall just inches shy of Slade Wilson’s head, as the blackness of unconsciousness and the reality of defeat took him, Deathstroke knew that he had not only been beaten, but that he had been tricked into practically doing it himself.

“Jarvis,” Batman said into the com, and he was more than a little surprised to hear so much static over the waves. “Let the Gotham PD know Slade Wilson is in the old ballroom aboard the Final Offer along with a stash of illegal weapons, courtesy of Cobblepot.”

“I shall make an anonymous tip, sir,” Jarvis answered, the static still present.

“Where’s Tony,” Batman asked, not even trying to hide the concern in his voice as he made his way through the bowels of the abandoned ship. The only other person aboard was Deathstroke and he was securely tied up awaiting the police. Everyone else had abandoned ship. Batman would do the same before the police arrived.

“I don’t know, sir.” For an AI, Jarvis sure sounded hesitant. Bruce might have found that amusing or even strangely disturbing if he wasn’t so worried about why Jarvis was hesitant. “I haven’t heard from him since he arrived at the GCR Comms Tower in Coventry. There were individuals there holding maintenance crew members at gunpoint, so he disengaged his armor to confront the men stealthily, to lessen the risk to the maintenance crew’s lives. I shortly lost communications with him and I am also unable to find the Iron Man armor, sir. It appears that both have just vanished.”

That stopped Bruce dead in his tracks. The ship was groaning around him, deep metal squeals that seemed to come from everywhere and accompanied with the sounds of water from a breech in the hull and rusted pipes, the crackling of fire from various areas and the hissing of poor electronics, the place was a death trap waiting to be sprung, but still trying to hold on to life in spite of the obvious oblivion at hand. Still, Bruce didn’t move for several moments.

Tony had exited his suit to help these men being held captive. More-than-likely using the techniques that Bruce had insisted on teaching him. Bruce sighed, a sound from deep inside of him, and continued on, his footsteps much more quicker than they had been before, anxious to get out and find Tony, hoping that he was alright. If Jarvis had even lost communication with Tony’s suit…

“Sir, I have a report of an incident at Lacey Towers. Two people were murdered there, sir. One was a young woman by the name of Tiffany Ambrose. The other was…” Jarvis hesitated again, this time as if he were a real person who had just read something that didn’t make sense so he had to read it again just to make sure. “Sir, the report states that the other victim –”

“Is Roman Sionis,” Bruce finished for him. “Black Mask.”

Bruce was at the bulkhead exit, his thoughts on finding Tony, that was his priority, and as soon as he did he would go to Lacey Towers and go over the crime scene himself. There was surely something that had been missed, a valuable clue, one that he along with aid from Jarvis could detect. He was just reaching for the door –

“Oppressed Citizens of Gotham, your cries for help have been heard! I am Anarky – a voice of the people – here to save you from the plague of corruption that now infests this once proud city!”

Bruce sighed once again, leaning his head against the bulkhead door. Now what?

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Four: Subjective

Now Tony could see it clearly. The huge poster that covered most of the wall of a building in Amusement Mile. The poster announcing that the circus had been cancelled. Tony hadn’t known that his young savior was the sole survivor of the high wire act, the Graysons, there was no way he could have known, but that didn’t keep him from feeling like a total ass.

“Oh, gee, kid, I’m sorry,” Tony said and meant it. He knew what the kid was going through. So would Bruce. Bruce… He felt like a jerk but he was also pining away, which made him even more of a jerk. Focus, Stark!

“It’s okay,” Richard said and both of them knew damn well it wasn’t. “I’m used to it.”

That loud metal-on-metal sound again. Tony wondered what was making that noise. Were they doing something to his armor, trying to crack it open so-to-speak. Even cut off from Jarvis, only Tony could get the armor open. At least the strange, aggravating sound didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

“Used to it?” Tony was surprised by that. This kid was just that – a kid. Tony’s parents had been gone nearly thirty years and Bruce’s had been gone longer than that and Tony would argue that neither of them were “used to it.”

“I mean, I have come to terms with the fact that they are dead.” No anger. No tears. Just matter-of-fact, but Tony, as unaccustomed as he was to being around children and understanding why they did the things they did (after all, he was never a child himself), could see the pain and rage carefully hidden behind the clouds in the freaky blue eyes, peaking out every once and a while before young Richard shifted his gaze somewhere besides Tony. “I didn’t really have a choice.”

No, of course he didn’t. None of them had.

Talking about it in the off way they were, made things come into light that Tony hadn’t dwelled on in a long time. He remembered getting the news that his parents had been killed. Drunk driver. Long Island. He had learned later that it had been a snow storm, one of those typical to the northeast. Weatherman warning everyone to stay at home. Not to go out in the storm. It hadn’t been worth the risk.

But Howard Stark was Howard Stark and no one told him what to do. No one knew what was best for him besides himself. A silly thing like a snowstorm would not get the best of him. He was a god. He could command the heavens themselves. Tony could also remember thinking how dare he. How dare Howard risk her life? He had wanted to spite Tony to the very end and so what not take his mother from him.

Tony shook his thoughts away, forced all those ill feelings down and returned his full, if somewhat frayed, attention back on the boy. Richard was sitting with his knees drawn up, head left cheek pillowed on them, staring off into the distance. He looked so smaller, so much more so than he had in the short time Tony had known him. Tony could imagine what was going through his mind: visions of a happy family, laughing, playing, and thoughts of such a tragic end never entering their minds.

Tony shook away the burning in his eyes, rubbed at them to keep the waterworks in check.

“You never truly get used to it,” he heard himself saying. “You can convince yourself that it gets easier and it may even seem like it lessens with time, but it doesn’t.” He shook his head again. “For all their faults and for all the things that you wish had been different, the truth is they are still your parents and being without them…” That damned betrayal of tears again, blurring his vision. “Without them there is a gap, a need, that can never be again. Questions that can’t be answered. Advice that can’t be given. Words that will never be spoken.”

Tony looked over at Richard to find the boy’s head up and eyes fixed on a point across the way from them. The eyes were clear and bright, but the jaw was clenched tight. For several moments he remained this way until Richard opened his mouth, and then the eyes became liquid as mouth and chin began to quiver.

“I miss them,” he whispered, his voice strained. He was fighting it, the emotion, trying not to cry. Trying to be a man he wasn’t ready to be. Thinking it was what he had to do to avenge his parents.

“I know.” Tony whispered also.

“It’s not fair.” Richard put his face, now streaked with tears, down on his knees once again. “It’s not.” In every aspect, it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that he had lost his parents and it sure as hell wasn’t fair that he was here, in a strange city, under a strange city, keeping hidden from the monsters that had forced this unfairness upon him.

“I know.” Tony had the strange notion to reach out, offer comfort, but that wasn’t him. That was Bruce’s job. Where was he? He would be able to handle this so much better. But Tony did it anyway. He placed his hand on Richard’s shoulder. Patted it with no assurance. He wasn’t used to his at all. He wasn’t sure he was doing any good.

Richard looked up at him then, eyes puffy, nose red, tear tracks running down his cheeks and Tony could see the little boy, lost and alone, and it made his chest clench, his heart ache for this child who had lost so much so young.

“I’m scared,” said to an adult who should be brave and make everything better.

“I know,” Tony stated and he didn’t add the ‘I am too” that was head butting the inside of his skull. He had to be brave. For the young man. For himself. Without his suit, he metal shell of protection he had come to rely on so much, without Jarvis and without Bruce, he was going to be have to be brave for himself and Richard to get them out of this, whatever this was.

That metal and metal sound again. Still no closer but no farther also. It was time to suck it up and go find out what it was making that noise.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Five: Hectic

”Those hired and elected to keep us free and safe won't lift a finger! And why would they? They've been bought and paid for; encouraged to turn a blind eye. If they won't act, I will. At dawn's first light - the sources of Gotham's ruin WILL…BE…DESTROYED. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming of propaganda and consumerist garbage.”

After taking a brief look at the young man on the screen, dressed in red with a hood and a white mask, Batman left the Final Offer. Taking a moment in the shadow of the overhang over the bulkhead to not only clear his mind, but to make sure there wasn’t someone else waiting for him or something else for him to take care of. It had only just started and already it was turning out to be a long night.

His first care and concern was for Tony. While Jarvis had been able to communicate fairly well a few moments before, the coms were now full of horrible static once again. Bruce didn’t dare turn them off for fear of missing something, or a part of, important, but he also wasn’t looking forward to moving about with that noise in his ears.

Inside of sighing in aggravation again, Bruce decided if anyone were around, since he couldn’t tell because his HUD was also messed up due to the interference, hearing him sigh wouldn’t go far toward his frightening persona, so he decided to grunt in annoyance. Either the sound scared them off or there was no one around, so Batman stepped out, drawing his grapple gun as he did so, aimed it, and in seconds landed atop the large and metal crow’s nest of the old ship. From this vantage point he could see all of Gotham Harbor, and well beyond.

There were several Comm Towers between here and Coventry, but he was determined to start with that one since that was the one Tony had been at when he disappeared of Jarvis’ radar, so-to-speak. According to the AI, Tony had gone in, left his armor to take care of some thugs who were holding some maintenance workers hostage, and then disappeared before finding and stopping the source of the interference.

If anything happened to Tony, Bruce couldn’t help but take the blame. If he hadn’t insisted on Tony learning to take better care of himself without his armor, then Tony might not have gotten out of it to go after several armed men. Granted, Bruce had trained him for the sole purpose of having needed to defend himself if he didn’t have his armor to rely on. He certainly hadn’t meant for Tony to get out of the armor just so he could use what Bruce taught him.

A sigh threatened to come forth again, so Bruce ignored it and was soon gliding over the harbor, as silent as the night, his brain unable to stray too far from thoughts of Tony.

Tony was idiosyncratic, resolute, obstinate, and proficient. He was a good man, a kind, giving, and loving friend, with a good heart. He had denied that for so long, claimed vehemently that he was incapable of sensitivity to the plights of others, but Bruce had always known that was untrue. He had been able to see it when they were children and on through their lives. Sometimes, Tony’s want to aid others wasn’t thought out too carefully, but he meant well. Now was one of those times.

Batman had turned the static down in the HUD of his cowl, and without Jarvis or the sonar telling him whether or not the tower was empty, Bruce had to rely on that which he had before Tony began implementing his equipment with his tech, and that was himself. On the outside, the tower appeared just as it should, but the static was even worse the closer he got, and by the time he landed near the entranceway, it was damn near intolerable, even at the reduced volume.

Before stepping inside the opened door, one that was made of metal and heavy, Batman noticed a strange substance on the ground just off to the side. Kneeling down, he examined it closely; unable to view it through the HUD, but even in spite of that, he easily discerned that it was clay.

What in the hell was clay doing here? Unable to come up with an answer based on what little he knew, Batman proceeded cautiously into the Comm Tower. He stood in the darkness to the side of the doorway, listening for any sound, but heard none, so he continued on inside, cloak wrapped tight about him like a shield.

He searched but no sign of Tony. The maintenance men were gone also, though they had left their tools in their haste. The thugs were also gone, but Batman found a gun hidden and signs of a scuffle or two, like blood on a very large wrench and such. But still not any sign of Tony or his Iron Man armor.

Bruce was more than a little worried. The Comm Towers, it all seemed like an elaborate ploy to get Iron Man here and vulnerable, but who and why and how had they known that it would be Tony that showed up and not Batman.

Disabling the device that inhibited the tower signal was nothing difficult or elaborate. There was also nothing about the device that told him who had set it up. It had to be someone who knew how Tony hated his tech being messed with or misused, but then one would have to know that Tony Stark was Iron Man. So unless Bruce himself, Alfred, Lucius, Pepper, or Happy did it, then there was no one else readily available to take the blame.

The second the signal was back to normal, Jarvis chimed in, and Bruce had to turn the volume up in his HUD to hear the AI.

“Sir, signal capacity is back to full in the Coventry area, though still not at full strength in the other districts.”

“Any trace of Tony or his armor?”

“None, sir.”

Bruce did sigh then. “I will take care of the other towers. He can’t to have just vanished into thin air. He has to be in the city somewhere.”

“Yes, sir. Most agreeable. Also, I have the police report on the murders at Lacey Towers. It isn’t very…comprehensive.”

No, Batman imagined it wouldn’t be. It was something he had to and wanted to look into himself, as soon as the towers were restored.

And he hadn't forgotten about that Anarky kid either. A long night indeed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Six: Surreptitious

That sound was irritating. It made the teeth grate on edge. Richard winced when the sound came again, his tears drying in a different kind of pain, one that hurt the ears and made his head ache.

“What is that?” The boy asked, and Tony noticed for the first time, the hint of an accent to the boy’s speech.

“Let’s go find out,” Tony said in answer, deciding that was the best course of action. While escaping was the best alternative, this place had proven to be almost maze like and there was no way to know where a way out was. If Tony had his armor, things would be very different, but without it he might as well be a blind man feeling his way around in the dark. This is what Bruce meant about being able to handle all situations, especially when Iron Man was grounded, leaving mortal, flesh and blood Tony, to take care of things. Right now those things were a boy and himself.

He really missed Bruce, on so many levels.

Richard knew ways out, but only while following the men who had brought Tony here in and out. He had been a stowaway amongst the crates they had brought in. There were grates that obviously went to the surface, but he had never gone above ground via one and they were too small for Tony to fit through.

“Ok,” Richard agreed after taking a deep, calming breath. He wiped at his eyes with his sleeve, and then visibly steeled himself. Tony looked upon the boy with admiration, a small sad smile coming to his face. Richard had followed these men from Bludhaven, these men who had killed his parents, and survived all this time on his own. If he could do it, then Tony should also.

“Let’s go.” Tony motioned in the direction the sound was coming from. It was coming more frequently now, but so far that was the only sound they could hear. No voices or any other human noises. Sticking close to the wall, Tony, followed closely by Richard, made his way to the end of the boulevard, and peered cautiously around the corner.

And could not believe what his eyes saw!

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tony whispered in astonishment. Richard had moved over to his right side and was peering around him to see what it was Tony was seeing.

“Is that what I think it is?” Richard stated, his eyes wide.

“Yeah. It’s a freakin’ robot.”

A very old robot, as much as Tony could see from where he was, but a robot nonetheless. There was a spark of life in it, one that illuminated from the chest area every so often and when that happened, the thing tried to move as if trying to get to its feet. Making sure no one was around besides he, the boy, and the robot, Tony slowly inched toward the mechanical wonder.

A domed metal head with round bulb eyes, intricate design on the breastplate, spindly legs and arms. Old, very, but obviously still had some juice in them, some life.

“I have seen this somewhere before,” Tony murmured to himself, his attention focused on the mystery in front of him, not noticing Richard searching around. “What are you? How did you get here?”

“Mechanical Guardians,” Richard stated and Tony jerked around. Richard was standing near a doorway with a large poster next to it. On it was a picture of the robot. At the top it had “WONDER CITY” and on the bottom: “MECHANICAL GUARDIANS. KEEPING WONDER CITY SAFE.”

“Wonder City?” Tony shook his head, completely at a loss. What the hell was this place? The robot made more noise. Tired of hearing it, Tony went over and knelt down next to it, trying to see how to shut the thing off completely.

“Are you going to fix it?” Richard asked from just over his shoulder. The boy could move quick and quiet. He was a freakin’ ninja, Tony thought to himself.

“I probably could,” Tony said at length, but what good would it do to fix it.

“You’re Iron Man. You built that armor, so fixing this shouldn’t be any problem.”

The boy’s reasoning was also sound. “I don’t have any tools, though.”

“Well, someone had to maintain these things, right? So, there have to be tools somewhere.”

They searched but every door was sealed with age and rust, or from locks on the inside. Tony found this just as strange as everything else. Who locked their doors from the inside and then left their city? Nothing was adding up or making sense anymore.

“There’s a vent,” Richard proclaimed, pointing up. Fifteen feet over their heads was a vent, open, large enough for Richard to crawl through, to where was anyone’s guess, and even if he stood on Tony’s shoulders, it was still too high for him to reach.

“Can’t reach it and even if you could, we don’t know what’s up there or where it leads,” Tony reasoned. He was surprised at himself: he was sounding like a responsible adult.

Richard snorted and then, before Tony could stop him, he jumped, grabbing a hold of the door frame and then quickly propelled himself up to another hand hold, his toes finding purchase on the frame where his fingers previously had. He looked over his shoulder down at Tony, laughing at the incredulous look on his face.

“I learned to walk on a high wire, without a net, literally. My mom called me her ‘little robin’,” his smile faded, but he shook his head, brushing the memories from his mind.

“More like a monkey,” Tony stated, watching as the boy made his way over the wall, finding hand and foot holds where there didn’t seem to be any. Richard laughed again, reaching the mouth of the vent. One foot grounded, the other on empty air, he gazed into the vent.

“It’s dusty, but clear otherwise.” With another look down at Tony, he smiled, and then began pulling himself into the vent. “I’ll be careful.” And then he was gone.

With no say in the matter and nothing else to do, Tony sat down on the ground where he would clearly see the vent, though if Richard did get into trouble, there was no way he could reach the vent or fit into it. His gaze drifted over to the poster and then to the robot. The mechanical man was still trying to come fully back to life, the noise still annoyingly loud. Tony wondered what it was that had woke up the robot. What had triggered its power source back to some semblance of life? Sighing, lightly pounding his head against the wall behind him, he closed his eyes, his mind automatically trying to figure all of this out.

And then it came to him. Like a bolt of lightning, it struck him, and he sat up, eyes wide, jaw hanging open.

He knew where he had seen these robots before.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Seven: Enigma

He was on his way to the next tower, located in the Diamond District, which was also the district where the Gotham City Royal Hotel was located. It took up more than two city blocks, had a vast underground parking garage, a discreet dock in the back as a private entrance, and was the tallest building in the district.

As children, Tony and Bruce had been familiar with the hotel. Every year, for Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, the hotel hosted a gala of spectacular proportions and while the adults enjoyed food, champagne and music courtesy of a live band, children were treated to an Easter egg hunt, trick or treating, and a Christmas scavenger hunt, all on grand scope, and all housed in the elaborate and very large ground floor of the hotel. There had even been train tracks running through it several times a year, the train itself taking children through scenes of wonderment and enchantment all carefully planned and hadn’t spared any expense in creating. It had been shut down for nearly ten years now, but still maintained its grandeur. It still needed some work, but it was feasible that it could return to its former glory. In fact, just a few days ago, Bruce and Tony had talked about the old hotel, had seriously discussed buying it and revitalizing it. It would certainly bring not only jobs, but life that was desperately needed back to the district.

Bruce decided that when he found Tony and all the chaos of this night was taken care of, they would have that discussion again. And maybe another one. A different one. One that he had been meaning to bring up for some time now, but had timidly abandoned before the words could form on his tongue.

There were eight men guarding this tower, all stationed in front of the door on the upper platform. Most of them were armed, only one with a gun, the others with baseball bats. A well thrown batarang, contacting right in the middle of the forehead of the thug with the gun, took his out of the equation. Landing in the middle of the others, still stunned from the sudden collapse of the one who was obviously their leader, taking the other out was fairly easy. A few of them got their wits about them enough to put up a fight, but inexperience and the fact that they were scared witless of the Bat, didn’t make much of a difference on their part.

The door was locked but easy enough to open. Up a flight of stairs and around a corner to the door to the control room and Batman stopped. There was a hole in the wall. Inside the hole in the wall, was a dead body. The man was crumpled in a head, bloody from debris piercing his skin, concrete from the ruined wall. Batman knelt by the body to examine him. With the interference disrupting his connection to Jarvis, he had no way to identify the man. From a cursor evaluation, he was killed by impact due to an explosion. Looking across from the collapsed wall, Batman could see the door to the control room and next to it on the wall was a security scanner. Not surprising, it was on created by Wayne Tech and Batman was sure he could bypass it easily.

Approaching the device, he saw that it was severely damaged. Apparently, the deceased man had come here to find the problem with the Comm Tower and when he ran his security clearance card, the scanner sent out a high volt of electricity, sending the man into the wall with enough force to collapse it on impact, killing him instantly.

The man’s security card was on the floor, slightly damaged, but not enough to keep Batman from scanning it. Thanks to Tony, there was a small computer located in his left gauntlet just for short distant computer infiltration. It came in handy now, and he silently thanked his lover for thinking of such a small thing. As he had told Tony when he convinced him to let him train him – it was best to be prepared.

He scanned the card for the code and then remote linked to the security scanner, bypassing it to open the door to the control room. Through the door and up a flight of stairs, and then inside a small room, the computer screens were blank and the lights indicating a problem were blinking caution yellow.

"Well, well. If isn't the King Thug himself. Figured it was only a matter of time before you showed up. Sorry about the mess downstairs.”

The voice was sneering and originated from the computer screens. On them was the silhouette of a man’s shoulders and head, so Batman couldn’t make out any features.

"Who is this?"

"Think of me as a great big mystery! One you're never going to solve."

"Enigma, then," Batman said gruffly. He didn’t have time for more nonsense.

"Oh ho ho, you must think you're so clever. Well how's this for clever: I've taken control of towers all over the city. As long as they're active, your Batwing's useless, as well as that armored friend of yours. And it looks like it's gonna stay that way. I mean, this one is practically BEGGING to be taken offline and you still can't hack it. Pun intended, of course."

Batman didn’t bother to point out that the disruption of the towers didn’t stop Tony from flying, but the fact that he had brought up Iron Man could mean he knew something that Batman needed to know.

“Where is he?”

Enigma snickered. "Do you really expect me to tell you, Dark Knight. I was hired to lure the both of you into a trap. Hmmm... Black Mask's was not happy.”

"What are you talking about?" Batman demanded, staring at the figure on the screen, angry that he couldn’t have his hands around the man’s neck.

”That only Iron Man showed up. But it went rather smoothly, especially considering the armament he has. I mean, no one ever expected him to get out of the armor, making is so much easier to capture him.”

“Tell me where he is!” Batman was letting his frustration and worry get the best of him.

“Aww! How sweet. Do I detect more concern than is natural for ‘just friends’? Interesting. I shall have to pass that along, but there isn’t anything you can do to convince me to tell you where Iron Man is. Truthfully, I don’t actually know, and even if I did, by the time you find me, which I highly doubt you are smart enough to do, I am afraid it will most likely be too late for you to do anything for your…friend.” Enigma laughed. “I would wish you good luck in restoring the signal of the other towers about the city, but there are just going to get more difficult from here on out.”

And image on the screen changed to one of a digital lock, in the locked position. Bruce stared at it, mentally wishing harm on the imbecile he had dubbed Enigma, as he tried to calm himself down. His hands were clenched into fists and his entire body was clenched with anger and fear. So, Black Mask was behind all of this. He had Tony.

Batman wanted to drive his fist through the screen, but instead he brought up the computer in his gauntlet and set about the task of breaking the encryption so he could get the signal back to full strength.

“I’m on my, Tony,” he said to himself. Out loud, he said: “Just hang on.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Eight: Purpose

Richard was able to crawl through the vent and peer into the stores he needed via the ventilation shafts until he found what he was looking for. It was a maintenance shed of sorts, with no windows, and one small door. He had to work to get the vent grate off, but once he did, he gracefully tumbled out, landing on his feet on a small table covered in papers. They appeared to be work orders, schematics on the robots, and a newspaper amongst others. The paper was dated July 22nd…

“That can’t be,” Richard whispered in confusion and disbelief. He shook himself, remembering what he was in here for, and, tucking the paper inside his shirt, he found a tool box and tried to tug it off the shelf it was on. Unfortunately, it was too heavy for him, so he unlocked the door and tried to open that, but it only opened about 6 inches. Something on the outside was blocking it. “Hey!” He called and for a moment he cringed, but recovered quickly. They hadn’t seen any sign of the men who had brought Tony here and as long as he had been here, Richard had never seen any of them come back this far. “I can’t get the door open!”

“Hold on just a sec,” Tony said a few moments later. Richard could hear him moving whatever was blocking the door, and then the door was being pulled open and Tony stood there. For just a moment, Richard studied the older man – he looked disturbed, as if he had learned something that he didn’t like.

“Something wrong?” Richard asked. He truly liked Tony. In some ways he was like a kid himself, but it was easy to tell he wasn’t used to having to deal with things like this. He was the first and only person Richard had talked to since deciding to leave the circus and follow the men who had killed his parents. He had been too afraid to speak to anyone else. Afraid they would send him back to the circus, or back to his homeland or, worse yet, to an orphanage or something. But when he had seen them bring Tony in, unconscious and tied up, and then the red and gold armor, he knew he had finally found an ally.

Tony sighed, shaking his head. “I know where I have seen these ‘mechanical guardians’ before,” he admitted taking the heavy tool box Richard indicated. He huffed out a breath as he picked it up by the handle and then cradled the bottom in his other hand. Richard followed him out, noticing that it was another robot against the door that had kept it from opening for him.

“Where?” Richard asked, keeping close, looking around every corner and into every shadow. They were alone here, but it was still a creepy place. When he had been alone, Richard had not allowed himself to dwell on that fact for fear that it would have frozen him with trepidation.

“My father, Howard, had this old book he thought I didn’t know about, but when he was gone, I would sneak into his study and look at it. It had all these old newspaper clippings in it, and pictures. One of them was of that poster.” He sat down the toolbox, and motioned to the poster of Wonder City. “There are more over here.” Down the boulevard, toward the end before another one of the big metal doors leading to another section of the city, stood two more mechanical guardians, each on one side of the street, encased in glass on a high display. “There were also other pictures of these robots in there. I wonder how he got them and why he had them.” Tony wondered aloud, more to himself than to Richard.

Richard, unable to help Tony with any answers, scratched at his chest under his shirt, the newspaper rubbing against his skin. He pulled the paper out and looked at it once again. “Are you going to fix the robots?”

The sound Tony made was a cross between a chuckle and a snort, shaking his head. “I don’t see the point in it,” he admitted. “Sorry you had to crawl through the vent to find these tools I’m not gonna use.”

Richard mimicked the sound Tony had made – the chort or the snuckle – and fell in step with the older man as they went back to where the toolbox set next to the first robot. “You better be. It was dusty in there and there were cobwebs.”

Tony stopped and full out laughed then. Richard hesitated but then joined in. It felt good to laugh. And then when Tony reached out and ruffled the hair on top of his hair, Richard felt a tug, one that stopped his laughter, bringing back memories of his father smiling down at him.

“Oh hell, kid, I’m sorry.” Tony knelt down in front of him, making him have to look up at Richard now. He shook his head, unable to say anything because he didn’t know what to say. Howard had never been the type to hug him or even put a hand on his shoulder. Uncle Tom, Bruce’s father, had been different, but that was so long ago.

Tony wished Bruce was there. Would he know what to do? What to say? Tony just wanted to see the love of his life. To look into his eyes, to smell that scent that wafted into the room when he did that apparently only Tony could smell, to feel the strength in his arms as they encircled them, the warmth of the body he knew so well, and the smile that made his day so much brighter no matter what.

Tony was there, kneeling down, feeling like an idiot, wondering why he was so stunted emotionally that he couldn’t help a sad child, when it happened.

Richard wrapped his arms around him, like a child seeking shelter from something that frightened, burying his face in Tony shoulder, and crying. The action surprised Tony all for a second, and then he hugged the boy back, and felt tears sting his eyes.

“I’m all alone,” Richard said, muffled. “Even if these guys don’t find me and kill me, where am I going go? I have no family.”

And then it came to Tony. He could hear Alfred, as plain as day, say I his ear: “There are things in this world that we aren’t meant to control, Anthony. They happen for a reason and sometimes that reason is not plain to see at first, but it is there.”

“You’re not going to be alone, kid,” Tony stated, pushing Richard out at arm’s length and looking into his puffy, still-freaky blue eyes. “Somehow. Someway. We are going to make it out of here. Alive and well. And when we do, I will bribe whoever I have to, no matter the cost –“ (this made Richard laugh again) “- to make sure that some over-worked, under-appreciated city employee thinks it is a good idea that the best course of action is for you to come live with me and let me raise you. Or, better yet, Alfred and he knows what he is doing. He raised Bruce Wayne. He should know what he’s doing.”

Richard, still smiling, wiped at his eyes with his sleeve, and sniffled. “I would like that. I mean what kid wouldn’t want to live in the same house as Iron Man and Batman?”

Tony laughed again, but then he realized what Richard had said and he looked at him with wide eyes and a look on his face that was full of shock. He kept opening and closing his mouth, wanting to say something, but unsure as to what.

This only made Richard laugh again.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixty-Nine: Revolution

Batman stepped outside of the door, his mind split between Tony and the next tower, and a realization struck him: with all that had happened so far tonight, he had forgotten about the bounty on his head and the assassins Black Mask had hired to kill him and collect on said bounty. He still wondered why Black Mask would go to such lengths to kill him. Yes, he interfered with his ‘business’ dealings, but Batman interfered with all criminal’s ‘business’ in the city. What had pushed Sionis to such extreme measures? Batman had a feeling he would find some answers at Lacey Towers, but first he had to find Tony. That was his utmost concern.

Jarvis was once again loud and clear and a welcome voice in his ears. Still no sign of Tony, but he was able to identify the man Batman had found dead, by using the mini computer via his fingerprints. His name was David Shannon. During a brief conversation with Jarvis and Alfred (who was just has worried about Tony as Bruce was), Alfred, with aid from Jarvis, admitted that he rather liked disguising his voice to make the unanimous calls to the GCPD.

When the communication was over, that was when Batman noticed someone.

It was a young man, standing outside the Comm Tower as if waiting for him, shivering in the cold, wearing a thin hoodie and the same mask that Anarky had been wearing during this broadcast that Batman had seen on the Final Offer. Bruce drew in a deep, supposedly calming breath, and let it out as a low growl, which made the young man jump in alarm and then glance around, wondering why he was here and if he had any hope of getting way. Bruce fought the urge to roll his eyes and won.

“Anarky wanted y-y-you t-t-to hav-v-ve a-a me-me-mess-message,” the young man stammered, obviously scared out of his wits at having to be in close proximity to a criminal of Batman’s caliber, if one read the papers, listened to the news, were anywhere within a foot of a Gotham City police officer.

“What it is?” Batman growled, low, and menacing and he had to give the kid credit for not bolting in sheer panic.

“There are three bombs – “ Suddenly, the kid was in the air, gasping in fear, his feet kicking trying to find purchase on solid ground that was no longer there. He looked past the black gauntlet that was gripping the front of his hoodie, holding him up in the air, and into the eyes of the man the black-clad hand belonged to and wished he hadn’t. The anger there, the promise of pain and broken bones, and- if one believed what they heard –all that pain just a precursor to a place where his body would likely never be found. “Please! Oh God! Please, don’t kill me, Batman! Please!”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Batman said and still made it sound like a threat. “Where are the bombs?”

“I only know where one is. It’s on the top of the Merchant’s Bank in the Bowery.” Fear made the young man talk fast and plain.

Batman opened his fist and unceremoniously dropped the young man onto the ground, stepping over him without another glance as he drew his grapple gun and aimed.

“Jarvis,” he began once he was in the air and well out of earshot of anyone. Tony had also worked on Lucius Fox’s original design of Batman’s cape, making it more durable and able to hold its shape longer thus allowing him to glide farther. Of course, Tony dropped none-too-subtle hints about how he could make a propulsion system that would not only be completely silent, but would get the Bat wherever he wanted to go in the city quickly. Tony, as sly as he was, was always delicately dropping hints about something or another. About having a pool put in (well, using his heavy-construction armor to put one in himself), taking out a few walls in the cave (‘taking out’ meant using another suit to blow up the rock), vacation (“My suit can get you back to Gotham in no time to beat up your bad guys and you will love using my suit because it is awesome!”), and sex (“I’ve put you on my ‘to-do’ list for today, babe! Oh look! I put you on there twice!”).

“Sir?” Jarvis’ voice shook him out of his reverie.

“I just met with a messenger boy from a new thug called Anarky. He hijacked the airwaves earlier and broadcast his message about corruption in the city. Apparently he believes the way to combat this corruption is by blowing it up, starting with the Gotham City Merchant’s Bank.”

“I saw him on the TV, Master Bruce,” Alfred chimed in. “Seems rather dedicated, but as per usual, off kilter.”

“Yes,” Batman agreed. The Merchant’s Bank was in the southern part of the Bowery, part of the upper northern side along with Park Row. Batman was going to have to glide the entire length of the Gotham City Bridge. He had no idea how long he had until the bombs were set to explode. “Jarvis, can you tap into everything you can in the areas of the city where the signals from the Comm Towers are restored?”

“I will try my best, sir.” Jarvis promised. “What exactly am I looking for, sir?”

“Anything that is sticks out. Penguin is on the loose, Black Mask is still out there, and so are the assassins. Now there is this Anarky character and whoever the hell ‘Enigma’ really is.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Master Bruce,” Alfred said, “do be careful.”

“I will,” Batman said, unable to withhold the smile that formed at Alfred’s fatherly concern. He had a long way to go and hoped that the bombs were not set to go off soon. It would have been much easier to use the Batwing, but with the Comm Towers unreliable until he was able to get to all of them, it wasn’t safe to use.

He still made it to the Merchant’s Bank in record time. With the half-HUD (as Tony dubbed it) inside his cowl, he could see the heater signature of six people on the roof of the bank and could also make out the bomb itself.

“Sir, the explosion from that bomb would do considerable damage to the bank,” Jarvis said in his ear, his voice going from too loud to so much static he could barely make out what the AI was saying.

“Given the time of night, destroying the bank seems to be the statement he wants to make.” Batman shifted his body to the left and be began to descend more quickly, circling the unsuspecting men below him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy: Obstacle

Tony had made the promise. Now he just had to find a way to make it happen.

He stood studying the unopened door. There was something happening that he was trying to wrap his head around. It was strange that the closer he got to the door, the more his arc reactor hummed. Not the loving way it did when Bruce was around (he just chalked that up to every part of him loved Bruce and the reactor did also, being part of him), but as if there was something going on that it didn’t like. Something that was sending out a signal, a powerful one, but not too powerful as to disrupt the reactor. Just to make it mouth off, so to speak.

Whatever it was, it was beyond this door, opposite the way he and Richard had gone to get here. That was probably where his suit was, and that led him to a theory which made really damn good sense, so he was dwelling on it. Dwelling on it in a way that was not typical of the way he usually dwelled on things.

He had the strangest feeling that something was wrong. That there was something just not quite right with him. Without Jarvis to monitor him, do regular scans of him, and tell him if he needed to take an extra vitamin or drink some juice or something, he had no idea if there was something really wrong with him or if it was just because he was away from his armor. As weird as that may sound, he had grown accustomed to it over the time that he had had it. He had come to see it as not only a second skin, but sometimes the primary one.

Richard came back then, practically skipping along. The only reason Tony knew he was there was because Richard had made sure to make some noise, whistling, just so he wouldn’t sneak up on Tony. The boy was agile and soundless. He and Bruce would get along great.

’Give a man a mask, and he will show you his true face’,” Tony quoted aloud.

“Oscar Wilde,” Richard said and shrugged when Tony gave him a curious look. “My mom loved to read. She read me many things. I have a very good memory.”

Tony chuckled. “Find anything interesting?” Tony asked, smiling down at the boy.

“No. Not this time,” Richard said with a shrug of self disappointment.

“It’s okay,” Tony heard himself saying, but at that moment his brain had decided to get on track and start picking speed. He snapped his fingers. “That is why the reactor has been complaining.” He gripped Richard’s shoulders and lightly shook him in happiness, sure and glad that he had figured it out – he hoped. “Jammer signal. Like the ones that are blocking the signals from the Comm Towers only more concentrated. If we can find that, and take it out, my suit can get us out of here.”

“Okay,” Richard said, nodding enthusiastically. “So, how do we find it?”

“It’s behind this door.” Tony motioned to the big obstacle. “But there is no way to get it open.”

“There might be a switch on the other side,” Richard chimed in. He pointed up and Tony followed his direction. There was another vent opening. “It might get me to the other side and then I can open the door.”

Tony sighed, shaking his head. “We don’t know what’s on the other side. Or who. I could never forgive myself if something happened to you.”

“But something already has happened to me,” the boy stated, his hands clenching into fists at his sides as he looked at Tony, his electric blue eyes showing his pain and anger and determination. “And there’s a good chance something else will if we don’t get out of here.” Suddenly, he shivered as if chilled. “I heard one of those guys talking once.” He shook his head. “Let’s just say if he found me, I would rather be dead than let him to do me what he said he had done to other boys my age.”

Though not as good at telling if someone was lying or not as Bruce was, Tony could tell Richard wasn’t just saying this to get his way. Somethings were hard to fake. The loathing and horror in Richard’s eyes thinking about whatever that guy had said was very real.

This was another reason not to send Richard through the vent. There was a chance that guy or some other guy with a gun could be over there. Standing guard or something. Surely they, whoever they were, had heard the noise the robot had been making before Tony shut it down completely. The robot also fit into his theory. It was the one further from the door than the others, so it had only been affected minimally. That would mean the jammer was stationary.

Tony had been so occupied with his train of thought that he hadn’t noticed Richard until the boy was halfway up the wall to the vent.

“What the hell are you doing?” He yelled, and then cursed himself. If anyone was on the other side of that door, they knew there was someone on this side of the door.

Richard stopped climbing, and turned to look down at Tony, one hand grasping and one foot holding onto a place on the wall that Tony couldn’t see being even remotely spacious enough to be a handhold or foothold in any shape or form.

“I’m going to open the door,” Richard said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which was, exasperation not withheld in the slightest. Then he began climbing again.

“Okay,” Tony said, throwing his hands up into the air in surrender. It wasn’t as if he could stop Richard. He couldn’t fly without his suit and, lacking a rope, he couldn’t lasso him either, even if he had said rope. “Just…be careful.”

Richard chuckled and then he was gone, disappearing down the rabbit hole, or through the old vent.

Tony sighed, closing his eyes, and pounding his forehead with the heel of a hand. Taking care of children was hard.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-One: Done

The six people guarding the bomb turned out to be a group of young men, all wearing masks similar to the one Anarky wore when he had hijacked the airwaves, and none of them were prepared for Batman to show up. Sure, Anarky had said he was going to get the Bat’s attention, but none of them had thought he would actually get it. In fact, every single one of them was shocked and scared senseless to find out that the bomb was real. They had thought they were just going to stand around, drink beer (all being under the legal age in Gotham), and then go home and pretend everything was normal.

So, they had no problem telling him where the other two bombs were located and then hightailing it off the roof of the bank and back to their typical adolescent lives. As Batman drove his fist into the glass front of the bomb and pulled out a bunch of wires that immediately stopped the countdown, he wondered how many of these kid’s parents he knew from various functions the rich and elite gathered to.

This bomb was well-made, and while it would’ve done a considerable amount of damage, it was mostly for show. The glass panel on one side, the timer showing a considerable amount of time, and how easily they were disarmed. Batman wondered if Anarky would have even allowed it, or the other two, to go off, especially considering the ones around them were his loyal followers, and seemingly all assuming the bombs were just a gag, a way to gain attention, and nothing more.

Batman had had enough. He was tired of all this. This of all nights, when Tony was missing and he felt a desperate need to find him as quickly as possible, the murders at Lacey Towers, and the assassins and tonight this punk decides is the night to spread his message about the corruption in Gotham. Batman was going to find the other two bombs and disable them and then someone was going to tell him where this Anarky brat was, even if he had to beat it out of them.

The second bomb was located in the northeastern quarter of Park Row, which wasn’t too far from where he was now. According to the ones guarding the first bomb, it was on the other side of the bridge from the church there. Batman knew just where they were talking about and he wasted no time in getting there, gliding north.

There were eight this time. They were all sitting around, talking, laughing as if they weren’t socializing next to a bomb that could destroy a city block. Batman wondered if these guys were just blissfully ignorant or if on some level they just didn’t care.

None of them put up a fight. Most of them took off running the second they noticed Batman stepping out of the shadows. The rest left peacefully, hands in the air in surrender. It made Batman wonder why these fools were out here. They didn’t seem to be as serious about all this as Anarky. They seemed more like kids who had been bored and signed up, not really knowing or understanding what the message was. They had joined and showed up because they had nothing better to do.

Once the bomb was disabled, he went for the third, which was all the way on the southern side of Burnley, down in the large drainpipe that ran from underneath the Gotham City Police Department. He would have to once again make the long glide across the Gotham City Bridge and then veer southwest, crossing the Diamond District.

Because the third bomb was literally on the other side of the city, Batman found himself getting more angry and annoyed. He had no idea when the bomb was set to go off, even if it even was, and this going back and forth across the city was a hassle he didn’t need. He took several deep breaths and let them out slowly. He admitted to himself that he wished he had a suit like Tony’s, then all of this – the bombs, Anarky, Lacey Tower, the Comm Towers, all of it – would be done with by now and he would be able to concentrate on finding Tony. Even the assassins wouldn’t be too difficult to deal with in one of Iron Man’s suits of armor. And there was that one. The one he had Tony not to build, but he had anyway. It was just sitting there, waiting for him to give the word to Jarvis. And he was tempted, oh-so-tempted to do just that, but he knew deep down that he couldn’t.

Tony had asked him several times why not and Bruce honestly wasn’t able to give an answer suitable enough – for either of them. Gothamites knew that Batman and Iron Man were working together, that was obvious, but there was something holding him back. Tony had said it was just because he was a stubborn ass and Bruce couldn’t argue with that logic at all.

It seemed to take so long, but according to the HUD, it hadn’t taken nearly as long as it had felt it had. The GCPD building was in sight, so Batman veered west, around the building, staying high enough not to be noticed from the street unless someone was looking up hoping to spot him. Once about halfway down the side, he grappled onto the roof, and made his way to the back. His HUD was not working nearly as well as it should. If the ones guarding this bomb had been in the open, he would have seen them in the infrared spectrum, but since they weren’t, and the Comm Tower was still being blocked by Enigma in this district, he couldn’t see through the tons of concrete to where they were.

Unless they were right inside the large drainage pipe, he was going to be going in practically blind.

Turns out, it wasn’t near as difficult as the thought it would be. Deciding to go for a surprise attack, and hoping they were right inside the pipe, he dove off, waiting for just the right moment to extend his cape, and, catching the air, glided out and then back around, coming in perfectly to land just a few feet inside, as silent as the night around them. He found himself alone. He could hear the ones guarding the bomb farther down the corridor the pipe formed. It was a good eight feet high and in circumference. The men and the bomb had gotten in thanks to a metal walkway bolted to the concrete surrounding the pipe, enabling maintenance workers to descend a latter and then reach this area with relative ease. The only sound louder than the guards was the surf beating against the foundation of rough stone the GCPD sat upon.

These seven were more alert and armed as if they were taking their task seriously. In such close quarters, he was glad none of them were so serious as to have guns. At least, he didn’t think any of them had guns. None of them were holding them but of course he knew that meant nothing. Guns could be easily concealed under the heavy coats and hoodies they wore. Another reason why he hated the fact that the HUD in his cowl and Jarvis were still affected by Enigma and his damned jamming signals.

All of them but one ran the other way down the pipe. And all but that one dropping their weapons as they ran. None of them but that one wanted any part of Batman. The one left looked confident, brandishing the baseball bat like he knew how to swing one, with accuracy and speed. But before he could mouth off, because Batman could tell he was getting ready to say something he was going to regret later, he found himself disarmed, and pressed up against the wall, held in place by a strong hand. Still, in spite of his predicament and some semblance of common sense, he still managed to mouth off.

“I got nothing to say to you, Batman,” he sneered.

Batman glanced over at the bomb. The timer said it had just under 3 minutes. Plenty of time.

“You are going to tell me where Anarky is hiding.” It was a statement, a fact, even if this fool didn’t realize it.

“I don’t have to tell you anything at all.” The idiot actually laughed, but it was cut off by the hand tightening about his throat, cutting off his air a certain degree. “I could tell you, but how would you know I was telling the truth.”

“Go ahead: lie to me if you’re done eating solid food,” Batman growled and meant it.

“He’s at the Courthouse. The Solomon Wayne Courthouse in Park Row,” the guy said, firing his words out in rapid succession. His hands were clawing at Batman’s to no avail. He waited just a few more seconds and then dropped the guy to the ground. The guy began to cough as he tried to catch his breath.

Batman walked over, smashed his hand through the glass, and disarmed the bomb just as he had the others. Then he turned and walked back the way he had come.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Two: Get-up-and-go

Richard had been gone a long time.

By Tony’s watch, which he had been checking every fifteen seconds or so, Richard had been gone nearly twenty minutes. Not that long of a time in the grand scheme of things, but damned long enough.

Long enough to make Tony pace back and forth, cursing himself for being a fool and letting Richard go, but then arguing that there was no way he could have stopped him. Long enough for horrible thoughts of horrible scenarios to be going through his head. It was enough to make him want to scream and then lay down on the dirty ground, curl up in a ball, and cry like a baby.

Just then, when Tony was about to go into cry-baby mode, there was a rumbling sound, the ground began to shake, and just before it all stopped, the door cracked open an entire two feet and then all was quiet and still.

There was dust, and Tony coughed because of it, but once it settled he saw that Richard was standing in the opening, covered in dust and cobwebs, but smiling wide. “I did it!” He said happily, proudly, and he should’ve been.

“Yes, you did,” Tony said, smiling back, but then something come over him, and the smile faded. “Where were you? What took you so long? I had no idea…where…what…you scared the shit out of me, kid!”

Richard’s smile faltered and his eyes got wide. Tony sighed, smacking himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand and then he went over and embraced the boy. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You just had me so worried. Any number of things could have happened to you and I would’ve been stuck here, unable to do anything, and – “

“Hey!” Richard mumbled. “I can’t breathe!”

Tony released him and stepped back. “Sorry…again.” He shrugged apologetically.

Richard was smiling again. “That’s okay. Besides, I have great news.”

“Oh! And that would be…”

Richard’s smile amazingly widened even more, nearly splitting his head in two. “I found your armor.”

***

And there it was.

And Tony was furious.

Whoever had brought the Iron Man armor Mark 11 down here had just unceremoniously dumped it on the ground and while it was still intact, it was lying haphazardly. Not only that, but it was covered in dirt and come other strange substance.

Not only was this upsetting, but the signal jammer must be close nearby because the arc reactor in Tony’s chest was not only humming what was to him very loudly, but Tony could tell that the jammer was affecting the power of the arc reactor and that was bad. Very bad.

And then Tony had the strange feeling - need to get to Bruce. It was one that was very hard to ignore. That Bruce was in danger, or hurt, and needed him. Granted, Bruce as Batman was in danger a lot, practically every second he was out as the Dark Knight, but that came with the program. Tony didn’t like it, but he had to except it. But this was different. This feeling was almost sending him into panic mode. And Tony Stark didn’t panic – much.

Add all of this together, and it was making it very hard for Tony to think straight.

He leaned back against the wall, taking several deep breaths. What the hell was the matter with him?

“Are you alright?” Richard asked in a barely heard whisper, glancing between Tony and the area where the Iron Man armor was. As far as he could tell, the armor was alone in the area, but that didn’t mean the area wasn’t being watched. They had to have realized that Tony Stark was no longer where they had tied him up and left him and they hadn’t gone through all that trouble to get him, if they hadn’t wanted to keep a hold of him for whatever reason.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” It was a lie. He was far from ‘okay’, but he couldn’t explain why he wasn’t to Richard, particularly not now when they were sneaking around in enemy territory. “We have to find what is causing the interference. Otherwise, the armor isn’t going to do me any good.”

And just then, it appeared.

Or rather a he appeared, but it was what he was carrying on his back that was just what Tony had been talking about.

“What is that?” Richard asked, wrinkling up his nose as if he smelled something bad.

“That, my boy, is a Military Grade Interference Generator.”

It looked like one of those backpacks some took camping, the ones with a rigid frame to make carrying not only many things but a few heavy ones as well, only this one was made of metal, had a large flashing light on the back and a long, slender antenna reaching out from the top.

That’s what’s causing the problem?”

“Yep. Pretty powerful for something that small.” Tony had known about these, but he also suspected there had to be another one, one of the larger ones that were the size of a Volkswagen Beatle, nearby also. “We gotta take care of the jammers and quick.” There was a sense of urgency that he couldn’t shake. Please be okay, babe. Just give me a little more time and I’ll be right there.

“Okay,” Richard said with determination. He crawled back the way they had come, but he was only gone a few short moments before he came back with a heavy pipe. He held it out to Tony. “I’ll distract him. You take him out.” And then he was gone, once again, crawling around some crates, ones that had a large “T” and the word “Tyger” spelled on the side, before Tony could say a word otherwise. Strangely enough, there were also crates that had “Arkham” written on them.

But Tony had no time to think about that as Richard had popped up in front of the guy.

“What the hell?! How did you get down here, brat?”

And Tony smacked him on the back of the head as hard as he could swing the pipe which did the trick nicely as the guy fell flat on his face on the ground. Tony then used the pipe to smash the power source on the jammer.

While not the main source of interference down here, it was enough. The arc reactor quieted a great deal and blue light out of the corner of Tony’s eye told him that his Iron Man armor was functioning. He had no idea where his mini-display was, the one that had a small screen that fit over his left eye and allowed him to converse with Jarvis, so he was going to have to get into the suit.

“Hold this,” he said as he handed Richard the pipe. “I’ve gotta get in my suit. Just hang tight.” Richard nodded, and held the heavy pipe close to his chest as Tony approached his armor. “Jarvis, I know you can hear me, so deploy my armor and quick!”

The armor began to move and then, straightened itself and shot up into the air as far as the ceiling would allow. Then it began to open and came around behind Tony, allowing him to step back into it and it immediately began to close around him.

“Sir, it is good you are still alive and well. Mr. Wayne and Alfred have been very worried, sir.”

“Very bloody worried,” Alfred said, and as good as it had been to hear Jarvis’ voice, hearing Alfred’s made Tony feel even better.

“Where’s Bruce,” Tony asked. Alfred and Jarvis explained what they knew of Batman’s night so far, but admitted it was far from incomplete given that communication was still limited. “Okay. I am going to take out the jammer signal down here, and then I am going to help Bruce.” He turned and looked at Richard, who was obediently standing by, still holding the pipe, looking around as if he was lost. “And I’m bringing a friend with me. I’ll need you to look after him, Alfred, while I help Bruce.” Richard looked up at him and smiled brightly.

“Very well, Master Anthony.”

“How are you going to take out the other jammer signal?” Richard asked. He had only been privy to Tony’s side of the conversation.

“Negator packs.” He answered. “I’m going to deploy them so take cover. I didn’t use them on the towers above because they would have destroyed the tech in them, but this thing I don’t care about.”

He deployed them and as soon as they reached their target, destroying the jammer tech beyond repair, Jarvis plotted a course out of the underground city and to the surface.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Three: Snare

It smelled of a trap. Gave every indication that it could be nothing else.

He was sure that Anarky was in there, but the illusion of control he had had was no more, of that Batman was sure. The men who he could see from his perch were not the same ones who had been guarding the bombs. Whoever was here, had not only allowed Batman to be led here by using Anarky’s political stand as a ruse, but also had something to do with the jamming of the Comm Towers as well. They wanted Batman blind and at a disadvantage. They were in for a surprise.

These men, by the look of them, were mercenaries of some sort. And by the sound of them, what little Batman could hear from his vantage point, they were from South America. Each was large, tattooed brutes, secured in body armor, and hefting large guns they were clearly accustomed to using.

It had to be one of the assassins. And given what he knew, it could only be one of the remaining assassins: Bane.

Anarky and who knew how many others were inside the courthouse, which more-than-likely meant they were hostages. He may have distracted Batman with his ‘message’ and on the worst night he could have, but if he was in danger, Batman couldn’t leave him here to his fate.

But against Bane and his men, at least seven of them, but Batman knew there were more hidden from his vantage point, he had to be very careful. These men were armed and he had read what Jarvis had been able to find about Bane: Lifer in a South American prison, volunteered for experiments, was pumped full of a substance that made him exceedingly strong, and had gone crazy, killing all the doctors in the room, and then – literally – busting out of the prison and disappearing. There was no telling what the substance was, but by pictures Jarvis had been able to obtain since Bane’s prison break, he was still taking the stuff. How he was getting it was an interesting question, but right now Batman’s biggest worry was fighting all these men without innocents getting killed or injured.

Bruce knew the courthouse. It was named after his great, great, great grandfather, Solomon Zebediah Wayne. He had come to Gotham fresh out of Harvard with a law degree and a Bible, when Gotham had been nothing more than a village. Known as a no-nonsense judge back when Gotham was just getting a foothold, over two-hundred years ago. He had dispensed judgment with a wrath right out of the Old Testament and had also laid the groundwork for the Wayne fortune. He had started a least half a dozen businesses in his time, and became a leading and prominent citizen. He also, along with Cyrus Pinkney, started city along in their vision of, what is now referred to the Old Gotham style of architecture. He had lived to be one-hundred and four years of age. There was a very large painting of the man that resided over the main room of the building, as there was a smaller version in Wayne Manor. Reconstructing the painting after the manor had burned down had been a priority, as had reconstructing all the paintings of Bruce’s ancestors.

Batman needed to get inside, but doing so without being seen would be difficult. He knew there were more mercenaries than he could see from where he was and there were Anarky and however many people he had with him to consider and in what capacity. Were they guests of Bane or his prisoners?

He decided to make his way in through the roof. There was a door there, on that led to the loft that overlooked the main courtroom. It should give him a better view of what was going on and keep him hidden. He would, however, still be blind to the rest of the courthouse, including the bi-floor where the jail cells for criminals awaiting trial were held and several offices.

He wished that his HUD was working, the sonar that Tony had worked so hard to install and be efficient. It mapped out everything around him, not only in front and to the sides, but above, behind and below and rendered all living things in infrared. It ensured he wouldn’t be caught unawares from any direction and that he always knew where everyone was in the contiguous vicinity.

He approached the door. As dark as the night. As quiet as the night. No guards, which struck him as odd. He had expected this door to be guarded also. These men were mercenaries, they would have made sure that there were no secrets, that every door was covered, so why –

It happened so fast. The door bursting apart. A large hand reaching through the debris, grabbing him, and then tossing him. He flew over the loft and down into the main courtroom, managing to roll with the landing and coming up on his feet, his back to the judge’s podium. The chairs and tables were gone, leaving the room barren save for some crates labeled with a “T” and several stamped with “Arkham.” Batman had no time to deduce what this meant, for Bane landed on the floor from the loft, shaking the floor, and Batman was surprised the floor had not buckled.

“Greetings, Batman. I am Bane.” Definitely a Cuban accent. Strange mask. Reminded Batman of a Mexican Lucha Libra mask, referring to the freestyle wrestling that was favored in Spanish-speaking countries. “I have come to kill you.”

To the point. Batman scoffed. “You can try.”

“Oh, I intend to succeed, Batman. In fact, before you die, I will make sure that you are broken.” The last word was said with a solid determination, a promise, one he was going to try his damnedest to keep.

Bane was like a train, barreling toward him out of control. Until he could get a better idea of how to fight this man, Batman decided the best course of action was to avoid getting run over. He dove to the side, intent on grappling back up to the landing, but Bane was quicker than the thought, because he caught him in mid-roll, sending him flying into the short set of stairs near the door that led to the jail cells. Batman rolled again, meaning to come up over the stairs and on the solid ground above them, but once again Bane caught him, gripping him by the back of the neck, and lifting him off the ground.

“Are you afraid, Batman? Afraid that your life is about to end?”

He tossed Batman across the room. Batman managed to use the momentum, twist his body, and land in a crouch, facing the end of the room Bane was still on. The man was much bigger than he had been in the pictures Jarvis had retrieved from the drone. Something wasn’t right.

Bane yelled, a primal sound, and charged again. Waiting until the last second, Batman dove over him, using Bane’s head as a launch point, landed on his feet on the other side, and brought out his grapple gun. He fired, but he was no more than two feet in the air when Bane grabbed him again, but instead of throwing him, he slammed Batman on the ground instead, knocking the wind out of him. Batman heard the wood of the floor crack with the impact and had also felt the crack of several bones. He had already been fighting the damaged ribs from Killer Croc earlier (had it had not been days, weeks already since that happened?), but now there was even more damage.

Then Bane hoisted him up in the air, gripped by the back of his neck and his thigh just above his right knee.

There was a loud crackle over the comm device in his cowl. And then a voice and in that moment Batman was in a state of euphoria. Everything seemed to slow down. He was looking at the ceiling, lifted high over Bane’s head, and he knew what was about to happen. Bane was going to attempt to break him by bringing him down on his raised knee, and with his strength there was no doubt he would break Batman’s back, thus ending the threat of the Bat to the criminals of Gotham. He should be frightened. He should be fighting back. But he wasn’t either of those things. And if Bane didn’t understand why, then he misinterpreted Batman’s lack of reaction for surrender, for hopelessness. But he hadn’t heard what Batman, what Bruce had heard, and what he had heard had given him nothing but hope.

”Miss me, babe?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Four: Reciprocal

A sigh of relief.

A sigh of relief that Tony was here. A sigh of relief that Tony was alright. A sigh of relief that everything was instantly better.

Given the circumstance Batman found himself in, the sigh was out of place, but then again…

“Just get your grapple gun ready, my love,” Tony was saying.

Solomon Wayne Courthouse sat upon a foundation that made it necessary to take a dozen steps just to make it to the huge, front doors. So, when Tony burst through the window on one side and threw the full weight and velocity into Bane, Bruce knew exactly what to do. Bane being caught off guard by the sudden appearance of Iron Man (which spoke of something that would need further insight into later), allowed Batman to twist himself out of Bane’s sudden loose grip, and then kick off the brute’s shoulders, making him airborne just long enough for Iron Man’s momentum to carry himself and Bane toward the large windows on the other side of the room, and then to use his grapple gun to latch onto Iron Man’s armor and pull him along as they crashed out of the courthouse and into the Gotham City night.

Instead of dropping Bane, Iron Man flew up over the courthouse with the struggling man. “You know, you can kick and throw a fit all you want. All it’s going to get you is a bath in the Gotham River.” Tony said, his voice distorted by the helmet, but Bruce heard him clearly through his HUD. “Well, you’re going to get that anyway, but still – “

“You aren’t supposed to be here!” Bane yelled and that answered that question, but raised a few others, ones they were sure he wasn’t going to answer.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Tony said in a sing-songy voice. Then, just to Batman over the HUD: “Hanging in there, sunshine?”

“Just enjoying the ride,” Batman answered back, his voice low enough to be heard of the comm, but not by Bane. Given the wind velocity, that was a moot point anyway. “How high are you planning to go? Some of us are going to freezing at higher altitudes.”

They were well above the ground, higher than the highest building in Gotham. They were also over the water of the river.

“Okay, high enough,” Tony said. Bane had, suspiciously quit struggling. “So, do you want to take a swim or would you like a trip to Arkham with a great scenic view?”

Bane laughed – actually laughed. “I hate to disappoint you, Iron Man, but I have no intention of going to prison. There isn’t a prison that could hold me, certainly not your Arkham Asylum. And even from this height, I will survive and come back for what I came for.”

“50 million? You’re really determined to get that money, aren’t you?”

Bane laughed again. “You think that is why I came here? No, the money means nothing to me.”

“Then what – ” Tony began to ask, but at that moment, Bane reached up, his hand hitting Iron Man’s chest plate with a loud thud and in an instant two things happened, one of which that scared Bruce to his core.

The first was that Tony released Bane and the giant man began to fall, laughing loudly as he did, unconcerned for his fate. Batman was sure Bane was not bolstering when he said he would survive. They would meet again, but right now that was not his concern. Tony was.

What scared Bruce was the fact that not only were they losing altitude also, but there were no lights shining from Iron Man. The eyes in the helmet, the lights running through the armor, nothing, and most certainly not the blue of the arc reactor.

“Tony!” Batman yelled, hitting the button on his grapple gun to bring him closer as they plummeted toward the water. He could still hear Bane’s laughter on the wind. If they hit the water, Bane could swim, but Tony would sink. “Tony, answer me!”

“Sir, all power to the armor has been shut down,” Jarvis stated in his too-calm voice.

No power. No power from the very thing that kept the electromagnet functioning and Tony’s heart beating.

Even if he could initiate his cape and glide at this rate of fall, it wouldn’t be strong enough to support both him and Iron Man. He had to find what Bane had put on him to cause this and get it off.

The water was looming. They didn’t have much time. Releasing the grapple gun, he grabbed a hold of Tony, managing to find purchase on the armor with one hand while searching with the other. There! Something barely bigger than a quarter and about a third of an inch thick. It was magnetized to the armor. Batman pried to loose, crushed it between his fingers, and the instant he did, the blue light in the chest piece flared to life and he could hear Tony drawing in deep breaths through the HUD.

“What the hell!” Tony cursed with a strained voice. “Thanks, babe. I have too much speed and not enough elevation – ” Grabbing the Bat, careful not to crush him, he twisted in mid-air so that when they hit the water, the armor absorbed the brunt of the impact, and then just seconds later, his jets fired up and they were out of the water and into the air. “Sorry.”

“I’m just glad you’re alright,” Bruce said and realized that his grapple gun seemed to be missing. “I seem to have lost my grapple gun.”

“I’ll make you a new one,” Tony promised as he landed them on the roof of a building, and released Bruce. “Damn that was close.” He drew in another deep breath.

“Are you alright? The arc reactor…” He didn’t want to say it.

The helmet of Iron Man’s armor retracted, revealing Tony’s smiling face. He looked tired and a little worn, some smears of dirt here and there, but he was alive and by all appearances well. “Jarvis assures me no shrapnel moved and my heart is fine.”

Bruce was always conscious of everything he did, careful especially as Batman of what was seen and heard and actions taken. But they were high on a building, the highest in the area, the metal of large vents surrounding them, no eyes on them, alone, adrenaline still pumping, and happy beyond belief. With all of that in mind, he reached up and pulled his cowl off, took the two steps forward and, as awkward as it was with his armor and Tony’s armor between them, pulled the other man as close as he could, and kissed him soundly and roughly, every emotion he had felt so far in the night woven into it, along with the joy he was to have his lover back and all the passion and love he held for the man.

“Wow, Batman,” Tony began when they separated, just barely enough, to breathe, “it’s great to see you too.” He glanced around dramatically. “This would totally destroy your reputation, you know.” Bruce couldn’t help but smile at the look in Tony’s eyes. All kidding aside, his chocolate brown eyes were saying all the things his mouth weren’t. Looking into those eyes made his heart swell with love and reinforced again just how glad he was that he could look into those eyes.

“Shut up, Tony,” Bruce said in mock exasperation just before their mouths met again. This time was slower and he savored the moment and in the fact that Tony was there, with him. When they broke the kiss this time, they remained leaning into - on - one another, armor to armor, forehead to forehead.

“So, what’ve you been up to?”

“Same old, some old,” Bruce answered, smiling for the first time in what seemed like so long, not just a few hours. “And what about you?”

“Oh sunshine,” Tony said with a chuckle, “You aren’t going to believe it.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Five: Scene

“Do you really think it’s Sionis?” Tony asked as they looked over at Lacey Towers from their vantage point atop Wayne Enterprises. Next door, opposite Lacey Towers and right across the street from Wayne Enterprises was a very old and empty building. Tony dreamed of building a Stark Tower right on top of the older building, confidant in the fact that the older building, built back when construction was meant to last and last, could handle the weight of all that glass and steel, and then bridging both he and Bruce’s buildings together via a sky bridge, opening up into each other’s offices.

Bane had disappeared, not surprisingly, and so had his men. Anarky’s message had been short lived, and he and his cohorts who had been at the courthouse with him had been easily delivered to the police having been tied up as they were. They had even already been in holding cells. All Bruce and Tony had had to do was have Jarvis let the police know where to pick them up. Apparently, Bane hadn’t wanted to hear Anarky’s spiel either, because Anarky had been securely gagged.

“No,” Bruce admitted with a shake of his head. Through the HUD, he could clearly see the police tape still cordoning off the sliding glass door entry from the balcony. The door was still open, but there were no heat signatures signifying a human presence. The police had long since packed up and vacated the crime scene, even though there were a few guards stationed outside the door entering the apartment from the hallway, obviously to keep out the curious. “The police think so but from what I have determined from the report Jarvis sent me, it can’t be Sionis and things happened in there that don’t add up.”

With the signal up and running again (thanks to Tony and Jarvis and Bruce Wayne’s very own satellites), a static free world was a great world. They were now working on tracking Enigma in the hopes of keeping this from happening again and finding out who he put him up to this. Whoever it was also had Bane in their pocket also and was behind Iron Man’s kidnapping. There was a connection to something called “Tyger” and Arkham asylum, as well as Sionis, the other seven assassins, and the murder of Richard’s parents in Bludhaven.

Tony had told Bruce about the boy. They would discuss it more later, when time permitted and was more suitable. Right now they had a lot to do and Richard was safe and sound at Wayne Manor, his belly full of all the food Alfred gave him to eat and was more-than-likely asleep in a bed, things he had done without since his parent’s deaths.

And now the weather was catching up to them. It had been cold, seeing as how it was so close to Christmas, and the clouds that had blotted out the stars were now releasing snow. It was light now, melting on their armor, but showing signs of surviving much longer on the city around them. Jarvis had informed them that there was supposed to be blizzard-like conditions by sunup. Another thing to add to the list: out maneuvering the weather. At least Tony could fly if they had to get somewhere quick, though without his grapple gun, Batman wouldn’t be able to hitch a ride, but he was sure they could find a way around that.

“I need to get inside,” Batman said, realizing that snow wasn’t the only thing falling. He could hear the clink clink of sleet as it hit Iron Man’s armor. For some reason, he thought of tiny soldiers with tiny cannons firing their useless projectiles at the armored giant. He couldn’t help but smile, thinking it was something they would have come up with when they were children.

“Need a lift?” Tony said with a grin, his helmet withdrawn. There was snow and sleet in his dark hair.

“I guess so,” Batman answered, his HUD returning to normal vision. “No funny business,” he warned, half-serious.

“So, I can’t carry you over the threshold?” Tony motioned to the open sliding glass door on the balcony.

“It isn’t our threshold,” Bruce stated.

Tony chuckled, the sound nearly lost in a sudden gust of very cold wind. “Shit!” He swore, his helmet closing and obscuring his face, protecting it from the cold and bombardment of enemy sleet. “So, no carrying you bridal style, then? Fine! We’ll do it your way.” He paused for a moment. “And, which way would that be?”

They made it over by Batman finding a handhold on the armor around the waist area, which could have opened up more comments bathed in Tony’s lecherous sense of humor, but Bruce was amazed (and proud) that his friend refrained.

Tony waited on the balcony, not wanting to disturb anything inside, but standing well within view of the entire room just in case. Bruce loved that Tony was so protective of him, even when it wasn’t warranted. He knew what lengths Tony would go to protect him, and it was a day he hoped never came.

The apartment was supposedly Sionis’ ‘safe house’. According to the police report, fingerprints belonging to several people had been found, but would take days to get a match. They, unfortunately, didn’t have Jarvis.

Via the HUD in his cowl, Batman was able to scan the room for trace evidence, anything the police might have missed, and everything he saw, Jarvis saw as well.

“Sir, this man’s death happened days ago” Jarvis began as Batman viewed the body that was supposedly Sionis, outlined in chalk and covered with a blanket. The coroner had yet to remove the body since it had only been found a few hours ago. “Identification will be difficult due to the damage done by the fire, for the GCPD. I, however, have identified him as Craig Marsden, a known associate of Black Mask.”

The other body not yet removed was the body of a young woman, and she was tied to the chandelier above the center of the living room area of the apartment. Just to confirm, Batman zoomed in on her hand, and scanned her fingerprints. Once that was finished, Batman scanned the entire room, noticing several things.

“It appears that someone through a Molotov cocktail into the room from the stairs leading down from the kitchen area,” he stated, noting the burn pattern and the places where broken glass from the bottle had landed.

Batman spent another twenty minutes searching the room, reviewing all the evidence he and Jarvis collected, before stepping back out onto the balcony. Tony had waited quietly and patiently, able to see everything Batman and Jarvis could.

“What do you think?” Bruce asked him, the wind howling around them.

“I think,” Tony stated, “that not only did Sionis know something was going to happen, but that Oswald Cobblepot was in that room right around the time Sionis’ girlfriend and bodyguard were killed.”

Batman nodded his agreement. “We need to go talk to Oswald. And I know just where he is.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Six: Iceberg

The Cyrus Pinkney Institute for Natural History had been another fixture in the young lives of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. From the dinosaur exhibit, full of whole skeletons and replicas of the ancient creatures, to the Creatures of the Deep, and the African exhibit, both Bruce and Tony had run through the place as often as Tom and Martha would take them, each time as if it were the first. It was a place of excitement and wonder and of things that had seemed so distant, and exotic.

The museum itself represented a time of innocence and happiness, when everything was as it should be, full of childlike wonder, and when there had been no place for loss or grief.

Maybe that was why they avoided it. At least, the front part of the museum. It was the back lot that they were interested in anyway, but still, though neither said anything to the other, seeing the old building, remembering those days so long ago, brought a pang of sorrow to their hearts. Of course, there were a lot of places from their childhood that did, but the museum and Royal Hotel were the two that stung the most. The hotel, however, was one they both agreed could be brought back to life. The museum was another matter.

“They have that life-size mechanical T-Rex now, right?” Tony asked as they looked down over their goal. “It supposedly rears up and sticks it’s head through the arch on the second floor, scares the hell out of people. All sharp-teethy and such.” Tony shrugged; as good as he could in his armor. “Maybe…you know in the future…we could take Richard here. He would like that, I think. Not that I’m an expert on him or any child for that matter, just a thought. I mean I’ve only known him for a few hours, though - hell - it seems like a helluva lot longer than that. And I am babbling. Why am I babbling?”

Bruce smiled at him before turning back to the city street-level door to the Iceberg Lounge. “Because you’re crazy.”

Tony harrumphed. “And you’re out of your mind.” Bruce couldn’t argue with that.

The Iceberg Lounge was, for some reason, attached to the back of the museum. It had once been a part of the museum. A place where special guests, those being the ones who donated considerable amounts to fund new artifacts for displays for the museum and to help pay for the upkeep, could go and be wined and dined, swayed to donate more. Bruce’s parents had been members of this elite group, one of the few who had seen what potential the museum had as an education tool. Now even less of the wealthy families saw it as such and as a result the reason why it was so rundown and dilapidated. And thus why Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot was able to buy the lounge and turn it into a base of sorts for his growing criminal empire.

“Shaved off little runt,” Tony mumbled. “If he was born and raised in Gotham, then why does he sound like a reject from Crocodile Dundee?” Tony referred to Cobblepot’s sudden Australian accent.

“Why knows,” Batman answered, surprised there were no guards. “He might be expecting us.”

“Great.” Tony’s armor seemed to shiver as the moveable parts on his back, calves and shoulders ‘flexed’ and then settled back into place. “Let’s do this.”

The door inside was unlocked and there were no guards waiting on the inside. Just to be extra cautious, Tony insisted that he go first since his armor could withstand more punishment, and it was a good thing that he did because just as he exited out the tunnel-like entrance into the lounge, something hit him and kept hitting him, and he suddenly realized that it was a cone of ice.

“What the – “ he began, but was cut off by Cobblepot’s cursing.

“Damn you, Iron Man! Get out of the bloody way! You were supposed to be Batman!”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Sorry about that, mate! Just let me step aside and you can get him.” Bruce didn’t have to see Tony’s face under the helmet to know he was in the process of doing one of his elaborate eye rolls at Cobblepot’s stupidity. “Where in the hell did you get a freeze ray?” Tony asked out loud. Through the HUD, for Bruce only, he said: “And where can I get one? Scratch that. I’ll just make one myself.”

“I’m not telling you!” Cobblepot yelled back. He was on the floor above them. He was standing on a crate on the walkway that protruded halfway across the room, the freeze ray in his hand, puffing on his cigar. As usual, he was in a top hat and tails. “Why should I? And no one asked you here, Iron Man, so you get out of the way, nancy boy.”

“Nancy…what?!” Tony wanted nothing more than to fire his anti-tank missile at this annoying twit.

“Oh! I got one for ya. How about…Iron Hoofter?” Cobblepot began to laugh uproariously, and immediately strangled himself on the cigar smoke in his lungs.

“That’s what you get!” Tony fired back. Though not the best distraction, it had allowed Batman to circumvent the room, keeping to the shadows on between the wall and the tables that lined the outer ring of the room, getting to a more strategically sound place on the other side of Cobblepot and out of the way of the freeze ray. “And I’m not going anywhere, you sawed-off shrimp!”

“Well, sod off then. It kinda works out.” His voice was rough from his coughing fit. “I’ve got something that can take both of you out. So, how about this!”

There was an explosion that shook the museum. Tony had sense enough to take to the air, about to comment to Cobblepot on his missing the fact that Iron Man could fly, when he saw Batman tumble down into the darkness beneath where the floor had just been, and remembered that he didn’t have his grapple gun to use to break his fall. Cursing, he dove down, and that was when he was hit with an enough electricity to blind him inside his helmet, and send his systems into overload.

“Sir, the suit’s power is at 130 percent, and rising,” Jarvis alerted him. “Prolonged exposure to this much energy could severely strain the core system of your armor, sir, as well as cause damage to the arc reactor.”

“Where’s the Bat?” Tony asked, Bruce being his chief and only concern at the moment. He had no idea how deep this pit was or what was at the bottom of it.

“He is on the lower level. Safe. All vital functions normal.”

“Tony!” Bruce over the HUD and then another sound. A loud one. A frightening one, and with the energy still building up in his suit, Tony flew downward, ready to face whatever the hell it was Cobblepot had in store for he and Batman.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Seven: Grundy

Batman stared at the monster before him and had never seen anyone – or better yet anything - like him before.

He was standing with his head bowed and wrists bound in chains, ones so thick they could support a very heavy anchor. Old chains. Rusted chains, but still very strong and sturdy.

His skin was a dusky grey with the webs of his veins standing out in almost a golden hue. He had a smattering of white hair on his head. H e was human, or had been at one time.

He was at least eight feet tall, if he was an inch and his arms were as big around as Batman was wide, his legs like massive tree trunks.

He was silent and still, leaning forward, all that was keeping him upright were the chains, and by all accounts, he was dead. No vital signs at all. Not a heartbeat. Not a breath. Viewing the monster through the HUD, there was no doubt that it was no longer of this world.

Or so Batman thought.

Until blue lightning began spiriting over the beast, becoming more violent in seconds, and then it began to stir.

“Tony!” Bruce called, the groans and growls of the creature obliterating the word. He wasn’t even sure anything else could be heard, even through the HUD. The monster was coming to life, but that was impossible. Moving, yes. Heart beating, no. Breathing, no.

And then the creature spoke.

“Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday. Christened on a Tuesday. Married on a Wednesday…”

But it couldn’t be. That was just a fairy tale.

He felt more than saw Iron Man land nearby and part of his thinking took a detour: one part staying on the monstrosity in front of him while the other wondered what all this energy was doing to Tony, namely the arc reactor.

“What the f –” Tony began but was cut off as Grundy, for lack of a better name for him, began to move. He was fighting against the chains, pulling on them with all his might, his open eyes molten pinpoints of hate and rage. “He can’t get loose, can he?”

Just at that moment, he did just that. The chains came loose from behind mortar and bricks, lain at least a foot thick, scattering it all about the room. With a roar, he swung the chains and on the end of each was an iron ball, twice the size of a beach ball. One he swung out, catching part of the floor that had fallen from above with Batman and shattering it into smaller pieces, while the other he sent in a semi circle, so fast with his great strength, and Batman’s first instinct was to jump over it, move in some way, to keep from getting hit. He yelled at Tony to take off, but something was wrong, and Iron Man did not even make it a few inches off the ground before the iron ball hit him full force, and Iron Man disappeared into the dark regions of the chamber, out of sight, and Bruce began to feel panic well up in his chest and heart because for the second time that night, he couldn’t see the blue glow of the arc reactor.

“Tony!” He said, but got no answer, whether Tony could hear him or not was unknown. His wanting to go to Tony was disrupted by Grundy taking two ground shaking steps and then swinging the chains again, both aimed for Batman. He had to dodge both of them and just barely did, coming up not too far out of Grundy’s reach on the opposite side of the room that Iron Man had disappeared in to. Bruce didn’t like it, but he knew that if he was going to survive, he was going to have to concentrate on this battle in hopes of stopping Grundy.

“Have you ever heard the story of his poor bloke, Batman?” Oswald stated, his voice sounding tinny over loud speakers set somewhere above them. “He was born Cyrus Gold. Back in the late 19th century, they didn’t have the label ‘serial killer’. But he was one. He’s the only one who knows how many people he killed, but the cops caught up to him. Ran to the Slaughter Swamp to get away from ‘em. No one ever saw him again until I found him, chained up just like that, under the Iceberg. I thought he was dead until I turned the power on and now he is like a faithful, but bad-tempered guard dog. No idea how he got here, but here he is!” Cobblepot began to laugh again which led to another coughing fit. Batman wanted to tell him how bad smoking was for him.

While Oswald had told what he knew, Grundy had been stalking Batman, hunched over as he walked, mouth set in a grimace, his eyes never leaving Batman as they danced slowly about the room, each waiting for the other to give them an opening.

“He’s a zombie!” Tony’s voice sounding incredulous over the Comms. “He’s a fucking zombie! How the hell?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. More pissed than anything. That damn zombie bent up my armor with his wrecking ball-slash-bracelet.” Tony mumbled in annoyance. There was static over the Comms from all the electricity in the air. “I have got to figure out a way to store energy in case something like this again. A zombie! I swear, babe, he’s a-movin’ but he ain’t a-breathin’.”

“I know,” Batman said and at that moment Grundy, with a speed someone his size shouldn’t have, he swung both chains at once, each of the wrecking balls, as Tony had called them and correctly so, embedding themselves into the ground on each side of Batman, and then charged forward, all nearly simultaneously.

“Babe, get him back to his wall. That is where the source of the electricity is. There are several Tesla coils back there.” Tony told him over the Comm.

Batman wanted to tell him that was easier said than done, but he was too busy dodging Grundy. He dove over the chain on his right, the chain sagging to the ground as Grundy came forward, and took off running for the area of the wall Tony had instructed him to. He could see the Tesla coils behind the crumbling walls and he wondered what Tony had in mind.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Eight: Assertive

Tony could’ve just flown out of the pit, but there were several reasons why he didn’t. Getting to Bruce and then trying to get in the air in the space he had would allow Grundy to be on top of them because that freaky zombie could move and move fast. Leaving Grundy there was not something that would sit well with Bruce. Tony had heard what that shrimp Cobblepot had said and he doubted that he had as much control over this undead bastard as he thought he did. Grundy could do a lot of damage if he made it out of here and would hurt a lot of innocent people in the process. Bruce would never forgive himself if that happened, so they had to find a way to stop this unliving monstrosity, and Tony had that way. At least, he hoped he did.

The Tesla coils were intriguing and Tony found himself wondering how they had gotten down here and who had put Grundy here with them. He also wondered how to harness such power in case it was needed again, and how to shield his armor and arc reactor from it while channeling it to more productive means. His mind was drawn to this, but he mentally slapped him mind (he had to take a moment and ponder that one) and focused on what was really the most important thing in the universe – Tony’s in particular and Bruce’s he would wager also – and that was stopping this freak and getting he-who-was-the-center-of-his-said-universe out of here before being squished into a pancake by Grundy’s over-compensating wrist accessories.

He had a plan. Okay, maybe plan was too ambitious. He had an idea? Maybe. Whatever the hell it was, it may or may not work. Granted, that was the way all plans worked, but he had to try something. That undead freak was nigh indestructible. And Tony didn’t have a gun big enough to shoot him in the head, as was the way to kill all zombies, at least according to the movies they had seen and such.

Of course, shooting anyone or anything in the head usually killed them just like driving a wooden stake through someone’s heart.

Now was not the time to splatter zombie brains all over the place, so Tony had to hope his plan worked.

“Babe, get him back to his wall. That is where the source of the electricity is. There are several Tesla coils back there.” Tony instructed Bruce over the Comm.

Foolproof this wasn’t, but if push came to shove, Tony had a vast system of primary and secondary weapons at his disposal. Most of them Bruce knew about, but there were a few that he didn’t and while Tony hated keeping secrets from the man he loved, Tony firmly believed that someday an instance or two may arise when those weapons could prove the difference between winning or losing, life or death.

And when it came to Bruce’s life (and let’s not delude ourselves – Tony thought his life was pretty valuable also), then Tony would use any weapon necessary.

Tony could hear Cobblepot laughing from up above. He thought of sending a missile up there, but he would practically be firing blind, so the most he would accomplish would be to bring more debris down on their heads. And besides, if his plan worked, then Oswald would be more than a little shaken up and pissed. Let’s not forget pissed.

The high voltage had messed up some aspects of his armor, though Jarvis was keeping up with maintaining them so he wasn’t at a complete disadvantage. Sometimes the HUD flared so bright it blinded him, and he was still seeing orbs of light from the last time this happened, but he could follow Bruce by his heat signature, though the same couldn’t be said for Grundy since he was dead and truly didn’t know it or care.

Bruce did just as Tony had asked him – got the undead bastard in front of the Tesla coils half-hidden behind the ancient crumbling wall. How the hell had they gotten behind there? The wall was much older by the looks of it than Tesla coils. Just like that damned Wonder City, sitting down below Gotham, undisturbed for so long, those robots and the stores with merchandise still in the windows – it still gave Tony a chill just thinking about that creepy place.

Grundy was hell-bent on squashing Batman to goo, so when he swung one of his wrecking balls again, Tony fired at it, only he didn’t want to destroy it. He wanted to accomplish exactly what he did and that send the iron ball directly into the Tesla coils.

The electric light show was too much for Tony to look at, so he averted his gaze even as Jarvis activated a filter on HUD to lessen the effect on his eyes. Sparks flew and Grundy howled in anger and pain. Pain? Could an undead monster feel pain? It seemed to go on for a very long time, but it had only actually been a few minutes before the big lug fell with a ground shaking thud and then it was all over.

“What do we do with him?” Tony asked as he stepped over to Bruce who was staring down at Grundy. In the low light and cowl, it was hard to read what was going through his head.

“I honestly don’t know.” Bruce shook his head.

“Well, figure it out quickly, because once he is put away, we are going home.”

Bruce’s head lifted quickly, his eyes wide, and his mouth opening to protest.

“No! I mean it!” Tony’s helmet slide away, just to make sure that Bruce could read his face and how serious he was. “I know there are other assassins out there and that idiot Enigma, and who-the-hell-else, but it is almost sunrise, and we are tired, so we are going to go home, eat whatever Alfred feels like cooking because we don't care because everything Alfred makes is good, and we are going to shower and clean the grime of this night off, and then we are going to go to sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep until Alfred wakes us up to eat again and then we will figure out what to do next. Am I understood? Oh! And there will be some mind-blowing, soul-shaking, bone-rattling sex at some point. Between us. Involving us. I might even have Jarvis look the other way. He should anyway if he has any shame at all. Did I program him to have shame? I just can't recall. But there has to be. Sex, I mean. I can't imagine why there wouldn't be.”

Bruce opened his mouth to protest once again, but shut it only after a few moments, and then – to Tony’s amazement – nodded his agreement.

“Well, alright then,” Tony stated, rather proud of himself, but he couldn’t help but feel there was a catch. Bruce didn’t usually give in this easily; or rather Batman didn’t give in this easily. Tony had come to terms rather quickly with the dual-personality that was Bruce Wayne and Batman, both being all neatly woven together and tucked away in the same package. "To all of it or just...a...certain...part or what?"

"All of it," Bruce said, the corners of his mouth twitching as if he wanted to smile. Wait...“First, we need to Cobblepot.” Bruce alerted him, motioning upwards.

And there was the catch.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventy-Nine: Sleep

Rachel, once, long ago, had said to Tony that if any two people should be married to one another, it should he him and Bruce. And then, years later, not too long before the Joker took her from this world, she had told him again, only this time she had added that already were married, and just hadn’t told anyone.

She had no idea how true her words actually were. But that wasn’t what Tony was really focusing on at the moment. Maybe later.

But right now, he was just happy to be out of his armor (and Bruce out of his) and in a nice hot shower, steam fogging up the glass, the water refreshing and just the right pressure to work kinks out of muscles if one turned just right.

It was a complete and utter shame that both of them were too damned tired to do more then make sure the other was (somewhat) clean and injuries weren’t too serious, at least not enough to warrant having Alfred call Dr. Leslie.

Fortunately, it hadn’t taken long at all to catch Cobblepot. Simple really for two men such as Batman and Iron Man to catch a short, round, cigar-smoking Aussie who managed to waddle and limp at the same time, dressed in a coat with tails and a top hat, who cursed like a sailor very loudly and sounded as if he could cough up a lung at any second.

So, the catch hadn’t really been a catch after all.

Alfred, in spite of the time, had thrown together a really nice meal for them. Fighting crime was not strenuous work and both of them were hungrier than they had thought when they first sat down at the table. Alfred commented that he was the one who cooked so he was sure he fed them properly several times a day, but they were eating like he had been slacking in his duties for a few days or so. Both commented on his dereliction in taking care of them and he shooed them away when they tried to help him clean up.

As tired as he was (and full which made him even more sleepy), and in spite of the missed opportunities earlier in the shower, Tony couldn’t help let his mind wonder as they trudged up the stairs to their room. Bruce – well, in anything – was delectable and hard to ignore, especially for a person such as Tony, and his body and mind were running on two different wavelengths, because both were saying “yes” and “no” at the same time.

“No,” Bruce said as he stepped foot on the second-story landing in this wing (whichever one it was) where their bedroom was, just a few steps ahead of Tony.

“’No’ what?” Tony asked, not sounding nearly as innocent as he could, but lacking the energy to muster more.

“Whatever you are thinking. It can wait until we’ve at least had a few hours of sleep.” Bruce padded down the hall, having a little more energy than his significant other, or at least jackass enough to fake it just to annoy Tony.

“Few hours. Gotcha. I will hold you to that.” It was something he intended to keep, a promise or an appointment. Appointment? Was that what they had come to in their busy schedules of running major corporations and protecting the city from the waves of criminals that seemed bent on waking up each day with the sole intent of annoying them by being…well, bad guys? They had to schedule sex?

That was something that definitely had to happen. Tony doubted, though, that Bruce would agree to whatever schedule he managed to come up with. Tony sighed inwardly. He would have to fall in love with a man who could be such a killjoy sometimes. Most of the time? Part of…the…Yeah, too tired to narrow it down.

All in all, once Tony’s head hit the pillow, his hastily plans be damned, he was fast asleep. That was just the way he was. He would deal with what had transpired when he woke up (if left up to Bruce) in a few days (if left up to him), but for now sleep was good and everything else could wait. It was a good thing too, because unlike Tony, Bruce couldn’t just shut his brain down and drift off into dream land. His mind kept turning over not only what he had been through that oh-so-long night, but what he had learned from Tony.

He tried to figure out how everything connected. The assassins, Enigma and the comm towers, Wonder City, and Sionis, Cobblepot, Lacey Towers, and the murderer. What did all of this have to do with the others and with Gotham and Batman and Iron Man?

When Bruce finally did fall asleep, it was fitful and he woke up several times and immediately began chasing the rapidly fading dream he had been having, but to no avail. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his mind was in turmoil as he went right back to the questions and riddles and insanity that had been the previous night. Worry plagued him. What was going to happen? How many more people were going to be hurt or – worse – killed? What were the assassins up to and who was behind them? Was that person behind everything else? Why abduct Tony? And what about the boy, Richard? What was to become of him?

All of this threatened to overwhelm him, and Bruce wanted to scream. Was all of this worth it? Was it worth the risk to those he cared about? He felt as if he was walking a tightrope that disappeared into darkness and there was no way to see if it went on or just ended.

And then, as tender as can be, Tony’s hand came to rest on his chest, right over his heart. Then, the other man scooted closer, so much so until his breath was ruffling Bruce’s hair behind his ear and his chin was on his shoulder, and in that moment Bruce realized once again what he had known all along.

He wasn’t alone in this.

He just needed a gentle reminder.

With a smile, one only a few moments before he hadn’t been capable of producing, Bruce fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty: Ritual

When Bruce woke up, he realized that he and Tony had shifted some time in the night. They were in such a tangle of limbs that it was even hard for Bruce to figure out where one ended and the other began and quite frankly, he didn’t want to know. He was comfortable and obviously Tony was also. Not only that, but it felt secure and safe and so idyllic.

Bruce closed his eyes again. He had no intention of going back to sleep if he could help it, but he didn’t want to move, get out of bed, or disturb Tony because all of those things would upset this perfect balance that was so hard to achieve and happened so rarely. Having Tony with him made everything better but these moments were so complete and wonderful, cherishing them was all he wanted to do.

But Tony was awake. He hummed softly, and moved just barely, just enough to rub his nose against his bedmate’s jaw.

“You know what I want to do?” He said softly, his voice still rough from sleep.

“I have an idea, but I want to heat you say it.”

“I want to have my way with you.” He managed to tilt his head enough to kiss along jaw line. “Before the world and everything else we have to deal with comes strolling through that door, I want to remind your body who it belongs to,” a nip, “and why.”

“Good,” Bruce practically growled in response.

Untangling from each other was much easier than Bruce could’ve believed and they moved together so flawlessly, as if they could read each other’s minds. Bruce wondered how many people in the world were this fortunate to have the one person who knew them so well with them. To be loved by that person. To mean so much. Certainly they weren’t the only ones on the planet allowed to feel this.

But right now it indubitably felt that way.

Bruce did something that he very rarely did. Allowed himself a pleasure that in recent years he had refrained from. He let his control go. He took it and handed it to Tony willingly and without regret or hesitation. Since he and Tony had been back together, he had made it very clear that no matter how much he trusted and loved the other man, being in control was what he was now – being Batman all but outright demanded it – and Tony hadn’t any problem with that. It wasn’t something they had talked about, but both just knew and that’s how things were.

But this morning, hanging onto that control was unnecessary. For these moments, he didn’t want it. He just wanted to let it all go and feel. And, as usual, that silent understanding between them made everything crystal clear. Tony wasted no time.

Tony pushed him over onto his back and shimmied down Bruce’s body, taking sheet and pajama bottoms with him as he went, depositing them over the foot of the bed onto the floor and he did it so fast that Bruce had no time at all to prepare for what he did next which was engulf his cock completely. Bruce groaned loudly, arching off the bed, his hands both embedding in Tony’s thick hair. He didn’t do this to urge or control. He did it because Tony liked it. Just a little pull now and then, his fingers holding the dark locks tightly.

If he hadn’t been completely hard before, he definitely was now and he could feel the tip of his cock hit the back of his partner’s throat as he bobbed up and down on his length. He moaned again, not as loudly as before, but it didn’t matter. Alfred and the boy were in another part of the manor, so the chances of him being heard were slim to nil.

The noises that Tony was making were just as much a turn on as the act itself. He was not one to hold back particularly where it concerned Bruce. In fact, he demonstrated a certain lack of self-awareness when it concerned Bruce. He was so intent on making sure that Bruce was taken care of, happy, pleasured, that he became totally unselfish. For Tony Stark, that was really something. Of course, he wasn’t as selfish as he let on, but no one but he and Bruce had to know that.

But Tony is vicious at times. Not in a malicious way, for whatever sense that makes. He is impulsive and he wants to do everything all at once and spare nothing. So, when he lifts up, releasing his lover’s cock with an actual pop sound, Bruce has to fight not to whimper at the loss of that mouth around his very-hard and very-painful erection. He glances up to see a string of saliva and precum stretching from his dark purplish-red cockhead to Tony’s mouth before it dissipates as his lover crawls up his body. He places a hand on each side of Bruce’s head and smiles down at him with lips that are red and swollen.

“I promise, cupcake, I’m going to get back to it. I just need the lube and I didn’t think you were in much of a condition to find it.” He leaned over, opened the drawer next to the bed, and came up with the bottle. “See.” He shook it in front of Bruce’s face. “Got it!” It’s a tease, but one he doesn’t draw so Bruce won’t bother to comment, especially as Tony slides back down and picks up right where he left off.

He goes back and forth between sucking, bobbing, and doing things with that damned wicked tongue of his; there is no set pattern, just whatever Tony’s mind decides on. His slicked fingers are going their job, alternating also between, stretching, searching, rubbing, and teasing and Bruce wishes that they had a different headboard than the one here because there is no place for him to get a handhold on, but he has to find something because he is sure if he isn’t careful, he could very well yank out a good chunk or two of Tony’s hair and he will never hear the end of it.

Tony, who often accused himself of being selfish – specifically in bed –, was going to take his time and make sure his lover got the proper attention, but Bruce just wished he would hurry up and he must have said so aloud because once again that gloriously sinful mouth released his aching member and sat up.

“Listen, Pumpkin, don’t rush me.” And then there was a twist and that spot was hit, the one that made Bruce see stars, and arch up like a whore, a plethora of noises and all, ones he was even surprised he could make. “Wow, babe! Have been neglecting you or something?”

“Just…please…Tony,” Bruce said, too far gone to be surprised he had managed to string words together and understandable ones at that.

“Oh fuck, babe. You’re begging’. I –” Tony actually whimpered. The sight of Bruce in the throes of passion, the noises he was making, and how he writhed and arched, was just too damn much. He knew, as well as Bruce, how much he could take and even though Tony would prefer to make damn sure that there was no chance of him hurting his better half, he knew it would be cruel to make him wait any longer. “Okay,” he whispered, gripping the back of Bruce’s thighs and lifting his legs up off the bed and he himself slid forward until knees were settled on his shoulders.

Those beautiful eyes looking at him as if in a daze, hazel barely visible around the edges of full-blown black. But Bruce still reached for him and then pulled him down into a kiss and Tony was amazed and thankful. So Bruce had been gone for seven years and had joined this crazy group that had wanted to destroy Gotham and start anew, but they had taught him all kinds of martial arts and stuff like that, and apparently all that training had made him more limber and bendy. Bendy good. Bendy very good. So a … upside to the absence, one of only one.

Tony pulled back once again, vowing that someday soon they were going to go to the Penthouse – just the two of them – and take it slow and easy. Someday. Not today.

The act of getting to a certain stage wasn’t as glamorous as anyone would like it to be. Line up. Carefully glide in the bulbous head through a ring of muscle, still tight no matter how much attention was given, and then once given that nod that everything was all right, forge ahead, all systems go, until hilt deep. That feeling of being literally a part of someone, surrounded by the heat and the tightness, that intimate knowing. A few moments taken to enjoy that rush, that intimates of intimates, and then movement. In and out. Shallow and then deep. Graze that spot with tip and then slam into it.

While he had been with maybe two other men (alcohol induced attraction from years ago) besides Bruce, he had been with a significant amount of women in those seven years. And, as he often did, and it didn’t even have to be sex or intimacy that spawned these questions, how had he ever even considered being with anyone else. He should have been celibate, never to have sex again, if it was with anyone but the man he was with now. No one else had even come close to producing these feelings, this much of anything really. Why had he even bothered fucking anybody else?

Bruce moved with him perfectly. Up and down, slow and fast. He tightened his muscles at just the right time, clenching Tony’s sensitive organ flawlessly. Time is different when you are this profound with someone, sharing their space in the utmost way, and it can seem to go on for so long, but then be over oh-so quickly.

Bruce doesn’t need to utter a sound. Doesn’t need to let him know besides all the obvious signs. Tony has his hand on his lover’s dick, calloused fingers expertly working him to climax, in sync, except for the second or two Tony beats him to it because Bruce is so impossibly tight around him and then Bruce is arching and clenching him even tighter and Tony can barely get the word out of his mouth.

Fuck!” He exclaims and he does notice the smile that curls Bruce’s lips. Lips that is open and panting. The climax was spectacular, as usual, and Tony almost regrets that his heart doesn’t work the same way his lover’s does, but the arc reactor, which may or may not have a life of its own, is making up for that.

Tony takes the time to clean Bruce up as best as he can with a tongue that is trying its best to get as much of that taste as it can while lungs that work as they should try to draw in breath to calm after such an amazing act. He is careful with the over-sensitive head of a cock that is now flaccid, but he enjoys tracing abdomen muscles to make sure he hadn’t missed a single drop. Say what you will, everything about this man drove him crazy, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

A few more minutes to lie in bed. And then up and a shower – shared, of course – and then breakfast and getting prepared to face everything they must and deal with whatever comes their way.

And what a way to start the day.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-One: Amalgamate

“I have been a lousy husband,” Tony groaned (and actually managed to sound as if he really felt bad about that fact) in between mouthfuls of a ham and cheese omelet he had begged Alfred to make him for breakfast. How he had every managed to go so long without a home cooked meal – especially one of Alfred’s home cooked meals – was a mystery even he couldn’t fathom.

“Yes, you have,” Bruce stated from behind his newspaper, which also managed to hide the genuine smile on his face that he had kept from his words. Scolding never hurt one bit, even if it was fake.

“In my defense, though,” Tony stated, “everyone thought you were dead.”

Bruce chuckled. “Then you should’ve had me declared so.” He glanced around the paper. “You could have played the heartbroken widow.”

Tony stopped shovel food in his mouth for all of ten seconds as his brain mulled over that. “Wait!” He stabbed the air with his fork. “I would’ve been a widow-er.”

“You two are dinilo,” Richard said from his seat at the table. He had already eaten a plate full of eggs, bacon, fresh biscuits, and white pepper gravy. Now he was devouring biscuits covered in butter and honey nearly as fast as Alfred could make them. Richard also enjoyed a nice home cooked meal. He kept thinking that he could get used to this very easily. He stopped eating and sat up, looking from Tony to Bruce and back again. “I didn’t mean to sound – “

“You aren’t, kid,” Tony said, taking a slurp of coffee. “Lighten up! Besides, it’s the truth.”

Bruce chuckled again, and then gave a reassuring smile to the young man before sipping his coffee and going back to the paper.

Richard had only been in the mansion less than a day and yet he had acclimated so easily. Tony and Bruce, who had had a lengthy conversation about it earlier (in the shower and that was all they had done was talk and bathe) and both had been worried that the boy would’ve had a hard time adjusting. He had lost to his parents to violence at a young age. While both Tony and Bruce had lost their parents, Tony’s parents had been lost to a drunk driver when he was (supposedly) an adult, so, given his experience in the matter, Bruce had thought there might be difficulty.

But Richard seemed very happy. He had a roof over his head and good food. But it was more than this. It was almost like he belonged there with them. Even Alfred had commented on how Richard just seemed to fit in as if he had been there for months and years. There wasn’t an instance that morning where Alfred had had to remember anything concerning Richard: waking him up, making him breakfast, or anything.

Which led to another thought that all three adults seemed to share: what was going to happen to the boy?

“It’s not that I expect him to go tell anyone who we are,” Tony had stated before he and Bruce had entered the breakfast room. They both stood in the doorway watching the boy who had already been served breakfast before they themselves sat down at the table.

“No, I don’t think so either,” Bruce agreed, “But I still feel as if…” He trailed off with a shrug.

“There is no way anyone with any sense is going to let us keep this child,” Tony whispered, practically reading Bruce’s thoughts.

Bruce sighed, shaking his head. What were they thinking? Were they really thinking about keeping the boy? Could they? Should they? Were they crazy?

Apparently so, because Alfred was thinking the same thing and as subtle as a hurricane stated so as he passed them in the doorway to pour more orange juice for “Young Master Richard.”

“Great!” Tony said with fake exasperation. “Alfred’s gone and named the boy. Now what do we do?”

No one, however, knew anything about going about making Richard a permanent member of the family or who to ask or even if Richard wanted to stay.

“So, are we going to keep him, or try to?” Tony was smiling, but it was full of disbelief. “I can’t believe I am asking that and how much I am hoping the answer is yes, but I really think we should try and not just try but I mean really try as in use all our resources and connections and throw our vest amounts of money around.”

Bruce couldn’t believe it also, just like he couldn’t believe how much he agreed with Tony. “Well, we don’t really have any other choice but to adopt, do we?” He smiled back at his lover.

“This will make ‘em talk,” Tony said with a chuckle.

“Like they aren’t already,” Bruce said with a shrug. “Did they ever really stop talking about us?”

Tony shook his head. “Not even when you were gone. I think they thought I knew where you were.” Tony mimicked the shrug. “Anyway,” he pulled out his phone, “I’ll call Pepper. Get her on it.”

Turns out, Richard did want to stay. He himself had felt as if he belonged the moment Tony had brought him here. He missed his parents and always would just as he would always love them, but, to him, he seemed as if everything that had happened to him had led him to this place. He was meant to be here. With Tony and Bruce and Alfred. He felt it in his heart.

All roads led to here. One slightest thing different and none of this might not ever have happened. But it had, as it was meant to. Richard believed that completely.

“I’ll call around,” Bruce stated and he knew that he and Tony would do whatever they had to do to make sure Richard had a home, a permanent one, here in the manor with them. It wouldn’t be easy, but they had to. They wanted to.

A boy in need of a home. A home of two people who knew what it was like to lose their parents. And a man who had helped raise both of those men and wouldn’t mind raising a third.

It was meant to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-Two: Calm

“This shouldn’t be a problem,” Tony stated, shaking his head. “I mean, really, it shouldn’t be, but why does it feel like it is.”

“Because it is.”

“But how can it be?” Tony was nothing if not insistent.

Bruce was inclined to agree, but the Bat knew better.

For nearly a week, the city had been relatively quiet. That meant the usual thugs robbing people and banks and so on, what was normal for a night of crime fighting in Gotham. No sign of assassins or the strange men who had kidnapped and held Tony in the underground city of wonder. Nothing from Enigma either, who one would expect to be very unhappy about not only the Comm Towers being free and clear but also seamlessly protected.

If Enigma only knew who he was dealing with was Tony Stark.

But the assassins that Sionis had hired hadn’t - yet - made themselves known and that was worrisome to the Bat. It only meant that when they did make themselves known, it was not going to bode well for anyone.

They had split the city in half, one patrolling the northern part and the other the southern. And once done had met on the tallest building the middle. Tony had taken the Hi-Fre-Ge-Re (high frequency generator receiver) that he and Bruce had built in the basement of Wayne Enterprises (the one Lucius thought was no longer operational), moved it to the Batcave, tweaked it a wee bit, and then gave Jarvis the run of it. It’s use had changed greatly.

Now, Jarvis monitored the GCPD, Arkham, and Blackgate and their prisoners. The ones that were released and their known officiates were then monitored constantly by Jarvis. He observed their phone conversations, kept track of them via the GPS units in their cell phones, and kept recordings from any cameras they were caught on within the city. Unethical, not to Tony’s reasoning, and while it may be against the law, they didn’t care about that either. They were keeping track of bad guys, bad guys who were released from jail or prison early and intended on breaking the law again – and the majority of them did just that and as quickly as they could after being released.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Tony asked as he came to land on the rooftop next to Batman. For once, he asked the question without a hint of innuendo. Or at least that’s what Bruce thought. With Tony it was difficult to be sure sometimes.

Waiting was an option, but for how long and at what cost. Then again, luring them out in the open could have dire consequences also.

Their interrogation of Oswald before leaving him for the cops to find had produced very little. The little runt had only told them about his suspicions that someone else was behind all of this, not Sionis. In fact, he didn’t even believe it was really Sionis that was walking around, hiring assassins, and causing mayhem. He knew Black Mask, had done business with him for years, and, even though now they were rivals and it was no secret that Oswald wanted Sionis put out of business, he was adamant that it wasn’t Roman behind that mask. He had no proof, but Cobblepot swore he would bank his fortune on it.

“From what we learned from the information Jarvis was able to retrieve from the GCPD computers on the murders at Lacey towers, Roman Sionis is not only alive, but was attacked by someone who apparently kidnapped him.”

“Someone who left no trace of themselves,” Tony stated, shaking his head. “So, it is likely that whoever put the bounty on your head was not Roman Sionis.”

“Who would have the resources?” Batman mused, mostly to himself.

“That is a long list, babe. You’ve pissed off a lot of people by doing whatcha do.”

“What we do and the more we piss off just means the better we are doing our job.”

Tony laughed. “That’s true. So, what do we do now?”

“Sionis owns the Gotham City Merchant’s Bank. Last year he had a new security system put in. One with a retinal scanner.”

“Making him the only one who can get into the vault. Clever,” Tony stated without much conviction on the last word. “Whoever has been posing as him needs him to get into the vault so he can pay whichever assassin succeeds with the money from Sionis’ own vault.”

“In theory,” Batman said. He began to say more but Jarvis spoke.

“Pardon me, sirs, but I have detected something…odd.”

“What is it?”

“It sounds like a baby crying, sir,” the AI answered.

“A baby?” Tony’s tone was incredulous.

“Yes, and I have a visual. The carriage the sound is coming from is alone in a lower part of the Bowery.”

“You say ‘sound’ as if you aren’t sure,” Batman mused.

“Yes, sir. The crying sounds recorded or as if it is played over some device,” was Jarvis’ answer. “Also, monitoring of the Gotham City Merchants Bank has detected entry and movement inside the building.”

“Thank you, Jarvis,” Batman said. Then to Tony: “Would you mind going to the bank alone?”

Tony knew Bruce well enough to tell that something was bothering him, no matter how he tried to hide it. “What Jervis said, about the recording of the baby…?”

“It’s just best if I go check it out,” Batman answered and Tony knew that was all he was going to get out of the man at the moment.

“Just be safe, alright?” Tony’s voice was just barely over a mumble. He was turning to go, about to snap his helmet back in place when a hand on his arm stopped him.

“You, too,” Bruce said. Tony met his eyes. “It’s Shiva, Tony. It’s the League of Shadows.”

Tony wasn’t about to ask Bruce to explain how he was for certain of that. He had spent time training with them and then fighting them when they had come to destroy Gotham, a fight he had faced alone since Tony had been a bastard and refused to talk to Bruce during that time. Armor and all, Tony wasn’t sure just how effective he would be against ones trained as the ninjas were, especially without causing some major damage to the area surrounding them. He had no desire to damage Gotham any more than it already was.

“I really mean it, Bruce,” Tony whispered, retracting the armor on one hand and bringing it up to run a thumb over his lover’s bottom lip. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Bruce answered with a small smile. It made Tony return the smile in earnest. “You be careful, too. We don’t know who we are dealing with and we don’t know a lot of what the hell is going on.”

“You know me.” Taking a chance, he leaned forward and planted a chaste kiss on the other man’s lips.

“I do and we’ll leave it at that.”

Tony just rolled his eyes in that overly dramatic way he did and watched as Batman dived off the building and disappeared into the night. Sighing, armor back in place, he took off from the roof top as well.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-Three: Before

Batman could tell how someone could be easily fooled by the sound of the crying baby and rush to its aid, but this wasn’t placed here to lure just anyone. It was here for him and he knew that they knew he would know it for the trap it was and still come.

He also knew he was being watched.

Shiva was near. He could sense it. She wanted him to come out in the open. Fine. So be it.

Inside the carriage was just what Jarvis had predicted: a radio broadcasting the prerecording of a baby crying. Bruce remembered from reading somewhere that a baby’s cries were different depending on what they were distressed about: food, attention, the need to be changed. He couldn’t tell and it wasn’t important, but the thought entered his mind nonetheless.

This time of night no one was around. All the businesses were closed, like the store Tony used to buy liquor from when he was seventeen or so. The owner had known Tony was underage, but when a patron – no matter how under the legal age limit – offered a thousand dollars over the initial cost, all under the table, of course, well, some just couldn’t say no to that.

It was difficult to explain how he knew that the attack was coming and from where. One thing he could say about the League of Shadows was that they had trained him well.

His body just knew. Could feel it even though there was no sensation that he could describe in those seconds before he shifted to the side, brought up his right arm to catch the blade in his gauntlet, and then turn his body in a half circle to the right, all the while twisting his arm to keep the blade caught and to force it down, as he blocked a blow aimed for his rib cage and the quick follow-up that would have broken his collarbone.

Shiva knew the blows would be blocked and the sword caught. She would’ve been disappointed otherwise.

It was nice to know the Batman wasn’t a waste of her time.

Nor had he been a waste of her Master’s time.

Batman caught the razor sharp blade in his gauntlet, his eyes meeting those of Shiva’s and then, with only a simple flick of his wrist, snapped the blade in half. Shiva spun away, coming up to face him several feet away, and glanced down at the half-sword in her hand.

“Impressive.” She tossed the broken sword behind her. “That blade was very old. Much older than this city you are so determined to protect. Tell me, Mr. Wayne, has nothing happened that has shaken that resolve? Can you honestly say that there hasn’t been a moment that you wished this city would just burn to cinders?”

No, he couldn’t, and she knew it and he hated himself for having those thoughts. Wishing that there weren’t a reason for the Bat anymore. Hoping that he could have a normal life somewhere away from all of this, just him and Tony.

“Mr. Stark means a lot to you,” she teased, but Batman didn’t even flinch though it took a great effort not to. “There are always chinks in any armor, Mr. Wayne. No matter how impenetrable you think they are, there is always a weakness that can be exploited.” Batman’s fists clenched, taking her words as the threat he knew them to be. She waved a hand of dismissal in the air. “But enough chit-chat. I came here to test you, not to warrant your ire. A test to prove if this city should remain standing or burn for its degeneration. The fate of this city now rests on your actions, Batman.”

He wanted to tell her that that had been the case for years now, that Gotham’s fall would be his undoing and his doing, and all hinged on his actions, but he didn’t need to. She already knew that also. She was only goading him. And he also knew, as well as she did, that in the eyes of the League of Shadows there was only one way he would pass any test given to him, and he was not about to allow that to happen, so all of this was just a ruse, and poorly veiled one at that, but they would play this game out and march on to the ever predicable outcome of it.

“There is a man in this city, an innocent man, who will die unless you reach him in time, Batman.” She began to walk away. “I would hurry,” she said over her shoulder, “there is only so much time…”

The smoke bomb obliterated her escape, but even without it, Batman was sure she could’ve gotten away, mainly because she knew his first priority would be to find this man who was in danger. He had no doubt she was telling the truth. Wild goose chases were not the habit of the League of Shadows.

There was something that he knew that she didn’t.

“Jarvis, I need to find someone –”

“All ready on it, sir. Two hours ago a call was made to 911 and two patrol officers were dispatched to the location. However, neither officer has called in since that time and GCPD has not been able to contact them. Nor was there anyone at the residence, though there were signs of a struggle and the patrol officer’s vehicle was out front. From what I have gathered from the grid –” this being what they called every camera in Gotham City that Jarvis used to monitor the city “- both officers were taken to a shopping complex in the Diamond District.”

“Good work, Jarvis,” Batman said as he prepared to grapple up. “Send the Batwing to my location.”

“At once, sir. You should also know that one of the policemen managed to escape, though I believe he is wounded. I lost him on the grid, sir, as he went underneath an archway. He has yet to emerge on the other side.”

“Can you tell me who these officers are?”

“Officer Patrick O’Neal, 48, married, 3 children, exceptional service record. His partner, one Joseph Gruller, 32, divorced, no children, is not so a shining example as his partner.”

“Shiva said an ‘innocent man’ was in danger. That must be O’Neal.”

“Facial recognition was not viable, sir, due to the officer facing away from the cameras in that area. As I said, he was injured, so he kept his head down, though there is a blood trail.”

Batman sighed. The Batwing arrived and after he was settled in, he took a moment to think. One officer a shining example, while the other, his partner, wasn’t. One was wounded and had fled the scene, which meant either he had fought back, trying to save himself and/or his partner, or he had taken a coward’s way out and ran to save himself and gotten wounded in the process. Then again, knowing Shiva and the League of Shadows, the cop could’ve been wounded and allowed to escape.

Either way, good cop or bad cop, both must be saved and justice could, if it would take its course on the corrupt cop. Sighing again, Batman set off following the course Jarvis had mapped out.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-Four: The

Tony didn’t like this. Didn’t like it at all.

He didn’t have Batman’s instincts. He couldn’t sense the things the Bat could, almost with an ability that bordered on psychic. Granted, there were a few times when the hair rose on the back of Tony’s neck and he automatically ducked or dodged to the side and it had saved him a lot of hassle and a headache or two, but it wasn’t a constant. He considered it “danger sense by association.” He had picked up a few things just from being around Bruce and that was one of them, like a habit he learned by correlation. Tony also thought that the metal suit had dulled his senses, but then again he didn’t remember ever having the awareness that Bruce had.

But something was off here, and he didn’t have to be Bruce to know that.

Add to that that just moments before the HUD had picked up several gunshots, more than a hundred from the inside of the bank and from a dozen different weapons.

From the outside, it seemed calm. Too calm, Tony would say. As he watched from the roof of the taller building next door to the bank, calm shouldn’t have been so disconcerting, but it was. Jarvis had surveyed the inside via the cameras, but even the AI said something was off. There were people inside, their heat signatures and movements proved that, but the cameras had been placed on a loop, one showing that there was no one in the bank and hadn’t been for quite some time.

“The cameras are functioning, but they have been tampered with. I could try to bypass the system and take control of the cameras and thus see exactly what is actually going on inside.”

Tony thought about this for a few moments. “Where is Bruce?”

“The Batman is in the Bowery, nearly in the center of it. Would you like me to open communications with him or inquire as to his endeavor?”

“No. Leave him be, Jarvis. If I checked up on him every time we aren’t together and I think about him, I might as well just superglue myself to him and be done with it.” He focused on the HUD once more, the display marking heat signatures and he noted that some of them weren’t moving and hadn’t moved since he had been here this night. He wasn’t an idiot, not by a long shot. He knew what this meant. “Okay, Jarvis,” Tony sighed, “I don’t feel right about going in the front door, so what are my options?”

“Sir, there is a door on the roof that leads to the tower of the bank,” Jarvis stated. The building the Gotham City Merchant’s Bank was housed in was old, like the vast majority of buildings in Gotham, and like those old buildings, most had old style layouts and additives. Clock towers, old gears that were rusted and still. The bank had such gears, but they still worked, like…clockwork.

”Okay, Tony said to himself, launching off one building and onto the roof of the bank. The door was easy to find and was unlocked. Tony froze, metal encased hand on the knob, careful not to crush it, door only an inch or so open. Why was the roof access door to a major city bank not locked?

“This is definitely a set up.” Tony just hoped he didn’t end up in an abandoned underground city this time. Taking a deep breath, setting himself to face whatever was on the other side of this door, Tony walked in.

Into the belfry. He couldn’t help but snicker, because it would have been funny if Bruce had come and then there would have been a bat in the belfry. He shook his head, telling himself to be serious because this could be a very serious situation, and continued on to the other door in the small room. The gears clicked as well-oiled gears tended to do, and it was strangely comforting as he went and opened the other door.

And, though he could only see a little of the room from this vantage point right inside the door, he thought for a moment that it was some sick joke or version of hell.

Jarvis was right: the cameras had been tampered with.

Decorations for the upcoming Christmas season was strew about, but that wasn’t what bothered Tony at all. It was all the dead bodies.

There were twenty-seven, and now that they were in the same room it was plain to see they were all dead and, according to the HUD, it had been very recently, without a doubt the aftermath of the gunshots they had heard earlier, but he didn’t need it to tell about most of them. The placement and conditions of the bodies left no doubt that they were not only lifeless but had had an agonizing death.

“Oh shit!” Tony swore as he stepped forward to the edge of the small cubby-like area and the full effect of the room hit him. Whoever had did this was a monster. A heartless bastard of a monster.
There were bodies everywhere. Some were just lying in various poses of a painful death on the floor, but others appeared to have been tortured. These were in positions as if they had been twisted and mangled. There was blood everywhere and some of the dead men, for they were all male, had the most horrific looks on their faces, hinting at the horrible ending they had met at the hands of whoever the hell had done this. And, in all this agony, most of the bodies had been ‘decorated’ with Christmas ornamentation, even more gaudy in the face of all the death.

“Jarvis, what can you tell me.”

“I have been unable to successfully bypass the feed to the cameras and the security system has been disabled, sir.”

Tony swore again, liking this less and less by the second. The GCPD needed to be alerted to the slaughter that had transgressed here, but he wasn’t about to put police officers and medical personnel in danger by calling them and subjecting them to whoever had done this. Whoever had done this had Roman Sionis and was responsible for what had happened at Lacey Towers. Whoever they were had to be stopped.

“Alright. Jarvis keep me posted about anything.” He flew out over the (rather ugly) statue that protruded out of the wall, it, and the three others that were positioned about the large room, seemed to be sentinels, silently watching over everything from above. “Lousy job there, whatever-the-hell you things are supposed to be,” Tony murmured as he landed on the marble floor of the bank, making sure he avoided contaminating the evident crime scene. He silently wished whoever had to deal with this mess good luck.

Glad for the dampeners he had installed in his armor, he made his way to the door at the other end of the building that led to the area where the vault was located. It was locked according to Jarvis and there were several individuals on the other side according to heat signatures and by the sound of muffled voices and laughing. Who the hell would be laughing at a time like this unless they were one sick individual?

He was about to find out and it wasn’t something he was looking forward to.

He squared his shoulders, took another deep breath, and opened the door.

“You’re not the Batman.”

It sure sounded like Sionis. Looked like him also in the black death mask he wore all the time. Tony tried to remember how the story went, about why Roman wore the mask. Oh yeah. His parents had been killed in a fire, one that it was widely believed Roman had caused, and after inheriting their wealth and business, he had quickly gone bankrupt. Bruce had bailed him out and had hated him for it ever since. The mask he had acquired after breaking into his own family crypt and carving it out of his father’s coffin.

“I’ve been hearing that a lot,” Iron Man said. “It makes me feel very under appreciated.”

“Sir, there is something amiss,” Jarvis stated and Tony thought that the AI had never spoken such an understatement ever. “The voice sounds like Roman Sionis, but I assure you that it is not. An analysis indicates that the man posing to be Black Mask is – “

“Well, we can’t have that, now can we, Mr. Stark.” The voice had changed. No longer did it sound like Sionis at all. Tony felt a chill run up and down his spine. He knew without a doubt who this was, who had set up everything, including hiring the assassins to kill Batman.

“Joker!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-Five: Storm

Batman knew this city.

He knew Gotham as well as he knew the layout of Wayne Manor, or the Batcave. He knew all three with his eyes closed.

He knew his city as well as he knew Tony, and that was really saying something.

He knew that there was a grate on the south side of the Lexington, near the junction of it and 43rd St. that was false. It was there to cover not only an emergency escape route should the need arise, but it was also a hatch to a fortified bunker where extra equipment was stored in case the Batman was running low on Batarangs or Tony’s special smoke pellets. Tony teased that it was one of many bunkers around the city installed in case the Bat needed to go to the little boy’s room. Bruce had shaken his head in exasperation, but he couldn’t deny that sometimes it was true. It wasn’t as if he could use a public restroom. And no matter how much training and discipline he had, everything had its limits, including his bladder.

Snow began to fall. Sparsely, but he knew that by dawn it would be heavy and perilous to the city, building up on the streets and in the alleys, on top of buildings and vehicles parked on roadsides. A slushy mess by midday only to freeze again once night fell once more.

Snow, and with the holiday coming up, he began to think about what to do at the manor, in terms of Christmas and now with Richard in the home. It had been many years since he and Alfred had bothered to decorate, other than a wreath on the door, and a few babbles here and there. The days of Christmas cheer, am elaborately decorated tree, and strings of twinkling lights had been brushed aside and forgotten when Bruce’s parents had been killed.

Tony’s holiday spirit wasn’t much more jovial. Bruce knew for a fact that the only time Tony had enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner was when he and his mother, Maria, had come to Wayne Manor on the invitation of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Howard was always too busy to come, even if he had wanted to join his family and celebrate the holiday.

He and Tony weren’t sure what kind of celebration Richard’s family had done for the holidays, but they meant to sit down with him and ask him, and maybe – just maybe – it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to decorate again. The boy was like a breath of fresh air in the manor, one that they had needed desperately, but hadn’t realized they did, and so perhaps part of that was making new traditions just like making new memories replaced the older ones.

That is what Bruce thought about as the Batwing made its way to the coordinates Jarvis had indicted where Batman should be able to find the ‘innocent man’ Shiva spoke of. These thoughts were much better than the ones that had plagued him since talking with Shiva. He hated it, but there were times even he thought that Gotham wasn’t worth saving, or, more to the point, that it would be better off without him. If Batman left, then psychopaths like the Joker or Scarecrow would have no reason to make Gotham their city of choice. But, then again, if not here, then somewhere else, someplace where there wasn’t someone dedicated in keeping them off the streets. It wasn’t a vicious circle. It was a dark maze full of dead ends and where everything looked the same so it was hard as hell to navigate.

The Batwing came to a hovering still over the building Jarvis had calculated was the correct one. Having no doubts about the AI’s ability, Batman dove from the aircraft via the special system he had designed and Tony had constructed.

Were things really worse with Batman protecting the city than before? That belief had been made apparent when the Joker had made his rampage, ending with the death of Harvey Dent. Batman had hid the fact that Gotham’s White Knight, in the end, had become what he had fought against. He had done it for the city and her people. He would do it again.

And he knew that was an argument he had Tony would have frequently if Tony didn’t keep those thoughts to himself, but Bruce knew what he thought anyway, but some things were better left alone and that was one of them. In Tony’s opinion, knowing the truth about the great Harvey Dent might shock Gothamites into getting off their asses and showing some appreciate to the man who was actually doing something for them and the city.

“Jarvis, anything?”

“No, sir. There are no guards on the outside. However, inside I detect five heat signatures. Their exact coordinates are marked on your HUD.”

“Thank you, Jarvis. And Tony?”

“Inside the bank, sir. It is a site of carnage.”

Batman clenched his fists, his steps halting due to uncertainty. He should be there. Not with Tony, but instead of. Gotham was his responsibility. The only reason Tony was here was because he loved Bruce and would do anything for him, even protect Gotham, but it shouldn’t be Tony’s, or Iron Man’s, responsibility, because it was Batman’s. So, he should be the one at the bank, facing whoever had killed all those people and had hired the assassins.

But there were also people here who needed help. He had to come to terms with the fact that Tony was going to help him, even if he tried to talk him out of it. Tony could take care of himself. Bruce just had to let him. Before, he was determined to do this alone, but he didn’t have to now.

Steeling himself, he opened the warehouse door and took in what was before him as the door closed behind him.

There was a man strung up by his wrists, hanging over an electrified pool of water, the decorative fountain located practically inside the entranceway of the building. Officer Patrick O’Neal was in a panicked state, his legs kicking back and forth, his wide and focused on the blue ribbons of electricity dancing over the water several feet below him.

“Batman!” He cried when the Dark Knight stepped into the light as he walked around the left side of the pool, studying the trap. “Help me! Please, Batman!”

Batman wasn’t about to point out that he was doing that. “Just calm down, Officer O’Neal. I’m going to get you out of this alive, but you need to quit panicking.”

“Okay. Okay.” O’Neal sounded as if he was convincing himself to do as he was told. The officer took several deep breaths and forced himself to still. He didn’t, however, stop casting panicky glances at the electrified water below him.

Batman focused on the trap at hand. The power for the electrical flow was coming from two heavy duty cords, one from the left and one from the right that ran up over the walls and through ornate bars on either side, with the very top open for both. One grate on the left side was damaged at the bottom, a hole large enough for him to fit through. On closer inspection, he could plainly see that the bars were deliberately severed by a high heat source, a torch of one kind, or another, clearly meant for him to enter to the area where the control for the current was. A trap within a trap, and an obvious one at that. Meant to be, knowing what he knew (he was back at this ‘knowing’ again).

Better to face it head on, so Batman climbed through the opening and walked toward the control panel, reaching out a gauntleted hand to flip the switch off. And once again he had that feeling, the one that told him an attack was coming.

He raised one gauntlet over his head and the other back behind to cover his neck and as soon as he did, three of Shiva’s ninjas attacked at once, catching their blades on his raised gauntlets, and in spite of all their training, they were caught off by this.

With all his might, he shoved them away, maneuvering himself for the main fight. It didn’t take very long or much energy. They were good, but not as good as him and it was only mere moments until he was able to move on to his intended task. He shut off the power grid and then looked up to find a small outcrop in the design of the stone and retrieved one of the devices that he and Tony had made.

They called it a line launcher, for lack of coming up with something better. Aim and shoot and a five pronged grapple would attach and, if there was something else for it grapple onto to directly across, either straight or diagonal, and another pronged-grapple head shot out and attached to it, thus giving Batman a strong line well above the floor. The idea had come from one of the instruments that Deathstroke had carried around with him and had used in his fight against Batman on the Final Offer. Tony and Bruce had just made it better.

The ‘gun’ itself that shot out the grapples was also an instrument to use to turn the line into a zip line. It all happened automatically, and was very hard to explain, but it worked and that was what was important.

Through the opening at the top of the bars, over the pool, O’Neal still suspended above the dangerous water, and through the opening on the opposite side. Before he dropped down, knowing there was another trap waiting for him, before hitting the button to retract the line, the prongs of the grapple opening and releasing their grip on their anchors, the entire contraption retracting into a compact form once again, he took a minute to take a deep, calming breath. It was only a few seconds before he pushed that button, coming to land on the floor only a few feet from the switch.

The ninjas came at him different than the last three, but the ending was the same: them unconscious in varying poses and in varying parts of the space. Back up and over and then he was releasing a very grateful officer.

Then the blood trail and where it led to and what it led to and Batman knew all of this but he would follow it anyway. O’Neal said he would be fine, as he sat rubbing his bleeding wrists, but Batman had Jarvis contact the authorities anyway so they could come and pick their comrade up. He would wait until he got to the end of the blood trail to alert them when they could pick up the other officer. Crooked or not, if his fate was what Batman believed it was, he didn’t deserve it.

Very few of them did.

Chapter Text

There were so many things wrong with the room and everything in it – not to mention the situation in general - that Tony was having trouble wrapping his head around it all.

There was an ambulance backed into a huge hole that had been blasted into the left hand wall and inside that ambulance were bags upon bags of money. There were loose bills strewn all about the floor and some of them showed signs of being burned or at least scorched.

There were several men in the room. All armed with high-powered automatic weapons. The HUD scanned these, displaying all the information to Tony and none of them would be a problem for his armor. But all these men were wearing black suits and each had a mask covering their features, so Jarvis couldn’t get a reading on them to run a facial recognition scan and look them up to see their crimes and history. It didn’t take a genius, however, to know that they were criminals and were more-than-likely in the system.

Then there was the Joker, dressed like Sionis in his patented white pin-striped suit, black mask tossed aside, waving a gun around, and barking orders. There was a woman slightly hidden behind him. She wore a business suit with a knee length skirt and a name tag. She was the source of the laughter, but to Tony it really didn’t sound as if she was laughing out of glee or amusement.

“Sir, she is the bank manager,” Jarvis informed him.

There was something off about her and Tony realized what it was. She was still laughing, nearly uncontrollably, swaying around like a person who had drank too much but was one of those happy drunks. Tony himself hadn’t been one of those, but looks could be deceiving, as they were now. This woman wasn’t intoxicated, at least not by alcohol. No, this was something far, far worse at work here.

“Why aren’t you in Arkham?” Tony shook his head. “Why can’t they keep the loonies in the bin like they are supposed to?”

“Sir, the bank manager, Melinda Durant, is heavily inebriated via a substance I do not recognize nor am I able to get a definite analysis of,” Jarvis explained in Tony’s ear.

“As I previously implied, I was expecting the Bat. I had all of this set up, meticulously planned for the Bat, but I get his boyfriend instead. Is it boyfriend, or do you two prefer significant other” he even made the air quotes “or whatever you crazy kids say these days? You’ll have to forgive me for being behind on the times seeing how I was” he leaned forward and continued in a very loud whisper as if sharing a secret “in an institution for the criminally insane.” He shrugged nonchalantly and continued on in a normal voice: “Anyway, I guess I can make this work for you. I thought I had you in Wonder City and I didn’t even need the really big can opener I had to get you out of that metal suit of yours, but you got out on your own and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Remind me to sent Eddie a ‘thank you’ for inadvertently setting that up for me.”

Eddie. He must have been talking about the obnoxious idiot who had jammed the city’s signal towers and thought he was so much smarter than everyone else. Tony really didn’t like that guy, but he liked the Joker even less.

“Whatever you have planned, Joker, it isn’t going to work,” Tony stated with conviction.

“Isn’t it? Seems to be working fine so far. The assassins are keeping Batsy busy on the other side of the city.” The Joker tapped his temple with the muzzle of the gun in his hand. “I knew that he would consider Sionis himself unimportant in the face of these high rollers coming to town and setting their sights on him for 50 million in cold, hard cash. In truth, I’d hoped this was how it would turn out. That he would send you.” The last word was drawn out with malice and content.

“Me? I thought it was the Bat you were after. What’s so important about me?”

“Oh! You, Mr. Stark, are very important.” Tony cringed, as he had the first time Joker called him Mr. Stark. He didn’t like that this jerk knew who he and Bruce were, Iron Man and Batman, and he liked the henchmen knowing even less, but he didn’t worry too much. Who would believe criminals over the Prince of Gotham? Surely… “You are a big problem and a thorn in my side and – “

“Would you shut up and get on with it all ready?” Tony snapped. His mind was racing. The Joker had something planned and there was an innocent woman here in the crosshairs. He needed to get her out of here and fast. “If you’re going to try and kill me, get to it!”

“If you actually let me finish a sentence, you might learn something! You might learn we're not so different. You might even learn something about yourself.”

“We are nothing alike,” Tony snarled, practically spitting the words out.

“Oh, really,” the Joker purred and then laughed hysterically. “Let’s see – we are both suffering from narcissism. We both have self-destructive tendencies. We both say to hell with the rules and laws, I mean, let’s face it, Batman keeps you muzzled or else you’d be blowing bad guys like these idiots –” he motioned to the thugs standing around him “- left and right. You go out of your way to piss others off and you are in a constant state of denial. Oh! And let’s not forget that pesky little PTSD thing either. Obadiah told me that you had left part of yourself in that cave.”

Tony opened his mouth to deny all of this, but his throat was dry and suddenly he was sweating profusely inside his armor. “Jarvis –“

“Sir, your vital signs are spiking. I – “ Jarvis’ sounded far away.

Tony began to shake violently and couldn’t help but fall to his knees.

“You relive the events over and over again. The deaths of those in soldiers. The missile, literally with your name on it, going off. Waking up in that cave with a car battery strapped to your chest. Held captive by terrorists and then to come home and find out that the man who you trusted, thought of as sorta a father was betraying you. Wanted you dead. And then the love of your life, who you thought was dead, is skulking around a very unappreciative city dressed as a flying rodent.” The Joker was slowly walking a circle around Tony, hands clasped behind his back, gun tap-tap-tapping against his buttocks. “They say that one who suffers from PTSD numbs their emotions so they feel less and less. Well, I know that all too well. And heightened arousal.” He chuckled. “I can’t imagine what you two costumed kids get up to and quite frankly, I don’t want to.” He laughed again. “And speaking of which, I know a great psychiatrist who could help you with your mental illness there. She says the best thing for you is facing your fears head on and talking about them. Tell me; do you about your problems with the love of your life? Does he even really care about what you went through?” The Joker knelt down next to him. “Anyway, my friend agreed with me that you seem the type who denies anything being wrong with them so willingly going to a shrink wouldn’t happen, so we talked to someone who would help you out, free of charge.”

“What did you do to me?” Tony croaked out. His heart was pounding. He could hear the gunshots, could see them dying. The young man who had sat next to him in the Humvee one moment taking a picture of the two of them and then the next moment dead. The explosions. The pain. Tony clutched at his chest, finding only the metal and clawing at it trying to get to his flesh and blood that was hurting and burning.

“While your suit was offline, I put a little care package inside. And if you’re wondering why it got past your tech, well, I’ll just say that I had help with that also.” The Joker stood and motioned to one of the thugs. This one went over and removed a sheet of black plastic that had been barely visible in the corner.

“Jarvis?” Tony couldn’t hear the AI. Where had Jarvis gone? Why had he abandoned him? Where was Bruce? Tony was there, in that cave again, knowing he was going to die alone and afraid. Why was this happening to him?

“That panic that you are feeling? Ask your boyfriend about that. If you ever see him again and remember, ask him about the Scarecrow.” Laughter again. Something lands next to him. Something smiling. Laughter echoing, getting farther and farther away. Then an explosion. He can feel it in his bones. And he is flying and screaming.

Then nothing.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighty-Seven: Panic

“Jarvis, alert the Gotham City Police Department about the body,” Batman said with a sigh. Finding the officer’s body hadn’t been a surprise, but it still bothered him just the same.

“Sir, I feel the need to tell you,” Jarvis began managing to sound rather reluctant and concerned at the same time, “that there is something wrong with Tony.”

Batman stopped in his tracks, his brow furrowing under the cowl and his chest clenching in worry. “What?”

“He has left his suit, sir, and I don’t know why. There is some kind of strange substance I was unaware of and – “

Bruce’s fist clenched at his side. What was going on? “Is he at the bank? Is Sionis there?”

“Sir, he is at the bank, but Sionis isn’t there.” There was a pause and if Jarvis had been human, Bruce was sure he would have strangled him at the first opportunity. “The Joker is.”

And suddenly it all made sense.

The assassins. The attack on Blackgate. “How did he get out of Arkham without us knowing?” Batman asked, more to himself than the AI, but Jarvis answered just the same.

“That’s the thing, sir. He is still in Arkham.”

Batman’s body prepared to run, to get to the open so he could get to the Batwing and fly to the bank as fast as he could. He had to get to Tony. He was in danger. How could he be so blind to all of this?

However, that tingle returned, shooting up the back of his neck, and it was only by instinct that he blocked the razor sharp sword from severing his head from his shoulders.

“Preoccupied, Batman?” Shiva questioned and Batman had to wonder how much did she know. “Somewhere else you have to be?”

Batman forced himself to relax, to let nothing show. If she got any reaction out of him the price would be severe. Yes, she knew about Tony and definitely knew more about the situation he was in then Bruce did, but that also meant that she had eyes on him and if she had eyes on him then a blade was close by. Without his armor he was no match for League of Shadow ninjas.

She studied him for a few moments, her eyes unwavering, and then she bowed her head low in a slow nod.

“I am not heartless. I was sent here to challenge you and while others might use whatever advantage is presented to them, they are without honor. I retain my honor and thus I will allow you to see to your beloved. Love is a precious thing and can be so fleeting, so rare. But once he is secure, you will meet me at the Wonder Tower or the price will be severe.”

She was gone into the shadows, but Batman didn’t see or care. He was already gone himself. Grappling to a roof as the Batwing swung low and around so he could climb onto the wing and into the pilot’s seat, he raced to the bank, diving down onto the roof before the Batwing even came to a complete stop.

“Jarvis?” There was smoke coming up through a hole in the roof and he could smell the acrid scent of explosives.

“I do not know, sir, but the explosion was reported and the police and fire are en route.”

Batman knew he had to hurry.

“Sir, I have managed to reestablish a connection to his armor. I am sending it ahead to the cave.”

Batman just nodded. He had a limited amount of time. The sirens could be heard and were getting closer by the second.

As he made his way into the bank via the roof access, he couldn’t help but think about what Shiva had said about honor. It was offensive to hear someone speak of honor when they murdered people for money. Whatever twisted sense of honor she had, he was going to make sure she was put away for the rest of her life along with the other assassins the Joker had hired.

The Joker. How in hell could he still be locked up in Arkham and have been here in the bank with Tony? Something wasn’t right, far from it. And he was going to have to figure it out and soon. It was like he was working on a puzzle: a giant one composed of several smaller puzzles and each of those had to be put together before he could assemble those into the bigger picture.

Sirens getting closer. Time running out. Once inside, it was easy to see the blast had taken out the bank vault. Batman was sure this was after the Joker had cleared out all the money that had been inside. Not too far from the rubble and the vault door, which was hanging on by one hinge, was the red and gold of Tony’s armor and beside him was a woman.

Bruce had just enough time for a quick glance at the woman, the readout in his HUD telling him that she was dead, but the look on her face was one that would haunt him for a many years to come.

“Jarvis, disengage the armor and fly it back to the cave,” he ordered. He lifted Tony out as soon as he was able and was well his on his way back to the roof as the armor left before them.

Once inside the Batwing, Bruce left it for Jarvis to fly, as he directed his attention to Tony. His eyes were open and his jaw was moving as if he were gnashing his teeth. His eyes were wide and unfocused and he was shaking in various degrees, differentiating from one moment to the next.

Batman turned back to the front, his eyes not seeing the buildings below and around them as the Batwing flew back to the cave, taking a wide arc around to get a lower trajectory into the cave entrance. He was contemplating what had happened, what he did and didn’t know, and that woman at the bank and what could have –

Tony screamed from behind him. Loud and terror filled and Bruce whipped around, managing to angle himself to where one knee was down in the seat, his shoulders pushing into the glass of the dome, his jaw dropping of its own accord as he saw the look of abject panic on Tony’s face.

“Tony. Babe. What’s the matter?” He reached out to him only to have Tony back away from him. “No! No! No! NO! Stay away! Leave me alone!” He was slapping at Bruce’s hands, pushing his back into the seat as far as he was able. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It’s all my fault!”

“What is, Tony? What’s all your fault?” He stopped trying to reach the other man and just kept his arms and hands at the ready just in case.

“It’s my fault their dead!” Tears started streaming from his eyes and down his cheeks. “It was because of me! They killed them to get to me! I’m sorry! I am so sorry!” He screamed again and began thrashing back and forth in the seat. “Make it stop! Please! Make it stop! I want it all to stop! I can’t stop seeing it and hearing! Make it go away!”

“Oh Tony,” Bruce whispered and the other man finally let him touch him. The angle was all wrong and there was a seat between him so Bruce climbed over the side and Tony did the same, shaking, and fell into Bruce’s arms. He buried his face into the bat insignia in the center of his chest and began weeping uncontrollably, screaming, and clutching at Bruce so hard Bruce thought he would topple them down the stairs to the floor of the cave.

“Do I need to call Dr. Leslie?” Alfred asked from behind him and Bruce nodded as he held Tony and began to cry silently.

Chapter Text

“My God,” Dr. Leslie said under her breath as she left Tony’s side and left the Batcave medical bay. She’s had to give Tony a very strong sedative to get him to calm down, but once he woke up he would be in panic again. Thankfully, Lucius Fox would be here well before then. “He’s been living with the guilt ever since Afghanistan.”

“With the PTSD, yes,” Bruce admitted and he hated himself for not recognizing it sooner and then hated himself even more when he realized that maybe he had seen it and had just ignored it. “The trigger was the fear toxin that the Joker somehow got into his armor when he was out of it in the underground city. Scarecrow is up to his old tricks again.”

“How did this happen?” Alfred motioned toward the med-bay. “How could Scarecrow get his toxin inside the armor without Jarvis knowing?”

“When the Enigma had the Comm Towers shut down. The signal blocked. It also interrupted the remote signal from Jarvis to the armor. Tony was out of it when he was captured and taken to the Undercity.” Bruce had almost completely forgotten about that place. Something else to add to the ever increasing list of things to check out. “There was plenty of time then.”

“Still, wouldn’t someone have to have a great knowledge of…a lot of things to get around Tony’s tech? To sneak anything into his suit should be practically impossible, shouldn’t it?” Pepper, her upper half visible on the large screen in the cave, via a live feed from Los Angeles.

“I could do it,” Bruce stated with a shrug, though both women could tell he wasn’t taking this statement or situation lightly. Nor was he saying what he was saying with arrogance. He was just stating fact.

“You aren’t just anyone,” Dr. Leslie said, voicing what she and Pepper had both been thinking. “There aren’t very many people who can do it. You are one of those few, but you wouldn’t ever hurt Tony.”

“Are you sure about that?” Bruce snapped, his suddenly flash of anger self-directed. “Didn’t my ignoring what was so obvious hurt him?”

“Bruce, we all did,” Pepper said sympathetically.

“But I was with him more. He’s the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing I see before I go to sleep. I saw it and I made the choice to ignore it. I just let him have his way and said nothing, thinking that he would fix himself or that letting him have his way was a good enough solution.”

“Don’t!” Dr. Leslie’s voice echoed off the cave walls. “You’re not a self-centered person so don’t make this about you, Bruce. This is about Tony and he’ll be waking up soon. You should be there when he does.”

Bruce nodded, stuffing his hands into his pants pockets to avoid demonstrating several actions he performed brought on by stress and worry. How could he not feel guilty? Every time he came home, either during the day as Bruce Wayne, or at night as Batman, to find Tony working on yet another modification or building another Iron Man suit, he had said nothing. He had stood by and watched Tony drink alcohol like it was water, forcing himself to stop counting how many glasses he consumed a day. He never said ‘no’, never pushed Tony away when he had so desperately reached for him, an act more filled with need than love, the actions not of a lover but of someone drowning in hopelessness and the necessity to forget, even only for a short time.

How many times had he lay beside Tony in bed and pretended he didn’t feel the bed shake with his sobs, couldn’t hear the sounds he had tried to hide as he had wept. Instead of gathering Tony in his arms and doing everything in his power to make him believe that everything was going to be alright, he had closed his eyes and gone to sleep like nothing was happening. Why? Because he had chosen each time to put the city of Gotham ahead of the man he loved. He let this city be more important than Tony. Even a damaged Tony Stark was helpful, beneficial to Batman and his quest to make Gotham a better place.

Tony loved him enough to keep aiding him. Could Bruce say the same?

“Stop it,” Dr. Leslie hissed. They had said good-bye to Pepper, Bruce promising to keep her informed about Tony, and Dr. Leslie, having done all that she could do for now, was readying to take the elevator back up to the manor. “You’re doing it again. Stop it! Not everything is your fault. Not everything is your responsibility. You can’t take the blame for everything that happens in this damn city and you can’t fix everything or everyone so get that through that damned stubborn head of yours!”

“I know,” Bruce admitted, “But Tony –“

“Wasn’t blind to what he was going through. He knew it just as good months, or more, ago than he does now. If he had wanted help, he would’ve asked for it, and you trying to force the issue wouldn’t have been a good thing. You know it. I know it. Tony knows it. Everyone knows it. He probably would’ve stormed off back to L.A. like the spoiled brat he can be and you would’ve let him just like the spoiled brat you can be. Chances are it all could’ve ended up a lot worse, so let’s move on and be glad that everything is better than it could’ve been.”

Her words weren’t making Bruce feel any better about the situation. He wasn’t just looking for reasons to blame himself or take responsibility for something that he couldn’t have prevented. He could have prevented this. He could’ve helped when he saw the signs, but he hadn’t. Dr. Leslie meant well, but this time she was wrong. That fault was on him.

Dr. Leslie signed, not only in weariness, but in frustration. She was too damned tired to true to convince Bruce what she said was true and getting too damned old to keep up anymore. Maybe it was time to bring someone else in. Someone trustworthy, to handle the medical issues that came with saving this city, issues Alfred and Bruce couldn’t take care of themselves.

She left without another word, just a sympathetic pat on Bruce’s arm. He waited until she was around the corner, counted the steps she would have to take to get to the elevator, imagined he could hear the door sliding closed as he turned to look at where Tony was. And then he sat down and put his face in his hands.

Chapter Text

For a moment he didn’t know where he was. And for an even longer moment, he didn’t give a damn. He just wanted to be back asleep, oblivious to everything: everything he knew and felt, had felt, the bank, the Joker, the panic and fear. He could still feel those but they were fading.

He wanted to shove all his secrets back into their little box and store them away again. Even the big secret. Especially the big secret. The one he pretended didn’t exist. The one Bruce pretended didn’t exist.

There was some part of him that screamed he should be hurt, upset, at that last bit. It pounded in his chest, demanded a reason why the one person in this world he loved more than anything had ignored the big neon sign that had been flashing over Tony’s head since he’d returned from Afghanistan.

”But you ignored it too,” he reminded himself, ”didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he grumbled, reaching up and rubbing his face with his hands. And he knew that he had hoped Bruce wouldn’t notice, knowing damn well that Bruce would, and then hoping that Bruce let it go, and Bruce had, so why was Tony trying to be upset about it?

Truth be known, he wasn’t mad at Bruce, not at all. Tony was mad at himself.

He let his hands fall and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, refusing to open them. He could hear the bats shrilling from the cave ceiling. That sound was trying to drone out the sounds of DUM-E and his brother racing around and the sounds of rushing water from various areas of the cave.

Tony wished he was stronger. He wished he was strong and together and stable like Bruce. That was funny in a way, that the stable one of them, or the most stable one, was the one who dressed up as a Bat and struck terror into the hearts of the scum that strolled around Gotham like they owned it. But in spite of that, Bruce was the stable one. The rock. The corner stone of Tony’s foundation and Tony knew that without Bruce, he certainly would’ve fallen, crumbled into a mess of stones, burnt and blast.

He almost opened his eyes. Almost called out to Bruce who he knew was close, as in in-the-cave-close. He could feel him even though he couldn’t hear his footfalls or anything like that, but he just knew Bruce wasn’t far away and would come running if Tony called to him. Tony knew Bruce would hold him tight and close, whisper how everything was going to be all right, tell him how sorry he was and how much he loved him.

Tony’s heart ached for that. He wanted Bruce to do all of that so badly, but he couldn’t. Not right now. Because when Bruce told him everything was going to be all right, Tony would believe him and he didn’t want to believe that right now. Bruce would hold him and Tony would feel better but he didn’t want to feel better right now. He wanted to be angry with himself. At Obadiah. At Howard. Everyone and everything that had led to this moment.

But didn’t that include Bruce also and his seven year absence?

NO! Tony berated himself. It didn’t.

Did it?

“No!” Tony said out loud. He cringed, waiting for Bruce to come in, but it wasn’t Bruce’s voice he heard.

“Do you want me to get Bruce?”

It wasn’t Alfred either. Then who? Oh. The boy.

“What are you doing here?” Tony asked. Down here. In the cave. The Batcave.

“I asked Alfred if I could see you and he asked Bruce and Bruce said it was okay.” Tony cracked open one eyes, the light low enough not to cause him any discomfort but enough to allow to see the boy who was sitting only a few feet away. “Do you want me to go get him?”

Tony shook his head and felt guilty for it. “No, not quite yet.” His mouth felt funny, like it was full of cotton or something. “Is there any water around? Do you think –“

Richard jumped up and produced a bottle of water from the mini-fridge. Tony wondered how he could tell the mini-fridge with the water from the mini-fridge with the blood packs and whatever experiment Bruce was running at the time. Some toxin or another. One he had picked up while tailing bad guys and was trying to develop a cure for – just in case. They really needed a labeling system of some sort.

“Thanks, kid.” Tony sat up, stiff and sore but he could deal, and drank the bottle of water. It was cool and refreshing and he gulped it down like he had been in a desert without water. Boy, did that bring back memories.

He glanced at Richard who was fiddling around with some medical tools on a tray nearby. Fiddling meaning he would just barely touch them then snatch his hand away. He looked better, better than he had when they had been underground, at least. Was he taller? Could he have grown all ready, in a matter of days? There was no doubt he was eating well. Alfred made sure of that, but there couldn’t be a visible difference in him yet, could there?

“Everything okay so far?” Tony wasn’t really trying to just fill silence or steer a conversation. He really wanted to know, to make sure the boy was okay with everything. “You like it here and all that?”

Richard’s mouth curved up in a smile and his eyebrows rose. “Yeah, I do.” He chuckled a little, taking a seat on a backless stool and then, in typical adolescent behavior, spun himself around. “It’s nice. Alfred feeds me very often and with very good food. I’ve got clothes and a roof over my head and people who care about me enough to take me in. Plus I have a huge mansion to explore and a cave full of bats and robots to play in.”

“We need a pool!” Tony exclaimed taking another sip of water and then sharing a smile with the young man. He may be young, a child, but he had seen things most children don’t and experienced something that would change him forever, but he had two people who shared that knowledge with him who cared about him, even in such a short time. And Richard understood things, more than one would realize. Like now. Like what was going on with Tony.

“Mr. Fox said that the stuff caused by a guy called Scarecrow was out of your system, but the other stuff wasn’t so easily fixed,” he said, becoming still on the stool and looking down at his feet. “Dr. Leslie said you were messed up in the head and she got onto Bruce for ignoring it. She even told off Alfred. She’s a bit scary. What’s wrong with you?”

Tony sighed and looked over at Richard. Richard was looking up at him through the fringe that covered his forehead. The kid needed a haircut. Tony smiled at him in reassurance. He didn’t mind the question at all.

“A while back some bad guys killed some soldiers I was with, kidnapped me, and kept me in a cave until I built them a weapon they were going to use on innocent people.”

“Because you are Iron Man?”

Tony shook his head. “Because I was an oblivious jerk who built weapons. Big, destructive weapons and I didn’t care where they went or who they went to until I saw it for myself. That was the beginning of Iron Man, in that cave in the desert.”

“Do you regret it?”

Tony thought for a moment. “Yeah, all that death, that I caused. Even though I didn’t push the buttons to launch or use the weapons, I may have well of.”

“No, I know you regret all that,” Richard stated and Tony looked at him in confusion. “I meant do you regret Iron Man?”

“No!” Tony said it with conviction. He meant it.

“So, in a way, Iron Man is your redemption for not caring all those years. Right?”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed grinning. He glanced up and standing in the doorway was Bruce, watching him with those eyes, his face unreadable, but his eyes bore into Tony’s, so bright and full of something so deep and strong that it made tears sting Tony’s eyes. “Yeah. Redemption. For a lot of things.”

Chapter Text

Bruce was sitting on the small bed with Tony. Richard was out at the main terminal and apparently Jarvis had found a game for him to play.

“Playing games on a system that costs nearly a hundred million dollars,” Tony snickered. “Jarvis can download any game. Why didn’t we think of that?”

Bruce smiled and it was genuine but still small and rather forced. Tony was diverting. They both knew it.

“Is there anything else I need to know?” Bruce shook his head. “No, I mean – I want to know if there is something I don’t know, but I knew – I saw and ignored it. God, Tony, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I swore –” He cut himself off, reaching over and taking one of Tony’s hands in his and squeezing it tightly.

Tony smiled, though Bruce couldn’t see it because he was looking at their hands as Tony shifted his so their fingers entwined.

“I wanted - hoped - you would ignore it. Hell, I ignored it also, so what’s the big deal.” Tony knew he was being way too flippant.

“The big deal?” Bruce looked up at him then, his eyes wide, his face incredulous. “Where do I start? I saw the signs, I knew what was happening to you and I just – “

“Stop it!” Tony snapped, his hand tightening around Bruce’s painfully. “Just fucking stop it! Can’t we just…” He released his hold on Bruce’s hand and with a sigh leaned his forehead against Bruce’s shoulder. “Can’t we just let it go? Mark it up to us both being fools and just move on? I’ll do whatever I have to, okay. Whatever Dr. Leslie thinks is best: medication, therapy, whatever. Just don’t make me talk about it now. I’m not ready.”

“If we ignore it, pretend that everything is going to be fine or it won’t happen again, it could be worse the next time.”

“There isn’t going to be a next time, Bruce. It was brought on by Scarecrow’s fear toxin. If it hadn’t been for that, my freaking out never would have happened.” He was trying to convince Bruce. Not himself. Right?

Bruce sighed also, a deep one, and his free hand buried in Tony’s hair. He twisted his head enough to kiss Tony’s hair, somewhere around his left temple. Was he ignoring it all again? Was he letting Tony have his way because he didn’t really want to talk about it either?

“Okay, Tony,” he said again with a sigh of defeat. They both knew he was giving in. Something else they both knew.

Tony raised his head and managed to move closer. “I really do want help with this and I need you to help me through this, but I know what you’re thinking. I knew when we decided to have a go at this, both you and me and my iron baggage and your bat in the belfry, I knew how important trying to save this city is to you. I know you love me and I know that you feel as if you put Gotham ahead of me and let’s face it, you did. And yes, it pisses me off that I am second to this unthankful, unforgiving bitch of a city, but it changes nothing. I still love you and I will still watch you take on the persona that allows you to do what has to be done and I will still do what I have to do to not only help you but make damn sure that when the sun comes up you are right back where you belong: here with me. So stop beating yourself up about it. I understand and I forgive you. Now forgive yourself and let’s move on.”

Bruce’s eyes met his and he nodded silently, though, once again, they both knew it wasn’t that simple for him.

“Now, to move on, tell me what happened that I don’t remember.”

And Bruce did.

“So, the Joker is posing as Roman to use his money to fund these assassins and Shiva, who knows Batman is Bruce Wayne and that Iron Man is me, is waiting for a showdown, and we can’t forget about that Enigma bastard who has the audacity to think he can outsmart or out-tech me. Am I missing anything?”

“Scarecrow. And that underground city. Somehow all of this is connected.”

“Well, hell, babe, all this attention just means we’re doing our job.” Tony felt like walking. Scratch that – he felt like flying. “So, tonight, what’s the plan?”

Bruce opened his mouth. Then closed it. Was he really going to let Tony go back out there, suit or no? Did he have a choice? He would just have to keep tabs on him, or make sure that Jarvis did. That was all he could do.

“I’ll deal with Shiva. Jarvis is monitoring everything. If anyone even mentions the Joker and he will alert us. Just be ready for anything.”

Tony took it. He’d take what he was given. What he had to. Getting right back to it, into the fray, fighting the good fight and all, was great therapy. Dr. Leslie probably wouldn’t agree, but what she didn’t know and all that.

Richard had stopped playing the game he had been engrossed in and was now sitting on a table near the main computer terminal, looking around, watching the bats as they flew back and worth, waiting for the night to fall.

“Is he taller than when he first came here?” Tony just had to ask. Maybe it was part of all of this, the misconstruing. Or was it something else. Another word to beat around the bush with.

Bruce looked at him in question then his eyes went to Richard and he studied him for a few seconds. “Damn. It looks like it, doesn’t it?” He shook his head. “That is something else. Going through whatever channels we have to so we can keep him. That and the merger.”

“Oh shit! The press conference. If I don’t memorize the speech Pepper wrote, she will have my ass. Super Pepper is scary beyond belief when I screw-up one of her speeches.”

“On a scale, where does Pepper’s scary fall? Is she as scary as Dr. Leslie? Alfred?”

“Somewhere in between. No one is as scary as Dr. Leslie. But Pepper is close. Alfred’s a puppy dog in comparison.”

They both had a good laugh and then Bruce was studying Richard again. The boy had moved over to another table, the one designed to show blueprints in 3D render. Right now it was showing Tony’s partial render of the new vehicle for the Batman he was working on. He insisted on calling it the “Batmobile.”

“He’s smart, that’s for sure.” Bruce stated.

“Clever, too and he can climb like a monkey.” Tony face lit up with a smile. “Hey, monkey!” He yelled across the cave and Richard looked over at him. Tony’s smile just got bigger. “Wanna learn something?”

“Sure. Do I get to help build something?”

“Yep,” Tony said, nodding.

DUM-E rolled into view. He beeped at the young man as he went by.

“He keeps trying to pick me up by my head,” Richard stated, motioning to DUM-E. “I like him. What do you want me to do?”

“Welcome, young man, to the exciting world of Mechanical Engineering as revolutionized, privatized, and departmentalized by yours truly. There is no one in this world that can teach you what I can.”

“That is true,” Jarvis chimed in. “Since no one else has been able to come close to accomplishing an AI such as myself.”

“Listen to him, Richard,” Bruce said, heading over as the chamber housing the Batsuit began to rise out of the cave floor. “He knows what he’s talking about.”

Richard laughed and clapped his hands together. He was going to love being part of this family.

Chapter Text

Song: This Ain’t No Place For A Hero (Short Change Hero) - The Heavy

 

“Sir,” Jarvis began, “I have picked up a signal. There is an embedded message in it for you.”

“Let’s hear it,” Batman said, sure he knew where who the message was from.

”Batman. We need to conclude our business. If you have everything in order, come to the Wonder Tower. I’ll be waiting.”

“I do not need to tell you that it is obviously a trap,” Jarvis stated, his voice clear as a bell through the HUD in Batman’s cowl.

“I’d be insulted if she didn’t at least try,” he answered, turning the nose of the Batwing to alter his course and make for the Wonder Tower. Why the Wonder Tower? It was a mystery but not so much of one it took his mind off of his guilt of being out here instead of back at the manor with Tony. He sighed, one from so deep it felt as if he sucked air in through his body from his toes. Tony would be fine and he wasn’t just telling himself that to make himself feel better, even though it did help.

Maybe Tony isn’t the only one that needs professional help, Bruce thought to himself and then he chuckled. That was an understatement and he didn’t have to look in a mirror to see the truth of it. He could feel the weight on him, the weight of the Kevlar and titanium that encased him in the black visage of his chosen elemental disguise.

The problem would be finding someone to talk to that wouldn’t have both of them committed to Arkham.

“We could start with couple’s therapy,” Bruce mused aloud. That idea made him chuckle also. “We are two screwed-up people no matter how you look at it.”

But we work together he could hear Tony say and he smiled, but that smile disappeared as the Wonder Tower came into view and he slipped into full Bat-Mode.

One of the things that Tony had came up with while working long hours in the cave was the new Bat Armor. Tony had dubbed it the Batsuit v8.03. Why Bruce didn’t know and Tony never gave him a definite answer, but Bruce figured it could only mean that he had worked on multiple other suits, using different materials and the v8.03 had been the first success.

The Batsuit v8.03 is a highly advanced suit fabricated with flexible plates overlaid a MR-fluid, or magneto rheological fluid, armor layer. The body suit consists of an inner and outer layer of titanium dipped tri-weave fiber mesh with the MR-fluid sandwiched in between. The official name of the MR-fluid is the WayneTech Smart MR-fluid, though it was designed by Tony, but Tony insisted that it be patented under WayneTech instead of StarkTech.

The MR-fluid hardens in response to impacts, specifically designed to provide superior shock absorption, as well as enabling greater force delivery behind counterattacks. The liquid body armor layer is also more flexible than the ceramic or fiber-based alternatives used in previous suits, allowing for greater maneuverability and faster elimination of multiple targets in quick succession. The suit's subsystems are symbiotically integrated with the Batmobile and provide a quick launch capability via the vehicle's electromagnetic ejection system (analogous to launch from a rail gun). Designed to withstand up to 6gs of acceleration, the suit increases navigational capability by tolerating high acceleration maneuvers without risk of injury (such as gliding, grapnel boosting, and high-speed ejection from the Batmobile).

The Batsuit v8.03 also incorporates a holographic projector, as well as the ability to remotely control the Batmobile using haptic controls that are mounted on the gauntlets. The gauntlets themselves possess retractable blades and sensors that work in conjunction with Jarvis to analyze foreign samples and upload data to remote sites.

While the new suit was high tech in nature and offered Batman full mobility this suit, however, had one flaw that Tony has yet to be able to get around and that is it only moderately is effective against bullets. While the actual plates could easily stop bullets, in between the plates is where the weakness of this armor is, only offering moderate protection from bullets, especially at point blank range. However, if shot the suit would compress around the wound and stop the bleeding.

Tony was determined to make the Batsuit everything it needed to be: easy to move in and bulletproof, and he had declared that he had designated 2/3s of his brain to coming up with a solution.

Bruce had no doubt that Tony would figure it out, but until then he would just do as he always tried to do: not get shot. Or dodge. Dodging was good.

Instead of landing the Batwing, he turned the controls over to Jarvis and launched from the Batwing via the ejection mechanism. Instead of propelling him from the top of the aircraft, he ‘dropped’ out the bottom, a hatch opening and the seat rotating down, thus sending him toward the ground, head first, in a controlled dive. When he was ready, he would level out by deploying his cape, another part of his Batsuit that Tony had tinkered with. It used the same method it had before, the material designed by Lucius Fox, and Fox would be the first to say that Tony’s improved worked much better.

And all the while, the MR-fluid did just as it was intended to, hardening to absorb the force on his body from the high-altitude, high-velocity descent.

He came to rest lightly right in front of the large double doors leading into the lobby of the Wonder Tower.

Batman wondered again why Shiva wanted to meet here. The Wonder Tower was just that – a tower. There was a large lobby with two large elevators that led to the top of the tower where one could see all of Gotham for as far as she sprawled in every direction.

Without hesitation, expecting anything, he flung open a door and then another. The lobby was lit up fully with all the overhead lights, the red carpet spotless, and the doors to the elevators open as if waiting.

His steady step, almost nonchalant demeanor belayed his cautiousness. The room appeared empty and to nearly anyone else that was exactly what it was. But Batman knew it was anything but. They were there, playing on the edges of his mind, three men on his left, and three women on his right, all League of Shadows agents. Sword and fist. And Shiva herself in front of him.

One breath. Drew in slowly and released just as so. Muscles flexing. Readiness a way of life, a shift in form barely detectible to the human eye, and then smoke and then they were attacking all at once. But he was prepared for that, and maybe they knew he would be, especially Shiva, but they weren’t really prepared for how prepared he actually was.

Their mistake was attacking him as one and thus focusing their attacks on a central point instead of coming at him from seven different angles. Even if they had, the sword blades wouldn’t have ever reached his flesh. The MR-fluid would’ve hardened and stopped them, most thanks to Jarvis sending an electric pulse through the armor if the AI thought he was in danger, triggering the liquid metal to solidifying and protecting him.

But that wasn’t needed. Batman’s gauntlets caught all seven blades and with strength gifted to him by electrodes in the suit that allowed the extra physical power, and flung his attackers off and away from him all at once.

“Impressive, Batman,” Shiva complimented with a slight bow of her head, a warrior recognizing the ability of another in respect. She sheathed her sword and stood still, giving the floor and battle to her associates.

All in all, it wasn’t a difficult battle. They did eventually learn to come at him from all sides and different angles, but it still proved very little of a challenge to him. He took some hits, left openings to trick them into coming in close thinking they had a fatal blow, only to use the ruse to take them out. Soon, the six ninjas lay in various poses of discomfort about the room.

Shiva clapped as Batman turned to her, prepared to fight her, but Shiva still had not drawn her sword.

“I give you a warning, Dark Knight. Call it a courtesy, from one warrior to another. While the League of Shadows seeks retribution for the death of our leader at your hands, our main goal is the cleansing of the ground that this city stands upon, as we have done for many centuries. Those who seek your death now want only wanton destruction and mayhem. The one call the Joker is just one part of this. They as a whole have no honor. They are blinded by their anger and their hatred for you. I give you this forewarning and thus a reprieve. Be on your guard, Batman, for evil lurks in the deep night and it is coming for you.”

There was a flash of bright light bathed in swirling smoke and then she was gone. Batman drew in another deep breath, and left Wonder Tower, not even bothering to glance at the ninjas, still unconscious, as he did so. Shiva had pretty much given him her word that she was leaving and wouldn’t throw her hat into this battle between him and the Joker, and whoever else. The others, when they woke up, would leave Gotham also.

Now Batman just had to worry about who else was behind all this and why.

Chapter Text

Song: Mad Season – Matchbook Twenty

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.

 

“I am Iron Man.”

Now Tony understood about silence being deafening because this being able to hear a pin drop (though why someone would have one to drop made no sense to him) was like an echo that wouldn’t stop. His ears literally hurt.

He spared a glance to his right, back against the wall where Bruce, his this lovely charcoal suit, white with gray stripes shirt, and a very dark red tie, with a blank look on his face but a sparkle in his eyes, and Pepper, black skirt, honey colored shirt, her jaw dropped nearly to the floor in shock, were just where they should be, but he feared looking directly at them for too long. He might lose his nerve. But he had set this course and he was going to see it through, stormy seas and all.

“Mr. Stark, Vikki Vale, Gotham City Herald. Did you just say that you’re actuality Iron Man?”

“Me? Iron Man? Really? That’s absurd.” Tony shook his head as if Vale was crazy for asking what she just had.

“But you just said –”

“I suffer from PTSD. I’m the last person that needs to be flying around in an advanced metal suit powered by a nuclear reactor and a whole bunch of weapon systems. And besides, if I’m Iron Man then that would make your crown prince, darling Bruce there, Batman and, come on, that’s even more insane than me being Iron Man.”

There was silence again. Everyone was looking back and forth, having no clue what was going on. Tony thought it was funny that no one even glanced over at Bruce, which was a good thing, but still. Tony also noticed another man off to the side, standing not too far from Bruce and Pepper and he did glance over at Bruce before returning his attention to Tony up at the podium. The guy even smiled at him. Weird.

The press conference had been planned a month ago and Pepper had worked very hard on the speech, making sure that Tony read it and knew it. She had also stress nearly every day, several times yesterday and a dozen times this morning during breakfast and in the car to the site, a raised dais, and a podium in the grand lobby of Wayne Enterprises that he was not to deviate from the speech that she had written in the slightest bit. She had made him swear and promise, pinky swear and cross his heart. Over and over again and he had made the effort. He honestly had. He had accomplished what they had set out to do before he went off on his own.

The press conference was to announce not only the confirmation to the rumor that Wayne Enterprises and Stark Industries were merging, but that they planned on reopening the Gotham Royal Hotel and had bought the old steel mill with the plan to reopen it thus bringing many more jobs to the city. They had decided that Tony should be the one to give the announcement with Bruce off to the side in silent agreement of the topic. Pepper had wondered why Tony instead of Bruce, but hadn’t put up too much of an argument.

“Of course I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You guys are the media. Do you not watch the news? It was all over the place. Me being tortured by terrorists. Ringing any bells here, people.”

“From being held captive –” Vale. Investigative reporters being investigative.

“Well, let me put it this way: in a figurative sense I am Iron Man. I designed the armor, built and maintain it, but that is it. Someone had to do something, and I am certainly not hero material at all, so I built the armor. It is controlled by a computer and myself, remotely, like a very high-tech, or higher-tech, drone. But in spite of that, I am the armor and the armor is me.”

“But –” Jack Rider this time. Tony wasn’t overly fond of the guy.

“I know what I said. I built the suit to help with the problem of men going around and killing innocent men, women, and children just for the hell of it. If you really must know, the suit is automated. There is a lot of mechanical wizardry in there, if I do say so myself, and no room for an actual person. I may not be inside of it, but I can control it. And, since you keep pulling my leg, I also fund and supply tech to Batman.”

That got their attention. Stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest so-to-speak. But it wasn’t as negative as one would think. It seemed that Batman had been gaining more support every day. It was evident in the amount of cheers he received while driving down the city streets. Even the cops had backed off, gave him a thumbs up, or a complimentary nod instead of flashing sirens and threats to pull over or else.

“So since your company and Mr. Wayne’s are merging, how does he feel about supplying tech to the Batman?” They directed they question at Tony, but eyes were focused on Bruce now. Bulbs flashing and all that.

“Bruce? Bruce doesn’t have a lot to do with my tech stuff. It’s all very complicated, and he has better things to do with his time. I mean look at him, people! He’s way too pretty to be bothered with such things.” Bruce didn’t bat an eyelash. It was all Pepper could do not to face palm herself, hopefully into unconscious. The guy, whoever he was, thought it was very amusing as he was still smiling like an idiot.

“Why?” Vikki Vale again. “Why care about what happens to Gotham?”

“Bruce,” Tony stated, shifting his eyes over to look at the other man. He couldn’t help but smile and he knew that the vast majority of reporters in Gotham were just shy of drooling mush-for-brains, but even they should be able to see what the blatantly obvious look in his eyes was, giving no doubt how he felt about Bruce. “He’s the reason I came to this city and am doing what I can to help. He loves this city and cares about the people here, people who live in fear of not only the lunatics who want to destroy this great city and that terrorize her people, but also from the police who have either stopped giving a damn or are paid to not give a damn. Policeman like Jim Gordon and the select others who still hold on to what is right and believe that Gotham can be a great city once again are sadly in the minority.”

“Are you worried about the government? Haven’t they been calling for Iron Man to come to congressional hearing?” Rider again.

“Have they?” Tony feigned ignorance. Truth was he didn’t really give a damn. There was no way in hell he was turning his armor over to the government. “I hadn’t heard, but since the armor can’t answer any questions, then I don’t see why they would want to talk to it.”

“Is there another motive here?” Vale asked. Were her and Rider the only two conscious enough to form sentences?

“What do you mean?” Again, he feigned ignorance. He knew exactly what she was getting at but he wanted a better line-in.

“Is there another reason why you are here, not only using the Iron Man armor to help Gotham, but the merger and everything? Are the rumors true about you and Bruce Wayne?”

That brought the room to silence again. Tony turned his head just enough to catch Pepper bury her against Bruce’s arm. Bruce was still cool, calm, and collected.

“All right, if you want the truth then I will give it to you.” He paused for dramatic effect. “I do what I do because I want to make him not only happy, but keep him safe because it is a human need, aspiration, driving force, to want to protect the people that they love.” Now he wasn’t faking in any way, shape or form. His eyes went back to Bruce, met them, and he smiled, one that was mirrored back at him. “I’m in love him. I’m pretty sure I have been for the better part of our lives. I love with him more than anyone or anything and therefore I love this city and what she once was and will be again.”

That went over well also. Times were a-changin’.

Afterward, after a few more questions, Tony was free to go. He shook hands with a few people, chatty small talk with a few more, before he made it over to the side where Bruce and Pepper waited.

“That went well,” Bruce commented and Pepper huffed.

“You two planned this, didn’t you?” She whispered harshly. “Why did I even bother writing the speech if you knew you weren’t going to read it?” She huffed again turning and making for a door that led down a hall and into a versatile room, in the back of which was an elevator that not only went down to the private underground parking garage of the executives including Bruce, Tony, and Lucius, but went up to the top of the Wayne Enterprises building directly to Bruce’s office via a special keycard only given to a very select few. “So you not only announced the merger and new jobs coming to the city, but outed yourself twice.”

“You could say that.” Tony was just about to tell Jarvis to open the elevator, getting ready to go to lunch. He was hungry. This had been a long day all ready.

“Yeah, you could definitely say that, Mr. Stark.”

All three of them turned to the unfamiliar voice, finding the man Tony had noticed standing in the doorway. He closed the door behind him and stood calmly before them, that smile on his face. In his black suit and tie, white shirt, and polished shoes, he screamed “GOVERNMENT AGENT.”

“Who are you? How did you get back here?” Pepper demanded.

“Forgive me, Miss Potts, but I need to speak to Iron Man,” he nodded at Tony, “and Batman.” He turned his gaze to Bruce. “It is a matter of utmost importance.” He reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a wallet. He flipped it open and held it up. “I’m Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D. and I require your assistance, gentlemen.”

Chapter Text

NerdOut! – Voices in My Head: Suicide Squad Soundtrack (Yeah. I know.)

Bruce stood looking over the city, so many lights that it almost seemed as it wasn’t still dark enough to be night. How does one who hides in the shadow find a secure place from which to strike out at the evil that infested this city?

Tonight, Bruce felt a significant amount of pride. For several reasons. The first was that Tony hadn’t had a sip of alcohol in six weeks. He hadn’t gone this long since he was fifteen, when he first started drinking in the first place. The second reason was because their little press conference, going off script and all, a few weeks ago had been a stellar success. The media went nuts. They loved Tony. Even those old-money families that used to turn their noses up at Tony and weren’t subtle about their dislike of him hanging around their prince seemed to favor him more. All in all, Gotham and her people loved Bruce Wayne. Loved him. If they now thought Tony was good enough for Bruce, than YIPPEE for him, as Tony had so eloquently put it.

Also, since admitting that he, the Prince of Gotham, was funding Batman, it had the opposite effect they had first believed it would. Bruce, as well as Pepper and Alfred, had thought there would be a large amount of blame and anger directed at Wayne Enterprises and it’s CEO, aka Bruce himself, but Gothamites seemed to be excepting the Batman now that they learned of Bruce’s so-called financial backing of the Caped Crusader, as he was now called occasionally in the papers. Much better than names he had been called before. And no seemed to even remotely suspect that Bruce Wayne and Batman were one in the same, which was just as good.

Thirdly, there was this S.H.E.I.L.D. business. Agent Coulson hadn’t told them how he knew that Tony was Iron Man and Bruce was Batman. He just smiled that smile of his and changed the subject, but he had been giving them intel and had even helped them, apparently, with reason number four.

And that reason was that, without too much trouble, their adoption of young Richard had gone through. Someone had found the boy’s last living relative, a great-great aunt, a woman who was damn near 105 years old, and she had signed over parental rights to Richard. There was one more hearing they would have to go to, one where the judge was surely to lay down the law, pun intended, and give them warning that Child Services were going to be keeping a very sharp eye on them. They could handle this. They were ready.

And lastly, but not least, Tony, after all the doubts he had been having, and the ongoing therapy for his PSTD, had proven, to himself at least, that he was still capable and able and of use. He had, all by himself, with his armor of course, captured Firefly, one of the assassins gunning for Batman.

Bruce had stressed several times that Tony didn’t have to prove himself. But Tony didn’t agree. He might not have to prove himself to Bruce. He knew Bruce loved him, no matter what, in spite of all his faults, unconditionally. Tony knew without a doubt he had nothing to prove to Bruce. No, he had something to prove to himself. He had to prove himself to himself. And that was what he had done by capturing Firefly. Granted, the bastard did quite a number on the Pioneer’s Bridge, but Tony had volunteered his ‘unmanned’ armor to help with the repairs and he just happened to have a heavy construction suit that was ready and able to help.

So now here Bruce was at the Penthouse. HE was expecting company, just not Tony. In fact, Tony didn’t even know he was here. While both of them loved the Penthouse and would never think of selling it, it did sit empty regularly. The mansion was just more convenient and all their stuff was there. Their good stuff like the big computer in the big cave, DUM-E and U and all their armor and all that stuff. The Batmobile (it seemed Tony had won that argument) and the Batwing.

Part of Tony’s therapy, monitored closely by Dr. Leslie, was to get away from his crutches. And there wasn’t any doubt that one of those crutches was Bruce. Well, that was and wasn’t true. He couldn’t get away from Bruce, that was just a ridiculous thought and damn near impossible now, and would never be something Tony would think of doing, but his dependence on him was what he had been working on. He depended on Bruce was not only affirmation, but he put a great weight on the other man by making him his escape. Sex was great. Sex with Bruce was awesome, but he had been using it as an escape rather than an expression of love, and that was what he was working on fixing.

He wasn’t going about it by going cold turkey. Not at all. But that driving need to use Bruce to make all the bad stuff go away was getting less and less. Now, when they were together, it was becoming what it should be. There was a difference between having sex and making love and they were getting back to the latter and away from the former.

But none of that mattered now. What mattered was the meeting Bruce was about to have. One he had to have. While he took protecting Gotham very seriously, Tony was the utmost in his mind. Lines had to be drawn. Limits set. Boundaries cordoned. Sometimes Tony had a tendency to forget himself, let himself suffer – either by not eating or sleeping when he was so focused on a project – and that wasn’t good for him in the slightest.

“Sir, your guest has arrived,” Jarvis’ voice cut through the silence. Bruce just nodded and turned from the window and made his way to stand in front of the elevator doors. It was only a few scant moments later they opened.

“Mr. Wayne,” the man standing there stated. He nodded his clean shaven head and stepped from the elevator, his hand held out in greeting.

Bruce took the offered hand, shaking it firmly. “Thank you for coming, Director Fury.”

Chapter Text

The Bat stood on the edge of the Wayne logo high atop the Wayne Enterprises building. The sounds of the city reached him even way up here, but he wasn’t really hearing any of it. Jarvis, thankfully, was silent, but Batman was confident in the knowledge that if anything came up that he needed to be aware of, the AI would alert him.

His mind was preoccupied. Going over his earlier conversation with Nick Fury. A conversation he had asked Jarvis to erase from his databanks. A conversation he never wanted Tony to hear.

The meeting with Fury had been mainly to set boundaries of a sort. He knew exactly what Fury was – a spy. And not just any spy, but THE SPY and he had been the one who had found out who Tony was and who Bruce was and how he had gone about that, Bruce couldn’t fathom, but he had found out and that was all that mattered. This knowledge was dangerous for anyone to have, but Bruce also understood what type of man Fury was. His frame of mind. How he would do whatever he had to do if he had to do it. By any means necessary. Fury wouldn’t hesitate to use whatever was available to him to further his cause, and while his cause was protecting people – every day normal people – from the things that could hurt them – whether they be of this planet or not – he had his own way to do that. His boundaries were not the same as others with the same agenda.

Bruce’s secret, the Bat, was what allowed him to protect Gotham. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the most affective. Fury had that information. He could very easily use it to control Bruce and the Bat, and neither could have that.

But Bruce also had a feeling. A gut feeling. There were still assassins out there, hiding in the city and waiting for their moment to try to take down the Batman. But that wasn’t his concern. His concern was for Tony.

“The Joker won’t stop until he finishes the job,” Bruce had said while sitting across from Fury.

“He’ll do whatever he has to do to get to Stark because he knows he’s your weakness.” Fury, as much as Bruce hated to admit it, was saying the words Bruce himself couldn’t bring himself to say.

“I have to face them head on. I have to face him alone.”

“And you don’t want the man you love to know he’s more a liability to you than he is assistance.” Director Fury sure as hell didn’t pull any punches.

“I don’t want him hurt again,” Bruce stated with conviction. Swore. Begged. Pleaded. Not with Fury, but with himself. This was the right thing to do. He had to protect Gotham but if anything happened to Tony because of that.

“Let’s face it, Mr. Wayne,” Fury began, leaning back in his chair, his one good eye fixed on Bruce. “You need him out of Gotham as badly as you do those assassins. You need him to be safe and I don’t doubt that is true, but you also know how unstable he is.”

“He’s better.”

“Yes, he is, but for how long. And I don’t think Gotham is a good place for Tony Stark to lose it. Because if he loses it then Iron Man loses it and whatever support from the good folks of this city have for the Bat is gone. He sealed your fate at that press conference. You know it. I know it. He doesn’t know it and it needs to stay that way. Am I wrong, Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce opened his mouth to argue, to deny what Fury was saying, but no words would come forth and the guilt he felt made it feel as if his bones were vibrating under his skin.

“Tony Stark is not good for the wellbeing of Gotham, but to us he can be.”

Fury had told Bruce about what he had only heard rumors about: the ‘aliens’ in the desert, the giant robot from another world, the God of Thunder and his brother, the Trickster Loki, and about a man whose experiment with Gamma Rays had gone horribly wrong and now he transformed into a green creature with a very bad temper.

“In this brave new world we now find ourselves living in, the bad guys aren’t just psychos with mommy or daddy issues anymore. Earth is becoming a playground for beings we thought were only myths. We are being invaded and we aren’t ready for it. Mankind isn’t ready to face the fact that we are not alone in this universe, but that we are nonessential to it.”

Bruce nodded, silent. He was listening, taking in every word that Fury said, but his mind was also elsewhere. What he was doing, no matter what the reason or reasoning for it was, it was betrayal, pure and simple. He was betraying the one he loved to save Gotham.

Fury had left a few moments later, promising that Tony joining S.H.I.E.L.D. was essential to the protection of Earth and maybe - maybe - if Bruce told himself that over and over again, he might start to believe that it was true.

Now, as he stood gazing out over this city that he was so determined to save, he was trying to figure out how to convince Tony that working with S.H.I.E.L.D. was a good thing.

As long as the Joker was out there, Tony was in danger. That was the truth; there was no doubt about that. He would not only use Tony to destroy Batman, but he would kill him without a moment’s hesitation. He’d already proven that he could get to Tony, even in spite of the high tech. He had breached Iron Man and damaged the man within. Bruce couldn’t take the chance of that happening again. For Tony’s sake and for his.

For Gotham’s.

He hated himself for this. A self-loathing that was eating away at his insides, twisting his heart, but it had to be done. It had to be this way.

Didn’t it?

Chapter Text

Gotham was in the midst of one of her more quiet nights: there were no sounds of sirens, or people screaming in fear or pain, no rush to the emergency room, or gunshots fired, at least nothing too serious. Run of the mill, the same as in most cities. Nothing from supervillians or those destined for a stretch in Arkham Asylum. Yes, for Gotham, it was a peaceful night – so far at any rate.

That was a good thing because Tony Stark was busy. Very busy. Busy with the finishing touches to putting the new Stark Tower and Wayne Enterprises on his clean energy ARC reactor. All he had to do was bypass the main lines that ran on the floor of the Gotham River and then it was just a matter of flipping the switch.

Tony out the bypass on and it lit up immediately. Thrusters on and in seconds he was out of the water and in the air.

“Good to go on this end. The rest is up to you,” he stated through the HUD as he made his way above the city streets.

“You disconnected the transmission lines? Are we off the grid?” Bruce asked, his image coming up on the HUD in Tony’s helmet.

“Stark and Wayne towers are about to become beacons of self-sustaining clean energy.” Tony sounded very proud of himself.

“Well, assuming the ARC reactor takes over and actually works.” His tone was even and serious, but the teasing gleam in his eyes, evident even over the display, betrayed his skeptical words.

“I assume.” Tony flew around a corner, coming directly in line with the two darkened towers, separated only by a street. “Light ‘em up.”

“How does it look?” Bruce asked as both towers began to light up floor by floor, all the way to the top – the Grand Finale as Tony dubbed it in his head: the lighting of the large W and the Wayne Logo and STARK, both at the same time.

“Like Christmas,” Tony stated, smiling proudly, “but with more … me.”

“I can just hear Pepper now, telling us we need to go wider on the public awareness campaign and that we need to do more press. She’s in D.C. tomorrow, working on the zoning for the next three buildings-”

“Cupcake, we’ll get to that later,” Tony stated as he landed on the balcony near the top of Stark Tower. The instant his feet touched the ground, the Iron Man armor began to unfolded and dart away from Tony, only to reassemble on a platform near the entrance to the floor that was open. “Right now, let’s just concentrate on the fact that your tower and my tower are lit up like the beacons of clean energy and that fact is going to put a lot of other businesses to shame.”

“Because that is what’s important,” Bruce answered from his place in front of a group of holographic screens. “Shaming other businesses was what makes this all worthwhile.”

“Let’s just enjoy the moment,” Tony waved around dramatically, smiling wide. “Surely you can have a teeny-tiny glass of champagne in celebration before you go strike fear into the hearts of all the evil doers in Gotham.”

Bruce was, of course, about to say “no” but the pleading in Tony’s deep brown eyes was too much for him at the moment, and he was proud of what they had accomplished.

“All right,” he stated as Tony practically skipped over to the bar, “but just a little – “

“Sirs,” Jarvis interrupted, “but Agent Coulson is on his way up.”

“Oh, Phil’s here,” Bruce said, saluting Tony with the flute of champagne handed to him before turning and going to the elevator.

“Who’s Phil?” Tony asked, honestly confused.

Bruce shook his head slightly, hiding his smile. “You heard Jarvis; Agent Coulson.”

“But his first name is Agent. Not Phil.”

Bruce refrained from rolling his eyes as the elevator dinged and the doors slide open.

“Mr. Wayne,” Agent Coulson exclaimed with a large smile as he shook the other man’s hand enthusiastically. “It’s always a pleasure. And Tony, how’re you doing?”

“Coulson,” Tony said at length.

“So, you said it was important,” Bruce began, taking a very small sip of champagne before setting it down on a nearby table. “Does this have anything to do with Avengers Protocol, which I knew nothing about?” He added with a small smile.

Coulson returned the smile, but then his features turned very serious. “Actually, it does, if you two care to see.” He handed a large black folder out to Tony.

“Let me,” Bruce said, taking the case and then slapping Tony in the stomach with it. Tony half-heartedly glared at him before taking the folder, opening it and, wandering off to look it over. “Sorry, Phil, but he had this weird thing about being handed stuff.” Bruce watched Tony a moment before turning back to Phil and dropping his voice down to a whisper. “I think he just does it for attention.”

“Sounds like him,” Phil said, also in a whisper. “From what I’ve heard about him.”

“Bruce!” Tony called over his shoulder. “Could you come here for a moment, please, babe?”

“Excuse me,” Bruce said before walking over to where Tony had not only the folder open, but several files up on the holographic screens. Bruce, looking over Tony’s shoulder, looked on the screens and knew exactly what he was seeing. “The New Mexico desert incident, Dr. Banner’s unfortunate accident and the big, green angry result…what does all this mean?”

“Trouble,” Tony murmured, studying the screens intently. He pointed to one screen. “Agent Fury and…Sonofabitch.”

Bruce knew exactly what he was talking about. He saw it also. “Oh, Coulson,” he called to the agent across the room, “I take it that Fury wants Iron Man to help him and S.H.I.E.L.D with this.”

“Oh no, Mr. Wayne,” Coulson said with a grin. “He needs Iron Man and Batman.”

Chapter Text

Bruce stared down into his flute of champagne, now no longer chilled, the condensation pulled around where the glass had sat on the table. Coulson had left not ten minutes ago. The room was quiet except for the occasional horn honking from down below, which carried even all the way up here with all the windows that could open being open, or shuffle of feet from Tony behind him. Inside his head, however, there was yelling and screaming.

“Tony,” he stated, deciding that this needed to be done, here and now. He sat the flute back down again. “There is something I need to tell you.”

“Oh, and what would that be,” Tony said, his tone rather light-hearted. Bruce, though, knew Tony very well and he sighed softly before turning to face his other half. “Would that be the bullet that, though it only grazed you, tore your armor on the top part of your left hip? How about the fact that you know where two of the assassins are, here in Gotham, and are planning on going after them on your own.” He snapped his finger, his eyes meeting Bruce’s. “I know; it’s the conversation you had with Fury a few weeks ago. Is that it? That’s it, right?”

“Yes,” Bruce answered, but only after he attempted to clear his throat twice before his voice would work. His voice was still pretty hoarse. “Yes,” he said again, hands shoved his pockets to keep them from shaking or reaching out or whatever it was not the time for them to do right now.

Tony nodded, his face blank. “You know what? I get it. I do.” He began to move around, his hands moving, talking with them as much as with his mouth. “You’re trying to protect me and that’s sweet. It really is. And I understand - I truly do - that you aren’t placing Gotham above me. You are trying to keep it from destroying me, just like I’m trying to keep it from destroying you.” He emphasized by pointing to Bruce and then to himself. “Well, guess what pumpkin,” he cried and flung his pointed finger to the holoscreens behind him. “That is what the alternative is. A guy who is obviously not crazy and really is the Norse god of thunder and a big green guy whose anger issues are off the charts, plus who knows what the hell else S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fury have been hiding. So, it’s either those crazy people or these –” he waved his hands emphatically in the air “- crazy people.”

“You’re angry,” said Bruce, not really meaning to say it out loud.

“You’re damn right I am! And hurt and a little heartbroken and a whole-hell-of-a-lotta scared, but I know why you did it, and I love you, no matter what and I know you did it because you love me, too.”

Bruce nodded, took the steps he needed to so he could pull the other man into his arms and hold his as tight as he could without hurting him. “I do love you. More than anything. And that includes this city.”

“I know,” Tony returned, holding on just as tightly. He squeezed just a little bit harder and in a soft voice, he then whispered: “I have something to tell you also.”

“Okay,” Bruce said at length. Tony released him and stepped back a few steps, his deep brown eyes apprehensive. “What is it?” Bruce had no idea what to expect, but what Tony said next floored him.

“Richard has been going out at night so I made him a suit,” he said the words in a run-on sentence at high speed but Bruce understood every word.

“What?!”

“Before you berate me and give me all the reasons why he shouldn’t be out there, just let me tell you,” Tony said, holding up one hand, palm out toward Bruce. “He was sneaking out on his own. Not fighting or anything like that, but watching and listening and learning the city from the ground up. He knows what he wants to do, Bruce – he wants to do what you do. By making him the suit, I was just making sure he had more protection than a jacket and a pair of tennis shoes.”

“Tony, he’s only – “

“12. I know, Bruce. And he’s grown 8 inches since he came to live with us, put on 20 pounds, and is a quick learner. You yourself are constantly stating, with a great amount of pride I might add, how fast and well he is learning.” Tony sighed. “He has a good head on his shoulders, Bruce, and we both know he is way too mature and perceptive for his age.”

Bruce mirrored the sigh, before sitting heavily on the couch nearby. “I know. I know all of that. I was hoping he would wait until he was 18, but…” He trailed off, shaking his head slowly. “I know he wants to do this, and his reasons are pure, but I still don’t feel right letting a child out there on the streets of Gotham against mad men like the Joker or Black Mask or Killer Croc.”

“Yeah, I get that, but he’s going to do it. He’s already been doing it and he comes back and he’s doing good. Isn’t better if we know where he is and what he is doing instead of him having to sneak out and us not know. Your approval means more to him than anything. He wants to do this to make you proud and to help you. Let him.”

Bruce was quiet for several moments, his eyes staring at a spot on the floor, his hands clasped together under his chin, elbows on his knees, until finally he sighed again and gracefully sprang to his feet.

“All right, but on a trial basis,” he added when Tony smiled wide. “He does what I say and goes where I tell him to and he takes it slow. You know as well as I do this isn’t a game and that it is very dangerous out there.”

“Yes! Point taken. Absolutely.” Tony was nodding quickly, a bright smile plastered on his face. “Let us be clear, though, that he isn’t fighting bad guys or anything like that and the suit I made him is for protection just in case. He wears it under his clothes, and it helps keep track of him, which Jarvis and I do at all times. Someday, when he’s much older, I will make him a better one. More stylish. A reflection of his crime-fighting persona.”

“Does Alfred know?” Tony gave a small half nod. “Okay. And what does he want to call himself? What is his crime-fighting persona, as you called it?”

“Nightwing.”

Bruce chuckled. “Okay, but no more, Tony. Next kid you come across, no giving him a suit, and sending him out to fight villains. It’s not a very sensible thing to do.”

“You have my word. Even if he is bitten by a radioactive bug or something, and develops superhuman powers, I won’t even think about it. Promise.”

“Does that happen a lot? The bitten by a radioactive bug thing?”

Tony shrugged. “Not as far as I know, but hell, with what we’ve seen, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Chapter Text

Richard was so bored!

Change that: Nightwing was sobored.

He wanted to do something. Move. Use his grapple gun and swing around, soar through the air. Go check out some of the supposedly abandoned buildings that they had suspicions of being used by the bad element as hideouts or stashes or whatever else the bad guys used abandoned buildings for.

But no. He knew he was being monitored. Jarvis was keeping a close eye on him. Even if he lay down on the roof he was on, just to look up at the stars – because that was more interesting than the nothing that was going on at the building across the street. The Bat would know though. And the Bat would consider it slacking off. He may get away with that stuff with Bruce and Uncle Tony, but never - never - with the Bat.

So he sat there like a good boy, watching that building like a hawk. The only break in the monotony was when he moved to another building just to make sure he was checking every angle so nothing got by him. That wouldn’t be good, if the bad guys sneaked in the back door.

Once he glanced up, hoping to see some stars, but, typical of Gotham, the sky was dark and cloudy. The air smelled of rain.

He steeled himself. Bored he was, but he had a job to do. A purpose. This is what he wanted to do, to protect this city and her citizens. He had been training for this. So this was a rookie job, if you will, but he is a rookie and the fact that he was out here at all was miraculous enough. Bruce had forbidden him from crime fighting until he was 18, but thanks to Uncle Tony vouching for him, here he was. Bruce had taken it much better than anyone, including Alfred, had thought he would, the knowledge that his young ward was patrolling at night alone. Bruce had taken it well. The Bat was a different story.

As strange as it was at times, Richard was used to the fact that Bruce and the Bat were two people, two very different people. It wasn’t as if he was really two people. It was more like Bruce as so focused on his responsibility as Batman, that single-mindedness and determination took over entirely, and was more important as long as he wore the cowl and cape then when he wasn’t wearing it.

So, Richard sat here, monitoring this building, the suit Uncle Tony had made him under his regular clothes, huddled up in a thick jacket, waiting for something - anything to happen. All he had in his pockets were a bag of cookies Alfred had made for him and his grapple gun.

And there was the piece in his ear so he could hear Jarvis or the Bat or Uncle Tony if need be and the very tiny microphone so he could talk back and report if anything happened.

Which wasn’t. Happening. Nothing. At all.

He realized this was the reason why he was here because the odds of something actually happening were zip-zilch-nada.

A test most definitely. Of his patience. Ability to follow orders. Ability not to die of boredom. Was that part of it? Showing him that it wasn’t all high-flying, criminal bashing. That sometimes you had to sit and watch and sit and watch and then sit and watch some more and nothing happened. Was this to make him understand all there was to about what Batman did every night or was this to make him realize that maybe this wasn’t for him?

Or was Batman and Bruce and Tony worried that all he wanted to do was get back at the bastard who had killed his family.

Richard thought about it - a lot. Every waking hour. Sometimes the rage was so much he wanted to hit something, to scream as loud as he could. Other times, he curled into a ball and wept like a baby. He hated it. He could still see Tony Zucco’s face, sacred and ugly, grinning cruelly as he had walked right by Richard, practically body slamming, warning the kid to watch it, before disappearing into the shadows around a tent. Then, just two hours later, his parents were dead.

So, maybe – just maybe – he wasn’t going to give up so easily. And maybe he didwant revenge on that murdering bastard for what he did.

Richard’s mind was made up about the former, but he was still confused about the latter. Did he want Zucco to suffer? Of course he did! Did he want to rip the man’s heart out? Yes, he did. Would he be able to inflict harm on him when the time came? He wasn’t sure. And what made him unsure?

Bruce. Tony. Alfred. Pepper. Everyone who was expecting him to be a better person than Zucco. All of them that believed in him and cared about him. If anything stayed his hand if the circumstance ever arose, it would be that reason alone. Because they expected him to be more than the criminal element they fought against.

Movement caught his eye and he saw four men, each carrying weapons, exit the building from a side entrance and disappear into the night. He tapped the earpiece and whispered: “Jarvis, would you tell Batman that I just saw three armed men exit the building.” His voice was a whisper, even though he knew it wasn’t necessary.”

“I will let him know, young sir,” Jarvis stated in his ear.

Thunder boomed and the night sky opened up and it began to rain. It only took a moment, however, for Richard to realize he wasn’t getting wet. He looked up and gasped in surprise.

Standing next to where he sat was Batman. He held his cape out of Richard’s head to keep him from getting wet.

“You did good,” the Bat said and it was high praise indeed. Richard couldn’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

Phil Coulson was a nerd. Plain and simple.

He had a set of Captain America trading cards – vintage – that he was determined to get autographed by the man himself. The Captain, however, was on his way to Germany with Black Widow to stop Loki and the entranced Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. Phil had also received word that Iron Man was joining in and meeting them there.

But none of that had Coulson bouncing on his heels while trying to appear as cool and calm as a cucumber. It was difficult to pull it off when inside he wanted to jump up and down. Many people might not appreciate the man that was about to land on the Helicarrier, but Coulson most certainly did. The man was a legend. A frightening legend. A man who had an entire city of criminals looking of their shoulders in fear was nothing short of scary.

So when the Batwing appeared out of the darkness, seeming to detach itself from it as if it had been melded to it, Coulson, as well as everyone else on the deck, was more than a little taken aback. Not only had the Batwing gotten to the Helicarrier without being detected on sensors, but it had found the Helicarrier, as cloaked and shielded as it was.

The plane descended, landing on the deck with not even the tiniest hint of sound. It was all black and shiny in the deck lights and it sat there ominously, like a bird of prey waiting to strike. Phil swallowed the lump that was suddenly in his throat, though he knew that none of them on the Helicarrier had any reason to fear the Batman, but, well, he was scary.

“I am the night, color me black,” Coulson murmured to himself. It had been the title of an old show he had watched on late night TV not too long ago. Twilight Zone, he believed, an old black and white episode. He couldn’t recall what the episode had been about and he hadn’t realized the title had stuck with him until this moment. Around him, those on the deck were silent as well. If it weren’t for the wind velocity, one could have heard a pin drop.

The Batwing had rested on the ‘wings’, the tips folded flat, a good two feet to serve as landing gear of a sorts. The rest of the plane was suspended above the deck via the rest of the wings. The bottom of the plane opened up and what appeared to be the seat in the cockpit lowered. Cape billowing, Batman swung free. As soon as his boots were on the deck, the cape stilled around him, surrounding him like a shroud as the seat ascended back into its place.

Phil took a deep breath and took a few steps forward.

“Mr. Bat…man. Bat…Um…Sir,” Phil said as he resisted the urge to salute or something. “I’m Agent Phil Coulson. Welcome aboard. It’s an honor and a privilege.” Again, fighting the urge to salute…or something.

“Coulson, everybody,” Fury stated as he made his way through the crowd to the front of the group. “Don’t all of you have jobs to do? Then I suggest you get to them and stop gawking at our guest.” Without complaint, and more than a few glances at the ‘guest’, everyone dispersed. Fury watched until all were out of earshot, then he focused on the night-shrouded visitor. “Sorry about that. I must admit, I never thought for a moment you would join us, especially if it meant leaving Gotham, even if only for a little while.”

A gust of wind, causing the cape to shiver as if it had a life of its own. “I can return to Gotham quickly if the need arises.” Gravelly voice. “And just to reiterate what I told you before; I am not joining the Avengers Initiative.”

“Of course not,” Fury conceded. “I do appreciate you being here.”

Batman stepped further out of the shadows.

“Those files that you had Agent Coulson deliver to Tony,” he began, his head turned to gaze out over the clouds, “were a brilliant tactic. Appealing to him sense of justice, which he denies having.”

“After our conversation, I was at a loss as to go about it, but then Loki and the Tesseract.”

“Tony knows about our conversation. I told him.”

“Really?”

“Going behind his back, having that conversation left a bitter taste in my mouth that nothing could attenuate. It was an action born of a desperation I’m ashamed to admit to.”

“But there was so good that came from it,” Fury added with a shrug, hands clasped behind his back. “It made me reconsider the Avenger Initiative. I had all but forgotten it after Tony shot me down before.”

“There was a part of him that regretted that. That part of him that wants to help people. He’s just afraid his ‘help’ is going to be used the way he didn’t intend.”

“Is that why you’re here? To make sure we aren’t doing the wrong thing.”

“Yes,” Batman said. His voice leaving no room for error. A tone that belayed his stance on this matter and how little he would tolerate any deceit. “The Tesseract is an impressive source of power. In the wrong hands it could cause a lot of damage.” To a man like Fury, what Batman wasn’t saying was just as clear as what he was saying.

“It’s in the wrong hands now. The hands of a vengeful Norse god. You can bet he’s going to use it to cause some problems.” Without turning around, he raised a hand and motioned with it. From across the deck Coulson came over to stand by an access, bouncing on his heels, and smiling. Batman could tell the man wasn’t the bumbling fool he pretended to be. Bruce admired Coulson and knew the man was a very good agent and upstanding person.

“And when this vengeful Norse god is thwarted, and the Tesseract reclaimed. I’m not so sure S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hands are the right hands, either.” Batman turned from Fury and began to walk silently across the deck to where Coulson was waiting by a door.

“We are the right hands, Batman,” Fury stated still standing with his hands behind his back. “I assure you.”

“We’ll see.” He nodded to Coulson and he opened the door. Batman crossed the threshold inside without hesitation, but inside Bruce was hoping and praying this wasn’t a bad idea; being up in the air in the midst of agents of a secret government agency. It unnerved him greatly, mainly because he had yet to decide how he was going to move around here. He had trouble seeing Batman walking to corridors.

The door closed behind them, Coulson trying not to talk too much. He didn’t want to babble.

Outside Fury gazed out over the clouds that surrounded the Helicarrier, wondering if he had made mistake and how much it would cost him later.