The cell between Wayne Manor is a different class of prison than the ones Wilson is used to. Even if no one will call it that, a cell is a cell, and the fact that he's forbidden from leaving it grates on him.
The cell is around ten feet square, with a single door to exit by. There's a bathroom with a shower that offers only the barest impression of privacy, a bed, and precious little else. There's room for him to move, which is nice, and by his fourth day in prison—the day after he makes his deal—he's given books to read so that he isn't bored.
As far as prisons go, it's fairly good. As far as bedrooms go, it's pretty bad. Wilson's had worse (both Arkham and Belle Reve were worse by far, and that's not even touching on Damian's prison), but he's also had better.
For the first three days he made no attempt to escape. On the fourth day, that changes. Wilson needs something to keep his brain occupied, and books aren't quite cutting it.
It takes him five days to figure out how to bypass security. Four days of scrutinizing every inch of his cell over and over, searching for something that might not exist.
Of course he finds it in the end, but the point isn't the finding. The moment he's found it he simply falls back onto his bed and gives up. The point was the search, because it gave him something to focus on. Something that wasn't the reality of the situation.
He doesn't want to think.
That one thing is the most overpowering feeling for his early captivity: the desire to not think. To give his brain no time to operate. He does everything he can, pushing his body to the limits until he succumbs into sleep, but there's no escaping it.
He has to face it. He can't not.
Rose is gone. She's run away, trying intentionally to leave him behind. Joey's there, making one last desperate attempt to... to what, fix him?
No, Wilson corrects. To fix them. To fix the relationship they should have had but didn't for a list of reasons so long it might as well be endless.
Billy once told him that if he didn't change his ways, he was going to lose everything. He'd asked him where it was going to end, but now all Wilson can think is that neither of them could have expected this end for him.
Wallowing in his self inflicted misery would be a lot easier if he was left alone, but the Bats are never quite willing to do so. It hasn't even been twelve hours when Damian's voice comes on over the intercom to lecture him about how things are going. To update him, he guesses. Superman's gone home. Apparently quite a few people are unhappy with Wilson's continued presence in their home. None of it surprises Wilson, and he doesn't bother to make smalltalk with the youngest Wayne.
When dinner is delivered with a side of conversation from Damian's older brother, Wilson has his hopes that it might not actually be him. He's proven wrong: Jason is just Jason, who makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Joey won't be checking in for a while.
Joey, apparently, needs time to recover.
Wilson wishes he didn't. He feels cut off, completely isolated from what's happening outside his small cell. He has no idea if Joey's alright. For all he knows the bats could be lying to him and Joey's actually gone home to find his sister.
He weighs the pros and cons of demanding to see his son and instead opts to let it lie. He has to play nice. He has to follow the rules. That is the way he'll win Joey back.
It's the day after he finishes his search for an escape route (just in case, he tells himself) when Jason comes back to his cell with something other than a daily update that might be entirely fake.
"I want to know why you brought me back," he says through the intercom. Wilson can't see him, but he knows that Jason can see him, so he makes a point of showing no interest in the conversation as he sprawls out on his bunk, staring at the ceiling. He doesn't attempt eye contact via staring contest with the obvious security camera in the corner of his cell. He doesn't answer.
"You said you'd cooperate," Jason reminds him, and Wilson is forced to reply because he can't not. He said he'd cooperate. Those were the terms. If he doesn't follow those terms, it's unclear what will happen, but he knows what will be a part of it: he'll lose Joey again.
"It was clear my plan wasn't working," Wilson says. "When a plan gets fucked sideways that thoroughly, it's better to abandon it entirely than waste time trying to patch it back up."
"What was your plan?"
Wilson can't imagine that Jason doesn't already know (or at least heavily suspect), but he spells it out for him anyway.
"Use you as a hostage. Trade your safety for privacy with Joey. Use that time to convince him that he needs to come home. Escape back to our own dimension."
"Did you actually think he'd come back with you?"
The way Jason says it makes it sound like he's expecting a no.
"Yes," Wilson says, partially just to spite him. He didn't. Not really. But he couldn't not try when the stakes were so high. "I didn't know how well he'd settled in here when I made the jump."
He didn't know he'd already found a new family. That he'd found someone he was supposedly in love with. Joey's always been quick to love and even quicker to get into relationships, and it was his failing for not guessing it would happen. He should have known.
"So you gave me back."
"It was the fastest way of ensuring I didn't take a bullet to the brain," Wilson confirms. "Nothing would have stopped me, but Bruce has his hooks in your father too deep for him to justify it in anything but the most extreme situations."
His father. He doesn't even realize he's said it until the words are out of his mouth, but it's right. Slade Wilson—no, Slade Wilson-Wayne —is Jason's father. It's a surreal thought, one that makes him wonder what might have been in his own world.
Somehow he doubts the Red Hood he knows would have so readily accepted him.
The days tick by, and still Joey doesn't come. He gets updates from almost everyone, and the things they tell him and the ways in which they tell him give him a good glimpse into the state of things. Jason focuses heavily on Joey as a person. Damian tells him about the family dynamic. Bruce tends to be more factual than anything else, focusing on the broad strokes. Alfred is a generalist.
The other Slade doesn't come. There are a few times when food is delivered without a word, and he suspects those are the times that his counterpart visits.
He meets strangers, too. The Tim, Dick, and Barbara from this world visit and talk with him. They seem thrown off by his very presence, unsure of what to say or how to say it.
"We'd planned to get you in therapy already," Bruce says one evening. "It's just been hard finding one, especially with you in... this cell."
This cell rather than the cell means there's a second one, and Wilson forces him to acknowledge it immediately.
"Which is why you're building me a new one."
It would have to be built. Something for long term containment of someone with his abilities would require new construction, not retrofitting. Even if it won't hold him permanently, it will slow him down enough to let them call for backup. That's all they really need.
"Yes," Bruce confirms. He doesn't try and pretend like Wilson's guessed wrong. He doesn't ask how he knew.
He's been there two weeks when Joey comes to him.
It isn't Jason's voice. It's the voice Joey uses for his subvocal microphone, apparently patched directly through the intercom. He sits up immediately, turning to give the camera his attention. It's him, maybe just him, and it's the first conversation they've got to have since the day Joey broke down in front of him.
"I know," Joey says. "I can - you're on camera, pop."
He already knew, but he doesn't bother to correct Joey. It isn't necessary. The subvocals pick up only the most obvious tone, and without body language it's hard to picture how he looks. Is he alone? Is he nervous?
"Are you alright?"
"I should be asking you that," Joey says, and there's a small laugh at the end. "You're the one in a cell again... because of me. Again."
"It's for the better," Wilson says. He's not going to let Joey blame himself for this one. "Your friends are supposed to be rehabilitating me, after all."
He doesn't think they're doing a very good job. Honestly, he doesn't think they're really doing much of a job at all. He's been isolated and left to his own devices, reading his way through the small mountain of fiction that someone—probably Jason—is dropping on his proverbial doorstep.
"They're trying," Joey says. "It's just a lot to get in order. It isn't like supervillain rehabilitator is a specialization you can find on a directory."
"There are no heroes and villains, Joey. People just do what they do, and you should know that better than anyone."
"There are, pop. You're one, and I'm trying to be the other. I'm just hoping you'll join me on the other side if I give it enough time."
"You're going to need a lot more than time to get me to buy into that shit," Wilson says. He regrets it almost immediately. Joey's always been invested in that idea, and all he's done now is emphasize to him how different they are.
Joey goes silent for a while, and Wilson reaches up, scrubbing at his face. It's harder than he thought. Everything is harder than he thought. It was easier when he could be secure in his belief that he could handle everything tossed at him, but right then it feels like Joey's standing right on the edge. If he pushes him the wrong way, he's going to fall, and Wilson isn't going to be able to grab him in time.
"I didn't mean that," he says.
He did, which makes the argument that much harder.
"I just think it's shortsighted to mark things down as heroes and villains. I'm not a supervillain, Joey, just a man paying his bills."
"Pop, you have enough money to own a small country. You don't need more money, so if you're trying to sell the poor man trying to make ends meet thing, I'm not buying."
"Pop, it's the fact that you enjoy the work. Just admit it to yourself. Just admit it to me."
Wilson doesn't think it's true, but he admits it anyway. Anything to keep Joey talking.
"Maybe. Have you heard from your sister?"
"You're changing the subject," Joey points, but that doesn't stop him from answering. "Yes. She's safe. Upset to learn about what happened here, but we already knew that was going to happen."
"What about your mother?"
Joey is silent long enough that Wilson catches himself fidgeting.
"Sorry," Joey says. His voice sounds quieter, but it's hard to tell if that's Wilson's imagination or not. "I'm not talkin to ma right now. She said some... it doesn't matter. I don't even know if she knows you're here."
Hopefully not. The promises that everyone's going to make sure Rose will be safe aren't half as reassuring as they'd like.
Joey says he has to go not long after, and it's another four days before he comes back. He tells Wilson he had therapy and his therapist says—
"I don't care what your therapist says," Wilson says. He doesn't need to hear Joey regurgitating someone else's opinions. "What do you think?"
"I don't know what I think, pop," Joey says. "But I know it's probably not good for you to be down here alone. You just have to hold out a bit longer, alright?"
A bit longer turns out to be another week and a half. It's been thirty seven days, primarily of isolation, when Slade ends up drugged.
He's not sure why he had to be drugged (it seems like a gross overreaction to him), but as he slowly sinks down to the floor of his cell, fighting every step of the way, he guesses it was probably Slade's idea.
It certainly seems like the kind of idea he'd come up with anyway. Wilson can't even be properly mad at him for it, because he's sure that if the tables were turned he'd be doing much worse.
Wilson wakes to the sky.
It's a strange realization, registering that he's seeing the sky, but there's no other explanation as he stares upwards. The sun's high above him as he sits up, taking in his surroundings now that he's been moved.
It's not what he's expecting, to say the least.
What he's expecting is something a bit larger than the cell he was in, and maybe with a few more amenities. Instead, he finds himself in something closer to a greenhouse.
The space is twice as large as his last cell, with plenty of room to move around in. The bed's larger and far more comfortable, and the space has actual furniture in it. There's a bookshelf, a dresser with some clothes in it, a couch, an armchair and even a little coffee table where he can sit and eat away from his bed. When he looks, he spots a few other additions he missed the first time around, including a pull up bar on the wall and what looks like a water bottle refill station.
But it's the glass that throws him off.
He doesn't think it's actually glass—there's no way they'd build him a hyper-secure prison and then surround him in glass—but it's close enough that it certainly could pass for it. Almost everything from the waist level up is made of it, including the ceiling, giving him a full view of his surroundings. The entire building is maybe twenty feet from Wayne Manor proper, camouflaged among a line of greenhouses in the backyard.
The only real division of the space is the bathroom (complete with an actual tub large enough for him to soak in, and surrounded by frosted glass), and the entrance. The entrance is, as far as he can tell, sealed completely. There doesn't seem to be any way for him to get in and out of the space, a seemingly solid wall dividing him from the entrance (and its comfortable seating for any guests). When he searches more thoroughly, he finds what amounts to a glorified dumbwaiter not far from the entrance, in theory for the delivery of food and other supplies. The whole place, overall, seems rather plush, and it reminds him more of a high end loft than a prison cell.
It's really not until he starts investigating that he's reminded of the fact that it's a real prison. The furniture, for example, is all stuck firmly to the floor, and he's not willing to break it to see if he can change that. When he steps into the bathroom, he learns that the frosted glass is actually smart, defrosting down to the neck level to keep him always in sight. He suspects he doesn't have nearly as much privacy as he's being led to believe, but it's far more than he had before, so it's not as if he can complain.
He suspects that part of the reason for the choice of location is the view. It's the kind of view people spend loads of money to get, because just from how things are set up he knows he'll wake to a view of the grounds looking out over the forest.
Probably it's supposed to make him feel peaceful.
He doesn't particularly feel peaceful right then. Probably because he was drugged less than an hour ago, and being drugged into unconsciousness doesn't exactly agree with him.
He gets thirty minutes of relative privacy before he spots movement up by the house and turns to watch. The view of the grounds is good, but the view of the house is significantly less so. His new prison is built slightly downhill from the manor, meaning his view of it is angled upwards. It lets him see the manor itself as a building, but he can't see through any windows. The only part he has a half decent view of is the back door where it leads out onto the grounds, and as he watches, Bruce and Slade step out, glancing towards him as they start down the path towards him.
He's pretty sure the path wasn't there before either. His prison, the path, and at least one of the greenhouses are entirely new, constructed specifically for him.
He guesses he should be flattered.
He settles into the armchair they've so graciously provided him, watching them as they approach. There's security on the outside of the entrance he can't actually see, and it takes a few moments for the two to let themselves in, stepping into the entranceway.
"Nice of you to come visit now that you've finished drugging me," Wilson says flatly.
"Oh, cram it," Slade says. Staring at him makes Wilson feel like he's staring at a strange, bizarre possible future. A future where he still aged. He can't imagine they're more than a few years apart in age, but Slade actually looks his age, while Wilson... doesn't. Ten years ago, someone told him once he looked thirty-five, and he doesn't think that's changed in the slightest since then. His regeneration keeps him looking his best, and his best is not his age.
"I'll pass," Wilson says. "I suppose you're expecting a thank you for the accommodations."
"I think we both know you well enough to know that's not coming," Slade says. His voice comes through clearly,
"Slade," Bruce says, an edge to his tone. He's telling Slade to back off, and it's almost surreal watching him actually do so. Watching the two of them is... it's something, alright.
"I want to talk to Joey," Wilson says. "Face to face."
"That would be up to him," Bruce says. "He can visit you when he likes now."
The thought makes him uncomfortable for reasons he can't quite place. The thought that Joey could just visit at any time just won't sit right with him, and he pushes it out his mind, refusing to engage with it at all.
"You have books," Bruce says. "Jason said he'd bring you more when you finish. You'll have a therapist within the next few days, and then whoever wants to visit you."
"So rehabilitation is a good view of the lawn and learning to live with Superman flying over you."
"Clark doesn't fly overhead," Bruce says. "It wouldn't matter if he did. The roof's one way."
Wilson files that away for the future.
"Anything else I should know about this place?"
"Not anything you need to know," Slade says. "Just things you'll find out if you ever decide to make yourself a problem for us."
He's not going to. Not when he's so close. Not when everything is hanging on this. The only way an escape is plausible is if Joey gives his blessing, and he's not nearly stupid enough to think that's ever going to happen.
Joey is happy there, and even if he knows how he could stop him from being happy...
He isn't there yet. He doesn't want that. He's done enough damage, hasn't he?
"So this is it," Wilson says. "I stay here, I read my books, and I... do nothing?"
"You relax," Bruce says. "You need time to adjust to this world. To how things are. To the fact that you don't need to fight, that your life isn't in danger..."
"You're fooling yourself if you think I'll be out of here in ten minutes if something goes wrong."
"Things go wrong," Slade says flatly. "But we handle them. You are going to stay in here."
He's not agreeing to that. He's never agreeing to that. If Joey is in trouble there's not a damned thing in the world that's going to stop him from going to help.
"Yes," Slade says.
Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose.
"None of this matters," he says. "Joey is perfectly safe. He's surrounded by some of the best fighters available. You just need to focus on getting better. Relaxing. Adjusting to a life that isn't... what you had."
"I've been between jobs before, you know," Wilson says. "This isn't that different."
"We'll see how long that attitude lasts," Slade says.
It lasts longer than Slade thinks, but less time than Wilson does.
Joey visits him later that evening, and it's... normal. Regular. They don't talk about anything important, so it's really just Joey talking about his life and making sure he's comfortable. It's good to see him again and actually be able to see him, but there's an undeniable layer of discomfort based largely on the fact that they're talking through a wall. Even if Bruce and Slade have somehow rigged it up so they can hear each other perfectly, the wall is still there, keeping them apart no matter how the conversation goes.
His visitors are varied, but more or less what he expects. Joey visits at least once a day. Jason stops by, sometimes with Joey and sometimes by himself. It's Jason who brings books, replacing the ones Wilson's already read a few times a week. Damian stops by infrequently, as do Bruce and Slade. It's clear everyone is making an effort to make sure he's not alone, and Wilson isn't sure how he feels about that.
He sees Pennyworth— Alfred —three times a day for meals, but never any more than that.
Perhaps most interesting are the people who aren't regular visitors.
A blond man with a military demeanor that he doesn't recognize comes to visit after a few days, and when he speaks, Wilson recognizes his voice as the same man he spoke to back in the last cell.
Steve, Diana had called him.
"Steve," he greets the man, who looks amusingly startled by the recognition.
"I guess you know my counterpart," Steve says, and it's clear his instinct is to offer his hand for a shake (impossible for the wall), just as it's clear he's thrown off by his surroundings.
"Not at all," Wilson says. He's sprawled out on the couch and sees no reason to get up. It's not as if it would make any difference, and he's comfortable there anyway.
"Are you being treated kindly?" Steve asks. "Do you have any requests...?"
"Unless being let go counts, no. They're treating me just fine. Better accommodations than any barracks in the country." He leans heavily into Steve's obvious military background, forcing familiarity where there shouldn't be any. Steve is an ally, even if he doesn't know it. Steve would never complain, so he can't let himself do so either.
No that he has much to complain about.
Steve doesn't stay long, excusing himself once he's taken in Wilson's situation.
He's been in his new prison maybe two weeks when he spots the whole family—every single one of them—heading down the path to his cell.
They have, of all possible things, a cake, and he braces himself for whatever lunacy they're about to thrust upon him.
But it's less mad then he thought.
"You're fifty-eight," Joey tells him as Alfred cuts the cake into slices for all of them. Wilson wants to chalk it up to coincidence, but he knows it isn't: Joey's able to sync flawlessly to speakers built into Wilson's prison, letting him 'speak' from a space just to the side of the wall. "We thought you should celebrate."
"Don't see what there is to celebrate," Wilson counters, but he takes the slice of cake anyway.
"Your youth," Slade mutters.
"Doesn't this mean it's your birthday?" Wilson points out.
"We already celebrated for him," Jason says. "This is about you."
Wilson's curiosity gets the better of him.
"How old is the old man, exactly?"
"Sixty-two," Damian says, looking strangely proud of the fact. Slade grumbles, clearly having hoped that he could have gone without saying his age.
"Ah," Wilson says. "No wonder you look so much older than me."
Slade is so easy to rile up it's almost laughable. It makes Wilson second guess himself, wondering if Slade is intentionally playing up how bothered by thing he is in an attempt to bury the hatchet.
It's not something Wilson would do, but it's clear that Slade has deviated far from who he once was.
Wilson just doesn't know if that's good or bad.
It takes them three weeks to find him a therapist, which Wilson thinks is an excessive amount of time. Considering the whole point of the entire ridiculous experience is to help him adjust, having a therapist seems like an obvious choice.
His therapist is a nervous looking young man who can't be more than twenty five. He introduces himself as Doctor Aspen, and then hops right into the questions.
He takes the full hour (Wilson counts), excuses himself, and starts heading back to his car. Wilson doesn't even wait until he's out of sight before he taps the emergency call button.
"I can see you standing there, and it sure doesn't look like an emergency," Slade grumbles, and when Wilson looks up he can spot Wilson through one of the windows, staring down at him and looking distinctly unimpressed.
"Ask me how many times he mentioned Joey during that session."
Slade grumbles a bit louder.
"He seemed very interested in how many people I killed," Wilson points out. "That was all he talked about, actually."
Slade hangs up on him and vanishes from the window.
Wilson doesn't get any sort of follow up until closer to dinner, when Bruce arrives to deliver his dinner.
"So," Wilson says pointedly, "do I get to find out what happened?"
"I'm sure you can imagine," Bruce says as he loads the food into the dumbwaiter. "He came recommended, but it was the practice who was recommended, not the man himself. The man who gave us the recommendation didn't realize the practice had been handed on to the original therapists nephew."
"And now you've threatened to sue him so hard his great grandchildren will be feeling it."
"And then some."
Wilson cracks a smile at the idea, and Bruce actually looks amused for just a moment before his face goes somber.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You already did," Wilson points out. Even so, he sits up properly, giving Bruce his attention. They haven't really dealt with anything serious, no doubt due to the entire families commitment to let him relax. "But you can if I can ask you something in return."
Bruce seems to mull over the exchange before nodding.
"What did you do with Joseph's bones?"
Ah. He knew it was coming at some point, he'd just expected it from Slade (or maybe even Joey himself), not Bruce.
"Buried them. He didn't deserve to be sitting in a grave in Gotham, surrounded by strangers."
"Everyone in your world is a stranger to him," Bruce points out, and Wilson fights the urge to growl in response.
"He's with his brother. Joey wasn't ever going to use the grave, and it seemed appropriate."
Even if that Joseph didn't have a Grant, it feels right to him. Just the two of them, together in death in a way they never managed to be in life.
"Don't move him," Wilson says, and the surprise on Bruce's face is only matched by the surprise he feels at himself. It doesn't matter what happens to the bones. They're not his Joseph.
But they matter to him anyway.
"Slade will want him back, if we can manage it," Bruce says. "They're important to him. You crossed dimensions to follow your son, I'm sure you can imagine what he'd do for his."
"We could see about... bringing Grant over too. I think Joey would like that. It would give him space to mourn."
"Adeline would kill anyone who suggested it."
"That seems to be a commonality between worlds," Bruce says. "It's just something we'll look into."
The idea of them being dug up and moved again, stolen from their rest... it's almost painful to think about. He doesn't know how he feels about the idea of Grant's bones being nearby. He doesn't know if he's allowed to feel anything about it at all. He failed him. He almost saved him, but he failed.
Wilson lets out a sigh, sagging back into the couch. He doesn't want to think about it, and he sure as hell doesn't want to talk about.
"You wanted to ask something?" Bruce prompts, and it takes Wilson a second to remember what he was going to say.
"I was going to ask why you're... dragging this out. Surely there are more productive ways of dealing with this than getting me into one therapy session in... weeks."
It's getting a little bit boring. No, a lot boring.
Bruce seems uncomfortable with the question, shifting his weight back and forth. He's clearly mulling over how honest he wants to be, if he wants to just reject the question out of hand. It takes him almost a solid minute before he actually replies.
"My father came through with Joey," he explains. "We also tried to help him adjust to how things are here. But we... pushed too fast. He didn't have time to adjust to peacetime, and it backfired. I'd prefer to go slowly, if we can, and nothing about what's happening is on a schedule."
So they're dragging it out. He doesn't know exactly what happened to Thomas Wayne, but his guess is something along the lines of ran away. He's not in the picture and wasn't around to help when Jason was snatched, and he can't imagine him being on good terms with the family and not coming to help considering the turnout they had.
He weighs the pros and cons of asking before deciding that it might be good to look interested in the recovery of another.
"What happened to him?"
"He killed Harley Quinn when she came after Jason," Bruce says simply. "He's in Blackgate."
Prison. They let him go to prison? The idea of it is so alarming that Wilson has to say it.
"And you let them take him?"
"He went willingly. It wasn't my decision to make. But... that was probably better for him anyway. He needs the structure."
"For the record—"
"We know better than to try and put you in prison."
Oh. Good. He didn't think they'd try (they couldn't possibly be that stupid), but he figured it was worth mentioning anyway.
"Are you even going to bother trying again with the therapist thing?" It's already failed once in a spectacular manner, and Wilson knows he wouldn't bother. He suspects they're going to anyway.
"I have some favors I can call in," Bruce says. "But I need to get back to the house. Goodnight Wilson."
Wilson waves him off and watches him leave, trying not to dwell on things at all.
It's impossible though. There's no way he can simply sit there in relative solitude and not think about things, which he suspects is the point of leaving him there at all. He has to think. He has to let his mind wander over his situation. Over Thomas Wayne's situation.
He has to draw comparisons.
He just doesn't want to.
It's two days later when he spots Bruce coming down the path, his face twisted with frustration. Anger, even. Wilson's first instinct is that he's done something to piss him off, only he can't actually think of anything he might have done which would have upset him. He's been fairly blatant about everything he's been doing, so it's not as if he could only just then be getting upset that Wilson had looked into his new prison's security systems.
It isn't until Bruce has let himself in, slapping a newspaper up against the glass that Wilson realizes what's got him upset.
MASS MURDERER DEATHSTROKE BEING HELD BY BATMAN , the headline reads. From where he sits on the couch, Wilson can't read much more than that, but he gets the idea just the same. It's not as if it's hard to figure out where the report came from after all.
"Your therapist talked," Bruce says. "Did you say you were Deathstroke?"
"Didn't say the word Deathstroke," Wilson says. "He was more curious as to why I was here. You're welcome, by the way." He kicks his feet up, feeling increasingly relaxed. This makes sense. This is familiar territory, a familiar reaction.
"You're welcome for what?" Bruce says. He looks distressed, and Wilson's having a hard time not finding it amusing. Bruce clearly doesn't know what to do with the situation, and Wilson's left to wonder if Slade actually does.
Is he the only one who planned for this? Is he the only one who knew a therapist was going to be trouble?
"For what isn't mentioned. I kept that little other dimension detail quiet. It lets us confirm the source of our leak—as if that weren't already obvious—and take appropriate countermeasures."
"Appropriate countermeasures to the fact that the news knows I'm keeping you in a prison cell behind my house? Gordon retired, and he can't help us with this."
"He doesn't need to."
Bruce looks like he's seconds from tearing his hair out, and Wilson isn't entirely sure why. The Bruce from his universe wouldn't get so caught up in something so petty, but he supposes that they are very different people.
"You address the situation directly," Wilson says. "Yes, you have someone living in your backyard. No, he isn't a prisoner. Ask for privacy, and when you don't get it invite a member of the media you trust—say, Clark Kent—to see the facilities you've prepared."
"I'm not getting Clark involved. He's already put his identity at risk enough for us."
Which confirms to Wilson that it is Clark Kent he's seen. Up until that point he couldn't be absolutely sure he was understanding the situation correctly, but he certainly can now. Clark Kent, Daily Planet reporter. Who knew he was Superman?
A lot of people, Wilson suspects.
"Pick someone else then."
"You're suggesting that I put you in front of the media. Is that really what you're recommending here?"
"There's no other plausible plan. If you don't let me speak on my own, the scrutiny will intensify. Somehow I doubt you filed proper permits for a prison with the county."
"Wilson," Bruce says, his voice sounding increasingly strained. "I'm not sure you're aware of how serious this situation is. This could be an actual disaster. My entire family has walked a very, very fine line with how much the public does or doesn't know."
"I am aware," Wilson says. He's not sure if Bruce is too panicked to stop and think about it, or if he simply hasn't considered it from the other side. "My son lives with you. What happens to you affects him, and I think we've established that I will do absolutely anything it takes to keep him safe."
Bruce pauses, his eyes narrowing as he takes Wilson's demeanor in. He does what he can to appear as confident as he feels, to present himself as someone who doesn't have a care in the world. He knows he can handle it. He doesn't doubt that.
No, now he's doubting whether they're going to actually let him handle it.
"Therapists are a waste of time," he points out. "Things like this are always going to happen when you trust outsiders. Family are the only people you can trust."
"You can trust other people," Bruce counters. He doesn't sound confident.
"And look where that got you."
Bruce stares at him, just looking him over, and Wilson knows he has him.
"We'll discuss it," Bruce says.
"Of course you will."
When Bruce leaves, Wilson already knows how the conversation will go. There's no other option, or at least not one that will minimize the consequences the way Wilson's own plan will. It's not as if he set things up to force them to go public, but it was all but inevitable. With how many people they've let in on the secret, someone was going to leak it.
It was just a matter of time.
He's proven right less than thirty minutes later when he looks up from his book to see Joey and Jason coming down the path. He doesn't get up from where he's reclined on the couch, making an effort to appear relaxed. He can't let himself look anything less than perfectly confident.
"Pop," Joey calls. "We need to talk."
"I suppose we do," Wilson calls. He doesn't get up, but he does flip his book closed, setting it to the side. "I assume you've come to lecture me on how important this is?"
"I really don't think you get how important this is," Jason cuts in. "This is make or break. We've gone our entire careers without revealing anything more than we wanted to, and now—"
"And now you assume I said too much and caused all this," Wilson says.
"It seems like the kind of thing you'd do, pop," Joey says. He turns, glancing to Jason, and Wilson finds himself watching in sudden fascination as Joey... signs to him.
It's nothing private. It's just let me handle this. But even from where he's lying, Wilson can see the earpiece in Jason's ear, and everything about the situation strikes him as odd, so he calls it out directly.
"Why are you signing to him?"
It feels like a puzzle. A puzzle that's been sitting half finished on the table for who knows how long, and yet he somehow missed it's presence. There's something there. Something he just doesn't quite get yet.
"What?" Joey says, glancing down to his hands like he hadn't even noticed. He glances to Jason, who gives a noncommittal shrug. "I - does it matter? I think we have more important things to focus on."
"It matters to me," Wilson says. Now that he's noticed it, he can't stop noticing it. He can't possibly miss the way Joey's hands twitch almost imperceptibly when he speaks. It's so easy to think back, to realize that Joey's been signing for more than a decade and speaking again for less than two years. It's habit.
But that doesn't explain the difference. It doesn't explain why he signs to Jason, but speaks to him.
Joey looks confused by Wilson's focus on it, and Wilson's pretty sure that even Joey himself doesn't know exactly why. Subconscious, maybe.
"I guess you just... it was just easier if I didn't have to worry about you watching my hands," Joey says.
Wilson reassesses. The new information makes it easy enough to complete the puzzle. It's attention: he looks like he isn't paying enough, so Joey speaks. Jason, on the other hand, can be trusted to pay attention, so Joey signs.
Wilson gets up, moving over to the glass wall, and makes a point to give Joey his full attention. He looks flustered by the sudden focus, exchanging a quick glance with Jason, who clears his throat.
"As we were saying," Jason says, "we need to know you're not going to use this to fuck us. We need to know you'll stick to the script-"
"You can't go on a script for this," Wilson counters. "Any reporter worth their paycheck will pick up on it. You need to be able to improvise."
"You know what we mean," Jason says. "We'll give you talking points. You need to just... stick to them."
"And you need to trust me to do something I've been doing for longer than you've been alive," Wilson says. "You're over the fire on this one. You need me to fix this."
Pop, Joey signs, and Wilson makes a point of turning his whole body so there's no question where he's looking. You know they don't trust you, and for good reason. But you're right, we don't have a lot of choice here. So promise you aren't going to make this worse?
"Of course," he says. "Anything I do would bounce back onto you. I'm not going to make your situation worse."
Joey reaches out, pressing his hand flat against the glass. It takes Wilson a moment to understand what he wants, and he mimes the gesture. They can't touch—the glass prevents that—but the gesture's still there.
Then Joey withdraws his hand to sign his parting words.
I know you won't let me down.
Bruce gives him a list of important talking points, an even larger list of things he's not to contradict, a lecture, and then a new stack of books. He doesn't plead with him (which Wilson appreciates), but he also spends far too much time lingering nearby, trying to make smalltalk.
"You can go back to the house," Wilson points out. "Or are you trying to make it appear that I'm less alone when your reporter shows up?"
He's right in one, and he catches a tiny wince from Bruce.
"How we present ourselves is important," Bruce says, which is a yes.
"I have things handled."
"Forgive me if I don't believe that."
Wilson's forced to put up with a solid hour and a half of Bruce's presence before Slade comes down the path with a middle aged blond woman and a man a few years her senior carrying an array of gear. Wilson's already ready, having swapped for a nice button up shirt and slacks, and he's settled in the armchair with a book when Bruce gets up to let them in, nodding to his husband as Slade heads back to the house.
It's a show. A performance. He knows exactly what he's going to say and how he's going to say it, and it's just a matter of letting it play out and watching the reactions.
"Mister... Wilson?" The woman calls, and his eye flicks across the pair. He recognizes the man but doesn't know his name, but the woman... He takes a moment and decides he simply doesn't know her.
"That would be me," he says, letting his hands rest in his pockets as he approaches the barrier. "Forgive me for not offering my hand."
She's clearly inspecting both the barrier and his quarters, and making no attempt to hide her attention either.
"I thought I could walk you through the security features-" Bruce starts, but the woman cuts him off.
"I'm sure you'd love to," she says. "However, considering the situation, don't you think it would be better if you gave me some privacy with your guest?"
Bruce looks like he would literally rather break his own leg than leave Wilson alone with them, but she has him over a barrel. He doesn't get a choice in the matter, because his continued presence will be a massive red flag. With him there, there's no guarantee that Wilson isn't being forced to say whatever it is he says.
Bruce keeps his composure, but Wilson can see his nostrils flare ever so slightly.
"Of course," he says after a moment. "We'll just be up in the house, if you need anything."
Wilson doesn't doubt for a moment he'll be watching on the cameras, but he'll be too far away to intervene. Bruce gives him the briefest glance as he leaves, desperate and pleading, and Wilson doesn't even acknowledge it.
"So," the woman says, tapping a perfectly manicured nail against the glass as she looks it over. "Mr. Wayne has prohibited recording but allowed a few pictures—which he insists on screening for security reasons—so this will primarily be a recorded verbal interview."
"I guessed as much," Wilson says. "He's very security conscious."
"That's one way of putting it."
"I don't think I caught your name," Wilson says. There's familiarity, but only passing. Considering how much news he watched and read back in his own world, he'd be surprised if he hadn't at least heard of her.
"Vicki Vale," she says. "I handled Jason's interview."
Which means nothing to him, but he's sure it's supposed to. The way she says it makes that clear.
"And you're here for another exclusive, I'm sure," he says. "A scoop even larger than the tabloid that picked up the secret Justice League prison one."
Wilson's eye slides over, spotting Joey in the distance. He's up by the back door, giving him a good view of what's happening, and Wilson's pretty sure Joey's their backup plan if he goes too far off script.
"Considering the rag that published the rumor, that isn't hard to manage," Vale says. "So I suppose I should start with that. Is this not a secret Justice League prison? Because while it looks very fancy..." She reaches out, rapping her knuckles on the glass. "I'm not seeing a door."
"To be a prison," Wilson says, "I would have to have been charged with something. I haven't. Legally, I'm a free man."
"And yet you're in there, while we're out here."
The photographer's camera clicks, but Wilson ignores him. Vale's the threat. She's the one he has to focus on.
"I prefer to think of the space as a retreat. An... inpatient facility, if you will."
"That would imply you're in there willingly."
There's a moment of silence as Vale looks him over again, taking it all in. The books. The clothes. The facilities in general.
"Which means you could leave at any time."
"In theory. But Bruce has agreed to help, and leaving now means giving up on that help. I can't walk away and expect that same offer to be extended again in the future."
He's hooked her. She needs the story, leaning ever so slightly closer. She can smell not just the story, but the army of stories that come with what he's just hinted at.
"Why don't we sit," she says.
There's a chair not far from the glass that he takes, folding one leg across the other as he watches her settle in. She's already had her recorder out, but she makes a point of setting it on the arm of the chair, making it more obvious.
"Why don't we start from the top. The initial report didn't name its source, but claimed that you were in fact the mercenary Deathstroke, previously reported dead. They also claimed you have killed an absolutely staggering number of people, and that you were being held prisoner in secret by Batman."
Vale's eyes flick up, watching him for a reaction. He gives her one: amusement.
It clearly throws her off.
"Care to comment on those reports?"
"For one, I'd like to make sure the source of those reports is noted. Even awareness of my existence has been very closely guarded, and the only reason it's become public is because my therapist broke doctor-patient confidentiality in exchange for what I hope was an exceptionally generous payoff."
Vale looks genuinely shocked, so he simply forges onward.
"As you can imagine, taking that sort of action will all but preclude him from every working again as a therapist. He traded a long term career for a short term payoff."
"And yet you haven't contested any part of his claims," Vale says. She knows there's little to be gained by talking about the source of the rumors. She needs to talk about him.
"To contest them would require me to have lied to my therapist. So no, nothing he said was a lie, he simply only had one session with me and was missing the majority of the context."
If he had her interest before, not he has her full attention. She looks like she's fighting the urge to actually lean forward. It's like she can smell the pulitzer in the air.
"And that context...?"
She's barely even asking him anything. Really, she's just nudging for him to say his next piece.
"I'm not from here in the most generous sense of the word," he says. Her eyes are on his face, and he flashes the briefest ok with his hand in sign, knowing that one of the half dozen people watching will notice. He has things under control.
"You're saying that you're from the... the other dimension?"
"A different dimension," he corrects. "There are several, although you've only made contact with one. So while it's correct to say that I was Deathstroke, I'm not the one you know."
Wilson keeps waiting for Joey to take over, but he doesn't. He's still there, watching, but at least for the moment he seems to be letting him handle things.
"So you are..." She looks him over. "...Related to Slade Wilson...?"
He doesn't blame her for going with related. He couldn't pass for Slade if he tried. If anything, he looks closer to Joey's age then Slades, and that isn't going to change anytime soon.
"He's my brother," he says. He swears he can almost hear the 'what' Slade no doubt just yelled. "Or more accurately, he's this universe's counterpart to my brother."
"That would explain the similarities."
"I understand in this universe that I don't exist. It's not entirely uncommon. Things go different ways, play out in different manners..."
He has a fine line to walk. If he gives too much, it means a greater chance of contradictions. If he gives too little, he'll appear to be hiding things or come across as insincere. He needs to give just enough to be convincing, building off the pre-existing elements. They already know (or at least strongly suspect) that he's Deathstroke. Hiding that he's connected to Slade will be all but impossible. The trick is to explain things in such a way that no one spends their time trying to connect Slade Wilson to Deathstroke. He may not care about people knowing, but Slade and Joey obviously do.
"So how did you become Deathstroke, then...?"
It's clear she's fishing for the exact information he has to be wary of, but he's prepared for this. All he has to do is build off the groundwork Jason already laid, and he hopes that the rest of the family's appreciating the work he's done.
"Security was the family business," he says. It's a shame he can't actually claim credit for creating Deathstroke, but he'll simply have to make do. "While my brother stayed on the legal side of things, I dipped into the less than legal side."
"Was my mentor. I took the name from him."
That ties them together, and gives a reason why Deathstroke might have approached Slade. It also gives him an out.
Vale looks him over, taking it all in. He wonders how much she buys it, but he doesn't know her well enough to actually know for sure. She seems like she at least mostly believes it.
"So that brings us to now. To... here, one could even say," she says with a gesture to the room.
To his cell.
"Meeting my brother from another dimension was disorienting, to say the least. But it also provided me with an opportunity I'd never had before. Slade offered me a chance to start over. To be a functioning member of society again. A blank slate, to say the least, but obviously one with terms. One of those was that I had to earn their trust. As you can imagine, someone hearing about me without proper context might cause serious damage to the family, and here we are."
The story is clear enough. It's all been set up perfectly. All Bruce and Slade have to do is not contradict him and everything will play out just fine.
She asks a few more questions, but nothing particularly compelling. What has he been doing with his time? How long has he been there? Does he have any complaints? He makes a point of complaining about what a setback his therapist betraying him has been just to help sell the story, watching her reactions carefully.
She buys it, he's sure. She seems completely convinced by how genuine he is, and he's expecting the very definition of a glowing review.
Alfred delivers the paper the following morning on top of his breakfast, and Wilson has time to read over the article (front page news, of course) before he has any visitors.
The review is actually somehow above glowing. Vicki Vale spends an entire paragraph describing William Wilson, Slade Wilson's younger brother, in some of the most excessively positive terms that Wilson's ever seen applied to him. He gets called 'impressively handsome' and 'genuinely charming' before the third paragraph, and while Vicki brings up some questions (is it alright for the Justice League to be inviting criminals from other universes over, even if it's to rehabilitate them?) Wilson's of the opinion that things have gone pretty well.
He knows they've gone well when Joey joins him after breakfast, settling into his seat.
You did a good job, Joey signs. It's not as familiar as talking is to Wilson, but he's not going to tell Joey to go back to talking. It would just set things back, and that isn't what he wants.
"You expected anything less? I did handle PR for Defiant, you know. That wasn't just your mother."
Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned Adeline around Joey, because he winces ever so slightly before moving the conversation on.
I was surprised at how you handled it though, Joey signs, and Wilson pauses, unsure of what he's going to say. It's not just you did well. This is something else, and Wilson raises his eyebrows, waiting for elaboration.
I think we all thought you would try and use this to get free.
"A safe assumption," Wilson says. No point in dancing around the point. "I considered it as an option, but I felt it would come off as cheap if I forced it. I am trying to do things the correct way."
He's trying to earn Joey's approval. Everyone else is such a distant second they don't even matter, but Joey? Joey is there. Joey is important.
Joey is, in a lot of ways, all he has. No matter how he feels about her, Adeline's made her stance clear. For that matter, so has Rose: it's hard to misinterpret I've run away and never want to see you again. The fact that he knows Joey is still in contact with Rose but hasn't heard a damned thing from her makes that painfully clear.
He knows he could find her if he went back. She's good, but she's not half as good as he is.
But she's drawn the line in the sand and forbidden him to step over, which just leaves him with Joey.
Joey, his very last chance to make things right.
I... appreciate that, Joey signs, each gesture hesitant. I'm just nervous.
Nervous he's going to fuck up. Joey doesn't say it, but that's clear what he means. He's waiting for Wilson to make a mistake, and then he's going to write him off.
He can't let that happen.
"How's your sister?"
She's alright, Joey signs. She's enjoying her life. I know you never approved of him, but I think she really likes Hosun. It's a real relationship now.
"I never had any issue with Hosun," Wilson says. He's not sure why everyone thinks he would. "I just thought she could do better than marrying someone to irritate me."
Joey is... squinting at him. It seems to come out of nowhere, and Wilson squints back.
Did you ever actually have an issue with Ish?
"You mean aside from the fact that you used to call him Uncle Ish?"
No, he's not over that. He's never going to be over that. Ish was family, and the fact that he was sleeping with Joey...
It's wrong. It shouldn't have happened.
You know I was the one who instigated, Joey signs. It wasn't his fault.
"He could have said no."
I wanted it, pop. You can't put this on him.
"Can we not talk about something else? Something more pleasant than the fact that every tech guy I've ever had ends up in bed with my kids?"
Now there's a pattern he wishes he hadn't thought of.
"Let's talk about Jason. He seems nice. He's treating you nicely?"
I didn't think you'd approve.
"I'm not sure why I wouldn't approve," Wilson says as he leans back. "He's an excellent fighter, a great detective, was hand-picked by this world's version of me for what are no doubt excellent reasons, and he thinks you hung the moon."
Joey blushes. It's not the reaction he's expecting, and it throws Wilson off guard. It's easy enough for him to recognize the sheer devotion Jason feels towards Joey. If nothing else, it makes him feel fairly positively towards him. He'll keep Joey safe, even if it kills him, and considering Wilson feels the same way, he doesn't see any reason why he wouldn't approve.
I'm happy you like him, Joey signs.
"It shouldn't matter what I think about him," Wilson says flatly. "You've always put too much stock in what your mother and I thought of things. Especially your mother... you let her run your life."
The blush is gone, just like that, and Joey scowls at him.
I was a kid, pop, he signs. I didn't exactly get a choice.
"Even as an adult you were like that. You loved your hobbies and you let her take them away from you and give you that bullshit job."
"My job wasn't bullshit, pop," Joey says. He actually says it, which is the most blatant red flag Wilson's ever seen. He should stop. He needs to stop. But he can't stop himself from replying anyway.
"No matter how legitimate your side of things were, helping your mother keep the organization that killed your brother in business was screwed up, Joey. I'm not going to pretend like it wasn't."
His eye flicks up from Joey's hands to his face. He expects anger or frustration. Instead he finds absolute horror.
Oh goddamnit. Wilson lets out a noise of frustration, spinning in place and looking for something to throw. Throwing is better. Throwing is better because the alternative is punching a wall and breaking his hand in a desperate attempt to release the frustration that's building. But lobbing the book doesn't help. It just makes him angrier.
"Are you telling me your mother didn't tell you? Are you telling me she just kept you in the dark?"
The horror on Joey's face looks so fresh and raw. He had no idea. He didn't even have the slightest clue.
"Core Policy Group is the main front company for HIVE. It operated entirely legitimately to help fund HIVE's work and shield it from scrutiny. Easier to hide large purchases if you have a legitimate reason to need them, and easier to hire scientists if you've got a company that wants them."
Joey looks devastated. His life as he knew it is crumbling around him, and Slade steps forward, shoving down his own anger. He's not sure he'd be able to face Adeline again. Not after seeing the look on Joey's face. He presses his hand to the glass, trying to draw Joey's attention.
"This isn't your fault," he says. "This is on your mother."
"I helped-" Joey looks like he's going to be sick, and he turns away, heading for the door. He doesn't stop, even when Wilson calls for him, and for the first time since he woke up there, Wilson feels trapped.
Joey needs space, he reminds himself. He shouldn't go after him.
The thought only barely keeps him in place.
Joey doesn't come back that night. Instead, his guest is Damian, who implies (but doesn't confirm) that Joey is with Bruce and Slade.
"This is not a moment for beating around the bush, kid," Wilson says, his forearm pressed against the glass. "Tell me if he's actually alright, or I'm leaving."
If they think that his cell will actually stop him, they're deluding themselves.
Damian sizes him up, and is more forthcoming the second time around.
"He is unhappy," Damian says. "Mostly with his mother. It does not seem directed at you."
Wilson doesn't care about that. Regardless of where his anger is or isn't, what he wants to know is that he's alright. That he's safe.
But it's enough to tell him that much, and he lets the conversation go without trying to force more details. He's safe. That's what matters.
Joey doesn't come back the next day either. He has fewer guests, and when they come, they stay less time. He supposes he should feel frustrated by the state of affairs, but it's hard to give much of a damn about anyone that isn't Joey. It doesn't matter to him if Jason stays five minutes or thirty, only that he lets him know Joey's alright.
But he gets other details from them. Alfred starts bringing him the morning paper, which lets him know that Luthor's gone to prison. He gets to read about the fallout of his interview as it moves through papers. He watches the discussions get bogged down in minor points, and eventually stop being a main focus of anyone at all.
People care a lot about the possibility of a mass murderer living in what was first described as a residential backyard. People care a lot less about Batman actually keeping someone on his private ultra rich estate, and they care even less about someone who's actually from another dimension. For all the potential ethical concerns of bringing people over to reform, the furor is far less than he expects. This Batman has earned favor with the public, and they're slow to turn on him.
The next few days are torture. He catches himself pacing in the enclosed space, doing endless pullups and pushups to try and burn the nervous energy he feels, but there's no stopping it. He wants to see Joey. He needs to know that he's alright. Being told isn't enough, and he's barely even told.
It's the sight of a familiar face coming down the path a few days later that throws him off the most.
"...Billy?" Wilson says as he drops down off the pullup bar. He wanders into the bathroom to fetch a towel, wiping himself down as he goes to fetch a shirt as Wintergreen lets himself in.
He must catch Wilson's confused look, because he clarifies almost immediately. "Not your Wintergreen, I'm afraid. I've been told we look similar."
Similar isn't right. Wintergreen doesn't look similar, he looks identical. Even having seen him recently, Wilson's struggling to spot differences. The placement of some small scars, maybe. But unlike most people who seem to have deviated between universes, Wintergreen seems almost a universal constant.
"I wasn't expecting a visit."
"Heaven knows why," Wintergreen says. "It's not as if you've torched most of your relationships with people or anything."
If he had any doubts about similarities before, he doesn't then.
"And what brings you to my part of Gotham? Come to gawk at Slade's brother?"
"Oh please," Wintergreen says as he drops himself down into one of the seats. "Anyone who knew you half as well as I do would smell the horse shit a mile away. You aren't Slade's brother. You are Slade."
Wintergreen pauses, looking him over.
"Slade with a better healing factor," he says. "No scars. Younger. What's the age difference?"
"Four years." He really doesn't see the point in pretending.
"Less than I thought. Are you at least the younger one?"
Wilson grins at him. He likes this Wintergreen, likes the familiarity. It feels like home. Like something he's left behind.
They fall into easy banter. There's familiarity there on both sides, and it makes catching up much easier. He learns that Wintergreen has a daughter, but he's cagey as to just who it is.
"She's doing well," he says pointedly. "That's what matters."
The visit doesn't last long before Wintergreen excuses himself to go back to the house, but he leaves with a promise of future visits.
It takes more than a week before he really hears about Joey, and even then it's only second hand.
"We got the package back from your universe," Jason says as he delivers dinner. "Turns out the Lanterns got lost on their way back."
"What does got lost mean in the context of crossing dimensions?" Wilson says dryly, taking the food over to the table to eat. Sometimes (really all the time) he can't help but wish the bats were a bit more direct when they speak to him rather than dancing around the point all the damned time.
"Apparently they passed through three different dimensions before they managed to get back. The other side thinks it's related to distance - that the further someone is from the cave, the greater the likelihood they'll... get lost."
That they'll get lost in the multiverse. Fantastic, just what he needs to hear.
"Why did they try and jump from space, exactly?"
Jason gives him a funny look, and then the realization dawns on him.
"Oh, no one told you? When Hal showed up with his mentor they both got upset because apparently he's evil in your universe, so they went to deal with that."
Wilson already knows, but it seems advantageous to feign ignorance.
"Who's his mentor, exactly?"
"His name should have been the first giveaway," Wilson says as he starts to eat. He's three bites in when he realizes Jason hasn't left, instead standing there watching him eat. "What did you want?"
Any time Jason stands there, it means he wants something. He always wants something. The only question is whether he's willing to ask for it.
"I don't get it," Jason finally says. "You care about him. You're worried about him. Hell, you obviously love him. So why did you have so much trouble showing it? How is it that your relationship can be so awful? How could you do the things you did to him?"
The things he did to him. Wilson rolls his eye, working to finish off his meal and giving Jason little attention. He's a boy, ignorant to what life is really like. He thinks loving someone is enough.
"I will do anything to protect him," Wilson says as he stands, moving over to set the empty plate where it belongs. "Anything, at any cost. Even if he hates me. Even if it hurts him."
"Is that why you slept with his fiance? To protect him?"
Jason's hands are balled into fists when Wilson glances towards him. He's angry on Joey's behalf, which Wilson should be thankful for, but he's angry over something so petty and stupid. He's short sighted.
"You don't protect someone-"
"Did Joey tell you that she was using him? That she'd only gotten close to him in the first place to keep tabs on me? It was easier to cut out the middleman and keep him from getting hurt."
"You do that by talking to him," Jason snaps. "You do that by sitting him down and telling him the truth-"
"He didn't want the truth. He wanted the comforting lie. He wanted to be told that the girl he loved really did love him and wasn't just using him for his connections. That she loved him in spite of who his parents were, not because of them."
Jason looks pained, and all Wilson can think is good. He needs to realize the truth. The story he's been told by Joey is only a fragment, incomplete and heavily biased.
"You still should have told him. If you'd sat him down and talked it out-"
"You don't get it," Wilson says. Apparently he's going to have to spell it out for him, because nothing else is getting through. "Joey would never have believed me over his mother. Her word was law to him. Even if I'd sat down and told him the truth, he'd have gone straight to Adeline and she'd have convinced him I was just up to my old tricks again."
"There's no reason for that," Jason counters. "You could have worked with Adeline-"
"Jason," he says, and apparently his tone is serious enough that Jason goes immediately silent. "Etienne was spying on Joey for Waller. But she also worked for HIVE."
To his credit (what little Wilson can give), Jason seems to understand immediately. He jerks back like he's been slapped, staring at him in horror.
"You - are you saying that Joey's mom set it up?"
"Who can say? She'd never admit it, and the proof's all long gone. But the fact is that Etienne was working for HIVE as much as she was working for Waller. She was working for HIVE while Joey was working for their front company, and then she ends up involved with him. I'm not stupid enough to believe that's a coincidence."
Whether Adeline ordered it or approved of it, Wilson knows she had her fingers all over it. Dating the bosses son is, in every sense of the word, a no go as far as business goes.
Jason takes a deep breath, and Wilson's not prepared for what comes next.
"That doesn't change anything."
"How does that not change anything, kid? In the end he's always going to side with his mother."
"You didn't even try. You didn't even give him a chance. You managed to convince me right now in one conversation, but you couldn't convince Joey with proof? Either you're terrible at this or you're making excuses."
Making excuses? Jason has no idea what the hell he's talking about.
"He wouldn't have-"
"Listen to yourself for one goddamn minute!" Jason yells. "Have some faith in your son. It would have hurt him to learn, but god, it would have been better than what you did."
He feels... something. Frustration? Agitation? He can't put a finger on the emotion he's feeling, but he knows he doesn't like it. Jason's simplifying things too much. They were never that easy.
"Think about it," Jason says. "Don't just ignore it. Think about what might have happened if you've actually spent the time to convince Joey rather than skipping straight to sleeping with his fiance. Actually think about it."
He leaves, and Wilson has no option but to think about it.
He has another week to wait before Joey finally visits him again. He looks thinner, more frail, and it's clear that the revelation has affected him far more than Wilson thought.
"Joey," he says. He doesn't linger by the couch, heading straight for the wall to press his hand flat against it. Joey needs him. He's obviously not getting the support he needs, and Wilson's brain is already running a mile a minute, working out how to get out.
"Pop, whatever you're thinking, don't," Joey says. He looks like he's been rubbed raw emotionally, and it's enough to make Wilson falter, putting his plans on hold even if they're not outright cancelled.
"Whatever is happening, it needs to stop."
"It is stopping," Joey says. He's back to talking rather than signing, and now that Wilson knows to watch for it, it's impossible to miss. "That's why-"
He falters, taking a deep breath, and then seems to catch himself, signing the rest of the thought.
That's why I had to come tell you. I sent a video to ma. I cut her off.
He what? Wilson feels like his head is spinning as he tried to ground himself. Even though Joey is literally in a completely different dimension from his mother, the idea of him cutting her off is as insane as Joey announcing his intention to stop the sun from shining. It simply isn't possible.
I already did, Joey signs. His face seems stubborn, resolute. He isn't going to change his mind.
Wilson feels like his head's still spinning. It's not just going to happen. It's already happened. Joey's already cut his mother off.
"She won't take it well," he says, and he feels stupid saying it.
There's nothing she can do, Joey signs. She can't follow me. She has her own life, and she needs to live it. I already told the bats on the other end not to pass any messages.
Wilson knows her. She'll never give up. Not with that. If he chased Joey across dimensions, she has to be willing to do the same. She'll come for him.
But he can't let himself focus on that right then.
"Are you alright?"
The answer is no. They can both see that, but the only thing he can do is ask. He's been told to express what he's feeling rather than assuming, so that's exactly what he does. It should be assumed he's worried, but apparently he can't count on any of those assumptions anymore.
I don't know, Joey signs, sinking down into his seat. I feel like I don't know anything.
He's now officially out of his area of expertise. This was Wintergreen's territory. He doesn't know how to handle people who are crying and he sure as hell doesn't know how to handle anything like this. Joey is broken. He needs something that Wilson doesn't know how to give him.
"Tell me what you need," he says. "Anything." If Joey wants him to go kill Adeline, then so be it. He'll do it, even if he doesn't want to.
Just... Joey reaches up, rubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Just stay there. Just keep... being here. That's all I want. If I ask too much..."
"Nothing's too much."
"It was too much before. Before you couldn't even say you loved us if we begged. Now you're here letting yourself be kept in a cage for months because you care that much?"
Everyone seems to be convinced that the small space is getting to him. It isn't. He was in Arkham for almost a month, and Belle Reve before that. Hell, the time he spent imprisoned beneath the Titan's base was worse by a mile. Here he has books and guests and things to do. There he wasn't even allowed the option to move, and nothing to occupy his mind but the faces of people he'd killed.
It's not as if he has anything better to do.
"I would lose you if I didn't," he says. "I already lost Grant."
Joey doesn't respond. Instead, he goes quiet, his eyes dropping. Wilson isn't sure if it's the mention of Grant or the mention of him losing him. There's no clear answer. No obvious solution.
Not for the first time, Wilson wishes things were simpler. He's stuck making no action at all, because doing anything might be the wrong choice. If he says the wrong thing—if he does the wrong thing—he's going to drive Joey away. He's going to lose him.
Their relationship is hanging by a thread.
Tell me what you're thinking, Joey signs. He's not looking at him, but it feels like a trap. It feels like whatever he says is going to be wrong, and the words feel heavy on his tongue as he tries to puzzle it out. There has to be a solution. He's never cared about this before, but things are different now.
Don't think about it, just say it, Joey signs. He has a time limit. All of a sudden he needs to figure it out right then.
"I was thinking about what I'd do if you told me to leave."
What would you do? Joey asks, because he can't possibly just leave it at that. It feels like he's being tortured just being asked that.
"I don't know. Go back to our world, I guess."
To go after Rose?
"No. She's safe now. I never wanted any of you involved in my line of work on either end of things. I wanted you to have normal lives, and she has that now. As long as she's safe from Adeline, I don't need to worry about her."
I want too though. I still want to help people. I just don't think I can.
This feels easier. More comfortable. He can guess what Joey wants, slide into the proper position, tailor his answers to what Joey's hoping for.
"If you want to be a hero, then be a hero. Just go all in on it. Don't sit on the fence. You have the skills and all the resources you could possibly imagine at your fingertips."
It isn't as bad, he decides. Crime is minimal in Gotham and the surrounding areas. The era of the supervillain is all but over. Joey can handle muggers and petty crime without Wilson having to worry. The suit—and the people around him—will keep him safe.
Would you really be okay with that? Joey signs.
"It isn't my choice. It's yours."
Wasn't what I asked, pop.
Joey's seeking his approval when he shouldn't be. He should be deciding, and instead he's asking. But he bites back the lecture Joey's heard before and tries to remember what it is Joey wants to hear.
"Yes," he says. It's at least half true, so it doesn't feel like the lie it is. He thinks he'll be just fine.
Joey reaches up, pressing his hand flat to the glass, and Wilson mimes the gesture.
"Pop?" Joey says, his hand otherwise occupied. "I know you didn't want to, but... thank you."
When Joey leaves, he seems less miserable than he was when he arrived, and Wilson considers it a job well done.
Things improve in fits and starts. Joey seems less withdrawn, visiting more often. When Wilson asks (he always seems happy when Wilson asks him about his life, so Wilson makes a point of having a question ready for him when he visits), he learns that Joey's officially given up on retirement and has taken to heroing down in Metropolis.
"Not Gotham?" Wilson asks. He'd rather it be Gotham. Gotham is, as bizarre as it is to him, safer than Metropolis.
Clark's letting me go with him. He's showing the boys, but he can only take one at a time, so he said I was free to tag along.
Oh. Well, he supposes that's better. Joey isn't going to get hurt with Superman keeping an eye on him. The only place he'd be safer is in Wilson's cell with him.
It's easy to get Joey to talk about it. He clearly enjoys the trips with Clark, even if there's not much of a schedule, and his visits become more and more regular.
It's a good sign. It's just good in general. It is, in its own weird way, peaceful.
Even if he's in a cell. Even if he's in what amounts to a particularly fancy cage, reading increasingly blatantly family themed novels provided by Jason.
Wilson wonders if this is what retirement feels like, and suspects he'll never actually know.
"What happened to therapy?" Wilson asks when Bruce comes to drop off lunch one day. He doesn't actually want therapy, but it seems like the very obvious next step in his recovery that Bruce and Slade will expect him to take.
"We've having trouble finding you a therapist," Bruce admits. "You can imagine why."
"Because the last one nearly ruined everything?"
Bruce grunts at him and Wilson grins.
"We could just not waste everyone's time. In case you haven't noticed, I'm doing just fine with things as they are."
He hasn't broken out. He hasn't broken the rules. If they want more from him, they haven't said it. As far as he's concerned, he's meeting all the requirements. Exceeding them, even. After all, Joey's visiting him daily, and isn't that what matters? Isn't that the point of all this?
Which is why it's all but inevitable that things go wrong.
He's been in the universe eighty-nine days when Alfred brings him lunch.
It shouldn't be a red flag: Alfred's brought him lunch plenty of times before. But it is a red flag because Alfred also brought him breakfast. It's been weeks since Alfred brought him two meals in a row, and even at a distance he can see the food is almost painfully standard.
The moment he's on high alert, it's easier to spot warning signs he missed. No one's come or gone from the path that leads to the Kent house since yesterday morning. No one's visited him. Joey visited early yesterday, which means it's been twenty-two hours since he's seen him.
Something's wrong. He knows before Alfred's even let himself in the door, and he's ready and waiting, standing up by the glass.
"Where are they?"
Alfred, to his credit, does not look particularly surprised that Wilson's caught on. He looks resigned, like he was expecting to have this exact conversation but maybe not so early in the morning.
"That is not your concern, I'm afr-"
"It is my concern because he's my son. Where is he?"
"He is perfectly safe, and will no doubt tell you all about it when he returns," Alfred says as he sets the plate down. "While I understand you are agitated, you have nothing to be concerned about."
"The fact that you won't tell me where Joey is is plenty to be concerned about."
"And I told them as much," Alfred says flatly, "but they insisted I stay quiet, and I am bound to do so."
Wilson grinds his teeth. Alfred isn't going to tell him anything, which leaves him painfully in the dark. Anything could be happening, and perfectly safe but we won't tell you about it spells nothing but disaster. The whole situation screams of we can handle it when they most definitely can't.
But he does wonder for a moment if it's a test. It's possible, he supposes, that they might want to see how he'll react. But if it is a test, it's a cruel one, because he has every possible reason to be concerned. What if it's Adeline? What if something's gone wrong?
"Last chance, Alfred."
Alfred looks him over, letting out a sigh.
"I am afraid my hands are tied," he says. "But I will be sure to inform them of your pending escape attempt."
"It's not going to be an attempt."
He ignores the food. He's gone weeks without food without an issue, and he has more important things to deal with right then. It stays where it is as he gets to work.
He hasn't attempted an escape before. Not from the very nice prison they were nice enough to put him in. Escape attempts are damaging. Escape attempts are an attempt to weigh his skills at getting out against Slade and Bruce's skills at keeping him in. Even attempting puts things at risk. It upsets the balance.
But that isn't going to stop him.
His first plan is simple enough: investigate the fire suppression system. There's a decent chance that any sort of fire will bypass the majority of the security systems already in place, and he already has most of what he needs. He uses a spoon to pry his way into the water refill station, exposing the wiring, and then uses the newspapers as kindling. It's easy to get a bit of flame going, and even easier to hold it up to the ceiling to be picked up.
The problem is that someone's clearly thought of this exact escape attempt. The sprinklers pop, dousing the entire room with water, but no escape method presents itself. The system is clearly set up to stop him from doing exactly what he's doing, meaning the first plan ends with him (and the entire room) soaked but having made no progress.
Alfred's standing in the visiting area, watching his attempts. He looks to be on the phone, but Wilson ignores him completely.
He is getting out. By that point it's a matter of pride.
The second attempt ends almost the same as the first. There's a fan system in the ceiling of the bathroom to allow venting, and generally it would be out of reach. Wilson, however, is not constrained by generally, and simply jumps the distance, his hand catching the edge of the vent cover and tearing it off.
But the vent itself is two feet straight vertical and only as thick as his arm. It's a weakness, and there's probably a way he could exploit it, but not quickly. Not on a time limit. He makes it plan number six and moves on.
"I do beg you to reconsider," Alfred calls. "You are only making things more difficult."
"I suppose they should have thought of that," Wilson calls as he heads to plan three.
Plan three is much, much simpler than the other plans, but there's grace to be found in simplicity. The wall dividing the guest area from his quarters is no doubt durable enough to withstand his full force. If it has a door in it, he hasn't found it, and Wilson's beginning to doubt there is one. But it does have a structural flaw, a weakness that must have been added after: the dumbwaiter. The wall is less than an inch thick, which means the majority of the dumbwaiter mechanism is housed on the other side of the wall. They've taken care to house the mechanism inside an extra chunk of the wall to keep him from simply pushing through it, but what matters is that there's no way it was part of the original design. No, they had to cut a hole in the wall to add the dumbwaiter on after, and getting it off is going to be a hell of a lot easier than cracking the wall as a whole.
He retrieves a chunk of metal from the innards of the water dispenser to use as a wedge, pressing it right into the corner of the hatch. Once it's in place, he lifts his foot, the angle awkward but workable, and stomps down hard on it.
He knows he's won from the first blow. The bit of metal has wedged itself in where the hatch meets the wall, and it takes only a few more blows for the first true crack to appear.
"Oh dear," Alfred says, making a point to leave the building.
As strong as Slade is, Wilson's stronger, and all he has to do is keep working at it, watching the cracks spread. The hatch fails, tumbling to the ground, but the hole it leaves isn't large enough for him to pass through, so he continues.
The wall is not safety glass. It doesn't come away in chunks, or shatter into bits all in one go. For that matter, it's not even actually glass, just some similar looking but far more durable. When a chunk does crack off, it comes off in flakes the size of Wilson's finger.
It would be fascinating at another time, but right then he doesn't give a shit. There's only one thing he cares about, and he is going to find out where Joey is.
Nothing on earth could stop him.
Or maybe nothing from Earth. There's a faint whump as Superman lands just outside his prison. He's already in his suit, which means he was in the middle of doing something heroic, and that tells Wilson all he needs to know as he continues hammering away, widening the opening.
"I don't have time for this," Clark snaps. He looks furious, which is not an expression Wilson's used to seeing on him, but it's not as if that's his fault.
"I wasn't going to sit around in my cage while my son gets hurt. No one would tell me where he is, so I'm going to have to just find him on my own."
"They didn't-" Clark cuts himself off, shaking his head. He looks frustrated, and Wilson takes advantage of the momentary distraction to force his way through the hole he's opened. The glass doesn't cut, but it does scrape, and his clothes look like an absolute mess. The sprinklers have cut off, but he's still soaked anyway.
"I'm going to find him, so you can get out of the way-"
"I really don't have time for this," Clark says, and then he moves almost faster than Wilson can blink. He's fought Superman before, but he's fought him while prepared. He's fought him with the Ikon suit protecting him, or with Kryptonite, or with a plan. Now he has nothing. It's the kind of situation where he'd withdraw in any other circumstances, only there's nowhere to for him to withdraw to, and the stakes are too high to give up.
Clark does not punch him. He doesn't throw him or pin him or anything. No, instead he literally throws Wilson over his shoulder and takes off. Wilson isn't stupid enough to try and fight Superman while hundreds of feet off the ground, so he settles for holding on for dear life as Clark simply takes him wherever the hell it is he wants to go.
There is no particular need for anyone to fill him in as they arrive. Even dangling over Clark's shoulder, the issue is apparent.
The city is levelled.
He figures from how long and the direction they flew they have to be somewhere in Nevada or maybe Arizona, descending down into what was once a moderately sized city, but the damage is so immense that there's hardly a building standing.
Clark unceremoniously drops him on the ground and darts off. He's not far from what he presumes is a command center, a series of temporary tents propped up to shield those beneath them from the sun.
At least he's already starting to dry off, but the smell in the air is far from pleasant. Things are burning. People are dying. He doesn't know the exact details, but he can see the signs just the same: an earthquake. A big one.
There are easily twenty people milling about the primary tend where Bruce stands, his body leaning over what looks like a massive screen laid out across a particularly large table. As Wilson watches, Bruce taps his fingers across the screen, and as he gets closer he thinks he's probably looking at some kind of map.
"I want to know where Joey is," Wilson calls. A few of the people around Bruce—people he doesn't know—look up at him, confused.
He makes no sense by any metric. He's maybe thirty five, dressed in nice clothes that are both soaking wet (but drying) and badly torn. He has also somehow managed to arrive there despite the fact that every road in and out must surely be almost impassable.
Bruce doesn't even try and argue with him. Instead he simply pulls a communicator out of a pile on the table and holds it out for him to take. Wilson does, popping it into his ear, and goes straight to hailing Joey.
"Jericho," he says, because he's sure they're making at least some attempt at professionalism. "Where are you?"
"Pop?!" Joey says, and Wilson sighs, burying his face in his hand. Of course. So much for that.
"Where are you?"
"Half a mile east of base camp. Pop, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be back at home."
Wilson feels like something deep inside of him was just tugged at hearing Joey describe the manor as home.
"They wouldn't tell me where you were, so I came to make sure things were alright."
"Pop, they is me. I made the call not to tell you, and - listen, we don't have time for this. Just stay in base camp and we can talk when this is over."
"Just tell me that you're alright."
"I'm fine. Stay in the base."
Immediate concerns set aside, it's easier for Wilson to focus on what's happening around him. The fliers are combing the city from above, while Bruce tracks their discoveries and information on a map. He spots Damian and Jason, both helping coordinate things in base camp, but doesn't see Slade anywhere.
Something's wrong with the timeline though. If Joey left the day before, it doesn't make any sense things would still be so chaotic, so he simply snags one of the people milling about, a young man who looks like he might have been wearing a police uniform at one time.
"What happened here?"
The boy stares up at him in absolute confusion, and it's only when Wilson growls at him that he catches himself and answers.
"Earthquake - first one was yesterday, midday. Did some serious damage, so we called for help. The League responded and were helping out, but then-"
"You got hit again," Wilson guesses. He takes a quick glance around, and then corrects. "Twice."
"A second last night and then one again about an hour ago. We're expecting more aftershocks."
Perfect. As much as people like to attribute his skills to battle, his skillset works just as well in any sort of crisis situation, and 'the earth itself decided the city was too tall' certainly qualifies.
"Bruce," Wilson calls, and Bruce doesn't even look up from his work. "You can't coordinate everyone. Offload some of the work."
Bruce's eyes flick up, scanning over him, and Wilson expects a sit down, shut up response.
"Do you have experience with disaster relief efforts?"
The answer is no.
"I prepared for them when I was with Defiance."
There's the tiniest of pauses, and then Bruce reaches up, tapping his communicator.
"Yellow, Orange, I want you back at base camp. Green, Indigo, close formation so their area is covered."
The confirmations ring in his ear, and he doesn't wait even a minute before two fliers settle down.
His first instinct is that they're both superboy. He's never met them, but he's seen them in passing as they head up to the house. He knows, in very general terms, the circumstances of their existence, but meeting them is something else entirely.
Bruce clearly has other things he wants to do, because he speeds through the introduction.
"Call him Wilson," Bruce says. "Follow his instructions as much as reasonably possible, stay in radio contact, be safe."
"Got it," Yellow says. They're identical safe for the color coded shirts they're wearing, and the boys exchange a glance before turning to Wilson.
He's been expecting more resistance. The fact that he's meeting so little makes him wary, because it means things are that bad.
"Bruce had you gathering information rather than directly rescuing?" Wilson asks, glancing between the two. He's never worked with Superboy before, but it gives him a good enough idea of what kind of power level he should expect.
Yellow nods enthusiastically.
"I'm Yen, by the way. He's Ore."
Wilson doesn't really care, but he nods anyway.
"Bruce is relying on everyone's senses to help him get an accurate understanding of the situation. We are going to minimize the noise."
"Uh... how?" Ore asks, glancing between the two of them.
"Pop," Joey says over the coms, and Wilson glances up to see Joey descending down towards him. "Pop, what are you doing? I said to stay in camp."
"I'm not standing around when something's happening," Wilson says. "Aren't you supposed to be on patrol?"
"Pop, Slade and I have the ikon suits and Superman and his people can't be hurt. If we have another aftershock, anyone out in the city could get seriously hurt. Stay here." He reaches out to catch Wilson's arm, but he simply moves out of the way, the frustration visible in Joey's posture but hidden behind the mask he's wearing.
"I'll heal through any damage. I've been doing this sort of thing longer than you've been alive, Joey."
"Pop, if a building falls on you, you're not going to get back up!" Joey says. "This is why I wanted you to stay put. Please just stay in the camp."
There's no way in hell he's letting Slade and Joey go running around the city helping while he sits on his ass in camp.
"I can handle myself."
"Please," Joey says. He reaches again, and this time Wilson lets his hand land, letting Joey grab his arm. "Please stay in camp. Please stay where you're safe, pop."
"I need to use this to show I can be trusted," he says flatly. He doesn't think Joey's going to give up on getting him to go back and sit in camp, so he's hoping that simply spelling out his intentions might get him to ease back. "If I cooperate, they're more likely to trust me enough to let me out."
You could die, Joey signs. It doesn't bother him as much as Joey seems to think it should. He's used to it, and at least in this situation no one's actively trying to kill him.
"Honestly pretty used to that by now," Wilson says. "Go back on patrol. I've got them with me, and I'm not worried." He jerks a thumb at Yen and Ore as they stand by the wayside, looking distinctly out of place in the conversation.
Joey looks torn, but finally lets go.
"Be careful. Don't do anything stupid," he says, and Wilson snorts, shooing him away.
No matter what happens, he's had worse.
Yen and Ore are strong, but they very clearly have absolutely no idea what they're supposed to be doing. Their training could be described as partial at absolute best, but really nonexistent is a better descriptor.
Wilson does what he can to simplify things. Wintergreen would do a much better job of it, but he's had experience with Defiance, and both Yen and Ore are much faster to follow orders than that team.
"What's the loudest, most distracting thing you can hear?"
"Baby crying," Yen and Ore say, almost perfectly in unison. The problem, of course, is that they both point different directions.
There are probably a lot of kids crying right then.
"You can't save anyone," he says. He feels like that needs to be spelled out to them, made as clear as possible. They aren't used to situations like this, and the worst thing they can do is push themselves to the limit trying to save everyone. "Right now you need to prioritize getting out people who are most likely to be crushed in the event of an aftershock. More help is going to be arriving every minute, but some people won't be here to get it. Look at your options. Which one do you take?"
They're frozen already, paralyzed by a choice that could leave someone dead. He can't let it last more than a moment.
"Which one is closer to the surface? Which one is faster to rescue?"
They need a quick, easy victory to push them through their anxiety, and Yen's turns out to be the better choice. There's a small group of seven people in a collapsed two story home not far from them, and Wilson lets Yen and Ore carry him without protest, each holding one of his arms.
It's almost laughably easy to get the group out of the home onto flat ground, and then it's easy as radioing it in to Bruce for Barry to come pick them up.
Barry makes a point of delivering him a new shirt.
"The bloodstains are just going to freak people out," he says, but he seems wary of Wilson just the same.
Wilson lets himself half pay attention to the chatter on the communicator as he takes Ore and Yen to double back for Ore's option.
"This is where it gets tricky," he says. "You can't just dig your way down and grab them. Moving that much mass is going to cause the rubble to shift, and you could crush them."
"So - so how are we supposed to actually get down there?" Yen asks.
"You've got the best tools possible. You can both use X-ray vision to see what's going on and take that into account. Find a way to get down there in the fewest moves possible."
It's not as easy as he says. There are a number of mistakes and false starts as they descended down into the broken building. There are bodies, those who didn't make it out, and Wilson does what he can to keep them on task.
It's not as easy as digging them out and being done.
What matters is that at the very bottom, Ore wraps his arms around a little girl and her older brother, lifting them up and out to safety. He's practically glowing with excitement, and Wilson catches himself wondering if the desire to help people is just a Kryptonian thing.
He scratches the idea almost immediately. He's seen Zod, after all.
He takes them from point to point. He's strong, but they're stronger in terms of sheer brute strength, and he ends up working more as an organizer, keeping them from stopping.
They use their breath to put out fires, use their strength to lift pieces of rubble, use their vision to find those who need help. Any of them would be a huge boon, but the two of them (and their siblings) are a complete game changer as far as search and rescue goes.
As the hours tick by, there are more and more people. Help starts to roll in, supplies and men. The people they pull out of the rubble are taken care of by men in uniforms rather than Barry zipping in to carry them away. There are a few small tremors, but the big followup they're expecting doesn't come.
Joey checks in on him almost religiously, flying by to stare down at him from the sky, giving a quick wave, and then heading off.
It's better than the last time Joey stared down at him from the sky, at the very least.
He doesn't let Ore or Yen stop. He can see them faltering every time they find a body, or every time they rescue someone who's crying for someone they can't find. He simply reminds them, over and over again, that they've saved more than they've lost. That they are helping, even if they feel like it's not enough. He lets them pick their targets, watching them get better and better at the work. They find people faster. They're better at pulling them out. They're more careful and precise.
It's great on the job training. Nothing's going to prepare them for doing what Superman does better than something like this.
"There are kids down there," Yen says as they dangle above a building. "They're pretty far down, but the roof's just above them."
"We could lift the roof and get them out."
"Just the two?" Wilson asks, and Yen quickly clarifies.
"Two kids and an adult woman. I think if we hefted up the roof in one piece we could probably slide in and get them."
"Roof's two big for one of you to lift, it'll crack in half," Wilson points out. "If you lift from either corner, it might snap in the middle. Both of you start lifting it, and then one stay on the outside edge while the other moves in closer."
It's trickier than most of their rescues. Yen and Ore heft the edge of the roof up to waist height, and then Ore slips in, applying extra support as needed. The roof's well past their limit of what they can comfortably lift, and Wilson ends up calling in extra backup, with one of their brothers flying down to help lift.
They can't get it up far enough. The weight's just too heavy, even with the four of them lifting.
"Crap," Wilson mutters. "Alright, just hold it."
He makes them brace themselves as he goes in. Space he can move in gets smaller and smaller as he shimmies in, but even without X-ray vision and Kryptonian level hearing he can tell where they are.
He has to get much, much closer to find what the problem is. The boys are levering the roof off a particularly large piece of rubble, and the people are on the other side of the large piece of rubble. If they push upwards too hard it'll just crush them behind it, and no amount of lifting the large piece if going to get them out.
"I've got this," he says as he starts clearing rubble. He just needs to get around, and up close, even in such a cramped space, it's fairly easy to do so, clearing an opening.
The kids are crying. They're young, maybe three and four years old, clinging to a woman he at first assumed was their mother. On second glance, he reassesses. She seems too young for them to be hers, and his brain decides babysitter is probably the most likely.
What matters is that she looks largely unharmed but terrified, and that the kids are clinging to her sides, sobbing against her.
"Alright," he says, and her head snaps up, staring at him in the darkness. His vision's better than most, but she probably can't see a damn thing. "I've got a hole large enough for all three of you, but you're going to need to climb out."
Getting them out is easier said than done. To keep the space open he has to shove his back up against the ceiling, pushing up just to give them space. She sends the kids through first, sobbing and whimpering, and Wilson grunts as she climbs through herself.
"Aftershock coming," Clark says in his ear, and Wilson says every curse he can think of. He's got seconds at most. He doesn't know how Clark knows, but he trusts his instincts enough.
He drops the roof, grabs all three of them, and hauls them back towards the large piece of rubble the roof was pivoting off of. He doesn't ask. He doesn't stop. Every second counts.
The aftershock is not extreme as it could be. In any other day it would be nothing. But right then it does the worst thing it can: it cracks the massive piece of roof the clones are holding in half.
It collapses on top of them, and Wilson grits his teeth as it lands squarely on his upper back. He feels his shoulder break, his arm going limp, and he feels himself be pressed down into the rubble beneath them.
The weight's too much.
The panic over the comms is too loud and too fast, and he can't risk moving.
"Lady," he hisses. "Reach up, touch my right ear, and hold it. If I stop talking, let go."
She can't even see him, but he can feel her fingers running up to find it, pressing into the earpiece as he cuts into the panic
"Shut the fuck up and clear comms," he snaps. "I'm alive, just stuck under here, and I need Clark here immediately. Three civilians are down here with me and I'm not going to be able to hold the weight long."
He already can't hold the weight. The only reason they're still alive is because they were close enough to the pivot point to be shielded by another large chunk of the roof.
"We're coming," Clark says.
There's a kid clinging desperately to his knee, and another kid somewhere off in the dark sobbing. If he was claustrophobic it would be a nightmare, and even not being claustrophobic it's deeply unpleasant. The woman's been dead silent the entire time, not saying a word, but she groans in terror every time the weight above them shifts.
"Tell everyone to hold still," Clark says over comms.
"I need everyone to get as close to me as you can," he says, "and then stay really still."
Two of them do. The other kid needs to be wrangled by the woman, who effectively hides herself under Wilson's crouched form. He can't tell what Clark's doing, but he's really hoping it's happening quickly.
There's the smell of something burning in the air, and Wilson realizes that Clark must be literally cutting his way through the rubble, making the pieces above them more manageable.
"I don't wanna die," the little boy sobs, and Wilson makes his best effort to keep them all from panicking and making things worse.
"You'll be just fine," he says. "You've got Superman coming to pick you up right now."
It takes two more excruciating minutes before the weight above Wilson abruptly lifts away, and he sags forward. His regeneration is helping, but it's not nearly fast enough. A veritable army of fliers descend down into their little nook, collecting people and pulling them out.
On the upside, Wilson thinks, he just saved three lives and that'll probably earn him a lot of goodwill with the Bats.
On the downside, Joey's going to kill him.
It's Yen who pulls him out first, wrapping an arm around his torso and lifting off. He doesn't have any use of his right arm, and he's almost entirely sure that isn't the only bone in his body that's broken.
"We've got you," Yen says, but he sounds panicked anyway. "He's really badly hurt-"
"He'll heal," Clark says. "You did good, but Bruce wants everyone back at basecamp, alright?"
He helps Yen hand Wilson off to him, and then the whole pack of them head back towards the camp.
Wilson is not looking forward to seeing Joey. He knows the lecture he's about to get, and he doesn't want to hear it.
Joey's already there when Clark lands, still holding most of Wilson's weight. His one leg isn't working quite right, refusing to move like it should, and he braces himself for a punch as Joey approaches him.
Joey throws his arms around him instead, pulling him close. He doesn't say anything, just holding him, and Wilson's frozen stiff, unsure of what to do.
Joey pulls back, looking up at him, and then Wilson suddenly isn't anything at all.
It takes him a second to realize what's happened, and when he realizes he kicks himself for not getting it immediately. He can feel his body, but it feels strange and distant. He can't control his body, and the experience is more like watching a movie about his life in a theater. He watches as his body tells Clark to grab Joey's limp form. He watches his body get half-carried into base camp. Most absurdly, he watches his body handcuff itself to one of the hospital cots a few seconds before he snaps back to full control.
"That was a dirty trick," he says. The fact that he can't fight off Joey's control is unpleasant, the kind of thing he should be seeking countermeasures for. "You know this isn't going to hold me." He tugs the handcuff, just to prove a point.
Stay here, Joey signs furiously. I am never going to forgive you if you move. I thought you'd died, pop!
"I've had worse."
That doesn't make me feel better!
"Joey," Slade says, stepping into the little hospital tent. "If you want to go back to patrolling, I'll keep him from going anywhere. I'm less useful without the flight."
Slade's wearing his Ikon suit. It doesn't fit him quite right, the missing inch leaving the suit too tight, but he looks almost painfully smug as he moves over, grabbing a seat beside Wilson's bed.
"I'll be fine," Wilson points out. "Bones are already snapping back into the right places as we speak." Not exactly pleasant, but he's gotten used to ignoring the pain of his regeneration.
Joey shoots him an angry look and storms out of the tent.
"That was a collosally stupid move," Slade says. "Exactly the kind of thing I'd have done when I was young and reckless."
"Almost as if we were almost the same person," Wilson snaps. The handcuff isn't doing anything—he can't move that arm anyway, and he couldn't stand if he wanted too—but it's presence irritates him.
"Listen, I don't blame you for breaking out," Slade says. "I told Joey he'd be better off telling you, but we were only supposed to be gone for twelve hours at most, and he was counting on being back before you even noticed he was gone. Nature just got in the way."
"It tends to."
"No kidding," Slade says with a snort.
"Listen, give me an hour-"
Wilson falters, squinting at Slade. He seems... normal. He doesn't look upset or anything, he just kind of is.
"You're staying here. I said I don't blame you for breaking out because you were worried about him, but I will blame you if, after all this, you still insist on worrying Joey by going out."
"If you gave me the suit-"
"No. Stay here, don't move, and stop worrying your son unnecessarily. We can talk about next steps after we're all safely home."
Wilson grumbles, but doesn't offer further protest. It's clear Slade isn't going to back down on the point, which means that his hands are both metaphorically and literally tied.
He's just going to have to deal with it all later.
For once, Wilson plays by the rules. Freeing himself is a laughably easy task, but he lets himself stay handcuffed to the bed as his body knits itself back together. The loud crack when his shoulder snaps back into place scares the living hell out of the nurse, who's in the process of stitching up some cuts when it happens.
Of course, at that point he thinks it's an indignity to leave it on, so he simply pops the cuff off, leaving it dangling off the bed as he leans back, staring at the ceiling.
"Surprised you're still in here," Jason says when he peeks into the tent. "I was expecting you to have run off by now."
"Joey's already angry," Wilson points out. "I'd rather not make him angrier."
"Seems like he got that from someone," Jason says with a snort.
He leaves, returning with some food, and then sets it down right on Wilson's lap, giving him a pointed look.
"Go on," he says. "Alfred already said you didn't eat before you started breaking out."
"I can go weeks—"
"Just eat the food."
He does. He doesn't really see a point in arguing with Jason, and getting on his good side seems like the key to getting onto Joey's good side.
The sun's starting to dip by the time people start returning to base camp. Everyone looks run pretty ragged, and Wilson simply ignores the fact that he's supposed to be handcuffed to a bed, heading to the center tent to watch Bruce.
"I really can't thank all of you enough," Bruce says to the crowd. His eyes touch on Wilson briefly, but don't linger, focusing on everyone else instead. Most of the League is there, but there's easily two dozen other people dressed in uniforms listening as well. "Diana's offered to take over the rest of the rescue effort for the League. I'll be leaving some of the technology I've had flown in to help, but with the professionals arriving, I'd prefer to leave this to all of you."
"We'll be staying," Clark says. He's in his suit, looking the most together of any of them, "but we'll be needing to rest."
The fact that Clark has six kids behind him is a fact that isn't lost on anyone. His boys look exhausted, their stamina not holding out as well as their fathers.
"Of course," someone in the crowd says. "We got this!"
There's a whoop of excitement from the crowd as they disperse. They're professionals. There's a command structure there. Some of what Bruce has brought is staying, but it's clear the people are leaving.
"Room on the jet for one more?" Wilson asks as he cuts through the crowd towards Bruce.
"We flew with Superman's boys," he says. "Plenty of room."
He gives Wilson a quick one over, but doesn't comment on his obvious freedom. Nor does Joey when he descends down from the sky. The suit's held up, but it doesn't change the fact that he's been physically exerting himself for hours, and his stamina is clearly flagging.
Bruce has a plane parked a short walk away, and he herds them up and into it. It reminds Wilson vaguely of something from his own world, and the feeling only intensifies when it performs a vertical takeoff, clearing the rubble easily.
"So are we going to address the elephant in the room?" Slade asks, reclining back into his seat, his eyes on Wilson.
"No," Bruce says simply. "It's eight o'clock here, which means it's eleven at home, and we've been at this for more than twenty-four hours. I am going to sleep."
Bruce reaches down, pulling a sleep mask out from the side of his chair, and snaps it on before reclining back in his seat. Damian goes digging around in the planes various drawers, locating a variety of snacks and a deck of cards.
Even if they're exhausted, Damian insists on dragging them into a few rounds of cards. He's clearly planning on more, but nods off mid-hand which calls an end to the game.
Wilson's not that tired, and Slade clearly isn't either. Everyone else passes out almost immediately, and the two of them exchange a glance before Slade decides to simply stare out the window.
Wilson makes himself sleep, even if he could stay up. There's no better way to pass the time, and he doesn't appreciate the idea of playing solitaire for the three or four hour flight home.
They land at Gotham's main airport, taxiing into a private terminal, and Wilson and Slade nudge everyone awake before they disembark, heading for the cars. They've brought two, so it's comfortable, but there's absolutely an awkward tension in the air.
It's five in the morning by the time they get back to the manor. Alfred's already in bed, and it's clear no one wants to wake him up.
"Are we going—" Slade starts, only to get interrupted again.
"No," Bruce says. "I need a minimum of eight hours before we talk about anything. Someone show him where the guest rooms are. I don't have the energy to pretend like we could actually contain him right now."
Wilson snorts at that. It's nice to know he can't be bothered, even if it's just putting off the inevitable.
"I know where your guest rooms are," he says.
"Don't take the big one at the end of the hall," Jason says. "Take any other one."
"You got it," Wilson says. It feels... amusing. Casual. No one has the energy to get into any sort of argument, so no one does. He keeps expecting Joey to go off on him for having broken out, but he doesn't look like he has the energy either.
Goodnight, Joey signs instead, and everyone else chimes in with their own goodnights as they scatter back to their rooms. Wilson is given more or less free reign, heading into the guest wing and pulling open the door closest to the front of the house.
It's... a room. Plain. Simple. Intended to be basic and inoffensive. There's nothing personal about it, but there doesn't need to be.
Truthfully, he suspects his prison was a bit more plush, but there's also something refreshing about taking a shower in actual privacy.
His clothes are still back in his prison (and probably ruined), so he simply strips down and crawls into bed, letting sleep take him.
He's just going to have to figure it out in the morning, isn't he?
Wilson's first impression was that the guest bed probably wasn't any better than the bed he'd been sleeping on, but waking up on it proves him wrong. It is way softer, probably because it's allowed to have an actual boxspring underneath it rather than a glorified shelf.
He showers again just to let himself enjoy it, and then pulls his clothes from the day before back on. They're dusty, but he doesn't have any other options, and he figures he might as well go check in before they send someone to find him.
He nearly steps on the damn dog.
It darts out of the way, staring up at him, and Wilson scowls down at it.
"...Guard dog," he mutters under his breath. "Of course."
The dog trails him as he heads towards the kitchen, only to get caught in the hallway by Alfred. Alfred looks him over, wrinkles his nose, and gestures for him to go back.
"You're filthy," he says. "I can't have you tracking dirt all over the house, it's bad enough cleaning up from last night. Go back and shower, and I'll have your clothes brought to you."
It's his third shower in less than twelve hours, but it is sort of nice having clean clothes. More importantly, Alfred's put all of his clothes on top of the dresser, which is a very solid mark in the you'll be staying here category.
The dog's waiting when he reemerges from his room, which means someone's told the dog to watch him. It's not like he minds it, so he simply does his best to ignore it as he heads for the kitchen.
To his surprise, everyone's awake. To his complete lack of surprise, there's no question they were discussing him before he arrived, because the conversation cuts just as he enters hearing range.
They've gathered around the table, and Wilson realizes that Alfred intercepting him to make him change was probably not a coincidence.
Hm. He'd assumed they would have slept later.
"Morning," he says, ignoring the looks as he heads for the coffee maker. There's already a pot ready, so he grabs a mug (stacked neatly beside it), pouring himself out a cup.
"We were just talking about you," Slade says.
"I got that impression, yes." He turns, leaning back against the counter as he does his best to appear perfectly nonchalant.
Internally, he's anything but. Whatever happens right then is make or break. Three months is a long time, and if three months and saving a bunch of people isn't enough, he's not sure what will be enough for them.
"We came to a consensus that keeping you imprisoned wasn't doing anyone any good," Bruce says. "Among other things, we've been struggling to find you a therapist in part because no one wants to do house calls and deal with security."
Crap. That means he's going to have to have one, isn't he?
"So I get to stay in the house," he says, sipping his coffee.
"You'll have a room. You'll be... a part of the family's routine. You'll have..." Bruce pauses, glancing to Slade, who picks up automatically. It's almost seamless, only the slightest pause between the two of them.
"Responsibilities. Chores. Therapy."
"I get it," Wilson says. "Play nice, I stay in the house. Misbehave, and it's back to prison."
"That was the finest prison money could buy. You had books and plenty of things to occupy you."
"Prison's prison," Jason says, folding his arms across his chest. "Assuming he isn't going to object, we should be having breakfast."
Breakfast is an experience. They actually sit down and eat together, an experience Wilson hasn't had in... years. Not since he was still married, at the very least. Sitting down and eating with the family is a waste of time, but they all seem to enjoy the ritual of it so he lets it pass.
Maybe the solitude was getting to him more than he thought, because he finds himself enjoying it. Even though the conversation is painfully mundane—nothing of importance is discussed at all— it's still pleasant in a way it probably shouldn't be.
He's hoping to talk to Joey, and he gets his wish right as breakfast is wrapping up.
Can I talk to you, pop? Alone? Joey signs.
"Don't see why not," Wilson says as he finishes off his food. "Assuming I'm allowed."
He makes a pointed look at Slade, who rolls his eye but doesn't answer.
They end up in the living room—Wilson's not as familiar with the layout of the house as he'd like, something he's going to have to resolve quickly—and Joey sits down in one of the armchairs. He looks nervous, his hands wringing together as he composes his thoughts.
I'm sorry, he signs, and Wilson's eyebrows go up.
He's trying to puzzle out what Joey's done now when Joey heaves a sigh, reaching up to drag his fingers through his hair before dropping them back down.
You don't even know, do you?
"Obviously not, or I wouldn't be wasting my time playing guessing games with you over this."
I told them not to tell you we'd gone. That was my fault, he signs, wincing as he does.
"Which was a monumentally stupid move," Wilson confirms. "Don't apologize for something like that." Wilson's always been of the opinion that apologies should be used sparingly, if at all, and this situation absolutely does not quality. "Things worked out anyway. I'm out of my cell, we have a new routine, and things are just fine."
Joey's face pinches in an expression Wilson can't quite read. Bafflement? Annoyance? Impossible to say, and it's gone before he can get a decent handle on it anyway.
Can you just... promise me you'll keep trying? Joey signs, his face back to concerned.
"I already told you I would."
I'm worried you're treating this like a limited time thing. Like you'll act like you're better for a little while, and then you'll stop trying once you think you've won. That's how you operate, and if that happens...
"Then you'll send me back," Wilson says with a wave of his hand. "I get it. You don't need to explain it to me." It's frustrating that Joey keeps seeming to think he needs to explain it. He gets it. He knows the stakes. They've been pounded into his head again and again.
If he wants to keep Joey, he needs to play along. If he doesn't, they'll send him back.
"You haven't heard from your mother, have you?"
Joey pauses, squinting at him, and then shakes his head.
I told them not to pass anything on, Joey explains. So I shouldn't hear from her at all.
"You know your mother," Wilson says flatly. "That won't be the end of it."
Pop, I know you think mom is just that good, but she's not you good. She's not going to be able to hop dimensions just to come after me.
"If you think she's going to stop, you don't know your mother."
Joey makes an exasperated gesture, dragging his hands through his hair again, and then simply shakes his head.
I guess we'll find out when the package arrives, Joey signs. But pop, can we just... not talk about her?
"It's not going to make the problem go away, Joey."
Pop, are you even aware of how hypocritical you're being right now? Joey signs, looking more annoyed by the second.
Wilson doesn't. He doesn't think there's anything hypocritical about him pointing out that Adeline's going to be an issue, because he deals with his problems head on.
"Fine," he says. "I won't bring her up."
Joey softens immediately.
Pop, he signs. I'm just happy you're here. So try and take it slow and just give yourself time to adjust, okay?
"I think I've taken it plenty slow," he counters. "I could stand to speed up a bit."
Joey gives him a deeply, deeply skeptical look as he gets up.
Sure, pop, he signs. Just not too fast, alright?
It's almost like Joey expects him to get into trouble or something.
I've received some absolutely AMAZING fanart of this parts and past parts, as well as some great mini-fics, headcanons, etc. I wanted a place to share that content, so I put together a More to Being a Father discord server!
If you're interested and the link's already expired, please shoot me a message (ideally over on tumblr, where I'm pleasesavejasontodd) and I'll throw you a new link!
Wilson investigates the manor, familiarizing himself with everything it has to offer. There's a lot to see, and memorizing the layout takes the better part of the day. Every so often he runs into someone else, but mostly they just give him concerned looks before moving on without comment.
If any of them take issue with him investigating the house—and it's security features—they keep it to themselves.
With the house's layout firm in his mind, he focuses instead on the routine of the occupants, which is something else entirely. They all act deeply familiar with each other (even Joey, who hasn't been there very long), and seem to play off each other even without discussing it. Alfred calls to ask if someone would help prepare dinner, Damian and Jason exchange a look, and then Damian goes off to handle it without any sort of actual debate.
He sees the same thing with Joey. Damian apparently has some sort of class in the early afternoon, and Joey goes to gather some supplies from one of the bedrooms before leaving with him.
"Where are they going?" Wilson asks, watching out the front window.
"Art class," Bruce says, not looking up from his work.
"...Art class," Wilson says. "Joey doesn't need art class. He's already on a professional level."
"So are Damian's sketches. But it's a nice, neutral area for him to interact with people his own age."
"As opposed to normal school."
"Art can be enjoyed for its own sake," Bruce points out. "I doubt he'd enjoy repeating tenth grade."
When he tries, Wilson has to admit he can't imagine either Damian doing well in a traditional school environment. Art class doesn't seem worth his time (surely he has better things to do), but then neither does most other things.
He gets a rude awakening later that afternoon, when Slade hunts him down with what is obviously an ankle cuff in hand.
"Diana set the terms," Slade says. "You're just going to have to deal with them."
Of course they both know he could get out of the ankle cuff without only a bit of effort, but he lets Slade slap it on him anyway. It would be as easy as breaking his ankle, pulling his foot straight, and sliding the cuff off. It wouldn't even take him an hour for his foot to fix from a clean break like that, but he supposes the idea is more to let them know where he is if he leaves the house.
Which is another thing.
"Am I allowed to leave?"
"That's going to be a big fat no," Slade says. "Why would we let you leave? We just let you out of your cell."
"I don't remember being let out," Wilson says, and Slade rolls his eye.
"You know what I mean. Stick to the house. Adjust. Then we can talk about you leaving."
"I think I've adjusted just fine."
Slade gives him a long, hard look.
"You've got some growing still to do," Slade finally says and leaves him to it.
Wilson's never been one for books (they seem like a waste of time to him), but he's gotten into the habit of reading, so he ends up spending most of the afternoon in the library. It's nice to have an actual selection, and the ability to pick what he's doing is something he hadn't quite learned to appreciate until right then.
It's Alfred that finds him there around dinner.
"Master Timothy and Miss Gordon-Wayne will be arriving for dinner shortly," he informs him. "You are welcome to join us for dinner, or you can eat by yourself if you'd like."
"Don't see why I'd eat by myself. Is Joey going to be back?"
"He should be back shortly, yes."
Alfred hesitates, looking him over, and then clears his throat.
"I am sure he would appreciate if you made an effort to help prepare dinner. I believe it would also help Miss Gordon-Wayne relax, as this is quite a stressful time for her."
His first instinct is to be almost offended at Alfred flat out telling him what to do. After a second though, he's hit with a wave of relief. It's easy. Alfred is flat out spelling out for him what he needs to do to get in Joey's good books, which makes things much, much easier for him. He just has to follow the instructions and then everything will work out.
"Alright," he says.
It's from Alfred that he learns that while everyone in the house pitches in sometimes, Bruce is forbidden from providing any real assistance due to his absolutely atrocious cooking skills.
"It isn't that hard," Wilson points out. "Similar skill set to work. He should be just fine with it."
"I'm afraid Master Bruce has spent so long ignoring things like taste that he's left himself quite useless when it comes to anything food related. The poor man couldn't even make himself a sandwich."
"That's just sad," Wilson says as he slices carrots for salad.
"I agree," Alfred says, "but as I said, I am afraid he's quite helpless."
"Please tell me you're not gossiping about my lack of cooking ability," Bruce says, leaning in the kitchen doorway. He squints at Wilson, looks down at the food he's helping prepare, and then his eyes flick back to his face.
"I need to take some pictures, when you're free."
"Pictures?" Wilson asks, raising an eyebrow. "For?"
He can't possibly be planning another interview.
"I'm looking into the possibilities of a prosthetic eye."
Wilson stares at him in complete confusion.
"Hold on," he says, "a glass eye?"
"You look too similar to Slade with you both having happened to lose the same eye. I'd prefer to dissuade the notion that you're the same person, since you decided to claim to be his brother."
It's not as if he's never used a glass eye before, but the idea of having one long term is... strange. He's used to having one.
"And it's not a glass eye," Bruce adds. "It would be-"
"It has to be a glass eye."
Bruce pauses, squinting at him for a moment.
"...Why, exactly, does it have to be a glass eye?"
"Any sort of modern prosthetic is going to use surgical techniques that my body will heal through. If you want to go that route, give me an actual transplant."
Bruce huffs. It's clear he's just spent a whole lot of time researching prosthetic eyes only to have all that research tossed out in less than ten seconds.
"If you can't have a prosthetic, a transplant isn't going to work."
"It already worked," Wilson says, letting go of the knife to point at his one good eye. "I went blind once already. This is a transplant."
"Hold on, you went blind? And that's a transplant?"
"Long story," Wilson says. "What matters is that my body will accept transplants. I assume Slade doesn't know Doctor Villain?"
"If he does, I'm not aware of it."
Wilson finishes his work, setting the knife aside before leaving the kitchen, heading towards Bruce's office. He knows there's a computer there, and simply helps himself, pulling up the guest account and looking him up.
"Hold on," Bruce says, trailing after him. "What are you doing?"
"Doctor Arthur Villain is an expert at what he does. Ethically he's a nightmare, but he was my personal physician for years."
"He might not even be a doctor, you realize. Things vary between worlds."
Slade reaches up, turning the screen around to show Bruce.
Dr. Arthur Villain
Chief of Staff
Garden State Medical Center
"...Or he could be the exact same person you know. That doesn't mean he has any experience with doing what you want him to do. He doesn't know you, after all."
"You don't need experience," Wilson points out. "You just need to do damage to restart the healing process and get the transplant in the right place. He'll pick it up just fine."
"...I'll call him."
"Make sure you pronounce it correctly. It's the fastest way to piss him off if you don't."
Bruce sighs, reaching up to rub at the bridge of his nose.
"I'll look into it. Are you joining us for dinner?"
"I'm not going to sit alone in my room, if that's what you're asking."
"Please just be... accommodating of our guests. They're in a high-stress situation right now."
"You're asking me not to antagonize them," Wilson says flatly, watching Bruce for a reaction. His face pinches when he says it, making it clear he's dead on.
"Yes," he confirms. "That would be nice."
"I'll keep it in mind."
That's the best Bruce is getting out of him.
There is a baby.
Or maybe a baby isn't the right word, because they have to be almost four years old. They're more of a toddler or a child and they're running around through the manor at top speed. Wilson's introduce to them when they nearly collide with his legs as he turns the corner, and they slam to a halt so fast they start to topple over before he reaches down, catching their shoulder and setting them up properly.
"...Hi," the little boy says, looking nervous.
Bruce leans around Wilson to look down at him, and then waves. The little boy's face lights up immediately, and he darts around Wilson to latch onto Bruce's legs for a moment before being scooped up.
"Hi Jackson," Bruce says, nuzzling the boy. "How's home?"
"Mom said I could get all the coloring books I wanted," Jackson announces, practically bouncing in Bruce's hug.
"Jackson," Bruce says carefully, his face turning to Wilson. "This is Wilson."
"But you're a Wilson," Jackson points out not-so-helpfully.
Bruce seems momentarily at a loss as to how the hell he's going to explain Wilson, so he simply steps in and does it for him.
"Hey kiddo," he says. "What's your name?"
Jackson seems to abruptly get shy, half-hiding his face behind Bruce's shoulder.
"...Jack," he says quietly.
"Well, everyone else calls you Jackson, but you like Jack better, right? So why don't you call me Will, and everyone else can call me Wilson."
Jackson bobs his head enthusiastically, and Bruce carefully sets him down, watching Jackson run back towards the living room.
"Mmm. That's another similarity you have," Bruce says, and when Wilson raises an eyebrow, he elaborates. "Slade's also good with children."
"We both raised some of our own," he points out. "You skipped over the cute childhood years."
Bruce pauses, suddenly stiff. When he speaks, his tone is quiet but harsh.
"I know exactly how you raised your kids," he says simply. "And if you ever lay a hand on Jackson—"
"He's not my kid," Wilson interrupts. "I wouldn't—"
"I already know you did," Bruce says.
"That was different."
"It really isn't," Bruce says. He seems almost angry, a hard edge to his words. "The fact that you don't get that means I need to spell these things out for you. So do not touch him."
It's stupid. He's obviously not going to hurt him, and he's irritated that Bruce thinks he's going to.
"Tell me you're not going to," Bruce says flatly.
"I'm not going to," Wilson says. "I already said I'd play by your rules."
Bruce gives him a long hard look before leaving him behind.
Wilson is, if he's being entirely honest with himself, completely thrown. The whole encounter went to shit at record speed, and he can't quite place why.
It sticks with him even when he tries to put it out of his mind. He joins the group, earning himself nod from Tim and a small wave from Barbara.
"I hear you went down to help with them," Tim says as he settles in.
"And he broke his shoulder doing it," Joey says. Someone—maybe him, or maybe someone else—has set up a bluetooth speaker just behind Joey, letting him speak to the group without having to constantly wave for people's attention.
"Who hasn't broken their shoulder doing something monumentally stupid at one point or another?" Slade says, with earns a laugh from the group.
"Don't encourage him," Bruce groans. "He's going to take it to heart."
"You make me sound like an animal," Wilson protests. "I can control myself. That was an extreme situation."
"You broke out of prison," Joey counters.
"Because no one would tell me where you were, and I thought something had gone wrong."
Slade makes a loud hmmm noise.
"I can't really blame him for that," he finally says. "I'd have done something similar."
"Oh absolutely," Tim says. "If someone told me Jackson might be hurt and I wasn't allowed to see him I'd tear down the walls myself."
"Agreed," Bruce says.
Joey huffs but doesn't actually argue.
The whole thing feels like a dinner party as they settle in. Wilson ends up hemmed in by Slade on one side and Bruce on the other, a choice that he's confident was entirely intentional. There's smalltalk and food and the whole thing feels like it's sending him back in time. Every so often he catches himself expecting to see Adeline at the table, or to hear Grant and Joey bickering as kids.
"—got dad to come over," Barbara's in the middle of saying. "Now that he's retired, he can keep an eye on Jackson for us without us having to worry."
"He could always have stayed with us," Bruce points out.
"Your house is busy enough," Barbara says. "Tim wants to be close by—"
"What exactly is happening?" Wilson interrupts. They keep talking about the thing, but none of them have ever actually explained what's happening. He knows Barbara's going to be busy and apparently Tim will be too for at least some of it, but he's clearly missing key context.
"Did no one tell him?" Jason asks, looking around the table, but the response is a nearly universal shrug.
"No," Wilson says flatly. "You might as well tell me yourself."
"I can," Barbara says. "When Bruce and Slade got back from your dimension, they brought along some information on your world's Barbara Gordon. Apparently she had the same injury I did, but they were able to completely fix it with an implant. The other world sent over information on it, and they've been trying to replicate it here."
"And now you're going in for surgery," Wilson guesses, and Barbara nods.
"They don't think it's going to be as successful as hers, but even if I only get partial mobility..." She looks downright wistful at the very idea.
"Speaking of surgery," Bruce mutters as the world's most awful segue. "Wilson seems open to the option of having a prosthetic eye. He also recommended a surgeon."
"Villain?" Joey guesses.
"You know him?" Bruce asks, looking surprised.
"He helped me with some of my stuff," Joey says. "He's great, although a bit... uh, morally compromised. Assuming he acts the same."
"For what it's worth," Wilson cuts in, "a prosthetic eye won't work. It'll have to be a transplant."
"I wasn't going to bring that up while eating," Bruce says, making a face. Despite his protests, absolutely no one looks bothered. They were all at one point vigilantes, and they've all seen some very gross things before.
"Would a transplant actually take with your regeneration being as good as it is?" Barbara asks. She seems happy for a line of conversation that isn't about her impending surgery.
"It has before," Wilson says. He gestures up to his left eye. "Transplant. I went blind briefly."
"Wait, you were blind?" Joey asks. "When?!"
Wilson knows this is going to be a messy conversation, but he's not going to ignore Joey's question.
"You probably don't want to talk about it," Wilson says pointedly, but Joey's got a lead and he's not letting go.
"I really do."
"You really don't."
Slade lets out an exasperated sigh beside him.
"Pop, just tell me," Joey says. "We're already talking about it, and now I'm half expecting some other horrible secret to come spilling out."
"That's a good reason to not bring it up at the dinner table," Bruce says. "You can talk about it after, but I'm putting a moratorium on the subject now."
Joey scowls, but he doesn't push his luck, and Jason volunteers an entirely new subject, dragging it along.
They manage to go the whole rest of the night without any sort of explosion, and it's not until Tim, Barbara, and Jackson are leaving and saying their goodbyes that there's any sort of real confusion.
"Bye Will," Jackson mumbles from behind his father's legs, peeking out at the group.
"...Will?" Jason asks, his eyes raking across the group. "...Wilson?"
"I said he could call me Will. Apparently being Wilson is confusing," Wilson says, feeling a tad defensive.
"I don't think it's a bad name for you," Damian points out. "It would perhaps feel more natural than referring to you as 'Wilson' all the time, when almost everyone in this house is also a 'Wilson'."
"If it makes you happy, go for it," Wilson says. If he's not going to be Slade, he doesn't have any particularly strong feelings about his name. It's not like Wilson has a strong family legacy he wants to preserve. It's not like he wants to respect his father's legacy or anything like that. The only reason he cares is the connection it carries to Rose and Joey, and one of those connections has already been cut.
"...We can try it out," Bruce says with a shrug.
Jackson waves to him again, and they see the Gordon-Wayne's off for the night.
We need to talk, Joey signs to him the moment they're gone, and Wilson lets out a sigh.
Of course they do.
Wilson's already preparing himself for the lecture. For the you were an idiot for letting yourself go blind. He's braced himself as he settles into the living room, with Joey pacing nearby, never quite sitting still.
"So?" Joey asks. The speaker's still there, and his hands are apparently too busy fidgeting to sign. He's clearly expecting the worst.
"It wasn't a big deal," he says.
"Going blind is a pretty big deal, pop. The fact that you didn't want to talk about it because we might make a scene is also a pretty big deal."
"Remember that time I was in prison—"
"Remember that time I was in prison because you helped Superman arrest me?"
Apparently that's specific enough, because Joey doesn't prompt for more.
"I ended up helping Matthew Bland hijack his boat back. While there I had to go into a nuclear reactor. The damage to my eye was too intense for my healing factor to keep up, and I went blind."
Joey stops dead in his tracks, swinging around to stare at him.
"You were blind for my wedding?!" He blurts, looking more distressed by the second.
"Around then, yeah. I had some technology that worked as a stopgap measure, but mostly blind."
"And you—you didn't think to tell me about this? To let us know?"
"You were busy," Wilson points out. "I didn't want to stress you."
Joey then, just to prove a point, reaches forward to wave his hand in front of Wilson's face. Wilson rolls his eye.
"I'm not blind now, Joey."
"I couldn't be sure," Joey says, throwing his hands into the air. "Since you don't tell me anything."
"You don't exactly have solid ground to stand on as far as not telling people things right now, Joey."
That makes Joey falter, and he pauses for a moment, looking Wilson over again.
"...Fine," he says. "How did—"
Joey goes from calmed down to distressed in a blink.
"Pop," he says. Pop, he signs, switching over almost instinctively. Pop, how did you get your vision back then?
"Transplant," he says. "My body will accept donor organs."
Joey's horror only seems to grow, and Wilson's not sure why.
Pop, is that Dave's eye?
Oh. Right. Truthfully, Wilson had sort of forgotten it was once Isherwood's.
"Yeah," he says. "Villain nabbed it."
Joey throws his hands into the air.
"I give up," he says. "I just give up. How do I even handle this? How do I even address the fact that my dad's personal physician stole my ex's eye and is just walking around with it?"
"I didn't ask him to," Wilson points out. He feels like Joey might have missed that point.
"Not the point, pop!" Joey yells. "You have completely and utterly missed the point."
He's definitely missed the point, because he has no idea what the point is. Joey storms out of the room, and Wilson watches him go, staring at his retreating back in utter confusion.
He files that away for later, because he's pretty sure there's nothing else he can do about that, and goes back to what he was doing before Tim and Barbara even showed up.
It's Damian who finds him in the library, reclined back in an armchair, working his way through a book.
"Are you aware that your son is upset?" Damian asks. The dog—Wilson still doesn't know its name—is right at his heels.
"Yes." He doesn't look up from his book.
"And you are doing what about this...?"
"Nothing," Wilson says, flipping to the next page. "He'll get over it."
"That is not appropriate parenting."
Wilson slowly lifts his eye from the page to look at Damian.
"Which you would know all about."
"I have seen the consequences of poor parenting first hand. You are trying to do better, and this is not better. You need to address the situation."
"How exactly am I supposed to do that? This is something he's going to have to get over, because it's not as if I can give Isherwood his eye back."
"You should speak with him directly about your concerns," Damian announces, as if it's just that easy.
"That would require me to know what I'm supposed to be concerned with."
Damian scowls at him, reaching down to scratch between his dog's ears.
"Then ask him. Go knock on his door, tell him you would like to speak to him about what's wrong, and then do so."
"Why don't you go back and deal with your own stuff," Wilson says, his eye falling back to the book.
Damian, of course, proceeds to plant himself directly in front of Wilson, his arms crossed.
"I refuse to let you make a mess of this."
"Can't help but get the impression I already have," he says, his eye flicking across the page.
"Are you sulking in here because you believe it is not possible to fix it? Because that is incorrect."
Damian is really starting to get on his nerves, and that only intensifies when he reaches forward, pulling the book out of Wilson's hands. He lets him, but scowls just the same.
"You must go speak with him."
"I don't have to do anything, kid."
"I will tell Titus to bite you."
Okay, the kid has balls, he has to admit, and Wilson barks out a laugh at the idea.
"Fine," he says. "Tell Titus not to bite me and I'll go harass Joey until he explains what the hell I did wrong this time."
Damian scowls at him, but Titus pulls back almost instinctively, giving Wilson space to get up.
"Do not make this a mistake," Damian says. "Think about what he is thinking before you speak. And—"
"Save the lecture," Wilson says, waving him off as he drops his book onto the side table. "Nothing you can say to me is going to change what I'm doing anyway."
Might as well get that out of the way.
He heads for the family wing, ignoring most of the rooms. He's already figured out which room is which (Slade and Bruce sharing the end, a reading room with the door open, Damian's room with a whiteboard on the door), which makes finding Joey's room easy. He knocks, waiting for a response, and gets nothing.
He knocks again, gets no response, and then cracks the door open anyway. It's entirely possible Joey's inside and waiting, but obviously unable to call out a come in.
Joey isn't inside. The bed is neatly made, the room's littered with stuff, but there's no sign of his son. The art supplies—he spots at least three easels—make it clear that it's the right room, and he's right about to withdraw when he spots a familiar photo on the nightstand.
He reaches out, flipping it around, and finds that it's what he thought it was: an old photo of Joey, Grant, and him, right in front of his favorite barber shop. Joey's maybe ten, while Grant's closer to twelve or thirteen, and Joey's the only one who actually looks happy.
All Wilson can think is that it's a strange photo to keep, and he scowls at it before returning it to its place on the nightstand, withdrawing from the room.
Which leaves him with a problem. He has no idea where Joey is, and while his first instinct is to just bang on every door, he's pretty much just been given a lecture on why that's a bad idea. Instead, he takes the alternate option: he heads back to his room to go to sleep, deciding to deal with it in the morning.
For Wilson, there's no pretending anymore: he enjoys his freedom. Even if being captive didn't bother him that much at the time, now that he's free he can't imagine going back. He wakes when he pleases, decides his own schedule, and has significantly more privacy then he did before. He wakes just after six, speeds through a shower, changes into his clothes (he's probably going to have to get more, isn't he?) and then heads into the house. It sounds like most people are asleep, but he follows noise to the kitchen where he finds Alfred preparing breakfast.
"Excellent timing," Alfred says. "Do you think you could manage the eggs?"
"I can manage sunny side up or scrambled."
"That will do," Alfred says. "I assume you can find things yourself."
He can. The kitchen's laid out in a pretty easy to understand manner, and it's easy to get into the right mindset, cracking eggs into the pan and getting cooking. Alfred mostly leaves him to it, only occasionally checking in to make sure he's not, in his words, 'putting Master Bruce to shame'.
People start to trickle in around seven. Breakfast isn't quite the family meal that lunch or dinner mostly are, with Bruce apologizing as he heads out the door, shoving toast into his mouth.
"Work," Slade explains as he takes his own plate. "They want him to do a press conference about everything that happened."
"Of course they do," Wilson says. "They want a press conference about everything he does, I imagine."
Slade snorts and goes to sit down.
Damian and Joey arrive at the same time, with Jason arriving around the time Slade's finishing his own food. Only when everyone else is done does Wilson grab a plate for himself, taking a seat to eat.
Damian is giving him a look. It's a look that Wilson's perfectly willing to ignore, refusing to communicate in eyebrow wiggles like everyone else in the family seems perfectly willing to. Joey excuses himself, and Damian actually kicks him under the table, earning himself an admonishing look from Alfred, who doesn't miss a damn thing.
"Use your words," Alfred says.
"He should talk to Joey. Joey was obviously upset," Damian says. Wilson doesn't really agree. Joey looked just fine when he was there, and it's only the frown on Jason's face that tells him he might be wrong.
"Let him decide on his own terms. It's not going to be genuine if he's forced," Slade says as he clears his plate.
"In the short term, it hardly matters how genuine it is," Damian points out. "If he pretends long enough, the action may become genuine."
"Care to weigh in?" Slade asks, his eye sliding over to Jason where he sits in silence.
"I'm... I think giving him space might be better. The thing that kicked this off is something Wilson can't fix."
"Are we still calling him Wilson?" Damian asks. "I thought we all agreed that he was Will now."
"You agreed," Jason says. "It's not as easy as just saying that's his name."
"Well, I will continue to call him Will, and eventually you will all catch on," Damian announces. "As always, I must be ahead of the curve."
Jason rolls his eyes, then jabs his fork at Slade. "Any sign of our interdimensional mailing service?"
"Nothing yet," Slade says. "If they stick to fourteen days, it should have been yesterday, but we haven't always kept to exactly that."
Despite the general belief that Wilson should just leave it be, he ends up running into Joey anyway. He's not meaning to—not that he doesn't appreciate it—but instead runs into him when he goes up to the library to get another book.
Pop, Joey signs. He doesn't look any worse for the wear, or upset at all. It's like he's put everything said yesterday entirely out of his mind. Did you need something?
"I wanted to talk to you," Wilson says, which is a complete and utter lie. "I don't understand why you were upset. It's not like I chose what happened with my eye."
Joey looks unhappy almost immediately, turning away to walk back into the library. Wilson follows, trailing after him, and is rewarded for his perseverance when Joey turns back around to sign at him.
It's not about the eye, Joey signs. It's weird you have Isherwood's eye, but it's about the fact that you don't tell me things. It feels like you're always keeping secrets, and you tell yourself it's for my own good, and then I'm the one who gets hurt when they backfire.
"That sounds like something your mother would do," he says. "I don't keep secrets."
If I listed out every secret you've kept, we would be here for days. You hid that you were Deathstroke and it almost got me killed, you hid the fact that Etienne was working for Amanda Waller, you hid that someone was trying to kill Rose, you hid—
"I get it," Wilson says, holding a hand up. "I don't need a full list of all my personal failings."
That's the issue, Joey continues, looking more frustrated by the second. You admit those are mistakes but you keep doing it. You just have so much stuff that keeps coming out now that you're here, it's like every day I wake up and wonder what great big localized disaster is going to come slamming into my life that day.
"These aren't things I'm hiding from you," Wilson points out. "I thought you knew about a lot of them."
Pop, why would I know that I was working for HIVE? You know how I felt about them. Why would you think I'd be okay with that?
"Your mother could convince you to do anything. At one point you hated me, but you still let your mother talk you into Defiance."
I didn't hate you.
"You might as well have. You tried to kill me."
Pop, I was upset because you ignored me. I was in rehab and you weren't there when I needed you. Instead you went chasing after some insane time travel scheme to try and bring Grant back to life.
"And I almost had him."
You'd have destroyed the world as we know it in the process!
"Your brother would be alive."
Isn't that what matters? If he'd saved Grant, things would have been different. They wouldn't be having the argument at all. Things would have... they'd have changed. A change for the better, as far as he's concerned.
Pop, you always do this. You focus on what could have been rather than what is. I was right there, begging you to listen to me, and instead you focused on Grant.
"I'm here now, aren't I? I'm trying to fix things now."
Fixing things means admitting you made mistakes, and you don't. It means looking back at the things you've done and realizing that you have screwed things up.
"Can we not focus on the things I am doing right now? I came to you to have this conversation because I knew you were upset."
Look me in the eyes and tell me that's true, pop, Joey signs. He stares at him, his attention clear and obvious. And think this through before you answer.
Wilson opens his mouth to say yes. He almost, almost says it, and then he rethinks his answer.
"I was planning on talking to you about this."
Which is not the same thing as you seeking me out right now.
There's a knock on the door, and the two of them turn. Slade's there, having no doubt overheard the whole goddamn conversation, and he grunts in their direction.
"Wils— Will's therapist is here. She's waiting down in the office."
Wilson glances back to Joey.
"We can finish this conversation later."
Joey looks away, and Wilson lets out a sigh before leaving the library, heading down towards the office.
"I cannot impress upon you how important it is that you be honest with them," Slade says as they make the walk to Bruce's office.
"Because that went so well last time."
Slade shoots him a dirty look.
"I'm not sure you're aware how vigorously we vetted this one," Slade says. "They are so trustworthy I'd hand them a gun and put them in the room with the president unsupervised."
"The last one was vetted."
"The last one was recommended," Slade corrects. "There was a misunderstanding. This is different."
Slade nods his head towards the door, gesturing for Wilson to go in. He rolls his eyes, popping the door open, and steps inside.
The woman can't be a day over thirty-five, and she doesn't even come up to his shoulder. She's absolutely tiny, with straight black hair pulled back into a low ponytail. She's Hispanic, he guesses, and he's proven right when there's the slightest hint of an accent in her voice.
"William Wilson?" She says, raising an eyebrow as she settles down into Bruce's chair, leaving him to take one of the seats on the opposite side of the desk.
"More or less."
"So let me make a guess," she says, reaching down behind the desk to produce a neatly folded newspaper. His newspaper, the one with his interview. She slaps it down on the desk, raising an eyebrow as she leans back in her chair. "Everything in here was bullshit?"
"About what I expected," she says, collecting the paper and dropping it back in her bag. "My name is Leila Murillo. I could give you my list of credentials, but I don't think they'd mean much to you. What matters to you is that I take privacy very seriously. I originally declined this job because I wasn't willing to work with a prisoner whose privacy could not be guaranteed. One of the terms for me being here was that Mr. Wayne-Wilson disable security in the room."
"That seems like a particularly bad idea," Wilson says, his eyes flicking across her. He can't decide if she's brave, stupid, or both. Who gets rid of any possible security when dealing with someone like him? "Anything could happen."
"Mr. Wilson, are you planning to hurt me?" She says, leaning forward. She doesn't sound afraid. Just... direct.
"No," he says. He doesn't make plans like that, and playing nice with her is one of the terms he needs to follow.
"Then there's nothing to be worried about," she says, leaning right back in her chair.
Wilson rolls his eye.
"Listen, Doctor Murillo. I don't need therapy, but one of the conditions for keeping things going is that I play along. So I'll come in here, listen to what you have to say, and leave, but I'm not going to play along with whatever homework assignments you decide to give me."
"You haven't introduced yourself," she says, completely ignoring his argument.
There's a pause, her eyebrow raising. "Short for William?"
"Long for Wilson. My name is, at least effectively, Wilson Wilson. So now it's Will Wilson."
"What was your origin— nevermind, it was Slade, wasn't it?" She says.
Truthfully, he's sort of impressed. She's caught on a great deal faster than he expected, and he didn't even have to spell it out for her.
"Slade Wilson," she says. She takes a pen from Bruce's desk, twirling it in her fingers as she thinks things through. "You are actually from the other dimension. You are actually Deathstroke. You aren't his brother, you're just him, which means he's most likely also Deathstroke... Which would explain the need for secrecy."
She seems to abruptly finish, dropping the pen back into its place.
"You say you have no interest in therapy, but you're here anyway, so you might as well get something out of it. What goals do you have? What do you want to do while you're here?"
That's... a complex question. She's right that it would be a waste of time and he might as well try and get something out of it, but it's not like he has one big burning question she has the answer to.
Or he guesses he does.
"I want to figure out why my son's mad."
She seems momentarily taken aback as she looks him over.
"When you say mad..."
"He stormed out of our conversation. He was upset because my eye—" He pauses, gesturing up to the one that's actually still there, "—was originally his exes."
"...While I can see why that would be strange, there is very clearly a lot of context here I'm missing."
"Either way, I tried to talk to him about it, and we got into an argument. That was right before Slade went to get me for this conversation."
"Perfect," she says. "That means it's fresh in your mind. What was the last thing you were discussing?"
He doesn't bother to point out that things are effectively always fresh in his mind. His memory isn't perfect, but it's leagues better than most people's.
"I told him I was trying to fix things," he says. "I was planning to approach him to talk about what had happened, but then I ran into him in the library. I pointed out that I was trying to fix things, and he accused me of lying."
Murillo gives him a long, hard, appraising look.
"What exactly did he say?"
He clears his throat, mentally parsing through the signs to translate them into English.
"Look me in the eyes and tell me that's true, pop. Think this through before you answer."
Murillo's eyebrows shoot up, her surprise obvious.
"...is that verbatim?"
"No," he says. "He's mute, he was speaking in ASL. The grammar's different. English is subject-verb-object, ASL varies."
"But near enough?"
"More or less."
"Alright," she says, shifting in her seat as she runs over what he just said. "What was the thing he said that in response to?"
"I asked him to focus on the things right then, rather than dredging up old mistakes. I said I went to him to have the conversation because I knew he was upset."
Murillo raises a single eyebrow.
"Which was a lie."
"It wasn't a lie."
"It was, in your own words, a lie. You said that you went to him to have the conversation because you knew he was upset. But you just told me that you planned to approach him, but ran into him before you could."
"Yes," she says. "You lied. He accused you of lying. You insisted you didn't lie. But it was a lie. Deciding to do something is not the same as doing it."
"The intent doesn't change that you did not do it. It is a lie. Period."
Wilson scowls at her.
"Aren't you supposed to be on my side?"
"I am on your side, WIll," she says, her tone softening. "But being on your side doesn't mean agreeing with you on everything. In this case, it means being willing to directly call you out on your behavior because it's obviously having major impacts on your life."
"You've known me for ten minutes and you've already decided this?"
"I've known you for ten minutes and can already see how the consequence have taken their toll on you and the people around you. Anyone can see them. Everyone can see them. You've just become so used to them that you no longer recognize them for what they are."
"You don't know anything about me," he snaps, scowling to show teeth.
"And yet I seem to be in complete agreement with the people who felt things were bad enough you needed to be forced to have a therapist."
"Who are idiots."
"Our perspective on our own actions is always limited. Our decisions make sense to us, otherwise we wouldn't be making them, but that doesn't mean they're they right choices to make."
"Then what the hell am I supposed to do? What's done is done. I can't go back and change what I've already done."
"Improving doesn't just mean improving your future behavior. It also means reflecting on your past behavior and making amends for it. It means owning up to the mistakes you've made."
"I can't undo the things I've done," he counters. "Nothing I do is going to bring Grant back."
She holds a hand up.
"You forget I don't know any of the context. I don't know who Grant is."
She raises an eyebrow.
"...My eldest son. He died. My other son is Joey."
"Then focus on Joey."
"Grant started all this. He's the origin—"
"He died," she says flatly. "You can't bring him back."
She stares at him, and then lets out a deep exhale.
"...That's something we can deal with later. The point I was trying to make is that when we talk about making amends, we're talking about making amends to those who we still can make amends to. So I want you to think about that: how can you make things better for those you still have?"
"How the hell should I know?" Wilson says. He's feeling more frustrated by the second. "Isn't that why you're here? To tell me what I'm supposed to be doing?"
"No," she says with a wave of her hand. "I'm here to help you figure out what you're supposed to be doing. To help you sort through your thoughts and feelings, and to help you decide how to handle them in a productive way."
"Well you're not doing a very good job," he snaps, grinding his teeth as he sinks back into the seat.
"Think about it," she says. "Not about what he's done or how he's acted, but what he's said. What has he said he has issues with?"
Wilson grumbles for a moment as he tries to puzzle it out.
"He said he was angry I didn't tell him things. But—"
"When someone tells you how they feel, believe them unless you have a very good reason to believe otherwise. It's easy to second guess at people's motivations, but when you do that it just leaves them feeling unheard. So when he says I'm angry you keep things from me, take him at face value."
Wilson grumbles a bit more.
"So how am I supposed to fix that?"
As awful as the whole situation is, at the very least she's being fairly direct. She is, in simple terms, spelling things out for him. It's... easier. Definitely easier.
"Stop keeping things from him, for one. I'm sure you can think of at least one thing you've hidden from him intentionally."
He can. Of course he can. There's a half dozen things he hasn't told Joey, either because it didn't matter or because he'd assumed he would find out on his own, but there's only one thing he's hidden from him. The thought makes his stomach churn, and he glances away.
"You need to tell him," she says.
"It's not as easy as just telling him. I can't tell him that."
"I want you to think of the worst case scenario. What's the worst thing that could happen?"
He doesn't have to think.
"He could leave. Or tell me to leave. Cut me off entirely like he's cut off his mother."
The fact that Joey was willing to do that much has suddenly put things in sharp relief. The option is there now. Joey might actually do it.
Before, he never really felt like it was an option. He knew Joey would come back.
Now he doesn't know that.
"Now I want you to think about if that's realistic. Do you genuinely think that's what will happen? Or is it just your worst case scenario, that's unlikely to do so?"
He doesn't have to think about that either.
She seems momentarily surprised by that, and it takes her a second to pull her thoughts together.
"You still need to tell him. Secrets always have a way of coming out, and it will hang over your relationship. You can't improve yourself, or your relationship with your son, while you're sitting with a skeleton in your closet."
She pauses for a moment, and then winces. "...maybe not the best metaphor to use."
It's clear that she's considering the possibility that the skeleton in his closet is a literal skeleton in his closet, but he can't even let himself think about that. All he can think about is how Joey would react.
"You can," she says. "The fact that you obviously had one specific thing comes to mind, as well as your general discomfort... it will always weigh on you. It's the rock you're leaving in the soil, being forced to till around. You need to remove it."
"It'll backfire. He'll throw me out."
She pauses, then leans forward.
"At the risk of losing the job I literally just started with you... then you will at least know that you tried. Eventually it would have come out anyway. If you tell him, than at least it came out on your terms, with you trying to make things better, rather than him stumbling onto it on his own."
He has no idea how Joey could possibly stumble onto it, but the possibility does still exist. He could find out. If he found out in any other way...
"No," he says anyway. "If I don't tell him, things can continue as they are. I'd rather have a strained relationship with him until he finds out than no relationship from now on."
"You're looking at it the wrong way," she says. Her voice seems softer, more understanding, and she leans forward slightly, her body language screaming openness rather than professionalism. "If it's as bad as you say, then he will leave you if he finds out on his own. If you tell him—if he finds out because you are making a concerted effort to be better—then there is a chance he might not leave. Better to take a chance and try your odds than to guarantee a failure."
"I can't." His voice sounds quiet even to himself.
"It's something we can work up to," she says. "But the longer you wait, the lower the odds."
The odds are already low. The odds are already underground.
"I think we can wrap it up here," she says. "I think we covered a lot, and you obviously need some time to... relax. Adjust to your new circumstances. Mr. Wayne has my number and I'm on-call for emergencies, but otherwise I'll see you next Tuesday."
He nods, but doesn't say goodbye. For that moment, he's lost in his own head, his mind playing out over and over again Joey's possible reactions.
All of them are bad. Joey can't ever know the truth, not if Wilson wants to keep having a relationship with him.
Slade takes everyone to go down to the hospital to see Barbara early that afternoon. While there's a bit of arguing over it, he even manages to convince Alfred that a late dinner isn't that bad, taking him along with the boys. Slade doesn't seem particularly concerned by the possibility that Wilson could get up to something while he's home alone, but then he does still have the ankle tracker. The only real security precaution he takes is presenting Wilson with a phone of his own for 'emergencies', as if the house doesn't already have the best security possible.
He doesn't need to worry anyway. Wilson's too busy being lost in his own head to get up to anything.
He tries to focus on the things he should be doing, but gets nowhere. He can't focus on his book, and it's not as if he has anything else to do. He's agitated, wandering around the house, and even a halfhearted attempt to watch TV does nothing but make him even more agitated.
He doesn't know why. It shouldn't bother him half as much as it should. It's not like he needs to tell Joey. He's lived his whole goddamn life keeping secrets, and one woman who doesn't know what the hell she's talking about isn't going to change that.
Secrets are needed.
Secrets are necessary.
But telling himself that doesn't stop him from pacing around the house like a caged animal. It doesn't stop him from feeling impossible agitated.
He goes back to the kitchen, makes himself some food, and then gets back to pacing.
He needs something to do. He needs to keep himself busy before he goes crazy. He has no idea how long they'll be out, but he knows that if he's there another few hours he's going to end up breaking out of the house just so keep his mind occupied. In the end he settles for bypassing the top level of security on Bruce's computer, using it to pull Villain's website and scrolling until he finds his phone number.
It is, to his surprise, the same damned number he's already used to. The realization makes him pause, and after a moment he picks up his phone again, dialing not the number on the website, but Villain's personal number.
It rings twice—just enough time for Villain to squint at the unknown, probably unlisted number—and then he picks up.
"Who is this?" Villain asks. He sounds the same.
"Afternoon, Doctor Villain," Wilson says, being careful to pronounce it the right way. It's the fastest possible way to get in Villain's goodbooks, because he's so used to hearing villain rather than will-hane.
"That doesn't answer my question," Villain says, although he seems to have relaxed almost immediately.
"That's because it's a complex question to answer. To simplify things down as much as possible, I'm from an alternate dimension where I'm very familiar with your counterpart in that universe. You appear to be fairly similar to the Doctor Villain I know, which is why I'm reaching out to you now rather than letting my benefactor do so."
There's silence on the line for a good thirty seconds.
"...Is this connected to Mr. Wayne-Wilson reaching out to my office?"
Ah, Villain always was quick on the upkeep.
"Yes. We're looking for someone to do a whole-eye transplant."
"...You are aware that a whole-eye transplant is beyond the reach of current medical technology?"
"I believe I just established that Mr. Wayne-Wilson is my benefactor," he points out. "You also managed to restore my sight once before. Most importantly, I have an extremely powerful healing factor—I can repair a broken limb in an hour. If the back of my eye is damaged properly and the donor eye attached correctly, my body will simply accept it and heal it back as normal."
Villain doesn't say anything, but Wilson swears he can hear an ever so slight noise of excitement on the phone. Villain always was a massive sucker for things like that. Not even for getting his name out (saying he could do something in a situation that would be impossible to repeat wasn't worth much), but science for the sake of science. Science to watch how things went.
"...Obviously I would need to see you first."
"Get back to Mr. Wayne-Wilson," he says. "Set things up with him, and then the sooner the better."
"I'll make sure my people return his call immediately," Villain says. There's definitely excitement in his voice. "I look forward to seeing you in the near future."
They say their goodbyes and Wilson's hung up before he realizes that he never even gave his name.
Ah well, there's time for that later.
He feels less anxious afterwards, reminding himself that he is taking steps. He is making things better. Alfred sends him a message asking him to start some food so dinner isn't so late, and by the time everyone else—including Bruce, who met them at the hospital—gets home, he's well into cooking.
"The surgery went well," Jason tells him, even though he hasn't asked. "She's going to need a while to recover, though."
Dinner doesn't taste as good as it normally does that night, but then they also don't have to wait until ten for Alfred to finish it by himself. The extra set of hands speed things on, and Wilson finds that he likes having the work. The worst thing, for him, is having nothing to do, and Wayne Manor always has something that needs doing.
Which is why he catches himself off guard after dinner when the words, entirely without meaning to, come out.
"I need to talk to you about something."
Joey turns, startled, his eyes going wide. He looks tired already, even though nothing's happened, and then his lips purse with barely contained apprehension.
He's nervous. He doesn't know what Wilson's going to say, so he's nervous. That's the reaction that talking to his father leads to. That's the emotion Wilson elicits in his son.
It's too late to take it back. He's committed. He's said the words and if he tries to take it back, Joey will know there's something wrong. Joey's got his mother's stubbornness, and he'll dredge it up regardless.
Is it a big thing? Joey signs.
Is it urgent?
His instinct is to say yes. He wants it over with.
Joey squints at him, looking him over for a moment, and then nods.
Then we can talk in the morning. I'm already pretty tired, and I don't think I'm in the right state for... whatever this is.
"We can handle it in the morning, then," Wilson says, screaming internally. He should just force the issue. He should just say they need to talk right then. But the other half of him is desperate to avoid the conversation for as long as possible.
Joey stares at him for a moment, as if fighting with himself over what to say, and then turns away, leaving Wilson standing in the hallway.
He regrets ever having opened his stupid fucking mouth.
Wilson wakes hours later to the sound of someone knocking at his door. He doesn't have an alarm clock (or any clock at all), but he squints at his phone screen and establishes that it's three in the morning.
Three in the morning and someone's knocking on his door.
"Come on in," he calls, sitting up in bed. He's expecting Slade or Bruce, coming to tell him something's gone wrong (god help him if it's Adeline), but it's Joey who opens the door.
He takes a deep breath, reaching up to rub at his eyes. It's late. It's too late for this. But Joey doesn't look like he's slept a wink, and he knows what that means.
"Let me guess," he says, "you want to do this now."
Couldn't sleep, Joey signs when he looks up.
"Figured," Wilson says. "Might as well do this here. No cameras."
He could just stay in bed, but instead he gets himself out anyway, heading over to the drawer and grabbing a shirt and some sweatpants. Joey averts his eyes politely while he dresses, and only once he's done does he return, flipping on the lights, closing the door, and sitting down hard on the side of the bed.
"Alright," he mutters. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to say it. "...Any chance I could get you to just forget I even said we needed to talk?"
Not a chance, Joey signs. You should know that.
He does know that. He never really expected to get anything but a no.
"I have been... encouraged to be honest with you. To lay it all on the table."
That's what I want, Joey signs. He looks so... so fucking hopeful that it stabs at Joey like a knife. He thinks this is a good thing.
"It's not, Joey. You just don't know that."
I know what I want, he signs. I don't want there to be any more secrets between us. I want the truth.
Joey doesn't know what he's asking for. He doesn't know the consequences of that truth. Wilson knows it's going to destroy him, but with everyone telling him over and over again that it's better to get it over with...
"Fine," he says. "Then I'll tell you everything. All the way back to the start."
He does. He tells him, bit by bit, everything. A lot of it Joey knows (at least in part), but he tells him anyway just in case. He knows about Ettienne. He knows that Wilson slept with her, and also that she was working for Amanda Waller and HIVE. When he mentions his suspicions that Adeline might have set things up, he can see the distress on Joey's face that tells him that Jason didn't share that detail with him. He doesn't blame him, either. It's an unpleasant though.
He tells him about what happened in Arkham, even if he was there for some of it. He tells him all the things about Defiance that he didn't know about. About what happened with Isherwood. About being taken by the Society. He keeps things direct and to the point, refusing to embellish things as he works back and back.
He tells him about Terra, and the history he had with her. He's sure Joey knew, but he looks distressed anyway as he listens in silence, his body stiff.
He tells him about Grant. Not only about trying to save him, and the things he did for that end, but the things before that. About Grant dying in his arms. About Grant running away. About goading him into leaving in the worst way possible.
For a moment he thinks Joey is going to walk out then and there, but he holds his place.
He starts to run into smaller details. He tells him about hiring a family to give Rose a taste of her heritage, about his blindness and his interactions with Tanya. He tells him about Adeline ordering a hit on Rose, and her involvement in Wintergreen's kidnapping. That information is new to Joey, and his hands ball into fists, his anger barely contained.
At least it's not directed at him.
But eventually he runs out. The tap runs dry. He can't figure out any more words he could say to drag it out any longer.
Is that it? Joey signs. He seems... confused. I think I might have over-prepared for this. I knew most of that.
What he didn't know was mostly stuff that didn't matter all that much.
"No, that's not it," Wilson says, and Joey goes stiff. This is what he was dreading.
Was that all just buildup?
"I didn't want there to be anything else. If I'm going to tell you everything, I wanted it to be everything."
At least then he'll be able to say he doesn't have any secrets. At least he'll have that much, not that it'll make any actual difference.
So? Joey signs, and Wilson realizes he's been sitting there for several minutes without saying anything.
He has to say it. He has to. He doesn't have any other option, doesn't have any other choice.
But he doesn't even know where the hell he's supposed to start, so he starts in the worst place imaginable.
"I was the one who cut your throat."
Joey doesn't move. Wilson swears he isn't even breathing.
"It wasn't Walsh. We got you away from him. We brought you home. Your mother set you down and told you to go upstairs, and then she went after me. You know how our fights got. You know how violent they were. She was beyond furious to find out how I'd been spending my time. She wanted to be part of it, and the fact that someone had to be home with the kids didn't sit right with her. We fought, like we always did."
Joey still hasn't moved. Wilson's never seen him so still. He pushes onward because he's already said it, and now he has to finish.
"No, saying it was like we always did understates it. It was worse. A knock-down-the-walls kind of fight. She was trying to kill me, I was trying to stop her, and then you... you walked in between us."
He still remembers it perfectly. He'll never forget it, won't ever allow himself to forget it. It's burned into his memory, a truth he tries not to think about.
"You're alive because I managed to stop myself in time to keep it from being a lethal blow. I only cut your throat, rather than taking your head off. Your mother thought you were already as good as dead, so she took her gun and tried to make sure I'd join you. Obviously she didn't finish the job."
He keeps waiting for Joey to do something. To sign. To leave. Anything. Instead he stands there in perfect silence, still staring.
Wilson makes a desperate attempt to justify it. To explain himself. Anything to fill the silence.
"It was an accident. When I was up and walking around, you were still in the hospital. Adeline barred me from the hospital. I was in the hall when you woke up, and when you woke up you seemed to want me there, so she let me in, and I thought for sure you had forgiven me."
But he'd been so, so wrong.
"But you didn't remember. The doctors said it was probably the trauma and the blood loss. Adeline and I... we made an agreement. That we'd never tell you. That we'd take the secret to our graves."
A part of him is still shocked she kept to it. A part of him is sure she would have busted it out.
But she'd kept quiet. She'd kept his secret, even if only to dangle it over his head.
"That's it," he says. "That's everything."
He finally lets it go silent. He can't fill the space any longer.
Joey is still staring. He's still silent. He hasn't moved, and the silence is already scratching at Wilson's mind. He just wants a reaction, even if it's a get the fuck out.
Anything but the silence.
When Joey moves, it feels agonizingly slow. He reaches up, his fingers ghosting over the thick scar tissue across his throat, tracing it along.
Wilson almost wants to beg. To ask him to do something. Anything but the silence that feels like a knife going through his guts. He can't stand it, because it feels so damning.
It is a relief when Joey starts to move towards him. It is a relief because at least something's happening. At least he doesn't have to deal with Joey's silence (the silence that he caused). If Joey punches him, he deserved it. If he stabs him, so be it.
Instead, Joey wraps his arms around Wilson's middle and pulls him into a hug.
It's so alien that he doesn't even register it as what it is right away. His brain seems to hiccup, trying to understand what's happening. It doesn't make any sense, because Joey knows how he hurt him, and he can't—he just can't process it.
Joey isn't explaining either. He can't, and it's Wilson's fault, and all he can do is sit there as Joey hugs him. It takes him almost a minute to process that Joey is not, in fact, choking him, and a minute longer to hesitantly return the gesture, wrapping his arms around Joey's back and pulling him close.
Even if everything goes wrong after, at least he got this one last hug.
He keeps waiting for it to end. At some point Joey's going to decide he's indulged his father enough, pull back, and slug him in the face. He knows it's coming, so it's really just a matter of time. He considers (just for a moment) stopping it then and there to get it over with, but it isn't really something he wants to get it over with.
He wants it to last forever. Joey's the last thing he has, and when he loses him, he'll have nothing left. He's not stupid enough to think he can force his way back into Rose's life without consequences, and Grant isn't an option.
It's only Joey. It has to be Joey, only he's lost him too.
His arms are starting to go numb when Wilson realizes that he's made a mistake. Joey has—at some point—simply fallen asleep in the hug, his entire body weight leaning against him as he sleeps.
Wilson almost wants to laugh because he's been sitting there for ages waiting for Joey to curse him out for it, and instead he's actually fallen asleep, exhaustion conspiring with the late hour to push him to the point where he simply can't stay awake.
He's careful as he eases Joey down, letting him fall onto Wilson's pillow before grabbing a blanket and tucking him in. He can't risk waking him by actually putting him under the covers, but the blanket will do, and Wilson allows himself a small sigh of exhaustion.
Eventually he's going to wake up. Eventually he's going to be mad. But he figures he's got another five or six hours before that comes true, so he pulls away from the bed, taking a seat in the only chair his room has, his body turned to watch the bed.
Years of experience let him fall asleep with a practiced ease, still half awake to watch for trouble.
He wakes closer to seven than he'd like, with Joey still asleep in bed. He watches the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he sleeps. He's torn between going about his normal routine like nothing happened and simply staying there, and in the end it's staying there that wins out.
He stays in his seat long after Alfred must have started breakfast. He's still in his seat as the sun rises, making the room almost painfully bright.
He's even still in the seat when someone knocks at the door and Joey jerks awake.
"...Wilson?" Jason calls. "You in there?"
"I'll be out in a bit," Wilson calls back immediately, watching Joey. He's rubbing at his eyes, clearly a bit confused as to what he's doing in the guest room, but then he spots Wilson and goes stiff, suddenly awkward.
There's no noise from the door, and Wilson's sure Jason's left.
Pop, Joey signs.
Whatever he was going to say catches in his throat. He can't find the words. He can't figure out what the hell he's supposed to say. All of a sudden he wants the goddamn therapist back, because at least she can give him a script or something like that.
Pop, Joey signs again. Were you up all night?
"I slept," he says. His voice sounds hoarse.
I know you're upset. I know it was hard telling me. But I... I didn't know, but this wasn't new information, either. I've known you and ma had a terrible relationship already. I knew you fought. I guess I just... forgot the details.
Forgot the details. Like he's forgotten his friend's coffee preferences, rather than having forgotten who cut his fucking throat.
It was bad, Joey signs. It shouldn't have happened. But it was a decade ago, and I'm not going to throw you out of my life because you were finally honest enough with me to tell me the truth.
He's missing what Joey's saying. He's signing, but he can't get his eye to focus on what the signs are. It's all blurry, even as Joey hops off the bed, coming closer. He just needs to focus. He squints, but it doesn't become any clearer, even when Joey's right in front of him.
It's not until Joey pulls him into another hug that he registers what's happening. He's crying. He hasn't cried in a very, very long time, but he's crying anyway, the tears making it impossible to read Joey's signs.
Joey rubs at his back like he's trying to be comforting, and Wilson makes an attempt to simply force himself to stop. It's frustrating. He feels... out of control. He's not used to feeling out of control, and the sensation only gets worse when there's another knock at the door.
"Will? Wilson?" Damian calls. "Breakfast is already on the table."
"Coming," he croaks and his voice sounds all wrong, which only makes him feel more frustrated.
Apparently it sounds wrong enough to distress Damian, because he pops open the door, gawking blatantly at them (even though the tears it's hard to miss that), and then quickly jerking the door shut and seeming to bolt.
Fantastic. Great. Now everyone's going to know, because the bats can't keep a secret to save their goddamn lives.
Joey leans back, reaching up to wipe at the tears. The only mercy is that they finally seem to be slowing down, and Wilson reaches up, rubbing at his eye with the back of his sleeve.
I don't think I've ever seen you cry before, Joey signs, and Wilson lets out a choked laugh in response.
"You just don't remember," he says. It's been a long, long time, and he wishes it were longer. He hates the feeling. His throat feels tight, his stomach aches, and he's sorely considering just rolling back into bed and giving up on the day entirely.
Joey pulls him into another hug, and Wilson forces himself to take several deep breaths, trying to steady himself.
I'm going to go get dressed, Joey signs. Maybe we can eat breakfast together?
"I... would like that," he croaks out. He hates that he can't even manage that much. He just needs to... to drown himself in the shower until his body stops fighting him over every single thing.
Joey leans in, pressing a kiss to his forehead, and then pulls back.
Love you, pop.
"Love you," he says, and that comes out as a croak too.
He's relieved when Joey finally goes, because it means he can finally break down in privacy. He doesn't have to show his face until he's finally worked it all out of his system, and not a second before.
There is absolutely no denying that they know. There's not even any point pretending, because when he finally makes it to breakfast there are a suspiciously large number of bats lurking nearby, giving him appraising looks like they're expecting to see him crack at any minute.
Alfred's handled food, and Wilson's halfway through eating when Joey shows up, settling down to eat.
People keep conveniently leaning in to check on them, making him roll his eye. They're gossips, the lot of them.
Any package yet? Joey signs at Bruce when he wanders in, no longer bothering with the pretense of having just happened to walk by.
"Not yet," Bruce says. "They're a few days overdue, but all we can really do is wait."
"Villain call you yet?" Wilson asks, and Bruce gives him a hard look.
"He did. He also mentioned that you'd called him."
"I thought I'd pique his interest, see if we couldn't hurry things along."
Bruce clearly doesn't like that either.
"I would hope that helping someone in need would be enough."
That's not how Villain works, Joey signs. He wants the really weird cases.
"Well, we've got a lot of them," Slade says, arriving just behind his husband. "So hopefully that's enough."
Despite their clear interest, no one in the house actually asks. No one questions that he was crying, or even mentions Damian practically bursting in on them. He suspects Jason knows—he can't imagine Joey would keep it from him—but the entire matter goes uncommented on.
He spends most of the day in the library, waiting for something to go wrong. Alfred drafts him in his constant war against dust in the house, sending him in to clean the other guest rooms while he handles the largest one. As simple as the work is, it at least gives him something to do, helping him keep his attention away from the dozen possible ways things could go wrong.
"Villain is going to show up tomorrow," Bruce says over dinner. "That's the earliest he can get here, and I said that was fine."
"Is Barbara at home yet?" Damian asks, and Slade shakes his head.
"Won't be for a few days. She's just fine, so you don't have to worry."
Jason drafts them all for a family movie night, which more or less confirms Wilson's suspicions that Joey's told him what happened. It seems like an explicit make nice activity.
"I know I said family," Jason says, "but that counts Joey and you, Will."
He'd rather be reading, but Joey's interested in the movie, so he settles in to watch with them anyway.
Alfred seems to have a consistently expanding list of chores for him to do. Any time he's not actively doing something with the family, the old man ambushes him out of nowhere with some new task. He needs someone strong enough to move furniture. He needs help with preparing dinner.
Wilson can't tell if Alfred's trying to make him feel welcome, or trying to get every bit of free labour he can manage out of him before he wises up and starts making excuses for why he can't help.
The extra work carries him through the rest of the night and into the morning, when Alfred bullies Bruce into letting him tale Wilson to do groceries with him.
"I require extra assistance, since this will be a particularly large load of groceries."
"Is Villain not supposed to be coming?" Wilson asks, raising an eyebrow.
"In the afternoon," Bruce says, and his tone makes it clear he's already given in to Alfred. "Just be back before lunch."
It's the first time—barring the emergency relief efforts—that he's been allowed outside the manor since his captivity started. Alfred lets him drive, directing him as they go.
Wilson hasn't gone grocery shopping in years, and the experience of helping Alfred is... something else. They draw almost no attention, probably because no one's expecting to see them, and make it out within an hour, the car sinking beneath the weight of the groceries.
They arrive back at the manor to find an unfamiliar car at the gate, and Wilson leans over, getting a better view.
"That's Villain," he says. "You might have to put things away on your own."
"I'm sure I'll manage somehow," Alfred says, and Wilson eases the car in once Villain's been let in.
He greets him in the driveway, with Bruce coming down to meet them, but Villain is very much the man he's familiar with. He has that same clear desire to do things simply because they haven't been done, and very obviously has that exact same moral flexibility that drew Wilson to him in the first place.
Bruce runs him through the basics, but Villains eyes won't leave Wilson as they talk.
"I'm not one to be dissuaded by the fact that this sort of surgery has never been successfully completed before," Villain says, "but this would require adequate payment—"
"I'll take care of it," Bruce says. "My people can hash out the details with your people. Billing, and all that."
Villain, not one to be dissuaded by the fact that Bruce is one of the richest people in the country (if not the richest, Wilson isn't quite sure), manages to get Bruce to produce a cheque just to really commit.
"I'll go clear it with the bank," Bruce says. "And give you a bit to hash out any details. Wil— Will has a clear schedule."
The moment he's gone, Villain makes even less of a secret of looking him over, inspecting Wilson blatantly.
"I said I would expect a demonstration of your abilities..."
"You didn't," Wilson says. That doesn't stop him from reaching down, snapping his own thumb the way he would if he were going to escape from cuffs. Most people are horrified when he does anything like that, but Villain leans forward, his eyes wide with excitement.
"Amazing," he murmurs softly, watching Wilson's thumb slowly shift back into place. "Should I assume your brother has something similar?"
"Not as impressive as mine," Wilson says with a snort. "I'm afraid I got all the luck."
"So the surgery, as I see it, will be simple. I need to get the donor eye ready, then cause damage in such a way that I can bring the two pieces together. Your body should accept the donor eye, repairing the damage on its own. Not exactly technical by any means."
"Donor eyes," Wilson says. "I want both done."
Villain's mouth twitches.
"You are asking me to remove your working eye?"
"I'd rather they match," he says. It's a lie, but it's not as if Villain needs to know that. "Now is better than later."
"You could go blind," Villain says, but it's the weakest, most half-hearted protest Wilson's ever heard. Completely perfunctory.
"I'll manage. I've already had it done once, and I'm sure you can manage just fine."
"Getting two intact eyes shouldn't be too much of an issue," Villain says, leaning back in his chair as he steeples his fingers, mouth qurking with amusement. "Should I let you pick the color while we're at it?"
"I was kidding."
Bruce takes that moment to rejoin them, cheque in hand.
"Apologies for the wait," he says even though he's been gone two minutes at the most. "When do you think you'll be available?"
"That would depend on when a donor becomes ready. Cornea transplants have no waiting list, and I doubt a whole eye will be that much more difficult to acquire."
The fact that he says whole eye rather than whole eyes makes Wilson like this Doctor Villain as much as he liked the last one.
"I'll call you," he adds. "It could be tomorrow. I understand you have medical facilities on site?"
"We have a simplistic surgical suite in the cave."
"Perfect. I can bring most of my own supplies, but considering his healing factor, I shouldn't need anything too complicated."
Bruce frowns, but he doesn't ask until they've seen Villain off.
"Did you really need to break your thumb?" He mutters, reaching down to take Wilson's hand, inspecting the damage.
"It was the fastest way to demonstrate," he points out. "It'll be healed in a little bit. It's a minimal break."
"You do this too often," Bruce mutters under his breath, and Wilson doesn't bother holding back the laugh.
"You really don't know the half of it."
Friday is apparently Thomas visiting day. The idea of half the family going down to a prison to visit him seems absolutely insane, but it seems to be a part of their regularly scheduled lives. Mercifully, Joey stays behind, which means Wilson doesn't have to worry about anything happening while they go down to visit Blackgate Prison.
He supposes it could be worse: it could be Belle Reve.
The day is largely uneventful (Alfred has him preparing dinner largely on his own, and he spends the rest of his time memorizing the old man's recipe book) up until the family stumbles back in after their visit is done.
"That was a visit," Jason mutters. "Apparently Thomas started working as a baker, which was great, except it turns out someone's been using the bakery to smuggle in drugs."
I'm sure that went over well with him, Joey signs.
"They are unable to decide if they want to punish him or give him an award," Damian announces.
Wilson doesn't really know Thomas, but he's heard enough stories. He likes to think they'd have gotten along fairly well—they do have similar modus operandi—but it's not like he'll find out any time soon.
He spends the evening helping Alfred in the greenhouse, joined by Damian who seems more invested in the bird feeders he's set up.
It isn't until the following morning that Wilson catches on to what exactly is going on.
It's six-thirty in the morning and he's elbow deep in potato peelings when he suddenly clues in like someone's dropped a goddamn hammer on his head.
"Hold on," he blurts, swinging his head around to look at Alfred. "You're doing this on purpose."
"Whatever do you mean?" Alfred says, but rather than looking confused, he just looks amused, like he's shocked it took so long for Wilson to get it.
"I thought you were trying to make me feel like part of the house, but that's not what this is. You're gunning for me to replace you."
"You are conveniently available, are already privy to the family's secrets, and are picking things up quickly," Alfred says, apparently not afraid of buttering him up. "I tried something similar with Slade when he first arrived, but I'm afraid it was a bit too hard a sell for him."
"And you expect me to just take it up?" He asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Do you have something better to do with your time than ensuring that your son is getting proper meals and has a comfortable living situation?"
Oh. Oh that's dirty.
"You're using Joey against me."
"I am simply reminding you of your own motivations," Alfred says. "At times, it seems you become... unfocused and require reminding. You care for him and wish for the best, and this is a simple way for you to find a place within the family."
"As the help."
Alfred gives him a long, hard look.
"Offense taken. It is an immensely satisfying position."
"It's not for me."
That's going to be a hard no. The idea of spending the rest of his life as the Wayne Butler? Absolutely not.
"What about cooking?" Alfred asks, raising an eyebrow. "You seem to enjoy the work, and it's considered, on the high end, a highly skilled career."
Wilson wants to say that Alfred has his number, but really he has Slade's number, and Wilson's number just happens to be one off from it.
He always did like a challenge. And it would take advantage of his knife skills...
"I'll think about it."
Alfred gives him a knowing look and gets him right back to work.
Bruce gets a phone call in the middle of breakfast and excuses himself, before almost immediately leaning back in.
"Wi— Will. Sorry if this is a weird question, but what's your bodies tolerance against disease?"
"I haven't had a cold in more than twenty years," he says. "Pretty sure I can't get sick."
"Same as Slade, then. Hold on."
Bruce ducks back around the corner to finish the call.
"What was that about?" Jason asks.
Probably Villain found a donor eye no one else can take, Joey guesses.
"That seems too fast," Jason says. "It hasn't even been a week."
"Relatively low demand, fairly high supply," Slade says. "Add in the fact that he can take less than ideal samples..."
"Villain's just fast," Wilson points out. "He has connections."
"Hopefully legal connections," Jason mutters under his breath.
Doubt it, Joey signs.
"If it gets the job done, it gets the job done," Slade says, which is more or less Wilson's exact mindset right then. They don't often sync so perfectly, but when they do...
Well, then it's just kind of weird.
Bruce returns, tucking his phone away, and takes his seat at the table once again.
"That was Villain—"
"Obviously," Wilson says.
"—and he'll be here this afternoon. He's made a few requests, but I think we have everything he needs here already."
They should probably spend the day prepping for surgery. They don't. Instead, Wilson spends the middle of the day in the library, working his way through the complete set of cookbooks for more insight. When Alfred comes to get him, it's because Villain's already there... and he didn't come alone.
There's a squad of four people with him, a mix of surgical assistants, nurses, and one very grumpy anesthesiologist.
"Double it," Wilson says as they head down to the cave's emergency surgical bay.
"What?" Villain asks, looking confused.
"Not you," Wilson says with a wave. "Her." He points to the anesthesiologist. "Whatever you were going to give me, double it."
"That would kill you."
"If you don't want me awake, you'll double it. I burn through sedatives like they're nothing."
Villain seems happy with the surgical setup, taking the better part of an hour to get everything set up before he starts kicking people out of the cave.
"Certainly not the strangest place I've performed surgery," Villain says.
See you on the other side, pop, Joey signs, giving him a quick wave as he heads out of the cave. None of the bats are treating the surgery very seriously, which probably has a great deal to do with Joey telling them the story of Wilson getting eviscerated by Rose's sword the night before.
They're well aware of how strong his regeneration is, after all.
"We're starting minimal," the anesthesiologist says. "I'll just keep adding more until we see when you go under, and that should give me an idea of your tolerance."
"I got that," she says, giving him an unimpressed look. "So we'll just see how high."
He strips off in the cave's showers, returning in surgical scrubs of his own. He settles down on the bed, staring up at the overly bright light, and then catches himself, reaching up to peel off the eye patch.
Villain snaps on his gloves, looking all too excited by the whole thing.
"Let's get to work."
The clear reluctance by the team to simply drug him to the gills means it takes almost twenty minutes before he passes out, and the last thing Wilson remembers is the deeply amusing annoyance on the anesthesiologist's face as he's proven exactly right.
It's not like it's the first time he's had to be sedated, after all.
Wilson wakes from anesthesia with all the grace of a ballet dancer falling off the stage. Being awake feels like a brick to the head, and he feels like his entire brain is throbbing, if such a thing were even possible.
"Doc," he croaks. "Am I supposed to be able to see?"
He can't. Everything's black, and it's hard not to think of the last time he woke up blind. He shoves the thought away as hard as he can, refusing to think about it, and makes himself sit upright.
Someone—probably one of the assistants—makes a noise of distress, but he doesn't bump into anything.
"No," Villain says. "You were going through our anesthesia at too rapid a rate, so we opted to allow you to wake up rather than risk running out. It's possible we'll want to put you out again if there's an issue."
Which explains why his head is throbbing. The pain's already easing away, but his vision's still black, forcing him to rely on his ears.
"How long have I been out?"
"To answer the question you're most likely trying to ask, we completed surgery about thirty minutes ago."
It is the question he was trying to ask, so he doesn't bother seeking clarification. Thirty minutes, if they were careful about it, means the damage should already be healing himself. He just has—
The pain is so intense that he doubles over. It feels like he's been stabbed directly in his brain, and it takes him a few seconds to register anything beyond the pain itself. It hurts. It hurts and he's pretty sure he knows what it is, but the pain's bad enough that even he (and god is his pain tolerance high) can't even focus.
It takes him a few seconds to try and push past it, blinking his now (mostly) functional left eye.
"Crap," he mutters. "That means I'm going to have a second one working. What was the gap between reattaching the other?"
"Nine and a half minutes."
Wilson figures he has maybe thirty seconds.
"Do you have vision—"
Wilson's scream (because he does scream, no pretending like he doesn't) interrupts Villain's question.
"Fuck," Wilson hisses quietly as he straightens back up. His head is spinning, and there's little crackles of pain as things settle back into the right places. He's used to the kind of pins-and-needles pain that comes with regeneration, but feeling it in his head is a particularly awful experience.
Villain shines a light at him. The effect is disorienting, things not linked up quite the right way just yet, but he can at least see there's a light (even if he's guessing who's doing the shining).
"Tell me what you see."
"Someone who's about to lose a hand if they don't give me some space," Wilson snaps.
Villain doesn't move back. Wilson's willing to put money on the fact that he didn't even flinch, either. He's got nerves of steel.
"If you tell me what's happening, I'll have a better idea of what step of the process we're at."
"I can see light. But my eyes aren't—I don't think they're lined up because every time I look at anything it makes my head spin."
"Probably partial connections," Villain says. "I'll give you a half hour. If it hasn't fixed itself by then, we'll simply have to put you back under to inspect the damage."
"Try not to sound too excited," Wilson grumbles. He reaches up to rub at his eyes (and that's a thought, because it's eyes now), but Villain's hand darts out, pushing his hands away.
"Don't touch," he says. "Give it time to heal."
He really, really wishes he was unconscious for this part. It would have been nice to wake up with everything all fixed, and instead he has to feel increasingly nauseous as his brain tries to process some very damaged input. It's like trying to shove a poptart through a fax machine, the input not at all matching what's required.
"Just let me—just give me a second," he hisses, squeezing his eyes shut to shut out the false input. With his eyes closed the experience is unpleasant rather than excruciating, and he opts to simply wait it out, listening to Villain's increasingly impatient noises.
"So?" He prompts, not for the first time, and Wilson cracks an eye open.
Just one. He's not risking two just yet.
"...Works," he mutters. "Vision's crap, but improving."
"And the other?"
He hesitantly swaps eyes. It's... a bit worse, but still functional.
"Congratulations," Villain says, sounding excited. "We've just completed the first whole-eye transplant."
"With help," one of the surgical assistants says.
"We're still the first," Villain says. "And we've gained excellent insight into how things work that might have future practical applications."
"Doubtful," Wilson grumbles, alternating between his eyes. The left eye's a bit better than the right, but not by much, and the difference is evening out. The real problem is that having both open is... disorienting.
He's pretty sure that has nothing to do with the transplant and everything to do with the fact that he's only had one eye for a few decades.
"Do you—uh, do you want a mirror?" One of the nurses says. He's already got one in his hands, and Wilson accepts it carefully. Christ, his depth perception is shot.
They... sure are eyes. Maybe he's not exactly the sentimental type, but he doesn't feel like they make much difference. It's not like they've changed him. He's still the same person, just... with two eyes.
"I made a point of selecting eyes that would most closely match the boy who I assume is your son," Villain says.
"Hopefully the one with the curly hair," he mutters. The green eyed kid could just as easily be Damian, and wouldn't that be something?
But they are. Even with his vision shot, he can tell that much. The shade's similar enough to be almost unmistakable from Joey's own.
Even if having two eyes doesn't mean much to him, he supposes that matching Joey does.
There's a noise by the stairs, and while he can't see far enough to tell who it is (they're a particularly large smudge), it's Bruce's voice that calls out.
"Everything alright down here?"
"I believe we were just wrapping up," Villain says. "He has partial vision in both eyes, and it's simply healing through any damage or distortion. I imagine he'll be fully healed within an hour."
"I'm going to go and get Joey."
Will knows he's going to get a lecture, and he isn't disappointed. He can only half see Joey's signs as his vision swims in and out of focus, so Jason (who of course tags along) helpfully decides to interpret.
"You're an idiot for doing something so stupid," Jason says. "What were you thinking? You could have gone blind again, only this time it would have stuck."
"I've already done it once," Will protests. "I knew it was going to work."
"Pop, you thought it was going to work. That's not the same thing as knowing."
"Idiot," Jason says, but he sounds more amused than anything else, which does not match up with the annoyed look Joey's wearing.
"I would recommend giving him time to rest," Villain says. "He will need to spend a fair amount of time getting used to having two eyes again, and I can only imagine what it's done to his depth perception."
Will groans, reaching up to rub at his eyes despite Villain's tutting.
"I'm taking you upstairs," Jason says. "...That was from me and Joey," he clarifies quickly. "I'll send Bruce down to deal with the bill or whatever it is he has to do."
Someone—Joey—hooks their arm into his, and then Jason does the same on the opposite side. He's tag teamed, forcibly marched up the stairs as he opts to simply close his eyes rather than risk tripping over his own feet. He's better blind right then. At least blind doesn't give him a false sense of how far away the steps are.
He hates it. He hates having to rely on them, but the alternative is unpleasant as he lets himself be helped up the stairs, turning towards his room.
Jason releases him around the time that Will guesses they're in front of his room, and Joey takes over, helping him inside before easing him down onto the bed. He cracks an eye open, his focus enough to let him look at Joey's signs.
Just sit tight, Joey signs. We can talk when you're feeling better, alright?
"Got it," he mumbles, falling backwards onto the bed.
He's good and ready for the healing process to be over, alright.
The rest of the day is a series of repeating lectures about how stupid he was. He gets one from Damian when he comes to check on him (he seems a lot more cautious about knocking and waiting to be called in). He gets a second one from Joey. Alfred doesn't lecture, but makes him do all the worst, most demeaning parts of house work while shooting him disapproving stares. He then gets another lecture from Jason, only this time it's less for being stupid and more for the fact that he made Joey worry.
It's Slade who throws him off the most. When he makes an attempt to simply go around the manor with an eyepatch on, Slade stops him, reaching up to take it away.
"We both know why we never bothered to look into options for new eyes," Slade says, his voice quiet and grim. "But you've been forgiven now. You're fixing things. So own it, don't slide back into wearing the eyepatch."
"It was just for a day," Will grumbles, but he lets Slade take it anyway.
Bruce doesn't lecture him. If anything, Will suspects he might actually be giving him the silent treatment, because he's that level of explicitly avoiding him, either out of frustration or annoyance.
But for the most part, he doesn't get the punishment he's expecting. He isn't banished to his room or forbidden from doing things. His life continues as it was before, only with two eyes and a complete inability to figure out how far away things are.
There is something insanely demeaning about going from the world's most feared assassin to nearly running into walls.
Adjusting? Joey signs, and even that's hard for him to read, the movement making him dizzy.
"Slowly," he admits. "It'll probably be better in the morning." Like changing glasses, probably, only he's never had to wear glasses and has only heard it second hand.
Second hand from Isherwood, now that he thinks about it.
"What happened to the eye?"
Joey makes a face.
Villain asked what we wanted to do with it. Bruce said to destroy it, because the last thing he wants to risk is someone having your DNA on file.
Villain's probably already dissecting the damned thing, but he doesn't feel the need to point that out to anyone. He's not going to do anything with it, he's just... curious.
It's not like he could take it back, Joey signs, and then squints at him a bit harder. Is that why you removed both?
"It was a factor," he admits. If Joey wants the truth, he's going to get it, even if it makes him shoot Will an irritated look. "I thought it would be better if I looked distinct from Slade."
Your photo is already out there, you know.
"They'll assume it's a color correction error," he points out. "I've thought this through."
He doesn't help with food prep. Alfred doesn't trust him to do it, and he's right to. Will's pretty sure that if he tried to so much as slice a carrot he'd end up losing a thumb. His depth perception improves over the course of the day, but it's in fits and starts, his brain adjusting slowly to the sudden change.
Joey goes to leave the following morning, and Will catches him at the door, his face pinched with concern.
"Where are you going?" He's just leaving, and the fact that no one even seems to notice means he probably does it regularly. He's expecting something mild, but instead Joey looks almost nervous and painfully awkward.
Will gives him a hard look, and he corrects his answer.
To church, Joey repeats, sucking in a deep breath as he plants his feet. He's prepared for a fight, and Will... doesn't want to give it to him.
"Oh," he says, "I was just wondering." It probably doesn't convince anyone, but at the very least it stops the argument before it starts. Joey seems to deflate, quickly excusing himself as he heads out of the house.
It's at that point that Bruce decides to break his self-imposed silence. He looks somber as he steps into the entranceway, his mouth a moment away from an all out scowl.
"How are your eyes?"
"Better," he says. "Not running into any walls, but I doubt I'll be doing shooting any time soon." He doubts his ability to hit a target, let alone bullseye like he normally would.
"Alfred can help you work on hand-eye coordination," Bruce says, and there's a long pause. "...But we should talk."
Ah. There the lecture is.
Bruce takes him back to his office, closing the door behind him before gesturing for him to sit.
"I'm sure you can already guess what I'm going to say," Bruce says as he sits down. "What you did is unbelievably risky. You could have gone permanently blind."
"I was confident it would work."
"The fact that you were or weren't doesn't matter. What matters is that you went out of your way to hide it from us. I know you aren't used to communicating with others about this sort of thing and I'm willing to cut you a break, but it has to stop."
"You aren't my boss," Will says. Bruce is many things, but he sure as hell doesn't have control over him. If anyone were going to be in that position, it'd be Joey. It's Joey who gets to decide.
"You're living in my house," Bruce says, "interacting with my family and I on a day to day basis. You're using my money, learning to cook from my father, and you only exist in this universe because I was willing to give you a chance. I generally try to avoid pulling rank, but in this case I'll make an exception: you need to work with us, not against us. We're not your enemies."
"My priority is Joey."
"And Slade's priority, when he joined this family, was Jason. That doesn't change anything. Just because you're putting most of your energy into supporting Joey doesn't mean you can't also talk to the rest of us about things. This isn't a zero sum game."
Will opens his mouth to argue, but Bruce holds up a hand and he goes silent.
"I know what you're going to say, but let me just say this: improving your communication with other people will also make it easier for you to do so with Joey. It's the same skillset."
"It's damned manipulative is what it is," Will grumbles.
"It is," Bruce says. "I'm not going to say that it isn't. But both of us have Joey's best interests at heart, and part of that means you being able to get along with all of us. I'm hoping you'll be willing to be more open with us... and to talk about things like this before you go ahead and do them."
"Or what?" He asks. He knows there's an or else building. The obvious one—that Bruce will send him home—seems almost unthinkable. If Bruce actually cares about Joey's well being as much as he claims, there's no way he'll banish him back to his old dimension.
"There's no or what," Bruce says. He seems almost defensive, leaning back in his chair. "It's not a threat. It's a request. We want the same things, and I'm hoping you'll be willing to work together with us to accomplish them."
He feels almost dizzy, sinking back as he tries to wrap his head around it.
"...I don't see how," he mutters.
"...How we could work together?" Bruce asks, raising an eyebrow.
"How we want the same things. You care about Jason and Damian and your boys. I care about mine."
Bruce looks genuinely baffled, his eyebrows practically permanently stuck in place.
"...Will, you can care about more than one person."
"There are always priorities. There's always a list."
"I love Slade. He is the love of my life. He brings me joy in a way I thought I'd never thought was possible. I would do almost anything for him. But..." Bruce pauses, leaning forward slightly. "If right now I had to choose between going to help him and going to help our boys, I would choose our boys. I know he'd feel the same way. That doesn't mean I don't really love him."
Will doesn't want to say it strikes a chord with him. No, if anything, it feels like someone's run sandpaper over the chord. It irritates him in a way he knows it probably shouldn't.
"What's your point?"
"My point is that I also care about Joey. Even if he's only been here less than half a year, he's still part of the family."
"Until Jason breaks it off with him—"
"If Jason breaks it off with him, Joey will still be welcome here. I trust them both to be adults about it in the event they decide they don't work as a couple. I will still care about his well being, and still want what's best for him."
The discomfort feels like a heavy blanket weighing the conversation down.
"I know you struggle with this," Bruce continues. "Slade did as well when he first joined our family. But I want to see you improve, and I'm not the only one. We want you to be a... a part of our family. To know that we have your back. We're only having this conversation because I'm hoping you'll recognize that, and be willing to meet us halfway."
Will wants to leave. He feels like he just walked into a gunfight empty handed and naked. He doesn't have his armor, he's not prepared for the situation, and the discomfort seems to be growing by the second.
"I can't promise anything," he says, because he's sure that will bring the conversation to an end.
"You can," Bruce says flatly, refusing to let him leave. "I'm asking for a commitment, not a guarantee."
Bruce has him by the throat. If he declines, that's basically admitting that he's not putting in a real effort.
Only he is. Or he's trying. He simply has a very different focus compared to most. He cares about Joey, and everyone else...
Will sighs and reaches up, rubbing at his eyes. He's started going cross eyed again, and it's making his head throb.
"Did you really have to jump this on me while I'm recovering?" Even if physically he's fully healed, his brain hasn't quite caught on to the fact he's got two eyes to work from.
"I think we both know you're fully capable of having this conversation, you just don't want to have it."
"...Fine," he says. "I will... put an effort in to communicate with the family."
"Perfect," Bruce says, already lifting from his chair. "That was all I ask. I believe Alfred might have some more work for you, if you're feeling up to it?"
He isn't, but he goes anyway. By that point he'd take any excuse to be away from Bruce and his frustrating and entirely unwelcome insights.
Warning for animal death mention.
Will dreams more often than he'd ever admit. His dreams are violent ones, and inevitably the perpetrator of the violence is him. But his dreams have always been the same, and a dream or two about murdering the people he cares about is nothing unusual.
The unusual ones are the ones that aren't violent, and the dream he has that night isn't even really a dream: it's a memory.
He's blind, with nothing but darkness around him. He can hear Tanya's voice, but after that the memories blur together. He remembers seeing through the stupid glasses she gave him, and remembers the dog.
He wishes he didn't remember the dog, but he does. He remembers snapping its neck and her scream of outrage.
He wishes he didn't.
He hasn't given much thought to his previous short lived attempt at being a good guy, but as he goes through his morning routine he can't help but think of it. He makes it all the way to breakfast (he helps, but Alfred isn't letting him cook until he's mastered depth perception) before he puts his foot in his mouth.
"Whatever happened to Roscoe Jr?" He asks Joey. Joey does not give him a seamless answer like he hoped. Instead, he looks baffled, staring at Will for a moment before setting his fork down to sign.
The rest of the family are staring now, and it's clear to Will this is about to be a thing.
"The dog. The... puppy, I guess. The one Defiance had."
Joey stares at him in confusion for a moment longer, and then he offers a shrug.
Maybe Wallace took him? He signs, and agitation flickers across his face. Can we not talk about it? It wasn't exactly a great time for me.
"What? Why?" Will asks, and the look Bruce sends him is so scathing he immediately backpedals. "Ignore that. It doesn't matter, you don't want to talk about it."
But now the conversation is out there, and Joey keeps flip flopping between upset and confused.
What do you mean why? How could you not get— you know what, never mind.
"This is a disaster already," Will mutters under his breath.
"I think it might be better to drop whatever this... mess is," Slade says pointedly, leaving no room for argument. The conversation is over, at least for right then.
"Did you want a dog?" Damian asks him while he cleans the library an hour later. He doesn't say hi or hello or anything, just jumps right into that. He appreciates that trait most of the time, but right then it just feels irritating.
"No," he says. "They just... belonged to someone we both knew. I was curious."
"You seem defensive."
He's defensive because he's pretty sure if Damian finds out he killed a dog he's going to end up sleeping on the porch.
"It wasn't a great time for anyone," he says. "I shouldn't have brought it up."
"For a moment, I thought you just admitted to having made a mistake," Damian says, and Will has to double take to register that Damian is, in fact, fucking with him.
"...You're more like your mother than I thought," Will mutters.
"You know—of course you know my mother."
"Technically not your mother," Will counters. "She's the mother of the other Damian."
"She is still of interest to me, the same way that the other Bruce is." He pauses, wrinkling his nose. "Except he is a bastard."
"With language like that I'm surprised Alfred doesn't wash your mouth out with soap."
"He is. He is... he mislead us. He let us keep you in a cage while he sat in a guest room, and the whole time he was even worse than you were."
"I'm not sure who's supposed to be insulted here," Will mutters to himself.
"He should. My opinion of you has improved greatly since you arrived."
"Considering I gave your brother a breakdown when I first arrived that's a pretty low bar." Speaking of which... he pauses, considering his options, and then broaches the topic as carefully as he can manage. "What was that about, anyway? I wasn't expecting him to... break down like that."
Damian looks him over, seeming to carefully pick his words.
"...You are aware that this world's Jason was not killed by the Joker, yes?"
"I got that much." Hard to miss, what with the lack of being dead. Not that the other Jason was particularly dead either...
"He was kidnapped by him instead. Father was not aware that he was still alive for years and years, and it was stepfather who brought him back to the family. Any more would be for his to tell."
"...Great," Will mutters. "So you're telling me I accidentally kidnapped a kid who'd been kidnapped in the past and he probably woke up in his torture room?"
No one said torture, but he feels like it was pretty heavily implied.
"I believe he would object to being called a kid, but yes, that would seem to be correct."
Alright. If he's going to make an effort at this meeting people halfway thing, that seems like a great place to start.
"Perfect," he says, earning him a dirty look from Damian. "...You know what I mean, kid."
Damian gives him another dirty look before finally retrieving the book he came for in the first place and heading out. Will finishes up his work (he'd rather not be in Alfred's bad books, considering how much control of the house he has), and then goes to find Jason.
He isn't exactly hard to find, because he's in the middle of getting his stuff ready to go. Art class, Will's pretty sure.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Jason's eyes drag across Will's face, clearly weighing his options. "...Is it going to take long?"
"Five minutes, tops."
"...I'll hold you to that," he says.
He doesn't do it in the hallway. Instead, they duck off to the side, out of the way, and Will gets right to it.
"I apologize for distressing you when I kidnapped you on first arrival."
Jason stares at him, utterly baffled.
"When I kidnap you months ago," Will clarifies, although he really doesn't think it needs to be clarified, "I was not aware it would cause you to have a breakdown."
Jason is gawking at him, and Will's pretty sure that isn't what's supposed to be happening.
"...This is an apology," he adds, hoping that clarifies something that he is one hundred percent sure should not need to be clarified.
"I got that," Jason says. "Really, I did. I am just a bit... taken aback. It's been like three months."
"...Is that an issue?"
"I mean, generally you'd apologize when it was relevant and not three months after the fact."
This is why he doesn't apologize.
"I was working on it," he says pointedly. "Is it accepted or not?"
"It's accepted," Jason says with a wave of his hand. "Already forgotten. Like I said, it was months ago. If I was still angry at you over that, I'd be having a pretty hard time with everything. I just sort of... brushed it off as a you thing."
Well, that works out. That means he's done, his job complete. Now Bruce can't say he's not trying.
"I'll see you around," Jason says. "Need to take Damian and Jon to class."
Will's just happy he doesn't have that chore.
And right into another warning here: Brief discussion of suicide ahead.
Will is not interested in therapy. Not by a long shot. But no one else is willing to let him forget about it, which means he has to go.
"Doctor Murillo is waiting for you," Bruce says pointedly.
"I don't see what's changed in a week. Shouldn't this be once a month?"
"Once a week is a normal schedule."
Will gives Bruce a long hard look.
"I don't see you or Slade going to therapy. I don't see—"
"Wednesday evenings," Bruce says. "In the privacy of my own office. My therapist moved, so we video call instead of in-person meetings."
Oh. Well, that pretty much ruins his argument, doesn't it? Bruce seems to realize that, because he simply nods towards the office door, making a shooing motion at Will.
"Mr. Wilson," Murillo says when he steps inside. "Good to see you again."
"Especially considering when we last left off there was a fifty fifty chance I'd be sent home."
"Which means you did go through with it," she observes. She's lounged back ever so casually in Bruce's chair, watching his reactions as he sits. "Which is good progress."
"Oh, of course," he mutters. "Progress. Like—"
"I'm sorry," Murillo says, leaning forward suddenly in her chair. "You have two eyes? And they're green?!"
She seems absolutely taken aback, and Will lets out a laugh.
"They both work, too. New eyes, new name... whole new me, one could say."
"Do... I want to know?"
"Probably not," he says. He doubts there's much emotional turmoil to be mined.
"I do need to know about the name though."
"Will. Bruce's grandson was having a hard time with the fact that I'm Wilson when everyone else is Wilson, so we settled on Will."
Murillo doesn't respond right away, leaning back in her chair as she considers.
"You have made... considerable progress in the last week. I have to say, I am impressed. You appear to be taking this seriously and putting in a genuine effort."
"When I commit to something, I commit to it. I don't do half measures."
"I'm gathering that," she says. "Certainly makes my job easier."
She makes him walk through the (rough) events of the last week, but he leaves it vague. He explains, in the most general terms possible, that he revealed a secret to Joey which might have sent him home. He doesn't say what it was, and Murillo seems smart enough not to push him for it. He tells her about the choice to swap out both of his eyes, and when she seems disgusted he makes sure to give her all sorts of details about his journey back to the land of the sighted. He mentions his talk with Bruce, and then winds up ending off right there.
"So that's it," he says. "You've heard it all. Now dispense your wisdom and insight on me once again."
Nope, he's definitely not happy.
"That isn't how this works," she says. "You don't input your weekly activities and get insight. It's a conversation. We talk."
"Of course," she says. "Why don't we talk about your choice of name."
"There's nothing important about it. It's just Wilson, but shorter."
"Who's the first person you think of when I say the name William?"
Oh great. This.
"A friend from the army."
"Mhm," she says, clearly not believing it for a minute. "And nothing else to you that he's the first person you think of?"
"Fine. In your terms, he was probably my closest friend. It's not a very high compliment, considering that list is very short."
"At least you're aware of it. Have you given thought to the significance of his name to your own?"
"I already named Joey after him," he says, and when she raises an eyebrow he huffs. "Joseph William Wilson."
"A double whammy of significance," she points out.
"Something to think about," she says. She doesn't say it, but Will swears he can hear her think you chose the name to honor him or some crap like that.
She doesn't actually say it though, which means he can't point out that it's just a coincidence.
"So things are going well with Joseph?"
"Joey," he corrects. "Joseph is Slade's son. They're... alright. We're adjusting."
"Adjusting is certainly a word for it," she says. "Generally I'd favor asking for insight, but in this case, I feel that waiting might be better. You don't want to rush too quickly. Better to give everyone involved time and space... including yourself."
"This is, from everything you've told me, far more emotional connection than you're used to getting in a year, all crammed into a week."
"Lucky me," he mutters. "So I'm allowed to have a break?"
"For the time being, I'm not pushing you to go faster than you already are. I think, continuing at your current pace, you'll have plenty of things to discuss." She pauses for a moment, looking him over. "Let me take a guess: you have something on your mind you don't understand and want to ask."
He didn't, but now that she says it, it's hard not to think of something.
"What does it mean when your dreams change?"
"I'm not a dream analyst," she says, "and I think the science of it is fairly bunk. But If it's a significant enough change that it's causing distress, then I think that's something worth discussing. When you said change, how do you mean?"
"I mean changed." She seems the type who might be bothered by his normal dreams. Bothered enough she's not going to be helpful. "Normally it's the same stuff. Last night was more a memory."
"Of the last time I was blind."
"You aren't giving me much to work off," she says with a shake of her head. "I'm not a mind reader, and if you're going to be that vague, I'm not going to be able to help."
He grunts, irritated.
"It just made me think of things I hadn't thought about in a while."
He's too damn irritated to be productive right then. He hates that he has to spell it out. If he has to figure out everything on his own, what's the point?
"Tanya. She was... good. A good kid. Now she's dead because I fucked up, and for some reason it feels like she's one of the only death's I actually regret."
Murillo takes it better than he expected, but that still isn't good. She grimaces.
"...Why don't you tell me about her."
He does, but he hates every second of it. Tanya Spears is an open wound: a failing he should have been able to see coming but didn't. She was trying to be a hero, and he'd taken advantage of that to get her onto his team.
And then she'd killed herself.
"You cared about her," Murillo observes, "and you never processed her death. You met her while blind, so being blind again brought up those memories, and with your new and improved emotional functioning, you're starting to process those feelings. You're blaming yourself."
"I don't blame myself. Adeline was in charge. She was the one left to watch the kids."
"You do blame yourself," Murillo says. "You have a clear tendency to shift blame, but your actions reflect clear guilt. You aren't the hardened killer you present yourself as. If anything, I suspect you wish you were."
"You think I wish I was a hardened killer?"
Does she not know how many people he's taken out?
"You wish you didn't feel. It would have made it easier to do your job. Less complications, and it's obvious you tend to take great pride in your work. You are a... work-oriented person, and yet you have what you considered a major flaw which got in the way."
He... isn't quite sure how to process that. He wants to say she's wrong, but he can't deny how much easier his work would have been if he hadn't been attached. He'd never have failed a job, for one.
"Now you're finding value in the very things you wanted to reject. So you're opening yourself up to having new feelings about things you'd previously considered closed cases. For example, blaming the nanny—"
Murillo raises an eyebrow.
"You said you left Adeline to watch the kids—"
"Tanya was sixteen and a superhero," he says. "Adeline was her team leader and my ex-wife. Tanya wasn't a toddler."
Murillo frowns at him, giving a brief wave of her hand.
"All of that is aside from the point. You hadn't thought about it because it would make you weak to feel grief over someone you considered nothing more than a little girl. Now that you've moved past that, you're allowing yourself to feel grief."
"Great. How do I stop?"
"If I had the answer to that, they'd be paying me a lot more. Grief takes time, and you have to be willing to give yourself time."
"Can you not... speed this up somehow?"
"I'm afraid that's a no. We can revisit it during your next session, and see how you're feeling. If you'd like, I'll bring you some resources on processing grief."
Grief. He's not grieving. This is something else, but it sure as hell isn't grief.
"I think we can wrap it up here," she says. "I'll bring you those books."
Will's not sure he's going to read them.
He makes it to Thursday before Bruce ambushes him with something unexpected.
"I'd like you to come to the meeting with us," Bruce says as they wrap up breakfast.
The meeting. He can't be hearing that right.
"The League meeting?"
"Diana's called everyone who can make it to a meeting. We're all concerned by the lack of response to our interdimensional package."
"Twenty one days," Will observes. "Which is, from what Jason said, seven more than usual."
"They've been fairly exact about things. Fourteen days, then they sent it back. Fourteen days, we send it back. Going twenty one days without a response means something's changed."
"You're expecting me to... what, provide insight?"
"I'd also like you to meet the rest of the League on more friendly terms. Most of them only know you from your arrival here."
"And you want to show them I'm willing to play nice."
"That's the idea," Bruce says. "They've already met Joey. They might as well meet you."
"It's not as if I have anything better to do," Will says.
"Actually," Alfred says, "I was hoping to have Will handle meal preparation for tomorrow."
"He can manage that when he gets back," Bruce says, apparently in on the fact that Alfred's looking to offload the cooking on him. In fact, they all seem to be in on it. "We shouldn't be that long."
The car ride (because Slade makes him ride rather than driving himself) is excruciatingly boring. The trip into League headquarters through security isn't any better.
Somehow, the meeting itself is worse than both combined.
"Great," Arsenal mutters. "Does he really have to be here?"
"We thought it would be better for everyone to meet him when things aren't going to hell," Slade points out. "Get a clean slate."
"No meeting is going to make me forget that he kidnapped Jason," Arsenal snaps. "For all we know he's here to spy on us."
"Oh cram it, Harper," Will says. "I already know everything about you I need to."
Harper's so angry he's almost purple, and Bruce sighs, burying a face in his hand.
"As we were saying," Bruce says loudly, "this is Will. Yes, this is the other Slade—"
"Slade B," Flash says. Will doesn't know which Flash, but he's not sure it matters. Most people are in costume, with really just Bruce, Slade, and him in civilian clothes.
Not that he has an option, since Slade still has his goddamn suit.
"Why don't we start the meeting?" Trevor says.
"Should we do introductions?" A Lantern asks. Will looks over him and decides it's Jordan, but it's not like it's hard figuring them out.
"Diana, Curry, Harper, Jordan, Trevor, a literal martian, and... one of the flashes," Will lists off, feeling intensely satisfied by the alarmed looks he gets.
Except for the Flash, who just looks confused.
"...Wait, you don't know me?"
"You all have similar costumes. You're either West or Allen, because you're sure as hell not Thawne."
It's clear which one he is just by his reaction. Allen looks absolutely baffled.
"The point is that I already know who you are, so you can dispense with the costumes."
There's a bit of shrugging and looking around, and then Harper reaches up, pulling off his mask. Allen follows suit, but everyone else stubbornly leaves theirs on.
"The point of this meeting," Diana says firmly, "is to discuss the matter of interdimensional relations."
"In other words," Slade says, "our mail has gone missing."
Quite a few people at the table chuckle, and even Diana cracks a smile. It's clear that the team has a good rapport, which is a pretty damned sharp contrast to what he's used to. He suspects the differing Bruce's have a lot to do with that.
"How concerned should we be?" Curry asks, leaning forward. "I mean, I get that we all would prefer to know what's going on, but..."
"Nothing's going to break if we don't re-establish contact," Bruce says. "But it feels sudden enough that I wanted to make sure everyone knew. Something happened to cause this, even if we don't know what."
"Perhaps we could receive some insight from our guest?" The Martian says, his eyes turning towards Will.
"I don't do dimension jumping," he says, "and it's been more than a year since I was in the Speed Force. Your flash would probably have more insight if the change is anything calamity-inducing."
He turns his head, spots Allen's baffled look, and then lets out a sigh.
"...Do you guys not have the Speed Force?"
"If we do, we're not aware of it," Diana says.
"Listen, I'm not a speedster, but in general terms, the Speed Force is the thing that allows everything in the universe to move. All speedsters get their power from it, but the important detail is that I'm pretty sure there's only one Speed Force. You all get to share it, even across dimensions."
Everyone's looking at Barry, but all he gives is a shrug.
"No idea," he admits. "If we have that, I haven't heard of it."
"You know what? Then don't. The moment you start trying to work with it, you're likely to end up erasing yourself from existence," Will says. "Screwing around with it to try and figure out this dimension stuff isn't going to help anyone."
"Which leaves us where we started: nothing about this is world ending at the moment, and I need to get back to patrol. So I vote we put a pin in it, and you guys can call if the world starts cracking in half," Jordan says. He looks tired, but Will isn't familiar enough with the Lanterns to know if that's a new thing.
"Meeting adjourned," Diana announces. "We'll be in touch if anything happens, Hal."
"I'm hoping we're a few months off from the next Earth-based crisis," he says. "They're talking about expanding to a second per sector, which means I'm going to be responsible for training the poor sap."0
"Do you know who it's going to be?" Will asks. He figures he can volunteer some information and buy his way into the League's good books that way.
"I've got a list of Lanterns for this sector already written down," Hal says. "No idea which will get it, but I can just check on all of them and see if I can figure it out that way."
People are already starting to drift from the table, and Will sticks near Slade and Bruce.
"So when you said patrol, you actually meant patrol? You aren't just going back to Korugar?" Harper asks.
"I am officially back on normal patrols," Hal says. He looks downright relieved by the idea. "They've officially passed Sinestro's ring on to his successor, and Korugar's in good hands."
"Does that mean we're going to see you running around here more?" Allen asks, looking excited.
"More than I've been. But still not much. There's too much going on in space for me to focus on one planet that already has people keeping it safe."
Will's only half listening as they gossip for the next ten minutes. At one point Diana asks him if the League on his world interacts with the same way, and he has to admit both that A) he doesn't normally sit on League meetings, and B) no, they sure as hell do not.
It's Bruce who catches him off guard as they're on their way to the car.
"That went well," he says, and Will looks at him like he's nuts.
"That went well?"
"You didn't fight anyone. No one fought you."
"Seems like a good enough time for me," Slade says with a snort.
"You two just have awfully low standards," Will counters.
"We do," Bruce admits. "But you're exceeding them."
He probably shouldn't feel a sense of smug satisfaction at that, but he does anyway.
There is a rhythm to life in the manor, and it doesn't take all that long for Will to find it. Fridays some of the family go down to Blackgate to see Thomas. Mondays are art classes with Damian and Jon. Joey leaves Sunday mornings for church (but he's the only one), and everyone's therapy appointments are sprinkled through the week.
There are other, less consistent things as well. Jason and Joey go out with friends. The Kents show up sporadically. Jason seems to write an awful lot of letters (even if he's cagey about who they're for), and Joey often hides away to make phone calls he eventually learn are to this world's version of Adeline.
It's been a long time since he had anything half as domestic as this for his life, but then it's still so easy to fall into the habits anyway.
He dreams sporadically, dreams that aren't nightmares but are still distressing. The package from his homeworld still doesn't arrive. Alfred gives up on getting him to help with the general cleaning, but after some practice hands off food preparation to him entirely.
"Normally I'd wait longer," he says pointedly, "but I'm sure you can manage."
He takes Joey and Jason with him to get groceries the first time he goes without Alfred, but after that he's simply sent out alone. Every so often someone almost recognizes him, but the fact that he's got two eyes seems to throw them all off badly enough that it never becomes an issue.
Wintergreen comes back for another visit, and Will gets a chance to meet his daughter. He recognizes her, even if the differences are significant, and while she seems to get along with the rest of the family she's wary enough of him that it's easier to keep his distance.
"She will get used to you," Damian says. "You just have to give it time."
Joey reaches out to him the Wednesday after the league meeting, asking him for a private conversation that Will knows is going to be trouble.
They retire to Joey's room for some privacy, and it's the first time Will's really been inside it. There's more art supplies, but what catches his eye is a painting of a Batman—probably Jason—sitting on the edge of a building staring out at the sky.
"That's your style," he notes. He'd recognize it anywhere, and he feels pleased to have recognized it even after so long when Joey notes.
I made it for him, Joey signs. I wanted him to be able to see how other people viewed him.
"Then what's it doing in here?" He asks, raising an eyebrow. "Shouldn't it be in his room?"
He says it's self indulgent, Joey signs with a grin. Bruce wanted to put it in up in the hall.
"That's where it should be. Your works too good to be hidden away."
He has some of my other work up in his room.
"He should have—"
Pop, Joey signs, interrupting the thought. I know I said I didn't want to talk about it, but can we talk about Defiance? About what happened there?
Will doesn't answer right away, sinking down onto the bed as Joey sits beside him. He keeps his body turned so he can watch Joey's hand, but there's less of a need to pace once he's sitting.
"You're going to have to be more specific," Will says. He doesn't think there's anything to be gained from talking about it. It was a different time. A different place. "I was being genuine when I was trying to do the hero thing back then, if that's what you're going to ask."
It wasn't about that. I joined Defiance because everyone I thought could be responsible for Étienne's murder was in one place. I was the one who joined for a bad reason.
None of that is new information to him. He's heard it all before, and he knew going into it why Joey had agreed to join. The only question is why Joey's bringing it up, because as far as Will's concerned, the information is dead and buried.
Defiance just feels like... more guilt. Like it was another mistake.
"You've put it behind you," Will says. "It's in the past, and you need to let yourself move on."
It's not fair I get to move on. You've been... it's obvious you're trying and I don't know how to do the same. I keep thinking I should tell you things, but you already know it all. You know about Ish and about Terrence and ma and everything.
"That was kind of my job," Will points out. "I got as good as I am by knowing everything. You can't beat yourself up for not telling me things I already knew about."
I should have talked to you about things before you had to find them out by yourself.
"I'd have investigated even if you had told me. Like with Ish... even if you'd told me, did you really think I'd just be okay with that?"
Because he's your age?
"Because you called him uncle, and you don't hook up with your friend's kids."
I pursued him.
"Doesn't change that he could have said no at any point."
We already talked about this, pop. Do we really need to rehash it?
"I was just making a point that telling me wouldn't have changed things, so you can stop beating yourself up for keeping secrets."
Sort of feels like you're coming up with reasons why I don't have to feel guilty for things I should feel bad about.
"It's what I do," Will says with a snort. "How often do you think I feel guilty about things?"
Couldn't guess, Joey signs, a smile on his lips. I'm guessing not very often.
"I felt guilty about what happened to you. About what happened to your brother. It happens, just not often."
About— Joey starts to sign, faltering suddenly. When Will raises an eyebrow, clearly inviting him to continue, he pauses and then finishes. —About Tanya?
Crap. He should have known that was going to come up considering how the conversation started.
"Yes," he admits. "About Tanya. If I hadn't dragged her into Defiance, she'd still be alive. That's on me. It's... something I am dealing with, with the help of my therapist."
In terms of sentences I never thought I'd hear in my life... Joey signs. The mood's shifted: he's no longer looking upset, just amused by the fact that Will even said that much. If you went back and told me that you'd eventually be getting therapy I'd have laughed in your face.
Will doesn't point out that technically Joey couldn't have laughed in anyone's face. He doesn't want to drag the conversation back down. He doesn't want to go back to talking about Tanya, either.
"Why don't you show me some of your other paintings?" He says instead.
Joey does. There are a few around the house, ones he either didn't notice (he's not really an art person by any metric, and it's not often he actually looks at the content of any given painting), or couldn't see. There are three in Jason's room which Joey marches right on in to proudly show him, and it's impossible to miss the telltale signs once he's inside.
The dual nightstands. The extra large bed. The second dresser.
If those weren't hints enough, the fact that one of the nightstands has a photo of him, Grant, and Joey as kids would certainly seal the deal. Jason and him might get along just fine, but he's definitely not at the photo on nightstand stage.
Joey seems to catch on that he's noticed too, because he goes pink.
Oh, he signs. I guess you haven't been in here yet.
"I don't mind," Will says pointedly. If Joey needs reassurance, then he'll be damned if he doesn't provide it. "I know you seem to think I'm going to get upset with Jason, but I'm really not."
Really, he's not sure why all his kids seem to think that. Rose was the same way with Hosun, despite his repeated insistence that it really didn't matter to him.
"I was fine with you and Terrence," he points out. The two... what, shared a room? Certainly slept together. "It's not an issue." But now that the thought's there... "Is this why you're never affectionate in front of me?"
I don't know what you're talking about, Joey signs, but his face makes it painfully clear that he does, in fact, know just what Will's talking about.
"You've always been the kind of person who was physically affectionate, Joey. Can't imagine that changed when you hopped into a portal to another dimension. Don't think I've seen you do more than the occasional bit of hand holding."
I thought you'd be bothered.
"Again. Really, really not bothered," he says flatly. "Go make out with Jason to your heart's content. I really don't care."
Joey's good and red at that as he finally gets around to showing Will his paintings, but apparently he's taken the lesson to heart: that evening at dinner he plants a kiss on Jason's cheek before taking his seat.
Which means Will's made another improvement all on his own, which leaves Will feeling even more smug.
There's an alarm in his dream that shouldn't be there. An alarm that gets louder and louder until he's abruptly jerked awake by the realization that the alarm is not a dream alarm but a real alarm. Something in the house is screeching, and he's out of bed and on his feet in record time. He grabs the housecoat on the back of the door without even stopping, cursing his lack of a weapon. He knows Alfred has something hidden around the house, but he's yet to find it. The old man has too many damn secrets, and if they make it through the night he's going to make absolutely sure he finds them out.
The guest wing's empty except for the sound of the alarm, but there's a commotion somewhere near the center of the house. He shoots across the foyer to the family wing, and finds every member of the family in varying states of sleep squinting at the security panel.
"What do we have?" He calls, and mercifully Bruce cuts the alarm as he does.
"After the last time I set it up so that if anyone appears in the cave for any reason, things will automatically go into lockdown. Someone did, so here we are."
"Who?" He asks. He feels like he already knows. Of course it'll be Adeline, having whipped up some ludicrous plot to get Joey back.
"No one yet," Slade says. "We've got a portal. Been up for about a—"
He goes quiet as they crowd closer to the security panel, watching as figures emerge from the bright orange portal that's appeared in the center of the cave.
He recognizes the first two. They're hard to miss: Nightwing and Red Hood, carrying a large case of some sort between them. They're quick to get out of the way, and shortly after they're followed by more familiar faces: Robin and Red Robin, with a second case between them.
"Oh good," Jason says beside him. "This is good, right?"
That seems to be the agreement as the portal spits out more figures. There's a third case, and while none of them have any particular feelings about Batwoman, the sight of Batman at her side draws a noticeable gasp.
"Fuck him," Jason mumbles under his breath.
"They're all here and obviously working together," Bruce says, "so I think it's safe to say that this is a collaborative effort. I vote we go down and find out what they want."
The portal's still open, but WIll doesn't see anyone else coming through. Just the six of them, all dressed in costumes, gawking at the cave.
"Can we kick him out first?" Damian mumbles sourly, and it feels obvious to Will that whatever animosity the family had towards him and Batman has redirected itself to the only available option.
"No," Slade says, planting a hand squarely on Damian's shoulder as Bruce bypasses the security lock on the cave entrance, descending down into the cave.
They're a mismatched group. The group from his own world are geared up and ready for a fight, acting like they're on a mission. The group coming down the stairs are in pajamas and housecoats. Slade isn't even wearing a shirt, just a pair of bat-themed pajama pants.
"How much trouble are we in?" Bruce calls as they reach the bottom of the stairs, and everyone in the opposing group seems to go stiff, clearly wary of their reaction.
"You aren't," Nightwing says. "This is... the opposite of that."
The portal's still open, making it hard to look directly at them, but Will just has to make do.
"We don't have time for much smalltalk," Batwoman says. She seems to be the leader of the little expedition, because everyone else—even Batman—seem to be looking to her for direction. "Our worlds originally crossed paths because the source wall had been damaged. It was recently repaired at great cost, which makes realities more stable..."
"But means we no longer have the surefire connection we had," Slade guesses.
"Woah, hold on," Nightwing blurts. "Why does Slade have two eyes?"
It seems to take everyone a second to realize what he's talking about. Everyone but him, anyway.
"Surgery," Will says. "Not important. Tell us what you need to say."
Batwoman seems to appreciate that they're getting straight to the point.
"When we didn't get your last package, we realized what was happening. We've forced open a path between worlds in order to get things in order as much as possible. We have thirty minutes, and then we need to return. After that, any contact between worlds will be unlikely and entirely accidental."
Jason pulls out his phone to set an alarm, but Red Robin holds up a stopwatch, making it clear he's already got the time.
Will's eyes drop to the boxes. He has guesses, but it's hard to guess if he's right or not. More importantly, he doesn't want to be wrong. He doesn't want to get anyone's hopes up.
He's apparently not the only one thinking it.
"The boxes?" Bruce asks.
"They're labelled," Red Hood says. "Figured you'd want to bury them. Two from your world, one from ours.
Will's heart catches in his throat. Grant. That's who it is. He doesn't know how they found Joey—or did Bruce pass a message back?—but it doesn't matter anyway.
"So we have thirty minutes?" Slade says. "Less than that now, but you get the idea."
"We do," Damian confirms. "The original plan was to send over only one person, but the cases were too large to be carried. We opted to travel as a group, so that if anything happened we would have higher odds of returning to our own world."
"Wait, is Big-Tim not even here?" Red Robin asks, craning his neck around.
"I'm afraid master Timothy doesn't live at the mansion. While I would alert him, I'm not sure he would arrive in a quick enough manner for it to be worth it. He's currently at home with Miss Gordon."
Technically Gordon-Wayne, but that's one more bit of confusion they don't need.
"Everyone can mill about and talk or whatever, but I need to talk to Joey first," Nightwing says. He starts towards Joey, only to have Will cut him off.
Maybe he shouldn't be—it's Batman and his people, not Adeline—but he's far too paranoid to let Joey anywhere near that portal. Not when it would be so easy for him to pass through it.
Nightwing scowls at him, his hands balling into fists.
"It's a private conversation, Slade."
"He's Will," Damian corrects. "All of us should be our first names, since we all share family names. You can simply go by your vigilante personas."
"It's a private conversation, Will then," Nightwing corrects.
It's fine, Joey signs to him. We aren't keeping secrets anymore.
"I just have to talk to you in private."
"If Joey doesn't want to, he doesn't have to," Bruce says. "But if he doesn't mind, you can always step upstairs and say it."
Will lets himself relax. Even if it's Nightwing making a last ditch attempt to get Joey to come back, he's going to have to literally fight his way through the rest of the family to get to the portal.
That's fine with me, Joey signs. Let's go.
He watches out of the corner of his eye as Joey and Nightwing head upstairs, and then turns back to watch the rest interact.
Most of them avoid him, and he doesn't blame them. He's never been anything more than an enemy to them, and they have no reason to try and catch up with him.
The Damian's end up paired off, as do the Jasons. Batwoman ends up speaking with Bruce and Slade, while Red Robin catches up with Alfred.
Which really just leaves one.
Batman hasn't spoken a word since they arrived, and he stands brooding by the portal, looking out over the group but making no attempt to actually speak to any of them. Will gets the impression that he's not planning to, but when he looks over to Bruce, Bruce gives him a small little nod of his head.
A silent if you want.
He doesn't want. Not really. But in a strange way he supposes that Batman and him are peas in a pod, emotional disasters that are only now stuck with realizing the fact that they are, in fact, emotional disasters.
Except Batman still has his who-can-even-count-them kids, and Will has one.
Maybe he shouldn't feel a lick of anger and jealousy at that fact, but he does.
"Should I assume you figured out how to make it over here?" Will says as he slides up to Batman. The response he get is a grunt, and only when it's clear that Will isn't going anywhere does he give an actual reply.
There's a long silence.
"I see you replaced both your eyes," Batman finally adds.
"I see you're still the same brooding jackass you always were," Will says flatly. "Did you not learn anything in the time I've been here?"
He's not impressed, to say the least. Batman doesn't know how good he has it.
"We're working on it," Batman says. "That's between my family and I."
"Work on it faster," Will snaps, his voice dropping quiet enough that anyone but Slade would have difficulty hearing. "I'm managing, and you don't have half the baggage I do."
"You also don't have any of the responsibilities I do. You've retired to being their pool boy. You don't have to deal with the League, or the criminals, or—"
Batman turns his head, regarding Will with obvious confusion.
"Quit. Quit being Batman."
"Batman isn't something you quit."
"Neither is Deathstroke, but here I am, doing exactly that. If I put my family first, you sure as hell should be able to."
He's angrier than he thought. He shouldn't be, because it's not his family, but the fact that Batman's there, being given a second chance by his family, and Will is not is enough to make him want to toss the bastard right back through his portal. Rose isn't there. She's been driven too far away for the clearly impromptu dimension hop to be possible for her, and it means she's never going to see her brother again.
The only thing that breaks him away from the rage bubbling up in his gut is the return of Joey and Nightwing coming back down the stairs. Joey's eyes sweep across the room to find him, and he heads right over, brushing right past everyone else.
Whether it's because he knows how frustrated Will is or for his own reasons, he pulls Will into a hug and Will returns it, feeling some of the tension ease out of him. Batman looks away, his discomfort well hidden, and Will makes himself take a deep breath.
Joey pulls back to answer, and Will regrets even asking.
I'll tell you after, he signs. Everything alright?
He knows the answer is no, but he asks anyway.
"They're better," he says, ignoring Batman entirely as he turns back to the group. "What's our time?"
"Bit more than five minutes," Red Robin says automatically. "So we need to start wrapping up."
They burned minutes on arrival, they burned minutes explaining, and a half hour isn't nearly the right kind of time.
"Might I recommend a picture?" Alfred suggests. "I doubt we'll get another chance. Maybe one with the boys to start?"
It feels like a polite way of excluding Batman, who everyone is keeping their distance from, but Will figures it'll make a nice picture anyway. The four from his universe pull off their masks, apparently deciding that it's not going to matter anyway, and everyone huddles in for a group shot. Alfred, master of tact, swaps people in and out until they end up with a shot with everyone but Batman and Batwoman, an unfortunate casualty of making sure it doesn't look like they're excluding Batman.
Will doesn't think they should bother.
"Why don't we get one with everyone but Batman?" He says, and Bruce winces. A few people, however, look relieved, and Alfred takes a few shots with that group before they finally break apart.
Kate hands over a hard drive—not hard to guess what it is—and everyone starts to make sure they have everything, the boys pulling their masks back on.
"What I want to know is who thought it was a good idea to show up at five in the morning," Slade complains.
"That was me," Red Robin says. "Better chance of everyone being home. If everyone was out at work it would be... awkward."
"Pass on our best to everyone," Bruce says. "And... thank you for bringing them." His eyes fall to the cases clustered just beside the portal. Slade reaches up, resting a hand on Bruce's shoulder before giving it a reassuring squeeze.
"Same to you," Nightwing says. It's impossible to see his eyes, but his head turns towards Will anyway. "Stay out of trouble."
"No promises," he replies automatically.
Give Rose my best, Joey signs. Tell her I love her.
"I'll make sure she gets the message," Batwoman says.
Red Hood seems surprised when Jason pulls him into a hug, but tentatively returns the gesture. Damian is forced to settle for a stiff handshake from Robin, and then there's a whole other round of goodbyes. Will gets a handshake from Nightwing, a curt nod from Robin, and a gesture that was almost a nod from Batman.
"We need to get going," Batwoman reminds them. "If we're late... I would rather not risk it."
He watches as they start to leave, waving and saying their last goodbyes. They vanish through the portal one by one, and it's Red Hood and Robin who are the last two to go. Robin vanishes, and then Red Hood shoots them a quick thumbs up, passing through the portal.
Even so, it takes almost a minute for it to close with a surge of light so bright even Will has to look away, and when he looks back the only sign it was there at all is the three cases, waiting for their attention.
Alfred offers to handle breakfast and excuses himself, and Will can't stop himself from drifting over towards the cases. Each is indeed labelled in small, neat handwriting.
He almost thinks two of his boys, only it's truly only one of his boys. Joseph, despite the similarities, isn't his.
His Joey lingers at his elbow, reaching up to touch his arm, and Will trails his fingers across the little label. Even hand-written, it feels impersonal.
"We'll get proper caskets and headstones," Bruce says from behind them. "You'll be able to visit."
Will won't. It's not his way. But it still means something to know that he's nearby anyway, and he knows Joey will visit even if he doesn't.
"What did Dick want?" Will asks, only realizing after he's said it that he's called him Dick. He's fairly sure he can guess: an are you sure you don't want to come back or maybe a we can take your dad back if you want.
He made a deal with ma, Joey signs. She let them take Grant's body, but Dick had to talk to me and then try and bring me home.
"And you said no," Will says.
I said no, Joey confirms. I'm happy here.
Will wraps an arm around Joey's shoulders, pulling him in close. Whether or not the rest of the family have realized it, they no longer have the option of threatening to toss him back to his old dimension.
He's stuck there, and they're stuck with him.
I'll tell you more later, alright? Joey signs, and Will nods.
"I would like to know what is happening with their..." Damian wrinkles his nose. "With their version of father."
"He's on the outs," Jason says. "But he's showing... early signs of being less of a shit. More brooding, but he's started interacting with the family in pretty fucking limited ways."
He seems almost excited by the prospect, and Will wonders if that's because of Red Hood's obvious enjoyment of the subject.
"Kate—Batwoman—is keeping an eye on him. She's taken over as the effective head of the family, and is coordinating between the group. They seem to have taken several nods from how we structure things," Bruce elaborates.
"The other Damian did not mention him before. I don't think they are speaking," Damian clarifies. "He seemed uncomfortable with him."
"For good reason," Slade mutters. "He's lucky he walked out of here with both his kneecaps intact."
"He's learning," Bruce points out. "I think, given enough time, he'll become part of the family again. I certainly learned."
"You were never as bad as he was," Jason points out. "Not sure if we'd be—"
Will's sure he was about to say I'm not sure we'd be having this conversation if you were, but he glances at Will and seems to second guess himself, faltering.
"...Nevermind," Jason says. "Point taken."
He can't help but feel a bit indignant at the idea of being related to that bastard, but he supposes there are some similarities, however minimal they are.
"We've got videos," Slade points out. "I'll divvy them up." He's already heading towards the computer, plugging the harddrive in and pulling up a single large folder. There's a single for the family and then a large group of individual videos. Will isn't expecting any, but he's got two, and Joey has two as well.
"...Billy?" He guesses. He can't figure out for the life of him who the second is supposed to be from. Maybe Red Lion? Possible, but unlikely. Hell, he thinks it's about equally likely the video will be from Nightwing himself. They always did have pretty solid rapport.
You know, for two people who kept trying to break each other's bones.
Most of them only have one video, and Slade hands out thumb drives to each of them. He even hands Will one before he catches himself, grunting and setting it down.
"You need a laptop," Slade complains. "We've got one in storage. I'll get it after."
He pulls up the group video, making it full screen on the cave's computer, and pulls everyone's attention to it before he starts it.
The group on the screen is more or less the same one that just came through, with the addition of Alfred. They're in civilian outfits, and without the costumes the most noticeable change is the other Bruce. He looks... strained. Like he's developed more grey in the last six months than the entire rest of his life.
"Hey," the other Jason says. "I know you probably are going to hear a lot of this from us, but we wanted to make sure you heard it even if something went wrong."
He glances at his Tim, who proceeds to launch into... almost the exact same conversation they already heard. Yada yada, repairing the source wall, yada yada, losing connection.
"Is that all this is?" Bruce mutters, sounding disappointed.
"We already heard this," Jason adds.
They end up sitting through the three minute recap before Tim glances over to Dick, who takes over.
"So! Not sure if we're going to get do this part, but... we wanted to thank you guys. Honestly, your Bruce and Slade getting pulled over was pretty much the best thing to ever happen to us. It helped us pull together as a family and realize where we'd been failing. Gave all of us new perspective we didn't have. Not sure how much we helped you guys, but you did steal Joey, Thomas, and Slade from us, so I'm going to call us even."
Dick's grin is infectious, and when Will glances over to see the reception he catches more or less everyone smiling as they stare up at the screen.
"I mean, that's assuming Joey stays," Dick adds quickly, looking almost embarrassed. "I was going to make two videos, but we were kind of on a time crunch, so... well, you get the idea. I think he'll stay. It was obvious from the videos and everything that he's totally in love with Jay, and I don't think he'd abandon him... if anything, he'd kick Slade back—"
"Master Dick, I fear you have gotten a bit off topic," Alfred says. "We have only twenty minutes left, so getting to the point might be better."
"Let me," the other Damian says firmly. "I am thankful that you arrived. I hope that you are all happy, especially the other Damian, who should go seek the Scepter of the Kings in Bialya—"
"Dami, no," Dick groans. "Do not listen to him."
"Alright, let's wrap it up," other Jason says. "We've got a time crunch to pay attention to."
There's a lot of waving—most of looks pretty mechanical because they're waving at a camera— and then Tim gets up and the video cuts a moment later.
"I'll make sure Alfred sees this," Jason says.
Slade makes a noise, and everyone turns towards him.
"...I want to know what he meant."
"...What he meant?" Jason asks.
"The part Alfred cut Dick off on. That he was fairly sure Joey would stay, but that he thought was possible they'd kick Will back. They had no reason to think that. Every video we've sent was that he was behaving. So why was that even on the table?"
Slade's eye meets his, and Will knows he's fucked.
Pop, I'm going to just tell them, Joey signs. I don't know who knew, and it could be in any of the videos. Better to be up front about this.
"It's your secret," Will says. "You're allowed to tell who you'd like."
He wishes he wouldn't. He'd have much preferred to have gone his entire goddamn life without having to ever tell them.
He doesn't make eye contact with any of them, preferring to focus entirely on Joey's hands. It's a good excuse to not look, after all.
The point of divergence between Slade and pop is different than you thought, Joey signs. Pop did save me, and it wasn't the Jackal who cut my throat.
Out of the corner of his eye, Will can see Slade going tense. He knows the violence is coming.
Ma and pop were fighting when we all got home, and I tried to intervene. My throat was cut by accident, but I forgot about it, probably from the trauma. They agreed not to tell me about it because they thought it would upset me, and the deal ma made with Dick was that he had to tell me the truth so I'd come back.
Slade looks like he's trembling ever so slightly, practically vibrating in his seat. Will's shocked he's managed to say there, and that he hasn't just leapt to his feet and attempted to throttle Will for it.
"But he'd already told you," Bruce guesses. "So it wasn't a surprise."
Exactly, Joey signs. It was an accident. I wish they'd told me, but I can understand why they didn't. I was going through a lot, and finding out it was pop who was partially responsible probably would have done a lot more harm than good.
Bruce plants a hand on Slade's shoulder, pressing him down into his seat, and Jason also seems to recognize the incoming explosion, because he does the same on the opposite side.
We already talked it out, Joey adds quickly. Pop apologized. And it was an accident.
"He still cut your throat," Slade mutters, his tone dark.
"It was an accident," Bruce says. "People make mistakes. Considering the things he's done, accidentally hurting Joey seems relatively minor, and if you can forgive the rest, you should be able to forgive this."
Slade takes a deep breath, his eye squeezing closed.
"...I'll get over it," he says. "Just give me some time to process that."
Probably a good thing you found out now and not from an offhand comment in a video, Joey adds.
"You don't say," Slade mutters.
"Why don't we get breakfast," Jason says. "We can do videos after that."
He clearly wants to watch his own, but it's also almost seven in the morning and they've been up for more than an hour.
Crap, Joey signs. I have therapy soon.
"Therapy?" Will asks, baffled. "Don't you have church?"
They're back to back, Joey admits, looking sheepish. Which means I'm going to have to hold off on watching the videos.
"You've got time," Will says. "There's no rush."
Joey looks like he's on the verge of asking something, and then changes his mind.
"Alright, breakfast," Bruce says. "Everyone upstairs, and let's go see what Alfred's made us."
Alfred's made an entire table full of food in absolute record time, and Will's happy to not have to deal with it right then. Jason makes sure Alfred gets both his video and the group one, and shortly after breakfast announces he's going to make sure everyone else gets their appropriate videos.
Joey leaves just after breakfast, and Will finds himself returning to his room with a newly gifted laptop to watch his own videos.
The first, unsurprisingly, is from Wintergreen. He's sitting in the safehouse in Vermont, looking at ease as he reclines in his chair.
"I suppose I should be thankful for a chance to say goodbye in any manner, but this feels like a poor imitation of a real conversation," he says. "I've been told how you're doing, in general terms. You're doing better. You've improved things with Joey. I have to say that it's a bit hard to believe at times. Even so, at least for Joey's sake... I'm hopeful that things go well for the both of you. He has a video of his own from me, with things I'll say just to him, but for you..."
Wintergreen taps his fingers on his lips, apparently pondering what he could possibly say.
"You've been given a chance, Slade," he says. "Perhaps the last chance you'll ever get. I don't think I could possibly stress to you how important this is, both for you and Joey. But perhaps I should speak less of that and more of us... I hope you do better there. I asked you once where it ended, and when I said that I assumed it would end with either you or your entire family dead. I never expected this, but I think this might be the best chance you have of being happy again. You were happy once, back when we met. It's been years since then, and I felt every year like you were less happy than the one before it. But I think this could fix things, Slade, and I hope it does. You were a good friend, and I owe you my life more times than I can count."
He cracks a smile.
"Try not to drive that world's Wintergreen too mad, Slade. And remember: Who Dares Wins."
The video ends, and Will hesitates as he hovers over the second one.
The problem is that he has no idea who it's from. It could be from anyone. Adeline? Possible, and she was in contact with the Bats...
He clicks it anyway, and feels a wave of confusion wash over him at the image.
"Hi dad," she says. She's sprawled out on what looks like a couch in a dimly lit room. It's probably night, and she seems to be trying to keep her voice quiet. "Long time no see. I just finished making Joey's video, and I was—I mean, it's not a secret really that I wasn't going to make you one. But Jason pointed out to me that this was probably going to be my last chance to say anything to you, and I'd regret it if I didn't."
She sighs, leaning father back so she practically sinks into the couch.
"I guess I still haven't forgiven you right now. It definitely hurt... just, a lot of the things you did hurt, really. But that doesn't mean I won't ever. Maybe in a year. Maybe in a few more. I'll miss Joey a lot, but I think in the long run this is better for me. Moving away. Starting a new life. I've got friends here, and no one's trying to kill me, so that's a big plus. Hosun is... I mean, he grew on me... like a fungus." She cracks a smile. "Now I can't imagine not having him around. He said to say hi to you, but he's asleep right now. I thought about waking him, but it's not like you two had a great relationship or anything..."
She pauses, staring off to the side for a moment, and then sighs.
"So I guess this is me trying to say... I hope things work out. And if you screw up with Joey, I'll figure out a way to come after you myself. But otherwise...? Just... be careful with him. Joey tries not to show it, but he's delicate."
Will's pretty sure Joey would be irritated hearing himself described as delicate, but he gets the idea.
"...Love you, dad. I just wish we'd managed to make things better. Give Joey a hug for me."
She reaches forward, and the video clicks out.
Will feels... something. There's a feeling bubbling up in his chest that he can't put a name to, so intense it feels like it's threatening to burst. It aches deep in his chest, so he does the one thing he knows will make it stop, abandoning his laptop on his bed as he heads out of his room.
He needs to do something, and killing someone isn't an option. Instead, he descends down into the cave to find a training dummy to tear into pieces, only to stop short at the sight of the crates still sitting on the cave floor.
He can fix that.
He goes to get a shovel from one of the storage rooms (very nearly missing the fact that they've got Deathstroke the Sword stuck in a case), and then marches right upstairs, heading out into the backyard.
He should wait until he has a headstone, but he needs to burn off the excess energy by any means necessary. Thomas already has a grave, and Joseph has a headstone (even if there's nothing there currently), so Will chooses the place just beside Grant, marking it off with the shovel before starting to dig.
He's been at it thirty minutes when Slade joins him, a shovel already on his shoulder. He doesn't know if Slade has the same desperate need to push down the feelings in their chest, and he doesn't ask. He doesn't need to know. For that matter, he doesn't want to know.
They dig down to the right level, and then, because he still hasn't worked the feeling completely out, go to dig the other two. The thought that Slade might have been coming out for nefarious reasons doesn't even occur to him until he's standing in a four foot hole getting offered a hand to help pull him out of it, and it's only when they're done all three that Slade says anything.
"We'll get him a proper headstone," he says. "One to match his brother."
Slade claps him on the shoulder, and then they turn and head back to the house.
The feeling isn't gone, but it's ebbed away enough that he can ignore it as he goes to shower the dirt away. He doesn't have a suit, but he has some nicer clothes, and he changes into them before realizing that Slade might not be planning to bury them anyway.
Joey's home by then, joining them for lunch. Alfred handles that too without complaint, and Will tries not to think about it at all.
"I don't like keeping them in those boxes," Bruce says as they eat. "Why don't we make sure they're given a proper burial after lunch?"
It should be a somber thing. It's a funeral for their loved ones. But no one seems all that sad when they finally head out to the backyard as a group. They've all been buried before. None of the deaths are recent. If anything, there's a level of happiness that they're finally back. That they're not going to end up forgotten in another dimension.
Bruce has somehow produced actually caskets for the burial, the bones already transferred over while he was away. Maybe that was what he was doing while he and Slade dug the graves. Will never actually sees the bones, not even when he carefully lowers Grant down into the grave. They do Joseph next, and then Thomas, and then Bruce says a few words Will can't even hear over the buzzing in his ears.
He feels like he's adrift, unable to process what's happening around him.
He ignores the fact that he's in good clothes and helps re-bury the caskets.
Pop? Joey signs, and then after a moment he simply leans forward, pulling him into a hug. It's okay.
Joey doesn't sign it, but Will feels like he said it anyway. He wraps his arms around Joey's back, pulling him closer, and buries his face against his son's shoulder.
Grief takes time, he guesses.
Will helps with dinner, making up for the time lost. Joey's gone to watch his own videos, and once Will's scrubbed the dirt out from beneath his nails there's plenty for him to do. Alfred seems to guess that he's eager to keep his hands busy, because every time things start to slow down he gives him more to do.
Joey goes off to watch his own videos, and when he returns an hour later he drags Will down with one hand to plant a kiss on his cheek.
From Rose, he signs, and Will sets down his knife, turning towards his son to pull him into a hug.
"From Rose," he confirms before pulling back and getting back to work.
For the most part, the family doesn't talk about their videos. There are a few brief mentions, things mentioned in a casual and almost offhand manner, but for the most part no one talks about them.
But there are still clear signs. Damian keeps not so subtly hinting about going on vacation to the middle east. Joey seems to be hugging him a lot more than he did before.
He falls into the rhythm of the house entirely without meaning to. There's always something to do, always someone to see. Dick stops by with someone named Dax who he doesn't recognize in the slightest. Slade attempts to satisfy Damian's need for a pet by sending him repeatedly up to the zoo, at one point even drafting Will into the procedure as he sends Damian up with him.
"You're the only one free," Slade says pointedly. "Deal with it."
Will is absolutely not prepared to deal with a lot of furry animals, and spends the entire trip annoyed. When he gets back and Bruce attempts to convince him to go meet Thomas, he gives that a hard no.
"Absolutely not," he says. "You just send me up to meet Damian's pet cow. I'm not going to spend my Friday in prison."
"You have to meet him at some point," Bruce points out. "He's a part of the family just as much as any of us."
Bruce thankfully doesn't try and push the matter any further.
September moves into October, and Will finds himself frustrated by his lack of progress.
It's not any one thing. If anything, it's everything, because the farther he gets from his time of arrival, the more obvious it becomes that his progress has slowed down. He's still dealing with uncomfortable, unpleasant dreams about things he doesn't want to talk about, and no amount of talking it out with his therapist is doing anything to help. If anything, the dreams have gotten more regular, which he's pretty sure is the exact fucking opposite of what's supposed to happen.
So when two things happen almost back to back that steal his attention, Will is relieved to have something to focus on.
The first is simple enough: someone finally noticed him at the grocery store and snaps a picture. It's so lowkey he doesn't even notice as he loads fresh vegetables into the cart, and he doesn't find out about it until two days later, when Slade slaps a printout down on the table over breakfast.
"Thought you should know," he grunts as Will reaches out, taking the printout.
The most important detail, of course, is that people now know to be looking for him. He's correctly identified as William Wilson, Slade Wilson's brother-from-another-universe, and there's a fair bit of speculation about the fact that he has two eyes, with the consensus being that it's a prosthetic.
What he's not prepared for is the second page, which less than helpfully speculates that Will is, in the words of the gossip rag Slade's apparently got the article from, Bruce's pool boy.
"Do they mean..." He mutters, before reading down and realizing that yes, they do in fact mean exactly what he thinks they mean. Of all the things Will's seen and done in his life, reading the words absolute daddy Bruce Wayne-Wilson followed shortly after by mega hottie William Wilson.
I'm not sure if this is horrifying or hilarious, Joey signs as he skims over some of the other pages Slade's printed out.
"Hilarious," Jason says automatically. "We'd have died for this kind of perfect cover back when we were still doing the vigilante thing. Also, you know, the fact that the entire internet has decided Bruce is a—ahem —real daddy when both of you are older than him is great."
"It's the grey in his hair," Slade says, reaching down to comb his fingers through Bruce's hair. "Makes him look distinguished."
Damian makes a face at the very idea.
After that, his trips out of the house are significantly less private. Anywhere he goes, people are there to take pictures, and there's a rapidly escalating amount of gossip over just what he's doing.
"It'll die down," Slade says as he eats lunch, unconcerned by the uptick in Wayne-related news.
"Maybe we should put out a statement," Bruce says, clearly hoping to get ahead of whatever else the internet might decide they're up to.
"Just let it die on its own," Slade says. "They'll get bored when they realize there's nothing to find."
"You should bait it," Jason says. "Go jogging shirtless or something."
"I'll pass," Will says. He doesn't particularly like the attention, far too used to operating entirely in secrecy. Having himself be so blatantly public feels out of place, and considering what happened the last time he was public... well, it's not exactly bringing up great memories, either.
The second thing that steals his attention happens almost two weeks later, when the attention's starting to die down.
"So," Jason says over dinner. "I had something to propose."
The fact that he's proposing it to the whole table doesn't exactly inspire confidence in whatever it is he's about to ask, and apparently Will isn't the only one to think that. Slade scowls, clearly expecting the absolute worst.
"A friend of mine is going to be nearby for a little while—shouldn't be more than a week—and I was thinking they could stay here. It's more private, after all," Jason says, popping a bit of asparagus into his mouth.
Will's cooking still isn't Alfred grade, but he's getting there.
"Please tell me you're not talking about who I think you're talking about," Bruce says with a groan. Will has no idea who he's talking about, but apparently everyone else does, because Damian's got that mischievous glint in his eyes that spells trouble.
"I am," Jason says. "He's not going to cause any more trouble than Will does—"
"I haven't done a damned thing in months," Will counters. "So don't bring me into whatever mess this is."
"That's fair," Bruce points out. "Will also isn't wanted by the police."
That doesn't tell Will who they're talking about, but it gives him at least a general idea of what he should be expecting.
"He isn't going to cause any trouble," Jason insists. "He's going to be in Gotham anyway, and you know it would just cause a mess if someone spotted him, so—"
"Fine," Bruce says with a sigh. "He can stay. But he has to—"
"Yeah yeah, all the house rules," Jason says. "He knows. I know. We all know."
"Anyone going to clue me in?" Will asks, raising an eyebrow.
Bane, Joey signs. He's reformed here.
Bane? They're inviting Bane to stay at the house?
"This family really is insane," Will mutters, and goes to clean up the mess.
Bane arrives less than a week later, and he does not come alone. Somehow, Jason has managed to completely neglect to mention the fact that the reason he's in Gotham at all is because he's married, his wife is heavily pregnant, and for an absolute multitude of reasons giving birth in Santa Prisca is deeply risky for her in particular.
"This is a nightmare," Bruce mutters as he stares out the front window, watching Jason head out to greet them.
"You could have said no," Will points out, and Bruce rolls his eyes.
"Not really. If Damian asked for a T-rex I'd insist it was impossible and then look into how to start Jurassic Park without anyone getting killed."
"You're helpless against them," Will snorts, and Bruce grins at him.
"You're one to talk."
Bane is not the man Will knew. For one thing, he's not wearing that stupid mask anymore, but there are other signs that are painfully apparent. His head's no longer shaved, instead grown out slightly, and he looks a good deal healthier than Will is used to. He looks very muscular, but normally sized levels of muscular rather than absolutely gigantic.
Really, Will's a bit more interested in his wife. He doesn't actually know for sure that it's his wife, but that's what he's betting on based on how gentle he is with her, carefully helping her out of the car before heading around to the far side of the car to grab his bags.
Things go from surprising to surreal when Will realizes that Jason's got the families bags, and that Bane has gone to get... a little girl.
She's probably around five or six, and immediately minds Will of Rose for reasons that have nothing to do with looks. She looks energetic and excited, but gets shy when she sees how many people are gawking at her openly.
"Let me guess," Will says quietly. "Jason didn't mention this?"
"He might have left some parts out," Slade mutters.
"It is good to see you all again under better circumstances," Bane says, stooping down to pick up his little girl before helping his wife to the door.
"Likewise," Bruce says, getting out of the way to let them in. Will moves over to help grab the bags from Jason, since he's the one who seems to know Bane the best and it seems sensible to leave them around. He puts the bags in one room, deciding they can always spread out later, and then doubles back to find Bane's little girl already sneaking around. She peeks around the corner to stare at him, and Will hears her mother calling out for her.
The little girl darts back, and Will follows her into the living room.
"We were just about to do introductions," Bruce says. "Good timing. I know Bane has met a few of us, but I think Jason's the only one who's met everyone...?" He gives Jason a slightly strained smile that tells Will that Jason's going to be in big trouble for not mentioning that little tidbit, and then starts gesturing around. "My name is Bruce, this is my husband, Slade, and our sons Jason and Damian. This is Alfred, this is Joey, and then Joey's father, Will."
Will's surprised to find he's not half as bothered as he might have been before by being described exclusively as Joey's father.
"I met Joey briefly," Bane confirms. "I imagine you are all familiar with me, but this is my wife Maria, and our daughter, Paloma."
Hold on, I need to go get a speaker, Joey signs. I don't know a word of PRSL.
"I'll grab one," Will says, clapping a hand on Joey's shoulder. "Stay and chat."
When he returns, Alfred's excitedly discussing a recipe he got with Maria, and Paloma's sneaking around the room staring at everything in a less than subtle way. Will watches out of the corner of his eye as Joey scoots over to her, bending down with his speaker pinned to his collar.
"What are you looking for?"
She looks embarrassed, shifting back from him for a moment before leaning in to whisper.
"Papa says there is a secret cave with bats," she says in Spanish, and Joey winces. Will's not sure if he can even respond. He knows Joey can understand Spanish, but he's not sure if his subvocal system will handle other languages, so he steps over, resting a hand on Joey's shoulder as he bends down to.
"There is," he says in Spanish. "Maybe if your father says it's alright, you can see it later, but you don't need to sneak around to look for it."
It's not like she'd find it accidentally, but the last thing they need is her tripping over something. The house is relatively child proof thanks to Jackson, but a five year old is a whole other mess.
"So what's the plan?" Will hears Bruce ask from behind him, and he straightens up, turning back towards the group. "I'm afraid Jason has been horribly vague about everything."
He shoots his son a dirty look.
"Maria is being induced on Monday," Bane explains. "A day or two of recovery, and then we'll be out of your hair. I apologize for the short notice on things."
"Pregnancy doesn't exactly run on a schedule," Slade says. "I'd say we're lucky nothing happened on the trip over."
"While I wish Jason had been a bit more clear about what was happening, you're welcome here," Bruce says. "A friend of his is a friend of ours, and I think we have... very firmly buried the hatchet."
"...Under a boulder," Slade says with a snort.
Will mostly hangs back, letting the conversation carry on without him, but it isn't long before he gets singled out by a curious looking Bane.
"So you would be the other Deathstroke," he says. "The man from another dimension."
"That would be me," he says.
"I must admit to being curious as to what my counterpart is like," he says. "Maybe you could tell me stories after dinner."
Maria smacks Bane's arm.
"Don't pester him for stories," she admonishes. "What if your counterpart is still making a mess in Gotham?"
Bane doesn't look dissuaded, just amused.
"Last I checked he was in jail for making a mess in Gotham."
"I should have known," Maria sighs. "I'm lucky that the Batman set my fool of a husband straight." She rounds on Will, looking him over with a gleam in her eye. "Don't tell him a single thing. Not one story."
"Yes Ma'am," he says. He knows better than to argue with her.
Paloma, refusing to be ignored, slides up onto her father's lap, already pouting.
"Papa, can we see the bats?"
"You want to see them at dusk," Slade says in Spanish. "If you go out to the right place, you can see them as they come out for the night."
Paloma bounces with obvious excitement.
"I don't see why not," Bane says. "You said you would practice your English while we were here, Paloma."
"English is stupid," she says.
"You said you would."
Paloma pouts even harder, folding her arms over her chest.
"English is dumb," she says in English.
"I should try harder," Maria says with a sigh. "It is... good practice for us."
"I... should go let our neighbours know we have guests," Bruce says. "I don't want them stopping by and getting alarmed." He glances pointedly at Bane, and then excuses himself to make a call.
"Why don't I show you where you'll be staying," Alfred says. "We have rooms down in the guest wing already ready."
"Thank you," Maria says, getting to her feet with obvious difficulty. Bane jumps up to help her, setting Paloma down on her feet as they gather their things. "That would be good."
Will isn't exactly looking forward to having guests down on the wing he's come to think of as his wing of the house.
Alfred helps with dinner that night, which is the only reason Will manages to make do. Planning for seven and having nine is a pain, and he's forced to make do with what he has.
"Your cooking is good," Maria says. "The..." She pauses a moment, searching for the word. "Instructions?"
"Alfred has some recipes he can share," Will says as he settles in to join them. "I'm not one for writing things down."
"Color me surprised," Jason says.
That evening Jason takes the whole group across the grounds to where the cave opens up to the sky, and they stand back to watch as the bats start to wake up, leaving the cave in a massive swarm. As excited as he was to see it, Paloma seems frightened at first, clinging to her father's leg as she watches the bats.
"They will not harm you," he says, resting a hand on his little girl's head. "You have nothing to fear."
She stays clinging to him anyway, long past when the bats have all left, and Bane has to bend down and peel her off, picking her up to carry her back to the manor.
The usual schedule is badly disrupted by having guests. Joey still goes to therapy the next morning, but everyone else seems thrown off. Most seem to be trying to be good hosts, with Jason in particular seeming to spend every waking minute trying to ensure they're having a good time.
Bruce seems stiff, and he's not the only one. Slade also seems wary, and something about it throws Will off.
Damian, the world's most blatant trouble maker in any universe, tells Paloma all about Batcow and gets the idea of going to the zoo into her head.
"Please? Please please please?" She begs Bane.
"Your mother needs to rest," Bane says patiently. "And I cannot go with you. Can you not enjoy the house while we are still here? They have a dog, and you love dogs."
Paloma gives an unimpressed look towards Titus, who wags his tail.
"There's also a cat," Damian says. "But she hides in my room most of the day."
"Maybe we can go when your sibling is born," Bruce suggests. "While your mother is recovering."
Paloma gives and excited yell and starts to run in circles around her father.
"...Energetic," Bane sighs.
There's a beep from the security system, and Slade lets out a groan as he heads over to check it, wincing obviously.
"What?" Bruce asks. "...Please tell me we don't have guests."
"That's Diana's car. Did you tell her about our guests?"
Bruce's wince makes the answer obvious.
"Just Superman and his family," he says.
"If this is an issue—" Maria starts.
"This will be fine," Jason says. "I'll talk to her."
"I can do it," Bruce says. "Diana is the one who handles international relations..."
Bruce excuses himself, buzzing Diana in as he heads for the door.
Bane seems on edge despite the reassurances, and Joey seems to pick up on it.
How are things in Santa Prisca? He signs.
"Better than they were. Having one good politician helps things immensely. Cartel activity is down, and the bill to end the life sentence practices is being proposed."
"Barbaric," Maria murmurs in Spanish, her distaste for it obvious.
Will doesn't feel the need to point out that Santa Prisca was the same in his world: famous the world round for throwing kids into prison to serve their parents crimes.
"We've been pushing for more awareness," Bane says. "But it is a double edged sword. If the public things the practice is so awful, they will stop visiting Santa Prisca, and the people will suffer. We must find a balance in order to get the law changed."
Will expects Slade to chime in with some sort of reassurance, but he doesn't. Jason's the one who has to, since Damian is playing with Titus and Paloma.
Which is weird.
But Will doesn't get a chance to bring it up until later that evening when Diana's come and gone and Bane and his family have gone out back to see the bats again.
"Alright," Will says to Slade, his voice dropping. "What's the deal with them?"
"Don't know what you mean," Slade says, but the fact that his voice also drops down low tells Will there is something there.
"Don't bullshit me," Will counters. "I know there's something going on, and I want to know what."
He is not going to be the only person in the house who doesn't know.
Slade shifts in place, and Will knows just from that he's going to tell him.
"Bane was one of the people who helped the clown torture Jason," Slade says, and Will clenches his jaw. If Bane's still alive, that means there's more to the story than what Slade just said. "He only helped once, but as you can imagine we have some issues with that. But... after he got his life together and kicked the venom habit he came back to Gotham to seek out Bruce to tell him what had happened. He didn't know Jason was still alive, and when he found out, he apologized and said he'd let Jason kill him if he wanted to. Obviously he didn't, but he put his life on the line."
Will's not sure if that would be enough for him to put what he did behind them, which he supposes it why he saw some hesitance from Slade and Bruce.
"And Bruce hasn't forgiven him?" Will asks.
"Bruce is working on it," Slade says. "He's softened, seeing his family. He's a bit upset that Jason kept it a secret from him right now, but he'll get over it."
"I'll be happy when he's gone," he says. "Even if he's changed, that doesn't change what he did to Jason."
"Agreed," Will says. Jason isn't his son, but if someone tried to sell him on Walsh being a changed man...
Well, he wouldn't be buying it.
Speaking of which...
"You killed Walsh, right?"
"Dead," Slade confirms.
At least they have that much in common.
He dreams of Tanya again that night, and when he wakes it's with the feeling he's come to accept is guilt.
He doesn't like it, and he wishes it would stop, but at least he can put a name to it.
He drags himself out of bed just after five, heading for the kitchen to start some early breakfast preparations, and finds that he's not the first person there. Alfred might still be in bed, but Bane's wife Maria is already in the kitchen, apparently fetching something from the fridge. She jumps when he enters the room, head darting up like she's been caught, and then seems to relax after a moment.
"I apologize," she says in Spanish, before catching herself and swapping to English. "I am sorry."
"Speak whatever language you want," Will says as he steps around her, starting to pull what he needs out of the fridge. "I speak basically all of them."
Maria says something in a language that is not Spanish, and Will pauses, leaning back to squint at her.
"...I don't speak whatever that was," he mutters, and she gives him a sly smile that makes it clear she was damned sure he wouldn't understand it before she had even opened her mouth.
"No one does," she says.
Will hmphs and goes back to getting the food out. Maria steps in to help, but he shoos her back.
"Let me work," he says in Spanish. He's not even close to sounding like a native speaker, but he's fluent, and she does seem to relax now that she's not having to puzzle her way through an English conversation. "You should be asleep."
"Sleeping comes easy to some and hard to others," she says. "My husband sleeps like a boulder."
"Your husband is confident that things will be fine, because he knows it would offend Bruce's honor if anything happened while you were his guests. You, on the other hand, barely sleep at all from anticipation."
He can only imagine that the circumstances of this pregnancy were far, far different than the circumstances of her last.
"This was a rougher pregnancy," she admits. "They were not sure if I could carry to term. My husband's body was badly damaged by the venom."
Which does not clarify things for Will.
"Is your little girl not his?"
Maria gives him a look that would have curdled milk.
"She is his in everything but blood," she says, leaving no room for argument.
"Fair," he says simply, not planning to argue with an angry pregnant woman. "Was just trying to figure out why you were stressed about it being impossible when you'd already done it once."
She seems to soften slightly at that, watching closely as Will deftly peels potatoes for a breakfast hash.
"So," he says, attempting to make conversation that isn't going to end with Bane pissed at him. "Have you thought about names for the kid?"
Maria makes a face that tells him he's missing something big. Something that she probably had assumed Jason had told them when he'd actually done no such thing.
"Kids," she corrects. "If it were just one, I would have delivered at home the way I had for Paloma, but two is too risky."
Twins. No wonder they risked coming all the way to Gotham. That also explains the size of her, even if he didn't exactly have context for how big she was before.
"Names?" He prompts again.
"He truly didn't tell you anything?" Maria asks, raising an eyebrow.
"If you mean Jason, he's not my kid," Will points out. "And Joey wouldn't share Jason's secrets."
"We are limited when it comes to medical care back in Santa Prisca. Bringing a doctor out to the village would risk exposure, and Bane wanted to be sure that I would be alright, no matter what happened. The choice of Gotham was only recent, and he let Jason know he would be there just so that he would not be surprised if he was revealed. We were not expecting Jason to offer to open his home to us."
"He's like that," Will says. "Very... accomodating."
"Very forgiving. When my husband left to confess to the Batman what he had done, I did not expect him to return. I begged him to stay, but his conscience would not allow him."
"He's a stubborn one," Will says, simply because he doesn't know what to say.
"I meant to ask, are you usually up so early?"
He glances to the clock—a bit after six—and then nods.
"Around this time," he says, which is only half a lie. "Lots to do before everyone else starts—"
He tilts his head, hearing movement, and it only takes a moment before he recognizes it. Bane is quiet for someone of his size, but he's still someone of his size.
"That's your husband coming," he says, moments before Bane peeks into the room.
"Maria," he says. "You should be resting."
"I couldn't rest," she says, swapping back to English. "Too impatient. Did you know Jason did not tell them that you would be bringing us?"
Bane doesn't look particularly surprised.
"Communication is difficult," he admits. "I have already spoken to him to make it easier to write letters. Code phrases and the like."
Maria plants a hand on her hip.
"Does he know I'm having twins?"
Bane actually has to pause and consider that.
Maria buries her face in her hand.
"My god..." She mutters in Spanish. "Tell them over breakfast, before we go."
"Only if you go back to bed," Bane insists. "Rest with Paloma, and I'll get you both for breakfast."
There's almost a fight there, but finally Maria relents, allowing Bane to usher her out of the room and back to her bedroom.
Will can't wait to hear that announcement.
Maria and Bane make the announcement over breakfast to a stunned crowd.
"Twins?" Bruce blurts, his eyes flicking down to Maria's very large stomach as the reality sinks in.
"Twins," Bane confirms.
"But they're both boys!" Paloma complains in between taking bites of her toast. "Which is dumb."
"Paloma wants a little sister," Maria says with a wry grin. "I'm afraid she will just have to wait."
Paloma frowns at that, clearly unhappy with the current state of affairs.
"I assume you have names already picked out?" Alfred asks, and Maria smiles.
"Jasón and Mateo."
There's a wave of excitement at that, and Will catches sight of Joey elbowing Jason and grinning.
"Is that a—" Bruce starts to say.
"Named after Jason," Bane says. "I would not have chosen it without his permission."
Jason's grinning like an idiot, clearly happy with the state of affairs.
"Well now you've tied my hands," Bruce says with a sigh, every set of eyes at the table turning to look at him. "Now I'm going to have to figure out a way for you to send baby photos securely."
It's impossible (and stupid) for them to all go to the hospital, so they don't. There's no way they could possibly stay low profile, which means it's really just Bane and his family who leave after breakfast with a promise to let them know how it goes.
When Will finishes cleaning up after breakfast, he isn't terribly surprised to find the cave door open. He knows who he's going to find down there, and he isn't surprised when he descends into the cave to find Bruce sitting by the computer, digging through a box of electrical components.
"Keeping busy?" Will calls, and Bruce doesn't even look up before he answers.
"I find myself suddenly on a time crunch. I should be able to get this finished in time, but I'd rather get it done sooner than later."
"So you're spending the next few hours rigging something up so you can get baby photos out of Bane."
"Not quite baby photos," Bruce says. He looks almost comical as he hunches over, his tongue sticking ever so slightly out of his mouth as he focuses on what he's doing. "Jason obviously wants to stay in touch with Bane, and it would be a lot easier if they didn't have to send letters back and forth that are heavily coded."
"So you're making a glorified cellphone."
"I already have a glorified cellphone," Bruce counters. "What I need is a glorified cell phone that isn't going to link back to us if Bane gets arrested. One that's tamper-proof."
Ah. Not exactly a bad idea. The phone getting stolen is less of a risk than Bane himself getting killed and the village raided. Someone finding a batphone in the ruins would be compromising for a whole variety of reasons.
"I'm surprised you're taking this so well."
Bruce pauses for a moment, actually turning to look at him. Will feels like he's being scrutinized, but there's not really anything he can do about that but stand his ground, effectively staring Bruce down.
"...I've had a lot of practice," Bruce finally says, his eyes falling down to the work in front of him. "I've moved on. Bane's apology meant a lot to Jason, and I don't want my reluctance to spoil it."
"Like Slade is."
"No," Bruce says. "Jason knows Slade isn't ever going to forgive Bane. If Bane had told me the truth when it was happening, he could have spared Jason years of suffering, and for Slade, that's the one thing that matters."
"But not for you."
Bruce frowns without even looking up.
"If Jason had been saved, Slade would never have rescued him. He'd never have joined our family. He'd never have brought Damian here. Things would have played out completely differently, and it's impossible to say if things would have been better or worse in the long run. Yes, I wish I could have spared Jason the pain... but I also recognize that cause and effect isn't black and white like that."
He pauses a moment longer, and then shakes his head. "...This is what Jason's best at, after all."
"Redeeming men who probably shouldn't be redeemed?"
"Moving on. Jason can't allow himself to live in the past. He has to make do with the life he has now. More than anyone I know, he's learned to take that all to heart. So he doesn't look at Bane and see the man who hurt him. He looks at Bane and sees a man who is willing to die to give his children a better future. That is... a trait I think Jason values particularly highly."
Bruce turns his head, giving him a very pointed look.
"Gee," Will mutters, "I wonder who you could be talking about."
Bruce snorts at that and goes back to his work.
"I can forgive Bane for what he did the same way I can forgive you for what you did. You both made mistakes. You've both owned up to them. You're both trying to be better."
There's a long pause, because Will doesn't even know what to say. Bruce seems to take the silence differently, a slight frown reaching the corner of his mouth.
"I can forgive myself the same way. For not finding Jason in time. For giving up when I should have kept searching."
Will doesn't know if he'd be able to forgive himself for that. Not for giving up.
"You have to," Bruce adds. "You can't move forward if you can't move past the things you've done. Jason taught me that."
Easy to say. Hard to do.
"I'll keep that in mind," Will says simply.
"I know you can do it," Bruce says, his attention back on his work.
"Because Slade already did?" Not exactly a vote of confidence—the circumstances are too different.
"Because you've already made progress," Bruce says instead. "You've improved enough that I don't think people from your own world would really believe it. You've already started showing the same sort of protective instinct towards the rest of us that you show to Joey."
"If anything happened to the lot of you, Joey would be upset," Will points out.
"Doesn't change anything."
Will scowls. He feels like it does, but he's having a hard time putting into words exactly why.
"...I'll leave you to your work."
"...Just something to think about, Will," Bruce says, but he lets him go without trying to stop him.
The news reaches then after dinner. Bane and his family are still in the hospital, but Jason—of course it would be Jason—takes Joey along as he conveniently finds an excuse to be at the hospital to check in on them.
When he returns, it's with a glowing smile and a stack of baby photos. Even Joey looks to be in good spirits.
"Perfectly healthy," Jason declares as everyone clusters around. "No signs of venom after effects, but it's entirely possible they'll show up later. For the time being at least, they're just fine."
But, Joey signs with a grin, there was a little surprise.
"Little baby Jasón came out without issue, but turns out that baby Mateo was more of a Madeline."
"A girl?" Bruce says, and Jason pulls up a photo of two babies, each with a colored headband, with the world's ugliest teddy bear between them.
Her name is Rosa, Joey signs. Which I had no part in. Rosa's apparently the name of Maria's mother, but Paloma named her.
"What's with the bear?" Will asks. It looks deeply out of place.
"It was Banes," Jason says. "He gave it to Paloma, and she decided her little siblings should share it. She's going crazy at the fact that she has a little sister now."
"Any idea when they'll be back?" Slade asks.
Maria's resting, Joey signs. I don't think they'll be leaving the hospital until tomorrow morning. They want to keep her overnight.
"Understandable," Bruce says. "They're fine staying there...?"
"I asked, but they said they could manage one night in the hospital without issue."
It's actually after lunch that they finally return to the manor. The timing works out well, because Bane's car appears not thirty minutes after Murillo leaves from another long and grueling session. When they've parked, Paloma helps her mother while Bane carries the two tiny babies, one in each arm. They look almost comical compared to how large he is, both asleep after what Will is sure was a long night keeping their parents up by screaming at every opportunity.
Bruce practically melts in the presence of the two babies, and Will realizes that Jackson's probably the only baby he's ever actually had to dealt with.
"Probably a good thing they aren't staying too long," Will says, grinning at Alfred. "If they're here too long Bruce is going to end up paying for their college and putting a downpayment on a new house for them."
"I do feel that Master Bruce wishes he had a chance to have... ah, more exposure to infants. He unfortunately skipped those years for everyone."
"They're good years," Will says. "Cute. Easy to deal with. Not sneaking out to make trouble."
Hey! Joey protests, and Will grins at him while Joey rolls his eyes. I was an angel, I'll have you know.
"Course you were," Will says. "I'd expect nothing less. Now go hold those babies so Al can get some photos."
Will isn't surprised when Bruce proceeds to pull a whole variety of gifts seemingly out of thin air. No, it's the quantity which is surprising. He's got rattles and soothers and even a few stuffed animals to the degree that even Slade is baffled.
"Where did you get this?" He asks as Bruce carefully sets a tiny stuffed bat into Rosa's tiny arms.
"I stocked up before Jackson was born. You know, just in case I was going to get any other grandkids in the future, I didn't want them feeling left out."
"Bruce, you could just go shopping again when it happened," he points out.
"I didn't want to. Shopping is terrible."
"A tiny bat? Really?" Jason asks, shooting Bruce a look. Even so, he doesn't take the little bat away, leaving the babies to snuggle the stuffed toy.
Paloma's the real trouble. The babies are, for the most part, as quiet as babies generally are (not very, but certainly livable), but Paloma on the other hand has too much energy and not enough ways to burn it off.
"I wanna see the Batcow," she insists to her father. "Can we?"
Bane shows that he's one of the smartest people in the room when he turns to look at his wife.
"You should take her," Maria says. "I can stay with the babies."
"Security risk," Slade points out. "The hospital was one thing, a public zoo..."
"Not if the zoo happens to be closed," Bruce points out. "Then there wouldn't be anyone to see."
"Please," Bane says, his voice strained. "You don't need to close an entire zoo—"
"I've been meaning to anyway," Bruce says. "A friend of mine was hoping to take his boys at some point, and it's not plausible for them to go when it's opening. We could make a trip of it."
"It's also not a very big zoo," Will points out. "This isn't the Bronx Zoo or anything."
Bane doesn't look terribly happy at the idea of closing an entire zoo, but Paloma is practically screaming in excitement at the idea, which makes the decision for him. Bruce excuses himself to make some phone calls, and Will gets to work making sure everyone's been properly fed.
With how late Bane and his family return to the manor, it isn't plausible to go that night, which means a slow and lazy afternoon is in the cards. At some point, Tim and Barbara get called, and after that of course someone has to call Dick, and by the time they're winding down to sleep Will's pretty sure half of Gotham's going to be going to the damn zoo.
"I'll pass," he says. "I've already been once before, and Zoo's aren't for me."
"I am quite confident I can manage with Miss Maria all on my own," Alfred says. "You should go with the family."
"Like I said, Zoo's aren't for me."
You aren't going to come pop? Joey signs. But we're all going.
"I'm supposed to be under house arrest," he points out. He's not really, of course, because that largely went out the window more than a month ago, but he technically still has the ankle tracker on and if he can use it to get out of the trip, so be it.
"Perfect," Bruce says with a glint in his eye that Will knows is going to be trouble. "As your parole officer, I've decided you'll be doing community service by coming with us to the zoo."
Will groans, because there's no escaping it anymore.
The trip to the zoo is, without question, the most ridiculous thing Will has ever seen.
Because it's not just Bruce getting a whole damned zoo to close itself down so he can take Bane and his family to see the animals.
It's not just Bruce convincing Maria to come along with the twins so that Alfred can come too.
No, it's most definitely the fact that they arrive to the front of the zoo to find that the invited parties are well beyond 'Bane and his family'.
Tim and Barbara are there along with Jackson. Barbara's in a wheelchair, looking downright exhausted already. Jackson's on one of those child leashes Will finds ridiculous, but it's the person behind Barbara who drags the entire scenario from passable to ridiculous.
"Why is Gordon here?" Jason says, his voice almost a squeak. "Does he know about Bane?"
"If he doesn't, he's about to," Slade mutters.
Bane's already parked, gotten out, and started unloading the stroller Bruce just so happened to have handy. Will's pretty sure Bruce discretely bought the damn thing without telling anyone just for the trip.
A little ways down Will can see Dick hopping out of his car with a kid wearing the stupidest looking haircut Will has ever seen. There's a second car parked beside him, and there's a whole pack of teenagers pouring out of it as he watches.
Their group heads for Tim and Barbara, at which point Gordon makes a point of pointedly announcing that he's gone mysteriously blind for the duration of the trip and probably isn't going to remember anyone he sees anyway. Bane seems amused by the whole thing and not at all concerned, not even when two more cars pull into the parking lot.
"Oh my god," Jason mutters. "How many people did you all invite?"
"That's Lawton," Slade says, pointing towards one of the cars. "As far as I know it's just him and his daughter."
"Hold on, you're friends with Lawton?" Will asks. He's questioning Slade's choices more and more.
"He's not so bad," Slade says. "Retired years ago."
The other car turns out to be Clark, Lois, and three of the boys, but they stay in the car until a second one arrives with Clark's parents and the other three boys.
"Bruce," Will says, dropping his voice, "has it occurred to you that everyone here is going to figure out who Clark is?"
"He's playing it by ear," Bruce says his voice dropping low, "but realistically, he doesn't think he's going to be able to keep his identity a secret much longer. Not with the boys. This is a... test run."
The test run derails more or less immediately. Clark leads his parties over towards where they're all clustered in the mostly empty parking lot, doing his best to appear casual. He's already met most people, so he offers his hand to Bane, looking casual as can be.
"Clark Kent," he says. "I work over at the Daily Planet, and I'm a friend of Bruce's. You are...?"
Will has no idea how Bane manages to keep a straight face.
"...Mr. Kent, are you aware that your son is floating?"
Clark's head whips around to find one of the boys—Will has no idea which one—hovering an inch off the ground. Clark sighs, burying his face in his hands, and abandons introductions in favor of returning to the boys for a lecture about discretion.
"Oh boy," Lawton says as he joins the group. "This is definitely a group."
Even worse, it's not even done yet. Another car drops off two people he doesn't recognize, and Joey has to lean over to clarify that the man is—or was— the Azrael of this dimension. There's another pack of twenty-somethings who seem to be friends with Jason and clearly familiar with Joey, but one of them spends most of the initial gathering gawking in Will's direction while trying very badly to hide a blush.
"You already have a boyfriend!" Jason hisses in his direction. "Stop looking at Joey's dad!"
"Hold on," the kid says. "How is that Joey's dad?!"
"I'm going home," Will mutters, only to have Slade slap a hand down on his shoulder.
"No escape," Slade says. "If I have to deal with this, so do you."
Another car arrives with someone he's pretty sure is this world's version of Signal and a girl he's fairly sure is Spoiler, and they're followed shortly after by a face that Will at least recognizes: Wintergreen and his daughter.
"Please tell me this is all of them," Will mutters under his breath.
"Lucius should be here shortly," Bruce says. "How many people do we have?"
"You have forty-three people," Will groans. "Plus Lucius and whoever else he brings with him."
Does that count the twins? Joey asks.
"That counts everyone," Will says. "Twins included. Ten Kents, Seven of us—"
"We get it," Slade says. "The Zoo's ours, so it doesn't matter how many people we bring."
Lucius Fox shows up with his son, bringing their total to forty-five, and Bruce makes a meager attempt to get everyone to do introductions before Dick points out that it is absolutely not going to work with so many people.
"Everyone can do introductions as they talk, but let's get going. I want to see some animals!" Dick yells, and there's a general noise of agreement as they start to head into the zoo. It's clear that the staff were expecting something in the realm of a dozen people, because they gawk openly at the fact that Bruce has managed to cram so many people into one mostly organized group.
"Bruce," Will says as the group starts to spread out. "You are aware that this is going to end up in the papers, right?"
"I expect as much," Bruce says. He looks amused, which is not the correct emotional reaction to... any of this.
"But Bane is here."
"Bane is a six foot eight man pushing around a stroller with babies in it," Bruce points out. "There is not a person on earth who would make the connection between how he looks right now and how he looks normally, let alone how he looked almost a decade ago."
Will double takes and has to admit to himself that Bruce is... probably right. Bane's got sunglasses on to deal with the glare and a heavy coat to deal with the chill. If not for his height, he'd be almost unrecognizable.
"...I should have assumed you had a plan for this," Will says with a sigh.
"You should have," Bruce says, looking amused. "Just let yourself enjoy the zoo, Will."
Easier said than done.
There is a lot going on, and Will, for all his advantages, cannot possibly keep up.
Some things are simply hard to miss, like Paloma's intense disappointment when she learns that Batcow is a cow with a bat marking and not an actual batcow, or the moment when Barbara, with Tim's help, exits her wheelchair to stand in the aviary for a bit before returning to her chair. Will doesn't have full context, but it's clear it's an important moment for a lot of the people there.
Half the group seems to spend more time cooing over the twins than they do looking at the animals, with Bruce standing nearby like a proud father.
"Does he know they're not his?" Jason says with a grin.
Don't tell him, Joey signs, elbowing Jason in the side. Let him have his fun.
Bruce's blatant doting on the twins is endearing in a stupid sort of way.
Will spends most of the morning bouncing between groups, listening to conversations and trying to get the lay of the land. Wintergreen and even Lawton are familiar, while plenty others aren't. He thinks Harper might actually be Bluebird, and he does manage to confirm that pair who showed up are Signal and Spoiler. He mostly avoids Gordon, and when he catches Jason's friend staring at him again he winks and gives the kid a small heart attack.
Someone—maybe Bruce, maybe Alfred—has arranged for catering. It's not fancy by any means, little more than drinks, sandwiches, and snacks, but they've got way too many people for anything more organized.
At some point in the afternoon, the pretense that it's anything but a friends-and-family-of-superheroes event is done away with. Jon and his brothers start flying around the zoo in a race to see animals the fastest, and at one point a giant pot bellied pig gets picked up by two of the brothers and moved to the side as if it weighs nothing at all. Clark dispenses with the glasses, and looks a great deal more like Superman and a hell of a lot less like Clark Kent.
"You knew this was coming," Will observes to him at one point.
"It was just a matter of time," Clark says. "The moment I took Jon's brothers in, I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep Clark Kent and Superman separate."
"Could just keep them out of the public eye," Will points out, and Clark immediately shakes his head, his eyes watching one of the boys—Ore, maybe—pet a capybara.
"I didn't want them to have to hide the way I did," Clark says. "I want them to have their own lives... their own identities. I don't want to tell the world I have two sons and one's named Conner and have them swapping out every day like the world's saddest version of parent trap."
Clark looks... sad. Almost wistful. It's clear it's a big decision for him, and it isn't hard to imagine why.
"...You're going to have to give up your job."
"Yeah," Clark agrees. "Too much trouble for the paper, so it's better if I resign. Working for the Planet is a dream job, but... so it having all these kids. When Lois and I talked about it, we both agreed we wanted more, but that any more than one would put our identities at risk. Now we've got six, and that means compromising."
Clark pauses and then cracks a smile.
"I wouldn't have minded a girl, but I can't say I'm upset at the idea of being forced into being a stay at home father." Clark pauses again, his eyes flicking over to where Will sits beside him on the bench. "Which I hear is close enough to what you're doing now."
"For now," Will says. "I'm handling the cooking for the house. It's a full time job at this point."
"Oh I know. I've got my parents helping and that's still feels like it isn't enough. You'll have to give me some tips when I've formally retired from the Planet."
"No promises," Will says. "I'm not much of a teaching kind of guy."
"I'm sure you'll manage," Clark says, clapping him on the shoulder before getting up and going to make sure Jon isn't hassling the petting zoo's chickens too much.
For all his complaints, Will has to admit that the trip isn't that bad. No one pays too much attention to him, and he's free to drift through conversations, coming and going as he pleases. He hears Bruce talking excitedly to Azrael's girlfriend (Fiance?), and ends up discussing the merits of having such a large group with Wintergreen. He ends up being forced to carry Jackson around for a while when the kid accidentally mistakes Will for Slade from behind, demanding to be carried, and by the time dinner rolls around more or less everyone seems exhausted.
People start to excuse themselves, heading out for dinner. There's no discussion about going to one place together (Will doubts even Bruce could get seats for forty-five people on less than an hour's notice), just a lot of polite goodbyes as people leave in small little groups to go handle dinner on their own.
"This has been an experience," Bane says, one hand firmly holding Paloma's to keep her from running back to the animals. "I don't think I will ever be able to express how much you welcoming our family means to us."
"We can imagine," Jason says. "It's fine. It was honestly fun having an excuse to get everyone out here."
"May I recommend that we pick up takeout on our way home? We've kept our chef so busy he hasn't had a moment to prep for dinner," Alfred says.
Alfred handles calling in a large order while Bruce finds a convenient excuse to duck into the gift shop. Paloma returns with a new stuffed bear (that actually looks like a real bear) and a wide smile, and Jackson ends up with a stuffed capybara.
"Where's mine?" Tim teases, and then is forced to eat his words when Bruce marches him into the gift shop and makes him pick something out.
Will, at the very least, knows better than to tempt fate when it comes to Bruce's gifts.
He goes with Alfred to pick up the food (There are a lot of bags), and by the time they get back the table's already been cleared and set for everyone. Maria's exhausted after a day out, even if she spent most of it in a wheelchair, and takes the twins to rest in her room while Bane takes care of Paloma.
For all Paloma's excitement, she's fast asleep in her father's arms before desert even happens.
"I should take her to her room," Bane says quietly. "And pack our things. Our ship arrives just before lunch."
"So what you're telling me is that I need to go all out on breakfast," Will says with a snort. "Make it memorable."
"This trip has already been quite memorable," Bane says. "Not one we'll ever forget."
"Glad to hear it," Bruce says. "I've got some work to finish up, but I'll see you all in the morning."
Bruce seems to be the only one really staying up. Everyone else is in a hurry to get to sleep, and Will is happy to do the same.
Will doesn't sleep that night.
He should—there's nothing physically stopping him from sleeping—but every time he starts to slip away he's jolted awake.
What were his last words to Tanya. What were the last words he said? Did he even say anything to her after the Society had snapped him up?
He knows he walked past her. He remembers brushing past her with little more than a grunt. What was the last real thing he said to her?
Not even to her. To the team.
The hero goes after the bullets. The villain is less romantic about things and takes care of business.
But that was a lesson. What was the last thing he said to her?
He can't even remember.
He has a near perfect memory, and he can't even remember. It was such a nothing his brain didn't even class it as important.
Will buries his face in his hands and forces his breathing even. He's not going to be able to get to sleep, so he gives up on trying, heading into the house.
As far as he can tell, he's the only one up, and it's too early to even begin early prep for breakfast. He ends up crashing on the couch, watching a 24 hour news channel set on mute. It tells him pretty much what he expected: at least one (if not multiple) of the zoo employees leaked their photos. No one's said Clark Kent, but there's enough photos of Clark in his civilian clothes with his Superman demeanor that Will figures the only reason it hasn't gone public was because they didn't get leaked until late in the evening.
To Will's amusement, there's no pictures of Bane. There's one picture with a part of Maria's shoulder, but Bane doesn't actually appear in any.
Will can't decide if that's intentional or not.
There's movement behind him maybe a half hour after he starts watching, and Will tilts his head, listening carefully to the sounds of someone closing one of the bedroom doors. He hears them coming towards the center of the house, probably following the light, and by the time they're about to reach him he's decided it's either Joey or Jason. Damian's too small and light, and Slade or Bruce is too large.
It's Joey who comes around the corner, looking exhausted, and Will's face pinches with worry.
Fine, Joey signs. Couldn't sleep and I didn't want to wake Jason.
"Same here," Will says, pausing a moment before cracking a smile. "Except the Jason part."
Joey snorts at that and ends up sitting down on the couch beside him, settling in to watch the news. There's not really any conversation, and for the most part it's the two of them sharing the space.
It hasn't even been ten minutes when Joey leans against Will's side, his eyes closed and his breathing even. He's fallen asleep against him, and Will isn't going to wake him if that's the only way he can sleep.
He gets another hour of news in before he hears a door open in the quiet house, and he twists his head around, careful to move as little as possible, and spots Jason looking lost and confused.
Here, Will finger spells with one hand, gesturing down to where Joey sits just out of sight.
"Sorry," Jason says, his voice as quiet as he can manage. "He wasn't in bed and I got worried."
"Couldn't sleep," Will confirms. "I was going to start breakfast, did you want to prop him up for me?"
They trade places, with Jason settling in to watch the news with Joey curled against his side, leaving Will free to go start breakfast. He hasn't even been in the kitchen long when Alfred arrives, insisting on helping for their guest's last breakfast in the manor.
Breakfast's primary topic of conversation is Clark and his newfound media presence. There's no way it could be anything else, and there's a fair bit of excitement when Damian discovers that someone has identified the man in the photos as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.
"I should let him know," Bruce says with a sigh.
"Probably already knows," Slade counters. "You think he's not paying attention? Probably already on his way to work to resign before it gets too big."
After breakfast, Bruce tales Bane down to the cave, handing over the phone he spent so much time working on before explaining how it all works. Jason looks pleased by the fact that he's not going to have to spend his time encoding letters, and Bruce just looks happy that Jason's happy.
Bruce does, however, look genuinely upset when it comes time to see the twins off, and Bane cracks a joke about Bruce being far more interested in the twins than he is in anyone else. He even lightly elbows Jason, suggesting that maybe he should look into getting Bruce some grandchildren to dote on, and Jason goes bright red in response.
The house seems a lot emptier when Bane and his family have finally left. It's quiet, and Will is tired enough that he's willing to try a midday power nap after getting Alfred to handle lunch.
He's just finished changing and is heading to the kitchen that afternoon when Bruce ambushes him.
"So," Bruce says, which Will know means there's trouble. "Did you have any plans for tomorrow?"
"...No?" Will says, slightly mystified by the question. Fridays are normally a slow day, with most of the family going to visit Thomas in prison. He's never visited, and he really doesn't plan to.
"Good. Excellent," Bruce says. "I was thinking you should come to the Halloween Gala this year."
"I'm sorry," Will says with a long pause. "Run that one by me again?"
"Every year Gotham holds a large Gala—proceeds go to charity—on Halloween night."
Halloween. Right. It's not like they're going to get kids trick-or-treating so far from Gotham itself. When your neighbours are a five minute walk away behind a security gate, the candy probably isn't worth it.
"And you want me to go," Will says.
"The whole family is going. Joey's attending, obviously. This will be a... a coming out, I guess. Jason and Joey have been together for a while, and they've been seen in public together, but they've never made an official appearance as a couple. I thought you'd like to be there."
The idea of going to high society Halloween gala makes him want to saw his own hand off. The idea of going there to support Joey and Jason, on the other hand...
"I can manage that," he says.
"Well good, because you're going to need a suit and a mask and I've already ordered them."
Of course he has. Will lets out a sigh and reaches up, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
"Just tell me what you need me to do."
"Meet my tailor so he can make sure it fits properly, for one. You've got the same build as Slade, but Slade's a bit taller, and he needs to take that into account."
"Let me guess," Will says. "You already have an appointment ready?"
Bruce gives him a grin that makes it very clear the answer is yes.
Dinner is late that evening, because Bruce's appointment turns out to be at four in the afternoon, ruining Will's dinner plans. His tailor is an old Italian man who insists he's been fitting Bruce for suits since he was knee high. The suit is finely cut and already mostly ready, and when Will slips it on there's only a few adjustments to be made.
"You can pick it up around lunch," the tailor says. "Rush job, just for you, Bruce."
"We appreciate it, Basilio," he says. "It means a lot that you were able to do it on such short notice."
"Anything for you," the man says, giving Bruce a wink before getting back to work.
Even though Will should really be getting back to do dinner, Bruce makes him come along to pick up everyone's masquerade masks. They're a neat little set that have clearly been custom made, and each leans heavily on their old costumes in terms of color. Bruce's is a solid black, while Slade is is a mix of black and grey with one eye covered over. Will's is clearly trying to differentiate him from Deathstroke in any way, because his is grey with green accents around the eyes. When he checks the others, he finds that Joey and his match, although Joey's is white rather than the dark grey. Jason's is similar to Bruce's in style with a bit of red to accent, while Damians is closest to Slade's, with a mix of grey and red.
"You put too much time into this," Will says as he carefully packs the masks for the trip back to the manor.
"I paid someone to put too much time into this," Bruce says. "One day you'll stop giving me credit for paying people to do things."
"Doubtful," Will says. "The person who came up with the idea of ordering gets the credit for the order."
"Just make sure none of them break," Bruce says with a chuckle. "Or you're going to make the poor artist cry."
Will's pretty sure he can manage that.
Will isn't really looking forward to the gala, but he is looking forward to seeing how Joey and Jason act in public. He's mostly seen them in the privacy of their own home, and while they've gotten a great deal more affectionate than they were before his miniature intervention, he's confident they'll act much different with other people on them.
Joey always has loved the limelight.
He feels a surge of pride as they get ready to go. It's the sight of Joey—looking absolutely flawless with his mask in hand—that makes him feel so damned satisfied. He looks happy. Happy in a way he never was back on their old world, and seeing him link his arm with Jason and give him a peck on the cheek stirs feelings in Will that he decides are firmly positive.
It'll be a good night.
The drive to the venue is highlighted by Bruce letting them all know that Clark is—hilariously—not retiring.
"Apparently his editor refused his resignation."
"Can... they do that?" Damian asks, leaning forward.
"Technically no," Slade says. "But they did. White told him that if he wanted to resign he was going to have to come up with a better reason than 'it might look bad for the paper'. Marched him right back to his desk and made him unpack."
"How'd Lois take it?" Will asks.
"Laughed herself silly, from what I heard," Slade says. "I swear she was still laughing when Clark called Bruce to let him know."
"He says he's going to take some time off either way," Bruce adds. "Thankfully he can work from home."
"Well, Jason just missed the turn," Slade mutters as he takes their exit. "This is why he shouldn't let Joey navigate."
"I'm calling them," Bruce says. "Hold on a moment."
Will snorts as he listens to Bruce attempt to bring Joey and Jason back around, and Slade rolls up to the valet as everyone puts their masks on.
Despite being a masquerade, there's never really any pretense of hiding who they are. Bruce is greeted immediately by a great deal of excitement from the crowd, and they get announced by name as the descend into the ritzy ballroom.
"William Wilson doesn't have such a bad ring to it," Slade comments, grabbing two glasses of wine and handing one to Will. "Enjoy. Relax. Try not to draw too much attention when people start swarming you."
"No promises," Will says.
Even if he has plenty of experience with staying low profile, staying out of sight as a mercenary and staying low profile as a member of the Wayne family are very different. Everyone seems to have a question for him, even if most of those questions are some variation of so you're from another dimension?
He spends most of his time keeping an eye on Joey. Jason takes him around the room, making proper introductions like he's been doing it his whole damned life, and Joey, always the charmer, seems to get himself more than a few fans even with relatively few people who can understand ASL.
The general consensus appears to be that they make a 'very cute couple'.
"They've got some kind of... Wasabi-shrimp canape going around," Bruce says in passing. "Any chance you could recreate them?"
"I could," Will says. "They don't look particularly hard."
"Good, because I love them," Bruce says with a laugh. "Last year they tried to do these tacky Halloween themed foods and I'm happy they went back to something that doesn't look like I'm eating an eyeball."
"I'll keep the body part foods to a minimum," Will says, which gets one of the women he's speaking to insist on talking cooking with him. He impresses her by explaining how ceviche is made, and by the time he looks back, Bruce is already gone.
There's not very much Halloween themed outside of the masks, but things are certainly fall themed. As the conversation part of the evening starts to wind down, the dance floor opens and Will falls back to the edge of the room to watch Joey drag Jason out onto the dance floor. Jason obviously isn't keen on the idea, but Joey clearly is, leading the way like a seasoned professional.
Let me show you, Joey signs to him.
"There's going to be a father-son dance," Slade says as he slides up beside him. "I assume you'll want in."
The last time Will danced is a vivid memory. Not with someone he loved, or with family, but with Tanya back when he was blind. It should be a painful memory—he's been having nightmares about her for weeks—but instead it brings comfort.
It had been a happy moment for the short while before he'd fucked everything up.
Pop! Joey signs, heading towards him as he leaves the dance floor. Are you going to come?
"Of course," Will says. "But you're probably going to have to lead. I haven't danced in ages."
It's a lie, but a lie for a good cause. He lets Joey pull him out onto the dance floor, catching sight of Jason snagging Bruce while Damian hauls Slade out to dance.
Dancing with Joey is something he thought he'd never have a chance to do. He feels almost giddy as he spins across the room, letting Joey lead the way as the song swells.
This is what he wants. He just wants this moment, over and over.
I'm happy you're here, Joey signs, his smile bright. I'm happy you came.
"I'm happy you're happy," Will says, and he knows he means it. He's pretty sure he he's never said that sort of thing before and actually meant it, but he does right then.
He watches Bruce and Slade swap off mid-dance, happy that he gets Joey to himself for the moment. Even so, the dance seems to end a bit too quickly for his taste, with Joey stepping back to sign.
Mother-daughter dance next, he signs. I'm going to go grab a drink and see if I can snag Jason before he gets swarmed by too many eligible young women.
"Be careful they don't swarm you," Will says with a laugh.
I can handle them, Joey says with a wink. Years of practice. Jason? Jason has not had years of practice fending them off.
He gives a quick wave and heads towards the dessert table where Jason stands, already starting to get swarmed.
Will decides it's a good time to retire out onto the balcony and get some air. He doesn't need to stick around for a too-strong reminder of Rose, and the mother-daughter dance is absolutely going to be just that.
He's surprised to find Bruce out on the balcony, leaning over the railing staring out at the gardens with a champagne flute in hand.
"I assumed you'd be at the party," Will says, and Bruce glances over his shoulder, giving him a small smile.
"Got tired," Bruce admits. "Thought some air would do me good. Did you enjoy your dance?"
Will joins him by the railing, regretting that he didn't get anything to drink. Alcohol doesn't do much of anything to him—his system burns through it too quickly—but he still likes the taste.
"I did," he admits. "I think Joey liked it too."
"I could tell Joey liked it," Bruce says with a laugh. "It's you I'm more worried about. You don't exactly wear your heart on your sleeve. You're a bit of an enigma at times."
"I'm not trying to be," Will points out. "That's just... how I am."
"That's how you were raised," Bruce corrects. "Slade got over it. You'll get over it. You just need time... and practice."
Will leans forward, kissing Bruce on the lips.
It lasts only half a second. Half a second for his brain to hold on and go woah there. Half a second for Bruce to jerk back, his hand slamming forward to knock Will back.
His brain doesn't need more time. His brain processes the situation for what it is: fight or flight.
Will chooses flight, bolting as fast as his body will go.
Going out is not an option with the ankle tracker still on, so instead Will goes up. The GPS isn't going to give a Z-coordinate, and being on the house is effectively the same as being in it. He rounds the corner of the balcony and then simply leaps, catching a small protrusion as he starts to scale the old building the gala's being hosted in.
His brain is operating in emergency mode, leaving no room for thought. He knows only that he needs to get out, and get out he does. He reaches the roof in record time, and when there's nowhere else up to go, he's suddenly faced with a far more pressing issue: what to do now.
He can't run away.
Not really. He wants to, but that would mean abandoning Joey, and the thought of just leaving him behind feels like a knife in his belly. He has to stay. He has to deal with the fact that he just fucked everything up.
He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to deal with the fallout, so he simply wraps his arms around his legs to shield himself from the cold and tries not to think of anything at all.
He doesn't know how long he's been on the roof when his ears catch faint movements. Someone else is climbing on the far side of the house. Someone else is joining him on the roof. He doesn't know who it is, but he knows that no matter who it is, he isn't going to want to talk to them. Jason? Joey? Bruce himself?
It's the worst case scenario: Slade.
But it might not be the worst case scenario. Slade might have no idea what happened beyond that he bolted. He might not have heard. Bruce wouldn't want to make a scene in public, after all.
"So I heard you kissed my husband," Slade says, which squashes that hope.
Slade pads across the roof and Will goes stiff, ready to move. Ready to run. But the thought stalls in his head. He can't run. Joey's still there. Nothing's changed. The same reason he didn't leave the area and break the ankle cuff off still holds true.
Slade moves over to stand beside him, and then after a moment actually sits down.
It's not the reaction Will is expecting. For one, when he spares a glance Slade doesn't seem to have a knife (although he might be hiding it). He also hasn't shoved him off the roof just yet.
Will sure as hell would have. If someone had kissed his spouse? They'd have been going off the roof first thing. The fact that he hasn't no doubt has everything to do with the fact that they're in public. Slade, apparently, has self control.
"You are freaking out," Slade says. His voice sounds strained, but it's impossible not to read into things considering what's happening. "Which is understandable considering what you just did."
What he just did.
"Fuck," Will mutters, and it's only when Slade turns to squint at him that he realizes he said it out loud.
"Yeah, this is kind of a fuck sort of situation, isn't it?" Slade says. "You just kissed my husband."
"It was a—" Will starts to say, and then changes his mind. It doesn't matter what it was. Nothing he can say is going to come across as anything other than a stupid excuse.
"Bruce seemed to think this was a plan," Slade says. "That you'd engineered this whole thing. Bruce is a genius, but he's also an idiot. If he thought about things he'd realize that you, like me, thrive on improvisation. That kiss happened. It wasn't planned."
Which is true. There wasn't a plan. There's almost never a plan.
No plan survives contact with the enemy, his drill instructor used to say over and over until it was their first response to someone using the word plan in their presence.
"So here's what we're going to do," Slade says. "For one, we're going to get down off this roof before someone sees us and calls the police. Then we're going to go back to the party and go about our evening like nothing happened."
And then he's going to kill him. Or maybe not kill him: Bruce would be furious. But hurt him, because what he did requires him to be hurt to make up for it.
"And then we're going to, when we get home, sit down and talk about this."
Will's head snaps around.
He's never heard anything less believable in his life.
"Talk," Slade confirms. "We are adults. When something like this happens, we're supposed to sit down and talk it out."
"There's nothing to talk about."
Slade fixes him with a look so intense that Will's fairly sure it comes with its own heat vision.
"There's plenty to talk about. What you need to focus on is being discrete enough about this that the boys don't catch on."
At least they can agree about that. The last thing he wants is Joey finding out. He's struggling to imagine something worse than that. Maybe, if things go well, he can endure whatever punishment Bruce and Slade have in mind without him ever knowing.
"Alright," he says, and Slade pushes himself up from the roof, holding out his hand. Will eyes it warily before finally taking it, letting Slade help pull him up.
He's still expecting to get tossed over the edge, but instead Slade simply releases him, heading towards a ladder Will hadn't even noticed.
"Emergency ladder," he says. "You can manage the drop at the bottom just fine, but try not to get too dirty."
Will's suit is already dirty. He's going to have to come up with a story, but he's done similar things before. He can manage that.
And he does manage. He catches one of the staff, explaining he went outside to take a call and tripped, and is given some help cleaning the dirt off his suit. It won't hold up to close scrutiny, but it's enough to let him wander back into the party, heading over to grab a champagne flute.
He desperately, desperately needs a drink.
With Damian sitting beside him on the ride home, the inevitable is put off. Bruce seems a bit stiff but insists he's just tired, and they make it all the way home without any sort of crisis or breakdown.
Will feels like he's walking through a dream. It's not real. He knows it isn't going to end, nothing more than a shiny facade painted over reality. He feels like he's sleepwalking through things, saying goodnight to everyone before heading back to his room.
He feels trapped. The instinct to run is almost too strong to be resisted, but he forces himself to stay.
Joey is in the house, he reminds himself. Joey is still there. Joey is what he has and he has to stay. He has to take whatever punishment they want to dole out.
He waits until the house is quiet and then leaves his room, heading towards the family wing. The door to the master bedroom is open, and Will feels a wave of relief.
At least it's not going to be in the living room. At least there's no chance Joey will find out.
He lets himself in, taking a moment to calm himself. This is fine. Bruce is there, and as much as Bruce must be disgusted with him, he has Joey's best interests in mind. He'll make sure it won't get back to the boys. He'll make sure Slade isn't too harsh.
There's a small sitting area on the side of the bedroom, just two chairs and a table. A third chair's been pulled from elsewhere, and Bruce and Slade are already sitting, apparently having been talking just before he arrived.
"Come sit," Slade says. Will's instincts tell him that sitting down puts him in a horribly vulnerable position, but his brain simply chimes in to point out that it's what he deserves. It's going to happen whether he wants it to or not.
Bruce is out of his suit, dressed in clothes rather than pajamas, and Slade's still mostly in his suit, even if he's loosened the collar. As serious as Slade looks, Bruce looks... lost. Almost mystified. Like he can't quite figure out what's going on.
"So," Slade says, the word hanging in the air like a weight.
If he's expecting an answer, he's going to have to ask a question, because Will isn't opening his goddamn mouth otherwise.
Slade takes a deep breath, reaching up to pinch at the bridge of his nose in obvious frustration. "Where do I even start with this?" He says. "This is a mess."
Will doesn't look at either of them. The state of Slade's dresser seems much more interesting.
"We aren't mad," Bruce says, breaking his silence. Will hasn't heard him say a single word since the stupid, stupid kiss, so hearing him say it makes his head jerk around, eyes narrowing.
He should be mad. There are a lot of reasons, and Will doesn't want to think about them.
"Because you seem to be expecting us to be mad, and..." Bruce's eyes wander, trying to reach for words that won't quite come. "This isn't an interrogation. It's a discussion."
"But for the record," Slade says, his tone sharp. "If you kiss him—or anyone —again without asking there will be issues."
Will wants to go to bed. He hasn't slept in more than thirty-six hours, and listening to the two of them isn't helping.
"I get that," he mutters, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. When he realizes he's practically mirroring Slade, he aborts the gesture, dropping his hand into his lap. "Just tell me what I have to do to make this be forgotten and I'll get to it."
It's as simple as that.
"That's not what this is," Slade says. "I want to know what you were thinking."
"For someone who started our earlier conversation by claiming to have a better understanding of me than Bruce, you obviously don't."
Slade scowls at him.
"Just because you did it spur of the moment doesn't mean you weren't thinking of something."
"That I needed practice," he says. He's not sure anymore if that was what was in his head at that exact moment, but close enough. The same general idea.
"Practice?" Bruce says.
Will grunts. He doesn't want to talk about it. Maybe this is his punishment: the torture of talking about his emotional state with the last people on earth he'd ever want to talk about it.
"Out with it," Slade says. "Tell us what the hell you were thinking."
"That kissing him seemed like the right thing to do at the moment, obviously," Will snaps. The whole interrogation feels pointless. None of it matters. It's just emotional sadism, demanding to know what the hell he was thinking when even he couldn't put it into words.
"You have to be direct," Bruce says, but it's clear from his tone he's talking to Slade rather than Will himself. "Did you do it because you actually had feelings, or because you wanted to make out with someone and I happened to be handy?"
Will would have preferred they just stabbed him. As unlikely as it would be (he can't imagine Bruce just stabbing someone willy nilly, not even for something like this), it would be so much easier than trying to wrangle his feelings into a coherent form. He has no idea what he wants or how he's feeling, and he doesn't know why anyone would expect that he does.
"That's a question he's expecting you to answer," Slade prompts when he decides Will's taking too long.
"I'm working on it," Will snaps. "If you want an actual answer—"
"I get it," Slade says. "Just... making that clear to you."
"You are... nice," Will finally says. He thinks that about sums it up, but when Bruce continues with his expectant look, Will realizes that Bruce apparently wants something more than that. "If we were back in my old world and you weren't literally married to another me, I'd have already gotten you into bed."
Slade slaps his forehead and lets out a groan.
"Was that really your version of a confession? That you'd have fucked him already?"
"It's the truth," Will snaps. "In any other circumstance he'd have been bent over a desk."
Bruce has gone a rather appealing shade of red, and seems to sink back into his chair.
"None of that matters," Will adds. "Stop dragging this out."
"It does matter," Slade says. "It matters a whole hell of a lot."
Will can't imagine why.
"Slade and I... discussed this before you came in," Bruce says, clearly choosing his words carefully. "While obviously we'll need to work out the details, we're willing to... tentatively discuss the possibility."
Will wonders if maybe he's wrong. Maybe Slade did throw him off the roof, and everything happening right then is actually just his brain trying to come up with the least plausible resolution to the scenario to keep him from panicking before he cracks his skull open on the ground.
"That doesn't make any sense," Will grumbles. He feels like if his brain was going to feed him bullshit, it could at least put the effort in to making it seem even slightly plausible.
"You... obviously have feelings," Bruce says.
"And you don't," Will says. There's no question. Bruce's feelings are for Slade, and the idea that Bruce is trying to indulge him turns his stomach. He doesn't want... not even pity sex. A pity relationship.
"I don't work like that," Bruce says flatly. "If you'd asked me if I had any feelings towards Slade before he confessed I would have said no. Even after I was... struggling to put them into words. I think it might be more accurate to say that I develop feelings after the fact."
"You're married," Will says. He doesn't like... this. He doesn't even know what this is, but it feels like a trick. Like if he says the wrong thing the house of cards that is his life is going to fall right over and catch on fire.
"And in a standard relationship that would be the end of it," Bruce says. He sounds almost amused. "I think we have very firmly established that our relationship is about as far from the standard as possible."
"You love him."
Bruce smiles, and Will feels immediately suspicious.
"...You can care about more than one person," Bruce points out, and Will rolls his eyes. It's too late for Bruce to be cheeky in his direction.
"I vote we all go to bed," Slade says, pausing for a moment. "...Separately, in case you thought that was a double entendre."
"Go to bed. We'll discuss this in the morning, when we've all had some time to sleep on it."
Will wants that. The sleeping, anyway, not the discussing. He's not looking forward to that at all, but if saying yes gets him out of the room, so be it.
"Alright," he says.
"And we're not mentioning this to the boys," Slade says. "Not when it's this... tentative."
Nothing's even been agreed on, and the idea of telling Joey makes his stomach churn.
No, it's staying a secret. It's not even a thing right then.
It is, apparently, a potential thing. A thing that might be.
Will doesn't sleep all that well that night either.
Will feels like he's going through his breakfast preparations on autopilot. He doesn't remember dicing any peppers, but one blink to the next the peppers are suddenly diced.
At the very least his shitty sleep is giving him a good excuse. He used to be able to go days without feeling even the slightest bit tired, but the nearly constant crappy sleep combined with the last few days of almost no sleep are wearing on him.
Joey obviously notices when he arrives for breakfast, but the sleep is also a convenient excuse.
Are you alright pop?
"Haven't been sleeping right," Will says automatically.
Again? Joey signs, frowning. I got at least some last night.
Will leans over, wrapping an arm around Joey's shoulders and pulling him closer to kiss his temple.
"Good," he says. "I had fun last night."
Joey grins, giving Will's side a little squeeze.
So did I, he signs as he extricates himself. It was great, really.
Damian arrives with Titus at his heels, and Jason's not far behind him. Slade and Bruce take a bit longer, both making a clear effort (at least to Will) to play it off as if nothing has happened.
Will doesn't know how long he's going to be able to manage to keep the facade up.
"Because Halloween fell on a friday this year," Bruce says, "visiting hours shifted. I was thinking we could visit Thomas tomorrow?"
"Sure," Jason says. "Hudson's not coming this week."
"I have already made plans," Damian says. "I will be visiting Jon tomorrow."
"Well, you'll just have to miss this week," Bruce says. "Because you've got art class on monday, and they aren't doing visits today."
"Would be nice if they thought about people's schedules a bit more," Slade complains.
Alfred makes them all go fetch their suits for cleaning, and then takes a long, hard look at Will.
"...I will handle the clean up," he says. "You should go sleep. You look like you haven't slept a wink."
"You are most certainly not," Alfred says. "And you will not helping with food until you've slept."
Alfred isn't one to be argued with, so Will lets himself be bullied into taking a nap. It's... alright. It's not exactly restful, but he manages an hour and a half before he jerks awake.
He doesn't want to put it off anymore. He doesn't want to deal with it, but putting it off is somehow worse, so he goes to find Bruce and Slade.
He finds Bruce first, down in the cave going through the hard drive from the other universe. There are a ton of files, most of which have only been briefly gone over, and he glances up when he hears Will, pulling back away from the computer.
"Will," he says.
"Can we do the talk thing now? I'd rather get it over with."
Bruce hesitates for a moment and then nods.
"Alright," he says. "But upstairs, where no one's going to walk in on us."
Will debates asking why Slade has to be there and decides against it. Slade comes first. He knows that much. He knows where he stands.
They end up back in very nearly the same positions they were in before, and Will's sure the chair hasn't even moved from the night before. He still feels tired as he sprawls out on the chair, Bruce's face pinching with concern.
"You... still look tired."
"He only got an hour," Slade points out. "But this is more emotional than anything else. He shouldn't be this tired after only a few days without sleep."
Emotional. He guesses Slade's probably right.
"So Will is having baby's first emotion—" Slade starts, and when Bruce shoots him a dirty look he stops talking.
"Like we were saying last night. We're not saying no. We are... tentatively open to the option."
"So it's not a yes," Will says, "and it's not a no."
"It's a maybe," Bruce agrees. "It is a... we will tentatively discuss this, think about it, and—"
"You're making this too technical," Slade says. "He might like you. You might like him."
"And you're fine with this?" Will says, raising an eyebrow. It's... hard for him to imagine. He's not sure he'd be alright with sharing, and the idea that Slade is...
"It's simple," Slade says. "I already know how damned good Bruce is. It makes sense you'd fall for him." His thumb runs across the face of his watch, and Will suspects there's some context there that he's missing. "I was lucky. I got a chance to be with him. You... You should have that same chance."
He pauses, then cracks a smile.
"And if I was going to have to share, why not with someone who I know so damn well?" He pauses, the smile filing away, and then leans forward. "Joey didn't get one because I knew he wasn't going to make a mess of things, but I'll spell it out for you... if you hurt Bruce—"
"I'm not going to," Will snaps, defensive. "Joey would—"
Slade surges to his feet.
"I don't want you not hurting Bruce because it would upset Joey. I want you not hurting Bruce because it would upset Bruce."
Will pauses, scowling up at Slade.
"They're the same thing."
"They really aren't."
"They have the same result—"
"But different meanings. If I think you're going into this because of shitty motives, I'm going to toss you out on your ass."
Will bares his teeth, and Bruce loudly clears his throat.
"Please," he says. "We are not doing this. If you don't want this Slade—"
"It's not about what I want."
"It is absolutely about what you want," Bruce says, getting to his feet. "Will, could we just have a moment...?"
Will is all too happy to leave. He wants space, and nothing about the encounter was giving him the space he needs.
He doesn't really hear from them until he's already preparing dinner, when Bruce slides up behind him, his voice quiet.
"Jason said he had something to do tomorrow," he says. "So how about the three of us go out and we can... the two of us can go on a date."
Will suspects Bruce has something planned in particular, but he's not going to ask. Even saying the word date in anything but a soundproof room feels dangerous.
"Alright," he says. It still feels... not real. He's not sure when it's going to sink in, but it sure as hell isn't right then.
"Great," Bruce says. He gives the area a quick glance, then leans in, giving Will a quick peck on the cheek before heading out of the room.
It takes Will far too long to pull himself back together.
Will keeps expecting the worst, but it doesn't come. Slade keeps being his usual self, Bruce keeps being his usual self, and any oddities in Will's own behavior is simply chalked up to a lack of sleep. He coasts through the day, cooking meals and trying to think as little as possible. It's easier than it should be to simply stop thinking, and he makes it to the grocery store and back without thinking anything at all.
He has to think when he gets back and finds Bruce waiting for him.
"Come down to the cave," Bruce says, and Will feels a sense of dread. This is it. This is where things go wrong.
But it's nothing of the sort. Instead, it's Bruce awkwardly removing his ankle cuff, getting Will to put his foot up on the desk.
"I forgot about it," Bruce admits. "When Slade said he found you last night, I asked him how he found you so fast and he gave me one of those looks."
"You forgot you stuck an ankle tracker on me," Will says flatly.
"I forgot it was still on. It's not like you've needed it, and you've been going out fairly regularly."
"So I'm officially off house arrest?" Will asks, raising an eyebrow, and Bruce nods and goes to ditch the cuff in a storage room.
Will doesn't sleep well that night, but it has less to do with his recurring nightmares and a lot more to do with the fact that he spends the whole night lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what the hell is even happening.
It still doesn't feel real. He keeps waiting for the catch, the but. He did an incredibly stupid thing. He did a thing he shouldn't have done at all and now he feels like he's being rewarded for it. He can barely understand his own logic, and the prospect of trying to figure out other people's is... difficult.
He doesn't understand why Slade would allow him and Bruce to even discuss something like this.
He doesn't understand what Bruce sees in him either. Is it just because he is, in essence, Slade?
At least figuring out what he sees in Bruce feels comparatively easier. It's not exactly conclusive, but after four hours of memorizing every part of his bedroom ceiling he decides that it really comes down to trust.
Bruce trusts him. Bruce was willing to give him a chance when he probably shouldn't have. Bruce forgave him.
Will sighs and tries to get to sleep.
It's only after breakfast that Will clues in on the trap Bruce has set for him.
"You sure you can't make it?" Bruce asks Jason, and Jason shakes his head.
"Work calls. In this case, literally." He shakes his head, and Will finally connects the dots.
"Wait," he says. "You're visiting Thomas?"
"So are you," Slade says with a grin that spells trouble. "We're not making a trip to the prison and then all the way back here to pick you up. You're going to have to meet him sometime."
Great. The last thing Will wants is to meet the Wayne family's imprisoned patriarch. Especially not with everything else going on.
Will grumbles and Joey leans over, giving him a peck on the cheek.
Thomas is pretty nice, Joey signs. He was sweet to me when we first came over together.
Alright. He supposes he can make an effort with Thomas then.
Plus, still better than the last time you were in prison, Joey adds with a grin.
Damian leaves for the Kent house before Jason and Joey leave together. Alfred retires out back to garden, and Will finds himself with the first hint of privacy he's had in ages as they head down to the car.
"So what's our excuse?" He asks.
"We're all going to see Thomas," Slade says. "Then you're going with Bruce on your date."
"I'm going to go pick up some supplies from a specialty hardware store. Clark's gone public, which means an increased security risk. He asked if we'd help him replicate our setup onto their property."
Simple enough. It'll hold up to all but the closest scrutiny.
"Do I get to find out what this... 'date' is?"
He can't remember the last date he went on. It must have been with Adeline, but the line between date and simply existing in the same space have always been blurry.
"I was going to leave it a surprise," Bruce says. "You'll like it."
Will grunts, not at all convinced.
Joey was right though: passing through security is a great deal nicer than the last time he was in prison. For one, no cavity search. For another, Bruce is obviously friendly with the guards, who seem to be on a first name basis with him.
"Good to see you made it," one says as Bruce passes through the metal detector. "We weren't sure if you'd just wait until next Friday."
"I'm not one to skimp on obligations," Bruce says with a grin, and the guard turns his attention to Will, looking him up and down.
"...Slade's brother, right?"
"Different Slade," he says, which is true. "This Slade's not the same as the one in my own dimension."
Probably a good idea to emphasize that.
No, definitely a good idea to emphasize that.
"Well, I'm sure they've told you all the rules," the guard says, which is completely wrong. Will doesn't correct him. "Let us know if anything comes up."
They get herded into the meeting area and grab seats around a table while the guards go to fetch Thomas. They aren't waiting long when he appears in the doorway, squinting at the three of them before heading towards the table.
"So you finally brought him," are Thomas's first words.
"I've been trying to get him to come for a few weeks," Bruce says with a laugh. "I knew he'd crack eventually."
Thomas is openly scrutinizing him, his eyes sweeping up and down Will. With two green eyes and a far more youthful appearance, the similarities between him and Slade are far less obvious. They pass more as brothers than alternate versions of the same person, and Will isn't sure if Thomas knows the truth. Probably not, since he can only communicate with the family in places that are recorded.
"...This family tree is going to need a road map," he gripes after a moment. "You're the father of the kid that's dating Jason, right?"
"That's him," Will confirms. "Joey."
"Nice kid," Thomas says, which endears him to Will immediately. He turns his head, his attention back on Bruce, and grins. "So I hear you've been hanging out with Superman."
Thomas seems to be deeply invested in all the family gossip he can get, asking Bruce and Slade all about the trip to the zoo. Will gets the impression he's planning to go back and brag about his family to the rest of his friends in prison, which is an amusing mental image. Thomas is... well, he's nothing like Will first expected. The stories he heard about the Batman with guns made him sound absolutely vicious, but Thomas seems like a pretty nice guy in general.
He's certainly not bloodthirsty, anyway.
"So," Thomas says as they start to wrap up. "Before you go, I need you to go flex your status at the Warden. You're a friend of his, right?"
"We know each other," Bruce says. "What are you after?"
He seems opposed to the very idea of 'flexing his status' at the warden, but he asks anyway.
"There's a metahuman in my cell block," Thomas says. "Not sure who, but they need to get rooted out."
"A... metahuman?" Bruce asks. Will isn't sure how things are handled there, but it's not unheard of for a meta to be kept with the regular population. It should only be an issue if their power makes it an issue... which it apparently is.
"Someone's been broadcasting their dreams it me," Thomas says. "Slept like crap since then. Not every night, but a lot of the time. Doubt they're doing it intentionally, but sleep matters a hell of a lot in here."
"I'll look into it," Bruce says. "See what I can find out."
The wheels in Will's head are turning, the gears spinning up to full speed. He feels properly awake for the first time in ages.
Thomas glances at him, squinting for a moment.
"Same thing, mostly," he says. "Some girl I don't know asking for help. Probably the guy's daughter, since they seem a bit young to be dating someone who's in here."
Will is awake.
"What did she look like?"
Thomas pauses, eyes narrowing.
"Does it matter?"
Bruce and Slade are gawking at him, obviously confused.
"Black girl. Teenager. Big frizzy hair in two big puffs at the back of her neck," Thomas says. "Wearing... I don't know. White body suit with a black jacket? Stupid gloves."
"Thanks," Will says, standing up abruptly. "We need to get going."
"Are you going to explain what's going on?" Bruce asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Not here I'm not."
"We'll see you on Friday," Bruce says to Thomas quickly.
"Keep me updated on... whatever this is," Thomas says with a gesture towards Will. "As long as it gets me a good night sleep, I'm happy."
Thomas's expectations are too low.
He makes them wait until they're in the car before he explains. Will takes the driver's seat, and Slade takes the passenger side before Bruce can argue.
"Tanya Spears was the second Power Girl in my world," Will explains. "The first Power Girl was a Kryptonian from another dimension who got stranded in ours. When she went back home, she left her money—and some of her powers—with Tanya. Tanya was the one who helped me when I was blind, and after that I recruited her for the team I was running at the time, Defiance."
"Joey mentioned this," Bruce says. "When you went... good?"
"That was the idea. What matters is that Defiance broke up because there was a fight of some sort, and that fight ended up with Tanya—who should have been invulnerable—killing herself."
Bruce jerks back like he's been slapped.
"Let me guess," Slade says. "She's a black girl, frizzy hair, white suit, stupid gloves?"
"The white bodysuit was the Defiance bodysuit. Originally modelled after Joey's Ikon suit."
"This definitely means something," Bruce agrees. There's no way Thomas could know anything about Tanya, after all, but he doesn't know the half of it.
"I've been dreaming about her," Will says, checking the time before reversing out of the parking spot. "Thought it was guilt. But Thomas didn't know her, and it doesn't make sense he'd be having guilty dreams about her. So, alternate theory: what if Tanya isn't dead, she's just... lost?"
"Lost," Slade says flatly. "Did you forget we're in another dimension?"
"I think that's why we're hearing her," Will points out as he heads into Gotham. "Thomas and I both are from other worlds. Joey's mentioned sleeping poorly a few times too: what are the odds that Joey's also dreaming about Tanya?"
Considering the time, Joey's already done therapy. He should be in church, and Will hesitates to call him. It's not urgent, really. It's been happening long enough that a few hours isn't going to change a thing. Instead, he parks the car and gets out, heading for the church door.
"I didn't know you knew where Joey went to church," Slade mutters.
"I pay attention to things like that," Will says. "You never know when you're going to have to hunt him down."
They keep quiet as they sneak into the back of the church, Slade and Bruce following Will's lead as he slides into an empty back pew. Even at a distance he can spot Joey up near the front. He's standing on the left side, interpreting what's being said to a small cluster of people who Will assumes must be hearing impaired.
"...Are we going to say anything?" Bruce asks quietly.
"We're going to wait," Will says. He doesn't want to interrupt. Joey is—he's pretty sure anyway—actually working. It's not like waiting out the rest of the sermon is going to hurt him or anything.
Slade's clearly full of nervous energy, shifting in his seat as things wrap up, and Will watches Joey say his goodbyes to the priest before starting towards the door. He's halfway there when he spots them, freezing for a moment, and then a look of excitement crosses his face as he makes a beeline for them.
You came! He signs. You should have told me.
"Things came up," Will says. "We were in the area and didn't want to disturb you."
Joey leans down, giving Will a peck on the cheek. He's so damned happy that it's killing Will to see.
You're lucky the usual priest isn't here, he signs. He'd talk your ear off.
"We'd have politely declined anyway," Bruce says. "Why don't we head out to the car?"
Which is Bruce's not so subtle way of telling Will to keep his mouth shut. Shade grabs the driver's seat this time around, and Will slides into the back with Joey.
"Joey," he says, his tone serious. "You haven't been sleeping well. What have you been dreaming about?"
Joey goes pale. It doesn't really explain things for him—he's not sure why Tanya would elicit that reaction—but it's certainly an indicator of something.
Do we have to talk about it? Joey signs, glancing discretely towards where Bruce and Slade sit.
"It's important," Will says.
Joey squeezes his eyes shut, taking a moment to compose himself before he answers.
Back when we were all on Defiance, when I got hurt I refused to take any painkillers. Terrence came over to help me, and Tanya got upset that I was having a hookup in what was basically her house. She told ma, who got upset, and then ma told me, and I went after her guns blazing. She... Joey's signs falter, and he looks away, obviously dreading saying the next bit. She killed herself after that. Everyone's told me that it wasn't my fault, but I didn't help either. I made things worse.
"And now you're dreaming about her."
She wants my help, Joey signs. But it's too late. I should have realized she needed it, and I didn't. She was just a kid.
"She's not dead," Will says flatly, and Joey's head snaps up. Bruce sighs.
"Will thinks she isn't dead," Bruce clarifies. "He's also been dreaming about her. But more importantly, Thomas has been dreaming about her."
But Thomas doesn't know her, Joey signs. That doesn't make any sense.
"I'm going to look into who the Tanya Spears of this world is," Slade says. "It'll help us rule that out."
"I don't think she died," Will says. "Never made sense to me that someone as religious as her would off herself." Joey winces at every mention, but Will forges on ahead. "I think she was doing something else. Now she's trapped, and we're hearing her distress calls."
Trapped... where? Pop, you do realize this sounds crazy, right?
"This sounds less crazy than half the shit we get involved in, Joey," Will points out. "We moved to a whole other dimension. I once ran so fast I had a religious experience. Nothing about our lives are normal, and there's no reason this should be."
"Okay," Bruce says. "We're going to take this one step at a time. We're going to rule out this world's Tanya Spears. Then we can start looking into things. We'll just handle this the way we handle everything else."
Easier said than done.
Slade immediately goes to do a search and comes up with the answer Will expected: Tanya Spears exists, but she exists several states over, has no connection to any of them, and is several years older that Will would have expected.
"That rules out that for Thomas," Bruce observes. "Which confirms something is actually happening."
Joey chews on his lip, staring up at the picture of an unfamiliar Tanya.
What now? He finally signs.
"I want to run some tests," Bruce says. "What we're dealing with here is... beyond what we're used to. I'll run some tests on the both of you, and then ideally one of you will sleep down here and see if we can pick anything up."
Can that be me? Joey signs with a small smile. I'm exhausted.
"Sure," Bruce says. "We've got a cot in the corner, can one of you—"
"Got it," Slade says.
"Will, can you head over and let Clark and the others know what's going on? I'd prefer to let them know before we start accidentally messing with things we know nothing about."
"Always with the sensible ideas," Will says. "I'll let them know."
Without being discussed, the date is abruptly put on hold. Whatever Bruce had in mind is simply no longer a priority, and Will is too invested in what's happening to give it much thought.
He lets the Kents know what they know, but Damian ends up staying with them anyway. There's nothing really to be done at home, so it's just a matter of waiting for something else to happen that desires his attention.
Jason is a different story. When Jason gets back to work he jumps right into a different kind of work, pulling all of the other universe's files on alternate dimensional theory onto a tablet and retiring into the library to read. He insists, above all else, that he not be disturbed.
Bruce spends the afternoon running tests down in the cave, occasionally pulling Will down to join in when Joey isn't enough. Will himself, on the other hand, focuses on the more mundane. There's still food that needs cooking. There are still things to be done. Life continues on, even with half the house working their way through something that might even qualify as a small crisis, depending on how you look at it.
Bruce confirms what Will expected over dinner.
"There is in fact... something going on," Bruce says. "I'm not entirely sure what, but it is something."
"How vague," Slade says with a snort. "Something."
"I don't want to call it radiation," Bruce says. "It's not. It's... there is something happening. Joey's body is always reacting to something I can't see, but when he sleeps it seems to be reacting even more to... whatever the thing is."
"Call it what it is," Will says. "It's some kind of a connection."
"Most likely," Bruce confirms.
There's only so much that can be done. Bruce ends up retiring down to the cave to read through some more files, but he seems to be trusting Jason's insight as the man powers through the absolutely massive array of information the other universe left for them.
"I should have been reading this ages ago," Jason complains when he leaves the library to go to the bathroom and passes Will in the hall. "It's just so dry."
Will makes an attempt to read through some of it and gives up five pages in. It's mired in technical language, and so uninteresting to read that Isherwood's own papers look downright compelling by comparison.
He sleeps that night, but only in fits and starts. At the very least he's not stressing about the relationship thing, which lets him catch some extra shuteye he couldn't get before.
When he wakes close to six and heads out to start breakfast, he finds Jason curled up on the living room couch, drooling as he sleeps. Will makes sure he has a blanket and then goes to start breakfast.
Jason returns to the land of the living midway through the meal, but doesn't offer any sort of conversation or insight until he's completely finished eating. Only once he's done does he grab two knives, placing them in a cross shape in the center of the table as everyone else looks on in confusion.
"So I read... almost everything," Jason says. "Which was a task, let me be clear. Whoever is writing those things needs to learn to write things in a way that doesn't bore you to tears."
"And you finished all of it?" Bruce asks, raising an eyebrow. That doesn't even seem possible, so Will understands his doubt.
"I read all the summaries," Jason clarifies. "Then I went back and read all the relevant papers, and then all the papers those brought up. Then I put together my theory, and here I am."
Will wonders where passing out on the couch fits into that, but doesn't ask.
"...And the cutlery?" Alfred asks, eyeing the knives.
"So a desire path is a simple enough concept. If you pave a north-south path and a west-east path, but everyone is going from the south end to the east end, they'll cut across the space like so." He drags his finger across the space between the two points. "They'll keep walking along that area until the grass wears down, leaving a desire path."
Will is familiar with the theory. It isn't exactly high level stuff.
"That's the best term I'm aware of for when human travel wears something down, and it's immediately relevant to what I'm about to talk about. So there are—" Jason pauses, taking a deep breath like he can't quite believe he's saying it. "—Fifty-two parallel universes in the multiverse."
"...That is an... oddly specific number," Bruce says.
"Which one are we?" Damian asks.
"Twenty-seven," Jason says. "But we aren't on the map I have. It's not even really a map, more of an... encyclopedia. A listing of... which world is which. We'll probably be on the next version of the map. Either way, we're getting off topic. The point is that there are fifty-three parallel worlds, but what matters for our purposes is not the world's themselves, but what's between them."
Will is following, but he doubts he's going to be following for very long.
"I could honestly spend days just explaining what we now know about the state of things, like the fact that there are negative universes, but I'm going to focus on what's relevant. So I'll ask this question: how do you get between universes?"
"With a device?" Bruce speculates. "Someone's always needed some kind of object, but I'm unclear on how they work. Or... why they work."
"Well, turns out the answer is easily," Jason says. He looks amused by the whole damn thing as he explains. "There's like two dozen different ways to hop to another dimension. It's just a thing that can be done. The hard part, as you can imagine, is getting to decide which dimension to hop to. Even assuming you jump correctly and end in in a dimension itself, and not... I don't know, lost somewhere else, that's still a one in fifty one chance of getting the right one."
"Ah," Will murmurs. "I see what you're getting at."
"I can't say the same," Alfred says with a sigh. "I'm afraid I'm quite lost."
"So the trick is," Jason says, reaching forward to tap the X he made with cutlery, "desire paths."
"Oh," Bruce says. "You think... you think worlds get connected as people cross between them? If a lot of people go from one world to another, the desire path forms?"
"That's my theory," Jason confirms. "I think that's why we had such consistency when we were sending letters. The paths appear to be connected by physical location in addition to dimension. So we did the exact right thing by repeatedly crossing back and forth from the same physical location. There were some papers that kind of speculated something similar—"
Jason, Joey signs. Focus?
"Oh right," he says quickly. "Okay, so, point. I think crossing back and forth creates paths. Those paths make dimensional travel easier. I think we had a good path going, but that this whole source wall repairing thing destroyed our path. Shifted it around. So now we're... in a new space, imagine. So we no longer have our path back to the other dimension."
"...And Tanya?" Will asks. Jason's clearly enjoying all the theoretical aspects of things, but at the cost of explaining things in a manner that's actually brief.
"I think that when things shifted around, we accidentally ended up on the tail end of a different desire path. I think Tanya's trapped in another world—not the one guy guys came from, but a different one—and that the three of you are sort of tapping into that path."
"That sounds like a lot of speculation," Bruce says. "You had me with the rest, but this..."
"It doesn't quite make sense," Jason admits, "but it fits what we know. We know you've all been having dreams. The dreams all seem to be the same content. But the dreams can't indicate a physical connection to Tanya herself, because Thomas never met her. So I think you might have... I don't know, crossed the path when you came over?"
"Why not us then?" Slade asks. "Bruce and I both made the trip four times. There and back, twice each. That's more than any of them."
"But you're local to this world," Jason says. "That's my guess, anyway. That it's the combination of having crossed the desire path to where Tanya is, combined with being out of tune with this world."
"So how do we fix it?" Damian asks. Their food has long since gone cold.
Slade grunts. He already knows the answer.
"He wants us to jump to another dimension," Slade says. "He think if we jump, we'll end up where Tanya is, and then we can come back."
"Yes, but no," Jason says. "You can't partially cross between dimensions. You can't... stick your arm through, for example. If part of you goes through, the whole of you goes through. Same with anything you're holding. But—and this is a big but—there's a paper by a guy who theorized you could tether yourself if you handled things just the right way."
"That is a giant but," Bruce sighs. "This is risky."
"If she's actually trapped and calling for help, we need to help her," Jason says. "We might be the only people capable. Even if she's trying to reach her own world, they might not be able to hear her at all."
It's actually visible the way Jason cracks right through his parents reluctance. Slade and Bruce both crumble like a sandcastle in the face of Jason's earnest desire to help, and Will has to admit he's almost in awe of how easy it is.
"So we build this tether," Will says. "Then go through and get her? Bring her back?"
"If she's trapped and in danger, that's about the short of it," Jason says.
"How long is this going to take, exactly?"
Jason has nothing but a shrug to offer him.
"Not sure," he admits. "I'm going to start working on it today. If Bruce can help, the work should be sped up. We need to make the tether, and then the device that will let us hop to another reality. Ideally, we'll use it with the two of you standing side by side, and that should be enough to let us follow the desire path back to her."
There are a lot of ifs going on. If it works. If they can make it. But it's the only plausible solution that Will sees, and he's eager to give it a try. If it'll let him sleep through the night, good.
If it'll let him help Tanya, even better.
It's never as easy as it is in theory, which is something Jason learns as he gets to work. Will is good at a lot of things, but building complicated theoretical dimensional tethers is not one of them, and he tries to stay out of it. Jason seems to be doing most of the work, with Bruce providing assistance. Joey's down in the cave a lot to help, but his help tends to be forcing Jason to take appropriate breaks, eat food, and generally take care of himself rather than running himself into the dirt.
Will's sure Joey is hoping Jason will finish it within a day, but Will knows it's not reasonable.
"I need a break," Bruce says with a sigh. "I'm going to go sit out back for a bit and see if I can get my eyes to uncross."
Will doesn't know if it's a cue for him to join Bruce, but in the end he does, retiring out back as the sun dips behind the horizon.
"Sorry," Bruce says when he does, his face apologetic. "I didn't mean to derail our plans."
The apology catches Will so off guard that for a moment he wonders if he heard right.
"...You weren't the one who did the derailing," Will points out. "If anything, that was me."
Bruce's mouth twitches.
"I'm the one spending six hours in the cave in a row," he points out.
"Only because you're the one useful at this sort of thing. I've never had a head for it—I'm a soldier, not a scientist. You tell me to go wading into a potentially dangerous situation and I'll go, but if you tell me to sit back in a lab and spend six months hammering out this new scientific theory of yours and we're going to have a problem."
Bruce is silent for a moment, his eyes drifting over to watch the sunset.
"...A soldier," he finally says. "I guess you are."
"...Is Slade not?" He never asked, but he'd assumed. How could he not be? Would he even be the same person if he hadn't been in the army?
Will doesn't think he would.
"He is," Bruce confirms. "He's... he is."
His silence throws Will for a loop, and he hesitates for a moment before leaning over.
"I know this isn't the place for it," he says. "But... I don't want to be a replacement." That isn't what he wants at all. He isn't interchangeable—far from it. In a lot of ways, him and Slade are night and day, as different as can be. In other ways? So similar they're identical.
"You aren't," Bruce says, and after a moment he reaches forward, resting a hand on the back of Will's arm. "Honestly. I know that's probably hard to believe, you just..." He huffs a bit. "Both suit my tastes. But you're very different people. Trust me, that is... hard to miss."
It doesn't exactly calm his nerves completely, but it does satisfy at least the first flicker of anxiety over the matter. They're different. At least on a surface level, Bruce recognizes that.
"Alright," he says, leaning back in his chair. "I just wanted to get it out."
"I get that," Bruce says with a smile, leaning back in his own. "There is a lot—honestly, I don't like sneaking around like this at all. I'd rather we get through this awkward will we won't we phase as fast as possible. Hiding anything from the family feels like a disaster waiting to happen."
"Someone's going to find out," Will agrees, "and might make the wrong assumptions."
"Indeed," Alfred says from behind them, and Bruce spins so fast the chair wobbles and nearly falls over. Alfred's standing a few feet back, a single eyebrow raised, his hands neatly clasped together.
"...Faster than I thought," Will mutters, and Bruce goes cherry red.
"I will dispense with the lecture and instead ask a single question: I assume Slade is quite aware...?"
"Of course," Bruce blurts. "He—I told him first. Before we even discussed it. It's only been a few days..."
"I guessed as much," Alfred says. "I'm afraid you lack the ability to hide anything from me, Master Bruce. I would be quite shocked to learn this had been going on since, say... the Halloween Gala."
"...Damn, he's good," Will mutters, mostly to himself.
Bruce looks like he wants to die on the spot.
"We are... we were just discussing when to tell the kids," Bruce says. "...And you."
"Sooner rather than later, Master Bruce," Alfred says. "This is not a secret you want them to discover on their own."
"After we help Tanya," Bruce confirms. "That needs to be our priority."
Alfred clearly doesn't approve, but finally nods his assent anyway. Bruce sags back into his chair, one hand reaching up to rest over his chest.
"I think you gave me a heart attack," he murmurs.
"He didn't," Will says with a snort. "It's just sped up."
Bruce pauses, turning his head to squint at him.
"...Can you... hear my heartbeat?"
The way he words it throws Will off.
"...Can Slade not?"
"If it's quiet and he's trying," Bruce says. "He can't just... normally."
"That's because I've got the better power set," Will confirms. "Doesn't surprise me all that much to learn he's got that worse too. My regeneration's better, why not my hearing?"
"Maybe we should run tests..." Bruce murmurs to himself, and Alfred clears his throat.
"I'll be taking my leave," Alfred says. "I encourage you two to be aware of who might be nearby at any given time..."
He excuses himself, and Bruce lets out a sigh.
"That feels like a record for someone finding out."
"Oh no," Will says. "He probably already suspected before he even stumbled onto us. Alfred, as far as I can tell, knows everything."
"...You're probably right," Bruce mumbles. "He does seem to... to know everything."
"Who knows more than the world's greatest detective?" Will says with a laugh. "The man who raised him, obviously."
Bruce ends up returning to the cave that night, swearing there's work to be done. Will, on the other hand, does some early prep for the next day's meals before retiring to bed, hoping to take full advantage of the time he has available.
When Will is woken before dawn by a rapid knocking on the door, he decides that maybe murder should still be an option. He grumbles, dragging himself out of bed, and answers the door in his underwear, scowling down at whoever it is dared to knock at four in the morning.
It's Jason. Of course it's Jason.
"We finished," he says excitedly.
"That's nice. Come back in two hours."
He attempts to shut the door on Jason, only to have him dart his foot out like the little monster he is, keeping Will from shutting the door.
"She has been there for more than six months," Will grumbles. "She can afford to wait another two hours so that we've all had some sleep. Go cuddle your boyfriend."
He shoves his foot forward, dislodging Jason's foot, and closes the door.
Despite his worries, he does actually manage to go back to sleep.
When he wakes, he wakes with the realization that his day is going to be exhausting. It's Tuesday, which means he's supposed to have therapy, and the prospect of hopping to another dimension, saving Tanya, and then getting back in time for therapy is... no.
Everyone seems to have taken his advice to Jason and gone to bed, because he's the only one up when he heads into the kitchen to start cooking. When Bruce shows up a half hour later, Will makes his opinion on things very clear.
"I'm making an executive decision," Will says. "No therapy this week. I don't want someone showing up at the house when we've got this shit going on."
He expects Bruce to argue, but Bruce doesn't. Instead he simply nods.
"That's fair," he says. "In this case, therapy will just cause extra stress which you don't need. It's fine to take a week off when it'll make things worse."
Will grumbles. He just spent fifteen minutes coming up with a nicely ordered list of reasons why he should be allowed to cancel, and Bruce accepted the first one.
"Do you want me to call?" Bruce asks.
"I can," Will says. "I'll call after breakfast. She'll kill me if I call her right now."
Bruce pauses, squinting at the clock, and then winces.
Everyone else trickles in to join them for breakfast, and Will makes sure they all eat enough. Jason looks like he's gotten at least some sleep, which is more than he expected, and both he and Joey are being unusually affectionate over breakfast, holding hands and exchanging quick kisses. The impression he gets is that one of them—probably Jason—had a rough night, and Joey is doing what they can to comfort him.
Which would be sweet if everyone didn't need to be at their peak.
"Do we want to put this off?" He asks. "We can—"
"Absolutely not," Jason says. "We need to see if this works, because if it doesn't, I need to go back to the drawing board."
When will stops to think about it as he does the dishes, he realizes that being trapped without hope of a rescue is probably a very touchy subject for Jason.
Murillo takes his cancellation fairly well, although she extracts a promise not to cancel the following week's appointment from him before she hangs up. Will knows they'll be talking about whatever happens in therapy anyway, so it's not as if he needs to worry about that.
Slade lets the Kents know to stand by while Bruce gives the League a head up, and Alfred makes the particularly smart choice to have some blankets, a change of clothes, and some warm food handy just in case.
Hopefully she won't need it, but there's no harm in having it nearby.
Of course, there's never any real question of who's going to be using the tether.
Are you sure? Joey asks. We could both go. Or just me. I've got the suit.
"I also have a suit," Will says, shooting Slade a look, and Slade lets out a sigh and goes to fetch the Ikon suit for him.
It fits like a glove when Will changes, and his hand drags down the unfinished sleeve. Tanya had fixed it once, and he'd destroyed it. He'd tried to make sure he wouldn't owe her anything, and right then he regrets it.
Joey's also in his suit just in case as Jason sets everything up. The tether turns out to be an actual physical object, a loop of something that looks like a fiber optic cable. Will wraps it around his waist, tying it off tightly, and then wraps some around his left hand just in case.
"Alright," he says. "Anything else?"
"This," Bruce says, holding out a device that looks a whole hell of a lot like the thing the other Justice League had. "It's built off their designs, so you should have a good idea of how to use it. Press the button, it shoots you across. Press it again, it should shoot you back. The tether should keep you on course for coming back. Thing of it as... added insurance."
In theory, he should be able to go there and back with just the device Bruce is handing him. But in theory isn't good enough when failing means he loses Joey, so he's happy for the tether. It feels like a solid weight in his hand, a good distraction.
He's never been worried about something like this before, but then he's never felt like he has much to lose, either.
If something goes wrong...
He doesn't let himself think of it. The bats get clear, leaving Joey and Jason in the center of the cave, and Will pulls Joey a bit closer, wrapping an arm around him.
"Proximity might matter," he says. "Just in case."
Sure, Joey signs, a grin on his face. Proximity. Whatever you say pop.
He holds Joey tight and clicks the button. The flash of orange is as bright as it ever was, the portal not even visible beyond the sheer light emanating from it. Of course, that assumes the portal even has a shape, which Will realizes it might very well not. Joey gives him one last squeeze and releases him, and Will double checks his tether, holding onto the light.
"See you soon," he says and steps through.
If there's any sort of travel time between where he starts and where he ends, he misses it. But as soon as he lands Will is suddenly aware that he has somehow missed. There's a sense of wrongness like someone's tugged the tether back the other way, but it's still intact, unmoving.
He's in the cave, but things are wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but certainly different. The computer is bigger, the seat in front of it more plush. But there's less in teh cave in general, more empty space.
There is also, to his annoyance, the stupid goddamn dinosaur that his world's Batman had in the cave. A giant dinosaur, a penny, and a card.
But the details don't matter—it isn't the right place. He has somehow missed, and he just needs to think about... how.
How the hell could he miss? It's not like the dimensions have physical space. The whole thing is theoretical to an absurd level. He reaches up, pinching the bridge of his nose as he tries to wrap his head around what it could be.
He just has to think about it. To think about what he's missing.
"Okay, scratch that," he mutters to himself. "She's not here." She could be nearby, he supposes, but he knows the world isn't quite right. An adjacent world?
The moment the idea comes to him it's almost painfully obvious. Tanya isn't in another world sending distress signals. Tanya is somehow between worlds, calling for help. The only reason they can hear her is because she's in a space between, existing outside whatever it is that insulates the worlds from each other and keeps them from bleeding together.
Which is why he felt like he missed. He must have... passed her.
Which begs the question of how the hell he's going to get her out. It's not like he can slow down an instantaneous transfer. For a moment he considers scrapping the whole idea, going home and returning to the drawing board, but he decides immediately there's no real harm in trying. He just has to figure out how to slow himself down...
...Or the reverse, now that he thinks about it.
The batmobile flies into the cave as turns to face it, and fly isn't a metaphor. The damn thing is actually flying, with no wheels to be seen as it comes to a halt right above an actual honest to god landing pad.
"You've got to be kidding me," Will mutters. "Is it a bit of privacy too much to ask?"
"Sure is when you broke in here!" Someone yells, and Will watches in fascination as someone—undeniably a Batman— hops out of the top of the car.
It's certainly not his Batman. The suit's pitch black and largely minimalist. There's a silver belt and a bright red bat symbol across the chest, but for the most part it doesn't seem to have all that much too it.
So it's definitely a Batman, but not one he knows. The voice sounds young as he lands atop the Batmobile, and the face of his suit seems to move as he reacts, showing his emotions rather than hiding them.
"Didn't break in," Will points out. His face is exposed, and considering the history of most variations of him that probably isn't a good thing. "Just came for a visit. This universe have a Flash?"
That stops the Batman short.
"Does this universe have a Flash? Simple question."
The kid's definitely new at the Batman thing. He obviously has no idea what he's doing, because admitting as much was a rookie mistake.
"Good," Will says. "Bring him here, I'll talk to them a bit, and then I'll be going back to my own dimension."
"Wait, you're from a whole other dimension?"
"Yeah, that's the idea," Will says. "Listen, I'm kind of on a time limit here." He reaches down, touching the Tether. It seems to just sort of cut off, attached to nothing at all, but Will is hoping it's still connected. "So can we hurry it up?"
"Hold on, I just... need to talk to someone."
He turns away, obviously talking to someone over a communicator, and Will taps his foot impatiently. Definitely a kid. Probably in his late teens or maybe early 20s.
There's a noise and Will turns to hear the heavy sounds of someone coming down the stairs. They've got a dog at their heels—not Titus, but similar—and Will's first impression is that they're, if nothing else, quite old. He's got a mask on to hide his face, keeping it out of sight.
His second impression, when his brain snaps the pieces together, is that he's probably looking at Bruce. He is below Bruce's house, and he probably is in the future if the flight car is any indication.
"Bruce," he says, and the man slams to a halt, obviously surprised at being recognized. "You take the mask off."
"I think I'll leave it," Bruce says, and there's no question it's him. The voice is older, but it's still undeniably Bruce Wayne. "What are you doing here?"
"I need your universe's Flash."
"They aren't at my beck and call," Bruce grunts. He's definitely more ornery than the Bruce he's used to for sure.
"This is important," Will says. "A young girl's life is at stake."
"And you don't have your own Flash?"
"Not handy," Will says, but now that he thinks about it he probably could have just gone back and summoned up Barry. That probably would have worked.
But this is a hell of a lot funner.
"So you want me to summon up this world's Flash," Bruce says with a sigh, sounding more exasperated by the moment. "And what?"
"I talk to them. Then I go home, and I'm out of your hair."
"That sounds a lot more pleasant than having you skulking around my cave," Bruce mutters.
"Let me guess," Will says. "This has happened to you before?"
"Once," Bruce says.
"This is kind of cool," Batman says excitedly, and Will jerks his finger towards him.
"That's too young to be any of the older ones," Will says. "Damian?" The personality seems wrong, but he is the youngest.
Will is pretty sure Bruce is smirking under the mask.
"I think that's better left as a surprise," he says. "I've called the Flash alread—"
He's interrupted by the arrival of someone who is absolutely a Flash. The costumes different—there's black black pants rather than being all red, and gloves that weren't there before—but the crackle of electricity as they screen to a stop is pretty unmistakable.
They are also a woman, which means they are (probably) not Barry or any of the ones he's familiar with.
Will raises an eyebrow as they look up at him, tilting her head in obvious fascination.
"Wow," she says. "You are not from around here, are you?"
"He's from another dimension," Bruce says. "He wants to talk with you, and then he's going home."
"I need you to charge me," Will says, preferring to get straight to the point.
"To.... charge you," the Flash says.
"I don't follow," Batman mumbles.
Will sticks out his hand like he's going for a shake.
"I've already had the Speed Force before," he says. "I should still have a... resonance. You should be able to pass some to me."
"I'm sorry," the Flash says. "Why exactly am I doing this?"
"So he'll go home and be out of our hair," Bruce mutters.
"The Speed Force isn't something you mess around with," she says. "If you mess with it, really bad things can happen."
"I'm aware," Will says. "I should only need a bit. I am attempting to... slow down a near instantaneous transfer back to my own dimension."
"...Wwwwwhy?" The Batman asks, looking more confused by the second.
"Doesn't matter," Bruce says. "Charge him and get him out of my cave."
The Flash looks torn. It's obvious from the way she glances towards Bruce that she's used to taking his orders at face value, but she's more or less handing him a nuclear bomb. Misuse of the Force—even just a small part of it—could do serious damage to the universe.
"I promise I won't use it for any nefarious reasons," he says. "I'm just trying to save a life."
Flashes are insanely easy to manipulate, because she takes his hand immediately, giving it a firm shake. He can feel the transfer, can feel the Speed Force unfolding before him. He is attuned, his mind seeming to shift.
He can do this. He knows how.
But even as he thinks it, another thought presents itself. Grant. He could go and get Grant, and this time he knows he could save him. He knows what mistakes he made, knows he could do it properly. If he did things properly...
Will clenches his hand. He can't. If he does, he risks changing everything. Even if his instinct is to use the power he just gained...
He just can't, even if it feels like it's ripping him in half to turn away from the chance.
"See you," he says, and then hits the button before he can second guess himself.
The first time around the transfer was instant, less than the blink of an eye. But as Will presses the button he speeds up, his entire body accelerating in place. Things are moving slow because he's moving so fast. Fast enough that the jump isn't as instant as it should be.
But it's still fast. Still so fast that everything is a blur, streaks of space that defy explanation. He doesn't understand what he's seeing. His brain can't process it. He's glimpsed all of this before and it changed him, and he dreads looking.
He tries to focus on Tanya. Tries to find her in the vastness of space. Lets himself focus on the tug in his chest as he reaches out, space surging around him.
His fingers wrap around a wrist and he pulls. He doesn't have the time to think about things. Doesn't even have time to look. He simply knows someone's there and knows it has to be enough.
He lands on the floor of the cave in a roll. Not a dignified roll, but a roll like something just spit him out and sent him flying. Electricity is still arcing around him, and Will knows he has to get rid of it.
If he keeps it, he'll use it.
If he keeps it, he'll go back and try and fix things and only make things worse.
So he plants his hands flat against the floor of the cave and lets out a scream of rage as he empties the charge into the floor.
He sags where he sits and mourns what could have been.
"Will?" Someone calls, and it feels like it takes forever for him to realize that it's Jason. "Is it—"
"It's fine," he says, reaching up to drag his hand down his face. "It's fine, I just—I had to vent some extra speed."
Joey reaches him, throwing his arms around Will's shoulders, and Will reaches up, pulling him closer.
"What took so long?" Jason asks. "You—"
Will stops listening. Over the sound of Joey's heartbeat he can hear other movement in the cave, and he pulls back, twisting his head around.
Tanya is there. She's getting to her feet, looking confused and disoriented, but she's there. Alive. Intact.
But it isn't Tanya who draws Will's attention.
No, it's the woman behind her.
The blond woman in a stupid white leotard with a chest cut out that leaves very little to the imagination.
"...I'm sorry," she says as she stands up. "...Where the hell am I?"
Will doesn't know where to even begin.
No big elaborate ending here. There was no one good place to stop it that wasn't going to end on something like a cliffhanger, and the next part should start tonight.