The first time it’s because of an injury, and it wasn’t even a serious one at that. He’d been running ragged, so when Batman’s grapple snapped Hal had grabbed him with his open hand rather than a construct, and it’s whatever not even that big a deal, just the batsuit weighed a bit more than Hal expected and he sort of wrenched his wrist.
It’s the sort of thing that would be fine in three days, but since Hal may have been going 36 hours without sleep he didn’t exactly object to being dragged to the medical wing of the Watchtower, and may have passed the fuck out while doctors determined there wasn’t much wrong with him.
Which would be fine, except he woke up 9 hours later with a raging boner, and then realised it was his right arm giving him problems so he couldn’t exactly jerk off, and then Batman was in his room.
Hal felt that Bats had probably been going to say something to him reminiscent of a thank you whilst simultaneously sounding like he was berating Green Lantern for not following correct protocols, but he just sort of stared with this dark intensity, and then locked the door as he strode further into the room.
Getting sucked off by Batman while he still had the cowl on should not have been as hot as it actually was and yet somehow Hal couldn’t look away, couldn’t move his hands from where they gripped the bedsheets in case reaching out to touch would make the apparition disappear.
It may have been the fastest he’s ever come whilst receiving a blow job.
Batman left before he even had time to get his thoughts together, and it was only a nurse asking why he’d had the door locked that convinced him the entire thing had even happened.
He’d tried to bring it up once or twice, but the Bat was stubbornly silent on the whole issue, so Hal added it to the list of things that were just goddamn bizarre about that man, and tried to get on with his life.
Which mostly worked.
Sure, various bat paraphernalia might be a bit more prominent in his fantasies, but damn it’d been good and… nothing. Nothing at all would happen from it.
Except Hal had no idea why it had happened in the first place, which meant it could happen again. Probably not on Batman’s watch, as he never let random happenstance happen more than once. Giving a colleague a blowjob seemed a rather deliberate thing, but who knew with the Bat?
It may have made him slightly more excited to go on missions with Batman that he usually would have been, but only slightly.
Because god that man was still infuriating. Half the stuff he said made no sense, or made too much sense in a ridiculously wrong kind of way, and if he could just listen to what other people were saying for once instead of being to deliberately obtuse…
Which was why there was a second time.
The two of them in a sewer with a plan that barely made sense, and Batman kissing him to get him to shut up.
And by god it worked, holy fuck that tongue…
They probably stood there making out for longer than was really necessary, but the mission went smoothly for once, and it was just Green Lantern and Batman high on success, so when Bats tilted his head in invitation onto the Batplane, Hal didn’t even think of saying no, even though he probably could have gotten home easier on his own.
Hal kissed him this time, and then briefly wondered if he had stepped over some hidden like he couldn’t see because nothing about the Goddamn Bat was easy to read, but then the plane was on autopilot, and he was being pinned against those smooth walls by those weighted arms, and good god he could not stop. The flickering sensations felt like fire raking across his skin, and Hal briefly spared a moment to wonder if he was just as crazy as the man he was making out with, and then decided it didn’t matter because he needed to get off now, now, now.
Grinding on someone while in costume wasn’t the best way to go, but since Bats was in the same position, Hal decided he didn’t really care.
“We need to do this in a bed,” Hal had groaned, and there had been such a satisfying smirk on Batman’s face that Hal just…
He may have gotten off the plane with a touch more spring to his step, and may have been slightly more enthusiastic about going to League meetings.
Which was why their next fight was so fucking awful, because Hal had actually though they were getting somewhere, but somehow Bats and him ended up having a screaming match that weaved in and out of a meeting, through a fight that was nasty on all sides and couldn’t be ended cleanly, and ended back on the Watchtower with more swearing from Hal than was probably necessary and sullen silent stares from the statue that looked like Batman, whom turned on his heels when Hal was in the middle of a sentence, and left without a further word.
Hal felt bitter triumph, until he woke up the next day and wondered what the fuck had he been thinking.
Why the hell did he even say half of that shit.
He almost hoped that when Bats returned to the Watchtower everything would be back to normal. Not the normal of occasional sexual favours, but the normal debates that almost felt like banter, and heavy stares and stupid paranoid ideas but…
Batman ignored him. Wouldn’t even look at him.
And of course it stung to no longer have those eyes turned on him, to be unable to get a rise from that infuriating man, but Hal wasn’t trying that hard because he fucking deserved it.
The League probably thought it was a nice break from all their usual problems, there were enough fights already, and thus no one would really have cared how cut up Hal was about his stupid flying mouth, and good god he didn’t even like Batman. Shouldn’t have liked Batman. But he’d always respected him, and…
Eventually they started talking again. They had to, to function effectively in team settings.
But there was always this weird tension, and Hal couldn’t tell if it was sexual, or if it was just that fight hanging over their heads, had no idea if Bats had forgiven him or was even considering it, had no idea how to read him, and so most of the time Batman said something Hal felt the need to object to, he just ate those objections because he had no idea what would happen if the full weight of that gaze ever fell on him again.
But then they were fighting again, because of course they were, and Hal figured since he was already going to hell he might as well give the Batman a goddamn piece of his mind, but Bat’s just kind of stood there in shock.
“I didn’t think you’d ever speak like that to me again,” He’d said, and that had floored Hal so quickly.
“Yeah, well, shut up,” had been his eloquent reply, and then those lips were finally back on his, and that tongue was back in his mouth, and Hal felt like laughing or crying or both somehow so he settled for grabbing Batman’s shoulders and holding on for dear life until he realised that they were making out in a Watchtower hallway. An empty one, but there was no telling how long that would last, and then there was a hand in his, and he was being gently led.
Batman’s room was about as sparse as he figured it’d be, and the bed was tiny, but that wasn’t even a concern because Hal could finally start wrenching his clothes off, and that tongue was going everywhere he could possibly have wanted it to go.
When they lay knitted together in the realm of mostly naked, Bruce murmured, “I don’t think that’s quite what you had in mind.” And it took Hal a moment to realise that Bats was referring to the last time they’d done this which seemed ages ago but was probably only three weeks, and then he was chuckling softly.
There was this warm patch in his chest telling him that figuring out how to make this work was a really good idea.
I’ll try, Hal thought, but I can’t make any guarantees.
So he tried. And it was rocky.
It wasn’t like they were hooking up for sex, but it wasn’t like that wasn’t what they were doing either, and like so many other things it fell into this undefined space of emotionally intense figuring it out as we go along.
The first time they had met up with a time and a place, Hal had felt to fucking nervous. He’d hesitated entering the room, and conversation seemed so stilted, god he and Bruce were so bad at this, maybe it was better if the two of them just did the random sex against walls thing. Except that was starting to be not enough, and this felt twisted and almost wrong, so maybe Hal should call the whole thing off—
And then those dark eyes looked into his and seemed to perceive everything.
“See, I was kind of hoping you’d fuck me,” were the words that left Bruce’s mouth, and Hal just kind of broke open a little.
Bruce was more vocal than Hal had ever seen him with his fingers in his ass, and sliding into that tight wet space felt like gracing the edge of a cliff, almost toppling and definitely in danger but somehow more beautiful because of the adrenaline pouring through his veins, and then Bruce opened his eyes and he was falling.
Somewhere between the fourth and sixth time, Hal realised it had almost become impossible to think of the man as Batman, sure that was his name and his identity, but Hal couldn’t look at him without seeing within him at the Bruce that lay within, the man who somehow managed to exceed all expectations…
Except when he didn’t. Because they still fought. A lot.
Except it didn’t matter quite as much because they were getting better at make-up sex, and communicating, and not taking the fights quite as seriously.
Hal felt as if he were slowly figuring Bruce out, pulling off layers of mask, in an almost exciting game. Well it was exciting. It mostly involved sex.
And then there was the day that Batman missed a League meeting to deal with Robin— Damian’s antics, and Hal realised, holy shit the guy I am sort-of-not-quite dating has kids. Like a lot of kids. In a definitely serious matter.
And if he were to become any sort of permanent figure in Bruce’s life he would have to meet those kids, know and like them, gain their approval and possibly act like a semi responsible parental figure, and oh god. That was terrifying.
Hal Jordan what the fuck are you doing with this man?
It was possible Hal may have pulled back and made things a bit more casual between them after that, because he wanted Bruce but wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with the extras that came with him, and it was possible that Bruce didn’t even want to get that serious with him, they never even talked about it.
Bruce was good about it though, didn’t push or pressure Hal even though he probably knew why he was freaking out, and knew it was for such a stupid reason but… Bruce never brought it up.
And then Hal got to watch him fight with Nightwing, see the obvious and easy connection that he and Bruce never seemed to have, and it dug at him. He was jealous, and jealous over a kid for fucks sake, and he had no right to be. It was Bruce, and Bruce’s kid, and Bruce’s life, and it wasn’t like Hal really had any legitimate claim on Bruce at all. They only really met up for sex.
But then there was a deep space mission, and they got to spend sixteen hours together, and it was actually really damn nice. They talked and laughed, and Bruce told stories about his kids like a normal person, and Hal was actually entertained and Bruce had a wicked sense of humour when he chose to, and relaxed like that, he frequently laughed when Hal responded with stories about Barry or Oliver, or the stunts he’d pulled in flight school.
They sat side by side, leaning on each other looking at the stars, the cape functioning as a blanket, and Hal realised he could do this. They could do this. This could be an actual thing that could actually work in multiple ways and…
He leaned his head on Bruce’s shoulder, and let the warmth radiate through his chest.
Bruce looked impassive when Hal told him he had a three month assignment off planet. Barely removed the cowl couldn’t really make eye contact, and Hal was filled with doubt all over again. Maybe he’d get back to find Bruce with someone else, some beautiful woman that could do all the things Hal couldn’t.
Things had been going better, but they both sucked at emotional conversations and still weren’t officially together and…
But Bruce had gripped his arm in an iron clad grip that was almost painful as he left, and his mouth had been set in a firmly straight line, and those eyes.
Hal couldn’t read into those eyes, but they were dark pools of intensity for him and him alone.
Hal chose to cling onto that as he fled into space.
To say the mission went badly was an understatement.
To say the mission exploded into shrapnel with then scattered across a star system would probably still be an understatement.
The worst part wasn’t the experimental chemicals that had bizarre and interesting effects on various species; it wasn’t the slave trade, or the seemingly nice guy that turned out to be a complete scoundrel, no the worst part is that Hal had no idea how devoted he was to Bruce until he woke up in someone else’s bed.
It didn’t even matter that he had been drugged out of his mind with an experimental something, didn’t matter that he had no memory of the events. He awoke naked with the lingering ache of sex upon his body, and all he wanted to do was throw up.
How? How could he go back now? How could he face Bruce and look into those eyes and…
Bruce would know. Instantly. One look at him and he would know everything he needed to know about the situation to make a conclusion.
He’d look betrayed. He’d glare off into the distance and purse his lips slowly, and it wouldn’t even matter that it wasn’t Hal’s fault he would just be gone.
Or worse yet, it wouldn’t even matter that Hal had slept with someone else, they’d just slide back into the same routine of almost personal sex and never actually come together and that. That.
Hal couldn’t decide which he thought worse, or more likely. And he didn’t want to deal with the conundrum, wasn’t sure he could handle the weight of Bruce’s full opinion, so he just… stalled on going back to earth.
Just a bit.
Because the mission was nasty, and the cleanup was nasty, and he could totally stay to help with that. And to transport things back to Oa. And to get a bit more training from a passing master, and hang with his friends for a bit. And then there was another mission he could go on, and he thought about it, and he thought about home, and figured it had maybe been long enough that Bruce would have found someone else, and just the thought of seeing him like that made Hal’s throat constrict and that was totally what had happened, and Hal could not deal.
So he went on the mission and volunteered for another.
And then it occurred to him that if he waited long enough it wouldn’t even matter if Bruce had found someone else or not, because he totally would have moved on from his completely absent not-boyfriend and. And.
Hal chose to sleep with someone else.
Bruce had almost definitely moved on, and if Hal came back without doing so the pitying looks he’d get from the man were… no. Not even going there.
She was sweet and funny and soft and everything Bruce wasn’t.
It was awful.
Not that it didn’t feel good, Hal enjoyed the physical sensations, but there was a chasm of lack within his chest and.
He’d come back and Bruce would say I get it. He’d say you were gone for so long and only did what was natural.
I never expected you to be faithful to me.
And Bruce would see it as a kindness, like congratulations I don’t care if you boink other people as long as you come home clean; you have freedom to do whatever you want.
But dammit, Hal didn’t want that. He wanted Bruce to get a little bit possessive. To dog his steps a little and watch him with sharp eyes when Hal talked to others, to be guarded and cherished and held and just… to belong. To Bruce, with Bruce, didn’t really matter,
He started dreaming.
Soft things mostly. Laughter on the beach. Calming words when it was not quite morning, and the rocking sensation of Bruce’s arms that Hal knew from that one time he’d gotten a head injury and Batman had to carry him back.
But after the fourth dream of Bruce soaking wet in his naked glory with steaming eyes and welcoming skin, Hal bothered to look up a proper calendar and realised it had been over a year since he’d been back to earth.
Over a year since he’d been home.
And just, he couldn’t do this. Not anymore.
He hadn’t seen the man in over a year and he was still in love with Bruce and just… he couldn’t let him go. He had to try, at least once more. He might get rebuffed, possibly violently but Bruce was under his skin. Deep in his veins. Buried in his heart. He needed to go home.
The messages he got from the League when he informed them of his return all seemed happy and positive, and Hal actually put some foresight into his plans so he’d arrive when he’d said he would arrive, so when he stepped into the Watchtower again it really did feel like the start of coming home.
There was Clark and Diana, Oliver, Zatanna, Shazam, Cyborg, god he’d never been happier to see these people, these figures of his life he’d somehow convinced himself he could live without. Bruce wasn’t there, though Hal hadn’t really expected him to be, but there were smiles and warm greetings, and then the Flash was running up to hug him.
“It’s great to see you,” he said, but that wasn’t Barry’s voice. Flash removed the mask and Hal realised it was Wally running under there, which was kinda cool and meant Barry would be somewhere else in the room, which Hal surveyed. Sure there were some new costume designs, but Barry wasn’t anywhere.
“It’s good to see you too, kid,” Hal ruffled Wally’s hair, and the ginger grumbled. The socialising continued for a few more minutes before Hal let himself pose the question.
“So, where’s Barry?”
The silence in the room was telling. The awkward shifting more so. Hal swallowed harshly, and braced himself for the worst.
“Come on. What happened?”
Hal wasn’t sure what was worse: the horrifically lifeless shell that was a comatose Barry, or the ostentatious grave of Bruce Wayne that had nothing to do with the life the man actually lived.
Bruce would have hated the grave, Hal knew that. It was exactly the sort of thing Bruce Wayne was expected to have, and a necessity Batman would have hated. Hal didn’t actually go looking to see if there was an actual shrine to The Batman among the League fallen, because he didn’t want to know, was struggling to even comprehend the reality of things right in front of his face.
Clark found him sitting in Barry’s hospital room, barely looking at anything and completely numb.
He sat beside him, and Hal would have objected except there was no pity in his eyes. Only sorrow.
God Clark and Bruce had been best friends for ages…
“It’s happened before you know,” Clark was staring at Barry, but Hal knew that wasn’t what he meant. “Times we thought he was dead.”
“Thought?” Hal croaked, because it seemed like Clark wouldn’t continue without some kind of prompt.
“With all the others,” Clark’s voice barely wavered, but Hal could see his hands trembling on the rests of his chair, “there were dubious circumstances. Situations to impossible to survive but he made it out anyway.”
“But not this one.”
“Not this time. This time there was a body, riddled with shrapnel. We did every test we could, but it was his. It had to be. There was no other alternative.”
Ahh, Clark was trying to rid him of any hope he had that Bruce might still be alive. Hal could hear it in his voice, how he was trying so hard to be sincere when he himself just could not accept that one of the anchors of his world had come undone, that he was somehow left drifting alone in the bright sharp pain of life.
But Hal had already been living in a world without hope for Bruce for months. He’d come back with a plan, but the return to that destitute broken state was the best welcome Hal could have asked for. He deserved this. He deserved this. God, Bruce had been dead for months, and Hal had been scared to return to earth because he’d been worried Bruce had found someone else, god how fucking petty was he.
A crack laugh escaped his throat, and Clark placed a solid hand on his shoulder, heavy but somehow so gentle for someone who could move planets and was in agony.
“Bruce was… look you should check the surveillance cameras over the time you were gone. You should get it. He’d want you to know.”
Then Clark was gone as suddenly as he arrived with a burst of super speed which made Hal gaze longingly at Barry and he felt worse.
He felt wretched.
Hal clung to Barry’s hand like a lifeline, and whispered prayers of life into his unresponsive flesh.
It took weeks for Hal to actually check the camera footage Superman had pointed him to. He started the day he left, and if he hadn’t been so numb, he might have felt annoyed that nothing really seemed to be happening.
Fast forward. Nothing. Bit further. Nothing.
He sped it up a bit more and watched the time signature race forward as nothing much changed in the room until— pause. Go back.
It started about three weeks past the three month mark, which Hal would later learn was when the League got an update from the Corps that they’d lost contact with Hal and had no idea of his whereabouts or his condition, and repeatedly happened approximately every five days.
Bruce came into his room. Hal would have felt annoyed, except he wasn’t touching anything.
Then he pulled off the cowl and looked directly at the camera and god. He looked exhausted. Like down to his bones, entirely drained of energy exhausted.
Then he was running his hands across his face and his shoulders were trembling, and Hal would have thought him crying except when he removed them his eyes were clear. Hal’d painted a large lantern symbol across one of the side walls, and Bruce walked over there and placed his hand along the edge of the circle, somehow making the movement look intimate and sorrowful. He whispered something, and Hal would rewind and rewatch this moment over and over until he got exactly what Bruce was saying.
Please come back. Please come back to me.
Then he crawled into Hal’s bed to smell and hug his pillow and he fell asleep there. In the batsuit. Curled around a pillow like it was the only thing holding him together.
That was the only time Bruce spoke, but he came back over and over, never very frequently, but enough that Hal could put together a pattern. Bruce was always exhausted. Sure he had to be sleeping other places at times, but it seemed the only way he could actually get rest was curled up in Hal’s bed.
God had he really once doubted this man’s affection for him?
Hal must have spent hours watching that sleeping face, that slow breath, flicking from night to night to watch him fall asleep, drift, and wake up, over and over in a glorious cycle. He looked so glorious and alive, curled up like that, and Hal had seen him naked enough that he could pick out the contours of his actual body within the batsuit. He wanted to stroke that chest, trace a line along that arm, and rub a hand over the glorious stubble that coated his face for the visceral sensation of feeling.
His sleep started getting more stressed and fitful. Hal watched, petrified, as Bruce seemed to deteriorate alone yet in front of him. He checked the time stamp, and yes he’d been finished the first mission. He could have come back to help with this. Why hadn’t he? What had seemed so important out there in the vast blankness of space?
Then one night he stopped coming altogether and Hal realised that must have been when he—
And it was such a condensed visual way to see it, to learn it, and then Hal was crying, and rewinding back to one of the happier nights, so he could pet Bruce’s softly breathing face over and over, and how had he not noticed how gorgeous he was when he was sleeping while he was still alive?
And then, because he was already crying, he went and watched the speech Wally had done, wearing the Kid Flash costume for the last time, announcing that he was taking up the mantle of his uncle. His voice waivered but was clear throughout the entire piece. Impulse stood strong beside him, solemn and serious in a way Hal had never seen the younger hero, nodding when Wally mentioned he would be taking up the mantle of Kid Flash, and adding a strong support whenever it seemed like Wally might falter.
Those two always seemed to radiate joy. They weren’t meant to be dark like that, weren’t meant to deal with the harsh realities of life, in the maybes and grey areas of maybe he’d wake up and maybe he wouldn’t.
And Hal kind of hated Barry, because at least Bruce had the courtesy to be fully dead but…
With Barry there was hope. Always and still hope.
And Hal cried himself to sleep alone in the apartment that had hundreds of happy memories with Barry and Bruce had never even been in, and prayed to whichever deity would listen that they would fix this, some part of this, any part of this, or just rip emotions off the face of the earth to make the pain go away.
On the one year anniversary of Bruce’s death, there was a strange man in his apartment.
He was tall, young and muscular, with harsh blue eyes and black hair with a white streak in the front. It was so bizarre it felt normal, and Hal had so little energy to care anyways, so he just nodded at the man and grabbed a soda water from the fridge.
“I was there when B died, ya know?” were the first words the stranger says. This was also bizarrely unsurprising. The man gazed out the small kitchen window and clenched his fists like he’d rather be holding something.
“There was a cave in and we were trapped together, and I was so pissed off. I’d been pissed at him for a while. He… He could never manage to say things but always kept trying, and I didn’t want to hear it, especially not that day. I couldn’t bear the weight of the fact that he was disappointed in me yet wanted me in the family anyways. I was in a bad space, and he just kept trying to talk to me, and I kept on pushing him away and…” He trailed off brokenly, and Hal took a sip of the sparkling beverage, waiting and echoing the pain of the other in his kitchen. Usually people trying to talk to him about Bruce just felt wrong and pitying, but here it made sense, somehow.
“I didn’t realise he’d been hit until he stopped breathing,” It’s stated without emotion, a basic statistical fact. “When I first got back I’d tried to kill him, and I really never stopped wanting that until his corpse was cooling in front of me, I didn’t know I didn’t want him dead until it was too late to save him. Then the only thing I could feel was panic and just… I was down there with him for twenty hours. And every hour I was down there I prayed that the search team would take longer, because that meant the chance I could have saved him if I’d been paying attention and listened got more outrageous.”
Jason slammed his fists into the countertop and Hal nodded appreciatively. Bruce hadn’t talked much about Jason, understandably, but Hal knew exactly how he felt.
“I know when I was out there,” Hal began, and Jason shifted to show he’s listening without actually turning around, “it seemed so important that I stay out there. That I not come back to help deal with things. And then I got back and I realised what had happened and I wondered what the fuck I was thinking. What fucking petty concerns did I possibly have that kept me from seeing what was really important? You know if I had come back when I should have, after the first mission even with its extended timeframe, I would have been back before he died. I could have seen, I could have helped, I… I don’t even know what I was worried about anymore.”
Jason nodded to that and swallowed. It’s not as brutal as the story he’d just told but the echo of it around the kitchen felt correct.
“He loved you a lot, you know. He had for years. Was so surprised when he was finally beginning to have you. He’d never of said it, but I think he was concerned he’d scare you off. Always did love deeper than anyone realised…”
“I’m beginning to get that,” Hal muttered, and the words tasted bitter and hopeful in his mouth. It’s somehow comforting to know that Bruce loved him, even if he’ll never be around to say it.
“He loved you too,” Hal added.
“I think I’ve always know that,” Jason sighed, “But a part of me was convinced I didn’t deserve to be loved, and I had to prove Bruce wrong.”
“Never did though,” Hal mused, and Jason barks a laugh that sounded vile.
“Nah. Horrified and disappointed him, definitely. But nothing I ever did was enough to lessen his affection.”
Because Bruce was just big like that. Huge and wonderful, and strong enough to bear the kind of affection that frequently goes unrequited because it never fades. Bruce, broken and twisted, and yet somehow more whole than any of them.
Hal thought of Clark, shaking within his own skin, always within a millimetre of breaking something but never quite doing it. He thought of Diana, calm and controlled until she got in a circumstance she could unleash and then there’s hell to pay. He thought of Shayera and J’onn, and Arthur, and Dinah, and the silence in the Watchtower that echoed weirdly sometimes. He thought about himself, locked away in his apartment only going on the easy missions because sometimes his willpower failed him, and he thought about the Bruce shaped emptiness that must radiate through Jason’s home like it radiates through his, despite Bruce never having stood in either building.
“He was a good man,” Hal acknowledged.
“One of the best,” Jason turned, and Hal got to take in the bizarre smile that lit up his face and filled his eyes with sorrow.
“For all that he was a stubborn asshole,”
“And couldn’t talk about emotions to save his life,”
“He was a good lover,”
“A good father,”
“The world will be weaker without him.”
“And our family will be weaker without you.” Jason’s eyes punched straight into him, and Hal swallowed hard. “I don’t think any of them, except possibly Cass or Babs, really knew who he loved but… they would have welcomed you with open arms, if you’d given them the chance.”
“I’m sorry I missed that chance, then,” Hal whispered.
Jason nodded, and Hal looked at the floor, trying to pull his thoughts into some semblance of order. When he looked up again, Jason was gone.
The rain fell heavy on the streets that week, and washed the ashes of their conversation away.
Barry woke up, and Hal laughed and then cried because it’s exactly what he wanted and not what he wanted at all.
It was wonderful to see the Flash family so happily united, but when Barry came by to see him by himself for the first time and saw the mess Hal’s apartment and Hal’s life had become, he took his friend into his arms, and Hal only had to look into his eyes before he broke down talking about all those things he’d kept hidden for so long.
And he bares the weight that Hal guiltily wishes Barry was the one who died so Bruce could live the same way he bears the weight of the world: with a warm hug and a too understanding smile.
Hal cried in Barry’s arms and wondered how he got so lucky.
With Barry’s return, Hal got slightly better at fighting again, and then had an opportunity to team up with Nightwing.
It’s awesome because of how it’s similar, and awful because of how it’s different. Or maybe he meant that the other way around.
It was Joker who revived him of all people, and though Hal wouldn’t learn this ‘til much later, Supergirl who found him. After the death of Batman, Superman deemed Joker, and only Joker, a League problem rather than a Gotham problem, to which he and Dick fought about frequently, though awkwardly, because they didn’t really care about the topic and were using the situation to deal with grief.
In any case Supergirl found him because she’d been monitoring the surveillance on all of Joker’s known warehouses and when one of them exploded she went to check it out. Wonder Woman got a call telling her to get down to those specific coordinates, and when she arrived Kara pointed to a distinctly naked Bruce Wayne in a tree and asked if that was who she thought it was. When Diana flew up to talk to him, he attacked, and bit. Hard.
Hal only found out about this because Barry, who spent a lot more time on the Watchtower than he did, told him it was important.
The Watchtower still felt like home.
The cage they’d temporarily erected looked out of place, but it’d been crammed away in the small area solely for founding and other important members so that random passersby wouldn’t see him.
Hal walked in on a fight between Barry, Diana, Clark, and Oliver, their harsh whispers not quite low enough that Bruce wouldn’t hear them, though he didn’t seem to be paying them any attention.
“He’s been better recently. We can’t keep his family out of this,” Clark hissed.
“They don’t need to deal with that,” Oliver gestured to the cage.
“Be careful how you speak,” the aggression in Diana’s voice made Oliver back down a bit and raise his hands.
“Look, you know what I mean. I don’t think it’ll be good for him to be ogled by even more people.”
“Hal. Hi,” Barry increased his volume to break apart the not so whispered conversation.
“Hi,” Hal responded. “What’s going on?”
Clark got a small lost look in his eyes, and Barry stepped up to explain.
When Clark said he’d been doing better, he meant Bruce had been doing better on really basic things. Like wearing clothes, and shitting in the receptacle meant for shit, rather than all over the place.
So far Dinah had been the only one to successfully train him to do anything, and train really was the operative word. Bruce got really violent easily, so she usually told Wonder Woman what to do, and let Diana deal with Bruce as his aggression, though terrifying and feral, couldn’t actually hurt her.
It would be easier to let Clark do it, and Bruce would probably be more receptive, but from the three glances at Clark Hal got he could tell the man was cracking, and he kind of didn’t want him anywhere near Bruce when he finally broke.
Though Hal couldn’t actually blame him.
When he approached the cage, cell, temporary holding tank, whatever they wanted to call it, Bruce had been rolling on the floor. Legitimately rolling. He’d been wearing a black long sleeved shirt and pants, both of which looked like they’d been chewed on.
He really did look entirely identical to the man Hal figured he was still in love with, but Hal watched for over an hour and couldn’t see any movements reminiscent to the Bruce he once knew.
“How long did Joker have him before he escaped?” Hal asked.
The silence and shrug of the answer was not encouraging.
Hal waited until he was home in his apartment to pull out his phone and call back the mystery number.
“Jason,” Hal said, as a greeting.
“Hal,” Jason responded.
There were three bats that headed up to the Watchtower; Cass, Jason, and Tim. Hal didn’t question the wisdom of the two Jason had chosen to bring along, though at a glance Tim seemed overly nervous and just. It burned. Hal knew it did, and knew it must burn as differently for those three as it did for him.
Bruce’s behaviour didn’t change when they walked in, but when he finally spotted Jason he started banging on the glass and screeching. It wasn’t with fists, but flat open palms like he’d been trying to reach out and touch. Jason circled the cage and Bruce followed his every step. It looked horrific but it was also the most positive reaction they’d gotten.
Tim’s initial look of horror eventually switched over to professional fascination, while Jason looked hardened and Cass looked with… empathy? Hal couldn’t read her as well as the others, but he decided to stay as they started trying to find their father within the creature in front of them.
Jason waited for a day when no one but the four of them was around to enter the cage, which Hal thought was a smart idea. He was prepared to step in after him if Bruce got super violent with his son, but instead of greeting him with sharpened teeth like everyone else, Jason got the most goddamn possessive hug Hal had ever seen.
Bruce just kinda… rolled on top of him and nuzzled into him, while Jason laughed, “You got me, B. You got me. I’m right here.”
It would almost be cute were it not so…
Bruce would never act like that. Could never act like that. He might have wanted to once or twice but his iron clad control had always made him—
Of course getting Jason out of the cage was a major problem, as Bruce didn’t seem to want to let him go, but the second Clark stepped in Bruce climbed off and went to sit, dejected, in a corner. The frustrated look on Clark’s face made Jason laugh, and Cass snicker. Dinah gave the three of them a lecture about how dangerous it was; trying to reach out to a man who would never’ve intentionally hurt them, but it failed as its the next day Tim climbs into the cage.
Bruce greeted him in much the same way as Jason, though a tad less rough and with more sympathetic noises. After they cuddled for a while, Tim started up a pattern game, tapping on the glass and pausing, so that Bruce could repeat it. Though he started off clumsy, within an hour Bruce was able to repeat any amount of complex rhythm Tim drummed out, and the soft smile that lit up the child’s face warmed the whole room.
Cass was next, and she was the one to tackle Bruce, not the other way around, though Bruce seemed absolutely delighted to have her in his arms. She eventually got his head into her lap and started singing. When the song was over he growled, so she started from the beginning again. When the third time to start the song came around, Bruce joined her in a crooned harmony which had no words. It followed the correct chord patterns, and rhythmically meshed while not always being the same, and when Hal looked at Clark who’d come to pull Cass from the cage, he had tears in his eyes.
Hal hadn’t entered the cage yet, hadn’t even really approached it, because he wasn’t sure what he wanted the response to be. Would it be more horrible if Bruce reacted violently, or didn’t react at all? No one seemed bothered by it though, and Hal kind of enjoyed watching the kids interact with Bruce. It allowed him hope, both for the strength of Bruce and for the strength of his family.
Tim’s tapping game got Bruce fascinated with the glass. He kept running his fingers over it in different ways. Tim had started up an algorithm to try and mathematically calculate possibilities of communication. Hal figured he was trying to make sounds, as frequently the fingers squeaked. Jason just shrugged at went to get Cass. Cass looked at him for approximately fifteen seconds before running out of the room.
She returned with giant tubs of paint. The first one she spilled everywhere, coating the inside of the cage floor in purple which Bruce seemed distressed about, but when she added the other buckets he knew exactly what to do with them, and began painting on the glass. Again, he started off clumsy but quickly picked up skill. Jason was frequently holding up pictures of landscapes from calendars to have Bruce recreate them, huge and magnificent. He painted other things as well; dark bars and a twisted smile that made Hal think he was trying to pictograph his return from the dead under the hands of the Joker.
When Bruce became frustrated with the lack of space, Diana climbed into the cage with him and taught him how to wash the windows. In return he painted a bat emblem on her face, which she seemed to appreciate, and wiped away various old paintings.
When Dinah approached to give him food, which he ate slowly and carefully, confident it wouldn’t be snatched away from him, Cass pointed out that there was a specific expression and hand gesture that accompanied every time he saw her. A bit more experimentation proved that everyone who had previously entered the cage had one of these gestures which was consistent. Bruce was recognising and remembering people, naming them with a language, and starting to communicate.
It was Tim who spent hours poring over footage to point out that if you followed Bruce’s eye patterns, he never focused on anything outside the cage. Sure the glass was transparent but Bruce didn’t have any grounds to prove that anything outside it was real. It might as well have been moving pictures to him, which explained his extreme delight every time someone returned to his cage, or stepped into the only part of the world that was real for him.
Tim was back at the tapping patterns, trying to prove to Bruce that outside was just as real as inside, and Hal could see the moment it finally clicked for him.
Cass had been right. Bruce did have a greeting for everyone. There was Tim’s hand gesture, Clark’s brilliant smile, the flick of the wrist for Diana, a particular twist of the head for Cass. A press of the hands for Jason, a screech and hand flutter for Dinah, and then Bruce’s eyes fell on him, and it was like the world slowed down.
His eyes opened, and his jaw dropped and suddenly he was scrambling, and dipping his entire hand in the green. And no one had taught him how to do this, he’d never seen it while he was here, he was remembering all by himself…
And Bruce pressed his hand into the Green Lantern symbol just like he had that first time he slept in Hal’s room. And Hal stood and approached the cage, watching the hope that flickered in those eyes, and he pressed his own hand across Bruce’s on the other side of the glass.
“Yeah Bats, I came back. I came back for you.”
And there was the smirk that Hal remembered, and there was that dark intensity to those eyes he’d seen for ages in his dreams and—
Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan stared at each other across the glass,
And all was right in the world.