Bruce Wayne is a man of solitude.
By nature or nurture he doesn’t know, most likely both. His butler might object, but Bruce remembers himself as a quiet boy, enjoying literature over schoolyard fun, mischievous only as much as youth and manners permitted, a gentleman in the making. Much has changed since then. Now, the quiet is a gift. It sings sweetly against noise that’s ever-present and all-consuming, strung together in endless screams and gunshots. Even the bright voices of his loved ones—the chastising “Master Bruce” or “Batman” with a preteen sneer—were sometimes too loud.
His solitude is also a penance.
Bruce wears his tragedies like rosary beads, caressing them, counting them over and over again in the silence of his cave. Each gem is a reminder of his faults, little points of prayer and regret. If there was a Hell, it was here and now, and Bruce was lord of his personal damnation. It was his choice to keep stringing beads on his rosary. He became the bat, the nightmare of nightmares, in order to live. He became himself, the Bruce Wayne he needed to be, and not the scared boy that stood and watched his world crumble. He wasn't going to let anyone dictate his terrors. Not again, not anymore.
Batman joined another battle field, where he was one of seven and the only one in black, with little objection. It was logical to create a team of costumed vigilantes—heroes—and it was, again, logic that dictated his decision to gather intel on each member. The name bestowed upon them, the Justice League, came with responsibilities that no sentient being, human or otherwise, was capable of carrying on their shoulders. There will be a point, Bruce knew, that justice will fail them. It may come as a new face, a known friend, another invasion, or a voted decision. But when justice became synonymous to force, someone had to act. Blind faith was an alien concept to a man who’d long forgotten what trust was.
"You're bats, Batman."
Bruce doesn't remember who said that, maybe Dick or Selena, but he does remember chuckling. In a mad world, the insane are sane, and only a madman can judge the crazy.
The red-clad hero waves a hand as he flashes on to the scene of action. Quick periphery check and he is back on Batman’s side. "What's our monster of the week?” Flash—Barry Allen, forensic scientist for the CCPD, mother murdered, father imprisoned for the crime—gives a tight smile. Batman points his thumb at the epicenter of destruction few blocks away, a ludicrous gesture since more and more skyscrapers are being leveled as they speak.
“Oh wow.” Flash looks up at the creature, three heads weaving in and out in timed strokes, golden wings spread wide. "Tolkien would love this.”
"Tokyo doesn't," Bruce watches as a green light slams into one of the wings, causing another ear-splitting roar and a laser beam. The golden dragon crash-landed into the Pacific last night via meteor, flattening the island country before it found another target across the ocean. “It's a disaster zone there. All Japan needs is another earthquake and it’ll be the next Atlantis."
"I can go help, if you guys can handle here."
Another crash. Another building lost. San Francisco will hate them for this. Batman grunts, watching a few rubble bounce towards his boots. “Politics,” he answers.
"I am an American but I'm not America."
There's a punch and the dragon falls. It causes a mini-earthquake, toppling several streetlamps and a traffic light. Flash instinctively moves in front of Batman to shield him from any flying hazards. He sends back a cautious glance, gauging whether the older hero was offended by the gesture. Flash respects Batman as his senior, always polite and friendly in a careful manner. It might be from force of habit, cops tend to operate on seniority, or he still doesn’t know how to deal with the notorious Gothamite.
“Treaties concerning the League’s international operations are still pending,” Batman intones in a voice that reveals neither irritation nor reassurance. He wasn’t offended of course, but placation doesn’t interest him either. “They’ll get passed next week and it’s best to go through proper channels as of now. Japan has its own self-defense force, U.S. troops have been deployed to cooperate, the U.N. is on the move. You’re more needed here, Flash.”
Flash nods, and that’s the end of their conversation. The next few minutes are spent on rescue, Batman locating stranded heat signals and Flash zipping away to recover them. The fastest man alive deposits men, women, children, and pets alike to a safe shelter several miles south. If a trip takes more than one second, it’s because Flash is cleaning the streets of debris.
Batman reads out coordinates while keeping eye on the dragon-slaying in progress. He'd already provided a plan and it was only the matter of executing it. The alien-dragon withstood bullets and bombs, golden scales virtually impenetrable by ammunition. Conversation also went no where. Superman tried Venusian, the dragon's presumed home planet, and then an intergalactical auxiliary language until he got a laser beam in his face. There was little the League could do other than ship it back to space with a ban on reentry. Earth doesn't have border control on its stratosphere, so the only place they could stamp on was the monster's reptilian brain: ”Earth is protected and we won't be so nice next time.” Superman and Green Lantern will capture and deposit the winged menace in a far corner of the galaxy in an eternal timeout.
Batman was waiting to see if the members can actually manage the 'capture' bit. So far the five of them have only managed to increase craters in both the city’s streets and budget. They each have enough power to squash the space-dragon like a bug, and yet there was no coordination in their fighting.
“Batman?” The comm link buzzes, and Batman tells Flash that there are no more signals in the vicinity. There is a short affirmative before the link dies in another gust of wind.
He notices a red streak zip up on top of a high rise, close to where the monster is rampaging. A green orb quickly flies towards the building, hovers above it for a while, and then flies away to a caped figure in blue. Batman activates the comm link to catch the tail end of “—and then we give him a spanking.” Twin tornadoes emit from the high rise, catching the dragon’s wings and lifting it into the air against its will. It roars in protest and tries to flap away until a thick, green rope tightens around its bodice, wing and all. Two specks fly once, twice, thrice, landing a crippling punch on each head with enough force to knock them out. Five minutes over optimal time, two minutes before anticipated time. Batman watches the monster get escorted out of Earth.
"Well, that's one childhood dream lost.” The disappear-reappear routine requires some getting used to. Flash’s cowl hides his face but not his mouth, revealing a slightly tired smile. "Sorry I was late, though. It was a long night and I fell asleep in the lab, slept through my alarm clock twice—”
"You're always late." Green Lantern lands as he points a finger in Flash’s face, ignoring Batman. Flash sends an apologetic smile at his friend’s rudeness, but of course, Green Lantern—Hal Jordan, test pilot at Ferris Air, both parents deceased—can’t care less about offending the Dark Knight. He folds his arms against his chest and huffs in mock irritation. "And you blew off our evening plans for work? I am deeply, deeply disappointed in you, Flash!”
Flash replies to Green Lantern’s little tantrum with practiced ease. "We can watch House of Cards anytime.”
"I go on a mission today!"
“Then we watch it when you come back.”
"You don't get it, do you?” Green Lantern raises his arms as if asking for divine intervention. “I’m going on a mission today! Which means I’m space-bound for at least two weeks! Do you know what that kind of a wait does to a man? If my ring constructs start making Kevin Spacey rocket heads, it’s your fault!"
Batman watches the two friends bicker in the middle of an overturned city. Flash lets Green Lantern rant at him, gesture placating but giving verbal cues that egg the other on. It is a practiced routine, what some would describe ‘like an old married couple’. Flash and Green Lantern ran into each other following a kidnapping case several years back and have been close friends since. Their files overlap, requiring detailed footnotes; Green Lantern is different when he works with Flash and vice versa.
As the other League members gather, Flash apologizes and promises he’ll pay for beer next time. Green Lantern wears an expression similar to a spoiled child. “And those dumplings, from that unpronounceable vendor in Shanghai.” He merely raises his eyebrows at Flash’s groan.
“I’m not your personal delivery service, you know,” Flash says with a sigh.
“I know. Your services suck…or don’t suck enough.” The lascivious wink gets another groan and a punch in the shoulder. Their antics stop when Superman coughs for attention.
In a semi-circle, the League discusses how to deal with the aftermath—the city, the government, and the media. Batman interjects several times, steering the conversation. Points that require further address become listed as topics for the next meeting and once they’re all on the same page, the members disperse. Green Lantern attempts the weird hand shake which Flash slaps away before leaving in a trail of lightening.
Batman calls for his plane, all the while thinking about what he overheard. Why not watch the show on your own? A natural question, even possible as a comeback, and yet neither Flash nor Green Lantern seemed to even consider it a choice.
“Oh my god!”
The shout comes from the entryway, followed by bright lights. Flash is standing with a hand over his heart, blinking rapidly to calm himself. Batman looks up from the tablet in mild interest. It’s ten minutes to six and it’s just him in the Watchtower meeting room. They’re scheduled to convene at seven, which makes it irregular for Flash to be here so early. The hero walks over, still somewhat rattled, and sits down two seats away. “Sorry, it was dark in here so I didn’t expect anyone … why didn’t you put on the lights?”
Batman swipes away a window and starts typing. “I didn’t need them.”
“Oh, uh … okay.”
There is silence, punctuated by an occasional creak, whirling machinery, and soft tapping from Batman’s gloves. He counts to fifty, and when the gaze remains unwavering, looks up. Blue eyes stare back at him, brimming with questions. Is he waiting for permission to speak? Batman communicates the go-ahead with a tilt of his head. The other man instantly leans forward.
“Your gloves work on touchscreen?”
Batman looks at his gloved fingers on the tablet, and then back at Flash.
“Mine doesn’t and I never really thought about it. I can’t carry my smartphone when I’m running, I don’t have pockets and will probably fry them with the electricity I generate, but since the computers here are 75% touchscreen, it might come in handy…,” Flash muses, eyes still on Batman’s gloves. “I’m thinking about redesigning my suit. Make it lighter, put in a device to monitor my speed, and something to gauge how much power I have left too, just in case. I burn calories like a Lamborghini.” He makes a shy smile. “So I was looking at your suit…for inspiration. Sorry if that bothered you.”
“You made your own suit?” That, Batman didn’t know.
“I don’t have a nifty ring to do that for me,” Flash says, like minimizing a full-body suit into a ring-head is as trivial as making toast in a toaster. A new column pops up in Flash’s file: skilled inventor. Batman puts down the tablet. Emails can wait.
“What other problems are you having with your current suit?”
An hour later when the other members file into the meeting room, both Flash and Batman are standing, investigating each other’s handiwork. The Flash suit is a careful work of synthetic fabric that holds intriguing features. Still, it isn’t flawless, and Bruce finds himself imparting some suggestions. They volley back and forth, questions and answers, some known and others puzzled out. ‘Fun’ wouldn’t be the word, ‘stimulating’ may be closer. A gloved fist knocks on the batsuit’s heavy breast plates, checking the material and its qualities. Flash whistles. His careful manners have gone out the window in the span of a shared hour. They’re discussing the pros and cons of nanotech when a loud cough interrupts their conversation.
Green Lantern glares at Flash, Batman, and then at Flash again. “Care to share it with the class? We’re here for a League meeting, not private consultations.”
Flash makes a face, and then realizing that everyone else was seated, reaches out to touch Batman on the elbow. His smile is bright. “Thanks for the tips, Batman. I’ll see what I can do.”
Batman nods. “Bring it over once it’s done.” It’ll be interesting to see what the man is capable of.
Another obnoxious cough, and Flash gets an arm around his shoulders. He is bodily ushered towards the table with stage-whispers of “Are you seriously making friends with the broody Bat? Did he suck your blood? Should I be worried about you becoming a vampire?”
Batman snorts, he too sitting down at the round table where other Leaguers wear varying emotions from mild interest to confusion.
“Shall we begin?”
He ignores Green Lantern’s scowl for the rest of the evening.
It’s starting to become a habit. Batman yells and Green Lantern yells back. This time, as any time, is about Green Lantern’s recklessness. They’re back in the Watchtower after another crisis aborted and their shouting match rebounds against the metal walls in angry echoes. At one point Flash interjects and is promptly shot down by both of them. Wonder Woman and Cyborg sigh in the background, Aquaman sharpens his trident, and Superman comes over to pat Flash on the back.
“I did not sign up to be your Robin!”
Green Lantern storms out, presumably back to Earth. Where ever, it doesn’t matter. Batman decides to leave as well, the atmosphere here is stifling, and stalks over to the boom tube.
Bruce obliges but with his back half-turned. He doesn’t appreciate being held up in the corridor, even more so for a confrontation. Tear-jerking loyalty, steadfast and dependable, is a quality that makes Flash a reliable team member and Allen a good friend, although less ‘friend’ and more ‘enabler’ for Jordan. Maybe that’s how their friendship works, Bruce thinks bitterly, a grotesque codependency of someone who needs and someone who needs to be needed.
“Hal likes you.”
Or not. Of all the comments Bruce was expecting, that didn’t make the list. It makes him fully face Allen. The man has shed his cowl, blonde hair and fine features revealed under florescent lights, and looks accepting, even resigned, as he continues. “He won’t say it, he acts like he doesn’t, but he does. I think he sees himself in you. You’re both quite similar, when you’re not at each other’s throats. Or maybe your constant fighting is proof of how similar you are.” There is a soft chuckle. It almost sounds sad. “And, I think you like him too.” Allen shuffles his feet a little, shoulders flexed back to make him look confident, stronger than he probably feels. He matches Bruce’s gaze. “I won’t intervene, it’s not my place, but I just wanted you to know … and ask if you can talk to Hal in a way that’s a little less … well ….”
“Condescending?” Bruce allows a smirk and Allen exhales in a woosh.
“I didn’t want to be rude.”
“I’ll take your advice into consideration.” The promise earns a smile, bone-white and bare, dry to the marrow. It hardly seems to fit the conversation they’ve just had. It’s what moves Bruce to say, “He trusts you.” The beads squirm against his palms. They trusted him too. And trust is everything. It weaves, grafts, and binds skin onto skin, meat onto bone. A conglutination that hurts and heals. It changes you for better or worse. “He trusts you more than anyone.” The machine whirls, lights flicker, and his body is tugged away, Allen’s bewildered face lost in space travel.
It’s later that night during his patrol when it hits Bruce that maybe Allen was talking about something else entirely.
Batman rolls and ducks behind a car as another splat paints concrete a vibrant lime green. The abandoned Chevrolet has succumbed already, losing a bumper and side mirror in the process. Does insurance cover superhuman attacks? Probably not, Batman concludes as he moves to a vantage point, it’ll tank the business.
“Motherfucker!” Green Lantern yells over the comm link, chastised by a grunted “Language” from Aquaman—Arthur Curry, human father and Atlantian mother, current King of Atlantis—who shoots a jet of water at their villain of the day, only to give it siblings. The Bat curses quietly so Aquaman won’t hear.
It all started with a frantic call from Memphis, something about “A big blob! Help us! Please!” Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman were in the middle of drafting a proposal; Cyborg was on monitor duty; the remaining three were planet-side. Flash and Green Lantern responded (“We were having lunch together anyway”) and two heroes for one vague blob-thing seemed more than adequate. That was, until a tired “We need backup” came through twenty minutes later. Aquaman volunteered since he was closest and it was out of curiosity, or legalese-induced boredom, that Batman joined also.
The description was actually quite accurate. Batman looks up at the mass big enough to rival the Memphis Pyramid and with no particular shape to speak of. It reminds him of the green slime Damian once made in the name of science, which had little to no scientific merit other than leaving stains on the upholstery. That one, as obnoxious as it was, didn’t move on its own. This mother of all jello bounces around with surprising agility, squashing the city in sadistic glee. Sealed inside is its power-source, Chester Hoenicker—another mad scientist—emphasis on the ‘mad’ considering his bright plan was to slime the world into submission. Batman hopes Damian won’t get any ideas.
So far the four of them have hacked, sliced, and exploded the jello-monster, which was relatively easy as much as it was pointless. Lopped off segments moved autonomously from the mother-body and jumped around causing havoc like sugar-high children at a birthday party. Batman quickly began running an analysis on the slime. Once they figure out the chemical composition, they’ll find a solution to this sticky mess.
“This is going nowhere,” Aquaman huffs. His trident spears another mini-glob, flings it at a wall, and watches it go splat.
“Tell that to a man who’s been doing this for an hour.” Jordan’s irritation is answered by a buzz of static, Flash saying something in superspeed.
“You can’t stop me!” Hoenicker announces with a cliche evil laugh. “No one can! I will crush—”
“You know,” A green sword the size of a jumbo jet slashes right down the middle of Hoenicker’s villainous monologue. Green Lantern sounds bored. “I’d be a rich man if I got a penny each time I heard that line.” The gelatinous blob separates into two trembling halves.
“I don’t think that was a smart move, GL.” Flash slows down enough for his words to carry. “Watch out!”
Batman immediately takes cover as the ground rocks. The goo twins project themselves upward in a leap, reaches the peak of their arch, and begins their journey back down to Earth guided by gravity. It is then that the analyzer beeps, chemical make-up surprisingly simple, and Batman orders Flash to go find large quantities of—when there is another pavement-shattering boom and a shout in his earpiece. Then all goes silent.
“Flash,” Green Lantern is the first to call out, “Flash, report!”
“He’s caught inside,” Batman observes the immobile figure, floating like a fly trapped in amber. “Most likely unconscious.”
Aquaman chuckles. “Our fastest man, bested by a bouncy slime ball. What did you need, Batman? I will go. I’m not as fast as Flash but equally matched otherwise.” His voice is strong, easy against frayed nerves. It shows the kind of leader he is.
The solution to their slimy problem was sodium hypochlorite, or more commonly known as bleach. Analysis revealed that the green glob was a mutated strain of bacteria and a liberal dose of disinfectant killed its bouncy mood. It takes them less than an hour to dissolve all of Hoenicker’s gooey creation. By then, Memphis is flooded with a diluted neon green, including the Leaguers who look like they engaged in an intense round of paintball.
“I just fixed this suit,” Flash complains. While others have a stray stain or four, Flash is completely drenched from head to toe, red suit muddled into a color close to vomit. He didn’t stay in the goo too long, Green Lantern pulled him out in no time, and there was no sign of injuries. It’s probably his pride that hurts more. Getting swallowed by slime doesn’t look good on your resumé.
Green Lantern pats his embarrassed friend on the back in a placating gesture. It lands with an unpleasant squelch making both men grimace. “I think the cosmos is telling you to change your color scheme,” he says, overly jovial. “We can have matching costumes. I always wanted a sidekick.”
“Thanks but no thanks. Red is my color.” Flash upturns his boots to let the remaining globules ooze out. He places a hand on Green Lantern’s shoulder to steady himself. Batman sees Jordan deflate at the contact. They leave for the Watchtower once the cleaning unit arrives.
“Lantern,” Batman calls out. The man has heard, just refuses to react; he keeps drying his hair, softened by the shower and back to its chestnut color. His silence communicates the way a caged animal growls, deep and rumbling, a low tremor of unease. Flash is fine, tested negative for everything, and half-way into demolishing Wonder Woman’s ice cream stash. What happened today doesn’t amount to more than a laugh. The only one blaming Green Lantern is Jordan himself.
“What do you want?” Green Lantern asks in a variation of Leave me alone.
There is some fish-mouthing, and then, teeth. “What are you, my boss?! I don’t need your validation!”
Why is it so difficult to communicate with this man? It’s true Jordan is obtuse, but Bruce knows that he too can be lacking when it comes to sharing thoughts other than mission plans. They’re very much alike in that regard. The only difference is their methodology: Jordan uses circumlocution, Bruce finds silence easier.
“I meant to complement you.” Might as well try the honesty route. Green Lantern narrows his eyes in a calculative squint. Batman lets him. “I respect your expertise in the field. You take risks, unnecessary at times, but it is your boldness, the willpower your ring represents, that saves lives.” Life pluralized by conscious decision, one specifically highlighted with an uptick of the mouth. They stand in the corridor as Batman becomes Bruce, and Green Lantern becomes Jordan. “I envy you for it,” Bruce says.
Jordan pauses, pupils wavering with nameless emotion, and clutches the towel around his neck in a death grip. “Which part?” he finally croaks out.
It takes a moment, but only a moment. And once Bruce understands the question, there is no way to stop the eye roll. Idiot means it wholeheartedly—the insinuation, the doubts, the worries—connecting imagined dots into imagined lines to draw out a fantasy that doesn’t exist. Same thing happened with Barry. And now it’s Jordan. Bruce is equal parts baffled and annoyed. Somehow, at some indeterminate point, for inconceivable reasons, black got caught between red and green. It makes no sense whatsoever but human emotion defies logic, especially in those pining for their best friend.
“Treasure the trust you have.” The beads quiver, causing a sigh. It is so trivial, dumb, and hopelessly cheesy. Like watching two heads move closer and you know they’re going to kiss. “Never believe that it will always be there. Take action, or you’re going to regret it.”
“Wait, are you—” Jordan stops, eats his words, and tries again. “Is this, you’re, what, you mean—” He flails his arms.
Bruce leaves before they embarrass each other further.
“Are you actually pissed at me? Seriously? It meant nothing!”
“That girl left you on her own will, not my doing, at all. You know I would never steep that low. I have enough chicks to choose from as it is. I don’t need to hook up with girls with a nerd fetish!”
“Come on, Barry. You know me. Flirting is second nature, it’s the way I talk. You can’t blame me for my natural charm and wit. That’s just cruel. It’s not my fault I’m irresistible.”
“So, when do I get to meet this Spivot girl?”
There is a heavy sigh. “Preferably never.”
Flash leaves, and Green Lantern gives a yell of protest. As the grumbled complaints die down, Batman interjects.
“You can be more honest. He isn’t as straight as you think.”
“Oh fuck you.”
The League loses a member soon after.
It was logic, Bruce remembers, that began his observations. A safety net against contingency, woven in stoic language and numbers, each file revealing with merciless precision what lies beneath the masks. So this finding is logical in basis. Or so Bruce reasons, as he watches Barry imitate a deer in headlights.
“It’s quite obvious,” Bruce says.
Barry looks down at the keyboard he’d been tapping, looks up at the monitors that report status quo, sends a glance around the room, and then comes back to Bruce sitting next to him. He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. “Can I plead the fifth?”
“We’ve no regulations on office romance.”
A giggle, quickly erased by a cough, and the speedster paints himself scarlet. Barry touches his cowl, forgetting he doesn’t have access to his hair. “Good news to Superman and Wonder Woman then.” Hand slipping, his eyes plead to drop the subject.
“Have you seen him recently?”
“A month ago.” Barry turns back to the screen and resumes logging data in hyper-speed. His legs twitch with obvious discomfort. “He is off somewhere to aid a peace treaty, will be back in a few weeks. You want me to take a message?”
Bruce hums contemplatively. “Tell him to get his act together.” A beep alerts him to a text from Nightwing, what he’d been waiting for. Batman stands to leave. “Get yours together too, in the meantime.”
Laughter breaks like water from a dam, swells and fills the room with noise. Barry throws himself back on the chair, legs stretched out and hands held up in posture of defeat. “Damn it. You know everything, Batman.” Blue eyes glint with wondrous mirth. “You not only know, you also care about everything. It must be crazy. How do you do it? How do you cope?”
The cape swishes, flowing dramatically.
And with that, Batman makes his exit.