TITLE: The Secret Thoughts of a Bat

AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass

AUTHOR'S EMAIL: fishfolk@ix.netcom.com. Feedback is better than chocolate.

PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Please ask.

CATEGORY: Friendship

RATINGS/WARNINGS: PG for some bad language

SUMMARY: "Batman turned back to his binoculars with another internal sigh. The man was spending too much time with Flash, obviously."

CONTINUITY: Takes place after "Secret Society." Spoilers for "Secret Society," "Hereafter" and especially "A Better World."

DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to many people other than me, such as DC Comics and the Cartoon Network.

NOTES: So, I started pondering what Batman might have been thinking during my fic "The Secret Thoughts of a Man." It might also help to have read my earlier story "Secrets, Societies, and Truths." Thanks again to Wyzeguy for the beta :)

* * * * *

Between the winter air that made breathing painful and Green Lantern's incessant fidgeting, Batman was finding it unusually difficult to concentrate on the mission. He seriously considered pulling out a tranquilizer dart and shooting his teammate--surely this mission didn't need both of them.

Batman closed his eyes for a moment and wished for Nightwing or Robin, both of whom he'd trained into stillness. Then he wished for a stakeout someplace a bit warmer, someplace that wasn't in the middle of the coldest winter since 1896. It shouldn't have felt this cold, but the wind chill was reaching through even the best insulation he had, finding every gap, every edge.

His sigh--as ever--unvoiced, he continued to peer through his binoculars, waiting for the new gang he'd been tracking to make their move.

Instinct said tonight was the night and this museum was the place. They couldn't resist what was on display, not with everything he'd read about it. And he'd read everything.

The brand new exhibit of Mesopotamian artifacts from the eighth century contained quite a few irreplaceable things, including a 16-foot-tall guardian figure (an Assyrian winged bull, to be specific) and a collection of rare lapis cylinder seals. There was also one piece that very few people could identify properly, a bronze staff covered in very un-Mesopotamian designs. Several curators had described strange events that seemed to occur when the object was in residence. Not all that surprising when you factored in what the occult community had had to say about it.

An odd but familiar sound--a kind of quiet...whoosh--behind him made Batman freeze. He looked over his shoulder at Lantern, who was frowning mightily as he changed the colors of his uniform.

How extraordinarily odd, Batman thought.

Lantern looked up and saw him watching, then shifted his uniform back to its normal configuration, his expression a bit embarrassed. He seemed about to say something in explanation, but Batman turned back to his binoculars with another internal sigh. The man was spending too much time with Flash, obviously. Either that or he'd utterly lost his mind. He'd better keep an eye on him, just in case. You could never be too rich or too paranoid, after all.

Now, if the other man could just keep still for a little while, he could finish planning for a new--

"You don't like me, do you?" Lantern asked.

Batman turned slowly, certain now that Lantern had lost his mind. What was he supposed to say in response to *that*? He finally decided nothing was the only possible answer to such an absurd question, and turned back to the binoculars. It was unlikely his face would reveal anything, but best to be certain.

"I don't really care if you like me or not," Lantern went on, "but it gets in the way of getting things done."

What was that? Batman couldn't help turning to look again, but pursed his lips together to make certain he didn't respond. Whatever game Lantern was playing, he was on his own.

"What?" Lantern asked, trying (and failing) to look innocent. Definitely too much time with Flash.

"You want to talk *now*?" Batman growled. What did the man think he was doing? Maybe this was some subtle plot to drive *him* insane. If so, it was working admirably.

"You got a better idea? We may be here a while. And we don't even know if they're gonna attack this location or one of the others."

"I know how they think. They'll be here."

Batman went back to his lookout for villains, resolute. Unfortunately, the street was emptier than the Gotham town square just after the Joker had arrived--which didn't provide much in the way of distraction.

That left his mind enough time to wander. Time to think about Lantern's comments. Did he *like* him? Who the hell knew? Between life as Batman, protecting Gotham and the rest of the planet, and trying to keep up his identity as Bruce Wayne, he didn't have a lot of time to think about his teammates. A traitorous portion of his mind provided a visceral reminder of his dance with Wonder Woman, but he banished it with practiced ease.

Certainly he respected the abilities of his colleagues in the Justice League, and he had learned a great deal from them--Superman's "death" had reminded him of that. But with the fate of the world at stake on a regular basis, it didn't seem constructive to discuss this fact.

There had been that moment of weakness when he doubted his own knowledge that Superman was alive, but he was only human. That didn't mean the Justice League should be turned into a touchy feely encounter session.

Tensing at a blur a block away, Batman relaxed when it turned out to be a stray dog sniffing at a cafeteria dumpster. He let out a small puff of air that immediately condensed on his cowl's lenses. Forcibly restraining himself from growling, Batman reminded himself that physical discomfort was supposed to be irrelevant, even if the cold was making his bones ache. He made a mental note to upgrade the insulation on several of his costumes.

He continued to scan the surrounding area, looking for any signs of mischief. Or even signs of life. The business district wasn't precisely a destination spot for late night revelers; the streets were quiet, no music from clubs, no drunk partygoers, no pedestrians...

A thought occurred to Batman: Had Lantern been talking to Superman about him? After Grodd's little mind game, Superman was the one who cornered him in the control room, insisting the League were his friends whether he liked it or not.

Damn, but the man knew how to get under his skin. Friends? Who'd asked for friends? All he wanted was a team that knew what they were doing and could take care of themselves in a battle.

That was all he needed. Why was he even thinking about this?

Apparently Lantern could get under his skin as well, and that was irritating. Friends were nothing but trouble. Friends could be used against you as leverage. Friends could get hurt or killed.

"Maybe we *should* talk," Lantern said, his voice nearly startling Batman into a wince.

Batman spent a long moment staring past his binoculars, debating. "About what?" he finally asked, hoping for some innocuous topic he could quash.

"Teamwork, maybe."

Batman hunched his shoulders. Not *that* again. Damn it, he'd been training just like the man wanted. Wasting precious time running those idiotic drills, when he could have been busting heads in Gotham. He wasn't even a full member of the League!

Behind him, he heard a scraping sound, probably Lantern fidgeting again. "Our teamwork could be better," Lantern said.

"Well, I think we could be more efficient, but we've seen where that leads," Batman growled, realizing too late that Lantern would follow the thought--the man wasn't stupid, after all.

Lantern snorted and shot back. "Sharing information and better coordination isn't going to make us the Justice Lords."

The voice of that other Batman: 'The problem with democracy is, it doesn't keep you very safe.' "Are you certain?" Batman asked Lantern.

"Yes," Lantern said, his voice deep and assured.

He was so damned naive, Batman thought, still so certain of his own righteousness, even after what they'd seen. Batman didn't bother to answer.

Lantern's earnest voice again. "I didn't like what I saw when I looked at them either. But we have a chance to be different."

"Hmm." The noise was nearly yanked out of him by his annoyance and he heard Lantern shift behind him.

"We tried splitting up after Grodd hit us. And it didn't work. As the Justice League we have the chance to do greater good, save more lives, react faster to threats."

"And the chance to do greater evil," Batman said. In his mind, the other Batman's voice goaded him: 'You can't be subtle, you've got to step into the sunlight, take over.'

"Then why the hell are you still part of the League?" Lantern asked.

Why did everyone keep asking him that? What business was it of theirs as long as he got the job done? He deflected the question, turning around to smirk. "You said 'hell.' Goodness."

"I was a Marine. I can say 'fuck' and 'shit' too, but don't change the subject."

Lantern's arms were crossed and his demeanor had gone from curious to pissed. Of course, Batman thought, there was no way he was going to answer him. "Superman asked the same question." And if he hadn't answered the big guy, he sure as hell wasn't going to tell some military man with a magic ring.

"And what did you tell him?" Lantern's eyes glowed that annoyingly alien green.

Batman leaned against the brick wall, concentrating on the feel of it through his uniform. "No comment."

Behind him, Lantern took a deep breath. "You're an aggravating bastard."

"You always say the nicest things, Lantern."

"I give up."

"So soon?" Finally, he'd get some peace. Batman relaxed as silence fell and he was able to regain his focus, banish the images of that other universe. Within moments, every sound was being categorized and filed away, every movement evaluated for possible threats. Nightwing would call it zen, this ability to take in everything at once, assess it automatically. Batman called it his job.

Usually Lantern was a good partner for these tasks. Usually he had the same kind of single-minded focus. Impossible to tell exactly what was going on in the man's mind that made tonight different, but it was unfortunate.

Unfortunate because he'd somehow transferred whatever it was to Batman, who found his mind drifting again.

A puff of smoke from a distant factory reminded Batman of Gotham. The other Gotham and how clean it had been. He wanted that Gotham, wanted it so badly he could taste it in every decision he made.

In his memory, the other Batman spoke again, his voice harsher, harder, hungrier. 'I just chose peace and security instead.'

Peering over the edge in a cave just like his own, adrenaline pounding in his ears: 'You grabbed power!'

'And with that power, we've made a world where no 8-year-old boy will *ever* lose his parents because of some punk with a gun.'

And with that, just that, he'd given in. None of the others had turned, but he'd been inches away from betraying his team, his world, everything. Of course, he'd come to his senses but the simple fact that he'd faltered--

"Batman..." Lantern interrupted his thoughts, then paused. "Don't give up on the League. You told me trust could be earned over time--tell me how we do that. You've never trusted us, and seeing the Lords' universe has made you distrust us even more."

Batman hunched further over the binoculars. "Perhaps..." The words clogged his throat like thick bile. "I don't trust myself."

What had possessed him to say that? Fuck. Fuck.

"If you don't trust yourself, maybe you better get out of the superhero business."

His hands tightened on the binoculars, muscles tensing as if for a fight. To hear his own deepest worry echoed in that way...He managed to grind out a coherent sentence. "We are *not* discussing this."

"Why not?" Lantern sounded entirely reasonable.

"If I wanted a therapist, I'd have found one on my own." When hell froze over, pigs flew, and Flash became a diplomat, he didn't say.

"Who can you talk to other than another member of the cape and tights crowd?"

"I have no desire to talk about it with anyone," Batman growled. "Can we concentrate on what's important?"

"This *is* important. We can't go around second-guessing every move we make."

Batman put down the binoculars, but didn't turn. How could the man be so blind? So trusting? "We have to. Or we're going to find we've crossed that line without ever knowing it."

"You just don't get it. That's part of the team thing. We watch each other's backs and we keep ourselves honest. Just like you and Superman did to defeat the Lords."

Eyes widening behind the mask, Batman turned. "We set Luthor free." He'd thought they understood the consequences of that decision.

"But we're gonna stay on this side of that line. Even if it kills us. I think the Lords forgot why we do this: to protect people. They lost track of their humanity."

Batman shook his head, astounded. "In case *you've* lost track, three of us aren't even human."

"You know what I mean."

"I don't think I do."

"They forgot security without freedom is worthless."

Angry at the platitude, Batman struck out. "And how will you feel when Flash dies?"

"We don't know it's inevitable."

It had been a palpable hit, though, making Lantern pause before answering. "You're the one," Batman said, moving in for the victory, "who said 'even if it kills us.'"

Lantern didn't answer, just glared at him, eyes glowing and the ring pulsing on his finger. Batman held his gaze long enough to be certain his point was made, then turned around, lifting his binoculars.

"All we can do is try," Lantern said. "But you have to trust in the team."

Trust in the team? He flashed back to another mission, shouting at Etrigan that he trusted J'onn with his life. In the end, J'onn had justified his faith, but how could--

Wait, over there. That flash. They'd gotten into the building already!

"Ah." Batman breathed out the word, but it was enough. In an instant, Lantern snatched him up with a ring construct and the two of them hurtled toward the museum *almost* as fast as if he'd jumped himself. He subdued the irritation, reminding himself it was better tactics to enter together.

Lantern opened his ring-generated bubble and Batman jumped down, already scanning for the enemy as Lantern went through the door an instant before him.

A green shield slammed over their heads just in time to deflect a cylinder hurled at them. Cursing, Batman had his gas mask on even before he'd consciously recognized the threat, his other hand wielding a batarang that just needed a target.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the green glow around Lantern that meant he was protecting himself from the gas. They looked at each other and Batman knew what they needed to do. He slid to the left side of the museum, hiding himself in the shadows while Lantern played target. It was a tactic they'd used successfully a number of times.

As he blended into the darkness, searching for any sign of their opponents, Batman spared a moment to grudgingly admit that some of their training together had actually been useful. Not that he'd admit it to Lantern, of course. The man was too smug as it was.

The room was perfect for an ambush, which had all of Batman's senses on alert. The high ceilings with odd rafters and hanging panels, the randomly placed statues, pillars, doorways, everything in this main entryway was a possible threat. He slid the gas mask back into its place on his utility belt.

In the back corner, there was definite movement, but it was too far away for Batman to be certain what he saw. And he was in exactly the wrong place, damn it. Lantern should be almost directly opposite him, and if he'd seen that movement, he should be making his way...Yes, there he was, behind the winged bull statue.

Automatically, Batman picked several possible routes across the room, depending on where their opponents were, how many there were, and how they attacked. He continued his slow stalk against the wall, trying to get far enough back that he'd have a clear shot when Lantern made his move.

Which he could do any day now. Really.

At that moment, Lantern stepped out from behind the bull, a green glowing 'shoot me now' target. "Stop right there!" he yelled.

Batman dove behind an animal motif stele, taking route number four toward the back corner of the room. Laser beams whined through the air, and Batman winced at the damage they would probably cause, making a mental note to get the museum a grant from the Wayne Foundation.

"Give up now!" Lantern yelled, and Batman used the cover of the noise to get closer.

A green light shot out from Lantern's ring, illuminating the intruders, and Batman took his shot. The tentacled creature who was nearest definitely called for a bolo, and the weighted ropes took him down as Lantern knocked out two others with the ring. The batarang finally found a target in something that looked like a dog.

Four down, one dropping its gun and looking terrified. As well he/she/it should. Lantern had him with the ring, so Batman stepped out from concealment, the glare that had terrified a thousand villains firmly in place.

"Whoa, you can have it if you want it that badly," the three-eyed creature said, shrinking back.

"We're not here to take it," Lantern said, sounding disgusted. "We're here to protect it from you."

"Do you know what this can do?"

"We don't care," Batman said, turning to scan the room. Something was wrong, something was off.

"It's pure power. Don't you want power?"

"No. I want justice," Batman said. There! Almost faster than thought, he threw a batarang at the shape he saw in the shadows. The shape fell over with a deeply satisfying thud.

"Nice," Lantern said with a nod.

"Thanks."

Superman and Hawkgirl flew through the door at that moment, ready to join the battle; when they found they were too late, Hawkgirl looked disappointed and Superman relieved. With the arrival of backup, Batman felt the wrench of adrenaline wearing off and he suppressed a shiver as his body reminded him of the cold air pouring in through the building's open doors.

"The police are on the way," Superman said, looking pleased at the uneventful end to the mission. "Why don't we take these outside?"

"Be my guest," Batman said. He went to retrieve the last creature he'd knocked out, dumping him roughly with the others and moving his hands underneath his cape to hide their shaking. This was always the worst part--keyed up for all those hours of waiting, bursting into action and then...stopping.

Superman and Hawkgirl each scooped up two of the villains and flew out, Lantern grabbing the other two with a green claw. Damn it, Batman thought, he couldn't...he shouldn't...

"Lantern?" Batman heard himself call, cursing the weakness that wouldn't let him leave without doing this.

"Yes?" He turned, startled.

"I don't know that I like you, but I trust you all. With my life. And I haven't given up on the League."

He stalked out before the other man could respond. It wasn't a conversation he wanted to have, but Lantern deserved to know at least that much. He didn't want to be saying it to Lantern's grave someday with a stomach full of regrets.

It was easy enough to slip past the chaos outside, police cars squealing to a stop, photographers blinding everyone with flashes, as Lantern, Hawkgirl, and Superman handed off their prisoners. Nobody noticed a shadow slip around the corner, and Batman took advantage of that to make his way to the Batmobile.

'What are you hiding for?' his other self sneered in his memory.

'I do my best work in the dark.'

'I used to think that, too. But what have you ever accomplished from there, aside from scaring a few punks half to death and putting a few more in jail?'

Batman paused, leaning one hand on the hood of the Batmobile, anchoring himself to that familiar and solid surface. "It all adds up," he whispered. "And I can live with myself the next day."