Afterward

"I'm telling you, it was electricity!" Flash called out over the television.

Across the room, Hawkgirl uttered a curse in a foreign tongue and flung back the same argument she'd been flinging for days. "It was ice, Flash!"

"What say we don't call those two next time" Superman muttered, rolling his eyes as he leaned against the back wall. J'onn laughed in response.

"We could move to one of the rooms farther down in the tower."

"Except I don't trust Flash around all this food." Superman's eyes swept across the room to take a quick stock of their supplies. He was fairly certain they'd brought enough cake and party snacks to feed ten Flashes, but sometimes it was hard to tell, particularly because the speedster liked to take things with him 'for later.'

The Justice League had good reason to celebrate. For one, they'd gone an entire week without anything but minor calls, making it the first since the crisis in the New England states began. But far more compelling was the fact that Superman had just bought a new large screen high definition television and announced he was donating it to the League. The six of them were now gathered in the "living room" of the tower to christen the new entertainment device. The TV station had been stuck on a random news channel ever since Flash had relinquished the remote to resume the argument he'd been having on and off with Hawkgirl recently.

As the two bickered from opposite sides of the room, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern laughed heartily from their places on the sofa, periodically egging the contestants on—not that they needed encouragement. They had been going for a half hour since the last time Superman checked, and that was before the current news program had started. He was just about to lean over to ask J'onn a question when a sudden name from the television caught his ear. Drowning out the noise the others were making, he leaned forward and tried desperately to hear what the news reporter was saying. He didn't notice J'onn's knowing gaze shift to the far side of the room.

"Intentions on the Wayne vs. Drake case were made public earlier today. Gotham's foremost billionaire being brought under fire by a slew of allegations ranging from negligence to child endangerment charges over the kidnapping of Timothy Drake. The city of Gotham has determined that there is insufficient evidence to try the defendant criminally, but several local child-advocate organizations have already expressed their intent to file a massive civil suit. Chances are if they do win they won't go home disappointed. Mr. Wayne's net worth is estimated at over thirty—"

"Hey!" Flash shouted out suddenly as the television flicked off with a violent click. "We were watching—"

The sentence was left hanging in thin air as every eye turned to see a living shadow standing in the doorway, remote in hand.

There was a brief silence as Batman stepped forward into the light. He seemed the same in every respect...except his arms and body were fully concealed within his cape. To some in the Justice League the stance was simply characteristic, but to those who had learned to recognize it, it spoke of reservation—or in this case, reluctance. It was the closest Batman ever got to displaying diffidence.

"Bats!"

Flash leaned on a nearby table with one arm, his eyes squinting shrewdly as he shared a private look with Hawkgirl. "Now that you're back, maybe you can settle something for us."

Batman paid him as much attention as he usually did—in short, none. Cape billowing massively behind him, he moved smoothly across the room towards a door on the opposite side that led up to the main deck.

Lantern was already turned backwards on the sofa, one elbow draped leisurely over the back. "Heard you had an emergency" he said. His eyes followed Batman closely. "Everything ok?"

"Fine."

He frowned at the tone. "You were gone for a while."

"You'll be compensated."

Superman stepped forward, shooting Lantern a look. He wasn't completely blocking the path to the door...yet...but it was obvious he was intending to do more than just say a few short words. "I don't think that's what Lantern meant—"

"I know what he meant" came the reply. Batman glowered challengingly, already anticipating what was on Superman's mind. "And I don't need your condolences."

The last thing he wanted to hear right now was a string of Clark's usual, blithering apologies. He had heard them nearly his entire life: I'm sorry for your loss, Bruce. I'm sorry things didn't work out with that girl, Bruce. I'm sorry about your parents, Bruce. I'm sorry about your whole damn life, Bruce. They were pointless—just fancy words intended as an opiate to stupefy someone out of accepting the truth. Even on a good day he had little patience for them.

Whatever concern had been on Superman's face quickly hardened. Batman had a remarkable ability to make people sorely regret ever granting him a shred of compassion. Superman, however, was a little too used to the game by now. Bruce had already begun to walk past him when he stuck a hand out and insistently pushed on his shoulder, forcing him to halt. He was lucky Batman wasn't gifted with heat vision, otherwise the subsequent glare he got would have bored straight through his skull.

Its purpose served, the hand withdrew to extend outwards in open invitation of a handshake. "Then how about just a 'welcome back'?"

The glower in Batman's eyes faded. Acting a little more responsive and a little less reluctantly than expected, he accepted the gesture with a firm grip. Clark held on longer than a cordial greeting, using that to express his sorrow since he couldn't say it aloud. To his surprise Bruce didn't pull away. Then, without another word between them, Batman gave a nod and swept out of the room.

"Just a sec, Bats!" Flash called as he was exiting into the hallway. "The first time you fought Clayface, did you use ice or electricity!"

"Electricity."

To the sound of Batman's feet echoing hollowly down the hall, Flash's victorious voice drifted back from the living room:

"HA! I told you so!"


I learned a lot of things while writing this story:

I learned that there were actually three Flashes and that the one in the Justice League show is Wally West, the third one.
I learned that the guy who does Flash's voice in the JL show is the guy who plays Lex Luthor on WB's live-action series, "Smallville."
I learned that I did know the guy who does Green Lantern's voice—Phil Lamar.
I learned Wonder Woman's culture is centered around Greek Mythology (I couldn't remember if it was Greek or Roman).
I learned that I feel really sorry for J'onn...even more so than I used to.
I learned that Gotham is actually another name for New York City.
I learned that dialogues with multiple characters talking is incredibly hard to do.
I learned that the Return of the Joker has two versions: an edited and an unedited one.
I learned that Amazon-dot-com does indeed ship to PO Boxes.
I learned that closed captioning is awesome when you can't figure out what the Joker is saying in one of his lines.
I learned that the Joker, in fact, did NOT kill Bruce Wayne's parents. (That one just blew me off the floor. I had always held that as an elemental truth. Stupid Batman movie).
I learned that Batman refuses to kill people, which was really good because I initially had him getting really close. (Good thing I caught that one).
I learned why, in the first episode of Batman Beyond, it looked really weird for Batman (Bruce Wayne) to be holding a gun.
And I learned that there is a HUGE difference between the comic book Batman and the cartoon Batman that I have grown to know and love.

But most importantly of all, I learned that there is no better feeling in the world than writing a story that other people like to read.

Thank you.
Without you guys, this would be nothing.

- Lael Adair -