Disclaimer: I still don't own the characters, and I do have a job now. Go me! .

Warnings: Slash (Virgil/Richie, GL/Flash, others), Alternate Universe, Crossover

Author's Note: The end! Finally!

Ratings: M

Title: Like A Dream Like A Dream Chapter Ten

J'onn stretched his natural fingers. He stood in the darkness of one of the many observation chambers, alone in body if not in mind, stripped of the illusion he projected to the others. No false form. No false clothes. Nothing but his real skin in his real form.

It had been a while since he'd been down to the surface of Earth. For the most part, his duties were mostly...observation. He sometimes wondered if the humans around him realized how different they were from his own people. His race, his species, had been peaceful by nature and had only been militant by necessity. But these creatures, these humans, seemed to enjoy combat and conflict. They marked their timelines by death and by wars. Who better to witness the miracle and the disaster of the human condition than someone who remained outside of it?

An alien. An outsider.

An observer.

But yesterday, that had changed. Because, yesterday, he'd gone down to the surface. And instead of observing, he'd taken an active part in the battle. He'd shed the illusion he kept around himself then, too. He'd become...something different. Someone different.

He'd become dangerous.

He'd become a living weapon, using his morphing, phasing, and telepathy to their limit. Even as his body twisted through living shadows, cold steel, and hard wood, his mind was twisting through the dark, dangerous thoughts of his enemy. Each fluid-like move he made--whether physical or mental--was meant to locate a weakness.

Maybe it was evidence to the influence of the humans around him, specifically Bruce, but there was a part of him that liked it. Worse, though, was that he held no regrets. No sorrow.

However, he did feel sympathy for their captured prey.

For the girl.

J'onn felt someone approaching the observation room, and with a mental sigh, he reconfigured his body so that he appeared 'normal' to human eyes again. Though how they could see him as alien when confronted with the mutations of their own species, he was unclear about.

"--Princess, please!"

"I've heard your arguments, Jennifer," said Diana as she stepped into the dimness of the observation room.

On her heels, a young woman dressed in the small sarong of one of the Chosen followed her, wringing her hands with an easily readable look of distress in her eyes. "But, she's a monster. It's no better than taking a beast to your bed, an animal!"

J'onn raised one eyebrow ridge at the two females before turning to the window in front of him. There on the floor, still wrapped up in the metal arms of the trap that caught her, the young, winged meta-human lay. She was muzzled, to keep her secondary powers under control.

"She was born human, like you," Wonder Woman chastised, "like every other Chosen here. By our Law, she is still human, no matter her appearance."

"But Princess--!"

"ENOUGH!" Diana shouted, her voice echoing in the small chamber. It was bad enough to have such a clingy, needy Chosen, but for one to have the gall to make demands of a Defender in -public- was embarrassing! "I've made the decision. She is going to be mine. If you cannot abide by my choice, then it will be very easy for me to dismiss you into someone else's services."

Jennifer opened her mouth, shocked and horrified. She tried to say something, but in the end, the young woman was only able to say, very quietly, "As you wish, your Majesty."

In the reflection of the window, J'onn saw Diana nod and then make a shooing motion with her hands, dismissing the young Chosen from the room, if not from her services. Once the blond was gone, the Amazon released a soft sigh and turned to regard the prone figure in the next room.

The two Defenders were quiet for a time, but like all peace on Earth, it was very short-lived. "Sometimes, I question the sanity and reasoning of the women who've been raised in the World of Men. Be that as it may, what she said was very...tactless, and I apologize for her, should her words have made you uncomfortable."

"I have heard worse since coming to this planet," J'onn remarked.

"I know, but there is no reason for it, and no reason that people should think like that. You are enough like us that our differences are not as important as our similarities. You deserve everything that we do. Honor. Justice. Pride," Wonder Woman advocated. "And you deserve love. Just like she does."

The Martian had no words for a moment, at least none that could adequately express his thoughts in any of the languages she knew. After a short pause filled with many unspoken things, the green male finally replied, "There are many here who do not feel the same."

"And they are fools."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps they do not believe in taking a known enemy into their homes and giving them a place by their hearths."

"She does not have to be an enemy, though. If given a chance, she could be...so much more than the role she's been forced into."

"Is that why you are doing this? Is that why you are taking her as your newest Chosen? To give her a chance?"

Diana paused, tilting her head to the side. For a moment, the princess thought about lying. But lies and half-truths were the ways of men, and she prided herself on her upbringing. Plus, J'onn was a telepath, and what was the point in trying to lie to someone who could read minds?

"Why, Princess? Think carefully, because others here will be asking the same questions."

"I'm doing this because...I'm doing this because I do not see what others see. I see someone who deserves more than what life has given to her. I see someone with potential. I see...I see a Sister."

J'onn nodded his head slowly, accepting her answer. He was well aware of her thoughts, because even though he did not like to use his telepathy on his fellow Defenders, it was not a 'skill' he could merely turn off. "What if she refuses?"

"She will not," Wonder Woman stated quietly. "We have never taken a prisoner before, and we never will. One way or another, she will choose her own fate. Become mine, or..."

Somewhere, in the Fortress, someone was singing an infectious tune that was annoying as it was repetitive. 'Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream...' The green-skinned male could only hope that the song was correct, and that for the girl's sake, her life did not become a living nightmare. "I have found that some believe Death is more desirable than living as a slave to someone else's desires."

"Some do," agreed Diana, "but she won't. I can tell that she understands life is what you make it. And a life here, even as an unwilling Chosen, is preferable to many alternatives."

J'onn bowed his head in acknowledgement. The young meta-human did seem to be a survivor. That much was true.

Diana nodded as well, spinning on her booted heel to leave. Just before she left the room, she looked over her shoulder at the Martian and very quietly informed him, "I know that you calm Bruce's dreams, just as I know that he never belonged to me in the same way that he would willingly belong to you."

The green-skinned male turned slightly to look at the dark-haired warrior maiden.

"For that I am grateful." And then she was gone, striding down the hallway to meet her newest acquisition.

J'onn smiled slightly, wondering if what he'd just heard had actually been said, or if it was merely the Amazon's thoughts he'd read. Or if, perhaps, it had been merely a figment of someone's dream...

-0-

There was no slow ascension to wakefulness. There was no gentleness to consciousness. There was merely pain. But he was used to pain, both physical and other. Bruce went from deep sleep to wide-awake without even being able to note the transition.

Somewhere, in his head, the part of him that was lonely and more poetic than the rest, he thought that maybe he should have noticed waking up, like he did when J'onn was nearby, keeping the nightmares at bay. The same part of him thought that maybe he should also have realized when he fell asleep.

Brushing such foolish thoughts aside, the multi-millionaire was distinctly aware of company in his otherwise quiet room. And it wasn't J'onn. Or Alfred.

"John."

Hidden in the shadows of the darkened room, his arms folded across his chest and remaining as still as humanly possible, he wasn't sure what gave him away, but whatever it was probably had more to do with Bruce's inherent paranoia than anything he might have done. He'd been watching the still injured man sleep for almost five minutes, which wasn't much time in the grand scheme of things, but considering it was Batman, and Batman hated being observed without permission, it was an incredibly long moment.

It was rather strange that it wasn't just the Chosen who came to the Fortress with grand dreams of a better life. Among the Defenders, most began their heroic careers to do good. To -be- good. They all began with dreams. But Bruce hadn't. John knew enough about the Night Terror to know that.

"Bruce." The former U.S. Marine regarded the still human Defender, his falsely green eyes narrowing cautiously. Afraid. Afraid of what he was thinking. Afraid of finding out the truth. Who in their right mind sent an untrained Chosen to the field? And granted, this was Batman, and no one claimed that he was always within his right mind, but still. There had to be a reckoning at some point. Hadn't there? "We got Static back."

To which Bruce said nothing, as nothing needed to be said.

"It was a near thing, though," John continued. He still remembered coming in on the scene, following on the heels of Flash and Supergirl. Nightwing was down for the count. Black Canary was likewise. Speedy... Well, he'd be sharing a room with his mentor.

There was also the sight of Manhunter, forgoing his normal shape as he twisted around and through the other shape-shifter, Ebon. Telepathy, teleportation, phasing, and shadow manipulation. Those powers and abilities made John slightly nauseous as he watched their battle, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He doubted he'd ever be able to adequately describe that battle. No one could, really. There just weren't enough words, and the words they did have weren't...right enough.

And then there was Richie. He had barely held his own, placing himself between a harpy and a defenseless Static.

John didn't mention any of it, though. Instead, he allowed the silence to stretch on, wondering if the all-too-human vigilante was even curious as to what really happened.

Bruce quirked an eyebrow.

"No casualties, but there are injured. The stealth team got attacked, but Richie was smart and called for backup. In the end, we got everyone out, relatively quietly," explained John. "Plus, we caught one of them."

"How's Richard?"

John smirked, though it was a mixture of pride and anger. He wasn't sure what Bruce's game was, but he didn't like that the broody Defender asked about the blond before the bagged prize. He hadn't questioned Batman's motives before, not with witnesses around. It was bad for morale to question another founding member in front of the younger, newer ones. But there was no one around now. "He's with Virgil right now, both of them healing. The kid passed your trial by fire, even if it did nearly cost us him -and- Static."

"I had faith in him," the blue-eyed male half smiled. "He's intelligent and resourceful. And he'd make an excellent partner for Virgil. You might have noticed: Dakota is a dangerous place. He needs backup."

"And not to mention if he's a Defender, then there won't be any problems with him sleeping with someone other than Virgil," John warned.

Bruce's smile thinned to something far more sinister. "Don't threaten me, John. I had no intention to steal Richard from anyone. Ever."

"With your reputation, I find that hard to believe."

"Sticks and stones, John," scoffed Bruce, as if John were a mere child. "Richard does not interest me sexually."

"But you admit to using him."

"Virgil knows. He consented to it."

"What?"

"What you and most of the others fail to realize is everyone has their use. Some people see others as sexual tools. Some see them as weapons. Others see people as cogs in a great machine. I see potential in everyone, John. Everyone can be anything. All it takes is the right opportunity and the right incentive." Bruce smirked. "Richard assisted me in the lab. That was all."

Considering that they had all gained a new Defender in the process, John wasn't able to complain too vehemently about what the Night Terror had done, even though he had manipulated everyone in the Fortress. Still, manipulation and subterfuge were not...crimes that were banned among the Defenders. "So everyone is a tool to you?"

The injured male merely moved his head in a gentle shrug, neither denying nor acknowledging the fact.

"You could have gotten Richie killed. Hell, you could have gotten all of us killed. That was a damn suicide mission you sent us out on!" The glowing emerald eyes shined brighter than normal with righteous anger. "And what's worse is that you knew it."

For a moment, the bedridden man said nothing. And then, in the ever-so-calm voice he used when talking to any number of victims, hiding what he truly felt while simultaneously dodging some of the accusations thrown at him, Bruce stated, "Talking about 'might-have-been's and 'what-if's never solved any problems. Taking action has. I may not have taken physical action, but I made the call."

John stood there, regarding the 'defenseless' man in the bed. There were no words that could adequately express John's disgust or anger, and if he tried, the former Marine knew he'd just fall into a homicidal fit. And knowing Batman as well as he did, John knew that even bedridden, Bruce would win. He was just that damn good. He'd have to be to keep up with all the meta-humans, altered humans, aliens, androids, and other assorted characters in the League. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the blue-eyed male. Of all the members of the Defenders, Batman was one of the most powerful, even without any kind of super-powers, both on the field and on the Council. He was also the most dangerous.

How naïve had he been all of these years to have willfully overlooked this fact?

John shook his head and clenched his teeth, barely able to restrain himself. Spinning on his heel, the Chicago born Defender left the still darkened room, feeling an uncomfortable weight settling in his stomach. He never thought that there would come a day when he questioned the validity of everything he was doing, but suddenly, he was doing just that. At what point did his dream of saving people and being a hero turn into a nightmare of deceit, manipulation, and second-guessing? And was he the only one?

The real question was: when had Bruce started pulling all of their strings?

Was it when the Fortress was first created? When the first Chosen were brought onboard? When the Chosen became something less than students and something more than friends? Were there people who had their strings cut? Were John's, now that he knew that there was a puppet master? Or were the strings tied all that much tighter, now that he knew there was a man behind the curtain?

Large, muscled arms tightened and flexed with the suppressed need to lash out as he made his way back to his room. He hoped that Flash would be there, if for no other reason than the speedster always managed to distract him. And he desperately needed distraction. The world had either gone insane when he wasn't looking, or he'd somehow awaken to find that he'd been living in a dream for the past few years. Because that was what life as a Defender had been. A dream.

The grandeur of the Fortress hallways was lost in the haze as his thoughts whirled in a prism of colors and drama.

Entering a room without paying attention to whose room it was, green eyes immediately caught the sight of red hair and pale flesh. It took a moment, but John realized he'd walked all the way to Flash's room without thinking about it, too lost in other, more distressing thoughts. Wally stood up and opened his mouth to speak, but John merely shook his head. He wasn't in the mood to talk.

Fortunately, no words were needed.

With as long as they'd known each other and as much as they'd been through, Wally knew something was wrong. So when John came over and pulled him in for a fierce hug, he simply went with it. Later, he could ask what was wrong. Later, he could try to fix things. But for now... For now, he'd merely accept this and work with it.

That's what Defenders did, after all. They worked with their circumstances and still made things right for others.

-o-

"Hush, bro, you're safe," Richie whispered as Virgil began to sluggishly fight off unconsciousness.

The black superhero was also trying to fight off phantom attackers. Unfortunately, the only one in the room with him was Richie. Fortunately, the blond was smart enough to remain out of harms way as the weakened Defender fought off the ghosts and sheets.

Virgil quieted in his bed, exhausted while being comforted by the familiar voice. Dark chocolate eyes opened slowly, and remained unfocused as the world tried to swim against the current and into view. When his eyes did find something to fixate on, Virgil was greeted by Richie's concerned visage. "Hey, Rich, what'd I miss?"

"Oh, everything," the blond male grinned, relieved beyond words that Virgil had awakened sooner rather than later.

"Yeah, figures." Virgil tried to grin, though it seemed a mere glimmer of its usual shine.

"Yeah, well, when you're feeling up to it, I'll tell you all the news," replied the bespectacled youth.

There was something in Richie's voice that caught Virgil's attention, something that dragged him from the edge of comfortable haze back to the land of alertness. "Hey man, I'm always feeling up to some good news."

Richie bit his lower lip and looked away. The room was like any other infirmary room, stylized so that everything that wasn't chrome was a dull shade of off-white, and provided nothing in the way of distraction. "Yeah, well, first, I gotta call the doctors in here to check you over."

As if on cue, five of the resident medics came bustling into the room. Richie stepped back, out of everyone's way, but he didn't leave the room. There was too much that had to be done, too much that needed to be said.

Virgil kept his eyes on Richie through the entire ordeal with the medics. He even managed to not flinch at the cold press of the metal stethoscope. However, the more the small band of healers moved about, checking on various machines and getting in his line of sight, the more he wished the swarm would just leave. Something was up. Something important by the look on Richie's face. Not for the first time, the Dakota-born Defender figured that all doctors were born meddlers and were delaying their stay in his room on purpose. Finally, after what seemed like forever, but which was in fact only two hours, and with the promise of more tests yet to come, the small horde of witch-doctors left.

When they were alone again, it seemed neither one of them knew what to do with themselves. Virgil knew he didn't have enough energy or strength to get up out of bed, and Richie was...fidgeting, repeatedly cleaning his glasses and shifting from one foot to the other.

"So?"

"So?" repeated the blond.

"Are your glasses clean enough that you can tell me what's been going on while I've been chillin'?"

Richie grimaced as he sat back down. "Well, I'm not sure if you're going to like this..."

"What's wrong? What happened?" Virgil rasped, afraid. He hadn't had the sense to be afraid before, but now... Now, he was. Well, maybe not afraid so much as worried. Very worried. Because there were all kinds of things that could have gone wrong while he was gone. All kinds of things in all kinds of ways.

Conspiracy theories aside, Green Lantern had said something about a Defender missing and a Chosen being taken by another, and he knew that Batman had his sights set on Richie. He knew it. After all, who wouldn't want their own Chosen Richie?

"Well... Do you want the good news, the bad news, or the explanation to both?"

Dark eyes blinked several times before the injured youth replied, "Bad news first, then the good news as a chaser, then the explanation."

"Bad news is: I'm no longer you Chosen--"

"The fuck you say!" Virgil cried out, trying to sit up. And immediately fell back into the bed with a wave of nausea and dizziness. It was true! Batman made a move while he was gone and now Richie belonged to the Night Terror! Small, useless sparks crackling around his eyes and at the ends of his fingertips. "I wasn't gone for that long!"

"No, no, you were only gone for a little while, but--" Richie tried to calm his friend even as he glanced at the door, half expecting a nurse or orderly or someone to come rushing back in.

"I'm going to kill him," hissed the dark-skinned Defender, eyes narrowing. His body took note of Richie's hands on his shoulders, pressing him back into the bed, but that small amount of contact was not near enough to sooth his ire.

"Whoa, hold up a second! " Richie shouted in alarm. "First, hear me out, and then you can decide what we're going to do. I haven't even told you what's happened yet."

"So tell me." Virgil fairly snarled as he crossed one arm across his chest. The other arm had an IV in it, and he didn't want to tempt fate by moving it too much.

"First, I'm no longer you Chosen. I'm a new Defender."

"Wha...?" the dark-skinned hero voiced his confusion, shocked out of his sudden anger as quickly as he'd snapped into it.

"That's what I was trying to tell you." Richie sighed, running one of his hands through his hair. "When you got captured, Batman told me to get my gear together and that I'd be leading a team to go down to Dakota to rescue you."

"You... You rescued me?"

"Well, I did have some help, you know," the blond shrugged. "My team consisted of Speedy, J'onn, Black Canary, and Nightwing. We had a backup team, too, which was good, since they were needed to bail us out of there."

"Oh? What happened?"

"Well, suffice it to say, we got our asses handed to us." Richie curled his lip in a strange expression. "Nightwing, Black Canary, and Speedy are all in other rooms, bandaged up like mummies."

"Ouch..."

"Yeah, and J'onn..." Richie trailed off, his blue eyes going distant for a moment. With a visible shake, the young blond brought himself back to the topic at hand. "Well, let's just say I never, ever, for the rest of my life, want to have to fight him. Ever. Because, man, can he be creepy."

"J'onn?" Virgil asked. "Really? Huh... Well, he's always been a bit weird, but I always figured it was because he was an alien."

"You should have seen it, man. Actually, no, you shouldn't have. I know that -I'm- going to have nightmares about it for a while. Anyway, since it was successful, in that we got you out of there AND I caught one of the Breed, I've been...promoted, I guess? I'm no longer a Chosen. I'm a Defender."

Virgil nodded his head as if he was paying attention to the entire concept when in fact there was only one thing he was concentrating on. "So... What else?"

"Well, I've been offered my own room and my own allowance, for starters," Richie answered as he blushed scarlet, "but..."

"But...?"

"I was wondering if it was okay if we just roomed together, like before, and I use my other room as my own personal lab so I don't have to always rely on Batman for stuff, ya know?" Richie exhaled the words in one long rush. He couldn't meet Virgil's eyes as he said it; instead, he focused on an invisible spot on Virgil's blanket. "I mean, Green Lantern and Flash have separate rooms and all, but they might as well share the same one seeing as how they're together. We could do it like that if you wanted to, but--"

"Wait, hold up. What!" Virgil squawked, completely distracted.

Richie's eyes confusedly darted around the room. "...'Wait' what?"

"Rewind to that whole 'Green Lantern and Flash' business."

"Green Lantern and Flash are...together. And well..." Richie's blush intensified so that even his ears were flaming red. "We've been working towards that ourselves and--"

"Wait, just one more moment. My brain totally derailed there for a second. I thought you said Flash and Lantern hooked up."

"They have."

Virgil opened his mouth, but no words came out. Finally, when he was once again able to find his voice, he asked, "How do you know? I mean, you got proof?"

"I...kinda walked in on them."

"You did not!" Virgil exclaimed. When he saw the look on the blond's face, he couldn't help but burst into fit of laughter. "You did! Oh, man!"

"Shut up! It isn't funny!"

"Yeah, it is."

"No, it's not!" Richie defended himself. Taking a deep breath, he tried to get the conversation back on track, even though the dark-skinned Defender was still laughing. "ANYWAY. I've been given a new room, new clothes, and an allowance. I still need some special training, and Batman wants me to stay close to the Fortress, but... At the same time, he's already given me an assignment, and a... Well, not a mentor so much as a partner. His words."

"Yeah?" Virgil asked, his laughter subsiding. It was time to get serious again, even though the laughter sapped a lot of his growing strength. If Richie was going to be a Defender, he was going to ask who ever was in charge to see if he could be reassigned to Dakota. It wasn't that Virgil thought he needed help, or that he had any fear that someone else was going to steal Richie from him, but... He wanted to be close to the blond. And he wanted to know who to blame if anything happened to the bespectacled male. He wanted to know who he was going to have to hurt and/or kill if Richie didn't make it back. "Who?"

"Well... You, actually."

Virgil was quiet for a moment, just looking at the other male. But slowly, slyly, one of his bright, large smiles began to form. "I'm cool with that. You know me well enough to know that I'm not always the easiest person to get along with. And, think of how much fun we can have."

"I know." Richie nodded, relieved that Virgil was willing to accept him as another Defender. He was also rather thrilled at the idea of being Static's -partner- and not just a sidekick. "So...you don't mind?"

"Not at all. Of course, if they make a movie out of us, you do realize you aren't going to be included until the third one, right?"

The blond youth rolled his eyes and snorted. "Whatever."

"I'm all for you staying with me, and turning the other room into a lab. It'd definitely give you more privacy for your projects." Virgil grinned as he settled in to go back to sleep, and it was once again the brilliant smile Richie had become familiar with again. "Oh, Rich?"

"Yeah, V?"

"Mind if I ask ya something?"

"Sure, go for it," Richie replied, watching as Virgil began to fall asleep again, only this time it was a healing sleep instead of another frightening coma-like stasis.

"What's your code name?"

"Gear," Richie answered as he blushed, for what seemed to him, the umpteenth time. "I'm called Gear."

"Yeah?"

"It's because I don't really have a power, and all I really got is the hardware and computer stuff I design."

"That makes sense." nodded Virgil. "You gonna be here when I wake up?"

"Probably."

"Good. Because I'm gonna need you to tell me all of this again so I know that this wasn't all some kind of dream," Virgil murmured as he closed his eyes.

"You got it, bro." Richie grinned. "I'll definitely be here. Now, go to sleep."

Soon, the only sounds in the room were of the machines as they monitored Virgil's heartbeat, and the softer sounds of the invalid's breathing. Richie's grinned dimmed, though he felt more content than ever. As far as he was concerned, if this was a dream, he hoped to never wake up. "I'll always be here for you."

Fini

PS- No, there will not be a sequel.