The Stolen Child (1/4)
a Justice League story
by Merlin Missy
Disclaimer: The characters and situations are owned by DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Summary: Wayne Manor is not a place people come to heal; it is a place, at best, where people come to find others with whom they can heal.
Spoilers: Up through JLU "Epilogue" and Batman Beyond "Return of the Joker." Also includes minor casting spoiler for upcoming season of JLU.
Author's Notes: With greatest thanks to: xffan2000, for talking me into it in the first place; amilyn and evillittletwit, for betaing and audiencing; and most especially dotsomething, without whose edits, suggestions, and exuberance, this tale never would have seen the light of day. This is not specifically in continuity with anything else I've written, but does draw from other ideas I've thrown around already. Think of the story as a "might have been" that will be seriously jossed as soon as new episodes air.
Were Bruce not privately certain that he'd gone mad many years ago, the current holding-pattern of his life would indicate a steady decline into calm insanity.
He wore the Bruce Wayne mask today and did his penance: another trip to Gotham's tiny Social Services office; another glad hand and smile for Ms. Fowler, the tired-faced administrator; another personal offer from the Wayne Foundation, today a gift of five hundred LifePrint tests to help close one of too many gaps in the city's foster care system.
"Morning, Mr. Wayne!" chirped Fowler's assistant. Denise had only worked here for about three months, and she was still thrilled to be doing something good for kids. Bruce suspected she had another three or four months at most before she wised up or cracked.
Instead of saying so, he put on a professional but charming smile. "Good morning, Denise. Is that a new haircut? It looks good on you."
She grinned. "Thanks. You're the first one to notice." She touched the back of her hair absently. "Ms. Fowler will be with you in just a minute."
"Thanks, Denise." He took a seat in one of the four chairs lining the wall and examined his surroundings as he always did. The walls had been painted a year ago, but the paint was already cracked in places. A tackboard across from him featured photos of children, smiling, frowning, aping at the camera. Crayoned and markered pictures picked out places all along the wall. He heard a child's voice from a near room; the building was not just the office, but also the interim home for children awaiting placement into foster homes.
Tim had stayed here briefly while Bruce had worked out the guardianship paperwork with Ms. Fowler's predecessor, five years and twenty lifetimes ago.
There was not enough penance in the world, sometimes.
Fowler's door opened. "Mr. Wayne? Please come in." He followed Fowler into her office.
The meeting was short, as all their meetings were. Bruce handed over the papers his accountants had prepared, allowed Fowler to read and sign them one at a time. Had this been any other charity, he'd probably have let someone else courier these over, but again, this place was different.
"How is he?"
"Hm?" He noticed that she'd finished signing the last paper and was staring at him expectantly. "Oh. He's ... " He swallowed. "He's getting better."
"Good," Fowler said, and there was a great depth of sympathy in her eyes.
They'd kept Robin's abduction a secret to the world, but Tim Drake had gone missing too and he'd come back damaged. Bruce had told Social Services and the rest as much of the truth as he could, that Tim had been kidnapped by a madman who hadn't demanded ransom, that Bruce had been forbidden to go to the authorities, that Batman and Batgirl had saved him.
Tim was returning to them stepwise, like a puzzle whose pieces had been scattered at sea, and it had to be enough because there was nothing else.
"I'll walk you out," said Fowler after Bruce put the paperwork back in his briefcase.
Bruce nodded and let her lead him out past Denise's desk, out through the narrow hallway, out ...
A door flew open. "Ms. Fowler, could we get your help for a minute?" asked the harried woman inside. Past her, he saw two other adults trying and failing to hold onto a small boy, no more than six or seven.
Fowler glanced at Bruce. "Sorry, Mr. Wayne." The child stopped struggling immediately and stared at him.
"Of course," he said smoothly.
Fowler turned her attention back to the boy. "Rex, you have to calm down. We're not here to hurt you. The doctor just needs to take a look at your back again."
Bruce believed in coincidences under certain circumstances. This was not one of them. As Fowler went to close the door, he put his hand in the way and took a better look at the child, who'd begun tugging away from his captors again.
Short black hair, and as the kid moved, Bruce saw eyes too green to be quite human. He'd have his mother's eyes in the future, Bruce knew, and his father's features, and this was all wrong.
What the hell! His mind raced. Six or seven, but we don't know how her species ages.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Wayne, but you'll have to leave."
"I know this boy." I will, anyway.
"I know his parents. Rex, are you okay?" Bruce went to one knee to be at the boy's eye level. One last pull, and Rex was free. The child looked at him warily for a second, and then flew into his arms with what Bruce somehow knew was a very calculated yelp of glee.
"I'm okay," he said, dropping the hug after a few seconds. He rubbed his eyes. "Can I go home with you?"
Bruce opened and shut his jaw quickly. "Ms. Fowler, may I have a few minutes alone with him? Please?"
"Why?" Her eyes narrowed, and Bruce knew the reason. Always there had been the rumors surrounding him, about the two young boys he'd taken into his home.
"Just two minutes," he requested again. "I haven't seen his parents in a long time. He'll talk to me. Won't you, Rex?"
Rex nodded, wide-eyed and grinning.
"Fine. My office. Two minutes."
He took the boy's cool hand in his own, led him past a confused Denise, and into Fowler's small office.
Too many questions preyed on his mind at once. "I know who you are, and you know who I am," he started.
"Yeah." Away from the others, the boy had dropped the cute face and wore instead a suspicious, guarded expression.
"Where are your parents?" Other than at the Watchtower?
"They ... It was a month ago," Rex said, looking away.
"I saw your mother yesterday." On the news. "She was fine."
"No, you saw my mother's counterpart in this universe," he replied in a whisper, eyes on the door.
The shock went through him like cold lightning, but he didn't allow it to show in his face or voice as he mouthed, "Justice Lords?"
Rex nodded again.
Bruce rubbed his face. "How did you get here?"
"The other you sent me. I think you're probably dead now. Him, I mean." Bruce was unsurprised. "He said I was your responsibility now."
I'll bet he did. Bruce's counterpart had exactly the same issues Bruce did. He would know Bruce could not possibly turn down a chance to help an orphaned little boy.
"All right. I'm going to talk with Ms. Fowler and see if you can come with me. We'll sort out what to do after that."
"Okay." They opened the door to find Fowler fuming quietly on the other side.
"I've been out of touch with Rex's parents," Bruce said. "There was an accident a month ago and he's been on his own since."
"That's what he told us when he was brought in yesterday by the police."
"I'd like him to come home with me."
"Mr. Wayne, I assure you we appreciate all you've done for us, but you're no longer in our files as a foster parent. This boy needs to be placed in a home."
"You won't place him for a few days, surely? Could he stay with me until then?" He put on a pleading face, careful not to be too desperate. "It's the least I can do for the memory of my friends." Rex squeezed his hand tightly and stayed silent.
"Besides, I think it might be good for Tim to have another child around," he lied.
"Please?" Rex asked. "I've known Mr. Wayne since I was a baby."
"All right," she said. "Mr. Wayne, you'll need to fill out the papers for temporary guardianship. Rex, get your things while I talk to Mr. Wayne."
"Yay!" The child gave Bruce's leg a quick hug, then scampered away to gather whatever possessions he had elsewhere in the building.
"Thank you," Bruce said. "I owe you one."
"Just know what you're getting into," she warned. "He's underfed, and he's got obvious signs of abuse."
"What do you mean?"
"Scars, bad ones, on his back. He says it was a dog attack but I think he's lying. He's got other scars that don't look like normal wear and tear, either."
"He's had a basic check-up. We were trying to get a doctor to examine the scars."
"I'll have Alfred make a doctor's appointment for him immediately."
"A session with whatever psychologist you have working with Tim might not be a bad idea." She brought out a small stack of papers from the filing cabinet behind her desk.
"I'll see what we can do." Bruce started to sign.
Half an hour later, Rex was waving good-bye to a still unimpressed Ms. Fowler as they climbed into the back of the Rolls. Alfred had not asked any questions yet, for which Bruce was grateful.
"Thank you again," Bruce said to the woman. "We'll take good care of him. Let me know as soon as you know when he'll be placed."
"Trust me, I will," she said, and she went back inside.
Alfred held the door open for him. "Sir."
"I'll explain in the car," Bruce said, and climbed in.
To an empty back seat. "Rex?"
Alfred looked around. "Where on Earth did he go?"
Bruce ducked his head under the seats, then looked in both directions down the street, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. With a sudden bad feeling, he checked his pocket and discovered his wallet was similarly missing.
"Dammit." Bruce got into the car.
"Home, Alfred. I need a change of clothes and the other car."
"Of course, sir. Might I inquire, who is the lad?"
"At this point, I'm not entirely sure I know."
"Let me get this straight," Barbara fussed at him as they followed the blip on the tracking monitor. "You go to donate something to Social Services and almost come home with the son of your friends from an alternate universe. You can't have a normal day, can you?"
"Today's not over yet."
"Of course." She stayed quiet until they reached the warehouse. He parked the Batmobile around the block so as not to alert Rex.
"I'm going in," she told him, as he went to unbuckle.
"He knows me."
"Then he probably knows me too, and I'm not as scary as you are."
"Fine." They got out of the car together. "But be careful."
"Always am." She went into the building, clicking on her earbud as she did. Bruce listened to her over the line. "Dark in here," she whispered.
"Abandoned warehouses usually are."
"Looks like a nest over here. Um, sorry." He smirked at her comment; he could use a bad joke right now.
"Just get the boy and bring him out here."
He heard a skirmish, a shout, and he readied himself to go in anyway, when Barbara came back on the line: "Um, Batman? Which boy?"
Alfred loved his employer unconditionally. He had loved him as a small child, raised him as he might his own son, and watched with pride and concern as Bruce's life work had gradually developed into something both frightening and just. When Bruce had grown and then brought other broken little boys into the Manor, Alfred had loved them too, had fretted after them like lost kittens.
It was not his job; it was, he believed, his calling.
So when Master Bruce had informed him an unexpected guest would be joining them for a few days, Alfred had simply nodded, assuming an explanation would be forthcoming when time allowed. When Master Bruce and Miss Gordon went to retrieve the boy, Alfred simply aired another of the Manor's many bedrooms, retrieved some of Master Timothy's smallest clothes from storage, and waited for the three of them to come home.
He was only mildly disconcerted to discover that four of them had returned instead.
Master Bruce, still in his nocturnal business attire, ushered the children up through the clock. Alfred had seen the older boy briefly, but the younger was a shock: perhaps four years old, dark where the other was pale, with two grey wings pulled against his small back. Angelically beautiful. The older boy held one of his small hands; the other thumb was planted in his mouth.
"Alfred, these are our guests. You remember Rex. This is Carter." The smaller child ducked his head shyly behind his brother.
"Yes, sir. How very nice to meet you, young sirs. Sir, I've aired out the room next to Master Timothy's and found some clothing. Would you like me to draw a bath for our guests?"
"Good idea," said Miss Gordon, wrinkling her nose at the children. "How long were you two living in that warehouse?"
"A month," said Rex. "They made me take a shower at the home yesterday."
Alfred replied, "A fact which will not preclude another bathing experience." He took the children from Bruce's custody and herded them to the bathroom adjoining their new bedroom, where he quickly filled the tub with hot water and bubbles.
He turned to the boys. "This would be easier were you to undress."
"Could we have some privacy?" asked Rex gravely.
Alfred nodded. "I'll leave clothing on the bed."
He shut the door behind himself, hearing as he did Carter's quiet "Thank you."
He waited outside the bathroom door for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of splashing and Rex giving Carter orders to scrub. Alfred had raised three boys who were effectively only children. He had trouble imagining any of his other charges giggling as their older brothers poured water over their heads.
He found it strangely relaxing to know without a doubt that he would find bath water and bubbles all over a floor again.
Alfred spread out one set of pajamas for Rex and took the smallest pair with him to his own room. He had scissors, needle and thread, and he suspected he could modify the pajama top for Carter's wings before the boys had discovered the water jets embedded in the tub.
Babs tapped on Tim's door.
"Who is it?"
"Barbara. Can I come in?"
"Okay." She opened the door carefully, making sure Tim hadn't set one of his little "games" over the door frame again. He'd only started trapping the doorway over the past couple of weeks. His shrink said the behavior meant they were making progress. Babs suspected the shrink didn't get how deadly Tim could be when he put his mind to it.
He was bent over his desk.
"Hey," he responded, not looking up from whatever he was writing. "Alfred said you guys were bringing home a new kid. Took you years to replace Dick."
"This isn't ... Tim, it's not like that."
"Bruce said they're Lantern and Hawkgirl's kids. There was a time travel thing. And possibly dimensional travel. I wasn't paying close attention."
He looked up. "'Kids?'"
"Yeah. Alfred's busy giving them a bath, so I just ordered some pizza. Want to come down and meet them when it gets here?"
Something in his eyes shuttered closed. "No. Alfred made me dinner already. I'm busy now." And he went back to whatever it was he was doing.
"Tim?" He ignored her until she finally left the room.
That hadn't been as bad as she'd expected. She never knew what state Tim would be in, if he would be inside his head completely, or seemingly perfectly sane, or carving small patterns into his flesh until Bruce and Alfred wrestled him to the ground and pulled the knife away.
Babs thought privately that Tim needed more care than the rest of them could possibly provide, but Bruce insisted he stay here. "Home," he'd said, and that was that.
She went into the bedroom she used as her own on the nights she stayed over, sat down on what was becoming her bed. Bruce had gone back to the Cave to contact his former associates from the League. Belatedly, she thought she should order more pizza, especially if Flash was coming.
Alfred cracked the bedroom door open to find the children dressed in their overlarge pajamas. He made a mental note to purchase new clothes in the morning. Alfred went into the bathroom to retrieve the clothing left piled on the sopping floor.
Rex dashed in. "I'll get those," he said, grabbing for the wet pile before Alfred could gather them.
"Young sir, please allow me. We'll be disposing of these." In the incinerator.
"No!" Rex clutched the wet clothes against his formerly dry chest. Alfred tried not to sigh. Master Dick had been much the same when he'd first arrived.
"Tomorrow we will find you both new clothes to wear. I promise."
"No," said Rex again, hugging the clothes tighter. Alfred knew he would have to find another pajama top for the boy to sleep in, and possibly new bottoms if he continued dripping.
"I apologize for my mistake, young sir. I'll be laundering the clothing tonight, then. Do you prefer fabric softener?"
The child held the clothes against him, staring at Alfred, then handed them over soberly. Alfred held them at arm's length. "Can I have my t-shirt back tonight?"
"Of course, sir. If you and your brother will remain here, I'll begin these immediately."
Alfred admonished the boys to be good as they explored their new room. He closed the door behind him and took the clothes down to the laundry room, where a load of Master Timothy's clothes were already on pre-soak. He tossed the bundle into the washer. A grey film settled through the water almost immediately. Alfred sighed again — he suspected he'd be doing that quite a lot during the duration of their guests' stay — and added more soap as he turned on the machine.
The clothes began to separate, and something caught his eye. He fished out a t-shirt. More grey like the rest, far too large for a little boy, but he read under the grime: "USMC."
Alfred bit his lip, then changed the washing cycle from "Heavy" to "Delicate."
Alfred brought the boys downstairs just as the doorbell rang. Babs thought it might be the Leaguers, then remembered Bruce always asked them to come in the back entrance if they were in costume. Sure enough, only the delivery boy was on the other side of the door, and despite it being the home of a billionaire, Babs found herself paying for dinner. Thank goodness she'd ditched the cape and cowl in her room.
"Thanks," the guy said, eyeing his tip.
"Sorry," she said as she grabbed the boxes. "Bruce's wallet was stolen earlier."
"Uh huh." Great. Next time we order from this place, there's gonna be boogers on it. Just watch.
Cursing the unwieldy boxes, Babs brought them into the dining room, where Alfred was trying to get the kids into chairs. Carter wanted to look at everything, peering closely at valuable trinkets.
"Get away from there," said Rex curtly, and his brother complied. "Now sit down."
"Okay." The boy climbed into one of Bruce's fine chairs, then squirmed, trying to find a comfortable spot for his wings. Babs hid her smile as she opened the boxes.
"I asked Tim to come down," she said casually.
"I assume he declined," said Alfred, going to the concealed panel on the wall which would send a signal to the Batcave. Bruce would come up, or he would not. It'd be just like him to bring a couple of kids home and assume Alfred was going to watch them.
As though he were also assuming that very thing, Alfred began to place pizza slices on plates for the children. Rex dug into his like a starving boy, and Babs thought that wasn't inaccurate. On the ride home, he'd told them he was caught by the police for stealing food from a grocery store, and in the place the kids had been living, she'd seen barely any signs of food-related trash.
Carter poked at his pizza.
"Is there something wrong?" Alfred asked, quietly demurring from taking pizza as well.
"No," Carter said.
Rex put his own pizza down. "I forgot. He doesn't like eating in front of people. Can we take this up to our room?"
"I'm afraid not," said Alfred, just as Bruce entered the dining room. "Meals should be taken in the dining room or the kitchen. Or," he said with a forbidding glance to Bruce, "on rare occasions, the Cave."
Tim eats in his room, Babs thought but didn't say. Tim did everything in his room.
"What's wrong, Carter?" Bruce asked. Out of costume, and in his almost human mode, Babs had to admit he was a lot less imposing.
"Nothing," said the child in a small voice. "I'm not hungry."
"I'll make sure he eats it all," said Rex. "Please?"
Bruce raised a hand. "Alfred, if the biggest problem these two give us is that they want to eat in their room, we're going to be lucky. Go ahead. But I want you to promise me something." Both boys stood at attention. "Promise me that you will not try to run away while you're with us. I don't want to have to be chasing you down. You're safe here. Do you understand?" Two nods. "I need your word on this."
"Okay," said Rex, and Carter looked at him and nodded. "No running away. We'll stay. Can we go eat now?"
"I expect clean plates," said Alfred, as Rex carefully carried their dinners out and up the stairs. "Sir, if they drop crumbs, there will be ants."
"I'll call an exterminator."
Wally was the first to arrive, except for Bats but hey, he lived there, and dude, someone had already ordered pizza. Wally had eaten three slices before he thought to ask if he could have some, and Batgirl just rolled her eyes at him. She had either already eaten or wasn't having any.
The Batclan were all okay, really, once you got past the crazy.
"So what's this about?" he asked around slice number five.
"I'm sure he'll tell you all at the same time," she said, and got up and left. He watched her go, taking a nice look at the little wiggle she had when she walked. She was in her costume, which was weird, but Bats had said to come in costume, which Wally had figured out a long time ago meant: "We're discussing business."
He heard the clock swing open again and heard Batgirl say a sleepy good-night to someone. Then Superman came into the dining room and Wally waved at him with pizza. "Sausage?"
"Sure," said Supes and put it on a plate. Then he took a napkin and unfolded it onto his lap.
"Good. Haven't seen you around the Metro Tower lately."
"Been busy." And that was really the same for all of them, he knew. Handful of Watchtowers, lot of heroes, and the seven of them hadn't been in the same room for at least a year.
"Think Diana will show?" Wally asked. He zipped into the kitchen, found the 'fridge and brought back sodas for himself and Superman.
"I have no idea," Superman said, as the clock clicked open again. J'onn and Shayera ducked into the room.
"Got here as soon as we could," Shayera said, taking a seat, then wiggling to try and fit her wings against the back. "Is this for everybody?"
"Probably," said Superman.
"Good," said J'onn. "It was a long shift." J'onn sniffed at the pizza and took two pieces, which he very nearly vacuumed down. Someday Wally really really wanted to have a three-way eating contest with Supes and J'onn. They could totally sell tickets.
"Princess coming?" asked Shayera.
"As far as we know," said Superman. The clock opened again. The four of them turned expectantly toward the door.
Diana looked tired, and Wally remembered she'd been at the Paris embassy all week. She'd probably been asleep. "Hi," she said around a yawn, and sat at the table. Wally took pity on her first and zipped into the kitchen for more sodas.
Diana refused pizza, which was probably for the best. Instead, she and Shayera started chatting with a forced cheerfulness. They'd been working on the "getting along" thing again. Wally wondered which one was gonna break first.
The clock opened again, and Bats and John came into the dining room together. "Off-world," John explained simply.
"Follow me," said Bats, "and be quiet."
J'onn's eyes glowed red the way they did when he was mindreading, and then his face went blank. Well, not Question-blank, but damned if Wally could figure out what was going on in his head as he asked, "Do you think this is wise?"
"Yes," said Batman, and they followed him upstairs. All the doors were closed, and he led them to one that looked like all the rest, placing a gloved finger to his lips. He cracked open the door. Wally craned his neck around to see what was inside.
Bed, big bed, blankets, what looked like a kid, no, two kids huddled together asleep. One of them rolled over and Wally saw the wings.
"What the hell?" asked Shayera in a low, dangerous voice.
Batman said nothing, just closed the door and stalked back down the stairs. They had little choice but to follow him back to the dining room, where suddenly the pizza didn't look so good.
Wally flung himself into a chair, hearing it creak as he did. The rest sat as they would. Everyone was staring at either Bats or Shayera.
"Long story made very short," said Batman. "The Justice Lords sent us a couple of presents."
"Shit," said Wally, without thinking.
John's head looked like it was on hinges the way it moved. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. Guess what the older boy's name is."
"Huh?" Wally had no idea what he was talking about, but John swore. Well, that's a stupid name for a kid. He shot a glance to Shayera, who was tight-lipped and quiet in her seat.
"What happened?" asked Superman. Good ol' Superman, asking the questions Wally couldn't remember to ask all by himself.
"According to Rex," One of them's named Rex? "their parents are dead, as are most of our counterparts. Their father died several months ago. Their mother died last month. Their Batman sent them through the portal to us. Rex didn't like that plan, and was taking care of Carter until yesterday, when he was picked up and sent to Social Services."
"Carter?" asked Shayera and John at the same time. Wally was very good and swallowed instead of laughing 'cause John would've killed him. And it's not like it's my fault Shayera's dating the guy.
"I didn't ask," said Bats in what Wally realized was a very tactful manner.
"J'onn," said Supes, "can you scan them to verify their story?" He turned to Batman. "If we're dealing with the Justice Lords, we need to know."
J'onn's eyes glowed. "I cannot read anything from either child."
Diana said, "That would make them Thanagarian, then." Shayera scowled at her. So much for playing nice.
"What's the plan for the kids?" asked John.
Shayera asked, "When are we sending them back?"
"We're not," said Bats. "They don't have a home to return to, and we don't have a way of sending them there if they did. From what Rex has told me, the Justice Lords have been on the run ever since we sent them back without their powers. Rex might be able to blend in with the population at large, but Carter absolutely couldn't."
"Carter's the one with the wings?" asked Wally, and Batman nodded. "That's true here too, then."
"Here he won't be shot on sight," said Bats.
John shivered, as Shayera muttered, "Probably."
"All right," John said. "They're staying here and Carter," there was just a tiny hitch when he said that, "needs to stay out of sight. Fine. I'll take them to the Metropolis embassy. Everyone there is vetted; we can explain that this is another thing nobody shares."
"Which would be a good solution except that Rex is now in the foster care system, pending relocation to a foster family."
"You're not his guardian?" asked Diana.
"I told them I knew his parents. I have custody until they find a home, and I'm no longer on the list of suitable homes."
Wally didn't look at him, tried to look at the pizza boxes. Kara had spilled about what had happened to Robin, and just enough had become public knowledge.
"We have a few days to figure out what to do with them and how. Then things get complicated. One of the steps in placing a child is taking identification information for later: fingerprints, photo, and DNA sample."
"You're kidding," said John.
"There've been some missing children cases," said Batman. "And the Wayne Foundation already donated the kits."
"Oops," said Wally.
"They've got a long list of kids they need to sample. He probably won't get tested for a few weeks, especially if I can talk the agency into sending the new foster parents here directly instead of meeting them at the office."
"He'll run away," said John. "And he'll get lost in the system."
"Not from here," Batman replied. "I can't risk more questions now. They'd search the property and they would find the Batcave."
"What about Carter?" asked Diana, oblivious to John and Shayera's discomfort.
"He's easier, isn't he?" replied Superman. "How many people know about him?"
"Just the people in this room, and my household."
"So we can take him to the Metro Tower now."
"You're not taking him anywhere," said a voice from the doorway. Wally turned, saw a fierce-looking little boy.
Bruce glided to his feet. "Rex, this isn't the best time. We need to do this gradually. Your parents ... "
"My parents are dead," said the child. Oh wow, he's got his mom's eyes, Wally thought. The boy looked at John, then Shayera. "I know who they are."
John put on a smile for the kid. "Hi." Shayera continued to stare at him and didn't say anything.
"Come in," said Batman. "You have the right to be in on this discussion. Is Carter still asleep?"
Rex nodded and took a seat at the table. "You can't take him away from me."
John said, "Son, we're trying to get him to where he'll be safe."
"Don't call me that," said Rex, and he turned back to Batman. "I take care of him. He needs me. He has to stay with me."
"Nothing will happen tonight," said Diana. "We're simply discussing options."
"Carter stays with me," Rex said. "We don't need anyone." Wally was very very good and didn't look at Shayera, who'd said the same thing so many times when he'd first met her that he practically had it engraved on his brain.
"Hey, how old are you?" Wally asked.
"I'll be eight," said Rex, and Bats twitched. Bats never twitched. "Carter's four."
Eight? John asked, "You were around when we ... when your parents came through to our universe?"
Rex's eyes shifted. "Kind of."
"When will you be eight?" asked Wally, who'd been around kids a lot more than the rest of the crew.
"In a year. And a half. Is there more pizza?"
Wally got the kid a slice, and Rex devoured it with enthusiasm while the rest of them shared looks over his head.
"What are you going to do with us?" he asked after wiping the last bits of sauce from his mouth.
"We haven't decided yet," said Shayera. It was the first thing she'd said to him.
He nodded at her. "Okay. But we get to decide with you."
"That's fair," said Batman.
"We're going to have to decide soon. They don't know about Carter, so they don't have to worry about finding a home for two of us. I can pass for human and I can pass for white. I'm going to be really easy to place."
"We'll keep that in mind," said John.
Batman said, "You should get back to bed."
"Yeah. Carter might get scared if I'm not there."
"I'll take you up," said John, and Rex backed away warily. Mayday.
"I'll do it," said Wally. "C'mon, kid. I'll race you." He led the boy upstairs, going as slow as he possibly could while running, and still got there first. He opened the door. "Hey, where'd Carter go?"
"Huh?" said Rex, and then Carter toddled out of the bathroom. Wally got a good look at him as he rubbed his eyes.
"Who're you?" he asked, climbing into bed.
"Uncle Wally," he said without thinking, and Rex scowled as he walked past Wally into the room.
"Okay," said Carter, eyes already closed. "'Night, Uncle Wally."
"Good night, kiddo," he said, and closed the door as soon as Rex was under the sheets.
He zipped back downstairs. "Did I miss anything?" Diana and Shayera were glaring at each other. I was gone less than two minutes!
"No, they're not," said Shayera, in her "going to get the mace out any second" voice.
"They think they are," said Diana.
"Rex obviously doesn't. No reason to think the other one will either."
"You are the only one of their species on this planet," said J'onn.
"And this makes me an expert?" Shayera said.
"Excuse me," John said, "but they're half human. They'll live with me. It's settled."
"Mari's going to love that," Shayera said. "You were planning on asking her first, weren't you?"
"I'll tell her tomorrow." And this, children, is why we don't date our coworkers ever. Except for when we do. Reminder to self: ask Supes before you leave if he's telling Kara about this.
"So no, you're not asking your fiancee if she wants two children in her life all of a sudden."
Batman interrupted, "They're not going anywhere until we have a plan in place to get Rex out of the system without landing ourselves in prison. In the meantime, I want all of you to make time to be around here over the next few days. I think it would be helpful for them to have some familiar faces nearby."
"I don't," said J'onn. "They have suffered terrible losses recently. I believe keeping them in close proximity to people who resemble those they lost, who are indeed other versions of the people they lost, will only delay their grieving process and may in fact damage them further."
"What he said," Shayera said, standing up. "We're bad for them. Call me when you need something broken." She swept towards the doorway.
"No," said Batman, and because he was Batman, Shayera stopped and waited. "You need to be here. And you're going to be here. Not one person in this room knows how to take care of a pair of wings except you. No one else can teach someone how to fly with wings. We're isolated enough that you can do it on the property without being seen."
There was a brief but intense staring contest. Shayera didn't have a chance.
"Fine," she said. "I'll be back tomorrow."
"Good," said Batman, and they watched her leave. "The rest of you should go home, too. Think about what we can do. I've got a patrol to keep."
J'onn said, "If you can get me copies of the documents used by your city, I might be able to simulate them."
Bats nodded. "I'll get them to you."
Superman and Diana followed J'onn out, and Wally lingered for a second to grab another piece of pizza to tide himself over.
John went to Batman's side, "I could stay."
"Go home, Lantern. Get some sleep. Talk to Vixen. Bring her here to meet the boys tomorrow."
John nodded. "Maybe I could just check in on them."
"Not tonight," Batman said with finality. GL scowled. "I think J'onn's wrong. I think having you around is exactly what they need. But he is right that they've been through a great deal. They're going to need time."
"But it's Rex," he said. "We saw him. We know how this turns out."
"We don't know how anything turns out. We just have to guess along with everyone else."
"Anybody want this last slice?" Wally asked, and they both stared at him. He realized they'd forgotten he was still there. He took the pizza and ate it quickly. "Okay, so I'll see you guys tomorrow."
They didn't say another word until he was out of the room.