Author's note: Yes, this story was over, but just for the heck of it (and because a really cool person asked for it), this is a rewrite of what I ended up cutting out of the last chapter. There are major spoilers for the events in the Nightwing comic books from about four years ago… enjoy!
As soon as the elevator door closed, obscuring Nightwing and Hawkgirl from view, Superman turned his attention back to the silently suffering Batman. Given the electric-like properties of Shayera's mace, Clark knew that what Bruce had just endured had been equivalent to being repeatedly tasered.
The man was just starting to recover the use of his limbs. Clark squinted, checking for remnants of harmful radiation first before leaning down and offering Bruce a hand. Bruce, struggling to ride out the pain in his system, looked up at the hand Clark was holding out towards him, and then averted his eyes.
Superman's expression fell just a little, and he immediately looked away as well—but just as he started to withdraw his hand, he felt Bruce reach out and grab hold of it.
Wordlessly, Clark pulled him to his feet. Batman gritted his teeth and steadied himself between Clark and the back of his chair. Once he was reasonably sure that Bruce wouldn't fall over, Clark let go of his hand, and Bruce eased himself into his seat.
Clark looked up at J'onn and Diana for suggestions. Diana made a face that could only have meant 'say something!', and so Clark cleared his throat, and sat down next to Bruce.
He took a breath.
"No, Clark. Don't," Batman said. "…I'll explain."
A moment passed in utter silence before he spoke again. "…the Question was wrong," he growled. "He told me I was in danger. He told me that an alien was going to assault me—and he led me to believe that it was going to be one of you two. And… even though I couldn't rule you out, J'onn," he looked up at the solemn Martian, and then locked eyes with Superman. "…I honestly thought it would be you."
"Why?" Clark asked.
Batman set his jaw. "Because—" he started to say, but failed to find the right words. He looked to J'onn, silently asking for help.
"Because the Question is overly concerned with dimensional reflection, fearing that events in other realities are somehow destined to be mirrored in this one," J'onn explained. Clark blinked at him, and without hesitation, J'onn continued, completely straightforward. "And in various dimensions, the two of you have been linked romantically."
Diana raised her eyebrows, looking to Clark for a reaction.
"…And?" Clark asked after a minute.
Bruce gave him a scalding look. "And that doesn't bother you?"
Clark returned his glare with a grin. "Well, now that you mention it…" he laughed. "No. I mean, does the existence of a dimension like that really surprise anyone? I seem to remember there being a dimension where we're both women. And don't forget the dimension where we're both evil—that's the one that 'bothers' me."
Batman hunched forward, eyes narrowed and chin in his palm.
"This is unbelievable," Diana said, trying not to sound too accusatory. "You thought that because some other Superman is attracted to some other Batman, our Superman might attack you?"
"Yes, Diana," Batman answered darkly. "I did think that. That's how I think. I look at worst-case scenarios. Whatever happened to Shayera could have happened to Clark. And if it had, then what just happened to Nightwing could have happened to me!"
For a moment no one said anything. Then Diana's face contorted in an age-old combination of pity and disgust. "The inside of your mind must be a horrible place," she remarked.
"It is," J'onn assured them gravely.
Bruce's shoulders tensed. "The inside of my mind is my own business, not yours," he growled at all of them. "There's something I have to say. To Clark."
J'onn and Diana got the hint, and backed off. J'onn sank through the floor, and Diana muttered "it had better be an apology," before striding out into the hallway.
"…this isn't easy for me," Batman muttered at length.
"It's okay, Bruce. You don't have to tell me any--"
"Yes, I do."
Clark shut up, taking a deep, patient breath.
"…You're so good, Clark. All the way through. Over and over again, when I see you…I hate that I have to consider the possibility of you not being good. But that will never stop me from considering it. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I get it. You're constantly worried about me being out of control or turning evil. And you know what?" Clark smiled at him. "I'm thankful for that."
Bruce shook his head, abandoning the point he'd been trying to make. And then, out of nowhere, he actually grinned a little. "That other Batman…" he said, getting Clark's attention. "…Doesn't deserve you."
Clark raised an eyebrow. If Bruce of all people could dredge up a sense of humor here, Superman could do no less.
He sighed, a bit dramatically. "There you go again, making me want to hug you when you're covered in poisonous residue from my favorite xenomineral."
Their eyes met, and for a second they each had to fight the invisible inertia that might have pulled them into a hug if they each hadn't been acutely aware of the lingering Kryptonite on Bruce's clothing. The recollection of said Kryptonite had a visibly greater effect on Bruce, as he actually jerked backwards a little, and refocused his attention on the console.
"The meteor storm's starting. Are the diagnostic imagers online?" Bruce tapped a few keys.
Clark leaned back in his seat. "Everything's all set. And the molecular analysis will pretty much run itself. For now, all we have to do is sit back and enjoy the show. And, by the way, it's going to be pretty spectacular."
Bruce entered the command that would allow various data collection programs to operate autonomously.
And then they both looked out at the stars, just in time to see the first brilliant wave of meteors sparkle through the earth's atmosphere.
"…Are you worried about Nightwing?" Clark asked a while later, ruining the companionable silence that Bruce had almost been enjoying.
"Should I be?" Bruce asked back.
"He did give in sort of quickly. Sacrificing himself so none of us would have to fight for him-- like he didn't think he was worth it."
Bruce's mouth twitched. "I meant, should I be worried about him right now? You're the one with super hearing."
"Which I do not use to listen in on everything," Clark reminded him. "However…" he made a face, and then blushed a little bit. "Now that you mention it, he seems to be okay."
"Good. He should be. He said he could handle it."
Clark shifted, silently indicating that that wasn't enough.
Bruce's shoulders slumped. "…But I'll talk to him later," he conceded. "To make sure he's all right."
Shayera stared down into her fettuccine, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks again.
Across the table, Dick watched her thoughtfully, busily chewing his steak. She'd been blushing about every three or four minutes since they sat down. Her right hand was resting on the table, absently holding her fork, but she'd yet to take a bite of her food.
Swallowing, Dick reached out and touched her hand, an action which nearly caused her to jump out of her seat. "Hey," Dick said. "You okay?"
She glanced up at him, and blushed three times as hard. "Sure, fine," she said, and leaned her forehead into her left hand, putting both her elbows on the table. She looked at Dick again, under the shadow of her hand. "I'm getting the check tonight, just so you know," she muttered. "And that's not up for debate."
"I think I can live with that." Dick smiled, cutting another bite of steak. "So…" he said carefully.
"I just can not believe I did that to you," Shayera said in a low rush. "I want to apologize, but, I just don't know how."
"Seriously, Shayera, don't worry about it. You weren't yourself. And honestly, I feel kind of lucky—"
"Lucky?" she exploded, accidentally bending the fork in her hand. "Are you really that brainwashed? You didn't get laid last night, you got raped!"
Dick sighed, and then smiled. "Well. Whatever I got, I liked it. So don't feel too guilty."
"You don't understand, Dick—I am guilty. I feel like a criminal! I… I almost want to go to jail for this."
"You're being way too hard on yourself," Dick insisted, shaking his head. "I mean, the, uh, savagery was a little…interesting, but nobody got hurt, and I promise you—I liked it. You were amazing."
Shayera blushed neon-pink, and looked at her food again. "…I guess I can probably expect Starfire to kick my ass now."
"Kory?" Dick laughed. "No. She might ask me if I had a good time, and when I tell her yes, she'll just be happy for me."
"Funny, isn't it?" Shayera asked, still blushing. "Me and Starfire, I mean. We're both red-haired, green-eyed, alien warrior chicks."
"And you both fly," Dick pointed out. "And you're both really strong. Which is very hot, I have to add. But anyway, Starfire isn't the redhead to be worried about."
Her eyes widened. "You mean you're back together with Oracle?"
Dick shrugged. "Maybe," he said, half-sadly. "At least, I'd like to be. But whether we're together or not, she is pretty protective of me."
Shayera was silent for a minute. "Well, I can see why," she admitted. "If you were mine, I'd be protective of you too."
"Thanks, I think," Dick said in his best no-harm-done voice.
Shayera rolled her eyes. "Oh, god," she groaned. "How to explain this? Look, I'll just say it. Nigh—Dick, I will never forgive myself for last night. I was out of control and it was completely wrong. And if you enjoyed it, that makes it even more wrong. I just wish I could make you confess that it was all an act for you, because… honey, you're not my type."
She said it with so much shame in her voice that Dick nearly fell out of his seat. "You're cute," Shayera began to explain right away, "and god, you're talented, but I'm more attracted to the gruff, no-nonsense types. You know, the serious, militaristic guys. You're just… too nice. Too eager to please."
"So…no second date?" Dick asked with a smile. Before she could answer, he laughed. "Well. I'm a little bit heartbroken, but don't worry. I'll heal."
Those baby-blue eyes of his met hers, and seemed so unfazed and so honest that she couldn't help but feel a little twinge of insight. She raised her wineglass in a toast. "You always do, don't you?" she asked.
Dick picked up his own glass. "So far," he admitted, as humbly as possible. And then he clinked his glass to hers.
Later that night, sitting alone on a rooftop in Blüdhaven, Nightwing yawned. He'd gotten a few solid hours of sleep that morning, half-smothered under Shayera's very heavy wings, but he was still far from recovered from the exhausting all-nighter leading up to that.
Can't quit now, he scolded himself. Lousy smugglers aren't going to reconnoiter themselves.
Suddenly the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he cast a leery glance over his shoulder into a particularly dark batch of shadows. Once he was sure he was right, he smiled.
"Scary as ever," he remarked. "What's up?"
Batman slid forward until he was silhouetted against the starless smog. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Actually, I wanted to ask you something."
"Hold it right there, Bruce. If you ask me if you're gay, I'm going to jump off this roof."
"…You jump off these roofs all the time."
"Not my point."
The wind rustled Batman's cape, as if responding to his annoyance. "This isn't about me," he growled.
"There's a first," Dick remarked cheerfully, rolling his eyes.
"Stop," Batman commanded. "I get enough chatter from Tim. I don't need it from you."
Nightwing sighed. "So you wanted to ask me something," he recapped. "Ask away."
Batman hesitated. "When Shayera attacked you, you said you'd been through worse. What did you mean?"
For a split second, Nightwing's mask did nothing to hide his surprise. Then, smiling, he looked aside. "Wow. You still don't know about that? I mean, I knew Alfred could keep a secret, but I didn't really think he could keep one from you."
"What secret?" Bruce asked, with concern evident in his voice.
"Heh. Well, don't worry. At least you were right—for once it's not about you. Remember Catalina Flores?"
"Tarantula," Bruce identified, recalling the fiery young vigilante who had briefly aided him during that bloody gang war in Gotham. "The one who killed Blockbuster."
"Yeah, her," Dick said. He took a breath. "Well, I hate to rehash the details, but basically, she got me into a compromising position, and I said no, but she didn't care. And apparently the old version of my suit was a little too easy to unzip." He sighed. "I told Alfred about it later, when I got shot and was all drugged up. But wait, before you say anything: it's okay. I handled it. What she did to me personally doesn't matter now. She's in prison, and justice has been served."
Bruce was silent for a long moment. What Dick had just revealed to him was yet another in a seemingly endless list of traumatic experiences that the young man had survived.
"…How did you recover?" Bruce asked at last.
Dick shrugged. "Alfred helped. So did you, actually, when you talked to me about Blockbuster. But for the most part, I don't know. I guess that's just who I am. I fall, and then I pick myself back up."
Somehow, across time and space and infinite universes, that truth was the key that locked Batman and the soul of Dick Grayson together, and Bruce knew it from the bottom of his heart. It wasn't about tragedy. It was about what one man could choose to do after.
"Dick," Bruce said, voice charged with emotion. "I want you to know something. If anything ever happened to me, and there was still a need for all this… you wouldn't have to do it. You wouldn't have to be Batman. You could walk away, be anything—a husband, a father— for the rest of your life, and I would be proud of you. But if you were ever to become Batman, you'd be a better one than I am. Better than I ever was."
Dick eyed him in suspicion. "Oh-kay, Bruce. Did Clark put you up to this?"
Bruce hunched his shoulders. "…Maybe," he admitted in a low growl.
Laughing, Dick shook his head. "Well, thanks anyway. It means a lot—but out of curiosity… have you lost your mind? What's all this about 'if I'm ever Batman'? Last I checked, that was never going to happen."
"You were assaulted by an alien," Bruce grumbled. "According to the Question, that was supposed to happen to me. It's likely that in another dimension, you're wearing the cowl."
Dick grinned. "Because it's the Question, I'm going to ignore how ridiculously far-fetched that is and just ask: If I'm Batman, what are you? Robin?"
Bruce returned his expression with a faint trace of a smile. "Hopefully, in that world, I'm at peace," he said.
"Jeez," Dick shuddered. "Only you could say something like that and make it sound not only creepy, but completely depressing."
"Hn." Batman peered down over the edge of the roof at the group of shady characters that had just started to emerge from their den. "About the incident with Hawkgirl," he muttered, redirecting the conversation. "I'm correct in assuming you're both over it?"
"Absolutely," Nightwing replied, eyes trained on a man in black trench coat far below. "Just do me one favor, and don't tell Barbara about it, okay?"
"…You are aware she has access to complete audio and video surveillance of the tower," Batman said flatly.
Trench coat man turned just so under the dim glow of a flickering streetlamp, revealing a tommy gun in his hands. "That does it," Dick said, eyes on the bad guy. "I'm jumping off this roof."
Batman readied his grapple, and might have smiled.
"Lead the way."
(for real this time!)
Another Author's Note: so... the reason I originally cut all that out of the story was because it's all about Nightwing, and this was supposed to be a Justice League fic, with Nightwing only appearing to take Bruce's place as the 'victim' of the alien attack. But, for those of you who might've wondered what happened to Bruce after Shayera beat him up... now you know. Thanks for reading!! XD