"I can't believe Bats invited us to the fancy shindig," Ollie said.
Hal shrugged. "Maybe he really is letting bygones be bygones. Being a new year and all." He looked around the Wayne Manor ballroom. It was mostly society types from Gotham, but Bruce had invited various charity volunteers and others who weren't gazillionaires, so he must have felt comfortable inviting his friends as well. Or the closest thing he had to friends, anyway.
Hal eyes settled on a table across the room, where Kyle was sitting with Connor, Roy and Dick. Hal felt a pang of guilt. He'd barely spoken to Kyle in months, ever since Kyle had taken off for Oa. He had tried to pass it off as 'busy schedules' when John had brought it up, but that was a lie. The truth was he was confused by a lot of things and he needed to sort it all out.
"Why didn't you bring Jill?" Ollie asked. "I thought you two were getting serious?"
"She had something come up," Hal said. Which was true, she did have other plans tonight with some friends. Never mind that Hal hadn't told her about the party in Gotham.
"Uh-huh," Ollie said, staring at Hal with narrowed eyes.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You and Jill are on the outs?"
"No. She was just busy." His eyes drifted over to Kyle's table again. Kyle looked like he was having a good time, but John said Guy had told him Kyle had been brooding a lot. And then Guy had gotten pissed at him a couple weeks ago and in the ensuing argument had let slip something that Kyle had confided in him. "The kid's in love with you," Guy had growled at him. "But you're 'too busy' to even help him with that Parallax shit!" He'd let Guy's punch make contact with his jaw because he deserved it.
"Busy? Uh-huh." Ollie leaned across the table. "You can't fool me, Hal. You always claim to like the blondes, but it's always the brunettes that get you in the end, isn't it."
Hal just gaped at him, wondering how Ollie knew. "What?"
"Your problem with Jill isn't by chance named 'Carol Ferris'?"
Before Hal could say anything, Alfred appeared at their table bearing two more glasses of beer. "More to drink, sirs?"
"Thanks for the refills, Alfie," Ollie said. Then he got an evil grin on his face. "Hal here is having some difficulties in the romance department, and maybe a gentleman like yourself can help him out?" He smiled up at Alfred. "Blonde or brunette?"
Hal groaned and covered his face with his hands, but Alfred just gave him an appraising stare, then turned to pick up the empty glasses. "I'm certainly not qualified for romantic counseling, but perhaps the Bard can help you out." Alfred set the tray on the table and cleared his throat.
"All that glitters is not gold; Often have you heard that told: Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold: Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgement old Your answer had not been inscroll'd Fare you well, your suit is cold."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Ollie asked.
"It means that when you think you're making the best choice because it looks like the best choice, sometimes it's not the best choice at all," Hal said. He glanced across the room again. "It's from The Merchant of Venice. To win the girl, the suitors have to choose the correct box: gold, silver, or lead. It was lead, the least obvious and most risky box to choose, that contained her portrait."
"Very good, sir," Alfred said with a nod of his head.
"How did you know that?" Ollie asked.
Hal smiled and shrugged. "I had to take a literature class in college. It was either Shakespeare or Jane Austen."
"A wise choice, if I may say so, sir," Alfred said with a wink. "I'm quite partial to Mister Shakespeare myself." Alfred picked up his tray, then paused. "Now you must decide if you are willing to risk everything for the treasure." Alfred glanced across the room, towards Kyle's table, then turned back to Hal. Hal raised his eyebrows in surprise. Alfred just smiled. "Master Wayne isn't the only one with observational skills in this house." He gave a small bow and left.
"What was that all about?" Ollie asked.
"I …" Hal watched Alfred's retreating back. Alfred was right. He'd only been looking at the choices he should make, not the one he wanted, because what he couldn't face the risk. He looked over at Kyle's table. Roy and the others were still there, but Kyle was gone. "I'll be right back."
Hal made his way across the room, pushing through the crowd that was gathering for the countdown to midnight, passing out hats and streamers. He reached the table and grasped Connor's shoulder. "Where's Kyle?"
"Off to the little boy's room," Roy said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
Hal made his way to the hallway at the end of the ballroom. It was empty. Then a door opened at the far end and Kyle came out. He was wearing a glittery party hat and was busy adjusting it, so he didn't see Hal until he was only a few feet away. "Hal!"
"We need to talk."
Kyle frowned and looked over Hal's shoulder towards the ballroom. "Now? The countdown is about to start."
"I know. I just … I can't put this off any longer. I can't run away from this any longer." He took a deep breath. "Guy told me that you told him you're in love with me."
Kyle paled and sucked in his breath, then his face turned a bright shade of red. "Shit!" He wiped his hand over his face. "Look, Hal, I was drunk at the time and…" He grimaced and wrapped his arms around himself, turning away from Hal. "Dammit, I'm going to kill him!"
"He was just worried about you," Hal said. He took a step towards Kyle and reached out to touch his shoulder. "It's okay, Kyle. I'm—"
"Is that why you've been avoiding me?" Kyle sounded hurt, and maybe a little angry.
Hal sighed. "Sort of."
He felt Kyle tense under his hand. "I'm not going to hit on you or anything, if that's what you're worried about."
"No, that's not …" Hal stepped around to face Kyle. "That's not it at all."
The crowd in the ballroom began to chant. "Ten, nine, eight…"
"Then what was it?" Kyle asked.
"It's me, not you. I'm …" Hal sucked in his breath, knowing that this was the moment he was going to risk everything, the moment that was going to change everything.
"… three, two, one! Happy New Year!"
"It's time I picked the right box." Hal grabbed Kyle's confused face in his hands and kissed him.
Time seemed to stand still, the happy noise of the celebration fading into the background as they kissed. They pulled apart to catch their breath. Kyle was staring at him, wide-eyed, his glittery hat askew on his head. He frowned. "Are you drunk?"
Hal laughed and shook his head, then slung his arm over Kyle's shoulder. "Want to get out of here?"
Kyle hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Okay."
They made their way along the edge of the ballroom, out of the way of the revelers. Alfred was standing by the door. He smiled as Hal and Kyle approached. "Have a wonderful evening, sirs," he said. "And Happy New Year."
"Thank you, Alfred." Hal pulled the glittery hat off Kyle's head and handed it to Alfred. "It appears the glitter is gold after all."