I don't own DC. No profit made.
Pairings: JusticeLord!Batman/Batman, JL!Batman/Flash, Batman/Flash
Bruce knew something was amiss when he felt presence behind his back. It wasn't Robin and it wasn't Alfred, and yet the presence seemed familiar, making the hair at the back of Bruce's neck stand.
He let the intruder get closer, his mind frantically going through all the possible ways someone could've found and infiltrated the Bat-cave, all the possible villains who would have the means to overcome all the defenses. The fact that he was without his mask at the moment only deepened the horror.
He was tense, but he forced his body to relax in order to not let on that he knew somebody was there. When he felt a touch on his shoulder, he whipped around and kicked: it didn't connect as the intruder jumped away, and Bruce's eyes widened when he faced himself: an older, slightly altered version of himself he'd seen only once before.
The Justice Lord Batman was smirking in his mask.
"You couldn't defeat me in a fight the last time, either."
"I can. I'm you," Bruce frowned, feeling horribly exposed without his costume. With it, the other had an unfair advantage. However, he just looked at Bruce, not moving, and certainly not attacking back.
"No. I'm you. I was you. You haven't been me yet."
"And I never will be," Bruce promised darkly, all his muscles strained and waiting for a proverbial shoe to drop (and for a not so proverbial boot to connect somewhere). "Why are you here?"
"I missed you," the Bat-Lord sneered dryly, and Bruce almost rolled his eyes:
Crossing his arms over his chest was a very defensive gesture for Bruce, for Batman, but he did not mind the other knowing just how uncomfortable Bruce was. He wanted him to know, so he would go away: and it wasn't like the other man could not read him anyway. Bruce, Batman, had always made it a point to know himself better than humanly possible, so he would not be surprised by his own incapability (or capability) of doing something. He knew all the nuances of his own feelings, or tried his best to know, and this other Bat had to know the signs as well, making it easy for him to read Bruce pretty damn accurately, especially without the mask.
"How about you tell me the real reason? Inter-dimensional travelling isn't exactly a vacation choice."
"How about you stop pretending I'm your enemy? I helped you last time," the Bat-Lord pointed out, and Bruce had to reluctantly nod at that, but his scowl remained wary, trained at the other.
Who simply smirked at the silent treatment.
"We never trust anyone, do we. Not even ourselves."
"Don't put me on the same level with you," Bruce snapped back, irritated at the reminder of how it had felt to face the other Batman in the Justice Lords dimension. The Bat-Lord had said something about no child having to lose parents anymore, and for a tiny, horrified, breaking moment Bruce had seen his point. He'd surrendered then, and tried convincing himself that he'd only done it because it had been a stalemate situation, that neither of them could defeat the other, and that they could work together to free his own team, his League.
He'd nearly succeeded too, but ignorance was never much of an option for the Batman, making it extremely difficult for Bruce to lie to himself about his reasons. He'd seen the Bat-Lord's point, seen what he had been trying to do, and it was terrifyingly close to what Bruce knew he would do if… if he was not himself. For a split second in that other Bat-cave, he'd wished he had what it took, ruthlessness, maybe cold reason, instead of the remnants of human emotions that still lay smouldering, broken, at the bottom of his heart.
It had passed fairly easily. Fairly quickly. But Bruce remembered, and seeing the Bat-Lord again stirred up the ashes.
"Put you on my level? I wouldn't," the other replied, "once, maybe. But not anymore."
Bruce frowned at that – it sounded like condescension, but something in the other Bat's voice told him it wasn't exactly so. To him, it sounded more like… regret?
"How could you do it?" Bruce asked, because last time there hadn't been time to ask anything, and he was curious. No, it wasn't simple curiosity – he wanted to know so he could avoid it, so he'd never become someone comfortable with practically enslaving humanity, much less allowing humanity to be enslaved by meta-humans and aliens. Heck, he'd fought just that his whole life, and even if he valued the help of Superman or Manhunter or Hawkgirl, he could not imagine allowing them to rule the Earth. Earth was for humans to rule, to live on, to fuck up if they were stupid enough – not for aliens to play around with.
"You'd do it for him too," the Bat-Lord shrugged, and Bruce froze.
"Robin?" he asked for clarification, panic hammering in his chest at the thought that it could be true, that indeed, if something were to happen to the boy, he would do it, would do everything he could to save him.
But it did not seem right. Of course he would do anything to save his little bird-boy… but he would not cross a line. That was the kind of decisions the Batman was here for… to save many in the face of losing who he loved. To make the choices that weren't best by far, but the most reasonable.
"No," the Bat-Lord denied it as well, and a small smirk that was more of a wrinkle at the corner of his mouth did look condescending this time, reprimanding, the kind of look one gives a silly child. "You know who I'm talking about."
And Bruce did – he could still see the look of pure horror on the Bat-Lord's face as he'd stormed down those stairs, the way his voice had sounded way too Bruce and not enough Batman as he'd called Flash's name in fear.
"How did he die?" Bruce asked quietly, because he knew he could never talk about it – he hadn't been able to talk about it when Rachel died either. He'd said a few words to Alfred, when he couldn't bear holding it all in anymore, but they weren't even half of what he had in mind, not even one tenth. It had been rational, more about Batman than Bruce, and Bruce knew that must've been what the Bat-Lord felt too, the desperate need to do something, to somehow punish himself.
And maybe talking to himself, even if that self was removed by time and dimension, would be immensely easier than talking to anyone else.
"I killed him," the Bat-Lord said, in a tone that was heavy with guilt, the same guilt Bruce had felt when Rachel had died, the imminent knowledge that even if he had not pulled the trigger or the bomb switch, he was at fault. And he was sure the Bat-Lord did not pull any trigger either, because Batman could do a lot of things, but Bruce knew he would never be capable of killing Flash: Flash was human, and his super-speed, his abilities, only stretched thin over his humanity, much like his costume stretched over his body. Flash was not Superman, he was not a superhero who only wore the disguise of a human: he was not the Manhunter, who wore human skin at will. Flash was human in the most wonderful, excruciating and terrifying way, in a way Batman could never be, even if technically, by pure dry definition, Bruce was more human in that silly biological way. Flash, on the other hand, had a human heart: and Bruce did not believe he would ever, under any circumstances, be capable of destroying that.
"How?" he repeated insistently: he needed to know what he himself was capable of, to prevent it, to keep a better check on himself. Because what was scary about this other Batman was not what he could do, what he had done: but the way he resembled Bruce so much, reflected his darker thoughts, thought only in private and very, very briefly, only touched upon, brushed with a faintest of touches in fear of soaking them up too much. And the most horrifying of all was the fact that Bruce relied on the Justice League to keep him in check in case those thoughts seeped under his skin, into his brain. This Batman, Bat-Lord, did not have that check: and with nobody to restrain him, he allowed that darkness soak deep into his core.
"Your Flash guessed it, halfway at least," the Bat-Lord replied, his voice strained. "We both went rogue for a while, Flash and me. We both disagreed with the lobotomies and killings… that first one was different, there was no way of getting rid of Luthor; his roots, his money, went too far, too deep. We had no way of getting him to a jail in which he'd stay. It had to be done… but then, after crossing that first line, it became too easy to think that maybe it was THE solution for all of them. For every bad guy out there. I held on to the belief that they could be corrected, contained… Flash agreed. Until one villain we were trying to help escape Superman's treatment killed him."
"I'm sorry," Bruce said and meant it. The Bat-Lord merely shrugged, looking as if he had learned to deal with it, quietly and bravely, but Bruce knew that couldn't be the truth. Even after all those years, he still hadn't dealt with the deaths he had caused, whether he was truly at fault or simply felt that he was.
"Me too. I was trying to save someone else then. If I could, I would let that person die," the Bat-Lord admitted, something dark forming around the corners of his mouth, a bitter twist to his lips that Bruce could recognize from the numerous times he'd asked himself 'what if' – what if he could have saved Rachel instead of Harvey Dent (what if he had saved Dent completely). "Flash would've done more for the world."
"That was not your place to decide," Bruce spoke what he himself hated to hear when the situation arose. But it was the right thing to say, the right thing to think. Even if he could almost taste how warped and rotten it was.
"Oh, but it was," the Lord smirked wryly, "it was, and I decided to save an anonymous guy instead of someone I… knew."
"Loved," Bruce confirmed, not really a question. He understood – oh, how much. It always felt unfair when he wanted to save the people he knew (loved), so he opted out, saved the anonymous people, the people more important for humanity or Gotham or politics or someone else, because it felt unfair that being close to Bruce Wayne should influence who Batman saved.
But it did, in a completely backwards way, it did, it always did, and Bruce Wayne was left more and more broken by every single time he had not saved someone of his own. It was a better way. Because he could think that somewhere, someone appreciated what he had done, that their loved one was alive today and not dead, and Bruce had dealt with enough loss in his life to be able to handle more. The Batman had not lost people, the Batman had not – could not – care about anyone beyond the value of a human life. If the Batman started to obey Bruce Wayne's heart, then everything would be doomed, and Bruce had a feeling that was exactly what had happened to the Bat-Lord.
"Yes," the Lord agreed, unashamedly, matter-of-factly, and Bruce wondered whether that was what it took for both of them to be capable of feeling, of admitting they felt something, for their loved ones to die. While they were alive, it was easy to think that one day, maybe, the Batman could rest and Bruce Wayne would be allowed to take over, to feel again, to be repaired and helped and loved. When they died, admitting their feelings was just another sort of self-punishment. "Now, I would let that old man die, without hesitation."
Bitterness, regret, despair.
"No, you wouldn't," Bruce said, because he wanted to believe it.
"You wouldn't," the Lord shook his head, staring at Bruce knowingly. "I am not you anymore. Not completely."
"So you turned to the Justice Lords for revenge."
"Not completely," the Bat-Lord repeated with a slight raise of his shoulder. "Flash was gone and it made me realize that I always thought I could make all the choices nobody else could… but in the end, they were mortal choices. Human. And wrong in that I refused to end it. All those villains, they kept hurting people and I always let them go, even if I knew they would somehow end up on the loose again. I refused to do justice, true justice, and under the pretense of that same word, I let them hurt people more. It was my fault as well as theirs, whenever someone died because of them."
"What you did was not justice. It was revenge," Bruce frowned.
"Maybe. But it served its purpose."
"Dictatorship is not an answer."
"Democracy isn't, either. Is it truly that important to keep the option of choosing the worst possible way?"
"Yes, it is," Bruce hissed resolutely, because he felt himself stagger around the answer, felt himself doubt.
"No, it isn't."
"Then why are you here?" he snapped at the Bat-Lord.
"To remove your worst choice."
Bruce looked at him. He could've attacked already if he wished to kill Bruce… but what would he accomplish by that? Did he want to take over this dimension?
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Bruce asked warily, and the Lord simply smirked, his gloved hand reaching up to pull off his mask.
That startled Bruce more than anything before. The cowl, the costume, they had been altered and that only made Bruce believe that they were not completely same.
But seeing the other Bat's face was shocking in more ways than one. It was Bruce's face, undeniably: the same eyes, the same jaw, cheekbones, lips, nose. Everything a perfect copy of what Bruce saw in a mirror when he cared to look; and yet different, as if someone had broken him and aligned the parts a little wrong. It wasn't a truly visible difference, and Bruce thought that it was maybe just the wrinkles around the other Bat's eyes that made him look strange in his familiarity, strange and different and older, so much older. There was hollowness hiding in that thin web of worry-lines, and Bruce swallowed hard as he stared at his own face that went through one death, one decision too many.
"I don't think posing as you would be a viable option," the Bat-Lord sneered, and Bruce knew the other man was aware of how he looked alike and nothing alike to this dimension's Bruce Wayne.
There was a light dusting of gray in his hair, hardly visible but so obvious to Bruce. He almost reached out to touch it, make sure it was really there and not just a play of light. Almost.
"Was that why you allowed all that to happen? Because they will live longer than you?" he asked quietly, and the Bat-Lord simply nodded as he took a step, and another, closer to Bruce – he did not make a move to get away.
"Partly. Better the devil you know," the Bat-Lord smirked, and Bruce felt a mirrored curl of lips on his own face. He knew what that was about… even if the Justice Lords, the other Superman, the other Green Lantern, Manhunter, Hawkgirl, even if they had grabbed power, even if they had imposed their rules on the world, they were still people he knew, people he trusted (or had trusted), people who had a semblance of morals and goodwill and they were not doing it for money or oil or to blow up the Earth in an inter-galactic war.
Essentially they wanted the same thing Bruce wanted – peace.
Bruce felt as if the other Bat had poisoned his mind somehow. The lines between right and wrong were more blurred than ever.
"Why are you here?" he repeated, quietly, staring at his own face, his own grey hair.
"How long has it been since you allowed someone to get close? Truly close, in all ways?" the Bat-Lord asked, and got well into Bruce's personal space, even if it was admittedly wider than for most normal humans.
"Yes, you can. I'm here to show you."
He grabbed Bruce's shirt and Bruce's adrenaline level jumped along with his hand, but the Bat-Lord blocked his fist with ease and then he was kissing Bruce, hard.
Bruce buried his hand in the brown-grey hair and yanked his head away with a sneer.
"Fucking yourself is a little bit desperate, don't you think?"
"Beggars can't be choosers," the Bat-Lord sneered back and let go of Bruce's shirt long enough to get rid of his gloves.
"I'm not a beggar." But the grip on the hair eased up. A little.
"Emotionally, you are." A hand snaking to Bruce's own hair, another kiss, teeth, tongue, more adrenaline.
He did not need to protest that he wasn't gay – the other man was not 'other', he was Bruce, and he knew that he – they – always appreciated the strength, the planes, the muscle of a male body as well, but it did not fit the image of a playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne was trying his best to maintain. He kissed the way Bruce liked, the way he was rarely kissed, strong, dominating, battling with every swipe of tongue, every caress turned scratch, with just enough gentleness within the brutal force to make it arousing instead of simply painful.
After all the vapid models Bruce had to occasionally fuck, all the good little girls who acted like bitches and turned pliant in bed in fear that Bruce wouldn't call again (he never did anyway), this was new, strange, depraved, and Bruce could not resist. Not that he tried. It had been long, far too long, the Bat-Lord had been right, and nobody could offer what the other Bat could without being told, without any need for explanation or instructions.
Bruce pushed back, and the Bat-Lord let him: Bruce felt the other hit the hard wall of the cave as Bruce devoured his mouth hungrily.
"We both are," Bruce corrected inbetween kisses, and the other laughed, throaty, quiet, rough around the edges. Bruce bit his throat and the laugh turned into a groan, the fingers in his hair tightening. Bruce did not need a manual to pull all the right places to get rid of the suit – he peeled it off the Bat-Lord like second skin, like Bruce himself always felt he was peeling off another being, another personality with his own costume. The other Bruce's eyes were clouded, half-lidded, as he kicked off his boots helpfully and let Bruce take it all off – there were scars Bruce knew and some he did not recognize, but he could not be sure if he simply had too many scars to remember them all, or if they were new ones, ones he had not yet acquired and probably (hopefully) never would. He trailed his tongue across the long one stretching over the right side of his stomach, where the Queen's card had sliced through kevlar, and heard a hiss above. The Bat-Lord was already hard, and Bruce could feel blood filling his own cock rapidly as he kneeled and smirked up, and then leaned in and tasted him(self).
The scent, the taste, everything about the other man was completely familiar and in that, decadently strange. Bruce knew the smell of the soap, it was the same one he used, the taste of that sweat, even the distinct tang of arousal from the times some of his bed-partners felt like kissing after a blowjob. He knew where to lick, where to press and scrape his teeth and suck to get a reaction, he could almost feel it on his own cock as a distant, teasing memory. The Bat-Lord's hips snapped erratically in time with his harsh breaths and soon the hand in Bruce's hair pulled him away and up, crushing their mouths together for a kiss and Bruce even recognized the way the other Bat slid his tongue over Bruce's, searching for a taste of himself. Bruce knew it, because he always did it too, concealing the action as lust and arousal when in fact it was primal possessiveness, making him feel like the other person was marked by him inside and out, tainted by, soaked in him.
It definitely felt like he had been tainted by the Bat-Lord, because he did not think anymore of how wrong his actions were, had been, how he would never do the same, how he hopefully could not and probably could. All he had in his head were the other's hands, arms, the way he shivered when Bruce bit his throat in that one place that almost everyone always missed, the way the other's fingers brushed against Bruce's cock as they fumbled with Bruce's zipper and finally won over it. The Bat-Lord shoved his hands into Bruce's pants, pushing all restrictive fabric down and sliding back to squeeze his ass. Bruce snickered-hissed and stumbled forward at the force of that, delightfully giddy as the other man pushed and pressed their cocks together, flipping them over until Bruce's shoulders dug into the rocky wall of the cave.
Then it was all frantic pushing, pressing, sliding against each other, clawing at shoulders and backs, nails digging into skin, mouths sucking and biting and minds clouding and blacking out completely except for the feel of it, the heat and desperation and hopeless need.
Bruce couldn't say who came first – when he could finally breathe again and open his eyes, the other was already pulling away, the come trailing away in thin strings from where they had been stuck together by it, chests and stomachs, almost identical, glued by their release. It dripped down to Bruce's thighs and he stared at the mess, unconcerned, delightfully blank, and he almost breathed out 'stay,' overwhelmed by the dizzy half-thoughts of what they could do together if there were two Batmans in Gotham (because maybe then it would all add up fast enough for them to truly make a difference)… what could be done if there were two of Bruce in his bed, because he was desperate enough to consider it as an option and the sex had been mind-blowing, however wrong and sick and twisted it may have seemed.
The Bat-Lord pulled on his tights, not bothering to clean up, and Bruce imagined their mixed come sticking the kevlar to his skin – he felt arousal tighten at the pit of his stomach briefly again. The other finished dressing, obviously aware of Bruce watching, and smirked at him, still without his mask. He came back for a kiss, and Bruce did not mind, his head still not completely cleared up.
"This is what you came for?" he asked, his lips brushing the other Bat's.
"Partly," he answered, and before Bruce could ask more, his eyes widened as he felt a sting in his bare thigh. He looked down slowly and there was a needle and Bruce felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, his world.
"We never trust ourselves for a reason," the Bat-Lord whispered and caught Bruce's body as it went limp.
When he woke up, he hurt all over – he could feel an IV in his arm, and the bed was uncomfortable enough for a hospital. With pure willpower, he cracked his eyes open…
…and there was Flash, no, Barry, at his side, smiling a bit.
"Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," he chuckled, but relief was visible in his eyes and Bruce wanted to say something, but his throat was too dry and he coughed, sitting up and pulling the IV out of his vein.
"What the fuck happened?" he croaked, not even concerned too much about him not having his mask at the moment. What mattered was how much of the world had been conquered by a crazy Bat-Lord and how much could still be salvaged.
"You were kept in an artificial sleep, apparently," Barry informed him and Bruce blinked at that (and at the sunlight that seeped in through the window, which hurt his eyes a little).
"What? For how long?"
"A week, I guess. But I'm not completely sure."
Bruce stared at that… a week? A whole damn WEEK?
"Did something happen while I was… here?" Bruce frowned. It was too long… so much could be done in seven days, both good and bad, and Bruce wasn't even sure what to worry about first.
"Another Arkham breakout," Barry sat down at the bed – probably to prevent Bruce from standing up and getting dressed. He was not subtle about it, and Bruce decided that if Barry wasn't in too much of a hurry to go save the world, then the situation probably wasn't as near apocalypse as Bruce had thought a second ago.
"How're you feeling?" Barry asked, his clear eyes kind as he studied Bruce's face, and Bruce decided he could get used to the nervousness he felt at being so closely watched.
But there were things to do before that.
"Will you tell me what happened or do I have to go find out on my own?" he frowned, and Barry merely shrugged:
"They had a plan, as usual, to take over the world – you know these villain types, terribly dull when it comes to figuring out what to do with their powers-"
"Barry," Bruce said warningly, and only when the man stopped talking and just looked did Bruce realize that it was the first time he'd called him by his name. As Batman, and as Bruce. He had always been careful to differentiate between identities, to not create any connection with the people beyond the superhero costumes, even if he knew who they were, who Barry Allen was. Now, keeping up that barrier did not seem so important anymore.
"You saved me," Barry spoke softly.
Bruce could only stare.
"There was some sort of an energy ray, or maybe radiation. I thought I could make it and grab that old guy out of the way, but Freeze got my legs in ice and I couldn't, and you covered me."
"It wasn't me," Bruce protested weakly. Barry shook his head.
"It was. In a sense."
Bruce looked at the other man, wondering if there really was the need for that to be true in Barry's voice.
"Where am I, anyway?" he said, wishing to change the topic because it started to feel a little claustrophobic in here, with Barry's eyes so intense and everything so unnaturally white.
"A private hospital, in Northern Italy."
"What?" Bruce snapped, now convinced that he needed to get out of here and go kick some otherworldly Bat-ass, but Barry placed a warm, large hand on his thigh through the covers, and Bruce stopped moving altogether.
"He told me where to find you. Before he took off," Barry confessed quietly, and looked at Bruce again, only at Bruce, with his warm eyes as serious as they were only rarely.
"He held me close and took that energy ray to the back," Barry continued, "and… I knew it wasn't you then." He looked down at his hand that still rested on Bruce's thigh and removed it, as if he just realized whom he was touching. Bruce's skin felt cold where Barry's hand had been, and he frowned.
"I would have done that for you, if it was needed," Bruce said, a little offended, but he knew it wasn't true: he would have saved the people, civilians; he would've thought that Flash could make it, like he always had before; he wouldn't have stopped to think about a hero's mortality. It would've changed him, like it had changed the other Batman… and he would've blamed himself until the end of days, but he wouldn't have saved Flash.
Suddenly Bruce was recklessly, staggeringly glad that it hadn't been him out there.
Barry simply looked again, and Bruce felt even more naked under his gaze, as if the other man could decipher Bruce's mind, as if he knew what Bruce would've and wouldn't have done.
But that was ridiculous. Nobody knew what Bruce would do. Much less Flash, because he only knew what Batman would do, could do, what he had done so far. Bruce himself wasn't sure at that moment of the extent of things he could and would, and it was strangely horrifying while being scrutinized by Flash's – Barry's – open, honest eyes.
"You wouldn't have kissed me," Barry spoke almost inaudibly and color rose to his cheeks that could've and probably wasn't the result of the beginning sunset behind the window.
Bruce could taste the answer on his tongue. I would've, if I were him. If I knew how it felt to lose you.
"He also said that I had to make sure you won't choose the worst option disguised as the best one anymore," Barry said, and it was clear he did not understand what that meant, but Bruce did, and immediately it sprang to his mind that it would be best to say he did not know what that meant either. They would each go their own way, safe from becoming a trap for the other, from becoming blackmail material, the edge from which there was no return. The reason for more horrible, horrible choices.
The worst option disguised as the best resounded in Bruce's head again.
If there was one thing that the Batman – Bruce Wayne – was not, it was a coward. And he prized himself on seeing reason, no matter the source it came from.
Barry startled when Bruce's hand covered his own, warm and scarred and bruised from the IV. He looked, truly looked, and Bruce wondered how long had it been since someone looked like that at him, the whole, complete him, both Batman and Bruce Wayne laced into one man.
"You better make sure then," Bruce smiled, and it was easier to smile when Barry was looking, when Barry still looked at him no matter that he knew who Bruce was. "Let's get me back to Gotham. Robin must be worried."
"I think he's been skipping school for the past two days," Barry chuckled and helped Bruce stand up again.