The first thing Jaime did was talk strategy with Nightwing. Blue Beetle, the only high-profile Earth hero with decent PR, was perfectly placed to expose the Reach, but it needed to be done carefully. So they spent a long night discussing exactly what he should say, and what he should admit to if pressed.

The second thing Jaime did was go home and hug each member of his family and tell them that he loved them.

So it was a good 24 hours before he saw Bart alone.

Bart immediately engulfed him in a hug, which surprised Jaime a little bit, but he supposed it shouldn't have – Bart had always been tactile. After a second, he returned the embrace.

"You have no idea how glad I am that you're okay," Bart murmured.

"I'm sorry," Jaime whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"For what?"

"For hitting you. Capturing you. Trying to kill you."

"That wasn't you. That was them, and that thing stuck to you."

"Look, the Scarab – "

"Can't hurt you any more. We beat it, Blue." Bart stepped back far enough to look into Jaime's eyes, but didn't let go. "Now we just have the planet-enslaving aliens to deal with and we're all set."

"... Beat it. Yeah."

-Let me speak to him directly,- the Scarab requested in Jaime's mind. Jaime shook his head; a miniscule shake, too small to be seen, but the Scarab felt the movement. After a slight pause he continued. -Judging by your lack of verbal response, I presume that you are attempting not to shatter the illusion the Impulse seems to have acquired that I am dead. Is this correct?-

A tiny nod.

-You cannot keep this information from him indefinitely. Can you expect him to trust you if you conceal it? Let me speak to him directly.-

Jaime sighed. "I don't think he's going to be happy about – "

-Then ask.-

"I'm not going to – "


Jaime sighed. "Bart... the Scarab want to talk to you directly."

Bart let go of him then, and stepped back. "What?"

"It wants to – "

"I heard you! Why? It..." his voice dropped to a whisper... "it can't take control of you, can it?"

Jaime laughed. "Come to think of it, it hasn't fought me for control for... uh..." he frowned.

-Since we learned of our apparent betrayal of your planet from the Impulse.-

"Since you told us about the future. No, that isn't a problem."

"Dude, it took you over for weeks! We just finished stopping it!"

"No, that was the Reach." Even Jaime was surprised at the venom in his own voice.

"Okay, okay. Whatever... whatever you think is best."

Jaime nodded. "Switching control now."

-You need to put the armour on. My ability to control your body directly was severed along with Reach control.-

"I need to armour up. Don't freak out." Without waiting for a response, Jaime summoned the armour and, for the second time in his life, willingly handed over control.

"Impulse," the Scarab said.

Bart stared at him as he took another slow step back. To most people, he probably looked fairly easygoing. Most people couldn't hear the sudden jump in heart rate or smell the fear, but the Scarab's systems could. Still, he managed a half-smile, and most people probably wouldn't notice the stress in his voice either. "Uh, hi."

The Scarab made to step towards him, then paused at Bart's reaction. It sat on the ground instead. "Thank you."

"... huh?"

"That is what I wanted to say. Thank you." It smiled wanly with Jaime's mask. "You saved us from the Reach yet again."

"Not just me," he mumbled.

"The cooperation of others has no effect on your contribution. You put your life at severe risk, again. If you had not come back, Jaime would almost certainly be dead, and this Scarab would be a Reach slave. That was their plan, the first time you rescued us; to kill Jaime and reboot me. Furthermore, your information on our future gave us the opportunity to fight destiny. And when we failed, you saved us again."

Bart stared at him a second, then sat down on the grass himself – still out of the Scarab's reach. "If I hadn't told you about the future, maybe Jaime wouldn't have trusted Green Beetle and none of this would have happened."

"Those poor decisions were the result of a failure to establish a timely rapport, and the fault of Jaime and this Scarab. While that exact course of action is very unlikely to come to pass, it is likely that our ignorance would have resulted in something worse – your own reports confirm that without you, we would both have been lost. This Scarab... has had time to review your actions in light of more recently acquired information. While your high metabolism may have helped you be partially resistant to the Reach's altered food, and my understanding of the conditions you were raised in is somewhat limited, the available information does suggest that it must have been... extremely difficult to go ahead with your decided course of action. Both before and after you arrived."

"There wasn't really any choice," Bart shrugged.

"It is a rare situation in which only one strategy is available. Most people of your time chose differently, as evidenced by the lack of time travellers, although again my knowledge of the availability of the technology is limited. But even given the situation..." it looked Bart in the eye. "Were I in your position, my primary strategy would be to attempt to kill my enslaver. You have had ample opportunity to try that, and even a moderate chance of success. Gaining my enslaver's cooperation and fighting the future together is not a strategy that I would have considered for very long. Jaime works similarly to you. But I have looked, and it is not a ubiquitous human trait. It is rare. And you did it."

"That's the lesson we're going with here? The strongest and rarest weapon is friendship?"

"I do not know. I am... only just learning to process such strategies. My programming makes me a very effective soldier, and for most of my partnership with Jaime, I have been operating under the assumption that I am the strategist. But... it has begun to occur to me that strategies that make an effective Reach infiltrator may not make an effective agent of another organisation. Certainly not an effective agent of humanity. I should thank you for that insight, too."

"You're, uh, welcome, I guess?"

The Scarab gave a single sharp nod. "I am returning control now."

Jaime put the armour away and shuddered, rubbing his arms. "Ugh. I am never gonna get over being on-mode."

"So," Bart said weakly, "that's the Scarab, huh?"

"You should've heard him before. The Reach mellowed him out a lot." He smiled, and reached across the distance between them. "Thanks. For crashing my mode."

Bart reached out to take his hand, returning the smile. "Any time, Blue. Any time."