Yet another "A Better World" story.

Gotham City is a city of light now. A faintly yellow sodium glare floods the boulevards and the by-ways alike; floodlights strike regularly through the skies. If there were any common criminals left in the city, they would be hard-pressed to find suitable locations to stage their crimes. The only person left to fear in Gotham no longer requires shadows to operate.

But those who know the city most intimately can still find a few dank corners in overgrown alleys which the pitiless illumination doesn’t quite reach. An alley like the one near the docks that Batman is pacing through carefully, listening hard as he steps over discarded cans, a thatch of stickerburr plants, the rusted-out skeleton of a bed. He always has to treat this as though it might be a trap.

He wonders if any of the others know. J’onn probably does. He hasn’t said anything, but J’onn rarely speaks at all these days, wrapped in his alienness like a cloak. Nothing short of open threat to the League or to the Earth rouses him, and Batman knows he wouldn’t condescend to call this a threat. If only he could be as sure.

Only the faintest sense of displaced air announces Dick’s arrival. When Batman turns around, he’s barely visible, just the deep blue stripe on his chest that is unquestionably no longer a bat shining through the gloom. His face is expressionless and wary. Tonight, there’s a new long, thin cut on his left cheek that doesn’t look as if it’s been properly tended to. The reports of resistance activity along the docks earlier in the evening were true, then.

He and Dick have had these silent confrontations over gulfs of estrangement so many times over the years. This shouldn’t be any different. It shouldn’t be. But it is, because when Dick punches him, clean and straight and hard to the solar plexus, Batman catches his arm through the pain, pulls and twists until Dick is staring up at him from only inches away. Batman drags his thumb over the cut, savoring the way Dick’s eyes go half-shut so as not to show him pain. He does it again, harder, boiling with fury at whichever of his agents was responsible. Dick’s full lips part just enough this time, and Bruce covers his mouth with his own.

Dick is angry and unforgiving against him, and when Bruce breaks the kiss he gasps for air as if he’s been underwater for days. Bruce thinks of the hundred times he’s tracked a criminal in the dark by his panicked breathing alone. Dick’s seems so much louder, even under the low sirens that are beginning to pulse in the middle distance; it’s unbearably intimate, and dangerous. He pushes Dick’s head against the kevlar of his shoulder, smothering the noise, willing the night to cover them as it once did.

Dick quiets for a second, then drives his hips up against him, hard. They stumble a step backwards until Bruce has his back against the alley fence. Bruce doesn’t let go; he just braces himself to take Dick’s thrusts. He stares up at the floodlights crisscrossing the sky, lost in wonder at the thought that there could be one of them who still cares. Who still has enough ideals to be hurt by what Bruce and the League have done. Feeling the strong young body battering into him, he thinks he could take Dick. The way Superman took Lois. Take Dick home with him, and there would be no one to tell him no, because the Lords can do whatever they please. Take him and keep him, hold him still until he finally accepts it-and Bruce is growling into Dick’s throat, closing his teeth on his ear.

Dick isn’t a boy anymore. He’s dangerous, one of the few holdouts of the old hero community that matters, but Bruce knows that he could break him, even if no one else could. Dick still loves him, or he wouldn’t keep coming there. That’s a weakness, a way for Bruce to seize hold and claim him forever. Dick still loves him, and why had it taken all this for Bruce to finally understand how much?

But Dick shouldn’t, and so Bruce is cruel with him now, marking his throat with bites and his back with bruises. Dick shouldn’t be there at all, risking injury, capture, death. Dick shouldn’t be shuddering against him and raking his fingers through Bruce’s hair and murmuring incoherent things as Bruce spins them around, lifts him, and braces him against the fence. They’re just little gasps of hurt and devotion in the night, but they’re too much, and Bruce clamps a hand over his mouth as he pulls at his clothing.

He had thought that restraint would make Dick go still and tame under his touch, but they’re not in a world where Dick’s docility is even possible. Dick makes him pay for it, driving his heels into the backs of Bruce’s legs even as he lets Bruce push in.

Dick is so real around him, so different from icy beautiful relentless Diana, who might as well still be stone these days. Bruce had thought he’d finally learned, after all these years, to prune all human feeling away. Clark had shown him how. He’d let it die in him over and over again as each Gotham criminal was brought into Arkham for the last time with dull eyes and slack jaw. But there’s nothing controlled about the way he surges into Dick, nothing rational about the way he relishes the feeling as Dick sucks his fingers into his mouth and chews on them hard.

“Don’t make me—” he says, between ragged breaths, hardly aware he’s doing it. “Don’t make—”

Don’t make me kill you. Don’t make me hand you over to Superman. Don’t make me sweep you away and close you up forever in the dungeon my life has become. Don’t make me come and admit that I can’t do any of it to you, not now, maybe not ever. That’s what he thinks, if it can be called thinking, in the full flush of Dick’s warmth.

He has to make them even. He manages to get his other hand to Dick’s cock. Dick writhes at the first touch, pale handsome face opening up for him, just enough. Bruce seizes on the chance. He doesn’t let go until Dick spurts, arching and biting into his hand to keep from screaming. A second later Bruce loses himself in a rush of red and black.

When he recovers he’s on his knees on the cold concrete of the alley, and he can’t even remember falling.

Dick’s domino lies where it fell, by Bruce’s hand. Dick himself is gone. Batman touches the stiff fabric. He’ll be back. Batman is sure of it.

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