Sea and Sky:
Old, very old fic. But it wasn't getting any better or any more done, so. Circa the "Tower of Babel" JLA storyline, natch.
The phone shrilled against his still-bruised eardrums and he picked it up before the first tone had finished sounding. "H'lo?"
"Wally, what the *hell*--"
"Hang on, Dick. Better if I tell you--
"--in person," Wally shouted through the door of Dick's apartment. He heard Dick slam down the phone and the door opened in front of him. His friend stood there, looking extremely unhappy. "Before you start yelling, you should know *I* didn't vote him out. Though man, Dick, if you'd *seen* it--"
Dick made a curt gesture motioning him in and Wally stepped inside. "Start at the beginning."
Wally West, the Flash, the fastest man alive, sighed and shuffled his feet. "I thought you'd have heard already."
"I didn't hear it from Bruce. Oracle told me he was out of the League. What *happened,* Wally?" Dick's eyes were burning with anger, intense.
Wally took a deep breath. "Ra's al-Ghul happened. He took us down, one by one. He knew exactly where to hit us, and how. And the reason he knew how to do that, Dick, is because he sent his daughter to steal Batman's very detailed plans on how to destroy the JLA."
Dick stared at him. Wally glanced around, abruptly realizing-- "Hey, uh, isn't Garth--"
"He was called to Poseidonis. One guess why. So no, he won't be here to help 'calm me down,' if that's what you're hoping for." Dick tossed him a brief, bitter smile. "So--what? The JLA is blaming Bruce for Talia's--"
"Maybe you didn't hear me, Dick." Wally spoke as calmly and evenly as he could. "Those plans of his weren't just to disable us in case we went rogue. They were designed to *kill.* Plastic Man was shattered into a million pieces! Fear gas to make Aquaman afraid of water, nanites to set J'onn's *skin* on fire--" he shuddered. "I still ache all over from the super-speed convulsions. You don't want to know what he did to Superman."
"But you didn't vote against him."
Wally shook his head. "Maybe I've known you too long. I know *why* he did it. I see why he thought it was necessary to make plans like that. But Jesus, Dick, it was nasty. We felt--betrayed."
Dick's face twisted. "Some of you more than others, it seems."
Wally shrugged and then winced as his overstrained muscles protested. "People were angry. Hell, I'm angry! And it scares the hell out of me that he dreams up ways to kill me--all of us--in his spare time. I guess I'd still rather have him on our side, but only because I've known him tangentially for years through you and I'm reasonably sure he wouldn't use those plans unless he had to. But Dick..." he spread his hands helplessly, "if I didn't, if I only knew Batman through the JLA...I wouldn't have been sure at all."
"The king is in a fury," the guard at the doors confided, "I'd put off your audience, if you could."
"Thank you for the forewarning," Garth replied, and entered the throne room despite it. Considering both his position and the summons, there really was no way to avoid the inevitable.
Inside, Arthur--King Orin II of Atlantis--was pacing in front of the dais, rage emanating off him in waves. If Arthur had his own sorcerous powers, Garth thought with alarm, the water around him would literally be boiling. "What's happened?"
Arthur whirled, glaring. "I always *knew* he couldn't be trusted. Skulking about. Guarding his secrets so carefully while prying into everyone else's. It only nearly took all our deaths to prove it!"
"Batman," the king snarled. "One of his villains stole his carefully prepared plans on how to kill us all. --Oh, yes," he growled to Garth's shocked expression, "very clearly outlined tactics to use against the JLA. *Killing* tactics. 'As a precaution,' he said. As if all his vaunted genius couldn't devise incapacitating methods on the spot if they were needed. As if he should have kept such files in the first place!"
Garth took an internal deep breath, thinking through what Arthur had said. He saw the dark pits under the king's eyes and the cracked and burnt-looking texture of his skin, and wondered if the other JLA members had taken similar injury. "Is everyone all right?"
"*Alive.* Barely. At least one good thing came out of this...." Arthur looked satisfied. "He's out. Gone. He trusts us so little, we owe him no trust in return. The JLA is better off without him."
Garth had his doubts, but kept the thought to himself. Batman could deal with the consequences of a situation of his own making. Garth's job now was to keep Arthur's wrath from spilling over onto unsuspecting targets. "Is there anything I can do? Perhaps Atlan knows a healing spell...."
Arthur waved off the suggestion. "I'll mend. But actually..." his eyes narrowed. "There's the matter of the Wayne Enterprises contracts."
"What?! Arthur, you--" Garth started in shock, then stopped himself. Best not to say 'can't' to the king. "Those contracts represent the precise kind of accords we've been striving for all these years. They'll open up trade, ensure environmental protection treaties, it's an enormous opportunity--"
"They're very good," the king said, steely-eyed, "but if the man behind them can't be trusted, they're not worth the ink they're signed with."
Desperately, Garth reached for an argument that might forestall an official decree. "They're backed by more than *his* word. I've met with Lucius Fox, he's entirely committed to the project. So are the rest of the executives, and the shareholders. If we back out now, how many years will it take to re-establish those kinds of Atlantean-surface treaties?"
"We were betrayed," Arthur said, softly and with finality. "I will not leave my kingdom's future in his hands."
"We have no future without a compact with the surface," Garth replied evenly, "you know that to be true."
Arthur smiled knowingly, a shark's grin. "Wayne isn't the only one offering trade and technology. And how much more weight would those contracts have, with the power of an American president behind them?"
Garth stared at his king in horror. Dick had expressed his disgust at length over how easily Alexander Luthor had won the U.S. presidential elections, and his complete victory over both the people and the media. To most American citizens, he seemed like a godsend: one of the wealthiest men on Earth, a noted philanthropist, charismatic and persuasive. Only a few knew what kind of cold megalomania had fueled his rise, and they could never prove it. "Luthor. You *know* you can't trust him!"
"Of course not." Arthur spoke as if to a child. "But I know that from the outset. What's the landsman saying? 'Better the devil you know'. Better to recognize our enemy from the beginning than to be caught unaware."
The only saving grace, Garth thought, was that it might take months to unravel the legalities in the Wayne contracts, and by that time Arthur's fury might be somewhat less. There was no more point in arguing with him now. Garth bowed his head, held his tongue, and waited for the king's word.
"See to it, Ambassador." No more than that, to signal the possible ruin of all their dreams.
And on a much smaller scale, the consequences would reverberate throughout their particular community for a long time to come. Starting with-- "If you'll excuse me, then, I have work to do. And a call to make."
Arthur smiled tiredly, knowingly. "Give Richard my regards."
That surprised him, almost as much as anything else today. "I-- I will."
Wally had left, pleading exhaustion, and the look in his friend's eyes told Dick that wasn't at all feigned. He'd looked...wounded, physically as well as emotionally.
"Dick, you there?"
Barbara's voice through his monitor caught him off guard. "Here, Babs."
Her tone was clipped. "Got a routed call for you, from Atlantis."
Dick came over and peered at her image. "Thanks. Barbara, you okay?"
She gave him a weary smile. "It's been a day. Here, let me patch you through."
Her image dissolved and was replaced by Garth, looking concerned. "Dick?"
"I'm here. How's--"
"Have you heard," Garth interrupted. "About Bruce."
Dick sighed. "Yeah. Wally gave me the whole story. God, what a mess."
Garth nodded. "Arthur is--infuriated."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he couldn't *wait* to cast his vote," Dick said with contempt, and then had another thought. "He's not gonna take it out on you, is he? Because of me?"
Garth gave him a startled glance. "No, I don't-- Dick, he knows you had nothing to do with this. He's...already made that clear. He sent his regards, in fact."
Dick wasn't as certain, but held his tongue. "Okay. You gonna stick around there, try to smooth things over?"
"I don't think that's possible. He's calling for--" Garth seemed as tired and frustrated as Dick had ever seen him. "The Wayne Enterprises contracts, Dick, he wants them dissolved."
"Yes," Garth agreed bitterly, "and to make matters worse, he wants to give them to *Luthor.*"
"That's *suicide.* We can't let that happen." Dick mentally ran through the options. "Okay. Do what you can from your end. I'll tell Lucius to have the lawyers stonewall. We can..." he paused, considering. "Would it help if *I* talked to him?"
Garth hesitated. "That's--a kind offer. But he's not in a mood to listen."
"I'm in the mood to make him," Dick muttered, and then sighed. "No, that wouldn't help. All right. Do--do what you can."
"Dick..." Garth looked as if he didn't want to ask the next question, and felt compelled nonetheless. "Have you spoken with him?"
No need to ask who Garth was referring to. "No. I'm guessing he's not taking calls. That's fine, 'cause I don't know what I'd say. You know what? I'm not even surprised that this happened."
"You understand why," Garth said softly.
Dick shrugged. "Yeah. I know why. I can't...help but know why." He glanced back at the screen. "Do you..."
Garth shook his head slowly. "I don't understand the lack of trust. I'll never be able to comprehend that, Dick. I recognize the logic involved, the possible need for precautions, but I can't imagine the drive to plot them out. The motivation to keep those kinds of secrets. I... I'm sorry."
"No, don't. Maybe it's a Bat-thing. I know why--I won't say that I approve--but I understand it. I think they're being reactionary, and it's going to cost them." He banged his fist down on the desk. "He only *ever* acts out of concern for the greater good. If they'd needed those plans, everyone would be thanking him!"
"They're in pain," Garth said simply, "and directly or not, he's the one who caused it."
"I get it," Dick snapped, and immediately regretted it. "Okay, you know what? That's *their* problem, and his. I'm not going to get in the middle of it."
"Are going to be huge. I know." So much of what the superhero community could accomplish depended on trust in each other, and Batman had just thrown an enormous grenade of doubt into the mix. "I'm heading up to New York. I'm sure the Titans are going to have...questions."
Garth nodded. "I'll meet you there when I can."
He was already thinking about all the things the Titans might have to say, the questions and the accusations. They'd be expecting him to condemn Batman and support the League's decision. They'd want him to make a definitive statement about how he wasn't Batman, how he'd never contemplate such a thing, how he trusted them in complete refutation of the way that Batman, obviously, didn't trust the JLA.
He wasn't Batman, true. He trusted them, true. It was also true that he didn't have any files, electronic or otherwise.
He *did* know how to take each and every one of them down, if necessary. That kind of thinking was ingrained in him, it'd been part of his training. "Expect the unexpected" applied equally--maybe especially--to your allies in a world full of mind control, possession, instantaneous insanity, post-hypnotic triggers, and a litany of other causative factors that might cause a teammate to turn on you, suddenly and without warning. Dick knew that better than anyone, considering Raven. And Joey.
And-- Garth was still waiting on the line. "...sorry. Just thinking that I have no idea what I'm going to say to them. "
"You're not responsible for his actions, Dick. No one expects you to be. You don't have to answer for his--choices." Garth's words were careful, and Dick knew he was picking them deliberately. Part of him hated being handled. The other part knew that if Garth had said "crimes" or "sins," his head might have come off. It wasn't that clear-cut, dammit, and he already knew he'd be the only one holding to that point of view in the weeks to come. To everyone else, Batman was the obvious villain here. But that assessment missed the entire point.
Betrayal hurt everyone involved. Particularly when it came from *both* sides. And he had to keep reminding himself that Garth was no less caught in between competing loyalties than he was. "Listen, I-- whatever's going on with Batman and Arthur and the rest of the League, I don't want that to bleed over on *us,* okay?"
"Of course not," Garth replied, sounding like he meant it, but obviously distracted by the tightrope he was being required to walk. "We'll catch up at the Tower, all right?"
"Sure," Dick said softly, hating the distance, hating the way that events neither of them had any control over now controlled them both. Hating Bruce, maybe just a little, for his part in it, and hating the JLA for theirs.
Hating that now he had to go put on his reassuring leader face and tell his team that they could trust him, knowing that someday he might very well have to prove them wrong.
Part of him couldn't help but feel that something like this would have happened eventually.
Dick would, *could* never understand the world Garth came from: what it meant to be Atlantean, to be part of the oceans, to feel the tides in your blood. These weren't just things Garth knew, they were who he *was.*
Garth would, *could* never understand the world Dick came from: raised and molded under the rule of the Batman, ingrained with all the contradictory doctrines that comprised Bruce's world. These weren't just things Dick knew, they were who he *was.*
They were both trapped by their respective histories. Dick could no sooner renounce Bruce than he could renounce Arthur, no matter how tempting the idea. He was obligated to obey Arthur's commands, hating every word of them. He needed to support Dick's own sense of loyalty to Bruce, and he did so gladly, but without ever really being able to accept everything that Bruce was or the damage he'd inflicted on those who loved him.
Dick would say that when the League accepted Batman as their tactician, they should have known that he would, in fact, prepare for all possibilities. That it wasn't a lack of trust at all, but a healthy respect for their various capabilities that drove Batman to arrange defenses against them.
Very rational, very logical, and so very *cold.*
Garth wasn't quite naïve enough to believe that Dick could understand that way of thinking without on some level agreeing with it. Nightwing had his own secrets. But the difference between Bruce and Dick was as simple as the fact that Dick would be able to cope with such situations if they arose. Bruce actively *anticipated* them. He didn't think in terms of "if," but "when." *When* he would be forced to attack one or all for the greater good.*When* his teammates turned against him.
Now they had done so as a result of his own actions, but this situation went beyond plans and perceived betrayals. Bruce had forced them all to doubt themselves and their loyalties, and that damage was going to linger far past their individual hurts.
Ra's al-Ghul's weapon had been aptly named. In the wake of his Babel, none of them could hear each other without imagining all the things that weren't being said.
Reference: Superman 165, in which Arthur makes note of a deal with Luthor. I like it when canon aids and abets my attempts to warp it.
Well, that's a downer ending. The resolution, since I'm never going to get to it as fic: Arthur steams for about a month before the events of JLA 50 occur and Bruce reveals his identity to the rest of the JLA. Arthur accepts this in lieu of the apology he's never going to get from Bruce and calls off the dissolution of the Wayne Enterprises contracts. Shortly after that, Bruce appoints Dick as the official heir to WE and makes him responsible for the Atlantean contracts; Arthur may (will likely) quarrel with Bruce again in the future, but he doesn't have anything in particular against Dick and more-or-less trusts him to do right by Atlantis--for Garth's sake, if nothing else.