Title: Beginnings - posted October 14, 2005
Series:  Comrades in Arms
Author: Lacey McBain
Rating: PG.  Pre-slash.  Bruce/Wally.
Summary: "Do you remember when we first met?"
Notes:  Fanfic100 challenge.


Batman surveys the dark sky through the window of the Watchtower. He doesn’t really mind monitor duty. It’s peaceful for the most part, and gives him time to run computer diagnostics and beta-test new technology. He’s in the middle of recalculating the station’s orbit for maximum efficiency when there’s a blur of red and a bluster of wind.

“Hey, Bats. Whatcha workin’ on?”

“Adjustments to station orbit.”

Batman continues his work, conscious of the restless eyes that are following his movements. He isn’t sure why Wally’s even here tonight, but no doubt he’ll be gone in a few moments. The speedster doesn’t fare well with boredom. It’s an almost certain guarantee that he’ll be off to some other part of the station within seconds.

“You need any help?” Wally asks cheerfully.


Flash leans on the railing beside the control panel. He’s shuffling his feet, but there’s no sign that he’s going anywhere. Batman looks up from his calculations, expecting to feel the rush of wind any second. Wally just keeps looking at him with alert green eyes that sparkle from behind the red face mask.

“Do you remember when we first met?”


Batman glares at the screen in front of him. He’s made a mistake somewhere. The number blinking at him isn’t even remotely accurate and he’s going to have to run everything again. He wants Wally to go away. Now. He doesn’t need the distraction.

“You know, when we met. I mean, I was just a kid—well, practically—but I’ve always wondered if you remembered.”

Batman restarts the complicated set of calculations from the beginning. Of course he could have the computer do it automatically, but he prefers to do the math himself and use the computer as a double-check. It keeps him sharp, forces him to think everything through. The methodical process is good for him. Calming. Wally’s disrupting his process.

“Don’t you have something to do?” Batman asks.

“Not really.”

Just great. Batman is trapped on a space station with a bored speedster who wants to chat about old times. He spins his chair around to face the Flash, not surprised by the goofy grin that greets him. Some days it seems like nothing can penetrate Wally’s happy-go-lucky nature, his carefree personality.

Batman knows better.

“I have to finish these calculations.”

Wally’s smile crumbles a little, and Bruce remembers that look. It’s been years, but it’s still clear in his mind, that bright grin slipping and the feeling that it’s his fault. Something tightens in his chest, and before he realizes it he’s setting the computer to do the math and Wally’s chattering about coffee, and then before he can protest, Bruce finds himself in the empty cafeteria across a table from Wally and being urged to drink something called Mocha My Day.

He wonders if he’s suffering from seizures of some kind.


“No names,” Bruce says automatically through gritted teeth even though they’re the only people on the station. It’s almost impossible to get the “no names” rule through Wally’s head. He’s been trying for years. Wally’s just a little too free-wheeling with his secret identity for Bruce’s tastes. Flash doesn’t seem to fully understand the need for the secret part of it.

“There’s nobody here, Bats! It’s just you and me. Loosen the cowl. Relax.”

Wally tugs off the facemask and shakes out his hair. Bruce always forgets how red Wally’s hair is until it’s right there in front of him. Somewhere between orange and auburn, it always reminds Bruce of autumn leaves and fire. It’s a deeper shade of red than it was when he first met Wally, and Bruce doesn’t understand why he knows that, but he does.

He starts to say something about needing to get back to the monitor station, needing to check the computer’s findings, but what comes out is: “It’s darker.”

Wally cocks his head and looks at the windows surrounding the cafeteria. “We’re in space, Bruce. Of course it’s darker.”

“No, your hair,” Bruce explains, although that doesn’t seem to be a wise plan either. Wally’s smiling at him again—a serious, intense smile—as if every word out of Bruce’s mouth is something rare and important, and Bruce thinks maybe there was something in the coffee because he doesn’t like to talk about the past and yet that’s exactly what he’s doing. With Wally. Who was just a kid when Bruce met him—and really isn’t a kid any more if anyone were to take the time to notice.

Bruce notices everything.

“You do remember.”

“Yes,” Bruce says softly. “I remember.”


Bruce knows Barry Allen by reputation only. Gifted police scientist working with electricity and chemical compounds, but Bruce suspects there’s a secret Barry’s keeping. The kind of secret Bruce understands, and he wants to help. Or at least let Barry know he’s not alone. It’s a risk, to be sure, but Bruce is feeling more and more that it’s worth it to establish alliances.

Friendships, Superman calls them, but Bruce knows Clark is a naïve idealist. He’ll come around sooner or later. Bruce is sure of that. He’s just starting out, after all. Still caught up in the hype of a world that loves its boy scout in blue, and Bruce wonders what’ll happen when that changes. The first time someone decides Superman made the wrong decision. The first time someone dies. The first time they realize the extent of the power he has. It’s only a matter of time, Bruce knows, and Clark’s going to come down hard.

But in the meantime, they’re allies. Friends. Whatever that means. It’s all semantics anyway.

Barry Allen seems like he could be an ally too. Keystone City’s been buzzing for years with news of a super-speedster. Someone who can move faster than the eye can see. A streak of red and yellow, fast as a bolt of lightning. Lightning that saves. The Flash. And more recently, there’s been a smaller version running alongside. Kid Flash. The same abilities in someone much younger than Barry.

It’s caught Bruce’s attention, and a lot of other people’s too.

So that’s why he’s here. Standing on Barry’s front doorstep on a late Friday afternoon in autumn. They’d had the polite, superficial portion of the discussion at Barry’s lab. The tour that explained what he’s working on, what kind of research he does. Bruce’s expression of interest in Barry’s research into lightweight protective materials—for Wayne Tech, of course. The possibilities of shared research, consulting fees. They moved through the polite incidentals of a loving wife and a nephew staying with him, how long Barry’s lived in Keystone, what a beautiful city it is. Clean. Safe. Not like Gotham—it’s never said, but Bruce hears it in every syllable. He knows what Gotham’s like. Better than anyone.

It’s still home.

The door opens and Barry’s there. Nothing about the man suggests he’s speedy at anything. There’s something slow and deliberate in everything he does, and Bruce understands the need to build an identity that protects who you are. What you can do. Batman is serious and thoughtful. Meticulous. Driven. Bruce Wayne’s frivolous and rich, more money than brains, and it works for him. As much as he hates it at times, Bruce knows it works for him. It’s a necessary evil. Lucius Fox is the only one who needs to know Bruce actually does know what’s going on at the company—knows, cares, and takes a definite interest in it. As far as the rest of the world’s concerned, Bruce knows as much about running a company as the janitor does. It’s better that way. Being underestimated can be a definite asset.

So it’s no real surprise that Barry’s slow. In his speech, his mannerisms, even his mode of walking. He’s careful and deliberate and Bruce respects that, admires the determination it takes to play a role that goes against everything inside. The fastest man alive has learned to be patient. It says a lot about his character, and Bruce knows they’re going to be friends. Allies. Barry’s probably about his dad’s age, Bruce thinks—or the age his dad would’ve been. He thinks maybe he could learn a lot from Barry.

They’re just settling out on the back porch, Barry handing him a tall glass of iced tea, when there’s a blur and a crash. A bouquet of laughter is tossed into the air with a flurry of fall leaves. Bruce raises an eyebrow at the sudden appearance of what can only be Barry’s nephew—red-haired and freckle-faced, a toothy grin and a leaf still caught in his hair. Bruce isn’t sure if Barry’s decided to trust him, or if the kid’s just careless.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce sees Barry shake his head in resignation. Careless.

“Wally, come here,” Barry says, and the boy seems to realize he’s not alone. Green eyes catch Bruce’s presence, and the smile slips away. Worry, fear, a tiny fragment of shame. Smart enough to know he needs to be more careful. At least that’s something in a ten year old.

The kid walks towards the porch, deliberately putting one foot in front of the other as if he has to concentrate to walk normally. He’s staring at the ground as if he wants it to swallow him whole, and Bruce tries to soften his expression. He’s been thinking like Batman, and he needs to be a little bit more Bruce Wayne. Barry and this kid are both super-powered. Bruce needs to understand them, make sure they’re all on the same page when it comes to saving the world. They might need each other someday.

“Wally, this is Mr. Wayne. He’s visiting from Gotham City. He’s interested in the work I do.” Barry glances sideways at Bruce, taking his measure. He nods slightly, and Bruce knows this is the beginning of something new. Trust. It’s an interesting feeling.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Wayne.”


“You called me Mr. Wayne,” Bruce says absently. Wally’s looking at him strangely, as if he’s not making sense, and Bruce realizes the memory’s been playing out in his head, a private screening of an old film, and Wally has no idea what he’s talking about.


“The first time we met. You were … a kid. It was the first time I’d met Barry too. I knew who he was, what he could do. Or I suspected, anyway. I even knew about you—a little—but I needed to see for myself.”

Wally’s eyes are big and green, and there’s something like stunned amazement on his face. He puts down his cup and looks at Bruce.

“You remember that?”

“You had leaves in your hair.” It’s not a proper response, but it’s the only thing Bruce can think of. Dried brown leaves crumbling in disheveled red hair, and Bruce doesn’t remember thinking that the leaves paled in comparison to that hair, but he’s thinking it now. He just isn’t sure why.

Wally snorts with laughter. “Oh, man, I was ten, Bruce. I got such a lecture from Barry about that—speeding into the yard in front of a perfect stranger. Good thing you turned out to be who you are, but wow … I can’t believe you remember that.”

“You asked if I remembered. I do.” Bruce frowns. This is what Wally wanted. To know if he remembered. He doesn’t understand Wally’s response, and he suddenly feels old. Christ. Wally was ten years old when he met him. Dick was still performing in the circus with his parents back then. His very much alive parents. Bruce had had no idea how much his life was going to change. He’d been … twenty-four. The age Dick is now.

Bruce wonders where the time has gone.

Wally opens his mouth to say something, then closes it again. Bruce waits for whatever’s coming next.

“Yeah, I—I guess that’s just not what I meant. I mean, now that you mention it, I remember, but that’s not what I think of when I think of meeting you for the first time, Bats.” Wally reaches for Bruce’s cup and refills it from the silver carafe. He does it at normal speed, and Bruce watches a curl of steam rise into the air. It looks like a question mark.

“It was later. I was older. I knew who you were, of course. Dick and I were already friends. Titans. But I remember meeting you, and that’s an entirely different story.”


“Can you reach the knot?” Dick asks, turning his head from side to side to get a better look.

Wally’s got a face full of cape that looks silky enough but feels like sandpaper against his skin.

“No, I can’t reach the damn knot, Robin,” he mutters. “I’m chained upside down over a vat of some kind of bubbling crap that smells like creamed peas and I can’t move my hands. At all.” Wally spits out the end of Dick’s cape as it whacks him in the mouth. “And would you keep your cape to yourself, man? That’s really annoying!”

“I can’t help the cape. Just wriggle around and try to get your hands closer to the knot. Can’t you vibrate out of the ropes, or something useful?”

“Can’t you pop something out of that damn utility belt of yours?”

“I can’t reach it.”

“Well, I can’t vibrate on demand. It doesn’t work like that.”

In the angry silence, Wally can hear bubbles forming and breaking on the surface of the green oily liquid beneath them. The chain creaks and drops them another few inches closer to the surface. Wally can feel the heat rising in suffocating waves. It’s making him sweaty and nauseated. He’s starting to envy Dick and his short pants.

“What do you usually do when this happens?” Wally asks hopefully. It seems like Robin’s always telling the Titans about some miraculous escape from a situation just like this one.

Robin mumbles something and Wally can’t hear between the popping bubbles and the swooshing cape. If he could get his hands free, he thinks he’d throw the stupid cape into the sputtering liquid. Best place for it.


“I said, usually Batman comes up with something.”

Dick sounds really pissed off about that fact, and Wally sort of can’t blame him. Barry’s gotten Wally out of more than one sticky situation, and Wally knows he’s not really ready to be on his own just yet—even though he’s sixteen. Dick’s only twelve and Wally still can’t believe the kid’s only that, but he’s smart and fast and being trained by Batman means nobody questions his right to do this. Nobody has to. Dick’s an expert at self-doubt and guilt trips already. Wally knows if they end up dead, Dick’s going to feel really bad about it. Really bad.

Maybe there’s a Bat-help button or something like that on Robin’s belt. Wally doesn’t want to admit it, but they could use it right about now. Could use a break of some kind, but the rope’s not budging and the chain’s still lowering and the tips of Robin’s cape are getting covered in stinking green sludge that doesn’t look like it’s ever going to come out no matter how many times Alfred washes it. Wally’s going to miss Alfred if they die. Alfred always calls him “Master Wally,” which still hasn’t stopped being cool, and he makes cookies and the world’s greatest cocoa. Sometimes he rolls his eyes and says sarcastic things about “Master Bruce,” and Wally and Dick giggle while Alfred pretends they haven’t heard. He treats them like kids and yet he treats them like grown-ups too, and that’s a really hard thing to do all at the same time. Wally wishes he had an Alfred, but he’s happy Dick lets him borrow his.

Alfred never treats him like a sidekick.

Wally knows they’re both sidekicks—a word he hates almost as much as “carrot-top” or “red”—but at least being a sidekick means there’s usually someone to ride to the rescue. If he knows you need rescuing, that is, and Wally rolls that thought over in his mind between trying to avoid Dick’s cape and stretching his fingers to scrabble at the ever-tightening knot. Would it be better or worse for them if Batman found them in time? It’s a serious question.

Now it makes sense why the guy in the green suit didn’t even bother to stick around to watch them slowly descend into the green goop. No doubt he’s gone off to taunt Batman with their imminent demise. Wally kind of wishes the chain would move a little faster—he thinks he’d rather face the boiling liquid than Batman. Almost.

“Does he know where we are?” Wally doesn’t need to explain who “he” means. It’s like Batman and God both rate reverent whispers and blind faith. Actually, given a choice, Wally knows he believes in Batman more than God. He’s seen what Batman can do. Heard the stories. And even though Dick complains about Bruce making him do his homework and training hard and learning Latin, Wally knows the kid secretly loves it. All of it. And Bruce too. Worships the guy, and Wally’s right there with him. There doesn’t seem to be anything Batman can’t do.

He’s a hero.

Dick swears and Wally’s pretty sure that’s not allowed at home, but if the kid’s struggling that much, there’s a good chance either Batman has no idea where they are or Dick’s just as afraid of being rescued as he is. Wally thinks this is what they mean by being between a rock and a hard place. Or a Bat and a hot place. He laughs and Dick growls and swears again. Batman’s scary enough most of the time, but when he’s also kind of your dad … whoa. Wally feels the sweat dripping off his forehead. His hands are slick with sweat and the ropes just won’t give.

“Didn’t you leave him a note or something?”

“Yeah. It says we’re at the library.”

“Well, that’s stupid! Why’d you go and say that?”

“Because the point of this was to do something on our own, remember? What was I supposed to do? Dear Batman, Sneaking out to fight crime on my own. If not back by eleven, come rescue me. P.S. It was Kid Flash’s idea.

“Oh, come on. I was perfectly okay with going to a movie; you’re the one who had to spot the guy in the weird green suit coming in here.”

“It was The Riddler! I couldn’t just let him go.” Dick’s twisting on his chain and trying to get some purchase on it, but his hands and feet are bound and the chain’s still inching closer to the vat.

“Maybe we should try Plan H.”

Dick’s got his chain rocking, but all he’s succeeded in doing is getting them both swinging, Dick’s sharp elbows jabbing Wally every time he comes in contact with him.

“I hate Plan H.”

“Me too, but we’re getting closer and closer to being sidekick croutons.”

“I’m going to be grounded for the rest of my life,” Dick mutters, but Wally hears when he takes a deep breath, matches it, and then they’re both yelling “Help!” as loud as they can.

It’s humiliating.

There’s a moment between the pop of the final “p” and the gasping “h” of the next cry, a millisecond when they’re both drawing new breath and suddenly the air is full of the sound of breaking glass. They twist their heads to look up, up and out of the darkness a silhouette of wings floats down from above and the moon is bright and full through the shattered skylight. Wally wonders why there always seems to be a full moon in Gotham. It’s unnatural and just plain weird. But that’s Gotham.

Batman lands on the catwalk above them, vaults down to the landing that’s even with their upside-down faces, and stands there. Stone-faced and disapproving. Wally gulps in the hot air and knows his face is scarlet and it’s not just from the heat. They’re in so much trouble.

The chain hasn’t stopped moving. The liquid devours another inch of Dick’s cape, and Wally’s grateful The Riddler hung them so their heads were parallel otherwise Wally would’ve already been kissing the pea-green liquid. He’s at least a foot taller than Dick, and there’s not a growth spurt in sight. Wally knows Dick’s been praying for one. The kid’s not just short, he’s super-short. Like it’s one of his powers or something. If he had powers. Suddenly Wally feels really small inside because he’s sixteen years old and supposed to know better, and he’s brought a twelve-year old with no real powers into a mess like this.

Well, shit.

“Hey, Batman,” Wally says awkwardly, noticing that their rescuer hasn’t said anything at all, and actually hasn’t done anything to rescue them. The steam’s still rising off the vat. Wally thinks it smells worse than the pea-soup his Aunt Iris makes every time it snows.

“Kid Flash.” A deliberate, unhappy silence. “Robin.”

“Could you just get us down from here?” Robin says bitterly. The kid’s still fidgeting as if it makes any difference at all now, and Wally wants to tell him to just stop. Give it up. Admit defeat. Sometimes it’s better that way.

“I wasn’t aware the Gotham Public Library had relocated to the warehouse district.”

Wally wants to kick Dick or slap him or otherwise tell him to just shut the hell up before he says something stupid. Now’s not the time for the patented-Robin comeback. Especially not to Batman when they’re still drifting ever closer to the rank-smelling putrid green goo.

“I wasn’t aware you had a sense of humour,” Dicks replies, and Wally closes his eyes.

“I don’t,” Batman says.

They are so dead. Quite possibly literally. Batman’s really mad and that’s nothing like Barry when he’s mad. Barry will sit him down and lecture him—slowly—for what feels like hours. Yeah, it’s a kind of torture and Barry knows it, but then Aunt Iris will slip Wally some cookies and Barry will start working on the model they’ve been building, and everything will go back to being normal. Wally doesn’t even know where normal registers with Batman and Robin.

“Um, look,” Wally says, summoning up every ounce of courage he has. “I don’t want to get in the middle of a family thing—”

“Then don’t.” The answer’s in stereo: two voices both dark and determined, and Wally sighs and ignores them.

“—but I really don’t want to explain why I need another new uniform to Aunt—”

“No names!” Batman’s voice is sharp and it has the desired effect of silencing Wally instantly. He can never remember that name thing. The Bat-family’s obsessive about it.

The chain creaks and drops them another few inches.

“Batman,” Wally says, wondering if it’s possible to reason with a guy who dresses up a like a bat for a living. “This soup’s getting closer every second!”

For a second, Wally thinks he sees Batman frown, but he’s still upside-down and it takes him a moment to realize it’s a smile. Batman’s smiling at him like he said something right. Wally doesn’t have a clue, but he smiles back, hopeful.

“You’re right. Now what are you going to do about it?”

Wally wishes he could see Dick’s face, wants to know if the kid’s biting his lip and trying to be stoic when he could just apologize to Bruce and get them the hell out of this mess. Wally really isn’t in the mood for an object lesson and Dick’s not cooperating at all. It’s like he’s resigned himself to death by goop.

“Come on, Kid Flash. Use your senses. Your uncle’s a chemist. What do you smell?”

Wally breathes deep and chokes on the scent. He can’t detect anything strange. Barry’s the chemist, not Wally, and unless it’s chlorine or something really obvious, he’s not going to know what it is. All he can think of is his aunt’ pea-soup and how the whole place smells like cooked mushed peas for days after she’s done making a batch. He loves his aunt, but God, he hates pea-soup.

“Pea-soup,” he blurts out.


“What?” Dick says. He’s craning his neck to see the bubbling liquid, and Wally does the same. They’re close enough now that some of the liquid splatters up. It’s hot, but not unbearable, and Wally flicks out his tongue and tastes it. Pea-soup. Crap.

“It’s pea-soup,” Wally exclaims. “What the hell kind of villains do you guys have here anyway? Who tries to kill you with soup?”

“The Riddler,” Batman explains. He still hasn’t made any move towards stopping the downward movement of the chains they’re suspended from.

“Okay, enough of this,” Wally says. “It’s soup, and in spite of the bubbles, it’s really not that hot.” Now that Wally isn’t scared out of his mind, he’s paying attention to the details, and he can see what Batman probably saw the moment he dropped in. They’re in danger of drowning in a winter lunch-time staple, but that’s about it, and Wally’s not going to have his tombstone say “Bested by Soup.”

“Robin, get your chain swinging.”

“Why?” Dick sounds suspicious and uncooperative, and Wally doesn’t feel like doing this with a Batman audience either, but he knows they don’t have much choice.

“Just do it,” and Dick does because sometimes Wally can sound like he’s four years older than Dick and he actually knows what he’s doing. Not very often, but occasionally.

Dick’s grunting and straining like he’s got some kind of internal blockage, and every two or three seconds he bumps into Wally and throws off the rhythm of what he’s doing. Wally tries to stay as still as he can, and Dick eventually gets his swing working, though his cape’s pretty much covered in the thick green soup and the drag is slowing him down. Wally’s inches away from getting a mouthful of the stuff, and he can already feel the warm liquid oozing onto his head-covering. He tightens his abdomen and does what he can to keep his head out of the soup while Dick’s swinging back and forth like a well-trained, but unhappy monkey.

“Now what, genius?” Robin asks, and it takes a couple of tries for Wally to hear what he’s saying. Every time he lifts his head the goop runs down over his ears, and the same fabric that lets his skin breathe when he’s traveling super-speed lets hot, pea-soup drip into his ears. It’s disgusting.

“The edge is rimmed with metal and it’s sharp where the ladder is. See where Riddler caught his suit on it?” There’s a tiny piece of green fabric stuck to the rim. Wally noticed it before, but he didn’t think it was important. He knows better now. Everything’s important.

“Got it,” Robin says, and he doesn’t need any more instruction than that before he’s bringing the rope that binds his hands across the metal edge. It takes a number of passes, but Wally can see the ropes breaking apart. Well, he can sort of see. He’s got soup dripping into his eyes now and his stomach muscles are aching from being clenched so tight; he can’t hold himself out of the soup for much longer, and Dick knows it.

“Hang on, Flash.” The voice seems like it’s far away, but it’s familiar and Wally doesn’t worry. He trusts Dick, and he’s pretty sure Batman’s lessons don’t require death. Humiliation maybe, but not death. “Just a few … more … seconds.”

“Okay,” Wally murmurs and there’s pea-soup in his mouth. He spits it out, and then it really doesn’t matter because he’s falling into it and there’s pea-soup everywhere. Wally wonders if he’ll ever feel clean again. A hand’s got hold of his shoulder, and there’s another hand on his neck, and there’s a hand clasping the ropes around his wrists and Wally thinks there are too many hands to be just Robin, but suddenly he’s being lifted. He’s tasting air and he doesn’t care that the math doesn’t work. He can breathe again.

“Wally?” Dick’s voice is a little bit anxious, and Wally feels Dick’s small hands wiping at his face. “Jeez, I’m sorry. You were so close to going under and I cut the rope around your feet first thinking somebody might actually help, but the chains were counter-balanced and as soon as I cut myself totally free, whoosh, you were falling.”

“It’s okay,” Wally says again, and pats at the vaguely Robin-shaped shadow hovering beside him. The kid’s worrying too much, and Wally really wants him to stop that. If he doesn’t, he’s going to have an ulcer before he’s sixteen. “And hey, you’re strong for a little guy. You lifted me up like nothing.”

Dick coughs, and Wally opens his eyes and realizes there’s an even larger Bat-shaped shadow looming over both of them. Right. Batman’s wiping green sludge off his gauntlet. He really doesn’t look happy.

“Thanks, Batman,” Wally says, and the shadow nods.

“You figured it out yourselves.” Maybe it’s the pea-soup in his ears, but Wally thinks Batman sounds slightly amused. It must be the pea-soup. “Eventually.”

There’s an almost silent fluttering, and Wally realizes they’re alone. Dick’s still wiping soup off him and muttering under his breath about “no help” and “stupid lessons,” but Wally doesn’t really care. When Alfred shows up ten minutes later with blankets and a limousine whose back-seat is covered in plastic sheeting, Wally doesn’t even blink. Just climbs in beside Dick and accepts the ride back to Wayne manor as if this happens every day.


Wally reaches across the table, but Bruce covers up his mug and shakes his head. He’s not smiling.

“You’ve got to remember that night,” Wally says. Bruce nods, but he looks unhappy, really unhappy, and not the kind of unhappy he was when Dick and Wally almost got themselves drowned in soup because they weren’t paying attention. Wally’s hand is still hovering in the air above Bruce’s mug, and he lets it drop onto Bruce’s hand. Sure, they’re both wearing gloves, but it catches Bruce’s attention and Wally can see the blue eyes behind the mask. They’re full of darkness.


“I remember.”

“That’s not it. You’re not telling me something.” Wally knows that’s a serious understatement. Bruce rarely tells any of them anything. His whole life is on a need-to-know basis and there aren’t very many who need to know. Even when they really do. Wally wonders if he’s ever going to get a chance to see what lies behind those blue, blue eyes. He’s been trying to get past the mask for ages. There are moments when Bruce lets him in—just a little—but then he seems to realize what he’s done and the walls snap back into place.

“Why is that the meeting you remember?” There’s frustration in the voice. Carefully-guarded frustration, but Bruce isn’t the only one who pays attention, and Wally’s been listening to that voice for a very long time. He wishes he could make Bruce understand he can drop the cowl sometimes. He doesn’t need the mask. Wally really wants him to take it off, and not just the one that hides his face.

“Because you made a difference.”

Bruce’s jaw is stiff as stone.

“You made a difference, Bruce. You didn’t just swoop in and save us. You taught us what we needed to get out of the situation. Ourselves.”

“I could’ve been more help,” Bruce says grudglingly.

“You helped.” Wally doesn’t know how to explain it. “And the next time I was tied up, hanging upside-down over a vat of nastiness, I knew how to get myself the hell out of there without landing in the crap. Which was good because it was acid, not soup.”

“Still …”

“You taught us to look after ourselves and each other. And we knew you were there, that you wouldn’t let us get hurt. Jeez, Bruce, I’m not stupid. I know who lifted me out of that vat, and it wasn’t Dick.”

Wally’s still got his hand resting on top of Bruce’s and he suddenly wishes they weren’t wearing gloves. He wants to know what Bruce’s skin feels like beneath that gauntlet, wants to touch his skin and trace the words “thank you” with the tip of his finger. He’s been wanting to do that for years.

“You don’t remember what happened when we got back to the manor, do you? What you said to me?”

Bruce’s eyes flicker shut for a moment and his whole face is shadowed. Wally squeezes his hand to tell him it’s okay, wants him to know exactly how okay it is.

“No, I remember.”


Bruce hangs the Bat-suit in its closet. He tosses the pea-soup stained gauntlet in the bin he uses for disposal of hazardous chemicals. He’s saved a sample of it, just in case, but he suspects the substance is just naturally unpleasant. Pea-soup inherently is.

He pins the note from the Riddler on the corkboard by the computer panel. With a green pin. Where Robin’s sure to see it. Batman does occasionally have a sense of humour, after all.

Won’t you join me for sup?
You and the pup …
But wait, what of that?
The boy’s in a vat.
A dash of this, a little Flash of that,
A hearty soup fit for a Bat.”

There had been more, of course. Three more verses with ever-increasingly awkward rhymes and faltering rhythms. Convoluted directions, a wild goose chase that had sent Bruce halfway across town before he realized he was acting out of impulse rather than thought.

Sometimes when Dick’s in danger, he forgets to think. He knows it isn’t wise, but he doesn’t know how to stop it from happening. But when he’d calmed down, taken a moment to get his bearings, he’d made the connections immediately. The first being the connection of his fist to The Riddler’s jaw. Then, satisfied the boys weren’t in any real danger, he’d found the warehouse and watched through the skylight until he could see they weren’t doing anything to help themselves out of this mess. That’s when he’d decided to drop in.

He takes a shower in the Cave, washes the grime of the city off him, and changes into casual clothes. A call to Commissioner Gordon assures him The Riddler’s still safely in custody and Gordon shares a laugh with him over the pea-soup dunking. Gordon’s got a daughter a few years older than Robin. He understands at least a little bit, although Batman is always careful to maintain the illusion that Robin’s not his son.

Of course, it’s not entirely an illusion. Dick will always be someone else’s child. Another man’s flesh-and-blood. But Bruce loves him as if he were his own. He knows it’s too much to expect Dick will ever look at him as anything more than a mentor. A guide. And maybe not a very good one at that.

Bruce knows Alfred’s brought the boys home. He’s heard the water running upstairs for some time, which can only mean a hot bath for Dick and a hot shower for Wally, and then Alfred will give them both a lecture about not being where they said they would be. Despite his frown he’ll hand them warm cookies and cocoa, and tuck them in safely for the night. Bruce knows because Alfred used to do that when he was a boy.

Sometimes he still does.

Bruce picks up the phone to call Barry and Iris. Doesn’t dwell on the part where the boys went off on their own, but tells Barry how Wally managed to think his way out of it. Quickly. Once he got focused, once he was pushed to work it out, he had no trouble doing what had to be done. Doing what a hero would do. The kid’s not nearly as scatter-brained as people think.

Bruce can hear the pride in Barry’s voice even after he hangs up the phone.

Bruce climbs the stairs to the study, slips out through the door in the grandfather clock, then winds his way upstairs to Dick’s room. The door’s half-open and Dick’s pretending to be sleeping, but Bruce knows he isn’t. He lets him pretend, ignores the tightness in Dick’s shoulders when Bruce approaches the bed, and pats the boy’s still-damp hair once before whispering “goodnight.” He tugs the blanket up around Dick’s neck before he leaves. He’s almost in the hallway before he hears a whispered “goodnight” in answer.

They’re okay. Morning will be soon enough for lectures.

Wally is a different problem. He’s awake when Bruce stops at the door of the guest room. Sitting in a chair by the window with a grey blanket wrapped around him, Bruce can see damp red hair sticking out in all directions from the top of the blanket.

“I screwed up,” Wally says softly. Bruce stands in the doorway and doesn’t enter. “I should’ve known, and I just wasn’t thinking. How embarrassing to be drowned in soup.”

Bruce sees the head bend forward, chin resting on a pair of angular knees that are drawn up into Wally’s chest. He’s tall. Not as tall as he’s going to be, but a lot taller than Dick. Years closer to being grown-up, but still years away. Bruce remembers what that’s like. At least a little. In some ways, he’s felt grown-up since his parents were murdered.

“If it hadn’t been soup, if it had been something really dangerous, we would’ve both been dead, and it would’ve been my fault. I knew we shouldn’t go off on our own, but Dick’s just so … he’s such a pain in the ass!”

“Yes, he is,” Bruce agrees quietly. Wally’s face is full of surprise when he looks up. “He’s twelve and no one can tell him anything. You’re sixteen and much smarter than you think you are.”

Wally glances away, and Bruce thinks he’s embarrassed the kid. He didn’t mean to. He tries again.

“Sometimes you just need to slow down, Wally. Think. Not everything has to happen at super-speed just because you’re capable of it. You’re not just your abilities. You have to learn to use everything you’ve got.”

Wally nods, seriously, as if it’s the first time anyone’s told him that and he doesn’t want to forget. Bruce can see him filing away every word for future reference. Good. Maybe it will keep him alive.

Bruce walks towards him, lays a hand gently on his shoulder. “Barry’s very proud of you.”

Wally’s face lights up instantly, and Bruce wishes just once Dick would look at him with that kind of unrestricted joy.

“Thanks, Batman.”

“Here at the house it’s Bruce.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Bruce leaves Wally sitting by the window, feels Wally’s eyes following him as he exits the room. He doesn’t think anything else of it.


“You made me realize I wasn’t just a speedster, Bruce. That I could do more than just run.” Wally zips around to the other side of the table, takes the chair beside Bruce and lays a hand on his arm. He’s tired of having a table between them while they talk. They’ve already got enough barriers.

Bruce turns slowly. He never gives the impression he’s surprised by what Wally does, even when he is.

“You made me feel like a hero. Even when I’d screwed up and everything I owned smelled like pea-soup.”

“You are a—”

“I wasn’t then. You’ve always known it’s not about the abilities you have, it’s what you do with them. The kind of man you are.” Bruce’s mouth quirks into a small smile. Yeah. That’s more like it.

“Wally, I have to …”

Bruce glances away and Wally knows Bruce hates these conversations. He’s one step away from getting up and leaving, claiming monitor duty and calculations that won’t wait, and Wally’s not prepared to let him walk out when they’re this close to saying something important. Something Wally’s been trying to say since he was sixteen and stupid and seriously hero-worshipping Batman. Some things really haven’t changed except now he’s almost twenty-eight and maybe it’s time to do something about how he feels.

“You told me Barry was proud of me, and that meant the world to me.”

“Barry was always proud of you. Always.”

“I know that. I get it. But Barry was family and he loved me. Being proud of me just came naturally to him. It’s how he was.” Wally squeezes Bruce’s arm. Or at least he squeezes Kevlar that’s covering an arm and hopes Bruce registers the gesture for what it is. “It made me not want to mess up, but it didn’t make me try harder. I knew he’d forgive me whatever screw-ups I made. Knew he’d be proud anyway. But you pushed me, Bruce. Made me think. Made me mad.” Wally grins, and Bruce’s smile broadens just a little. “You made me be more than I thought I ever could. Made me feel like shit sometimes too, but you made me earn this suit and my place here. Made being a hero a choice.”

Bruce’s eyes are focused on him again, and Wally’s mouth is dry. He’s rehearsed this speech a hundred times, but he never thought he’d actually get the courage to say it. Dick would laugh at him, tell him not to bother. Tell him it didn’t matter, wouldn’t matter to Bruce, but Wally knows it does. Dick doesn’t know everything about Bruce, and sometimes he doesn’t know anything about him at all. Bruce and Dick are too close, and neither of them can see the other because of it. Wally’s watched the two of them for years.

“Wally, I should—”

Wally remembers meeting Mr. Wayne, tall and serious and way too quiet. He remembers being sixteen and looking up at Bruce’s face in the moonlight, noticing the blue eyes and the serious expression and knowing he’ll do anything to show Bruce he hasn’t made a mistake in trusting Wally with Dick’s friendship, his life. He remembers the moment when this became about proving himself to Bruce instead of Barry. He needs Bruce to know that too.

“It’s not about what Barry wanted for me. It hasn’t been for a long time.” Wally wonders when his voice dropped to something just above a whisper.

For a moment there’s just silence. Wally can hear his own heart racing as he looks at Bruce’s mouth, slightly open, stopped between breaths. Bruce doesn’t know what to do or say, and Wally isn’t sure it’s a look he’s ever really seen on Batman’s face before. The cowl hides a lot, but Wally knows him pretty well. Still he didn’t think Bruce even had a flight response, but he’s starting to reconsider his assessment. From the look on what Wally can see of Bruce’s face, he’s either going to run or he’s going to kiss him.

Wally’s really hoping for the latter.

Then something’s beeping, the goddamned monitor alert, and Wally slaps his hand down on it like it’s a recalcitrant alarm clock. Damn it.

It’s official. The universe hates him.

Bruce is already on his feet and moving, out the door before Wally can formulate a thought let alone say a word, and Wally lets out a deep frustrated puff of air and kicks the table across the room. It comes to rest upside-down against the wall. Too late, Wally remembers the coffee mugs, the carafe. He cleans up the mess at super-speed, rights the table, and looks around the cafeteria. No sign that anything significant happened here. No evidence of any kind.

Shit. Wally’s never really had any illusions about exactly how screwed-up his life is, but he thinks somehow falling for Batman has got to be the penultimate example of just how stupid he can be. Dick’s either going to kill him or die from laughter.

Wally knows he can still beat Bruce to the main deck, so he’s going to allow himself a moment to get his emotions under control. He pulls his mask back on, wishing it were that easy to stuff his feelings back under cover. He takes a deep breath and kicks into super-speed, knowing they can both explain away his flushed face and racing heartbeat when he gets to the main deck.

Then no doubt he’ll be needed somewhere—an earthquake, a giant robot, an alien invasion from Snodgrass 5—and there’ll be time to pretend this conversation never happened, that Wally wasn’t a moment away from telling Bruce he wants desperately for Bruce to be proud of him.

And maybe also to kiss him.

Maybe definitely wants Bruce to kiss him.

All this was so much easier when Wally was a kid and Bruce was just Batman instead of a man with the bluest eyes Wally’s ever seen. Blue eyes that are watching him even before he comes to a stop beside Bruce. It freaks him out that Bruce can do that.

“What’s the deal?” Wally asks, trying to sound normal. He’s afraid he sounds like he’s a kid whose voice just broke. Yeah. Really attractive.

“Earthquake. Turkey. 4.8 on the Richter scale.”

“I’m there,” Wally says, popping in his earpiece communicator.

“World needs a hero,” Bruce says lightly, and Wally flashes a grin like lightning and speeds for the launch bay. The slowest part of this mission is going to be the flight back to earth. He’s halfway there, stars moving lazily past, ears ringing with the sudden chatter on the JLA frequency as Bruce rounds up the cavalry and sends them rallying to the disaster area.

This is what they do. They’re extremely good at it.  In the middle of the chaos, Batman’s voice cuts through softly. Everyone shuts up on cue. “I’m proud to serve with each and every one of you.”

Then the line is dead silent and Wally feels his throat tighten. Did Bruce just--?

“Batman?” Clark sounds concerned. Like he's going to fly straight to the Watchtower and check that Bruce hasn't been replaced by a clone. A nice clone.

“Do you have the oxygen levels set a little low up there, Bats?” Green Lantern says. “It sounded like you said something complimentary.”

“You must be mistaken.” There’s the hint of a smirk in his tone, but Wally doesn’t know if the others can hear it. “Focus, people. And aliens.”

“Gee, thanks.” That’s Superman, and Wally shakes his head and listens as the banter continues back and forth. Batman does his part by directing people where to go, what areas need the most attention. Wally listens to the chatter, glad for the distraction.

Green Lantern asks for his E.T.A and Wonder Woman chimes in with the condition of emergency facilities in the area. Wally responds because he’s been trained to, but his mind isn’t on Turkey. It’s back on the quiet control deck of the Watchtower, imagining how much it took Bruce to turn that dial and say what he did, what’s never come easily to him. Sure, he said it to all of them, but Wally knows what it means.

At least he's pretty sure.

He thinks he can see Bruce smiling—a tight almost-scared smile, but it’s okay because it’s a step Wally understands. He’s better at this than Bruce will ever be, and he’s a patient man when it's required.

All he needed was a sign he wasn’t wasting his time. Wasn’t imagining things had changed between them since Wally had grown-up.

The ship slips through the clouds that are rosy with the first rays of sunrise and lands in the middle of a disaster zone. The whole world seems to glow, dusty and pink. Wally takes a breath, the last fresh one he’ll probably get for some time, and pushes the button for the door.

“A new beginning,” Wally murmurs to himself, not caring if the mic picks it up. Bruce is proud of him, and maybe more than that. Not counting the earthquake, it’s been a pretty damn good day.


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