Moving Heaven and Earth for You
(A  Comrades in Arms/Shadows and Stone Crossover)
Justice League Elite 10 (2005)

Title: Moving Heaven and Earth for You - Updated August 13, 2007
(Use find function, "Update" to locate beginnings of each section.)

Rating:  NC-17
Author: Lacey McBain
FeaturedPairing: Wally/Bruce
Minor Pairings (suggested):  Blue Beetle/Booster Gold,   Dick/Barbara, Clark/Lois
Summary: About a month into the relationship, Wally convinces Bruce he needs to talk about what's been making him paranoid. What he's afraid of. It's worse than they thought. Much, much worse.

“What happened?”

The door to the Watchtower’s infirmary is barely open and suddenly there’s a black-cowled, black-caped Batman standing right beside the bed looking seriously pissed off.  Wally knows he’s in trouble.  Bruce clicks something like a remote at the security camera, and Wally doesn’t know why it should surprise him that Bruce has over-rides for everything on the station.  Turning off the camera can’t be a good sign.

“It’s just a scratch,” Wally says, glancing at the sling holding his left arm in place.  Technically, he knows the lenses on the mask can’t narrow, but Bats still gives a pretty good impression of a glare anyway.

“It’s just a fracture.  It should heal without any problems,” Superman says from the corner, and Batman whirls around to face him.  Wally grimaces.  Bats didn’t realize Clark was there, which means he’s really off his game.  This isn’t going to be pretty.

“Didn’t realize you’d been reassigned to the medical beat, Clark.”

Superman steps back and gives Wally a look that says “what’s with him?”  Wally grins half-heartedly and leans back on the mattress.  Maybe if he pretends to be asleep …

“You took a stupid, unnecessary risk.  You should’ve let Superman go in.”

Obviously feigning sleep isn’t going to work

“He was busy,” Wally says.

“Batman.”  Superman reaches a hand out to Bruce’s shoulder, but Batman anticipates the move and steps aside.  He always seems to know when someone’s going to touch him.  Wally isn’t sure how he does it.

“Look, Bats, you weren’t there.  Things got a little hairy in the middle, and there were people in that building.  Kids.  I couldn’t wait any longer.  Supes and Lantern were fighting six of those things, and somebody had to get the civilians out of the way.  I was the best person for the job.”

“And when the building started to collapse around you?”

“I ran faster.”  He doesn’t know why Bats is making such a big deal out of this.  It’s not like he’s never been injured before.  They all have.

“Not fast enough.  You’re going to need to increase your training regimen.”

“Oh for God’s sake, Bruce,” Superman says, “will you lay off?  Wally did exactly what he was supposed to do.  It was me that was a half-second too late in getting to him.  If you want to yell at someone, yell at me.”

Wally closes his eyes and wonders if they’ll add a dose of morphine to his IV drip if he asks for it.  There’s nothing better than being pleasantly oblivious when the shit’s about to hit the fan.

“I’m not yelling,” Batman says, which technically speaking is true.  Batman doesn’t yell; he doesn’t have to.  “You’re the team lead, Superman.  You’re responsible for everyone.”

Clark used to blush a lot more than he does now, but Wally knows without looking up that Clark’s face is probably flaming red.  No one can make the World’s Greatest Superhero feel more inadequate than Batman can.

“I know that, and we’ll review what went wrong when Wally’s up to debriefing.”

“I’ve seen the tapes.”  Batman’s mouth is a rigid line beneath his cowl.

Of course he’s seen the tapes, Wally thinks, because Bats has access to satellite technology no one else does and he checks it the way other people check their email.  If Wally were the paranoid sort, he might be worried.  He wonders what Bats would do if he just grabbed him by the cape and kissed him.

“Then you know what happened.”  Clark clearly doesn’t see what the problem is.

“I know you didn’t call for back-up when you should’ve.  You let yourselves get out-flanked, and you left your back vulnerable.”

“Bruce.”  Someone’s got to step in and end this.  Wally’s seen Bruce and Clark go at it enough to know Clark will let Batman lecture until he says something sufficiently stupid to piss Clark off, and then there’ll be floating and yelling and the destruction of Justice League property, which Bruce pays for anyway, so maybe it’s kind of like therapy in a way.  Wally wants to skip to the part where they apologize grudgingly and go for beer.

Bruce isn’t paying any attention to him.  “You let them move the fight into a residential zone, putting everyone at risk, and forcing Flash to divert his energy into rescuing people rather than helping you secure the combatants.  It was a stupid, rookie mistake, Clark.”

Wally’s heard Bruce lecture people after a mission.  He usually doesn’t say this much, lets the scowl speak for him, and Wally’s been on the receiving end of that more than once.  It’s never pleasant, but this is kind of like blowing up a tin can with a nuclear warhead, and Wally has a bad feeling Bruce’s reaction is personal.

Clark’s trying to get him to see reason, but Bruce isn’t having any of it.  Wally watches him glower at Clark like a dark cloud, and he knows there’s something more going on than a fractured wrist and a less-than-perfect mission.  He takes a deep breath and plunges ahead, interrupting the argument that can only be headed for mutually-assured destruction.

“Batman, shut up.”

There’s a swirl of black and red capes as both of them turn to stare at him.  Wally isn’t sure which of them looks more surprised.  He takes advantage of the momentary pause in conversation.

“Bruce, you’re taking this personally.”

“No, I’m not.  Just because I think--”

“Just because we’re sleeping together doesn’t give you the right to interfere with my job.”

He hears a strangled sound from Superman that might be a chuckle.  The muscle in Bruce’s jaw is flexing.  “I’m not--”

“Yes.  You.  Are.”  Wally says the words slow and carefully as if he’s entering a minefield.

“Maybe I should leave you two alone.”  Superman’s inching towards the door, trying to make his six-foot-four frame look unobtrusive.

“No, stay, Clark.”  Bruce is clearly angry.  His tone is edged with a sharpness Wally can almost taste, and he can’t believe he’s forgotten how Bruce fights back when he’s cornered.  “This has nothing to do with our personal lives and everything to do with being safe on the job.”

“’Cause, yeah, those worker’s compensation payments must be killin’ you.”  Wally grins.  He’s the only one who does.  “Come on, Bruce, this is totally personal and you know it.”

Bruce wraps his cape around himself, and it doesn’t take a genius to know his arms are folded over his chest stubbornly.  Wally sees Clark cock his head to one side at the stance, but he doesn’t say anything.  They all know where Bruce picked that one up.  The silence in the room grows uncomfortable.

Fine, Wally thinks.  He was going to talk to Clark about this anyway, and God knows Bruce needs to let them inside whatever nightmare he’s convinced is coming.

Wally looks at Clark and makes a decision.  He hopes he isn’t going to regret it.  Things with Bruce are still too new, too fragile to survive a major blow, but he’s known Bruce a long time and he doesn’t really believe Bruce will let personal feelings get in the way.  It’s just not like him.  And Wally’s got a pretty good idea what’s bothering him.

“Now that Luthor’s president, Bruce is worried we’re one step closer to the Justice Lords.”  Clark’s head snaps up in surprise.  “He thinks something’s going to happen—specifically, to me--and there won’t be anything to stop what happened there from happening here.”

Wally’s careful not to use the word “scared,” even though it’s true.  Bruce is never scared without a good reason.

Clark reaches for Bruce again, and this time anticipates the shift, catching him by the shoulders.  He squeezes, and Wally knows the grip is probably just short of painful.  It’s the only way Bruce is going to listen to what they have to say.

“That’s not going to happen,” Clark says, but he’s frowning.  Wally knows he’s thought about this too, imagined what it must have felt like to push two throbbing beams of heat into Luthor’s brain, getting rid of all their problems with one quick kill.  Except the killing didn’t end there.  It never does.

Bruce is still trying to pretend they’re over-reacting.  “You were reckless today.  That’s all.  It has nothing to do with--”

Wally swings off the bed, and he doesn’t care that the IV in his hand rips out as he moves to stand in front of Bruce.  Clark’s still standing behind him and there’s nowhere for Bruce to go.  Wally always thought he’d be the one running in this relationship, but more and more Wally’s realizing Bruce does a fair amount of running too.  Bruce has been avoiding this conversation for a long time.

“You’re scared I’m going to die.”  The room is so quiet Wally can hear the drip of the IV trailing behind him.  “Well, I’ve got news for you, Bats.  We’re all going to die.  It’s a given, and in this line of work it’s more than that.  I’m not the first Flash, you know.  Jay’s gone and Barry’s dead, and when I’m gone Bart will take over.  It’s the way things work in this business.”  Wally tries not to see the way Bruce is looking at him, as if he’s said something unmentionable.  They don’t talk a lot about death.  It’s considered bad luck.

Wally reaches up and traces the edge of the cowl, and he doesn’t care that Clark’s here because if he can’t trust Superman, he can’t trust anyone, and he knows this will never leave the room.  Clark has Lois, and Wally, apparently, has Bruce.

“Bruce, I don’t want to die.  I don’t even like getting a papercut.  I know I’m the comic relief around here most of the time, but you should know better than anyone that’s not all there is to it.  To me.  Yeah, Flash is the goofy guy who likes to have a good time, but I take the work seriously, and I don’t take chances unless someone’s life is in danger.  That’s what we do.  I’m okay with that.  You need to be too.”

Bruce is motionless and silent, and Wally doesn’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad one, so he just keeps going because today he’s Pandora’s box and maybe it’s time they got some of this out in the open.  He never thought it would be him—he’s not that good at all of this—but it’s important, and maybe because it’s him, they’ll listen.

“Bruce, every day’s a risk, and most of us should’ve been dead a hundred times over.  I’ve seen your scars, and God knows how you’ve managed to survive some of them.”  He thinks of the one directly over Bruce’s heart, and his hand slides under the cape and presses against the armour there.  He knows Bruce understands what he’s doing, even though he gives no outward sign.

“But we don’t stop trying.  We don’t give up the fight because of what might happen, and just because the other Batman, the other League, crossed that line, it doesn’t mean we will.  Or you will.”  Bruce frowns.  He doesn’t believe Wally—not yet, anyway.

Superman nods at Wally from behind Bruce’s shoulder.  His smile says Wally’s doing the right thing, making perfect sense, and Clark’s proud of him.  Wally suddenly feels ten inches taller.  Sometimes it’s hard being one of the youngest members of the team.  He still feels like he has so much to learn.

“Bruce, Wally’s right.  You think you’re going to cross a line you can never come back from, and that scares you.  It scares me too.”  Clark’s the only person Wally knows who never sounds embarrassed admitting he’s scared.  “I’m the one who killed Luthor in the other world.”

“I’m the one who could’ve stopped you,” Bruce replies.  Wally knows Bruce has kryptonite—possibly the only thing that could stop Superman if necessary—and he also knows it was Clark’s idea for Bruce to keep it.  They have some kind of unspoken agreement about keeping each other in check, yet it didn’t work in the other world.  Wally knows they’ve both wondered why not.

“It wasn’t you,” Clark says, and that’s the problem.  The other Batman is still Bruce in every way, and Wally doesn’t know how to convince him that knowing what happened will keep them from crossing the line.  Nothing could ever be that bad.

“Fuck, Bruce, we know you.  Better than anyone except maybe Dick and Alfred, and we know you wouldn’t condone murder.  Even if it’s Luthor.”  Wally knows he’s right.  He just doesn’t know how to get that idea through Batman’s brain.  Bruce’s jaw is a stone monument to stubbornness, and Wally wants to kiss him until his mouth softens and his smile comes back.  It’s very possible Wally’s past the point of no return in this relationship.

“You’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not.  We both know you leave white roses on a grimy street corner in the worst part of Gotham once a year, and your parents are the first thing you think of every time you put on that cape.  You hate reality TV and secretly think you could kick-ass on Jeopardy even though you suck at the pop culture categories; you drink beer at least as much as you drink brandy, and you totally hog the covers.  No one else would believe you own blue jeans, although I still think it’s weird Alfred irons them, and I know you blew an international deal last month because you were returning some kid’s puppy.  And I can’t even begin to explain why you and Dick have this psychotic obsession with beating the crap out of each other at Electronic Battleship.  The point is we know you, Bruce, and whether you tell us or not, it doesn’t change the fact that something’s making you more paranoid than usual.  Clark, tell him I’m not crazy.”

“I didn’t hear about the puppy, but I’m with you on everything else.  And he’s a huge cover hog.”

Wally sputters something incoherent and looks back and forth between the two of them.  Bruce is wearing a “thanks a lot, Clark” expression and Clark’s smiling like a little kid.  Wally’s not sure who he’s more likely to get the truth out of, but it’s going to have to wait till later.  He ignores the jealousy that’s turning his stomach inside-out.  Shit, he really doesn’t need this.  He needs morphine.  Or cappuccino.  Stat.  Where the hell’s his doctor?

Bruce sighs and pulls off the cowl, and it’s something he never does up here on the Watchtower.  They both step back and give him room to move.  He rubs a hand through his dark hair and they know he’s trying to decide what to do.  They wait.

Clark helps Wally slip the IV needle back into the shunt under the skin.  It’s only there to make sure he keeps up his calorie intake, and quite frankly Wally would prefer a dozen cheeseburgers and a basket of onion rings.  And some of Alfred’s chocolate cake.  And that cappuccino.

Bruce interrupts his rumbling stomach.  “There’s nothing I can prove.  There’s nothing definite, but Luthor’s moving stores of plutonium and meteor rock around and something big is coming.  I just don’t know what, and I feel like I’m running out of time.”

“Then let us help,” Clark says.  “You’re the one who always tells us to call for back-up, not to handle things alone.  You suck at following your own advice.”

Bruce ignores the last comment and pulls the cowl back up.  He looks at them evenly.  “There’s something else.”  Bruce’s tone is ominous, and Wally feels a cold shiver run down his spine.  “We can’t talk here.  We’ll reconvene at the Cave in three hours.  That should give me enough time to put together what I’ve got.”  

“A second set of eyes can’t hurt.”  Bruce doesn’t even try to dodge Superman’s friendly shoulder-pat this time.

“Or a third,” Wally says.

“No.”  Bruce is shaking his head.  “You’re in no condition for this.”

Superman decides it’s time to make his exit, and Wally waits until the door seals before he starts yelling.  “Did you listen to anything I said, Bruce?  That was a hell of a lot of talking I did, and you don’t get to take the whole world on your shoulders.  It’s not your job, and we’re not letting you do this alone anymore.”

Wally’s last sentence gets lost under Bruce’s mouth.  Somewhere in the distance he hears the IV topple over and there’s a tug as the needle slips out of his hand again.  He ignores the pain and wraps his good arm around Bruce’s neck.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Bruce is muttering into his mouth and there are other words like “careless” and “reckless” and that’s just the ones in English, and Wally really needs to ask someone who speaks Japanese what a **** is because he’s got a pretty good idea it’s not a compliment.

“I’m okay,” Wally whispers when he can breathe again, and Bruce is gripping him the same way the Toy-Man’s Destructo-Bot did before he passed out, and he doesn’t think either of them could take the guilt of Bruce breaking one of his ribs, so he vibrates just enough to get Bruce to loosen his hold.

“You could’ve been killed,” Bruce says, and there are hands touching him all over, making sure he’s there and alive.  Wally totally gets the need to do that.  He’s done it himself with almost all of them at one time or another, needed to hug and touch to make sure the person’s really there, but he’s never seen Bruce do it with anyone except Dick or Tim and that tells him a lot.

“But I wasn’t.  Bruce, this isn’t going to work if you can’t trust me to do what I need to do.  It’s never been a problem before.”

“I wasn’t—we weren’t—before—”

Wally kisses him again.  He knew it was personal, and that’s so unlike Bats.  Wally knows there’s got to be more to it than Bruce is saying.  Which is why it’s important he goes to the Cave with the two of them.  He needs to know what’s going on, and he needs to hear it from Bruce.  For better or worse, they’re in this together.  Wally isn’t willing to let this be a solo act.  No matter how much Bruce tries to go it alone.

Wally suddenly has an idea.  “Are the cameras still off?”

“Yes.”  Bruce is looking at him suspiciously.

“And the door has a lock?”

There’s a beeping sound as Bruce clicks another button on the remote.  “Yes.”

“And you know it’ll only take you an hour to put together the information you told Clark about because you’re like Scotty on the original Star Trek and you always say you need more time than you do, so you can pull off a miracle when required.”

“I don’t do that.  It’ll take--”

“Bruce, you totally do.  How long?  Really.”

“Fine.  It’ll take about an hour.”

He starts to take off the mask when Wally stops him, tracing the outline of Bruce’s mouth with his finger.  He leans in and whispers, “Leave it on.”

Bruce gives a half-smile.  It’s not much, but it’s a start, and Wally pulls him down beside him on the bed.  He knows they’ll have to talk about all of this later, at the Cave, but for right now this is more important.

“Can you do something about the lights?” Wally asks.

“For you?  Anything,” Batman whispers against his mouth, then there’s a click and the world goes wonderfully dark.


J’onn has given clearance for Superman to leave the Watchtower when the medical station alarm goes off again.  It’s the second time in the last half hour, which isn’t much of a surprise considering The Flash is the only patient at the moment, and J’onn knows from experience how hard it is for Wally to sit still for longer than a few minutes.

It’s a quiet night on Monitor duty, and J’onn’s pleased for that.  He watches Superman head towards earth, his red cape trailing behind him, and he never grows tired of the sight.  He and Kal-El are both orphans of lost worlds, and J’onn’s always felt a closeness to the young man from Krypton.  Watching him fly towards the curve of the earth makes him feel a sense of hope.  It’s a good feeling.

The alarm beeps again, and he knows it’s unwise to ignore it.  He’s been putting off a visit to Wally, only because he knows Flash’s been alone in the infirmary for awhile, and J’onn expects to be overwhelmed with thoughts and conversation and requests to play Battle-Bots as soon as he enters the room.  Although now that he thinks about it, Wally hasn’t asked in a while.  Still, J’onn’s mind is in a much more serene place today, and he’s reluctant to leave.

“Something wrong, J’onn?” Wonder Woman asks, stepping towards the main console and pointing at the red blinking light.

“Flash is in the infirmary, and he appears to have pulled out his IV.  Again.”

“Is he all right?” Diana asks, and J’onn can feel a wave of concern flow over him.  He’s never had to read Diana’s mind to know how she’s feeling.  Her emotions carry an energy all their own.

“I’m sure it’s nothing more than his usual inability to sit still.”

Diana taps a few keys, then clicks another button on the computer.  “Isn’t it unusual for the cameras in that area to be off?”  J’onn frowns, and runs a quick check of the medical station’s systems.  Now that he investigates, none of the room’s security features are on-line and neither is Wally’s communicator.  This doesn’t look good.

“I’d better check on him,” J’onn says, and turns away from the serenity of space.

“I’ll come with you.  If there’s anything wrong, you might need someone.”

“Good idea.”  J’onn nods his approval.  Diana’s a woman he would be pleased to fight alongside any day.  They move quickly towards the elevator.

“I saw the Bat-plane in the hangar when I came in,” Diana says conversationally, “but I haven’t seen Batman anywhere around.  Has he checked in?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”  They step into the stainless steel tube that will whisk them through the station.  “But you know, Batman.  He doesn’t always tell me when he’s here.”

“Yes.  He’s like that with me too,” Diana admits, and J’onn isn’t certain, but there’s something in her voice that suggests this hurts her more than she would like to admit, and he wonders if perhaps it’s time to relax the policy on team members dating one another.  He’ll have to speak with Batman about it.  Diana is certainly a remarkable woman, and she is clearly interested.  It might be exactly what Bruce needs.

“I’m sure Batman will turn up where we least expect it.  I wouldn’t worry about him.”


The policy on the station has always been masks on, identities secret at all times, so to be in the Watchtower’s medical room with Bruce tugging off his mask and whispering his name—his real name--against his neck like a mantra, makes Wally feel like he’s doing something forbidden.

The beds in the medical rooms aren’t made for this, and they’ve had to scrunch onto their sides to protect his arm.  As it is, they’re both too well-built for the narrow bed.  Even with their legs tangled together and their groins pressed close, they’re both in constant danger of falling off the edge.  And although Wally’s always thought the cape was the coolest thing imaginable, right now it’s the world’s biggest pain in the ass.  It’s huge, for one thing, and the ends of it are weighted and keep poking into Wally’s legs as he tries to get closer to Bruce.

“I don’t suppose you could lose the cape,” Wally murmurs, his right arm growing numb under Bruce’s neck.

“I’d rather not.  Someone may decide to check on you.  Dr. Emerson will no doubt be in to check your calorie levels, and—”

Wally sighs and stretches his right hand to the back of Bruce’s neck and pulls him closer.  He kisses him, letting the openness of his mouth be an invitation to Bruce’s tongue to explore.  Wally has no desire to talk anymore, and right now the only thing he needs are Bruce’s hands on him.  He really wishes they could lose the costumes.  It’s awkward and kind of uncomfortable, and he feels a little like when he was fifteen and tried to make out with Fran Erickson in the back of the old Pontiac he’d bought.  Except Fran’s body armour was some kind of fortified Wonder Bra with impregnable clasps and hidden wires that seemed to poke him every time he tried to touch her, and Bruce’s body armour is smooth and hard with faint battle scars.  It’s not as good as touching Bruce’s skin, but it’s the closest Wally’s been in a while and he thinks it’s probably cause for concern that he’s hard from stroking the damn Bat-suit.


“We probably only have a few minutes.  Someone’s going to notice I shut down the security protocols, and frankly, if they don’t notice--”

“Is this a test of the Watchtower’s security?” Wally asks suddenly, pulling back.  He never, ever used to think these things, but spending time with Bats has made him more paranoid and less naïve than he ever thought he could be.  He isn’t sure it’s a change he’s entirely happy about, but he can’t seem to go back.

“No.  At least, I didn’t plan it that way, but it might turn out--”

“Jesus Christ, Bruce, do you not have one romantic bone in your body?”

Wally regrets it as soon as he’s said it, but God, it’s hard to accept Bruce is always thinking about ten things at once, considering options and strategies, even when they’re doing this.  Whatever this is.  It still feels new to Wally, and between the breakout at Arkham and Central City’s Ultra-Humanite problem and the Justice League needing one or the other of them, but not both, they haven’t been doing much of anything in the month since they decided to come in from the ledge together.  Aside from some shower time in Central City and the quick fumble on the station last time they were both here, they haven’t had much chance to be together.  The last time Wally ran to the manor, Bruce and Tim had been huddled in a corner of the Cave running experiments on swatches of purple fabric, talking about DNA strands and nanotechnology and Wally had fallen asleep alone and woken up alone on the spare bed in the corner of the Cave.  Alfred had brought him dark roast coffee, warm muffins and a kindly look, but they hadn’t made up for Bruce being completely absent even when he was thirty feet away.

The bed creaks and Wally knows Bruce is about to roll away, and he can’t chase after him dragging the damn IV, which keeps slipping out, and besides Bruce has that master remote and he’s likely to use it to leave Wally trapped in here, waiting for Dr. Emerson and his okay to leave.  Wally’s not taking that chance, and he tightens his grip.

“You roll out of this bed, we’re both going to end up on the floor.  I’m not letting go.”

“It’ll hurt you more than it hurts me,” Bruce says evenly, and Wally knows Batman doesn’t bluff, but he’s pretty sure Bruce wouldn’t do anything to deliberately hurt him.  He clings to that thought as tightly as he clings to Bruce.

“Weren’t you the one who burst in here to make sure I hadn’t croaked?”

Wally can feel the shoulders straightening even as Bruce speaks.  “There were problems with your mission.  I was checking--”

“Bull.  Shit.”  Wally has a super-size headache and an arm that’s made of pins and needles, and he’s had just about enough of this crap from Bruce.  “There was an electrical storm over Gotham, and you couldn’t get any information other than I was in the infirmary.  You launched that plane into the fucking ionosphere, skipping your monthly appearance at Gotham’s Wine-Tasters Club, and came straight here without bothering to check in with anyone because you were so scared you couldn’t see straight.  I’ll bet you didn’t even tell Alfred you were leaving the planet, did you?”

Wally knows that’s exactly what happened because he tried to contact Bruce as soon as they hit the station.  Clark had offered to take care of it while Wally’s arm was seen to, and he’d reported back that he didn’t know the Bat-plane could hit those kinds of speeds.  Wally hadn’t known either.

“Superman spying on me now?  That’s hardly a judicious use of League resour--”

“Bruce, are you trying to fuck this up?”

Wally stares into the lenses of the cowl, and he wishes now he’d made Bruce take the mask off.  They can play kinky games in costume when the masks are less a part of them.  Sometimes Wally really hates being the grown-up in this situation.  He isn’t used to it, and he damn well doesn’t like it.  He wants to shake Bruce and tell him to deal with what he’s feeling, but there’s an eight-year old boy crying on a street corner somewhere inside him and Wally isn’t quite angry enough to forget that.  He’s never met anyone who simultaneously makes him want to hit him and hug him.  Wally’s finally starting to get why Dick was such a frustrated, pissed off teenager most of the time—when he wasn’t going on about how amazing Batman was.  Bruce has that effect on people.

“Bruce,” Wally says, leaning his forehead against the mask.  He wishes he had both hands so he could peel back the cowl and touch his face.  He settles for kissing him softly.  Once.  There’s no response.  “You’re the most frustrating man I’ve ever met, and I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you, so killing you is out of the question, but do you think you could try a little harder to talk to me when you’re scared out of your mind?”

“I’m not--” Bruce whispers, but there’s no argument in his voice, and sometime in the last few moments, Bruce’s hand has taken up permanent residence stroking Wally’s cheek where the mask doesn’t cover it.  It feels like heaven, and Wally turns his head and kisses the tips of Bruce’s fingers.

“Yeah, you are,” Wally says firmly.  “And I would be too if I thought something happened to you.  But it’s a possibility we both have to live with and I don’t want to be responsible for you going off the deep end if something happens.  Okay?”

“I wouldn’t--”

“I know that.  But you’ve been spending too much time thinking about what happened with the Lords, and it’s time we dealt with all those possibilities, don’t you think?”

Wally kisses him again, firmly, eyes open, and he hopes Bruce can tell this is only the beginning.  Maybe they’re wrong for each other and maybe they’re more right than either of them wants to believe, but Wally knows if he doesn’t fight for this chance with everything he’s got, he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life.  However long that may be.  Love just doesn’t come along that often.  Not like this.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce whispers, and Wally knows it’s not something he says often.  He leans in and kisses him, lets Bruce hold him until he feels like he might break.

They’re going to be all right.  They have to be.

“Now,” Wally says.  “Why don’t you explain to me how Clark knows you steal the covers?”


J’onn leaves Diana outside the door trying to access whatever codes have over-ridden the security system.  He phases, watching as the molecules of the door slide around him.  He senses movement in the room before he’s all the way through the door, and he reaches out to identify the thoughts.  Wally’s are like fireflies on heroine, bouncing off every surface and not sticking to anything, and J’onn only catches fleeting words:  “shit,” “not now,” “interrupt,” “coffee.”  Being in Wally’s mind is much like navigating a maze that keeps changing.

J’onn reaches mentally for the other presence as the last layer of the door slips behind him.  Darker, sharper, and there’s a clear sign that says “keep out” and yet J’onn gets a series of impressions.  A hand stroking a face.  A red mask.  Lightning.  Fire.  White roses.  An overwhelming sensation of anger and guilt.

“Stay out of my head, J’onn,” Batman says from the shadow by the window.

“My apologies.  I feared something was wrong.  All of the security measures have been over-ridden.”

J’onn solidifies, and reaches for the door panel that will let Wonder Woman enter.  It doesn’t respond.  Batman touches something beneath his cape and the lights return in a blaze of fluorescence at the same time the door slides open.  Wally reaches up to cover his eyes.

“Jeez, Bats, give a guy a little warning,” he says, but he doesn’t appear to be angry.  J’onn has learned it takes a great deal to make Flash angry, although Batman has succeeded on occasion.

Diana steps through the door, lasso ready in her hand.  She looks from Batman to J’onn.

“Everything all right?”

She accepts a curt nod as an answer, and goes to stand beside the bed where Flash is trying to re-insert his IV.  A slender hand reaches out and takes it from him, completing the task in a moment, and then she’s looking at him tenderly.

“Are you gravely injured?” Diana asks, setting a hand on Flash’s arm.

“Nah, it’s nothing.  In fact, I’m just waiting for the doc to come by and spring me from this joint.”

“You were waiting in the dark.”  It is merely an observation, but J’onn knows they will interpret it as a question.  Humans are always seeking for something beyond the surface of the situation.  It’s part of what fascinates him about his colleagues.  He has to be careful not to probe too deeply when he scans.  He’s learned humans react badly to unnecessary scans.

“I like the dark,” Batman says.  There’s a barely contained edge of anger in his voice.  “It took you seventeen minutes to decide to investigate the failure of equipment in this room, not to mention the two alarms from Flash’s IV.”

“This was simply an unscheduled security test?”

Diana’s frowning.  J’onn understands her concern.  Although it’s not unheard of for Batman to do such things, his displeasure seems disproportionate to the degree of failure.  J’onn sees her glance at Batman and move to stand beside him.  She lays a hand on his arm as she did with Flash a moment ago, but she doesn’t remove it after a second passes.  It remains there.  J’onn is aware humans convey a great deal through touch.  He is not surprised when Batman moves away a moment later.  It’s not in his nature to allow such familiarities.

“Anything could’ve happened to him in seventeen minutes.  It’s unacceptable.”

“But, it also gave me and Bats a chance to hang together,” Wally says, obviously trying to dispel some of the tension in the room.  Diana glances at Bruce sympathetically, but Flash doesn’t appear to notice.

“I’m sure that must have been … enjoyable for you.”  J’onn does not believe the Princess is being disingenuous, but he senses her empathy for Batman.  They are a good match.  J’onn must remember to talk to Batman about reciprocating her attention.  He knows Batman does not think of such things unless they’re put to him directly.

“Yeah, Bats and I were just shooting the breeze--”

“Batman, could I speak with you?”  Diana has moved into Batman’s space again, and J’onn thinks perhaps she doesn’t need any help from him at all.  Bruce nods silently and follows her towards the door, but turns towards Flash before he leaves.

“Flash, as soon as the doctor releases you, I’ll return you to Central City.  It’s on my way.”

Batman and Diana disappear into the corridor.  Flash seems restless, tapping his fingers against one thigh.  J’onn approaches the bed, aware that Wally is radiating more emotional energy than usual.  He appears distracted.

“Are you sufficiently rested to return to duty?” J’onn inquires.

“Hm?”  Wally’s staring at the door.  “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.  Can’t get out of here fast enough, actually.  Any idea what Diana wanted to talk to Bats about?”

“I believe it is of a personal nature.”

“Well, Bats and I are pretty close these days, J’onn.  You can tell me.”  Flash is up and leaning on J’onn’s shoulder.  There’s a concerned smile on his face, and J’onn can sense tension.  It’s an unusual emotion from Wally.

J’onn pauses and decides there is no harm in revealing his thoughts on the subject.  Besides, it is possible Wally may be of some help in the matchmaking process.

“I believe Batman has found a suitable match.”

“You do?”  Wally’s voice is higher than usual.

“Yes.  Someone who is his equal in strength and commitment to the cause.”

“Really?  You think that?”

Wally’s smile grows brighter, and J’onn did not think it would be so easy to convince Flash of the perfection of the match.  This is more than he hoped for.  It feels good to have an ally.

“Of course.  Diana is a remarkable woman.  I believe they would be good for each other.”

“Whoa, whoa.”  Flash sits back on the bed and shakes his head.  “You think Bats and Wonder Woman … should go out?”

“Who did you think I meant?”  J’onn is taken aback by Wally’s apparent misunderstanding.  Who else could Wally have thought J’onn meant?

“No one.  I just--yeah, Bats and Diana.  I guess that would probably work.”

“There is an unmistakable attraction there.”

“You sensed that?”

Wally is looking at him carefully, and his smile has slipped slightly.  J’onn does not understand the sudden feeling of sadness, except perhaps that Wally feels Batman will not be available to spend as much time with him.  J’onn had not noticed they were particularly strong friends, but perhaps he is mistaken.  Human relationships are so complex and ever-changing, he reminds himself he must pay closer attention at all times.

The door slides open and Dr. Emerson walks through with a grin.  The corridor is deserted.

“Doc, please tell me you’re busting me outta this joint,” Wally pleads, looking every bit like a young human.

The doctor seems to have noticed the resemblance as well since he grins and produces a purple candy on a stick.  “You’re a terrible patient, Flash.  Worse than the kids I treated when I was a pediatrician.  You can go home if you promise to stay out of trouble.”

Wally’s head is an up-and-down blur of nodding, and he looks like he’d like to hug the man.  Which he does as soon as the IV is removed.

“Catch you later, dudes.”

It’s difficult to hear around the mouthful of candy.  There’s a red blur and then nothing but wind lifting the tail of J’onn’s cape and the edges of the doctor’s lab coat.  J’onn thinks he will take a moment to advise the doctor about providing sugary snacks to Flash.  After he speaks with Batman.  He reaches out with his mind and senses he’s in the hangar preparing to leave.  Wally appears to be with him.

J’onn sighs and hopes Flash will show some discretion in terms of what he has revealed about his hopes for Batman’s relationship with Wonder Woman.  It is still policy, after all, that team members are not supposed to pursue relationships.  It wouldn’t do if Green Lantern and Hawkgirl, or Booster Gold and Blue Beetle were carrying on relationships while serving on teams together.  It could disrupt station operations and cause uncomfortable situations.  J’onn has seen how humans react.  However, perhaps some latitude is required.

He will speak to Batman about the matter as soon as he gets a chance.


“So, what did Diana want to talk to you about?”

Flash is buckled into the opposite seat, staring out the window of the Bat-plane, as they drop out of the Watchtower’s bay.  He’s tapping out a rhythm with fingers Batman can’t even see moving, and he stops himself from automatically decoding them—Wally isn’t using Morse code unless fpejrls is a word.  He’s definitely trying not to look at Bruce, but his reflection in the plane’s window shows he’s tugging on his lower lip with his teeth.  That can’t be a good sign.

Bruce wants to reach over and touch him, and he isn’t sure why both hands wrap more tightly around the controls.  Jeez, Wally just told him he was in love with him back there on the station--and yes, he said “probably” but Bruce knows that means definitely—and they’ve been “dating” (for lack of a better word) for almost a month even though they haven’t spent much time together.  Bruce is still having trouble just being in this … thing with Wally.  He’s not sure he’s ready to call it a relationship.  He’s doing everything wrong, and he really wants to make it right.

He pulls a gauntleted hand off the stick, has to force himself to think about doing it.  It hovers in the space between them for a half second before he brings the glove to his mouth and pulls it off with his teeth.  His bare fingers find Wally’s thigh and he squeezes gently.  Green eyes meet his in a rush of heat and gratitude.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”  Bruce knows it isn’t much, but right now it’s all he’s got.  There are too many other things hovering in the corners of his mind, dark things with darker shadows, and he wants to protect Wally from that, from him.  Bruce doesn’t want loving him to be what gets Wally killed.  He isn’t sure he’d survive that.

“Nice thought, but you’re changing the subject.  Diana?  And don’t think I’ve forgotten about Clark’s comment, either.  You have a lot of talking to do, so you might as well start.”

Bruce’s fingers start to slip off Wally’s thigh, but a warm hand stops them.  “I’ll keep this, if you don’t mind,” Wally says, lacing his fingers through Bruce’s.  “Unless you need it to fly the plane or something.”

Bruce shakes his head.  He’s tempted to put the damn thing on auto-pilot and climb into Wally’s lap and kiss him senseless, but he doesn’t.  Settles for the rhythmic stroking of Wally’s thumb on the back of his hand, even though the angle must be awkward with Wally’s sling and the seatbelt and …

“Bruce?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he replies, and it’s not entirely a lie.  He’s more fine than he’s going to be after he tells Clark and Wally why he’s so worried about Luthor’s presidency, why he’s maybe more than a little edgy about something happening.  He knows they’re not going to understand.  They’re going to think he’s lost perspective, and maybe he has.  Maybe they all will when they hear what he knows, what he’s seen.  He closes his eyes.

“Bruce.”  Wally’s voice is full of alarm, and the fingers stroking his hand are carving moon-shaped crevices in Bruce’s skin.  He nods and opens his eyes, pulls something less than a grimace from somewhere deep inside and starts with the thing least likely to get him in trouble.

“Diana needs an escort for a function she’s been asked to attend.”

“And she asked you?”

“Actually, she asked J’onn first, but I guess he was unavailable.”  Wally makes a small huffing sound, and Bruce isn’t sure what that means, so he keeps going.  “It’s a social event in Metropolis.  Bruce Wayne’s already on the guest list, so it won’t be a big deal for the two of us to go together.  I suggested that Clark cover it for the Planet as well, so we’ll have backup.”

“She asked you on a date, and you invited Clark along?”

Bruce looks at him oddly.  “It’s not a date.  It’s work.  Luthor’s hosting it—the only president in history who still dabbles in his hometown’s social affairs—and he’s going to be there.  Diana believes she’ll be less conspicuous if she has an escort.”

“Diana couldn’t be less conspicuous if she wore sackcloth the colour of the walls.  She’s an Amazon, and she’s gorgeous.”

Bruce frowns.  He isn’t sure where Wally’s reaction is coming from.  “Diana’s a beautiful woman, yes, but this is work.  It’s nothing personal.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Wally, are you--?”

“Don’t even go there, Bruce.  Don’t say it, don’t even think it.  ‘Cause I’m not.”  Wally’s looking out the window again, and the clouds are dark and heavy as the plane descends toward Gotham.  “I’m not.  I just think maybe you’re missing the bigger picture with Wonder Babe.  That’s all.”

Wally’s jealous, and Bruce isn’t sure how to feel about that.  It’s … unexpected.  “I’m not interested in Diana.”

“Then you’re the only man on the planet who isn’t.  Maybe the only human being.  I mean, have you seen the way Hawkgirl looks at her sometimes?  If that isn’t love--”

Bruce cuts him off, squeezing his thigh lightly.  “Wally, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m interested in you.  Not Diana.  Not Clark.  Not anyone else.  Just you.”

If they weren’t so close to Gotham, Bruce really would turn on the auto-pilot and give Wally reason to believe there’s no one but him.  Bruce isn’t quite sure how Wally managed to get under his skin so fast, but if he thinks about it, they’d been dancing around the subject for a long time.  It shouldn’t have taken Chase Meridian to push them into action, but Bruce isn’t sorry.  He wonders what Chase did with the flowers he sent her, if she understood what exactly he was thanking her for.  It really doesn’t matter if she did.

“Speaking of Clark, are you going to tell me--”

“We’re coming up on Gotham and there’s still a storm in the area.  I’m going to need both hands to navigate.”  Wally lets him go, and Bruce pilots them through the soupy clouds towards Wayne Manor.  There’s a blip on the radar screen that he knows is Clark.  Nothing else is going supersonic in this kind of weather.  Bruce reaches for the radio to let Alfred know they’re coming.  There’ll be hot coffee and cocoa and sandwiches when they arrive, dry clothes for Clark to slip into, and fresh sheets on all the beds.  Just in case.

With what he has to tell them, Bruce doubts Wally will have any desire to stay with him tonight.  Or possibly ever again.  The thought is disconcerting and he reaches out a quick hand to caress Wally’s face.  The green eyes are pleased and confused all at once, and Bruce pulls back to concentrate on flying as the rain ripples down the windshield.  There’s a jagged flash of lightning entirely too close to them, and he feels goose bumps rise on his bare hand.  Alfred’s voice crackles through the speaker to let them know Superman has arrived and will wait for them in the Cave.

It’s going to be a long night.


Wally slips down the stairs to the Cave after changing out of his uniform.  Alfred had given him a pair of Bruce’s sweatpants to wear and an over-sized navy t-shirt with the Wayne Enterprises logo.  He knows they’re Bruce’s because they would’ve been miles too big on Dick, and they’re just a half mile too big on Wally.  Although he has a bag with extra clothes in, Wally puts them on anyway.  Because they’re Bruce’s.  He wonders if he’ll notice.

He can hear low voices as he approaches.

“So, are you happy?” Clark is asking, and Wally freezes on the steps.  “Because you seem happy.  I mean, as happy as you get, Bruce.”


“I’m a little surprised.  I really didn’t think Wally had much chance of penetrating that thick skull of yours.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Wally can hear Bruce moving around in the Cave.  It sounds like he’s still wearing the cape.  There’s the heavy swish of fabric and the sound of a computer keyboard being tapped.

“He’s been flirting for months, Bruce.”

“Wally flirts with everyone.”  Wally’s about to let out an indignant retort, but decides against it.  Besides, it’s sort of true, but there’s a difference between flirting for fun, and serious flirting, and with Bruce it’s always been serious.

“You’re annoyed ‘cause you needed Chase to point it out to you.”

“I just like to take things slow.”

“And that’s why you’re dating the fastest man on the planet.  How’s that slow thing working for you now?”  Wally can hear Clark’s grin.


“Did you tell him about Japan yet?”

No doubt the source of the cover hogging story.  Wally holds his breath and tries not to give himself away, although he’s pretty sure they both already know he’s there.

“No, and thanks a lot for bringing that up, Clark.”

“You’re welcome,” he says brightly.

“Master Wally?”  Wally almost goes through the roof as Alfred appears right behind him carrying a tray of sandwiches.

“Jeez, Alfred, does everyone in this house have to do that sneaky Bat-thing?”

“It is almost a pre-requisite for living in the manor.  My apologies for startling you.  Shall we go down?”  Alfred carefully doesn’t say anything about the fact that he’s caught Wally eavesdropping.

Wally gestures at the tray.  “Can I help you with that?”

Alfred fixes him with a polite look.  “I have one job in this household, and I intend to keep it.  I shall carry the tray, and you shall consume the food.  Understood?”

“Absolutely.”  Wally grabs a sandwich, and runs down the rest of the stairs.


“Okay, Bruce, enough stalling,” Clark says, and puts down his mug.  He looks comfortable in one of the rolling leather chairs Bruce keeps down in the Cave.  Bruce knows that’s not going to last.  “Talk.”

Bruce wishes he’d left the uniform on, but it’s too late now.  Alfred had given him a look that said “if you’re not out of that blessed cowl in the next five minutes, I’m going to make you regret it, and don’t think I can’t do it, young man.”  Bruce had only had to test that once, so he’d changed into one of his three pairs of jeans, neatly pressed, and a dark brown cashmere sweater.  It reminds him of cocoa, which reminds him of Wally, and he doesn’t know when he started picking his clothes that way.  It’s unsettling.

They’ve eaten the sandwiches and the drinks, and Alfred’s gone to make more cocoa for Wally, so there really isn’t anything stopping Bruce from just telling them what he brought them here to tell them.  Except he doesn’t want to.  He really doesn’t want to.

Wally’s sitting on the edge of the railing that runs around the computer bay, and he’s swinging his feet impatiently the way Dick used to when Bruce wasn’t paying enough attention to him.  He wants to take Wally’s hand and walk out of the Cave and forget about everything except tumbling him into bed, taking back the clothes that he knows are his.  They look good on Wally.  Just a little too big, but he wears them well, and Bruce wonders if a “Property of Wayne Enterprises” shirt would be going too far.  Probably, but he likes the idea anyway.  Wally’s his, and Wally doesn’t seem afraid to show it.

Which is more than Bruce can say, although apparently he’s not doing as good a job at hiding his feelings as he’d like to think.  He can’t even explain what that was on the Watchtower.  Wally was right.  It was personal.

“You know, Bruce, Lois has the night off and there are a lot of things I’d rather do than fly through an electrical storm in Gotham, even for Alfred’s cocoa.  You’ve been acting strange since the whole thing with the Lords, and today was--” Clark frowns, searching for the right words, “--not like you at all.”

Wally smiles at him, and it’s so patient and open, it breaks Bruce’s heart.  He’s not sure he can do this.  He isn’t ready to lose that smile, that beautiful mouth.  Bruce isn’t sure why he brought Wally here.  He didn’t want to involve him in this.  What Bruce knows is his burden to bear.  His and Clark’s.

“Bruce, whatever it is, we’ll figure it out together.  The three of us.”  Wally glances at Clark for support, and gets it in the form of a firm nod.  “It’ll be all right.”

“Or I can just tell Wally about what happened in that hotel room in Japan,” Clark begins, and Bruce holds up his hands.

“Okay, okay.  It’s just that you’re both going to think I’m nuts, and you’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear.”

They’re both looking at him with concern, but there’s trust there too.  Bruce knows there isn’t anyone else he could share this with.  Except Dick, and he just isn’t ready to have this conversation with him yet.  He still has trouble remembering Dick’s not a kid.  He looks at Wally.  Sometimes he has trouble remembering Wally’s not either.  Bruce didn’t honestly think he’d live long enough to see them all grow up, let alone grow into men who would be this important to him.  He never expected Wally at all.

But he knows they’ll help him make sense of it, figure it out.  He doesn’t have to do it alone.  He wishes that made him feel better.  But it doesn’t.

He begins.


Clark shakes his head.  He isn’t sure if he should be angry with Bruce, or if he should be checking to see if Belle Reve has a nicely padded cell for him.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight.  You’ve been using the Justice Lords’ portal technology to step into parallel universes, and based on the events in those timelines, you’re convinced it’s only a matter of time before we turn into the worst versions of ourselves.”

“Not exactly, Clark.”  Bruce sounds exasperated, and Wally’s just sitting there not saying anything at all, swinging his feet back and forth in time to some beat only he hears.  “I’m not saying we’re going to cross the line, but--God, Clark, in each of these timelines we’ve done it, and I don’t know what’s going to stop us from making the same mistakes.”

“Bruce, we know what happened in that other world.  We’ve seen the results.  That’s what’s going to stop us.  That and the fact it’s wrong.  We don’t kill.  We never have.  We’re not going to start.”

“And are you positive of that?”  Bruce is looking at him with those ice-blue eyes that always seem darker when he’s upset.  “Are you absolutely certain there’s nothing that could make you kill?”

“Nothing.”  Clark knows it’s true.  Luthor’s vile, but Clark knows nothing could make him forsake his values.  He’s had difficult choices to make before.  He’s always stuck to his beliefs.

“You don’t understand,” Bruce says quietly.

“Then make me understand, Bruce.  Tell me why you’re so sure this is what our future looks like.”

“Because it’s happened in all the timelines I’ve checked.”

There’s silence in the Cave.  Clark’s always known Bruce was obsessive about things, but this is … insane.  He rubs at his eyes and tries to make sense of what Bruce is saying.  He doesn’t want to believe it.

“How many?”  Wally’s voice is subdued.  He’s stopped swinging his legs.

“What?” Clark asks, uncertain of what he means.

“How many times, Bruce?”


“Dear God,” Clark says.  Wally lets out a low whistle.  Now Clark’s beginning to understand why Bruce has been struggling, why he’s been more distant and paranoid than usual.  Even why he’s let someone like Wally into his life.

Bruce is beginning to think there isn’t anything they can do to change it.

Clark wants to tell him he’s wrong, that he’s being ridiculous, but there’s something in Bruce’s eyes that won’t let him.  It’s fear, and it doesn’t belong there.  Or maybe it does.  Clark won’t know until he has all the details, and he’s never known Bruce to paint a grimmer picture than necessary.

“Okay, Bruce.  You need to tell us exactly what happened in those other timelines.  Exactly.”


Bruce can see understanding seep into their faces like ice water.  Wally’s face is so pale Bruce can count every single freckle.  He wishes he could take the time to kiss each one, name them like stars in the heavens.  They’re perfect.  Bruce wants to remember to tell Wally that when this is done.

“Who dies?” Clark asks.

“You want a list?” Bruce asks.

“There’s a list?” Wally chokes out in horror, and Bruce nods.  He remembers every detail he’s gleaned from the historical records of those other times, grateful that the Bat-Cave technology was always similar enough he could figure out how to download the relevant files, that his double was enough like him to obsessively store the information.

“In at least three scenarios, Jonathan and Martha Kent are the catalyst.”

“That’s impossible,” Clark says.

“Timelines one and two, Smallville is Ground Zero for a nuclear explosion that wipes Kansas and half the Midwest off the map.”

Clark looks like he’s going to bolt at any second and Bruce pops out a panel under the computer desk.  He comes up with a half-empty bottle of scotch, and two shot glasses.  He pours a glass and hands it to Clark.

“I don’t need that.”

“You will.  Drink it, Clark.  Just drink it.”

Clark downs the amber liquid with a grimace, and Bruce can almost feel the burn in his own throat.  Clark’s blue eyes are steady as he hands him back the glass.  He’ll listen.  He’ll hate it, but he’ll listen, and Bruce wishes he could spare Clark having to think about these things, but he can’t.  Not any more.  He pours two more glasses, hands one to Wally who takes it wordlessly and leaves the other on the console beside Clark.  He knows he doesn’t think he’ll need it, but he will.  Bruce wishes he didn’t, but he will.

“Timeline three, Luthor discovers who you are and has your parents murdered at their home in Smallville.  It appears to be a random killing.  You find their bodies.”

Clark’s jaw is straight as steel.  Bruce can see he’s fighting to keep his emotions together.  He remembers the descriptions from the Bat-computer.  The pictures.  He doesn’t think he’ll ever forget them.

“Tell me,” Clark whispers.  Bruce looks at his face.  They’ve been friends a long time, they’ve seen a lot of things together, both good and bad.  They’ve always had an understanding.

The second drink sits there between them, and Clark reaches for it.  Two large fingers wrap around it, ready.  Bruce’s eyes never leave Clark’s.

“He does it to taunt you because he thinks you can’t touch him.  There’s no proof that he’s involved.”

“Bruce, just pull off the damn bandage already.”  Clark’s fingers are shaking, the scotch threatening to spill over the edge of the glass.

“They find your father in the barn, hanging from the rafters in the loft you used to call your Fortress of Solitude.  Whoever tied the ropes knew what they were doing.  He dies slowly and completely aware of what’s happening.  His hands are torn and bloody from trying to loosen the rope.  His tongue has been bitten through.”

“Jesus,” Wally whispers.  He drinks his shot.

“Mom?” Clark says, and he sounds like a lost little boy.

“Don’t,” Wally interjects, but Bruce shakes his head.  He doesn’t have a choice.  They need to know.  He owes it to them.

“You find her body under a tarp on the floor of the barn.  She’s been beaten so badly, you’re not certain it’s her.  The two days your father hung there slowly suffocating, he watched your mother being brutally raped and beaten.  There’s absolutely nothing that links it to Luthor, but we know he set it up.”

The glass shatters underneath Clark’s fingers, and scotch drips onto the floor.  Bruce reaches over and puts his hands on Clark’s face, pulling his head down between his knees and kicking his feet wider apart.

“Open your eyes, Clark,” Bruce says.  “You won’t hurt the floor, and you won’t hurt me.”

There’s a tortured scream from Clark’s throat, a flare of red, and Bruce looks away as the concrete melts into a liquid blur.  He keeps his legs apart, moves a hand to rest on the back of Clark’s neck, and lets him have this moment.

Bruce knows exactly how he feels.


Clark’s scream echoes in every one of Wally’s bones.  He watches Bruce rubbing Clark’s neck, holding him, and he doesn’t know how Bruce knew it would be like this.  Wally sucks at the empty glass in his hand, wishing the scotch was beside him instead of Clark, ‘cause he can’t bring himself to interrupt Clark’s grief, but he really needs another drink.  Right now.

Wally knows that neither of them got what Bruce was saying until this very moment.  Clark’s grief is as real as if he’s just found the bodies, and Wally knows if Bruce let him go, he’d be in danger of killing Luthor tonight.  And Clark’s parents are very much alive and living in Smallville.  At least for now.

Three out of forty-seven.  Shit.

Wally looks up in time to catch the bottle of scotch Bruce tosses to him.  He gives him a grateful look and pours himself a shot.

Only forty-four nightmares left to go.


Alfred comes and goes in the Cave bringing additional sandwiches and extra glasses.  Clark has no idea how he knows what Bruce needs, instinctively.  He doesn’t say anything about the partially melted floor, or the shattered glass, or the cool towel draped across Clark’s eyes.  In fact, Clark doesn’t even see him come down to the Cave, but he knows he’s there.

And when he’s gone.

Wally breaks the silence.  “Are they all like that?  I mean, are they all that bad?  ‘Cause, fuck, Bruce, that was bad.”

“Yes, they’re all bad.  Clark’s right--we don’t kill under normal circumstances. Even in the face of trauma.  But there are things that can push the most moral person to commit murder.”

“Superman wouldn’t kill anybody,” Wally says, and Clark hears his shoes hit the concrete.  “He’s … Superman.  You’ve always said he was the World’s Biggest Boy Scout.”

Clark rolls his eyes under the towel.  He knows his reputation.  It’s not a surprise.  Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Superman.  America’s friend.  He’s so trustworthy, he doesn’t even need a mask.  Except there are times when Clark wishes he had something to hide behind, wishes Metropolis had more shadows and fewer villains and that people said thank you as much as they tell him to go to hell.  He wants things to be simpler.  More black-and-white.  Less gray.

“It wouldn’t be murder,” Clark says softly.  “It would be justice.”

“Spoken like a true Justice Lord, Superman.”  Bruce’s tone is biting.

Clark doesn’t think, he simply reacts.  One minute he’s leaning his head back in the leather chair, the next the chair’s skidding across the floor behind him, and Bruce’s throat is under his fingers, Bruce’s head against the rock wall of the cave.  Clark can feel the air squeezing out of Bruce’s windpipe even as the blue eyes look at him, caught between surprise and respect.  He doesn’t panic—just stares at Clark as if he expected something like this to happen.

“Shit!” Wally yells, and Clark reaches out a second hand as Wally blurs up beside him.  He grabs Wally by the back of the collar and lifts until Wally’s feet are spinning on air.  “Clark, come on.  You don’t want to do this.  Let him go.”

Wally’s injured arm is closest to Clark’s body and Wally can’t touch him without hurting himself.  Badly.  He swings awkwardly from Clark’s huge hand like a fish on a hook.

“This was Bruce’s point, Wally,” Clark says evenly, watching Bruce beginning to feel the lack of oxygen.  His training is the only thing between him and unconsciousness.  Wally’s struggling to get free, starting to vibrate under Clark’s hand, but he just curls his fingers tighter in the fabric of Wally’s t-shirt, feeling it pull up over his ribs and stomach.  If he threw Wally against the wall, he’d stop wriggling.  He could make it quick.  Relatively painless.  And Bruce—he’d feel the snap of his windpipe, but probably nothing else.  He’d be dead instantly with enough force.

“Shit, Clark, let him down.  Now.”  Wally kicks Clark hard in the thigh, but it means nothing to him.  It’s like the bite of a small insect—or so Clark thinks it must be.  He doesn’t really know.  “Fuck.”

“You’re just going to hurt yourself doing that, Wally.  Invulnerable, remember?”

Clark wonders where Bruce keeps the kryptonite.  He knows he has it for occasions just like this.  Clark gave it to him, after all.  Not that Bruce wouldn’t have found a supply of it anyway.  It’s just that it was more polite to obtain it under friendship than suspicion.  Bruce would’ve taken it out if he thought there was a risk.  Clark scans Bruce’s body for signs of it.  Nothing except a pounding heart.  Clark wonders why Bruce doesn’t reach out to him.  There are at least some nerve strike techniques that might slow him down long enough to reach the kryptonite.

He considers what it means that Bruce is letting him do this.  That Bruce trusts him this much.  Too much.

Wally’s voice is hoarse and desperate, and he’s hitting at Clark’s body wherever he can reach.  “You’re going to kill him!  Clark!  Stop!  Please.”  The last word is almost a sob, and Clark remembers they’re sleeping together now.  This is more than friendship being crushed under his hand.  More than life itself about to be snuffed out.

Bruce’s eyes are closing.  “Boy scout,” he whispers, and his lips twist up into a grin.

“World’s Deadliest Boy Scout,” Clark agrees, and lets him go.  Bruce slumps back against the wall, drawing in deep uneven breaths.  Wally kicks Clark again and he drops him as gently as he can given that Wally’s squirming like a monkey.  He scrambles across the floor and puts his good arm around Bruce’s shoulders.

“Jesus, Clark.  What the fuck was that?” Wally says.  He rubs a hand along Bruce’s neck, checking for injuries, or maybe just because he needs to touch.  To confirm he’s still alive.  The indentations of Clark’s fingers are visible on the skin.  Bruce reaches up and pulls Wally’s head to his shoulder, whispers in his ear.

“It’s okay.  He wouldn’t have done it.”  The two of them are breathing hard, looking small and fragile huddled together on the floor.  Clark sits back in the leather chair and drops his head into his hands.  He isn’t as sure as Bruce seems to be.  He isn’t sure at all, and it scares him.

“You can’t ever forget what I’m capable of.”  Clark’s own heart is pounding loud enough to shake his concentration.

“I don’t.”  The answering voice is hoarse.  Clark  reaches for the scotch and pours Bruce a glass with a shaking hand, passes it to him with a nod.  It disappears in a silent shot.  Wally’s looking back and forth between them as if they’re insane, and Clark thinks maybe they are.

“Fuck!  Remind me never to play chicken with you two,” Wally says.  Clark can hear his heart beating so fast it sounds like one continuous bass note.

“Who says we were playing?”

Bruce’s eyes meet Clark’s, and neither of them looks away.  They’ve always been there for each other.  The check to one another’s balance.  But Clark knows in his heart Bruce wouldn’t stop him from killing Luthor in a scenario like the one he described.  Bruce wouldn’t have the heart to stand in his way.

Clark puts the bottle of scotch to his lips and doesn’t look up until it’s empty.


They’ve moved to the study, and Wally isn’t sure this is a better idea at all.  Sure it’s more comfortable and there are fewer weapons lying about, but there’s a lot more to destroy if one of them decides to take out some frustration.  He doesn’t think Bruce’s Persian rug will fare as well as the concrete floor under Clark’s heat vision.

Clark lights a fire in the grate.  With his eyes.  Wally’s still feeling a little too nervous to be comfortable with Clark’s display of superpowers.  He can see the marks on Bruce’s neck, and his foot hurts from where he kicked Clark’s thigh.  A broken toe was not on his plan for this evening and it’s going to slow down his running.

He thinks back to what he was supposed to be doing tonight.  It’s Wednesday, so … shit, he missed Coronation Street.  He hopes Lantern will forgive him.  It just means they’ll have more to watch next week.

“Wally?”  Bruce and Clark are both looking at him, and he wonders if he missed something important.  He shakes his head and tries a smile.  It doesn’t work.

“I’m sorry,” Clark says, and he’s back to being his usual easy-going self, but Wally can’t quite forget watching him squeeze Bruce like he was a ragdoll.  He flops down onto the end of the couch and waits for something to happen.
 Bruce sits beside him, close enough to touch, and Wally’s surprised when Bruce’s arm drapes along the back of the couch, fingers reaching for his hair.  Wally leans into the touch, grateful.  Clark looks embarrassed, and Wally knows it doesn’t have anything to do with their closeness and everything to do with what happened in the Cave.

“Do you want the rest of the list?” Bruce asks.  He’s switched to brandy in a wide-mouthed snifter, Clark’s drinking orange juice and vodka, and Wally’s on his third cup of coffee.

“We need to know,” Clark says, although he doesn’t sound like he means it anymore.  Wally thinks he doesn’t need to know at all, and he wishes Bruce didn’t know either.  It isn’t as if Bruce hasn’t seen enough trauma in his lifetime, he had to go looking for forty-seven other lifetimes to compare that trauma with.  Wally doesn’t know if he’s strong enough to be what Bruce needs.

“Do you want details?”

“No,” Wally says, and it comes out louder than he intended.  “No.  I think we can do without the details.”  Bruce’s hand freezes in Wally’s hair for a moment, and then goes back to stroking his neck gently.

“Almost every scenario involves losing someone we care about, and it all ties back to Luthor.  Either he discovers our identities, chooses to use information he’s known about for years, or he simply makes an educated guess.  In each case, there’s nothing we can do to prove his involvement.  No loose ends, no strings, no witnesses.  In most cases, we end up looking like we’re involved somehow.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Wally says.  “No one would believe the Justice League would hurt its own members.”

“Maybe, but people are superstitious and afraid, and Luthor is charismatic and believable.  In every scenario, we come out looking like the bad guys--”

“And then we become the bad guys trying to prove him wrong,” Clark finishes.

“Exactly.  Justice Lords, Justice Legion, Avenging Justice.  ‘A rose by any other name’.”  Bruce swirls the brandy in the bottom of his glass, letting the firelight catch it.  “Clark loses Lois, and they call it domestic abuse.”  Wally glances across the room to see how Clark reacts.  He’s in control of himself again, although the arm of the wing chair might be slightly thinner before the evening is done.

“How many times?” Clark asks, staring into his orange juice.

“Five.  And none of them was pleasant.”

Wally cringes.  He doesn’t want to know how Bruce remembers all of this.  The statistics, the numbers.  Somewhere in the back of his mind is the vaguely unsettling thought that Bruce has everything on a power point presentation complete with charts and graphs showing the correlation between deaths and how long it takes them to kill Luthor.  He suspects all the pie graphs are red.  He shivers, and Bruce’s hand drops onto his shoulder.

“Is it always me?”  Clark’s looking at Bruce with the most serious expression Wally’s ever seen on him, including when he’s in full Superman mode.  They wait for Bruce’s answer.

“No, although you have the most power.  In most cases, it’s you that does it—not always on your own, of course--but about half the time, it’s me.  Always you or me.”

“You?”  Wally doesn’t want to believe it.  Bruce has always been about bringing criminals to justice, not about killing them, and God knows he’s had reasons to want them dead over the years.  A lot of reasons.

“Yes, me.  My solutions weren’t as dramatic as boring holes into Luthor’s brain, but they were just as effective.”

“And why didn’t I stop you?” Clark wants to know.  “Why didn’t somebody stop you?  Or me?”

Bruce shakes his head.  “I don’t know, Clark.  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve thought about it, I’ve analysed it, I’ve fed the data into the goddamn Bat-computer and I keep coming up with the same thing.  Emotions are chaotic.  Under extreme circumstances we can’t predict what’s going to happen, and in these scenarios … the things that happen are so horrific, so devastating, that there’s no time for any of us to think rationally.  We simply react.  As you did downstairs.”

“But I wouldn’t have hurt you.”

Clark’s looking at Bruce and it’s very clear he needs Bruce to know that.  They’re friends.  Clark wouldn’t hurt him, even though he dangled him from his hand and watched him struggle to breathe.  Wally’s not sure who’s not paying attention tonight, but he’s starting to think Bruce and Clark have a stranger relationship than he and Bruce do.

“If I’d just raped and murdered Lois, you would’ve.  Or Lana Lang.  Or Jimmy Olsen.  There are a handful of people that are emotional triggers for all of us.  We try to separate ourselves from the job.  We see death every day, and we can’t always stop it.  But they’re strangers.  It’s different when it’s family.  When it’s the people we love.”  Wally thinks Bruce stumbles on the last word, and maybe he’s trying too hard to find a sign.  Bruce’s hand is rubbing his shoulder now, warm steady circles on the fabric of his t-shirt, and Wally doesn’t know what it means because he doesn’t think Bruce has ever touched him like this in front of someone else before.  Definitely not like this.

“What are your triggers?” he asks.  Bruce gives a small smile, and Wally knows he was expecting the question.

“The obvious ones.”  There’s an expression on Bruce’s face that Wally can’t quite read.  “Dick.  Tim.  Barbara.  Alfred.”

As if on command, Alfred appears at the doorway with another pot of coffee, and three fresh mugs.  Bruce leaps up to help him, and earns a raised eyebrow from Alfred.  He settles for stirring up the fire with the poker, and letting Alfred busy himself with putting out the coffee.  Wally knows it’s Alfred’s subtle way of telling them to stop drinking.  He also knows he’ll be the only one using the mugs.

“Have Tim and Dick checked in?”

“All’s well, sir.  They’ve had a few minor incidents, but nothing they couldn’t handle ‘blind-folded on top of a speeding train’, as Master Timothy says. Whatever that means.”

Bruce smiles and nods.  “Thanks, Alfred.”  The doors to the study close unobtrusively behind him.

Bruce stabs at the fire again, and murmurs something Wally has to strain to catch.  “I never thought a poker could be used exactly that way.”

Wally doesn’t want to know.  He really doesn’t want to know.  Bruce’s jaw hardens for a second, as if he’s seeing some scene of horror unfolding in his brain.  Wally wants to reach over and wipe the memories away.  Kiss him until they can both forget, until it doesn’t matter anymore.  Clark’s face has a bleached look, as if all the colour has drained out of it.  He’s topping up his orange juice with vodka, and the drink has the color of watery Kool-aid.  Clark’s going to be drinking pure vodka pretty soon, and Wally’s no expert, but he’s pretty sure you’re not supposed to fill a brandy snifter past the halfway mark.  Bruce topped his glass up as soon as Alfred left the room.

“Do you want to talk about it, Bruce?” Clark asks, and Wally thinks it should’ve been him asking the question, offering support, but there’s something else worrying at the back of his brain like a termite on old wood, and he’s working up to asking the question he doesn’t want to ask.

“No, Clark.  I don’t ever want to talk about it,” Bruce says with a laugh that’s not the least bit funny.  “I’ve read detailed accounts of all of their deaths, seen pictures.  I have enough to fuel my nightmares for many years to come.”

“What about me?”  Wally knows they’re both staring at him, and neither is sure what he’s asking.  Truthfully, he isn’t entirely certain either.  He looks at the fire as if the answer’s hidden in the flames.  Bruce puts the poker back in its stand.  “I mean, there was no me in the Justice Lords’ world.  No Flash.  I didn’t really think it was that big a deal, but … maybe it’s important.”

Bruce laughs again, and now Wally’s certain that’s not how you drink brandy.  It’s not exactly like drinking a Big Gulp, and right now he can’t tell the difference.  Bruce leans against the fireplace and lays his head on folded arms while the fire crackles and spits.

“In twenty-seven cases, the Flash dies.”

Wally lets out a deep breath.  Whoa.  That’s way more than anyone else Bruce mentioned.  That makes him, like, the winner.  Except totally not in a good way.  Jeez, why can’t he ever win something useful?

“Guess that makes me Most Likely to Die?”

Bruce makes a choked sound and lifts his head to look at him.  His eyes are blue and full of shadows.

“God, Wally, do you have any idea—no, I guess you don’t.  The most common cause of us going rogue, of the League assassinating Luthor is because he kills you.  You.  In excruciatingly complex ways which I’m not going to go into.”

Bruce looks angry, and Wally isn’t certain what’s happening.  He’s pretty confident Bruce isn’t going to shoot fire from his eyes, but he really wouldn’t want to place any bets on it at the moment.

“But why would that be such a big deal?”

Wally’s serious.  It’s not as if he’s the strongest member of the league or the most important.  Half the time they don’t even seem to want him on missions.  How often do they really need someone who can run on water or create a tornado on the spot?  He’s got a reputation for being a goof, the comic relief, and yeah, he’s earned that rep for the most part.  Why would anyone think killing him would cause the Justice League to break down?

Bruce must have been reading his thoughts because he comes to kneel in front of Wally and places a hand on his face.  It’s large and warm, and Wally leans into it.  He’s missed Bruce this past month, in ways he didn’t know he could miss someone.

“You hold us together, Wally.  You give us hope and strength and make us laugh in the middle of the worst situations.”

“You never laugh in the middle of--”

“I think he’s speaking metaphorically,” Clark adds helpfully.

“The point is, you’re important.  To the League.  To all of us.  More than you know.  More than we can tell you.”  Bruce is staring at him intently now with those blue eyes, the same colour as the flames licking at the tips of the logs, and Wally can feel the heat sweeping over him again and he knows it’s not from the fire.  “Without you, it falls apart.  Like a house of cards.  We all fall down.”


“And I fall the furthest,” Bruce admits in a hoarse whisper.  “I couldn’t deal with something happening to you.  Not now, not after … I’m the one who falls apart and drags everyone down with me.”

“But I don’t stop you.”  Clark’s standing now, and his full height seems really tall from where Wally’s scrunched in the corner of the couch.  He lays a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.  “Because I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.  I can’t bring myself to stop you because I know Luthor will keep on and on until he kills everyone we love.  That’s why it falls apart.  We accept that we can’t change it.  We let him set the rules.”

Wally’s trying to keep up.  All he can think is that in a bunch of parallel universes, he’s dead.  Really, horribly dead and Bruce is probably in love with him in this universe, but he’s too scared to say it because he’s afraid of losing him, and the universe has pretty much given him confirmation that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.  Wally’s surprised Bruce let him even come within fifteen feet of him, knowing what he does.

“But there’s nothing that says that’s going to happen here,” Wally insists.  “There’ve got to be parallel worlds where these things don’t happen.  Where Luthor doesn’t kill anyone.  Don’t there have to be?  I mean, isn’t there some law of probability or something that says the same thing’s not going to happen in every universe?”

Bruce smiles at him.  “Yeah, there is, but so far, I haven’t found a timeline that disagrees.  The events happen to varying degrees, but they always seem to happen.  Somebody dies and then the world goes to hell.”

“But you and Clark can hold it together.  You’ve got Kryptonite—sorry, Clark—”

“It’s okay.”

“—and Batman’s human—sorry, Bruce—”

“It’s okay.”

“—so it shouldn’t be that difficult for you to stop each other.”

“In theory,” Bruce starts.

“In theory?”  Wally thinks forty-seven scenarios are more than theory.  “It’s not theory anymore, Bruce.  You’ve seen it happen all those times.  You know what the result is.  Therefore, you can’t let it happen here.  You can’t.  No matter what Luthor does.”


“I’m not kidding, you guys.  If something happens to me, and you let the League go rogue, I’ll come back and haunt you both.  I’ll be the most annoying spirit you’ve ever known, and—”

Suddenly Wally can’t breathe because he’s got not one, but two, superheroes wrapped around him, and his sore wrist is bent at an angle that really can’t be healthy, but he doesn’t care.  Clark’s warm and smells like rain, and Bruce is solid and familiar and everything he’s ever wanted wrapped around him.

“I mean it,” Wally says when they finally let him go.  “You have to both promise me and each other that whatever happens, you won’t do anything stupid.  You won’t cross that line.  I wouldn’t want that.  None of us would want that.  Even if Luthor does deserve to be brain-fried.”

Clark extends a hand towards Bruce.  “I promise.  You have the kryptonite for a reason, Bruce.  I trust you to use it if you have to.”

Bruce takes Clark’s hand, but he looks worried, as if he’s committing to something he doesn’t think he can live up to.  Wally can see it in his eyes.  So can Clark.

“I promise,” Bruce says.  It isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t exactly feel like the truth either.

“I promise too,” Wally adds, laying his hand on top of theirs.  “Just in case I actually survive.”


Bruce points Clark towards the phone so he can call Lois and let her know he won’t be home tonight.  The storm’s still raging, and Clark’s probably really not in any shape to fly, although alcohol doesn’t affect him the way it does other people.  Human beings.

Bruce shakes his head.  It’s been a long time since he’s really thought of Clark as an alien.  It used to bother him, worry him, but that was before he knew Clark.  Now there’s no one Bruce would rather have at his side in a fight.

He heads up the stairs to the bedrooms and he isn’t entirely surprised to see Wally standing in the hallway, Flash uniform back on, mask in his hand.  He seems to be moving his wrist more easily, and Bruce remembers everything about Wally is fast—even his ability to heal.  No doubt, he’ll be fine in a day or two.

“Going somewhere?” Bruce asks and he tries to sound casual, but his heart is in his throat.  He’s losing him.  He knows he is.

Two more steps forward, and Wally’s right in front of him, shaking his head and blinking up at him with those sea-green eyes.  “I need to run.”

Bruce nods as if he understands, and all he can think about is the empty place inside of him that Wally’s pushed aside this last little while, that he’s been slowly intruding on for months with his smile and his presence and his inability to understand when Batman is telling him to go away.

“Bruce.”  Wally puts his right hand on Bruce’s face and kisses him softly.  “I need to run.  My muscles are aching, and I’m kind of wound up from everything.  I’m not running away.”

Oh.  Bruce slides his arms around Wally’s back and kisses him back, harder.  The familiar flare of heat is there, and Bruce wonders if it’s always going to be like this, like someone turned on a solar flare.  There’s a slight cough behind them, and they pull apart, but Bruce keeps his hands on Wally’s waist.

“I’ll be back.  I promise.” Wally says, slipping on his mask one-handed.

“If you don’t, I’m coming to get you.”

Wally grins and kisses him fast, blushing because Clark’s right there.  “Deal.  Now go to bed.  I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.”

“Wake me,” Bruce whispers, and finally lets him go.  There’s no longer any question of where anybody’s sleeping.  Clark’s hair flutters in the breeze as Wally blurs down the stairs and away.

“I’m tempted to go with him.”  Clark’s stretching his arms over his head, tilting his neck to one side, then the other.  Bruce hears something pop.  “But I really don’t like running in the rain, so this is fine.  Thanks for the bed, by the way.”

“It’s really the least I could do, Clark, considering.”  Bruce leans against the wall beside the guest room.  He thinks it’s funny that a month ago, he was trying to sneak into this room to find Wally.  “I didn’t want to drag you two into this.”  There’s a hand on his shoulder, and Bruce looks up into familiar eyes.

“That’s what friends are for, Bruce.  I keep trying to tell you that.  One of these years, maybe it’ll sink in.”  The smile is genuine and Bruce wonders how Clark can still smile like that given everything he’s heard tonight.
“And are friends for telling you your worst nightmares?”

“Sometimes.  They’re also for stopping you from making mistakes you’ll regret.  I meant what I said, Bruce.”

“So did I.  Do you want to know in how many other timelines we made promises too?”

“No.  The only one that matters is this one.”  Clark’s right and Bruce knows it, but he’s still scared he won’t be able to keep his end of the bargain.  Not if it’s Wally.  God, he doesn’t even want to think about the possibility.  Why did he let him leave tonight?  Anything could happen.

“Bruce, do you want some advice?” Clark’s squeezing his shoulder enough to snap him out of his thoughts.

“You’re going to give it to me whether I want it or not.”

“True.  But it’s good advice.”   Clark’s second hand finds Bruce’s other shoulder.  Bruce glances at the hand suspiciously.

“Are you going to hug me?”

“Maybe,” Clark says.  He meets Bruce’s eyes.  “If you love him, tell him.  Don’t wait.  I know it’s difficult for you--” Bruce’s eyes shift away.  He hates it when Clark does this. “—but he needs to know, and you need to say it.  It’s not that hard.”

“Don’t tell me what’s hard, Clark.  You don’t know--”

“You’re my friend and I love you.  You mean the world to me and it would kill me if something happened to you.  I’ll do whatever I can to protect you.  Because I care about you, and I always will.”

Clark’s arms slide around him in a tight hug, and Bruce gives in because there’s nothing else he can do and Clark knows it.  He pats Clark awkwardly on the shoulder.  Bruce isn’t sure how Clark manages to survive in this occupation sometimes.

“It won’t kill you to say it, Bruce.”

“It might.”  Bruce realizes Clark’s not going to let him go until he says something.  He just doesn’t think he can say that--even if it might be true.  “I think you’re swell, Clark.  Now let me go before I’m forced to get the kryptonite.”

Clark squeezes him once more and lets him go.  “He deserves better than that, you know.”

“I know.  I’m working on it.”  He really is.  And he knows how he feels and yes, it’s probably love, but he doesn’t know why it’s so important that he says it.  Like that.  In those exact words.  Actions have always meant more to him, and he doesn’t get why everyone seems to need to hear things from him.  The last people he told he loved ended up bleeding to death in front of him.  He doesn’t know if he’s ever said it to Dick.  It seems like Dick knows—even if he doesn’t say it.  Maybe he’ll have to rethink that.  And what he’s going to say to Wally.  Who probably loves him too.

“G’night, Bruce.”  Clark pushes open the door to the guest room.  “Whatever happens, you’re not alone in this.  Remember that.”

“I know.”  Bruce clicks off the light in the hall.  Lightning flashes through the skylight above him, and he slips into the comforting dark of his bedroom.

He still feels alone.


Wally’s been running for an hour.  He lifts his face to the rain and lets it pour down on him.  He stands there and soaks it up, lets it wash him clean.  He doesn’t want to think about dead parents and purple bruises and timelines where they die and kill and bleed over and over and over.

He wants to run until he can’t think anymore.

He can feel the dull throb of his broken toe and he’d tease Clark about his thighs of steel if he didn’t know it would make the other man guilty beyond belief.   Clark’s way too sensitive for the superhero biz sometimes.

Then there’s Bruce.  Wally doesn’t know what to do about him.  The man’s dark and noble and self-sacrificing and Wally’s hopelessly in love with him.  He knows Bruce is broken inside and that he’s never going to heal.  All Wally can do is hope to make it better.  He doesn’t know if it’ll be enough.  For either of them.

But then Bruce does things that surprise him.  Like bursting into the Watchtower, obviously worried about him, and Wally never expected that.  It should’ve been a polite comm message inquiring as to his readiness for duty, or maybe a slightly detached “are you okay?”, but Bruce is afraid of losing him.  And yeah, that makes a lot more sense now that he knows what Bruce’s been thinking about—all the stuff with the other worlds—and maybe that’s all it is, Bruce being paranoid and thinking Flash’s death is going to be the cause of the world as they know it unravelling.

But that’s not really it at all.  Because what Bruce didn’t say was that Wally’s death doesn’t destroy the world.  It destroys Bruce, and Bruce crosses a line Wally never believed he could cross.  For him.  Because he died.

And that means Bruce loves him.

Bruce loves him.

Wally turns back towards Gotham, picking up speed as he runs.


Bruce doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have because the shadows in the room have shifted, and the door is whispering open.  He watches as Wally crosses into the room, shuts the door silently, and strips out of his uniform.  He left him a pair of sweat pants to change into, didn’t want to presume, and honestly doesn’t know what Wally sleeps in when he isn’t here.  They haven’t been together enough, and Bruce thinks there’s something wrong with that.  He should know these things.  God knows he wants to.

Bruce catches glimpses of pale flesh stretching in the lightning flashes.  He’s left one curtain hanging ajar exactly for this reason, so he can watch Wally move in the eye-blinks of light from outside.  He sees him rotate his wrist, shake it like a wet rag, and maybe it’s already healed.  Maybe the run was exactly what he needed.

And he came back.

Wally slides naked under the covers beside him, and his skin is cool and damp and smells like rain.  Bruce turns over and wraps his arms around him, burying his face against Wally’s neck and breathing him in.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” Wally whispers, curling closer.

“I was.  But you’re here, and now I’m awake.”  Bruce scrubs his face along Wally’s shoulder, and he knows the fine stubble of his beard tickles Wally’s skin.  Wally tugs Bruce’s face up to his and kisses him.  It’s slow and wet and Bruce can taste powdered sugar and chocolate and cappuccino.  He’s pretty sure Wally hit some all-night doughnut place, and he wonders if that wasn’t most of the reason for his run.  It would be easier if it was.

“Did you and Clark talk?” Wally asks sleepily, and Bruce hides a smile against his shoulder as Wally starts to vibrate just a little.  He’s pretty sure Wally isn’t even aware of it, but Bruce never fails to be amazed by it.  He strokes Wally’s skin and feels the tremors under the pads of his fingers.

“Yes.  He hugged me.”

Wally snickers.  “Yeah, he looked primed to do that when I left.  But it’s a lot better than having him choke off your air supply.”  Wally’s tone shifts, and Bruce kisses the corners of his mouth.  He wants him to smile again.

“He needed to know.  He needed us to know what he could do.”

“Yeah, but jeez, Bruce, I thought he was going to--”

“Clark wouldn’t actually hurt me.  I’m pretty sure of that.”

“Pretty sure.  That’s comforting.”  Wally’s hands slide over Bruce’s back.  He’s using both hands now, and Bruce reaches for his injured wrist and caresses it gently, placing a kiss on the pulse point.  “Anything else I should know?”

Bruce pauses and the words are on the edge of his tongue.  I love you.  He can feel them there, heavy and unfamiliar, and he doesn’t know how to say them.  It’s as if he’s turned mute and all he has left are his actions.

“Bruce?” Wally whispers.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  I’m glad you’re here,” he says, and kisses Wally again.  Kisses him deeply and slides his tongue between his lips, pushing the words he can’t say into Wally’s mouth so maybe he’ll know anyway.  Wally kisses him back, makes soft happy sounds, and Bruce gets lost in a world without language.  There is only skin and mouth and tongue, the damp smell of sweat and rain, and thunder rolling in the background.  Hair tickles Bruce’s flesh, lightning flashes on green eyes, and fingers stroke and tease and comfort in the most pleasant ways.  They drift into sleep without making love, and yet Bruce thinks Wally must know that’s what they’re doing every moment they’re together.

Even if Bruce can’t say the words.



Wally pulls the covers over his head as the drapes are opened, sunlight spilling into the room.  It can’t possibly be morning already.  He groans and stretches and sits up yawning.

“Good morning, Master Wally,” Alfred says.

Wally chokes mid-yawn and tugs the covers up around his throat.  “Alfred, I thought you were--”

“I usually draw the drapes for Master Bruce in the morning.”  Good to know, Wally thinks, but it would’ve been better to know in advance.

“And where is--?”

“Downstairs bidding farewell to Master Clark.  He’s returning to Metropolis.  I’ve put on a pot of French Roast for you, and there are muffins in the oven.”  Alfred seems to sense his discomfort, and smiles at him.  “You needn’t feel embarrassed, Master Wally.  I’ve raised my share of young men in this household.  There isn’t anything that can surprise me.”

“I don’t suppose there’s any way you’d drop the ‘master’ bit and just call me Wally?”  He’s tried this before, but every so often he feels he has to ask anyway, even though he knows Alfred will never change.

“Absolutely not.  I can call you Master Wallace if you prefer.”  Wally cringes.  Wallace Rudolph West.  Yeah, there’s a good reason he uses Wally.

“No, that’s fine.  I’m just not used to this.  My apartment would fit in Bruce’s bathroom.  In Central City, there’s just me, The Spinster, and a couple of dead houseplants.”

“You’re keeping a maiden aunt in your apartment?”  Alfred doesn’t even pause as he hands Wally his shaving kit.

“No, I’ve got a hamster.  He spins.”  Wally doesn’t know why everyone looks at him strangely when he tells them the name.  It makes perfect sense to him.  And the little guy’s fast.  Really fast.  Wally wonders if it’s the cappuccino he’s been sharing with him.  Maybe he ought to talk to the vet about that.

“Perhaps you’ll be spending more time here then.”

Alfred hands him a pile of neatly folded clothes, and this time they’re the ones taken from his bag, although Wally’s pretty sure they weren’t folded this well when he put them in.  Wally wonders if Alfred ever gets in trouble for going through people’s things.  Probably not.  It’s hard to get upset at Alfred for taking care of everyone.

Wally shrugs.  “I guess that’s kind of up to Bruce.  He’s sensitive about his space.  I mean, I don’t want to push him.”

“Sometimes a good push is exactly what he needs.”  Alfred checks his watch.  “The muffins should be just ready.  You have time for a quick shower, and I do mean quick.  I’ll keep Master Bruce downstairs, so you don’t get distracted.”  Wally blushes.  He does not want to be having these discussions with Alfred.  It’s worse than when Barry tried to talk to him when he was a kid.  “I’ll expect you downstairs momentarily.”

 He disappears silently into the hall.  Wally heads for the bathroom.  No point keeping hot muffins waiting.  Or Bruce.

UPDATE - Sept. 2

Bruce watches Wally disappear down the curving driveway.  If he closes his eyes, he can still feel what it’s like to wake up with Wally wrapped in his arms, naked and warm.  Wally had murmured sleepily when Bruce nuzzled the back of his neck, kissing the skin there.  It’s been a long time—longer than Bruce can remember—since he’s woken up with someone in his bed.  Longer since it’s been someone he cares about.  Really cares about.

He doesn’t know why it’s so hard to say the words.

The thought follows him down into the Cave, and pushes at the edges of his consciousness all day.  Alfred brings him lunch and supper while Bruce works, studying Luthor’s recent acquisitions.  Bruce knows he’s planning something.  Something big.  Lex isn’t even being terribly secret about it, and this Metropolis event he and Diana have to go to is just one more opportunity for Lex to rub it in their faces.  President Luthor can do whatever he wants, and there’s very little they can do to stop him.  Lex has always been far too clever.

It’s early evening when Alfred shoos Bruce out of the Cave, citing two untouched meals as evidence that he needs a break.  Sometime during the day it’s begun to rain, and Bruce watches the heavy rivulets spiral along the gothic detailing of the windows in the study.  He’ll need to be going out soon, but he’s having trouble staying focused.  On the street, it can be the difference between alive and dead, and he owes it to Tim to either be fully in the game or out of it.  It’s too dangerous to do otherwise.  He tries to gather his thoughts.  Wonders if it’s raining in Central City.

A carpeted footfall behind him, and Bruce is turning even as the shadow’s backing unobtrusively out of the doorway.


The shadow stops.  “I didn’t want to bother you.  Alfred said you were …”  Dick’s voice trails off.

“Brooding?” Bruce supplies, and he sees Dick crack a small grin even as he steps tentatively into the study, more reluctant to act completely at home in these rooms than when he was a child.  Bruce thinks it’s backwards, this decrease in familiarity.  Dick should be more comfortable here after so many years, not less.  Somehow becoming an adult has given him an awareness of personal space and family boundaries he simply didn’t possess as a child.  If Bruce is honest, he misses those times.  When Dick was less thoughtful, more relaxed with him.  Less willing to give him distance, however well-intended.

“It’s a lousy night,” Dick offers when the silence begins to stretch.  “Think we can assume the crooks will stay in where it’s warm and dry?”


Bruce knows nights like this are usually worse.  Bad weather brings out bad behaviour, and if villains waited for the rain to stop, Gotham’s crime-rate would be almost non-existent.

There’s a soft chuckle.  One that says Bruce has missed the joke entirely.  He looks up and Dick’s face is bathed in the orange glow from the fire Alfred insisted on lighting.  He’s wearing black leathers from head to toe, and Bruce wants to lecture him about riding his bike in this weather, but he knows there’s no point.  They’ve all done more dangerous things than that, and probably will again tonight.  It seems a bit hypocritical even to Bruce, who sometimes has difficulty separating his parental urges from his expectations for Robin.  Even if Dick’s not Robin anymore.  Or a child.

Dick sets his bike helmet down and slips into one of the upholstered wing chairs, draping his legs over the side and leaning his head back into the corner.  It’s the same position he used to take when he was a kid and Bruce would find him in this room reading.  Dick always asked if he should leave, and Bruce always said no.  It was important, he knew, although he couldn’t have said why.  He liked having Dick there.  Close by.  There was something comforting in it although Bruce couldn’t have explained exactly what.

“Bruce, are you all right?” Dick finally asks, and Bruce knows the question’s been building for a while.  Wally asked it last night, but it’s been written on everyone’s face for weeks.  Concern.  Uncertainty.  The feeling that something’s wrong, but nothing more than a feeling.  Not the strongest argument to approach Batman with.  It’s given him time to think.

Maybe too much time.

Bruce shrugs and takes the chair across from Dick.  He leans against its straight back, lets his arms fall in straight lines along its edges.  His legs remain together, a perfect right angle from knee to floor.  He knows the difference in their postures isn’t lost on either of them.  Bruce finds it difficult to relax when he’s thinking about things.

“I know you’re not big on talking,” Dick says, and his eyes track along the ceiling as if there’s some kind of answer hidden there.  Some advice for how to deal with difficult fathers.  Bruce has often wondered what the boy’s life would’ve been like if Dick’s parents had lived.  If Bruce hadn’t taken him.  Changed him.  He knows Dick would’ve been happier, and somehow it’s hard to acknowledge your best can never be good enough.  Bruce wants to have been as good a father, as good a parent as that twirling example on the trapeze.  It’s hard living up to a ghost.

Only in the extended silence does Bruce realize Dick’s sentence was an invitation to say something.  Another opportunity missed.  He’s never, ever been good at talking, and nights like this are worse.  It doesn’t help that he feels like he used up all his words last night, gave them all to Clark and Wally for safe-keeping.  Of course, he can’t tell Dick that.  Can’t begin to go through that again.  Not yet.  Not unless it’s absolutely necessary, and Bruce prays it’s never going to be.

Dick’s starting to fidget in his chair, and Bruce knows it’s almost time to get ready.  The clock chimes and Tim will be here any minute, if he isn’t already suiting up in the Cave.  There are other entrances if one wants to avoid the study.  And Bruce.

“Is everything okay with Wally?”

It’s not the easiest thing for Dick to ask considering how long he and Wally have been friends, but Bruce appreciates the effort.

“Things are fine.”

“Good.”  Dick doesn’t come out and say it, but Bruce hears:  “don’t screw it up.”  He wishes he could reassure Dick he’ll do his best.  Wally’s important to him.  So important he wants to forget the patrol and drive to Central City.  Or fly—it’s faster.  Wants to find Wally and drag him back to his apartment so they can break more tiles in the shower, so the squeaking in the apartment isn’t just coming from that hamster Wally insists on calling The Spinster.  Bruce has been meaning to ask if it’s healthy for a hamster to run that fast.  His little wheel spins at a truly alarming rate.

“Bruce?”  Dick’s standing in front of him now, and Bruce wonders when that happened.

“Sorry.  You were saying?”

Dick’s trying to decide how to say what’s on his mind, and it’s strangely like looking in a mirror.  The words are there, yet it’s so hard to get them out …

“Were you happy growing up here?” Bruce blurts out.

Dick’s got both hands on Bruce’s shoulders and the look on his face isn’t one Bruce is used to seeing unless they’re facing impossible odds.  “What the hell’s going on?  You’re not telling me something.”

Well, that’s pretty much a given, but Bruce isn’t prepared to have that discussion.  “Dick, there’s a lot going on right now.  I—I just wonder sometimes if you wouldn’t have had a better life … somewhere else.  With a real family.”

Dick’s looking at Bruce like he’s insane, and the hands on his shoulders are gripping him tightly.  “I have a real family.  With you and Alfred.  And Tim, and the Titans.  I—Bruce, you know that, don’t you?”

Bruce doesn’t know what to say.  He’s aware his mouth is open and he wants to say something, but talking to Dick has always been more difficult than anything else in his life.  It’s the one area in which Bruce feels like a complete and utter failure.

“Stop being an idiot.  I had everything a kid could want growing up.”  Dick’s voice is angry.  Shaking.  He lets Bruce go, and sets to pacing back and forth in front of the fire.  Bruce has a pretty good feeling Dick’s about to start yelling.  He wonders how long it will be before Alfred comes to assess the damage they’re doing to each other.

“I don’t mean the things, the money,” Bruce explains.

“Neither do I!  God, Bruce, you gave me your time, your attention.  You taught me everything, kept me safe.”

There were too many times he failed to do exactly that.  He remembers every time he almost lost him.  Every near-miss.  Sometimes he still dreams about them.

“Dammit, don’t deny it.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, to have anyone else.  You and Alfred gave me everything.  And that thing we don’t talk about—” Dick stops pacing and looks Bruce right in the eye.  When he continues his voice is softer, and maybe just a bit rough.  “—you gave me that most of all.”

“I’m sorry I never said it.”  If Bruce admits it, his voice isn’t completely free from emotion.  Dick’s blue eyes are intense, but it’s only pretending to be anger.  Neither of them is good with feelings, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care.  They care entirely too much for their own good.

“You said it in every way that mattered.”

“Sometimes that’s not enough.”  Bruce knows it’s true, even if Dick’s shaking his head in disagreement.

“You are the most stubborn—”


Dick’s voice is loud enough that Alfred will definitely hear it now.  “I never needed you to say it.  I knew.  Everything you did told me you loved me, even if you couldn’t say the words.  And in case you’re wondering, I love you too, you idiot.  Just like everyone else in this house.  Our lives would mean nothing without you, so whatever’s got you so flustered, either talk to us or get over it because we need you.  Here.  Now.  We need you, Bruce.”

Dick strides towards the door without looking back and Bruce wonders how the best conversation of their lives can still end with Dick yelling at him and storming out.

“Sir?”  A polite query from the doorway.  Bruce can tell Alfred’s sweeping the room with his eyes, checking for broken pottery, bruised egos.

“Yes, Alfred.”

“Master Timothy is in the Cave, and—”

“And you heard Dick yelling at me.”

“Well, yes, but considering what he was yelling, I saw no need to interfere.”  Bruce raises his eyes to see Alfred is smiling at him.  A hand falls on Bruce’s shoulder.  “My dear boy, we all love you.  Surely you know that.”

“It’s not that.”

Bruce stands up and glances at the window.  If possible, the rain’s coming down heavier than before.  It’s going to be a long night.  He thinks longingly of Wally’s warm skin, the way his entire body seems to burn when their lips meet.  He hasn’t felt this way with someone in years.  Maybe not ever.

“Ah, I see,” Alfred says cryptically.


“You do not believe we know how you feel.  But we do.  Whether you say it or not.”

“Why is it so difficult to say?”  Maybe it’s a rhetorical question, but Bruce isn’t sure.  He doesn’t think he’s ever asked Alfred.  There are too many things he’s never thought to ask.  He wonders if it’s too late to start.

“Because you lost the people you loved most.”  Alfred’s voice is kindly.  “It’s as simple as that.”

“It should be easier by now.”

Should doesn’t change that it isn’t, Master Bruce.  You’re much too hard on yourself.”  Alfred glances towards the clock.  “There are two young men downstairs who very much need you to be there for them.”

“They deserve better, Alfred.”

“Then give them better.”

Bruce nods. He can always count on Alfred to put things in perspective.  Dick and Tim are waiting for him.  Somewhere out there, Wally’s waiting for him too.  More and more Bruce thinks they shouldn’t have to wait for him to be the person they deserve.  He tugs on the pendulum of the clock, opens the main entrance to the Cave.

“Thank you, Alfred,” he says, as he descends into familiar darkness.


J’onn walks through the corridors of the Watchtower in the hours just after midnight, enjoying the chance to observe the heroes that come and go.  He sometimes feels he really doesn’t have enough contact with humans, even though he sees them all the time.  Being able to read minds naturally makes people uncomfortable, but J’onn would never pry without invitation.  He has become a student of human behaviour, observing body language and facial expression.  Even without reading their minds, he knows he is becoming more adept at understanding them.

He raises a hand and gives a friendly wave to Hawkgirl.  She pays no attention to him as she marches down the corridor past him, wings raised expressively, swinging her mace from one hand to the other.  She appears agitated.  Green Lantern is half a corridor-length behind her, calling her name.  J’onn wonders if there is some dispute regarding their recent mission.  They are both strong leaders and sometimes have difficulty sharing responsibility. He decides it’s best to leave them to work out their conflict however they see fit.  J’onn glances back only to see them both disappearing in the direction of Lantern’s quarters.  No doubt they will discuss the problem and come to a reasonable solution.

Rounding another corner, J’onn almost collides with Booster Gold’s flying robot friend.

“Skeets,” J’onn says, looking around.  “Are you lost?”

“No.  Just hanging around.”  The robot zips back and forth in the air in front of him.  J’onn wishes to continue his walk, but does not want to appear rude.  The robot is making an alarming beeping sound.  There is movement in the dark corridor ahead.

“Skeets, are you looking for Booster Gold?”

“No, sir, Mr. Martian.”  More scuffling around the bend, and J’onn begins to reach out with his mind.  There’s something going on here.

The robot zips closer, its red eye blinking in alarm.  “Say, can you read my mind?”

“No.  You are an inorganic intelligence.  My abilities do not work on your kind.”  J’onn attempts to step past the robot.  It blocks his way.  He phases through it and continues around the corner, the robot racing after him.

“Booster!” the robot chirps loudly.

The corridor lights are out, and J’onn can see two shadows moving.  “Computer, restore lights to Corridor R-16.”

“Lights restored.”

There is a blaze of fluorescence, and the somewhat disheveled forms of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle come into view.

“My eyes, my eyes!” Skeets cries, whirling chaotically in front of J’onn’s face.  He cannot clearly see what is happening ahead.

“You do not have eyes,” J’onn counters, reaching up with one hand and seizing the robot.  His beeping increases exponentially.  “You have optical processors that receive information from external sources.”

“Hey, J’onn,” Booster Gold says.  He sounds out of breath.  “You might want to let the little fellow go.  He’s not real fond of strangers.”

“I am not a stranger,” J’onn says, dismayed at the implication, but lets the robot go.  It zips off to hover over Booster’s shoulder.  J’onn can now see that Booster is flushed and his mask is slightly askew.  Blue Beetle is leaning heavily against the wall.  Glasses off, lips swollen.  He is also breathing hard.

“No, of course not,” Booster says quickly.  He glances guiltily at Blue Beetle, and J’onn cannot help but frown.  There appears to have been an altercation of some kind.  Physical.  He realizes these men work closely together and that tempers sometimes get the best of them—all of them—but violent outbursts among co-workers are unacceptable.

“Is there a problem, Blue Beetle?”  J’onn focuses his energy on the second hero.  There is a confusing array of emotions radiating from him.  J’onn senses guilt and fear and … arousal?  Humans are strange creatures indeed, although he has read that human males in particular can become aroused during physical exertion—even during fights.

“No, J’onn.  We were just—”  Beetle looks at Booster plaintively.  J’onn wonders if he should bring this matter to Batman’s attention.  He has always believed Booster and Beetle to be good friends, so perhaps this is merely an anomaly.

“—working something out,” Booster finishes.

J’onn doesn’t lose his serious expression.  “You should find another way.”  His eyes travel over them both, taking in the flushed faces, the rumpled uniforms.

“We just got a little … um, carried away.  Won’t happen again.”  Beetle dabs at a small spot of blood on his lower lip.

“See that it doesn’t.”  J’onn prepares to move on.  “We have a fully-equipped gym if you wish to work out your disagreements physically.”

There are twin expressions of surprise, and quick nods from both the men.  Beetle’s eyes are wide behind his golden goggles.  Booster Gold’s got an arm slung around his shoulder casually, and things appear to be on friendly enough terms when J’onn leaves them.  He isn’t sure he’ll ever truly understand human bonding rituals or the need to beat upon one another when things become difficult.  He has seen Superman and Batman do the same thing.  It is most unusual how they can fight and still be friends.

Perhaps he will never truly understand humanity.  The thought saddens him.

When J’onn encounters Wonder Woman in the residential quarter, she is radiating frustration so clear he cannot help but be affected.  He wonders if there is something in the air tonight that’s making everyone agitated.  It is a human thought, he knows, since the air filtration system is working perfectly well and the computer would have alerted him to the presence of any foreign substance.  However, he has yet to encounter a truly happy presence on the station.  Wonder Woman’s aggravation is palpable.

“Wonder Woman, what is it?”

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head, continuing to stare out the window that faces the earth below.  Whatever is bothering her is obviously difficult for her to address aloud.  J’onn moves closer, and puts a gentle hand on her arm.


“I don’t know what dress to wear to the President’s reception in Metropolis,” she says in a tone of utter dissatisfaction.  “Nothing I have seems entirely appropriate, and the blue dress is too short.  Human women are miniscule in stature.”

She looks at J’onn for confirmation.  He nods blankly, unsure what else to do.  The turn of the conversation is most unexpected.

“I sympathize, Princess.”

There is a sigh, and a tilt of her head.  “I’m sorry, J’onn.  I just hate these political intrigues sometimes.  Luthor’s a vile miscreant and he’s toying with us.  He wants us to be uncomfortable, on edge.  I’m not sure we should even be attending, but Batman—”

Ah, yes.  She is going with Batman.  Or rather, Bruce Wayne.

“Have you spoken with him?”

J’onn still believes they would make a handsome couple.  Both tall and dark, striking in appearance, dangerous when provoked.  He is certain Diana is interested, and almost certain Bruce is too.  It is more difficult to read Bruce.  He is Batman more than he is anything else, and the cowl makes him particularly inscrutable.

“He spoke to me.”  There’s definite sarcasm in her voice.  “Informed me we would meet at the reception, that Clark would be there as well, and that we should attempt to obtain as much information as possible regarding Luthor’s recent acquisitions of meteor rock and plutonium.  But do it discreetly, he says.  As if I don’t know how to be discreet.”

J’onn suspects silence is the best option for a response.  She continues as if he isn’t even there.

“I say we just corner Luthor and ask him what he’s up to.”  She fingers the Golden Lariat at her side.  “No man can deny the truth of my Lariat.  He will tell us what we want to know.”

J’onn understands the instruction to be discrete.  Diana sometimes forgets that powerful men can be dangerous in ways that go beyond a physical threat.  Luthor is the most dangerous of all because he is intelligent.  And ambitious.

“Diana, I understand your feelings.  But Batman is correct.  It is unwise to approach Luthor directly.  He is dangerous when cornered.  More than anyone else.”

She lowers her head in grudging agreement.  “I know, J’onn.  Perhaps I’m just tired of everything being a fight.”  Her eyes are sad when she looks up at him, and he longs to be able to assure her that there are better times ahead.  He considers a change of topic.

“Perhaps I can be of assistance with your clothing selection.”

Diana’s face brightens.  “I would appreciate a male perspective.”

J’onn nods and follows her towards her quarters, searching his mind for what he knows of female fashion.  Without a doubt, Diana will look beautiful in anything, but he knows she needs a friend right now.  His opinion about her dress matters very little in the end.

He tries to imagine what Bruce would like to see Diana in.  It is not too much to hope that they will find happiness together.  He knows that.  He cannot think of two people who deserve it more.  The President’s reception will be a perfect opportunity for closer relationships to develop.  Batman will be forced to play his role.  To dance.  To talk.  It will be beneficial for him.  For both of them.

J’onn has a good feeling about it.  A very good feeling.


Wally clicks off the remote and tosses the TV programming guide onto the coffee table.  Nothing on.  Or at least nothing he can get interested in.  He’s flipped through the entire range of channels at least a dozen times and can’t seem to focus on anything.  It’s been four days since he’s seen Bruce.

“Face it, Wally,” he says to himself.  “Your mind’s elsewhere.”

He gets up and wanders over to the Spinster’s cage.  The little guy is fast asleep in the corner, small furry chest rising and falling with tiny wheezes.  Wally extends a finger between the bars and rubs the soft fur on the hamster’s head.  It keeps sleeping, oblivious to its owner’s attentions.

“Guess nobody’s interested in keeping me company tonight.”

Clark, Diana and Bruce are all at Luthor’s fancy dress shindig in Metropolis tonight, and Wally’s sitting at home.  He knows it’s work, but he can’t help but wonder if it isn’t something else too.  Maybe Bruce isn’t as comfortable with this arrangement as he’s let on.  Then there’s all that stuff J’onn said about Diana and Bruce being the perfect couple.  He doesn’t want to think about them dancing, and laughing over champagne.  Maybe Bruce says he isn’t interested, but Wally’s seen the way Diana looks at Batman.  Like he’s the prize in the bottom of the Crackerjack box.  Not the stupid plastic boat that refuses to float, but the shiny fake diamond ring that glitters even with all the sugar and crap on it.  Wally knows what that’s like.  He’s got the ring, and he really doesn’t want to let go.  He doesn’t think he’ll ever find another.

And there’s still that nagging question of how Clark knows Bruce hogs the covers.  They never did tell him what happened in Japan, or even when it happened.  Wally’s got to remember to get the rest of the story, even though it’s probably something innocent.  Yeah, perfectly innocent.

Wally starts to make himself a snack and flips on the police scanner.  A purse-snatcher loose in the park.  Wally manages to take care of that one between slathering on the mayo and taking his first bite.  A bank robbery.  His ears perk up, but it sounds like the police have it under control.  Even the cops are chatting about how unusually quiet it is tonight.

“Calm before the storm,” a male voice says, static crackling ominously around him.  Wally sincerely hopes he’s wrong.

When the door buzzer rings, it’s completely unexpected.  Wally presses the speaker by the door.  “Yeah?”

“I have a package for Master Wallace West.”  The voice is definitely British and for a moment Wally thinks it’s Alfred, but the accent isn’t quite the same.

“From who?”  Wally’s not too keen on unexpected deliveries considering his last apartment went up in flames after a particularly nasty letter-bomb from the Ultra-Humanite.

“A secret admirer, sir.”

That can’t be good.  The only secret admirers Wally has are the kind that want to kill him.

“No thanks.  Just take it back.”

“I was told to assure you there is no harm intended, sir.  If I might come upstairs, I could explain.”

“Explain from down there.”

Wally’s no idiot, in spite of his inability to get the VCR to read anything but 12:00.  Besides, he knows it’s only a matter of time before Bruce notices and corrects the problem.  It might be incentive to get Bruce over here.  The offer of a technological puzzle.  And sex.

“I have a personal invitation for you to the President’s Reception.  There is also a box.”

“What’s in the box?”

“I believe it is intended as a surprise.  Surprises are typically intended to bring pleasure to the recipient.” 
The British voice sounds disapproving, as if surprises are not meant to be dealt with in such a fashion.

“Not in my experience.”

“How sad for you.”  Wally’s pretty sure that’s sarcasm.  It’s hard to tell with the English accent.  They always sound so damn polite.

“What’s in the box?” Wally repeats.

A long-suffering sigh from the speaker.  “I have not opened it.  However, if you insist on knowing, I suspect it contains a tuxedo.  You would require a tuxedo to attend the reception, and I can only assume you do not own one, Master West.”

Well, that part is true.  Wally has only ever worn one a few times, mainly for weddings, and he certainly didn’t buy it.  A monkey suit really isn’t his style.

“There is also a limousine waiting to take you to Metropolis if you require, but the issuer of the invitation said you would likely prefer to find your own … transportation.”

Wally stares at the speaker.  It’s got to be Bruce.  And he accused him of not having a romantic bone in his body.  Wally is so going to make it up to him.  In more ways than Bruce can even imagine.  All of them requiring nudity and judicious application of lubrication.

“Bring it up, Jeeves.  I’m going to the ball.”

“Indeed, Cinderella,” a dry voice returns.  “I shall deliver your gown momentarily.”

Wally presses the button to unlock the security door downstairs and waits for his package.  He can’t help the grin that’s broken across his face.  This is going to be a night to remember.


UPDATE - Sept. 7

“And there’s Senator Chen.  I’ve been trying to get an interview with him forever.”

Lois is peering intently over Clark’s shoulder and casing the room.  He knows if he doesn’t keep a firm grip on her, she’s going to be accosting three senators and a congresswoman before he can blink.  It would’ve been prudent to come alone, but Lois had balked at the idea, as he’d known she would.  She takes being the senior political reporter at The Daily Planet very seriously.

Lois is wearing dark purple, and as Clark leads her through another waltz, he isn’t sure he’s seen this dress before.  He wonders if it’s new.  Purple’s a good colour for her, but it’s also Luthor’s favourite, and Clark can’t quite forget she dated Luthor once upon a time.  A very long time ago, but still … she’s wearing purple.

“Oh, that’s Miranda Karinski.”  Lois is practically on her tiptoes trying to see past him.  “Rumour has it she and Luthor had a fling a few years back.  Doesn’t really seem like his type.”

“Lois, we’re dancing,” Clark’s voice comes out harsher-sounding than he would’ve liked.  Lois raises an eyebrow at him.  “Can’t you at least try to look like you’re having a good time?  We don’t have to be working every minute.”

“Let her do her job, Clark.”  Bruce and Diana have danced within earshot.  “She’ll attract more attention if she’s not nosing around, asking questions.  Besides,” Bruce turns Diana gracefully, “—she’s a decent enough distraction.”

Lois makes a face.  “Bruce, you always say the nicest things.”

“Wouldn’t want to disappoint you, Lois.”

Clark manoeuvres Lois closer to Bruce and Diana, ignoring the glare from his wife.  She knows why they’re here, and she knows how dangerous this is.  The dance floor is already crowded and it’s still early in the evening.  Clark knows they won’t have that much difficulty slipping in and out of this crowd.  Two of the listening devices have already been placed, and Clark knows someone’s monitoring them on the Watchtower.  If there’s any word about Luthor’s criminal activities, they’ll hear it.  It’s not the best plan in the world, but it’s something and right now they’re desperate for anything to go on.

Or at least Bruce is desperate.  He hasn’t said it, but lately Clark can see it every time he looks at Wally.  Even at Lois.  Behind the sarcasm and the “this is business” exterior, Bruce is waiting for something terrible to happen.  Watching for it.  Preparing for it.  Clark’s known him long enough to know Bruce will blame himself if something happens to any of them, and Clark will be right there beside him sharing in the blame.  He presses a soft kiss against Lois’s forehead, and ignores her look of surprise.

They’ve all got too much to lose.

“Have you seen Luthor yet?” Clark asks Bruce.

“Not yet.  Believe me, we’ll know when he’s here.”

Bruce sounds resigned, and Clark forgets that these are the circles Bruce travels in all the time.  Champagne and politics and million dollar cheques.  It hardly seems possible Bruce and Batman are the same person, but then Clark knows that’s the great illusion.  The only reason it works.  It’s what keeps Bruce alive, and Clark’s got to admit he’s grateful for that.  This superhero life wouldn’t be nearly as good without the people in it.  The people who let him know he’s not alone in the fight, and Bruce has been a friend and mentor for a long time.

“We’ll find something,” Clark whispers, and Bruce nods, looking towards the door.  “We’ll stop him from doing anything.”

From hurting anyone.  Clark doesn’t say it, but he knows that’s what they’re both most afraid of.  He wishes they’d made Wally a part of this mission, if only to have him here in plain sight where they can both keep an eye on him.  Clark doesn’t think Wally would appreciate that, but it doesn’t change the fact they both care greatly what happens to him.  Bruce hasn’t been this happy in a long time, and Clark doesn’t want that to change.

“Of course we will.”  The answer sounds like something Bruce is trying to convince himself of rather than something he believes.  Clark wishes there was something he could do to get him to stop worrying.

“I love your dress, Diana,” Lois says, and Clark’s pleased to notice the compliment’s genuine.

“Thank you.  I had great difficulty deciding,” Diana confides.  Bruce is still peering at the doorway with an intense sense of longing.  He seems distracted.

“Well, red looks fabulous on you,” Lois continues.

Diana smiles appreciatively and turns back to Bruce.  She seems to have realized they’ve stopped dancing.  “Bruce?”

“The show’s about to begin.”

Even as he says it, the lights are dimming and a space is being cleared around the entryway.  Silver sparkles are falling from the ceiling in a slow shimmering rain.  The heavy purple drapes covering the executive entrance have been pulled aside, and the entire room is quietly abuzz.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice announces.  “Your President, Lex Luthor!”

The curtains are thrust aside just as the cheering from the crowd reaches its crescendo.  Clark rolls his eyes.  He’s surprised Luthor didn’t hire coronets to play him a fanfare.  The people clapping loudest obviously work for Luthor, and Clark doesn’t even move his hands from Lois’s waist.  There’s nothing worth applauding.

“Never a dull moment,” Bruce murmurs, and Clark nods in agreement.  One thing they’ve always agreed on is exactly how dangerous Luthor is.  His charming smile and gregarious attitude are as much facades as Bruce’s playboy image or Clark’s occasionally bumbling reporter persona.  And since Bruce shared his experiences of what Luthor did to their families, Clark hasn’t been able to see Luthor as anything but a murderer.  There are times he can imagine what it would feel like to …

Clark can feel heat washing over his eyes, and there’s a calm hand on his arm, a voice right at his ear.

“Careful.  I didn’t bring the Kryptonite.”

Clark blinks the heat away and smiles.  “Yes, you did.”

Bruce moves away, but Clark catches his smirk.  Definitely brought the Kryptonite.  He and Diana disappear into the crowd, Bruce’s broad hand pressed against the small of her back, and Clark tightens an arm around Lois’s waist.

“Once more around the dance floor, Lois, then you can chase politicians to your heart’s content.  Okay?”

“Deal,” she says, and her smile is a reflection of all the love they’ve shared together.  Clark kisses her, and prays this timeline takes a different path.  For all of their sakes.


Bruce leans against one of the columns in the room and scans the crowd, filing away a list of who’s there and who’s not.  Diana’s disappeared to plant one of the listening devices in the ladies’ washroom, and there are a few other locations that need attention.  Bruce knows it’s important to get the microphones in place quickly if they have any hope of over-hearing Luthor’s plans.  Even then, it’s a slim chance he’ll be making deals in the middle of this crowd.  But Bruce likes to be prepared for any contingency, particularly when it comes to Luthor, who’s just cocky enough to flaunt his power in public.  Bruce knows he’s got Clark’s complete support on that issue.

Even before Clark knew what Luthor did in the other forty-seven timelines.


He turns and finds himself enfolded in familiar arms, his nose pressed against blonde hair smelling of some exotic blossom.


She’s absolutely stunning in a deep blue satin off-the-shoulder gown, dusted with something that subtly sparkles when the light catches it just right.  She looks like the night sky come to life and Lord Byron’s poem springs to mind.

“‘She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And
all that's best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes,” Bruce says, taking a step back to look at her again.  She laughs and shakes her head in disbelief.

“Were you this charming when we were dating, Bruce?”

“Not even remotely.”

He remembers what it was he saw in her once upon a time, but the memory doesn’t make him feel anything other than a pleasant sense of nostalgia.  He smiles and she seems to understand the discovery he’s made.  There’s only room for Wally now.  No one else.  There’s a hand on his arm.  A gentle squeeze before she lets go.

“Thank you for the flowers.  They weren’t necessary.”

“Yes, they were.”

He knew she would understand what he was thanking her for.  She’d pushed him towards doing something about Wally.  He’d been close to the edge for a long time, but unable to take the last step.  It’s something he’ll always be grateful for.  Wally’s the best thing in his life right now.  The very best thing.

“Are you here with … someone?”

Chase is smiling as she says it, and Bruce knows she’s looking for Wally.  There’s a tight pang in his chest as he wishes he could’ve brought him along, but technically the mission didn’t require it, and this isn’t exactly Wally’s kind of crowd.  Bruce doesn’t think he’d be entirely comfortable in a tuxedo, although Bruce knows he’d look great in one.  Maybe sometime …

“He’s here with me.”  A strong female voice interrupts his train of thought, and Diana appears at Bruce’s elbow, looking every bit like the Amazon warrior she is.  Her mouth is a thin red line, her eyes full of warning.  Bruce wonders if Chase realizes she’s taken a step backwards.  Yes, Diana can be intimidating when she wants to be.  Underestimating her is never a good strategy.

Bruce slips a hand an arm gently around Diana’s waist and she seems to relax.  Slightly.

“Diana Prince, this is Dr. Chase Meridian.  Chase, this is my friend Diana.”

“You always did have beautiful friends, Bruce,” Chase says.  She sounds amused and she stretches out her hand to Diana.  Bruce hopes Diana doesn’t break it.  “To be honest, I expected someone else.”

Bruce shakes his head in warning, and hopes Chase can still read him.  He doesn’t want to discuss Wally here.  Not now, and certainly not in front of Diana.  This is work, and nothing more.  The tuxedos and gowns are just different kinds of costumes.  The smile he’s wearing tonight feels more like a mask to Bruce than his cowl ever has.


Diana’s not one to let a comment like that slide.  She looks at Bruce curiously, and he can see she’s searching his face for some sign, some indication that there’s someone else in his life.  He isn’t ready to share that news with her, and he ignores the hurt he sees when she realizes she’s not going to get an answer.  He tries to pretend that’s all it is—a dissatisfaction with his notoriously bad communication skills—and that the hurt he’s seeing doesn’t have anything to do with him.  Or how Diana feels.

“My mistake,” Chase says demurely.  “By the way, I love your dress, Diana.”

That flashbulb-bright smile again, and Bruce doesn’t understand how a woman who seems to care nothing for the material world can be stopped in her tracks every time she’s complimented.  Perhaps she really doesn’t understand how beautiful she is.  Bruce tries to remember if he complimented her outfit, and wonders if to do so now would send the wrong message entirely.  Concentrating on getting the initial listening devices set was the only thing on his mind when they arrived.  With a tired sigh, he remembers there are still three to place.

“Please excuse me, ladies.  I have something to take care of it.  I’ll return with champagne.”

A nod from Diana, a knowing smile from Chase.  It was never his plan to trust her with his deepest secrets, but she’s never betrayed him as far as he knows.

“Don’t rush off on my account, Bruce.”  There’s a broad hand clapped against his shoulder, and Bruce knows that booming voice can only belong to one person.  “Although, I’d be pleased to keep these two beautiful women company for you.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Mr. President,” Bruce says through his perfect smile.  Go to hell, Luthor, he thinks.  Go to hell and don’t come back.


Wally blurs to a stop in the basement washroom of the Metropolis’s Grand Hotel.  The tuxedo box has been carefully tucked in his arms all the way from Central City, and it only takes him a moment to change.  The white shirt is crisp against his skin, and the tuxedo itself is smooth as silk.  It fits him perfectly.  Even the shoes are the perfect size, and Wally admires the way the leather shines against the white tiled floor.  He gives the bow tie one last tweak, grateful that someone thought to tie the damn thing for him, and winks at himself in the mirror, admiring the view.

“You’re on fire, baby,” he says to his reflection, and stuffs the linen invitation into his pocket.  He doesn’t want to keep Bruce waiting any longer than he has to.

Forcing himself to take the elevator up to the Main Ballroom, he tries to quell the nervous beating of his heart.  This will be the first time he’s been out in public with Bruce since they started this relationship, and maybe it’s not exactly a date, but it’s something.  Just the fact Bruce wants him here, went to the trouble to surprise him.  Wally reminds himself he has to act cool.  He can’t just grab Bruce and kiss him as soon as he sees him

Nope, that wouldn’t be considered cool at all.

He hands his invitation to the guard at the entrance, and is shown into a ball room decorated in silver and purple.  The band is playing something that sounds vaguely familiar although Wally can’t quite place the tune, and the room is filled with shining, beautiful people.  In the middle of the crowd, the chandelier catching silver sparkles in everyone’s hair, Wally can see Bruce dancing with Diana.  She’s wearing something red and slinky, and Wally holds back a whistle.  Diana would probably knock him senseless if he tried it.  He can see Bruce holding her close enough that her dark hair is spilling onto his shoulder.  The music is slow and full of sax, and as Wally watches, Diana leans her cheek against Bruce’s and closes her eyes.

Something inside Wally starts to ache.

The first song ends and they keep dancing as the band leads into another number.  Bruce is whispering into Diana’s ear now, and she seems to nod every once in a while.  It’s just work, Wally tries to tell himself.  Just work.

It looks like something else entirely, and Wally can’t help but stare.  It’s an exquisite kind of torture, Bruce so handsome and dark and distant.  He doesn’t even know Wally’s here.

“She’s very beautiful.”  The voice so close beside him startles him.  Wally glances down at a familiar face.

“Hey, doc,” he says to the blonde psychiatrist.  “Fancy seeing you here.”

“I could say the same thing.  Dance?”

Wally remembers the session in her office.  How hard Dr. Meridian tried to make him smile when she thought he was hurting.  He likes her.  In spite of everything else, in spite of what she might have been to Bruce and the jealousy Wally can’t help but feel, he likes her, and he can use a friendly face right now.  She seems harmless enough, and Bruce is stuck in the middle of a very crowded dance floor.  Maybe this way, Wally can at least get close enough to let him know he’s here.  It’s not exactly like he can walk up and cut in on him and Diana—Metropolis is pretty liberal-minded, but not that much.

He reaches an arm around Chase’s waist and guides her to the edge of the dance floor.  She’s small in his arms, much smaller than anyone he’s been used to holding lately, and it feels a little awkward at first, but they find their rhythm.  For the length of one song, Wally can almost forget the feeling that his heart is about to break.  Bruce looks so happy dancing with Diana.  Even Wally can see, they look good together.

Maybe J’onn is right.

“He’s not interested in her,” Chase says.

Wally tries to feign indifference.  “Diana?  Hardly even noticed her.”

“Uh-huh.”  Chase stops moving until Wally’s forced to look at her.  “Believe me, I know the signs.  There’s only one person he’s interested in, and I’m looking at him.”

“Are you sure?”  He wants to believe her more than anything else in the world.  She could tell him Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real and he knows he’d want to believe her.

“Yes.”  Her smile is warm and reassuring.

“You’re positive?”

“Absolutely.  Trust me,” Chase says, and reaches up to cup her hands gently around Wally’s face.  It’s a reassuring gesture, and Wally nods with relief.  He darts a look back towards where Bruce is dancing.  Diana glances up and Wally can see recognition and surprise on her face.  Well, of course.  He’s not really supposed to be here.  Officially.  Bruce wouldn’t have said anything.

Wally grins as Diana whispers something to Bruce, and he waits for those blue eyes to meet his.  There’s a tug on his face where Chase’s hands have settled, and Wally’s eyes are still open when Chase pulls him into the kind of kiss you just don’t give to perfect strangers.

Oh.  Shit.


“Is that Wally with your doctor friend?” Diana asks casually.

Bruce turns in time to see Chase plant a passionate kiss on Wally.  He stops, not noticing that the crowd around him has also been forced to stop.  Someone jostles him, but Bruce doesn’t care.  All he can think is that Wally’s kissing someone else.  Someone who’s not him.  Before he can stop himself, he’s pushing his way across the room, only faintly aware that Diana’s calling his name.  She sounds annoyed.

Bruce grabs Wally by the arm, ignoring Chase’s wide grin.  He should’ve known better than to trust her with his feelings, with something as important as …

“Bruce!  I was—”  Wally’s red-faced and flustered, and Bruce doesn’t know whether to punch him or kiss him and wipe the taste of Chase out of his mouth once and for all.  Bruce can feel his blood boiling, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out he’s jealous.  Blindly jealous.  So maddeningly jealous, he wants to kiss Wally senseless right here in the middle of the floor.  Strip away his clothes and mark him so the world knows he’s taken.

Chase disappears into the crowd, and Bruce sees the tips of her fingers waving at him over a bare shoulder.  She gives him a thumbs-up.  She’s always been entirely too fond of drama, and some day he’s going to figure out why she can still push his buttons so instinctively.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Bruce whispers through clenched teeth, still clutching Wally’s arm, pulling him off the dance floor and towards somewhere slightly more private.

“What do you mean what am I doing here?”

“You weren’t supposed to—”

“You sent an invitation.  And a tux.”

Bruce finally takes a good look at Wally.  He’s wearing a tuxedo that looks like it was made for him.  Bruce fingers the smooth fabric of the lapel, lets a finger slide down the pleated white front of the shirt, feeling a hitch in Wally’s breathing as he does it.

“Armani, custom-fit.”  His voice drops to a sultry whisper.  “You look … incredible.”

And he does.  Sophisticated and beautiful and everything Bruce’s ever wanted.  Wally’s blushing and it seems to make his green eyes sparkle even more, the dusting of freckles standing out against his pale skin.  Bruce loves the red hair and the freckles and every inch of perfect pale skin he knows is behind the clean lines of the Armani.  Wally lets out a slow breath, and for a moment there’s no one else in the room and Bruce wants to freeze time just like this.  Just the two of them.  Forever.

Somewhere behind them, Bruce can sense Diana approaching, pushing her way through a crowd caught up in its own merriment.  Over the band’s rendition of “Moon River,” he can hear Clark intercepting her, directing her focus back towards the mission.  He can almost picture Clark’s broad shoulders blocking them from Diana’s view, and he realizes he’s going to owe Clark big-time for this.  Maybe he’ll make an effort to be nicer to Lois.  And that damn cheerful dog of theirs.

Bruce forces himself to take a step back, removes his hand from Wally’s chest, knowing what it could look like to anyone who cares to pay attention to those things, and Luthor certainly has people paid to do exactly that.

He realizes Chase was playing with him—that’s all.  Getting him back for something, everything, months of secrets and lies and never being exactly who he said and nowhere near the man she wanted him to be.  Or maybe just giving him another push in the right direction.  Towards Wally.  Maybe this isn’t as bad as it seems.

Bruce tries a smile.  “Wally, I didn’t send you anything.”

Wally’s seriously confused and it shows clearly on his face.  “But the invitation and the tux.  They’re—everything fits perfectly.  Even the shoes.”

Someone knows Wally’s measurements.  The circumference of his neck where Bruce has left kisses, the span of his shoulders, the breadth and width of the feet that can cross miles in a blink.  Someone knows the length of his inseam, and Bruce feels the jealousy rising again, an undercurrent of fear buoying it to the surface.  It’s something entirely too intimate, and Bruce wonders if finding the tailor and having a friendly “chat” with him would be considered an extreme reaction.

“How did you get here?” Bruce asks, and he has a bad feeling he already knows the answer.

“I thought it was from you.  I thought—God, somebody knows,” Wally whispers.

Bruce steps closer.  “Did you--?”

A nod.  “The man who brought the invitation said they thought I’d prefer my own transportation.”

Bruce feels his heart sinking too.  It’s happening.  Someone knows everything about Wally, and that can only mean bad things are just around the corner.  He wants to grab Wally and get him out of here, right now, this minute, before anything can happen to him.  There’s a smudge of Chase’s lipstick still on Wally’s mouth, and Bruce wants to erase it.  He reaches out a thumb and rubs at it, but only succeeds in smearing it further.  It looks like the colour of day-old blood.

“Here.”  A hand waving a white handkerchief appears, followed by Lex Luthor.  Bruce really wishes Luthor would mind his own damn business tonight.  He keeps showing up at the worst possible moments.  “This must be the Mr. West I’ve heard so much about.”

Wally swallows awkwardly even as he takes the offered handkerchief and wipes at his mouth.  He looks like he’s about to run and Bruce grips his arm harder.  They have to be careful, so very careful.  Lex is like an animal that can scent fear on the air.  He’ll move in for the kill if he senses any weakness.  Bruce remembers competing against him in high school.  Fencing.  Wrestling.  You didn’t turn your back on Lex Luthor if you could avoid it.

“Mr. President,” Wally says awkwardly, holding the lipstick-smudged hankie balled up in his fist.

“Keep it,” Luthor says.  “Dr. Meridian’s certainly not afraid to go after what she wants.”

“She isn’t—”

“Oh, she seemed interested enough to me.”  Luthor nudges Bruce.  “Wouldn’t you agree, Bruce?”

“It appears that way,” Bruce says, trying to put his game face back on.  Chase’s kiss blind-sided him, and now he’s got to deal with both Luthor and Wally, and the possibility of someone knowing everything.  Lex’s sudden appearance on the scene can’t be a coincidence.  Bruce knows they’re in trouble, and Wally knows it too.  He’s already starting to fidget, and Bruce wishes he could take his hand and let him know it’s all right.  He won’t let anything happen to him.  Ever.

He hopes at least Clark and Diana are using the distraction to do something useful.  Like plant the rest of the listening devices or chat with some of the guests they’ve identified as known associates of Luthor’s.  Someone here knows where that meteor rock’s headed to, and someone knows why.  They need to know as well.  It’s too dangerous to have Kryptonite in Luthor’s possession.

“Bruce and I go way back.  School mates, you know.  And,” Luthor winks at Bruce, “we both know Dr. Meridian quite intimately.”

“Yeah, Bruce told me,” Wally answers quickly, shoving the handkerchief in his pocket, and looking like he wants to discuss anything other than Dr. Meridian.

“Bruce, is it?”  Luthor’s smile’s cunning, and Bruce braces himself for what’s about to come.  Lex is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  “Here I thought I was going to have to introduce you two.”

Wally blushes, realizing his mistake.  There’s a reason he wasn’t supposed to be here.  It was to keep him safe, and that’s just become impossible.  Except maybe it was impossible even before then.  Bruce knows somebody set Wally up, and somebody wanted him to think it was Bruce sending the invitation.

Somebody knows everything about them, and Bruce has a damn good idea he’s looking at the somebody.

“We’ve met,” Bruce says firmly.  The crowd is pressing around them, the throng of people always getting larger anywhere that Luthor is.  People know enough not to speak to him unless he approaches, though.  Luthor’s got a reputation—if he wants to talk to you, he’ll find you.

“So tell me, how does an unemployed mechanic from Central City meet a Gotham City philanthropist?  Doing a little charity work, Bruce?”

Luthor’s implication is clear, and Bruce has to force himself not to hit him.  Luthor’s still the President even if he’s a loathsome bastard, and Bruce can’t afford to have assault charges pressed against him.  But he’s not leaving Wally’s side.  Not with Luthor here, flaunting his power, looking at Wally like he’s the cherry on top of a chocolate sundae.  Bruce has always wondered how much Luthor knows about them, and now it’s clear it’s a lot.

“I worked on his car,” Wally says quickly.  “All his cars.  I—I do mainly freelance work.”

“Really?”  Luthor’s eyes are traveling down Wally’s frame in a way Bruce doesn’t like.  At all.

“Bruce!  Bruce Wayne.”  Lois pushes her way up beside him and plants herself between him and Luthor.  “Hi, Lex.”

“Lois.”  The President’s voice is practically a purr, but he hasn’t taken his eyes off Wally.

“Bruce, you promised me a quote for tomorrow’s edition.”  She’s got him by the arm and is dragging him away with a degree of determination he hasn’t seen from her in a long time.

“This isn’t a good time, Lois,” Bruce says, but she’s got a grip on his arm that includes a set of inch-long nails that are all saying “come on!”  Everything else inside him is screaming:  “don’t leave him.”

“It’s the perfect time.  I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Lois, not now.”  Bruce plants his feet and stares into her blue eyes.  He can see the momentary flicker of confusion at his lack of cooperation, but she’s got her mission, and she’s not leaving without him.  Bruce can see it in her eyes.

“Go on, Bruce.  It’ll give me a chance to chat with Mr. West.”

Lois pulls him away from Wally, away from Luthor, but he’s close enough to hear Luthor say, “I’m sure Bruce’ll be back in a flash.”

Bruce turns back, catches Wally’s face go white, but Lois is pulling him towards the doorway that leads out to the washrooms.  Clark and Diana are both waiting.  Bruce shrugs off Lois’s grip as soon as they reach the hall.

“Luthor knows.”

“What do you mean?” Clark steps forward, his face immediately darkening with concern.

“Exactly what I said.  He knows, and right now he’s talking to Wally.”

“What the hell’s Wally—”

“Long story.  It was a set-up.”  Bruce doesn’t have time for this.  He glances back towards the door.

“Lois, go—”

“Already on it, Smallville,” she says, heading into the ballroom.  Bruce can tell she’s feeling bad now—about dragging him away, but she had her instructions, and they’ve all got a role to play.  Bruce knows it, but he doesn’t have to like it.

“Can’t you handle this?” Bruce snaps, and Clark fixes him with a sympathetic look.  It’s almost worse than if he’d gotten angry.  If Clark puts a comforting hand on his shoulder, Bruce decides he might just have to hit him.

“The mics are all in place except one,” Diana says.  Bruce reminds himself she doesn’t understand exactly what’s happening, what it means.  She doesn’t know about the other timelines or Wally, and that’s not her fault.  “But two of the major players just went out onto the balcony and another two have disappeared upstairs, and there’s the last device to place.  We need you.  Lois will keep an eye on Luthor.”

“All right.”

Bruce isn’t happy about it, but he knows he doesn’t have much choice.  He’s here to do a job, and whatever else is happening is going to have to wait.  He shoots one more glance towards the ballroom where the sound of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” is playing.  It’s one of Bruce’s favourites, and he wants a chance to listen to it some night with Wally curled in his arms in front of the fire at the manor, their bodies moving in a slow dance all their own …

“Bruce?”  Clark’s looking at him with concern again, and Bruce just shakes his head.  He can’t talk about it now, the fear that’s gnawing at him like a beast in a trap.  Not if he’s going to do what he has to do.  And Luthor’s not going to try anything with a room full of people.  There are still some rules to the game.

“Let’s do this.”


Wally thinks he can still taste the cherry smear of lipstick on his mouth, even after the President’s handkerchief is stained red and shoved into Wally’s pocket.  Bruce was across the room so fast, Wally didn’t even see him move, and suddenly the invitation and the tux seems like some elaborate plan to make Wally look like an idiot.

He’s got a bad feeling the plan’s working.

“I’m pleased you were able to make it,” Luthor says.

“Mr. President?”  At heart, Wally’s just a kid from Nebraska, and talking to the President of the United States, even if he’s also a notorious villain, is still a big deal.  Wally isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do or how he’s supposed to feel.  It’s different for Bruce—he went to school with the guy, for crying out loud, but Wally’s got nothing to fall back on.

“Call me Lex.”

Wally feels the weight of an arm draped casually around his shoulders.  The room’s crowded enough he can’t really move away without it appearing tremendously rude.  He can’t walk away from the President, and he doesn’t know what to talk to him about.  How about them Metropolis Sharks?  Gay marriage?  Those tasty little crab puffs he snapped up on his way in?  Wally hasn’t got a clue.

And Bruce just left him here to fend for himself.  He’s been on alien planets that didn’t feel as foreign to him.

“Relax, Wally,” Luthor says, and the warmth in his voice is thick as honey.  “There’s no need to be nervous.  You’re supposed to be here.”

“I’m not sure I understand.  You sent the invitation?”

“Of course.  Who else?”  Luthor’s voice is smooth and guileless, and Wally knows if he wasn’t a superhero who’s seen the damage Luthor can do, he’d probably think Lex was an all right guy.  He talks a good game, seems all friendly and approachable.

The hand on his shoulder gives Wally a quick squeeze.  Maybe too friendly.

“Um, I just—well, I wasn’t sure.  Thought I’d better come find out what it was all about.”

“I’m glad you did.”  Luthor leans in conspiratorially and starts to whisper.  “And maybe you can tell me how a mechanic with no pedigree at all still pulls down a substantial income.”

Wally blushes.  “How would you know—”

“I’m the President.  I know everything.”

Wally’s pretty sure that isn’t true and that Luthor’s not supposed to be messing around in their financial records, but he says it with such conviction it’s hard not to believe him.

“Wally, there are only two reasons a man like you has a steady income and no job.  Either he’s an extremely successful criminal mastermind—” Wally starts to protest, but Luthor cuts him off, “—or he’s got a very rich boyfriend.”

The blush on Wally’s face a moment ago is nothing compared to the fire he can feel coursing through his veins now.  He’s always looked good in red, but this is ridiculous, and he can almost feel his freckles whitening against his flushed skin.  Jesus.  Luthor’s basically calling him a … Wally’s been called a lot of things, but never that.  Never.

“You’re mistaken,” Wally stammers, trying to shake off Luthor’s arm.

There’s hot breath against his skin, and Wally can feel the hackles rising on the back of his neck.  Lois is back in the room, watching them nervously, but Bruce is nowhere to be seen.  Right now, Wally isn’t sure if that’s good or bad.

“I don’t think so.  I went to school with Bruce.  I know which way he bends.”  Wally swallows, and tries not to think about what Luthor’s implying.  Bruce would never have … never.  Not with Luthor.  “And I have a feeling you’re a very good mechanic.”

Wally’s breathing is uneven.  Every impulse is telling him to run and he can’t.  He can’t even move.  It’s like those nightmares he’s always had where he needs to run, and he can’t.  The music is loud and he can hear champagne classes tinkling, people laughing raucously, and the lights keep sweeping over them in a silvery wave.  Wally feels dizzy, almost sick.  He wants Bruce, and yet he doesn’t.  This is his mess, dammit, and he can get himself out of it.

“Maybe you’d like a little more freelance work?”

A breath ghosts lightly over Wally’s sensitive ear.  It makes him feel cold inside.  He needs to get out of here.  He’s never felt so dirty in his life, and yet he can’t move.  It’s like the people around them are pressing them even closer together.  The lights are dimmer now, the gentle flicker of the soft chandeliers casting shadows on nearby dancers clinging to each other.

“Mr. President—”

“I bet you’re a fantastic man with an oil and lube job.  I have an engine that needs a little attention.”

The line’s so bad, Wally wants to laugh, but this is the freakin’ President, and he doesn’t think that’s wise.  Knows it isn’t.  Wally searches frantically through the crowd, but there’s a wall of people around him.  Suffocating him.  Luthor’s hands are on his back now.  Around his waist.  He wonders why no one seems to notice what’s going on, but then again, it’s not polite to stare at the President.

Wally steps back and bumps into someone.  Luthor’s hand brushes his hip, his thigh.  There’s nowhere to go, and he can’t use his speed here.  He can’t.  He knows it and Luthor does too.  It’s written in the triumphant slant of his eyes, the hungry smile on his lips.

“I can make it very worthwhile for you.  Very.”

Wally’s never needed anyone to rescue him before, and he doesn’t like the feeling.  He’s the one who does the rescuing.  It’s his job, and he’s always been damn good at it.  Wally raises his head and looks at Luthor.

“Take your hands off me.”  His voice is quiet, but the surprise in Luthor’s eyes shows the message has been conveyed.

“There’s nowhere you can run from me,” Luthor whispers with a smile, even as he takes a step back.  “Nowhere.”


Bruce is planting the last device behind a potted plant on the south terrace when Clark appears beside him.

“You need to go.”

Bruce growls.  He’s tired of Clark and Lois, the Girl Wonder, telling him where to go and what to do.  “Ten seconds, Clark, and I’ll have the damn thing—”

“Luthor’s propositioning Wally.”

Bruce drops the device and scrambles to his feet.  He's known both Clark and Lex a long time, and if Clark says "propositioning" what he really means is Lex is one short step away from screwing Wally on the dance floor.  Bruce remembers Lex's techniques, how insistent he can be when he wants something, someone.  Sleeping with Luthor is one mistake Bruce is grateful he never made.

He’s got one foot on the stairs to the ballroom when Clark stops him, and Bruce is pretty sure his feet have left the ground.


“Don’t hit him.  Don’t do anything stupid.”  He sets Bruce back down quickly, but doesn’t let go.

“I—I can’t promise that.”  Bruce wants to break every bone in Luthor’s body.  One at a time.  He’ll break the big bones twice.  Maybe more.


“All right,” Bruce says, but it’s only so Clark will let him go.  All bets are off and all promises are meaningless if Luthor’s done anything to hurt Wally.

Clark steps aside, and Bruce takes the stairs two at a time.  Not even slowing, he turns his head back and says:  “The red connector.  Don’t forget to use the red connector, or it won’t work.”  He knows Clark will hear him.

“Got it,” floats down the stairs after him.

Bruce runs faster than he ever has in a tuxedo.  Possibly faster than he ever has in his life.

UPDATE - Sept. 8

Diana waits at the bottom of the stairs, hoping for either Clark or Bruce to come back. None of them have their JLA communicators with them, and she needs to get out on that balcony. Now. Two of Luthor’s major suppliers of illicit goods are out there, and the device that’s supposed to be feeding information to the Watchtower is either being jammed or simply isn’t working. Diana doesn’t want to be the one to tell Bruce his pride-and-joy technology has failed, but she will. More importantly, though, she needs to get onto that balcony without spooking them. She needs them to keep talking. They won’t do that if she stumbles out there alone, and even so, she doesn’t play ditzy and drunk very well. She needs back-up.

Bruce comes flying down the stairs as if the building’s on fire. She catches him by the sleeve, and she doesn’t think she’s ever seen a look like that on his face before. Angry and desperate and something else entirely.

“Not now,” he says, attempting to pull away, but she blocks his movement.

“I need you on the balcony. A diversion—”

“Not now,” he repeats. He puts his hands on her waist and simply lifts her out of the way. She’s still an Amazon and doesn’t appreciate the treatment. Plus she can fly. There’s no one in the corridor and the doors to the ballroom are closed. A little burst of flight puts her in front of Bruce again.

“Yes, now. This mission is why we’re here. There isn’t anything more important tonight,” she says, honestly confused by his behaviour. She had thought this evening might be time for them to spend together as friends, but if he won’t do that, at least she can expect him to do his job. Find out where the Kryptonite is coming from, where it’s being moved. When. Clark’s life is certainly worth an evening of their time.

“I have to—”

She squeezes his arm. “You have to go with me onto that balcony. Pretend we are drunk and in love. They’ll ignore us, keep talking. I cannot do it alone, and the device isn’t working.”

Bruce frowns, casts a glance towards the ballroom, and puts a hand to his forehead in obvious frustration. “Just give me one minute to—”

“It will be too late, Bruce.” She takes his hand, leading him towards the balcony. She’s never had so much trouble convincing a man to stay close to her. Maybe it’s why Bruce intrigues her as much as he angers her. He mumbles something under his breath that sounds distinctly like “fuck,” and she isn’t sure where his hostility is coming from or where it’s directed.

Maybe he doesn’t like the dress.

His blue eyes are shooting daggers at the closed wooden doors of the ballroom. “All right! But they’ll never believe it, if we don’t play it well.”

He reaches up and pulls out the golden clip that’s holding the sides of her hair up; black ringlets fall messily around her face. He ruffles her hair, removes one earring, and tells her to take off her shoes and carry them. She does it even as she watches him undo his tie, letting the wide ends hang crookedly around his neck where he’s popped open two buttons. The black tux jacket gets stripped off and tossed casually around her shoulders, and she realizes she can still feel the warmth from his skin in the fabric. He produces an empty champagne bottle from behind a potted plant, and she marvels how in ten seconds he’s transformed them both to a convincingly drunken couple.

When he slips an arm around her waist, his smile is deliriously drunk, flirtatious and achingly beautiful. She knows she’s smiling too, but she isn’t playing any role. It’s been coming for a long time, and when he kisses her, she closes her eyes and lets him tug her through the glass door and onto one of the building’s stone terraces. She doesn’t even care he’s only doing it because he has to.

His mouth tastes wonderfully sweet. Champagne and strawberries and something indefinably Bruce. It’s what she’s always imagined he would taste like. He stumbles a little, breaking the kiss long enough to wave the champagne bottle at the men on the balcony. She blushes and giggles, swinging the high heels in her hand and pretending she’s done this a hundred times with a hundred different men. She hasn’t.

Since she left Themiscyra there’s really only been one man she’s been unable to resist, and he’s standing right in front of her with those perfect blue eyes and lips smudged red with Perfect Passion. He’s laughing, a sound she never hears when he’s in the cowl, and she steps in and kisses him again, catching him off-guard. She can hear the startled intake of breath, feel his hands tighten on her waist, and the men are moving a little further away and talking about her figure appreciatively. Maybe Bruce will hear them and secretly agree. Maybe he’ll realize he wants her as much as she wants him.

They seem to approve of the dress.

She opens her lips a fraction, hoping Bruce will take the invitation to go further, to sweep his tongue into her mouth and lick. She would let him, even if it was only pretend, even if this is the only way she can have him. It’ll be enough if it’s all she can have. For a few precious seconds of his mouth on hers, she can live with that lie.

The men’s voices drop, and Bruce’s kisses are strong, but not deep. Deceptively passionate without being passionate at all, and she can’t help but feel he’s holding back, his mind elsewhere, and it has nothing to do with concentrating on the fact that there’s half a ton of meteor rock being delivered to Luthor’s lab tucked beneath Mt. Torrent. She kisses Bruce harder, and he pulls back, but not away.

Opening her eyes would be a mistake, she knows, because he’s wondering what she’s doing, why she’s playing the romance card more than the drunken banter. He knows she’s equally inexperienced with both, but at least the kisses feel natural. Bruce feels right pressed against her like this. Her fingers tangle in his dark hair, and for a second she forgets this is just a game. A groan escapes her lips, and she can feel the surprise in the shape of his mouth even as Bruce instinctively draws her closer.

Closer, she thinks, and decides she’s a modern woman and there’s no need to wait for him to take the first step, knowing he’ll never do it. She licks along the line of his lips and when he parts them in shock, a protest lost on his tongue, she licks inside his mouth, runs her tongue along his, and sucks it into her mouth like a promise of things to come.

He can’t push her away. It’ll blow their cover. And the men are still talking. Luthor constructing some machine, like something out of a science fiction novel, and he’s got plutonium and meteor rock and more scientists than all of MIT. A lab in the desert buried underneath a mountain, an almost impenetrable fortress in an area known for its lead deposits, and in a week there’ll be testing of some kind. Testing before the final action is taken. Whatever that means.

Diana tests Bruce’s limits again, lets her hands slide down to his hips, long fingers tracing the waistband of his pants beneath the pleated cummerbund. He jumps as if ticklish, laughs for the benefit of the other two men, and whispers, “Not here, sweetheart.” Only because she knows him can she hear the warning underneath his tone.

“Maybe you should get a room,” someone says, and Diana opens her eyes as Bruce steps completely away, his hands falling uselessly at his sides. The voice is familiar, and when she turns, it’s Wally standing red-faced in the glass doorway. He glances from Bruce to her and back again, and then he turns and leaves without another word. She can hear the rush of wind even as the door closes behind him. He’s running. But she doesn’t understand why.

Bruce is staring at the empty doorway, looking strangely vulnerable in his white shirt with the French cuffs and sterling silver cufflinks. His tie is dangling lopsidedly, and Diana can see there’s lipstick smudged not only on his mouth, but the collar of his shirt as well. She doesn’t remember dropping her lips to his neck, but she must have.

There isn’t an ounce of regret in her body. She’ll have this memory to keep her warm until she can convince him to go out with her sometime. She wants so much more than just being colleagues. Occasional friends. She’s sure if he would let himself, he could love her too.

After all, there’s no one else in his life, nothing except a dark cave and a rain-soaked city and a family that’s busy trying to beat death every day of the year. Nothing but blood and violence waiting for him in Gotham. He needs someone in his life. He needs her.

The men wander back inside, conversation turning to the upcoming Sharks game, the high price of gasoline. Bruce is still staring at the doorway, and she pats his arm.

“The mission has been a success,” she says. “We know what Luthor’s planning.”

“But at what cost?”

He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and pushes aside the glass door. By the time she thinks to follow him, he’s already gone. She gathers the edges of his jacket more closely around her and returns to the ballroom, wondering if she’ll ever understand men.


Wally loses the tuxedo jacket somewhere around Reno, the pants in Mexico, and by the time he’s churning through sand on a beach in Brazil, he’s tossed the custom-made Italian leather shoes in the nearest ocean. They’re pinching his feet, and he’s happy to watch them descend into the crashing surf.

He leaves the shirt in the hands of a blind beggar in Peru, the bow tie hanging from a church steeple in Texas, and the cummerbund finds a new home carpeting an eagle’s nest in Oregon.

He doesn’t realize his feet are bleeding until he hits the southern point of Chile the second time, and by then he doesn’t even care. Sure, he could’ve gone back and grabbed the boots he’d forgotten when the hotel had transformed into a watery blur around him, but there’s that small matter of a Bat-tracer and right now he doesn’t want Bruce to be able to find him, although he’s pretty sure he could anyway.

Wally wonders what he’ll say if the olive farmers come to see what’s making such a desolate noise in their field, but they don’t come and he yells until there’s no breath left in his lungs and he’s sure he isn’t going to cry. He can’t remember crying over anyone since Mary Jane D’Arcy broke his heart in the eleventh grade, and he doesn’t want to start now. If he tastes salt on his lips, it’s only the nearness of the ocean, and he can feel the sand creeping into every cut along the bottom of his torn and bloody feet as he starts to run again. The pain seems right to him, and it’s a welcome distraction from the aching in his chest.

He’d fended off Luthor’s none-too-subtle advances, told the guy to—politely—go to hell, and when that hadn’t been enough he’d pulled out just enough strength to prove he wasn’t joking. Yeah, Luthor’s the President, but he already seemed to know everything about Wally’s abilities, so he didn’t see any harm in fighting fire with fire. Luthor had smiled like a jackal and nodded as if Wally had just beaten him at chess, and the President had finally given him enough room to leave. It had taken every ounce of Wally’s willpower not to bolt from the room right then, strip off everything and find the nearest shower because he felt dirty and cheap with the shadows of Luthor’s hands on him, Luthor’s clothing draped over his skin.

Wally West isn’t anyone’s rent-boy, and he damn well made sure Luthor knows it.

He’d wanted Bruce to appear. Not to rescue him, although the sentiment would’ve been nice, if not the action. He just wanted to see him, to be able to step away from Luthor with a face full of contempt and walk across to take Bruce’s arm and whisper, “it’s okay. I’m okay,” and know that Bruce was feeling a relief as real as he was. Wanted to find a private spot somewhere and let Bruce kiss him, find out for himself that Wally’s alive and unharmed and completely his.

Except that’s not what happened. Wally feels like someone kicked him in the chest with steel-toed boots, then ripped out his heart and stomped on it. It was atrociously bad timing he’d happened by the glass door to that particular balcony, seen Diana with her fingers sliding into the waist of Bruce’s pants, his mouth red with her lipstick and full of her tongue, and ...

Wally doesn’t want to think about it, but every time he stops running he sees Bruce and Diana. Together on the balcony. Hears that rare laughter of Bruce’s and knows it’s for someone who isn’t him.

“Fuck, Bruce,” he shouts to the star-spotted sky. “Why can’t this be simple? I love you, you stupid, fucking bastard. I love you.”

He sits down in the middle of the field of ripening olives and starts to sob the way he hasn’t since Barry was killed. His heart’s breaking, and he doesn’t even understand what he’s done to deserve this. Things had been going so well. At least, he thought so.

When the family dog starts to get curious about the costumed man in the field, Wally wipes his face on his sleeve, and starts to run again. The cuts that had started to scab, break open and he concentrates on the throbbing in his feet. He runs faster and faster until the world’s just a blur going by, until he can’t think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other. When he hits ocean, the salt stings his feet until he screams in pain, but he keep going until every muscle in his body is aching and his brain is numb and demanding sleep.

Only then does he turn towards his apartment in Central City.


“Will you stop the car and talk to me?”

Clark doesn’t like flying along beside a jet-powered vehicle and he doesn’t like yelling. He knows damn well Bruce can hear him in spite of the closed window and the eyes-straight-ahead posture, and he doesn’t really want to punch out the window because the car’s probably rigged to spray something in his face if he does that, and he doesn’t actually trust that Bruce would stop for him. Not now, not tonight. Clark’s not entirely sure what happened back at the reception, but since Diana came back to the dance wearing Bruce’s jacket and looking happily disheveled, he’s been able to make a few educated guesses, and none of them look good for the future of Wally and Bruce’s relationship.

“Dammit, Bruce, if you don’t stop the car, I will.”

That gets Bruce’s attention, and there’s a slow turn of his head to the side and a glare that’s colder than a Kansas winter. The car screeches to a halt on the gravel shoulder, and Clark lands gently beside it, cape fluttering in the night air. He reminds himself not to cross his arms and not to put on his “Superman face” because in spite of the uniform, he’s got a feeling Bruce doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit someone tonight. Under other circumstances Clark might let him take a swing if he thought it would actually make Bruce feel better, but Clark doesn’t want to have to take Bruce to emergency with a broken hand.

“What, Clark?”

Bruce is standing in the open doorway of the car, the engine still running. He doesn’t want to talk. There’s desperation etched on his face in lines that weren’t there two hours ago, and Clark wonders if he should offer to pick up the car and fly it to Central City. It would be quicker.

“You left without saying anything. I wanted to check—”

“Diana gave you her report, I’m sure. You don’t need mine.”

“It’s not about the report.”

“Fuck, Clark, I can’t talk about this. I’ve got to go. For God’s sake, can’t you just let me go?”

Clark hears the pain underneath the anger, the fear that Wally’s gone for good, and Clark can’t help feeling helpless and awkward and wanting to help. He knows there isn’t anything he can do that’s going to make this right.

“I could fly you.”

“No.” Bruce is already climbing back in the car, and he shifts into drive as he closes the door. “But thanks for the offer,” he adds, Alfred’s sense of propriety so ingrained in him he does it without thinking.

Clark nods, but he’s sure Bruce doesn’t notice as the car roars away. Clark coughs and he’s grateful that rocks don’t harm his skin because he just got a face full of gravel and a mouth full of dust, but he hasn’t seen Bruce this upset in a long time, and he can forgive him easily enough.

He turns towards Metropolis and lifts into the air, grateful to have Lois to return home to, thankful their relationship is a lot less complicated than it used to be.

“I hope you find him, Bruce,” Clark says to the empty sky, watching the fading taillights crest the horizon and disappear.


On the outskirts of Central City Bruce stops at a gas station to clean up. He doesn’t want to talk to Wally in a lipstick-stained tuxedo that smells like Diana’s perfume. Wally won’t hear a word he says if that’s what he’s got to look at, and quite frankly Bruce can’t blame him for being upset. He wishes he could turn back time, take the elevator or a different stairway down to the ballroom, ride to the rescue as he’d originally intended, and let Clark help Diana with her balcony ruse. Bruce can only imagine what Lois’s reaction would’ve been under the same circumstances. But of course, Clark would’ve simply gone and gotten Lois and they would’ve done the scene together. Something Bruce will never be able to do with Wally—at least not until the world gets a lot more tolerant.

Bruce changes into the clothes he keeps in the trunk of the car. Standard black turtleneck and black pants, a black leather jacket stashed for undercover ops. The lipstick is gone and the shirt balled up in an untidy lump at the bottom of the gas station’s dumpster. He doesn’t need any reminders of how badly tonight has gone.

He pulls the car into an empty space on the street across from Wally’s building and prepares to wait. He’ll wait forever if he has to, and he isn’t sure what he’s going to say, but he needs Wally to know it was just the job. Just work.

Dick warned him Wally would run if he got hurt, that he’d run to the ends of the earth, and Bruce had foolishly thought he could hold him in place, keep him from running away. His heart aches knowing he’s the reason Wally’s a blur of speed somewhere. They should’ve been sipping champagne and flirting with each other, making plans for what they’d do to one another when they got home.

Bruce doesn’t know how things managed to go from good to catastrophe so quickly. The shipments of Kryptonite, Luthor building mysterious contraptions in secret labs, and the fact that Luthor knows everything—about Wally for sure, but probably about them all. In the back of his mind, Bruce can see his Justice Lord counterpart telling him he doesn’t understand, that he really doesn’t get what happened with Luthor. Bruce considers the emptiness he already feels knowing Wally’s angry at him.

He gets it.


Luthor sits in his apartment overlooking Metropolis and raises a glass of champagne to his lips. There’s no red-haired speedster to share his bed tonight, but aside from that, everything’s going according to plan.

Absolutely everything.

“Ah, Bruce,” Luthor says. “You’ll just never accept that you can’t beat me. Not at anything. Whatever you have, I can take away. It’s that simple. It’s always been that simple.”

He downs the sweet bubbly liquid and savours the taste of victory.


From a strictly safety point of view, Wally’s building would be better if there was a second exit not visible from the front, but tonight Bruce is grateful because he’s at least got a chance of spotting him when he comes home. He could wait inside the apartment for him, but he knows that would feel like a violation to Wally right now and he can’t bring himself to do anything that might upset him further. Bruce isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to get Wally’s look of anguish out of his mind.

He concentrates on the building even though he’s counted out its windows and occupants a dozen times already. The woman across the hall from Wally who lights candles around her bathtub and favours long Russian novels. The couple directly below her—they’ve been arguing since Bruce parked the car here, and although he can’t hear what they’re saying, he recognizes the angry ebb and flow of well-practiced insults. These two have worked out their dance to perfection. The other windows are dark except for Wally’s, but Bruce knows he isn’t home, knows he leaves a light on for the hamster’s benefit. Wally didn’t have to tell him that for Bruce to know it’s true.

Bruce considers what he can tell Wally that will make it hurt less, and quickly discards most of his options. It’s clear Diana’s interested in him, and he isn’t sure why he didn’t notice before now. It was impossible not to notice tonight with her tongue in his mouth and her small round breasts pressed against him. Even Bruce knows that saying “it was work” won’t adequately explain Diana’s reaction, and even his own is suspect. He knows it, and he isn’t sure how to make Wally understand it didn’t mean anything when it so clearly meant something to at least one of them.

Wally almost manages to sneak by him. He’s changed into street clothes, no doubt stashed somewhere in the city—just in case. They all have bolt holes and hiding places for emergencies. If he’d come in at super-speed and blurred to a stop, Bruce would’ve noticed right away. Instead, Wally hobbles up the block like somebody’s ancient grandfather. He’s got a cap pulled down around his ears, and if it wasn’t for the flash of red hair when he walks beneath the street light, Bruce would’ve thought it was a transient shuffling through the night. He registers the bare feet, then the bloody footprints, and he’s out of his car so fast, he doesn’t remember to shut the door.

“Wally!” Bruce is there at his side, and he knows the horror’s written on his face. “What the hell did you do?”

Unsurprisingly, Wally shakes off Bruce’s attentions, fixes him with a glare that tells him to go to hell, and digs in his pocket for his keys. Bruce swallows his anger and tries again.

“I was coming down to find you. Get you away from Luthor, and Diana pulled me out on to the balcony. We needed to know about the—”

“Just go home, Bruce.”

The keys jangle in Wally’s hand as he reaches for the railing with the other, and there’s no way in hell Bruce is going to watch him struggle up five flights of stairs with feet that are bleeding like someone tried to crucify him. He steps in front of him and puts his hands on Wally’s waist.

“If you’re mad at me, be mad at me. Don’t hurt yourself.”

He reaches out a hand to cup Wally’s face, only to have the gesture rebuked. He feels the same way he did when Dick was sixteen and Bruce caught him cutting his skin just to see if he could stand the pain. Bruce yelled at him until he was hoarse, then studied his skin every chance he got, terrified he would do it again.

“Luthor called me your whore.”

Bruce feels the words like a slap, doesn’t think he’s ever heard a voice that bitter from Wally in all the years he’s known him. He doesn’t want to be responsible for taking the light out of Wally’s smile, the spring from his step. Bruce feels like the guy who just killed Santa and the Easter Bunny.

“Wally, you’re—”

“What, Bruce? What exactly am I?”

Wally leans heavily on the railing, his face grey with exhaustion and Bruce wonders how many calories he burned, how long it’s been since he’s eaten something. Part of him considers taking Wally straight to a hospital and getting him pumped full of calories. He’s got Dr. Emerson’s contact information in his wallet; he would find someone in Central City who could help them. Someone who wouldn’t talk.

“You look like you’re going to collapse any second,” Bruce says, not bothering to hide his concern. He steps closer, moves to slip an arm under Wally’s shoulders, and he hears him wince when he steps away, the blood on his feet grown tacky, sticking to the concrete under his feet.

Wally’s face is covered with a thin sheen of dirt and Bruce thinks he can see streaks down his cheeks. He’s going to pretend it’s rain. Can’t bear to think of the alternative. His large hands cup Wally’s face gently.

“What am I, Bruce? Answer the question.”

“You’re everything,” Bruce whispers, and it isn’t a lie. Wally’s green eyes open wider and he lets out a frustrated sigh.

“You bastard,” he murmurs. “I can’t even stay mad at you.”

Wally shakes his head and wobbles slightly. Bruce catches him as he starts to fall, and this time he just ignores Wally’s protests. He picks him up and carries him inside, up five flights of stairs and lays him on his bed. A phone call to Dr. Emerson gets him started on a makeshift glucose IV that Bruce rigs from some Ziploc bags and a few feet of plastic tubing. He crushes half a dozen aspirin tablets and adds them to the mix—crushes more after he’s washed the worst of the blood away and gotten a good look at the bottoms of Wally’s feet. He bathes them in antiseptic, thankful Wally’s unconscious for that part, although he still flinches and moans every time Bruce touches him. By the time dawn breaks, Wally’s sleeping deeply, his colour more pink than grey, and the wounds on his feet have scabbed over so Bruce can salve them and wrap them loosely with gauze. Wally’s going to have to stay off his feet until he heals, Bruce suspects. He kisses Wally’s ankle, the gentle slope of his foot, and hates himself for driving Wally to this kind of madness. Kisses his forehead and his chapped lips and wonders if he’ll be allowed this luxury when Wally wakes up. He pulls the patterned quilt up over his sleeping form, careful not to disturb the IV or the bandages.

Bruce hears a sound on the fire escape, the movement of a window. He grabs a batarang from his jacket and slides into the shadows until he sees a familiar form in blue and black. Nightwing.

“What are you doing here?” Bruce asks as Dick climbs through the window and closes it.

“He called me.” Dick pulls off his mask and shakes out his hair. It’s not as long as it used to be, but it’s still longer than Bruce likes. He resists the urge to tell him to get a haircut.

“He called you,” Bruce repeats dumbly, wondering if Wally stopped at a pay phone in some foreign country and placed a call, or if there’s a cell phone somewhere in his pockets. He doesn’t know if Wally speaks any other languages. He figures he should know these things, wants to find out. Hopes he’ll have the chance.

“Yeah. I would’ve been here sooner, but I got tied up.” He raises his hands so Bruce can see the red rope burns around his wrists.

“Are you okay?” He doesn’t go over and check on him. Doesn’t pull up his sleeves and examine the marks, isn’t looking for other signs of damage—a stiff shoulder, a swollen eye, a bruised cheek.

Dick shrugs, one shoulder moving a little slower than the other. “I’ll live to fight another day. That’s what counts, right?”

Bruce scowls, not sure exactly why, but he knows that isn’t what counts. Suddenly he wants all of them off the streets, out of this life. Wants every one of them safe and at home: uninjured, undamaged, unbroken.

“Where’s Tim?” Bruce is aware the two of them often patrol together if Batman’s unavailable. He’s taught them to look after each other when he can’t.

“He’s fine.”

“Fine like you’re fine?”

Dick can’t miss the implication. He shakes his head. “No. He’s already safe at home, tucked in bed, and not even bruised. Promise.”

The reassurance doesn’t actually do anything to make Bruce feel better. He thinks what Jack Drake would do if he knew what his son did at night, how many times Tim’s come close to death or serious injury. Bruce thinks the man would be right in wanting to keep Tim away from him. From all of them. If he knew.

Dick walks past him to the door of the bedroom, leans into the room and takes a good look around. Bruce knows he’s registering the IV, the bandages, Wally’s level of exhaustion. When he comes back to the living room, he sits on the couch and looks up at Bruce.

“He didn’t tell me what happened.”

Bruce nods. It’s an invitation to give his side of it, prove his innocence when Dick already assumes he’s screwed up something royally, and of course, he has. Not intentionally, but intent rarely matters at times like this.

“I hurt him.”

“I figured.”

Bruce doesn’t know how to explain it to Dick, how complicated everything’s gotten with Luthor and Wally and Diana. How they always seem to be a half-step away from the end of the world these days, and Bruce feels responsible for everyone.

“He’s angry at me.”

“I know.” Dick seems to be weighing whether Bruce can handle what he has to say, and Bruce nods and waits. Wally told Dick something, even if he didn’t tell him what happened. Dick’s voice is serious, his eyes apologetic. “He asked me to come. And to make sure you didn’t.”

“I see.” Bruce stands stiffly and prepares to leave. Dick’s here now and can take care of things. Perhaps it’s best if Bruce isn’t here when Wally wakes up. The hand on his arm forces him to look at Dick.

“He’s upset. But he bounces back. I don’t think he meant it. Not really, not like you think.”

“It doesn’t matter. I should go.”

They hear a moan from Wally’s bedroom and both step towards the hallway, colliding in the doorway.

“I’ll check on him,” Dick says, disappearing down the hall. “You, don’t go anywhere. Not yet. Call Alfred, will you? He’s probably worried sick about you.”

It’s ten to five, but Bruce phones Alfred to explain what’s happened. He gives as few details as he can, not trusting his voice to tell the truth without revealing too much. Alfred offers to make the drive to Central City to help, but Bruce knows this is his responsibility. His mess. He’ll find a way to make it right. He has to.

At five, Bruce hears boots on the fire escape. Clark never could leave things alone. He opens the window and lets him in. Doesn’t tell him exactly how bad it is. Doesn’t have to. He watches Clark peer at the wall, peeling away the layers of gyproc and searching for Wally. He’ll have found him and Dick, scanned them both (just to be safe), and seen every cut and scrape and blister.

“Jesus,” Clark murmurs. “Wally’s not going to be able to run—”

“He heals fast.”

“Not that fast, Bruce.”

“He’ll be all right,” Bruce insists. He knows how bad it looks. Every one of Wally’s cuts feels like a lash on Bruce’s skin. A well-deserved lash.

“Lois sent muffins,” Clark says, holding up a cardboard box that smells like apples and cinnamon.

“Lois baked?” One of the sure signs of the apocalypse as far as Bruce is concerned. He eyes the box suspiciously.

Clark grins. “Lois ordered. She said she needed coffee, and when she came back she had these.”

“She’s not exactly a morning person. Why would she—” Bruce shuts his mouth, knowing Clark doesn’t need the reminder that Bruce dated Lois once upon a time. Truthfully, Lois dated most of Metropolis, but he’ll save that observation for when he really wants Clark to hit him in the face.

Clark just smiles evenly and meets his eyes. “We didn’t exactly get any sleep.”

“Oh.” Touché, Bruce thinks. But at least someone’s happy. He politely takes an offered muffin and breaks it in half. It’s still warm. There are some benefits of being able to fly at super-sonic speeds and heat things with your eyes.

“And she was worried about you too.”

Bruce just nods and eats his crumbling muffin. Tries to hear what’s going on in Wally’s room. Knows he could ask Clark if he wanted to, but decides against it. It’s possible he doesn’t want to know.

Besides the muffin, Clark’s brought proper equipment from the Watchtower, including some additional security measures, more instructions from the doctor, and the disturbing news that the communications devices picked up details of three separate Kryptonite shipments headed in three different directions in about a week.

“Luthor’s mocking us,” Clark says, and Bruce can’t help but agree. They have no way of knowing which information is legitimate, if any, and they’ll be forced to spread their resources out to cover the possibilities.

“Divide and conquer.”

Luthor’s a brilliant strategist and Bruce always feels two steps behind. He doesn’t know how to get ahead. They’re usually forced to be reactionary—waiting till Luthor tries something so they can make a move—and they haven’t had much luck trying to anticipate Luthor’s plans. He’s entirely too unpredictable and that makes him a greater threat than almost anyone else.

Bruce walks over to the hamster’s cage. There’s a ball of fluff in the corner, peering up at him with small dark eyes. It looks frightened. Bruce supposes he is, considering there’s a bunch of strangers in the apartment and Wally’s nothing more than the occasional distant moan of pain that breaks Bruce’s heart every time he hears it. He’s had to stop himself from running into the bedroom a half-dozen times since Clark’s arrival.

Bruce breaks off a piece of muffin and slides it through the bars of the cage. The Spinster looks at him for a moment, sniffs at the muffin, then reaches up to take it in his little claws. Bruce feels them drag along his finger, taking the morsel of food towards the hamster’s mouth. It chews happily and looks up for more. It figures Wally’s hamster would have the same kind of obscene metabolism. Bruce breaks off another piece and gives it to the hamster. He pointedly ignores Clark’s snicker, and rubs the hamster’s head with one finger. It snuffles at him and rubs back, its fur tickling his skin.

He thinks The Spinster likes him.


Dick helps Wally sit up, gets him a drink of water, and checks his bandages.

“You look like hell,” Dick tells him, sitting carefully on the edge of the bed. The makeshift IV isn’t very sturdy, a jury-rigged contraption of duct-tape, plastic bags, and tubing that works strictly on gravity, and Dick doesn’t want to jostle it in case it collapses.

“Hell would actually be an improvement.” Wally rubs a hand over his face and realizes he’s got a needle stuck in him. He looks accusingly at Dick. Wally’s not fond of needles—although Dick doesn’t know anyone who is—and Dick figures it’s probably a good thing he was unconscious when Bruce put it in because he’s not always the gentlest nurse.

“Your idea?”

Dick shrugs, and Wally’s eyes narrow. “Ah. Not your idea. Is he still here?” He asks the question like it doesn’t mean anything. Dick knows better.

“Do you want him to be?”

Wally sighs. “That’s not an answer, Dick.”

“Neither is that.”

Dick knows he’s going to be in the middle on this. He’s known since Bruce and Wally started playing this game that he’s going to be the one to help patch things up when they get rough. Him and Clark. He just kind of hoped they’d have longer than a month of smooth sailing before things got rocky. He should’ve known better. Nothing’s ever simple for Bruce. Ever.

Clark appears at the doorway with muffins and Dick takes the box and hands them to Wally. He practically inhales them, and Dick waits until there’s nothing left but crumbs. It’s not a long wait.

“Caffeine?” Wally asks, and as if by magic, Clark appears at the doorway with a take-out tray of cappuccino from the coffee shop down the street. It’s Wally’s favourite blend and that’s as clear a signal as anything that Bruce is still here somewhere, lurking in the shadows, but Dick doesn’t think Wally has the energy to be angry at the moment. It’s taking concentration just to keep his eyes open. He drinks the coffee, letting the heat work through his body like a good massage, and he looks a little more like himself. Weak, but human. He leans back against the pillows.

“You want to tell me what happened?” Dick asks finally.

“He didn’t tell you?” Wally really should know better than to ask that, but Dick just rolls his eyes in response. “Of course, he didn’t. Wouldn’t be like him to actually talk to either of us about anything important.”


“Yeah, well, I thought I got invited to the ball by Bruce, except it wasn’t Bruce who wanted me there at all. Then I was kissed by Dr. Meridian, felt-up by Luthor—who incidentally thinks Bruce is paying me for sex—and watched Bruce getting it on with Diana, at which point I left. Oh, and Luthor knows everything about me, secret identity, everything.”

Dick stares at him like he’s lost his mind. “What?”

“Am I talking too fast for you? Which part didn’t you understand?” Wally points to the needle on his arm. “Can I take this thing out? No offense to Bats’ techno know-how but I’m not all that confident in anything that comes out of a Ziploc baggy found in my kitchen.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dick helps him ease the needle out, digs through the dresser drawers for a band-aid. Ignores the condoms and lube and the new thong underwear still in its package. He’s an adult. He’s going to do what any adult would do and simply pretend Wally isn’t sleeping with the man who’s been like a father to him since he was nine.

Dick pulls out a Toy Story band-aid with Buzz Lightyear on it, and puts it where the needle used to be. “Wally, go back to the beginning. Tell me exactly what happened.”


“So that’s what happened?” Clark says when Bruce is done talking. It’s taken several minutes of carefully worded questions and a higher than normal amount of one-word responses, but Clark thinks he’s finally pieced together the whole story of what happened at the reception. “That’s everything?”


“So Diana’s got a—”


“And Wally saw you—”


“And Luthor knows—”





“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Dick says loudly when Wally finishes speaking.

Wally’s cheeks flush bright pink and his mouth opens with shock. “Why are you yelling at me? You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Oh, no, my friend. You two put me in the middle enough as it is, and although I’m the first to admit Bruce isn’t great in the communication department, you screwed this one up all on your own.”


“You didn’t even ask Bruce what happened, did you? You just panicked and took off.” Dick picks up one of Wally’s feet by the big toe and drops it back down onto the bed.

“Fuck! That hurts, Dick.” He draws his legs under the quilt and glares at his best friend.

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?” The glare intensifies. “Yours. If you would’ve just talked to him—”

“He was kissing her,” Wally says defensively.

“Maybe she was kissing him, you moron. Like Chase kissed you?” Wally blinks at him blankly. “She kissed you at the dance and Bruce barreled across the room in a jealous fit?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly describe it like—”

“Did you ever stop and think maybe he didn’t plan it? Didn’t want it? Didn’t have much choice in the matter? That maybe they were pretending, or at least he was?”

The look on Wally’s face confirms that he’s an idiot. Dick’s going to buy them each a copy of Communication for Dummies. Maybe he’ll splurge and go for the whole set: Romance for Dummies, and Sex for … on second thought, Dick’s sure they’ll manage fine on their own.

“He was—”

Wally’s trying to explain, but the fight’s gone out of him and realization’s starting to seep in. Dick knows exactly what happened, can see it in the hurt on Wally’s face, the absolute anguish of his battered feet. His heart was breaking to see Bruce with someone else, and he couldn’t bear to do anything but get as far away as possible. He’s in love with Bruce. Really, truly, stupidly in love with him.

God help them all.

“Wally, I don’t think it was what it looked like.” Dick knows Wally’s starting to think that too. “Bruce doesn’t play around when he’s in a relationship. It’s not his style.”

“Oh, God, Dick. I was so angry, so hurt. I couldn’t see straight! I had to get out of there.”

Dick sits back down beside him and puts a hand on his shoulder. “I know.”

“Is he still here?”

Dick glances towards the door. “I think so. I told him not to leave, but he doesn’t always listen.”

“I think he carried me upstairs last night,” he says softly, looking down at his bandaged feet. “Five flights.”

Dick nods. “I’ll go get him.”


“Yeah.” He turns with one hand on the door.

“Thanks for being honest.”



When Dick steps into the living room, he isn’t sure what surprises him more. That Clark’s floating in mid-air reading the newspaper, that Wally’s hamster seems to be trying to break some kind of hamster-wheel speed record, or that Bruce is gone.

“Where the hell is he?” Dick whispers frantically. Now that he’s got Wally calmed down and ready to talk, he was hoping he wouldn’t have to do much convincing to get the other one to do the same.

“I sent him for more coffee.”

Dick raises an eyebrow. “And he went?”

Clark floats down to the couch, and folds up the newspaper. “Without protest. Guilt is a great motivator.” He looks at Dick. “How’s the patient?”

“Stupid, guilty, and starving. Bruce?”

“Definitely guilty, although the thing with Diana really wasn’t his fault. She ambushed him on the way downstairs. He was on his way to break Luthor into tiny pieces.”

Dick blinks and shakes his head thinking he must have misheard. “And you were just going to let him?”

“Actually, I suspected Wally would have things under control by the time Bruce got down there. He doesn’t need help any more than you do. Bruce needs to remember that, and Wally needs to know he cares.”

“Sounds like there were a lot of set-ups going on last night.” Dick’s voice is sharp as he sits in the over-sized easy chair.

“Lois was keeping an eye on things. She would’ve let me know if things had gotten out of hand.”

“This isn’t out of hand?”

“I didn’t count on Diana. Or Wally’s reaction.”

“Yeah, neither did Bruce.”

The door opens quietly, and Bruce comes in carrying a tray of take-out coffee cups. There’s a brown paper bag tucked under one arm and a plastic bag swinging awkwardly from his wrist. Clark immediately relieves him of the paper bag, and Dick watches him unload two dozen pastries of various shapes and sizes onto a plate. The plastic bag’s got fruit from the vendor down the street, and Dick can’t help but smile at the thought of Bruce picking out melons and peaches and fresh strawberries. Alfred does all of that at home.

“How is he?” Bruce asks, and Dick knows he’s been biting his tongue to keep from demanding an update on Wally’s condition since the moment he stepped through the door.

“He’s an idiot,” Dick says frankly. “But he’s your idiot.”

“That tells me nothing about his physical condition.”

“Much better.” Wally’s voice surprises them all, and they turn to see him standing awkwardly in the entrance to the room, leaning slightly against the wall. Dick can’t imagine how badly his feet must be hurting.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” Bruce says and takes a step forward. He stops, waiting for something, some sign that he’s allowed to come closer.

“I thought you might’ve gone.” Wally’s voice is hoarse and he looks pale. Dick can imagine what he must’ve looked like when Bruce found him last night. Speedsters burn out quickly if they’re not careful.

“I thought you wanted me to go.” Bruce is being purposely difficult now, and Dick wants to kick him in the shins and tell him to just go over and hug Wally already. The need to do so, to make sure he’s all right is written all over his face. It’s a look Dick’s seen a lot over the years. He’s used to it, and the fact Bruce always feels he needs permission to touch, to hug.

“I was mistaken.” Wally’s tugging on his bottom lip with his teeth, and Dick recognizes the gesture. He’s nervous. No wonder it’s taken them months to get this far if this is how they’ve been talking.

Clark’s got a hand on Dick’s shoulder, and there’s a quiet, “I think we should leave them alone.” Dick nods and gets up. Neither Bruce nor Wally is paying any attention to the two of them as they climb out onto the fire escape.

Dick slaps his mask in place. “I don’t suppose I can catch a lift back to Gotham, can I? I rode the trains up here, and it’s a little harder to do in the daytime.”

“No problem,” Clark says and puts an arm around Dick’s waist, lifting them both effortlessly into the air. When Dick glances back through the window, he can see Bruce has moved across the space and has Wally in his arms, red hair practically disappearing under Bruce’s large hand.

It’s weird, but it makes Dick feel a little bit better about the future of the world. If they can just survive each other, they should be able to live through anything else.

UPDATE - Sept. 18

Bruce knows the moment when Clark and Dick disappear onto the fire escape leaving him and Wally alone.  He doesn’t wait for anything more than the look in Wally’s eyes to move across the space and wrap his arms around him.

“God, Bruce,” Wally says into his shoulder and Bruce slides a hand up and into Wally’s red hair.  “God, I’m sorry.”

“No,” Bruce shakes his head and holds him tighter, thinks he can feel Wally’s ribs through the thin t-shirt.  “It was my fault.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Wally kisses him, fierce and passionate, and Bruce thinks this is what forgiveness tastes like.  Apples and coffee and Wally.  A step and Wally’s back’s to the wall, and Bruce cups Wally’s face in his hands, concentrates on kissing him with as much feeling as he can.  Which is considerable.

After a minute of breathless reconnection, Bruce realizes Wally’s mouth is tight, head thrown back in something more like pain than pleasure, and Bruce breaks the kiss and looks at him.  There’s a thin sheen of sweat on his face, and he’s paler than usual.  Bruce glances down and remembers Wally’s feet.  His poor feet.

“You need to get back in bed,” Bruce says, sliding an arm under Wally’s shoulder.

“Is that an offer?”

Bruce ignores the flirtatious glance, and shakes his head.  “You need to rest.  Get your strength—”

“I’m not a damsel in distress, and you’re not carrying me.”  The look on Wally’s face tells Bruce he’s going to have to knock him out if he wants to pick him up.  His back is flat against the wall, and he’s not budging.

“You’re as stubborn as—”

“You?”  Wally’s completely serious, and Bruce knows he’s not going to be moved.  “Come on, Bruce.  Just help me to the couch, okay?”

It’s a short walk, but Bruce can hear the agony in every step Wally takes.  When he finally eases him onto the sofa, Bruce can tell they’re both relieved.  He brings the plate of pastries over and sets them on the table without a word, sets the tray of coffee close enough that Wally can reach without straining, and goes to the kitchen to wash the fruit.  He watches Wally toss back the four extra-large coffees in between a cheese croissant and a sugared cruller.

“I think this is the part where one of us says ‘we need to talk’.”  Wally’s lying on his side on the couch, brushing crumbs off his lips.

The water is cool as Bruce washes the peaches gently, careful not to bruise the tender flesh.  In his experience, “we need to talk” has never been a signal of anything good.  He reaches for the cantaloupe and sets it on the counter, opening the first drawer beside the sink and wondering why Wally needs a drawer full of sugar packets lifted from various local restaurants.  On second thought, it makes perfect sense.

“Bruce?  I—I’m sorry about last night.”

In the second drawer, he finds cutlery, but no knives, and he moves on to the third drawer before he finds something sharp enough to pierce the melon’s skin.  He splits it in two and scoops out the seeds with a spoon, then peels the pale orange flesh from the grey rind.  The half-moon slices fall neatly onto the blue ceramic plate he’s pulled from the dish-rack by the sink.

“You’re not talking, Bruce.”

Bruce glances towards the couch where Wally’s propped himself on an elbow and is looking at him expectantly.  The plate of pastries is nearly empty, and Bruce almost smiles when he sees Wally’s pulled a croissant off to the side.  He knows Bruce prefers the plain ones.

The strawberries are fresh and Bruce can smell them even before he eases the cover off the package and rolls them into the colander he finds in the cupboard with the pots and pans.  He rinses the berries and pats them dry with a paper towel before emptying them into a bowl.


He puts two peaches and a paring knife on the plate with the melon, picks up the bowl of strawberries and carries it all into the living room and sets it beside the remaining pastries.  Wally looks at him strangely, but accepts the offered fruit with a grateful smile that starts to falter when Bruce sits in the easy-chair on the other side of the room.

“I need to explain a few things,” Bruce says, and Wally stops mid-bite, a piece of melon jutting from his mouth like an orange tongue.  He swallows awkwardly.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

“When I saw you kissing Chase, I—” Bruce searches for the right word to describe the rush of emotion he’d felt.  “I was upset.”

She kissed me.”  It’s automatic and defensive and out of Wally’s mouth in between bites of fruit.  Bruce tries not to watch him lick the juice from his fingers.  It’s extremely distracting.

“I know.  She was trying to push me into doing something.  Making a gesture.”

Bruce remembers hearing Diana’s irritated voice in his ears and simply not caring that he was barreling across the room like a jealous lover.  Which is exactly what he was.

“Wally, I didn’t kiss Diana to get back at you.  It was—an accident.”

“Kissing Diana was an accident?”  Wally rolls his eyes and twirls the stem off a strawberry.  “Yeah, you tripped and her tongue just happened to end up in your mouth.”

“It was a diversion.  We needed information from the two men on the balcony.  It was the easiest way to get it.”

“What happened to your high-tech gizmos?  Weren’t they supposed to be doing that for you?”

“They didn’t all work,” Bruce says quietly, his pride smarting.  He knows technology isn’t perfect, that even the best equipment fails from time to time, but it’s his design and it’s not supposed to fail.  They can’t afford to be let down, especially when things with Luthor are so precarious.

Wally pops a strawberry into his mouth and chews thoughtfully.  “So pretending to be lovers was your idea?”

Bruce shakes his head.  “No, it happened too fast.  There was no real plan.  I was on my way to—”  Bruce breaks off, not sure Wally will appreciate the idea of Bruce wanting to rescue him from Luthor.  He’s been protecting people too long; sometimes it’s impossible to let go of the idea, even when he knows people can take care of themselves.

The bowl of strawberries is half gone, and Wally pushes the plain croissant in Bruce’s direction.  He takes it even though he’s not hungry.

“You were on your way to what?” Wally prompts.

Bruce tears off a buttery corner of the croissant, tries to stall by chewing slowly and wondering how he can say it without starting an argument.  The pastry feels dry in his mouth, and he reaches for a piece of melon.  Wally’s hand covers his.

“Bruce?  Just tell me.”

“Clark told me about Luthor.  That he was … hitting on you.  I was on my way down to ...”  Bruce pulls his hand away and slides the melon into his mouth.  It’s cool and wet and sweet as candy.

“Rescue me?”

Bruce glances away and nods.  He knows Wally’s not going to like it, but there’s nothing else he can do at this point.  “I was worried about you.”

“Luthor’s a creep.”  There’s a significant pause, and Bruce can tell Wally wants to ask him something.  If it has to do with Luthor, it can’t be good.  “Luthor sort of insinuated that you and he ...”

“No.”  Bruce shakes his head.  “Never.”


For a few minutes there’s silence.  Bruce eats his croissant and watches Wally happily working his way through the fruit.  He can almost believe things are all right between them.  That last night didn’t happen.  That Wally’s feet aren’t slashed to ribbons beneath the bandages.  That Luthor isn’t a threat.  No, that part’s too real.  They’re in danger—all of them—and Bruce isn’t sure what to do about it.

Wally tosses a strawberry into the air and catches it in his mouth.  “You know, Dick’s right—we’re  both idiots.”

Bruce raises an eyebrow.  He wants to see where this line of thought is going.

“You flipped out about Luthor and I freaked when I saw you with Diana.  I mean, she’s gorgeous.  Who wouldn’t want to be with her?  And she’s obviously got a thing for you.  Not that I can blame her.”

Bruce eases out of the chair, and sits on the edge of the coffee table where he can touch Wally.  He reaches out and rubs his thumb lightly over the Toy Story band-aid.  “I’m not interested in Diana.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s not interested in you.”

“I can’t change that,” Bruce says, “but you don’t have to worry.”

Wally stares at the fingers brushing over his hand.  “You’re Bruce Wayne.  A girl on each arm—”

“You know that’s not me.”  Bruce kneels on the floor beside the couch, sliding his hand around Wally’s neck.  “You know I care about you more than ... more than I can say.”

“I want to believe that,” Wally whispers.

“Believe it.”  Bruce kisses him lightly, discovering his lips again.  Softer, gentler and Bruce finds the taste of strawberries intoxicating as he leans in to taste Wally again.

“No Diana?”

“No.  Just you.”  Bruce brushes his fingers through Wally’s hair, remembers how handsome he looked in the tuxedo.  He’s going to have to take him out sometime.  Really take him out, show him off, let the world see how incredible he is.  Except he likes keeping Wally safe and secret, knowing the rest of the world doesn’t get to see him the way Bruce does.  They give so much of themselves to other people, it’s been nice to have something all their own.

“What about Clark?  Hogging the covers.  Japan.”

Wally sounds tired and Bruce knows his burst of energy was short-lived and expected.  Dr. Emerson had advised Wally would probably have bursts of energy and exhaustion throughout the next few days until his system recovered from the shock.

Bruce smiles and kisses Wally again.  “Nothing to worry about.  Promise.”  He kisses his forehead, and the skin at his temples.  Wally’s eyes have fluttered closed and Bruce lays him back gently against the cushions on the couch.  He thinks Wally’s asleep, but there’s a squeeze on his arm.

“Don’t leave,” he whispers.

“I won’t,” Bruce promises and kisses his eyelids.  “Go to sleep, Wally.  I—I—”  He wants to say the words, wants to tell him, but everything’s still so raw and he wants to make sure they’re really okay before he lays his heart at Wally’s feet.  Not that Wally hasn’t owned it for some time now, but Bruce can’t seem to get the words out.  “I’ll be here.”

He sits on the floor beside the couch, one hand tangled in Wally’s hair, and watches him sleep.


When Dick comes down for something to eat, Alfred’s just hanging up the phone.  He’s got a strange look on his face that Dick can’t quite place.  It might be shock.

“Alfred?” Dick says, grabbing a glass of juice from the fridge.  “Everything all right?”

“That was Master Bruce on the phone.”

Dick swallows his OJ in one gulp.  “Is it Wally?  Is he okay?”

“Master Bruce asked me to clear his schedule for the next three days.”

Dick nods.  It’s not that unusual, but still.

“He’s apparently going to be staying with Master Wally in Central City.  I’m to send a bag with a few things.”

A grin breaks out across Dick’s face.  “That’s a good sign.”

“Indeed.  I do believe Master Bruce has met his match.”  Alfred starts to head upstairs, but turns around half-way.  “He did request that you stay close to Gotham if possible.  Keep an eye on Master Timothy.”

“Of course.  Wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.”  Dick won’t admit it to Bruce, but he likes being back in Gotham.  Back home.  Bludhaven’s where he lives now, but it will never really be home, and for the first time in a long time, he feels like Bruce needs him here.  Trusts him to take care of himself and Tim.

It’s a good feeling.


When Wally wakes up, he finds himself back on his bed and no idea how he got there.  He’s still dressed in his jeans and faded t-shirt, and his feet have been bandaged again.

“Bruce,” he says under his breath, and a second later the door opens silently.  “I think you’re starting to develop a thing about carrying me.”

There’s a short laugh and Bruce moves from the doorway to the edge of the bed.  He sits and looks at Wally seriously.  “I’d rather not have to carry you.”

Wally glances at his feet, and he can feel the ache of every cut.  Even at the rate he heals, it’s going to be a while before he’ll be up to running again.  It was stupid to run without his boots.  He knows it, but he’d wanted to hurt, wanted to forget what he’d seen and pain seemed liked the best way to forget.

“How long have I been out?”

“About eight hours,” Bruce says, politely ignoring Wally’s “holy shit, Batman!”  Wally can’t remember the last time he slept that heavily.  It must be the drugs Dr. Emerson sent over.

“Don’t you have to go?” Wally asks, easing himself into a sitting position against the pillows.


“No?”  Now Wally knows something’s up.  It’s just not like Bruce to hang around for eight hours watching him sleep, which might be creepy if it wasn’t also comforting in a strange way.  “Bruce, you’ve got—”

“No,” Bruce says again, and this time he reaches for Wally, pulling him closer and kissing him.  For whatever reason, Bruce is here for as long as Wally needs him, and the thought of that sends a tiny thrill through Wally’s body.  Maybe it’s just Bruce being guilty or over-protective, but Wally wants to believe it’s more than that.

Their position is awkward, Bruce half-balanced on his hands and leaning over Wally, who’s propped against the headboard and sliding further into the pillows with every kiss.  Wally reaches out and pulls Bruce down on top of him, recognizes the moment when Bruce gives up trying to maintain his distance and crawls onto the bed with him, careful not to jostle him when he moves.  Bruce’s arms wrap around him, hands threading through his hair and Wally knows the kisses are telling him what Bruce can’t.  They’re hard kisses full of worry and fear, and underneath it all is a passion Bruce is trying to suppress.  Wally doesn’t want him to hold back, and slips a hand under Bruce’s shirt, feeling the familiar scars.

“Bruce,” he murmurs, reveling in the rough whiskers against his cheek.  Neither of them has shaved and Bruce’s five o’clock shadow is already dark and scratchy.  There’s something indefinably sexy about it.  Wally starts to unbutton Bruce’s shirt, surprised when there’s a moan and Bruce grabs hold of his hand.

“We can’t.”

“What?  Of course we can.”

Wally’s hurting all over, but it doesn’t stop him from being hard and horny, and he’s pretty sure he’ll feel a whole lot better if he can just convince Bruce that sex is better than any painkillers Doc Emerson could prescribe.  At least Bruce hasn’t stopped kissing him, and that’s a good sign.

“You’re hurt.  You need to rest.”

“No, I need you to fuck me,” Wally says, tweaking a nipple for good measure, and Bruce arches against him, his mouth open and wet as Wally slides his tongue inside.

“Your feet—”

“Really aren’t that important in fucking, Bruce.”

Wally’s got Bruce’s shirt undone now, slides it off his massive shoulders and leaves kisses on the bare skin there.  Bruce growls and Wally knows this is going to be quick and dirty, and maybe that’s exactly what they both need.  Truthfully, he’s not sure he’s got the energy for anything more.

Bruce steps off the bed, and Wally thinks he’s leaving until he sees him shake his head and start to unzip his pants.  Wally grins up at him, stripping off his own clothes with just a touch of super-speed.  When Bruce climbs back on top of him, he’s looking far too serious for sex, and Wally reaches for Bruce’s cock and strokes it, watching Bruce’s expression shift from worry to pleasure.  Then Wally can’t do anything but melt as two of Bruce’s fingers slide inside him, cool and slippery with lube that Wally didn’t even notice Bruce getting.  The fingers are thick and stiff, and Bruce is already making Wally wriggle.  He forgets what he’s doing and braces himself with his feet, unable to stop the cry of pain that escapes his lips.  Bruce’s fingers slip out, and Wally wants them back, doesn’t want Bruce to stop.

“Bruce, don’t—”

“Relax,” Bruce whispers, and Wally feels his legs being hoisted onto Bruce’s shoulders.  Oh.  Okay.  Wally lets out a deep breath and settles back against the mattress.

“Wally, relax,” Bruce says again and the fingers slide back in, more gently this time, and Wally lets go of the bottom lip he’s bitten through, blinks away the wetness in his eyes, and reaches up to pull Bruce’s mouth onto his.  He kisses him, offers him his tongue and lips, offers him the wet space inside, spreads himself wide open and lets Bruce have him.  Wally can feel the fingers matching the rhythm of Bruce’s tongue in his mouth, knows the moment when Bruce’s cock replaces the fingers and fills him completely, sliding home until his prostate is trembling with the blunt nudge of Bruce’s cock.

Wally closes his eyes and reaches his hands back to the headboard, wraps his fingers around the brass rails and lets the world fade away to nothing except Bruce’s body against his, the rhythm of Bruce fucking him.  Wally forgets about Luthor and Diana and the end of the world, concentrates on the vibrations rippling through him, the growing moans as Bruce slams into him, the way his cock feels pushing against Bruce’s stomach, the air perfumed with sweat and semen.  Wally opens his mouth and maybe he’s babbling, but he’s not sure there’s anything like real words left inside him, and he gives in to the feeling of unbelievable pleasure after so much pain.  This time when he screams, it’s as much for the ache in his cock as the ache in his feet, and he’s sure Bruce knows that when he lays hot breathless kisses wherever he can reach.

He can feel the stiffness in Bruce’s body the second before he comes inside him, and Wally arches into the last thrust as if he could possibly get any closer to Bruce than he already is.  Still, he grinds his heels against Bruce’s back, not caring that he can feel the scabs tearing under the bandages and Bruce’s hand is immediately on his cock, slick and hard, stroking him with sure hands.  Bruce’s cock is inside him, softening, when Wally comes in Bruce’s hand and he screams until there’s nothing left inside him.  Bruce gently shifts Wally’s legs off his shoulders, lowers them to the bed.

There’s an absence of warmth that Wally knows is Bruce going to the bathroom to clean up, and Wally’s barely awake when Bruce comes back and washes him gently with a damp cloth.  He trembles slightly when Bruce examines his feet, and there’s a low growl that means Wally will never, ever run without his boots again.  Then the blankets are being pulled over his naked body, and he knows he’s safe and loved, even if no one says a word.

Wally knows boneless is meant for chicken and single-celled organisms, but somehow it fits and he feels like he could sink into the mattress, become part of it.  Nothing really hurts anymore, and he’s drifting on a happy cloud of afterglow.  He feels Bruce’s lips brush against his and he returns the kiss, lazy and warm.

“Get some rest.  I—I—”

Bruce seems to be stammering a lot lately, and Wally smiles because he knows what it means.  He knows he could save Bruce some anguish, whisper the words first, but part of him is just as afraid of taking that step, crossing that line.  It’s different when you say "probably" or "maybe" or even "I think", and Wally’s gone that far with nothing in return from Bruce except the most amazing sex of his life.  But Wally's not naive enough to think that means it's love.  He’ll wait.  For now this is enough and more than he ever thought he’d have.

He falls asleep with Bruce’s name on his lips.


Bruce hurriedly pulls on his pants as the knocking on the door increases.  He glances at his watch and sincerely hopes it’s Alfred or someone from home with the things he asked for.  He doesn’t want to leave Wally if he doesn’t have to, but there are some items he needs.  He throws on his shirt, buttoning it up as he heads for the door.

The knocking seems to have frightened the Spinster, who’s rolled into a protective ball underneath a mound of wood shavings in the bottom of the cage.  Bruce glances at the hamster, thinks of Wally wrapped safely in the bedroom, and glares at the door.  Whoever’s out there better have a damn good reason for disturbing everyone.

Bruce opens the door and has to glance down to see a tiny little woman leaning on a cane.  If her skin were green, she’d remind him of Yoda.  The fact that this is the first thought in his mind disturbs him almost more than the presence of the diminutive woman beating on Wally’s door.  She peers up at him over thin wireless glasses.

“You’re not Wally.”  She lifts up her cane and pokes him suspiciously.  Bruce takes a step back, realizing the woman has been using the cane to batter the door until he answered.  It doesn’t look like it’s the first time she’s done it, either.

“No, I’m a friend of Wally’s.”

The woman eyes him carefully, and Bruce knows she’s taking in the partially unbuttoned shirt, the sweat-damp hair.  He leans in the doorway and tries to look like he belongs here.

“I heard screaming,” she says, and Bruce knows she’s thinking about jabbing him with her cane again.  Bruce considers how exactly to approach the subject of the screaming.  He hadn’t thought much about it at the time, too much of a turn-on to listen to Wally completely uninhibited, and he’d known some of it was the pain, but not all of it, and Bruce understands the need for catharsis.

He hadn’t considered the thinness of the walls.

“There was screaming.  A lot of it,” she says again, looking at Bruce as if he might be a little slow.  He notices she’s begun to talk louder, as if he's old.  Or deaf.  Or doesn't understand English very well.  "You know?  Screaming?"

“Yes,” he says, meeting her eyes.  She’s probably around eighty, and it’s not really a surprise that little old ladies adopt Wally and want to look after him.  She probably has him round to tea and plies him with cookies, shows him pictures of her grandkids, her condo in Florida.  With Wally’s metabolism, having a few sugar-grannies isn’t a bad thing.

“Yes?”  Her eyes narrow.  “That’s all you can say?  Yes?”

Now she does poke him with the cane, and Bruce grunts as it catches him in the stomach.  He grabs the rubber tip and hangs on, considers disarming her, but wonders what Alfred would say if he knew Bruce was spending his time liberating little old ladies from their canes.

“Wally’s fine.  He’s sleeping.”  Bruce hopes the woman remembers what sex was like, hopes she’ll leave it at that because Bruce really doesn’t see himself as the person to educate eighty-year old grandmothers about fucking someone till he screams.

She pulls her cane out of Bruce’s hand, and tries to peer past him into the apartment.  He’s considerably taller and broader than she is and he blocks a good portion of the door.  He draws himself to his full height and looms.  Just a little.

She seems patently unimpressed.  “You could’ve killed him and put his body in the refrigerator.  Screams like that.”
“If I’d killed him, there wouldn’t have been screaming.  Too obvious,” Bruce says, his voice low and serious.  He doesn’t allow even the glimmer of a smile to touch his face.

She looks at Bruce carefully.  He can tell she’s sizing up exactly what kind of murderer he might be.  Apparently she’s decided he’s not the kind to let a victim scream like that because after a moment she nods and sets the tip of the cane back against the floor.

“You his fella?”

Bruce doesn’t know exactly how to answer that, and wonders why he even feels he should have to.  Strange little women who poke him with canes don’t necessarily warrant straight answers about his sex life.  Or Wally’s.

“Well?”  She looks like she wants to prod him again, but seems to think better of it and leans a little more heavily on the cane instead.  Bruce doesn’t think she needs it for support; she seems like the type who just likes to have a weapon handy.  He can’t fault her for that.  “You either are or you aren’t.  His fella.”

“I guess I am then,” Bruce admits, and he can feel a foreign flush of heat touch his cheeks.  No one’s made him blush in quite awhile, but he isn’t sure he’s ever been described as someone’s “fella” either.

“You don’t sound too certain.  If you’re making him yelp like there’s no tomorrow, I think you’d better be more certain than that.”

Bruce can feel the blush spread across his face.  He didn’t think he was capable of such a thing anymore, but apparently he was wrong.  The woman appears to be pleased by his embarrassment.

“Is there something you wanted?”

Bruce tries to deflect the conversation away from the direction it’s going.  The woman makes a disgruntled “hmph” sound and taps her cane on the ground.

“Wally’s important to all of us.  To Central City.”  She looks at Bruce to be sure he gets the meaning of her words, and Bruce wonders how many people really know who they are.  It’s a wonder they aren’t all dead considering the number of people who figure out their secrets.  Bruce has a bad feeling most of the building knows exactly who Wally West is and what he does with his time.  “You better treat him right.”

“I will,” Bruce says with as much conviction as he can.  He hopes it’s enough.

“You’d better.  Bloody footprints on the front steps don’t sit well with the people who live here.”

“I don’t like them either.”

Bruce can’t remember seeing her last night when he watched the building, wonders if she was one of the unlit windows.  If she spent as much time studying him as he did examining the layout of the apartment block.

“You carried him inside.”  It isn’t a question.  Bruce doesn’t acknowledge it one way or another.  Obviously she saw what happened, saw them on the steps, drew her own conclusions.  “You stayed with him.”

“I told you.  He’s my friend.”

The woman nods again and Bruce knows somehow he’s been given a short reprieve.  He’s not completely acceptable yet, but the cane’s resting firmly on the floor and the woman’s eyes are brighter, her mouth less grim.

“Look after him,” she says.

“I will.  As much as he'll let me."

She weighs that response for a moment, then shoves a plastic container forward, and Bruce realizes she’s been holding it in her other hand this entire time.  It’s square and heavy; he can feel a residual warmth through the bottom of the plastic.

“Oatmeal raisin.  They’re for him,” she says pointedly, as if Bruce looks like the type to eat someone else’s cookies.

“I’ll make sure he gets them, Mrs.—”

“It’s Ms.—Ms. Georgina Bantle.”

“Bruce Wayne.”  If she recognizes the name, she doesn’t show it and Bruce wouldn’t expect her to treat him any differently if she did.

“Wally calls me Georgie.”  She looks Bruce up and down.  “You can call me Ms. Bantle.”  Bruce knows it’s going to take a great deal to get into this woman’s good graces, and nothing short of a miracle is going to put them on a first name basis.  He has a feeling Wally graduated to Georgie pretty fast.

“I’ll be back to check on him in a day or two.  And if there’s any more screaming,” she fixes him with a cool gaze, “tell him to throw your name in once or twice so we know you’re not killing him.”

Bruce knows his entire face is now red, but he nods and manages a half-smile.  “I’ll remember that.”

“See that you do.”  She turns and ambles down the hallway, disappearing around the corner.

Bruce steps back into the apartment with the container of cookies and looks over at the Spinster’s cage.  Two tiny black eyes peer at him from under a pile of wood shavings.

“You want a cookie?” Bruce asks, surprised when the hamster’s nose pops out and sniffs the air.  It edges out from under the shavings, and Bruce cracks open the Tupperware and snares a warm oatmeal cookie.  He breaks it in half and offers some to the hamster.  It pulls the cookie through the bars and wrestles it into place in front of him.  Bruce can see his sharp little teeth attacking its edges happily.  He pats the animal on the head, then goes to pop the remaining half of the cookie into his mouth.

He stops, somehow certain Ms. Bantle will know about it.  He decides to save the cookies for Wally, let him decide if Bruce is worthy of Ms. Bantle’s home-cooking.

Living in Wally’s world for three days is going to be an experience.

Bruce hopes he’ll survive.

UPDATE - Feb. 25, 2006

On day one, Wally wakes up on the edge of an orgasm, Bruce’s full wet lips smirking at him wickedly, and Wally thinks he could get used to this.  He almost forgets the pain in his feet until he tries to make it on his own to the bathroom, but Bruce appears at the first tiny—practically inaudible—whimper, and starts to help him, lifting him awkwardly with every second step, and Wally can’t do much more than go along for the ride.

“I can do it,” Wally says grumpily, placing his bandaged feet gingerly against the cold linoleum.  He doesn’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s only about two dozen steps, and he really needs to pee without Bruce’s assistance.  There are some things just not meant for sharing.  Bruce shoots him a raised eyebrow that tells Wally he’ll be right outside, and yeah, that’s so going to help.  Now he’s standing in the bathroom with a limp penis in his hand and Bruce outside his door, and it’s ten times worse than it’s ever been at the doctor’s office when they hand him the little plastic cup.  Usually he’s back in no time at all.

After what seems like an interminably long time, Bruce’s voice breaks the silence:  “Are you all right?  Do you need—”

“I need you to go away!” Wally says as politely as he can with his sweatpants around his ankles and one hand braced against the wall.  He’s grateful Bruce doesn’t have any kind of special vision because he knows damn well he’d been using it, and seriously, Wally’s never been shy, but there are limits.  He looks at his cock and tries to concentrate, but it’s like waiting for a kettle to boil or an election campaign to end.  You just can’t force it.

Wally can tell Bruce hasn’t moved.  In fact, if anything, he’s shifted closer; the line of shadow at the bottom of the door is longer.  He’s pleased Bruce cares this much, but the unpleasant pressure in his bladder is starting to bother him like a tick caught under his skin, and he can’t make himself pee while Bruce is listening.

Wally leans his forehead against his outstretched arm.  “Bruce, I’m fine.  Go make coffee or something.  Please.”

It takes a long moment before Bruce actually complies, and Wally can picture the not-quite-trusting expression that Bruce is probably wearing, but soon he hears the sound of the coffee maker being prodded, and then the steady stream of Bruce filling the reservoir with water.  Wally thinks it might just be the sweetest sound he’s ever heard, and his body agrees.  He finishes in the bathroom in peace, washes his hands and face, and limps quietly out to the living room before Bruce can intervene.  The couch creaks a little as he sits down, but the room’s starting to smell like coffee and Bruce is slicing bagels with the kind of focus Wally thinks is probably not meant for bakery products.  He’s starting to feel more relaxed already.


Bruce bathes Wally’s feet twice a day.  He runs a small tub of lukewarm water and uses a square facecloth to clean the cuts.  They’ve already started to heal, and the dead skin sluices off with very little blood in the water.  Bruce dries each foot carefully, soft terrycloth towel sliding between each toe, around the curve of Wally’s heel, paying special attention to the soles of his feet.  Then Bruce takes the aloe-based crème the doctor left and traces each cut with gentle strokes.  By the end of the third day, the deepest wounds are little more than fading lines on the skin, and Bruce can massage Wally’s feet with a firmer touch.  Every time he feels the raised edge of where a cut used to be, he remembers bloody footprints and the kind of fear he’s never felt from being tortured or held at the mercy of a villain.  He remembers Wally’s face at the ball, the way it crumpled, the way he ran.  Bruce presses a kiss against the smooth slope of Wally’s foot and silently promises never to hurt him again.


On day two, Wally manages to put a smile on Bruce’s face, too.  There are oatmeal cookie crumbs in the bed, and Wally’s tried to be accommodating to Georgie’s concern by yelling Bruce’s name at least once.  Loudly.

“She doesn’t like me,” Bruce says.  He’s sitting on the couch, pretending to read the newspaper, but really he’s feeding pieces of cookie to the Spinster, who’s sitting in a happy ball of fluff on Bruce’s lap.

“Hey, the Spinster’s all about the love,” Wally says from the kitchen.

“No, Ms. Bantle.”

“Ah, Georgie’s just got to get to know you.  She’s an interesting lady.  Always asking me stuff about the best way to get rid of a body, or—”

Bruce makes a choked sound, and Wally glances over at him.  “Did you ever think maybe she’s dangerous?”

“No!  She writes mystery novels, Bruce.  She bakes cookies.  Georgie’s harmless—well, mostly, but don’t tell her I said that.  She likes to think she could take down someone with that cane of hers, and truthfully, I’m not sure she couldn’t.”  Wally opens the fridge, mesmerized by the assortment of food that seems to have magically appeared.  No way it was like this when he left.

“And do all your neighbours know who you are?”  Bruce’s voice is faintly disapproving, and Wally tries to shake off the twinge of guilt that makes him feel like he’s a kid again.  He adds another layer to the sandwich he’s making.

“It’s an apartment building.  People pay attention, but they’re good people.  They’re not going to give me away.”  We can’t all live in castles and caves, Wally thinks, but he stops himself short of saying it.  Bruce’s been nothing but kind to him since the ball, so Wally chooses to ignore the pessimistic “hm” that comes from the living room, and finishes up his sandwich.

His refrigerator’s never been so well-stocked, and Wally wonders when Bruce had time to do this considering he’s been hovering over Wally like Booster Gold’s flying robot, and Wally thinks maybe it’s not such a good thing to be able to whip out a credit card and have anything you want delivered to your door.  He pulls out a dragon fruit and considers how to approach food that seems prepared to do battle.  There’s pineapple and papaya and something Wally can’t identify for certain, but he’s got a sneaking suspicion it’s not commonly found in North American fridges.  The fresh-squeezed orange juice is just a little too fresh, and Wally doesn’t think he ever owned a juicer.  Or an espresso machine.  With a set of tiny Italian cups.

Wally heads back out to the living room, munching as he goes, and Bruce props up the paper again, ignoring the disheartened squeak from his lap.

“Bruce, I want you to be comfortable here and all, but seriously, you don’t have to buy stuff.  There’s a coffee shop down the street that makes decent expresso—espresso—coffee, and there’s a juice bar on Eleventh.  I can just run—”

“No, you can’t.”

It’s meant to be said with concern, but it feels too much like an order, and Wally can feel the sidewalk under his slippered feet before he’s even aware he’s made a decision.  He’s not in his uniform, no handy mask rolled up in the hem of his flannel pajama bottoms, so he’s committed now whether he wants to be or not.  He can’t stop until he’s somewhere out of sight and although he knows going back to the apartment is the smart thing to do, he’s not feeling that accommodating.  His feet are tingling as he runs, but the little bit of pain is okay, and the muscles in his legs are aching in the way that tells him he needs this, needs to feel the wind and the rush of the world around him.

Bruce will be there when he gets back.

He hopes.


Bruce has never liked small furry creatures.  He considers them superfluous to his existence, and although he’s taken part of his identity from the bat, he’ll be the first one to admit he doesn’t want one around.  They’re only allowed in the Cave because they were there first, and Bruce doesn’t think he could get rid of them short of exterminating them all, and he isn’t disrespectful of life—any life—even if the bats still occasionally startle him.  He’s learned not to show it.

So when Wally disappears from the apartment in a blast of wind that catches Bruce’s newspaper and ruffles the hair on the Spinster’s back, Bruce is left petting the quivering ball of fluff and wondering what it thinks when Wally vanishes like that.  He wonders if the animal realizes Wally’s coming back.

Bruce can feel the rapid beat of the hamster’s heart against his fingers, and he slides his hand underneath until the little guy is sitting cupped on Bruce’s palm.  He strokes its back and gives it another piece of cookie, watching the small black eyes dart towards the half-open door.  He chews on the cookie half-heartedly, and Bruce knows exactly how he feels.

“He’ll be back,” Bruce murmurs, white and brown fur soft under his fingers.  He’s amazed how smooth the fur is.  “Don’t worry.  He’ll be back.”

He doesn’t acknowledge the shake in his voice.  The fact that his own heartbeat is faster than normal.  The hamster rubs its head against Bruce’s thumb and settles down to wait, its tiny claws pressed into Bruce’s palm.

When Wally comes back, Bruce is still sitting there, sleeping hamster curled in his lap.  Bruce holds a finger to his lips and deposits the animal back in his cage, careful to set him down gently so as not to wake him.  Wally doesn’t say a word, just limps over to the couch, and the expression on his face says conversation isn’t welcome.  Bruce sits beside him in silence.

Eventually, Wally slides over until his head is resting on Bruce’s shoulder, soft hair tickling Bruce’s neck.  It’s as soft as the Spinster’s, and Bruce thinks about Wally’s rapid-fire heartbeats and his freckled skin, considers how close he and Wally always seem to pushing one another away.  Bruce knows he can’t put Wally in a cage and keep him safe.  He knows, but he doesn’t have to like it.

They spend the afternoon on the couch—not talking.  Wally’s watching some old movie with headphones on, and Bruce is reading, although he’s sure he’s been on page six of Rip Foster, Assignment in Space since shortly after he opened it.  Every once in a while he makes a show of turning a page, but they both know he’s not reading.  And Wally’s probably not all that interested in Showboat either, but Bruce doesn’t like to judge.

When the sun slides off the horizon, Bruce makes steaks and opens a bottle of wine.  The silence wouldn’t bother him at all except this is Wally, and it’s like living in a world where the volume’s suddenly been turned off.  Bruce wonders if he’s gone deaf, but Wally’s lips aren’t moving, aren’t saying anything at all, and he can still hear the sizzle of oil in the pan, the pop as he slides the cork out to let the wine breathe.  They go through the motions of dinner and dishes; the rattle of plates and cutlery is the only conversation that they have.  When the phone rings, they both jump.  There hasn’t been an unexpected sound in the apartment since before noon, and it seems jarring and alien.  Neither of them moves to pick it up, and the answering machine saves them both.

Roses are red, violets are blue, Leave me a message, I’ll get back to you.”  The machine beeps and Bruce resists the urge to raise an eyebrow in Wally’s direction.  Definitely not a poet.

The message is something innocuous.  A charity asking for donations.  The woman’s voice is pleasant, undertone of an accent that sounds faintly British.  South African, Bruce would wager.  She leaves her spiel and disconnects the call, leaving them in silence once again.

Wally disappears into the bedroom and Bruce doesn’t know if he should follow or not.  He folds the paper into sections, stacks Wally’s magazines into a sharp-edged pile.  The room isn’t messy but he tidies up anyway.  The Spinster’s running on his wheel in the background, and it reminds Bruce of the unsteady whirling of a pinwheel, wind making the edges twirl fast, then slow, then fast again.  Bruce has WD-40 in his utility belt, but the rhythmic squeaking is surprisingly soothing, so he doesn’t do anything.  Just watches the tiny claws scramble on the thin wire, running and getting nowhere.  He feels his breath catch when Wally comes up behind him.

There’s a hand on his elbow, a tug towards the bedroom, and Bruce follows because he doesn’t know what else to do.  Wally’s expression is unreadable, and that’s … new.  Bruce isn’t certain he likes it, but he’s been silent so long now he doesn’t know how to break the spell.

The bedroom is dark—blackout shades fully drawn—and Bruce stands perfectly still.  He knows the bed is to his left, that Wally’s right in front of him, but he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do.  If this is forgiveness.  Or good-bye.

When Wally’s mouth presses hard against his, he still doesn’t have an answer, but at least there’s something he can do.  He kisses back, hands sliding into Wally’s hair—so soft—and the urge to stroke and pet is ridiculously strong.  His hands shake a little as they move along Wally’s body, and Bruce is careful not to move too fast, take too much.  He has no idea what the rules are now, what this silence says about them, and when Wally unbuttons Bruce’s shirt and touches the skin beneath, Bruce can’t help but shiver.

There are no words for what they’re doing.

Sure hands strip him completely, and Bruce does his part to peel Wally out of his clothes.  Naked and hard, Bruce finds himself pushed against the door, and that’s a different kind of surprise.  Wally’s hands seem larger in the dark.  His touches are solid, determined, and Bruce sometimes—usually—forgets Wally’s at least as strong as he is, probably stronger all things considered, and maybe that’s what this is about.  A reminder that Bruce isn’t the only one who’s responsible here.  Wally’s mouth leaves bruises on his skin, fingers tracing every scar with frightening accuracy—even the ones that are barely visible—and Bruce should be grateful to be known so well, but inside his head is a list of failures and Wally’s slowly cataloguing them all with his hands.  His mouth.

Wally kisses harder, presses a leaking cock against Bruce’s hip, and Bruce responds by grabbing Wally’s hips and dragging him closer.  Naked thigh between his own, Wally’s hands on his waist, and they’re rubbing and sliding, breathing harsh and desperate, grunts and moans and the slap of skin against skin, muscle against muscle, cocks and hips and thighs thrusting in the dark until Bruce is sore and sticky, Wally’s head pressed into his shoulder and breathing fast.

The soft cotton of a towel is pushed into his hand, and Bruce cleans up.  Follows Wally to bed because he isn’t sure what else to do.  He isn’t used to being this unsettled, this unsure, and even when he’s been wrong he’s been firm in his convictions.  He’s used to reading Wally like a book—an audio book on high volume that tells you three hundred things you don’t need to know, but also tells you everything you need.  When a hand reaches over and tugs him closer, Bruce doesn’t resist.  Buries his face in Wally’s shoulder and breathes deep, and Wally’s arms go around him like a protective wall.

“So, is that what it’s like to be you?” he says.

The words hang in the air like incense in church, and it takes Bruce a moment to understand the question.  He thinks about the answer carefully, and he can hear Wally’s even breathing, the rise and fall of his chest.  Bruce lives in darkness.  In silence.  It’s part of what makes him who he is, part of what fuels Batman, but he’s always had peripheral noise—vivid exuberant words around him, drawing him out of the darkness when he needs.  Dick’s been shouts of joy and angry defiance since he was nine years old; Tim is logic and practicality, but with energy thrumming underneath like the low hum of a computer.  Even Alfred is his own kind of sound—the bright clatter of tea cups and whistling kettles, the subtle whoosh of fabric tablecloths and drawn draperies, a grandfather clock chiming every hour.  Bruce has always known where to go, how to listen so he’s not completely alone.  He’s never really thought about what it’s like for someone else to try to find him—to listen and hear only empty spaces.  Silence.  Darkness.

“I suppose,” Bruce says, finding his voice at last, although it’s a low quiet rumble that seems to come from his chest, and he’s surprised at the emotion the words carry.  “Some days.”

Wally’s arms snug tighter around him and Bruce really isn’t used to being held like this, although the gesture’s not unwelcome.  Lips give a solid press of flesh against Bruce’s temple.  “You drive me nuts,” Wally murmurs, but the exasperation in his voice is mild.  “I thought I was stupid when it came to relationships, but—”

“Hey,” Bruce protests weakly, but he knows Wally’s right.  They’re both so bad at this it’s laughable.

“But—let me finish—you make me look pretty damn stable.  It’s good for my ego.”

Bruce shakes his head as much as he can squished into Wally’s side like he is.  He nips at Wally’s neck with his teeth, hears the sharp hiss of breath, hands clenching hard against the muscles in his back.

“Sorry,” Bruce murmurs, not at all apologetic for the bite.  He’s still at a loss as to what to say about the rest of it.  Them.

“You can’t just crawl into your damn cave and shut down when you don’t know what to do,” Wally says.

“And you can’t just run away.”  Bruce remembers who left.  Yes, maybe he started it, but Wally’s got his own kind of silence and all the tracking information in the world can’t make Wally stop running if he doesn’t want to.  They both know it’s true.

“Stop trying to tell me what to do.”  There’s an edge in Wally’s voice and his fingers have stopped stroking Bruce’s back.  They’re right back where they were before Wally disappeared, and Bruce wants to scream at him to stop doing this.  Stop making it so hard when all Bruce wants to do is save him.  Keep him safe.  Love him.

“It’s only because I care.”  It’s the most honest thing Bruce can say, and Wally lets out a sigh and kisses his ear.

“You’re impossible to be mad at because you don’t even know how screwed up you are.”  Wally pauses.  “Well, you probably do, but you’re too damn busy trying to save everyone.  Even when they don’t need it.  I don’t need it,” Wally says, giving Bruce a poke in the side for emphasis.

Bruce considers still-bruised feet and empty refrigerators and little old ladies who know where to hide bodies; he isn’t convinced Wally’s seeing the bigger picture, but maybe he’s right.  Sooner or later, Bruce is going to have to learn to let go of some things.  Enough so he doesn’t smother the people he cares about.  He thinks it’s ironic that they all think he’s overbearing at the same time they accuse him of being distant, unreachable.  There’s no such thing as a happy medium, he suspects.

“And stop feeling guilty, too,” Wally insists.  “Just stop.  You’re totally overcompensating for everything you’ve ever done that hasn’t turned out, and I’m not going to be your project, Bruce.  You have enough people who need saving—I’m not one of them.”

Bruce thinks about Luthor’s predatory gaze, about all the timelines where Bruce failed to save Wally again and again.  Failed them all.  He feels the darkness welling up inside him and he rolls them both over, Wally shifting with a cry of surprise.  Bruce’s mouth is fast, demanding, and Wally meets him kiss for kiss, even if he doesn’t understand what’s changed between them.

“Bruce.  Bruce!” Wally tries to get his attention between frantic touches, kisses that hurt them both, but Bruce can’t talk about this.  He’s done it once, and that’s all he can give.  Wally’s going to have to accept this is who he is—he can’t stop trying to protect the people he loves.  Even if he can’t tell them that’s what this is.  Love—fierce and desperate and all-encompassing.

“Bruce, I’m not dead, not hurt.  Not even a little bit.”  Wally reads him too—even in silence, and Bruce thinks maybe his scars are Braille and Wally’s learned to compensate for everything Bruce can’t say.  “There’s no reason to worry, and even if there was, even if something happens,” Wally grabs Bruce’s face and makes him look, “it wouldn’t be your fault.  You’ve got to believe that.  Please.”

Bruce closes his eyes against the earnestness in Wally’s face, feels kisses peppered against his cheeks, eyelids, the edges of his mouth.  He’s on top of Wally now, settled between the sprawl of legs, and the warmth is comfort and home.  They keep touching and kissing, Wally’s whispers churning out a litany of assurances until Bruce isn’t clear on the words anymore, just the meaning.  I love you.  I forgive you.  Bruce buries his face in the cave of Wally’s shoulder, shudders once more in silence, the smooth touch of fingers granting him temporary absolution, and finally, finally, he sleeps.


On the third day, Wally wakes up groggy, the warm heavy weight of Bruce half-pinning him to the mattress.  Wally kisses him gently as he slips out of bed.  He’s got coffee brewing and French toast sizzling before Bruce manages to make an appearance.  He looks drained, exhausted, and Wally thinks that’s okay.  Bruce spends too much time pretending everything’s fine.  It can only be a good sign he’s letting Wally see this side of him.  Concession for yesterday’s stoic silence.

“Morning,” Wally says, shoving a stack of French toast in Bruce’s direction.  There’s an incoherent reply and Wally grins.  So much for polished, articulate Bruce Wayne.  Wally kind of likes when the masks come off; it makes him feel he’s getting closer to the heart of the man.  Maybe someday Bruce will let him all the way inside, but for now, this is a step.  A big one, and Wally’s not about to refuse what’s offered.

They clean up breakfast in silence, but it’s not the oppressive kind from the day before.  Wally’s moving with almost no pain now, and Bruce seems to have relaxed.  He calls Alfred and Tim, talks to Superman via the JLA comm., and when he settles down with coffee and the paper, Wally can’t say he’s surprised to notice the Spinster’s found its way back to Bruce.  Wally steals the comics while Bruce is reading the financial section.  He lies so his bare feet are in Bruce’s lap, soft hamster fur tickling his toes, and when Bruce’s fingers stroke absently along his sole, for once Wally is sure Bruce isn’t only checking for scars.  The touch isn’t an apology or a penance; it just is.  He falls asleep with Bruce rubbing his feet … and his hamster, and Wally is stupidly grateful they’ve managed to get this far.  It seems like some kind of miracle.

Then Bruce is shaking him gently, the fading light of the late afternoon scattering droplets of amber across the coffee table, the carpet.  Wally stretches like a cat in the sun and rolls onto his side.

“Yeah?”  His voice is sleepy.  It’s the only time of day when he’s legitimately slow.

“I’ve got to go,” Bruce says and Wally blinks awake when he realizes Bruce is dressed in hard-armoured batsuit, cape puddling on the floor behind him.  The cowl’s hanging limp at his back, and Wally tries to sit up, but the hand on his chest is gentle.  “Nothing to worry about.  I just need to meet with Clark—an update on Luthor’s ever-increasing shipments of Kryptonite.  I’ll be back before morning.”

“Is he picking you up?”  Even to his own ears, Wally’s voice sounds petulant.  He’s had Bruce all to himself for three days, and it doesn’t matter if they’ve been kind of fighting—or at least taking the silent treatment to a whole new level—he still isn’t ready to let him go.

“It’s not a date,” Bruce chides.

“You keep conveniently forgetting to tell me how he knows you hog the covers.”

The eye roll confirms Wally’s not going to hear the story tonight either.  “It’s not even worth telling.  And it’s not true.”

Wally knows it is.  He’s woken up bereft of covers before, and he’s told Bruce so.  It’s only ever earned him an amused smile because he likes the word “bereft.”

Bruce pulls a remote from a pocket on his belt.  “I’ve got my own ride.”  Wally can’t hear anything, but he suspects there’s a stealthy black plane hovering silently over the building at this exact moment, and it never stops being cool that Bruce is Batman.

“Be careful,” Wally says, and Bruce kisses him.  Slow enough to send a flush of heat to Wally’s groin, but fast enough to still be casual.  Not a kiss good-bye although they never really know when they’re going to be a step too slow, a little bit unlucky, but Wally’s pleased this is a sign he’s made some tiny bit of progress with Bruce’s paranoia.  Maybe he can almost believe this time line will be different for them.

Bruce steps towards the fire escape, line-launcher already in his hand, and he stops just short of telling Wally to stay put.  It’s written on his face, though.  Wally can forgive him for that because he knows how it feels to want to protect someone, and with Bruce it’s more than that.  His need to protect them all is rooted in a dark alley, an eight-year-old’s terror at not being able to stop the unthinkable from happening.  The cowl falls into place and Bruce is gone.

“I’ll see you later.”  There’s nothing except the sound of the wind, and Wally hates it that Bruce can disappear like that.  As if he’s never been here.  But then again, maybe Bruce feels the same about him and his whirlwind exits.  Wally’s never considered that the two of them are at all alike, but maybe in some ways they are.  Just a little.

The Spinster’s standing on his hind legs at the edge of the cage, looking towards the window as if checking to see where Bruce has gone.  If he’s coming back.  Wally slides a finger through the bars of the cage and rubs the hamster’s head.

“He’ll be back, furball.  So will I.”  Little claws cling to his index finger as if to say, “don’t go” and Wally wonders when the hamster started advocating for Bruce.  “He’s got a city to look after.  So do I.  But I promise to take it easy.  Really.”

There’s an angry squeak from the cage, and the hamster turns its back on him to burrow under a mound of shavings.

“Fine,” Wally murmurs.  “Be that way.  I’m still going.”  He speeds into his uniform and lets himself out through the fire escape.  It’s going to be a clear night—as the sun drops away, he can already picture the stars shining bright above the streetlamps, the moon reflecting off the nearby bay.  Wally fills his lungs with air and starts to run.  This is what he was made to do.  He can’t live life any other way.


Clark’s waiting in the hangar when Bruce docks at the Watchtower.

“Everyone here?” Bruce asks, falling into step beside him.

“Yes.  How’s Wally?”  Clark’s in Superman mode already—chest puffed out and voice deep.  Bruce wants to slap him hard on the back to make him cough.  Bring back the schoolboy sputter in an instant.  But he doesn’t.

“Better.  No scarring on the epidermis, no permanent damage to muscles or tendons.  He’s healed even more quickly than Dr. Emerson anticipated, so he should be cleared for duty in a day or so.”

Clark’s stopped walking, and Bruce turns to look at him.  “What?”

“It’s just me, you know.”


“Meaning if I wanted that, I could’ve read his medical chart.  I’m asking about Wally.”  Clark’s got his hands on his hips now, and Bruce knows the glare is visible through the cowl.

“He’s fine,” Bruce says and continues walking.  Clark flies along beside him, perfectly upright, feet hovering six inches off the ground.  It annoys Bruce and Clark knows it.

“You are the most stubborn—”

“Fine!  His feet are fine, so fine that I’m sure he’s running all over the damn country at this very moment, and there’s nothing I can do about it!  Happy?”

Clark’s red boots land softly on the floor and keep pace beside Bruce.  “And how are you?”  Bruce just stares straight ahead and refuses to answer.  “Hm, I’d forgotten how mature you can be.”

Bruce grabs a fistful of cape and uses it to propel Clark into the nearest wall.  He’s got his arm braced under Clark’s chin, pressing against his throat, which is absolutely no threat for someone who can hold his breath for hours, but it’s the principle of the thing.  “Just back off,” Bruce says, teeth clenched.  “It’s personal.”

“You’ve slept with my wife.  Hell, you’ve slept with me.  I think we’re already pretty personal.”  Clark grins cheerfully as Hawk and Dove slink past on the other side of the hallway, trying their best to blend into the wall.  Bruce smacks Clark in the big red “s,” although he only succeeds in bruising his hand.

“Would you stop saying that?  And Lois wasn’t your wife when—you know what?  Never mind.  You’re just trying to make me mad enough to tell you what you want to know.” Bruce lets him go and continues striding down the hallway, picking up the pace.

“Is it working?”

“No, and you’re making Wally paranoid.  He keeps asking me about Japan.”

“Why don’t you just tell him?  It was all perfectly innocent.  In spite of the rather compromising—”

“I’m reaching for the Kryptonite!  I swear to God.”  Bruce has a hand on his utility belt, and part of his brain is just hoping Clark gives him an excuse.  He’s feeling edgy enough he might just take it.

Instead, Clark nudges Bruce’s shoulder and whispers, “So, you’re both okay?” with such concern that Bruce forgets all about the green rock in his belt.

“What’s okay?  We fight, we make-up, his neighbours hate me, his hamster likes me, we can’t be in the same space without going nuts, but I can’t stand to be away from him.  It’s hell.”

“It’s love,” Clark says knowingly.

“Like I said.  Hell.”

They enter the briefing room together, and Bruce knows he doesn’t have to tell Clark to drop it.  It’s done—at least until they’re alone again.  Nobody else knows about what happened with Wally after the ball, and Dr. Emerson’s always been particularly good at being discreet.

Bruce settles into his usual place at the table.  Notes the presence of Diana, J’onn, John Stewart, and Shayera.  Green Arrow and Black Canary are also here at Superman’s request, and Bruce thinks it isn’t a bad idea.  With the amount of information they’re trying to process, they’re going to need a number of teams ready to act when needed.

“Let’s get down to business, shall we?” Bruce says, ignoring the empty chair where Flash usually sits.  He’ll have to address Wally’s absence, but it can wait till someone asks the inevitable question.  In the meantime, they’ve got more than enough to keep them busy sorting out the threads of intelligence concerning Luthor’s kryptonite shipments, his bases of operation, and the mysterious device Luthor’s supposedly building in the lab under Mt. Torrent.

“Superman, why don’t you start?”


Wally’s standing on the edge of a rooftop in the Central City warehouse district, watching the fog slide off the bay and onto the streets, when he hears a footfall behind him.

“You’re slipping,” Wally says into the darkness, not bothering to turn around.

“Hey, didn’t want to give you a heart attack.”  Dicks lands softly on the rooftop.  “I know how you older guys can be.”

“Four years, Dick.  That’s all.  Four years.”

“Might as well be forty, Wally.  I’ll always be young and beautiful.”

“You’ll always be ten years old.”  It’s true in some ways, but Wally’s glad for that.  Dick’s got the youngest heart of anyone he’s ever met, and considering everything he’s been through, everything he’s lived with, it’s an amazing testament to Dick’s resilience.  Wally remembers when Dick was a kid—sometimes too serious for his own good—but that was Bruce’s influence and Dick’s insecurity, and mostly they’ve worked that out over the years.  Found a balance that lets them both be themselves.

“So, do I even need to ask what you’re doing here?”

“I was in the neighbourhood.”  Dick’s not even trying to make up an excuse.


“Look, he’s worried about you.  That’s all.”  Dick nudges Wally’s hand with a tall cup of something steaming.  Peace offerings in the form of caffeine have always worked for them.  Wally takes it and nods his thanks.  “Would it make you feel better if I said I was worried too?  That I offered to come check up on you?”

“Did you?”

Dick grins.  “Well, I would’ve, but he kind of beat me to it.  You know what he’s like.”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

Dick sits cross-legged on the edge of the roof, and Wally figures “what the hell” and joins him.  He dangles his feet over the edge.  They’re still sore, and he can’t reach top speeds, but in a few more days, he should be back to normal.  Or whatever constitutes normal for a speedster.

“You two ready to kill each other yet?” Dick asks, and Wally winces a little.

“Three days, small apartment.  Not the best combination,” Wally admits.

“Believe me, there’s a good reason Wayne Manor is huge.  Even then, there have been times when I feel like we’re tripping over each other.  It never ends well.”

“Yeah, well, the good part about fighting is the making up, right?”

Dick chokes on his coffee.  “I so did not need to hear that.”

Wally grins because it’s getting Dick back for checking up on him, but he’s not mean, so he asks, “How’s Barbara?”

Dick’s more than happy to embrace a change of topic.  They spend the next hour bouncing from one subject to the next until Dick’s sprawled on his stomach on the narrow roof-wall, and Wally’s feeling the pleasant buzz of caffeine.

“He loves you, you know,” Dick says suddenly, and Wally wishes he still had some coffee left so he could pretend to be drinking it.  He glances down into the street, looking for any sign of criminal activity, but it’s a really slow night.  Not even the muggers are cooperating.  “Wally, I said he—”

“I know.  I heard you.”   A pair of boats drift past in the bay, and Wally can hear the tinkling laughter from the harbour cruises.  “I don’t suppose he told you that, though?”

“Not in so many words, no,” Dick admits.  “But seriously, don’t hold that against him.  He has trouble.  With the words.  He’s never even said it to me.”  If Dick’s upset by that, it doesn’t show.

Wally nods and thinks that should be good enough.  Bruce adores Dick, loves him like a son, and would gladly give his life for him a thousand times over.  If Bruce can’t say it to Dick, what hope does Wally have of ever hearing the words?  But still, he wants them.  Craves them.  In some part of his mind, he thinks he deserves them.  He wants to be the one who breaks the silence, who gets Bruce past this blind fear that everyone he loves is going to die.

“Hey, you up for a run?” Dick says finally, pulling Wally out of his thoughts.

“With you?”

“I’ve got the bike.  You run, I’ll ride.  Race you back to Gotham.”  Dick’s grin lights up the night brighter than a fireworks display.  Even with the heavy black hair, the mask, Dick’s still the boy in the red and green suit, and in some ways he always will be.  Wally’s glad of that.

“Should I run backwards?  Take the long way around?  I can pick you up a penguin on the way.”

“Oh, shut-up.”  Dick launches his de-cel line and catches Wally around the waist, carrying him down to the ground.  Wally sometimes forgets how amazing it is to fly with the Bats.  He usually runs, and it’s not the same at all.

Dick slides his motorcycle out of an alleyway and revs up the engine.  “Ride or run?”

“Actually, I think I’ll ride.”  Wally slips onto the seat behind Dick, trying to remember the last time he’s ridden with him.  Probably when he wiped out the GPS with one badly placed cappuccino.

Dick turns at the waist as he hands Wally the second helmet.  His face is full of concern.  “Are you sure?  Are your feet—”

“They’re fine.  I just want to see how the other half lives,” Wally says, strapping the helmet in place.  “It’s been too long.”  He settles his hands on Dick’s trim waist, gripping the seat with his knees.  He remembers how Dick drives.

“Well, if you’re sure.” Dick’s voice is clear over the built-in headset, and Wally hangs on as Dick offers him one more chance to change his mind.

“I’m sure, Wonder Boy.  Get thee to Gotham.”

The cycle peels out with the smell of freshly-burned rubber, and Wally grins as Dick hoots exuberantly into his ear.  Fifteen minutes into the ride, he’s locked an arm solidly around Dick’s waist and has sworn never, ever, to do this again.  Bruce is going to strangle him if he ever figures out Dick drives like he’s jumping off a building.  All free fall and speed, and a certainty that gravity is working in his favour.

“You’re insane!” Wally manages to shout when they’re out on the highway and the moon is huge above them.

“You missed me, didn’t you?”

“I did.”  Wally’s not too big a man to admit it, and he squeezes Dick a little tighter.  Suddenly, he has a thought:  “Hey, you don’t know anything about Bruce and Clark getting stuck in a hotel in Japan, do you?”

Dick’s laughter echoes in his helmet as they rocket through the night.


Clark finds Bruce on the main observation deck, studying a map screen.  Two small blue dots are hurtling towards Gotham at an alarming speed.

“Is that Flash?”

“And Nightwing.  I’m trying to decide which of them needs to be yelled at the most.”

“What are they—” Clark can’t tell from the screen how they’re moving..

“Too fast for driving, too slow for running, but that’s the GPS data from the cycle, so if I had to bet, I’d say Dick’s souped-up the engine with a hit of nitrous oxide.”  Bruce frowns.  “Which means I need to have a chat with him about proper use of resources.”

“Oh, come on,” Clark says.  “It’s not like you’ve never … okay, well, maybe you haven’t, but they’re still kids.”  Bruce’s frown gets deeper.  “Not that Wally’s a kid, just that—jeez, there’s no way I can come back from this, is there?”


Clark pulls a chair over and sits down.  “Have you talked to Diana?”

No response is pretty much a response in itself with Bruce.  Clark doesn’t want to get in the middle of this.  Diana’s always been one of his strongest supporters, and all of them have to work together.  A rift among the main league members could spell disaster—it would be exactly the kind of weakness Luthor would like to exploit.

“Bruce, why don’t you just tell her you’re involved with someone?”

“She’d want to know who.”  Fair enough, Clark thinks.

“Which either means you can tell her it’s Wally or that it’s none of her business.  You’ve got options.  Diana’s not unreasonable, you know.”

“The first isn’t currently an option; the second—” Bruce paused.  “The second will only cause more problems.  I doubt very much Diana would accept that as an answer.”

“What do you think she’s going to do?  Lasso you with the Golden Lariat of Truth and …” Clark’s laughing, but he stops when he sees the look on Bruce’s face.  It’s not as if Diana hasn’t used it on them before.  Only when she thought they’d been possessed by aliens or were being telepathically controlled, but still—maybe Bruce has a point.  Diana really doesn’t like to be kept out of the loop.

“Okay, so you and Wally are just going to keep this a secret?  For how long?”

“It really isn’t anyone’s concern,” Bruce says evenly.  “You know I’ve never put my personal interests above the job.”

It’s true, and Clark knows it, but he’s also never seen Bruce fall this hard for someone before.  It’s been a tough few months with the Justice Lords’ revelations and Luthor’s increasing popularity.  Clark can’t entirely block out the image of his parents being tortured, Kansas turned into a wasteland.  Bruce is still haunted by those potential outcomes, even though he refuses to acknowledge it anymore.  Clark knows because he knows him, because he’s had those same nightmares.


“Clark, can we just deal with one problem at a time?  My … relationships are not relevant to this job.”  Bruce puts a hand to his head and Clark decides, whether Bruce is feigning the headache or not, it’s time to back off.  The jaw is set, five o’clock shadow more than visible on his chin, and maybe the best thing they can all do is pick this discussion up when they aren’t both on the edge of exhaustion.

“Go home,” Clark says, clapping Bruce on the shoulder.  “Seriously.”  He points at the blue dots settled firmly in Gotham’s outlying area.  “I’d say you’ve got guests at the manor.”

Bruce gets up to leave, but stops just shy of the doorway.  “About earlier …”

Clark waves a hand in the air as if to brush off the cape-grabbing incident.  “Don’t worry about it.” At least Bruce doesn’t have the ability to cut off his air supply.  To dangle him by the throat.  Clark shudders at the memory.  There have been a lot of difficult days for them since the Justice Lords; Clark’s fairly certain there are more bad days ahead.  Bruce deserves as much time as he can get with Wally before things with Luthor start to go to hell.

“Go home, Bruce,” Clark repeats, and this time there’s no argument.


Bruce is crossing the hangar towards the Bat-plane when he notices Diana waiting for him.  It’s almost enough to make him turn and go the other direction.  Clark can fly him back to Gotham; he doesn’t have to take the plane.


Bruce schools his face into his usual expression, hoping he looks stern, rather than tired.  He doesn’t feel up to a discussion right now, particularly not one that involves Diana or what happened at the President’s ball.


“We didn’t get much chance to talk in there,” Diana says.  “In fact, I haven’t seen you at all since Luthor’s ball.”

“I was tied up with some personal matters.”

“In Gotham?”  The tone of her voice suggests she already knows the answer.

“Not specifically.”

Diana’s not stupid and has never been given to playing games.  Bruce wishes he could be confident that telling her the truth would put an end to her attentions.  He imagines she’s simply lonely for her people and sees in him a kindred spirit.  Equally alone in many ways.  But he remembers the kiss—passionate and energetic, and maybe he’s been naïve to think she’d be content with his friendship.  He can’t offer her more, nor does he feel he owes her an explanation.

“I was hoping we could talk.”

“Perhaps some other time.”  Bruce hopes his meaning’s clear enough.  He wants to go home.

“All right,” Diana says, almost shyly, and Bruce realizes his mistake when he smiles at her.  She’s inside his personal space in a heartbeat, graceful hands sliding up his biceps, reaching for his face.  “I had the most wonderful time—I just wanted to tell you that.  Even though you had to leave and we didn’t get to say good-bye, it was the best night I’ve had since coming here.”  Her words flood out like a spillway’s been opened, and then Bruce finds himself being kissed again.  Solid, Amazon lips on his, and he doesn’t want to hurt her, but he can’t do this.  He pulls away.


“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, her finger smudging her lipstick against his mouth in what Bruce can only assume is an effort to remove it, but which seems to succeed in spreading the stain.  “It’s just, I’ve been thinking about that night.  About us.  I know you felt it too, and—”


She presses her fingers against his lips to silence him.  “I know we can’t talk about it here.  Soon, Bruce.”  He’s still feeling stunned when she kisses him again—quick and chaste—before she disappears towards her jet.

Bruce puts a hand to his forehead, his headache taking a turn towards the worst, and decides he was better off when more people were afraid of him and no one wanted to kiss him.  He climbs into the Bat-Plane and gets clearance to return to Gotham.  A quick check in with Alfred confirms that Wally’s at the manor, and Dick’s out on patrol with Tim.

When Bruce lands at the Cave a half-hour later, he’s grateful to be home.


Wally thinks it should probably feel stranger than it does that he’s tucked into Bruce’s bed waiting for him to come home.  Alfred had greeted him with a pleasant smile when Dick dropped him off, then Alfred made cocoa and dug up sweatpants for him to change into.  They’re obviously Bruce’s from the way they keep sliding down Wally’s hips.  If he was feeling more energetic, he might try capitalizing on the easy-off pants for a little seduction action, but as it is, he’s asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

He feels Bruce slip into bed behind him, and Wally half-turns to accommodate Bruce’s arm under his neck, one hand dragging the sweatpants with him as he moves.  He has his suspicions they’re going to be around his knees by morning, and it isn’t an unpleasant thought.

“What time’s it?” he slurs sleepily.

“Almost two.”  Bruce’s skin is cool against Wally’s back, and Wally feels the rasp of stubble on his shoulder.  It’s almost sexy enough to wake him up, but Wally gets the feeling Bruce isn’t exactly in the mood to play hard either.

“You okay?” Wally murmurs as Bruce presses a lazy kiss against the side of his face.

“Yeah.”  It doesn’t sound convincing, and Wally shakes off sleep enough to roll his head back and peer at Bruce over his shoulder.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Tomorrow,” Bruce says, exhaustion clear in his voice, and Wally decides to let it go.  Another kiss to the back of his neck, lazy and slow, not trying to start anything at all, and Wally’s thrilled that they can be this comfortable together.  The kissing is more than a prelude to sex, and Wally grins and brushes at the hair on Bruce’s arm, happy just to touch, to be touched.  He’s never had this kind of relationship.

Bruce settles in behind him, and Wally likes that their bodies fit so well together.  Bruce is longer and wider, but not bulky, and Wally wiggles his slim hips back into Bruce’s groin, lets his bare feet rub against Bruce’s which are …

“Your feet are freezing!” Wally yelps, pulling his feet away.

“Sorry.”  The tone’s completely unapologetic and they spend the next few minutes jockeying for warmth until Wally finally says, “Fine, okay!  Just leave them in one spot,” and Bruce presses his cold feet to the back of Wally’s calves.

“Why are you here, anyway?” Bruce asks.  “Other than to keep my toes warm.”

“I ran out of clean sheets.”  It isn’t a lie, but there’s also something to be said for Bruce’s giant bed and enough space so they’re not tripping over each other.  Wally’s never been claustrophobic, mainly because he can run whenever he wants, but he’s starting to realize he needs other strategies because running away just manages to scare the hell out of Bruce—even if he’ll never admit it.

Bruce’s fingers brush loosely through Wally’s hair, and there’s a whispered “goodnight” against his ear.  Wally raises Bruce’s hand to his mouth, kissing his fingers once before he drifts back into sleep.


At breakfast, Bruce finds Alfred particularly abrupt.  It’s not like him at all.  Wally’s been bundled into clean clothes and given fresh juice, pancakes and toast.  There’s a second pot of coffee in front of him, and Bruce can smell something with apples and cinnamon when the kitchen door opens.  Alfred glares at him slightly and sets a plate with a pale piece of toast down with a definite clatter.  Even Wally’s beginning to notice.

“Everything okay?” Wally asks.  Bruce just shrugs.  He’s still feeling worn out from the last few days, and although he’d slept well, Wally’s warm body better than any tonic, he knows he’s not operating at peak performance.  He hasn’t been for some time now, if he’s absolutely honest with himself.

When Alfred hands him coffee without sugar and a grapefruit that’s clearly seen better days, Bruce throws up his hands in exasperation.  “Okay, Alfred, what have I done?”


“Oh, that’s not fooling anyone, Alfred.”  Wally’s looking back and forth between the two of them with genuine concern.  “Even I can tell you’re pissed at him.  Did he bring the Bat-plane home with a dent?”  It doesn’t help to lighten the mood, and Bruce really isn’t prepared for the cold disappointment he sees in Alfred’s eyes.

“Perhaps this is not the best place—” Alfred begins, glancing at Wally, but Bruce isn’t in the mood to play games.

“What did I do?” he says again, more emphatically, and Alfred looks at him sympathetically, as if to say, you’ve brought this on yourself, young man.  It’s a look Bruce is painfully familiar with.

“I have laundered the towels from the master bath this morning.”

Wally looks confused, as if he’s somehow to blame for Alfred’s concern, and Bruce suddenly realizes what was in the bathroom that might’ve caused this kind of reaction.  He remembers dumping the uniform in the Cave when he came in, climbing upstairs and checking to see that Wally was fast asleep before slipping into the bathroom for a quick shower.  A chance to wipe the damn lipstick off his mouth.  He’d almost forgotten it.

“Bruce?”  Wally’s set down his fork, and seems to be preparing himself for bad news.

“Stupid Amazon Princess,” Bruce mutters under his breath, dropping his head onto his hands and staring at the pasty grapefruit in front of him.  He’s never been punished with fruit and dry toast before.  He wonders how long Alfred’s been waiting to try this.

“Diana?  What’s she got to do with—”

“I’ll leave you to—”

Bruce looks up.  “No, Alfred, you started this.  I haven’t had a chance to talk to Wally yet, but thank you for immediately assuming the worst about me.”

Alfred pales, taking a step back in retreat.  “Master Bruce, I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“No, I know it’s because you care.”  Bruce waves off the apology, and catches Wally’s eyes.  “Diana kissed me last night at the Watchtower.  I didn’t invite it, didn’t want it, and quite frankly, didn’t enjoy it.”  Wally’s stopped eating, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to bolt, and Bruce hopes that means they’re making progress in the trust department.  “She’s obviously gotten the wrong idea about me.”

“Obviously,” Wally says, and it’s not entirely sarcastic.  He’s waiting to see what Bruce has to say.  The tight feeling in Bruce’s chest starts to fade a tiny bit.  “So, Alfred found …?”

“Lipstick,” Alfred offers, his voice shaking a little.  “I saw red on the cloth, and I was afraid it was blood.”  He drops his eyes.  “When it clearly wasn’t, well, I—I’m sorry.  It wasn’t my place to interfere.”

“Apparently, everyone’s been having concerns lately,” Bruce says, “so let me just say this.  I’m not interested in Diana.  I’m not in … a relationship with her.  The only person I’m in … a relationship with is Wally.”

Across the table Wally beams at him.  Bruce still can’t seem to find the words, but apparently “relationship” makes Wally happy as a kid in a candy store because he tucks back into his breakfast without another thought.  He seems to understand what Bruce has been trying so hard to say.

“I’m so sorry,” Alfred murmurs as he takes Bruce’s plate away.

“Alfred,” Bruce says, but he’s already disappeared into the kitchen.  Bruce sighs and drinks his orange juice.  He’s got a feeling it’s going to be that kind of day.

UPDATE - August 13, 2007

The Justice League meets at the Cave because it’s easier. Bruce has all the information there and he really doesn’t feel like another trip up to the Watchtower. Besides, there’s something about having the home court advantage, and he feels like he needs it today. Alfred’s reaction at breakfast to the lipstick in the bathroom was unexpected, and Bruce wonders if he’s truly that hard to read, if the three days he spent in Central City with Wally wasn’t enough to indicate that he’s serious about this relationship. Apparently not. Everyone’s so quick to think the worst of him these days, and Bruce wonders where that’s coming from. Maybe he really has spent too long wearing a mask when even the people he’s closest to don’t seem to know how he feels. He never thought he had to say it for them to know—now he’s not sure.

J’onn’s connected via satellite from the Watchtower, but the rest of them are here, lounging about the Cave. They’ve nearly all been here before, so it shouldn’t be much of a thrill, but Bruce has always underestimated his colleagues’ ability to turn into tourists the moment they’re inside. Shayera and Lantern are standing in the shadow of the giant penny, talking in low voices. Bruce is fairly sure it has nothing to do with the coin. Wally’s chatting with Clark and Ollie; Dinah and Diana are whispering about something conspiratorially, and Bruce hopes the occasional glances in his direction are simply coincidence. Women are considerably more complicated than men, he thinks.

“Okay, people,” Bruce begins. “We’ve got credible information on three different shipments of kryptonite being moved three days from now. Needless to say, we can’t let Luthor acquire any more of that particular substance if there’s anything we can do to stop him.”

“Legally, we’re on shaky ground,” Clark continues. “As you know, the League’s been battling to get kryptonite declared a hazardous substance, but we’re going to be tied up in court for years. In the meantime, what Luthor’s doing isn’t exactly illegal, but—”

“But at the same time, it’s better to contain the substance and deal with the legal repercussions later. And Luthor doesn’t generally put up too much fuss because he knows he’s treading a fine line, President or not,” Bruce finishes.

“Do we have any more information on this device he’s supposedly building?” Diana asks, face completely focused on the mission. Bruce appreciates that she can do that, that they all can. Besides, he doesn’t want to deal with her right now—her and the lipstick-bright kisses that have gotten him in trouble with Wally, with Alfred. He doesn’t remember life being this complicated before.

“No, only what we overheard at the President’s ball. What we do know is that the main base of operations seems to be Mt. Torrent, and considering the amount of lead shielding in place around the underground facility, I’d say Luthor’s hiding something big.”

J’onn’s voice comes from the speakers: “It could easily be a trap to draw Superman there.”

“Yes,” Clark agrees, “but we still have to check it out. That’s why we’re approaching this systematically. There’ll be three field teams—one assigned to each shipment. The primary objective will be to confirm that it is kryptonite being transported, and if so, seize it pending the outcome of legal proceedings to determine its status as a controlled substance. I know that’s a bit of a mouthful, but we’re trying to stay within the limits of the law as much as we can on this.”

“Better to have the kryptonite safely stored in a neutral facility than in Luthor’s labs,” Bruce adds. “We’ll let the lawyers fight it out in court.”

“So,” Ollie says, pushing his Green Arrow cap back on his head. “Where do you need me to be?”

“The teams are intended to give us the widest range of support possible.” Bruce presses a few keys on his computer console and pulls up a giant screen that lists the teams with corresponding maps and mission objectives.

Team 1: Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary
Assists: Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Plastic Man
Primary Target: Train traveling from Smallville to Metropolis. Destination Cadmus Labs.
Mission: Remove the shipment from the train before it reaches the city.

Team 2: Green Lantern, Hawk Girl, Aquaman
Assists: Aqualad, Elongated Man, Vixen
Primary Target: Ship carrying cargo containers to disused oil platform off the Atlantic coast.
Mission: Prevent the shipment from reaching Luthor’s underwater lab facility.

Team 3: Superman, Batman
Assists: Vigilante, Shining Knight, Hawk and Dove, Zatanna
Primary Target: Armored trucks carrying equipment and supplies to Mt. Torrent underground laboratory.
Mission: Prevent the shipment from reaching its destination. Obtain intelligence on device Luthor is building.

Team 4: J’onn and Flash (Watchtower)
Mission: Oversee and coordinate the operations. Distribute reinforcements as required.

There’s a bit of subdued chatter as everyone runs through the lists, committing the details to memory and beginning to formulate strategies.

“Any questions?” Bruce looks around quickly, avoiding Wally’s glare. “No? Then we’ll—”

“Why am I stuck on the Watchtower?”

Bruce holds his ground and doesn’t back down from the sudden appearance of Flash standing right in front of him. “Superman and I assigned the teams on the basis of providing the best use of—”

“Oh, I bet you did.”

Everyone in the Cave has gone silent. They’re used to Wally being the easy one, the accommodating one, and Bruce is pretty sure none of them has ever seen this side of Flash before.

Superman steps forward, hands open in a placating gesture. “You’ve just come off medical leave, Flash.”

“And I’ve been cleared for duty,” Wally returns, almost before Clark’s finished the sentence. “Sticking me up on the Watchtower isn’t a good use of resources. You need me down here, and I need to be able to do my job.” He may be answering Clark, but he’s still looking at Bruce.

Green Lantern tilts his head thoughtfully. “You know, he’s right.”

Bruce holds his tongue and tells himself this is still a democracy. He has to listen to what the others have to say, even if every cell in his body is screaming at him that he has to keep Wally safe. “Go on.”

“Well, he’s a runner.” GL rubs a hand across the short bristling hair on his scalp. “We’d be better off putting someone up there who can fly back if there’s a problem. Me or Diana or even Superman.”

“We do have limited transport technology,” J’onn says, “but it seems as if it would be more beneficial to have Flash as a ground resource. I believe that it would be more effective to add him to the team that is evaluating Mt. Torrent, as Superman may need to be swiftly removed from the area if the kryptonite presents a threat.”

Superman looks less than pleased about the possibility of being physically removed by The Flash if necessary, but Clark is nodding grimly. It’s the smart thing to do, and as much as Bruce might have an arsenal of gadgets and technology at his disposal, when it comes down to it he’s still human. With that much kryptonite around, Wally’s strength and speed might be the difference between life and death for Clark, and they all know it.

Wally’s grinning an I-told-you-so smile, and Bruce feels his stomach tighten. He’s never been one to trust to bad feelings—mostly because he’s too prone to have bad feelings about everything—but he can’t help but wonder if Wally wouldn’t be better off somewhere else. He’s torn between wanting him nearby where he can keep an eye on him and wanting to send him as far from danger as possible.

“Alright,” Bruce agrees reluctantly. “If J’onn feels he can maintain the Watchtower duties alone, Flash will team with Superman and me to commandeer the Mt. Torrent shipment.” He steps away from Flash and turns his attention back to the screen. “Let me remind you all that this is strictly search and seizure. We don’t want casualties on either side. No one needs to be a hero.” Bruce says it for everyone’s benefit, but it’s mainly for Wally.

Superman takes over. “Meet with your teams, go over the schedules and routes and design your initial strategies. We’ll reconvene via conference call in three days to finalize plans. In the meantime, J’onn will be the contact point for all new information.”

Conversation begins to flow again and Bruce is about ready for everyone to get out of his Cave when he hears a low whistle from Flash. “Whoa, what a spread! You really know how to host a meeting, Bats.”

Bruce reluctantly turns towards the shadowy area at the bottom of the stairs where a long table has appeared complete with plates of sandwiches and cake. A silver tea service, steam still rising from its spout, graces the end of the table. Bruce silently curses Alfred’s efficiency.

“Help yourselves,” he says with all the politeness he can muster, which isn’t much. “And don’t feed the bats.” Judging by the array of food spread out, Bruce can assume Alfred is either still angry with him about Diana or is trying to apologize. He can’t decide which.

Oliver Queen sidles up to him, sandwich in one hand, blue eyes shining behind the domino mask. “So, what’s got your cape in a twist?”

Bruce has known Ollie a long time, but it doesn’t mean he’s any more eager to discuss his personal life with him than with anyone else. “It’s a complex operation,” is all Bruce will admit to.

“Yeah, and since when do you sideline key personnel in the big game, sport?” Ollie takes a bite of sandwich. “Bad call. I’d say your head’s not in the game, Bats. Gotta keep your eye on the ball.”

“Let me know when you’ve exhausted your supply of sports clichés.”

Ollie just grins and bumps him in the shoulder. “Come on, I know what this is. Little bird told me you might be distracted by a certain Amazon princess. Looks like she was right.”

Bruce scowls. Black Canary’s obviously been singing to Oliver. “My relationship with Diana is strictly—”

“Professional, yeah, yeah. Me and Dinah had one of those for years. Seriously, best thing that could happen to you, Bruce. You spend too much time in this blasted cave.”

Oliver swallows the last bite in his hand, brushes the crumbs onto the floor. Bruce hears a stirring up above; the bats are going to be impossible after this. It’s taken him years to train them not to expect food from him, a project constantly undermined first by Dick, then by Tim, and most recently by Wally, who’s not only insisted on slipping the bats food, but on naming them as well. Sometimes Bruce wonders why he even bothers.

Oliver claps a large hand on Bruce’s shoulder, then wanders away grinning as if he’s privy to the world’s best secret. It’s likely only a matter of time before everyone’s congratulating him on his non-existent relationship with Diana, and Bruce has no idea how to stop it without telling them the truth.

He could tell them the truth, he supposes, but he doesn’t want to. He’s always maintained his right to privacy, all of their rights to privacy. They’re entitled to other lives, jobs, family, friends, lovers. They share enough of themselves with the world that Bruce has always believed what they keep for themselves should be sacred. Private. His entire life as Bruce Wayne has been public, from his birth to the tragic death of his parents and beyond. Every regrettable incident, every failed affair has been public knowledge, usually splashed across the pages of Gotham’s papers in black-and-white. He doesn’t care about those things so much—they’re just part of the role he plays—but even Batman has been far more public than he would’ve liked. He’d hoped initially to operate in the darkness, a shadowy figure for truth and justice, but eventually he was too well-known. An icon. A legend. And then there was Robin. Nightwing. Batgirl. The Justice League. All of them operating in secret, in public. It’s a paradox Bruce never would’ve predicted in the beginning, and now, whatever bit of privacy he can carve out for himself, whether as Bruce Wayne or Batman, he wants to hang onto it for as long as he can.

There’s a breath of wind, and Bruce knows Wally’s standing beside him.

“You okay?” Wally asks, concern evident in his voice despite his casual demeanor.


Wally does a double-take, but doesn’t press it. “Look, Bats, I know you’re not happy about having your plans changed, but you know it’s the right decision for the mission.”

I don’t care about the mission, Bruce wants to say, but he can’t. The sad part is that it isn’t even true. He does care about the mission—deeply. He always has, and if keeping Luthor in check, if keeping him from creating another super-weapon to use against Clark or humanity at large is the result then it’s worth it. He keeps telling himself that, and prays he never has to weigh that cost against Wally’s life.

“You got what you wanted.” Bruce doesn’t mean for it to come out as harsh as it sounds. He sees Wally’s smile falter, fading into something that looks like stubborn determination.

“It was the right decision for the mission,” Wally reiterates firmly before taking a step closer and lowering his voice to a level only Bruce can hear. “I appreciate the concern for my well-being, I really do. But you can’t treat me like glass. You can’t put me up on a shelf on the Watchtower and only take me out on good days. You have no trouble sending Superman into a situation where you know his life will be in terrible danger, but you want me to stop doing what I do. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it’s going to work.”

“Are you finished?” Bruce asks quietly.

“Yeah.” What’s visible of Wally’s face is tinged with a faint pink. “You need to know I’m not going to stop doing my job just because of … what’s between us. Don’t ever ask me to.”

Wally meets his eyes, and Bruce knows he’s deadly serious. If Bruce asks him to step back from the job, it’ll be the end of them. No second chances. No compromise. Bruce knows it. Wally’s willing to give him leeway on a lot of things, willing to forgive monumental screw-ups and missteps, but not this, and Bruce can’t help but conjure up the memories of Wally’s death in 27 different timelines. Shot. Asphyxiated. Tortured. Disintegrated. Strangled. Blown apart. Starved. Mutilated. Drowned. Burned. And the one that Bruce keeps trying to forget, the one that seems to draw inevitably closer no matter how he tries to shift events from its path: Wally crushed beneath a truckload of kryptonite, Clark unable to help, and Bruce too human to save him.

Wally’s just standing there now, quietly tossing bits of bread up into the shadows. Bruce can hear the swoop of wings as the bats take turns rising to the bait. He shakes his head. “They’re not pets, you know.”

“It’s just a few crumbs. Besides, Nub and Stumpy are the only ones who like pumpernickel.” Wally seems to realize he’s said too much when Bruce turns his head slowly to look at him.

“Nub and Stumpy?”

“Uh, well, Nub’s wings are kind of bumpy all over, nubby, really, and Stumpy, he’s—well, he’s got one leg shorter than the other, so it just sort of made sense that …” Wally waves a hand in the air as if that explains everything.

“Nub and Stumpy,” Bruce repeats, still reeling from the idea that the bats not only have names, but apparently bread preferences as well. He didn’t think Wally had been spending that much time at the Cave.

“I didn’t know you named your bats,” Diana says, joining them. “That’s so sweet. You truly have hidden depths.”

Wally’s grinning from ear-to-ear, not even trying to hide it, and it’s as if their conversation of a moment ago didn’t happen, except Bruce can tell from the tightness in Wally’s shoulders that it did. They’re both incredibly tense.

“Yeah, that’s our Batman. Just a great big softy. You should see him with kittens, Princess,” Wally adds, and Bruce is dismayed by the girlish squeak that comes from Diana. “He likes it when they purr.”

Bruce thinks of Wally vibrating in his arms, the warm relaxed rhythm of contentment that ripples through his body after they’ve—

“Batman?” Diana’s hand is on his arm, and her look is puzzled. “Are you all right? You seem so far away.”

“I’m fine.” Wally’s smiling at him with a genuine smile, one that says he knows what Bruce was thinking, that he was thinking it too, and suddenly things seem less hopeless, less inevitable. Bruce shifts his arm slightly, Diana’s hand dropping away. “But there’s work to be done, and I think we’ve waited long enough.”

With that, he turns in a whirl of cape and heads for the Crane super-computer. He’s got a mission to plan, a kryptonite-vulnerable alien and a speedster to protect, and nothing is going to stop him from doing that. Nothing.


The day wears on. Slowly, mercifully, most of the heroes leave the Cave. Clark heads off to check in at The Daily Planet with promises that he’ll be back later. Bruce just nods and waves him away. Flash comes and goes: with cappuccino, a stack of extra-large pizzas from somewhere in New York, and once covered in feathers. Bruce just raises an eyebrow in his direction and glares as a white feather settles on his cape. Flash grins and disappears again.

Bruce is busy correlating the GPS information on the shipments—the actual GPS and the fake GPS signatures that are meant to keep them busy. It’s all part of the game, he knows, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling annoyed that he has to go through the process of sorting out truth from misdirection, and the Brinks’ computers keep trying to kick him out of the system. He gives them credit for being on top of security breaches, but overall he doesn’t need the extra aggravation right now.

Tim appears, late in the afternoon, and Bruce realizes school must be out for the day. He sets Tim to redesign a code that will update them if anything changes with the kryptonite movements. Dick cruises in shortly after, motorcycle dragged to the centre of the Cave, and he and Wally appear to be refitting the engine. Bruce makes a mental note to speak to them about the nitrous oxide, but considering they’re mostly quiet and out of his way, he decides it can wait. When he thinks of it again, Wally’s dragging him off to a dark corner of the Cave, behind the penny and past the armory, and Bruce isn’t willing to break off their frantic kisses in order to scold. It’s the first moment they’ve had alone since breakfast, and Bruce wishes they had more time, more moments because he’s not sure he’ll ever get enough of Wally’s taste, bright and shiny in his mouth.

Clark pops in as the sun goes down, updating them on Luthor’s latest presidential address promising new green energy resources and they all know it’s a pre-emptive strike. He’s got scientists lined up and willing to tell the world that kryptonite is the newest answer to the energy crisis, although Bruce has consulted enough experts of his own to know that kryptonite’s too unstable to serve as a long-term energy resource. However, it’s politics, strike and counter-strike, and they’re going to look like the villains when everything goes down in three days time. At the moment, Bruce can’t see a way around it.

Diana returns from wherever she goes in the daytime, bringing him a cup of herbal tea, some concoction from the Amazon forests, and he smiles politely while he drinks the bitter brew. He has no doubt it’s good for him, but he can’t work like this, people coming and going as if the Cave had a revolving door and a Welcome mat, hovering in his space as if they belong there, and he’s a step away from simply ordering them all to get out when the Bat-phone rings, the direct line from the Commissioner’s office, and he realizes he’s never been so grateful for a good old-fashioned Gotham city emergency.

Bruce is pleased to see Robin and Nightwing already on alert and gearing up. Wally, Diana, and Clark are hanging back, waiting to see if they’re needed. Bruce feels a frisson of pride go through him: these are his people, his family, and they’re willing to do what needs to be done to make the world a better, safer place.

“Yes, Commissioner?” he says into the phone. “How can we help?”


It’s an hour from dawn by the time he gets back to the Cave, which Bruce is pleased to see is empty of everyone except Alfred. He tugs off the cowl and gauntlets.

“The boys?” Alfred asks immediately, moving to help Bruce disrobe.

“They’re both fine. I sent Dick to take Tim home, and then he was heading back to Bludhaven. Nothing but a few bruises.”

Bruce knows Alfred has been monitoring their activities. He would’ve heard about the rioting at the docks, the workers driven into a murderous frenzy by the Mad Hatter’s newest mind-control device. It had taken the three of them and the best of Gotham City’s Police Department to get things under control. Even then, Bruce expects this is only the beginning of unrest. It may have been the Mad Hatter at the heart of things tonight, but the device was powered by kryptonite cells, and Bruce has a sneaking suspicion Luthor’s got a hand in stirring things up.

“Miss Diana and Master Clark were called to the Watchtower shortly after you left. Master Wally stayed for supper, then received a message from Central City—something about trouble with a gorilla—and left abruptly.”

Bruce nods wearily and lets Alfred help him out of the cape. He needs to check the computer before he turns in, see what the situation is at the Watchtower and in Central City—Gorilla Grodd might be a giant ape, but he’s supremely intelligent, and Bruce wants to make sure Wally’s all right.

“The boys might be fine, but you’re not,” Alfred says, reaching up to turn Bruce’s face gently. There’s swelling along his jaw—he can feel it now that the adrenaline is wearing off.

“A stray punch,” Bruce admits, shifting away from Alfred’s ministrations.

“A stray piece of pipe, more like it.” Alfred opens the medical kit and dabs at the side of Bruce’s face. It stings, but he’s used to it. “It’s a good thing you’re hard-headed, my boy.”

Bruce doesn’t say anything, just lets Alfred fuss while Bruce centres his energies. He takes the painkillers Alfred pushes into his hand without complaint, and mentally checks his list of things to do.

Alfred seems to be able to read his mind. “You are going to bed.”


“I will check on Master Wally’s status, as well as the Watchtower situation. If it is anything that cannot wait, I will wake you. You have my word.”

There isn’t any point in arguing, so Bruce simply nods and trudges up the stairs to the study, then a second set of stairs to bed. He’s asleep almost instantly, his last thought how large the bed seems without Wally here, how empty. His fingers clench in the fabric of the pillow, and he knows nothing more.


Bruce wakes, bleary-eyed, to Alfred standing over him apologetically, holding out a cell phone. Bruce can see the sun is up, but it’s probably only been a few hours since he tumbled into bed.

“What is it?” Bruce mumbles, scrubbing at his eyes. He’s exhausted.

“You have a call,” Alfred says, and the tension in his voice pulls Bruce to alertness. “It’s President Luthor.”

Bruce takes the phone. “Mr. President?”

Lex’s familiar laughter is clear as a bell in Bruce’s ear. “Bruce! Still living the bachelor lifestyle, eh? Partying till the wee hours of the morning? Half the day’s gone, my friend. There’s work to be done.”

“What do you want, Lex?” Bruce’s jaw is achingly stiff, and he’s in no mood for games. He figures he’s known Lex long enough that he can be forgiven for not following all the courtesies afforded his position, especially since Bruce is positive Lex knows damn well what Bruce was doing last night and until when.

“I’ve called a press conference for later this morning. At it, I’m going to announce an emergency summit on the current energy crisis.”

“There’s only an energy crisis because you keep telling people there’s one.”

“Surely you’re not suggesting that I’m lying to the American people.” There’s an edge to Lex’s voice that Bruce recognizes. There are still limits as to what he can say to the President.

“I’m merely pointing out that the situation may not be as grave as you’ve been led to believe, Mr. President,” Bruce replies. Alfred hands him a glass of water and two more painkillers, and Bruce takes them gratefully. Sometimes he doesn’t know how he would survive without Alfred. Somewhere in the manor a second phone starts ringing, and Alfred hurries to answer it.

“My point exactly,” Lex agrees, and Bruce is immediately suspicious. “We need to survey the situation and propose solutions, and we have to act quickly. Industry and government need to work together on this.”

Bruce doesn’t like the direction this is going. Alfred enters with a second mobile phone and hands Bruce a note. Oliver Queen on the line. Urgent, it says. In his ear, Bruce hears Lex get to the point and Bruce realizes why Oliver’s on the other line.

“So you see,” Lex is saying, “with Wayne Industries and Queen Technologies working with LuthorCorp we can quickly bring the weight of our combined resources to bear on this problem. I figure three days of intensive meetings should suffice to draw up a game plan.”

Bruce puts his head in his hand, then flips open the second mobile switching it to speaker. Before Oliver can chime in, Bruce says to Lex, knowing Oliver can hear him: “What if Mr. Queen and I were to refuse to attend this impromptu energy crisis summit, Mr. President?”

There’s barely a moment of pause before Lex replies, “But you wouldn’t do that, Mr. Wayne. Nor would Mr. Queen. It would reflect badly, not only on you both personally, but also on your companies. Even with controlling interests, you still answer to shareholders, the same as I do. And as the press will definitely be in attendance, Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane from The Planet, naturally—”


“—they would have no choice but to report your companies’ lack of cooperation with a federal initiative designed to address the citizenry’s legitimate concerns.”

Bruce knows the feeling of being backed into a corner all too well, and although he doesn’t like it, he knows Lex is holding all the cards.

“What time is your press conference?”

“In about an hour. I trust you and Mr. Queen will have adequate time to prepare. I took the liberty of contacting your boards of directors to give them a heads-up. Wayne Towers is centrally located, so the press is meeting us there.”

Bruce can hear Oliver swearing from the other phone. “We’ll be there.”

“And Bruce, you might want to bring that son of yours along. Future of the company and all that. Looks good for the papers. Better than an over-the-hill playboy who looks like he’s been in a bar fight. See you in an hour.”

The line goes dead, and Bruce is left with Oliver fuming on the other phone. “Who the hell does he think he is?”

“The President.”

“Well, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether he’s the President. This is bullshit. All of it. Now I’ve got to pull top people off important projects to sit around and discuss an imaginary energy crisis, all so Luthor can keep us off-balance for the next few days while he goes about figuring out how to legitimize his kryptonite obsession.”

“And he’s using us to do it.”

“Goddammit!” Oliver’s as agitated as Bruce has ever heard him. “I don’t have time for this.”

“You think I do?” Bruce says evenly.

“And what did he mean? How knocked up are you?”

Bruce hasn’t had a chance to look in the mirror yet, but he’s fairly certain there’s bruising to go along with the swelling in his jaw. “Enough that a little make-up isn’t going to cover it.”

Oliver sounds like he understands. “Yeah, we had a dust-up in Star City last night too. Took me and Arsenal and half the young titans to sort things out. Bugger if I know what started it either. Everyone just decided crazy was the place to be last night.”

“It’s Luthor,” Bruce explains. “He’s enjoying watching us scramble. He’s finally in a position to use every bit of his money and power to make us dance, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s the organ grinder…”

“And we’re the dancing monkeys. Nice.” Oliver sounds disgusted. “What about Dick, though? Put that pretty face in front of the camera and they’ll forget all about you, partner.”

“I don’t want him involved,” Bruce says, quelling the protest that is on the tip of Oliver’s tongue. Bruce knows Dick would be there in an instant if he asked him to be, but he doesn’t want to use Dick for what amounts to a photo op. He’ll handle it alone. “Besides, getting Dick involved seems to be what Lex wants, all of us together in the same place. I don’t like it.”

“Of course, he could just be double-thinking you, knowing that you won’t bring Dick along because that’s what he wants, so what he really wants is for you to not bring Dick.”

Bruce’s head is beginning to hurt. “Oliver, enough, okay? I’ll meet you at Wayne Towers in forty minutes. Come straight to my office. I don’t like being forced into this kind of position, and we need to discuss strategies before Lex gets there.”

“On my way.”

Bruce flips both phones shut and tosses them on the dresser as he heads for the shower. He’s got the feeling it’s going to be a very long day.


He’s been in the shower less than five minutes when there’s a tap at the opaque glass. Bruce doesn’t bother to open his eyes, just says, “Alfred, unless the Watchtower is falling out of the sky, just give me two minutes of peace and quiet before I have to go smile at Luthor all day.”

“It’s not Alfred.”

In an instant, Bruce is opening the shower door and pulling Wally inside. He kisses him hotly, greedy for that quick mouth and eager tongue, and Wally doesn’t protest, just kisses him back under the steaming spray, water dousing his red hair, his face, his clothes.

“Hey,” Wally says, when Bruce lets him breathe again, “I’m not complaining, but Alfred said you’ve got to go to work. Press conference or something.”

“Dammit.” Bruce checks his waterproof watch. “I have to go.” He turns off the spray, diving in for one more kiss, Wally pressed against the white tiles, then reluctantly steps out and grabs a towel. “Luthor’s screwing around with us, and Ollie and I’ve got to play corporate titans and try to inject some sense into this idiocy about an energy crisis.”

“Sounds like fun.” Wally shakes himself dry like a dog, water sprinkling everywhere. “Hey, what happened to your jaw?”

Bruce steals a glance in the mirror. The bruising is starting to turn ugly—dark and purple—and runs down the left side of his face from his ear to just below his chin.

“It’s not broken,” Bruce offers, seeing Wally’s worry, although it’s probably a small miracle that it’s not. The shielding in the cowl has saved him from more than one appointment with jaw surgery. “How did your gorilla problem work out?”

Wally shrugs and leans in the bathroom doorway as Bruce starts to get dressed in the clothes Alfred’s laid out for him. “Grodd went ape-shit over some guys importing a bunch of stuff made from gorilla feet and elephant tusks. To be perfectly honest, he was totally in the right on this one, and I really felt for the big guy, but he was busting heads left and right and he wouldn’t listen to reason. It took awhile to get everyone calmed down—Police, Animal Control, and then once Customs got involved, well, we were there most of the night. It’s surprising how many people don’t want to listen to a super-intelligent eight-foot tall gorilla.”

“Luthor’s poking his fingers into a lot of hornets’ nests. He wants us distracted.” Bruce finishes tying the half-Windsor at his neck, runs his hand along the bruised jaw line and decides the stubble makes it look slightly less noticeable so he foregoes shaving. He strides across to the doorway and kisses Wally quickly. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”

“It’s okay,” Wally says. “Do what you need to do.”

Bruce brushes his lips once more, but Wally can tell he’s already thinking about the next item on his agenda. He’s out the door in a moment, the sound of the front door closing reaching him a few moments later. Wally eases himself onto the edge of the bed, careful not to put too much weight on his left leg.

Alfred appears at the doorway with a mug of coffee and a plate of food.

“Master Wally.”

“Just Wally, Alfred. Really.” He takes the offered mug. “I swear I won’t report you to the Butlers’ Union.”

Alfred smiles, but it’s clear he’s not about to change his ways. “May I do anything for your leg, Master Wally?”

Wally looks up startled. “How did you know?”

“You forget, I received you at the door when you arrived. I had the advantage of watching you negotiate the stairs. Master Bruce did not.”

“He’s got a lot on his mind.”

“That should not be interpreted as a lack of concern for your person. He was quite concerned when he arrived home at dawn.”

“I know, Alfred.” Wally hands back the empty mug and helps himself to the food. “Besides there’s nothing he can do that a quick metabolism won’t take care of in a day or two. I guess sometimes I just wish things could be more … normal, you know? Like maybe we could go to a movie, or I don’t know … what do people even do on dates these days?”

“I fear it’s not a question I’m able to answer, sir. Master Dick would be a better resource for current dating protocols, I believe, but for your sake—both you and Master Bruce—I wish things could be more normal as well.”

“Thanks, Alfred.”

He clears the empty dishes onto a serving tray, and turns to leave. “Not at all. Stay and rest, if you’re able. I’ll let you know if there’s anything amiss.”

“I just might do that,” Wally says through a yawn. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Alfred darkens the drapes. Before he’s finished pulling the door shut, he can hear Wally’s quiet even breathing as he drifts into sleep.


Bruce and Oliver are standing side-by-side on the stage in the Thomas and Martha Wayne Memorial Lecture Theatre, located in the base of Wayne Towers. If he didn’t already know, Bruce would never believe this little extravaganza had been pulled together in under a few hours.

“Does he always have to wear purple?” Ollie’s muttering under his breath as President Luthor, ever stylish in charcoal Armani with a subtle mauve shirt and tie, greets the assembled Press Corps, shareholders, and scientists.

“You’re wearing green,” Bruce whispers, but realizes he has no room to talk when Oliver raises an eyebrow and says, “Et tu, Bruce?” His black suit is immaculate, royal blue shirt a striking complement to his eyes, and the tie is black and charcoal with tiny flecks of gold.

“Will you two shut up?” Dick mutters between clenched teeth. “I need to hear what he’s saying because I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Alfred just told me to get here pronto, brush my hair, and wear the navy suit.”

“And in conclusion,” Luthor is saying amidst camera flashes and the clicking of laptop keys, “I am sincerely honoured to be working with these corporations, and these men in particular—” Luthor stops and gestures grandly towards Oliver, Bruce, and to a lesser extent, Dick. “—to achieve our mutual goals of averting the present energy crisis and finding ever more innovative and environmentally-friendly resources to meet the demands of our time.” There’s a hearty round of applause and Bruce is sure that Luthor’s staffers have stacked the audience with supporters. “We just have time for one or two questions before we get right to the initial meeting.”

“Isn’t this entire summit a bit premature?” Lois’s voice cuts through the gaggle of voices as if she has a megaphone. There are times Bruce can’t help but admire her for being so good at what she does. In that, they’re the same. “I mean, there is no clear evidence to support your contention that there is, in fact, an energy crisis currently. It would perhaps seem more prudent to investigate the fundamental question before announcing a press conference to address solutions.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane. Was there actually a question in that ramble?”

There’s some nervous twittering from the audience, but not much. Bruce is pleased to see that not everyone’s taking Luthor at face-value.

“I believe what my colleague is asking, President Luthor,” Clark says quietly, “is what evidence you have to support your claims of a crisis? I certainly don’t want to take away from either Queen Technologies’ or Wayne Industries’ sincere commitment to the environment as evidenced by their track records, but in all honesty this conference smacks of political grand-standing with very little substance. If you’ll forgive me saying so, Mr. President.” Clark pushes his glasses up on his nose and dips his head a little, as if it really bothers him to have to point out the flaws in the President’s argument.

Luthor salvages the moment, turning his glare into a wry nod. “As usual, right to the heart of the matter, Mr. Kent. I could certainly bore you with numbers and statistics to show you the increased pressure on government to provide more and better renewable energy sources, but we all know how easy it is to manipulate statistics. And as Ms. Lane suggests, perhaps we’re a bit premature in hosting this summit. However.” Lex pauses and Bruce feels in his gut that they’re about to have the rug pulled out from under them. Lex is smiling in that cat who ate the canary way.

Oliver glances over at Bruce, and says, “Oh shit.”

“However,” Luthor repeats. “We would be irresponsible if we waited until a crisis was upon us before acting, so I am here today in part to announce additional federal monies allocated for research and development into alternative energy strategies, the primary one being—”

“—and here it comes,” Bruce murmurs.

“—the development of meteor rock, specifically kryptonite ore, as a potentially limitless source of safe, alternative energy.”

The volume in the room goes from stunned silence to raise-the-roof decibels. Even Lois’s megaphone voice doesn’t cut through the flurry of shouted questions, and Bruce can hear one phrase being echoed over and over in the room: “What about Superman?”


“Now what?” Oliver says, not even trying to hide his discomfort. “We just walk over there, shake his hand, and accept blood money to experiment with a substance that could kill one of our greatest heroes?”

“Oliver.” Bruce is aware of the number of cameras and microphones pointed in their direction, and he wishes they could handle this differently. Privately.

“Well, do we? That doesn’t sit right with me, and—”

“Oliver, he already knows.” Bruce looks at him pointedly. “If Lex didn’t know, he wouldn’t be doing this so publicly. He set us up.”

“Knows what?” Dick whispers. Bruce shakes his head minutely, and Dick glares. “Knows what?” he says more loudly.

“Just let me handle this.” Bruce walks towards Lex with a stiff smile, and the room quiets down. “Mr. President. Thank you for the generous extension of funds for this important avenue of research. Let me be the first to assure the public that years of meticulous research indicate that kryptonite ore is in no way hazardous to anyone except Superman.”

“Harmless,” Lex says, holding up a faintly shining green crystal. Bruce hides his surprise and takes the offered mineral. “Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Wayne?”

“Absolutely,” Bruce says, looking across the room to where Clark is looking faintly sick, and Lois’s face is dark with fury.

“Perhaps one of you would like to come up and hold it for a moment? See for yourselves?” Luthor is smiling like a magician in a stage show. “Perhaps you, Mr. Kent?”

Two dozen heads swivel in the direction of Clark and Lois. Clark is doing his best to not look like he’s about to pass out, and he shakes his head at Luthor’s question. “I just report the fact, sir,” he says.

“What about you, Ms. Lane?” Lex asks.

Before she can respond, Bruce slips the sliver of kryptonite to Dick with a whispered, “Get this out of here. Now.” He turns back to the president. “Don’t taunt the reporters, Lex. It isn’t nice.” He says it with a big grin and a friendly, if overly hard, clap on the shoulder, and he can get away with it because the reporters all know they went to school together once upon a time.

“The fact is, ladies and gentlemen,” Bruce continues, hands on the podium, “that kryptonite is currently a disputed substance because of its deleterious effect on Superman. Naturally, no one wants to see his capacity to do his job, to save those in need or assist with world-wide rescue efforts, diminished.” There are murmurs of agreement. “That’s why it is a matter to be considered before the courts, and the use of kryptonite for experimental purposes is limited to a small number of facilities operating with very specific licenses and mandates. Certainly our laboratories can conduct research into renewable energy resources without putting Superman or anyone else at risk.”

“Indeed. However, we would be negligent if we let one man—or at least one alien--stand in the way of progress that could benefit so many. My good friend Mr. Wayne is too modest, folks,” Lex says, returning the forceful shoulder pat. “In fact, he and Mr. Queen have been on the leading edge of kryptonite experimentation and research practically since its discovery. They operate two of the three licensed facilities designated as kryptonite laboratories—the third being Cadmus Labs in Metropolis—and this injection of federal funds is merely a means of ensuring that their research can continue. Bravo, gentlemen. You who have toiled so long in secret can finally step forward and accept your due.”

Oliver steps forward awkwardly as Lex waves for someone to bring forward an over-sized cheque, bordered with a green stripe that precisely matches the shard of kryptonite Bruce had Dick remove. The cheque has an impressive number of zeroes, and he and Oliver are forced to stand there and smile while digital cameras hum and reporters volley questions at them.

In the midst of it all, Bruce watches Clark slip discreetly out of the room, but not before he catches the look of betrayal on Clark’s face. Lois is spitting daggers in his direction, and Bruce is fairly certain he’s going to be fielding calls from a number of people this evening.

He checks his watch briefly, sad to see that it isn’t even noon. Plenty of time for things to get even worse.


“He screwed us,” Oliver is saying, pacing the length of Bruce’s office at the summit of Wayne Towers. “Screwed us over twice with a baseball bat.”

“Ollie.” Bruce flicks his eyes over to where Dick is fighting with his tie, and Oliver throws up his hands. “Oh, you think he doesn’t hear ten times worse on the streets?”

“Not in my office.”

“Fine.” Oliver comes to rest on the edge of Bruce’s desk. “But it’s true and you know it, plus now Luthor’s got Clark pissed off at us too.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“And Lois. Don’t forget Lois,” Oliver adds. “Last time she was mad at me, she did a full-page biographical feature listing every woman I’ve ever ….” Oliver shakes his head. “She’s not a woman you want riled at you.”

Dick gives up the struggle with his tie and flops down onto one of the couches. “When were you planning to tell me you both have secret kryptonite research facilities? It seems kind of like an important detail.”

“It wasn’t particularly secret, Dick,” Bruce says. “It’s listed in the annual financial report.”

“As if I actually read that.” Dick runs a hand through his hair. “I gather Clark doesn’t read the Wayne Industries financial reports either, huh?”

“No, but there really wasn’t any need for him to know.”

“Yeah, he’s going to agree with that one, alright,” Oliver snorts. “I told you it was a bad idea from the beginning.”

“And yet you went along with it, and here we are. There’s no point dwelling on what’s already done, Oliver.”

Clark’s been their friend for a long time now, but in the beginning he was another super-powered alien from a faraway planet and they really had no idea whether they could trust him or not. It was a necessary precaution, and Bruce has always made sure the research facility is only staffed by people he can trust absolutely; he knows Oliver vets all of the scientists at his own facility as well. They’re both acutely aware of how dangerous the substance is, how attractive a commodity for anyone with a grudge against Superman. Neither of them ever wants to be responsible for Clark coming to harm.

“You think he’s going to be that pissed off?” Dick asks, looking from Bruce to Oliver and back.

“Oh, yeah,” Ollie says. “It’s one thing for him to give us each a little lead box all wrapped up with a bow and say, ‘I know you’ll never need this, but just in case, I want you to have it. I trust you with my life,’ and another for us to have people potentially working on ways and means to stop him if necessary.”

“But that’s not what you’ve been doing, is it?” Dick looks like he’s afraid he already knows the answer.

“Not primarily, no,” Oliver explains, “but—you’ve got to understand, Dick. We’re all human. There’s really not that much we can do if someone like Supes goes ballistic on the world. We’ve all fallen victim to mind-control at one time or another, and sometimes that kryptonite is what’s made the difference between winning and dying.”

“You two don’t trust anyone, do you?” Dick glares at them and stands up to leave. “I bet you don’t even trust each other.”

“Dick.” It’s Oliver who stops him with a hand on his arm. “The world’s changed. You’ve got to remember there was no Justice League, no Teen Titans when we started doing this. We were on our own for a long time. Trust doesn’t come that easy for some of us.”

“I’ve got to get back to the ‘Haven,” Dick says. “There are people there counting on me.” Neither Bruce nor Ollie misses the dig.

When the door closes behind him, Bruce leans back and lets out a sigh. “Add two more to the list of people mad at me.”

Oliver pours himself a scotch from the sidebar, slips onto the couch and sets his boots on the coffee table. They’re green snakeskin, and Bruce knows he’s had them for years. They’re his good luck boots, Oliver says. Bruce wishes they’d brought them a little luck today.

“Who else is gunning for you, Bruce?”

“Alfred, Lois—”

“Wait, wait. Alfred’s mad at you? What on earth did you do?”

“Long story.”

“Alright. Continue.”

“If Diana isn’t already mad at me, she probably soon will be, and then there’s—”

“Oh, Her Royal Highness has a sweet spot for you. I wouldn’t worry too much ‘bout her unless you’ve got another dance partner on the side.”

Bruce just closes his eyes and leans his head back against his chair as Oliver lets out a whoop of surprise. “Bruce, you old dog!” He can hear Oliver slapping a hand against the leather arm of the couch as he chokes on his scotch. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“No lady this time, Ollie. The relationship’s more complicated than that,” Bruce offers.


When Bruce looks up Oliver raises his glass in quiet understanding. “He must be something special then. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you admit to a relationship with a fella.”

“In spite of Dick’s skepticism—which he undoubtedly gets from me—I do trust you, Oliver.”

“Mutual, Bruce.”

They sit in silence for awhile until there’s a rap at the door.

“Come in,” Bruce says. He’s not at all surprised to see Luthor enter, sans entourage. He crosses the room and pours himself a scotch.

“I thought that went rather well,” Lex says smugly, taking a long swallow. Bruce is half-way out of his chair when Oliver heads him off.

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you, Bruce.”

“Honestly, you two make it so easy to be me.” Lex laughs. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way. What crap. Even amongst yourselves, you lie. You lie about who you are and what you are, and the funniest part is you do it so badly.” Lex turns toward Bruce and shakes his head. “You with your brooding depressions, dead parents, and endless training. Even in high school, I knew you were destined to throw yourself off a rooftop. I just didn’t think you’d do it with a de-cel line and a cape.”

Bruce can feel the anger simmering inside like a kettle on low boil. Lex takes another drink and points at Oliver around the cut-crystal glass. “And you. Captain of the Environmental Club, Go Green, and all that jazz. Not to mention the archery obsession. Do you think I’m an idiot? I’ve always known who you are. Always. Do you want me to list the names and addresses of all your precious superheroes?”

“That’s not necessary,” Bruce says quietly, moving to stand beside Oliver, who looks as angry as Bruce feels. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are flashing an angry emerald green.

“But really, it’s Clark who takes the cake. I mean, did you see his face today? He was already looking green, but then there was: The Betrayal.” Lex frames the words in the air with his hands. “It was like kicking a puppy.”

He finishes off the scotch in his glass and pours another. “You keep tabs on him, secretly researching kryptonite because Superman’s a super-powered alien with only one physical weakness; meanwhile, he slowly begins to build-up a tolerance for traces of kryptonite powder, so that he’ll never be as weak as you think he is. And both of you are convinced you’re doing it for the greater good.” Lex drops an ice-cube into his glass and takes a sip, letting the ice rattle against his smile. “I bet even you didn’t know that one, did you, Bruce?”

Bruce tries to keep his face absolutely neutral, but it’s true; he didn’t know that about Clark, and if it’s the truth, if it’s not just the product of Luthor’s fevered mind or drunken rambles then Bruce supposes they both have some explaining to do.

“God, it’s fantastic. The scotch isn’t bad either, Bruce, but honestly, who needs to watch television when I have the Justice League of America? The best soap opera in the universe, sent right to my home via satellite.”

“I think you’ve said enough, Lex.” Oliver’s fists are clenched at his side, exactly the same as Bruce’s. Bruce knows they all get information off the satellite surveillance network, but he didn’t know Lex had found a way to tap into it as well. Presidential powers aren’t supposed to extend that far, but apparently Lex has been taking liberties with the information at his disposal.

“Oh, but, there’s so much more. I mean, I haven’t even gotten to some of the best bits.” Lex swallows down the rest of the scotch. “Like the poor little Amazon princess in love with the heartless Bat. Or what about an ex-Teen Titan, heroin addict. You should’ve known not to call him ‘Speedy,’ Oliver. Really, what were you thinking taking in a kid like that?”

“Oliver!” Bruce grabs Oliver around the chest and holds him there, Ollie’s fists flailing in Lex’s general direction. “Ollie, just cool it!” Bruce doesn’t want to hold him back, would rather let Oliver beat the smile off Luthor’s face, but he doesn’t want to explain to Roy and the rest of the people who depend on Ollie that he’s in a federal jail for assaulting the President, deserved or not.

“Both of you raising kids. Young boys. Now that’s a frightening thought.” Lex sets the glass on Bruce’s desk. “And what does it say about you, Bruce, screwing your adopted son’s best friend? Transference maybe? Couldn’t have the one you wanted? Or did you look at Wally then too, when he was a kid with freckles and that boyish grin, that soft red hair? How many years did you wait before you just had to touch?”

Now it’s Oliver’s turn, and he reaches back and grasps on to Bruce, who feels like he’s turned to stone. They can’t afford to cross the line. Not now. Not ever. Luthor’s got secret service and personal bodyguards right outside, and all it will take is one whisper of impropriety to have both of them sent away.

“Get out of my office, Lex,” Bruce says. “Now. Before I do something I won’t regret.”

Lex laughs. “You don’t have the guts to do the things that need to be done, Bruce. Never have. That’s why I’m the President, and you’re still running around fighting a losing battle with your not-so-secret society of do-gooders.”

“Get out, Lex. Just get the hell out.”

Lex moves towards the door, but pauses before leaving. “You know, your Justice Lords had it right.”

“They burned your brain out,” Oliver says.

“True. Crude, but effective,” Luthor agrees. “But at least they acted on what they believed in. I can stand behind people like that. I can work with that kind of conviction.”

He touches his fingers to his forehead in a mock salute, opens the door and leaves. Oliver lets go of Bruce, and for a moment neither of them says anything. There really isn’t anything left to say after Luthor’s tirade. Oliver picks up the glass Lex was using and hurls it at the nearest stone wall. It shatters into a hundred pieces.

“Feel better?” Bruce asks, returning to his desk chair.

“Not particularly. Did we really take money from that bastard today?”

“We did.”

“Did you know all of that?” Oliver looks uncomfortable. “What he said about Clark and the kryptonite powder?”


“Think it’s true?”

“Probably. Enough of the rest of it was accurate.”

“Wally, huh?” Oliver says, not quite a question, and Bruce just nods. It wasn’t the way he would’ve chosen to tell Oliver—or anyone. Wally deserves so much more than to be a name tossed out as a lurid jest.

Suddenly, Bruce glances at Oliver sharply, blue eyes meeting green. “Not all of what Lex said was true. Not … I would never—”

“I know, Bruce,” and it’s clear from his eyes that Oliver does. “Maybe we weren’t always the best parents, but we sure as hell tried. They were kids then. They’re not now. Nobody thinks any different. Nobody will, either.”

Bruce nods, relieved. He still feels vaguely sick about what Lex suggested, wonders if there was something in his demeanor back then that would’ve given Wally the wrong idea. He doesn’t know.

“You know,” Oliver begins, the faint edges of a grin crossing his face. “It occurs to me that after the kind of day we’ve had—”


“—we deserve to get absolutely stinking drunk, if we want.”

“If we want,” Bruce concedes.

“I know a very nice little pub not that far from here where I believe we could indulge ourselves for a few hours.” Oliver stands up, smiling in earnest now. “And the proprietor is an old friend of mine. He’ll see to it we’re poured into the appropriate limousines and sent to our respective houses.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bruce says, although it’s been a long time since he’s felt the need to go drinking with Oliver. Still, if it will let him put off the inevitable confrontation with Clark for a little while longer, or if it will help him blight out Lex’s filthy insinuations, Bruce thinks maybe it’s not a bad thing to let go just this once.

“After you, Mr. Wayne.” Oliver waves a hand towards the door.

“Lay on, McQueen,” Bruce says with a grin, sliding a warm arm around Oliver’s shoulder. “And damned be him who first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’”


To Be Continued ...

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