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
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
“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
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
off his game. This isn’t going to be pretty.
you’d been reassigned to the medical beat, Clark.”
back and gives Wally a look that says “what’s with
him?” Wally grins half-heartedly and leans back on the
Maybe if he pretends to be asleep …
“You took a
stupid, unnecessary risk. You should’ve let Superman go in.”
feigning sleep isn’t going to work
“He was busy,”
Superman reaches a hand out to Bruce’s shoulder, but Batman
anticipates the move and steps aside. He always seems to know
someone’s going to touch him. Wally isn’t sure how he does it.
you weren’t there. Things got a little hairy in the
middle, and there were people in that building. Kids. I
any longer. Supes and Lantern were fighting six of those things,
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?”
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
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.”
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.
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
can make the World’s Greatest Superhero feel more inadequate than
“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
worried. He wonders what Bats would do if he just grabbed him by
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.”
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
grudgingly and go for beer.
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.”
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
kind of like blowing up a tin can with a nuclear warhead, and Wally has
a bad feeling Bruce’s reaction is personal.
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
there’s something more going on than a fractured wrist and a
less-than-perfect mission. He takes a deep breath and plunges
interrupting the argument that can only be headed for mutually-assured
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.
advantage of the momentary pause in conversation.
taking this personally.”
not. Just because I think--”
we’re sleeping together doesn’t give you the right to interfere with my
He hears a
strangled sound from Superman that might be a chuckle. The muscle
in Bruce’s jaw is flexing. “I’m not--”
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.
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
our personal lives and everything to do with being safe on the job.”
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
cock his head to one side at the stance, but he doesn’t say
They all know where Bruce picked that one up. The silence in the
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
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
like him. And Wally’s got a pretty good idea what’s bothering him.
Luthor’s president, Bruce is worried we’re one step closer to
the Justice Lords.” Clark’s head snaps up in surprise. “He
something’s going to happen—specifically, to me--and there won’t be
anything to stop what happened there from happening here.”
not to use the word “scared,” even though it’s true. Bruce is
never scared without a good reason.
for Bruce again, and this time anticipates the shift,
catching him by the shoulders. He squeezes, and Wally knows the
is probably just short of painful. It’s the only way Bruce is
listen to what they have to say.
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
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--”
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
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
been avoiding this conversation for a long time.
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
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.
and Barry’s dead, and when I’m gone Bart will take over. It’s the
things work in this business.” Wally tries not to see the way
looking at him, as if he’s said something unmentionable. They
talk a lot about death. It’s considered bad luck.
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
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
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.”
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.
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
managed to survive some of them.” He thinks of the one directly
Bruce’s heart, and his hand slides under the cape and presses against
the armour there. He knows Bruce understands what he’s doing,
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
Wally—not yet, anyway.
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
being one of the youngest members of the team. He still feels
has so much to learn.
right. You think you’re going to cross a line you can
never come back from, and that scares you. It scares me
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
in check, yet it didn’t work in the other world. Wally knows
both wondered why not.
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.
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
return in this relationship.
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
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
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
have this psychotic obsession with beating the crap out of each other
at Electronic Battleship. The point is we know
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 didn’t hear
about the puppy, but I’m with you on everything else. And he’s a
huge cover hog.”
something incoherent and looks back and forth between
the two of them. Bruce is wearing a “thanks a lot, Clark”
and Clark’s smiling like a little kid. Wally’s not sure who he’s
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
Shit, he really doesn’t need this. He needs morphine. Or
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
to decide what to do. They wait.
Wally slip the IV needle back into the shunt under the
skin. It’s only there to make sure he keeps up his calorie
quite frankly Wally would prefer a dozen cheeseburgers and a basket of
onion rings. And some of Alfred’s chocolate cake. And that
interrupts his rumbling stomach. “There’s nothing I can
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
your own advice.”
the last comment and pulls the cowl back up. He looks at
them evenly. “There’s something else.” Bruce’s tone is
Wally feels a cold shiver run down his spine. “We can’t talk
We’ll reconvene at the Cave in three hours. That should give me
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,”
Bruce is shaking his head. “You’re in no condition for this.”
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
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
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
arm around Bruce’s neck.
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
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.
been killed,” Bruce says, and there are hands touching
him all over, making sure he’s there and alive. Wally totally
need to do that. He’s done it himself with almost all of them at
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.
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.”
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
Which is why it’s important he goes to the Cave with the two of
He needs to know what’s going on, and he needs to hear it from
For better or worse, they’re in this together. Wally isn’t
let this be a solo act. No matter how much Bruce tries to go it
has an idea. “Are the cameras still off?”
Bruce is looking at him suspiciously.
“And the door
has a lock?”
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--”
totally do. How long? Really.”
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
“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
about all of this later, at the Cave, but for right now this is more
“Can you do
something about the lights?” Wally asks.
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
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
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
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,
hasn’t asked in a while. Still, J’onn’s mind is in a much more
place today, and he’s reluctant to leave.
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
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.
that he investigates, none of the room’s security features are on-line
and neither is Wally’s communicator. This doesn’t look good.
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.”
idea.” J’onn nods his approval. Diana’s a woman he would be
pleased to fight alongside any day. They move quickly towards the
“I saw the
Bat-plane in the hangar when I came in,” Diana says
conversationally, “but I haven’t seen Batman anywhere around. Has
“Not that I’m
aware of.” They step into the stainless steel tube that
will whisk them through the station. “But you know, Batman.
doesn’t always tell me when he’s here.”
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.
have to speak with Batman about it. Diana is certainly a
woman, and she is clearly interested. It might be exactly what
Batman will turn up where we least expect it. I wouldn’t worry
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
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
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
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
are weighted and keep poking into Wally’s legs as he tries to get
closer to Bruce.
suppose you could lose the cape,” Wally murmurs, his right arm growing
numb under Bruce’s neck.
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
be an invitation to Bruce’s tongue to explore. Wally has no
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
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
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.
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
time with Bats has made him more paranoid and less naïve than he
thought he could be. He isn’t sure it’s a change he’s entirely
about, but he can’t seem to go back.
least, I didn’t plan it that way, but it might turn out--”
Bruce, do you not have one
romantic bone in your body?”
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
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
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
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
“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.
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--”
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
get any information other than I was in the infirmary. You
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
were leaving the planet, did you?”
that’s exactly what happened because he tried to contact
Bruce as soon as they hit the station. Clark had offered to take
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.
spying on me now? That’s hardly a judicious use of League
“Bruce, are you
trying to fuck this up?”
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
masks are less a part of them. Sometimes Wally really hates being
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
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
to hit him and hug him. Wally’s finally starting to get why Dick
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
says, leaning his forehead against the mask. He wishes
he had both hands so he could peel back the cowl and touch his
He settles for kissing him softly. Once. There’s no
“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?”
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.
feels like heaven, and Wally turns his head and kisses the tips of
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
with and I don’t want to be responsible for you going off the deep end
if something happens. Okay?”
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?”
him again, firmly, eyes open, and he hopes Bruce can tell
this is only the beginning. Maybe they’re wrong for each other
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
that may be. Love just doesn’t come along that often. Not
Bruce whispers, and Wally knows it’s not something he says
often. He leans in and kisses him, lets Bruce hold him until he
like he might break.
to be all right. They have to be.
says. “Why don’t you explain to me how Clark knows you steal the
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
before he’s all the way through the door, and he reaches out to
identify the thoughts. Wally’s are like fireflies on heroine,
off every surface and not sticking to anything, and J’onn only catches
fleeting words: “shit,” “not now,” “interrupt,” “coffee.”
Wally’s mind is much like navigating a maze that keeps changing.
mentally for the other presence as the last layer of the
door slips behind him. Darker, sharper, and there’s a clear sign
says “keep out” and yet J’onn gets a series of impressions. A
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.
apologies. I feared something was wrong. All of the
security measures have been over-ridden.”
solidifies, and reaches for the door panel that will let Wonder
Woman enter. It doesn’t respond. Batman touches something
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.
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
Flash angry, although Batman has succeeded on occasion.
through the door, lasso ready in her hand. She looks from Batman
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
and takes it from him, completing the task in a moment, and then she’s
looking at him tenderly.
gravely injured?” Diana asks, setting a hand on Flash’s arm.
nothing. In fact, I’m just waiting for the doc to come by and
spring me from this joint.”
waiting in the dark.” It is merely an observation, but J’onn
knows they will interpret it as a question. Humans are always
for something beyond the surface of the situation. It’s part of
fascinates him about his colleagues. He has to be careful not to
too deeply when he scans. He’s learned humans react badly to
“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.”
simply an unscheduled security test?”
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
Batman and move to stand beside him. She lays a hand on his arm
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
through touch. He is not surprised when Batman moves away a
later. It’s not in his nature to allow such familiarities.
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
Batman about reciprocating her attention. He knows Batman does
think of such things unless they’re put to him directly.
“Yeah, Bats and
I were just shooting the breeze--”
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
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.”
Diana disappear into the corridor. Flash seems restless,
tapping his fingers against one thigh. J’onn approaches the bed,
that Wally is radiating more emotional energy than usual. He
sufficiently rested to return to duty?” J’onn inquires.
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
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
smile on his face, and J’onn can sense tension. It’s an unusual
emotion from Wally.
and decides there is no harm in revealing his thoughts on
the subject. Besides, it is possible Wally may be of some help in
Batman has found a suitable match.”
Wally’s voice is higher than usual.
Someone who is his equal in strength and commitment to the cause.”
You think that?”
grows brighter, and J’onn did not think it would be so
easy to convince Flash of the perfection of the match. This is
than he hoped for. It feels good to have an ally.
course. Diana is a remarkable woman. I believe they would
be good for each other.”
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?
I just--yeah, Bats and Diana. I guess that would probably work.”
“There is an
unmistakable attraction there.”
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
but perhaps he is mistaken. Human relationships are so complex
ever-changing, he reminds himself he must pay closer attention at all
The door slides
open and Dr. Emerson walks through with a grin. The corridor is
tell me you’re busting me outta this joint,” Wally pleads, looking
every bit like a young human.
seems to have noticed the resemblance as well since he grins
and produces a purple candy on a stick. “You’re a terrible
Flash. Worse than the kids I treated when I was a
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.
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
advise the doctor about providing sugary snacks to Flash. After
speaks with Batman. He reaches out with his mind and senses he’s
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
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
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?”
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
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
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
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
just being in this … thing with Wally. He’s not sure he’s ready
call it a relationship. He’s doing everything wrong, and he
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
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
Green eyes meet his in a rush of heat and gratitude.
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
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
gets Wally killed. He isn’t sure he’d survive that.
but you’re changing the subject. Diana? And don’t
think I’ve forgotten about Clark’s comment, either. You have a
talking to do, so you might as well start.”
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
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
back of his hand, even though the angle must be awkward with Wally’s
sling and the seatbelt and …
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
has. Maybe they all will when they hear what he knows, what he’s
seen. He closes his eyes.
Wally’s voice is full of alarm, and the fingers stroking his
hand are carving moon-shaped crevices in Bruce’s skin. He nods
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
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
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
she’ll be less conspicuous if she has an escort.”
be less conspicuous if she wore sackcloth the colour of the
walls. She’s an Amazon, and she’s gorgeous.”
frowns. He isn’t sure where Wally’s reaction is coming
“Diana’s a beautiful woman, yes, but this is work. It’s nothing
“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
are dark and heavy as the plane descends toward Gotham. “I’m
just think maybe you’re missing the bigger picture with Wonder
jealous, and Bruce isn’t sure how to feel about that. It’s …
unexpected. “I’m not interested in Diana.”
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
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
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
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.
Clark, are you going to tell me--”
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
pilots them through the soupy clouds towards Wayne Manor. There’s
blip on the radar screen that he knows is Clark. Nothing else is
supersonic in this kind of weather. Bruce reaches for the radio
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
disconcerting and he reaches out a quick hand to caress Wally’s
The green eyes are pleased and confused all at once, and Bruce pulls
back to concentrate on flying as the rain ripples down the
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.
down the stairs to the Cave after changing out of his
uniform. Alfred had given him a pair of Bruce’s sweatpants to
an over-sized navy t-shirt with the Wayne Enterprises logo. He
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
extra clothes in, Wally puts them on anyway. Because they’re
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.”
supposed to mean?” Wally can hear Bruce moving around in
the Cave. It sounds like he’s still wearing the cape.
heavy swish of fabric and the sound of a computer keyboard being tapped.
flirting for months, Bruce.”
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.
‘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,
welcome,” he says brightly.
Wally?” Wally almost goes through the roof as Alfred appears
right behind him carrying a tray of sandwiches.
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
carefully doesn’t say anything about the fact that he’s caught Wally
at the tray. “Can I help you with that?”
him with a polite look. “I have one job in this
household, and I intend to keep it. I shall carry the tray, and
shall consume the food. Understood?”
Wally grabs a sandwich, and runs down the rest of the stairs.
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.”
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
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.
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.
he doesn’t want to. He really doesn’t want to.
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
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
them well, and Bruce wonders if a “Property of Wayne Enterprises” shirt
would be going too far. Probably, but he likes the idea
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
explain what that was on the Watchtower. Wally was right.
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
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
smile, that beautiful mouth. Bruce isn’t sure why he brought
here. He didn’t want to involve him in this. What Bruce
knows is his
burden to bear. His and Clark’s.
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
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. 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.”
looking at him with concern, but there’s trust there too.
Bruce knows there isn’t anyone else he could share this with.
Dick, and he just isn’t ready to have this conversation with him
He still has trouble remembering Dick’s not a kid. He looks at
Sometimes he has trouble remembering Wally’s not either. Bruce
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
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
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.”
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
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
“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
wrong. We don’t kill. We never have. We’re not going
“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?”
Clark knows it’s true. Luthor’s vile, but Clark knows
nothing could make him forsake his values. He’s had difficult
to make before. He’s always stuck to his beliefs.
understand,” Bruce says quietly.
“Then make me
understand, Bruce. Tell me why you’re so sure this is what our
future looks like.”
happened in all the timelines I’ve checked.”
in the Cave. Clark’s always known Bruce was obsessive
about things, but this is … insane. He rubs at his eyes and tries
make sense of what Bruce is saying. He doesn’t want to believe it.
many?” Wally’s voice is subdued. He’s stopped swinging his
asks, uncertain of what he means.
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
Wally into his life.
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,
it doesn’t belong there. Or maybe it does. Clark won’t know
has all the details, and he’s never known Bruce to paint a grimmer
picture than necessary.
Bruce. You need to tell us exactly what happened in those other
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
that when this is done.
“You want a
list?” Bruce asks.
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
“In at least
three scenarios, Jonathan and Martha Kent are the catalyst.”
impossible,” Clark says.
and two, Smallville is Ground Zero for a nuclear explosion that wipes
Kansas and half the Midwest off the map.”
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
scotch, and two shot glasses. He pours a glass and hands it to
“I don’t need
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
him back the glass. He’ll listen. He’ll hate it, but he’ll
and Bruce wishes he could spare Clark having to think about these
things, but he can’t. Not any more. He pours two more
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,
will. Bruce wishes he didn’t, but he will.
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
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.
drink sits there between them, and Clark reaches for it.
Two large fingers wrap around it, ready. Bruce’s eyes never leave
“He does it to
taunt you because he thinks you can’t touch him. There’s no proof
that he’s involved.”
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
of what’s happening. His hands are torn and bloody from trying to
loosen the rope. His tongue has been bitten through.”
whispers. He drinks his shot.
says, and he sounds like a lost little boy.
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
hung there slowly suffocating, he watched your mother being brutally
raped and beaten. There’s absolutely nothing that links it to
but we know he set it up.”
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
eyes, Clark,” Bruce says. “You won’t hurt the floor, and you
won’t hurt me.”
tortured scream from Clark’s throat, a flare of red, and
Bruce looks away as the concrete melts into a liquid blur. He
his legs apart, moves a hand to rest on the back of Clark’s neck, and
lets him have this moment.
exactly how he feels.
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
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.
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
living in Smallville. At least for now.
Three out of
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.
nightmares left to go.
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,
he knows he’s there.
And when he’s
the silence. “Are they all like that? I mean, are they all
that bad? ‘Cause, fuck, Bruce, that was bad.”
all bad. Clark’s right--we don’t kill under normal
circumstances. Even in the face of trauma. But there are things
can push the most moral person to commit murder.”
wouldn’t kill anybody,” Wally says, and Clark hears his shoes
hit the concrete. “He’s … Superman. You’ve always said he
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.
America’s friend. He’s so trustworthy, he doesn’t even need a
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
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.
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
Clark as if he expected something like this to happen.
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.
want to do this. Let him go.”
arm is closest to Clark’s body and Wally can’t touch
him without hurting himself. Badly. He swings awkwardly
huge hand like a fish on a hook.
Bruce’s point, Wally,” Clark says evenly, watching Bruce
beginning to feel the lack of oxygen. His training is the only
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
Bruce—he’d feel the snap of his windpipe, but probably nothing
He’d be dead instantly with enough force.
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
going to hurt yourself doing that, Wally. Invulnerable, remember?”
where Bruce keeps the kryptonite. He knows he has it for
occasions just like this. Clark gave it to him, after all.
Bruce wouldn’t have found a supply of it anyway. It’s just that
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
wonders why Bruce doesn’t reach out to him. There are at least
nerve strike techniques that might slow him down long enough to reach
what it means that Bruce is letting him do this. That Bruce
trusts him this much. Too much.
is hoarse and desperate, and he’s hitting at Clark’s body
wherever he can reach. “You’re going to kill him!
Please.” The last word is almost a sob, and Clark remembers
sleeping together now. This is more than friendship being crushed
under his hand. More than life itself about to be snuffed out.
are closing. “Boy scout,” he whispers, and his lips twist up into
Deadliest Boy Scout,” Clark agrees, and lets him go. Bruce
slumps back against the wall, drawing in deep uneven breaths.
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
puts his good arm around Bruce’s shoulders.
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
Clark’s fingers are visible on the skin. Bruce reaches up and
Wally’s head to his shoulder, whispers in his ear.
okay. He wouldn’t have done it.” The two of them are
hard, looking small and fragile huddled together on the floor.
sits back in the leather chair and drops his head into his hands.
isn’t as sure as Bruce seems to be. He isn’t sure at all, and it
“You can’t ever
forget what I’m capable of.” Clark’s own heart is pounding loud
enough to shake his concentration.
don’t.” The answering voice is hoarse. Clark reaches
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
forth between them as if they’re insane, and Clark thinks maybe they
Remind me never to play chicken with you two,” Wally says.
Clark can hear his heart beating so fast it sounds like one continuous
“Who says we
meet Clark’s, and neither of them looks away. They’ve
always been there for each other. The check to one another’s
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
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.
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
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
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
from where he kicked Clark’s thigh. A broken toe was not on his
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
will forgive him. It just means they’ll have more to watch next
Bruce and Clark are both looking at him, and he wonders if he
missed something important. He shakes his head and tries a
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
something to happen.
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
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
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
says, and it comes out louder than he intended. “No. I
think we can do without the details.” Bruce’s hand freezes in
hair for a moment, and then goes back to stroking his neck gently.
scenario involves losing someone we care about, and it all ties
back to Luthor. Either he discovers our identities, chooses to
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
we end up looking like we’re involved somehow.”
ridiculous,” Wally says. “No one would believe the Justice League
would hurt its own members.”
people are superstitious and afraid, and Luthor is
charismatic and believable. In every scenario, we come out
like the bad guys--”
“And then we
become the bad guys trying to prove him wrong,” Clark finishes.
Justice Lords, Justice Legion, Avenging Justice. ‘A rose by
any other name’.” Bruce swirls the brandy in the bottom of his
letting the firelight catch it. “Clark loses Lois, and they call
domestic abuse.” Wally glances across the room to see how Clark
reacts. He’s in control of himself again, although the arm of the
chair might be slightly thinner before the evening is done.
times?” Clark asks, staring into his orange juice.
And none of them was pleasant.”
cringes. He doesn’t want to know how Bruce remembers all of
this. The statistics, the numbers. Somewhere in the back of
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
He suspects all the pie graphs are red. He shivers, and Bruce’s
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.
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.”
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
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?”
his head. “I don’t know, Clark. I honestly don’t
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
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.”
at Bruce and it’s very clear he needs Bruce to know
that. They’re friends. Clark wouldn’t hurt him, even though
dangled him from his hand and watched him struggle to breathe.
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
for all of us. We try to separate ourselves from the job.
death every day, and we can’t always stop it. But they’re
It’s different when it’s family. When it’s the people we
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
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.
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
raised eyebrow from Alfred. He settles for stirring up the fire
the poker, and letting Alfred busy himself with putting out the
coffee. Wally knows it’s Alfred’s subtle way of telling them to
drinking. He also knows he’ll be the only one using the mugs.
“Have Tim and
Dick checked in?”
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.”
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
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
matter anymore. Clark’s face has a bleached look, as if all the
has drained out of it. He’s topping up his orange juice with
and the drink has the color of watery Kool-aid. Clark’s going to
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.
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
all of their deaths, seen pictures. I have enough to fuel my
nightmares for many years to come.”
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
Bruce puts the poker back in its stand. “I mean, there was no me in the Justice Lords’
Flash. I didn’t
really think it was that big a deal, but … maybe it’s important.”
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
can’t tell the difference. Bruce leans against the fireplace and
his head on folded arms while the fire crackles and spits.
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
in a good way. Jeez, why can’t he ever win something useful?
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.
complex ways which I’m not going to go into.”
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?”
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
want him on missions. How often do they really need someone who
run on water or create a tornado on the spot? He’s got a
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
Wally leans into it. He’s missed Bruce this past month, in ways
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.”
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
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,
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
like to lose someone you care about. I can’t bring myself to stop
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
We let him set the rules.”
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.
nothing that says that’s going to happen here,” Wally
insists. “There’ve got to be parallel worlds where these things
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,
they always seem to happen. Somebody dies and then the world goes
“But you and
Clark can hold it together. You’ve got Kryptonite—sorry, Clark—”
shouldn’t be that difficult for you to stop each other.”
theory?” Wally thinks forty-seven scenarios are more than
“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
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
most annoying spirit you’ve ever known, and—”
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
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
None of us would want that. Even if Luthor does deserve to be
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
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
his eyes. So can Clark.
Bruce says. It isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t exactly feel like the
too,” Wally adds, laying his hand on top of theirs. “Just in case
I actually survive.”
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
probably really not in any shape to fly, although alcohol doesn’t
affect him the way it does other people. Human beings.
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
before he knew Clark. Now there’s no one Bruce would rather have
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
doubt, he’ll be fine in a day or two.
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
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.
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
up from everything. I’m not running away.”
slides his arms around Wally’s back and kisses him back,
harder. The familiar flare of heat is there, and Bruce wonders if
always going to be like this, like someone turned on a solar
There’s a slight cough behind them, and they pull apart, but Bruce
keeps his hands on Wally’s waist.
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
Bruce whispers, and finally lets him go. There’s no longer
any question of where anybody’s sleeping. Clark’s hair flutters
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
is fine. Thanks for the bed, by the way.”
the least I could do, Clark, considering.” Bruce leans
against the wall beside the guest room. He thinks it’s funny that
month ago, he was trying to sneak into this room to find Wally.
didn’t want to drag you two into this.” There’s a hand on his
shoulder, and Bruce looks up into familiar eyes.
friends are for, Bruce. I keep trying to tell you that.
One of these years, maybe it’ll sink in.” The smile is genuine
Bruce wonders how Clark can still smile like that given everything he’s
friends for telling you your worst nightmares?”
They’re also for stopping you from making mistakes you’ll regret.
I meant what I said, Bruce.”
I. Do you want to know in how many other timelines we made
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
the possibility. Why did he let him leave tonight? Anything
“Bruce, do you
want some advice?” Clark’s squeezing his shoulder enough to snap him
out of his thoughts.
to give it to me whether I want it or not.”
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?”
says. He meets Bruce’s eyes. “If you love him, tell
him. Don’t wait. I know it’s difficult for you--” Bruce’s
away. He hates it when Clark does this. “—but he needs to know,
you need to say it. It’s not that hard.”
“Don’t tell me
what’s hard, Clark. You don’t know--”
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
protect you. Because I care about you, and I always will.”
slide around him in a tight hug, and Bruce gives in
because there’s nothing else he can do and Clark knows it. He
Clark awkwardly on the shoulder. Bruce isn’t sure how Clark
survive in this occupation sometimes.
“It won’t kill
you to say it, Bruce.”
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
swell, Clark. Now let me go before I’m forced to get the
him once more and lets him go. “He deserves better than that, you
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.
always meant more to him, and he doesn’t get why everyone seems to need
to hear things from
him. The last people he
loved ended up bleeding to death in front of him. He doesn’t know
he’s ever said it to Dick. It seems like Dick knows—even if he
say it. Maybe he’ll have to rethink that. And what he’s
going to say
to Wally. Who probably loves him too.
Bruce.” Clark pushes open the door to the guest room.
“Whatever happens, you’re not alone in this. Remember that.”
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
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
wash him clean. He doesn’t want to think about dead parents and
bruises and timelines where they die and kill and bleed 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
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
going to heal. All Wally can do is hope to make it better.
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
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,
Bruce crosses a line Wally never believed he could cross. For
Because he died.
And that means
Bruce loves him.
Bruce loves him.
back towards Gotham, picking up speed as he runs.
remember falling asleep, but he must have because the
shadows in the room have shifted, and the door is whispering
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
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,
Bruce thinks there’s something wrong with that. He should know
things. God knows he wants to.
glimpses of pale flesh stretching in the lightning
flashes. He’s left one curtain hanging ajar exactly for this
so he can watch Wally move in the eye-blinks of light from
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
naked under the covers beside him, and his skin is cool
and damp and smells like rain. Bruce turns over and wraps his
around him, burying his face against Wally’s neck and breathing him in.
supposed to be sleeping,” Wally whispers, curling closer.
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
him. It’s slow and wet and Bruce can taste powdered sugar and
chocolate and cappuccino. He’s pretty sure Wally hit some
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.
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
pads of his fingers.
snickers. “Yeah, he looked primed to do that when I left.
it’s a lot better than having him choke off your air supply.”
tone shifts, and Bruce kisses the corners of his mouth. He wants
to smile again.
“He needed to
know. He needed us to know what he could do.”
jeez, Bruce, I thought he was going to--”
actually hurt me. I’m pretty sure of that.”
sure. That’s comforting.” Wally’s hands slide over Bruce’s
back. He’s using both hands now, and Bruce reaches for his
wrist and caresses it gently, placing a kiss on the pulse point.
“Anything else I should know?”
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
whispers. “Are you okay?”
fine. I’m glad you’re here,” he says, and kisses Wally
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
damp smell of sweat and rain, and thunder rolling in the
Hair tickles Bruce’s flesh, lightning flashes on green eyes, and
fingers stroke and tease and comfort in the most pleasant ways.
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
groans and stretches and sits up yawning.
Master Wally,” Alfred says.
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.
bidding farewell to Master Clark. He’s returning to
Metropolis. I’ve put on a pot of French Roast for you, and there
muffins in the oven.” Alfred seems to sense his discomfort, and
at him. “You needn’t feel embarrassed, Master Wally. I’ve
share of young men in this household. There isn’t anything that
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
has to ask anyway, even though he knows Alfred will never change.
not. I can call you Master Wallace if you prefer.” Wally
cringes. Wallace Rudolph West. Yeah, there’s a good reason
fine. I’m just not used to this. My apartment would fit
in Bruce’s bathroom. In Central City, there’s just me, The
and a couple of dead houseplants.”
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
sense to him. And the little guy’s fast. Really fast.
if it’s the cappuccino he’s been sharing with him. Maybe he ought
talk to the vet about that.
be spending more time here then.”
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
gets in trouble for going through people’s things. Probably
hard to get upset at Alfred for taking care of everyone.
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.”
good push is exactly what he needs.” Alfred checks his
watch. “The muffins should be just ready. You have time for
shower, and I do mean quick. I’ll keep Master Bruce downstairs,
don’t get distracted.” Wally blushes. He does not want to
these discussions with Alfred. It’s worse than when Barry tried
talk to him when he was a kid. “I’ll expect you downstairs
disappears silently into the hall. Wally heads for the
bathroom. No point keeping hot muffins waiting. Or Bruce.
UPDATE - Sept. 2
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
“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
“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
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,
“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
“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
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
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.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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,
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
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 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
“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
“Bring it up, Jeeves. I’m going to the ball.”
“Indeed, Cinderella,” a dry voice returns. “I shall deliver your
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
“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
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
“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
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice announces. “Your President, Lex
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
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
“Diana Prince, this is Dr. Chase Meridian. Chase, this is my
“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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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.
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.”
“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
“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
“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.
“What do you mean?” Clark steps forward, his face immediately darkening
“Exactly what I said. He knows, and right now he’s talking to
“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.
“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.”
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
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
“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
“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.
“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
“I need you on the balcony. A diversion—”
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—”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“But at what cost?”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
“Fuck, Bruce,” he shouts to the star-spotted sky.
“Why can’t this be simple? I love you, you stupid, fucking bastard. I
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
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?”
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.”
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.
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
“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?”
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
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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
“If you’re mad at me, be mad at me. Don’t hurt yourself.”
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.”
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
“What, Bruce? What exactly am I?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“What are you doing here?” Bruce asks as Dick climbs through the window
and closes it.
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
Dick shrugs, one shoulder moving a little slower than the other. “I’ll
live to fight another day. That’s what counts, right?”
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.
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.
“Fine like you’re fine?”
can’t miss the implication. He shakes his head. “No. He’s already safe
at home, tucked in bed, and not even bruised. Promise.”
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.”
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
“I hurt him.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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
Touché, Bruce thinks. But at least someone’s happy. He politely
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
“You want to tell me what happened?” Dick asks finally.
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
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?”
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.” 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.
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
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.
“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
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
“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
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly describe it like—”
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
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
… on second thought, Dick’s sure they’ll manage fine on their
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.
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
“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.”
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?”
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?”
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?”
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.”
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
“That tells me nothing about his physical condition.”
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
“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,
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
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
“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
“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.”
.” 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
“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
“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.
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
“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
“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. 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
“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
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
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,
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
“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 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.
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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.
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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?”
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
“Three days, small apartment. Not the best combination,” Wally
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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.
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.”
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.”
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
“So,” Ollie says, pushing his Green Arrow cap back on his head. “Where
do you need me to be?”
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
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
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.
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
sidles up to him, sandwich in one hand, blue eyes shining behind the
domino mask. “So, what’s got your cape in a twist?”
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
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—”
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
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
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
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
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
“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.
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.
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.”
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
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
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.
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
, it says. In his ear, Bruce hears Lex get to the point
and Bruce realizes why Oliver’s on the other line.
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
would have no choice but to report your companies’ lack of cooperation
with a federal initiative designed to address the citizenry’s
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?”
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.”
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?”
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?”
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,
“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
for you to not
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.”
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.
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
“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?”
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?”
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
“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.”
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.
“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?”
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.”
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?”
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
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.”
darkens the drapes. Before he’s finished pulling the door shut, he can
hear Wally’s quiet even breathing as he drifts into sleep.
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.
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
“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.”
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?”
some nervous twittering from the audience, but not much. Bruce is
pleased to see that not everyone’s taking Luthor at face-value.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
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?”
Bruce is aware of the number of cameras and microphones pointed in
their direction, and he wishes they could handle this differently.
“Well, do we? That doesn’t sit right with me, and—”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
“It wasn’t particularly secret, Dick,” Bruce says. “It’s listed in the
annual financial report.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
“Wait, wait. Alfred’s mad at you? What on earth did you do?”
“If Diana isn’t already mad at me, she probably soon will be, and then
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.”
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.
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.”
They sit in silence for awhile until there’s a rap at the door.
in,” Bruce says. He’s not at all surprised to see Luthor enter, sans
entourage. He crosses the room and pours himself a scotch.
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.”
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
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?”
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?”
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.”
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?”
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
“Get out of my office, Lex,” Bruce says. “Now. Before I do something I
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
“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.
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?”
“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.”
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—”
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,
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.
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
“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.
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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