Wally's head is pounding when he wakes up. Man, it feels like leprechauns with jackhammers have been having a St. Patrick's Day Parade in his skull, and he can't seem to get coordinated enough to deal with opening his eyes and getting out of bed at the same time. Which is how he ends up stumbling blearily into the bathroom to take care of business.
Splashing water on his face makes him feel wet, but not any more awake. He's debating between going back to bed or stepping straight into the shower when he realizes the pounding is really, really loud, and possibly not inside his head at all.
"Hang on a sec," he calls, and the pounding stops. Oh, so much better. His head's only throbbing a little, but he figures it's his body's way of telling him to just say no to drugs, Hot Toddies, and all things Luthor. Last night seems like a bad dream; Wally wishes that's all it was, but no such luck. The bite marks and scratches are gone—thank you, speedster metabolism—but the memory of feeling out of control and desperately horny is still fresh.
Wally drags on a white t-shirt over his Spiderman sleep pants and pads barefoot to the door. The microwave clock tells him it's almost noon, and okay, he overslept, but it wasn't like he didn't have a good excuse. Besides, no one was expecting him to be anywhere in particular today. He and Bruce aren't in the habit of checking in daily with one another, but considering Wally was expected back at the manor last night and didn't show … Wally isn't sure he's ready to have this conversation with Bruce. Not without a shower and caffeine at least.
Wally opens the door. He can't help the expression of surprise that washes over his face. Filling up the narrow hallway are Lex Luthor, complete with security detail, and Georgie, from down the hall. She's got her cane and a container of what smells like banana bread—oh, man, Wally loves her banana bread—and no one looks happy.
"Hey, everybody. What's up?" Wally's going for casual, but it comes out sounding kind of strangled. He clears his throat. "Everything okay?"
"You weren't answering your door," Luthor says with strained politeness. "I was concerned after last night—"
"He was ready to have his goons break the door down," Georgie says.
"Mrs. Bantle is over-stating—"
"Ms. Bantle," she snaps. "I told him you sometimes wear ear plugs so you can sleep during the day, but I suspect this one's used to getting his own way all the time."
She pokes a finger at Luthor's lapel. The security guys look twitchy, and Wally really hopes he isn't about to have a diplomatic incident in his hallway. That is so not how he wanted to start his day.
Luthor seems to be struggling to maintain his usual calm. "I simply wanted to make sure Wally was feeling—"
"I'm fine. Georgie, President Luthor is a—um—he's a—" Wally stops, uncertain how to finish. Luthor's not a friend, or a colleague, or even someone Wally voted for, and he doesn't think there's a name for someone you've had sort of not-entirely-consensual groping with. At least, nothing he'd share in mixed company.
"An associate," Luthor supplies smoothly, to which Georgie harrumphs loudly. God, Wally loves her as if she were his own grandma. She's the absolute best.
"Associate," she repeats, suspiciously. "Well, I didn't vote for you."
"That wounds me deeply," Luthor manages with a straight face, and Wally can see Georgie's cane is about ready to land on Luthor's instep. It's likely the security goons would take exception to that.
"Georgie, is that banana bread?" Wally swoops in, taking the offered container. He props up the corner of the lid, and breathes deeply. It smells glorious.
"I baked it 'specially for you." Georgie narrows her eyes at Luthor. "It isn't for company."
"I'll save it for later then," Wally says, stepping back so he can show Luthor in. The guards make no move to join them. Georgie doesn't appear to be going anywhere either, but before Wally can say anything, Luthor wisely suggests his security detail wait downstairs.
"Make yourself at home, Mr. President. I'll be right there." Wally gives Georgie a quick hug. She's tiny, but solid, and Wally's grateful she's on his side. "Thanks for looking after me."
There's a tug at his arm as he turns to follow Luthor inside. He's not keen on letting the President wander around the apartment on his own, plus the Spinster doesn't really like strangers.
"I don't like that one," Georgie whispers, loudly enough Luthor probably hears her anyway.
"He won't be here long. It's sort of work-related."
Wally hopes the meaningful look is enough to suggest he can't talk about it. Georgie's never come right out and said she knows he's The Flash, but she's pretty sharp. She always knows who the murderer is in old movies long before he figures it out.
"I don't trust him. He smiles too much."
"It's work stuff. That's all."
"Does he know that?" Georgie asks, concern evident in her face.
A chill goes down Wally's spine. Last night's drug-induced make-out session was awkward and embarrassing, but he hasn't given much thought to the fact Luthor seems to have a thing for him, drugged or not. A focused, kind of obsessed sort of thing.
He's not afraid of Luthor, but maybe he needs to be a little more careful about the message he's sending. Wally looks down at his sleep pants and thin t-shirt, tries to tame his sleep-tousled red hair, and thinks it's probably past time to start paying closer attention to who's paying attention to him.
"I'll be fine, Georgie. I can take care of myself."
It feels like a half-truth this morning after needing Dick and Superman to pull him out of last night's fiasco. He'd like to think he would've been able to stop Luthor before things got completely out of hand. What he's not as certain about is whether he would've wanted to stop Luthor. He was already having a hard time not giving in to the physical urges by the time Dick showed up, and Luthor wasn't covered with bites and hickeys because Wally was doing such a great job resisting. It was the drugs, he tells himself again, but it's beginning to sound like a hollow refrain.
"I like the dark-haired one much better. The Wayne fella." Wally's trying hard to keep from grinning when Georgie squeezes his arm. "Don't tell him I said that. He'll think I've gone soft."
"I won't tell him," Wally promises, ridiculously pleased Georgie's warming up to Bruce. He knew she would. "And please don't worry. I know you're right down the hall if I need you."
"I'm not moving from this spot till that one slithers back where he came from."
Wally sees the planted feet, the cane clutched in a tight fist, and knows better than to waste time arguing. Instead, he bends down and kisses her cheek before stepping back into his apartment.
Wally isn't used to having people over. Even Bruce doesn't spend much time here. Now Wally's got the President of the United States in his living room, and he's wondering if he should be throwing something over the couch before Luthor sits on it. He has no idea when he vacuumed last. What if Luthor wants to use the bathroom? He wonders if he could do a super-quick clean-up without drawing too much attention. Probably not.
"Can I get you a coffee or something?" Wally asks, playing for time. "Or juice? I think I might have some OJ left in the fridge."
"No thanks," Luthor says pleasantly enough from where he's looking out the window. He's making a slow careful circuit of the main apartment area, as if he's interested in seeing how Wally lives. He doesn't seem in any hurry, and Wally has no idea what this means. Should he be apologizing? Is he supposed to wait until Luthor says something?
"Are you feeling better?" Wally asks, aware of all the things he's not saying. "I mean, you're here, so I assume you're okay, the doctors let you go home and everything, but—um, are you feeling better?"
"Much better, thank you."
Luthor finishes his tour of the living room, coming to a stop in front of Wally. He's a little shorter than Wally, but broad through the shoulders. Strong. There's a dark bruise visible above his shirt collar, and Wally can kind of remember putting it there. He feels the heat creeping into his face. God, he hates that he blushes so readily.
"I wanted to apologize for what happened last night," Luthor says, laying a hand on Wally's arm. There's a small flare of heat where Luthor is touching him, and his throat has suddenly gone dry. It must be a leftover reaction from the drugs; there's no other explanation for it.
"It wasn't your fault," Wally says, voice rough. He clears his throat. "You didn't know the brandy was drugged."
"Everyone on my staff is being thoroughly questioned. We'll find who's responsible, and they'll be dealt with accordingly." Luthor speaks with such conviction, Wally believes him. He wouldn't want to be the person on the receiving end of Luthor's wrath. "Even if neither of us was at fault, I can't help but feel at least partly responsible."
Luthor takes a half-step closer, and Wally can't breathe. "Shouldn't I? I haven't made any secret of the fact I find you attractive. Obviously someone sought to exploit that attraction as a weakness. I'm sorry it happened that way. I would've much preferred different circumstances for our first kiss."
"I'm sorry too," Wally says, then realizes how that sounds. "I mean, none of it should have happened like that. Or at all."
Wally knows his cheeks are flaming now. There's a fondness in Luthor's eyes that was there last night when he told Wally how attractive it was that he still blushed. He licks his lips, but has no idea what to say. Luthor's eyes drop to his mouth, and Wally swallows, suddenly self-conscious. He's not used to this level of scrutiny from anyone other than Bruce.
Wally takes a step back, tripping over his own coffee table and bumping into the lamp, which rattles but doesn't fall. Luthor catches him with a steadying hand, and they're suddenly closer than they were before. Wally tries to keep his breathing even, but he's sure Luthor must be able to hear his jackrabbitting heart. What the hell's wrong with him?
"I appreciate you coming by, but it wasn't necessary, Mr. President. As you can see, I'm fine. No harm done."
"Wally, I think we're beyond the formalities at this point. It's Lex. I insist."
Wally smiles politely. "I know you're extremely busy. I don't want to hold you up if you need to go."
"I'm making you uncomfortable," Luthor says, smile slipping. "That wasn't my intention. I simply wanted to check if you were alright."
"I really am fine."
"I can see that." Luthor steps back, but his gaze sweeps over Wally from head to toe. "I would imagine with your ability to heal, there's not a mark on you."
Wally nods, watching as Luthor presses idly at the bruise above his collar. Wally starts to apologize again, but Luthor waves it away. "There are worse things than a few reminders of your mouth on my skin."
There isn't anything Wally can say to that, but it turns out he doesn't have to. There are two quick thumps on the door, and Wally can hear Georgie calling out in a panicked voice. Wally's on the move before he can think.
Oliver wakes up in a strange bedroom wearing only his boxers.
"Aw, fuck," he says to the ceiling. He's too old for this kind of thing.
He tries to piece together what happened, but he's not certain if the part with the monkeys was reality or some kind of fucked-up dream.
He remembers going to the bar with Bruce and drinking. A lot. Then he was waking up in the back of a behemoth of a vehicle with Bruce standing over him, every cell in his body burning, his heart pulsating like a star about to go supernova. He's pretty sure Bruce stuck one of those foot-long needles in his chest, the kind they use to bring back dead people, and Ollie thinks that's really not fair. He wasn't dead, not even mostly dead, just passed out. He would've been happy to stay that way, pleasantly drunk and oblivious, but Bruce is the biggest party-pooper in the world. Of course he had to drag them into saving the world on their way home from the bar.
Everything after that is a little sketchy. He thinks Dick and Roy were there, but so were Superman, Batman, and Robin. And monkeys. There were definitely monkeys, screeching and throwing stuff, which Ollie sincerely hopes was not shit, although that might explain why he doesn't have any clothes.
He struggles to sit up, kicking off the suffocating puffiness of a maroon duvet. There's a glass of water and a couple of painkillers on the mahogany bedside table. He takes them without even caring where they came from.
Now that he's sort of upright, Ollie's got the lay of the land. The room he's in is massive. There are windows that stretch the distance from floor to ceiling, and the king-sized bed he's lying in looks small in the vast space.
"Over-compensation and gothic architecture. Welcome to Wayne Manor," he says to himself.
Ollie spots his suit from the day before hanging neatly on a wooden valet stand. It looks like it's been freshly pressed. Beside it is a pile of folded clothes – jeans, a black t-shirt, a crisp green button down. Socks. A package of new boxers, sealed in plastic. Oliver can tell Alfred's had a hand in this. If it had been Bruce, his clothes would've been either still on his body or left in a ball with a bitchy note to meet him in the Cave.
Instead Oliver decides he's got time for a shower—a long, hot shower. Maybe then he'll get dressed and see if there's anything for breakfast. The clothes are probably Bruce's, so they'll fit well enough, although he might have to cuff the pants. That'll be annoying.
Since Bruce isn't already pounding on his door, Oliver figures chances are good the world can do without him for a while. He's in no rush to butt horns with reality yet.
When Bruce crests the top of the fifth flight of stairs in front of Wally's apartment, he's not at all surprised to find an elderly woman stationed near Wally's door. He's maybe a little surprised she doesn't have a tumbler held to the wood so she can hear what's going on inside.
"Ms. Bantle," he says with a nod of acknowledgement.
"Mr. Wayne." She glances at the door, clearly unhappy. "He's not alone."
"I assumed as much, given the armored limousine and the security detail downstairs. Has President Luthor been here long?"
"Too long, if you ask me. I don't like him."
Bruce's smile is warm. "You're an excellent judge of character."
Georgie gestures toward the closed door with her cane. "Aren't you going to interrupt?"
"I can wait."
"You sure you want to do that?"
Bruce looks at her shrewdly. "Why?"
"Because the way Luthor looks at our boy, well, I don't think his intentions are entirely pure." She's frowning as she peers at the door, and Bruce wonders what she's seen that makes her mistrust Luthor. He doesn't disagree with her. He knows Luthor has a personal agenda that includes Wally, and the thought of Luthor putting his hands on Wally makes something in him turn cold.
"Wally's a grown man who can take care of himself," Bruce says because right now it's the only thing stopping him from kicking the door in.
"Ha! I've heard that before." Georgie shakes her head. "He's a broken record on that topic. Now he's got you buying into the party line."
"I've been accused of treating him like a damsel in distress. He doesn't like being rescued."
Every ounce of Bruce's self-control is being tested, but he knows if he pushes too hard he's going to lose Wally. That much has been made painfully clear, and he isn't prepared to take the chance. He doesn't want to go back to the way things were. Before Wally. Before he opened himself up again. He's not sure he could go back even if he tried.
"That doesn't mean he doesn't need rescuing sometimes, if only from himself. No matter what anyone says, we all want someone who cares enough to come when we're in trouble."
"He thinks I don't trust him to do his job."
She supplies the implied, "But?"
"But I worry about him. Not because I don't think he's capable." Bruce finds his voice dropping to a whisper. He sincerely hopes Georgie isn't hard of hearing because he isn't prepared to shout out his feelings. "I—I care about him a great deal."
She's obviously pleased with his answer, and she seems to understand. "That boy's too nice to everybody. Too trusting. Some men will take advantage of that."
"I know," Bruce says darkly, staring at the closed door and wishing for Clark's x-ray vision.
"For a while I thought you might be one of them," Georgie admits, looking Bruce square in the eye, which is a challenge given she's at least a foot shorter than he is. He doesn't look away.
A smile shapes her lips. "I see how hard you try for him. People don't try that hard if it isn't real."
"Do you think he knows?"
"He knows," she says, "but he'll want to hear it anyway."
Bruce closes his eyes with a sigh. "That part is considerably more difficult."
Georgie studies him for a minute, then reaches up to lay one of her wrinkled hands on his arm. "Are you in the same line of work as Wally?"
"I'm not a mechanic, if that's what you're asking." She stares at him as if he's stupid, and Bruce relents. It seems as if everyone knows their secrets, so what's one more? "But we do work together. Often."
She seems to be gauging the breadth of his shoulders, the broad heft of his thighs. Satisfied, she nods. "Then you must be a brave man who's used to facing his fears."
"Some fears are easier to face."
There's the faint sound of furniture shifting, as if something's been knocked over. Bruce stops breathing, every muscle tensing. He listens. All he needs is a sign Wally's in trouble, and he'll be through the door in an instant, but … there's only silence from inside. The soft cadence of voices. Bruce strains to hear what they're saying. What is taking them so long?
"Oh, oh, my heart!" Georgie exclaims suddenly and loudly, one hand clutching at her chest, the other banging the end of her cane against the door. Then she slumps heavily against Bruce, giving him just enough time to steady her before the door is flung open.
"Georgie, are you okay? Bruce? When did you—never mind, I'm glad you're here."
The way Wally's hand curls automatically around the back of Bruce's neck, fingers tangling in his hair, sends a warm thrill through him. It's almost enough to ward off the chill from Luthor standing forgotten in the doorway, looking entirely too comfortable in Wally's space.
"Is it bad? Where are your pills?" Wally only has eyes for the petite gray-haired woman in front of him, rubbing idly at her chest.
"Oh, it's my angina acting up again," she says, patting Wally on the cheek. "Be a dear and run get my pills, okay?"
"You're supposed to keep them with you, Georgie," Wally admonishes, but he's already jogging down the hall. "Bruce?"
"I've got her," Bruce says. Georgie's no more having an angina attack than he is, but Bruce isn't about to point that out. Instead, he lets her use him for support, and wonders what sort of thank you gift would be considered appropriate under the circumstances.
President Luthor is leaning on the doorframe, surveying the scene with some amusement. Apparently he can recognize a tactical diversion as well as Bruce can.
"You two know each other?" Georgie asks, straightening. The disappointment she's projecting at Bruce is palpable.
"Don't judge him too harshly, Ms. Bantle," Luthor says. "Bruce and I shared a prep school, but our politics are quite different. Our taste in … friends, on the other hand—"
"Stay away from him," Bruce warns in a low voice.
He doesn't want Wally to overhear and think Bruce is being over-protective. Given what happened last night, it's obvious Wally needs some protecting whether he wants it or not. If he only realized the restraint Bruce has shown not storming Luthor's penthouse; not driving like a bat out of hell to Central City to check on him in the middle of the night; not kicking down the door this morning; not putting a hand around Lex's throat and squeezing until that smug smile shatters.
Wally sticks his head out from Georgie's apartment. "I can't find your pills, Georgie."
"Check my purse, dear."
Luthor continues to smile as Wally disappears again. "Wally's a grown man who can take care of himself—"
Christ, Bruce is getting tired of hearing that.
"—and if he wants me to stay away from him, I'm sure he'll let me know. Until then, I'll continue to enjoy his company whenever he allows it." Luthor's shirt collar is unbuttoned, blue-black bruises evident along the line of his throat, around his neck. Bruce wishes he could tell himself the marks were made by fingers, but he knows the shape of Wally's mouth, the pattern of his bite. He's worn similar on his own skin.
"Georgie," Wally calls again, worry making his voice harsher. "They're not here."
She pats the pocket of her slacks, pulling out an orange plastic pill bottle. "Oh, silly me. I've had them all along."
Wally jogs back to them, relief brightening his face, as Bruce watches Georgie neatly palm her pill, miming the action of slipping it under her tongue. He's impressed.
"As long as you're okay," Wally says, bending down to her level. "You're okay, aren't you? I can make you a cup of tea."
"I don't want to be any trouble," Georgie says smoothly, glancing up at Luthor. "Besides, you've got company."
Wally seems to finally remember Luthor's there, his cheeks coloring slightly, darkening further when he realizes he's blushing. Luthor's looking at him like he's candy, and Bruce has had enough of that. He steps between Wally and Luthor. Lex doesn't give an inch.
"I'm sure the President has places he needs to be. Isn't there an energy crisis you're trying to avert single-handedly?"
"We're all in this together, Bruce. You should know that by now. I'm surprised you're not sitting in on the meetings given your company's pivotal role in kryptonite research."
"Wally," Georgie interrupts. "I think I'd like to go to my apartment, maybe have a little lie down."
"Sure, Georgie." Wally clears his throat. "I'll be right back, Bruce. Mr. President." The plea to behave is heavily implied.
Silence follows Wally's footsteps down the hall, the rhythmic thump of Georgie's cane. As soon as they're inside, Bruce continues as if there's been no interruption.
"Wayne Enterprises' scientists are much better suited to those debates than I am, although I'll be following them closely." Bruce leans in. "After all, I'm just a businessman; you're the one with the graduate degree in chemistry, Lex. Don't think I've forgotten how much you liked experimenting with concoctions when we were at school."
Luthor's smile becomes a cold line.
"I don't like what you're implying."
"You'll like it a hell of a lot less if I find out you're the one who drugged him."
"Don't be ridiculous," Lex says with disdain. "I don't need to risk my health and reputation to get someone into bed. They come quite eagerly. And often."
Bruce bristles at the implication. Before he can think about it, he's got a hand on Luthor's throat, fingers pressing into the bruises left by Wally's mouth. He wants to obliterate them from Luthor's skin, or at least make them disappear under larger, uglier, more painful bruises.
"Lay a hand on him again and Superman burning your brain out will be the least of your worries."
There's a quick gust of wind, followed immediately by hands tugging at his shoulder.
"Bruce, let him go. Now."
Luthor draws a deep breath and makes a show of straightening his collar. When he speaks, there's restrained anger in his tone.
"Tread carefully, Bruce. I've been inclined to allow certain liberties given our history, but that doesn't extend to making wild accusations. I'm sure Wally will set you straight on what happened yesterday evening, and you'll see I was as much a victim as he was."
Wally's fingers are sharp against Bruce's bicep, warning him not to say anything. Luthor turns to Wally with a nod and a rueful smile. Maybe they should be handing out Academy Awards in Wally's hallway this morning. Everybody's playing a part and Wally doesn't see it.
"I've over-stayed my welcome. I apologize."
"It's fine," Wally says, although the tightness in his voice belies the sentiment. Bruce can tell he's upset; he doesn't hide it particularly well. "I appreciate your concern, and I'm glad you're out of the hospital."
"If you need anything, though," Luthor says, and Bruce clenches his hands into fists to keep from punching Luthor's face in. "This is my private number. Call any time."
Wally glances at the elegant white linen card being pressed into his hand, and nods dumbly. "Um, sure. Thanks, Lex."
Bruce is glad Wally can't see his face at this angle, but Lex can and he catches the flinch when Wally uses Luthor's first name, casually, as if they're friends. Bruce only calls him Lex because he can, because it reminds both of them how dangerous it is to be known, but Wally's guileless. He's young and impressionable and despite all the tragedy he's seen in the world, he consistently believes the best about everyone, including the two of them.
Luthor gives Bruce a private grin, one that says he knows he's won this round. They can hear him on his cel, telling security to ready the car, as he rounds the curve of the stairs.
"You'd better come in," Wally says, not looking at Bruce. It's not an invitation.
Bruce stayed away last night precisely to avoid this argument, but it seems as if they're going to have it anyway. Sometimes he wonders if he's destined to screw this up. It's starting to feel as if he can't do anything right where Wally's concerned.
He follows Wally inside, closing the door behind him.
Oliver follows the sound of energetic voices downstairs. He's pretty sure everyone else hit the hay later than he did, so he's not sure why everybody's so fucking awake, but they probably hadn't knocked back two bottles of Jack Daniels with Bruce. That's his excuse, and he's sticking to it.
The clock is chiming twelve as he ambles into the dining room. There are two dark mops of hair and one reddish-blond sitting at the table, and Oliver can't help but feel a surge of affection toward them all. So maybe he and Bruce weren't ever in the running for Parent of the Year, but nobody could've loved these kids more.
"What's for breakfast?" Oliver asks, dropping a hand onto Roy's shoulder, giving it a squeeze.
Roy looks at the hand on his shoulder, then up at Oliver with a smirk on his face. "Hair of the dog?"
There's a loud bark from under the table, enough to startle Oliver into stepping back, even as the three boys are bursting into laughter. Ollie squats down and comes eye to eye with an enormous pure-black Great Dane. It's wearing a leather collar and an engraved brass tag that says, "ACE."
"Hey, boy," Oliver says, letting the dog sniff his hand before he gives it a scratch behind the ears. The thumping of its tail sounds like a helicopter taking off. "When did Bruce get a dog?"
"Nobody's quite certain," Alfred explains, handing a large mug of steaming coffee to Oliver who takes the chair beside Roy. "We're not entirely sure the Master is aware of Ace's existence, but the dog seems happy enough to patrol the grounds on his own. He's managed to keep the rabbits out of the formal garden and the feral cats from the begonias, so as far as I'm concerned, he's welcome to stay."
"Everyone else is adopted, why not a bat-hound?" Tim says, shrugging his shoulders, and Dick puts him in a headlock until Tim cries "uncle!" Oliver can't help but smile. It's been a long time since life has felt normal. Watching Tim slip pieces of bacon to the dog while Roy and Dick trade insults and toss cutlery at each other … this feels like home.
Alfred returns with a heaping plate of food, setting it in front of Oliver. "May I get you anything else, sir?"
"No, Alfred, this is wonderful. Thank you."
Oliver digs in. He's absolutely famished. He's halfway through clearing his plate, absently listening to the boys chat, when he realizes he has no clue where Bruce is. He swallows, wiping his mouth on a linen napkin.
"Boys, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you all in such a good mood?"
Oliver knows he's a suspicious old fart and hates being the bad guy, but honestly, the last time Dick and Roy seemed this cheerful, they'd blown up a munitions plant disguised as a fireworks factory. The destruction factor had been spectacular.
"No school," Tim says, and okay, he'll buy that. Oliver remembers when something as simple as a day off could make a teenager happy. That doesn't explain the other two.
Roy might be Oliver's kid for all intents and purposes, but Ollie knows he's more likely to get a straight answer out of Dick.
Dick shrugs. "Bruce left an hour or so ago for Central City."
"Somebody's going to get laid," Roy sing-songs, ignoring Dick's traumatized wince and Tim's heartfelt, "Ew!"
Oliver blinks. They obviously all know about Bruce and Wally, although Oliver's surprised there's not at least some animosity there. Roy's never been Batman's biggest fan, and he can be fiercely protective of his friends. Roy and Bruce usually get along like fire and gasoline, making Oliver and Roy look like they have a fairly decent relationship by comparison.
Tim chimes in. "They're high on gratitude and borrowed time. Bruce was so preoccupied, he didn't even yell at them when he found out they wrecked the Bat-plane."
And there it is. The real reason Dick and Roy are smiling. The executioner's given them an eleventh hour reprieve.
"How much is this going to cost me?" Oliver asks, wondering if it's too late to ask Alfred to add some whiskey to his coffee.
"Exaggerate much, Tim? We didn't wreck it," Dick says, hitting Tim in the shoulder. "You're the one who took the plane out without permission in the first place."
"I was following instructions from an adult."
"Roy is not an adult," Dick states, catching the thrown butter knife in one hand and laying it neatly on the tablecloth. He seems to be amassing a set of knives; Roy's building a catapult out of spoons.
"Am too! I'm older than you," Roy protests. "I've got a kid of my own, you know."
"And yet, still not an adult." Dick looks over at Oliver. "We just … fried the engine a little."
"We flew sub-orbital, freaked out the Martian, and then we broke the fucking sound barrier! It was awesome."
Roy looks ecstatic, and some of the hardness of the last few years has fallen away overnight. It's good to see, and Oliver wishes he could preserve this moment somehow. Knowing the lot of them, it won't last, but Ollie's going to do his best to keep his trap shut and be thankful for one good day.
Everything after the monkeys is still pretty foggy, and Oliver's aware he's missed some major developments. He figures it's probably a good idea to avoid the Watchtower until he finds out exactly what went down, but he's not willing to shatter the delicate balance of peace by asking too many questions. The hazy state of ignorance around those missing hours doesn't really bother him, and whenever Bruce gets back will be soon enough to get updated on a list of things he probably doesn't want to know anyway.
"So, what's the plan for the day?" Ollie asks, pushing his empty plate away.
The three boys—okay, maybe Dick and Roy are technically adults, but they'll always seem like boys to him—look at each other.
"I thought we'd give the engine a going over before Bruce gets back. We can at least try to figure out what blew," Dick says.
"I can take a look if you want," Oliver offers. "I'm pretty handy with a wrench."
Roy's grin is easy. "Yeah, we could use your help."
Oliver trails them down to the Cave along with the dog, and listens as they start to explain, with several side tangents, what sounds the engine was making before they flew it home. If he keeps quiet and pays attention, it's possible he'll find out what happened last night while they work on the plane.
He hopes Bruce's day is going as well. Everybody deserves one really good day once in a while, and he's pretty sure Bruce and Wally deserve it more than most people.
"What the hell was that about?" Wally asks when he and Bruce are alone in his apartment. He isn't yelling. His voice is surprisingly calm considering he's basically still in his pajamas, he hasn't had coffee or a shower, and he's already had to deal with an over-protective boyfriend, an over-dramatic neighbor, and the freakin' President. No one else's life is like this. He's starting to wonder if he should pitch a reality t.v. show to his agent, but he's a little terrified Morty would think it's a great idea.
Bruce is standing by the door, arms crossed, jaw set, with a scowl on his face, and Wally feels the same flutter of tension he always does when Batman's about to explain exactly how he screwed up. Bruce doesn't even need the cape and cowl to pull off the look. It's all there in his eyes.
"He's also the President! You can't go around making threats. What if his security people had been closer? They would've hauled you off to a windowless cell somewhere and melted down the key. I know we've got a reporter and a couple of billionaires in the League, but I'm not sure we have any lawyers."
Bruce doesn't roll his eyes, but Wally can tell he wants to.
"For the hundredth time, Bruce, I don't need you to protect me! I can take care of—"
"Really?" Bruce says, stepping forward, eyes narrowing. "That's the line you're going with after last night? After Superman and Nightwing had to rescue you from Luthor's residence?"
Wally's lips fall into a flat, pursed line. "I don't know what Dick told you—"
"He didn't tell me anything. I didn't even see him until this morning."
"Clark, then. Someone told you what happened."
"No one told me anything I didn't already know. I'm hardly without resources. Technology is amazing. I get updates from the Watchtower right to my phone, including when distress calls go out, and it's not hard to read GPS data."
Of course, Wally had been wearing the damn bat-tracker boots. Not that it matters. His JLA comm has GPS too. So does his phone. Nightwing's suit. The Bat-plane. Basically, Wally would have to strip naked and dump all his tech to not be found, and even then, he wouldn't necessarily bet against Batman.
"But you were—"
"Drunk? Blowing off steam with Ollie? Believe me, there isn't enough alcohol in the world to make me forget certain things, and I sober up quickly when it matters."
"So, you knew the entire time?" Wally wasn't expecting that. "You're telling me you knew I was in some kind of trouble, that Superman and Nightwing were sent after me, and you went home to Gotham without doing anything?"
Bruce's backbone is rigid as a lamp post, as if good posture is the only thing holding him together right now, and Wally wonders how much it cost him to not get involved. A lot, he's guessing, if the threats of burning lobotomies this morning are any indication.
"You made it very clear this relationship was over if I didn't let you 'do your job,' no matter how reckless you're being, and although meeting with Luthor's not exactly in your job description, I didn't want to … push you."
Okay, Wally had said that, sure, but he'd been really unhappy with Bruce for assigning him to the Watchtower at the time. He hadn't meant it in an absolute, no second chances, "we're through if you do this" kind of way. It wasn't an ultimatum. What he'd really meant was if Bruce didn't tone down the over-protective shtick, they'd be having words, but of course what Bruce heard was that Wally would leave. Hello, abandonment issues. Bruce is such a ridiculous contradiction sometimes; Wally knows he's trying, but why does he have to be so goddamn frustrating when he does it?
"But I didn't know you'd been drugged." Bruce's voice is livid. "Not until the report saying Luthor'd been admitted to the hospital, and then when Tim and Roy took the plane—"
"They said you'd gone to bed."
"Jet-powered takeoffs aren't stealthy. Neither is Roy." There's a muscle in Bruce's jaw that's flexing sporadically. It looks moderately painful, and Wally's having a hard time not reaching out to soothe it. "I assumed you preferred them riding to your rescue rather than me, and I trusted Dick and Clark to contact me if … if things were bad."
Wally looks at him, really looks at the dark circles around his eyes, and the fine lines that say Bruce didn't get much sleep, if any. He feels like shit for not noticing sooner. How were they all stupid enough to believe that Bruce, that Batman, didn't know what was happening? He'd convinced himself Bruce couldn't have known, but there would've been a thousand tiny clues that something was wrong. Bruce doesn't miss clues.
"When did you know something was wrong?"
"When we ran into Grodd outside of Gotham, and you didn't show up, I called Alfred."
Grodd? In Gotham? Obviously Wally's missed a few details too. His leg's feeling much better after their run-in two nights ago, but he hasn't really tested it flat-out yet.
"Alfred didn't know I was going to Luthor's."
"No, but he knew you were going to Clark's, and you'd already left Clark's with time to spare. You should've made it back to Gotham, but you weren't there. Then your distress signal went off."
Wally can imagine how that must've felt. He's been on the other side of that equation enough times, and waiting for news is the worst part. He steps closer to Bruce, slipping both arms around his waist, bringing them together. Bruce doesn't resist, but his posture remains rigid.
"I was being cautious," Wally says, wanting credit for that. "I didn't think I was going to need it. It should've pinged the Watchtower, and protocol dictates they would've alerted the closest member. Superman was literally a few blocks away."
"Except you were at the one place in Metropolis where super-powers don't matter."
"I didn't know that at the time." Wally's hand slips underneath the soft leather of Bruce's jacket and rubs at his backbone. "I was trying to help, and—things got kind of out of hand."
Bruce lets his face be turned so Wally can kiss him. It's sweet and gentle, as full of apology as Wally can make it. He feels the rasp of two day old stubble under his fingers, the faint swelling where Bruce had taken a pipe to the jaw. If he looks closely he knows he'll see the bruising. It's been maybe twenty-four hours since Bruce dragged him, fully-clothed into the shower at Wayne manor, and kissed him hungrily, but it could've been a lifetime ago.
"Bruce?" Wally says, leaning their foreheads together. "I know we have things to talk about, but can we call a temporary truce? You're exhausted, and I really need a shower, caffeine, and something to eat, not necessarily in that order."
Bruce's fingers tighten reflexively on Wally's hips, stealing his breath away. He doesn't understand how one touch from Bruce can make him feel like a livewire. No drugs necessary.
Maybe he could skip the shower and the coffee, but Wally knows he's going to be crashing soon if he doesn't eat. Georgie's banana bread is looking extremely inhalable right now. His stomach growls at the thought. It's loud enough to be embarrassing, but Wally doesn't care, cracking open the container and grabbing a piece of moist loaf, offering one to Bruce.
"Take some. It's good. You can share with the Spinster. He's probably in need of comfort food too."
Bruce does as he's told, while Wally's scarfing down the rest of the container, but Wally can tell Bruce's heart isn't in it. The hamster seems happy, though, standing on its hind feet and nibbling at the treat, occasionally butting Bruce's fingers for more attention.
Wally's halfway through slapping together a sandwich when he hears Bruce clear his throat. He's standing by the door with his hand on the knob, looking uncertain, and Wally hates seeing that expression on Bruce's face. He's never known him to be anything but sure of himself.
"I'll go then. You want to get cleaned up, and—"
Before Bruce can finish his sentence, Wally's flung himself across the door like police tape.
"I wasn't saying you should leave!" Wally protests. "I don't want you to leave."
Wally knows what he said. "I said you're exhausted. That doesn't mean I think you should drive back to Gotham, you idiot."
"What does it mean?"
Wally takes Bruce's face in his hands, careful of the bruising, and kisses him. Less gentle than before, more insistent, and this time Bruce kisses him back like he's been waiting for permission. It's hard and messy, a little desperate, and Wally only pulls away because if he doesn't he's going to be the first man to die of starvation in bed.
"It means, go to bed. My bed. Try to sleep, and I'll be there as soon as I get some food and a shower. Okay?"
"Okay," Bruce says, hanging his jacket on the coat rack by the door. He's beginning to look a little less like someone hit him with a truck and more like maybe he actually believes what Wally's saying to him.
It's a start.
Dick happens to be in the kitchen grabbing drinks for everyone when the phone rings at the manor.
"I'll get it, Alfred!" he shouts. "Wayne residence."
He recognizes Wally's voice immediately. "Hey, how're you feeling?"
"Kind of stupid," Wally admits, "but I've survived stupid before."
"We all have," Dick agrees. "Poor Roy lives with it every day."
Wally laughs, and Dick's grateful he seems back to normal instead of that awful, strained sound from last night.
"I'm sorry about—" Wally starts, but Dick stops him. "No apologies. It's what friends do."
"Friends with benefits maybe, but not—"
"Wally, forget it. What's a little groping between pals?"
Dick honestly doesn't care about the wandering hands. They've been friends a long time, and Wally's clocked a fair number of hours with his hands on Dick in one way or another—either pulling him out of danger, trying to keep his blood inside his body, or carrying him from place to place at super-speed. There is not a graceful way to be piggy-backed around in tights and short pants, and he's never cared about Wally being bi. They're friends, and nothing's going to change that.
"Okay, okay. Thanks, Dick. You're the best, you know?"
"Don't mention it," Dick says, grinning in a way he's pretty sure will translate over the phone. "No, really, don't mention it. So, what's up?"
"I was calling to check with Alfred, but you might know. Does Bruce have anything he needs to get back to Gotham for?"
"I don't think so." Dick pulls up Bruce's schedule on his phone. "He was leaving these few days open in case there were developments with the kryptonite shipments."
"Have there been?"
"Nothing new. Tim's monitoring for any changes in the transportation schedules, but so far things are relatively quiet."
"Wish I could say the same," Wally mutters.
"Why? What happened?"
"Luthor was at my apartment when Bruce showed up."
"What the hell was Luthor doing there?"
"Apologizing," Wally explains. "I don't want to go into the whole thing—"
"I can't imagine Bruce was thrilled."
"That's putting it mildly." Wally sounds tired.
"I know sometimes Bruce can be over-bearing, but it's because he cares. He doesn't know how to make small gestures. It's kind of all or nothing with him."
"Yeah." There's a pause on the line and Dick waits because it sounds as if Wally has more to say. "Did he—I mean, before Bruce and I got together, had he said anything about me? That he was interested?"
"No, not really," Dick admits, "but you know how private he is. He never says much about personal stuff. I'm not sure when he would've told me about the two of you if I hadn't been at the manor that night. You know, you could ask him yourself. He's still there, isn't he?"
"Yeah, I made him lie down. He was running on pure stubbornness. I don't think he slept much last night."
Dick smiles even if Wally can't see it. They're good for each other; he knows they are. Wally can get Bruce to do things he'd never agree to if anyone else was telling him. Dick isn't sure Wally knows how rare that influence is. Bruce doesn't compromise on things, and yet, Wally seems to be able to coax him towards some kind of middle ground. It says, more than words, how much Bruce cares about Wally and how much he trusts him.
"Look, Roy and Ollie are sticking around, so there's nothing going on here we can't handle. Tell him to stay put. Take the night off. If there's an emergency, we'll call. I promise."
Dick's not expecting anything major to come up, but this is Gotham. There's always something. Maybe Roy will hit the streets with him and Tim later. It's good for Tim to work with different people, get used to diverse fighting styles, and Roy's definitely got more bang than they do. He's become extremely fond of carrying a gun in one holster and a miniature crossbow in the other. They might get shot at quite a bit, but they don't usually have allies with guns (besides the police), and Roy shoots bullets as much as he shoots arrows. Dick's not sure how Commissioner Gordon will feel about a sudden spike in the number of kneecappings in Gotham.
If Bruce stays in Central City, it'll buy them a little more time to fix the engine. Oliver's been surprisingly helpful with his advice and not over-bearing in his demeanor. Dick always remembers Oliver being sort of brash and overwhelming in a completely different way from Batman. Joking around and treating Roy more like a buddy than a kid. Dick and Roy would have arguments about who got the worse deal in mentors, and they were both convinced they had it rough.
Dick shakes his head remembering how stupid and naïve they'd been then. Sure, Bruce could be a relentless taskmaster, demanding, exacting, expecting perfection and rarely offering praise for it, but Dick never felt unsafe or uncared for. Ever. He knew whatever happened, he had Batman behind him, and when he was plain old Dick Grayson instead of Robin, he had a family in Bruce and Alfred. Even if the words weren't said, he felt loved.
Oliver, on the other hand, never seemed to quite find the balance between being a friend and being a parent, and Roy learned to adapt to constantly changing expectations and rules. Dick thinks Roy started messing around with drugs in the first place mostly to see if Oliver would notice—maybe to see if any of them would notice—and by that time it was too late. He was in deep and hopelessly hooked.
It still bothers Dick. They were all so focused on saving the world, they didn't see the person right next to them who was screaming for help.
"Penny for your thoughts, Wing-nut," Roy says, startling Dick enough he takes a step back. "I can't usually sneak up on you. You must've been far away."
Dick shakes his head to clear it and neatly sidesteps Roy's implied question. "Wally called. Checking in, mostly, but he said Luthor was at his place this morning."
"Seriously?" Roy grabs an apple out of the fruit bowl. "What's that all about, anyway?"
"Luthor seems to have a thing for Wally."
"Since when did Wally become the Billionaire Club's most wanted? I don't get it."
"Bruce and Lex went to school together. Don't say anything to Wally, but I think some of it is that old rivalry. Luthor wants Wally simply because Bruce has him. That seems to be motive enough."
"That's kind of creepy. They get that Wally's a person not a possession, right?"
"Well, Bruce does," Dick defends, bristling at the implication Bruce could be anything like Luthor. "I know you haven't been around much, but he cares about Wally."
"I believe you. No need to get touchy," Roy says, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I did notice you avoided telling me what you were thinking about when I came in."
"Old times," Dick says, shrugging. "How things change."
"That's … vague, and much too serious." Roy flings an arm around Dick's shoulders. "How about we order pizza instead? Baby bird said he could eat."
"Please stop calling me that, Speedy," Tim says, coming into the kitchen, trailed by Oliver. "We came to see what was taking so long."
"Nothing important. So, pizza before we hit the streets?" Dick asks. "What does everybody like?"
The room's an immediate cacophony of conflicting choices—anchovies, no anchovies, olives on half, but only if they're black, onions, no mushrooms. Dick grabs a pad of paper to start making a list.
"Don't think you can avoid talking to me forever," Roy says into Dick's ear, and Dick can't help but smile and nod. It's not a bad thing to have friends, to be known so well. He's not sure if he can put into words what's bothering him, but Roy will probably understand.
It's just that as the Justice League's mission to interrupt the kryptonite shipments draws nearer, the feeling in the pit of Dick's stomach is turning from restless butterflies to something with claws, and he's been doing this long enough to listen to his instincts.
Something bad is coming. Dick hopes they're ready for it.
Wally's being as silent as he can when he slips into the bedroom, but he hears the immediate change in Bruce's breathing. The blackout drapes ensure the room's dark even though it's only late afternoon.
"Just me," Wally murmurs. He's feeling human again—food and a shower have worked their miracles. He's about to drop the towel wrapped around his waist and crawl into bed alongside Bruce when the lamp almost blinds him.
"Bright light!" Wally says, blinking in the sudden glare.
There's a warm, broad hand at his waist, and a mouth kissing his stomach.
"I want to look at you," Bruce says, and God, that voice. It's as sexy and commanding as everything else about Bruce, and Wally lets the towel fall. He can feel Bruce's eyes on him.
Wally's never been particularly self-conscious. He knows he's fit and attractive enough. But the unrestrained hunger in Bruce's gaze is making him tremble with wanting. He thinks he could almost come from this, from having Bruce do nothing but rake his eyes over Wally's body with nothing held back. Everything's there on Bruce's face: his desire, the fear he tries to hide, his need to protect, and something raw, something that scares Wally to his core because he knows no one's ever looked at him like that before, and he's not sure anyone else will ever look at him like that again. As if he's all that matters. He doesn't know if there's a strong enough word for what this is.
When Bruce murmurs, "Turn around," Wally does, quivering under the touch of fingers that know every inch of him. He can feel Bruce kneeling behind him on the bed, while Wally stands, naked and hard in the glow of the lamp. Bruce's hands map him carefully, tenderly, kneading his shoulder muscles, climbing the ladder of his spine.
It takes longer than it should for Wally to realize Bruce is systematically checking for damage from the night before. Some evidence of Luthor's trespasses. His anger flares like someone poured gasoline on it. He's not a prize for the two of them to fight over; he doesn't want to be in the middle of their territorial tug-o-war.
"You can stop looking," Wally says, tensing, his voice suddenly sharp. Bruce's hands cease their exploration. "There's no evidence of what happened. Every mark he left on me was gone by morning."
The hands at his hips tighten, almost painfully. Before he can say anything else, he's turned, facing Bruce, and the stark concern he sees isn't at all what he expected.
"Did he hurt you?" Bruce is asking, but Wally's been struck speechless because how can he continue to misread this man who looks at him as if he's the most precious gift in the world in his unguarded moments? Wally feels the flush of embarrassment roll over him like a heat wave, and Bruce has to have noticed.
Big hands are tilting his face up, insisting Wally look at him. "You didn't do anything wrong. None of it was your fault. But I need to know if he hurt you in any way. Damn it, Wally, did he hurt you?"
"No. God, no," Wally says, finding his voice and dragging Bruce's mouth to his own, anger burned out as quickly as it had begun. He kisses Bruce desperately, wanting to show him everything's alright. He lets Bruce pull him onto the bed, their bodies twining naturally together. "No, he didn't hurt me. It wasn't like that."
That doesn't sound particularly good either, but Bruce needs to know it wasn't … Wally wasn't in danger. Not that kind of danger. Even without his abilities, he's no lightweight, and he can hold his own in a fight. He grew up with Dick and Roy, after all, whose idea of fun was planning sneak attacks on their teammates and calling it "training." He wasn't completely overcome by the drugs, and he was coherent enough to know things weren't right, even if his body was all for it. He would've stopped it before it got … yeah, he would've stopped it.
"I don't need the details," Bruce says quickly, sounding as unhappy as Wally's ever heard him. "I hate the thought of his hands on you. His mouth. I didn't know what type of drug it was until I saw …."
Bruce looks away, jaw stiff with checked emotion, and Wally's grateful for his own metabolism at least. This way, Bruce doesn't have to see everywhere Luthor touched. It's bad enough Bruce had to realize the hickeys on Luthor's throat were from Wally. He feels like he's been caught cheating except that's not it at all. It was the drugs. He knows he wasn't in complete control of what he was doing or his reactions.
"I'm sorry," Wally says because it doesn't matter that it wasn't his fault. He feels bad about it anyway, particularly since he knows how he'd feel in Bruce's place. He hadn't liked seeing Diana kiss Bruce, and at least he likes Diana. Bruce can't stand Luthor, and that's making it worse
"Luthor's not hiding the fact he wants you, but I didn't think he was desperate enough to force the issue."
"I'm fine, Bruce. Virtue intact." Wally tries to downplay it, hoping Bruce will be able to let it go. He kisses Bruce's neck, trying to persuade him to relax. "In fact, Nightwing was probably groped just as much."
That backfires spectacularly, as Bruce now looks like he could set fire to Luthor with his own eyes. No need for Superman. Crap. Wally hurries to explain.
"I was the one groping Dick. God, that sounds awful." Wally sighs, laying his forehead against Bruce's bare chest. How can he possibly be making this situation worse than it already is? "Luthor didn't touch him, I swear. I was the one getting handsy. The drugs were—I was pretty wound up."
"Luthor's going to pay for this, I swear."
Wally does a double-take. "It wasn't his fault either."
Bruce laughs, and Wally frowns down at him. "You're not suggesting he deliberately drugged both of us, are you? Why would he do that?" Bruce looks at him as if he can't possibly be that naïve, and Wally shakes his head. "I understand what the end result could've been—believe me, I do. But Luthor almost died from an overdose. There's no way he would do that to himself."
"You don't know him as well as I do."
"Bruce, he was out of his head! No one would do that to themselves. Dick had to restrain him, and by the time it was safe for Supes to land, Lex was basically comatose."
"Luthor's a brilliant scientist. I'm sure he knew to the milliliter how much he could drink without permanent damage, how much it would take to make you more receptive to his advances without a loss of consciousness."
Wally flushes at the idea he might've been the end-goal in Luthor's plan. "And what's the point of it all? I honestly don't believe Lex would do that."
Bruce brushes his fingers through Wally's damp hair. "That's the point, Wally. You believe him. Maybe you weren't as inclined to trust him before this, but now you're thinking of him as a victim. You're letting your guard down. You're calling him by his first name half the time."
"He insisted," Wally says defensively. "It's not as easy for some of us to brush off the President. We didn't all go to private school with royalty and diplomats' kids. He's the President, and that's still a pretty big deal for a kid from Nebraska."
"He's manipulating you."
"I'm not an idiot, Bruce. I know he's not a good man, and I'm not trying to defend the things he's done, but in this instance, I think you're wrong."
They lie in Wally's bed beside one another, and it feels awkward and tense. Bruce's arms around him are stiff, not relaxed. Wally doesn't know how to make this okay again. He vaguely remembers his Aunt Iris saying people should never go to bed angry, and Wally hadn't fully understood what she meant until now.
"Maybe I should go," Bruce says, and Wally hates that part of him thinks it's not a bad idea. He doesn't get to see Bruce as much as he wants; the last time they spent a whole night together was when Wally's feet were still healing after fallout from the President's Ball.
Fuck it. He can be the bigger man. Wally lifts his head and shifts so he's lying half on top of Bruce, one leg tucked between Bruce's thighs. Those blue eyes he loves so much are staring at the ceiling.
"I don't want you to go."
"What do you want?"
It seems like a loaded question, but in less than two days time they're going to be in the middle of a massive campaign to secure Luthor's kryptonite, and Wally wants something to carry him forward. Maybe it's selfish, maybe he has no right to ask, but in this moment all he wants is Bruce without all the baggage. For an hour or two, all he wants is to be ordinary.
"I want you, Bruce. That's all. Just you and me, together, right now, and forget all the rest for a while. That's what I want. You. Do you have any idea how much I want you?"
Wally shifts onto his knees over Bruce, kissing him until Bruce's mouth softens, a groan escaping. After that, it's easy to find a rhythm, to forget about everything except the heat building between them, the sense of anticipation. They take their time getting reacquainted with hands and mouths. Bruce teases him open with slick fingers and a greedy tongue, flirting with the edge of pleasure until Wally's begging for it. When he finally sinks onto Bruce's hard cock, straddling his thighs, it feels like coming home.
"Yes," Wally breathes out, starting to move, Bruce letting him set the pace.
Wally's aware of Bruce's eyes on him, the way he must look like this, naked and flushed. Pale skin, red hair, freckles all over the damn place, and Bruce is looking at him as if he's Michelangelo's David and the Mona Lisa rolled into one. Like he's beautiful.
He clenches around Bruce's cock as he rocks upward, letting it slide deeper each time he pushes back down, and it's a slow burn that feels just right. Bruce licks his fingers, using them to caress Wally's balls, the sweet spot that makes him thrust into Bruce's hand.
He can barely keep from vibrating out of his skin, and if there's a touch of superspeed in the rocking of his hips as he rides Bruce, he can't help it. His control is solid, but everything feels hyper-sensitive and so, so good. Wally starts to lose it, coming in Bruce's hand, and Bruce is there with him, moving in perfect counterpoint to Wally's hips. Bruce is breathing hard and that alone is an accomplishment Wally can be proud of. He feels happy and spent.
Bruce sits up then, abs rippling with muscle and scars. He braces his thighs for leverage, making his last thrusts deep, the angle shifting enough Wally can let Bruce support him, broad hands cupping his ass as Bruce reaches his own climax. They're both sweaty and sticky, but they kiss lazily for a long time, neither of them anxious to separate even though Wally's legs feel like he's run around the world a few hundred times, and the position can't be easy on Bruce's back or knees.
Wally rubs at the hickey he's left on the curve of Bruce's neck where it meets his shoulder, kissing the tender bruise. He'd never thought of himself as a biter, but evidently he is.
"I can't mark you like that," Bruce murmurs against his throat, and Wally knows how reassuring the physical can be. He ghosts his fingers along the scars that mar Bruce's skin, the ones that shaped the man in front of him.
"Just because no one sees it on my skin, doesn't mean you haven't marked me, Bruce," Wally whispers in his ear. "You've marked me in so many ways. Nothing will change that."
In response, Bruce makes a broken sort of sound and mouths at Wally's shoulder, pressure and teeth ensuring when Bruce pulls his mouth away, there's evidence of his presence.
"That works too," Wally says, looking at the bruise in the shape of Bruce's mouth. It won't last, but that hardly matters. There's something so visceral about Bruce marking him like this, claiming him for himself. Wally feels his cock twitch, interested and half- hard again.
Bruce rolls them, Wally landing with all Bruce's weight on top of him. He loves the feel of the man, of being pinned by that kind of strength. He rakes his nails up either side of Bruce's spine, enjoying the way Bruce's head kicks back, eyes closed, mouth partially open and begging to be kissed. Wally obliges, pushy and possessive, and then all bets are off.
Round two is going to be a lot rougher, but that's fine, good even. Maybe it's exactly what they need. Wally's tired of being treated like he's fragile, like he's suddenly going to expire if Bruce takes his eyes—or GPS or whatever else makes him the world's best stalker—off him.
Those fucking Justice Lords and their poor dead Flash have a lot to answer for.
Clark is sitting at his desk at The Daily Planet across from Lois. He's brought her a chai latte and pain au chocolat from her favorite bakery. There's a single red rose in a bud vase on her desk. He's apologized even though he knows he didn't do anything wrong.
Lois isn't having any of it. Instead, she's pounding away on her computer as if it's personally offended her. If it had been an old-style typewriter, Clark's pretty sure the clacking of the keys would drown out everything else in the room.
She holds up a hand without bothering to glance at him, then goes back to abusing her keyboard. "Not a word, Kent."
Clark winces. He's been relegated to "Kent." It's the office equivalent of sleeping on the couch, and Clark's sure he'll also be doing that this evening because pretty much every newspaper in the state managed to scoop The Daily Planet on the presidential poisoning story.
Lois is not happy. He knows this because she's chewing on a pencil like a starving barracuda. She doesn't even use pencils to write anymore. She just keeps a mug full on her desk to sharpen her teeth and scare the interns. It's intimidating, and Clark's faced down some of the biggest, most terrifying people in the universe. He's pretty sure Lois could make them pee their pants. Next time Darkseid shows up, Clark's going to send Lois out to berate him into surrendering. All their problems might be solved. Lois Lane: Earth's mightiest weapon.
The keys have gone quiet, and when Clark looks up Lois is glaring at him as if she knows exactly what he's thinking. It's unnerving. He's almost certain she doesn't have any psychic abilities, but it's uncanny how accurately she can read him. He gives what he hopes is an innocent smile.
Lois narrows her eyes, but goes back to reading what she's written, and the newsroom draws a collective breath. When Lois is in a bad mood, everyone keeps to the fringes, trying not to make sudden moves lest they draw her attention. Clark keeps getting surreptitious thumbs up and nods of encouragement from people who seem to think he has the ability "to soothe the savage beast." He knows that's a misquote, but it feels more appropriate than "savage breast" at the moment.
The office doesn't realize, of course, he's the one who provoked her wrath this time.
"Read this," Lois says, thrusting her tablet at him. If it seem as if she's freely asking for his professional opinion, she feels better, and better is good. On the other hand, Clark informing Lois he needs to approve the text before she sends it to Perry White had gone over as well as dingoes in a maternity ward.
Clark reads through the article quickly, then rereads it, considering what edits he can suggest without having something sharp thrown at him or something hot dumped on him. Maybe those things can't hurt him, but he has to act as if they do, and Lois knows how much he hates having to play up the "Clark Kent is a clutz" card at work.
Lois says he's the most unsatisfying person to fight with since there's nothing she can do that's going to cause any damage. Clark thinks maybe he should be worried about that aspect of her personality—it explains a hell of a lot about Lois and Bruce's short-lived, and by all accounts, tumultuous relationship years ago. Clark suspects it was a lot of shouting, followed by angry wall-slamming, fingernail-raking, hair-pulling sex, but it's one of those things they've decided it's best to never talk about—for all their sakes.
"Maybe we should talk in the boardroom," Clark begins carefully.
"Fine!" Lois tucks the tablet under her arm, grabs her latte, and walks to the boardroom, the sound of her heels on the floor reminiscent of a ticking time bomb.
"Good luck, Kent," someone murmurs as Clark gets up and follows Lois.
Time to practice his bomb-defusing skills.
While Bruce is finishing his shower, Wally calls his favourite Thai restaurant.
"Hey, Mr. Mookjai, it's Wally. How's everything? Restaurant busy tonight?"
"Could be busier," Mr. Mookjai says. If people were stacked on top of each other in his booths, Mr. Mookjai would still say it could be busier. His wait-staff are practically running their whole shifts, and Mr. Mookjai thinks they're too slow. Wally's got a job bussing tables there if he ever needs one.
"You want the usual?"
"Yeah, but can you double everything?"
"Oh, you're very hungry, or you have company!"
Wally can't help the smile when he says, "I have company. A very special friend."
Bruce is coming out of the bathroom wearing only black boxer briefs, and toweling his hair. He glances over at Wally, sitting on the couch in sweats and a Firefly tee, with a curious look.
"Ah, I see." Mr. Mookjai's tone is knowing. "Very good. I'll send something special with order."
"You don't have to do that—"
"You're my best customer and best replacement waiter. These boys and girls don't know what it means to work hard." He's pitched his voice in a manner Wally knows is directed at the staff running past him, but it's all done with good-natured affection. "They move too slow. I will take care of the order personally."
"That's really nice, Mr. Mookjai. Thank you. Just put it on my account, okay?"
"Benny will bring it over quick so it stays hot."
"Thanks. Have a good night."
"Did you just order enough food for a small army?" Bruce asks.
"Oh, did you want something too?"
Wally starts to redial, but Bruce takes the phone out of his hand and tosses it aside. He licks Wally's neck, biting the tender skin there, and Wally loses his train of thought completely. He knows the bruises on his skin are already fading, but for the moment, he looks utterly debauched and thoroughly claimed. He's surprisingly okay with that, especially since Bruce is sporting his own collection of "Wally was here" markers. He doesn't heal as quickly, either, so they'll be around for a few days. Wally gets the appeal of having that kind of reminder. He's trying not to think about Luthor having a set of his own.
Bruce has pushed him back onto the couch, and God, Wally feels like a teenager again as he tugs Bruce down on top of him. Their kissing is warm and playful, and Wally wishes it could always be this easy. Sex is easy for them. Talking, not so much.
With a sigh, Wally starts to disengage, prompting a growl from where Bruce is nuzzling his neck.
"I know, but the food'll be here any time. You might want to put some clothes on. I'm not sure Benny's heart could take the shock after five flights of stairs."
Bruce gives him one more deep, languid kiss, before moving off. Wally stretches, content as a cat, then ambles into the kitchen to see if he's got anything to drink with Thai food. He settles on green tea, and while the kettle's heating up, he digs out tea cups, plates, utensils, and napkins. Okay, it's paper towel, but there's a pattern of adorable ducks on it, so he figures it will work fine.
He does a super-quick clean up, moves his mail off the small kitchen table that doubles as a desk, and throws a tablecloth over it. He has Georgie to thank for that touch. She'd given him a simple ivory one, and told him any occasion could be elevated with a tablecloth and a candle. By the time, Bruce comes out of the bedroom, dressed in his clothes from earlier, Wally's dimmed the lights, letting candlelight set the mood.
At first, Bruce simply looks at him from across the room. Then he goes to Wally's stereo, tunes in a classic jazz station, letting the music play softly as he crosses to where Wally's standing by the table.
"I have no idea if you like to dance," Bruce says, holding out his hand. Wally takes it and lets himself be pulled close, Bruce's hand a familiar warmth on the small of his back.
"I like to lead."
"Of course you do," Bruce says, but he's smiling as he allows Wally to take the lead. There's not enough space for anything more than a few simple steps back and forth, but it feels like such a couple thing to do, Wally can't help how stupidly happy he is.
"Candlelight looks good on you, Wally."
"I guess I should wear it more often."
"And nothing else," Bruce whispers in his ear, kissing the curve of it gently, shivers cascading down Wally's spine. He could probably be persuaded to go back to bed and forget about dinner, which is when the downstairs buzzer rings to let him know Benny's arrived.
"That's the—I have to …" Wally trails off, gesturing vaguely towards the intercom for the door, and Bruce lets him go with obvious reluctance.
Wally's got about a minute to regain some semblance of composure between buzzing Benny in and the knock at the apartment door. While he's unloading the bags of food onto the table, the kettle boils, and Bruce goes to take care of the tea. It's weirdly domestic, but Wally can't say he minds.
"Everything smells great." Bruce adds a squat brown teapot to the crowded table and takes a seat. "What do you recommend?"
"Everything Mr. Mookjai cooks is fantastic," Wally says, starting to spoon rice onto his plate. "Usually he sends my favorites, plus the day's specials, and whatever else he thinks I'll like. I've never had a bad meal from him, so I guess try whatever looks interesting to you."
"I trained in Thailand for a while, studying Muay Thai, 'the art of eight limbs,'" Bruce says, beginning to dish out food. Wally looks at him fondly, and Bruce seems to take that as encouragement because he keeps talking, sharing details of training he had undertaken in Thailand, people he'd met, interesting things he'd discovered. It's rare for Bruce to talk about that time in his life.
Wally mostly listens and eats, asking questions when he can bring himself to interrupt the rolling cadences of Bruce's voice. It's possibly the most relaxed, intimate meal they've ever shared, and Wally knows he's got hearts in his eyes, but it's too late to pretend he's anything other than hopelessly in love with Bruce.
He's almost certain Bruce loves him back, and if it isn't love yet, it's awfully close. He knows Bruce cares about him even if he has trouble saying it.
Wally's not just a mission. Luthor's got it all wrong.
"The people have a right to know!"
Lois isn't quite yelling, but it's close.
"Not this," Clark says, calmly. "Even Luthor's press people said he was there alone. We're not The Inquisitor, Lois. Let them speculate about who was keeping Luthor company. We stick to facts that can be supported with evidence."
"The President's personal relationships are news, Kent." Lois sits down at the large boardroom table across from Clark, and it feels like they're about to embark on top-level negotiations. There are days when Clark wishes his life were simpler. "I know Superman was there and Batman—"
"No, you don't."
Lois glares at him and puts on her I-could've-been-a-television-anchor-if-I'd-wanted voice: "The plane associated with the vigilante known as 'The Batman,' and commonly referred to in Gotham as the 'Bat-plane,' was photographed hovering near the President's Metropolis residence late last evening. Therefore it can be extrapolated that Batman—"
"Or any one of his numerous allies was flying the plane," Clark finishes for her.
"Do you expect me to believe that control freak trusts those kids with the keys?"
"He trusts them with his life and the lives of innocent people every day," Clark chides. "Also, at least one of thosekids is almost twenty-five."
"Already?" Lois makes a pained face, and Clark knows she's remembering when Dick was an actual kid. It doesn't seem like that long ago.
"Yup," Clark says, enjoying having the high ground at the moment.
"Are you saying Nightwing was there? Or Robin?"
"I'm not saying anything." Clark keeps his face neutral. Lois is too good at reading him.
"Well the damn plane didn't get there by itself!"
Clark laughs. "Actually, it does have a remote function, so it'll come when called."
"Why can't the man get a dog like everyone else?"
"Lois, you know Perry won't print anything you can't corroborate with eye-witnesses or documentation. I'm trying to help."
"Yes, yes, here there be lawsuits. I know my job, Clark."
Lois is chewing on her lip—probably because she left her pencils at her desk—casting around for some other way to attack the problem. Clark knows he isn't going to like whatever she comes up with.
"Superman was there; he took Luthor to the hospital," Lois begins, deceptively casual. "He could corrobo—"
"Lois!" Clark pushes his glasses up from where they've slipped down his nose. He keeps forgetting to go in and get the damn things adjusted properly, and the last time he tried doing it himself, he'd broken the arms off. "There's a reason we agreed on rules about exactly this kind of thing. Yes, Superman was there, but he's not going to tell you. Clark Kent wasn't there and can't report on it. You understand how this works, right? The whole dual identity thing?"
"I can't believe you're protecting Luthor," Lois tosses out, clearly hoping it will provoke Clark enough to give her something she can use.
"Maybe I'm protecting somebody else."
"So, he wasn't alone!" Lois sounds triumphant. "Was it Bruce? Is that why the plane was there?"
"If I say yes, will you leave it alone? As a matter of fact, why don't you phone and ask him? I'm sure he'd love to answer your questions."
"He'd be worse than you are."
Clark can't argue with her there. He understands why Dr. Meridian had felt like strangling Bruce at the end of their Q & A session for her report, since Bruce had given her exactly what she asked for and nothing more. Clark can sympathize. Bruce isn't always the easiest person to talk to.
Lois stands up from the table and starts pacing the room. "Fine, I'll do this the old-fashioned way. I'm sure somebody on Luthor's staff is disgruntled enough to share what happened last night, and I know they keep pictures and logs of everyone entering and leaving. Someone can probably be convinced to take a coffee break and leave the log lying open for a minute, or get me a copy of the CCTV feed at the door."
"Lois, I know you're angry someone else broke the story, and I'm sorry, but there were other considerations at the time."
"Whoever was with Luthor could've been the person who poisoned him. Are they in custody, or at least being questioned?"
"Don't expect me to believe you're concerned about Luthor's welfare."
Lois is on a roll. Clark puts his head down on the table, wishing he'd chosen a different profession. He could've been a firefighter with a cool pole to slide down. Or maybe a postal worker. People like getting mail.
"Was this an act of terrorism? A personal vendetta? A love affair gone wrong? If that person's innocent, did he or she require medical attention? The doctors won't even say what kind of poison it was! Maybe we're on the edge of a poisoning spree. Was it in the food? The water? It's happened before. Shouldn't the public be told?"
"Lois, enough!" Clark realizes he's shouted when he sees the window in the room reverberating. Several people in the newsroom are looking in their direction. Even Lois seems surprised by his outburst. Well, they've all been under a lot of pressure lately.
"Sit down, please, Lois," Clark says. "Since it seems as if there's no way to get you to let this go, I'm going to break our rules this one time. I'm going to tell you exactly what happened last night, and then you can decide whether it's something the public needs to know or not."
Lois sits down without another word.
J'onn enjoys the quiet the Watchtower provides. There are fewer people to filter out, and it requires considerably less concentration than when he's on Earth, especially in the cities. He's fond of Smallville, though, where Superman grew up. It's peaceful there and he likes the cows. Their thoughts are generally content and unhurried. Perhaps when the next mission is done, he will plan a return visit to the Kent farm.
He senses a presence approaching the bridge. "Good evening, Princess."
Diana is as beautiful as always, though her face appears troubled. J'onn knows there's been an increase in the number of incidents in and around the cities where most of the core members of the Justice League reside: Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, Star City. Diana's usually based near Washington, D.C., but keeps an apartment in Metropolis as well.
"Is something troubling you?"
"I have misgivings about the upcoming mission."
J'onn gives her his full attention. It's rare for Diana to express such concerns after a mission has been planned.
"What kind of misgivings?"
Diana leans against the console beside J'onn. "It feels as though we're being set upon a path we may not wish to follow."
She shakes her head. "It's difficult to explain. It's mostly a feeling, but I fear nothing but sorrow awaits us on this mission."
J'onn nods. "I, too, have been prone to such feelings lately with no clear point of origin. I have checked and rechecked to ensure I'm not experiencing the corrupting effects of some toxin, magic, or psychic assault, but have found nothing amiss."
"Everyone is being pushed to their limits, J'onn. I'm worried we'll not have the strength or resources we need if things don't go as planned two days from now."
"Have you spoken with Batman about your concerns?"
Diana shakes her head. "His JLA comm appears to be off."
"Not an uncommon occurrence with him," J'onn notes. "I believe the situation with President Luthor and the energy crisis summit in Gotham have been causing additional work and stress for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. He has reached out for assistance from Green Arrow and Arsenal, as well as his own extended family."
J'onn doesn't mention his brief encounter with Nightwing and Arsenal the previous evening. It was unusual in that his surface sweep of their minds was marked by a wave of incomprehensible images of men and women coupling, but J'onn detected no malice from either man, and the bio-metric scans identified them easily.
"That's exactly what I mean, J'onn. Even Batman needs help right now, and he's the most dedicated and well-organized among us. I heard Flash required assistance from Superman yesterday evening as well, and I know Shayera went to aide Green Lantern's efforts to quell Sinestro. Things are escalating, but toward what end I'm uncertain."
J'onn recognizes Diana's distress, and knows she will be ill at ease until she has spoken with Batman, if only to assure herself the plan is sound. No one's mind is as meticulous as Batman's, and J'onn has come to trust his planning and preparation. Perhaps, though, they are relying on him too much considering he is already under pressure in Gotham.
"Princess, I would have you speak with Batman directly on the matter. He may be able to alleviate your concerns in a way I cannot."
J'onn detects a faint blush in Diana's cheeks, a slight increase in her pulse rate and breathing. He pretends he does not notice, but he is secretly pleased. It is most definitely true Diana may take greater comfort in Batman's reassurances than in his own or anyone else's. He has often seen it chronicled in Earth films how men who have offered support and comfort to a woman in times of crisis may become romantically involved with her once the difficulty has passed. Perhaps Diana and Bruce simply need such an opportunity to discover their feelings for one another.
"His communicator is switched off," Diana reminds J'onn. "I wouldn't know where to begin to look for him in Gotham."
J'onn pulls up a screen and requests a GPS location for Batman. To be safe, J'onn asks the computer to cross-reference the various reporting devices which are GPS-enabled—vehicles, phones, communicators, uniforms—to provide an accurate picture. When the results appear, he runs the request again to be certain.
"Batman appears to be in Central City," J'onn says, a note of surprise in his tone.
"Is there trouble?" Diana asks, looking at the display coordinates.
"I think not as the location indicated is Flash's residence. Perhaps he and Batman are engaged in a strategy session regarding the mission; there seemed to be some conflict when we met earlier as to what Flash's role should be."
Diana nods. "I will join them and share my concerns."
"I'm sure they will be most appreciative of your input, Diana. I'm sending the location coordinates to the Javelin now."
When Clark finishes talking, Lois doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, or hit someone. She kind of wants to do all three, but hitting Clark is out of the question. She has no desire to take a quick trip to the emergency room with a broken hand.
She's sitting on one of the most sensational stories of the year, and she can't do a damn thing with it. It's got everything: sex, drugs, superheroes, daring rescues, a gay love triangle, a plot against the President.
"We don't know it's a plot, Lois," Clark chastises. "I'm fairly certain Bruce suspects Luthor of dosing the brandy himself, although I'm not sure what his motive would've been. And I wouldn't call it a 'gay love triangle,' at least not anywhere Bruce can hear you."
"Maybe someone wants to blackmail the President. Incriminating photographs and the like."
"You know as well as I do, blackmail doesn't work with Luthor. Every aspect of his personal life's been public; I'm not sure anything embarrasses him at this point."
"True. A sex scandal wouldn't hurt his reputation any."
"But it would probably ruin Wally's life and seriously compromise his identity. You know that."
Lois makes a face. "I know. I wish there were a way to report it without letting the cat out of the bag."
"I don't think there is."
"Why the hell was Wally there anyway?"
"He was trying to reason with Luthor."
Lois laughs until she realizes Clark's being serious. "Oh, Wally doesn't know Luthor very well, does he?"
"After last night, I think he knows Luthor better than he wanted."
For a moment there's silence. Then Lois squares her shoulders and picks up her computer.
"The real story here seems to be why Luthor is so clearly seeking public sympathy lately. The unproven energy crisis rhetoric, the pseudo-poisoning story, and we know he's going to turn the seizure of those kryptonite shipments into negative press for the Justice League. What's he trying to distract us from? What's he trying to hide?"
Clark watches her walk out of the room and bark an order at one of the news department interns to bring her the daily dispatches from the energy summit in Gotham. A dark-haired young man scurries to comply as Lois sits at her desk and starts work on her next crushing exposé.
"That's my girl," Clark says fondly.
"No more," Wally says, groaning as he lies on the couch. "I can't take any more."
"Sure you can," Bruce coaxes. "Come on, I know you want it."
"There's no room in me for that! It's too much."
Wally eyes the specialty Mr. Mookjai had sent along for dessert: Fried Banana with Roasted Rice and Coconut served with a dollop of coconut-infused whipped cream. It's warm and sticky-sweet inside, crunchy on the outside, and the combination of flavours is weirdly addictive. He's already eaten two of them, and half of Bruce's.
"I promise you won't regret it," Bruce says seductively, and Wally is getting way too used to giving in to whatever that voice wants. Today isn't going to be any different apparently. He sits up, making room for Bruce beside him.
"We both might regret it if my stomach suddenly explodes."
"I've seen you eat way more than this and so far you're still intact."
"Yeah, but I'd been running at super-speed saving the day, not lying around in bed."
Wally expects the raised eyebrow, and isn't disappointed. He's getting to know Bruce's responses to teasing much better than he used to.
"I wouldn't say we were lying around, but if it's not enough of a workout for you, we can try something else."
"Really?" Wally waggles his eyebrows, knowing it makes him look about the furthest thing from seductive. "Like what?"
Bruce shifts closer on the couch, bringing his lips to Wally's ear. "Jogging. Calisthenics.
Weight-lifting. Target practice. Combat simulations."
"Nope, those don't sound sexy even when you say them. Also, why do I get the feeling I'd be the target in those last two?"
"Because you need more practice dodging thrown projectiles like batarangs. We should probably—" Bruce cuts himself off at the look on Wally's face. "We should probably not talk about work."
"He can be taught!" Wally rewards him with a kiss. "We agreed, no comms tonight, and that means no work. I know you're not entirely comfortable with the concept of a night off, but Dick knows how to reach us if it's an emergency, and he's the most level-headed guy I know."
Bruce's arm slips around Wally's shoulders. "It's not that I don't want to spend time with you."
"Glad to hear it. A guy could get a complex."
"But I feel responsible for Gotham."
"Bruce, you're one man. Amazing as you might be, you can't keep an entire city safe all the time, and no one except you expects you to. It's okay to take a break once in a while, enjoy life a little."
"I know." Wally isn't ready for the mood to turn serious, so he makes grabby hands toward the dessert Bruce has set down on the end table.
"Sure," Bruce says, grinning, as he hands the pastry over. "Now you want it."
The Thai banana thing is amazing. Wally takes a huge bite of the sweet gooey goodness, regretting it the instant Bruce says, "I knew you wanted to get my banana in your mouth."
Wally tries not to choke, but it's hard when he's laughing and trying to swallow at the same time. Bruce brings him a glass of water, and rubs his back until he stops coughing.
"You made a dirty banana joke!" he says when he gets his breath back. "No one would ever believe me. They'd think I was making it up."
"Very few people see this side of me."
"I'm glad. I mean, not that you can't share with people, but I'll be honest, it makes me feel special knowing there are things about you no one else gets to see."
"You are special, Wally." Bruce fixes him with an intense stare, then kisses him. "You don't realize how important you are."
"And not just because I died in a parallel dimension, right?"
It's out before Wally can stop himself, the thought that's been niggling at the back of his mind since Luthor brought it up. What if all of this, all that Bruce seems to feel for him, is because of what happened in another timeline? He knows Bruce needs to protect people—he feels so responsible for Gotham he can hardly be convinced to take a night off—and it's possible the guilt from failing to save Wally in all those other timelines has influenced his feelings.
"Why would you say that?" Bruce asks sharply, and Wally looks away.
"I'm sorry. I—I wasn't thinking. I don't know why I said it."
"Wally, you must've had a reason. Tell me. What's going on in your head?" He's suddenly in the room with Batman, not Bruce, and Wally isn't prepared for the third degree.
"I need some air," he says, going to the window that opens onto the fire escape. When he thrusts up the sash, there's the sound of a jet engine above, and Wally can see the lights of something large coming into view over his building.
"Are you expecting someone?" Wally asks.
"That's a Javelin." Evidently, Bruce can identify it by sound alone. "Something must be happening. They couldn't reach us on our comms."
Wally leans his head against the window frame, listening to the whine of an engine shutting down. One night. That's all he wanted. Just one night alone with Bruce without the rest of the world interfering. Things had even been going well—for them. There'd been a few tense spots and the typical misunderstandings, but they've both been trying so hard. They're learning how to do this, and Wally knows it would be much easier if they just had time to be themselves.
Bruce has disappeared into Wally's room, although Wally wasn't aware he'd brought anything with him. Like a Bat-suit. However, he can't say he's surprised when Batman appears a few minutes later in full regalia.
"Should I?" Wally gestures at his casual clothes.
"It's up to you. Whoever they sent already knows who you are, obviously."
Wally doesn't want to go to work. He's been alternating between comfy clothes and naked most of the day, and he'd been planning on sticking with that pattern. Next on the agenda had been naked and Bruce and bed. He's not happy about having the schedule interrupted.
He heads over to the kitchen table, snuffing the candle out with two fingers. He starts gathering empty containers together to throw out. Obviously, their dinner for two is officially over.
From behind him, Wally hears boots landing on the fire escape, so it's someone who can fly without the plane. Superman, Hawkgirl, or GL would've flown themselves and skipped the plane, so that means the Javelin likely came direct from the Watchtower. Great. It's either a mind-reading Martian or more likely …
"May I come in?" Diana asks.
"Of course," Wally says, trying to sound enthusiastic. "Mi casa es su casa, Princess."
"So, how is this not an emergency?" Roy asks, huddled behind a dumpster with Nightwing, taking gunfire from two directions. He leans out and snaps off three shots, then ducks back down to reload. "We've lost Green Arrow and Robin somewhere on the docks, you've got a flesh wound in the leg, and I'm running low on ammo—not to mention the obvious mutant ape problem."
"I don't want to call him!" Dick insists stubbornly.
"Fine! That'll look nice on your gravestone. Too proud to call Batman."
Bullets ricochet off the dumpster with a ringing sound that doesn't seem to stop when the shooting does. Roy has a sneaking suspicion they're yelling at each other.
"He never takes a night off!"
"Maybe this is why!"
Nightwing looks miserable, and Roy knows it's not the blood loss. Dick doesn't like admitting he needs help any more than Batman does, but this time it's obvious there's more to it.
"This is about Wally, isn't it?" Roy asks as Dick hurls a batarang into the darkness. There's a satisfying "oomph" before it returns to his hand. "You don't want to interrupt a Bat-Booty Call, am I right?"
"Please don't ever call it that again."
"When the Batmobile's a rockin'—"
"I will end you!"
Roy laughs, which seems to make the bad guys uneasy, and they're able to take down another two shooters.
"We need to get higher, see if we can spot Robin and GA," Dick says, squinting at the warehouse they're near. He's readying the grapple.
"You remember why we dropped down here, right? The creepy flying monkey things?"
"Maybe they're gone."
"Maybe the Wizard can give you a brain."
Roy empties another clip. He's not aiming to kill; he won't unless he absolutely has to, but the problem with wounding thugs is you end up with a lot of angry, bleeding guys who are extra-motivated to shoot you, and these guys were pretty motivated to begin with what with Mad Hatter's mind control devices turning them into single-minded, gun-toting zombies.
"Well, it's either up and we take our chances with the winged monkeys, or we stay pinned until they realize you're out of ammo."
"Up it is." Roy slides his last two clips into his guns. "I'd prefer to be able to cover us going up."
Dick shoots the grapple, listening for the sound of it catching.
"I think I can hold you long enough to make the roof."
"I do it with Robin all the time."
"That's reassuring. You're used to carrying a man-purse; I'm more like an army duffel full of guns."
Dick's grinning when he wraps an arm tight around Roy's waist, holding the grapple control with the other. He pats Roy on the stomach. "Ready, Duffel Bag?"
Roy's got a gun in each hand, safeties off, Dick a solid presence behind him. He trusts him completely. "Go."
They're about fifteen feet off the ground before the thugs seem to realize what's happening, and by then the grapple line's moving smoothly. Roy shoots at anything that looks like it's going to take a shot at them, and it's enough to lift them out of range without any damage. When they're within reach, Roy grabs onto the roof and swings himself up, then extends a hand to Nightwing, careful of his injured leg as he rolls him onto the rooftop.
Somewhere behind Roy there's a bellowing sound, like a mad ape, drowned out a second later by what can only be the raucous laughter of hyenas. A cold shiver spills down Roy's spine as he realizes Dick's face has gone white, and that's about the worst sign in the world because none of the Bat-family scares easily.
It all slides home in one awful second of clarity; they've been guided here. Separated, herded, left with no alternative but up. This is someone who knows them, or at least how they work. All the fucking nutcases come to Gotham, and Roy's quite happy to include Batman on that list. He wonders what would happen if he grabbed Dick and dropped them both over the side. Would Dick have time to cast the grapple again before they hit the ground?
"Too late," Dick says, but he's not looking at Roy because his fingers are flying over his phone's touch screen, rapidly texting what Roy hopes to hell is an S.O.S before pulling the phone's sim card and throwing both off the roof.
"If I turn around, am I going to see hyenas? I'm starting to think your city has an animal control problem, Nightwing."
Something large and heavy lands on Roy's shoulder. It covers his entire shoulder and looks surprisingly like a black leathery human hand. The nails are neatly trimmed into sharp points.
"You shot me with an arrow," a growling voice says from above and behind him, and Roy feels hot breath on the top of his head. "The hyenas are going to have to wait in line."
Ah, fuck. Gorilla Grodd. Well, that explains the flying monkeys. Sort of. Their night keeps getting better and better. Gotham City's definitely going to get a complaint regarding their inability to contain dangerous criminals and intelligent mutants for longer than twenty-four hours without an escape. Even Star City's got a better record than Gotham, and their police force is almost as corrupt.
Roy hopes Batman's night off was worth it. If Roy doesn't get to see his daughter again because he gets ripped apart by mutant apes or eaten by Joker's hyenas, he's coming back to haunt the bastard.
Diana has never been to Wally's apartment before. She's never visited most of her colleagues at home, and she's not sure whether the Bat-Cave counts as Batman's home or not.
Wally's place is small, but comfortable-looking. It's somewhat chaotic—books heaped on shelves with CDs and DVDs, a cage that seems to house a small rodent of some type, a table strewn with the remains of an elaborate takeout dinner.
"Can I get you anything, Diana? Coffee, tea? Something to eat?"
"No, thank you."
She looks from Wally to Bruce and back. Batman is dressed for work, and seems out of place standing near the door in the laid-back apartment. Wally's wearing sweats and a t-shirt. With his bare feet and mussed hair, he looks like a college student. Sometimes she finds it hard to understand Wally's carefree approach to life; Batman's serious nature is more in tune with her own.
"I apologize for the interruption, but both your comms were offline."
"You don't say? Imagine that." She senses sarcasm from Wally, but isn't entirely certain of the context. She has the feeling she's interrupted something. An argument perhaps. She glances at the remains of the meal Wally is clearing away.
"Is this a similar type of male bonding ritual as you share with Green Lantern when you watch Coronation Street?"
"No," Wally answers at the same time Batman says, "Yes."
Diana remains confused until Wally stops in the middle of gathering up trash. "Not exactly."
There's something in the way he says it, the look he gives Batman, that Diana can't parse. She senses tension between them, and perhaps it's as J'onn suggested—the two of them continue to be in disagreement as to Flash's role in the upcoming mission. It's unnecessary stress Batman doesn't need at the moment, and Diana wishes she could offer him some sort of reprieve. He needs a night off. A break from it all.
"Did you have a reason for stopping by, Diana?"
"I have concerns about our upcoming mission," she states.
"Join the club," Wally mutters, but continues to involve himself in domestic tasks. The brown-and-white furred rodent has begun to run on the metal wheel in its cage. There's an arrhythmic squeaking that grates on Diana's ear the way a persistent drip of water does, but if anyone else notices, they give no indication.
Diana knows Wally has trouble remaining still for any length of time. His need to always be in motion is something she's never quite become accustomed to, and tonight is no different. She fears having this discussion here, with Wally, with the running creature and its squeaking wheel. They will distract from what she needs to say to Batman and from his ability to properly consider her trepidation.
"Go on, Princess," Batman prompts.
"I believe my concerns would more appropriately be discussed in private."
"Naturally," Wally says, as if he were expecting her to say as much. "Would you like me to leave?"
"This is your home. Of course not."
Diana's uncertain how to read his demeanor this evening, and Batman gives no clues as to whether their discussion was satisfactorily concluded or not. Normally, Batman would've stepped forward by now with a suggested plan of action, but he's done nothing. She notices the two-day growth of stubble visible on his strong jaw and determines he must be exhausted. His behavior is most uncharacteristic. She will simply have to take matters into her own hands. Sometimes Bruce doesn't know when something is for his own good.
"I would be happy to deliver you home to Gotham. We could discuss matters on the way."
"If you like," Batman says, and there's the sound of something hitting the floor in the kitchen.
"Sorry," Wally says, face red. "Dropped a cup."
"Are you alright?" Diana inquires.
Wally can move at incredible speeds, but he's not normally clumsy. The stress of these last few weeks appears to be affecting everyone. Diana realizes she doesn't know the exact nature of the emergency Flash was involved in with Superman the previous night. Perhaps she will also ask Batman about that. It might explain Flash's strange mood.
"No point crying over broken pottery, as my Nana Flash would say. It's just a cup."
"We should leave you to better concentrate on your clean-up." Diana glances at Batman. "Unless your … meeting was not finished?"
For the first time since she's arrived, Batman moves. His broad shoulders and flowing cape seem to fill up the small apartment. He crosses to the counter that separates the narrow kitchen from the living room.
"Is there anything you wish to discuss further?" Batman asks, and his tone is softer somehow. More careful. He's gripping the edge of the counter with one gauntlet.
Wally looks torn, as if he wants to say something, but he shakes his head and turns away. "Nothing I can think of."
There's a moment's hesitation in Batman's step, a second when Diana thinks he's going to reach out, perhaps pat Wally on the arm. Flash seems to be in need of some kind of reassurance. Whatever they were discussing has obviously created tension between them. But Batman retreats without another word, stepping through the open window onto the fire escape.
This is one more example of why Diana cannot quell her fears about the upcoming mission. Everyone is behaving out of character. Emotions are running high. The possibility of mistakes is a real one given the fatigue most of them are experiencing, and their purely human members are the most vulnerable. She has never had reason to doubt Batman's capabilities as a leader or a fighter, but she has also never seen him like this.
"Good night, Wally," Diana adds, stepping over the sill. "I apologize for intruding. You have a lovely home."
Wally sighs, and gives her a brief smile. "It's not your fault, Diana. It's fine."
She isn't entirely sure what he means by that, but she nods and takes her leave of him. When she reaches the rooftop, Batman has already appropriated the pilot's seat in the Javelin and started the engine. As much as Diana dislikes ceding control to men as a matter of course—as if it's natural that women should do so, in Hera's name!—she finds Batman consistently treats her the same as everyone else. He would usurp the pilot's chair no matter who had brought the plane. Sometimes it's an infuriating quality, but she knows it is preferable to the many men who would try to subjugate her to their will.
As soon as the Javelin lifts off, Batman is all business.
"Tell me what you came here to say, Diana."
He sounds tired and ill-equipped to deal with small talk. She gets to the point.
"I have grave concerns about our abilities to carry out the mission ahead of us, particularly if Luthor deviates from what we believe to be his plans."
Batman nods, as if he's had concerns himself. Good. It will make the discussion more productive if they are not completely opposed at the outset. Perhaps a common ground can be reached. At the very least, she would like to see additional support added to every team—obviously Batman will be able to recognize the value in such a thing, as he often employs a network of allies to assist him.
"Go ahead, Princess. I'm listening."
Wally takes the Spinster out of his cage, and lets him wander around the couch. He feeds the little guy a tiny bit of the fried banana dessert.
"That's good, huh?" Wally says when the hamster makes a sort of chirping noise, flopping down on the edge of the plate to consume the treat. He's definitely got a sweet tooth.
Wally leans his head against the back of the couch. He knows he shouldn't be surprised Bruce left. Of course, he left! He's Batman, and he always puts what he wants behind what everyone else needs. Wally isn't that selfless; he wishes Bruce would be a little more selfish, too.
There's the sound of a phone ringing. Wally has to think for a moment to realize it's one of his. Not the landline, not his Wally West cel, not his Flash cel, not the JLA communicator.
"Fuck," Wally says, identifying the particular ringtone as David Bowie's "Heroes," and leaping off the couch. The Titans' comm is buried in a drawer in his bedroom. It hasn't gone off in ages, and truthfully, Wally had more or less forgotten about it. He hasn't been a Teen Titan in years, and he mostly kept it because sometimes it was the easiest way to get hold of Dick or Roy. They seemed to change locations more than Wally, which is kind of ironic now that he thinks about it. The comm is older tech, working more like a pager, and when he checks the ID number flashing, he recognizes it as the direct line to the Cave.
There's no way Bruce could've arrived home yet, and this kind of signal can only mean one thing. There's big trouble in Gotham City.
Alfred answers on the first ring.
"Master Wally, thank goodness."
"Alfred, what's wrong?"
"I sincerely regret this intrusion on your time with Master Bruce, but—"
"He left already, Alfred. He's on his way back to Gotham with Wonder Woman. What's going on?"
"How did he—I only sent the message to the JLA a moment ago!"
"Her Highness had things she needed to discuss in private with Bruce, so naturally, he left with her."
"Oh dear. Miss Diana is a remarkable woman, but someone needs to set her straight on a few things," Alfred says, sounding as if he's disappointed in Bruce for not doing exactly that. Good. Maybe Alfred's disappointment will have more of an impact since Wally's frustrated anger doesn't seem to be having much effect.
"Alfred, what's going on? Did Dick tell you to call me?"
"Yes. He wouldn't have if it could've been helped—"
"I know that." Wally sits up, rubbing a hand over the Spinster's furry back, as much to comfort himself as the hamster. "It's okay. Just tell me what's happening."
He knows damn well Dick would've told Alfred to call him only as a last resort, so if Alfred called, it's serious, and Bruce doesn't have a clue what he's flying towards.
"Wait, wait," Wally interrupts as Alfred speaks rapidly. "Did you saying flying monkeys?"
"Unfortunately, I did, sir. I've lost all contact with the boys, as well as Mr. Harper and Mr. Queen. The Gotham City police department is reporting rioting in the area. The last message Richard sent had three words: Grodd. Hatter. Joker. Followed by the numbers 9-1-1."
"Shit," Wally says, slipping the Spinster back into his cage, and giving him the last piece of the banana treat. Someone may as well go to bed happy. He grabs a Flash ring out of his drawer; it's easier when he's in this much of a hurry. "I'm switching to my JLA comm; it's been calibrated to work even when I'm running."
"The last GPS data shows them at a warehouse in the area of the docks in south Gotham. The cross streets are 115th and Levine."
"Alfred, call Bats via the JLA. He and Diana are somewhere en route to Gotham. I'm on my way."
"It'll be okay, Alfred. They'll be fine, especially if they're together. None of them would let anything happen to Tim. I'll be there in a couple of minutes, and Bats and Diana aren't that far away."
"Be careful. Godspeed."
"I'll touch base when I can. Flash out."
Wally slips the lightning bolt ring on his finger, spinning with the speedforce as his uniform forms around him. That part will never get old. He ducks through the window, closing it behind him.
Normally Grodd's not this much trouble, but someone's definitely been stirring the pot. Wally figures now's as good a time as any to test how well his leg has healed in the last couple of days. Grodd had clipped him good, but he's been taking it easy. Bruce hadn't even noticed, and that's fine. He doesn't want Bruce worrying about him or fussing over every bruise he gets. He can take care of himself.
Wally was a little surprised Bruce didn't seem to notice, though. He's Batman. He notices everything.
"Get your head in the game, Wally, or you're going to be gorilla chow," he says to himself.
Wally concentrates on his breathing, keeping his focus on making the straightest line to Gotham he can. The night sky is bright with stars, the moon not yet risen. Wally lets his worries go and simply runs. It's what he does best.
Luthor tilts back the leather chair in his study and watches the monitors in front of him. God, he does so love a good show, and this one promises to be one of the best.
The amazing part is how little effort it took to arrange. A few bribes here and there in the usual places. A truly inventive chimpanzee researcher. An unlimited supply of kryptonite. A surfeit of CCTV cameras and an easily hackable network.
"Forget to pay the cable bill again?" a female voice says, amused.
Lex raises his glass in acknowledgment. "I much prefer public access reality programming."
The woman laughs, deep and throaty. "If you weren't such a bastard, this job would be terribly dull."
"Thank you, Ms. Graves. I take that as a compliment coming from you." Lex glances over his shoulder. "Was there something you wanted?"
She lays a file folder on the desk in front of him. "Updates from the lab at Mt. Torrent, handwritten as requested, as well as the confirmed route changes for the shipments of green K, also handwritten. There are no digital communications regarding these whatsoever, and those involved are well-aware of the penalty for disobeying that instruction."
Lex opens the file folder and glances briefly at the pages inside, filled with a precise, angular script. "Excellent penmanship. I expected nothing less."
Someone less disciplined would be rolling her eyes, but Lex appreciates the restraint. She's standing at parade rest, her black pantsuit as sharp as any uniform she's worn, and she's worn several. He dislikes hiring mercenaries as a general rule, but Mercy Graves appears to be the exception to any number of rules. She's smart, ruthless, and so far has proven to be unwaveringly loyal. He's not stupid enough to believe she'll never turn on him, but should the day come when she needs to be put down, there are contingencies for that. In the meantime, he takes considerable pleasure in her dry wit, attention to detail, and her willingness to do whatever needs to be done.
Mercy gestures at the bank of monitors, which are showing a rooftop crowded with people and animals, a warehouse swarming with winged chimpanzees, a riot near a set of docks, and a satellite image of a blur of yellow light travelling between two metropolitan centres. Lex swivels his chair around to see if she's joking.
"Why, Ms. Graves, are you suggesting a movie night? Perhaps you should have brought popcorn."
"You have a fully-stocked kitchen downstairs with a staff that's on-call to cater to your every capricious whim. I can get popcorn if it's necessary."
"Not necessary, but always appreciated."
Lex grins, as Mercy reaches up to her comm device and orders popcorn be brought to the residence. Two large bowls. With real butter. And none of that microwave-popped stuff. She's very specific about that, and Lex appreciates it.
It's good to be king.
Bruce's muscles start to clench the moment he puts the cape and cowl on at Wally's apartment. Now, in the Javelin, he concentrates on trying to relax. It's not working, and Diana's only part of the problem.
"I don't disagree with you," Bruce says after listening to her concerns. "But what choices do we have? If we're pro-active, it appears we're targeting Luthor. If we wait until the shipments are on the move at least, there's a chance of it being a simple seizure. Luthor's not about to start an armed conflict over kryptonite. Remember, this only works for him if the Justice League comes out looking like the bad guy. Should we stand back and do nothing at all?"
"What about the laboratory at Mt. Torrent? Do you intend to take the lab?"
Bruce feels a headache starting. "No. This is political. We're not launching a war, Princess. We have absolutely no intelligence on what sort of device might be present there other than it's likely powered by kryptonite. We have sketchy information at best that there's a test of some type being conducted the day after tomorrow. Given that Luthor holds one of the three licenses to research kryptonite, there's not much we can do unless he's creating a weapon, or we can prove the facility is a danger."
"Even then, any weapon can be promoted as a defensive measure. A deterrent," Diana scoffs. "As if creating more weapons will decrease the likelihood of conflict."
"Since the mountain has large deposits of both kryptonite ore and lead, it's almost impossible for us to get a look at what's in the lab without going in, and we have no justification for doing so at the moment."
"You're hoping the seizure of the shipments will give you enough of a diversion to sneak in and get a look at what's in the lab."
Bruce nods. "There are certain things Luthor can't hide—the fact the lab is drawing inordinate amounts of power from the grid, for example. It's also not networked to any of Luthor's other facilities. It's got an internal computer system complete with its own servers and no external digital footprint. Whatever's happening under Mt. Torrent, Luthor doesn't want anyone knowing the details of it, and he wants to make sure his involvement isn't recorded anywhere either."
"When things go to hell, as they inevitably do, he'll be able to say he trusted the people in charge and they lied about the nature of the experiments."
Diana gives Bruce a shrewd look. "Obviously, you have a theory regarding the work being done there."
"All the kryptonite-powered tech that's been finding its way into criminal hands—it's coming from somewhere 'cause Ollie and I aren't producing it, and Cadmus and S.T.A.R. labs are closely monitored. We need to stem the flow of that tech onto the streets. If these last few days have been any indication of how much worse things can get when you add kryptonite to the mix, we need to stop this now."
"Do they not realize the danger—the madness—that comes from prolonged kryptonite exposure?"
"Don't know or don't care. It's all the same in the end."
Bruce lets out a deep breath and glances out the window toward Gotham. There's low cloud over the city, fog rolling off the harbor. Perfect cover for all kinds of terrible things to happen in the dark. The auto-pilot continues to bear them towards Wayne manor.
There's a hand on his arm, and Bruce appreciates Diana's attempt at comfort, but it won't help. He isn't sure anything can help at the moment. His mind's still stuck on Wally's outburst when Bruce tried to tell him how important he was.
"And not just because I died in a parallel dimension, right?"
It was said jokingly, but Bruce knows that doesn't mean anything. Wally uses humor to cope. He always has, and it's part of why he's at the heart of the JLA. He keeps the team balanced. He diffuses tension with the ease Bruce defuses a bomb, but Bruce knows you always have to be on the lookout for decoy wires, for things that appear to be other than what they are. Wally's so good at being everyone's bright spot, sometimes they miss when something's truly wrong.
What Wally said wasn't a joke. Bruce knows that, but he isn't sure exactly what it means. Is it possible Wally thinks the JLA would somehow be better off without him? The opposite is true, and Wally's value as a team member was established long before they encountered the Justice Lords. There should be no doubt as to where Wally belongs.
The radio crackles to life. "Watchtower to Javelin 1."
"Javelin 1," Diana says. "Go ahead, J'onn."
"I have an emergency call for Batman. I'm relaying it now."
"Go ahead," Batman says, resigning himself to another night with virtually no sleep. At least he got a little bit this afternoon. He had been looking forward to falling asleep with Wally in his arms, but that's not likely to happen now.
"Master Bruce," Alfred's voice cuts in. "Thank God, I've reached you."
Roy knows he's lost time because he doesn't remember what happened between finding himself on a rooftop in Gotham with Grodd breathing down his neck—literally—and where he is now.
Here is … well, he's upright, at least, but there's a bag over his head, so he can't see a thing, and he's not going to think about what putrid thing was in it before his head. It smells like old socks and cabbage.
The lower half of his body has been locked into some sort of improvised stocks. Roy can feel chains wrapped around his ankles, a wood and steel frame haphazardly constructed around him, and he's got very little range of movement. His arms aren't exactly free, but the chains at his wrists are long enough he can swing his arms, and that sends up a roar from the crowd. Or whatever you call a bunch of apes, hyenas, and crazy people. An asylum, maybe. Roy thinks Dick would appreciate the joke, but he's got no idea where Dick is.
"And he's back, folks!" says a voice from somewhere to his right. "Let the show begin!"
Roy's been fortunate to have had few run-ins with the Joker, but he's well aware of the man's reputation. He can't get the look of fear in Dick's eyes out of his mind, and that more than anything is scaring the crap out of him because next to Batman, Dick's the bravest regular guy Roy knows, and Batman's kind of nuts, so he's not sure that counts.
"Nightwing?" he asks experimentally, to see if Dick's nearby, but there's no response that Roy can recognize over the sound of animals and men.
"Addled and crazy men, apes of all ages, welcome to the greatest show on earth!" Joker's voice is booming out like a ringmaster at a circus, and Roy has to wonder how much Joker knows about Dick's history. "For your entertainment tonight, we have something very special. You might know him as Speedy, former sidekick to the Jolly Green Arrow, or as he likes to be called now, Arsenal!"
Suddenly there's a hand grasping his bicep and Joker's right there. He can hear the man's breathing through the bag. "Oh, that's too long for a stage name, boy-o! You need something short, catchy! Something with pizzazz! How about Arse?"
There's a wave of laughter, and Roy feels a broad hand slap him on the ass. Fuck. He tries to move away, but there's nowhere to go, and he can feel his face burning red under the bag. He hates this city. If it wasn't for Dick, he'd never set foot in it.
"Mmmm, you boys in the Kevlar crowd sure do workout. You could bounce a quarter off that tushie! But let's not get distracted from the main event, apes and gentlemen! We're used to the bats that fly around Gotham city and all the pretty little Robins. But they use sticks and lines, they like to get up close and personal with feet and fists, and we don't mind mixing it up with them once in a while. In fact, some of us rather like it."
"But this one uses a bow and arrow! How quaint! Yeah, like Robin Hood. And … that other guy. He's supposed to be one of the greatest marksmen on earth, and we're going to see if that's true."
"Come on," Roy says, clenching his fists. "Put a bow in my hand, and I'll show you exactly what I can do."
A long "oo" goes up from the crowd, the hyenas joining in at the end. Roy can tell there are people all around him. He has no idea where Dick is, and that worries him.
"Fiesty, Arse! I like that in a prisoner."
There's a smattering of applause.
"We're going to give you your bow, and one teensy-weensy arrow. If you shoot anything other than the target, you'll be disqualified, and you know what that means."
"Well, I don't know, but nothing good, that's for sure!" Joker says, slapping Roy upside the head. It stings, but he shakes it off easily enough. If they're going to give him his bow, maybe there's a chance.
"What's my target?"
"That's the big surprise!"
Roy's suddenly blinking in the rooftop lights as he breathes fresh air again. Thank God he's out of that horrible bag. Then he catches a glimpse at the target they've set up, a round wooden wheel at the end of the rooftop opposite him. Roy's got no idea where they found such a thing, but it's been haphazardly mounted on a post, so the wheel can spin freely. Tied to the wheel by his hands and feet is Nightwing. He's gagged. Roy can't see from here, but he knows there's a line of blood running down Dick's right leg from where a stray bullet nicked him earlier. The wheel is already dotted with objects that have been thrown—a few knives, one glimmering machete, a broken shuriken, a couple of rusty pieces of metal with sharp edges, a half-dozen batarangs. Nothing seems to have come close enough to touch Dick, though.
An ape ambles forward with Roy's bow and a single arrow in his hand.
"Give him the bow," Grodd says, and Roy becomes aware the rooftop seems to be divided into two sides with him and Dick at either end of a wide corridor in the middle. It's a bit like being at a wedding with the bride's family on one side, the groom's on the other, except between Grodd and the Joker, Roy doesn't want to guess who's the bride.
The second the bow is in his hand, Roy spins it around like a staff, slamming it into the ape still holding the arrow.
"Now, now, that's against the rules! We don't abide cheaters!"
The crowd starts booing, and Roy realizes someone's holding up signs like they do on live television shows for applause or laughter. Another guy in an orange jumpsuit's got a stack of broken plywood he's painting instructions on in red. It looks like one sign says, "KILL."
"Groddy, baby, tell him what he's won!"
Grodd looks less than impressed with the nickname, and barks something at one of his followers standing near the wheel. Someone's strung a piece of wire in a curve from one end of a crowbar to the other. It looks like a nightmare parody of Roy's longbow. A big dark grey ape with yellow eyes brandishes it in one hand, shaking it in the air like a fist. Cheers echo off the buildings around them. Using the "bow" like a staff, the ape turns and slams it across Dick's thigh. The one with the wound.
Roy can hear Dick's cry of pain even through the gag, and there's not a damn thing he can do to stop it. If he doesn't play along, they're going to beat Dick to death in front of him. If he does, he's going to end up turning one of his best friends into a human pin cushion. It's not much of a choice. The best he can hope for is to buy them some time while Alfred rallies the cavalry. Assuming Dick's message was received.
"So, everybody clear on the rules now?" Joker asks, leaning in close. "At least until I change them!" His eyes are bloodshot and cruel, his white face unnatural. Roy nods slowly. He knows being in Gotham sometimes means doing what the crazy people want.
"Good boy! Now give him the arrow, Monkey Butler, and let's see if Robin Hood here can make us merry men."
The ape scampers away as soon as he passes the arrow to Roy. It's one of his regular steel-tipped arrows. It's made to go through the layers of Kevlar in uniforms like Dick's, except where there's reinforced plating. If it were Batman, Roy wouldn't worry. The arrow would probably stick in the armor plating and that would be the end of it, but Dick's fluid fighting style requires a lighter fabric with more stretch. He's nowhere near as heavily protected as Bats.
Roy tries to get a sense of how far he can move his arms. They've left him enough for a half-decent draw weight, but he's got limited upper body motion, and he pretty much can't move his lower half. Most of the spectators aren't within the angle they've left him. Grodd and Joker are out of his sightlines entirely.
Roy takes his time nocking the arrow. All he can do is stall. "I can't do this. I can't shoot a friend in cold blood."
"Sure you can, it's easy!"
Joker struts forward, pulls out a revolver, aims at Dick, and fires. A flag pops out that says, "BANG!" and the crowd howls uproariously. Roy tries to get his pounding heart under control.
"No, no, no. That's not the right one. I know it's around here somewhere." Joker makes a show of patting down his pockets, and comes up with another, bigger revolver, and this time when he pulls the trigger, a shot rings out. The round's a small caliber, and probably doesn't puncture the suit, but Roy sees Dick flinch from the hit. He knows what it's like to take a round even with ballistic protection. It hurts.
"Oh, that's going to leave a mark." Joker blows a whiff of smoke away from the barrel of the gun and shakes his head. "Time's a wastin', Arsey, and we've got paying customers. If you don't have the stomach for it—" Joker pokes the barrel of the gun into Roy's stomach, hammer pulled back and cocked. "—there are plenty of volunteers who'd love to take a shot, or a stab, or a chainsaw at the former Boy Blunder. Maybe I should open it up to the floor?"
There's stomping and whistling, and Roy knows if he hesitates any longer, someone with a lot less skill and a lot more crazy is going to step up and take a turn with his bow. Or shoot them. Or beat them to death. Or something worse. He knows Joker's capable of much worse than killing them.
Dick's been struggling on the wheel all this time, and someone finally decides to take his gag off. The first thing out of his mouth is shouted at Roy: "Take the shot, Speedy. I trust your aim."
"Don't call me Speedy," Roy yells back because it's ingrained in him by now, and because he knows what Dick's trying to tell him. Part of him wants to laugh because Dick's strapped to a goddamn target and he's still trying to make Roy feel better.
"That's the spirit, Cock-Robin! Let's give him a red breast, Mr. Arrow. I never cared much for the black-and-blue myself. Too drab. Too much like The Bat, and isn't that depressing? The boy needs a splash of color, and I can tell you're just the man to give it to him." Joker's face is pushed right against Roy's. He smells like peppermints and blood. "Do it. Make our little Robin red again. Do it!"
"I'm so sorry," he says softly, knowing Dick can read his lips at this distance. "Forgive me."
The arrow needs to fly exactly how he wants it to, and land exactly where he tells it. Accuracy has never been as important as it is right now. Roy takes a deep breath, releasing on the exhale. The arrow flies true.
Mercy pushes a bowl of popcorn in Lex's direction.
"May I ask a question?"
"You may not get an answer," Lex says, but he's curious. Mercy has a remarkable mind, and although he doesn't want to encourage too much familiarity, a sense of personal attachment never hurts when someone is entrusted with protecting one's life.
"What's with you and Knobby Knees?" She's pointing at the streak of light on the furthest monitor, and Lex can't contain a bark of laughter.
"Are you casting aspersions on my taste in men?"
"Not at all, if that's what floats your yacht, but he seems an unusual choice. A considered choice." Mercy's choosing her words carefully. Lex appreciates that. It shows she's aware he has teeth.
"Shouldn't one consider carefully with whom one keeps company?" Lex swallows a mouthful of brandy, enjoying the warmth. Unconsciously, he finds his fingers pressing at the bruises left by Wally's mouth just inside his collar, but stops when he realizes Mercy's watching him. "I find him … intriguing."
"If you say so."
"Would it surprise you to learn he's managed to melt a heart I assumed was long dead?" Mercy raises an eyebrow skeptically, and Lex almost chokes on his drink. "Not me, for God's sakes."
"Good. I was beginning to think you'd been drinking the special brandy again."
"A small price to pay for a lasting result. Mr. West doesn't believe a man would effectively poison himself."
"He doesn't know you very well, does he?"
"On the contrary. He's come to know exactly the person I want him to know. Our recent shared experience has had the double benefit of making him sympathetic toward me, while at the same time, creating tension between him and Bruce Wayne."
"Because Wayne knows you're exactly the sort of man who would poison himself."
"At the very least, Bruce knows I have the ability to do it without accidentally killing myself, and he certainly suspects I have the motivation. Did I mention he's West's lover?"
"You're telling me Knobby Knees is knocking boots with Batman?"
"How charmingly colloquial. Yes, that's what I'm telling you, and my sources suggest it's potentially much more than just 'knocking boots,' as you say."
"I've warned you about using the Psychic Hotline."
Lex really does enjoy employees who aren't afraid to throw a few metaphorical barbs his direction. It's the ones that throw actual pointy objects at him that he dislikes.
"I realize I started out too aggressively with Wally—I can't really be blamed for assuming he'd respond to that approach given who he's sleeping with. A little backtracking was required, but now I've planted a seed of doubt in that relationship. Bruce's inability to interact with people emotionally, especially ones he cares about, will undoubtedly do the rest."
"You don't have a lot of faith in people, do you, Lex?"
"I do, as a matter of fact. I have faith people will continue to act in largely predictable ways, which in this case means Mr. West will champion my innocence , and Batman will alienate him by insisting I'm the devil incarnate."
Lex catches a flurry of movement on one of the monitors, and swivels it towards Mercy.
"Here's a perfect example. Our heroes have performed in predictable ways. They can be led down particular alleyways, forced to retreat to a rooftop. They will choose the option with the greatest likelihood of success and the least damage to people and property. They will sacrifice themselves for one another, and for any random civilian along the way. Disappointingly predictable."
Lex grins as he looks at the sheer enthusiasm of the men and animals on the crowded roof. "But on the other side, you have these people. The truly great thing about the insane is they're infinitely creative. You don't have to give them ideas; they've plenty of their own, which are often spectacularly more demented than anything you could've suggested. All you have to do is wind them up and point them in the right direction."
Lex taps the screen with his finger. "Look here. They've captured Nightwing and Arsenal, and what are they doing with them? Beating them to a pulp? Pressing for information? Taking a peak under those pointy little masks? Things that normal, predictable thugs might do if they got their hands on this pair? No, they're having an archery competition. With Nightwing as the target. How brilliant is that? Of course, they're going to regret it when … "
"When they realize they've given him a supply of sharp objects?" Mercy finishes for him. She seems genuinely interested in the proceedings, but isn't hanging on his every word like the sycophantic bodyguards he's had in the past. Lex thinks she's going to work out well.
There's a sudden rush away from the area of the target where the crowd had slowly been pressing inward. Lex can see an unfortunate man with a piece of arrow sticking out of his neck. Nightwing has managed to get one hand free and is using it to hurl anything he can reach towards the crowd.
Lex wonders if Joker realizes a number of Arsenal's arrows seem to have fallen within easy reach of Nightwing's now free hand. Probably. Joker's always struck Lex as the kind of lunatic to understand exactly what's going on and simply not care. He wants to watch things play out once he sets something in motion. He wants to light the world on fire and watch it burn. Lex can understand that desire.
Flash gets to Gotham in record time, and heads towards the docks. He doesn't know exactly where he's going, but he figures he'll know it when he sees it. Flying monkeys don't seem like a low profile kind of minion, so Wally keeps scanning the skies as he searches the area for any signs of the four missing men.
He's got activity on a rooftop near the cross streets Alfred gave him, but he's going to need a higher vantage point to see exactly what's happening. Wally tears up the side of a neighboring building, and hits the roof in a low crouch. The last thing he needs is to be spotted by the creepy abominations that are flying around, but at least now he's got a clear view.
He can see the rooftop one building over set up like a court, Joker and Grodd presiding on either side, and Roy's half-buried in some kind of makeshift holding pen with only his upper body free so he can shoot. There's a wheel spinning rapidly at the opposite end of the roof to Roy, and Wally feels his stomach turn when he registers the wheel is flashing black and blue as it turns. Fuck.
Dick's tied to the wheel, and it's clear they've been at this a while because there are arrows and other objects sticking out of the wood around Dick. The worst ones, though, are the arrows sticking out of Dick, and yet, in spite of everything, Wally can hear Dick talking. To Roy. His JLA comm's automatically tuned in to the short-range frequency built into the suits, but he doubts Joker or Grodd would've let them keep their ear pieces.
"I could be the Human Pincushion. Or, the Pernicious Porcupine."
"If you're a character in a kids' book maybe. Don't flatter yourself. More like Humdrum Hedgehog, I think."
Roy never takes his eyes off Dick, even as he looses another arrow. Wally hears the resounding thunk as it hits wood, the involuntary cry of pain from Dick, and Wally feels himself flinch in sympathy.
"Bullseye!" Joker shouts, and there's a wave of chest-beating from the apes.
Up above, the smaller, flying monkeys seem to be circling like vultures, waiting for a chance to move in. Wally's going to make sure that doesn't happen. He'll have to cut through four different sets of rope to release Dick. Doing that at superspeed is dangerous, but nothing else is going to matter if Dick bleeds to death in the next few minutes. He's going to need a bolt cutter to cut Roy's chains, maybe a crowbar. It's hard to tell from this angle, and he can't take the risk of alerting anyone with a closer pass.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Dick is whispering, obviously in tremendous pain.
"Hey, none of that," Roy says, voice shaking. "You know Batman hates it when you swear. He blames me for being a bad influence."
The crowd seems to think that's hilarious, but Wally knows it's true. Roy knew a lot of inventive ways to swear when they met him, and he was happy to share his knowledge.
"Did you call me Humdrum?" Dick says, voice high and strained. He's coughing up blood. "I think I've been insulted."
"I think I might've punctured your lung, you moron. Stop talking for Christ's sake. Please, shut up and keep breathing. Shallow breaths. Come on, you can do it."
Wally hasn't heard Roy plead like that since his heroin detox. Wally's surveying the crowd, looking for hazards that could trip him up, literally. If he gets caught, if someone gets a hand on him, even accidentally, it probably means they'll all die on that rooftop. If he's not fast enough cutting the ropes, or getting Dick down from the wheel—he can't take the arrows out or he'll bleed to death for sure—or getting off the rooftop, there's no chance.
"So if I die from this, have I been quilled?" Dick asks because when he's nervous or scared, he talks and makes jokes; when Roy's scared, he gets belligerent and swears a lot. It's one of the reasons he and Roy drove each other crazy in the Titans.
"Oh, good one, pretty bird! You can take the boy out of the short pants, but you can't make him stop with the annoying puns," Joker says, slapping his knee.
The crowd breaks into wild laughter, but Wally can hear Roy's voice, angry, cut through it all. "That's not fucking funny. You're such a … " Roy trails off, looking like he's going to lose it. "Dick. You're such a dick. Dick!"
"Sticks and stones," someone in the crowd shouts, and Wally isn't sure if that's a call to arms or not. You can never tell with crazy people.
"I'd trade places with you—"
Joker looks intrigued by the concept. "Hey, now there's a—"
"Don't give them ideas," Dick says, weaker than before. "I'm a lousy shot with a bow and arrow. I'd accidentally shoot you somewhere important and it would be over too quickly."
"Quite right, Bat Boy. Nothing brings a smile to the face like a slow bleed. It makes me positively ecstatic."
"You're doing fine," Dick says, managing to force a grin. "The margin for arrow is minimal."
"Christ, don't joke—"
"Oh, but Arsey boy, that's what it's all about! Make 'em laugh!" Joker's dancing around Roy, but Wally can't tell exactly what he's doing. "Make 'em bleed!"
"I trust your aim," Dick says, but Wally's mostly lip-reading it. He can't hear Dick's voice any more.
"Well, you're a fucking idiot! What the hell do you know?"
Wally can see Joker with an arm around Roy's shoulders, a butterfly knife being casually twirled in one hand, and every twist of the blade slices the flesh on Roy's shoulder. Now that Wally's looking, he can see hundreds of tiny cuts on Roy's arms and shoulders. He's covered in blood and his uniform top is in tatters. One of his shoulders seems slightly out of joint. Wally needs to get both of them out of there right the fuck now, but there's no way he can see to do it. It's not a simple grab-and-go; if it was, there'd be a chance of saving them both.
"Where should the next one go?" Joker calls out, and to Wally's horror, the crowd starts calling out body parts. Neck. Heart. Groin. Foot. Spleen. The loudest call is for the heart. Wally has to get over there and get them the hell off that roof before Dick bleeds out. Roy will never be able to forgive himself if that happens.
Just then Bats comes through on his head mic. "Flash, sitrep."
Wally drops his voice to a whisper even as he starts to back up for a running start.
"I've got Nightwing and Arsenal in sight."
Wally knows he can't lie worth shit, and certainly not to Bruce. Not at this point.
"Bad. Really bad. I'm attempting to retrieve."
"Negative." Bats sounds angry, and Wally knows him well enough by now to know that's how he sounds when he's scared for the people he cares about. "Wait for backup. We're five minutes out."
"They can't wait five minutes."
Wally feels the edge of the roof behind him. This will give him momentum to jump the space between the buildings without slowing down on the other side. He's going through it in his head. He can't afford to make a mistake.
"I won't pick a fight with anyone, Bats, I promise; all I'm going to do is snatch and run, but if I don't do it now, at least one of them is going to die, and I won't let that happen. Flash out."
Wally doesn't wait for what he knows is going to be an angry response because it looks like there's more of Dick's blood on the rooftop than in his body, and he's not talking anymore, in spite of Roy yelling insults at him across the rooftop.
Joker's carving a bloody heart into Roy's shoulder like a tattoo, promising to stop if Roy shoots "just one more arrow, pretty please." The pain must be horrendous, and Wally can tell Roy's not going to be able to hold back the arrow with his arms shaking like that, blood making the bowstring slippery. The arrow goes, and so does Wally.
With a running start, he clears the gap between the buildings easily. He doesn't waste time engaging with anyone, just bats Roy's arrow out of the way as he runs past, pulling out the biggest knife in the wheel when he reaches it. Everything around him is slowed almost to a standstill, but not quite, and Wally only has microseconds to hack through the ropes binding Dick to the wheel.
Wally doesn't try to pull any of the arrows out yet, just uses the machete to cut them short so he can maneuver enough to pick Dick up. Luckily only two of the arrows actually went all the way through Dick's body to the wood, and Wally apologizes as he pulls Dick and the arrows away from the wheel, Dick rousing enough to scream in pain.
"I'm sorry, Dick; it's the only way. Just stay with me a little longer." There's no way Dick can hear him or understand him at the speed Wally's moving, but it doesn't matter. Dick's only partially conscious. It's the thought that counts. Wally hopes Dick recognizes he's there. He's carried him around enough, Dick should be able to tell by now when someone picks him up at superspeed.
Wally can already see the apes with their superior senses starting to move, alerted by his scent, and the damned salivating hyenas turning their eyes to him in slow-motion. It's terrifying how quickly they focus and start to move. Roy's surrounded, Joker right beside him, not to mention the mess of chains and boards and pipes that are keeping him in place. Wally's going to need something that can cut through chain to get him out without slowing down. If he tries to grab Roy now, Dick will certainly die, and there's a better than average chance he and Roy won't make it off the rooftop alive either.
In a fraction of a nanosecond, which feels a little like forever, Wally makes the hardest decision of his life.
He holds Dick as carefully as he can, then Wally runs down the side of the building and straight for the nearest hospital emergency room, pleading all the way.
"Sir," Alfred breaks through onto the Javelin's comm line. "I'm with Master Dick at Gotham General. He's got a collapsed lung, and he's lost a lot of blood. They're giving him a transfusion now. If Flash hadn't …"
"Is he still there?"
There's a moment of hesitation and Bruce knows exactly what that means.
"Damn it!" he says, slamming a gauntlet hard against the plane's bulletproof window. He ignores Diana's look of concern.
"He went back for Mr. Harper."
"They'll be expecting him this time. The animals will have his scent. It won't be as easy."
"I doubt very much it was easy the first time, sir. Choosing to save one friend and leave another is not something any of us would willingly do, but if he hadn't brought Master Dick in when he did, we would have lost him. There is no doubt of that."
Bruce knows Alfred's not exaggerating. It's in the tone of his voice, how desperately close death was this time. They would have another grave to mourn over if Wally had waited.
"Stay with him, Alfred."
"Any sign of Timothy? Or Mr. Queen?"
"They seem to be pinned down in a warehouse with Hatter's people. I'm sending you and Flash the coordinates."
"Very good—" Alfred's partially drowned out by what sounds like a train roaring by—in the hospital—followed immediately by a surge of people shouting and alarm bells going off. Wally's back with Roy, Bruce thinks with relief.
"Is he alright?" Bruce asks automatically.
"Mr. Harper appears to be fairly bloody, but he's conscious and ambulatory." Bruce is grateful for Alfred's tact because, of course, Roy's condition is of paramount concern. Diana would think it odd if he was inquiring about Flash instead of Arsenal under the circumstances. "Flash appears to be favoring his left leg, the same one Grodd injured a few nights ago. And, oh—oh dear—"
Bruce didn't know about the leg injury. How could he not know about that? Why hadn't Wally mentioned anything?
"He appears to have been bitten by—well, if Mr. Harper's pantomime is any indication—I'm going to say some sort of—"
"Hyena," Bruce finishes. "Joker's got hyenas."
"Hm. I wouldn't have guessed that from Mr. Harper's gesticulating."
Alfred's clearly moving down the hospital corridor because Bruce can hear Wally's voice getting louder in the background. He sounds like he's arguing against the need for a rabies shot, which, given Wally's metabolism, is probably an unnecessary precaution.
"Can you put him on, Alfred?"
There are muffled voices where it's clear Alfred's put his hand over the phone's mic, and then Bruce hears, "If you're going to yell at me, I'm hanging up, Bruce."
Diana raises an eyebrow in surprise at the outright insubordination, and Bruce supposes there are worse things Wally could've led with. He's just relieved to hear his voice.
"No one's yelling. You saved two lives and your own. Under the circumstances, I think your inability to wait for backup can be discussed another time."
Wally laughs, and it's a good sound. "Yet you still manage to work it into the conversation."
"We've got a location on Green Arrow's comm," Diana says, clearly impatient to be away. "We must go now."
Wally's a little less petulant and a lot more professional than a moment ago. He'd clearly forgotten about Diana being along, which means the sarcastic tone seems to be reserved for Bruce alone. He suspects it's not even a recent development. Wally's always been the one to push his boundaries, to see how far he can get inside Bruce's walls. It's why Flash can call him Bats to his face, or joke about him being "a crazed loner," or even argue with him when he thinks it's necessary, more than any of the rest of them do, except possibly Clark. If he takes the time to think it through, Bruce suspects he'll find Wally's been chipping away at his defenses for years now. It's humbling to be cared for that much.
"I'll be there as soon as I get the bite cleaned and taped. Dr. Emerson's talking them out of rabies shots, thank God. No way am I having needles in my stomach."
"Stay put," Bruce says, hoping it doesn't sound like an order. Wally has a tendency to ignore those lately, especially coming from him. "SWAT and the National Guard are down here, so people are being rounded up. You've done your part. Now stay off that leg. Please. We'll radio if there's anything we can't handle."
Wally hesitates, then says, "Be careful. Both of you."
"We will," Diana replies, already on the move. "Wonder Woman out."
Roy's sitting by Dick's bed holding his hand, watching him sleep. He's covered in bandages, and the steady hum-pump of the oxygen mask is a constant reminder of Dick's collapsed lung. The lung Roy just missed puncturing with one of his arrows.
Roy's suddenly aware of another presence in the room, even though he didn't hear the door open or close. This is the first time he's seen Batman since Wally brought Roy to the hospital, and he's been dreading it. Dick's lying in bed being given blood and fluids because Roy shot him full of arrows at the whim of a madman and almost killed him. He doesn't think he can forgive himself for that; he's certainly not expecting Batman to forgive him.
A hand lands on his shoulder, and Roy flinches because he's still got thick bandages under his shirt from the thousand tiny cuts Joker inflicted with that butterfly knife of his. They've covered him in a numbing antibiotic cream, but he's been trying to resist taking the painkillers. He tries not to take anything these days unless it's absolutely necessary.
"Sorry," Bruce says, taking his hand away. He goes to grab another plastic chair, but Roy gets up, offering his.
"Here. I should get going, check on Ollie before I head out."
"I'll come back and see Dick later."
"Roy, you don't have to—"
"Look, I know what you're going to say, so let's get it over with, okay? I know I screwed up. There were probably a hundred other things I could've done other than what I did, but—"
"Roy, shut up."
It's such a strange thing coming from Bruce—or Batman—that Roy does what he's told. He hadn't realized how much obeying that particular voice has become a conditioned response over the years. Roy looks up in surprise, watching as Bruce settles on the edge of the bed beside Dick's hip, careful not to jostle the intravenous tubes.
"I only have one thing I want to say to you."
Here it comes, Roy thinks. It's get out and never come back time. Stay away from my son. You could've killed him. What were you thinking? How could you be so stupid? Whatever Bruce has to say to him, he deserves it, and he'll at least take it like a man.
Roy doesn't get it. He stares at Bruce. Maybe he's got a concussion because he honestly doesn't understand what Bruce could be thanking him for.
"I almost killed him," he points out. It's been said Roy doesn't know when to quit and he's his own worst enemy. Both of these things are true.
"But you didn't," Bruce says, looking Roy in the eye. "I've seen the wounds, and I know you placed those arrows as carefully as you could to avoid hitting veins, arteries, nerve clusters and major organs. There were at least half a dozen shots that punctured the suit but didn't leave a mark on him. There were shots that drew a lot of blood, but caused very little damage. Only two arrows actually went through his body, and I don't know anyone else, including Oliver, who could've taken that many shots without killing him. You saved his life, Roy."
Roy laughs. He's got the almighty proof in front of him that Batman is insane. "Wally saved Dick's life. I didn't—"
"Wally got him medical help in time. You gave him a chance to survive until then." Bruce nods at the empty chair. "Why don't you stay with him a while longer? They need me to fill out a bunch of insurance forms."
Roy sits back down in the chair without arguing. He feels exhausted all of a sudden, but not sick at heart like he did before. He shakes his head. The whole Bat-family is certifiable.
"You know, when they took the gag out of his mouth, the first thing Dick said to me was 'I trust your aim.' How fucked up is that? I'm standing there with an arrow pointed at him, and he tells me he trusts me. Then I go ahead and shoot him."
"He knew you would have to do it to buy time. If you hadn't done it, they would've killed you both sooner. There was nothing anyone could have done differently, and in that situation, I'm glad it was you with him. You did well, Roy, and when Dick wakes up, he'll tell you the same thing."
With that, Bruce turns and brushes away the dark hair that insists on flopping into Dick's eyes. It's such a small intimate gesture, Roy finds himself averting his eyes. He knows Bruce isn't by nature a demonstrative man, whereas Dick can be hug-central on any given day, but it's never been more clear to him how deeply Bruce cares.
When he's sure Bruce has gone, Roy reaches out and takes Dick's hand again, holding it carefully in his own. It's a silly thing, but he needs to be able to feel Dick's pulse. To count the beats and know he's still with them.
"Hey, Dick. Your Bat-dad was just here, and I'm pretty sure it's one of those ten signs of the end of the world, but he thanked me and I think he gave me a compliment. Possibly more than one. That's without a doubt the weirdest thing that happened today, and that's saying something given there were flying monkeys."
"Tim's okay, by the way. Ollie's in rough shape, but he made sure the kid was safe. Tim seems kind of freaked out by the whole thing, and he's worried about you. I think he's having doubts about this sidekick gig. We know how that goes, I guess. He'll figure it out."
The door opens again, and Roy thinks about letting go of Dick's hand, but doesn't. He isn't surprised when Wally pulls up a matching bucket chair beside him and hands him a large cup of coffee, black with sugar, the way he likes it. Wally might forget your birthday, but he remembers everyone's coffee orders.
He's changed into jeans and a navy Wayne Enterprises t-shirt that's slightly too large for him. It's kind of sweet. It occurs to Roy that Wally hasn't officially told him he's dating Bruce.
"That must be kind of a thrill for you," Roy says, sipping his coffee and eyeing Wally's shirt.
"Getting to wear one of your crush's shirts." Roy bats his eyelashes. "What once touched his skin is now touching yours. How can you stand it? Your heart must be all a-flutter."
"Oh, shut up," Wally says, but he's smirking. He starts to say something, then makes a face, frowns, and starts again. "I thought Dick would've told you, but I guess he didn't. I've been seeing somebody for a couple of months."
"Hey, there's no shame in talking to a therapist."
"Fuck you. I mean, I'm dating … someone. Someone you know."
Roy notices Wally hasn't come right out and said it's Bruce. If that's the way he wants to play it, Roy can work with that.
"I thought Dick was straight."
Wally chokes on the coffee he's drinking. "Dick is straight, you idiot! Although you've been holding his hand for a long time. Anything you want to tell me?"
If they were younger, Roy would've dropped Dick's hand like a hot iron, but he likes to think they've matured since then. He doesn't let go, but he does turn and stick his tongue out at Wally.
"Isn't Tim a little young for you?"
"For God's sake, it's not Tim." Wally rolls his eyes. "Try thinking outside the Robin box. Maybe consider someone who won't get me arrested in most states."
"I guess you're right. He's sixteen and you're close to thirty, so that's, what … about fourteen years between the two of you?" Roy sips his coffee thoughtfully. "What would two people that far apart even have in common? That's a big age gap. Huge."
Wally scowls at him. "I'll show you a gap. Right between your teeth."
"Hey, why so hostile, buddy?"
"You know damn well it doesn't make much difference when you're older. I'm almost 29 and he's—"
"For a man his age, I'm sure Alfred is—"
"You're an asshole, Roy, you know that?"
Wally gets up to leave, and Roy's torn. He lets go of Dick's hand, sets his coffee quickly on the bedside table, and grabs Wally's arm before he makes it to the door. The fact Wally's on crutches at the moment helps. Roy doesn't want to chase him all over the hospital. He's played "Where's Wally?" too many times in his life already.
"Hey, come on, don't leave. Don't be mad. You used to be able to take a joke, Wal."
Wally looks pissed off, and that's actually pretty rare. Given the day they've all had, Roy thinks maybe he could've picked a better time to yank Wally's chain, but it's so easy to wind him up. Roy doesn't usually let opportunity pass him by.
"Maybe this isn't funny. Maybe I'd like it if one of my friends would say, 'Hey, Wally, that's great! I'm really happy for you,' instead of telling me what a mistake I'm making or treating it like a big joke. Yeah, I'm dating Batman. He's 14 years older than me, I was ten the first time I met him, and his son's my best friend. It's hilarious."
Roy slides his hand up to Wally's shoulder and squeezes. He's hoping it conveys he's sorry, because he is, but saying it somehow doesn't seem like the right response.
"Are you happy?" Roy asks instead, genuinely curious. His tone is serious, and he lets Wally take a good look at his face so he knows Roy's not screwing with him. "Does Bruce—and I honestly never thought I'd be asking someone this—does Bruce make you happy?"
"Yeah, he does. Most of the time. When he's not driving me insane."
"So, pretty much like every relationship, then."
"Pretty much," Wally agrees.
Roy supposes being happy most of the time and crazy the rest is about the best anyone can hope for in a relationship. God knows, he's no expert. The mother of his child is an international terrorist.
"Were you really only ten when you met him?" Roy asks. He doesn't remember that story.
"Yup. I superspeeded into a pile of leaves in the backyard right in front of him. Barry was not pleased," Wally says, remembering.
"Aw, you must've been cute back then. What the hell happened?"
"Very funny. I had leaves in my hair, and I felt so dumb because Barry had warned me about not running in front of other people."
"At least it was Batman. No harm done."
"I didn't know that then. Neither did Barry. It was the first time they'd met, too." Wally grins. "I called him Mr. Wayne."
"Kinky." Roy laughs, and Wally's about to slug him in the arm when he seems to remember Roy's injuries.
"Well, I don't call him that anymore."
"Now it's 'oh, baby,' right?"
"Do I seem like a man with a death wish? Jeez, Roy." Wally shakes his head. "You know, I was going to apologize for the groping the other night, but now I don't think I'm going to."
"It's okay, I get it, man. How could you be expected to resist this?" Roy gestures to himself like he's on display, and the two of them look at each other for a second before they start laughing.
"Sh! We don't want to wake Dick up."
The silence is comfortable, and they stand there, leaning against the door for a few minutes, listening to the machines monitoring Dick's blood pressure.
"I'm sorry we wrecked your date night," Roy says finally. "I hope you were at least having a good time before we needed you to save our asses."
"We were fine until Diana dropped by to talk to Bruce."
"Didn't she know it was date night?"
"Roy, the first rule of date night with Bruce is you don't talk about date night."
"I can't tell if you're joking."
"You guys are pretty much the only ones who know about us," Wally explains. "Superman knows, but the JLA in general, not so much."
Roy shrugs. "That's not really a surprise, though, is it? Bruce has always been paranoid and secretive. It's part of his unique charm."
"I know he's a private person, and I understand why he doesn't want to announce it to everyone."
"But?" Roy prods.
"But Diana has a thing for him."
"Your competition is a hot Amazon princess? Good luck, buddy."
"Thanks a lot." Wally glares at him. "He says he's not interested in her."
"But he hasn't told her about you," Roy concludes. "I don't know, Wally. Bats and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but he's not the type to play the field or lead someone on intentionally. Sure, Bruce Wayne might, to keep up appearances, but Batman? The man is a moral code. All kidding aside, I don't think you have to worry about Diana."
Roy's known Wally a long time, and there's more on his mind than he's saying. "Hey, what's going on with you?"
Wally manages a half-hearted smile, and shakes his head. "Nothing. Nevermind. Everything's just been crazy lately, that's all."
"You sure? Wally, I know I can be an asshole sometimes, but I'm always gonna be your friend. If something's wrong, all you have to do is tell me."
"I know. Thanks."
"I'm happy for you, Wally. Really." Roy's arms hurt like hell, but he gives Wally a hug anyway, and Wally hugs him back. "Thanks for saving our lives today."
Maybe bringing up the whole life-saving thing is a mistake because now Wally's not letting go. If anything, he's squeezing Roy tighter. Dick is so much better at the touchy-feely stuff than he is, although it's easier with Wally than it would be with almost anybody else. Roy tries patting Wally's back in a reassuring way, but he's got no idea if it's working. Today's been traumatic as hell, and Roy thinks he's going to have some kind of breakdown if he can't pretend like it was no big deal. He needs to be able to joke about it because if he doesn't, he'll never set foot in Gotham again.
"Leaving you there was the hardest thing I've ever done," Wally says somewhere in the vicinity of Roy's shoulder. "I was so afraid I'd get back and it would be too late and you'd be—"
"I'm fine. Dick's going to be fine. We're okay." Roy really wants to stop talking about this.
"I left you there with Joker and Grodd!"
"Wally, forget it," Roy tries, wishing Wally would stop making a big deal out of it. If it's a big deal, he's going to have to face the fact he almost died today, almost orphaned his kid, almost lost Ollie and Dick and he's not ready to fucking deal. "It couldn't have been that hard. Everybody knows Dick's your favorite, and now he's also your boyfriend's kid."
Wally steps back, unsteady on the crutches. He looks horrified, and Roy realizes he should've stopped talking about ten seconds earlier. This was not the topic to make light of. He's not doing well today where Wally's concerned, and they're both near the breaking point.
"Roy, you know that's not it, right? That doesn't have anything to do with it."
"The two of you've always been closer. That's just how it is. It's never bothered me, Wally. I understand."
"Are you fucking kidding me? Sit down," Wally snaps, and Roy thinks he must be taking lessons from Batman because Roy does it without question. Wally drops into the chair beside him. "Listen to me, Roy. I took Dick first for one reason only, and that was because he was coughing up blood. I was afraid he was going to die before I got him to the hospital, and I knew I could be here in seconds. You were both badly injured, but you were at least still standing and swearing at people. It wasn't a choice between you and him, or who I like more, and it sure as fuck didn't have anything to do with me dating Bruce or whose kid Dick is! I had to decide which of you was more likely to die first. That was the choice, and it sucked."
Roy nods, his head down. It's somehow worse when Wally gets angry since it happens so rarely. "I know that. I wasn't thinking."
"We've all had our differences. But that doesn't change the fact you guys are my family. Choosing was like deciding which leg to cut off, Roy. I need both of you, and I hope to God I never have to make that kind of choice again because I can't stand the thought of losing either one of you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, I think I got it," Roy says, because what the fuck else do you say to that? He feels grateful and stupid, and Wally's hugging him again. It's even more awkward with them both in plastic bucket chairs, but Roy gives in and lets Wally call him a "fucking moron" because that's what friends do when they care. At least that's what Roy's friends do.
"Hey, can anyone get in on this hugging?"
They both turn to see Dick's blue eyes blinking at them. He seems kind of woozy, but he's tugging at the oxygen mask. Roy disentangles himself from Wally—good timing, Grayson—in order to pull Dick's hand off the mask. Gently.
"Leave that alone. You've got a collapsed lung."
"Which is not as bad as a punctured lung," Wally adds because apparently they're taking good news wherever they can find it today.
Wally nods from behind Roy. "It was quite a zoo, but between GCPD, SWAT, and the National Guard, everybody was rounded up. Grodd and his Wizard of Oz escapees are being transported back to Central City for observation. Oh, goody. Joker, Hatter, and their entourages are headed back to Arkham, which is promising stricter security measures."
"Gosh, I feel safer already," Roy says.
"Tim? Ollie?" Dick's voice is quiet and rough because he's not able to take deep enough breaths. He probably shouldn't be talking at all.
"Baby bird's fine," Roy assures him. "Ollie basically trapped him in a safe room to wait it out, so Tim's pissed off and feeling guilty, but not hurt. Ollie looks a little like a piñata the day after the birthday party. Hatter's zombie thugs were playing whack-a-hero when Bats and Diana found them. He's got some broken bones, a lot of bruises, but nothing that won't heal."
"Was Alfred here?" Dick seems to be trying to sort out what's real.
"Yeah, he was here already when I brought you in," Wally says. "We ditched your uniform top and mask, then all we had to do was say, 'Joker,' and nobody asked any more stupid questions, like, 'oh my god, are those arrows?'"
"Seriously?" Roy asks.
"Yup. That and 'was it an accident?' were my favorites."
"You two okay?" Dick's eyes look worried, even though he's the one lying in the bed, swaddled in bandages, and it's obvious Roy and Wally are doing way better than he is.
"My arms are cut up, and I dislocated my shoulder, but nothing too terrible." Roy points at Wally. "Hyena-Bait's got a bum leg."
"Hyena-Bait?" Dick asks, the words muffled by the mask.
"One of Joker's drooling furballs had a little nibble. It's nothing serious," Wally says, trying to downplay things. Roy notices he's keeping the crutches out of sight.
"Yeah, there's that, but you know how older women dating younger men are cougars, right?" Roy winks at Wally, who looks like he's considering strangling Roy with his bare hands. "So, I figured, we need a name for an old guy who's dating someone, say, 14 years younger?"
"This is because I hugged you too long, isn't it?" Wally demands. "You're an emotional infant!"
"You hugged me twice," Roy points out, meanly. "Once in bucket chairs. Hugging is awkward enough without adding bucket chairs! So, as I was saying, older man dating young guy equals a hyena, and Wally's new nickname is, naturally, Hyena-Bait since he's got both Luthor and Bruce panting after—"
Roy feels the hand drop onto his shoulder a fraction of a second before Batman says, in that voice that sounds like a body being dragged through gravel, "Dick, you're awake," and in spite of himself, Roy jumps. A little. He doesn't feel quite so bad when Wally does the same thing beside him, though. Ha!
Bruce, in typical Bruce-fashion, ignores everything that's going on, and opts for stepping closer to the bed where Dick can see him without straining. What isn't typical Bruce-fashion is the hand that settles on the small of Wally's back, the subtle shift in posture that brings Wally's hip in contact with Bruce's, or how Wally unconsciously leans into the curve of Bruce's arm, the way a flower seeks the sun. Wally seems to relax as Bruce asks how Dick's feeling, and Roy finally gets a glimpse of what Dick's been trying to tell him. They're good for each other.
That doesn't mean Roy is going to stop teasing Wally about it anytime soon, however.
"How do you do that?" Roy says, urging his pulse to climb back down from the ceiling. "How did you even know he was awake? Dick literally opened his eyes less than a minute ago."
"Highly-trained senses," Bruce answers, although Roy meant the question to be rhetorical. "Almost like a … hyena, for example."
Wally bursts out laughing and Dick's sort of sucking oxygen in gulps, which Roy's not sure is healthy, and Bruce is standing there. Smiling. It's scary. Roy feels his face go hot, and although his Navajo heritage makes him darker-skinned than Wally, he's still part Irish redhead and when he blushes, it shows. He wonders for a second if maybe he was injured worse than he thought and this is some kind of morphine-induced dream.
There's a sharp pinch on his arm, and Roy yelps in pain.
"Fuck! That hurt."
"You're not dreaming," Wally says smugly. "He's just that awesome cause he's Batman."
"You know, it's a wonder any of us manages to keep a secret identity with you two around."
Bruce drops his head a little, and rubs at his forehead as if he's got a headache, but he's still smiling and his hand hasn't moved from Wally's back. When Alfred joins them a few minutes later, Bruce only slides closer to Wally to make room beside the bed.
Roy can't remember seeing Wally look happier, so if it's mainly Bruce's doing, Roy's gotta agree. Batman is awesome.