Actions

Work Header

Moving Heaven and Earth for You

Chapter Text

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously feigning sleep isn’t going to work

“He was busy,” Wally says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Batman, shut up.”

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

“Bruce, you’re taking this personally.”

“No, I’m not. Just because I think--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or a third,” Wally says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t—we weren’t—before—”

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

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

“Yes.” Bruce is looking at him suspiciously.

“And the door has a lock?”

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

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

“I don’t do that. It’ll take--”

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

“Fine. It’ll take about an hour.”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“Bruce--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t--”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

“This was simply an unscheduled security test?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I believe it is of a personal nature.”

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

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

“I believe Batman has found a suitable match.”

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

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

“Really? You think that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“There is an unmistakable attraction there.”

“You sensed that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Catch you later, dudes.”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bruce? Are you okay?”

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

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

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

“And she asked you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, sure.”

“Wally, are you--?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be a long night.

***

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

He can hear low voices as he approaches.

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

“Clark.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I just like to take things slow.”

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

“Shut-up.”

“Did you tell him about Japan yet?”

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

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

“You’re welcome,” he says brightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He begins.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many times, Bruce?”

“Forty-seven.”

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Who dies?” Clark asks.

“You want a list?” Bruce asks.

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

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

“That’s impossible,” Clark says.

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

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

“I don’t need that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce knows exactly how he feels.

***

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

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

Three out of forty-seven. Shit.

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

Only forty-four nightmares left to go.

***

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

And when he’s gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who says we were playing?”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” Clark says, and he’s back to being his usual easy-going self, but Wally can’t quite forget watching him squeeze Bruce like he was a ragdoll. He flops down onto the end of the couch and waits for something to happen.

Bruce sits beside him, close enough to touch, and Wally’s surprised when Bruce’s arm drapes along the back of the couch, fingers reaching for his hair. Wally leans into the touch, grateful. Clark looks embarrassed, and Wally knows it doesn’t have anything to do with their closeness and everything to do with what happened in the Cave.

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

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

“Do you want details?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Five. And none of them was pleasant.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I wouldn’t have hurt you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Have Tim and Dick checked in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Guess that makes me Most Likely to Die?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You never laugh in the middle of--”

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

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

“Bruce.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s okay.”

“—and Batman’s human—sorry, Bruce—”

“It’s okay.”

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

“In theory,” Bruce starts.

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

“Wally.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And are friends for telling you your worst nightmares?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you going to hug me?”

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

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

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

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

“It won’t kill you to say it, Bruce.”

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

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

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

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

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

He still feels alone.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that means Bruce loves him.

Bruce loves him.

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

***

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

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

And he came back.

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

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

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

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

“Yes. He hugged me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if Bruce can’t say the words.

Yet.

***

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

“Good morning, Master Wally,” Alfred says.

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

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

“And where is--?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

“Dick?”

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

Maybe too much time.

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

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

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

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

“Is everything okay with Wally?”

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

“Things are fine.”

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

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

“Sorry. You were saying?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You said it in every way that mattered.”

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

“You are the most stubborn—”

“Dick.”

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

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

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

“Yes, Alfred.”

“Master Timothy is in the Cave, and—”

“And you heard Dick yelling at me.”

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

“It’s not that.”

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

“Ah, I see,” Alfred says cryptically.

“Alfred?”

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

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

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

“It should be easier by now.”

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

“They deserve better, Alfred.”

“Then give them better.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“Skeets, are you looking for Booster Gold?”

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

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

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

“Booster!” the robot chirps loudly.

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

“Lights restored.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“—working something out,” Booster finishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wonder Woman, what is it?”

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

“Diana.”

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

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

“I sympathize, Princess.”

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

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

“Have you spoken with him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A secret admirer, sir.”

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

“No thanks. Just take it back.”

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

“Explain from down there.”

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

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

“What’s in the box?”

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

“Not in my experience.”

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

“What’s in the box?” Wally repeats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ve all got too much to lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The show’s about to begin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Bruce?”

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

“Chase.”

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

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

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

“Not even remotely.”

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

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

“Yes, they were.”

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

“Are you here with … someone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Something inside Wally starts to ache.

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

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

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

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

“I could say the same thing. Dance?”

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

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

Maybe J’onn is right.

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

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

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

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

“Yes.” Her smile is warm and reassuring.

“You’re positive?”

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

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

Oh. Shit.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You weren’t supposed to—”

“You sent an invitation. And a tux.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce steps closer. “Did you--?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She isn’t—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Luthor knows.”

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

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

“What the hell’s Wally—”

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

“Lois, go—”

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

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

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

“All right.”

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

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

“Let’s do this.”

***

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

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

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

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

“Call me Lex.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wally blushes. “How would you know—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr. President—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“You need to go.”

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

“Luthor’s propositioning Wally.”

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

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

“Clark.”

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

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

“Bruce.”

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to—”

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

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

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

Maybe he doesn’t like the dress.

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

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

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

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

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

They seem to approve of the dress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But at what cost?”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“What, Clark?”

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

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

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

“It’s not about the report.”

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

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

“I could fly you.”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

He gets it.

***

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

Absolutely everything.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just go home, Bruce.”

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

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

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

“Luthor called me your whore.”

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

“Wally, you’re—”

“What, Bruce? What exactly am I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s fine.”

“Fine like you’re fine?”

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

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

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

“He didn’t tell me what happened.”

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

“I hurt him.”

“I figured.”

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

“He’s angry at me.”

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

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

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

“It doesn’t matter. I should go.”

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

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

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

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

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

“He heals fast.”

“Not that fast, Bruce.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And she was worried about you too.”

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

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

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

“Divide and conquer.”

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

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

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

He thinks The Spinster likes him.

***

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

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

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

“Your idea?”

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

“Do you want him to be?”

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

“Neither is that.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Wally.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, yeah.” Dick helps him ease the needle out, digs through the dresser drawers for a band-aid. Ignores the condoms and lube and the new thong underwear still in its package. He’s an adult. He’s going to do what any adult would do and simply pretend Wally isn’t sleeping with the man who’s been like a father to him since he was nine.

Dick pulls out a Toy Story band-aid with Buzz Lightyear on it, and puts it where the needle used to be. “Wally, go back to the beginning. Tell me exactly what happened.”

***

“So that’s what happened?” Clark says when Bruce is done talking. It’s taken several minutes of carefully worded questions and a higher than normal amount of one-word responses, but Clark thinks he’s finally pieced together the whole story of what happened at the reception. “That’s everything?”

“Yes.”

“So Diana’s got a—”

“Yes.”

“And Wally saw you—”

“Yes.”

“And Luthor knows—”

“Yes.”

“Fuck.”

“Exactly.”

***

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Dick says loudly when Wally finishes speaking.

Wally’s cheeks flush bright pink and his mouth opens with shock. “Why are you yelling at me? You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Oh, no, my friend. You two put me in the middle enough as it is, and although I’m the first to admit Bruce isn’t great in the communication department, you screwed this one up all on your own.”

“What?”

“You didn’t even ask Bruce what happened, did you? You just panicked and took off.” Dick picks up one of Wally’s feet by the big toe and drops it back down onto the bed.

“Fuck! That hurts, Dick.” He draws his legs under the quilt and glares at his best friend.

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?” The glare intensifies. “Yours. If you would’ve just talked to him—”

“He was kissing her,” Wally says defensively.

“Maybe she was kissing him, you moron. Like Chase kissed you?” Wally blinks at him blankly. “She kissed you at the dance and Bruce barreled across the room in a jealous fit?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly describe it like—”

“Did you ever stop and think maybe he didn’t plan it? Didn’t want it? Didn’t have much choice in the matter? That maybe they were pretending, or at least he was?”

The look on Wally’s face confirms that he’s an idiot. Dick’s going to buy them each a copy of Communication for Dummies. Maybe he’ll splurge and go for the whole set: Romance for Dummies, and Sex for … on second thought, Dick’s sure they’ll manage fine on their own.

“He was—”

Wally’s trying to explain, but the fight’s gone out of him and realization’s starting to seep in. Dick knows exactly what happened, can see it in the hurt on Wally’s face, the absolute anguish of his battered feet. His heart was breaking to see Bruce with someone else, and he couldn’t bear to do anything but get as far away as possible. He’s in love with Bruce. Really, truly, stupidly in love with him.

God help them all.

“Wally, I don’t think it was what it looked like.” Dick knows Wally’s starting to think that too. “Bruce doesn’t play around when he’s in a relationship. It’s not his style.”

“Oh, God, Dick. I was so angry, so hurt. I couldn’t see straight! I had to get out of there.”

Dick sits back down beside him and puts a hand on his shoulder. “I know.”

“Is he still here?”

Dick glances towards the door. “I think so. I told him not to leave, but he doesn’t always listen.”

“I think he carried me upstairs last night,” he says softly, looking down at his bandaged feet. “Five flights.”

Dick nods. “I’ll go get him.”

“Dick?”

“Yeah.” He turns with one hand on the door.

“Thanks for being honest.”

“Always.”

***

When Dick steps into the living room, he isn’t sure what surprises him more. That Clark’s floating in mid-air reading the newspaper, that Wally’s hamster seems to be trying to break some kind of hamster-wheel speed record, or that Bruce is gone.

“Where the hell is he?” Dick whispers frantically. Now that he’s got Wally calmed down and ready to talk, he was hoping he wouldn’t have to do much convincing to get the other one to do the same.

“I sent him for more coffee.”

Dick raises an eyebrow. “And he went?”

Clark floats down to the couch, and folds up the newspaper. “Without protest. Guilt is a great motivator.” He looks at Dick. “How’s the patient?”

“Stupid, guilty, and starving. Bruce?”

“Definitely guilty, although the thing with Diana really wasn’t his fault. She ambushed him on the way downstairs. He was on his way to break Luthor into tiny pieces.”

Dick blinks and shakes his head thinking he must have misheard. “And you were just going to let him?”

“Actually, I suspected Wally would have things under control by the time Bruce got down there. He doesn’t need help any more than you do. Bruce needs to remember that, and Wally needs to know he cares.”

“Sounds like there were a lot of set-ups going on last night.” Dick’s voice is sharp as he sits in the over-sized easy chair.

“Lois was keeping an eye on things. She would’ve let me know if things had gotten out of hand.”

“This isn’t out of hand?”

“I didn’t count on Diana. Or Wally’s reaction.”

“Yeah, neither did Bruce.”

The door opens quietly, and Bruce comes in carrying a tray of take-out coffee cups. There’s a brown paper bag tucked under one arm and a plastic bag swinging awkwardly from his wrist. Clark immediately relieves him of the paper bag, and Dick watches him unload two dozen pastries of various shapes and sizes onto a plate. The plastic bag’s got fruit from the vendor down the street, and Dick can’t help but smile at the thought of Bruce picking out melons and peaches and fresh strawberries. Alfred does all of that at home.

“How is he?” Bruce asks, and Dick knows he’s been biting his tongue to keep from demanding an update on Wally’s condition since the moment he stepped through the door.

“He’s an idiot,” Dick says frankly. “But he’s your idiot.”

“That tells me nothing about his physical condition.”

“Much better.” Wally’s voice surprises them all, and they turn to see him standing awkwardly in the entrance to the room, leaning slightly against the wall. Dick can’t imagine how badly his feet must be hurting.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” Bruce says and takes a step forward. He stops, waiting for something, some sign that he’s allowed to come closer.

“I thought you might’ve gone.” Wally’s voice is hoarse and he looks pale. Dick can imagine what he must’ve looked like when Bruce found him last night. Speedsters burn out quickly if they’re not careful.

“I thought you wanted me to go.” Bruce is being purposely difficult now, and Dick wants to kick him in the shins and tell him to just go over and hug Wally already. The need to do so, to make sure he’s all right is written all over his face. It’s a look Dick’s seen a lot over the years. He’s used to it, and the fact Bruce always feels he needs permission to touch, to hug.

“I was mistaken.” Wally’s tugging on his bottom lip with his teeth, and Dick recognizes the gesture. He’s nervous. No wonder it’s taken them months to get this far if this is how they’ve been talking.

Clark’s got a hand on Dick’s shoulder, and there’s a quiet, “I think we should leave them alone.” Dick nods and gets up. Neither Bruce nor Wally is paying any attention to the two of them as they climb out onto the fire escape.

Dick slaps his mask in place. “I don’t suppose I can catch a lift back to Gotham, can I? I rode the trains up here, and it’s a little harder to do in the daytime.”

“No problem,” Clark says and puts an arm around Dick’s waist, lifting them both effortlessly into the air. When Dick glances back through the window, he can see Bruce has moved across the space and has Wally in his arms, red hair practically disappearing under Bruce’s large hand.

It’s weird, but it makes Dick feel a little bit better about the future of the world. If they can just survive each other, they should be able to live through anything else.

Chapter Text

Bruce knows the moment when Clark and Dick disappear onto the fire escape leaving him and Wally alone. He doesn’t wait for anything more than the look in Wally’s eyes to move across the space and wrap his arms around him.

“God, Bruce,” Wally says into his shoulder and Bruce slides a hand up and into Wally’s red hair. “God, I’m sorry.”

“No,” Bruce shakes his head and holds him tighter, thinks he can feel Wally’s ribs through the thin t-shirt. “It was my fault.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Wally kisses him, fierce and passionate, and Bruce thinks this is what forgiveness tastes like. Apples and coffee and Wally. A step and Wally’s back’s to the wall, and Bruce cups Wally’s face in his hands, concentrates on kissing him with as much feeling as he can. Which is considerable.

After a minute of breathless reconnection, Bruce realizes Wally’s mouth is tight, head thrown back in something more like pain than pleasure, and Bruce breaks the kiss and looks at him. There’s a thin sheen of sweat on his face, and he’s paler than usual. Bruce glances down and remembers Wally’s feet. His poor feet.

“You need to get back in bed,” Bruce says, sliding an arm under Wally’s shoulder.

“Is that an offer?”

Bruce ignores the flirtatious glance, and shakes his head. “You need to rest. Get your strength—”

“I’m not a damsel in distress, and you’re not carrying me.” The look on Wally’s face tells Bruce he’s going to have to knock him out if he wants to pick him up. His back is flat against the wall, and he’s not budging.

“You’re as stubborn as—”

“You?” Wally’s completely serious, and Bruce knows he’s not going to be moved. “Come on, Bruce. Just help me to the couch, okay?”

It’s a short walk, but Bruce can hear the agony in every step Wally takes. When he finally eases him onto the sofa, Bruce can tell they’re both relieved. He brings the plate of pastries over and sets them on the table without a word, sets the tray of coffee close enough that Wally can reach without straining, and goes to the kitchen to wash the fruit. He watches Wally toss back the four extra-large coffees in between a cheese croissant and a sugared cruller.

“I think this is the part where one of us says ‘we need to talk’.” Wally’s lying on his side on the couch, brushing crumbs off his lips.

The water is cool as Bruce washes the peaches gently, careful not to bruise the tender flesh. In his experience, “we need to talk” has never been a signal of anything good. He reaches for the cantaloupe and sets it on the counter, opening the first drawer beside the sink and wondering why Wally needs a drawer full of sugar packets lifted from various local restaurants. On second thought, it makes perfect sense.

“Bruce? I—I’m sorry about last night.”

In the second drawer, he finds cutlery, but no knives, and he moves on to the third drawer before he finds something sharp enough to pierce the melon’s skin. He splits it in two and scoops out the seeds with a spoon, then peels the pale orange flesh from the grey rind. The half-moon slices fall neatly onto the blue ceramic plate he’s pulled from the dish-rack by the sink.

“You’re not talking, Bruce.”

Bruce glances towards the couch where Wally’s propped himself on an elbow and is looking at him expectantly. The plate of pastries is nearly empty, and Bruce almost smiles when he sees Wally’s pulled a croissant off to the side. He knows Bruce prefers the plain ones.

The strawberries are fresh and Bruce can smell them even before he eases the cover off the package and rolls them into the colander he finds in the cupboard with the pots and pans. He rinses the berries and pats them dry with a paper towel before emptying them into a bowl.

“Bruce?”

He puts two peaches and a paring knife on the plate with the melon, picks up the bowl of strawberries and carries it all into the living room and sets it beside the remaining pastries. Wally looks at him strangely, but accepts the offered fruit with a grateful smile that starts to falter when Bruce sits in the easy-chair on the other side of the room.

“I need to explain a few things,” Bruce says, and Wally stops mid-bite, a piece of melon jutting from his mouth like an orange tongue. He swallows awkwardly.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

“When I saw you kissing Chase, I—” Bruce searches for the right word to describe the rush of emotion he’d felt. “I was upset.”

She kissed me.” It’s automatic and defensive and out of Wally’s mouth in between bites of fruit. Bruce tries not to watch him lick the juice from his fingers. It’s extremely distracting.

“I know. She was trying to push me into doing something. Making a gesture.”

Bruce remembers hearing Diana’s irritated voice in his ears and simply not caring that he was barreling across the room like a jealous lover. Which is exactly what he was.

“Wally, I didn’t kiss Diana to get back at you. It was—an accident.”

“Kissing Diana was an accident?” Wally rolls his eyes and twirls the stem off a strawberry. “Yeah, you tripped and her tongue just happened to end up in your mouth.”

“It was a diversion. We needed information from the two men on the balcony. It was the easiest way to get it.”

“What happened to your high-tech gizmos? Weren’t they supposed to be doing that for you?”

“They didn’t all work,” Bruce says quietly, his pride smarting. He knows technology isn’t perfect, that even the best equipment fails from time to time, but it’s his design and it’s not supposed to fail. They can’t afford to be let down, especially when things with Luthor are so precarious.

Wally pops a strawberry into his mouth and chews thoughtfully. “So pretending to be lovers was your idea?”

Bruce shakes his head. “No, it happened too fast. There was no real plan. I was on my way to—” Bruce breaks off, not sure Wally will appreciate the idea of Bruce wanting to rescue him from Luthor. He’s been protecting people too long; sometimes it’s impossible to let go of the idea, even when he knows people can take care of themselves.

The bowl of strawberries is half gone, and Wally pushes the plain croissant in Bruce’s direction. He takes it even though he’s not hungry.

“You were on your way to what?” Wally prompts.

Bruce tears off a buttery corner of the croissant, tries to stall by chewing slowly and wondering how he can say it without starting an argument. The pastry feels dry in his mouth, and he reaches for a piece of melon. Wally’s hand covers his.

“Bruce? Just tell me.”

“Clark told me about Luthor. That he was … hitting on you. I was on my way down to ...” Bruce pulls his hand away and slides the melon into his mouth. It’s cool and wet and sweet as candy.

“Rescue me?”

Bruce glances away and nods. He knows Wally’s not going to like it, but there’s nothing else he can do at this point. “I was worried about you.”

“Luthor’s a creep.” There’s a significant pause, and Bruce can tell Wally wants to ask him something. If it has to do with Luthor, it can’t be good. “Luthor sort of insinuated that you and he ...”

“No.” Bruce shakes his head. “Never.”

“Good.”

For a few minutes there’s silence. Bruce eats his croissant and watches Wally happily working his way through the fruit. He can almost believe things are all right between them. That last night didn’t happen. That Wally’s feet aren’t slashed to ribbons beneath the bandages. That Luthor isn’t a threat. No, that part’s too real. They’re in danger—all of them—and Bruce isn’t sure what to do about it.

Wally tosses a strawberry into the air and catches it in his mouth. “You know, Dick’s right—we’re both idiots.”

Bruce raises an eyebrow. He wants to see where this line of thought is going.

“You flipped out about Luthor and I freaked when I saw you with Diana. I mean, she’s gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want to be with her? And she’s obviously got a thing for you. Not that I can blame her.”

Bruce eases out of the chair, and sits on the edge of the coffee table where he can touch Wally. He reaches out and rubs his thumb lightly over the Toy Story band-aid. “I’m not interested in Diana.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s not interested in you.”

“I can’t change that,” Bruce says, “but you don’t have to worry.”

Wally stares at the fingers brushing over his hand. “You’re Bruce Wayne. A girl on each arm—”

“You know that’s not me.” Bruce kneels on the floor beside the couch, sliding his hand around Wally’s neck. “You know I care about you more than ... more than I can say.”

“I want to believe that,” Wally whispers.

“Believe it.” Bruce kisses him lightly, discovering his lips again. Softer, gentler and Bruce finds the taste of strawberries intoxicating as he leans in to taste Wally again.

“No Diana?”

“No. Just you.” Bruce brushes his fingers through Wally’s hair, remembers how handsome he looked in the tuxedo. He’s going to have to take him out sometime. Really take him out, show him off, let the world see how incredible he is. Except he likes keeping Wally safe and secret, knowing the rest of the world doesn’t get to see him the way Bruce does. They give so much of themselves to other people, it’s been nice to have something all their own.

“What about Clark? Hogging the covers. Japan.”

Wally sounds tired and Bruce knows his burst of energy was short-lived and expected. Dr. Emerson had advised Wally would probably have bursts of energy and exhaustion throughout the next few days until his system recovered from the shock.

Bruce smiles and kisses Wally again. “Nothing to worry about. Promise.” He kisses his forehead, and the skin at his temples. Wally’s eyes have fluttered closed and Bruce lays him back gently against the cushions on the couch. He thinks Wally’s asleep, but there’s a squeeze on his arm.

“Don’t leave,” he whispers.

“I won’t,” Bruce promises and kisses his eyelids. “Go to sleep, Wally. I—I—” He wants to say the words, wants to tell him, but everything’s still so raw and he wants to make sure they’re really okay before he lays his heart at Wally’s feet. Not that Wally hasn’t owned it for some time now, but Bruce can’t seem to get the words out. “I’ll be here.”

He sits on the floor beside the couch, one hand tangled in Wally’s hair, and watches him sleep.

***

When Dick comes down for something to eat, Alfred’s just hanging up the phone. He’s got a strange look on his face that Dick can’t quite place. It might be shock.

“Alfred?” Dick says, grabbing a glass of juice from the fridge. “Everything all right?”

“That was Master Bruce on the phone.”

Dick swallows his OJ in one gulp. “Is it Wally? Is he okay?”

“Master Bruce asked me to clear his schedule for the next three days.”

Dick nods. It’s not that unusual, but still.

“He’s apparently going to be staying with Master Wally in Central City. I’m to send a bag with a few things.”

A grin breaks out across Dick’s face. “That’s a good sign.”

“Indeed. I do believe Master Bruce has met his match.” Alfred starts to head upstairs, but turns around half-way. “He did request that you stay close to Gotham if possible. Keep an eye on Master Timothy.”

“Of course. Wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.” Dick won’t admit it to Bruce, but he likes being back in Gotham. Back home. Bludhaven’s where he lives now, but it will never really be home, and for the first time in a long time, he feels like Bruce needs him here. Trusts him to take care of himself and Tim.

It’s a good feeling.

***

When Wally wakes up, he finds himself back on his bed and no idea how he got there. He’s still dressed in his jeans and faded t-shirt, and his feet have been bandaged again.

“Bruce,” he says under his breath, and a second later the door opens silently. “I think you’re starting to develop a thing about carrying me.”

There’s a short laugh and Bruce moves from the doorway to the edge of the bed. He sits and looks at Wally seriously. “I’d rather not have to carry you.”

Wally glances at his feet, and he can feel the ache of every cut. Even at the rate he heals, it’s going to be a while before he’ll be up to running again. It was stupid to run without his boots. He knows it, but he’d wanted to hurt, wanted to forget what he’d seen and pain seemed liked the best way to forget.

“How long have I been out?”

“About eight hours,” Bruce says, politely ignoring Wally’s “holy shit, Batman!” Wally can’t remember the last time he slept that heavily. It must be the drugs Dr. Emerson sent over.

“Don’t you have to go?” Wally asks, easing himself into a sitting position against the pillows.

“No.”

“No?” Now Wally knows something’s up. It’s just not like Bruce to hang around for eight hours watching him sleep, which might be creepy if it wasn’t also comforting in a strange way. “Bruce, you’ve got—”

“No,” Bruce says again, and this time he reaches for Wally, pulling him closer and kissing him. For whatever reason, Bruce is here for as long as Wally needs him, and the thought of that sends a tiny thrill through Wally’s body. Maybe it’s just Bruce being guilty or over-protective, but Wally wants to believe it’s more than that.

Their position is awkward, Bruce half-balanced on his hands and leaning over Wally, who’s propped against the headboard and sliding further into the pillows with every kiss. Wally reaches out and pulls Bruce down on top of him, recognizes the moment when Bruce gives up trying to maintain his distance and crawls onto the bed with him, careful not to jostle him when he moves. Bruce’s arms wrap around him, hands threading through his hair and Wally knows the kisses are telling him what Bruce can’t. They’re hard kisses full of worry and fear, and underneath it all is a passion Bruce is trying to suppress. Wally doesn’t want him to hold back, and slips a hand under Bruce’s shirt, feeling the familiar scars.

“Bruce,” he murmurs, reveling in the rough whiskers against his cheek. Neither of them has shaved and Bruce’s five o’clock shadow is already dark and scratchy. There’s something indefinably sexy about it. Wally starts to unbutton Bruce’s shirt, surprised when there’s a moan and Bruce grabs hold of his hand.

“We can’t.”

“What? Of course we can.”

Wally’s hurting all over, but it doesn’t stop him from being hard and horny, and he’s pretty sure he’ll feel a whole lot better if he can just convince Bruce that sex is better than any painkillers Doc Emerson could prescribe. At least Bruce hasn’t stopped kissing him, and that’s a good sign.

“You’re hurt. You need to rest.”

“No, I need you to fuck me,” Wally says, tweaking a nipple for good measure, and Bruce arches against him, his mouth open and wet as Wally slides his tongue inside.

“Your feet—”

“Really aren’t that important in fucking, Bruce.”

Wally’s got Bruce’s shirt undone now, slides it off his massive shoulders and leaves kisses on the bare skin there. Bruce growls and Wally knows this is going to be quick and dirty, and maybe that’s exactly what they both need. Truthfully, he’s not sure he’s got the energy for anything more.

Bruce steps off the bed, and Wally thinks he’s leaving until he sees him shake his head and start to unzip his pants. Wally grins up at him, stripping off his own clothes with just a touch of super-speed. When Bruce climbs back on top of him, he’s looking far too serious for sex, and Wally reaches for Bruce’s cock and strokes it, watching Bruce’s expression shift from worry to pleasure. Then Wally can’t do anything but melt as two of Bruce’s fingers slide inside him, cool and slippery with lube that Wally didn’t even notice Bruce getting. The fingers are thick and stiff, and Bruce is already making Wally wriggle. He forgets what he’s doing and braces himself with his feet, unable to stop the cry of pain that escapes his lips. Bruce’s fingers slip out, and Wally wants them back, doesn’t want Bruce to stop.

“Bruce, don’t—”

“Relax,” Bruce whispers, and Wally feels his legs being hoisted onto Bruce’s shoulders. Oh. Okay. Wally lets out a deep breath and settles back against the mattress.

“Wally, relax,” Bruce says again and the fingers slide back in, more gently this time, and Wally lets go of the bottom lip he’s bitten through, blinks away the wetness in his eyes, and reaches up to pull Bruce’s mouth onto his. He kisses him, offers him his tongue and lips, offers him the wet space inside, spreads himself wide open and lets Bruce have him. Wally can feel the fingers matching the rhythm of Bruce’s tongue in his mouth, knows the moment when Bruce’s cock replaces the fingers and fills him completely, sliding home until his prostate is trembling with the blunt nudge of Bruce’s cock.

Wally closes his eyes and reaches his hands back to the headboard, wraps his fingers around the brass rails and lets the world fade away to nothing except Bruce’s body against his, the rhythm of Bruce fucking him. Wally forgets about Luthor and Diana and the end of the world, concentrates on the vibrations rippling through him, the growing moans as Bruce slams into him, the way his cock feels pushing against Bruce’s stomach, the air perfumed with sweat and semen. Wally opens his mouth and maybe he’s babbling, but he’s not sure there’s anything like real words left inside him, and he gives in to the feeling of unbelievable pleasure after so much pain. This time when he screams, it’s as much for the ache in his cock as the ache in his feet, and he’s sure Bruce knows that when he lays hot breathless kisses wherever he can reach.

He can feel the stiffness in Bruce’s body the second before he comes inside him, and Wally arches into the last thrust as if he could possibly get any closer to Bruce than he already is. Still, he grinds his heels against Bruce’s back, not caring that he can feel the scabs tearing under the bandages and Bruce’s hand is immediately on his cock, slick and hard, stroking him with sure hands. Bruce’s cock is inside him, softening, when Wally comes in Bruce’s hand and he screams until there’s nothing left inside him. Bruce gently shifts Wally’s legs off his shoulders, lowers them to the bed.

There’s an absence of warmth that Wally knows is Bruce going to the bathroom to clean up, and Wally’s barely awake when Bruce comes back and washes him gently with a damp cloth. He trembles slightly when Bruce examines his feet, and there’s a low growl that means Wally will never, ever run without his boots again. Then the blankets are being pulled over his naked body, and he knows he’s safe and loved, even if no one says a word.

Wally knows boneless is meant for chicken and single-celled organisms, but somehow it fits and he feels like he could sink into the mattress, become part of it. Nothing really hurts anymore, and he’s drifting on a happy cloud of afterglow. He feels Bruce’s lips brush against his and he returns the kiss, lazy and warm.

“Get some rest. I—I—”

Bruce seems to be stammering a lot lately, and Wally smiles because he knows what it means. He knows he could save Bruce some anguish, whisper the words first, but part of him is just as afraid of taking that step, crossing that line. It’s different when you say "probably" or "maybe" or even "I think", and Wally’s gone that far with nothing in return from Bruce except the most amazing sex of his life. But Wally's not naive enough to think that means it's love. He’ll wait. For now this is enough and more than he ever thought he’d have.

He falls asleep with Bruce’s name on his lips.

***

Bruce hurriedly pulls on his pants as the knocking on the door increases. He glances at his watch and sincerely hopes it’s Alfred or someone from home with the things he asked for. He doesn’t want to leave Wally if he doesn’t have to, but there are some items he needs. He throws on his shirt, buttoning it up as he heads for the door.

The knocking seems to have frightened the Spinster, who’s rolled into a protective ball underneath a mound of wood shavings in the bottom of the cage. Bruce glances at the hamster, thinks of Wally wrapped safely in the bedroom, and glares at the door. Whoever’s out there better have a damn good reason for disturbing everyone.

Bruce opens the door and has to glance down to see a tiny little woman leaning on a cane. If her skin were green, she’d remind him of Yoda. The fact that this is the first thought in his mind disturbs him almost more than the presence of the diminutive woman beating on Wally’s door. She peers up at him over thin wireless glasses.

“You’re not Wally.” She lifts up her cane and pokes him suspiciously. Bruce takes a step back, realizing the woman has been using the cane to batter the door until he answered. It doesn’t look like it’s the first time she’s done it, either.

“No, I’m a friend of Wally’s.”

The woman eyes him carefully, and Bruce knows she’s taking in the partially unbuttoned shirt, the sweat-damp hair. He leans in the doorway and tries to look like he belongs here.

“I heard screaming,” she says, and Bruce knows she’s thinking about jabbing him with her cane again. Bruce considers how exactly to approach the subject of the screaming. He hadn’t thought much about it at the time, too much of a turn-on to listen to Wally completely uninhibited, and he’d known some of it was the pain, but not all of it, and Bruce understands the need for catharsis.

He hadn’t considered the thinness of the walls.

“There was screaming. A lot of it,” she says again, looking at Bruce as if he might be a little slow. He notices she’s begun to talk louder, as if he's old. Or deaf. Or doesn't understand English very well. "You know? Screaming?"

“Yes,” he says, meeting her eyes. She’s probably around eighty, and it’s not really a surprise that little old ladies adopt Wally and want to look after him. She probably has him round to tea and plies him with cookies, shows him pictures of her grandkids, her condo in Florida. With Wally’s metabolism, having a few sugar-grannies isn’t a bad thing.

“Yes?” Her eyes narrow. “That’s all you can say? Yes?”

Now she does poke him with the cane, and Bruce grunts as it catches him in the stomach. He grabs the rubber tip and hangs on, considers disarming her, but wonders what Alfred would say if he knew Bruce was spending his time liberating little old ladies from their canes.

“Wally’s fine. He’s sleeping.” Bruce hopes the woman remembers what sex was like, hopes she’ll leave it at that because Bruce really doesn’t see himself as the person to educate eighty-year old grandmothers about fucking someone till he screams.

She pulls her cane out of Bruce’s hand, and tries to peer past him into the apartment. He’s considerably taller and broader than she is and he blocks a good portion of the door. He draws himself to his full height and looms. Just a little.

She seems patently unimpressed. “You could’ve killed him and put his body in the refrigerator. Screams like that.”

“If I’d killed him, there wouldn’t have been screaming. Too obvious,” Bruce says, his voice low and serious. He doesn’t allow even the glimmer of a smile to touch his face.

She looks at Bruce carefully. He can tell she’s sizing up exactly what kind of murderer he might be. Apparently she’s decided he’s not the kind to let a victim scream like that because after a moment she nods and sets the tip of the cane back against the floor.

“You his fella?”

Bruce doesn’t know exactly how to answer that, and wonders why he even feels he should have to. Strange little women who poke him with canes don’t necessarily warrant straight answers about his sex life. Or Wally’s.

“Well?” She looks like she wants to prod him again, but seems to think better of it and leans a little more heavily on the cane instead. Bruce doesn’t think she needs it for support; she seems like the type who just likes to have a weapon handy. He can’t fault her for that. “You either are or you aren’t. His fella.”

“I guess I am then,” Bruce admits, and he can feel a foreign flush of heat touch his cheeks. No one’s made him blush in quite awhile, but he isn’t sure he’s ever been described as someone’s “fella” either.

“You don’t sound too certain. If you’re making him yelp like there’s no tomorrow, I think you’d better be more certain than that.”

Bruce can feel the blush spread across his face. He didn’t think he was capable of such a thing anymore, but apparently he was wrong. The woman appears to be pleased by his embarrassment.

“Is there something you wanted?”

Bruce tries to deflect the conversation away from the direction it’s going. The woman makes a disgruntled “hmph” sound and taps her cane on the ground.

“Wally’s important to all of us. To Central City.” She looks at Bruce to be sure he gets the meaning of her words, and Bruce wonders how many people really know who they are. It’s a wonder they aren’t all dead considering the number of people who figure out their secrets. Bruce has a bad feeling most of the building knows exactly who Wally West is and what he does with his time. “You better treat him right.”

“I will,” Bruce says with as much conviction as he can. He hopes it’s enough.

“You’d better. Bloody footprints on the front steps don’t sit well with the people who live here.”

“I don’t like them either.”

Bruce can’t remember seeing her last night when he watched the building, wonders if she was one of the unlit windows. If she spent as much time studying him as he did examining the layout of the apartment block.

“You carried him inside.” It isn’t a question. Bruce doesn’t acknowledge it one way or another. Obviously she saw what happened, saw them on the steps, drew her own conclusions. “You stayed with him.”

“I told you. He’s my friend.”

The woman nods again and Bruce knows somehow he’s been given a short reprieve. He’s not completely acceptable yet, but the cane’s resting firmly on the floor and the woman’s eyes are brighter, her mouth less grim.

“Look after him,” she says.

“I will. As much as he'll let me."

She weighs that response for a moment, then shoves a plastic container forward, and Bruce realizes she’s been holding it in her other hand this entire time. It’s square and heavy; he can feel a residual warmth through the bottom of the plastic.

“Oatmeal raisin. They’re for him,” she says pointedly, as if Bruce looks like the type to eat someone else’s cookies.

“I’ll make sure he gets them, Mrs.—”

“It’s Ms.—Ms. Georgina Bantle.”

“Bruce Wayne.” If she recognizes the name, she doesn’t show it and Bruce wouldn’t expect her to treat him any differently if she did.

“Wally calls me Georgie.” She looks Bruce up and down. “You can call me Ms. Bantle.” Bruce knows it’s going to take a great deal to get into this woman’s good graces, and nothing short of a miracle is going to put them on a first name basis. He has a feeling Wally graduated to Georgie pretty fast.

“I’ll be back to check on him in a day or two. And if there’s any more screaming,” she fixes him with a cool gaze, “tell him to throw your name in once or twice so we know you’re not killing him.”

Bruce knows his entire face is now red, but he nods and manages a half-smile. “I’ll remember that.”

“See that you do.” She turns and ambles down the hallway, disappearing around the corner.

Bruce steps back into the apartment with the container of cookies and looks over at the Spinster’s cage. Two tiny black eyes peer at him from under a pile of wood shavings.

“You want a cookie?” Bruce asks, surprised when the hamster’s nose pops out and sniffs the air. It edges out from under the shavings, and Bruce cracks open the Tupperware and snares a warm oatmeal cookie. He breaks it in half and offers some to the hamster. It pulls the cookie through the bars and wrestles it into place in front of him. Bruce can see his sharp little teeth attacking its edges happily. He pats the animal on the head, then goes to pop the remaining half of the cookie into his mouth.

He stops, somehow certain Ms. Bantle will know about it. He decides to save the cookies for Wally, let him decide if Bruce is worthy of Ms. Bantle’s home-cooking.

Living in Wally’s world for three days is going to be an experience.

Bruce hopes he’ll survive.

Chapter Text

On day one, Wally wakes up on the edge of an orgasm, Bruce’s full wet lips smirking at him wickedly, and Wally thinks he could get used to this. He almost forgets the pain in his feet until he tries to make it on his own to the bathroom, but Bruce appears at the first tiny—practically inaudible—whimper, and starts to help him, lifting him awkwardly with every second step, and Wally can’t do much more than go along for the ride.

“I can do it,” Wally says grumpily, placing his bandaged feet gingerly against the cold linoleum. He doesn’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s only about two dozen steps, and he really needs to pee without Bruce’s assistance. There are some things just not meant for sharing. Bruce shoots him a raised eyebrow that tells Wally he’ll be right outside, and yeah, that’s so going to help. Now he’s standing in the bathroom with a limp penis in his hand and Bruce outside his door, and it’s ten times worse than it’s ever been at the doctor’s office when they hand him the little plastic cup. Usually he’s back in no time at all.

After what seems like an interminably long time, Bruce’s voice breaks the silence: “Are you all right? Do you need—”

“I need you to go away!” Wally says as politely as he can with his sweatpants around his ankles and one hand braced against the wall. He’s grateful Bruce doesn’t have any kind of special vision because he knows damn well he’d been using it, and seriously, Wally’s never been shy, but there are limits. He looks at his cock and tries to concentrate, but it’s like waiting for a kettle to boil or an election campaign to end. You just can’t force it.

Wally can tell Bruce hasn’t moved. In fact, if anything, he’s shifted closer; the line of shadow at the bottom of the door is longer. He’s pleased Bruce cares this much, but the unpleasant pressure in his bladder is starting to bother him like a tick caught under his skin, and he can’t make himself pee while Bruce is listening.

Wally leans his forehead against his outstretched arm. “Bruce, I’m fine. Go make coffee or something. Please.”

It takes a long moment before Bruce actually complies, and Wally can picture the not-quite-trusting expression that Bruce is probably wearing, but soon he hears the sound of the coffee maker being prodded, and then the steady stream of Bruce filling the reservoir with water. Wally thinks it might just be the sweetest sound he’s ever heard, and his body agrees. He finishes in the bathroom in peace, washes his hands and face, and limps quietly out to the living room before Bruce can intervene. The couch creaks a little as he sits down, but the room’s starting to smell like coffee and Bruce is slicing bagels with the kind of focus Wally thinks is probably not meant for bakery products. He’s starting to feel more relaxed already.

***

Bruce bathes Wally’s feet twice a day. He runs a small tub of lukewarm water and uses a square facecloth to clean the cuts. They’ve already started to heal, and the dead skin sluices off with very little blood in the water. Bruce dries each foot carefully, soft terrycloth towel sliding between each toe, around the curve of Wally’s heel, paying special attention to the soles of his feet. Then Bruce takes the aloe-based crème the doctor left and traces each cut with gentle strokes. By the end of the third day, the deepest wounds are little more than fading lines on the skin, and Bruce can massage Wally’s feet with a firmer touch. Every time he feels the raised edge of where a cut used to be, he remembers bloody footprints and the kind of fear he’s never felt from being tortured or held at the mercy of a villain. He remembers Wally’s face at the ball, the way it crumpled, the way he ran. Bruce presses a kiss against the smooth slope of Wally’s foot and silently promises never to hurt him again.

***

On day two, Wally manages to put a smile on Bruce’s face, too. There are oatmeal cookie crumbs in the bed, and Wally’s tried to be accommodating to Georgie’s concern by yelling Bruce’s name at least once. Loudly.

“She doesn’t like me,” Bruce says. He’s sitting on the couch, pretending to read the newspaper, but really he’s feeding pieces of cookie to the Spinster, who’s sitting in a happy ball of fluff on Bruce’s lap.

“Hey, the Spinster’s all about the love,” Wally says from the kitchen.

“No, Ms. Bantle.”

“Ah, Georgie’s just got to get to know you. She’s an interesting lady. Always asking me stuff about the best way to get rid of a body, or—”

Bruce makes a choked sound, and Wally glances over at him. “Did you ever think maybe she’s dangerous?”

“No! She writes mystery novels, Bruce. She bakes cookies. Georgie’s harmless—well, mostly, but don’t tell her I said that. She likes to think she could take down someone with that cane of hers, and truthfully, I’m not sure she couldn’t.” Wally opens the fridge, mesmerized by the assortment of food that seems to have magically appeared. No way it was like this when he left.

“And do all your neighbours know who you are?” Bruce’s voice is faintly disapproving, and Wally tries to shake off the twinge of guilt that makes him feel like he’s a kid again. He adds another layer to the sandwich he’s making.

“It’s an apartment building. People pay attention, but they’re good people. They’re not going to give me away.” We can’t all live in castles and caves, Wally thinks, but he stops himself short of saying it. Bruce’s been nothing but kind to him since the ball, so Wally chooses to ignore the pessimistic “hm” that comes from the living room, and finishes up his sandwich.

His refrigerator’s never been so well-stocked, and Wally wonders when Bruce had time to do this considering he’s been hovering over Wally like Booster Gold’s flying robot, and Wally thinks maybe it’s not such a good thing to be able to whip out a credit card and have anything you want delivered to your door. He pulls out a dragon fruit and considers how to approach food that seems prepared to do battle. There’s pineapple and papaya and something Wally can’t identify for certain, but he’s got a sneaking suspicion it’s not commonly found in North American fridges. The fresh-squeezed orange juice is just a little too fresh, and Wally doesn’t think he ever owned a juicer. Or an espresso machine. With a set of tiny Italian cups.

Wally heads back out to the living room, munching as he goes, and Bruce props up the paper again, ignoring the disheartened squeak from his lap.

“Bruce, I want you to be comfortable here and all, but seriously, you don’t have to buy stuff. There’s a coffee shop down the street that makes decent expresso—espresso—coffee, and there’s a juice bar on Eleventh. I can just run—”

“No, you can’t.”

It’s meant to be said with concern, but it feels too much like an order, and Wally can feel the sidewalk under his slippered feet before he’s even aware he’s made a decision. He’s not in his uniform, no handy mask rolled up in the hem of his flannel pajama bottoms, so he’s committed now whether he wants to be or not. He can’t stop until he’s somewhere out of sight and although he knows going back to the apartment is the smart thing to do, he’s not feeling that accommodating. His feet are tingling as he runs, but the little bit of pain is okay, and the muscles in his legs are aching in the way that tells him he needs this, needs to feel the wind and the rush of the world around him.

Bruce will be there when he gets back.

He hopes.

***

Bruce has never liked small furry creatures. He considers them superfluous to his existence, and although he’s taken part of his identity from the bat, he’ll be the first one to admit he doesn’t want one around. They’re only allowed in the Cave because they were there first, and Bruce doesn’t think he could get rid of them short of exterminating them all, and he isn’t disrespectful of life—any life—even if the bats still occasionally startle him. He’s learned not to show it.

So when Wally disappears from the apartment in a blast of wind that catches Bruce’s newspaper and ruffles the hair on the Spinster’s back, Bruce is left petting the quivering ball of fluff and wondering what it thinks when Wally vanishes like that. He wonders if the animal realizes Wally’s coming back.

Bruce can feel the rapid beat of the hamster’s heart against his fingers, and he slides his hand underneath until the little guy is sitting cupped on Bruce’s palm. He strokes its back and gives it another piece of cookie, watching the small black eyes dart towards the half-open door. He chews on the cookie half-heartedly, and Bruce knows exactly how he feels.

“He’ll be back,” Bruce murmurs, white and brown fur soft under his fingers. He’s amazed how smooth the fur is. “Don’t worry. He’ll be back.”

He doesn’t acknowledge the shake in his voice. The fact that his own heartbeat is faster than normal. The hamster rubs its head against Bruce’s thumb and settles down to wait, its tiny claws pressed into Bruce’s palm.

When Wally comes back, Bruce is still sitting there, sleeping hamster curled in his lap. Bruce holds a finger to his lips and deposits the animal back in his cage, careful to set him down gently so as not to wake him. Wally doesn’t say a word, just limps over to the couch, and the expression on his face says conversation isn’t welcome. Bruce sits beside him in silence.

Eventually, Wally slides over until his head is resting on Bruce’s shoulder, soft hair tickling Bruce’s neck. It’s as soft as the Spinster’s, and Bruce thinks about Wally’s rapid-fire heartbeats and his freckled skin, considers how close he and Wally always seem to pushing one another away. Bruce knows he can’t put Wally in a cage and keep him safe. He knows, but he doesn’t have to like it.

They spend the afternoon on the couch—not talking. Wally’s watching some old movie with headphones on, and Bruce is reading, although he’s sure he’s been on page six of Rip Foster, Assignment in Space since shortly after he opened it. Every once in a while he makes a show of turning a page, but they both know he’s not reading. And Wally’s probably not all that interested in Showboat either, but Bruce doesn’t like to judge.

When the sun slides off the horizon, Bruce makes steaks and opens a bottle of wine. The silence wouldn’t bother him at all except this is Wally, and it’s like living in a world where the volume’s suddenly been turned off. Bruce wonders if he’s gone deaf, but Wally’s lips aren’t moving, aren’t saying anything at all, and he can still hear the sizzle of oil in the pan, the pop as he slides the cork out to let the wine breathe. They go through the motions of dinner and dishes; the rattle of plates and cutlery is the only conversation that they have. When the phone rings, they both jump. There hasn’t been an unexpected sound in the apartment since before noon, and it seems jarring and alien. Neither of them moves to pick it up, and the answering machine saves them both.

Roses are red, violets are blue, Leave me a message, I’ll get back to you.” The machine beeps and Bruce resists the urge to raise an eyebrow in Wally’s direction. Definitely not a poet.

The message is something innocuous. A charity asking for donations. The woman’s voice is pleasant, undertone of an accent that sounds faintly British. South African, Bruce would wager. She leaves her spiel and disconnects the call, leaving them in silence once again.

Wally disappears into the bedroom and Bruce doesn’t know if he should follow or not. He folds the paper into sections, stacks Wally’s magazines into a sharp-edged pile. The room isn’t messy but he tidies up anyway. The Spinster’s running on his wheel in the background, and it reminds Bruce of the unsteady whirling of a pinwheel, wind making the edges twirl fast, then slow, then fast again. Bruce has WD-40 in his utility belt, but the rhythmic squeaking is surprisingly soothing, so he doesn’t do anything. Just watches the tiny claws scramble on the thin wire, running and getting nowhere. He feels his breath catch when Wally comes up behind him.

There’s a hand on his elbow, a tug towards the bedroom, and Bruce follows because he doesn’t know what else to do. Wally’s expression is unreadable, and that’s … new. Bruce isn’t certain he likes it, but he’s been silent so long now he doesn’t know how to break the spell.

The bedroom is dark—blackout shades fully drawn—and Bruce stands perfectly still. He knows the bed is to his left, that Wally’s right in front of him, but he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do. If this is forgiveness. Or good-bye.

When Wally’s mouth presses hard against his, he still doesn’t have an answer, but at least there’s something he can do. He kisses back, hands sliding into Wally’s hair—so soft—and the urge to stroke and pet is ridiculously strong. His hands shake a little as they move along Wally’s body, and Bruce is careful not to move too fast, take too much. He has no idea what the rules are now, what this silence says about them, and when Wally unbuttons Bruce’s shirt and touches the skin beneath, Bruce can’t help but shiver.

There are no words for what they’re doing.

Sure hands strip him completely, and Bruce does his part to peel Wally out of his clothes. Naked and hard, Bruce finds himself pushed against the door, and that’s a different kind of surprise. Wally’s hands seem larger in the dark. His touches are solid, determined, and Bruce sometimes—usually—forgets Wally’s at least as strong as he is, probably stronger all things considered, and maybe that’s what this is about. A reminder that Bruce isn’t the only one who’s responsible here. Wally’s mouth leaves bruises on his skin, fingers tracing every scar with frightening accuracy—even the ones that are barely visible—and Bruce should be grateful to be known so well, but inside his head is a list of failures and Wally’s slowly cataloguing them all with his hands. His mouth.

Wally kisses harder, presses a leaking cock against Bruce’s hip, and Bruce responds by grabbing Wally’s hips and dragging him closer. Naked thigh between his own, Wally’s hands on his waist, and they’re rubbing and sliding, breathing harsh and desperate, grunts and moans and the slap of skin against skin, muscle against muscle, cocks and hips and thighs thrusting in the dark until Bruce is sore and sticky, Wally’s head pressed into his shoulder and breathing fast.

The soft cotton of a towel is pushed into his hand, and Bruce cleans up. Follows Wally to bed because he isn’t sure what else to do. He isn’t used to being this unsettled, this unsure, and even when he’s been wrong he’s been firm in his convictions. He’s used to reading Wally like a book—an audio book on high volume that tells you three hundred things you don’t need to know, but also tells you everything you need. When a hand reaches over and tugs him closer, Bruce doesn’t resist. Buries his face in Wally’s shoulder and breathes deep, and Wally’s arms go around him like a protective wall.

“So, is that what it’s like to be you?” he says.

The words hang in the air like incense in church, and it takes Bruce a moment to understand the question. He thinks about the answer carefully, and he can hear Wally’s even breathing, the rise and fall of his chest. Bruce lives in darkness. In silence. It’s part of what makes him who he is, part of what fuels Batman, but he’s always had peripheral noise—vivid exuberant words around him, drawing him out of the darkness when he needs. Dick’s been shouts of joy and angry defiance since he was nine years old; Tim is logic and practicality, but with energy thrumming underneath like the low hum of a computer. Even Alfred is his own kind of sound—the bright clatter of tea cups and whistling kettles, the subtle whoosh of fabric tablecloths and drawn draperies, a grandfather clock chiming every hour. Bruce has always known where to go, how to listen so he’s not completely alone. He’s never really thought about what it’s like for someone else to try to find him—to listen and hear only empty spaces. Silence. Darkness.

“I suppose,” Bruce says, finding his voice at last, although it’s a low quiet rumble that seems to come from his chest, and he’s surprised at the emotion the words carry. “Some days.”

Wally’s arms snug tighter around him and Bruce really isn’t used to being held like this, although the gesture’s not unwelcome. Lips give a solid press of flesh against Bruce’s temple. “You drive me nuts,” Wally murmurs, but the exasperation in his voice is mild. “I thought I was stupid when it came to relationships, but—”

“Hey,” Bruce protests weakly, but he knows Wally’s right. They’re both so bad at this it’s laughable.

“But—let me finish—you make me look pretty damn stable. It’s good for my ego.”

Bruce shakes his head as much as he can squished into Wally’s side like he is. He nips at Wally’s neck with his teeth, hears the sharp hiss of breath, hands clenching hard against the muscles in his back.

“Sorry,” Bruce murmurs, not at all apologetic for the bite. He’s still at a loss as to what to say about the rest of it. Them.

“You can’t just crawl into your damn cave and shut down when you don’t know what to do,” Wally says.

“And you can’t just run away.” Bruce remembers who left. Yes, maybe he started it, but Wally’s got his own kind of silence and all the tracking information in the world can’t make Wally stop running if he doesn’t want to. They both know it’s true.

“Stop trying to tell me what to do.” There’s an edge in Wally’s voice and his fingers have stopped stroking Bruce’s back. They’re right back where they were before Wally disappeared, and Bruce wants to scream at him to stop doing this. Stop making it so hard when all Bruce wants to do is save him. Keep him safe. Love him.

“It’s only because I care.” It’s the most honest thing Bruce can say, and Wally lets out a sigh and kisses his ear.

“You’re impossible to be mad at because you don’t even know how screwed up you are.” Wally pauses. “Well, you probably do, but you’re too damn busy trying to save everyone. Even when they don’t need it. I don’t need it,” Wally says, giving Bruce a poke in the side for emphasis.

Bruce considers still-bruised feet and empty refrigerators and little old ladies who know where to hide bodies; he isn’t convinced Wally’s seeing the bigger picture, but maybe he’s right. Sooner or later, Bruce is going to have to learn to let go of some things. Enough so he doesn’t smother the people he cares about. He thinks it’s ironic that they all think he’s overbearing at the same time they accuse him of being distant, unreachable. There’s no such thing as a happy medium, he suspects.

“And stop feeling guilty, too,” Wally insists. “Just stop. You’re totally overcompensating for everything you’ve ever done that hasn’t turned out, and I’m not going to be your project, Bruce. You have enough people who need saving—I’m not one of them.”

Bruce thinks about Luthor’s predatory gaze, about all the timelines where Bruce failed to save Wally again and again. Failed them all. He feels the darkness welling up inside him and he rolls them both over, Wally shifting with a cry of surprise. Bruce’s mouth is fast, demanding, and Wally meets him kiss for kiss, even if he doesn’t understand what’s changed between them.

“Bruce. Bruce!” Wally tries to get his attention between frantic touches, kisses that hurt them both, but Bruce can’t talk about this. He’s done it once, and that’s all he can give. Wally’s going to have to accept this is who he is—he can’t stop trying to protect the people he loves. Even if he can’t tell them that’s what this is. Love—fierce and desperate and all-encompassing.

“Bruce, I’m not dead, not hurt. Not even a little bit.” Wally reads him too—even in silence, and Bruce thinks maybe his scars are Braille and Wally’s learned to compensate for everything Bruce can’t say. “There’s no reason to worry, and even if there was, even if something happens,” Wally grabs Bruce’s face and makes him look, “it wouldn’t be your fault. You’ve got to believe that. Please.”

Bruce closes his eyes against the earnestness in Wally’s face, feels kisses peppered against his cheeks, eyelids, the edges of his mouth. He’s on top of Wally now, settled between the sprawl of legs, and the warmth is comfort and home. They keep touching and kissing, Wally’s whispers churning out a litany of assurances until Bruce isn’t clear on the words anymore, just the meaning. I love you. I forgive you. Bruce buries his face in the cave of Wally’s shoulder, shudders once more in silence, the smooth touch of fingers granting him temporary absolution, and finally, finally, he sleeps.

***

On the third day, Wally wakes up groggy, the warm heavy weight of Bruce half-pinning him to the mattress. Wally kisses him gently as he slips out of bed. He’s got coffee brewing and French toast sizzling before Bruce manages to make an appearance. He looks drained, exhausted, and Wally thinks that’s okay. Bruce spends too much time pretending everything’s fine. It can only be a good sign he’s letting Wally see this side of him. Concession for yesterday’s stoic silence.

“Morning,” Wally says, shoving a stack of French toast in Bruce’s direction. There’s an incoherent reply and Wally grins. So much for polished, articulate Bruce Wayne. Wally kind of likes when the masks come off; it makes him feel he’s getting closer to the heart of the man. Maybe someday Bruce will let him all the way inside, but for now, this is a step. A big one, and Wally’s not about to refuse what’s offered.

They clean up breakfast in silence, but it’s not the oppressive kind from the day before. Wally’s moving with almost no pain now, and Bruce seems to have relaxed. He calls Alfred and Tim, talks to Superman via the JLA comm., and when he settles down with coffee and the paper, Wally can’t say he’s surprised to notice the Spinster’s found its way back to Bruce. Wally steals the comics while Bruce is reading the financial section. He lies so his bare feet are in Bruce’s lap, soft hamster fur tickling his toes, and when Bruce’s fingers stroke absently along his sole, for once Wally is sure Bruce isn’t only checking for scars. The touch isn’t an apology or a penance; it just is. He falls asleep with Bruce rubbing his feet … and his hamster, and Wally is stupidly grateful they’ve managed to get this far. It seems like some kind of miracle.

Then Bruce is shaking him gently, the fading light of the late afternoon scattering droplets of amber across the coffee table, the carpet. Wally stretches like a cat in the sun and rolls onto his side.

“Yeah?” His voice is sleepy. It’s the only time of day when he’s legitimately slow.

“I’ve got to go,” Bruce says and Wally blinks awake when he realizes Bruce is dressed in hard-armoured batsuit, cape puddling on the floor behind him. The cowl’s hanging limp at his back, and Wally tries to sit up, but the hand on his chest is gentle. “Nothing to worry about. I just need to meet with Clark—an update on Luthor’s ever-increasing shipments of Kryptonite. I’ll be back before morning.”

“Is he picking you up?” Even to his own ears, Wally’s voice sounds petulant. He’s had Bruce all to himself for three days, and it doesn’t matter if they’ve been kind of fighting—or at least taking the silent treatment to a whole new level—he still isn’t ready to let him go.

“It’s not a date,” Bruce chides.

“You keep conveniently forgetting to tell me how he knows you hog the covers.”

The eye roll confirms Wally’s not going to hear the story tonight either. “It’s not even worth telling. And it’s not true.”

Wally knows it is. He’s woken up bereft of covers before, and he’s told Bruce so. It’s only ever earned him an amused smile because he likes the word “bereft.”

Bruce pulls a remote from a pocket on his belt. “I’ve got my own ride.” Wally can’t hear anything, but he suspects there’s a stealthy black plane hovering silently over the building at this exact moment, and it never stops being cool that Bruce is Batman.

“Be careful,” Wally says, and Bruce kisses him. Slow enough to send a flush of heat to Wally’s groin, but fast enough to still be casual. Not a kiss good-bye although they never really know when they’re going to be a step too slow, a little bit unlucky, but Wally’s pleased this is a sign he’s made some tiny bit of progress with Bruce’s paranoia. Maybe he can almost believe this time line will be different for them.

Bruce steps towards the fire escape, line-launcher already in his hand, and he stops just short of telling Wally to stay put. It’s written on his face, though. Wally can forgive him for that because he knows how it feels to want to protect someone, and with Bruce it’s more than that. His need to protect them all is rooted in a dark alley, an eight-year-old’s terror at not being able to stop the unthinkable from happening. The cowl falls into place and Bruce is gone.

“I’ll see you later.” There’s nothing except the sound of the wind, and Wally hates it that Bruce can disappear like that. As if he’s never been here. But then again, maybe Bruce feels the same about him and his whirlwind exits. Wally’s never considered that the two of them are at all alike, but maybe in some ways they are. Just a little.

The Spinster’s standing on his hind legs at the edge of the cage, looking towards the window as if checking to see where Bruce has gone. If he’s coming back. Wally slides a finger through the bars of the cage and rubs the hamster’s head.

“He’ll be back, furball. So will I.” Little claws cling to his index finger as if to say, “don’t go” and Wally wonders when the hamster started advocating for Bruce. “He’s got a city to look after. So do I. But I promise to take it easy. Really.”

There’s an angry squeak from the cage, and the hamster turns its back on him to burrow under a mound of shavings.

“Fine,” Wally murmurs. “Be that way. I’m still going.” He speeds into his uniform and lets himself out through the fire escape. It’s going to be a clear night—as the sun drops away, he can already picture the stars shining bright above the streetlamps, the moon reflecting off the nearby bay. Wally fills his lungs with air and starts to run. This is what he was made to do. He can’t live life any other way.

***

Clark’s waiting in the hangar when Bruce docks at the Watchtower.

“Everyone here?” Bruce asks, falling into step beside him.

“Yes. How’s Wally?” Clark’s in Superman mode already—chest puffed out and voice deep. Bruce wants to slap him hard on the back to make him cough. Bring back the schoolboy sputter in an instant. But he doesn’t.

“Better. No scarring on the epidermis, no permanent damage to muscles or tendons. He’s healed even more quickly than Dr. Emerson anticipated, so he should be cleared for duty in a day or so.”

Clark’s stopped walking, and Bruce turns to look at him. “What?”

“It’s just me, you know.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning if I wanted that, I could’ve read his medical chart. I’m asking about Wally.” Clark’s got his hands on his hips now, and Bruce knows the glare is visible through the cowl.

“He’s fine,” Bruce says and continues walking. Clark flies along beside him, perfectly upright, feet hovering six inches off the ground. It annoys Bruce and Clark knows it.

“You are the most stubborn—”

“Fine! His feet are fine, so fine that I’m sure he’s running all over the damn country at this very moment, and there’s nothing I can do about it! Happy?”

Clark’s red boots land softly on the floor and keep pace beside Bruce. “And how are you?” Bruce just stares straight ahead and refuses to answer. “Hm, I’d forgotten how mature you can be.”

Bruce grabs a fistful of cape and uses it to propel Clark into the nearest wall. He’s got his arm braced under Clark’s chin, pressing against his throat, which is absolutely no threat for someone who can hold his breath for hours, but it’s the principle of the thing. “Just back off,” Bruce says, teeth clenched. “It’s personal.”

“You’ve slept with my wife. Hell, you’ve slept with me. I think we’re already pretty personal.” Clark grins cheerfully as Hawk and Dove slink past on the other side of the hallway, trying their best to blend into the wall. Bruce smacks Clark in the big red “s,” although he only succeeds in bruising his hand.

“Would you stop saying that? And Lois wasn’t your wife when—you know what? Never mind. You’re just trying to make me mad enough to tell you what you want to know.” Bruce lets him go and continues striding down the hallway, picking up the pace.

“Is it working?”

“No, and you’re making Wally paranoid. He keeps asking me about Japan.”

“Why don’t you just tell him? It was all perfectly innocent. In spite of the rather compromising—”

“I’m reaching for the Kryptonite! I swear to God.” Bruce has a hand on his utility belt, and part of his brain is just hoping Clark gives him an excuse. He’s feeling edgy enough he might just take it.

Instead, Clark nudges Bruce’s shoulder and whispers, “So, you’re both okay?” with such concern that Bruce forgets all about the green rock in his belt.

“What’s okay? We fight, we make-up, his neighbours hate me, his hamster likes me, we can’t be in the same space without going nuts, but I can’t stand to be away from him. It’s hell.”

“It’s love,” Clark says knowingly.

“Like I said. Hell.”

They enter the briefing room together, and Bruce knows he doesn’t have to tell Clark to drop it. It’s done—at least until they’re alone again. Nobody else knows about what happened with Wally after the ball, and Dr. Emerson’s always been particularly good at being discreet.

Bruce settles into his usual place at the table. Notes the presence of Diana, J’onn, John Stewart, and Shayera. Green Arrow and Black Canary are also here at Superman’s request, and Bruce thinks it isn’t a bad idea. With the amount of information they’re trying to process, they’re going to need a number of teams ready to act when needed.

“Let’s get down to business, shall we?” Bruce says, ignoring the empty chair where Flash usually sits. He’ll have to address Wally’s absence, but it can wait till someone asks the inevitable question. In the meantime, they’ve got more than enough to keep them busy sorting out the threads of intelligence concerning Luthor’s kryptonite shipments, his bases of operation, and the mysterious device Luthor’s supposedly building in the lab under Mt. Torrent.

“Superman, why don’t you start?”

***

Wally’s standing on the edge of a rooftop in the Central City warehouse district, watching the fog slide off the bay and onto the streets, when he hears a footfall behind him.

“You’re slipping,” Wally says into the darkness, not bothering to turn around.

“Hey, didn’t want to give you a heart attack.” Dick lands softly on the rooftop. “I know how you older guys can be.”

“Four years, Dick. That’s all. Four years.”

“Might as well be forty, Wally. I’ll always be young and beautiful.”

“You’ll always be ten years old.” It’s true in some ways, but Wally’s glad for that. Dick’s got the youngest heart of anyone he’s ever met, and considering everything he’s been through, everything he’s lived with, it’s an amazing testament to Dick’s resilience. Wally remembers when Dick was a kid—sometimes too serious for his own good—but that was Bruce’s influence and Dick’s insecurity, and mostly they’ve worked that out over the years. Found a balance that lets them both be themselves.

“So, do I even need to ask what you’re doing here?”

“I was in the neighbourhood.” Dick’s not even trying to make up an excuse.

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, he’s worried about you. That’s all.” Dick nudges Wally’s hand with a tall cup of something steaming. Peace offerings in the form of caffeine have always worked for them. Wally takes it and nods his thanks. “Would it make you feel better if I said I was worried too? That I offered to come check up on you?”

“Did you?”

Dick grins. “Well, I would’ve, but he kind of beat me to it. You know what he’s like.”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

Dick sits cross-legged on the edge of the roof, and Wally figures “what the hell” and joins him. He dangles his feet over the edge. They’re still sore, and he can’t reach top speeds, but in a few more days, he should be back to normal. Or whatever constitutes normal for a speedster.

“You two ready to kill each other yet?” Dick asks, and Wally winces a little.

“Three days, small apartment. Not the best combination,” Wally admits.

“Believe me, there’s a good reason Wayne Manor is huge. Even then, there have been times when I feel like we’re tripping over each other. It never ends well.”

“Yeah, well, the good part about fighting is the making up, right?”

Dick chokes on his coffee. “I so did not need to hear that.”

Wally grins because it’s getting Dick back for checking up on him, but he’s not mean, so he asks, “How’s Barbara?”

Dick’s more than happy to embrace a change of topic. They spend the next hour bouncing from one subject to the next until Dick’s sprawled on his stomach on the narrow roof-wall, and Wally’s feeling the pleasant buzz of caffeine.

“He loves you, you know,” Dick says suddenly, and Wally wishes he still had some coffee left so he could pretend to be drinking it. He glances down into the street, looking for any sign of criminal activity, but it’s a really slow night. Not even the muggers are cooperating. “Wally, I said he—”

“I know. I heard you.” A pair of boats drift past in the bay, and Wally can hear the tinkling laughter from the harbour cruises. “I don’t suppose he told you that, though?”

“Not in so many words, no,” Dick admits. “But seriously, don’t hold that against him. He has trouble. With the words. He’s never even said it to me.” If Dick’s upset by that, it doesn’t show.

Wally nods and thinks that should be good enough. Bruce adores Dick, loves him like a son, and would gladly give his life for him a thousand times over. If Bruce can’t say it to Dick, what hope does Wally have of ever hearing the words? But still, he wants them. Craves them. In some part of his mind, he thinks he deserves them. He wants to be the one who breaks the silence, who gets Bruce past this blind fear that everyone he loves is going to die.

“Hey, you up for a run?” Dick says finally, pulling Wally out of his thoughts.

“With you?”

“I’ve got the bike. You run, I’ll ride. Race you back to Gotham.” Dick’s grin lights up the night brighter than a fireworks display. Even with the heavy black hair, the mask, Dick’s still the boy in the red and green suit, and in some ways he always will be. Wally’s glad of that.

“Should I run backwards? Take the long way around? I can pick you up a penguin on the way.”

“Oh, shut-up.” Dick launches his de-cel line and catches Wally around the waist, carrying him down to the ground. Wally sometimes forgets how amazing it is to fly with the Bats. He usually runs, and it’s not the same at all.

Dick slides his motorcycle out of an alleyway and revs up the engine. “Ride or run?”

“Actually, I think I’ll ride.” Wally slips onto the seat behind Dick, trying to remember the last time he’s ridden with him. Probably when he wiped out the GPS with one badly placed cappuccino.

Dick turns at the waist as he hands Wally the second helmet. His face is full of concern. “Are you sure? Are your feet—”

“They’re fine. I just want to see how the other half lives,” Wally says, strapping the helmet in place. “It’s been too long.” He settles his hands on Dick’s trim waist, gripping the seat with his knees. He remembers how Dick drives.

“Well, if you’re sure.” Dick’s voice is clear over the built-in headset, and Wally hangs on as Dick offers him one more chance to change his mind.

“I’m sure, Wonder Boy. Get thee to Gotham.”

The cycle peels out with the smell of freshly-burned rubber, and Wally grins as Dick hoots exuberantly into his ear. Fifteen minutes into the ride, he’s locked an arm solidly around Dick’s waist and has sworn never, ever, to do this again. Bruce is going to strangle him if he ever figures out Dick drives like he’s jumping off a building. All free fall and speed, and a certainty that gravity is working in his favour.

“You’re insane!” Wally manages to shout when they’re out on the highway and the moon is huge above them.

“You missed me, didn’t you?”

“I did.” Wally’s not too big a man to admit it, and he squeezes Dick a little tighter. Suddenly, he has a thought: “Hey, you don’t know anything about Bruce and Clark getting stuck in a hotel in Japan, do you?”

Dick’s laughter echoes in his helmet as they rocket through the night.

***

Clark finds Bruce on the main observation deck, studying a map screen. Two small blue dots are hurtling towards Gotham at an alarming speed.

“Is that Flash?”

“And Nightwing. I’m trying to decide which of them needs to be yelled at the most.”

“What are they—” Clark can’t tell from the screen how they’re moving..

“Too fast for driving, too slow for running, but that’s the GPS data from the cycle, so if I had to bet, I’d say Dick’s souped-up the engine with a hit of nitrous oxide.” Bruce frowns. “Which means I need to have a chat with him about proper use of resources.”

“Oh, come on,” Clark says. “It’s not like you’ve never … okay, well, maybe you haven’t, but they’re still kids.” Bruce’s frown gets deeper. “Not that Wally’s a kid, just that—jeez, there’s no way I can come back from this, is there?”

“No.”

Clark pulls a chair over and sits down. “Have you talked to Diana?”

No response is pretty much a response in itself with Bruce. Clark doesn’t want to get in the middle of this. Diana’s always been one of his strongest supporters, and all of them have to work together. A rift among the main league members could spell disaster—it would be exactly the kind of weakness Luthor would like to exploit.

“Bruce, why don’t you just tell her you’re involved with someone?”

“She’d want to know who.” Fair enough, Clark thinks.

“Which either means you can tell her it’s Wally or that it’s none of her business. You’ve got options. Diana’s not unreasonable, you know.”

“The first isn’t currently an option; the second—” Bruce paused. “The second will only cause more problems. I doubt very much Diana would accept that as an answer.”

“What do you think she’s going to do? Lasso you with the Golden Lariat of Truth and …” Clark’s laughing, but he stops when he sees the look on Bruce’s face. It’s not as if Diana hasn’t used it on them before. Only when she thought they’d been possessed by aliens or were being telepathically controlled, but still—maybe Bruce has a point. Diana really doesn’t like to be kept out of the loop.

“Okay, so you and Wally are just going to keep this a secret? For how long?”

“It really isn’t anyone’s concern,” Bruce says evenly. “You know I’ve never put my personal interests above the job.”

It’s true, and Clark knows it, but he’s also never seen Bruce fall this hard for someone before. It’s been a tough few months with the Justice Lords’ revelations and Luthor’s increasing popularity. Clark can’t entirely block out the image of his parents being tortured, Kansas turned into a wasteland. Bruce is still haunted by those potential outcomes, even though he refuses to acknowledge it anymore. Clark knows because he knows him, because he’s had those same nightmares.

“Bruce.”

“Clark, can we just deal with one problem at a time? My … relationships are not relevant to this job.” Bruce puts a hand to his head and Clark decides, whether Bruce is feigning the headache or not, it’s time to back off. The jaw is set, five o’clock shadow more than visible on his chin, and maybe the best thing they can all do is pick this discussion up when they aren’t both on the edge of exhaustion.

“Go home,” Clark says, clapping Bruce on the shoulder. “Seriously.” He points at the blue dots settled firmly in Gotham’s outlying area. “I’d say you’ve got guests at the manor.”

Bruce gets up to leave, but stops just shy of the doorway. “About earlier …”

Clark waves a hand in the air as if to brush off the cape-grabbing incident. “Don’t worry about it.” At least Bruce doesn’t have the ability to cut off his air supply. To dangle him by the throat. Clark shudders at the memory. There have been a lot of difficult days for them since the Justice Lords; Clark’s fairly certain there are more bad days ahead. Bruce deserves as much time as he can get with Wally before things with Luthor start to go to hell.

“Go home, Bruce,” Clark repeats, and this time there’s no argument.

***

Bruce is crossing the hangar towards the Bat-plane when he notices Diana waiting for him. It’s almost enough to make him turn and go the other direction. Clark can fly him back to Gotham; he doesn’t have to take the plane.

“Batman!”

Bruce schools his face into his usual expression, hoping he looks stern, rather than tired. He doesn’t feel up to a discussion right now, particularly not one that involves Diana or what happened at the President’s ball.

“Diana.”

“We didn’t get much chance to talk in there,” Diana says. “In fact, I haven’t seen you at all since Luthor’s ball.”

“I was tied up with some personal matters.”

“In Gotham?” The tone of her voice suggests she already knows the answer.

“Not specifically.”

Diana’s not stupid and has never been given to playing games. Bruce wishes he could be confident that telling her the truth would put an end to her attentions. He imagines she’s simply lonely for her people and sees in him a kindred spirit. Equally alone in many ways. But he remembers the kiss—passionate and energetic, and maybe he’s been naïve to think she’d be content with his friendship. He can’t offer her more, nor does he feel he owes her an explanation.

“I was hoping we could talk.”

“Perhaps some other time.” Bruce hopes his meaning’s clear enough. He wants to go home.

“All right,” Diana says, almost shyly, and Bruce realizes his mistake when he smiles at her. She’s inside his personal space in a heartbeat, graceful hands sliding up his biceps, reaching for his face. “I had the most wonderful time—I just wanted to tell you that. Even though you had to leave and we didn’t get to say good-bye, it was the best night I’ve had since coming here.” Her words flood out like a spillway’s been opened, and then Bruce finds himself being kissed again. Solid, Amazon lips on his, and he doesn’t want to hurt her, but he can’t do this. He pulls away.

“Diana—”

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, her finger smudging her lipstick against his mouth in what Bruce can only assume is an effort to remove it, but which seems to succeed in spreading the stain. “It’s just, I’ve been thinking about that night. About us. I know you felt it too, and—”

“Diana!”

She presses her fingers against his lips to silence him. “I know we can’t talk about it here. Soon, Bruce.” He’s still feeling stunned when she kisses him again—quick and chaste—before she disappears towards her jet.

Bruce puts a hand to his forehead, his headache taking a turn towards the worst, and decides he was better off when more people were afraid of him and no one wanted to kiss him. He climbs into the Bat-Plane and gets clearance to return to Gotham. A quick check in with Alfred confirms that Wally’s at the manor, and Dick’s out on patrol with Tim.

When Bruce lands at the Cave a half-hour later, he’s grateful to be home.

***

Wally thinks it should probably feel stranger than it does that he’s tucked into Bruce’s bed waiting for him to come home. Alfred had greeted him with a pleasant smile when Dick dropped him off, then Alfred made cocoa and dug up sweatpants for him to change into. They’re obviously Bruce’s from the way they keep sliding down Wally’s hips. If he was feeling more energetic, he might try capitalizing on the easy-off pants for a little seduction action, but as it is, he’s asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

He feels Bruce slip into bed behind him, and Wally half-turns to accommodate Bruce’s arm under his neck, one hand dragging the sweatpants with him as he moves. He has his suspicions they’re going to be around his knees by morning, and it isn’t an unpleasant thought.

“What time’s it?” he slurs sleepily.

“Almost two.” Bruce’s skin is cool against Wally’s back, and Wally feels the rasp of stubble on his shoulder. It’s almost sexy enough to wake him up, but Wally gets the feeling Bruce isn’t exactly in the mood to play hard either.

“You okay?” Wally murmurs as Bruce presses a lazy kiss against the side of his face.

“Yeah.” It doesn’t sound convincing, and Wally shakes off sleep enough to roll his head back and peer at Bruce over his shoulder.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Tomorrow,” Bruce says, exhaustion clear in his voice, and Wally decides to let it go. Another kiss to the back of his neck, lazy and slow, not trying to start anything at all, and Wally’s thrilled that they can be this comfortable together. The kissing is more than a prelude to sex, and Wally grins and brushes at the hair on Bruce’s arm, happy just to touch, to be touched. He’s never had this kind of relationship.

Bruce settles in behind him, and Wally likes that their bodies fit so well together. Bruce is longer and wider, but not bulky, and Wally wiggles his slim hips back into Bruce’s groin, lets his bare feet rub against Bruce’s which are …

“Your feet are freezing!” Wally yelps, pulling his feet away.

“Sorry.” The tone’s completely unapologetic and they spend the next few minutes jockeying for warmth until Wally finally says, “Fine, okay! Just leave them in one spot,” and Bruce presses his cold feet to the back of Wally’s calves.

“Why are you here, anyway?” Bruce asks. “Other than to keep my toes warm.”

“I ran out of clean sheets.” It isn’t a lie, but there’s also something to be said for Bruce’s giant bed and enough space so they’re not tripping over each other. Wally’s never been claustrophobic, mainly because he can run whenever he wants, but he’s starting to realize he needs other strategies because running away just manages to scare the hell out of Bruce—even if he’ll never admit it.

Bruce’s fingers brush loosely through Wally’s hair, and there’s a whispered “goodnight” against his ear. Wally raises Bruce’s hand to his mouth, kissing his fingers once before he drifts back into sleep.

***

At breakfast, Bruce finds Alfred particularly abrupt. It’s not like him at all. Wally’s been bundled into clean clothes and given fresh juice, pancakes and toast. There’s a second pot of coffee in front of him, and Bruce can smell something with apples and cinnamon when the kitchen door opens. Alfred glares at him slightly and sets a plate with a pale piece of toast down with a definite clatter. Even Wally’s beginning to notice.

“Everything okay?” Wally asks. Bruce just shrugs. He’s still feeling worn out from the last few days, and although he’d slept well, Wally’s warm body better than any tonic, he knows he’s not operating at peak performance. He hasn’t been for some time now, if he’s absolutely honest with himself.

When Alfred hands him coffee without sugar and a grapefruit that’s clearly seen better days, Bruce throws up his hands in exasperation. “Okay, Alfred, what have I done?”

“Sir?”

“Oh, that’s not fooling anyone, Alfred.” Wally’s looking back and forth between the two of them with genuine concern. “Even I can tell you’re pissed at him. Did he bring the Bat-plane home with a dent?” It doesn’t help to lighten the mood, and Bruce really isn’t prepared for the cold disappointment he sees in Alfred’s eyes.

“Perhaps this is not the best place—” Alfred begins, glancing at Wally, but Bruce isn’t in the mood to play games.

“What did I do?” he says again, more emphatically, and Alfred looks at him sympathetically, as if to say, you’ve brought this on yourself, young man. It’s a look Bruce is painfully familiar with.

“I have laundered the towels from the master bath this morning.”

Wally looks confused, as if he’s somehow to blame for Alfred’s concern, and Bruce suddenly realizes what was in the bathroom that might’ve caused this kind of reaction. He remembers dumping the uniform in the Cave when he came in, climbing upstairs and checking to see that Wally was fast asleep before slipping into the bathroom for a quick shower. A chance to wipe the damn lipstick off his mouth. He’d almost forgotten it.

“Bruce?” Wally’s set down his fork, and seems to be preparing himself for bad news.

“Stupid Amazon Princess,” Bruce mutters under his breath, dropping his head onto his hands and staring at the pasty grapefruit in front of him. He’s never been punished with fruit and dry toast before. He wonders how long Alfred’s been waiting to try this.

“Diana? What’s she got to do with—”

“I’ll leave you to—”

Bruce looks up. “No, Alfred, you started this. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Wally yet, but thank you for immediately assuming the worst about me.”

Alfred pales, taking a step back in retreat. “Master Bruce, I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“No, I know it’s because you care.” Bruce waves off the apology, and catches Wally’s eyes. “Diana kissed me last night at the Watchtower. I didn’t invite it, didn’t want it, and quite frankly, didn’t enjoy it.” Wally’s stopped eating, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to bolt, and Bruce hopes that means they’re making progress in the trust department. “She’s obviously gotten the wrong idea about me.”

“Obviously,” Wally says, and it’s not entirely sarcastic. He’s waiting to see what Bruce has to say. The tight feeling in Bruce’s chest starts to fade a tiny bit. “So, Alfred found …?”

“Lipstick,” Alfred offers, his voice shaking a little. “I saw red on the cloth, and I was afraid it was blood.” He drops his eyes. “When it clearly wasn’t, well, I—I’m sorry. It wasn’t my place to interfere.”

“Apparently, everyone’s been having concerns lately,” Bruce says, “so let me just say this. I’m not interested in Diana. I’m not in … a relationship with her. The only person I’m in … a relationship with is Wally.”

Across the table Wally beams at him. Bruce still can’t seem to find the words, but apparently “relationship” makes Wally happy as a kid in a candy store because he tucks back into his breakfast without another thought. He seems to understand what Bruce has been trying so hard to say.

“I’m so sorry,” Alfred murmurs as he takes Bruce’s plate away.

“Alfred,” Bruce says, but he’s already disappeared into the kitchen. Bruce sighs and drinks his orange juice. He’s got a feeling it’s going to be that kind of day.

Chapter Text

The Justice League meets at the Cave because it’s easier. Bruce has all the information there and he really doesn’t feel like another trip up to the Watchtower. Besides, there’s something about having the home court advantage, and he feels like he needs it today. Alfred’s reaction at breakfast to the lipstick in the bathroom was unexpected, and Bruce wonders if he’s truly that hard to read, if the three days he spent in Central City with Wally wasn’t enough to indicate that he’s serious about this relationship. Apparently not. Everyone’s so quick to think the worst of him these days, and Bruce wonders where that’s coming from. Maybe he really has spent too long wearing a mask when even the people he’s closest to don’t seem to know how he feels. He never thought he had to say it for them to know—now he’s not sure.

J’onn’s connected via satellite from the Watchtower, but the rest of them are here, lounging about the Cave. They’ve nearly all been here before, so it shouldn’t be much of a thrill, but Bruce has always underestimated his colleagues’ ability to turn into tourists the moment they’re inside. Shayera and Lantern are standing in the shadow of the giant penny, talking in low voices. Bruce is fairly sure it has nothing to do with the coin. Wally’s chatting with Clark and Ollie; Dinah and Diana are whispering about something conspiratorially, and Bruce hopes the occasional glances in his direction are simply coincidence. Women are considerably more complicated than men, he thinks.

“Okay, people,” Bruce begins. “We’ve got credible information on three different shipments of kryptonite being moved three days from now. Needless to say, we can’t let Luthor acquire any more of that particular substance if there’s anything we can do to stop him.”

“Legally, we’re on shaky ground,” Clark continues. “As you know, the League’s been battling to get kryptonite declared a hazardous substance, but we’re going to be tied up in court for years. In the meantime, what Luthor’s doing isn’t exactly illegal, but—”

“But at the same time, it’s better to contain the substance and deal with the legal repercussions later. And Luthor doesn’t generally put up too much fuss because he knows he’s treading a fine line, President or not,” Bruce finishes.

“Do we have any more information on this device he’s supposedly building?” Diana asks, face completely focused on the mission. Bruce appreciates that she can do that, that they all can. Besides, he doesn’t want to deal with her right now—her and the lipstick-bright kisses that have gotten him in trouble with Wally, with Alfred. He doesn’t remember life being this complicated before.

“No, only what we overheard at the President’s ball. What we do know is that the main base of operations seems to be Mt. Torrent, and considering the amount of lead shielding in place around the underground facility, I’d say Luthor’s hiding something big.”

J’onn’s voice comes from the speakers: “It could easily be a trap to draw Superman there.”

“Yes,” Clark agrees, “but we still have to check it out. That’s why we’re approaching this systematically. There’ll be three field teams—one assigned to each shipment. The primary objective will be to confirm that it is kryptonite being transported, and if so, seize it pending the outcome of legal proceedings to determine its status as a controlled substance. I know that’s a bit of a mouthful, but we’re trying to stay within the limits of the law as much as we can on this.”

“Better to have the kryptonite safely stored in a neutral facility than in Luthor’s labs,” Bruce adds. “We’ll let the lawyers fight it out in court.”

“So,” Ollie says, pushing his Green Arrow cap back on his head. “Where do you need me to be?”

“The teams are intended to give us the widest range of support possible.” Bruce presses a few keys on his computer console and pulls up a giant screen that lists the teams with corresponding maps and mission objectives.

Team 1: Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary
Assists: Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Plastic Man
Primary Target: Train traveling from Smallville to Metropolis. Destination Cadmus Labs.
Mission: Remove the shipment from the train before it reaches the city.

Team 2: Green Lantern, Hawk Girl, Aquaman
Assists: Aqualad, Elongated Man, Vixen
Primary Target: Ship carrying cargo containers to disused oil platform off the Atlantic coast.
Mission: Prevent the shipment from reaching Luthor’s underwater lab facility.

Team 3: Superman, Batman
Assists: Vigilante, Shining Knight, Hawk and Dove, Zatanna
Primary Target: Armored trucks carrying equipment and supplies to Mt. Torrent underground laboratory.
Mission: Prevent the shipment from reaching its destination. Obtain intelligence on device Luthor is building.

Team 4: J’onn and Flash (Watchtower)
Mission: Oversee and coordinate the operations. Distribute reinforcements as required.

There’s a bit of subdued chatter as everyone runs through the lists, committing the details to memory and beginning to formulate strategies.

“Any questions?” Bruce looks around quickly, avoiding Wally’s glare. “No? Then we’ll—”

“Why am I stuck on the Watchtower?”

Bruce holds his ground and doesn’t back down from the sudden appearance of Flash standing right in front of him. “Superman and I assigned the teams on the basis of providing the best use of—”

“Oh, I bet you did.”

Everyone in the Cave has gone silent. They’re used to Wally being the easy one, the accommodating one, and Bruce is pretty sure none of them has ever seen this side of Flash before.

Superman steps forward, hands open in a placating gesture. “You’ve just come off medical leave, Flash.”

“And I’ve been cleared for duty,” Wally returns, almost before Clark’s finished the sentence. “Sticking me up on the Watchtower isn’t a good use of resources. You need me down here, and I need to be able to do my job.” He may be answering Clark, but he’s still looking at Bruce.

Green Lantern tilts his head thoughtfully. “You know, he’s right.”

Bruce holds his tongue and tells himself this is still a democracy. He has to listen to what the others have to say, even if every cell in his body is screaming at him that he has to keep Wally safe. “Go on.”

“Well, he’s a runner.” GL rubs a hand across the short bristling hair on his scalp. “We’d be better off putting someone up there who can fly back if there’s a problem. Me or Diana or even Superman.”

“We do have limited transport technology,” J’onn says, “but it seems as if it would be more beneficial to have Flash as a ground resource. I believe that it would be more effective to add him to the team that is evaluating Mt. Torrent, as Superman may need to be swiftly removed from the area if the kryptonite presents a threat.”

Superman looks less than pleased about the possibility of being physically removed by The Flash if necessary, but Clark is nodding grimly. It’s the smart thing to do, and as much as Bruce might have an arsenal of gadgets and technology at his disposal, when it comes down to it he’s still human. With that much kryptonite around, Wally’s strength and speed might be the difference between life and death for Clark, and they all know it.

Wally’s grinning an I-told-you-so smile, and Bruce feels his stomach tighten. He’s never been one to trust to bad feelings—mostly because he’s too prone to have bad feelings about everything—but he can’t help but wonder if Wally wouldn’t be better off somewhere else. He’s torn between wanting him nearby where he can keep an eye on him and wanting to send him as far from danger as possible.

“Alright,” Bruce agrees reluctantly. “If J’onn feels he can maintain the Watchtower duties alone, Flash will team with Superman and me to commandeer the Mt. Torrent shipment.” He steps away from Flash and turns his attention back to the screen. “Let me remind you all that this is strictly search and seizure. We don’t want casualties on either side. No one needs to be a hero.” Bruce says it for everyone’s benefit, but it’s mainly for Wally.

Superman takes over. “Meet with your teams, go over the schedules and routes and design your initial strategies. We’ll reconvene via conference call in three days to finalize plans. In the meantime, J’onn will be the contact point for all new information.”

Conversation begins to flow again and Bruce is about ready for everyone to get out of his Cave when he hears a low whistle from Flash. “Whoa, what a spread! You really know how to host a meeting, Bats.”

Bruce reluctantly turns towards the shadowy area at the bottom of the stairs where a long table has appeared complete with plates of sandwiches and cake. A silver tea service, steam still rising from its spout, graces the end of the table. Bruce silently curses Alfred’s efficiency.

“Help yourselves,” he says with all the politeness he can muster, which isn’t much. “And don’t feed the bats.” Judging by the array of food spread out, Bruce can assume Alfred is either still angry with him about Diana or is trying to apologize. He can’t decide which.

Oliver Queen sidles up to him, sandwich in one hand, green eyes shining behind the domino mask. “So, what’s got your cape in a twist?”

Bruce has known Ollie a long time, but it doesn’t mean he’s any more eager to discuss his personal life with him than with anyone else. “It’s a complex operation,” is all Bruce will admit to.

“Yeah, and since when do you sideline key personnel in the big game, sport?” Ollie takes a bite of sandwich. “Bad call. I’d say your head’s not in the game, Bats. Gotta keep your eye on the ball.”

“Let me know when you’ve exhausted your supply of sports clichés.”

Ollie just grins and bumps him in the shoulder. “Come on, I know what this is. Little bird told me you might be distracted by a certain Amazon princess. Looks like she was right.”

Bruce scowls. Black Canary’s obviously been singing to Oliver. “My relationship with Diana is strictly—”

“Professional, yeah, yeah. Me and Dinah had one of those for years. Seriously, best thing that could happen to you, Bruce. You spend too much time in this blasted cave.”

Oliver swallows the last bite in his hand, brushes the crumbs onto the floor. Bruce hears a stirring up above; the bats are going to be impossible after this. It’s taken him years to train them not to expect food from him, a project constantly undermined first by Dick, then by Tim, and most recently by Wally, who’s not only insisted on slipping the bats food, but on naming them as well. Sometimes Bruce wonders why he even bothers.

Oliver claps a large hand on Bruce’s shoulder, then wanders away grinning as if he’s privy to the world’s best secret. It’s likely only a matter of time before everyone’s congratulating him on his non-existent relationship with Diana, and Bruce has no idea how to stop it without telling them the truth.

He could tell them the truth, he supposes, but he doesn’t want to. He’s always maintained his right to privacy, all of their rights to privacy. They’re entitled to other lives, jobs, family, friends, lovers. They share enough of themselves with the world that Bruce has always believed what they keep for themselves should be sacred. Private. His entire life as Bruce Wayne has been public, from his birth to the tragic death of his parents and beyond. Every regrettable incident, every failed affair has been public knowledge, usually splashed across the pages of Gotham’s papers in black-and-white. He doesn’t care about those things so much—they’re just part of the role he plays—but even Batman has been far more public than he would’ve liked. He’d hoped initially to operate in the darkness, a shadowy figure for truth and justice, but eventually he was too well-known. An icon. A legend. And then there was Robin. Nightwing. Batgirl. The Justice League. All of them operating in secret, in public. It’s a paradox Bruce never would’ve predicted in the beginning, and now, whatever bit of privacy he can carve out for himself, whether as Bruce Wayne or Batman, he wants to hang onto it for as long as he can.

There’s a breath of wind, and Bruce knows Wally’s standing beside him.

“You okay?” Wally asks, concern evident in his voice despite his casual demeanor.

“Peachy.”

Wally does a double-take, but doesn’t press it. “Look, Bats, I know you’re not happy about having your plans changed, but you know it’s the right decision for the mission.”

I don’t care about the mission, Bruce wants to say, but he can’t. The sad part is that it isn’t even true. He does care about the mission—deeply. He always has, and if keeping Luthor in check, if keeping him from creating another super-weapon to use against Clark or humanity at large is the result then it’s worth it. He keeps telling himself that, and prays he never has to weigh that cost against Wally’s life.

“You got what you wanted.” Bruce doesn’t mean for it to come out as harsh as it sounds. He sees Wally’s smile falter, fading into something that looks like stubborn determination.

“It was the right decision for the mission,” Wally reiterates firmly before taking a step closer and lowering his voice to a level only Bruce can hear. “I appreciate the concern for my well-being, I really do. But you can’t treat me like glass. You can’t put me up on a shelf on the Watchtower and only take me out on good days. You have no trouble sending Superman into a situation where you know his life will be in terrible danger, but you want me to stop doing what I do. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it’s going to work.”

“Are you finished?” Bruce asks quietly.

“Yeah.” What’s visible of Wally’s face is tinged with a faint pink. “You need to know I’m not going to stop doing my job just because of … what’s between us. Don’t ever ask me to.”

Wally meets his eyes, and Bruce knows he’s deadly serious. If Bruce asks him to step back from the job, it’ll be the end of them. No second chances. No compromise. Bruce knows it. Wally’s willing to give him leeway on a lot of things, willing to forgive monumental screw-ups and missteps, but not this, and Bruce can’t help but conjure up the memories of Wally’s death in 27 different timelines. Shot. Asphyxiated. Tortured. Disintegrated. Strangled. Blown apart. Starved. Mutilated. Drowned. Burned. And the one that Bruce keeps trying to forget, the one that seems to draw inevitably closer no matter how he tries to shift events from its path: Wally crushed beneath a truckload of kryptonite, Clark unable to help, and Bruce too human to save him.

Wally’s just standing there now, quietly tossing bits of bread up into the shadows. Bruce can hear the swoop of wings as the bats take turns rising to the bait. He shakes his head. “They’re not pets, you know.”

“It’s just a few crumbs. Besides, Nub and Stumpy are the only ones who like pumpernickel.” Wally seems to realize he’s said too much when Bruce turns his head slowly to look at him.

“Nub and Stumpy?”

“Uh, well, Nub’s wings are kind of bumpy all over, nubby, really, and Stumpy, he’s—well, he’s got one leg shorter than the other, so it just sort of made sense that …” Wally waves a hand in the air as if that explains everything.

“Nub and Stumpy,” Bruce repeats, still reeling from the idea that the bats not only have names, but apparently bread preferences as well. He didn’t think Wally had been spending that much time at the Cave.

“I didn’t know you named your bats,” Diana says, joining them. “That’s so sweet. You truly have hidden depths.”

Wally’s grinning from ear-to-ear, not even trying to hide it, and it’s as if their conversation of a moment ago didn’t happen, except Bruce can tell from the tightness in Wally’s shoulders that it did. They’re both incredibly tense.

“Yeah, that’s our Batman. Just a great big softy. You should see him with kittens, Princess,” Wally adds, and Bruce is dismayed by the girlish squeak that comes from Diana. “He likes it when they purr.”

Bruce thinks of Wally vibrating in his arms, the warm relaxed rhythm of contentment that ripples through his body after they’ve—

“Batman?” Diana’s hand is on his arm, and her look is puzzled. “Are you all right? You seem so far away.”

“I’m fine.” Wally’s smiling at him with a genuine smile, one that says he knows what Bruce was thinking, that he was thinking it too, and suddenly things seem less hopeless, less inevitable. Bruce shifts his arm slightly, Diana’s hand dropping away. “But there’s work to be done, and I think we’ve waited long enough.”

With that, he turns in a whirl of cape and heads for the Crane super-computer. He’s got a mission to plan, a kryptonite-vulnerable alien and a speedster to protect, and nothing is going to stop him from doing that. Nothing.

***

The day wears on. Slowly, mercifully, most of the heroes leave the Cave. Clark heads off to check in at The Daily Planet with promises that he’ll be back later. Bruce just nods and waves him away. Flash comes and goes: with cappuccino, a stack of extra-large pizzas from somewhere in New York, and once covered in feathers. Bruce just raises an eyebrow in his direction and glares as a white feather settles on his cape. Flash grins and disappears again.

Bruce is busy correlating the GPS information on the shipments—the actual GPS and the fake GPS signatures that are meant to keep them busy. It’s all part of the game, he knows, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling annoyed that he has to go through the process of sorting out truth from misdirection, and the Brinks’ computers keep trying to kick him out of the system. He gives them credit for being on top of security breaches, but overall he doesn’t need the extra aggravation right now.

Tim appears, late in the afternoon, and Bruce realizes school must be out for the day. He sets Tim to redesign a code that will update them if anything changes with the kryptonite movements. Dick cruises in shortly after, motorcycle dragged to the centre of the Cave, and he and Wally appear to be refitting the engine. Bruce makes a mental note to speak to them about the nitrous oxide, but considering they’re mostly quiet and out of his way, he decides it can wait. When he thinks of it again, Wally’s dragging him off to a dark corner of the Cave, behind the penny and past the armory, and Bruce isn’t willing to break off their frantic kisses in order to scold. It’s the first moment they’ve had alone since breakfast, and Bruce wishes they had more time, more moments because he’s not sure he’ll ever get enough of Wally’s taste, bright and shiny in his mouth.

Clark pops in as the sun goes down, updating them on Luthor’s latest presidential address promising new green energy resources and they all know it’s a pre-emptive strike. He’s got scientists lined up and willing to tell the world that kryptonite is the newest answer to the energy crisis, although Bruce has consulted enough experts of his own to know that kryptonite’s too unstable to serve as a long-term energy resource. However, it’s politics, strike and counter-strike, and they’re going to look like the villains when everything goes down in three days time. At the moment, Bruce can’t see a way around it.

Diana returns from wherever she goes in the daytime, bringing him a cup of herbal tea, some concoction from the Amazon forests, and he smiles politely while he drinks the bitter brew. He has no doubt it’s good for him, but he can’t work like this, people coming and going as if the Cave had a revolving door and a Welcome mat, hovering in his space as if they belong there, and he’s a step away from simply ordering them all to get out when the Bat-phone rings, the direct line from the Commissioner’s office, and he realizes he’s never been so grateful for a good old-fashioned Gotham city emergency.

Bruce is pleased to see Robin and Nightwing already on alert and gearing up. Wally, Diana, and Clark are hanging back, waiting to see if they’re needed. Bruce feels a frisson of pride go through him: these are his people, his family, and they’re willing to do what needs to be done to make the world a better, safer place.

“Yes, Commissioner?” he says into the phone. “How can we help?”

***

It’s an hour from dawn by the time he gets back to the Cave, which Bruce is pleased to see is empty of everyone except Alfred. He tugs off the cowl and gauntlets.

“The boys?” Alfred asks immediately, moving to help Bruce disrobe.

“They’re both fine. I sent Dick to take Tim home, and then he was heading back to Bludhaven. Nothing but a few bruises.”

Bruce knows Alfred has been monitoring their activities. He would’ve heard about the rioting at the docks, the workers driven into a murderous frenzy by the Mad Hatter’s newest mind-control device. It had taken the three of them and the best of Gotham City’s Police Department to get things under control. Even then, Bruce expects this is only the beginning of unrest. It may have been the Mad Hatter at the heart of things tonight, but the device was powered by kryptonite cells, and Bruce has a sneaking suspicion Luthor’s got a hand in stirring things up.

“Miss Diana and Master Clark were called to the Watchtower shortly after you left. Master Wally stayed for supper, then received a message from Central City—something about trouble with a gorilla—and left abruptly.”

Bruce nods wearily and lets Alfred help him out of the cape. He needs to check the computer before he turns in, see what the situation is at the Watchtower and in Central City—Gorilla Grodd might be a giant ape, but he’s supremely intelligent, and Bruce wants to make sure Wally’s all right.

“The boys might be fine, but you’re not,” Alfred says, reaching up to turn Bruce’s face gently. There’s swelling along his jaw—he can feel it now that the adrenaline is wearing off.

“A stray punch,” Bruce admits, shifting away from Alfred’s ministrations.

“A stray piece of pipe, more like it.” Alfred opens the medical kit and dabs at the side of Bruce’s face. It stings, but he’s used to it. “It’s a good thing you’re hard-headed, my boy.”

Bruce doesn’t say anything, just lets Alfred fuss while Bruce centres his energies. He takes the painkillers Alfred pushes into his hand without complaint, and mentally checks his list of things to do.

Alfred seems to be able to read his mind. “You are going to bed.”

“Alfred.”

“I will check on Master Wally’s status, as well as the Watchtower situation. If it is anything that cannot wait, I will wake you. You have my word.”

There isn’t any point in arguing, so Bruce simply nods and trudges up the stairs to the study, then a second set of stairs to bed. He’s asleep almost instantly, his last thought how large the bed seems without Wally here, how empty. His fingers clench in the fabric of the pillow, and he knows nothing more.

***

Bruce wakes, bleary-eyed, to Alfred standing over him apologetically, holding out a cell phone. Bruce can see the sun is up, but it’s probably only been a few hours since he tumbled into bed.

“What is it?” Bruce mumbles, scrubbing at his eyes. He’s exhausted.

“You have a call,” Alfred says, and the tension in his voice pulls Bruce to alertness. “It’s President Luthor.”

Bruce takes the phone. “Mr. President?”

Lex’s familiar laughter is clear as a bell in Bruce’s ear. “Bruce! Still living the bachelor lifestyle, eh? Partying till the wee hours of the morning? Half the day’s gone, my friend. There’s work to be done.”

“What do you want, Lex?” Bruce’s jaw is achingly stiff, and he’s in no mood for games. He figures he’s known Lex long enough that he can be forgiven for not following all the courtesies afforded his position, especially since Bruce is positive Lex knows damn well what Bruce was doing last night and until when.

“I’ve called a press conference for later this morning. At it, I’m going to announce an emergency summit on the current energy crisis.”

“There’s only an energy crisis because you keep telling people there’s one.”

“Surely you’re not suggesting that I’m lying to the American people.” There’s an edge to Lex’s voice that Bruce recognizes. There are still limits as to what he can say to the President.

“I’m merely pointing out that the situation may not be as grave as you’ve been led to believe, Mr. President,” Bruce replies. Alfred hands him a glass of water and two more painkillers, and Bruce takes them gratefully. Sometimes he doesn’t know how he would survive without Alfred. Somewhere in the manor a second phone starts ringing, and Alfred hurries to answer it.

“My point exactly,” Lex agrees, and Bruce is immediately suspicious. “We need to survey the situation and propose solutions, and we have to act quickly. Industry and government need to work together on this.”

Bruce doesn’t like the direction this is going. Alfred enters with a second mobile phone and hands Bruce a note. Oliver Queen on the line. Urgent, it says. In his ear, Bruce hears Lex get to the point and Bruce realizes why Oliver’s on the other line.

“So you see,” Lex is saying, “with Wayne Industries and Queen Technologies working with LuthorCorp we can quickly bring the weight of our combined resources to bear on this problem. I figure three days of intensive meetings should suffice to draw up a game plan.”

Bruce puts his head in his hand, then flips open the second mobile switching it to speaker. Before Oliver can chime in, Bruce says to Lex, knowing Oliver can hear him: “What if Mr. Queen and I were to refuse to attend this impromptu energy crisis summit, Mr. President?”

There’s barely a moment of pause before Lex replies, “But you wouldn’t do that, Mr. Wayne. Nor would Mr. Queen. It would reflect badly, not only on you both personally, but also on your companies. Even with controlling interests, you still answer to shareholders, the same as I do. And as the press will definitely be in attendance, Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane from The Planet, naturally—”

“Naturally.”

“—they would have no choice but to report your companies’ lack of cooperation with a federal initiative designed to address the citizenry’s legitimate concerns.”

Bruce knows the feeling of being backed into a corner all too well, and although he doesn’t like it, he knows Lex is holding all the cards.

“What time is your press conference?”

“In about an hour. I trust you and Mr. Queen will have adequate time to prepare. I took the liberty of contacting your boards of directors to give them a heads-up. Wayne Towers is centrally located, so the press is meeting us there.”

Bruce can hear Oliver swearing from the other phone. “We’ll be there.”

“And Bruce, you might want to bring that son of yours along. Future of the company and all that. Looks good for the papers. Better than an over-the-hill playboy who looks like he’s been in a bar fight. See you in an hour.”

The line goes dead, and Bruce is left with Oliver fuming on the other phone. “Who the hell does he think he is?”

“The President.”

“Well, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether he’s the President. This is bullshit. All of it. Now I’ve got to pull top people off important projects to sit around and discuss an imaginary energy crisis, all so Luthor can keep us off-balance for the next few days while he goes about figuring out how to legitimize his kryptonite obsession.”

“And he’s using us to do it.”

“Goddammit!” Oliver’s as agitated as Bruce has ever heard him. “I don’t have time for this.”

“You think I do?” Bruce says evenly.

“And what did he mean? How knocked up are you?”

Bruce hasn’t had a chance to look in the mirror yet, but he’s fairly certain there’s bruising to go along with the swelling in his jaw. “Enough that a little make-up isn’t going to cover it.”

Oliver sounds like he understands. “Yeah, we had a dust-up in Star City last night too. Took me and Arsenal and half the young titans to sort things out. Bugger if I know what started it either. Everyone just decided crazy was the place to be last night.”

“It’s Luthor,” Bruce explains. “He’s enjoying watching us scramble. He’s finally in a position to use every bit of his money and power to make us dance, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s the organ grinder…”

“And we’re the dancing monkeys. Nice.” Oliver sounds disgusted. “What about Dick, though? Put that pretty face in front of the camera and they’ll forget all about you, partner.”

“I don’t want him involved,” Bruce says, quelling the protest that is on the tip of Oliver’s tongue. Bruce knows Dick would be there in an instant if he asked him to be, but he doesn’t want to use Dick for what amounts to a photo op. He’ll handle it alone. “Besides, getting Dick involved seems to be what Lex wants, all of us together in the same place. I don’t like it.”

“Of course, he could just be double-thinking you, knowing that you won’t bring Dick along because that’s what he wants, so what he really wants is for you to not bring Dick.”

Bruce’s head is beginning to hurt. “Oliver, enough, okay? I’ll meet you at Wayne Towers in forty minutes. Come straight to my office. I don’t like being forced into this kind of position, and we need to discuss strategies before Lex gets there.”

“On my way.”

Bruce flips both phones shut and tosses them on the dresser as he heads for the shower. He’s got the feeling it’s going to be a very long day.

***

He’s been in the shower less than five minutes when there’s a tap at the opaque glass. Bruce doesn’t bother to open his eyes, just says, “Alfred, unless the Watchtower is falling out of the sky, just give me two minutes of peace and quiet before I have to go smile at Luthor all day.”

“It’s not Alfred.”

In an instant, Bruce is opening the shower door and pulling Wally inside. He kisses him hotly, greedy for that quick mouth and eager tongue, and Wally doesn’t protest, just kisses him back under the steaming spray, water dousing his red hair, his face, his clothes.

“Hey,” Wally says, when Bruce lets him breathe again, “I’m not complaining, but Alfred said you’ve got to go to work. Press conference or something.”

“Dammit.” Bruce checks his waterproof watch. “I have to go.” He turns off the spray, diving in for one more kiss, Wally pressed against the white tiles, then reluctantly steps out and grabs a towel. “Luthor’s screwing around with us, and Ollie and I’ve got to play corporate titans and try to inject some sense into this idiocy about an energy crisis.”

“Sounds like fun.” Wally shakes himself dry like a dog, water sprinkling everywhere. “Hey, what happened to your jaw?”

Bruce steals a glance in the mirror. The bruising is starting to turn ugly—dark and purple—and runs down the left side of his face from his ear to just below his chin.

“It’s not broken,” Bruce offers, seeing Wally’s worry, although it’s probably a small miracle that it’s not. The shielding in the cowl has saved him from more than one appointment with jaw surgery. “How did your gorilla problem work out?”

Wally shrugs and leans in the bathroom doorway as Bruce starts to get dressed in the clothes Alfred’s laid out for him. “Grodd went ape-shit over some guys importing a bunch of stuff made from gorilla feet and elephant tusks. To be perfectly honest, he was totally in the right on this one, and I really felt for the big guy, but he was busting heads left and right and he wouldn’t listen to reason. It took awhile to get everyone calmed down—Police, Animal Control, and then once Customs got involved, well, we were there most of the night. It’s surprising how many people don’t want to listen to a super-intelligent eight-foot tall gorilla.”

“Luthor’s poking his fingers into a lot of hornets’ nests. He wants us distracted.” Bruce finishes tying the half-Windsor at his neck, runs his hand along the bruised jaw line and decides the stubble makes it look slightly less noticeable so he foregoes shaving. He strides across to the doorway and kisses Wally quickly. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”

“It’s okay,” Wally says. “Do what you need to do.”

Bruce brushes his lips once more, but Wally can tell he’s already thinking about the next item on his agenda. He’s out the door in a moment, the sound of the front door closing reaching him a few moments later. Wally eases himself onto the edge of the bed, careful not to put too much weight on his left leg.

Alfred appears at the doorway with a mug of coffee and a plate of food.

“Master Wally.”

“Just Wally, Alfred. Really.” He takes the offered mug. “I swear I won’t report you to the Butlers’ Union.”

Alfred smiles, but it’s clear he’s not about to change his ways. “May I do anything for your leg, Master Wally?”

Wally looks up startled. “How did you know?”

“You forget, I received you at the door when you arrived. I had the advantage of watching you negotiate the stairs. Master Bruce did not.”

“He’s got a lot on his mind.”

“That should not be interpreted as a lack of concern for your person. He was quite concerned when he arrived home at dawn.”

“I know, Alfred.” Wally hands back the empty mug and helps himself to the food. “Besides there’s nothing he can do that a quick metabolism won’t take care of in a day or two. I guess sometimes I just wish things could be more … normal, you know? Like maybe we could go to a movie, or I don’t know … what do people even do on dates these days?”

“I fear it’s not a question I’m able to answer, sir. Master Dick would be a better resource for current dating protocols, I believe, but for your sake—both you and Master Bruce—I wish things could be more normal as well.”

“Thanks, Alfred.”

He clears the empty dishes onto a serving tray, and turns to leave. “Not at all. Stay and rest, if you’re able. I’ll let you know if there’s anything amiss.”

“I just might do that,” Wally says through a yawn. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Alfred darkens the drapes. Before he’s finished pulling the door shut, he can hear Wally’s quiet even breathing as he drifts into sleep.

***

Bruce and Oliver are standing side-by-side on the stage in the Thomas and Martha Wayne Memorial Lecture Theatre, located in the base of Wayne Towers. If he didn’t already know, Bruce would never believe this little extravaganza had been pulled together in under a few hours.

“Does he always have to wear purple?” Ollie’s muttering under his breath as President Luthor, ever stylish in charcoal Armani with a subtle mauve shirt and tie, greets the assembled Press Corps, shareholders, and scientists.

“You’re wearing green,” Bruce whispers, but realizes he has no room to talk when Oliver raises an eyebrow and says, “Et tu, Bruce?” His black suit is immaculate, royal blue shirt a striking complement to his eyes, and the tie is black and charcoal with tiny flecks of gold.

“Will you two shut up?” Dick mutters between clenched teeth. “I need to hear what he’s saying because I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Alfred just told me to get here pronto, brush my hair, and wear the navy suit.”

“And in conclusion,” Luthor is saying amidst camera flashes and the clicking of laptop keys, “I am sincerely honoured to be working with these corporations, and these men in particular—” Luthor stops and gestures grandly towards Oliver, Bruce, and to a lesser extent, Dick. “—to achieve our mutual goals of averting the present energy crisis and finding ever more innovative and environmentally-friendly resources to meet the demands of our time.” There’s a hearty round of applause and Bruce is sure that Luthor’s staffers have stacked the audience with supporters. “We just have time for one or two questions before we get right to the initial meeting.”

“Isn’t this entire summit a bit premature?” Lois’s voice cuts through the gaggle of voices as if she has a megaphone. There are times Bruce can’t help but admire her for being so good at what she does. In that, they’re the same. “I mean, there is no clear evidence to support your contention that there is, in fact, an energy crisis currently. It would perhaps seem more prudent to investigate the fundamental question before announcing a press conference to address solutions.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane. Was there actually a question in that ramble?”

There’s some nervous twittering from the audience, but not much. Bruce is pleased to see that not everyone’s taking Luthor at face-value.

“I believe what my colleague is asking, President Luthor,” Clark says quietly, “is what evidence you have to support your claims of a crisis? I certainly don’t want to take away from either Queen Technologies’ or Wayne Industries’ sincere commitment to the environment as evidenced by their track records, but in all honesty this conference smacks of political grand-standing with very little substance. If you’ll forgive me saying so, Mr. President.” Clark pushes his glasses up on his nose and dips his head a little, as if it really bothers him to have to point out the flaws in the President’s argument.

Luthor salvages the moment, turning his glare into a wry nod. “As usual, right to the heart of the matter, Mr. Kent. I could certainly bore you with numbers and statistics to show you the increased pressure on government to provide more and better renewable energy sources, but we all know how easy it is to manipulate statistics. And as Ms. Lane suggests, perhaps we’re a bit premature in hosting this summit. However.” Lex pauses and Bruce feels in his gut that they’re about to have the rug pulled out from under them. Lex is smiling in that cat who ate the canary way.

Oliver glances over at Bruce, and says, “Oh shit.”

“However,” Luthor repeats. “We would be irresponsible if we waited until a crisis was upon us before acting, so I am here today in part to announce additional federal monies allocated for research and development into alternative energy strategies, the primary one being—”

“—and here it comes,” Bruce murmurs.

“—the development of meteor rock, specifically kryptonite ore, as a potentially limitless source of safe, alternative energy.”

The volume in the room goes from stunned silence to raise-the-roof decibels. Even Lois’s megaphone voice doesn’t cut through the flurry of shouted questions, and Bruce can hear one phrase being echoed over and over in the room: “What about Superman?”

***

“Now what?” Oliver says, not even trying to hide his discomfort. “We just walk over there, shake his hand, and accept blood money to experiment with a substance that could kill one of our greatest heroes?”

“Oliver.” Bruce is aware of the number of cameras and microphones pointed in their direction, and he wishes they could handle this differently. Privately.

“Well, do we? That doesn’t sit right with me, and—”

“Oliver, he already knows.” Bruce looks at him pointedly. “If Lex didn’t know, he wouldn’t be doing this so publicly. He set us up.”

“Knows what?” Dick whispers. Bruce shakes his head minutely, and Dick glares. “Knows what?” he says more loudly.

“Just let me handle this.” Bruce walks towards Lex with a stiff smile, and the room quiets down. “Mr. President. Thank you for the generous extension of funds for this important avenue of research. Let me be the first to assure the public that years of meticulous research indicate that kryptonite ore is in no way hazardous to anyone except Superman.”

“Harmless,” Lex says, holding up a faintly shining green crystal. Bruce hides his surprise and takes the offered mineral. “Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Wayne?”

“Absolutely,” Bruce says, looking across the room to where Clark is looking faintly sick, and Lois’s face is dark with fury.

“Perhaps one of you would like to come up and hold it for a moment? See for yourselves?” Luthor is smiling like a magician in a stage show. “Perhaps you, Mr. Kent?”

Two dozen heads swivel in the direction of Clark and Lois. Clark is doing his best to not look like he’s about to pass out, and he shakes his head at Luthor’s question. “I just report the fact, sir,” he says.

“What about you, Ms. Lane?” Lex asks.

Before she can respond, Bruce slips the sliver of kryptonite to Dick with a whispered, “Get this out of here. Now.” He turns back to the president. “Don’t taunt the reporters, Lex. It isn’t nice.” He says it with a big grin and a friendly, if overly hard, clap on the shoulder, and he can get away with it because the reporters all know they went to school together once upon a time.

“The fact is, ladies and gentlemen,” Bruce continues, hands on the podium, “that kryptonite is currently a disputed substance because of its deleterious effect on Superman. Naturally, no one wants to see his capacity to do his job, to save those in need or assist with world-wide rescue efforts, diminished.” There are murmurs of agreement. “That’s why it is a matter to be considered before the courts, and the use of kryptonite for experimental purposes is limited to a small number of facilities operating with very specific licenses and mandates. Certainly our laboratories can conduct research into renewable energy resources without putting Superman or anyone else at risk.”

“Indeed. However, we would be negligent if we let one man—or at least one alien--stand in the way of progress that could benefit so many. My good friend Mr. Wayne is too modest, folks,” Lex says, returning the forceful shoulder pat. “In fact, he and Mr. Queen have been on the leading edge of kryptonite experimentation and research practically since its discovery. They operate two of the three licensed facilities designated as kryptonite laboratories—the third being Cadmus Labs in Metropolis—and this injection of federal funds is merely a means of ensuring that their research can continue. Bravo, gentlemen. You who have toiled so long in secret can finally step forward and accept your due.”

Oliver steps forward awkwardly as Lex waves for someone to bring forward an over-sized cheque, bordered with a green stripe that precisely matches the shard of kryptonite Bruce had Dick remove. The cheque has an impressive number of zeroes, and he and Oliver are forced to stand there and smile while digital cameras hum and reporters volley questions at them.

In the midst of it all, Bruce watches Clark slip discreetly out of the room, but not before he catches the look of betrayal on Clark’s face. Lois is spitting daggers in his direction, and Bruce is fairly certain he’s going to be fielding calls from a number of people this evening.

He checks his watch briefly, sad to see that it isn’t even noon. Plenty of time for things to get even worse.

***

“He screwed us,” Oliver is saying, pacing the length of Bruce’s office at the summit of Wayne Towers. “Screwed us over twice with a baseball bat.”

“Ollie.” Bruce flicks his eyes over to where Dick is fighting with his tie, and Oliver throws up his hands. “Oh, you think he doesn’t hear ten times worse on the streets?”

“Not in my office.”

“Fine.” Oliver comes to rest on the edge of Bruce’s desk. “But it’s true and you know it, plus now Luthor’s got Clark pissed off at us too.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“And Lois. Don’t forget Lois,” Oliver adds. “Last time she was mad at me, she did a full-page biographical feature listing every woman I’ve ever ….” Oliver shakes his head. “She’s not a woman you want riled at you.”

Dick gives up the struggle with his tie and flops down onto one of the couches. “When were you planning to tell me you both have secret kryptonite research facilities? It seems kind of like an important detail.”

“It wasn’t particularly secret, Dick,” Bruce says. “It’s listed in the annual financial report.”

“As if I actually read that.” Dick runs a hand through his hair. “I gather Clark doesn’t read the Wayne Industries financial reports either, huh?”

“No, but there really wasn’t any need for him to know.”

“Yeah, he’s going to agree with that one, alright,” Oliver snorts. “I told you it was a bad idea from the beginning.”

“And yet you went along with it, and here we are. There’s no point dwelling on what’s already done, Oliver.”

Clark’s been their friend for a long time now, but in the beginning he was another super-powered alien from a faraway planet and they really had no idea whether they could trust him or not. It was a necessary precaution, and Bruce has always made sure the research facility is only staffed by people he can trust absolutely; he knows Oliver vets all of the scientists at his own facility as well. They’re both acutely aware of how dangerous the substance is, how attractive a commodity for anyone with a grudge against Superman. Neither of them ever wants to be responsible for Clark coming to harm.

“You think he’s going to be that pissed off?” Dick asks, looking from Bruce to Oliver and back.

“Oh, yeah,” Ollie says. “It’s one thing for him to give us each a little lead box all wrapped up with a bow and say, ‘I know you’ll never need this, but just in case, I want you to have it. I trust you with my life,’ and another for us to have people potentially working on ways and means to stop him if necessary.”

“But that’s not what you’ve been doing, is it?” Dick looks like he’s afraid he already knows the answer.

“Not primarily, no,” Oliver explains, “but—you’ve got to understand, Dick. We’re all human. There’s really not that much we can do if someone like Supes goes ballistic on the world. We’ve all fallen victim to mind-control at one time or another, and sometimes that kryptonite is what’s made the difference between winning and dying.”

“You two don’t trust anyone, do you?” Dick glares at them and stands up to leave. “I bet you don’t even trust each other.”

“Dick.” It’s Oliver who stops him with a hand on his arm. “The world’s changed. You’ve got to remember there was no Justice League, no Teen Titans when we started doing this. We were on our own for a long time. Trust doesn’t come that easy for some of us.”

“I’ve got to get back to the ‘Haven,” Dick says. “There are people there counting on me.” Neither Bruce nor Ollie misses the dig.

When the door closes behind him, Bruce leans back and lets out a sigh. “Add two more to the list of people mad at me.”

Oliver pours himself a scotch from the sidebar, slips onto the couch and sets his boots on the coffee table. They’re green snakeskin, and Bruce knows he’s had them for years. They’re his good luck boots, Oliver says. Bruce wishes they’d brought them a little luck today.

“Who else is gunning for you, Bruce?”

“Alfred, Lois—”

“Wait, wait. Alfred’s mad at you? What on earth did you do?”

“Long story.”

“Alright. Continue.”

“If Diana isn’t already mad at me, she probably soon will be, and then there’s—”

“Oh, Her Royal Highness has a sweet spot for you. I wouldn’t worry too much ‘bout her unless you’ve got another dance partner on the side.”

Bruce just closes his eyes and leans his head back against his chair as Oliver lets out a whoop of surprise. “Bruce, you old dog!” He can hear Oliver slapping a hand against the leather arm of the couch as he chokes on his scotch. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“No lady this time, Ollie. The relationship’s more complicated than that,” Bruce offers.

“Ah.”

When Bruce looks up Oliver raises his glass in quiet understanding. “He must be something special then. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you admit to a relationship with a fella.”

“In spite of Dick’s skepticism—which he undoubtedly gets from me—I do trust you, Oliver.”

“Mutual, Bruce.”

They sit in silence for awhile until there’s a rap at the door.

“Come in,” Bruce says. He’s not at all surprised to see Luthor enter, sans entourage. He crosses the room and pours himself a scotch.

“I thought that went rather well,” Lex says smugly, taking a long swallow. Bruce is half-way out of his chair when Oliver heads him off.

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you, Bruce.”

“Honestly, you two make it so easy to be me.” Lex laughs. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way. What crap. Even amongst yourselves, you lie. You lie about who you are and what you are, and the funniest part is you do it so badly.” Lex turns toward Bruce and shakes his head. “You with your brooding depressions, dead parents, and endless training. Even in high school, I knew you were destined to throw yourself off a rooftop. I just didn’t think you’d do it with a de-cel line and a cape.”

Bruce can feel the anger simmering inside like a kettle on low boil. Lex takes another drink and points at Oliver around the cut-crystal glass. “And you. Captain of the Environmental Club, Go Green, and all that jazz. Not to mention the archery obsession. Do you think I’m an idiot? I’ve always known who you are. Always. Do you want me to list the names and addresses of all your precious superheroes?”

“That’s not necessary,” Bruce says quietly, moving to stand beside Oliver, who looks as angry as Bruce feels. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are flashing an angry emerald green.

“But really, it’s Clark who takes the cake. I mean, did you see his face today? He was already looking green, but then there was: The Betrayal.” Lex frames the words in the air with his hands. “It was like kicking a puppy.”

He finishes off the scotch in his glass and pours another. “You keep tabs on him, secretly researching kryptonite because Superman’s a super-powered alien with only one physical weakness; meanwhile, he slowly begins to build-up a tolerance for traces of kryptonite powder, so that he’ll never be as weak as you think he is. And both of you are convinced you’re doing it for the greater good.” Lex drops an ice-cube into his glass and takes a sip, letting the ice rattle against his smile. “I bet even you didn’t know that one, did you, Bruce?”

Bruce tries to keep his face absolutely neutral, but it’s true; he didn’t know that about Clark, and if it’s the truth, if it’s not just the product of Luthor’s fevered mind or drunken rambles then Bruce supposes they both have some explaining to do.

“God, it’s fantastic. The scotch isn’t bad either, Bruce, but honestly, who needs to watch television when I have the Justice League of America? The best soap opera in the universe, sent right to my home via satellite.”

“I think you’ve said enough, Lex.” Oliver’s fists are clenched at his side, exactly the same as Bruce’s. Bruce knows they all get information off the satellite surveillance network, but he didn’t know Lex had found a way to tap into it as well. Presidential powers aren’t supposed to extend that far, but apparently Lex has been taking liberties with the information at his disposal.

“Oh, but, there’s so much more. I mean, I haven’t even gotten to some of the best bits.” Lex swallows down the rest of the scotch. “Like the poor little Amazon princess in love with the heartless Bat. Or what about an ex-Teen Titan, heroin addict. You should’ve known not to call him ‘Speedy,’ Oliver. Really, what were you thinking taking in a kid like that?”

“Oliver!” Bruce grabs Oliver around the chest and holds him there, Ollie’s fists flailing in Lex’s general direction. “Ollie, just cool it!” Bruce doesn’t want to hold him back, would rather let Oliver beat the smile off Luthor’s face, but he doesn’t want to explain to Roy and the rest of the people who depend on Ollie that he’s in a federal jail for assaulting the President, deserved or not.

“Both of you raising kids. Young boys. Now that’s a frightening thought.” Lex sets the glass on Bruce’s desk. “And what does it say about you, Bruce, screwing your adopted son’s best friend? Transference maybe? Couldn’t have the one you wanted? Or did you look at Wally then too, when he was a kid with freckles and that boyish grin, that soft red hair? How many years did you wait before you just had to touch?”

Now it’s Oliver’s turn, and he reaches back and grasps on to Bruce, who feels like he’s turned to stone. They can’t afford to cross the line. Not now. Not ever. Luthor’s got secret service and personal bodyguards right outside, and all it will take is one whisper of impropriety to have both of them sent away.

“Get out of my office, Lex,” Bruce says. “Now. Before I do something I won’t regret.”

Lex laughs. “You don’t have the guts to do the things that need to be done, Bruce. Never have. That’s why I’m the President, and you’re still running around fighting a losing battle with your not-so-secret society of do-gooders.”

“Get out, Lex. Just get the hell out.”

Lex moves towards the door, but pauses before leaving. “You know, your Justice Lords had it right.”

“They burned your brain out,” Oliver says.

“True. Crude, but effective,” Luthor agrees. “But at least they acted on what they believed in. I can stand behind people like that. I can work with that kind of conviction.”

He touches his fingers to his forehead in a mock salute, opens the door and leaves. Oliver lets go of Bruce, and for a moment neither of them says anything. There really isn’t anything left to say after Luthor’s tirade. Oliver picks up the glass Lex was using and hurls it at the nearest stone wall. It shatters into a hundred pieces.

“Feel better?” Bruce asks, returning to his desk chair.

“Not particularly. Did we really take money from that bastard today?”

“We did.”

“Did you know all of that?” Oliver looks uncomfortable. “What he said about Clark and the kryptonite powder?”

“No.”

“Think it’s true?”

“Probably. Enough of the rest of it was accurate.”

“Wally, huh?” Oliver says, not quite a question, and Bruce just nods. It wasn’t the way he would’ve chosen to tell Oliver—or anyone. Wally deserves so much more than to be a name tossed out as a lurid jest.

Suddenly, Bruce glances at Oliver sharply, blue eyes meeting green. “Not all of what Lex said was true. Not … I would never—”

“I know, Bruce,” and it’s clear from his eyes that Oliver does. “Maybe we weren’t always the best parents, but we sure as hell tried. They were kids then. They’re not now. Nobody thinks any different. Nobody will, either.”

Bruce nods, relieved. He still feels vaguely sick about what Lex suggested, wonders if there was something in his demeanor back then that would’ve given Wally the wrong idea. He doesn’t know.

“You know,” Oliver begins, the faint edges of a grin crossing his face. “It occurs to me that after the kind of day we’ve had—”

“Yes?”

“—we deserve to get absolutely stinking drunk, if we want.”

“If we want,” Bruce concedes.

“I know a very nice little pub not that far from here where I believe we could indulge ourselves for a few hours.” Oliver stands up, smiling in earnest now. “And the proprietor is an old friend of mine. He’ll see to it we’re poured into the appropriate limousines and sent to our respective houses.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bruce says, although it’s been a long time since he’s felt the need to go drinking with Oliver. Still, if it will let him put off the inevitable confrontation with Clark for a little while longer, or if it will help him blight out Lex’s filthy insinuations, Bruce thinks maybe it’s not a bad thing to let go just this once.

“After you, Mr. Wayne.” Oliver waves a hand towards the door.

“Lay on, McQueen,” Bruce says with a grin, sliding a warm arm around Oliver’s shoulder. “And damned be him who first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’”

Chapter Text

Dick adjusts the focus on the binoculars until he has a clear view of Oliver and Bruce. He thinks it would be a hell of a lot easier if the two of them would stop swaying.

“No, they’re still there,” Dick says into his cel. “They honestly don’t look like they’re leaving any time soon, although they might pass out first. Oliver just finished leading a round of ‘Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley,’ and I swear Bruce was doing actions….No, I’m not kidding! Whatever happened with Luthor after I left the office must’ve been huge. I’ve never seen him like this before. Either of them.”

On the other end of the line, settled at the console in the Bat-Cave, Alfred and Wally exchange concerned looks.

“That’s just not like Bruce,” Wally says, as much to himself as the other two. They all know him, Dick and Alfred better than anyone. Sure, Oliver has his moments of reckless energy and bad decisions, but usually Bruce is the one going along to haul him out of trouble not follow him right in. “What was on the feed you pulled from the security cameras in Bruce’s office?”

“He’s not going to be happy I hacked the feed,” Dick murmurs, “but all I got was visual, no sound. It’s as if someone was partially jamming the signal. Luthor’s goons, I suppose.”

“So video, but no audio. There’d be proof if something happened—an altercation—but no indication of what was said to provoke it.”

“Maybe,” Dick agrees. “And it looks like it came pretty close to blows. There’s a shot of Bruce holding Oliver back, then ten seconds later, Ollie’s doing the same to Bruce.” Dick drops his voice lower. “Honest-to-God, Wally, I’ve never seen him look that angry, and I’ve seen him angry about a lot of things. It was … disturbing.”

“Can you lip-read anything?”

“No. The camera angle’s not set right for that, which I’ll have to talk to Bruce about after I apologize for breaking into his office. I could only catch a word or two. Kryptonite. Justice Lords. Nothing that really makes any sense.”

“Luthor mentioned the Lords?”

“Yeah, it seemed odd to me, too, but he did help the League out that time.”

“And it got him released from prison, and from there, he vaulted into the presidency.” Wally doesn’t like the way this is playing out. They’ve got three days before something big is going down, and Luthor’s dealing them a whole new set of cards. He’d seen the news-bite from the press conference on television.

“Dick?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you think the current Boy Wonder could manage to get any audio off that feed?”

“Maybe. Tim’s a whiz with tech. Do you want me to—”

“No, you keep an eye on them. I’ll pick up Tim if you don’t think he’ll freak out if I just show up at his house.”

“Takes a lot to freak him out.”

“Then I’ll be back in a flash. With the kid.”

***

Wally tries not to hover while Tim works on the audio. He’s wearing headphones, so it’s not as if Wally’s going to accidentally overhear anything, but he feels useless. Dick checks in with occasional updates from Bizarro land where Ollie and Bruce are drinking the entire bar of afternoon regulars under the table, and show no sign of stopping. Wally can’t decide whether to be impressed or pissed off because with Bruce off-communicator and AWOL from Wayne Enterprises, people seem to think complaining to Wally is the next best thing.

Well, technically, Alfred's the next best thing, but when Wally goes to get a caffeine hit from the kitchen, he realizes Alfred's trapped on the receiving end of what seems like a really unpleasant phone call. Wally's already fudged on Bruce's whereabouts with GL and Hawkgirl, and he'd told J'onn Bruce was tied up in meetings for the energy summit thing. J'onn seemed to think Wally was in Gotham along with Dick and Roy Harper on some sort of Teen Titans' business, although none of them has been either a teen or a titan in a long time. But J'onn's pretty old for a Martian, so it's possible they still seem like kids to him. Or maybe that's just Wally.

Flash grabs the phone out of Alfred's hand, listens long enough to confirm it's someone bitching about Wayne Enterprises’ exploitation of natural resources, blah, blah, blah, and hangs up. Alfred stares at him for a moment, and all Wally can do is shrug.

“You don’t have to listen to that crap, Alfred. Turn the machine on, or the answering service, or whoever Bruce pays to deal with that garbage. Anyone from the League wants to complain, they can call the Cave. I’ll deal with them." Flash pours himself a huge travel mug of coffee from the pot. "Except Diana. Someone who definitely isn’t me should talk to her if she calls.”

“Very good, sir,” Alfred says, as if everything about this is perfectly normal, then turns to make a fresh pot of dark roast. He slides a plate of sandwiches in Wally's direction. "I'm glad you're here, Master Wally."

Alfred sounds so genuinely grateful, Wally doesn't know what to say. He closes his mouth around a sandwich, and silently curses Bruce for deciding now is a good time to stop dealing.

When Wally returns to the Cave, Tim is just removing his headphones. He steps away from his computer and rubs at his eyes. The kid looks tired. Wally thinks he should be home grabbing a nap after school instead of here dealing with the kind of shit Luthor doles out, but there isn't anyone else Wally would trust with this. He respects Bruce's privacy too much, and if he's going to violate it for the greater good, he's at least going to keep it in the family.

"Okay, Timothy. Wow me with your amazing tech skills.”

Tim rolls his eyes and gestures for Wally to take the laptop. “I have conditions.”

“Go on.” Wally likes this serious, focused Robin, who seems more mature at sixteen than Wally feels half the time at thirty. It’s a sign, though, of how much the world has changed.

“Once you’ve listened to the file, we're deleting it. It’s on my laptop, so there’ll be no trace on the Bat-Cave computer. Also, I've disabled all forms of recording in the Cave temporarily.” Tim shrugs. “I’m good, but Bruce is better when he has reason to be.”

“Is that it?” Wally asks, reaching for the headphones.

“No.” Tim looks Wally in the eyes. “As far as anyone is concerned, it was impossible to restore the audio portion, and my efforts inadvertently destroyed the footage.”

“Will Bruce believe that?”

“It’s not Bruce I’m worried about.”

Realization hits him, and Wally nods. “That bad?”

“Bad enough I worry he’d go off and do something stupid.” Tim's grim expression doesn't waver.

“Like getting drunk?” Wally says with a weak laugh.

“No, like assaulting the President.” Tim sighs. “Dick’s got a big heart. He's already feeling guilty because he yelled at Bruce and stormed out of his office. As much as he fights with Bruce, he doesn’t deal well with anyone else poking at sore spots.”

“Is that what Luthor was doing?”

Tim nods. “And he knew exactly where to push to make it hurt. Dick can’t help but take that personally."

“And you don’t think I will?” Wally’s honestly curious. He’s not used to being the one who’s considered emotionally stable.

“Batman trusts you. I think he trusts you to see the bigger picture even when he can’t, and more than anyone else, you seem to understand him.” Tim flashes a wicked grin at Wally. “What that says about your mental health, I don’t know, but—”

“Okay, okay.” Wally shushes him and puts the headphones on. “Let’s get this over with, so I can go help Dick drag Bruce’s drunken ass home.”

***

As soon as the last image fades away—Oliver and Bruce leaving the office—Wally takes the headphones off. A window pops up on the screen, asking him if he's sure he wants to delete the file permanently, and he can't press "Y" fast enough.

"Luthor's a bastard," Wally says, aware Tim's gauging his response. He knew Luthor could be underhanded and sleazy and all that, but he didn't realize the man knew so many details—or how to use those details in the most vicious ways possible.

"No argument there," Tim agrees. "We know Bruce would never—"

"Never."

"—but it all sounds plausible when Luthor says it. He shines a light on the things we fear the most." Tim shakes his head. "People listen to him, even when they know they shouldn't, because deep down they're afraid there's a grain of truth somewhere."

Wally knows guilt is a powerful weapon, and Luthor has a way of stating things so they sound irrefutable. Bruce was already distracted and emotionally off-balance, so it's no surprise Luthor's latest volley has him in a downward spiral. Bruce has always carried enough guilt for ten people and is harder on himself than anyone else could possibly be.

Oliver's got his own personal demons, and Wally remembers the hell that was Roy Harper, heroin addict. It was a tough time for everyone, but Oliver blamed himself for bringing Roy into the vigilante life and everything that goes along with it.

Tim reaches for the laptop, and starts typing. Wally imagines he's doing whatever he does that makes things permanently disappear without a trace.

"I don't know how you got so smart, kid," Wally says, trying to lighten the moment, "but they're lucky to have you. Are you sure you're not secretly forty?"

Tim laughs, and the sound eases something in Wally's chest. "The benefits of mentorship. I know all the stupid things they've done, so maybe I can avoid some of them."

"Hm, I seem to keep finding new stupid things to do."

Tim's expression sobers. "You know Dick grew up being used against Bruce all the time. As his adopted son and as his partner."

"The Boy Hostage. Man, he hated that."

"He still hates it—let's face it, we both do—but I think he hates it more because of what it does to Bruce. Dick can take pretty much anything the world dishes out, and come right back with a smart-ass remark. But someone using him as a means to hurt Bruce? It's probably the worst thing anybody could do to Dick."

"And that's why you didn't want him to hear what Luthor said."

"Dick doesn't always exercise the best judgment when Bruce is hurting."

No shit, Wally thinks. All the Bat-family are great tacticians, but put one of their own in jeopardy, and somehow strategy goes out the window.

"They've both lost too many people."

Wally knows it goes without saying both Dick and Bruce live in constant fear of losing someone else. They try to pretend otherwise. They do everything in their power to keep people safe, but death isn't something you can avoid forever, and given the kind of work they do, it's certain that sooner or later, someone's going to be a second too late to save the day.

The communicator crackles to life with an incoming transmission from Dick, and Wally quashes the feeling of dread. It won't help.

"What's up?"

"The more pertinent question is, 'who's down?'"

"Well?"

"That would be Oliver. Bruce has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he can drink Oliver under the table. Literally."

"How's Bruce?" There's enough of a hesitation for Wally to know if he were anyone else, Dick would be handing him a clever quip and trying to divert his attention. "Dick?"

"He's moved past pleasantly drunk, had a brief stopover in belligerently drunk when the bartender cut them off, and seems to have settled into brooding drunk, which is just as delightful as you can imagine. Their new friends are giving him and his scowl a wide berth."

"Pleasantly drunk?"

"It's all relative. Pleasant for Bruce."

Wally sighs. "Do you want me to come and get him?"

"No, I've got this. Roy's on his way. We'll settle the tab, make sure the CCTV coverage and cel cameras are wiped, and play the dutiful sons." Dick sounds angry, but Wally doesn't think it's at Bruce this time. "Was Robin able to retrieve any audio files?"

"No," Wally says. Tim's busy shoving his laptop into his bag, but Wally knows he's listening. "He tried a bunch of stuff, but the data was corrupted, I guess. Then we lost the whole thing."

"The whole thing? The video too?"

"Yeah, but it was pretty worthless without the audio," Wally soothes.

"I'm surprised Tim couldn't get anything off it." Dick doesn't sound suspicious—just frustrated—and Wally hopes he'll leave it at that.

"Me, too. I guess you win some, you lose some."

Tim gives Wally an approving nod and a wave as he heads out. He's a lot like what Wally imagines Bruce would've been like at that age. Too smart for his own good, and old beyond his years.

"Roy's pulling up out front. You going to be there a while?"

"I have a couple of things to take care of, but I'll be back."

The silence that follows is thoughtful, and when Dick finally speaks it's with the weight of years of friendship and serving together on the same team. "Wally, don't do anything stupid, okay?"

"I won't." Wally tries to be reassuring, but Dick's known him a long time.

"If anything happens to you, he'll—"

"Nothing's going to happen to me! Jeez. I've been taking care of myself for a long time, you know."

"Just be careful, okay? He—he needs you. We all do."

The communicator clicks off, and Wally takes a moment to let his head drop into his hands. The Bat-family isn't often forthcoming with the touchy-feely sentiments, but when they do say something, it's like an emotional punch to the gut.

"He's right, you know," Alfred says from behind his left shoulder, and Wally only just manages not to leap out of the chair in surprise. The whole damn Bat-family needs bells on them. Big ass bells that clang with every step. Cowbells, maybe.

"I know."

"I'm not certain you do." Alfred pulls over a chair and sits facing Wally, who's so stunned by the action, he doesn't think to move.

"You're sitting down," Wally points out stupidly. "I don't think I've ever seen you sit down."

Alfred blinks at him, then smiles. "A rare occurrence to be sure, but not beyond my abilities."

While Wally's trying to process what monumental circumstances have prompted Alfred to sit down for a conversation with him, Alfred surprises him further by taking his hand.

"You have been part of this life since you were a boy, and part of this family for almost as long. Now you've become something even more dear."

Wally can barely swallow around the lump that's growing in his throat. "Alfred."

"For the first time in a very long time, Master Bruce is happy. I hear him laugh, I see him smile, and it's because of you. He no longer spends every waking moment in this Cave or haunting the rooftops. He has started to live for more than a promise he made in an alley a lifetime ago."

"Are you sure?" Wally doesn't mean to sound doubtful, but under the circumstances, he figures Alfred will forgive him.

"Yes," Alfred says simply, and it's enough. Alfred lets him go with a light squeeze of his hand, and Wally finds himself telling Alfred where he's going and promising to be back soon. He debates for about three seconds whether or not to wear the boots with Bruce's damn bat-tracker in them, but figures Bruce probably isn't in any shape to be checking on Wally's global position. He wears the boots.

Hopefully by the time Bruce's hangover wears off, Wally will have something positive to report, something to counteract the poison Luthor's been spreading.

At least, that's the plan.

***

Ollie's still dead to the world, and Bruce is doing his best to pretend he's fine, but the way he flinches when Dick attempts to help him navigate the bar says volumes.

"Fucking bastard Luthor," Dick swears softly as he ignores the haunted anguish in Bruce's eyes and ducks underneath his shoulder to steady him. Bruce tries to shift away again, but Dick keeps him in place with a firm arm around his waist, his hand grasping Bruce's wrist as it dangles down over Dick's shoulder. "Bruce, let me help, okay? Forget whatever the fuck Luthor said. He's a fucking liar."

"Language," Bruce scowls before his head dips down as if it's too heavy for him to support.

Dick laughs at the irony of being reprimanded for swearing while he's half-carrying Bruce's drunken ass out of a bar before Happy Hour has even started. He would've been grounded forever if he'd done this.

Roy seems to have gotten the better deal. Oliver's unconscious so he's neither resisting nor talking back. Roy has him draped over one shoulder like a sack of feed. The rear lights on a big black Hummer flash in response as they approach the vehicle.

"Understated as always," Dick says. "I guess I should be grateful it's not red."

Roy gives him the finger, then busies himself laying Oliver on the rear bench, while Dick guides Bruce to the middle set of seats. Once everyone's belted in, Dick takes the passenger side, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the window.

"You planning on telling me what the hell's going on?" Roy asks as they pull out. "I haven't seen Ollie like this in years, and I've never seen Bruce drunk."

"Not drunk," Bruce says, but he doesn't sound as if he's entirely sure about that.

They drive in silence for a while as Roy navigates through Gotham's downtown, finally leaving the bright lights and traffic behind when they reach the highway. Roy glances back at their passengers before prodding Dick in the thigh.

"Spill," he says, voice low in the darkness.

Dick sighs. "How much do you know?"

"I saw the press conference, so I can guess some of the reason for this. I can't imagine Clark's happy."

"No, I think we can assume he's pissed off."

"But there's got to be more to it than that." Roy looks over at him. "Seriously, I can see Ollie losing his cool over certain things, but Bruce? What the fuck does it take to rattle Batman?"

"Something really ugly," Dick offers, closing his eyes. "And before you ask, I don't know exactly what happened. I was pissed off at Bruce after that joke of a press conference, we argued and I left."

"So, like old times then."

Dick laughs bitterly. "Yeah, just like that."

"I thought things were better with you two since you've been in Bludhaven."

"They were. They are. It was a really fucking bad day, Roy."

"We've got a ways to go. You might as well fill me in."

***

Wally rings the bell on the security building where Clark keeps a condo, and he's buzzed through a second later. Wally jogs the twelve flights without breaking a sweat—his limp is almost gone, and the bruises from last night's misadventure with Grodd are fading. He's only a little surprised it's Lois who opens the door when he knocks.

"Wally, come in," she says, graciously. He'll admit he was expecting a chillier reception under the circumstances. "I guess you heard about the press conference. Can you believe those two?"

"Um," Wally says, because he'd kind of assumed Lois knew he and Bruce were a thing, but she seems to think he's there to lend support to Clark rather than broker some kind of truce. "Is Clark around?"

"Did Bruce send you?" Clark's voice is cold as steel, and Wally turns around to see him pouring himself a mug of coffee. Clark always looks a little out of place in normal settings, and this is no different. The Daily Planet mug seems tiny compared to Clark's big hands, and there's an ink stain on his white shirt. At least he's not wearing the glasses. Lois raises a puzzled eyebrow, but leaves them alone. She's probably not far and she's probably listening, but Wally can't bring himself to care. There are more important things to deal with than Lois finding out he's sleeping with Bruce.

"Are you serious? When has Bruce ever sent someone else to deal with his problems? And in what universe do you think he'd send me?" Wally's annoyed Clark even feels the need to ask. "No, Bruce didn't send me. He doesn't know I'm here, and he wouldn't be happy if he did know."

"I'm not discussing this with you, Wally."

"Well, it's me or no one. Bruce isn't exactly available.” Wally doesn’t even try to disguise the fact he isn’t thrilled about Bruce’s absence either.

“What does that mean? Where is he?”

Wally considers lying for about a millionth of a second, but decides the truth is the better option. Lying to Superman feels too much like lying to a priest or somebody’s mother; Wally doesn’t need the guilt.

“Getting drunk with Oliver.”

“He’s what?” For a second Clark sounds furious, then he just seems confused. “That doesn't sound like—I don’t understand.”

“Can I have a cup of that?" Wally asks, gesturing at the coffee, and Clark pours him a cup without hesitation. Wally can tell he's trying to process the idea of Bruce ditching his responsibilities to go drinking. "I know you’re upset, Clark, and you’ve got every right to be, but Luthor blind-sided them too. They had about an hour's warning before being dragged in front of the cameras, and they had no idea what he was planning. That was after Bruce was up most of the night dealing with Mad Hatter.”

"I think most of us had late nights. Someone's certainly trying hard to keep us busy." Clark scrunches up his eyes and looks Wally up and down. "You're limping."

"Gorilla troubles. It's healing." Wally accepts the refill to his coffee mug. "It's all part of some master plan of Luthor's."

“Probably. That doesn’t change the fact they’ve been secretly researching Kryptonite for years.” Clark sounds more hurt than angry, and Wally figures that's a good sign. It means Clark's coming around.

"It hasn't been very secret, Clark. The League's been lobbying government and the courts to restrict access to Kryptonite. Who do you think's been providing the data to support those claims? It's not Luthor's scientists." Wally's guessing, but it makes sense.

Clark's cheeks burn red. "I know that. I'm not stupid, it just caught me by surprise—"

Wally nods. He'd suspected that was a big part of it. “You know Bruce. You know he’s the one who plans for every contingency, every worst case scenario. The one thing I think we can all be certain of is that Batman will stop any one of us, by any non-lethal means necessary, if the world is at risk, and he'd expect us to do the same if it was him.”

“Yeah,” Clark agrees, sounding more like himself, and Wally’s relief is palpable. "I knew about the labs. I just haven't given much thought to them recently because they're largely containment facilities. There's no one I trust more than Bruce and Oliver when it comes to having access to Kryptonite."

"See? Luthor's got us all off-balance. We're reacting; no one's stopping to think. Everybody's exhausted or injured, or both. He's playing us, and we’re responding exactly how he wants—turning on each other, doubting what we know to be true.” Wally catches Clark's gaze and holds it. "Look, I know you gave Oliver and Bruce pieces of Kryptonite for a 'just in case' type of scenario. But we both know what you gave them isn't enough to do you any real harm."

"It was a gesture." Clark sounds defensive, and that's not what Wally's aiming for at all.

"Of course it was! It was a sign of trust, and part of that trust is knowing they have access to quantities of something that can hurt you. They won't use it. Not unless something goes horribly wrong." Wally drops his voice, and lays a hand on Clark's arm. "You've always had the means to incapacitate any of us at any time."

"I wouldn't!"

"Super-speed, super-strength, lobotomizing heat vision, and you're practically invulnerable. You can pretty much counteract my speed with one blast of icy breath, and I'm about as useful as a duck on roller skates." Wally pauses to take a breath, and remembers the scars on Bruce's body. "And for all his posturing, Batman's surprisingly breakable."

"But I wouldn't—"

"Believe me, we're all grateful you're a good man because the truth of it is there's no one who can hold you against a wall by the throat until your air supply cuts off or until your windpipe's crushed." Wally sees Clark blanch and knows the truth's hit home. "Luthor's all about divide and conquer, and lately it's been divide, divide, divide. He'll keep chipping away at us until we break, and we're letting him do it."

Clark swallows and nods. This is about trust, and Clark knows better than anyone what's at stake if Luthor's allowed free reign.

“Are Oliver and Bruce really out getting drunk?”

“They were." Wally feels like a damn tattle-tale, but he had to tell Clark something. "Roy and Dick went to bring them home."

"Something else happened, didn't it?" Clark's frowning. He knows it takes a lot to unhinge Bruce. "What did Luthor do?"

Wally wishes he could tell Clark the whole ugly mess of it, but the point is not to turn into the Lords by burning Luthor's brain out. “There was a confrontation in Bruce’s office that almost came to blows. Right after that, Bruce and Ollie decided Jack Daniels was their new best friend. I think we can assume Luthor was his usual charming self, and whatever he said to them, cut pretty close to the bone.”

“Okay.” Clark lets out a shaky breath, and it's clear he's worried. “Luthor’s used to pulling all the strings, and we can’t let him win. We stick to the plan to disrupt the kryptonite shipments in three days time. We try to find out what he's been building.”

Wally nods, but he can't help thinking there's a lot that can go horribly wrong in three days.

“There are only a few things that can push Bruce like that, and none of them are pleasant. Be careful with him.”

Wally gets that’s as much a warning as it is advice, and he appreciates how Clark can put personal feelings aside in a crisis. Usually Bruce can too, and Wally knows he's hurting badly right now. He needs to get back to him.

"Luthor's confident he's got us all exactly where he wants us," Clark says grimly. "He's been drilling holes in the foundation of the League for months, and we've all been too wrapped up in our own problems to realize the damage it's been doing. Now everyone's on edge, and all Luthor needs is one solid hit to bring the whole thing down around us."

"He wants us to be the bad guys, Clark, and that's not going to happen. Not on my watch." Wally's spent most of his life fighting for the little guys, and he knows a thing or two about bullies like Luthor. "The only way to beat a bully is to stand up to him."

Clark puts a hand on Wally's shoulder, forcing him to look up. "What are you planning to do?"

"Nothing."

"Wally." Clark's scrutinizing him, and Wally's grateful Clark's abilities don't extend to mind-reading. Not that he has a plan exactly. More like a notion. Maybe it's just a feeling, but Wally needs to do something pro-active even if he isn't entirely sure what.

"Okay, you got me," he jokes, raising his hands in surrender. "I'm heading home to look after my idiot boyfriend."

"Home?"

Wally can't help the quick blush that darkens his cheeks. "His home. Gotham."

A smile breaks over Clark's face, and he starts to look more like himself and less like Superman. "He'd like it that you feel at home there. You know, he really cares about you, Wally."

"So people keep telling me," Wally says under his breath. From the crease in Clark's brow, he heard it anyway. "Thanks for the coffee. And for listening to what I had to say."

"Bruce is my friend, too. I don't always agree with him, but I've never had reason to doubt his devotion to the cause. We'll get through this," Clark says with conviction, and Wally hopes he's right.

He says his goodbyes—Lois looks him over with an appraising smirk that Wally's pretty sure means she was eavesdropping—and heads into the night, making a run toward Gotham. It should be enough to reassure Clark if he's watching. When Wally's certain he's well past Clark's visual range, he turns back toward Metropolis and heads for the heart of the city.

He's got one more thing he needs to do before he can go home to Bruce.

***

The highway to Wayne Manor is down to one lane because of some kind of accident, so Roy's Hummer is creeping along with a hundred other impatient drivers.

Dick can't tell if Bruce has passed out or if he's using some obscure meditation technique. His breathing sounds natural, as if he's asleep, but Dick knows better than to assume. He keeps his voice low while he fills Roy in on what he knows, which feels like a whole lot of nothing.

"The whole League is pretty much run ragged," Dick explains. "Activity in Gotham's ramped up so much we're barely managing, and we're only dealing with the psychos. They've doubled the regular police patrols."

"Ollie's had his hands full, too. I've been helping where I can, but I've got other commitments now."

"I hear you," Dick agrees, thinking of Roy's young daughter, Lian. "I've been in Gotham more than I've been in Bludhaven, and it's not like the 'haven is exactly a model community. We're all being stretched to our limits, and I think Luthor's just waiting for someone to snap."

Roy's eyes shift to the backseat. "Are you sure that hasn't happened already?"

"Luthor's playing dirty," Dick says, certain of the fact, even though he has no idea what was said in Bruce's office. He can guess. "He's pushing boundaries all over the place. He's making it personal. Sometimes I honestly think he wants them to turn into the Justice Lords."

"Didn't the other Superman fry Lex's brain before they took over?"

"Yeah, but I don't think Luthor cares about that. He wants to see them cross those lines they've set for themselves, to do the things they've vowed they'll never do—like kill."

"If they do that, they justify his concerns about the League being a danger to the public."

"And if they don't, they look weak, a submissive tool of the government." Dick's voice is heavy with frustration and unvented anger. "Luthor's using his position to move tons of Kryptonite around under the guise of doing energy research. Claiming meteor rock could be a limitless source of clean energy—"

Roy laughs. "What bullshit!"

"—means the League's going to look like the bad guys when they seize those shipments and ask for them to be considered hazardous material. It makes it seem as if the League wants to keep people indebted to them somehow. Either way Luthor wins."

"Well, the first way, Luthor probably gets a laser lobotomy, but I take your point."

They're approaching the scene of the accident, police lights flashing red as the Hummer rolls by. There's a semi-trailer on its side, the impression of a giant fist punched into the metal.

"Are those monkeys?" Roy asks, squinting out his window. "Because those look like monkeys."

"Apes," Dick corrects, leaning across to get a better look. "I think that's Grodd." It looks a little like a scene from King Kong. "I don't remember him being that big."

"He's one of Flash's Rogues, isn't he? What the hell's he doing on the outskirts of Gotham?"

Roy's trying to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the chaos around the roadway. The cops definitely don't have the situation under control, and Dick wonders if they should pull over and help. He starts looking around for Wally's familiar red and yellow blur, but there's no sign of him.

"This is exactly the kind of mess that's been happening all over lately." Dick starts fitting his mask to his face, while Roy looks for a place where he can get off the road without attracting too much attention. "If I'm not mistaken, Grodd's wearing the same kryptonite-powered mind-control tech we took off Mad Hatter last night."

"You're not mistaken," Bruce says, and it's only years of experience that stops Dick from visibly startling. He pulls his uniform from his bag and starts shedding clothes.

"Fuck!" Roy says, slamming a hand against the steering wheel. "I hate it when you do that."

"Pull in there." Bruce ignores him in favor of pointing out a partially hidden turn off ahead. "It used to be part of the old highway before they built this one. We'll—"

"No way." Dick shakes his head as they come to a stop and he wriggles into his uniform. Roy immediately hops out, leaving him to deal with Bruce on his own. Chicken-shit. "You're in no condition to go mano-a-mano with a super-sized Grodd."

"I'm not arguing with you about this."

"Good," Dick says, "because you're staying here. You've got no uniform, no weapons, and a blood alcohol level that would drop a rhino. Hey, maybe you could just breathe on him." Dick sees Bruce open his mouth to protest. "And if you try telling me you're fine, I swear that bruise on your jaw is going to get a lot worse really quickly."

"I'm not fine," Bruce says, and Dick almost sighs with relief. "But I'm not drunk, either. I took an absorption pill."

"That's cheating." Roy reappears at the driver's door in his Arsenal uniform, quiver slung on his shoulder. He dumps a bag of smoke bombs and a pair of escrima sticks on the front seat. "Ollie's properly smashed. He's still out cold."

Dick hands Roy an earpiece and inserts his own. Bruce already has his Bluetooth online and synched to their frequency.

"You need to get that head-piece off Grodd. It's the only way. We ended up having to thread a rope through it to finally remove it from Hatter. A well-placed arrow with a line attached should work."

"All my arrows are well-placed," Roy grumbles, but pulls out a coil of de-cel line and gets to work.

"Guess I'm on distraction duty then," Dick says, stretching to loosen his muscles. "Bruce can coordinate everything from here."

"Hey, if Flash were here, it would practically be a Titans reunion," Roy chimes in, grinning, as he fits in smoke bombs wherever he's got room. Dick takes the rest and the sticks.

"Why isn't Flash here?" Bruce asks, and Dick doesn't have an answer for him. It's odd. It's not as if Wally couldn't get to Gotham in a few minutes if he needed to.

"Maybe he's got a hot date," Roy offers. Dick can see a muscle start to twitch in Bruce's jaw. He's had a crap day without Roy unintentionally making it worse.

Dick tries to smooth things over. "He was at the house before we picked you up. He said he had some things to do, but he'd be back. That was maybe an hour ago."

Bruce nods and is already ringing Alfred to check on the situation. Dick grabs Roy by the arm and tugs him toward the chaos down the road. They move stealthily through the long grass in the uncut ditches.

"Did you mean Wally was in Bludhaven or at Wayne Manor?"

"The manor."

"Isn't that a little weird, Wally hanging out there when you and Bruce were both gone?"

"Tim was there, and Alfred."

"Okay. There's something you're not telling me. Is Wally okay?"

"He's fine," Dick says. He hopes he's not a liar because Wally should be here, and the fact he isn't is raising alarm bells in Dick's mind. He can't do anything about it now, though.

They can hear Grodd bellowing and pounding on his chest. He's got a handful of tranq darts sticking out of his fur, but they don't seem to be having much effect. He's a lot bigger than Dick remembers, and it hasn't been that long.

Bruce's voice cuts through the din, directly into Dick's ear. "He's favoring his right side. Probably someone got a lucky shot in. Nightwing."

"I'm on it," Dick says, leaping into the fray and heading for Grodd's right. A furry fist swipes at the air over his head. "That's a swing and a miss, big guy!"

Roy's lining up his shot when some of Grodd's minions notice him. He's forced to use the bow as a staff, knocking back the charging apes.

"A little help might be nice," Roy grits out. Dick's busy staying one leap ahead of Grodd's fist, but he sees a squad of police armed with bigger tranq guns hurrying forward to assist. He figures Batman's been talking to someone, or possibly just barking orders. He does that.

Dick lines up a batarang, aiming for the control device on Grodd's head, but it goes wide when Grodd turns to avoid a net launched in his direction.

"You missed, Bat-boy," Roy says, and Dick considers throwing something at him. Dick rolls to the side to avoid one of Grodd's hairy feet stomping down toward him.

"At least I got a shot off. Having trouble loading your weapon, buddy?"

Just then an arrow soars upward. It passes through the top of the control device and keeps right on sailing over Grodd's head, trailing its line like the tail of a kite.

"Now you just need to get it to stick," Dick points out, back-flipping in the direction the arrow disappeared. "'I shot an arrow into the air. It fell to earth, I knew not where.'"

"What?"

"That's poetry, my friend. Longfellow."

"Well, short fellow, I've got one for you. 'Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.' Groucho Marx."

Dick laughs, and it feels good to let go like this. Of course, that's when Grodd manages to knock him off-balance with a flailing arm, and he goes careening into the ground face first. Mmm, dirt.

"Nightwing? You okay?"

"Yeah, but I don't think Grodd liked the part about the banana." Dick picks himself up, snatching the stray arrow off the ground. "I found your arrow."

"You both need to concentrate on the situation at hand."

"Sounds like Bats didn't like it either," Roy says because he never did know when to leave well enough alone.

Dick can tell Bruce isn't amused. He used to be. It used to be part of why Dick liked being Robin. Those stupid puns, the teasing, all the nights he rambled on and Batman more or less patiently listened. He made a difference in Bruce's life back then; now he wonders when it became so damn hard to reach Bruce beneath the mask. Maybe Wally has better luck.

As if reading his mind, Roy chimes in: "This is when Flash would be really handy. He could zip up there, tie the line on, and—"

"Less talking, more subduing the rampaging gorilla," Bruce barks. "Flash is unavailable, so handle it!"

"Christ, who peed in his Bat-flakes?" Roy snipes, then immediately regrets it. "Luthor. Right. Sorry, Batman." He takes another shot.

"He's off-coms." Experience tells Dick that means Batman's pissed off and probably about to do something heroic to save all their lives. It used to infuriate Dick as a teenager, and it still annoys him when he does it now. Can't the man ever say what he's going to do?

Roy had threaded three arrows, and the second one's now embedded in fur below the device. At least until Grodd rips it out, snapping it like a toothpick. He turns in Roy's direction with renewed fury.

"Nightwing!" Roy pulls the last threaded arrow out and nocks it.

"I'm coming. Take the shot! You can do it."

Amazingly, Roy manages to stand his ground even with a giant gorilla bearing down on him. Dick remembers this is why he loved the Titans. He could count on them when it mattered.

The moment Roy lets the arrow fly, Dick hurls a handful of smoke bombs in his direction, hoping it's enough of a distraction for Roy to at least get out of the way.

"Run!"

The smoke swells around him. Dick slaps his breather in place, and keeps moving in the direction Roy would've gone. Or at least he tries to keep heading that way. There's a tightness around his torso as he's lifted off his feet.

"Oh, come on!" he thinks, feeling the ground slip away. It's a perfect end to an already perfect fucking day.

***

Wally's at his destination almost before he realizes he's there. The uniform disappears into his ring and the boots turn from yellow to black. Wally loves magic. He checks his watch, figuring an hour should be more than enough time. He takes a minute to look down at himself—jeans and a "Han Shot First" t-shirt. Probably not the most appropriate clothes to wear to visit the President, but he hadn't exactly known he was going to end up here. They're going to have to do. Maybe Luthor's got a sense of humor?

Luthor Tower is one of those swanky buildings that's an odd mix of modern and traditional. It's got deep leather furniture and lots of wood, but it's fronted by a wall-of-glass lobby. Looking inside reminds Wally of those Victorian Christmas specials where the poor people are always staring through frosted glass windows, envying the warmth of the rich man's house.

There's a modern reception area, an old-fashioned doorman and an obvious security presence. Of course, the penthouse here is the President's residence when he's in Metropolis, so that kind of makes sense, but Wally knows security was heavy even before Lex became the man in charge of the country.

He steps forward, prepared to ring the bell when the doorman swings the door open and greets him with a smile. "Good evening, Mr. West. Do come in. We've been expecting you."

Wally has to stop himself from back-pedalling the hell out of there. How could they be expecting him? He hadn't even known he was planning to come here until a little while ago, and he hadn't told anyone. Maybe it's just something the staff is trained to do, Wally thinks. Luthor's certainly done his best to portray himself as a man of the people.

Wally steps past the doorman and the woman at reception waves him over. She clips a ready-made visitor's pass to his jacket collar. "You can go right up, Mr. West. President Luthor's expecting you."

Two suited security agents pat him down for weapons before walking with him into the private elevator to the penthouse, and Wally glances down at the I.D. badge he's been given. There's a color photo of him grinning at the camera, and Wally has no idea where or when it was taken. It's unsettling, and that's obviously the point. For the first time, Wally thinks maybe coming here was a mistake.

"Cool job, guys," Wally says because when he's nervous, his mouth tends to run away with him. "I always wanted to be an elevator man when I was a kid."

"Tell President Luthor you'd like to ride up and down all day. I'm sure he'll find you something to do." Suit One says in a bored monotone, but it still manages to sound both dirty and like a threat. Wally closes his mouth and shoves his hands in his pockets. It's possible he's out of his league on this one.

When the elevator lands at the penthouse level, Suits One and Two hand him over to another security detail, where he's searched again before being escorted into a beautifully appointed sitting room overlooking the city of Metropolis. The view is breathtaking, and Wally can't help letting out a low whistle.

"You like it?" Luthor asks. Beyond the wall of windows is a deep balcony made entirely of Plexiglass so as not to obstruct the view.

"It's beautiful."

"And bulletproof."

Luthor hands Wally a drink he hasn’t asked for, but he takes it out of politeness. He has no intention of drinking it.

"It's a hot toddy," Luthor explains, raising the crystal tumbler in his own hand. "Family recipe. Apple brandy, brown sugar, cloves, and just a splash of lemon. Best thing on a cool night."

It smells sweet and spicy, and the glass is slightly warm in Wally's hand. He takes a small sip, surprised when he feels the smooth heat all the way down to his toes. Jesus, that's good. It might even be better than Alfred's cocoa. He takes another sip.

"So, what can I do for you, Wally?" President Luthor says to him. "You don't mind if I call you Wally, do you?"

"No, it's fine. Everyone does." Wally's pretty sure he had a plan when he came in here, but it seems to have abandoned him. He sinks onto the grey leather sofa, and Luthor follows, watching him closely. Wally nervously takes another sip of his drink.

"You seem troubled," Luthor says, almost kindly. "I can imagine it's been a trying day for you."

Right. The press conference, the things Luthor said. Wally's brain kicks back into gear, and he deliberately sets his empty glass beside Luthor's on the coffee table. Wally's going to have to see if he can recreate that at home. He wouldn't say no to another one of those.

"It's always difficult to see our friends fall short of expectations," Luthor continues.

"What?"

"I was hoping Bruce and Oliver would take this as an opportunity to move on, to see the bigger picture. Meteor ore can be developed to be something far greater than a weapon."

"They're not making weapons. They're trying to protect Superman! From you!"

"Is that what they've told you?"

"It's the truth. They have no interest in hurting Superman. He's a hero."

"And an all-powerful alien who only has one discernible weakness. They would be fools not to have developed means to kill him, or at least subdue him if necessary, and Bruce Wayne is no fool."

It's true, and Wally knows it, even though it sounds like a terrible thing coming from Luthor. It seems cold and calculating, as if Bruce and Ollie are just waiting for a chance to take Clark down. One step out of line, and Bam! Kryptonite!

"Wally, I can assure you, I have no desire to hurt Clark." Luthor notices Wally's wide eyes, and sighs. "I'd be a damn poor president if I didn't know exactly who's under those masks, and a naïve one if I thought their only agenda was the good of the people."

"What are you implying?"

"You know I had Dr. Meridian do interviews with you, Clark, and Bruce. Her report confirmed what I already suspected. Superman might be the most powerful being on the planet, but Batman will always be the greater threat."

"That's crazy," Wally says defensively, although he read the report. Luthor's not wrong about Dr. Meridian's assessment.

"Is it crazy? Bruce is … damaged, Wally. You know that." Luthor sounds genuinely sympathetic. "He suffered a terrible tragedy, and he's never recovered. No matter how many lives he saves, it will never be enough, but he can't stop trying."

Wally knows it's true, even if he doesn't want to admit it. Bruce will always carry his own darkness with him; the most Wally can hope to do is shine a little light into the corners.

"Well, I'm not a threat," Wally says, certain of that at least. "I'm more like the comic relief."

"Hardly." Luthor looks serious as he shifts closer to Wally on the couch. "If that's how you think of yourself, or how the others treat you, then you're both wrong. Your speed is an amazing gift."

Wally feels his face flush at the sincerity in Luthor's voice. He's still the President, and jeez, the President thinks he's got a gift. Not for the first time, Wally wishes he didn't blush so easily.

"I'm not sure I'd say amazing," Wally starts, but Luthor lays a hand on his arm.

"I would. Amazing, fascinating, and a hundred other things. You can run faster than anyone alive—even Superman. You can break the sound barrier. Even the time barrier. Don't you realize how incredible that is? How valuable?"

Luthor seems closer than he was a second ago. Wally can't look away from those chiseled features. He's never really looked at Luthor before but suddenly Wally's skin is hot, his mouth dry. It feels as if there are pin pricks dancing over his flesh, and a sluggish alarm bell starts pinging in his brain. Something's wrong here.

"Wally, do you have any idea how rare it is to find a man who still blushes at a compliment? And how very, very attractive that makes you?"

Wally wouldn't have believed it was possible, but he can feel his face turn even redder. His instincts say move, but he's just sitting there. His limbs seem to have lead weights attached. Why is he sitting there? Luthor's hand is cupping the edge of Wally's face, and his blue eyes remind Wally of ice chips. They're nothing like Bruce's, and fuck, Wally realizes he's in trouble. Big trouble.

"What did you do to me?" The words sound like ground glass in his mouth.

Luthor's smile is sharp and white. "You did realize my residence has certain built-in features to ensure my safety, didn't you? A power disruptor is standard equipment these days. One can never be too careful with so many super-powered aliens and metahumans running around."

"Do you usually have trouble with men trying to run away?"

The laughter sounds genuine, although Luthor's grip on Wally's jaw tightens slightly. "No, I can't say I've had that problem."

Wally doesn't know how long he's been there. Time seems to have slowed, and this is more than his powers being dampened. He feels drugged. It's taking all of his concentration to stay upright.

"You put something in my drink."

"You've clearly been spending too much time with Bruce. His paranoia seems to be rubbing off." Luthor's smile is sympathetic, pitying almost, and Wally doesn't know why that pisses him off, but it does.

"That wasn't a 'no,' Luthor."

When Luthor leans in this time, Wally feels breath against his ear, the smooth caress of a cheek gliding against his own. Luthor's knee is wedged between Wally's, and there's a hand pressing against his thigh, generating its own heat.

"You should call me Lex." The low whisper sends a shiver down Wally's spine, and he hates the way his body's on fire. "Is it so hard to admit you're attracted to me?"

Wally's used to the Speedforce influencing his healing and his metabolism. Most drugs won't even register on his system before they're absorbed, but right now he's definitely suffering the effects of something, and it's not a sudden attraction to Lex Luthor.

If he pulls away, he'll wind up flat on the couch, and chances are good Luthor will follow him down. He needs to stay upright as long as he can. He needs to play for time.

"I came here tonight because you seem like a reasonable man," Wally tries, just to keep the conversation going.

"Do I?"

Wally can feel the smile form on Luthor's face and it's too much like one of those jungle snakes, the kind that holds your gaze while its tail is wrapping around your windpipe. Luthor's hand slides around the back of Wally's neck, massaging the skin there with nimble fingers, and sending goose bumps down his arms. He's never felt so betrayed by his body before, and it's obvious Luthor is enjoying every second of Wally's discomfort.

"And what reasonable request did you want to ask of me, Wally? To stop important and necessary research into energy options? To allow the Justice League to dictate terms to the President of this great nation? Do those things sound reasonable to you?"

Luthor's face is flushed, small beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He's looking at Wally with a raw hunger he's rarely had directed at him. Everything in Luthor's face screams want, and Wally's afraid he looks the same. He tries to wet his lips, but his mouth is bone dry. His eyes keep drifting shut, and he can't think why he's trying so hard to keep them open. There must be a reason. The hand he has pressed against Luthor's chest seems to be doing as much to pull him closer as push him away, and at some point buttons have come undone because he can feel the hairless expanse of Luthor's chest under his palm. His skin is like cream-colored silk.

No. This is wrong. Wally doesn't want this, doesn't want Luthor's hands on him, except every touch feels so fucking good, and he's sure he's going to burn right through his clothes if he doesn't get some relief soon. Why the fuck did he come here?

"Why did you come here?" Luthor asks, intrigued, and Wally's no longer sure what's coming out of his mouth and what's happening in his head. He had a reason for coming here, something he wanted—

"I think what we both want is pretty clear," Luthor says, and oh, fuck, there's a warm mouth on his. He can taste apple and cloves. Every cell in his body feels as if he's stuck his finger in a light socket. All he wants to do is sink into that heat and let pleasure overtake him.

With considerable effort, Wally opens his eyes, and right, what the fuck, this is Lex Luthor. There are no deep blue eyes here, no familiar scars to touch, no black hair to drag his fingers through. Wally plants a hand on Luthor's chest and pushes as hard as he can, which isn't very hard at all.

"Stop," Wally manages, and it takes a few seconds, but surprisingly Luthor does. "I don't—I don't want this."

Luthor sits up, but his gaze makes Wally feel completely exposed. "You can keep telling yourself that, but empirical evidence would suggest otherwise."

Wally knows what he must look like, rumpled and breathless. He isn't sure where his t-shirt's gone; the button of his jeans is undone. His cock is hard against his zipper, and Wally tries to think past the pounding of his heart in his ears. He's not used to feeling out of control.

"I want Bruce. I've always wanted him."

Luthor pours himself a finger of liquor from a decanter, and downs it in one swallow. "I'm getting decidedly mixed messages from you."

"There was something in the brandy."

"Nonsense," Luthor says. "Be man enough to admit what you want." He's staring out the window, silently, while Wally tries to clear his head with deep breaths of air. "Don't you find Bruce's sudden interest in you awfully convenient?"

"What are you saying?"

"You said you've always wanted him, but he hasn't seemed interested before now. You don't think that's strange?"

"No." Truthfully, Wally's never given it much thought. "People change."

Luthor's laugh sounds bitter. "Bruce doesn't. It's always the mission that drives him."

"I'm not a mission," Wally says, offended.

"Oh, but you are, and he's going to save you or die trying." When Luthor turns back around, his face is almost purple, his eyes bloodshot. There's a vein pulsing in his forehead like a warning beacon. "Think about it, Wally. What do you see in Bruce's eyes? Is it desire? Or fear that he's going to fail to protect you and somehow doom this world?"

"Don't—" Wally starts, but is cut off by Luthor's mouth on his. This time it's hard and biting, all of Luthor's bulk pinning him to the couch. When he turns his head, Luthor growls and sucks a bruise into his neck. It still feels insanely good, and every messy kiss is begging him to give in.

"Lex," he tries. He doesn't have his abilities, but Wally thinks some of the haze is starting to wear off. "Lex, stop."

Luthor is breathing erratically now, his hands clamped on Wally's biceps, not allowing him to move while Luthor mouths at his throat between words.

"I'm not saying he doesn't have some feeling for you, but he's focused on the bigger picture. Keeping you close is his best chance of keeping you alive. You know Bruce—always willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the people." Luthor grinds down hard against Wally's groin, and it's instinct to arch into it. Luthor's grinning madly as he leans in and whispers, "Personally, I think getting to fuck you regularly wouldn't be a sacrifice. You're magnificent."

Luthor's mouth is on his again, deep and hot, brandy-sweetened tongue skilful as fuck, and Wally can't hold back a groan. He's always known his ego is tied to his cock, but now is not the time for Luthor to be giving him compliments. He's not as bad off as he was ten minutes ago, but his body is still telling him sex is a really good idea, and it's not very particular about who's involved.

Wally knows it's been more than an hour. All he has to do is keep Luthor busy until the drug wears off, Lex passes out, or the cavalry shows up. As potentially embarrassing as getting rescued from this situation might be, Wally would rather not have to punch the President in the nuts, particularly when it looks like Luthor's as much a victim here as he is.

No matter what happens, Wally figures he's going to be taking up permanent residence in Awkward-ville for the foreseeable future. But honestly, how long does it take for Superman to fly a couple of miles to answer a distress call in his own damn city?

***

Dick tugs at the steel band that's wrapped around his waist, but it won't budge. The smoke starts to clear as they continue to rise into the air, and it becomes apparent it's an arm that's holding him. He drops his breather back into its pouch and watches the scene below him get smaller.

"Superman?"

"Sorry about this, but I need your help."

"I'm kinda in the middle of something. You saw the giant gorilla, right?"

"Yes. I can't help with that, the Kryptonite—"

"I can't leave Arsenal down there by himself."

"He's not. I brought Robin and an extra suit, and Oliver seems to be on his feet, albeit reluctantly."

"Batman called you?" After the day they've had, Dick's genuinely surprised.

"No, Alfred did. Then Flash's distress signal went off."

"So why aren't you looking for him?" Dick struggles to turn his head, but all he can see is the set of Clark's jaw. "And shouldn't you be taking Batman with you under the circumstances?"

"I already know where Flash is, which is why under the circumstances, you're the best choice." The ground is a dark blur beneath them as they fly toward Metropolis.

"Where is he?"

"Luthor's penthouse."

***

Roy's too busy dealing with Grodd and his minions to do more than shout, "Hey, where are you—?" before Nightwing disappears into the air with Superman.

"Emergency in Metropolis," Batman says, appearing at Roy's shoulder fully-dressed in cape and cowl, Robin beside him, as if he comes with the suit. Hell, maybe he does.

"Couldn't Superman take you instead?"

"He said he needed Nightwing."

"I need Nightwing," Roy complains.

"Well, you've got us. And him." Batman stabs a finger in the direction of the car just as Oliver stumbles forward, a domino mask haphazardly stuck to his face, one hand clutching at his chest.

"Jesus Christ, Bruce, what the fuck was in that syringe? My chest feels like a racquetball court."

"Stimulants. Adrenaline. You'll be fine in a few minutes. Grab that line and hold on."

Oliver dutifully picks up the rope and Roy's grateful to see he's wearing gloves at least.

"Roy?"

"No names!" Batman admonishes before he takes off at a sprint, heading for Grodd's back, Robin at his heels. Roy has no idea what the plan is. He misses Dick. He will never again yell at Dick for talking too much.

"Where did you come from?" Oliver asks, seeming to take in the chaos around them for the first time. "And why are there cops and monkeys all over the goddamn place?"

"Apes," Roy says because he's an ass, and Ollie's already on his shit list for the day.

"I'm never getting drunk with Bruce again," Oliver swears. "I always end up somewhere I don't want to be with somebody trying to kill me."

"You've got all your clothes this time," Bruce says, appearing out of nowhere, this time with blood running from under his cowl. He grasps the line Roy and Oliver are already holding. "Hold on and be ready to pull."

Grodd's thrashing around, big paws trying to reach behind him, but he can't seem to get hold of whatever he's reaching for. Roy's got a bad feeling Grodd's got a Robin on his back, although God only knows what he's doing back there. Probably making some kind of stupid pun about being on the monkey's back. Robins are annoying like that, doesn't seem to matter who's wearing the uniform.

While they watch, Grodd begins to shift slowly from King Kong-sized to his normal proportions. As he shrinks, the headpiece loosens until one strong pull dislodges it completely, sending it crashing to the ground. The police scurry forward with nets and tranquilizers, but the fight seems to have gone out of Grodd completely. He lets himself be secured and led away. Robin scampers back to their little group, triumphant.

"What just happened?" Roy asks.

"He was wearing a backpack injection system like Bane. That's why he was so much bigger than he should be," Batman informs them.

"Cut the hoses to the tanks, and you've got nothing but an ape with a hula hoop on his head. Easy peasy."

Roy looks at Robin's grin. "Do you know why Supes pulled a snatch-and-grab with Nightwing?"

"No idea," Tim says, a little too quickly. Batman turns, leveling a glare at his partner, but to Tim's credit, he stares right back, not saying a word. The silence is starting to get awkward when Oliver declares he's going home and anyone who wants a ride had better get in the damn car. Batman follows close behind.

As soon as Batman's lost among the shadows, Roy reaches out and snags Robin by the cape.

"Hey!"

"Is Nightwing in trouble?"

"What?" Tim tilts his head to the side like he's trying to figure out Roy's angle.

"Look, kid, it's clear you know more than you're saying, and that's fine. I'm sure you've got a good reason for keeping Bats out of the loop, but I need to know, is Nightwing okay? Is he going to need backup?"

Tim glances across the field to where the Hummer remains hidden. "He's fine. It's more of a JLA thing really."

"So why not Batman or Green Arrow?" Roy considers for a second. He's fairly certain he can hear Oliver retching over by the trees. "Or at least Batman. They're not actually holding a grudge over what happened with Luthor today, are they?"

"No, nothing like that." Once again, Tim peers into the darkness, as if he's checking where Batman is. His voice drops to a whisper. "Flash's distress signal went off, and GPS data puts him at Luthor's place in Metropolis."

Roy almost laughs until he realizes Tim is dead serious. "You think Batman's going to care? Flash's probably harassing the guy's security with pizza deliveries every ten minutes and got caught."

"Come on. We need to get on the road before Batman decides to remote-call the Bat-plane to pick him up." Tim pulls at Roy's arm to get him moving.

"You're serious," Roy says, absolutely dumbfounded, as they jog to the car. It's already running, and Roy's pretty sure the keys are in his pocket. So much for the unhackable Hummer. "You guys think Batman's going to race all the way to Metropolis just to bawl out Flash?"

"I'll explain later, or Dick will." Tim digs his fingers into Roy's arm as they approach the car. "Not. Another. Word."

Roy slides behind the wheel, not surprised Batman's riding shotgun. If possible, he looks more tense than usual, and Tim doesn't seem much better. Ollie's groaning pitifully from the back seat.

"First stop, the Bat-Cave. All birds and bats will be required to disembark—"

"Go," Batman growls, and Roy goes. He really doesn't know what the hell is up tonight, but he's damn well going to find out one way or another.

***

"He said he wasn't going to do anything stupid!" Dick rants as Clark gives him an in-flight briefing on what little he knows. "Going to see Luthor is kind of the definition of stupid! How can Wally not know that?"

"He told me he was heading to Gotham. I don't know if he went and came back when he realized Bruce wasn't there, or if he was planning to see Luthor all the time."

"What did Alfred say?"

"Wally told him he was coming to talk to me, and that's all." Clark starts to slow down as they enter the downtown core where high-rises seem to have sprung up haphazardly, like trees at different stages of growth. "It was a passive alarm that went off."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning Flash set the distress beacon to start broadcasting if he didn't turn it off within an hour."

Dick nods, even though Superman probably isn't paying attention. "So he figured he could do whatever he needed to within an hour, but he was being cautious in case something went wrong."

"It's a very Batman thing to do."

"Speaking of Batman, why didn't you tell him what's going on? He's going to be furious when he finds out."

Clark's face looks grim. "I know he's had a rough day, and that was before I found out about Grodd. Until we know for sure something's wrong, I think it's better if Batman sits this one out."

"What you're really saying is you don't think he can be objective if Wally's in trouble." Dick doesn't hide his irritation. "You're questioning his professionalism, Clark. That's not going to sit well. Better than anyone, you should know the mission comes first with Bruce."

"I've also seen what happens when you or Tim is hurt or in danger. He would move mountains for you," Clark says, and Dick can't really deny it. "Everyone has limits—even Bruce—and lately the world's been pushing at those limits pretty hard. I can only think of a few things Luthor could say that would drive Bruce to drink."

"Yeah," Dick agrees. He came to the same basic conclusion. "Luthor either threatened someone in the family, which includes Wally, or he insinuated something vile."

"It's Luthor. Why choose when you can do both?"

Dick notices they're hovering now, about half a block from the blind side of the Luthor Tower. From what Dick can recall of the building's design, the penthouse front is mostly windows and balcony, while they're currently looking at concrete.

"Why am I here, Clark? Why didn't you just go in and get Wally yourself?"

"I can't," Clark admits. "Luthor's paranoid. The residence is equipped with a power-disruptor, so if I get within a 100 feet of it, my powers are going to start to fade. I might be able to push on for another sixty feet or so, but there's a layer of Kryptonite in the concrete. I'll probably survive the fall, but you won't."

"Shit. Okay, so drop me on the roof."

"Pressure-sensitive plates with concussion grenades, plus a guard detail that's trained to shoot first, no questions asked."

"The pigeons must love that." Dick's starting to see why Clark grabbed him out of the middle of a fight. The only way someone's going to infiltrate that apartment is if he's human. "What about a grapple?"

"I've been informed by a reliable source that it's grapple-proof. The Plexiglass balcony is bullet-proof and coated with something to prevent exactly that kind of incursion."

Dick knows Batman's probably the source, so he's not going to waste time proposing something Bruce has already rejected in the past as unfeasible.

"So what's the plan then? It sounds like our only option is for you to throw me onto a balcony from at least 40 feet away, and that's—that's a terrible plan." Dick pokes Clark in the arm. "Please tell me that's not the plan."

"We need to get in there, and we need to do it fast. Remember, Wally won't have access to his abilities either."

"Fuck!" Dick swears. "Can you hear anything or see anything through the walls? I'd really like to know what I'm going to be dropping in on."

Clark shakes his head. "There's a thin layer of lead lining the exterior walls, so it's as if there are blinds drawn all around. The only place I can maybe see or hear anything is directly in front of the balcony, and the Kryptonite doesn't allow me to get close enough."

"Sounds like Luthor thought of everything."

"He's Lex. He's brilliant. If he would only use his genius for good instead of—"

"Can you hover about 50 feet above the balcony area?"

"The guards will probably start shooting, but we'll have the element of surprise, and a few bullets won't really hurt me at that distance."

"As long as they're not Kryptonite."

Clark grimaces. "Luthor would have a hard time justifying that, so I think it'll be okay."

"It'll have to be." Dick starts dragging a coil of de-cel line from his pocket. "Secure this around your waist. At least this will get me close enough for a decent swing onto the balcony, and I won't have to deal with the acceleration problem if you throw me."

"Aren't you going to at least tie yourself on until we're in position?"

"I'm used to working without a net. I'll be fine." Dick grins, starting down the rope hand-over-hand. "Let's go get Wally."

Chapter Text

Dick feels like one of those guys in the search-and-rescue clips you see on television, hanging from the line suspended in mid-air with the chopper whirring above. Except it's not a helicopter, it's Superman, and apparently it's much harder to maintain a stationary position when you're one guy—even a super-powered one—with a rope tied around your waist and another guy swinging on that rope.

In order to land directly on the penthouse balcony, Dick needs a carefully calculated trajectory, which would be considerably easier if Clark could hold still.

"Do you have to swing so much?" Clark complains from above. Dick grits his teeth and keeps the rope moving in its ever-widening arc. If he doesn't have enough speed, he won't make the distance. If he doesn't time his release right, he'll end up smacking into the concrete walls above or below the balcony, or the balcony railing. If Clark moves too much in any direction, Dick will probably end up a messy sludge on the sidewalk. His timing has to be perfect.

He wasn't a Flying Grayson for nothing.

Dick forgets about Clark, forgets about everything except where he needs to land. He visualizes it as he uses his legs to put more power into the swing and increase his momentum. He thinks about the dive he needs to make on the upswing, the somersault forward, the tuck between the railing and the roof, the crouched landing. He breathes through the motions, knows every movement his body needs to make. Commits it to memory bone-deep.

"Any time now!" Clark shouts. "I've got company up here. Unhappy, armed company."

"Don't move!" Dick replies, then gives one last kick and lets go, twisting his body through the air as if he were still in the circus. He wishes his parents could see him do this. He thinks they'd be proud. He knows Batman would be, although he'd probably say the risk was unacceptable. But this is what they do.

His landing is more of a slide into the balcony's glass doors than a controlled set-down, but under the circumstances he figures any landing he can walk away from is a good landing. Dick turns on his communicator.

"Superman?"

"Loud and clear, Nightwing. Keep your comm open."

"Will do."

He gets to his feet and pushes open the balcony door, stepping into the living room of Luthor's penthouse. It takes him a few seconds to process what he's seeing, and even then, he's not sure what exactly he's supposed to do. He expected Wally to be tied to a chair or under threat somehow, not … whatever the hell's happening on the couch.

"What the fuck is going on here?"

***

Wally loves old movies. The ones in black-and-white that used to be on Saturday mornings when he was a kid. The ones where it's easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys because their hats are different colors, and where the cavalry always arrives just in the nick of time.

Well, today the cavalry is really fucking late.

"Lex, you need to stop," Wally breathes out, figuring that once the President's had his tongue in your mouth and his hand down your pants, you can call him by his first name.

"You don't want me to stop," Luthor says, pressing Wally into the couch. His eyes are wild, pupils blown wide, and his mouth seems to be everywhere at once. Neck, lips, throat, chest. Wally can't remember where all the bruises and scratches have come from, but Luthor seems determined to mark him.

Wally's one big pin-cushion of sensation, and he's having a hard time concentrating on pushing Luthor back. Every few seconds, he forgets he's supposed to be resisting, then he opens his eyes and right, he's been drugged. They both have. He has to fight this or he's going to feel like a horrible person tomorrow, no matter how good it feels right now. Wally knows it's the drugs in their systems, but knowing the cause and suppressing the impulses are two different things.

"Get off, get off," he says, trying to push himself backwards up the couch, but all it does is slide his pants further down his hips, which Luthor seems to appreciate. Fuck. Not what Wally intended at all.

"I'm trying to get you off," Luthor says huskily, and whoa, that's a hand cupping …

"What the fuck is going on here?" a familiar voice yells, and Wally's never been so grateful to see Dick Grayson in his entire life.

Apparently, these days the cavalry wears black Kevlar and a domino mask, riding in on … well, Wally's not sure how the hell Dick got there, but he honestly doesn't care. Hooray for the cavalry.

***

Roy leaves the Hummer in the driveway of Wayne Manor, and helps Oliver inside. Ollie's starting to crash after the adrenaline hit, and Bruce has offered to let them stay overnight. Considering the amount of trouble the two of them have been this evening, Roy's tempted to dump them and go home, but he wants to see if he can get anything else out of Tim, and he won't be able to relax until he knows Dick and Wally are okay.

Alfred's just as Roy remembers him, and that's comforting. Somehow Alfred manages to remain a stable point in the Bat-family's chaotic lives, and Roy accepts a hot drink and the offer of a shower. He's pretty sure he smells like monkeys and Alfred's too polite to say so.

By the time Roy showers and changes back into regular clothes, Oliver's been put to bed. (Alfred assures him Oliver is resting comfortably, which Roy translates to mean Bruce dumped Ollie on a bed and left Alfred to the business of removing boots and masks and anything else that might hinder sleep.) Bruce and Tim seem to have disappeared into the Cave, and Roy hasn't been a frequent enough visitor to feel he can invite himself to the party. If Dick were here it might be different, but he's not.

Which is how Roy ends up in the kitchen with Alfred, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows and eating hero sandwiches, showing Alfred pictures of his daughter. He's had worse endings to craptastic days.

***

It takes Dick longer than it probably should to process what he's seeing, but he figures he can be forgiven for yelling under the circumstances. The last thing he was expecting to see when he swooped in to rescue Wally was Luthor and Wally, half-naked on the couch.

"Don't just stand there, you idiot!" Wally manages when his mouth's free from Luthor's, and it kicks Dick into motion.

"Mr. President."

Dick tries pulling Luthor away with a hand on his shoulder, but he's shrugged off. Now he can see the look in Wally's eyes: relief, mixed with fear, and something's making his pupils ridiculously wide. Drugged. Dick feels a wave of anger hit him, and this time when he grabs Luthor, he does it with hands clasped around the man's torso, dragging him forcibly off the couch. Luthor roars at the interruption, breaking Dick's hold as soon as he finds his feet. Without turning, he rams an elbow into Dick's midsection, knocking him momentarily off-balance.

Wally seems disoriented, or at least that's what Dick's going to assume since Wally isn't doing a damn thing to move, or even cover himself. Stretched back on the couch, pants open and down around his hips, he looks like a really unsettling Calvin Klein ad. There's a patchwork of scratches and bite marks on Wally's skin, bluish hickeys that give a pretty good map of where Luthor's been putting his mouth. Jesus, Bruce is going to—

Luthor launches himself back toward Wally, but Dick sweeps his legs from underneath him. The President goes down hard, cursing, and Dick takes advantage of Luthor on his stomach to put a knee to his back and hold him down while he drags out a zip-tie and secures Luthor's hands.

"A little help here, Wally!"

"That uniform fits you really well," Wally says sincerely.

Dick glances up and follows Wally's sightline, then snaps his fingers at him. "Hey, lover boy! Focus! I need you to tell me what the hell's going on!"

Wally blinks hard, like he's honestly trying to get it together, and Dick reminds himself Superman chose him because he thought Dick could keep a level head. He's not going to let Superman down.

"Somebody roofied us."

"Us?" Dick repeats.

He gets up, tipping Luthor onto his back. Luthor's got a collection of scratches and bites of his own, and Dick's not going to think about who put them there. The President's grinning maniacally, and his eyes are full of pupil. The sweat's practically dripping off his face, which is the colour of over-ripe strawberries. He looks like one of those cartoon characters who's about to shoot steam out of his ears.

"Lex had a second drink. I think he overdosed."

"Shit," Dick says, ignoring how Wally's now on a first name basis with the President, and presses two fingers against Luthor's carotid artery. His pulse is racing too fast to count, and Luthor's got flecks of white spittle around the edges of his mouth. Definitely not a good sign.

Dick leaves Luthor to do the same to Wally, grateful his pulse is nowhere near as fast. However, it's more than a little disconcerting the way Wally tips his head back, closes his eyes, and sighs when Dick touches him.

"Hey, hands off!" Luthor says, struggling to his knees. It's awkward with his hands secured behind his back, but he's determined.

"Calm down."

Dick tries to be reassuring, but mediation is not his strong suit. The only reason he hasn't knocked Luthor out is because he can't be sure what effect it would have on him with an unknown substance in his system. Plus, there's the small detail of Luthor's security people. They're going to storm through the door eventually, no matter what their original orders were, and it's going to look bad if the President's tied up and unconscious. Dick really doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in Guantanamo.

"You've been—" Dick searches for an appropriate word. "—poisoned, Mr. President. We need to get you to a hospital."

Luthor's on his feet again, although he's none-too-steady. "You want him for yourself!"

"No, I really don't." Dick doesn't have to fake the horrified tone. A few seconds later, he becomes aware of deft hands sliding up his thighs and over his …

"Whoa! Hands, Wally!"

"Have I ever told you you've got a great—"

Every surge of emotion seems to hit Luthor like a train, and right now homicide looks to be driving the engine. Dick never hears what he's got that's so great because Luthor's barreling toward him, head down. He readies for the impact, letting momentum roll them over the back of the couch where they crash to the hardwood floor. Wally's head pops up like Kilroy looking down at them.

Dick points an angry finger at him and circumvents anything Wally might have to say, by yelling, "Shut the hell up! You're not helping."

Wally makes a face like a kicked puppy and slides back down his side of the couch. Dick feels like a complete heel, but he can't deal with much more of this. Luthor's about to stroke out, he can hear the security people using a blowtorch on the door, and Dick's only backup can't get near enough to do any good.

"Mr. President, listen to me. If we don't get you to a hospital, you're going to die. Superman is standing by, but he can't help unless he can land on that balcony. How do I turn off the power disruptor? How do I shield the Kryptonite?"

Luthor smiles. There's blood on his teeth from where he seems to have bitten his tongue, and Dick thinks maybe he'll have to sling Luthor on his back and chance going over the balcony when Wally stumbles into view, pushing Dick aside.

"You don't want to die, Lex," Wally says, pulling him to his feet. He puts his hands on Luthor's face and looks straight into his eyes. "You don't want me to die either, do you?"

Luthor makes a sound like a hurt animal and leans his head against Wally's bare shoulder.

"Tell him what he needs to know."

There's mumbling against Wally's chest, but it's enough for Dick to get the gist of it. He rushes to the control panel, popping it open.

"Password?"

"Clark Kent is Superman, all one word, lower case."

Dick ignores the sick feeling that comes with absolute proof Luthor knows Superman's secret identity, which probably means he knows theirs as well. He punches in the password, and the system gives him a complete shutdown option.

"Will that make it safe for Superman to land?"

"He says 'yes.'"

Wally's grabbed a slice of wall and is propping Luthor up, but the President seems to be slipping toward comatose. Of course, it hasn't stopped him from insinuating himself into Wally's space as closely as he can even with his hands tied. Dick has to fight the urge to walk over there and haul Luthor away, but Wally's a big boy. He knows what's at stake here.

Dick gives the all clear and within seconds Superman is touching down on the balcony. The shouting outside the door seems to have stopped as well. Dick fills a sample vial with liquor from the open decanter.

"I told the President's people it was a medical emergency," Clark says, even as he's lifting a barely conscious Luthor into his arms. Dick had almost forgotten he'd left his comm line open for Clark. That must have been … interesting. "The paranoid bastard's got his security set so nobody can get in without his personal authorization, even his own people."

"That figures."

Clark glances over to where Wally's sitting against the wall with his head on bent knees. "Should I be taking both of them?"

"No, it'll raise too many questions. I think Wally will be fine once his metabolism revs up to normal. Give the doctors this." Dick presses a vial into Superman's hand. "Accidental overdose."

"I'll be back for you two as soon as I can." Clark doesn't waste any time before disappearing in the direction of Metropolis General.

That just leaves Dick and Wally. Alone.

Terrific, Dick thinks.

***

Wally has never wanted a hole to open up and swallow him as much as he does at this moment in time.

Dick comes over to where Wally's sitting, and drops down beside him, matching his position against the wall. He's still got his uniform and mask on, and somehow that makes this worse, not better. As if they're strangers instead of friends.

"Do you have your abilities back?" Dick asks. Wally's been so wound up about the other stuff, he almost forgot his powers were off-line. He reaches for the speedforce, but it's too far away. The air around him stirs a little, but that's it.

"Not really. It's not the same as it is for Superman." The genuine concern on Dick's face makes Wally want to explain. "Think of it like trying to start a cold engine. The components are all there, but it takes time to warm up to a level where the engine's going to turn over properly, right? I can feel the connection to the speedforce, but it's weak. I doubt I could run any faster than you right now."

"Wanna race?"

Wally knows Dick's trying, but the joke falls flat. The silence that settles over them feels heavy. Uncomfortable. There are so many things Wally needs to say right now, and he can't find the words for even one of them. All he wants to do is hide somewhere and not come out until everyone's forgotten this mess. As if that's ever going to happen.

Lost in his thoughts, Wally barely hears the soft sound of his name.

"Yeah?"

"Could you move your hand?"

Wally looks down at the hand that's gently kneading Dick's thigh, and pulls back as if he's been burned.

"Fuck! I'm sorry." He jumps to his feet, feeling ungainly and slow, but he needs to put some distance between himself and Dick. "You should get out of here. I can wait for Superman by myself."

"I'm not leaving you here." It doesn't matter Dick's wearing the Nightwing mask, Wally can tell he's rolling his eyes. "And stop apologizing. You didn't do this. It isn't your fault."

"Doesn't matter. I don't even realize I'm doing it." Wally walks around to the front of the couch, snatching his shirt off the floor and pulling it over his head. "Obviously I can't be trusted around anybody until the drug's out of my system, and who knows how long that will take?"

"It takes however long it takes," Dick says stubbornly, not budging. "I'm not leaving."

Wally needs to do something to get his mind off the fact he's been hard for what feels like forever, so he starts picking up around the living room. Luthor's white dress shirt is missing a few buttons. Wally starts scanning for them.

"Look, Dick, it's not as if I'm bleeding out and asking to be left behind to make a desperate last stand." He plucks a pearl button from under the coffee table. One down, two to go. "I just don't want to feel worse tomorrow than I already do, and if I keep groping my straight best friend, I'm going to feel like shit, okay?"

"Wally, it's okay."

"No, it's not." Button number two is way over by the windows, and Wally doesn't have any idea how it got there. He can't see the third button anywhere. "At least you should tie my hands or something."

"And interrupt the Great Button Hunt? Uh-uh."

Wally's on his knees peering under the couch when Dick sits down, and puts a hand on Wally's shoulder. It's like a slow electric shock coursing through his body and settling in his groin. All he wants to do is gravitate toward that perfect, warm body that's promising—

"Okay," Dick says quietly, from far too close. "I'm beginning to understand the scope of the problem."

"Finally!" Wally gives a little huff, his breath disturbing Dick's dark hair. He smells fantastic—like chocolate and cinnamon, like campfire smoke and clean sweat. He really does have an incredibly perfect … grip. The firm touch edges toward painful as it finds the pressure point in his neck, and Wally feels the ache of loss as Dick gently extricates himself from Wally's hold.

"Sorry," Wally whispers, keeping his eyes closed. "You can punch me, you know. Under the circumstances, I think you're justified, and it would solve the immediate problem."

"That was completely my fault." Dick doesn't let up the amount of pressure, and Wally finds it a little easier to focus through the pain. "I didn't realize …"

"Oh, come on," Wally teases, still not looking at Dick. "You know you're ridiculously attractive, Wonder Boy, even if you're not my type. Not that it matters. Right now everyone and everything is my type. I could probably make out with Luthor's rubber plant over there and be blissfully happy."

"TMI, Wally," Dick snorts, and it breaks some of the tension. Dick presses the last pearl button into Wally's hand before releasing his hold and moving away. Wally stays exactly where he is, feeling the hard edge of the button digging into his palm.

"I'm going to call Superman and tell him to speed it up."

"Yeah," Wally agrees, willing himself not to follow Dick. "I think that's a good idea."

***

Roy eventually gives up. It's clear Bruce and Tim aren't going to be making an appearance any time soon, if they're even still around. They could've left on patrol for all Roy knows.

Alfred has fed him, given him overnight necessities like a toothbrush and floss—yeah, Roy knows exactly who's responsible for Dick's perfect cavity-free smile—and shown him to a room with fresh-smelling sheets on the bed. He's checked in with his family, so now there's nothing left to do except wait for Dick to come home or try to catch some sleep.

Of course, it would also be the perfect opportunity to shave half of Ollie's moustache—and it would serve him right—but somehow Roy's not feeling it. It's a sad day when he'd rather go to bed than prank someone. This is probably what getting old feels like.

When he comes out of the bathroom, something's changed. Roy doesn't know what exactly, but he's survived this long by trusting his instincts. He reaches a hand toward his bow.

"Sorry," Tim says from the shadows near the window. Now that Roy takes a second look, the kid's sitting in the wing chair with his feet pulled under him. He's traded the uniform for jeans and a black hoodie. "It's just me."

Roy flops across the bed, landing on his stomach, head pointed in Tim's general direction.

"Can you tell me anything, or are you just here to make sure I flossed?"

Tim laughs. "Alfred's awesome, isn't he?"

"Well, I'm not here for Bruce's warm hospitality."

Roy isn't certain, but he thinks Tim's frowning. Robins. Their loyalty is maddening. Roy and Oliver never had that kind of relationship. Not on their best day.

"Dick's not back yet."

"Has he checked in at least?"

"No."

Roy doesn't know Tim well enough to be able to tell if he's worried or not. He seems calm, but Roy remembers how Dick could be tossing out punchlines and be a wreck inside.

"Batman?"

"Gone to bed."

Roy blinks in surprise. "What happened to 'crime never sleeps?'"

"Crime fighters have to. Especially when they're really hung over." Tim shrugs. "He said he was sure Dick could handle it."

"He said he was sure Dick could handle it—have you checked to see if he's really Batman?" Roy doesn't mean to sound skeptical, but Batman isn't exactly generous with praise. "Seriously, Superman scooped up Nightwing in the middle of a fight to deal with a distress signal from The Flash—and let's not forget how no one wants to tell Bats the emergency involves Wally. Dick hasn't checked in, but Batman's gone to bed. What's wrong with this picture?"

"Things have been weird lately. You have no idea."

"Then start talking." Roy waves away the grimace on Tim's face. "I'll take the flak for it with Bats. You can tell him I tortured it out of you."

Tim rolls his eyes. "It's not that simple. I can't just—"

"Tim, one of the reasons I started working alone was because I got more honest information out of monologuing villains than I did from my partner or my team. Dick and Wally are pretty much the only people who have always been there for me, even when being there meant they got treated like shit. If they're in any kind of trouble, I want to help."

Tim scrubs a hand through his dark hair, making it stand on end. For once, he looks like the sixteen year old he is.

"By the time I explain—"

"Come on then." Roy rolls off the bed. He grabs his jacket, his bow, and his quiver. Tim slides out of the chair with the reluctance of a kid who knows he's going to be in huge trouble tomorrow. "You can explain on the way."

"We're going to Metropolis?" Tim's voice is almost a whisper as they slip down the stairs.

"If that's where Dick and Wally are, then yes. I assume you know how to fly one of those Bat-plane thingies?" Roy says.

The look of unrestrained glee on Tim's face is totally worth whatever Batman is going to do to Roy for turning Robin into a Bat-plane stealing delinquent. Totally worth it.

***

Dick looks at where Wally's leaning, practically vibrating out of his skin, and wishes there were something he could do. Even a casual, platonic touch seems to help—to a point—but it pretty quickly deteriorates from "hey, buddy" to "hey, baby," and Dick's already had to practice his contortionist skills to avoid things becoming more awkward. Dick hadn't realized awkward is a sliding scale from mildly embarrassing to can't-look-your-best-friend-in-the-eye-possibly-ever-again.

"Wally, try to relax."

"Easy for you to say. You're not the one whose balls are about to file a formal request for a color change."

Dick feels bad about grinning, but he can't help it. Wally's always had the ability to crack him up even when things are at their worst.

"Superman will be back soon." Dick's surprised when that elicits a moan from Wally. "That wasn't supposed to be a turn on."

"Everything's a turn on. My own goddamn zipper is an erotic menace. All I want to do is come my brains out." Wally bangs his head against the wall. "I hate my life."

"Look, I don't want to talk about this any more than you do, but it seems to me there's an obvious solution you're ignoring. Once Superman gets back, he can drop you in Gotham, and me somewhere far away from you and Bruce." Dick digs around for his phone. "Jesus, this is stupid. Why don't I just call Bruce—"

"No, you can't!" Wally protests. "I can't see him like this."

"Why not?" Dick is pretty sure he sounds about as frustrated as Wally feels. "The two of you are … you know."

Wally stares at him. "Dick Grayson, I have heard you say some of the filthiest things imaginable without batting an eye. How is it you can't seem to verbalize the idea of Bruce having sex?"

Dick cringes. "I don't know. Bruce is the closest thing I've had to a parent since I was eight. Nobody likes to think about their parents having … relations."

"Relations!" Wally snorts with laughter that quickly shifts to a painful sounding moan. "Oh, don't make me laugh. Fuck!"

"So, what's the problem with going to Gotham? Simple solution."

"Wrong. Because as much as I would give anything right now to be having all kinds of mind-blowing sex with Bruce—"

Dick really wants to put his hands over his ears, but he won't give Wally the satisfaction.

"—I'm almost positive he won't have sex with me like this."

"I know I'm going to regret asking this, but why not?"

"He'll take one look at me, know I'm loopy on something, and stay twenty feet away until a blood test can prove I'm capable of making an informed decision."

Dick sighs because he knows Wally's right. Bruce has always been big on consent issues. Dealing with Scarecrow's fear gas, Ivy's pheromones, memory-altering psychics, magic, and all manner of things that can mess with your mind have only made Bruce more adamant on the subject.

"He wouldn't take the chance it might not be what you really want."

"That's what I thought," Wally agrees. "There hasn't been a chance to have the 'if I'm ever hopped up on drugs and have to fuck or die, I'm fine with you ravaging me' talk, so I'm without a designated ravager."

"I'm kind of sad I disabled all the recording equipment in here."

"I'm glad my misery is so entertaining." Wally tries to glare at him, but it comes off more like really intense bedroom eyes, which Dick ignores. "So, you see why I can't go back to Gotham."

"You could still—"

Wally's already shaking his head. "Nope, that would be worse. It would be like sitting in front of a hot fudge and banana sundae and being told you can't eat it. It would be torture, and I'm not sure I can handle upping the ante in the sexual frustration sweepstakes without giving myself an aneurysm."

"Okay," Dick says, feeling stupid they didn't think of it sooner. "Then go jerk off. It'll probably help, at least a little. I'll put some music on."

Wally starts laughing again. "Ah, that old classic, Music to Masturbate By."

Dick leaps to his feet. "Music so I don't have to listen to you! To give you some privacy. For fuck's sake, Wally, I'm trying to help, but you're not making it easy."

"I know, I know. I'm sorry." Wally sounds out of breath, and he's flushed. Dick wonders if he should check his pulse again, but touching seems to be a pretty direct route to Awkward-ville. "I already thought of that, but honestly, I'm not keen on doing anything that might leave my genetic material in Luthor's apartment. Isn't that how we got Superboy?"

Not quite, but close enough, Dick thinks. He cuts Wally off before the conversation can degenerate further.

"Use a condom. I know it's not ideal, but it would at least keep things … contained."

"Bat-condom?"

"Wally."

"I'm flattered you think I have enough control to put one on without—"

"Enough. I get it." Dick scowls at him because Wally keeps taking his perfectly sensible suggestions and coming up with reasons why they won't work. It's annoying. Wally's obviously been spending too much time with Batman. "Okay, so no jerking off in Luthor's apartment, but there must be something we can do."

"I get the feeling I missed something important, but I'm not sure I want to know," Superman says as he comes into the living room from the balcony.

Wally doubles over with laughter that sounds mildly pornographic, and Dick thinks from now on hitting people is going to be his first response in these situations. No more trying to work things out with talking. He should've punched Wally when it was on offer; now, he'll just look petty if he hauls off and decks him.

"Also," Superman continues, "there's a vaguely bat-shaped black plane about half a minute out from here in case anyone cares."

Dick glances at his watch, amazed how much time has slipped away unnoticed; shit, he should've checked in ages ago. He hears the familiar low hum of the plane settling into hover mode.

Wally's laughter cuts off abruptly. "No, no, no, no! I can't see him like this. I won' be able to—and he'll have to—Dick?"

"I'll talk to him," Dick says. "Stay here."

"Wait! Maybe it'll be okay." Wally sounds desperate for that to be true. "Informed consent. I can do that."

Dick steps in close, not surprised when Wally's arms automatically snake around his waist. God knows what Superman's going to think—Luthor was unconscious when Clark took him away, so Dick isn't sure if Supes is fully aware of the problem—but Dick doesn't really care. He whispers directly into Wally's ear.

"Will you have sex with me? Right now?"

"Absolutely," is Wally's breathless reply, hands already scrambling for the uniform seams.

Dick takes a step back, catching Wally's searching hands in his own. He sees the moment Wally realizes what's happening, the warring emotions of shame and desire on his face.

"That was a dirty trick." Wally starts to turn away, and if his powers were back, he'd already be running.

"Hey," Dick says, not letting him go. "You're my best friend, but I know you don't really want to sleep with me. I think it's safe to assume Informed Consent has left the building."

"Informed Consent has packed a bag and jetted off to parts unknown," Wally agrees, dropping his head.

"I'll go talk to Bruce. You stay here and don't get fresh with the rubber plant."

"No promises."

Clark grabs Dick's arm as he heads to the balcony. "Should I—?"

"Stay ten feet away from Wally at all times? Yes. And don't touch him. He's taken about all he can take with the drugs in his system, and his metabolism hasn't kicked in to flush them out yet." He gestures to the balcony. "You might want to call Luthor's people and ask them nicely to ignore the plane hovering in restricted air space."

"Got it," Clark says, pulling a phone from … somewhere. "By the way, Luthor's still unconscious, but stable. The doctors think it was a combination of something like Rohypnol, Viagra, Ecstasy, and a couple of other things that increase arousal and decrease inhibitions. Tox screen's being rushed."

Dick sees Wally's head swing up at the list of drugs. "Did you hear all that, Wal? Somebody was planning a party and forgot to invite Informed Consent."

"Bastards," Wally says, eyes closed. "Informed Consent is the life of any party."

"Preaching to the choir, brother," Dick tosses over his shoulder, striding for the balcony.

He can see the tinted canopy on the plane, but can't make out who's inside. He hopes to God Bruce didn't decide to bring Tim with him. That's all they need.

***

Nightwing is standing on the balcony of Luthor's penthouse, and he doesn't look happy. Roy can tell. Not only is Dick doing the hands-on-his-hips stance, he's actively frowning. Dick is generally an easy-going guy, and it's hard to bring him down. Frowning isn't a good sign.

Roy wouldn't go so far as to use the term "metrosexual," but Dick's been known to pay attention to how he looks. Roy travels with a bar of soap and a razor; Dick travels with a beauty salon. Roy's caught him tweezing out a single grey hair with the same attention he gives to defusing bombs. He's a man who's likely to be concerned about frown lines in his future.

Frowning like that, where there are actual furrows in Dick's brow, is a really bad sign.

"He looks mad," Tim says, setting the plane's controls to keep them hovering near the balcony. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

"It'll be fine, kid." Roy tries to sound reassuring, but Dick does look kind of like he's mad. Usually Dick only gets visibly mad at Bruce. "Hey, maybe he thinks we're Batman checking up on him. Pop the hood, so he can see it's us."

"Pop the hood?"

"Release the canopy. Whatever."

"It slides," Tim says, reaching up to unlatch the locks holding the canopy in place. "Which you would know if you'd listened during the safety briefing."

Roy rolls his eyes. The Bat-family is all the same. They may not be related by blood, but man, they are scarily alike in some ways. Tim had given him an honest-to-God "in case of emergency" briefing before they took off, including where the fire extinguisher is located and how to contact air traffic control.

Roy gives the canopy a solid shove backward, exposing them to the night air.

"Hey, buddy, we were getting worried!" Roy tries for jovial, but the instant the words leave his lips, he can tell it's the wrong approach. Dick's pretty near the end of his rope, and Roy apparently just greased the rest of it.

"What the hell do the two of you think you're doing?"

Tim's busy fastening a domino mask to his face, and Roy realizes they didn't think this through. At all. He opens his mouth to explain, but Dick shakes his head savagely, as Tim scrambles over the side and drops neatly onto the balcony in front of Dick.

"Never mind. I don't want to hear it." Dick's voice is a hoarse whisper-shout. "You're out joy-riding in a highly recognizable, multi-million dollar plane in street clothes and without masks. Do you have any idea how many security cameras are focused on this building?"

"I turned on the short-range jammer," Tim says, petulantly, like a drowning man insisting he can swim when he's going down for the third time. "We should be—"

"That's not the point!" Dick's furious, but it's obvious he's trying to keep his voice down. "This is the Presidential residence. Theoretically, you shouldn't even be able to get this close, except everything's already gone to hell tonight, so Luthor's people are cutting us a little slack. Superman is on the phone right now assuring them you're not a threat to national security."

"You didn't check in!" Tim says, a note of real distress in his voice. He's still a few inches shorter than Dick, and not filled out as much, but with the dark hair, strong jaw, and angry blue eyes they could easily be brothers. "You didn't check in, Batman went to bed, and I didn't know what to do!"

"Timothy." The fact Dick's using real names tells Roy any relevant recording equipment in the area was disabled long before they got here.

"You didn't check in. Dick."

Oddly enough, the insult makes Dick's features lose some of their hard edge, frown lines dissolving, and when he speaks his voice is fond.

"I'm sorry I worried you, but in the future, whatever happens, don't go to Roy for advice, okay? Next time, how about picking up the phone?"

Huh. They could've phoned. High-tech gadgets up the yin-yang, and it didn't occur to either of them to call or text. Some days Roy's not certain technology's actually helping them win the efficiency game.

Tim ducks his head, and Dick takes the opportunity to mess up the kid's hair even more. Roy kind of hopes they've forgotten all about him, but no such luck.

"And you." Dick points a finger at him, his other arm draped loosely around Tim's neck. "What's your excuse? You, at least, should know better."

"You didn't check in," Roy tries, figuring it worked for Tim. "I was worried."

Dick raises a cynical eyebrow, so Roy changes tactics. The best defense is a good offense and all that.

"Where's Wally? Is he okay? And when the hell did everyone start hanging out at Luthor's penthouse? Last I checked he wasn't exactly on the side of the angels. All I got from little bro there is that everyone's gone loco trying to make sure Wally doesn't die and bring about some sort of Justice Lord inspired apocalypse."

Dick makes a face and rubs at his temple with two fingers. Tension headache, Roy's willing to bet. He's seen Bruce do the exact same thing, except Bruce usually follows it up with a glare and storming out without a word. Dick's much more likely to at least try to explain what the hell's going on because even after Tim's "explanation" Roy still doesn't have a fucking clue.

Tim's stab at filling in the blanks had as many holes as Swiss cheese. Roy doesn't think the kid was trying to be difficult—it's just that the Bat-family has more secrets than the Illuminati, and Tim's still a baby Robin. Half the time Dick complains he doesn't know what's going on with Bruce, so it's unlikely Tim knows either.

Just then Superman steps outside. He looks kind of stunned, and he's rubbing at his hip. "Somebody's really antsy to get out of here, and I think his speed's coming back."

"Fantastic," Dick says unenthusiastically.

"At least his metabolism should be picking up," Superman points out. None of this helps clear things up for Roy at all. "The Press will have definitely gotten wind of Luthor's hospitalization by now, so we all need to be somewhere else. Lois will kill me if I don't give her a heads-up. Can I drop anyone off? I'm pretty sure that thing won't fit four of you."

"If you can take Tim and Roy back to Gotham, I'll take the plane and Wally to Central City."

"Hey," Roy protests from his seat in the plane. "I want to know what's going on. Wally's my friend, too, and if he needs help, I'm staying." He eyes Superman warily. "I'm not going to be picked up by the scruff like a kitten and hauled back to Gotham. I'll go with Dick and Wally."

"That's going to be tight." Superman's eyeing the bat-plane skeptically. "That might not be such a good idea."

"We'll manage. We've survived close quarters before."

"Well, if that's what he wants," Dick says, lips turning up at the end in the barest hint of a smile. "I'm sure Wally won't mind."

Roy's got a sudden sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The kind that says he's going to regret this, although he doesn't know why. Superman shakes his head sympathetically, before slipping an arm around Tim's waist and lifting him into the sky. Tim waves from up above.

***

Through the balcony windows, Wally watches Superman and Tim disappear. Thank God. Wally thinks he'd have to gnaw off his own hand if he laid a finger on Tim while he's looped like this. Dick's known him long enough and well enough to forgive a little groping, and even Supes will overlook a run-by ass-pat, but Wally would rather not increase the number of people he's going to owe awkward apologies to tomorrow. He trusts Dick to keep his transgressions from spilling over onto innocents and minors.

Wally's not sure why Roy's sticking around, but it doesn't surprise him. When he digs his heels in, he's as bad as any of the Bats. Wally's stupidly grateful he can avoid having to deal with Bruce for a while longer, but he's not sure Roy Harper is any kind of trade-off.

If Dick's like the brother Wally never had, Roy's more like an annoying first cousin. They're close—no doubt about it, the Titans bonded them right down to their atoms when they were Robin and Kid Flash and Speedy—but Roy's always been easier to deal with at a distance. Wally misses him like crazy when he doesn't see him for a while, and usually wants to punch him in the face about fifteen minutes after they reconnect. It's generally understood the feeling's mutual.

Roy's blunt, opinionated, and there's always a hint of righteous anger simmering below the surface threatening to explode. Wally thinks Roy treads too close to the edge, and worse, he likes it, but he's also doggedly loyal and the first person to admit when he's fucked up, so it's hard to stay mad at him for long. In a fight, there's nobody better to have on your side, and Wally owes his life to Roy a hundred times over.

Dick sticks his head in. "We'll get you home now if you think you'll be okay on your own."

Wally nods. He's planning to take a shower, jerk off about a zillion times, and fall into bed exhausted. He follows Dick up the plane's drop-down ladder, and only has to stop himself from reaching out once. Twice at the most. "I think the worst is over."

"Han Shot First," Roy snorts, reading Wally's t-shirt, and so it begins.

"Did he make fun of my Star Wars shirt?"

"I'm pretty sure he did," Dick confirms, taking the pilot's seat. There's very little room to maneuver, and Wally's got nowhere to go except Roy's lap. He drops down hard.

"Why exactly are you here?" Wally asks, settling as Roy shifts as far to the side as he can. Wally's still basically sitting on Roy's lap, but there's less overall touching going on, which is probably for the best.

"Nice to see you too, buddy. I wanted to see what all the excitement was about."

Wally feels a little bad, but not enough to willingly explain things to Roy, who's always too quick to remind him of things he'd rather forget. Dick pulls the canopy closed, and Wally's forced to slump closer to Roy while Dick goes through the pre-flight checklist.

"No excitement, just a misunderstanding," Wally says, trying not to wiggle. His skin is over-sensitive, and every breath against his neck is torture. "Could you maybe breathe in a different direction?"

"You saying I've got bad breath?" Roy asks, expelling as much breath as possible while he does it. Wally bunches up his shoulders like a turtle trying to hide.

"Yes. It could be your superpower. Breath of Doom."

"Fuck you," Roy says, but turns away. A little.

"Dick, let's go. Please," Wally pleads. "And Roy? Whatever happens, it's not you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Here we go, guys. Hang on to something, Wally, since you're not belted in. I'll try to keep it gentle."

The engine roars to life. Dick executes a sharp turn and gets them headed away from Luthor's, while Wally tries not to think about all the places there's suddenly friction he doesn't need. The only thing he's got to hang onto, unfortunately, is Roy, and it doesn't take long for Wally to notice the sudden tension in Roy's body.

"Wally, old buddy," Roy says through gritted teeth. Wally's kind of floating in a warm haze of touch, and trying his best to ignore Roy, who nevertheless makes a comfy chair. "You know I love you, but I'm not as touchy-feely as Dick, so move your hand before I decide to break it."

"Roy," Dick says, glancing over. "Take it easy. It's not his fault."

"Fuck." Wally tries to concentrate on where his hand has wandered. Roy's muscular thigh. It could've been much worse, but he's pretty sure pointing that out won't help the situation. "I'm sorry, but you're the one who insisted on staying and cramming the three of us into a confined space, so some of this is on you."

For the first time, Roy seems to take a good look at Wally. The scrutiny makes Wally's flesh run hot and cold with goose bumps. He tucks his hands under his armpits to stop from touching, and figures Roy can stop him from face-planting into the control panel if it comes to that.

"Shit!" Roy's face transforms into an expression of annoyance. "Why didn't somebody just tell me you got hit with Cupid-shot?"

"Cupid-shot?"

"Arrow dipped in love potion?"

"It was roofies in the brandy, but the effect's the same," Dick explains.

"And what the fuck were you doing having brandy with President Luthor, anyway?" Roy's fingers stretch the collar of Wally's tee, revealing the bruises there. "Are you and Luthor—?"

"No!"

Roy's eyebrows climb. "Are you sure? That's some pretty serious—"

"It was—it was the drugs, okay? It wasn't entirely my choice."

"Not entirely, huh? But a little bit? Do you have a crush on Luthor, Wally?"

"No, I don't have a crush on Luthor," Wally says adamantly. He really hates Roy sometimes. "I went over to talk to him about the stupid kryptonite shipments, to try and get him to see reason."

Roy laughs out loud. "So, your plan was to ask him nicely to stop fucking around with stuff that can kill Superman? How well do you know him that you can drop by, and exactly how nicely were you planning to ask?"

"Fuck off." Wally feels the heat of embarrassment staining his cheeks, and he has to bite his tongue to keep from saying something he'll regret. He's not going to drag Roy's history with heroin into this. He's better than that.

"Roy, give it a rest." Dick's cruising toward Central City as fast as he can, but it's nowhere near fast enough for Wally. "Everybody's had a shitty day. Don't make it worse."

"No wonder everyone's trying to keep this from Batman."

Wally closes his eyes and tries to steady his breathing. He wants Bruce so badly, wants those big hands all over his—he looks up as Roy cinches a zip-tie tight around Wally's wrists. Fine. He'd offered to let Dick do the same thing back at Luthor's, but somehow it's more irritating when it's Roy.

"Did Bats say anything to you?"

"About what?"

"About anything," Wally says, aiming for nonchalant and missing by a mile. What he really wants to know is if Bruce said anything about him. Roy's got that sharp-shooter gaze turned on him, and he knows Wally too well.

"Wally, please tell me you're not still nursing a crush on Batman." Roy shakes his head. "Man, it's never gonna happen. You need to move on, accept that."

"It's not a crush."

"You've been fucking pining after him since we were kids. Enough already. Dick's too nice to say it, but it's getting embarrassing. Bruce is never going to look twice in your direction, and believe me, you're better off. Have you forgotten how miserable he made Dick sometimes?"

"Leave me out of this," Dick says, increasing their speed.

Wally can see the lights of Central City drawing close. He wishes it were Gotham; he needs Bruce's reassurance right now that he's not in this alone. Luthor made it clear he thinks Bruce is only with him because saving Wally would mean saving the world, but Wally doesn't want to believe that. He can't.

"It's not a crush, Roy," Wally tries again, a little unsteady. "I'm—I'm in love with Bruce."

"You poor bastard," Roy says, pity in his voice. "You've known him all your adult life, Wally, and he's never shown any interest. Batman's got no room in his life for anything except his own misery and the mission. Dick, tell him."

Dick's concentrating on bringing the plane down on the top of Wally's apartment building without attracting attention.

"I think you should shut up, Roy," Dick says as they hover six feet above the rooftop. In spite of his bound hands, Wally's got the canopy unlatched and open before Dick can even reach for it. Dick slits the zip-tie, then Wally's free to move, and he needs to leave before he punches Roy in the face. He slips over the side of the plane, dropping lightly to the roof.

"Of course, you know there's no way Batman could ever like me, or be attracted to me, or want me just for me. We have absolutely nothing in common," Wally says bitterly. "I know you think I'm a goof, Roy, but you haven't been around much lately. Things are different; I'm different, and I work with Bats a hell of a lot more than either of you these days. You don't know anything about him."

Wally can feel the speedforce licking at his heels. He'll start feeling better soon. More like himself.

"Wally, wait. Do you want me to stay?" Dick asks, standing up in the cockpit. "I can send the plane home on auto-pilot. With its annoying cargo."

He'd give Dick a hug if he could be sure of doing it without a final grope. The fact he knows Dick would forgive him anyway makes him feel better about everything.

"I'll be fine," Wally calls out. "Thanks, Dick. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Maybe in the cold light of morning, all this will feel less hopeless. Right now, he's having a hard time convincing himself, or anyone else apparently, that Bruce could care about him as more than an asset. The plane lifts off quietly, and Wally's treated to one more glimpse of Roy's pitying face.

The stupid thing is Wally knows Roy means well. It's not the first time he and Roy have gone a round on the subject of Batman as relationship material, and in some respects Roy's not wrong. But Wally knows how hard Bruce has been trying to change. For him. He just hopes it's for the right reasons. He wishes he could be sure.

Wally takes the fire escape down to his apartment, and climbs through the unlocked window. Honestly, he's got nothing anyone would want to steal. The place is dark and quiet—even the Spinster's fast asleep. Wally finds himself wishing Bruce were lurking in the shadows, waiting for him, but there's nothing in the corners except a few cobwebs and his own doubts. Morning will have to be soon enough to face them.

He heads for the shower, stripping quickly, and finally allowing himself the freedom to take care of his rock-hard problem. He comes with Bruce's name on his lips a half-dozen times before he feels the desperate need abate. Finally, he crawls into bed and sleeps, exhausted.

***

Bruce senses the shift in currents outside his open window and knows his invitation's been received.

"Was there something you wanted?" Clark's hovering, arms crossed, everything about his stance defensive. It forces Bruce to move closer to the window so he can see Clark's face. The cool air rustles the folds of his black robe.

"Tim's home safely?"

"Alfred was giving him something to eat, then sending him to bed. Tim said he had permission to stay overnight at a friend's place, although I suspect this isn't what Tim's dad had in mind."

Bruce lets the comment pass unremarked. He knows Clark's angry with him about the press conference even if the labs weren't any great secret.

"I need to get home, Bruce, so if there's something you want to know …"

"Actually, I wanted to apologize."

Clark rolls his eyes. "I hate it when you do that."

"What, apologize?"

"Yes. It's harder to stay mad at you."

Bruce lets a small smile bend his lips. "Well, by all means…"

"Look, I know it wasn't intentional, that it was all Luthor, but I'd like to think you trust me after all these years."

Bruce sighs. "I do, Clark. I can trust you and still want to be prepared if something beyond your control happens. We made promises, remember?"

"I remember." Clark touches down on the ledge, Bruce stepping aside to let Clark come inside. "Should I assume you know everything that's happened this evening?"

"I get updates from the Watchtower, there's GPS in the plane and every suit, and Wally hasn't taken the tracker out of his boot. He knows it's there," Bruce adds when he sees Clark's raised eyebrow. His voice goes quiet. "Is he okay?"

"He's not hurt," Clark hedges. "He's shaken and embarrassed, but he'll be fine. How is it you're being so calm about this?"

"I'm not. But Wally made it clear if this is going to work he doesn't want me riding to the rescue. I had to trust you and Dick enough to let you handle it, but don't assume it was easy to stay behind."

"Point taken. I should get back, though." Clark turns to leave, rising off the floor.

"One more thing, Clark," Bruce says. "Have you been building up a tolerance to kryptonite by exposing yourself to small amounts?"

The way Clark's body stiffens in mid-air tells Bruce all he needs to know. Clark's never been a particularly good liar as far as Bruce is concerned.

"How did you—Who told you that?"

"Luthor. Is it true?"

Clark settles back down and turns to face Bruce. The flush in his cheeks is obvious.

"Yes, but—it's only meant to give me an edge with the villains."

"Or anyone who might need to take you down. Including me."

"It isn't like that. And how the hell can Luthor possibly know?"

"Where've you been getting your kryptonite from?"

Clark balks. "Well, obviously, I can't—it's been—Lois."

"And she's been getting it from?"

"I don't know," Clark says. "I honestly didn't want to know."

"All the kryptonite that passes through Wayne Enterprises or Queen Industries is laser scribed with a serial number so it can be tracked. We're not missing any."

"Dammit!" Clark doesn't swear often, so Bruce knows he's genuinely upset, and not simply about being found out. "That means it's coming from Luthor somehow."

"I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Clark leans against the window ledge, looking dejected. "I'm sorry. I guess we've both made a mess of things."

"Trust has to go both ways, Clark. If you insist on dosing yourself with kryptonite, at least let me set up a controlled test so it can be done safely and with consistent, measurable results."

"When this is over," Clark agrees. "Let's get through the next few days, okay?"

Bruce nods, watching as Clark rises into the air, becoming lost in the dark sky almost immediately. His JLA text alert chimes, and Bruce grabs the phone. Apparently the bat-plane has reached sub-orbital altitude. He stares at the screen for a moment before deciding he's hung-over enough not to care.

He closes the window, pulls the heavy drapes, and crawls into bed before he can change his mind about staying put. Sleep comes slowly, but when it does, it's deep and dreamless.

***

About the time they hit cruising altitude, Dick punches Roy in the arm. Hard. It's the least violent thing he can think of at the moment that will still get the point across.

"Ow, what the fuck was that for?"

"What do you think?"

Watching Wally walk away with a hang-dog expression on his face and knowing he couldn't do anything to fix it was awful. Nothing seems right with the world when Wally's unhappy.

"You know I'm right," Roy says. "Batman's never going to—"

"Wally's been seeing Bruce for a couple of months."

Roy's stunned silence gives Dick a mean-spirited sense of satisfaction. Maybe he should've said something when Wally was aboard, but he'd sort of figured if Wally wanted Roy to know, he'd tell him. Except Dick's gone and spilled the beans anyway.

"No fucking way."

"Way," Dick says. "Plus they'd been dancing around each other for months before that. Wally flirting earnestly, and Bruce pretending not to be charmed by it."

"You're serious."

"I swear. They're together, and they're good for each other." Most of the time, Dick amends in his head, but Roy doesn't need the footnotes. He hasn't earned them.

"I would never have guessed Bats would go for a guy like Wally." Roy shakes his head. "Maybe it's only a sex thing?"

Dick scowls at him, gripping the controls hard, pushing them higher. "No."

"You sure you're not just trying to pretend Batman doesn't have sex?" Roy's grinning, and Dick really wants to punch him again. Why does everyone insist on talking about Bruce's … relationships with him? He doesn't want to know about it. He doesn't even want to think about it. Especially not when it involves one of his best friends.

"Um, Dick?"

"What!" Dick says angrily.

"Is this thing supposed to go sub-orbital?" Roy asks, pointing outside to where the earth is falling rapidly away from them.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Dick's voice is drowned out by the clang of warning bells. "Bruce is going to hear about this."

"Afraid of losing your t.v. privileges?" Roy smirks.

"Shut up. If I get in trouble, you'd better believe I'm taking you down with me."

"We're adults, Dick. What the hell's he going to do? Ground us?"

"Watchtower to Batman. Satellite indicates you've attained sub-orbital altitude. Will you be docking at the station?" J'onn's voice is as clear as if he were in the plane with them.

Dick stares at the communicator, wishing he could pull off Bruce's gruff "Not now!" so he wouldn't have to explain anything to the Martian. No one expects Batman to explain himself. Ever.

Roy rolls his eyes and keys the mic. "J'onn? This is Arsenal. I'm in the Bat-plane with Nightwing. No Batman. Just us."

"One moment."

"He's probably doing a voice authentication and a quick psychic sweep. Think innocent thoughts, Roy."

The grin Roy flashes back can only be called lascivious. Dick can almost see poor J'onn flinching at whatever stray pornography has ambled across Roy's mind.

"Identification confirmed, Arsenal. Do you and Nightwing require assistance?"

"No. We're good. Just testing something on the plane. We'll be heading back to Gotham now. Arsenal out."

Dick breathes out a sigh, turning the plane back toward earth. Roy kicks his feet up on the instrument panel.

"So, Boy Wonder, if we're going to get yelled at, we might as well earn it. How fast can this baby go?"

Chapter Text

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."

"You shouldn't."

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."

"Do you?"

"Of course."

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.

"And now?"

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.

"Hello, Bruce."

"Lex."

"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.

"Dick?"

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.

"Luthor's dangerous."

"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."

"You said—"

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."

"Dick?"

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.

"Lois."

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."

"Hello, J'onn."

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."

"How so?"

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'm trying."

"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."

"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."

"You think?"

"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."

"Goodnight, then."

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."

"Master Wally?"

"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.

"May I?"

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."

"Plausible deniability."

"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."

"What?"

"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.

"Precisely."

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."

"Condition?"

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."

"Flash! Don't—"

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.

Pleasedon'tdiepleasedon'tdiepleasedon'tdiepleasedon'tdie …

***

"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?

"What?"

"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?"

"One moment."

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."

"Of course."

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."

"Roy."

"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.

"Thank you."

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.

"What?"

"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."

"I guess."

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.

"Joker?"

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."

"Roy."

"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.

Chapter Text

Batman swings silently onto the rooftop of Gotham General. Talking to Jim Gordon didn't provide any answers, but at least Bruce knows they're on the same page. Gordon's got cops tracing the flow of money and tech, but it seems as if everyone's getting their stuff from a friend who got it from a fence who stole it off some guy. No one knows who the supplier is, which makes Batman suspicious. Crooks, especially the low-level guys, aren't often that good at hiding their tracks, but the big bosses don' seem to have any more info than the street thugs.

Bruce finds the bag Alfred left for him in the bathroom vent on the top floor. He strips out of the uniform as quickly as he can, and changes into regular clothes. He talks to Alfred briefly by phone, checks Dick and Ollie's medical charts while the night nurse is responding to an alarm, and sticks his head in to see how they're both doing.

Dick's asleep. His breathing's laboured, but the oxygen is helping, and Bruce doesn't bother lingering because he doesn't want to chance waking him. Oliver's sleeping too, when Bruce looks in on him, and Roy's kicked his feet up on a second chair and seems to be catching a few winks himself. He's probably going to be sore in the morning from sleeping like that, especially given the mess his arms still are, but Bruce doesn't have the heart to wake the kid up. He leaves as quietly as he can and heads back upstairs. He and Wally hadn't made any specific arrangements for meeting up, but Bruce knows where he can find him.

***

Wally is so tired he doesn't think he can sleep. He's wired and exhausted and he can't run it off because Dr. Emerson said no superspeed for at least twenty-four hours to give his leg a chance to heal. The doc's concerned he's not healing as quickly as normal, so he took enough blood to feed a family of vampires for a week, and told Wally to stay away from hyenas, which made Roy almost bust a gut laughing. Everyone's a freakin' comedian.

There's no use all of them staying at the hospital and losing even more sleep, so Roy volunteers to keep an eye on both Oliver and Dick. Just in case. No one's pointing fingers at Gotham's police force or the staff at Arkham—okay, they totally are—but somebody managed to let a whole lot of crazy onto the streets without a lot of effort. Batman disappears for what's likely to be a less than friendly chat with Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred takes Tim home to his dad because they at least have to make the effort to pretend he's a normal kid some of the time.

The official story is Oliver was mugged and Dick was in some kind of accident because they'll need to be able to explain if the press finds out. Even with Tim's dad it's good to have a cover story in place that makes sense, especially since Tim's clearly upset about Dick getting hurt. At least this way, Jack Drake won't find it strange if Tim's more emotional than usual since he knows Tim helps out with things around Wayne manor and has gotten to know both Bruce and Dick well. Wally can't imagine how difficult it must be to try and hide a secret like being Robin from your parents. At least Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris understood what Wally was going through.

That leaves Wally wandering around the hospital on crutches. He doesn't really need them, but the doc thought it would help his leg heal faster. It should only be for a day, which is good, because there's no way in hell Wally's being left out of the upcoming mission.

Bruce said he'd come back for him after talking to Gordon, but Wally has no idea how long that's going to be. He could've stayed downstairs with Roy, but it's been a long night for both of them, and Wally thinks if he and Roy have any more heart-to-hearts someone's going to get punched. Probably Wally and he knows from experience Roy's punches hurt. Diana's taken the Javelin and gone back to the Watchtower, Wally assumes, but he doesn't know for sure. She could've stuck around to talk to Bruce some more, although lately "talking" with Diana seems to lead to lipstick stains, so Wally's fine if she's left the planet.

He finds a perch on the edge of the hospital rooftop where he can keep an eye out for Bruce, and drinks a tepid hot chocolate that came out of a vending machine. It's sort of awful, but Wally can't seem to stop drinking it. He realized some time ago that the simple act of drinking something warm calms him, so he's willing to drink some pretty dreadful stuff to lose the jangling in his nerves. Maybe it's because it reminds him of home. Maybe it's because it forces him to slow down. Whatever the reason, he knows the ritual's important.

"Is that hot chocolate?"

"That's what it's claiming to be."

Wally doesn't hear Bruce come up behind him, but it's okay. He feels Bruce's hands land on his shoulders, kneading the tense muscles, and Wally tips his head back against Bruce's chest. The uniform's nowhere in sight, which means Bruce's been downstairs and checked on everyone else.

"How long ago did you actually land on this rooftop?" Wally asks. He's been paying attention, and he didn't hear a thing. Of course, Bruce was probably extra sneaky about it because he knew Wally would be waiting for him.

"Twenty-three minutes."

Wally was right. Bruce has already made the rounds and left him for last. It's a good thing it's a warm night, or Wally might've been annoyed. He starts to shift off the raised edge he's sitting on, but Bruce says, "stay there," and hops up to join him. From inside his jacket he pulls out a metal thermos and twists the top off. A curl of steam rises into the air, and Wally breathes in.

"Is that Alfred's cocoa? How did he—?"

"Some mysteries aren't meant to be explained. Do you want some or not?"

"Oh, hell yes," Wally says, dumping the vending machine swill onto the roof, and letting Bruce fill the Styrofoam cup for him. He watches Bruce pour himself a cup in the lid of the Thermos.

For a few minutes, neither of them says anything. Wally enjoys the intimacy of sitting close together under the stars—they can't see them, but Wally knows they're up there. When he leans over to kiss Bruce, he's pleased to be met with a warm mouth, sweet with chocolate.

Then Bruce has to go and ruin it with four little words.

"We need to talk."

There's a reason those are the most dreaded words in any relationship, and Wally braces himself for what's probably going to be a fight.

"And that's one of the things we need to talk about."

"What?"

"You look like you expect to get yelled at. Or grounded," Bruce says, frustrated. "Dick used to get that same look on his face when he knew he'd done something I wouldn't approve of."

Wally blushes to the tips of his ears. What Bruce is saying is true, and it's ridiculous. He's a grown man, not a kid, and Bruce has always been a mentor, sure, but he's never thought of him as a father-figure except where Dick's concerned.

"You've got to admit, you've been a little over-protective lately." Wally glances over the rim of his cocoa to see Bruce give a grudging nod. "I figure you're going to be mad at me if I do anything that puts me in danger."

"If it had been anyone else I would've told them to wait for backup too. I wasn't singling you out. There are reasons we don't go up against Joker alone, and there are reasons we have procedures and protocols in place."

"But if I'd waited—" Wally can't bring himself to finish the thought. "I couldn't wait for backup, Bruce. There was no time."

"That's all you needed to say. The person in the field has the final call. You know that. But I'm still going to advise you to wait for backup—and I'd say the same to anyone." Bruce refills Wally's cocoa from the thermos. "I'm very good at compartmentalizing, Wally. I'm also used to giving orders and having them obeyed. If there's a good reason why you're taking other action, that's fine, but if it's a reflex because you assume I'm being over-protective, it needs to stop."

Wally lets out a breath and nods. Bruce has a point, and Wally knows he's been reacting a lot without thinking lately. "I'm sorry. Tonight, though, I didn't have a choice."

"And I'm grateful for what you did. All the time Dick was Robin, part of my mind worked on keeping him safe. He assumed I didn't trust him or didn't think he was capable when neither of those things was true. He was my partner. I wanted him to be safe."

"Believe it or not, I understand that part of it. You looking out for people in the field isn't a new thing. You've saved my life dozens of times, Bruce."

Bruce takes a sip of cocoa. "I wasn't indifferent to what happened to you before we were involved. I wouldn't let you get hurt in the field regardless of our relationship if I could do something about it."

"I know. I pay attention to where you are when we're out there. We all know you're—" Wally stops, embarrassed.

"Only human?"

"It's not an insult. You can do things most of us with powers will never master, but if you get thrown into a building, even with the Kevlar and armor plating and insulation, it's going to hurt. That's reality. I've seen your scars, Bruce; I don't like the idea of adding to the collection."

"I'm not keen on it either." Bruce drains his cup and sets it aside, letting an arm slip around Wally. "But I'll admit, there are people I'm closer to than others, and if I have to make a choice between you and say, Booster Gold—"

"Ah, Booster's okay, Bruce. He just tries too hard."

"The point is the people I care most about will always come first. You're one of them, and that didn't come on suddenly when we started sleeping together."

"When did it start?"

"Wally, I've always cared about you. I'm not heartless."

"I mean, when did you start to feel something more? When did you think there could be something between us?"

"I don't know. It wasn't one thing or one moment."

"Was it recent? I mean—"

Bruce is staring at him, all the keen intellect in those blue eyes focused on Wally. "You mean, was it before or after we met the Justice Lords. That's what you're asking. Earlier, when I tried to tell you how important you are, you implied it was only because you'd died in a parallel dimension."

Wally blanches. Maybe it's one of the things they need to talk about, but Wally really doesn't want to, and it must show on his face because Bruce has a hand on his arm and isn't letting go.

"No, you're not avoiding this conversation again. It sounds like you think I'm with you because some other Flash died. Why would you think that?"

"Because you weren't really interested until then!" Wally blurts out. "None of this, us, happened until we met the Lords, and I know they scared you, even before you started messing around with the portal technology."

Wally takes a second to think about that. Bruce had told them about the portal, but he and Supes had been too preoccupied with other things to ask to see it, and Bruce hadn't offered. Wally doesn't even know where the damn thing is, or if Bruce has done anything with it since the night he told them about the other timelines. It seems unlikely he would've left it alone under the circumstances. One more thing to—

"I didn't spontaneously develop feelings because another you died," Bruce is saying. "They were already there. But it did force me to realize I'd regret not giving it a chance."

"So if the Lords hadn't come here, nothing would've happened between us. That's sort of the same thing, isn't it?"

"I don't know what would've happened, Wally. I've spent years avoiding entanglements with colleagues."

Wally stares at him. He doesn't have any idea what to say to that. "Sorry to screw up your perfect record."

"That's not what I meant." Bruce sounds angry. "What do you want me to say?"

"I want to know when you looked at me and saw someone you wanted," Wally says bluntly. "When did I stop being that goofy red-haired kid and become someone you wanted to fuck, Bruce?"

"I don't know exactly! For years, you were a kid and mainly Dick's friend. I didn't— I would never have—"

Bruce is stiff-jawed, defensive, and Wally suddenly remembers what Luthor said—God, had it only been a few days ago?—in Bruce's office. How he'd insinuated Bruce had wanted Dick when he was growing up and was using Wally as a poor substitute.

"Hey, I know that," Wally says, trying to diffuse some of Bruce's anger. "Bruce, I'm sorry. Listen to me. I know what Luthor said to you, what he implied, and I know it isn't true. I wasn't suggesting—"

"How do you know what Luthor said?"

Wally wishes he could learn to keep his mouth shut sometimes. Bruce doesn't need another reason to be angry with him, but in spite of some of his recent behavior Wally's an adult, and he's going to act like one with the man he's sleeping with if it kills him.

"Because you and Oliver getting drunk in the middle of the day isn't exactly normal behavior."

"What did you do?" Bruce's voice is hard.

"Dick hacked the security feed in your office, but there was no audio. I had Tim restore the audio."

"You had no right."

"Maybe not, but you didn't call, you turned off your comm and your phone. Dick and I were worried. We had no idea what was going on."

"It wasn't your business."

"Yeah, try that on someone else." Wally holds up a hand to cut Bruce off. "Before you say anything, Dick never heard the audio. Tim did, and I apologize for that, but Tim didn't think Dick should have to hear that and I agreed. We wiped the recording after I listened to it."

"There were questions when I took Dick in," Bruce says, voice soft and bitter. "So many ugly insinuations. From strangers, sure, but from people who knew better too. Social workers tramping through the house every few months looking for signs of abuse, and when he had bruises from patrol—there was more than once I thought they'd take him from me."

"Bruce, I'm sorry for dredging all that up." Wally reaches out a hand to touch Bruce's cheek. "But remember, I was a teenager with a crush. I watched you. An embarrassing amount to be honest. If you'd shown the slightest flicker of interest back then—in anyone—I would've noticed."

It's meant to be reassuring, but frankly, Wally's not sure it is. Bruce still looks off-balance, and Wally knows Bruce hates to justify his behavior to anyone, even when it would help people understand.

"Why is it important when I started to feel differently about you?

"I need to know it's me, not some sense of misplaced guilt because of what happened with the Lords." Wally sighs and looks up at the cloud-obscured stars. "I can't help wondering why me? Why now? When was the last time you even had a relationship with a man? I'm not exactly your usual type."

"When Dick came to live with me, everything changed. I was already a less than ideal candidate because I was a single man."

"With a butler."

"That didn't help, actually. They assumed I'd be dumping responsibility for Dick off on Alfred. If I'd also told them I was bisexual, they would've never let me see him again. The system isn't enlightened. It wasn't worth the risk, so I simply ignored that part of my life for a long time. Publicly, it was easier for Bruce Wayne to date women, and that was fine."

"Are you saying you haven't been with a man since Dick was a kid?"

"There were a few one-offs, but nothing meaningful. The risk wasn't worth it. I think the last time Dick was about sixteen or so. He happened to see me with a man, and he had questions. By that time, keeping him wasn't an issue, but for the most part I'd shut down the desires that came with that side of things. Then there was you."

Wally's always known Bruce has a steel will, but he's not sure he could've done that. He wonders if Dick realizes how much Bruce gave up for him.

"Jeez, Bruce. I didn't realize—I mean, I knew you dated women and I guess I'd never seen you with a man, but somehow it made sense to me you'd be open to that. It honestly never occurred to me you might be straight."

Bruce gives him a small tilted smile, the one that says he's pleased how well Wally knows him. "It doesn't occur to most people I might not be."

They've emptied the thermos—okay, Wally's emptied the thermos—and the wind is starting to pick up. It's late, they're both tired, and Wally doesn't have any idea where they're spending the night. In silent agreement, they ease off the roof's edge and to the stairwell leading down. Wally takes a second to figure out how he's going to descend without straining his leg when Bruce suddenly picks him up, crutches and all.

"No," Wally protests. "I can walk. You're not—Christ, I'm starting to think you like carrying me."

Bruce makes a non-committal sound and keeps going, slow and steady. It's useless trying to protest, so Wally doesn't bother, but he does lean up enough he can kiss Bruce's neck.

"Stop that."

"Put me down," Wally counters, but doesn't stop what is becoming a very thorough nuzzling of Bruce's neck.

"I don't want to drop you." Bruce's grip tightens, and Wally hears the tiniest hitch in his breathing when he tugs at Bruce's earlobe with his teeth.

"Then put me down. We don't even have to take the stairs. They have these things called elevators—they're all the rage."

Bruce blinks at him, as if that hadn't occurred to him. Wally understands—he always takes the stairs because it's faster, but with his leg, an elevator might be a nice change. As soon as they reach a landing that opens onto a floor, Bruce gently sets him on his feet. Wally doesn't remove the arms he's wrapped around Bruce's neck, instead manoeuvring them against the wall, kissing Bruce thoroughly. It's an apology of sorts.

"I don't want to fight with you," Bruce says, hands buried in Wally's hair, "but sometimes you drive me crazy."

"Batty," Wally suggests, thinking of Valentine's Day. That was after the Lords, too. "The feeling's mutual. I'm sorry Roy called you a hyena."

"I've been called worse." Bruce kisses his neck, and Wally resists the urge to pull Bruce's mouth hard against his skin. He's probably been bitten enough for one day. "Hyena-bait."

Wally laughs quietly against Bruce's chest. "That was embarrassing."

"Which part? Roy's teasing, being bitten by an actual hyena or … being seduced by a much older man?"

"Oh, I'm pretty sure I was the one doing the seducing."

Wally smiles, but he can't quite maintain the humorous tone. It comes out sounding resigned and a little bit bitter. They shouldn't talk about this stuff when they're both so exhausted they can barely see straight. Of course, lately that's been an almost constant condition. Wally's leg is starting to ache.

"You still aren't convinced I'm here for the right reasons, are you?" Bruce asks. "Luthor put this idea into your head, didn't he?"

Bruce doesn't need a lie detector test because Wally blushes whenever he feels he's been caught at something. He didn't lie to Bruce about anything—he just hadn't told him everything.

Bruce's arms are fast around Wally's waist, and he isn't letting go. "If I'm not allowed to listen to Luthor's lies, neither are you."

"Fair enough," Wally concedes. He wants to believe Luthor was trying to make trouble and nothing else, but he can't forget how genuine he seemed. As if he was concerned about Wally's well-being.

Wally would feel better if he knew for certain Bruce had seriously considered the possibility of Wally as more than a friend before they encountered the Lords. Valentine's Day's card exchange fiasco had definitely been after the Lords. He's not sure about the Oreo cookie flirting, but that also could've simply been Batman wanting to shock people. It keeps them on their toes. Movie night was before the Lords, but that had ended disastrously, and it wasn't clear if Bruce had been there because of Wally's persistence or because Clark had told him to be more social. Probably both, but it might've had more to do with friendship than anything else.

There had been that night on the Watchtower, though, way back when they'd talked about first meetings. It had seemed for a moment as if Bruce was thinking about kissing him—before the damn Watchtower alert had gone off and there'd been an earthquake to deal with—stupid earthquake. But maybe that's wishful thinking on Wally's part. Maybe the whole thing has been his optimism reading into things.

He wishes he knew for sure.

***

Bruce watches the wheels turning in Wally's brain. He's thinking too much about all of this, trying to figure out Bruce's intentions, when Bruce hasn't had time to sort through things himself yet. The Lords were part of why he decided to let Wally get closer—the obvious regret in his double's voice when he talked about Flash was unsettling—but Bruce knows that wasn't the only reason. He doesn't know how to convince Wally of that, though.

"Come on," Bruce says, pressing a kiss to Wally's temple. "Let me take you somewhere."

"Home?"

"No, but I don't think you'll mind." Bruce keeps an arm around him as Wally grabs his crutches, and they find the elevator down.

"Where are we going?" Wally asks, when Bruce guides him out the doors and across the deserted street. "More importantly, is there a bed there?"

The fatigue is showing on Wally's face in the thin creep of lines around his eyes, a certain hollowness that suggests he probably needs to eat. His chin is prickly with red whiskers, and Bruce expects he looks much the same: exhausted, unkempt, except with a smattering of grey. He's also concerned with the way Wally's leaning on the crutches, as if his leg is hurting him.

"Yes, there's a bed, as long as you don't mind sharing."

"Why, Mr. Wayne, I had no idea!" Wally says, laughing suddenly, and Bruce wants to push him up against the wall right there and kiss him stupid in spite of how tired they both are. He hasn't felt this kind of constant desire for someone in such a long time—maybe not ever. It's not even the desire for sex, so much—although that's part of it—as the need to be near Wally. To touch him. To tease and flirt and watch the way a smile lights up his entire face, to make him laugh. To keep him safe. Bruce wants to be with him whenever he can, and when he can't be, life seems somehow grimmer and less satisfying.

"Bruce, you okay?"

There's a hand on his arm, and Bruce realizes he's gotten lost in his thoughts for a moment. He rarely loses awareness of where he is, and it's a sign he trusts Wally enough to let his guard down. It also tells Bruce he's past the point of exhaustion.

"I'm just tired. This way," Bruce says, leading Wally into the lobby of a hotel, and straight through to the elevators. It's locally known as the "hospital hotel" because so many people stay there when receiving treatment or visiting patients, and it happens to be one of Bruce's charitable projects to keep the rates as low as possible for people already burdened by expensive medical care.

"Do you own this place?" Wally asks, as the elevator climbs.

"No, but I'm a major donor. Alfred made the arrangements so we wouldn't have to worry about how we're getting home. My car's at your place, I got dropped off by air, and you're not supposed to run. I could send for the plane, but it would probably be another hour before we get to bed." Bruce pauses. "To tell the truth, I'm not sure if the plane's even flyable. Dick and Roy had an 'engine problem' last night."

"That's weird. Everything seemed fine when they dropped me off." Wally looks put out, even though he probably wasn't in any shape to go joy-riding at that point. Batman's not entirely sure what happened with the plane, and right now he's too tired to care. It's a thing; it's replaceable.

"This is us." Bruce slides a key card into the door.

The room is large with a king-size bed in the middle of one wall. It's got all the usual hotel amenities, including a small fridge someone's helpfully stocked with water, juice, and energy drinks. Two white robes are hanging on the bathroom door, and a small basket with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and disposable razors is beside the bathroom sink. Bruce downs a couple of litres of water while Wally more or less sleepwalks through the motions of getting ready for bed, finally stripping and crawling under the covers. The large bandage on Wally's left leg reminds Bruce how risky this business is every day.

By the time Bruce is ready for bed, Wally's turned on his side, facing away. Bruce can't tell if Wally's fallen asleep or not, so he lies down carefully and keeps his distance.

"Did someone draw a line down the middle?" Wally asks, breathing out a heavy sigh, and turning over. "We're not fighting. We're not going to even think about all that garbage. It's just you and me, so get over here, okay?"

Bruce doesn't need to be told twice. He slides across the space between them, gathering Wally close to him, kissing him goodnight. He loves the way Wally fits, a little leaner, a little more angular, skin free from scars. Bruce starts to relax, the warmth of Wally's skin soaking into him. He wants to stay here, just like this, as long as the world will let him. They drift into sleep without moving apart.

***

When Wally wakes up, three things register immediately. He's not at home and his leg is sore, not to mention itchy. He rubs at the bandage with the heel of his other foot. Wally would scratch the skin right off if it would stop the irritating, endless prickling sensation.

The third thing, but by far the most important, is Wally can feel Bruce's naked warmth all along his back. Wally can't remember when they last went to bed and woke up together like normal people. One of them always seems to be leaving early or coming in late. It makes mornings like this one feel like something to cherish.

"Stop scratching," is growled in his ear, and Bruce's voice is so deep, it reverberates through Wally's chest. It's strangely comforting, and Wally presses back, luxuriating in the feel of Bruce's body against his.

Wally drifts into and out of sleep for the next while, warm and comfortable. Eventually, he becomes aware Bruce's hand is stroking down his side to the curve of his hip, each touch a slow drift of heat against his skin. Then there are kisses dropped lightly on his shoulder, the side of his neck, his back. Wally arches and stretches, his ass pressing against Bruce's very noticeable erection and baring his neck to Bruce's mouth. Bruce doesn't need a clearer invitation than that to suck a hard kiss into the skin.

But it's not nearly enough. Wally rolls in Bruce's arms to face him, reaching up to slip his fingers into Bruce's thick black hair and tug him forward until their mouths meet, kisses familiar and practiced, tongues playful. Bruce's free hand glides over Wally's chest, two fingers rubbing at a firm nipple, and when Wally's head tips back with a groan, Bruce slides down enough to lick and bite at those rosy peaks until Wally's squirming and panting beside him.

"Jeez!" Wally gasps as Bruce blows cool air over nipples red from sucking, then moves in to lick each again with the rough flat of his tongue. "God, that's—I never knew it could feel that good."

"You're incredibly sensitive," Bruce murmurs, kissing his way back to Wally's mouth, and Wally can feel Bruce's chest rub against his hard wet nipples. "I like it. It's easy to know what feels good, what you like."

From somewhere Bruce has produced a packet of lube because his fingers are slick when he strokes down Wally's cock, fingers sliding over his balls and inside him. They fucked twice yesterday and Wally's warm and relaxed, so it takes hardly any prep at all, just Bruce's wet fingers pushing maddeningly into him, not quite deep enough or hard enough until Wally arches against Bruce, trying to get him closer, and pants out, "Stop teasing and fuck me already. Hard, Bruce. As hard as you can."

Bruce's fingers are gone in an instant replaced by his thick cock, sheathed in a condom, and after the initial slow push, Bruce slides in deep. It's good like this, face-to-face, and Wally knows Bruce is watching him as he hitches Wally's legs up: every panted breath, every arch of his spine, every tiny expression of pleasure that crosses his face, and that makes it better. Wally blushes ridiculously easily, but no one would call him shy, and right now he wants Bruce to see what he does to him, how Wally's willing to open himself wide and let Bruce inside.

He pulls Bruce's fingers to his nipples again, moans and shoves himself on Bruce's cock as the already sensitive peaks are rubbed and twisted, licked and teased. He's writhing with the sensations. Wally pushes himself onto his hands so he can have better control of his hips, can push up to meet Bruce's thrusts, and fuck, that's good. Bruce's hands slip underneath Wally's ass and he can feel their pelvic bones hitting with every motion. He's so hard, he thinks he could scream, and it feels like he's going to break apart when Bruce slams into his prostate.

"Again, fuck, do that again," Wally gasps, no chance of maintaining any sort of rhythm when his brain is melting, and Bruce grunts and fucks into him again, and again, hard enough Wally's pretty sure he's going to have bruises on his hips, and he doesn't fucking care.

He lets his head drop, shoulders tight, and fuck, Bruce is a powerhouse, those thighs broad and glistening with sweat, every thrust accompanied by a harsh guttural exhale, and Wally's only dimly aware his own moaning's become constant, low and raw, like it's being pulled out of his very core, the one Bruce is hitting on almost every thrust.

Wally gets a hand on his cock, wets it with his own leaking fluid, and strokes himself fast and rough.

Bruce's eyes are closed now, nostrils flaring, and Wally can't tell if he's concentrating or so lost in pleasure he's running on automatic. All Wally knows is that he feels like he's lit up, inside and out, with Bruce driving deep into him, and he's gorgeous like that, strong and broad and rock solid everywhere. Wally wants to come, but he doesn't want it to end, and Bruce is murmuring his name like it's a string he's following out of the dark. Wally puts everything he can into meeting Bruce's thrusts until Bruce grabs his hips hard enough to bruise, letting out a moan that sends shivers down Wally's spine.

God, Bruce sounds like it's good, like he's just discovered the Holy Grail, and he's shaking through his orgasm with stuttering gasps for breath. Wally rubs himself frantically, he wants it now, now, now while Bruce is still inside him, all the pressure clawing up his spine and ripping through him with a cry that probably sounds like pain, but definitely isn't. Bruce clutches at him as Wally clenches and twists, riding out the sensations, cock spilling over onto both of them, although nobody seems to care. Bruce leans down and kisses him, deep and still so greedy, as if Wally's oxygen, and this can't ever be enough. Fuck. It's never been like this with anyone. Not even close.

They collapse back into the mattress, still breathing hard. Neither of them says anything, but Wally's damp all over with fresh sweat, and his muscles are pleasantly sore from the workout. He feels as if he's won the fucking Kentucky Derby, that desperate ride to the finish line worth every second of tense build-up, every bruise. If he wasn't completely spent, he'd want to do it all again. It's like the best thrill ride ever, and Wally likes that Bruce is finally, finally letting go enough to fuck him the way he obviously wants to—hard, demanding, and possessive. Wally's fine with that in bed; he likes being pinned by someone with strength, and he likes it better when he doesn't have to pretend, when he doesn't have to hold back either.

"That was amazing," Wally says, fingers clutching in Bruce's dark hair and dragging his face up so Wally can see him. Three days worth of stubble and Bruce is looking more than a little rough. Bruises from last night's rescue of Oliver have sprung up on his shoulders, and the bites Wally left yesterday are rosy and dark.

"Anytime you want to do that, I'm your man."

Bruce's face relaxes into a smile. "You're my man, are you?"

"Yup. I'm your man. I'm definitely your man. I'm—"

Bruce's blue eyes are bright and happy this morning, even after everything that happened last night, and Wally wants to keep Bruce here in the sunshine and never let him slip into the shadows again.

"I'm—God, Bruce, I'm so in love with you," Wally says, not looking away, pleased at the way Bruce's eyes widen a little as if Wally's said something surprising. Wally has to kiss him and it feels so right to have Bruce's mouth on his. "I love you."

"I know," Bruce murmurs, and Wally can't help but think about Han Solo and Princess Leia. God, he knows he's a Star Warsgeek, but that's just pathetic because everyone knew Solo loved Leia even if he didn't say the words. Wally never saw himself being cast as the princess in this scenario, but damned if he doesn't understand some of her frustration with Solo's cavalier, "I know," when Leia finally confesses how she feels.

Wally realizes Bruce has stopped kissing him, or possibly he stopped kissing Bruce first, but there are two lines forming between Bruce's brows, and Wally hates that he's put them there. Sometimes he wishes he could turn his brain off completely.

"What?" Bruce asks, watching Wally's face carefully. "What's wrong?"

Wally shakes his head because now he's started this, he has no fucking clue what to say. It isn't fair to push someone into saying words they're not ready for and Wally doesn't want to be that person in the relationship. The needy one. The demanding one. Pathetic.

"Do you—I mean, I know—at least, I think I know, but ..." Wally trails off because he's not going to force Bruce into saying he loves him. Not that he could—he's not certain Bruce is capable of saying the words without considerable effort; besides, it won't prove anything, and it's going to make Wally feel like shit. Especially after last night where he more or less accused Bruce of being there for the wrong reasons. He sits up, looking away. "Never mind. Forget I said anything. I don't know what I was think—"

Bruce's hands are on his face, and he's kissing Wally—the only way he can think to describe it is "sweetly." Bruce's mouth is firm, but there's something careful in the way his lips press and draw back, something apologetic in the fingers stroking his cheek. It's gentle and a little sad, and Wally wishes he could rewind the clock about five minutes.

"Wally."

"No, Bruce, don't—don't say anything." Wally presses two fingers to Bruce's lips, silencing him. "I know better than most people how much you've lost. I shouldn't have pushed."

"You have the most generous heart of anyone I know," Bruce says, fingers trailing down Wally's chest, palm settling over his heart. "But the last time I spoke those words I was eight, and I don't know if I can—"

Wally wraps his arms around Bruce's shoulders and tugs him back down into the covers. "You don't have to say anything. Not until you're ready, and if you're never ready—" Wally swallows around his fear. "—I'll deal. I know how you feel, Bruce."

"Ask me," Bruce murmurs, pulling Wally closer.

"Um, how do you feel?" Wally stumbles over the words, not sure if that's what Bruce wants. The eye roll suggests it's not.

"Fine," Bruce says, slowly, drawing out the word. He kisses Wally. "It's too late not to feel anything for you. It's the words that are the problem. Ask me what you want to know."

"Oh." Wally can't believe it's that simple, and if it were anyone other than Bruce, Wally might think he was joking. "Do you—do you love me?"

The words rush out all at once, taking Wally's breath with them. In the beat of silence that follows, Wally can hear his heart pounding in his ears, can feel Bruce's exhale against his cheek.

"Yes."

***

Roy looks up from the Gotham Gazette he's been reading, waiting for Ollie to get back from having casts put on. Wally's using his crutches like an old pro. He hands Roy a fresh coffee, sets one by the empty bed, and the stupid grin on his face tells Roy one thing.

"Man, you cannot go see Dick looking like that."

"Like what?" Wally immediately looks down at his clothes. "What's wrong with me?"

Roy loves it when Wally feeds him a good set-up line. He makes it entirely too easy sometimes.

"Where do I start? You're a goofball, you dress funny—"

"Roy."

"Wally, you're practically walking on sunshine. There are rainbows and roses springing up under your feet in freakin' Gotham. I'm honestly surprised animated birds aren't twittering around your head right now."

"Oh, fuck off," Wally says, but it does nothing to diminish his grin. "Can't I just be happy?"

"Your afterglow's so bright I gotta wear shades." Roy raises his coffee cup in a mock salute. "There's happy and then there's stubble burn that looks like road rash, and a dozen bat-hickeys.'"

Wally grabs at his neck self-consciously, then disappears into the bathroom, probably to check the extent of the damage in the mirror, as a nurse wheels Oliver back in with lightweight casts on one arm and one foot. The nurse settles Oliver into bed, hands him the coffee Wally left on the table, and leaves with warnings to stay put.

"This coffee's terrible," Ollie complains after a sip, but keeps drinking it anyway.

"Sorry." Wally pops out of the bathroom, his jacket now done up to the neck, but it doesn't cover anything. It only makes him look like somebody's mother dressed him. "The coffee's from downstairs. I wasn't allowed to run get decent coffee."

"Hot bad coffee's better than whatever they were passing off as coffee at breakfast." Ollie nods his thanks, then takes a good look at Wally. "Hell, kid, you look like you took on a couple of angry hedgehogs and lost."

Roy snorts with laughter. "Hyena-bat hybrid."

Ollie looks confused, and Wally points at Roy, scowling. "Shut up. Maybe I can wear a scarf?"

"It's summer."

"An artsy scarf? Men do that now, right?"

"Yeah, Dick certainly won't notice that." Roy rolls his eyes. "You're a disgrace to gay men everywhere. I have a better fashion sense than you do, and my idea of an accessory is a bandolier. Undo your jacket; you look ridiculous."

Wally huffs, but does as he's told, and Ollie lets out a low whistle.

"Is that all from the hyena?" he asks, which only succeeds in setting off Roy's stomach-holding laughter, leaving Wally to explain he was bitten by an actual hyena, but on the leg, and he doesn't know what the fuck Roy's on about, although the blush on his face says otherwise.

When Bruce walks in five minutes later, clean-shaven, but with an almost equally bad case of stubble burn and a visible hickey above his buttoned shirt collar, Roy can't help smiling into his coffee.

"Let's go check on Dick," he suggests, tugging at Wally's arm. Bruce and Oliver are ignoring them anyway, and Oliver's too old school to harass Bruce about Wally in front of them.

Wally puts a hand to his own throat. "I don't want to upset him."

"You won't." Roy swings an arm around Wally's shoulders. "Dick's motto for anything to do with Bruce and sex is 'pretend, ignore, repress.' Besides, I can distract him if necessary. Come on, Hyena-Bait."

***

"You should have called me right away," Bruce says, surveying the damage to Oliver's body. Broken arm, broken ankle, a couple of hairline fractures, bruised ribs, and skin that's more black-and-blue than anything else.

"I thought we could handle it." Ollie shrugs, although it looks painful. "Nothing you could've done except get broken up too."

Bruce frowns because, although Oliver's probably right, it's almost impossible for Bruce to assume he wouldn't have come out of it better than Oliver did. He wouldn't have locked Tim in a room to keep him safe, for instance, although he can't fault Ollie for trying to protect him, but Tim doesn't need as much protection as most people tend to think. He's sixteen, short, and not as graceful or acrobatic as Dick was when he wore the uniform, but Tim's far more disciplined in many ways. Calculating. He thinks more like Batman, and he's generally more careful than Dick ever was about pissing off the people they're battling. Tim's flight response actually works, and he knows well enough when it's time for a strategic retreat.

"Tim will thank you for it eventually," Bruce says. "But he doesn't like being left out of the fight. He would've helped even the odds, Oliver."

"There was no evening the odds. I couldn't—it's different than before. It's gotten much worse out there, and I couldn't take a chance. Tim's a kid. A smart kid, a good kid, well-trained, I know it. But I'd rather take a beating than risk his life." Oliver shakes his head. "I guess there's a reason I don't run with a partner anymore. Not sure how you do it."

"I make sure he's trained and that I'm there."

"You can't always be there."

"Last night was an anomaly."

"Bruce." Oliver looks like a raccoon with his two black eyes. "A night off with someone you care about shouldn't be an anomaly. Why are we fighting the good fight if there's no reward?"

Because it's the right thing to do. Because we can. Because no one else will. Bruce doesn't say anything. Oliver already knows the reasons as well as he does.

"Thank you for thinking of Tim's safety," Bruce says finally.

"You're welcome. Now will you please help me convince that damn witch doctor I can mend broken bones much faster at home than in this place? I'm going to go squirrely if I have to stay here, and Roy's spending a small fortune on childcare for Lian."

"I'll see what I can do."

***

Dick's got some color back, although the oxygen mask has to stay on for a little while longer. As Roy predicted, Dick doesn't seem to notice Wally's newly-acquired bruises or if he does, he's ignoring them, and Wally's fine with that. He's laid out across the foot of the bed, draped backwards over Dick's feet, and listening to Roy flip between discussing his daughter and talking weaponry. His two favorite topics. Wally tosses in the occasional comment but he's content to be there, knowing the other two are alive and well.

The door creaks open and Wally leans up to take a peek. It's just Dr. Emerson checking in. Dick's going to need to take it easy for the next while, but he's doing much better than expected under the circumstances—mainly because Roy's the best shot Wally's ever known. Roy's tried to teach him, and Wally's not bad when he can force himself to stay still and focus, but he gets impatient fast.

"Wally?" Dr. Emerson says.

"What's up, doc?" Wally asks, grinning as he sits up.

"Can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

"Sure thing." Wally waits to see what the doc has to say, then realizes he's waiting for Wally to follow him. "You can just tell me. Dick and Roy are—"

"There's nothing to worry about, but I'd prefer to speak with you alone."

In Wally's experience, people only say there's nothing to worry about when there's definitely something to worry about. Dick and Roy exchange glances as Wally gets up and follows Dr. Emerson down the hall to a small examination room. He gestures for Wally to take a seat, and proceeds to roll up Wally's pant leg.

"I'll clean the bite and change the bandage while we talk, okay?"

"Sure. Is something wrong?"

"Have you been exposed to any kryptonite lately?"

Wally does a double-take. "No, not that I can think of. I mean, I was at Luthor's apartment in Metropolis, which has kryptonite in the walls, but it also has lead shielding. I can't think of anywhere else I would've come in contact with it."

"Is there any chance you could've gotten some directly on your skin? It might've been in the form of a fine powder. Or ingested it?"

"Ingested? You mean, eaten it?" Wally balks. "I'm pretty sure I'd remember if someone fed me kryptonite. Not that it makes any difference since I'm not Superman, but—why are you asking? Kryptonite doesn't affect me."

The cooling antibiotic salve takes away some of the itching, and Wally sighs in relief.

"Better?" Dr. Emerson asks knowingly.

"Much. What's the deal, doc? Is that why I'm not healing properly?"

"I think so. Your blood test came back indicating a high number of radioactive isotopes, namely kryptonite. They weren't present the last time I took blood, so it's happened sometime in the last two months, and there are too many of them to be from simple exposure. I'd say it was a concentrated dose of some kind and fairly recently since the isotopes don't display significant decay."

"How would that get in my blood?"

"As I said, absorption through the skin, ingestion through eating or drinking, direct injection into the bloodstream through a syringe. Inhaling it, perhaps, although I'm not sure its potency is very effective in a gaseous form. Those are the most likely ways."

"What about the hyenas?" Wally asks, looking at the nasty bite as Dr. Emerson applies a fresh bandage.

"I considered that, but there would be a higher concentration in the bite area, and the culture I took doesn't support that. The isotopes seem to be spread fairly evenly."

"I can't think how—"

"Can you walk me through your last week or so? Start with last night and work backwards. Before the rescue, what were you doing?" Dr. Emerson pulls out a notepad and starts to write.

Wally tries to concentrate, but it's hard with his stomach doing flip-flops. "Um, okay, I was at home in Central City. Diana and Batman were there for a while. I had Thai food. I—uh, I had sex."

"Unprotected?"

"No." Wally blushes. "We used condoms. He wouldn't—believe me, Doc, he's trustworthy."

"I'm sure he is, Wally, but I have to look at every possibility. Transmission through body fluids is a consideration, although the alternatives are more likely. Would your partner submit to a blood test?"

"Is that really necessary?" Wally knows this is a no-brainer. Bruce won't care if Emerson knows. He's pretty sure Bruce is the one who hired the guy in the first place.

"I didn't become Chief Medical Officer to the League without being able to keep secrets, Wally, so please don't let that trouble you. But I suppose there are other things we need to rule out first. What happened before the sex?"

"Foreplay." Wally grins, but obviously lightening the mood isn't going to work. "Um, my neighbor had an angina attack, Batman and President Luthor both dropped by my apartment, and oh, well, I did sort of get roofied two nights ago."

"What? Why didn't you report to medical?" Dr. Emerson looks horrified. "Did you see a doctor? Any doctor?"

"No?" Wally says, but it comes out more like a question. He hadn't really thought about it at the time. All he'd wanted to do was get home. "Stuff like that doesn't usually affect me or stay in my system."

"But, obviously, it did this time."

"Well, I didn't have my powers."

Dr. Emerson's frown is becoming darker every second. "How?"

"I was at Luthor's residence in Metropolis and he has security measures that disrupt metahuman powers."

"President Luthor was allegedly poisoned two nights ago. Are you telling me you were given the same substance he was? And you didn't think it was important to call your doctor, Wally?"

Oops. Dr. Emerson is really unhappy. Like, Batman levels of unhappy. "I felt fine as soon as my powers came back."

"I don't suppose anyone thought to take a blood sample, or a sample of what you were dosed with?"

"Dick took a sample of the brandy."

Dr. Emerson raises an eyebrow. "And where's this sample now?"

"He gave it to Superman. Who gave it to Luthor's doctors."

The doctor shakes his head. "The likelihood of President Luthor's doctors giving me access to that sample or any information is small."

"Superman did say they thought it was a combination of drugs." Wally's wracking his brain to remember. He wasn't overly interested at the time given that he was ready to hump anything that moved. "I know Viagra was in there, and the date-rape drug."

"Rohypnol?"

"That's the one. Maybe E? And some other stuff. They hadn't done a tox screen yet." Wally pauses. "Do you think there was kryptonite mixed in with the drugs?"

"Could be. Interesting what passes for 'poison' these days. Symptoms?"

He's trying to think how Supes had phrased it—it had sounded so much better than "easy and horny," which is how Wally's thinking of it. "Decreased inhibitions and increased arousal."

Dr. Emerson's scribbling rapidly on his notepad. When he stops, he looks at Wally seriously. "Did anything happen while you or Luthor were under the influence of the drugs? Anything you tell me is completely confidential, Wally."

"It didn't get that far." Wally's blushing. He can't help it, although he knows Dr. Emerson's heard lots weirder stuff over the years. "There was a bit of mostly harmless groping. I could tell something was wrong, and then the cavalry showed up."

"That would be Superman and Nightwing, I assume? Anyone else?"

"Um, Robin and Arsenal were there briefly, but I didn't have any contact with Robin." Wally's not going to define "contact" with any of the others if he doesn't have to.

"And not one of you thought it would be a good idea to call me?" Dr. Emerson says. "I can see it's time for a refresher course on how to follow medical protocols in an emergency."

Wally winces. Those are so boring. He and Green Lantern spent most of the last one trying to keep each other from falling asleep.

"So, Doc, what's the kryptonite doing to me? Is it dangerous?"

"Well, I think it's slowing down your natural ability to heal, but other than that, I'm not sure. It has a slow decay rate, so it will take a while for it to pass out of your system, even with your metabolism. We'll need to keep an eye on it just in case. I'd also like to take some x-rays. Can you stick around for a little while? I'll run down and see if the lab can fit you in."

"Sure, no problem."

Dr. Emerson gathers up his things, tucking them into a battered brown satchel.

"You can leave the crutches here, but try to limit the superspeed. Work emergencies only. No coffee runs."

"But terrible coffee is a work emergency," Wally insists.

"No, Wally." Dr. Emerson knows him too well. "I shouldn't be too long. Your comm is on?"

"Yeah."

Dr. Emerson takes his leave, and Wally hops off the examining table. He can't go back to Dick's room yet. Bruce will probably be there by now, and they'll all have questions he can't answer. Instead, he turns toward the stairs and heads for the roof.

It's a clear day, blue and cloudless, if he looks straight up; otherwise, all Wally can see are endless buildings in shades of stone, steel, and glass. Gotham's not as foreboding in the daytime, but it's not exactly the most welcoming city either. In a lot of ways, Bruce is a pretty strong reflection of the city itself. Dark, complicated, secretive.

Wally doesn't know what any of this means, and the not knowing scares him, but they've got a JLA meeing in a few hours to go over the plans for tomorrow's mission—plans which have changed because Oliver's definitely out of commission—and Wally doesn't want to give Bruce one more thing to worry about. It can wait. The kryptonite in his system isn't going anywhere fast and at the moment it doesn't seem to be doing any real harm. Wally's trying hard not to think of it sitting inside him like a bomb, waiting to be detonated.

Wally takes a deep breath and lets it out. It's not exactly cleansing mountain air or the wide open prairie fields, but it'll have to do. He needs a few minutes to get his bearings.

His comm beeps, and Dr. Emerson lets him know x-ray can take him in ten minutes. Wally gets the directions, and forces himself to walk there at a regular, human speed. Today, he's going to work on taking things one step at a time.

***

Flash and Batman end up taking the emergency transporter up to the Watchtower from the hospital. It's still new technology, and it can only take one person at a time, but Wally thinks it's awesome. Just like on Star Trek.

"Beam me up, Batman," he says, when it's clear Batman's made it to the Watchtower with all his molecules in the right places.

By now everyone's heard what happened in Gotham the previous night, and when Wally beams in, Batman's already got a sympathetic crowd around him. He looks like he's ten seconds away from busting heads, and Wally wonders why everyone else can't see it. Flash dashes right into the circle in front of Batman, and jabs a thumb at his own chest.

"Hey, I was there too! In fact, I'm the one who saved Nightwing and Arsenal."

"And got bitten by a hyena." The voice is much closer to Bruce's than Batman's, and there's the dry tone of amusement underlying it. It's also considerably further away, which tells Wally his diversion has let Batman escape.

"Really? A hyena?" Hawkgirl asks, and Wally answers loudly enough he knows Bats will hear him. "Yup, hyenas seem to go for me. I'm like catnip for hyenas. Hyena-nip."

"Conference room, five minutes," Batman barks, sending people scurrying to grab their notes or a coffee or whatever they might need before then. Everyone except Diana, that is. She's got Batman cornered near the computer station, and there's a comforting hand on his shoulder. Wally wants to walk over and smack it right off, which is insane, so he decides to exit, stage-left, and grab a coffee or six before the meeting. Caffeine will settle him right down.

"Flash."

Wally hears it an instant before he's ready to run, and he has to shake himself like a wet dog to stop the vibration.

"Yeah, Bats?"

"No superspeed except in emergencies."

Right. Well, now, Wally doesn't know if he has time for coffee or not because he has no idea how long it takes someone to walk to the cafeteria. He's trying to decide when he hears Batman put in a call to the kitchen and ask for several pots of coffee, tea, juice, and water to be brought to the conference room as soon as possible. Flash doesn't even bother trying to hide his grin, as he heads to the meeting room. Walking. It's so slow. He's not sure how people do this all the time and don't go crazy.

***

"Is there anything I can do?" Diana asks, genuinely concerned. Of course, she'd offered the same thing the previous night before leaving Gotham, but she's found with Batman sometimes it takes several offers before he concedes to needing or wanting help. She will offer as many times as it is necessary for him to realize how much she cares for him.

"No, thanks, Diana. The work you've done reorganizing the teams for tomorrow has been a huge help."

"About that," she begins. She's been told she's too blunt at times, but under the circumstances she isn't sure of another way to proceed. "I have sensed a great deal of tension between you and Flash lately, and I witnessed it again last evening. He didn't follow procedures."

"He saved Nightwing and Arsenal. Given Nightwing's condition on arrival at the hospital, Flash made the right call."

"He was still insubordinate," Diana points out. "And he was using your real identity on an open channel."

"He was with my family at the time, and the channel was secure. Alfred's cel phone is about as unhackable as you can get. You have to remember, I've known Flash a long time. He and Nightwing and Arsenal practically grew up together, so he's allowed some latitude, especially under the circumstances."

Diana shakes her head. "I have rarely seen you make such allowances for people, and I'm not certain it's a positive thing. Flash is not in optimum condition to be involved in a mission tomorrow. At the least, he should be on one of the other teams."

Batman's mouth remains a firm line. "Dr. Emerson has cleared him, and I don't think Flash will agree to sitting this one out."

"That's part of the problem, Batman. If you decide he isn't to be involved in a mission, he isn't involved. It's simple. However, you seem to expect Flash to not only disagree with you, but to actively ignore such an order. Furthermore, you seem unwilling to invoke disciplinary measures for actions that contradict orders. I don't understand."

"With Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Arsenal sidelined, I don't think we can afford to bench someone with Flash's skill set. As it is, I thought your recommendation was to add additional support to each team, not take people away."

"Arsenal has indicated a desire to be included and he's been cleared for field duty."

Diana doesn't explain Arsenal had called her up, flirted outrageously with her, then proceeded to alternately bully and charm his way into the mission roster. She found the entire process somewhat baffling. She thinks putting him on a team with Hawkgirl might be just the thing to smack some of that cocky attitude out of him. With a mace. But Diana cannot deny he is well-trained and experienced.

"Add Arsenal to my team. I can use him. We should get to the conference room," Batman says, pulling his cape in around him. It's something Diana's seen him do many times, and she supposes it makes him feel less vulnerable. She only wishes she could reassure him there will come a time when he can relax, when the Dark Knight will be less necessary. She's not certain such a day will ever come, but she will fight proudly at his side until it does.

***

The conference room is surprisingly full, and those who can't be there in person are linked in by satellite. Black Canary has joined Arsenal in Green Arrow's room at Gotham General, and Wally takes a minute to wonder if someone set up a feed for Dick. He glances around the screens and realizes Oracle's there. Barbara's obviously not at her headquarters, and Wally can sort of see the edge of a bed in the background if he looks closely. A hospital bed. It somehow makes him feel better knowing they're all sitting in on this, even if they don't have much say in what the League ultimately chooses to do.

Diana and Superman appear to be running the meeting, although Wally knows Batman will speak up if there's an issue. He tends to say less, so when he says anything, people listen. They review the JLA policy on kryptonite as a potentially hazardous substance, and there's a certain amount of querying about the involvement of Wayne Enterprises and Queen Industries. If they can be trusted. Not everyone is aware that Oliver and Bruce are Green Arrow and Batman, but Wally thinks some of these people are going to feel dumb if they ever put two and two together.

Superman and Batman vouch for Wayne and Queen, which is hilarious under the circumstances, and Wally only manages not to laugh because Green Lantern is sitting beside him with the ring pointed in his direction. Wally has visions of a green cone of silence enshrouding him, or maybe a big green bubble. He wonders if Superman ever gets freaked out by the Lanterns, given they're almost the same color as kryptonite. Wally would totally freak out if it were him. Of course, now he's got kryptonite floating in his blood, and no idea how it got there. He wonders if Superman will be able to tell.

GL pokes him, and Wally tunes the conversation at the table back in, although it doesn't seem to have progressed a lot. He wishes Bats were running the meeting. One thing about Batman, no one's chatty at his meetings, and they get through a lot of stuff quickly. It's awesome.

When it's time to discuss the routes the kryptonite trucks are taking, Robin joins them by uplink as well. Wally's pretty sure Robin's in Dick's hospital room too, and he isn't sure what the hospital staff will think if they walk in and see Robin in full uniform, or Arsenal and Black Canary, but Wally supposes they've thought of that. There isn't a whole lot the Bat-family misses.

Tim summarizes the tracking data they've obtained so far, and says there's been no discrepancy between where the company's trucks have gone and where they were being sent. He's been sitting on top of the encrypted communications from the trucking company, and although there have been a few minor changes to the routes, nothing major.

"Basically," Robin is saying, "everything lines up. According to the emails I've intercepted, the trucks of kryptonite are intended for Cadmus Labs, an offshore platform pretending to be a satellite location for Cadmus, and Mt. Torrent."

"It all seems a little too neat for my tastes," Arsenal chimes in, and Wally has to say he agrees with him. Roy's instincts about these things are generally good. "Especially since Luthor seems to be pretty well-informed about what we're doing these days. Any chance they're feeding us what we want to hear, Robin?"

"There's always a chance," Robin says. "But I've been sifting through all the communications and if they've made other arrangements, they would've had to do it old school. Non-digital. We've had eyes on the assigned drivers and security people as well, and they've had no contact with Luthor or his people, or even company higher-ups. Everything appears to be business as usual."

"Thanks, Robin," Superman says. "Robin and Oracle will be assisting with computer and GPS monitoring and will be responsible for keeping teams up-to-date on developments in other locations. We have to assume the information is legitimate at this point, but be aware, this is Luthor we're dealing with. Making us look like fools to the general public is one of his top priorities. Your job during this is to act with the highest level of professionalism possible. That means intercepting the trucks must be done with care. These are civilians we're dealing with, and we want zero casualties."

"And if we're fired on?" Green Lantern, always the Marine, asks.

"Those who can provide defensive protection, like a shield, for example, will do so for the team. If weapons come into play, disarm or retreat rather than return fire. I can't stress this enough: we don't want any casualties on either side."

"We're making a statement, not starting a war," Batman says, and the room is utterly silent. "No one needs to be a hero to make that happen. Casualties are unacceptable."

Diana nods at him, then turns to the room at large. "There have been some changes to the team rosters. Please see me if you're unsure of your assignment, then meet with your team leads. Each team's leaders have worked out an intercept approach designed to minimize conflict, and as always there are contingency measures in place. If you have concerns about your role, please speak to your team leads immediately."

There are one or two minor questions from the floor, but everyone seems ready to get on with things. Wally knows the feeling. This mission has felt a little like waiting for Christmas—all the anticipation, the sense it will never arrive, and now it's the eve of the mission, it seems like everything's happening too fast.

As people file out for team meetings,Wally stays in the conference room since Supes and Bats are both here.

"Flash. Flash!"

The voice sounds filtered and it takes a second for Wally to realize it's Roy talking to him from one of the monitors.

"Hey, Arsenal. Are you sure you're up for this?'

"I'll be fine. I guess I'm joining Batman's team; not sure what I did to deserve that, but—"

"We'll be working together." Wally's grin cracks wide open. "I'll probably end up having to save your life again."

"You wish."

"Flash." This time the voice is Diana's and she's come up behind Wally's swiveled chair. He makes a face at Roy. At least he could've given Wally a heads-up or something. Wally turns around to face Diana.

"Wonder Woman."

"Under the circumstances, we feel it would be best if you join the team now led by Black Canary."

Wally can't help but narrow his eyes, especially at the "we."

"And what circumstances are those, exactly?"

"You're still recovering from an injury, and I understand you're not to use your speed—"

"—except for work emergencies. Which this is. Work, I mean, not an emergency. Hopefully there won't be any emergencies—

Wally hears Roy's cough on the monitor, and it sounds a lot like "focus!" Wally gets back on track.

"—but if anything happens, I'm perfectly capable of responding at full speed. Someone needs to be there to get Superman out if there's a kryptonite problem."

"Exactly," Diana says. "I believe you and I should switch assigned places."

"No way, Princess," Wally says, and he's trying hard to remain civil and professional here when it's so clear to him she just wants an excuse to be closer to Bruce. "Not going to happen."

"A flier would make more sense—"

"There are already fliers on the team. Hawk and Dove. Superman, of course, and Zatanna. She can do pretty much anything with her magic."

"An overstatement of Zatanna's abilities, to be sure," Diana replies. "Hawk and Dove are lacking experience in this kind of operation, and Superman is most likely to be the person who requires swift removal."

"Exactly." Wally ignores the first part of what Diana said and focuses on the rest. "We're dealing with a lab under a mountain. Long tunnels. Underground. Not the favorite place for people used to an open sky, but a runner? Perfect for a runner."

Diana looks angry, and Wally realizes they've drawn a bit of a crowd. It's just the people on the team, but still, that's a bunch: Bats, Supes, Roy, Hawk and Dove, Shining Knight and Vigilante. Zatanna's sort of there—she's magicked a projection of herself into the room while she's in Gotham.

"Enough, Diana," Batman says in a voice that can't be ignored. "If you think we need additional strength and air support on Team 3, you can join us at Mt. Torrent."

Wally starts to protest, but thinks better of it. He's seen that set to Bruce's jaw before, and he's pissed off, but Wally thinks this time it's not at him.

Diana nods. "I will be happy to join your team. Flash, Team 1 is meeting—"

"Flash stays."

"But the team needs—"

"Flash stays," Batman repeats, slowly and with a measured emphasis on each word. Wally can't help the smile. He really can't. Even if he knows part of why Bruce wants him close is to make sure he doesn't die, Wally's okay with that. He belongs on this team. It's where he can do the most good, and no Amazon princess is going to take that—or anything else—from him.

Batman continues: "Supergirl and Huntress have been added to Team 1 to help Black Canary and Elongated Man since Green Arrow's out of commission. With Booster and Beetle there, they'll have lots of air support if necessary. Also, Robin's going to be monitoring; the Teen Titans are on alert and ready to be deployed if we need their assistance. Impulse—"

"Kid Flash," Wally corrects out of habit. Bart must be excited. The kid's usually excited about—well, everything, but he loves getting a chance to work with other people. He's way more of a people person in some ways than Wally is.

"—can be at any of the locations in seconds if necessary."

"Okay," Superman says. "If we've got everyone sorted out, let's go over what we want to accomplish and how we're going to do it. Our job's a little trickier because we've got a Kryptonite shipment arriving, but we also need to know what's happening in that lab."

Wally makes sure Roy's monitor is turned to see who's talking, and it's kind of weird, but Wally feels a lot better with Roy there—both at the meeting and on the team. It's not that Wally isn't used to working with the rest of the Justice League members, it's just that he's worked with Roy more. He knows Batman's going to be preoccupied, Supes is likely to be unable to help at some point, and Wonder Woman doesn't seem to like him very much. She doesn't even know Wally's sleeping with Bruce; yeah, she's really going to hate him when she finds out they've been having amazingly hot sex for a couple of months now.

Oh well.

Wally touches his neck, aware of the fading bruises even if they can't be seen when he's in uniform. Bruce's can't be seen either, but they're definitely there. Wally glances at Bruce, but it's enough to know he seems to have caught the gist of what Wally's been thinking about. Wally can tell by the way Bruce bends his head slightly forward, tucks his chin down to hide the edge of something that no one else would call a smile. Wally focuses back in on the mission briefing, but his grin doesn't dim for a long time.

***

Superman's walking through the corridor toward the Watchtower's observation deck when he's aware someone's come up beside him.

"Hey, Flash," he says, when he realizes it's Wally. "How's the leg?"

"Better." Wally puts out a hand and Clark stops. "Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk to you about a couple of things."

Clark nods and says, "Sure. Where?"

Flash thinks for a second. "My room? It's not that far."

"Lead the way." Clark follows along, and it's strange to see Flash moving at a normal walking pace. Well, to be honest, Wally walks faster than the average person, but it's light years slower than his usual pace. The leg seems to be moving easily, though, and Clark isn't worried. Wally will be able to come through when needed; he always does.

Flash punches the keycode for his door, then clears a pile of clothes from the desk chair. "Sorry, it's kind of a mess. I haven't been here all that much lately."

"No worries, Wally." Clark sits down and watches as Wally pulls off his cowl and shakes out his hair. He's always struck by how very red it is. "What's up?"

Wally's face gets serious. "Okay, this first question's going to sound weird, but bear with me."

"Alright." Clark can't imagine what Wally would have to ask him that would be weird. Clark's pretty easy-going and likes to think he's laid back about most things. Not a lot surprises him anymore.

"When you're close to me, do you sense anything different? Anything strange?"

Looking moderately uncomfortable, Wally walks forward and pulls up the sleeves on his uniform, so his bare arms are showing. "I think you're going to have to touch me for this."

"Okay." Clark puts his hands on Wally's arms, and Clark can practically hear the seconds ticking by as he waits to see if anything happens. "It might help if I knew what I was looking for."

"Give it a minute. I'd rather see if you notice anything on your own. I know it's weird, Clark, and you don't know me as well as you know Bats or Diana, but I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important."

"I know that, Wally. Relax. I can hear your heart going a mile a minute."

"You can hear that?" Wally blushes. "That must be freaky."

"You get used to it. Mostly I tune it out, but if there's only one person with me, it's more natural to hear it. Every heartbeat's unique. Like a fingerprint almost, or the sound of someone's laugh or the way they move. It's distinctive, and yours in particular I can always recognize because it changes speed and rhythm so drastically."

Clark adjusts his grip more comfortably on Wally's arms. He wonders how this would look if Bruce suddenly walked in, then decides he'd rather not know. No point poking a stick at a hive of angry bees.

"What does Bats sound like?" Wally asks, then flushes. "I probably shouldn't be asking you that. It's kind of personal."

Clark smiles. "I don't think Batman would mind if I told you. His heartbeat is interesting because it's a deep steady beat, like a bass drum. Even in the middle of a fight, his heart rate doesn't change dramatically whereas most people's increase with activity. Bruce is in such phenomenal shape it takes a considerable effort to get his heart beating fast."

"Yes, it does," Wally says fondly, almost to himself, and Clark can feel his own cheeks turning pink. He doesn't want to think about Bruce and Wally having sex that's vigorous enough to—Clark tries to focus on Wally's arms.

"I really don't sense anything different, Wally. Why did you think I would?"

"Are you feeling alright? No weakness?"

Given how seriously Wally's treating this little experiment, Clark gives his full attention to considering how he feels. "Do you have something I can test my strength on? Something to crush or bend?"

Wally looks around. "Bed frame? It's bolted to the floor."

"That might do." Clark walks over to the bed and lifts it easily with one hand, the bolts pulling up as if they were stuck in putty rather than state of the art polymer flooring.

"Just dump the mattress and stuff. It doesn't matter. I'll requisition a new bed. This is for the good of the League. You have to make sure everything feels one hundred percent normal."

Clark doesn't doubt Wally's earnestness. He takes the frame and bends it, then several more times at high speed. He spot welds some of it with his heat vision, freezes another section, then reduces part of the frame to dust with his hands. When he's done, Wally's bed frame looks like it was attacked by a car crusher.

"Everything's working fine, Wally. What's this about? I don't detect any lead-lined areas in your suit." Clark gives Wally a once over with his x-ray vision, but everything looks normal. "Do you have kryptonite on you somewhere?"

Wally lets out a relieved sigh. "Not on me. In me. I needed to make sure it wasn't going to cause a problem."

"In you? What do you mean in you?" Clark settles back into the desk chair.

Wally looks around for somewhere to sit, then throws himself down on the mattress that's now on the floor. "Sometime in the last two months, radioactive isotopes of kryptonite have gotten into my blood. Doc Emerson doesn't know how exactly, but it might've been when Luthor and I both got dosed."

"Are you alright?" Clark asks because he knows what kryptonite exposure can do to people.

"Yeah. So far only my healing has slowed down."

"That's significant, Wally. Have you told Bruce?" Clark rolls his eyes. "No, of course, you haven't. That's why you're talking to me, isn't it? You're as bad as he is."

"It's not the only reason," Wally protests. "You're the one likely to be affected by kryptonite in my blood, and since you don't seem to be, there shouldn't be any problems."

"Your ability to heal?"

"It's slow, not gone. I still heal way faster than someone like Bats would. The doc wouldn't have cleared me if he thought it was going to be a problem."

"Batman's team lead on this. He should know. Not to mention the fact—"

"I know, Clark!" Wally sounds frustrated. "But do you have any idea how much crap we've dealt with this week? Between the press conference and Luthor, me getting drugged and the incident in Gotham last night, I don't want to give him one more worry over something he can't do anything about. He's exhausted, stressed, and he might not show it, but he's having a hard time."

Wally looks at him plaintively, and Clark can see how those bright green eyes and freckles could make somebody cave pretty quickly.

"I don't like keeping things from Batman," Clark says, although he knows Wally's probably right and this is one thing Bruce doesn't need to know today.

"I understand completely. I don't like doing it either, partly because he always seems to know, and I'm already on shaky ground."

Clark nods. Bruce has an uncanny ability to sense when he's been left out of the loop on something, and it never goes over well. Last time he'd kept something from Bruce, Clark had been assigned the job of inspecting the exterior seals on the Watchtower. All eighteen hundred of them.

"Okay, I won't say anything, but you need to tell him after this mission is over."

"I will. I promise." Wally gives a quick grin, but then he's back to looking grim. Clark doesn't like that look on Wally. It's too much like Batman.

"Is there something else?"

"Remember when Bruce told us about the other timelines he'd been accessing?"

"Of course. That night isn't exactly easy to forget."

Clark's fairly certain he'll never forget it. Not the feelings of loss or helplessness or rage. Not the knowledge that he could put an end to anyone who threatened his loved ones. Or the fact Bruce trusts him to the point of letting Clark practically choke him to death. No, he won't forget that night; remembering is what's going to keep them on the right side of things.

"We were all pretty upset, and I guess because of that we didn't push as hard as we probably should've," Wally says.

"What do you mean?"

Wally's biting his lip, and that's probably not a good sign. "Do you have any idea where the portal is he was using? And probably is still using since we didn't explicitly forbid him not to."

"Damn it! We were all so caught up in the possibilities—no, I have no idea where the portal is. Have you asked him?"

"Not yet, but I'm going to. What do you think the chances are that he hasn't kept checking timelines since then?"

"Slim to none," Clark concedes. "I can't believe we didn't ask about it."

"Bruce is a hell of a lot smarter than the rest of us, and he knew we'd be too concerned to ask. But we need to know if he's been using that portal and if it's been feeding him more reasons to be afraid. It has to be in the Bat-cave somewhere. That place is massive."

"Can it wait until after this mission?"

Wally shrugs. "I don't honestly know, Clark. Bruce hasn't said anything about it lately, but I know, I know he's still worried something's going to happen to me and the League's going to fall apart. It's written on his face sometimes when he looks at me, and I don't have any way to reassure him it's not going to happen."

"Be careful tomorrow. No unnecessary risks."

"I'm not reckless. I've got a lot to live for, especially now, so believe me, I'll be careful. But the job has risks." Wally looks at Clark, then tugs a long white envelope out of his uniform. "If something happens, will you give this to him for me? Please?"

"Of course." Clark takes the envelope with care. "If anything happens, I'll make sure he doesn't do something he'll regret, Wally. I promise."

"You can't let the Justice Lords happen here," Wally pleads. "I don't honestly think Bruce would ever cross that line—and he's certainly had good reason to before this—but right now he doesn't believe that. He's terrified of living up to his own moral code, and possibly even more terrified of losing someone else. But he's not alone—he'll never be alone as long as any of us are breathing—and he needs to be reminded of that if everything goes to hell."

"I promise I won' t let him kill anyone. I'll put myself between him and Luthor if it comes to that."

"I'm sure it won't. Apparently Bruce's paranoia is contagious." Wally shakes his head and manages a half-hearted smile. "But I–I love him, Clark, and I want him to be okay whether I'm part of his life or not."

"I get it, Wally." Clark extends his hand to seal the promise, and Wally clasps it in return. "I'll look after him."

Wally nods, satisfied. "Then there's only one more thing."

Clark tries not to look worried. So far, everything Wally's brought up has been cause for concern.

"What is it?"

"What exactly happened between you and Bruce in Japan? He keeps avoiding telling me how you know he hogs the covers."

Clark can't help the laugh that busts out of him. It's such a relief to let go a little, and Wally's normal grin is back in place.

"Sorry, Wally. Can't help you. You'll have to ask Bruce."

***

Batman stands outside of Wally's door at the Watchtower with a strange feeling of déjà vu. He'd stood here months ago on Valentine's Day, a red envelope tucked into his cape, and a feeling of guarded optimism making his heart pound. As far as Wally's concerned, it was the first time Bruce gave any real indication of wanting this, but it started long before that. He wishes he could explain why it took him time to do anything, but he'd needed to be certain of Wally's intentions, to see if it was more than a casual interest. Bruce doesn't really do casual—not anymore, and certainly not with people he works with. The potential for disaster is too great.

There's the sound of laughter, loud and uninhibited, and Bruce realizes it's Clark he can hear. He wonders what Wally's said to invoke that kind of response from Clark, who's usually more reserved, especially in Superman mode. Batman raises his hand to knock as the door slides open, Superman standing there with a grin on his face.

"Batman," Clark says, moving past Bruce into the hallway. "See you later, Flash."

"Thanks again, Supes," Flash says, now leaning in the doorway. His mask is off, which makes Batman want to shake him a little, but there's no one around, so he's going to let it go. He's choosing to assume Clark had seen him through the door before he'd opened it.

Bruce slips into the room, closing the door behind him, and tugs off his own cowl. He's used to it, of course, but there are times when he'd like to be rid of it. Wally's right there when he tugs it off, hands slipping into Bruce's sweat-damp hair and dragging him into a kiss that makes him hard almost instantly. He's got a mouth full of tongue and hands on a firm, sculptured ass, and he can't think of anywhere he'd rather be. Bruce purposefully backs Wally over toward where the bed should be, stopping when he realizes there's only a mattress on the floor, and a cube of mutilated bed frame. Bruce glances at it and raises an eyebrow.

"Did your bed attack you?"

Wally nods earnestly, green eyes wide and innocent. "Supes took care of it."

"With extreme prejudice, it looks like. What happened?"

"Oh, you know Clark. Showing off again."

"Yes, I do know Clark," Bruce agrees. "He doesn't show off. What happened to your bed?"

"I wanted a new one?" Wally tries.

"Generally, if there's a problem, it's the mattress not the frame. Requisitioning a new bed doesn't require the complete demolition of the old one."

"Oops," Wally shrugs. "I thought I might try for a double."

"There isn't much room in here for—"

"Bruce, can we stop talking about my bed and maybe go somewhere with an actual bed before we both have to visit sick friends and round up criminals and stuff?"

"We can do that." Bruce kisses Wally once more, slow and deep, enough of a promise in it to have Wally chasing his mouth when Bruce pulls away.

"God, you—I want you all the time," Wally says. "How do you do this to me? If we didn't have other responsibilities, I'd keep you in bed for the next week. Maybe two."

"I'd like that, but it would probably kill me."

"I'd revive you."

Bruce has no doubts about that, and he wonders what it would be like to get away from everything for a week or two. Take a vacation. He doesn't do it often because Gotham goes on being Gotham whether he's there or not, but he feels guilty when things happen and he isn't there to stop them. Maybe a vacation would be good after all the stress lately. Somewhere warm and private where he can see all that lovely pale skin laid bare, where he can take time to explore every beautiful inch of Wally's body. Maybe Oliver was right about enjoying life a little more.

"Thanks for sticking up for me back there," Wally says, quietly, bringing Bruce out of his thoughts with a kiss. "I know it would've been easier to bench me."

"I'd already discussed it with Diana—she was simply being obstinate. Besides, Emerson cleared you for duty. We need someone with speed at the mountain in case something happens, and I'd rather not trust that to Impul—Kid Flash."

"Bart's a good kid, Bruce. He always comes through. He's just a bit on the hyperactive side."

"Coming from you that suggests he's like the Roadrunner on speed."

Wally snorts. "Beep, beep! I can't believe you watched the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Let me guess, you were rooting for the coyote with his gadgets."

"I was busy designing better gadgets. Unfortunately, technology alone can't make up for a terrible plan."

"Speaking of plans, can we get out of here? Tomorrow's going to come fast, and I'd really like for us to have some time together before then."

Bruce pulls the cowl on, watching as Wally tucks his hair back under his own head covering. They leave Wally's room, but not before Bruce nudges the lump of tangled metal that used to be Wally's bed.

"Do you want to tell me why Clark was testing out his powers on your bed frame?"

Wally sighs. "It isn't anything you need to worry about. Can we leave it at that for now?"

"For now," Bruce agrees, although he doesn't like it. He knows sometimes he simply has to trust other people. They head toward the main transport area. "Are you coming with me or am I coming with you?"

"Hopefully both?" Wally says, grinning. "I want to go home, grab some stuff, check on Georgie and the Spinster, then I'll come to Gotham, okay?"

"Don't overdo it. You're supposed to be taking it easy with that leg. Shouldn't it be healed by now?"

"I'll do a nice easy jog. I promise." Wally ignores the question about the healing and hopes Bruce will forget it. He's not likely to get that lucky.

"You could always drive my car back to Gotham," Bruce suggests.

"That would take so much longer!" Wally hangs his head. "Plus, um—I don't actually have a driver's license."

"Are you joking?"

Wally blushes. "I never needed one! I run everywhere, or people fly me around."

"You're a mechanic. You work on cars all the time."

"I don't have to know how to drive to be able to fix them."

"Dick never offered to teach you? Or Roy?"

"I run. Driving doesn't come up very often. They probably just assume I know how." Wally looks embarrassed, and that won't do.

"I could teach you."

"What?"

"After this mission is done, when we have some time, I could teach you to drive if you want."

A smile creeps over Wally's face. "You'd do that?"

"I taught Dick when he was twelve and couldn't sit still for five minutes. I'm sure I can manage to teach you."

Wally throws his arms around Bruce's neck and kisses him. "That would be awesome. Can I drive the Batmobile?"

"No."

"Is that negotiable?" Wally's pout shouldn't be adorable, but it is.

"We'll see."

There's very little of Bruce's face exposed by the cowl, but Wally's kissing what's available. It's almost intoxicating enough to make Bruce forget they're in one of the residence corridors on the Watchtower, and there are cameras here. He makes a mental note to scrub the footage for this area as soon as he gets a chance.

"Flash," Bruce says, and Wally knows what that means because he pulls away with a final kiss and a sigh. "Let's take this home."

"Home. I like the sound of that."

Chapter Text

Wally grins the whole way up the five flights of stairs to his apartment. He's happy. Sure, this relationship with Bruce has complications—boy, does it have complications!—but Wally wouldn't change it. He's slipping his key into the lock when he hears Georgie's door open.

"I could hear you whistling all the way up the stairs," Georgie says, coming down the hall. Her cane is in her hand, but she's not using it to balance herself. In fact, Wally's pretty sure it hasn't even touched the floor. "You're in a good mood."

"Yes, I am." Wally gives her a spontaneous hug, lifting the petite woman off her feet and making her gasp at him. "I'm in a great mood, and the day isn't over. I've got a date in Gotham City."

Georgie harrumphs, but looks at Wally knowingly when he sets her down. "Your fellow managed to overcome his tongue-tied nature?"

"Close enough to count. He's come a long way." Wally beams at her as he pushes the apartment door open. He checks his watch. "And I've got to get ready to go. Sorry, Geor—"

"Wally." She stops him with a hand on his arm. Her face has gone serious, and Wally finds himself swallowing down a lump in his throat that wasn't there a second ago. "Be careful."

"With Bruce? Of course, I—"

"No, with yourself."

"Is this about Luthor being here the other day? 'Cause there's really nothing to worry about." Wally tries to reassure her as best he can. He's not sure what else he can say. He knows Luthor's no angel, but the guy's got such a bad reputation in certain circles Wally feels a little sorry for him.

"No, it's not about—well, maybe a little. I don't trust that man. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him." Georgie squeezes his arm until Wally's sure he'll have bruises from her tightly pressed fingers. "I want you to be careful. I know I don't know everything that's going on in your life, but I've got such a bad feeling, and I—" She shakes her head. "Maybe it's just nonsense, but promise me you'll be careful, Wally."

"I promise," Wally swears solemnly, letting himself be pulled down into a fierce hug. It makes him ache a little for the mother he barely remembers. For Uncle Barry, who was as generous with his affection as he was his advice, and Aunt Iris who loved him like the son she never had. He soaks up Georgie's warmth and caring. "I'll be careful. I promise."

Georgie nods as she pulls away, hand rising quickly to dash away the tell-tale signs of moisture in her eyes. "You best get in there and do what you need to do. Don't want to keep your fella waitin' too long."

"Yes, ma'am." Wally manages to dodge the quick swat Georgie gives him as he turns to head inside. She laughs, but Wally can't help noticing it's a little forced, a little uncertain.

Wally hates when people worry about him. He's always come back from missions. Always. There's no reason to assume he won't this time. Besides, with Bruce and Clark and Diana and Roy all with him, Wally's fairly certain he's not going to get within spitting distance of trouble the next day. He's got his own set of guardian angels, and he has no doubt they'll do their best to keep him safe, and he'll do the same for them. Nothing's going to happen.

(But something happened to that other Flash. Something killed him. He wasn't fast enough, maybe, and Wally knows it only takes one misstep, one distracted second to get dead. He wishes he knew what happened. He knows Bruce has the facts of at least twenty-seven other Dead-Wally timelines—oh, God, if Bruce has been continuing to check, there could be so many more dead Flashes out there—but somehow not knowing what happened in the timeline they visited makes it worse. Batman—the other Batman—refused to say anything about it. All he offered was a haunted look of longing whenever he glanced at Wally. It made him uncomfortable. Wally was glad when they sent the Justice Lords back to their own universe to answer for their actions. He'd kind of thought that would be the end of it.)

Wally moves through his apartment on automatic, feeding the Spinster and giving him a quick snuggle while he does necessary shit like gathering up the garbage and setting the dishwasher to run. He throws a cup of water on the wilting green thing that's supposed to be some sort of ficus, and takes a super-fast shower. He pulls on well-worn jeans that fit him like a glove, and an emerald green button-down. Maybe it's a bit too Green Arrow or Green Lantern, but he's been told it brings out his eyes, and he wants Bruce's full attention this evening. He doesn't want Bruce to be thinking about anything else, and certainly not about the mission tomorrow.

Finally, Wally tucks the Spinster back into his cage with fresh water, clean wood shavings, and the kind of food he loves best. The hamster makes a contented squeaking sound as he makes a little burrow. Only his twitching nose is visible.

"Be good, Spinster. Georgie's going to look in on you until I get back."

Wally rubs the animal's head with one thumb, and is surprised by how choked up he feels. It's ridiculous. He's never gotten worked up about leaving his pet before.

"Stop it, Wally," he says to himself. "You're letting Georgie's bad feeling run away with you. Everything's going to be fine."

But now Wally's thinking about how thinly stretched the League has been lately. How Luthor seems to be able to anticipate their moves before they even think of them. How tonnes of kryptonite is moving into laboratories for experimentation, and how the green crystal is right this moment moving through his bloodstream. He shudders.

"Lex is—Luthor's not a bad guy," Wally says to distract himself from that last thought. (How the hell did he ingest kryptonite, anyway?) The Spinster chirps indignantly. "He just doesn't see the world the same way we do. He's only doing what he thinks is right to keep the world safe. He's not planning anything ... nefarious!"

Wally leans back against the wall and sighs. He'll be glad when tomorrow's a memory. When the mission is over and done with and everyone's okay. Maybe then they'll be able to have a good laugh about how paranoid they've been lately.

"Nothing's going to happen," Wally mutters once more, grabbing his overnight bag. He slips out the door, locking it, and hurries down the stairs. When he's safely out of sight, he slips on his Flash ring, feeling the uniform settle over him like a protective shield. He runs, slowly at first, to give his leg a chance to warm up. It's sore, but that passes as he gains speed, becoming a blur in the darkness.

Gotham awaits.

***

Bruce opens the white box for the fifth time since the package arrived. He knows what's in it—knows every specification of the item. Its deep red silk. The raised stitch of embroidery over the heart. The twinned "w" monogram. Bruce traces it with his finger, wondering again if this will be appreciated or resented. Sometimes he doesn't know which gestures are appropriate, and which a regular person would consider too much. He remembers how upset Wally got about his raise when he thought Bruce might've done it because of their relationship.

The robe wasn't terribly expensive, even with the monogramming, but maybe it will seem too intimate. Too proprietary. He's made enough mistakes with Wally; he'd like to not make anymore for awhile. All he really wants to do is keep him close, keep him safe, and show him how deeply he cares. How desperately he wants.

The breath he lets out is shaky, and Bruce tries to calm the racing of his heart. He can face down criminals and super-villains with barely a stutter in the rhythm, yet when he thinks about Wally, he's incapable of being neutral.

"Master Bruce, I do believe you'll have worn out the stitching before you even present the robe to him."

Bruce flushes and swiftly closes up the box again, refitting the simple red ribbon around its middle. Alfred puts out a hand expectantly, and Bruce hesitates only a second before relinquishing the box to Alfred, who returns it to the bedside table where it was sitting before Bruce decided he needed to check it one more time.

Alfred looks at him kindly. "I'm sure he'll love it. Do try to stop worrying. Besides the broken bones, bruises, and regular cranial injuries, I'd rather not have to treat you for ulcers."

Bruce drops his head slightly, embarrassed to even be asking the question, but Alfred's the only one who can possibly understand.

"What if he doesn't like it?"

Bruce can hear Alfred's sigh, then feels a hand on his shoulder.

"Dear boy, he will love it, as he loves you. More so, he will appreciate what it means—that you want him to have a place in your life, that you are making room for him here."

"I don't want to mess this up," Bruce admits, silently grateful for Alfred's enduring sense.

"Love is not without risk, but I think you would both agree the reward is more than worthwhile."

The doorbell sounds. Both of them raise their heads, looking towards the beribboned box on the table.

Alfred gives a final reassuring squeeze to Bruce's shoulder. "I'll just go let him in, shall I?"

"I was planning to give Wally a key," Bruce blurts out suddenly, words tripping over one another as they haven't since he was a boy. He hates feeling unsure of himself. "I just haven't found the right time."

"Perhaps you should make the time." Alfred puts a hand to his back and stretches. There's a faint cracking sound. "There are so very many stairs in this house, and I'm not as young as I used to be."

Bruce laughs. "Go on, old man. You can run those stairs as quickly as I can." However, it occurs to Bruce that if Wally had a key, he would already be here in Bruce's arms. "But I see your point. Thank you, Alfred."

With that, Alfred nods and heads out the door with a little heel kick. Oh, he's not as young as he once was, but he's still spry. Bruce can hear him hurrying down the stairs to let Wally in, while Bruce takes his extra key and slips it into the box beneath the robe. He touches the soft material once more, the fine stitching along the entwined "w"s. Wally West, of course, but also Wayne and West. Separate, but together; each letter individually clear, but forming something more elaborate, more beautiful when joined together.

Bruce closes the box a final time, sliding the ribbon back into place, and takes a deep breath hoping to settle his nerves.

***

Wally rings the bell at Wayne Manor and waits for Alfred to let him in. It takes longer than usual, and Wally tries to be patient, though he's not very good at it. When the large wooden door swings inward, Alfred is shaking his head.

"What?" Wally asks.

"Master Wally, there's really no need for you to ring the bell. You're free to come and go here."

"But—"

Alfred waves him inside. "You're family and family doesn't wait to be admitted."

"That's really nice of you to say, Alfred, but—" Wally doesn't know how to explain. He shrugs. "Well, I'll just wait til Bruce tells me it's okay. I don't like to assume."

Alfred eyes him for a moment, then nods. "As you wish."

It's then that Wally notices Alfred has a black trench coat on over his uniform.

"Are you going out?"

Alfred pulls a long black umbrella with a curved wooden handle from the stand by the door even though it isn't raining. Wally glances up at the sky, which is adrift with puffy white clouds. No sign of rain. Perhaps Alfred knows something he doesn't.

"To the hospital to visit with Master Richard. I've prepared a cold supper for you and Master Bruce. It's in the fridge whenever you feel like eating. The two of you have the house to yourselves."

Wally tries not to blush. It's not as if Alfred doesn't know they're having sex, or planning to have sex, but it still feels weird when Alfred treats it so matter-of-factly. He supposes Alfred's had lots of practice over the years; it's not as if Wally's the first lover Bruce's had. Not by a long shot. Vicki Vale, Dr. Meridian, Selina Kyle, Talia al Ghul, Vesper Fairchild, even Lois Lane, Wally heard once. At least there aren't a lot of men on the list, although Wally's still not certain what exactly happened between Bruce and Clark in Japan.

Wally suddenly becomes aware Alfred has continued speaking to him while he was wool-gathering.

"—can go on up, if you like."

"Sure. Thanks, Alfred, I'll—."

Both he and Alfred look up at the sound of feet on the staircase, and Bruce is standing there, leaning against one railing. He's wearing charcoal dress slacks and the same deep blue silk top he wore the first time he came to Wally's place. When they broke the tiles in his shower.

The blush doesn't bother to creep up his cheeks, simply leaps into full apple redness. Bruce grins wolfishly, a quick nod saying yes, he remembers too.

"You were taking too long," Bruce says, his voice a bit rough, and the tone goes straight to Wally's cock. In these jeans, he's afraid that's painfully obvious.

"Sorry," he says, breathless, not looking away as Bruce continues to descend the stairs like a predator stalking its prey. Wally hears the door close quietly behind Alfred, then he's moving into Bruce's arms, noses bumping once before their mouths connect.

The heat is always the same, and Wally feels completely engulfed when Bruce wraps his arms around him, pulling Wally tight against his chest. Bruce's mouth is demanding, and Wally can't do anything except comply, opening up for Bruce's tongue to dart in and tease him, then making Wally chase him with his own. When they finally draw apart, the two of them are flushed, shirts rumpled. If anyone saw them they would've said the pair looked like lovesick teens caught making out.

Bruce leans his forehead against Wally's, catching his breath, and Wally takes advantage of the moment to run his hands over Bruce's shirt. He loves the cool silkiness of it, as if someone's managed to package the look and feel of a river at twilight or a starless summer sky.

"Last time you wore this, clothes ended up strewn across the floor of my apartment," Wally teases.

"It's okay. I have a butler."

"Bruce!" Wally whacks him on the chest, startling laughter out of him. It's such a good sound, a happy sound, and Wally wishes they lived in a world where Bruce laughed like that all the time. "We're not leaving clothes on the stairs for Alfred to pick up."

"Leave clothes on the stairs," Bruce murmurs, one hand finding the curve of Wally's cock where it's trapped in his jeans, while the other buries itself in his hair. Wally's having a hard time objecting to anything Bruce wants, to be honest.

"Alfred doesn't need to be reminded we can't keep our hands off each other." Wally tries to sound scandalized, but it comes out too husky to be anything but anticipation and desire. Bruce has popped open the button on Wally's pants, and he stops breathing when he feels Bruce's thumb dip below the waistline, brushing lightly over the top of Wally's swollen cock.

"Oh, God," Wally moans, head tilting back, hips jutting forward involuntarily. "I knew I should've jerked off half a dozen times in my shower before I came over."

"And rob me of this?" Bruce sounds put out, but when Wally opens his eyes to look at Bruce's face, all his energy is focused where Bruce has lowered the zipper and is gently massaging Wally's cock through his Flash boxers. "Of course, you're wearing your own insignia on your underwear."

Wally laughs, mostly to cover the groan he wants to make. "They—people give me—a lot of—God, Bruce—free merchandise hoping I'll—ah, fuck—endorse it."

"Really," is all Bruce says between slipping his hand inside Wally's boxers and putting the whole of its warmth on Wally's groin.

"Jeez! You could—you could probably have—as much Batman stuff—as you wanted—"

Bruce's voice is as silken and dark as his shirt when he says, "You know what I want?"

"Yeah, I've got a pretty good idea."

With that Wally finds himself being manoeuvred against the stairs, boxers and jeans both sliding past his hips as he's leaned back.

"Pants off," Bruce orders, and Wally tries not to kick him as he shucks his pants and shorts at lightning speed. "Spread for me."

Wally braces himself with his hands beside him on the velvety stairs and spreads his legs as Bruce kneels a couple of stairs below, face level with Wally's bobbing cock. Bruce puts his hands on Wally's solid thighs and pushes them further apart as Bruce dips his head.

"We'll just take the edge off."

He expects they're going to start slow, that Bruce might gently suck the tip of Wally's cock, use his tongue against its underside. What he gets is the damp heat of Bruce's mouth as he takes all of Wally's cock in one deep plunge.

"Holy fuck!" Wally says, and digs his nails into the carpet. "Did you just—did you just deep throat me?"

The feeling of Bruce swallowing as he sucks is answer enough, and Wally wants to reach out and put his hands on Bruce's face, but he needs them for balance. Bruce moves a little, sliding off only to suck Wally in again, the tip of his cock hitting what's got to be the back of Bruce's throat, and Wally's head drops backwards with a wordless moan, and hits the edge of a step. Fucking stairs. This always seems so much easier in porn. No one ever cares when there's a stair wedged against the middle of their back.

"This isn't going to take long," Wally says, aware how hard he's breathing, and there's a hum of what has to be agreement from Bruce, but all it does is send tickling vibrations up Wally's shaft. "God, Bruce, you feel—that feels amazing."

There's something almost primal in the urge to push deeper, to make Bruce take him all the way in, as far as he can go, but Wally's a gentleman and he knows from experience gagging during a blow job isn't fun for anyone involved. He shifts back a little, pleased by Bruce's annoyed grunt.

"Just don't—don't hurt yourself, okay?" Wally says, hips moving with the motions of Bruce's mouth.

The answering growl makes Wally shiver down to his toes. Bruce is going to be responsible for so many weird kinks—growling, capes, biting, getting hard at the sight of body armor. Bruce is now taking full advantage of Wally's participation; one of his hands has slid down to stroke Wally's balls, and jeez, he's practically vibrating under Bruce's touch. Wally can't hold onto a single coherent thought. His brain seems to have whizzed off somewhere like a balloon with the air let out, and all he can do is ride a current of sensations: hot, wet, slick, suck. Then there's the slightest pressure at his point of entry, Bruce's thumb lightly resting there, not even moving to go deeper, and that's it, Wally's done.

"Oh, fuck, I'm—"

Bruce doesn't let him go, doesn't stop what he's doing even as Wally bucks underneath him, coming in Bruce's mouth and throat, just swallows and swallows around him, and Wally wonders if it would be considered unmanly if he passed out right here. Fuck, he feels as if all the tension has drained out of him and left him a puddle of happy goo on the staircase. What was he worried about?

Bruce kisses his way up Wally's chest, stopping to nuzzle his sensitive nipples, then kisses him so fucking deeply Wally thinks he's drowning. Bruce tastes like Wally, and that's weird, and kind of hot, but there's that proprietary growl underneath it all and Wally, fuck him, likes that a lot. He never thought he'd be the kind of guy who wanted the possessive boyfriend, but damn, it feels good to be wanted that much.

"Wrap your legs around me," Bruce says, and Wally immediately obeys. Even as they're kissing, hands are cupping his bare ass. Wally realizes what Bruce is doing and wraps his arms around Bruce's neck just as Wally's picked up off the floor and carried the rest of the way. Check one for Bruce's kinks.

"You can stop trying to impress me with your manly strength, you know. You've already got me."

"Damn right I've got you."

There's a slight strain in Bruce's voice when he responds. Wally doesn't doubt it; he's not exactly a lightweight and Bruce is navigating the stairs blind with Wally clinging to him like a robust spider monkey.

"What are you going to do to me?" Wally asks, injecting his voice with as much innocence as he can muster without adding a "golly gee, Mr. Wayne!" He doesn't know where Bruce stands on spanking, and he doesn't think he wants to find out tonight.

They've reached the upstairs hall. Bruce is moving with greater ease now he isn't hoisting Wally up stairs, and Wally can already feel his cock rebounding in anticipation.

"Fastest man alive," Bruce murmurs, and Wally nips him playfully on the ear. "What am I going to do to you? I'm going to take you to bed and ..."

"Make love to me?" Wally whispers. He's always thought it was kind of a stupid term, sappy and girly and definitely not his style, but right now it's the only thing that fits.

They stop in front of Bruce's bedroom door and Wally pulls back to catch the blue eyes he knows so well. They're looking at him with such raw emotion Wally feels himself trembling in Bruce's arms.

"Yes. That's exactly what I'm going to do."

***

Luthor sips a cognac and slides a hand over the surface of the grey leather couch. He'd almost had Wally here. Maybe not entirely the way he would've liked—completely consensual was always best—but it hadn't been only the drugs West had responded to. Lex is certain of that.

"Let me guess," Mercy says. "You'll never have that sofa cleaned again."

"Don't be ridiculous. I've already had it cleaned." Luthor meets her eyes. "Is it ready?"

She nods, handing him an aubergine file folder. "You didn't make it easy what with the protocols against communication in place and the Justification League monitoring our every move."

"Justification League?" Lex raises an eyebrow at her. "I like that. They certainly are that. Trying to prove to the people that they have a reason for being. That they're needed. It's pathetic, really."

Mercy stays standing, waiting for him to get to the folder in his hand. He sets it down.

"I'd prefer to hear it from you."

"The machine has been successfully tested with varying levels of kryptonite ore as its power source. As you know, the scientists have theorized that exposing an open portal to the speedforce will result in one of two probable outcomes: the ability to travel to timelines which are further and therefore more differentiated from the point of origin, or—"

"Catastrophic failure."

"Or that. Likely resulting in the collapse of the portal, the facility, and possibly the whole damn mountain. They have no way of knowing."

"No, they never do," Luthor concedes. "It's always Paradise or Apokolips. Nothing in between."

"Having that many superheroes on site, though, should help with evacuating the staff should it come to that."

Lex nods, distracted. "And the kryptonite markers in West's blood?"

Mercy holds up a tablet-shaped device about the size of a DVD case. "They're tracking nicely. If you'd like to know, he's at Wayne's place, so we can probably assume—"

"That will be all, Ms. Graves." Lex doesn't need an assessment of his personal obsessions from the help. "Leave the tablet on the table and see yourself out."

"Yes, Mr. President." Mercy executes a perfect military turn and heads to the door. Lex hears her measured steps hesitate before the exit. "Would you prefer someone else to escort you to Mt. Torrent in the morning?"

"Be here at 8:00 sharp. You know how I detest waiting."

"Yes, sir."

When the door has closed and Lex hears the multiple locks resetting themselves automatically, he leans forward to take the device. It's more complex than something those idiots Gates and Jobs could come up with, of course, but Lex has never been about dumbing things down for the masses. He and a handful of scientists are the only ones who need to be able to read the information on this instrument.

The flickering green light does indeed indicate Wally is at the right latitude and longitude for Wayne Manor. Lex feels like throwing the device at the wall in disgust, but the technology is worth half a million dollars, and he's not overly fond of throwing money away without a good reason. At least if the lab and everything in it goes up in flames, or down in rocks, as the case may be, there's a chance—a small one—they can confirm the theory that the speedforce intersects with multiple universes. If that's the case, it can be controlled, focused, and ultimately used to give Lex access to all the knowledge and technology the multiverse has to offer. If the world's heroes thought the flood of kryptonite-powered weapons flooding their cities was a problem, they haven't seen anything yet. Lex is just getting started.

So let Bruce fuck Wally tonight. Let them call it love if they want. Because one way or another, tomorrow's going to change everything.

Chapter Text

Wally's been in Bruce's bedroom a dozen times by now, but it never fails to send a current of desire racing through him. He's sure Bruce can hear his heart pounding in his chest—it probably sounds like Animal from The Muppet Show is going wild on the drums, but Wally can't help it. He's nervous and excited and he's never been more in love with anyone in his entire life.

Very gently, Wally finds himself being laid in the middle of the big bed, and Bruce, still completely dressed is right there with him, kissing him with such incredible sweetness, Wally can't help but close his eyes and give in to the sensation.

"Relax," Bruce murmurs in his ear, one large hand unbuttoning Wally's shirt, fingers stroking down his chest as the fabric pulls away. "We've got time."

Wally lets out a bark of laughter that sounds just shy of hysterical to his ears because the one thing they don't ever seem to have enough of is time, and tonight is no exception. Bruce shushes him, keeps kissing him even as Wally opens Bruce's silk shirt to expose a broad chest marred with scars. He tugs at Bruce's pants until they end up on the floor beside the bed, along with everything else Bruce is wearing, and Wally breathes out a sigh when they're tangled together, naked.

Things seem to be moving in slow motion, as if Bruce is learning every inch of him, and Wally thinks this is how Bruce loves. Methodically, completely, aware of both faults and virtues, and with an unexpected tenderness to his every touch. In turn, Wally learns each scar, muscular angle and curve, the way Bruce can simply look at him and make his skin heat.

"You're perfect," Bruce whispers to him after his thorough exploration is done, and Wally rolls his eyes because Bruce can be utterly ridiculous, yet so few people know it. "Every exquisite inch of you."

"I'll remind you of that next time you're angry with me."

Bruce mouths at Wally's neck, alternating between nibbling kisses and licks to soothe the sharper bites. Wally can hear his own breathing grow ragged, feels his back arching off the mattress like a bow, and Bruce takes the opportunity to slip a finger inside. He doesn't know exactly what Bruce is doing to him, but whatever it is, he doesn't want it to stop, and Wally lets go, putting himself completely in Bruce's hands. He's never felt so good, so alive, and he isn't at all surprised to find himself riding another orgasm courtesy of Bruce's clever fingers. White lightning courses down Wally's spine as if he's made of pure energy.

"Let me—" Wally starts when he can form some sort of coherent thoughts, but Bruce kisses him quiet, capturing Wally's hands against his chest, and Wally feels the anticipation starting to build again. He doesn't know where Bruce learned to give someone pleasure like this, and he isn't sure he wants to know, a burst of jealousy washing over him like a wave. He can't think at all when Bruce presses him open with both thumbs and puts his mouth right there, tongue clever and slick, not hard enough or deep enough to bring him off, but Bruce keeps him on the edge until Wally is writhing and desperate enough to beg.

"Please," he says, not caring how wanton he sounds, "please, Bruce. God, I want you inside of me so bad. I need you. I need you so much, please."

But Bruce's tongue somehow manages to make Wally squirm even more, until he loses the ability to speak at all, and the air is nothing but fucking moans. He comes again with Bruce's fingers inside him, tongue making wet sounds as Bruce laps at his balls, and Wally wonders if it's possible to pass out from orgasm. He feels strangely disconnected from himself, as if this is a dream where he has no control over what's happening to him, yet there's no apprehension whatsoever. He's where he belongs, and Bruce is true to his word—he's making love to Wally like no one ever has before, and Wally knows he'll never belong to anyone else.

"I love you, Bruce," he blurts, and Bruce slides into him with a satisfied sound, gathers him close. They cling to one another then, limbs wrapped around each other tightly. They're hot and sweaty, and it's the most intimate thing Wally's ever felt, to feel Bruce moving inside him with such deliberate care, every thrust an exclamation point. They're breathing in sync now, foreheads pressed together, and Wally can feel every undulation of Bruce's hips rolling over him. He looks down to where their bodies are joined, and the image of Bruce's hard cock rocking into him has his own spent cock making a valiant effort at twitching to semi-hardness again. How the fuck did he manage to catch the attention of this man who's built like a god and makes love like he was born to it? Wally wraps his legs around Bruce, heels pressing dimples into his ass as the rhythm changes to long, deep thrusts Wally can feel in his spine, and Bruce is murmuring his name with every slide.

"Do you love me?" Wally asks because he's not ashamed to admit he wants to hear it, and if that's the only way he can, he'll ask.

Bruce's face breaks into a look of pure ecstasy as he says, "Yes, I do. I do, Wally. Fuck, I do."

Then Bruce is coming with a soul-deep moan, his final thrust bringing them as close as they can be, and Wally has one last after-thought of an orgasm wrung out of him, the two of them a sticky, come-covered, sweating mess. Wally can't remember when he's felt so exhausted or so good, and he's practically falling asleep before Bruce has even pulled out.

Actually, when Wally wakes up—it's barely been 20 minutes since he dropped off—he and Bruce are still wrapped up in one another, hot and limp. Bruce is licking idly at his neck.

"I don't even have words for how amazing that was," Wally says, quiet and absolutely sincere. "I've never—I—it's never been like that with anyone."

"For me either," Bruce says simply, and Wally nods.

He thinks they both understand. Wally's loved people before—of course he has—but never like this, never someone he could give himself to completely. Not just the part of him that's Wally, but the part of him that's also Flash, and Bruce has embraced all of him—the good and the bad. Wally always knew it would be good with Bruce; he just never dreamed it would be transcendent.

"Thank you," Wally murmurs, surprised when Bruce laughs. "What?"

"You don't have to thank me. Believe me, it was my pleasure."

Wally plants a kiss on Bruce's lips. "I should probably send a freakin' thank you card. Seriously, that was amazing."

Bruce looks pleased with the compliments, even if he seems a little embarrassed by Wally's praise. Slowly they shift apart, reluctant to move more than inches from one another, but eventually they separate enough to make it to the shower. Wally takes advantage of the situation, using a touch of speed and strength to manoeuvre Bruce against the wall.

"I don't have the recovery time you do," Bruce says as Wally drops to his knees.

"I don't care. I just want you in my mouth." Apparently that's enough of a turn-on that Bruce stops protesting and ends up fucking Wally's mouth instead. It's a bit rough and so fucking hot, Wally can't help but stare up at Bruce's face. There's no worry there, no Batman scowl, nothing except unrestrained pleasure, and Wally thinks it's a good look for Bruce. He swallows when Bruce comes, licks him clean, then presses his face against Bruce's taut abdomen and holds on, Bruce's fingers pushing leisurely through Wally's hair. He wants to grow old doing this with Bruce. He knows that thought should scare the crap out of him, but it doesn't. Everything feels right.

When they get out of the shower, Bruce suggests they get something to eat. He slips into his black silk robe as Wally looks around for his pants, then realizes they left them on the staircase.

"Try this," Bruce says, voice hesitant, and presses a white shirt box with a red ribbon into Wally's hands.

Wally slips the ribbon off, then carefully opens the box and unfolds the tissue paper. Nestled inside is a silk robe of vibrant crimson. The first thing Wally notices is the monogram, and he runs his fingers lightly over the entwined "W"s.

"Wayne and West," he says, smiling, and he can't miss the happy flush on Bruce's face. "It's beautiful, Bruce. Thank you."

"How do you know they're not just your initials?"

Wally traces the embroidered letters carefully with one finger. "Because one is obviously the same font as the Wayne Enterprises logo, and the other is more ..." Wally searches for the right word as he peers at the stitching. "More whimsical? I don't know. The serif edges almost look like tiny lightning bolts." Wally glances up, taking in Bruce's bemused expression. "What? I thought about being a graphic designer at one point. I have a thing for typography. They're tiny lightning bolts, aren't they?"

Bruce nods, obviously pleased Wally noticed, and Wally has to acknowledge, at least to himself, there's no way Bruce missed the half a shelf of books on design and typography in his living room. He's Batman—he notices everything—and Wally loves him for it.

Wally lifts the robe out of its tissue paper nest and slips it on. "You're a strangely romantic man, Mr. Wayne."

"I thought I didn't have a romantic bone in my body," Bruce says, echoing Wally's words from a few months ago on the Watchtower, but Bruce is smiling, so Wally knows it's okay.

"I may have been mistaken about that," Wally admits, leaning in for a kiss, the box tipping forward with him, and he hears the slide of something heavy amidst the paper. There's a silver glint at the bottom of the box, the size and shape of a key, and Wally's stomach experiences a sudden invasion of butterflies.

"There's a key in the bottom of the box, Bruce."

"Yes."

Wally slips the robe on, tying it at the waist, relishing the feel of silk against his skin, as he considers what exactly this means.

Bruce steps forward and extricates the key from the layers of paper. He reaches for Wally's hand and places the key in his palm with the deliberateness of a kiss. "It's a key to this house. I want you to have it."

"In case you get locked out and Alfred isn't home?"

Bruce rolls his eyes. "So you can come and go as you need to. I want you to feel at home here."

"I do," Wally says, watching Bruce's face carefully. "Is this—I mean, are you asking me to—to move in?"

Bruce shakes his head, and Wally isn't sure whether to be disappointed or relieved.

"I know you need to be in Central City. There are people counting on you there, including an over-protective neighbour and a caffeinated rodent. I know I'm not the easiest person to live with, either," Bruce admits, "so you'll need somewhere to go when I'm driving you crazy. I know you love your apartment there. I don't want you to have to give up anything to make this work."

"Bruce." Wally steps in and kisses him, trying to convey how much he appreciates everything Bruce has done. "You definitely deserve a thank you card," he says solemnly, dashing away from the swat aimed at his ass.

"Brat." Bruce reaches out and catches Wally around the waist, hauling him back into his arms. "Are you hungry?"

"Starving."

"We can't have that. How about checking out what Alfred left for us to eat?"

"Sounds like a plan. Then what?" Wally asks, aware he sounds breathless. Bruce is stroking his fingers absently over the monogram on Wally's new robe.

"Then whatever you want," Bruce promises.

"Shouldn't we go see Dick and Ollie?"

"There aren't any 'shoulds' tonight. For once, we're doing what we want to do, not what we should do, alright?"

Bruce sounds determined, and Wally has no plans to argue with him. He knows Dick will forgive them one evening of selfishness, particularly since the last one got interrupted so dramatically. Wally puts that thought out of his mind. Nothing's going to ruin this evening. No Bat Signal, no Amazon Princess, no Clown Prince of Crime, no monkeys.

Wally takes Bruce's hand, tugging him toward the door and down to the kitchen. He's never lived in a mansion, or had a butler leave cold sliced ham and potato salad for him before, and he never, ever thought about how the kitchen counters are exactly the right height for ... a number of wonderful things, but somehow it feels like home all the same.

***

Oliver hates Gotham City. He doesn't know why he bothers to come here. Nothing good ever happens in Gotham. Right now, he's goddamn Exhibit A for that argument. Oliver looks at the cast on his arm, the one on his foot, and wishes like hell he could scratch the persistent itch that's ravaging the skin under the casts.

When he gets back to Star City, Ollie's going to implement a new policy: no trips to Gotham. For any reason. Not even if Batman asks nicely, and there's no danger of that because he never asks nicely. He mostly gives orders and expects to be obeyed. Well, no more of that.

Oliver's staring at the walls of his room at Gotham General. Even Bruce's appeals on his behalf fell on deaf ears, and Dr. Emerson quashed any hope Oliver had of getting home quickly. It sounds like Dick and Oliver are both stuck here for at least another few days, barring a miracle or a breakout, and Oliver's fairly certain he's going to go nuts if he doesn't get out of here soon.

"Settle down, old man," Roy says from the doorway. "You're worse than Lian when she's had too much sugar."

"Please tell me you've come to break me the hell out of this place."

Roy shakes his head. "Sorry. No can do. The doc says you and Dick both need a few more days under medical supervision."

Oliver snorts. "Supervision? More like a fascist regime. Every time I try to take a little walk, stretch out my limbs, someone's right there to 'escort' me back to my room." So far they've been polite about it, at least, but Oliver's noticed the orderlies are getting bigger and bigger, as if Emerson's just waiting for him to make a break for it.

"Emerson knows what you're like. You'll find a way to hobble out the door faster than a three-legged rabbit. He's just doing his job, Ollie." Roy comes alongside the bed and pats Oliver's good leg. "Stay put, okay? We've got enough to worry about without you running away from the hospital. Dick's behaving."

In that, Oliver hears the unspoken plea to ease up, and he looks at Roy's tired face, the lines around his eyes, and yeah, maybe the kid's got enough to deal with right now without Oliver being a self-pitying ass.

"How's Dick doing, by the way?"

Roy grabs a chair and sits. "Better. A lot better, really, but he lost a lot of blood. He's weak, but he's healing. He's already managed to charm all the nurses on the floor." Roy grins. "You could maybe take a lesson or two from Dick on how not to antagonize the people with the needles."

Oliver unconsciously rubs at his arm. He's been jabbed a dozen times for blood tests and antibiotics; maybe Roy's got a point since Oliver's pretty damn sure antibiotics in pill form would be just as effective.

"Alfred's with him now," Roy continues. "And the kid."

Robin, the boy wonder. Oliver isn't sure he'll ever really understand how Bruce can keep working with a partner. Of course, Tim and Bruce don't fight the way Oliver and Roy did, or even the way Bruce and Dick fought. Bruce's Robins have always been more like sons to him, and Ollie knows he let Roy down on that front. He'd wanted to be what the boy needed, but he hadn't understood a lick about what that was until it was too late.

"Bruce?" Oliver asks.

"With Wally, I think. Alfred wasn't sure if they'd be by tonight or not. Tomorrow–well, it's either going to be a banner day for the League or a complete shit storm." Roy's back cracks as he stretches his arms over his head and yawns. "Bats asked me to be on his team."

Oliver raises an eyebrow. "Did he end up picking last?"

Roy gives him the finger, but it doesn't dim the triumphant grin on this face, and Oliver wonders whether he should be concerned about this development. Not because he doesn't think Roy can do whatever Batman needs doing—Bruce is a master tactician and he knows how to use the resources at hand—but because Roy's history with drugs always made him suspect in Bruce's eyes. If he put Roy on his team, there's a good reason for it.

"Do you know what the plan is?"

"Basic infiltration. While the others try the diplomatic solution of asking nicely for the trucks to stop, Bats and I will be dropping into Mt. Torrent through the ventilation system, hoping to get a peek at whatever super-machine Luthor's been cooking up down there."

"Be careful."

Roy rolls his eyes, and Oliver can't help it. He still sees shades of the arrogance and over-confidence that have always been Roy's downfall. Oliver grabs Roy's arm.

"I'm serious. You're not 100% yet, and most of the League has been run ragged these last few weeks. No matter how good the plan, something can go wrong, and I want you to be careful."

"Sounds like you're getting soft in your old age, Oliver. I'm practically weepy over here with all the love."

"Roy—"

Roy sighs and pats Oliver's shoulder. "I'll be careful. Besides, you know Bats won't let anything happen to me."

It's true, but it's not as reassuring as Roy seems to think. Maybe it's because Oliver knows they all rely far too much on Batman. There's going to come a time when he won't be able to save the day. When he'll have to make a choice between the mission and the people he cares about. God help them all when that day comes. Oliver prays it's a long way off, but he's nervous in a way he can't explain. Nothing about this damn mission feels right, and it's killing him to be sitting it out.

"Lian needs you," Oliver says gruffly, thinking it's pretty damn obvious Lian's not the only one who needs Roy Harper alive and well. To his credit, Roy doesn't call him on it. Nor does he resist when Oliver pulls Roy into a one-armed hug and hangs on a moment too long.

"I promise I'll be careful," Roy repeats, jaw square and serious.

"See that you are." Oliver doesn't want Roy to go, but he knows he has to, and this conversation's gotten much too soapy for Ollie's tastes. He's got a reputation as a hard-ass to maintain. "Now get out of here. Go call your daughter, then hit the hay. I have a feeling you've got a very long day ahead of you tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," Roy replies with considerably less attitude than usual. "Goodnight, old man," he says, suddenly leaning forward and planting a kiss on the top of Ollie's head, the same way he does with Lian. Before Oliver can react, Roy's gone, but it's clear from the action Roy's worried about the mission too.

Bugger, Oliver thinks.

***

Bruce and Wally demolish the cold supper Alfred left for them, then make their way back to Bruce's bedroom, hand-in-hand. Wally feels a kind of giddiness he hasn't felt in a long while. Impulsively, he pushes Bruce up against the banister and kisses him, hands buried in his dark hair, and Bruce lets him control the kiss every step of the way.

"Sorry," Wally says, half-apologetic, when he pulls back. "I just had to—you look so damn good."

"Don't apologize for showing me how you feel."

Just don't do it in public, Wally thinks, then instantly regrets it as he realizes Bruce is watching him. Wally's always been too much of an open book where his feelings are concerned, and he doesn't want this evening to turn serious.

They make it to the bedroom without further complications. Bruce lies back, pulling Wally on top of him, a hand tangling in his hair. Bruce kisses him, and there's a question in the kiss. Wally can feel the concern radiating from Bruce. It's amazing, having this with Bruce, and Wally doesn't want to be the guy that's always chasing the thing he can't have, but there's part of him that can't help thinking about everything they've been through, everything that's yet to come.

Bruce heaves out a sigh against Wally's neck. "What's bothering you?"

Wally considers dodging the question with more sex, but it's not worth it. Bruce will just get him all worked up and interrogate him anyway. Wally scoots down so he can lay his head on Bruce's chest, fingers drifting through the dark hairs.

"Sometimes this scares me," Wally says. "How intense everything is."

"It scares me too," Bruce admits. "There's never been anyone like you in my life. You're special, Wally, and it has nothing to do with any timeline but this one."

Wally winces recalling his words from before. "I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean it."

"Yes, you did," Bruce corrects. "I'm just not sure why you have such a hard time believing what you mean to all of us. To me."

The embarrassment washes over Wally, and he buries his face against Bruce's chest. "Is there some reason we can't enjoy the afterglow?"

"You started it."

Wally supposes this time is technically his fault, but it would help if Bruce wasn't so damn observant.

"Wally, say what's on your mind."

Easier said than done, Wally thinks, because everything seems to echo back to alternate universes and Justice Lords and some other Wally West lying dead in the ground. His thoughts are a swirling cloud of what ifs and maybes, and is there some other reason Bruce doesn't want people to know about them?

If Diana hadn't conveniently shown up to interrupt the other night—as annoyed as Wally was about Diana being there, he was relieved not to have to carry on his conversation with Bruce—would he have told Bruce the truth about his concerns? Or would he have simply run like every impulse is telling him to do now.

Bruce rubs a soothing hand over Wally's vibrating back. "Whatever it is, tell me. We don't have time for me to chase you halfway around the world tonight."

"I wasn't going to—"

Bruce raises an eyebrow, and Wally closes his eyes in defeat. Fuck, he hates how well Bruce knows him sometimes.

"It's not fair," Wally mutters.

"What isn't?"

"That we don't get to have normal relationship problems like everyone else."

"What sort of problems would you like to have?" Bruce asks, oddly sincere, and Wally feels the corner of his mouth tilt upwards in a half-smile.

None of this is normal. Wally's dated regular, non-superhero types in the past, although it's been a while, and he knows Bruce has too. It's never worked out, so Wally doesn't know why he's wishing for normal. Maybe uncomplicated is what he means, but this will never be that either.

"I don't know. What movie to go to or whose place we're staying at. Whether your kids like me, or if our friends approve."

"My kid definitely likes you, more than he likes me some days, and our friends seem to approve."

"Those that know about us." It's out before Wally can think through the wisdom of saying it, and there's a moment of frozen silence after the words have left his lips. He sighs and keeps going. "I know it's been a long time since I dated anyone regularly, but I remember actually going out occasionally. In public. Together. I know dating men hasn't been part of your public profile before, but I'm starting to feel like you're, well, embarrassed about me."

"It's not that, Wally. Try to understand my entire life has been public property. My baby pictures were on page one of the Gotham Gazette. The story of my parents' murder? Front page news for weeks, and for years on the anniversary of their deaths. That picture of Jim Gordon putting his coat around my shoulders when he was a rookie? It's as recognizable to people here as the picture of John F. Kennedy Jr. at his father's funeral. Everything I've ever done as Bruce Wayne has been public, and I hate it. I'm not ashamed of you or our relationship. I don't give a damn what people think. I just want to not have to share everything I do with the world."

"I understand the privacy thing, Bruce. I do. But I'm happy—is it so wrong to want to share that with the people we know?"

"There are several people who know," Bruce says, voice tight and defensive.

Wally can't help but raise an eyebrow at him. "Really? The only reason Dick and Alfred know is because they were here the night we got together. You never actually told them. Tim and Bart found out by accident."

"Clark," Bruce supplies.

"I'm pretty sure he didn't know until I blurted it out in the infirmary on the Watchtower, but um, you should know that Lois knows too."

"Naturally." It's kind of an unwritten understanding in the League among those who know Superman's real identity: if Clark knows something, Lois Lane does too. "Oliver knows."

"Did you tell him?"

Bruce grimaces. "Actually, Luthor did."

"And I didn't tell Roy, but Dick obviously clued him in. So that's a grand total of at most ten people, including my neighbor, who know about us, and you didn't tell any of them."

Bruce's frown deepens. "Be honest, Wally. This isn't about anyone but Diana."

Wally hates sounding like a petulant teenager, but "in for a penny, in for a pound" his Aunt Iris used to say. He clears his throat.

"Yeah, alright, it's about Diana. Is there some reason you couldn't have told her Highness the night she crashed our date?"

Wally can feel the tension in Bruce's body. If his arms weren't around Wally's back, he's fairly certain they would be crossed over Bruce's chest. Classic defensive posture.

"We've been over this. It isn't any of her business. Let Diana think what she wants."

Wally lifts his head, shaking it. "No, that doesn't work for me. Know why not? Because what she thinks is that you're interested and, because you haven't said otherwise, available. I object to anyone thinking you're available."

Bruce's face loses some of its stern angles. "You object, do you?"

"I strenuously object." Wally takes the opportunity to straddle Bruce's hips, grinding down against him, eliciting a heartfelt moan before he leans in and kisses him possessively. "Bruce, I've got a key to your house, my own pass code to the Cave, and our initials are co-habiting on my robe. Don't you think maybe it's time we told people?"

"I don't have a key to your apartment."

"I was under the impression you prefer breaking in, but I'll give you one if it makes a difference."

"It doesn't. If you wanted to keep me out, I'm sure you could," Bruce acknowledges, although Wally's certain they both know Bruce could get past any counter-measures Wally put in place. "Wally, if it bothers you this much, you're welcome to tell Diana yourself."

From the look on Bruce's face, Wally can tell he wasn't expecting laughter in response. "She won't believe me! She'll think I've lost my mind, that I'm having some kind of delusional episode. She'll have me shipped off to medical for a psych eval. Even J'onn told me he thought you and Diana were a perfect match."

"J'onn's not exactly an expert on human relationships." Bruce rolls them over onto their sides facing one another, his leg hooking Wally's to keep him close. "When were you talking to him about this?"

"A couple of months ago. When I was in the infirmary at the Watchtower, and you left with Diana."

"I seem to recall, I took you home with me that night," Bruce points out, fingers trailing down the side of Wally's face. "Doesn't that count for something?"

"Of course, it does."

"I thought you would be the last person to be insecure in a relationship."

Bruce's right. Wally's not typically insecure, but in a fit of honesty he blurts out: "I spent so long wanting you, Bruce, it's sometimes hard to believe this is real."

Bruce's mouth does its best to convince him that it is.

"Is it what you hoped for?" Bruce wants to know.

"It's been way more complicated than I thought, but I—I don't regret it. Not a second of it." Wally hesitates, not sure if he wants Bruce's brand of honesty right now. "You? Any—any regrets?"

"Only one."

Wally feels his muscles tense, his stomach caught in a nervous back flip. He tries to sound casual when he asks, "Oh? What's that?"

"That I didn't act sooner. Before the Lords." Bruce cups Wally's face and holds his gaze with those intense blue eyes. "I want to tell you something, but I'm not sure you'll believe me."

"Try me."

"Do you recall asking me if I remembered our first meeting, but it turned out we meant two different things?"

"We were on the Watchtower. I think I babbled a lot."

Bruce smiles at him fondly. "Since then, probably even before then, I've felt this pull towards you and I can't explain it. I looked at you that night and I was surprised because I found myself wanting to kiss you, but I—I couldn't."

"You could've. I wanted you to."

"And you kept asking me to movie night."

"Of course the one night you decide to actually come it has to be a disaster."

"But you kept asking even after that. You didn't stop trying, and I wasn't sure if you were just that nice to everyone, or if you wanted something more from me. I didn't honestly know until Valentine's."

Wally ducks his head, embarrassed. "I don't know what I was thinking. I was done being subtle, I guess, but I also didn't want to send you running in the other direction."

"I wasn't running."

"I know. You put your arms around me." It's a nice memory. Even though the night as a whole turned out to be a bust. Literally.

"I wanted to do a lot more than that, Wally. But I knew going down that path meant risking everything we already had. Our friendship, your friendship with Dick, my relationship with Dick, our working relationship in the League."

"But you still wanted to kiss me?" Wally coaxes.

"Yes, and it got harder and harder not to give in to that."

"Valentine's was after we met the Lords," Wally points out, unable to help himself.

"But the first time we talked and the movie night, those were before." Bruce looks hopeful. "Wally, I never want you to doubt how I feel about you. Even if I have trouble saying it or showing it in front of other people."

"Do you love me?" Wally whispers, not looking away, and every molecule in his body vibrates with relief when Bruce replies, "Yes. Like no one else," before he covers Wally's mouth with his own.

***

"They're not coming, are they?" Dick says to Alfred when the time has slipped past ten. Tim went home about half an hour ago already.

"No, I think not. They both seemed rather intent on making the most of their time together."

Dick rolls his eyes. "Shouldn't they be past the stage of making lovesick eyes at one another?"

Alfred tries to look stern, but Dick can tell he's amused. "I believe this is called 'the honeymoon phase,' and given Master Bruce's propensity for ill-fated relationships, I think we should be grateful for their continued happiness."

"You're right, Alfred." Dick leans back against the pillows on his hospital bed. "How do you think Tim's doing?"

Alfred raises a questioning eyebrow. "The way you word that, Master Dick, suggests you suspect Timothy of not being entirely forthcoming with his feelings."

"I just think Tim's too much like Bruce sometimes. He doesn't like us to worry, so he acts like things are fine even when they're so far from it he needs binoculars to even catch a glimpse of fine."

"I think Master Timothy is worried," Alfred states. "About you, about Master Bruce, about his father, his friends, his school work."

"I'm worried he's in over his head."

"Weren't you?"

"What?" Dick asks, confused.

"Weren't you in over your head when you were Robin?" Alfred explains patiently.

"Yeah, I guess, but that was—"

"Different? Not really, Richard. You only imagine it to be so because you're more concerned with Tim's well-being than you were your own."

Alfred shakes his head, patting Dick's hand fondly. Alfred's hand is soft and more wrinkled than it used to be, age spots darkening his knuckles. Dick reaches out and squeezes back.

"You make me sound reckless."

"You were at times. You were headstrong and determined and fiercely loyal. When you had decided on a plan, you were almost as difficult to dissuade as Master Bruce. Timothy is much more ... patient, in many ways."

"Are we going to be okay, Alfred?" Dick asks, knowing it's an unfair question, a question Alfred can't possibly know the answer to. Dick feels the reassuring pressure of Alfred's hand.

"Of course, dear boy. We shall endure."

It isn't as comforting as Tim's "stop worrying before you get warts—actual warts!" or Barbara's "I'm keeping an eye on them," but it's quintessentially Alfred and therefore exactly what Dick needs to hear.

"Thanks, Alfred," Dick murmurs, letting his shoulders unclench, the tension draining from his shoulders as he closes his eyes.

"Not at all." Dick thinks there's a brief touch to his head as Alfred dims the lights and turns to leave, but Dick is too far gone toward sleep to be entirely sure.

***

Wally wakes suddenly, not sure what has startled him out of sleep. Rain is slicking the windows as he turns toward Bruce, only to find cool sheets and an empty space beside him.

"Bruce?" he calls tentatively. The bathroom light isn't on, but that means nothing. Bruce is as at home in the dark as the bats that call the upper reaches of the Cave their home.

Wally slips out of bed and pulls on his new robe, fingers lightly tracing the embroidery. He loves that Bruce went to the trouble; he loves it more that Bruce seemed nervous about the gift and the key. As much as Wally loves a confident Bruce, he's touched by the rare moments when Bruce acts with caution, obviously afraid of a misstep that might cause friction between them.

The house is quiet as Wally moves along the hall and down the stairs. Moonlight shines through the upper windows, casting long shadows as he heads for the study and the entrance to the Cave.

There's no sign of Bruce, not even in the Cave, although Wally can hear something that sounds like the distant whirr of machinery. The bats seem agitated, shifting in the upper darkness.

"Hey, guys," Wally calls softly. "You seen the big Bat around?"

A fluttering of wings doesn't provide any insight into Bruce's whereabouts. Wally follows the unidentified mechanical sound back into the far reaches of the Cave—beyond the locker room and showers, beyond the gun and archery range, beyond the climbing wall. Wally's never been back here before.

Ahead of him is a door made of solid steel, round like a bank vault, sitting ajar. A dim blue glow illuminates the corridor.

The instant Wally puts his hand on the door, he feels a deep vibration crackling through him. He's felt something like this before, but not exactly. He tries to place it, the sensation, the prickling in his limbs like a thousand tiny electric shocks, and then it's as if his blood starts to sing in answer to an unknown call. Wally finds himself stumbling forward, pulled as if by an unseen force, and suddenly the room is full of lightning.

"Oh, shit," Wally thinks before he collapses on the floor, every muscle twitching as if he's been electrocuted.

*

"You shouldn't be here."

Bruce lets out a frustrated growl. He's well aware he should be back home in his bed with his arms wrapped around Wally instead of slipping through portals into parallel dimensions in the middle of the night. He's taking a huge chance coming here.

But it's become a kind of compulsion lately—to prove himself wrong. World after world, all of them parallel in so many ways, different in others. Seemingly endless universes where their best intentions became twisted unrecognizable acts.

"There's nothing I can tell you that you don't already seem to know," the other Batman says, and Bruce knows he's not lying. He gestures to Bruce's neck, hickies visible in the open V of his robe. "But I don't recall having a lover that exuberant for quite some time. Who is ... he?"

Bruce avoids the scrutinizing gaze, drawing the folds of his robe closer together. "No one you'd know. Just a one night—"

Batman is shaking his head. "Try that on someone who doesn't know you. Who isn't you. You wouldn't be sneaking into someone else's Cave in the middle of the night unless you implicitly trusted the man you left in your bed."

"He's gone already."

"You're still in your robe, which suggests you're going back to bed as soon as you're done here. Otherwise, you'd be in uniform, or at the very least," Batman looks him up and down, "you'd be wearing pants."

"He—it's not important," Bruce says, attempting to redirect the conversation. "I just needed to confirm the details, and you've done that. I have to get back."

Batman shakes his head. "Please tell me it isn't Clark. Tell me you're not that stupid."

"It's not Clark. Look, I told you what I needed to know, and I appreciate your forthrightness, but—"

"It's him, isn't it?"

The voice is soft with something Bruce doesn't know how to describe. Longing, maybe. It's not an emotion he equates with himself. He's surprised when Batman is suddenly standing in his space, hands gripping his shoulders.

"He's alive in your world, isn't he? He's still alive."

Bruce nods, shaken, because in spite of the cowl the other man is wearing, Bruce can see the pain on his face. His own face: older, bleaker, more lined, more lonely. The consequences here weren't as severe, the Lords were an evil-lite version of the ones they'd met first, but Wally's death had happened anyway, and the League's subsequent actions had driven away supporters, allies, even family.

The grip on Bruce's shoulders is almost painful now, and he can't help but stare into his own blue eyes. He's looking at a man condemned to a lifetime of house arrest and state monitoring. A sad, somehow diminished version of himself wearing a uniform that's been disgraced, left with nothing except memories and regrets. Alfred, Dick, Tim—they'd all left. More likely he'd driven them all away.

"Don't let him go on that mission. For God's sakes, you know what happens!"

"Here. In this timeline. It's not always the same." Bruce realizes he's trying to convince himself of that—literally—and it's a hopeless cause. He's tracked a hundred different universes by now, and Flash dies in roughly seventy-three percent of them. "It doesn't mean it'll be the same—"

"Are you willing to take that chance? With Wally's life?"

Batman shakes him hard enough Bruce sees flashes of light in his vision. Except when he glances at the portal, the lightning is coming from it instead. Something on the other side has activated it, and that shouldn't be happening. No one except him has the means to open the portal, and the asymmetric layered encryption algorithm he'd designed is virtually unhackable.

"I have to go."

Bruce keys in his eighteen digit passcode—a new one every time—made up of random numbers, letters, and characters. He's taken every precaution so he can't be followed. He knew it was a mistake coming to this particular portal a second time, yet he'd done it anyway, fully aware of the likelihood of this Batman, having discovered his files had been mysteriously accessed once, being prepared if another intrusion through the portal should occur. Bruce couldn't even explain to himself why he'd taken such a phenomenally stupid risk except that he'd needed more than the written records, the cold hard facts. He'd wanted an account of what had gone wrong from someone who had been there, and he'd gotten it. In detail. It had only made the uneasy feeling he'd been carrying grow into something akin to fear.

"Damn it," Bruce says, pushing the other man away with a hard shove. "I have to get back there. Something's happening."

"Just tell me one thing," Batman asks as Bruce turns to step through the portal.

Without looking up, Bruce nods. "Yes. He's everything we could have ever wanted."

Then he steps through the blackness into a world full of buzzing and flickering, blue and green lightning crashing around the portal as the shield descends over the eye. Bruce's eyes take a moment to adjust, but when they do, he sees Wally unconscious on the floor, flashes of light crackling between him and the portal.

Bruce drops to his side and feels for a pulse. It's so fast, it feels like Wally's skin is vibrating under Bruce's fingers, and he bends down to check that Wally's breathing. He is, but barely, and Bruce doesn't know what to do except pick him up and carry him away from the lightning storm that seems centered on the portal. The further he gets from the portal, the more quickly the energy around Wally dissipates until he's just a dead weight in Bruce's arms, breath coming in shallow, uneven gasps.

"Wally." Bruce lays him on a bed in the medical bay and pats his face. "Wally, come on, open your eyes."

When he does, the green Bruce sees isn't the cat's eye green he's come to associate with Wally. Instead, it's the color Bruce has seen in some of his worst nightmares, watching Clark made helpless by a glowing fragment of rock. It's the pulsing light of a long dead planet.

Wally's eyes are the exact color of Kryptonite.

*

Wally's sure he must be dreaming, or maybe Mirror Master's sucked him into one of those awful mirror realms again. He can hear Bruce talking, far away, and he'd almost swear Bruce is talking to himself except it's the first time he's ever heard Bruce answer back. Something's definitely not right.

Now Wally's pinned to the floor as effectively as if he were trapped in a low gravity field. He hates the feeling of being unable to move, his limbs as heavy as tree trunks. Beside him, the portal is blinking like a giant eye, veins of green and blue rippling across the surface. There was a solid wall there a second ago, but when the lightning had started, the shield retracted, leaving the watery-looking curtain Wally knows leads to a parallel universe.

Damn it, Bruce, he thinks. Why couldn't you leave well enough alone?

But Wally knows sometimes Bruce can't separate himself from the work, the mission. There are times when Bruce does absolutely the right thing for all the wrong reasons, and Wally wonders if what Bruce feels for him is anything like the gut-wrenching breathlessness Wally seems to suffer when he thinks about Bruce.

Or maybe Lex was right and Wally is Bruce's penance for another Batman's failure. The thought knocks the air out of his lungs.

"Wally, come on, open your eyes."

Bruce's voice is edging lower on the scale, closer to Batman, and Bruce's face swims into view looking like he's two seconds away from doing something drastic. Wally's vaguely aware Bruce may have been calling him for quite some time. He can't be sure.

"That's it. Now breathe, Wally! Breathe with me."

Wally wonders if this is how a panic attack feels—all the air in his lungs stopped, nothing moving at all, the weight of an ocean pushing down on him, and the whole world suddenly broken into its constituent parts, molecules, atoms, smudges of color like an impressionist painting. He thinks this must be what it feels like when someone discovers a door to a new world or the legal loophole that can set them free. It's as if pure electricity is coursing through his veins.

There's a soft surface underneath him and an oxygen mask is shoved roughly over his mouth and nose. Bruce's hand thumps his chest. It startles a breath out of him, and suddenly Wally's gasping, sucking at the precious air the mask is providing.

"Okay, you're okay, Wally. You're okay. Try to breathe normally."

"Bruce?" It comes out sounding more like "Broosh" to Wally's ear, but it doesn't seem to matter. Bruce is too busy slapping a blood pressure cuff on him to notice, and Wally draws the line when he sees Bruce reaching for a needle to draw blood.

"No." Wally shakes his head, which makes the room shake alarmingly too. He stops and closes his eyes, aware of Bruce's reassuring presence beside him. For a moment all they do is breathe in harmony.

"No blood," Wally says, tugging the oxygen mask away from his face so he can speak clearly. The air around them smells like ozone. "I'm okay. Just ... light-headed."

"What happened?" Bruce asks, settling the mask back in place. He takes Wally's blood pressure in spite of his protests.

"Your security system doesn't seem to like me."

"That wasn't the security system."

"Then the portal must have its own—"

"It doesn't," Bruce says. "I built it. I've never seen it react like that. There shouldn't have been any way for you to open the shielding."

"I didn't open anything," Wally protests. "I got close to the thing, got zapped by crazy blue-green lightning, and the portal turned all watery-looking just like on Stargate! It didn't matter, though, since I was on the floor by that time. Your portal sucks."

"I don't know why that happened," Bruce says, his face showing his frustration. "It shouldn't have. It seemed to be reacting to ... you."

Wally's breathing easier, and this time Bruce doesn't protest when he removes the oxygen mask. "What do you mean?"

Bruce is staring into his eyes as if he can see straight into Wally's soul. "Is there anything you want to tell me?"

Wally's brain feels as if it's been lightly fried, so he doesn't have a clue what Bruce is driving at. He shakes his head and the room tilts. He's got to remember to stop doing that.

"Really? Are you sure about that?"

Bruce grabs a mirror off the nearby counter and thrusts it into Wally's hands. The face that stares back at him has eyes that are glimmering emerald green, the exact color of Kryptonite. Well, fuck.

"I'm calling Dr. Emerson."

Wally sighs and puts down the mirror. "Don't bother. He knows."

"He knows? What exactly does he know? Because I sure as hell don't know why you look like you could put Clark on the floor just by staring at him."

"Bruce, calm down."

Wally watches as Bruce paces the small medical bay. It's kind of ridiculous what with both of them in silk robes and nothing else, but Wally doesn't think now is the time to point that out.

"Bruce, just listen to me. I'm fine. Doc Emerson noticed I wasn't healing as fast as normal after the hyena bite, so he ran some blood tests."

Immediately Bruce is on Wally's other side, lightly peeling back the bandage covering the bite on his leg. It's scabbed over and pink with healing.

"This should've completely healed already," Bruce states. Wally nods assent.

"Yeah, but somehow I've gotten a small amount of Kryptonite in my system." Wally reaches for Bruce and pulls him closer. "Look, the only reason I didn't tell you is because it's minor. I'm healing, just a little slower than usual, and Clark isn't in any danger. I—we—"

"You checked to see if it would affect him and his powers. That's what happened to your bed, isn't it?"

"I had to be sure. But since there was no effect, and Emerson didn't think there was any real danger, I thought it could wait until this mission was done. You've had enough to deal with this week. I didn't want to be one more thing you had to worry about."

"I worry about you anyway," Bruce says, cupping Wally's face in his hands. "The color's fading. Your eyes are almost back to normal."

"That's never happened before. The Kryptonite must've reacted to the portal somehow."

"Wally, did Dr. Emerson have any idea how you might've been exposed to Kryptonite?"

"Something I ate or drank sometime in the last couple of months. He couldn't narrow it down more at the time, but he was going to try to figure it out from the rate of decay of the particles. He said they'll eventually break down and disappear."

"It had to be Luthor," Bruce says, face suddenly livid. "Son of a bitch. Wasn't enough to drug you hoping you'd sleep with him, he had to mess with your body chemistry too."

"We don't know it was Luthor," Wally reminds him. He still doesn't believe Lex would do that to himself. Not because of him.

"Who else has the motivation?"

"I'm not sure Luthor's got the motivation, Bruce. What's the end game? At the moment, the green stuff doesn't seem to be doing much more than cruising around my blood stream."

"Believe me, with Luthor we'll probably find out when it's too late to do anything about it." Bruce's face turns serious, and Wally knows what's coming. "I'm taking you off the mission roster tomorrow."

"No."

"Wally."

"No, Bruce! Dr. Emerson knows about this, and he cleared me for duty."

"He doesn't know about tonight. Your eyes."

Wally blinks, hoping his eyes are completely back to normal. "This doesn't change anything. Obviously, the portal malfunctioned. I was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"The portal didn't—"

"Let's not forget the part where you snuck out of bed in the middle of the night to, what? Hear one more account of how I died so maybe you can stop it from happening?"

Bruce's face turns pale, and Wally knows he's hit the nail on the head. "Christ, Bruce! Enough already. You can't save everyone."

"I can't let you die."

Wally pulls him close and wraps his arms around Bruce. "You may not be able to prevent it from happening, but I swear to you, I will do everything I can to stay safe. You have to trust me. Can you do that? Bruce?"

"You know I trust you." Bruce's voice is almost a whisper. "But I can't lose you."

"Nothing's going to happen to me," Wally promises, hoping fate doesn't make a liar out of him. "Let's go back to bed, okay?"

"Tomorrow—"

"I'll stay away from portals and Kryptonite and anything sharp."

"I'm not joking."

"I know, I know." Wally slides off the bed and slips his hand into Bruce's. He tugs him towards the stairs. "I'll be careful and you'll be right there. You, Supes, Roy, and a bunch of the world's finest heroes. Nothing's going to happen."

Bruce follows Wally up the stairs of the Cave, out into the study, and up the stairs to Bruce's bedroom. He doesn't seem convinced, but Wally knows there aren't any guarantees in this business. They stand in the moonlight as Wally unties the belt of Bruce's robe, then shifts it off his shoulders. It falls to the floor with a faint shushing sound.

Wally undoes his own robe, slips it off and lays it at the foot of the bed. It doesn't seem right to let it fall to the floor, and when he turns back, Bruce is smiling.

"Oh, shut up," Wally says, taking hold of Bruce's face and kissing him. Soft at first, then harder, deeper, until it feels as if they can't get close enough, even though there isn't a molecule of space between them.

Bruce settles them in the bed, covers pulled up so they're in a cozy nest, Wally tucked in his arms. They kiss for a long time before Wally finds his hips snapping hard against Bruce's, the gentle friction no longer enough, and their orgasms are quick and sharp, one upon the other.

It's almost dawn when they finally fall asleep, safe in each other's arms, breathing in quiet unison.

Chapter Text

Lex practically leaps out of bed. It's going to be a wonderful day. He can feel it in his bones. He dresses in charcoal slacks, a long black fitted jacket and a sumptuous purple open-necked shirt. No tie. It feels like the kind of day when he wants to be free of constrictions.

Or maybe he simply likes to push his luck by presenting a tempting target to men with tempers. He's moderately disappointed the marks from Wally's teeth have faded to nothing. He would've liked to torment Bruce with that a little longer.

Lex laughs, downing the last of his protein drink. His phone beeps to indicate Ms. Graves has arrived and is waiting downstairs to accompany him to Mt. Torrent. Lex checks the tracking device that allows him to follow the trace of kryptonite in Wally's system, but the green dot hasn't moved from Wayne Manor. Maybe Bruce won't be quite as difficult as usual if he's spent the night fucking West.

Lex has never known anyone who needs to get laid more than Batman. There was a time when he would've been happy to offer—no one can dispute Bruce has always been attractive in the tall, dark and tragic kind of way—but the opportunity had never presented itself. Lex hadn't pursued him and Bruce had been too laser-point focused on his personal crusade to make time for anyone who couldn't offer him training of some kind.

The elevator whisks him down to the parking garage and his waiting car.

"You seem to be in a particularly good mood this morning, Mr. President," the driver says as he opens Lex's door for him. "Hope that means good things are afoot."

"Indeed, Bernard," Lex agrees, climbing into the back beside Mercy. "I have a feeling it's going to be an absolutely terrific day."

*

Wally wakes up with his wrists handcuffed to the headboard.

"Hey," Wally calls when he realizes Bruce is out of bed and preparing to leave. Wally rattles the cuffs. They're some kind of heavy metal, a matted-silver color, and they make a dull thud against the frame. "I don't think we have time for—"

"You're right, we don't." Bruce approaches, face determined, and Wally gets a sinking feeling.

"Bruce, don't do this. You can't keep me safe by handcuffing me to the bed." Wally pushes himself to a sitting position, arms twisted to one side.

"Maybe not," Bruce concedes, "but I have to do something. I have to try." He turns toward the door.

"No! Come on, you can't do this. This isn't right. I'm supposed to go with you."

"I can't take that chance, Wally. I thought I could do it, but talking to ... I realized that in a high number of cases, this is the mission you die on."

"Then tell me what to avoid. I'll do it." Wally's pleading when what he really wants to do is punch Bruce in the face, but he'll save that for when his hands are free. "I can be careful. Just don't leave me behind."

"I'm sorry," Bruce says again, and the worst part is he sounds genuinely sorry. Wally knows Bruce hates doing this, but has decided it's necessary. There'll be no reasoning with him now.

"Fuck!" Wally yells, tugging on the cuffs with all his strength. They don't budge. "Listen, you paranoid, over-protective control freak! Let me the fuck out of these cuffs right now. I've got a job to do, and I told you what would happen if you tried to stop me from doing it. Is that what you want? You want this to be over?"

Bruce's face is stone, his eyes like chips of ice, and when he speaks his voice is quiet. Dead calm. "I want you alive."

"Don't do this," Wally says, but he's seen that expression on Bruce's face before. He isn't going to be able to change his mind this time. Fine. Wally concentrates on reaching for the speedforce, pulling it back into himself, and vibrating. He expects the cuffs to fall away in a few seconds.

They don't.

"It's vibranium," Bruce explains from the doorway. "Extremely rare. It absorbs vibrations. You won't be able to slip them or break them."

"Fuck you," Wally says, finally letting the totally screwed nature of the situation affect him. "Let me out of these. This is not okay, this is never going to be okay, and if you do this—"

"I know."

Bruce's face says plainly he's aware of what he's doing and the probable consequences to their relationship. Wally hates him a little for being so goddamn stoic when he's throwing away the best thing in both their lives. Wally closes his eyes, shaking with anger and frustration.

Then there's a hand suddenly gripping his jaw, heat on his mouth for the briefest moment before Bruce steps back, once more out of reach.

"I'm sorry, but I can't take the chance," Bruce says. "Maybe someday you'll be able to forgive me."

"Bruce, please, it's not too late." It's Wally's last chance. "Uncuff me. I'll stay right beside you during the mission. Nothing will happen to me, I swear."

"I need you to be safe and alive, no matter what the cost."

"Bruce!"

"I love you."

It slips out so quietly, without any hesitation, that Wally almost misses it. He stares, disbelieving, at Bruce's mildly flushed face and dropped eyes, listening to the three words echoing inside his head. He knows they were calculated to catch him off-guard, to make him comply, to justify Bruce's actions, and yet, he can't help the tremendous leap of joy his heart makes at the sound of them. Bruce finally says the three words Wally's been waiting what feels like his whole life to hear, and Wally wants to pull the idiot down onto the bed and kiss him senseless, wants to see if he can get Bruce to say them again.

If only Bruce wasn't being such a complete jackass at the same time.

"Now? You think now is the appropriate time to tell me that? Not last night when you gave me a robe and a key, or maybe when we were making love? But now?!"

"It doesn't make it less true," Bruce says stubbornly. "Please stay here. And don't bother calling for Alfred. I put a mild sedative in his tea. It will wear off in a few hours."

Wally looks at Bruce, incredulous, hurt and anger welling up inside him.

"You have no idea what love is. It's not drugging the man who's been a father to you, or cuffing me to the headboard when you're not planning to stick around for sexy bondage games. That's not love. It's control, and it's going to destroy the best thing in your life! Do you hear me, Bruce?"

But by the time Wally finishes, he's yelling the words at an empty doorway. Bruce has turned his back and walked away, slipping silently into the hall and down towards the Cave. Wally yells till he's hoarse, certain Bruce is monitoring him from the Cave anyway, but it doesn't make him feel any better.

When the clock reads 8:00 am, Wally knows Bruce will be gone for certain. He calls for Alfred, just in case, but there's no answer, no sounds of stirring anywhere in the manor. He tries calling for Superman, but figures Bruce has probably told him to ignore anything from Wally. His voice-activated phone and JLA communicator seem to have been deactivated—big surprise—but Wally knows there's got to be some way he can get out of these cuffs and out to Mt. Torrent where he's supposed to be.

He just has to figure out something Batman wouldn't have thought of.

Sure, Wally thinks. Piece of cake.

*

"Bruce?" Clark says softly, pulling him aside. They're at the check-in point they've established near Mt. Torrent. "Is there some reason I'm hearing Wally yelling that he's handcuffed to your headboard, naked, and that he really needs someone to come and get him because you're an as—idiot?"

"Ignore him."

Superman takes Bruce by the arm and leads him about twenty feet away from the gathering super-heroes. "What did you do?"

Bruce doesn't say anything.

"Is he actually handcuffed to your bed?"

"I have to keep him safe," Bruce mutters, jaw clenched and barely moving. It's the only way he's holding himself together. "You know this mission is too danger—"

"Are you out of your mind? As soon as he thinks it through, he's going to vibrate out of—"

Bruce shakes his head. "He can't. They're made of vibranium."

"Then Alfred will let him—"

"Sedated."

Clark's face says everything he's thinking. "Please tell me you're joking."

"I'm not going to lose him."

Clark stops and stares at him, his expression shifting towards sad. "Yes, you are. If you keep pulling things like this, you're going to lose him anyway, if you haven't already. He sounds really pis—ticked off."

"So be it."

"I know you don't mean that," Clark says.

"As long as he survives, nothing else matters."

"Bruce, life is about more than just surviving. Let me go get him. It'll only take—"

"No, we need you here." Bruce doesn't have time to deal with this. He's made his decision. Why can't anyone accept it? "Besides, I wanted to pull him off the roster today anyway. Something happened last night."

"What? Is he okay?"

Bruce takes the time to level a glare at Clark. "The Kryptonite in his system seemed to react badly when he came into proximity with the portal in the Cave."

"Oh." Clark looks suitably chastised. "I suppose it would be too much to hope that he'd told you about the Kryptonite before you found out the hard way?"

"His eyes were green. Kryptonite green. You should've told me."

"He said he would tell you as soon as this mission is over. He's a grown man, Bruce, and he's trying hard to make this thing work, but you're not making it easy."

"When I want relationship advice, Clark, I'll let you know."

Bruce starts to walk away, trusting Clark will follow. They've got a job to do.

*

Tim and Barbara set up shop in Dick's hospital room, only because he whines and gives them puppy dog eyes, and Tim caves before Barbara even knows a decision's been made. Barbara would've simply told Dick to "suck it up, buttercup," but she's had a lot more years of dealing with Dick Grayson charm than Tim, so she decides to let it go without a word.

The good thing is Dick's at least mobile, if not his usual energetic self. He's pale and there's still an IV hooked to his arm, but he's out of bed and walking around, steering the squeaky-wheeled stand as he goes.

Tim's had a rough time lately, especially with Dick being sidelined, and Barbara knows Tim's a seventeen year old kid with expectations and problems most adults couldn't begin to fathom. If he wants to be near his almost-brother during this mission, Barbara can work with that. It's not as if it really matters where they work as long as they've got their computers and access to both Watchtower and Clock Tower monitoring equipment.

Oliver convinces (bribes, Barbara assumes) one of the orderlies to bring him to Dick's room first thing in the morning. Ollie's in a wheelchair, one leg elevated, one arm still in a sling, but he's in a good mood, and Barbara puts up with him trying to get her to do wheelies with him for the time it takes Tim to get their network set-up and secured, which isn't long.

Barbara notices Tim seems awfully formal around Oliver, and she wouldn't think anything of it—Tim's a pretty polite kid most of the time—except Dick had told her what Oliver did: protected Tim by locking him in a safe place while Ollie bore the brunt of the fight. She understands the impulse, but she also knows how it feels to be the person everyone wants to protect, and it sucks. Sure, it's awesome to be cared about, but it's also frustrating as hell to have people safe-guarding you when you're as well-trained as they are.

"Think he's ever going to lighten up on the 'Mr. Queen' bit? I'm feeling ancient enough as it is," Oliver asks when Tim leaves to grab another set of cables from his car.

Dick sighs. "I know why you did it, Oliver. I do. Sometimes we all want to tuck him under our arms and make sure he's safe. Tim's our baby bird, but he's not fragile. He's better trained than I was when I started, and he's smarter too. He's not really a kid anymore, Ollie, if he ever was. He's scarily similar to Bruce in a lot of ways, and he wants your respect."

"I respect the kid! I just didn't want him hurt on my watch." Oliver shrugs. "Guess that's the problem, huh? I shoulda let Hatter's thugs beat the boy senseless?"

"No, you should've let me do what I've been trained to do," Tim says from the doorway, a roll of cable clenched tightly in his hand. "You wouldn't have done that to Nightwing or Flash or Arsenal."

"Ah, hell, kid, I used to do that to Roy all the time. He spent most of his youth pissed off with me for one reason or another."

Dick nods in Tim's direction, confirming it. "It's hard to see somebody you care about get hurt, Timmy. You know that."

"It's worse when you're forced to sit on the sidelines and do nothing."

Barbara gestures for Tim to bring the cable to her, and she gives his arm a quick pat. "Well, today you're not on the sidelines, you're calling the shots, so let's get things set up and ready to go, okay?"

Tim nods and Dick shoots her a grateful look. It never ceases to amaze her how big a heart Dick has, and how easily he's made room in his life for this next generation of Robin. If she didn't know their story, she would never dream they weren't blood brothers. It's been good for both of them, and for Bruce as well. If anyone ever deserved to be surrounded by a happy, loving family, it's Bruce. If only he was better at appreciating it instead of waiting for it to be taken away from him. Sometimes Barbara wants to smack him for his short-sightedness.

"Show time," Tim says.

*

Wally thinks he should probably be colder and more embarrassed than he is considering he's naked and handcuffed to Bruce's bed, and in his struggling he's managed to kick most of the bedding onto the floor. He refuses to put a pillow over his junk because, seriously, he's not doing anything Robert Downey Jr. did in a movie. No way, no how.

The vibranium is everything Bruce said it was, and Wally hopes his rogues don't get wind of the stuff because it would put a serious cramp in his ability to get out of sticky situations. Wally can't help but think of the lost possibilities because honestly, he'd be quite happy to be cuffed to Bruce's bed under different circumstances, and he can't quite believe Bruce has done this. What's Bats going to say when people inevitably ask where Wally is?

Oh, that Flash. Fastest man in the world, but doesn't know how to set an alarm. Must've overslept. No one's going to buy that Wally can't get there in two minutes flat from anywhere in the world.

The house phone starts ringing, but no one's there to answer it. It's followed in rapid succession by Bruce's phone and his own. Wally can't reach any of them, and eventually they go silent. Wally hopes this means someone's alert to the fact he's not where he's supposed to be and doesn't believe whatever bullshit story Bruce devised to cover Wally's absence.

Or maybe Bruce is going to play the medical card, use his reaction from last night to keep him grounded and out of the game. That's a distinct possibility, except Bruce knows Wally wouldn't comply with an order to stand down. Not this time. Hence the handcuffs.

Wally catches a shadow of movement in the hall, and perks up hopefully. "Alfred? You there?"

When Batman steps into view, Wally knows something's not right. Bruce left. It's well-past the mission check-in time, and there's no way Bruce would've stuck around to babysit him. That's what the vibranium cuffs are for.

"Batman?"

The man approaches the end of the bed, silent, looking every inch the man Wally sees on an almost daily basis—but he's not. Now that Wally's paying attention there are subtle differences between this guy's uniform and Bruce's. Ears slightly elongated on the cowl. Utility belt of pure black. Bat insignia more angular, less curved.

Wally thinks maybe now would be a good time to cover himself, but picking the pillow up between his elbows is going to be stupidly awkward, and he doesn't want to give anything away until he knows exactly what he's dealing with. Or who.

"Who are you?" Wally asks, afraid he already knows the answer. Bruce was talking to somebody last night, somebody who sounded an awful lot like Bruce himself. Wally knows they should've been keeping a closer eye on that damn portal.

"You know who I am," the man says, voice low and gravelly, as if he isn't used to talking. "You can't imagine how good it is to see you."

Wally flushes, well aware of exactly how much of him is being seen, but there's not much he can do about it at the moment.

"Have we met before?" Wally asks, hoping against hope this isn't the Justice Lord version they've already met. Yes, that Bats helped them in the end, but he made Wally more than a little creeped out with the way he kept staring at him. Bruce had said it was because they'd lost their Flash, but Wally hadn't gotten the stalker vibe from any of the other Lords. Just Batman.

"No, this is our first time."

Batman comes around to the side of the bed, eyes travelling slowly over Wally's naked frame. Wally can feel a flush heating his skin, can pinpoint the exact moment his freckles start to pop out like white stars against a red sky. There's a gauntlet with outstretched leather fingers hovering in the air between them, and Wally can only think this definitely falls into the category of potentially bad touching. He's got a sneaking suspicion "no means no" isn't going to work on this particular Batman.

"Look," Wally tries, keeping his apprehension out of his voice. "I don't know you, and I'm feeling a little exposed here. Maybe you could take a few steps back, give me some breathing room, or better yet, undo the cuffs. At least pass me a blanket."

"You look beautiful," the man says. "More beautiful than I'd ever imagined."

"That's sweet in a kind of creepy way, but—"

Batman steps closer, hand descending to Wally's bare thigh, and he's all pins and needles from sitting too long. The gauntlet feels cool and heavy on his skin. Wally's pre-conditioned to find the touch of leather sexy, and he tries valiantly to keep his body from reacting.

"Don't," Wally warns. "I'm not your Flash. I'm not him."

"He died."

"Yeah, I figured. And I'm sorry about that—really, I am. But you can't just go around touching other people's Flashes. It's not ... polite."

The heavy gauntlet withdraws. "May I touch you?"

"No! I don't know you. I'm not your Flash."

"You could be."

Wally missed when Stalker Batman took off one of his gloves and dropped the lenses in the cowl, but suddenly there's a palm cupping his face, and Wally is looking into blue eyes that are all too familiar, yet completely unknown to him.

"Bruce, stop."

It was on the tip of Wally's tongue, but it's not him that says it. Batman whirls around, and Alfred's there on the other side of the bed.

"My dear boy, you don't want to do this."

"What do you know?" Batman snarls at Alfred in a way Wally's sure Bruce isn't capable of. He raises his hand to point accusingly. "You left me alone, old man. You left—aaahh!"

The probes from the taser embed themselves in Batman's bare hand, the snap of electricity in the air. Batman goes down on one knee, hand grasping the edge of the bed, but the second jolt leaves him on the floor, twitching in pain. Alfred drops the taser on the side of the bed, pulls a key from his pocket and reaches over to unlock Wally's cuffs.

"Quickly, Master Wally. Secure him in the cells in the Cave as quickly as you can. Reset the passcode—nothing with any meaning to you or Bruce—then come back here."

Wally grabs his ring and slips it on because there's no way he's running this guy downstairs naked. In ten seconds he's back in Bruce's room, just in time to see Alfred sit heavily on the edge of the bed.

"Alfred? Are you okay?"

"I swear I'm locking up his supply of sedatives until he learns not to use them on the family."

Wally can't help but laugh, and Alfred pats his hand. "I'm fine, Master Wally. I detected a slight metallic undertone in my English Breakfast, and only had a mouthful. Did that impostor hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine."

Alfred raises an eyebrow at him.

"Okay, I'm mad as hell, but nothing happened. One moderately creepy touch and then the
Cavalry arrived. Thank you, by the way."

"I'm grateful I awoke when I did."

"Me too." Wally sighs, and hangs his head in his hands. "Bruce really crossed a line this time. I don't want this relationship to be over, but he's doing everything he can to push me away. Permanently."

"You must remember, Master Bruce believes deep in his heart that everyone he loves will leave him." Alfred's voice is touched with sadness. "And clearly there are worlds where even I have failed him."

Wally remembers the accusing words of the alternate Bruce, and wonders what it would've taken for Alfred to walk away. He can't imagine it.

"What do I do, Alfred? You know how I feel about him, but—"

"That is something no one but you can decide. I've found it helps to remember love is meant to be eternal. It endures, it hopes, and above all, it forgives. That is not to say what he did is acceptable—it is most definitely not—but I would not leave him to a world of his own dark thoughts. I could not."

The phone rings then, Alfred checking the touch screen. "It's Master Dick. It would appear your absence has been noted."

"I've got to go, Alfred. Tell Dick I'm on my way to Mt. Torrent, okay? I'll deal with Bruce later."

"For heaven's sake, be careful." Alfred grips Wally's arm tightly. "I know the Master's concern for your safety has been atypical, but he's not one to worry needlessly. There is clearly a threat to you, and you would be wise to pay heed."

"I'll be careful, Alfred. I swear."

*

Tim has hooked up the last cord, and Barbara's projector hums to life in Dick's hospital room, giving her a heads-up display from her network of computers tucked safely in the Clock Tower. She logs into the remote system, grants Tim access, and within moments the movements of the Kryptonite trucks are being tracked on-screen as they start to roll.

"J'onn, are you with us?" Barbara asks, using the uplink to the Watchtower.

"Yes, Oracle. I'm transferring Watchtower telemetry to you now."

Another set of data rolls by, marking the location of the heroes assigned to the various teams. So far, so good. Check-in data is coming in just as it should. Now if only they can get through this mission without any major problems.

"Stop," Dick says, pointing at a data tag that's showing red instead of green. "Who's that?"

"It's Flash," Tim says. "He's not—geo-locator says he's at Wayne Manor. What the hell?"

Dick and Oliver turn to look at one another.

"You don't actually think Bruce would—" Dick starts.

Oliver shakes his head. "I don't know what he'd do. I've never seen him act like this over anyone before."

"Wally will not be happy about being left behind," Barbara adds, "if that is, in fact, what's happened. Dick, can you try contacting Flash or Batman directly?" She hands him his cel phone and a headset, which he slips on reluctantly. "I know you'd rather stay out of it, but we really need to know if Flash is available for deployment or if he's down for the count. We all know Bruce isn't above drugging someone if he thinks it's for their own good."

"No answer on the house phone," Dick explains, scrolling through the cel screens with rapid finger movements. "I'll try the Cave and the cels."

"Hurry," Tim says. "Bats and Arsenal are set to enter the ventilation system at Mt. Torrent in about 3 minutes time. After that, they'll be off comms for at least an hour, probably longer."

"There's no answer, not even Alfred." Dick catches Tim's eyes. "That's not a good sign."

"Call Bats," Barbara says, moving information blocks around her screen to give the best configuration for monitoring. "Do it now. Tim, you keep on top of where those trucks are going, and if there's any alteration from the route—"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm on it."

"What can I do?" Oliver asks.

"You can help me monitor the comm frequencies. I'll even give you Black Canary's team."

Barbara tosses him a headset, which he catches handily.

"Thank you kindly," Oliver says.

She glances over to where Dick is trying to pace while dragging his IV stand and punching buttons on his cel. He still isn't getting any answer, and that's just rude because Barbara knows Batman is on comms.

"I'm going to try Alfred again," Dick says, looking more stressed by the moment.

Barbara isolates Batman's comm on its own secure frequency, then says as forcefully as she can while whispering, "Bruce, your son needs to talk to you, so pick up the damn phone, or so help me—"

"Oracle?" Bruce's tone is steady, as if he'd decided to answer all by himself instead of being threatened. "I don't have time for—"

"Alfred?" Dick sounds worried. "What's wrong? Why weren't you answering?"

"Make time," Barbara says, then spitefully patches his comm into Dick and Alfred's cel conversation.

"We've had a small breach of security," Alfred is saying, "but Master Wally and myself have secured the miscreant."

"Sit rep, A," Batman interrupts, and Barbara sometimes wishes the comms were equipped so she could send minute electric shocks down the line when people, namely Bruce, are acting like assholes.

"One of your counterparts came through that damned portal to pay a visit to Flash."

"Is he alright?" Bruce demands, sounding genuinely upset. "Is he—damnit, Alfred, is he alright?"

"Yes. Luckily I was able to intervene, but you left Master Wally in a rather precarious position, not to mention you and I will be having words about compromising a man's morning tea."

"You drugged Alfred?!" Now Dick's gone from frustrated to outright anger, Tim's looking up from his monitor with furrowed brows, and the look on Oliver's face says he's definitely considering wheeling himself out of there. "Did you drug Wally too? Jesus, Bruce!"

Barbara hears Roy Harper in the background. Bruce had figured out the optimal time for an incursion through the vent system, and she knows they've got to go. The mission takes precedence.

"Batman and Arsenal going off comms," she hears, and isn't surprised when the next sound is a cry of abject frustration from Dick. Barbara pulls the plug on the comm connection, giving Alfred and Dick what little privacy she can. She watches as Dick slumps back on his hospital bed, listening for a long time, then he says, "I know, I know." He sounds calmer if not less irritated. Thank goodness for Alfred.

"Um, Barbara?"

"What, Robin?" Barbara's got 3 different teams she's trying to coordinate with text relays and comms besides trying to keep one ear on the Bat-family drama unfolding behind her. Even with Oliver monitoring one set of comms, she's got her hands full.

"I think we've got a problem," Tim says, throwing up a projection of the truck routes so Barbara can see it.

She blinks, checking the projected route against the original. "Where the hell are they going?"

*

Wally tears up the miles between Gotham and Mt. Torrent, anger fuelling his run. He wants to punch Bruce really hard when he sees him, hard enough to knock some sense into him. Except they've got a job to do, and the only way he's apparently going to be able to prove to Bruce that he's not a Dead Flash Walking is if he survives this mission.

He tries to tell himself Bruce will be better after this one, but he's not convinced. It's possible Bruce will never be able to accept the risks Wally takes, and there's no way Wally's going to be a stay-at-home boyfriend. Not in this universe.

To top it off, he's embarrassed about being found like that by Alfred and the creepy Batman from the other world. He'd felt vulnerable. Naked in every sense of the word. He knows Alfred doesn't care—he raised a household with boys—but it's the principle of the thing. Bruce had no right to put Wally in that kind of position. No right at all, and it can't happen again. Ever again. It isn't as if Wally needs protection. He's the Flash! He's a goddamn superhero! It's his legacy to protect other people.

And if Bruce can't accept that, they can't go on in this relationship. It isn't possible, no matter how much love exists between them.

Wally tries to ignore the ache he already feels in his heart.

"Why can't you trust me to look after myself?" Wally asks the empty air.

His comm crackles, and Wally prays it isn't Bats. He can't deal with him right now.

"Coyote to Roadrunner. How you doing?" Dick's voice is strained, but Wally will take it.

"Meep, meep!" he says, getting the expected chuckle. "Alfred bring you up to date?"

"Yeah."

Wally can hear an apology in Dick's subdued tone, and it makes Wally angry. He slows his pace so talking isn't a challenge.

"It's not your fault, you know, that he's—" Wally searches for the right word, and finally gives up. "That he's a ridiculous over-protective ass-hat most of the time."

"It's a little bit my fault," Dick replies, contrite.

"How do you figure?"

"He wasn't nearly as bad until I came along. He didn't have to worry about anyone else out there, then suddenly he had a loud-mouthed distraction to protect."

"And he loved every minute of sharing that life with you, Dick. You're half the reason he can interact with people at all."

"I'm still sorry, though. That he's not ... better at certain things. Feelings. I know how frustrating he can be."

"Hey, am I going to run smack into him when I show up at Mt. Torrent?"

"No," Dick assures him. "He and Arsenal have already deployed. You've probably got a couple of hours at least before you have to deal with him."

There are raised voices in the background, and Wally continues a steady jog while Dick tells him to hang on. When Dick gets back on the line, he sounds annoyed.

"Something's happening with the trucks. Not sure what exactly, but they're not going where they're supposed to. Except the one headed to Mt. Torrent—that one's still en route."

"Where are the others going?" Wally stops, checks his GPS in case they need him to head somewhere different.

"Not a clue," Dick says. "Barbara and Tim are working on it. I'd better go. You head to Mt. Torrent as planned. Stay on comms, and stay safe, okay?"

"You got it."

Wally knows he's got some time. He doesn't have to push himself to full speed, and he remembers he's supposed to be taking it easy. Doc Emerson had told him not to use his speed unless he needed to, and Wally can get to Mt. Torrent almost as fast without pushing his limits. The trucks aren't even there yet, so he can take his time and maybe give himself a chance to figure out what he's going to say to Bruce when he finally does see him.

*

The ventilation shaft is hot and narrow—too narrow for two men in the 6 foot plus range, especially when one is carrying a bow and a small arms arsenal, and the other is dragging a cape made of Kevlar.

"Bet you're wishing you'd taken the no cape option right about now, huh, Bats?" Roy asks, as they crawl through duct work just wide enough for their shoulders to pass if they move at a slight angle with one shoulder dropped.

Roy gets a grunt and a flap of cape in his face for his troubles, but he really didn't expect much else. Bruce isn't exactly a Chatty Cathy at the best of times, and he's clearly pissed off about something. Roy's willing to bet it has to do with why Wally wasn't at the meeting point, and why Bruce refuses to answer any questions about him. This is probably why the League has that "no dating" policy. Guideline. Whatever. As professional as Batman is, even he can't seem to keep from letting his personal life spill into his work. Roy would like to tell Bruce he sympathizes, but he's pretty sure it would fall on mainly deaf ears.

They've been moving inward for almost an hour, closer to the heart of the mountain complex. Roy figures they're probably almost directly over the main laboratory, at least according to Bruce's diagrams, and it's the first time Roy's seen something other than the back of Batman's cape since they started this little excursion. They've been hearing snatches of conversation through the vents as they've moved further in, and now the voices are the clearest they've heard.

"Is that German?" Roy whispers.

Bruce gives him a curt nod, listening, and of course he knows German. Is there anything Batman doesn't know? Sometimes Roy thinks Oliver could've been a hell of a lot cooler as a mentor if he'd spent some of his misspent youth learning languages and obscure martial arts rather than ... well, whatever Oliver did. Roy's pretty sure it involved women, a lot of liquor, and a whole lot of money. Well, at least Oliver knows how to have a good time, which is something Bruce has never seemed to figure out.

Roy's still kind of baffled as to what Bruce and Wally do for fun besides have sex. Fight crime? Talk? Roy doesn't have a clue and isn't about to ask. At least not Bruce—he could probably ask Wally without losing any teeth, but Roy remembers that old adage about never asking a question you're not prepared to hear the answer for. Maybe he'll just leave it alone.

They've come to a junction of sorts where the air shafts widen over a grate containing a giant fan, and there's room for them to stand up. Roy stretches his cramped muscles. Above him, he can see blue sky, probably a hundred feet away at the top of a cylindrical metal pipe.

Bruce is motioning him closer, and Roy steps carefully around the grate in the floor to stand beside Bruce, shoulders touching. Two fingers start tapping out something against his arm, and it takes Roy a second to parse that it's Morse code.

Jeez. It's been a while, which Roy bets is clear from the look on his face. Surprisingly, Batman doesn't seem annoyed. He simply taps the pattern a second time, slightly slower, until Roy nods. Got it.

They're basically in a giant chimney, which is not at all comforting. As near as Roy can figure from Batman's instructions to stay out of the centre if something goes wrong, the fan is there to propel noxious gases or possibly unwanted flame away from the lab and toward the sky. Being directly above the fan would be like being caught in a wind tunnel; chances are they wouldn't survive the trip upwards.

Bruce is translating what's being said below, or at least the relevant bits, and Roy's doing his best to keep up with the Morse code. The scientists are talking about the machine and its power outlays, although if they've said what the damn thing does Bats hasn't shared. Roy is just appreciative Bruce isn't trying to translate the technical stuff for him. All he really needs to know is where to point and shoot.

Suddenly, Bruce goes rigid beside him. Roy isn't sure how he knows given the man's a walking advertisement for body armor, but he can tell something's very wrong. It's in the stiffness of Bruce's shoulders, the hard square of his jaw. Roy waits for information to be tapped on his arm, but there's nothing. He patiently counts to sixty in his head, then squeezes Bruce's arm. Hard.

"What?" Roy whispers, taking the chance. He doesn't think anyone's paranoid enough to put listening devices in the air shafts—even Luthor—and he's barely two inches from Bruce's ear. Or at least where his ear should be underneath the damn cowl.

Bruce turns his head towards Roy, and even though the lenses on Bruce's mask are opaque, Roy can tell there's fear behind them.

"The device," Bruce whispers, his voice stricken. "It's a portal."

Chapter Text

When Wally arrives on site at Mt. Torrent, there are three large transport trucks, presumably filled with kryptonite, stopped at the gate to the facility. In front of them are Wonder Woman, Vigilante, Shining Knight, and Zatanna speaking with the drivers. He can't see Hawk and Dove, but they're probably around. Wally seems to remember they can't transform without real danger, so until the shit actually hits the fan, they're mostly on watch. Up above, Superman is making slow circles over the area, high enough he shouldn't be affected by the kryptonite, but Wally can imagine the presence of that much green stuff is bound to be making Clark nervous.

Roy and Bats aren't anywhere to be seen, but Wally knows they're making their way through the air shafts to see if they can determine what's really going on under Mt. Torrent. Thinking about Bruce is a bad idea, though. Wally's angry and every time he thinks about what Bruce did, he gets a little angrier. There's no way things are going to end well for them today. Not even if everything else goes according to plan, and Wally figures the chances of that happening are slim to none. They just don't have that kind of luck.

Wally slips in beside Zatanna and listens to Diana giving the standard spiel about kryptonite being a disputed substance, about the need for proper containment and the League's concerns for the safety of the facility at Mt. Torrent. The truck drivers are polite, but Wally can see in their faces they want to do their jobs and be gone. The longer the League stalls them at the gate, the less time they have to make their other runs, and in trucking, time is money. Wally feels for the guys. He wonders if he can do anything to help.

Almost as if on cue, a long black limousine pulls up beside the first truck and Lex Luthor steps out, followed by Mercy Graves. Lex looks like some kind of fashion plate in his black jacket and open-necked purple shirt alongside the jeans-and-t-shirt truck driver, but it doesn't stop Lex from extending a friendly hand to each of the drivers and thanking them for their service and their patience. Wally admires the way Lex manages to bring people around to his side so easily. Diana doesn't have the people skills Lex does.

Of course, when Lex bypasses Diana to extend a hand to Flash first, Wally thinks he's lucky Diana doesn't have fry-you-on-the-spot super-vision of any kind. As it is, Wally can feel the death glare aimed at his head. Diana didn't want him here at all, and now Luthor's treating him like he's someone important while outright ignoring the Amazon princess who's obviously in charge. Wally bets that's got to sting, and under other circumstances he might indulge in a little gloating, but right now all he wants to do is get off Diana's radar.

"Mr. President," Wally says, shaking Lex's hand because what else can he do? "Sorry to delay your drivers, but you know the League has concerns about the amount of kryptonite being used for experimentation here."

Lex holds Wally's hand in both of his for a lingering moment, gives him a grin that's entirely too personal, and Wally figures he's red as his face mask once again. "Good to see you again, Flash. And yes, I'm aware of the League's concerns although they're absolutely unnecessary. This kryptonite was originally mined from Mt. Torrent itself, was sent away for refining, and is being returned to the mountain facility for research into energy solutions. Kind of a full circle process, really."

As usual, where the President goes, the press follows, and Lex is already turning to make a statement as he welcomes the assembled reporters and photographers who've arrived in a caravan behind him. Wally's got to admire the guy—he's not sure anyone else could make Diana look quite that pissed off in such a short amount of time. It's gone from a discussion to a press conference, and Diana, princess or not, is not the ideal person for diplomacy. Wally really wishes Batman were here. Personal issues with Lex aside, Batman always remains calm and cool in these sorts of situations. Or at least he used to. Truthfully, Wally's not sure anymore what Bruce would do.

Zatanna touches his arm, and leans up to whisper in his ear. "Pretty chummy with the Prez, aren't you? When did that happen?"

"Long story," Wally whispers.

Zatanna smirks. "Di doesn't like it very much. Things aren't going according to plan."

"When do they ever?"

Lex is about halfway through his standard talking point that kryptonite research will lead to the next big discovery in energy management. He's passionate about it, enough that Wally wants to believe him, even though he knows Bruce and Oliver's research doesn't support what Lex is saying. The man's too damn charismatic, and every once in a while he glances over at Wally with a smile that says he'd like to sink his teeth into him. It makes Wally shiver. Worse, he doesn't know if it's in a good way or a bad way, and he's afraid his anger at Bruce is making him more susceptible to Lex's influence out of spite. He can't blame it on drugs in his system this time.

Diana's starting to get hot under the collar in spite of not having one, and Wally keeps his smirk to himself as she levels a crushing gaze in his direction. Right. Don't tick off the Amazon princess. You're on the same side.

"Mr. President," Diana interjects, when Lex has paused for questions. "This is a huge amount of kryptonite. Exposure to it has been proven to cause mutations—"

"Alleged, my dear. Alleged to cause mutations. No direct proof of causation has ever been found."

"—and surely such a large amount would be safer in a secure containment facility until the courts have settled the case."

"This is a secure containment facility, I can assure you. One of the finest, as well as being a top research facility," Lex counters, leaving Diana without a clear argument.

Wally tries to think. He's heard Bruce complain about Lex's business practices enough. Why is this lab such a problem?

"But isn't it true, Mr. President," Wally begins, uncomfortable as all eyes turn to him, "that the danger in this facility is because it does both research and containment? The other containment facilities are completely separate from their research counterparts, yes?"

Lex's look is somewhat surprised, and Wally wants to grin so much it hurts. Ha! Not just a pretty face. Diana immediately picks up Wally's train of thought and drives it home.

"Yes, Mr. President. How do you account for moving such large quantities of kryptonite around when both Queen Industries and Wayne Enterprises manage to maintain containment facilities apart from their research labs, and only transport the bare minimum of ore to the labs when absolutely necessary. What kind of experiments need three truck loads of refined kryptonite ore?"

The reporters smell blood and Lex nods an acknowledgment. Score one for the Justice League. Wally thinks Bruce would be proud if he could see them. He'll probably have DVR'd the live feed, knowing him. For a moment Wally almost forgets he's furious at the man.

"Yes, it's true that the Mt. Torrent facility is the only one of its kind, serving as both containment and research facility," Lex says, "but I can assure you every safety precaution has been taken. If Mr. Wayne and Mr. Queen wish to commission research on a small, cautious scale, that's their right, but Cadmus and LexCorp have always been about bold steps forward. We want to solve the energy crisis now, not fifty years from now, so while my counterparts seem content to move forward at a glacial rate, we believe action is the only way to deliver what the people need: a new source of clean energy."

It never fails to amaze Wally how politicians can turn anything into a campaign speech. Lex is certainly performing at his best, and the reporters are lapping it up. Lex is pink-cheeked and passionate, hand raised in a rallying fist. Even Lex's dissenters are eagerly taking notes, snapping pictures and recording sound bites. Wally can feel how easy it is to get caught in Lex's charisma, his personal energy sweeping people up in a frenzy of support.

Wally shakes his head. No point getting distracted. They still have a job to do, even if it's only possible to express their dissatisfaction with the current laws concerning the treatment of kryptonite. Luthor's the President, and kryptonite legislation isn't about to change while Luthor's in power. They all know this, just as they know how important it is to continue pushing citizens to question Luthor's position in all this. It's a clear conflict of interest, and yet he's managed to stay involved without seeming to be asking for special treatment.

"Wish I had that kind of magic," Zatanna says a little bitterly. "He's got them eating out of his hand. It's as if we're not even here."

Wally nods, sighing a little. Of course, stalling this particular shipment has very little to do with changing public opinion, and everything to do with allowing Batman to get a look at what's being built under the mountain. The other two shipments being sent to Lex's labs that aren't licensed for kryptonite research should be easier to seize.

Wistfully, Wally looks toward Mt. Torrent. He wonders if Batman has even spared a thought for him since he left him handcuffed to the bed. He'd be surprised. After all, Bruce is all about the mission, and Wally knows that better than anyone. He only wishes the mission wasn't the excuse Bruce was using to end everything between them.

*

"What do you mean it's a portal?" Roy whispers. In his experience, "portal" never means anything except bad news. Whether it's alternate versions of themselves or some transdimensional thugs trying to make a name, Roy can do without importing trouble from somewhere else. They've got quite enough right here on Earth.

Batman gives him a look and Roy gives it right back.

"I know what a goddamn portal is, I'm asking—I'm asking if it's bad." The look again, and Roy is starting to get pissed off. It's hard to convey just how much with whispers, but he's trying. "I mean, portals are never good, so how bad?"

"Very bad."

Batman shifts to his knees, pulling Roy down beside him. He points towards the air shaft. Roy can't see much except the lazily spinning fan blades, but if he concentrates, there's the edge of something huge, giving off a greenish glow. In Roy's book, that's never a good thing either.

"Kryptonite?"

Bruce's mouth is back to being a millimeter away from Roy's ear. "When we met the Lords, I reverse-engineered their portal from what I'd seen of their technology. I used zero-point energy as the power source. I didn't think Lex had gotten a clear enough look at the portal, but I was obviously wrong. Except—"

"He's using krytonite to power it."

Roy gets it. Kryptonite is inherently unstable, which is why it's never been considered as a viable energy alternative. He might not be a science geek, but he trusts the people who are, and he knows Bruce is ridiculous about his due diligence as owner of Wayne Enterprises. Using kryptonite to provide the juice for something interdimensional is practically suicidal, and yeah, it's exactly the kind of science Luthor would be invested in. Mad.

"You have to get out of here, warn the others. Under no circumstances can anyone using the speedforce, particularly Flash, enter this mountain."

Roy hates to feel like he's asking the obvious, but he can't quite make the connection, and it doesn't seem like Bats is just being over-protective. Roy kind of knows what that sounds like after all the years of palling with Robin. "Why? Why them in particular?"

They're on their feet again, and Batman lets out a slow breath. His voice is soft. "It's long been speculated that the speedforce—and we really don't understand how it works exactly—is tied to the passing of time. Theoretically, Flash can run fast enough to travel in time or reset time. Combine that with a highly unstable, but incredibly powerful energy source, and an interdimensional portal."

"But Flash has been through portals before."

"Not at superspeed and not when they're running on kryptonite. Last night, the kryptonite in his system interacted with the portal in the Bat Cave. Flash was incapacitated, and he was moving at normal speed."

Roy stares, his jaw set hard. "There is so much shit you guys never tell any of us!"

"Now's not the time," Bruce growls. There's an increase in the activity below, and Roy can hear several cooling fans cut in. They're starting to fire up the machine. "You have to go warn the others."

"And what are you going to do?"

"Stop them from tearing the universe apart."

*

"What do you mean the trucks aren't going where we thought they were going?" Dick asks, staring at blinking lights travelling across Tim's screen. It's like a game of Pac-Man, but so much less fun. Dick presses his finger on one of the red dots, and Tim promptly slaps his hand.

"Don't mess up my screen," Tim says as data starts to scroll in one corner. The truck's GPS is spitting out info, and Tim's making quick calculations. Even Dick can see the truck isn't going to end up anywhere near Cadmus. In fact, it looks like it's heading for—

"Gotham," they say at the same time, and with the same tone of understanding.

"And the other one's most likely headed for Star City," Barbara adds. She turns to look at all of them. "You know what this means, don't you?"

"Our info was shit and Luthor screwed us," Oliver says, pulling off the headset and tossing it on the bed. "It means, Dick and I better go meet the press and the Justice League, and we'd better have some answers to their questions of why we're receiving these shipments of kryptonite. Answers that don't make us look like stupid jackasses in bed with Luthor."

Dick's already extracting the I.V. from his arm with a grimace. "God, Bruce is so much better at that sort of thing than I am. I'd better call Lucius and give him a heads-up."

"I could go with you," Tim offers without thinking, and it makes Dick smile. He shakes his head.

"No, Tim, you need to stay here with Babs and keep things running smoothly. Oliver and I'll be fine."

"Make sure someone applies some makeup, both of you, before you meet the press. The mugging/accident excuses are only going to hold up if nobody looks too closely, and Lois might not be in the most obliging mood given what happened at the last press conference. Be grateful the woman can't be in two places at once."

"Got it," Oliver says, starting to wheel for the door, as Dick closes his cel. "Dick, can I—?"

"Helicopter's already on the way. Once it drops me off at the Wayne building, the pilot will take you straight to Star City. Lucius will call ahead and tell your people what to expect."

"You're not as different from your old man as you think," Oliver says fondly, forgetting for a moment that Bruce isn't really Dick's father.

"Yeah, so I've been told," Dick says, not minding the slip. He only had 8 years with his own dad, and more than twice that with Bruce. There really isn't any other way to think of him after this much time, and Dick realizes how lucky he's been. Bruce didn't have to take him in, didn't have to open his home to an orphaned circus brat. He could've still trained him as Robin without treating him like a son, without worrying if he made good grades or got to visit Haly's circus every time it was in town. Batman might've needed a Robin, but more importantly, Bruce needed someone too, and Dick's happy it was him. Even on days like this one.

He and Oliver make their way to the rooftop helipad, an orderly pushing Oliver's wheelchair. Dick's walking under his own steam, but he's moving slow, and he can feel the heaviness of a body that's been confined to bed for a couple of days. He was never very good at sitting still.

The helicopter lands, tossing up scraps of leaves and paper, and forcing Dick to put an arm up to shield his face. He can only imagine what his hair's going to look like by the time he gets to Wayne Enterprises. Thank God there'll be someone professional there with a suit for him and a stylist and probably a prepared press release. There are definitely advantages to being the son of Bruce Wayne.

"We're secure," Dick says into his headset as he gets himself and Oliver belted in. "Let's go."

They lift into the grey sky over Gotham, rising above the gothic towers and the familiar rooftops. The helicopter banks, giving them a great view of Wayne Enterprises in the distance, and Dick feels a swell of pride. Maybe this isn't a legacy he could've ever imagined for himself when he was a kid flying high above the ring, and he doubts he ever would've traded his circus tights for a three piece suit, but Bruce has given him the best of all possible worlds—a secure financial future and a business to run if he wants it, and the training and knowledge to do good in the world, the kind that most people aren't capable of. Above all, Bruce has given him a moral centre—a hard one to live up to sometimes—but it's been Dick's anchor when he's felt like he was drowning.

Oliver reaches across and pats Dick on the knee. "It'll be okay, kid," he says over the whap-whap of the rotor blades.

"I know," Dick says, and gives Oliver a thumbs-up. He can do this. He just hopes wherever Batman is that things are under control. They can't afford anything else to go wrong, and Dick has a bad feeling they're only beginning to see the cracks in what was already a shaky plan.

*

Roy has his back braced solid against Batman's back. They're maybe halfway up the ventilation shaft and Roy's never had so much respect for Batman; the man's not even breathing hard, even though Roy can feel sweat dripping off his own chin. If there was anyone around to see them, it would be embarrassing, but at least to himself Roy's not too proud to admit when he's been completely outclassed by someone more than a decade older than him. Maybe he can kind of see what Wally sees in the man.

"Hey, Batman," Roy says, moving his feet carefully up the sides, every step in perfect rhythm. Left foot, right foot, maintain pressure between them for leverage. "What's the deal? Protein shakes? Steroids? Clean living? I've got to know 'cause Green Arrow sure as hell couldn't do this."

"Keep moving," Bruce says, teeth gritted, and Roy thinks maybe Batman's feeling the burn as much as Roy is. He's just better at hiding it.

"Look, I know you think you should've stayed down there, but this way we can coordinate the evacuation, and no one gets trapped in the super-secret underground lab that's probably about to blow up."

Batman doesn't say anything, just keeps his pace so regular Roy is sure you could set an actual clock by it. They're making good progress, and the top of the shaft is definitely a lot closer than it was when they started. Roy's actually surprised it didn't take much arguing to get Bruce to agree that both of them needed to climb out of the shaft. He'd been prepared to bring out the big guns, Wally and Dick both counting on him to make sure Bruce was safe at the end of this, but in the middle of their whispered confrontation, Bruce had suddenly given in. Come to think of it, Roy doesn't actually know why, and suddenly it feels important.

"Hey, Bats? What would you say pushed my argument over the top, tipped the scales in my favour? I'd like to know for next time."

They're within a few feet of the top, and when Batman gives the word, they each grab onto the edge. Roy hauls himself up and over with a little effort, thankful the ground at the top of the ventilation shaft is fairly level and rock-free. He's on his knees, ready to give Bruce a hand up when he realizes Bruce isn't reaching up to grab his offered hand.

"Evacuate the mountain," Batman says. "And keep Flash away. I'm counting on you."

"You son of a—"

Roy's a second too late as he grabs for Batman's arm. Bruce has already let go of the edge, and is dropping gracefully to the bottom of the shaft, his cape billowing around him, slowing his descent. He lands on one knee, head bowed, and when he stands, he doesn't spare a second for Roy, just whirls and ducks into one of the side vents.

"Well, why the fuck didn't you just do that in the first place? We spent an hour crawling through ventilation shafts, you bastard!"

Roy stands up angrily, hearing his voice echo in the empty chimney. He looks at where he is in relation to the bottom of the mountain, and realizes he's got a precarious trek down.

"Do I look like a fucking mountain goat, Bats? This is the last time I'm doing a mission with you."

Roy starts down what's probably some sort of animal path, kicking himself for getting duped so easily. He should've known. Over the years, he's heard enough stories from Dick of Robin getting left behind when he'd thought the plan was all worked out. Batman will always put the mission first and the safety of everyone else—it's kind of like a law of the universe, like gravity or something, and right now, Roy's got a mission too, although he doesn't know how he's going to get down a mountain, convince Diana he's got orders from Batman, and keep Flash from rescuing people.

"My mission sucks," Roy mutters, causing a small landslide as he disturbs a patch of shale on the path. He flicks away a fly, jostling his ear bud, and then he stops, hanging his head like an old dog. He taps the button that turns his comm back on. He feels like a fucking amateur. So far this morning, he's gotten played by Batman, and then didn't have the sense to remember he's got a communicator. What's next?

"Oracle, do you read me?" Roy says.

"Is Batman with you?"

"What do you think?"

There's an unladylike snort from the other end of the line. "He ditched you first chance he got, didn't he?"

"No, he let me think he'd come around to my point of view, then dropped a hundred feet down a ventilation shaft leaving me at the top."

"It's happened to all of us," Barbara admits, her voice calm and understanding. "Go ahead, Arsenal."

"We need to evacuate the entire mountain. Now. There's an unstable kryptonite-powered interdimensional portal down there, and they've just fired it up."

"Understood. Hold on."

Roy just stands there for a second in the glaring sun and wipes the sweat from his face. He takes a few deep breaths to center himself because he's not entirely sure he knows what he's talking about, but he's glad Barbara seems to, and there's still the question of getting off this mountain as quickly as possible.

The line cuts in again, and Barbara sounds agitated. "President Luthor and a pack of journalists have already entered the main level of the facility for a tour. I'm trying to get Diana's team to get them out of there. Superman's on his way to your location."

Roy looks up to see a blue streak heading his way. "I see him. One more thing, O. You can't let Flash anywhere near that lab."

"Why not?"

"Bats said something about the kryptonite in his system interacting with the portal and the speedforce."

"What? What does that even mean?"

Roy's gratified to know even Oracle apparently doesn't know everything that's going on. It makes him feel slightly better about being out of the loop.

"I don't know. I'm just repeating what Batman said. Look, is Flash here somewhere?"

"Yes."

"Then tell him to stay the hell out of the mountain." Superman touches down beside him, and Roy gives a nod.

"It's too late," Barbara says. Roy can hear her tapping away at her keyboard. "He entered the mountain at the invitation of the President to see how safe the facility is. Diana's still negotiating with Luthor's people over the trucks, but they've been rolled into the facility. Luthor's not going to take kindly to an evacuation order in the middle of his press tour."

"I don't give a shit what Luthor thinks. Bats was really, really clear that superspeed and that portal should not be anywhere near each other."

"What did he think was going to—"

"Something in the neighbourhood of an earth-shattering kaboom."

Superman's face has shifted from his usual reserved demeanor to something more serious. He puts an arm around Roy's waist. "We need to go. The proximity—"

"Look, O, my ride's here. I'm going in there and getting them out if it's the last thing I do. Tell Diana—"

"Already on it. Good luck, Speedy."

The comm clicks and Roy knows Barbara's worried because these days she only ever calls him that when she's pissed off or worried, and he hasn't done anything to piss her off lately. Roy turns to Superman.

"Good to see you, man. Going my way?"

*

Flash feels uncomfortable tagging along on what's basically an impromptu publicity tour for the press, but Lex had insisted, and how do you say no to the President? Wally really has to work on that because not saying no to Luthor keeps getting him into all kinds of trouble. He can almost see the disapproving stare on Bruce's face, the "he's manipulating you" mindset that Wally can't seem to talk Bruce out of. But given what Bruce did this morning, Wally thinks Bruce and Luthor have a whole pot/kettle thing going on there, and he really doesn't like being caught in the middle. Thinking about it makes him angry all over again.

"Everything alright?" Lex asks quietly, appearing at Wally's side while the journalists are snapping photos of some state of the art something-or-other. There's a hand on his arm, and a genuinely warm look of concern on Lex's face.

"Yeah, yeah, everything's fine. Just a little distracted."

"I hope it's nothing serious."

Wally pauses, then stumbles over the lie. "No, nothing serious."

He can tell Lex doesn't believe him but is too polite to say so. There's a squeeze to his arm, and Lex moves off to point out something else sciency to the gathered reporters. Wally chastises himself for not having his head in the game. Maybe he should take himself out of the field for the rest of this mission. He's not any use to anyone like this, and—

"You need to evacuate the building immediately," Roy is calling as he runs towards the president. There are suddenly Secret Service guards materializing out of nowhere, and guns are drawn. At least Roy's smart enough to raise his hands and slow his approach. His weapons are all holstered or stowed, but he's still a formidable-looking threat.

"Mr. President," he says. "We need to get you to safety, and we need to evacuate the rest of the facility."

"What for?" Lex asks, standing his ground. The reporters are all ears and digital recorders.
Wally notices Lex hasn't given the order for his people to lower their guns, and he considers the angles, what he'd have to do to get Roy out of the way of any bullets. It wouldn't be easy, but he could do it, and Wally breathes a little easier once he's got a contingency plan in his head.

"Sir, there's a—" Roy pauses, obviously unsure how to proceed, and Wally knows this has something to do with whatever Roy and Batman found while they were crawling around the ventilation system. He looks for Batman—he should be here, not Roy, and if he were, the press would already be moving in the right direction. Roy just doesn't command the authority that Batman does, and if there really is an emergency that's going to be a problem.

Roy tries again. "We have it on good authority that there's an unstable kryptonite-powered device in one of the lower laboratories. Please, just follow me out and—"

"No, I'm afraid not," Lex says. "This is my facility, and if there's a problem here, I need to know about it."

"Mr. President," Wally tries. "Your safety is the most important thing."

"My reputation is at stake, and I've had quite enough of having it dragged through the mud this morning by the Justice League. The only 'devices' we have here are for scientific research. I have no idea what this young man is referring to, and if there's something dangerous going on, I want to know about it because it isn't being done with my knowledge or approval."

There's the plausible deniability sound bite, Wally thinks, and hates himself a little for the thought. Lex is and always will be a politician, no matter how sincere he sounds, and right now, he sounds pretty damn sincere.

"Escort the press out of the building," Lex says to one of his aides, who gives a sharp nod and starts shepherding reporters back the way they came. "Red Arrow, is it?"

"Arsenal," Roy corrects.

"Where exactly are you getting your information?"

"I'm not at liberty to—"

"You're talking to the President of the United States," Lex says candidly, "so you'd better damn well tell me something right now before I have you arrested as a potential terrorist threat. And," Lex leans closer, "if your information comes from a pointy-eared freak who is somewhere in my facility where he has no business being, you'd better believe there's going to be a lawsuit the likes of which this country has never seen."

Roy swallows, his cheeks flushed, and Wally knows diplomacy is not exactly Roy's strong suit. Or his for that matter.

"Mr. President," Wally starts, as calmly as he can. "Is there any possibility there's even some truth to what Arsenal is saying?"

Roy glares at Wally as Lex shrugs. "I trust my people implicitly, but I don't monitor absolutely everything that goes on here. I suppose—"

"You suppose the kryptonite-powered interdimensional portal in the basement might just be a problem, Mr. Luthor?"

"I have no idea what you're—"

Wally doesn't think about it, he just moves. In less time than it takes to blink, he and Roy are fifty feet away, and Wally's impressed because Roy's got a blade out and is already reaching for Wally's throat.

"What's going on?" Wally asks, still hanging on to Roy's shoulders. "The truth."

Roy eases off with the blade, but doesn't put it away. "I'm telling the truth. There's a goddamn portal in the lower levels, one running on kryptonite, and Batman says it's likely to blow, twice as likely if you go anywhere near it."

"What?"

"You, the speedforce, all of that combined with the unstable kryptonite and the portal. Look, I don't know all the details, but Batman was very clear—"

"About me not going anywhere near Luthor or this so-called portal. Yeah, I bet he was."

Roy slides the knife back into its sheath. He lowers his voice. "Wally, he was serious. Dead serious. Whatever's going on with the two of you, this isn't the time—"

"No, it isn't," Wally agrees. "Luthor isn't just going to walk out of here on your say-so. Especially now. So, I'm going to escort him down to wherever you think he needs to go to find out the truth. And then I'm going to get the President out of here as fast as I can."

"You can't."

"I don't see anyone else."

"I'll go with him," Roy says.

"As if the Secret Service is going to let you go anywhere with him. If we're lucky, they might allow me to accompany him. If we're lucky."

"Batman said—"

"I don't give a damn what he said. He just doesn't want me involved, and that's not his call to make."

"I'll call Wonder Woman. She can—"

"We don't have time for that. Besides, I can get him out faster than anyone else in an emergency."

"But the speedforce, the portal—"

"He's manipulating both of us, that's all he's doing. If it was so damn important, why didn't he come himself?"

"He was going to try to shut it down, I think."

"You think. You don't even know what he was planning. What a surprise Batman didn't tell you his plan, and that's exactly the problem. He never tells anyone his plan, and right now I don't trust him to be making objective decisions. He's—he's gone way over the line, and this ends now."

Wally gives Roy a shove toward the exit.

"Do what you were told to do. Get the staff out of here. I'll escort President Luthor to safety."

"You're going to get yourself killed," Roy says stubbornly. "Is that what you want?"

"What I want is to do my job. Now go do yours."

Wally speeds back to where the President is waiting, appreciative that no one's pulling a gun on him. He's about to speak when he catches movement behind him, whirls and plucks the arrow out of the air just before it would've struck his shoulder. It's a sleeper arrow, fitted with a quick-acting sedative, and Wally's back at Roy's side before he's lowered his miniature crossbow.

"You're lucky I don't shove this arrow in your chest right now," Wally says, angrier than he's allowed himself to be all day. "I thought you would've had enough of shooting at your friends."

Wally breaks the miniature arrow in half, dropping the pieces at Roy's feet. He ignores the way Roy's face has gone white. "If you ever point an arrow at me again, don't expect our friendship to give you a pass."

"Flash."

"Mr. President." Wally's back at Lex's side. "Allow me to escort you where you need to go. I'll take full responsibility for your safety, sir."

Lex flashes him a quick smile, then strides toward the bank of elevators.

"We're heading down," Lex says, Secret Service staff following along behind, never taking their eyes off Roy. At the elevators, Lex talks his security detail into helping with the evacuation.

"Flash has guaranteed my personal safety," Lex says solemnly, "and I trust him with my life."

"Sir, we can't—"

"You have your orders."

There's one lone Secret Service agent, head of Lex's detail, who basically says someone will have to kill him before he leaves the president's side. It's dramatic, but it works, and Lex agrees to the singular bodyguard heading down with them. Flash is just as glad to have someone else there in case anything goes wrong; after all, who's going to believe him if everything goes to hell and something happens to Luthor?

"Where are we going?" Flash asks as they step onto a gleaming chrome elevator.

"Down," Lex says, and with a lurch they begin to descend into the lowest reaches of Mt. Torrent.

*

"Your father would be so proud of you," Margaret, Bruce Wayne's executive assistant, says to Dick, straightening his tie. It's the second time today someone's called Bruce his father, and Dick once again is struck with a feeling of gratitude for everything Bruce's given him. There was a time when he was young and stubborn that he'd fiercely resisted any suggestion Bruce was a father to him, and Bruce had allowed him that without a fight. In fact, he'd wanted to make sure Dick never lost that connection to his birth parents, and Bruce had gone out of his way to ensure Dick kept in contact with the circus where he'd grown up and the people who had helped shape his early years. Bruce had given him a home unconditionally, and asked for very little in return, and sometimes it makes Dick feel guilty that he hadn't always been the most gracious or cooperative kid growing up. Or the most obedient Robin.

Margaret flattens down a few stray hairs with her deft fingers, and smiles at Dick. "Definitely, ready to meet the press."

"Do I have to?" Dick asks, as he always does, and Margaret laughs and starts packing away the on-camera makeup and hair brush—all the things she keeps on hand for occasions just like this one.

"Mr. Wayne will be pleased you've stepped forward and taken this on since he can't be here," Margaret continues. "And Mr. Fox will be there with you, so if there's anything you're uncertain how to handle, let him field the question."

"Got it," Dick says, smoothing his hands over his suit jacket once more. He knows everything will be fine—he's done this enough by now, and Lucius won't let him get into a situation that's detrimental to the company. Dick's more worried about having to confront the Justice League members, although he knows most of them will know who he is and why he's doing what he's doing.

"Mr. Fox sent some briefing notes up for you," Margaret says, handing Dick two typewritten pages, "and I'd say you've got about five minutes before they need you at the helicopter that will shuttle you to the containment site. Do you need anything else?"

"No, Margaret, I think I'm fine. Thanks for all your hard work. I'll just go over this stuff from Lucius."

"I'll come get you in five minutes. Buzz if you need anything else."

She gathers her things and leaves Dick alone in Bruce's office. It's got a clear view of downtown Gotham looking toward the river, and even now, Dick can see the best and worst of the city he's called home for most of his life. The Narrows, Arkham Asylum, Blackgate prison in the distance, but also the Pediatric Hospital, the park, and the area of new low-income housing the Wayne Foundation helped to build.

Dick sits in Bruce's big chair, letting the smell of leather remind him of every time he's sat here. The desktop is clean, as usual, except for a set of framed pictures on the corner. The largest, as always, is Thomas and Martha Wayne, and Dick wonders what they would think of the way their only son has chosen to live his life. He's not sure it's what anyone would wish for their child. Then there's a picture of Dick and his family, an old publicity photo, and tucked in the corner of its frame is a more current snapshot of Dick. He doesn't even remember when it was taken, but he was laughing. He looks happy, and there's a picture snapped at one of the Wayne fundraiser events that has Bruce, Dick, and Alfred standing together talking. They look so at ease with one another, and if Dick remembers rightly, it was Lois Lane who took that shot and presented it to Bruce after. Lois isn't all bad; just a little too dogged for her own good sometimes.

There's another shot of Tim and Jack Drake, some school occasion it looks like, and Dick has sometimes wondered why Bruce seems to need a constant reminder that those he cares most about are not his family because of blood. Once upon a time Dick would've thought it was to keep Bruce from caring too much by remembering he doesn't have any blood claim to their loyalty, but now he knows better. Bruce can't help caring, no matter what lengths he goes to to disguise those feelings, but sometimes he needs a reminder of who he's fighting for and who he's coming home to.

On impulse, Dick slides the side drawer of the big mahogany desk open. There's a small silver frame, face down in the drawer, and Dick turns it over. There's no picture in it yet, but there's an envelope with it, and Dick isn't surprised when the photo he draws out is of Wally. He's not quite looking at the camera, and he's obviously caught in the middle of telling something hilarious because he's grinning from ear to ear, and his hands are frozen mid-gesture. Dick can't help but grin back at his best friend's carefree face. It's a good picture, and Dick will be glad when Bruce feels secure enough to put it on the desk along with the rest of the family. It shouldn't be long.

"That's five minutes," Margaret calls from the doorway, and Dick hurries to read through the notes even as he's heading to the door.

"Got distracted, huh?" the assistant asks with a knowing smile. "You always used to get lost sitting in that big chair."

"I guess I still do," Dick says, reaching out a hand as Lucius comes down the hall. "Good to see you, Lucius."

"Dick. Thanks for offering to come in. I have a feeling things will go more smoothly with you here."

"I hope so."

They head for the elevator after Margaret takes one more quick swipe at Dick's hair, and Lucius goes over the briefing notes on their way up to the helipad.

"We're going to meet everyone at the front gates of the containment facility, and our statement is that we're happy to accept the additional kryptonite as part of the President's push for ongoing research into energy solutions."

"Even though we know kryptonite can't be stabilized enough to provide consistent energy?"

Lucius smiles. "What we know is that a solution to stabilizing the kryptonite can only be found through rigorous research, which the President has kindly directed more funding toward."

Dick nods. "Right. Stop thinking like a reasonable person and start thinking like a politician."

"Let me do that part," Lucius says, patting Dick on the shoulder as they head for the chopper. "You just be yourself—passionate about helping people and finding solutions for a better world. Proud of the accomplishments of Wayne Enterprises. You're the next generation, Dick, and people are looking to you to see if they can trust you the way they can Bruce. Just speak with conviction about what you believe, and you'll be fine."

"You're sure?"

"I wouldn't put you in front of the press if I didn't think you could handle yourself," Lucius reminds him, and Dick nods, feeling some of the anxiety ease. Bruce has often told him the same thing, and Dick knows it's true. Bruce has no trouble at all telling him when he doesn't think he's ready for something.

They head for the containment facility on the outskirts of Gotham, and Dick barely has time to spare a thought for what's happening at Mt. Torrent. He hopes everything is going according to plan.