He Means Laughter, not Poison
We clutch our bellies and roll on the floor
When I say this, it should mean laughter,
. . .
He has been having the wrong dream for weeks now.
The jolt of fear and sorrow that wakes him up is old and familiar, the same mix of emotion that found him when he was just a small child, making itself comfortable in his mind, lurking there and waiting for a chance to strike again. He calms himself down by doing the exact same breathing exercise he always does, doesn't move until he took in his surroundings, listened for the sound, made his mind clear for an instant to 'feel' for a presence.
He is all alone in the middle of the night, alone with his fears and the restriction in his chest. He knows this. This is the way it goes, the way it always goes.
But the screaming echoing in the back of his mind is wrong. The scenario played out in his dreams is wrong. It's not what's supposed to happen. It's not what he's supposed to be scared of.
He rolls out of the bed, walks to the window and opens it, the cold air doing little to clear out the feeling, to rid him of an anxiety that burns in his throat, burns behind his eyes.
It's the wrong dream.
It's the wrong person, the wrong way to die, the wrong moment. It could have been a memory.
That's right. It is a possibility, an accurate prediction of the future, a fact. He has been shown the darkness ahead and done nothing to prevent it. He has been shown the way it all goes to hell and done nothing to stop it.
The swallows the fear down.
It was the right dream after all.
He closes the window, his mind clear now. He descends the stairs. It's 3 am, but he's wide awake, fuelled by the ever familiar mix of adrenaline, fear and determination. It's more powerful than ever, each step he takes making what he needs to do clearer, making it easier. It's the easiest thing. He will be five steps ahead of everyone, like he has always been.
He will foresee the darkness ahead and prevent it, have the plans ready, the escape routes prepared. His only mistakes lies in not doing it sooner, in having to rely on someone like Luthor to clean his mess at a price he still isn't sure he wants to pay. No, he is damn sure he doesn't, never wanted, never will. But he had no choice, because he had been a fool, trusting everyone.
He can't believe he actually bought into Clark's silly words of the American Way and freedom and trust and truth and never giving up, that he believed in the strength of his so-called colleagues, that he believed in moral codes and emotions and, hell, he has been such a damn idiot.
But not anymore.
He won't have the dream again. He won't dream of Wally's green eyes full of tears staring into Clark's blue ones as they slowly turn red, of his own voice screaming and screaming, screaming stop, stop, no, don't, don't, no, please, of Wally smiling in a way he doesn't want to remember, of everything turning black.
He won't dream of Luthor holding a shotgun to Wally's head again, of the way his fingers wraps around the trigger so carelessly, of the smile once more, always the goddamn smile, until he could rip it off Wally's face all by himself, until it frightens him more than anything ever did.
He can't. He can't do it anymore, he can't keep on pretending it doesn't mean anything. He can't pretend they will react differently now. He can't pretend knowing will change it. He can't live in this stupid fairytale he made for himself where thick cave walls and kevlar and cold steel will protect him from everything, when every day he aids his worst enemies disguised as friends.
He sits down in front of the computer. Closes his eyes. Thinks.
If something goes wrong, he'll need to stop J'onn first, he could telepathically warn them all. He clicks the file open, eyes roaming over it, feeling like his head might explode, like his heart might do the same.
Name: J'onn J'onnz.
Species: Green Martian.
Meta-powers: Telepathy, shape shifting, intangibility, flight, super strength
Bruce thinks of Wally, smiling at him in the midst of a fight, and starts typing. His cheeks burn only with shame now. It isn't difficult at all.
It never is, not in the ways he expects it to be.
. . .
The building explodes in a messy pattern of colours and heat, scorching the little exposed flesh of Bruce's face.
He doesn't wince. He doesn't falter. He watches instead, heart beating frantically, muscles tensing up, fear ready to pounce, feeling its moment to shine.
He inhales, exhales.
Wally emerges a fraction of a second later, grinning widely, holding the USB stick in his hands.
"Got it!" he says, as he dusts his suit off with his other hand. He hands the stick over to Bruce, who promptly pockets it away. He doesn't open his mouth, for a second irrationally afraid that it would actually crawl out if he did, swallows it down, swallows until it's back where it belongs.
"A 'thank you', would be nice, you know," Wally says in mock-offence, "I did just go back into an already exploding building for you!"
Bruce holds his tongue, doesn't say I would never want that, never says anything at all. He turns around. The cold, black steel of the Batmobile is easier to look at than the green of Wally's eyes.
It's always so much easier.
"You shouldn't gamble with your life like that," he says, already starting to walk away. He needs to get away, he needs to work, he needs to finish what he started, needs to make sure Wally never has to be afraid again, he needs to -
Wally laughs and Bruce freezes, hates himself for it, hates himself the way he hasn't in a long time. He waits for the words he knows will come and when they do they're perfect. It's everything he expected, but he's caught off guard anyway.
"As Granny Flash used to say: it's only a gamble if you don't know you're gonna win!"
Bruce wants to tell him to stop being such an arrogant bastard, to stop living on cloud nine, to stop it, just stop it, just face the world as it is, just see the disgusting, godforsaken place for what it is, just realise the pain and the danger and how easily lives are taking away, how easy it is to stop breathing, to make someone.
For the first time since he was eight, he feels something too strong for him to control take over him. He's too scared, he's too pissed, he keeps thinking about the dreams, about laser eyes, about guns, about green eyes that close too early, about sad smiles and he doesn't want this, he never wanted to feel this way about an idiot like him.
He turns around again, facing Wally this time, facing him with the smile inexorably in place, green eyes shining, suit ripped. He can't lose this.
"You can't know, Flash. You can't know, because you never take a single second to think. You always act, but you -"
"Woah, woah," Wally interrupts, holding his hands in front of him in a disarming gesture. The confusion and annoyance in his eyes makes Bruce even more angry, makes him feel even more lost, because it means Wally doesn't understand and somehow, right now, more than anything, he wants Wally to understand what he's trying to say, what's he doing for him, what he will always do for him. He needs him to understand what he means to him.
Wally frowns instead, and Bruce wonders when he started hoping for things he could never get again.
"Look, it's fine, okay? Yeah, sure, I went in without much second guessing, but there's hardly time for that when the building was already falling apart! You can't always think, Bats, life just doesn't wait for you to find the smartest way to go about things. And besides," Wally shrugs, and Bruce notices the way he winces at lifting his arm, notices the way he starts feeling sick at the exact same moment.
"Besides, it doesn't matter, you guys always have my back, right? I do something stupid, you'll make up for it by being extra smart. I go into a situation that could get me hurt, Supes will have fun bouncing bullets off his chest. It's okay, it doesn't matter."
It's all that matters. Bruce tries his hardest not to blurt that out. He tries his hardest to choke down the feeling, choke down the fear. Wally's looking at him and he can tell he is trying to understand, but the moment is gone and now he starts feeling ashamed again, ashamed he let himself go like that, ashamed he wants recognition so badly. He was never in this for that.
He turns around and walks away, ignoring the way Wally says "Bats…" in this way that tells him he's feeling bad for something he didn't do wrong.
The click of the metal door sliding shut sounds final, sounds dead.
. . .
The magnesium powder is ready in a few days. The Kryptonite comes easily too. He makes the files, calculates, sets up the situations, takes their personalities in account. He doesn't feel sick anymore.
Clark would say this means betrayal. That is means he doesn't trust them, that it means he doesn't believe in what they stand for.
He's wrong, the way he usual is, looks at things too simply. It has nothing to do with trust, or belief, or friendship, but everything with survival, with being who he promised to be. He swore long ago he would prevent any more innocent lives being taken, by anyone.
That includes Lex Luthor. That includes Superman. That includes himself.
He won't let the dream become real, not again. He won't allow himself to look so broken, to spend his time looking for realities that aren't his, to lose what he holds dear once again.
He sits back, takes a sip of coffee and opens Diana's file.
. . .
They all know where he lives. They all have a key to his apartment. He knows for a fact that Wally was the first to start inviting Leaguers over, John first, then Shayera. He knows they have movie nights, they sleep at each other place.
Wally's always careless in the name of friendship, in the name of contact. He never thinks that maybe he shouldn't tell them every detail of his life, that maybe the stories about his neighbours, about his dreams, about his fears, about silly accidents are better kept to himself. It's a concept Bruce is sure has never even occurred to Wally, that 'good' is only a temporary state at best, that it's easily undone, that there are many ways of information to be extracted.
Instead Wally says 'it's not fair you know what I look like, but I've never seen your face.'
Instead he smiles and it makes Bruce uncomfortable, embarrassed almost to see someone lay his heart in the open like that, ready to be smashed, ready to be stepped upon, ready to be broken. He can barely stand to listen how Wally is so willing to hand them the key to his destruction, so sure they will never use it because they are his friends.
He doesn't know what to think anymore, doesn't know whether to be amazed at the courage he displays, at the fearless way he faces his dangers, his darkness, his sorrow, or if he should be ashamed to be within a three feet radius of someone so careless, so stupid, so naïve.
He never knows how to define Wally at all.
. . .
He designs the nanotechnology himself, to make sure it's perfect. One strike should be enough, if he manages to plant it near her brain, Diana will fight shadows to death. She is the princess of the Amazons after all and she won't surrender.
He makes another one that conjures an image of a closed space to effectively render Hawkgirl useless.
He alters the the fear toxin of Crane only a little, just to make it last longer but less harshly. Just to make it strong enough to make John won't be able to concentrate on anything, won't be able to use his ring in a way that matters.
There is a certain kindness to this, he thinks, the sort they will never understand, the sort he sees in too many things when everyone else calls it cruel.
He won't let them become the monsters they fight. Not now, not ever. If they do give up under the pressure, after the endless tragedies, after hope has been crushes for the umpteenth time, he will be ready. He won't forgive them, he won't believe them, he won't look away.
He can't. They have worked too hard and they've come too far to create a world in which hope isn't a silly childhood dream anymore. He won't let everything Wally stood for go to waste.
He understands, why they became what they did. He knows how easy it would be without Wally's constant smile, without someone there to remind them that, yes, this was the kind of person they were fighting for, this was the reason they took all the pain, the reason they would never give up.
He wonders if Wally has any idea at all, how important he's become.
. . .
"Muffin?" Wally suggest as he seemingly materialises next to Bruce, holding the large chocolate muffin in front of him. Before an actual reply could be given, Wally sits down in the chair next to him and smiles, shrugging.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," he answers the unspoken reaction. "Just, you look like you haven't eaten anything at all today."
Wally spins his chair, looks him over carefully, a frown appearing on his face, a serious edge around his voice as he continues: "In fact, you look like you haven't eaten anything at all for some time."
Bruce stays still, eyes locked on the screen. He doesn't need to look at Wally to picture him clearly, to know exactly how the emotions change in his eyes, how his body shifts.
"Don't tell me you've been wasting Alfred's food again. Seriously, how can you smell something that delicious and not eat it?"
"Practice," Bruce answers and Wally laughs again, all the seriousness out of his voice in a second. It makes Bruce dizzy sometimes, trying to keep up with him. He doesn't think anyone can. No one can quite match Wally.
It's then he notices the hand Wally is keeping behind his back.
"Show me," he says.
Wally knows what he's referring to immediately and goes a little red in the face. He shakes his head, shrugs, keeps the hand hidden. So obvious.
"It's nothing, just ..." he trails off.
"Just?" Bruce repeats.
"Just, you know, a little scratch. Nothing serious, doesn't matter."
"It does to me. Show me." As soon as he says it, he realises he's saying too much, and he feels embarrassed again, feels slightly annoyed at how easily Wally creeps past his defences, how easy he makes it to tell him everything he's been holding back for years.
Wally's eyes change, from reluctance to a quiet acquiesce, something else Bruce can't - won't - identify. He shows him his hand: a large, though relatively minor burn runs across the inside of his arm. It's already healing, but Bruce assumes it stills stings pretty badly.
"See, nothing bad, it'll be gone in a day or two," Wally tries again, but his voice quivers when Bruce tears away a little fabric to expose the wound to the air.
"You should report any injury that might need medical attention, Flash," he says.
Wally shrugs again, stuff the muffin in his mouth to stretch the time. Bruce looks at the wound again, wondering when it happened, wondering how he missed it.
"I know," Wally admits, mouth full. "It's just…"
"Just?" Bruce repeats again.
Wally swallows the muffin and pulls his hand back to gesticulate as he blurts out: "Just! Everyone's been so overly concerned about the tiniest thing that happens to me. And they're all pretending they're not, that nothing changed, but seriously, everyone keeps acting like –"
Like I'm going to die, he knows should follow, but he can't hear the words, can't hear Wally say it, cant think about it. He nods.
Wally stays silent for a while. "That's all? 'I see?'"?
Bruce takes out the emergency bandages from his pouch, together with the burn salve. He rips the fabric until it's out of the way, slowly applying it. Wally chuckles again, as he says: "See? I was right. If I'm being stupid, you make up for it by being extra smart."
Bruce smoothes his fingers over Wally's skin, listens to Wally laugh and doesn't say a word, can't speak over the sound of his heart beating in his ears.
. . .
Five weapons are placed neatly on the metal table. Five files are neatly opened. He rereads them all, tests all the weapons again, just in case, just to be sure. He puts them away one by one, his belt feeling heavier, the pouches with each weapon almost highlighted in his head. He clicks the files away, hesitates, opens another one.
Wally's identification pops on the screen. Bruce thinks, goes over the possibilities in his head, tries to imagine every single scenario, but he can't, he can't find a way how Wally would become like that, how he could give up on his ideals. He can't imagine a world where Wally isn't the one who runs back into a burning building to get a small girl's doll, to rescue a boy's cat, where he isn't the one making obligatory jokes and puns.
Still. Just in case. Just to be thorough. Just to cover all the possibilities.
His fingers hover over the keyboard. He shakes his head. Smiles.
He clicks the file away and heads back for the stairs.
. . .
"Well, I guess I can't blame them for worrying," Wally says when Bruce ties up the bandage neatly. He rests his fingers on Wally's arm a little longer, smoothing over the white fabric, wondering how many times he has to do this to make the tingling in his fingertips disappear.
Wally doesn't say anything for a while, until: "Are you? Worried, I mean. Even a little?"
Bruce looks up, finding Wally looking straight at him, with a fire in his eyes he's never seen before. He knows what the question really means, know that it means are you afraid for us? Knows that it means do you think it has to end badly?
"No," he says and he means it now. He's not worried anymore. He's not afraid anymore. He has it all covered. "Not about you."
Wally hesitates before he smiles and Bruce knows it means understanding, acceptance.
"I never worry about you, either."