They’re running for their lives.
The corridor is silent, save for their rapid footfalls and the screams rising from below them. The sound is ghostly, haunting in its torment, the voices blending together in a terrible chorus that wrenches mercilessly at his heart.
He recognizes all of them. Conner, M’gann, Kaldur. He’s heard them in pain before, but not like this. Never like this. This is beyond pain, beyond suffering.
This is the sound of them dying.
Robin darts ahead of him and kicks open the door to the stairwell as soon as they reach it, vaulting up the steps as best he can. He wavers at the top, breath hitching, but Wally is at his side a second later, and they continue racing upwards. The stairs only take them so far before they run into another blockade; the entire facility is in an emergency lockdown, and it’s looking like there isn’t a single path that hasn’t been left unobstructed. Though they’ve already worked their way up twenty-three floors from the chamber at the bottom, there’s still thirty-seven more separating them from the surface.
It’s Kaldur that dies first, voice cutting off abruptly with a guttural howl.
Wally takes the lead, hanging a left once they’re out of the stairwell. He skids to a halt as soon as they round the corner, seeing immediately that the explosives have already gone off on this floor. They must’ve been triggered early by the first round, leaving the hall in shambles. Most of the walls have been blown away, reducing the floor to a mountainous terrain of rubble and steel support beams. Frayed cables hang down from the shattered ceiling tiles like serpents, swaying and spitting electrical venom menacingly. They duck under them easily enough, Robin taking the lead again in order to pick out the safest path.
The rest of the floor is in much the same condition as the hall, and it takes them nine minutes to navigate their way to the next accessible stairwell. As soon as they reach it, M’gann’s dying shriek rings through their minds, the unbearable agony in it nearly sending the two of them to their knees. Instead, they can only stare at each other wordlessly; Wally can see the despair he’s feeling reflected in the wide eyes hidden behind Robin’s torn mask.
He swallows thickly. “C’mon,” he says, and they bolt up the stairs, their ragged gasping joined by the raw anguish of Conner’s yelling.
This too dies away soon enough, and Robin lets out a choked noise of both sorrow and rage. It turns into an inarticulate shout as they reach another blockade, and he all but hurtles himself at the door, Wally following behind in a daze.
It had been a trap from the very beginning. She hadn’t expected them to fall for it, she said, but oh, how relieved she’d been when they proved her wrong. Of course, she’d never wanted it to come to this - not this brutal sadism, the merciless killing. He’d seen the regret in her troubled gaze as she stood to the side, watching as the team was savagely tortured, and he’d known that for once, she was telling the truth.
But the Light had other plans, a different agenda, and letting them escape alive was not a part of it.
This floor is a straight shot to the next set of stairs, and they sprint towards it. They’re halfway across when a thunderous explosion erupts from far beneath them. The floor shudders beneath their feet, and for a petrifying moment, Wally thinks it’s going to collapse.
It doesn’t, and he manages to keep his footing, but the shaking causes Robin to stumble. He falls, catching himself on his hands and knees. He’s coughing haggardly, blood flecking his lips and the ground in front of him, and Wally realizes that the beating must’ve caused a lung to collapse - he’s amazed the other’s been able to keep up for this long. Without a second thought, he kneels down next to Robin, dragging the other boy onto his back.
“Your leg-,” Robin protests, but Wally cuts him off with a sharp jerk of his head.
“Doesn’t matter. We’re getting out of here,” he says, starting down the hallway again, Robin clinging to him fiercely. He pushes his speed as far as his injuries will let him, ignoring the overwhelming pain emanating from the torn ligaments in his left leg. As light as Robin is, the extra weight doesn’t help, and it’s all he can do to keep his vision from spinning out of focus as his exhausted muscles start to cramp.
Wally hits the next door open with his shoulder, and it’s then that he hears the dull roar rising from deep below. He glances backwards at Robin questioningly, trying not to focus on the sinking sensation in his stomach.
“Fire,” Robin confirms in a grim voice.
That’s all the motivation Wally needs to dash up the stairs, desperation consuming him. The floors begin to blur together, but they’re still so far from the top, so far from escape and freedom, and the small voice in the back of his head is whispering that it’s useless, that he should just surrender. That it’s better to give up this hopeless endeavor, that it’s better to face this thing and go down fighting-
But there’s nothing to face, nothing to fight. He’s sure the agents of the Light have long since vanished, taking Artemis with them and leaving nothing but timed explosives and what sounds like an inferno behind.
There’s nothing left to do but run.
The seventeenth level is a tech room, comprised of rows upon rows of computers and data storage units. Wally races through it blindly, seeing nothing but the flashing red numbers on all of the screens.
“Don’t stop,” Robin says, close to his ear, and his voice is tinged with a tentative hope. Wally has no intention of doing so - at this pace, they should be able to make it before the facility completely self-destructs, burying them alive far beneath the surface.
The thought makes him push himself even faster, Robin’s arms tightening reflexively around Wally’s neck as the speedster bolts up the next stairwell. He sways dangerously on one of the landings, but another explosion rocks the ground, and he continues up the following four flights until another blockade appears. He barely glances at it, already hitting the door open and darting out into the hall.
This floor is another straight shot, and Wally’s hurtling full-speed across it before he registers that their path is blocked.
He realizes it not a moment too late, digging his heels into the ground to try to skid to a halt and avoid the metal door spanning the entirety of the passageway. The movement causes something in his injured leg to snap - a ligament, a tendon, a muscle, he never finds out which it was - and he collapses, leg giving out beneath him while he bites back a scream of pain. Robin topples off him with a strangled gasp.
For a moment, the two of them simply lay there, panting heavily, several feet in front of the door.
It isn’t until Wally becomes aware of a monotonous beeping sound that he notices Robin is trying to struggle to his feet. He opens his eyes wearily, fighting through the dull throbbing coming from his leg to watch as the other boy braces his hands on the ground, attempting to push himself up. The effort only causes him to dissolve into another coughing fit, and this time, he heaves up blood, the crimson liquid splattering on the metallic tile and coating his lips. He’s forced to sink back down, and he stays there for a moment before he begins to drag himself across the floor, the tattered remains of his cape trailing behind him.
Groaning, Wally manages to sit up, still clutching his leg as he moves to lean against the door. Robin is crawling towards what looks like a control panel situated next to it. From this close, Wally can see that the locking mechanism is operated electronically - there doesn’t seem to be any sort of manual override, not with the system set to detonate in a matter of minutes. The digital screen next to the hatch tells him they’re down to six and a half; it beeps with every ten seconds that pass.
Robin reaches the control panel, using the edge of it to pull himself up. His whole body is shaking with fatigue, but he wastes no time in going to work. He doesn’t bother accessing his wrist console; Wally had seen their captors destroy it, along with the rest of their communicators and any sort of tracking devices they’d had hidden in their clothing. As far as he knows, the League has no idea what’s happened.
He wonders if they ever will.
After a few minutes, Robin comes back, collapsing beside him. The smaller boy is trembling faintly, and each breath he takes draws a watery, rattling noise from within his chest. Blood is trickling steadily from the corner of his mouth.
“I can’t hack it,” he says, and Wally nods in acceptance.
“What do you want to do?” he asks. The clock says they have four minutes; faintly, he can hear the roar of the conflagration steadily getting louder as it consumes more of the building.
Robin shrugs and glances at him out of the corner of his eye, this one bruised and swollen so that it’s barely a slit. “Can’t say we have a whole lot of options, KF. There’s no way to override the lockdown, Artemis must’ve told them all my tricks. There isn’t a ventilation system we can use, and from what I can tell, the door’s five feet thick and made of solid steel. I don’t think you’ll be able to phase through it - no offense, or anything.”
“None taken, man,” Wally replies, grinning lazily and feeling rather amazed he can do so at a time like this. “So, I take it you weren’t able to get out on S.O.S. to Batman before we were forced under radio silence?”
The other boy flinches ever so slightly at the sound of his mentor’s name, breath catching. “Nope,” he says, managing to keep his voice even. “For once, we’re on a mission totally unsupervised. Pretty cool of them, isn’t it?”
“Color me whelmed,” Wally drawls, and it drags a strained chuckle from Robin.
00:02:44. Another explosion goes off, and this time, the shaking doesn’t stop. Dirt begins to sift down loosely from the ceiling; the sound of groaning metal is far too close for comfort. It’s gotten increasingly warmer, and after another fourteen seconds pass, the clock begins to beep at five-second intervals.
Compulsively, Wally reaches for Robin’s hand, finding it and threading their fingers together. Robin allows it, squeezing back and letting his head fall against Wally’s shoulder. He sighs tiredly before speaking.
“We should’ve known,” he mutters.
Wally shakes his head, blinking away some of the falling dirt. “Nah. There’s no way we could’ve,” he says, and for some reason, it feels nice to admit it. “Maybe there were signs we missed, but in the end, she was too good. She tricked Green Arrow and the rest of the League - there’s no way a bunch of kids could’ve figured her out.”
“That’s no excuse,” Robin bites out, but his anger is short-lived, as he’s soon consumed by another coughing fit. When it’s over, his chin and throat are coated with blood, and the rattling in his chest is worse than ever.
00:01:57. The next explosion is much closer - it can’t be more than a few levels below. This one leaves the lights flickering and the floor shifting beneath them. The temperature has risen dramatically; sweat is trickling slowly down the sides of Robin’s face.
“Why do you think we were able to get away?” Wally asks. He knows it’s irrelevant now, but it’s been nagging at him.
It takes a few seconds before Robin replies, thinking through the answer carefully. “Honestly? I have no idea,” he says. “I want to say we just got lucky, but... I think they wanted some of us to try to run for it. They wanted to see if we’d abandon the others and try to save ourselves.”
Wally frowns. “We didn’t have a choice.”
“We thought we did,” Robin amends bitterly, “but it turns out we were going to die no matter what.”
00:00:51. This time, the detonation is violent enough that the ceiling fractures, fragments of metal and earth crashing to the ground. Several narrowly miss the two of them, and they draw closer to each other instinctually.
With less than a minute left, Wally finds himself thinking that it’s a shame he won’t see Robin’s eyes again. Those clear, bright blue eyes. They were one of the first things he’d noticed about Batman’s protege upon meeting him - startlingly blue eyes, peering out suspiciously at him from beneath that black mask; then, from behind the dark lenses he’d hide behind; and finally, from behind nothing at all when hiding became unnecessary.
The thought makes Wally’s own eyes water, but that might just be due to the rising heat.
00:00:36. The air is wavering around him, and it’s getting harder to breathe. The floor quakes ominously, the rumble combining with the hollow sound of the blaze racing towards them.
The cacophony is deafening enough that he can barely hear Robin’s voice anymore. The other boy has to lean close, lips brushing against Wally’s ear even though he’s shouting. “I’m glad you’re with me,” he says, and when Wally pulls back to look at him, he doesn’t feel so bad because Robin’s nearly crying, too.
00:00:19. The beeping is coming with every passing second now. He can see flames licking along the end of the hall, trailing up through the fissures that have appeared in the floor.
He glances away from the fire to look at Robin again. The air’s making it almost impossible for him to breathe, and he’s suffocating, but despite that, he’s trying to mouth something at Wally, lips struggling to form the words around the ragged coughs wresting themselves from him. Blood has started to spill from his nose as well.
00:00:11. The floor’s collapsing. He can feel them slowly sinking towards the fire, the shriek of metal on metal an indication that the supports have finally started to cave in.
Wally doesn’t need to hear it to understand what Robin’s trying to say. He grins in response, bringing their clasped hands up between them. He can barely see through the fluctuating heat waves, but it’s enough.
It’s always been enough.
00:00:05. The inferno is here, consuming the floor, the walls, the ceiling. In seconds, there will be nothing left, everything devoured greedily by the fire-
The world is falling into chaos around them, but Wally sees none of it, staring into those bright blue eyes for the last time. He speaks, even though Robin can’t hear his voice.
“I’ll be right beside you.”