"Mail call." Flash's voice is a cheerful Dopplered sound as he speeds past a seated Batman, a red envelope coming to rest on the console Batman is monitoring. He pins it with a fingertip.
The red blur seems to hover by the doorway for a moment, as if deciding whether to obey the command or flee. Almost reluctantly Flash vibrates to a stop, turning around to flash a grin at Batman.
"Don't you know you're not supposed to keep a postman from his appointed rounds?"
Batman holds up the envelope in two fingers, not bothering to look away from the monitors.
"What is this?"
"It's Valentine's Day, Bats. What do you think it is?"
Flash's seemingly casual response is enough of a surprise that Batman turns around in his seat, fixing Wally with a steady gaze. The cowl can't convey the raised eyebrow, but Bruce figures he'll get the idea anyway. Wally's seen the expression aimed at him often enough.
"You're giving me a valentine?" Bruce asks carefully, his voice low and measured. He isn't entirely certain he understands the gesture or if it's meant to signify something. Wally's an infamous flirt, but Bruce has also come to know him as a dependable ally and a good friend. More and more frequently, he's found himself fighting to keep from smiling at Wally's enduring optimism and his continuing attempts to bring "fun" into Batman's life.
Flash shrugs, as if it's no big deal, and Bruce supposes it likely isn't. Wally's such a genuinely nice guy, he probably hands out Valentine's cards at the Watchtower every year, whereas Bruce can't remember the last time he bothered with Valentine's Day. Truthfully, he never seems to remember the holiday until it's past, even when he has someone to share it with; it isn't a quality that's endeared him to any of his former lovers. Now that he's thinking about it there hasn't been anyone special in his life for quite some time.
"Thank you," Bruce says sincerely, noting the flush colouring what little of Wally's face can be seen beneath his mask.
"Hey, no biggie. Even Charlie Brown gets a valentine. Everybody deserves a little VD love." Wally pauses and hangs his head. "That sounded so much better before I said it."
Bruce doesn't try to suppress the chuckle as he turns back to the monitors. "I imagine you still have cards to deliver," he says, although it occurs to him he hasn't seen Wally carrying any other envelopes. He turns back to where Flash has frozen at his words. "Unless you already delivered them?"
His relief is clear as Wally nods vigorously. "You were my last stop, Bats. It's not like you were the only one getting a card. That would be crazy! Yeah, so, I should go. Happy Valentine's!"
With that, Wally disappears in a whirl of red, and Bruce taps his fingers thoughtfully against the console. A thought begins to grow in the back of his mind, a suspicion he can't quite believe is even possible. He opens the envelope and withdraws a simple heart-shaped card with a streak of lightning drawn in marker across the front.
"If you asked, I'd be yours in a flash. Happy Valentine's Day!"
"Did you get a Valentine's Day card from Wally?"
Dick takes a moment to double-check the display on his cel phone. It still shows the call is from Bruce.
Bruce starts to repeat the question, but Dick cuts him off. "No, never mind, I heard you the first time, I just—have you been drugged? Are you under duress? Is this some kind of code you haven't bothered to tell me about?"
Bruce's frustrated exhale comes through the earpiece loud and clear. "No."
"'Cause I really don't—"
"It's a simple question, Dick. Yes or no?"
"No, I didn't get a Valen—"
There's a click and the sudden sound of a dial tone droning in his ear. This is one of those times Dick wishes he still had an old style phone just so he could have the satisfaction of slamming the receiver down. He settles for throwing his cel across the room. It bounces off the couch with an unsatisfying thump.
"What's up, Batman?" Green Lantern asks, his face appearing on the display.
Bruce is starting to reconsider the wisdom of this particular line of enquiry, but he presses on regardless.
"Does Flash usually give out Valentine's cards to everyone?"
Lantern's face performs a strange contortion, then settles into something that's almost a smile. "Well, he didn't give me one, so I'm going to go with 'no.'" Green Lantern's face seems to loom large on the screen. "Why? Did he give you one?"
"No," Batman lies, and severs the connection.
"I have received no such correspondence from the Flash," Hawkgirl confirms when Batman asks, "but I have been given tokens of affection from several others. It has been a good day."
"I don't doubt it," Batman says, and ends their call.
He looks at the next name on his short list and sighs. It's necessary to be thorough in his investigation. If certain key people have not received valentines as Wally has indicated, then Bruce can reasonably conclude he's the sole recipient, and that opens up an entire realm of possibilities he hadn't really considered. He's considering them now, and the unexpected heat in his body is not an unwelcome development. That's been happening more and more around Wally lately too, if he's honest.
"Bruce, how wonderful to hear from you, especially today." Diana's happiness is obvious even over the phone. Bruce has never known what to do with her affection for him. He cares for her, of course; he simply doesn't share the same romantic aspirations she does.
"I have a question to ask you."
"Yes?" She sounds eager to hear whatever he has to say.
"Did you receive a Valentine's card from the Flash?"
"No." Diana's tone is puzzled. "Nor did I receive one from you."
Bruce stares at the phone in horror. On rare occasions he's been known to send long-stemmed red roses when women have dropped hints like anvils, but he's never sent a Valentine card in his life. His entire life.
"Bruce, are you still there?"
"Sorry, Diana, that's the Bat-signal. I've got to go." He knows it's cowardly, but he has enough to deal with at the moment, and he has his answer. He hangs up, turning his phone off.
"It's Valentine's Day, Bruce." Clark glares at him from the Watchtower's display. His hair is a mess and his glasses are askew. "If the world isn't in imminent danger, I'm not coming in. Some of us actually have lives."
Bruce grimaces. Right. He'd forgotten normal people usually have romantic plans on Valentine's Day.
"One quick question, and I'll leave you alone."
Clark nods. "Okay, shoot."
"Did Wally give you a Valentine's Day card?"
Clark closes his eyes and mutters something under his breath.
"Did you just call me an idiot in Kryptonian?" Bruce asks, slightly affronted.
"Yes," Clark confirms. "You're a complete and utter moron. You should be talking to him, not me. I'm hanging up now."
"Say hi to Lois for me," Bruce says as Clark terminates their Skype call.
Clive, the Master of Stores, can feel the tension increase in his department, even before he steps out of his office to see Batman striding towards him. It's rare when the Dark Knight comes down in person to request something, so it must be vital to a mission's success.
"What do you need, sir?" he says, standing a little taller. He's proud of his position and his department. They help save the world every day in their own small ways by making sure heroes like Batman have exactly the supplies they need when they need them. The distribution of everything from plutonium to paper clips is overseen by his office.
With a tilt of his head, Batman indicates they should go into the office, and Clive immediately complies. Anything that requires absolute secrecy is handled by a select number of staff with the highest possible security clearance. Clive shuts the door and engages countermeasures to ensure no one can eavesdrop by any means on their conversation. He trusts his staff implicitly, but he takes no chances with the integrity of his position.
"You have my entire department at your disposal, sir. How can we help?"
With his usual focused manner, Batman lists the items he requires. Clive has been on the receiving end of many strange requests over the years, and he's learned to maintain a professional manner no matter what the circumstances. This is the first time he's found himself wanting to break into an enormous grin in Batman's presence.
"I have those items here in my office." Clive stands, gathering the scissors, Sharpie, heavy red paper, and an envelope from the items he uses most frequently. He lays them in front of Batman with the same care he would use to present a blade or magical artifact. "I'll leave you to your work, sir. If you require anything else, simply press the button on the desk. Privacy countermeasures shall remain in place as long as you need."
Clive's reaching for the door when he feels a gloved hand on his arm.
"Thank you, Clive," Batman says with a rare smile.
"It's my sincere pleasure to assist you, sir."
Wally has been pacing the station since he left Batman on the bridge of the Watchtower. After 347 circuits of the station's corridors, he's ended up back in his room. Now he's reduced to pacing like a normal person in the 10 by 10 space. If anything, it's making him more nervous.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid! What were you thinking?"
Wally throws himself onto the single bed the room contains. He hardly ever uses it, yet the room is full of a surprising amount of stuff: Rock'em Sock'em Robots, a half-empty bag of Double Stuff Oreos, a DVD collection that includes Flash Gordon. Bats had given it to him. Wally figures that means Bruce has to like him at least a little bit. Maybe.
"You compared him to Charlie Brown. No one wants to be compared to Charlie Brown," Wally berates himself. "And that makes you the little red-haired girl. Boy. Red-haired idiot is more like it."
Wally rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He isn't sure what possessed him to give Bruce a Valentine's Day card, especially a homemade one that didn't leave a lot of room for misinterpretation. He's been half in love with the man for most of his life, but he never really considered doing anything about it. Except lately there's been an ache in his heart every time he sees Bruce, a longing to reach out and touch. It's getting harder and harder to ignore, and Bruce hasn't been helping the situation at all. Wally had practically come in his pants watching Bruce casually dismember an Oreo cookie, and movie night had definitely been a positive sign—well, at least until everything went horribly wrong.
Wally's pretty sure he's been on the receiving end of Bats' idea of flirting, but he's never had so much trouble figuring out how to get someone's attention. Bruce has been strangely quiet since the incident with the Justice Lords, and oddly distant. Every time Wally thinks he's getting close to breaking down Bruce's barriers, something interferes. It's like being sent back to the start line every single time he gets the goal in sight, and the frustration is getting to him.
Which is probably why he's done something crazy like give Bruce a Valentine that's about as subtle as ... well, Wally.
"He's going to figure it out. Oh my God, what if he figures it out?" Wally stops as a thought occurs to him. "What if he doesn't figure it out?"
The knock at the door gets one hundred percent of his attention. Wally pops up, slides his mask back into place, and presses the control for the sliding door. It's Batman. Wally's hand hovers over the control for another second before he decides shutting the door in Batman's face probably isn't the best strategy.
"Hey, Bats," Wally says with every ounce of calm he can muster. "What's up?"
Bruce stands in front of the door for what seems like an eternity before he knocks. He doesn't know what he's going to say. Everything he's been mulling over seems to have fled as the door opens.
It helps a little that Wally seems to be considering shutting the door in his face before he mans up and tries for a casual greeting. At least Bruce knows he isn't the only one on unsure footing here, and that's comforting. It tells him this is important to Wally, who flirts as easily as breathing, and Bruce needs to know that. He doesn't do casual very well—not when it matters, not when it counts. Sure Bruce Wayne's image means he occasionally wines and dines divas and cinema darlings, but that's for show. It isn't who he is.
"May I come in?" Bruce asks, stepping into the room at Wally's nod. There isn't a lot of space between the standard-issue furniture and the two broad-shouldered men in costume. Bruce wonders if they should do this elsewhere—if it goes badly, there's not a lot of room for either of them to bow out gracefully.
"Did you want something?" Wally asks, his back against the far wall, looking more than a little trapped.
"Why did you lie to me?" Bruce says, and it's not at all what he meant to say. It surprises them both, and Bruce can't think of any way to take it back without making even more of a mess.
"What? I didn't—I mean, I'm pretty sure I haven't—okay, yes, the GPS on the bat-bike was totally my fault, but Dick's the one who bought me the cappuccino! I told him we should just tell you instead of—"
Wally's rambling and Bruce has a moment where he wonders what else he'll learn if he lets Wally talk, but he puts up a hand to get him to stop.
"I knew about the GPS already, but that's not what I meant." Bruce tries to soften his tone. It's hard to do when he's wearing the mask—he's too much Batman. "You told me it wasn't just me, that I wasn't the only one. The valentine. But I don't think that was the truth, was it?"
Wally looks at him shrewdly. "What did you do?"
Bruce can feel the muscle in his jaw tighten reflexively, and Wally is suddenly staring at him, horrified.
"Did you ask everybody if they got a valentine from me?" Wally's voice veers a pitch closer to hysterical. "Oh my God, you did, didn't you? Jesus, Bruce!"
"Well, that makes it so much better."
Wally tugs off his mask and shakes out his red hair. His face is flushed a deep pink, his green eyes bright and sharp. Bruce feels that familiar stab of heat and want when he looks at him.
"Why did you let me think—"
Wally throws up his hands in frustration. "Because I knew you'd freak out!"
"I'm not freaking out."
"Now who's lying?" Wally throws back, and it shuts Bruce up instantly. For a moment, all they do is look at each other across the distance of a few feet, which seems to have somehow grown into miles of separation in spite of Bruce's best intentions.
Bruce takes advantage of the awkward silence to remove his cowl. He rarely takes it off at the Watchtower, but it's not as if who he is is any secret to Wally. Bruce leans his head back against the door, letting out a deep breath. This was not at all how he'd imagined this would go. He honestly doesn't understand why Wally would bother with him given everything he knows.
"Why me?" Bruce asks, not sure he wants an answer.
"Are you kidding me?" Wally stares at him as if he's grown two heads. "Aside from, have you taken a look in the mirror lately? You're ... you."
"Batman, you mean."
That brings Wally to his feet and into Bruce's space quicker than the eye can follow.
"You know, for the World's Greatest Detective, sometimes you are incredibly dense." Wally taps a finger against Bruce's chest plate. "I mean you, Bruce. Batman's only part of who you are, and who you are is ... amazing."
Bruce can feel warmth creeping into his face again, and Wally's freckles are starting to pop against his rosy cheeks.
"This isn't hero-worship, Bruce, or whatever else you might think. I'm not that kid anymore. I know who you are and what I want." Wally licks his lips anxiously and lets his eyes drop shyly. "This isn't exactly new for me."
It takes every ounce of self-control for Bruce to keep his breathing even, to not let his hands slide around Wally's waist and pull him closer. The dull heat has turned to a burn, and he wants nothing more than to lean in and capture Wally's mouth with his own.
Instead, he reaches into a hidden pocket and withdraws a red envelope identical to the one Wally gave him earlier. "Here."
The moment is broken. Wally steps back, then shakes his head. "Maybe it was stupid, but I don't want it back."
"For the Fastest Man in the World, you're a little slow sometimes. Just open it, Wally. Please."
Bruce watches as he takes the envelope and pulls out a folded paper heart. In its center, in sharp black lines is drawn the bat symbol, and the words: You drive me batty, Valentine.
"Is that batty in the good way or the bad way?"
"Both," Bruce says honestly, delighted when Wally laughs knowingly. "And it wasn't stupid. I'm just not very good at ... this."
That's never more apparent than when Wally gets up and moves toward him, slowly, as if afraid Bruce will bolt. He's ashamed to admit the thought has some appeal, but so does the prospect of Wally wanting him as something more than a passing fancy. Bruce wants to reach out and touch, but he's still not certain exactly where they stand. In the past it's always been Wally who's made the gesture—a hand on his arm, an invitation, a smile that manages to break through his dark moods. Wally's got more courage and resiliency than any man Bruce knows.
This time is no different as Wally slides his hand around the back of Bruce's neck, pulling their foreheads together. Bruce closes his eyes, aware of the heat between them. It would be easy to give in to it, but he needs to be sure. Once they start down that road, there's no turning back.
"I'm not going anywhere, Bruce." Wally's words ghost across Bruce's lips even as Bruce lets his arm drift around Wally's waist. It feels right, the curve of Wally's body against his. Their noses brush. "Take as much time as you need to figure it out. I'll still be here."
They stand together unmoving, breathing in unison, until Batman's communicator starts beeping.
"It's Valentine's Day," Wally says, reluctantly stepping back from Bruce's embrace. "Where's the love?"
"Super-villains. No respect for the holidays." He acknowledges the alert with the quick punch of a code. "It's probably Lex. He's not overly fond of hearts and flowers."
"It's still weird that you're on a first name basis with the President."
"That's the advantage of a private education." Bruce fits his cowl back into place, noting Wally has donned his mask as well.
"Isn't Luthor technically Clark's problem?"
"Technically," Bruce admits, "but I owe him one."
"For calling me an idiot."
Wally looks puzzled, but he doesn't press for more. Bruce's communicator begins chirping again.
"I'm on my way," he says, gruffly, reaching for the door. He's stopped by Wally's hand on his arm.
"I could come with you. For backup."
Bruce's first instinct is to say no, and it's clear from Wally's face that's the response he's expecting.
"Unless you have other plans?"
Wally grins broadly, squeezing Bruce's shoulder as they step into the corridor together.
"Nope, I'm all yours."