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.
“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.
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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?”
“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.”
“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—”
“—and Batman’s human—sorry, Bruce—”
“—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.”
“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.
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.