The night sky was so peaceful. Brainy ached to join it, to rise above the city and take a moment to bask in the wistful silence of the stars, the gentle breath of the clouds as they passed him by.
But he did not deserve it. Not after everything he had done, what he was continuing to do. It was for the greater good, of course, he knew that at his core. He was protecting the future of this Earth, but still, downloading the secret to immortality itself? Knowing that in a few short hours, he would need to present that drive to Lex Luthor with a well-practiced look of logic-driven stability? It made him nauseous just thinking about it.
And so, he remained grounded, perhaps in both a physical and metaphorical sense. It allowed his mind the time to solidify on the actions that needed to be taken next, to ensure that there were as few cracks in his plan as possible. His simulations were not as comprehensive as he wanted them to be, perhaps if he took this rare moment of peace to…
The sound of the door opening caught Brainy’s attention. He turned, his heart in his throat as he carried out a list of likely candidates. It was late, he had considered it unlikely anyone would be returning to the Tower at this hour, except perhaps J’onn.
Which was why he was surprised to find Winn stood in the balcony doorway, a beer in each hand.
“Winn,” Brainy said stiffly. “You’re still here.”
“What?” Winn asked, stepping out onto the balcony. “You thought I’d just leave without saying a proper goodbye?” He jogged over to Brainy’s side, placing one of the beers against the balcony wall before clapping him solidly on the shoulder. “Tech support bros, man. That’s a lifetime commitment.”
Brainy grinned sharply, the sudden jolt of Winn’s hand against him pushing unwarranted emotions to the surface. He’d been putting physical barriers between his friends since his female counterpart had assured him of its importance, so much so that expecting physical contact of any kind had become a shock on his systems. He stiffened without meaning to, ducking his head.
Winn seemed to read the situation exactly right. He removed his hand, instead reaching for the beer on the wall. He handed it to Brainy who took it numbly, staring curiously at its contents.
“Thought you might need it more than me,” Winn said cheerfully.
Brainy frowned. “This is alien-grade,” he said lowly. “You should not be drinking it.”
“Which is why I got it for you,” Winn said, rolling his eyes. He lifted the other bottle. “This one’s for me.”
Standard Earth-grade alcohol, far safer for human consumption. Brainy offered a small smile at that, lifting the bottle in thanks. “I appreciate the sentiment,” he said. “But… I must convene with Lex in a mere-”
“Brainy, we both know you can sober up in like two seconds. Drink the damn bottle.” Winn quirked a brow. “You gonna stand there and tell me you don’t need it?”
Brainy sighed. “I suppose not,” he muttered, taking a small swig. The potency burned his chest, causing him to wince.
Winn laughed at that, patting him on the arm. This time, Brainy considered his response far more receptive, he barely stiffened at all. He took another sip, closing his eyes.
Winn turned to the balcony, taking a drink of his own beer. “So, what’s up?”
“What?” Brainy asked darkly, mirroring Winn’s actions. He leant his arms across the balcony wall, folding his hands across each other. “Aside from the usual?”
“Nah, I’m not talking about that,” Winn said, but his voice was far more sombre than before. Brainy chanced a look at him.
There was something different about Winn. Brainy had noted it before, but he hadn’t had the chance to truly categorise exactly what it was inside his mind. He had been far too focused on other matters. But now, beneath the flood of starlight, Brainy realised that Winn was older. Not quite in the sense of appearance, but a more deep-seated age. There was a wisdom in his eyes that hadn’t been there before, something that glittered like the very stars above them. Brainy supposed it came with life experience, of which he had received much in the last year alone. Going to the 31st century, aiding in attempting to defeat an evil of Brainy’s own blood, joining the Legion, creating a family…
Yes, this Winn was wiser. Had Brainy noted that sooner, perhaps he would have expected his friend to know that something else was on his mind.
“C’mon, man, you can tell me,” Winn said, glancing towards him. “I saw those big ol’ puppy dog eyes back when we were talking about my new alias. Something’s up.”
Brainy’s hands clenched, and he focused a moment on his implants, ensuring that he did not crack his bottle. To combat the urge, he took another sip. The alcohol had definitely begun to ease some of the tension in his body, allowing for a dullness to settle in his mind, a rare sense of quiet that had been close to unreachable in the past few weeks.
After a moment, he sighed. “You are right. It was- it was about what you said. Reclaiming your father’s name, making something good out of it.” Brainy looked to the stars for clarity. “I… I feel similarly about the Brainiac name. For centuries, it was an obscenity, an egregious act to even mention aloud and, well, my family did nothing to stem the flow of hatred it produced.” Brainy rolled his shoulders, tapping his ring thoughtlessly against the bottle. “It was not until I joined the Legion that I was made aware of the potential of what, what accepting your past can do, making it something better for the future.” He looked to Winn then, hoping there was sincerity in his eyes. “The Legion may not have been able to help you see it as I, but I am glad that you were able to reach that decision here, among friends.”
Winn took a moment to process Brainy’s words. When he did, he grinned broadly, reaching to clink his bottle against Brainy’s. “Hey, I’ll drink to that.”
And they did. For a while, that was all they did. Until the quiet mounted again to something more and Brainy felt rather than heard the words wishing to escape from Winn’s mouth.
“It’s unfair though,” Winn said, exactly as Brainy had calculated. “At least I got to find peace with my dad, well I guess it was more in a sort of messed-up virtual reality sort of way. And that’s even if that was my dad, or maybe just parts of him, like, like maybe just eighty per cent of him-”
“Winn,” Brainy said softly.
“Right,” Winn said. “All I mean is, I got that chance, but the likelihood of your family or, or of Brainiac-”
“Absolute zero,” Brainy said through his teeth, taking another sip. “He, like most of my clan, are driven by logic and obsession. He will not see reason because his is sound. Morality is not a grey area to him.” Brainy made a face, raising his bottle mockingly. “It is negligible in the eyes of science.”
“So, that stuff they teach in schools about ethics?”
“Well, that sucks.” Winn considered his bottle for a moment. “Although, in a way, I’d say that makes you even more heroic.”
Brainy tensed at that, and the thoughts that had been raging in his mind suddenly clawed their way up again. He urged them away, forcing them into a temporary thought track until he had a moment to deal with the noise. Out loud, he only said, “How so?”
“Think about it,” Winn said. “My dad at least in part proved he could be a better man, he gave me hope that I could save his name. Brainiac? Man, if what I’ve seen of him is anything to go by, that’s never gonna happen with him. And yet you still chose to keep his name. Dude, you gave yourself a nick name based on your family name as a giant screw you to everything he’d put you through, put the universe through. If that’s not what a hero stands for, then I don’t know what does.”
“I do not feel very heroic,” Brainy said quietly.
Brainy could feel Winn’s eyes on him and he suddenly became very well acquainted with his bottle’s label. He picked at the corner with his thumbnail, pulling it away.
Suddenly, he felt Winn’s shoulder press against him. A quick, playful knock. Brainy smiled, even when he felt the sting of tears in the backs of his eyes.
“You know I meant what I said before, right?” Winn asked softly. “Your friends will always have your back. If you had to tell-”
“No,” Brainy said lowly. “I cannot. Even if I could explain it all to you as clearly as I see it in my head, I-I am far too deep into this lie already. I must persevere to keep the future intact.” He ducked his head as he felt his emotions spike. Inhibitor-less, there was nothing to stop them, the onslaught of all that he had been trying to stave off for so long. He chuckled grimly, feeling moisture trickle down his face. “I… I only wish it did not feel as though I was becoming more like him to do it, but every time I speak to Lex, I have to switch off.” He clenched his hand, placing the bottle on the balcony wall to keep from making a most grievous mistake. Instead, he reached instinctively for his ring, hoping to draw a comfort from it that he hadn’t felt in weeks. “I hate the sound of my voice when I speak to him; the lack of care, of sense, of, of anything that is myself. I had to do it with Alex as well, switch it all off simply because if I had let it in… if she had seen how desperately I wanted to tell her, to…” Brainy’s jaw clenched as more tears fell. He lowered his head, allowing his hair to curtain his face. “No matter how certain I am of my actions, I still feel like I might become a pawn in a much larger game of Lex’s devising. No matter what happens, when this is over… when I am through, I fear… I fear that I will lose everything to do this. Everyone to do this.”
His voice broke at the end, he could not help it. The tears tumbled down his cheeks and he wiped at them hurriedly, sucking in a cold gulp of night air. It had been foolish to start drinking, uninhibited he was already so fragile. Adding alcohol to the mix was simply releasing what little control he had left.
Then, he felt it. Winn’s arm on his back. Not a clap on the shoulder or a playful jab at his side. Just, Winn’s hand. Firm and secure and rubbing steady circles across his back. A small sob broke from the back of Brainy’s throat and he twisted his hands over themselves, desperate to gather himself in any way that he could.
“You won’t lose anyone,” Winn said softly; his voice seemed louder suddenly, enhanced by the stillness of the dark. “Listen to me, you won’t, seriously. I trust you here, Brainy, I do. I know you aren’t doing this to hurt anyone, hell, one look at your face tells me that.”
Brainy laughed weakly, wiping at his face.
Winn’s grip tightened against his back. “Will you be forgiven, no harm done at the end of it all? Eh.” Winn pulled a face. “Look, I’m not saying it’ll be easy, and maybe things’ll feel rocky for a while, but Alex, Kara, J’onn,” he bumped Brainy’s shoulder, eyes playful, “Nia. They all love you, man.” He lifted his hand from Brainy’s, raising them both in front of himself. “As do I.” He flashed another grin, softening. “Hey, whatever happens, they’ll know in their hearts that you did it to protect them.”
Brainy’s lips trembled and he gritted his teeth. More tears were likely to fall, he could not stop that. He just wished for a moment’s peace, where he did not have to feel things so intensely, where he had a chance to realign himself properly, come to terms with himself instead of playing a constant game with his own emotions to hide himself from Lex’s observation.
Brainy wasn’t sure what Winn saw in him then, only that when he felt confident enough to glance his way, Winn’s lips quirked, and he rolled his eyes. “C’mon,” he said levelly. “Bring it in.”
Brainy understood that phrase, and although he had to fight the trepidation buzzing inside his chest, the moment Winn lifted his arms, Brainy practically fell into the embrace. His chest eased out with another choked sob as he ducked his head against Winn’s shoulder, allowing the darkness to blot out the severity of the emotions tearing at his chest, desperate to drown him.
And Winn’s arms were a constant. They tightened around Brainy, squeezing him as Brainy squeezed back, another ragged breath hitching from his lungs. Brainy had not let this many walls down since he had started playing Lex’s game, and though he should have admonished himself for it, in the moment, he would not allow it. His alcohol muddled brain, one that had been deprived of his baser needs for far too long, was winning out. In the few moments that followed, he allowed that part of himself complete access.
Brainy was unaware of how long they stood there beneath the light of the night sky. Two men who had defied so much to be there, both out of time, both with a name made in bloodshed stained to their backs. Perhaps, in a way, Winn needed this hug as much as Brainy, though Brainy was not quite certain.
He was happy to be uncertain at times.
Eventually, Winn sighed, pressing his chin firmly against Brainy’s shoulder. “I’m gonna miss this,” he said wistfully.
“Miss what?” Brainy mumbled back.
Brainy closed his eyes again, laughing softly into the fabric of Winn’s uniform. “Me too.”