Wally West is the fastest man alive. So why does it feel like all the gears in his head are grinding to a halt, like he's moving through a wall of invisible molasses? They'd ducked into a warehouse to hide from the Thanagarians, he reminded himself, that was how it started. J'onn had said they needed to change into their civilian identities. Wally had protested, and Batman had pointed to him and said "You're Wally West."
That was the beginning, Wally thinks. That was when everything started to go wrong.
Batman had pointed at Superman and said, "He's Clark Kent"--and upon reflection, which he seems to be doing a lot of right now, Wally decides that was when everything had started to go totally haywire with his brain, hearing that.
And then Batman had reached up and grabbed his own cowl and pulled and--there is this fascinating sensation of nausea that seems to be acting just fine at superspeed, rushing ahead of his mind--
Wally is staring at him and his mind is racing and yet somehow the memories are coming back too slow, too slow, and he's never going to react in time, he's just staring and remembering and oh God.
: : :
Six months ago
"I mean, I couldn't believe it!" Wally took another bite of his sandwich and waved his arms wildly at an amused-looking John Stewart. "The nerve of that guy! Did you hear about this, Supes?"
"Hear about what?" asked Superman as he walked into the meeting room. "And you shouldn't be eating in here, Flash." Batman floated into the room behind him like his shadow, all gloom and foreboding, as Wally finished off his sandwich in three super-fast bites and shrugged.
"We were checking out the new digs and--would you believe it?--we came across our mysterious benefactor making out with some guy right on this table!" He rapped his knuckles on the table for emphasis, noting that Superman looked about as horrified as he had. "They were sprawled across it, all hot and heavy-like, just groping at each other like a couple of horny teenagers."
Superman's face was stiff with discomfort, and his cheeks had gone red. "That does sound inappropriate and...ill-advised. But Mr. Wayne did donate a very large sum of money to build these headquarters, so it probably behooves us to overlook it this one time. I'm sure it won't happen again," he said emphatically. "I'll have a talk with him about it."
"It's human nature," grated Batman.
"I beg your pardon?" Superman said, glaring at him, and Flash zipped to a chair and settled in. Listening to Superman and Batman argue was always fun.
"Human beings are generally impulsive. The extremely wealthy often have especially poor impulse control, after a lifetime of getting whatever they want when they want it. So one can't be too surprised that, given time alone with his boyfriend on the Watchtower, Wayne would give in to the impulse to...christen the council table."
"You don't think much of human beings, do you?" growled Superman.
"I know they tend not to be able to resist temptation," Batman said blandly, crossing his arms and meeting Superman's gaze with those creepy white lenses.
"Well, I hope he resists the temptation from now on," grumbled Flash. "He didn't seem the least bit embarrassed, but his boyfriend seemed pretty mortified. That's right, he's from Metropolis, reporter for the Planet" he exclaimed, turning to Superman. "He's written some stuff about you, right? Clark Kent--do you know him? Did you know he was dating Bruce Wayne?"
Superman looked uncomfortable. "I...don't remember reading that in the papers."
"I wonder what a guy like him did to score a billionaire boy toy," mused Flash.
"Life is full of unsolved mysteries," intoned Batman from the corner, and Superman gave him another withering glare.
: : :
Three months ago
Flash and Superman were doing monitor duty. Well, Superman was doing monitor duty. Flash was playing Prince Punchem on one monitor, but he was perfectly capable of watching all of them at once while playing, he informed the scowling Man of Steel. "Don't get your shiny red knickers in a bunch." Superman didn't argue further, but didn't look mollified, either. In fact, thought Flash, sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye, he looked downright depressed.
Flash was in the middle of a boss battle when Superman leaned forward. "There's an earthquake in--"
"--Sumatra, and it's only a 4.3. The NOAA says there's no tsunami warning," Flash said, taking his hand from the controller long enough to wave at a smaller monitor in the corner of the bank of screens. "Told you I could do both at once," he added airily before executing a complicated combo move and knocking the boss across the room.
"Do you always stick your tongue out like that when you're concentrating?" a pleasant tenor voice said. "It's cute."
Flash jumped, dropping the controller, to see Bruce Wayne lounging--it was a ridiculous word, but there was no better term for it, he was lounging--in the doorway.
"You! What are you doing here?"
"I did build this place," Wayne said, sauntering into the room. He looked appreciatively at the bank of monitors flickering news from around the world. "My goodness, this is very impressive."
"Hey, we're working here," said Flash, resisting the impulse to kick the game controller surreptitiously under the chair. "This isn't really a place for civilians." He looked over at Superman, who hadn't said a word since Wayne entered: Back me up here, big guy.
Superman cleared his throat, looking more uncomfortable than stern. "Flash is right, Mr. Wayne. This really isn't an appropriate--"
"--I couldn't sleep," said Wayne. He shrugged. "Hard to believe, I know. I kept thinking about the fight I had with my boyfriend recently." He sat down in one of the swivel chairs in front of the monitors with enough force that it revolved a couple of times, then put his feet up on the monitor bank, his wing tips shining.
Flash had no idea why this lunatic was up on the Watchtower talking about his love life, and he had no idea why Superman was just standing there looking confused rather than throwing him out. "That Clark Kent guy?" he said, hoping if he humored the madman he'd go away sooner.
Wayne steepled his fingers, gazing at the rows of monitors without seeming to see them. "Yes. That guy."
Flash cast an imploring look at Superman, but the Man of Steel was just staring at the back of Wayne's head. Flash sighed. "Well, what was it about?"
"Something stupid," Wayne said. "Some little thing, I hardly remember. We were both in a bad mood, and tired, and I...said some things I regret." His chiseled features looked sad in the light of the monitors. "I'd hate so much to lose him, but I don't know how to tell him I was stupid and wrong." He looked down at his fingers. "He means the world to me," he said softly.
Despite his annoyance, Flash found himself feeling bad for the guy. He leaned over and clapped him on the pinstriped shoulder; Wayne's eyebrow went up and Flash heard Superman inhale behind him, but ignored it. "You're going to have to man up and tell him," said Flash. "If he matters that much to you. It's simple, really."
"I wish it were," said Wayne.
"Flash is right," Superman said abruptly, and Wayne jerked slightly, but didn't turn toward him. "It probably is simple. I'm sure he's been regretting the argument too. I bet he wishes he had some way to tell you that he's sorry."
"Ah," said Wayne in a small voice. "Well. Perhaps you're right. I'll just have to find some way to let him know that I...that I love him very much." There was a small silence and then he looked up at Flash, his eyes suddenly mischievous. "What do you think--an island? Or is that too ostentatious? Maybe I should just go with a understated diamond tie clip, that usually does the trick."
Flash rolled his eyes. "Geez. Just walk up to him, grab his lapels, and kiss him. I'm sure he'd like that better than some shiny rock."
Wayne looked thoughtful. "He has stated his dislike of shiny rocks on several occasions." He stood up and clapped his hands together briskly. "Very well then. You have convinced me, Mr. Flash." He struck a ludicrously heroic pose, ignoring Wally's muttered, "Just Flash is fine," and gestured toward the door. "I shall seek out my sweetheart wherever he may be sulking--"
"--Reflecting," interrupted Superman.
"--Moping," said Wayne, "And I shall seize him and make fervent, passionate love to him to show the depth of my contrition and my desperate longing for his forgiveness. He shall not leave my presence until he is well and thoroughly debauched and is satisfied with me once more." Without looking back, he left the room with his hands in his pockets, whistling jauntily.
"For such a dim bulb, that weirdo sure does know a lot of fancy words," Flash mused.
A contemplative silence fell across the monitor room.
After a few minutes, Superman cleared his throat. "Um, Flash? Things look pretty quiet tonight, so...would you mind if I skipped the last half-hour of duty?"
"What? Oh, sure, Big Blue, no prob." Whatever it was Superman had remembered he had to do, it seemed to have improved his mood; he was practically beaming. He made Flash promise--cross his heart!--to page him if there was the least sign of trouble, then zipped out so quickly that a sonic boom crackled through the room.
Wally shook his head, resisting the impulse to pick up the game controller again. Between Bruce Wayne as a patron and Batman as their main strategist, the League seemed to be dependent on total nutcases to function.
: : :
One month ago
"Well, I think he's kind of cute," said Hawkgirl. "Turn it up a bit."
Green Lantern scowled, but nudged the volume on the cafeteria television up a notch. Bruce Wayne's voice came through the speakers more clearly: he was talking about some charity fundraiser he was doing to help people with some disease Wally'd never heard of.
"Weirdo," Flash muttered.
"He does do a lot of charity work," Superman said.
"He's still a weirdo."
"The sweater is a nice color for him," said Wonder Woman.
"It's pink," said Flash.
"Antique rose," said Wonder Woman.
"That's still pink."
"Don't you think it flatters his complexion?" Diana appealed to the dark shape stalking into the cafeteria.
"Fashion's not exactly my thing," grated Batman, rummaging through the refrigerator without looking at the television. He pulled out a sandwich and unwrapped it, taking a bite: cucumber and watercress, from the look of it. With the crusts cut off. Flash tried to imagine Batman trimming the crusts off his sandwiches and failed utterly. Unless there was some special ninja school of bread-slicing Wally wasn't aware of, or a special bat-decruster hidden away on his utility belt.
On the screen, Bruce Wayne was explaining they were going to have a very special guest at the fundraising dinner: Superman!
Everyone in the room looked at Superman, who shrugged. "It's a good cause."
The interviewer was saying something about how she found Boy Scouts boring; Wayne leaned toward and slapped her playfully on the back of the wrist, shaking his head at her. "Some of us find goodness to be the ultimate turn-on, you know." Everyone avoided looking at Superman as Wayne launched into a breathless tribute to the Man of Tomorrow's charms: "That mouth! Oh, who wouldn't want to get a stern scolding about civics from that lovely mouth? And he's got just the right amount of muscles, so he's hunky but still trim. I suspect he wears that cape just so we can't get a good look at his butt--but I've spotted it now and then and it is divine. The modesty only makes him sexier."
The interviewer was hiding a giggle behind her hand and Wayne was waxing even more extravagant in his praises when Flash grabbed the remote and turned off the tv. "Hey!" said Hawkgirl. "What's your problem?"
"I just don't want to hear his stupid voice, that's all," Flash snapped.
"What's the problem, jealous Superman's getting all the love?" Hawkgirl's voice was teasing, but Flash crossed his arms and glowered, feeling slightly ridiculous.
"The guy's a giant jerk, okay? I don't want to look at his stupid face and I don't want to see his stupid sweater and I don't want to hear his stupid voice." Everyone looked at him with varying levels of surprise--except Batman, of course, who just took another bite of his sandwich. Flash waved his arms in the air vaguely. "It's just--isn't he still dating that reporter?"
"He is," said Batman.
"So I don't--I just don't think it's right that he's talking like that about Superman!" Flash looked at Superman with mixed apology and defiance. "It's kind of rude to you, Supes, dragging you into it, but don't you think it's especially rude to his boyfriend? I mean, no one can measure up to you, so how does that make him feel, listening to his lover go on and on about you that way? Why would Wayne do that to him?"
Superman cleared his throat. "I'm sure Mr. Kent knows he's just joking," he muttered.
Wally stood up and paced the room ten times, still too angry to sit still. He stopped short with his hands on his hips: "I mean, I met Wayne a few months ago and even though he was a flake, he seemed like a good guy, he seemed very in love with Kent, so it makes me really mad to think he'd treat him like that!" He gestured at Superman, who looked like he'd rather be anywhere in the world but on the Watchtower. "You saw him that day, moping over how he'd been in a fight with his boyfriend--didn't he seem to be in love to you?"
For some reason, Superman's eyes flicked over to where Batman was sitting, then back to Flash. "He did seem...rather fond of him."
"Fond? He was head over heels crazy. I know these things," Flash announced, thumping his chest and ignoring Hawkgirl's giggle. "So it just makes it worse that he talks like that. I don't know, it makes me angry. And depressed. I know it's stupid, but I thought better of him, and it--"
"Flash is right," said Batman, finishing his sandwich.
"--you stay out of this," Flash barrelled on, pointing at him. "I don't need your snarky--wait, I'm right?"
"It is rude. It reflects poorly on Kent. I would expect better of our patron." Batman stood up and calmly cracked his knuckles. "I think Mr. Wayne needs to have a little talking-to." Without another word, he stalked toward the door in a swirl of black cape.
Flash stared after him. "Hey, let's not go overboard!" he yelled at Batman's retreating back. "You're not serious, are you?" He turned to the rest of the League's startled faces. "He's not serious, is he?"
Superman looked like he wanted to bury his head in his hands. "I think he's just joking, Flash."
Wally felt unmollified. "I didn't even know he had a sense of humor."
"You have no idea," sighed Superman, and Wally had to be content with that ambiguous reassurance. He did feel worried enough about that dope Wayne's safety that he came up with an excuse to zip by Wayne Enterprises a few days later and check on him. He wasn't in a cast and there were no visible signs of bruises, so Wally decided Batman hadn't done anything rash.
However, he noticed that from that day, Wayne did tone down the talk about how sexy Superman was during interviews.
: : :
Wally West's brain feels like a hiss of static as his involuntary flashbacks grind to a halt and leave him with nothing at all to say as he stares at Bruce Wayne's face. Behind Wayne, Superman has slipped on a pair of glasses, he's smiling slightly but Wally can't think of any reason to smile at all at the moment. A dozen or so questions collide in his mind, leaving a messy tangle in their wake. Everyone is looking at him.
Batman--Bruce Wayne--tosses a t-shirt at him; he catches it out of reflex. "To answer your questions in order," says Batman, "Yes;Yes; No; About a year; Yes; Because he's Superman--and even more, because he's Clark Kent; I have no idea; Very much; and Yes again."
He turns away, leaving Wally muttering to himself and counting on his fingers. They're all changed and ready to head out onto the streets--Wayne and Kent arm in arm--when Wally announces triumphantly:
"Think you're so smart, wise guy--you got the answers to four and five backwards!"