Wally skidded around the corner and nearly flattened Batman against a wall. Not a wise way to start a Justice League meeting.
“Bats,” Wally squeaked. “Sorry I’m late. Had to get rid of a bunch of exploding boomerangs. Then I had to stop a bank robbery. And then there was—“
“The armed car heist.”
Right. Watchtower. Where the League watched out for each other from a tower-shaped satellite.
“Didn't know you were on monitor duty.”
“You should check the roster, by the way.”
“You’ve got a shift later today.” Batman slipped into the briefing room while Wally sagged against the door jamb. Eight hours of staring at screens dropped unappealingly into his future.
Superman didn’t pause in his debriefing as Wally took a seat next to John.
“What did I miss?”
“Superman, Wonder Woman, Sha— Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, and me.”
Wally sneaked a peek across the table at Shayera, who was glaring pointedly at the space just over John’s shoulder. It reminded Wally a bit of Batman’s trademark death stare, and he couldn’t help glancing down at the Big Three where Bruce…was…glowering at him.
Superman sat down and nudged Batman, who shifted slightly and then shook his head.
Clark rolled his eyes. “Any questions? Comments, anyone?”
Wally raised a hand. “Yeah. Um… so… you really don’t need a speedster for this? You sure?”
“We already have a human representative. Also, Green Lantern can fly which is going to be a huge asset if things don’t go as planned.” Supes furrowed his brow. “I’m kind of surprised you’d want to come with us, Flash; it’s just a lot of sitting and listening to diplomats argue over trade agreements and interplanetary borders.”
“He’s just trying to get out of monitor duty,” GL quipped, giving Wally a friendly slap on the back.
Bruce’s tone was flat. “You think listening to political pandering is going to be more interesting than watching for criminal activity and natural disasters?”
There followed a pensive silence.
“Don’t hurt yourself.” Shayera winked at him. As one, the founding League members stood and left. Wally stretched and half heartedly trudged to the cafeteria.
Wally jumped about a foot. Batman had followed him.
“I was just getting lunch!” he stammered. Batman’s glare became even more pronounced.
“So was I. Is that a problem?”
Batman made him nervous, but he knew most of it was the cowl. Underneath, Bruce probably just looked… completely terrifying.
The canteen was unusually full for midday, but this had been a month too cold for even the most ardent villains. Flash and Batman claimed a table near the back of the room where Wally started in on his mountain of burgers. It took him five minutes before he realized Bruce wasn’t eating.
“Thought you were hungry.” Wally looked at his ketchup smeared palms, wiped a hand experimentally across his chin (it came back dripping mustard) and asked, his mouth still full, “Is it me?” He tried to look as mournful as possible while unwrapping another cheeseburger.
Batman huffed. “I wasn’t that hungry to begin with.”
“So, why are you still here?” Wally tried not to stuff the entire box of fries in his mouth and failed. Self control had never been his greatest strength. “I mean, meeting’s over, there are no other major League missions… And you’re usually so eager to get back to Gotham.”
“It's winter in Gotham too. Also, daytime,” Bruce said. When Wally just stared at him blankly, he added, “Batman operates by night, unless there's a League emergency. That’s why all my monitor shifts take place during the day.” He paused. “Like this afternoon.”
Wally continued to feel confused. “I thought that was my shift.”
“It is,” Batman said patiently, “but in case something comes up, one of us will have to stay behind in the Watchtower while the other transports down to engage the threat.”
“Ninety-nine percent of metahumans are eating mystery meat two feet away.”
“We’re the founding members,” Batman countered. “Do you remember what happened the last time we all left the Watchtower?”
Wally paused and set down his burger.
“You’re thinking of the Justice Lords.”
Batman turned his attention to his soup, but only to stir it disinterestedly. He and the other members always turned sour whenever their counterparts were mentioned, and it made Wally feel incredibly guilty. He was, through the other Flash’s death, part of the problem: His presence served as a constant reminder of the kind of horrors of which the League founders, individually and as the team, were capable. Instead of uttering any of this out loud (because he was trying to turn Bruce’s frown upside down), Wally chewed on the straw of his milkshake.
“So… we’re just going to sit together? Watching the news? Trying not to die of boredom?”
“…Do you like card tricks?”
“We could play Clue. I have a chessboard somewhere. I would suggest Uno, but I would totally kick your ass and you deserve a fighting chance.”
“Halo. Mass Effect. Portal 2. Cyborg totally hooked me up.” Batman’s lips thinned and Wally backed off. “Right. ‘No.’ Got it.”
Batman drummed his fingers on the table and said with an edge of disappointment, “You really don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”
Wally blinked at him. “You just lectured me on the importance of having multiple founding members on duty in the Watchtower, and now you’re telling me I can leave?”
Batman set down his spoon. “You can run patrol in Sydney. Australia’s one of the only places with any serious activity this time of year. I know you get bored easily—”
It took a fraction of a second to for Wally’s blood to boil.
“Hey. I’m not going to shirk my duties, okay?”
“I know I act like the kid,” Wally continued, realizing belatedly that his voice was rising, “but seriously. What else am I supposed to do?” He realized that his hands weren’t just shaking, they were vibrating. He quickly set down his milkshake before it phased through his fingers and exploded. “I’m not joking around because this stuff isn’t important to me. I don’t laugh because I don’t get how serious this is.”
He was still hungry when he dropped his tray off in the dirty dish tub over the trashcan. Some people claimed that anger made them lose their appetite; Wally wasn’t one of them, but he refused to sit eating and seething while Batman stirred his cold soup and judged him.
At the main monitoring hub, he relieved Huntress early. A few hours later, he heard the doors slide open and removed his feet from the console as Batman settled into the chair next to him. There was an awkward silence.
“Sorry,” Wally said finally, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly. “I lost my temper. You were just trying to be considerate and I, true to form, behaved like a child. My bad.”
Another moment and then Batman said, “I’m sorry too.” He sounded extra gravelly.
“You have nothing to apologize for.”
“Not really. I was being overly sensitive.”
“And I was being antagonistic.”
“You’re hardly antagonistic.”
Batman just looked at him.
“Okay, fine; but, you’re not trying to be. That’s just how you are, how you phrase things. You’re not trying to be an asshole; you just sound like one.”
Wally facepalmed. “That came out wrong. I’m sorry. Again.”
Batman sighed and leaned back in his chair. With his fingers steepled together, Wally thought he looked like a Bond villain. There were three things missing: a white, fluffy cat, a Batfamily of minions at his shoulders, and an actual desire to take over the world.
“I forgot that you play the clown to keep us sane,” Bruce said finally. “You know exactly how grave our situation is and how easy it would be to fail; but, you joke around because you refuse to let the stress or the fear stop you—and any of us—from…living. It’s a skill I never acquired and therefore a trait I truly admire.”
Wally felt his face heating up. He couldn’t figure out what to do with his hands. “I… thanks.” Unnerved by the silence, he found himself blurting, “I really…admire you too.”
Bruce’s expression didn’t change, but Wally sensed his disbelief.
“No, really. The whole ‘I could kill you with my pinky’ thing? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could just intimidate Captain Cold into sudden retirement.”
“You make a great Flash, Wally.”
They were just looking at each other, Wally unable to speak because of the sudden painful lump in his throat and Bruce leaning forward imperceptibly… Wally’s stomach chose that moment to rumble so loudly it echoed in the expansive monitoring hall.
Batman pulled back. “I almost forgot…” He picked up a paper bag from behind his chair. “You ate less than half of what you usually do. So…”
He held out a take out bag full of cheeseburgers. Wally could have kissed him, but he preferred his limbs attached to his body.
“They’ll have cooled off by now. I can go get more—“
“Are you kidding me? Thank you! Hot or cold, I love cheeseburgers. Cold fries are the worst, though, so thanks for avoiding those. Seriously, you’re the best!”
Bruce watched while Wally wolfed down his second lunch and tried not to be a total animal about it.
“I hate having crazy metabolism sometimes,” he admitted between overly ambitious bites. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love food and I love running; but, I hate feeling hungry ninety percent of the time.”
“Every superpower has its downsides.”
“Superman doesn’t have to deal with this,” Wally grumbled, but it was hard to sound morose around a mouthful of beef and melted cheese. “He has, like, forty other powers on top of super speed that should eat up way more energy than I do, but he just photosynthesizes.”
Batman’s mouth twitched.
“I mean, I know he doesn’t really…” Wally sighed. “Sometimes I’m a little jealous, is all I’m saying. I wouldn’t mind being a human solar panel.”
Batman actually smiled. “You have an alien with super strength, invulnerability, laser and X-ray vision, and flight and the one thing you envy him for… is his perfectly average metabolism.”
Wally grinned back. “How impressed are you with my priorities right now?”
To his surprise, Bruce reached out and curled his hand around Wally’s chin, his thumb trailing over his lower lip. “Very.” When he pulled away, there was a smear of ketchup on his gauntlet.
Wally tried to string a coherent sentence together while Bruce wiped his gloves with a napkin. “Oh…uh…thanks.” His lip burned.
Bruce watched him, still half-smiling.
“I mean… I… you…” Good grief, he sounded like an idiot. He stuffed the last burger in his mouth and wished he could have normal reactions to things anymore. Just sweat nervously instead of almost phasing through his chair, or hold a conversation without worrying whether he was talking so fast he was inaudible. And at some point, he would like to respond to grown-up flirting like an experienced adult instead of a confused, terrified child.
Batman reached around him and hit a blinking button.
“Incoming transmission from Superman’s Javelin.”
“Right.” Wally’s hand might have been trembling, but he hadn’t sunk through the floor to the engine room yet. “I’ll play it.”
Superman sounded tired and bored. “Have just arrived, been assigned quarters. First council meeting to begin within the hour. Will keep you updated. Superman out.”
“He’s surprisingly succinct.”
“Took me eight years to train him not to embellish. Or meander.” Batman sounded annoyed, but a little proud too. Wally looked at him and opened his mouth to say something intelligent—
“I thought you liked Wonder Woman.”
Seriously? It was like his brain was made of stupid. He held up a hand.
“Don’t say it. I know you were kidding. Teasing me. Flirting. Because that’s what normal people do when they talk. Hang out. I’m being an idiot because it’s you. Maybe. Actually, I don’t know why I’m wigging out. Ignore me while I die of embarrassment.”
“That would be unfortunate.”
Wally groaned. “Thank you for your concern. You’re a true friend.”
“I was hoping to become a bit more than that.”
For some reason, Wally was reminded of about a month ago, when he had overheard Wonder Woman tell Hawkgirl about the time during the Thanagarian invasion when she and Batman had taken refuge in a Middle Eastern restaurant. They had kissed and afterwards, Bruce (and here he was just quoting Wonder Woman) 'smoldered' at her. Diana had confided that if any man ever looked at her like that again, she would probably just—
Wally realized he had been having this internal monologue not at his usual super-sped-up rate, but in real time. Batman was regarding him curiously.
Wally covered his face with his hands. “All that hitting on and getting hit by Hawkgirl… and I can’t even deal with someone else’s flirting.”
“We could practice.”
“I’d like to live to a ripe old age and die in my sleep of natural causes, thank you.”
He hadn’t realized how close Batman was until he felt warm breath tickle his ear.
“Sleep is overrated.”
It was horrifying how sickly sweet that made him feel, right down to his toes. He peered through his fingers.
“You’re scaring me, Bats.”
“Not quite what I was going for, but I’m not one to look an elevated heart rate in the carotid artery.”
A Bat-joke? And that was definitely a Bat-leer. At some point, Bruce had stood up to loom over him, trapping him between hands firmly planted on Wally’s arm rests. He was leaning in.
Slowly, Bruce pulled off the Batman cowl. His expressive, impossibly blue eyes met Wally’s… and, heart plummeting, the Flash suddenly grokked Wonder Woman completely. Just like that, Wally felt a wave of heat ripple all the way across his body. His trembling hands touched Bruce’s, his body arched up, and for a second—one infinitely stretched moment—it seemed like they would never bridge that gap between their mouths and it hurt.
And then Bruce kissed him.
Sound dropped out, like someone had shot them out of a Watchtower airlock into the vacuum of space. Other sensations heightened; the places where they touched lit up with tingling fire, the places where they didn’t chilled to the point of pain. Wally stood, linked his arms around Bruce’s waist and tilted his head back. Batman crushed them together, his gauntleted fingers digging into Wally’s sides, his mouth trailing hot kisses down his neck. Already, he was peeling off Wally’s suit.
“W…wait.” And the Flash couldn’t believe he was going to say this. He would have to mark it down as the moment he never thought would happen. “Slow down. You’re going…too fast.”
Batman started shaking with laughter. They pulled apart just enough that Wally could press their foreheads together and catch his breath. He realized he was gasping. Even Batman looked affected; but, mostly disgustingly pleased with himself.
Wally scowled. “How long have you…?”
Bruce’s hands—now bare and deliciously warm—were stroking his lower back in tantalizing circles. Wally could feel his hips jerking at the contact, unsure whether they were bucking in or away. He tried to keep his voice steady.
“I hadn’t considered this at all.” Just to be absolutely clear he added, “I mean, I never would have thought I had a chance.”
Batman kissed him again, long and luxuriously, while one hand trailed up and down Wally’s spine. The other massaged his jaw until he gasped… and Bruce’s tongue slipped into his mouth.
There was another moment—or maybe an hour or a year—where Wally lost his head. Touching Bruce alternately overwhelmed and distorted all other senses. Distantly, he heard an alarm on his console and fumbled blindly for the switch with one hand. The other was busy carding through Bruce’s stupidly soft hair… so nice smelling and just long enough for him to really get a good grip…
“Flash! Batman! Is anyone there?!”
Wally reluctantly disentangled himself from Bruce. “What’s up, Supes?”
“Negotiations ended a bit earlier than expected,” came the furious reply. “Did you fall asleep or something? Is Batman even there?”
“He went to get coffee,” Wally improvised. “It was getting boring and I nodded off.”
Superman all but snarled. Wally punched in the code for opening the satellite doors. He watched the Javelin rocket into the hangar before shiny green missiles started pelting the Watchtower.
“Sounds like hail,” Wally commented.
“That makes it seem so innocuous,” Batman said dryly. “Are the doors locked?”
“Throw up the shield.” They watched the bright green pellets bounce silently off of the ion field around the Watchtower. It looked like a monochromatic fireworks display.
A few minutes of hasty uniform and cowl adjustments later, the doors slid open and Superman marched toward their console.
“Kryptonite?” Wally asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the mini meteor shower.
“Yes.” Clark looked murderous. “The peace talks were a joke. No one could agree on anything except that they didn’t want to be there. This is what we get for trying to end a war.”
“I told you you can’t force people to be reasonable,” Batman said. “At least they just chased you off with Kryptonite instead of sending an invading force to Earth.”
Superman looked at him warily. “You figured that was an option?”
“Don’t worry; I had a contingency plan. Three, in fact.”
Clark’s shoulders drooped. “I hate it when you’re right.”
“If it makes you feel any better, so do I. Sometimes.” Batman checked the radar. “The last wave of Kryptonite rocks should hit the shield in fifteen minutes.”
There was a brief pause.
“You look a little flushed,” Superman observed.
Bruce didn’t even twitch. “Probably the heat.”
“It’s pretty cool in here.”
“You’re not wearing three layers of Kevlar.”
Wally tried to look inconspicuous, but Superman turned to him with a penetrating gaze.
“You’re being awfully quiet.”
“I’m just tired.”
He knew the moment he said it that Supes could hear the lie. Clark studied them both—their swollen lips, the haphazard way Wally had zipped up the back of his suit, the way his hair peeked out under his cowl, and then the tiny hickey on Batman’s jaw, half-covered but brilliantly red—and then Superman all but yelled, “I nearly die in shower of Kryptonite because you’re busy schtupping the Flash?”
“Hey!” Wally interjected but Superman just threw up his hands.
“I wouldn’t care. Ordinarily. Really. But when I call you—ON THE EMERGENCY CHANNEL—you had better respond. Half-dressed and humping or no.”
“We may have been… a bit distracted,” Wally admitted. “But we weren’t humping.”
That wasn’t entirely true and while a corner of Bruce’s mouth twitched, both of Superman’s turned down.
“Next time… there won’t be a next time.” Clark glowered from one vigilante to the other. “You two are never getting monitor duty together ever again.”
Batman’s grin was smug. “Unfortunately for you, I’m the one that assigns shifts.”
“Which would explain why you two had the perfect opportunity to canoodle this afternoon.” Superman turned to Wally, almost beseechingly. “Do you know how frustrating this has been? Every damn meeting he just sits there staring at you while I try to get him to give me insights, observations, anecdotes, anything…”
“We weren’t ‘canoodling’,” Batman interrupted loudly.
“Yet,” Wally added with a leer of his own. He was surprised how naturally it came to him, even as he knew it probably looked ridiculous on his face. If Batman’s hitched breathing was anything to go by, though, it was doing its job. Superman looked very put upon.
“I’m not all that surprised by you,” he said to Wally, then turned to Batman. “But I never thought the day would come when I would have to tell you to act your age.”
Batman ignored him. “I am going to get coffee,” he informed the Flash.
“Me too.” And then, just because Supes was still standing there like a paragon of righteous disapproval, Wally added, “I actually have a very nice coffee machine in my room.”
He felt Bruce’s predatory smile in the marrow of his bones. “Oh?”
“Yup.” Then, coyly, “Would you care to try it out?”
“You. Have. Monitor. Duty,” Superman growled. “No. Never mind—I’ll take over. But the next time I have a date with Lois, I don’t want to hear about how I need to put my responsibilities to humanity ahead personal relationships. Or how I don’t take my leadership role seriously. Or how I need to start reading your stupid booklist on team management and morale—” There was a bright red streak and Superman found himself alone in the hub with a wall of humming monitors.