“I have no idea what I’m doing anymore,” the Flash moaned, flopping back into the rolling chair stationed in front of the computer. Batman arched a brow at the speedster’s audacity—no one sat so casually in his chair—before carefully counting to ten and turning his attention back to the sample under the microscope.
“You’re polishing the floor of my cave with your pacing,” the man grumbled, adjusting the strength of the magnification.
“Oh, wow. You’re right. I’msorryIdidn’tmeanto.” Wally sighed dramatically, slapping a hand to his forehead. “I don’t know how you do it, Bats. I feel like I could just snap—“ the runner made a wide gesture with both arms, accompanied by an obnoxious sound. “I guess the stress is really getting to me.”
“You ‘guess’,” Bruce mused stoically. He didn’t flinch as the speedster appeared suddenly over his left shoulder, squinting down at the machine.
“Hey, you need any help? I’m really good with this sort of stuff.”
“I would hope so, considering your profession.” Batman took another deep, patient breath and straightened, glancing at his uninvited guest. The Flash’s cowl was down, exposing his vibrant red hair; his eyes were bright and hopeful. The man repressed a sigh.
“Perhaps if you cultivated the ability to concentrate on one task at a time, your problems would solve themselves.”
“I doubt it,” Wally countered easily, leaning against the table. “And that’s part of the problem, anyway. I’m not like everyone else.” The speedster frowned; he rested both elbows on the table and tapped the tip of his boot behind him on the floor. “I’m really tired of being looked at like there’s something wrong with me because I have to eat my weight in food every day. Or being told to talk slower—“ he glared up at Batman, though the man’s focus was once more on his task. “Why doesn’t anyone try to keep up with me? And don’t you ever get tired of being one of the only ones who can’t fly?” The redhead huffed. “That’s really starting to bug me.”
“We’re not discussing my irritations with the Justice League,” Bruce stated. Wally watched him jot down a detail in the notebook beside him.
“It’s not just the JLA,” the speedster admitted, glancing around the cave. He watched a couple of bats flutter in from outside. “I mean, it is. But it isn’t. They all treat me like a kid.”
“You are significantly younger than the rest of us.”
“Yeah, ok. Sure.” Wally agreed. “But making me feel like a kid all the time? I should’ve just stayed with the Titans, you know? Would have been better for my ego—not that this has all that much to do with my ego. I just don’t feel like I fit in anywhere—“
“Because the JLA views you as an inexperienced replacement for both a founder and a friend,” Bruce observed. “And the Titans harbor resentments regarding your choice to change your allegiance.”
“Yeah,” Wally said, nodding. “Yeah. That’s it exactly! So what am I supposed to do, Bats? What do I have to do to catch a break around here?”
Bruce leveled his gaze. The Flash fidgeted from one foot to the other.
“I mean, how do you do it? You can’t fly. You’re pretty asocial. You get into arguments with the Big Guy all the time—”
Batman arched a brow. Wally continued undeterred.
“You don’t listen to anyone. You just go off and do your own thing, even though you’re supposedly one of our fearless leaders. I’ve seen Wonder Woman need to be physically restrained because of something you’ve said—”
The man’s eyes narrowed as the Flash prattled on, ticking points off on his fingers.
“Not a day goes by you don’t cheese somebody off. You don’t have any real super powers, unless you count intimidation—“ Wally cocked his head. “Which I would totally count, now that I think about it. I think it’s because they’re never sure if you’re sane, you know? Like, you could step over that line at any second and just—“
“Are you getting to a point?” Batman growled.
The Flash paused. “Oh. Yeah. Well, everyone respects you, even though you’re, well…you.” He sighed. “I can’t even get them to take me seriously enough to let me go on missions. The view of Earth from space is great and everything, but I’m tired of being stuck on surveillance. I need to run.”
Batman’s eyes followed as the redhead resumed his pacing.
“I mean, how do you do it?” Wally was a red blur as he contemplated his place in the world.
“I can’t do what you do! I can’t intentionally annoy people! I can’t just decide I’m going to do my own thing even though it’s the right thing. I can’t pretend like I don’t care what other people think of me—“
The Flash stopped abruptly and stared at his companion.
“Ohmygodyou’reright.” His lips curved into a grateful smile. “I don’t need to care about all that! Wow…” the speedster shook his head. “I didn’t realize we had so much in common, Bats. The next person who says you’re off your block’s gonna have to answer to me.”
Bruce stiffened as Wally moved too fast to see; the unwelcome arm around his shoulders was companionable in a way he was unaccustomed; he crossed his arms over his chest and glared.
The redhead didn’t notice.
“Can I buy you a burger? A steak? Do you eat meat? You eat meat, right? Man, I could go for an all-you-can-eat buffet—“
The sigh was impossible to suppress the second time around. Batman pondered the karmic implications of his current situation as Wally led him across the cave, undiscouraged by his silence.
“Hey, we can take your jet, right? I don’t think there’s a place in Gotham that’s open at this hour and I don’t want to run ahead and leave you behind. Well,there probably is one, but not all-you-can-eat—and I’m starving. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Aw, crap. Can you spot me a twenty? I’ll pay you back, I just need to collect on this bet I had going with Hal. “
The muscle in Bruce’s jaw jumped. “Wally—“
“You know,” the redhead said with a smile. “Everybody’s wrong about you. You’re an ok guy, Bruce. ” His grin brightened. “Chinese or Italian? We could do family style.” Looking up at the jet, he whistled. “Wow, she sure is a beauty. Can I drive her?”
“No,” Batman snapped. He inhaled deeply; for some inexplicable reason, it was hard to ignore the speedster’s hurt expression.
“I’m driving.” The man strode forward. Wally was waiting for him when he got to the hatch. Bruce gave him a cautionary glance as he opened it. “And it’s too late for Italian.”
Wally’s grin was wide.