Batman strode into the control room and headed straight for the communicator. It had been shorting out randomly for a few days now, and now Batman had a few free hours he was going to fix it.
A red blur sped to a stop next to Batman. Flash's turns in the Watchtower were usually done carefully, so as not to make the rest of the league subject to a bored speedster.
"Are you here to take over?" Flash asked, looking hopefully up at Batman, "I didn't want to be on duty tonight, but everyone else is busy. Is Gotham being quiet?"
"I'm not here as relief," Batman said.
Flash's face fell, "Oh."
He went back over to the console and sprawled out in the chair. Batman shook off the feeling that he'd just kicked a puppy and got to work.
Three replaced wires later and the communicator was back online. Batman glanced at Flash, who was still slumped over the console. Alarm bells were beginning to sound in Batman's head. Usually Flash would have been bothersome and distracting – Batman had even given himself an extra half hour to compensate for it – but now he was sitting almost completely still, which was never a good sign.
'I didn't want to be on duty tonight' Batman had the feeling that was the root of the problem. He checked the date: March twelfth. With a sinking feeling he brought up the Justice League medical records. Ah, that explained it.
Had it been any other member of the league, Batman would have left them to it. Perhaps given a quick 'happy birthday' if he was feeling generous. But this was Flash, the only member of the league who would be upset if someone remembered his birthday and didn't do anything about it.
Batman didn't have a birthday. Bruce Wayne would have a big party, give his employees the day off, and have birthday cake made by Alfred.
Inspiration struck and Batman quickly sent a message to Alfred. That done, he went and clapped a hand down on Flash's shoulder.
"Stealth training," Batman said, "You have five seconds to hide where I won't find you."
Flash just stared at him.
"One," Batman said.
Flash was out of sight before two.
Batman closed the door to Flash's quarters with a vow to never again go in unless on pain of death. It wasn't messy per se, it was hazardous. It looked like he'd been building obstacle courses out of the sparse furniture and some chairs stolen from the cafeteria. Batman rubbed a bruised shin and hoped that the Joker never got the chance to study the chaos.
That eliminated the cafeteria, all the personal quarters (though Flash wasn't authorised to go in anyone's bar his own, he could be quite inventive if pushed and Batman wasn't going to chance it), the medical bay and the hanger. Batman was quite impressed.
He was fairly certain that Flash didn't understand the phrase 'hiding in plain sight' – a couple of villains had tried it before and Flash hadn't noticed a difference – and he was hiding from an enemy who knew the Watchtower...
Last time Flash had been running from members of the league he'd ended up in the air ducts. Batman should've thought of that earlier, but he hadn't paid as much attention to that part of the story as he had to the part about the wormhole.
Underestimating Flash. A lot of villains did it, and, to be honest, so did most of the league. And when Superman, Lantern and Batman himself are around there was no reason to disabuse the notion that Flash was a bit of an idiot who just happened to have super-speed. But every once in a while there was a reminder that Flash had earned his place in the league every bit as much as the rest of them.
Batman pulled himself into the air ducts and started crawling through them. He made a mental note to widen them at some point in the future, as his shoulders kept bumping against the sides. The ducts were a sprawling maze, but Batman had built this station and he knew how to navigate every last inch of it.
He found Flash lying on his back with an upside-down grin. "Took your time, Bats."
"Eight minutes and fifty three seconds," Batman read out from his Bat-wave, "Not bad."
Somehow Flash's grin got wider. Batman opened his mouth to start talking, but shut it without saying anything. He was supposed to be being nice, and asking Flash if he'd thought up a plan for taking out his pursuer when Batman knew he hadn't wasn't very nice.
So instead Batman elbowed open the vent on the side of the duct and climbed out. It was good to be free from that constricting space. Flash didn't climb so much as fall out of the duct, bouncing to his feet and grinning at Batman again.
"My turn," Batman said, "Let's make things a little harder."
He clicked a button and the lights in the station went out. Several loud clunks sounded as the doors locked. In the gloom provided by the dim emergency lights Batman could make out the surprise on Flash's face.
"I am an enemy agent who has managed to infiltrate the Watchtower," Batman began.
"C'mon, you're not that bad, Bats," Flash interrupted, back to grinning already.
"Training exercise," Batman said, forcing himself not to snap, "Communications have been cut and the Javelin is down. There is no rescue coming and you can't reach the others."
"How much of a head-start are you getting?" Flash asked.
"One minute," Batman said, "Then you have to find and neutralise me. And Flash? I'll know if you cheat."
Flash gulped, but turned to the wall and put his hands over his eyes. "One... Two... Three..."
Ten minutes later Batman was watching a dispirited Flash make his third circuit of the Watchtower from the camera feeds to his Bat-wave. He was crouched in the shadows under the Javelin, the one place Flash hadn't looked yet.
The lights were still out and some of the doors were still locked, but Flash had managed to secure a power supply and had worked out a crude way of bringing the doors online one at a time. Batman was both impressed and annoyed; he'd have to work out a way around that in case an enemy found out. Batman had also been frustrated to find out that Flash could override the door combination locks by simply trying every possible combination in less than twenty seconds. A lot of necessary improvements.
At least Flash appeared to take his threat seriously enough to not poke around in Diana's underwear drawer too much.
It took another two minutes and two packets of biscuits from the canteen for the moment of revelation Batman had been waiting for. Biscuit halfway to his mouth, Flash froze and looked at the camera currently watching him. Understanding bloomed on Flash's face.
Gotcha, Batman lip-read. Then suddenly the feed went black. He switched to the one outside the canteen, but that was blank too. Batman pulled up all feeds on the small screen and watched as they went out one by one. Sometimes he could just catch a blur of red before the feed stopped.
There was a hum and the lights in the hanger came on. Taking away another of Batman's advantages. If he could pinpoint the generator and take it out that wouldn't be a problem, however he had to reach the generator without Flash noticing.
"Y'know, Bats," Flash said clearly, "That was pretty sneaky, even for you."
Batman silently readied a batarang, but stayed where he was. Flash regularly ran faster than the speed of sound – had even proved he could reach light-speed recently – so there was no guarantee he would be where his voice was, even while he was still speaking.
The door of the Javelin opened and Batman could hear rapid footsteps over his head. They circled the Javelin several times before Flash came out again. Batman could see a pair of yellow boots and really there wouldn't be a better opportunity.
Flash yelped as the batarang bit into his leg. Not a particularly damaging shot though, Batman had made certain of that. In the next instant the boots vanished from view. Batman start to turn around, but was still mostly facing forwards when his cape was yanked. Hard.
Batman scrambled at the clasps holding his cape on as he was bodily dragged out from beneath the Javelin. He released them, but the momentum still sent him tumbling across the floor. Batman got to his feet and sent a batarang at the now-visible generator. A blur of red intercepted its path and then Flash appeared, tossing the batarang in one hand and holding Batman's discarded cape in the other.
"I can see why you like this, Bats," Flash said, sweeping the cape over his own shoulders, "All dark and scary-looking. No good when you're trying to be speedy though," he added dropping it on the ground.
Batman had taken the time he had been talking to retrieve a handful of smoke-pellets. He threw them to the ground, where they exploded, obscuring Flash's vision. Of course it wouldn't stay like that for long and even as he threw a batarang at the generator blind, Batman could hear Flash clearing the smoke.
The lights flickered out again with a crackle of stray electricity.
Batman loosed a bola towards the voice, but there was the sound of running even as it let his fingertips. Right, time to plan, not just react. Batman knew that had he seriously been out to capture Flash he would have spent plenty of time before now rigging the landing bay full of traps. As it was he was relying on his not-insubstantial improvisation skills. Unfortunately this would have been a much stronger tactic against any member of the league bar Flash.
Flash couldn't dodge what he couldn't see though.
There was another spark from the broken generator, that wasn't going to be easily fixed. Batman backed up so his back was against the wall, he couldn't dodge what he couldn't see either. There wasn't any movement, so Batman waited again, he had far more patience than Flash.
Batman fought back the instinct to throw where a normal person would be, instead letting the batarang go several feet further to one side than usual. There was another pained yelp for his efforts. Batman felt a momentary pang of guilt, but it was quickly put away when 200mph of momentum slammed into his side.
Batman was thankful that Flash had nearly perfected hitting people at high speeds without doing more than a few bruises.
He picked himself up off the floor and threw another bola at where he predicted Flash would be. A curse and a body barrelling uncontrollably into the Dark Knight told him he had hit. Batman acted quickly, grabbing Flash's arms and pinning him to the ground. Flash squirmed like an eel, twisting and jerking far quicker than anyone Batman had tried to hold before.
Batman put his full weight on Flash and fished a canister out of his utility belt. Flash went limp when the cloud of knock-out spray hit him full in the face. Knowing he didn't have long, Batman bundled the unconscious speedster into the Javelin and reset the Watchtower's power and defences.
"Wha' th'hell Bats?"
The Javelin had barely cleared the landing bay when Flash began to regain consciousness. Batman couldn't help filing away the exact amount of time it had taken Flash to recover.
"Relax," Batman said, though no one had ever listened when he'd said that before.
"That wasn't fair, or nice, or..." Flash trailed off when he remembered who he was speaking to, "Damn sneaky, Bats." He paused for a moment, taking in the dwindling Watchtower and growing Earth, "You know I'm meant to be on duty, right?"
"The Bat-wave will let me know if there's a problem," Batman said.
"Right..." Flash clearly still didn't understand, "And where are we going?"
"Right," Flash repeated, there was a look of discomfort on his face. He'd never been particularly comfortable in Gotham, Central City tended to be brighter and more cheerful than Gotham could ever hope to be.
Bar Flash's near-constant fidgeting, the ride was silent. Flash was clearly expecting a lecture on all the ways he just failed at taking Batman down, while Batman was doing his best to not give in and lecture Flash. Batman keyed in a code into the Bat-wave one handed. He set the Javelin down about thirty miles from Gotham, the Batmobile was already waiting.
"Batman?" Flash was looking bewildered.
"A race," Batman said, hoping he knew what he was getting himself in for.
"A race?" Flash echoed, looking edgy as well as nervous, "D'you know how many people've challenged me before?"
"You're not allowed on roads," Batman said.
He got into the Batmobile. Time to see if those engine modifications were everything he'd hoped for.
"Where's the finish?" Flash asked.
In reply Batman put his foot down. The wheels skidded on the dusty ground for a second, then caught and the Batmobile shot forwards. The new engine was working beautifully, yet Flash was keeping easy pace with the car.
"Seriously, Bats?" Flash called through the comlink, "I'd like to know what I'm aiming for."
"A bit more specific, please."
Batman edged the car over 300mph. Flash was mostly blur next to it, glancing at Batman every few seconds.
"Bats?" A pause, "C'mon, this isn't funny." Pause, "Bats..."
"Gotham city dump," Batman finally responded, "Remember, no roads."
The red blur sped up, leaving the Batmobile behind. Batman pressed the pedal flat to the floor of the Batmobile and shot after him.
Gotham city dump was like the rest of Gotham. That is, dark, dank and a potential hive for criminal activity. Batman had cleared out a plot of Joker's only last week though, so the dump was as empty and clean as an area filled with garbage ever could be.
As the Batmobile came to a stop, Batman spotted Flash waiting. The speedster was bouncing impatiently and as soon as he caught sight of the Batmobile he sped to its side.
"You couldn't have picked a less smelly spot?" Flash griped.
"Get in," Batman ordered.
In less than a second the door slammed shut and Flash was buckling himself in. He ran his hands over the dashboard in awe, thankfully not actually touching anything.
"GL's going to be so jealous," Flash said.
Batman activated the entrance to the Batcave and drove thought the tunnels behind an abandoned school bus. Flash stared out the windows, excited, but then turned to Batman with a sudden frown.
"Wait a minute... playing games... letting me see the inside of the Batmobile and the Batcave. What have you done with Batman!"
Batman's seatbelt tightened painfully as Flash grabbed it from behind. The Batmobile swerved, but Batman managed to pull it away from hitting the wall.
"Stop the car," Flash ordered.
Batman did so, not wanting to be splattered on the windshield if Flash tried that again. Flash angled the rearview mirror so they could look each other in the eye.
"Keep your hands on the wheel," Flash said, tightening his grip on Batman's seatbelt, "And don't try anything funny, I can see anything you try and stop you before you get close to finishing."
Batman did as he was told, he hadn't seen this side of Flash before.
"Who are you?"
"Don't lie!" Flash snapped, "Batman doesn't play hide and seek, or race, or show anyone the Batcave."
"Superman's seen it," Batman said.
"Well I haven't, you said it would have to be the end of the world before you showed me around," Flash said, with a hint of hurt in his voice, "So either you've been distracting me from something really dangerous – which is so not on, I'm a superhero too you know – or you're not Bats."
"I am Batman," Batman insisted, wondering how he was going to convince Flash.
"So it's the end of the world?" Flash said, "I was on monitor duty and I do pay attention and I didn't see anything."
"It's not the end of the world," Batman said, "I'll explain when we get to the cave."
"Tell me something only Batman would know," Flash said, not loosing his grip one iota.
"Last time we were on monitor duty together was three weeks ago," Batman answered, "You told me your coffee preferences, which diners in Central City were any good, and how much the restaurants let you eat without paying. You also asked if I'd ever tried donuts in Paris and if kevlar was easy to wash."
Flash's grip finally loosened. He got back into his seat and gave Batman an apologetic grin.
"You did well," Batman said.
"So that was... a test?" Flash asked.
It hadn't been, but Batman wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he nodded.
"And here I thought you were finally getting in touch with your inner child," Flash teased.
The Batmobile pulled into the Batcave and Flash fell silent. Batman knew the cave was impressive and part of him couldn't help but be pleased when his (few and far between) guests were awed by the spectacle. Of course, Flash could never stay silent for very long.
"Is that a dinosaur?"
"Don't touch –" anything Batman had been about to say, but then he caught sight of the gash on Flash's arm, "Wait."
Flash, one leg out the door already, paused and looked at Batman in confusion. He followed his gaze to the cut and shrugged.
"It's nothing," Flash said.
"Let Alfred take a look," Batman said.
"Alfred?" Flash looked around the cave, but didn't see anyone else, "Is that your real name? 'Cause you don't seem like an 'Alfred' to me, Bats."
"No," Flash shook his head, "You're more like a... Terry or something."
"Not Terry," Batman said, getting out of the Batmobile and pulling his cowl back, "Bruce. Bruce Wayne."
"Seriously?" Flash's voice hit a note Batman was sure it hadn't since puberty, "A billionaire playboy fighting crime? I'm not really seeing it."
"Ok, that helps," Flash said, "Guess it's my turn, right?" he tugged down his own mask, "Wally West."
"Showoff," Flash muttered.
It was strange seeing Flash unmasked in person rather than in photographs. It was much easier to see his resemblance to Flash, though the red hair did distract away from it a little.
"If it's any consolation, you were harder to figure out than Superman," Batman offered.
It was strange seeing Flash's grin on what looked like a stranger's face.
The elevator on the top portion of the cave slid open. Batman took a pole up and landed in front of Alfred as the butler exited the lift.
"Good evening, Master Bruce," Alfred said. There was a gust of wind and Batman knew Flash was stood next to him, "And to your companion too."
"Alfred, this is Wally West, also known as The Flash," Batman introduced, "Flash, this is my butler, Alfred."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Alfred said.
"Yeah, nice to meet you," Flash said.
"Alfred, could you fetch the first-aid kit," Batman said, "Flash is injured."
"Right away, sir," Alfred said, making his way over to one of the many equipment-covered tables in the Bat-cave.
"It's just a scratch," Flash protested, "You don't have to bother, really. I'm fine."
"I'll be the judge of that," Alfred said directing Flash into a chair.
Flash rolled his sleeve up so Alfred could get a good look. Batman hovered nearby.
"Clean," Alfred commented, though he gave it a quick wipe with anti-bacterial gel all the same, making Flash hiss.
"Batarang," Batman confirmed when Alfred looked over at him.
"I do wish you would be more careful when training, Master Bruce," Alfred scolded, "Master Dick would nearly always need medical attention when you ran your simulated encounters."
Batman could see Flash struggling not to laugh as the big bad bat was being told off like a child. Batman glared.
"When you're finished with his arm, I think Flash's leg was injured too." That wiped the grin off Flash's face.
"It's fine, Bats," Flash said, "I heal quick and it wasn't deep."
Batman could see Alfred smirking at the nickname, but ever the consummate professional he turned his attention to Flash's leg without a word to Batman on the subject. Flash yanked off his boot and rolled his costume up to his knee so they could see the injury. As Flash said, it wasn't deep.
Bandaged up and boot back on, Flash prodded at first his arm, then his leg. He shot Alfred a grin.
"Now I know why Bats bounces back so fast," he said.
"Thank you, sir," Alfred said, he turned his attention to Batman, "Master Bruce, everything is ready."
"Thanks, Alfred, we'll be up in a minute," Batman said.
"Very good, sir," Alfred made his way back to the elevator.
"What's 'ready'?" Flash asked.
"You'll see once you've gotten changed," Batman said, pointing out a pile of neatly folded clothes that Alfred must have left earlier.
A rush of wind and a blur later Flash was dressed in the clothes. The t-shirt was a little too large at the shoulders and the trousers were a bit short, Alfred must have raided Dick's clothes as well as Bruce's own. Batman picked up his own pile of clothes and went behind the dividers which had been put in for this purpose.
It didn't take long to rid himself of kevlar and pull on civilian clothes, but it apparently was too long for a bored speedster. When Batman looked over at Flash, he was wandering around Batman's trophies. Batman cleared his throat and Flash appeared next to him, looking sheepish.
"It's just cool, I can't believe you got to fight a dinosaur!" Flash said.
"Alfred's waiting," Batman said.
"Me too," Flash said, already by the lift.
With an aborted sigh, Batman followed. The elevator took them up to the drawing room, where Flash was impressed by the mechanism that made the clock move out of the way. Alfred, as Batman said before, was waiting for them.
"This way, please."
Flash kept up his usual constant chatter about the manor as they made their way through the halls. Batman had long since learn to tune him out, but Alfred was nodding politely and even commenting himself from time to time.
The dining room was large and decorative, like the rest of the manor. Several large serving plates were already laid down, covered in food.
"Dinner?" Wally said suspiciously, "Look, Bats –" Alfred coughed, "– Bruce, I'm flattered, really, but I'm not that sort of guy. And I thought you liked Diana."
Bruce was at a loss for words. Wally shifted awkwardly from foot to foot.
"What I believe Master Bruce is trying to say," Alfred interrupted Bruce's pathetic attempt at clarifying, "Is that this isn't intended as a romantic meal. Many happy returns are in order, if I am correct."
Wally's face lit up. "You know it's my birthday?" he turned to Bruce, "That's why you played hide and seek, right?"
Bruce nodded and ignored the raised eyebrow from Alfred at that statement. They took their places at the table, Wally examining the several sets of cutlery surrounding his plate.
"Master Dick is on patrol with Miss Gordon," Alfred said, "He won't be joining us tonight. I believe his exact words were: 'don't wait up'."
"Thanks, Alfred," Bruce said. He caught Wally's confusion and elaborated, "Robin and Batgirl."
"Right," Flash nodded, "You're lucky you've got sidekicks to take over when you want a night off."
"And you're lucky you don't have villains like the Joker," Batman retorted.
"True," Flash agreed, "You gonna get some food or..."
Recognising Wally's warning for what it was, Bruce piled his plate with all the food he felt like eating. Alfred tutted, but had been warned of Flash's metabolism so he didn't voice his objections. As soon as Bruce return his plate to his place, Wally quickly dished out a heaping plateful for himself and dug in.
"'Sgood," Wally said between mouthfuls.
Bruce picked at his food far more slowly. Wally started a story about his recent visit to a Central City orphanage, which Bruce was glad of, as it gave him a lead in to talk about the donations he'd made to the children's hospital here in Gotham. On an easy topic, the conversation managed to flow quite well – once Flash had gotten over Batman answering with more than one word that is.
"And I thought Master Dick had an appetite," Alfred commented, removing yet another empty serving platter.
"Sorry," Wally apologised, a forkful of food halfway to his mouth, "I can stop if you want."
"No, no," Alfred said, "The food is prepared and it would be a shame to see it go to waste."
"Great," Wally said, three more mouthfuls on. He grinned over at Bruce, "So when's your birthday?"
"It doesn't –" Bruce began.
"October twenty-third," Alfred said.
"Thanks, Alfred," Wally grinned.
Bruce sighed, already mentally preparing himself for a party over half a year away. No doubt Alfred would insist on them hosting it here and Wally would make sure everyone knew.
The food was all eaten, Flash and Batman were back in costume and the clocks were striking one. The Batmobile was ready and waiting, Flash was going to run alongside it until they were out in Gotham proper before speeding back to Central City.
"So..." Flash said, "Thanks. You didn't have to do that."
Suddenly Flash's arms were around Batman. Batman stiffened and fought valiantly not to shove him away.
"Don't ever change, Bats," Flash said, his voice slightly muffled by Batman's armour. In the next second he was waiting by the car again, customary grin in place. "So, how of a head-start do you want? Five minutes? Ten?"
"Not a race," Batman said, getting into the Batmobile, "Just keep level."
Flash scoffed, but did so; matching the Batmobile's speed that must have been comparable to a slow jog for him. Once they were out in the open he sped up, leaving Batman behind in a red blur. Batman turned his thoughts towards back to his job.
He had a city to patrol.