The past week was a blur for Nia. After rescuing Brainy from his near-death experience and bringing him to the Tower's makeshift med bay, she thought the worst of it was over.
Turns out she was wrong.
As soon as Brainy regained consciousness, well, everything went downhill from there.
Nia and the rest of the team had been taking turns watching over Brainy, and it happened to be hers. She watched the steady rise and fall of his breath, relieved that he was still alive.
"Look, I don't know how you ended up where you were, but you're okay. You saved us," Nia said, standing next to the bed like she had for the past few days. "I wish you could hear me, and we're all hoping you'll wake up soon, so-" she was cut off by a gasp from Brainy.
"What happened?" he asked, getting up from the bed. "Where am I?"
"Hey, you're safe now. We found you and brought you here," Nia explained the events of the past few days to him.
"I... shouldn't be here," Brainy said, trying to stand. He held onto the side of the bed for support. "I do not deserve this,"
"Slow down, you literally almost died a few days ago." Nia stopped him from going any further. "And what do you mean, you don't deserve this?"
"That, I cannot explain at the moment. The point is... I have done something unforgivable," Brainy replied, looking away from Nia.
"What is it? I'm pretty sure that whatever it is, you still deserve to live after that," she said. She wondered what he could be hiding, and what could have prompted that response.
"You misunderstand," he said, not wanting to explain. "Now that I've recovered, I must leave, "
"Listen, you're still healing," Nia reminded him. "And I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure you shouldn't,"
"Even if that is true, I cannot stay here. Don't look for me," Brainy headed to the nearest window, opening it.
"Wait-" Nia watched as he took off flying before she could protest.
"Guys, I need your help," In the meantime, she had called the rest of the team to the Tower. Luckily, they all arrived as soon as possible.
"What's wrong? Did something happen to Brainy?" Kara asked, noticing his absence.
"Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that he's awake now," Nia explained. "The bad news is, well, he left,"
"What do you mean, left?" Alex said. She too had noticed the empty bed.
"I mean, he said something about not deserving to be here and then flew off before I could ask what he meant," Nia replied. "We need to go look for him,"
"I'm on it," Kara assured her, leaving through the same window.
"You're worried about him, aren't you?" J'onn said after Kara took off. "Be honest, I can feel it,"
"Fine, I am. But that's an understatement," Nia said. "I've been worried since we saved him from the ship. And maybe even before that. I know I shouldn't care so much about him, especially because of what happened, but I can't help it,"
"Don't worry, how you feel is totally normal," Kelly reassured her. "You two loved each other for so long, so of course you'd want to know if he's okay now,"
"I know, but..." Nia suddenly had an idea. "You know what? Maybe I should go help Kara look for him,"
"You sure that's a good idea?" Alex asked.
"Only one way to find out," she said. Nia reached for her phone from the table, and put on her jacket. "I'll be back," she called to the rest of them, taking the elevator downstairs.
After a while of walking, Nia finally found Brainy on the rooftop of their apartment building, at the very edge.
"What are you doing?" she called to him, staying on the other side.
"I specifically told you not to look for me," Brainy replied, not turning around. Upon further inspection, Nia noticed that he was standing perfectly still, hands behind his back like they usually were.
"I know, just... why are you doing this?" she asked, approaching him carefully. "The others are really worried about you, and-"
"You wish to know why I'm here?" he said, taking a deep breath. "Fine. I'm working with Lex. Or rather, I was, for a long time. Satisfied?"
"What? I'm not mad at you, I just want to know... why? I know I've been asking you that same thing all day, but still... how could you?" Nia asked. She was at a loss for words. How was she even supposed to respond to that? "Is that why you were- I thought-"
"See, this is exactly why I didn't say anything," Brainy said, finally turning to face her. "Just... let me explain,"
"Okay. I'm listening," Nia said, still in shock from his confession. "But there better be a good reason for all this,"
"I had no choice," he replied. "Remember the day we met the other versions of myself?"
"Yeah, but what does this have to do with-"
"I'm getting to that part. One of them, my female counterpart, otherwise known as Director Dox... she told me that the only way to defeat him was to... do what I did," Brainy explained. His voice started to break, but he didn't seem to care. "She also said that I had to give up everyone I cared for, including you,"
"And you believed her?" Nia said, more firm than she should have, or wanted to. "You did... all this, and for someone you barely even know?" she continued, trying to understand. "I just don't get it,"
"The plan worked," he pointed out. "We won, but in the end... it may not look like it, but keeping this from everyone- from you? It hurt. More than you think," Brainy continued, barely noticing as the first of many tears began to run down his face. "And if I could, I would- I would have done anything to prevent this, even if it meant... even if..."
"Hey, it's okay," Nia immediately tried to comfort him, despite it being anything but okay. Her instincts took over, closing the distance between her and Brainy and embracing him in a hug. "I don't blame you for doing all this. You were being manipulated, and that's not your fault,"
For a while, neither of them said a word. The only thing Nia felt was the warmth of their bodies, and the only thing she heard was the occasional sob from Brainy.
"...So you don't hate me?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"What? Of course not," Nia replied, slowly pulling away from Brainy. "No matter what, I could never hate you,"
"Even after... what I did?" he reminded her.
"Let's just forget that for now," Nia said. She sat down on the side of the building, legs hanging over the edge, and invited Brainy to do the same. "We'll think about what's next later. I'm just glad you're okay,"
"You know, the plan nearly costed my life," he mused, sitting next to Nia. "I suppose it should have..."
"Don't say that," she interrupted before he could say any more. "Please. If that happened, I wouldn't- I can't even think about how much that would- just... don't, okay? You deserve to live. I want you here,"
"And you aren't just saying that to comfort me?" Brainy asked, uncertain.
"Of course not. Do you think I would've saved you, if I didn't care?" Nia asked. "For now? I just want you to know..."
"What is it?"
"Listen. It's so hard to say it, but even after all this? I love you," she admitted. "I still do. And I really mean it. Honestly, right now, I don't care about your partnership with Lex. The only thing that matters is that we're safe now,"
"Are you sure?" Brainy asked. "That I... should be loved?"
"Of course," Nia reassured him. "Even if you don't think you deserve it,"
"And what about the others?" he questioned. "What are they going to think, when they hear-"
"You don't have to tell them if you don't want to," Nia replied. "If they happen to find out, well... by then, we'll have bigger problems to worry about,"
Both of them shared another, longer moment of silence, thinking about what was next.
"We have been on this rooftop for nearly an hour," Brainy pointed out as it ended. He dried off his tears, slowly standing up.
"Right. Come on, everyone's looking for you," Nia said. She pulled out her phone to send a quick message. "You can tell me more later. I just texted Kara, so she'll fly us back."
"I am perfectly capable of-" he tried to protest.
"Look, you're in no condition to do it yourself," she pointed out. "Besides, she's already on her way,"
"What happened?" Kara asked, landing next to them a few minutes later.
"Nothing, just... I found him," Nia answered. Had Kara heard their conversation? She didn't want to know. "Can you take us back to the Tower? I don't think it's a good idea for Brainy to use his ring in this condition,"
"Sure," she said, carrying them.
When the three of them returned, everyone else was still there.
"So, he's here," Nia said as they landed. She led Brainy to the rest of the group.
"What happened?" Kelly asked.
"Yeah, what took you so long?" Alex added.
"I was..." Brainy replied, trailing off. He was at a loss for words.
"We were... talking," Nia finished his sentence. Technically, that was the truth, or at least most of it. "And sorta lost track of time. But anyways, I guess you can go back to, well, whatever you were doing before this?"
"I guess so," Kara replied. "Oh, and I heard your conversation earlier," she commented.
"What exactly did you hear?" Brainy asked, worried that she might have heard his confession.
"Not much, just..." she replied. "Look, I know things like... what happened to you can make people feel that way,"
"Yeah, an experience like that can really affect your mental health," J'onn said, turning to Brainy. "Just know that we care about you,"
"And I'll try my best to help you too," Kelly offered.
"If you ever need someone, we're here," Kara added. "All of us are,"
"Thank you," Brainy said, touched by their kindness. "All of you. I don't know what I would do... without friends like these,"
"Hmm... you know what? How about we all just have a group hug before you all leave?" Nia suggested. "I mean, if you want...?" she looked to Brainy for approval.
"Fine," he sighed. "Just this once,"
"I just want to know... you said she forced you to give up our relationship," Nia turned to him, once they were alone again. By now, it was completely dark outside. They sat next to each other on the couch, gazing out the window. "Does that mean you still want us to be together?"
"I don't know what you mean by that," Brainy said.
"Be honest, do you still love me?" she asked, being more direct. "I just want to know,"
"It's complicated," Brainy replied, not knowing how to answer. "I-"
"It's a yes-or-no question," she said.
"Then my answer is... yes. I never stopped loving you, Nia Nal," Brainy admitted. "I wish you had known that sooner,"
"Well, there's no time for regretting," she pointed out. "If we're gonna fix our relationship, we'll have to leave the past behind,"
"You're right," Brainy said. "I guess we could start now,"
"That means we're back together again, right?" Nia asked. "I mean, unless you want us to move on..."
"Of course we're... back together," Brainy replied. He couldn't help but smile. "You have no idea how much I missed you,"
"I missed you too," Nia said. "I mean, of course I did," She checked the time on her phone. "Anyways, I should be heading back to my apartment now,"
"So I guess I'll be staying here for the night?" Brainy asked. "Unless there is somewhere more... comfortable?" he hinted.
"You can sleep at my place," Nia offered, knowing what he was implying. She took his hand, heading for the elevator. "Come on, let's go home,"
Both of them knew that things wouldn't go back to normal. But for now? This was a step in the right direction, and for the first time in a while, they felt pretty hopeful about the future of their relationship.
And maybe someday, it would be even better.