CHOICES
                CHOICES

(Author's Note: This is set in Animated continuity, after Dick's return at the end of  "Sins of the Father". I have seen and read nothing to suggest that Barry Allen could not have existed; the only problem was that there was no Crisis in the Animated Universe. So it's just assumed he died in the line of duty.)

"I knew I'd find you here."

Dick Grayson looked up to see his best friend, Wally West, standing beside him.

"Best view in Gotham." Dick stretched out a hand to indicate the view from the top of the hill where he sat, on a rock, just inside the fence with signs every few feet reading DANGER! DO NOT CLIMB FENCE! It had been Dick's favorite thinking spot for over a decade.

Wally sat down beside him on the ground. "You know, you could have at least sent a postcard."

"I know," Dick sighed. "I just . . . had a lot of stuff to figure out."

"What stuff?"

"Everything, really. Who I was, what I wanted to do with my life . . . I just had so many questions that I needed answers to, and I couldn't do it here."

Wally was silent for a long time, watching the traffic move far down the hillside. Then he said, "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I had some 'stuff' to work out too?"

"I'm sorry about Barry. I didn't hear about it until after I got back."

"Where were you, anyway?"

"South America," Dick said. "Couple of places down there. India. Tibet."

"Tibet?" Wally, who had never left his small town until he was out of his teens, felt a twinge of envy. Imagine just packing up and going to Tibet, just like that. "Why?"

Dick considered his answer carefully. "Because it was time," he said. "Bruce and I had reached the breaking point, and the only thing I could do was get out of that situation before it got even worse.

"At first I was just running away. I didn't care where I was going, as long as I put some distance between myself and home. Then I decided while I was on the road, to study fighting techniques. Sort of my own little training odyssey.

"In the end, though, I came around to a place where I knew who I was, and I was okay with that. So I came home."

"You could have picked up a phone once or twice," Wally said. "Or written a note, or something. You left without saying goodbye, and I didn't have a clue why. Then when I needed you, you weren't there."

"I'm sorry."

"I would have been perfectly happy being Kid Flash for the rest of my life. I wasn't in Barry's shadow, I was by his side. It was a good place. Then all of a sudden he wasn't there anymore, and I . . ."

Dick put an arm around his friend's shoulders as Wally sobbed silently, grieving for the man who'd been like a father to him. He wondered what he would have done, if it had been Bruce who had died; could he have picked up and gone on?

After a few minutes, Wally straightened up and continued.

"Thanks. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to wear the costume for months after that. I thought maybe I'd never wear it again. I didn't think I'd ever be able to bring myself to take his place."

"What changed your mind?" Dick asked.

"I talked to Bruce."

"You did?" Now there was a shock.

"Well, you weren't there, and I had to talk to someone, so . . ." He shrugged his shoulders, like it was no big deal.

"What did he say?"

"He said that I wouldn't be ripping Barry off by putting on his suit. I'd be honoring him. Even though we weren't blood-related, part of him will always live inside of me."

"I think he'd be proud of you," Dick said.

"I hope so. I really do."

A bumblebee buzzed by.

"I couldn't call or write home," Dick said, "because I didn't want to deal with that whole thing all over again. Had I only known . . . I would have come right home."

"Thanks." Wally tried to smile.

"I used to think you were lucky to get the top spot. I know I never will. You know what they say—the grass is always greener."

"Believe me, I'd give anything to have Barry back."

The sun was going down. Behind them, a lone streetlight flickered into pale yellow life.

"I think this is the part," Wally said, "where we're supposed to hug."

Dick looked at him. "I don't think so!"

"Aw, c'mon! Nobody's watching!"

Slowly, self-consciously, they threw their arms around each other in the briefest  of hugs. Then they pulled away awkwardly.

"Wanna goget some ice cream?" Wally asked.

"Sure. Why don't we go to Torrillo's?" Dick brushed off the seat of his pants.

"That place closed six months ago."

"What? Oh, man! It's been there forever!We always used to go there and get cones! I leave town for a couple of years and they go and change everything on me!"

"Serves you right for leaving," Wally said with a grin.

They walked down the hill together, as behind them, the dark Gotham night fell.