Author's Note: All right, the inspiration for this story came from a couple of sources. First and foremost is hilariously awesome fic by Lady Jaye1 called This Ain't the Golden Years. I just love the idea, and I honestly wonder if she doesn't channel JLU!Wally on a scary level. Also, the JLU episode Flash and Substance really solidified who Wally's become to me and I felt like it paid just the right amount of homage to the comics. So here's my little baby, grown from those two places. Anyway, just wanted to say (in case any crazy canon peeps noticed something slightly off)—Wally's eyes are blue in JLU, so I made Barry's green that way they're reversed from the comics. Yes, I am a nerd. :) Sorry for the long note and thanks for reading!
AN2: Edited 05/10/09. Cleaned up some, expanded a bit in places, made sure it was all from Wally's perspective, etc. No overly large changes to the overall story.
Continuity: Set a short time before Flash and Substance. Doesn't really matter when.
Disclaimer: Characters mentioned are used without permission and are trademarks of DC Comics/Warner Bros. Animation. I do not own them and am simply borrowing for my purposes. Please don't sue.

to sleep, perchance to dream
by Caliente

"Good morning Wally," a cheerful voice greeted.

One of the things people never seemed to understand about the Flash was that time traveled different for the fastest man alive. Sure, they got the part where he moved fast—that much was easy. But what they failed to comprehend were the little things. Things like the time between a greeting and a pat on the shoulder. Between a smile of recognition and the start of a conversation. Between syllables. Sometimes those moments moved at pace with the rest of the world. But sometimes they were slow as molasses.

Barry Allen, boss to the Flash's alter-ego Wally West, his mentor and a far better father figure than he'd ever had growing up, never failed to bring out the molasses moments. It was just so hard for Wally to wait when he had things on his mind he wanted to discuss with the other man. Things he couldn't talk to other people about. Sure, Barry didn't know he was the Flash (although he occasionally had his suspicions about that—Barry was one of the smartest guys he knew and he knew Batman) but that didn't mean Wally didn't value his opinion. If anything, it mattered more.

Another thing people often misunderstood was the Flash as a hero. His rogue gallery, large as it was, was nowhere near as crazed as Batman's. Or as cosmic as Superman's or as mythological as Wonder Woman's. The truth was, tat stuff wasn't important to him. His villains were the everyman versions of villains, just like Flash was the everyman version of a hero. He wasn't a billionaire recluse. He wasn't an alien. He wasn't royalty or an avatar of the gods or part of a cosmic military guard or disfigured in some way or anything like that. He was just a guy. He put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else.

So what if happened to have superpowers? He never wanted that to change him—change who he was or how he operated. Wally didn't want to be the kind of hero that flew above people. That skulked in the shadows. That preached to the masses or followed order blindly or was driven by some horrible tragedy. He loved running with the people too much for any of that. Having a normal job and living in an apartment (small as it was). He was sure Central City would hook him up if he asked but why would he want that? Being an everyday hero and just a guy were as important to him as being a superhero. Maybe more so.

Honestly, that was a big part of why he'd moved away from the League when they'd expanded their roster. There had always been something that felt a little off to him about having their headquarters floating high above the ground. Gods not mortals were meant for the heavens. (Wally had never been particularly religious but even he wasn't dense enough to misinterpret the cues.) Still, when it was just the seven of them—the original seven—it hadn't felt quite so... dangerous. More practical than anything else.

But when the League morphed into a legion (for lack of a better term)—a legion with giant space weapons, at that—it had been time to step back. Wally decided to move to reserve status and take some real time to reevaluate his role as the Flash. After they'd met the Justice Lords, he'd begun to (silently) think of himself as the conscience of the team. But what did that mean? If he didn't know, how could he be it? And, if he was the conscience, did that mean without him there was no conscience?

It was a heavy load to carry, especially when he was used to having the others there to pick up the slack. And, truthfully, he hadn't really wanted to deal with it. Wasn't the Thanagarian invasion enough? Hadn't he paid his dues? (Never mind the fact that people in their line of work never truly finished paying their dues.)

Wally held tightly to the idea that, if he ignored them, all his racing thoughts/questions/worries/problems of/about/regarding the League would just... go away. It was a vain hope and, in his heart, he'd always known better. Life never went like that. Eventually, he realized that being on the outside meant he wasn't doing what he'd made a vow to do all those years ago when he'd first put on a uniform as Kid Flash. (Stupid Roy, taking the name Speedy first.) He'd promised the world and, more importantly, himself that he'd always do everything he could.

Supes could be every kid's hero—something to aspire toward. Bats could be every kid's nightmare—something to keep them in line. Diana could be every kid's... well, she could be there as a moral guide of some kind. GA could be ever kid's politic conscience. But the Flash? The Flash could be every kid's friend. He had the time for it. More than that, though, he wanted to be there. To be on the front lines, fighting the good fight and making sure that that fight was a fair one. On both sides.

If he really was the key to keeping their world from turning out like the Justice Lord's, then he needed to be there to play his part. He wasn't afraid of dying—Wally had never been afraid of that. But he needed to be there to keep his friends grounded. And he needed them to push him—to make him better. It was a kind of ying and yang thing. Or something. Point was, if he isolated himself, then they'd already lost. He wouldn't be living up to his potential or his obligations. Not to himself, not to his friends, not to the world—

A hand touched Wally's shoulder and he finally turned (at an agonizingly slow rate) to face Barry. "How goes it?" he asked with a very Barry smile. It was a sort of combination between friendly and fatherly, while still remaining professional.

Wally found himself smiling back easily. Barry just had that effect. Not that the Flash ever let anything keep him down for too long. Life moved too fast to let the little things trip him up. Too much to do and all that. "It's going great!" he responded enthusiastically, gesturing to his lab station. "I managed to find a fingerprint that was eighty-five percent intact. The computer's running a search through AFIS and the results will hopefully be in before lunch."

"Great!" Barry clapped him on the back twice and nodded. "That's just great." His faced became a shade more serious as he considered Wally for an incredibly long instant. "I knew you were ready to move up to police scientist. Your work as an assistant was just too good to waste."

A small laugh escaped Wally's mouth as he remembered all the nights spent blowing things up in chemistry labs in Titans Tower. Eventually, though, Dick had managed to beat a little bit of that forensics stuff into him. "Well, I learned from the best, after all," was his quick reply. Accurate from more than one end, considering how much Barry himself had taught the speedster, as well.

"Touché," Barry agreed with a light smirk. "But all the flattery in the world isn't going to get you a raise."

The corners of Wally's smile twitched ever so slightly. Perfect! Just the opening he'd been hoping for. "I'd settle for getting a half-day on Flash Day next month." He looked at his boss with a perfect mixture of innocence and puppy-dog-pout. "Please?"

Barry spent an agonizingly long time considering it before nodding. "I don't see why not," he answered. "Just fill out a formal request form and submit it at least two weeks before the day." Wally nodded. Standard procedure, unfortunately. Paperwork was a necessary evil, more annoying than Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master and the Trickster combined! (Now there was an interesting thought.) "Anything else, Wally?"

The smile melted off his face before he could stop it. Damn fast reflexes. "Yeah, I was wondering if you had a minute to talk?"

"Sure." Barry smiled lightly and gestured for Wally to follow him to the break room. "I was due for a refill, anyway." He poured the sludge they called coffee at the Station into his mg far too slowly for Wally's tastes but the speedster decided to refrain from a cup of his own. Coffee with thirty-sugars was good and all but he was antsy enough as it was. No need to add a caffeine/sugar high to it. He'd be bouncing off the walls like a hummingbird on crack. Barry turned and leaned back against the counter. "So, what's on your mind, kid?"

Wally pulled out a chair for himself and sat down, actually taking the time to consider his words carefully. "I had a dream last night." He paused for a beat, before looking up at Barry with an uncharacteristically somber smile on his face. "And it was... wonderful. I've never had a dream like that before. It was so..." He trailed off, at a loss for words.

For his part, Barry looked a bit off center and it took him a moment to pull together his thoughts. "Why don't you tell me about it?" he suggested, leaning forward curiously. "Your dream, I mean. What happened that was so unique?"

"Well," Wally's expression was thoughtful, "I was old. I mean, really old—like, seventy or something." Barry's lips twitched but he didn't say anything. "And I had a wife and kids and grandkids. I mean, I always kinda figured I'd have them eventually but in a sort of obscure, it's-so-far-in-the-future-I-can't-even-really-see-it way. This was so much more tangible that that, you know?" He shrugged. "I dunno. It was strange." Stranger still was that all the kids and grandkids inherited his speed but telling that part didn't really gel with his whole secret identity shtick. "Seeing it for myself, I mean."

Barry nodded, eyes thoughtful, and gestured for Wally to continue.

"And my friends—all my friends—they were there, too." He smirked. "I was, of course, still causing mischief and driving them insane. But we were all there. Like one really big, dysfunctional extended family or something. It was... it was just..." He just kind of shook his head because he couldn't find the words to describe how it'd felt. To be tormenting Bruce and Clark with his grandkids, having the same old arguments with Shayera, hanging out with John and having coffee with Diana. Not to mention playing Brawlin' 'Bots with Ralph and J'onn, video games with Dick and the other former Titans and so much more.

Wally frowned suddenly. "But when I woke up." He sighed. "It was like being hit by a bucket of cold water. I knew it wasn't real and it never could be. I mean, that's not how life works. Bad things happen to the people you love sometimes. And..." he shrugged self-consciously, "I guess I'm just kinda sad because I know things won't turn out that way." It was a know-know, too, because he'd read the mission reports that involved traveling to the future and things didn't get better. They got worse—darker and bleaker.

The passage of time to the Flash really was a thing of wonder. Wally was suddenly startled when he felt Barry squeeze him on the shoulder. Looking up, he saw Barry's concerned green eyes peering down at him. "Hey," he began, an encouraging look on his face, "that's not the way to look at it, Wally. In all the years I've known you, I've never once witnessed you look any further into the future than a week—maybe a month. But this... this is something to aspire to! If you put your mind to it, I have no doubt that you'll be able to build yourself the kind future you're dreaming of. I know you, kid. You can do great things. You already have."

It was moments like this that made Wally wonder if Barry knew his secret, after all. Could this be his way of letting him know? Or did he just mean the things plain old Wally did? In the end, he decided it didn't really matter. He wasn't like Bruce or Clark. He was the same guy with or without his mask on, and he could do good either way. Maybe that was what Barry was trying to tell him. Then again, Wally wasn't sure even he was that good. "Thanks, Barry," he said, practically oozing sincerity. Because he was thankful—his mentor had done it again. "For everything."

"Anytime, Wally," Barry replied with an easy smile. "You know that." He patted Wally on the back one last time as he moved toward the exit. "And try not to worry too much—I'm sure we'll both live to be wrinkled old men complaining about kids on our lawn."

Shaking his head lightly, Wally stood up, too. "I sure hope so. Maybe by then you'll finally ask that aunt of mine to make it official."

He winked at Barry who smacked his palm against his forehead. "Don't you have work to be doing somewhere or something?" he prompted in a mock-serious tone. He pointed to the clock on the wall. "You've got five, West!" Then he gave a wink and left.

A whole five minutes? Oh, the possibilities. Especially for the fastest man alive. Wally smirked to himself before shaking his head. So he didn't know what the future would hold, that was alright. He just hoped he'd make it long enough to find out. And, even if he didn't, he wouldn't give up without a fight. No way.

"Flash, we've got a crisis in Coast City. We need you there on the double. I'm transporting Starwoman, Tempest and our new Green Lantern to help."

Wally smiled at the kids he'd been reading a story to. "Sorry guys, gotta run." He winked at them and pressed his communicator. "Roger that, Terrific. I'm on my way." With a final jaunty wave, he was gone. In a flash.

"Do you ever miss it?" a soft voice flitted into Wally's ear. A soft voice from the warm body of the most wonderful and beautiful woman he'd ever known. A body that, by some miracle, was curled up next to his in bed. Their bed.

Wally smiled his infamous lady-killing half-smile/half-smirk. "Nah, I've got everything I'll ever need right here. You're all I ever wanted—all I'll ever need. You," he patted her belly gently, "and our little ones on the way."

It was so beautiful. And large-infinite, even. It called to him, like a beacon calling a lost soul home. He couldn't resist it, not anymore. Not again. He didn't want to resist it. It was too much. Everything and nothing, pulling him away.

Everything. Too much. So vast. So wondrous. So... lonely.

End Note: I intended for the ending to be deliberately vague, so it might be read chronologically or as a series of possible things to come.