A one shot that I've been trying to compete for what must be over a month, now. I'm surprised it got done at all. I kept changing the premise and my opinions (damn it, how hard can it be to stick a Green Lantern in a car) and therefore having to edit the fic. Once again, all my time spent changing seems to have reduced the time spent checking it over but it has been checked – any mistakes are entirely my own fault.
Reviews and concrit are appreciated.
Set post "Divided We Fall". Spoilers.
"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change."
He remembers the last time he'd felt the pavements burn like this.
John Stewart had been eight years old, sitting outside of his neighbourhood convenience store during the worst drought in fifty years, cheap sneakers coming unstuck as if he was sitting on a concrete furnace. Ten years later, Marine Corps. Officer J. Stewart would be shipped out to Middle East, then return home after three and a half years. He'd still swear that the streets out there weren't half as hot as the pavements of Michigan had been in that rainless, airless July fortnight.
It was almost that hot again today. Almost, but not quite. The streets have had eight hours to cool down and most of the energy has dissipated.
Energy. If that's even the right word for it.
He sits at the edge of the pavement for a while, looking at the ripped up remains of the street. He presses his hands against the stone, feeling the warmth radiate into his fingertips. The concrete is scattered in huge chunks down the middle of the road outside his apartment. It's late in the evening, but Detroit is almost never completely cool at this time of year.
It's not all that warm now, but John can imagine how it was a few hours ago, when the streets were first ripped apart. Neighbours talk about earthquakes and subsidence, but none of them really know what happened here like John does.
It happened nearly eight hours ago, and yet the pavement is still warm. John can't even try to understand that. He knows Batman will be trying for days. The odds are even he won't work it out.
This mess wasn't created by any earthquake, and it sure as hell wasn't caused by subsidence. This mess was created by something ripping up the roads as it passed through them at near the speed of light, leaving behind so much energy that the concrete melted and disintegrated in all the places where it hadn't been torn into pieces. It should've cooled down quickly enough, but for some reason it hasn't. The streets are still radiating heat. John figures that it's something to do with that energy Wally had been talking about. The speed force rocketed right through Detroit.
John knows this wasn't incidental. Wally took this road on purpose. It's probably a familiar route, and straight, as most avenues seem to be in this city, making it easier to build up speed. There's no time to think when you're going that fast. No time for anything, so Wally took the route he knew the best –the one that took him within fifty metres of John's place. The one that would get him away from and back to Brainiac in as short a time as possible.
Batman's satellite cameras had clocked the Flash at an average of four-point-five-six seconds per cycle.
Four-point-five-six seconds. To circumnavigate the entire globe.
John can see why everyone freaked.
He has to navigate a lot of smaller roads before he can get onto the freeway, seeing as the main one through the city has been torn to shreds by (Wally) something moving at terminal velocity. It's dark by the time he pulls out of the city. Pitch black, in fact, like the back end of nowhere.
It's taken John this long to realise how bright his city is at night, in comparison to the darkness of a space station, or No Man's Land during an air raid, or out on a freeway miles from anywhere.
When he gets back, there'll be things to deal with. People to talk to, reporters to avoid, cities to save from destruction (again) whether or not they really want it from their kind.
They've become "Their Kind" now, whether they want it or not. They're different. Strange and super-human and threatening. Like how he felt in his worst nightmares, with everyone he cared about running away from him.
But he's not going to think about that. That isn't what he came out here for…
'Yes it is.'
…And that annoying little voice in John's head which keeps contradicting everything he's thinking will probably shut up if he ignores it for long enough. At least that's what he's been telling himself for the last five hours.
'It's why you took this leave, remember? It's why half of the league has taken one. At the same time. With the same reasons. To think about this and them and what the hell's going to happen from here on out.'
John doesn't need to wonder about that. He already knows what's going to happen next.
The Watchtower has already been decommissioned. They're probably dismantling the place even as he hits the interchange and heads off to who-knows-where.
An entire city had been seared right down to it's foundations in the time it takes to push a button. Thousands dead, maybe tens of thousands if Batman's figures are anything to go by (and they always are). A request –or maybe it was more like a plea, though it didn't sound like one at the time– for forgiveness in the middle of Metropolis by Superman himself. Batman being caught in photograph. Letting himself be caught in photograph.
The Flash keeping his mouth shut.
John isn't even going to pretend that was funnier than it was unnerving.
The League would have disbanded right there and then, without anyone raising a word of protest, not even from the Flash, and it's going to take a while to get to grips with how easily they were all prepared to do that and how easily the world was prepared to let them. The way they look to the people now, like gods on high. With a laser beam.
They'd talked about it before, but then, talking was all it ever was, except for that time when Grodd had screwed with all their heads and… Hell, that was just what it sounded like –Grodd, screwing with their heads. They didn't even count it as a "near team break up" anymore. Nothing worth thinking about these days, no matter how much they had all meant what they said. People screw up –that's what they do. John always figured they had moved beyond that.
And then it happened all over again, the League breaking up like that city had exploded, except that this time the decision had been calm and well thought out and there were no mind controlling apes handy to shove the blame onto. Superman hadn't warned them before hand, simply muttered something about Lucifer and… John has no idea what that meant. Maybe he doesn't want to know. The League was disbanding. And none of them cared.
Until Green Arrow opened his mouth and the voice of warning spoke out for them.
'The world needs the Justice League…'
Oliver. His name is Oliver Queen, and John will get used to calling him that if it kills him. He earned it a long time ago and John might not have a Secret ID, but he knows what they mean to Their Kind of people, especially the ones who can't punch through planets or neutralise grenades with their fists.
'…The Justice League needs Superman.'
The Justice league needs Superman. The Justice League needs heroes and leadership. The Justice League needs the people to believe in them enough that super humans don't turn into society's freaks. The Justice League needs to catch a goddamn break, before something else insane happens to shove their reputation ever further into the gutter. The League needs to work things out together and reconnect with people. Real, normal, earthbound people, on this little tiny planet or whatever other place they call a home.
So why the hell is John out here, miles away from anyone?
Good question says the voice in his head.
John tells it to shut up again.
He doesn't realise who it is, at first.
He figures he's only slowing down and offering a lift to some guy whose punk friends have dropped him off a hundred miles outside of anywhere.
Then the headlamps start catching on red hair and whoever it is he's pulling up alongside swears and curses the light for a second, then he blinks through it and see's John looking at him.
'…Hey, GL. This a road trip?'
John could ask the kid the same question –at least he'd had the sense to take a vehicle out here into the middle of nowhere. Then he remembers –Fastest Man Alive. Wally jogs to New York for breakfast some mornings and can do a thousand laps of the Watchtower before any of them have finished their first coffee.
It's not strange for Flash to be all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. Except for all the ways in which it is. None of those reasons have anything to do with how he ended up there in the first place. Wally West can be anywhere he wants to be in the wink of an eye. '…Flash?'
'The one and only, don't spread it around. See, there's this thing we call a secret identity…' Wally grins and John knows the smile, even if the eyes behind it are still kind of strange and unfamiliar. He's hardly ever seen Wally without his mask. The words are ironic anyway. It's kind of crazy how many people on that Watchtower could (could've) called Flash by his first name.
He's been running for a while. John can tell by the sweat on his forehead and by how he's breathing harder than usual. That doesn't happen often seeing as Wally is almost impossible to wear out (even after he's punched through brainiac). He's wearing the Flash costume, but the hood is pulled back.
He looks as worn-out as John feels, but still takes the time to make a wisecrack. 'Man, are you driving a Ford?'
John's instincts flare, the same ones he used to get during shootouts in front-line war zones. The ones that say, "I appreciate your idea about how things work, but I'm doing this my way, so back the hell off".
'…Yeah, what about it?'
Wally shuffles back and fourth in a strange, red blur, that way he does when he's gearing up to run. Except that he doesn't. 'Nothing, nothing, I just figured you'd be more of a camouflage jeep and four-wheel-drive kinda guy. This thing looks about fifteen years old.'
'Twenty,' John says calmly and… it's not a confession, or anything. So what if his car is nearly a quarter of a century old? He got it from a local friend before he went off to join the marines. The friend had called it a going away present and said they'd use it for a road trip after John got back from wherever the army was shipping him. By the time John actually got home, the friend had long since moved out of town and ideas about road trips and goofing off had lost their appeal, but there was still the car. Old, beaten, but drivable, full of memories and the occasional mint wrapper.
Nobody disses John's car, damn it.
Besides, Wally's ride had purple polka dot seat covers and lava lamps, for god's sakes. There's no comparison.
'Seriously, GL, it doesn't suit you. I had you owning a land rover in my head. Or nothing at all, since you know –you've got that ring and everything. Can it make a car? I always kinda figured it could make a car. Anyway, this thing?' he gives the car a tap with one foot. John flinches more than is probably necessary. 'Totally wrecked the illusion, man.'
A sharp response begins to form on John's tongue, then dies before it can come to fruition. He's too tired. 'Yeah, I guess it would.'
He pauses for a second and looks at the kid, waiting. Wally will move first. He always does. One of the downsides about being the Fastest Man Alive is that there's no way in hell you're ever going to win a staring competition without cheating. And Wally doesn't cheat. '…Need a ride?'
Wally blinks. 'Bwuh?'
'I asked if you wanted a ride. Cat got your tongue, hotshot?'
'Ah, no… but you realise you're offering a ride to the Fastest Man Alive? In a vehicle which probably has an eighty kilometres-per-hour limit? I could be there like, five weeks before you… Wherever there is, anyway.' He frowns, (an expression that's even more noticeably strange without the cowl covering the top half of his face.) 'Where are you going, anyway? Supes said you took leave but that's all he'll say about any one of the sixty-odd people who are right now, and I know we're a little…' He shuffles and mumbles something under his breath. John imagines it's a swear word. '…you know, but that doesn't mean we should all go vanishing on each other, right?'
'Says the guy out in the middle of a desert?'
'Not a desert; there aren't any deserts in this part of America. It's an area of unbought territory spreading between here and Metropolis, mostly scrubland.' There's a long pause (by Wally's standards, anyway, to John, it's barely the time it takes to blink). 'Geography elective in high school, what can I say? It was that or algebra.'
John avoids rolling his eyes through sheer effort. 'The point still stands, Wally, this is the middle of nowhere.'
'Yeah, but I can be anywhere in the world in six seconds, tops. Sometimes you call me and I'm having breakfast in Paris. Or dinner in Malaysia. Or some other meal somewhere else on the planet and hey, am I ever late?'
John's eyebrows lift, apparently on impulse. He really doesn't think he's in control of the reaction. It happens whenever Wally's around, regardless of their circumstances. 'Yes. Regularly.'
Wally grimaces. 'Am not.'
'Yes, you are. You're late all the time. You were late for that riot on Liger 3.'
'I got caught up with the traffic police! Nobody warned them there'd be superheroes on the planet that day, it wasn't my fault.'
'Uh-huh. And the time the President of the United States wanted us in for a press conference?'
'…Had to use the bathroom.'
John lets out a breath. 'Oh, really?'
'The Whitehouse is a big place. Plus –blink of an eye, John. Blink of an eye. It doesn't work for everything.'
'Oh-kay.' That's easily too much information, but John persists in spite of himself, for reasons he can't quite explain. Maybe he's a glutton for punishment. Or maybe he needs to hear someone talking and Wally's really, really good at talking. He's leaning on the front of the car by now and slouching perhaps a little more than usual. 'And what about the time you nearly made that alien bride on Tamaran miss her own wedding?'
'…Politics? What is this, GL, twenty questions?'
John starts to get the feeling they could keep this up all night. They have before, but…
No. Not tonight.
Wally shuffles a little on the spot causing a dust cloud to rise around his feet. There's a continuity to the man, even without the cowl covering his face. The absence of a mask makes him look so young and completely not young at the same time. It's something John has never gotten used to.
In some ways, Wally still looks the way he did after Shayera pulled him out of that crazy mess that Wally called a speed force. His eyes are darker than usual, and they're filled with… something. Something John doesn't know how to describe. The kind of things people talk about in poetry but can't explain in normal words. John was never any good at poetry. If he said anything, Wally would call it corny and move the conversation along as quickly as he could.
John's still trying to get his head around that. The Speed force. He'd seen some whacked out things in his time, but the source of Wally's power was something else. It lived. And from the sound of it, it called. Beautiful and endless –sure. But Wonder Woman was beautiful, and possibly immortal, and she could still kill you with her little finger
She wouldn't do it, but she could, and the Speed Force didn't have Diana's reservations.
John sighs. 'Look, do you wanna ride or not? I'm not waiting on the curb for you all night.'
'What curb? This is a dirt road.'
John understands Wally's need for jokes. This is their idea of safe territory. Things Wally can joke over and John can get pissed off about.
Except that John really isn't in the mood.
'Right, right. This is me, shutting up and getting in the car.'
He isn't fidgeting half as much as John had expected him to.
Though he is vibrating. John can feel the lightest of tremors spreading through the vehicle. The seat is actually shaking and having never shared a car with Wally before, John can't say he expected that. He must've barely come out of a run when John pulled up alongside him. He's still keyed up to hell.
Other than that it's totally quiet. Their earlier banter had been something they both knew and covered up these kind of uneasy silences, but now they have nothing to talk about. Nothing either of them wants to talk about. So there's silence for a while after John starts driving again –a short while, in John's estimation, but it's probably a lot longer to Wally.
And John has to stop thinking about time that way. Has to stop thinking of Wally that way. Issues concerning Wally's speed and reality are too complicated to go into.
John thinks again –but doesn't actually ask this time– "what are you doing out here, anyway?' It's a strange place for any normal person to go, even if they do move as fast as the Flash, but… maybe it fits for one of their kind (like there's more than one)to be out here, in a huge gap between cities where the land is nothing but scrub and dust and a gas station every fifty kilometres. There's nothing else. No boundaries or limits. Maybe it's the perfect place for a speedster seeking a free reign of the horizon.
…Yeah, actually, now that he thinks about it, he knows exactly what Wally was doing out here. He leans back against the driver's seat and the motion seems to make Flash relax a little too.
'Letting off some steam with a five-thousand mile run, huh?'
'Meh. More like a slow jog. Or an amble.'
'And you chose to take a breather in the middle of nowhere?' he manages to insert the right amount of humour into his tone so that Wally doesn't immediately open the door (as if he cares that the car is moving) and bolt for the horizon. Not that he'd actually do that now, but…
Well, maybe he would. It's been one of those weeks for all of them and everyone deals with these things in different ways. Diana prays to/respectfully challenges the appropriate gods. Shayera goes to the gym and punches things, J'onn meditates (or sleeps… whatever it is), Superman writes, Batman… Batman's a freaking enigma anyway, and many times in the last forty-eight hours has John wanted to storm off and bash the Watchtower computer consoles until they explode. And yell at them.
But not now.
Wally snorts. 'Speak for yourself, GL. Anyway, why not? No buildings, no walls, no stop lights… and no super villains either, 'cause there's nothing to take over out here, unless you've got a special kinship with lizards or gas stations, or… something.'
John opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. He's not entering into a conversation with Wally about lizards and gas stations.
'Still, they could do with some more fast food joints between here and Nebraska, you know? Round here, I've gone six hundred miles without even seeing a break-stop. And being stuck somewhere where snakes like to bite when you've got a hyper-accelerated metabolism? Not cool.'
'Don't the snakes have to catch you first?'
'Man, you have no freaking clue…'
John smiles in spite of (everything) himself and thinks that he might actually be getting to know Wally scarily well. Well enough to know him by his grin and how long he can go before he needs another takeaway.
It's still a little strange to think of him as Wally, instead of "Flash" or "Kid" or "Hotshot", but somehow, John still thinks that's alright. Batman will never be Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent is a total… well, a reporter, and in comparison to that, Wally's secret identity shouldn't really be too much of a surprise. Anyhow, what with the circumstances that had gotten them to reveal their identities in the first place (and John is going to keep on tactfully forgetting the fact that Batman already knew) it would've been weirder if the kid's real name didn't make him feel jittery.
It suits him anyway.
'…Nothing. It's not important.'
Still, it's strange. Wally and the Flash don't act all that differently, and he's still Wally underneath the cowl, but somehow, John isn't seeing the Flash at all right now. Which confuses the hell out of him, because this isn't like how Bruce Wayne and Batman aren't the same, or how you can never be completely sure whether the mask is Clark Kent or Superman. John never tried to differentiate between who Wally is and who the Flash is.
But it's still not the Flash who's currently vibrating in the passenger seat and rummaging around in the storage compartments.
Wally is all John can call him.
He has to differentiate, and that doesn't make sense.
'Where are you going anyway?'
'I'm not sure…' there's not much he can be, if not honest with the kid.
It doesn't do anything for Wally's current, rather precarious sense of stability. The seat vibrates a little harder. 'Hey, is this one of those run outs, like you see on the movies? Man, I am totally not going on the run with you, do I look like a Thelma to you? 'Cause you sure as hell aren't Louise.'
Responding to something like that would be too easy, so John just sighs and doesn't speak. Which results in yet another uneasy silence. 'What? You don't get it? Man, you really need to see more movies. I bet you haven't watched "Independence Day". Then again, why would you need to? I mean we've lived it like a thousand times.'
They've never had so many anxious silences in such a short space of time before. He doesn't have the energy, or the patience, and neither does the Flash. Not really. He's doing a good job of pretending, though. John wonders how long Wally can keep acting like everything's normal. How long he can keep up the pretence that this is nothing more than another car journey and that there's nothing strange about the fact that he's sweating when everyone knows Flash doesn't sweat –not for the same reasons as normal people.
'How long are you gonna be on leave, anyway?' He asks eventually.
'Wally—' As long as it takes, John doesn't say aloud. He really doesn't know how long that'll be, and if he says it, Wally will press him for answers he doesn't have.
He's not running away. Which is what Wally will think if John finishes his last sentence. He was a marine. The part of him that wears the Ring and the tattoo still is. He's stood on the edge of what he'd thought at the time could've been hell on earth, before he learned what hell really looks like (fire pits, electric shocks, sneering faces and cold-hot steel). John deals with things. He tackles them face-to-face no matter how insane they might be and he doesn't turn tail and wait for them to fix themselves.
Sometimes though, it's better to step back and allow the dust to settle. There another concept that would probably be beyond his passenger's understanding.
John suddenly realises Wally's talking again. '…Seriously, though, if I was an alien, and wanted to show up on earth? Then provided that I wasn't planning an invasion, I'd choose a place without the corn. Somewhere there'd be no—'
'What was it you said before?'
'—Would've chosen to park somewhere that didn't— say what?'
'Before. You said we were all a little "something". I couldn't make out what the "something" was through your sleeve.' No answer. John's only partly asking the question so he can break Wally's train of thought before the kid goes off on one of those rambles that always drive John round the bend within minutes. 'If you were gonna say screwed up, then say it. I think its old news by now, right?'
Wally doesn't answer.
Now that John's interrupted his ramble about aliens, the kid seems to be lost for words and John doesn't know how to deal with that. Flash runs, and when Flash isn't running, he's talking, and when he isn't talking he's either eating, absent and out of communications range or other people are worrying about him, as it probably means he's in serious pain, serious trouble or all of the above.
And those times never usually last anyway. Flash always comes back in the blink of an eye, usually laughing and coming out with some quip about the latest wannabe super villain, making everyone yell at him.
Then again, Wally doesn't need to say anything. Not about this. Everything either of them need to say to point out how screwed up things have become without them even noticing it happening, is contained in the sentence "a space station hanging over everyone's heads, with a laser weapon pointing down."
Whose idea had that been, anyway? John doesn't even know anymore. Bad ideas with good intentions.
'I get it. Like Lucifer.'
'You talking to me?' Wally answers a little too eagerly, and John realises that he said that aloud. Wally's eyes are willing him to change the subject again anyway. Nobody can go off on tangents quite like he can and John's starting to see why he does it.
He's starting to see a lot of things.
Then again, who in the world would want to talk about their own death?
There. He said it. Death. So now its official, isn't it?
'Not you, Wally,' he mutters through his teeth. 'A little voice in my head, that's all.'
'Oh. You too, huh? I'm thinking of calling mine Ollie.'
'I was thinking more like a Clark.' He shouldn't entertain this train of thought, but… 'So what's it saying?'
'Mostly stuff I already knew, and do you get that we're talking about listening to voices in our heads? That's creepy, man, turn this car around, I wanna get out.'
'You started it, you… voices-in-head person.'
Maybe he shouldn't get too far away. Sure, Wally can come back in the blink of an eye, but…
'That little voice of yours got anything to say about gateways to other worlds and speed forces?' John says, and the words come out quieter than he meant them to, but still loud enough to shut Wally up.
The vibration through the vehicle changes in volume, then cuts out altogether as Wally goes completely, disturbingly still.
John thinks about how he would've felt if someone gave him CPR then asked him what heaven had looked like in comparison to cold, dull earth, and gets the feeling he's made a mistake.
'How long were you there?' Wally asks.
'You know while I was… in there. I still don't get the time thing. I mean, something happened between the fuzzy feeling in my… well my everything and Shayera telling me not to follow it… you know? Supes' is being really vague about it all.'
'I'm not sure, a couple of minutes?' John doesn't tell him that for most of those minutes, Superman had Luthor in a chokehold ready to crush his windpipe. That Wonder Woman had been ready to stop him. That only Batman trusted him enough to hold her back.
John nods… he gets it, even if he doesn't want to. 'How about for you? How long were you…' he trails off, not quite trusting himself to finish.
'Longer,' Wally says, and the words come out sounding a lot lighter than they should. It's not just a vibration John realises he's feeling. Wally's actually trembling. He doesn't seem to have noticed it himself, like he hasn't noticed that he's sweating, or that he's holding onto his left arm with his free hand. John recognizes the place he's holding. He remembers where Shayera grabbed him, wonders if she was holding onto Wally as tightly as John had been holding onto her.
Of course she was.
'Are you okay?' It's a stupid question. Wally's not okay. Not literally, physically or mentally but then again, none of them are, not even the strongest. Not even Ollie who had tried so hard to act as if things could be normal again and…
And John really has to get out of this funk and back to the real world. They're not amateurs for god's sakes. They know how the world sees them. They know the risks that come with their job and that they take these risks of their own free will.
And Wally knows all of that too, even though he always acts as if he doesn't.
Maybe John's not used to asking the question and having to deal with the answers. They're Super Heroes. With capital letters. They don't get to ask "are you okay?" and worry about each other in the heat of battle; they don't get to think about things.
'Liar, you're shaking the joints out of that seat.' Anyone who says they're fine right now is either a liar, or doesn't know about the city where Cadmus happened to be located. Or is stupid.
Contrary to popular belief, Wally isn't stupid. 'I will be, then. I was… I ran a lot. Soon as I can stop vibrating—'
'You're burning up. And that's not what I'm talking about, anyway.'
No. It's not what he's talking about. Wally really isn't stupid. He knows that.
'There was this story I saw once, in a magazine,' Wally says, still talking more lightly than he should feel. 'About an artist or a writer or something, I forget. Anyway, he made this piece of art or writing or… whatever and he thought it was pretty much the most perfect thing he'd ever done. So he showed it to his friends and they thought it was really great too. And so did his enemies, and his employees, and his teachers and… and the superhero who lived across the street. Eventually this guy decided that he'd created something perfect and he'd never ever do anything better in his life.'
John stays quiet, listening to the engine's hum, waiting for Wally to continue, even though he already knows how the story ends and that Wally really isn't making it up as he goes. Not entirely, anyway. He thinks he heard this story somewhere before, too.
'He never painted or wrote anything else ever again. I guess he thought that if he couldn't do anything better than what he did that one time, why bother at all? Except we're not painters,' Wally added, quickly. 'And… I figure, we'll never be perfect, any of us, not even the big guy, but—'
'You didn't take Shayera's hand.'
And there it is.
He catches a glimpse of Wally's reflection, eyelids blinking rapidly in the rear view mirror. The eyes are a question in and of themselves and it's… still strange, for Wally to express himself without words. 'She told you to,' John says, and he has to sound a little accusational. 'I could hear her, yelling her head off, but you didn't take her hand, did you? She took hold of you.'
No answer. John draws in a breath and lets it out again as slowly as he can. Somehow, he resists the urge to call Wally a son of a bitch. And the part of him that doesn't want to call Wally a son of a bitch wants to apologise and hug the guy or something.
What did they pull him out of, anyway? Hell? Heaven? The end of all speedsters? What if Wally wasn't the first and wasn't bound to be the last?
'Do we have to talk about this now?'
'Damn straight we do,' John says. Which… is a lie, really. They don't ever have to talk about it. They can keep on pretending from now until the end of time. And anyway, says the voice in his head, didn't we come out here to avoid all that? That's what you're thinking John Steward, isn't it?
John tells the voice to shut up again.
'GL, sorry, but that's total crap. What, so it needs announcing anymore than it already has been? You know it, I know it, everyone in the world who has a television set knows it…'
'Crazy, wasn't it?'
'Batman let himself be photographed on that stage. Batman, John. Photographed. I can't even begin to compare that to weird.'
'People change,' John says it with a shrug. It's the only explanation he can give and it's not satisfactory to either of them, but it'll do.
'Yeah, they do. And worlds go to hell all the time. No big. They always come back again. Superheroes are harder to squash than Cockroaches.' Wally looks as if he doesn't know whether to smile or not.
'So. The basic thing is… you save the world. And the world thinks that's cool, even if that world is still kinda angry with you… and you get up on a big stage and start telling everyone how things are all okay now. And then you try to be all normal again… except that you can't, because it doesn't work that way.' Wally says quietly. 'What can you do after something like that?'
John knows what he's talking about without having to ask. He saw the Flash running faster than the speed of light, faster than anything had ever been before. He's starting to get an idea now, of how freaking powerful Flash is and how much damage he can do.
He thinks about the satellite pictures beamed in earlier from Batman's computers –streets ripped up in downtown China, swathes torn through forests in Great Britain and out of season tidal waves lashing the coasts of Hawaii and John all but shivers. He knows that's only a fraction of the power Wally was generating. The rest of it went into ripping Brainiac right out of Luthor's brain and body with the same force as a planet hurtling through space.
John can think of only one other person who possibly could've done what Flash had done to those high streets, and he's not even sure about that.
And yet he's still Wally. Sitting besides him in the passenger seat of a battered Ford in the middle of a scrubland. The car which must seem as if it's dragging against the concrete, crawling like molasses.
He doesn't know how to say all of that, so in the end he doesn't say any of it. He keeps driving.
It's another two hours (forever, eternity) before John finally realises the answer.
Wally looks at him. '…What?'
'You heard me,' John says and for a second he doesn't elaborate, not even with Wally giving him his "seriously, that's not an explanation, give me details already" face.
John had stopped for gas, pulling into a middle-of-nowhere service station, still not entirely certain what he needs a full tank for anyway. He still has no idea where exactly he's planning to go after this, or how long he's going to be gone.
Still, he knows where Wally's going. He isn't sure when, though. For now, he's right here in the gas station, sitting in John's car. Tomorrow he could be anywhere. He could disappear right now and run all the way to Egypt and be back in less time than it takes John to blink.
If he ever goes faster than that blink again…
No. That's another of the many things John doesn't want to think about right now.
Wally is still sitting there when John gets back, and he's still looking over at the driver's seat expectantly, like he's waiting for John to finish a sentence he started before getting out of the car. 'No, seriously, what? I get the running thing, but… what?'
John sighs. 'That's all you need to get. Look, Flash, I know we're all completely screwed up, right now… the question I guess we should be asking ourselves is how screwed were we in the first place, for putting on the weird get up and going out to fight injustice, but… we're still us.'
It's like J'onn had told them that time they took on Doctor Destiny –they were the ones who defined the costumes (uniforms), not the other way around. Wally should know that better than any of them. He's Wally and Wally is the Flash, and neither of them is really a mask for the other.
Wally blinks. He's not sweating anymore, and the vibrating has stopped altogether, but he still looks confused. 'Yeah… still not making any sense here.'
'Just do what I said,' John says in the "I'm a Green Lantern for a reason, don't question me" voice. 'It's what you were made for, right? So do it. Be the Flash. Run, like you always have. Go to New York on mornings to get warmed up. Mess things up in the javelin bay because you can't sit still for two minutes. Go through buildings at super speed, even when people yell at you not to and… and challenge Superman to round the world races…
'Just run, Wally. Don't ever stop.'
By now his hands have tightened on the steering wheel so much, he can see his knuckles blanching, and Wally's own hand has tightened on nothing.
'…Oh… okay. Cool,' Wally says with forced nonchalance. John's grip loosens a fraction. 'And uh…' He trails off. The car pulls out of the surface station with renewed vigour.
John waits. Eventually (after another three kilometres), Wally finishes what it was he was going to say. 'What about when I stop?'
'Then we'll be here to pull you back,' John says quietly and without hesitation.
Flashback. The streets have been ripped up all the way from Hong Kong to Detroit. Brainiac's flesh is being ripped away from his body by something moving too quickly to be seen. The energy is building up, concentrated into on violent, red and shining blue spot. Which then explodes. Which then disappears.
He remembers it, and he's sure Flash does too.
'I'm here too, Wally.'
'We're all here.'
'Man, I can't decide if that's kinda cute or puke-inducingly sappy. Help me out here: should I hurl or hug you?'
John laughs out loud, because…
Because he wants to. Heck, he hasn't felt like really laughing for weeks, and normally a statement like that would be more likely to make him thwap Wally about the head than hug him, but tonight, right now, right here, it's funny, and John's going to enjoy it and laugh.
'Do any damage whatsoever to this car, Wally, and I swear you'll pay for it in kilometres.'
Wally snorts softly under his breath. 'Man, kilometres are nothing.'
No, John thinks, he supposes they aren't to Wally. They're just a bunch of numbers and lines that slow people like to stick on maps to tell them where they're going. Geography high school elective indeed.
'Doesn't matter, though, right?' Wally adds, seemingly as a personal reassurance. I'm not going anywhere.'
Sure he's not, the little voice says and it doesn't feel the slightest bit sarcastic. Doesn't matter how far you go. They'll bring you back. That's what you want.
He reaches out the hand which isn't gripping the wheel and grips Wally's arm where Shayera's hand had been, skin still warm under the material.
'You're not wearing your seatbelt.'
Wally frowns. 'Man, shut up. I fight super villains, seat belts won't kill me.'
'They do if you're not wearing them. Belt. Now.'
'…What'd you say?'
Wally sniggers. 'Nothing, nothing.'
The next silence is almost not an uncomfortable one. It feels as normal as their silences ever will again. Maybe the kid wasn't out here by accident.
John's always had a weird relationship with fate. And weird relationships in general.
'I could always throw you out of this car.'
'But I swear, I didn't mean it. I can blame it on the fever and move right along, you can't hold people responsible for what they come out with when they're delirious.'
'If by delirious you mean annoying as hell…'
'That too, it's a gift.'
He might be heading towards San Francisco, judging from where the sun is rising.
Assuming that's true, it'll still be another hour at least before he sees the skyline. He can think of worse places to go on leave. When Superman says "take as long as you need" John knows it's not code for "if you're not back in a fortnight I'm sending someone out after you".
'Maybe Superman told Wally to run over the Detroit scrubland.'
Wally, unsurprisingly enough, is asleep in the passenger seat. It's taking all John's self control not to nudge him to see how he reacts. Which is stupid. The kid is rubbing off on him. But the car feels like its going a lot faster when Wally isn't looking out of the window and reminding him how fast the world can be sometimes, which helps.
The first thing he'll do when he gets back is call Mari and ask if she knows whether that breakfast bar in China is still in business. They probably are, since they've been cashing in on the superheroes-stake-up reputation for months. It's not only normal people who some of them need to reconnect with.
It's like the little voice say: No sense in running anyway. It doesn't really matter how far behind you leave all the people you give a damn about. They'll always end up finding you anyway.
Especially the irritating ones and the ones that move as fast as light.
Fin. Sort of.
Gacks, homages (well, homage), and other stuff that wasn't mine to begin with.
"Superheroes are harder to squash than Cockroaches," is borrowed from the original Crash Bandicoot game's ending account "Evil geniuses are harder to squash than cockroaches."
'There was this story I saw once, in a magazine… about an artist or a writer or something, I forget. Anyway, he made this piece of art or writing or… whatever and he thought it was pretty much the most perfect thing he'd ever done… Eventually this guy decided that he'd created something perfect and he'd never ever do anything better in his life.' – This is a real story that I heard on the history channel, but the exact details evade me. I think it's meant to be a metaphor for how being perfect might be worse than being imperfect. After all, where's the fun in a being that doesn't make mistakes?
Reviews and concrit are appreciated.