When he turned to his aunt again, he saw her holding a DVD. It was a collection of episodes from the old Columbo tv show. When he first became Kid Flash, Uncle Barry gave him detective lessons. He familiarized his little nephew with all the various tests he ran at the police lab. He suggested detective and mystery books for Wally to read to get accustomed to trying to solve those sorts of puzzles. And he watched DVD's of the old Columbo tv show with Wally. It was a particular favorite of Uncle Barry. He loved how Lieutenant Columbo would unravel some murderer's alibi because of some tiny incongruity some tiny element of it that didn't fit with the everyday routine of the victim or the killer. The last DVD in the set had just come out.
"Aunt Iris! I'm just Wally West now. I don't need to take . . detective lessons any more. I-"
She pointed at the episode description on the back.
There was one that his uncle had mentioned several times and that Kid Flash had been anxious to see.
"Oh. The, uh, the . . one that Uncle Barry kept . . talking about . . it's finally out, huh?"
He sighed. He really did want to see that one. Flash had talked about what an ingenious solution it had.
"Alright, but only because Uncle Barry got me all jazzed up about seeing that particular one, not for practice in thinking like a detective because I don't need to do that. I don't have to read all those detective books any more, either. I'm just Wally West skinny civilian from now on."
She nodded. Oh, of course.
So, a minute later they were sitting on the couch, him with his knees up against his chest in his jammies, and his aunt next to him under the thick blanket with an arm over his shoulders and intermittently patting his head, even once kissing the top of his head. He didn't try and avoid it. He was so at ease around Aunt Iris. Almost despite himself, he immediately became engrossed in the Columbo episode, trying to figure out what clues would prove who'd done it.
A police higher up talked condescendingly to Columbo eliciting an angry grunt from her nephew. She raised an eyebrow and hit pause.
"Hmmph. I know what that's like," he said looking at the screen and not at his aunt. "Half the cops treat me like a joke," he muttered, not looking at her with his chin now resting on his knees. "They snicker at me because I'm not that big and the stupid suit's so tight. I just know they make fun of me the second I sprint away, all those big doughnut eating fatsos! The worst part of it is that they get all resentful when I catch somebody instead of them and the press sees that it was me not them. Can you believe that?"
She patted his head because he sounded so depressed about it.
"I try and help and all I get is snickered at. They get angry that I show they're not doing the job, especially cause it's skinny little me. They don't get angry enough to do their job better, oh no, just angry enough to get mad at the skinny dude who does it instead of them. Probably a . . a union thing or something."
Aunt Iris rubbed his shoulder. He looked in her eyes and he could tell exactly what she was feeling. Aunt Iris was amazing that way. She could do a total poker face and not give you anything, but sometimes, with him, she would transmit to him her true feelings with absolute clarity in just a glance.
"One guy making fun of me one time must've weighed 400 pounds. Imagine being like that and making fun of a speedster! When he goes camping, the bears hide their food."
Aunt Iris smirked.
With his own mention of food, Wally thought of his cocoa on the table in front of them. He reached for his cup and then gulped down the contents.
Only it wasn't his cup.
And the contents were Aunt Iris's cocoa with a double shot of espresso.
Wally's eyes went wide.
"Guh! Caffeine!" he gasped, feeling his insides start to vibrate and jumped up from the couch to the floor not wanting to have a vibration fit while sitting beside his aunt..
Aunt Iris watched as the boy's face became blurry and a sound like a phone set on vibrate came from him.
"D-d-d-dam-m-m-mit!" he moaned.
One of the unexplained differences between her husband and her nephew was that Flash wasn't affected by caffeine while Kid Flash sometimes vibrated uncontrollably from how it interacted with his system.
The vibrations spread almost randomly throughout him. First his right leg vibrated like a jackhammer, his foot taptaptaptaptaptap pounding a rhythm out on the hardwood floor. Then he seemed to get that under control but his left arm started vibrating and became fuzzy. Then even that was under control. He seemed to be flexing every muscle in his body but another vibrating sound started.
His eyes went wide. He looked down at the front of his red jammie bottoms. Not in front of Aunt Iris!
For a moment she puzzled then slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
He spun around to face away from his aunt.
Finally, it seemed to pass and he turned back around with a couple deep breaths and jumped back onto the couch beside her.
"See what I have to go through?! See what I have to deal with, Aunt Iris? I have to eat six or seven meals a day or it feels like a hunger strike and caffeine does that to me. And even with all the stuff that I can do nobody knows how anything's going to affect me, if the whole speed thing is good for my health in the long term or not. Uncle Barry was old when he became the Flash, like . . 26 or 27. But I was only 11. I . . . "
There was a long pause. He realized his mistake. Aunt Iris was 31 or 32 something old like that, he wasn't sure exactly, even if she was still really pretty. But she was more more than 27. He was sure of that.
The pause extended as he desperately tried to figure out how to get out of this and finally just muttered, "Um, sorry. I mean, 26 or 27's not old."
She patted his head. Only then did he feel it safe to go on.
"At least, that caffeine thing isn't as bad as it used to be. I used to bounce around a room like a rubber ball. I couldn't help it. I might be outgrowing it a bit. Once up in the Justice League's satellite, stupid Speedy switched his soda into my cup right before a meeting and I couldn't stop my body vibrating. No matter what I did I couldn't stop! I-I just kept vibrating and making this buzzing sound the whole time, no matter how hard I tried to stop it . . . . Batman was speaking to me, Speedy, Aqualad, WonderGirl, Super boy and Batgirl and he got all mad at me but I couldn't stop."
Aunt Iris rubbed his back. Poor Wally.
"Hmmph. Speedy! That should've been my name, not his, don't you think? But don't worry, I get him back for the way he called me gay non-stop that first time we met and the way he always pulls on the back of my suit and snaps it back at me. I-"
Aunt Iris was giving him a certain skeptical glance. With one eyebrow raised really high. Always pulls on the back of your suit? Is he . . ?
"What! No way, Aunt Iris. He's not like that. Although . . . nah, no way. He'd do anything to get a date with Wonder Girl. He-"
His defense of Speedy was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Aunt Iris pushed him away for him to answer it. As he made his way, slowly, to the door he wondered, fleetingly, about Speedy and the time up in the League's Watchtower satellite when he'd spilled a glass of water on his own bed and then had to share Kid Flash's with him. What if . . . . ? Naaaaaaaaah! No way. He's a hero. He's just friendly. He wants to make out with Wonder Girl, too. All us teen hero guys do, probably even that little jerk, Robin.
Wally carefully kept his pace to a painfully slow normal walk and opened the front door. Outside, on the front step, were a middle aged man and woman. And it worked just like Aunt Iris had hoped. The Fletchers from down the street were returning Uncle Barry's hedge trimmers. They remarked at what a handsome boy Wally was.
"Gosh, you even look like him," the man said of Wally in his Kid Flash jammies, "though smaller, of course." Iris was proud of how well Wally played it, all humble, "thanks" and "I wish" before launching into a smiling story of how his Aunt Iris bought them for him and how Kid Flash has been great for boys like him with bright red hair who always used to get made fun of. Now we get compared to a super hero! Thanks! I'll tell my uncle when he gets home!
As soon as the door was closed, Wally zipped over at super speed and was back beside Aunt Iris on the couch. She patted his shoulder before throwing the blanket back over him. Very nice job there, young man, she seemed to be saying. She had so much liked his smile to the Fletchers about Kid Flash making things better for gingers. But her little nephew was anything but grinning as he stared straight ahead, at the TV screen frozen on the paused imaged of Lieutenant Columbo.
"Maybe Kid Flash has made things better for some redheads but not me," he confided. "I have to trip and fall on my face if kids wonder aloud about my hair and his. When a bunch of big 8th graders chase after us, I have to let them catch me. Can't let anyone associate me with being fast, Uncle Barry said. Oh no! So, I get stuffed in one of those tall trash cans, and being a Flash, I'm so flexible that my head sticks out the top right next to my sneakers and everybody laughs at that for, like, forever. That was what Uncle Barry said. Can't let anyone think you might be Kid Flash. Oh no. If there's any chance for you to get picked on, then let it happen. People won't think of you as possibly being Kid Flash then."
"So, I have to go almost out of my way to get humiliated, Aunt Iris! I not only start to lose all my friends because I spend all my time as Kid Flash. I not only mess up any times I'm supposed to see a-a girl from school because I'm answering police calls that buzzed my ring on my finger. I not only do that and then get all this friction from the cops. But I have to let bullies pick on me, too!" he complained with gradually increasing volume before shutting his jaw tight and setting it back on top of his knees, staring forward at the tv screen. He felt her rub his shoulder sympathetically.
"On the last day of school," he continued in a sort of mumbled growl, these 8th graders were after me, making fun of me because I got all A's. I could beat those jerks up in a fraction of a second, me and my A's. But no! I hold back. I do like Uncle Barry said. I even let them chase me down in the hallway. You know how painful that was for me, a speedster to let four pudgy idiots 'chase' me down? And then, they drag me into the school cafeteria and give me an atomic wedgie in front of practically the whole school!"
He glanced over at his aunt. She had a quizzical expression.
"It's-it's when . . well, a wedgie is when you yank someone's briefs up in the back. An atomic wedgie is when you pull them up over his head! It fricking hurt. My equipment ached. I was on the floor groaning and the whole school, practically the whole school was laughing at me. Ha ha, look at the weirdo nerd! But it was a great victory for me right? Great victory for me because people won't think of me as Kid Flash after something like that. Yes sirree, Uncle Barry. Great victory for me. Cause it doesn't matter how hard things are for me, as long as my freaking secret identity's safe then everything's great! Friends? Family? Girls? Respect for what I do and maybe a thank you some of the time? Who needs that stuff? I've got a ring and a secret identity. I'm all set!"
He spoke it all facing forward, not looking at her, partly because he didn't want her sympathy to derail him partly because his eyes started to water considering the miserable mess his life had become. He blinked at super speed to prevent tears. He could feel the way she was rubbing his shoulder change now. She squeezed the muscle of his shoulder. He knew that she would be on the verge of tears now. He couldn't look.
"They-they don't even say thank you," he continued softly. "Even the people you save, whose-whose lives you save don't say thank you half the time. They take it for granted that someone like Flash or me just does this stuff, like-like it's our job and we have to or something. Well, that's not the way it is!" he said, raising his voice at the end. "The whole thing's not fair to me! You can't ask me to have no friends! You can't ask me to have no chance with any girls, then get picked on at school and laughed at and treated like crap by the police! It's not fair to me. You can't ask me to ruin my life to-to save other peoples' and have them not even thank me!" he said and then remembered one of his lines. "With great power comes great responsibility but not unlimited responsibility!"
Things were silent for a bit then the DVD player automatically switched back into 'play' mode from 'pause' mode, a certain time having elapsed. Lieutenant Columbo spoke a few words before Aunt Iris grabbed the control and hit stop. She went back to squeezing his shoulder.
"I can't . . do this, Aunt Iris. It's too much."
He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Aunt Iris looking like she was about to cry now. And finally, she spoke.
"Sometimes, Wally, situations are-are bad, but if you . . persevere in them long enough, they become good, or at least . . okay. And sometimes, even though you want to be so . . so strong, you need to tell people who care that you need help."
"I . . . . . . need . . . . . . help, Aunt Iris," he barely whispered before being engulfed in a hug while he blinked at super speed to avoid crying on her shoulder. He had no idea how long it lasted and didn't care. His aunt hugged him and rubbed his back. She felt every breath of her skinny little nephew for a minute as she whispered in his ear. "We'll be there for you more often, Wally. I've been so busy with work, I haven't dropped by in months. But Uncle Barry and I will make time to be with you more. You're doing a great job. It shouldn't ever get so hard that it becomes too much for you. It shouldn't ever. Oh Wally!"
The incredible tension, the anxiety, the exasperation at how the world was treating him, at the impossible demands being made of him, they all vanished with her touch and her words. Years later, when he had just joined the Titans, Robin was familiarizing him with the other team members' abilities. He started telling him of Raven's empathic abilities and, as he was wont to do, started launching into a more detailed explanation until he was stopped by Kid Flash holding up one red gloved hand. "I know how it works," he told the Titans leader.
"I know all about it."
He stayed up late that night, watching more Columbo DVD episodes with Aunt Iris and discussing the little tricks of detection in them. She told him about some of her reporter's tricks to get inside places and get information too. He laughed and laughed at some of her stories. And even though he felt like he had more energy than ever, at a certain point, Aunt Iris insisted that he go to bed. She tucked him in on the couch and gave him a kiss on the forehead, whispering, "We'll always be there for you, Wally."
He fell asleep with a smile. Though, it was a curious sleep. Somewhere, not far away, almost like voices off stage of the reveries in his mind, there were other voices. Ow! Ow! Ow! Don't pull on my wing like that. You know what your nephew wanted to do?! Ow! Iris! Please!
He didn't remember them after he woke. When his eyes opened, he was on the couch in Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris's house. He was wearing Kid Flash jammies under a thick wool blanket. To one side was Aunt Iris sitting in a recliner pulled up beside the couch. To the other, the short cropped blond hair and arm of a sleeping Uncle Barry in a bathrobe rested atop the couch back. Aunt Iris was already awake and smiled down at him. She reached across the couch and pulled one of Uncle Barry's ears, hard. to wake him.
"Ow!" he immediately reacted. "Didn't you get enough of that last night?"
"Your nephew, Barry."
Wally's uncle turned to him with a sigh and smiled softly. "Hey, tiger," he said with a pat of Wally's shoulder. "Your aunt tells me you stopped by with a pretty serious message yesterday."
Wally looked him straight in the eyes and nodded. His uncle sighed.
"Look, there's-there's no way around it. I messed up. And I'm sorry about that, Wally. I didn't appreciate how tough your situation could be. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
"You've always been so good at-at being a Flash that, well, sometimes I forget that you're only twelve-"
"Thirteen!" Wally immediately corrected and his uncle noticed that for some reason Iris thought that was very funny.
"Sorry. I . . I guess that shows how out of touch I've been about things in your life. I'm sorry. I haven't been a good mentor if I don't know better than that. I-"
"That's not true! You've been great!" Wally interrupted, starting to sit up in the process before his uncle's hand to his chest held him down.
"I haven't been great if everything's become too much for you to handle. I need to give you more of my time."
"Same here," said Aunt Iris from the other side.
"And not only lessons in using super speed. Just . . just time. I should have realized that." he said and motioned for Wally to sit up then gave him a hug from one side as Iris did from the other. When finally they let their smiling nephew go, he immediately turned to his uncle.
"Tag?" he asked excitedly.
"Okay, we'll play tag."
Wally pulled the blanket over his head and a split second later threw it down to the other end of the couch, emerging in his Kid Flash suit.
His uncle zipped to the other room in his bathrobe and returned in his red Flash suit.
"State only," he bargained.
"Aw, come on Flash! Three state!"
Aunt Iris watched her nephew mull this offer over before reluctantly accepting. "Okay. Two state and vibration allowed."
Flash sighed. "Fine. Vibration allowed."
So fast it was barely visible to her, Aunt Iris watched her nephew zip over and slap her husband on the shoulder before zipping to the door and shouting, "You're it!" then vibrating right through it and disappearing.
"He'll be okay," her husband smiled to her, then sped after him.