Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine.
A/N: This story is about slash, but it is NOT a slash story. If you don't like, don't read.
Wally West, aka the Flash, the fastest man alive, stared uncomprehending at the computer screen. Something had to be wrong with his eyes. He definitely needed to get his eyesight checked. What he saw, it just couldn't be. Who in their right mind… With a quick shake of his head, he closed down the internet site and shut off the computer. He felt used. He felt dirty. Maybe he should take a shower… No matter what, he desperately needed to forget what he had seen.
Finding the internet site hadn't been difficult. Knowing people were writing about him, or rather were writing about the Flash, wasn't a surprise. For years, he had made it a habit to casually cruise the Flash's fan sites every so often. One, he had the time. Two, it was always good to keep tabs on what was being said about him. Image was everything.
Overall, there was never anything earth shattering. Most sites talked about his most recent battles. Most included links to recent articles either written about him or articles that included him. Others included discussions on a range of topics from how fast could he really run (light speed people) to if he was really faster than Superman (again, light speed people) to a host of other questions. At times he had to hold himself back from participating in the discussions. Even he knew nothing could result of that. Basically, his fan sites were similar to those of others in the hero world. No big deal. Even though for odd reason Linda seemed to find them highly amusing. He highly suspected that she participated in some of the discussions, but had yet to find proof.
Today, he had found a new web site. Again, not a stop-the-presses moment. New sites did spring up occasionally. This site was a little different. Technically, it wasn't completely devoted to the Flash. Instead, numerous heroes were mentioned. His best friend Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, was the most popular name on the site, quickly followed by Bats himself. Others had included Robin, Arsenal, Superboy, Superman, and even Impulse.
At first glance, he had thought he had found a web site gathering cute little stories about the friendships and team-ups within the hero community. Otherwise, why would they be paired together? Nightwing/Batman; Batman/Robin; Nightwing/Arsenal; Robin/Superboy/Impulse. He had settled in for some good, heartwarming stories. Reading the first story had left him dumbfounded. It hadn't been about friendships or team-ups. It had been about…no, he was definitely NOT going to think about it!
Thinking the first story may have been a fluke, he had tried another. By the fifth story, his worst fears had been confirmed. Not a fluke. The web site hosted fan fiction that paired heroes, not to fight crime or save the world, but to…to…to do each other. Worse, many of the stories left little to the imagination. Even worse, whenever he closed his eyes, he could see his best friend…NO! So not going there!
The stories were disturbing. Not that they were about homosexual relationships. That didn't bother him. One of his good friends, Piper, was gay. He was so okay with the entire concept of homosexuality. To each his own, and in his case, his own was Linda. Not Bats… Wally shivered at the thought.
With a quick shake of his head, he tried unsuccessfully to push the thoughts away. The pairings with Dick had been long. It seemed as if Nightwing had been paired with almost everyone. The most disturbing ones were Nightwing and Robin or Batman and Robin – both Tim and Dick. Did they not know that Dick and Tim were like brothers? Or that Bruce was Dick's father? Okay, maybe not biologically, but definitely legally. How disgusting! It was just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Well, thinking about it, Wally realized the writers wouldn't know about the true relationships in Bat family. The Bat Family gave an entirely new meaning to "anal retentive" when it came to their secrets. At times Wally wondered how long it would be until their secret identities had secret identities. Actually, they already sort of did. Bruce had Matches, Dick had Freddie and Tim had Alvin. Anyway…the writers seemed overly enthralled with incest within the Bat Family. Just so, so, so wrong on so very many levels.
Reading about Dick and Roy and others had been bad. But that hadn't been the worst part. Not the worst part at all. No, the most horrifying discovery had been to learn that the writers had included him. Worse, the writers overwhelmingly paired him with Bats. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Why would anyone in their right mind think there could be any sort of attraction between him and Bats? Of course, he shouldn't have read the stories. By the time he had spotted his name, he had figured out the gist of the web site. He had no excuse for looking. Yet, he had had to know. He had needed to know what the writers thought about him. And reading just one story hadn't been enough. No, he had read them all.
What Batman had done to him…NO! He would not think about it. He was happily married. He loved Linda with all his heart. She was the center of his world. She was his beacon. He heard the door open. Speaking of which, she was home.
He zoomed to meet her, catching her in his arms and kissing her. Yes, this was right. Linda was supposed to be in his arms. He was NOT supposed to be in Bat's arms.
"Wal-Wal-" Linda gave him a huge push. "Wally! What's wrong with you?"
"I missed you. I love you." He tried to wrap his arms around her again.
"I love you, too, but-" She slapped his hands away. "Not now. I have a ton of work I need to do. Did you pick up the steaks for dinner tonight?" Wally quickly looked away. He had gotten too wrapped up in reading those…oh, they were so not stories. "Wally," Linda said, planting her hands on her hips, "tell me you remembered to pick up the steaks."
"I'll be right-"
"Oh, no, you don't," she replied grabbing his arm to restrain him.
Wally shook free, zoomed to the store and returned with said steaks. Unfortunately, even using the self-checkout lanes required him to wait for the store computers which were unfathomably slow at times. Returning home, he found his wife in the kitchen. A cold front had definitely arrived. "Five steaks." He placed the package on the countertop. "I'll go start the grill."
"Wally." He paused and waited for the tirade. Surprisingly, it didn't come. "What's wrong?"
"You forgetting to go to the store is not surprising. However, that combined with you assaulting me when I got home…what happened today?"
Damn. Linda sensed something. Not good. Worse, she always knew when he was lying. Just like she always knew when he didn't tell her the entire story. "Nothing. Just a relaxing day at home."
"Really. No crises in Keystone or Central. No JLA emergencies. Nothing. A pretty boring day."
"So, what did you do with your time?"
"Oh, this and that."
He would absolutely not tell her what he had read. It would shatter her world. Okay, maybe not, but it would shatter his world if he had to say those words. Time for a diversion. "Do you know how beautiful you are?"
Diversion defeated. He was not going to talk about what he had read. His mind was still trying to process it all. No, correction, his mind was frantically trying to forget it all. "Look at the time, I should really get the grill started. Jay and Joan will be here soon. Do you know if Bart's coming?"
Linda sighed. "Yeah, Bart's coming, too."
Linda arched an eyebrow at him. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Positive." He kissed her on the cheek and escaped to the patio. He had at least twenty minutes to clear his mind. He had at least twenty minutes to figure out a way to stop himself from picturing Bart with Tim and Conner. Oh, man… At least Jay hadn't been mentioned. That would have been simply unfathomable. It was bad enough knowing he and his friends and his cousin were listed, but Jay…that would have been a sacrilege.
The passage of time was not helping. Nor was taking down another one of Mirror Master's attempts at bank robbery. No matter how hard he tried, Wally found his mind constantly thinking about those stories and the images they had invoked in his mind. He had lost track of how many times Linda had asked him what was wrong. Eventually she had stopped asking. Now she just sent him worried looks which were almost worst than her questions. Jay had also noticed something was off with him. Hell, even Bart had noticed. He had managed to think of a lame excuse for both of them. Bart had bought the reasoning. Jay had remained silent.
Worse, he had gone back to the site. It hadn't been a dream. It hadn't been some twisted mind trick. It had been real. All the stories were there…and a few new ones had been added. Wally had quickly scanned the additions. Mostly Dick or Bruce pairings. Until his eyes had spotted a new entry toward the bottom. His heart had begun to pound. He had thought things couldn't get any worse. He had been wrong…very, very wrong.
Taking a deep breath, he had clicked on the link. It had been a story about the Flash and Kid Flash. Pairing him and Bart wouldn't have been good – okay, it would have been bad – but it would have been way more tolerable than pairing him with Barry. And the story had definitely been about him and Uncle Barry. Protecting Barry's memory remained one of his key goals in life. Barry had given his life for the universe. There was no way anyone would make a black mark against Barry's name, not if he had anything to do about it. Besides, he didn't only have Barry's memory to protect. He also needed to protect Aunt Iris. She had been through so much. She didn't need any more heartache.
But what to do? He didn't have the know-how to get rid of the story. However, he knew people who did. But enlisting their help meant he would have to admit what he had found, and he just wasn't ready to do that yet. Briefly, he had thought about borrowing one of Ray's – the Atom's – costumes and somehow following the internet signal to the server that housed those stories. Then he could destroy the server. Yet even he had seen all the limitations of that idea.
Wally thought away his Flash costume and casually blended into the sidewalk crowd. If there had been any way to get out of today's lunch, he would have done so. But doing so would only have raised more questions. Questions he would most definitely not answer. Besides, it wasn't often he got to see his friends.
Taking a deep breath, he pulled open the restaurant door. A quick glance revealed his friends already there. At least Dick was sitting next to Donna and not Roy. Oh, why had he thought that? Now he could picture Dick and Roy…NO!
"Hey, guys," he greeted, sliding into the booth next to Roy. "Where's Garth?"
Donna smiled at him. "He couldn't make it. Some last minute emergency," she explained.
Wally felt Dick's questioning look. "What? Do I have something on me?" He looked at his clothes. There had been a few instances when he had been distracted and changing from his costume to civvies had not occurred as smoothly as it should have. At least this time nothing appeared to be missing or out of place.
"No, it's just that you're late."
"You're never late."
"Give him a break, it's only like five minutes." Roy took a sip of his soda.
Wally heard the genuine concern in Dick's voice. Damn. Why did his best friend have to be trained by the world's greatest detective? Why did he have to be so perceptive? Why couldn't he be more like Roy at times? "Just a few things on my mind."
"Anything you want to share?"
Oh, god, no! "Nah, nothing important." He grabbed the menu. "So, what's everyone having?"
Dick let the issue drop, but Wally knew Dick. Dick would just ask him again. Privately. In the meantime, Roy and Donna picked up the conversation. Wally tried to pay attention. These were his closest friends. They were his family.
Yet, his mind thought of the various stories written about Dick and Roy. Would they ever-no! Why did he even think that was possible? This was Roy and Dick. There was no question in his mind that both of them were heterosexual. Roy had been head over heels in love with Donna for years. He had fathered a daughter with Cheshire. Besides, how many stories had Roy told over the years of the times he had scored? There had never been any question as to whether it had been with women. This was Roy.
As for Dick, again, not an issue. Like Roy, Dick had never had a problem getting dates. Besides, he had almost married Kory. Then there was Babs. Talk about an on-again-off-again relationship. Both of them just needed to admit they loved each other and move on.
Lunch was over too quickly for everyone. They said their goodbyes. Wally soon found only him and Dick remaining. "So, care to tell me what's on your mind?"
"Huh?" Okay, not the best answer. "Um, nothing much."
"Wal, it's me. I know you. What's wrong?"
For a nanosecond, he almost gave in. It was so tempting to unload all of this to Dick. Dick would know what to do. But he couldn't. Besides, did he really want to risk an angry Bat family member? Dick may laugh about him and Roy. The laughter would stop at Tim. Anger would appear with the mention of Bruce. When Dick got angry, he was just a little too much like Bruce for Wally's liking.
"Everything okay with Linda?"
Linda? "Linda? She's great. Busy with work. You know."
"The JSA is keeping him busy. He really enjoys working with those young heroes."
"Look, there's nothing wrong, okay?" The statement came out a little harsher than he had intended. "Sorry. I should be getting back to Keystone." He stood to leave.
Dick also stood. "It was good to see you again."
"Yeah, you, too."
"Remember, you ever need to talk, just call me, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Take care." Wally hurried out of the restaurant. He had to get his imagination under control. He had to forget everything he had read and move on with his life. But how? It seemed the harder he tried to forget, the more he thought about it. Besides, there was still Barry's memory to protect.
Dick Grayson slid back into the booth. He pulled out his cell phone, pausing to collect his thoughts before dialing. "Hi, Linda. It's Dick."
"How was he?"
"You were right. Something's bothering him."
"Did he say what?"
"No. When I mentioned your name, he got a very surprised look on his face. Same for Jay and Bart. Whatever it is, he doesn't want to talk about it."
"Has anything strange happened in the league recently?"
Something strange was always happening with the league, Dick thought. But he knew what she meant. Why she thought he had knowledge of the league was beyond him. Sure, she knew his connection to Batman, but Linda had never struck him as someone who assumed anything. She wouldn't assume Bruce would tell him anything. Besides, Dick knew Wally vented to her about Bruce. Those rantings should have told her that Bruce – Batman – didn't share much. "Nothing out of the ordinary, at least as far as I know."
"I'm really worried," she admitted.
Whatever was wrong with his friend was a lot worse than it seemed. Linda had been through a lot. For this to throw her meant Wally was acting outside his normal parameters of normal, which were pretty wide to begin with. "When did it start?"
"A couple days ago. I came home and he was just out of sorts."
"And nothing strange had happened? No fights or anything?"
"No. When I had left that day, Wally said he was going to do some computer research. That basically means he checked out his fan sites." Dick smiled. That sounded like Wally. "I thought maybe he saw something on one of them that may have thrown him. But I've looked at them. There's nothing out of the ordinary posted. Anyway, that night we had dinner with Jay, Joan and Bart. Wally acted weird, especially toward Bart. It was almost as if he were studying him."
Wally being interested in Bart. Add another item to the worry list. Yes, Wally did worry about his cousin in a vague sort of way. Just like Wally cared about his cousin in a vague sort of way. Wally and Bart's relationship was one he didn't understand. But then he shouldn't talk. No one understood his relationship with Bruce. Hell, he didn't even understand his relationship with Bruce at times.
"I'll check around and see if I can learn anything. If I do, and if it's something I can share, I'll call you."
"No problem. Hang in there. With Wally, this could go away as quickly as it came."
"I know, but this time I don't think that will be the case. Something is really bothering him. Anyway, thanks for calling."
Dick stared at his phone for a few moments. Neither Roy nor Donna had seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary with Wally. If either of them had, they would have confronted the speedster. Only Dick had realized the significance of Wally being late.
Barry Allen had always been late. For the fastest man alive, he had never been on time. It had irked Wally for years. Wally had admitted it was the one part of the Flash legacy he didn't want to uphold. And he hadn't. Wally had always been conscious of the time. If he were going to be late, he always called. The fact Wally hadn't called showed he had been preoccupied with something. The fact Wally had simply shrugged at being late was revealing about his friend's state of mind.
Trying to discover what was bothering his friend would require him to bring in more people. Babs would be the easiest to ask. She kept tabs on everyone. If anything out of the ordinary had happened, she would know. He could also ask Tim if Bart had mentioned anything about his cousin. After those two, though, his options quickly faded. He barely knew Jay. Asking him would be awkward. That left the league. He could ask Kyle, but he didn't know Kyle that well. That left Bruce. Asking Bruce would result in two outcomes – either Bruce would brush off the question or Bruce would investigate on his own. If it were the latter, Dick knew he might inadvertently make things even worse. At least for now, it was a risk he wasn't willing to take.
Days passed. Wally had gone to the web site two more times. Just to confirm what he had really read. It was all there. Worse, more stories had been added. Against his better judgment, he had reread all the stories about him…him and Bats. He had purposefully ignored the story about him and Barry. Afterwards, he had taken a shower. He felt beyond dirty. Was it porn if you were reading about yourself? He didn't know and he sure didn't plan to ask anyone.
Why did they pair him with Bats? It was common knowledge the current Flash had been the previous Kid Flash. Why hadn't they paired him with Dick or Roy? Kid Flash had spent a lot of time with Robin and Speedy. Ugh! What was he thinking? He shouldn't be paired with anyone.
Now, he found himself sitting through a JLA meeting. Worse, he found his gaze constantly shifting to look at Batman. For the first time, he missed the opaque eye covers his costume used to have. Then no one would notice where he was looking, not that anyone had commented so far.
He tried to pay attention, but Superman was droning on about something or other. Within a second, his mind had wandered again. He and Bats weren't the only ones in the room that had been paired. Bats had also been paired with Supes. That was just as strange and totally wrong. Of course he had read those stories, too. He had had to see if Bats treated Supes the same way he treated him…er, the make believe Flash, not him!
He hadn't found any stories about Kyle. Not too surprising since Kyle was still relatively new to the hero biz. Arthur, J'onn and Plastic Man had also been overlooked by the writers. Not really a big surprise with any of them either. Arthur was just too…well…just too everything. At times he made Bats seem cheery. As for J'onn, well, he wasn't really that well known, sort of like Kyle. Plastic Man. Well, if Wally were truly honest, after reading those stories, Plastic Man could have been a star. Sort of like Kyle. Plastic Man could do almost anything with his body. Sort of like Kyle and that ring. Oh, man, what was he thinking? He was stooping down to their level!
"Wally, is everything okay?" Superman asked.
Wally shook himself to attention. He felt everyone's eyes on him. His skin flushed to match his costume. "Yeah, sorry," he answered.
Everyone looked away, except Batman. Wally felt himself being thoroughly examined. Great. The last person's attention he wanted. He tried to look nonchalant, not that it would fool the Bat. Did Bruce know what was written about him on the internet? Probably. Definitely. The man seemed to know everything. How could it not bother him? They accused him of having…of doing… Don't go there, he warned himself. But he couldn't stop himself. Dick was his son! Tim, well, Tim wasn't technically his son, but still! The kid spent more time with Bats than his own father. How could that not bother Bruce?
Wally knew Bruce had tolerated him over the years. He knew Bruce and Alfred had dreaded those nights he had slept over at the manor. Okay, so he had been a little hyper as a teenager. And how could he have known that that ugly lamp was actually an antique and worth almost $100,000? Besides, it had been Dick who had suggested a game of tag with nerf balls. Anyway, how would Bruce react to knowing that the Batman had been paired with the Flash? People should realize that opposites didn't always attract. More times than not, they simply irritated each other.
Enough! He forced himself to pay attention, no matter how long Superman droned on. Twenty minutes later, the meeting wrapped up. Wally had stayed focus enough to hear "meeting adjourned." He wanted to run from the room, but also knew he needed to stay under Bat radar. He caught up to Kyle instead. "Hey, Kyle, want to go grab a cup of coffee or something?"
"I would, man, but I have monitor duty. 'Nother time?"
"Sure." It was probably just as well. He wasn't really in the mood to hang with anyone. He had too much on his mind. He made his way to the teleporter.
He stopped. Bruce. Damn. Wally turned and forced a smile. "What's up?"
"There have been rumors circulating that the Penguin may be trying to get a foothold in Keystone again."
"Oh, thanks, I'll keep an eye out." He needed to get away.
"If you need help, just ask."
"Um, yeah, okay, thanks." He turned to leave and felt a hand on his arm.
"Is everything okay?"
His eyes widened, looking at that hand on his arm. Focus! "Hm? Yeah. Everything's great. Really got to get going. Need to check out Penguin and some other stuff." Even beneath the cowl, Wally could see Bruce's frown. Dead. He was dead. He needed to leave now. "See ya."
Back at home he collapsed on the sofa without changing out of his costume. He needed to get his mind under control. He needed to move on. Those stories were taking over his life. Why did he ever have to discover that web site? Why couldn't he just forget?
The ringing of the telephone slowly brought him to consciousness. He hadn't gotten back to his apartment until almost three in the afternoon. Working nights as Nightwing and days as a police officer were taking a major toll. He just wanted to sleep. Instead, Dick blindly groped for the phone. "Yeah?" he mumbled.
"Something's wrong with Wally."
Great. Bruce had noticed. So much for getting any more sleep. Dick sat up and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "What?"
"Figure out what's wrong before I do." The call disconnected.
Dick sighed. Okay, Bruce hadn't figured it out. The Bat had. And the Bat was giving orders. No big surprise. He yawned and glanced at the clock. Three hours of sleep. The pillow looked so tempting, but he also knew he would never fall back to sleep. His mind was already kicking into overdrive.
Dick had done some investigating. He had found nothing out of the ordinary. No extra criminal activity. No new criminals. Things seemed to be relatively quiet in Keystone. Likewise with the JLA. Overall, Wally was getting a break at the moment, something every hero lived for.
But Dick knew his friend. A break meant boredom. Wally had never handled boredom well. Any sort of inactivity usually drove the speedster insane. As a result, he had a habit of creating problems where none had existed. Now was the perfect case in point. In all likelihood, Wally had turned a mole hill into Mt. Everest.
Following Linda's lead, Dick had also checked out Wally's – the Flash's – fan sites. As Linda had said, there was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that would explain Wally's recent actions. Yet Linda seemed very sure whatever was bugging her husband was connected to something online.
Sighing, he turned on his computer. Within seconds, he typed in his log-in information and sent a message to Babs.
"What's up, FBW?"
Dick smiled. She looked beautiful like she always did. "I have a favor to ask."
She quirked an eyebrow. "Tell me and I may or may not help."
His grin widened. "That's what I figured. Would you be able to hack into Wally's home computer?"
"Why would I want to do that?"
"So, you could do it?"
"Yes, but why would I?"
"He's been acting strange lately, even for Wally. Linda thinks it's tied to something on the net. She's looked and didn't find anything. I've looked and didn't find anything. Rather than having her check the internet history and potentially find something, I figured you could do it remotely."
"Linda's that worried?"
"Yeah. I've talked to Wally. Something's up, but he's not talking. And now Bruce has noticed."
"You don't think he's cheating on her, do you?"
"This is Wally we're talking about. He'd never cheat. Linda's the center of his world."
"Again. This is Wally."
"You're right." Babs paused. "Are you sure you want me looking around? I mean if there is something…I could get you access instead."
So very much Babs. At times she understood the hero community better than they understood themselves. "Yeah, you're right. Probably would be better if I did, just in case. I'll contact Linda and arrange a time."
Linda's quick response showed how much more worried she had become. Three hours later, Dick found himself staring at the internet history. He hadn't told her what he planned to do. Instead, he had quickly gone in, copied the history to his computer, and then deleted it from Wally's. Wally would probably find it odd if he used the internet history for quickly maneuvering around the internet, but not think about the meaning behind it.
Since he had the access, he also used the opportunity to do a quick search and clean the computer of any Bat-related tracking programs. After all these years, Dick had grown used to Bruce's level of paranoia. In a twisted way, Dick understood it. However, he also knew others would not be as understanding. Not surprisingly, Bruce had been there. Dick had immediately recognized the program. He deleted it before ending the connection.
Forty minutes later, Dick had figured it out. The answer made him smile. Wally had discovered slash and it had pushed his innocent and oh-so very straight friend over the edge. Wally always seemed to live in a safe little world. Dick knew both Wally and Clark drove Bruce insane at times with their naivety. Barry Allen used to do the same. Must have something to do with growing up in the Midwest. At least Wally wasn't as bad as Clark or Barry. Hanging around with the Titans, particularly Roy, had toughened Wally up fairly quickly. However, there were still times Wally's beliefs could be shaken. Finding himself to be the main character in slash stories would definitely be one of those times. Dick could already imagine the various leaps Wally's mind had frantically made. He could imagine the panic Wally had probably felt.
Worse, Dick had noticed a story written about Barry Allen. No one said anything negative about Barry or Hal Jordan if Wally were around. Wally defended those two men with no questions asked. Dick understood. He was the same way with Bruce. It was one thing to admit your mentor's faults to yourself. It was a totally different thing to have those faults voiced by someone else.
The slash stories weren't news to him. Dick had known about them for years. They didn't bother him. Who cared? Besides, while growing up, he and Bruce had been the subject of numerous tabloid innuendoes, the worst offenders getting slapped with libel suits. Over the years, Dick had grown immune to it. However, this was probably the first time Wally had discovered slash. Actually it had to be the first time. It explained Wally's behavior.
Dick glanced at the web site. The authors had definitely gotten more creative over the years. Knowing Wally, he was probably freaked out that he had been paired with Bruce. Even as an adult, Wally still harbored a small bit of fear regarding the Dark Knight. Dick had to admit even he didn't really understand that pairing. Then again, he knew Wally too well and knew pairing him with anyone would seem just as strange. Even though he could see a little bit more logic of pairing Flash and Kid Flash, not that he would ever admit that to Wally.
How to address this with Wally? The direct approach, though it would be awkward, was probably the best. If he tried the indirect approach, Wally would never talk. One thing his friend was good at was talking around topics.
For a few seconds Dick weighed the idea of just using the teleporter codes he had pilfered from Bruce's computer. Then he nixed the idea. Bruce had asked for his help. Why tip his hand that he had the codes until he really needed them? Besides, Bruce probably knew he had them and was just waiting for Dick to use them to he could issue some sort of reprimand. Dick actually looked forward to seeing Bruce's reaction when he finally did use the codes. Okay, so he really did have a screwed up relationship with Bruce. Whatever. It worked.
Fifteen minutes later he knocked on the back door of the West house. The door opened. A look of surprise covered Linda's face. "Dick! Why are you-oh, you figured it out?"
"Hi, Linda. Yeah, I did. Is Wally home?"
"Yes, he is. Is it…?"
Again, her worry about her husband was readily apparent. "In the entire scheme of things, this is extremely minor. However, in Wally's eyes, it's not."
"Can I ask what it is?"
Dick briefly toyed with the idea of telling her. Then he realized it wasn't really his place. It was Wally's decision. "After I talk to Wally, you can gage his mood. He may or may not tell you. I don't know what he might do."
The answer seemed to satisfy her. "Wally? Dick's here."
Dick followed Linda to the living room. He really envied his best friend. Wally had managed to find that delicate balance between life as a hero and life as a husband. More importantly, Wally had found a wife who understood the ups and downs of a hero's life, who understood the need for secrecy, who accepted her husband taking off on a moment's notice. Not many people would put up with that on a regular basis. For whatever reasons, the Flashes seemed to have the best luck among heroes in finding accepting and supportive wives. First Jay, then Barry and now Wally.
Wally stood up from the sofa and shook Dick's hand, a worried look on his face. "Hi, man. Everything okay?"
"Yeah. I just need to talk to you about something."
Wally frowned slightly, but also nodded. He gave Linda a quick kiss on the cheek and grabbed the keys to their SUV. "Anyplace in particular?"
"Nah, just someplace quiet." Dick could feel the tension rolling off Wally. He hoped this conversation went okay.
Wally parked the SUV in the empty parking lot. He had driven them to the river walk. The Missouri River divided the cities of Central and Keystone. Central City had taken advantage of the waterfront and had redeveloped portions into parkland. Keystone City, the industrial city of the two, had not yet jumped on the redevelopment bandwagon. As a result, the Keystone side of the river looked rundown with large warehouses and barge docking facilities.
Dick had remained quiet about this surprise visit. His lack of words put Wally on edge. Worse, Dick had teleported. One, Dick hated teleporting. Two, teleporting meant Dick had either used Batman's code without the man's permission or someone else – i.e., Batman – knew Dick had gone to Keystone. Either way revealed the importance of whatever was on Dick's mind.
"You think Barry would recognize this?"
Wally smiled at the mention of his uncle's name. "Probably not. Central finished this redevelopment only a few years ago. I keep waiting for Keystone to figure it out. There's no way the city needs all those warehouses. Half of them are empty. Cobra's goons and a host of other criminals have used them over the years. At least they give me a reason to demolish a few every now and then." He smiled.
Dick did, too. "Wal, I know what's been bothering you."
The words made him freeze. How could Dick…? Never mind. Dick could do just about anything he put his mind to doing. If he couldn't do it himself, he would find someone to do it for him. Most times, he could do it himself. No matter, Wally decided to play dumb just in case his friend was fishing. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Dick stared at him. "Okay, let me put it this way. Linda is worried, worried to the point she called me to ask if I knew what was wrong. Then Bruce called me. With Linda's permission, I hacked into your computer." Wally paled. Damn. Still, this could all be a bluff. Dick could simply be waiting for Wally to slip up and admit something. Then, in horror, he watched as Dick placed his hand on Wally's arm. In spite of himself he tensed. Dick immediately noticed and pulled away. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I admit I like redheads, but you and Roy are definitely not my type."
"Oh, god, you really do know." Wally sat down on a bench and covered his face with his hands. He felt ashamed, embarrassed and relieved. "Did you know that…that stuff was out there?"
Dick sat down next to him. "Yeah."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"Why would it?"
"Because they talk about you with Roy and Tim and Bruce and…"
"Wal, they're just stories. People are just using their imagination. That's all."
"But it's all so…I mean they have you and Bruce doing…god, he's your dad! That's just…it's disgusting! It's-"
"Wal, calm down." Wally took some deep breaths. How could Dick be so nonchalant about this? "It's fiction. It's not real."
"But they say every good story has a hint of truth."
"You really think Bruce is screwing me?"
Well, when he said it that way… "No."
"Or that I want to screw him?"
"I'll be the first to admit Bruce and I have a…unique relationship, but it's not that unique. I also have no intentions toward Roy or Tim or anyone else."
In his heart, Wally knew that, but it felt good to hear Dick say the words. Yet, he remained troubled. "But why would people think that? I mean, none of us act like that, do we?"
"The fact I wore short pants for years probably didn't help." Wally knew Dick's comment was meant to lighten the mood. Wally didn't smile. Dick sighed. Wally could sense Dick's growing frustration. Dick thought he was blowing this out of proportion. Okay, he was. But he just wanted to understand why people wanted to think about him and…Bats. Or worse, him and Barry. "What's really bothering you? Do you think because you were paired with Batman that there's some sort of vibe you're giving out that you don't realize?" Wally remained silent. "Trust me when I say that Bruce isn't gay. Nor is he bi. You aren't giving out any sort of vibe. And as far as I know, I'm not giving out any sort of vibe. Neither is Roy. Neither is Bruce. Neither is anyone. And if we somehow are, who cares? Who cares what they think? It's what we think – what we know – that's truly important."
Everything Dick said was true. Dick knew. Dick didn't care. Those stories weren't dominating Dick's life. Terrible things had been written about Dick. If Dick didn't care, why did it bother him so much? Why couldn't he just move on? Of everything he had experienced in his life, this wasn't the strangest or the scariest. Yet, those stories had left him feeling more unstable than he had felt in a very long time.
"I saw the one about you and Barry."
That was the problem. Eventually he knew he could have somehow come to terms with him and…Bats. But mentioning Barry was too much. "He never did anything wrong. He never once…" Wally felt tears sting his eyes. He quickly blinked them away. "Barry's the dad I always wished I had. He always seemed to understand. He always seemed to know just what to say. Now…that story…it makes it all like a sham, a farce. It wasn't. Besides, if they start writing about me and Barry, who next? Barry and Hal? Barry and Ralph? I know it's fiction, but I just can't let them bash Barry's memory like that."
"You know, in a twisted sort of way, I understand. I've lost track of how many times I've fought with Roy because he said something demeaning about Bruce. I understand the need to protect. I really do. But, Wal, you can't let fiction take over your life. You need to forget about all of it and move on. Those stories, that web site, have been there a long time. Before you found it, before you knew, everything was fine. Everything will continue to be fine. Think you can do that?"
"If not for yourself, do it for Linda. She's really worried. Okay?"
Dick was right. He had Linda to think about. Even he knew how much this had impacted her. He saw it on a daily basis. "I'll work on it." Dick smiled. "So, do Tim and Bruce know about those…stories?"
"What do you think?"
Of course they knew. "How about Roy?"
Dick shrugged. "I doubt it. If he did, don't you think he would have teased me about it by now?"
"Good point." A silence fell between the two friends. "Thanks, Dick," Wally said.
"What are friends for?"
The JLA meeting had just ended. Wally breathed a sigh of relief. He had survived a meeting with Batman and not stared at him. It seemed as if he had finally moved beyond those stories. Yes, they were still out there, but they weren't him. He wasn't gay. He loved his wife. More importantly, Bats wasn't interested in him, had never been interested in him and never would be. Everything was right in the world again. He couldn't believe he had let those stories bother him as much as he had. He knew better.
With his permission, Dick had had Oracle do a search for any stories related to Barry. She had found two which had magically disappeared. She had also designed a special search engine for him to keep tabs on the sanctity of Barry's memory. At his request, she had also added Hal's name. If he ever found something, he only needed to note the web address and Oracle would take care of the rest. He could breathe easy.
As he walked out of the conference room, he didn't notice Batman fall into step behind him. Wally jumped when he felt a hand on his forearm. He turned. "Hey, Bats. Oh, I haven't heard anything about Penguin yet, but I'm still looking. As soon as I do, I'll let you know."
"That wasn't why I stopped you. I just wanted to let you know that you look really good today."
Wally paled. He paled even more when Bats squeezed his forearm and appeared to give him the once over. "I…um…I need to go and…um…see ya!"
Wally zoomed off, missing the smile that quirked the corner of Batman's mouth. Who said he didn't have a sense of humor?