Birds chirped incessantly as I limped down three city blocks towards the alley holding the zeta tube, making my head pound.
Would it kill the little irritants to migrate south already? Better yet, why don't they just stay south? Why do they even bother coming back north? Do they do it to torment me?
Mom couldn't take me directly to the location because she was a civilian and therefore wasn't allowed to know where it was. I wouldn't have minded the walk if my stomach was behaving itself. Unfortunately it was cramping something fierce as food churned around inside of it. I was hunching over slightly, leaning on my crutches for support as pain plagued me. My metabolism was still in shock at the moment from the abrupt shift between being starved and being slammed with food.
I was bound to be a bit out of it for the rest of the day. It didn't help that my backpack was weighing me down.
I gritted my teeth in frustration.
You're such a freaking invalid, first the arm, then the leg, then the stomach. You're so useless. The sadistic side of me sneered.
Bite me. I snarled back before shoving the voice to the back of my mind. Tearing down my own self-esteem wasn't going to do me any favors, especially when there were so many problems I needed to solve.
When I finally reached my destination I took a deep breath to clear my pounding head and I stepped into the transporter. After an obnoxious flash of light that made my head feel even worse; I was in the cave listening to the annoying voice of the computer.
Kid Flash B-03
I limped into the cave, hoping there wasn't anyone in the immediate vicinity. I really just wanted to sit on the couch for a moment and get my bearings before I had to face the team.
"KF! About time you got here," I looked over and saw Robin smirking as he entered the room.
Great, I thought dryly. Can't I ever just catch a break?
"M'gann tells me you got taken down by Trickster…and a flight of stairs," he says with a slight cackle.
Normally I would have bantered back but my nerves were too fried to allow me to think up a good retort, so I just glared.
Robin frowned at this uncharacteristic response and walked over to me. I knew he was looking at my posture, every muscle, and every detail of my stance.
"Dude, what happened to you?" he asked, his mood changing from mocking to slightly concerned.
"I got injured as you were so kind to point out a few seconds ago," I said sarcastically, though there was more bite to it than I meant to put into it.
Robin stepped closer and looked at my face. I could feel him reading my emotions and my body language.
I could practically see the instincts he was raised with manifesting themselves. As a trapeze artist Robin had to work smoothly and precisely with the people around him. That meant reading their movements and their emotions. He knew that a sore shoulder or a bought of anxiety could easily mess up a performance and he constantly kept watch for such things. Becoming Batman's partner had refined this skill to the point where it was even harder for me, (his teammate and best friend) to lie to him than it is for me to lie to uncle Barry. I cussed myself out for not planning for this, for forgetting about Robin's sharp eyes.
"No, I mean why are you so pale? You look like you did the time you passed out when were on that mission in Taiwan together," the end of the second had a bit of a joking end to it, though I could tell he was worried.
"I'm just tired, Rob," I said, trying not to snap at him, I didn't look into his face.
"No, there's something else. Come on, KF, you can tell me," he said, looking even more concerned by my behavior than before.
"I'm fine, just a little sore from my arm and leg healing themselves" I insisted. I knew he wouldn't buy it, I knew I was most likely too pale and clammy for any excuse but the truth to fly with him, but what was I supposed to say? Oh, I just passed out from hunger in my own home because I was too much of a nervous wreck to eat. I can't tell you why though, sorry. Yeah, that would go over real well.
"KF, if you're going to try and lie to me you should at least come up with a decent story," Robin said bluntly.
The condescending tone irritated me even further.
"Well excuse me if you're to stupid to believe the truth. Believe what you want Rob, I don't have time for the third degree," I snarled, beginning to hobble away.
A hand on my shoulder stopped me.
"Okay, you are not acting like you right now. You also look like you're about to pass out. You need to tell me what's wrong with you or I'm telling Black Canary about this when she gets here," he said seriously.
Now that was a low blow.
My mouth dropped open at the threat.
"Dude!" I said feeling betrayed. "I don't go running to Batman when you hide your problems, what's your deal?"
"So you admit you have a problem that you're hiding," said Robin quickly.
"I'm not hiding anything, you're just overreacting. I'm tired and sore from the fight, I don't have any problems." I said angrily.
"Seriously, KF? Stop lying to me like I'm your mentor or something. We're supposed to be bros, if you have a problem you should tell me!" he exclaimed with a glare.
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire…The chorus began, prompted by Robin's use of the word lying.
Not this again, I thought as the urge to crawl into the air vents and hide there for the rest of the day overtook me.
"Ugh, take a freaking hint Rob! I don't want to talk about it, okay? And don't pull the bro card, you hypocrite, it's not like you never lie to me!" I said, my temper growing higher.
"There are times when I have to lie! It's part of the job!" Robin said, sounding a little hurt. I was one of the few people in his life who never blamed him for having to lie and keep secrets. He hardly even did it anymore around me, he'd told me his secret identity ages ago, and he's hardly needed to keep secrets since.
"And what, it isn't for me?" I demanded, ignoring the low blow I'd just dealt.
"Since when does your mentor ask you to lie to other heroes?" Robin snarled.
"It's not my mentor who's asking me to lie!" I said angrily, though I immediately wished I could take back that last statement.
It was completely quiet for a few moments.
"Then who is it? Who asked you to lie?" Robin asked, frustrated and confused.
"None of your business!" I growled defensively before storming off to the gym, needing to escape this line of conversation.
Robin stood where he was, feeling angry with me for blowing him off.
"You know the dramatic exit is ruined by how much you fail at using crutches!" Robin called after me, angrily.
"Go to jump off a skyscraper!" I yelled back at him, disappearing from his line of sight, though I'm pretty sure I saw Robin give me a hand gesture—one that was most definitely not taught to him by Batman—as I turned the corner.
I was still pretty mad by the time I made it to where the rest of my team was waiting in the gym. I stumbled over the edge of a matt as I entered the room and my expression grew even uglier.
"What's with you Kid-Klutz?" asked Artemis.
I glared at her and kept walking, trying not to trip again. There was uncomfortable moment where Artemis and the team waited for me to talk back, but I said nothing, much to their confusion. They didn't have time to ask questions though because our blonde bombshell of a teacher chose that moment to show up.
"Hello everyone, sorry I'm late, got caught up in a mission," said Black Canary as she entered the room.
A moody Robin followed her. I knew he was glaring at me under the mask, so I glared back. Before anything else could happen though, Black Canary went around and set everyone up on a different piece of equipment, giving each of them workout instructions based on their abilities.
Canary shook her head when she reached me, eyeing my injuries.
"Wait here a minute," she said.
I was left standing there awkwardly feeling Robin sending the junior edition of the batglare in my direction. I had enough sense to not look in his direction, knowing I'd do I'd probably do something stupid if I did.
"You'll be brushing up on your hacking skills, Wally," Black Canary said as she re-entered the room and thrust one of the cave's laptops into my hands.
Ugh, I hate having to sit down and memorize codes, I'd much rather brush up on my scientific knowledge.
I heard Robin snicker at my expense, he knows how much I hate stuff like this.
"Fine," I grumbled and I walked over to a chair and started working. The workout in the gym was followed by a few different sparing rounds in the room down the hall, leaving me in front of a computer for a total of three hours as I hacked into different databases. When I hit a dead end or messed up my first instinct was to ask Robin for advice, but since we weren't talking I had to tough it out alone, which was frustrating.
I'd shove an energy bar into my mouth every so often as I worked. Mom had freaked out again before I left for the cave and stuffed a bunch of food into my backpack threatening to ground me if I didn't consume all of it before I came home. I still wasn't exactly eager to eat, since my stomach was still acting up, but I refused to allow myself to pass out again. That would just be idiotic.
By the time the training session was over my head was spinning with codes and my eyes hurt from staring at the screen for so long. Needless to say, my bad mood had not improved.
"Everyone, good work, shower up!" Canary called out after the last spar had ended.
She approached me after the team ventured towards the showers.
"Good work to you too, Wally. You've shown a surprising amount of progress in your computer skills for a single sitting."
"Thanks," I said insincerely. Normally I would have jumped on her praise, but I was in no mood for that today.
"Did you want me to put that back in the lab for you?" she offered pointing at the laptop, "I know it's hard to juggle things when you're on crutches."
"Nope, I got it," I said shortly as I stuck the laptop in my backpack so I could take it to the lab. I picked up my crutches, and had started to leave when I heard her speak.
"Wally," said Black Canary.
I turned around partially.
"Are you alright? You've been…quiet," she said. She looked mildly worried.
"I'm just sore," I lied faking a grimace. "I can't exactly take pain killers with my metabolism and all, they ware off about as soon as they kick in."
"I see. Well, if you need help with anything let me know."
"Thanks," I said indifferently before hobbling away.
There was no response, but I just knew she was staring at me. She was probably freaked out that I hadn't hit on her…well, whatever, I have more important things to do than flirt obnoxiously. It's not like she's the den-mother anyway, I won't have to see her again until our next training session so she won't have another opportunity to interrogate me.
I headed straight for the computer lab. Really, I was glad Canary had given me an excuse to go to there; it gave me the perfect opportunity to scan the samples I'd collected.
The sooner I figure this crap out, the better. I am so sick of lying to people.
I glanced at the clock when I'd put away the laptop, guessing that I would have a good fifteen minutes before anyone was done showering, and even longer before anyone went looking for me, given the fact that they would all want to eat lunch after their strenuous work-outs. As for the chaperones, I knew for a fact that Canary was leaving and that Captain Marvel wouldn't be here for another hour or so. Batman and J'onn said they'd brief us on the training exercise tomorrow so I didn't even have to worry about them at all.
I figured I had enough time to work slowly. After all, I only had a couple samples and I didn't want to contaminate them or break any equipment. I spent over ten minutes setting everything up before I started testing. I wanted to scan the blood and saliva for any abnormalities, which—given the very vague parameters I had set—was a tall order, even for a super computer. I sat back and allowed the machine to do its work. It would probably be at least ten minutes before the computer had compared the blood to every substance or illness listed in its extensive database.
I sighed, using my feet to pivot back and forth on the rolling chair in front of the computer.
I reflected on my day as I waited. All in all it had been a disaster so far. Heavy on the dis, as Robin would say.
I felt irritated by the thought of the little acrobat.
Why am I so mad at him? He called me on a bluff, so what? I was the one who lied to him, and why? I could have given him at least part of the truth. I could've told him I'd passed out, told him that I wasn't feeling well. That would've been true. How could I rag on him for lying about classified info when it's part of our job? I'm the hypocrite not Robin. I didn't have to lie to him. Maybe I couldn't tell him the whole truth, but blatantly lying to someone who knows you're lying is just plain rude.
He was only trying to help, and I was a total jerk to him. I always rag on him for being a kid, but I'm less mature that he is half the time. How could I be such a jerk to him? Why'd I have to go and tell him to—oh, no—I told him to jump off a skyscraper. Why did I do that? I know about his parents, how he watched them fall to their deaths. How could I say something like that to him?
I berated myself for a few minutes, wondering if Robin had taken the skyscraper comment as seriously as I feared. I doubted it, but it could be hard to tell with him.
I was tempted to track him down right away to apologize, but I couldn't just leave this scan unattended. If anyone came in and found out what I was doing, I'd have a lot of excuses to make. I was already running on thin ice as it was. Even if Robin wasn't suspicious I knew that one slip up or clash between my lies could land me in trouble with Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris. I felt really guilty when I thought of Uncle Barry, and cringed at the sheer size of the lie I had told him yesterday afternoon.
That's when the chorus of cruel voices came in, of course. Ever since I heard that stupid rhyme yesterday the my inner demons seemed to lurk in the back of my mind waiting for that sliver of guilt to appear before they pounced, ripping my self-esteem to shreds.
Liar, Liar, Pants on fire, Hanging by your tongue from a telephone wire!
"Shut-up," I growled quietly. They didn't shut up though. They kept ringing in my head. It felt like I was stuck in a nightmare.
Liar, Liar, Pant's on Fire, Liar, Liar Liar, Liar!
"Grah!" I completely snapped. I roared angrily as I stood up, kicking the chair out from underneath me. It rolled away wildly and crashed violently into a table.
"What is this? "The Tell-Tale Heart' ?" (1.) I yelled, punching the wall.
"What's the matter, KF? Feeling guilty?"
I spun around and saw Robin in his civi's, his hair damp from the shower he'd taken. He was leaning calmly against the wall across from me.
How long has he been there? I wondered as I clutched my sore knuckles.
Maybe punching a stone wall wasn't the best idea…
I leaned against the computer banks, blushing. After all the work I had been doing to hide the fact that I was freaking out. I'd ended up having a partial mental-break down in front of one of the few people who could read me as well as, if not better than, my uncle could.
Robin was staring at me and I was looking at the floor. Both of us were waiting to see who would crack first.
My legs wobbled a little, they were not happy about the fact that I was neglecting my crutches. I leaned a little more heavily on the computer banks.
Robin rolled his eyes and sighed, pushing himself off of the wall he'd been leaning on. He walked over to where I'd kicked the chair, and pushed it hard enough for it to roll up next to me.
"Sit down, KF," he said in exasperation.
I obeyed him, rubbing my shins a little.
Robin walked brusquely over to where I was sitting, and dropped into a crouch. He grabbed the leg of my pants, rolling it up. I tried to wiggle away but he grabbed my ankle.
"Stop," Robin commanded simply. I stilled and let him look at the bloody bandages.
"These need changed," Robin mumbled before digging through my backpack and pulling out my first-aid kit.
"How did you know I had that?" I asked, surprised.
"Speedsters need to change their bandages a lot more often then the rest of us, however you avoid the infirmary as much as a supermodel avoids a triple patty cheeseburger. I deduced that you had some medical tools in your backpack," said Robin irritably. He was clearly still mad at me.
He peeked at my bandages again.
"You do these yourself?" he asked, looking at the way they wound around my leg.
"Yeah," I said, though I bit my lip. I'd told my uncle yesterday that I had trouble bandaging my legs by myself…
Calm down, it's not like Robin and your uncle are gonna get together to talk about your bandaging techniques.
"Not bad, but go a little thicker around the middle," he said tossing me the kit.
I took it and started to clean up my injuries, which really were getting closer and closer to healing. I'd be running by the end of the night on Sunday, if I was lucky.
Robin didn't hover or pester me as I worked the way my aunt and uncle would've. One of the things that I liked about Batman and Robin was that they didn't complain if they had to help me with an injury the way Mom and Dad did, but they didn't fuss the way may Aunt and Uncle did either.
Batman's philosophy was that if you are able to do take care of yourself then you should, and if you couldn't, you should try anyway until you finally have to swallow your pride and ask for help.
I kind of have that philosophy myself, though people don't know it because I complain so much. Not about things that matter of course, you can't complain about things that really matter. I had learned that lesson pretty early on…
"You can't complain in school Wally. Your teachers worry that Mom and Dad are bad people. They might take you away, do you want that to happen?"
"No, Mom! I want to stay with you and Dad!"
"Then don't talk about us fighting. You can complain about having to eat vegetables or do homework, but never complain about me and Daddy fighting.
I shook the memory from my head; surprised I still remembered that conversation. It had happened in second grade, after all, it wasn't even relevant anymore…
Robin had pulled up a chair and was watching me as I wound my bandages around and around my leg. It was very quiet, with only the computer humming as it scanned. I had minimized my search though, so Robin couldn't see what it was doing.
I paused a bit in my movements.
"Listen, Rob. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said those things earlier. I didn't mean what I said at all, especially not the—the skyscraper thing. I wasn't thinking."
I told the Boy Wonder, being truly honest with him for the first time that day.
There was a silence that made me feel really nervous, then Robin sighed.
"I know, Kid-Mouth. I usually don't take the things you say to heart when you're throwing a tantrum." I tried not to glare at Robin for the last comment.
"Apologizes aside, why are you in here?" Robin asked. "Why'd you turn on the supercomputer?"
"Just doing a little extra research on a case," I said, tight-lipped.
"Uh-huh, and does this case have anything to do with the fact that you're pale as a tissue and defensive as a female grizzly?"
I said nothing.
Robin looked at me and said lightly: "You know I could hack the system right? I could do it in under a minute."
I gulped and Robin smirked.
"Um, please don't," I said.
"Why? Maybe I can help. Two heads are better than one, right?"
"Not this time," I said uneasily and I shifted nervously as my palms began to sweat. I wiped them on my pants.
"Awe, come on," said Robin, and I could tell he was manipulating my discomfort, trying to get me to crack. "What's so bad about this case that you can't ask your best friend for help? I could keep it a secret if you wanted."
I said nothing, but my stomach decided to put its two cents in. It grumbled obnoxiously.
Robin looked at me suspiciously. "Didn't you eat lunch?"
"Um…" RAAAAARRR! My stomach chose to speak for me.
I finished wrapping my leg as Robin stood up from his crouch
"So let me get this straight. You're working on a case so important that it causedyou to skip lunchand you still won't tell me what it is?"
"Yes?" I said uncertainly.
Robin folded his arms and glanced at the computer. A smirk etched itself onto his face.
He's up to something
"Oh, well, I guess if you won't tell me then I'll just have to give up," he said with a dramatic sigh.
Yep, definitely up to something.
He walked slowly away, trailing his hand along the computer banks as he headed towards the door.
Suddenly the computer I was next to beeped and an alert popped up onto the screen.
"Analysis Completed," said a digital female voice.
I heard one of the printers nearby spit out a piece of paper…it was the printer that Robin just happened to be standing next to.
"Oooooh, what's this?" Robin asked mischievously, as he held up the sheet to read.
I jumped to my feet, ignoring the pain
"Put it down!" I yelled angrily.
"Awe c'mon, it can't be that…"
Robin froze and so did I, my heart was trembling in my chest. I was dreading to hear the news that had given Robin pause.
"Who's blood is this?" asked Robin quietly.
My mind whipped around for someone, anyone, I could pin it on.
"Guy at my school, sophomore," I said.
"You close?" Robin asked.
My heart sunk. He was trying to gauge how I'd take the news.
"Not close enough for you to have to sugar coat it," I said, trying not to look too upset.
Robin let out a breath.
"Well, your friend managed to get himself hooked on Crack-Venom."
My breath froze.
"Crack…Venom?" I asked.
"One of Cobra's latest creations. It doesn't give you any powers like the strong stuff does, but it's extremely addictive. "
The word echoed through my head and I leaned against the computer banks for support.
"People call it the clock-work-drug, you take it once, you have to take it again within the next twenty-six hours or you start going into withdrawal."
The world suddenly went cold and silent. There was no more air in the room. "What else do you know about it?"
Was it me that asked that question? Must've been. Funny, I don't remember moving my mouth.
"This stuff is no joke," said Robin seriously. "It came out six months ago and the first groups of people to go to rehab for this stuff are still there, and they're in really bad shape. And those who don't go to rehab become increasingly aggressive and their behavior escalates until they either get arrested and put in rehab, or they die from a forced withdrawal."
"Forced withdrawal?" I asked, parrot-like. My legs shook violently.
Robin didn't notice, he was looking over the paper, looking over facts he already knew and checking for ones he'd missed.
"The more of this stuff you take the more you need," Robin explained, "and it escalates until you literally can't get enough and you die from the withdrawal."
I felt incredibly dizzy just then. "H-how…what is the rate of increase for the dosage? I mean. Let's say someone has a gram of this stuff—"
"Oh no, it's less than that," said Robin. "The drug dealers start you off on a quarter of a gram. They sell the first dose for a couple bucks and people flock to them, and then they get hooked. For the first few days they keep the doses small, then they have to go up, because if they don't then they'll go into withdrawal. As the doses go up the prices go up. Drug dealers know that people on it are desperate, so they charge through the roof for the stuff." Robin thought for a moment, recalling more facts as he read over the paper again before he continued speaking.
"Usually after the first month or so, the users get very irritable around the time of day they take the drug; then within the next month or so they usually get violent. According to the readings on these samples your friend seems to be entering this stage. It's mostly around the time that they take the drug that they act out and—KF? KF!"
I had collapsed into the chair near the desk and put my head in my hands.
"KF, you okay?" Robin was in my face.
"I'm fine, Rob," my voice spoke without me telling it to.
"You don't look fine."
I took a shaky breath.
Robin grabbed up a computer chair and sat across from me
"This guy at your school, how close were you really?" asked Robin.
"Really close. Please don't ask me who it is, I won't tell you."
"Kid, whoever this is, he needs help. You can't just let people who are on this stuff run around, they're a danger to everyone, including themselves."
"I know. I'll go and see his mother tonight. If she won't believe me, I'm sure her husband will. He doesn't take any nonsense; he'll stick that boy's butt in rehab before you can say Cocaine."
What am I saying? Where'd this story come from?
"Bring your uncle or someone along when you break the news," said Robin. "It's a good idea to have an adult to back you up."
"Yeah, I'll do that, but can you please not say anything about this to anyone?"
"Sure," said Robin softly.
"Thanks, Bro," I stood up and collected my stuff, I took a moment to erase the history of my scan. Robin just watched, looking concerned. He didn't say anything, but he walked me to the zeta-beams.
"Good-luck," he said as I entered one.
"Thanks," I croaked.
Then the light flashed and I was back in Central.
(1.)"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story by Edgar Allen Poe. For those of you who haven't read it it's basically about a man who murders someone and ends up driving himself mad because he is convinced that he can hear the victim's heart beating from under the floorboards (where he had hidden the body). I used the criminal's guilt as a parallel to Wally's guilt. The criminal's guilt manifests itself in the sound of a heartbeat while Wally's guilt prods his subconscious to make Liar, Liar repeat itself mercilessly inside his head. (Though unlike the criminal Wally knows the voices in his head are just a product of his imagination, and he doesn't actually hear them.)