Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine.
A/N: This story is AU, but builds off some of the changes from DCnU. My knowledge of the DCnU is limited solely to reviews, editorials, and glancing at the monthly covers. Liberties have been taken. Likewise, many of the basic facts/origins are similar to the DCU (Wally being the obvious exception), but again, liberties have been taken when needed.
"So, what's this guy's name again?"
"Oh, yeah." There was a brief pause. "And what does he do?"
Iris West smiled and shook her head. Once again, her nephew proved that even when she thought he was listening, he really wasn't. She had shared the information of her date with him as soon as Barry had accepted the offer. She couldn't quite tell if he was fooling her now or if he had truly forgotten. She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "As I told you before, he's a scientist. He works in the Central City Police Department Crime Lab."
"Boring," Wally West replied with a grin, pretending to yawn.
"Says the man studying physics."
"Just following grandpa's footsteps."
"As long as you don't become absentminded like he is." Which given Wally's memory gaps, selective and otherwise, seemed to be a distinct possibility.
"Ha, ha." Her father, Ira West, was the absentminded professor personified. The man was brilliant. He had numerous patents to his name. He had received a Nobel Prize in Physics. In the world of physics, when Ira West spoke, people listened. In the world of everyday life, Iris wondered how he ever survived. Little everyday things seemed to overwhelm him. More than once, Ira had lost his glasses, only to discover he had pushed them up on the top of his head at some point during the day. More than once, he had placed something metal in a microwave. More than once, forgotten pots had boiled away their contents on the stove. Daily survival skills were definitely not his forte. It was surprising the man hadn't burned down his own home yet.
"So, where are you meeting him?"
"That new Italian restaurant on Fourth Street."
"Order extra and bring it home for me."
Sadly, Iris knew Wally was only half kidding. The amount of food Wally could eat without gaining an ounce amazed her. The joys of youth. When his metabolism finally slowed down, her nephew was going to have a very rude awakening. "I'm sure I won't be able to finish my meal." She finished putting on her earrings. With a quick touch-up to her lipstick, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror.
In general, she hated the dating scene. She hated the games everyone played – the half truths, the out-right lies, the exaggerations. All she wanted was to meet someone who was forthright and honest, someone who was focused on something other than himself. That man had to be out there somewhere, didn't he? She had finally accepted the fact that she needed to stop dating guys in the media business. They seemed to redefine the term self-centered. She dreamed of going on a date in which the man wasn't trying to impress her with where he had been, what stories he had broken, what ratings he received, or where his career was going…of the date where the man was concerned about what she thought rather than what the other patrons in the restaurant or bar might be thinking about whom he was with or what he was saying or how he was appearing.
Barry Allen seemed a likely candidate for her first venture into the dating pool outside of the media world. Since she covered the crime beat for the newspaper, she had crossed paths with Barry on more than one occasion. His down-to-earth manner piqued her curiosity. While their interactions had been brief and his attention had been focused on the facts, he seemed intelligent. She wanted to believe there was a sense of humor behind his serious exterior. There had to be, didn't there? Without humor, how could one remain sane in the world of police forensics? To her surprise, she had asked him out on a date. There had been a brief hesitation before he had accepted. The hesitation worried her, but she had already asked the question. It had been too late to change her mind. In a few minutes, she would find out whether asking Barry Allen out on a date had been a good decision.
"I need to go. Don't wait up for me."
Wally smiled. "Have fun. Stay out of trouble."
The drive to the restaurant was uneventful. She was immediately seated at a table. Then the wait began. Iris glanced at her watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. Barry was late. She didn't want to believe he had stood her up. He didn't seem the type. She couldn't believe she could have misjudged him that badly. Still, he was twenty minutes late. The waiter had stopped by the table three times to ask if she wanted to order. The last time he had pointedly looked toward the front door where the lobby was filled with people waiting for a table to empty. To put off the man, she had ordered an appetizer she didn't feel like eating. Wally would be thrilled.
She looked at her cell phone again. The phone showed five bars. Perfect reception. Yet, it didn't ring. Nor was there a text message, or even an email, from Barry saying that he was running late. Her annoyance grew. Could her instincts have been that wrong about him? Generally, her instincts were on target. It seemed-
"Sorry, I'm so very sorry." Iris looked up in surprise as Barry suddenly appeared next to the table, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He handed her the flowers. "I lost track of time. Not the best way to make a good impression. I'm really, really sorry."
Iris bit back her irritation. Okay, he was apologetic, and the flowers were a nice touch. She took the bouquet and breathed in the subtle fragrance. Looking up, she watched him sit down, place the napkin on his lap, and glance at the menu. She'd cut him some slack this one time, but the man was definitely on thin ice. How hard was it to make a call once he had realized he was running late? His blue eyes suddenly looked up and met her gaze. His eyes were filled with intelligence, and maybe even a hint of mischief? A smile appeared.
The eyes and smile made her pause. She hid a slight frown. There was something familiar about his eyes and smile, but what? She would have sworn she had seen them before, but where? When? Yes, they had crossed paths on the crime beat, but it wasn't any of those interactions. She was certain of that. It was something else. To her knowledge, though, she had never met him previously. Yet, how else could she explain the sudden, intense feeling she had that she had seen him, or at least those eyes and smile, previously? Why hadn't she noticed this before? There had to be a logical explanation. Something was triggering the feeling. Their paths must have crossed at some point in their lives.
Forcing herself back to the moment, she returned his smile and touched her wine glass. "It's okay." It really wasn't, but now wasn't the time to argue that point. If the date went poorly, she'd let him have at the end of the night. Wally would be disappointed if that happened. Her nephew enjoyed watching her give others a piece of her mind. "I ordered an appetizer. I needed to appease the waiter." She took a sip of wine.
Not surprisingly, the waiter immediately appeared. With their orders placed, the conversation began. Iris quickly realized it was unlike any conversation she had had on any other date. Barry didn't brag. If anything, he downplayed everything. She learned he had grown up in Fallville, Iowa. She learned he had always had an interest in solving problems which had resulted in an interest in chemistry and criminology. Barry admitted it was an unlikely combination, but with the sudden interest in forensic science, he had lucked out and found a career in which both of his interests were satisfied.
She shared her own story. Like him, she loved a mystery. Instead of pursuing that interest through science, though, she had focused on people. Journalism was her outlet. She viewed news stories as mysteries of their own because oftentimes the stories seemed to take on a life of their own.
The conversation flowed easily throughout the meal and during coffee afterwards. The realistic part of her personality noted that the evening was progressing too well. Barry seemed too good to be true. It was time for a test. "There's one thing you should know about me. My nephew lives with me. He moved in after his parents died." The statements were true, but she purposefully left a lot of unsaid. It was always interesting to see how her dates reacted to the news. Most immediately assumed Wally was a young boy. Rather than viewing her as single and available, she was viewed as a mother with baggage. The mention of Wally had caused more than one date to run in the other direction as fast as possible.
In reality, she had gained guardianship over Wally when she was a freshman in college. It hadn't been part of her life plan, but in the end, everything had worked out. That first year had been hard. She had been eighteen and a freshman in college. Suddenly, she was faced with being responsible for a thirteen-year-old. The transition had been rough for both her and Wally. Many nights she had cried herself to sleep, not knowing how she would survive another day. Wally had experienced a psychological trauma. Both of them had attended counseling sessions. Everything the therapist had warned her that Wally would try he did. More than once she had wanted to quit and give up. She didn't want to deal with all the emotional baggage. It was too much to ask. Then the guilt had always hit her. If she gave up, Wally would have nothing. Ira looking after Wally was a nonstarter. She was the only family option. Wally's life had been tough from the start. She had needed to prove to him that he could count on her, that she would be there for him no matter what he did or said, that no matter how hard he would try to push her away, she wouldn't let him go.
Eventually, Wally had realized she wasn't leaving him. When he had finally understood and accepted that fact, he had stopped testing her and had started to trust her. While life hadn't magically become easy street, it had become easier. It was more than she could have hoped. Looking back on those years, Iris was amazed how she and Wally had survived. Yet, here they were. He was an upstanding, intelligent young man. She couldn't have been more proud of his accomplishments.
"Were they in a car accident?"
"No. It was a murder-suicide. His mom shot his dad and then took her own life. He didn't have an easy childhood. His dad was an alcoholic. He was abusive. His mom never had the courage to ask for a divorce and the courts never saw fit to have my nephew removed."
"He must have been traumatized. I hope he was spared viewing the crime scene."
"Yes, thankfully, he was. He wasn't home when it happened. A neighbor heard and reported the shots."
"So, how has he adjusted?"
Iris hid her surprise. Barry was the first man to ever show any concern about her nephew's welfare. "He adjusted well. The first year was hard. He had nightmares. He worried he wouldn't be able to stay with me."
"He probably wasn't the only one who had some adjusting to do."
"No, he wasn't."
"Well, I hope I'm not being too forward, but I'd like to meet him someday. I'm sure he's as remarkable as his aunt."
Iris smiled slyly. "Play your cards right, Mr. Allen, and that won't be a problem."
The rest of the evening went just as smoothly. When she had originally asked him out, she had played it safe. Dinner only. It provided an easy out for both of them if the night went poorly. Now, Iris wished she hadn't been as cautious. She found herself wishing the night wouldn't end. When Barry suggested a walk along the riverfront, she realized he felt the same.
Two hours later, she softly shut the apartment door behind her. A smile refused to leave her face. As much as she didn't want to rush things, as much as she didn't want to jinx everything, as much as she didn't want to be one of those women who fell head over heels on the first date, she was 99 percent certain she had found Mr. Right. Never before had she been on a date quite like this one. Barry was truly a one-of-a-kind. She just wished that somewhere during the evening she would have figured out why his eyes and smile seemed so familiar. Maybe when she saw him again it would happen. Or maybe once Wally met him, Wally would know.
In the kitchen, she filled a vase with water and carefully placed the flowers in it. Taking off her shoes, she started toward her bedroom. The bluish halo of light shining from Wally's bedroom revealed her nephew to still be awake. He would never admit that he was waiting up for her. Yet, she knew that was the reason. She knocked softly on the doorframe. "You're still up?"
Wally looked up from the computer screen. "Yeah. I have to finish this application."
She sat down on the edge of his bed. "That's right. The STAR Labs application. How's it going?"
"Okay. As much as I don't want to ask Grandpa for a reference letter, I may. My profs are great, but none of them has won a Nobel Prize."
Iris nodded. Three weeks earlier Wally had informed her of a potential internship at STAR Labs. While Wally had noted it presented a great opportunity and would look great on his resume, Iris had known those weren't the only reasons Wally was interested. It seemed that STAR Labs was the laboratory of choice for the world's superheroes. When there things that even the heroes couldn't fully explain, STAR Labs would help out. Iris knew a small part of Wally was hoping that he would somehow be able to see his favorite superhero. Her nephew may have been a graduate student, but that didn't stop him from also being one of the Flash's biggest fans. "They'd be fools to not accept you."
"Yeah, well…" Wally shrugged. Iris recognized Wally's insecurity. When it came to his own abilities, Wally always seemed to second-guess himself. It was a remnant from his firs thirteen years of life, thirteen years in which he had been constantly reminded that he was no good. She suspected that self-doubt would always be a part of him. "So, how was your date?" he asked, a grin appearing. "Considering it was just for dinner and it's almost midnight, I'm guessing it went well. Or he bored you to sleep and you just woke up."
Iris playfully swatted his leg. "Barry was a perfect gentleman. The evening got off to a late start. He was late. He didn't call. But apart from that hang-up, everything else went fine."
"He passed the nephew test?"
Iris smiled. Wally knew about her test. "He'll be one of a select few that have managed to move on to round two of the nephew test. Which reminds me, are you free tomorrow for lunch?"
Wally didn't try to hide his surprise. "Lunch? With Barry?"
"Yes, lunch with Barry. I'd like you to meet him and him to meet my nephew."
"Wait. You mean I actually get to meet him?"
"You've met other guys I've dated."
"True, but even those who made it to round two of the nephew test, you never introduced me as your nephew. Instead, I was just a friend. You used me as a slime-checker. You think they're slime, but you aren't sure. I confirm they're slime."
"Well, I think you'll have a hard time trying to prove Barry's a slimeball."
Wally cocked his head and looked at her closely. "I never thought I'd see my aunt fall." Iris blushed. "This Barry must be something."
"He is. Even though there's something about his eyes and smile that's familiar. I can't quite place it. From everything he's said, our paths have never crossed. Yet, I'd swear I've seen that smile before. Maybe you'll recognize him when you meet him."
"Maybe. Back-to-back dates. You really do like this guy."
"Yeah, I do." She stood up and kissed the top of his head. "Get some sleep."
"G'night, Iris." Wally's attention focused back on the laptop.
Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern 2814.1, glanced up as the newcomer entered the Watchtower's monitor womb. "You're late," he announced.
"I know. Sorry."
Hal shook his head. Getting irritated was pointless. Lateness was just a fact of life for Barry Allen. One would think the fastest man alive would always be early, but that wasn't the case. Hal had long since learned to try to not let Barry's tardiness bother him. Usually it didn't. Hell, he purposefully made sure his monitor duty time was always scheduled before Barry's time to try to protect Barry. If Barry were late, which was almost a given, usually Barry was never more than thirty minutes late. Hal highly doubted the other leaguers, particularly Bruce, would tolerate Barry's perpetual lateness. Then again, they probably already knew. It wasn't like Barry was just late for monitor duty. He was usually late for League meetings as well, but that tardiness could be could be easily explained away or ignored. Besides, most members were tardy at some point, even Bruce.
"So, what's the excuse this time?" Just because he covered for his friend, didn't mean he couldn't tease him a bit.
"I, um, had a date."
The mask hid Hal's surprise. Barry Allen on a date? It seemed impossible. Hal had known Barry for five years. During all that time, as far as Hal knew, Barry had never gone out on a date. Barry argued he didn't have time. Between his real life and hero life, every minute of his day was accounted for. Hal found that impossible to believe. No one was that dedicated…well, maybe Bruce. But thankfully Barry wasn't Bruce. Besides, even Bruce found time to date.
At first, Hal had tried to set Barry up on dates. Barry had refused. Then Hal had purposefully taken Barry to bars. The result would have been humorous if it hadn't been so sad. Barry had had no clue as to how to approach or talk to women. He didn't try to schmooze or impress them. If they talked about something in which he wasn't interested, Barry didn't even try to feign interest. Worse, even if a woman showed a spark of interest, Barry was oblivious to it. Hal had given up. There was only so much he could do. Besides, going out with Barry had actually started to damage his own success with women and that was unacceptable. "You? A date? You're kidding."
"Yes, a date."
"Details. What's her name? How'd you meet? What'd you do? You know, details." There was also the key question of how the sex was, but this was Barry. While it had never been a topic of discussion between then, given Barry's ineptitude around women, Hal suspected Barry had never yet had sex. Even if that weren't the case, he couldn't picture Barry having sex with someone on the first date. He knew Barry's thoughts on his own ways with women. More than once Barry had suggested that Hal should work on building a relationship first, rather than rushing the sex. Hal would have given Barry's words more consideration if Barry had ever actually had a relationship.
"Oh. Her name's Iris, Iris West. She's a reporter for the Central City Citizen. She stopped me after a hearing one day and asked if I'd-"
"She asked you out?" It was starting to make a bit more sense. Barry asking someone out just didn't see possible. At the same time, though, Hal couldn't quite picture a woman asking Barry out.
Barry nodded. "We went out for dinner. Afterwards we walked along the riverfront. I never met a woman who was that easy to talk to."
Hal smiled. Barry was smitten. "So, are you going out again?"
"Tomorrow, or I guess, today. It's after midnight. We're going out to lunch. I'm meeting her nephew."
"Her nephew?" Hal frowned.
"Yeah. He lives with her and she-"
"She has a kid?" Warning bells were starting to sound.
"Well, sort of, I guess."
"Bar, you need to run the other way. You don't want to get involved with a woman with a kid. It's just added strings." Kids were major strings. Kid meant significant others were involved somehow, someway. Kids meant added responsibilities. Kids made ending a relationship all that much harder.
Barry frowned. "Maybe that's what you would do, but I'm going to meet him."
"Suit yourself, but I think you're making a mistake." Hal glanced at the monitors.
"Well, it will be my mistake."
Out of the corner of his eye, he realized he had pushed Barry too far. Barry's irritation was plainly evident. "Look, I'm sorry."
"Just because you're a jerk toward women, doesn't mean I need to be, okay?"
"Point taken." It was time to switch gears. "So, if she's a newspaper reporter, has the Flash met her before?"
"Yeah." Barry scratched at the back of his cowl. "She's met him. She's interviewed him." Barry sighed. "I finally meet someone, someone I like and who seems to like me, and I have to immediately start lying. It's not right."
"But it's for your safety and hers."
"I know. I just…I hate lying to her, but what can I do?"
"You knew from the start you'd have to lie to her. This isn't news. If it's going to be a problem, why'd you agree to go out with her?"
"She…" A small smile appeared. "She's out of my league, Hal. She's…women like her don't notice men like me. Besides, I knew if I turned her down, she'd view it as a challenge. She'd keep pestering me until I said yes. So, I did. I figured she'd realize she made a mistake and that would be the end of it. I didn't think we'd hit it off."
Barry description of this woman piqued Hal's curiosity. He'd have to meet her, or at least see her. "You wear a mask. She won't know."
"Barry, the chances of her connecting you and the Flash are slim to none. Unless, of course, you do something." Which, with Barry, was a distinct possibility.
"I know…but I just hate having to lie to her. If this works, I mean, if this turns into something, sooner or later, I'll need to tell her the truth. What will she think of me then when she learns I've been lying to her?"
The fact Barry already envisioned a future with this woman, that Barry was willing to commit to this woman after just one date… Hal shivered at the thought. "She'll understand," Hal reassured, even though he didn't fully believe it. Barry was lying to her. He was keeping a huge and important part of his life from her. How many women would really understand?