This was just some tiny little plot idea that exploded into over ten thousand words, and I'm still not finished, so I've decided to split it into parts. I was thinking about making it a two-shot, but even that would be cramming. So, multiple parts it is. I'll be keeping this updated on Tumblr, AO3, FFNet, and LiveJournal.
THIS EPISODE JUST GAVE ME SO MANY WALLY WEST FEELINGS, BART ALLEN FEELINGS, AND SPEEDSTER FEELINGS. Also Lian. Her, too.
Anyway… let's do this! See you next time!
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
— "East Coker," T.S. Eliot
Wally doesn't understand how this is his life.
He's standing at the door of Barry and Iris' house, staring blankly down at the boy grinning up at him on the doorstep. The boy who, coincidentally, Wally has gotten to know far too well in the past several hours.
"Sorry, we don't want any," he grumbles flatly, starting to close the door, but Bart zips in before he can even twitch.
"Such a charmer! Hey to you, too, cuz!" Bart greets him. "Nice pad. Very retro. Very crash. Haven't been here in ages. I smell food. Is there food?"
"Did you hear me when I said we don't want any?" Wally mutters under his breath, but Bart has already zoomed into the kitchen, where an unsuspecting Iris is probably putting the finishing touches on the pot roast.
Wally is about to follow when his cell phone rings, and he's seconds away from leaping out the window, but he fishes it out of his pocket and violently taps the green answer button.
"What?" he snaps.
"I was going to tell you Impulse is on his way," Dick says carefully, "but it sounds like he ruined the surprise."
"Very funny," Wally growls. "I'm in stitches here, really. What's going on?"
"He kept breaching security," Dick explains without an ounce of concern. Wally's pretty sure that Bart has probably drained all chalance out of him. "I don't care if he tags his spoilers. He's out of control."
"Wow, there's some quality detective work." Wally groans, running a hand through his hair. "So you threw him out. Great."
"Temporarily!" Dick emphasizes hurriedly. "At least until we can assess the situation and try to get him situated at the Cave. In the meantime—"
"In the meantime he's crashing Jay and Joan's seventieth anniversary!" Wally shouts into the receiver just as Barry walks into the room.
"Somebody's cheerful," Barry quips. Wally scowls at him. "I'm guessing Nightwing's the one who sent our guest?"
"Yes," Wally hisses, and he hangs up, stuffing the phone back into his pocket.
Barry has the gall to laugh.
"Ah, c'mon, Kid; lighten up—"
"Drop the 'Kid' junk, will you?" Wally interjects harshly, brushing past him and heading for the kitchen. "I'm not in the mood."
Barry sighs at his retreating form and shakes his head wearily before following.
Bart is hopping enthusiastically around the kitchen, marveling at the wares and interrogating Iris too rapidly for her to answer. Joan is chopping tomatoes for the salad, looking far too amused, and Jay is seated at the kitchen table, chortling.
"Is this a fridge? Like an actual fridge? That's so crash! What do you keep in here? Is that—no way! Margarine! You guys are killing me!"
"Margarine?" Barry exclaims. "In our fridge?"
Iris looks away guiltily and busies herself with checking on the pot roast. Bart blinks at her before quietly closing the refrigerator, looking sheepish.
"So… Bart," Joan finally says. "I hear you played a big part in saving the city today."
Bart perks up and whirls on her, setting down the blender he'd been examining, and beams winningly.
"Sure did!" he replies with zest. "Me and Flash totally crashed the mode."
"Yeah, it was like a train wreck," Wally mutters, taking an hors d'œuvre. Bart doesn't hear him.
"We made a great team," Barry adds with a wink to Bart, who looks about ready to rocket off in ecstasy.
Wally quickly turns on his heel and leaves the kitchen, trying to ignore the sourness swelling in the pit of his stomach. No one seems to notice. He sits down on the couch and folds his arms and passively listens to everyone laughing until Iris announces that dinner is served.
That goes swimmingly, of course. Bart takes so many helpings that Wally doesn't even get seconds, and everyone is charmed by Bart's eccentric future-jokes, and Barry even ruffles the kid's hair. Wally doesn't say a word and no one prompts him to do so, and he doesn't get a piece of cake because Bart is "a growing boy."
He does not know how this is his life.
It's just past eleven when Jay finally announces that he and Joan are shoving off. Joan gives Wally a hug that he awkwardly reciprocates, Jay claps Bart on the back, Iris hands out Tupperware containers filled with leftovers, and they're gone, driving down the street with a parting honk of the horn.
Bart waves after them until they round a corner and vanish, and then he flops down beside Wally on the couch, grinning. Wally glares straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge him.
"Love your folks," Bart declares. "My folks!"
"They're not your—" Wally starts to snarl, but Bart interrupts.
"Hey, question," he says, sitting up and staring inquisitively at Wally, the yellow film of his goggles glinting in the light. "How can a guy with such a cool family be such a jerk?"
Wally bristles, but doesn't look over.
"Excuse me?" he ekes out. Bart shrugs, kicking his feet up on the coffee table.
"Well, no offense, but you're not exactly the most welcoming guy ever," he continues. "Seriously, do you ever smile? Does it hurt too much? Is it like, a condition?"
"I can smile just fine," Wally bites back. "And I'm so sorry for forgetting to roll out the red carpet."
"Is this just because I'm faster than you are?" Bart asks plainly, sounding genuinely interested.
Wally finally sits up and turns his head sharply, glowering venomously at Bart, who stares back without flinching.
"No," he barks, surging to his feet and exiting the room in three strides. Iris is in the kitchen, finishing the dishes, and she looks up when he enters.
"Whoa," she says with wide eyes. "What's the problem?"
"Barry here?" Wally grinds out, glaring at the floor.
"He's—in the bathroom," Iris replies hesitantly. "Why?"
"I'm leaving." Wally gives her a hug over the counter and pecks her on the cheek, averting her gaze. "Thanks for having me. Good to see you guys."
"Hold on," Iris orders, grabbing his wrist before he can leave. He stumbles back when she yanks at him. Her eyes are drilling intensely into his, and he inadvertently gulps. "You're not going anywhere. Sit down and tell me what's wrong or I'll make Bart come in here and blather it out of you."
Wally immediately slumps churlishly, feeling like a fifteen-year-old again about to be chided for sulking about being assaulted by dodgeballs, and obediently sits down on one of the stools at the counter. Iris throws the dishtowel over one shoulder and leans on the marble surface, raising her eyebrow expectantly.
"What right does he have showing up here and suddenly being the next big thing?" he blurts out furiously, glaring sourly over his shoulder in the direction of the room that Bart is inevitably in the process of destroying.
He turns back to Iris, propping his chin up with one fist, and huffs. It takes him longer than it should to realize that she's smiling.
"What?" he demands. Iris opens her mouth to answer, but is interrupted when Barry strolls in from the hallway, his tie undone, his sleeves rolled up. He halts at the scene before him, looking surprised.
"Whoops, are you giving a pep talk?" he asks Iris, who rolls her eyes. He starts to back out of the kitchen. "Because I can reschedule my—"
"Never mind!" Wally yells firmly, inwardly cringing at the thought of whatever perfectly mortifying thing Barry had almost said. "Look, I was just leaving."
He stands rapidly, brushing his hands off on his jeans even though there's nothing on them. He focuses his gaze on the floor, refusing to look at Barry, and maybe he can admit that he's being a bit juvenile, but that only makes it worse.
"Hey, wait a second, Wally," Barry objects, and Wally, much to his own chagrin, stops in the kitchen doorway, resting one hand on the frame.
Wally turns to look at him, and Barry is frowning at him in something like disappointment. It hurts just as much as it always has, on the rare occasions that it's appeared in the first place, but Wally gives nothing away.
"Yeah?" he grunts indifferently.
Barry's face loosens slightly. Iris is glancing warningly at him, but he doesn't seem to notice.
"Are you still sore that I lapped you today?" he finally asks. "Because come on, Wally. I've been doing that for years; I thought you were—"
Wally's insides feel as though they have hardened, and his mind flashes back to a few hours ago, when he had been exerting himself beyond breath and had still been lapped multiple times by both Barry and Bart.
This is so humiliating.
"Thank you, Uncle Barry," he replies coldly. "Thank you."
Without another blink, he stomps out of the kitchen, past the couch where Bart is still seated, and up to the front door; he flings it open and storms out out, slamming it viciously behind him. The February air is bitter around him, but he trudges to the zeta tube without complaint, trying to wash the pounding red from his vision.
Back in the kitchen, Iris whacks Barry on the shoulder with a ladle.
"Ow!" he shouts, flinching away, his eyes wide with consternation. "What was that for?"
Iris wordlessly glares at him, and he balks at the intensity, rubbing his shoulder.
"I'm guessing I said the wrong thing again?" he asks flatly, wincing.
Iris raises her eyebrows and nods up at him, her lips folding inward tightly, and he grimaces, letting out a tortured sigh.
"Look, Iris, I can't help that the kid's been all cranky lately," he defends helplessly. "I don't know what's eating him, but every time he comes over it's like we're all walking on eggshells."
"Land mines, more like. Is that what they're called?" Bart chimes in, having seemingly materialized between them. They both jump and leap back, startled. He laughs. "Jeez, and they say being old doesn't make you deaf! Seriously, what's up with him? I was gonna try to get it outta him myself but he kept hissing and spitting and generally being totally moded. Does he have emotional problems?"
"Of course not, Bart," Iris tells him in exasperation. "He's just—" She breaks off, frowning hesitantly, as though unable to decide whether she should continue. She glances over at Barry, who has wandered over to the tray of leftover hors d'œuvres and is eating them in twos.
"He was Barry's sidekick for five years," she begins evenly.
"Yeah, sure, I know that! Flash and Kid Flash, fastest men alive, protectors of Central City, Kid Flash promising candidate for Justice League but chooses Stanford, I know it all. What's the issue?" Bart rambles, blinking expectantly up at her.
She sighs tightly and throws the towel over to the sink. Bart, shockingly, is silent, waiting for her to continue.
"Bart, I think this is just a lot for him to take in," Iris finally settles on saying, hoping the subtlety won't be lost on Bart.
"What is? His super-fast futuristic awesome cousin dropping in for a family reunion? Or I guess a family museum exhibit. Whatever." He gesticulates with each word, his hands blurring. "I thought he'd be thrilled! Y'know, especially about the awesome part!"
"I'm… sure he is," Iris lies. "Listen, just give him some space; he'll come around. But… in the future…" She pointedly glares at Barry, who seems to sense the expression and stands at attention. "Try not to constantly remind him that you can both lap him, all right?"
Barry demurs pensively, frowning to himself, starting to look a little guilty. Bart goes quiet, too, seemingly realizing what Iris is getting at, and glances away.
Iris looks between the two of them, fidgeting at the silence. After a moment, she breaks it.
"Well, I think that's enough fun for one evening," she says wearily, gently pushing the two of them aside so that she can wipe some leftover crumbs from the cutting board. "I'm guessing Bart'll be staying with us?"
Her question is met with silence, and she glances over her shoulder to see Barry staring in terror at her, making slashing motions across his throat with his hand and fiercely mouthing "no." Bart, being in front of him, doesn't notice, and is infinitesimally bouncing as he watches Iris for a response.
"Uh… just for tonight?" she appends hastily, and Barry smacks a hand to his forehead silently, but Bart seems pleased as punch.
"You're a first-class lady, Grandma!" he declares, zipping forward and giving her one of his trademark hugs that causes her to wheeze. "I promise I'll be good! I'm totally housebroken, no sweat; I won't pee on anything. Where am I sleeping? Do I get the couch? I've always wanted to see a couch! Uh—a vintage one, y'know, with the cushions and the ugly patterns! I love couches. I want the couch."
He's out of sight before Iris can even splutter out a syllable, chattering his way into the living room, and she hears a sudden crash and a loud "I'll pay for that!" before Barry is standing behind her, looking sour.
"Iris, I love the kid, but he's gonna blow the house up before the night's over," he grumbles, crossing his arms.
Iris raises a skeptical, but fond, eyebrow.
"You've barely known him a day and you already 'love the kid?'" she says, smirking. Barry stiffens and glances away.
"Well, he's—" Barry clears his throat. "He's nice. Got a good head on his shoulders."
Iris all-out laughs at that one.
"Him?" she repeats incredulously. Barry shrugs in exasperation.
"I don't know, Iris, it just felt nice having somebody out there with me again!" he tells her. Her smile fades.
"Wally was there, too," she tells him gently. He frowns.
"I know he was, but he…" He sighs pensively, rubbing the back of his neck in thought. "It's not the same, Iris. He's not the same. It was great to have him, but he—I don't know. I don't know him anymore."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Iris ripostes breezily. "You know him just as well as you always have. He's in college, for Pete's sake."
"That's not what I'm talking about." Barry's hand stops in his hair and his eyebrows tighten. "Look, I know he chose to quit, but I still can't help feeling like I made him, somehow."
"You didn't," Iris assures him quietly, looping her arm up around his shoulders. "He was shaken up about Aquagirl; we all were. He made a good decision."
"So what's he so bitter about, then?" Barry asks, sounding almost angry. "He's the one who hung up the costume and moved to California. He should've been happy I had someone to have my back today. And that Bart kid is incredible. I can't believe they didn't hit it off."
"Barry," Iris says, "of course they didn't hit it off. Wally was by your side for years, so naturally he's going to be jostled when it looks like he's being replaced."
"He left his slot open!" Barry exclaims.
"Well, maybe you shouldn't look at it like there's one slot to be filled," Iris retorts firmly. "And Wally is just as incredible as Bart is, Barry. I know you haven't forgotten that."
"'Course I haven't," Barry mutters. "I just thought he'd moved on. And that was fine. But if he made the choice to leave this behind, then he doesn't have the right to get defensive when someone comes along to take his place."
"Do you even hear yourself?" Iris' eyes are wide. "Someone to take his place? If you see it that way, why shouldn't he?"
"That's not what I meant," Barry insists. "It's just—I'm…" He breaks off with a groan and drops his head into his hands. "You'd think this kind of stuff wouldn't be so complicated."
"Just put yourself in his shoes for a second," Iris says. "Think about how all this has made him feel. You picked him up and carried him away from an explosion because he wasn't going fast enough. From what he told me, you and Bart operated like he wasn't even there. Both you and the kid lapped him, and he's always been insecure about that. He's off the job for two years and the second he comes back, he's being sidelined. I know you're not doing it intentionally, but you're making him feel like he just doesn't belong anymore."
Barry's eyebrows shoot up. "But I never—"
"I know you never said that," Iris interrupts placidly, squeezing his shoulder. "But just think about what you've been doing. I know you're not used to working with him anymore; it's been two years, I understand. And I know that you and Bart have that blood bond that gives you this kind of tandem you only ever had with Wally way back in the day. And I know we don't see Wally much anymore, and I know things have changed, but he's still just as eager to be your partner as he was when he recreated that experiment and almost got himself killed. Why do you think he put on that suit today, Barry? Today, of all days? He knew that you and Bart would work together well and he knew that he wasn't needed, but he went to help you anyway, because he wanted to protect you and to be at your side and show you that he's still with you. He didn't go because he had to; you know that, and so did he. He went because he wanted to be Kid Flash again, just once. But I think all of this just made him think that he isn't Kid Flash anymore. And whether he quit of his own volition or not, he doesn't deserve to think that."
Barry is staring down at her, galvanized into silence.
"Bart is just a reminder of what he could be, but isn't," she continues quietly. "You used to be the only person who could ever make Wally feel slow. That changed today. He's out of practice, so it's worse, but—" She breaks off, considering her words. "Barry, let me ask you one question."
Barry nods wordlessly.
"If you really believe that Wally has given up on all of this," she says, "and if you really believe that he's done with you, then why do you think he had a suit that still fit him?"
Barry's shoulders loosen, and an expression of realization crawls onto his face, and he lets out a long breath, seeming, briefly, years older. Iris frowns up at him.
"I know you miss him," she murmurs.
Barry's mouth thins and he pushes his hair back, inhaling and exhaling slowly through his nose.
"Yeah," he finally says, so quietly that Iris barely hears it. The conversation ebbs, and they stand in the kitchen without moving for a while, and the clock in the hallway chimes twelve times before Barry speaks again.
"I'm glad he's got Artemis," he states frankly. "He seems – really happy, when it comes to her."
Iris smiles with a knowing snort and Barry is relieved by the geniality, grateful that the somber tone has been slightly alleviated.
"I'm sure she's got a fridge full of food waiting for him," Iris says with a shake of her head. "That should make him feel better before the day's over."
"The day is over," Barry groans, stretching. His back cracks with the motion. "And I consider that a good cue to go to bed, 'specially since I saved the world today and all."
"You had help," Iris adds. Barry stops mid-stretch and his eyes wander to the ceiling.
"I certainly did," he agrees. "G'night. I'll see you in a few."
Iris smiles. "Sure thing, babe. I just gotta finish cleaning up in here."
Barry rolls his eyes as he shuffles out. "Okay, so I'll see you in a few days. Same thing."
She manages to aim a whack at his arm before he's fully out of the kitchen and lets out a fond scoff before kneeling down to clean out the oven.
Unbeknownst to her, Bart is loitering just beyond the wall separating the kitchen from the living room, and has been since she and Barry had started talking. His head had been bowed in thought a few moments ago, but he had perked up at the mention of a fridge full of food, and when he hears the bathroom door close down the hall, he zooms into the bedroom and snatches Barry's phone off of the bedside table.
"Artemis… Artemis… man, if you're who I think you are…" he mutters to himself, and finally he manages to uncover the contact information of one Artemis Crock, even on such an infernally ancient piece of machinery.
"16 Spisak Avenue… #2… Palo Alto, California… Score!" He pumps his fist in silent victory before dropping the phone and speeding out.
"Later, grandma! I'm staying with friends tonight; don't wait up!" he calls to Iris as he sprints by her through the kitchen, and he doesn't give her the chance to reply before he's out the door and at the phone booth zeta tube three blocks down.
"This should be interesting," he mutters with a wry grin.
Good thing he'd tricked Garfield into giving him A-level zeta tube access.