Notes: Originally this was a request for a drabble by an anon wanting some Wally and Barry bonding. Threw some feelings into it plus some mentions of Artemis. Then this thing happened.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
I Won't This Time
He's not counting the days. He refuses. So when it's the twenty-seventh night without Artemis, and he's too tired to even acknowledge sounds anymore from the couch he has claimed his own, it takes Nelson's wet nose nudging at his dangling hand to rouse him enough to even want to respond to the tapping at his door. Tapping at the door. He becomes alert instantaneously, kicking the warm quilt that has long lost Artemis' comforting scent. Nelson's at his heels, spinning in circles with excitement, tail-wagging. They were both hoping, praying.
Wally runs a hand through his red mussed hair before it finds the knob. And there are sudden considerations that plague his mind while he's giving Nelson a warning look before opening the door. Behave and no barking, its 2:30 AM. She responds by licking her snout, tail stiffening as she waits patiently for the door to open. His foggy mind finally clears, and he has to tell himself not to be disappointed that whoever is at his door at this ungodly hour is not Artemis. Too bad there wasn't time to explain that to Nelson because the door is already open and there's a disgruntled noise followed by the slow tapping of nails against the hard wood floor as she's retreating back to her spot.
The air is buzzing.
"Uncle Barry, you do realize that it's 2 in the morning?" And there's this certain urgency to just close the door. Lock it, and just never open it again. He was the last person he wanted here. The funeral was awkward enough. There was enough feet shuffling and uncomfortable silence between them to last a life time. Judging by his uncharacteristically silent response, this would just be a repeat of the same situation except now he was staring at him with sad eyes. The same sad eyes of pity that he got from everyone else that approached him after the coffin filled with lies was lowered into the earth. The thought still burned his throat, and he's not sure if anyone will ever forgive him for this—for putting any of them through this.
He's pushing on the door to shut it before Barry even responds. Maybe they could just both pretend that this never happened and they could continue avoiding each other. It was just easier that way. The door never shuts. An equal force is preventing him from shutting everyone out for good. Barry's firm hand wins, though he's not surprised because Barry will always win. He'll continue to be better than him. It didn't take much really. Even the new kid was faster than him. His thoughts continue to fester.
"Kid," Barry finally says as he tries desperately to push himself back into Wally's life again.
He's not ready yet, but he's moving away from the door. His gaze trailing to the couch that has become occupied by a familiar lump of fur, buried under the warmth of the quilt. Lucky dog.
"Look, I kind of ate everything in the fridge for dinner. Was gonna go get food in the morning. You know, not really expecting guests and all. But I think there is enough to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," he offers. There was no need to be a horrible host. At least, that's what his mother would lecture him about if she was still around to.
Before he can settle a hand on his refrigerator, there's warmth on his shoulder and a gentle squeeze. All Wally can think about is getting away. Running as far away as he possibly can. Just anywhere, but here. And if he ran so fast that the world became a blur again, and he wasn't sure where he was when he finally stopped, that would be way better than what he was anticipating. He has to stop this from going further.
"Look Barry, I'm sure Aunt Iris told you to come here and make sure I wasn't doing anything stupid on my own, but I'm an adult. I'm sensible. I appreciate your concern, but I don't need any more condolences-"
"No, Wally. I came here. I came here on my own. I wanted," he pauses before his emerald eyes are expressing a different emotion he hadn't seen in a while, "Needed to fix things."
A huff of air pushes past his lips, and when Barry finally releases his shoulder they are sitting at the kitchen table, a not very filling half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich sitting in front of him. He's chewing slowly, not caring that the peanut butter is sticking his tongue to the roof of his mouth. The perfect food for avoiding conversation, but Barry isn't eating, so maybe this wasn't his most brilliant plan ever.
"Wally, I know things have been rough this month. None of us were expecting this to happen to Artemis…to you. Things have been rather strained between us, but I know you need someone right now and if you need anything I want you to know that I'm here to listen."
He's pushing as much of the mess of bread, jelly and peanut butter down his throat. He needs to speak, and quickly, but it's still muffled and contorted. "Nouffff."
The noise that comes out of his throat sounds foreign until there's a glass of milk forced into his line of vision. He's still quick, and takes the glass from Barry's hand. The cool milk is loosening his tight throat, and he attempts his words again as he's pushing his seat back with the back of his knees.
"No, Uncle Barry. I don't need another night of this. People offering me friendship and condolences and understanding. No. Just no. None of you understand what I'm going through right now, and I'd prefer to just handle this on my own without people pitying me. I definitely," his eyes are burning through Barry's irises for further emphasis, "don't need you just deciding to walk back into my life again. Your pity is not welcomed here."
It's harsh, and his mouth is suddenly dry. He licks his chapped lips gingerly, almost expecting that it will relieve the feeling. And everything and everyone feels so far away. Was the distance between them always this far? He honestly can't remember when exactly it had happened let alone who let this happen. It's painful. People die. Relationships die. Bonds die. Everything dies. Being a hero didn't change these universal constants. All things come to an end. He was just doing a favor and ending things sooner to prevent a greater pain later, like the dull ache that Artemis left him.
"Wally." It's the first time in weeks that he's actually saying his name like that. It hurts. "It hurts. I get it."
"You don't," he says while turning his back to him. He was ready to leave if his uncle wasn't. His feet felt warm, and the muscles in his calves were craving a run. Just run and don't look back. And he's out the door like a shot. His lungs are on fire, the cool night air that is circling his air passages does little to quell it. It's exhilarating, and he'll just go however long and however far his legs are willing to take him. He suddenly misses his goggles because the air is drying his eyes, and it kind of feels like the cool wind is trying to cut at his irises. The tears are collecting at the corners of his eyes, but his feet start pushing much harder into the earth as he's searching for speed. His steps are angry and unforgiving. The emotions keep him going forward with reckless abandon. And who really cares where he is right now.
His muscles are suddenly screaming for energy. He needs food, but he's not ready to stop yet. He wants to go until there's nothing left, no soles on his shoes, and blood being shed from his feet. He never gets that luxury because Barry already has his wrist firmly in his grasp, pulling him back from his current runners high.
They're both gasping for every bit of air that they can take into their lungs. Neither of them had expected this run. He falls forward in defeat, hands cursing at the ground as he digs his nails into it threateningly.
"Wally. You can run. You can really run," he tells him. There's a light chuckle at the tail end of his words, and he's never been more confused in his life.
"You're laughing at me? Are you really laughing at me right now?"
Barry's smiling warmly, and it almost feels like he's still bandaged up in the hospital after the blast that gave him his powers and his uncle greater responsibility. Of course the laughing only happened when he was aware that he was okay, but it was the most comforting sound in the world at the time. He clung to him for life after that, running circles around his legs when he finally could. It was all familiar, but he was still hesitantly processing the mirth that was dripping from his uncle's voice.
"Kid, I'm not laughing at you. Maybe a little. You just shot out that door. I don't ever remember having to use as much force to keep up with you."
Nothing makes much sense to him at the moment, so he settles on letting his dirty fingers push his wind swept hair out of his face. He closes his dry eyes and takes a moment to himself to relish in the memory of the run, the rush, and wind pushing at him in all different directions to prevent him from moving forward. But he defied it and it did little to slow him down.
"I just…I just want to be alone right now."
The chuckle is suddenly gone, and the quiet that settles between them makes him feel smaller than he's ever felt in his entire life. When there is no sound of movement detected, his mouth is already planning a repeat of this line again just in case Barry was really being that ignorant on purpose. But he's surrounded by warm and welcoming arms instead and maybe for the first time in his life he feels like he's on a level playing field with his uncle. The man he could never hope of catching up to. It's all a bit too much for him. It all was too much. He shouldn't be going through this. He had plans, plans with Artemis and the dog. They were going to finish school first. And maybe he promised he would do some superhero work after, but only because he couldn't ignore the look of desire that he could read in her eyes. He would cave in for her. But there was no chance for negotiation and there was no time to really think of his feelings or how much it hurt to see everything that he so meticulously built up crumble away in the matter of minutes. There's no going back now. There's just no way you can come back from the "dead" and expect to just pick up where you last left off. The consequences. Did anyone think of the damned consequences? But he is, and it's killing him. All the thoughts are eating away at his brain, and leaving him empty and hollow. So he forgives himself when he's clawing at the back of his uncle's flannel shirt, so tightly that he's almost afraid he'll put holes in it or start digging into skin. But Barry isn't going anywhere, so he just stays there and takes his time to let his thoughts settle.
"I can't leave Wally. I won't this time."