Turns out, the waiters for hire at big, fancy Wayne Enterprise-hosted charity banquets didn't get tipped very well. Not that anyone is shocked.
It's been one of those kind of undercover missions. The uncomfortable, thick coating of makeup on Wally's face and the skin on his nose itches like crazy. The colored contact lenses make his eyes itch and water up (but at least the dye for his hair didn't burn his scalp or make it look like he obviously dyed it). And the big, important Gothamites are incredibly rude. But, really, with that much income, they could probably afford to be emotional scumbags.
Wally knows, deep down, twisting nastily in his gut, that the evening isn't going to take a turn for the better. Even when a familiar pair of morning-sky bright, blue eyes follow his movements as Wally weaves the chattering, guffawing crowd with his stainless steel, clothed tray.
Yes, guffawing. Like the stereotype of a well-fed, well-loved moneybag enjoying some attention.
Out of nowhere, a streak of dark color flicks into Wally's left side of his vision, and his instincts kick in.
Before he could assess further how to possibly defend himself, Dick steps in front of him, grinning wide and toothy. His hair slicked-back for the occasion and a crisp, blue tie on, accented with dark swirling colors — practically the shade of his eyes, wow… that designer didn't have a crush on the sixteen-year-old. Wally doesn't want to call what he's feeling relief as it spreads through him, when he sees his best friend… but it doesn't resemble anything resentful either. Everything is more complicated than he wants to go into, so he won't.
Dick snatches up a hor d'oeuvre to pop quickly into his mouth, from Wally's tray at shoulder level. "Hey…"
Wally answers him with a breathy, automatic "Hey," and ignores the heated, warning glare from his current boss, shifting the weight of his tray from straining his right arm. You know what, wouldn't matter if he didn't get a paycheck. Not one, single bit.
"Sorry you're wasting a Saturday night."
There's nothing really apologetic in Dick's voice, it's a game; it's all a game, and they're just going through the motions.
"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Dick's grin tightens a little — a blip on the radar, no, don't do this now, not now — before he chuckles softly, reaching for another item on Wally's tray, tearing away the ruffled, miniature paper cup, "So, how's the 1% treating you, 99%?"
The twisting in Wally's gut stills, just for a moment. His lips perk up.
"Totally an eye-opening experience." Wally says, dryly, "If I hear the phrase 'share of the tax burden' one more time, my head is going into that punch bowl."
"Just so you know, you're gonna be drowning yourself in champagne, not fruit punch. This isn't a third-grade dance."
The speedster has to stifle a loud, snorting laugh, amused smile still in place.
(It shouldn't be like this.)
"It'll liven up the party, right?" Wally points out, and Dick's head cants to the side. Those blue, at times stoic eyes examining him. His clenching gut hurts.
In the background, a shatter of ceiling glass.
And then a thwrp! of fleshy impact.
Dick's eyes bulge, like he's trying clear his throat right now, and he does, emptying out his lungs by coughing up a mouthful of dark red, body-hot fluid. Flecks of his blood splatter wet onto the white, ironed collar of Wally's uniform. His brow furrows, in astonishment, in confusion.
Blood, real blood, surging from the seal of his lips, drips in a line from one of his nostrils. He stares glassy-eyed ahead.
"W-ah…" Dick manages to choke out, hands going for the person in front of him, and the levelheaded portion of Wally's brain kicks in (blood is blood is blood, and they've all seen it before). He catches his quivering, blacking out teammate by the arms, keeping Dick upright and from slumping onto the hardwood floor. Wally cradles him against his own chest, his waiter's apron and shock warming drenched with the amount escaping.
Wally's fingers quickly feel around for the hole, and it's there — a bullet hole, mushed and gore with torn muscles and skin. He cups it, applying pressure to stanch the flow, as the big, important, useless Gothamites around them frantically yell at each other, into cell phones, and take off in all directions.
"Dick?" he murmurs, corners of his eyes watering, the contact lenses and his eyes burning. (Blood is blood, and it's never just someone else's. Not this time.)
Barry once told him that his powers seemed like the greatest when it came to rescuing civilians, but… you couldn't be everywhere at once — even with Flash powers. Barry told him that he tried once, and then got frozen in time, and had to be rescued by Jay¹.
The fluorescent yellow of his uniform, the padded leather, the red crusts. Wally's head spins violently. Maybe he can't get enough oxygen. His knees give out from under him, like maybe they're made of jellied nothing, but his heart still feel like he's running. Somewhere nearby, one of the hospital personnel calls out for him concerned. They sound fuzzy.
A grim-faced nurse nods in agreement, peering over at the stats, when the emergency room doctor speaks up, "This is a D.O.A²," and leans from the wheeling stretcher, switching off the medical flashlight and closing Dick's eyelid.
"You can't be everywhere at once, Wally," Barry's hand lowers, affectionately threading red hair, "But never beat yourself up about it. Stuff tends to happen on its own. It's never planned out. Sometimes… you can't make it in time to save them all."
Wally finds himself being given a change of clothes from the lost and found bin under one of the receptionist desks, being escorted to a private washroom to scrub himself off — palms, fingers, under his nails, his face, his neck — clean.
He methodically, expressionlessly scrubs off the theatrical makeup. A splatter of natural, brown freckles on his cheeks, gleaming in a thin layer of sink-water.
The unlocked handle to the bathroom door clicks and tugs open with a hesitant jerk. Bloody, pale features morph into whole, green flesh. Short, black hair into shoulder-length and brownish-red. M'gann cants her head at him, examining him with mild, intrusive worry as their telepathic link rings inside his skull.
("Uncle J'onn says it's over. Would you us to alert your mentor?")
"Where is he?" Somehow, the words feel as barren, as cracked as Wally's lips, his mouth feels.
The bathroom wall to his right shimmers visibly before a tall man steps through it, removing a pair of thin-wired glasses and folding them into his green-morphing hands. Half of Martian Manhunter, half of the emergency room doctor offers a reassuring hand on Wally's tensing shoulder. "Your performance has proven itself successful, Kid Flash. Well done."
The heel of Wally's contact-pinkened hand rubs the trickling space under his eye.
(It's all a game, and they're just going through the motions.)
The nut brown hair dye¹³ comes out in the upstairs shower on the first try; thanks to the slender, plastic bottle of a special chemical solution he had been given. Engineered by Bats, most likely. Wally tosses out the uncomfortable, colored eye contacts in the kitchen trash can. His eyes still sting.
"Today, Gotham City mourns sixteen-year-old Dick Grayson, legal ward to Gotham's golden boy Bruce Wayne, who received a fatal gunshot wound. Authorities maintain that there was no immediate confirmation of an organized assassination attempt against—"
His comm.-link, the new one he had been handed, buzzes for his attention as Wally flips off the family room's television, Iris and Barry's place eerily quiet with them fast asleep — thank god, he couldn't take their sympathetic glances anymore. Couldn't take lying to them. He goes for his pocket, securing the bud against the opening of his ear canal as Wally moves into the laundry room, shutting the thin, shuttered door behind him.
(It shouldn't be like this.)
Wally counts out the reading of static feedback before it clears and he replies to the urgency with a curt "Yeah?"
His heart is running, but he's not.
Wally pushes his fingers through his drippy, red hair hard enough to feel his fingernails scrape him. "Worked," he mumbles.
"Thought it would," Dick informs him on the other secured line, and it's really him — living and breathing, hundreds of miles away in a village in Laos. His voice sounds scratchy, from exhaustion or screaming or it could be both. He had been probably helping out the locals all day, outdoors and sweating up a storm and not caring while the rest of the world stops what they're doing, gluing themselves to their televisions and computer accounts to witness the horrific details of his publicized murder.
"…This what you really want?"
"Yes," comes a deliberate answer, and the speedster didn't realize he had walked out with the universal remote until his lightly freckled fingers shake and clench around it, draining away the color from his knuckles. "It's better this way."
"So, you're gonna be—" Wally tries out the unfamiliar alias, "—Nightwing… for the rest of your life?"
"Like I said, it's better this way. Now the League of Assassins can be thrown off my trail, and backing from the hero gig for another year might help that along. Bruce's secret identity isn't compromised. The Team isn't compromised."
"You had someone shoot a version of you, in a room full of people," Wally snaps. "With a sniper rifle."
"Onyx³ is an assassin. She knew what she was doing. And Miss M agreed to help out and assured me she could heal from any bullet wound, in any place on her¹²." A semi-aggravated grunt from Dick's line. "What, did something happen that I don't know about?"
The universal remote slams on top of the closed-lidded dryer. "You know what, I'm done," Wally says coldly.
"Everythingjusteverything!" The anger in Wally's chest speeds his heart to go faster, faster — cantslowdown cant hewill — and a painful lump wells up in his throat. "My best friend DIED in my arms tonight, I think that's where I'm supposed to draw the line!"
Dick's voice hardens, "If you didn't want to take the mission, then—"
"No, no. Don't freakin' even. No one else wanted this, and you know that." The other end of the connection goes silent. "I know we're gonna bury our friends, and that we're gonna bury everyone we love because it isn't safe what we do. But maybe I want safe for a damn change. Maybe I want people I love safe."
Wally hears a low sigh.
"You're upset, dude; I get it. This whole thing messed with you and your head, and there's no reason it shouldn't be—"
"Don't try psychoanalyzing me, Nightwing. Get off your ass and look at a TV somewhere, there's no fixing this." Wally sneers, raising his index finger to the earbud communicator, and half-hopes that Dick can sense it through their conversation. "Consider this my resignation," he says darkly.
The comm.-link switches off with a tap of the bud. He leaves the remote in the laundry room, storming out of his uncle and aunt's house and into the clear, summer Central City evening. Fireflies dot along the back lawn; a slow, lazy lightshow. Wally takes a deep breath, only to find it clogged his throat further. When he lets it go, it sounds agonized. He wipes at his face, switching back the comm.-link, and activating voice command. "Dial: Artemis Crock B07."
Kaldur and Artemis submerge under the ocean, or Kaldur and "Artemis" — his no-longer girlfriend, and Wally can't bring himself to leave his spot on the rooftop, green eyes drifting back to the area where the submarine disappeared into the murky waves. And neither can his old teammate, it seems. He hasn't seen D—Nightwing in about two years, and he came to them — after all of years, asking too much again. Asking for their participation in some fucked up, elaborate scheme to stop the bad guys. Asking to kill Artemis.
He killed himself, and that wasn't enough…
"How many more people are you gonna take away from me?" The sentence barely comes out a murmur from Wally's mouth, barely accusatory.
Nightwing checks the inner straps on his gauntlets. "She'll be back when this is over," a dismissive tone.
(But you won't.)
Wally's jaw twitches.
"I have to tell Paula that her daughter is dead…" he murmurs, again.
That makes Nightwing's masked expression soften, regretfully.
The hero nods.
"I'll meet you back at your apartment."
Artemis had been completely okay with leaving Nightwing an extra key to their place. She trusted him.
And it somehow bothered him.
Because, deep down, maybe Wally wanted to trust him, like he always had, unthinkingly, blindly — but was it gonna be easy? Maybe not.
Wally's own key slides into place through the lock on his apartment door.
"What the hell—?"
Nightwing's eyebrows shoot upwards, towards his forehead, as the redhead deadbolts behind him and trudges towards the living room area, grabbing a fresh box of Kleenex from the coffee table. Wally gives a noisy, heavy sniff, holding up his blood-slick hand to his face. "She fractured my nose."
"Seriously?" he asks, dumbfounded.
"It's already done setting in place, s'no big deal." Wally wipes himself off and goes to rummage in the refrigerator for a hard lemonode, adding, "Also, I'm pretty sure that I'm not allowed at the, uh, 'funeral' either."
"Wait, she said that to your face?"
"Really didn't need to, you know, with the punch I kinda figured it out on my own?" Wally says offhandedly, staring down at the unopened bottle of alcohol in his hand, and then placing it back. He glances over at the Nomex-costumed man sitting on his couch, absently petting Bowser's¹¹ head as the dog nudges his muzzle against the outside of Nightwing's thigh. A faint smile crosses Wally's face. "Think he likes you or something."
"It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it," Nightwing remarks, and frowns when the other man says nothing. "...that was the part where I was kidding."
"You need to work on your routine, Boy Blunder."
Nightwing shakes his head a little at him, frown lessening away in favor of a smirk and gazing down at the school newspaper folded open on the messy coffee table. "Physics club…?" He jabs a pointer finger at the group image. "Says you're vice-president."
"Yah, what about it?" The speedster joins him in the room, shooing a now grumpy Bowser off the couch.
"The ladies must be all over you, Kid Stud."
Despite the teasing, Wally decides to answer with a frosty kind of bluntness. "I had Artemis. Had being the key word here."
"Wally, c'mon," there's an exasperation in the way Nightwing says his name; he knew him well enough, or had, to know that there was an eye-roll coming up — even if a winged mask was in the way of seeing it, "it was her decision, not yours. You can only support her. And she's gonna be okay because Kal is looking after her." Nightwing's muscular leg swings to press against his. "And I'm right here if you ever need me, Wals. I know we haven't been close since…" A brief pause.
Nightwing's front teeth slide over his bottom lip. "Since a while back… but seriously, I'm not going anywhere."
(Wally doesn't wanna call it relief.)
At the unmistakably intimate nickname — one whispered from the sleepy, twelve-year-old acrobat on a late night patrol, nuzzling against the side of Wally's shoulder —, the nape of Wally's neck heats, arching at the sensation of gauntlet-rough fingers gently stroke the same spot.
"…M'not a dog," Wally protests, nudging his knee back against Nightwing's but misses the loss of contact. Just this once.
"No, but you're a dork."
"Says the mathlete."
YJ is not mine. Slight alternative universe perspective to Wally's extreme reasons for leaving superheroing, I guess? *SHRUGGG* I HEADCANON'D. Any thoughts appreciated~~.
¹ - In the general comic-verse, Wally was one who refused to believe he couldn't get fast enough to save everyone and was saved by Max Mercury.
² - "Dead. On. Arrival."
³ - Onyx is a DC comic-canon character, mainly from Batman issues, as she is an ally.
¹¹ - I don't actually know if Artemis and Wally's dog has a name so... "Bowser" until I see an answer from Greg.
¹² - There was heavy amounts of fic inspiration from Red Robin #15 where Miss Martian poses as Tim Drake for an assassination attempt. GENIUS.
¹³ - In the older Teen Titans comics, Wally had dyed his hair brown while he was out in uniform to hide his secret identity.
"Wally is carrying an injured teammate to a hospital, going as fast as he can to make it in time. But when he finally arrives:
Doctor: I'm sorry. This is a DOA (dead on arrival)."