March 28, 15:00 EST]
Wally walked up to Dick's room in Mt. Justice and quickly punched in the secret code to the electronic lock set into the wall. He stepped forward, expecting the door to slide open, and nearly rammed face first into it when the door didn't budge. He keyed in the six digit number again and was denied when the keypad buzzed at him and flashed red, "What the…?"
He gave up and just knocked on the door after the fourth try. It opened a moment later, and Dick was standing there in his Robin uniform, just finishing up smoothing a domino mask over his eyes. He moved aside to let Wally in, "Hey! Sorry, I was just changing. Batman called me to zeta to Gotham in twenty minutes."
"Is Two-Face on the loose again?" Wally flopped down on the bed, leaning back on his hands.
"He didn't say," Dick fastened his utility belt around his waist. "He was being typically cryptic."
"As usual?" Wally smiled, kicking his legs back and forth idly. Dick just rolled his eyes. "Hey, did your door combination change? It wouldn't let me in."
"Uh, yeah…" Dick turned slightly red and looked down at his feet in embarrassment, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Bruce and Alfred kind of decided that if we're going to be dating now, it would be 'inappropriate' for you to know the code to my room."
"Oh, awkward…" Wally cringed.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Dick covered his face and groaned. "Have you had 'the talk' yet?"
"No," Wally answered slowly, his eyes narrowing in nervous suspicion. "High school kind of took care of that."
"Then get ready. Bruce is going to talk to Flash about it."
"What…?!" He whispered in quiet horror. Wally imagined Batman cornering him somewhere and giving him some terrifying 'compromise my son's virtue and I'll cripple you' bat-talk.
"Oh, how's your uncle doing?" Dick looked up like he'd just remembered.
"STAR labs fixed his leg completely," Wally reported happily, shaking off his day dream – or more like day nightmare. "He just took a couple laps around the country this morning."
"I can't even fathom how someone heals from a mostly severed leg in under a day," Dick just shook his head with a stumped sort of frown.
"A big, whopping dose of Speed Force energy," Wally answered with a wry grin and a shrug.
Dick looked up at him then, "Professor Zoom mentioned the Speed Force. What is it?"
"Uh, we don't really know yet," Wally made a face. "Max is looking into it – like meditating and stuff, but Jay and Uncle Barry don't really believe in it. Jay keeps teasing him and saying he's the zen master of speed."
"What do you think?"
Wally fell silent, frowning down at his knees pensively for a moment, "I think it exists. I don't know what it is, but Max is kind of the first of us speedsters. He's actually traveled through time before. If he thinks it's worth researching, then I trust him. But, I also see where Uncle Barry and Jay are coming from. Zoom is criminally insane, so anything he says is usually either a lie or a trap."
"Like the Joker…" Dick said suddenly, his face going pale from dark memories. "You can't trust what he says, but you can't ignore it either."
"Exactly," Wally sighed. For a few minutes, they both sat in tense silence until he forced his unease away and flashed Dick a smile. "But, Zoom's in a Watchtower holding cell right now in la la land while M'gann's uncle picks through his mind."
"I had more faith in the holding cells before your dad was broken out of them," Dick didn't look reassured.
"Yeah, but this time, they've got eight Leaguers guarding the cell. Plus, Batman ordered enough tranquilizers to keep a speedster down for fifty years."
Wally watched Dick's bad mood break down and his shoulders start shaking with quiet laughter.
"Recognize: Aqualad – B02"
Both looked up as the computer announced Kaldur's arrival, and Wally leapt off the bed with a grin, "He's back early. I thought Aquaman said it would take at least two days before Kaldur was okay to leave Atlantis."
Dick got to his feet as well but grabbed Wally's arm before he could zip over to the door. Wally paused and turned back to regard him curiously. Dick was chewing at the inside of his lip anxiously and staring at him with unsure eyes, "I wanted to ask you something before we go out there with the others."
"Okay," Wally said. "What is it?"
"It's about us…" Dick started carefully. "Uhm…what do you want to tell everyone?"
Wally just blinked at him, his brain scrambling to come up with something to answer with.
"I mean, a few people already know," Dick hurried to explain. "Like Roy. And Bruce and your uncle."
"And Joan," Wally blurted suddenly.
"Joan knew before we did, I think…" he clarified awkwardly.
"Right," Dick shifted uncomfortably. "Well, all of those turned out better than expected, and I wanted to know if you wanted to tell the Team about us dating or if you wanted to wait…"
Wally really thought about the sudden question, weighing the pros and cons like a list in his head. If they told their teammates, there was the risk that someone might not be okay with it. Realistically, there was no way he and Dick could keep it hidden forever, but what was the best way to go about it? They could study each person individually first and tell them one by one if it seemed like it would turn out well, but that might leave someone out, and it would definitely overcomplicate things and create secrets.
"I'm not…actually ready to tell anyone else yet," Wally said slowly, watching Dick closely for a negative reaction. He hoped Dick wouldn't get offended or think Wally was ashamed of him. "I mean – I'd like to tell my aunt and maybe Jay, but I kinda just want to focus on the two of us for awhile before we think about letting the rest of the Team in on it. Is that okay?"
"More than okay," Dick sighed immediately, visibly relaxing as the tenseness left his posture. "I was really hoping you'd say that."
"Want to troll them all mercilessly about it too, so that when we do tell them, they're all mad?" Wally held out his gloved hand and offered up a mischievous smirk.
"Sounds perfect," Dick cackled, taking his hand immediately. "Like you pulled the idea right out of my brain."
Wally turned around and pulled Dick onto his back. The raven-haired boy wrapped his arms around Wally's shoulders and gave him a quick peck on the side of his jaw. Wally squeezed his legs, "Hold on tight."
He opened the door and sped out of the room, running through the mountain to the briefing room. Everyone was already there, crowded around Kaldur by the zeta tubes and talking all at once. The Atlantean certainly did look better, but he still seemed a tad unsteady on his feet.
It was a minor detail that Wonder Girl seemed all too eager to help him with. Donna was practically glued to his side, giving him a rock hard arm to lean on. Wally snuck a look over at Dick, and they both grinned conspiratorially. Those two were so perfect for each other.
Wally dashed over to Kaldur and held out a fist that he hesitantly bumped with his own, "How ya feelin? Aquaman wouldn't let any of us visit you, and we were getting worried. Well, half of us can't survive the pressure down there, but you know what I mean."
"I do," Kaldur smiled at him patiently and nodded. "I am well, I promise. This episode was no worse than when Red Tornado's 'siblings' attacked the cave."
"It was pretty similar too. Homicidal robots trying to kill us and all," Dick tossed a meaningful grin at Artemis. Wally knew that they'd both had to fight off the Reds together while the rest of the Team had been incapacitated.
"Except instead of three, there were two thousand," she pointed out dryly, clearly not remembering it fondly.
"We are really going to have to figure out a way to fix this fire weakness of yours," Zatanna teased M'gann and Kaldur.
"My king has been looking into it for many months now," Kaldur explained wearily, letting Donna help him away from the zeta tubes. They headed for the kitchens. "But I have long accepted the risk of dehydration as one of the consequences of choosing to walk on the surface world."
"Not good enough," Wally said loftily, speeding over to the island counter and perching on a stool. "We'll come up with something."
M'gann nodded in agreement with him, "Zatanna, aren't there any spells that can help?"
"Magic is more of a temporary fix," Zatanna said reluctantly, sending an apologetic glance over at Kaldur. "I don't know any permanent spells yet, but I could look through my dad's library."
"It is not necessary," Kaldur assured her quickly, giving out an easy smile. "I appreciate the gesture, but I will be fine. Every day that I spend on land helps me to adapt a little more to the change in environment. It becomes easier each time. But, I would like to know how all of you have healed."
"Donna and Conner are completely fine, of course," Artemis jerked her thumb over her shoulder where Conner was standing quietly behind them all. He straightened up in surprise when Donna offered her hand for a high five and smiled before smacking it. Artemis rolled her eyes at them and smoothed her unrestrained hair back away from her forehead, revealing a neat line of stitches. "So is Wally – he healed in like an hour. The rest of us are still being glued back together."
"It's not that bad," Dick grinned. He was sporting several stitches on his forehead as well and a few along his arms. Zatanna's left arm was in a cast, and M'gann had been slathered down with a special burn ointment and had a good portion of her body covered in bandages.
Kaldur seemed to be looking them all over himself just to be sure of Dick's words, "What happened to the Justice League? My king refused to tell me what was happening. He insisted that I rest."
"Can you believe no one died?" M'gann asked brightly in relief before sobering quickly. "I mean, except for all those Green Lanterns…"
"They're working on rebuilding the Watchtower right now," Dick told him. "And covering the cities of the heroes that are still too hurt to patrol."
"The Manhunters have been defeated?" Kaldur looked unsure.
Donna nodded beside him, "My sister told me that the Green Lanterns chased them all the way into the next space sector. They will be hunted down to the last android."
"All the acolytes that attacked the Watchtower have been rounded up too," Conner added.
"This has ended…" Kaldur paused, searching for the right words. "Much tidier than I expected."
"Right?" Wally grinned widely. "And there's something else, too. We haven't been benched."
Kaldur frowned in confusion, so Dick explained for him, "After something big like this happens, the League's default seems to be putting our Team on suspension, but they didn't this time. They're finally treating us like equals."
"They should," Artemis crossed her arms. "We fought beside them in the Watchtower and almost died. I think we've more than earned it."
"This has been a sore subject for you all," Donna guessed, eying them one by one to see if she was right.
"A little," M'gann admitted, giving a little shrug out of embarrassment. Then her eyes went wide in excitement, and she flew forward to grasp Donna's hands. "So, are you going to be part of the Team, or was the Watchtower battle just a onetime thing?"
"I would like to join," Donna began formally, but a smile cracked through her regal expression. Wally had a feeling that the whole majestic aura thing was more Wonder Woman's style and Donna was just trying to make her proud. "I really want to join, but it is up to my sister. She denied my requests to be her partner for so long. Truthfully, I think that I would still be on Themyscira if my skills hadn't been needed during the Manhunter invasion. Wonder Woman made a sudden decision to bring me along, and she has not had the free time yet to tell me if I may stay in Man's world or if I have to return to the island."
"Well, all of us want you on the team," Dick said reassuringly. "You definitely make a good addition."
"Thank you," Donna blushed a little and clasped her hands behind her back, sneaking a sideways look at Kaldur. "I would also love to work with everyone here."
Just then, a smaller monitor similar to the one in the mission briefing room and fixed to the kitchen wall turned on with a soft mechanical chirp. Wally turned in his seat and saw Batman's face looking back at them stoically.
"Robin," Batman's terse voice issued from the speakers. "I need you to return to Gotham."
Dick straightened up and nodded at the screen, "Yes, sir. I'll zeta over now."
Batman didn't respond, and the monitor went dark a moment later.
"Off to do the Dynamic Duo thing?" Wally teased, resting his elbow on the counter and leaning his chin on his fist. He tossed a wink at Dick, who very maturely stuck his tongue out at him before anyone else noticed.
"I'll catch you guys later," Dick elbowed him in the side fondly and headed out of the kitchen after waving everyone goodbye.
Wally just stared after him silently, not liking that Dick was disappearing so soon but knowing he'd probably be back at the cave tomorrow. His eyes traveled over the sharp lines of Dick's back and legs and Wally frowned to himself. How had he never noticed before how good Dick looked walking away? That seemed like something that should have been brought to his attention a long time ago.
What he was thinking must have been very clear on his face, because when Wally finally tore his eyes off his boyfriend, he found Conner watching him with a frown. Wally tried not to look like he'd just been caught doing something bad and ignored how Superboy was glancing back and forth between him and where Dick had just left. Clearly, Conner would have to be one of the first people they talked to about their new relationship. Kryptonians were very observant…
Wally heaved a giant sigh and glanced around at all the others right at the same time that the zeta tube fired up, "So, anyone get wind of what our next mission's gonna be?"
"If I had to guess, I'm thinking second sweeps of the Manhunter bases all over the planet," A flash of red zoomed up to them, and then Uncle Barry was standing there with one hand resting lightly on Wally's shoulder.
"-nize: Flash 04"
"Tracking down and capturing Manhunter acolytes, that kind of thing. But, that's up to Batman. I'm sure he'll assign you all something soon," Uncle Barry continued, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his sudden appearance had startled everyone. Then his expression turned a little apologetic, and he looked right at Wally. The hand on his shoulder squeezed lightly, "Except for you, Kid…"
For a second, Wally wasn't sure what he meant. He just stared up at his uncle in confusion until it hit him. Then Wally's eyes went wide in disbelief, and his mouth dropped open, "Oh, no. No way! Are you joking?! We were just talking about the Team not getting taken off active duty like ten minutes ago, and now here you are benching me!"
"Calm down," Uncle Barry looked taken aback by his sudden anger. He held up his hands non-threateningly. "I'm not benching you or the Team."
"I mean, a whole lot of stuff happened to me, but I really don't want to lounge around and brood about it. Denial is like my method of operation," Wally spoke over his uncle, rambling frantically until he realized what Uncle Barry said. "Wait…you're not…? But…?"
"I'm pulling you off the Team because I need my partner for a few weeks," Uncle Barry smiled easily and put his hands on his hips.
Wally stared at him in blank confusion for a few seconds, "For what?"
"There's still an unforgivably high number of Velocity dealers on the loose," Uncle Barry told him seriously. "And we're going to have a nine man team of speedsters hunting them down across the country."
"Nine?" M'gann asked, her eyes going wide in awe. "I didn't know there were so many."
"Well, Max Mercury and the first Flash are both retired. They only help out in extreme emergencies, so they aren't really in the public eye anymore. And this'll be Johnny Quick's daughter Jesse's first time out on patrol," he explained.
"Whoa, I get to meet Jesse?" Wally perked up suddenly. He'd been waiting to meet Johnny's daughter for a long time. His uncle and Jay were great, but a speedster his own age would be awesome to hang out with! "Is she coming with?"
Uncle Barry nodded, "And Red Trinity. They feel partially responsible for Velocity, so they're taking it as personally as we are."
"When are we starting?" Wally hopped off the stool eagerly. He was excited to meet Jesse, but he really wanted to finally see Red Trinity too. Everyone had told him how they'd offered to help and given up potentially damning information about themselves even though they didn't know who Wally was. Just to help rescue him. He at least wanted to thank them personally.
"Officially? In five hours, but you and I are splitting off on our own to bring in one of the worst suppliers before we coordinate with the others," Uncle Barry ruffled his hair with a grin.
"They jealous?" Wally laughed.
Uncle Barry's chuckle mirrored his own, "Johnny is."
"Alright," Wally threw his hands up and grabbed his goggles, pulling them down over his eyes. He tossed an absent-minded wave at his teammates. "I'm ready. Let's go. I'll see you guys in a few weeks after I finish trashing all the drug lords from coast to coast."
Kaldur and Conner both broke out in subdued grins at that, but the girls all rolled their eyes and made exhausted sounding noises. Artemis in particular looked like she wanted to at least hit him. Uncle Barry grabbed the back of his collar before he could speed off, "Hold on just a second. I've got some good news before we take off."
"What is it?" Wally puzzled, exchanging a confused look with Zatanna and Donna.
"Martian Manhunter finished looking through Professor Zoom's memories," he began. Wally felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end at the mention of the Reverse Flash. His heart stuttered a little in dread. "He dug through everything and found that Zoom never told anyone our identities."
Wally's eyes went wide in disbelief, "But he hates us. He was planning on killing me right in front of you."
His uncle's face instantly darkened in fury for a second before he composed it into something neutral. A low voltage bolt of lightning arced off of him and struck the counter like a whip, leaving a blackened streak splashed across it. M'gann reeled back in alarm, and even Conner flinched away from the sudden and violent mood swing. Uncle Barry took a step back and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, "Sorry…"
"Wouldn't he want to do everything he could to ruin our lives?" Wally continued carefully, eyeing the lightning strike in silent surprise. "Like, he really hates us."
"Professor Zoom is also an egomaniac," Uncle Barry was back in control of himself, rocking back on his heels restlessly. "He wanted to keep that information to himself and be the only one to have that kind of power over us. Your dad was the only other acolyte who knew. Martian Manhunter went through the minds of all the acolytes we captured at the Watchtower, and none of them had any idea who you were – even the ones that were there when you escaped."
"Really?" Wally cocked an eyebrow and looked up a little at the ceiling, chewing at the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. "That's…tidy."
"Not completely," Uncle Barry sighed, knowing exactly what he'd meant. Neither of them had expected all of this to end as neatly as it had. All the loose bits were tying themselves up surprisingly well. "There's no way to know if your father told anyone…not anymore…"
Wally closed his eyes and was grateful that his teammates were keeping quiet and giving him time to think, "So, what now?"
"Well, we only have one option: wait and see what happens. Martian Manhunter seems to think that your father was like Zoom – wanting to keep it to himself. So, there's a good chance we're in the clear, but there's no way to know for sure," Uncle Barry said evenly. He took a deep breath and crossed his arms over his chest firmly. "However, I'm not willing to let this affect my life. I'm not going to let your dad win. We're going to be smart about it, but we can return to our lives. Both of us will be on high alert for a long time, and we'll have the entire Justice League watching our backs."
"Your aunt's proven that she can take care of herself," Uncle Barry smiled wryly. "And I'll have her armed to the teeth, don't worry."
Wally took a few seconds to think about it all. He drank in his uncle's confidence and decided to match it with his own, "I do kinda miss school."
Uncle Barry just laughed, throwing an arm around his shoulders, "No you don't."
"Where are you starting your mission?" Kaldur asked politely.
"That's classified," Uncle Barry said loftily, strolling back towards the cave's hangar entrance without offering anything more. He dragged Wally along with him, still keeping him in a half headlock. "You were ready to go, weren't you?"
"Excellent!" Uncle Barry laughed, holding up one hand and waving at the Team without looking back. "Good luck on your own missions. I'll make sure to let Wally drop by in a few days."
Wally twisted around in his uncle's grasp and took in one last glance at his teammates, giving his own bewildered wave and getting confused stares in return. He stumbled along in the awkward position until they were out of sight and then wriggled free, pushing his goggles back onto his forehead, "Where are we going?"
"I'll tell you in a second," he teased, winking impishly at him. "Race you to the hangar."
They were both blurs of color to anyone who had trouble counting how many times a hummingbird's wings flapped with the naked eye. The distance wasn't even close to a warm-up, but Wally still gave it his all, speeding through the hallways and doors right beside his uncle. They laughed the whole way to the hangar where Uncle Barry tagged M'gann's bioship a half second before he did.
"So slow," Uncle Barry pretended to marvel, ducking out of the way when Wally grinned and took a swipe at him.
"Just give me some room to stretch my legs, old man," Wally countered. "Then we'll see who's slow."
Uncle Barry just triggered the opening mechanism for the hangar door, nodding and laughing quietly. Part of the ceiling separated from the rest and dropped to the floor like a ramp, revealing a dazzling sunny day outside and bright green grass.
Wally zipped up the ramp and stood in the middle of the Rhode Island mountainside with a huge grin on his face. He took in a deep breath of fresh air and turned to look at his uncle, feeling the heat of the sun seep in through his uniform, "Okay, now I actually do need to know where we're going. Unless all you're going to do is give me a direction to run, which would be really terrible."
"Why would I do that? You'd have to follow me the whole time, and we wouldn't be able to race," Uncle Barry smirked, obviously enjoying how impatient Wally was getting. "We're going south…"
Wally fixed him with an unamused glare.
"To Gotham," he finished, laughing.
Wally froze, dropping the frown in surprise, "Gotham?"
"Mmhmm. That's where the biggest kingpin is. Of course," Uncle Barry spoke like it was obvious. It kind of was – Gotham being Gotham and all… "Batman did most of the work for us, and we're heading over to help with the takedown."
"But…Robin zeta'd over there a little while ago. Aren't they doing the duo thing?" Wally didn't understand.
"We misled you both," his uncle grinned like a little kid telling a secret he wasn't supposed to. "My idea."
"I get to work with Rob on this one?!" Wally asked excitedly.
Uncle Barry nodded happily, "And M'gann when we get to Chicago, Artemis and Ollie in Star, Keystone, Central, Coast City-"
"Is Hal going to help out too?"
"Not Hal," his uncle shook his head. "He left yesterday with the rest of the Lanterns to go chase down the Manhunters. Roy is guarding Coast City for him right now with someone else. He and Hal wouldn't say who."
'Cheshire,' Wally thought to himself smugly. He made a mental note to keep an eye out for her while he was there – partly so that he could tell Dick all about it later and also because Cheshire had tried to drown him once and he was still a little bitter about it. Although, what Uncle Barry said made it sound like Hal knew Cheshire would be there. That was weird. Wally couldn't really see Hal being okay with an international assassin running around in his city while he was gone…unless he knew about Roy and her. That kind of made sense. Roy wasn't really able to talk to Ollie about these kinds of things, and Hal had been the only adult figure in his life besides Dinah to reach out to him. Wally would have to ask Roy about it when they got to California.
"Right," he dusted his hands off and crouched into a running stance. "Then let's go. I'm ready to wipe the floor with you."
"Jeez," Uncle Barry said in mock exasperation. "You work through that block you had on your speed and suddenly you think you can beat me in a race?"
"Only about how sad you're gonna be when you lose," Uncle Barry pulled a face.
"I think-" Wally broke off suddenly and darted past his uncle, running southwest as fast as he could. He ripped across the harbor and was seconds away from the state border when Uncle Barry caught up.
They cut through the Long Island Sound and Manhattan, trading the lead every few seconds and genuinely struggling to keep it. Wally pushed himself as hard as he could, glancing at his uncle beside him and finding that he was trying just as much to win. Unless Uncle Barry was holding back, Wally was actually keeping pace with him. A wide grin spread across his face, and he kept running, cutting through the air like a knife. He'd waited such a long time to run with his uncle without slowing him down – to actually keep pace with him. He didn't even care about winning the race anymore.
The small smile on his uncle's face told him that he felt the same way.
They reached New Jersey in minutes, and Gotham City greeted them with stormy grey clouds and the urban sounds of honking traffic and wailing police sirens. Uncle Barry led him deep into the city – into the Diamond District where they ran right up the side of the tallest skyscraper and came to a halt on top of the roof. Directly on the other side, two shadowy figures perched beside stone gargoyles carved into the railing at one corner. Wally marveled at how dark Gotham looked even in the middle of the day.
"You're such a cheater," Uncle Barry had Wally in a loose headlock the second they stopped. Wally grabbed his uncle's arm and went dead weight to try and get out of it, smiling at his mild laughter.
"Jay taught me that one," Wally shrugged.
"You're late," a deep, gravelly voice called over to them.
Wally looked up and saw Batman standing beside Dick, who was looking surprised at their sudden entrance.
"We literally raced over here as fast as we could, Bats," Uncle Barry rested his hands on his hips. "And now we're waiting on you. What's the plan?"
Batman just stared at him disapprovingly for a moment before launching into a brief rundown of what he needed the pair of speedsters to do. Dick snuck over during the explanation and held out a gauntleted hand for a fist bump, which Wally gladly gave him before entwining their fingers lightning fast for just an instant. A GCPD blimp slowly meandered between the buildings below, and Wally couldn't help but duck down to whisper into Dick's ear, his eyes still glued to the zeppelin and a devious smile lighting up his face, "Dude. How sweet would it be to ride on top of one of those?"
Dick looked over his shoulder at the surveillance blimp before turning back around with an equally sly grin. He bumped Wally's shoulder with his own and shot back, "Why don't we dedicate our first date to finding out?"
Excitement bubbled up in Wally's chest, and he pressed his forehead to Dick's, "You bring the grapnel guns, and I'll bring all the handsome."
Dick snorted derisively and only smiled wider, "You're such an egotistical dork. I love it."
Wally just winked at him suavely, "So, what – Friday at 7?"