I can't believe I never posted this here; wow. This is really old; I think almost a year? I wrote it a little while after "Depths" aired for my friend Tay.
Uh, before I found out the dog's canon-name was Brucely, and had named it Nelson. Whatever; I didn't feel like changing it. I GET NOSTALGIC ABOUT THIS STUFF, y'know?
"We're through the hard part," Dick mutters into the empty air, and Wally would laugh if he had an ounce of that ability left in him, because he's never heard Dick say anything so stupid. "They're in."
"Who are you kidding?" Wally scoffs, turning away from the sight of the now-still Blüdhaven bay. He glares over his shoulder at Dick, and in some corner of his mind he is wondering how all of this happened, because once upon a time he had sprinted and Dick had cackled from the shadows and life had been nothing more than a race without a finish line. "It only gets more dangerous from here."
Dick's face tightens beneath the domino mask and he bows his head, crossing his arms as he stares at the ground. He suits the darkness, Wally thinks inexplicably. He suits its coldness and its colorlessness.
"I'm sorry," Dick says quietly, and Wally turns his back and doesn't speak, because it isn't enough. He can't think of anything that would be.
The night hangs restlessly in the air and Dick's words do nothing to jostle it, and the two of them stand on the mildewed roof in silence, facing away from each other – Wally's breath snakes out in front of him in a gray cloud, and his lips sting, flush against the cold. He could punch Dick. He could. He could whirl around and raise his fist and smash it into his jaw, but he won't. His arms are stiff and his fingers are curled tightly in his pockets and he can't bring himself to move.
"I'm staying at your place tonight," Dick suddenly announces, and Wally's head jerks up and around. Dick is still fixated on the ground, but his eyebrows are furrowed.
"Wow." Wally's voice is wrought with cynicism. "An RSVP without an invitation. There's a first."
Dick winces and huffs and finally lifts his head to half-frown at Wally, his mouth thin.
"I don't want you to be alone," he continues cautiously.
Wally lets out a bark of the bitterest laughter he's ever heard come out of him, shaking his head.
"And look how that turned out," he growls sarcastically. "How kind of you."
"Look, I just don't want you doing anything stupid," Dick snaps. "I'll take the couch."
"You say that like there's another option," Wally grumbles, and he hears Dick snicker and the urge to punch him is back.
"Doghouse?" he suggests.
"If you can find one, it's all yours." Wally sighs, running his thumbs over his index fingers. "I'm guessing this is going to be one of those things where I'm not allowed to argue?"
"You guess right, as usual," Dick says, and Wally can practically hear the relieved grin in his voice.
"I might punch you, though," Wally warns him lowly, narrowing his eyes when he flicks them back up to meet Dick's. "Like. There is a legitimate possibility that I am going to break your jaw."
Dick's smile is sadder now, and Wally feels a sensation of inexplicable loss shoot through his body, and it's the second time he's felt it tonight; when Artemis had walked away from him in the warehouse and hadn't looked back, it had felt like it would drive its way through his skull and break his neck.
"You're more than entitled, I'd say," Dick says quietly, and Wally, as though he's just been given permission, twists his body and lunges and his knuckles collide with Dick's left cheek, and a crack of impact cuts out into the quiet, and Dick stumbles back.
Wally's hand is throbbing, and his jaw is clenched, and he's breathing heavily and his whole arm hurts and he can't tell if he regrets it or relishes it. Dick spits onto the ground and it's flecked with red, and he wipes his lips with the back of one gloved hand before looking back at Wally, his left eye slightly squinting.
"Kid Flash, +5," he quips, and then the jocularity fades. "I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry."
Wally doesn't even sigh. He doesn't even loosen. He slows his breathing slightly and inhales through his nose and says, "Zeta tube's three blocks. C'mon, before… before I hit you again."
Dick doesn't say anything for the whole walk, and Wally doesn't say anything, either, when Dick pulls out a navy backpack from behind one of the boxes in the warehouse like he's been planning on staying at Wally's place this whole time, like it was part of the mission plan he'd laid out a hundred times over until it sounded like a jumble of words that meant nothing at all.
The look in Nelson's eyes is like the final blow. It's worse than the fact that the lights are all out, and it's worse than the silence, and it's worse than the empty and precisely-made bed.
When Wally opens the door to the fourplex apartment, Nelson comes bounding over and dances up to him, tail flailing. He snuffles and lets his tongue loll out and Wally knows that he's expecting Artemis, but he still steps quietly inside and lets the dog take notice of Dick, who waves apologetically. Nelson immediately slows, and his tail stills, and he watches the empty doorway with gut-wrenching patience, and Wally finally sighs, throwing the keys into the dish by the door and shedding his jacket.
"Sorry, buddy," he murmurs, kneeling down to Nelson's height and putting one hand under his chin. "We said good-bye to Arty this morning, remember?"
Nelson blinks, and his eyes seem just a little bit wetter and browner, and he lets out a bewildered little whine, carefully licking Wally's cheek as though he can coax him into revealing where Artemis is hiding.
"Right side of the bed's all yours, boy," Wally says quietly and Nelson licks him again, shuffling forward until one cumbersome paw is scrabbling up against his knee. Wally pats his head and balks away and stands again, and Nelson keens at him, and he's never felt guiltier in his life, and it's just his stupid dog.
"You hungry?" Dick asks, breaking the moment in two. Wally hears a soft thump when he sets the backpack down on the kitchen counter.
"No," Wally mumbles, shutting the door, and he knows that Dick can tell he's lying; it's about the worst lie he's ever told.
That's probably why, in about fifteen minutes, Dick is handing him two fresh BLTs and a Diet Coke, sitting down beside him on the couch without a word.
"Thanks," Wally whispers, sniffing. Dick's changed into his civvies, and his face is unimpeded, his blue eyes gazing tiredly at the screen as he nods in acknowledgement.
The sandwiches are gone in three bites each, and Wally's stomach feels tight and nauseous and he swallows to hold everything down.
"So what's on?" Dick inquires between bites, nodding to the TV screen currently depicting an unidentifiable point ofVertigo. Wally doesn't remember turning it on, but it's still on Turner Classic Movies from the night before when Artemis had wanted to tune into the first chunk of the Alfred Hitchcock marathon.
"Looks like that one movie," Wally supplies indifferently, tossing the Coke back. "With the guy. And the heights. And the ghost chick."
Dick snorts audibly into his soda, and some of it dribbles down into his lap.
"Oh, that's great," he snickers. "You should write this stuff."
"Don't make me deck you again," Wally growls, and Dick forces himself to stop giggling, and they lapse into quiet.
"We stood there and I kissed her for the last time, and she said, 'If you lose me, you'll know that I loved you and wanted to keep on loving you.' And I said, 'I won't lose you.' But I did."
Wally's chest clenches up at the line and he's about to turn it off, but he's suddenly jostled and distracted when Nelson lopes over and hops up onto the couch beside him. The dog seems to consider something for a moment before decisively plopping down and curling up, his head propped up on Wally's knee.
"Is he gonna be okay?" Dick asks quietly. Wally exhales sharply through his nose.
"Yeah, I guess in a while," he replies. "I don't really know how dogs work. That's more her area."
"Figures," Dick says wryly, finishing his sandwich and wiping at his fingers with his bunched-up napkin. "Least he's got you."
"Yeah, wow," Wally mumbles. "The guy that yells at him to not sleep on the couch. So comforting."
"I'm sure Art's eternally grateful for your contributions," Dick snickers, and that's when Wally loses it.
"Shut up, Dick," he snarls sharply, startling Nelson. He doesn't look away from the television screen, from the sight of James Stewart's manic eyes and Kim Novak's sad ones. "This isn't a joke. This isn't a game. She could die in there. I hope you're really damn pleased with yourself. I hope you consider this mission a great success."
"Wally—" Dick starts to say.
"If anything happens to her," Wally growls, "I will kill them, and then I'll kill you."
"I dare you to try," Dick tells him, like it's still some kind of battle of banter.
"We were fine," Wally murmurs, and then his voice rises again. "We were fine! You know how much of this life is in her; you know how much she—you know. And that's why you picked her; so you could exploit it."
"I picked her because I know she's capable," Dick retorts coldly.
"We both know that," Wally bites back, "but I don't want there to be another Aquagirl. I don't want it to be her. That's why we quit."
"Maybe you need to stop doubting her ability to take care of herself and start trusting her." Dick's voice is starting to increase in volume, too, but it is a frigid volume.
"You think I don't trust her?!" Wally yells, finally whipping his head around to glare Dick in the eye. Dick's head is bowed, and the lights from the television play on his face in eerie and fading splashes. "What even gives you theright—"
"Because you're both my best friends!" Dick blurts out, and his blue eyes meet Wally's with ferocity. "And because I once knew a guy who was always ready to back up a friend, and always ready to make a few sacrifices for the greater good."
"God, do you even hear yourself?" Wally sneers spitefully. "You sound just like Batman. Just like him."
Dick bristles at his words and Wally knows he's hit a nerve, but he wouldn't have spoken them if that hadn't been what he'd been aiming for.
"Sacrifices?" Wally's voice breaks and quiets. "For the greater good? Listen to yourself. Is that all Artemis is to you? Asacrifice?"
"Of course not," Dick rasps, his shoulders rigid. "Of course not."
"I'm going to be honest with you here," Wally says in a low and wrathful tone. "I hate you. I hate you right now. What the hell happened? When did we—when did all of this… God. This is insane. Now you've sent two of your old teammates into the war zone."
"It's necessary," Dick protests through gritted teeth. "If I could change it, I would."
"What if she dies out there, Dick? What if they find out who she is and they just—What's that gonna be, then? Two funerals? Or does she not even get a real one? Is this first one just supposed to be a precaution?"
"I don't care that you're angry," Dick tells him coolly, and Wally despises his nonchalance, his evenness, his certainty. "It's not like I wasn't expecting it. But she's going to be fine. She and Kaldur. They knew what they were signing up for."
"That's always your excuse, isn't it?" Wally murmurs, running a hand over his face and through his hair. San Francisco moves across the screen in muted tones. "So it's her fault, then, if something goes wrong. Just like Aquagirlknew the risks."
"Yeah, Wally, maybe it is!" Dick exclaims incredulously, his eyebrows shooting up. "And maybe there's nobody to blame in the event of failure but the bad guys!"
"That's crap," Wally snarls. "That's a load of crap and you know it."
"It's your choice to leave the life behind," Dick says, "but I hope you know by now that it's not hers. Not yet."
"I'm aware, thanks," Wally hisses. "You think I've been with her for five years and I don't know how impossible it would be for her to give it all up? It's temporary. I know I kid myself into wishing it wasn't, but it is. For her and for me. And you're not helping. We were gonna be okay, Dick. We were gonna graduate college and go from there, and we were gonna be okay, together. And now this. Out of nowhere." He finally looks away, his eyebrows clashing together as he strokes Nelson's head. "Maybe it's my fault for… wishing. I didn't blow myself up just so I could decide I didn't want it anymore one day. It's something I'm stuck with. And for a while, it – it was like I had a chance of forgetting."
"You can't forget something like that," Dick murmurs, and his voice sounds sadder than it has all night.
"No," Wally agrees wearily. "Never. She can't, and – and I can't, either. But it… it was nice for a while. It was."
He laughs weakly to himself, staring up at the ceiling and shaking.
"I remember when running around used to feel like it was what I was born to do," he muses. "I remember when it used to be who I was. When it used to be fun. And then – Aquagirl… and Mom and Dad…"
He closes his eyes.
"I didn't want to stay in the gig," he whispers, "if the only thing I did it for anymore was revenge. That is not what I want to become, Dick."
"She's going to be fine," Dick tells him, and Wally almost believes him. "I know we don't ask for the hard parts, but they're as much a part of this life as the easy ones. That's what we've got each other for."
"Aw, cue the strings," Wally mocks, throwing a hand in the air in feigned histrionics.
"I know she can do this," Dick says softly, "and I know you can, too."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Wally opens his eyes again, and they ache in time with his throbbing head.
He feels Dick's arm lift and move over his shoulders, slung across them from behind. Dick moves closer and Wally exhales slowly, realizing he'll have to make breakfast tomorrow, and God, Artemis bought him like ten boxes of Froot Loops yesterday and they laughed about it by the frozen foods section until their sides were sore and he doesn't know what he'll do without her – what'll he tell their professors? Their friends? The neighbors? Hell, what'll he tell himself?
"You're welcome," Dick mutters. "Thanks for not killing me."
"Nah, you kidding?" Wally smirks sadly, and he mirrors Dick, putting his own arm across his best friend's shoulders. "Couldn't live without you, you asshole."
"Feeling's mutual, pal." Dick laughs lightly and they both go quiet and Nelson snores, a gentle humming behind the smooth sounds of the television.
Wally closes his eyes and rests the back of his head against the couch and barely squeezes Dick's shoulder, and for a moment, it's the way it once was; it's the way he remembers – it's falling asleep watching reruns of Celebrity Hockey; it's spending the night at each other's houses and it's staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling next to the poster of the Flash; it's pranking Kaldur and it's late-night sparring and it's burnt popcorn and it's Big Bang Theoryand it's knowing the answers to every question and it's inseparability; it's Kid Flash and it's Robin; it's thinking they knew everything, and it's togetherness, and it's all of the things that made them who they are. For a moment, it's the way it used to be. For a moment – for a single, starving little moment – he misses it so much, and so indescribably, that his breath hitches and his chest jerks and it's the closest he'll let himself come to crying.
But he sleeps, and Dick is as warm as he always is, and maybe it's one step closer to being enough.