Wally West had promised Linda that for once he'd be good this year.
To make doubly sure of his word she'd even made him take the same vow while dressed as The Flash.
He'd readily done so.
So why didn't Linda feel reassured after that?
The coast was clear.
With a childlike grin of smugness on his face and a jaunty angle to his battered leather hat, the famed adventurer known as 'Nebraska' Wally dared tread into the taboo-ridden No-Mans Land which was otherwise known as...
The Kitchen [capitalization and dramatic sound effects of Impending Doom required] had been High Priestess Linda's declared domain ever since they had moved the tribe into their suburban home, but as far as Wally was concerned it was occupied territory because what right did even a High Priestess have to claim the sacred Temple of Pantry and the Even More Sacred Cookie Jar just because they were located in The Kitchen where resided the Holy of Holies (aka the Refrigerator)? Was he not the one who used most of its contents for the daily ritual sacrifices due to the gods named Fast Metabolism and The Speed Force?
So he had a right to look around.
In any case, today's skulk...eh, excursion...was not the usual Adventure of Nebraska Wally & The Temple of Doomesticity. No, this time it was all about seeking another kind of treasure than the usual The Pearl of Tapioca or The Ceramic Ark of Confectioner's Sugar (as compelling as those savory items were.)
Pantry doors -lent speed to their hinges in the hopes of dissuading any guardian spirits squeaking in protest to their High Priestess of The Kitchen's ear- opened to reveal a rich grandeur that rivaled that of King Tut's Tomb:
Vacuum-Sealed Packages Rife With Artificial Everything.
The mere sight pf such glory would have been enough to make the average adventurer collapse into a puddle of drool, so it was a given that if the persons of one Wally West or a Flash had been around either would surely have been tempted by such profuse bounty so close to his fingertips and scarfed it down thus tripping into the nefarious Priestess's trap by falling prey to a temporary diabetic coma.
(Evil, evil, cunning Priestess!)
Fortunately, neither of those guys were here today and Nebraska Wally had an iron will. Nebraska Wally could laugh off temptation and ignore it all.
(Except for maybe that one brown-glass bottle of a specialty liquid because sometimes Nebraska Wally liked to indulge in a little nip of 'fortitude' as it were. Any quick energy burst that aided in an even quicker get away from Starch Trek II: The Wrath of Linda...well, Nebraska reasoned that would not be a bad thing, either.)
Something tinsel-bright caught the explorer's keen eye as he was tucking the dark bottle close to his chest and it wasn't from a candy wrapper. Cautiously, Nebraska moved in to investigate.
Ah...there it was! The object of his search. (Cagily hidden behind the last thing any sane person with functional taste buds would take a second glance at let alone reach for.
Did he mention that The High Priestess was both evil and sneaky?)
The fastest fingers in the West household quickly and carefully undid the protective straps and covers in order to slide open the box. (You never knew what might be booby trapped in The Temple as past adventures had proven.) He peeked inside, ready to be dazzled anew.
No! No! It couldn't be! The treasure he'd been seeking was cursed? What foul demigod of nefariousness had wrought this tragic denouement?
"Wally, is that you in the kitchen?"
Galvanized by an urgent sense of self preservation, the speedster...uh, Nebraska Wally...hurried to get the box back into it's pre-vandalized condition and returned to it's place behind the concealing carton of healthy rice cakes before his long-time arch rival, The High Priestess of The Temple of Doomesticity, arrived to throw him into the dungeon of Couch'd Enforced Chastity for daring to trespass...
He could already hear her thunderous footfalls like a rolling boulder of death cascading down the stairs to squash his escape. No worries. All he needed was another second and that nip of-
"Dad, why are you dressed like Indiana Jones and guzzling down the maple syrup?"
Crap! Caught red handed!
(Damn it! He'd spied Jai and his sister in the family room, but had forgotten that the The High Priestess's snoopy daughter, Irey a.k.a. The Big Mouthed Snitch could phase through walls! Oh, the ignominy of it all!)
Linda studied her husband, her narrowing eyes clearly noting his proximity to the food stores. Wally's smile of innocence at her merely deepened her suspicion. Conscious of their daughter's watchful gaze, she sent Irey to her room before letting her husband have it with both barrels.
"You just can't let it go, can you? Every year -every single year during every single special day- you have to go and ruin it!"
Wally tried to frown with an air of justifiable confusion. He knew it was useless though.
It was like some sort of supernatural instinct his adversaries shared: Linda could spot a lie like J'onn could spot an Oreo accidentally sent adrift in space.
The only recourse he had was to...fib some more.
"I don't know what you mean." A beverage appeared in his hand as if by magic. "I merely came in here for a glass of refreshing water seeing as how the temperature today is a sweltering. You know, staying hydrated is an important-"
"Can it." Linda shoved him roughly aside in order to remove what he'd just put back. "Sweltering, he says..." she muttered under her breath "...in the dead of winter. Right. I swear, if you've opened your birthday present early again..." She checked the gift wrapping and the bows...closely observing the adherence qualities and positions of the the cellophane tape rectangles all while Wally twitched in silence. Everything looked in order, but she knew better than to rely on surface appearances.
Mainly because she'd known Wally for years.
"Looks okay," she breathed out in an distrusting manner. Her husband was by no means perfect, but he did learn from his mistakes...eventually. It was getting tougher staying ahead of The Fastest Over-aged Kid Alive.
"Why wouldn't it be okay?" He glanced to the side, unable to meet her eyes.
"Because my other half has the patience of..." she sighed and tucked the gift somewhat more safely under one arm. (God knew Wally was capable even now of snatching it away.) "I really have nothing to compare you with. Unfortunately, How To Deal With Hyper Super Heroes was never an elective class in school. Anyway it probably wouldn't have helped: you're in a league all of your own." She mulled that over. "Well, there is Superman. Ma Kent told me some stories about that man and the need for lead-lined gift wrap during Christmas and birthdays. Lucky woman; at least Clark has enough honesty in his bones to stop him from actually opening and then re-wrapping a gift in the blink of an eye before claiming nothing happened."
Dismayed in more ways than one, Wally watched her leave with his present safely in tow.
Not that the gift mattered any more to him.
It being cursed and all.
"I'd wish you a happy birthday, but something about that massive frown on your face tells me it's too late for the first part of such a sentiment."
"Linda hates me, Jay."
The decorated JSA member diplomatically chuckled a little at that. Linda and Wally had their spats just like any other couple, but at the foundation of their relationship was a love that defied even the likes of Necron's machinations to stamp it out. The younger Flash knew that, but tended to be a bit melodramatic about things: regularly making mountains out of molehills.
"I doubt that, Junior. Maybe she is angry and upset with you right now. You can be somewhat trying at times. It will pass."
Jay glanced back and smiled indulgently at his own wife who was busy baking in the house. He'd promised Joan that he'd keep their hyper visitor away from her kitchen even if he had to tackle the boy with his old college football move before Wally reached the cookies she was trying to get baked for her church gathering. If he failed in his unforeseen mission...it was the couch tonight.
At Garrick's age his back teamed up with his libido in insisting that the couch was best to be avoided.
"She got me underwear for my birthday present," his visitor whined.
"Not unheard of." Jay tried to look encouraging even though he really wished Wally would be a bit less forthright about all the aspects of his marriage. You didn't see him sharing about how Joan liked the bathroom paper positioned one way while he preferred the opposite. Some things were meant to be private.
"Maybe you didn't catch that. I said underwear" Wally repeated the horrid word. "U.N.D.E.R.W.E.A.R. It wasn't even the sexy kind."
"Practical woman, your wife." Jay nodded sagely. Really, what was he supposed to say to such an open declaration regarding what in his day were called 'unmentionables' for a reason?
"Discounting the obligatory doddering relatives, nobody's that practical," Wally pointed out. He kicked forlornly at a tree stump. "This can only be the sign of one thing: she's bored with me, Jay. Our marriage is in trouble."
"Son, nobody could ever be bored by you." Only Impulse was more...more... What was the right word?
"I mean it, Jay! Next thing you know she'll be trimming divorce papers into a broken-heart shaped card for Valentines Day."
Certifiable; that was the word.
"Junior, don't go assuming..."
"I'm as fat-free mayo on white bread to my wife and I don't mean the Wonder brand kind."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that...exactly." Garrick took a deep breath and wished he'd had a chance to purloin a nip of maple syrup before Mrs. Garrick had hastily shoved him outside with warnings to forestall West's eating away hours of hard baking in less than five seconds. He rigorously pushed down omninous visions of The Couch. "Son..."
"Got to do something to show her what she's going to miss and quickly before she calls a lawyer." Wally blithely went on. "But what?"
"Son, just calm down. Stop and smell the..."
Wally's nose twitched.
Jay bunched his legs in preparation for the famous Garrick defensive tackle.
It was unfortunate that Wally just happened to be a mainline of the Speed Force. Before he knew it Barry's impetuous legacy was holding at least a dozen of Joan's prized ginger-spice cookies.
Not counting the ones already stuffed in his cheeks.
"Smell the ginger! Add some spice to my sexiness repertoire...that's a great idea, Jay! Knew I could count on you for advice. Thanks!" He took off, leaving the original Flash to face the music.
"...roses for a moment before you go off half cocked and leave me in the lurch." Jay finished his sentence to the empty air. Maybe his own wife was in a forgiving mood? It was the boy's birthday after all and he really never meant to cause any...
"Jason Peter Garrick, you are sleeping on the couch tonight!"
Intent on her vacuuming, it took Linda a few moments to notice, but once she did he had her complete attention. She calmly turned off the vacuum and wondered why her parents hadn't warned her about hooking up with impetuous boyfriends.
"Wally, why are lying on our bed, at noon, in nothing but your birthday suit?
"It's my birthday."
He had her there.
"And the strategically placed fig leaf?" She gestured at the freshly picked bit of greenery that was barely covering his...uh...frontal assets.
Wally glanced down...er...sideways at the leaf. "You don't like it? I can switch it to a maple or a banana one if you prefer, but I was kind of going for a theme: First boy, first girl...first discoveries." He playfully waggled his eyebrows.
The cheeky grin grew wider. "I was hoping you'd say something like that."
Linda pinched her nose as she reminded herself that she loved the man no matter how difficult at times he made it for her.
"Just...get off of the bed. That fig leaf is dropping sticky sap onto the sheets and now I'll have to wash and dry them before tonight."
With a heavy sigh, the Sultan of Speed (but to his dismay minus a harem of even one doting female it would seem) complied with her wishes.
"I bet Adam never had this problem with Eve dissing his sports wardrobe before the Fall playoffs."
Linda glared at him.
"If Adam had been a speedster like you then it's a given that Eve was hovering around that Forbidden Fruit in the first place because it was the only food left in the entire Garden of Eden. Off, mister!" She gave the bottom sheet a yank, forcing him to vacate the bed.
"And for heaven's sake stay away from the windows until you're dressedas Flash and not a flasher!"
Max Mercury, speedster in body yet philosopher in mind, watched as stone after stone was sent speed skipping all the way over to land on the Missourian side of the river's shoreline. He sat down next to his friend. Instead of greeting him, Wally frowned and kept his gaze on the water.
"Afternoon, birthday boy," Max congenially greeted despite the younger man's taciturn rudeness. "Talked with Jay today. Apparently, he's decided to fight with the JSA against The Rainbow Raider rather than go with Joan to her church event seeing as she's in a bit of a bad mood." The red head remained silent. "Seems to be a bit of a contagious problem of late." More studious silence from the red head. "Are you still going by the same legal name or should I now refer to you as ex-Mrs. Linda Park?"
Wally snorted rather churlishly; idly choosing another stone to toss into the river. He fingered the smooth surface for a moment before sending it skidding over the river. "She thought my love making was too sappy."
"That's why the florists always recommend roses for when the ladies are unhappy."
"Those would have been too thorny of a problem not to mention not nearly big enough."
A moment passed. Then another. Max kept his peace knowing that he had far more patience than West did. The boy would eventually start spilling his guts. Sure enough, Flash III let his body fall back against the grass as he half-turned towards Mercury. His green eyes were pained and revealed the worry behind his bad mood.
"I'm losing her, Max."
"You're losing something," Max readily agreed, "just don't think it's Linda in particular." The aged speedster looked up and tracked the slow progress of a cloud hanging in the atmosphere. Contrary to the dark one hanging over the head of West, this one was white and whispy.
Super speed didn't help when it came to cloud watching; however, Max liked to take things slow when speed wasn't necessary. Just because you were capable of being fast didn't mean that you had to live as if in a race 24/7. Wally had trouble with that concept. So did his ward, Bart Allen. Bart and Wally were a lot alike. (The young were so impetuous while the elderly took things in stride. You'd think it would be the reverse with those who knew they didn't have much time left being the ones frantically trying to do everything at once.)
"Do you recall last year?"
Wally grunted. He really wasn't in the mood for cryptic advice from the Zen Master of Ambiguity and was tempted to get up and run somewhere else so that he could indulge in a well-earned pout. Max, though... Max could never just leave him to wallow in a good sulk. The old speedster had a thing against gloomy contemplation like it was a malady that had to be snuffed out. Max was also harder to shake than a ninja when he was dead set on dispensing Geezer Wisdom. It was downright annoying. On the other hand, Max's advise always seemed to pan out okay. Wally decided to stick around a bit more.
"Specifically or generally?" he asked.
"Your last birthday."
"Oh." Wally hunched in on himself as memory took over.
He hated watching downbeat Remember When? reruns.
Flashback: One Year Previous
"-the hell?" Linda fought her way downstairs against the rising cacophony of searing sounds and blinding lights. It didn't take a detective to piece together what must have happened. To say she was upset was an understatement.
"I WARNED YOU, WALLY!" she screamed. (She had to in order to be heard over the noise.) KEEP YOUR FIDGETY MITTS OFF YOUR PRESENT THIS YEAR OR I'D DO SOMETHING DRASTIC! BUT YOU DIDN'T LISTEN!"
Sure enough her frazzled looking husband was holding a half-unwrapped and colorful package in his hands like it was a bomb that was about to go off.
If only it hadn't already done so.
"I SWEAR I DIDN'T TOUCH IT!" he yelled back.
The "WHOOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP-WEEEWAAAA-WEEWAAA-WHOOOP-WHOOOP-WHOOP-WEEWAA...WHRPP!...WHIRPP!" alarm continued unabated while husband and wife contemplated on how incompetent a liar Wally could be.
"OKAY, SO I TRIED TO TAKE A TEENSY-WHEENSY PEEK! BUT HIRING BRUCE TO RIG THE BOX WITH AN INTERNAL SPEED MOTION DETECTOR AND ENOUGH BOOMING SIRENS AND ALARM LIGHTS TO WAKE UP EVEN BART BEFORE SIX IN THE MORNING WASN'T JUST A 'DRASTIC' ACTION, LINDA...THAT WAS ARKHAM LEVEL INSANE!"
"IF I'M INSANE THEN YOU AND YOUR DAMNED IMPATIENCE DROVE ME OVER THE BRINK!" Linda yelled back over the din. "EVERY YEAR! EVERY GODDAMNED YEAR YOU'VE SPOILED THE SURPRISE! WHAT'S INSIDE THE PACKAGE IS SUPPOSED TO BE A MYSTERY BEFORE THE GIVER ACTUALLY HANDS THEM OVER TO THE RECIPIENT, IDIOT!"
"WELL, THIS YEAR'S GIFT SURE QUALIFIED AS A SURPRISE!" a temperamental Wally snapped before he could stop himself.
That remark earned him a punch on the shoulder. He rubbed at it.
Hyper metabolism or not, Linda packed a mean right.
"OH, YOU ARE GOING TO REGRET THAT, MISTER! I FINALLY GOT THE BABIES TO SLEEP AND NOW THEY'RE LIKELY CRYING THEIR EYES OUT IN TERROR. NOT THAT ANYONE COULD HEAR THEM! NOW, SHUT THAT BOX UP BEFORE THE WHOLE STATE FINES US FOR NOISE POLLUTION!"
"WHAT DO YOU THINK I'VE BEEN TRYING TO DO FOR THE LAST 15 SECONDS WHILE MY EARS HAVE BEEN BLEEDING?!" He shook the box in her direction. "IN CASE IT ESCAPED YOUR MIND, YOU HIRED BATMAN TO WRAP MY PRESENT! BATMAN! HE WHO IS TOO PARANOID TO PUT IN AN OBVIOUS OFF SWITCH OR SUPPLY DISMANTLING INSTRUCTIONS -AND- WHO IS OUT OF SYSTEM FOR THE NEXT WEEK HELPING GREEN LANTERN COMBAT DESTROS!"
"..." Another moment went by while the loving couple considered how much trouble they'd be in with The Bat Family for boobytrapping a famous Gotham resident's man cave in retaliation for grievances received.
"THAT DOES IT, I'M CALLING THE WAYNE ESTATE AND ASKING ALFRED FOR HELP!" Linda headed for her phone leaving Wally to mutter obscenities at his white-elephant gift.
"BETTER TRY TEXTING INSTEAD BECAUSE OTHERWISE HE'S GOING TO BE DEAF LIKE THE REST OF US! (All this because my stupid wife doesn't trust me.") Wally first yelled back and then decided to end it in a whisper.
Fat lot of good it did him.
"I HEARD THAT! YOU'RE SLEEPING IN THE CARPORT TONIGHT -IF- YOU'RE LUCKY!"
"WHOOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP-WEEEWAAAA-WEEWAAA-WHOOOP...Whhooo...wooooo...ooo...waaaa!" Wally glared after his present as it disappeared down the cavernous throat of Mount Vesuvius.
"Linda wouldn't play snuggle bunnies with me for a week after that and I never did find out what she got me." Wally sighed. He threw another rock; both men winced when it hit the (luckily) overly-plump rump of a large and well-fed duck -which promptly imparted it's fowl barrage of undoubtedly insulting commentary their way. They watched it's indignant flight to other realms where neither rocks nor birds were being molested by frustrated speedsters.
"Be that as it may, you can see why she's a bit perturbed that you were trying to peek again this year." Max continued after the last angry "quack" was out of earshot.
"I can't help it. Time moves so slow and wrapped presents are like...wild animals begging to be set free."
"Wild animals?" the acrobat/guru lifted a snowy eyebrow.
"I was going to say something more risque yet appropriate regarding women and Victoria's Secret," Wally admitted,"but you and Jay are a bit on the prudish side."
"I see. If you don't want to be 'set free' then this old fogey suggests you stop trying to circumvent the natural progression of birthdays and wait until the gift is actually given to you. In the meantime, enjoy your BVD's."
The Flash's green eyes went wide. "How did you know what she...?"
Max gave him his patent mysterious smile. "I'm a meditation master with high connections to the mystical world of..." Wally narrowed his eyes, obviously not buying his Inscrutable Guru bull today. With a sigh, Max owned up.
"Batman told me."
Linda had been worried when Wally had taken off. She knew he'd been upset about the gift and he tended to do strange things when feeling agitated. So far the news reports were bland. No calls about Captain Cold or Mirror Master battling The Flash in downtown Central City. No peculiar storms creating weird designs like comic strip profanity symbols in the desert sands of the Sahara.
The sound of classic rock & roll music played a few notches too high came from upstairs. Linda looked towards the ceiling. The kids were off at school, so it could only be Wally returned from wherever he had taken off to earlier today to do his sulking. She rolled her eyes and headed towards her bedroom, ready to face his tetchiness and demand a lower volume.
It was her husband, all right.
He was clad in a pair of white underwear as Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys rattled the windows. (Well, they would have been white if the BVD's had not been decorated with Jai's finger paints to look like a pair of Hawaiian shorts.)
"I see your enjoying my gift a bit early?" She cocked an eyebrow at the transformed male briefs (or as Jay and Joan would say 'unmentionables'.)
"So? Evidence to the contrary, the day is young and so am I." Wally slowed his carefree dancing around an inflatable palm tree and pink flamingo. The whole bedroom was decked out with kitschy beach-themed party goods.
"Evidence to the contrary? What evidence? You still act like your five." Linda stifled a giggle at the sight of him gyrating about the room with his 'air ukulele'. "I suppose it is an improvement over the fig leaf," she mused, recalling his earlier stunt. "Still sappy, but no actual sap..unless you count the two-legged variety."
"The Book of Genesis was so yesterday." Wally agreed, ditching his imaginary instrument as he 'swam' over to her. (Or maybe he still considered himself to be dancing. Linda wasn't sure.) "I'm a modern type of guy."
"Beach Boys are modern?"
"Yep. Downright timeless," he assured her.
"Linda?" Wally smiled a bit nervously as he stopped at the threshold to stand before her. "I want to apologize...for being...you know...me."
"You certainly are you," Linda coughed, trying to hold onto her stern demeanor. "And...?"
"And what?" He looked clueless. She didn't know whether to hug him or bop him for not immediately understanding what she meant.
"No more skulking about trying to spoil surprises?" she hinted.
"Deal -if you promise that a certain Dark Knight won't know anything about my future birthday presents before I do?" He was still pretty upset about that.
"Keep things from The World's Greatest Detective? Who do you think you married...Wonder Woman? I'm only a mortal human female, not some deity."
Wally had to concede her point: Batman usually knew stuff before anyone.
Strong arms wrapped around the former news reporter. She did her best not to melt at his smile.
Was it her fault that Wally had the sunniest smile?
"Nah, you're my Beach Baby. Wanna surf my waves?" He adopted the classic Mr. Atlas pose before sending his muscles rippling.
"I've seen bigger waves at the kiddie pool." She laughed; his face fell into a pout.
"I'm not forgiven?"
Still giggling, Linda laid her arms around his neck. "Let's just say you're heading in the right direction. I'm definitely picking up good vibrations." She was, too. Pretty strong ones.
"Naturally...seeing as you're giving me excitations." His sunny smile returned only to morph into an expectant leer. "I ask again... wanna...?" he gestured with his chin towards their bed.
Linda squeezed him right on a prominent flowery motif as she maneuvered to kick the door closed behind her.
"Happy Birthday, Beach Boy."
Gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations a'happening with you...