My name is Wally West; I'm the fastest man alive, and no one knows it.
Early February: 4 months before the end.
Wally slung his bag over his shoulder and watched the conveyer belt for the sky blue suitcase that his aunt insisted on using when flying. Wally didn't like flying, not that he had many occasions to fly. There was just something about being stuck in what amounted to a big metal box hurtling through the air for several hours that made him uncomfortable. He would have avoided this trip if possible but he didn't have any good reason not to. Iris had insisted, she said it would be fun to get out of the rut he was living in. The bag dropped out of the shoot and Wally pushed forward to grab it before it was out of reach.
He found his aunt still in line for a rental car and joined her. It was another half hour before they finally had a car and were driving towards Star City. The time passed agonizingly slowly; but Wally had had plenty of practice controlling himself. He had been hiding his speed for the past two years, this was just another part of it. He played games in his head to amuse himself and couldn't stop himself from smiling when he mentally rearranged the letters in a few of the airports signs or pictured the woman behind the counter as a robot.
“So, who is it this time?” he asked when they were approaching the city in a tiny blue car that Wally could have done laps around without even trying. He had been along on three such trips before, acting as a cameraman while Iris did her interviews. They were interesting at least, and credit where credit was due, Iris was an amazing reporter. She had a way of zeroing in on interesting tidbits and turning them into award winning stories. Being the Flash's widow didn't hurt matters either. Except for a few pointed calls, the Lords had left her alone, even when other reporters had vanished for writing the same stories. She wasn't quite as daring as Lois Lane had been before Superman had taken her into 'protective custody' but then Central didn't have quite as many crazy happenings as Metropolis. If Iris was going all the way to Star City then there was a story there worth writing.
“Oliver Queen is running for Mayor.” was her cryptic reply.
Wally worked his way through the statement. He knew Oliver Queen had been a very wealthy man until just over a decade ago when an accident had convinced the world of his death. By the time he had reappeared his fortune had been stolen out from under him. Queen's money was old news, and Iris normally didn't write that kind of thing anyway. If it wasn't the history then maybe something new.
“What's his platform?”
“Mostly the usual, but he has made a few big promises. Supporting small businesses, funding higher education, oh and giving voters more power over city spending.” there was a twitch at the corner of her mouth that suggested a smirk.
Wally's mind sped through the facts she had laid out and came to the only conclusion that would make Iris spend two days just to get one interview.
“He's running an anti-Lords campaign?”
“Oh no, he's never said a thing about the Lords.” Iris gave Wally a sly look. “He just wants to help the common man build his own future. That's his slogan.”
Wally grinned. “Oh that's good.”
Iris nodded. “So far he's leading 16% in the polls too. He's a shining example of mankind's ability to rise above adversity even in the darkest of places.” she slipped into her reporters voice for the second half. Technically the statement was true. Queen was showing how even a man who had lost everything could become something, and he was doing it in the city of the infamous Green Arrow. One of the few places in the country where the Lords hold wasn't as strong. Even so the underlying message came through almost painfully clearly.
“Isn't that a bit overt, even for you?”
“Not if he can get elected.”
“That's a big if.”
“The Lords have never interfered with anything below the state level.”
Wally didn't answer. They both knew the arguments backwards and forwards. Iris was convinced that she had to do everything she could. He really couldn't fault her for it, she was doing more then he was, but sometimes her stories triggered actions that might not have been otherwise taken. Overt rebellions were easier to make examples of. Mostly Wally just didn't want to lose anyone else.
There was a silence for a while before they changed the subject. By the time they reached the hotel they were back on good terms.
That night they ordered takeout so Iris could finalize her list of questions for the interview the next day. Wally roamed through the two rooms and flipped channels on the cheep TV until Iris snapped at him to stop distracting her. She smiled as she said it but she meant it all the same. The truth was, Wally was jittery. He hadn't had a chance to let off steam all day what with the plane and the lines and the car. Just because he had made a choice not to use his powers after his uncle had been killed didn't mean they went away. The speed force was still running through his veins and it didn't like being locked up. Wally had learned to control it by calling on the speed only in short bursts. Not that it really helped. The last time he had cut lose had been months ago, and if he ever allowed himself to admit it, he missed the feeling. It was a rush, a runner's high multiplied a thousand times.
“I'll just take a walk.” He grabbed his coat when he saw Iris nod. He needed to be moving so he opted for the stairs rather then the elevator. Soon he was out on the pavement breathing in the smells of the city. He chose a direction and started walking. He wasn't worried about trouble. After going up against people like Captain Cold at the age of 14 ordinary thugs just didn't make the same impression. It might have been years ago but some things just didn't fade with time. Those three years with his uncle still felt like the only time he had been alive.
He stepped out onto the pavement and turned looking both ways down the street before choosing a direction. He wanted to run. He wanted to cut loose, run all the way back to Keystone just to get the half eaten jug of triple chocolate ice cream from his apartment. He could run up to Bludhaven and catch up with Dick, maybe go to that 24 hour doughnut shop. Dick had always been a night person he'd definitely still be up despite the time difference. He might still be able to catch the sunset from Coast City if he hurried. Wally stopped as he reached the corner.
He breathed slowly as he waited for the crosswalk to change. It was always hardest on nights like this. Wally had to remind himself again and again of the reasons not to let himself go supersonic. The Flash was dead. As far as most of the world was concerned he had been the last speedster, and it had to stay that way.
The Lords had made it clear that anyone with powers only had two options: sign up as a lieutenant, or be hunted down. As a speedster, and moreover someone who had a connection to Flash, he would be forced into a lot of terrible things if the Lords ever learned the truth. They thought that the death of his uncle had robed him of his powers either because his powers had come from Barry or because the event was simply that traumatizing. Of course to them it didn't really matter, Kid Flash had never made too much of a name for himself. He had been a child. A fifteen year old superhero wouldn't have been allowed to run around without a mentor. Him loosing his powers had been one less thing for them to worry about. Now though at nearly 18 having him join the Lords would be a political masterstroke. The moment he stepped out of the shadows he would have to chose a side.
The city around him was different from most of the others he had visited, not that he was much of a traveler. Star City just seemed to scream out the differences as if daring you to comment. Most cities, especially the Lord protected ones were clean. Here little things crept in on the edges, a turned over trash can that had spilled into the street. Gutters that were clogged with more then just old leaves, “urban art” covering ally walls and the underside of bridges. It made the city less pleasant, like mold creeping across a wall, and yet it was also a subtle sign of defiance.
The twin cities didn't have that kind of defiance, even though the Lords were rarely seen in Central and Keystone. Instead the people tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. It was like the city had lost it's center when they had lost their hero. They didn't know how to fight back any more.
Green Arrow on the other hand seemed to encourage these subtle defiances. The people in his town knew the truth, thanks in no small part to their personal robin hood.
Wally shook his head trying to clear it. Of all the things he could think of why did it always end up there. He had midterms coming up, why couldn't he be worrying about those. Or he could think about Linda, the girl of his dreams who always sat at the front of his sociology class and as far as he knew, didn't realize he even existed.
Or he could think about the scream that just came from somewhere off to his right.
There are many types of screams. Screams of anger sound very different from screams of fear. This was a scream of pain. Wally considered his options. His first instinct even now after over two years was to help, to run to the rescue. His second thought was to ignore it. Those two years had taught him to hide, to stay safe, to not risk it because the only real hero was dead. Because Flash was dead and there was no point in a Kid Flash without a Flash. Then he thought about how Berry would have reacted to those thoughts. How he would have looked at him with that slightly sad smile and given him a hug before telling him he shouldn't just give up like that.
That lead him to the memory of his aunt Iris at the ceremony they had held. It was small since only the few people who knew Berry was the Flash attended. Everyone else got the other story, witness protection or some ridiculous thing like that. The Lords wouldn't let them have the body. Iris still kept one of Berry's flash rings on a chain around her neck. The way she had looked at him, pulling him close as if he could vanish any second as well.
Wally managed to tear himself away from the memory, forcing himself to consider the options. When it came right down to it there was only one choice to make: help or don't. Everything else, all the variables, fell into one of those two categories. Help or ignore it. Help them or deny the fact that he could help them, and let whatever terrible thing that was happening continue.
Maybe it had to do with his powers but he had never been very good at not doing things.
All his thoughts and hesitations took less then two seconds to proses. His mind had slipped into high gear, and it was a battle to keep his body from doing the same. He made a guess at where the screams were coming from, and managed to stay under 20 MPH as he traced them back to their source. He reached them before first scream had finished echoing off the buildings.
The situation was one that he should have expected.
A young woman, 20 at the oldest, had been pressed against a wall by a man who had to be 30 pounds heaver and several inches taller then she was. He had hold of one of her wrists and there was a red mark across her face from the slap that he was threatening to repeat.
The Lords would never manage to get rid of crime entirely. Even the Lords home cities would never be completely rid of scum. The bad guys just covered their tracks better. Well maybe that wasn't true in Gotham, the bat supposedly spent more time at home then the rest of them. And Superman was good at multitasking and had the x-ray vision, so Metropolis might be as clean as it looked. Everywhere else though, small crimes still went unpunished.
This was one case where Star City's rebellious streak probably wasn't helping. The man hadn't even bothered to cover her mouth so her screams wouldn't attract attention.
Standing in the mouth of the ally Wally could see the man lean forward, speaking in low gruff tones. The girl shrank in on herself. She wasn't screaming anymore, she probably wouldn't have screamed at all if not for the pain. She had that deer in the headlights look that victims got after they retreated into their own minds, just wishing it would go away.
Wally took one step forward then stopped. He felt the need to act, but who exactly was acting?
Wally West had spent the last two years basically in hiding. He got average grades, owned a car that had been in the shop for the last two weeks, ate the same gunk food as everyone else his age and sometimes went to the soccer games on Saturdays. This one act could tear that carefully constructed persona apart at the seams.
Wally West had never been the hero, that had been Kid Flash. KF had been the one who could run faster then sound. He was the hero. Back then nothing could stop them, Flash and Kid Flash, Central and Keystone's ever present protectors. Kid Flash was the one who was needed now, and that was the problem. He had promised himself he would never be Kid Flash again. He had outgrown that identity, leaving it behind along with his speed and his innocence. It was impossible to go back to that.
He stood watching, full of indecision. Unwilling or unable to act. Even with his enhanced thought speed it had to be several minutes before he shook himself out of his introspection. It was the man that triggered it. He wrenched the woman away from the wall dragging her across the ground as her legs gave out.
“Hey, Stop it.” Wally hadn't meant to say anything and now that the words were out he couldn't seem to remember what to do next. The man looked up. At first his expression seemed to be nervous but seeing only a young man rather then some kind of hero boosted his confidence.
It didn't seem like there was anything Wally could do but leave, or no he could stay, he just couldn't fight. He instinctively knew that would be too much, he would slip into old habits and wouldn't be able to stop himself from speeding up. Then again he wasn't sure he would be able to stop himself from speeding up if the guy started beating him either.
When the man saw him hesitating he grew bolder. “Get out of here kid, before you get involved in something nasty.”
Wally shook his head, not really at the man but at himself and his own inability to make one simple little choice. The man didn't know that though, he just saw some strange kid interrupting him and refusing to leave. He looked at the girl who was still whimpering collapsed in a pile of limbs and fake silk. She didn't look like she had the mind left to run even if she was given the chance. Still he didn't seem to like the idea of letting go of her to deal with the annoyance that had shown up in the form of a young man with red hair. Not to mention the longer this all took the higher the chances of someone important coming along.
That fact seemed to dawn on both of them at the same time. Wally fumbled as he tried to retrieve his phone. At the same time, if a degree slower, the man reached under his jacket and grabbed something that had been tucked into the back of his belt. When Wally saw the dull mettle of the gun he nearly bolted. The stakes had just been upped and secret or not he had to act. His left foot came up and forward, ready to launch him into subsonic speed. His mind was calculating his path and how much he would have to slow down to pick the woman up safely, how fast he could go if he didn't want to knock her out with the worst case of whiplash ever experienced.
His heightened perceptions saw the arrow enter his field of vision in what seemed like slow motion. It passed by him not four inches from his left ear. As he pulled back his own speed he realized that the arrow was going a lot faster then it seemed. Only then did his mind get around to working out it's trajectory. The green fletching protruded from the barrel of the man's gun like some strange flower for a fraction of a second before the momentum ripped the gun from his hand.
Wally tried to turn, one foot still in the air, to see where the shot had come from, and only succeeded in losing his balance and stumbling slightly as he tried to regain it. Green arrow, in full robin hood regalia was standing two yards behind him and slightly to the left. Green arrow spared him a glance another arrow already set to the string.
Then the sounds of fighting started up behind him and he couldn't think except to turn around and see what the hell was going on. Another archer, this time in red was pretty efficiently knocking the guy out. With his bow still on his back the red archer threw a pair of punches before shifting back as the man tried to retaliate. Red Arrow waited until the man's arm was fully extended then followed it back with his own fist. He connected just below the mans collar bone, the force sending him stumbling back into the wall of the ally and down. Red Arrow stood over the man, glaring down at him and just daring him to even try to get back up.
Only then did Wally realize he wasn't needed. The man may not have been unconscious, but he was certainly beaten, and with two heroes on the scene he had gone back to bystander status. That was almost as much of a shock as the gun had been, and suddenly he was stumbling sideways and leaning against the wall himself.
What had he been thinking? He had been about to toss the last two years in hiding out the window, and that was the real answer, he hadn't been thinking. Why on earth had it taken him that long to simply reach for his phone? The whole standoff could have been avoided if he had just called 911 when he first heard the scream. Green Arrow was the only reason he wasn't already looking over his shoulder for a bat shaped shadow that would signal the end.
“You ok?” Wally looked at the hand on his shoulder and honestly didn't know how to react. Was he supposed to be in awe of the hero? Or maybe he should act afraid, after all this particular hero was a renegade against the Lords. Inexplicably the only thoughts he could manage to summon were a couple old stories that his uncle Hal had told him about when he and Arrow had gone on a crazy road trip across the country.
“Yeah,” Wally finally managed to say. He pushed himself back into a proper standing position. “I didn't expect you to show up like that.” well it was an honest answer at least. He looked from Green Arrow to Red Arrow to the girl who was looking at the two heroes with an unbelieving, shocked look plastered on her face.
If he was honest this was the closest he had come to that world, the world of heroes and villains and damsels in distress since his decision to leave it. He wanted to smile, laugh, assure them that he had it covered but thanks for the help anyway. While at the same time he wanted to whimper in pain because he knew he couldn't laugh with them.
“I should go.” his voice was flat and he managed to keep most of his emotions hidden. “Thanks for... thanks” He turned and slowly walked away, letting them see every step he took. His speed heading back to the hotel was what other people might consider a slow jog. To Wally it felt like a snails pace but he didn't even consider speeding up.
~ * ~
The two heroes watched him go. Red Arrow sent a stray kick at the man by his feet when the dreg tried to crawl away. He pulled a length of cord from his belt and tied the man up tighter then really necessary. When he stood he found GA still looking after the red haired young man.
“What? Did I miss something?”
“No, I just thought he looked familiar.” he shook his head to clear it and turned to the young woman. With Red Arrow rolling his eyes, Green Arrow turned on the charm and assured the lady that he wouldn't let anyone hurt her.
Red Arrow looked after the red haired stranger. He had to admit, there had been something about him, A look just before Ollie had fired. There was no way Ollie had seen it since he had been behind the stranger. Roy would remember that look, even if he didn't know what it meant.