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an ever-fixèd mark

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Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark

That looks on tempests (and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand'ring bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

~William Shakespeare


 

DAY 7 – Never Shaken

The year is 2016.


APRIL 22, 12:30 PDT.

Olsen Strip Mall in Palo Alto, California. In front of CoffeeHut, a worldwide coffee house chain, two people are quarreling.

One has lemon bits in his hair and the other is crying. That's a bit confusing. So let's start a week prior to the incident.


APRIL 15, 16:25 PDT, FRIDAY

"I have to take Art?" Wally West nearly shouts at his college advisor who winces at the sudden volume. "Dr. Lee," the speedster continues. "I'm a Physics major. Why on earth would I have to take art?!"

"Mr. West," murmurs the weathered Korean professor from his spot in his large leather swivel chair, "Art is the noted to be the least burdening elective and Stanford requires at least 2 credits in an elective for graduation. This is a liberal arts college, after all."

Wally immediately regrets trying to get a liberal arts degree.

But it was his fault. He knows that.

He insisted that he and Artemis attend the same school and Palo Alto had the only college on the West coast that offers majors in Physics for him and Public Policy for her. He insisted that they live as far away from the Happy Harbor and anything dealing with the Justice League as possible. He insisted and he knew.

"I know this is a difficult time for you. And I want to remind you that the possibility of you taking the rest of the year off is completely acceptable considering the circumstances."

Wally glances off to the side, his brows furrowing.

Mrs. Nguyen-Crock informed the school a couple weeks ago about the (supposed) passing of her daughter. The whole Counseling Center chased after Wally until that point. In fact, the lack of a shrink in his advisor's room surprised him.

"No." Wally mutters. "Artemis would have wanted this. And there's only 3 months left. She would've wanted me to finish."

Really meaning, that she (Artemis) wants (present tense) him to graduate no matter what. She made a point of it before she went on her "suicide" mission.

The professor leans over to uncharacteristically place a comforting hand on Wally's shoulder.

Wally cringes on the inside. He hates this.

Thoroughly.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Art's the only requirement I have left?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Is there a quarter class that I can take for that?"

"Hmmm, here's a list of quarters you can take that will satisfy the requirement."

The Physics professor gingerly takes a sheet of paper off of his desk and hands him it to him.

"Thanks, Dr. Lee." Wally says as he takes it and quickly scans over the various courses.

ART 202 Painting. 'No, I can't even finger-paint well.'

ART 204 Community Art. 'The hours conflict. So no.'

ART 307 Survey of Religious Art. 'Hell No.'

"I highly recommend the Photography and Culture class, it's an experimental course," Dr. Lee mutters.

Wally looks down to the 5th listing on the paper. It seems reasonable enough.

'Photography couldn't be that hard. Could it? And who doesn't understand culture?'

"I can do the hours."

"Great. I'll take care of it for you. Will you be fine if you start on Monday?" The professor asks as he swivels his chair towards his desk to handle the logistics on the computer.

Wally releases a slow "Yeah" in response.


APRIL 18, 14:00 PDT, MONDAY

Wally saunters over to the Art Department, not looking forward to the class at all. Actually walking into the room makes the feeling even worse.

Why?

He's the minority. "Minority" meaning that he was the only Caucasian male in the room. Filled with every other race other than his own, the art class of only 12 female students stares him down. He notices another defining characteristic of his new art class.

"Hipsters," he mutters bitterly.

He had hoped those had died out with the fad 3 years ago. 'GreatI should have seen that one coming. It is an art class,' he thinks to himself.

"Wally West?" a demure woman with spectacles and a quirky sweater vest asks. Definitely the prof.

Wally nods.

"Welcome to Photography and Culture!"

"...Thanks."

"Lucky for you, we haven't gone too far in course material and don't worry about making up last month's assignments. We just want this to be a comfortable environment that fosters artistic inspiration and expression," the professor smiles at him.

Wally forces a half-smile back.

"Yeah." He takes a syllabus from her and finds a seat in the back.

The lecture remains interesting enough for a meager span of 7 minutes. Only 73 to go.

Dr. Tanaka, who – not all that surprisingly – is Japanese, divulges a brief history of Hispanic art and its translation into an American context. With a slight and slow accent, she pronounces each English and Spanish word purposefully.

'Why am I here?' Wally moans silently and slouches into the chair almost until his chin is level with desk portion of the chair. Soon those questions turn into 'I am going to die.'

Eternity passes and the clock finally clicks into "3:20."

Everyone rises; the sound of shuffling papers and zipping backpacks overpowers the last couple comments Dr. Tanaka makes on Frida Kahlo.

"Don't forget! You and your partners need to have the rough drafts of your projects turned in by next week!"

Wally pauses as he is about to cross the threshold to his freedom. He spins on his heels and takes a few steps toward the professor.

"There's a partner project?"

"Yes, a fairly big one. One that requires you to use environment as your inspiration! 35% of your grade."

Wally's mouth almost drops to the ground. "But I just –"

"Oh, yes. There is the problem of your partner. Well..."

'It's more of a problem of me actually wanting to do it.' He inwardly groans.

"Oh, I know! I can pair you with my T.A. She's a wonderful girl. Here for graduate studies."

"In art?"

"Oh no, in Communications and something else strange. Criminal Minds was it?"

"Criminal Justice? Criminal Minds was a show that ended a couple years ago. Criminal Justice is a I.S. under Public Policy," Wally noted.

"Oh ho," she laughs slowly and nods just as slowly. "How about I give you her email. Hmm?"

"Sure."

Dr. Tanaka grins at him, her eyes folding into perfect little slits. She hums as she takes out a scrap piece of paper and scribbles down a slur of letters.

'Great.'


DAY 7

'Are you here yet? I'm standing in front of CoffeeHut.' Linda types into her XPhone 9 while tapping her foot impatiently.

The California air swelters around her. She's too used to Midwestern weather. She glances behind her at the CoffeeHut and its glorious air-conditioned rooms behind her. She eyes the poster on its glass walls saying: "Think Coffee & Co. is better? Try an espresso shot for free and figure it out for yourself!"

Then she glances dejectedly at her tumbler that had their competitor's label pasted on it in huge letters.

'It's not my fault I worked at Coffee & Co.' she says to herself as she takes a sip. 'Why am I so concerned about this? I should just go in and sit in the AC. It's a free country...yeah, I'm going to...nooo...I'm not. I'm the type of person who buys fries at a burger joint just to use their bathroom. Ugh, why am I so polite? Why do I have to be Asian in this capacity? Why is it always so hot in California? Summer everyday is fine but gosh the heat is going to kill me before my advisor does.'

She looks down at her tumbler full of Lemon Honey tea. Maybe that was the reason for her heightened temperature. But she could not go without a day without this tea. This tea made her happy. It made life worth living. Whenever she would take one sip of this sweet nectar of life she would feel as though making the decision to TA an art class while taking two graduate courses at Stanford wasn't too horrible of an idea.

"Park?"

Linda spins around to see a familiar face. Her eyes widen. "West?!" She taps the send button.

Wally approaches her with skepticism and forced adherence to the societal convention of making small talk.

"Why are you in California?"

"I'm -," The sound of Wally's text tone interrupts her. She makes the connection as he pulls out his phone. With a humored smile, she extends her hand to him. "I'm your TA, Mr. 'wallman-at-jlu-dot-com'."

Wally half-heartedly returns the humored smile, while trying to forget the fact that he still uses the email address he made in the ninth grade and shakes her hand.

"I didn't give you my name, did I? Ms. 'kyungah-park-at-keynote-dot-com'. Since when do you go by your Korean name?"

"Since I dumped Rick." She explains.

"...Oh."

"Yeah," she chirps.

"How is he?"

Linda shot him a piercing but amused look. "I just informed you that I dumped my now ex-fiancé and 'How is he?' comes out of your mouth?" She takes a sip of her tea and smiles at him sardonically. 

"Excuse me for trying to make conversation," Wally retorts angrily and unnecessarily, leaning in for emphasis.

"Well, I see that you haven't outgrown your relapse into immaturity," Linda frowns.

"Well, I can see that you haven't outgrown your I-am-better-than-anyone-and-anything attitude."

She scoffs and takes a sip of her tea. "How Artemis fell for a guy like you, I cannot understand."

"Artemis died." Wally spits back with complete derision.

Linda's face freezes in horror and she faces him with wide eyes.

Her hand quickly goes up to cover her open mouth.

Wally glances away angrily towards the ground, upset that he had to resort to lying to get the upper hand in a juvenile argument.

"West. I - ." Linda stares at him woefully. "I'm sorry. I really am," she continues, "I didn't know and if I did I would not have said that. I really am sorry."

"Sure you are." he says curtly then turns to walk away from her. Obviously, he didn't mean any of that but he wasn't going to forgive her.

She didn't deserve his forgiveness, walking around thinking that she was better than everyone.

He felt horribly justified as he stalked down the sidewalk.

"새끼야!" Wally hears Linda scream from behind him, then felt a thud to the head and lukewarm liquid flowing from his hair.

He paused, having the realization slowly dawn on him that his TA had just thrown her tumbler full of tea at his head.

"She didn't." he tells himself as he touches his hair to make sure.

She did.

He glowers and whips himself around, ready for a verbal and maybe even physical confrontation. But she beats him to it.

"Look here, you arrogant carrot-top! I gave you an olive branch – and I meant it – and you threw it on the ground and spat on it, you 바보."

"I really don't appreciate you using another language to insult me. I actually know some Korean and you-"

"I'M. NOT. DONE. YET."

He quickly becomes silent.

"Frankly, West, I know it's hard but if you think that your girlfriend dying gives you leeway for being an absolute ass – you're wrong."

Wally performs a double take.

"Do you really think that you're the only one who deals with that kind of stuff? You know you aren't and you know what I went through. You…YOU...You didn't have to see her... right in front of you. You didn't have to hold her as she-. F*ck."

Her voice breaks and Wally's pride and soul crumble along with it. She grasps the warm California air with desperate hands and almost instantly, the warm California air becomes frigid.

Linda breathes deeply and perseveres to mutter out the rest of her tirade but all that comes out are brief phrases of utter grief. "I didn't want - Damn it - I thought I was done with this - but her body...her baby… " she stops, unable to say anymore.

She looks up from her grief and glares at him with her dark almond eyes filled with tears. With forced articulation, "You aren't the only one who deals with death. You -,"

She reaches the precipice and it's too much. She breaks again and tears start to flow.

She and Wally stand in a complete stupor, both caught off guard by her crying.

'She didn't even cry at her funeral.' Wally thinks to himself as he quickly and surprisingly (to himself, mostly) wraps his arms around her in an awkward but comforting embrace. The cold air slowly dissipates with the sudden warmth.

He doesn't say anything.

He couldn't. He knew that.

His eyebrows furrow at the thought. No matter how much he justified his actions, he had nothing over Park now with this random confession of hers. He didn't have the right to treat her as rudely as he had.

After all, Artemis was still alive. In fact, everyone he held close was alive and well, despite dancing dangerously close to death. All his problems remained with the living. Linda, on the other hand, dealt with so much death and yet could live life as she has.

"God. This is embarrassing." Linda murmurs as she wipes her tears away with one hand and gently pushes Wally away with the other.

"Park..." he grabs his hair, remembers that it's wet and tries to think of something else to say.

"Please don't say 'I'm sorry'. That's my line." She smiles weakly. "I was being just as rude."

He attempts a smirk. "I was still being an ass."

Then a silence descends upon them and Linda runs her hand through her long dark hair. They both glance to and fro, noticing that they obtained curious glances with his tea hair and her sobbing.

Water. Water.

Wally blushes sheepishly and half-expects Linda to do the same, but instead she glowers at their observers, forcing them to turn their glances elsewhere.

Linda Park does not blush. But she doesn't cry either.

She forcibly rubs the leftover moisture from her eyes and straightens herself out. 

"You're not a typical Korean girl, huh?" Wally asks.

Linda then focuses her glower on him, wondering whether or not to disregard his slightly racist and sexist comment. She decides not to open another can of worms and starts walking down the street while stating: "Let's get out of here."


A couple hours later, they sit on a park bench and flip through the photos on Linda's camera.

"That's a good one." Wally comments on the one they took at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

"West." Linda's tone suddenly acquires a seriousness that catches Wally off guard. "Can I ask what happened to her?"

"To who?"

"...Artemis?"

"Oh. Well." Wally huffs. He meets Linda's concerned and confounded gaze as his thoughts scatter. 'Geez. I really don't want to have to lie anymore. Everyone keeps treating me differently and it kills me because she isn't even dead."

"What? Wait... What?!"

His eyes go wide.

"Did I just say that aloud?"

She just blinks.

He blinks back and makes a mental note to work on keeping his mouth shut while also listing the horrible implications of that one little slip-up.

'Try getting out of this one alive, you idiot.' Wally scolds himself. "She's um...ugh." He turns away from her, trying to piece together a believe excuse for his words but he blanks.

"Sh*t." He mumbles out.

"West…"

He doesn't dare look at her, see her judging eyes. But the warm and comforting sensation of her hand appears on his shoulders and he relents.

She gazes into his darkened lime-colored eyes and showed him how serious and sympathetic she was.

"I know that it's hard and I know that you want to keep her alive as much as possible but…" she begins, earnestly.

'She thinks I'm seeing Artemis' ghost. She thinks I'm crazy.' Wally realizes and cannot contain his laughter.

His reaction confuses then peeves Linda who gravely attempted to act as counselor.

But then she realized that such a reaction might mean that Artemis may actually be alive. His statement may not have been a sign of delusion. Her hand retracts from its position on his shoulder.

"Is she really alive?" she asks. Strangely, rather than feeling betrayed by the fact that he lied, Linda feels ecstatic. But more than anything, Linda feels curious.

"…"

"If you can't tell me, that's fine…I just want to help," she says, fairly matter-of-factly.

"I…" He stares off, his heart heavy from thinking about the implications of telling someone, from the previous burden of keeping such a secret, from putting his girlfriend in danger.

But those burdens became too much. He cannot contain them within his deteriorating heart. And he cannot rely on anyone. He was alone.

Even with all his friends and all his allies, Wally knew that he felt so completely alone that it frightened him.

So here he sits on a bench with a person who knows of death, willing to share his burden.

But was he willing to share?

Yes. He wanted to share, desperate even – though he would never admit. He needs to tell someone. He needs a friend to rely on. Not a superhero with ulterior intentions. Not a sidekick with lacking sympathy. Just a friend.

He relents, almost immediately. "You cannot tell anyone," he says.

She nods.

"She was caught up in some supervillian incident and had to be put in the… Witness Protection Program. Had to fake her own death too. I'm the only one who knows."

"Not even her mother knows?" she asks.

"Yeah. And it's killing me. Do you know how awful I felt when I had to tell her?"

"She must have been ruined."

"That's an understatement!" He throws his hands up into the air. "I can't – I can't comfort her with the fact that her daughter is actually alive! I can't contact Artemis to see if she's ok. I can't do anything. I can't even talk to anyone about it!"

"Well, you're talking to me."

Wally stares at her in wonder, a heaviness suddenly released from his downtrodden shoulders.

She simply smiles back and takes his hand. "And no matter how crazy your story is, you can always talk to me."

As the warm California wind whispers around them, a sense of comfort fills him. A sense he had not felt in a long time so he takes her up on that offer.


They exchange phone calls every week or so. Soon enough, they talk to each other every night. They talk about Artemis, about movies, about food, about death, about life.

"Will you be able to sleep?" Linda asks one night as she crawls onto her futon while she balances her phone against her ear with her shoulder.

He just had a breakdown and it took her a good 2 hours to calm him down.

"Maybe. Did you know that I still sleep on my side of the bed?"

"I figured as much."

"I just keep hoping that she'll be there next to me in the morning."

"Yeah. I know what you mean. When Manami…left…I would sit at her kitchen table and just wait for her to appear," she sighs deeply through the phone. "But at least you have the assurance that she's alive and well."

"I guess." 'But not really. Every minute of every hour of every day, she's putting her life in danger to perform a mission that I cannot and will never approve of.

"Park?"

"Hmm?"

He hears her stifled yawn and the click of her lamp shutting off.

"Thank you," he whispers.

"For what?" Another yawn.

"For listening... despite being obviously exhausted."

"I'm not that tired," she lies as she yawns again.

"Sure." He laughs, "You know, I would probably be shipped off to Arkham right now if it weren't for you."

"West, I'm just thankful that you trust me enough to tell me all of this. Besides, it's the least I could do. And, honestly, I still feel indebted to you for punching Randall all those years ago."

He conjures up the image of knocking out the jerk and chuckles softly. "Yeah."

"And have I thanked you enough for setting up that internship with your Aunt?"

"I think so considering that you thank me every time we talk. You know, it really isn't that big of a deal. She was looking for someone to help out at the station while she's on maternity leave."

"Still, your efforts have been greatly appreciated."

Wally snorts.

"West...why do you do that?" she asks, concerned and accusatory.

"Do what?" he asks.

"I know that was involuntary, just now, but why do you always demean yourself?"

Wally feels every muscle in his face fall lax. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you always disregard everything you do. And I don't know why," she stresses her incomprehension. "You have so many talents. You're decent-looking. Heck, you even got an amazing, beautiful, smart, funny, awesome girl like Artemis to fall in love with you...despite," she ends, jokingly.

He cracks a smile. "Despite?" he counters with a laugh, "And are you just saying all that stuff about Artemis because you figured out how similar you guys were, aren't you?"

"No! I wouldn't dare," she jests through the phone. "But we are pretty similar except for the fact that she has a bombshell body. Oh. My. Gosh."

"Yeah, empty bed doesn't help."

She groans.

"You see, West, I can't tell if I should laugh or feel sorry for you."

"I don't know," he sighs, hard. "...both, I guess?"

"Just," she sighs too, "Just live your life to the fullest, you know? And if Art really is your 'spitfire' or whatever term you used, you guys will find a way. Not that I'm one who believes in soul mates and all that crap but yeah."

Wally abstains from saying anything for a moment, simply thinking. "You're really tired, huh?" he mutters.

"Shut up. I'm going to bed."

"Goodnight, Park."

"Mmmm...oh, really quick, do you know a kid named Bart?"


That last phone call ended with Wally fuming about 'spoilers' and telling her that he would call her back.

But he doesn't.

Instead, three weeks later, Artemis calls her with news that Wally had died.

Chapter Text

DAY 2 – Whose Worth's Unknown

The year is 2011. Chicago, Illinois.


NOVEMBER 4, 14:25 CST, FRIDAY

The crisp Chicago air bit with a vehemence that only those in the northern Midwest know intimately.

A college campus. A college tour.

Wally West straggled behind the tour group while his parents talking eagerly with the guide. He, on the other hand, was bored out of his mind. He lingered at a statue of the founder, contemplating as to why a bronze statue could actually look happy with pigeon poop on his head.

'Interesting.'

He looked back to rejoin the group but realizes that they've gone from view.

'Crap.' Wally said to himself. He sighed in frustration, releasing a visible puff into the chill air and slouched the upper half of his body.

An Asian student walked past him, books nestled into her front. Her stride is quick and purposeful. She's late for a class. But his figure caught her eye and she glanced towards his direction, slightly unnerved by his awkward posture. But then recognition overtook her expression. She stopped and returned to him.

"Do I know you?" she asked, an expression of bewilderment on her face.

"..." He recognized her and his face lit up with sudden realization. "Hey!" His mind, without meaning to, conjures up the image of their first meeting and the accompanying emotions. How he felt consumed by the spark in her brown almond eyes. How he felt when she insulted the crap out of him.

"Yes! Oh gosh...where was it?!" She clutched the hair besides her foreheads, trying to force her cerebrum and hippocampus to remember where they met.

"At my high school ...in Central City. You're Manami's friend." He came to her rescue.

"Missouri! Right. You were the-," she cuts herself off, realizing that what would have come out of her mouth would have been rude. "You were very friendly."

Wally rolled his eyes at his past self and admittedly nodded.

"So what brings you to the Messner-Loebs University*? You're not here to visit Manami, are you?"

"No. College tour." He shrugged.

She nodded in understanding but bewilderment suddenly covers her face again. "Wait...how old are you?"

"I turn 17 next week exactly." He flashed a smile.

"Senior?"

"Junior."

Then, she cracked a smile and Wally, in turn, acquired the expression of bewilderment.

"I'm only a year older than you," she stated proudly, "And I'm already a freshman in college."

He scowled. His man pride points lowered significantly.

She grinned and took a glance at her watch. Her eyes widened and she began to run off, shouting an explanation that her class started minutes prior. He raised his eyebrows in indifference and waved a good-bye but before he put his hand back into his pocket, she u-turned and ran back.

"If you came by this way, the next stop of the tour is the Sports Center thataway. It's fairly big so they should still be there."

"Thanks." Wally smiled, tentatively, at the prospect of no longer being lost and at the fact that the girl who was harsh to him when they first met was actually being pretty nice now.

Her next words supplemented that sentiment even further. "And I know I was a bit of a – for lack of a better word – a b*tch to you when we first met. Sorry." She said so matter-of-factly that it shocked him.

People never apologized to him. Never.

"No problem, babe." He replied, without much thought. He mentally slapped himself as soon as the words come out and he sees her incredulous facial response.

Old habits die hard.

She sneered, but indicated that she was humored, and ran off again, leaving behind a some-what anxious Wally.

A couple minutes later, Wally met up with his parents at the Sports Center, where they showed no surprise in his getting lost.

"That's our son for you," his dad laughed at his expense. The rest of the tour group chuckled and the guide led them off again. Wally smirked and pulled out his cellphone. He quickly scrolled through his most recent calls and tapped on Artemis' name as he followed behind the tour group again.

"Wally?" Artemis' voice filtered through the phone.

"Hey, beautiful. How are you doing?" Wally replied.

"Wally...I'm kind of busy right now. Can I call you back?"
"Well! I just ...I just wanted to know if we could meet up tomorrow? We'll need to meet in the evening, though. My folks want me to stay in the car with them instead of me running back. So I'll need to go back to Central before I head to Gotham."

"I'm busy tomorrow night. I told you. I have a huge paper due next week and I was planning on meeting up with M'gaan."

"Yeah...but..."

"God. What is it Wally?" Artemis seethed through the phone line, obviously exasperated.

A great weight burdens his heart.

"I just…I…" was all he could mutter. Then he got mad. He didn't even know why but an overwhelming deluge of anger crashed over him and he started t shout. "Why do you have to be so…AUGH! Are you PMSing?"

He still hasn't learned. And he immediately regrets it.

"Wally! You are such a b*stard, you know that?"

Before he can say anything witty or insulting in response, she hangs up. Then he again realized that he lost the tour group giving him no time to feel angry or guilty. He whipped around until he saw the tail end of the group walk behind a building to his right. He followed, begrudgingly, until they finally returned to the Admissions Office.

"Wally!" His dad called out to him after the tour. "They're holding a mixer for prospective freshman later tonight. You should go. We can shack up with the Jensons. You remember them?" he laughs out excitedly as he referred to their family friends and former neighbors.

"Yes, Dad." Wally mutters as he grinded his teeth, recalling the corny and socially awkward family and his relief when they moved to the Chicagoland area two years ago. "And please don't say 'shack up' in public."

"Honey, he was planning on surprising Artemis tomorrow." His mother retorted.

Wally tensed up. "Had." He emphasized. "She...has plans."

"Oh, well then that works out, doesn't it?" she chirps happily, not catching the bitterness in his tone or face.

All he can do was nod.


NOVEMBER 4, 20:05 CST, FRIDAY

Wally walked towards the campus gymnasium where he can hear the noises of socializing and dubstep music reverberating at an annoyingly uneven beat. He trudged toward the doors to the atrium and noticed a familiar figure reading a book at the ticket table.

"Hey," he forced from his lips, advancing towards the table. The anger from his earlier interaction with Artemis still permeated his thoughts.

Linda Park looked up from her reading and smiled. "Hey! You're an hour late. Missed an intellectually-stimulating introduction to this so-called 'mixer'." She used air-quotes. "It's all grinding and booze in there now."

For an instant, he forgot that his anger was towards Artemis and focused it on this silly event. "Why is it called a mixer? And who uses 'mixer' nowadays?"

"Eh, it's just a cover name for an on-campus party and endeavors in pedophilia. If you hadn't noticed that already."

He cringed at her comment on pedophilia and she just smirked in response. "Why…?"

"You and all the other 'guests' are underage while the 'hosts' tend to be not-so underage. So, in a word, pedophilia."

"Hardly… and that's a crude way to put it."

"C'est la vie." She pulled a clipboard from the corner of the table over her book. "Name?"

"Wally West," he replied, ambivalent about what he thinks about her inherent insistency to forget his name or who he is.

She crossed out his name from a list he assumed is a list of the names of the perspective freshman she received from the Admissions Office.

"Have fun." She returned to her book with a smile.

He was about to head in when her book catches his eye or maybe he just wanted to stay and talk to the one person he knew (kinda). "What are you reading?"

She looked up. "Essays on McLuhan."

The name elicited a response in Wally. He searched his brain. "He's the web-surfing guy from Annie Hall, right?"

She flinched from surprise. "Yeah…wow. Most people don't even know he cameoed in Annie Hall, let alone his name." She grinned at him, obviously impressed.

He shrugged but could not deny the slight ego-boost. "My aunt wrote her dissertation on him. All she would talk about during Thanksgiving."

"Nice. What does your aunt do?"

"Journalism…She is the famous Iris West-Allen."

Linda's eyes grew incredibly wide.

"…seriously?"

"Yeah."

"Mon Dieu."

"Linda! Why are still out here?" A girl barges out into the lobby, her face flushed from the heat of the party.

"There are still people coming in…" Linda stutters out, pointing at Wally, "and I have reading to do." She insisted, obviously wanting to stay outside.

The other girl glowered at her.

"Get your Asian butt inside."

"No."

"Linda!"

"Augh! Fine!" She stood up, placed her book into her backpack, threw the backpack on her shoulder and stormed into the gym.

He followed, debating whether he should just leave.

But, for some strange reason, he opted to follow in after her but as soon as he entered he gravitated to the walls.

His anger festered as he glared out into the atrium filled with bad music, desperate boys hoping for anything from a phone number to a one night stand, and attention-hungry girls who were –more or less –willing to respond.

But Wally, despite all of his years of flirting shamelessly, could not bring himself to dive into the fray. Instead, he stood steadfast by the punch table, glaring over his cup of water, certain that the bowl of beverages was spiked with any of the liquids whose glass bottles started to accumulate…

…and he hated every single minute of it.

"You ok?" a voice remarked from his left. He turned rapidly, disappointed in himself of being caught off guard by a civilian.

Linda stared back at him, worry written into her brows. She asked again.

"I'm fine." He grumbled and returned to his cup and glared at its contents as if water was the most interesting or offending thing in the world.

"Sure." She commented. She waited for him to respond but relinquished and stated, "Hey, how about this. You tell me what's bothering you – and I'm pretty sure it has to do with a girl, considering – and you keep me busy enough so that the jerk in the suit over at 10 o'clock will stop hitting on me."

Despite wanting to look completely disinterested, Wally sneaked a slight glance to his left and witnessed a guy drinking a beer, trying to grope a girl next to him while glaring daggers right back at Linda and then at him. When their eyes met and when Linda turned away for a moment, the guy in question raised his middle finger with a thrust.

Wally immediately agreed.

"Why don't you leave?" he asked her.

"I'm part of the Orientation Committee and I need to stay until the end to help with clean-up." She explains as she takes a sip from her water bottle.

"That sucks."

"No kidding." She sighed out her frustration. "He's hasn't stopped hitting on me even after I told him I have a boyfriend."

"…You have a boyfriend?" he asked, truthfully, unable to believe that a man existed who would willingly be in a committed relationship

"Yes." She glances at him incredulously, recognizing his skepticism. "I do. But that's besides the point. What's going on with you? "

"Why do you care?" Wally asked, almost acerbic in his tone.

Linda simply stared back. "Well, Manami says 'hi' and told me to look after you and I have this tendency to stick my nose into things and fix them…try to, at least."

He relented. "Fine."

Linda smiled triumphantly, "So who is she?"

"My girlfriend."

She made a quick face of incredulity but returned to a stoic expression. "And she's the one who's been on your mind?"

"Yeah."

"How'd you get together?"

So – as the rest of the world danced into oblivion – he cumbersomely explained to her about how they met (…through the Track team), how they bickered and how, in the great and glorious end, he was able to obtain his spitfire. Yet…

"It's already November and nothing's changed since we met, except that we make out."

Her face deadpans at this. 'I did not need to hear that. But, hey, a guy - this guy - is actually willing to talk about his problems so just deal with it, Linda.'

"Plus, she's been angry, like, all the time and it feels like she's avoiding me."

Something clicked in Linda's brain. "You mentioned that your birthday is next week, right?"

He nodded.

"I don't think she's avoiding you." Linda stated confidently. "Well, she's avoiding you but not because she doesn't like you anymore. She's probably planning a surprise party."

"...Really?"

"If she's as awesome as you claim she is, then yes, really. Awesome girlfriends tend to be pretty awesome."

"Sweeet!" He threw his fists into the air.

But their shared joy was short-lived.

"Linda!"

The aforementioned guy with a full-blown Armani suit dared to saunter up to them, a beer in his hand.

"Hey, Randall. How are you?" Linda replied with a wry smile, straining to hide the subtle signs of discomfort.

"Why did you run off, hot stuff?" the slightly tipsy college student muttered.

Linda simply smiled again while Wally, on the other hand, felt horrible chills crawl up his spine.

He can recognize a douchebag when he sees one. Then he suddenly knew why. His ability to recognize a douchebag stemmed off from being half of one himself. His heart grows heavy for a second time that day.

'I am half of a douchebag.'

"Randall, this is Wally. He's a prospective freshman," Linda interrupted his thoughts with an introduction that bordered on an attempt to escape.

Wally nearly extended his hand until Randall only gave him a nod of acknowledgement before instantly turning his attention back to Linda.

Wally glowered. 'No wonder Artemis hated me when we first met. God. Was I this horrible?'

"So wanna go for a boat ride this weekend? My step-dad is letting me borrow his yacht."

Linda's discomfort seeped through into her facial expressions a percentage more. Her annoyance builds.

"Just as friends, of course," Randall added, half-heartedly.

He swaggered too and fro, obviously intoxicated but still apparently sober enough to make passes on taken women. She could feel his inebriated gaze travel up and down her body, a depraved smile lingering on his face.

It was a bad day to wear skinny jeans.

"November on Lake Michigan is awfully cold and it's still just us two?"

Randall suddenly looked offended. "What's wrong with that?"

"Randall, I have a boyfriend. I can't just-,"

"You're hanging out with this ginger midget."

"Dude. I'm taller than you." Wally commented, but the spoken truth went unnoticed.

"So giving a kid a tour counts as a flirtation?" She retorted, placing her hands on her hips.

"Sure."

"Randall," she said, emphatically, the entirety of her face focused on showing the full force of her annoyance. "What is wrong with you?"

Randall fumes, squeezing the beer bottle tight. He hoped it would crack under the pressure, to show his strength but his effete hands and metro-sexual hairstyle prevented him.

"I don't know why I even try with you. You're such a waste of time. There are a ton of other Asian girls out there. And you know what, you're a frigid, straight-laced attention whore. No one really likes you because you're so pushy and full of yourself. Stop thinking you're all that, you-!"

POW!

The room goes silent as people ceased whatever they were doing (chatting, dancing, grinding...the ones who were making out continued to do so). Their curious and shocked eyes all focused on Wally his fist still extended and red from its contact with jerkface and said-jerkface, out-cold and sprawled out on the wooden floor beneath him.

"Creep," Wally spat. He swiveled back towards Linda to see her mouth open in shock. They exchanged eye contact and without a word they both turned and ran out of the door.

They rushed through the lobby with heightened and awkward speed and as soon as they were out the door into the biting November air, they broke out into hysterical laughter.

"Thank you," Linda said to him earnestly. They walked away from gym and into the heart of the campus.

"Oh, my pleasure." He scoffed. "That guy was a total jerk. Deserved a lot more, if you ask me." He paused to look at her in disappointment and confusion, "Why do you hang out with him?"

Linda shrugged her shoulders. "He tried so hard to get any girl to like him and just failed. I couldn't leave him alone, as much as I wanted to kick him in the balls. He's like an ugly pug puppy that just couldn't get-,"

"Hey, hey, hey, pugs are adorable."

"Oh ew. HOW? They're disgusting."

"Come on! You too?"

Linda raised an eyebrow.

"Artemis doesn't think much of pugs either."

"I like her." Linda huffed in hyperbolic consent.

"Me too." Wally grinned, unsure if he would be able to keep it from spreading all across his face. 

He can't and his happiness becomes instantly contagious and Linda beams back.

"So, is the MLU a contender in your great college search?"

"Nah, probably not. It's a great school and my folks would love for me to come but I just wanted to check it out since it's on Dick's list too. He'll probably go to Gotham U, though, since it's right at home."

"Wait. Dick as in Dick Grayson. As in the Paris Hilton of Gotham?"

Wally's eyes widened at her choice in cognomen for his friend. "I haven't heard that one before."

"Be glad people are too scared of Mr. Wayne's influence to use a different epithet. Could've been a lot worse with that name."

"No kidding." Wally laughed. 

"Since when were you two friends?" Linda pointedly asked. 

"At...um…CAMP!"

"Which one?"

"Uh,"

"Oh, this is my dorm," Linda interrupted as they approached a ivy-covered brick building. 

Relief and gratitude flooded Wally's mind and heart.

"I should get going then," he muttered.

Linda quickly turns to him, back in upperclassmen mode. "Is someone coming to pick you up?"

"Yeah… I told them I would meet them on the main road."

"I'll go with you. I'm obviously going to ditch clean-up so-,"

"No!" he shouted, startling her. He slouched back to physically signal an apology. "It's really alright. Thanks for listening and helping out...even though you just ended up using me." He had to add.

"Hey! Don't say that you didn't need that. He is what you will become if you continue your ways!" She waggled a playfully accusing finger at him.

"I figured," Wally sighed, not returning the playful tone. "It really got to me that I'm just like him."

Silence burst through, leaving a trail of awkwardness and discomfort behind.

Linda's face softened as her heart broke, just slightly, at his statement.

"I didn't mean-," she shook her head. "You might have given off that vibe. But that's not who you are. And I'm sorry that it took me a while to realize that…You're 100 times whatever he is because you actually protected me rather than forced yourself onto me."

"And you're more fun when you loosen up."

"Thanks," she replied, demurely, "Well," her regular expression and tone returns, "Wherever you go, I'm sure you'll do well. You have the potential, Mr. West, you really do."

"You're probably the only one besides Artemis who believes that."

Wally walked off before she can respond; leaving her with the bewildered face that consumed most of her facial expressions that day.

 

Chapter Text


Wand'ring Bark


The year is 2013. Tokyo, Japan.


MAY 7, 14:25 JST, TUESDAY

"WHO'S UP FOR SUSHI!?" Wally screams from the top of his lungs as his mentor joins him by the large genetically enhanced dinosaur they just defeated in the streets of Tokyo.

"Sorry, Wally, got a date with Iris." The Flash gives his nephew a sad smile. "Why not call Robin to come over?"

Wally's arms dropped by his side, dejectedly. "He's going by Nightwing now and he's keeping himself busy with crime rates in Blüdhaven." He answers bitterly. "Plus, there's been a rift growing."

"Artemis?"

"Is on a mission with Green Arrow."

"Superboy?"

"On a training exercise with Miss Martian. No one really has the time to fly over to Tokyo to grab a bite a plate of awesomeness."

Barry places a comforting hand on Wally's shoulder. "Sorry, but I skipped out on your aunt for far too long."

"I know. I'll just grab a bite and run back sometime soon."

With a nod, Barry speeds off in a red blaze, leaving Wally alone in his frustration.

Wally quickly changes into his civvies and stands in line at the closest sushi conveyor belt restaurant. He knows that he could have just sped around to find a more available restaurant but he just doesn't feel like it.

'Having a meal on your own with your thoughts about dying friendships is fine, right?' He thinks to himself as he finally approaches the counter while eyeing all of the Japanese couples in line with him.

"Tēburu ya kauntā?" the small Japanese woman at the counter asks him.

"Ummm..."

"Tēburu wa kekkōdesu," a voice laughs from behind him. Wally looks at his savior and Linda Park smiles back.

"Park?"

"What's up, West. I hope you don't mind sharing a table. It's busy and we should play catch up."

Wally flashes a smile full of gratitude and excitement. They were soon seated at a booth and both eagerly watch the coming miniature plates of delectable and sumptuous sushi on the conveyor belt.

"So why are you in Tokyo?" Linda asks, grabbing a plate of tuna.

"Uhh...family trip! For, um, Spring Break." He nervously takes a plate of salmon.

"You came to Tokyo for Spring Break? While you're still in high school?"

"Yeah," he mutters with half-confidence.

Linda stares at him skeptically and then bows her head to say a quick prayer.

Wally was not expecting that. He purses his lips, unsure how to respond to her sudden act of religious piety. Then her head rises and immediately returns to the conversation.

"Where are your folks then?" She pours soy sauce into two small dishes and hands one to him.

"Off on their own. They're not big sushi fans." He takes it from her, graciously.

"Gasp! But it's the best stuff on earth." Linda's shocked face elicits a shared laugh.

Then, Wally asks: "So... you're a Christian?"

Linda tilts her head, unsure of how to respond. She decides to go the less heated and controversial route with a raise of her brows. "Yeah. Most Koreans are. I guess it's more cultural than anything else. But having something reliable to fall back on, you know, like an all-powerful God that connects the multi-verses...it can be kind of nice." She dipped a piece into her small dish of soy sauce and popped it into her mouth.

"Yeah..." Wally sighs.

That worries her. She expects him to jump into debate how science is what bound the multi-verses. Instead, he shakes her up with an uncharacteristic doleful visage.

"Something up…as per usual?" She asks after she chewed and swallowed.

"Not really," he shrugs and lies.

Linda glares at him. "Spill."

Wally gets defensive. "No," he insists.

"West." She persists.

"Park." He resists.

Linda defiantly slouches back into the booth. "Fine." She pulls out her smart phone. "I'll just email Artemis and ask her."

"..."

She smiles as he glowers.

"Damn you."

"Love you too, hon. So you gonna spill your guts to Counselor Park or not?" She nearly sings as she returns her phone to her purse.

"Can't tell anyone, alright?"

"Who am I going to tell?"

"Alright! Alright! It's just...precaution."

She waits for him to continue.

He leans into his hand. "Well, you know what you said about something reliable to fall back on? My team was exactly that. But now, not so much. Now, everything's changing." He slouches back with a muted sigh. "I feel like no one cares about the same things anymore. Not to mention that the profession constantly puts us in danger and it constantly burns me out. I don't know if I can handle it, to be honest." He clumsily secured one nagi with his chopsticks and stuffed it into his mouth.

"Wait. Since when was being on a track team a dangerous profession?"

Caught off guard, Wally blurts out, "I'm not at liberty to say."

Linda gives him a half-smile. "At least - well, I'm guessing, you still have Artemis, right?"

Wally nods. "What about you? Still going strong with Rick?"

Linda sighs and obtains her fourth plate. "I guess? It's been weird, trying to do long distance. And Manami isn't there to help me out because, and you're not going to believe this, but she's been going out with Randall."

"NO!" Wally replies, with true yet hyperbolic shock.

"I know! And it's been a whole year. It's ridiculous. She's too good for him but she feels like she won't be able to find anyone else who's interested." She angrily chews another nagi, placing her 6th plate on her growing pile.

"But he's interested in everybody." He places his 9th plate on his stack.

"I know." Linda grumbles, her shoulders tensing.

Linda continues with the status of her life, explaining that MLU let out for summer break by the first week of May so she decided to make a trip out to Korea to visit family. She landed in Tokyo for layover and her flight to Incheon would leave in 20 hours.

"That's a really long layover."

"Planned it that way. Needed to get my sushi quota filled."

Wally smirks gleefully in agreement as he acquires his 13th plate.

"Concerning your team, do you think that it's worth staying on?" she asks after her 8th plate. "I mean, you only have – what- two months of school left and you'll be off to college. So it basically comes down to the matter of whether or not you're willing to maintain those relationships and whether you think staying on the 'team' is the best way to do it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you still want to keep those friendships right?"

"Absolutely! They're practically family."

"But you don't have to necessarily have to stop being friends with them if you're off the team, right? It sounds like being on the team is what is giving you the most trouble and is putting strain on you and your relationships and that's probably because of everything's changing at a pace you can't keep up with."

Wally flinches at the pacing comment.

She continues, "So quit. And foster the friendships you have in a different setting. Go along with that change you're trying so desperately to stop but now you can do at a pace that's right for you."

Wally blinks a couple times, registering her suggestions.

"It's not that simple," he says.

"I know. But being burned out is going to kill you and soon enough you'll get so upset with everyone that you'll blow up and you'll end up leaving them anyways."

He frowns. Her advice is almost too good. "Did this happen to you?" he asks.

Linda frowns back. "...maybe."

He releases a chuckle which augments Linda's scowl.

"Look. Just do what you think works best for you and prepare yourself for whatever may come." Linda ended.

"Thanks."

By then, they've eaten their full.

He offers to pay but she refuses. They go Dutch.

 

Chapter Text

DAY 8 – To the Edge of Doom

The year is 2017. Metropolis. Apocalypse.


"Alright everybody, we're leaving!" Perry White projects loudly yet calmly.

His words circle through her ears. Linda can feel, with an aching fear, her mind fade into a sheer consciousness as she witnesses large humanoid aliens fly past the building.

The monsters wreak absolute havoc. Large, disgusting and terrifying, their powers worryingly resemble the powers of the feared and worshiped Justice League.

Apocalypse has arrived.

Again.

Then suddenly, a great and shattering scream explodes into the building, causing everyone to scream and duck as glass shards career over their heads.

"Everyone get underground!" Lois Lane shouts as the employees of the Daily Planet run about in an anarchic frenzy.

Explosions and the rumble of disaster overpower any other sound. "Get the kids out first!" Linda orders, guiding a group of 5th graders from a field trip.

Seriously, worst field trip ever.

She pushes them through the stampede of panicked reporters towards the stairs. But as soon as she sees everyone rush, crowd, push and careen towards the staircase. Linda thinks for a second and quickly opts for the other option and forcibly guides the children to the service elevator hidden at the end of a long hallway and jabs the call button furiously.

Her whole body jolts as she deepens her clutch on the sweaty palm of a crying schoolgirl. Linda bends down to hold her to her own rapidly beating chest.

The elevator dings.

Linda picks up the one schoolgirl and whirls behind to look for her boss, who, thankfully, is running towards them.

The building shakes. The doors open.

She quickly forces the children inside and pushes the "L" button. "Lois, hurry!"

Lois Lane slips into the elevator just as the doors close. The veteran reporter pants from exhaustion and turns to Linda. "Babe, remind me that you are getting paid for this internship once this thing is over."

Linda forces a falsely confident smile. "Been through apocalypses before?"

"I think it's a requirement for being Superman's girlfrie-."

They drop.

As the children scream for their lives while they rise to the top of the elevator, Lois and Linda manage to grab onto them and force them between the decorated roof and their own bodies to prepare for the impact.

Linda prays, more earnestly than she's ever done in her whole life.

And God answers.

The doors rip open and a Green Lantern that Linda didn't recognize surrounds them with an emerald-colored force field and grows it until the elevator splits open and its pieces fall to the ground. As it crashes into the earth without them, Linda releases a labored sigh of relief, still clutching to several schoolgirls.

He gets them to ground level. "I suggest you all go underground. The Justice League is about to destroy the mothership. We can't guarantee what will follow."

He flies off.

Linda peers around the disheveled lobby of the Daily Planet. She sees people lying in and strewn at the entrance of the staircases with people still forcing their way out. The children would have been trampled by the stampede if she had taken them down the stairs.

While relieved that her decision turned out to be the right one, distress and genuine fear for her life and for others filled every pore of her body. She needs to get the children out of here.

Linda is about to run off with Lois and the kids until she hears a distinct "Linda."

She turns around and searches for the owner of the call. "…West?"

"Linda!"

There is a blaze of yellow and Impulse suddenly stands besides her. With his headgear half singed, she easily recognizes him.

"Bart!?"

He breathes laboriously and whispers out to her through clenched teeth and desperation. "Linda…Why weren't you in Gotham?" he coughs.

"I have an internship here…Bart, wha-? You're hurt!" She notices his bleeding abdomen and reaches for it.

"I've been –ugh"

"Bart, don't exert yourself." Linda orders sternly and gently places one hand on his shoulder as the other hovered over his abdomen.

"Don't… worry…" he manages to say. "It'll heal quicker than most."

Linda frowns, then looks up to scan the area. The humanoids seemed to have chosen another location to wreak havoc so she leads him to a piece of a fallen building and has him sit down on a large section of debris. She pulls off her dirtied cardigan up over her head, down, then off her arms. Flipping the sweater inside out, Linda turns it into make-shift gauze and presses it against Bart's abdomen. She turns to see if the kids are kids and watches with slight reassurance as Perry joined Lois in leading the children to the underground Metra stations.

"Linda…"

She turns to him and affectionately strokes his hair, but then lifts the sweater to examine his wound.

"Bart, it's getting worse." She stands abruptly, worry just palpable on her face. "You need help."

He winces, "I don't think you'll be able to find anyone." He breathes heavily as he reaches for her hand.

She holds his hand with a soft grip as she gazes down at him.

"I'm just glad I found you," he smiles weakly. "I was…looking for you."

Then, a great clap of thunder sounds about them.

"As have I," a deep and billowing voice rolls about them.

Linda protectively steps in front of Bart as mist formed and gathered, grounded clouds twisting into each other until distinct figure was born from them.

"Linda Jasmine Kyungah Park," its voice continues, like the sound of trumpets and storms.

She waits until she can see the hooded form of grey and green, bathing in a heavenly yet ominous light, rise from the mist.

She cannot answer.

Her eyes simply burn as the gaze of the Spectre envelops reality. She can hear Bart call out to her but it is in an utter distance.

"Your death in his world instigated this calamity. And now, he calls for you."

"Who?" she finally asks.

At length, the figure responds, "Wallace West."

The Spectre points to a man robed in scarlet who appears in the arena of cloud, kneeling. His face rises and his embittered gaze met hers.

"Linda."

As soon as her name left his lips, in that moment, she feels an all-consuming force immerse every minuscule cell of her body.

She feels a wave, a force, and a passion with a width and breadth far beyond her comprehension and all that she could comprehend was that in one swift moment, one swift decision, she could easily lose herself in that force.

She feels frightened.

And she hates every second of it. At least, she thinks she does. The idea of not being in control, of the possibility that an emotion could make her feel so powerless and yet so whole – unnerved her.

She gasps.

Linda turns to the otherworldly figure and insistently asks, "Why."

He remains silent as other individuals begin to join them in the mist.

Her brows knit together.

"What is this and who are you?" she asks the angel, using all of her will to mask her fear with conjured brashness.

"I am Spectre," the figure responds in soft thunder. "I am the judge. He, the perpetrator. You, the instigator."

"And them?" Linda dares to ask further, sweeping her arm about her to those in the mist beside her.

Two Richard Graysons.

Two Iris Wests.

Two Bartholomew Allens.

And Artemis, alone in the haze.

Linda notes the absence of the recently late Barry Allen. 'Theirs must have died too.'

"They are the players. The witnesses. The factors. This…" Spectre's ghostly voice reverberates in and through her consciousness, "…is his trial."

She is not even sure if it is her consciousness anymore. So she anchors herself to an idea coupled with an emotion: This whole ordeal is beyond me and I am upset.

"Trial for what?" she questions.

"For causing Armageddon on your world."

"How would he cause Armageddon?"

"In his world, you are his lover."

A pang strikes through her.

"You are his beacon. But the Linda Park of his world perished and in an misguided attempt to retrieve her and a misuse of the Force that bestows him his powers, allowed this world to be more vulnerable and probable to the doom it faces now."

Linda glowers as she analyzes all that she's been given and internally cringes at the possible emotions Artemis must endure.

This is far too much drama for her to handle but she has to do something.

"What is my role, then," she mutters, "In his judgment?"

"To stop him before his decision consumes both worlds and to be judged as murderer."

"So this can be stopped?" Linda asks. "He can stop this?"

"But he does not wish it. Especially now that he has seen you."

"But you're the one who brought me to him," Linda asserts.

"No. His desire was far beyond what I could control."

"So you called for me because people failed to control a man in grief?! And you think that I have the caliber to?"

The great ghost answers, "You would be surprised."

Linda's gaze remains painstakingly low. Her lips taut and tense, she descends into thought and solemnity. She looks up, finally, with conviction and a flare of subdued rage in her eyes.

"I promise nothing."

Spectre gestures towards Wallace West – a Wally she doesn't even know truly, signaling her to approach.

She glides towards him, through the fog. She thinks about what to say and, more importantly, how to say it. She suppresses her instinctual desire to grab him by the neck and force her advice, her holier-than-thou wisdom and tenets through his ears and down his throat. But that won't reach his head in actuality – she knows that.

She's relying on the possibility that this Wally is like the one she had come to know so well.

In fact, she's betting the lives of billions on it.

She kneels before him and so very gently calls him a 'Jackass.'


The Wallace West of a different Earth stares at her in shock.

"You put the entire Universe and then some at risk of imploding just because you couldn't get over your version of a happy ending?" she whispers to him as he continues to stare. "Do you really think that – that your Linda – would appreciate that?"

"I never meant for Doomsday. I just thought that anything would be worth it if I could see you again." He pauses. "I can't live without you, Linda."

His eyes plead. But Linda can only sigh; she can see something cloud his gaze.

"She's not me. I'm not her. And you can live without her. You have been."

"But the idea of being with you again made me want to-."

"West!" she insists, sternly but tenderly. "I refuse to quantify human life. And I thought you did too, especially as a super because to you guys, every life is worth saving. But sometimes – no, often, things happen that are inevitable and we have accept that. Except for outright injustices, of course."

He smirks but sadly. The clouds are slowly drifting away, scales slowly peeling.

She finally smiles sadly back, then braces herself with a deep breath and continues. The words roll off her tongue.

"We're not gods. You're not a god. We have limits. On knowledge and power. No matter how 'meta' or 'super' you might be. So we're bound to make bad decisions with bad consequences. Every choice we make will have its repercussions and we become better people by dealing with those repercussions, come what may.

"But I'm not your teacher, West. And in this world, I'm not your lover. You don't have listen to any of this. But is it alright if I think of us as friends, even though you're from your world and I'm from mine?"

"Of course," he whispers earnestly, his eyes still pleading but steadily more clear.

A good sign.

"Friends," she mutters with a controlled force, "Have the right to respectfully confront each other. And that's what I'm doing now. I don't want to condemn you. I don't want to judge you. But honestly, I don't think that grief suits Wally West – no matter which Earth he was born into."

She puts her hand to his cheek and he holds it there. Linda can feel the chill of his flesh against hers. Each of his pores against each of her nerves.

She stares into the sumptuous green softness of the eyes of this stranger, this friend. They are no longer overcast, just simply forlorn.

"But being a wisearce and a hero does," she adds, matter-of-factly. "So," she lowers her hand onto his shoulder. "What do you think you should do?"

Wally West still looks at her. He envelops her with a gaze that screams for reciprocation from her.

She immediately quells the feeling erupting inside of her. She pushes it down and stamps it out without a second thought or a tear.

But she does rise and softly places her lips on his forehead. The only thing she can allow herself to do.

Wally West grabs her free arm as he buries his head into the earth.

"Linda," he quietly sobs.

She can feel herself on the verge of breaking and forces to look up at the darkness of the heavens.

"Go,"


Linda sits on a bus stop bench, a shock blanket over her shoulders. The rest of the bus stop is nonexistent, obviously, like most of the block around it. A distinct filter of dust, grime and sadness occupies the air while rescue teams clear through rubble and assist victims into ambulances.

Linda watches it all. Simply watches.

She watches the gift the other Earth's Wally left for her. At least, she assumes he left it for her. But it doesn't belong to her.

She watches the gift embrace Artemis in the burning tears of reunion. Grayson kneels beside them. An Atlantean individual watches them from a distance, ambivalence exuding from him.

She watches.

"Is this seat taken, Miss?"

Linda looks up and smiles at Bart. His entire torso is wrapped in bandages. Bruises and a large infectious smile cover his face.

She taps the space besides her and he sits down eagerly then rests his weary head on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry."

"Now why on earth would you be sorry?" Linda asks, keeping her voice up in spirits.

"Here, Wally never got the chance to love you," Bart whispers. "He and Art would split up as the Reachwouldriseinpowerandyouwould'vebeencloserfriendsbythen and-,"

"Bart. It's okay," she smiles and reassures him by taking his hand. "Plus, you're talking too fast. I didn't get half of that."

"But-,"

"No one wants to be tied to fate like that, Bart. Your cousin would probably hate that the most. And that's fine," she sighs, "But I do have to ask…"

"Yeah, what!?" Bart responds with quick fervor.

She chuckles at his enthusiasm. "Why look out for me? I'm not related to you, am I?"

A large smile breaks from his lips.

"Well, when you grew old, you take care of a little boy whose parents die when he's eleven years old and you make him happy even while the world suffers around them. So in return, I...promised to protect you. Simple as that."

Linda gazes fondly at him, then enters into contemplation again.

"Someone's gotta tell him," she mutters.

Bart looks confused, "Tell him what?"

She rises without a word, the blanket still draped over her, and leaves Bart on the bench, making a trail straight towards his grandmother.


Iris West-Allen cries without a sound, bewilderment in her brows. Hal Jordan stands besides her, holding her as she tries to understand what just happened.

"Linda, what in the world happened? I saw you and-," Iris murmurs through her shock and surprise when Linda approaches her.

Linda gives her an encouraging hug, then asks for a moment alone. The Green Lantern nods, somewhat suspiciously, and takes a few strides away.

"You were just in Central City a moment ago, yes?" Linda asks Iris, firmly grabbing her arm in comfort and interrogation. "Until you were taken here?"

"Yeah, but,"

"Have you talked to Wally?"

"No, and how did he-?"

"That doesn't matter now, but he's back. He needs to see you," Linda insists, then she turns and shouts for Bart to come over. When he speeds to her, she has him take Iris' hand. "Take her to Wally."

As the two head towards the resurrected hero is surrounded by his friends, all joyful and relieved in the midst of the destruction. She tries to remain unseen as she snakes her way into the crowd and gently reaches for Artemis' hand.

Artemis serves around as if she were being attacked, her eyes wild and expectant. But as soon as she sees Linda, her face softens and instantly embraces her.

"Linda…I-,"

"Art, this changes nothing," Linda murmurs so that West – though he stands yards away, preoccupied with reuniting with his comrades – cannot possibly hear. "What you and Wally had and have was good. Nothing changes."

She makes eye contact with Dick Grayson and beckons him towards her.

When he silently appears beside them, Linda addressees the young heroes in urgent whispers, "Both of you need to forget everything that happened. It's easier that way."

"What the hell?" Artemis nearly shouts back.

"Art," Linda groans, "I'm going to go back to our apartment and see if there's anything salvageable."

"Why are you avoiding the issue?"

"Then!" Linda interjects, "I'm going to take a trip to Sweden."

Artemis glares at her; her eyes accuse Linda of betrayal. Linda avoids her gaze and attempts to solidify her argument when Wally finally sees her.

"Park!" he exclaims, "What are you doing here?"

Sh*t.

Linda sees him make his way to her and she prepares herself.

"Park, I-,"

Linda interrupts him with a stoic gaze and states, "Your uncle's dead."

Everyone stares at her in shock and the earth descends into silence.

"And your parents got divorced."

Wally just blinks. He turns to the ground; turns back to his friends and his aunt; turns to Linda.

He sinks into the ground.

"How dare you!" Miss Martian screamed at her, flying straight into Linda's face. "He just returned and you tell him-,"

"Better than him believing that everything's just the way it used to be," Linda retorts calmly and attempts to turn and walk away.

But as soon as she takes a step, her mind screeches in pain and she falls to the ground.

"Stand down," a voice, earthy and gritty, startles them and the pain dissipates.

Linda looks up from her headache, straight into the eyes of a menace, dark.

"You're with me," Batman growls.


Linda glowers, but respectfully (if that's possible). She wraps the shock blanket tighter around her, hoping that it would indicate that she was in no condition to be interrogated.

The Dark Knight glowers back.

Probably won't work with him.

"You really have nothing to say?" he questions, his voice like lion eating gravel.

'Throat cancer?' Linda humors herself. She sighs in actuality and says, "I had nothing to do with the West's miraculous reappearance or the disappearance of the alien invasion." She adds a "Sir" for good measure. "I'm just an elitist culture snob from Chicago here for an internship."

"And I'm just capable of pushing you until the last inch of your life if you don't talk."

"Sir, if I wanted to get interrogated, I'd go visit my grandmother. She scares me. However, as much as I do respect you and what you have been doing in Gotham, do not fear you."

"And why is that?" he snarls back.

"Because I know you use BVLGARI shampoo et gel douche," she ends with a French accent and a victorious smirk on her face. "Honestly, I thought you were more of the custom brand type."

 

Chapter Text

 

DAY 3 – Remover to remove

The year is 2012.


July 20, 18:00 EDT. FRIDAY. Gotham, Connecticut.

Wally perched himself on the edge of the leather backseat of a luxury vehicle. He was undoubtedly uncomfortable but he had to physically display his frustration somehow.

He turned to glare at his girlfriend who crossed her arms over her civvies and glared out of the darkened window to her side.

The driver simply watched in veiled amusement through the rearview mirror. His hands, gloved in white, folded over the wheel as he makes a right turn onto a busy city street.

"Thanks again, Alfred, for driving us to the movie," Wally managed to mutter out somewhat politely through his clenched teeth. Wally returned to sitting properly in his seat and crammed his big, awkward, puberty hands into the pockets of his Bermuda shorts.

"Oh, it is certainly no trouble at all, Master West. I am simply sorry that Master Dick could not join you," Mr. Pennyworth replied.

"Well, considering what's been going on between him and Ba-," he quickly corrected himself, "-Mr. Wayne, I'd understand if you couldn't even take us to the movie."

Wally wondered worriedly for a moment. He had no idea what the infamous Dick Grayson has been doing for the past two months of his so-called 'break from Batman.'

He hasn't even called.

"What's so great about this movie anyways?" Artemis huffed out towards the window, shifting her weight in antagonism.

Wally's eyes went sharp. "It's a Christopher Nolan film," he seethed. "The fact that he just directed it makes it great."

"Indeed," Alfred intoned, British-ly, "Mr. Nolan is an excellent director and a one of Master Wayne's very close friends."

"This is the last installment of the Night trilogy." Wally added, "You've seen The Night Begins, right?"

Artemis nodded slowly. Her eyes defiant and inflamed as well.

"Well, this-," he paused, noticing that she did not care at all, then smoldered. "Forget it," he groaned stuffing his hands into his underarms.

Wally hurled his gaze out onto the busy street as he grumbled about the bumper-to-bumper traffic and his movie-depreciating girlfriend.

Then something caught his attention.

Linda Park.

He saw Linda Park, on the sidewalk he was watching, walking hand in hand with a man that Wally didn't recognize.

Her boyfriend, he figured.

Wally caught a glimpse of the standard Nolan Night trilogy t-shirt loose on Linda's frame and his eyes lit up.

Another Nolan fan.

"Hey, Jeeves. You can let us out here. I see a friend of mine. We'll walk to the theater with her so you don't have to endure this crap for much longer."

"Very well, Master Wally."

(Alfred decided not to tell Wally that their leave would not shorten the time he would have to endure the 'crappy' traffic. But Alfred is a polite butler and he is also very sneaky butler. So Master Alfred Pennyworth determines that as the ever-busy helper to Bruce Wayne and his "activities," he could use the time alone.)

"A her, huh?" Artemis grumbled softly but pointedly loud enough for Wally to catch.

Which he did, but he chose to ignore it as he clambered out of the limo.

The traffic on the street was at a standstill so Wally and Artemis crossed the road, in between cars, and onto the sidewalk with ease.

"Park!" he yelled as soon as he bounded onto the sidewalk.

His voice, bright and vibrant, echoed through the summer air.

Linda twirled around, her thick raven-black hair following her movements with a light flutter.

She brightened at the sight of him.

The man besides her turned too.

Wally's gaze immediately focused on him.

Coffee-colored locks the flopped over his wide, angular face and birthed thick-rimmed glasses to cover subdued green eyes, brimming with formidable intelligence.

He is, without a doubt, a man of intellect. He held himself with pride and yet, stood askance like a lanky giraffe. A high-society nerd, and Wally instantaneously sensed that he was not the kind of nerd you pick on.

Wally jogged up to them, unknowingly absorbing the sight of this new and dauntingly smart-looking individual while Artemis followed in a sedate manner. Without even looking behind, Wally knew she still fumed.

"This must be the girlfriend!" Linda chirped excitedly as they approached.

"Yeah," he said at length, rubbing the back of his neck.


Linda found herself tasting the tension and frustration between the two like salt.

"Hi, I'm Linda. This is my boyfriend, Rick."

Artemis politely returned with a "Nice to meet you" but her veiled hostility wasn't veiled enough. The Korean-American turned to her boyfriend with a smile loaded with subtext.

"Rick, this is West and his girlfriend…um…,"

"Artemis," Wally finished.

"Right! The really cool Greek name." Linda grinned at the blonde.

No reaction.

So Linda continued, "West is – um - Manami's friend from high school and he came to visit MLU once." She looked to Wally, questioningly. "When was it? Last year?"

"Yeah, right before my birthday," Wally replied then used all of his willpower to telepathically send his girlfriend a reminder of the effort she put into preparing a surprise party for him and how much he appreciated it.

"So where are you going this fall?"

"Artemis and I are," Wally struggled slowly through the sentence, "both going to go to Stanford."

"Wow, congratulations!" Linda exclaimed. "Going to college together is...well, yeah," she saved herself from anything further and burst into a smile, "Well, West. This is Rick, my boyfriend. In the flesh."

"Hi, West? Rick Shavers," Linda's boyfriend introduced himself with an extended hand, which Wally took with eagerness.

"Wally. Wally West. Nice to meet you," Wally smirked. "Your girlfriend always forgets my name so she just calls me 'West'."

"She's definitely not the best with names," Rick chuckled, "It took her half a year to remember 'Rick'."

Linda deadpanned. "Well, that's all in the past now, isn't it, boys?"

Wally tossed her humored incredulity with his eyes. He appreciated how Rick did the same.

But as the two men shared a chuckle, Wally felt that something was a little off.

The young speedster instantly disregarded the anxiety. But, for that fleeting instant, Rick intimidated him in a way that he could not quite distinguish.

Strangely enough, Mr. Shavers seemed to either suppress his personality or just not have much of one at all, even despite his obvious sense of humor.

Maybe it was because he looked, well, old.

(Then again, Linda always looked like she was in her late twenties. In fact, Wally thought she was a teacher when he first saw her. It was weird, he had thought, since most Asians looked twenty years younger than they actually were.)

"Are you Artemis Crock?" Rick suddenly and surprisingly asked of Artemis.

"Yeah?" she responded with raised brows.

"You know her?" Linda and Wally both questioned warily.

"In a way," he answered. "I subbed for a chem. class at Gotham Academy." He gestures blankly to Artemis. "She was a student there."

"Oh my gosh! You were the hot sub-!" Artemis swallowed the last word as she realized that awkwardness rushed into the fray and made its home among the four individuals, thriving among their shocked expressions.

Linda simply placed her hands on her hips, the smile on her lips unreadable.

Rick broke the silence with an embarrassed laugh. "You turned in one of the best lab reports of your class. College-level, really. I was impressed."

Artemis exerted a slow "Thanks."

"So you two going to the premiere?" Linda asked, at length.

"I've been looking forward to it all year," Wally animatedly replied.

Artemis covertly rolled her eyes.

Rick laughed and glanced at Linda. "You should have heard her the past few months - all she would gush about. "

Wally was taken aback. Park...gushes?

Linda Park hit her boyfriend over the arm, her face full of anger and bashfulness.

Wally felt more taken. He needed to reevaluate his impression of Manami's friend.

Then Linda began to tirade, "It's a terrific adaptation of a series of graphic novels that I have thoroughly enjoyed since my childhood. And this along with many others, like Lord of the Rings, which is a film series I know you 'gush' about. Absolutely revolutionized pop culture and allowed a formerly-," she grasps at the air for words. "- stigmatized media to become now a legitimate form of entertainment."

She ceased for a moment to sneer at Rick, "So yeah, Rick, I gush."

Wally reevaluated his reevaluation of her with a smile.

With a smile that Artemis observed in disdain.


July 20, 18:45 EDT. FRIDAY

Linda and Artemis waited in line for the theater as their boyfriends chatted enthusiastically about the Tolkien trilogy in the line for concessions.

Artemis kept her gaze low, her hands dangling in the pockets of her favorite khaki shorts. She was not one for being fashion-savvy but she loved how these shorts made her look. And, begrudgingly, how Wally would look at her when she wore them.

She frowned.

Linda, on the other hand, looked like she was the poster girl for Tumblr or Pinterest, especially with her geek shirt, patterned jeggings and leather boots.

Not an inch of indecent skin showed, yet she looked sexy.

Even her long thick and smooth hair fell perfectly down past her shoulders.

She reminded Artemis of how Zatanna dressed and carried herself. D*mn these gorgeous black-haired super-model types.

Said black-haired girl glanced over at her.

"West did something stupid, didn't he?" Linda mused with a smile as they moved up a place.

Artemis jumped, then she huffed. "That obvious?"

Linda hummed out a short chuckle, "Just a bit. I figure it mustn't be that bad, considering you still went to the movies with him."

Art rolled her eyes, "More, like, forced me."

"Yeah, I kind of forced Rick to come. He's more of the physics and philosophy geek than a pop culture one but he doesn't like going out, in general. One time, he even canceled a dinner reservation I planned for a month, to work on a paper." She laughed condemningly, "He didn't even get a decent page finished."

Artemis just stared at her, not sure how to respond. Does she even like her boyfriend?

Linda twisted an invisible light bulb in the air as she emphasized, "But," and continued, "Despite all the stupid stuff he does, he's still one of the smartest guys I ever met and is more than willing to make up for his shit. Which I call him out on. Because he has. A lot of it. I mean, he was your substitute for you chemistry class, right? And he made you guys write lab reports? As a sub? And he was the hot sub?"

Linda shook her head and scoffed, then softened, "Still-,"

Artemis reactively raised a hand to stop her, "I get it."

Linda apologized for the excess with endearing bite of her tongue, "West seems like a good kid. He just doesn't fully-,"

"Get it?" Artemis repeated.

Linda agreed with a wry smile. "I didn't want to say anything because, I mean, he's yours."

"Don't worry about it," Artemis voiced, throaty and sumptuous in each vowel. "He has a lot of shit too."

Linda chuckled, "I like you."

"Thanks," she labored through her lips.

"Not so bad yourself," was a little easier to say and a small and hopefully indiscernible formed on Artemis' lips.

This girl was alright.

Artemis felt that every word coming out of this Korean girl's mouth was genuine – a trait she could barely find in most people. Even her compliments seemed less like conventional flattery and more like snarky word vomit.

But, as Artemis knew from experience, first impressions are misleading.

So trusting this new chick on the first date was not an option. Artemis just found her unique.

Linda, meanwhile, switched into psychologist mode – an occurrence that Artemis would figure out, in the years to come, to be very common.

"I'm sure it's a learning process for him. But I just can tell that he adores you. It's frickin' adorable. I mean, look at you! You are absolutely gorgeous." Linda almost shouts as she gestures to… all of Artemis and then proceeds to list every aspect of her physical appearance.

"And your legs! Oh my gosh, I keep having to tell myself that you're not photo-shopped."

Artemis instinctively shied into her shoulders. She was not used to blatant compliments. Especially about her body. From civilians.

Not that she would like to admit, but it was nice.

She knew she looked good; it was just unusual to have someone tell her that.

(Except for Wally when he gets a little frisky or – more regularly – when he wants to apologize for something. "You know that you are so gorgeous, babe. I accidentally spilled Barbeque sauce on your favorite copy of Alice through the Looking Glass").

"How do you keep your skin so frustratingly perfect? And-," Linda interrupted herself mid-sentence. When Artemis looked up, she knew why.

Her sometimes "doesn't quite get it" boyfriend was leaning over the candy-display counter, flirting with the busty strawberry blonde cashier, throwing popcorn up into the air and catching them in his mouth.

Forgoing her better judgment, Artemis started to fume. Her nostrils flared, her breathing heightened, and her eyes formed into slits.

She hated being jealous. He did not even deserve to make her jealous. It just happened.

All. The. Time.

Another one of his compliments would be on their way.


July 20, 23:20 EDT. FRIDAY

The two couples rode in silence while Rick drove his small but fairly new Honda Accord. As they got on the highway to head into the heart of downtown, Linda peeked over her shoulder every once in a while. She frowned.

Wally and Artemis sat at the opposite ends of the earth, glaring out their respective windows.

Déjà vu.

Linda bit her tongue as she contemplated how to fix the situation.

Wally had explained that he was just "flirting" to get some free Lightspeed Energy Bars, which he did. (And they were deliciously nutritious during the film).

In all honesty, Linda couldn't blame him for that. She gets "playful" to get more bacon/onion rings/Korean-style beef ribs all the time when she goes out to eat.

But she knew that he should have known that Artemis was feeling neglected because of his playboy habits, no matter how unsuccessful those habits usually are.

Finally, Linda swerved around one last time and made direct eye contact with Wally. She made her eyes big and nodded aggressively towards Artemis, mouthing "Apologize!"

As oblivious as he can be, he got the message.

He glanced sideways towards his girlfriend and waited until Linda plopped back in her seat properly. Her owl eyes away from watching a scene that he imagined will be one of the most awkward things he might ever do.

He inched his hand across the faux-leather seat and gently touched Artemis' hand.

She turned towards him in shock and instinctively pulled her hand back. But he quickly grabbed it and positioned his face right in front of hers.

He then, with every ounce of sincerity he could muster, mouthed the words: "I'm sorry."

His gaze softened.

Hers followed.

He leaned closer to her, gently clasped her cheek, and gazed deeper into her grey eyes.

Be romantic, be romantic, be romantic, he internally shouted.

Artemis just stared back, both anger and uncertainty in her eyes.

"That was stupid of me," he whispered, "But I thought you would know how much those other girls really don't matter…" he unfettered an embarrassed smile, "…considering that I have you, babe."

He tilted his head and pressed a chaste kiss onto her lips.

"I love you, beautiful."

Artemis just smiled beautifully back.

Alright, not that awkward, he thought as he leaned in for another kiss.


"That was awkward." Rick joked after he dropped off the two lovebirds – who were still very much attached – at Artemis' home in downtown Gotham.

Linda bleghed, "Ugh, I hate it when couples get all touchy-feely in public,"

"Even us?" Rick mused.

"Oh, as if you actually get touchy-feely," Linda stabbed back.

Rick failed to respond as he changed lanes.

Linda sulked. It always took so much to get him to do anything. Except when they are completely alone and Linda actually has to force him to rein himself in. She had established lines but it seemed like all that he would do is try to cross them.

So the disparity of dealing with a cold fish in public then a puppy in heat at home was –really - getting to her.

She started to wonder if her boyfriend could ever achieve any level of romance. She knew he was completely capable of doing so. With the right guidance, any guy can, really.

Heck, Wally West had just said, "I love you" to Artemis apropos of nothing in the backseat of the car.

I can sure pick 'em.

Then Rick signaled to pull into the parking lot of a Holiday Inn.

Linda frowned in confusion, "Why did you pull over?"

Rick put the Honda in park.

"I had hoped we would have some time to ourselves, after the movie," Rick replied. He turned off the car and removed his glasses. "But because you're such a nice girl, you just had to offer a ride to those kids."

Rick closed in and tilted his head to kiss her.

She expressed her fake offense in an exaggerated scoff as he grew closer but secretly rejoiced, and kissed him eagerly.

After a moment, she pushed him away with a firm hand.

"You know that Emily is expecting me on the other side of the city in 30 minutes."

"I called Emily a while ago and she thinks that you'll be staying at your uncle's." He slithered his arm around her body, got rid of her boundary-making hand, pushed her hair from her collar and nuzzled his nose into her now bare neck.

He began to kiss her bared skin aggressively.

The sensation elicited shivers and she heaves a sigh. They haven't made out in a while but Linda did not like the idea of not knowing where she was going to spend the night.

Looking back on this moment, Linda would conclude that she was deluding herself. She knew what he had in store. She just didn't want to think that he would actually try.

Before she knew it, he had reached over and suddenly lowered her seat. She gasped. Without missing a beat, he straddled her with his thick, khaki-covered, gawky giraffe thighs.

"So we-," Rick unbuckled his belt, then blanketed her with his body and burrowed back into her neck, taking a deep whiff of her hair, twice, "-have all the time in the world."

Thrice.

Linda felt disappointment engulf her heart and expectations.


Then a tap on the window.

"Hey, hey lookie at whut we gots here," a muffled voice resounded through the glass of the doors.

Rick and Linda both glanced out the window to see something you would only imagine when your PE class is covering self-defense.

This is not happening.

Two men, big and gruff, smiled through the car windows in a way that elicited more shivers and fear in Linda than what Rick's plans had elicited.

The man closest to her was covered in an animal-like beard that drew away from his incredibly pasty and anemic skin. The other had long greasy strings of hair streaming down from his scalp. Both were garbed in ripped jeans and leather jackets, swaying to and fro from obvious intoxication.

There was a tap and a laugh from above her head and she turned up to see two more just like Pasty Man and Grease-head circling around the back of the car.

A wave of horror crashes through her brain as she remembers the murder scene from the Susan Sarandon film Dead Man Walking.

They weren't Holiday Inn security, that's for sure.

Linda jumped up to press the manual door lock down but Pasty Man was faster and Rick's lanky body was in the way.

The drunk wrenched the door open and his friend grabbed Rick's t-shirt.

"Come on, why don'cha let us join in?"

Rick croaked and the Grease-head guffawed and cackled through his accumulating spit then flung the hipster boy onto the pavement. Rick stood with his hands raised and muttered words to mollify the drunks but was punched into the ground before an argument could be heard.

Linda did not even have the time to scream since Pasty Man wasted no time in seizing her shoulder and assessed her with slimy eyes and a depraved smile.

She froze.

She froze and could not move and could not think and could not breathe.

Numb, rigid, and completely lifeless, Linda could not sense her body or her mind as the dipsomaniac shouted, "It's a chink! I always wan'ed to do a chink," and started to force her out of the car.

Then something clicked, and the wave of anxiety ignited and burned into adrenaline.

Linda hurled all of her weight against him and pushed back. But his grip was strong. She started hitting him wildly with the side of her fists, then scratching his eyes, grunting and half-screaming, using the side of the car as a foothold for her attacks and for security.

"No!" she shrieked, ungracefully, as he tried to grab her with his other arm through her frenzy of punches.

Pasty Man shouted slur after slur – both racial and gender-specific - as she dug her mint-colored fingernails into his pallid skin and ripped skin and follicles out.

He finally succeeded in prying her out of the car. Linda scrambled out onto the concrete and tried to dash into the slightly empty parking lot. But she forgot about the companions.

The greasy one darted from Rick's side and threw his large blubbery body onto her, hammering her into the ground with a force that made her scream in shock and pain.

"I' gonna kill that chink!" Pasty Man shouted as he rubbed the places on his face that she scratched.

Another one wrestled her arms down and Grease-head started clawing at her clothes.

"She's got big jugs for a Chinese broad," he chuckled perversely, not resisting the temptation to grab and fondle her breasts.

She started to cry.

Then she screamed again. She kicked her legs crazily to and fro, back and forth, until she struck the man's ear and cheek with the heel of her right boot.

He howled in pain, bending over and the fat man released her for a split second.

Linda quickly lifted herself up. She cringed. Her ribs burned.

Then the barrel of a gun eagerly met her eyes.

Pasty Man held a small firearm straight to her forehead with falsely-gained aplomb and an angry grin on his bearded, pasty face.

"I'm gonna rape the panties off 'a you and if you make a peep, I gonna shoot you and your skinny*ss boytoy," he growled.

Then a spark, the scouring of metal on metal, and the gun flew out of his hand.

Linda gasped as she raised her arms over her head to instinctively protect herself.

"Hey boys, I don't think the lady appreciates what you're doing," a young, chirpy voice laughed.

Linda looked up to see the Boy Wonder hanging off the windowsill three stories up on the Holiday Inn.

He looked taller on television.


July 21, 01:15 EDT. SATURDAY

A soft and cool sensation spread over her core as Linda woke from her slumber. She squirmed and heard a creak of fabric and metal. She is in a cot.

Bandages and a coolant pack covered her stomach. She felt no pain, just the comforting chill.

Her eyes, albeit heavy, open and adjust to the light, which emanated from a single lamp that looked like the ones you see at the dentist.

Once she got her bearings, she heard shouting and reprimanding echo through the space.

"You just started patrol and already jeopardized your identity," a low and gravelly voice condemned.

"I did not. She doesn't know who I am. And she was hurt, I had to take her here!" a boy's voice insisted.

Linda guessed who the members of the conversation were and shuddered. Am I in the Batcave?

"Miss," a figure appeared in her line of vision and its voice whispered, in a British accent, "May I suggest that you continue to, at least, pretend to sleep? You may not want your hosts to know that you are awake."

She immediately closed her eyes again and snuggled back into the cot. She felt a blanket cover her and a warm hand pat her on the head.

"The boy was injured too." Gravel and condemnation, again. "But you took him to the police station with the perpetrators."

"He was fine! He was just punched in the face but she was in shock."

A pause.

"Alright! I messed up. But I know that you brought Rachel here when you first started out."

The gravelly voice still does not make a response.

"Sir, if I may."

It's the British guy now.

"The lady is awfully… soiled and considering the night she experienced, it would be ungentlemanly to send her home in such a state. Besides, I doubt she will pose a threat to any future activities."

Silence persisted.

I'm doomed.

"Give her a shower, drug her, and get her out of here."

Or not. But still, drugging?!


Within a few minutes, Linda was led to a shower stall tucked into an alcove in the cave.

Top of the line, even for the shower, Linda noticed as she tapped on her preferred shower settings on the touchscreen by the showerhead.

Lukewarm water poured down over her face and down her body. She heaved a great sigh and thanked God for the amazing water pressure.

She reached for the shampoo and took a glance at the brand.

Batman uses BVLGARI shower products?

Linda formed a little smile as she applied some to her hair. But soon, the smile disappeared.

She stopped her scrubbing midway and looked down at her body. Every inch of taut skin felt as if she were breaking out in hives. She remembered every foul sensation just hours earlier. She knelt as the shower rained over her head and back, pushing clasping her arms around her breasts, praying that she will miraculously forget the burning feelings on the skin they touched and grabbed and scorched with their grubby hands.

Ten minutes passed and Linda finally walked out of the shower to find a towel and a new set of women's clothing (even the Victoria's Secret underwear…in her size) folded on a chair near the wall. She quickly dried and dressed herself then heedfully exited the alcove.

The British butler stood right outside, a comforting if not humorous smile on his face. He extended his hand for her towel.

"I apologize for the inconvenience I caused," Linda murmured as she dried her hair with one more tousle and returned the towel.

"Not at all, Miss. Very rarely do we get female visitors in the cave."

"Now I suppose you're going to have to drug me."

"Nah, we'll just blindfold you," Robin suddenly appeared from behind, making her jump.

He smiled, "Sorry,"

"You sure just a blindfold will be alright?" she asked teasingly.

"The blindfold was my idea," the butler noted, draping the wet towel over his forearm. "So, it will definitely be 'alright'."

He marched away with a triumphant grin.

Linda chuckled and turned back to the Boy Wonder. Now this Robin was definitely not the Robin she would read about on Flipboard or see on the news.

Did the first one get too old?

"I'm sorry if you got in trouble," Linda muttered, "you know, by bringing me here."

The boy shrugged. "It's my first week on actual patrol so I bet even the great and powerful Batman expects me to break a few rules."

Definitely a new one.

"Thank you."

"No problem," the boy smiled brightly, "Not everyday I can rescue a pretty lady."

Even though he gazed at her through a domino mask, Linda could tell that he was gazing expectantly.

She smirked, "I hope you're not looking for a reward. Because if you are, your princess is in another castle."

Then an afterthought, "But still-,"

She bent down and gently kissed him on the cheek.

 

Chapter Text

DAY 9 – Height be taken. Love's not Time's fool.

23 hours before the coming of 2018, a new year.

NEW YORK CITY.


DECEMBER 31, 01:00 EST. SUNDAY.

Linda sighs with the upmost satisfaction into the leather seats of the limousine.

"I must commend you on the vehicular upholstery choice."

"Newest synthetic bio-leather from S.T.A.R. labs," Dick Grayson quips.

"Of course it is," she sings sardonically.

"We have to thank you for your assistance again." He adds "Ms. Park" and an endearing smile for good measure.

"Not a problem. And you didn't have to drive me to my hotel. I'm sure I could have managed." She returns to a more lady-like position, crossing her legs and flattening out the folds of the pencil skirt she has been in (and out of) for the past 36 hours.

"Can't have that," Alfred articulates from his seat up front. "Ms. Park, you've been the only good company have had in ages. Do you truly believe that I would relinquish the opportunity to spend even more time with you, my dear?"

Linda sighs, "Jeeves, you think far too good of me." Her fatigue is evident in her subsequent sighs and light mirth.

"An appropriate amount of good," the butler retorts as he slows the car right besides a hotel entrance canopy that could pass as modern art with titanium pillars and automated marquees.

"Your key," Grayson suavely passes her a platinum-colored card then smirks, "You're already checked in."

"Thank you." She looks at the card, "You got me the Presidential Suite?"

"The best for the best," he winks at her.

"Alright, now you're being ridiculous," she scoffs as the door opens, courtesy of Alfred Pennyworth, and she genteelly steps out. Grayson follows suit.

She puts the card in her purse as Alfred sets her luggage besides her on the sidewalk. A bellboy promptly takes it to bring to her room.

Grayson holds up a metal briefcase to hand to her, begrudgingly.

"You don't have to, you know," he mutters softly to her.

Linda takes the glorified valise from him and smiles.

"It's going to be fine," she insists, "am going to be fine. Goodbye, Grayson," and makes her way into the hotel, giving Alfred a quick peck on the cheek before she headed in.

Grayson stays out by the limo for a moment, even after Alfred made his way back to the driver's seat. The young man simply sighs as he watches her enter the hotel then steps in the car.

When she starts rising in the elevator, she smiles, hums, and even unconsciously begins to mutter out various lyrics.

"Uh-oh, fell in love again. What am I gonna tell my friends?*" she murmurs out of those Teen Pop songs she heard on Pandora at one time. "It just happened. You walked through my door. Now I don't wanna be alone no more."

She smiles demurely at the ground and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Then she scoffs. "Linda Park, what is wrong with you?" she reprimands herself as she walks out of the elevator and walks towards her room. She slides the key into the slot on the door handle and noticed the fingerprint scan pad on the handle as well.

'Top of the line security,' she absently thought to herself as she turns the handle.

"Honey, I'm home." Linda chirps as she pushes the door open. The lights automatically flicker on and Linda flings her shoes off. "Oh, I forgot. I'm not married*." She laughs to herself.

"That's a really stupid thing to say," a voice comments from further inside the suite.

Linda jumps and pulls out a gun from her purse, immediately aiming it towards the source of the voice as she circles around the foyer to get a better look at her visitor.

The owner of the voice simply stares at her from their position on the couch with a deadpan expression on their face.

A pregnant pause passes while Linda thinks of a response to Artemis Crock, dressed as Tigress, sitting on the couch of her hotel room.

"How did you-?" Before Linda could say: "Find me?" Artemis holds up her phone.

"Your escort texted me your location while you were in transit," the blonde says with a smirk.

"Okay then," Linda retorts as she lowers the gun and thinks about how much of a dick Dick Grayson could be. "Why did you find me?"

"You said that you wanted a favor," Artemis responds.

"Not at one in the morning, honey," Linda smiles back as she clicks on the safety and tosses the firearm onto the coffee table.

Artemis shrugs. "Well, I'm very busy. And apparently so are you."

Linda rolls her eyes as she throws the suitcase onto the sleek, black armchair adjacent to the couch Artemis had colonized.

"Besides," Artemis paused, "I missed you," she admitted with a huff. "Scaring you like this is the least you deserve for running off to Denmark-,"

"Stockholm,"

Artemis glares. "Whatever," she sneers.

"I was going to visit after all of…this." Linda looks at the suitcase then walks into the kitchenette after a pensive pause. "Do you want something?"

Artemis ignores her. "I don't like you getting involved in all of this."

"I wanted to get involved." Linda pours herself a glass of something from the mini-bar.
"You shouldn't." Artemis rises from her seat and makes her way towards Linda. "You even said before that you hated vigilantes."

"I don't- I did not say I hated vigilantes. I said that vigilantism was misguided," Linda corrects then takes a sip. "And that was in the context of you running around beating people to a pulp and then returning to our apartment at ungodly hours in poorly-bandaged wounds. Because that… was how you mourned." Linda says the last word softly, devoid of the defensiveness that she began with. "And that, was unhealthy. And I was concerned about you."

Artemis sighs and crosses her arms.

Linda sets down her glass. "Are you and Wally…talking? At least?" she asks softly and with concern.

"You would know better than me," Artemis looks askance.

"What do you mean?"

"I know that he visited you in Stockholm. Did you think I wouldn't find out?" Artemis asked.

Linda simply looks back. "I didn't think-,"

"Yeah, you weren't thinking. At all. Now he's insane. Because you – being you - probably said some sappy thing that make him to think that everything he's doing now is okay."

"Art," Linda retorts defensively but still in a subdued manner, walking back out into the living room, "What was I supposed to do? He said that you moved on-,"

Artemis jumps up from her seat. "Yes! I did! It was nearly two years," she says this slowly and emphatically, the pain in her eyes overpowered by the anger in her voice. She quiets and says, "He needed to move on too but not like this. And why the f-cking hell did you have to hear that from him? Instead of me? Why didn't you-?!"

This time Linda interrupts, her tone is assertive, "Because I didn't want to make you any more guilty. You were already going through so much …of course I can't do that."

Artemis draws back a step. She tries to say something.

Linda's face contorts in pain, "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't notice that you had a miscarriage?"

Then the most awful quiet descends.

"Art, I know you already dealt with that, the best you could and I know you would hate for this to come up again or develop into even more drama so…I can leave it at that if you want me to."

"Yes, please," Artemis collapses back into the couch. Linda joins her, tucking her legs beneath her, and hands the heroine her glass of wine, which Artemis takes an immediate swig from.

"But…Wally did find out," is all Linda says when Artemis finishes off the drink. "He …he's not as dense as we think he is," she half-laughs.

"Yeah," Artemis returns the glass and buries her face in her hands.

"Wally 's still as stupid as we think he is, though," Linda adds, taking the empty glass and putting it on the table. "And like you said, yes, he is verifiably insane. Running off with a married doctor probably proves that."

"No, sh-t," Artemis nearly spits, "Did you know that she's 10 years older than him?"

"And that she works for S.T.A.R. Labs, is separated from a rehabilitating psychotic scientist-turned-villain, was given a grant from Harvard to study Wally's metabolism, thus exposing his true identity to the world as the second Flash, and supposedly incredible in bed? Yeah, yeah, I know."

"...He really tells you everything, doesn't he?"

"Ev. Ree. THING."

Artemis' lips curl into each other, not at her discontent with her ex-boyfriend's friendship with her ex-roommate but with the implication of what that friendship could have revealed.

With expertly hidden nervousness, she asks a question she wanted to ask during the entirety of their living together, "Did he ever talk about me? Like that?"

Linda peers over at her, eyes suddenly deadpan at the question and her answer. "I'd rather not say."

"That little son of a b****."

"No kidding."

Miles away, Wally wakes himself up with a great sneeze.


 

After a game of catching up – that takes way longer than either Artemis or Linda anticipated - the sun starts to rise.

"You better get going," Linda tells her guest as she yawns. "I haven't slept in ages."

Artemis smirks wryly, "I wonder why?"

Linda just sighs. "Artemis, I am aware that my actions-,"

"Are stupid?" Artemis finishes for her.

"Yes," Linda replies solemnly. "I know but I also know that you aren't one to resist the temptation of an… adrenaline high."

Tigress raises an eyebrow, "An adrenaline high, huh? That's one way of putting it." She laughs, "Linda," then pauses to look at her, "I trust you. But honestly, I don't like this,"

"It's not a commitment…of ANY sort."

"Still, Dick's a great guy but you know he's a womanizer and I know you're still denying that you like Wally."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Linda puts up her hands defensively, "What are you talking about?"

"You like him, right? After all of that -,"

"No, no, the womanizer bit."

Artemis frowns in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"I thought this was about the lead I've been following with your step-dad* for my next piece," Linda rejoined. "Wait. Did you think that-," Then Linda bursts into laughter.

The heroine raises her brows. "Geez, I got all worked up for nothing. But still…Vic? Seriously? Who in their right mind would team up with that sociopath." She crosses her arms in a huff. "At least you're not 'involved' with anyone…"

Artemis catches Linda biting her lip. "Well,"

"LINDA!"


DECEMBER 31, 21:33 CDT. SUNDAY. New York City, New York.

"Well," Wally grumbles through clenched teeth, "This is all fancy shmancy, ain't it?"

He fiddles with his tuxedo, grousing about the very unnecessary pat-down right at the entrance, as he and Tina McGee* walk up the steps of the main atrium of the Broome* Building, one of the many homes of the affluent Broome family and this one in particular overlooks the banks of the Hudson River.

As they walk through the lobby and give their coats in, Tina bombards him with advice.

"Don't drink too much. Don't mention anything about the Justice League unless they ask first. And remember, everyone here is an influential member of the international scientific community. Even the Broome family gained their privilege by being the largest producer of biomedical technology and general pharmaceuticals. Photographers and reporters will be there too. So please, do not say anything..." she pauses, realizing what she implied even if she didn't say the operative word.

They walk into the elevator in silence.

"I won't say anything stupid. I promise. Your experiment will be a good little boy." Wally smiles but does not fail in still showing the wound.

"Wally." Tina sighs. "You're more than an experiment. You know that." She straightens out an out-of-place lock of his bright red hair. "I just want to make a good impression. This is the first time I've been invited to the Broome's and that …is all thanks to you."

Wally relents and gives her a kiss on her painted lips. He parts from her, slowly, lowering his gaze to match her heavy eyes and heavy breath. Prompting a physical response that she hoped he would follow through.

With a seductive gaze and a "You look sexy in a tux," the tension between them escalates. He pushes her against the wall of the elevator, pauses to give her a seductive smirk then crashes his lips onto her. She grabs the back of his neck to deepen the force. He jerks her waist closer to him. Almost immediately, they resort to open mouths. Back and forth, they give and take in the fervor. He eventually trails passion-filled kisses down her bare neck and thanks God for her low-neckline dress. But as he is about to get below her collarbone...

DING!

The elevator comes to a slow stop as they reach the top floor of the building. Tina pushes him off, but whispers a request of continuation when they get back home.

'Damn, older women are really so much better.'

The doors slide open and they stride out with content smiles on their faces.

"It's the Flash! Wally West!" a photographer shouts as they step down the stairs, impelling other reporters and photographers to crowd him. "Can we take your picture?"

"Sure." Wally smirks and grabs at Tina's waist to force her to stay and pose with him. But he doubts that she cared. She deserves to show off the incredibly sexy dress she filled out and what other scientist can say or do the same?

After the photo op, Tina promptly enters the social game and plays on offense for an exhausting hour, introducing herself and Wally to various persons. Wally simply follows along as she repeats the pattern with the Broome's head of house, someone studying Meta-human DNA, the member of an important fellowship, the director of the Harvard Science Center, etc. etc. Eventually, he asks her if he could grab a beer.

"Do you want anything?" he asks her as she chats with a neurologist.

"Martini, thanks, babe." She requests without looking at him and continues to discuss the extent grey matter has on the rest of the body.

He nods and heads towards the bar. Then, either by fate or the persistence of romantic teleology, Wally turns at the right moment and faces the main entrance to witness a sight to behold.

Bruce. F-cking. Wayne.

The Prince of Gotham himself suavely saunters into the ballroom, sparking uproar among the reporters and the guests, all the while, leading a woman in black.

He scoffs – he always secretly believed that Wayne was a nutcase and particularly disliked how he treated Dick all these years. (And, though he would never admit it, Wally hated that despite the man's sociopathic and melodramatic tendencies, he would always be able to get all the ladies.)

But then Wally takes notice of the particular lady that Bruce Wayne did accompany that night. He first assumes that she is a run-of-the-mill flighty socialite but something felt familiar.

She turns, suddenly, to oversee the room. Her raven hair prances around her in a short, fluid, resplendent wave and her deep brown eyes immediately find his.

"Linda?"

Wally doesn't realize that he says this aloud but, thankfully, the general riff-raff of the party drowned out his exclamation.

Still, in a way as if she heard him from the far end of the ballroom at which she stood, Linda puts a finger to her sumptuous lips, mimes a "shh," and winks.

He blushes furiously and almost swears, caught off guard. He sees her laugh and return to her famous companion, gliding her hand into the crevice of his elbow at a sultry speed.

At the sight of that, something in Wally flares but refuses to identify what and why. He nearly – and almost instinctively - takes his first stride towards her when Tina abruptly materializes in front of him.

"Babe, did you see Bruce Wayne?"

He blinks. "Yeah." He tries to reorient himself back to sanity.

"Why do you think he's here?"

"I don't know."

"Do you think he renewed the contract between the medical branch of S.T.A.R. labs and Wayne Enterprises?" Tina starts biting at her nails- a habit that Wally thought was adorable. But he failed to notice this time.

"I don't know," Wally repeats more slowly and terse.

He could see the excitement in Tina's eyes as she wonders aloud if she could talk to the Gotham prince. Other than Wally West himself, Bruce Wayne was probably the only celebrity figure Tina would ever come across.

Before Wally could say something snarky about how it wasn't worth meeting the infamous billionaire playboy philanthropist, that particular infamous billionaire playboy philanthropist and Linda Park meander towards them through the throngs of star-struck scientists and their plus ones.

"Fancy seeing you here, West," Linda notes as they approach, her arm still nesting in Wayne's arm.

"Hi," is all Wally could manage. He gets to take all of her in and suddenly his unidentifiable discomfort transformed into ambivalence.

He was still upset, granted, but Linda looked…beautiful.

A simple black dress that hugged her torso and poofed (he wasn't sure how else to describe it) and billowed about her legs. She looked like Christmas.

"You look amazing," he admits solemnly. His eyes settle on the ground for a moment but eventually he looks up to her.

Linda parts her lips in slight surprise, then smiles. "Not so bad yourself." She turns to Tina and flashes an even bigger smile, "Tina McGee, I'm assuming? West has told me a lot about you," she offers her hand for the scientist to shake.

Tina takes it, a bit confused by the whole ordeal. "I'm honored but honestly," she glances at Wally in slight disdain, "I have no idea who you are." She chuckles nervously, eyeing Mr. Wayne every other second.

"Linda Park," Linda states, "I'm an old friend."

"You were friends with the Flash?" Bruce Wayne comments in a slow and overtly sexual manner, almost mockingly, turning down to Linda with an amused smile on his face.

Linda responds with an amused smile of her own and smoldering eyes, "I guess so."

Wally coughs; a bit peeved at the fact that Linda and Bruce f-cking Wayne were flirting right in front of him. "Since when were you friends with the great Mr. Wayne?"

He tries to hide the acidity of his mood.

"We're business partners," Wayne responds, "And my apologies," he outstretches his hand to Wally, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. West. You do good work.*"

Wally is taken aback. He takes his hand and mutters his thanks. And as Bruce Wayne takes Tina's hand and gives it a polite peck, Wally simply is in awe at the fact that Bruce Wayne – the Batman – had just complimented him.

"Business partners?" Wally asks Linda incredulously as Tina eagerly starts a conversation with the Gotham prince.

Linda hums a laugh, "Wayne Enterprises is thinking of being a major partner and shareholder of Millennium.* And I was asked to be liaison."

"Does he take all of his business partners to fancy parties in fancy dresses?"

Linda rolls her eyes, "Oh, quite often. Didn't you see the C.E.O. of STAR Labs at the last Broome Event? He wore this adorable little red number with a thigh slit and everything. It was amazing." She gestures humorously to demonstrate on her own gown.

Wally grumbles, then he pauses. "Why didn't you tell me you were back?"

"I didn't think I would have the time."

"What?" he asks, almost interrogates.

"I'm honestly not even supposed to be here but he did me a favor and I'm doing him a favor. And now I'm here in a dress that doesn't have a back."

Wally glances at her back to confirm this.

She lied.

Her dress had adequately covered the soft porcelain skin of her back in a veil of taut black lace.

She tosses him a look. "Naughty boy,"

"Troll."

Before she could give a witty comeback, Bruce had returned to her.

"I'm going to have to steal you back now," he says coyly, putting his hand at her hip and drawing her towards him.

"Well now," Linda says in a flat but definite growl. "I'll see you later, West,"

Wally is about to protest, reaching out just slightly as she gets whisked away. But he stops himself when he sees her face all aglow and resorts to trailing behind a rejuvenated Tina - who entered a strange high after interacting with Wayne and had re-entered the social scene with full force.

So, the next hour consisted of him fuming, trying not to think about why he's mad, listlessly following Tina around, glaring towards whatever social circle Linda and Bruce F-cking Wayne decide to grace their presence with, and downing beer after beer. (Of course, without much effect since he never gets drunk due to his metabolism, according to Tina's research).

So was he jealous?

As Tina starts talking to some redheaded journalist, Wally peers over at Linda again. He watches, intently, as the two interact.

Hands inching down dangerously.

Hands on shoulders.

Linked arms.

Whispers and laughs.

Smiles. Smolders.

His discomfort grows as the palpable tension between his friend and his superior grows.

He spies Bruce bending over to whisper something in her ear and Wally starts grumbling under his breath - in a forced and mocking low voice, "Watch, Linda, as I seduce you with my gravelly voice."

Wally then sees Linda whisper something in return so, now in a falsetto, "Oh~ Mr. Wayne! I'll just throw away all my personal morals and religious beliefs to have sexual relations with you!"

Just at that moment, Bruce had placed his hand on the small of her back and looked straight up at Wally. With the snarkiest smirk on his face.

Wally flinches, realizing that of course Batman reads lips and that he was in so much trouble. He steps inward to turn into Tina and away from his superior's freakishly keen eyes as she finishes up with the journalist.

"I am in so much trouble," he grumbles.

"Hmmm?" Tina asks at a heightened whisper, unable to hear him above the riff-raff.

Wally looks off into the crowd of laughter and decadence, a wave of contemplation washes over and upon him. He exhales, "Nothing."


DECEMBER 31, 23:35 CDT. SUNDAY.

With plastered smiles, Linda and Bruce excuse themselves from further conversation with the clingy Broome heiress and clandestinely slip out into the hallways. They pass the occasional drunk scientist/businessman and easily locate the service elevator. When they reach the top floor, they exit the lift and pass a few non-commercial rooms, which housed, from what Linda could tell by their signs, mostly tech, pipes or boilers. Eventually, Ms. Park and the renowned Mr. Wayne – still very much attached - meander into a little alcove further down the hall.

Linda scoffs out a laugh as Bruce pulls her into him, away from any straightforward perspective.

He bends into her, envelopes her, his heat on her cheeks, his breath on her skin, his lips on collarbone.

"Dior was a good choice," he whispers, a slight tickle with every word he mutters.

"Hmmm. We good?" Linda murmurs slowly, with one hand fingering the satin lapels of his tux and the other gliding across the wood embellishments on the wall behind him then onto his broad back.

Bruce takes one glancing sweep of the empty hallway, noting the surveillance camera. He swiftly extends his arm out then back towards him to fiddle with his watch, drawing Linda closer to his chest as a result. Linda takes the opportunity to take a breath and breathe him in for that moment.

A beep sounds from his watch then a series of them from the camera go off.

She immediately ducks and bends down in front of an Art Deco wall panel to Bruce's side, unclipping her skirt from her torso and throwing it behind her as she pulls at the edges of the wall. It gives with a huff and reveals a hollowed-out section holding the metal briefcase she had placed there hours before while dressed as a maid. She pulls it out, opens it, grabs two black devices– handing one to Bruce and fastening the other to a strap around her thigh.

She then proceeds to empty out the most of the contents and situating them on her person. Bruce takes a second glance up and down the halls, saunters over to a large metal door on the other side of the hall – a "Tech. and IT Room" sign and a security panel to its side. He places the device Linda just handed to him on top of the panel and two seconds later the device brightens with a distinct green glow. The door clangs opens.

As he walks back to Linda, he loosens his tie and pulls out his phone.

"We've got 46 minutes until his arrival. And I need to leave the rest to you."

"Wait." Linda stands up suddenly, shock in her expression. "I thought you were leading this."

"The Justice League just informed me of greater issue that requires my attention."

Linda purses her lips. "What does the Justice League deem as a greater issue? I would think that high-profile terrorism was pretty high up there."

Bruce simply stares at her, then relinquishes a very small yet humored smile as he puts his phone back. "This concerns the galaxy. Doomsday-level situation if not prevented. So as much as I dislike it myself, the League always takes priority."

"Except that you're usually part-time…other than for now, I'm assuming." Linda retorts, pulling her skirt around her waist to cover the newly adorned equipment. "I understand that the galaxy is at stake but I feel as though letting a newbie take over probably isn't within yours or the League's best interests."

"You have the Flash, and I saw Sage sneaking around the bar 30 minutes ago. Fill him in and if anything else happens then you have direct access to the Tower."

"Wally and Vic Sage? I'm going to have more work doing clean-up than actually carrying this out."

"Complaints?" Bruce asks solemnly as he whips the tie from out of his collar.

Linda tilts her head coquettishly, "No. I'm just messing with you." Then, she straightens out and sets her hands on her hips. "I'll let Sage know. If everything is all set here then it should go fine. Thank you for trusting me."

Bruce stares at her for a brief moment, then firmly cups her face and lowers into her to conquer her parted and painted lips.

"Thank you, Miss Park. "

Linda secretes a sultry smile and gazes up at him. "Have a good night, Mr. Wayne."

"I have had one," he retorts.

"Be sure to give Alfred my love."

And with that, Bruce silently stalks out and into the Emergency Staircase that would take him to the roof.

Then a rush of wind billows past Linda followed by a sardonic "Isn't he way too old for you?"

Linda turns to see Wally leaning on the wall next to the adjacent door leading into the Tech. room.

She does nothing to mask her lack of surprise. "Did that register in your head just now?" she rejoins, grabbing the suitcase. "And you have absolutely NO right to say that."

Linda walks into the room and attempts to close the door behind her but Wally stabs his foot in between it and the frame.

"Tina is younger than Bruce by a long-shot," he argues, forcing himself through.

"Hardly," she smiles, at an intense whisper, "Plus, aren't even younger now?"

"What?"

She ignores him with a curt turn and approaches a digital tower.

He follows her in. "Did you read Tina's article?"

"I looked it over," she opens the briefcase and connects the computer snuggled within it to the tower with a variety of wires. "Her conclusions mentioned that your body hasn't aged and right now it seems as though your mental age hasn't done much aging either," she turned to look to see what retort he could manage to send back at her.

"Oh ho, you are so clever, Ms. I-read-scientific-journals-outside-of-my-field. Will you ever get over insulting my apparent lack of maturity? 5 f-cking years, Park, 5 f-cking years."

"It's been more than five." She types a few things and flips a switch.

"That's really helping your case."

"Well, it's not helping yours at all now, is it?" She slams the suitcase shut and stands to meet his bitter gaze.

She fumes but for a second at most. "I don't have time for this. I need to go."

"What the h-ll are you even doing?"

"Security measures. We want minimal damage done to the building when Dr. Chambers attacks."

"WHAT?!"

"Dr. Chambers? The famous critic? He calls himself an aficionado of finer culture and seeks to destroy the entire scientific community for the societal apathy against the arts?"

Wally just stares blankly at her.

"He's been targeting this event for a while now,"

"So this is a mission?"

"More or less."

"And Bats let you?"

"Bats?" Linda smirks.

Wally jolts. "Uhh…I …he…Bruce…?"

"Bruce? Or do you mean his dark alter-ego?"

"…"

She leans in, purses her lips, narrows her eyes and whispers, "He's Spiderman, right?"

His facial reaction compels a chuckle to form through her half-smile, "Wally, I've known the identity of most of the Justice League for a while now and I've known you were Kid Flash since college,"

"Really? And you didn't feel the need to write a story on me all of these years?"

"Not interesting enough," she sneers.

Suddenly, the building trembles and the lights flicker.

Linda swears as she pulls out her phone with a timer counting down the seconds on the screen. The technology hums around them and the lights sustain themselves.

"He's early," Linda bolts for the door.

But when she reaches the hallway, she's abruptly lifted into the air and Wally whisks her down the stairs and back to a side door into the main ballroom. He sets her down gently and she whispers her thanks.

Both peer in to see a short and bulging man in a cream tuxedo and John Lennon glasses divulge his identity and his purpose in crashing the party from the center of the frightened and murmuring masses. He sermonizes with upmost haughtiness as his fedora-clad men circle the partygoers with machine guns.

"I am an aficionado of finer culture," the man bellows into the crowd, making Wally scowl at Linda.
"Told you so," she whispers back. One of the henchmen sidles in front of their door and is swiftly and silently taken down and dragged to them as Dr. Chambers pontificates on the deteriorating state of the fine arts community thanks to science.

"You kids just going to stand there?" Vic Sage questions (*haha) as he forces the henchman onto them.

Linda and Wally roll their eyes and scoff as they push the body beside them.

"West, you get the guards on the far side," Linda orders, "I got crowd control and Vic, just don't kill anyone."

"Can I incapacitate them to the point of disability?"

"Not unless you want to go through my father's marital counseling sessions again."

"Right,"

Wally groans (he has had enough with ultraviolent sociopaths being involved with the women in his life). He zooms off, weaving in and around civilians and unceremoniously knocking out several of the Aficionado's henchmen. But he starts heading towards the strange Dr. Chambers himself, Wally notices the unnerving smile the man has on his face. Then he feels it.

He feels the whole of his body being spaghettified into a vortex. When he comes to, he finds himself cramped into a small transparent box. He struggles but to no avail.

"Ah, the Flash," Dr. Chambers jovially announces, "Perfect timing. My schedule (which he pronounces as 'sheh-ju-well') is going just as planned thanks to your arrival." He kneels before the box and smiles an unearthly and golden grin at the young super. "You should consider keeping your private life more private."

Wally sees Linda rush people out into the halls and relishes a quick moment of relief when he notices that Tina is one of them. But then Linda mouths to him, "He has a point."

Wally makes a face at her. But then whatever expression he makes quickly dissipates as he watches Linda approach him and the Aficionado.

Wally's skin blanches as he witnesses Dr. Chambers leer at Linda with that same unnerving smile spreading across his short and bulging face. But she simply amuses him with a smile of her own.

'What is she doing?'

Linda then evolves into a completely different person right in front of him and oozes… sexuality.

Her eyes, her lips, her breaths, her figure, her curves, her saunter, her hips – they all exude something carnal and voluptuary.

And it burns Wally.

"Hello, Dr. Chambers."

Her voice.

'Is she f-cking seducing this guy?!'

She reaches out her hand and the man eagerly takes it.

Her gestures.

"Miss Linda Park," Dr. Chambers greedily murmurs into her hand. "Such an immense pleasure to finally meet you, in the flesh."

Her flesh.

Wally cringes.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed our correspondence."

"As did I," Linda responds with so much grace that it stuns Wally into another stupor.

"But tell me, my dear lady, why is such a great writer and lover of the arts – like yourself, here?"

"A foolhardy attempt, Dr. Chambers. An attempt to see beauty in the quantifiable but I couldn't. Your mantras, your words - they kept resounding within my mind this entire night as I dealt with these insignificant men and I realized how right you are," she lies with fake sincerity brimming in her eyes and the soft cadence of her voice.

'Give this woman an Oscar!' Wally shouts in his mind as he tries to shift in his cage. He can't.

"Let me come with you."

"WHAT?!" Wally finally verbalizes this comment. She ignores him.

She reaches out to grab Dr. Chambers' thick and burly arm and insists, "Let me come and help you bring this world back into the glory that it once was. I want to see you harness the technology of the decrepit today to thrust us into the better."

The culture fanatic brought his hand up to her cheek and muttered, "I wouldn't have it any other way, my dear."


DECEMBER 31, 23:59 CDT.

"Why-was this part of the plan?" His voice is muffled by the walls of the contraption as Dr. Chambers' men wheel it out onto the roof of the Broome building where a helicopter stands. "And what is going on?!"

"Don't worry about it,"

The henchmen leave them to go attend to Dr. Chambers and ready the chopper.

"Of course I'm going to worry about this! How does he even have the technology of this caliber?"

"West, he's a rich man with mission and a plan. And you're a tiny miniscule part of it."

"How – in God's good earth – would you know that?!"

"Because he told me."

"So did you f-ck him too?"

She glares at him and – to his surprise, she looks destroyed. But only for a moment.

Linda then stalks towards Dr. Chambers, converses with him and points directly at Wally.

'Sh-t,'

Some of Dr. Chambers' men try to wheel the box towards the copter pad but their boss waves them off.

"Leave him! He upsets my lady. We already have what we need from him."

She returns with forced apathy and towers over him in his humiliating little box.

"I just saved your life, you ungrateful little-,"

"G-dd-mn it, Linda," he shouts, "Why are you doing this?"

Linda stares at him and her whole person softens.

He's not angry. He's scared.

He's scared for her.

Then she says something that is suddenly drowned out by the celebration of the New Year from the crowds below and the starting up of the helicopter.

But he knows what she says.

Her words ring in his ears as he watches – in horror – Linda climb into a helicopter with a psychopath.

"Because I love you."


JANUARY 1, 01:20 CDT. MONDAY. A mansion nestled into the forests of Upstate New York.


Linda shivers in the chilling winter air as firemen and various superheroes put out the remains of the fire in Dr. Chambers' facility. She fingers a thick plastic card in her hand and glowers as the light of a single lamppost floods the area around her in a dank yellow hue.

She's been through a lot in the past hour. Her mind races through the helicopter ride Upstate, the Aficionado's grubby and unwanted caresses, the contrivance only fit to be harnessed by the gods, and the fitful dreams of this place that haunted her for the past year.

'Something is going to happenOr something has.'

"Miss Park?" a voice asked timidly from behind as something draped over her shoulders. She jolts out of her thoughts to see Kaldur'ahm put his sports jacket firmly on her frame. "Here," he says, "You must be cold."

"Thank you, you're so sweet." She beams at him as she puts her arms through the sleeves and clandestinely slipping the card key into the pocket of his jacket. "I always knew there was a reason why you're my favorite." She comments before winking at him.

Aqualad is taken aback at first, then his cheeks twinge with a light blush. "Ah…" is all he can murmur.

Then a whoosh and a "I got it from here, Kaldur. Thanks."

"Oh, Jack made it out of the box," Linda remarks as the whiplash of Wally's sudden arrival whirls the tresses of her hair and gown about her. "How did you get out?"

"Vic's versatile with a crowbar,"

Linda laughs and Wally looks coldly at Kaldur, "Could you give us a few minutes?"

"Ah, yes." Kaldur responds, slightly confused. "Happy New Year, Wally. Miss Park."

"Happy New Year to you too," she answers gracefully.

As his former leader walks away, Wally follows him with an icy stare. "So is it 'Let's See How Many Men Can Linda Park Seduce' Day today?" he asks.

Linda huffs. "Or, you know, the first of January," she retorts as she starts walking away. "But I prefer 'Linda Kicks Ass' Day."

Then, she pauses and turns to him. "But here's the killer, 'Wallace West Is An Emotional Mess' Day. Oh wait… that's everyday now, isn't it?"

"Now that's not entirely my fault, is it?"

"Really?"

"Dude."

"What? Dude. Did my heart-wrenching confession throw you that much out of sorts?"

"…maybe,"

"It was mostly to make you shut up," she comments, "And it worked."

He grumbles something unintelligible.

"What?" she grumbles out in return.

"I can't. I don't…I don't know," He looks at her – confused, surprised, guilty.

She gulps down her distress. She knows he is guilty because he cannot reciprocate. She knows. "Wally, I don't expect anything from you. Just be happy and I'll be more than content with the way things are now."

"But-," then he pauses, "Did you just call me 'Wally'?"

"Maybe," she shrugs, "Does it matter?"

"Well-," something in his face softens and he gazes into and through her. The moment is suddenly rushed into a space without time.

Linda finds her breath hitch from the sudden intensity of his green eyes. "West,"

Wally doesn't respond in words. He, instead, reaches out and delicately toys with the ends of her hair, lost in the void of the smooth tresses of ebony and caramel.

"Your hair has some brown in it," he finally says.

"West!" she huffs out insistently, her heat rising.

He snaps out of it, reeling his hand back, and Linda's pulse thanks God for that.

"I want to go home," she states.

"Right," he fumbles, "I'll-,"

"Flash," Batman spoke suddenly and appears just as suddenly behind them.

"Yes?! Gosh," Wally mentally told himself to calm his beating heart – the reason for its beating he still is not too sure of.

Linda withholds a chuckle.

"The rest of the League will leave it to you to escort Ms. Park to her hotel room."

"Yes, of course,"

Batman turns to Linda. "Ms. Park, we will keep in contact with you with the final details. Thank you again for your help."

"My pleasure," she replies then smirks, "So should I call you or will you Bat-call me?"

The Dark Knight simply responds with a curt smile then disappears into the fray. Linda beams warmly as he leaves while Wally, on the other hand, remains in utter disarray.

"Did he…?" he faces her smirking face in cartoonish shock with his eyes bulging out and his mouth open enough for Linda to stuff his foot into it, "Did he just smile? In the suit?"

"Happy New Year, Wally," is all Linda says.

Wally breaks out of his surprise and faces her. "Happy New Year, Linda,"

He looks pensive again, intensity again manifesting in his gaze. She looks at him, puzzled.

He takes a breath, tilts his head down and gently presses his lips onto the pinking surface of her cheek.


 

All things will soon be revealed.