Sometimes, the eyes that Wally sees with are not his own.
His are blue, bright, but normal where his speed, his metabolism, isn’t. But sometimes, only sometimes, that normal blue turns brighter still, until it gleams a shining, blue-white, bright enough to glow in the dark. These eyes, the strange over-blue, alternating white, stare out of his face when he needs to see what cannot be seen by normal eyes, or even by Superboy’s eyes, super as they are.
He is careful to never let this side be seen. Careful to turn his face away or to zip out of their line of sight or, knowing a path is empty, race along it as his eyes glow blue-white as he sees with a gaze that is not his.
It has been this way since he was little. Sometimes, if he focuses hard enough, he can almost remember the moment when it first happened, when he felt the subtle overlap in his mind, when something else settled there, and what Wally was seeing was something he could not be seeing.
“Artemis, behind you!” M’gann’s voice cries, echoing in all their minds, connected as they are. There is a sensation – not a sound, not a voice, but a feeling – of acknowledgment, and Wally watches as Artemis leaps forward, spinning on her heel as she draws back her bowstring, an arrow releasing into the face of the twisted creature that had managed to creep up behind her.
There is a constant thrum in his mind from the link that holds them all together, M’gann’s telepathy making them a team in a way that drills and trust falls and Black Canary’s training could never have done. They are aware of each other in a way that they had never experienced of another human before, or of an alien.
The telepathic communication, the ability to think words at someone and have them returned, had been a surprise to Wally as much as to the rest of them, but the link itself, the sensation of another mind overlaying his – that wasn’t unfamiliar at all.
When he was three, he remembers - with the vagueness of old memories of things you would prefer to forget – the feel of a hand across his face. His child’s mind thought “hot” and the older part of him, looking back, thought “fire,” but there had been neither heat nor fire on his face, just the sharp crack of a hand that left a red print across his pudgy cheek and tears in his eyes.
He doesn’t remember anything more of that moment, doesn’t remember if the hits continued or if that was a one-off. He simply remembers that there had been pain in that moment, that there had been heat and fire in a handprint, and that he had been frightened.
His next memory, though he knows that his child mind couldn’t recall linear chronology at so young an age, with his mind so underdeveloped, but still, when he thinks, the next memory that comes up, connected to the first, is the sharp swat of a hand against the back of his head. It wasn’t a hard swat. In fact, most of it missed him, a glancing blow against his skull. What he does remember, the child’s “sharp” and the elder “knives” recollection is of losing his balance and falling down the stairs, the edge of every step cutting into his skin.
This memory doesn’t disappear into uncertainty like the last, but fades into blackness, and the older version of himself that sorts these memories on nights when sleep doesn’t come easily recognizes a loss of unconsciousness. He’s had enough experience to know that when he sees it.
The thrum in his mind isn’t a thought. M’gann’s connection is close enough that they can sometimes sense each other’s feelings. Nothing too deep, but the surface emotions, the surges of anger and fear, can come through in flashes, and it is good that she can do this, that they can allow each other to be this close, because emotions always spring forth faster than words, and so Wally dodges to the left the moment THREAT surges across the link from Dick-Kaldur-Wolf. He has to backtrack a couple feet to find a proper path, but it takes him less than half a second, and he slides into the gap between the apartment building and the truck.
Something falls to the ground behind him, a piece of rock or the arm of the creature he had been moving to attack, but THREAT-THREAT-THREAT beats to the pace of his racing heart and so Wally doesn’t stop, doesn’t use the truck as cover as his mind has briefly considered. His speed carries him up the side of a building, across the roof, down the other side, around the block, until he is behind the twisted half-living, half-robotic monstrosity when the explosion throws the truck into the air in a ball of fire that rips apart the brick wall and leaves a dent – a crater – in the ground where he had been standing when the feeling first surged.
“Wally!” he hears someone – M’gann – cry in their mind, and he has no words that will transfer quick enough, but he think-feels reassurance at her, and he feels across their bond, fed back to his own mind, the teasing wink dancing at them all from his own thoughts. He is fine. He is well. They saved him with their care and concern, and M’gann saved him with this bond that she has gifted them all with, and thank you, for being here, for being my friends, for caring. Because he knows what it’s like to not have any of that, and so it means a lot to him to be able to feel their concern, to know they truly do care. It means more than he can say in any words, and so he thanks their bond for that, too.
He knows that it isn’t good, his older mind, to become accustomed to a slap across the face, a cuff across the head, a careless shove that puts him too close to the edge of the stairs, to the burning stove, to a sharp knife. He knows that black and blue marks from play are expected, but his aren’t that same kind, and there are no fun memories held in his bruises to be cherished while it lingers. His child’s mind knows pain and fear and confusion, but his older mind recognizes that this is wrong and that he did not deserve this and why? Why?
He is four and he is clutching his arm to his chest. There is a feeling inside it, like marbles with sharp edges or ice cubes clinking together in a glass, and it hurts but he is being quiet because when he cries, they grab him and twist him and make him hurt worse. If he is quiet, they can forget about him. If he is quiet, he won’t really be there and they won’t be able to touch him.
But not knowing where they are, not knowing if they are coming up the stairs to find him, makes him want to cry even harder, because what if they are coming and he doesn’t know? What if he can’t hide and they find him? What if they see him and remember that he’s there and then they grab his arm and twist it like they twist the blue trays to make ice cubes and his arms turns to slush rather than sharp marbles, and he is scared and he wishes wishes wishes he could see them.
And there is a sound on the edge of his hearing, an echoing not-there sound, like a shirt being shaken to lift out the wrinkles, but heavier and lighter all at once. There is a feeling – a feeling – of blue and cool and then something settles on his shoulder with a soft, almost not-there weight and Wally can see.
He sees his daddy, red-haired like him, but with a dark, angry face, his lips fit over the edge of a bottle as he drains one of his stinky-drinks in the kitchen. There is something bubbling over on the stove, hissing as foaming water hits hot burners, but his daddy just grabs another stinky-drink and opens it, drinks it down like he is super thirsty and nothing else matters. The table is covered in empty stinky-drinks, and when there are so many, sometimes his daddy doesn’t even remember that he is there, so he knows that if he is quiet, maybe his daddy won’t find him and he won’t hurt anymore.
The image flashes blue and then his mommy is there, sprawled out on the bed in her working clothes. Her light hair is flung over the pillow and she is trailing her fingers through it while her other hand pulls a white roll of paper from her lips. She breathes smoke into the air and Wally thinks she will be sleepy and happy, like she always is when she sucks on the paper, and that’s okay, because even if Wally does accidentally make noise, she won’t care. She’ll just lay there and suck on more paper.
So Wally decides he is okay for now that he has seen what they are doing. He knows he can be quiet and then they probably won’t know he is there and that is okay, that is good, he can do that.
The sound on the edge of his hearing changes, no longer the shaking-of-shirts but a sharp cry that echoes across the world. He knows it is quiet, though, that only he can hear it, and so he does not shush the strange bird. His hand reaches up and runs through strange blue feathers and the bird peers down at him with glowing blue-white eyes and Wally thinks, in his child’s mind, that this bird is his friend and he loves it.
He sorts through possibilities, through potential paths, casting out ones that don’t give him enough maneuverability or put his friends in danger, plucking possibilities from the air and disregarding those that will not help him, even as his feet carry him faster than all the rest of them, whisking him so fast across the ground that the movements of the others are slow in response. He can watch every syllable form on Zatanna’s lips, watch the play of her fingers as she counts off the words to make sure she doesn’t miss a vowel, doesn’t twist a word right-ways when she needs it backwards, so “Skcor ekam sriats” actually makes stairs and she can race up the forming path and away from the lunging beast slashing its claws at her.
Wally disregards two potential paths, then races up her stairway path after her. He ignores her mental shout of “WALLY!” crossing against her already planned cry of “Yawriats espalloc!” He uses the rock he’s own to leap off, lands on the shoulders of the cyborg monstrosity, and hears the rock stairway collapse on top of the creature that had been behind him, trying to follow Zatanna’s path to the roof where she was now sequestered.
He sends a mental fist-bump Zatanna’s way, always thrilled when he can use his speed alongside the powers of one of his teammates, always amazed when they manage to work together so flawlessly, despite that it’s been going on for what seems like forever now. He shoves his hand into the cyborg’s head from behind, his fingers slipping through what feels like mucus and pulsating skin, and grabs the wires he can see beyond the goop that surrounds the creature’s malformed cranium. His fist tightens around the wires – there are almost too many for him to grasp – and he pulls.
There is resistance at first, not just from the wires but the mucus, as well. He feels like he’s stuck his hand in quicksand and something is trying to suck him down, suck him into the creature’s head, but he clings to the wires as he starts to vibrate. He sees the goop shaking, like gelatin and raindrops falling backward, and then there’s a feeling like he is being forced forward and backward at once, a rush of loss or equilibrium, and then his back hits the ground, the air in his lungs knocked out in a rush. His hand is covered in sticky mucus, but there are sparking wires in his fist, and he sucks in a breath of air as the creatures collapses to the ground in a pile of whining mechanics and prostrate limbs.
He has a moment to cheer internally, his inner-Wally dancing a victory dance, before his mind flashes blue and he sees
Dick is mid-leap, his feet above his head as he throws a birdarang at the wolfish creature leaping for him, other hand already reaching out to grasp the stair rung of the fire escape, completely unaware of the dark shape leaping down from the building above him.
Superboy charges like a bull into any danger and this was no exception. He’s buried his shoulder in the gut of one of the creatures and his powerful legs are mid-rush as he shoves the creature back, the ultimate target of his controlled rage the side of the building, intent on crushing the monster between a rock (Conner) and a hard place (a brick wall). But the fire escape is above Conner’s target section of wall, and so is Dick, and if Superboy shoves the wolf through the wall as he is planning, Robin’s balance will not survive without him clutching at the wrought iron stairs. And being still for more than a second will let that leaping monster at him, and they already know they cannot let these monsters bite them.
Kaldur’s blades are slicing-severing-biting back and each wolf that tries to bite at him, and Wally can see the calm controlled fury in every tense line of the older boy’s attacking frame. It is beautiful to witness and he takes only a moment to note that the Atlantean seems well in control of his battle and lets the blue carry his mind along.
Zatanna is atop the roof of the building her stone stairs had carried her to, arms up as she shouts backwards commands, calling for stone shields and pebble slingshots and swallowing ground and heavy air. Long-range suits her, as does high ground, and she is keeping off any potential attackers as she searches for ways to assist her friends.
Artemis is a twisting ball of fury, her arms in continuous motion as she grabs an arrow, fits it, pulls back her bowstring, releases. Beasts fall around her like flies and she is in constant motion, never in one place long enough for them to catch her, and Wally takes only a moment to admire the fury on her face, the burning, coiled rage in her eyes, and the cold way she battles, before moving on.
M’gann is standing in the midst of the chaos, her eyes glowing as she casts her telekinesis around, tossing wolfish monsters and catching her friends out of the way of attacks. Wally sees no danger imminent for her beyond the excess of creatures, but there are already half what there were a few seconds ago.
There is a cry on the edge of his hearing, high-pitched and shrieking, and Wally sees himself. A line of twisting lightning tearing up the road, sees his position in regards to the others – he is far to the right, twisting toward downtown, and he sees the potential paths he can take like a Pac-Man maze. He disregards two because they will distract M’gann or interrupt Kaldur, forgoes the one that will bring him within reach of what looks like biting rocks courtesy of Zatanna, and decides that the best path is the one that takes him first to the largest threat.
There is a flash of blue as the sight leaves with a flap of feathered wings and then he is running.
His child’s mind does not worry that the blue-white protector who sits on his shoulder will leave him. In the innocence of his youth, he expects a friend that will be there always, but that innocence does not remain with him. He grows, ages, and as he does, his mind learns truths his child self could not comprehend. The cold ways his father looks at him, the disinterested gaze of his mother, aches, burns, hurts down deep where hands and fingernails and cigarette ends can’t reach. He grows to expect the hate, the dislike, the lack of care, understands that this is a truth of his life, that he is unwanted, and does what he can to avoid it.
He stays late at school, as late as he can, spending hours with the science professor who keeps late hours. He doesn’t want to be hated by this man who he loves to learn from, even though he is sure it is inevitable, so he makes himself useful. He learns the ins and outs of Chemistry, of Physics, of Biology and Botany and Quantum Mechanics. He learns mathematics and memorizes the periodic table and studies formulae until he can recite them in his sleep. He learns proper clean-up so he can stay late and help cleanse the room post-experiment, and when he finally does have to leave the school, he spends the remaining hours at the public library.
Sometimes he visits his Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris, but they seem to enjoy his presence and he doesn’t want them to hate him too soon, and so he doesn’t bother them often or long.
He gets back home in the late hours of the evening, moves quietly, tries to pretend he isn’t there, and often manages to keep his parents from waking or seeing him as he sneaks in and out, especially once he learns to climb the tree and get in through the window he leaves unlocked.
He still gets slapped and shoved and his mother still sometimes shoves a burning cigarette against his skin, but if he spends most of his day out of their sight, they’re often content to pretend he doesn’t exist, and that’s fine. Really, it’s fine.
And all through it, he expects, he waits, for the blue-white feathered creature to leave, but it never does. It rests on his shoulder or on his bedpost, watching as he does homework. It rests on solid objects as easily as if it were real, and yet he has seen it pass through walls as though they weren’t there, and he knows that it isn’t a real bird, can’t be a real bird, but is something more than that.
It never eats, doesn’t sleep that he has seen, never leaving blue-white droppings for him to find about the house. Its sounds are silent to all but him, the feathers it plucks out as it molts disappear before they strike the ground, and sometimes, just sometimes, when he needs to know where someone is, he can see through its eyes as though they were his own, glowing blue-white.
They are like flames, like the fire of a Bunsen burner, so hot they turn from their vibrant red-gold to blue, and it’s like a sign every time he turns one on in the Chemistry lab, that this is where he’s meant to be.
Laughing, he calls her Enthalpy, knowing in the same way that he knows she is there that she is she. There is a presence in the back of his mind like a breeze and he thinks sometimes he can feel the wind brushing against feathers not his own, and it is beautiful.
When he recreates the experiment that Flash had done, giving himself super-speed, his considers naming himself Hawkeye, but there is still the fear inside of him that she will tire of his presence and leave him. Instead, he lets Barry and Iris call him Kid Flash and it sticks in a way that tells him it is right, the same way that the fire of the Bunsen burner blazing blue was right, and he keeps her a secret – even more secret than his secret identity – and joins a team of superheroes his own age.
He becomes friends – friends – with other teenagers who fight crazy villains and have secret identities and who care for him in a way he has never felt cared for before, except by Enthalpy. But the flapping of feathers in his mind is like laughter and he knows that she, too, is pleased with this.
He zips down the street, up the side of the building, dodges one monster and puts his fist against the face of another, tears across the roof of the building and down the other side. Robin is still mid-air, fingers reaching for the wrought iron stairwell. He’s moving so fast he can see as Robin turns his head, catches sight of the creature coming his way, teeth bared, claws spread to attack.
He sees the minute adjustment Robin makes, the way he pulls his legs, turns his waist, so he can spring off the stairwell rather than catch and hold. But he also sees the way Superboy is ramming the wolf back, his shoulder against its chest, and knows the shockwave of them hitting the building will not let Robin keep control of his springing away. He knows, because he knows his best friend, that slipping, that falling, will bring with it a moment of terrified adrenaline, will call back memories the younger boy would prefer not to be reminded of, but better he save Robin from teeth and claws than shadows of a past that will always be there.
So Wally reaches the leaping werewolf, the mangy-haired monster leaping down from the roof toward his friend, and grabs hold, twists his fingers in fur, plants his feet against the outer wall of the building, and jumps.
The wolf goes with him, and there may have been a yelp mixed somewhere in there, but Wally’s mind is filled suddenly with blue and he sees the flying body of a wolf tossed by M’gann’s telekinesis. His feet touch the ground long enough for him to leap over the screaming dog, and then another flash of blue shows him Zatanna, arms raised high, with bricks from a nearby crumbled wall shooting down toward the wolves like comets, surrounded by flames. His fingers tighten on the wolf’s fur and he catches his feet, lets his upper body continue long enough to direct the wolf’s trajectory, and then releases.
The werewolf, yelling or yelping or howling in pain and terror, tumbles and rolls most of the way into the path of those flaming bricks, and joins the rest of the group of them being beaten down and contained in a quickly-building cage of bricks.
There’s a flash of blue that tells him Superboy has knocked his wolf out against the building’s side and that Robin stumbled for just a moment before catching himself on the fire escape. Both spring away a moment later, looking for their next fight, and with another flash of blue, Wally keeps running.
He knows she is a ghost bird.
Or, rather, he suspects she is a ghost bird, because that makes the most sense. She can move through walls or settle on bedposts at her choosing. He doesn’t know why he can see her, except that he has seen others turn their attention to her, and thinks that she must be able to control that just as she can control whether or not a wall is real for her. Her feathers are soft to his touch even though they’re the color of blue fire, moving like smoke in the air. Her weight is real on his shoulder and so is the feeling in the back of his mind where she lives, this part of her that is also with him, always, even when he isn’t looking through her eyes.
He grows up with her by his side and in his mind, but he keeps her a secret from everyone, even his Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris, even once he moves in with them, because being able to see a bird that someone else might not be able to see is a recipe for therapy if there ever was one. Plus, he has this irrational fear – or perhaps completely rational – that someone might take her away once they realize she is there, that she is inside his mind and lingering despite being a bird that is no longer alive.
Even once he becomes so close with his team that they fit their minds together, thinking thoughts and feeling feelings at one another, he can’t bring himself to reveal his secret. So when magic comes up, these powers beyond the science he has learned so much about, Wally scoffs at them, sneers at them, because magic isn’t real, ghosts aren’t real, what are you talking about? Because he can’t risk the chance that they will learn about Enthalpy, that they will know her and take her away, even though he knows that they won’t. They are his friends and he can trust them and they won’t.
But it becomes so easy, scoffing at magic, rolling his eyes at these things beyond science, and they learn to expect it of him. It becomes a loop. They bring up magic expecting him to scoff and he scoffs because it’s what they want. All the while, there is a weight on his shoulder and in the back of his mind, feathers burning blue in the corner of his eyes.
When the battle is finally over, they stand in the midst of crumbled buildings, surrounded by the fallen bodies of some scientist’s mad experiment to create werewolves. The science doesn’t make sense and there’s a glowing golden orb leaking power that was used to make the change from human to wolf-human possible, and the whole thing stinks of magic so thickly that he can feel the expectation in the air.
“I think we have to concede that this was done… magically,” Dick said, and there’s a thread of laughter in his voice, that cackle right on the edge of being let loose, as they all wait for Wally’s furious denial that no, it couldn’t be magic because magic didn’t exist.
He glanced to his left, at the blue-fire burning on his shoulder, and shared a smile with another sort of bird. “You know, I think you might be right.”