Central City is weirder than Wally had expected --weirder than eyeing the strange news headlines and googling the term 'metahumans' could have prepared him for, at least. He's getting used to it, but the levels of crazy are so high that, sometimes, he just wants to pack his shit and drive back to Keystone. He couldn't, because his car is still more twisted metal and smashed glass than anything else, but the thought still crosses his mind often. Not that he'd actually leave, anyway --he loves his sister and his dad and his college classes and he's even starting to like Barry!
Still, he really needs to find a new way to make some money --the living money that his scholarship provides is definitely not enough to buy engine parts-- because, racing or no racing, he wants to have his car back as soon as possible.
Anyway, Central City, he was thinking --he often gets sidetracked when the car crosses his mind-- is weird as fuck. There is superhero merch for an actual, real superhero, and Wally's own sister is considered the city's resident expert on said superhero. Wally picks up the 'Flash' action figure from the display and stares at it for a few seconds. Weird. As. Fuck.
"That one's on sale, kid! Half price because the lightning bolt is sideways!" the store owner tells him cheerfully, and Wally sees that the old woman is right. The lightning bolt is horizontal across the Flash's chest, and suddenly he finds the toy endlessly amusing. He pulls out his wallet, grinning.
"You got a bow or something?"
He stuffs the action figure --now properly gift-wrapped-- in his jacket's inner pocket and is about to crouch down a little so he can accept Mrs. Velazquez’s kiss to the cheek, when a change in the shop's ambient sound catches his attention. He quickly looks around, but he notices that his alert is unwarranted: the change came from the TV, where calm music and monotone commentary over a golf game has been swapped for the noisy jingle of Central City's most popular news show. A reporter quickly takes over the screen.
As the reporter explains that a metahuman is attacking the CCPD and the police are barely able to contain them, unprepared for the criminal's seemingly electric powers, Wally reaches for his phone. It vibrates just before he unlocks the screen, a message from Iris popping up on screen: "cant make it 4 coffee look @ news". He doesn't need to guess that his sister is already on her way to where the action's at. Their dad is probably at the police precinct right now, and Iris is both a reporter and, apparently, too heroic for her own damn good. He pockets his phone.
"Thank you so much, Mrs. Velazquez. Oh, and my dad says hi!" he says, words rushed, and quickly places a peck on Mrs. Velazquez's wrinkled cheekbone before bolting out of the store.
He runs. It's twenty blocks to the police department and he just has enough pocket change for bus-fare, but buses are slow --especially during metahuman attacks-- and he can't pay for a cab with a defective Flash action figure. So he runs, slips his way across a sea of bottled-up cars to make it to the other side of Main Avenue, almost crashes into five different people, takes all the shortcuts he's learned in his few months in the city. It still takes him over fifteen minutes to get to the CCPD and, as he's turning around the corner, he expects to find that the Flash has already saved the day and Iris is already talking to a safe and sound Joe.
Something like an explosion shakes the entire block and all of the lights, cars, cameras and phones in a two blocks radius black-out at the same time. Wally's ears ring a little as he pushes his way towards the precinct's doors.
"Oh my God, oh my God," he recognizes his sister's voice as soon as he's close enough --some of the cops flowing out of the building recognize him as Joe's son and make way, part the crowd to allow him to move faster. When he finally catches sight of her and Joe and sees that the two of them are alive and well, his own heart almost stops. And then--
"Wake up, please, please, B--" Iris chokes on her desperation, her hands cradling the Flash's head against her lap. Joe in on the phone, whispering frantically to the person on the other end, trying not to look down at the unconscious man lying at his feet. Wally notices, for the first time, that the Flash is really lanky and thin, all long limbs that now lie in awkward positions, like a rag doll dropped carelessly on the floor. "Please, wake up," Iris repeats, tears streaming down her face and suddenly he's realizing that "Central City's resident expert on the Flash" doesn't quite cover Iris' relationship with the superhero.
"Cisco and Caitlin are already on their way, baby," Wally hears Joe say, and those names sound awfully familiar. One of the policemen running back into the precinct bumps into him, and only then does Wally realize that he's been standing near the edge of the hall for a few long seconds, staring at the scene happening at the very center of the place. He steps forward.
"Iris, Joe," he calls, and the relief of knowing that, at least, they are both whole and unscathed floods back towards him when he sees the two or three people lying unconscious around the hall, being picked up by paramedics. Two cops are handling one of them, putting some weird, sci-fi looking handcuffs on their wrists that Wally guesses are designed to somehow neutralize metahumans (the thought of getting an eye on those designs crosses his mind like a blur and then Joe is hugging him and he forgets about it).
He lets them know just how glad he is to see they are okay, but Iris isn't listening, the Flash's head still on her lap, her hands now resting on his chest. Wally catches the weak but persistent rise and fall of the man's breathing. "How can I help?" he asks, after Joe's let go of him. He doesn't know shit about first aid --he should probably learn, living in this city and having all of his family so close to all the dangerous things happening-- but anything would be more useful than staring as his sister anxiously mutters curses and pleads under her breath, trying to will the unconscious superhero to wake up.
"We got this covered, kiddo. B--" Joe stops mid-sentence, as if he'd just bitten his tongue, and throws a worried glance towards Iris. "The Flash and our electronics took the worst of it. A couple concussions and some cuts and bruises aren't that big of a deal in a place full of cops." He grasps Wally's shoulder and smiles at him, but the smile is forced. His eyes keep fleeting back to Iris and the Flash.
A thought crosses Wally's mind, and he wants to kick himself for forgetting so completely about-- "Where's Barry? He works here too, right?" he asks, wondering if Joe's anxiety is because Barry was one of the people who got shocked or tossed around by the metahuman. Joe looks at Iris again, frowning visibly.
"He-- He was working a crime scene almost an hour away." Joe doesn't look at Wally, his eyes still trained on Iris and the Flash. "He must be on his way back here," Joe reassures him. Wally doesn't have too much time to dwell on how Barry always seems to remain safe while Iris and Joe are constantly at the very center of the action. The murmurs and low chats of the cops moving around the precinct and trying to put the furniture back on its place are interrupted by a guy calling, loudly, "Metahuman task-force, metahuman task-force coming through!"
Relief seems to wash over Joe as he turns towards the doors, and Wally turns with him, curious. He doesn't know what, exactly, he's expecting, but, whatever it is, he doesn't find it. A guy about his age --wearing a "MAGNETO WAS RIGHT" T-shirt and his long hair barely held in a bun that seems to be losing structural integrity by the second-- rushes in, sneakers slipping on the hall floor a little; followed by a white woman in a lab coat and very high heels that looks like she's about to snap and start yelling at any moment.
"Caitlin! Cisco!" Joe calls, relieved, and the guy --Cisco-- runs the last few feet towards them and the soles of his shoes screech to a halt against the floor. Joe clasps his shoulder for just a second, gratitude clear in his eyes, and quickly lets him get to work, accepting the suitcase that the man hands him and greeting Caitlin with a quick hug. Wally watches them kneel around the Flash's body, Caitlin speaking to Iris with a soft and reassuring voice as she checks the superhero's pulse.
Wally watches as Caitlin goes over the Flash's vitals and quietly tells Iris that "he's gonna be fine, he's gonna be fine, he's survived a couple lightning strikes before, he's gonna be just fine". In the meantime, Cisco twists the emblem on the Flash's suit, and it comes off with a click, revealing a bunch of wires and data chips.
"All the circuits in the suit are fried," he informs Caitlin, who responds with a worried look that amply contradicts her words of reassurance to Iris.
"I think it should be safe to move him," she says, and Joe quickly steps in, muttering 'let me' before he's picking up the dude on his arms. He looks even more fragile with his limbs hanging from Joe's arms like this, but --Wally thinks-- Joe looks like he's the superhero now, like one of those Action Cop stereotypes from TV that he used to roll his eyes at.
Caitlin and Iris stand up, and Caitlin grabs Iris' hands. Joe is already walking out --carrying a fucking superhero clad in red leather on his arms bridal style, and this city really is so weird -- when Cisco finishes dropping Caitlin's medical instruments, a couple mechanical gadgets that Wally hadn't noticed before, and the Flash's chest emblem all in his suitcase; and stands up too. Wally only realizes that he's been standing idly a foot away from them and staring like an idiot when Cisco's eyes land on him and his face drops in surprise.
"Oh, you must be Wally!" Cisco says, and Iris, who is wiping the smudged eyeliner around her eyes as Caitlin speaks to someone on the phone in a rushed whisper, turns to him. Her face does something funny: her eyes open wide, her mouth twists upwards and her jaw clenches, resulting in the most obviously fake smile Wally's ever seen.
"Wally, hey!" her attempt at a smile doesn't last long, but she continues to try and fail to sound steady. Wally wants to hug her. "What are you d--" she starts, but quickly stops. Wally's stomach suddenly feels like it's been replaced by a rock. Behind them, Caitlin calls "Harry's outside with the van!" and Iris turns to her anxiously. She looks back at Wally, but it's obvious she wants to run after Caitlin. She hesitates, then steps forward and quickly wraps her arms around Wally's middle. Her words are rushed but they sound honest when she speaks against his shoulder. "Thank you for being here. I'm sorry. I love you."
He doesn't get to hug her back before she's stepped back and her heels are clicking across the hall. Wally notices that Cisco is walking away too, but he stops mid-step and turns towards Wally for a second. "Sorry. Glad to finally meet you, though. See ya." Then he whips around and jogs after Iris and Caitlin, his hair finally freeing itself from the string that'd been holding it and falling over his shoulders.
Wally watches after them until Cisco has disappeared out of the door and his line of sight is again filled by the cops moving around the hall. As he walks out of the police station, he realizes two things: First, he doesn't even have his backpack and he's gonna be late for his next class. Second, he doesn't know half of what his dad and his sister's lives entail, but he knows that they're fucking weird.
He barely hears from Iris during the next few days. He sees Joe, though not much either. They have lunch together a couple times, and Joe looks tired and worried and doesn't tell any funny anecdotes of Iris and Barry, he nods absently at Wally's comments about his classes instead of joking with him, doesn't even complain about his work. Wally wants to ask, but he suspects he won't get an answer.
(He knows himself an outsider, a piece that doesn't quite fit the machinery of Joe and Iris' lives. Still, the idea of trying to get a little closer to his dad and being shut out for real makes his chest feel hollow.)
Jaime is from Keystone City --they didn't actually know each other back in KC, but Jaime had heard of Wally, and he'd recognized him in campus. "You're a street racer, ain't you?" Jaime had asked, and seemed ready to talk about Wally's car for hours --which, turned out, had been customized by Jaime's dad before Wally won it on a race and started fixing it himself. It took five minutes of hearing just how good the (now wrecked) engine had been for Wally to snap and tell him, sourly and probably a little more aggressively than the kid had deserved, that the car had been totaled. "What? Nah, man, I'm so sorry. That car was a thing of beauty."
"Yeah, one of them super-powered crazies crashed a race and sent me flying through the air," Wally had said, trying to play it like it hadn't been one of the most terrifying moments of his life.
"That's sick, man," Jaime had responded, genuinely excited, and Wally hadn't been able to stay mad.
Jaime now approaches him with his friend Kiran in tow, Kiran carrying a stack of rolled-up canvases while Jaime is trying --and sort of failing-- to balance three coffee cups, a bag of muffins and all of his engineering books on his arms. Wally jumps from the bench he'd been sitting on and rushes to grab the coffees before they end up on the floor.
Kiran and Jaime drop their things on the bench and Wally passes the coffees and muffins around, a chorus of "What's up?" coming from the three of them at the same time. Kiran rolls her eyes, and looks like she's going to make a joke but, when she looks at Wally, she seems to change her mind.
"You look like hell, what happened to you?" she asks, and Wally would take offense if he didn't realize that she truly is concerned.
He wonders if he should tell them. After all, he's only known Jaime for a month and a half, and Kiran for three weeks, which is basically nothing. Sure, he likes them and they seem to like him, but he still hasn't really told them anything too personal yet. They know his mom is dead, they know he didn't have a relationship with the rest of his family before now, but he hasn't said much else about himself. He'd rather talk about engineering and music and books and cars: about things that make him happy and don't make other people uncomfortable.
"It's--" he's about to bullshit his way out of the conversation, but Jaime looks worried too and he changes his mind in the last second. "There's something going on with my sister and my dad, and I'm not sure what it is."
"Are they okay?" Kiran asks immediately, eyes huge, and Wally nods quickly, takes a sip from his coffee to try and find the right words to explain what he thinks is happening.
"You know how my sister had that blog about the Flash, right?"
He's trying to focus on his work --History of Mechanics is an interesting subject, but he's better with formulas than he's ever been at remembering names, and figuring out chemical bonds is easier than drilling dates into his head-- but his eyes keep drifting towards the TV at Jitters. The sound is off, but Wally can see the words that slide along the bottom of the script on a loop: "After week-long absence, Flash back in action." He looks at the blurry video, a shaky cell-phone recording of the Flash taking down a group of armed robbers, and wonders what that means for Iris and Joe.
(Glances down at his books and leaves out a frustrated sigh, picks up his coffee.)
Whatever relationship they have with the guy, it seemed obvious to Wally that they cared for him. That they cared for him like one cares for family, he doesn't think, because that would be a bitter thought and neither his dad nor his sister deserve his resentment when they're going through such a hard time. It's easy to guess that the Flash had been in a much worse shape than the high-heeled doctor had wanted to admit at the time, and he's just now recovered enough to go super-hero'ing again. Maybe now, with the dude back on his feet, Joe will stop looking so tired and Iris will finally call and suggest they finally have that coffee date.
(Any and all attempts to focus on his notes are useless.)
"Central City's own superhero! Iris writes about him for the CCN, and I've worked with him a couple times," Joe had told him, and Wally had accepted it. Shark dude showing up at their house, convinced that the Flash had to be there was weird, but Iris was the only reporter who'd gotten an interview with him, so Wally had guessed that she would logically be the villains' first target if they were looking for the Flash. He worried about her, but Joe reassured that he shared his concern and both himself and Iris always kept an eye out in case anyone went after her. "She can take care of herself, though," Joe had added, and he'd looked so proud it made Wally's chest ache.
(He realizes he's been chewing on his pen when the plastic snaps between his teeth.)
He doesn't think 'do they not trust me enough to share this?' and he definitely doesn't think 'do they think I won't stick around long enough to realize something is up?' That'd be petty and childish and he doesn't care, he doesn't care anyway. He wishes he had his mom with him, wishes he had her smart advice and kind words and he didn't feel so fucking alone all the time.
" Rathaway is gonna be your mentor?" Jaime asks, and Wally can't tell if the look on his face is one of horror or elation. Wally wonders what the hell he signed up for this time. "Wait, what do you know about him?"
"Uh, man, I don't know, I just looked up his resume in the college's website. He's like our age, a certified genius, works in prosthetics and hearing aids? I thought working with a guy in a different area of engineering would make my project more original, or whatever." It'd seemed like a damn good criteria when he filled the forms, and his career adviser had seemed pleased about it too.
"I mean... Yeah? He used to work for STAR Labs, left just before the accelerator explosion. And I've heard that he was kind of a super-villain for, like, a week." Jaime definitely sounds like he thinks that last part is cool, and Wally rolls his eyes at him. "Also, he's like, the heir to the most entitled rich white family in all of Central City?" He adds, sounding apologetic. Wally groans.
"How come there isn't a single normal person in this entire goddamn city?" he asks, and Jaime laughs out loud.
"I'm so sorry about the last few days, I--" Iris stops, and Wally can almost hear the wheels turning inside her head, can hear her wondering if she should tell him this, if he can be trusted with her secrets. "The Flash is one of my best friends, you know?" she says, finally, and her sigh on the other end of the phone feels like a gush of wind, like a heavy weight has just been lifted of his shoulders. "But it's so dangerous, to involve other people, to get too close... I didn't want you getting hurt because of me," she adds, in a rush, guilt dripping from her words.
"Hey, it's okay," he says, and it really is. The stone that had been weighing down his stomach for the past few days is gone. Sure, there are more things on his mind, and the feeling of not quite fitting will soon attack him again, but at least she isn't trying to lie to him about it. "I saw him in the news, so I guess you're doing better too?"
Iris laughs. "Yeah, yeah, we had quite a scare, but he never stays down for long," she sounds truly relieved, and Wally is too. He wouldn't want his sister to lose anyone else, not after hearing the way she talks about her fiance. Joe assures him that he wouldn't have liked Eddie, but Wally is even willing to like Barry for Iris' sake.
"You know that I love you, right?" Iris says, suddenly, and Wally realizes he'd been silent on the line for more than a few seconds. "And dad does too. We just want you safe." Something tells Wally that he should be hearing an apology into this, but he doesn't know what else Iris could be apologizing for. He pushes the thought aside.
"I love you, too," he answers finally, and he's not sure if he had ever told her before. "Since you cancelled on me, I guess you owe me a coffee," he adds quickly, and Iris laughs again.
"How does a Flash sound? And today is Jitters' Maracuyá Monday!" Before Wally has a chance to ask what the hell is a maracuyá, and why Jitters dedicates a day to it, Iris tells him to pick her up when she gets out of work. "My boss is glaring daggers at me, gotta go. See you later, baby bro."
A quick Google search tells him that "Maracuyá" is the original name for the Passion Fruit, and that the coffee shop's owner is Brazilian. He really hopes Jitters' 'Famous Maracuyá Muffins' are as delicious as their website announces.
"You're doing your thesis project with Hartley Rathaway?" Iris asks and, for the second time in two days, he doesn't know if the name is accompanied by awe, amusement or horror. He huffs, takes a really long swig from his cup.
"Is he really a super-villain?" he asks, hoping that at least Iris' answer will be credible enough for him to ask the Engineering Department for another mentor. Iris snickers, hiding her face behind her hands for a second.
"I'm sorry!" she says, after she regains her composure. "He kinda was? For like three days? But then he helped Cisco and Caitlin," she leans closer, "--you know, the guys from STAR Labs you saw the other day-- he helped them defeat a ghost from another dimension, and then kinda joined Team Flash."
Wally blinks a couple times, tries to process ‘ghost from another dimension’ and completely fails at it, and then says the only reasonable thing that there is to say in these kinda circumstances. "Y'all call yourselves Team Flash?"
Wally knocks on Joe's door at half past eight, a little later than he'd intended. Hartley Rathaway --who isn't a super-villain nor particularly entitled, though he does come off as rather arrogant when you first talk to him-- turned out to be a pretty cool mentor, truly interested in Wally's ideas and full of useful suggestions. Wally only realized that what was supposed to be a short introductory meeting had dissolved into an hour-long chat about physics when his phone vibrated with a text from his dad, asking at what time should they expect him for dinner.
"Hey," someone greets, and Wally is surprised to find that it’s neither Joe nor Barry standing at the door. Instead Cisco, the 'guy from STAR Labs' (as Wally had temporarily labeled him), is smiling at him, looking more at home at Joe's house that Wally's ever felt. "Oh, you're Wally! Cisco Ramón, I work with Barry and your dad, kinda," he says, grinning, and Wally smiles awkwardly.
"Yeah, we kinda met? When that meta wrecked the CCPD?" he says, walking after Cisco when he moves back inside the house. Cisco looks at him for a second as he closes the door, then he smiles again.
"That's true, man, sorry. It was..." he gestures with his hands and shrugs, "Anyway, that was no proper introduction. So, pleasure to meet you," he extends his hand, grinning, and Wally thinks that Cisco doesn't look like the type that shakes hands, so he must be messing with him. Still, he takes it, and Cisco quickly tugs at him and pulls him into a hug. Wally obviously doesn't realize what's happening fast enough, because he finds himself with a face-full of hair and Cisco wrapping an arm over his shoulder to clap at his back. It's just a second before Cisco steps back, grinning at him, and Wally feels like he's just been struck by lightning.
"Cisco, stop harassing my kid," Joe reprimands, and Wally has to bite his tongue so he won't say something stupid like 'it's okay, he can harass me just a little more'. Cisco ducks the playful slap that Joe had aimed at the back of his head and walks back into the kitchen, throwing one last smile in Wally's direction before he's cussing at Barry for stealing the food. It must take Wally a few seconds to shake the dumbstruck look out of his face because, by the time he snaps out of it, Joe is smirking at him. "Hey, kiddo."
He happily accepts Joe's hug --he doesn't hug anything like his mom but it's still good, it almost feels like home-- and follows him into the living room, yelling a "Hi, Barry" as he goes. Barry calls back "Hey, Wally, what's up?" from the kitchen door and ducks back inside. "Iris is gonna be late, she's picking up Caitlin on her way from work," Joe tells him as they sit on the couch. Wally knows that he’d imagined this moment before, pictured how his dad’s voice would sound when he affably asked, "So, how's school?" It’s better than he’d pictured.
They chat about Joe's work and Wally's classes for a while, and everything feels like it's back to normal. Well, as normal as anything could be in this city, which apparently isn't much. Wally guesses that Barry and him are the two most normal people in this house and yet, Barry is an orphan who got struck by lightning and Wally (with all due modesty) was a drag-racing legend back in KC, and has just acquired a father and a sister at the tender age of twenty-two.
"What you got in your head?" Joe asks, detective eyes trained on him. Wally shrugs.
"Just thinking," he says, but he knows that won't cut it. Joe raises his eyebrows, expectant. "Central City is weird. Y'all are besties with a superhero, my new thesis mentor had a short-lived career as a super-villain--"
"Don't tell me you're Hartley's new student!" Cisco, who comes carrying three bottles of beer, yells from behind them, and Wally almost falls off the damn sofa. "Barry, you come here, stay away from the food!" he calls towards the kitchen, oblivious to the fact that he just caused Wally a heart attack, and Barry soon comes out, blatantly chewing and carrying a beer of his own. Cisco hands Wally and Joe a beer each, and then walks around the couch to sit next to Wally. "So, are you Hartley's new student or aren't you?"
He sighs, scoots a little closer to Joe so Cisco can sit comfortably. Barry drops himself on the couch in front of them, looking at Wally with interest. "Yeah, Rathaway's gonna be guiding me with my thesis project," he says, and Cisco looks delighted to hear that. He leans just a little closer, grinning at him.
"So, what d’ya think of him?" Cisco asks. He doesn't look malicious, though maybe a little mischievous. Barry seems curious, but definitely not as invested as Cisco.
"He's pretty cool, why?" Wally asks, and realizes he sounds a little defensive. Cisco leans back, though his smile doesn't lose its intensity.
"We used to hate each other. Now we're kinda friends, so I just tease him relentlessly about literally anything I can think of. I was hoping you could give me some new material, because jokes about his snotty way of talking and his white dude dancing are getting old." Joe chuckles, Barry snorts, and Wally can't help but smile too. He will inevitably picture Rathaway dancing next time he has to meet with him and curse Cisco for it.
"Where exactly does Iris' anecdote about y'all fighting a ghost together fit?" he asks, and Cisco's mouth shapes into an 'o', eyes widening in surprise. The shocked expression quickly shifts into a delighted grin.
"Oh, is he Team Flash?" Wally doesn't understand why Cisco turns to Barry instead of Joe, but he guesses that the Flash must know most cops and CSIs in the force, and Barry is Joe's foster kid after all, so it makes sense that he'd be in the secret too. He doesn't quite get the expression on Barry's face either, but Joe quickly interrupts.
"Yeah, after last week's events, it was kinda hard to pretend we didn't know the Flash at all, so Iris told him about their friendship and what you guys do." Cisco quickly gets over his surprise, and nods at Joe after his explanation; then looks back at Wally.
"Well, that's great to hear, because my funniest anecdotes are Flash-related."
Wally doesn't get to dwell on the looks Cisco keeps giving Barry as they talk about the Flash (Joe snorts loudly when Wally says that the red leather is "a little too much", and Cisco looks deeply offended) because Iris and Caitlin barge in just a few minutes later. Iris hugs everyone, and Caitlin very stiffly apologizes for her lack of manners back at the CCPD and introduces herself as "Doctor Caitlin Snow," with the title and all.
"Now that I think of it, you must have met during Christmas," Barry comments, and Wally realizes he's right. That was months ago, though, and he admits that he barely registered anyone but Iris and Joe. "Yeah, there was also Harry, and J--" Barry stops, and everyone exchanges a meaningful look. Caitlin looks even tenser than she did a second before, which Wally wouldn't have thought possible. "You'll meet Harry eventually. He rarely comes out of the lab."
"That means I've introduced myself three times already, probably," Cisco says, and laughs, and the sudden awkwardness that was settling in after Barry's words quickly fades. Wally tries to remember who else was there during that Christmas dinner, but he can barely remember saying hi to Caitlin and Cisco and that's only because Barry brought it up. He guesses it must be an ex --Caitlin’s or Cisco’s?-- and leaves it at that.
"I won't forget your name, I promise," Wally tells him, and Cisco raises his --already empty-- bottle in his direction.
"Caitlin, you want beer too?" Iris asks, and everyone asks for one too. Iris makes a face in their general direction before turning towards the kitchen, and calls as she walks away; "Screw you, guys, I'm not carrying six bottles by myself!" Barry stands up to help her, and Caitlin instantly moves to steal his seat. The faux-innocent smile she flashes in Barry's direction makes Wally think that she maybe, just maybe, is not the most uptight person ever.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
He's having coffee with Kiran and her girlfriend, Danica, when he sees Cisco again. He walks into Jitters with his eyes trained on his phone, his hair a mess, a look of worry on his face. Wally seems him tapping his phone and taking it to his ear as he approaches the queue to order.
"Hey, Cait, can you open my portal scan? It just notified me of new portal activity, but it might be a mistake." Wally frowns at hearing this. Do portals have anything to do with the ghosts from another dimension? Are people in Central City really so used to all this weird shit that none of them even flinches at hearing Cisco talk about portals? Or is it that his Tomb Raider T-shirt makes them assume he's talking about some video-game?
Cisco puts the phone against his chest as he greets the barista, who seems to know his order already. "Just for you?" she asks, grinning, and Cisco shakes his head. "Three, to go. It's gonna be a long day at work."
She pouts as she accepts his debit card, and Wally knows that he should have stopped listening the moment Cisco started talking on the phone. "So I guess you're not coming to my show tonight?" she asks, and they’re close enough that Wally can see that, instead of giving back his debit card, she hands Cisco an ace of hearts. Cisco laughs.
"Not this time, Tana. But I know you're gonna be wonderful," he extends his hand, gives her a look, and she gives back the debit card. He pockets the ace of hearts.
"Have a magical day, babe!" the woman calls, smirking, as he moves to the other end of the counter to pick up his coffees. He blows a kiss her way and, immediately after thanking the employee who hands him his order, puts the phone back to his ear.
"No fucking way, we gotta warn Barry," Wally hears him say right before the door closes after him. Barry? Why do they gotta warn Barry about a portal?
"Hey, Earth to West. You in there?" Danica asks, tapping his shoulder. He turns back to their friends, who are smiling at him mischievously.
"Who was the cute guy?" Kiran questions, leaning over conspiratorially. Danica pinches the back of her hand, faking jealousy, but her smile is a dead giveaway that she wants to know too.
"Nobody. I mean-- a friend of Barry's," he rolls his eyes at them, but Danica just snickers and Kiran does not stop smiling. He thinks that Kiran would get along really well with Iris.
"If you don't talk to him, that barista is gonna snatch him soon ," Kiran finally says, and then leans back into her chair and calmly sips her Flash while Wally stammers and stutters and insists that "oh my god, y'all are imagining things."
He's late for class, again . A stupid metahuman decided to create a fucking forest in the middle of Main Avenue and Wally's bus got stuck in traffic. After realizing the bus wasn't gonna move a damn inch anytime soon, he got off and walked the rest of the way to campus, but he had already been late by the time he’d managed to push his way out of the cramped bus, anyway. Not ten minutes late, but twenty five, his phone informs him. He stares at his phone, wondering if joining an hour-long lecture half an hour in is even worth it.
He could save himself the professor's nasty looks and just walk the three blocks to Jitters, get himself a Flash and maybe do some reading for the physics class he's got later this afternoon. It'd be a way more useful investment of his time, and he can ask Jaime for his notes anyw-- "Hey, Wally, how you doin'?" Cisco asks, stepping into his field of vision with an armful of blueprints and a bright smile on his face.
"What's up?" Wally responds, and Cisco raises his free hand into a fist, grinning. Wally remembers the handshake slash hug from last week as he bumps Cisco's fist with his own, wonders if Cisco is always as friendly as he's been with him so far. "What are you doing here?"
"My friend Tanya offered to take a look at some designs," Cisco explains, showing Wally the blueprints. Wally looks at the building Cisco had been coming from.
"You mean Tanya Spears, that kid in charge of, like, the entire research department?" he asks, picturing a short girl with kinky hair always styled in two puffs that often skateboards across campus. Jaime had pointed at her a couple times, described her as "Central City's prodigal girl".
"She's nineteen and absolutely willing to kick ass if called a kid," Cisco warns, grinning. Wally cringes, pretends to zip his lips closed. "Anyways, I was going to annoy Hartley for a few minutes and head back for the lab. You going to class?"
"Nah, I'm super late, I was just about to turn the hell around and go to Jitters." He notices that one of the rolled-up blueprints is starting to slip from under Cisco's arm, and grabs it before it falls to the floor. He thinks of asking Cisco to join him, but that would probably be weird, and dumb --Danica's grin shows up in his mind before he can stir his thoughts away from her dumbass comments, and he finds himself stammering. "Anyways, I should probably--" he hands Cisco the blueprint, "I'll see you around."
Cisco seems a little thrown off, and Wally guesses he looks fucking stupid. Cisco smiles anyways. "Yeah, sure. See you, Wally."
Wally turns to head to Jitters, but he ends up standing there, watching Cisco's back as he walks towards the building where the physics department is. His red hoodie has the Flash logo stamped on the back and his hair moves in the wind like he's in a shampoo commercial or something.
As he finally heads to Jitters, Wally realizes that he never did give that Flash doll to Iris.
Rathaway has a ridiculously expensive coffee-maker in his office and books in all kinds of languages and a migraine that never quite goes away. He doesn't know shit about cars, but he helped build a particle accelerator, and his comments on Wally's designs usually lead to great improvements. Between classes, coffee with his friends and spending hours going over ideas for his thesis project with Hartley, the next month or so goes by in a flash.
He doesn't cross paths with the Flash again, and his daily schedule is only interrupted by metahumans twice. He reads Iris' articles about the dude's heroics and local politics, and listens to Joe talk about the CCPD's plan to go from "containing dangerous metas" to actually creating a program to help people without control over their new-found powers. Luckily, he's too busy to really wonder about the side of his family's life he doesn't get to see.
He knows it's a dangerous life his dad and sister lead --more dangerous than drag-racing, for sure-- but Wally knows that there is no point in worrying about them, so he tries not to dwell on it. He pushes down the anguish that tightens his chest whenever he hears about the Flash on the news, hides the relieved sigh whenever they call or text. They're safe and alive, Wally reminds himself, and they'll stay that way. They have to.
Iris gets him a pencil drawing of a Harley Davidson that she bought from a street artist and Barry gives him some blueprints from the STAR Labs particle accelerator, which Wally hangs on his dorm along with his old band posters and the colorful watercolor paintings his mom used to make. He's basically got all of his stuff piled up in the tiny dormitory, save for some furniture and books that Joe offered to store in his garage, so Wally's glad that the second bed has remained empty so far.
Normalcy, he finds, is not that terrible when he doesn't feel like everything is hanging from a thread. His throat knots when he Skypes a friend from Keystone and finds himself wishing he could call his mom too, and the jar where he's keeping his savings for the car repairs isn't getting any fuller, but he doesn't ache to do anything dangerous. He keeps busy, sleeps just enough and tries not to spend too much time alone. He's happy, happier than he remembers being since his mom got diagnosed, and he doesn't want to jinx it. As long as he doesn't start over-thinking it, everything will be fine.
"Yo, Wally," a familiar voice calls, and Wally turns around to find Cisco grinning at him.
"Hey, man, what's up?" The woman before Wally in the queue at Jitters gives them a weird look when Cisco grabs Wally by the shoulder and pulls him in for a hug. Wally is as startled now as he was the first time, but today he recovers just in time to hug back for a second. Cisco steps back, still smiling, and Wally is sure that he has a dopey grin on his face but he can't seem to get rid of it.
"I just got out of the lab. You heading for class?" Cisco asks, nodding towards the heavy backpack hanging from Wally's left shoulder. Wally shakes his head.
"Just got off my last lecture of the day, I figured I could seek cover here before it started raining." Cisco nods, agreeing that that seems to be a sound plan. The weather outside is dreadful, the air heavy and the sky covered in dark grey clouds, but the storm seems to be waiting for the worst moment to start.
The queue moves and Cisco squeezes Wally's upper arm when he tells him they should probably step forward. The woman is now ordering, and Wally realizes he should probably decide what he's gonna have. Cisco seems to read his mind. "What's your usual order?" he asks as he moves to stand at Wally's side.
"Uh," it feels silly to admit he's only ever tried the 'Flash', both because he thinks the name is dumb and because he's been coming to this coffee shop for months now and he still hasn't tried any of their lattes or 'Unique Brazilian Blends'. He keeps ordering the 'Flash' and making a face every time he says it out-loud, but he has to admit the caffeine overload is always welcome. "What do you order?"
"Well, with this kinda weather, I'd say a Heatwave is a good option." Cisco points towards a sign that Wally hasn't paid any particular attention to before. There's a frappe called "Captain Cold" that sounds delicious, if not at all appropriate for the weather; a strong black coffee blend called "Black Canary" and-- a drink named after a gorilla, apparently. Wally doesn't know what else he could have expected from a coffee shop in Central City.
"Let's give it a try," he tells Cisco, instead of asking about the rest of the super-villain-themed beverages. At least, there doesn't seem to be one named after Rathaway, and the Heatwave does sound interesting. Cisco's bright grin might be swaying his opinion but, in any case, Heatwave is a pretty cool super-villain name.
Wally must have gotten distracted by thoughts of super-villains or by Cisco's lop-sided smile, because he doesn't notice the woman in front of them walking away to pick up her order, or Cisco pulling out his wallet to pay for both of their coffees.
"Hey, hey, I can pay for my own," he interrupts, reaching for Cisco's hand, but Cisco pulls away quickly and hands the bills to the cashier anyway.
"Don't worry about it, man," Cisco tells him. He's still smiling, though his expression is somehow... softer than it was a few seconds ago. His tone is just a bit lower as he shrugs and adds, "I lived on scholarship budget for like three years, let me."
Wally sort of latches onto the opportunity to talk to someone new about his project. His friends and family have already heard all about Hartley's ideas and all the new horizons Wally's considering and his designs for cheaper, lighter, self-sustainable engines that might be his final thesis project and maybe even be actually useful for wheelchairs and other mob-- "I'm sorry, I'm rambling," Wally realizes suddenly, and rushes to take a sip from his already lukewarm coffee. Cisco had been doing a great job of feigning interest, but Wally knows that most people really don't care about this part of him.
"Aw, no, you weren't!" Cisco protests, then laughs, "Actually, you really were, but I was entertained. It's rare to find anyone who can out-ramble me, save Barry." Cisco's smile seems honest, and Wally feels like his face is hotter than the coffee guarantees. "Tell me more, really! It's refreshing to see engineers that still haven't had their souls destroyed by bureaucracy and academic drama!"
Wally snorts at this, but does finish telling Cisco about the researchers that Hartley wants to introduce him to when they have something more solid to present. Cisco's bright gaze doesn't stray away from Wally, and Wally feels the warmth on his cheeks slowly spread down his neck.
"Anyway, you don't do academic research anymore?" he asks, and realizes he's almost finished his Heatwave when he goes to take a sip as Cisco answers.
"Not really, nah. I've come across some cool things while working with--" there's the pause that Wally has learned to identify from his sister and dad, and then "--The Flash, and metas in general, but I haven't had the time to sit down and repeat the experiments and write any proper papers about anything." Wally notices that Cisco sounds less than cheerful about this, and he remembers what he's been told about the Particle Accelerator explosion. He wishes he could hug Cisco.
"I'm sure you're gonna stay a full-time super-hero forever, you'll get the chance to win some awards for your work with the Flash eventually," he says, trying to make his tone light. Cisco's laughter isn't as bright as it was earlier, but he does seem genuinely amused.
"I'm more of a sidekick, right now," he corrects with a self-deprecating shrug. Wally doesn’t really get a sidekick vibe from him, but he has no proof to the contrary. He lightly punches Cisco’s shoulder, anyway.
"You're not! You're like, the brains to the whole operation. Like the Director of SHIELD. Without her powers, but you get my point." The cloud that's settled over Cisco's head doesn't seem to fade with this comparison. "I was gonna make a Star Wars parallel, but I realized I don't remember enough to come up with anything that makes sense."
He's pinned Cisco down as a Star Wars sorta guy, and he knows that there is no better way to distract a fan that to make them feel morally obliged to explain the source material. The look of mock-outrage in Cisco's face tells him he's right.
"Well, Star Wars would be a poor analogy--"
They agree to meet for coffee again on Thursday, and Wally finds himself feeling both anxious and excited about it. Not that there is anything to it --"He just said we should hang out again, it isn't a date," he explains to his friends-- but he still hasn’t made any friends outside of college, and that feels like a milestone to reach.
It’s like a check-list:
- Move to CC (done).
- College (on it).
- Unpack my shit (will happen eventually).
- Make friends in college (done).
- Make friends outside of college (in progress).
- Get a job (really need to start looking).
“What’s wrong with us?” Kiran asks, pretending to be offended.
“I just mean… It’s like a part of living in a city. Meeting people, going out. Having a life outside of college.” (Which hasn’t been Wally’s forte so far but, in his defense, he does spend a lot of time studying.) “Y’all will finish college and go back home. I’m staying here.”
“I don’t get why you live at the dorms,” Jaime says, putting down his pen. “If you plan on staying here and your dad lives alone, couldn’t you just.... stay with him?”
Wally shrugs. The truth is that he doesn’t dare ask. He doesn’t want to get a no for an answer, or for Joe to feel obliged to say yes and resent him after. He swallows down those thoughts. “I like having my space. I don’t wanna go back to having a curfew or whatever.”
Maybe they are convinced by his argument, maybe they can tell that he’s uncomfortable talking about this but, in any case, they accept this answer and drop the issue. Kiran chooses to bring up the next most uncomfortable topic instead.
“So, what are you wearing for your date ?”
“Oh my god.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The not-date in Thursday doesn’t happen. He’s already on his way to the coffee-shop (not Jitters, this time, because Cisco insisted that he has to at least try other options) when a bunch of texts flood his phone.
[From Iris:] cant do dinner, sorry, love u
[From Joe:] won’t make it to dinner, work emergency! call you later
[From Jaime:] TURN ON THE NEWS
[From Cisco:] need a raincheck promise i’ll make it up
[From Kiran:] r u near a tv??????????
He wishes he was the Flash, could run to wherever Iris and Joe are to make sure they aren’t in danger. There’s no point walking the half an hour back home right now, so he rushes the last few blocks towards the coffee-shop.
It’s not very crowded and at first glance looks pretty dope, but Wally doesn’t stop to look around. He takes the chance now that there’s no line and goes up to the barista, tries to put on the charm.
“Hi, how are you?” the employee asks, polite. Wally smiles, makes his best attempt not to speak over him because he knows that’s the fastest way to an employee’s shit list.
“I’m good, how are you?” The barista seems pleasantly surprised that he acknowledged his greeting properly, so that’s extra points for mom’s constant insistence that he needed to learn how to let people speak.
“Great, thank you. What would you like to drink?”
Wally eyes the menu on the wall, but he doesn’t have the patience to read them all. He shrugs, tries not to tap his fingers anxiously on the counter. “Uh, literally anything you recommend under four bucks. Is there any chance you could put on the news?”
The barista must notice he’s about to jump out of his skin, because he reaches for the remote before going to the coffee-maker. “No problem. Let’s make you something… decaffeinated, yeah?”
“Sure, that’s cool,” Wally tells him, throws him a smile even though he’s not really listening. He follows the flip of the channels until a reporter appears on the screen.
“The tremors are badly affecting the structural integrity of the nearby buildings. The CCPD is evacuating the area but, unless this meta-human is stopped soon, there are chances some of the buildings will collapse before everyone has made it out.”
“Well, thanks for the good news, Linda,” Wally mutters at the reporter, and the barista snorts.
“Here’s your coffee, pal. Try not to put too much sugar on it.”
Wally accepts the cup with a thank you, drops a two dollar bill on the tip jar, then proceeds the find the table closest to the TV.
The Flash is zipping in and out of buildings, carrying people with him and dropping them in the streets before rushing back in. He’s barely a blur of red on the screen, blowing the reporter’s hair one side and the other as he runs near her to leave the people outside of the danger zone. The reporter’s voice is almost drowned by a loud rumble, and the camera zooms in on the fight.
Wally doesn’t know who the meta-human is, because neither of them look like a superhero. There’s a guy in skinny jeans and a hoodie, hood over his head and face hidden; and a girl in leather jacket and jeans whose hair hides her face almost entirely.
The fight is mostly not physical. The girl seems to use her feet to control her powers, stomping on the floor and causing the asphalt to crack as if an earthquake was happening. Whatever the guy is doing isn’t visible on the camera, but he throws his hands up and the girl suddenly flies a good twenty feet backwards.
Wally doesn’t even pay attention to the reporter’s rushed commentary (Linda Park is commenting on the amount of people they estimate are still inside the buildings, but Wally can’t look or listen to anything but the fight). He watches as the girl manages to make her way close to the guy, kicking her feet into the asphalt with enough strength that the street swallows her calves every time, making the dude’s attempts to send her flying back again useless.
She gets close enough that the guy can throw a few punches at her, but she digs her foot out of the asphalt and lands a kick on his stomach that throws him backwards and leaves him kneeling on the asphalt and coughing up what looks like blood.
“All we know about this new hero is that he arrived with The Flash. If anyone has information on the new vigilante, remember to contact us through our website.”
With the reporter’s confirmation that the dude in the hoodie is indeed the good guy in this scenario, Wally’s anxiety rises even more. He’s not even drinking his coffee, just holding tightly onto the mug as he stares at the screen, trying to will the guy to stand up and defend himself before today’s supervillain kicks him in the head and turns his brains into mashed potatoes.
When the guy actually does manage to get back to his feet, Wally wants to cheer. The guy stumbles forward, holding onto his stomach with one hand as he walks towards the girl. Her hair is now away from her face and she's clearly grinning, a building finally starting to collapse behind her.
Then, he makes an effort to straighten up, raises both hands towards her, and for a second nothing happen. Wally leans forward over his table, and the girl flies up in the air and stays there, floating a dozen feet above the ground.
Wally watches anxiously as the guy holds her there, arms stretched upwards and feet firm on the floor despite the fact that a second ago he could barely walk. The image is terrible, but Wally can see him shake from the effort.
Then the Flash zips into the image, running up a building and jumping off it so his fall takes him straight into the... gravitational field or whatever the fuck the hooded guy is using to hold the supervillain in the air. When the guy lowers his arms, they both fall down together, the Flash using his speed to put those power-dampening cuffs on the meta-human before she can get back up.
Wally watches as his dad walks past the camera and towards the Flash, and the cameraman zooms away to focus on the reporter and the police captain, Singh. On the background, now distant and blurry, Wally can see that the hooded guy drops down to the floor, Joe rushing to help him.
After the fight with (as Iris’ article had called her) Tremor, everyone ghosts him again for a couple days. Wally hates it, hates feeling like he’s standing on the outside and everyone’s lives are happening away from him. He can’t ask what’s going on, he can’t offer any help, nothing. Iris and Joe’s replies to his texts are few and far-between, and Cisco doesn’t reply at all.
[From Wally:] you ok?
[From Wally:] iris told me the other guy was a friend, how is he doing?
[From Wally:] hope everything is alright
Iris explains over coffee. That the guy is a friend, that they don’t understand his powers yet and he wasn’t ready to go out in the field but they couldn’t risk a fight between Tremor and The Flash before evacuating the buildings.
“He was just supposed to hold her back for a few minutes, but the dumbass actually went and fought her. In sneakers and a hoodie. Who does that?” Iris’ voice rises at the end, obviously trying to pass off her worry for anger.
“You do that,” Wally tells her, eyebrows raised. “In heels.” Iris gapes, trying to find a proper answer, but she knows that Wally is right. Barry has told him about the time she tried to fight a giant metal dude by herself, she cannot trick him.
“I mean… Okay, whatever. But I didn’t have to spend three days in a drug-induced coma due to internal bleeding, y’know?” She fidgets with the lid of her coffee cup nervously. “He could have died. And... “ --there’s the pause that, Wally knows by now, indicates that the Flash’s name almost slipped her tongue-- “...and ten days ago it was the Flash. And a while ago, it was Linda. It feels like nobody is safe anymore.”
“Linda is a reporter too, right? The one from the news?” Wally asks, curious. Iris nods.
“Yeah, Zoom… Ugh, I’m gonna have to explain the whole situation, ain’t I?” At Wally’s obviously curious stare, Iris sighs. She leans over the table, grabs his hand. “You know how I told you that there are other dimensions?”
After Iris finishes explaining that there is a supervillain from a parallel universe that wants to kill the Flash and steal his powers so he can rule over two Earths at once, Wally’s head is swimming a little. He taps his fingers on the edge of the table anxiously.
“We’ll figure it out, eventually. No one’s invincible.” Iris says, reaches her hand towards his. Wally wishes he could do something to wash the worry away from his sister’s face.
Cisco finally texts him the following week. Wally sees the notification while he’s in class, but doesn’t want to open the text just yet because he knows he’ll be unable to focus on what the professor is saying if he does. Jaime throws him curious looks as his leg bounces up and down anxiously, hitting the desk with his knee every once and then.
He walks a couple steps behind Jaime and Kiran when they leave the auditorium, unlocking his phone in a rush.
[From Cisco:] sorry for disappearing. everything is ok now. u still up 4 that coffee?
[From Wally:] dont worry, iris told me what happened.
[From Wally:] glad to know ur friend is doing better
[From Wally:] of course, when?
[From Cisco:] tomorrow afternoon? do u have class?
Wally finds himself grinning at his phone as Cisco tells him he’ll meet him outside of campus when his classes are done. He cannot wait.
“Is that your crush?” Kiran asks, grabbing onto his arm to look over his shoulder and startling him. He locks his phone screen.
“Not my crush. It’s Cisco, we’re meeting for coffee tom-” he stops to glare at Kiran’s mocking grin. He huffs, annoyed. “We’re meeting for coffee tomorrow. Fuck you.”
Kiran snorts, throws an arm over his shoulders. “You’ll never know if he likes you back if you keep pretending that you don’t like him.”