The kid was a pain in the ass. He sped around everywhere. EVERY. WHERE. Never slowed down for a second, and Wally had gotten kind of comfortable in his life at regular speed. He still ran of course, it was in him to run, but not constantly. How could anyone have that sort of boundless energy to run constantly? Barry and Jay didn’t do that. Just Bart. He certainly had never been like that. He wished, not for the first time, that Artie was here. She’d probably laugh and tell him he had once been every bit as obnoxious as he found the kid now. She was an angel to have seen past his antics as a hormonal teenager. He didn’t know what he’d do if she didn’t make it ba—. He couldn’t think that way.
Wally was almost to the Garrick’s house now, and that meant spending time with the kid. Jay may be a speedster, but he was retired and the kid was more than a handful for any of them. Keeping Bart from traipsing after Barry and interrupting missions was doubly hard, and “stealth” was definitely not in his lexicon. So Jay had called asking him to keep Bart the Brat busy for a few hours. “Family Bonding” Jay said. Wally still wasn’t certain he bought the cousin from the future bit, but the Flashes were a family of more than blood, and he’d hate to disappoint either Barry or Jay by completely rejecting that just because the kid grated on his last nerve.
His arrival was met with a flurry of white and red as the kid greeted him and then sped back to the kitchen table where he was inhaling a plate of sandwiches while Jay chatted indulgently at him.
Joan smiled and hugged Wally as he crossed the threshold into the home of his sort-of grandparents. “Thank you for looking after him, Wally. He’s kind of starved for attention.”
Wally raised an eyebrow, “More like an attention hog. It’s no problem. I’ll try to run him down a bit so he’s less of a terror when I bring him back. At least it looks like attention is all he’ll be starved for today. You two aren’t having any trouble with expenses, are you?”
"Barry and the League are actually handling the expenses for him. They wanted to have him stay at Mount Justice, but after that first night here, I just couldn’t send him away." Joan smiled sadly and shook her head. "I don’t know what it’s really like where he came from before Wally, but I don’t think he’s had people with him for a long time. I don’t think he knows that we know, but he wakes up multiple times in the night and just checks to make sure we’re still here. And he hugs over every little thing. It’s not just attention, its human contact he’s missing, sweetheart."
Wally’s eyes widened slightly. He hadn’t noticed it was that much, but thinking about it, Bart’s way of attaching himself at the hip even when he didn’t have any interest in what the other members of the Team were doing was kind of indicative of that. He was always underfoot, which had been driving Wally up the walls. But if Joan was right, and when wasn’t she, Bart was always underfoot because he was scared of being separated from people.
"He doesn’t say anything, but it’s like a lost sheep that just found a flock and is terrified of losing it again." Joan continued, watching Jay ruffle the youngest speedster’s hair and hand over a sandwich from his own plate. "And he’s so thin, Wally, it worries me."
Wally chuckled nervously. “He’s a speedster; we’re all thin, Joan. It comes with all that running.”
"Sweetheart, he’s not thin like you and Barry are. I know speedster thin." Joan smirked at her own words and tugged at the edge of a sleeve. "He’s bone thin. Pay attention next time he hugs you. That suit of his is padded a little, like for the cold, and even though I try to keep food out constantly, I can still feel his ribs through it. He came from a bad place Wally, and he needs us." She shot him the I-know-best look he was all too familiar with, “All of us.”
"Hey Wally! Ready to go?!" Bart was practically in his face, pale green eyes sparkling.
"Suit up, kid." Wally managed not to let the concerns Joan had put in his head color his voice. "We’re gonna run some errands for the League."
Bart gave him a quick hug before dashing up the stairs to change, and for the first time, Wally noticed the feel of the kid’s ribs poking out a little too much under the fabric where their bodies met.
‘Scavenger’s rights!' He suddenly remembered the kid quipping that as he'd made off with a bag of potato chips while they were hanging out with the Team once. What kind of life had he been living in the future that there was such a thing? Spoilers, Wally. Scary spoilers.
Joan raised a knowing eyebrow at the stricken look on Wally’s face, and Jay walked over to join them in the foyer. “Why don’t you take Bart to try the crepes at that cafe in Paris? You remember the one?” His serious face told Wally that he knew exactly what Joan had been saying to him, and that this was a discussion they had already had a few times.
"I’m ready!!" Bart was back already and practically bounced in place. "This is gonna be totally crash!"
"I’m going to talk to him," Jay assured. "You two have fun, okay?"
Bart glanced back at Jay in momentary confusion before hugging both Garricks and returning to Wally’s side.
"Come on Imp’," Wally shot him a big smile that he didn’t quite feel. "Let’s run."
Wally followed the red and white blur out the door, grateful that the little Imp’ was keeping to speeds he could match. “Okay, first stop Paris. There’s a crepe place that makes double sized crepes for us speedsters, and they’re the best crepes anywhere.” He managed a wink, “We’ve compared.”
The first couple of errands were done, and they were back at the crepe shop in Paris. Bart was trying a new flavor he hadn’t tried during their earlier stop, and Wally couldn’t help but smile. His reaction to his first crepe had been like a little kid trying ice cream for the first time, and of course he wanted more.
Bart had let it slip that there was no such thing as crepes in his time, leading Wally to wonder just how far away Bart’s future was. Actually, his slip had indicated that Bart had never been to Paris at all, and it was obvious that distance was not the reason the little Imp’ had never been before.
Joan’s words and Bart’s toddler-esque joy at discovering a new food had lit a big brother instinct in Wally that he hadn’t known he had. He suddenly found himself completely on board not just with Joan’s plan to get the Imp’ up to a normal weight, but with Jay’s unspoken one, to make sure the kid experienced all the best foods too. That the kid— That Bart experience a warm and happy life with a family of sorts, because he was suddenly frighteningly unsure whether their little Imp had ever really had one.
It was a week later and he and Bart were sitting in the kitchen at Mount Justice, a mountain of different junk foods between them to try out. Dick made an inquisitive motion and pulled Wally aside for a quick chat. Wally made sure that Beast Boy was going to stay at the table for a bit to help guide what Imp’ tried next before he left the table to take a short walk with Nightwing.
"So what changed?"
"What do you mean, ‘what changed?’" Wally said defensively.
"A week ago you couldn’t stand, and I quote, ‘The Kid’. Now he’s ‘Imp’ or ‘Bart’, but never ‘Kid’, you’re doing personal training sessions with him more often than The Flash, and feeding him like a Grandma with the kids over for Thanksgiving.”
"It’s nothing. He helps me focus on something aside from Artemis."
"He’s a Flash, Dick. Just leave it at that. You took to the new Robin eventually. It’s the same thing."