Sometimes, when Wally went through one of the dozens of hefty photo albums his family kept, he saw pictures of himself as a baby in the arms of a tall, muscular blond man. It struck Wally, even when he was a child, how kind this man’s smile was. He was lithe, but clearly in great shape - a runner’s build, like Wally had, and was usually holding him high above his head like in the Lion King or something. Aunt Iris was usually on his arm, smiling at the camera. Whenever this man was in the frame all eyes were on him, and the camera was always trained right on his face. He seemed like the kind of man who had a truly magnetic personality. There were many more pictures of him in frames in Aunt Iris’ house, placed on the mantel or stuck to the refrigerator on a magnet.
His Uncle Barry died when he was three, so Wally didn’t really remember him at all. Aunt Iris never remarried, or even dated again. She seemed happy as a widower, and she dedicated her time to her work and her extended family. Wally always felt a little like the son she never had growing up, and it made him feel pretty special. He wished he could have known Uncle Barry - but then maybe Aunt Iris would have had kids of her own, and she wouldn’t have as much time for Wally. So maybe things had worked out okay.
Nobody had told him exactly how Uncle Barry died, but his family didn’t tell him a lot.
For Wally’s fourteenth birthday, he had a small birthday party with his friends in the science museum in the morning. They went to Wally’s favorite pizza place for lunch, and Linda kept on stealing his pepperoni slices from off his pizza, but he knew how much she liked pepperoni so he pretended he didn’t notice. She gave him a t-shirt that had the periodic table on it, and Wally absolutely loved it. Some of his other friends had started saying that it was weird to be best friends with a girl, but his other friends were idiots and they weren’t his best friend like Linda was. She was the best.
For dinner they had a family party at Aunt Iris’ house. She had decked it out in streamers and balloons, and when he and his parents walked in she set off party poppers and hugged him. Wally hugged her back, excited to see her again - it had been at least two weeks since they had dinner, and she hadn’t even heard anything about his newest science experiment yet - but what made the day really exciting was when Irey and Jai and Bart popped up from the kitchen.
Irey and Jai had been too busy to come over for the last few months, and it felt like ages since he had seen them. Irey and Jai had helped raise him, babysitting him and always bringing him the coolest toys from around the world when he was a kid, and Irey was basically the coolest person to ever exist. Jai never lost at video games either, and Bart was always a crazy time to hang out with. Sometimes he felt like his entire family was pretty off the wall, but it was fun that way.
“How’s the birthday boy!” Irey cheered, sweeping him into a big hug.
“Ugh, I’m not five! You can’t call me that!” He pushed away, scowling at her as she laughed at him. Jai rolled his eyes, but he ruffled Wally’s hair affectionately too. “Where have you guys been? I haven’t seen you in ages!”
“Oh, around,” Irey said vaguely. Wally didn’t know exactly what her job was, but it was probably super cool. Jai was in grad school, which was like college but super intense, and was studying to be an astrophysicist. Wally wanted to be an astrophysicist just like him when he grew up. “That’s not important now, though. What I care about is how awesome your day was! Did you go to the science museum? I heard they had a new chemistry exhibit!”
“Of course he went to the science museum,” Jai muttered. “He always goes to the science museum.”
“That’s because the museum is awesome!” Wally cheered. “They had a fully interactive periodic table, and video demonstrations of the movements of molecules, and they showed the crystalline structures of different minerals. I want a chemistry model set, like, yesterday!”
“We’ll see if you got one after dinner,” his father said, grabbing the beer Iris threw under-handed at him. He gave his sister a playful nudge on the shoulder, which made her laugh and kiss him on the cheek. “How’s college, Bart?”
Bart grinned and raised his own beer, chugging it quickly. He gave Wally a quick side-hug, which Wally eagerly reciprocated, and flopped on the couch. “Ready for it to be over. Any minute now. I am so ready for grad school you have no idea.”
“Appreciate your youth,” Jai panned. “Grad school is hell.”
“Undergrad is hell! I have six classes!”
“Yeah, but at least you aren’t a fucking TA -”
They devolved into good-natured bickering as Wally’s mom kissed him on the forehead and went into the kitchen to help Aunt Iris set out the food for the birthday dinner. She had probably been cooking all day - his family ate a lot. Like, a lot a lot. A lot.
Wally checked his watch, which was part calculator and very cool. It was from the 80s. “When’s Grandpa and Grandma getting here? Are they late again?”
For some reason that made everyone laugh, which peeved Wally off, but Aunt Iris just winked at Wally. “A wizard always arrives precisely when he means to. That’s what Barry always said.”
“That’s because Barry was late to his own wedding,” Irey panned. “He never showed up for a single - uh, office meeting in time.”
For some reason, everyone looked at Wally, who shifted uncomfortably. “What?” Sorry he didn’t have any fun stories about Uncle Barry or whatever.
Everyone looked at each other, and Irey said something quick to Jai in Korean, who scowled and responded. Wally’s Korean was extremely rusty, but he kind of pretended he didn’t understand as much as he did so he could eavesdrop on Irey and Jai’s conversations. It’s not his fault they’re so secretive!
“Did you seriously want to tell him today?” Irey asked in Korean. She said something else that Wally didn’t catch.
“We have to eventually,” Jai said back. “He’s fourteen, something something.”
What did him being fourteen have to do about it? He was an adult now, and about to start high school. It was time, right?
That secret that everyone had kept his entire life - were they finally going to tell him?
Because Wally wasn’t stupid. His grandparents weren’t actually his grandparents, and his cousins weren’t actually his cousins. Nobody talked too much about their jobs, or what they said about their jobs didn’t match up with what Wally actually knew, and everyone was constantly stopping in the middle of their sentences or shooting each other looks or censoring themselves. Wally wasn’t stupid. He was really far from stupid, actually, and ever since he had seven he had known that something was up with his family.
The adults went out with Flash’s Rogues for pub trivia night. Normal families didn’t do that!
But before Wally could ask what the heck they were talking about there was a knock on the door, and Bart leaped up and zoomed over to open the door. Wally couldn’t see exactly who was the door from his vantage point, but from judging from Bart’s excited, “Grandpa! Grandma! Uncle Max!” he could guess who it was.
Wally’s eyebrows shot up. Uncle Max? Uncle Max was a cranky old guy who never showed up to any parties unless Irey was pulling him in by the ear. What was he doing here?
The older members of the family filed in, Max looking a little sketched out by all of the people - Jai called him a ‘hermit’, and Wally tended to agree - as everyone exchanged hugs and Grandma gushed about how tall Wally had grown and Grandpa gave him a big manly handshake. Most importantly, they had presents that his mom immediately confiscated, putting them on the sideboard where the rest of his presents were.
“How old are you turning, Wally?” Grandpa asked. Wally smiled patiently. Grandpa was super old - like, ridiculously old, he wasn't just saying that - and could never remember his age.
“The boy’s fourteen now, Jay,” Wally’s dad said. He waggled his eyebrows at Grandpa. What was up with people today?
“Oh. Fourteen, huh?” Grandpa scratched his chin, and glanced at Irey. She nodded grimly. “Hm. That’s a big age.”
“I’m going into high school?”
“Big age,” Grandpa agreed.
Okay, whatever. All the adults promptly started about politics and old people stuff, and Irey and Jai were arguing in Korean again, so Wally went to go sit next to Bart. He was texting his friends on the couch, his long wavy brown hair tucked behind one ear, and Wally craned his head to try and see who he was talking to. Without looking up, Bart held the phone above his head, and Wally crossed his arms.
“It’s rude to text at a party, you know.”
“It’s work stuff.” Bart looked up from his phone then, smiling a little at Wally. “High school, huh? You nervous? I was pretty scared my first day of high school.”
“It’s whatever,” Wally said, trying to sound as cool as Bart. “I want to start back up the Flash fan club. Eddie and Nate said that they’ll join again, and the Flash fan club was awesome in middle school.”
Bart’s grin widened. Everyone in his family teased him about the fan club, but Wally refused to be embarrassed. The Flash was the coolest superhero to ever exist, and that was just the facts. The day that Eddie had gotten Impulse’s autograph in seventh grade the entire school had gone insane. “You should go for it, dude. Extracurriculars are important. You’ll make friends faster if you join the Mathaletes or Quiz Bowl or something too.”
“You mean I’ll commit social suicide?” Wally asked archly.
Bart just shrugged. “I dunno. I was a dipshit in school. If it wasn’t for Carol I wouldn’t have passed. Hey, your club still arguing over the coolest Flash?”
“It’s the third Flash!” Wally yelled. “It’s definitely the third Flash! Everyone who says that the second Flash is the coolest is a moron! What did he ever do?”
Unfortunately, he had said that one a bit too loudly, and both Aunt Iris and his mom poked their heads out of the kitchen, and he knew that he had just aggro’d the entire family.
They had this fight every single time all of them got together. Bart arched an eyebrow at him - in a very ‘see what you’ve done’ kind of way - as Irey puffed up.
“I can’t believe you!” Irey said, throwing up her hands. “The second flash codified a generation. He was the one who fought all his rogues for the first time -”
“ - but the third Flash is the one who turned them into good guys, Irey,” Wally cried, “isn’t that more important?”
“What about the first Flash?” Grandpa complained. “Does nobody care about him?”
“Nope,” Max said, sipping at a beer.
Grandma patted his arm. “The first Flash is a has-been, honey.”
“The first Flash is interesting,” Wally half-heartedly defended. He was a fan of absolutely every Flash, obviously, but come on. The third Flash just blew them all out of the water. “But the third Flash has saved the world a million times. She’s total beast mode.”
“The second Flash was faster,” Jai pointed out, smirking.
“So?” Wally crossed his arms. “Being faster or slower doesn’t make you a better superhero. It’s about what you do with the power. The second Flash had more raw power, but the third Flash knows what to do with it better. She’s just the best, everyone stop disagreeing with me. We have this fight every time, and I will never change my mind.”
“For what it’s worth,” Bart stage-whispered, “I agree with you. Lady Flash forever.”
“Sorry, Bart, you’re fired!” Aunt Iris called. “This is a second Flash family, get out of my house! Wally, you can leave now!”
“Don’t call her Lady Flash,” Wally hissed, “that’s condescending. You don’t call the other Flashes the ‘Dude Flashes!’”
“I think we should,” Irey said flatly.
“She also had the best sidekick,” Bart added.
“No, second Flash had the best sidekick, because his sidekick was the third Flash,” Wally explained, ignoring the way Bart pantomimed an arrow striking his heart. “Jeez, you guys are total scrub level at Flash fandom. You gotta get on the internet forums, guys. That’s where the real discussions are.”
Whatever. At least his family didn’t accuse him of having a crush on the third Flash. That was stupid as hell. He didn’t even know what she looked like. He just knew that the third Flash was the coolest, most awesome, most beast mode Flash to ever live, and that she had saved his life when he was seven, which made her the best Flash ever. Endgame.
The argument and bickering continued good-naturedly through dinner, everyone flexing their encyclopedic knowledge of Flash fights and Rogues, but eventually Wally’s dad got sick of it and outright changed the topic to how Wally was doing in his classes. The answer was amazing, honestly, and everyone let him brag about how he was at the top of his class. Jai joked about Wally studying temporal physics like him, while Irey insisted that he should become a chemist.
“Big pharma’s evil,” Wally said, frantically diving to scrape some roast beef on his plate before Bart finished it all off. “That’s what Linda says, and Linda’s always right. I don’t wanna be a chemist.”
Both Jai and Irey choked on their food, and Bart sympathetically patted them on the back.
“Still friends with Linda, Walls?” Jai asked weakly, coughing.
Wally frowned. “Duh. Linda and I are friends forever.”
“You should invite her over sometime,” Bart said, then promptly winced as Irey kicked him under the table.
“He doesn’t have to invite her over,” Irey said flatly. “Drop it, Bart.”
“She wouldn’t mind,” Wally said, confused. He bragged about how cool and quirky his family was all the time, and Linda actually did want to meet them. “She’d think you guys are cool.”
“It’s a bad idea,” Irey said flatly, shovelling food into her mouth. “Do you want to guess what you got for your birthday, Walls?”
“No, I don’t,” Wally said, surprising himself. “I want you guys to tell me what’s up.”
Everyone froze - Grandpa with his fork halfway to his mouth, Grandma cutting her roast beef. Uncle Max, who never said much during dinner conversations, raised an eyebrow, and Bart’s mouth twisted unhappily. Wally’s mom and dad looked at each other, and Irey and Jai just looked pained. Aunt Iris dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, unruffled.
“What do you mean, honey?” Wally’s mom asked.
“You know what I mean,” Wally said. He narrowed his eyes at Irey and Jai. “Everyone keeps making a big deal about the fact that I’m fourteen. What does that mean? What aren’t you guys telling me?”
Everyone looked at each other, unwilling to say anything.
“I’m not stupid guys,” Wally said, a little louder than he meant to. “I don’t care if I’m the youngest, I deserve to know!”
To Wally’s surprise, it was Uncle Max who spoke. He shrugged, drinking from his glass of water. “He does.”
Grandpa frowned at Max. “Max -”
“He’ll be fifteen in a year. I’m not saying the future can’t be changed - or that it hasn’t already been screwed well beyond repair - but if we’re going to make our move it has to be soon.” What? The future? Wally felt dizzy. Max raised his eyebrows, meeting everyone’s eyes, but oddly Irey especially. “I wasn’t aware that this was a future you wanted to change, Iris.”
Then everyone was looking at Irey, as they weirdly tended to do during big decisions, and her lips thinned in a line. She looked down at her plate, thinking furiously, long red hair swept over one shoulder. Finally, she said quietly, “Mary, Rudy, can we have some privacy?”
What? Why did his parents have to leave? Wally opened his mouth, about to ask them to stay, but his parents were already wiping their mouths and standing up. His mom smiled at him, while his father clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll be right outside, Walls,” his dad promised. “This conversation - ah, is pretty family only. Come grab us when you’re done talking.”
What? What was going on? Wally hadn’t expected anything this drastic. But his parents were talking quietly amongst themselves as they left to go sit on the comfortable wrap-around porch, and everyone was looking strongly as if someone had died. Except for Bart, who actually seemed pretty pleased with himself. He didn’t stop eating, but he never really did.
Irey pushed her plate aside, having seemingly lost her appetite, and she folded her hands. “Wally,” she began hesitantly. “You know something’s - um, up, with our family.”
“I’ve been kidnapped,” Wally said flatly, “ four times.”
Irey winced. “Yes, you have. Wally - uh, when two people love each other very much, sometimes they -”
“Jesus Christ. Sis, shut up.” Jai wiped his mouth with a napkin, throwing it on the table. “Wally, what do you know about time travel?”
The conversation change threw Wally, and he was left struggling to keep up. “Uh - that it’s impossible? According to Einstein’s theory of relativity?”
“Okay. Einstein wasn’t wrong. Not completely, anyway.” Jai was completely calm, almost conversational, as the tension mounted in the other members of the family. “But his mistake was thinking that it was impossible to go over light speed. It is, in fact, very possible. And once you go over light speed, time travelling is just a matter of going fast enough.”
Wally got what Jai was saying immediately. “The Flash can time travel?”
“Can, and has. Many times. Not just the Flash, but anyone with access to the Speed Force. That’s the...mystical energy field is a horrible name, but please just think of it as the mystical energy field, that gives the Flashes their power. Some have a stronger connection to it than others. For the vast majority of the population it’s zilch, for a very select few it’s considerable.” Jai leaned forward, flinty eyes meeting Wally’s, and Wally knew what he was about to say before he said it. “Your Uncle Barry was one of those people. Your Grandpa Jay is another. Your Cousins Irey and Bart can access it too. Your Uncle Max knows it better than any of us. Jessie Quick also, and some others. I used to be able to access it, but I lost the ability in our trip to 2006.”
You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was silent, staring at Wally, as Wally processed this.
“You guys...are the Flashes?” Wally whispered.
“And the Impulses,” Bart said cheerfully. “And Max Mercury, but nobody cares about that guy.”
“Funny, Bart,” Uncle Max said.
“Okay.” Wally took a deep breath, in and out. On some level, he had kind of known. “And Irey and Jai are from the future.”
“And me,” Bart said, still cheerfully. “I come from the year 3000, baby! Not much has changed but we do live underwater, and your great-great-granddaughter is pretty divine -”
“Oh my god, Bart,” Jai groaned, “that song is so old.”
“Yeah, from our perspective, but from his it’s like it was yesterday!”
“Are you mad at us?” Irey asked, distressed. “I’m so sorry for keeping this from you for so long, honey, but we had no choice. You weren’t old enough to keep the secret, and the future thing was pretty high confidental for a really long time, and I was scared. I was really, really scared that you would hate us. It’s okay if you hate us. I mean, I would really hate us too, for keeping something this big from you -”
“ Uncle Barry was the Flash who died?” Wally asked, realization dawning. “And I was dissing him ? Aunt Iris, I’m so sorry! Of course Uncle Barry’s the coolest Flash!”
Aunt Iris froze, eyes wide and blinking, before she laughed, and it was like the tension cracked. Grandma began chuckling too - who, of course, wasn’t actually his Grandma - and Grandpa began laughing with her, and soon everyone had exhaled. Even Uncle Max looked happy, and it felt like a big block had been lifted off Wally’s shoulders.
Really, when you think about it, this - this was awesome. Wally was related to the coolest people in the world! The best superheroes ever in history, and they were all celebrating his birthday! It was any kid’s dream. Sure, it was weird as hell, and time travel was real, and some of his family was from the future, but that was pretty freaking cool too! He would bet dollars to donuts that Barts oft-mentioned but never-seen cousin Jenni still lived in the future. In the year 3000 .
God. He was from the future. That explained everything.
“Wait,” Wally said, something occuring to him. He pointed at Irey. “Are you and Jai from the year 3000 too?”
They abruptly looked very sketchy. “Not exactly,” Irey said. “More like, um, think in this century.”
“They’ve never said exactly,” Grandma said thoughtfully. “I don’t see why you could never give us a closer date, dear.”
“They’ve never even said why they came back,” Grandpa added. “Don’t worry too hard, Wally. Irey and Jai keep their secrets even from us.”
Both Jai and Irey winced. “There’s a third thing, Walls,” Irey said. She looked pleadingly at Jai. “Bro, can you…?”
“Nope, you’re on your own for this one.”
“Can literally anybody but me say this,” Irey said miserably. Everyone shook their heads. She sighed. “Great. Wally, this is a thousand times weirder than the Flash and time travel thing, so I’m really just warning you here. But...my full name is Iris Chun Hei West. Jai’s full name is Jai Min Joon West.”
“Okay?” Wally said. He kinda already knew that.
“Jai and I aren’t your cousins,” Irey said, “we’re your kids.”
Wally’s first memory of Irey and Jai must have been when he was around four, after Uncle Barry had died. They were all at his house, because Irey and Jai had to come over for some emergency babysitting, and Bart was there because Irey had been raising Bart at the time.
He remembered sitting on the ground playing with his blocks, and the way Bart had sat cross-legged in front of him playing with the blocks too. Bart had been fascinated, confused by the prospect of children.
“Be careful, Bart,” he remembered Irey saying, standing above him so tall he couldn’t see her face. “He’s really fragile.”
“And squishy,” Bart had agreed, poking Wally in the face. “How long until he’s an adult? Two more years?”
“Think more like fourteen, kid.”
“Fourteen?” Bart had cried. “But that’s forever , Aunt Irey!”
“Well, we’re stuck here for a while, so get used to it…”
It wasn’t his only memory of her as a child, not by a long shot: he remembered her as a kindergartener, coming to his class to see his Open House, and pushing him on the swing. She was always an adult - not a kid like Bart, but not quite in the realm of the parents either.
When he was thirteen he read a book called Catalyst, because the title was a chemistry term and he thought it would be about chemistry, but instead it was about a girl who only applied to MIT for college like an idiot. The big twist ending was that her little brother had secretly been her son all along. Like Jack Nicholson and his sister, or in Andi Mack. This was just like Andi Mack.
That was the closest approximation of a normal human experience to what Wally was feeling. Except, of course, his kids were twenty nine, and one of them was a superhero, and “This doesn’t have to change anything, Wally”, and “I really don’t want you to think that this family is different now, because it’s not.”
Wally’s parents - Irey and Jai’s grandparents - had already known. Irey and Jai had told them basically as soon as Wally was born. They consoled Wally about it on the car ride back, after Wally quickly excused himself from the party without even opening his presents, and he spent the rest of the night in bed staring at the ceiling.
Really, the one question he had that they didn’t answer (besides all the other ones), was - why was him being fourteen important now?
Oh, yeah, and just one other thing - who was the mom?!
Apparently absolutely nobody but Irey, Jai, and Bart knew, and they kept their mouths firmly shut. Irey said something about not wanting to bias him, and Jai said something about creating a paradox, and Bart just said that it was funnier this way. Jerks. Apparently his parents had been taking bets for years. Double jerks.
In revenge, the first thing Wally on the first day of school was grab Linda’s hand and drag to her the most secret corner of the high school campus he could find. She was a little miffed that he was interrupting her efforts to make friends who weren’t him, but she quickly changed her tune when Wally told her his wild tale.
“I don’t believe you,” she said finally, chewing on her sandwich with wide eyes. “You have to be messing with me.”
“Would I lie to you?” Wally hissed. “Bart vibrated his hand through the sofa as a joke! It was crazy!”
“Gimmie proof,” Linda said flatly, and Wally had none. He groaned, flopping flat on his back on the grass, listening to the sound of the intimidating older kids talk and run across the field. Linda seemed to take pity on him, because she leaned over from where she was sitting on the grass and patted him on the head. “Look, I don’t think you’re a liar. I just don’t believe you. What are the chances of the Flash’s number one fan being her cousin? It’s crazy.”
“I’m not her cousin,” Wally muttered sourly. “She’s my kid from the future.”
“Hey, repeat that?” Linda said pleasantly. “Because I coulda sworn you said -”
“She’s my kid,” Wally said, much louder, “from the future .”
Linda stared at him, eyes wide, chewing on her sandwich. She swallowed. “You know,” she said, “from the pictures you sent, she looks just like you.”
“You said that she looked like your Aunt Marian,” Wally said, unimpressed.
“No, I said that her brother looks like my Aunt Marian. She looks like you. Just like you. I thought that she was your third cousin five times removed or something, but...you are like identical.” Linda took another thoughtful bite, mind working furiously. She had been number two in their middle school. That was why they were friends. “That’s more believable than the Flash thing, honestly.”
“I can’t believe you!”
“There has to be some kind of proof you can snag,” Linda said, shrugging. “Go back to your Aunt’s house, tell her you want to see all your Uncle’s cool Flash memorabilia, grab some, bring it back to me. Easy. Then I’ll believe you.”
“You know what,” Wally said, cheeks burning. “Fine! I will! And then you’ll have to say ‘Wow, Wally, I’m so sorry, I should have trusted you immediately about the Flash thing, and been a little more doubtful about the daughter from the future thing!’.”
“Okay.” Linda nibbled at her vegetable straw. “Hey, they tell you who their mom was?”
“Nope,” Wally said, exhausted. “It sucks.”
“Maybe it’s Wonder Girl. She’s cute.”
Wally groaned. “This is such a mess. I knew my family was weird, but I didn’t know we were this dysfunctional. I just want to discover who my secret future wife is, is that too much to ask?”
Linda patted him on the shoulder. “Hey, dude. Prove your cousin’s the Flash, and I’ll help you ferret out future wife material. Deal?”
“Deal,” Wally said quickly, and they shook on it. “No take backs.”
Linda was a genius, but Wally would never tell her that.
Going back to Aunt Iris’ house under the pretense of wanting to pump her for more in-depth Flash family history (which wasn’t much of a pretense at all, considering how Wally wanted that like burning) and subtly guiding her to show her all of the Hot Flash Memorabilia was easy. It turned out that they stored the Flash memorabilia ...in the attic! When it should be in a freaking museum! They had a museum for this!
“This is a genuine 2003 Captain Cold Cold Gun,” Wally moaned, “and the cockroaches are eating it! Aunt Iris, you’re killing me here!”
“Sorry, honey. Maybe I should donate this stuff.” Aunt Iris frowned, poking her way through another dusty box. “One of these days the museum is going to wonder who keeps donating boxes of authentic junk, though…”
“They definitely already know it’s you,” Wally said flatly. It was his life dream to even just intern at the Flash museum, and his Aunt Iris had single-handedly stocked it? His life was just too weird. And amazing. Mostly weird. “Hey, what’s this?”
“Oh, that isn't as interesting. Just Barry’s old work for the CCPD. There shouldn’t be any cool Flash stuff in here. Hey, is that one of Harley’s old harmonicas? I should give that back to him.” Aunt Iris blew the dust off a harmonica, frowning. “I hope it wasn’t expensive. It’s a little ruined.”
“Do you have any old costume stuff?” Wally asked hopefully. “Boots, little wings, anything?”
But Aunt Iris just shook her head. “That was all donated. Why?”
They hadn’t explicitly told him not to tell anyone, and he had taken advantage of that, but he had the feeling that he had been following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it.
Eventually she had to answer a call downstairs, and Wally was able to really search for the boxes for what he was looking for. He eventually settled on the cold gun, knowing that it was an absolutely unique piece of hardware made by the late, great Cisco Ramon, but he found himself drawn to the police work too.
What kind of person had Uncle Barry been? Probably super amazing. He hadn’t even known Grandpa when he decided to become the Flash, and he was a founding member of the Justice League. You had to be pretty damn cool to be in the Justice League. He went through his files, fascinated by the chemistry work he did, and found himself idly wishing he could be a forensic scientist too. That would be cool as hell. It was too bad he had never gotten to know him.
For the first time, he thought about how Irey and Jai must have felt losing their father. He was an adult in the future, probably with a cool job and a degree and everything, and Irey and Jai had only been twelve when they had come back to the past. They had lost their parents, and in return all they got was a baby Wally. How was that fair?
He knew that they loved him. But - but he knew that they would rather have their mom and dad any day of the week.
Assuming he was a good dad. Wally felt like he might be a good dad. He felt like his parents were good parents, so he had good role models. It wasn’t improbable that he was a bad dad, but Irey and Jai had turned out okay, so how bad could he really be?
He started flipping through a small, leather bound notebook, sneezing as he separated the yellowed pages. Lots of equations, lots of science. Extremely cool. But what really caught his attention was a bookmarked page, singled out from the others by a single sticky note.
Written in big, clear letters across the top of the page were these words: ‘FORMULA THAT CAUSED THE ACCIDENT. WAS UNABLE TO REPRODUCE. ARRANGED IN THESE QUANTITIES, STUCK BY LIGHTNING, THEN ????. DO NOT REPRODUCE.
The rest of the page was an exceptionally random assortment of chemicals, almost none of which he recognized. Wally silently stuck the notebook in his pocket, bumping it against the cold gun as he tugged his shirt down to cover it.
He had his proof, and a little extra. Linda would help him out.
“What’s for lunch?” Wally called down the steps, and climbed back downstairs to join his aunt.
Then Linda had believed him, and she screamed, and shook his shoulders a little, and excitedly jumped up and down about how she was friends with someone who was related to a celebrity - and, actually, when you put it that way, it’s not that impressive, Wally, so don’t get a big head.
He didn’t have a big head. But it was pretty cool to be related to the coolest superheroes ever (and be their dad but he wasn’t thinking about that) and it also felt pretty cool to brag about it to Linda. Unfortunately, she had known him since he was an eleven year old nerd, and she was thoroughly unimpressed by him. She did, however, agree to help him in his two new endeavours: recreate the mysterious formula that may have given Uncle Barry his superpowers, and find his future wife.
“Okay,” Linda said, perched on a workbench as Barry set up the chemical bath. They really didn’t know how to do this safely so they were just winging it. “Janet Jones.”
“Hard nope. Hate her.”
Linda crossed out the name on the list, pen between her teeth. “Alicia Reddings?”
“She’s such an English nerd, though. I wouldn’t marry that!”
“Well, we’re out of redheads,” Linda said, peeved. “Maybe we need to look at other characteristics. They speak Korean and have Korean middle names, right? Maybe, crazy thought, their mom’s Korean!”
Wally scowled at the beaker as he poured in the acetone, holding his nose as the pungent scent hit him. This was probably a bad idea. But it was definitely a cool one. “Well, what Korean girls go here?”
“We don’t all know each other, Wally.”
“Check the directory!”
Linda rolled her eyes and flipped through the spiral book next to her, reading off every likely looking name she saw. They were trying to keep to girls in their grade and the grade above them, but it was still in the first month of school and it’s not like they knew everyone yet.
They quickly ran through the list of Korean girls. Either they weren’t smart enough, didn’t look anything like Irey and Jai, or weren’t cute enough. Linda had snidely suggested that maybe he married an ugly girl, which made Wally pretend to pour acetone on her.
Eventually they were out of ideas, and Wally was pouring the last of the chemicals into the now very terrifying looking giant beaker. Linda sighed, wiping her brow exaggeratedly as if she had done any of the work. “Sorry, you’re a virgin forever. The future says so.”
“Ha, ha, ha.” Wally exhaled as he set the flask down, propping his hands on his hips and staring at the demon concoction. “You don’t have any sisters, do you?”
“Don’t even joke, asshole.” Linda eyed the concoction with narrowed eyes, shifting around so she was almost hiding behind the desk. “I’m terrified of that thing you just made, by the way. You just dumped a lot of shit together that you have no idea how they react. For all we know that could explode any second.”
“I’m wearing goggles,” Wally said flippantly. “Besides, it’s not going to explode unless lightning hits it. It’s a clear day outside. Sunny all week. All we need to do now is to stick a taser in it and see if I can access the Speed Force through this sludge.”
“Uh,” Linda said, “Walls?”
“You did bring the taser, right? I don’t have one. Bart does know how to make electricity jump from his fingers, but that’s just kinda a party trick. He might help us, but he’s been pretty responsible lately since he became a senior. Gotten way more boring.”
“Maybe if I dumped a battery inside?”
“Wally!” Linda cried, pointing at the window. “That’s definitely lightning, dumbass!”
“What? No it's not.” Wally frowned, looking out the window. But it definitely was, lighting crackling outside. It seemed to be getting...closer? “But it wasn’t even dark ten minutes ago…”
“Wally, get away from the chemicals,” Linda said, voice tight. “Now.”
“We’ll be fine,” Wally said, dredging up confidence that he didn’t really feel. “The lightning’s nowhere near -”
Then the glass shattered in a loud explosion, and there was a feeling of being hit by a freight train. Wally stumbled, screaming, and he distantly felt himself knock into the beaker of chemicals. It spilled all over him, and it felt like he was being cooked in a microwave, and he was distantly aware of Linda’s screams, or were those his own -
Wally blacked out.
“And that’s how I became Impulse,” Wally said, popping more chips in his mouth. He was always hungry these days, which sucked, and hiked up their food bill, but it was worth it for how jacked he had gotten. “Any questions?”
Everyone stared at him.
“Dude,” Roy said finally, “ just like in Andi Mack.”
“I know, right?!” Wally threw his hands up, accidentally scattering chip crumbs everywhere. “It’s insane! And I never found out who my future wife is?”
Everyone looked at Donna, who dainty nibbled on a Swiss roll. They were all sitting in a circle on the floor of Titans tower, revelling in the freedom of having the entire tower all to themselves. The Old Titans had moved out into their own place, which just so happened to be much nicer, and they had spent the whole day moving their stuff into Titans Tower. Some, like Rich and Roy, didn’t really put any of their personal possessions in their rooms, but Garth and Donna absolutely slathered their rooms in weapons, toys, and art. Wally had settled for a good balance, dumping all of his snacks in his room and keeping an extra set of textbooks on the shelves. “Don’t look at me. I’m not into redheads.”
“Aw, man,” Wally and Roy said simultaneously.
“You don’t like redheads?” Rich asked, appalled. He had refused to take his costume off, unlike the rest of them who were lounging around in their pyjamas, and his mask was kept firmly on. But Wally and Rich were long time bros, and they knew each other’s deets. Even if Rich was like thirteen and Wally was a full fifteen, he was still fun to hang out and game with. “You do not favor the beauty and elegance of the redhead form? The...what is the word...copper! Of their hair in the sunlight? Horrible, Donna.”
“I’m straight,” Roy said. “Sorry, dude.”
“Oh, ew. You don’t count.”
“As leader I think in-house dating is awkward and uncomfortable,” Donna said severely. “It’s probably better if we avoid that kind of thing altogether, thanks.”
“Does this mean you have a crush on Starfire?” Roy asked, ignoring her. “Because, dude, your brother’s girlfriend, that’s rich. Also she’s my best friend, and I’d have to beat you up.”
“I do not have a crush on Starfire!” Rich cried, even more offended. “She is so perky my eyes bleed. You can keep her.”
“What about that girl that keeps following you around?” Wally asked, stuffing more chips in his face. “Batgirl II or whatever?”
Rich groaned, dragging his hands down his face theatrically. “Do not remind me. I cannot get her to go away!”
“What,” Donna teased, “you aren’t in the market for a sidekick? I guess you aren’t into redheads after all.”
“If you’re still part of the Outsiders why are you here?” Garth asked, focusing on the real questions.
Roy just shrugged, fixing his little hat. “There had to be someone over the age of sixteen here, and I volunteered as tribute. Besides, it was getting awkward how every team mission was just me third wheeling. Miss me with that shit, thanks.”
“You can date them too,” Rich said casually, ignoring the way Roy choked on his spit. “Star and Red Robin would be into it, I think.”
“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Wally said loudly. “Great team bonding, guys, anyone want to go next in talking about their origin stories?”
“I said I was straight!”
“Are you?” Rich asked, faking surprise. “I thought straight people are...what is the word...a myth?”
“I don’t have an origin story,” Garth said, crushed. He had such a delicate little heart. “This is an internship. My life was uninteresting before this.”
“We can talk about my origin story -”
“Everybody knows your origin story, Roy,” Rich said, gently biting into an Oreo. “You were born in Utah, where all straight people are from, and went to straight people elementary school where you learned to be straight, and then you got your certificate in straightness -”
“Robin and Roy have known each other since they were little kids,” Wally explained to Garth, who looked incredibly confused. “They banter a lot, it’s really funny. I’m not sure if they like each other?”
“Look, Robin, not everyone can leave the circus and get adopted by two wealthy gay men and live outside of societal norms, okay?” Roy said, frustrated. “Some of us are the kids of divorce, okay!”
Rich sniffed imperiously. “Divorce made you straight.”
“Oh, I want to talk about my origin story!” Donna said, excited. “It all started a thousand years ago -”
On a balmy fall afternoon, barely a few weeks after Wally got his superpowers, Wally ran down to Alabama to knock on Max Mercury’s door.
Irey had been helping him practice running long distances, but it was still nerve-wracking. Not difficult, not difficult at all, but still bizarre to run down I-10 and have absolutely no idea where you are as the cars whip past you. One of the most popular hashtags on Twitter was ‘#flashsighting’, where passengers in cars and pedestrians could catch quick pictures of a red and gold streak thundering down the highway, and although Wally hadn’t officially made his debut yet the eagle eyed American citizens had already noticed an unfamiliar streak down the midwest highways. They had to stop frequently to check the GPS - at their speeds it was almost impossible to read the highway signs - so they wouldn’t get lost, but Irey assured him that he would get the hang of it soon. He had no idea how Uncle Barry had learned to do this all by himself, or how Grandpa did this without GPS. Old people are crazy.
Wally couldn’t even drive yet, and he was rocking 100 miles per hour down the highway. Irey was having to teach him laws of the street, because legally Wally’s family were motorcycles. It was so freaking crazy. Crazy awesome.
But today he was making the trip by himself, and he only got lost and accidentally ended up in Florida once. He was super proud of himself when he skittered into downtown Manchester by himself, quickly changing into his street clothes so that nobody recognized him. Uncle Max was so surreptitious most people in the city didn’t even know that they had a superhero, but they still didn’t want to arouse any suspicion.
He walked down the street, marvelling at how warm it was in the south, and quickly consulted Google Maps on his phone. Hour’s walking straight in that direction, alright - crouch, focus, pump, and zoom! - and suddenly he was in front of Uncle Max’s house. Wild.
Wally grinned, and rang the doorbell.
He had only been to Uncle Max’s house a couple of times, supposedly because Max valued his privacy but actually because it was far easier for everyone to run to Keystone than it was for Wally and his parents to fly to where they were, but it was the site of fond childhood memories. He rung the doorbell again, and rocked on his heels. He had texted ahead to say that he was coming. Had they forgotten or something? Maybe they were out?
Finally, the door opened, and Wally saw a scowling blonde man standing over him. His hair was long, almost golden, and tied back in a small ponytail. He was identical to Bart Allen in literally every way, save for the color of his hair and his choice of clothing - a pair of skinny jeans and a plain black t-shirt where Bart tended to prefer baggy cut-offs and crop tops. He scowled at Wally, who was well used to the treatment from him and waved cheerfully.
“You don’t have to mash the stupid thing,” the man said. “Don’t eat all my chips.”
“Nice to see you again too, Thad,” Wally said cheerfully, and Thad rolled his eyes and stepped aside to let Wally in.
The story a year ago had been that Thad was Bart’s identical twin who had moved to America when he was fifteen and stayed with their Uncle Max instead of with Cousins Irey and Jai with Bart. This story had inspired a lot of questions - where in the world was Thad and Bart from? Why did they move to America two years apart? Why was he staying with Uncle Max, who they weren’t related to, instead of with Irey? Why was he such a jerk? None of these questions had ever been actually answered, and pretty soon Wally had learned to stop asking.
Now the story was, apparently -
“I’m an evil clone made by our maternal grandfather to travel back in time, impersonate Bart and take over his life, and then kill him,” Thad said casually, walking into the kitchen as Wally stumbled over him. Helen, Max’s sister who lived with him for some reason, was working on paperwork on the kitchen table, and she didn’t look up from her work as they walked in. “Jai caught me out, Max and Bart yelled at me until I decided to stay here to get yelled at some more, and then Max made me live with him so I could learn how not to evil or whatever. Helen, do we have any more power bars? Wally’s hungry.”
“In the cabinet, if Max didn’t eat all of then,” Helen said, distracted. “Hi, honey.”
“Hi Aunt Helen,” Wally said politely. He didn’t know Helen and Thad very well, since they rarely went to family reunions, but during the really big ones when absolutely everyone showed up they could usually be found standing in the corner drinking wine and talking shit. “Thanks for having me over.”
She didn’t look up. “This is a good time to tell you that I’m actually Max’s daughter.”
“Oh.” Wally paused a beat. “Are you from the future too?”
“No, Max is just from the past.”
“Okay.” Wally accepted the power bar Thad handed him and immediately dumped it in his mouth, chewing furiously. “Cool. Max around?”
“I’m here,” Max said, stepping out from the hallway. He didn’t smile at Wally, because he didn’t smile unless Jay embarasses himself in public, but he did raise a single eyebrow in a vaguely friendly greeting. It was the first Wally had seen him since he visited him in the hospital. He guessed that there had been more than one emergency family meeting behind his back about the whole hospital thing, but what else was new. “Ran here all by yourself, Wally? That’s impressive.”
“I’m not as fast as Irey,” Wally said, faintly embarrassed.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Thad said flatly, like he said most things. “She got her powers from you, right? If anything she should be the slower one.”
“You know better than to think that’s how the Speed Force works,” Max said, amused. He ruffled Thad’s hair, which made him scowl. “It’s a state of -”
“ - state of mind, of being, of seeing and knowing, Jesus, I am so fucking aware.” Thad batted his hand away, grabbing his own granola bar and eating it in measured bites. “Gotta go. I told Carol, Preston, and Rolly I’d get ice cream with them. Have fun with the brat.”
“Hey,” Wally protested half-heartedly, far too used to Thad’s prickly attitude to actually be offended, but in a green blur Thad was gone. Aunt Helen - Cousin Helen? - held the paper down, cursing under her breath.
Uncle Max, and this time he really did smile at Wally. “He’s much better than he used to be, believe it or not. When he was your age...it was a trial. You’ll soon find, Wally, that having superpowers makes puberty much more difficult than it would otherwise be.”
“If you just invited me over to tell me I did something stupid, I’ve already heard it,” Wally said, faintly annoyed. “I wasn’t trying to give myself superpowers on purpose, you know.”
Uncle Max just arched an eyebrow at him, and Wally fought a flush. Something about Uncle Max always made him feel like a little kid. When he had been a little kid he had been convinced that Uncle Max was secretly much older than the sixty years everybody said he was. Maybe he had been ninety, or one hundred! In retrospect, he thinks that Grandpa and Grandma had confused him on age. Grandpa kept on casually referring to fighting in World War 2, never censoring himself, despite visually only looking around seventy. And a spry seventy, too.
Maybe it had been his sense of humor: the way he used to tell Wally as an elementary schooler all about the wild west cowboy fights he had been in, how he had helped take down the Clantons in the shootout at the OK Corral. He had said it with such utmost seriousness that Wally had wanted to believe him. Maybe he should have.
“I’ve found in my life, Wally, very few things are accidents.” Max cocked his head, gesturing Wally back into his bedroom. Wally followed him, curious despite himself regarding the forbidden area. It was, unfortunately, just a bedroom: a queen sized bed, a dresser and a calendar on the wall, some family photographs on the dresser. He recognized one with a much younger Bart and Thad with arms slung around each other’s shoulders, grinning broadly as Helen and Max beamed at the camera behind them. He had known that Bart and Uncle Max were close, but they could have passed for a husband, wife, and kids nuclear family. “Shut the door behind you. I would normally prefer to do this outside, but we can’t risk the neighbors seeing.”
Wally closed the door, feeling more awkward than anything else, and reluctantly watched Max sit down crosslegged on a cushion in the corner of the room. He had set up another cushion a few feet across from him, and he gestured at the other seat when he saw Wally awkwardly hovering.
He scrambled to sit down next to him, also crosslegged, but when he looked closer he saw that Max’s legs were arranged in a weird way that looked slightly uncomfortable. He tried to mimick him, setting his knees flat on the ground and keeping his back straight. Max took a deep breath and exhaled, and Wally tried to copy him.
“Did you have me run cross-country to teach me how to meditate?” Wally asked. Linda was really into mindfulness, and she had taught him how to meditate years ago. “Because there’s a Buddhist temple my friend goes to down the street that has free lessons -”
“Please be a better student than Bart and Thad,” Max said evenly, and Wally shut up. “You do not have nearly the amount of excuses that they do.”
“Is this the part where you please tell me Bart’s actual backstory,” Wally plead, “because what kind of life was that guy living where his grandfather was trying to clone and kill him?”
“What makes you think I know?”
Wally shot Max a very unimpressed look. “You know everything.”
“Then you should listen to me.” Uncle Max took a deep breath and exhaled again, and Wally copied him. “Breathe in for one, breathe out for two. Breathe in for three, breathe out for four. Five, six. Seven, eight. Nine, ten.”
They sat there like that for a stretch of time, and Wally felt himself slowing down his own body. Ever since his powers activated they seemed to flip on and off randomly, making him feel like he was reading a book for five hours when he had only been at it three minutes, and it was making school absolute hell. He had almost started refusing to go, because every day was like a week in hell. He didn’t know how the others did college lectures. Everything was boring, boring, boring - everything but superheroism, and the joy of legs in flight.
“Empty your mind,” Uncle Max said. “When you find a thought, welcome it, then let it pass through you. You are emptiness. You are nothing. Only your breath remains. Center yourself.”
They sat like that, and Wally felt oddly connected to Uncle Max. He thought that maybe they were breathing in sync. He emptied himself out, tried retreating deep within himself - this was so much harder than when he was doing it with Linda years back -
Something pricked his thumb, like a tiny safety pin, and something made the hairs on his arm stand on end. Wally cracked his eye open, and saw that there was electricity running down his hand!
Wally shook out his hand, and the electricity disappeared immediately. His arm was unburned, and the only sign that the lightning was ever there was the faintly tingly feeling in his arm.
Uncle Max smiled. “Nice job. Seems like you accessed the Speed Force.”
“The Speed Force?” Wally gaped, clutching his arm. “But I have to be running to do that, right?”
“That’s one way,” Uncle Max agreed. “Meditation is another. That’s my preferred way for accessing it, really. Bart’s called me a lazybones on more than one occasion. Personally, I prefer to work smarter, not harder. I was under the impression you were the same way.”
Well, personally, Wally believed in working smart and hard, but he settled back down into meditation. If he could access that lightning again, he could really shock the pants off Linda. No pun intended. “I’m trying that. What can I do besides lightning? Can I go faster, do more stuff with speed? I’m working on vibrating through walls right now, but Irey said that takes time…”
Uncle Max sighed, which made Wally shut up. Bart always assured Wally that Uncle Max was a really patient teacher - Jai would usually chime in that you had to be, to deal with Bart - but so far he just seemed like he’d rather be taking a nap than talking to Wally. “I’m going to walk you through a guided meditation. It took Bart about three months to get to this point, but if you’re already accessing the lightning then it may be the right time. I wouldn’t want you to do anything you’d regret later. Again.”
“It was a clear day ,” Wally said, for the millionth time. “There was no lighting. How was I supposed to plan for freak electrical storms out of nowhere.”
Uncle Max just hummed. “How indeed. Close your eyes, Wally, and listen to me. You’re standing in the middle of a wide, open area. Let’s say...the park we used to go to when you were a child. You’re standing in front of the swings…”
Wally stood in the center of the park he used to go to when he was a child. He stood in front of the swings, feeling the cool breeze on his face, watching the trees wave in the wind. In the distance children cried and screamed as they played, and on the bench Aunt Iris and Mom were chatting over the romance novel they had both brought to the park. Uncle Max and Grandpa were there, taking turns pushing Wally on the swing and griping about their old bones, and in the wide open field Irey and Jai were teaching Bart and Thad how to play soccer. It was warm, but not too hot, and lazy clouds drifted across the sun to provide a bit of relief.
Wally walked forward into the field, sneakers pushing down on springy green grass, feeling inexorably as if he was searching for something. He was looking for a door, for some sort of path out of here…
There it was! There was a door in the middle of the soccer field! Irey, Jai, Bart, and Thad were gone, and in their place was an old oak door. It looked just like the one that lead into Wally’s house. He ran forward, at normal speed, lightly bouncing along the ground as he swerved to miss ant hills and clumps of overturned dirt. He skidded to a stop in front of the door, and watched the golden doorknob as it seemed to hum with electricity. Wally stretched out a hand and twisted the knob, opening the door and stepping inside.
It was loud inside the door. Crackling energy surrounded him, sparking and shooting electricity like a Tesla coil, and his vision was a mass of red, white, and yellow as electricity ran down the endless tunnel. There was infinite in front of him, nothing but electricity as far as the eye could see, and Wally took a deep breath and walked further inside the energy field. The door swung shut behind him.
It felt easier to be in motion in here, so Wally began lightly jogging. Underneath the crackle of electricity, low but distinct, words began to jump out at him.
“ - where am I?”
“Grab my hand!”
A tall figure zoomed past him, so much taller and larger than him, red with sparks of gold flying across the form. It didn’t stop or look back at Wally.
“Be safe, honey!”
Wally began running faster. He didn’t feel any fear, or any pain or doubt. His mind was buzzing with the overwhelming sensation of sticking his tongue in an electrical socket. Every synapse in his body was firing, and every neuron in his brain felt like it was going haywire. Visions began to flicker at the walls, people passing in and out, scenes of memory.
An elderly woman, hugging a teenage boy. “Be safe, honey!”
Two kids, clutching each other’s hands for dear life, one almost towing the other along. “Grab my hand!”
A man in a bright red suit, looking around him with a confused expression. “Where am I?”
The man in the bright red suit stepped forward, and stepped out of the wall and into the corridor where Wally was standing. Wally blinked, somewhere in the vicinity of shocked, as the man blinked down at him.
He rubbed his chin. “Who might you be then, kid?”
He had a strong midwestern accent, clearly from Central City. But there were a lot of other things about him that were clearly from Central City. “Wally West, sir,” Wally said politely. “I’m Impulse.”
“Are you?” Uncle Barry squinted at him as electricity flashed around them. “Is that some kind of title? Are you a speedster too?”
“I think this would be a bad place to disrupt the time stream,” Wally said frankly. On...impulse, he stuck out his hand, and Uncle Barry confusedly shook it. “It was a pleasure to meet you, sir. Have fun in the Speed Force. I hope you get back.” He looked around, an idea occurred to him. “Have you seen some twins around here? Where they came from? There’s someone I’m looking for.”
But Uncle Barry just shook his head. “Near as I can tell this place is pretty darn infinite, son. Oh, well. Gotta go! I’m fighting Gorilla Grod...got here by accident...must have took a wrong left turn at Albuquerque.”
“Have fun with Gorilla Grod,” Wally said politely. “Tell Mr. Snart and the Rogues hi for me. Or don’t. Time stream, you know.”
“I really don’t.” Uncle Barry saluted, half-sincerely half-sarcastically, and took off a sprint down the corridor again. In less than a second, if time had any meaning here, he was gone.
But Wally wanted to know where Irey and Jai were, and he wanted to meet their mom, and he started running down the corridor too. He searched and searched - he didn’t know how long he searched - but he didn’t see another living soul. Sometimes he thought that he saw the ghost of Max Mercury, but when Wally opened his mouth to say hi he was gone again. It was frustrating. What was the point of being inside the space-time continuum if you couldn’t go anywhere you wanted?
Maybe it was like the highways. Sure, if you kept on running for long enough you were bound to get somewhere , but it was easier with a GPS. But they didn’t exactly make a GPS for the time stream. Maybe Max had made a map? Or maybe it was trial and error….
A red-white and green-yellow streak blared past him, two boys tugging at each other’s hair and yelling, and Wally hoped that Bart and Thad were doing okay. Everyone else always seemed to get into this place by running super fast, so it would go to show that you could get out of it by slowing down...but Wally hadn’t even been running when he entered. Uncle Max would be so proud of him, probably. Maybe not.
Maybe he should speed up. That might knock him out of it.
So Wally sped up, running faster than he ever had before, running until he felt like his lungs would burst. He tried to remember what Irey had taught him - not in the last two weeks, when he was seven and Irey was teaching him how to run right - keep your spine aligned, take deep breaths, find your center. Wally went faster, and faster, and faster…
“ There you are.” Suddenly Uncle Max was next to him, looking peeved off. He grabbed Wally by his collar, frowning at him. “Stupid kid. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“But I’m not done,” Wally cried. “I’m still looking for Irey and Jai!”
“They’re waiting for you back home. Come on, Wally -”
“No!” Wally cried. “They’re my kids! If I can find out where they came from, I can help them get back home!”
“We’ll talk about this later.” Uncle Max jerked on Wally’s collar, hard, and Wally stumbled. Max dived to the left, taking them off the Rainbow Road, and Wally fell with him.
They fell in the dark for a long time, Wally’s gut swooping, and it was like every nightmare he had ever had - where he fell for a long time down a cold, dark pit, and he never stopped falling, and he would never wake up from the Speed force -
There was a feeling most are familiar with: when you’re falling asleep, but you suddenly feel kinesthetically as if you rolled off the bed, and you’re jerked awake again. Wally felt this exact sensation as he came back to himself. He startled and jerked, almost twisting himself until he toppled over, and when he opened his eyes he was sitting cross-legged in Max’s bedroom. It was much darker than it had been when he had walked in, and when Wally looked out the window he saw that the sun had set. It had barely been four o’clock when he had come over.
“Wow,” Wally breathed.
“Wow indeed,” Uncle Max grumped. He cracked his neck, carefully standing upwards and grabbing a bottle of water from the nightstand. He gulped it easily, as if he had been running for miles instead of sitting in a bedroom for three hours. Wally tried to get up himself, but found that his legs were asleep. “What you just did was very stupid.”
“I did exactly what you told me to!”
“Yes, and I had absolutely no idea that you would get so far in. I didn’t even expect you to find the Speed Force on your first try. Almost nobody ever does.” Uncle Max crossed his arms and leaned against the nightstand, frowning at Wally as if he was a puzzle he couldn’t figure out. “You went too far deep in, Wally. What did you see in there? Any visions, apparitions, ghosts from the past?”
Wally nodded eagerly. “I heard voices, and I saw people on the walls! Not real people, but like they were playing on a projector or something. Lots of people were running past me, probably the other flashes. Oh, and I saw Uncle Barry. And then you found me!”
Uncle Max, who had been taking another swig of his water, almost spat it out. “You what ?”
Whoops. Had he not been supposed to do that? Nobody told Wally anything. “It was from the far, far past,” Wally said, embarrassed. “He didn’t even know who Impulse was. He said hi, I said hi, and then we went our separate ways. I don’t think it broke the time stream or nothin’. I was looking for Irey and Jai…”
“Yes, and that was your mistake.” Uncle Max pointed at his with the water bottle severely. “You have to go into the Speed Force with an anchor, with a determination to come home. If I had actually known you were going inside, I would have coached you on how to visualize your anchor and use that as your focus point to come home. You didn’t have that, and you didn’t have a goal in mind, so you could have been lost forever. You’re lucky I was there. Please never go into the Speed Force unsupervised, Wally.”
The idea of being lost in that electric corridor forever...Wally shivered. But something about Uncle Max’s words stuck in his mind. “What’s an anchor?”
It was unmistakable, the flash of pain and grief that flashed across Uncle Max’s face. He lowered his water bottle, placing it back on the nightstand, and scrubbed at his face. He walked back over to Wally, extending a hand and helping Wally shakily rise. He massaged his legs, cursing under his breath as his legs tingled and ached.
“Think of yourself as a speedboat, travelling out into the wide ocean. You need someone, or something, in your life to keep your eye on home. A lighthouse to guide you home, or a weight that keeps you in one spot. Visualize it however you like, but unless you have someone or something to guide you home you’ll never make it out of the Speed Force.” His mouth twisted, a bad memory creeping into the lines around his eyes. “I went into the Speed Force as a young man without an anchor, and I never returned to my own time again. Your Uncle Barry’s anchor was always your Aunt Iris, and Jay’s anchor is Joan, but it doesn’t have to be an intimate partner. I know Irey’s anchors are Jai and Bart, and I think Bart’s anchor is...I don’t know how his mind works. I think he told me his anchor are cheeseburgers one time, and I believed him.”
That was a lot, and Wally struggled to process all of it. Somehow, what stuck out to him was a one-off remark. “What do you mean, your own time?”
Uncle Max smirked. “I wasn’t lying about the Wild West.”
Holy hell. “You are definitely telling me more about that later,” Wally plead. “There is no way you’re going to say those words to me and then never say it again.” Vivid childhood memories struck him on the head: Uncle Max helping him with his homework, explaining American history to him as he struggled over essays. Thad, when he was dragged over, always complaining about bizarre things like pencils and paper and how slow the internet was. Wally was beginning to suspect that he hadn’t had an entirely normal childhood. “So...what? If I’m going to be Impulse I need an anchor? Otherwise I’m going to end up involuntarily time travelling - and are there any more time travellers in the family I need to know about? Was Grandpa actually born in 1900 or something?”
“Jay doesn’t time travel very frequently. Man just doesn’t age.”
“You can’t just say stuff like that!” Wally moaned, still rubbing his legs. “You can’t just say those things and never follow-up!”
Uncle Max just laughed, and Wally resolved not to ask about Grandma Joan until he was ready to know the truth. “Unless you’re planning on staying for dinner, it’s probably best if you head home. We had a productive session today. Same time next week, Wally. Think about that anchor of yours. It can be your parents, it can be Irey, or it can be someone else close to you. But you need one, if you don’t want to end up like me.”
Wally swallowed. “Got it. Thanks, Uncle Max.” He hesitated before limping to the door. “Who’s your anchor now?”
They both glanced as one at the photograph on the mantle - of Max, standing next to his daughter, with Thad and Bart grinning at the cameras. A happy family, if a nontraditional one. Wally wondered how long Max had gone thinking that he would never have that, that he could never settle down and be happy. But he had been in the 2000s for more than 15 years, and Wally hoped that he was going to stay. He didn’t want to travel into the Speed Force again to find another ghost, restlessly searching, never safe.
“Next week, Wally,” Uncle Max said. “Don’t be late.”
But he didn’t go home.
He went to Linda’s house instead, and it was so convenient being able to go wherever he wanted without a car. He threw rocks at her window and texted her interpretive emojis until she walked to her window and opened it, leaning over the windowsill. She was wearing a tattered sleeping shirt from middle school and flannel pyjama bottoms, and Wally waved up at her. He had switched back out of his costume, but his running boots were clearly visible. Linda pulled a horrified expression, and Wally self-consciously waved.
She texted furiously on her phone, waving it at him until he checked his phone.
Lab Partner: I am NOT letting a boy into my room at 8pm my mom would KILL me
Lab Bro: not even a superhero boy? :D
Linda threw a rock down at him, but she also gestured at him to come up. Wally took a deep breath, backed up to give himself a running start, and ran up the wall of her house into her bedroom.
He had been inside a million times before, but she had cleaned and re-organized it for high school. She had put away her frilly pink bedspread and her tape-up cutouts of boy band magazines, and new assigned reading lined the shelves. Big, impressive textbooks were lying on her desk, but her bed was still half-covered in her favorite childhood stuffed animals. Wally threw himself onto her bed, groaning both loudly and very quietly, and Linda crossed her arms at him.
“This better be good.”
“Admit it’s cool I can come to your house in the blink of an eye,” Wally said. “ Admit it.”
“It’s fresh as hell,” Linda admitted, however grudgingly. “But what’s not gonna be cool is me being grounded for having a boy in my room. What’s so important that you couldn’t call me on Discord to talk about?”
Wally quieted, staring at the ceiling, almost afraid to look at her face while saying it. Out of everybody he knew, Linda would understand, but he was still afraid. That was a downside of the superhero thing. Only a handful of other people in the world understood him now, and they were all adults and related to him. Some things you just couldn’t talk to a cousin about, no matter how cool they are. Even if they were the Flash.
“I went to Uncle Max’s to learn more about the Speed Force,” Wally finally said, “but I think I messed it up a little…”
He explained the day to her, all of it. Max’s hinted backstory, the picture and revelations about Thad and Aunt Helen, the door and the corridor, seeing Uncle Barry, and the concept of the anchor. Linda was silent the whole time, face creased into a thoughtful frown, and he knew that she was approaching it like any other math problem. Linda was a scientist at heart, and she was ruthlessly practical about any issue that appeared to resist a solution.
She was silent for a long moment after he finished, fingers steepled like Gendo Ikari, and Wally felt a little lighter for having told her. “I just don’t know what to think, Linda,” Wally finished. “The time travel thing is so cool, and if it wasn’t for it I wouldn’t even have half my family, but it’s scary . I feel like if I had chased those images I saw in the corridor, I would have time travelled too. I could have never come home. If I had found Irey and Jai, if I had seen the future version of myself that I was looking for, then I could have been lost forever. It’s scary. And now I need this anchor thing, and I don’t even know what to do about that…”
“The anchor’s usually just girlfriends or whatever?” Linda asked. “I thought your cousin was aroace, though.”
Wally waved a hand. “Yeah, we don’t know what Bart uses. But Irey’s always having girlfriends and she still uses Jai, and I’ve never seen Jai date either. He seems a little contemptuous of the whole thing.”
“Then you can probably just do your parents or whatever.”
But did he want to use his parents? Wally loved his parents, obviously, and they were good parents. But they weren’t who he thought of in that corridor, and using them just didn’t feel right. He was a teenager in high school. He didn’t need his parents the way Barry and Iris, or Jay and Joan, or Irey and Jai, or Bart and cheeseburgers needed each other. When he thought of someone who he would do anything to come home to, someone who he would cross countries on foot for, all he thought of was Linda.
Linda, who was always there for him. Linda, who supported him unconditionally as she called him an idiot. If Wally got lost in the time stream Linda would call him a stupid jerk and he wouldn’t be able to handle that. He would have to come back, no matter what. He hated letting Linda have the last word in arguments.
“Do best friends count?” Wally asked finally.
Linda was silent for a long time. Finally, she said, “If you want.”
“I’m asking if you want.”
“You can do whatever, it’s no skin off my nose.”
“I think this is a two way street.”
“Do I have to do anything special?” Linda asked, somewhat nervous. “Like, be dramatic and get kidnapped all the time? If we have a fight will you never come back from the Heaven of Speed or something? That’s a lot of responsibility, Wally.”
“Nah,” Wally said, and he knew it was true. “I think it just means that...I’ll always want to be lab partners with you.”
“Oh,” Linda said. “I want to be partners with you too.”
“Cool,” Wally said.
“Yeah,” Linda said. “Cool.” She paused a beat. “But that means if you time travel I have to come with you.”
“It means I’m not time travelling! Stuff’s dangerous!”
“Whatever! I want to meet Marie Curie!”
“Bitch, me too!”
Most of Wally knew that this wasn’t a commitment. Having someone who you cared about enough to come home to didn’t mean anything. They were best friends, and had been best friends for years. People who said that boys and girls couldn’t be friends were idiots. By that logic, bisexuals couldn’t be friends with anyone!
But somehow, when Wally asked, what he meant was - will you always be my lab partner? Will you always look out for me, help me, and make sure I come home? And Linda had said yes, and Linda had understood what he was asking, and she said yes. It was a promise in the same way that clasped hands and ‘best friends forever’ was a promise.
Girlfriends and boyfriends broke up. Wally would rather have a best friend.
He wouldn’t get lost again.
When Wally was fifteen he finally hit a friendship milestone with Robin, where he and Irey were in Gotham helping Batman and Robin out with a Riddler puzzle and Robin had asked him if he wanted to hang out afterwards. In Batman’s house.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Wally said. “Let me check my calendar with the Flash.”
He grabbed Irey’s arm and tugged her roughly five miles away. Irey, who had been hugely preoccupied mocking Batman for his little ears (mocking! Batman!) crossed her arms at him and raised an eyebrow.
“ Please please please please please -”
“Jesus, duh! You know I’ve been to Batman’s dumb house tons of times.”
“You what ! Without telling me! Your loyal sidekick? You’re a traitor, Flash!”
Irey sighed and ruffled Wally’s hair, making him scowl. He was way too old for that. He was fifteen now! That was too old to be a sidekick. But Robin said that Wally was stuck being a sidekick at least until he graduated high school, because that was about when Bart struck his own path and when Robin’s brothers and sisters started doing their own thing, so he was sunk. He could barely imagine graduating high school. He would be lucky if he survived it.
He heard that the Arrow kids flew the coop when they were his age. Granted, they tended to start at about twelve, which was bizarre, but still.
Still! He had hung out with Robin plenty of times in each other’s cities, but this was the first time Robin invited him back. This was the difference between hanging out in class and actually going in for the sleepover. Wally was so excited. He was going to text Linda about this ASAP. She loved Robin, and when the Keystone students deigned to talk about any superhero besides the best superhero of all time (The Flash and Impulse) the conversation always turned to Batman. Batman was just cool. It was so frustrating how Wally wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that Batman wasn’t even the OG Batman!
But he knew better than to mention that. He quickly zoomed back to where Robin and Batman were standing - Batman with his usual grim expression, Robin bouncing on his heels - and quickly tried to make himself seem as casual as possible. Judging from Batman’s slight smirk and Robin’s grin, he failed, but whatever. Wally wore his heart on his sleeve. That was his whole thing. Wally always told everyone how he felt, when he felt it, because he thought honesty was important. This made having a secret identity crazy hard sometimes, but that was a sacrifice Wally agreed to! He never lied if it wasn’t important!
“Uh, if it’s for a few hours,” Wally said. “I got homework, though.”
“You are smart, yes?” Robin asked eagerly. “Can you help me with my homework? Red Robin helps me normally, but he’s on Tamaran right now. And Red Hood tells me the wrong answers on purpose!”
“I need to have a talk with him,” Batman said, long-suffering. “And I don’t understand this new way they are teaching seventh graders math. It makes no sense.”
“Can not believe they let you become Batman,” Irey said flatly.
“Nobody could stop me.”
“A could have stopped you if he wanted.”
“A is basking in his retirement. He nearly cried with relief when I told him I was doing my own laundry. The last time I checked he was renovating his little cottage in the English countryside.”
“Batman says we are going to visit him before school starts again,” Robin said cheerfully. “I miss England! They have nice chippies.”
“Give us ten minutes to get home,” Batman said, nodding at Irey. “Show up at our place in civvies. No costumes in a ten block radius.”
“God, I know the drill, sheesh.” Irey gave him a thumbs-up, which Wally quickly copied. “C’mon, kid, let’s grab a cheap bottle of wine that Batman’ll have to force down to be polite.”
“We have Rimborian moonshine in the basement,” Batman said.
“Fucking sold .”
Nice to know the real reason they were going over. But Robin looked genuinely excited, and even though Wally tried to hide it, he couldn’t help but feel excited too. He and Irey politely looked away to give Batman and Robin the opportunity to jump off the roof like total badasses, and then they both casually ducked into an alley and super speed-changed into their street clothes.
Irey caught him bringing his phone out, and she quickly snatched it from him. “Nope. No telling Linda about this. The Bat identity is a huge secret, and they’re trusting you with it.”
“I wasn’t gonna say where we were going -”
“Most of Young Justice II wasn’t allowed to learn Red Hood’s identity until after he came back to life,” Irey said severely, and Wally shut up. He had already gotten the ‘The second Robin died and it was horrible and scary and Batman got brains in his mouth’ story that every other aspiring young sidekick got, and he wasn’t in the mood for a repeat performance. “You’re lucky D - Batman’s so much chiller than his old man. You would not believe the number of parenting books he reads about ‘molding your child’s psychosocial development’. He is such a nerd.”
They stepped out of the alley, and Irey quickly lead him into a CVS. They passed homeless people leaning against the wall and shopping carts filled with backpacks and blankets, and Wally tried not to feel uncomfortable. He would say that they were in a bad neighborhood - except, well, every neighborhood in Gotham seemed to be bad.
Except maybe that wasn’t quite true. There was a well defined striatum of wealth in both Metropolis and Gotham. The ultra-rich were ultra-rich, and the poor languished. So far as he could tell Gotham was pretty skimpy on the nice, normal middle class neighborhoods. It was either luxury or death. Welcome to America, Wally guessed.
They picked up some power bars, because they were both starving and didn’t want to eat Batman and Robin out of house and home, and awkwardly stood around as they ate the bars and talked in order to give Batman and Robin enough time to get home and de-suit. Wally’s imagination was caught up in trying to picture how Batman peeled himself out of that suit, and he was thoroughly distracted when Irey elbowed him in the side and told him it was time to head out.
“Just follow me,” she said. “And remember to cover your face.”
Then they were off like a shot, weaving down sidewalks and streets so fast he could feel the pavement heating up under their feet, and Wally obediently kept the hood on his hoodie pulled up and his face ducked. The surroundings melted into nicer neighborhoods, into streets lined with pretty trees and swings, and soon enough they were skidding to a stop in the middle of a nice, upper-middle class neighborhood.
It wasn’t the kind that Wally would have been able to afford, but it was close to the kind that Aunt Iris lived in (Aunt Iris had a lot of money for a reporter, and nobody dared to question why). There were ‘children X’ing signs in other lawns, and re-election signs by progressive Gotham politicians were stuck in the medians. Trees fanned over the street, forming a beautiful canopy, and there was a jogging trail sneaking around nearby. It seemed like a very nice place to live.
Irey lead them towards a tall, brightly colored Victorian home. It had beautiful rose bushes and gardenias in the front, and a pride flag hung from a rod beside the door. There was a basketball net in the driveway, and an abandoned basketball sat pillowed in the grass nearby. There were two cars parked in the driveway, a sudan and an SUV, and Irey leapt up the stairs easily. She mased the doorbell a few times as Wally awkwardly hung out behind her, huddling in his overly large hoodie and hoping his running boots weren’t too obvious.
A man opened the door, and Wally’s first thought was - holy shit, it’s Batman! It had to be! He had messy brown hair, reaching down to his ears, and was wearing a faded METROPOLIS METEORS t-shirt with dad jeans. It occurred to Wally that no way would Batman be caught dead wearing a Metropolis shirt, so this had to be -
“Irey! Damian said you were coming. Come in.” The man leaned forward and hugged Irey tightly, patting her on the back, and when they seperated he stuck out a hand for Wally to shake. “This must be your cousin. I’m Jon Wayne. It’s so great to meet you, for the very first time, in both our lives!”
Then he winked, and Wally knew that the guy was Flamebird.
They had met before, many times, but something about seeing him in his civilian guise was unreal. He wore no mask, but somehow his civilian identity was mirror opposite his professional one. “Wally West,” Wally barely managed not to squeak. He shook Flamebird’s hand, which was like shaking the fist of a statue. “John Wayne - like the actor?”
Mr. Wayne rolled his eyes as Irey giggled. “No ‘h’. And you will not believe how many times I’ve heard that joke. Biggest downside to my marriage choices.”
“Really?” Irey said, stepping inside as Wally awkwardly trailed after her. She pitched her voice up louder. “Because I could have sworn the biggest downside to your marriage choices was your shitty husband!”
“Bite me, West!” A voice echoed from within the house, and an extremely large man stepped out into the foyer. He was tall, with muscles as big as Wally’s head, with the hint of stubble at his cheeks. Wally felt abruptly and completely as if this guy could snap like him a toothpick. The appearance of a boy popping up at his elbow and grinning widely at Wally should have made him a bit less intimidating, but honestly only made him scarier. He lifted a single eyebrow at Wally, and held out his hand. “Damian Wayne. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wally. Irey’s told me a lot about you.”
“All good things, I hope,” Wally joked weakly.
Basically the entire community knew that Flamebird and Nightwing had been a thing. Anybody who had any problems with it kept it to themselves. But it wasn’t very well publicized that Nightwing and Batman were the same person - some had suspected, but only a few knew for sure - and it was another thing entirely to know that they lived in a converted Victorian home with a pride flag in the window.
“I’m Richard Wayne, but call me Rich!” Robin said eagerly, pushing past the other Mr. Wayne to hug Wally. Wally, shocked by the attention, cautiously hugged him back. “I’m thirteen and I’m in the seventh grade! Papa says that if I complete my homework before dinner we can play some video games. Do you like video games?”
“Do you have an Xbox?” Wally asked, somewhat taken back.
Rich seriously contemplated the question. “I mostly play Minecraft, but we can steal it from my brother’s room,” he said finally. “He is at college so he won’t mind. He lives in a dorm. When he’s not, you know…” Rich gave him a significant look, pointing upwards. Wally nodded numbly, somewhat dazed. “Papa, do we have any snacks for Wally?”
“Give him Irey’s stash,” Mr. Wayne said. The Batman one, not the Superman one. This was confusing. “She doesn’t need them.”
“You’re mean,” the thirty year old woman whined. “You know I get the munchies when I’m drunk.”
“Oh, you’re getting drunk in my house?” the other Mr. Wayne asked, faking surprise. The Metropolis one. “My good Muslim-Christian-Athiest home? As if we are a den of sin?”
“If you want pork we don’t have any,” Rich said seriously to Wally.
“I’m not a big pork fan?”
It was mostly a lie - Wally ate everything - but it made Rich grin, which was the point. He grabbed Wally’s hand and towed him deeper into the house, which was cluttered with cozy looking antiques and a startlingly vast array of wall-mounted swords. There weren’t as many games and books strewn around as in Wally’s own home, but the house more than made up for it with the thick, plush rugs and beautiful art. There were thick stacks of nonfiction in bookshelves, but Wally had the sense that they probably belonged to Mr. Wayne - Jon Wayne, not Damian Wayne. Wally was a Midwestern boy and had never referred to brand new adults by their first names in their lives, much less Batman and Flamebird , but he would have to start.
“The house is big, right?” Rich chattered as they climbed up the stairs - Rich almost flew up them, he was insane even in civilian guise - “It has rooms for all my siblings, even though none of them live here full time! My trailer in the circus was not one tenth as big as this, but Wayne Manor was a million times bigger -”
“Wait, a manor? Like, a mansion manor?”
Rich shrugged, opening a door at the end of the hall. “Grandfather was very rich, but Pa said that the mansion was spooky and not a good place for children, and Papa agreed and said that he was sick of it, and we all got to pick out a new house! It’s very nice.”
“It is very nice,” Wally agreed, blown away. “So you guys just like...bought a new house -” a million dollar house, at least - “because you felt like it?”
Rich abruptly looked a little uncomfortable, and Wally suddenly felt very bad for bringing it up. “It is a little weird…”
It was a little as if Wally had been invited to the house of a good friend of his, abruptly found out that his last name was Bezos, and that he used to live in a mansion. Wally was having his own suspicions about who exactly Grandfather had been, but he didn’t want to invade their privacy and it really wasn’t any of his business. He didn’t want to make Rich feel uncomfortable, but he didn’t know how not to.
“Hey, it’s all good! Your family honestly can’t get any weirder than mine, dude. I mean, you’ve seen my family tree, right?”
Rich brightened, and Wally exhaled. “I had to memorize it before I went out into the field! Is it true Iris West II is your daughter from the future?”
“I resent the implication that you knew that before I did.”
“Oh, we all did.”
But Rich genuinely was struggling with math, and it was one of Wally’s many joys in life to tutor younger students, and he was able to effectively walk him through the work. Rich was extremely bright - obviously, he was Robin - and if you were willing to repeat what you said and say it a little slower than usual he caught on very quickly. It made Wally angry how Rich’s teachers, who were probably super expensive at a fancy private school, weren’t even doing something as basic as accommodating an ESL student.
Afterwards they moved onto English, which they quickly got bored of because Wally didn’t really care about English and Rich was just looking up French translations of the books they were reading in class anyway and reading those, and then they gave up the whole homework idea as a bad job and yanked the Xbox from Jason’s room. Jason was Red Robin, apparently, and judging from the sneaky glance he took into Jason’s room he was a complete and total nerd. It was hilarious. He and Jason had only talked those few times, and he was super occupied macking on his girlfriend, but he got the sense that they would be friends.
What he really wanted to see was Red Hood’s - Tim, an incredibly incongruous name - room, but Rich had flat out refused. He said that nobody ever went inside Tim’s room, upon pain of death. Rich was just convinced that it was where he was hiding all of his cocaine, and maybe guns.
“He’s such a delinquent,” Rich complained, jamming the Xbox buttons with his tongue poking out of his mouth. “Always upsetting Papa! Pa says that we should ship him off to live with Alfred and plant flowers. It would be good for him, I think. I want to live with Alfred and plant flowers, but Papa says that then I would have to partner with Squire and sidekick for Knight and I hate Knight. He is, um, precious.”
Rich snapped his fingers, still mashing the buttons on the Xbox. They were playing Katamari Damacy, but he was getting incredibly into it. “That one! Not that I do not miss Europe, of course. Gotham was my first visit to America.” He sighed, not appearing terribly upset as he eagerly rolled his little ball on the screen around. “Two week visit, they said. We’ll be in and out, they said. We will not have to stay in this hellhole long, they said.” He must have caught Wally’s sympathetic wince, because he quickly added, “I have grown to love it, though! The restaurants, the alleys, the very nice people, are all very pleasant! I am just...an outsider. Papa and Pa are outsiders too, they understand. But the other students in my class do not.”
Neither did Wally. The biggest thing Wally had gotten teased about his class was his red hair. He had never catapulted from...circus to billionairedom to Robinhood, apparently. But he thought of Irey downstairs, exchanging swings of alcohol with her oldest friends. Her family, the one she had chosen herself. “I see that in Irey and Jai,” Wally said finally. “Sometimes they’re just definitely from Someplace Else, you know? Bart and Thad are even worse. My Uncle Max is from the year 1838.”
Rich gaped at him. “The Wild West?”
“The Wildest,” Wally promised. “But they’re all stranded in this time, for some reason or another. They can’t go home, so they’re just...stuck here, I guess. I know they made the most of it, but that doesn’t make it not hard.”
The question threw Wally. “What do you mean, why?”
“Why can’t they go back?” Rich asked patiently, pausing the game to look at Wally. “Did they never say?”
“No,” Wally found himself saying. “They - uh, never talk about it. Too painful, I think.”
“Oh.” Rich furrowed his brow. “They’re hiding something.”
“Yeah, I’m used to that.” But then Rich’s words caught up to him, and a bad feeling began to sink in Wally’s gut. “You - you really think so? That there’s something big they aren’t telling me? I just figured it, you know, wasn’t important.”
“Something happened to the Flash, her brother, Impulse II, his evil clone, and Max Mercury that made it impossible for them to return to their own time?” Rich asked archly. “Seems smelly. You are her sidekick. And her Papa! Why does she not trust you?”
Wally looked down at the controller in his hand. Suddenly he felt a little sick. “I don’t know.”
“I do not know either. But eh! Not my family. Not my business.” Rich unpaused the game, going back to the happy little tunes of the alien prince. “If you do ever find out that time travel thing, though, you have to let me know. It has been a life goal of mine to meet the Elephant Man.”
“Linda already called dibs on coming along to the past with me,” Wally said apologetically. “And I’m scared of Linda, so she has to come.”
Rich just shrugged. “Fine by me. Hey, if we grow up to be best friends, can I be Irey and Jai’s godfather? That would be funny.”
“Tell you what,” Wally said, exhausted. Rich was fun, but a lot. “I’ll make you their godfather right now, okay? Boom. Done.”
“Thank you!” Rich beamed at him, satisfied that he, as a thirteen year old, now had legal custody of a thirty year old woman if anything ever happened to Wally. “But shouldn’t you ask Linda first?”
“What does she have to do with this?”
Rich stared at him, blinking owlishly. He knew who Linda was - Wally frequently mentioned her as His Best Friend, Thank You Very much - so the confusion wasn’t really warranted. “You really - hm. Are you heterosexual, Wally?”
“A guy and a girl can just be friends, dude!”
“I give, I give!” Rich held up a hand in a mock-surrender. “All I am saying is, I am bisexual and knowing that I was destined to grow up and be with a woman and have very talented children would mess with me a little. I might spend years of my life thinking I was het! What a waste.”
“Aren’t you a little young to know something like that?” Wally asked suspiciously.
Rich shot him a flat look, ticking off on his fingers. “Gay fathers, gay ace second oldest brother, bisexual third oldest brother, lesbian oldest sister, bisexual sister slash sister-in-law. Nobody is sure what Grandfather’s deal was. Genetically, I have no heterosexual bones in my body.”
“That’s not - okay, whatever. Sure.” It wasn’t as if Wally’s family was any straighter. Between Irey, Bart, Jessie Quick, and Thad - and he had his suspicions about Jai, who never dated that Wally knew about and never seemed to care - the only straight members of his family were over forty. “Trust me, I’m just focused on other stuff right now, okay? I’m a part time superhero, full time scientist. I don’t have time for dating.” Wally drummed his fingers on the Xbox controller, frustrated. “When I was younger Linda and I looked for my future wife. For whatever reason we were convinced that she had to go to our high school, but we didn’t find anyone that might fit. I’ll probably meet her in college or something, I don’t know. I don’t know if she even exists. I guess you’re right. It is weird, knowing that I’ll find this awesome wife and great mom who’ll be perfect for me. My ‘anchor’ or whatever. It feels...I dunno. You ever feel like you got a destiny, Rob? And that you can’t really complain, because it’s freaking awesome, but you keep on seeing your entire life laid out ahead for you and it’s scary?”
“Yes,” Rich said shortly. “I do.” He paused, clearly internally debating over whether or not to say something, before he slowly said, “You know...Papa struggled with his destiny when he was a child. He had been raised being told that his destiny was to become the Batman, and he struggled deeply with it. I think he wanted a solo career for a little longer. But then Grandfather died, and there was no one else. Gotham needed a Batman, and I needed Papa.” Rich shrugged uncomfortably. “He’s told me a million times that I can do whatever I like, and that Robin is not a legacy or a destiny but just a job. I think that is what good parents want for their children, the freedom for their own happiness.”
But who was the parent: Wally or Irey? He didn’t know. They played in silence for a little while, listening to the chipper little soundtrack of the video game.
“Heterosexuality’s a prison, Wally,” Rich said sagely, in his thirteen year old wisdom.
When he got a girlfriend, would Linda not be his anchor anymore? Would they stop being friends? What about when Linda got a boyfriend or girlfriend? She kept on talking about how she was too good for dating, but that might change soon. Everybody said that all teenagers were obsessed with dating. But Wally liked having Linda be his number one person, and he liked being Linda’s number one person. He didn’t want that to change.
Eventually he got hungry again, as was inevitable, and he and Rich crept downstairs for a snack. Damian, Jon, and Irey were sitting around the kitchen table, reminiscing about something and laughing. Both Jon and Irey had empty glasses in front of them, while Damian seemed to be sipping juice.
“ - fake dating, holy shit.” Irey giggled, sipping at her drink again. “I can’t believe your Pops actually fell for that one.”
“It helped that at no point was any of it fake,” Damian said wryly.
“Revise, then -” Irey pointed at him. “I can’t believe we tricked you into going along with it.”
Damian sipped at his juice. “I had my own motives.” He didn’t look at Jon, but Jon smiled at him anyway. He noticed Rich and Wally hovering at the stairs that lead into the kitchen, and he smiled at the both of them and waved them in as they cautiously entered. Rich stepped forward and casually gave Jon a big hug, which was eagerly returned, and tried to sneak a sip of the drink from behind his back. Jon effortlessly held it above his head, tweaking his nose.
“Not today, kiddo.” Jon ruffled Rich’s hair, and passed a half-empty bag of chips that Irey had been attacking to Rich. “It’s getting pretty dark out. I don’t know how I feel about Wally and Irey running home this late. What do you guys think about staying over for the night?”
“Please,” Irey scoffed, apparently not listening to anything Jon was saying. “Your dad was the world’s greatest detective and he didn’t get that you were gay for - how long again?”
“We didn’t talk about that kind of thing,” Damian said, pained. “Iris, please.”
“Not healthy,” Irey muttered, sipping her drink again, and nobody corrected her. She noticed Wally for the first time, and she grinned broadly. “Honey! Aw, I love you so much. What are you doing here?”
“Rich invited me,” Wally said blankly. Babysitting drunk adults was so much fun. “It’s not as if you tell me everything either, you know.”
Irey frowned at him as Rich winced. “What d’ya mean? I tell you shit. Like, uh...you know. The thing.”
“About you being my kid?” Wally said deliberately, and this time everyone winced. Great. Nice to know everyone was so embarrassed by it.
The thing was, he and Irey and Jai never talked about it. They never talked about their mom and his wife, besides vaguely hinting that he and their mom were happily married and that both sides of the equation were alive last time they checked. But it was almost a taboo subject between the three of them, the one thing that made everything else just too weird to handle. He could see in the negative space of his family - the way Irey always doted over him, ever since he was a kid, the way Jai could mouth along with some of Wally’s lectures or rants - and in the gaps they left behind.
If they missed their mom and dad so much, why didn’t they just go back?
“This isn’t really a great time for this convo, little man,” Irey said blearily. Her system would work its way through the alcohol in less than ten minutes, but that was probably enough. Irey didn’t drink very often, but apparently Rimborian moonshine was very impressive. If the sole baseline human at the table wasn’t drinking it, no wonder. “Let’s pick this up again later, mkay?”
Jesus. Whatever. “I don’t know who the parent is here,” Wally muttered, too loudly, “me or you. Come on, Rich.”
He pounded his way back up the stairs, and Rich closely followed him.
The next morning was school again, like a normal day. Wally ran at superspeed from Gotham to Central City, like normal kids did, but there was something different in his gut. Maybe it was Rich’s words - purposefully inflammatory, and he would have to figure out why later - or maybe he was just tired, and stressed, and questioning everything.
Everything in Wally’s life had always been taken for granted. Maybe he had taken this prophecy of the future for granted too, the idea that the future was immutable and sacred. He was confused, and scared, and more than a little upset and pissed off at the siblings who had helped raise him. Irey especially - she was supposed to be his mentor. Why couldn’t she be honest with him?
He stood by the chain link fence of the high school, watching the school buses line up on the sidewalk and children pour out. Seniors, no longer as big and intimidating as they used to be, and the fun sized freshmen streamed out. He watched, and tried not to feel desperate and lonely as he waited for Linda to exit the bus.
When she stepped down from the school bus, it was like time stopped. Maybe it did. Wally had that power. But Linda froze, glossy black hair shining where the sun lit it it up, her glossy black skirt offsetting her ripped white polka-dot t-shirt and denim jacket littered in pins and patches. She was wearing a snapback backwards, and in that moment she was the most beautiful person Wally had ever seen.
Then time started again, and she was just Linda Park, best friend since forever, and when she saw Wally she waved and smiled. Wally weakly smiled back, and she easily jogged put to where he was waiting.
“What’re you standing out here for, weirdo?” Linda asked. “No last minute homework in the library?”
“I wanted to hang out with you instead,” Wally said honestly. “Linda, can we...uh, take a walk? Around the campus?”
She blinked at him, and glanced backwards at the friends she had walked off the bus with. They all giggled at her, for some weird girl reason, and she rolled her eyes and pulled her backpack higher on her back. “Lead the way, fleet foot.”
They walked in silence for a little while, Wally chewing furiously at his lip trying to figure out what to say. She was content to walk with him, knowing it sometimes took him a while to spit it out.
He opened his mouth to tell her about what Robin had said, about his problems with the time stream, about why his family still didn’t trust him, why nothing about his stupid life made sense. Instead, what he said was, “Do you think I’m straight?”
She didn’t miss a beat, as if she had expected the question. “I wonder sometimes. You marry a girl, apparently, but I’ve never seen you actually show interest in one. Or a boy.”
“I’m not against it,” Wally said awkwardly. “The concept, I mean. But...there’s never been anyone I liked. It’s dumb. I keep on comparing people against you, you know? If someone is as smart as you, or if someone calls me out on my BS as much as you do, or if they have a great big laugh. But nobody ever seems as good for me as you do, Linda. Nobody else has ever matched up.”
It wasn’t the kind of thing he could take back saying, although he wished he could. Wally flushed deeply, and Linda seemed to be blushing a little bit too. “Okay.”
“But when I think about kissing you, or doing any of that other stuff, I don’t know if I want to. I like us the way things are. I don’t know if I don’t want things to change, or if I’m just scared that they would. I’m sorry, Linda. I don’t know.”
They walked in silence. Linda said, slowly and then all at once, “Do you think Jai kind of looks like my Aunt Marian?”
Wally stopped walking. Linda stopped too.
They looked at each other, and Wally thought that this had to be it. This was when they kissed, or when they confessed that they loved each other, or when Wally got down on one knee and proposed because he knew what was inevitable. But nothing seemed inevitable, and nothing was certain in the future when you were fifteen. Not even time travel could change that.
“Take my hand,” Wally said, and without hesitation she did.
Smoothly, or as smoothly as he could, he picked up her up bridal style and set out at a dead sprint back to Irey and Jai’s house. Linda hid her head in the crook of his neck, her breath heating up his collarbone, and it made something in him tingle. It was a maneuver they had done dozens of times, but - but what?
They skidded a stop in front of Irey and Jai’s apartment, Wally silently cursing when he saw that his feet were smoking. He tried putting out the fires on his shoes as Linda leaned on the doorbell, hitting it again and again.
The door opened immediately, and Jai stood at the doorstep with a headset around his neck and a raised eyebrow. “You brats better be skipping school for a good reason.”
Then Linda burst into tears, and she cried, “Why didn’t you tell me,” and a lot happened at once.
Irey found them sitting on the couch as she quickly stepped out of the shower, hair dripping, Linda bent over with her face buried in one hand. Wally was holding her other hand, squeezing supportively, and Jai was keeping his distance by sitting on the armchair across from them. Irey looked between the three of them, and immediately knew what had happened. Her face fell.
“Shit is right,” Jai said grimly.
“I’m a teen mom,” Linda moaned. “I’m too young for thirty year old children! Am I going to have to pay child support? Am I deadbeat mom, Wally?”
“Trust me, I know how you feel,” Wally said sympathetically. “It’s weird, but just take deep breaths, okay?”
“At least my mom’s going to be happy,” Linda sniffed. “She’s always asking me when you’re going to ask me out! It’s so freaking annoying!”
“Halmoni likes you?” Irey asked, surprised. “Dad always said that she didn’t warm up to him until after you two married.”
“Wally’s the only white guy we know who speaks Korean,” Linda said. “She thinks he did it just to impress me.”
“I did not!” Wally protested. “But, uh, we never corrected her.”
“Well,” Jai said, unamused and in Korean. “That’s yet another way we’ve fucked up the time stream.”
“We didn’t fuck anything up, Jai,” Irey snapped, also in Korean. But Wally had been brushing up and practicing with Linda, and they were not getting anything past him this time. “We didn’t exactly have any alternatives.”
“Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“You guys have a weird accent,” Linda said, also in Korean, and they both shut up. “Are you why Wally is always doing that bizarre thing with his stressed syllables? Do you have any idea how hard it is keeping my mouth shut whenever dumbasses on the internet assume the Flash is white? It kills me. If Jai was the Flash we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Yeah, Irey,” Wally said, also in Korean, except very self-conscious about the syllables he stressed. “You’re breaking your mother’s heart, here.”
“Oh,” Irey said, rolling her eyes, “never heard that one before.”
“You get into fights with our parents when they’re fifteen and we’re thirty, Irey? Really?” Jai said, unamused. “Real mature of you.”
“He always takes her side!”
“Am I going to have to marry Wally?” Linda moaned, switching back to English, and their kids froze. “What if I wanted to date around in college? I mean, I can, but it would just be kind of weird, and I like soulmate aus in the fanfics I read but in real life they’re just so awkward!”
Wally wrinkled his nose. “I always found soulmate stuff kinda weird. Like, you got this destiny and there’s nothing you can do about it?”
Linda threw up her hands. “Well, now it’s both of our lives! So congratulations! It’s twins!”
“I didn’t pick this!” Wally exclaimed. “If you think this is bad for you, they helped raise me, at least you aren’t dealing with that -”
“You sure as hell picked being a superhero!”
“I got superpowers! What was I supposed to do about that, not help save lives?”
“I don’t want to be some damsel in distress, Wally! That’s always the wife’s job, to be worried about their husbands, sexily! It’s weird!”
“They’re fighting again,” Jai muttered in Korean to Irey.
She elbowed him. “We haven’t heard them fight in twenty years, shut up.”
“Oh my god,” Linda said, “my children are time travelling orphans!”
Wally hugged her, not glaring at his kids but giving them A Very Significant Look, and they both shut up. They both seemed very embarrassed, which made Wally feel a little better, but mostly he didn’t want them to fight anymore. They were - well, in their own stupid way, they were a family.
They always had been. Linda had been his best friend for five years, they were a team. Irey was his mentor and both she and Jai had helped raise him. Stupid stuff like genetics or time travel didn’t get in the way of that.
Except it wasn’t that way for Irey and Jai. They had been raised for...anywhere from ten to twelve years, he didn’t know, by two apparently loving parents. Then they time travelled, for a reason that Wally didn’t freaking know, and then they were stuck in 2006, for more reasons Wally didn’t know. This was the first time their family had been reunited in twenty years and it was so messed up by resentment and fear. Wally didn’t blame himself, and he especially didn’t blame Linda, but he couldn’t help but know that Irey and Jai were wishing for a different kind of reunion than this.
But...Linda didn’t owe anything to them. Wally wanted, more than anything, for her to be happy with the rest of her life. If the rest of her life meant...being an exchange student in Finland and marrying a guy named Pasi Jääskeläinen and being very happy with him for the rest of her life, then that’s what Wally wanted for her.
He knew what he wanted for Irey and Jai. He didn’t know what he wanted for himself. This was the weirdest situation known to man and Wally didn’t know what to do about it.
But then Linda hiccuped, and forced herself to stop crying, and she frowned at Irey. “Why can’t you two go home? Why are you stuck in 2023?”
The twins looked at each other uncomfortably, and Irey shifted on her feet. “It’s a complicated story, and I really don’t want to ruin the timeline -”
“I am your mom ,” Linda said, “so tell me .”
Irey and Jai exchanged glances again.
“Listen to your mom, kids,” Wally said.
When Irey sat down next to them, held their hands, and explained, Wally wished that she hadn’t.
The explanation went a little like this:
Irey and Jai hadn’t quite grown up normally, but they had grown up happily. There was some early trouble with their speed kicking in a bit too quickly, accelerating their aging a bit, but they had knocked themselves out of that pretty quick and had eleven happy years with their father and mother. Barry Allen was their beloved Great-Uncle, and after he came back to life he filled in frequently as the Flash while Wally and Linda helped raise them -
“ Came back to life? ”
Not that Wally’s sidekick Bart didn’t help out occasionally, especially when he acted as Flash -
“ My sidekick?”
“Please let me finish.”
Anyway, so a bunch happened and Irey and Jai lived more or less idyllic childhoods. There was drama, they were kidnapped, whatever. Irey glossed over it. The important thing is, when there was another Crisis, when shit was hitting the fan in their universe, Wally wanted to send Irey and Jai someplace safe.
“It was the usual stuff,” Irey said, frowning. “World ending, timelines colliding, something about a universe in a bottle. I was just a kid and nobody was telling me shit, I didn’t know what was going on. Dad was refusing to make me his sidekick so it wasn’t as if I could actually help him out. Jai and I were still splitting our powers, so they were a little, uh -”
“ - unreliable,” Jai chimed in.
Irey nodded. She was sitting on the coffee table in front of Wally and Linda, both of whom were hanging onto her every word. “Unreliable.”
So the truth of the matter was: they had never been from the future at all. Well, they had been, but in a different way. They were from an alternate universe.
And alternate universe trips were somewhat one-way. They hadn’t found a way of getting back to their own universe, at least, and Bart had never had any luck getting back to his own universe either - and that was Bart’s story, so don’t ask me about it, okay?
They had thought, at first, that it was impermanent. At one point their dad would come back for them, and all they had to do was hang on until then. But then weeks turned into months, which turned into years, and soon enough Irey found herself an adult with Barry gone and realized that this time period, this place, was her home now. Even if she had the option she didn’t think she would go back. She missed her parents, and her own Uncle Barry, and everyone, but -
“But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, guys, it’s that where you are is the most important place. Where I am, here and now, with you two, is the most important place in the world to me.” She gripped both their hands and squeezed, pretty and youthful face alight with determination. Now that Wally looked closer, he could almost see it: his complexion, Linda’s eyes and snub nose, his hair. He was much less recognizable in Jai - the two were far from identical - but he had Wally’s mouth, and Linda’s everything else. “I’m not - we really aren’t sure if my universe is even still there. There were, uh, a lot of casualties. But I’m glad this happened, you two. I’m glad I got to meet my family, and I’m glad I got to meet Young Justice. I’m glad I got to see you grow up, Wally. I will always be thankful for that.”
Linda was crying again, and Wally was tearing up a little too, and Jai walked over and sat down next to Irey. “It’s important to me and Irey that you two know that you're not obliged to anything just because of where we come from,” Jai said evenly. “We seriously want you two to live your own lives, okay? Lots of things were different in our universe. We changed a lot of things just by being in this time period. Whatever decision you two make about the rest of your lives, we just want you to be happy.”
“You’re not going to break the time stream if you decide to marry someone else,” Irey said firmly. “Seriously. If the time stream was that fragile I’d have cracked it open like an egg by now.”
“I’m sorry for keeping so many secrets from you two,” Jai said. “I hope this doesn’t impact your friendship at all.”
Wally and Linda stared at both of them, then at each other. In that second he knew that they were thinking the same thing: yeah, fat chance of that.
It was something really different to know that Wally and Linda had gotten together in an alternate universe, instead of the future. But Wally knew how time travel worked, more or less. Every time you went back in time you created an alternate universe. There would always be timestream ripples, and although there were more differences in their pasts than he had thought he had always known that nothing was fated. Just - predicted.
“Can you guys give us some privacy, please?” Wally asked finally. The twins looked at each other, a silent conversation passing between them, before Jai stood up and helped pull Irey up. “Thanks.”
“You don’t hate us,” Irey asked, distressed. “Do you?”
“Irey,” Wally said, exhausted. “Please?”
They left them alone. Probably stepping outside, chatting quietly between themselves, as they always seemed to. Irey and Jai had always lived inside their own little world, and Wally had always felt lucky to be a part of it.
But they were the adults, and he and Linda were the kids, and he didn’t want to make his decision based on what made them happiest. He wanted to do what was right for him, and what was right for Linda. For a second, for just one decision, he wanted to be selfish.
They sat in awkward silence for a minute, and Wally knew that he was the superhero so he had to say something first. He had been dealing with this weirdness his entire life, Linda was kind of a scrub at weird family dynamics, he should say something -
“Okay, I’m the mom and the backbone of this family, I should say something,” Linda said, breaking through Wally’s angsting like a hot knife through butter. “Wally, this is weird. I can handle time travelling super speed kids from the future, but time travelling super speed kids from the future of another universe ?”
“I’m numb to it,” Wally said. “Look, Lin, if you don’t want a part of any of this craziness, I’d totally understand - I was born into it and I don’t even really want a part of it -”
“Okay, back up! Fuck you!” Linda leapt up, and Wally leaned backwards as she got into his space. She jammed a finger at his chest, and Wally leaned back. “You asked me to be your dumb anchor, didn’t you? I said yes, didn’t I? That was a promise , Wally! I told you that we’d be lab partners forever, and I don’t break my dumb promises!”
“You didn’t sign up to be a co parent!” Wally cried, shocked.
“What part of lab partner don’t you understand!”
“I think we have two different definitions of lab partner!”
“Wallace West, you idiot!” Linda cried. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you! I don’t want anyone else to be your dumb lab partner, or your life partner, or whatever! And I want kids, and you said when you were twelve that you wanted kids and that twins ran in your family and that you really wanted twins, so we’re having stupid twins! We will be very happy for the rest of time, Wallace West! We’re going to have two weddings, and at the Western one I want to play that How To Train Your Dragon song, so we’re going to have to learn how to dance like Scottish people!”
“I am a Scottish person,” Wally said dumbly, before the rest of that sentence caught up with him. “I - I, okay, jeez! Do you...want to kiss now?”
Linda stared at him. He stared back.
“Is that necessary to getting married, being life partners, and having kids?” Linda asked finally.
“I think it might make the kids part hard,” Wally said finally.
“We’ll deal with that.”
It occured to Wally, like a brick over his head, that Jai must have invented his possible asexuality from someone. Guess it was both of them. Neat. That - that worked.
“And I’m not - coercing you into this or anything?” Wally asked.
“Idiot,” Linda said, before she hugged him tightly, tears staining his shirt, and Wally hugged her back, breathing her in.
“Welcome to the family, I guess,” Wally said, into her shoulder.
“Idiot,” Linda said, which Wally interpreted as ‘I love you’.
Which was convenient, because he loved her too, and although his heart beat at 300 bpm and hers was slow and human, he imagined that they beat in time together.