“Oh wow! You’re the Boy Wonder! The Boy Wonder!! I’m Kid Flash. The Flash is my uncle. I’ve heard so much about you. Is Batman your dad? Does he really hang from the ceiling when he sleeps?” The nine-year-old speedster’s excited chattering made his mentor laugh, but it had a different effect on the boy he was addressing. Robin had arrived with the Batman in the Justice League headquarters, just like any other day, but to his surprise, he had been greeted by this hyper new edition to the JL. Truth be told, the Boy Wonder didn’t know whether to be intimidated by Kid Flash’s enthusiasm, or to laugh along with his mentor at the child’s antics. Instead he settled for a mix of the two, quietly smiling and introducing himself.
"Yeah, I’m Robin, and no, Batman doesn’t sleep hanging from the ceiling. Nice to meet you.”
Dick remembered when he had first met Wally, but back then, he really couldn’t have comprehended how much of an impact the young speedster would have on his life. They had created plenty of memories, helped each other handle their pasts, and created their futures together. They had always been a bit more than best friends, but that was inconsequential.
What mattered now was that Dick was sitting in a hospital sitting room, waiting to be called in to see the aforementioned speedster. This wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary, except this wasn’t Mount Justice, this wasn’t the infirmary, and Wally’s wounds weren’t of superhero origin. He had dropped the superhero gig years ago. Wally had been missing for the previous couple days, which again, wasn’t out of the ordinary, except for the fact that he had been found on the side of the road in Mississippi of all places, unconscious, in civilian garb, and looking positively dreadful. The hospital didn’t even know who he was until they found his phone in his pocket. (Of course the idiot wouldn’t carry any other form of I.D.)
So here Dick was, out of costume, waiting to go see his friend who had disappeared and almost died without as much as a word to anyone.
Eventually one of the nurses called his name, and with silent steps he walked into a room full of chirping machines and circulating liquids.
“So, what happened this time?” Dick had meant for his tone to sound light – joking and mildly sarcastic, but instead it came out strained and worried. Even so, he was surprised by his friend’s sharp retort.
“What do you think? I was an idiot, as always. Is there any further explanation needed?”
Sure, the two had grown apart ever since Wally had given up superheroism, but they still were friends, weren’t they? Maybe Dick deserved it; he really hadn’t spoken to Wally in quite a while, but you couldn’t really blame him, could you? He was busy, with the heroism and all.
It was truly pathetic; the fact that a quiet ‘oh’ was the only response Dick could think to say, but the silence was pregnant – awkward and distracting.
“Well,” Dick tried again, “how did this happen?”
He didn’t mean to sound so condescending; truly. It just… happened.
“I messed up.” Wally hadn’t made eye contact with him yet, instead just glaring angrily at the ceiling. “I tried to find a cure and I fucked up. I fucked up real bad.” That last bit wasn’t as angry as it was despondent.
“…Cure?” Dick was confused – why did Wally need a cure? What for?
His honest inquiry was met with a harsh bark of a laugh, making the former Boy Wonder start a little. “Think Dick, do you really think I would quit heroing for the heck of it?”
To be honest, Dick hadn’t really thought about it much. He probably should have, though, seeing as Wally’s quitting the team was the source of most (all) of their fights.
“No?” The word was more of a question than anything else, and Wally knew it.
In a show of exasperation, Wally dragged his arm over his face, letting out a harsh sigh. “You never even thought of that, did you?” Dick couldn’t help but wince at the pure misery that laced the speedster’s tone. “Whatever. Anyway, I can’t run anymore –”
“You can’t?” Dick couldn’t help his surprise. He had assumed that Wally’s running had gotten him into this whole mess. How else would he have ended up in Mississippi?
“Well, I can. But whenever I do, it basically rips apart my cells. Every minute I run is a day off my life. That’s why I quit.”
“Why didn’t you tell us before?”
Dick was quiet, shell-shocked, really. He was baffled by the fact that Wally was sick, but even more so that he hadn’t told him – or anyone else on the team – before.
“I didn’t want you to worry.” It made sense. It really did. And Wally was right to think that the whole team would have freaked out. They would have.
“We… could have helped. Bruce could have gotten the best scientists working on it, we could have had Dr. Atom check you out, we could have had Zatanna try healing you, we could have had–”
“I know.” Wally’s quiet words stopped Dick’s rambling. His tone had changed, morphing from frustrated and depressed to dejected and… regretful. “I know you all could have done so many things to stop this, and I don’t doubt that you all could have saved me, but… as I said before, I was stupid. I thought I could handle it alone. I wanted to handle it alone. So I tried. And I messed up. I messed up.”
He finally removed his arm from his face, looking Dick straight in the eye, his own orbs glistening desolately. Wally had always been a bit of a drama queen, but only as a joke. This emotion was real, and just knowing that made Dick’s own eyes water.
“Yeah… well, it’s not too late, Kid Idiot.” Dick used the old nickname fondly, trying to distract from the heaviness in the atmosphere. He had never been one to handle emotional situations very well. Walking over to the wall of machines next to his friend, Dick inspected all the knobs and buttons, doing his best to ignore the impending grief resting on his shoulders.
“You don’t get it.” Wally’s words made Dick cringe silently. He should have expected more bad news. “When I say I messed up, I mean it. I messed up really bad Dick. More than usual. I tried to make a cure, and I thought I had it. I really thought I had it. So I tried it. And it seemed to work at first. I felt amazing, better than I had in years, so I decided to take a run to test it. But halfway ‘cross the country I realized that I had been very, very, wrong. The cure didn’t work – it made it worse. Sure, I felt better for a while, but as soon as those five minutes of relief wore off, my cell deterioration speed doubled. I couldn’t make it farther than here. I couldn’t even bring myself to a stop before I collapsed. I really messed up.” He sighed. “Science has never been nice to me, so why should it start now?”
Dick didn’t really know how to handle this news, so he threw on a smile. Whether it was from optimism or denial, he suggested Wally do the same.
“Don’t be dramatic. Just throw on a smile, everything will be fine. I’ll bring in Zatana tomorrow, I’ll ask Batman to work on it – I’ll get everything set up. Don’t worry about it.” But he couldn’t even make eye contact when he said it.
Dick didn’t know how long it was before Wally responded, but it was minutes of silence.
“You’re not making this easier, Dick.” Wally’s voice was soft. “Maybe you should leave.”
But he didn’t. He fiddled with the equipment and tubes, paced around a bit, and eventually sat down in the chair by Wally’s bed. Through all this the only sound was from the beeping of the heart monitor and the quiet breathing of the two men.
He should have left. But he didn’t. Wally has turned away from him and was probably asleep by now. Dick didn’t realize how much time had passed until a nurse came and told him it was time to leave – visiting hours were over.
As he walked out the door, he said he would come and visit tomorrow –
– They said they’d let him if there was a patient left to visit.