The thing of it is, massive amounts of kinetic energy discharged by an alien tech meant to destroy the Earth? It’s a pretty hardcore equation full of a lot of thermo-magnetic variables and scientific unknowns. Add to it an industrious application of Newton’s third law of motion with a trio of blood-related speedsters, and Beetle-tech drones and MFDs and Luthor’s anti-Reach virus software, if anyone claimed to be able to predict the theoretical applications of the events, much less the actual consequences, Wally West would have called them a big, fat, stinking liar. He’s a smart dude, not quite the level of his uncle, but no slouch when it comes to physics and advanced mathematics, but… weeeeeelll, Wally has always known that things very rarely go as planned. Even when they do know what to expect – which, in this case, to belabor his point, no one could.
Long story short: he’s trapped on another plane of existence.
And man, he’s bored.
Long story long: it isn’t just another plane of existence – it’s one that was specifically generated by kinetic energy that was tapped into to produce his super speed. He calls it Speed Force. He’s been going over the physics of it (energy field generated by the superspeed augmented by MFD’s cryshalis event), but he’s been doing it nonstop for… well, he has no idea how long. Time isn’t something he can measure here. The best thing (and one of the worst) about being trapped in this place is he isn’t distracted by human…urges. He doesn’t have to eat (no eating! Can you believe that?), to pee, to sleep, to slow down, to do pretty much anything except find a way out of here. At first, he thought the reason he was here was that his rate of running was slower than his two relative speedsters (physics pun intended, of course), and essentially that made him a target for siphoning power, but turns out, that’s only part of the story. He runs circles in his own head, obsessively going over every single possibility. He’ll figure out the remainder of the equation if it takes him the rest of his life. Given this plane, that very well could be all of eternity.
Man, Artemis is seriously going to kill him.
The thought is sobering. They just can’t catch a break, him and Artemis. He doesn’t want to imagine what she’s going through right now, but it doesn’t take much imagination because it was this side of a few days ago (again, an estimation with no relative timeframe to go by) that he was the one desperately worried about her. Now, he winces in this deep chasm of sympathy, because he can only assume everyone thinks him dead, and it’s just… he needs to get out of here. Preferably no later than yesterday.
He mostly feels like he’s experiencing all the worst parts of being a superhero lately, and none of the best. Trouble seems to find him (or, more likely: it just knows where he’s at, like, all the time), but it’s not like he can take a break and zone out and relax. Artemis thinks he’s dead. His parents think he’s dead. His uncle, his cousin, his best friend, his teammates, his friends, his dog. Oh, man, Brucely. Their dog had never adjusted to Artemis’ absence; he just lay around grieving for months on end, ears downturned, a sulking mass waiting perpetually by the door for Artemis to come home. He’d practically mauled Arty when she came back, giddy and panting and as unerringly forgiving for the incomprehensible absence as only the young and/or canine can do. And now he had to deal with Wally’s unexpected absence.
Their dog is seriously going to develop a lot of trust issues after this.
Speaking of trust issues: “You suck, physics,” Wally declares, petulant.
The thing he eventually discovers about the Speed Force plane of existence is: it’s interactive. A mysterious, silver, morphing hyper-dimensional playing field, and it’s like a never-ending metaphorical hallway of doors, and behind each one is something new, something mesmerizing, something unexpected, and sometimes it’s a little bit incredibly scary. He suspects that it’s the vastness of space, the kind that lurks between the stars. Most of the universe is made up of space. He knows that, knows it in his bones, but to face it with such uncompromising evidence affords him a type of wisdom he feels is wasted on the likes of him. Wally is a scientist and all, but he’s also way too impatient to learn everything this place has to offer. Give him a problem, and he wants a practical solution, not a theoretical one. This place – it’s like being inside Doctor Fate’s helmet again, except this time there’s no Kent Nelson to guide him. Nothing feels physically substantive, but he knows better now: just because you can’t touch anything doesn’t mean it’s not real. There’s substance to everything around him. There’s meaning.
But all the answers of the universe compares little to the feeling of kissing Artemis’ mouth, or the taste of his mother’s home-cooked feasts, and so many other sensations on Earth that go beyond the simple definition of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. ‘Cause goddamn, he’s missing it.
He remembers asking M’gann one night about magic (back when he’d still been foolishly trying to hit on her, when he’d been too thickheaded to acknowledge his attraction to Artemis; god, how had he ever been that stupid?) It makes him uncomfortable, the way magic works, and how he knows, knows that it’s real, because he’s seen it, lived it, experienced it in quantifiable ways. This place? It feels like the nexus where science and magic meet, the place where one begins and the other ends, all blurred together and indistinctive, and maybe that’s why he can’t figure a way out of here. Because he’s a man of science down to the bone, and the mysteries of magic have always been more abstract to him than the concept of aliens. He understands aliens and outer space and how science fiction will usually one day transform into science fact. He just doesn’t get magic. He doesn’t get things like Doctor Fate, or how Zatanna can say something backwards and freeze a man dead in his tracks; the power of words. Words have no power to Wally West. Numbers do. Numbers is the language of the universe.
He doesn’t get this place at all.
He sees Artemis again because he’s craving chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
It makes more sense if you consider the trajectory of his thoughts that day: Artemis, his family, the team, naked Artemis, food, how the Star City football team must be doing this season, how he missed the last two finals for his Stanford classes (not sorry about that), whether Dick ever actually got the balls to hook up with Barbara or if he’s still dicking around, then dick jokes, then naked Artemis again (except this time with food), and that’s when it hits him. A memory of a time when Artemis had been sharing chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream with him in bed, a desperate type of longing for that moment so extreme that the plane around him dissolves, remanifesting: and then he’s staring at a hazy cloud of Artemis, eating a bowl of ice cream at the kitchen table of their Palo Alto apartment. It’s not the memory he’d been thinking of, and later on he’d speculate it was just a trigger, an urge so strong that it connected his nostalgia to a moment in time that mirrored it down on Earth, but in that instant, all he thinks is that she’s a sight for sore eyes. Her hair is untidy and swept up in a messy ponytail like she’d just rolled out of bed, and her face is fuller, without the barest hint of makeup, but she’s always been flawlessly beautiful to him, even when she’d been covered in bruises or mud or cuts, or with stressed-out bags under her eyes.
“Artemis? Artemis, babe, can you hear me? I'm right here! C'mon, hear me! I'm right--”
“Hmm,” Artemis hums, idly, licking the spoon of ice cream clean. “That hit the spot. Right, Brucely?” Their dog is finishing off the empty carton, licking it clean and slobbering all over it. “Stupid midnight cravings,” she murmurs to herself, then quiets for a beat. “Wally was always the one to get hungry at this time of night, remember?”
Their dog lifts his head, and whines.
“I know, Brucely,” Artemis says quietly, sounding nothing at all like her normal self. “I miss him, too.”
Her voice is so soft, so sad, and Wally finds himself saying, voice-thick and choking, “Oh, babe. I’m here. I’m right here.”
But she doesn’t acknowledge him, doesn’t hear him, because they might as well be separated by a thousand, billion miles. Then she stands up from the table, wearing a clingy t-shirt that highlights the protruding belly of a woman at least five to six months pregnant; Wally’s brain short-circuits.
The vision disappears, vanishing like a puff of smoke, but Wally desperately makes a grab for it again but it’s already gone. He feels his incorporeal legs give out under him, landing in a pile on the floor, and he thinks – no, he knows: she’s pregnant. With his child. He remembers the last time they slept together, the day she’d returned home during those blessed few hours in between disasters where they’d foolishly thought they’d won. He’d been so worked-up and frenzied, leaning heavily against her in some isolated lab back at Watchtower; her throaty desperation and laugh, this is wrong, Wally, and he’d silenced her teasing by spreading her thighs apart, breath panting with anticipation, his fingers already wet and sticky from her.
With no supply of condoms nearby. Patience had never been either of their virtues.
It’s a realization so strong, so swift, that Wally doesn’t know if it’s intuition or divine intervention or a higher plane of understanding or what. The time dilation is also alarming. He realizes that while time might feel fleeting here, with no purpose and no measure, down below it’s still moving and at an alarming speed. More than half a year has already passed, and it feels barely more than – what? A week, or maybe two? But it’s like a beacon of light, drawing him in and blinding him from all else.
His motivation to get back home triples.
He’s going to be a dad.
He tries to see Artemis again, but it doesn’t work. He can’t connect with anyone else he knows, either. He can get a line on a thousand different worlds in a billion different spots, but it’s like a wall of TVs with a million channels on each of them, and they all come in foreign languages. It pisses him off. He thinks about the injustice of Artemis going through her pregnancy without him. It fuels him and distracts him and motivates him, and generally just confuses the hell out of him. Because they never talked about kids, not at all, but he finds himself giddy at the prospect of being a father and mortified that he’s not there for Artemis through it all. He has to get home before the kid is born.
He hates this feeling of frustration with a fiery passion of a thousand suns.
He finds himself missing the old days, too. Because at least then he always had good company. The days with the team where they’d spend every possible moment together. Classes were always a snooze for Wally, and even outside of missions and his ever-encroaching coexistence with Artemis, the day was always a waste without Dick to share a laugh with, without M’gann's beaming smile, Conner’s stoic behavior, or Kaldur’s serene presence. Missions were their reason for coming together, but even when they were doing mundane stuff like watching TV, doing homework crowded around a table too small, swimming in the ocean off Rhode Island, or playing video games while gossiping and joking and sharing stories they’d collected that week, it was perfection. They were conquistadors as teenagers, and then they’d grown up.
They’d had it perfect for a small measure of time, and they hadn’t even known it.
Sometimes he imagines his reunion with Artemis — mostly she screams at him, but he imagines they’ll be a fair amount of making out as well.
Sometimes he wonders if the baby is a boy or a girl. He thinks up names in his spare time.
Sometimes he rehearses his speech to Dick, asking him to be the godfather.
Sometimes he thinks he’ll live in a universe of one forever.
He creates simulations. It’s an exact replica of everything that transpired except without the audience. Standing in for his uncle and cousin are two faceless, shapeless blobs of color, one red and the other yellow. The MFDs (Magnetic Field Disrupters), the tech drones, the Eggs with the anti-Reach virus software. The cryshalis event. Running and running and running, negating the energy flow by siphoning the power with a speed trail in the opposite direction. The production of a massive amount of kinetic energy, completely neutralized except for the small exit valve that targets Wally. Then a flash of red and yellow, and he always disappears.
It turns into a vicious cycle, and he isn’t sure whether the chicken or the egg comes first. Does he gain such a single-minded focus of getting home because he can’t think about anything else, or does he cultivate this mindset to help with the denial that he isn’t making any progress? He could descend into brooding so easily. He’s not proud of it, but after some time the energy and motivation to work, work, work becomes strained, doubt and disbelief cutting into his reserve of hope and confidence.
He stubbornly works on.
“Oh my god, it’s working!”
The breakthrough happens without him even realizing it. He doesn't even know why it works this time and not any of the others. If he were a more superstitious man, he'd call it a miracle, or something hinky. But he just doesn't care. Not even remotely about the whys or wherefores. Because it’s like the birth of a star. Molten light and heat expanding, blinding, red-hot and blistering without burning up. The eye of the portal is a tight ball of lightning and crackling energy, enough to set a man on fire. But it’s been proven in a million different ways that he’s no longer tied to a plane of existence where such things are problematic. Even if it were, that wouldn’t stop Wally. He dives into the center of the wormhole without hesitating, and then he’s ping-ponged through the vortex, a shimmer of blue and red and green and yellow, a blur and a blaze of colors.
He lands hard on the snow with a rough impact.
His feet stand shakily on scorched earth, a blackened patch of ice in a virgin field of snow, before he even registers the sensation – of his arms, his legs, his body, the cold. The pain of a rough landing is second to the surge of adrenaline and exhilaration, and by the time the portal snaps shut with a clap of lightning, Wally West finds himself rising up. He’s standing on the same exact spot he’d been disintegrated.
He’s also stark nude.
“Oh, man. Uncool!”
He runs back to civilization, zips into a store and steals a pair of clothes (he’ll send money later), loads up on bags of Doritos and some soda, and then finds the nearest zeta tube. He decides the first stop on his journey has to be Palo Alto, but when he steps into the abandoned phone booth, instead of the expected “Recognized, Kid Flash, B03,” the artificial voice declares, “Error. Unauthorized access. System lockdown," and it’s only his superspeed that allows him to escape before cages slam down around the phone booth, meant to trap a person inside.
“Oh, c’mon,” Wally mutters, frustrated. “So uncool!”
He has no choice but to make his way further into the town. Everything is covered in snow, but light is peeking over the horizon, rising with the dawn. Wally finds a newspaper vending machine and crouches down in front of it, reading the date.
It says, June 20, 2021.
Five years have passed.