Wally knows something's up by the way Mom leans over the kitchen counter, her eyes squeezed shut.
He takes a shuffling step toward her and asks, "Hey, you okay?"
She responds with a soft smile and turns to look at him, but it doesn't really feel like she's seeing him. It happens sometimes. She'll look up, and Wally gets the impression she sees someone else. Not like there's something wrong with his mom, but like she's been overtaken by a memory. Wally never asks who. He thinks maybe he should have.
They go to the free clinic together, because it's the two of them against the world that's been trying to tear them down. When they walk out after the tests, Mom smiles at him, patting his knee when they're in the car.
"Probably just a cold," she says, and they go and get ice cream. It's been a thing, ever since Wally was seven and lost a tooth from slipping in the bathtub.
When they get her results, it's so much bigger than that, and there's no car in the world fast enough to outrace it. Or the medical bills that chase after them.
The doctor says she's got some time but not much, and Wally watches her at every step, until she tells him, "I'm still here. I'm not going to leave my baby boy behind." But she will. Wally knows that, and the only chance he has to forget it is when he's behind the wheel.
The groceries are in the trunk, Wally's in the passenger seat, and Mom has just gotten into the car. She takes a deep, shaky breath, and then a choked sob escapes her lips. She covers her mouth, but that doesn't stop the tears from streaming down her face as she holds the steering wheel with one tight-knuckled grip.
Wally swallows. Then he blinks until he doesn't feel the burn in his eyes anymore and reaches for her, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Mom." He takes a deep breath. "It'll be okay. We'll figure this out. I've got some money…"
Mom sniffles and shakes her head. She shakes it again as Wally opens up the glove compartment to hand her the napkins that she keeps there. She takes it, blows her nose, and then squares her shoulders. She scrubs away her tears, but her breath still shudders when she turns to look at him.
"Wally." A few more tears slide down her cheeks as she cups his face, her fingers damp. "Baby." She shakes her head again, staring down at the space between them. "There's something I have to tell you."
World changing doesn't even begin to cover this moment as his mom talks about Central City and says words like Joe and Iris, father and sister, and family, but the only family Wally's ever known is his mom.
"I'm sorry," she says, and draws him into a hug, squeezing the breath out of him. Probably for the best, because Wally doesn't know how to ask "how" or "why" or tell his mom that she didn't need to do this. Wally doesn't need anyone else after she's gone.
Mom holds her day bag and asks, "Will you come with me?"
Wally stares at her. He's going to pass on this, but before he can say it, she nods like she understands and pulls her keys from her purse.
"I'll be home soon." She kisses his cheek. "I love you, Wally."
He hops into his Mustang and wins about a grand. It's not enough. He ups the stakes and wins five Gs and then takes a look at the bills they still owe for all the tests and treatments. When he hears about another race, he's there, staring down his competition until they slide into their cars, engines revving as they wait for the countdown.
When Karla drops her arms, there's nothing but a straightway for what feels like miles, where the only thing Wally has to do is drive fast. He's the best there is, so good that they start calling him Taillights.
He never asks his mom how her visits to Central City went, and she never asks him about how he's paying for her treatments. If she keeps coming back, though, it probably means Joe and Iris don't give a crap about them.
That doesn't stop his mom from saying, "Wally, please. Don't let my past decisions stop you from having a family." The after I'm gone is silent, but it's there.
He's not driving to Central so much as racing out of Keystone.
GPS says, "You've arrived at your destination," and Wally looks at the suburban houses, knowing he can't sit in the car too long before someone calls the cops, but heading up to that door is—
He doesn't know what it'll be.
He slaps the steering wheel and slides out of the car, looks left and then right before walking up to the door. Doorbell works when he presses it. He hates that he holds his breath when he hears someone heading to it, and he glances over his shoulder, back at his car.
When he turns around, there they are—Joe and Iris both. Wally looks between them, aware a few seconds too late that he's looking for the resemblance. How does this work?
Wally sticks with his name, expecting… something other than what they do, which is opening the door and letting him inside. They got a cozy place, all sorts of photos on the wall.
First thing Joe says is, "I'm sorry, Wally. I had no idea…"
"Yeah," Wally says, and shrugs. "That's kind of the theme we've got going on."
Iris shares a look with Joe, but Wally's not trying to parse whatever that stare means.
"Thank you for coming to visit," she says. "It's… I'm glad we're getting this chance to get to know each other."
But that's a lie, too.
Wally comes over to visit and takes a second to see their lives, framed on the walls. In every single photo, Barry's there.
Wally stares at one of Barry, Iris, and Joe grinning at the camera, one of Central City's parks offering up the backdrop to a happy family gathering. In another photo, Barry, just a kid, awkwardly holds a baseball bat, smile nervous as he stares down a ball that he was probably going to miss.
In one of those collage-type picture frames, Barry and Iris face off against each other, red boxing gloves raised, Iris' smile challenging in the face of Barry's frown. In the photo below that, Barry stands next to Iris, the two of them older, probably teenagers. Hard to tell when it doesn't seem like Barry's style has changed much. Iris has her arm slung around Barry's shoulders. They're both grinning, double scoop ice cream cones raised high in victory.
It's okay, though. Joe doesn't need a son, and Wally doesn't need a father.
What he needs is his mom, and she's dying. That doesn't stop Wally from racing or getting Iris to back off when he tells her, "You know how much this costs? Guess you wouldn't. Bet you've never had to struggle with Joe around."
Iris flinches, but that doesn't stop her from getting in Wally's face, from hounding him from race to race, telling him he should go see mom. Not Francine, but "our mom."
Wally can't. He just can't.
He figures Iris won't be home when he rings the doorbell, but she answers, and it's too late to drive off.
"Will you come with?" he asks, and her face softens as she nods and says, "Of course. Let me get my coat."
They don't say a word the entire drive over to the hospital, and it's Iris who steps up and helps him navigate down the long halls to the right elevators that'll take them up to his mom's room. The door's shut, and for a second, Wally can't breathe. What if he's too late? What if they wheeled her out and they've been calling his cell phone this whole time?
Iris' hand closes over his, and she squeezes, her smile small and sad. "I'm right here," she says, words hushed.
Wally wants to pull his hand away but can't. They walk through the door together.
First thing he hears is the beep, beep, beep. She's asleep. Of course she is, and Wally thinks about walking out, but Iris hasn't let go of his hand and squeezes it like a reminder. She's been on his case about the races, but she doesn't rush him here. She waits for him to take the first step, to inch his way along until he's at Mom's bedside.
He lets go of Iris' hand and takes his mom's, and that damn near breaks him. He hunches his shoulders, forcing himself to breathe, even though his throat has tightened and his eyes sting. He just wants his mom to open her eyes, to call him "baby," to tell him she loves him.
"I'll leave you two alone," Iris whispers, but squeezes his shoulder before she leaves.
When he hears the door shut, he folds over, dropping his forehead to his mom's hand.
"Wally?" she rasps.
Wally jerks up, stumbling over a ragged, "Sorry," but his mom smiles.
"Baby, shhhh, it's okay. I'm just glad you're here."
Her hand shakes as she tries to lift it, and Wally rushes forward, taking it between both of his hands.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he says, and his voice breaks. "I'm sorry it took me this long. I—" He shakes his head as he struggles for the rest.
"Wally," she says. "I love you."
It's that final moment with his mom that Wally sees when the Mustang lurches forward. He tries slamming his foot down on the brakes, even though he knows it's not going to stop the car from flipping ass over hood. He can feel himself slipping from the seat, about to crash into the windshield, just like in the photos Iris had shown him, and he stupidly puts his arms up like that'll work any better than the brakes.
He's going to die and no one's gonna be there to hold his hand when he goes.
He wonders, wildly, whether death is supposed to feel like flying. Maybe that's his body getting split in half. Maybe the blur of the tail lights is supposed to be his life flashing in front of him like some weird signal to stop or the universe telling him he's been left in the dust. He blinks.
Whatever happens in that millisecond, he can't process fast enough. When he opens his eyes again, he's on the asphalt and he watches the Flash leave a lightning trail behind to save Bronwen. The Flash is here. The Flash just saved Wally's ass.
Wally barely has a chance to be relieved that he's alive, because a piece of glass from the car is slamming into Iris' chest. She flies backward, but the Flash appears seconds too late. He catches her before she hits the ground, but Iris—
Wally jumps to his feet, too slow to see anything but the Flash leaving him behind.
Wally walks up to the nurse's station with a bouquet. "Hi, I'm, uh." He glances down the hall. "I'm here to see Iris West." He shifts his weight to his right foot, hesitating but then adding, "She's my sister."
The nurse nods but asks to see his ID. He fumbles for it for a sec but hands it over. With a nod, she hands it back and then types what's probably Iris' name. "She's on the ninth floor, room 912."
Wally nods but doesn't move.
"You'll take the elevators down the hall," she adds, pointing the way.
He nods again. "Yeah, uh. Can you let me know if she's…?"
The nurse offers the sympathetic smile, the one Wally's kind of grown to hate. "She's pulled through her surgery."
"Thanks." He stands for a second more but then heads down the hall. He finds room 900 but ends up walking in the wrong direction. When he finally gets back on track, a couple of the flowers look like they're wilting.
Wally wonders if he should head out and get something new, but then he finds room 912. The door's open, and there's the beep, beep, beep. It's steady. Wally tries to leave before it changes, but Joe follows him down the hall.
"We're a family," Joe says, "and you're going back in there to be with your sister."
Wally takes a deep breath, but he goes back to her bedside, taking Joe's seat.
"Where's dad?" she asks.
"Hunting down the criminals." Wally looks at the bouquet he left on the table. "So… What kind of flowers do you like?"
They keep saying family, and there are times it feels real, but then there are other times…
Wally knows Iris and Joe will deny it if Wally ever called them out on it, but he knows what they're really saying each time they push him to talk to Barry is this: Barry's faster and smarter and better. He's the son we got and you're the one screwing things up.
And why does it have to be Wally reaching out? Why does he always have to make the first move and ask Barry about his day and his life and have all of this understanding for a white boy who never struggled for anything?
For Joe and Iris, though, Wally tries. He puts himself out there, because there's no Joe and Iris without Barry. All Wally has to do is look at the walls to see that.
Except every time Wally reaches out, Barry shoots him down. Barry doesn't have time to hang out. Barry's too busy to participate in the family games anymore. Barry's too tired to join them for dinner when Wally comes over.
If Joe and Iris hadn't pressured Wally, he wouldn't even be getting Barry's input on his engine, taking up Barry's oh-so-valuable time. When it comes to a head at Joe's house, Wally says what he's got to say, shakes his head, and slings his backpack over his shoulder, ready to bounce. He almost laughs when Barry tries to stop him after saying he wants to speed this up.
"Nah, don't bother," Wally says. "I don't need you."
Then a talking shark rips the roof off the house. At the end of it, there's Joe and Iris making sure Wally's all right, but Barry? He's got a family he doesn't give a crap about, and Wally… He wants to do right by them.
Joe offers Wally a room in his house, and Wally tries on, "Dad."
Joe grins, slapping Wally's shoulder before laying down the ground rules, but Wally's cool with that. He's been doing his laundry and making his own bed since he was old enough to walk.
That's what Wally does when Joe leaves him alone. He walks around the room—his room—and wonders if he'll be in some of the family photos and what it'll mean, long-term. More importantly for Wally, he looks at the walls to figure out where he can put his mom. He doesn't have physical photos, but it's not hard to print one, maybe two or three. He can find frames at the dollar store. He'll hang one on the wall and put a second one on his dresser. Joe and Iris should see his mom. She deserves to be here as much as Wally does.
When Wally's stomach drops, he wonders what the hell is going on this time or why the Flash always seems to be around to save him and Iris and Joe. He opens his eyes to a dank cell that smells gross, like nasty bathrooms and mold. A guy in a black suit stands over him with a voice that makes Wally's skin crawl.
"You've got the wrong guy," Wally says, but the guy's gone, and then there's a tap, tap, tap from some dude in an iron mask.
Wally grips the bars, looking for a lock, something to get himself out of here, because dad's going to try, but there's no way the Flash is going to give up his speed to save him.
But he does.
The Flash gives up his powers to save Wally, a nobody hustler from Keystone, and Wally can't wrap his head around that. Why would the Flash do that? How does his dad and Iris know the Flash? How is he always there to pull them through? And why is Barry never around?
"Dad," Wally says, "I need to meet him."
It shouldn't be easy. It shouldn't happen that day or even that night, but there he is: the Flash.
It's at a distance, but it's close enough, especially when Barry rolls through and half his face is swollen, skin a dark purple. He's got his excuses ready, excuses that Wally's been tired of hearing for a while, but he made promises to the Flash that he's going to keep, and he's going to start right here with Barry. They've both got a name to live up to, after all.
And Wally realizes, when Barry says, "Thanks. Thanks for caring," that Barry's been living up to it for a while. As the Flash.
Wally has to sit down, so he heads to the couch, dropping onto it, head spinning. All those times, Wally had wondered where Barry had been and the answer was always right here.
Wally knows he's not as fast, not physically, but that didn't mean he couldn't keep up with the West legacy. They were all heroes, and Wally was going to be one, too.