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when things change in an instant, it's almost fast enough for me

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Barry didn’t think.

 

Should he have? Yes. Could he have? Easy. But he didn’t.

 

All he saw was the laser heading towards Batman at the speed of light and then he ran. He couldn’t remember ever running faster than light before, because that was impossible, but oh well, I have to try, Bruce can’t die, Robin would kill me.

 

He grabbed Bruce around the stomach and pulled him out of the line of fire; he knew that when he slowed down Bruce would yell at him for being reckless. No matter that he had just saved his life, you’re welcome.

 

But the thing was: he wasn’t slowing down. He couldn’t. But this didn’t scare or confuse him: you had to think to feel those things—even his brain couldn’t go that fast. So he literally ran with it, dragging Bruce along with him.

 

He didn’t know how long he ran for—his brain was out of sync with his body, which made him feel all kinds of disorientated and confused—but when they finally stopped, it was like they hadn’t moved at all. They were still in the same spot (a park in Metropolis, because where else would aliens try to invade?), which made no sense, and the rest of the Justice League was gone. So were the aliens, and the laser guns, and the destruction, and, hey, those buildings definitely weren’t there before, what the hell …?

 

“Flash,” Bruce sounded winded, but that could just be his voice, “what did you do?”

 

“That is an excellent question,” Barry admitted, panting like he didn’t have super powers. “I have no idea.”

 

Bruce made a noise in the back of his throat to show he had heard him, then started tapping at his arm computer thing.

 

“Justice League? This is Batman. Where are you?” He talked down to his arm, an action that would look ridiculous done by anyone else (bar Robin).

 

“… B? What are you doing?” A vaguely familiar voice replied after a few moments. “This channel is ancient. Are you compromised?”

 

“No. The Flash and I are in Metropolis. Who is this?” Bruce didn’t look as confused as Barry felt, but then again, that man was an excellent actor.

 

“Zatanna, duh. What are you and Flash up to now? Please tell me you didn’t prank Superman again. And what’s up with your voice? You got a cold coming?” Zatanna, apparently, laughed. Barry wasn’t convinced though, because last time he had heard Zatarra’s daughter talk her voice had been a lot higher. And since when had she been on small talk level with Bruce?

 

“Excuse me,” Barry called to the mouthpiece. “Since when did Bats ever help Hal and I wind up Supes?” He tried not to whine.

 

“… Wally? Are you okay?” Zatanna sounded confused.

 

Bruce and he exchanged a mutually baffled glance. Did she just call him Wally? Why would Wally be working with Batman?

 

“Nope, it’s Barry,” he tried to sound cheerful. “Can we get a pick up or what?”

 

There was a pause on the other side of the line. Barry had just opened his mouth to ask again when a new voice spoke: a voice they both would know anywhere.

 

“Both give me your full name and the date,” Diana demanded.

 

“Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen. It’s the tenth of February, two thousand and eleven,” Bruce replies. “Diana, what is this? We were just fighting—”

 

“—The Dominators.” Diana finished, her voice barely above a whisper. “Is it really you?”

 

Barry had never heard her so emotional. He decided in good speedster fashion that a joke would help cheer her up. “C’mon, Diana. Aren’t you supposed to be a walkin’, talkin’ lie detector?”

 

They heard a sharp intake of breath.

 

“One moment,” Diana said, then there was static.

 

“What is up with her?” Barry wondered.

 

“Her behaviour does seem uncharacteristic.” Bruce agreed, in his own way. He looked to be in deep thought—his lips were pinched, his head tilted to the side. Barry knew better by know than to try and start a conversation with him when he was in his detective zone. Instead, Barry looked around at their surroundings again: beside from the obvious lack of invading aliens, the grass was completely un-scorched and the trees had all their branches. There were even people milling about, walking dogs, jogging, like it was any other day. Further away, the buildings looked different—simultaneously cleaner and older. There was less litter on the streets than what you would expect to find in a big city. They were also getting a surprisingly small amount of attention; a few people pointed, or held up metallic-looking devices in their direction, but the majority just carried on, not caring about the two Justice League members that had just appeared from nowhere. He’d be offended if he didn’t feel so out of place.

 

Suddenly he saw a blur on the horizon. Barry blinked and the blur was twice as big and definitely human-shaped. The only person who could move that fast, beside himself, was Professor Zoom.

 

“Batman,” he warned, readying to run. The blur solidified in front of them as Batman looked up and what they saw was maybe worse than Zoom.

 

The man was tall, lean, and wearing what was unmistakably the Flash suit. The belt was different, more like a ‘V’ in shape, and the red was a shade or two darker. Barry had to admit that, whoever this imposter was, they wore the suit better.

 

“Who are you?” He demanded.

 

The other Flash hesitated just enough for him to see, but Bruce would have missed it. The expression on his covered face … it could be described as disbelief, which is to be expected, Barry supposed, but also, maybe, heartbreak. The man inhaled a shaky breath before composing himself, straightening his back, and then cleared his throat and proclaimed: “I’m you. You … from the future.”

 

“What.” Bruce demanded in a deadpan voice. It wasn’t even a question; he obviously found the situation so ridiculous he was just rolling with it. Or maybe Barry was just projecting.

 

“On the tenth of February, two thousand and eleven, Batman and the Flash … me and you … di—disappeared for a day while fighting the Dominators. I guess we just found out where you went—ten years into the future,” Flash—Older him—Future Barry explained, laughing incredulously. Barry would believe it if the Future Flash didn’t sound so unsure.

 

“Suppose we believe you,” Bruce said, like that was an option for him. “Can you get us back home? If what you said was true, technically you already have …”

 

Damn it, Barry didn’t want to think about it. The only person he knew that could run back and forth through time was Zoom, and whenever their paths crossed Barry’s main priority was take this guy down, pronto. He had never really stopped and though about the technicalities and implications of time travel. It was just too weird a concept for him to attempt to grasp; considering he had spent his last weekend fighting someone who could control the weather, that really was saying something. Obviously Bruce had no such hesitations, being the pedantic control-freak he was. Bless him.

 

“Uh …” Future Flash scratched at the back of his head, and jutted his hip out to the side slightly. It was odd—Barry had never been so coy in his body language, even when stuck in an awkward situation. “I guess, when you say it like that it makes sense … kinda. Look: I gotta take you guys up to the Watchtower, we’re already making a bit of a scene.”

 

And, huh, yeah. Maybe a decade into the future heroes had lost their grandeur, but seeing two Flashes having a chat alongside Batman, in the daylight, while there was no obvious catastrophic event in progress must be a cause for concern. At least it proves that the world doesn’t go completely crazy in the future.

 

“I would feel more comfortable going to Gotham to work alongside my future self,” Bruce argued. He wasn’t quite scowling, but he did look like he had just eaten something sour.

 

“I’m not sure interacting with my Batman is a good idea. We don’t want anything important to slip that might change the present,” Future Flash countered.

 

Barry couldn’t ever remember anyone disagreeing with Bruce vocally before (beside from Robin), and the fact that future-him had referred to this time’s Batman as ‘my’ was stranger still. Perhaps Barry finally runs Bruce down enough for him to admit that they were friends—yeah, not likely. The possessiveness was something that should be looked into more; even without revealing anything drastic, knowing that the Justice League remains tight and effective together will help him sleep at night.

 

“Then why come meet us? You are talking too past you right now.” Bruce inquired. It was a valid point, but Bruce managed to make it sound like a test.

 

Future Flash laughed, and it wasn’t as care-free as he would have liked it to be, but it definitely wasn’t forced. That was a good sign, at least. But Barry couldn’t help but feel a bit unsettled by it—it was familiar in a way he couldn’t quite pin down, like he was missing a clue at a crime scene. He hated it, but he was so out of his depth right now he couldn’t afford to miss anything that happened, so for now, he cast it aside.

 

“By now I’m a pro at dealing with time-traveling shenanigans. I’ve fought Zoom enough,” Other Flash sighed, but he didn’t seem resentful about it, only … resigned. “Supes is at the day-job right now, otherwise he would’ve come instead.”

 

“What,” Barry grinned at his older-self, seeing no harm in being friendly, “we not important enough? He’d rather write another article about himself?”

 

Future Flash laughed again, this time it sounded more like a surprised bark. Despite this, his body language screamed tension and he was obviously not comfortable with the situation. Barry couldn’t blame him—if his teenaged self suddenly appeared he wouldn’t exactly be overjoyed and would probably try to send him back as soon as possible, minimizing the number of people who saw.

 

“He probably heard that,” Future Flash teased.

 

Accepting the challenge, Barry called out: “yo, Supes! I bet the reason you’re not here is that you’re embarrassed about your greys!”

 

Bruce cleared his throat, done with their childishness. “That’s enough. We’re wasting time. Let’s go.”

 

“Okay, alright,” Future Flash held his hands up in acquiescence, but he actually looked kind of grateful. Barry wished he made the suit with a smaller mask. “You remember the Zeta-Beam port in Suicide Slums?” Both he and Bruce nodded. “Great. Scrooge, you want the future ghost or the past ghost to give you a lift?”

 

“Past,” Bruce said reluctantly.

 

“Cool. Race you!” Future Flash grinned, then was off within a blink of an eye.

 

“Holy shit, I get fast,” Barry breathed.

 

“Can’t wait,” Bruce said dryly.

 

Barry didn’t warn him before he rushed them after the other him.  Nope, he wasn’t petty at all.

 

“What took you so long?” Future Flash smirked. The Metropolis Zeta-Tube was still disguised as a phone booth. Go figure.

 

“You weren’t carrying Fatman here along with you,” Barry objected. That wasn’t really it though—the extra weight didn’t really change much, it was more the fact he had been fighting alongside the League for two hours straight, and he had been up late last night running tests on a case, and he had recently run faster than freaking light. Also: he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and while he didn’t need as much food as Wally did to keep going, his metabolism was a pain in the arse to keep up with and he was running on empty.

 

Thinking of Wally …

 

“I don’t suppose I’m allowed to meet future family members, am I?”  Barry asked before Future Flash could add to his comment or Bruce punish him for it.

 

Future Flash’s face twisted in a wince while he started tapping on the Zeta-Tube’s controls. “No can do, sorry; timeline continuity and all that.”

 

Barry sighed, but Bruce didn’t seem keen to let it go. “I can understand it might get … confusing if we met our future selves or our families, but I trust you can answer our questions professionally … Barry.”

 

Future Flash flinched at human speed and turned his back to them, seemingly engrossed in the controls. He didn’t speak for a few seconds, and when he did, the words were curt and detached—nothing like how he had been before. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ll have to talk to Wonder Woman.”

 

He fired the tube up and all but shoved Bruce and Barry in. There was a flash of yellow light and then all three men were standing in the Watchtower.

 

“Recognise: Batman, 02. Flash, 04. Flash, 04.”

 

The computer announced their presence, but apparently there was no need: a fair number of heroes, ones Barry recognised and ones he didn’t, were standing there waiting for them. At the front stood Diana, just the same as he knew her, and a 28-year-old Roy Harper, which, wow. This Roy wasn’t much taller that the one Barry knew, but he definitely had more muscle and more scars, from what he could see on his bare arms. Everyone looked either pensive or distressed or both—even the usually stoic Diana had a worry-line between her eyebrows and pursed lips.

 

“This is … a most unexpected development,” she started. “I hope you can be patient with us; our lives do seem to get weirder the longer we live them, but this is most unusual even by our standards.”

 

Bruce cleared his throat, “we understand, of course. We know we may not be a top League priority but you can appreciate that we would like to get home as soon as possible.”

 

Barry looked at Oliver and Dinah, who were standing together behind Roy. Oliver, for once, didn’t roll his eyes at Batman’s seriousness—instead, he smiled almost … wistfully. Dinah closed her eyes for a moment, taking a few deep breaths.

 

This was wrong. Yeah, he was in the future, but the League’s reactions, they were all off. Oliver should be getting a kick out of this. Diana shouldn’t be so … considerate. Roy certainly shouldn’t concern himself with them, and all these strangers shouldn’t be looking at Bruce and him like they were gods or something.

 

“Of course,” Diana replied. “We are waiting for Miss Martian to come verify your identities, then we will begin looking for solutions to this problem.”

 

“M’gann?” Barry only knew her name because Wally did not shut up about her when they first met. “Why not J’onn?”

 

“M’gann’s better,” Roy spoke for the first time, his voice even deeper and gravellier than it was before—did he take up smoking in the future?

 

Meanwhile, Future Flash had stepped to the side away from the group and looked to be whispering furiously with someone on his comm.. His arms blurred as he gestured vigorously and he paced restlessly. Barry struggled to stay still himself, but he had gotten better at it over the years—why aged, what, 45, would he be so animated?

 

“Recognise: Ms Martian, B05. Batman: 02.” The computer announced monotonously.

 

The Future Flash was suddenly standing next to him, facing the Zeta-Tube entrance. Bruce and the rest of the group all turned their focus the same way a few milliseconds after.

 

Miss—Ms?—Martian, while obviously older, didn’t look like she had aged an entire decade. A few years, curves and a haircut was all that had changed about her—the perks of shapeshifting. She swiftly flew to the side to allow room for Future Batman to step out of the tube.

 

It was almost as weird as seeing the Future him. This Batman’s suit was different—the grey lighter and the cape shorter—but he still had as much presence and gravity to him. He had managed to find the right angle that gave his face a shadowed, mysterious edge to it, even in a place as brightly lit as the Watchtower. It’s good to know that Bruce won’t lose his mojo with his age.

 

Future Batman nodded sharply at Ms Martian. She turned to look at them with glowing green eyes, and Barry found himself unable to break her gaze for a few seconds. Her eyes faded back to brown and she gasped quietly.

 

“It’s them,” she confirmed softly. Future Batman didn’t physically display any reaction, but he noticeably didn’t look at Bruce as well.

 

“Thank you. Anyone who didn’t know our past selves can leave,” Future Batman ordered in a gravelly voice. At least some things don’t change.

 

The other heroes hesitated, obviously not wanting to leave, but the power of Future Batman’s stare convinced them to make themselves scarce. Ms Martian looked nervously between Future Batman and Flash, before floating up through the ceiling. Roy, Oliver and Dinah had a quiet conversation that ended with Oliver and Dinah giving Barry and Bruce tight hug each (much to the latter’s distaste) then leaving through the Zeta-Tube. Roy and Diana exchanged a troubled glance while Future Flash walked to stand next to Future Batman. They mirrored Bruce and him perfectly.

 

“It would be best for you two to stay in the Watchtower during your stay to avoid any unwanted … misunderstandings,” Future Batman stated.

 

“Surrounded by strangers?” Bruce challenged. “If I—and Barry—were to stay in the Manor, we can be sure we don’t hear anything we aren’t supposed to.”

 

It was a fair point, but Barry could tell that Bruce hated not knowing everything about everyone in the Watchtower. He would be a lot more comfortable in his own city where he can hack into his own files to find out everything that’s going to happen. Future Batman evidently deduced the same.

 

“No,” he growled. “You’d both get in the way. I don’t trust you—me—whatever—not to snoop. Besides, your bed’s taken.”

 

“That last bit sounded dangerously like a joke,” Barry grinned lopsidedly.  “Whatever does the world come to?”

 

Holy crap, he must be the only person to ever receive two bat-glares at once. Roy gave him an unimpressed look while Diana smirked. Future Flash snorted, knocking his shoulder against the other Batman’s in a comfortable gesture. Okay, seriously this time, what does the world come to? Him and Bruce … buddies?

 

“Who dies?” Barry blurted. Again, with the not thinking.

 

“What?” Diana snapped.

 

“I—It’s just …” Great, now everyone was staring at him like he’d just insulted their costume. “You’re all acting weird, and not in the ‘this is hilarious look at how young and cute Bruce and Barry were’ kinda way. And, worse, Future Bats and I are all … friendly—no offence, B.” Barry really, really needed to learn how to shut up.

 

“None taken. I was wondering the same thing. Is it Clark?” Bruce questioned.

 

“Is Clark what?” Future Flash balked.

 

“Dead.” Barry and Bruce said.

 

“Do you truly think Clark could die by anything other than time?” Well damn, when Diana said it like that it sounded ridiculous.

 

“Well …” Barry hesitated.

 

“You both have had a long day,” Diana said loudly. “I will lead you to your rooms where you can shower and rest. We will start working on getting you two home tomorrow.”

 

After that, they had no choice but to follow. Ever tried saying ‘no’ to an Amazonian? Hal did once. It wasn’t pretty.

 

The dorms hadn’t changed much, at least. He wasn’t in the room he usually stayed in, but one closer to the conference room and next to Bruce. The bed was large and comfortable and the shower heavenly. When he was finally clean he wrapped himself in a bathrobe and stepped back into the main room to find Future Flash sitting on the edge of the bed, looking awkward.

 

“I brought you pyjamas and clothes for tomorrow,” he greeted. He glanced to where Barry had thrown his suite into a heap on the floor. “I can get that washed if you want.”

 

“Thanks,” Barry said gratefully. The suite stank.

 

Future Flash nodded, but didn’t look away from Barry’s face. He didn’t like being examined so intently—sure, he had fans gaze at him adoringly, people he saved look at him with wide-eyes, police officers look at him with either respect or mistrust, but this was different. Barry’s shoulders tensed involuntarily, and the Future Flash finally noticed his discomfort.

 

“Sorry,” he shook his head quickly. “It’s just … I haven’t seen that face in a long time.”

 

Barry found it in him to smirk. “Jealous? I hope I age well.”

 

Future Flash laughed and stood up, “you’d have to ask Au—Iris.”

 

Barry perked up instantly at the name. “So she’s okay, right?”

 

Future Flash glanced nervously at the closed door. Right, he probably should know better than to ask difficult questions.

 

“It’s okay,” Barry amended before he got an answer. “You’ve confirmed she’s still alive. That’s all I need.”

 

Future Flash let out a long breath of relief, “I appreciate it. I’ll have this—” he suddenly held Barry’s suit in his hands “—ready for you in the morning. ‘Night.”

 

“Good night,” Barry replied, but Future Flash was already gone.

 

-

 

Barry had his version of a full-night sleep—four full hours; being a speedster ruled—before deciding he needed food more than he needed the comfort of the large, expensive, billionaire-brought bed he was in.

 

Thankfully, upon search, he discovered the cafeteria was in the same place ten years into the future. It was mostly empty—no surprise, considering it was the middle of the night throughout America right now. The only hero occupant was a blonde teenaged girl wearing what looked to be a cheerleader’s version of Superman’s costume. She was alternating between writing furiously and gulping coffee covered in whipped cream. Surrounding her were splinters of plastic from crushed biros. Barry quickly grabbed a box of energy bars and a litre bottle of energy drink before walking at a human pace towards her.

 

“Mind if I join you?” He asked; he didn’t want to sit by himself if he didn’t have to.

 

The girl glanced up at him disdainfully, “who are you?”

 

Unsure of how to answer, he grinned and shrugged, “a lonesome soul.”

 

She rolled her eyes but didn’t object when he sat opposite her. He ate two bars and downed half the drink at a relatively slow pace, while considering this girl’s bright, almost glowing blue eyes, the speed at which she was writing, and the tension in her body language.

 

“What are you writing?” He prompted, not liking the silence.

 

“Homework,” she replied neutrally after a second.

 

“What subject?”

 

“History.”

 

“Is it interesting?”

 

“Sure, if it was mine.”

 

He blinked at the vague answer. “What’s that mean?”

 

She finally looked up, giving him a suspicious glare. He met her gaze steadily, eyebrows raised in expectancy. “Don’t you …” she started hesitantly, “don’t you know who I am?”

 

“Uh … going by the crest on your chest—heh—I’d say … Supergirl?” He guessed.

 

“No shit,” she frowned, tilting her head to the side. Her fringe fell over eyes, but she didn’t seem bothered. “I arrived from Krypton, like, a year ago. Superman thought it’d be best if I got a human education, but the crap they teach me is irrelevant, basic or useless.”

 

He blinked in surprise. Another Kryptonian? Superboy was enough of a shock, and even after a few months Clark still wasn’t too good with him. The fact that Supergirl was actually from Krypton was a whole other matter.

 

“What took you so long?” He questioned. Krypton must’ve been destroyed about forty years ago by now.

 

Supergirl huffed in annoyance. “Damn ship got knocked off course. Back home, I was the elder cousin, but when I came here Kal was all grown up. I missed it all,” she crossed her arms, History homework forgotten.

 

“Tell me about it,” he agreed. Considering what had just happened he could sympathise with this girl—Clark’s cousin, apparently.

 

“What do you know? Who even are you?” She said sourly.

 

He laughed out loud at that, causing a caterer to drop her tray. “You are just like Superboy!”

 

“Kon?” She said disbelievingly. “No way! He’s all: ‘think before you act, Kara!’ and ‘chill out, Kara!’ Like, what does he know? Ugh!”

 

Barry raised his eyebrows, “wow, he must seriously mature.”

 

Kara frowned at him, “again, who the fuck are you?”

 

“Okay, alright, I’ll tell you, though Batman’s probably gonna be pissed,” he warned jokingly. “I’m actually the Flash, but from ten years in the past.”

 

Kara snorted, “funny, Blondie.”

 

“No, seriously, I’m Barry Allen, the not-one-and-only!” He winked.

 

Kara froze, mouthing ‘Barry Allen’ with wide eyes. “Holy shit. Fuck. Man, this is trippy as hell.”

 

“Language,” he chastised automatically. He wondered if he ever gets Wally out of the habit.

 

She blinked, huffed a gently frozen laugh that caused him to shiver slightly, then smiled widely, showing all of her perfect white teeth, “so, if you’re from the past, that means you’ll know more about the Cold War than I do.”

 

He gasped in mock hurt, “not that old, kid.”

 

“Whatever, I’m done anyway. Wanna tell me about all of Clark’s old screw-ups instead?”

 

“I’d love to, as long as you tell me all about his new ones.”

 

They smirked together, and Barry found himself looking forward to the future, despite how weird everyone gets.

 

-

 

Kara eventually had to leave—something about Lex Luther: some things never change—but by then it was almost morning and the cafeteria was full of either early risers or late finishers. A lot of people, mostly strangers, had already come and introduced themselves to him, which had mostly been awkward, but Kara’s glare, red eyed or not, was enough to dissuade any invasive questions.

 

Barry had been politely trying to ignore a young man wearing a full-bodied black and blue suit sitting opposite him, oblivious to Barry and the world around him, that appeared to be arguing with himself in a sporadic amalgam of English and Spanish, when Bruce entered the room. Conversation literally stopped—bar the crazy schizophrenic guy—as the whole room turned to stare at him. Barry almost felt jealous

 

“Hey, B!” Barry waved. Bruce glared at him, but nonetheless started walking towards him. Conversation started again, but this time it was more excited.

 

“What’s with the face?” Barry said, passing Bruce the last protein bar as he sat down. Bruce gave the crazy guy a dubious look as he continued to talk, but now he was a bit more relaxed and appeared to be talking into a comm., thank God.

 

“Future me told me that everyone knows who I—we are,” Bruce didn’t sound pleased at all.

 

“That’s good, right? At least, it means you grow out of your trust issues,” Barry grinned.

 

Bruce gave him a withering look, “when I figure out how to get home I will leave you behind.”

 

“Nah, you’d miss me,” Barry assured him. Bruce didn’t look convinced.

 

“Sorry to interrupt,” a woman he took a second to remember was a grown-up Zatanna said. “But Doctor Fate’s here. He wants to talk to you two, see if he can help.”

 

Barry and Bruce both stood up to follow her when Crazy Guy suddenly yelped, “no way am I helping you, hermano, Robin still hasn’t forgiven us since last time!”

 

Bruce froze, snapping his full attention onto the crazy guy, who must have sensed the weight of his look because he looked up and met Bruce’s eyes, “can I help you, ese?

 

Zatanna shifted uncomfortably and opened her mouth, but Bruce cut her off.

 

“Who are you talking to? What did you do to Robin?” He demanded.

 

“Uh, mi amigo, Kid Flash—no, you are not mi hermano, adios—and we, uh, thought it would be funny to turn up at his house in our civvies and tell his parents we were his friends from school,” he explained. Barry perked up at ‘Kid Flash’.

 

“His … parents?” Bruce repeated.

 

“Yup,” Crazy Guy popped the ‘p’, “I’d tell you, pero, secret identity, hombre.

 

“I think you should go, Blue Beetle,” Zatanna said quietly, obviously not making it optional.

 

Blue Beetle—what happened to the other guy? With the goggles?—took the hint, but as he was leaving he hissed to himself, “no, I’m not going to destroy them, what’s wrong with you?”

 

Zatanna watched him go, before turning and giving Bruce a steady yet sympathetic look.

 

“No personal questions, and no taking advantage of our more … eccentric members. Got it? You’ll thank me, even if it’s frustrating now,” she ordered, but her face softened at the end.

 

Bruce scowled, obviously conflicted, but nodded after a nudge from Barry. They followed Zatanna in silence for all of ten seconds, then:

 

“So … Doctor Fate. Is he still—“

 

“—My dad? Yes,” Zatanna said curtly. There goes that conversation.

 

Zatanna opened the door to one of the smaller conference rooms, stepping to the side to indicate that Bruce and Barry should enter first. Seeing Doctor Fate, in all his majestic glory, standing in such a mediocre-looking room was something Barry would usually find quite amusing, but underneath the helmet, he could see Giovanni’s green eyes looking at him blankly. Neither Zatanna nor Bruce, whom had been good friends with the man, looked directly into his eyes.

 

“Welcome,” Doctor Fate’s layered voice intoned, “I understand you have both travelled far.”

 

“That is one way of putting it,” Bruce commented.

 

Doctor Fate raised his hand in their direction, and Barry had to resist the ridiculous urge to flinch.

 

“No magic was involved in bringing you here,” Doctor Fate said after a few seconds.

 

I could have told you that,” Zatanna muttered bitterly. So, a decade later, she still resented Nabu for her father’s prison-like circumstance. Barry couldn’t say he didn’t blame her.

 

“Thus, I don’t believe magic can be involved in sending you back,” Doctor Fate continued as if he hadn’t heard her.

 

“That’s it? Are you sure there isn’t anything you can do?” Barry demanded.

 

“You were the one to run the two of you here, Mr Allen. It would only make sense that you would be able to run both of you back home. I needn’t do anything. Good Day.” With that, he disappeared in a burst of golden, glowing light.

 

Bastard,” Zatanna hissed.

 

“His logic is sound,” Bruce allowed, but his tone suggested he agreed with Zatanna over Nabu’s indifference.

 

“I—I don’t know how I got us here! How am I supposed to repeat an accident?” Barry questioned, only mostly rhetorically.

 

Zatanna pursed her lips, looked troubled for a moment, but then gave him a playful smirk, “I don’t know, but after ten years of working alongside you speedsters, I’ve learnt that somehow, you always find a way.”

 

Barry smiled back because, yeah, that helped some.

 

-

 

Despite Zatanna’s kind words and his own refusal to ever consider giving up, he still felt in over his head—Bruce was relying on him to get them back, and, even more so, what could happen to Central City while he was away? Of course, Wally was more than capable of handling standard patrols by himself, but what if the Rouges turn up? Or, God forbid, Zoom? Wally was good, but he was called ‘Kid’ Flash for a reason.

 

Barry wasn’t usually one for deep thinking, so when he suddenly heard people talking he realised he’d wondered further than he thought—he was in a wing of the Watchtower he didn’t recognise; a recent addition, then.

 

He froze when he realised the people talking were none other than Future Flash and Future Batman. They were standing face-to-face, less than a metre apart, with Batman leading tiredly against the wall. He scrubbed at his face. Barry had never seen him act so human in front of him.

 

“—c’mon, it’s gotta be morning in Gotham, you have to go get some sleep before your meeting at three,” Future Flash said softly.

 

“I can’t, I don’t want Alfred to worry … and it’ll do Tim no good seeing me like this,” Future Batman replied. Barry frowned; now he wasn’t speaking in his ‘Batman’ voice, this man sounded much younger than Bruce, no older. Had he been gassed? It didn’t make any sense.

 

“Yeah, I get it. I know if I go home Iris is going to be there and she’ll want to know what took me so long and I’m going to have to lie to her and I don’t want to do that but if I stay here I’m going to have to keep looking at him and I thought I was over it—”

 

Future Flash was all but sobbing when Future Batman reached out and pulled him close, kissing him silent. The worst thing was that it didn’t even feel like a surprise.

 

“We both lost dads that day,” Dick Grayson told Wally West, and kissed him again.

 

-

 

He vibrated into Bruce’s temporary room without announcing himself first. Bruce was hunched over a monitor (who did he scare into giving him a laptop) completely in his ‘crazed, psychotic, and obsessive’ zone (Ollie’s words, not his).

“Clark didn’t die. That doesn’t mean no one else did.” Barry said bluntly.

“I can bring you up a picture of the monument they made you in Central,” Bruce offered, because of course he figured it out before Barry did.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Barry demanded.

“Because you need to believe you can get us back,” Bruce turned and looked at Barry, unapologetic.

“Oh, I’m running us back. I don’t ever want to hurt my family, even if this is a different timeline,” he sat on Bruce’s bed, which hadn’t been slept in.

“If you do manage it, you’ll cancel out this universe. They may not be happy, but they’re … heroes,” Bruce breathed.

Barry scowled. “That may be good enough for you, Bruce, and maybe it’s enough for Dick too. But I know for a fact that Wally wants more for himself, and I always planned to be there to see him become the Flash.”

Bruce flinched. “Of course I want better for Dick—but I’m not so selfish to think that me being there would be what’s best for him!”

Barry laughed, amazed at someone who was dubbed ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’ could be so oblivious. “Bruce, you’re that boy’s entire world. Of course he’ll be better with you around; you’re a great father.”

Bruce looked as awkward as he did that one time Catwoman introduced herself to the League (no one had ever before flirted with Batman and Wonder Woman at the same time). “Flash, I’m—”

“Don’t worry,” Barry smirked, “I won’t make you say it. Now, how do you say we confront them about this—privately and discreetly, or dramatically in public?”

“Well, considering I dress up as a bat every night,” Bruce deadpanned, “let’s go with option two.”

 

-

           

Oooh,” Blue Beetle said, while everyone else blinked guiltily. “That makes sense now.”

Bruce’s eye twitched. “While I can appreciate adopting a need-to-know policy, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say you need to know whether or not you died.”

Future Batman grinned and shook his head, then pulled back his cowl. His hair is long and messy, his face one of an adult, not of a pre-pubescent boy Barry remembers. Barry can see why Wally would want to kiss him in the future.

“God, you really are as grouchy as I remember,” Dick teased.

Wally, who had always been two paces behind him, appeared at Dick’s side faster than Barry could see. His hair hadn’t lost its vibrancy with age, but Barry was sad to see his face had lost most of its freckles.

“Grouchy? I swear he was fun,” Wally protested jokingly.

“If by ‘fun’ you mean ‘easy to irritate’, then, yes, Bats’ the life and soul of the party,” Oliver snorted.

“Anyway,” Diana said. “We apologise for the deception. We didn’t want to … upset you.”

“Or get our hopes up,” Dinah added sombrely.

“If we go home, you will essentially cease to exist,” Bruce warned.

Nobody said anything for a while. The air felt dryer than it did a second ago, and time started to drag—Barry saw Wally wrap an arm around Dick’s waist frame-by-frame.

“I’m happy with my life as it is now,” Wally started, glancing at Dick, “but it has taken us all a long time to get over your deaths, and it still creeps up to me some days. Barry,” Wally’s green eyes met his, “I want to see you meet Bart, your … never mind. I want you to see me join the Justice League. Hell, Bruce, maybe if you had been around, Jason …”

He trailed off, shifting nervously. Dick sighed and picked up where he left of.

“Jason would have had you as a role model, the same way I did. The point is: Barry, run as fast as you fucking can, and get yourselves back where you’re meant to be. Of course, feel free to give us hints when you get back.”

Barry looked at all of his friends faces; older (bar Diana) and wiser (bar Ollie), all of them smiling encouragingly. He looked at Dick Grayson, who he is going to make sure is family one day. He looked at Wally—his nephew by blood, son by everything but name. He looked at Bruce, who is younger than him, yet so much more weathered.

He grinned. “Let’s go back to Metropolis.”

 

-

 

Clark was waiting for them when they step out of the Zeta-Tube.

He nodded at Wally and Dick, grinned at Barry, then stepped forward and embraced Bruce.

“I always wish I had done this more,” he confessed.

Bruce didn’t return the hug, but he didn’t stab Clark with Kryptonite either, so.

“No greys,” Barry commented.

“Not in this century, no,” Clark shook his head disbelievingly. “I’m glad I caught you before you left. Next time ‘round, you better be my best man—Jimmy’s awful at public speaking.”

“Maybe,” Bruce said, which everyone took as a ‘yes’.

“So, Bruce, how are we doing this? Piggy back or bridal?” Barry clapped his hands, eager to get home (and embarrass his friend while he was at it).

“Personally, I find bridal much more comfortable,” Dick suggested, and Wally kissed his cheek.

Bruce opened his mouth, but Barry had already swept him of his feet.

“I still hate you,” Bruce glared.

“Good luck,” Clark waved. Barry didn’t know whether he was referring to his run or with Bruce.

He stared at Wally’s adult face one more time, but turned and ran reassured that he’d see it again in a decade.

 

-

 

Their reappearance was all really anti-climactic, seeing how they’d only blinked out of existence for a second and no one had noticed they’d gone.

“Flash! I need you with me!” Diana ordered, flying after a hoard of Dominators.

He grinned, pretended not to notice Bruce was too, then dropped Bruce and ran towards her.

 

-

 

“Did you do anything awesome?” Wally asked hours later when the Dominators had been destroyed.

“No more than usual,” Barry smiled apologetically. Iris coughed from where she was typing an article on the sofa.

“Cool,” Wally said, but he sounded disappointed.

“Can Dick stay over this weekend?” He asked after a while.

“Wally,” Barry said seriously, “Dick is welcome as often as you want.”

 

-

 

Even later after that, Barry sent Bruce a text.

i cant wait to be in laws!!!

He got a reply almost instantly:

Whose number is this?

He laughed until Iris shushed him and told him to go to sleep.