Silence and slow time
July 31, 2003
Disclaimers: Not mine. I just heart them.
Spoilers: Vague ones through season one.
Summary: For Flash, life is changing.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: The Spike asked for plotty Flashfic. Livia asked for Flashfic, then gave me a bunny. Title from Keats.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, Branwyn, and House Draven for audiencing, especially B, who had to put up with me losing my freaking mind.
Feedback: Always. firstname.lastname@example.org
Wally didn't notice it at first.
And yeah, there were all kinds of jokes that could be made about that -- most of which he'd already heard -- but... but.
He couldn't remember a time when he wasn't hungry, beyond the vague image of pushing a plate away from himself when he was a kid, and even then there had probably just been vegetables involved.
He'd been a teenager, and everyone said they were always hungry, and then there'd been the accident and, God, the power.
He wasn't GL, and certainly wasn't Batman -- it wasn't like he'd been in the tights-and-mask set for all that long, but the people of Center City knew who he was. Right now, there were kids playing and getting into trouble for whom the Flash was a constant. Something that had always been there.
He'd paid his dues.
So, when things started seeming slower, slower than usual even, it hadn't really registered.
After all, he spent time with Martian Manhunter in that big space tower thingy. Lots of time.
Everything seemed slow after that, right? Right.
So he ran up the League's food budget a little more, and trained a little faster, a little harder.
Started training with Superman, and yeah, that was just stupid, because the man was fast, and when he did catch Flash, the pain was most sincerely painful. Though still way better than the inevitable apologies.
"God, sorry, Flash -- Was that crack your jaw?"
"I'll let you know when I can talk again."
"You're talking now."
"Yeah, but it hurts."
But after a while Superman stopped catching him, and that should've been his first clue, but it was way too easy to imagine that the man was just letting him stay out of his grasp, because, well, it was Superman.
The guy apologized to supervillains. Like, regularly.
No, it really didn't register until he stopped sleeping. And even then, it didn't really hit him until they had gotten back from a mission and everyone with a handy dandy secret identity was either heading back to Earth or crashing where they stopped.
And Flash... didn't.
"You coming?" GL had his ring ready to take them down safely, and was obviously up to it, but... he yawned.
And Wally realized that even though he was sore, even though he'd gotten thrown through several walls, he wasn't tired.
Wasn't looking forward to his bed or even his apartment, beyond the undying hope that the chick across the street wouldn't pull her blinds down tonight.
And it occurred to him that he hadn't been tired in... really kind of while.
"Flash? You look like someone smacked you in the head with a two-by four."
Which was GL-ese for "are you okay and do I need to hit something," and Wally could only nod.
He'd heard about this, after all. Sometimes you were too tired to even know you were tired.
And really, if he really hadn't slept in over three days, then he was probably just that tired. Hallucinating, maybe.
He'd stumbled into the range of the ring and let GL take him and Batman down, and man, Batman really had to be tired if he wasn't taking one of his uber-spacejet thingies and he'd waved bye from one of the Central City towers and... thought.
And then, okay, he'd given up on thinking pretty quickly, because even after a shower and the judicious application of liniment, he still wasn't tired. Smelly, but not tired.
And the utter crapfulness of late-night television had almost been enough to make him start thinking again, but then he'd heard sirens, and he got to save three surly old women and one really cute four year old from a burning building, so that was okay.
And after that, the firemen had bought him a meal, and coffee, and you weren't supposed to be tired after that, right?
And then there was drinking, and dancing -- in uniform, which got him just as many funny looks and phone numbers as he'd hoped -- and then it was morning. Which was sunny and bright and beautiful and everything a Central City morning should be, and you definitely weren't supposed to be tired for that.
The next week was pretty normal. He heard sirens, or screams, or that awful crumpling sound that meant something solid was becoming distinctly un-solid, and he ran to the rescue.
People took his picture sometimes, and if it was all a little... mind-numbingly slow, then hey, it was also the people. His people.
There was TV, and some restaurants really meant it when they said "all you can eat," and sometimes he even got stuff for free.
Though it made him feel a little guilty when it was just a little place in the middle of nowhere that you could tell was a family restaurant with family-sized bills, but some of those people looked at him like his Mom used to when he was a kid and she'd spent all day cooking something wonderful and Wally just ate and ate.
It was weird not to sleep, but the city was kind of cool at night, all quiet and shadowy like he thought maybe Batman saw the world all the time.
And so much energy... it was like being some kind of god, and that thought was just scary enough to make Wally spend quality time repressing it to death. He hoped. Because that way lied weird take-over-the-world-plans and funny hats and weird accents and general villainy.
Wally was not a villain.
Though sometimes he got a little bored and started doing the rescue thing in the suburbs, and the farmland, and up the coast, and finally, finally, his communicator went off.
He found a likely tower and waved to GL when he came to pick Wally up.
"So what's the deal? Evil aliens? Evil robots? Evil people doing evil things?"
GL grunted. "Civil War on a planet on the edge of the rim."
"Ouch. So we're peacekeepers? And hey, isn't this usually yours or Superman's gig?"
"It's an Earth-class planet." And there was just the hint of a smile -- a facial tic if you didn't know GL. "And something told me you were bored."
"You got my calls?"
"All thirty-seven of them. You need a hobby."
Wally leaned back against the faintly curved edge of the green sphere and grinned. "Yeah, I'll take up knitting. You look like a man in need of a toque."
"What did I tell you about you and sharp objects?"
"I'm a great juggler!"
"You nearly stabbed Diana."
Wally waved it off. "Yeah, yeah. She could take it."
Another twitch of a smile and GL picked up speed. "We're meeting the rest of the League in the Tower. Pretend you're a professional."
Wally breathed on his gloved hands and dusted them off on his suit. "Best at what I do."
And there they all were, sitting around the table. Or standing, like Hawkgirl, who already had her mace powered up and was slapping it rhythmically against her palm -- and didn't that hurt? Or Batman up in Superman's face like the guy couldn't crush him like a bug, arguing about interfering in other people's politics and blah blah too much power blah.
Diana looked concerned, J'onn looked... really J'onnish, in that I'm-so-zen-it-hurts way. GL slapped the table so hard it made everyone jump. Or, well, it would've made Wally jump if he hadn't been able to see the move coming in the twitch and flex of the man's shoulders.
"They need us," was all he said, and that was his Green Lantern face, all stone-cold and hard like there was nothing to him but the uniform and power.
"Thanks, GL. That's really the point here. The Finarans called and asked for our help. They're worried about their world, their whole society --"
"They're worried about the rebels." Batman wasn't looking at anyone but Superman.
Superman just looked pained. "We're not going in there to do anything but try to put a stop to the fighting."
"And if they don't want to stop fighting?"
Superman grinned. "I don't know, Batman. You're pretty convincing."
Batman narrowed his eyes. "This is a bad idea."
"Noted. Let's go."
Wally watched them head for Javelin One, and he did think about saying something, but it really didn't seem like the time to be all, "by the way, do you think it's weird that I'm not sleeping anymore? Like, at all? And is there any more food up here?"
J'onn gave him one of those deep-eyed looks over his shoulder that Wally never knew what to do with. He waved. People to perform, missions to save. Right.
And really, it started out fine. Cool, even, with GL pointing out solar systems he'd saved. Diana pushed her face right up to the viewscreen, like she was maybe six instead of however many thousands of years old.
Wally wondered if he'd bagged any hot alien babes. GL had been out here for years. Mostly, he just tried to keep his mouth shut, because Batman was there, yeah, but Batman was doing that thing where he was like "I'm glaring at you with my whole body" and Superman was doing that thing where he was like "I know I'm right but I'm way too nice to say so," and it was a lot like being in the back of the station wagon when your parents have been bickering for three states and you had to pee.
Only he didn't have to pee, and it wasn't a station wagon, and, okay, Flash Has Two Daddies? Not so much.
He snickered to himself and GL gave him a suspicious look.
Maybe he was getting delirious. Wasn't that what happened when you weren't sleeping and -- no. He really wasn't going to think about that.
He felt fine. Energized, even, if a little hungry, and he was going to do his job and everyone would stop glaring. Yeah.
And when did the Javelin get so slow?
He thought he should get one of those space suits, maybe he could just run there and... okay, there were probably a lot of laws of physics that would break, but he hung out with people who could fly.
And being as how none of them crunched when they hit the ground, they probably didn't have hollow bones.
Hollow bones. Christ, he was bored. Maybe he could get some kind of scooter... thing.
But no, that would be just as slow (if not slower). What he really needed was a way to create friction in a friction-less environment. Something he could run on, like those treadmills on the Jetsons.
Or something. Man, he wished he'd paid more attention in physics class. Maybe GL would know something. Maybe he could magic something up with that ring. Maybe... maybe he really needed to pay attention, because there were things rushing at the viewscreen in the way that stars and normal space stuff really just didn't.
"I've got it." And suddenly there wasn't much room to be bored, because Batman was making the Javelin move like a basketball player on crack.
He looked around just in time to see GL and Diana bouncing off the walls -- heh, no seatbelts -- and then Batman made a sound. Not really a very important-sounding sound, but he had just enough time to remember that Batman didn't make very many sounds at all beyond snarking at all of them before there was a flash of light and a very important noise, and they were all --
In one of GL's sphere things, which was much less cool and much more disturbing when none of the stars looked familiar, and also when there were still things. Shooting at them.
"Head for the surface!"
And then they all got slammed to the back of the sphere -- which bent pretty damned alarmingly -- as GL booked down to the planet.
And Wally thought: I could do this faster. Shook it off and watched Superman pry at the energy sphere.
"You don't have a suit!" Wally grabbed his shoulder.
"I'll hold my breath." And then he was out and they all got sucked toward the hole before --
- GL sealed it up again and paused mid-flight before setting the sphere loose and flying after Superman.
"We are so gonna die."
"Shut up, Flash." But Hawkgirl was watching them go, and then there were two very large explosions that weren't nearly as terrifying as feeling the sphere shudder and shimmer around them.
"Green Lantern has been hit."
"THANK you, J'onn, we noticed --"
But the sphere solidified again and just at the edges of his vision he could see a tiny green speck connected by some weird kind of energy cord to what was probably an alien ship...
And then the ship went flying, leaving the green speck on its own. A jerk and Wally looked over his shoulder to find Superman pushing them down toward the planet that Wally very much didn't want to visit.
GL met them just beyond what was probably the atmosphere and put a larger sphere around all of them, dragging them down the rest of the way. There wasn't a mark on the suit, but he looked sincerely pissed off.
"I told you this was a bad idea."
Hawkgirl snarled. "I will hit you, Batman."
But then someone shot a surface to air something at GL and he went flying, and they all hit the ground hard, and Wally was really starting to hate these people.
Of course, it probably didn't help that they seemed to have landed in the middle of a battlefield, big bear-like things in neat uniforms on one side, big bear-like things in rags on the other. Finarans, right.
He got his hands up in what he dearly hoped was the universal gesture of surrender, but Hawkgirl was already swinging that mace of hers, sending Finarans flying right and left. Batman was grappling with something, Diana was making some really inspiring war cries, Superman was burning things with his friggin' eyes, and J'onn had that look on his face like he was trying to have deep, soul to soul communication with God only knew what and didn't they have a plan?
Wasn't that what they did?
And then someone shot off one of his lightning bolts.
He really, really hated it when people shot at his head, and it didn't take a minute to snatch their weapons and get a way-too-groggy GL out of the line of fire.
And kick a few people.
Finally, it was quiet, and yeah, it was a little weird to see everyone just kind of stopped in mid-punch, kick, fold, spindle, and mutilate, but...
No, okay, it was a lot weird.
Wally looked down at himself and realized he was... vibrating. Like... really a lot. More than usual, even, and that included those times when Starbucks was just too tempting to ignore.
And things got really weird.
A... door opened next to him, only there wasn't even a building next to him, just a big stack of those laser rifles that apparently got sold by the bushel and he knew he wasn't thinking clearly, but... dude.
He looked over the battlefield, but everything seemed basically okay. Well... he zipped over and detached one of the bear people from around J'onn's neck. Stood him upright.
Moved his hands until they were in a better fighting position.
Got seriously, seriously weirded out.
The door talked to him. On the battlefield, nothing moved. "Uh...?"
"Wally, come to us..."
"Hey, I've seen more horror movies than I can count. The first rule is: ignore the creepy voice. Or run away. I'll have you know I'm capable of doing both."
The voice chuckled. "The source of your power, Wally..."
"Freak accident. Lightning, chemicals -- it was in all the papers."
"We are the source, Wally... the true source..."
"Um. Okay. You seem to have a really inflated idea of yourself, whatever you are, and that's fine, really, but why don't we talk after you've made everything go back to normal." There. That was reasonable, right? Superman would be proud.
Another chuckle. "The only thing that's changed is you..."
"Hunh? But you... froze everyone. Everything." But the door just kept laughing, and the people just kept being frozen, and Wally just kept... moving.
He was 'standing' in one of many brand new craters, all marked with his boots. Like he was running in place. Like he was...
"Oh my God."
"Come to us, Wally. Be in us..."
But he didn't finish the sentence, and didn't know what he was going to say, anyway. He wanted... he wanted sleep, and food, and to not be walking through the door like it was something other than intensely creepy, he wanted...
And then there was light, and a lot of it. Heat. Like walking into the sun, or maybe like walking into the sun if you were Superman, and could do that sort of thing. And then his vision cleared and he stumbled into... beauty.
It wasn't any one thing. He'd seen grass that green before, smelled air that sweet. He'd seen skies that color on one world or another, and there were beautiful people all over the universe.
It was just... the whole of it. Everything.
Or maybe it was the feeling, deep in his bones, that everything was just fine and if it wasn't, it would be fine, because he was... where?
"Is this... am I dead? Is this heaven?"
"You have passed through the Speed Force, and into beyond. Here are all the people we have touched. You have joined us. You are in us. Welcome..."
And, okay, that was friendly and all, but still...
He jogged up to one of the people passing by, a vaguely blue-ish woman who didn't seem to be doing anything in particular and... felt it.
It felt like he was running full out, something that he never felt unless he was, well, running full out. But this wasn't even a fraction of his top speed. He shook it off and stopped in front of the woman, who immediately smiled at him like he was the greatest thing since no-rip nylons or something.
She was cute, if you could get past the fact that she didn't seem to have a nose.
"Uh... could you... do you speak English?"
"We are all one here, Wally."
"Uh... okay, but how did you --" Know my name, he didn't say, because he knew her name. Tish'a'lalu, complete with all the accents and he thought... he thought he could maybe pronounce it, even. "I mean..."
She laughed, a giggle that trilled all the way up into a scale that he didn't have a name for.
He thought it should probably hurt his ears, but it just felt... right. He was funny. Life was funny. Life was... good.
"You are new here, Wally, but you'll understand soon..."
And then she waved at him and walked away. And then it clicked.
She walked. One foot in the front of the another, in no obvious hurry, but it didn't seem slow. Nothing seemed slow. Kites moved across the sky like the wind was pushing them just enough, people walked and talked and their mouths moved... normally.
"What... did I lose my powers?"
The sky answered him, or maybe just the entire universe. "All here are touched by the Speed Force, as you were, Wally..."
"Everyone... everyone has superspeed?"
"You are Beyond, and we exist beyond speed, beyond time itself."
And that was. He had to sit down. So he did. And the grass was so soft that he decided to lie down, and he thought... he could almost feel the curve of the world. He thought if he looked up at the sky he could learn something. See it. Understand. (Be one)
And maybe this wasn't heaven, per se, but... it was really nice. No one was fighting, or even glaring. There were people of species he didn't think even J'onn had heard of, and... he wasn't hungry.
He was... he put his hand on his belly and felt nothing but the suit and muscle beneath. Nothing. Not the faintest grumble, and the barest hint of vibration. It felt... it felt like he'd just eaten his way through a five star restaurant and downed a wine cellar, and it was too soon to be full, or even drunk.
Like... like maybe he'd done everything right for once and everything was okay and... yes...
He closed his eyes and pushed his head back against the grass, needing to feel, needing to just (be one) give himself up to it, and he heard himself humming, or maybe moaning, but it felt so good.
He pulled off his gloves and moved his fingers through the grass, as fast as he wanted, and nothing was yanked out of the earth. It just... it was ticklish, and it was sweet, and it was like being a kid.
"One of us..."
"Yeah, just..." And he didn't know what he wanted to say, but he wanted to see the sky again, see if it curved like the ground. He opened his eyes and found himself looking up into a circle of smiling faces. Or... even when the faces didn't have mouths he could identify, he could feel the smile.
Something in the postures, or maybe just the place.
"Wally..." they said, all of them, some of them in his mind, but even that was --
"Hey!" They were picking him up and carrying him, bouncing him as they went, and he started to struggle, but there was more laughter, more
"New one... he's..."
"One of us..."
And they were bouncing him, and cradling him, and tickling him, and they didn't seem to be going anywhere.
"Just wanted to touch you..."
"... new one..."
"... always ours..."
And it was like... well, it was exactly like being loved on by a bunch of strangers of various species, and Wally gave up and laughed until they put him down again.
A woman... what might have been a woman, it was hard to tell with all the tentacles, touched his face in a dozen different places and told him he tasted like wind.
A man kissed his forehead like something out of an old movie and something whispered in his head like J'onn, whispered love and acceptance and joy, but it was nothing like J'onn.
It wasn't like being invaded by an alien presence, or even like being spied on, it was just... being one.
Later, they played tag, but no one really tried to hide.
Later than that, he found himself in a random puppy pile, stroking a strangely lobster-esque claw while a ball of pink light told him solemnly that his hair was sunshine.
Between explaining the concept of 'blond' and, well, cuddling, it was a long time before he remembered. The battle! GL... God, was he okay?
He pulled himself out of the tangle of people and started to walk back in the direction he thought he'd come from, but there was no door in sight.
"Hey, um... sky?"
Not going to get used to that anytime soon, no way. "How do I get out of here? I kind of left everyone hanging. Heh. I bet whole minutes have passed while I was here."
Something laughed beside him, and the sky said, "we are Beyond. There is no time."
"Um... that's nice and everything, this is nice and everything, but I have to get back. My friends need me." Or, well, they'd probably miss him. Eventually.
"... not leave..."
"... one we are..."
"... just got here!"
He turned to find the whole crowd of people around him, reaching out and looking/thinking/being concerned at him. "Really, thanks, I'll come back, I promise, I just have to get back to everyone. Else. Uh... sky?"
"There is no back. There is only Beyond."
"Okay, see, that would only make sense if I hadn't just come from... er. Back. No, actually, that doesn't make any sense at all."
"Once you come Beyond, you can never go back to where you were. Who you were."
He knew he should've just gone with 'creepy, avoid.' "Uh... has anyone tried?" He looked back at the people, who were all just beaming 'the nice blond man just lost his mind' at him with various gestures and expressions.
He didn't bother to ask if any of them tried.
"Listen, what if I just... go really fast again? Like how I was before. Would that work?"
The sky didn't answer him, and there were hands on his shoulders, tugging. Gently, but still.
"Hey, I need to get home!"
"But it's all so slow!"
"... hungry so much..."
"... all the time..."
"Be one with us..."
And that was just... too much. Omniscient sky... thing was no help and the people didn't look like people so much as pod people and maybe that wasn't really fair, because it felt good here, everything right down to the ground. Felt normal and at the right speed and...
Wally shook it off and ran. Ran fast and hard and kept running, and the world just went by him like he was walking or something, so he ran harder. And there was pressure, pain in his side like a cramp, and his legs were getting tired and every few moments he passed the crowd of people reaching, always reaching, and his lungs were burning and he thought he would pass out but -- there.
A shimmer. Not a door, or anything like it, just something like a heat haze where nothing should be.
Wally ran full-tilt and the voice boomed in his head --
"You can never come back, Wally, we won't be able to see you touch you be you --"
Wally heard himself yell and jumped for the shimmer, slamming against something like a wall and he sobbed in frustration but then the light flared, whiting out everything, whiting out his mind and he was...
Crouched in the dirt. Panting.
No grass. No sun. Stink of blood and metal and death and the war was going on around him just like he'd never left.
A few of the Finarans -- a relative few - had gotten to the weapons and couldn't seem to decide whether they wanted to kill each other or the rest of the League. One of them came running at him, brandishing a rifle like a club, and he had just enough time to start to duck before Hawkgirl swooped down out of nowhere and lifted him up into the air.
"Are you all right?"
"What... I... yeah, I'm fine --"
"Good, Batman needs backup."
And then she dropped him right next to the guy, which meant she dropped him into the middle of a bunch of extremely angry looking bears, and there was no time for anything but fighting.
He got clawed, he got punched, he got shot at least once in the leg, but in the end he and Batman were back to back, surrounded by unconscious and/or just out of it Finarans.
He looked around and saw a similar mess, GL up in the air holding a wall of green between the remains of the battle and some seriously pissed off Finarans, Superman blowing more Finarans back and away, Hawkgirl and Diana obliviously beating the crap out of still more Finarans, and J'onn... standing there.
No, he had one hand to his head, which meant he was probably doing something deeply important, like explaining the concept of cease-fire to the generals.
Wally blew out a breath and waited.
Sure enough, there were orders being given and people standing down and it looked like it was all over but the shouting and spandex-repair. Which was good, because he really needed... a break. Time to think. Something.
It took a few hours, but the Finarans lent them a ship to go home in, save for Superman, Diana, and J'onn, who would stay and help calm things down.
Probably start up a United Nations or something.
Wally spent quality time figuring out how to belt himself into the ship and then just focused on his team-mates, trying to be unobtrusive about checking to make sure no one was really injured. Hawkgirl was tinkering with her mace, and Batman had growled when GL had offered to fly the alien ship, so they were fine.
GL was leaning back in his own chair and had his eyes closed before they even lifted off. That didn't necessarily mean anything. He'd seen the man sleep through bombing raids.
Apparently, it was a military thing.
Wally shrugged internally and forced himself to look at himself. He was going to need bandages when he got home, and maybe a hot bath, but it was really no worse than usual. He was... he wasn't tired. He was ravenously hungry. There was... something like a hole in his mind. Like a missing tooth he couldn't help but prod for with his tongue. He was... alone. Fuck.
He sighed and closed his own eyes. It couldn't hurt.
When they got back to the tower, Hawkgirl immediately wandered off to her own rooms with a generalized nod for them all. GL stretched, spine cracking audibly, and yawned. "There's only enough power in the ring for me to get one of you home tonight. Which of you is it gonna be?"
Batman was already heading toward the computers, grunting a response.
"Right, I guess it's you and me, Flash. Come on."
"You can just drop me off wherever, I can run back to Central City once we touch down."
GL gave him a look and then didn't say a word until they landed just outside of Detroit. And then he gave Wally another look and folded his arms over his chest.
"Uh... I'll just be going. Back to Central City. While you glare."
"What the hell is your problem, Flash?"
And in GL-ese, that translated to... pretty much exactly that, with a side of 'am I going to have to hit you?' "What...?"
"Don't 'what' me. You didn't say one word on the way back to the Tower or on the way here. Are you hurt? Don't tell me you're hurt and didn't get some medical attention --"
Wally threw up his hands. "Easy, easy, man. I'm fine. No more banged up than usual, I promise."
The green eyes flared. "Flash..."
"I'm serious. Nothing's wrong. I just... something happened out there."
GL blinked, and eased off a fraction. "During the fighting?"
"I... yeah." Wally scrubbed a hand over his head and wished he could take the mask off. "Look, can we go somewhere? I think I need to sit down while I talk about this."
GL nodded slowly and took off into the air again. Wally followed on foot, but they didn't seem to be going anywhere, really. Well, they were somewhere, but somewhere was burned out and really kind of terrifying. GL walked into one of the crumbling buildings and jumped down through a hole in the floor, leading Wally into the darkest, dirtiest, smelliest basement he'd ever been in.
Dark, that was, except for the faint green glow of the Lantern, which GL revealed in full by moving aside some rubble.
"You keep the Lantern here? Aren't you supposed to keep it safe?"
GL snorted humorlessly. "No one in this neighborhood would touch it."
Steady look and the fraction of a smile. "Think about it, kid. Can you see Lex Luthor walking through here with his goons?"
"I... point." He watched GL recharge and wondered what it felt like. If there was a missing tooth-feeling in the man's head when he was low on power. If --
"Ready to go?"
Wally nodded and GL grabbed him around the waist and lifted him up and out of the wreckage, deeper into the city. There still wasn't much green, but the buildings were solid, and people waved as they went by. They landed on apartment building roof like any other and GL pulled keys out of God only knew where and let them in.
As penthouse apartments went, GL's was pretty... stark. A spotlessly clean leather couch and chair, a glass coffee table. A few pictures of people on the walls, but no art, or even a poster.
The kitchen didn't look as if anyone had used it since a team of fanatical maids had gone over it, and from what he could see of the back... well, he couldn't see anything. The doors were all closed. "You don't spend much time here, do you?"
GL looked at him like he was crazy. "You think?" He shook his head. "Grab a seat, I'll get us a couple of beers. Are you hungry -- wait, no, forget I asked."
Wally sat down, happy the couch was big and solid. Smaller ones tended to vibrate across the room with him, and he felt like... a lot like a struck tuning fork. Was he really going to talk about this? Hell, did it really happen?
He put his face in his hands and waited.
It didn't take all that long for GL to come back with the beer and a plate full of deli meat and crackers, but it still... felt like a long time. Damn. Wally shook it off and dug in, only remembering halfway through that he wasn't the only one there. "Uh..."
GL waved him off. "Go on and eat. I'll order a pizza later."
Wally tried to picture GL paying for a pizza in uniform. Where did he keep his wallet? Same place he kept his keys, probably. When he was done, he sucked down half his beer and belched comfortably. "God, that's great. I feel like I haven't eaten in --"
"Yeah, laugh it up. Let's see you be polite with a metabolism like mine."
GL just shook his head and leaned back, throwing his feet up on the coffee table. "You gonna tell me what happened?"
"Yeah... uh. Yeah. Fuck. I don't even know how to talk about it, man."
"Are you sure you didn't get hurt? I see you're missing a lightning bolt. Did you take a blow to the head?"
God, he'd forgotten his lightning bolt. "No, no, I'm sure. Although you're gonna think I did after I tell you this."
Mouth twitch. "Someone once reminded me that we have a Martian's number on speed-dial."
"Christ, what kind of idiot... what kind... fuck." He put the plate on the table and tried to focus on breathing. Because he had been... he had been normal, and now he wasn't, and Christ.
Hand on his shoulder and GL had halved the distance between them. "Flash... Wally. What is it?"
Wally squeezed his eyes shut and breathed. Breathed. "Did you ever... when you were on the Grand Green Lantern Universe Tour, did you ever find yourself on a planet that was just... perfect?"
GL squeezed his shoulder. "Well, I... Wally, we didn't get called anywhere that was particularly happy."
"Heh. I guess not. But... after the trouble was over and you'd saved the day. Was there anyplace you wanted to stay?"
GL took his hand away and Wally chanced looking up. The man was staring out the windows at the night and very obviously thinking.
"Hey, you don't have to tell me... I mean..."
"No, it's not you, I just... I had a wife once."
"You were married? Uh... I mean... what?"
Another one of those tiny smiles, but GL still wasn't looking at him. "It was... several years ago. We weren't married for very long. Katma Tui was from a planet out on the Eastern arm. Just barely earth-class. I couldn't stay there for long if I wasn't powered up. She was..." John blinked and looked up at the ceiling. "Her skin was the color of a sunset, just before it gets dark. She was so smart we didn't even need translators -- she learned English... God, like that."
"What... what happened?"
"Well, she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life. I would take detours to visit her planet anytime I could. She was a shapeshifter, and a teacher, and. She's dead now. She's been dead a long time. It wasn't anything... it was a freak accident. A bad storm, floods all over the capital. They didn't find her body for weeks. They didn't call me for... longer than that."
"Jesus, GL, I'm sorry."
"It wasn't a Green Lantern-worthy emergency."
"But... I mean..."
"There's a reason I'm not as involved with the Corps as I used to be, Wally. And not all of it has to do with that damned trial."
And.. Wally guessed he could get that. Christ. He nodded and reached out. The man's shoulders were stiff and utterly still for a long, long moment, before he relaxed. Patted Wally's hand with his own.
"I would've stayed on her world."
Wally nodded and tried to think of something to say. And then he just opened his mouth and let words fall out. "I. Something happened."
Another smile, and GL finally looked at him again. "You said that already."
"Yeah, I... well. Fuck. Okay, let me start from the beginning. You remember all those phone calls?"
A snort. "I think my answering machine is broken. Some of those calls were in the middle of the night. Don't you sleep?"
"Well, see, that's the thing. I don't. I haven't... in about two weeks."
And GL started to laugh, and Wally wished he was joking, because GL laughing was a freaking event, but Wally just looked at him and GL's face fell. "You're not joking, are you? Jesus, Wally, what the fuck happened?"
"I'm still not really sure. Only I'm faster, and hungrier, and I can't sleep, and something fucking weird happened on Finara."
"Are you... how the hell can you not have slept for two weeks and still be sane? That's on the fucking Geneva Convention as part of the list of things we're not allowed to do to POWs, Wally!"
"I don't know, all right? God, it was just... I took the guns, and I stacked them up, and when I looked up there was this weird... portal thing. And all of you -- everyone, even the Finarans were just completely still. Frozen."
"Wait, are you telling me something stopped time?"
"That's just it. This voice -- this voice came out of the door and told me that nothing had really happened. That I was just... moving too fast. And when I looked down at my feet I saw I was basically... running in place. So much that I was leaving craters."
"Jesus... what... was there some kind of accident? Are you --"
"God, GL, I love you, man, but if you ask me if I'm all right again, I'm gonna have to murder you."
"I... hell, Wally, just tell me what happened? Who was the voice? What does this have to do with your power?"
"It was something... apparently there's some universal speed force -- only the way the voice said it, it had capital letters. Apparently, when people move fast enough, one way or another, it can touch you, and give you super speed forever."
"Wait, let me get this straight. If you're already moving at superspeed, it can give you super speed?"
Which was... pretty much exactly what he'd gotten from the weird voice in the sky and the (happy) pod people. "It made sense at the time? God, GL, you don't know... it was like I'd walked through a portal and fell into heaven. Everything moved at the right speed, and everyone was happy to see me, and. I wasn't hungry. For anything."
GL leaned back against the arm of the couch and looked at him, and didn't say anything, and didn't say anything, and didn't say anything so thoroughly that Wally wondered if he could've possibly gotten his point across. What it was like. How it made him feel. And Jesus, how was anyone supposed to talk about that stuff anyway?
"I. I know it doesn't --"
"Why did you come back?"
GL folded his hands over his chest and just kept staring at him. "It sounds like paradise. For you, at least. Why did you come back?"
And that was really the question, wasn't it? Because... he remembered really needing to leave, to get back to everyone, jumping into that wall or door or whatever like hell was after him, but it had been really... it had been good, and now his head was telling him he was alone, all alone and a freak among freaks, no matter that GL was right there. "I had to get back," he said, and it was lame, but it was true.
"And now you're wondering if you made the right decision?"
"Hey, I couldn't just leave you guys in the middle of a war!"
GL raised an eyebrow at him.
"Christ, what? You think I'd just... just leave you guys like that?"
"No, but you do."
"Oh, Jesus, not this psychoanalytic bullshit, GL. I expect that from J'onn, or even Superman, but not from you."
"Wally. Would you be this worked up if you were absolutely sure you did the right thing for the right reasons?"
He jumped off the couch. "Look, maybe I'm not you, maybe I'm not fucking ordained protector of the universe or anything, but I do my job, and I'm -- I'm not... fuck." He headed for the door, but GL was up and caught his arm.
"I'm not saying you aren't, Wally. I'm not. Really. I'm just..." A squeeze to his bicep. "Every one of us makes a choice, sooner or later. You were... you were ridiculously young when you made yours. You think it's not normal to be a little fucked up about it now?"
A little fucked up. Yeah. That was... that was pretty much it, wasn't it? He felt himself sag with all the exhaustion he wasn't feeling at all. "It was so. God, GL, it was so fucking beautiful."
"And you came back here. To us."
"Do you regret it?" And it wasn't the GL voice anymore, it was John voice, John who never wore a mask and never needed one anyway.
You couldn't respond to that voice with anything but the truth. "I don't know," he said, and John nodded and pulled him into a hug that was all muscle and heat and I'm-toughenough -to-give-other-men-hugs-so-fuck-you.
Wally fell into it a little helplessly and clung and pretended he was sweating and God, he wanted to sleep so badly. Wanted to just lie down and have it all go away, just for once, one more time and he'd never take it for granted again.
And John held him and didn't let go, even when Wally balled the fabric of his suit in his fists.
When he could breathe again, he let go and pulled back, but John didn't stop holding him for another long moment that, for once, didn't feel that long at all.
"I'm gonna order a pizza."
"Yeah, okay. I'll --"
"You're going to sit over there and drink until you're unconscious."
I tried that, he didn't say, and he had to smile anyway.
Wally grabbed the six-pack out of the fridge and sat down, well through it by the time John got back from the hallphone. John looked at the empty bottles, sighed, and put another two six-packs in the fridge.
"Remind me to never play any drinking games with you."
"Hey, you can be on my team."
John shook his head, grinning a little and sat down next to him. They sat in silence for a while, John stealing back one of his own beers, no sound but a clock ticking somewhere Wally couldn't see and the traffic moving beyond what was probably a really expensive grade of glass.
Classy and understated. Right.
No, fuck it, the place was a barracks waiting for the Marines to show up and salute something. He grinned to himself.
"You know, you could have talked to me about this. Christ, we should have had you in the medlab last week."
"Hey, I tried to call you --"
"You were talking about baseball. I don't even like baseball --"
"It's America's sport!"
"Golf is more exciting than baseball. Soccer is more exciting than baseball --"
"That's it, I'm taking you to a game. You've clearly led a woefully uneducated and underprivileged existence."
And John laughed, a real laugh this time, and even though Wally knew it had more to do with getting rid of the tension than anything else, it was still a laugh, and it was... his.
"They could talk in my mind," he blurted, and wondered what crack his tongue was smoking without him. John stopped laughing and Wally winced. "Uh. I didn't mean to say that."
"Was it like with J'onn? I thought you didn't like the psychic stuff."
Wally sighed and shook his head. Baseball, they were talking about baseball, not this. "No, it wasn't... it was. It was gentler. Like. They talked about 'becoming one' and that's what it was really like. Like I was part of something bigger and happier and just better. Like I wasn't just Wally anymore."
"Yeah?" He looked up again and John was looking at him, steady and serious, and it looked like he was about to say something, but he just shook his head.
"It's not important."
Wally nodded and finished his beer. Thought about opening another one. Thought about just... reaching out. Over. Because God, it had been so good. All those hands and one singular feeling of welcome, and it was good to be here with John, and John, for however little it made sense always tried to make Wally feel welcome, but. Hell.
He'd already practically cried on the man, there just wasn't that much else he could do without having to go out and shoot himself. And make an effort not to outrun the bullet.
"You're welcome to stay here tonight. There's... there's an extra bedroom."
"What if I need to get up in the middle of the night and crawl in with you?"
John laughed, lips parted and head not-quite thrown back. "I kick in my sleep. And punch."
"John --" No, no, and no. Not tonight. Not... like this.
But John was already looking at him again, the searching look that made his eyes match the rest of his body. "What is it?"
They touched me. They wanted me. I could have. "Do you ever think about doing something really stupid?"
"You actually think first?"
And the smile stopped him, but only for a moment. It wasn't as important as leaning in and kissing John as slow as he could manage, which was still so fast the man didn't have time to react. "Not as such, no."
And there was one of those eternal moments of empty that his mind knew was barely the length of a normal human heartbeat, but his body counted in years, and then John's hand was on his face, rubbing against the grain of his light stubble.
Thumb on his lip, still and serious as the kiss that followed. And this was actually slow, but it didn't feel that way, because it just... it went from moment to moment. Here, the shocking softness of John's mouth, there the slick of his tongue, there the brush of that callused thumb along his cheekbone and Wally shuddered and sighed and forced himself to pull back.
"That, too," John said, and it made perfect sense in the way that everything else did. Like a voice from the sky and warmth on his back.
He smiled, and John smiled back, and they pulled away from each other by some unspoken mutual agreement. Turned back to the window.
Wally got another beer and settled in to watch the city go by with John, knowing that the man would go to sleep sooner or later, even if Wally had to threaten him with bodily harm to get him into bed.
Knowing that he wouldn't sleep at all.
It was all right. He'd never seen Detroit at night, anyway.
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