Barbara slowly closed the bedroom door behind her, taking one last look back to make sure her fiancé had finally drifted off. Their lovemaking had been passionate, fierce; not so much out of intimacy but a reminder that they were still alive, something to push back against the constant numbness of the last few weeks.
She pulled on an old Gotham Academy sweatshirt from the hamper and quietly made her way down the hallway towards the kitchen. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she sat down at the table opening her laptop. Despite her obvious fatigue, she still had work emails to return, caterers and wedding photographers to meet with, hotel rooms to book; jobs and tasks that had been put on hold for far too long.
She'd barely made it through the second email before closing the laptop and slumping back in her chair.
"What am I doing," she sighed.
Here she was, making wedding plans while the Wests made funeral arrangements. She felt sick to her stomach.
Her mother had fussed at her; telling her that someone had to be the pragmatic one, someone had to steer the ship while Dick mourned the loss of his oldest friend. That someone had to be her.
Never, ever look to a cop's ex-wife for sympathy.
Her mom may have thought things differently had she'd known the alter egos of her fiancé and his late best friend, not to mention the murderous psychopath still on the loose. Telling her mother the cold hard truth would only have opened doors that Batgirl wasn't remotely ready to step though… if ever. Ignorance was bliss.
It had been nearly three weeks since Wally's murder, and just as she assumed it would play out, Dick somehow felt responsible. It came to him naturally. Bruce Wayne was the exact same way, an unhealthy by-product of leading a Team or a League for so long. In truth, Dick was no more responsible for Wally's death than he was for the sun rising or setting.
There hadn't been much time to grieve, not while half the League stood guard over Bart Allen while the other scoured the countryside looking for signs of Eobard Thawne. They'd been down this road before with the murder of Barry Allen years earlier, so sadly there was some precedent.
That left Dick and few others to watch over the Wests, staking out the new hotel where the families had been placed for their own protection.
This was every hero's greatest nightmare personified; the entire reason for masks and capes. Not just to protect their own identity, but more importantly to those closest to them; innocent people that could easily fall into harm's way. One day that could just as easily be her mother or father. That was selfish side of the life heroes' chose.
Much like Bruce, Dick was the strategist, but it was actually Conner who'd come up with the plan. Until Thawne was caught, the Wests, Joan Garrick and Iris Allen needed to be placed somewhere safe. Somewhere off the grid. Somewhere small.
Now instead of the tactician, Dick had to become the salesman. To convince people he'd been estranged with for years to trust him and allow him to move their entire family to a rural farming community in southern Kansas.
To do that, Dick had to be at his best, and he was nowhere near that right now. Ollie and Dinah had nearly come to blows with the young detective to force him to go home and take care of himself, but it was Iris Allen who sealed the deal. In every way still as much a hero as her deceased husband.
So now while Dick caught up on some desperately needed sleep, Conner returned home to speak to Martha Kent, but it was already a forgone conclusion. The Kent's had always welcomed strangers, strays and aliens to their door with open arms.
The trick would be getting the families there safely, quickly and quietly. Batman was adamant in his belief that Thawne had moved on, but no one could know for certain, and Dick just wasn't willing to play those odds; not when it came to the Wests.
If the evil speedster went after them as some kind of bargaining chip for Bart Allen, who among them would be powerful enough to stop the fastest man alive. Possibly the most dangerous one too.
Barbara rubbed her weary eyes; there was no point in trying to get any work done. She wasn't willing to take a chance of waking Dick if she tried to get back in bed, instead choosing the couch and a good book until the sandman came calling.
She rose from the table, wrapping an afghan around her bare legs as she made her way towards the couch, just as a knock on the door echoed throughout the apartment. At a pace that would impress even a speedster, she was standing in front of the entryway in seconds.
She and Dick were infamous for the sheer decibel of their bedroom activities, something they both took inane pride in, but from time to time unappreciative neighbors would either pound on an adjoining wall, or flat out come to the door to complain; Mrs. Velasco being the more ballsy of the three others they shared the floor with.
If that bitch wakes him up I'll swear to God I'll kill her and hide the body myself.
Looking through the peephole, instead of seeing an entitled elderly Puerto Rican woman, she found blonde hair and steel grey eyes staring back. The detective slowly opened the door with an irritated glare.
"Hi," the archer begun, a cold stoicism draped across her face.
"Hi," Barbara replied sternly, not even trying to hide her displeasure.
Artemis Crock, her teammate, her partner in crime, her friend; miraculously rising from the dead and returning years later to confess her sins, hoping for a chance to make amends. No one had been more understanding and welcoming than Barbara, and not even hours after Wally's death, the archer had disappeared again, abandoning her friends in their time of mourning.
Fool me twice…shame on me
"I um…." the blonde began, awkwardly searching for words. Barbara was not having it.
"What do you want Artemis?" the young detective asked shortly, no longer concealing her disdain at the archer's unexpected appearance.
"I…" Artemis began again, stopping midway to find herself counting the number of escape routes at her disposal.
Gordon had had enough. "It's late Artemis. Dick hasn't slept in days and I don't have all night to stand out here in my underwear. If you ever figure out why you're here or what it is you're trying to say, just…leave a message or something," she shrugged.
As the detective turned back towards the door, Artemis reached out and gently took Barbara's arm. The red head stared coldly at the hand currently on her bicep, all the way up to the archer's despearte eyes.
"I just want to help," the blonde whispered, her husky voice beginning to crack.
"Really?" Barb bit back.
"Then why'd you leave? Why'd you run?"
"I don't know," the archer sighed. "It's what I always do."
"What? Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?" Gordon growled. "The League's stretched paper thin. Superman and his team have been delayed on Rann, Diana and Bruce can't leave Bart's side, and whoever's left is pulling double shifts trying to track down Zoom. We're all that's left."
Artemis could barely look Barbara in the eyes, feeling the heat of her friend's scornful gaze upon her. "I want in."
"Really? Because I want someone I can count on. Someone I know who'll be there for backup instead of running when things get tough."
The archer's brow furrowed. "That's not fair."
"Oh really? You're about the last person who needs to lecture me on what is and isn't fair! My fiancé is back there passed out; barely holding things together, pulling twenty hour days trying to watch out for his best friend's family even though Batman says it's a waste of time and resources. Kaldur's taking leave from the U.N. to be here. Conner's setting up a place for the Wests to hide out. Even Megan's trying to help after all she's been through. You think that's easy for her? Easy for any of us?"
Artemis stood her ground, absorbing blow after verbal blow. When it came to pain, this barely moved the needle compared to what she'd endured in the past.
Easy. What the fuck did Barbara know about easy?
She was free; she'd paid her debt and escaped the Shadows grasp. She could now do anything with her life she wanted. Someone with her skill set and reputation could make a very nice life for themselves. Gun for hire, fixer, problem solver. An ex-Shadow could command top dollar in that kind of market, and there would always be no shortage of work.
Dubai, Paris, Monaco, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong. She could have her choice of jobs and live like a queen as long as she was willing to get her hands a little dirty. And her destination to begin this new life...
Gotham fucking City
Everyone from her sister, to Zane, to Roy, to Dick had told her coming back was a mistake. She'd known that fact the moment she first booked her flight to the States. Once there, once home, things had gone pretty much as she expected, until she made her one fatal mistake. She fell in love again.
Wally West had turned her life upside down once more, stupidly opening up his heart to her, knowing full well there was a good chance she'd tear it out all over again. Artemis didn't want to hurt him, and for a brief moment in time she even tricked herself into thinking that maybe…just maybe they might have a second chance. Then Eobard Thawne came and took that all away.
She stopped being a hero the moment she faked her death and slit her father's throat. She'd tried to pick up the pieces, but there were just too many, they'd never fit together the same way again. She'd arrived in Gotham an assassin, it was only fitting that she'd leave that way too, because the moment she had Zoom in her sights, she would make that motherfucker pay for everything he'd done; to Barry, to Jay, to Wally….to her.
An ass chewing from Barbara Gordon was a small price to pay to get her foot in the door. Guarding the Wests would be her cover, but to really protect them, to truly keep them safe, Eobard Thawne had to die. Wally would never have approved, but she'd broken his heart so many times, why should now be any different? In the end, if it kept his family safe, she'd take her chances facing him in the afterlife, if there was even such a thing for someone like her.
It was time to seal the deal.
"You're pissed. I get it. I fucked up and it's no one else's fault but my own. I'm not here asking for forgiveness or redemption. As soon as Thawne is captured I'm in the wind, but for now I just want to keep his family alive. I owe him that. Look, I have connections, the type we don't talk about, the type that has eyes everywhere. I think they'd be useful don't you? But if you want them, you have to take me. So which is it? Do you want my help or not?"
"We do," Dick Grayson replied, stepping out from behind the door with bed swept hair and dark sunken eyes.
"God damnit!" Barbara cursed. All she'd wanted was for him to have just a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. In the dim lights of the hallway, he looked like he'd aged ten years.
Stifling a yawn, he continued. "Conner's finalizing a few things right now. There's no timetable other than soon, but when we get the green light were gone. No turning back. You sure you want in?"
"Yeah," she nodded.
"You willing to follow orders?"
"Yes," the archer hissed with eyes narrowed. She didn't appreciate being treated like an amateur, much less a child.
"Alright then," Dick nodded. "Meet me tomorrow morning at the Mission Street Zeta Tube near the old warehouse district. It's out of the way, but if Thawne is really surveilling all the Zeta Stations, this will be the last one he'd expect. I'll have your transport rights reinstated."
"Then what?" she asked.
"Then I'm going to Central City to try and convince the Wests it's time to move...and you're coming with me."
This wasn't part of the plan. She was more than willing to stand guard over them for as long as it took, but safely from afar. She didn't want Wally's parents or children anywhere nearby when she did what she had to do. But if she wanted in, it had to be under Dick's terms. The archer knew that was non-negotiable.
"Be there at 8:30 sharp."
"Ok. I'll ..."
Artemis never got the chance to finish as an angry Barbara Gordon glared her down one last time before shutting the door abruptly.
The archer stood alone in the empty hallway, just she and her thoughts. The plan was in motion, just not the one she'd agreed to. Dick's trust in her had always been misplaced. What was one more betrayal among friends?
Her intentions were good, her cause righteous. This was the only one way to keep the Wests safe, truly safe.
She was now as much the villain of the story as Thawne. She was Tigress and there was no turning back, but maybe with her last act she could still be a hero.
Artemis chuckled as she made her way towards the elevator.
"Hero, what a fucking joke."
Wally stood at the window sipping his chamomile tea; watching as grey sheets of rain blurred the world outside. Lightning danced across the sky, but for some odd reason the roar of thunder never seemed to follow.
It was late, the sun still hours away from peeking out over the horizon. Despite the storm, Linda and the kids slept soundly. All was as it was supposed to be. Everything was perfect, and yet Wally was troubled.
He couldn't sleep, his mind seeming to race itself every time his head hit the pillow. Linda was a calming influence as always; her lips and touch soothed his troubled thoughts, but when he was alone, something felt odd, an eerie sensation of déjà vu that just wouldn't let go.
The red head rubbed weary his eyes, taking another sip as he looked out the bay window at the tempest. Thunderstorms were old hat, the Midwest springtime a thing of legend, but it seemed like weeks since he'd last seen the sun. Still, he was the happiest he could recall in long long time. They were all together, everything was perfect, and yet standing here alone, he just couldn't shake the feeling.
Eventually the storms and this brief reprieve would end; the kids going back to daycare while he and Linda retuned to work. Lately it felt like years since he'd last stepped foot in a...
Wally scratched his head, searching for the word escaping him.
Stepped foot where?
Wally racked his brain trying to remember his life outside these doors. They were blurred visions, images distorted like they lived behind a wall of water, something that when his mind approached, quickly retreated away.
Perhaps it was just the hour, the fatigue, or the tea. He stifled a yawn, giving up the chase of this random thoughts. He'd remember it in the morning.
Another flash streaked across the heavens, tendrils of lightning breaking off from the main bolt, scratching at the roof of the sky like a vulture's claw. Something about the lightning, the raw power of it, it seemed to call out to him.
As Wally pulled the blinds closed, the yard outside lit up from the glow of the lightning streaking above, causing the Maple trees that lined the property to cast off eerie shadows across the lawn. Just as Wally walked away, he could have sworn for a brief moment, one of those apparitions almost looked human. When he turned back to the window, the shadow was gone.
All right Wall-man. Enough of the Twilight Zone crap, it's time to crash.
High above the Earth, the Watchtower floated peacefully in orbit, safeguarding the fragile blue marble below, but onboard it was anything but tranquil. A trio over concerned heroes stood over the unconscious form of Bart Allen.
"How is he?" Batman asked.
Diana shook her head, triple checking the readings on the Medbay monitor. "As best as I can tell his vitals have stabilized, but Bruce he needs a real doctor."
"We're still waiting on a call back from Star Labs. With Dr. McGee still hospitalized, finding specialists with a background in meta-human physiology like Bart's is proving to be a challenge."
"Have you considered reaching out to Cadmus?"
Wayne frowned. "No. Oliver has a contact at A.R.G.U.S. he's working with. For now, I'd prefer not get Amanda Waller involved."
"Bruce, if he doesn't come around soon, we may not have a choice."
The Dark Knight shook his head in acknowledgment, hoping it would never get that far. Waller was not a woman you wanted to owe a debt to.
"What do you think Bart meant by the twins? Shayera asked. "Wally's twins?"
"I don't believe so," Wayne replied. "He's concerned for his family, but with the neural trauma he's suffered, I wouldn't put a lot of stock in any of his assertions for the moment."
"But what if he's right?"
Bruce hesitated, knowing the backlash that was soon to follow, "During their last physical...I had them tested again for the meta-gene. Neither one carry it. It seems to have skipped a generation."
Diana's eyes grew wide. "You did what?" she gasped. "Without Wally's knowledge or consent?"
"Don't be naive Diana. It's simple risk management."
Shayera snapped. "It's not simple at all! It's an invasion of their privacy!"
"Do you know remember the last time you collected personal information about the League without our knowledge? Hera, Bruce, when are you ever going to learn? Trust goes both ways."
"Threats like this are exactly why I collect information."
"They not threats Bruce, they're children."
"Diana, they might not be threats to others, but they might end up being threats to themselves if something ever changes. I just want to have contingencies in place for their safety. That's all. Be that as it may, this is a discussion for another time."
"...Oh and we will have it," Hawkwoman scolded.
Batman ignored the interruption and continued on. "Thawne's gone dark. I believe there's a strong possibility that he may have identified and is currently pursuing other targets; individuals carrying the meta-gene that may or may not have manifested itself yet, perhaps abilities similar to the Flashes."
"Then we have to find them too," Diana added. "For the love of Hera, Clark, Hal and the others have got to get here soon."
"Bruce, despite what the tests say, what if you're wrong about the West twins?" Hall asked.
"That's why I have contingencies in place. He just doesn't realize it yet."
Artemis was waiting when Dick arrived. As the car stopped, he leaned over and kissed his fiancé before stepping out of the passenger seat of the black Mercedes Benz Roadster. Barbara stared out at the archer expressionless before rolling up the window and pulling away. Evidently a night's sleep hadn't mellowed her one bit, not that Artemis could blame her. If Barbara felt betrayed now, once this mission was over, she'd have to get in line.
The two walked down the deserted alleyway; the warehouses all around in various forms of disrepair, and that's the way they would remain. Bruce Wayne had purchased the lot years ago, letting them decay to allow for the perfect place to hide a Zeta Tube…in plain sight.
Around the corner, they walked over to the broken down phone booth, prying the jammed door open with a louder than anticipated crunch. Dick paused, scanning the area for any activity; the supersonic kind. After a few moments, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his communicator.
"Nightwing to Watchtower."
"This is Watchtower, go ahead."
Artemis thought she recognized the voice of Mr. Terrific on the other end of the channel, but as much as the League had expanded over the years, now with even a small civilian crew on board, there was no way to be sure.
"Preparing for transport from GC4 to CC1. Any activity in or around Central City?"
After a pause, the Watchtower replied. "Negative. Motion sensors show GC4 and CC1 all clear."
"Acknowledged. Beginning transport. Nightwing out."
The archer chuckled. "Fancy, you guys are so professional now."
Dick smirked. "It's protocol when the League's on high alert. It's not like in the old days when everyone and their wolf could just stroll into Mt. Justice. Anyway, after you." he smiled, motioning for the archer to step inside. He leaned in, allowing the retinal scanner to do its job.
Recognize Nightwing B-01.
"Requesting passenger override."
"Recognized. Adding additional transport beam in 5…4…3…"
Artemis closed her eyes. Here we go again.
Second later, dreary grey skies were replaced by bright blue ones; they'd arrived in Central City. Dick and Artemis scanned the area again before stepping out and walking down the alley into the heart of downtown.
"Now what?" the archer asked.
Dick smiled. "We Uber."
Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the Grand Luthor Hotel, not Dick's lodging of choice due to its affiliation, but a hotel conveniently located on the edge of the shopping district with interstate access just a few blocks away.
The duo walked in to find several men in dark suits discreetly scattered around the lobby, all within close proximity to the elevator.
Dick looked over to Artemis, noticing her subtly reaching behind her back for quick access to her blade if she needed it. To the trained eye, these guys stood out like sore thumbs.
The detective leaned in and whispered to the archer. "Wayne Security. They're just here for back up if needed. They're discreet and highly trained. Most of them are ex-Mercs. You ought to fit right in," he smirked.
"They're amateurs," Artemis frowned. "Anyone who knows what to look for will spot them in a second, even less for someone like Thawne."
Dick shook his head. "All they are is the first line. They're not to engage, there just supposed to report if anything looks out of the ordinary. Quit being so cynical. It's the best I could do on short notice."
Dick nodded at one of the men as he and the archer boarded the elevator, pushing the button to the penthouse. Artemis felt her palms beginning to dampen. She was nervous. Why in the hell would she be nervous? After everything she'd seen and done over the last decade, why would this cause concern?
She'd seen Mary and Rudy West just a few weeks ago when she and Dick pulled Wally from their house fire. They'd made their peace, and all things considered were on fairly decent terms she thought. She didn't know Joan Garrick at all, and had only met Iris Allen a few times while she and Wally were dating, neither one caused her any kind of apprehension. All that was left was….
She took a deep sigh. The kids. Wally's kids.
How scared they must be? How alone they must feel?
Losing a mother and a father; Artemis was no stranger to that. She still remembered all too well the pain of losing her mom, but justifying the satisfaction she felt at her father's death by her own hand served no purpose now.
But what may have troubled the archer more was her realization of the number of children she'd turned into orphans when the Shadows called in a marker. It didn't matter if they were bad men or women; their families still suffered all the same. Perhaps this was her penance, her punishment; to be forced to look into Wally's children's eyes, and bear witness to a similar pain like the countless ones she may have caused over the years. Perhaps that had been Dick's plan all along.
As the elevator made its way up, she turned to Dick. "Do they know? Jai and Iris, do they know the truth?"
"About Wally's alter ego or how he died?" he asked.
Dick sighed. "I don't think so. As sad as it is, I've never sat down and even talked with them. Barbara and I were supposed to be their godparents, but when everything fell apart with Wally and I…well you know. Pictures and stuff were passed around, but… I'd never seen them in person, not until last week. How fucked up is that?"
Artemis stared at floor; there was nothing she could really say. After faking her own death and all the consequences that followed, ultimately those were her decisions, her fault. Dick hadn't make that choice. He and Wally's fallout was all the speedster's doing; a stupid and selfish way to deal with his own weakness and guilt for not having the stones to kill Thawne when he had the chance.
Her fists clenched in anger, knowing all this pain; his parents, his children, Dick…her, this could have all been avoided if Wally had just had the guts.
The elevator door opened and Grayson took a step outside, only to see the archer staying behind.
"Give me a minute ok?"
"Yeah, sure," Dick nodded, leaving the car and waiting down the hallway for her to join him.
When she was finally alone, the archer wiped a tear from her eye. This was the second time she'd cursed Wally's ghost; screaming at the heavens at Roy's apartment over his stupidity for trying to regain his lost speed. And now, blaming him for making the choice not to kill, to not become her.
Releasing a deep sigh, she rested her palm on her forehead, disgusted with herself. Wally was only human, carrying with him a standard amount of flaws and foibles like everyone else, but stupid and selfish were not one of them. He was no saint, he'd made his share of mistakes along the way, but he was good man; kind, brave, loving. He did what he thought was right. He did it in attempt to save others; he did it because that's what heroes do.
All during those lost years; grueling missions facing certain death, she dreamed of him. Perhaps not the person, but the idea of him. Hoping he was happy and that he was living his best life. His joy brought her joy. Deep in her heart she hoped he'd remember her, that he'd forgiven her. Now it was time to forgive him.
She caught up to Dick and they made their way down to the West's suite. The detective took a calming breath and knocked. Moments later Rudy opened the door.
"Dick," he smiled amicably.
"Mr. West," Grayson replied with a firm handshake.
The older man frowned. "How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Rudy."
Dick smiled, even after all they'd lost the West's still had that unique ability to make everyone feel welcome, to feel like family. That was their super power.
"You remember Artemis."
"I do," he nodded gratefully, "she saved my boy's li..."
Rudy's voice cracked, his lips quivered, but after a moment's pause he regained his composure.
"Anyway," he sighed, "Come in. Can I get you all something?"
"No sir, but thank you," Dick replied respectfully. "Is there a place you and I could talk?"
"Mary's resting right now; we could go out on the balcony."
"That'd be great, Artemis would you..."
But when the detective turned, the archer was already across the room, standing silently behind the young girl sitting with her back to the room, a small brush in her tiny hand, untangling the knots of her Disney Princess dolls.
Artemis sat down beside her, watching as the young red head worked diligently trying to unravel the thick knots of multi colored hair.
"That's quite a mess you get there." Artemis smiled.
"Yeah. Jai tried to help, but he only made things worse," Iris sighed. "Daddy could do it really really fast."
The archer swallowed hard, but didn't flinch. "Your daddy was always good at fixing things. Can I help?"
"Naw, I can do it, but thanks Artemis."
The archer lost her breath at hearing her name escape Iris's lips. "You remember."
"Yeah, you're daddy's friend from a long time ago. He really liked you," the young red head said sweetly. "You made him smile a lot."
The archer had faced down stone cold killers, warlords, meta-humans, but it took all her strength to be able to simply remain next to a girl who had sadly accepted her fate but could still find the courage to try to make someone else feel special; a West family trait.
"He made me smile a lot too," Artemis replied softly, untangling her legs to get comfortable for as long as the young redhead would have her. "So tell me your dolls' names..."
As Iris recited off the long list of every one in her collection, Artemis had never felt more sure of her plan, her decision. Children were already so vulnerable; adding a psychopath into that fragile mix was just fucking cruel.
The archer had never really been a kid person, never truly knowing how to relate having never been allowed to be one herself.
However there was one time, a mission where Klarion had made every adult in the world vanish from reality. The Team had tasked themselves with gathering and guarding over as many children as they could find within a 25 mile radius of Happy Harbor. It was barely a drop in a bucket, but it was the best they could come up with at the time.
Artemis was antsy, ready to dive into action, not be tied down looking after clingy and whiny kids, but something happened in that gymnasium. They gravitated to her, they looked up to her, made her strength their strength. Soon, the archer that was itching for a fight found herself singing along with nursery rhymes and making a complete fool of herself. Oddly enough, she loved every minute of it, becoming the big sister she never had. She wasn't quite a natural, but she had potential.
Years later, lying in a sweat soaked bed in Taiwan with the tough as nails mercenary she'd paired up with; she'd listen to him mumbling in his sleep, crying out for his dead wife and child. Artemis knew then that could never be her, she'd never be stupid enough to make that mistake, to bring into this world a weakness someone else could exploit.
Now looking at a beautiful young girl with Wally's eyes, that weakness would become her strength. If she had any doubt of her resolve, it was gone now.
Wally's children would not spend the rest of their days fearful for their lives, looking over their shoulders, wondering who would be next to be taken from them.
Thawne would die, or she'd die trying. It was time to reach out to Jade and see exactly what the Shadows know.
Outside on the patio, Dick and Rudy leaned over the rails, looking out at the sun as it began to set behind the cityscape.
"So how much danger are we in?"
"I think a lot," Dick frowned. "I'm alone on this Rudy. Batman is one of the smartest strategists on the planet, and he thinks I'm wrong. He believes my grief is clouding my judgment and that if you or your family had any value to Thawne, he would have made his move a long time ago."
"And you?" Rudy asked.
Dick sighed. "I think Thawne's smart, patient and unpredictable. I think he's a three dimensional thinker and attacks a problem from all sides simultaneously.
"How so?" West asked.
"One - he's been searching across the globe for locations the League has placed Zeta Tubes. I don't need to tell you that they're highly classified and well camouflaged, and yet he's found almost three quarters of them. As far as the League can tell, he doesn't have a handle on the technology or the security systems behind it yet, but he's smart. How long can that last? And the League can't just shut them down; they'd end up leaving people stranded not just across the planet, but a whole lot farther."
"Two – I'd bet he knows you all are still somewhere near Keystone or Central, that gives him access, keeps you within arm's reach. He knew where your house was. He knew about the Garrick's farm. I'd bet good money he knew where Wally lived and work. The same for Barry back in the day. I think your family is his backup plan if he gets desperate. If he realizes Bart is out of reach, that's when he comes for you."
"And three – I'm not convinced Bart is the last speedster. As far as I know the League hasn't had any active reports of individuals possessing those type abilities in years, but if Thawne's really going after anyone with speed, were finding out more and more people are carrying the meta-gene every day, and most don't even know it. Their abilities haven't manifested themselves yet, but in most cases it's only a matter of time, and when they do…well Wally, Bart, Barry, and Jay can't be the only ones. The math just doesn't work. I think Thawne knows that and that's why he's not willing to put all his eggs in one basket. He can wait Bart out if there are other targets he could be hunting."
Rudy swallowed hard at the thought.
"Why is he so determined to go after anyone who might have abilities like Barry and Wally?"
"I don't know," Dick sighed. "Thawne said for each life he took, his connection to something called the Speed Force would get stronger. Did Wally every mention something like that to you?"
Rudy shook his. "I don't believe so. Anything that had to do with his abilities, he usually reserved for Barry. Honestly he was the only who would understand it. Mary and I were out of our league when it came to the science of it. He probably didn't want us to worry."
"Well if it makes you feel any better, he never discussed it with me either. When Bart comes back, he's going to have to be the once to explain it, cause I'm in over my head too."
Dick continued. "I want to move you all someplace safe. Somewhere Thawne can't find you. Also somewhere wide-open that if by any chance he does, we can see him coming from miles away and be ready."
"The Team...Wally's team, but Rudy, I can't make this decision, it's got to be up to you. I know there will be a lot of questions from the twins; questions you all might not be ready to answer, but…
"My son trusted you. I trust you. I've been in over my head since the day Wally blew up our basement and became Kid Flash. I'll never be as smart as he was, but I do know this, if he was here now, he'd say that if Dick says it's so, bet the farm. I'm not betting them farm, I'm betting on you."
Rudy walked over and out his hand on the detectives shoulder. "When do we start?"
As the raging tempest surged outside, Wally held his child in his arms, rocking her gently as she finished her bottle, undisturbed by the storm. The nursery glowed in the peaceful blue hue of the aquarium mobile hanging from the crib. Her brother was already sleeping soundly inside, swaddled at the opposite end, subconsciously awaiting his sister's arrival. The pediatrician told him the twins would share a special connection. They would calm each other; soothe each other, just by their mere presence together. Wally and Linda liked the sound of that.
Eventually they would have to part; separate beds, separate rooms: but for now they belonged together.
He placed Iris gently inside the crib, her eyes already heavy and hooded. Within seconds she was sound asleep. He stood there for minutes, just watching each breath, each sigh, each gentle movement. He'd never felt so fulfilled, so content, wishing this moment could just last forever.
Unexpected warm arms wrapped around his torso, a soft cheek resting against his back.
"God they're beautiful," Wally sighed. "Just like their mother."
He could feel his wife's smile as her soft lips kissed the back of his neck, sending the usual tingles up and down his spine.
"Let's go sit by the fire," she suggested, "I'm in the mood for some Cabernet; it feels like a red night to me."
"You know Cabernet is not actually a red wine," he corrected. "It's a combination of red and white. About a hundred years ago there was this accidental breeding of a red Cabernet Franc plant and a white Sauvignon Blanc one. It had healthy level of tannins, which means the wine could evolve in the bottle for…."
A warm finger was placed on his lips, followed by an annoyed but loving smile. "Let's not analyze it babe, let's just drink it. No one cares about the science behind it. It's how it tastes, how it makes you feel. That's what's important."
Wally sighed, she was right. She usually was.
"I can't help myself sometimes beautiful. I just want to dazzle you with my brilliance."
"Mr. West, you do more than dazzle me," she smiled, leaning over and capturing his lips. She was an amazing kisser, always had been. No one could hold a candle to her skill and prowess in that particular field, except for maybe….
Wally pulled away slowly, breaking the kiss. There was that feeling again.
"Babe?" Linda asked curiously.
Wally played it off carefully. "You take my breath away sometimes," he chuckled, bringing a smile back to his partner's lips.
"Ok," she rolled her eyes with soft laugh. "I'll be back."
Watching her leave the room, the way she walked, the way she moved, the way she swayed her hips; it still took his breath away.
God she was so beautiful.
Raven black hair, dark brown eyes, exotic features that only complemented her Korean heritage. She was perfect, statuesque. How he'd ever convinced her to marry him would always remain one of the great mysteries of the universe.
Linda Park West: wife, mother, best friend and soulmate. The center of his universe, just as she was supposed to be. But there'd been times lately when she'd fall asleep in his arms and his heart would ache. He'd feel a tear escape, a pang of loss. Why would he react like that?
Wally reached down, collecting the blankets and toys spread out across the floor. They'd placed the twins on the mat by the fireplace and watched them roll around and coo for hours. It wouldn't be long before they'd start crawling, and after that the fun would begin. Thankfully there were two of them; divide and conquer.
Wally chuckled at the memory of Iris and Jai's first steps, falling over each other like a couple of drunk…
Suddenly a blinding light seared through his mind as waves of déjà vu washed over him, much stronger than before. He felt light headed, dizzy; like he was trapped in a dream he couldn't wake from. The images quickly sped away, leaving goosebumps forming across his skin.
What the hell was happening to him?
These episodes were occurring more and more often. It had stopped being a minor annoyance, instead becoming something that was really beginning to spook him. Wally knew he should tell his wife, but all it would do was frighten her. It could still be nothing.
Just to be safe, he'd call the doctor in the morning and schedule an appointment to calm his fears, but for now he just needed some air.
Wally walked outside to the porch as a fine mist rushed towards him, dampening his face and shirt. The storm outside was relentless, lightning popping all around like strobes at a movie premiere.
He looked to the horizon, searching for the city lights of Keystone. They lived fairly far from the city, but at night he expected to at least see some kind of light pollution off in the distance, but as usual all he could see was streaks of lightning and darkness.
Not that it mattered much he supposed; he and Linda hardly ever made it into the city. To be honest, he couldn't remember the last time they had.
"Babe what are you doing?" a voice called out from behind.
"I just needed some air," he replied, looking back to see his wife holding two glasses and a bottle. "I think I'm getting a little cabin fever. What do you say tomorrow we head into town, to hell with the weather. Go to the ice cream place on Broadway that Jai and Iris love so…."
There it was again.
Wally flinched as his vision went white, bile forming in his throat. He was going to throw up.
"Babe!" Linda ran to him, putting his arm around her shoulder and walking him back inside.
"Oh God…" Wally moaned, covering his mouth with his hand, fighting off waves of nausea.
"Wally, we need to get you in bed."
"Just give me a second," he replied breathlessly, holding his arm in the air in protest. "Jesus."
His forehead was clammy, the room still spinning ever so slightly. "It must have been something I ate."
"You just need some sleep."
"Maybe," he agreed, "but I probably need to go into town tomorrow and hit the doc in the box. I don't want to take a chance of you all catching whatever it is I might have."
"You'll be fine in the morning babe. You just need to rest, that's all."
"You're probably right," he sighed, "But you know, with two newborns in the house, I just don't want to risk it. Plus it will be good to get out and stretch my legs for a bit."
"Why?" Linda asked; a pained look draped across her face.
"I don't know," he shrugged. "It just seems like forever since we left the house."
"Is that bad? Isn't this all you ever wanted? Are we not enough?"
Wally turned to look at his wife curiously.
"Of course you are. Why would you say something like that?" he replied in an addled tone.
"Then don't go. Stay here; just the four of us…together."
His body grew tense. "Babe, you're starting to freak me out. I'm just talking about running into town, not across the planet."
Running. Why did that word sound so foreign? So alien?
"I think you should stay." Linda replied firmly, her voice sounding different, almost like a stranger.
Suddenly the room seemed to close in around him; the air becoming thick, stifling. Every instinct was telling him to get out. Why? This was his wife, his home.
He stood at the edge of the stairs when a lightning bolt struck close to the property, powerful enough to shake the house.
It wouldn't be long before Jay and Iris would leap from their beds and come running to his bedr…
"God!" he cried out, grabbing at his head. His mind seared in pain as he lost his balance and stumbled down the stairs to the wet ground below.
Wind and rain pummeled him like a kite in a hurricane. All the while a myriad of images raced through his mind; a similar life and yet so different.
Infants and children, family and friends, classrooms and students, funerals and gravesites, blurred landscapes ahead, the wind at his back… lightning.
Wally rolled on to his back, soaked to the bone, looking up at as his Linda as she stood silently at the door.
His wife, his soulmate, his lightning rod, looking down at him emotionlessly like a stranger.
The wind picked up as rain and debris struck him across the face. Wally rose to his feet, wobbling a few steps in the wrong direction before falling face first back in the mud.
What was happening? His vision began to cloud, his ears ringing. He felt like he was about to pass out.
The red head tried a different approach, rolling onto all fours, his feet sliding helplessly in the mud as he tried to gain traction.
Another bolt struck near the tree line, quickly catching his attention. When he looked over to where it landed, a dark silhouette appeared on the periphery of his vision, slowing making its way towards him.
Wally had transitioned from frightened to terrified. He rolled over to his back once more; knees upright, his feet pushing into the mud away from the shadow to no avail. Seconds later the figure was upon him, standing right above him.
Lightning crashed nearby, illuminating the yard in an eerie glow, washing away the shadows and exposing the figure standing above.
Wally gasped as he came face to face with a man he hadn't seen in a lifetime.
"Hey kid," the blonde spoke warmly, extending his hand down to the rain soaked red head.
Author's Note: I'm still plodding away at this. YJ Season three has inspired me. Waiting till June is bit hard to swallow though. Hopefully a little Spitfire will tide us over.
Speaking of, there better be a beautiful and emotional Spitfire reunion, or I'm asking DC Universe for my money back. Nah…it's still pretty great. Thanks to everyone still following the story, and to Embleer_Frith0323 for all the encouragement. Any typos and errors still in there will be fixed along the way, I needed to get this out while I had the time. Enjoy.