Chapter Twenty-Four: Downtime
"You know the...greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear...of the unknown. But- there's...no such thing as the unknown- only things temporarily hidden...temporarily not understood." Said Captain James Tiberius Kirk from the television screen. He was wearing a rather plain looking yellow shirt with a small symbol on it and was sitting on the bridge of his spaceship.
"This man is very wise." Mineko stated, head cupped in both hands as she watched the images closely. "Is he a philosopher?"
"Well, I guess he could be if he wanted..." Barry answered with uncertainty.
He sat in his living room with both Mineko and his father. Henry had been out of jail for almost a month now, and upon being informed that Mineko hadn't seen any episode of Star Trek, insisted that they watch it.
From Mineko's point of view, it was like she was watching the show with surround sound because the men on either side of her quoted every single line word for word. Even with the strange, sporadic rhythm that this 'Captain Kirk' possessed. Every now and then they'd even look at each other and laugh... or make strange faces that somehow matched the character's.
It was good to see them bonding, but it was a very strange way of doing so. Not that Mineko had any right to dictate what was considered odd and what wasn't.
The show flashed into its next scene. One of Captain Kirk in the midst of a fight but he was literally just throwing his body in every direction known to man. Sometimes he mixed it up tried to squeeze the other person into submission.
Mineko scoffed. "I take back my previous statement. This man is a fool."
"What?" Barry asked in the middle of another full blown laugh at the fight.
"He makes a mockery of the battlefield." Mineko squinted.
"But he's not on a battlefield, Mini." Barry shook his head, smile still permanently stuck on his face. "It's not meant to be realistic. It's like... a performance."
"Ah, like Geisha when they sing and dance for other peoples entertainment." Mineko nodded her understanding. "I understand."
This time when Kirk tackled his foe Mineko gave a short but sincere snort of amusement. Henry, however, had stopped watching the show entirely. He looked to Mineko, then Barry with slight puzzlement.
"You act as if she's never seen a show before." Henry said, but it was more of a question than a statement.
"O-Oh...yeah. Well, she's from a really small farming village in Japan. They're pretty cut off from everyone else. I mean, they're practically stuck in the 15th century."
"Really?" Henry gave Mineko a final glance before nodding. "That...definitely explains a lot."
Suddenly, Barry's laptop emitted a soft alert tone, urging him to stand up and walk over to where it was propped up on the table. Upon flipping it open, he realised that it was an encoded communique from the Martian Manhunter on the Watchtower. J'onn was informing him of a serious flooding imminent in a heavily populated city in Japan.
Trying his hardest to feign some kind of reason to leave, Barry shut his laptop then pulled out his phone. He glanced at the thing for one second before announcing "Crap. Sorry guys...I just got called in. The lab's short staffed today." Barry lied.
Henry glanced up at his son firstly with sadness in his eyes, then with skepticism. Barry immediately bolted for the door without giving his father enough time to react. Whilst Mineko had gathered that Barry had been called into action as The Flash, Henry was quite frankly confused.
The man stood up and peered over at the table...seeing that the same phone Barry had apparently received a text on was sitting there on it. Henry didn't see Barry's finger move to actually open the text; it should still be there on the lock screen.
Henry flipped the cellphone over, and saw nothing on its screen but the time. He thinned his lips. It seemed that his son was hiding something from him, but Henry was the kind of person who would give Barry a chance to explain himself. For the time being, he'd try to keep himself focused on Barry's guest.
Henry looked to Mineko as she continued watching Star Trek. He asked her "Hey, you wanna play a game?"
Mineko's dark eyes glanced over, and they scrunched up in confusion. "A game? Like hide and seek?"
Henry scoffed "What? No, not like hide and seek. Did you have video games where you came from?" The man strode over to the TV and pulled open the drawers beneath it.
"Barry has told me about them, but I've never partaken in one before."
Henry smiled to himself as he spotted what he was looking for in Barry's drawer. "Little champ. He kept it." He pulled out a rectangular object which was black and panel lined for the most part but had a horizontal stripe of wood panel finish across the front. In the other hand he firmly grasped two box shaped devices with sticks protruding from their centres. Henry recognised it as the Atari 2600 console from his childhood. "If you haven't played a video game before, it's best that we take it from the top."
The rain had stopped, but the clouds kept the night dark. The city had gorged itself on the floods, and it's skin had swelled and burst in many different places. The makeshift tables and stalls of street markets littered the landscape, torn and broken. Garbage had spread all over the roads: dried fish, stationary, trinkets, wilted green vegetables, plastic plates, wood carvings, underwear. Without the usual press of people, the ill-lit streets sounded hollow, amplifying the smallest of sounds.
Barry had, thankfully, managed to move every single person to a safer distance. They watched from afar as their homes were washed away, and the memories they made there completely eradicated.
The Flash scanned the sea of people who were all muttering and crying in a language foreign to him. Usually he'd bolt to the nearest library and attempt to learn a few words, but living with a Japanese samurai had its perks. Mineko had attempted to teach him a few words, though he had never really narrowed them down correctly.
He opened his mouth, attempting to ask the crowd if they were alright, but they merely gave him confused stares. As if he had said something equally as familiar and unrecognisable. He exhaled sharply. He should have realised sooner that the language Mineko spoke was ancient. Just as English had changed over the years, Japanese must have as well.
"Well...shit." He mumbled, preparing himself to leave and find a translation dictionary of some kind.
Just then an old man shuffled forward. In appearance he was nothing special. He was short and his deep wrinkles seemed to carve a map of his life on his still agile and mobile facial features. His twinkling eyes were framed by thick white eyebrows and on his stubbled chin were white whiskers.
"Thank you for saving us." He said in his worn voice, thick accent reminding him vividly of Mineko's. The Flash sighed, perhaps he should try
English first before assuming anything next time. "But what do we do now? The tide has fallen but many of us have no homes to return to."
The Flash took another look at the swarm of now homeless people and offered them a reassuring smile. "Leave that to me."
It took mere seconds for Barry to race to five different western book stores, and read everything they had on construction. Then, it took another minute for him to rebuild the houses that had been destroyed from the flood. Of course, to Barry it felt much longer...like months of endless working, but he somehow managed to get through it.
When he returned to the people they had barely moved an inch. They stared up at him, then down to their city that was now no worse for ware. The old man had a look of unyielding gratitude in his eyes, but it was mixed with some healthy skepticism.
"You did all this yourself?" He asked in slight disbelief.
Barry nodded with an award winning grin. "Sure did. You're free to return to your homes whenever you like."
"But...is it safe? It won't fall on top of us, will it?"
"Don't worry, it definitely won't fall down this time. I won't make that mistake again." The Flash answered truthfully, slightly unaware of how uneasy this made the crowd.
"Again?" The old man gulped.
The Flash rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, feeling the fabric of his mask shift beneath his fingers.
"Ahh...on second thought..." He handed the man two Japanese business cards that he had, presumably, been carrying around with him for a while. "That's the number of a construction company and a plumber. They promised me a favour, so if anything's wrong just contact them...not that it's definitely gonna happen. I mean, I checked everything before I finished it...but I have been known to miss things."
The old man stepped towards him, shook his hand then bowed lowly. "Thank you for all of your effort. You've done more than you needed to."
The Flash returned the gesture, a little awkwardly, but attempting to show the same amount of respect. "Don't mention it. It's in the job description."
With that, The Flash vanished from sight. By the time the group of people realised that he was gone, Barry had already changed out of his costume and started ascending the stairs to his apartment.
Upon entering the sanctity of his home, his ears were bombarded with an array of beeping noises. He raised his eyebrow at the sound and sauntered towards the living room, where it was emanating from. There he was faced with a dark screen with nothing but two sticks and a ball to occupy the space.
"Welcome back, son. That didn't take very long." Henry said, not tearing his eyes away from the screen.
"Umm...Turns out they didn't need me after all."
"How'd they tell you that? On the phone?" Henry asked skeptically.
Before Barry could even attempt to answer, Mineko had flashed him a look and directed her gaze to the phone left on the table. Barry's breath hitched. Then he gave a nervous laugh. "Oh, nah, they told me when I got there. Turns out I forgot my phone...again."
Henry's brow furrowed at his answer, and so Barry decided to change the subject entirely. "Why are you guys playing Pong?"
"Apparently Mineko here has never played a video game before. Thought I'd ease her into it." In that moment Mineko scored another point, ending the game with a perfect score. Henry sighed as if he had already been expecting this. "She's a determined young lady. We've been playing the entire time you were out. I remember when you were little you couldn't play it for longer than five minutes without getting bored."
"And can anyone blame me? There's nothing much to this game."
"She seems to enjoy it." Henry directed towards Mineko who was carefully analysing the controller in her hands. "In fact, she's a natural. I haven't been able to defeat her."
"Really?" Barry asked, relieved that his father had accepted the change of topic so easily.
"This game is based on basic physics. I only keep playing to give your father a chance to redeem himself."
Henry chuckled and shook his head. "A good sport, she is. I haven't gotten a single score yet."
"Maybe I should give it a go."
Mineko flashed him a playful look. "Against me? Please. Your chances of success are minimal."
"Bring it on."
No one could have suspected that once the two started playing it would take almost an hour for either one of them to score. Barry's fast reflexes (even outside of the Speed Force) and Mineko's perceptive skills were too evenly matched for it to end quickly.
"Okay, I can't watch this any longer." Henry chuckled. "I'm going to bed."
"Alright, goodnight dad-" The sound of victory pierced his ears from the television. He glanced over to see that, while he was distracted, Mineko had scored a point. "Hey, that's not fair!"
"You let your guard down." Mineko shrugged. "Sometimes life isn't fair, Barry."
"Real ray of sunshine you are..." Barry teased, a smirk playing at his lips.
Mineko returned the teasing expression. "Do not blame me for your lack perception."
There was a moment of silence that lingered between them after that. Each glancing at each other, playful attitudes expired, and uncertain of what to say. They hadn't spoken about the kiss. Their days, instead, had been preoccupied with helping Henry readjust to normal every day life. That left very little room to actually sort out their feelings.
Mineko stood, placing the controller down and averting her gaze. "I...should retire for the night."
Barry wanted to say something, to ask her to stay with him a little longer, but the words wouldn't come out. He simply sighed as she vanished into her room. He turned off the television and sauntered towards his own room (which he was sharing with his father), but Henry wouldn't let him in.
His father blocked the doorway, eyebrow raised and fingers tapping against it. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Umm...Is this a trick question?" Barry replied. "I'm going to bed."
Henry shook his head, but instead of stating the obvious he simply directed towards Mineko's room. "She's a sweet kid. A little strange, but no one ever said that our family was entirely average either."
Barry blinked cluelessly at his father. "Uh, yeah...I suppose. What's this about?"
Henry sighed and patted his son on the shoulder. "You've spent enough time taking care of me. Maybe you should spend a little time with her now."
Barry's stare fell to the floor in deep conflict. "But I-"
"It's alright, son. I'll still be here if things go bad...and if you're anything like me they will. Your mother had to be the most patient woman in the world to deal with me."
A bittersweet smile stretched across Barry's face. The memory of his mother still brought him slight sorrow, but it had been long enough for him to find joy in hearing about her kindness.
"Alright..." Barry nodded his understanding. "Thanks, Dad."
With that, he shuffled back towards Mineko's door. It was somehow much cleaner than any other wall of the house, with even the door knob shined to perfection. Barry curled his fist, preparing to knock, but the door swung open before he could.
"Barry?" Mineko's voice wavered curiously. "Is something amiss?"
"N-No, nothing...I, mean-" Barry cursed his own lack of competence. It had been so long since he'd been in a relationship, he'd cut himself off from ever having one again, so he'd almost forgotten all the intricacies of one. "Can I come in?"
Mineko's head cocked to the side in slight bewilderment, but she still shifted aside to allow him passage. Barry entered, barely even recognising this area of his apartment. It was so spotlessly clean...and smelled of herbs that had been crushed in a bowl for the sole purpose of creating a fragrance.
"Was there something you needed?" Mineko asked.
"Not really...I just came to talk." Barry managed to say without stuttering.
"I don't know, anything. We could talk about my low blood sugar?...No, that's stupid." Barry exhaled heavily, scouring his brain for an excuse to stay. "Umm...Your favourite colour?"
The man immediately realised how childish this question was and regretted ever saying it. This was all he could think of though. He just wanted to know more about her, even the stupid and unimportant things.
To his surprise, Mineko didn't tease his choose of enquiry and simply answered "Green."
This grabbed Barry's attention more than it should have. "Green? Really?...So I suppose you really like Green Lantern's costume then?"
"Why does that matter?"
"Oh, we have a bet going. I told him that his costume was lame, then he said mine was lamer, and now we keep a tally on whose costume people prefer...Damn it. If I give him another point he'll be winning..."
"Well, you will not need to. His costume's a little too...outlandish for me."
Barry breathed a sigh of relief, then grinned. "Well, it is an alien uniform after all."
"I much prefer Green Arrow's equipment. That is the best I have seen so far."
"Are you serious? But it's so...boring."
"It is simple, practical, and green. The perfect combination."
"Whatever you say." Barry responded in obvious disagreement.
That's when Mineko finally stepped closer to the man, searching for any sign of discomfort in his eyes. "Was there another reason you came here, Barry? Surely it wasn't just to discuss costumes."
Barry inhaled sharply, gathering every ounce of courage he could muster. "You're right. I came here to talk about us."
"I wasn't aware that there was anything that needed discussing." Mineko's brow furrowed and Barry shot her a confused look.
"Are you kidding? We haven't spoken about what happened. You traded the entire life you built back in your time just because I asked you to...I should have talked about this earlier but I've just been so preoccupied with everything else."
"You've been caring for your father, that is an admirable use of your time." Mineko's hands found his then entwined with his fingers. "I am not the type that needs to be fawned over every minute of the day. When you asked me to stay you revealed your true feelings, that is enough."
"No it's not. Everyone deserves to be reminded of how important they are...and by starting this relationship I promised you as much attention as I could give. I haven't been keeping that promise."
"You promised no such thing." Mineko flashed him a reassuring smile and moved her hand to his hair. It had been growing out and he quite severely needed a haircut. "You're busy, with your father and both your jobs. Both in and out of costume. I will take whatever time you can spare, but I understand why you can't always be here. I'm aware of your feelings, even if you disappeared for years on end I would never forget them. I don't need to be reminded, and you don't need to worry about me."
Those certainly weren't the words Barry was expecting to hear. Even Iris had trouble dealing with his constant lack of presence. He had never known someone to understand him so whole-heartedly. Maybe it was because she was part of the same world as he was - fighting against crime with a number of powerful beings. Or maybe it was because of the era she was from. Either way, he was filled with gratitude and affection at her words. She knew that he was trying, and that was all that seemed to matter.