Age of Heroes
Final part of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Young Justice or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to DC, Warner Brothers, and associated parties.
"A bolt of warmth, fierce with joy and pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don't care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes."
~Proven Guilty, Jim Butcher
For a long time—past seconds; it had to be minutes, hours, years—Wally could only stand there and stare at the newcomer. It wasn't—it couldn't be—it was just too impossible, so impossible, his brain couldn't process it, he just couldn't—
But he knew her. And then she smiled—it was tired looking and a little bittersweet but also so happy and he knew that smile, he'd known it for his whole life—and she said in a voice that he heard constantly in his memories and knew all too well, "Oh, Wally...look at you, you've grown so much in just four years...you just had your birthday, right? Seventeen now?"
He found his voice enough to whisper softly, "Aunt...Aunt Iris?"
She nodded, still wearing that bittersweet-happy smile.
And suddenly he knew this wasn't some sort of hallucination or dream or joke or even a clone (he was positive Superboy of all people would not bring him a clone) and before he even realized he was moving he'd reached the doorway and wrapped his arms around her in the fiercest hug he'd ever given. She was warm and familiar and—well maybe a little smaller than he remembered last, but she was right, he had gotten taller—and felt so safe and her voice was so calming and God he hadn't realized, even with thinking about his family every day, just how much he'd missed this.
Aunt Iris hugged him back just as strongly, and said softly, "I missed you too, Wally."
They stayed like that in the doorway for a long time—Wally was irrationally, stupidly afraid that if he let go she'd just evaporate into thin air, and it was impossible of course but he couldn't bring himself to care—and his aunt seemed to think the same thing because she showed no signs of letting up either. Vaguely, distantly, Wally was aware of a quiet shuffle as Connor shifted away and relocated to a corner, probably uncomfortable with the display of raw emotion, but he found it hard to care about that either at the moment. Nothing mattered but this. Four years. Four years, and he'd finally found his family again.
But after a long time he finally pulled away, and Iris reluctantly let go as well. Grinning widely, he asked excitedly, "Are mom and dad with you? And Uncle Barry, is he—or, um, well, I guess you didn't have the wedding, 'cause of Z-day and all—"
Aunt Iris chuckled softly as she led him over to one of the cots so they could sit, pulling off her thick winter coat. "No, but we did have a civil marriage with a justice of the peace when the outbreak started looking serious, before he was called off to help with the League. And he'd love being 'uncle' anyway, even if we hadn't." Wally grinned at that; so he hadn't been wrong after all. Uncle Barry just felt right anyway. He'd always thought his aunt's fiancee was awesome even before he'd figured out who the Flash was.
"So," he pressed, "Mom and dad? Uncle Barry? Were they with you, or did you guys get split up? I've got so much to tell all of you guys, you're not even going to believe half of the stories—" He was still grinning, but his face fell when he caught sight of his aunt's expression going serious and sad, and felt his heart plummet into his stomach. Oh God. No. No no no, that face could only mean one thing, it couldn't, he couldn't bear it—
But it came anyway, even though the only thing he wanted in the world right now was for it to stop so he'd never hear what came next. "Wally, I...this isn't going to be easy, but..."
He listened, eyes wide, numb with shock, as she explained why he didn't have parents anymore as gently as she could, how she still didn't know where Uncle Barry was. He didn't want to accept it as real. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real. It was not possible and he refused to acknowledge it, his brain couldn't comprehend the news, in the exact same way he could barely comprehend that his Aunt Iris was here just a few minutes ago.
It wasn't real until she finished, and whispered softly, "Oh, Wally, I'm so sorry," and drew him into another hug. And suddenly he couldn't stop it from being true anymore and it hurt, it hurt so badly it burned inside of him. His heart was so tight he couldn't breathe and his throat was thick and clogged and it hurt to swallow and his eyes prickled painfully and the tears he'd kept himself from shedding for four years from determination to know finally fought their way out. He buried his face in his aunt's shoulder and he clung to her and sobbed, and he didn't care who saw it, his aunt, Connor, the whole damn world. He could feel her rubbing his back comfortingly, but her shoulder was shaking too and he knew he wasn't the only one finally cracking under the joy of finding family again and the sorrow of knowing not everybody who was supposed to be there was, or would be, ever again.
But that was okay too, because they were family and they understood the other's loss in ways no one else could understand. For all the bad things they were still together again, so somehow, everything might be okay one day. And most of all, they finally had answers. Not all of them happy, but they knew, and there was resolution somehow, and those things could finally be met head on and dealt with and gotten through, and now one day they knew for sure they'd finally be able to move on. Just like Connor had said once, long ago, back in New Batcave. And he'd been right.
They stayed like that for a long, long time. So long that it had gotten dark out, and the room was gloomy and filled with shadows, other than the candles now around them which Wally knew hadn't been there before. Connor must have lit them, but he never heard his friend move or saw him at work, or cared about that, really. He just focused on his Aunt Iris, clinging to her and sharing her grief but also strangely happy because it was horrible but at least she was here. And finally after a long, long time they both quieted, but even then they still hugged, taking some small comfort in the other's presence.
Until finally Wally felt...well, not good, exactly, but better, at least, and he knew it wouldn't be able to deal with this news and it would take him a while to get through it completely but at least he could move on for the moment. And he had to help in his own way, too. "I don't think Uncle Barry's dead, Aunt Iris. Rob doesn't think so. He's not on the confirmed list, anyway."
"Rob?" His aunt asked in confusion. She released him from her hug and Wally sat back on the edge of the cot again next to her, looking her in the eye.
"Robin. He's been keeping tabs on all the Leaguers, trying to figure out where they are or if they're...y'know."
"Robin...as in the Boy Wonder?" Iris asked incredulously.
"The one and only," Wally said, and couldn't help but grin (weakly, but genuinely) at how strange it sounded.
"You've been making some...interesting friends," Iris noted. "Robin the Boy Wonder...Superboy..." They both glanced over at Connor, who had tucked himself quietly back into the farthest shadowy corner of the room and was pointedly looking away from them, clearly uncomfortable with the emotional displays. He seemed to trying to give them some space without intruding on their grief, while not leaving entirely and earning more of Wally's wrath.
"Tell me about it," Wally said, with another weak grin. "I also know Speedy—y'know, Green Arrow's old sidekick?—and a couple Atlanteans, too."
"Your uncle would be impressed," Iris noted, with a weak smile of her own. "We'll have to tell him all about it when this is over, since I'm sure Robin's intel is trustworthy." Her smile grew a little bigger. "But in the meantime, you'll have to tell me all about it. You mentioned having some good stories..."
It was a clever segue into a happier discussion. Wally caught it, but he didn't care. It made sense for his aunt—Iris had been a reporter pre-Z-day, and had always loved people and their stories. It made her good at what she did, and she was still good at it now, and he didn't mind the topic shift. Besides—he did have some good stories, things she was definitely not going to believe.
So he told them. He spent hours telling them, well into the night, and he barely approached a fraction of them, but it didn't matter. His aunt was a great audience, commenting and reacting in all the right places, and Connor was still over in the corner listening but he'd always been a good listener, and his minute frowns and smirks were indicators that he was paying attention even when he was giving them space.
When he finally skipped ahead of himself around midnight to explain precisely why he was bumming around with a clone of Superman, enthusiastically re-telling his tale about finding Cadmus, Aunt Iris finally interrupted him to look over in the corner. "You really don't have to stay over there, you know," she said, raising an eyebrow and waving Connor over.
Connor seemed a little hesitant to approach. "It's been over four years for you guys. I don't want to get in the way."
"Dude, just get over here," Wally said with a laugh. "We're at your part of the story anyway, you gotta help tell it!"
Connor still seemed hesitant—Wally realized he was behaving like an outsider would, still trying to give them space, like he figured he didn't belong to the dynamic. "C'mon, man," he insisted, "We're family, right? I've been telling you for months we're practically brothers. I even offered to let you use my last name. That doesn't change just because you've got an aunt now, too."
"Because I have an aunt?" Connor looked confused, and looked over at Iris with a blink. "You don't...mind...that I'm here at all?"
Iris shook her head at him. "I'll admit I've never had a super-powered nephew before, but after a speedster for a husband, how hard could it be? I think I can adjust." She smiled. "Besides, I could do worse. You're the one that got us back in touch, after all—that's pretty incredible. If that doesn't make you part of the family I don't know what would."
Superboy still looked a little puzzled, and Wally almost felt sorry for him—even after months of working with him, the clone still wasn't used to a family dynamic. But after a moment Connor's expression softened, and he came forward almost tentatively to sit on the edge of the cot adjacent to theirs. "Okay then."
So Wally continued telling of their more recent travels, ever since May when he first found Connor locked away in that Cadmus pod—and it had only been about six months, but man, it felt like he'd never not known Connor by now. The clone offered his own memories and experiences on the trip, hesitantly at first but gradually more confidently as he started adjusting to the concept of Iris as a parental figure and not just a stranger he was escorting across the country.
Iris listened with genuine interest and remarkable patience, but it was when Wally got to the last leg of their journey to the Base, and Superboy's force-run for the last hundred or more miles of the trip, that she really looked rattled. "Not gonna lie," Wally admitted, "I was...well, I almost didn't make it here at all. I definitely would have died months ago if Connor wasn't there. He saved my life, like a lot. So. I guess there are still heroes in this age after all, right?" He grinned.
The grin grew wider when Aunt Iris, still looking unsettled at the near-miss, turned and gave Connor a hug that might have been bone-crushing if he wasn't part Kryptonian—because Connor's thoroughly shocked, uncomfortable look and stiff posture at the touch was too hilarious not to laugh at. "Did you really save his life?" she asked.
"He started it," Connor muttered, still looking a little uncomfortable.
"I thought you said you didn't help me 'cause you owed me," Wally accused.
"I didn't. I'm just saying, that's where I learned it from."
Aunt Iris, perceptive as usual, let him go before he became too uncomfortable, but not before she murmured, "Thank you for saving my nephew. And for getting me back to him. Really."
Connor shrugged. "I couldn't just leave him there. Like he said...family."
Iris smiled. "Well, you're definitely part of this one now." Connor offered a tentative smirk, but Wally could tell his usually quiet friend's moods enough by now to know he was happy, and enjoyed having a place.
And then, because his aunt was just awesome like that, she added to it. "On the subject of family...I watched how you reacted to Superman's name on the way back." Connor's eye twitched, just barely, but she raised a hand before he could snap anything and added, "I met Superman, Connor. Not often, but enough times through Barry to know him, and I'd like to think I'm a pretty good judge of character. What you did here, and what you did for Wally...he'd be so, so proud of you."
Connor's eyes widened in surprise, and he asked almost softly, "You...you think?"
"I know it."
The smirk that slid onto Connor's face after that was closer to a genuine smile, and Wally couldn't help but grin himself at that one. "There, so you do the hero bit all right after all, all by yourself." And then more seriously, looking his friend—his brother—straight in the eye, he added, "Thanks, man. Seriously. You have...no idea what this means."
"I think I'm starting to get it," Connor responded quietly. "But you're welcome."
There was silence for a long time, but it was comfortable, even for Wally who as a general rule was not so fond of pure quiet for extended periods of time in places were zeds were not a threat. But after a while it was still too much for him, and he broke it with a tentative, "I'm, uh...not sure where we really go from here."
Connor almost immediately frowned. "You two aren't going anywhere until spring. Winter travel with one person through a pre-determined path was hard enough."
Wally laughed. "Not what I meant, Supey." He tried to gather his thoughts, and added, "I meant...I've been looking for my family for...well, since Z-day. For answers. And now...well..." He swallowed a little. He definitely had answers all right, but he didn't want to think about some of them right now. Aunt Iris put a sympathetic arm around his shoulders and pulled him a little closer.
"There's still your uncle," Connor pointed out.
"That's true," Wally admitted. "Maybe...New Batcave again, next? Dick's the one that got us here. Maybe he'll have more intel for us by the time we get back next year." He grinned at his aunt. "You'll like it there. It's a little crazy—"
"Asylum jokes still, Wally?" Connor interrupted, rolling his eyes.
"—it's too easy, man! But yeah, it's pretty nice. Maybe even stay there a little longer than last time. I bet Dick'd like that."
"Better than here," Connor said. "I, uh, have a feeling we might get kicked out, when the thaw hits." Wally gave him an incredulous look that he knew was mirrored on his aunt's face, and Connor said a little defensively, "The commander, uh, knows about me. I reached a truce with him so you'd get medical help but I might have threatened to destroy the whole place a little bit at one point, so..."
Wally groaned and smacked a hand over his eyes. "You didn't."
"They were being stupid, okay!"
"It might be a good idea to leave as soon as we can, then," Aunt Iris said slowly. "Before they start deciding to...weaponize...Connor. Not that they would, but better safe than sorry, I think..."
"Okay," Wally said decisively, paling at the thought of his brother being used like that, after all the trouble he'd gone through to get him out of that situation, "New Batcave or bust, ASAP. Aunt Iris, we can start getting you ready for the long haul so you'll be good to go by the time spring hits, and this is probably gonna sound really silly considering our family, but the first thing to practice is running, like a lot..."
As Wally fell into the comfortable rhythm of explaining, once again, the finer details and intricacies of zed travel, he decided...things were going to be okay. They could do this. He'd found his answers, found his family—old and new—and there would always be something to work for in the new age, always. It might be the apocalypse, but they were still going strong, and they weren't stopping for anything.
It was what they did best as humans, after all.
And there we have it!
The end of a fic is the only time I ever request reviews. Please, if you read all the way through from beginning to end, let me know what you thought! What was your favorite part, and what do you think could have been done better? I love getting feedback-it helps me improve. Your thoughts and responses are always welcome :)
Thank you all for reading!