Thicker Than Water
by Louise Freeman Davis
"What's the matter, hon? Can't sleep?" Linda Park sat up, glancing at the clock-radio on the nightstand. It read 2:34.
Wally West stood at the bedroom window, gazing out into the night sky. He glanced over his shoulder at Linda. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
"What's up? Besides you?" asked Linda, getting up and going over to slip her hands around Wally's waist. His face was downcast and she could almost detect a little dampness in his eyes.
"I've just got a lot on my mind," he answered, moodily.
"You miss your Aunt Iris, don't you?"
Wally sighed deeply. "It hurt so much when she died. Then I found that book, and I knew she was out there, someplace. Seeing her again was a dream come true. And now " Wally's voice trailed off.
"It's not like she's gone forever," Linda reminded him. "I'm sure we'll see her, as often as she feels she can. You understand her reasons for leaving."
"Yeah,I just wish it could be different." sighed Wally, turning to return Linda's hug. "You have to understand, she and Uncle Barry gave me everything as a kid. So how do I repay her?" Wally pushed away from Linda and looked up, his face a mask of grief. "I send her grandson off to live with a stranger." he said, his voice gravelly.
"Max Mercury is hardly a stranger."
"He's not family." Wally turned back to the window. "If Iris can't look after Bart, I should! He's my own cousin, or second cousin, or--"
"First cousin, once removed, if we're getting technical," quipped Linda.
"Whatever! After everything Barry did for me, I could have at least tried to take care of his grandson! I let him down, Linda. I let them both down."
"You did everything Iris expected of you, Wally. It's not your fault the sidekick thing didn't work out."
"Isn't it? I could have tried harder to be his friend. Or at least understand where he was coming from."
"Bart came from a virtual reality world with an infinite reset button," Linda reminded him. "I don't think any of us can truly understand that. Iris wanted Bart to go with Max. She knew that was best for him, and for you, too!"
"Oh, believe me, I don't blame her for not trusting me with him! Bart and I didn't exactly start off on the right foot. This terrified little kid's running around not knowing what's happening to him and all I can think to do is belt him one!"
"Pardon, but wasn't he trying to kill you at the time? You did what you had to do, Wally, and you saved Bart's life."
"Barry would have found another way to get through to him, I know it."
"Oh, don't start this I'll-never-be-as-good-as-Barry thing again!"
"Linda, I'm over that! I don't expect to be another Barry Allen. I was just hoping not to turn out another Rudy West, that's all!" he said bitterly.
"Give me a break, Wally! You're nothing like your father!"
"You didn't hear the way I ripped into Bart out there! Barry was always so patient, no matter how bad I screwed up. I don't ever remember him ever blowing up at me."
"Wally, your aunt told me a few stories about you as a kid. Don't tell me the Flash never corrected you."
"He sure as hell never chewed me out in public, or called me any of the things I called Bart! And he always told me the truth. He played straight with me; I jerked Bart around like he was a fish on a line. I manipulated him and Jesse. It wasn't fair."
"You didn't think you were coming back," whispered Linda. "You had to prepare Bart to replace you, and soon. You didn't exactly have time to take the kid to the park and toss a baseball around."
"I'm the fastest man alive. I should have found time to do better than I did."
"When the entire universe is collapsing around you?"
Wally didn't answer, but took Linda's hand and walked back to the bed, sitting down beside her. "Linda, there's something I've been thinking about," he said solemnly. "I think I should have a vasectomy."
"I'm serious! I'm not sure I could ever be a decent father to anyone! What if I can't find the patience to deal with my own kids? Is Max Mercury going to raise them, too?"
"Wally, you are being ridiculous! You'll make a wonderful dad someday! And there will be another caregiver in the house, or don't I get a vote anymore?"
"Linda, we have to face facts. Any kids we have are liable to inherit my speed. There are going to be limits to what you can do for them once they start crawling! I'm the one who's going to have toÑ"
"Your Aunt Iris managed on her own, with twins!" Linda reminded him. "I'll call her for some pointers."
"No, you just listen to me! If you don't give yourself credit for any sense, at least give me some! You could never mistreat a child, Wally. Do you think I'd even consider getting involved with a man who could?" Linda folded her arms. "Y'know, with all this talk about you being no Barry Allen, you're forgetting one thing. Bart is no Wally West."
Wally looked at her curiously.
Linda continued. "Barry Allen trained a star-struck little kid who, let's see, how did Iris put it? 'Would have hopped around on one foot for the rest of his life if Barry had told him to.' And say what you want about your home life, but you can't say it lacked discipline. You obeyed him, no questions asked, right from the start. Bart Allen is 14 going on 40 going on about two-and-a-half. He barely understands the concept of consequence, let alone discipline. It's going to take the patience of a superspeed Zen Master to teach him any self-control, and we're all lucky there was one available."
"That's supposed to make me feel better about blowing it with him?" Wally stood and walked back to the window to lean against the glass. Linda followed him and turned him around to face her, brushing his upper lip with one finger.
"What happened here, West?" The knuckle mark Impulse had left was still visible in the dim light.
"I told you what happened."
"No, I mean, what'd you do about it, 'Rudy?' Some smart-ass kid decks you one? You showed him who's boss, didn't you? Beat the hell out of him and taught him a little respect for his elders?"
"You know I didn't, Linda."
"But that's what your father would have done, isn't it? What about the Flash?"
"I would never have hit him! He never gave me reason to!"
"Correction. You would never have thought about decking the Flash, no matter what! Because kids just didn't do that, and if you had, I bet even St. Barry might have put you over his knee!"
Wally smiled ruefully. "Well, I'd have been in a lot of trouble, I guess."
"You guess right. Point is, you didn't lash back at Bart. Why not?"
"I suppose by that point I didn't blame him."
"I think it was more than that. I think you saw a spunky kid who did what you always wanted to do whenever your dad tore into you. What you would have done, if you hadn't been afraid of what the consequences would be." Linda lowered her voice and smiled. "Face it, you understand Bart Allen better than you think."
"Then why can't I do the right thing for him?"
"You are doing the right thing. The wrong thing would be to take on a responsibility you're not ready for, just out of duty to your aunt and uncle. You're a decent person, Wally, but you're smart enough to realize you're not ready to play dad yet, at least not to Bart Allen. Now if he truly needed a home, you'd take him in in a second, I know. But you know, deep down, he's better off with Max now. Accept it, hon, and just be grateful."
Wally pulled her into a hug. "I guess you're right."
"Thank you." Linda leaned back and took his hand. "Maybe you can't be Bart's mentor, the way Barry Allen was yours, but there's something else you can be. His cousin."
Wally looked at her, puzzled. "Other people can teach him superspeed: Max, Jay, Johnny. You're the only one who knows what it's like to be a kid Flash. In time, he'll want you to share that."
Wally winced. "Well, he's got a head start on me already. He picked a decent name."
Linda smiled. "You also saw his Grandpa Barry through a child's eyes, like no one else ever did. You're the only way Bart's going to know what he was like. And you've got time now, Wally. Time to tell him all of that, once he's ready to hear it."
Wally kissed her forehead. "I will, I promise."
"Good", she answered. "So, no more talk about the big V, ok?. I'm not ready to go off the pill yet, by a long shot, but I'm counting on hearing the pitter-patter of little feet around the house, someday."
"Even if they're very fast pitter-patters?" smiled Wally.
"Even if they come with little bitty sonic booms!" she answered, slipping her arm around his waist and leading him back to bed. "Now, if you're done angsting, can we please get some sleep?"
"Sounds like a plan to me. Thanks, hon." They exchanged a long,deep kiss as they got back under the covers. When their lips finally parted, Linda curled up on her side as Wally stretched out on his back,hands folded behind his head.
"Linda?" he asked after a couple of minutes.
"Ummmmm?" was her sleepy reply.
"How do you like the name Iris for a girl?"
"Iris Park-West," she murmured. "Has a nice ring to it
All characters are DC Comics