I’m not a father. Not really. I’d like to think that I had some parental responsibility for Wally, but I haven’t raised my children, the “Tornado Twins.” Yet I’m a grandfather and a great-uncle.
Does that make me feel old.
“I just don’t know what to do with him. Even Linda’s doing a show with a child psychologist hoping to learn something.” Wally rubs his tired face, collapsing to his couch. “Jai—He sits in front of the Xbox all day or plays his PSP. When I was his age, I was always outside, always running.”
“You can’t relate,” I supply.
Wally looks up, and he reminds me of the tearful teenager who used to crash on my couch when his parents set up for Normandy. “He wasn’t like this before Zoom attacked. I wonder, Barry. When Jai lost his powers, did I lose my son, too?”
I pat his shoulder and look in the “family room.” The irony is not lost on me as Jai sits alone in front of the TV, playing Call of Duty.
It took some coaxing, a growling whine, and a little bribery for Jai to join me for a walk downtown. “Your mom and dad are worried about you.”
The boy stuffs his hands in his jean pockets. “Yeah.”
“Losing your powers, must have been hard.”
A shrug. “Yeah.”
“You know any other words other than—oh, no.”
I pluck the PSP he somehow smuggled and shake it at him. “I thought we had a deal, kiddo. I take you to GameSpot, and you and I talk the whole way there and back.”
“We WERE talking.”
“No, I was talking. You were muttering.”
The boy rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, and I suddenly feel ancient, like one of those elderly people who shake their canes at the neighborhood kids.
“Why don’t you just RUN us?” he demands. “We’d be there already.”
“Sometimes you have to slow down,” I resume our walk, a hand upon the boy’s shoulder. “Enjoy life and the people within it. Trust me. It’s worth it.”
“Is that what you thought when you ran yourself to death?”
Captain Cold has nothing on me at this moment. “I was thinking of your aunt—”
“Yes, I was thinking of your great aunt and how I’d miss her, but I’d have saved her and your father and the people I cared about.”
“Is that what you thought when you didn’t go back in time and save your mom and dad?”
A bloodcurdling scream whips my head toward the park, where people flee the soccer area. By the time Jai blinks, I have him ducking behind the bleachers lining the field.
“Stay here,” I order, a hand upon his head.
“Whatever,” he mutters.
He doesn’t look at me, and I can’t blame him really. This could have been our first run together.
Hesitation is not a trait of Flashes, definitely not one of Wally’s, but I jerk, keeping a hand upon his head. A darkness, a coldness brushes my fingers, and I wonder if it’s just my kinetic energy touching his non-powered skin, but I’ve never felt it against Iris’s.
“I’ll be back.” I shake it off and zip about the bleachers, my second skin on. I stand face-to-face with Double Down.
Already, at least three bodies bleed pools upon the ground, one no older than Jai.
He killed a child.
Double Down shrugs, a carefree, wild smile cracking his face. “It was my day with the prince of hearts. The dealer said I could see him.”
“So you KILLED him?”
“It was time for the burn.”
I’m moving even before I realize it, slamming my fist across his face. I should hit him harder. It should have sent his head back onto the soccer field and used it for the ball.
“Just what kind of sick monster are you?”
He whimpers like the coward he is, huddling in the fetal position.
“You killed a child—your own?”
He’s not whimpering. He’s chortling. “I never said he was mine.”
At the last moment, I duck the cards he threw.
“You’re drawing dead, Flash!”
I only have a few seconds to catch them as I realize they’re not aimed at me. They’re aimed at the people who didn’t flee. Five seconds, six max, to save them all.
Sometimes I wonder who’s crazier, the villains who menace or the innocents who watch?
It happens ALL the time, the purple lightning shocking my body.
I’m Jai West, B-T-W. I used to be the fastest kid on the planet (I WAS faster than you, Bart!), but when Irey tore the speed from my body, she didn’t take the pain.
Which is KEWL. I wouldn’t want her to feel this.
The pain clenches my teeth and scrunches my face, and as Great Uncle Barry races toward Double Down, the lightning strikes grow stronger, crackling from my eyes and breaking upon my skin. I pull my knees to my chest and close my eyes. It’ll go away. It always does when my family’s done using their powers, especially my sister, but it’s not usually this bad.
It REALLY hurts.
Barry’s angry, and the speed force knows it, and then I’m no longer in Keystone but in Central, standing before a woman I’ve never met but I know her.
I’ve seen her in my uncle’s pictures. It’s Barry’s mom—dead, with a yellow-cladded Flash over her body. The purple lightning acts like a net over the house.
This guy—Zoom—he attacked Irey.
The yellow Flash looks at me, and the craziness in his eyes is just creepy. “Hello, boy. Are you prepared to join her?”
My eyes snap open, and I’m back in the park. Now crouching across from me is one of the soccer players. He’s my age with sunlight for hair and a nasty, aged scar down his left cheek. That must have hurt.
“What are you still doing here?” I yell at him. Doesn’t he know this is dangerous? “Go! Run!”
I wish I could.
The cards slice through the air, and I turn, my purple eyes catching sight of the spinning killers.
Uncle Barry zooms to catch them and will—except one, thrown after the rest. An ace of spades.
I’m not fast enough to catch it. I never will be again, but I still stick out his hand. When the card tears my palm, it flies toward the tree, sinking into the trunk inches from the kid’s face.
The purple lightning pumps the blood down my wrist, and through the bleachers, I watch as the Flash sends Double Down a taste of his own medicine—his cards.
The cards pin Double Down to the field, and a second later, he’s out cold. I want to do more, but I won’t give myself the satisfaction.
When I turn, I imagine Wally there, standing before the first homicide victim he ever saw, tears welled up in his eyes but he was too shocked to cry.
Jai has the same expression. He truly is Wally’s son.
And blood flows from his hand.
I call the police, shortening the “Welcome back” from the dispatcher, and I take Jai aside, shielding him from the bloody bodies. Eventually, a paramedic stiches him up, and he sits upon the back of the EMT truck, nursing his hand.
Patting Jai’s leg, I force a smile. “You did a good thing today, saving Double Down’s son from his father. I’m proud of you.”
Jai focuses down at his bandaged hand, then back at the black bags on the gurneys. “I’m…sorry…about your mom.”
I blow out a sigh. “Time isn’t a force to be changed without consequences. I know my mother wouldn’t want me to put all those she loved and would love in jeopardy.” I ruffle the boy’s hair. “Like you.”
“I know.” The tears finally trickle down his eyes. “Sometimes I can see things…from the past or the future. It happens when Irey runs most of the time. I saw Zoom and your mom. I—I—”
He’s going to have nightmares.
“And that’s why you play so many video games,” I supply. “So you don’t think about them.”
“Or my powers.” He looks away, his good hand’s palm wiping the stubborn tears from his eyes. “I don’t want them back, Uncle Barry. Irey—Irey needs to be fast enough, and if I had mine, she wouldn’t be.”
“But that doesn’t mean you don’t miss them.”
“I was born with them.” He looks up at me, and I can’t help but just hurt for him. “They were my powers, too. My dad’s a hero. My mom’s the most awesome TV reporter ever, and my sister’s gonna run faster than anyone one day. …What am I gonna do?”
“I don’t know, Jai, but you’re going to be great at it.” I lift him off the truck by the armpits and put him down. “I know I have a deal to keep, kiddo, but give me just three minutes. I have to fill out a report for the detectives.”
I stop. “Yeah, kiddo?”
“Dad tried to explain it to me, but what does a fors-in-sac scientist do?”
I can’t help but smile as I take his good hand, and I don’t need time traveling abilities to know this kid is going to be a hero, perhaps just not the way he thought.
“Come on. I’ll show you.”
When you get older, one of your children is going to destroy your life.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
“Did you run the test?”
Hunched over my computer in my darkened office, I glare down at the person skyping on the bottom of my computer screen. BTW, name’s Jai West. I used to be a superhero before my sister became Impulse. No matter what, I’m still the son of the fastest man alive, a guy who has no patience whatsoever.
“Yeah, Dad. I already ran it. I’m just cross-referencing any DNA matches with the JLA database. Chill.”
“Did you just tell your old man to CHILL?”
“Yes, I know how futile that was, asking the Flash to actually wait for something. Oh, look. Your DNA match on your murderer came in. Is there anything else Central City Police’s best forensic scientist can do for you today?”
Dad smiles on my screen. “How about a little less attitude and the name, wise guy.”
My soda gargles on the bottom of my cup as I click on the match found. “Sorry, I hear attitude is heredity in our family.”
“Must be from your mother’s—”
My blood runs cold. “Dad…”
“Jai! JAI! Are you okay? What is it?”
My sister…The DNA is a perfect match.
“Jai! Who’s the murderer?”