Funeral For a Flash
Disclaimer: Characters in this story are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
Wally West heard the knocking on his door and knew, just knew, it was going to be Uncle Barry. But he still didn't want to open his eyes.
Let the moment build. Let the past week be only a bad dream. Let Dr. Fate's consultation with his crystal ball, at the JLA's request, and the awful revelation of the incident on Qward be a lie, a lie, a damnable lie.
Please, God, make it so, he prayed.
The knocking did not stop.
Wally opened his eyes. It was barely morning. He was still in his room. Still in his bed, in only his boxer shorts. He groaned, threw off the covers, and said, "I'm comi--" and stopped, wondering if that would be the right thing to say to a man who just had to have come back from the dead.
Within a second, he was shaved, deodorized, combed, and clad in casual dress. Not the black suit he had been going to wear to the funeral today, oh no, because if Uncle Barry was behind that door there wouldn't need to be one, and it just had to be Uncle Barry making that knocking sound, it just had to--
He sped to the door, hesitated for under a millionth of a second, and unlocked it slowly enough that the metal would not fuse in the lock.
Standing before him was a tall, lovely woman with brunette hair in a ram's-horn kind of ‘do that looked kind of like Princess Leia's in Star Wars, only much nicer. She was wearing black, and trying to smile for him.
"Doralla," said Wally, in awe. "Doralla Kon."
"‘Ello, Wallee," said the Lady Flash in her futureEuro accent. "I ‘ave come for the ceremony."
"Oh. Oh, God," Wally said, looking at her because he couldn't make the effort to turn his head just then.
That's when he knew it was all true.
Doralla, the woman from a super-fast dimension, had met Barry twice and Wally once. She tried to take him by the shoulders and plant a comforter's kiss on his forehead. But even at her velocity, Wally had time to turn away, reflexively.
"I'll get dressed," he said.
This was the way it had been:
Perhaps it had started with the news that Aunt Iris had been killed, two years back. That had been hard enough to bear. Wally West, Kid Flash to the world at large, had experienced few deaths in his family and friends up to that time. A small part of Barry had seemed to turn to stone for a long while. A small part of Wally had seemed to be torn out, bleeding. It was hard enough for his parents to take, but they managed to console him. So did the Titans. He was so damn glad they were there. He was so damn glad Wonder Girl had let him cry in her presence, just the two of them.
Then Barry, as the Flash, had learned Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, was the real murderer of Iris. Eventually, he had to stop Zoom from killing another woman, and he used a little too much force, and Zoom had died. Small loss, really. But the courts didn't think so.
Despite the fact that Eobard Thawne wouldn't be born for centuries yet, a murder trial had ensued. Nobody could believe the Flash would be convicted. After all, Zoom was a murderer, and the Scarlet Speedster was merely stopping another murder from being committed.
Uncle Barry was found guilty, and sentenced to prison. The world found out later that it was a put-up job, that Abra Kadabra, another Flash enemy from the future, had mentally controlled the jury to cause them to bring in the reverse of the aquittal they had intended to give. But Barry didn't stay in jail for long.
He went to the future, to the 30th Century, to be exact. Or a 30th Century. There were always alternate timelines breeding from the one you existed in, and in this one, not only had Aunt Iris been sired by future parents, but those parents recaptured her essence, placed her in a new body, and reunited her with Barry. This he learned from a letter which appeared in his bed one day, a letter which materialized before his very eyes. A letter from the future.
Barry Allen had written it.
Wally had been so overjoyed that he did backflips, vibrating at hyper-speed to pass through the atoms of his bed and walls. He ran outdoors, so fast that he was invisible, and went 10 miles before he managed to trigger his ring and don his Kid Flash uniform. He ran two laps around the world, then did a third one in honor of Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris.
Then he thought of going by the Flash Museum in Central City. There was a treadmill there which was designed by Uncle Barry to take a man who ran on it into the future or past, if he ran upon it at super-speed.
But he remembered the close of the letter: "Iris and I are just fine but it will take a little while for me to get used to this new sort of world. I'll send another letter when we're ready for you to visit. Know that you are always in my thoughts. Keep the Flash name alive, Wally. I'm still proud. Sincerely, Barry Allen."
So, in Central City, instead of entering the museum, he bypassed it and went back to his room at the boarding house near his campus. Later, he called the Titans on a private line and told them the great news. They were glad as anything that the worst episode in the Flash's long and honorable history had ended on an upswing, as it should have, and wanted to take Wally out for a bash. But he'd said no, he just wanted to get back to normal and wait for the mail.
But it never came.
Instead, less than a month after that, certain heroes started seeing the Flash suddenly appear, shout some incomprehensible words about the death of worlds, and crumble into a skeleton before disappearing. Wally, hearing of it, would have dismissed it as hallucinations or a villain's trick, except for one thing.
The Batman had told him that the Flash had mentioned Iris.
That was the outset of the huge, multiversal affair of death and destruction that had become known, by common consent, as the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Whole universes had been consumed by expanding antimatter, directed by the overvillain known as the Anti-Monitor. In the end, a contingent of heroes had invaded Qward, the anti-matter universe, and killed the villain with the help of a second Supergirl who had appeared from nowhere and vanished not long after their foe's death.
After that, they had returned to their respective Earths as the timelock and anti-matter bands binding their worlds together had faded away. But the mystery of the Flash's abscence was not revealed. Wally thought about going to the 30th Century to check things out for himself. But he put it off, not knowing if he wanted to know.
Two weeks after the Crisis, Wally had been visited by Hal Jordan, now a Green Lantern again, and by Clark Kent. They were trying to break the news easily to him, but he knew when he saw their faces what kind of message they were bringing him.
"I'm sorry, Wally," said Clark. "But Barry is--"
"Barry's dead," said Hal, interrupting him. "We asked Dr. Fate to--"
"What do you mean, he's dead?", Wally had said, leaping at Hal and shaking him so quickly the man's ring activated automatically to protect his life. "Whattya mean? They were wrong about aunt Iris. They're wrong about Barry. Tell me they're wrong! Tell me!"
Clark Kent had grabbed Wally with a grip of steel, and held him firmly. "It's true, Wally. Dr. Fate showed us in his crystal ball. The Flash died, destroying the Anti-Monitor's last weapon. It could have destroyed us all. Barry gave his life to--"
"Stop it! Shut up!"
"Wally!" Hal was in his Air Force mode now. Wally had rarely seen him in such, but Uncle Barry had told him about Hal's personality. What he said was, "Hal's usually a great guy, but when he tells you to do something, you'd better not make him ask twice. Believe it."
So Wally had shut up instead.
"You think it's easy on me?" said Hal, in clipped tones. "I met him even before you did, months before I ever knew I was going to be a Lantern. Back when we all had to stop a bunch of Martians from kidnapping the Martian Manhunter. Later on, we were partners, best friends, both inside the JLA and out. We shared a lot of time, a lot of experience. You're not the only one to see a friend die. See this ring?" Hal held up his hand, let the green circlet on his finger become visible for a few seconds. "A guy named Tomar-Re had to die for me to get this back. That was a week ago. He was the greatest Lantern I ever knew. I just got back from services on Oa when I found out about this. I asked to come bring you the news."
Clark added something, quietly. "A week ago, I had to go to the memorial service on Earth-Two for their Superman. My friend, Kal. The other me. I saw him die, Wally. I did see him die."
Hal waited. Clark waited. Wally had managed to say something.
"How do you stand it?" he asked.
Hal answered, not unkindly, "Because we have to. It's not like you have a choice. Now what about you, kid?"
Wally, not looking at them, shook his head.
"I'll make it. I don't want to, but I'll make it. Hal?"
"Don't call me kid."
After a little more talk, they had left Wally to himself. That night, he remembered how it had been the day Iris had gotten Uncle Barry, who wasn't his uncle back then, to set up an interview for him with the Flash, his hero. He remembered how the Flash had looked, tall, slim, in control, but reassuringly human. He remembered how Flash had taken him into Barry's laboratory, which the Flash had said was not unlike his own, and how he described the lightning strike that had struck the rack of chemicals behind him, energized them, and spilled certain ones on his body, giving him super-speed.
Mere seconds after that, a thunderbolt had struck the rack of chemicals behind Wally and spilled certain ones on his own body.
That night, Wally West cried again, and there was no Wonder Girl to hear him.
So now it was the funeral. The damned, good-for-nothing funeral.
Wally had gone to the thing in his Kid Flash uniform, the one with the yellow shirt and mask with the open top to let his hair show through. He thought it was stupid to wear such a thing to a memorial service for a dead man. But it was his uniform. He had to wear it. He and Doralla, who tried to comfort him, sat near Mr. and Mrs. Robert West, his father and mother. Iris's father, Professor Ira West, was sitting beside Robert, clutching his cane. He had been whipsawed between emotions for the past two years, finding out that Iris was dead, then that Barry was the Flash, then that Iris was alive but lost to him, then that Barry was dead. Robert put his arms around the old man's shoulders, but Prof. West did not speak.
Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-Two, and his wife Joan were not far from them. The Titans and the Justice League were there, but Wally didn't feel like sitting with them just yet. He also saw Fiona Webb, dressed in black and in a veil. She had been Barry's lover after the death of Iris, and an encounter with Professor Zoom had sent her to the state asylum for awhile. Tragedy all around, but at least she was out. That meant she was coming through. He thought about going over to her and saying something, but he had never really known her.
He recognized Melanie Mason from a photo Barry had once shown him. The girl, still in her teens, was a psychic who had a crush on the Flash. She'd made life more complicated for him around the time of Aunt Iris's death, but she'd helped him finish off the monstrous Clive Yorkin, whom they originally thought had been Iris's killer. Now she was back for the first time since that day, sitting quietly with her hands in her lap.
A line from an old George Jones song came to Wally's mind, and he adapted it to the present situation: "She's stopped loving him today."
Both of them.
It was almost a relief to see bald old Mick Rory, the reformed Heat Wave. He had thrown out his fireproof suit sometime back and had become one of the few Rogue's Gallery members to go straight. Flash had accepted him as a friend, and Wally intended to as well.
There were many more, and not even Wally West knew them all.
The service was televised and held outside of the Flash Museum in Central City. The pastor of Barry's church had opened the service with a prayer for the speedster's soul, and secondarily for the world, for having once judged him a murderer. The couple of thousand people there echoed an "Amen", and then the speakers filed in, each to say a few words.
Dr. Henry and Nora Allen, Barry's parents, had made a short and heartfelt statement of sorrow and vindication, and Nora managed to hold her tears until she was leaving the podium.
Dexter Myles, an old Shakespearean actor who had been curator of the Flash Museum for ages, read the oration of Mark Antony for Brutus from Julius Caesar, and didn't even try to keep his voice from cracking when he got to the words, "This was a man." Wally looked down. Doralla squeezed his hand.
The heroes made their statements, three of them, with Green Lantern, Superman, and Batman speaking for all of them. Superman and Batman spoke of a comrade-in-arms. Green Lantern spoke of a friend.
Jay Garrick, in his Flash uniform from another time and another Earth, spoke of his initial bafflement to find that another Flash existed in the universe, of the friendship he had grown to share with Barry, and of his great sorrow when he learned the man who bore his name had died.
Al Desmond, who had been a super-villain as both Mr. Element and Dr. Alchemy, spoke of how the Flash had set an example for him, had helped him turn his life around, had spoken up for him when his parole hearing came due. Now Al was a law-abiding citizen with a job as a chemist, a wife, and children. He had been the Flash's friend for years. Now...he paused, and then continued...he was going to help keep his friend's memory alive.
Finally, it got to the part in which Kid Flash would have to make his statement. Wally wanted to run as far as California, to pretend this wasn't happening. He had never been much on public speaking, and to try and face the crowd now...God, how was he supposed to look at them and say anything?
As if they had the right to hear what he felt.
"Go on, Wallee," urged Doralla, sotto voce.
He took a breath, got up, and walked more slowly to the podium than a Flash should have been capable of. A few pages of written speech were in his hand.
He mounted the steps, half-expecting to see a hangman's noose when he got there. Wally faced the podium, set his text on its stand, gripped it with both hands. He looked out at the sea of faces, at the Justice Leaguers, at his parents, at Doralla, and mainly at the Titans.
The Titans had been his brothers and sisters for a long time. Some, like Nightwing, Wonder Girl, Aqualad, and Speedy, had been there since the beginning. Others, among them Raven, Cyborg, Changeling, Aquagirl, Kole, the Hawk and the Dove, had only served in more recent times. He thought he saw some of the retired members, such as the Harlequin, Mal, the Bumblebee, and Golden Eagle sitting together in their civvies, but he wasn't sure.
They were watching him. They were waiting for him to speak.
He cleared his throat, looked at the people, glanced at the TV cameras, and resisted the impulse to run away.
"The Flash was my hero," he said. "But Barry Allen was--my friend.
"When I was young," (and, good Lord, does that make you feel old today!), "I was in one of his fan clubs. That's how I got to meet him. By an--accident--that happened to me the same way it happened--to him--I got the same powers as he did. I became a Kid...Kid Flash. He taught me how to use this...great gift of speed. He made me his junior partner. It goes without saying...anything I am today, I owe to...to the Flash."
He ran a finger under his nose, turned a page, and began again.
"Most of you hearing this only knew him as a super-hero. A few of you here, whose...lives he touched...may have known him as a hero. If you were...were lucky enough to have known him, he was probably your friend. Because...I remember Jay here, Jay Garrick saying that...there didn't seem to be anybody in the JLA or the JSA that didn't seem to like him. Maybe he wasn't one of the guys who got the most attention after awhile. He wasn't in charge of Metropolis or Gotham City, or even a sector of the universe. But he did keep things clean in Central City. Any of the guys he fought would tell you that. He saved the world a bunch of times, even more worlds than these, by himself, and with the Justice League. That ought to be enough of a legacy."
Wally sighed. It seemed to be getting easier now, if no less painful.
"But it didn't stop bad things from happening. He lost his wife. When he had to stop the guy who killed her from killing somebody else, he went on trial for murder. He even had to change his face. Can you imagine what that's like, having to change the thing that you've looked at in a mirror almost every day of your life? Then, on top of all that, he was convicted, falsely, of murder. We know it was a put-up job now, that somebody else was controlling the jury's minds. But we didn't know it then.
"So...the Flash...went to another time. He found out his wife was...was still alive. That he'd been ruled innocent, in our era. He was a lot happier there. I know. He sent me back a letter and said so.
"But he...but he didn't stay that way. He had to come back. He had to save our Earth, our whole universe, one last time. He had to say goodbye to the wife he'd just gotten back, and do what he knew was right. He..." Wally paused, choked, swallowed, and went on.
"He had to die."
Wally paused for a very, very long time. The audience grew embarrassed, restive. Finally, he began again.
"I didn't get to see him. I saw him for the last time before he left. But in his letter, he told me to...to keep the Flash name alive. I don't know how I'm going to do it. I don't know how anybody could. But there's one thing we all can do.
"We all can...make sure...that nobody remembers the Flash as a falsely convicted murderer anymore. We can all make sure...that we remember the Flash...as a hero. Period. We can tell our children, and our children's children, all about him. And I...I can do one thing more."
There was a blur of motion, too fast for anyone to see except Superman and Doralla Kon. They could tell you that Wally had pressed a ring, that a costume had emerged from it and expanded like an inflatable life-raft, that Wally had taken the costume and put it on over his Kid Flash uniform.
But most people only saw the end product.
Kid Flash was now dressed in the red-and-yellow uniform of his mentor, the kind of costume he had worn when he started as the younger version of the hero he now was.
"I can do this," he said. "I can't be the real Flash. But I can be...maybe...the substitute Flash. I...I hope you'll forgive me."
And he walked, very slowly, from the podium, in a respectful silence. He took his place by Doralla and his parents again, in the seats. The Lady Flash hugged him from the side. "You were wonderful, Wallee."
"Thanks, Do," he said, breathily.
Robert West looked at his son. "I hope you know what you're doing, Wally."
The young Flash's head sagged. "Dad, if I knew what I was doing...I wouldn't have done this."
The next morning Wally had breakfast with Doralla at the hotel in which she was staying. The JLA had lent her the cash to do so, at her request. She was attracting a little attention with her beauty and ram's-horn hairdo, but nobody suspected she was from a dimension in which everything was so accelerated that turtles could outrace planes on this world.
Luckily, nobody knew Wally was the new Flash. That is, if people would accept him as such.
"I feel like such a fool," admitted Wally, between bites of buttered toast and scrambled eggs. "You think I looked like a fool, Do?"
"No, Wallee," she said, forking down part of a stack of hotcakes. "True, the social mores in our world and yours are but a little bit different. Yet--I do not think you did badly. After all, Barree would not have picked you to succeed him if he did not think you measured up to eet."
He looked at her, his fork in mid-air. "Doralla. Barry didn't pick me to succeed him. I just happened to be in the way of a lightning bolt and some chemicals."
She put down her fork and gave him back a look, seriously. "Wallee. It takes more to be a ‘ero than just being able to run fast. In my world, where everyone could run as fast as him, Baree would still be a hero. And--do you zink he would ‘ave allowed you to be zis Kid Flash if he did not think you were worthy?"
"Well, worthy, yeah, but just to be his partner."
"Oh? Were you his, how you say, sidekeeck for all his cases?"
Wally ate the bit of egg on his fork thoughtfully. "No. Most of the time, I was solo or with the Titans. We worked together, but not a lot of the time."
"So?" She spread her hands. "You were capable of working without him most of the time, were you not? And did you not face many powerful, evil people without him?"
"Heck, yes," he said. "All the way up to Trigon, all the way down to the Beatnik Gang. I could handle myself. But, Do, that isn't the same as being the Flash."
She looked almost exasperated. "Of course eet is not, Wallee. You would never be the same as Barree. But why would you expect to? If one of your rulers dies, or leaves office, do you expect the next one to be zee same as his predecessor? Eh?"
"Well, no," admitted Wally. "But that's not quite the same thing. I mean, the president doesn't go out and fight super-villains."
"Does he not direct your nation in war and peace? Is this such a dissimilar thing, Wallee?"
"I--look, Do, I know what you're trying to say. I appreciate it. Really, I do. But. When I go out there, in the red suit, everybody's going to be comparing me to Barry. That's one hell of a legacy. I don't know if I can measure up. It scares me."
"Then why did you put on zee suit in front of zee entire crowd?", said Doralla, quietly.
He fidgeted. "Because I wanted people to know that, well, there was still a Flash around."
She smiled. "And so zere is. If you did not believe it, would you have done it?"
"Well, I may not be Barry, but I'm still a Flash."
Doralla spun her fork so quickly it threatened to burn a hole in the formica table surface. "You are all zee Flash zis world has now, Wallee."
"It's still a lot to live up to, Doralla."
"You do not have to live up to Barree. You only have to live up to yourself. I am getting ill of trying to tell you things you should have told yourself by now."
"I'm sorry, Do."
"Eet is okay, Wallee." She rubbed his hand, gently.
He sighed. "Can I come visit you in your world, sometime soon?"
"Sometime soon," Doralla assured him. "But not now. Wait until you get acquainted with your new job. I have things to do. Will eet be all right with you if I go?"
Wally smiled. "Sure, Do. But don't stay away so long next time, okay? It's nice having you around."
The Lady Flash smiled, got up, leaned over, and kissed him on the forehead. "Do not worry about being someone new, Wallee. Just be what you were before zis."
He rubbed his temples. "I don't know that any of us can be what we were before this. But thanks again, Do. And goodbye."
"Farewell, Wallee." The lovely woman left the hotel restaurant and went to the checkout counter. Shortly after that, Wally knew, she would be breaking the speed barrier that separated her accelerated dimension from that of Earth-One. It was hard for her to stay slow enough to pass for an Earthwoman.
He finished what was left of his breakfast, paid for it, and went home. No tears left, just tiredness, and sadness.
And he wondered what villain would be the first to try his luck against the latest Flash.
As it was, he didn't have long to wait. Wally got a message that afternoon from the Titans, asking him to contact the local office of the FBI. He put on the red suit, hoping it wouldn't screw up his class schedule for tomorrow, and ran off to make the contact.
An agent who didn't look anything like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. met him there and shook his hand. Wally knew by the look in his eyes that he was comparing him to the first Flash. He wondered if the guy had ever met Barry.
"We've got a job that seems to require your talents," said the agent. "One of the, that is, your predecessor's enemies."
Wally folded his arms, impatiently. "One of the Rogue's Gallery? Which one do I get to fight?"
"It isn't like that," said the agent.
The young Flash waited.
"The individual you know as the ‘Weather Wizard' has been kidnapped," said the agent. "We believe a foreign power is involved. We want you to get him back, before they can get his secrets of weather control."
Wally said, "I doubt that anything would make Wiz give up his trade secrets."
"If it's a choice between his body and his secrets, which one do you think he'll choose?"
The Flash gave a grim smile.
"Tell me more," he said.