Iris remembers being fifteen years and ten days old when her brother gave her Wally, and he apologised for the belated birthday present.
Iris didn’t say anything, and instead took in his little red, squished face and his small little hands with fingernails and their own unique set of fingerprints.
Wally grew into his green eyes and his hair only got redder and redder as he got older, until it shone in the sun and was hot to the touch. When she’d hold him she used to pretend he was her baby, the way fifteen year olds get broody sometimes and imagine what the children they’ll have with football players and famous celebrities will look like.
Of course Iris married a scientist, but her children do look like Wally.
Iris knows something is wrong when Barry comes home in his suit and not the civvies he keeps in the Watchtower. It’s only bad missions when he comes straight home to her and doesn’t take the suit off until he’s talked it all out with her and she keeps her hand in his hair.
“Hey, I saw on TV what was-” The Justice League bodycams kept the world running on a thorough update schedule, as the numbers dwindled down until they all went offline. Iris has been in half a dozen ‘the-world-is-ending’ situations and this one felt different, like the world really was in danger, and all of this could end tomorrow.
Of course that’s where the Justice League, and Barry and Wally and even Bart step in, to stop that from ever happening.
The phone rings before she can finish her sentence, high and shrill around her house. She turns to answer it but Barry gets there first. Only he actually runs, doesn’t rely on his speed to carry him there. Iris can count the paces he takes and he hangs up before she asks what’s wrong.
“Iris.” His voice is grave, and with the cowl off she can see he’s been crying. “Wally didn’t… he didn’t-” Barry cuts himself off when his shoulders start to hunch and tremble, and even if she can’t make out what he’s saying, she knows what he means, and knows what happened.
This is the beginning of the end of life as Iris knows it to be. The life where her nephew spends weekends in the spare bedroom and eats out of her fridge, the end of Wally studying at her house and staying for dinner and asking for help with his essays.
This time, it’s Barry that’s holding her, and she’s screaming and screaming and screaming and hitting his chest because none of this is fair.
Nothing about this is ever fair.
Iris was around eleven years old when she realised she was a bit of a surprise. It’s not the fact that her parents were both in their fifties by the time she turned nine, but the fact that out of all her friends and classmates, none of them had brothers that were seventeen years older than them.
Not that it mattered, anyway. Rudy was everything you’d need in a brother, even if he only made bad jokes and drove a pickup truck that had an exhaust with a smoker’s lung. After their father died, mom and her moved in with Mary and Rudy three months after the wedding and she didn’t move out until she married Barry.
There’s been a lot of come and go in Iris’ life, but there’s only been one Rudy, who cried when she went to college and records every morning report to watch them back when she gets home.
Everyone around her tells her to be mindful of the babies, you have to think about the babies, you have to be strong for the babies.
Iris has been through grief before. Her father died when she turned twelve and mom died when she graduated college. Her family is so small she can count them on her hand, small enough to keep them all close to her and never let them go.
She knew that being pregnant came with everyone treating you different. More delicately, more gently.
Iris didn’t know that everyone in her life would hold her like glass, see through her on the darker days and remind her that there’s more to grief now, that she can't let it consume her. More to Wally’s death and when her co-worker chides her for forgetting to take her prenatal vitamins she decides to take her maternity leave early.
(Because how is she supposed to take care of two children when she can’t even take care of herself these days.)
It’s really only Mary who she listens to. One day over lunch, her sister-in-law takes her hand and gives her a watery smile. “You really do have to look after yourself Iris,” She says, in her broken and scratched and sad voice. “Those babies need every chance they can get when you can keep them safe.”
(Iris then makes a point to always, always remember to take her vitamins and listen to her doctors and spend more time in bed than she should, even on the days she knows there’s better things to do than let your grief swallow you whole.)
The first time Barry meets Wally, it was their first Valentine’s Day together and Iris forgot to mention she’d double booked herself.
“Who’re you?” Wally slurs his words when he’s four, tripping over himself to get all the words out. “Why’re’ you got flow-urs?”
“Uh, Iris, someone you want me to meet?” They were less than three months together and she’s still a bit--a bit being a weak sentiment--hesitant at the idea of a long-term relationship in freshman year, especially with chemistry students that tells the worst cheesy pickup lines.
“Wally get away from the door- Barry ?” She sounds half-horrified as she pulls Wally up onto her hip, making sure to pull his fingers out of his mouth. “What are you doing here?”
“Happy Valentine’s Day?” He’s always so sweet and sincere, the nerdy cousin of her roommate’s boyfriend’s roommate she met by chance at a Fresher’s mixer in week one.
It’s not that she forgot about Valentine’s Day, it’s more that once Rudy and Mary asked her to take Wally it’s like the fourteenth of February just became another weekend with her nephew in her dorm room. Her dorm is small enough for two beds, her roommate Stella’s is at the door and her’s is at the window, desks smushed next to them. This weekend is special, however, because she’s taking Stella’s bed and Wally calls himself her roommate and raids her fridge.
Iris still does feel legitimately bad for skipping out and not telling him. There’s something very new about them, and very sweet about Barry and how he never pushes too far and has a weird thing about asking if she’s okay every three minutes when they make out. “Sorry, I’d really like to do something but I’m stuck with my nephew-”
“Nephew!” She can see the relief clear in his features, the way his chest seems to drop and his smile slides onto his face. “Oh good! I mean, ‘not oh good’, because that sounds really dickish of me to say, like I wouldn’t really care if you had a kid but I was worried that maybe you’d mentioned it before and I’d forgotten or something-” He covers, starting to babble as he runs his free hand through his blond hair, his grimace clear and plain.
Iris gave up being weirded out when people thought Wally was her’s when she was seventeen and a woman in a drugstore chewed her out for ‘giving up on her future’. They have the same deep green eyes and bright red hair, he’s already missing teeth and he never hides behind her legs, and maybe one day she'll have children that look like that, she can say for certain Wally is not her's.
“Eh, Barry?” She clicks her fingers, making Wally laugh next to her ear. “This is Wally, he’s my nephew. My brother Rudy’s kid? They asked if I’d take him for the weekend. I said I’d help out. We’re watching Toy Story if you’d like to join?” It’s a split second appeal, and she gets that first Valentine’s are a bit of a big deal, and he went to the trouble of buying irises , but there’s something incredibly delightful about Barry Allen even if she’s trying to act like there isn’t.
“Does he have to?” Wally draws out a long whine, almost flopping out of her arms before she can react.
Of course, they both dive to set him right, whacking foreheads in the process. Iris recovers first, and when she looked back up, there was just Barry, eyes bright and green and laughing. He pinches Wally’s cheek, grinning broadly.
“Jeez kid, trying to give me a concussion?”
Wally’s head cocked. “Wha’s that?”
“When you hit your head and get confused.” Barry explained, and even for emphasis taps the flowers against Wally’s head, their petals caught in his hair. “It’s not a good feeling, I have to say.”
Wally holds the pause for too long, drawing it out until he squints at Barry and laughs. “Do you wanna be Buzz?”
“Like Buzz Lightyear?”
“Yeh, I like’ta be Woody because he has all the best phr-phr-phrases.” Wally laughs when it finally gets out. “You just gota pull the string and he talks. Buzz is like tha’ too but he has a button and goes pew-pew-petchew .”
It’s how Barry finds himself half an hour later, lying on his stomach in the cramped dorm room while Iris does some required reading she’s been keeping off for a while, Wally throwing up his best Tom Hanks impression as Toy Story rolls behind them on the VHS Rudy dropped off.
“Reach for the sky!” Wally points at Iris, and the only reason why Iris hesitates is because, in that instance, she wants him to stay like this forever; this happy and this full of joy, and he giggles loudly when she holds her palms up.
When Wally nods off later, half-on Barry and half-on her, Iris leans against Barry’s shoulder, stomach fluttering and jumping as he wraps his arms around her. Iris turns to face him, kissing his cheek lightly, taking a second to laugh at how his smile broadens and his arms tighten.
“Thanks, by the way. I know it’s not a conventional Valentine’s Day, but I think Wally likes you.” It’s entirely too soon to be talking like this, when next month they could break up and Wally will forget all about the time he crashed his aunt’s date by playing Cowboys and Space Rangers with her new boyfriend.
“Do you, like me?” He forces out, all awkward and shaky, nervous in a way boys never get around Iris and it makes her stomach flip again.
This time she kisses him right on the mouth, her thumb stroking his red cheek and she breaks it off with another laugh. “Yeah, I guess I like you.”
(Three years later, Cowboys and Space Rangers turns into Flash vs the Rogue Gallery with Uncle Barry and Iris stifles her laughter with the back of her hand.
It’s four years after that, when Wally is older and eleven Barry goes to him for asking about how he’d feel if he asked Iris to marry him. Wally had blinked and laughed, his voice dipping and squeaking.
“It’s about time Uncle B! We all thought you were holding out on us or something.”)
One night, when she’s too far gone to actually be walking around on her own, days after Halloween and her own birthday and hours before her nephew’s, Iris finds Bart crying in their kitchen, sobbing the way all teenage boys do; sad and interrupted and as quiet as possible.
(It’s a familiar scene, one she’s found dozens of times with a different West boy and a different Kid Flash.)
She’s next to him as soon as she can make it, rubbing small, quick circles against her grandson’s wrist while he calms down, cooing softly when he hiccups and has to start again.
“It’s all- it’s all- it’s all my fault . This is all of m-m-my fault .” Bart chokes out, and before he actually hurts himself Iris makes him count to ten, stuttering through the numbers like he’s saying them for the first time. While he cleans himself up, Iris slides a glass of water across the table, taps it lightly for him to drink it.
“It’s not your fault.” She knows she’s said it enough time to Barry, when he’s caught up in his own feelings about everything, regretting all those years ago when Wally landed himself in hospital. Deep down, Iris doesn’t think that guilt will ever leave them, the grief they share over the superhero they created and catered for and loved, when he was gone too quickly. “It’s not your fault Wally was slower and you were faster, you need to-”
“No,” Bart bites out, squeezing his fists against his jeans. “I’m the one that came here to the stupid past! In my future, it’s Grandpa that’s gone.” He sags against her, his breathing once again becoming erratic, but his voice is small, scared the way children are with monsters under the bed and the long shadows of their room. “Wally is my Flash. He’s the one that taught me everything and y’know, helped raise aunt Dawn and dad and he was this big-shot scientist that worked for the Justice League when they all had to go off-mode. He helped design the tech that got me here until he died and he’s the only reason why I’m even here because he told me to-”
“Bart,” Iris says gently, against the tears in her eyes and the tremble in her chest. “That doesn’t mean anything-”
“I’m the one who changed the time stream. I’m the one who killed him! And him and Artemis never got married and didn’t get to have their kids and their grandkids and he took care of me, like he really did! Even when he got too old to be running he risked his life for me and I just-” He cuts himself off, choking a dry, rattling sob that sounds painful to swallow. “And I did that to him.”
They’re silent for a while, the noise of the world too loud for them but they sit through it. The tap drips and the clock ticks. Iris calms herself by counting the twin’s kicks and she can hear the rapid shaking of Bart’s foot, quick against their kitchen tiles.
“Wally wouldn’t want us to be be like this.” She hates when they say this. Wally wouldn’t do this. Wally wouldn’t want that. Think of what Wally would say. It’s anger, that greets her first, when people use him to get through to her, like a grief puppet trying to twist her pain into something.
Mainly because none of them knew him the way she does. The way she did.
(Tomorrow he would’ve been twenty-two and that hurts to think about.)
Of course this is the only time this approach works, because clearly, the Wally that Bart knew loved her grandson very, very much. Loved him enough to die for him, twice over, in both time streams. And that’s something Bart needs to hear. He’s a fourteen year old with the future on his shoulders, and that’s a burden Wally wouldn’t let a child take.
The clock chimes, and somewhere, maybe here, it’s midnight. Somewhere, not here, but maybe in a different time stream, Wally has just turned twenty two.
Alternative universes exist all around them; one’s where she never met Barry in college and instead meets the Flash first and Barry later, and Wally is a normal college kid that struggles with finals and runs track.
“Wally would want you to be happy. He sent you here for a reason. And I am so, so thrilled that you are in my life. And I am so, so happy that he sent you here to me.”
(The guilt punches deep down. Iris doesn’t think she’s ever said something like that to him before.)
She rucks a stray piece of red hair behind his ear. “I think he knew I’d need you.” It comes out watery, but Wally always put her first, the way nephews who see the sun and stars and world in their aunt, always do.
That’s when the dam breaks. Iris brushes Bart’s hair back as he sobs and she holds his hand tight in her’s. There’s something visceral in grief and she sees it in Bart.
Tomorrow, they’ll all flock to Keystone City graveyard and her little family that gets smaller and bigger like rising tides will spend the day there, and they’ll celebrate a fine young man.
But tonight, Iris and Bart allow themselves to hurt.
The first ‘I-hate-my-parents’ comes at twelve, when he’s days discharged and still wearing his bracelet.
“It’s just, completely unreasonable! I provided a perfectly good argument for why becoming a superhero is the next best natural progression complete with a powerpoint presentation . Barry can’t give out shit-”
“Language.” Iris frowns, idly watching as Wally wears a hole in his back garden. When he’s mad, it’s Barry, not Uncle B or Uncle Barry, and it’s normally a good indicator of the scale of his rage.
“ Shiz to me for endangering myself when he did the exact same thing! And I even followed the scientific method and had a proper research design and everything! They only said no because they hate me and-”
Her frown deepens. Iris tries not to yell at her nephew, keep a level tone and be as sweet as she can, the ‘cool aunt’ and not another parent to badger him. But sometimes there’s limits to that. “Don’t say that Wally!”
He freezes, whole body tensing when he hears her. His whole body deflates, shoulders slouching and face falling when he faces her, the chemical burns on his fingers still wrapped in bandages and the band-aid on his cheek swallows his freckles. “Sorry, Aunt Iris.”
“It’s not me you should be apologising to.” She’s already calmer now, if not a little guilty for raising her voice. “But I am sorry for yelling at you, you’re going through it a bit at the moment.”
“I’m not even,” Wally starts, voice high and just a pitch away from sounding whiny. “I’m keeping up with school, I don’t start high school for another two years at least, and even Dick is allowed help Batman.”
Dick Grayson is the adopted son of Bruce Wayne, Barry’s alleged middle school pen pal he met doing mathletes that he invited to their wedding. It was a good enough cover, but it certainly threw their normal friends off when the billionaire arrived at their ceremony with a dark haired ten year old. Wally took to him like a duck to water, and they’ve been best friends ever since.
She raises an eyebrow. “And if Dick wanted to jump off of a cliff would you?”
“Firstly, Dick wouldn’t jump off of a cliff without a good reason, secondly, he’s stacked with gadgets and gizmos to save his ass--I mean his butt, and thirdly; I’d be able to protect myself too, even the Justice League doctors said I have advanced healing abilities.”
“Good reasoning and logic, but it’s still not enough to convince your parents, Barry, and me, to be frank. We’re all worried about you and want you to stay safe.”
“Ugh!” Wally starts walking again, this time to the swing set at the end of his garden that pulls out of the ground if you go too high. It sags with his weight, the metal creaking and groaning, even after she joins him. He runs his fingers down his face until all his skin is pulled to his chin and jaw bone. “I just want everyone to stop babying me and treating me like a kid.” He says through his hands.
Iris looks at him, remembering what it’s like to be twelve and a bit moody and constantly feeling like everyone around you was trying to put you down.
Then her father died, Wally’s namesake, in the middle of summer, and that really seemed to set all of her teenage years down another path.
“Y’know,” Iris says instead, swaying forward and back lightly. “I’m probably not at liberty to say any of this, but your parents wanted you so badly.”
This draws him out of his hands, green eyes peeking up behind burnt fingers. “What?”
“Your parents had a hard time having you. Doctors didn’t know if it was your mom or your dad that caused it but y’know, science prevailed as it always does and you’re here now,” She looks into his eyes, the same green coming mirroring his. “But don’t ever think your parents hate you, or do things like not letting you become a superhero because they want to punish you. You are all of their dreams come true, and you should never forget that.” Iris smiles, squeezing his forearm so he knows.
Wally scratches the bandaid on his cheek, grimacing with a low groan. “I must’ve really scared them with the whole ‘giving-myself-superpowers’ then.”
Iris nudges her swing against his, shrugging. “And your uncle.” She sing-songs, then sobers, thinking of all the first twelve hours Barry spent in hospital after the accident, just waiting for Wally to become responsive again. “No, seriously Wally, you really scared Barry, that’s not cool.”
“That really is not cool.” He agrees, and heads off to find his uncle.
But it’s two weeks later, Wally runs around to theirs and bursts through the door, the scar on his left cheek faded against his freckles and his fingers free from the wrappings. He’s beaming, still shaky and unsteady on his feet, almost like a fowl learning to walk. He uses the staircase bannister to hold himself up, even as his hands twitch and sting.
“Mom and dad said yes! They just said I needed Uncle B’s permission and they’d let me-”
And this is the birth of Kid Flash. This is how a childhood dream takes a shuddering breath, and their lives will never be the same.
Iris takes Wally around to one of the League seamstresses that tests his abilities and pulls out a long spool of red and yellow spandex. She calls Iris ‘dah-ling’ while Wally runs in a training simulator and dodges flames and spikes and smoke grenades and she grins behind a steaming cup of tea, the fire caught in her eyes and oblivious to how tense Iris looks sitting next to her.
“Hey aunt Iris?” His head pokes around the sitting room door, red hair and green eyes sprouting out from the yellow cowl. Then he fully steps out, looking like a diner condiment table with the mustard yellow top and firetruck red bottoms. The lightning bolt settles right in the middle of his chest, caught in a white circle, and his goggles are clunky and hefty and so Wally . The twin lightning bolts that protrude from his head are red, where Barry’s are yellow. She wasn’t with him when he went through all of his suggestions with the designer, but she knows wearing a hood, going outside of the traditional flash colour combination, an an absolute ‘no capes’ rule were the only exceptions to his design.
Wally points his fingers at her, shaped like guns with a wide grin on his face. Suddenly he is four years old in her dorm room again, with that same bursting joy he’s never lost.
“Reach for the sky!” He says, in his drawn out, Woody-inspired drone, that still manages to make her laugh.
Iris puts his hands up, and he races forward for a high five.
Dawn comes first, rising with the warm sun. Donny comes after, and while the doctors head to stitch her up, Iris is left with two tiny babies on her chest, slightly sticky and covered in blood, their faces squished and red and even though their twins, they came into the world at different times, and their little fingers have their own unique fingerprints.
It’s like holding Wally all over again when she was fifteen years old.
But now Iris is thirty seven years and twenty days old. Her children are born on the twenty first of November, Wally was born on the eleventh and she was born on the first. The day she knew Barry was the only one for her was her nineteenth birthday, and for the first time in nineteen years someone threw her a party that wasn’t Halloween-themed and no one except for Wally in his Buzz Lightyear costume was dressed up.
In the West family, November is a time for birth, a time to hold one another close when the winter comes.
Barry wears bright blue scrubs that clash with his eyes during the delivery, crying but he’s not trying to hide it. After the twin’s temperatures are up, a nurse helps transfer Donny to his chest, and Iris wants to keep the first time Barry looked at his son somewhere no one else can see it, the way the gates break down and the world is rose-tinted in the theatre.
The doctor asks for their names, smiling as she finishes the last stitch carefully.
“The boy is Donald Wallace West-Allen. And the girl is Dawn Noreen West-Allen.” Barry says, and even though it’s names they’ve said over and over again, whispered at night while they count kicks, casually to her friends at the station, the day they asked her brother and Mary could they have the middle name Wallace, it’s weird to hear him say it while they hold them close to them, and feel their little chests rise and fall against their own.
(Even before Bart had told them the names of their children, even as a little girl, Iris knew some names belonged to the dead and some belonged to the living. A son called Wallace wasn’t the same as a nephew called Wallace, and when Donny’s hair gets brighter and lighter and so blond it almost looks white, she knows she did the right thing with their names.)
“Well I think they sound like wonderful names.” The doctor grins.
It’s later that night, when their family has come and gone to see the babies, but she’s not discharged until the morning, Barry sleeping in the armchair next to her with Dawn asleep on his chest. It’s just her and Donny that are awake. In the lowlight of the hospital bed, she can see all of his little features; his eyes that won’t focus and his small ears and starfish-shaped hands that fail and hold onto nothing. Twenty two years and ten days ago, Iris was here too, with another baby with a squished face and little hands and little fingernails.
Donny looks the way Wally did, when she’d hold him and pretend he was her baby, the way girls who go on to marry scientists and work in news stations do.
Her cries sound more like screams and she wakes Barry and Dawn up, scaring Donny in the process, but it’s been a few months since she cried like this and she misses her nephew so, so much. Even with all the new love in her heart, and all the new members of her small family, she still misses Wally.
And she doesn’t think that will ever change.
There’s no dress code for League events. Some of them are more lax with their identities, like Barry and Hal and Oliver. Then there’s Batman who wears a cowl but a sleek suit, or Wonder-Woman-call-me-Diana who wears traditional, ceremonial armor and Martian Manhunter who goes as his human-form. Iris normally just sticks to dressy casual and doesn’t stray far from Barry’s arm.
The Justice League New Year’s party was pushed back a few days after the incident on the watchtower, but it’s also a celebration for the Team who saved them, the group of teenagers deflecting compliments and praise from the other heroes. It’s not the first time Iris has been in the Hall of Justice, but she’s still not used to the dizzying presence of the League.
It’s also not that she’s the only spouse that’s invited. Queen Mera holds a hand under her growing bump and Steve Trevor keeps trying to pull Diana onto the dance floor, the two of them looking striking in their uniforms. However, Mera is the Queen of Atlantis and Steve is an Air Corps General and a liaison for Wonder Woman at the UN. There’s others, and all of them are their own form of super, unattached from their spouse. Iris is a journalist and a news reporter, and it’s hard not to feel a little small.
“Heyyyy~ Aunt Iris! You made it!” Her nephew calls out across the hall, dressed slightly more formal than she’s used to seeing him. His hair is gelled back and he’s wearing a smart shirt and clean, dark jeans, and when she hugs him the smell of cologne and aftershave is overwhelming. “Thought you were gonna skip out?”
“And miss your party? Never.”
Wally beams, bright and rosy. “It’s insane how all of the big shots are saying thank you, to us , for saving their asses? Us? It’s crazy.”
Iris knocks his shoulder, looking pointedly at him. When Barry first explained what had happened, Iris was scared of the idea that her husband wasn’t automatically immune to everything bad guys threw at him. But as usual, Wally had saved the day, the way he always does and she’s willing to put up with a few awkward hours in Washington DC for the sake of her nephew. “You guys did amazing, now bask in your achievement.”
“Alright, alright.” Wally puts his hands up, pulling at the sleeves of his shirt with his finger tips.
“So, how come you’re all dressed up?” It’s an innocent question, but the teasing tone gives her away, and the goofy smile Barry sends her from where he is talking to Oliver.
Wally burns deep crimson, just enough to wipe his eyebrows off his face. “Am I not allowed dress up for formal events?”
Iris leans in. “You suuuure about that?”
Watching Wally’s face go from shock, to anger, to embarrassment, right back to surprise is a hell of a scene. His nostrils flare and his chest rises, face all screwed up as he whines. “Barry told you?!”
“Don’t blame him! Blame me, I was the one that needled it out of him.”
(Needled is a strong word, meaning she asked Barry after he got in from a mission in early December if Wally had any news and Barry, without even thinking told her all about the girl on the team he’d been crazy about.
“On one hand, I like that I’m being trusted enough to be told about this, but on the other, I am so, so glad I’m not a teenager anymore.”
Iris could only nod in agreement. “This sounds so complicated. I mean why would she lie to the rest of the team about the tracker?”
“He seems pretty beat up about it too.”
She hummed, resting her book against her nightstand and turning to face her husband. “Maybe I should talk to him about it?”
Barry had laughed instead, shifting closer until their green eyes were exactly set across each other. “No offence Iris, but I don’t think a sixteen year old boy wants to talk to his aunt about his crush.”
Iris narrowed her eyes, almost offended at the idea Wally wouldn’t want to share something with her. Wally wasn’t a ‘normal sixteen year old’ boy, and Iris wasn’t just any old aunt. “Oh? So he’d talk to his dorky uncle about it?”
“Dorky Uncle and dorky mentor, duh. He asked for advice and I gave him some.” Barry pointed out, hiding a yawn behind his hand.
“Barry, what did you tell my nephew?”
“No, Barry seriously what did you say-”
“That would break his trust!”
“Barry you know Wally will do anything you say! You can’t just-”)
“Uncle B swore he wouldn’t say anything!”
There’s a quick cackle, followed by a silent scuffle, Dick Grayson peering in between them like a bird. He, like Batman, wears an expensive suit and a pair of thick, square glasses, forcing himself to keep his smile as neutral as possible. “Hey! If it isn’t Wally’s Aunt Iris! Iris, have you by any chance met Artemis?”
In a swift swoop, Dick ducks, practically throwing a blonde teenage girl at Iris, one that teeters forward in her heels and gets caught by her nephew at her shoulders before Iris can even react.
“Oh, my god.” She breaths, pushing her hair out of her face, absolute mortification written all over her. Artemis wears a deep blue dress and she has two, half-empty drinks in her hand, with the rest of ending up on Wally’s shirt. “I’m so sorry!” Iris is unsure who she’s talking to; Wally, who’s shirt is now stained, or Iris, who got knocked into.
But to Iris’ surprise, Wally laughs at the stain, patting down the wetness. “You’re fine, Artemis.” He smiles, and suddenly Iris feels like this is something she shouldn’t be witnessing.
“Yeah, don’t worry! Accidents happen!” Iris agrees, biting her grin down.
He turns himself and Artemis to Iris, awkwardly pulling at his hair. “Aunt Iris, this is Artemis, she’s the archer for the team.” Months ago, when Wally first told her the state of the team and of Red Arrow’s absence, he’d called her ‘Speedy’s replacement’ that ‘can’t even use her bow on periphery.’
How sweet can young love be.
“Hi,” Artemis waves, looking down as soon as Iris waves back. “Wally talks about you a lot.”
“I have to say, Wally mentions you a fair amount too.” She says, if anything just to meddle, and watch how they both flounder at her words. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Artemis smiles, against the blush of her cheeks. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
Wally taps out first, resting his hand on Artemis’ shoulder. “Do you want me to get some more drinks? I have a spare shirt in the cave I can grab.”
Her blonde hair is kept in a loose braid, all down her back and against her shoulders. “That sounds good.” She nods, and it’s their world again, just her and Wally in each other’s eyes.
“Right, cool, awesome, I’ll just be-”
Artemis rises slightly. “Don’t say it!”
Wally, as predictable as he is, says it anyway, zipping away before the end of his ‘back in a flash’ can be moaned at by both his teammate and his aunt.
“Sometimes, I love that my husband and nephew get along so well, but other times it just feels a bit like a punishment.”
Artemis’ laugh is high and light, even with her deep, croaked voice. “God, if Wally is insufferable, I can’t imagine what the Flash is like.”
It’s something she does on impulse, but it feels right. “Barry. You can just call him Barry. The Flash is a bit much to say all the time.”
If it catches Artemis off guard, she covers quickly. “Alright, cool.”
(It’s funny, Iris thinks, how in winter her small family always seems to expand. In the snowy, early November of 2011, Artemis arrives at her thirty-second birthday party in the same deep blue dress, and she talks with Rudy and Mary and Barry. It’s like she’s part of the family now, and Wally brings her to things like barbecues and picnics. Once after a mission, and Wally and Artemis are checking for scrapes and bruises on her and Barry’s couch, Iris has the excruciatingly painful conversation with her nephew about leaving his room door open and Wally sticks his fingers in his ears the entire time.
“ La la la! This is a gross conversation! I can’t hear you! ”)
When Barry and Iris leave the Hall, she considers asking Wally if he wants a lift home with them. She rounds the corner into a deeper set of bookshelves, where the teenagers camped out for the evening, but when the League’s party is winding down, the Team’s seems to only be beginning.
“Hey Aunt Iris!” Wally waves, with the one arm not wrapped around Artemis’ shoulder. “I’m staying at the Cave tonight and I told the ‘rents, so you guys can go home.”
Barry’s lips tug upwards, pulling Iris towards the zeta tubes before she can say anything embarrassing.
Wally still races toward her, stops to hug them both.
In hindsight, pregnancy was the easy part.
It’s recovering from birth, and raising two children instead of one, that’s the hard part. It’s the weight slipping off her before she realises, and brushing it under how hard it is to feed two children instead of one. It’s Donny never being able to sleep unless she’s with him, fused onto her chest or into the crook of her arm, and Dawn being fussy when someone other than her dad tries to burp her. They set each other off when their not near each other, and in all their ultrasound pictures, their shoulders were smushed together, side by side and they sleep like that too.
Barry goes back to work after three months, and then it’s just Iris, and two children who get agitated by the way their molecules are always trying to move and vibrate but they’re tied down by the smallness of themselves. The plans they made for her going back to work when the twins reach one are put to a sudden, grinding halt when she realises child speedsters who can’t control themselves put Barry, and his identity as the Flash, completely at risk.
So she’s not going back to work anytime soon.
On a whim, one day, Iris goes against the almighty code of the Justice League that makes sure Bart doesn’t spoil the whole future and ruin the whole timestream. She asks an innocent question.
“Raising speedsters? Uh, well, I know running with them can be soothing, makes them feel like they’re running too.” He taps his pencil off his page while he fidgets, and she knows he’s going crazy with all the things that he can’t say. “I had, uh, a friend, I guess? Anyway, her son would only calm down if he could feel her particles moving around.”
Bart brings her a thousand questions. He keeps himself tight-lipped so he never says anything too big. The urge to ask about other speedsters is always there, a whole Flash Family thrown into the future that Barry and Iris accidentally started. She knows Bart doesn’t have any siblings, and Donny and Dawn are her only children and that somewhere, distantly, Wally and Artemis have children who have their own children and they live in a grim future where the Reach keeps them enslaved.
(Sometimes, when Bart is half-awake or deep in sleep, he calls for a woman called Alice and cries out for someone Apollo and Iris can’t bring herself to ask who they are and where they went.)
It doesn’t help that everyone around her makes it look so easy. Mary was a natural with Wally; he was the one thing they’d fought so bitterly for and that’s probably why it hurts so much, to know there weren’t more kids lucky enough to have a mother like her. Queen Mera is raising a prince with big purple eyes and he’s as polite and gentle as any child could be, Lynn Stewart navigates a difficult divorce while keeping her children grounded, and Lois Lane is carrying a half-kryptonian child like that's an easy feat to accomplish.
Motherhood doesn’t come easy to Iris; not the way it does for her friends and it’s not anything like the way the movies and books and TV shows portray it to be.
It’s like there’s a piece missing. Iris has lost the part that makes the first few months of your children’s lives the best thing you’ve ever experienced, the way Barry feels in the evenings and after missions.
Feels like she’s living in a fog and can’t find her way out.
(“Y’know, Aunt Iris, by the time the twins arrive I’ll have less hours in college so I’ll be able to help you out.” There was a ring of stress around Wally’s eyes, a heaviness to his shoulders and she was worried, the way she always was about Wally. She’d written it off that he was just dealing in his own way. His girlfriend had died, and whenever Iris looks back she can see how the silence was as crushing as the sea.)
If anything, looking after the twins keeps the grief at bay. It’s hard to mourn the dead, when your children are so brightly alive and need you, even when it feels easier to turn over and ignore it.
“So, Iris,” Barry says once over dinner, and the twins are fed and content on their backs. “I was talking to Orin, about Mera after she had-”
“Barry.” She snaps, but she sounds tired, like she’s splintering, but it doesn’t stop the anger, and the hot embarrassment that floods through her. Whatever Iris wanted to say gets swallowed by Barry’s worried eyes. “Just drop it.” Iris whispers instead, and suddenly she’s not hungry and Donny is crying again.
When the twins get their six month boosters, the doctor holds Iris back. It’s the same woman who brought them into the world and her eyebrows are set deep, and she looks concerned. The way everyone does now.
“Postpartum depression is-”
“My nephew died. That’s all it is.” Because it’s the only answer. That’s the fog; that’s the missing piece. Wally died and she can’t get it together.
(A better mother would be able to, instead of blaming grief on why she feels this way.)
“You’re not alone Iris, believe it or not.” The doctor’s voice is earnest, and she slips a pamphlet under Iris’ hand, smiling all big and kind.
Iris thinks somewhere between the ninth and tenth session, it feels easier to breath. It’s a group of women in a resource center room that talk about things, without their children. There’s two other women there with twins, and another woman lost her brother a few months before she gave birth, and it’s nice, to feel like she’s not the only one, even when there’s added things she can’t say. Bart is a ‘distant relative’ they foster because his parents aren’t able to care for him and her husband works ‘odd, unpredictable hours’ and the twins are ‘difficult’ to manage by herself. And the other women understand, and even if they don’t, they still smile and nod, and say sweet things like I’m so sorry for your loss and Wally sounded like a lovely young man.
Iris comes home one day and sees Dawn on her stomach, head barely able to keep herself up, but when she sees her mother, she laughs, her green eyes still tinged with blue.
And it’s the most wonderful sound Iris has ever heard.
It’s like coming home again. Wally’s first anniversary passes in the relentless Kansas heat and Iris sticks Toy Story on even though the twins are too young to watch it. When they pass by the graveyard there’s a garden blooming, yellows and reds and summer flowers all caught in the wind. Even after a year, Wally is still so loved, and still so missed. Lian runs away from Artemis’ hold on her and Barry catches her, swinging her up over his shoulder with a giggle.
“You should bring Lian over, to play with the twins.” He suggests. Iris can hear how choked he sounds, and it’s mainly because he’s remembering how enamored Wally was with Lian, getting broody over red hair and dark eyes.
Artemis finds the strength to smile, a feeling Iris understands with all of her mended heart. Grief is never linear, and the days and nights stretch and ebb and flow differently.
But the idea for the group doesn’t come until after the twins turn one. Artemis sits Lian on the ground with the twins, who walk and run now, follow her dutifully, while she pushes her buggy around.
“My sister left.” Artemis says, with a watery laugh.
“She’s just gone? After buying the house and everything?”
The other woman just nods, tucking her hands under her thighs and shrugging. Iris knows the Palo Alto apartment is more of a temporary situation. When Tigress changed sides, Batman moved the zeta tube to a parcel motel block away from her and now she lives in Star City. Iris hopes she’s happy.
“I’m used to Jade doing stuff like this.” Her confession is airless, a valiant attempt to stay unfeeling and unbothered, but Iris can see the hurt radiating off her. Everyone knows, after Wally died, Cheshire all but changed sides and moved to Palo Alto and hung around while her sister came back to life again. “It’s more Ro-Will. He’s a bit more cut up about it, because it took him off guard.”
“They were doing good for a while.” Iris notes, as Lian holds up a plastic baby for Iris to kiss on the forehead. “Is this your baby Lian?” She’s a little over two and words are a bit hard, so she nods instead, with her top lip jutting out over her bottom.
Artemis’ sad eyes follow her niece back over to the twins. Her hair is long enough to tie up and put clips in, but much like her mother, she hates bobbins and slides and pulls them out of her red hair as soon as possible. “Lian’s noticed she’s gone. Jade has been away before, but not long enough for that to happen.”
It’s a split second idea. It’s so easy and so simple that Iris wishes she’d thought of it before. It’s a real hello Megan moment, as Wally and Bart would say, but the gears are already turning.
Being a parent is so lonely. Having a superpowered spouse or being a superpowered spouse is also so lonely. There is a small, sliver of an intersection for those two specifications, and Iris can name them all off the back of her hand.
The first meeting is awkward and only slightly strange. Will is the only man there and but then Lian meets Anissa and Jennifer Pierce and might just want to spend the rest of her life with the sisters' tea set. Lois is pregnant, deflecting various birth horror stories with a nervous grin; Artur is slightly older than the rest of the kids but he’s kind and plays with Donny; Raquel’s laughter echoes around the house; it’s dysfunctional and messy and incredibly loud, but Iris can exhale.
“It’s okay to feel a bit off.” Iris says to Lois, while they make tea for the rest of the parents. “Y’know, not yourself after giving birth. Just remember you have friends and family, and we’ll always be there.” She nudges her, before carrying the tray out and deftly dodging cries from Donny and Dawn.
“Give me a sec guys!” Iris laughs, and doesn’t feel guilty about it.
Wally vaults over the couch when the first few bars of ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ float over into the kitchen, abandoning his essays and forms taking up a good chunk of her table.
“Aunt Iris! Wanna watch?”
It’s oddly endearing, seeing how eager he is to still spend time with her. He went over that morning to ask if she had tips for college applications and essays, his way of making it up to her that he can’t make her birthday party, for the first time ever, with the deadline for so many of his choices around then.
She carries the pile of sheets and his laptop into the sitting room to him, settling them down next to him. Iris raises her eyebrow, but sits down anyway. “You still wanna watch Toy Story with your aunt?”
Wally blinks, answering instantly. “Well, duh?” He looks away, slightly embarrassed. “It’s okay if you’re busy.”
“Oh Wally,” She melts, and gives him a one armed hug that he half-returns with a laugh. “I’ll always watch Toy Story with you.” She says, and it’s only half-mocking when she pinches his cheek.
Barry walks in from the garden ten minutes later, toeing off his grass stained runners. It’s early October and the leaves are still rattling in the wind, but Barry still claps his hands with a satisfied grin. “That’s the lawn done until Spring-- are you watching Toy Story?!” And Barry’s on Wally’s other side all of a sudden, shuffling around the pages to deposit them on the ground. He raises an eyebrow at the names on heading the forms, the usual ones like Star City University, Gotham U, Stanford, Harvard, and some stranger ones; like Oxford, University of Tokyo, University College Dublin all the way in Ireland. “You’re really covering all the grounds.”
Wally just shrugs, biting the skin around her thumbs. His eyes are trained on the screen still, but his shoulders are hunched. “I mean, if Batman is offering to pay for your tuition, might as well go international.”
“No Central City?” Iris inquires, peering over Wally to look at the sheets in Barry’s hands.
He stiffens, like this is a conversation he’s had before, most likely with Rudy and Mary. “I wasn’t the biggest fan of the open day.”
She knows she shouldn’t press, but there’s an excessive amount of stress on him, and Iris remembers being in that place, but she had less options than he did and won’t have to worry about the crushing weight of student loans. “That all?”
At first she can’t hear him, but then Barry takes his hand from his mouth and it slips out. “I don’t think Artemis likes it very much.”
She shares an uncomfortable glance with her husband, both of them waiting for each other to speak first. Wally beats them to it.
“I know you’re told to ignore what everyone else is doing when picking colleges, and that it’s really stupid to pick a college based on where my girlfriend wants to go but it’s-”
“We’re not thinking that Wally.” She says, against Woody screeching ‘ You! Are! A! Toy! ’ in the background. “We just didn’t think you and Artemis were that serious?”
If Iris was hesitant about a long-term relationship in freshman year, it’s a little fascinating to see her nephew so willing to hinge his education on the girlfriend he’s had since he was sixteen.
(Iris is also lying when she says she had no idea that they were so serious. Wally is like her, and they fall a bit too hard and stay a bit too dreamy with things.)
“Well, I love her, y’know?” He says, and even though he’s blushing he’s not embarrassed. Some things in life are just facts known to science, known to nature. The sky is blue, grass is green, Wally loves Artemis and she loves him too.
Barry ruffles his hair, exhaling exasperatedly. “I’m still allowed to be a little hurt you’re not heading for Central City. It’s where me and Iris met, imagine if we weren’t ‘the biggest fans’, and didn’t go? Where would we be?”
(Iris likes to hold onto the idea that even if he wasn’t her roommate’s boyfriend’s cousin’s roommate, she still would’ve ended up with him, because some things are just meant to be that way. In these alternate universes he is her childhood neighbor, a family friend, a superhero she interviews when buildings are on fire and banks get robbed.)
“Completely bogus question, Uncle B.” Wally laughs.
Even Iris has to agree, but her chest is warm and light. “Yeah, that’s like asking what if Wally had never crashed our first Valentine’s Date. We could’ve broken up if the date you had planned went south.”
Wally drags his hands down his face, but he’s grinning when he looks at them both.“Are you guys ever gonna let that go?”
“Imagine if I had known that wasn’t gonna be the first time I was cockblocked for the sake of watching Toy Story.” Barry sighs, and Wally and Iris groan, but her husband laughs so hard he shakes the sheets out of his hands.
A half-finished essay plan lands at her feet, her nephew’s neat scrawl tacked across in vibrant red pen. ‘A Person Who Inspires Me’ takes the heading, and in a big circle, ‘Aunt Iris’ is in the centre.
“Oh jeez,” Wally laughs, picking up the page before she can finish reading it. “This is the Stanford one, which is good because Stanford is number one.”
Wally’s life to her has been a ‘blink and you miss it’ for seventeen years. Blink, he’s a little boy who holds her hand. Blink; he’s Kid Flash and saves the world like it’s as easy as breathing. Blink; he’s going off to college.
“When did you grow up?” She asks before she can stop herself.
Wally doesn’t answer, but he does pull her into a hug that means a million things and only one thing.
He’s going to college but he’s not gone forever.
When they step onto the smooth, white sand of Happy Harbour beach, Iris takes off her sandals and Barry holds them before she can grab them back.
“Is it sad when date night is just family events you can pawn the children off to?” Barry asks, waving at Artemis on the other end of the rows and rows of seats. Dawn and Donny are fiddling with the baskets of flower petals and pulling at each other’s clothes.
“I think it’s just called having toddlers.” She laughs, and accepts the arm he expends for her to link him. He’s wearing a beige suit and a light green shirt, his loafers tucked under his arms as they walk in the sand. It’s one of those outdoor weddings that are so en vogue , where there’s no ‘sides’ for the bride and groom and it's a free for all for seats. The Team all gather to the front, so Iris pulls her and Barry down to a set of chairs midway, and Bruce Wayne actually nods gently in greeting. At the last wedding they’d been to, almost a year and a half ago, Bruce brought a dark haired woman with a roll to her accent.
“First of the kids to get married.” Barry notes, wonder clear in his voice.
It’s the eighth of July, the ocean breeze pushing through their hair and riffling up the sand. It’s fitting Conner and M’gann take the first day they met as their wedding day. It’s something she knows Wally would find so cheesy and cliché but he’d still love it. At the top with the rest of the original Team, there’s a chair left empty that’s wrapped with a red and yellow ribbon, a deep contrast to the seafoam green and pearl pink on the rest of the chairs, now almost full with guests. The brass band takes a deep breath before filling the beach with a deep, low note.
“This really makes our wedding look dull.” He whispers, after J’onn has taken M’gann up the aisle, her hands joined with Conner’s. Her dress is clearly a far cry from the dreams she had when she first came to Earth, almost ten years ago. But that’s okay, because no one is the same person they were when they were sixteen, and it took M’gann a while to realise that.
And Wally could be so, so proud to see that.
Barry and Iris got married the same massive, Catholic Church in Keystone she’d been baptized in and the one she buried her parents in. “We could always renew our vows?” She whispers back, and he squeezes her hand tightly. “Put the twins in matching clothes?”
“We could wait until our fifteenth anniversary? That way they’ll remember it?”
“There must be some law,” Iris laughs, as subtle as she can. Barry has always been able to make her laugh like this, breathless in her chest and butterflies in her stomach. “That makes it illegal to talk about your own wedding at another person’s wedding.”
“Yeah, just some cosmic rule; God kills you on the spot.”
But then the sky darkens, angry grey clouds rolling in over the sea suddenly, guests gasping at the scene. The waves chop and roar against the tide, ferocious crashes taking the world hostage. Iris’ world has ended multiple times over the past three years, her entire life, but the clouds bring a weird sense of calm. As if this is how the end of the world is supposed to start. Not with the Reach Invasion, but really with a flood.
“I was just kidding about the cosmic laws.” Barry says, clearly not feeling what she does. He stands while the rest of the League rises. They’re all thinking the same thing; that even events like this, weddings and births and deaths, find trouble, and the League in one way or another is always needed.
The clouds swirl and swirl and swirl and come to a climax when the sky opens up with a crack of lightning and spits someone out, plunging into the deep blue. As soon as they came, the sky clears, bright and blue and breezy once again, and the tide calms and rolls over into the surf.
“Did someone just-”
“Was that a man-”
“Is he alright-”
Bart races to her side, chest heaving and he shakes Barry out of his unfocused stare. “Did you see him too?” He asks, then tries again, this time louder and tears spill over his cheeks. “Did you just see Wally too?”
(The person who fell wore mustard yellow and firetruck red, but Iris learned to stop looking for him everywhere.)
Still, the hope is there.
“If it is him,” She starts, as Kaldur becomes Aquaman again and starts shedding his jacket to dive in. “Bring him back to me.”
Barry nods, and with a thin gust of air Bart and Barry are carried to the water.
Then the sea comes to greet them. Her nephew burns the water he runs on, and when he makes it to land, he’s calling out for ArtemisArtemis Artemis and Batman next to her tries to be kind, holding her back when she rushes forward.
“It might not be him.” He warns, voice and expression pained. “You have to prepare yourself for that.”
The original team, the same family he started out with nine years ago reach him first, holding him close as the League gives a wide berth. Iris understands where Bruce is coming from, and understands the validity behind his words and actions but-
She just knows it’s him.
In a thousand ways she knows it’s him, because he is her fifteenth birthday present that arrived wrapped in a red blanket and had a squished face, ten days late. She knows it’s him because, in every sense of the world, he has always been a little bit her’s; when she’d pretend he was her baby and she was the only hand he’d ever reach for, even when holding hands with your aunt was uncool and lame.
(He hardly flew into the sea. It was falling with style; graceless and turbulent but still so Wally.)
Iris pushes through the crowd, looks for the twins first, and finds Will holding Dawn and his wife holding Donny, but she wants nothing more than to be with them, as if they’d make it all better. The gaggle of people assembling around Wally parts, just as Iris’ first sob escapes her, suddenly running to him and wondering, is this how they feel? When they run? Like nothing is finite and everything goes on forever.
He’s shaking with aftershocks from the lightning, tiny bolts buzzing from him and sneaking up her fingers and arms when she hugs him, but it still doesn’t feel real, and there’s a million things she wants to ask and wants to know.
“You promised you’d be careful.” She says instead, echoing what he swore the day he took up the mantle. Barry slinks his arms around the both of them, his head resting against the crook of her shoulder, and his chest is shaking and heaving behind her.
(Distantly, it is over ten years ago, but they are somehow still in the Keystone Memorial Hospital with a very charred preteen who wanted to become a superhero. Well he did all of that. All of that and more.)
“I came back though,” Wally croaks. Wally smiles. Wally breaths. “Like I always do.”
Iris brings his forehead to her’s and takes a shuddering breath, the pain and grief washing away with the sea that brought him home.
(But her hard work is still there. All the effort it took to come alive again still belongs to her.)
This is a second chance. The world remade for them, and it will end again, but they’ll get through it together.
“And you have to listen to Barry.”
“And you can’t go off on your own.”
“Aunt Iris! Don’t worry! I promise to stay safe, for you, and mom and dad and Uncle B butcanIpleasegonowplease .”
(He is twelve, the world is limitless, and he has no idea what the next ten years will bring.)
Wally smiles with his whole mouth. “Aunt Iris, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.”