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The Outback in the Morning Sun

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The air smelled like cheap booze and vomit. But as much as Owen wished his dad had picked another place for their father-son bonding night, he had to admit any joint would start to smell funky after one in the morning, and it had never really bothered him before anyway. What did bother him, however, was that Digger had spent the whole night trying to pick up girls instead of working on their relationship like they had planned.  

And he was failing miserably. 

Owen himself wasn’t the smoothest Casanova in town, but God, was he feeling so much second-hand embarrassment just looking at his dad from ten feet away. From his seat by the counter, he could see the young women’s faces slowly morphing from mild amusement to shock, then from shock to disgust, and from disgust to pure anger. Admittedly, the first couple of rejections had been somewhat entertaining, but the whole situation had stopped being funny about an hour ago and Owen was feeling tempted to just ditch his father and go home. 

When the fifth woman in a row threw her cosmopolitan at his face, Digger finally gave up… in his usual fashion.

“You ugly fat cow!”

Oh. My. God.

“Alright, that’s enough!” Owen intervened. He gave the woman an apologetic look before grabbing his father by the arm and forcing him to sit down next to him. “It’s a miracle no one’s punched you yet.”

“The night’s still young,” Digger snorted.

“First of all, no it’s not. And second of all, you smell like a fucking brewery! There’s no way anyone is going anywhere with you tonight.”

“Challenge accepted!” his inebriated father yelled, trying to stand up again.

“No!” Owen pulled him back down on his seat. “Jesus Fucking Christ! I can’t believe I was even born!”

That made them both laugh. Or maybe it was all that alcohol filling them with that sweet euphoric feeling. Not like it really mattered, though. Their laughter soon faded, replaced with quiet contemplation as Owen started wondering, How was I even born? Where do I come from? He had gotten half an answer a couple of years ago in the form of Captain Boomerang, washed-up supervillain, when the old man himself had appeared in front of his house.

“Dad? Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Digger took a sip from his bottle. If he noticed the hesitation in his son’s voice, he didn’t show it.

“You’ve…” Owen took a deep breath. “You’ve never talked about my mother.”

And just like the last time he had asked about the woman who had given birth to him, his father looked away, the crease in his brows tightening with sorrow. George “Digger” Harkness rarely showed any sign of emotion beyond annoyance and anger, likely because he never felt anything else, to begin with. But ever since his son had come back into his life, he had started to experience all sorts of feelings he didn't know he was capable of anymore. Some he liked a lot, like that warmth in his chest when he taught the kid how to throw a boomerang. But there were also times like this when he felt like he was getting punched in the guts by some Speed-Twit. No, a punch he could handle. This was something else, something he wasn't used to anymore. 

He had known this day would come eventually and he had thought he would be prepared for it. As it turned out, he was far from ready. He didn't know where to begin. He didn’t know how the kid would react. What if he ended up despising him, blaming him for losing his mother, for abandoning him and for everything else that had happened in the past? Digger himself sure did, so why wouldn't he? 

In an attempt to escape his son’s intense glare, he focused his attention on the green and red label of his bottle of beer which he had started to scratch nervously.

“Dad, please,” Owen insisted in a soft tone. “I want to know. I need to know before…” He stopped mid-sentence, his voice breaking.

His father finally turned around to look at him. “Before what?”

“What if one of us dies? Again.” The words came out harshly, a lot colder than he had intended, but he was tired of his dad’s constant avoidance.

“I'm not planning to die any time soon,” Digger replied, getting slightly irritated.

Owen snorted bitterly. “Oh because that was actually your plan the first time?”

Digger gritted his teeth. “Stop it!”

“I deserve to know who my mother was, dammit!” Owen yelled loudly.

The room fell silent around them as the bartender and the few remaining patrons gave the pair of them pointed looks. Anger flared upon his father’s face and Owen was convinced he was going to start a fight with whoever the biggest man in the room was. But instead, Digger downed the rest of his beer in a few large gulps, slammed the bottle on the bar and got up to leave. He staggered towards the door while Owen paid for their drinks. The young man left the bartender a generous tip for putting up with them all night long before following his father outside.

They walked in silence side by side for a while in the dark empty streets of Central City. At this hour, in this neighbourhood, only the drunks, the homeless and the occasional hooker would dare step outside. Maybe a crook or two every now and then, but none dared approach them. Like recognises like, it seems. Owen and his scruffy-looking dad were blending in quite nicely. 

They found their way to an old bus stop and sat on a rusty bench covered in graffiti, with “TRIXTER RULZ” written in big yellow letters across the entire seat. The silence weighed heavy between them until Digger finally spoke. It was barely audible, a murmur so low that Owen almost missed it. “Mel…”

He looked at his father, confused. “What?”

“Her name was Meloni,” the older man confessed almost reluctantly and Owen felt something stir in his chest. 

There was a pain in his father's voice. Something genuine and deep. Something you wouldn't expect from the amoral, selfish man he was supposed to be. Digger turned quiet again, likely hoping a name would be enough to assuage his son's curiosity. It wasn't, but Owen felt bad for pushing him into a conversation he clearly didn’t want to have tonight.

“I'm sorry,” he sighed. “I shouldn't have brought it up. If you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to.”

“Are you sure you really want to know?” Digger asked bitterly, finally looking his son straight in the eyes. “Let me warn you, that story doesn't end well.” 

Owen swallowed. No, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. But he felt like he needed it. He nodded his head slowly, encouraging his father to speak while he was still willing to say more.

“Alright then,” Digger gave in. “It all started when I fell from the clouds.”

“Dad, come on!” He couldn’t believe his father was still trying to bullshit his way out of this. “Be serious for one second.”

“It's the truth, I swear!” Digger hissed, placing a hand over his heart as if he had just been insulted. “I literally fell from the sky! Landed face first, right at your mum’s feet.” He punctuated his tales with dramatic gestures, like a marionette on a string.

“Really? What, like an angel or something?” Owen rolled his eyes. “Did she also ask you if it hurt when you fell from Heaven?” 

“No, it was more like that book. What's it called?” He scratched his head and grimaced the way he often did when he was thinking too hard. “The Wizard of Oz!” He snickered. “Get it? The Wizard of Oz!” His coarse laugh echoed through the empty street.

“Dad!” Owen wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be annoyed at his father for yet again trying to find a way out of this conversation by using some lame joke, or impressed that the man had actually read a book at some point in his life.

“Alright, alright. But it's true, I was swept up by some weird higher forces, and when I opened my eyes, I wasn't in Kansas anymore.”

“Central City isn't in Kansas, it's in Missouri.”

“Who says I wasn't in Keystone?” Digger pouted. “Keystone is in Kansas, right?”

“Whatever.” Owen wasn't entirely sure whether or not his father was spinning a fairytale. Still, he decided to humor him a little longer. “Where were you then, after you 'fell'?”

“Not ‘where’ but ‘when,’” Digger said cryptically. “Central City, at the dawn of the 31st century.”

“Wait, what?”

Of all the things Owen had expected to hear, this wasn't even on the list. Although, in retrospect, he shouldn't have been so shocked to learn he had such an unusual origin story. His speed had to come from somewhere, after all.

“I must have banged up my head pretty hard when I fell ‘cause I couldn't even remember my own name,” Digger continued. “I looked up, lost and confused, and that's when I saw her for the first time.” The sweet memory made him smile. “She had the most beautiful eyes, your mum, the colour of the outback in the morning sun. It was comforting, I felt at home when I looked at them.”

Owen smiled and gave him a nudge. “Aww Dad, I didn’t know you could be so soft and poetic.”

Irritation flashed on Digger’s face. “You better not tell anyone! I have a reputation to uphold!”

But the threat barely fazed the boy. “She must have been a very special woman to soften the heart of a hardened criminal such as yourself.”

Digger snorted, relaxing a bit. “She was,” he admitted. “She was smart and beautiful, and funny. She was kind but stubborn and passionate. When she put her mind to something, there was no stopping her, no matter how dangerous and dumb her ideas were.” He let out a brief laugh as an old memory crossed his mind. “Ain’t ever met another woman like her, not in this century. Shit if I know why, but somehow she loved me back. It wasn’t perfect — I know I screwed up a lot — but we were happy.” His eyes settled on his son, a sad smile barring his face. “At least for a while. I’ll never forget the look on her face when you were born.”

He paused for a moment, lost in thoughts. Owen tried to imagine the woman his father was describing. He pictured an impulsive, adventurous and exciting woman going through life with a broad smile on her face. And maybe she was also a little wild and a little crazy (she had made a baby with Captain Boomerang, after all). He tried to imagine that woman raising him, showering him with love and affection… 

“She was a great mother,” Digger continued. “Not like me. I was completely out of my element, especially with all that future tech that I had no idea how to use.”

“I'm sure you weren't that bad,” Owen tried to reassure him.

Digger stared at him for a moment with a blank expression on his face. “I once fed you dog food. Or whatever weird-ass pet that thing your mother brought home was supposed to be. I said 'if it's good enough for the dog, it's good enough for everyone,' but your mum wouldn't hear any of it.” 

Owen chuckled. “Alright, maybe you were a little bad at it.”

They sat in silence for a while, the low steady hum of the street lamp the only sound breaking through the night. For the first time since he'd met him, Digger looked almost at peace. Almost, but not quite. That wistful frown he'd seen earlier was still there, lingering on his face.

“You have her eyes, you know. And her wits,” he told Owen with a smile. “There's a lot of me in you, anyone can see that, but those qualities you have? The willpower and the determination, and everything that makes you a decent human being? That’s all her. It warms the heart to know that you inherited all of her best traits. It really does. She'd be so proud of you, son. I know I am.” He punctuated his praise with a friendly pat on the kid's shoulder.

“What— What happened?” Owen asked with hesitation.

Digger sighed, shaking his head. “That’s where it gets complicated. And ugly.” He gave his son a brief look, weighing his next words more carefully than anything he had ever said in his entire life. “Your mum, she loved you so much. Her little star, she called you. Leaving you musta been the hardest decision she's ever made.” He hesitated for a moment, considering whether or not he should tell the truth. “Ever heard of Inertia?”

Owen frowned, not sure what that had to do with anything. “Yeah. He's the kid who roped the Rogues into killing the Flash. Died a few years back.”

Digger grimaced. “Right, that's the one.” He hesitated again. “He's your brother. Sort of.”

“Come again?”

“It’s complicated. I didn't really understand everything myself. But your mum was a Thawne, as in she's related to the Reverse-Flash, the worst of the worst. And that kid wasn’t much better. He found us and—” His hands clenched into tight fists, his knuckles turning white. For the first time since this conversation had started, Owen saw a glimpse of the Captain Boomerang everyone else knew, the angry, deadly, old Rogue. “He came after your mum. Damn near took you down too.”

“Me? But I must have been barely—”

“Three years old? Yeah.” His eyes were burning with rage and a desire for revenge so great it terrified Owen. “Apparently he was jealous. Bitter because your mum didn't raise him or something.”

“So you decided to send me back to the past? Or present, I guess.”

“I was already going back. Your mum just decided it would be safer for you if I took you with me.”

“Hold on. What do you mean, you were already going back?”

“I started remembering things. Who I was, where I came from. I didn't belong there. I figured it was better for everyone if I left before I screwed everything up for good.”

“Why didn't she come too?”

“She still had a revolution to win and a corrupt president to overthrow.”

“You're kidding, right?” At this point, nothing should have surprised him anymore. Yet, here he was, still questioning his father's sincerity. And perhaps even his sanity. “Are you telling me my mom was a revolutionary from the future? How much TV were you allowed to watch while you were in prison?”

“After everything you’ve seen, you can’t believe in time travel?”

“It’s the ‘badass hero falling for the big bad unrepentant Captain Boomerang’ that I have a hard time getting my head around if I have to be perfectly honest.”

“I know it sounds crazy — even I can barely believe it — but it's true, all of it. For once in my life, I'm not lying.”

“Alright, let's say I believe you,” Owen sighed. “What happened next?”

“Right before we left, she made me promise to keep you safe until she came back for you. She said she would follow us as soon as the situation settled down.”

Obviously, she never did. Owen could only guess why.

“I went into the damn machine,” his father went on, “thinking with time travel, she'd show up in a few days. But that was it, never saw her again. Within a week I was already back to robbing jewellery stores.”

“Is that why you had me adopted?” Owen asked. “I'm not mad or anything. Just curious.”

“Shit, kid! You've met me, I'm a terrible person, there's no getting around that. I’m not saying that I was happy to leave you. I loved you, you and your mother both. But I knew I wasn't capable of raising you on my own. I can't even take care of myself, for fuck’s sake! Then there was the small matter of the promise I made to your mum to keep you safe. How the fuck am I supposed to do that from behind bars?”

“The Rogues—”

“Would’ve killed you the minute they realised you were related to the Reverse-Flash, if not sooner when your speed kicked in. You were better off having a normal childhood… A normal life.” So much for that. Owen didn't think there was a single bone inside his body that had not been broken at some point. “Shit, I never should've dragged you back into this life.”

“Don't… don't blame yourself. I'm glad you did. Ever since I learnt that I was adopted, I've always wanted to know where I came from, though I have to admit I didn't expect to be the secret offspring of a famous supervillain and a badass revolutionary from the future.”

“Right.” Digger frowned deeply. “I'm going to ask you to keep it to yourself. You can't tell anyone who she is or where you came from.”

“As if anyone would believe that story.”

“I'm serious. You have no idea what people would do to you if they knew you were a Thawne.”

“They're already giving me a hard time for being your son.”

“Trust me, this is worse. Eobard Thawne is a monster. You do not want to be associated with him.”

“Alright, alright. I won't tell a soul,” Owen yielded, throwing his hands up in defeat. 

It wasn’t like he had a lot of friends these days anyway. A few acquaintances here and there, most of whom knew nothing of his past among the superhero community. It was easier that way, but a question still ate at his mind.

“So, if I'm a descendent of the Reverse-Flash, is that where my speed comes from?”

“Maybe,” Digger shrugged. “Your mum was a badass but she wasn’t a speedster. Her father was obsessed with it though — the Thawne legacy, he called it. It’s possible he… did something,” he revealed through gritted teeth.

“My grandfather? What kind of man—?”

“Look,” his dad cut him off. “It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s there, in the future, and you’re here. I made a promise to your mum to keep you safe. From him, from Inertia, from everyone. I haven't done a good job of it in the past but I’m gonna try harder this time.”

Owen wasn’t sure how much of his father’s tale he should believe. Time travel? Rebellion? Star-crossed romance? It all sounded like something out of a sci-fi flick and half of it seemed highly out of character for one such as Digger Harkness. But there was truth to it somewhere, Owen was certain of it. He could believe that his father had been trying to protect him when he left him, at the very least.  

“Dad?” he began tentatively. “Do you think I’ll ever see her again?”

Digger looked at him thoughtfully for a moment before answering. “I don’t know, son. I really don’t know.”