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Once Bitten, Twice Shy

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When Len was very small, he liked to play tag with his aunt Noga. She was his mother’s half-sister – much, much younger than his mom, more of an elder sister than an aunt, a product of an affair which a rich white man who’d adopted Noga for his own when he found out.

He called her Nora, not Noga, because he said it was more “American”, but Len’s mother and grandmother cheerfully ignored him and continued to call her the name of her birth, though they permitted him to take her away so she could have what they called a better life.

Len figured it was because she was rich now. Respectable. But she was still his aunt.

When Len got a little older, and his dad went to prison and came back different, things changed. The rich man didn’t like his baby girl associating with criminals, so Noga couldn’t come around anymore.

One day, Len had taken the bus all the way to Noga’s house in the nice part of town.

“Can I live with you?” he asked. “I don’t wanna be at home anymore.”

She’d taken one look at his black eye and the ginger way he walked, and she’d let him right in.

They’d managed two whole days, Len hiding in Noga’s room and her bringing him food and stuff to read, before Noga’s father found out and kicked Len out, yelling that he wouldn’t ever permit his daughter to be associated with such filthy trash, that he’d get a restraining order, that Len would go to jail if he ever saw her again.

Noga had sobbed and begged, but nothing had helped.

Len had gone home, and his dad hadn’t been happy with him, either.

That’d been the first time it was bad enough for him to have to go to the hospital.

Len’s mother decided it was time to leave, even though she was so very sick by now.

Len will never be sure if her death a week later, diagnosed as either natural causes or, at worst, an accidental overdose of her medication, was natural. He doesn’t like to think about it.

He doesn’t think about it, for years and years.

It’s not until later – much later, when he has Lisa to think of and he’s gone to juvie and back once already – that he sees Noga again. She’s wearing a college shirt, some fancy place out east, and she’s holding hands with some big guy and smiling.

Len feels the shame in his thrift store clothing and his ragged jeans but – family is family.

He goes up to them and says to the guy, “You’d better be treating her right.”

The guy bristles a little – he’s a wealthy college white boy, after all, and they don’t take too kindly to young poor black men telling them anything, no matter how pale their complexion – but Noga recognizes him immediately, shrieking and wrapping her hands around him. “Lenny! Lenny!”

He hugs her back.

“You know him?” the guy says, good humor restored, though he’s still wary.

“My nephew,” she says, wiping her eyes. “Oh, Lenny – my dad said he’d sent you away!”

“He did,” Len says, puzzled. “Back to my house.”

“No – he said you’d left the city! And then Hagit died and he wouldn’t even let me go to her funeral and – oh, Lenny.”

Len softens. He’d never liked her dad anyway, and he has plenty of experience with bad dads. He guesses he can’t hold her long absence against her after all.

“Henry Allen,” the guy says, sticking out a hand. “We’re both pre-med, Columbia. What’re you?”

Len stares at him. “Poor,” he says.

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m poor,” Len clarifies. “I ain’t in college.”

“…oh.”

“You dating this bozo?” Len asks Noga, nodding at him.

She blushes, which Len takes as a yes.

“Don’t,” Len says. “Oblivious rich boys like this, they’ll just turn into your dad. Or worse, mine.”

Henry looks offended.

“Oh, no,” Noga says. “Henry’s nothing like that.”

Len snorts. “Yeah,” he says. “And your sis thought my dad was a nice good man, just ‘cause he was a cop, and look where that got her, huh? A grave, that’s what.”

“I assure you,” Henry says stiffly. “I am not abusive. And I am very much in love with Nora.”

Len arches his eyebrows, but he doesn’t say anything. No one can convince a woman in love that her man’s wrong.

Noga reaches out and grabs Len’s hands. “Come to lunch with us,” she says. “I insist. You can keep an eye on Henry.”

“Nora!” Henry protests.

“He’s my nephew,” Noga says, steel in her tone. “And he’s worried about me. He deserves a chance to see that you’re the good man I know you are.”

He’s still pouting. He’s used to being given the benefit of the doubt, a nice young man, upstanding and smart and follows all the rules. Police probably let him walk off crime scenes with a promise that he’ll come back later to give his testimony.

Hell, police probably don’t even stop him.

“If it’s a problem, Henry,” Noga says, pleasant as can be, “then perhaps Leonard and I should go to lunch by ourselves.”

Len loves his aunt.

“No,” Henry says hastily. “I’m happy to come along.” He takes a moment and visibly masters himself, swallowing away his annoyance, and he’s pleasant for the rest of the day.

Len has to give him one thing, though; no matter how often he goes to check on her, Henry – who becomes a surgeon, of all hoity-toity things, while Noga goes into chemistry – is madly in love with her.

He’s in love with her when they’re dating.

He’s in love with her at their wedding, which Len sneaks Lisa out of pre-school to attend – she gets to be the flower girl – and which Len’s dad never finds out about.

He’s in love with her, overwhelming in love with her, when their child is born. Lisa loves having a cousin who’s nearly her age, though she insists the difference between five and newborn is immense and uncountable and this makes her old now.

He’s in love with her when they buy a house in Central City – far away from his parents in the east coast, but in the city she loves best.

He’s in love with her when their boy, Barry, grows up, and he never hits him, not once. Lisa writes him letters – they’re pen-pals, once Barry’s old enough to learn his alphabet – because despite the fact that they’re in the same city, Len’s dad has forbidden them to contact each other.

Len visits only rarely – he’s often in prison, in those early years – but Henry never forbids it, even though Len’s a criminal. Len can see it on his face that he wants to, but Noga insists and he’s madly in love with her and so he agrees.

Sure, he’s on the phone with his cop buddy from down the street an unusually high number of times, but Len makes sure never to be seen by said cop buddy. He doesn’t want to welcome street harassment for his legal activities, and he knows how cops like to close ranks around their friends and think that harassment – little arrests here, traffic stops there – is just a way of showing their affection for their friends, and fuck the law and human rights violations involved.

Henry’s so in love, in fact, that Len starts to feel comfortable with him. The surgeon who spends his free time staffing a clinic for homeless and low-income patients; the father who makes sure to spend time at home to help Noga with the house and to play with Barry; the husband who loves his wife so much a blind man could see it on his face.

That’s what makes it all the worse when Len wakes up to Lisa running into his apartment sobbing, holding out the paper, and the front cover is Henry Allen being taken to prison for the murder of his wife, Nora Allen.

Len is very, very still and something inside of him is very, very cold.

“I’m going to kill him,” he says.

Good,” Lisa replies.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It’s not easy, of course. Henry Allen is under strict police custody during his trial, and spends much of his first few months segregated from the prison population. Besides, Len doesn’t want to have him killed. He wants to kill him.

He’s got plans in motion, though. The second Henry Allen is released into gen pop, Leonard Snart is going to get caught for a minor violation that’ll put him in the can just long enough to make his feelings on the matter very clear.

But first, Len figures he’d better check in on his cousin. He remembers losing a mother.

Barry’s been taken in by the cop – of course – but Len knows how cops work. A cop radio, Lisa getting her friends to start shit, and he’s off on an all-night shift.

The house is pathetically easy to break into, especially once he’s cut the phone line.

Ends up being a good idea, because the cop’s daughter goes straight for the phone.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” he tells her. “Cross my heart and swear to die.” He even does the cross. Lisa’s trained him good; she's only a few years older than these kids.

She stops and stares. “What type of thief are you?”

“A very good one,” he says. “Except for the fact that I’m not here to steal anything.”

“Yeah, and you’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell me, too,” she shoots back, edging towards the kitchen. Probably for a knife or a back-up gun.

Cute kid.

He rolls his eyes. “How’s Barry doing?” he asks her.

That makes her pause. “What do you mean?”

“You’re Iris West. Barry’s best friend since he was six,” Len says. “You walk to school with him every day. He must’ve mentioned his criminal cousin pen-pals at some point.”

Her eyes go wide. “Wait,” she says. “You’re –”

“Cousin Lenny?” Barry says, coming in through the door. “Cousin Lenny!”

He practically tackles Len.

“Ouch,” Len says, staggering back a bit. “Yeesh, kid, you got big.”

Barry is crying.

Len kneels down. “Hey, hey,” he says. “There we go. I’m here. Cry all you like, kiddo.”

“Why didn’t you just come in the normal way?” Iris says crossly. “I thought you were a robber.”

“Not stealing, so no robbery,” Len says. “Technically still B&E. And family or no family, turns out your dad isn’t the type to be a-okay with criminals coming in here where you are.”

Len didn’t actually ask Joe West for permission, but that was because he knew he’d refuse.

Sure enough, Iris wrinkles her nose and nods. “Yeah,” she says. “He’s overprotective that way. You’re Nora’s brother, right?”

“Nephew, but yeah,” Len says, ignoring the name.

“Good,” she says. "As long as you're not Henry's."

“Don’t say that!” Barry shouts. “My dad didn’t do it! It wasn’t him!”

Len blinks.

“Well,” he says. “Damnit. Now I’m going to have to change my revenge plans. Who did do it?”

“You won’t believe me,” Barry says. He's shaking.

“Barry has trauma,” Iris says with the sort of self-importance that kids that age get when they’re talking about grown-up stuff. “He imagined a man appearing in a bolt of lightning. He’s seeing a shrink about it.”

“I did see a man in the lightning,” Barry whispers, his lip quivering. “I did. It wasn’t Dad.”

“It was, Bear,” Iris says, not without sympathy, but with the sort of nose-in-the-air bullcrap that someone who doesn’t even remember her only experience with severe trauma can pull.

Len’s grown up his whole life being told that his dad wasn’t really abusive. He will never be party to that sort of gaslighting, not even when it sounds right.

“If Barry says he saw a man in the lightning, he saw a man in the lightning,” Len says firmly.

“You believe me?” Barry asks, shocked.

“If you’re sure it was that man and not your dad, then yeah,” Len says. "I'll give you the benefit of a doubt."

Barry bursts into tears again and hugs Len tight.

“You really think so?” Iris asks, sounding doubtful but also like she’s got a bit of belief still left in her.

“Two words,” Len says to her. “Special effects.”

She looks taken aback, like she never considered the possibility of someone manufacturing the effect. “Oh,” she says. “Oh! So it could’ve been something else, not something supernatural or magic?”

“Any technology that’s advanced enough looks like magic,” Len points out. “You take a television to someone raised in Amish country, they’ll think you captured an image of the people in a box.” He’s pretty sure that’s actually an urban legend, but whatever, Iris is nodding now. “I’ve used flash-bang grenades myself –” Once, and it was an accident. “– and there’s all sorts of people in Central who could’ve accessed some new tech that you and me don’t know about. We’ve got all those big old lab with the military contracts, after all.”

“That’s true,” Iris says. “Oh, Barry, I’m so sorry for not believing you!”

“It’s okay,” Barry says, wiping his eyes. “You think Joe’ll listen now?”

The way Iris hesitates is perfectly clear to Len.

The answer is no.

“Your dad ever hit you?” he asks her.

Her eyes go wide. “Oh, no! Never!”

“What about calling you names?”

She shakes her head.

“Good,” Len says. “If he ever does anything like that – and I mean anything, from yelling to controlling your money to saying you can’t do shit that’s perfectly reasonable for your age – you find a way to let me know, okay?”

“My dad isn’t like that,” Iris says. Her lip’s quivering.

“But he’s happy to tell Barry he’s nuts, isn’t he?” Len says pointedly. “Tell other people he’s nuts, too. You know what happens after that? First it starts with ‘you’re lying’. Then it goes to ‘you’re nuts’ or ‘you’re bad’ because the kid doesn’t change his story. Then it gets worse.”

“Worse?” Barry and Iris chorus.

Len’s lip twists in disgust. “Yeah,” he says. “A buddy of mine, he’s got some issues, but his foster parents got the shrink to put him on drugs that make him all dead inside. They like it better when he doesn’t have the energy to move or nothing, says it makes him less trouble. And if they can’t find drugs that’ll do it, they send you to an institution. A nuthouse. And they do real bad things to you there.”

“That won’t happen!” Iris exclaims. “Barry, tell him.”

But Barry – Barry’s shaking. “They said,” he whispers. “Joe and the state psychologist and the district attorney, they said I had severe trauma and that maybe it’d be better for me to be put under observation.”

“Where?” Len asks, deeply alarmed.

“I dunno. Some hospital.”

“I’m not letting that happen,” Len says. Iris has her hand over her mouth in horror, but she’s nodding.

“You can’t,” she says, tears in her eyes. “I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest last week –”

“Iris, Joe said not to!”

“I went over to Lily and Louie’s house and we saw it there, because their parents respect our maturity. But, Barry, you can’t let them do that to you!”

“I won’t let it happen,” Len repeats, even though he’s also seen that movie and he really hopes it’s all Hollywood exaggeration. He’s not taking any chances, though. “Barry, you’re coming with me.”

“What?”

“You’re coming with me,” Len says. He hadn’t expected to have to, but damnit, he’s going to. “Iris, can you just say that Barry ran off? I’ll have my baby sister Lisa write you letters saying he’s okay and giving you a number you can contact us with.”

Iris nods. “You’d better,” she says.

“Barry, get some stuff.”

“It’s still in the bags,” Barry says. “I never unpacked…”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Iris waves them goodbye. “I won’t tell Dad,” she says.

“Tell him what you like,” Len says. He hesitates. “Actually, there is one thing you could do. Could you tell him this happened around 10 o’clock?”

Iris blinks. “Sure,” she says.

“Thanks. We’ll lay low till the heat passes – expect us to contact you,” he thinks about it, “on the first of the next month. Okay?”

She nods.

“C’mon, Barry.”

He drives him to Mick’s place, where Lisa is currently crashing. Barry runs over and hugs her, too.

Mick looks vaguely mystified. “I thought you were just gonna check if he’s okay?” he asks.

“I need you to watch him,” Len says. “Part B is going into effect now.”

“But –”

“Sorry, buddy. Just me this time. I need you to watch Barry.” Len hesitates, lowers his voice. “They were talking about institutionalizing him.”

Mick’s eyes narrow. He didn’t talk about his time being involuntary institutionalized much, but Len knew it was a sore spot.

“I’ll watch ‘em,” Mick promises.

“Good,” Len says, and goes to get himself arrested. He swings by the kitchen and gets some vodka first.

Chugging it is not the worst experience of Len’s life – he has too many to compare to – but it’s vile regardless.

Given Len’s malnutrition-derived underweight body, it doesn’t take long for his blood alcohol level to get up there. Len feels sick, but he’ll fail a test, and Mick is even now calling their favorite bar to get someone to testify that Len’s been drinking there all evening. They’ve already created the doctored footage – last week, thank god – so they’ll just slap it into their video camera recording.

It takes four attempts for Len to get caught shoplifting.

Seriously. How often can he stagger in and out of the goddamn door before they notice?

The police that come and arrest him behave just as he expects them to: they arrest him (violently), then they take his statement (drunk at a bar, didn’t realize he was doing it), and then they go check the bar.

By the time Joe West storms into the station, yelling about Leonard Snart having broken into his house and kidnapped his foster kid, Leonard Snart has been cooling his heels in the police cells for hours and hours.

Best alibi in the world.

It doesn’t take long for Iris to crack about the timeline, but by that point, the cops have checked Len’s alibi with the bar for the earlier time period.

“Sorry, Joe,” someone says not far outside of Len’s cell. “It wasn’t him.”

“Snart’s smart,” Joe argues. “Why’d he ask her to change the timeline?”

“Joe…”

“What?!”

“Joe, we have video evidence of him getting snookered in a bar in downtown during the period she says it’s supposed to have happened.”

“So it’s doctored!”

“Joe, you said yourself your kid was having trouble telling the truth.”

“What – no! That was Barry, not Iris!”

“You know how kids are that age, Joe! Barry lies all the time, Iris starts picking it up. He probably just ran away from home.”

“But – Iris –”

“I’m telling you, Joe. Traumatized kids lie, we all know that, and we also know how they can get people into it. Iris probably thinks she’s doing Barry a favor. I mean, you heard her! The poor kid got it into his head he was going to be tossed into a mental asylum.”

Joe scrubs at his face. “Yeah, I know. I guess he overheard us talking about putting him into a hospital for some supervision and misunderstood. But Snart’s where they got the idea! If we hold him -”

“We can’t hold him,” the other guy says firmly. “Not on Iris’ testimony. Her story keeps changing, and, well…it’s not going to hold up well in court, okay? I’m telling you now, no DA in the world will pen him for kidnapping.”

Len has thrown up like three times at this point, so he’s feeling sour.

“Hey, Detective!” he yells. “You got something against me, huh? Bet you killed the kid yourself and stuffed him down a hole somewhere and thought hey, that Snart guy, I can pin it on him. Bet you that’s what happened!”

The match hits the fuse.

Joe barrels into Len’s cell and grabs him by the throat, throwing him against the wall. “Where’s Barry?” he bellows. “Where’s Barry, you sick sonofabitch?”

“Barry?” Len chokes. “What about Barry?” He’s feeling really sick again. “What happened to Barry?”

“You know exactly what happened to Barry, you fucking –”

Len throws up all over him.

West steps back in disgust.

“Barry,” Len says groggily. “He’s – I think knew a Barry once. I never touched a Barry.” He feels his eyes fill with tears. It happens a lot when he’s drinking. “That hurt, man.”

By that point, the other cops have burst in and are pulling Joe away. “Damnit, Joe, you can’t do that!” one is hissing. “That’s police brutality!”

Damn right it is.

“I’m telling you,” Joe is saying. “He knows Barry. They were cousins.”

“What, with Snart?” another policeman scoffs. “Henry Allen and Lewis Snart lived on as far apart on the scale as you can get, Joe. You’re reaching.”

“I swear! Henry told me they were!”

“Henry,” the first policeman says skeptically. “Henry Allen. The guy that murdered his wife. That’s the guy you’re trusting with this.”

Joe falters.

Len can see the doubt creeping in.

Serves you right, Len thinks at him fiercely. Gaslighting Barry. Hope you like it when it’s your turn, motherfucker.

He happens to know that Noga’s dad had her birth certificate changed to list no mother at all in order to make sure that Len’s family would never be able to establish any claim to her.

Len hopes for Barry’s sake that Henry Allen is, in fact, innocent. But he’s not going to trust the justice system’s conclusions with it, oh no.

He doesn’t have long now, though. Len might only have been caught with attempted shoplifting, mitigated by his drunkenness, but with his record he’s still getting tossed in the clink. He’s betting a week, maybe two. Just to scare him straight.

Just enough time to have a little chat with Henry Allen.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Henry Allen is a broken man.

Len paid good money to make sure nothing would happen to him in prison, so he knows it’s nothing like that.

No, this is a man who’s lost everything: his wife, his son, his job, his standing in the community, everything.

The key question, though, is why.

Through his own actions? Through someone else’s?

Len makes his way straight to him.

Henry doesn’t look up until Len’s right in front of him.

When he does, he just looks tired and sad. “Hi, Leonard,” he says. “Here to talk about Nora?”

Len arches his eyebrows. “Did you kill her?”

Henry looks taken back, honestly taken aback, that Len doesn’t go straight for the killing portion of the events, much less than Len seems to be asking a question on the subject.

“The courts –” Henry starts.

“Fuck the courts,” Len says flatly. “And fuck the police, too. Did you kill her?”

Henry exhales. “No,” he whispers. “When I got there, she’d already been stabbed. She was trying to get the knife out, but that would’ve made her bleed out right away. There wouldn’t have been any hope. So I went to her - I held the knife in so that she wouldn’t lose any more blood – I was trying to save her –” He closes his eyes. “And in the end all I could do was tell her I loved her as she slipped away from me.”

Damnit.

Len believes him.

Len’s met murderers of all stripes. This man here has a good story, and he’s not a murderer.

“Okay,” Len says. “Right. We’re getting you out of here.”

Henry looks surprised. “You believe me?”

Yes, I believe you,” Len says somewhat impatiently. “Not the point here.”

“I’m not going to run away,” Henry says.

“Why not?”

“People will take that as an admission of guilt.”

“They already think you’re guilty,” Len points out.

Henry presses his lips together. “I can’t,” he says.

“Why not?”

“Barry,” Henry says. “If I go on the run, who knows what’ll happen? This way he can come visit me sometimes.”

Len shrugs. “It’ll take me a few weeks to plan your break-out,” he says. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

It takes a week before Joe West gives in and comes to tell Henry Allen that Barry has apparently “run away”.

He doesn’t mention Len’s involvement, despite Len being careful not to be seen with Henry. Looks like Joe’s swallowed Len’s carefully manufactured story.

Henry comes back distressed.

Len sidles up to him. “So,” he says. “I’m getting out in a couple of days.”

“Oh? Oh! Leonard – you have to – Barry’s missing – if you could look for him –”

“How ‘bout I break you out and you can do the looking?” Len suggests.

“I couldn’t! What if he comes back?”

“What if he doesn’t?”

Len feels a bit bad playing this game, but he can’t trust that Henry wouldn’t trade Len’s kidnapping effort in to Joe West under the assumption that the cop would be a better foster father than a criminal and with the hope of some reduction of his sentence. Once Henry’s out, Len’s pretty confident that he won’t turn them all in – he’d never be allowed to see Barry again, and that seems to be the only thing that gets him moving anymore.

It takes two days for Henry to break.

“You’re sure you won’t look for him? He’s your cousin.”

“Not without you,” Len says firmly. “He only knows me so well; I will not be accused of kidnapping for you.”

Truer than Henry realizes.

“Fine,” Henry says, his head in his hands. “Fine! You win. I’ll go.”

“Great,” Len says. “Be at your cell promptly every evening for the next week. And I mean promptly. I want you to be the first on in, come nighttime.”

“But you’re leaving in two days!”

“Henry. Did I stutter?”

“Uh…”

“I was clear, wasn’t I?” Len amends.

“Yes.”

“Good. Do it.”

Leonard Snart is sitting in the Motorcar, having a stack of pancakes and exchanging glares with a handful of policemen, when the latest Iron Heights break out occurs.

There are said to be four escapees, three of them blooded Family men – and oh, doesn’t that make Len feel dirty – and one hostage, another prisoner, grabbed from his cell and held at knife-point.

After, Len gets up and gets onto his bike and drives out to a house in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs, where there’s a dusty blue sedan parked.

He goes inside.

“Snart!” Lil Billy exclaims, grinning all gap-toothed. “That plan of yours worked like a dream.”

“Of course it did,” Len drawls, slapping Billy’s hand, all friendly smiles like they didn’t all know he had a gun in his pocket and his other hand on the hilt. “I made it.”

“You’re good at what you do,” Grissini says neutrally. “Could be an asset.”

“I prefer to fly free,” Len says. “You get me what I want?”

Grissini snorts and gestures for Billy and Marino to go. “A set of plans and one hostage. Why’d you want this one?”

“He’s unpopular at large and he’s harmless,” Len says. “How often do you see that?”

Grissini purses his lips, but has to concede Len’s point.

Henry is dragged into the room looking terrified and shoved at Len.

“Much obliged,” Len drawls. “Be seeing you.”

“I’m sure too soon,” Grissini says dryly, but turns back to his poker game. They won’t move until the Family comes to pick them up.

Len makes a show of dragging Henry to the car.

“I hate you,” Henry wheezes.

“Yeah, yeah,” Len says. “I said I’d get you out, not that you’d enjoy it. They put you in the trunk or something?”

“No!”

“Then what’s all the fuss about?”

Henry shakes his head. “So I’m out,” he says. “You said you’d help me find Barry.”

“Yeah,” Len says. “First we go home and get changed, yeah?”

Henry’s shoulders slump. “But then we find Barry.”

“Yeah,” Len says again, then doesn’t speak the rest of the way to Mick’s place.

“What’s this place?” Henry asks, squinting at the apartment like it was infested.

“Safe,” Len says shortly. He won’t hear a word against this place; Mick’s had it for years, and it has always been one of the safest places in the world to him.

Then they go inside and Henry takes no more than three steps in before Barry leaps up from the couch and yells, “Dad!

Barry!

There’s hugging and crying and ‘I know you’re innocent’ and ‘I’ve missed you’ and all of that stuff.

It’s very cute. Somewhat sickening and over-emotional, but very cute.

Len ducks out to the kitchen to avoid it.

Lisa and Mick follow in short order. Len hopes his face doesn’t have the same deer-in-headlights look they have.

“So what do we do with them?” Lisa asks.

“Cops’ll be looking for both,” Mick agrees.

Len sighs and runs his hand over his head, a gesture he normally doesn’t allow himself. “I was thinking they’d lie low. Mick, do we still have that place up in the mountains?”

“Sure,” Mick says. “Kinda in the middle of nowhere, though. Very back-to-nature off-the-grid-but-still-connected sort of thing; that’s why we got it.”

“You’d hate that,” Lisa tells Len.

“I thought we might need a place to lie low where I’d never go,” Len says with a shrug. “No one would ever look for me there. It used to be a smuggler’s joint, so lots of nooks and crannies, and a hell of an encrypted internet connection.”

“No schools, though,” Lisa points out.

“Actually,” Mick says, “there’s one down the ways. About three quarters of an hour out, which is crap, but it’s still a school.”

“We’ll need Barry’s records to fake the new ones right,” Len says. “Maybe he finishes this year homeschool; next year we can put him somewhere. Assuming it’s all going well in a year.”

Mick and Lisa nod. “School year,” Lisa notes. “Not a full year – barely six months, really; it’s the end of the school year.”

“Yeah,” Len says. “But that’ll be long enough, I think.”

Two hours later, they head out in a car, Barry and Henry curled up in each other’s arms in the back seat.

Mick knows all the ways to avoid the cops, and they make it to the place in peace.

“This place is a dump,” Lisa announces.

“It’s nicer on the inside.”

“It’s made of wood.”

“So’s the house in the suburbs,” Len points out.

“Too many trees.”

“We’re in a forest.”

Barry starts giggling from the backseat.

“Have you two considered a career in comedy?” Henry asks dryly.

“Shut up,” Len grumbles.

They go inside.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Against all odds, the set-up works surprisingly well.

Henry develops a fondness for fishing. He spends long days out by the stream out back, leaning back on the large rock next to the slow-moving water-mill that Len and Mick had initially thought was for decoration but which Henry had discovered was actually designed to serve as an electricity source, eyes half-closed and smiling.

Sometimes he even brings home fish.

Barry spends half the time on the internet sending emails back and forth with Iris and the other kids in his brand new online class – Len doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t want to know – and the other half of his time running around the forest.

The other half – Barry believes in many halves – is spend as the ‘hub’ for some sort of network of people into the supernatural and preternatural and all that stuff. Len hadn’t been able to find any new military technology or thief work that could explain what Barry saw, so he’d returned to his original theory.

And Barry is obsessed with solving his mom’s murder.

Obsessed.

They have to take some precautions with their identities, of course: Henry grows a beard, looking quite proud of himself, while Lisa gives Barry a makeover.

He makes a surprisingly excellent redhead.

Len and Mick keep up their heists – first order of business, making sure they have no more connections to that Family group – and eventually move up the chain to bigger and better heists.

Barry really likes the Van Gogh sketch in his bedroom until Len tells him it’s real.

At that point, he loves it.

Henry tells Len that he’s a bad influence.

Len points out that his bad influence is why they’re all here.

Henry concedes the point.

He does put a pretty strict “no stealing until you’re sixteen” rule on Barry, which Len thinks is fair and Lisa thinks is hilarious.

Mick insists that teaching Barry to blow up safes isn’t criminal, it’s just homeschooling. In chemistry. Practical applications thereof.

Henry tries to lecture him but keeps breaking out in guffaws about halfway through.

Barry looks proud.

The months drag on, and on, and the next thing you know, it’s been a year.

Barry’s enrolled in the school down the way, which is less a school than a socialization mechanism for kids too far out in the middle of nowhere to be anything but homeschooled, and supplementing it with online courses. Henry’s taking classes online as well, continuing medical education classes, and Len and Mick and Lisa know they have a safe place to come if they’re ever hurt.

Len likes coming to the cabin, which bemuses the living daylights out of him.

On the anniversary of her death, they light a candle in remembrance of Noga.

The next day, Mick comes home with the strangest expression on his face.

“Barry,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“The man in the lightning…”

“Yeah?”

Mick swallows. “I think I saw him.”

Barry sits up straight. “You did?”

“How’s that?” Len says, alarmed.

“It wasn’t anything dangerous, Lenny, don’t fret,” Mick says. “It was just on the street. Zip of lightning, going through the streets.” He frowns. “I think he was looking for somehting.”

“Something,” Len says grimly. “Or someone?”

“What do you mean?” Barry asks.

“We still don’t know why your family was targeted,” Len says. “We always thought – well, Mick and I did – that someone’d gotten something wrong. But if the man in the lightning is looking for someone, well, why not you and Henry? Maybe he wants to finish the job.”

“But why us?” Barry says. “And – do you think he’ll find us?”

“What, here? Not a chance. But let’s avoid trips into Central for a bit, shall we?”

Barry pouts. “But it’s nearly summer break. What am I going to do?”

Len thinks about it.

He come back the next day with custom-made passports and tickets to Europe.

“You are the best,” Barry enthuses.

“You are terrible,” Henry says.

“I have an idea,” Len says.

“Oh god,” Lisa says.

But in the end, they go. They land in Barcelona and get a car and drive from motel to hotel and back. They visit castles and museums and fancy shops – Len and Mick take care to do their own form of shopping when the others are asleep – and Barry proudly takes over the role of navigator, spreading a paper map across his lap and supplementing it with computer print-outs.

He also functions as a guide tour, given how much research he does about everywhere they go.

Henry turns out to be marginally fluent in French, which is good because Mick knows Spanish and Lisa learned Italian in school, so they’ve very nearly got a whole run. Len is fluent in nothing but mime but ends up being the one who does 90% of their transactions anyway.

They go back to Central two months later, suitcases full and several museums calling for their heads on a platter.

“That was so much fun,” Barry says.

“It really was, slugger,” Henry says, ruffling his hair.

“I want to know what the plan was,” Lisa says.

“I’m getting to it,” Len replies.

He has pictures from all over Europe, now. He picks the ones from Spain, where Henry had shaved again because of an incident with a pig that was really best forgotten by all, and from Prague, where they’re all in the shade; Barry looks like his old brunet self in those.

He hires a patsy – Charlie is always happy to do him a favor, regardless of the reasonableness of it, and Len isn’t worried about him getting seriously hurt because Charlie is like a cockroach like that – and waits.

Charlie’s not good for much, but he’s a good salesperson when he wants to be, and he’s an excellent gossipmonger.

Rumors that Henry Allen has been spotted get no takers.

Len gives it a week, then tells Charlie to go with Option B.

It takes less than twenty-four hours after the rumors that Barry Allen has been spotted for the man in yellow to show up, grabbing Charlie by the throat and demanding to know what he knows.

“I don’t know much,” Charlie wheezes. “I just saw – the pictures –”

“Pictures?” the man in yellow snaps. He’s vibrating too fast to be properly seen on the video cameras Len set up in the bar he’d left Charlie in, but it’s obviously a man, in yellow, surrounded by lightning. “What pictures?”

“He sent them to his old school – for the yearbook – they’re in the bag –”

Flash of lightning, and the man is at the table, going through the pictures.

“Prague,” he growls. “What’s he doing in Prague?”

Flash of lightning, and the man is gone.

Running to Prague, if Len had to guess.

Charlie rubs his throat. “Hope you got what you needed, Lenny,” he says, good cheer restored almost immediately. “Are we still on for that date on Friday?”

Len sighs.

The sacrifices he makes.

He picks up the phone and dials Charlie.

“Yeah?” Charlie says.

“We’re on,” Len says. “As long as you realize that Mick will interrupt us about fifteen minutes in and drag me away because he hates you and wants you to die.”

“Oh, yes,” Charlie says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Len doesn’t want to know. He really doesn’t want to know.

He has what he needs, anyway: knowledge of who the man in the lightning is really after and video proof of his existence.

Barry cries for an hour straight when Len brings the tapes home.

“I knew it,” he whispers into Henry’s shoulder. “I knew it.”

“You were right,” Henry says, kissing him on the head. He smiles at Len. “Thanks, Leonard.”

Len quirks a smile. “Don’t thank me yet,” he says. “We still need to figure out what to do about it.”

Barry pops his head up. “We prove my dad’s innocent, of course!”

“Innocence is overrated,” Len says. “Keeping you safe from this guy, Barry; that’s a lot more important.”

“I agree,” Henry says. He quirks a small smile. “Besides, Barry, remember: escaping from prison and kidnapping is also a crime.”

“…oh. Okay, maybe we don’t do that.”

Henry looks up at Len and Mick. “Thank you,” he says. “For believing in us. For helping us.”

Len shrugs. “For Noga,” he says, “I’d do a lot more. We’re gonna get the bastard that killed her, one way or another.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------

It’s Lisa that figures it out.

“Harrison Wells,” she says. “He either is or is connected to the man in yellow.”

“Why in the world do you think so?” Henry asks.

“I worked in construction,” she says. “More than the two of these guys ever did.” She nods at Len and Mick.

“I worked construction,” Mick protests mildly.

“No, babe, you did illegal labor construction.”

“Still construction.”

“Well, yes. But I got to sit in the nice cool office and listen to the architects and civil engineers prattle on all day, and that’s more valuable than you might think. For instance, I can tell you that there is no way that STAR Labs Particle Accelerator whatsit is being built legit.”

“Of course it ain’t being built legit,” Len says. “It’s Central City. Half of City Hall needs to be bribed before you can flip a light switch.”

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s being built too fast. Labor is labor, okay; but that thing is growing in leaps and bounds.”

“You drop a camera?”

“Of course,” Lisa sniffs. “What sort of girl do you think I am, offering suggestions without proof?”

She pulls out a tape. “Evidence that the man in yellow seems to be spending his nights building STAR Labs and –” she pulls out another tape. “– evidence of a yellow blur of lightning running into this very fancy little house over in the more isolated but still fancy suburbs, owned by one Harrison Wells. Running in, mind you, and not running out, only for one Harrison Wells to go out the next day by car to work.”

“Lise,” Len says. “You’re a genius.”

She beams. “And I’m not even in college.”

“I keep telling you,” Henry says, “if you want to go, let me know. We’ll find a way.”

She shakes her head. “I have a good job with the teamsters, Henry, but thanks.”

“Don’t let anyone think that college is necessary to be a genius,” Len says with satisfaction.

“No one who says that’s ever met you,” Barry says loyally.

“Now we just need to figure out how to stop a guy with a suit that lets him run a super-speed,” Len says, and smiles.

“Uh, oh,” Barry says. “Len’s smiling. It’s trouble time.”

“Don’t exaggerate.”

“Last time you smiled like that, we went sky-diving,” Barry says. “and the time before that, you and Mick robbed the Musée d’Orsay because you thought it ‘didn’t get enough love compared to the Louvre’.”

“Also because it rhymed, Lenny,” Lisa reminds him.

“C’mon,” Len says. “It’s a challenge!”

“It’s a death sentence,” Henry says quietly, and that makes them all shut up. “Leonard, please. I don’t want to lose you like we lost Nora.”

“You won’t,” Len assures him. “I promise I’ll be careful.”

He frowns, thinking. “Hey, Barry, you’re in that advanced robotics summer class online, aren’t you?”

“The MIT one? Yeah.”

“Could you propose a puzzle for them to figure out how to stop a speedster? I’ve got a few ideas, but some tech would always be good.”

“Oh, sure!” Barry says, enthused. “There’s a guy there – Cisco Ramon – he’s fantastic. He’ll totally come up with whatever you like.”

“Where is he?”

“Uh…Central, actually. But I didn’t meet him until the summer class, ‘cause he’s in regular school, you know.”

“Central is good,” Len says. “Let’s see what he can do.”

“It’ll be cold,” Barry says.

“Cold?” Lisa asks. “Why?”

“Cold is the opposite of speed,” Barry says. “Atoms go faster when they’re hotter and vice versa.”

They all look at him.

“I may’ve been doing some research ever since we realized that the lightning was actually because the guy was moving so fast,” Barry confesses. “I mean, we still don’t know if he’s using some sort of technology to do it or what, but…speed is speed, you know!”

“Looks like you’re not the only genius here,” Mick tells Lisa, reaching over to pat Barry’s head.

Barry flushes pink with pleasure.

Possibly also the juvenile crush he’s been nursing on Mick. Not much to be done about that; Mick is – well, Mick.

Barry also seems to have juvenile crushes on Lisa, Len, his old buddy Iris, and possibly also this Cisco guy. It’s just that age.

“Cold it is,” Len says.

“Tell this Cisco guy to make me something that matches in heat,” Mick says.

“That won’t help against a speed-suit,” Lisa points out.

“What’s your point?”

“Right, yeah.”

It takes about three months, but Cisco Ramon - who is, all joking aside, an actual genius - and Barry manage to put their heads together and come up with what Cisco describes as their masterpiece.

"Not to mention soon to be winner of the next young inventor Science fair award and scholarship, am I right?" he says, holding his hand for Barry to high-five.

"Hell yeah," Barry says, obliging. "Science bros for life, man!"

"They're lovely," Len says, examining them. "I love that you put them in gun form; that'll be very helpful."

"Just point and shoot," Barry says proudly.

"I'm sold," Mick says, and reaches for the red one.

They are not point and shoot.

Luckily, no house containing Mick is short on fire extinguishers.

The next two months after that are spent with Len and Mick explaining the nuances of what makes a gun a gun, and how to best marry those must-keep attributes to the cryotron powering the cold gun and the module that powers the heat gun.

"I love you guys and all," Cisco says when the guns are finally done. "Seriously, best family ever, Barry. But please can we call it something other than the cold and heat guns? They've got to have better names than that."

"How about you pick our superhero names instead?" Len offers. "Or supervillain. Just imagine -" he scoops up the cold gun and strikes a pose "- beware, it is I! the fearsome Coldwave!"

"Noooo," Cisco groans. "That doesn't work - the heat gun works on a wave system, not the cold gun! Like, Mick can totally be Heatwave, but you - you're gonna be - hmmm - oh, I know! Captain Cold!"

Len snorts. "Captain Cold," he says. "Cute."

"I like it," Lisa offers.

Cisco promptly turns bright red. He does that every time Lisa speaks.

She finds it adorable. Personally, Len would be over the moon if she dated someone as normal as Cisco.

Though he's going to keep an exceedingly close eye on Cisco for a good long time. Only so many times a man can get bitten before it sinks in.

"Well, names aside, they seem like they work now," Len says. "So let's just let me and Mick borrow 'em for a bit and - with luck - the whole business will be over and done with soon enough."

"Good luck," Cisco says, humor fading to be replace with solemnity that sits badly on his awkward teenage frame.

"Damnit, Barry," Len sighs. "You weren't supposed to tell him the details!"

"It just came up!"

Len rolls his eyes. "You're in, right, kid?" he asks Cisco, who nods eagerly. "Fine. C'mon, Mick; let's go get a man who moves like lightning."

Lisa sidles up to Cisco. "Hey," she purrs. She's only a few years older than Barry and Cisco, but those three years have given her some confidence that Cisco sorely lacks. "Think you can make me a gun, too?"

Len decides not to be here for that discussion.

The trap they have is well-set: more rumors of Barry, this time returned to visit. Recordings of his voice playing at certain locales; the man in yellow has been tearing up the city looking for him, when he isn't speed-building STAR Labs with a manic sort of passion that meant it was tied into his plans somehow.

He's ripping up the storehouse they've led him on a merry dance to - signs of Barry, signs of life, but also evidence of recordings. Of him, of Barry.

The man in yellow is realizing he’s being played for a fool.

He's furious.

Len and Mick look at each other and nod. It's time.

Len steps out. “Hello, there,” he drawls. “Do you have a preferred moniker, or should I just call you Harrison Wells?”

The man in yellow’s head snaps up.

“Well, well,” he drawls in the eerie reverberation that is his voice. “If it isn’t Captain Cold.”

Len blinks. “Now that’s interesting,” he says, eyes narrow. “Literally just thought of that name this morning. How do you know about it?”

The man in yellow scoffs. “Oh, there’s so much you don’t know,” he says. “And yet, I know all about you.”

“Really,” Len says.

“Oh, yes,” the man in yellow says. “Captain Cold. You’re a thief, always out for the score; the most cold-hearted of the Rogues.”

“Rogues?”

The man in yellow waves a hand. “Your little gang, whatever you’re calling them now.”

“How do you know all of this?” Len asks. “Spare an explanation for a curious soul.”

The man in yellow grins. “Oh, your story gets told for centuries,” he says.

Len pauses. No way.

“Time travel?” he asks.

“It’s good to see you have as broad a mind as I was led to believe,” the man in yellow says. “We share the same enemy – not yet, but soon enough. The Flash. He’s a superhero, a speedster like me; he runs this town.” His smile widens. “Not you.”

Len knows a cue when he hears one. He puffs up a little, pretends to get annoyed. “Must say I don’t like the sound of that. Superheroes.”

“Indeed,” the man says. “As one villain to another, I must say, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Eobard Thawne, and I’m from the twenty-ninth century.”

“What’re you doing all the way back here, then?” Len asks. “Seems out of place for you.”

“Oh, not at all! I went back to the twenty twenties to fight the Flash – and oh, what a glorious battle it was; I proved myself to be his true equal, his reverse – but I found I could not defeat him. So I decided to take him out when he was too young to stop me.”

“Barry Allen,” Len says.

“You are smart!” Eobard exclaims.

“Now that’s insulting. So you’re saying you killed Nora Allen?”

“Oh, yes,” Eobard says. “I was aiming for Barry, of course; he was only eleven. But I couldn’t get to him, so I went with the next best thing. I grabbed a knife from his kitchen and stabbed the stupid bitch right in the chest, between the third and fourth rib, and I thought that’d be the end of it – but then the brat went and disappeared!”

“Why does it matter?” Len arches an eyebrow and gestures for Eobard to continue. “Doesn’t that change the timeline enough?”

Eobard’s face twists into a sneer. He pushes down his cowl, revealing Harrison Wells. “Turns out I’m stuck here, in this godforsaken century. Irony of ironies, I need Barry to become the Flash just long enough to get me back to the future.”

“And that’s why you became Harrison Wells,” Len says, nodding. “That way you could manipulate him.”

“And create the Particle Accelerator which turns him into the Flash,” Eobard agrees. “You know, I see why you are so well-known; I must admit, I had always assumed that stories of your prowess were – exaggerated. You’re not much in action by the twenties.”

Len shrugs. “Well,” he drawls. “You know what they say: live fast, die young.”

And then he fires the cold gun at Eobard’s feet.

Eobard dashes around the blast, grabbing Len and hoisting him up by the throat. He tsks, a disappointed schoolteacher. “Now, now. That’s not nice. We could work together –”

Mick’s blast of fire hits him straight-on in the back.

Eobard shrieks and spins around, only for Len to get his gun back up and aim the cold beam straight at him, freezing his legs solid.

“You fool,” Eobard snarls. “You don’t know what I’m offering yet –”

“I don’t care,” Len says. “You say I’m the most cold-hearted of the – Rogues, you called ‘em? The guy who’s only out for the score?”

“Yes, and you’re missing out on –”

“I don’t care about the money,” Len says. “Call it an unintended consequence of time travel.” He ices Eobard’s feet again as they start melting.

“You? Not care about money?” Eobard seems honestly taken aback by the mere concept. Len must have a hell of a reputation.

“Not in this case,” Len tells him. “You killed my aunt.”

“Your – what? When?”

Len’s smile curls up into a sneer. “I think,” he says, “that in your timeline, they call her Nora Allen.”

Eobard’s eyes go wide.

Len ices him straight in the face.

A second later, Mick’s gun comes down, hard, onto the ice, shattering it.

They look down at the pieces.

“For you, Noga,” Len says.

“I think we should burn the pieces,” Mick says.

“…yeah, good idea.”

By the time they get back to the cabin, all the pieces of Eobard melted into a watery muck, Barry – with tears streaming down his face – and Cisco have already managed to cut the video tape in such a way that shows Harrison Wells using some sort of device to make himself go fast and then talking like a crazy person. They do cut out the part with the murder.

“Think it’s enough?” Len asks Henry.

Henry nods. “I’ll send it to Joe,” he says quietly. “He’ll – he’ll understand.”

Joe does understand, and he understands enough to go not only to the District Attorney but also to the media, turning Henry’s story – the wronged man framed and sent to prison, escaping to save his son and seek the man who did it – into a modern day Count of Monte Cristo.

Hollywood loves the idea, and Central City loves it all the more.

Henry ends up being cleared of the charge of murder and given only parole for the whole “escaping prison” (at least, not returning – it’s obvious to anyone who looked that Henry hadn’t escaped willingly) and kidnapping his own son points. No jury would convict him and the DA knows it.

Len’s willing to admit he might’ve underestimated Joe West. Just a bit.

He accepts Joe punching him in the face with decent grace, though.

They’re all celebrating, one dark and stormy night, when Cisco suddenly frowns.

“Hey,” he says.

“What’s up, Cisco?” Barry asks, going over to open up the skylight. There’s still thunder, but no more rain, and the loft is getting a bit stuffy.

“It just occurred to me – has anyone done anything about the Particle Accelerator thing Wells was talking about?”

“He was delusional,” Lisa reminds him.

“No, but, he actually was making a Particle Accelerator. At STAR Labs, remember?”

“So?” Barry says.

He pulls the chain to open the skylight.

“I’m just saying –”

There’s a giant flash of light and a great big boom, and Len can see out the window some sort of mushroom cloud right over STAR Labs – orange and yellow and – expanding –

“It’s coming!” he shouts.

“What?” Barry asks, clutching at the window chain.

And then lightning strikes.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“But daaaaad,” Barry whines. “I need to go out and save the city! I’m the Flash!”

“You’re still fourteen, slugger,” Henry says firmly. “And you still have homework.”

“I did my homework!”

“At superspeed, which we both know doesn’t count.”

“But…”

“You’re welcome to stay and help out,” Henry tells Cisco. “Is that a new costume?”

“Yeah, I can’t quite figure out what a superhero called Quake would wear.”

“Is Quake really what you’ve settled on?”

“Well, Lisa vetoed ‘Vibe’ by laughing too hard…”

“Isn’t there a video game, though?”

“As fun as this is,” Len drawls, sweeping out, “I’m going out to bring home the bacon.”

“Like the bad Jew he is,” Mick adds, following him.

“I make plenty of money from my metahuman clinic,” Henry says with a sigh. “I even have interns! Well, I have Caitlin. My point is, you don’t need to go rob a bank.”

“Ah, but we want to go rob a bank. Need to get the city used to having at least one successful villain - well, anti-hero - set. Plus we help Barry out enough against the metas that aren’t handling their new powers well enough that I practically get a pardon every other week.”

“That doesn’t mean you should keep committing crimes.”

“It’s mostly against the Families nowadays anyway,” Mick says. “Profitable and popular.”

Barry looks up, wide-eyed. “Are you going up against Nimbus?” he asks. “Dad! I need to go help!”

“Barry,” Henry says. “How many times have I got to tell you – junior-league superheroing is fine, but no criminal behavior until you’re sixteen.”