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a catastrophe (and yet a masterpiece)

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Manuel Lago meets Barry Allen for the first time in a bar after a successful mission.

He flirts with him for a few minutes-he’s still sore from the mission, and there’s a brand new ring of scar tissue around his wrist that aches when he moves his hand too much. It’s annoying even if Manuel knows it’ll fade soon. Barry doesn’t seem to notice it, even when he buys Manuel a drink and grins at him, all blond hair and gangly limbs and a cute smile.

Later that night, Barry takes him back to his apartment-apparently his roommate is out of town visiting his boyfriend’s family-and oh, talking to him was definitely worth it. Manuel’s pretty sure he’s a mutant or a meta, but hey, it seems like everyone is these days. And the little involuntary vibrations that run through Barry’s body when Manuel pulls their bodies together and kisses hard and slides his hands down past Barry’s belt are honestly a little bit adorable and they definitely improve the experience.

The next morning they ate breakfast together a little awkwardly, and then Manuel left. Another person he slept with that he probably won’t see again. That’s not anything new, not really.

And then three weeks later his handler tells him his new target works at STAR Labs. Which… Okay. That’s going to be a little more difficult than a typical job, considering they specialize in training metas and mutants to use their powers. But then Manuel gets provided with an employee list, which includes one Bartholomew Henry Allen. For a moment he tries to hold out hope that it’s not the same person, but then he’s given images to go along with names and-yep. That’s the same Barry Allen.

Barry’s not his target, though, and that’s pretty comforting. The target is a man a man named Dr. Darwin Elias-a relatively new hire, but Manuel’s employers (a split-off from the CIA that calls themselves Basilisk) have had their eyes on him and on STAR Labs for awhile. The lab is just a front, according to them. A cover-up for terrorist activities and a weapons breeding program.

Weapons. That’s what they call metahumans at Basilisk. Not Manuel-he’s both too good of an agent for them to risk offending him and not technically a metahuman so much as he is a supersoldier.

And Manuel is the new guy who’s going to be working there just long enough to steal some files and kill Dr. Elias.

Oh boy.

“This is Speedforce Lab #1,” Dr. Dhawan says, waving her hand. “I doubt you’ll be using it much, considering your unique skillset, but it’s a good place to know.” Manuel furrows his eyebrows. He’s no speedster, even if Dr. Dhawan is according to her file. And this whole ‘tour’ is just a way for him to get a better scope for the security systems, something they’re both fully aware of-Dr. Dhawan is their inside woman. So why is she-“Dr. Elias runs the place.”

Ah. Bingo. “I’ve read some of his papers.” Manuel sneaks a side glance up to one of the security cameras in the doorway to the lab. “Sounds like a pretty smart guy.”

“That’s an understatement.” Dr. Dhawan shakes her head a little. “He’s got cameras on him at all hours of the day seven days a week. STAR Labs security is top notch-almost at ARGUS level.”

“Nothing but the best, huh?” Manuel looks away from the camera.

Dr. Dhawan nods. “STAR Labs takes no risks.”

“Meena!” Someone shouts, and there’s a blur of motion before someone skids to a halt beside her with a wide smile on their face. It’s only through years of training that Manuel manages not to jump out of his skin; he doesn’t think he’ll ever be used to speedster entrances, even if Agent Heart likes to tease him about it.

“Barry,” Dr. Dhawan greets, smiling a little with genuine affection, and this time Manuel does jump a little. Not enough to be noticeable, but he does.

Barry Allen beams, the same grin he gave to Manuel at the bar. “Who’s-” His eyes flicker to Manuel, and Manuel prays that he doesn’t recognize him. It’d be strange if he didn’t, since they got to know each other pretty physically, but… Right now, Manuel needs him not to say anything. Not to know who he is. “Who’s this?”

“This is Dr. Manuel Lago,” Dr. Dhawan introduces. Manuel inclines his head. It was still a little weird to remember that he was using his real name for this assignment. “He’s a new hire, by my recommendation. He’ll be helping train our… Younger division.”

Manuel bites down on the inside of his cheek. That was one of two parts of this job that he didn’t like-the other being Barry. He worked alone for the most part. And he was always the one on the receiving end of orders. Which meant that being forced to train young metahumans was more than just a little bit out of his comfort zone.

But that was what you did as a Basilisk agent. You went outside of your comfort zone and you didn’t complain and you acted like a good soldier.

Manuel had practice with that.

Dr. Dhawan checks her phone and swears softly. “Barry, why don’t you show Manuel where he’ll be working? There’s a little side office next to the third Speedforce Lab. I have to go talk to Dr. Guerrero. We hadn’t gotten to that part of the tour-you can just skip the rest of it.”

She speeds off with a crackle of yellowish white electricity, leaving the two men behind her. Manuel watches her leave. He’d never met her before, although he’d seen her around at the Basilisk HQ once or twice, so he had no real way of knowing if this was her real personality or just something for show. Knowing the way that long-job agents acted, this was probably all an act. At the back of his mind, Manuel wondered if he would ever have the chance to know what she’s really like.

“So,” Barry says slowly, and Manuel switches his gaze to him, “come with me?”

He says it like a question. Cute. Manuel nods and walks beside him. At least Barry seemed to be making an effort to walk slowly, even if he was sparking a little as he did it. Manuel coughs a little. He’d never done well with awkward silences. “So, how long have you worked at STAR Labs?”

“Oh, I don’t really work here,” Barry says, shrugging a little bit. “I’m on the employee list, I think-I’m not sure. And I get paid a little bit, but mostly I’m just a volunteer. It was really disorienting when I got my powers, and STAR Labs tried to help but didn’t really have the equipment. So I helped them get it, and after a few more speedsters and people with powers signed onto the project we basically opened a training facility… I guess I do really work here.” He flushes red. “But you probably already knew that.” Barry shoves his hands into his pockets. “Anyways… I actually work at the CCPD. I’m a CSI.”

“Mm.” Manuel forces himself to keep looking straight ahead. Not only did he sleep with a STAR Labs employee, he slept with someone who works for the police. Not quite a cop, not really, but it’s still bad. Still something that could get him reprimanded by the higher-ups.

“Kind of weird, seeing you again like this.” Barry’s clearly forcing himself to be casual. Manuel’s stomach clenches. “After how we met the first time.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Manuel should’ve known that his luck wasn’t that good. Of course Barry remembers. He might as well go along with it; if he pretends not to know Barry, and Barry calls him on it or makes a scene… Things will go downhill even faster than he expected. “I guess so.”

Barry looks away, his face cherry red. Manuel can see it out of the corner of his eye. Barry coughs a little. “Yeah. I-I didn’t know you were a scientist. I didn’t think-”

Something tackles Barry to the ground at breakneck speed, and all of Manuel’s instincts scream at him to do something, to react. To protect Barry. It’s all he can do not to leap into action and rip Barry’s attacker off of him, and as it is he finds himself reaching for a gun that isn’t there, mind racing as he tries to categorize the threat just like he’s been trained to do.

But… But Barry doesn’t seem hurt. Instead, he’s laughing a little, bright blue eyes shining. “Hey, Avery.”

Manuel forces himself to relax. No threat. Barry’s okay.

The girl, Avery, who tackled Barry looks up, eyes shining. She’s sparking and vibrating so fast that Manuel can’t tell what she’s trying to say-it sounds like her voice has been sped up, then played through a fan. Barry responds back equally fast, and Avery helps him to his feet. Manuel waves a little bit awkwardly. This is why he’s the one to rappel down the sides of buildings while people like Dr. Dhawan do the work with people. Because he has no idea how to react to situations that aren’t violent. Unpredictable in a lethal way.

Anxious speedsters (and it was anxiety that was making Avery flit around Barry like a crackling hummingbird) were unpredictable in all the wrong ways. Manuel didn’t know how to handle that kind of unpredictable.

“Avery, this is Manuel Lago.” Barry nods to Manuel, smiling at Avery. Manuel watches him. God, what is it about that smile? “He’s… He’s a friend of mine, and he’ll be working here for a little bit to help train you and the other metahumans.”

Avery cocks her head at him, dark brown eyes sizing him up like she’s wondering if she could take him in a fight. She beams. “Nice to meet you!”

Manuel waits for her to follow up with threats or an attack or-or something, but… There’s nothing. Nothing to give away her real intentions.

Stop that, he tells himself. Stop thinking about this like a spy and think like a scientist like you’re supposed to. Inspect her powers, not the threat that she could potentially pose to you. Don’t treat everything like it’s a threat even if you’ve been trained to. Stay in character.

Manuel nods slowly. “It’s nice to meet you too, Avery…?”

“Avery Ho.” She tucks her hands behind her back, one leg vibrating and throwing off sparks. “Barry, have you seen Meena?”

“She went to talk to Dr. Guerrero,” Barry answers apologetically. “I don’t think they’ll want to be disturbed for awhile. Why do you want to talk to her?”

Avery launches into an explanation at top speed that Manuel couldn’t keep up with, although Barry appears to understand everything she says completely fine. That made something in Manuel’s stomach knot. Speedsters were mostly unknowns, but they were powerful-Agent Heart, Dr. Dhawan, and Barry himself all proved that just by going about their day-to-day lives. And at least Manuel was on the same side as Dr. Dhawan and Heart. Going against people like Barry and Avery…

He didn’t like the idea of it. People who could do things as fast as they could had the potential to be incredibly dangerous if they were in the wrong hands.

Manuel’s train of thought is cut off as Avery vanishes in a snap of sparks. Barry shakes his head as he watches her leave. “Apparently someone’s spreading a rumor that the speedforce can cause hormonal imbalances,” Barry explains. “And she wants to know if that’s true or not. I told her it wasn’t, but I don’t think she believes me-she’s always liked Meena more.”

“Ah.” Manuel meets Barry’s eyes for an uncomfortably long moment, and Barry coughs into his fist awkwardly. “Can you show me my office now?”

Manuel looks around. The office is small, Dr. Dhawan definitely wasn’t lying about that, but it’s fairly well-lit. There’s a computer and a desk and a chair, as well as a window that opens up into the wide room next to it-the third Speedforce Lab, Manuel assumes. There’s a panel with a pair of buttons on it and an intercom on the wall next to the window.

“It’s for your own safety,” Barry says by way of an explanation. “Non-speedsters are usually more… Fragile than people like me. So you have to stay in here while we’re working in the lab.” Manuel rolls his eyes silently and Barry holds his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, it’s Dr. Elias’s rule, not mine.” Under his breath, just barely audible enough for Manuel to catch it, Barry mutters, “He’s only been here a few months but he already thinks he owns the whole lab.”

Manuel laughs a little, surprising himself with how genuine it is. For some reason, he thinks it’d be harder to kill Dr. Elias if Barry actually liked him. “Not a fan?”

Barry shakes his head fast. “No, no, he’s a genius! He knows more about the speedforce than anybody else I’ve ever meet, even other speedsters! He’s just… A little arrogant, that’s all. He never listens to anybody if they tell him he’s wrong, even Meena.” His eyes go wide and he looks at Manuel as he tries to backpedal. “But-but I really do think he’s brilliant. And you cannot tell him that I said any of that stuff about him.”

“I won’t,” Manuel promises. He sits down in his new desk chair, looking at the computer. It’ll probably have a way to contact a Basilisk agent on it-not Coil himself, definitely not, but… Someone else. Maybe Agent Heart, since this assignment is so tied to speedsters. He looks up at Barry. “Thanks for showing me. You don’t have to stick around if you don’t want to.”

“I just-I have something to ask you. If you’re interested, I mean.” Barry rubs the back of his neck.

Manuel frowns a little. Something at the back of his head tells him that he shouldn’t ask what Barry’s question is, that it’s only going to end in trouble for the both of them, but… “What is it?”

“So, uh. I was just wondering if, um, you wanted to…” Barry’s words speed up into a contorted blur of sound, and Manuel blinks at him slowly in confusion. Barry turns pink. “I-I meant to say-do you want to go out on a date? Like… A real one, instead of just getting drunk and having sex. Which was great, don’t get me wrong, it was awesome, but I just-I want to go out on a real date. With you.”

Barry keeps rambling as Manuel tried to piece together what Barry is saying. When he does, the answer comes out without him even thinking about it. “Yes.”

“-Like I said, you don’t need to say yes, I’m sorry, this must sound so weird, like just because we had really good sex that one time-” Barry stops and freezes, looking at Manuel as a huge smile spreads across his face. “Really?”

“Really,” Manuel confirms. (Oh god this is a mistake why is he saying yes-)

Barry grins even wider and flaps his hands excitedly, which Manuel subconsciously marks down as relevant information for later. “Oh, sweet! I’ll-tonight? Does tonight work?”

Manuel shakes his head. “Tomorrow night. I’m free at eight.”

It feels like it did at the bar, Barry initiating but Manuel taking over when Barry starts getting more anxious, and god Manuel should not be doing this. He shouldn’t be doing this. Why is he-

“Great. Awesome. I’ll… Meet you at the bar we met at.” Barry disappears before Manuel has a chance to say yes or no (the answer would’ve been yes). When Manuel can’t see him, Barry presses his back to the wall of the hallway and slides down, hugging his knees and smiling into them.

Manuel closes his eyes and swivels a little in his chair. Why did he say yes? Multiple times? He and Barry are on opposite sides of this, and in the end somebody is going to end up getting hurt-most likely Barry. But god, it’s been so long since Manuel’s gone on a real, actual date, and he misses it. Just one date and then he turns Barry down gently or something. This doesn’t have to become a big thing, right?

Besides, he deserves to have some fun, doesn’t he?

This’ll be fine.