She finds out in the most underwhelming way possible.
An alleged picture from a commenter on her blog, who always types in all caps, that she actually gives in to and buys for the ridiculous ask-price, because he uses the word authentic too many times, and it’s kind of amusing, and she’s…well, she’s kind of obsessive, it’s not exactly a secret.
Then it’s in her hand and- oh.
(When she was fourteen, she thought nobody would ever break her heart like Aidan Walcott did.
Fun fact: she was wrong.)
She thinks it’s ridiculous, she thinks it doesn’t make any sense, she thinks-
Tell me you didn’t. Tell me you would never.
Which, well. That’s an accurate enough statement. He didn't tell her.
He finds her later, eyes guarded as he says:
“Hey,” she says back, automatically, although what she actually means to say is you asshole and how could you fucking and she’s never quite realized till now how exhausting it is to love someone so much. Like he can do this to her, and he’s still so much a part of her DNA that she can’t tell him to go take a hike and never look her in the eyes again, and never talk to her again, because she hates him. Because she's already done that once; she’s gone without him in her life for a week, and it sucked. It was the suckiest week of her life.
He stands around awkwardly. She continues wiping the table, back straight. She can feel his eyes on her. He’s standing too close, she can almost feel the pull of his gravity, and her mind conjures up The Flash- Barry- The Flash- dammit, without warning, standing behind her, her body attuned to his every move, every breath, a frisson of- and goddammit.
“I-” he begins, and for a moment she thinks that if the words I’m sorry cross his lips, she might just scream, “I just wanted to protect you. You have to believe me, Iris.”
She does, she does believe him, that's not it at all. She always believes him.
She turns around at that, rag in hand, smiles tightly, “I wanted to protect you too. Guess we all lose today.”
(She remembers this one weird time from high school. Barry pushing her in the boy’s locker room, while she rolled her eyes because she could totally handle Woodward alone, they didn’t need to hide. She was a cop’s daughter for chrissake, she knew all about the pressure points. But then he’d leaned in close, a finger on her lips to silence her, his heart beating against her chest, and she hadn’t moved. Held her breath for five seconds.)
She reads through all her old posts, for signs, signals that she missed somehow. Missed when they were right in front of her. Some journalist that makes her. Some friend that makes her. Maybe that's why Barry and her dad didn’t think necessary to tell her. Didn’t trust her enough to tell her.
The Flash risks his life to save—
The Streak’s near misses—
The Streak emerges from burning building with—
She closes the tabs after three hours. Her hand’s shaking too badly to hold onto the glass of water she’d kept on the desk.
She lets it fall on the carpeted floor instead. It doesn’t make a sound. Doesn’t break, either.
“I can’t stand it.” There’s a slight slur to his words on her voicemail, voice too loud as if he’s holding the phone too close to his mouth. A strange intimacy to his voice, that's familiar and foreign all at once. And she wonders how much he had to drink to actually get drunk.
It’s strange but she hasn’t realized till this moment that this isn’t just one big reveal. It isn’t just one thing that she doesn't know. Now, she doesn’t know the little things about him anymore. Doesn’t know everything about him.
She’s always known everything about him.
“I can’t stand you not talking to me, Iris- please, just, okay- please-”
She should delete that.
(She’ll listen to it just once again, just to hear the sound of his voice, but shh, that's a secret.)
(“I’ll always protect you," he says once, his last night in town before college starts, almost drunk, nearly sweet with the earnestness. She adores him so madly.
She laughs, “as long as I always get to protect you too. Equal opportunity heroism, okay?”
“Promise,” he says, and smiles so wide, she has to look down, stomach clenching with something like fear. Something close to anticipation.
"Promise," she agrees.)
“Is something wrong between you and Barry?” Eddie's gaze is careful, searching, and she doesn’t mean to, but she looks away anyway.
“No,” she says, busies herself with her laptop, her Criminology advisor’s on the brink of an apoplectic fit with her missed deadlines, and it's not like she can continue her fangirling through the blog; the thought makes her flush with secondhand embarrassment, “why do you ask?”
“It’s kinda obvious,” he shrugs, “you’re always glued together, and now you’re…not.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she says, and the Google alert on The Streak pings, and her heart is in her throat again. Every time she hears that sound. Every single time, “nothing at all.”
(The break-up will be undramatic.
“Why,” she’ll ask, but she won’t cry. Not then. Not at that moment.
“If you don’t know now,” he’ll say, gentle, even then, “you’ll know eventually.”
Which is a jerk-thing to say, she knows, just an excuse. But somehow, for some reason, it sounds like the truth anyway.)
The door to her room stays shut.
“I just wanted to say,” Barry's voice is low, quiet, on the other side, and she has to strain to hear. She can hear a soft thud, like he just leaned against the door. She could just open it. Forgive him. End this now. But that’s not how they work. They don’t do this. They trust each other, tell each other everything. He didn’t trust her then, and she can’t trust him now. Equal opportunity betrayal. She’s not the forgiving type. Never has been, “that it’s the worst mistake I’ve ever made."
She fills the pause with memories. Far too many to keep count of.
“Worse than the time you accidentally bleached your hair?”
She didn’t at all mean to-
He's silent for a moment. She can hear the undertone of hope in his voice when he says next, “pretty close.”
She doesn't know what to say. She wants to, still. Something. But she doesn't know what. How could you do this and please come back to me sound too melodramatic, and she can't think of anything else. She's never had to think of anything before.
"It's okay if you don't want to forgive me," he continues, when the silence stretches. The hope replaced with resignation. It sucks to know someone so well, she decides, "never want to forgive me. But I'll wait anyway. I'm always here. Around. Anytime you want- need- me. I can run faster than sound, Iris, so all you've got to do is call.”
winter, spring, summer, or fall.
all you have to do is call.
He's always loved that song.
"Hey," she says, and it's so ridiculous and so cheesy and so Barry, she can feel something inside her spill over with warmth, "don't push your luck."
She opens the door, “you have twenty seconds.”
He doesn’t say anything, just looks at her, and she’s missed him so much, she thinks she might kneel with it. She taps her watch, instead, “thirteen. If you have something to say-”
“I just wanted to see you.”
You’re worth being on time for.
She doesn’t want to add that up.
(She’ll close the door after twenty seconds, but maybe it’s just a formality when she leans against it anyway, and knows he’s doing the same.
She'll stand there longer than she should. Long after he's gone. Won't fall to the ground. Won't do that.
She'll go back to her thesis. Write two thousand words. Won't think of him at all.)
(Maybe it’s selfish- it is selfish- but she doesn’t want Barry to be The Flash.
She doesn’t want Barry to be a superhero. She doesn’t want him to fight the bad guys and save the world or whatever. Even when it gives people hope. Even when it makes them believe the impossible.
Because, well, she’s not a goddamn superhero. She can’t protect him anymore. Can't save him from the bad guys, like she used to when they were younger. Can't do anything at all.
That’s another promise broken, then.)
She hears the news from her dad, and it’s something like white noise rushing past her head.
Barry-building-trapped in the middle of-
She drives over faster than the limit, rushes inside without any coherent plan, making her way through the debris, which is insane, and- great, apparently she’s not only not helping, but she's the damsel-in-distress in this scenario, because he’s the one who pulls her out eventually, face covered by the mask. There's no one else in the alley. And oh god, she’d totally-
“Are you stupid?”
She feels a flare of anger, almost drowning out the fear, “what did you-”
“How could you go in there?” She’s never heard him sound this angry. And she’s seen him in every mood possible.
She thinks of fighting back. “I forgot.” she says, eventually, which is the lamest thing ever. Also, the truth.
He visibly tries to contain himself. She can tell even through the mask, now that he’s not doing the vibration thing with his face, with his voice. And she can't understand how she missed it.
Maybe if she'd touched him, she'd have known. She likes to believe that, at least. Believe she would have know. Because it's Barry.
“Forgot what?” Through clenched teeth.
She can feel herself deflate, the adrenalin draining into bone-deep tiredness, she is stupid, clearly. “Forgot you were The Flash.”
It’s strange how the scene’s coming into focus, like she’s moving away to a distance. She can feel him shaking under her. She doesn't even realize till then that he’s holding her, “what?”
“I just-” she can’t help the defensive note. This whole thing is a mess, “dad said Barry, and I didn’t stop to think, okay. It's not a natural correlation that I make in my head, so sue me. It just didn’t strike me that you wouldn’t need me because oh yay, superpowers or whatever, so-”
He’s quiet. Inscrutable behind the mask. So she goes into word-vomit mode, “I saw you die again and again in those nine months, you bastard-”
She can feel the panic close in every time she thinks of it. A heaviness in the pit of her stomach that never went away. That’s a permanent part of her now. And now it won't ever go away.
“…you have no freaking idea what that's like. So excuse me, if I don’t just wham, bam, thank you ma'am frantic phone calls about you being stuck in some-”
“I love you.” he interrupts, like he’s angry with himself, for some reason, and just- what?
“I love you,” he says again, unnaturally loud, like he can’t help himself, “I love you.”
She pulls back then, looks at him. Her best friend behind a mask, and a stranger she met on a rooftop in the dark once in front of it. And he's safe.
And he's safe.
She leans in. Fists his suit in her hand, though it doesn’t give an inch, like it’s molded to his body. A part of him now.
Kisses him first.
(You were always a superhero to me, she’ll say, someday, maybe. Because it’s true. But probably not. Because it's lame.
You’re my origin story, he says, breathing the heated words against her skin, because he’s Barry, and Barry never has any compunctions about being lame. Never stops caring, even when it's the worst feeling in the world. Even when it means entering a falling building and never exiting.
She should know, she's his best friend, after all. It's why she's always loved him.
And he's going to be okay. Nobody makes her believe the impossible quite like he does.)
The fear doesn't go away, she's starting to realize, but it's not crippling. Not anymore. She refuses to let it be.
This is her story after all.
She picks up her laptop. Logs in to an account she hasn't looked at in months. Steadies her hand. Starts writing.
Shapes the first draft of history.
She’ll be a hero too. She’ll let him save the world.