It takes a moment longer than it should to register: this isn’t just déjà vu.
The Groundhog Day nightmare seems never-ending. He should keep a record, a linear timeline of a linear time, because this is insane. Impossible. He believes in the impossible sure, but he's not sure how much of the impossible he believes in. Like, he's pretty sure vampires are still not real.
He doesn’t really get to the miracle part of it till it’s two of the a.m. variety (again) and he's lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and thinks: faster than the speed of light.
Thinks of infinite relative velocities, thinks of the breakdown of singularity. Thinks of the sheer impossibility. Thinks of the sheer possibility. Thinks of endless debates in undergrad, the first time he ever picked up an H. G. Wells novel, thinks of his grade school teacher who first wrote the relativity equation on the board and said it contained the infinite.
The wonder grows, till it’s too big to hold in and he thinks he might throw up from it.
It’s an accident, but when he runs his tongue over his bottom lip, he can’t taste her chapstick anymore.
And thinks: fuck.
So here’s the thing: he really should be thinking about saving the world just about now. He’s never been good with prioritization, yeah, but he’s never been stupid either.
But it’s somewhere at the back of his head like a tune in endless repeat that he just can’t place, that doesn’t leave space for preciseness, for planning, for anything but relentless obsession: he hadn’t figured out the taste of her chapstick.
He knew it, he knows. Knew he knew the taste then, when he first kissed her. When he first got past the taste of his own desperation and his heart in his throat. It’s something he’s tasted before. A fruit, maybe. Or some kind of chocolate. Or a flavor of ice cream. Something cold and stark and awakening, and ridiculously beautiful, and that doesn’t even make sense.
He was going to figure it out eventually. Save the world, go home, and figure it out. And now he can’t remember the taste.
“You’re deep in thought today,” she says, when she comes home, to pick up some clothes, as she'd told him, and finds him sitting on the couch.
She takes off her coat, and smiles at him.
For the record, he doesn’t stare at her lips. Doesn’t tell her that she’s in love with him. That she has to be in love with him because she’s said it once. And if it’s not true anymore, if it was only true then, and he somehow made it untrue by playing hero, then he might just fucking go out of his mind with the possibility for the next forty years, and that would be sad. And by sad, he means pathetic.
But he doesn’t stare at her lips. He’s never been good with prioritization, yeah, but he’s never been stupid either.
He looks into her eyes, instead, and smiles back, and thinks; god, please be in love with me, okay?
(Okay, fine, so he’s stupid.
He never said he was honest to start with.)
This time around though, for what it’s worth, he does save the world.
Gets there before time, for once. Before Mardon.
Doesn't mess it up.
Changes the past. Changes the future. Gets a one-liner out of it, when Mardon finally shows up at the Department.
(For the record, he doesn’t hold Iris and make promises he can’t keep. Doesn’t kiss her with that desperate, consuming adoration that he can’t seem to let go of no matter how hard he tries. Doesn’t stop lying to her, and finally tell her who he is now because she's his best friend and he's in love with her, has always been in love with her, and she should know.
And, for a moment there, back then, with her, he could have sworn he was infinite. But that’s not important. That’s not important.)
So here’s something else he was apparently wrong about: Linda didn’t have a good time.
That much becomes obvious when he sees her next, and gets frozen out royally, and since he didn’t run (faster than the speed of light) back to a time before the whole last-night-was-fun-right part of the quadrafecta of awkward double-crossed dates or whatever, he’s kind of stuck with the Captain Cold treatment.
It basically cements that he’s a jackass, he thinks, no more Mr. Nice Guy whom he’s clearly just been playacting at being all this while, because he doesn’t even actually remember for the longest time that he has no right here at all. He technically cheated on her. And that makes him a bastard. It makes him worse. It makes him a terrible person.
And sure, he thought he was going to die at the time, be immortalized in a dorky, tight superhero costume in an early watery grave. But he didn’t. So there’s really no getting around the fact that he’s a jackass.
For the record, he wants to tell her he kissed Iris. Wants to tell her he’s so sorry and she should break up with him for being an awful boyfriend, and an even more awful human being, and because Linda— hot, smart, nice, really-good-at-her-job Linda— deserves someone better. She always did.
Except he can’t. It’s like a dull ache somewhere at the center of his chest, a constant throbbing at the back of his eyes— he hasn’t kissed Iris.
So he does the only thing he can; he breaks up with her instead. She doesn’t blink.
“Thank you,” she says, coldly, a sheaf of paper in one hand, and just the slightest tremble to her wrist, when he slows the world down enough, and suddenly he is so sorry. So very, very sorry.
He lowers his eyes till she leaves, because she deserves that much, and he definitely deserves that much.
And it’s only later, sitting in Star Labs, only half listening to Caitlyn and Cisco argue, he realizes that she actually meant it.
“Why can’t I just run forward into the superhighway then?” He sounds sullen even to himself.
Wells just looks at him with academic disappointment, and it’s not that he doesn’t get it. He’s breached the space-time continuum once, and till he figures out the butterfly effect of that, the paradoxes, the chaos theory equation, it’s dangerous to do it again. End-of-the-universe levels dangerous.
He doesn’t even know how to do it, anyway, how to go forward, not back. It’s not like he was trying.
(The thing is; he can’t trade the world. He’s no more Mr. Nice Guy, but he can’t trade the world like that, still.)
and then I realized that the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about you—
But, for the record, it sucks anyway.
There’s this one moment when he gets irrationally angry at her, sitting on Thawne’s desk, legs crossed, happy.
Because it wasn’t him, it wasn’t him alone. He shouldn’t have to bear the weight of their history alone.
—was because I didn’t want to.
Except, then, so brief he almost misses it, there’s this other moment, when she looks over at him. He can tell it’s an accident, she doesn’t mean too. She isn’t looking at him, she’s just looking, and he happens to be in her line of sight.
But, the thing is, she doesn’t look away. Holds his gaze— he’s looking of course, he’s always looking— a beat longer than he thinks she maybe wants to.
And it’s just—it’s like a train wreck, the realization, like his ribs caving into themselves, because he is so. fucking. stupid.
He didn’t change the past. He didn’t change the part that mattered.
ever since the night you told me how you felt—
She looks away.
And he thinks, for the first time: I never stopped thinking about you.
“You know,” he says, “you were always Batman in all our games. And I was always Robin.”
“True,” she doesn’t look up from her article, words forming on the blank sheet at a speed that requires him to speed up to catch the movement of her hand. Relativity, he understands.
“I feel aggrieved,” he leans against her desk.
“Batman and Robin are partners, Barry,” she says, sternly, only half-focused. It’s what she always used to say. Not that he asked, he has always been hopelessly much in love with her.
“Would you have let me be Batman then?”
He’s missed this. Whatever this is. The feeling of hope. Like the panic inside him has quieted down some. It’s dangerous, he knows, to dream of things that haven't happened, but whatever.
“No,” she says. Doesn’t apologize.
He grins. Brushes his knuckles against hers. By accident, maybe. Coincidence. Fate. She doesn't move her hand.
"Sounds like we have a problem here, Houston."
She sighs, “Barry, kinda busy here, right now. I’ve got to get this article to my boss. It’s the first one I’ve been able to float that hasn’t resulted in his eyebrows shaping themselves in a lightning flash of disapproval, like every word not about the Flash is a waste of the ink on my contract papers.”
"Fine." He drags the word out, sitting down on the bed next to her chair with an exaggerated huff. It’s weird how sixteen he feels. Sixteen and disproportionately hopeful. Like he wants all her attention. Like he'll die if she doesn't look up at him in the next sixty seconds.
"Why don't you go out with Linda, or something? You don't have to sit here and watch me write my boring paper."
"We broke up," he informs her. Almost misses the look that flashes in her eyes at that. Doesn't, though. Miss it. Because he's waiting. Because this time he knows when to look.
She stops at that, "was it—"
Doesn't complete that. Doesn't say me? doesn't say us? and he doesn't have to answer: it'll always be you. He would have, for the record. Because he never said he was honest, but sometimes, he is anyway.
"I'll manage," he says, the bravado making inroads through his veins. Right now, he feels like a superhero. Infinite. "I got over Becky Cooper, remember."
The concern in her eyes shifts. "Becky Cooper," she begins, "was a nightmare of a high school girlfriend and you should have never dated her!"
He turns to hide the smile that threatens to break across his face. This is something that didn't change. They didn't change. Maybe that's a three-act tragedy. But it still feels like the first time, because this time he's looking.
“The opposite of déjà vu,” he says out loud, pulling the paper to himself, open at the daily crossword, “the familiar being completely new. Four down, eight letters.”
“Jamais vu?” she answers, absently. "They have French phrases in English crosswords?" Then takes the paper out of his hand before he can blink. She always slows down every molecule in his body, till he can barely breathe. Move.
“That’s not what four down is,” she says, finally, scanning the crossword.
“I must have read it wrong,” he shrugs.
She looks at him like he’s maybe crazy, and well, he maybe is, maybe he always has been, so he can’t fault her for it.
But when he smiles, she smiles back. Still, always. And he didn’t change that.
Anyway, whenever it happens (and it will happen, someday, sometime; he believes in the impossible, after all, and this isn’t even the impossible, this is the inevitable. They're inevitable), he won’t mind kissing her again, for the first time.
Just for the record.