The explosion of S.T.A.R. Lab’s Particle Accelerator caused mass chaos throughout Central City. The hospitals were overrun, the police were flooded with calls of looters taking advantage of the situation, and Detective Joe West had lost his partner and good friend, Detective Chyre. Amidst everything going wrong that night, it wasn’t hard to explain why no one noticed. No one ventured into the forensic lab, because there was no reason to and when someone finally did, it wasn’t because he needed to do any actual forensics as much as he needed the coffee mug he’d left there earlier that evening.
Like all other personnel at the station not sporting a sidearm, Thompson had been relegated to phone duty. His shift had started at six that morning, which meant he was rounding hour nineteen. As much as he’d love to go home, however, that wasn’t going to be happening anytime soon. Until things died down, it was all hands on deck and every coffee mug full. Speaking of which. He looked mournfully at the small Styrofoam cup he’d been refilling for the last five hours and decided it was time to pull out the big guns. He’d left his comically oversized mug in the lab when he thought his shift was ending and he was going to be spending a quiet evening watching the particle accelerator go online. So much for quiet evenings.
He finished getting the details of the suspicious activity and hung up with a promise they’d look into it, which was probably as empty as his sad little cup, because they had much more important things to worry about then a few teenagers loitering outside a gas station.
He gave the nearest detective the sign that he’d be back, in case anyone needed him and trudged up the stairs and down the deserted, dimly lit hall to the forensic lab. As he stepped through the open doors, he cursed at the water under his feet and fumbled with the light switch. A soft glow filled the room and Thompson froze, stunned at the chaos. Several shelves had been knocked over, bottles, paperwork, samples, everything was spilled out over the wet floor. The air smelled burnt. Then he noticed something else among the chaos of shattered glass and wet files, or rather, someone – someone unconscious and sprawled in a way that suggested injury.
Slowly, cautiously, Thompson backed out of the room until he rounded the corner, finally pulling himself together enough to sprint down the hall, yelling “Detectives!” as soon as he hit the banister.
No one answered at first, the noise of the station swallowing his request. He stumbled down the stairs. “Detectives!”
“I’m sorry, could you hold a minute.” Detective Eddie Thawne pressed his hand over the receiver and mouthed. “What?”
“You… not you.” Eddie pinched his mouth tight, but ignored the slight. He was still new and while he got along with most of the officers there were still a few holdouts. He was well aware that Detective West and some of the other more seasoned Detectives called him Pretty Boy behind his back.
Thompson turned around, looking for someone else. “Joe!”
Joe looked up from his paperwork, weary, but not entirely ungrateful for the distraction. “What’s wrong?”
“No, this… there’s… you need to come see this.”
Joe knew Thompson, the man had been their head of forensics for going on six years now, he wasn’t easily shaken. He put aside the report he’d been filling out on his encounter with the Mardon brothers and followed Thompson up the steps, Eddie close at their heels, because while he may know what some of the others thought of him, he also knew that wasn’t going to change unless he proved himself.
The second floor was as dark and deserted as the first floor was loud and overcrowded. As Joe stepped past the nervous tech into the lab, he figured he was ready for just about anything.
The floor was slick with water. Someone had left the sky light open again, but that didn’t explain the shelves or the stale smell of something burning and, above everything else, it didn’t explain the young man lying on the floor in the middle of the room.
Joe rushing forward as Eddie pulled out his phone to call for an ambulance. He felt for a pulse and found one, too fast and the boy’s skin was hot with fever. His hair hung in damp, uneven lengths, obscuring his face. Joe pushed the strands aside to get a better look. He was young, probably in his early twenties, and pale; too pale, actually, even with the fever and there was something about him that was eerily familiar.
Eddie knelt beside him, looking over the boy with the scrutiny Joe had. “There’s an ambulance on the way, Thompson went to tell the Captain. Do you know him?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Joe shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
Eddie looked around the room, bewildered. “What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know.”
When the ambulance came, Joe went with them to the hospital. The kid, whoever he was, didn’t work for the police and they needed an officer there in case he woke up. There had been other volunteers, but Joe needed to get out of the station. His partner had just died and as much as they would have liked to send him home, they needed the manpower. At least this put him in a position to be useful and still get some time to put his head together.
Thompson took a quick set of finger prints and a DNA sample before the ambulance got there, but it would be a while before they could actually run them. The city and the safety of its citizens was the priority for now.
They almost lost him on the way to the hospital. Almost lost him again when they first got there. The doctors said he’d been struck by lightning. It was no small miracle he’d survived this long and they weren’t sure how long that miracle was going to last. They did their best, though, got him stabilized and put him in a room by himself. The rest of the hospital was double and triple packed with more incoming, but until they knew otherwise, they had to treat this like a break in, which made the kid a criminal.
Joe didn’t agree with that. It didn’t sit right with him. There was something about it that didn’t make sense. Something in the sickly pale face, the gaunt features. When they’d taken his clothes off to put him in a hospital gown, he’d been bordering on the kind of thin that indicated malnourishment.
After the doctors left, Joe went through the still damp clothes carefully, looking for an ID or a cell phone, but didn’t find any. His hands came back pale blue from handling the jeans and on the inside of the shirt, there was a small sticker with a price and size. They were new. Possibly never worn before, but at the very least, never washed.
Everything about the kid, from his pallor, to his weight, to his hair that looked like he’d cut it himself, said he was most likely homeless, but those clothes were new and he knew that brand of jeans, those weren’t cheap. He sat back in the chair and studied the sleeping figure, tubes and wires coming out of him from everywhere, the beat of the heart monitor going a little too fast and filling the otherwise silent room.
“Who are you?”
The knock on the door that startled Joe awake nearly spilled him out of his chair. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes as it opened and focused on the clock. It was seven in the morning. Iris had called the night before to make sure he was all right. She’d gotten back early from her trip to Starling City and promised to stay at home and wait for him. The kid had coded again sometime around three, but they’d managed to get him back. Until they knew who he was and what he was doing in the station, they needed to do everything they could to keep him alive.
Eddie stepped in, suit jacket missing, shirt un-tucked, dark circles under his eyes, and stubble on his face. He looked like shit and still somehow managed to pull of the wide eyed pretty boy look just fine. Joe bitterly remembered the days he could pull an all-nighter and still look that good. Those days were long gone.
“Yeah, Thawne, what are you doing here?”
“Look, Detective, I don’t… I’m not really sure how to tell you this. I’m not even sure I’m the right one to be doing it, but I wanted you to hear it before everyone else did.” For the first time, Joe noticed the file clutched in the young detective’s hand.
“Tell me what?”
“The way you looked at the kid yesterday… call it a hunch, but I went ahead and ran the prints.” He hesitated again before handing the file over and when Joe opened it, his heart skipped, his inside turned cold and he couldn’t draw breath.
Eddie continued, “I ran them three times. We’re still waiting on DNA, but, Detective, I did an age progression on the photo we had in the file and it’s… it’s close. Too close to be a coincidence.”
Joe looked at the computer generated age-progressed photo in the folder and up at the young man in the bed. There were little differences that could be up to weight and hair style, but it was remarkably similar. He looked at the finger prints with twenty seven points in common clearly indicated across the two – an undeniable match. Then he pulled out the old school photo of a young boy he hadn’t seen in ten years. He didn’t need all the other evidence, because now that he saw it, he wasn’t sure how he’d missed it in the first place. It was Barry.
When Barry was eleven, his father killed his mother. Joe was and always will be convinced that he saw it, but Barry never admitted that, always insisting someone else had done it – the man in the lightning. There had been therapy, of course, but the kid never backed down from the story.
He’d been Iris’s best friend, but more then that, he’d been practically family already and Joe hadn’t hesitated to move him in with them. In fact, he’d insisted. Things had been tense at first, mostly because while Barry was insisting his dad was innocent, Joe was busy trying to put the man in jail, but it had never been bad. Above all else, Joe cared about the kid and in the end, Barry knew that. Or at least Joe thought he did.
A few days shy of his sixteenth birthday, Barry vanished. No one knew how or why. He went to the library to do research for a paper and never made it home. No one saw anything and considering Barry’s obsession with proving his dad’s innocence, it was always a matter of opinion as to whether he was taken, or simply ran away.
Joe liked to think he’d done everything in his power to make Barry feel at home, to make him feel loved and wanted and cared for, but in the end, he couldn’t be sure. Iris had been. Iris had always maintained Barry wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.
Then, ten years later, he appeared unconscious on the floor of the forensic lab in the same police station where Joe worked and Joe didn’t believe in coincidences.
They got the surveillance feed for the station the night of the explosion and it hadn’t given them much. The explosion itself had knocked out all power in the city, including the security cameras, but they had the footage leading up to it. They had Thompson leaving the lab, coffee mug forgotten on the table. A few minutes later, Barry appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
The techs checked, but they couldn’t find any indication it had been tampered with. One moment the room was empty, the next there was a flash of light and a confused Barry Allen was standing in the middle of it on shaky legs.
He’d moved in a stationary circle as he looked around the room, then stopped, focused on something to the left, just out of frame. His back was to the camera and there wasn’t sound, but Joe got the impression he was listening to something. After a minute, he sat where he was, directly under the skylight, pulled his knees to his chest and waited. He didn’t move an inch, even when water started to pour down onto his head and puddle around him. He didn’t move… until lightning struck him.
Joe watched it over and over until his head ached and his eyes stung, but nothing in the video explained what had happened to him in the lab or anywhere else. They just had to wait and hope he woke up.
9 months later
There was something on Barry’s face, resting just above his lip and slightly inside of his nose, blowing cool air into his nostrils, sterile and sweet. He felt heavy and slow, but there was something in the background, something like… music? It was upbeat, techno or dance, nothing he knew. And there was talking, only he didn’t recognize the voices, just that they were normal. It had been a long time since he’d heard a real, normal voice that wasn’t his own. The room was cold. The bed he was laying on was firm, but comfortable and the blankets wrapped around his bare chest were soft and warm. Everything was so different.
The light hurt his eyes when he opened them; his instincts were warring between relief and a greater fear. The room he was in reminded him of the other room, with the metal walls and florescent lights, but it was bigger and packed with medical equipment and computers. There were also windows, set too high to reach and angled so all he could see was sky, but still windows. It was daylight out. He forced himself to look away from them and at the people walking away, their backs to him, talking animatedly about whether they thought he could hear the music.
He sat up on the bed and looked down at himself and the leads attached to his chest. Wait… his chest? That didn’t look like his chest, he didn’t have abs, he had ribs. Hesitantly, he touched it and felt his own hand against his own skin. He pressed into it more firmly and there was muscle, real muscle, not the soft tissue that he was used to from years of inactivity. He was so caught up in it, that it took him a minute to notice the talking had stopped. When he looked up, the two people he’d seen earlier were frozen in place, staring at him, by all appearances just as shocked to see him as he was to be there.
The man spoke first, excitement in his voice and a wide smile on his face. “Oh, man, are you awake?”
The woman looked at him pointedly. “Of course he’s awake.” Then turned back to Barry, “Hi, Mr. Allen, I’m…”
As she spoke, she took a step forward, hand held out, and Barry moved before he realized he was doing it. He threw himself from the bed, leads ripping off and leaving little red patched where they’d been suctioned on, tripping on the blanket that tangled in his legs, then scrambled back until he found a wall to press his back to.
To Barry’s relief, they didn’t move to follow and he took the long stretch of silence that followed to look them over. The man was young, at least he looked young with long, thick black hair that fell to his shoulders and a graphic t-shirt of an old 8-bit video game. He didn’t look like he belonged in the sterile, laboratory-like setting of the room they were in. The woman, in contrast, did. With her pencil skirt and heels, neatly brushed strawberry blonde hair, her stern expression, she belonged.
They took another step forward and Barry automatically moved into a nearby corner, pulled his knees up to protect himself instinctively.
The woman moved back to lean over her desk and Barry couldn’t see what she was doing, but he could hear her speaking. “Dr. Wells, you need to get down to the cortex immediately. He’s awake.”
The young man dropped to one knee. “Hey, Barry, I’m Cisco. How are you?”
Barry rocked a little in the corner, trying to decide if he should answer and if he did, what he should say. Was this even real? It felt real. It didn’t have the strange disconnect of a dream. The last thing he remembered was… being left in a strange room, cold rain soaking through him. This was real and he didn’t know what to do.
When he didn’t answer, the man, Cisco, tried a different tactic. “Do you know where you are?”
Hesitantly, he shook his head and Cisco smiled again. “You’re in S.T.A.R. Labs.”
It was said with barely restrained enthusiasm, like that should mean something to him. Like he was supposed to know what that was. He looked around the room for clues. A lab could mean a lot of things.
The music playing in the background changed tracks and the woman started to move forward again, but stopped herself. “Cisco, I don’t think he knows what S.T.A.R. Labs is.”
Cisco looked at her, then back at Barry again, wide eyed. “You don’t?”
Barry shook his head and Cisco’s frown was almost comically deep. “Okay, that’s… weird, but okay. This is Caitlin, or, well, Dr. Snow. You were struck by lightning. Do you remember that?”
He shook his head again. He remembered sitting in the strange room and then something happened, something that hurt, more and less then other things. He didn’t remember anything after that. At their stares, he ducked his head a little to hide his eyes under the protective fringe of brown hair, only it wasn’t there. He reached up to feel for it, finding his hair had been cut short, only a few inches long.
“Cisco, maybe we should wait for Dr. Wells.”
As if on queue, the doors slid open. Barry pulled his legs tighter against his chest, half expecting he knew who it was. Only instead of the man in yellow, it was a different man, one in a wheel chair. This man, Dr. Wells presumably, stopped next to Dr. Snow and Barry considered running. The door was clearly unlocked. He could probably make it past them, but… but then what? He didn’t know where he was or how to get out. He didn’t know who else was on the other side.
Dr. Wells watched him carefully, looking him over, before speaking, but not to him. “Cisco, why don’t you get our guest here a shirt?”
Barry flinched back when Cisco stood, but he only left the room, returning shortly with a dark blue sweat shirt, S.T.A.R. Laboratories printed in white across it. Instead of approaching him again, Cisco stood back with the others and tossed it at his feet. Barry pulled the shirt over his head as quickly as he could before tucking his legs back up against his chest.
Dr. Wells smiled patiently. “Barry, listen to me, you’re at S.T.A.R. Labs. Do you know what that means?”
Barry shook his head, but Dr. Wells’ smile didn’t falter. “It means you’re safe.”
He couldn’t stop the huff of disbelieving laughter that came out. Nowhere was safe. Although, maybe it would be better. He wanted it to be better.
Cisco rocked on his heels by the monitors. “I don’t think he believes you.”
Dr. Snow sighed. “You’re not helping, Cisco.”
Cisco reached past the monitors and pulled a stick of red liquorish out. Barry eyed it hungrily. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had candy of any kind. Cisco bit some off and stopped mid-chew, looking at Barry. “You want some?”
When Barry didn’t answer, Cisco started forward. Dr. Snow made to stop him, but Dr. Wells put a hand on her arm and shook his head, so Cisco kept coming, ignoring the tension that built in Barry with every step until he finally came to sit only a few feet away.
He held out the liquorish and repeated. “You want some?”
Barry bit at his nails, momentarily surprised that he had any. He must have been asleep for a really long time.
Food was usually okay. The man in yellow didn’t tamper with the food, he didn’t need to, but this wasn’t the man in yellow, this was a new person. He bit off two more nails before grabbing it and shoving the entire bendy straw into his mouth. It tasted like strawberry flavored rubber. He’d forgotten how much he hated liquorish, but it was simultaneously the worst and best thing he’d ever eaten.
Cisco smiled and waved a hand behind him until Dr. Snow tossed over a big bag of the red candy and they sat in silence, eating it and waiting while the two doctors watched.
Cisco was nice. He had a big smile and bright eyes and he looked at Barry like Barry was interesting. Not in the bug pinned on a board kind of interesting Barry was used to, but a different kind – a kind he remembered from a long time ago.
He relaxed by inches as they sat for what felt like hours, but the watch on Cisco’s wrist said was only about twenty minutes. Cisco didn’t say anything, Barry didn’t say anything, Dr. Snow started to say something every so often, but Dr. Wells stopped her. It was just the sound of chewing and the faint hum of music in the background.
Slowly, he let his legs down, crossed them and put his hands in his lap. He wasn’t sure what he was doing there. He didn’t know what was going on, but he liked Cisco. He had an honest smile. Barry hadn’t seen an honest smile, or any smile for that matter, in years.
The music changed over again and Cisco swallowed his latest bite of candy. “Hey, so you’ve been in a coma.”
Barry looked over at the Doctors for confirmation and Dr. Snow perked up at the interaction. “Nine months, to be exact.”
Cisco held another band of liquorish out, but Barry shook his head. “Right, so, coma, man, that’s a big deal. We kinda need to check you out, make sure you’re okay.”
He looked at his hands, folded them together, bit his lip. Comas were big, he’d read that, read a lot of things. If he’d been asleep for nine months, his muscles should have atrophied, but they hadn’t. He pressed fingers into his abdomen again, feeling the muscle like it could give him answers.
Nine months and the man in yellow hadn’t come to get him. Maybe he thought Barry was dead. These people hadn’t hurt him. Before the man in yellow, Joe used to tell him he was a good judge of character. He liked Cisco, Dr. Snow made him a little nervous with her serious face, but not scared, and Dr. Wells… he wasn’t sure about Dr. Wells, who was being so patient and above anything else, Barry really wanted to be able to trust someone.
Finally, he nodded and Cisco’s smile brightened. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right there. If she does something you don’t like, I’ll kick her for you.”
Dr. Snow’s mouth pinched tight. “Very funny, Cisco.”
Instead of replying to her, he winked at Barry and when he reached out to take Barry’s hand, Barry let him. He let Cisco help him up and onto the bed and Cisco hadn’t lied about being right there. He sat next to Barry while Dr. Snow put a clip on his finger, took his temperature, his blood pressure, and shined lights in his eyes. When she took a blood sample, Cisco waited until she was done and kicked her lightly in the back of her legs as she turned away.
“What? No one likes needles.”
She frowned, set the vial of blood down and held out a plastic cup with a thick blue lid. “I need you to urinate in this.”
Barry considered it for a second before he stood up and reached for the strings of the sweat pants he was wearing. Cisco grabbed his hands, stopping him. “Wow! Not here, man, come on. We have a bathroom.”
He blushed, wishing he had his long hair back to hide behind, but followed Cisco to the other side of the room and through a door into a bathroom. “I’m just on the other side. That okay?”
Barry nodded slowly and let the door close. It was a small room, no shower, just a toilet, sink, and… mirror. He leaned forward to get a closer look at himself, transfixed at his own reflection. The last time he’d seen his own face, he’d been sixteen. Looking at himself now was like looking at a stranger. He touched the short hair, his nose, his mouth. He was older. A lot older. He was an adult. How long had he been in that room? He’d known years, but… how many?
He rushed to pee in the cup, suddenly feeling an urgent need for answers.
Cisco was waiting for him just outside the door. “Better?”
“What year is it?” He couldn’t give himself time to think about it. If he did, he wouldn’t be able to get the words out.
Cisco blinked in surprise and looked at Dr. Snow, who looked at Dr. Wells, who was still sitting in his wheelchair on the far side of the room from them. Dr. Wells nodded and Cisco used both hands to brush the thick fall of hair behind his ears. “2014.”
2014? But that was… “Ten years?”
It was Dr. Wells. “I believe Mr. Allen is referring to the night he went missing in 2004.”
Barry’s legs went weak and he leaned back against the wall as the room tunneled. Ten years. He’d been in the room for ten years. He could hear Dr. Snow and Dr. Wells talking, muffled like he was under water.
“We need to call Detective West.”
“We promised we’d call if Barry woke up.”
“This is a very sensitive situation.”
“I’m aware of that, but you heard him. Dr. Wells, he doesn’t know what year it is. This is…”
Cisco caught Barry around his waist as he started to slide to the floor. “Caitlin, a little help here!”
Barry wasn’t sure, but he thought he felt her grab onto him from the other side just as everything went black.
There wasn’t any music this time, but there were raised voices. Barry blinked awake, once again on the bed in the middle of the strange room. S.T.A.R. Labs. Something warm and soft was wrapped around his hand and he tipped his head over to find Cisco at his bedside, focused on something to his right.
Barry followed his gaze to the closed door. The yelling was coming from the other side. He looked down at Cisco’s hand wrapped in his. He didn’t hate it. Without realizing what he was doing, he moved his thumb over the soft back of it and Cisco startled, looking at Barry in surprise.
“Oh, hey, you’re awake.” He paused. “Again.”
Barry nodded, “How long?”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t slip back into a coma or anything, just a few hours.”
The yelling elevated and Barry realized there was only one person doing the yelling. There was something familiar in the voice, but he couldn’t place it. It was male, but it wasn’t Dr. Wells. “What’s going on?”
Cisco leaned in, his smile turning conspiratorial. “Caitlin may have gone against Dr. Wells’ orders and texted Detective West that you woke up.”
Detective West? Joe! Barry started to sit up, but Cisco’s hand on his chest pushed him back down and he found that he was still weak enough to let it. “No, no, no, don’t worry. He’ll be back in a minute, just took the fight outside so it wouldn’t bother you.”
“Fight?” It was a strange kind of relief getting actual answers to his questions.
“Dr. Wells thinks you should stay here until we’ve finished running more tests.”
“EKG, MRI, CAT Scan. He wants to run the whole gamut. Could take days.” Days? He didn’t want to stay there for days. The metal walls and florescent lights reminded him too much of the room. Larger and there were windows, but still confinement, still more of the same. Cisco shook his head and winked. “Don’t worry, I don’t think Detective West is gonna let him. Hey, are you hungry?”
Now that Cisco mentioned it, he was starving. With help, he sat up and a paper bag was put in his lap.
“Detective West brought it. He said it’s your favorite.”
Inside was a sandwich, packed with just about everything – turkey, pastrami, bacon – oh, god, bacon. He’d really, really missed bacon. Biting into it was like biting into home.
“So, you mind if I ask you something?”
Barry shook his head, swallowing the partially chewed sandwich to take another bite.
“When you went missing in 2004, you didn’t run away, did you?”
Didn’t run away? Of course he hadn’t run away, why would…? Except, why wouldn’t they think that. It had been dark, no one around to see and it had happened so fast he hadn’t exactly had a chance to raise any alarms.
When he didn’t answer, Cisco nodded to himself. “So, where have you been for the last ten years?”
Barry considered the answer carefully and decided on the truth, more or less. “I don’t know.”
“Barry?!” He hadn’t heard the door open, but without the glass muffling it, he instantly recognized Joe’s voice. Before he could fully process it, arms were around him. Strong, familiar, safe arms. Arms that couldn’t protect him, really, but they would try and Barry returned the embrace, burying his face in Joe’s suit jacket and the familiar smell of old spice and coffee.
Joe cupped the back of his head with one hand, the other tight around his back. “It’s okay. Barr, it’s okay, I’ve got you.”
It wasn’t okay, it really wasn’t, but with Joe there, he could almost believe it.
The others went outside to give them privacy. Barry wasn’t sure when exactly he started crying, but it was a while before he could stop and he wasn’t the only one. By the time they separated, his sandwich was cold. It still tasted good, better then anything he’d eaten in… well, ten years, apparently. As good as it was, though, Barry hadn’t thought he’d be able to eat the entire thing. Prolonged restrictive diets had a tendency to shrink the stomach, he’d read that, but even as he polished off the last crumb in the box, he still felt starved.
The offered bottle of water joined the sandwich and Barry didn’t think he’d ever been so hungry and thirsty, not even in those first few weeks in the room.
“Barry, I need you to tell me what happened. How did you end up at the police station?”
Barry stared, more then a little surprised. “I was at the police station?”
Joe nodded. “In the forensic lab. How did you get there?”
“He took me there.”
“He came in the room, told me to get dressed.”
The humming was the only warning he had before the door opened and the man in yellow stepped through. He was holding something in his hand. The items were tossed on the bed in front of Barry and it took him a moment to recognize jeans and a t-shirt. Real clothes, not like the scrubs he was wearing.
“Put them on.” The voice vibrated through the room, unrecognizable as human, but Barry thought it had to be. He didn’t believe in aliens. At least, not the kind that came to earth in flying saucers and abducted unsuspecting farmers for extensive anal probing. Although, considering everything, maybe he should.
He stood, turned his back to pull his scrubs off. The man in yellow didn’t move. Barry should have been used to it by now, but he still flushed in anger and embarrassment. There should be privacy in some things, at least some of the time.
“He said he was taking me somewhere.”
When he was dressed, Barry started to sit again, but before he’d moved more then an inch, the man was right there, a solid and powerful wall and Barry was taller then him now by a few inches, but that didn’t make him feel any less intimidated. The hand blurred as it vibrated and moved to his face. It didn’t hurt, not this time, but Barry stayed tense, waiting for the pain.
“You, Barry Allen, have somewhere very important you need to be tonight.”
“I couldn’t see where we were going. I don’t know how we got in.”
The man in yellow moved fast. Barry barely had time to feel himself being put over a shoulder, to feel the rush of air around him, before he was being put down again and he was somewhere new.
“He told me to stay there and he’d be back for me.”
He looked around, lost and confused at shelves and bottles of fluid and file folders and a board with pictures and charts on it and finally found his captor standing near a closed window, watching him.
“What am I doing here? What’s going on?”
“Sit, Barry.” And he did, because it was sit or he’d make him. “Don’t move. Wait. I’ll come back for you.”
“Then… then I don’t remember. I woke up here.”
Joe watched him closely, reading every half truth. “You said the room. What room?”
“The room. The one he kept me in.”
“For how long?”
“I didn’t run away.” Joe’s eyes were shining, like he might cry and Barry didn’t want to see him cry again so he looked down. “Is it really 2014?”
“Then ten years. He grabbed me while I was on my way to the library. I didn’t have a chance to run or call out for help. I tried, I did, but he moved too fast and then…”
“No, Barry, don’t.” Joe took Barry’s face in his hands, made him look up and meet his stare. “I need you to tell me who did this to you. Who took you?”
The problem was, Joe never believed him as a kid and he wouldn’t believe him now. It would be the same thing all over again. Barry trying to protect someone he shouldn’t be or maybe too traumatized to know the truth from whatever fantasy his imagination had worked up to help him deal with reality. He couldn’t do that again, especially not now.
“I don’t know. I never saw his face. He wore a mask.”
It wasn’t an outright lie. For the most part, it was the absolutely truth. Barry had no idea who the man in yellow was, other than it was the same man who killed his mom. He never saw him out of his suit, never heard his real voice.
“He hurt you.”
It wasn’t a question, but Barry nodded, unable to put it into words, relieved he didn’t have to.
“Did he say why?”
He closed his eyes. “He said it was my fault.”
“What was your fault?”
“I don’t know. I asked, but it just… it made it worse. Like my asking pissed him off. He…”
“Barr, look at me. Come on, son.”
That one word, son, dragged him out of the pressing nightmare and he opened his eyes back to the bright room and Joe and he took a deep breath, aware of wetness on his face. “Can I go home now? I really want to go home.”
“You know that’s against every protocol we have, Joe.”
“I can’t just let you take him home. He needs to come down to the station and make a statement. If what you’re saying is true, he needs to be evaluated by a specialist before being released.”
Joe looked through the windows to where Barry still sat on the table, Cisco back at his side and Dr. Snow looking perpetually annoyed. There had been physical signs of abuse. Bones that had broken and mended more then once, scarring in places Joe didn’t want to think about, the blood work that put him just on the border of malnourished, but more then that, he knew Barry.
The young man in the security footage from the night of the explosion didn’t move the way Barry did, he didn’t move like someone who was there because they wanted to be. There was only confusion in the way he’d looked around the room and resignation in his posture as he sat in place, unmoving and waiting. For the most part, he’d made up his mind before he even saw Barry. Iris was right, he hadn’t runaway that night. The full impact of what that meant, though, hadn’t hit until Barry had looked at him and his expression had been a heartbreaking mix of desperation and relief.
“He has been evaluated by a specialist. Public opinion aside, Dr. Wells and his staff are more then qualified to make that call.”
“None of them are psychiatrists, Joe.”
“No, but they are the doctors I put in charge of Barry’s health and they agree with me on this. Barry’s telling the truth.”
“Then he needs to be put into a program, Joe, with people who can help him.”
“Please, sir, as a personal favor. Let me take him home.”
The pause was heavy and lingering. He knew he was asking a lot. Under normal circumstances, someone in Barry’s position would be put into a rehabilitation facility before being released back to the family, but this was Barry. This was the child he considered a son, back after ten years and the look in his eyes when he’d asked to go home… Joe would move heaven and earth to make that happen.
Finally, the Chief sighed, defeat clear in that one gesture. “So, what you’re saying to me is that Dr. Snow, in her professional opinion as Barry’s personal physician, does not think Barry is emotionally or mentally capable of making a statement at this time?”
“Yes, sir, that is exactly what I’m saying.”
“And I’m correct in assuming that she also believes Barry would be better off recovering at home for the time being?”
“You have a week.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He hung up before the Captain could change his mind. Joe knew it wasn’t going to be easy, he knew it could backfire. According to Wells and his team, the scars and bones had healed as mysteriously as the muscle that had built. He wasn’t sure what had caused Barry’s body to heal, but it wasn’t going to be that easy to heal Barry’s mind, especially not when Barry was lying to him. It was too early to call him on it, but Joe knew him well enough to know when the kid was holding back, when he was so scared he couldn’t bring himself to saying something out loud.
They’d get there, though. It was just going to take time.
The whir of the wheel chair alerted him to Dr. Wells’ presence and he turned to face the scientist, dropping the phone back into his pocket as he did so. “I’m taking Barry with me.”
“I still don’t think that’s wise, but I don’t suppose I can stop you.” Joe shook his head. “If anything changes?”
“I’ll bring him back, but he’ll be fine.”
He wasn’t sure why, but something about Dr. Wells bothered him. It had since the moment he’d shown up at the hospital offering to treat Barry. That smile didn’t sit well on him and even if no one else saw it, Joe did. He’d still been Barry’s best chance though. The kid had coded several more times in those first weeks and Joe had been desperate. He couldn’t get Barry back just to lose him again.
Inside, Cisco was flailing the end of a liquorish stick in Dr. Snow’s face like a sword while she stammered over words. “No… Cisco, would you… just…” She grabbed the stick, pointing it at him. “Stop it.”
He wagged his eyebrow at her and leaned into Barry, nudging his shoulder. Barry didn’t flinch. Whatever Joe thought of Dr. Wells, it didn’t extend to his associates. Joe had done extensive background checks on all of them when Barry had come there. He knew Dr. Snow had lost her fiancé the night of the explosion, that she’d also lost just about everything else as well. What he got from Cisco with his childlike enthusiasm was a certified genius. Nothing stuck out in either of their pasts to raise flags. Nothing stuck out in Dr. Wells’ file, either, but Joe took gut instinct seriously. Gut instinct said they were okay, at least for now.
“Hey, Barry.” Barry looked over, suddenly tense and expectant. “Let’s go home.”
The tension bled out and was replaced by a hesitant upturn at the corner of Barry’s mouth. Not a smile but something like one. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. We’ll get you settled in and I’ll call Iris. She should be getting off work around then.”
At the mention of Iris, a real smile spread over Barry’s face.
Dr. Wells was waiting outside the sliding doors and his eyes moved momentarily to where Barry’s hands clutched desperately at Joe’s.
“Remember your promise.”
“If anything happens, you’ll be the first to know.”
Dr. Wells led them down the long, enclosed hall and through a door into another, much brighter hallway, but this one had floor to ceiling windows, the lower half shuttered against prying eyes, but the top was open and he could see clear blue sky just on the other side of the glass.
As Dr. Wells pressed his thumb to the reader a few feet away, Barry stopped where he was and watched it open. Joe looked back, confused. “You okay?”
No, because he wanted more then anything to go outside, but the closest thing he’d come to outside in ten years was sitting under that skylight letting rain hit him in the middle of the night, just before he’d been struck by lightning. It wasn’t that he wanted to go back to the lab with its metal walls and strange people. He didn’t, he really wanted to follow Joe out that door and go home. He wanted to see Iris and hear her voice. It was just that the lab felt… safer. The lab was a known factor. There wasn’t anything terrifyingly new there, nothing except the people and he liked them.
Dr. Wells sat in his wheelchair, holding the door for them and Joe was waiting for an answer. Barry bit his lip, dragged it through his teeth and managed, “No windows.”
It wasn’t much. There had been windows in the lab, but they had been windows without expectation. Nothing to see but sky, no way to open them. Even then, he’d had trouble staring at them for long, the sense of vastness and outside was too much too soon.
When Joe still looked confused, he added, “In the room. There were no windows in the room.”
Joe’s eyes widened as that set in and Barry looked up through the glass at the white clouds rather than his foster father’s face, because he couldn’t accept the look that was as lost as Barry felt.
“Barry, if you don’t want to do this, if you can’t it’s okay. We’ll figure something out.”
Everyone kept saying it was okay, but it wasn’t, it really, really wasn’t. Hearing Joe say he didn’t have to go, though, made him feel… not stronger, but more resolved. “No, I want to go home.”
His entire body was a line of tension walking out the door, holding him stiff and still as he followed Joe. The door opened into a small alcove, high cement walls blocking the view of the street, but not the tall buildings around the lab. They were downtown.
He hadn’t been able to see where the man in yellow took him before he’d been put in the room. There had been blurs of color and sound, but nothing he could use to identify the place. Knowing where he was geographically… it was good.
Dr. Wells rolled down the ramp to them. “You’re sure you won’t reconsider?”
“No, but thank you for everything. We’ll be in touch.”
“I’m sure you will.”
He didn’t back away as Joe led Barry from the small side entrance. The street was just on the other side of the wall, an unfamiliar car parked at the curb. It was a quiet ride. Joe didn’t turn any music on, but Barry didn’t need it. He was busy watching everything as it passed, looking for more changes. Shops and café’s, apartment buildings, homes – it was all different. Even things that were the same were different. Different signs, different paint. Ten years was a long time.
Joe’s house, though, was the same. Right down to the carefully manicured lawn, the neatly trimmed bushes, and the little silver number ‘2’ next to the door that was still crooked.
It was getting late in the afternoon. The clock in the car said four, then it said nothing, because Joe had turned the car off and Barry was home.
On the walk from the car to the front door, Joe watched Barry. He didn’t move much, but his eyes did. They were everywhere, taking in everything, even as he didn’t react to it. One room for ten years at the mercy of whoever had put him there. How big had that room been? No window, but had there been a television? Had he seen any of the news coverage from his disappearance? It hadn’t been much, less then Joe would have liked, but without details, without leads, it had been the best they could do.
Iris had never agreed. She’d always felt the media could have done more. He was fairly certain her interest in journalism came from that, but journalism was better then her attempt to join the police academy, so he encouraged it.
He closed the door behind Barry, noticed the slight, nervous tilt of Barry’s head as it clicked shut. Joe stood back and tried to think of something to say.
Barry was leaning against the door, head down, fingers picking at the hem of the dark blue sweatshirt Dr. Wells had given him. He’d already pulled a thread loose.
“Do you want to go to your room?”
Barry started to shake his head, then stopped and whispered, “I don’t know what to do.”
His voice was so soft, Joe almost didn’t hear it.
“I keep telling myself he isn’t watching, but it feels like he is and I don’t know what to do.”
Joe came up and pulled Barry’s head down onto his shoulder. It was going to take a while to get used to him being so tall. “How about we start with a shower?”
Barry nodded against his shoulder and Joe helped him up the stairs and into the bathroom. He’d have to get clothes for the kid tomorrow, but the sweatpants would do for now and Barry’s old t-shirts were still hanging in his closet. Joe silently took back every negative thing he had ever said about the kid’s choice of over-sized shirts. He slipped the clothes through a small opening, closed the door, and waited just on the other side, listening.
He didn’t even know what he was listening for. Crying, sounds of distress, or just Barry taking a shower. It was stupid, but Joe didn’t want to let him out of sight, not really. Crime didn’t stop just because he’d gotten Barry back, though. Once Iris got home, he’d have to head back to the station to at least check in on the active cases he had on his desk.
Iris. He looked at his watch. He’d been standing there nearly fifteen minutes. The water cut off and he slipped down the stairs, pulling his phone out to call his daughter.
“Hi, honey, I just wanted to let you know…” actually, he should probably wait. She’d run every red light in the city if she knew Barry was there. “We have a guest.”
“It’s not your partner is it?” She was trying her best to sound put out, but he heard the nervousness behind it and pretended he didn’t.
“No, not Eddie.”
“Who is it?”
“Consider it a surprise.”
“Fine, be cagey, but I better not be disappointed.”
“You won’t. Drive safe.”
He hung up just as the sound of footsteps on the stairs alerted him to Barry’s presence. “Who was that?”
Seeing Barry standing there wearing his old t-shirt, the sense of déjà-vu was a little intense, even if Barry wasn’t a gangly limbed teenager, he could still see the kid in the man.
Barry’s eyes darted down then back up nervously. “Does she know? About me?”
“That you’re alive, yes. That you’re awake? Let’s just say I didn’t want to endanger the lives of the good citizens of Central City.” It was the same thing he had said about getting Iris a car when she turned sixteen and it brought back that smile again, a ghost of what it used to be, but important.
Joe sat on the couch and watched Barry standing on the last step, looking around the room, taking it in. “You want to sit down?”
He wasn’t going to pretend it didn’t hurt that Barry hesitated before coming to sit next to him, several feet away and stiff. They sat in silence for a minute before Joe took up the remote and turned on the news. There had been a bank robbery, two people were dead. He checked his phone on the side table, but he hadn’t missed any calls.
Barry pushed himself into the corner and wrapped his arms around his legs while they watched.
“Do you want me to change it?”
Barry shook his head, riveted with his chin resting on his knees. As much as it pained him, Joe had to push. Not much, but a little. They only had a week.
“Barry?” He didn’t move, but Joe saw him look over with his eyes. “I’m not saying you have to talk about it now, but I need to know what happened. Everything. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant you think it is. Any little detail could be the thing that gives this guy away.”
He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t for Barry to drop his legs, scoot over and put his head on Joe’s shoulder, relaxing into him. He’d had nightmares after his mom’s death and a fear of the dark that made it hard to sleep. More then once, he’d come downstairs while Iris slept and sat on the couch with Joe, just like this. Joe wrapped his arm around Barry’s shoulder, pulling him in.
“I want to tell you. I do.”
“But?” Because Joe heard it, even if Barry didn’t say it.
“I don’t… I don’t know how.”
Joe didn’t think for a second that was what Barry meant to say, but he’d pushed enough for one night. He kissed the top of Barry’s head, his still damp hair. “We’ll figure it out, Barr.”
He really did want to tell Joe, but it was more then just the thought of Joe not believing that stopped him, because if Barry told him, if Joe believed him, if they went looking for the man in yellow, if they found him, if a hundred other impossibilities, Joe would try to protect him and he’d get himself killed. Barry couldn’t let that happen. He owed it to them to do what little he could to keep them safe.