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Aiming For The Mark

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Iris hasn’t stopped running since she was eleven years old.

*

In high school, Iris joins the track team. She wants to seem well-rounded on her transcripts when she starts applying to colleges—Iris is determined to get as many scholarships and grants as she can. The team’s not great, so Iris has no trouble getting picked, and once she’s there, she finds that she loves it.

Barry comes to all of her meets, which isn’t a surprise but she’s grateful for it all the same. His parents come to as many as they can, and the first time that Iris wins a race, all three of the Allens are cheering wildly in the stands.

That next weekend, Iris makes the trip up to Iron Heights to visit her father, her medal carefully tucked into her pocket.

Her dad insists she recount every detail of the race for him; Iris obliges and does her best not to notice the tears in his eyes as she talks.

Barry’s the one that drove her here this time, and when she comes back outside, he takes one look at her face and immediately gets out of the car so he can wrap her in a hug.

“I just,” Iris says into his shirt, once she’s finally able to speak, “I just want him to be able to see me race, you know?”

That’s the least of what she wants—she wants not to be the only one who truly believes in her dad’s innocence, she wants her father not to be in jail, she wants her mom to still be alive

Iris wants impossible things, but what she has is this, weekend trips to see her father through a pane of glass, and Barry’s warm arms around her as she tries to keep from falling apart again.

Once she’s finally gotten ahold of herself, Iris pulls away, reluctantly. She frowns at the tearstains on Barry’s shirt and mumbles, “Ugh, sorry I turned into a mess on you.”

“You’re never a mess,” Barry says loyally, lying through his teeth as Iris carefully wipes her cheeks, trying to catch any smeared mascara. “And I don’t mind, Iris.”

It’s what he always says, of course, he’s been picking up after her since they were kids—but it’s impossible not to believe him, and so Iris gives him a shaky smile back.

*

“Remind me why I agreed to do this?” Linda huffs out as they jog down the bike path.

Iris slants a smile her way and teases, “Don’t tell me you’re wimping out on me now, Park.”

“Excuse you, I never wimp out,” Linda protests, her cheeks flushed in the crisp fall air. “I’m just saying.” For all her complaining, she’s doing a good job of keeping up with Iris’ pace—and Iris has only slowed down a little bit from her usual stride, too.

“You’re a sports reporter, Linda, shouldn’t you be more of a jock?”

“Just because I write about sports doesn’t mean I’m looking to become the next Usain Bolt,” Linda grumps. “”You’re on the crime beat and nobody’s expecting you to wear a deerstalker hat.”

Iris laughs. “Okay, what if I bring in lattes from Jitters to work tomorrow. My treat?”

“Now that’s a deal I will take,” Linda says, grinning.

*

Three months into living with the Allens, Iris has tried to run away from their home five times, had countless nightmares, and broken one dish in a temper tantrum.

After taking her to her weekly therapist appointment, Nora sits with Iris in the car and says quietly, “It’s okay if you’re angry, honey. I get angry too sometimes.”

Iris looks up at her, but says nothing. Nora doesn’t look angry, she just looks tired and a little sad. She looks like that a lot when she talks to Iris.

And when Iris looks at Nora, she can feel her throat starting to ache, the way it gets when she wants to cry. She shouldn’t say anything, she should just— “It’s not fair,” she says, her voice wobbling. “It’s not fair, I want my dad, I want to go home and I want my mom—”

And now she’s crying, again, like that can fix anything that’s wrong, and Nora’s reaching out to pull her into a hug, keeping her tucked in close. “Oh, sweetheart, I know. None of this is fair.”

Nora’s perfume smells like flowers, and it smells nice, but nothing like the perfume Iris’ mom used to wear. Iris doesn’t pull away, though—she’s tried that before, when Nora or Henry tried to hug her when she was crying, and it’s never made her feel better. So she stays where she is, and cries and cries into Nora’s shoulder until the sobs start to slow down at last.

When she finally pulls away, sniffling, Nora’s face is also wet, and Iris’ stomach lurches as she sees it.

“I know you miss your family, honey,” Nora says, grabbing tissues out of the glove compartment. She doesn’t try to wipe her face first, she just starts wiping at Iris’ instead, gently. “Especially your mom. I miss her too, but—sweetie, you have to let us try and help you. Just, just give us a chance, okay?”

Iris doesn’t want to give anyone a chance. She doesn’t want to be here, surrounded by adults that don’t listen to her about anything, not about her dad, not about the lightning in the house the day that her mom died—

“And no matter what,” Nora says, “we’re going to be here for you, okay? Anything that you need.”

That, Iris wants to believe. Tentatively, she asks in a whisper, “Can—can we talk about my mom sometimes? Even if it makes you sad?”

Nora smiles at her, but it’s a sad smile. “Absolutely, honey. Any time you want.” Iris must not look like she believes this, because Nora’s mouth turns up and she says, “Your mom was my best friend. I’d like to talk about her, if you want to.”

And that’s what they end up doing, the rest of the ride back to the Allens’ house. Nora has to stop the car on the curb a couple of times while she wipes her eyes, and Iris cries a little bit, but they don’t stop talking, and when Nora puts her arm around Iris’ shoulders as they walk up to the house, Iris doesn’t want to pull away.

*

“So wait,” someone will always ask when the topic of Iris’ connection to Barry and the Allens comes up, “--are you two related or what?”

Iris usually just sticks to a simple, “Barry’s family took me in when I was a kid.”

Most people will leave it at that, but some will go, “So he’s like your foster brother, then?”

And Iris will always shrug, and say, “Not really. He’s like family, though. And my best friend.”

If she’s with Barry, he usually lets her take the lead when responding, but somehow—he’ll always watch her when she replies, as if he’s waiting to hear if her answer will change. Iris wonders about it, but never presses him. She figures he just wants to be respectful, make sure he’s not overstepping or something. Barry’s sweet like that.

*

“Iris West,” Detective Thawne says, looking at her across the yellow caution tape.

“Detective Thawne,” Iris says, giving her best, most charming smile. “I don’t suppose I could get a quote from you, could I?”

“Seeing as I’ve been warned about you, I think not,” Thawne says. He smiles brightly at her, and Iris settles into a smirk.

“Aw, and here I was hoping we could get off on the right foot,” she says, in mock sadness. “But seeing as I’ve been raised right, I won’t bother you with the things I’ve heard about you.”

Thawne’s eyebrows shoot up. “Things you’ve heard about me?”

“Oh don’t worry,” Iris assures him, “Nothing too bad.”

After a second, Thawne chuckles, and Iris grins back—she likes it when they’re capable of playing along with her. Makes things more fun. “I can see the warnings about you were dead-on. No comment, Ms. West.”

“See you around, Detective Pretty Boy,” Iris calls out as he turns to walk away, and when he turns around in surprise, Iris smiles brightly.

It’s a little hard to tell from this distance, but she’s pretty sure he’s blushing.

*

"Iris, come on. Will you just talk to me?"

Iris keeps walking, and doesn't bother to look back. It's chilly out tonight, far too cold for her to be walking around the neighborhood without a sweater, but she keeps walking anyway.

Barry, of course, keeps following her, like he would do anything else.

"It's fine, okay," Iris calls back without looking over her shoulder, finally cracking a little. "You have your opinion, it's fine."

"It's not fine," Barry says, and she can hear his footsteps picking up behind her, and in a moment, he's circled around so he's standing in front of her. Iris could walk around him, but instead she stops where she is, her arms wrapped around herself for warmth. And also for protection.

"It's fine," Iris tries again, and this time, even she can hear how thick her voice is, how upset she sounds. "It doesn't matter if you don't believe me."

Barry looks at her, and right now, she hates that look of his, like he's feeling her pain as much as she is, which is impossible, but has always felt true, ever since they were kids. It's always been like that with them, Barry absorbing the insults she'll still get at school about her parents like they’re insults to him, Barry springing to her defense every time, whether it’s the bullies at school or Nora's rich bigoted relatives who looked at Iris every Thanksgiving and saw a charity project.

So many times, Barry's been the steadiest thing in Iris' world, and now he's—

The words spill out of her mouth without prompting. "I thought you believed me about my dad. How can you not believe me?"

Barry rubs at his hair fretfully, until it's practically sticking up on end. "I want to believe you, Iris. Of course I do, I just—it doesn't make any sense. The man in the lightning, it all sounds—"

"Crazy," Iris says, flatly.

"Impossible," Barry says.

Iris nods. "You know, you sound like everyone else in my life right now. So thanks, Barry, thanks for that."

She moves to walk around him and of course, of course he keeps pace with her. "I know you're mad," Barry starts.

"No shit, Allen." Iris keeps her voice as clipped as possible, trying to fight past the awful tightness in her throat—she's not going to cry, she'll be damned before she starts crying.

They walk in silence for a moment, and then Iris says, "You used to believe me."

Barry doesn't say anything at first, and then admits softly, "Yeah. I did."

The past tense hurts, it hurts so much. Iris thought she could deal with it, with Nora believing that her father's a monster who killed Iris' mom and Nora's best friend, she could handle Henry avoiding the topic as much as possible to keep the peace—but she thought she had Barry in her corner. She's always had him in her corner when it comes to this, until now.

"So what changed? We get to high school and suddenly it's, oh sorry, never mind, you must have been crazy—"

"I have never called you crazy," Barry insists. "I would never do that, Iris, come on."

Iris stops in her tracks to stare him down. "It's a pretty simple equation, Barry. Either you believe what I'm telling you, or you think I'm crazy. There's not a lot of middle ground here."

Barry looks at her, the streetlamp on the corner casting half his face into shadow, but she can still see the determined cast to his jaw, the way his gaze is fixed on her. "I think you saw something that night that you can't explain, that maybe no one can explain. I think you're one of the smartest people I know, and that if anybody could prove your dad didn't kill your mom that night, it would be you." He looks at her for a moment, and then gives her a soft, sad smile. "I think that if I could bet on anyone to pull off the impossible, it would be you, Iris."

Iris stares up at him, and then her vision blurs abruptly, and she starts to wipe at the tears slipping down her cheeks. "Goddamnit, Barry," she mumbles, and when Barry pulls her into a hug, she doesn't pull away, just curls up against his chest. Despite the chill and the fact that he's only wearing a hoodie, Barry feels impossibly warm, and she burrows in a little closer.

"I'm going to get him out, you know," Iris says into his chest. "I'm going to prove my dad's innocent someday and I am going to get him out. Can you believe that?"

"I can believe in you, yeah," Barry promises her, and when he pulls away to look into her face, Iris can see that he means it. "Iris—I can absolutely believe in you."

*

"I can't believe Dr. Wells pulled this off," Barry says, shaking his head as he watches the press conference on his laptop.

"Do I detect a smidge of professional jealousy?" Iris says, twirling around in her chair next to him.

Barry shakes his head, his eyes still fixed on the screen as Helen Wells continues to speak to the crowd. "Honestly, I'm too impressed to be jealous." Iris gives him a look, and Barry concedes with a laugh, "Okay, maybe I'm a little bit jealous of her team. God, to be able to work on a particle accelerator—"

"Mercury Labs never tried to make their own?" Iris asks, curious.

Barry shrugs. "Dr. Wells has always been ahead of the field," he says, and Iris is too fond of Barry to say anything about the wistfulness in his voice. He'd applied to work at both STAR Labs and Mercury Labs when he graduated from college, but it was only Mercury Labs that called him back for a job interview. Iris knows Barry is proud of the work he does for Mercury, that he loves having Dr. McGee at a boss—but Iris also knows that when Barry looks at STAR Labs, he always thinks about what could've happened if he'd gone there instead.

"Are you even allowed to watch this on Mercury Labs property?" Iris teases instead, glancing around the deserted lab.

"Yes," Barry says immediately, before wrinkling his nose and adding, "At least I think I am." He looks over at her and asks, "What about you, shouldn't you be out there in the crowd, reporting on one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in our time?"

"Paper's got Ezra covering the science beat," Iris says. "Besides, I'd rather be watching this with the biggest science geek I know."

"That's nice...I think," Barry says, squinting at her in mock confusion, and Iris beams back.

*

"Iris, honey, can you come down a second?"

Iris comes down the stairs, remembering at the last second not to jump over the last few steps, and walks into the kitchen where Henry is. "Hey, what's—" Iris catches sight of the thick envelope sitting on the table in front of Henry, and stops talking. "Oh."

"Yeah," Henry says, giving her a knowing look. "Sit down, let's talk this out."

Iris sits down next to him, twisting her hands in her lap. "I was going to tell you guys."

"Which part, that you applied to Northwestern or that you got in?" Henry asks, eyebrow raised, and Iris' face goes hot.

"Both," she mumbles, and then honesty pushes her to add, "Eventually."

Henry taps the thick envelope with one hand. "Iris, honey, this is an incredible accomplishment. Northwestern's a great school, one of the top journalism schools in the country—why aren't you jumping up and down for joy right now? And why did I find this stuffed in the recycling bin?"

Iris swallows, and admits the thing that's been haunting her since she checked the mail a week ago. "It's too expensive."

Henry sits back in his chair, both of his eyebrows shooting up now. "Well, that's funny, because I don't think Nora and I have any plans to file for bankruptcy any time soon."

"I can't—Henry, I can't ask you guys to pay that much in tuition each year, not with Barry going off to college too," Iris insists. "The tuition is insane, and the financial aid package they're offering isn't enough." Iris swallows her disappointment and says, "I can go to CCU and get the same degree at a fraction of the cost."

"Except that you want to go to Northwestern," Henry presses. "Iris, exactly what did you think was going to happen? You'd turn eighteen and Nora and I would toss you out on the street? So long, thanks for the memories, you're on your own?" He shakes his head. "Sweetheart, no."

Iris turns away, pressing her lips together tightly.

But Henry keeps pressing, saying gently, "I know that you—I know you've never liked to presume with us. But Iris, honey, I thought you knew this by now—you're our kid. No matter how you ended up in our family, you're our kid and we're proud to help you. Any way that you need help, we're there to offer it."

Oh God. She really is going to start crying now.

After a moment, Henry says gently over Iris' sniffs, "If you really want to stay home and go to CCU, then I won't stop you. But if Northwestern is your dream, if all that's stopping you is the belief that you can't ask us for help, then Iris, I'm writing Northwestern a check for the first semester and sending it tonight."

"Okay," Iris says, trying to smile through the mist of tears. "Henry, I can't even begin to thank—"

"And don't you thank me," Henry says, holding up a hand. "You're my kid, remember that." He grins and adds, "Besides, this gives Nora and me an excuse to travel up to Metropolis more often now."

"You realize Northwestern isn't actually in Metropolis, right?" Iris laughs, wiping at her eyes.

Henry shrugs, smiling in that way that reminds her so much of Barry. "Eh. Close enough."

*

Afterwards, Iris will remember the light. She won't remember the lightning strike itself, she won't remember flying backwards into the table full of dangerous chemicals that soaked into her skin, but she remembers the golden light, how beautiful it had seemed for just a second, before she realized how dangerous it was.

She won't remember anything else but that.

Iris will be told, later, that Barry had to be dragged away from her side in the ER, that her heart stopped four times that first night as the doctors tried to figure out why she kept crashing. She'll be told that Nora prayed by her bed through her tears, that it was Henry who made the call to Iron Heights to tell her dad what happened.

She'll be told that Barry blamed Helen Wells for what happened to her, that it took the combined pressure of both his parents and Dr. McGee's recommendation for him to finally agree that Iris needed to be kept at STAR Labs for her recovery.

One thing Iris didn't remember, but has never needed to be told: Barry visited her every day she was in the coma.

*

This is what happens the night that Francine West dies--

Iris is asleep when she hears the thunderclap, then the sound of something shattering downstairs. She comes down in her pajamas, confused and half-asleep, to see the impossible. There is a blur of yellow and red light in her living room, like a hurricane of color and sound and chaos, and in the center of the storm her mother is on her knees, screaming.

Iris screams for her mom, and sees a yellow blur, something that looks almost human coming at her, and in the blink of an eye, Iris is standing outside, a block away from her home, in her pajamas and bare feet, too terrified to move.

By the time Iris starts running for home, her mother is already dead.

*

When people hear that she’s majoring in journalism, more often than not they laugh and say, “Good luck with that in this job market.”

Other times they say, “Looking to be the next Woodward or Bernstein?”

“The next Nellie Bly, actually,” Iris tells them, and means it every time.

Iris doesn’t think of herself as an idealist, although Nora and Henry always swear she is, deep down. But she’s been drawn to journalism since junior high, and knowing each and every reason she should be cautious and go for something practical, like computer science or accounting, all of that just spurs her on even more.

Iris knows what she can't change. She knows that when people look at her parents, they see an ex-junkie and a dirty cop. When they see her, they see a victim of her parents’ mistakes, the recipient of the Allens' generosity.

That’s okay though, because Iris knows who her parents were, and she knows who she really is. And she knows what the truth can do for people, how it can help tenants fighting against a slum landlord, help the victims in an assault case find justice, how it can help voters elect the right politicians into office.

She knows that the truth could someday help a daughter get her innocent father out of jail.

So that’s what Iris does. She looks for the truth, wherever she can find it, and goes wherever it leads her.

*

Nine months after the explosion at STAR Labs, and this is how Iris West's new life begins, with Beyoncé’s Single Ladies playing in her ears over the beeping of machines, and two strangers staring down at her with alarm as she struggles to get out of a hospital bed.

As miracles go, it's not exactly auspicious, but Iris isn't going to complain.