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It might be easier, if he were a drunk. Make it easier for Len to explain, if only in his head. The phrase ‘abusive drunk’ has a much better ring to it than just ‘abusive’. But Lewis never drank that much.

He liked his drink, sure, yet never in any way that could be classified as addiction. Len can tell – he has known his fair share of addicts in his life.

*

Lisa’s cheeks are streaked with tears when Len comes home. Taking him back in the getaway car would have been too risky, so Dad told him to walk home.

“Lenny, I’m hungry,” Lisa she whispers, her voice hoarse. Her arms are covering her tummy as if it’s hurting. “You said to make cereal, but I couldn’t find any. Couldn’t find anything….”

He rubs her shoulders and his sister turns into his touch. “Where’s Mom?” he asks, equally soft.

“I d-don’t know.”

It’s nothing new. She will be back, Len is sure. Only when is the question – last time she had been gone for two days. The time before that it was eight. Len can’t make plans when Lisa’s mother is so inconsistent.

“I’ll get you something to eat, sis,” he promises.

Dad says he is too young to really help him and his friends. Says nine-year-olds have to learn how to play lookout first, how to do things right so that none of Dad’s colleagues finds out. Len always listens to his lessons, even though listening leaves no guarantee there’ll be no punishment, and he knows he could do more, but his Dad won’t let him.

His Dad’s not here, though, and besides – it’s only a little bread and a few cookies.

Lisa is asleep, the trash is taken care of (“Always remove your traces, son, so the police don’t catch you.”), when Dad comes home.

Lisa’s mother never does.

*

Len stares at the ceiling. He feels caged in after only one and a half days at Iron Heights, but he can’t bring himself to regret what got him here. At least there is a nice chill in the air.

He pulls the blanket down further, baring his torso completely, relishing the cold, recycled prison air against his naked skin.

*

His uncle finds him at the back of the ice cream truck, pressed against the freezer.

“Jesus, kid, you’re gonna catch a cold!”

“I’m fine,” Len grumbles.

Uncle Bob’s eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn’t call him out on the lie. He also doesn’t mention the black eye, not directly.

“What’s the lesson been this time?”

Len shrugs, climbing to his feet and regretting it immediately. The freezer was radiating enough cold to numb his bruised ribs.

“Dad wanted to take a detour, get more jewelry. I told him the police were ninety seconds away.”

Bob doesn’t say anything to that, doesn’t ask how Len knew since he has seen him listening to the police radio, has seen him jot down notes. Bob doesn’t ask “Why you keep talking back at him, Lenny?”, doesn’t chide him for provoking his father when he should know by now the man won’t listen to a bratty twelve-year-old.

Instead, Bob pulls open the freezer, sparing no mind to the bags of pills made to look like large ice cubes, and pulls out a popsicle.

“Thanks, Uncle Bob,” Len mutters and Bob ruffles his hair affectionately. He wants to lean into the touch but stops himself at the last moment.

(“Never show weakness, son. It’ll be easier to take you down if you do.”)

He tries to make the ice cream last, but it always melts eventually.

*

Iron Heights penitentiary has both minimum security, close security, and maximum security wings. On his first full day, Len thought his ‘close security’ status was a blessing, given that the segregation and forced inactivity that goes along with maximum would have surely made him lose his mind sooner rather than later.

On his second full day, he almost regrets thinking that when his supervisor suggests he participate in the GED program. Len glares at the man for five minutes until he sighs and allows him to return to his cell.

*

His side hurts, but he climbs into the driver’s seat anyway. The bleeding has stopped a few minutes after his father left, so Len won’t have to worry about getting stains on his uncle’s car.

Lisa keeps him waiting outside the library of her school and he watches other kids mill around the steps to the building, backpacks heavy on their shoulders. Len can’t remember the last time he was inside a classroom. Dad says he needs to pull his own weight, learn the family trade, contribute to the cost of living. Len is good at planning heists, yet not good enough to earn a smile from his father.

They have been back at their flat for only a few minutes when Lisa gasps, eyes fixed on his side.

“You’re bleeding!”

He shrugs, but she insists, retrieving the small first aid kit she stole from her school last time Dad… last time.

Lisa has become awfully good at patching him up. He notices the confidence of her movements, the way she doesn’t need to double-check if she has the right bandage. His own are similarly firm, he realizes with a wince. His best-honed skill is distracting Lewis when Lisa is close enough while he is in a teaching mood, and yet it’s still not enough. He can’t be at her side every second of the day.

Len’s eyes dart to Lisa’s shoulder where a nice pullover hides the scar from view. The item was a birthday present – incredibly expensive, but Len caught Lisa staring at it every time they passed shop’s window. Dad never noticed Len pulled off a job on his own that week to get the money.

If he had, a bit of split skin from Dad’s police club would be the least of his troubles.

*

The other prisoners are wary of him. No one bothers him, even on the third day. When someone meets his eyes, their expression is one of apprehension. Patricide seems to be a big enough deterrent in a place like this, Len muses bitterly.

Still, he prefers this to the way Barry looked at him when he visited. Len’s jaw clenches even at the memory.

There’s good in you, Snart.

A couple of run-ins, and the kid thinks he’s the expert on him. Thinks just because Len cares about his sister that he can be, what – reformed? Yeah, some such romanticizing bullshit is probably exactly what is going on behind those big, naïve eyes.

The little Speedster has no idea how twisted Len really is.

*

Len’s inner clock is meticulous. His mental countdown never stops, no matter how much adrenaline is coursing through his veins.

His father doesn’t know that, however.

Tonight there are two strings of numbers in Len’s head, and one reaches zero long before the other. Len doesn’t say, “Time’s up!”, though.

“A hundred and ten seconds,” is what he says.

When the sound of sirens closes in on them, the only thing he sees in Lewis’ eyes is disappointment, not betrayal.

They have run out of bullets, too, which means the resulting chase is over much sooner and a lot less deadly than it would have been. Len’s arresting officer – a tall Latino, very susceptible to Len’s bribe because of a baby on the way and too little cash in the bank – inclines his head for only Len to see.

Such a small movement with such far-reaching consequences. Len head-butts him, feels the man’s nose breaking as he gasps in pain, his grip loosening. He makes a run for it, runs as fast as his sixteen-year-old legs will carry him.

Lewis never suspects a thing. Len visits him regularly, pretends to listen to his lessons, doled out from behind a glass wall. Between heists Len takes care of his sister and drives Bob’s ice cream truck when his uncle wants to spend time with his wife, the only way Len can thank him for taking them in.

*

Len wonders if it’s karma, past decisions demanding their due decades later.

He was a cowardish little kid, too scared of his father to stand up to him directly. He never did learn the first rule of business, as it turns out – always protect yourself. But Lisa was more important, always has been and always will be, no matter how many lessons Lewis taught him.

It’s over now, though. School’s out for summer; there will be no more lessons, at least from Lewis. Len wonders what prison will teach him.

The alarm sounds. Lights go out. Len doesn’t bother with the blanket that night. Instead he lets the chilly air wrap itself around him, soothing and safe.

Chapter Text

Barry visits him again on his fifth day.

“You know, when I said ‘be seeing you’, that was a figure of speech,” Len grumbles once he eventually picks up the second phone after glaring at the kid for a solid forty-eight seconds.

“Guess I was a bit slow on the uptake,” Barry quips, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with whatever it is that motivates the heroes of this world.

“Do you miss visiting your old man so much that you can’t go a week without turning up here?”

Yes, the jibe hits home. Len is perfectly aware that Henry Allen is nowhere in Central City, that he left his son after finally gaining freedom. Fathers work in mysterious ways, Len muses.

“I came to tell you that your transferal to the meta-human wing fell through,” Barry says through gritted teeth.

Len narrows his eyes. “Why would they transfer me in the first place? I’m not a meta-human, kid.”

The other man grumbles something that sounds suspiciously like, “That’s what the DA said,” though Len indulges him and pretends he did not catch it.

Len waits. Silence stretches.

“How’re you doing?”

“Really, Barry – chitchat?”

“You got something better to do?”

“Don’t you?”

They stare at each other through the glass, neither of them relenting. It does not surprise Len when Barry eventually sighs, fifteen seconds after his leg started to jiggle, and rises to his feet with something Len would almost describe as a pout.

“Be seeing you, Snart.”

His eyes trace Barry’s movements all the way to the door.

*

Casing a prison is not as different as casing any other kind of stationary target for a heist. Len’s conviction for murder, however, complicates matters in that he can’t roam the corridors as freely as he might prefer.

Nothing he won’t manage, though. It’s not like he has a deadline.

His assigned job helps marginally – a position on the cleaning crew or in maintenance would have been preferable, yet working in the library has its upsides. The inmates hanging around here at least have more brain cells than a common ape, so maybe Len will find a valuable informant among them.

Unfortunately his direct supervisor is also the officer in charge of the GED program and has apparently decided that Len is his new pet project.

“You really should sign up for classes, Cold,” Barry argues the following Friday afternoon, prompting Len to squint at the kid. He has not said a word, is the thing.

“And how would you know I’m not already halfway to my diploma?”

Barry just smirks. “I have my sources.”

They are silent for another thirty-nine seconds.

“Your cold gun is safe, by the way. Cisco locked it up.”

“Are you mentioning that so that I know where to break in once I’m out to get it back?”

“What?” Barry blinks. “No! Wait – once you’re out? You think you’ll be able to waltz out of here so easily?”

“You should know better than to underestimate how resourceful I am.”

“I’ll just put you back into your cell. You’re here for a reason, Snart.”

Len’s only reply is a sneer, which seems to rile Barry up more than any retort would have. But before the kid can say anything else, he tenses, eyes glazing over as if he’s listening to something. He had to have checked his phone with security before coming in, so Len guesses he is still wearing an earpiece that escaped detection. Good to know Iron Heights has its weaknesses.

“I have to go,” Barry says. “Go to classes, Cold. It won’t kill you.”

“It just might,” Len mutters, but the other man has already replaced the phone on the receiver and won’t have heard it.

*

His father is still in uniform when he arrives at the school to pick him up and talk with the principal. Len does his best to blend in with his surroundings even though he knows it won’t help.

The car ride back to their house is tense. Lewis’ knuckles are white where they grip the steering wheel.

The tension explodes as soon as the front door falls shut behind them and Len’s back hits the wood with a dull thump.

“Haven’t I taught you anything, son?” Lewis growls at him, his hands fisted in Len’s t-shirt “You don’t shit where you eat. You don’t steal money from the cafeteria till at your own fucking school, Leonard. How stupid are you, son? You didn’t even cover your tracks.”

“I did!” Len protests. “But Kyle snitched on me!”

“Then you gotta chose your partners better, son,” his father snaps. One of his hands disappears and goes to his utility belt. Len’s heart beats a lightening fast symphony against his ribs, stuttering when he feels the cold metal of the blade against his throat.

“Time for another lesson.”

*

At times, walking through the prison feels like navigating a minefield. Len is grateful for his attention to detail and his years of experience with Central City’s criminal underbelly or he wouldn’t know whom to avoid and whom to shoulder past in blatant acts of intimidation.

He recognizes gang tattoos and tiny hand gestures, evades the Mexicans because he once stole from one of their leaders and gives one of the kitchen staff a pack of cigarettes to mix laxatives into one Russian gangster’s food.

In Len’s second week, he gets a new colleague in the library: a scrawny white kid, barely 19, in for larceny and grand theft. Above all else, he is a millennial who apparently googled how to ‘survive’ in prison since the first thing he does is try and befriend Len, another white inmate big enough to protect skinny kids from big bad prison daddies.

Len spends ninety per cent of the time the kid talks at him with mentally rolling his eyes and not trying to see too much of Barry in the nervous fidgeting. Thankfully Pete – that’s his name – has stronger features and curly black hair, though he wears it shorter not to seem too girly, as Pete explains. At length.

Len is distracted, indulging an amusing fantasy of how Barry would look with longer hair as he walks down the corridor, so he only realizes he is alone when it is too late.

Someone smashes his head into the nearest wall, hard enough to make Len see stars for one and a half seconds before reflexes kick in and he fights back. The attacker runs off immediately, however, presumably because a guard will walk by any second now, but Len gets a glimpse of the corner of a tattoo on the guy’s neck.

His mind completes it, connects the dots.

Len sighs and rests his still spinning head against the wall. Great. Now there is a Chinese crime syndicate on his ass for when, two months ago, he had accidentally stumbled over a brothel filled with abused illegal immigrants.

Well, he didn’t just stumble over them – he freed them before proceeding with his heist because he had one hundred and thirty-seven surplus seconds. Using the bolt cutter he had on him anyway to sever the handcuffs that tied the five women to the radiator only took eighty-six of them.

How did the triad even figure out that he is the one to blame?

Not that it matters. Len will have to watch his back even more from now on, maybe work out a little more. There are a few weights and benches outside as well, and given the dropping temperatures that herald the approaching winter they are mostly abandoned during the day.

Now the only thing he needs is for Barry to get caught up in Flash business and miss his visit this week.

*

“What happened? Who did this to you?”

Len heaves a sigh. Of course little Red turns up the day after a Chinese gangster gives him some impressive bruises and a split lip.

“Snart.”

“Allen.”

“Well? Have you at least filed a complaint?”

Len gives him a flat look. How wonderfully naïve the kid is.

“Oh, right, that would totally ruin your street cred, wouldn’t it?”

“Please, just stop talking.”

His voice is filled with enough exasperation that Barry actually listens, though the topic change to a renewed pestering about the GED program does not particularly lift Len’s mood.

*

Ever since Halloween, the Scarlet Speedster has been relating particularly memorable stories during his visits.

The blame for this belongs entirely to Len and his defiant silence as if that would deter the kid from making sure his “There’s good in you” prophecy panned out.

Psychological warfare, that’s what it is, Len decides as he watches Barry talk about himself in the third person (a smart move, being mindful of potential eavesdroppers like that) while gesticulating enough with his free hand to make up for the inertia of the one holding the phone.

Len can’t refrain from making the occasional sarcastic comment. Somehow, ‘occasional’ turns into ‘frequent’ because they make Barry laugh and Len misses hearing people do that.

Pete used to laugh, though his first few weeks in detention have dulled his optimism considerably and replaced it with an even more severe brand of paranoia.

“They’re watching me, I swear! They’re gonna do something, I can see it in their eyes… Can’t you do something, Snart? Anything? Show them I’m under your protection or something?” the boy pleads, clutching the spy novel he is supposed to return to its shelf to his chest instead.

“What’s in it for me, pal?” Len shoots back, barely sparing Pete a glance and focusing on the row of science fiction novels he is re-organizing.

“Well, I mean I could… you know…?”

Len stops and turns on his heels until he can look Pete in the eye. “I prefer my bed partners willing. Coercion is such a turn off.”

“Come on, man! There’s gotta be something I can do!”

Which is how Pete becomes Len’s lookout. It is a good deal, if he’s being honest – Len breaks a few noses while no one is looking, gets the thugs (who really have been watching the boy, Len quickly realizes with mounting unease) off Pete’s back, and in return the man distracts guards so Len can slip into rooms or keep an eye out and warn him when someone is approaching.

He mentions none of this to Red, for obvious reasons.

“God, you will not believe what happened this week,” Barry babbles the Sunday before Christmas, his eyes dancing with energy. “Or wait – did you already see it on the news? The Silent Santa?”

“Silent Santa.”

“Yeah, because he was mute!”

“Mr. Ramon needs to up his game,” Len says, though even that can’t dim Barry’s enthusiasm for said lack of creativity when naming meta-humans.

“… but in the end we got back in time to bake cookies with Joe, so that was nice. Though I still find tinsel in my su- outfit! Outfit, of course…” Barry runs a hand through his hair, messing it up even more than it already is. It looks soft. “Well, how are you celebrating Christmas?”

“In close security.”

“Oh, shit, yeah… sorry.”

“It’s fine. I never liked the holiday much.”

The kid looks at him as if he is the Grinch, not Captain Cold. “What? How can you not like Christmas?”

Len has no idea what compels him to actually reply, but it still spills from his lips. “My dad’s idea of a present was an extra special lesson.”

Barry’s face falls predictably. He worries his bottom lip between his teeth and Len can practically hear him thinking about how to cheer him up.

“I feel like I should get you a present,” Red eventually says.

“By all means, just pass it to me through the glass.” He watches Barry’s shoulders slump when he remembers that as a murder convict, Len is not allowed in the general visitation area. Yet the kid’s posture is so dejected that Len feels compelled to add, “Don’t sweat it, kid. I’ll survive one year without spritz cookies.”

As soon as the sentence is out, he curses himself and his carelessness. If there is one person who will infer what his favorite baked Christmas treat is from this comment, it is Barry Allen.

It still doesn’t prevent the warmth that blooms in Len’s chest when he wakes up on Christmas Day and finds a box of lemon spritz cookies on his bedside table. No one is there to see, so Len allows himself a smile as he opens the small Tupperware container. He has to bite his tongue to keep himself from laughing out loud at the sight of the cookie’s form.

They are all shaped like lightening bolts.

*

Len’s High School grades are nothing to write home about, sure, but that’s fine since he earned a spot on the soccer team, gets to wear a letter jacket, and does really well in shop classes.

Then come home economics in his second year.

“What d’you mean, it’s co-ed?” Jackson scoffs. He is the captain of the soccer team and the designated spokesperson of their clique. The rest of the team that’s in their class cross their arms in front of their chests and stare at the teacher.

“Home economics is a vital part of every student’s education, Mr. Kearny, and as such, both girls and boys will be required to pass.”

“Dag!” Jackson curses under his breath. Len rolls his eyes. It’s amusing how a little cooking manages to rile his classmates up like this.

They don’t stop complaining for the first few weeks, during which their class learns the basics about appliances, safety, utensils, and ingredients. Len has mastered handling a potato peeler before he turned ten, so he mostly spends those lessons planning how to get the money for new clothes, seeing as Lisa is finally hitting that growth spurt he has been anticipating.

When December arrives it brings back memories of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. Lisa was too young to actively remember, but Len can still taste their mother’s baked goods when he concentrates. After the police discovered her body in a drug den, Len continued the tradition for his sister’s sake.

“Well done, Mr. Snart,” the Home Ec teacher Mrs. Caldwell, a big lady with even bigger hair, praises his handiwork. “Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from you from what the other teachers told me about you, but it’s nice to see not everyone of your classmates is a hopeless case in the kitchen. Your future wife is one lucky gal.”

Of course Jackson overhears the little speech, and teasing Len about his future wife and culinary abilities turns into the soccer team’s newest hobby until Len deliberately messes up the next assignment.

Mrs. Caldwell considers him with disappointment prominent in her eyes, yet doesn’t say anything.

Len passes Home Ec by the skin of his teeth that year.

*

“Well?” Barry grins through the glass, practically vibrating with anticipation. He reminds Len of a small puppy that just fetched its first stick.

It’s the week after Christmas Day and Len is feeling sentimental, which is the only reason he says, “They were delicious.”

The admission is far from a thank you, yet Barry apparently did not get that memo. His smile widens impossibly and he blabs away about how stores now sell flash-shaped cookie cutters but that Barry wanted to try speed baking with spritz cookies for him instead.

“Most of the dough ended up in my hair and on my shirt, really, but a bunch turned out all right. And hey, I can just try again next year; perfect my baking skills.”

“Use less sugar,” escapes Len before he can bite his tongue.

The kid beams. “I’ll make a note in my recipe book.”

If Barry really were a puppy, he would probably piss himself from excitement. And if Len cared, he would worry Barry’s face might get stuck with a permanent grin. The moment passes and silence falls. Barry’s expression turns more serious. “Have you thought about signing up for classes? I guess they don’t have Home Ec anymore, but I’m sure there’s some computer classes. Learn something new?”

“I was around when people still had LAN parties, kid. I know my way around computers just fine.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure – technology changes by the week in certain fields, Leonard. You should keep up.”

Len winces. “Christ, no one calls me that, Red. Or should I start referring to you as Bartholomew?”

Now it is Barry’s turn to grimace. “Well, what do you suggest I call you?”

He should say ‘Cold’ or ‘Captain’, he really should. But he’s not Captain Cold right now.

“Len,” he grumbles, then hangs up the phone and rises to his feet before the kid can turn this into a mushy bonding moment he probably thinks this was. He still catches Barry’s responding dopey smile before the guards whisk him away.

*

Lisa’s rapid breathing is loud in his ears, overshadowing everything else except the countdown in Len’s head. He has eighty-four seconds until their father returns from disposing of the candy wrappers that Lisa was told to get rid of and didn’t.

“It’s okay,” Len says, gripping her wrist. The joint feels small in his hold, fragile.

His sister is too terrified to call him out on the meaningless phrase, her breaths turning into gasps and Len has no idea what to do to get her to believe him. He holds her stare and does his best to sound confident, as confident as a thirteen-year-old can.

“I promise, sis, I’m not gonna let anything happen to you.”

Footsteps announce their father’s return. The front door opens and the sound of fireworks gets louder for a heartbeat before the door slams shut again.

“Cover your tracks,” Lewis says, his voice eerily calm. The tone makes Len’s stomach churn worse than any shouting could. “Told you enough times. I guess we’ll need to repeat that lesson? Let go of your sister, Leonard.”

Len closes his eyes briefly, giving Lisa’s wrist a quick squeeze. When he turns around, his body doesn’t shake.

“It wasn’t her.”

“Don’t lie to me, son –”

“I said I’ll do it for another of her pop rocks.”

His dad stops. His features are still contorted in anger, but the direction shifts, away from Lisa and onto Len. He would sigh in relief if his chest weren’t so tight from dread.

Dad pulls out his lighter. “You should know better, son.”

Later, after their father went to bed, Lisa puts some cream on the burn on Len’s forearm. It was smart as far as punishments go – he can just tell people he hurt himself while lighting the fireworks if they ask. Dad is always smart about his lessons.

“Happy New Year, jerk,” Lisa murmurs when she hugs him goodnight. His arm hurts but his sister is safe and unharmed, so it’s fine.

*

Midnight passes without fanfare at Iron Heights.

Len has his right arm tucked between his pillow and his head, eyes fastened on a dark stain on the ceiling. 2016 has arrived. Entering month number three of his sentence, he has several possible plans in the works, routes leading to his escape.

A lot is yet to be done in order to determine which option promises the best yield. However, all plans share one certain component: Barry Allen. Len needs to find out just how aware the kid is of Len’s movements within the prison, and no matter the results he needs to misdirect the Speedster’s attention.

The appropriate strategy is so self-evident that it’s hardly fun, but Len is not going to start taking chances when the smallest hitch could derail his schemes and earn him an extended sentence for attempted prison break.

Besides, pretending like Barry’s instincts were right all along will be a nice change of pace as well as a challenge.

Len signs up for GED courses the day after New Years. His supervisor merely raises an eyebrow, yet fortunately does not comment otherwise.

He is on his way back to his cell when the sound of a scrape of a sole against the floor gives him a split-second warning. His arm comes up to block the attack without conscious thought on his part, and the Triad’s enforcer is pressed against the wall the blink of an eye later, left arm twisted behind his back.

“Good job finding another blind spot,” Len sneers, unable to keep the smug tinge from coloring his tone. His outdoor workout sessions seem to be paying off in added upper body strength. “We even have another seventy-two seconds alone. Whatever shall we do with ourselves?”

The guy tries and fails to find purchase. Len inhales; rams his hand into the man’s elbow on an exhale.

He slips into the bathroom with fifteen seconds to spare, the enforcer’s pained cries echoing in his ears.

Chapter Text

While superspeed has its perks, what the particle accelerator explosion really should have given Barry is the ability to lie.

Frankly, the kid is abysmal. Len still marvels at how he pulled off his Sam-persona during the Snart family reunion.

“So, anything happen since my last visit?” Barry seems to be under the impression that fluttering his eyelashes conveys innocent curiosity. “Any New Year's resolutions?”

Len arches an eyebrow. He gives it five seconds until the kid crumbles.

“So… You signed up for classes?”

Bingo.

“And you know about this, how exactly?”

At least the Speedster realizes when to abandon a sinking ship since he does not let his failed attempt at subterfuge bother him. “Like I said, I have my sources.”

“You mean you annoy Detective West until he asks the warden.”

Barry shrugs. “Well, you wouldn’t have told me, and I want to know what’s going on with you.”

“Oh, so you can guide me to the side of rainbows and unicorns?”

The metaphor seems to amuse the other man, though he neither confirms nor denies Len’s question.

“Better bulk up, kid. You’re gonna have to drag me.”

“Nah, Len,” and damn, hearing his name in that voice is weird, “you’ll come willingly once I’m through with you.”

That serve really is too good to pass up, even if Len considers blatant innuendo like this beneath him most of the time.

“Will I?” he wonders with a smirk as he rakes his eyes down the lines of Barry’s exposed neck and up again.

The resulting blush is enough to elicit an actual chuckle from Len. Barry flails and stammers, but is saved by the guards signaling the end of his visit from actually coming up with a reply.

Len can’t help the wink he sends the kid as he leaves just to see him turn a deeper shade of red.

*

The contours of his body are growing more defined. Len’s feelings on the matter are ambivalent; he has always valued brain over brawn, yet he concedes that the added muscle mass helps him navigate the prison population with better ease.

Len did work out before jail. He by no means shares Mick’s affinity for weights, and has always found the strength hidden in lean muscle much more intriguing. Sometimes it seems like he was born too early – back in his day, there were no Karate classes, no Jujutsu, let alone Krav Maga. He dabbles in them, yes, but old habits are hard to break, and habits formed on the street and in the living room are even more resilient.

At least he has some training. His father’s incarceration opened up an entire new world of experiences.

*

“You sure you want to do this, Len?”

His responding nod is immediate. “I want to learn how to fight.”

His uncle chuckles, reaching out a hand to ruffle his hair. Len grimaces though they both know it’s mostly for show. “I’d say you know how to fight, kiddo. Messed that Vitali brat up real good.”

“I can fight dirty,” Len points out. “I never learnt the technique behind it.”

Bob considers him for several seconds that stretch longer than they objectively are, though eventually he nods his assent. “You take over dinner on Sundays, and we got a deal.”

Len heaves a sigh. It’s not like cooking is such a hardship – he has been doing it long enough before his aunt and uncle took them in. “Agreed.”

“Guess we’re getting you boxing gloves tomorrow.”

*

Len likes to sleep on his stomach with one hand under his pillow, usually resting next to a knife or a gun. He can’t remember what came first: his preference for this position or the lesson to always keep a weapon close to you.

Of course there are no weapons allowed in the cells and Len has not made himself an alternative to keep near, but he still finds himself waking on his stomach more often than not.

Old habits, and all that – not unlike Len’s ability to be fully awake in the blink of an eye. Acquiring that skill was hard work, but he prefers not dwell on it. He would rather focus on the fact that the Flash is standing in his cell in full costume, squinting at Len’s raised left fist.

Len relaxes marginally when he recognizes the intruder, lowering his hand and propping himself up on the cot in a more comfortable fashion. “What, no cookies?”

“Uh…” Barry blinks, his eyes shifting rapidly down Len’s bare chest to where the blanket has pooled around his hips. The kid is clearly distracted.

Well, well, well… Isn’t that intriguing? Len feels the corners of his lips curl. “From the get up I take it that this isn’t a conjugal visit?”

“Uh, no…” Barry seems to get back some of his brain function, for he clears his throat and continues in a much firmer tone, “There’s a situation and we could use your particular brand of expertise.”

“Sure, let me just pack an overnight bag and I’ll tell the warden not to expect me for breakfast,” Len sneers, because really? What is the kid thinking?

“No, I mean – we have a plan.”

Now Len is listening. “Go on.”

“I’ve activated a noise canceller in the hallway. Cisco and Caitlin can unlock the door without leaving a record, and this,” he waves something that looks like a cross between a Walkman and the heat gun in Len’s field of vision, “will fool anyone passing by your cell that you’re still here.”

“Quite the devious plan. What’s in it for me?”

“What d’you mean – you get to go out for a night!”

“Only to return to my cage. Not interested.”

“We need you to help us steal a virus from the CDC so we can defeat the meta-human currently threatening to kill all of Central City with an engineered pathogen.”

Len’s breath hitches. Stupid meta-humans, always aiming for maximum destruction. The explosion should have endowed them with a few additional brain cells instead…

Decision made, Len sheds the blanket entirely and rises to his feet. “Why didn’t you lead with that, Scarlet?”

“Well...uh. You should…dress. I’ll just –“

Before Len can do more than cock an eyebrow, the Speedster has rearranged his bed and hidden the strange device underneath it. When Len glances at it again after putting on his prison garb he does a double take. The illusion of a man sleeping in the cot is utterly convincing.

The Flash puts a hand to his ear once Len signals he is all set. “Cisco, we’re ready.”

And just like that, the door to Len’s cell slides open. Barry even lets him cross the threshold, watching in fascination as the grid clicks shut again behind him.

Then the kid steps into his personal space and –

- deposits him in what Len has dubbed the Situation Room at S.T.A.R. Labs. The swift displacement is more than a little disorienting. Cisco and Caitlin are behind the desk, not really doing anything safe glaring venomously in Len’s direction. The lollipop in Cisco’s mouth somehow diminishes the effect, however.

Len allows himself a moment to let his eyes roam the familiar contours of the Lab, so refreshingly different from Iron Heights and yet only another space to confine him to. But the Flash trusts him enough to ask for help, and that is what counts in the long run.

“Your death glare needs some work, Cisco,” Len says since no one volunteers to break the silence. “Maybe Cait here can teach you.” By the looks of it, Dr. Snow and Dr. Ramon have only agreed to his involvement under severe protest.

“Nice jumpsuit, Snart,” Cisco snaps.

“Guys,” Barry intervenes, pulling off his cowl. His hair is a lot less mussed than Len would have expected. “We don’t have time for this.”

“You have under six hours, to be precise,” Len says after glancing at the clock on the wall to his right that reads 11:03 PM. “Five and a half if you want to play it safe. Now tell me about what you need me to steal.”

It is Caitlin who moves, walking around the computer desk to one of the larger screens adorning the walls of the Lab. She stops several steps away from Len’s right. He indulges her wariness and turns around slowly until he is directly facing the screen.

“This is Rakesh Smith, studying pathogens with a special emphasis on pre-DNA strands –”

“Aka Viroid,” Cisco adds, apparently unable to keep his nicknames to himself no matter the company. The man in question is in his mid-thirties and wearing a lab-coat, identifying the picture as the staff photo it is.

Caitlin’s lips twitch benevolently. “He was at the CDC when the accelerator exploded and it gave him the ability to create pathogens himself, meaning newly engineering them. We’ve found out he has been freelancing for several terrorist groups to design weapons of biochemical warfare, and one of these is what he’s threatening Central City with.”

The screen switches to a muted recording of a security camera. Rakesh Smith is circling the Flash until suddenly he brings his hands together in a clap, releasing a cloud of what Len is sure to be the pathogen in question.

“There is a cure,” Cisco continues. “Our theory is that Viroid accidentally infected his eight-year-old daughter, so he had to develop one.”

“Theory?” Len echoes, his brow furrowing. “It sounds like you have it completely under control.”

“Yes, theory. As in, an explanation based on observation and reasoning, Snart, because we’re scientists,” Cisco snaps, his thunderous expression only deepening when all Len does is laugh. Riling the boy up is still far too easy.

“We know Viroid has stored the cure at the CDC, and we need to retrieve it tonight.”

Len approaches the screen. Viroid is no super villain, that’s for sure. His movements are abrupt, nervous. “What’s his motive?” he asks, not turning around. “Why threaten to kill half the city?”

“He wants custody of his daughter back,” Flash explains. “The judge awarded it to his ex-wife during the divorce.”

When he meets them, Barry’s eyes are filled with empathy. Nothing like a good sob story to win over the kid. It would be almost pathetic if it weren’t also rather admirable.

“So, why all this hassle when you could just speed into the CDC and take the cure?”

Caitlin speaks up before Barry can. “The Flash’s style is too obvious – even if we disabled all cameras everyone would know it was him. He can’t be seen as a thief, not now.”

Oh, yes, the breaches. The public has finally caught on and it has been on the news enough times that even Len heard about it behind the high walls of prison. Barry had been surprisingly forthcoming on the subject as well, mostly by complaining about how the public is blaming him for the mess. Well. If the shoe fits….

“Do you expect me to walk into this blind or have you done some recon?”

“Oh, we did more than recon,” Cisco says, hurrying over to the other side of the Situation Room where a table holds several pieces of tech; none of which Len’s cold gun, unfortunately. He picks up an ID card. “Barry lifted this from one of Smith’s coworkers – who’s now sadly indisposed because he has the flu. It’ll get us in. We got all the blueprints and details on the security system, and we’re hooked up to their network so we can provide you with access codes or anything else you might need.”

Len nods, almost impressed with Cisco’s thoroughness. “I doubt you’re going to let me do this without a chaperone.”

At that, Barry grins and steps closer. “They made me a guest pass. I’ll make sure we only walk out of there with what we’re supposed to, and if anything goes wrong I can speed us away immediately.”

The entire operation makes Len more than a bit uncomfortable. It’s not the way he does things, a job squeezed into a window of only a few hours from start to finish. Yet Len can’t deny that the pressure sends a thrill through his body, that his skin is tingling from anticipation.

He shifts until he is face-to-face with the entire gang, crossing his arms as he does so. The position draws attention to his biceps, more prominent now than they have ever been. The only one who seems to notice, as Len observes with interest, is Barry.

“Here’s what I need,” he begins. “Thirty minutes with everything you have on the facility to familiarize myself with the layout and workings. A change of clothes that suits my undercover identity. A cup of decent coffee and some food.” He raises an eyebrow at Barry. “Chicken Kao Phad, from that restaurant on High Street, and some Crab Rangoon.”

For some reason that makes the kid chuckle. Len smirks back at him, arching an eyebrow, though Barry just nods and pulls out his phone.

*

“You don’t lie to family” is one lesson Len needs to hear several times before it sticks. By the time he turns fifteen, though, he knows better than to pretend like he is anything but a virgin.

“No worries, son – I’ll teach you all you need to know.”

Len is at a loss when Dad tells him to get into his police cruiser the night of his birthday. It starts making sense when they stop near the hookers and his father waits patiently until he can bust one for what she does.

It’s clearly not her first run-in with dirty cops. The woman – barely five years Len’s senior by the looks of it – presses herself against his father’s chest, only to turn and look over at the car when he says something Len can’t hear.

He loses his virginity in the back seat of a beat up Toyota and Dad takes him for burgers after, smiling at Len like he finally did something right.

Three years later finds him in the back seat of another car – his uncle’s this time, his alone to drive for the night – experiencing his second first time. With Lewis in jail Len really thought it would be safe. Of course life isn’t fair like that.

The cop who discovers them knows Len, used to let him play with his dog at police BBQs when he was younger. “I’ll let you go with a warning,” he says, and drives the other guy home first.

Len’s hands are shaking when he unlocks the front door to Bob’s house. The officer wants to talk with him, friend to friend, and Len dreads the outcome. Lisa knows he wasn’t going to the arcade after training – she found out long ago and called him a jerk, so all is well.

When Bob returns to where Len is perched on a kitchen chair, back rigid and heart in his throat, he is silent for the longest twenty-eight seconds of Len’s life post-Lewis.

“Pat and Lisa aren’t gonna be back for a while,” Bob says. “How about we order Thai and don’t leave them any leftovers? Beer?”

Len blinks at his uncle. The scope of what just happened only registers when Bob slides a beer across the table and tells him to call the restaurant for a delivery, but when it does, he smiles from ear to ear.

Bob ruffles his hair, Len fake-growls. And that’s that.

*

They enter the CDC office at exactly midnight. Len relishes the feeling of actual cotton against his skin even though the pale blue button-down is a size too small. Wearing an earpiece is a strange sensation, too, but he can deal.

“So, Red, gonna tell me how you were able to walk through walls?” He keeps his tone conversational as they pass through gate one of three. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“What’d you mean? I didn’t walk through a wall.”

“I’d have woken to the sound of the door opening. I didn’t – hence my theory.”

Barry’s lips twitch and Len can hear Cisco grumbling something under his breath on the other end of the comms. He gives it three seconds before the kid blurts out the explanation.

He’s wrong. Barry does it after only two.

“But you can’t phase other people,” Len infers, “since they haven’t been altered on an atomic level.”

Barry almost pouts at the reminder. Len refuses to think of it as ‘cute’. “Would be cool, though.”

They reach Smith’s department without any major problems, their ID cards fastened on the outsides of their respective jackets to deter any of the very few people still at the CDC at this hour from asking questions. Barry is doing a surprisingly good job at blending into his role, Len has to admit. Maybe the kid isn’t hopeless after all.

The lack of a weapon is the only thorn in Len’s mind, its absence like a gaping hole at his right hip. He has no other choice but to ignore it, however. Even Barry was adamant about not handing him anything potentially dangerous.

His watch reads 12:19 AM when they enter Smith’s lab, the walls lined with shelves, cupboards, and devices. The table in the middle of the room holds more equipment as well as a computer. Finding the cure is the greatest variable in the entire plan, neither of them sure where Smith would hide it.

The blurry plan to find it is jarring, but they have ample time. Cisco is playing footage of the empty lab on a loop for the security guards, who are thankfully more into the Diamonds game than their actual jobs. Barry is going through logs and indices for clues while Len is casing room after room.

“It has to be in vault, Red. We’re wasting time up here.”

At 01:47 AM, even Cisco concedes to Len’s suspicion and guides them down to the basement where ‘select agents’ are stored in a tightly locked and air-controlled room. Barry uses his speed to knock out the employee guarding it, and with Cisco feeding them the access codes it is almost laughably easy to gain entry.

Equally laughable is the lack of attention Barry pays to Len once inside.

“Don’t speed-search through this room, Barry,” Caitlin told them before they even reached the basement. “One of these vials breaks and we can’t know what you’ll contract.”

So the kid is busy reading label after label with Len playing lookout near the door. He casually leans against the shelf next to it, wondering if he might be able to steal a vial or two. Too bad the pathogens are all behind glass doors and he has been strictly forbidden from opening them.

“Got it!” Barry cheers, holding up a small box containing five vials – and no label.

“You sure, kid?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s get outta here.” Len holds the door open with a grin as Barry finishes stashing the vials in the padded bag he has slung over his shoulder.

“Oh no, Snart, you’re leaving this room first.”

Disappointment threatens to make his grin fall, yet a certain amount of respect keeps Len from scowling even as Cisco’s laughter echoes through the comms.

Considering how smooth their operation has gone so far, Len shouldn’t be surprised that trouble catches up to them on the way out.

“Shit, guys – someone’s getting in on the next level!” Cisco tells them in a rush the exact moment the elevator doors shut.

Barry curses. Len’s mind goes into overdrive.

“I got this.”

“But –”

Len’s eyes find Barry’s. “Play along,” he implores, and pounces.

His hands grip Barry’s shoulders just as the elevator slows, signaling its impending stop. Len lifts the Speedster from the floor while simultaneously crowding him against the glass wall so that Barry ends up sitting on the hand railing running along all three sides of the cubicle, legs wrapping around Len’s waist instinctively. Len’s lips close over Barry’s just as the elevator comes to a stop.

The kid gasps, either in surprise or in shock, but it means his lips part, which is all Len needs to lick into his mouth and press closer. Their chests are touching, Barry’s heels digging into Len’s lower back and every point of contact is like fire on Len’s skin.

Someone clears their throat. Len pretends to startle, then blinks first at the lab-coated woman with shadows underneath her widened eyes, then at the number lighting up above the elevator door.

“Oh, we missed our floor.” Len doesn’t even have to fake the smug tone.

“You did. Going up?”

Len nods but keeps his hands on Barry and his body molded against the other’s. He hoped his act would deter the woman yet he finds he prefers her rather rude reaction of simply stepping into the elevator and pressing the button for the third floor.

“Ground floor, please,” Len asks sweetly, not bothering to wait for her to do so before he resumes where he left off, namely by mapping out every inch of Barry’s mouth.

Barry’s fingers are digging into his shoulders with almost painful intensity but the movement of his tongue against Len’s is languid, rhythmic, and Len loses himself in the sensation.

“Uh, this is the ground floor,” their co-occupant points out and Len pulls back with genuine reluctance. Red is a rather good kisser.

“Thanks,” he says, picking up the messenger bag as he steps back, then extends his arm to stop the doors from sliding shut again until his partner in crime has collected himself enough to actually slide off the railing and move.

“No problem,” the woman replies with a wide grin. Len winks at her for good measure.

Everyone is silent as they exit the building. Len thinks his grin might be visible from space.

Barry clears his throat two blocks away from the facility. “I’ll run back to S.T.A.R. Labs and get a container that’ll hold at my speeds. Don’t move.”

“We should find a blind spot first.”

The kid’s cheeks turns a shade similar to his costume, presumably embarrassed that he forgot that particular security measure. Len steers them to a suitable spot, hidden from traffic camera and any satellites just to be certain, and Barry is off. Thirteen seconds later, he is back and they repackage the vials.

Throughout the maneuvering, Barry keeps opening his mouth as if he wants to say something. He doesn’t, at least until Len gives him a pointed look.

“That was a good idea.”

He is obviously not referring to moving to a blind spot. Len gives a cocky grin. “My ideas usually are.”

Back at the Labs, neither Cisco nor Caitlin quite seem to know how to react to the revelation that Len’s idea of improvising includes a make-out session against an elevator wall. It is highly amusing. They even let Len change back into the dark blue jumpsuit in the privacy of the S.T.A.R. Labs restrooms. Unfortunately there is nothing useful inside that Len could easily smuggle back to prison.

Dr. Snow is already in the room next door with the vials when he returns, interrupting Barry and Cisco’s staring match. The Speedster picks up the noise canceller again and barely checks with Len whether or not he is ready for the Scarlet Express before he moves. Len is back inside his cell sixty-two seconds later, with ample time before bed count.

He fixes Barry with a coy look once the kid has disabled the device still on Len’s bed. “Next time, try to get a shirt in my size.”

“What makes you think there’s going to be a next time?” Barry replies immediately, eyes almost defiantly trained on Len’s face.

The tough act doesn’t fool Len for a second. “I’m the devil you know.”

Their gazes hold briefly. Barry exits the cell the way he came – by phasing through the door Cisco just locked in plain sight.

Len is probably right to read something into the gesture, he muses, allowing the exhaustion from the night’s events catch up with him and pull him into sleep.

Chapter Text

The moment he fastens the screw, he realizes he forgot a component. Len curses under his breath and turns the screwdriver in the opposite direction. It is only the second time he tries to reassemble the machine, so everything is fine.

Jerry, splayed out two deckchairs over working on his tan, opens one eye at his cussing and laughs, though he keeps his thoughts to himself.

Len takes another sip of his drink. The ice cubes are almost gone; he’ll have to get a refill soon. The sun glaring down from the clear blue sky surely isn’t helping in that regard. If it weren’t for the breeze from the Bay, Len would never have extended his holiday into July.

Affording it, on the other hand, is no problem. Their last job paid better than expected, seeing as one of the men guarding the money transport shot their partner. Lisa and Len divided his surplus share equally, yet while Lisa flew off to some place tropical, Len returned to San Francisco for a second summer in a row. He likes the rhythm of his career – a couple of jobs a year and reaping the benefits in the months in between.

Familiar footsteps draw Len’s attention back to the present. He arches a questioning eyebrow at Noah, who is supposed to be helping their fourth roommate finish his costume for his stage show that weekend. The t-shirt covering Noah’s dark skin, which Len has spent the past thirty-nine days mapping meticulously with his tongue and fingers, is appropriately stained with random patches of glitter. His expression, however, is pinched.

“There’s a call from Iron Heights,” Noah says slowly. He holds out their landline telephone. “Asking for you.”

The wind subsides. The sun is suddenly way too hot for Len’s liking.

“Thanks,” he manages. His throat feels parched. He descends the stairs that lead down from the sundeck, ignores the catcalls he receives from the living room due to his bare chest and his tattoos, and closes the door to what has been his room for eight weeks.

Len hasn’t heard his father’s voice in three months, but it remains unchanged.

“I’m getting out first thing in August, son. Released early for good behavior.”

He almost snorts. Lewis’ early release surely has little to do with his behavior and more with favors owned and bribes paid.

“That’s great, dad,” he hears himself saying.

“Bob tells me you’re on the West coast, son. I’m gonna need you and your sister back in Central – I’ve got big plans. Made some useful connections in here. Get your ass over here, understand?”

Not one word on the almost poetic sting his children just pulled off, all on their own. No question on how Len is, no spare thought for Lisa.

“Of course, dad,” Len says, hating himself.

*

Occupying a cell in the same prison his old man called home for years is both a blessing and a curse.

It takes weeks until the guards stop eying Len with suspicion, expecting him to pull something similar to what he remembers his father boasting about. Some lifers from his Dad’s sentence are still around and either happy Len shanked the man or angry they didn’t get to do it themselves.

His reputation as Captain Cold doesn’t mean shit in Iron Heights, however. Len builds a new one in the bleak confines of the institution, yet never by acting as an aggressor. He is a man on a mission, after all, and joining rioting prisoners would jeopardize the fairy tale of his rehabilitation.

“You know, they have some college level classes, too,” Barry tells him the first time he visits after Viroid’s defeat made the news.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, kid,” Len says, wondering if Barry somehow forgot that he is only a few weeks into his GED courses.

“Why not? I thought you liked planning ahead. And hey, if you get a degree, I’m sure any judge would consider an early release.”

It’s a real possibility, however one many years away. Len was sentenced to eight years – could have been five, but there is no way he’d let the DA paint him as a victim of child abuse when he’ll be out of here within his first year regardless. He is eligible for parole, yet not until he spends six years in here first.

Len is certain that Red knows this, so he does not bother with a reply.

*

Now that escaping while out with the Flash has appeared on Len’s radar as a definite option, there is less need for the riskier kinds of recon.

He steals into the warden’s office one last time in order to give Lisa a more detailed update through one of their securer channels that requires a VPN and some basic hacking. Their alternative, encoded posts to an anonymous livejournal account, is fine for follow-ups from now on and something Len makes use of when he has enough commissary to spend on minutes on Iron Heights’ computers.

He makes it out of the room before Pete signals someone’s arrival, and they fall into step next to each other.

“I won’t need a lookout anymore.”

As expected, the revelation does not go over well. “What? What about me?”

“You’re not my responsibility, Rochchester.”

The other man pales for a moment before anger takes over. “Fuck you, Snart! You got any idea what’s gonna happen to me when Bozo realizes I’m on my own? He already tried to jump me twice, and that’s with you on my side!”

Len raises his eyebrows, unimpressed. He expects pleading, bargaining, maybe even an offer to pay him to keep protecting the first timer, though what happens is a lot less entertaining.

Pete squares his shoulders but it’s not in preparation for a punch. “I got information. You stop, and I’ll tell everyone in here. They’ll gut you, Snart.”

“And what prize piece of intel is this supposed to be?” he can’t help but sneer. He keeps his mouth shut, even in front of Pete. There is nothing he could use against him.

“That guy who comes around once a week or so – he’s a badge.”

Shit.

“One of the guards told me; says he’s with the CCPD. I’ll pretend the guard also told me that your cop friend’s asking about your former partners. That you’re a snitch.”

Len closes his eyes briefly. He doesn’t care that a few months behind bars have turned Pete from stupid teen into a burgeoning blackmailer who presumably traded sexual favors for information on Len to force him to keep the status quo of their agreement. What he does care about, however, is that even the rumor of him talking to a cop would suffice to make his life a hell of a lot worse.

“Fine,” he growls. Pete’s shoulders sag in relief.

*

Len’s blue mood would have carried over into the next day if it weren’t for a certain late-night visitor. This time Len is still awake and thus hears Barry arrive and activate the noise canceller in the hallway in front of his cell.

He greets the Speedster with his best ‘I told you so’ smirk. Barry’s expression remains blank, but there is an amused twinkle in his eyes.

And while helping the Scooby Gang figure out how their latest villain-of-the-week broke into a high-security car park to steal some files doesn’t exactly trigger endless adrenaline to flood Len’s blood stream, teasing Cisco and Barry with how obvious the thief’s entry point is holds definite entertainment value.

The third time Barry phases into his cell doesn’t happen until March, seeing as the world almost ends (again) and of course Team Flash is busy saving people and trying to fix it. They enlist Len’s help with part of the cleanup, which ends in three bruised ribs and a dead meta-human bleeding out over Barry’s still paralyzed body.

The kid’s eyes are wide and so damn grateful when Len shoves the corpse off him and hits him with the antidote he almost lost in the preceding fight. Len is actually glad it is already 5:42 AM, with eighteen minutes until the wake-up call would declare Len a fugitive.

Instead of rushing off as soon as he can, however, Barry hugs him. It hurts since the gesture puts pressure on his injured ribs, but Len is too stunned for it to truly register.

“Thank you,” the kid whispers, pulling back slowly. Len doesn’t trust his voice, so he says nothing. Whatever showed on his face must have been enough of a reaction for Barry just nods, taking a step back.

Len hoped that would be it because the clock reads 5:54 AM, but Barry isn’t done. “Happy birthday, by the way. I know it was two weeks ago, and I meant to get you a card or something, but the, uh, apocalypse was kind of distracting.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Len manages. He’s not too fond of birthdays.

The Speedster doesn’t know that and Len intends to keep it that way, so he forces himself to thank him in the most sincere tone he can muster.

When the cell doors open for breakfast, Len is still standing where he was when the kid left in a blur of yellow.

*

Noah drives him to the airport. Their goodbye is swift, just like Len expected. Their relationship was borne out of mutual attraction, fueled on Noah’s part by Len’s ability to throw a punch and putting bullies in their place, nothing more.

He hates himself when he sees Lisa. For a moment there, confronted with this strong, clever, breathtaking young woman his sister has become, he almost thinks he did fine as her brother.

It wasn’t him, though, who helped her blossom – it were uncle Bob and aunt Patricia, taking them in. If Len were the brother Lisa deserved, he’d have never called her. He’d never have told her Dad wanted them both back in Central City.

And if he were less of a coward, less weak, he wouldn’t have packed his bags either.

*

The tension between them is omnipresent. It mounts, feeding on two more joint missions and conversations through a glass divide.

Len choses his words carefully, lets enough softness color his tone for the kid to think he’s hiding it, mentions Pete’s proclivity of crossing the wrong people in an apparent slip. Barry is like a dog with a bone after that – if said bone is a Captain Cold who is inching towards the lighter end of the morality spectrum.

All that is intentional and Len can take credit without problem. Seducing the Speedster on the other hand, was never part of this agenda, and yet it happens just as well. Making the kid blush is far too easy, and somehow it must have spiraled from there. Now there are appreciative glances during missions, flushing cheeks and darkening eyes, testing Len’s self-control like anything rarely has.

Something has to give soon, and something does.

The white tee Len wears underneath his jumpsuit doesn’t survive the latest nightly trip, ripped apart by a giant carnivore some mad scientist cooked up in a lab for reasons beyond any reasonable human being. It leaves Len bare-chested with negligible scratches from his left pectoral down to his hamstrings until Barry hands him one of these awful S.T.A.R. Lab hoodies.

“You’d think you want to freeze it with that glare,” the kid comments, only to laugh when Len grumbles something under his breath but eventually shrugs it on.

“See something you like?” he asks then, because Barry Allen is a lot of things, yet subtle is not among them.

“Let’s get you back to Iron Heights,” he deflects, ears already flushing.

It is a variation of a similar tune they started humming after Len pressed Barry against a wall as a diversion tactic. It might have continued for a while longer until it faded, but Len is not the only one whose wardrobe was shredded by their opponents. One beast’s claw nicked and tore Barry’s suit – not heavily, but severe enough to expose the hollow of his throat.

The mental image has been stuck in Len’s head ever since and he is only human, unlike some.

So that night when Barry moves to deactivate the device on his cot, Len steps into his path. Barry’s confusion gives way to something else, something baser when he takes in Len’s expression, his feet walking backwards until his head rests against concrete.

They are of equal height, almost to the inch, only Len’s additional layers of muscle giving the illusion that he is dwarfing the younger man. It makes leaning in the easiest thing in the world.

Len takes the kiss slow, waiting for the other to decide how to react, whether to keep his palms flattened against the wall or use them to grip Len’s shoulders again like he did back at the CDC. Luckily Barry’s lips are three steps ahead, already moving against Len’s in a rhythm matching the patterns Len’s thumbs stroke into the fabric of the Flash suit.

It goes on for thirty-nine seconds before hands on his chest make him break the kiss and open his eyes.

“We shouldn’t do this,” Barry says, utterly predictable.

“I’m not declaring my undying love to you, Red,” Len whispers, his lips close enough to Barry’s right ear that he will feel Len’s breath on his skin. “What’s wrong with some fun?”

There is no verbal reply, only a conspicuous swallow. Len pulls back so he can narrow his eyes at the Speedster. “When’s the last time you got laid?”

A pause. “It’s been a while.”

“All the more reason,” Len purrs, but underneath his hands, Barry’s body is still tense, still hesitant despite how the brown of his irises has darkened. Len gets an idea, then, that sparks a wave of heat in the pit of his stomach. “Relax, Barry,” he murmurs. “Just stand there and look pretty.”

With that, Len slides to the floor of the prison cell, intention clear. The Speedster doesn’t stop him when he unbuckles his belt, just stares down in wonder. Len is out of practice, sure, but giving a blowjob is not something you forget so easily.

*

Lewis’ condescension is suddenly jarring. Len feels like he is fifteen again, not nearing twice that age.

At least Lisa has no direct contact with their father, sufficiently enjoying her undercover operation as nouveau riche ‘It Girl’ in Starling. She has the youngest son and head of R&D of Olsen Tech Inc. wrapped around her little finger and warming her sheets within two weeks of their long con.

Len is merely the back up, strategically positioned in Olsen Tech’s IT department and soon caught in the undertow of the lifestyle of his peers.

“You missed the last check-in.”

“I was out, sis. No reason to worry.”

“It’s the third time.”

“So?”

Lisa is silent for two heartbeats. “I’m not sure if I’m talking to my brother or his alias.”

Len makes sure to remember their check-ins after that, no matter how in vain he feels they are. Lisa is the star of this con and she is closing in on the intel Lewis had promised his contact in exchange for a hefty sum.

Len’s own feat in corporate espionage comes about by accident, in the form of his one-night-stand’s roommate dropping papers with the logo of Queen Consolidated all over the kitchen floor just as Len is about to ride off into the night. He mentions it to no one, not even Lisa, and siphons off the additional cash. Patricia’s health is deteriorating fast – one day soon Bob will need to face reality and get her some help. The least Len can do is settle the bill.

By the time he comes up for air and notices the strange tone of Lisa’s encoded messages on her livejournal, the damage is already done.

*

Len learns a lot after that night.

He learns that Barry’s hips buckle when he tongues his slit for more than five seconds at a time, learns what those long fingers feel like wrapped around his erection, what sounds he makes when he comes down Len’s throat.

He learns that Barry can’t control the Speed Force when he is particularly aroused, and it becomes Len’s favorite endeavor to see where the line is. He discovers that Barry’s retaliation is more reward than revenge, served as a revelation that shakes Len to the core.

“You vibrate,” he says for the third time, still in awe, and Barry laughs into Len’s chest for ninety-two seconds.

On the flipside of this development lies a lesson about sleepless night and delayed reflexes.

Pete has been hanging out with the wrong people, trying to act tough and running his mouth without thinking. Len notices the signs, prepares for the fallout and his inevitable involvement, yet when the time comes he is running on two hours of sleep for the third night in a row. Two are due to the need for his criminal expertise, the other the result of too many heated glances and barked orders.

Once the smoke clears, Pete has not a scratch on him. Len moves into the infirmary for four days.

Barry visits him during his second night there. Len pretends to be asleep to avoid whatever mushy emotion the kid is wearing on his sleeve tonight, but even that can’t stop the fingers from stroking his hair and the chaste kiss Barry places on his forehead.

Len sleeps that night, but it isn’t restful.

*

Len has failed. He swore never to let anyone make his sister cry again and here they are nevertheless, curled up in Lisa’s childhood bedroom at Bob’s house.

“I couldn’t betray him like that,” she whispers. “Told him the truth. He kicked me out.”

He should have seen it coming. Should have told her to take a damn step back when the first signs appeared, not let her fall headfirst into love with her mark.

“One word, sis, one word and I’ll break that fucker’s face.”

Lisa shakes her head, eyes dull. “Don’t.”

The sound of the front door slamming open and shut cuts through the air like a gunshot. Both of them freeze when they recognize the furious voice shouting downstairs.

Len is the first to move, but only when Bob’s voice joins that of Lewis. It takes eleven seconds to reach the ground floor from Lisa’s room. It only takes Lewis seven to break his own brother’s jaw and wrestle him to the ground.

Patricia calls the cops. Len is too busy pulling his father off his uncle, nose breaking in the scuffle as Lewis lashes out against him while screaming up the stairs for Lisa who tanked the con.

The jury sentences Lewis to fifteen years with no option for parole. Len never visits him again. It is time to choose his own lessons from now on.

*

Prison teaches Len a vast number of things.

It teaches him more about the power of blackmail, shows him the torturous drag of boredom and the many shades of desperation humans are capable of.

Prison teaches him how he needs to touch Barry to make him whimper, and what other sounds escape the Speedster when Len takes him to the brink of oblivion only to pull back at the deciding second. Prison teaches him to smile again, if only in the darkness of his cell against the skin covering Barry’s shoulder blades.

Above all, however, it teaches him how to lie to himself. Len tells himself his badly hidden enthusiasm for classes is just a pretense, an act to mislead Barry into thinking he is getting through to him. Len tells himself the hopeful look on the kid’s face is pathetic, that the smiles don’t mean anything, that it is only pride that makes Barry eyes sparkle and nothing more.

Prison teaches him many things, but not how to take a step back.

Not that he could if he wanted to. Len’s back has long since hit the wall.

Chapter Text

In the wake of the first time Red ‘borrowed’ him, Len adjusts his plans. Guard schedules and blueprints drawn from memory give way to spreadsheets filled with aspects of their joint operations, conversations with other inmates take on a new spin in his search for ways Len can manipulate the outside world.

And if some days he spends more time with the weights than is probably healthy, if he pours his entire attention into his studies, if he hits a little harder when defending himself… then that’s all right, as long as he doesn’t need to think.

*

The first time Len is allowed to take on a more active role in one of his father’s jobs, he is thirteen and excited. It is a three man job; the reward an impressive amount of jewelry.

Grant Darrow makes it on their team because he is skilled and an acquaintance of uncle Bob. He is only ten years older than Len yet has several successful heists to his name. The man also treats Len like an equal, not like a stupid kid that still has spots like his old man does.

Too bad Darrow turns out to be an even worse crook than Lewis, and the first time Len is part of the active team is also the first time anyone other than his father holds a gun to his head. He can’t override the blinding fear crashing over him as Darrow tightens his grip on his shoulder while the barrel of his Beretta is digging into Len’s temple.

Lewis seems neither surprised nor impressed, however, which only serves to make the panic rising in Len’s chest worse.

“Hand me the bag or your boy dies,” Darrow hisses. They only have two hundred and eighty seconds until the cops will arrive, and the man knows this.

“I don’t think so.”

A click echoes near Len’s ear – Darrow must have switched off the safety. “You’re really going to let your son die for a bag ‘o pearls?”

“Nah,” Lewis says, “I’m gonna teach him a lesson. Listen up, son,” he continues, but his eyes aren’t on Len. “When one of your team is a scumbag and pulls a stunt like this, there’s only one way to deal with them.”

The BAM of a gunshot cuts through the air and for a split second Len expects his life to pass before his eyes. It doesn’t. Darrow’s body hits the ground with a thump, a glaring bullet hole from Lewis’ gun between his eyes.

“Never trust anyone, Leonard. Come now, time to go.”

Len follows in a daze.

*

Wings. The metahuman of the month has wings.

“Wonderful,” Len grumbles, adjusting his grip on his knife. He has leveled up to weaponry after that other shithead busted his ribs. This is the second time Team Flash trusts him with a weapon. Perfect.

Or it would be, if said weapon’s reach were more than the length of his arm plus some change.

Flash is flitting around underneath the woman, whose bat-like appendages flap away overhead as she tries to hit the Speedster with projectiles she shoots from her fingernails.

Cisco was even less amused than Barry, who got a face full of them when he first crossed paths with the woman. “I was sure Batgirl would have sonar! She doesn’t deserve her nickname!” Cisco shouted when they discovered that, at least according to Barry’s cheeky explanation of why they enlisted Len’s help again.

“Stop complaining and come up with something, Snart,” Barry’s voice snaps over the comm link, confident and authoritative in a way Len has come to appreciate even if following someone else’s orders still annoys him. “She’s going to turn me into a strain at this rate!”

“You’re already a strain,” Len teases. “And I’ll need something that shoots if you want me to help.”

“Just take her out! But alive!”

With a triumphant grin, Len turns to Cisco. “You heard the boss, Ramon. Better hand me a gun.”

“I’m officially declaring this a shitty idea,” the man in question feels compelled to point out, but he does throw something into the air for Len to snatch.

He is perched on top of the S.T.A.R. Labs van, night vision goggles over his eyes which he pulls off briefly to check he is really holding Sig P516 in his hands. The sensation of the cold metal in his grip is like stepping out of his cell for the first time. He missed the feel of a weapon on his person more than he would admit to anyone.

Cisco’s techno babble about the tranq projectiles stops abruptly when the first shot rings out. Batgirl screeches, flapping her wings angrily, but she doesn’t loose consciousness. Len aims at her neck, her thigh, then at the other ventricle of her heart as she starts her descent.

There is not the slightest hint of fear in Len’s mind. He knows Barry will be there to push him out of the line of fire just in time.

Barry does. The skin not hidden by the cowl is covered in a sheen of sweat, a testament to how close that bitch came to doing serious harm. Len is torn between stealing a kiss and stalking over to the woman’s unconscious form to rip her head off.

Needless to say, he does neither.

It is only much later, after Cisco reclaimed the Sig, after Barry inhaled two protein bars, after Barry straddles him in his cell and tells him not to come until Barry says it’s okay and gasps how hot he looked in the field, that two things dawn on Len.

One, the Scarlet Speedster cannot fly.

Two, Len somehow wound up trusting the kid with his life.

*

The only reason hot summer days like this one don’t end up killing Len is because he gets to help out his uncle on his ice cream truck. It’s interior is cool and someplace not home. Len actually earns some money since Bob refuses to let him help out for free, which is an added perk.

At first, Aaron Briggs is nothing but a common customer, speaking in code and forking over a handful of bucks for a bud and a bag of caviar. He almost doesn’t remember the guy when they literally run into each other later that day.

“Take it easy, kid,” Briggs says around a smile. “What’s chasing you?”

“I’m late,” is Len’s gruff explanation. Lisa will be back from wherever the hell she went with her girlfriends soon and Lewis’ shift is going to be over, too, so Len better get started on some food.

He wants to step around the man, who stops him with a nonchalant, “Want a ride?”

Len eyes the man with suspicion. He is tall, Latino-looking; handsome despite the worn shorts and disturbingly colorful shirt which Len refuses to admit he notices. Even if he did admit it, however, there is no way attractive strangers offering rides to sixteen-year-olds doesn’t ring any alarm bells.

So Len shakes his head. “I’m not into that kind of stuff.”

But the guy throws his head back and laughs. “I’m not offering that, man. I’m just offering you a ride.”

“Why?”

Colorful Shirt shrugs. “Saw you barreling down the street, thought you might get wherever you’re going faster by car. Gotta keep up a good relationship with the boy running my favorite ice cream truck, right?”

In theory, this is a bad idea. Yet in reality, Len is running late when his Dad is still mad from last weekend when he forgot to buy Lewis’ type of crackers at the store because Lisa was talking his ear off about some boy at school. Besides, his gut is telling him it’s fine, which is why Len agrees to let “I’m Aaron Briggs, by the way” drive him to his apartment building.

Briggs comes by the truck a few days later, buys some more dew, and invites Len over to play video games.

*

Len double-checks the encrypted message. The letters on the computer screen haven’t changed, no matter how often he rubs his eyes.

What the hell are you up to, sis? he wonders, worry gnawing at his bones. He ordered her to have a helicopter on standby, but she ‘found something better’?

Another inmate slides into the chair next to him, though instead of logging onto the other computer, he scoots closer. Len can feel the man’s eyes on the side of his face. It takes every ounce of self-control not to pull the idiot into a headlock.

“Word is, you got an in with Gunner.”

Len slowly turns his head, cocking an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

The other man nods. It’s Billy Jackson, a new transfer. He looks a bit like that detective that Len saw with Barry’s sister, only with longer hair and without the stubble. If Jackson is talking to Len, it can only be for one thing.

“What’s a guy gotta do for you to put in a good word, Snart?” Jackson drawls, tilting his head so that he is looking up at Len from behind his eyelashes, strands of blond hair falling into his face.

Gunner, tall, black, and said to be able to hook you up with anything you want from the outside, is not an easy guy to befriend. Len didn’t even try, just happened to be at the right place at the right time with an even better right hook.

“Come on, Snart, you won’t regret it! I’ll be your bitch for a month!”

Len lets his blank expression speak for him, fully aware that anything he answers might make its way into Iron Heights’ rumor mill. Jackson is gone within forty-five seconds.

*

“They’re asking about you, you know.”

Len almost doesn’t process the information through the fog of lust clouding his mind. “Who?”

“Cisco and Caitlin. Well, not you you, they have no idea it’s you, but they’ve figured out I’m seeing someone.”

He “hm”s, replacing his tongue with his teeth on Barry’s left nipple and the kid arches off the thin mattress. He cuts a beautiful picture in the dim light falling in through the high window, planes of unmarred skin stretched out underneath Len, the tip of his erection visible above the waistband of his briefs.

Compared to Barry’s, Len’s skin is like a book, a biography of violence carved into his body. Barry can spend entire minutes tracing a single scar with a fingertip, coaxing until Len’s resolve crumbles and he gives a one-phrase explanation. It won’t be long before the Speedster does the same to the ink on Len’s skin.

Above him he can see Barry biting his lips. Len indulges him, releasing the hardened nub. “What did you say?”

“I played it cool.”

Which he translates as, “You spluttered and turned the color of your suit.”

Barry pouts. Len smirks.

No one speaks for four hundred twenty-nine seconds while Len works his fingers into the younger man, keeping him in place with nothing but a glance. Even then the only intelligible words that follow amount to, “Fuck, I’m ready, okay!” and Len shoots the Speedster a sly grin as he reaches for the foil package Barry brought like the well-prepared scientist he is.

Sometimes Barry likes to be in charge, ride him until he sees stars or push his legs apart with blink-and-you-missed-it movements. Then there are nights like this, where Len covers Barry’s slimmer frame with his broader one, makes his thrusts brutal and lets his teeth leave marks that will be gone by sunrise.

They hardly ever talk, if Len can prevent it. Barry is so pure and good at times, eyes too soft and integrity too indestructible that the stark contrast to the world that is Iron Heights almost gives Len whiplash.

He focuses on this side of the city’s hero instead, the one that digs blunt fingernails into Len’s skin, that curses and moans and whimpers, that is human and flawed and selfish in a quest for release.

And when some days Len imagines a world where he is someone else, someone who is not about to claw his eyes out from being confined and having lost control over his life, then it is his own grave he is digging.

It’s fine, he tells himself. He has been digging graves all his life and has yet to find one that he cannot climb out of.

*

At one point, ‘Briggs’ becomes ‘Aaron’, and Aaron’s flat becomes another place for Len to go when he wants to escape their crappy apartment or his life in general.

For a long time he thinks it’s weird for someone in his early twenties to spend so much time with a snarky teen. He waits and waits and waits for the other shoe to drop, but it doesn’t. Aaron is just lonely, and he probably saw something similar in Len that first day they met.

Soon Len is dividing his time between Lisa, working Bob’s truck, improving his gaming skills with Aaron, doing jobs with Lewis, and tedious chores that need to be done around the flat. And when Len loses a match because Aaron’s shove sends a spike of pain through his body since it’s the exact same spot his father used to show him how their new knuckle ring works, Aaron proves to be a sensible guy and doesn’t ask too many questions.

Unfortunately, even sensible guys get curious when Len reopens a cut on his thigh two weeks later and bleeds all over said guy’s sofa.

“Shit, man, lemme get some gauze.”

Aaron does a good job at bandaging the incision, and Len says so.

“Well, I wasn’t always a respectable employee of Seven Sins video store. There, all done.”

Len pulls his pants back on, glad that the slide of the fabric doesn’t aggravate the wound for the first time since he got it – they’d been out of band aid at home and Len didn’t want to ask Bob again.

“You wanna tell me who did this?”

Len grins blithely. “Not your problem.”

“It is if it’s getting you hurt, man.”

“I don’t need your pity, Briggs,” Len snaps, but it just rolls right off Aaron.

“It ain’t. I think of you as a friend, Len, and friends worry.”

Friends. The word feels foreign in his mind, at least with the kind of inflection Aaron uses. Like ‘friend’ means something.

“Just, uh,” Aaron continues when Len remains silent. “If you ever need anything, and I mean anything – patching up, just someone to talk to, stuff like that – you can come to me, al’right?”

All Len does is nod since he does not trust his voice enough to hold.

*

Len moves around the library so much he begins to draw curious glances. He can’t quite help it – his skin is crawling, the walls seem to be drawing nearer every time he blinks.

Iron Heights appears smaller to him in his current state of mind. Or maybe he is just spoilt, the outside world dangling in front of his eyes every couple of weeks only to remain nothing but a pipe dream.

That night, Len paces in his cell, walks the length of the space countless times without finding any piece of mind. If nothing changes soon, all that will be left of him will be a caged animal, slowly turning on the world.

Len’s head snaps up, an idea striking him like lightening. He can see the moon’s crescent form behind his barred window, waning again. Their fight against the winged metahuman was set against the background of a full moon.

He stops his pacing abruptly, wondering how it could have taken him so long to think of this. Len sinks onto his cot, the weight on his chest easing.

The missing piece of the puzzle that is his escape has finally appeared.

*

The first reports come in four days later. Len waits in patient anticipation until finally, on the seventh day after he left the instructions, none other than Iris West herself reports on the strange case of the ‘Wolfman’.

The piece features a grainy, dark picture that matches a face to the nickname. At least Lisa’s obsession with photography and image manipulation paid off.

Len wanders into the yard for what he hopes to be the last time. Late April has brought a never ending stream of clouds and a wind that has most of his fellow inmates cling to their prison-issued jackets. Len rolls up the sleeves of his jumpsuit, exposing his arms to the breeze.

Gunner is perched on a bench of the bleachers when he finds him, reading a book that has seen better days. Len stops three steps away from him, waiting for the man to finish the paragraph and dog-ear the page before raising his eyes with a blank expression.

The guy is not a fan of beating around the bush. Fortunately, neither is Len, so he cuts right to it. “I find myself in need of some pruno.”

The corners of Gunner’s lips twitch. “Living like a saint for months finally got on your nerves?” Len tilts his head to the side briefly. Gunner intimates what he has and Len swaps three entire packs of cigarettes for a flask of actual, brewed-on-the-outside vodka. Len doesn’t smoke, but cigarettes are like cash in here.

Prison turns everyone into a brewer. Len has witnessed many weird things since he landed here, but inmates mashing up fruit stolen from the mess hall inside their cells and calling the result alcohol ranks among the top.

When Gunner drops off his book in the library that evening, the contraband jammed between his hand and the back cover, Len checks one last thing off his list for the day.

“Oh, you know that kid – Pete Rochester?”

Recognition sparks in Gunner’s eyes. “Yeah, what about him?”

“He’s got potential. Just sayin’.”

This way, Pete might even survive Len’s sudden absence and keep his mouth shut.

*

Len blinks the blood out of his eyes, but that is almost as effective as his arguments against the change of plans were. When Lewis has set his mind on how to do something, not even the strongest points will convince him.

Len should have known better. He opened his mouth anyway, and here he is – with one eye that’s swelling shut and another he can’t open because of the cut near the brow – standing in front of the door to Aaron’s apartment.

“Geez, man,” the guy says when he sees the damage.

“I’m sorry, but my uncle’s out ‘till eleven, and you said –”

“No need to apologize, just get in here; I’ll get supplies.”

It takes a while and Len sullies the floor despite his best efforts to keep his bodily fluids away from Aaron’s furniture, but eventually he is patched up and resolutely refusing a mug of hot chocolate.

“It ain’t girly, you’re so fucking uptight, man. Just drink it,” Aaron says before disappearing to check on the machines downstairs. He has a load in the washer and Len has heard all about the laundry thieves who helped themselves to three of Aaron’s favorite printed shirts so far.

Len sips the drink, scowling when his tongue decides it loves the taste. At least there aren’t any marshmallows in there. The chocolate is gone in three long gulps. Len puts the mug in the sink – or he intends to, only to be confronted with a pile of dirty dishes. Shaking his head at Aaron’s bachelor-ness, he starts digging through the cupboards in search for a sponge and something more aggressive than dish soap. Some of the stains are seconds away from coming to life, really… It’s the least he can do after bleeding all over the guy’s apartment. Again.

He finds the little nondescript box by accident. Curiosity wins out and Len pulls off the lid, not sure what to expect by something clearly stashed with the cleaning supplies in the hope no one will find it.

The contents slip from his hands and onto the floor as their meaning registers. Time seems to slow down as Len blinks down at them.

Aaron is Internal Affairs.

*

The vodka he drank in celebration of his last day has long since left his bloodstream when the Speedster enters his cell. He is three minutes earlier than Len anticipated, but his expression is no less grim.

“There’s a situation,” Barry says, spine rigid.

“Anything to do with those pictures I’ve seen on the news?”

The other man nods. “It started with sheep and cattle, strange claw marks the police couldn’t identify…. Someone sold the photograph to Iris, reported seeing a man with sharp claws and mad eyes and that they barely got away from him.”

“Doesn’t sound like something you’d need me for.” Len takes a step towards Red. “Unless you just miss my company?”

Barry snorts. “In your dreams.”

“Oh, you’re doing a lot more in my dreams than miss me,” Len replies, dipping his voice even lower and relishing the way Barry’s eyes darken at the insinuation.

They clear again a heartbeat later after Barry shakes his head. “Anyway,” he continues, “we know close to nothing about this… this thing, not even if he’s a meta in the first place; but we’ve got enough to know that whatever he is, he’s dangerous. Actually, it was Cisco who said we should bring you in.”

“Oh?”

“Oh yes.” Barry’s face lights up at the memory. “He looked like the universe was forcing him to give up his nickname privileges, but he said ‘We should get Captain Cold on this’.”

“Well,” Len says with a shrug that is supposed to come across as charmingly fake-reluctant. “Another couple of hours out of this shithole are hard to say no to.”

A blink and the usual safety measures are in place. Barry extends a suit-clad arm with a grin, mirroring Len’s joviality. “Shall we, then?”

*

Cisco and Caitlin have prepared a quick briefing on their target and Len has to bite back a laugh at the irony of the situation. The Brain Trust even found the pattern of the animal attacks Len told Lisa to stage and has narrowed down the presumed location of their ‘Wolfman’ to the exact same spot Len chose for its remoteness and easy access with an aircraft.

He should feel elated, all things considered. There should be a big sneer in his mind for managing to fool Team Flash, but Len’s insides feel eerily blank.

He makes to move over to the equipment table, is about to raise an eyebrow at Barry to check he is to be armed tonight, when a hand on his shoulder stops him.

“Hold on,” the kid says, and something passes between him, Cisco, and Caitlin before he speeds off. Len has no time to wonder what this was because Barry is already back two seconds later, and in his hand –

“Is that my cold gun?”

Barry nods, expression tight. “We don’t know what the Wolfman is capable of and I figured…. Well, I’m sure you get it. But before I give it to you, you need to answer me one question first.”

There is no trace of the naïve boy Len first met in Barry’s expression, only hard-earned confidence, the result of too many battles with staggeringly high stakes. Right now the kid isn’t Barry, but the Flash.

Len nods at him to proceed, not breaking eye contact.

“I need to know – can I trust you with this?”

Flash’s fingers are on the barrel as he holds out the gun, willingly given in a strange reversal of their actions during the last time Len had his weapon. To think when their cooperation started they wouldn’t even give him a knife… Len never thought he would get in so deep, make Barry trust him this much. He only planned to do enough to fool the kid a little.

Len has told too many lies in his lifetime to count, but only a few carried as much weight as this one. For a split second he imagines saying no, coming clean, going back to Iron Heights….

Yeah. No can do.

So Len tells another lie, says, “Yes” and makes sure his voice is raw and his expression sincere, then pretends he did not see the way Flash’s eyes softened into Barry’s.

It is Barry who hands him his cold gun one second later, with a pleased, shy smile only for Len to see.

Len accepts it, checks it over quickly, then nods at the three others. Only Cisco looks surprised that Len didn’t actually caress the weapon or some such sentimental act.

No one notices his whitened knuckles on the gun handle.

*

“I can’t believe those fuckers! Now they like my shorts? Who the hell even steals sho- Len?”

He raises his eyes from the badge of the Internal Investigative Division of the Central City Police Department, carrying Aaron’s photo and a birth date that is years past the one the man gave Len.

“Who are you?” he asks. His voice is steady, which surprises him.

Aaron at least has the decency to opt against pretending the ID and service weapon don’t belong to him. He raises his hands, palms out, and steps closer.

“I’m Internal Affairs. We’ve been trying to get something on your father for a while, but he’s slippery.” His voice is different; the accent strange all of a sudden.

Len’s eyes are burning. He ignores it. “You befriended me to get information.”

“Yes, but I liked spending time with you, Len. Never doubt that –”

“How stupid do you think I am,” Len hisses, scrambling to his feet and glad when his legs hold him up.

“Listen, kid – your old man’s a lying scumbag, a dirty cop who hits his own child. Let me help you, and you get the chance to fight back. Protect your sister.”

“You want me to snitch?!” Len shouts, red-hot rage filling his chest and making his hands ball into fists. “You think I’ll just betray my own father like that?”

Aaron nods, absolutely unimpressed by Len’s anger. “You don’t owe him anything, Len. You’ve done jobs with him, haven’t you? You know more about his dealings than anyone else. You talk to us and I promise you that you and your sister are gonna stay together.”

Len wants to pounce, to grab the gun off the floor or take one of the knives from the kitchen. He wants to get as far away from the guy as possible, but a small voice inside his head stops him. IID is on his Dad’s tail – he can’t just storm off. He needs to buy some time, needs to figure out the variables, the possible courses of action.

He lets his shoulders sag. Forces his body to deflate. “I… I’ll have to think about it.”

Aaron smiles. “That’s all I can ask of you, Len.”

Len leaves and walks all the way to his uncle’s house, his mind reeling. Bob listens when the entire story spills from his lips, grips his shoulders tight enough that it registers through the cloud of betrayal, and tells him he did good.

“What do I do now?”

Bob is silent for ninety full seconds, throat working. “That’s up to you, Lenny.”

It feels like the air has been knocked out of his lungs, leaving nothing behind but empty space. “You mean…?”

“I won’t tell you what to do,” Bob confirms. “You’re old enough to make your own decisions.”

He can see it perfectly in his mind – no more lessons, no more black eyes, no more cuts that Lisa sews shut with floss because they have nothing else. It feels wrong – too pure, too good. Especially considering what Len would need to do to make it reality.

His hands are shaking when he finally speaks up. “I can’t just… he’s my Dad. You don’t rat out family.” That was one of the first things Lewis taught him, many years ago.

Bob just nods, his face blank. No judgment in his eyes, but no pride either.

“What now?” Len repeats. He knows the cop can’t walk away from this, but actually saying this out loud seems terrifying.

Bob breathes out slowly. “I know someone. Owes me a big favor. Could call it in for you, if you want.”

Three seconds trickle by until suddenly, relief floods Len’s body, a rush so strong it’s almost dizzying. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Bob says. “You’re family.”

He has made the right choice, Len tells himself for a very, very long time. Life goes on. Lewis teaches, schools him on doing background checks on everyone he meets only three days later because life has a morbid sense of humor.

And yet when the cops fish the body of a man out of the river, mutilated and disfigured with no way left to identify him, Len can’t quite get the phantom feel of blood off his hands.

*

They don’t talk as they walk along the edge of the agglomeration of trees that is too small to be deemed a forest. Len can’t think of anything to say and Barry is doing this thing with his lips that means he would like to say something but knows every word would need to be Cisco and Caitlin-proof.

“He’s not here. We should check the other side,” Len suggests eventually, his heart beating fractionally faster as his extraction point approaches.

“Yeah,” Barry agrees, turning on his heels in one fluid motion that Len tries to ignore while also committing it to memory.

When they retrace their path back to the van and the rest of Team Flash, Barry is suddenly closer to Len. Their shoulders are almost touching and Len swears he feels the back of Barry’s palm brush over his left hand where it is hanging freely.

The fingers of his right hand are still firmly wrapped around his gun as they hear a gasp and a cut-off shriek via their earpieces. Barry doesn’t stop to ask, just grabs Len and speeds them the rest of the way back until he freezes, figuratively, where Caitlin and Cisco and standing with raised arms.

Lisa has a weapon in each hand; the gold gun level with Cisco’s head while the other keeps Caitlin where she is. If looks could burn, Len would be nothing but a pile of ash right now, though Cisco’s anger is laced with a hint of vindication and something the brother in Len would rather not think about.

“Hello, jerk,” Lisa greets him with a smirk.

“Trainwreck,” he acknowledges, mirroring her, and something in his chest slides back into place. The longest time he has ever gone without seeing his sister has finally come to an end.

Len has been contemplating how Barry will react in this exact moment, but nothing could have prepared him for the marrow-deep hurt in the young man’s eyes as he puts the pieces together.

“You planned this.”

It’s not a question, so Len does not answer. Somehow this ignites the rage Len has been expecting and he is glad it actually drowns out the dejectedness in Barry’s expression for he isn’t sure he could have simply stood there otherwise.

“It was all a game, wasn’t it?” Red hisses, his tone venomous. “You’ve been playing me from day one!”

Len wants to sneer, to rub it in Barry’s face, but his voice fails him. It is Lisa who jeers instead.

“Aw, did someone get played?”

“Shut up,” Barry snaps, “I’m talking to your brother.”

“Too bad our ride’s here.”

At that, Cisco awakes from his stupor and glances at Lisa, who nods at the sky behind Len the very moment the noise of an aircraft echoes through the night.

“I can’t let you escape, Len,” Barry tells him.

“Guess you don’t have any other choice, Flash,” Lisa sneers, shifting until the barrel of her gun touches Caitlin’s head, making her flinch.

“You wouldn’t shoot them,” Barry argues, but Lisa laughs in his face, low and cold and slightly hysterical.

“Just ‘cause I had a heart-to-heart with Cisco and you guys helped me once doesn’t mean I’m sentimental enough to pass up a chance to get my brother out of prison. But feel free to try me, Flash.”

There must have been something in the way she said it because Barry deflates, anger flowing from his limbs like water down a ledge. Len’s palms are damp and his heart is racing faster than ever as an actual jet slows into a hovering position. It looks unlike any jet Len has ever seen, more like a prototype from a science-fiction flick.

He arches an eyebrow at Lisa.

She smiles. “Told you I had something better than a helicopter.”

A rope falls down from above, right next to Len so he can easily grab it with his left hand and step into the loop at its end with a foot.

“You’re just gonna leave her behind?” Cisco blurts, but the woman in question just snickers.

“No need to worry, sweety,” she purrs, then bellows loud enough for whoever is on that aircraft to hear, “NOW!”

Another person materializes next to Lisa and Len tenses for a split second until he recognizes the dark woman as Shawna Baez, the teleporter. The jet starts rising into the air the exact same second, and Barry seems poised to launch a counter measure only to falter when Lisa pointedly moves both her index fingers to the respective triggers of her weapons.

His green eyes land on Len once more, defeat mixing with the anger and the hurt.

“Thank you, Scarlet,” Len tells him, and it was supposed to be mocking but it sounds too sincere to his ears.

He grips the rope tighter as his feet lift off the ground while his mind is reeling, trying to find something to say, something befitting this moment of betrayal. He draws a blank.

“Fuck you, Len!” Barry’s body is thrumming with fury, his hands balled into fists. Len wishes he wasn’t wearing the cowl so he could see the man behind the mask, the man he has come so close to in the past few months.

“Goodbye, Barry,” he tells the kid.

Barry shouts something else but the jet has gained too much altitude already and it gets lost in the wind. Lisa and Shawna blink out of existence behind Barry and Len is alone outside the jet, rope continuously growing shorter as someone else – maybe Mick – is pulling him up.

Len can’t move. He can’t think. All he can do is keep his eyes fixed on the young man in scarlet who is staring back at him until he is nothing but a small, dark spot in the distance.

Len climbs into the jet’s belly, holsters his cold gun, and takes a step back.

 

[TBC]