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The last day Eddie spends at the Keystone Police Department before asking for a transfer is the worst of his life. Or one of the worst of his life. It’s in the top ten, definitely. 

It’s the day that his partner, Detective Warren—who’s got seven years on Eddie and five more years work experience, plus he's also about seventy percent meaner—decides to get back at him after Eddie gets a commendation from the captain and Warren doesn’t, because apparently Eddie’s a better cop than is appropriate.

And since Warren’s, well, a detective, and, more importantly, the only person Eddie has confided in about the Not That Big A Deal—before realizing that Warren wasn’t a mentor or a friend, he was actually a dick—he knows exactly how to make Eddie look like an idiot in front of everyone, captain included. 

At a crime scene. 

Eddie has a suspicion that Warren is just a really bad person.

It’s Eddie who makes the mistake that lets Warren get him, though. He’s the one who finds the book, the big, thick one that’s opened to a page with a passage underlined, and he’s the one that gets excited immediately, because clearly it’s something to get excited about, that’s their murderer’s signature, the underlined passage. Last time, the book was Madame Bovary. The time before, it was The Great Gatsby. Now there’s a third book, and three’s a pattern. “I found it!” Eddie says. “The book!”

“Good, Thawne, collect that for evidence,” Captain Leland says, and that’s the moment that Warren looks up and smiles wide.

It’s the kind of smile Eddie’s seen on bullies a million times, the I just figured out how to humiliate you smile.

“Maybe you should read it out first, Thawne,” Warren says, like it’s a dare. “It’s important.”

Eddie freezes and his chest constricts. “It looks pretty smudged,” he says. “I think I’ll just bag it.”

“Come on,” Warren says, “I can see it from here. It’s not smudged! I’d read it, but my hands are full and it’s right next to you, kid.”

(Eddie hates it when Warren calls him kid. Eddie’s closer to thirty than twenty, far past “kid” age, and not only that, Eddie’s never seen Warren call another cop kid once, even ones younger than Eddie.)

Eddie’s not sure what to do, and he looks at Leland, hoping she’ll say something that’ll save him, but she’s just kind of got her head tilted to the side and her lips pursed, which is the way she looks when she’s confused or suspicious. Eddie’s not here to inspire suspicion, so he looks down at the book and looks for the title first, hoping he’ll be able to read it even though the Not That Big A Deal gets way worse when he’s stressed, and he manages at least that. 

Crime and Punishment. 

A title made up of police words. 

Easy.

Unfortunately, those police words are not attached to a police book, they’re attached to a book that Eddie knows about because it’s a classic he can’t read. He doesn’t even know what it’s about. (Crime and punishment, he guesses.) Unfortunately, Warren’s really well-versed in literature, the kind of classic literature that doesn’t generally get abridged for kids, and usually Eddie doesn’t mind scholarly people or whatever, even likes them, but Warren’s ability to quote stuff and talk about all the books he’s read and literary criticism and whatever motifs even are just makes him more of an asshole. Unfortunately, it also means Warren will know what Eddie’s reading, especially since their killer probably underlined a well-known passage. Warren will know exactly how wrong Eddie’s getting it.

“What’re you waiting for?” Warren asks, and Eddie really, really wants to punch him, preferably right on his stupid smirking mouth. 

Everyone’s looking at him, and Eddie’s pretty sure this is a recurring nightmare he’s had since he was a little kid, except it’s actually happening, he can tell. He can smell the victim’s corpse decomposing and feel the cold of the day seeping through his suit jacket and he’s conscious, so. That kind of tips him off. “Um. Okay. It’s, uh, it’s Crime and Punishment. The passage says—” and Eddie pauses with his mouth half open, because that’s a long passage and he has no clue what it means and all the letters are squished and jumbled and…

Why are people looking at him? This can’t be that interesting. Well, actually, the book is the killer’s signature. That’s interesting. Especially since they’re at the actual crime scene and it would be really helpful to find more clues about what’s running through this sicko’s brain. Fuck. 

“I used to,” Eddie reads out slowly once he finds the place where the underlining starts, and it would be easier to follow along if he could run his index finger under the words, but he doesn’t want to screw up the evidence, even if he’s wearing gloves. Eddie takes a deep breath, trying to push down the nausea and the hot humiliation growing in his abdomen and the tears pricking at his eyes. “Ana…analyze…my…self...down…to…the…last…tread…no, thread, down to the last thread…used…to…com-pare my…self with…others…re-call…recalled…recalled all the…smallest…glen…glances, smiles and…words…of those to…who…who…”

Eddie can’t hear anything that’s going on except the roar of I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening in his ears, but he’s nudged to the side and he stumbles a little and looks over at the person who pushed him away, confused. Brown skin, big brown eyes, dark brown hair, high cheekbones, long pale scar on her forehead—Dana. Dana Ramirez. Eddie likes her. They talk sometimes.

Dana reads smoothly, “I used to analyze myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’—and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again—in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.”

Dana looks up. “There it is.”

Among the people who’ve been following the drama, there’s mostly awkward silence but also, notably, quiet snickering, and Eddie wants to fucking die. He feels like an awkward kid again, trying to work through his English homework with a tutor who rolled his eyes at how slow he was, except it's worse. 

And then Warren asks, “Huh. What do you think that might mean, Detective Thawne?” and he doesn’t mean it as a real question, even Eddie can tell it’s the kind of question that’s engineered to make everyone else laugh, and more than a few people do.

Eddie isn’t the kind of person who punches people who he cannot legally punch, but if Dana’s hand wasn’t on his shoulder—he doesn’t know when it got there, but it is—he really would hit Warren, hopefully breaking the guy’s nose and possibly several of his teeth in the process. 

But that might just be wishful thinking, because even without Dana’s sort-of-presence, Eddie probably wouldn’t be able to do anything to Warren, because he can’t move. His entire body feels overheated, even though it’s a chilly day, and he knows he’s on the edge of tears that he can’t let fall and that won’t anyway, and he’s shaking, his chest aching like it does when he gets hit in the solar plexus. 

“Detective Warren, you should’ve know better than to pull that,” Captain Leland snaps, her entire body pulled taut like a rubber band, like she’s actually angry. “Bullying isn’t tolerated here, hasn’t that gotten through your thick skull? We’re at a goddamn crime scene, show some respect.”

Warren looks offended, “Come on, I didn’t do anything. How was I supposed to know the kid couldn’t read?”

“I can read,” Eddie says numbly. He can. He does paperwork, doesn’t he? He passed the exam to get into the force, didn’t he? He’s not a strong reader, he’s never been, and he kind of avoids it whenever he can, but he can read. 

“Coulda fooled me,” Warren sneers. 

Detective Nielsen, who’s never liked Eddie and always been Warren’s friend (and those two things are probably related), snorts with laughter.

Eddie wants to scream, and his hands turn to fists, but he still can’t do anything, he can’t move, he can’t talk, he can’t breathe—

“Detective Thawne, bag the evidence and take it back to the precinct, we’re good here. Ramirez, go with him.”

Eddie’s not a child, he doesn’t need a babysitter. He doesn’t need to leave, either. He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s never read well under stress, and Crime and Punishment isn’t something he’d read well even if he was relaxed, and it’s not fair. He’s tried so hard to have the Not That Big A Deal not affect his work, and Warren revealed it on purpose, he did it on purpose, and Eddie’s been bullied a lot, but this is so much worse. This is work. This is a place where he’s almost respected, or where the people who matter respect him. This is a place where he’s got a job he’s good at, and people acknowledge that. 

This is the rest of his life.

But Eddie’s not good enough, not well-liked enough, not senior enough, not enough in general, to not be ruined by this. He hasn’t really gotten a bad reputation around this department—just Eddie Thawne, mayor’s only child, attractive but didn’t used to be, sleeps around, inexplicably a police officer, inexplicably good enough to make detective—until…well. Until today.

Now he’s going to be all of that and the idiot. He’s going to be the guy who can’t read. He’s going to be the dumb fucking blond. But what should he expect? It’s Keystone. His mother and Katie-the-gym-teacher and Jamal-the-janitor told him things would get easier as he got older, but they haven’t. He’s not sure if they ever will. He’s tried so hard to reinvent himself, but he’s been in the public eye for such a long time, he doesn’t know if he can. He doesn’t know if it’s time to give up or not.

He somehow bags the evidence without destroying it by accident and tries not to leave the scene too fast. Fleeing the scene means he’s guilty, and his dignity’s been bruised enough today, he’s not going to run like he’s done something wrong.

Dana practically pushes him into her car, and they sit there for a moment.

Eddie feels like crying, but he’s really not the kind of guy who cries. He freaks out every once in a while, sure, and sometimes when that happens he cries, but those tears are more secondary than anything, not actual crying. Not, like. Sobbing. Weeping. So Eddie doesn’t cry.

“Thawne, it’s not that bad,” Dana says, which is a total lie, and it hits Eddie again exactly how screwed he is and that how was I supposed to know the kid couldn’t read is going to be etched in his brain forever and everyone is going to find out about this because gossip gets around fast and no one’s going to take him seriously for…for too long.

Eddie forgets that he doesn’t cry.

He forgets for nearly twenty minutes, and when he manages to get himself together and clean himself up, he goes back to the station and realizes that, well, no one knows yet, and then he thinks that maybe it won’t be that bad when they do, maybe he’s being too defeatist, maybe it won’t even hit the gossip mill, but then Warren and Nielsen and everyone else who was at the scene come back and Eddie can practically feel the news spreading.

“It’ll be old after a couple of days,” Dana said when she was desperately trying to get him to stop fucking crying. “They’re just bullies, they’ll find someone else to target soon.”

But Eddie doesn’t want them to target someone else. He wants them to stop being fucking bullies. He wants Warren to have never set him up like that. He wants to have never told Warren, before he knew what the guy was like, I’m not a strong reader, but it’s not that big a deal.

Eddie tries to live with the mortification, with the snickering and the whispers, with being what all the bored cops are talking about, with the fact that people know one of his worst secrets, and he manages for the rest of the day, the entire night (mostly because he takes an Ambien), and about an hour of the next day.

Until he hears a cop he barely even knows whisper to a friend, from a place where he can hear her (is she aware of that?), “I wonder who Thawne slept with to make detective.”

Eddie’s so humiliated he wants to throw up, and he decides, at that moment, that he can’t do this anymore.

So he walks into Leland’s office, swallows his battered pride, and asks her for a transfer.

It hurts that she doesn’t have to ask why he wants it, but that just makes it clearer that it would hurt more to stay.

Leland thinks there’s a place for him in Central City, that it’ll be a better fit for him. 

Eddie believes her, because he’s lived in Keystone his whole life, and he can’t think of a place that could fit him worse.

+

Central City feels like—like a place where Eddie can be something else. Or, actually, not something else, something more. 

Something more than just his father’s son, the rich kid, the fat and stupid kid who eventually got hot and stayed stupid, the black sheep in his family of lawyers and politicians, the kid who knew everything about football except how to actually kick a football, the kid who spent hours watching true crime documentaries and subsequently spent middle school unable to shut up about serial killers, the guy who knew everyone and was friendly with most people but didn’t really have friends, the guy who’d definitely slept with a few too many people. 

The guy who couldn’t read.

He doesn’t have to be any of those things in Central City, in Central City all of those things are past tense, in Central City the buildings are shinier and not as many people know who he is and lots of those people never will because Central City’s bigger than Keystone and he’s not special here and the Central City Police Force is better because to them, he’s not Erwin Thawne’s weird kid. 

He’s Detective Pretty Boy, which isn’t great, but is also kind of flattering. Considering he doesn’t have a reputation as a player here (ha, that makes him sound smooth and also like an asshole, but he prefers that to “man-whore”, which he didn’t know was a thing until he found out people were saying he was one), having a harmless reputation as a handsome person who’s not necessarily a womanizer but could be is definitely a dream that he had when he was twelve and hoped he’d look like the detectives on TV when he grew up. In short, that’s definitely an insult that backfires.

It’s the thing that makes Eddie realize that here he’s pretty, not an ugly duckling kind of pretty but just pretty, pretty enough to get insulted about it.

Here, his past doesn’t matter.

It’s exhilarating.

+

Eddie tries as hard as he possibly can to prove himself as a detective. He refuses to come off as shy or insecure or all the things he’s never wanted to be, and he makes sure that everything he does is competent or even beyond competent, the kind of thing people can actually congratulate him about. And they do congratulate him. They might not necessarily like him, and he might not have friends, but he doesn’t need people to like him and he doesn’t need friends. He just needs people to know he’s good at what he does and handsome and smart and not a bad person. 

Eddie keeps a careful record of all the arrests he’s made (and tries his best to keep score against the other people in his department’s arrest counts), as well as general notes about each case and the things he’s learned and the things he has to improve on in a leather-bound notebook that he obviously never shows anybody, at least not for any length of time (somehow, they still find out that he keeps an arrest tally, he’s honestly not sure how—the logistics of how gossip spreads are lost on him), because he knows that he writes funny. As in, literally funny, in that people laugh when they see things he’s written longhand. 

Eddie doesn’t realize that his attempt to not seem insecure makes him seem arrogant instead until Iris, early in their friendship, finally takes pity on him and tells him that he shouldn’t brag about the things he’s good at, he should just be good at them, and be confident enough in himself to realize that people who underestimate him don’t matter, and it’ll be funny when they realize they were wrong about him, anyway.

Eddie had never considered that before, and it makes him start trying to just center himself and work and prove himself without being a—as Iris said—dick. 

It works pretty well, he thinks, over time. He knows that Joe uses, or at least used, the Detective Pretty Boy nickname too, but Joe isn’t even close to being as bad as Warren was. He’s even nice sometimes, and civil just about all the time, and he doesn’t treat Eddie like he’s a stupid little kid. He occasionally even seems impressed with Eddie’s work, and, better, Joe has some kind of thing about writing up the case reports himself, which Eddie never questions because that’s just good luck.

Besides, Eddie knows that Joe sort of likes him, or is at least grateful when Eddie picks up extra shifts so that Joe can spend more time with his comatose kid. 

Eddie can’t imagine what it must be like to (maybe) lose your child before you die (not really, but he does remember his mother’s face after he asked her what a miscarriage was), and he likes Joe, and for the five seconds he met the guy, he liked Barry Allen, and he definitely likes Iris West, and he doesn’t want Joe screwing up because he’s distracted, so Eddie does everything he can to make things easier for Joe, wondering what’s going to happen when Barry finally dies. 

It breaks his heart, the way that Iris, once he gets to know her, talks about Barry like he’ll be waking up any day now, like he’ll even be the same if he wakes up. Eddie learns not to say if Barry wakes up, though, because the one time he does, Iris cries. 

Eddie doesn’t want to see Iris cry, because even though he’s never fallen in love before, he really thinks he could fall in love with her. He doesn’t know that yet, of course, the day she brings him coffee and he ends up staring, confused, at this beautiful girl who is definitely his partner’s daughter who he figured only knew him as Detective Pretty Boy, the guy who was nice enough to take some of her dad’s shifts, until she cracks a smile.

“What?” she asks. “Do I look that bad?”

“No!” he says too loudly, and then he clears his throat and smiles what he hopes is a warm, charming smile and says, “I just didn’t expect you. You look great.”

He should flirt, right? Is she flirting? Usually when girls talk to him it’s because they’re flirting. She’s his partner’s daughter. Should he flirt with his partner’s daughter? She’s really pretty. Eddie wants to sleep with her. Eddie shouldn’t want to sleep with her. She’s his partner’s daughter. Why is she here? It does look like she hasn’t slept in three days, but he wasn’t lying when he said she looked great. Her best friend or brother or whatever is in a coma. What’s the protocol for when a pretty girl’s best friend is in a coma? 

“Ha, thanks. I just wanted to come by to say hi, and thank you, and take you to coffee when your shift ends, because I know your shift just ended because y’know, it’s my dad’s shift, and I really appreciate that.” Iris shakes her head. “Sorry, I’m…being really rambly, aren’t I?”

Sort of, but it’s nice. “Absolutely not, and if you are, and I’m not saying that…it’s cute. Thank you, Iris. I’d be happy to get some coffee with you.” He doesn't have the heart to mention that she already appears to have gotten coffee, since she's holding it in her hand. She seems a little scattered, and he's not even sure if she's noticed.

Anyway. It's a thank you. Does that mean he shouldn’t flirt? If he doesn’t flirt, what is he going to talk about? He’ll wait for her to talk. Good game plan. Flirting and talking are the same thing, anyway. He just doesn’t have to compliment her appearance as much. Her appearance is an excellent one, though. 

Iris smiles, and it’s absolutely dazzling. Eddie gathers his stuff and small talks with her—he’s great at that—until they get to Jitters, which he’s gone to a million times, but only for coffee to go, and he feels surprisingly comfortable sitting there, talking to a pretty girl who’s also interesting and funny and smart and who says he’s a great guy. 

That almost takes his breath away, because she says Eddie, you’re a great guy so sincerely, and he might have a crush on her in the way he’s only ever had crushes on girls on TV. 

He grins stupidly at her, and she blinks like she’s just seen something impressive and then says, softly, “Wow.”

Eddie’s confused. “Huh? What’s…is there something?” 

“You have a beautiful smile,” Iris says. 

And that’s that.

+

Eddie’s mother calls Iris a blessing. 

Eddie agrees, and not just because Iris is amazing and beautiful and kind and generally lovely and his actual girlfriend, but also because Iris has friends. Not just friends, good friends. Friends she goes out with, and who are nice and smart and who genuinely like him. Sure, they’re not close or anything, because Eddie figures that people are friends once they can spend time one-on-one or in really small groups and not be horribly uncomfortable, and he never gets there with Iris’s friends, but Eddie still likes spending time with them, and it feels more natural than it did when he had ‘friendly acquaintances’ in Keystone.

Every once in a while, he goes to clubs with Iris. He only ever went to places like that when he was in his early twenties and had decided that now that he was certifiably hot he had to learn how to be good at sex, but now he actually sort of enjoys going. He feels like he’s having fun, as opposed to feeling like he’s at stakeout.

But mostly, when Iris wants to go out, she and Eddie go to a bar. Eddie’s dad has a few British friends, and they call the pub they usually go to their local. Eddie likes having a local, a place where people know who he is, not because he’s a Thawne, but because he’s a regular. The same thing happens at Jitters and Mama Chow’s, which is by far Eddie’s favorite restaurant in Central City. The owner, Huan, who must be in her seventies, adores him. He’s always gotten along well with people older than him. 

Eddie suspects that Iris doesn’t understand why he always wants to go to the same place, and order the same thing at the same place, and do the same things at the same place, but she doesn’t say anything about it. When he finally gets up the courage to ask her if she wants to do something different than their set plans, steeling himself for a wild night of literally anything other than what he expected, she just smiles and says, “Nah. I actually kind of like the routine. I mean, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s kind of comforting.”

“I like that you’re part of my routine," Eddie offers.

“That’s one of the sweetest things you’ve ever said to me,” Iris whispers before she kisses him.

+

Iris spends a lot of time with Barry, obviously. Barry and her dad. In front of her dad, she pretends to hate Eddie, which hurts his feelings at first until she says that she just doesn’t want her dad to get angry at them, and he sort of understands. At least, he understands enough that he doesn’t tell Joe about the two of them, instead nodding like a bobble head whenever Joe talks about Iris, unsure of what exactly to say.

Eddie never really knew Barry, but he’s curious about him. Iris talks about him all the time, about how they grew up together, about things he said, and she speaks so fondly that sometimes Eddie really does feel like he knows Barry, like Barry’s one of his favorite characters on a procedural. He’s almost threatened by Barry, which is stupid because Iris says they’re like brother and sister and they grew up together and Barry's in a coma and all, but Barry’s amazing. He’s smart and funny and quirky, nerdy in a cute way, and Eddie’s never been like that. 

He’s definitely never been smart. He did go to college, because his mom begged him to and his dad wouldn’t talk to him until he did, but he was only able to get into Keystone Community College, which was...actually a good time. Still, a pre-law degree from a community college isn’t exactly a double degree in physics and chemistry from Ann Arbor. Eddie’s terrible at science, though he did like watching the chemicals bubble in chem class, and he wasn’t bad at diagrams and dioramas. 

But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that Barry’s smarter than Eddie, and Iris is smarter than Eddie, and he knows she knows that, but he tries his best to make sure she doesn’t realize that it’s not just that he’s not as smart as her or Joe or Barry—lots of people aren’t as smart as her or Joe, and Barry’s a bona fide genius—he’s straight-up learning disabled. Eddie remembers the way that his dad always said learning disabled, like it was an insult. 

And considering what happened in Keystone, of course Eddie doesn’t want Iris to know. Or anyone. Eddie can be not-very-bright, he can even be stupid, but he cannot be learning disabled.

Anyway.

Barry Allen.

Eddie uses the text-to-speech on his computer to read Barry’s blog, when he digs it up. The wide world of weird. It’s pretty impressive, exactly how many crackpot stories and theories Barry managed to collect, and how surprisingly coherent and persuasive his arguments for those things being true were.

After a while, Eddie finds himself saying when Barry wakes up, and really meaning it.

+

Iris’s joy when Barry wakes up is contagious, and Eddie tries to swallow his jealousy (of course she wants to spend all her time with Barry) and fear (she’s not in love with Barry, even though he does seem kind of into her, but maybe Eddie’s imagining things) and tries to get to know Barry, who doesn’t seem to like him very much but tolerates him, just like Joe doesn’t seem to like him very much, but tolerates him, especially after Iris finally tells Joe they’re dating.

(That’s when Eddie stops being threatened by Barry. Iris cares about him, she wants to have a serious relationship with him, something real, and he thought they were already real, but that’s not the point. It’s not just that he’s falling in love with her. She’s falling in love with him too.)

Eddie still feels weird about Barry, who can read things in five seconds and understand everything, who writes in-depth lab reports that Eddie can’t begin to understand, who eventually seems to warm up to him when they start sparring. Who becomes his friend, his actual friend, a person he can hang out with even when no one else is there and who he talks to about actual important things. It’s not all surface. 

Eddie’s wanted a friendship that’s not all surface for such a long time that he tells Barry that he was bullied when he was younger, and he’s so fiercely proud that Barry doesn't believe someone like Eddie could’ve been bullied and unpopular that he actually tells Barry why he was so unpopular. Barry doesn’t ask for more information than Eddie gives, even though he’s curious, Eddie can tell.

Barry knows how it is to be nothing but his father’s son. He knows what it's like to be bullied. 

That’s why Eddie tries so hard to become his friend, harder than he’s tried for anyone since he was in middle school, and he manages it.

Central City really is different. 

Especially since Barry has friends who really do become Eddie’s friends. For the first time, Eddie has an actual group of friends. Iris, Barry, Caitlin, Cisco. Even Joe. 

When it turns out that Barry is The Flash, Eddie isn’t exactly prepared for that—okay, he freaks out, he really freaks out, he literally freaks out for over an hour while Joe and Barry also freak out because they’ve never seen Eddie freak out, and it’s not really a great moment in his life—but he manages to get used to it, because it’s really cool. Like, really cool.

The mess that happens with Iris over it is less cool, but eventually that get smoothed over, and The Flash becomes a part of life. 

Eddie’s thrilled—he tries not to look it, but he thinks he might anyway—when Cisco says Eddie’s part of Team Flash for the first time, because he’s never been part of a team before, and he’s always wanted to be.

+

There’s one problem: it turns out that when people care about you, it can get really hard to keep a secret.

+

Eddie actually likes reading. He remembers hating it for a while, sure, feeling like books were torture devices instead of, well, books, because people would force him to read all the time and the books would always be about stupid things like fat cats (how many fat cats did there have to be?) and Dick and Jane (at six years old, Eddie, devastated, told his mother that he had to go to jail because he wanted to murder Dick and Jane and he didn’t want to be a murderer. She had laughed for such a long time that he’d started laughing too, and then laughed for real when his mother explained what exactly was funny). 

But eventually, when he was around eleven, he wandered into enemy territory (the library), and discovered that books had information he wanted, and that they were interesting sometimes. Not all the stories were about animals or small children, and the non-fiction ones also weren’t all about animals, there were ones about police officers and murderers and stuff, like Law & Order, except in books, and real. 

And then his mom started bringing him abridged books, these nice hardback large-print ones with amazing stories, and she and Eddie would read through them, even if it took weeks. He would sound out each word, not understanding anything, but once he got through the page his mom would read it to him, and then he’d understand, and then he’d read it again, and he’d still stumble and get frustrated and it’d still take forever, but he’d understand, and when he was done with the page, he’d want to go on to the next one, see how the story kept going. After a while he even managed to start reading them on his own, when he was around thirteen and his mom started spending a lot more time with Nina, the chauffeur. 

Or, because Eddie’s not that much of an idiot and knows exactly what's happening there, when his mother started having an affair with Nina the chauffeur that’s going on to this day.

(They’re happy together, and it’s not like Eddie’s dad hasn’t been having an affair with his personal assistant—Victor—since Eddie was in grade school, so no harm, no foul.)

Anyway, he read Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Little Women, The Secret Garden, all the abridged Sherlock Holmes his mother could find, and on and on. He still has all those books, and he’s always re-reading one of them. He’s gone through them so many times that when he re-reads them, it doesn’t even feel like he's doing something difficult. He’s got a few true crime books too, the easiest ones he could find, and they are written for adults, but he’s read them so many times he’s got them memorized, so those are easy, too. 

He hides his books in a box in the storage closet in his and Iris’s apartment, because he’d rather people just think he doesn’t read than know what he does read.

Anyway, Iris’s books fill up the apartment just fine, and Eddie tells Iris that he’s keeping his books in storage because his DVD collection wouldn’t fit into the shelves lying around if his book collection were there too. 

“Well,” Iris says, “you do have...a lot of DVDs. Damn, have you watched every police procedural ever?”

“No,” Eddie says, “just a lot of them.”

“How do you have fifteen seasons of Law & Order?”

“I bought them, Iris.”

Iris snorts with laughter, and then pulls out Eddie’s favorite documentary on Jim Jones and raises her eyebrows. “Woah, dark.”

Eddie chuckles. “I guess.”

Iris slots the DVD back into the shelf under the television, and then frowns. “Oh my God,” she says, a delighted grin spreading across her face.

Eddie grins, though he’s confused, because he likes it when Iris smiles. “What?”

“Are the documentaries organized by crime?

Eddie smiles, shrugging sheepishly. “I like organizing things.”

“You’re so weird, babe,” Iris says fondly, and Eddie laughs and leans over to kiss her smiling lips. 

+

Eddie doesn’t want to overstate how good he’s gotten at hiding his Not That Big A Deal, but he’s gotten really good at hiding it, especially after Keystone. After Keystone, he basically does everything possible to keep it a secret, and he’s excellent at it. It’s actually really impressive—Eddie’s friends are very smart people, but they still don’t know. Hell, Iris doesn’t know, and they live together. 

They don’t know because he has tricks. 

He just reads things that are on the computer with text-to-speech. (He’s never been able to get through actual books like that, though, never been able to listen to audiobooks either. He just gets confused, unable to follow along with the text and, if he doesn't have the text at all, totally unable to follow the story.) 

He spends hours trying to edit anything he has to write with spell and grammar check, and hides most things he writes longhand. 

Whenever a situation where he might have to read something comes up, he pretends to have a headache, or says he’s really busy in his most convincing stressed-out-and-hurried-voice and then runs off somewhere. Whenever he knows he can read something fluently out loud, he seizes any chance to do so. 

He loves doing paperwork, actually, likes the way that it's usually pretty easy to read because he’s so used to it, the language and what it looks like, and he likes signing things, likes writing everything out carefully, checking his spelling on his phone every step of the way, likes feeling as if he’s doing something important. He sometimes manages to finish the paperwork at the department, but every once in a while he has to take it home and work on it at night while Iris is asleep, because he doesn’t want to explain why he’s so obsessed with reading and re-reading everything, making sure he hasn’t screwed something up, making sure he’s remembering all the words right. 

Just making sure.

He doesn’t say a word when Joe jealously does all the serious writing for case reports and so on, because, well, that’s one aspect of Joe’s neuroses that actually makes Eddie’s life easier.

When Iris gives him a book to read and is really excited about it, he text-to-speeches the Wikipedia page on it, and if there’s a movie, he watches that, and then he mostly agrees with everything Iris says about it, smiling and nodding, knowing he will never, ever tell her that when he tells her he’s read whichever book in less than a week, he’s telling her a huge lie.

But it’s Not That Big A Big Deal.

Eddie’s good at some things, and good enough at those things that reading isn’t all that important. 

See, he has a really good memory for some stuff, especially when it's work-related, so actually having to read through papers or something generally doesn't become a big issue; and there's no nightmare situations like the one that made him finally leave Keystone. 

Eddie’s got a good memory for things he hears, too. He loves listening to what his friends have to say. He doesn’t always understand what they're talking about, but for the first time, there are people who are willing to explain. His friends are even willing to let him tell them all about police work or serial killers or football. Eddie learns a lot about science, and forgets even more. 

And nobody seems to suspect that Eddie’s hiding anything, because he’s got a reputation as an honest person, or, rather, as a person who can’t not be honest because he really, really sucks at lying. 

But obviously Eddie's not lying. He’s just aggressively omitting a certain thing about himself that isn’t very important. 

Nobody panic, everything’s going to be just fine.

+

Everything’s not fine, and Eddie panics.

He's been in Central City for a while now. It’s been nearly three months since he became part of Team Flash, over a year since he’s known Iris and Joe, five months since he actually became friends with Barry, four months since he and Iris moved in together, and no one knows, or at least, no one really knows (it’s not like anyone thinks he’s a scholar or anything, and it seems pretty clear to them that he’s just one of those people who isn't into reading, an assumption he enthusiastically perpetuates) about the Not That Big A Deal, except Eddie’s starting to feel bad about it.

And nervous. He’s starting to feel nervous pretty much constantly. Every single time he doesn’t really know what Iris is talking about even though she thinks she’s talking about a book they’ve both read. Every single time he gets out of bed after Iris has gone to sleep so that he can finish paperwork, or make sure he didn’t screw it up, or maybe decode some kind of report. Every time he pretends to scan a lab report even though he can scan a text about as well as he can read War and Peace in the original Russian, and hopes nobody asks him about it. Every time Caitlin or Barry or Cisco ask him to grab the something-or-other-it’s-labeled-can’t-miss-it and Eddie panics until he remembers to just say, “Uh, what’s it look like?” Every time Iris asks him to look an article over for mistakes. Every time Joe asks him to read him out some kind of note left at a crime scene and Eddie nearly has a panic attack because he’s reminded and then just says he has a headache and hauls ass.

Every time, he feels nervous.

He feels like he’s doing something bad, and like maybe the Not A Big Deal is actually a bigger deal than he likes to think. Like it’s something the people that care about him should know, because it’s harder and harder to hide as everyone gets closer, and Eddie ends up doing way more straight-up lying than he’s any good at, and actually it would be nice to have someone to help him with stuff like forms, help him do them faster, because he knows there could be consequences to not being able to read something important, but nothing’s happened yet and nobody will help him if they hate him for being a liar, so that doesn’t matter.

Anyway, he feels like sometimes his friends know he’s lying about something anyway. Or, no, not lying, hiding. 

Those might be one and the same.

That worries him a lot, because he doesn't want anyone to think that he’s concealing something awful, something evil, like he’s a supervillain or something. 

Eddie’s really, really not a supervillain. On occasion he wants to say this when someone looks at him suspiciously, but he manages to swallow it and smile innocently instead, because one thinks he’s a supervillain, probably. Eddie’s not even a metahuman. God, Eddie’s glad he’s not a metahuman. That would be so confusing. 

But the fact that Eddie's not a supervillain, though a relief, isn't the point. The point is that he's hiding something that may or may not be a big deal, and he feels like the whole thing is going to come crashing down around him, and when the charade ends, he’ll lose everything.

Eddie feels like he belongs in Central City, but he doesn’t know what might happen if it turns out that he doesn’t. If it turns out that his friends, who are all so smart, hate him for being stupid, and for lying about it. Iris doesn’t like liars. No one likes liars. 

Eddie doesn’t like liars. 

And now that he’s started feeling less like a spy living a double life and hiding a secret for a good cause (what good cause? America? America does not give a shit about Eddie’s fifth grade reading level) and more like an asshole who’s not telling something about himself to everyone who matters to him, who’s keeping secrets from people he’s promised to not keep secrets from, he’s stopped being able to function like he usually can. 

It’s starting to get to how it was for those few days before he broke and told Iris that Barry was The Flash. He can’t think about anything other than the lie. Everywhere he looks, there are words, and that’s normal, he’s used to that, except now the words feel like enemies, the books feel like torture devices again, and he’s started having a recurring dream about the Central City library coming to life and swallowing him whole while asking if he’s read Crime and Punishment yet while his friends turn their backs on him, angry that he never told them about the Not That Big A Deal.

Eddie’s going completely insane. 

Unfortunately, his going completely insane is apparently pretty obvious, so Iris starts asking him what’s wrong all the time, which means that he ends up mumbling and shrugging at her and being really relieved to leave for work, except when he gets there Joe starts asking him what the hell is going on in his head, which means that Eddie just ends up retreating to Barry’s office, but then Barry asks him what’s wrong, so then, maybe, possibly, he goes to STAR Labs because he can’t think of anywhere else to go and he sees Caitlin and Cisco, who tell him he seems weird, so he says he’s sick, which is a stupid thing to say when one of your friends is a doctor because then Caitlin asks to check him over, which leads to him telling her that he has to go to work just as Joe comes in and reminds him that their shift is over, something he already knew, and finally he ends up literally just running away like he recently remembered he committed a terrible crime and is on the lam. 

That might have happened at one point. 

+

It’s bitterly cold out the night that Iris, who’s looking out the window at the lit-up city while Eddie’s half-lying on the couch, wishing he could find the energy to pretend to sleep, says, “Eddie, remember what we said about not keeping secrets?”

“Of course,” he answers, chest constricting. 

“Great! Tell me what’s wrong, then.”

“Nothing. Everything’s great.”

Iris turns on her heel and faces him, with her jaw clenched and that particular oh-come-the-fuck-on look in her eyes.

“You’re lying to me, and I can’t figure out why! If you were any other guy and if everyone else didn’t feel it too, I’d think you were having an affair!”

Eddie lets out a completely inappropriate snort of laughter, because as if he’d ever cheat on Iris.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So what’s going on? You’re acting weird, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. You’ve been walking around for two weeks like a man on trial.”

“I don’t know, I’ve just been feeling kind of sick, Iris, it’s nothing.”

“Don’t tell me it’s nothing! How the hell is that nothing? And what's this mysterious illness anyway? You won’t let Caitlin near you.”

“It doesn’t mean I’m not sick.”

“Yeah, but it makes me think that it might be the kind of illness that Caitlin can’t treat.”

Eddie frowns, caught off-guard. “Wait, what?”

Iris huffs out a distressed breath, running her hand through her hair. “Eddie, are you…sad?”

Eddie’s entirely taken aback. “No?” 

“I mean…depressed?”

“No,” Eddie says. He knows what depression is, and he hasn’t felt that in months. “Why would I be depressed?”

“Okay, well…you’re really jumpy and closed off, you barely talk to me, you barely talk to anyone. You keep lying, but no one can figure out what you’re trying to lie about. I mean, maybe you should see someone. The psychologist at the station?”

Huh? No! Iris, there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Then why are you acting like this? I’ve been trying to think of what you could be hiding, but I can’t think of a single thing unless it’s that you’re feeling bad.

Eddie is feeling bad, but it's because he's hiding something, so he’s not sure what to refute. “Iris, I don’t know what to tell you,” he says softly, and it hurts to see her eyes glisten with tears. Eddie hates it when Iris cries.

“Yeah,” Iris says. “I thought you might say that.”

She goes to bed. 

He sleeps on the couch.

In the morning, he wakes up to his cell phone ringing. He’s not on duty today, so he doesn’t pick up until Iris runs out of their room and nudges his shoulder. “There’s a meta, but we don’t want cops.”

Eddie gets up immediately, rushing around the apartment to put on fresh clothes, brushing his teeth and combing his hair, putting on shoes, grabbing his gun, and leaving the apartment right behind Iris. “Why the hell wouldn’t we want cops? I’m a cop!”

“Well, cops that aren’t members of Team Flash. This is Bleeding Heart, we can’t let other people around her, Caitlin has antidotes but we might not need to use them if we corner her.”

“Wait, is she the one that stops your heart an hour after she blows that weird dust in your face, isn’t she?”

“Mhm. Plus the corrosive blood.”

“Right, obviously can’t forget the corrosive blood,” Eddie mutters, and then he’s—in STAR Labs.

Eddie blinks, feeling sick, and is only confused for a split second before he sees Barry, decked out as The Flash, standing next to Iris, who’s also looking a little disconcerted.

“You could give a guy a warning,” Eddie says, grabbing the comm Cisco throws him out of the air and inserting it into his ear.

“Sorry,” Barry says, clearly not sorry. “Eddie, I need you to stay here.”

“What? Why?”

“Just, Caitlin and Cisco are gonna be with us because the machine that we're, uh, like at least ninety percent sure will stop her won’t work without Cisco and Caitlin has to be there for antidote reasons, we’re afraid some people might get hit.”

“Barry, I’m not exactly a command center kind of guy! What about Joe and Iris?”

“We need Joe with us because he knows her, and Iris with us because…okay, it’s because Iris won’t let us go if she’s not with us.”

“You’re putting yourself in danger, Iris?” Eddie asks, highly disapproving.

“Not that much danger, and it’ll be great news.”

“This is a terrible idea!”

Cisco pats Eddie on the shoulder and says, “It’s fine, we’ve all got comms, we know where we’re going, we’re not really gonna need the set-up this time. We just have to make sure there’s someone back here just in case. You’ll do great. Then, in the span of around thirty seconds, everyone’s gone, leaving Eddie alone with a lot of computers he isn't completely sure how to use. He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and decides that he's going to have to make the best of this very stupid situation. 

“Is everyone there?” Eddie asks over the comm.

“Yeah, we’re good,” Barry answers breathlessly.

“Where’s Bleeding Heart?”

“I…I’m not sure. She’s supposed to be here. We tracked her, there’s no way…oh, no!”

“Flash?” Eddie says sharply, walking over to a computer that has a map on it with little dots that seem to represent people, which seems promising. Eddie figures out which dot's Barry pretty fast, since he’s bright red, and Eddie figures that Bleeding Heart is the bright yellow dot coming up—

“She’s on your six!” Eddie says, trying to get into work mode despite his rattled nerves, and Barry seems to manage to dodge Bleeding Heart, running around her in circles and then sending her flying. The fight continues, with Eddie following along and trying to help Barry con Bleeding Heart into the alley where Cisco’s magic science machine that’s apparently going to defeat her is set up. 

“You got her,” Eddie says when the fight seems to be firmly tilted in favor of Team Flash, relieved, but he’s not able to get Barry’s response since Caitlin cuts into his comm.

“Eddie, we’ve cornered her, so I have to know, are there any green dots around?” Caitlin asks.

“No,” he says. “I don’t see any in a ten mile radius. What are the green dots?”

“Civilians.”

“Alright, then,” Eddie breathes out, glad that he’s always been good at maps and video games.

That's when he hears someone who definitely isn’t him breathing, and realizes he’s not alone. 

“Hey, blondie,” someone says, voice deep and rich with amusement, and Eddie draws his gun, turns sharply on his heel, and is hit full in the face with—chalk dust? He gasps for air reflexively and his eyes sting, but he's not going to be incapacitated by some stupid dust, so he manages to get himself upright and, squinting through painful, teary eyes, (hopefully) shoot straight once, twice, before he has to drop the gun.

While Eddie’s coughing miserably and wiping at his burning eyes desperately, he sees that he managed to shoot the intruder—a very tall young man who bore a striking resemblance to Bleeding Heart—in center mass once. The other bullet lodged in the wall, which…wasn’t his best work, but he should’ve been out of commission at the time, so he doesn’t think he did half bad. 

And the bad guy isn’t wearing a bulletproof vest this time, ha. 

“Eddie!” Caitlin’s almost screaming over the comm, and Eddie winces. This is why Caitlin’s not supposed to see action. She’s way too high-strung.

“I’m fine,” Eddie says just before he spits some bluish gunk onto the floor and then retches. “Does Bleeding Heart have a brother?”

“He’s supposed to be dead!”

“Well, he is now, but before that he wasn’t, and he blew something in my face.”

“Wait, what? What was it like?”

“It’s just chalk dust, Caitlin. If I was able to shoot him after getting a face full of it, it can’t be that bad.”

“Oh, no,” Caitlin says, and then he can hear her tell Iris, “Eddie’s been hit with the dust!”

“What?” Iris squawks distantly. “How?

“Her brother!”

“He’s dead!”

“According to Eddie, he wasn’t a few minutes ago!”

“Caitlin,” Eddie says, “it’s not Bleeding Heart’s dust, I’m not ill.”

“You won’t be until your heart stops in about sixty minutes!”

“...You don’t have a very good bedside manner,” Eddie says after a beat, slightly taken aback.

“Sorry.”

Eddie looks over at the dead man and his stomach drops at the sight of a plastic cup filled with—nothing. Nothing, because it was full of Bleeding Heart’s dust, which Eddie has now mostly ingested.

“Okay, it's probably hers. He must've gotten it from her somehow, and he threw a cup of it in my face, he probably thought it worked faster than it does. I think she set him up, she knew I'd get him.”

“They did hate each other,” Caitlin muses. 

“That’s a family drama I don’t care about,” Eddie says. “How do I not die?”

“Okay, most of the antidote is with me, but there’s a sample in the cabinet.”

“Which cabinet?”

“Go over to my med lab,” Caitlin says, and Eddie follows her lead, trying to keep his head because he’s only dying a little right now. “Open the cabinet labeled ‘samples’.”

Eddie has thankfully seen the word samples many times, and is able to find the metal cabinet and wrench it open no problem.

His breath catches. Every sample is in a carefully labeled metal box, and all of them look exactly the same, except for the label, which presumably says something important. Caitlin really likes organizing things, and her organizational system is apparently at extreme odds with Eddie’s entire brain. “Oh my God.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just find the box labeled Cardiazol Monovalent Antivenom BH, get out the antidote, and stab it into your leg like an Epi-Pen.

“Okay, sure,” Eddie says faintly, hoping against hope that he won’t die, because he has no clue how he's going to find this in Caitlin’s cabinet, but he should, because Caitlin’s not clarifying, and he doesn’t know how to ask her to clarify, because all he can think of is her spelling all of this out for him, and he’d never manage to copy that down. Okay. He parrots the words Caitlin just spoke. “Cardiazol Monovalent Antivenom BH.” If he just finds ‘Antivenom BH’ he’s home free. 

He tries to scan the labels on all the boxes, but all that does is make the letters dance and blur, so he tries to focus on separate labels instead. One of them says it’s an antidote for some kind of acid, Eddie can’t read the whole thing. No, no acid. BH. 

But the BH is at the end. Okay, first part was cardio.

Cardio, cardio, cardio.

He tries to find a label starting with a ‘k’, and comes up short on anything that has an ‘a’ after it. Cardio. 

Cardio starts with a ‘c’, you idiot.

“Eddie, are you okay?” Caitlin asks.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. I…” Eddie has no idea what to say. I don’t know what to do because I can’t read all these labels in time to find what you need me to find, and what I need me to find. 

The fact that the labels are technically easy to read, with big letters, kind of makes things even more frustrating, because Eddie still doesn’t understand, he still can’t find the words. His eyes catch on ‘antidote’ after ‘antidote’, different strings of letters, ‘antivenom’, ‘BH’.

“I found it!” he says. “I found it.”

“That’s great,” Caitlin says. “We got Bleeding Heart, Barry will be with you ASAP.”

Eddie lets out a noise of assent as he reads the box, turning off his comm so that no one will hear him trying to sound things out, and sinking to the floor to do what he has to do.

He can’t totally read what comes before ‘BH’, but he does see ‘cardio’ somewhere, and ‘anti’ and ‘mono’ and then there’s a couple of other labels, one with the word ‘caution!’, which is a word he’s seen a million times, and then there’s another that says—‘err’and then possibly something about the dosageand he thinks that’s good enough. All of the boxes say ‘caution!’ because they’re samples, and some of the boxes have an extra label on them too, like the ‘err’ one. He opens the box and takes out the not-actually-an-Epi-Pen. He takes a deep breath in preparation to uncap it and stab himself with it (Eddie has never liked needles) just as a red streak makes its way across the floor and Barry appears next to him, falling to his knees.

“Are you okay?” Barry asks urgently.

“I’ll be better when I use the antidote,” Eddie mutters, finally uncapping it.

Barry picks up the box Eddie took it out of, eyes scanning over it, and he says, “Wait, don’t use that yet. Caitlin told you to use this?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. 

“That’s really weird.”

“All of them say caution,” Eddie explains patiently. 

“Give me one second,” Barry says, “don’t use it yet.”

“Seriously?” Eddie asks, slightly agitated due to this whole 'imminent death' problem. “I don’t have that much time.”

“Hey, Caitlin?” Barry asks over his comm. “Yeah, what’s the antidote called? I’m kind of weirded out by what Eddie says you told him to get.” Barry nods, looks at the metal box again, and his face twists in confusion. “What? Caitlin, what the hell? This isn’t right, it even says ‘erroneous dosage’ on it!”

“It does?” Eddie asks, alarmed.

Barry looks over at Eddie in horror. “...Sorry, Caitlin, it’s fine, there was just some confusion,” Barry says, and he turns off his comm. “Eddie, what the fuck?” he asks, grabbing the antidote from Eddie’s hand, putting it back in its box, and shoving a different box into Eddie’s hands in the span of too-fast-for-Eddie-to-time. “What did Caitlin tell you?”

Eddie grimaces and says, “She said I should find Cardiazol Monovalent Antivenom BH.”

“Yeah, well, there it is,” Barry mutters, and then Eddie feels the sting of a needle going into his leg about five seconds after it goes into his leg. 

“Ow,” he says conversationally, and Barry looks at him with bug eyes.

“Eddie! Do you know what this says?” 

The metal box that Eddie had been at least fifty percent sure was the right one and which turned out to be one hundred percent the wrong one is shoved in front of his face.  “Stop going so fast,” Eddie says. “You’re making me feel sick.”

“Fine, but what does it say?”

“Barry, I know what it says, why wouldn’t I know what it says?”

“Because if you knew what it said, you would’ve known you’d die if you took this. It’s the wrong one, Eddie. And it says ‘erroneous dosage’, see?”

Barry jabs at the word that started with ‘err’, which seems to be ‘erroneous’, enthusiastically. 

“Right,” Eddie says. “I was just scattered. Stressed. I, uh, I get confused when I’m stressed.”

“You work a really high-stress job and I’ve never seen you get mortally confused.”

“...Fine, I don’t read as well when I’m stressed,” Eddie finally grinds out, because it’s either tell them that he wasn’t able to read the labels or that he’d decided to commit suicide-by-antidote, and only one of them’s true, and Eddie’s exhausted and almost died and should just admit it.

“You don’t read as well when you’re stressed,” Barry repeats, like he’s prompting Eddie to keep talking.

“All the boxes looked the same, and the labels are just all really long words, and I thought it was fine when I saw a box labeled ‘BH’, especially since everything else I could read seemed like it fit. Since I couldn’t read the ‘erroneous dosage’ part, I just thought it was there like the ‘caution’ thing was there. Because it was a sample.”

“Eddie, seriously, look at what this says,” Barry prompts, still pointing at the label on the death box.

“Barry…” Eddie says, “I don’t…”

“Nothing?”

Eddie takes a deep breath and carefully reads out, “Cardio. Um, mono…monov…monov-ascular…oh, monovascular. Right. Um, antivenom.”

“Read the whole word.”

“Anti…that’s not venom.”

“No.”

“To…” Eddie bites his inner cheek hard and then says, “To…”

“Toxin,” Barry fills in. “Antitoxin.”

“...BH.”

“Yeah. Cardio Monovascular Antitoxin BH.”

“I was sort of close,” Eddie says, laughing nervously.

Barry doesn’t laugh. “You could’ve died. You couldn’t afford close. Who even knows what Caitlin meant by ‘erroneous dosage’? You could’ve OD’d, and you definitely wouldn’t’ve taken the right antidote.”

“I know.”

“Did you know you were getting it wrong?”

“I had an inkling.”

“And you didn’t mention it?”

“I didn’t know what I’d say. Caitlin would’ve spelled it out for me or something, and then what? I’d have to tell her that I can’t copy things down like that.”

“Eddie, you had an hour, she could’ve sent someone over here. She could’ve just told you to wait for me. I got here in time, didn’t I? You weren’t even feeling the effects of the dust yet.”

“It was anticlimactic dust.”

Barry snorts with surprised laughter, and Eddie appreciates that he doesn’t ask where Eddie learned a word like ‘anticlimactic’. “But seriously, Eddie, there’s nothing wrong with saying you can’t understand something and you need help.”

“It is when what you need help with is reading, Barry.”

“You’re dyslexic,” Barry says tentatively.

Eddie shrugs listlessly. “I am.”

“That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you should’ve told us. You almost died because we didn’t know you can’t always read labels.”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

“You’re really lying.”

“I really am,” Eddie agrees, a hysterical laugh bubbling in his chest, but he covers his mouth with his hands to muffle it, and then he forgets, again, that he’s not the kind of guy who cries.

“Aw,” Barry murmurs, rubbing Eddie’s back a little awkwardly. “It’s not a big deal.”

That just makes Eddie start laughing again, rocking back and forth, agitated, because he has no idea what’s going to happen now. He’s tired and he's confused and he’s stressed and he shot a guy and then he almost died and his secret’s not a secret anymore and he’s gonna regret that tomorrow and the friend who’s probably in love with Eddie’s girlfriend is trying to comfort him. 

This is absurd.

“What the hell happened, partner? What did you do?”

Joe.

Eddie curls further into himself, still rocking, still sobbing and laughing at the same time. This is embarrassing. Everyone’s here. Is everyone here?

Eddie looks up briefly. Caitlin, Cisco, Iris, Joe, Barry.

Everyone’s here.

Eddie ducks his head again, trying to hide his face. He must look awful. 

“Babe,” Iris says, and she kneels next to him, replacing Barry when he scoots away. “Let’s go to my dad and Barry’s place, okay? We can all go.”

Eddie says, “You were right.”

“You’ll have to be more specific. I’m right about a lot of things,” Iris jokes halfheartedly. 

“I’ve been hiding something. For a long time. I just…it just started getting harder and now I almost died because of it and I don’t…I don’t want…I don’t want Keystone to happen again…I wanted to hide it forever but then I just ended up lying, and I’ve been lying for such a long time, Iris, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, please don't leave.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I couldn’t read the label,” Eddie whispers.

“The label?”

“On the antidote. I almost died because I couldn’t read the label. I’m not a strong reader, I’ve never been, I can read, but I’m not, I’m not good at it. I just didn’t want you guys to know I’m stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.”

Eddie laughs wetly. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“You’re not.”

“Okay,” Eddie says to pacify her.

“...Let’s go, babe. You’re tired.”

He is.

He’s so tired that when he wakes up in Iris’s old room he has absolutely no idea how he got there.

He sits up, rubbing at his eyes and looking at Iris’s old digital clock, trying to figure out exactly what the hell is happening. For a brief moment, he wonders if he dreamt that his secret came out, but that hope is crushed when he feels his leg throbbing around the place where Barry injected him with the antidote. Still, Eddie’s not sure how upset he should be, because the thing is—no one laughed at him or acted like he was an idiot. Barry was just worried about him, so worried that it was kind of surprising. Iris was worried too, and she said he wasn’t stupid. 

That was nice of her. 

“Glad to see you up, partner,” Joe says, and Eddie lets out a startled yelp. 

Joe’s in a chair next to the bed, reading something next to a lamp’s soft light. It’s the only light in the room that isn’t the moon. 

“It’s dark out,” Eddie says.

“Sharp eyes, Detective Thawne. Yeah, you've been asleep for seventeen hours.”

“Seventeen?”

“Yup.”

“What about work?”

“You called in sick.”

“I did?”

“Well, Iris called in sick for you. To be fair, you did almost die.”

“But it wasn’t really like that.”

“Way Barry and Caitlin made it sound, you were pretty close to the end for a while there.”

“Maybe.”

“Mhm,” Joe says.

“I didn’t cheat on the reading portion of the force’s entrance exam, and I didn’t sleep with anyone to make detective,” Eddie blurts out.

Joe looks vaguely shocked. “Didn’t think you did, partner.”

“I didn’t do that well on the reading portion, but I managed it. And I got to detective through my own merit.”

“Eddie, not for one second did I ever think you slept your way to detective, and I know you ain’t a cheater.”

“I just wanted to clarify.”

“Okay, sure.”

Eddie sighs. “I was hoping to keep it a secret forever.”

“Yeah, at the end there that seemed likely.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“One hundred percent. You were falling to pieces there. No one knew what to do with you. And it was about being dyslexic?”

“Yeah.”

“Eddie, there’s nothing wrong with that, no matter what you may have heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot.”

Eddie tactfully doesn’t respond.

“There is something wrong with putting your life in danger because you don’t want to tell us you’re dyslexic.”

Eddie feels a pang of guilt at that. “I didn’t want you guys to be mad at me.”

“No one’s mad at you for keeping it a secret. You had your reasons. But there’s a moment when a secret can’t be a secret anymore, and that’s when it’s dangerous.”

“I just didn’t think about that.”

“What did you think about?”

“How awful it would be if my…reading problems ruined my life again.

“Again?”

“I left Keystone because the other people at my department found out I’m…you know.”

“Seriously?”

“It was the last straw, I guess. I realized that Keystone was never the place for me, and that just cinched it.”

“What did?”

“I was at a crime scene, and the killer, he left these books open to a passage he underlined. This was the third murder, so I was excited, and I made the stupid mistake of mentioning that I’d found it. My partner, Detective Warren, didn’t like me much. I think he was jealous, which is funny, and he wanted to humiliate me. He told me to read the passage out loud, and I felt trapped, so I did. I mean, I tried to. I didn’t get through it.”

“What was the book?”

Crime and Punishment.

“Ouch.”

“I know, right? Anyway, it was hands-down the most humiliating experience of my life, just years of bullying and trying to read like a normal person and general disappointment all in one moment. By the next day, everyone knew, and I decided I couldn’t deal with Keystone anymore, because I hated it and it hated me. So I asked for a transfer.”

“And here you are.”

“Here I am.”

“Your partner was an asshole.”

“He really kind of was.”

“I’m glad you ended up in Central City.”

“Me too.”

“If you need help with reading, we will help. We’re your friends.”

“I just didn’t want anyone to know because I thought…I thought no one would like me anymore. Everyone’s so smart here.”

“Eddie, you’re smart in your own way. You don’t have to be good at reading to be smart. And you’re one of the best people I know.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, laughing a little bitterly, “I’m not very bright, but I’ve got a great personality.”

“And if you do? If you’re more kindness and competence and bravery than brains, is that really a bad thing?”

“Not when you put it like that.”

“And I say it like it is.”

Eddie looks down, picking at one of the embroidered flowers on Iris’s old comforter. “I really hope so.”

“Hey, I know Caitlin and Cisco are still with you, they’re still your friends. Barry is still with you. Iris is still with you. I’m still with you. We’re all willing to help, and we’d rather know about your issues than be in the dark. You do your best to help us, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“We all know how secrets are, around here. They’re no help to anyone. It’s better that this is out in the open now.”

“This doesn’t feel real.”

“Why, did you expect something different when we found out? What? Cruelty? Abandonment? General bullshit? I hate to say it, partner, but we’re just not like that.”

Eddie smiles. “I know. I do.”

+

Eddie pretty sure he’s never gone to a used bookstore. Actually, he can't remember the last time he was in a bookstore at all. 

But Caitlin had insisted that he come with her to a used bookstore that she apparently thought was amazing, and he agreed because she said they’d also get ice cream and he’s easy to persuade. 

It’s a small, cozy place, and Eddie wanders around, wondering what he’s supposed to do in here, flipping through books with interesting covers. 

“Found anything?” Caitlin asks, walking up to him with several books cradled in her arms. 

“Definitely not as much as you have.”

“You know, there’s good stuff here. The children’s section is fantastic.”

Eddie grimaces. “I’m not a kid.”

“Trust me, I know. But there are books that are technically written for kids that adults can like too. You know that.”

“I just…I feel silly going into the children’s section to find a book to read. It’s why I’ve been letting Barry and Iris pick everything out for me.”

“It’s not silly, and this isn’t for improving your reading. It’s purely for fun, as easy or as hard as you want.”

Eddie sighs. “Fine.”

Caitlin smiles, pulling him towards the pretty impressive children’s section.

There’s an employee there reshelving books, an older lady with brown hair and a lot of laugh lines, and Eddie immediately makes up a cover story for why he’s here: he and Caitlin are married and picking out a book for their children.

“Hello, is there something I can help you with?” the lady asks.

Eddie really wants to say, “Yes, is there anything here for a third grader who reads at a fifth grade level? Our son is very precocious.”

Instead, he says, “I’m wondering if you know about any children’s books that an adult might like too?”

“Of course. Anyone in mind?”

Eddie tries his best to smile. He’s fine. Caitlin’s next to him. Her presence feels like a dare. “Me, actually. I’m trying to find something at my level that won’t bore me out of my mind. I’m, um,” and at that moment he almost loses his nerve, but then he says it anyway, “I’m dyslexic.”

Oh, alright! Let’s see, I know a very good series…”

The employee bustles over to another part of the children’s section, and Eddie feels kind of like he just made an arrest. That is, he feels good.

Caitlin smiles at him. “See? Not the end of the world.”

Not the end of the world at all.