“Dad, you can’t stay here forever,” Jesse leaned over the back of the couch, the long brush of her hair swaying against his cheek. His laptop was hot on his thighs, the model failing over and over on the screen.
“Two months isn’t forever,” he took off his glasses to sweep a hand over his eyes. “I don’t want to-”
“Leave me alone. I get it. But you have those two hunks of beef watching over me, not to mention three independent security systems.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what?” she sighed, breath ruffling the close air. “Because you’re starting to freak me out.”
The what was difficult. This world, his world, his Earth One, no longer fit properly. He had never once relaxed in that other world, never taken in an easy breath or slept deeply. Coming home was supposed to loosen him back into the shape he knew how to fill. Instead, everything was subtly distorted. A fun house mirror of reality.
“I don’t know,” he closed the laptop and set it aside. She came around to sit beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder until he put his arm around her. “Do you remember getting lost? You were about six-”
“Yeah,” she coughed out a laugh. “You had that long grey coat back then and I got distracted and started following a guy with one just like it. That lady that found me gave me a caramel and it got stuck in my teeth.”
She remembered sweetness and the kindness of a stranger.
“Sometimes, you discover things about yourself that you’d rather not know,” he kissed the crown of her head.
“If you’re guilty, then you need to find a way to fix it. There’s a company to run, Dad. People that depend on you. More than just me.”
“You’re never ‘just’ anything, Jesse.”
She was a smart girl though. Smarter than him in so many ways. He did go back to work a few days later. It was easy to bury himself in the day to day push pull of paperwork and projects. Meeting after meeting with concerned shareholders and harried department heads.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Wells,” Shana handed over her resignation. “I put it off as long as I could, but I’ve been ready to retire for a long time.”
Shana had been with him for fifteen years. His assistant in nearly every project, wizard with diplomatic redirections of staff and a knack for knowing when he needed someone to prod him forward. Without her, the office rang empty and colder.
Guilt sloshed loose and unwanted in his gut. There were many things that he could never repent of because he did not regret them. But there were ways to make amends. If not there, then here. The research he farmed out to trustworthy investigators. They returned a few piles of papers, mostly good news.
Here was Barry in a graduation gown, hemmed in by his mother and father smiling along with him. Iris in the next folder in the same pose, same gown with Joe at her side. In both, their wedding photo with all three parents dotting the background and the happy couple in posed serenity. She was still a reporter, byline starting to pepper local papers, but Barry was a high school chemistry teacher.
Dr. Snow had jumped fields to orthopedic surgery. Pressed white coat immaculate, her hair sheared short and the furrow of her brow captured her in one neat square. Naturally, she was one of the best in her field, pioneering a new technique in knee replacements that cut recovery time in half. The ring on her finger said married, paperwork filed with another name that he didn’t recognize. The bump he could faintly make out in the last surveillance picture suggested a child on the way.
They didn’t need him. Any interference would only draw unwanted attention. He set their folders aside.
To the only one that really mattered. He had worked hard not to grow attached to anyone there. With his focus narrowed, he had found the best way to become a sort of mental speedster was to block out the petty dramas of the lives unfolding around him. They had allowed it.
He opened his last folder.
Cisco Ramon looked back at him, unsmiling.
“Hello, Mr. Ramon.”
Dr. Ramon. Apparently here, Cisco had completed his dissertation in near record time. It was hard to tell why, what had tipped the scales. Harrison hadn’t bothered much with questions or small talk. Or anything like civility. He had no idea what Cisco's life had been like and only a vague idea of what made him tick. A forgivable oversight at the time. An annoyance now.
Cisco’s picture judged him silently until Harrison flipped it over to paged through to the rest of the provided information. Nothing surprising leaped out. Marked as bright, but spacey from a young age, Cisco had skipped grades and been blessed with a dozen scholarships. Mechanical engineering was still his focus, but the other interests cropped with a double masters degree in computer science.
Out of sheer curiosity, Harrison looked up the dissertation. He could barely imagine Cisco focusing on the written word long enough to compose a tweet, let alone the four hundred page pdf that cropped up upon further inspection.
Development and Validation of a Model for the Practical Application of Plasma Powered Thrust with Phalanges as Guidance System was dense with blueprints, illustrations and eventually photos of a working prototype in various stages of build. The text was the driest thing he’d ever read. Entire passages were deliberately heavily coded in academic dribble to the point of near meaninglessness. For every elegant circuit diagram, there were ten pages of SAT words and run on sentences.
It was a masterpiece.
And Cisco was working as an adjunct at a community college. Harrison had to go back and read that a few times to absorb it. The investigator had included a clipping that indicated that Ramon had uncovered malfeasance on the part of the Dean of Students during his graduate work that had resulted in a massive fines on the college as well as an arrest of the Dean. Cisco was lauded, quietly graduated and then sidelined away from any academic job he might’ve been interested in.
“Shana?” He called out, only to remember she wasn’t there for the third time that day. “Damnit.”
He called down to Human Resources himself.
“Human Resources, this is Vivian speaking.”
“I have a request.”
“Dr. Wells?” Vivian answered, shock in her tone. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” he leaned back in his chair and looked out over the jagged teeth of Central City’s skyline. “I need to know if a person of interest ever applied to work for the labs.”
“Sure thing, what’s the name?” He spelled it carefully for her, listened to her fingers dance over keys. “Yes. He applied for a spot in R and D...four years ago. His C.V. was strong, but it didn’t make it into the first round of interviews?”
“Um,” she tapped again, “huh. Security clearance issue. We had government contracts at the time and they redflagged him.”
“Why?” He asked, more sharply this time.
“It doesn’t say, sir. There were a lot of candidates who received similar-”
“Fine,” he hung up on her and turned his attention back to the photo. Working with Cisco had been torture. A child in a man’s body with more pop references than sense, Cisco had grated over his nerves and taken a specific delight in tormenting him. But when they had stripped back the social niceties, the intricate working of Cisco’s brain had been a sheer delight to run beside.
This Dr. Ramon had no reason to hate Harrison. No history of murder, betrayal and paternal intensity.
Penance could benefit the penitent, couldn’t it?
He called Vivian back.
“Sir?” she sounded slightly exasperated.
“I want Shana’s job posted with the following keywords added: innovator, enjoys collaboration, and no security clearances required.”
“Yes, sir,” she cleared her throat, “should I post it broadly or just to the Star City Community College job boards?”
“No one likes a smart ass, Vivian.”
“Maybe put it on one or two sites for veracity.”
“Of course, sir.”
The silence hung in the air until he grudgingly muttered, “Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome, sir.”
The interview process at Star Labs was rigorous and multi-tiered. Harrison rarely took personal interest. The H.R. team and department heads were on there own. Yet, no one looked even slightly surprised when he walked into the middle of Dr. Ramon’s interview and sat down beside Dr. Macey. Apparently Vivian had been talking.
“And of course you know, Dr. Wells by reputation.” Macey waved at him.
“Yes.” The man across the table was undoubtedly not the Cisco Ramon of the other reality. Dr. Ramon was wearing a suit though it was a cheap, ill fitting affair. His hair was longer and pulled back tightly into a ponytail. That was aesthetic, the niceties of an interview. The hunger thought. That was new. Both literal in the tautness of skin over wristbone and figurative in the sweep of his eyes over Harrison’s face. This Cisco didn’t want this job. He needed it.
“We were going over Dr. Ramon’s work history-”
“I read your dissertation,” Harrison interrupted, leaning in.
Cisco laughed. His entire face changed shape, a hint of the boy that Harrison had met elsewhere. The eyes lost their intent for a fraction of a second, revealing something softer and kinder. Then the reality of the situation set back in and he froze.
“Sorry, I just-- no one read it. I don’t think I even read it as I was writing it-”
“You graduated from a very good school with a dissertation on the theory of how Ironman’s armor worked.”
Silence settled in.
“With all due respect sir,” Cisco eventually ventured, “it wasn’t a theory. I created a working model.”
“Do you still have it?”
Dr. Macey coughed hoarsely. Harrison ignored him.
“Um,” Cisco looked around the table, but only Harrison was making eye contact now. “Yes?”
“I want to see it.”
Cisco ducked down under the table, reappearing with a battered backpack covered in patches. Harrison worked hard to repress a grin as Dr. Macey’s mouth dropped open. The bag divulged wrappers, a set of bucky balls and a flurry of comic books. At last, a sleek shimmering glove emerged.
“You might not want me to start it up in here,” Cisco said mildly.
They went out to the back parking lot. The others chattering and picking up onlookers as they went. Harrison led the way, conscious of Cisco at his back like an itch under his skin. Behind the lines of practical hybrids was a wide patch of careful corporate forestry.
“Show us what you’ve got, Dr. Ramon.”
“Yippie kie yo, ki yay,” Cisco already had the glove on and his palm went flat.
The resulting explosion was focused, intense and pushed Cisco backward seven or eight feet. It was only the man’s braced stance and sheer bravado that kept him from falling over.
“I see,” Harrison looked at the smoking tree line.
“There wasn’t enough grant money to do the whole suit, but I’ve got some steel boots at home that help with the blowback,” Cisco calmly took the glove off.
Half the staff of Star Labs was out in the lot by that point. A ragged cheer went up.
“You start on Monday,” Harrison turned on his heel. “Don’t bother showing up before ten and don’t expect me until noon. Plan on late nights. Dress code is I don’t give two shits. I take my coffee with one sugar. You can work out the rest with Vivian.”
He could just make out a half-formed question from Cisco under the buzz of conversation, but he ignored it. There was more than enough to do without being bothered today with the bombardment of questions that were soon to rain down on him from those familiar lips.
On Monday, he took his time showering and flicked through the latest Iris West byline before he consented that the inevitable by definition eventually had to come. Jesse emerged from her room as he resigned himself.
“I’m coming with you today,” she declared. “Beefcake one and two are already briefed.”
“They have names, Jesse.”
“What are they?” She challenged and grinned when he shrugged. “Theo and Mark. In case someone else asks you.”
“Which one is which?” he wrinkled his nose at her.
“No idea. They both answer to both.”
They were halfway to the car before he thought to ask,
“Why are you coming with me?”
“Cause I want to see this kid that you hired.”
“Why?” he’d mentioned Cisco to her only briefly.
“Because Viv says you think he’s the greatest thing since particle accelerators.”
“Vivian Johnson. My best friend? That you hired because you’re a big softie with a heart of gold?”
“Right. Of course.” No wonder the brat gossiped. He remembered her now, freckle faced and sharing Jesse’s ice cream.
“Anyway, she told me you targeted him. And since the last person you handpicked to work for you got the Nobel Prize, I figure I might as well meet the rising star.”
“He’s an assistant. Don’t encourage him.”
“Dad, I could become his personal cheerleader and it wouldn’t counter your effect on employees.”
“You say the nicest things, sweetheart.”
“Guess it’s the way I was raised!” She said brightly.
He laughed and rolled the windows down. His daughter was alive. She was together enough to pick on him. It was a good start to the day.
The vast glass nest of his lab had been colonized by the time he swept in. Shana’s old desk, once a bastion of organization, was already littered with stacks of paper, two unframed photos taped to the hard drive and an array of tools lined up neatly. The thick smell of well brewed coffee permeated the air.
Square in the center of Harrison’s desk was an elegant thermos. Cisco emerged from the storage room, ticking off something on a tablet. His hair was still pulled fiercely back, but the suit had been banished. Grey slacks and soft old button down hung open over a v-neck shirt. The bare suggestion of a tattoo curled softly over the neckline.
“You must be Dr. Ramon,” Jesse kept her hands tucked to her sides. She didn’t touch much these days. “I’m Dr. Wells’ daughter. You can call me Jesse if I can call you, Cisco.”
They both turned to look at him.
“One of you can call me Dad and the other Dr. Wells. I’ll let you two sort out which is which.”
Cisco smiled, a faint suggestion of the one that Harrison was familiar with. He had a hunch that the other Cisco’s smile would not rise so easily to these lips, no matter how genetically identical.
“What’s in the thermos?” He asked, switching gears before Jesse could fully breakdown any formal barriers that Harrison might be able to keep erected.
“Coffee,” Cisco shrugged. “Didn’t know when you were coming in.”
“You don’t have to make him coffee,” Jesse laughed. “Really, Dad! Shana would’ve bitten you if you asked her.”
“I pay him. I get coffee. Them’s the rules. Speaking of, don’t you have work or something to do somewhere?”
“Yes, boss,” she snapped a salute. There was a desk with some things on it for her, somewhere in the building. No one really expected her to do much, but it was a place to be. A safe place until she decided what to do next.
Once she was gone, Harrison turned his full attention on Cisco. Cisco returned his look, face neutral and no trace of tension in his body.
“What were you working on before you took the job?” He asked when it became clear that Cisco was willing to wait him out.
“I was teaching half-asleep undergraduates.”
“And at home?”
“Well...” Cisco rocked back on his heels.
The battered backpack disgorged an intricate set of interlocking circuits that proved to be the guts of a focused heat ray ‘for instant noodles’.
“You made this instead of boiling water?”
“I made this to boil water,” Cisco corrected. “instantly. Without damaging the pasta. There’s chemicals that will do it in pouches and the like, so it might not be patentable-”
“Patents are for the lawyers to worry about. What else?”
It was as if Harrison’s attention had turned the sun on a flower lingering in the dark. The more he asked, the more Cisco talked and shed whatever conception of professionalism he had been using as a shield.. He got progressively more excited, produced notebooks and flash drives filled with ideas, voice spiraling away from sober deep tones to nearly manic chatter. Many of the ideas were sheer nonsense, but they were...well. A beautiful kind of nonsense.
“This is gorgeous,” Harrison fanned out the schematics. “Impossible though.”
“That’s what I thought,” a pen was shoved behind Cisco’s ear and his eyes were bright. “Want to see why we’re both wrong?”
The automatic lights triggered at some point startling them both into blinking owls, but otherwise they paid no mind to the clock. The schematics had drifted off their desks and onto the floor. Markers had made an appearance and Cisco took only friendly issue with his precious blueprints suffering the marring of bold red correction.
“I used to read your articles,” Cisco admitted as Harrison scrawled notations in the margins.
“Especially the rebuttals.”
“Used to?” He asked without intent, but Cisco flushed and looked away.
“Well, you haven’t published anything this year. And the last one...”
“Yes, even I admit it as a tad theatrical.”
“Dude, you were like one hearty laugh away from a Bond villain,” Cisco shook his head.
“I’m not a villain,” he growled.
“Noted,” Cisco’s eyebrows flew up.
“What are you doing?” Jesse was leaning in the doorway, a grin on her face that he hadn’t seen in far too long.
“Working,” he said dryly.
“Possibly inventing a compact nuclear reactor,” reaching out, Cisco tilted a diagram to the right, “or a really really effective washing machine. There might be a cycle that separates the whites and darks for you.”
“Wow,” Jesse squatted down to look over the paper. “I’m a little afraid to ask why you’d think that was necessary.”
“A compact nuclear reactor would-” Harrison started.
“Dad. Seriously. How long does it take to separate clothes...actually, scratch that. When was the last time you had any whites to wash? You started doing the Steve Jobs thing like a decade ago.”
“Jobs?” Cisco started gathering papers together, careful about their order, less so about their state of unwrinkeledness.
“Yeah, you know, the wear the same thing every day so that you don’t waste precious mental power choosing things.”
“I did it before Jobs,” he muttered because that was his line.
“I think the scoop neck over the turtleneck was a bold choice, sir,” Cisco offered.
“Suck up,” Jesse laughed.
“Every time,” Cisco agreed.
“Anyway, I came to see if you wanted dinner before I went home.”
“Sure,” Harrison got up, wincing as his left knee unbent only reluctantly.
“Time for me to clock out then,” reaching for his coat, Cisco never saw Jesse coming. She tugged it out of his hand and pointed at his chair.
“Sit.” Cisco sat. “If you’re here, then you have to learn how to feed him.”
“I can feed my-”
“Here’s Shana’s binder,” Jesse whisked it out of a drawer and sat it before Cisco. “In here is a comprhensive list of every place that will deliver or has pick up near the labs. You only need it after five o’clock. Before that just call down to the cafeteria and they’ll send you stuff up. After five, call down to security. Most of them like having an excuse to get away from the building and they know to add on their own orders if they want. The company pays for it. Don’t even think of whipping out your wallet.
“This menus are marked. Dad is never actually hungry and he’s allergic to the world. Mom...” her voice caught then plowed on. “Mom used to say that his guts were mostly ornamental.”
“Jesse, I am still in the room.”
“You hover, I get to hover.”
“I’m the parent here.”
“I know, Daddy.” Then she went back to showing Cisco Shana’s marking system and Harrison resigned himself to her doing what she thought was best.
To block out the conversation, he turned his attention back to his desk. The thermos of coffee still sat there, untouched. It was an elegant looking thing and he wasn’t surprised that it was still warm to the touch. There was an engraving in the front, block letters that must’ve been done with the deft touch of an a diamond tipped tool.
Dr. H. Wells. it said on the front and on the back, From his newest and best minion.
The coffee inside was only passable, if still gloriously hot.
Uneasily, it dawned on Harrison that he may have bitten off slightly more than he could chew. He turned to find Cisco looking over the binder alone.
“Where’s Jesse?” He demanded, panic rising insensibly.
“She went to the bathroom,” Cisco didn’t seem to notice his tone. “Is pizza without cheese still pizza?”
“I’ve asked that question. Jesse tells me it is.”
“I think she’s lying to you. Can’t you just take a Lactaid? A world without cheese is no place to live.”
“I get by without it.”
“She ordered you garlic knots and steamed broccoli,” a wrinkle formed over the bridge of Cisco’s nose. “That sounds like a punishment, not dinner.”
“Trips to the ER with an Epi pen still hanging out of my arm is a punishment.”
“I thought those were for bee stings.”
“And food allergies.”
“Should I not be eating around you?” Cisco looked at the red tick marks in the binder. “Cause that’s a lot of marks.”
“I’m fine unless I ingest too much. Except for shellfish. Wash everything it touches.”
“So shellfish and...”
“Any kind of tree nut. Eggs. Soy. And I’m lactose intolerant.”
“So you’re not thin because of the absent minded professor thing?”
“Do I look absent minded?” Harrison challenged.
“No, sir,” Cisco looked down and away. Harrison swallowed back an apology. Either Cisco would learn how to stick up for himself or he wouldn’t. The other one hadn’t had much of an issue with it.
If no one ever called him Harry again it would be too soon.
They ate dinner with Jesse filling the silences. She’d adopted a pressurized way of speaking that made his bones ache with regrets. At home, she kept the television on in her room even when she wasn’t in it, the ceaseless chatter a blockade to whatever demons she kept at bay.
She finally engaged Cisco into a quote off from Monty Python. They were both frighteningly line perfect for the entirety of Holy Grail. Harrison retreated to his desk and the work he had meant to give his attention to that day.
“Love you,” Jesse brushed a kiss over his cheek, startling him away from the keyboard.
“Love you too, sweetheart.”
Then she was gone and he had to fight the urge to get up and follow. She had minders, a thousand and one cameras that she didn’t know about pointed at her every step of her way home. If anything, she was the safest person in Central City. It was the smallest of comforts.
“She’s pretty awesome,” Cisco said casually, picking paper off the floor. “I heard about- well. What was in the papers anyway. She’s a fighter, huh?”
“A survivor,” Harrison corrected. “Which is better.”
“Yeah,” Cisco said faintly. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“I’ve emailed you the project we should actually be concentrating on. It’s not particularly challenging, but it falls in line with our current product line.”
“Metahuman stuff?” The casualness of the question was entirely feigned, but Harrison let it go.
“Yes. The detection applications have been adopted by the police and they’ve found more than a few kinks including false positives for certain genetic diseases. There’s an attachment to the third email that can only be read in the lab. It won’t open on your home computer.”
“Security measure, got you.”
“Dr. Ramon,” Harrison turned in the chair to face him. “You understand me when I say it won’t open on your home computer?”
“Proprietary software, I get it.”
“It will not be opened.”
For a long beat, Cisco didn’t look at him. When he did look up, it was with his mouth in a firm line.
“Good. I don’t need any cats dead of curiosity in my lab.”
“Satisfaction tends to bring ‘em back, sir. Just saying.”
Files duly opened, their conversation picked up again. It wasn’t until Cisco yawned hard enough that his jaw cracked that Harrison decided the work day was over.
“Get out of my lab, Dr. Ramon,” he turned to shut down his station, keying in the dozen or so codes that would keep it safe for his return.
“It’s 3AM. Time for all new minions to clock out.”
“Shit!” Cisco jumped out of his chair. “I mean, sorry! But...shit. The last bus is at midnight, right?”
“No idea.” The last time Harrison had taken a Central City bus, Jesse had been a gleam in his eye.
“Great. Well. Walking is good. The Dorchester line is still running...” Cisco was pulling up subway maps and Harrison suppressed a groan.
“Fine. Get your bag. I’ll drive you home.”
“No, no, no,” Cisco held up his hands. “Really. No. That’s like...I’m not the babysitter.”
“It’s just weird. You’re my boss and unless you’re a babysitter, your a boss doesn’t drive you home.”
“I’d be a shitty boss if I let you wander out of here in the wee hours wearing an outfit that screams ‘mug me’.”
“I do not scream mug me,” Cisco protested. “I took a judo class once.”
“It’s not a judgement. Most people would consider me an easy target. I’d rather neither of us found out if I’m right.”
Reluctantly, Cisco followed him out making half-hearted protests as the lights turned off behind him. The parking lot was empty, except for a few security guards personal vehicles and his own car sitting near the entrance. He fished out his keys, waiting for the penny to drop.
“Is that a Tesla?” Cisco asked hoarsely.
“Is that...is that your Tesla?”
“You can drive me home every night, sir.”
“I don’t think so.”
The car set Cisco into paroxysms of joy. Harrison didn’t really care much about cars, but he knew Elon for a long time back. The car was payment for services rendered, something he normally didn’t mention. It had been a bit of a backdoor bit of engineering.
Harrison found himself in the middle of the story, before he was aware of his intent. Cisco listened with the buzz of attentiveness he brought to everything. He intercepted directions occasionally, near missing a few times and once forcing them to circle back. The minutes weren’t wasted, meandering around the sleeping city. Cisco looked good curled in the shadows, face illuminated in flashes.
“...and then there was a car,” Harrison finished.
“That’s unbelievable. You don’t live in the real world.”
“We,” Harrison corrected. “Nor should we. Theory requires a different mindset than the weight of reality.”
“That sounds like a quote. You can pull up there,” Cisco gestured at a ramshackle building that seemed to lean against the one beside it.
“My mentor at Columbia.”
“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination,” Cisco countered. “One of my mentors: John Lennon.”
“You really better be joking right now.”
Harrison looked at him blankly. Cisco blinked very slowly.
“I’m going to get out of this awesome care and go back to my very much not awesome apartment and tomorrow when I get to work, my boss is going to know who the lead singer of the Beatles is because otherwise reality is definitely in question.”
“Good night, Dr. Ramon,” Harrison waved a hand at him dismissively.
“Good night, Dr.Wells.”
There was a pause and in it, for a fraction of a moment, Harrison wondered about babysitters and late night drives and the way streetlights could slide through glass to play tricks on dark hair. Then the door was open and closed.
Harrison drove Cisco home every night that week. Midnight just kept disappearing somehow, slippery as logic.
“No, no, no, I forbid it!”
“Aw, but it sounds fun!”
Harrison paused as he reached the living room, the patter of voices taking him off guard. Since her return, Jesse had treated the house as her safe space. Even the bodyguards were kept strictly to the outer reaches. He’d been out walking, circling and circling through the woods on their property. It was the best way to keep his head clear on his days off.
“There is nothing fun about acting classes. They are literally designed to humiliate people.”
“You are wrong in so many ways.”
“I happen to agree with him,” Harrison stepped into the room, absurdly pleased that they both jumped like giddy kids at a sleepover. They were sitting on the couch, far enough apart that the threat of...whatever receded from Harrison’s veins. The laptop was open, a catalog beside that.
“You’re both ridiculous,” she ran her fingers nervously over the keys. “Cisco offered to help me re-enroll. Did you know he used to do guidance stuff for his students?”
“Casual advice, I said,” Cisco glanced up at him. “I told her that you’d be sick of me after the week, but-”
“It’s fine,” he would have been glad to see the Devil himself if it meant Jesse would think about restarting her life. Keeping her safe until she died of old age was tempting in a sick way, but he hadn’t done what needed to be done to save her for that. “Jesse already makes too much food for brunch anyway.”
“It’s like three in the afternoon,” Cisco pointed out.
“Do you hate bacon?” Jesse challenged.
“In high school, Jesse never got up in time for brunch, so she decided it should just take place later in the day,” Harrison shrugged. “I told her if she made it, she could eat it whenever she wanted.”
“Numbering among one of Dad’s dumber decisions.”
“It took a while for pancake mastery,” he gave her a tight smile. “But practice and perfection and such.”
“I do okay on a waffle maker,” Cisco offered.
The scene was bizarre. The kitchen had been his wife’s domain for a long time, decorated to her liking with sea green paint and mosaic tiles. For a few years after her death, it had laid fallow. A place that he and Jesse visited on cat’s feet for cold leftovers and soda. Slowly, brunch first, Jesse had taken it over. Neither she nor her mother had loved cooking, but they liked the gathering at the table. Over time, he had learn to bow to both of them in the matter.
This was the first time in a decade that another person had hemmed in next to Jesse, stirring and laughing and talking. Harrison sat down heavily at the table and watched them banter.
“Back me up, Dr. Wells,” Cisco pleaded. “Don’t let your little girl grow up to be a psychology major.”
“Why not?” He spun a fork slowly around, the light catching on the metal. “She spends enough time dissecting my head. Let her take on other people for a change.”
“That was weirdly supportive, thanks Daddy,” she rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I’d go into the research side. I think I’d like to look into PTSD recovery and there’s some really fascinating strides being made in that area.”
“Huh,” Cisco poured batter into a waffle maker that Harrison didn’t recall them owning. “Well, if it’s research...”
“Snob,” she flicked a blueberry at him which caught in his mouth.
It was as if they’d been at it a lifetime. Harrison stopped the fork’s rotation, pinning it to the surface with a sharp click. Their heads flew up in unison, accessing his face. Whatever they found, neither of them commented, but returned to their byplay.
“How long have you been working with me?” He interrupted.
“Three months, two weeks, five days and twenty-two hours. Ten minutes give or take.” Cisco said without missing a beat.
“Creepy,” Jesse laughed and handed him the strawberries to slice. “Dad, how long were you and Mom together?”
“Nineteen years, ten months, three weeks, six days, twenty-one minutes and seven or fifteen seconds depending on who you asked.”
“You’re doing the seconds to show off,” Cisco scoffed, but it was subdue.
“I have the dubious benefit of an obvious termination date,” he swallowed down the prickle of grief that never did quite fade away.
“They got married because they were both too stubborn to back down from a bet,” a wicked smile crossed Jesse’s lips and Harrison suppressed a groan.
“Say what now?”
“No, Jesse,” he said firmly with maybe the slightest hint of pleading.
“Yes, Jesse,” Cisco’s eyes gleamed.
“I’m off the clock. I think that means you are not currently the boss of me,” it ended a little high as if it might turn into a question.
“It’s my house. I believe that makes me entirely the boss of everyone in it.”
“But it’s a good story!” Jesse protested.
“I would like to retain a little dignity, daughter of mine.”
“Dad, if you were any more dignified, your face would freeze that way.”
He pushed his glasses up and off his nose, rubbing at the bridge. She apparently took that as permission, setting a cup of fruit salad in front of him before launching into the story. It really wasn’t that bad, it was more that she told it exactly as Theresa used to tell it. A favorite bedtime story with worn cadences. Jesse’s voice was higher and faster, but he could still hear Theresa in every syllable.
“So it wasn’t exactly how they met because Mom was the only woman in the doctoral program for Physics at Berkeley. So they knew each other by face and a conversation or two. All the guys in the program were either huge jerks to her or hit on her all the time, except Dad.”
“Because I’m a paragon of virtue,” he muttered. Actually, he’d been hungover for a lot of his first year having recently discovered that his extensive allergies did not extend to hard liquor. His full extent of knowing Theresa was a desperate plea for the aspirin he’d seen in her purse the week before. She had taken a mildly disgusted pity on him for which he’d thanked her profuesly.
“Anyway, they were both teaching a section of this 101 Physics class for their mentor, Dr. Doyle. He called them both into the office after midterms. Turned out they were tied for the highest failure rate. The words ‘uptight jackasses’ were used.”
“Ouch,” Cisco winced.
“They asked too many questions,” he speared a strawberry and bit into with a neat incision.
“Aaaaand that’s why Dad doesn’t get asked to guest lecture anymore,” Jesse rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Doyle told them they had to work together to make sure at least half the students passed both their classes. They wound up pulling an all nighter to redo their lesson plans. Mom said that she started to really like Dad after the fifth cup of coffee he made her and fell in love when he made her a mocha with hot chocolate mix at dawn.”
“My specialty,” he said dryly. Though it had been, in a way. It had been Theresa’s favorite drink for years after that.
“Then Mom made the fatal error of telling Dad that she would get a higher grade average on the final than him.”
“And Dad says:”
“Fine. If I pass more students than you have to marry me.”
“Holy shit! Way to go Dr. Wells.” Cisco laughed.
“There were a lot of men vying for her attention,” he shrugged. “I had to make an impression if I wanted to get an in.”
“And Mom agreed because she knew she could crush him and said if she won than they could go out on a date, but he had to wear a red F on his forehead the whole time.” Jesse petered out, staring into middle space. Whatever she was recalling, it had nothing to do with a quaint family story.
“So who won?” Cisco prompted.
“I did,” Harrison filled in smoothly.
“He cheated,” Jesse tuned back in with a shake of her head.
“I may have convinced a few of the real duds to drop the class,” he shrugged. “They wouldn’t’ve passed anyway. An incomplete was better for their G.P.A.. We got married by a justice of the peace on New Year’s Day. Theresa had divorce papers printed up from Day Two, but I kept putting her off from filing them.”
“They fell stupid in love,” Jess interpreted. “Mom burned the divorce papers on their third anniversary.”
“Not sure why you’d be embarrassed about that,” Cisco looked to his near empty plate. He had been the only one eating and he was clearly eyeing up seconds. “It’s pretty romantic.”
“It really wasn’t,” Harrison forked another waffle onto Cisco’s plate. Cisco glanced up at him and then his gaze skittered away.
After that Cisco appeared in the house on a semi-regular basis. There was no question of Jesse returning to dorm life, so it was good that Cisco could help her simulate it a little while she commuted. As far as Harrison could tell, Cisco had no personal life of his own to speak of, spending what little time not with a Wells catching up on sleep and getting free drinks at the Galactica Bar and Fun Center by fixing their vintage arcade games.
Instead, he seemed fine with becoming Jesse’s mentor-friend and Harrison’s full time assistant.
“Here,” Harrison pulled out a syringe from his back pocket one afternoon. They were outside, Cisco kneeling in the flower bed looking for a lost nanobot.
“Um?” Cisco started rolling up his sleeve. “Something I should know?”
“You’re too trusting,” Harrison reached out, palm lifted skyward. “Not your arm. I need your hand.”
“Oh. Can you do it without...” Cisco waggled his fingers at him.
“I have no idea what that means.”
“No skin contact.”
It occurred to Harrison that he had never once actually touched this Cisco. It wasn’t particularly notable. Aside from Jesse, Harrison couldn’t think of the last person he’d had contact with.
“I can get gloves.”
“Okay,” Cisco looked down and away. “It isn’t you.”
It took the walk back into the house to find gloves for it to occur to Harrison that Cisco hadn’t balked at the needle or even asked what was in it. Cisco trusted him with strange needles, but not to trust him bare skinned.
Fuck, sometimes Harrison was such an idiot that he imagined Theresa rising from the dead to lecture him. He left the gloves where they were and about faced back outside. Cisco had apparently given up on find the bot and instead sprawled out in the grass, a few layers stripped away to acknowledge the heat. The line of his biceps had been pulled taut as his arms stretched over his head. When Harrison got close, his shadow blanketed him.
“Dr. Wells,” Cisco mocked.
“I’m going to ask you something personal. The answer has no bearing on your employment or standing in my eyes, understood?”
“I’m bisexual,” Cisco threw one arm over his eyes. “But I thought you’d figured that out already.”
“Not what I was going to ask, but good to know.”
“Cisco,” Harrison sank to his knees, careful to keep an inch of grass between them. “Are you a metahuman?”
The sharp sucking break was all the answer he needed. A breeze picked up and carried dandelion seeds every which way, swirling around around Harrison’s head.
“It wasn’t the accelerator,” eyes screwed shut, Cisco gestured in the direction of the lab. “I’ve been this way for a long time. I was a kid. There was an accident. My brother was never the same and I’ve been....different since then.”
Divergence. The itch Harrison had tried not to examine had finally been scratched. This Cisco...no. His Cisco. His Cisco had begun younger, experienced something terrible that had changed his path. Was it in his DNA this ability, waiting for the triggering event?
“I see things. Ten, fifteen second snatches of the future. I’ve never been able to get control of it. It happens when it wants to as long as I’m touching something. Or someone,” Cisco’s hand clenched in the grass, breaking long strands away from the dirt.
“Sit up,” Harrison snapped. He tried not to relish the instant way, Cisco folded and catapulted himself upwards. He held his hand out flat again. “Give me your hand.”
“I’m a consenting adult. You spend practically every waking moment with me. Anything you see now, you’ll eventually see anyway. Give me your hand.”
“Dr. Ramon, do not make me ask a third time.”
“You’re not asking,” Cisco held out his hand and with obvious reluctance slid their palms together. It wasn’t the other Cisco’s shaky phase out. No, his Cisco went still as statue, pupils shrinking to pinpoints. The body had been left temporarily behind.
For Harrison, it was a warm palm pressed against his, their callouses catching together. It was watching Cisco return to himself with an abrupt shake, the instant blush that flushed deep across nose and cheeks. Eye contact made than shattered abruptly.
“What did you see?”
“Nothing important,” Cisco coughed.
“I see,”in one smooth movement, Harrison buried the needle into the meat of Cisco’s thumb.
“Fucking shit horsecock bitch!” The curses tumbled out in a screech.
“That microchip will give you full access to the house, except for Jesse’s rooms.”
“Warn a guy,” Cisco tutted, but the pleasure was obvious in his voice. “You gave me a house key.”
Harrison made to drop his hand, but Cisco’s fingers tightned around him.
“Just...don’t. For a minute. Just let me...”
So they sat in the grass holding hands like children. A single drop of blood welled up on Cisco’s thumb, spilling into the dirt.
“What you saw...was it something you wanted?”
“Yes. More than- Yeah. Yes.”
Harrison slid his grip around until his fingers could circle Cisco’s wrist. The pulse beat strong under his hold.
“You should know,” he said mildly. “that once I have something, I don’t let go.”
“Yeah,” Cisco smiled far too broadly. “I’m getting that.”
“It’s getting late,” he disentangled slowly, taking his time to drag his fingertips over soft skin. “Let me drive you home.”
“To the Fox Mobile!” Cisco clamored to his feet.
“Because of your nickname around the office.”
“Never mind!” Cisco took off running toward the house. “Forgot my jacket!”
“I’ll find out one way or another!”
The muscles in his face ached. Harrison reached up and found a smile spread obscenely broad on his lips. It had been five months, three weeks, three days and two hours. With a mental click, he reset the stopwatch. Everything was brand new all over again.
With a license to roam, Cisco turned his eye for detail on the house. It was subtle, pictures sitting at slightly different angle on the mantle, a chair not quite pushed back in, or a door left ajar. The house held few secrets and Harrison was content to let Cisco mark out the grounds, peppering Jesse with questions.
“I didn’t know you played the drums,” he dropped in during the the commercial break of Top Chef. Cisco was watching from a cushion on the floor, a spray of perfboards and LEDs in front of him.
“I don’t,” Jesse was tucked under a pile of blankets, a textbook buried somewhere in the layers.
“Then what’s with the sparkly fancy drum set in the rec room?”
Harrison mentally bookmarked his place in the Journal of Extraordinary Mundanities. He had been waiting for this particular penny drop for some time.
“You haven’t heard Dad doing one of his 3AM sessions yet?”
“No?” Cisco glanced over at Harrison. “Wait. You play the drums?”
“But you don’t know anything about music before the Civil War!”
“Don’t I?” Harrison frowned, pretending to make a notation in the Journal’s margins.
“Dad was in a punk band when he was a teenager. The Quantum Ducks.”
“Quark, quark,” he said dryly.
“No. No way,” Cisco pointed a soldering iron at him. “Have you been trolling me? I spent like a week putting together a playlist that covered every major movement in rock and roll for the last fifty years for you!”
“And it's a good playlist,” he placated. “Very diverse. Educational. Though I would argue that The Who should’ve been after The Clash. ”
“You didn’t know who John Lennon was!”
“Did I say that?” Harrison looked into middle space. “I don’t believe I said that.”
“You didn’t say, you inferred! You willfully inferred with intention to mislead,” Cisco was climbing to his feet now, barely avoiding crushing his project. “I cannot believe this.....this.....this....”
“Dad, what did you do?” Jesse hissed. “I think you broke him.”
“Assumptions are bad, daughter mine. Everyone has to learn that eventually.”
“Revenge!” Cisco pointed a soldering iron at Harrison. “There will be revenge.”
“I look forward to it,” Harrison said mildly.
“A punk band,” Cisco muttered. “A physics joke punk band.”
“They only sort of sucked,” Jesse said with more loyalty than he’d earned in that moment.
“I’ve never seen you listen to music!”
“You’ve never seen me sleeping, but you know that it happens,” Harrison pointed out. “Sometimes you have to look at the evidence of what isn’t there.”
“No, no, no. You do not get to use black hole logic on me. You are a troll, sir. My honor has been insulted and I demand satisfaction.”
“If you’re next line is ‘pistols at dawn’, I’ll remind you how well that ended for Hamilton. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints.”
“You did not just quote Lin-Manuel Miranda at me. That is some next level bullshit.”
Jesse was laughing into a pillow now, her face tomato red. One of the body guards peeked into the room, eyebrows raise and then ducked back out when he saw she wasn’t having the bad kind of hysterics.
As an act of placation, he let Cisco listen to the Quantum Ducks sole recorded musical track. It was strange to hear it after all that time, the staticy recording of voices he’d forgotten the sound of, including his own rising and falling in the background calling for another drink before they started.
“Wow,” Cisco listened with wide eyes. “Just....wow. You guys had an actual gig?”
“Several. The punk scene in Central City in ‘79 was thin at best. We did all right with the screaming and throwing beer bottles part. Johnny even developed a coke addiction for a few weeks.”
“You were like ten in 1977.”
“I was nearly 17 and everyone in the band thought I was twenty-one.”
“Rebellious,” Cisco laughed.
“I had my moments.”
If he emailed Cisco a picture when Jesse wasn’t paying attention then that was his business. Watching Cisco thumb it open, bottom lip dropping slightly open...well. That was just flattering. Nearly seventeen Harrison had been a mop of blue spiky hair slouching in a surplus army jacket with jeans ripped high on the thigh to show off an utter lack of underwear.
The tease was bliss.
In the three weeks since the Garden Incident, Harrison had been drinking in the sweetness of anticipation. It was his hand landing beside Cisco’s on a table, a fraction of a centimeter between them or leaning in close enough to catch the smell of his hair or driving him home without saying a word, silence spiraling between them. Suggestive phrases (not quite double entendres, nothing so crude as that) and lavish compliments that set Cisco glowing pink with pride and lust, stoked the fires when quiet wouldn’t do.
His phone vibrated in his pocket.
you look dangerous
The predatory smile was unstoppable. Cisco caught it and returned it with a glorious spread of teeth.
“I’m going to head to bed,” Jesse stretched, sliding out of her nest and taking her textbook with her. “Don’t stay up to late poking each other sticks. Night, Dad.”
Harrison returned his attention to his journal, pencil ticking down the lines. He heard the television flicker into silence and Cisco’s breath heavy in the air.
“Blue hair, huh?”
Harrison let his glasses slid down his nose so he could regard Cisco over them.
“Where?” Cisco’s hands tightened around the remote.
“Curiosity and cats, Dr. Ramon.”
“It’s worth the goddamn satisfaction,” turning on his heels, Cisco disappeared into the kitchen, taking most of the room’s warmth with him.
Another week, Harrison promised himself. A few more days at least to enjoy this. It would never come again, this first sweet prelude to the dozens of events he had hoped would follow. Another week.
But the beauty of the game was that there were two players and it was impossible to entirely predict another person. Hell, Harrison wasn’t sure he could reliably predict himself.
It was only two days later that Cisco made his final move in his usual graceful, unintentional way. Never one to waste hard work, Cisco had kept the playlist (their playlist) running onward. Songs ran like water through their workspace. Harrison hadn’t known that Cisco listened to it even when he wasn’t there.
Ten am on a Tuesday, hours too early for him, but sleep had been more elusive than usual and he thought slacking his thirst for Cisco’s company might ease the rough edge of insomnia. To hear the opening chords of Hotel California quickened his steps.
Cisco had his back to the door, leaning over a table. His hips were swaying, the slightest suggestion of dancing as the song warmed. The hem of his t-shirt rode up a perfect inch to display a bare inch of skin over the rise of his black jeans. Then his shoulders rolled back.
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair... spilled like honey into the room, taking hold of Cisco’s body. His hips twisted and his spine turned fluid. It was entirely unselfconscious and utterly, unspeakably erotic.
Harrison crossed the distance in three strides. His breath caressed the side of Cisco’s neck. Before surprise could stiffen him, Harrison drew him close. Their bodies crashed together, Cisco’s head tilted up in confusion.
“You have no idea,” Harrison murmured and pressed a kiss to the exposed line of Cisco’s neck. “How devastating you are.”
“Jesus fuck,” Cisco’s eyes stuttered closed and his body language flayed open, one hand reaching up to grab the back of Harrison’s neck. “Don’t think I’ve ever gone from fear to turned on that fast before.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he teased his fingers across the exposed sliver of Cisco’s stomach.
“Yeah, yeah...you should do that,” Cisco was visibly struggling to keep his cool. “You don’t play fair.”
“Nothing about this is going to be fair,” Harrison spread his hand wind, pinky grazing under Cisco’s waistband. “I’m twice your age. I’ve got more experience in all the ways that matter.”
“Shhh, listen,” Harrison popped the button on Cisco’s jeans, savored the sharp inhalation. His free hand pushed upwards, exploring the curve of ribs under butter soft skin. “It won’t be fair, Dr. Ramon because I’m older and wiser and bitter.
“And that means I’ll always be at a disadvantage,” he slipped Cisco’s zipper downward until he could cup the cotton boxers, the heat of Cisco’s erection filling his palm. “Because you...are so much better than I know how to be.”
“I don’t-” Cisco took in a stuttering breath. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re kinder, more thoughtful,” with every word of praise, he rubbed the pad of his thumb over the cloth covered head of Cisco’s cock, a jerk of the hips driving the round swell of Cisco’s ass into Harrison’s crotch, “smarter, stronger, and far far smarter.”
“Please-” the floor seemed to shift under them as if the earth itself was deigning to shift.
“Yes,” Harrison said indulgently, “go ahead. Come for me, Cisco.”
The low groan and the hard twist of Cisco’s hips tore a soft moan from Harrison’s lips and he had to rock forward to find balance for them both. Papers were flying every which way.
One of the computer monitors sparked, fizzed and erupted into flames.
“Damnit,” Cisco groaned. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Harrison reluctantly moved away to grab the fire extinguisher.
“Guess we both rocked each others worlds?”
White foam doused the monitor into a sullen smoke.
“Explain,” he demanded. Cisco was frowning at the mess of his pants and underwear.
“Sometimes the whole seeing the future thing isn’t enough for my fucked up DNA. It doesn’t happen often or anything. If I get excited...like say totally surprised into coming through my clothing like a teenager which thank you, by the way, from a very real and deep part of me. I thought I was going to die of sexual frustration-”
“Cisco,” he said once, calmly as he could.
“I can vibrate myself and everything around me,” he pressed his lips together, nerves showing now. “I didn’t tell you because it hasn’t happened in years. I didn’t think I could still do it to be honest. The mental thing was always more persistent-”
The kiss did wonders to return the previous energy to the room. There would be world enough and time to explore the nooks and crannies of Cisco’s DNA. Not today. Not now. Not when Cisco’s pants were threatening to sink to the ground and he smelled like hard work and lust. It was a good first kiss once Cisco got on board, long and thorough. As he pulled away, Harrison slid the tip of his tongue across Cisco’s bottom lip, testing a long held theory. It was immensely satisfying to watch Cisco shudder in renewed interest.
“I’m going to drive you home and you’re going to take me inside,” Harrison stared into Cisco’s eyes.
“Yeah,” Cisco choked. “Yeah that is definitely going to happen. My apartment is a hellhole filled with dirty laundry though.”
“Are the sheets clean?”
The ride to Cisco’s apartment was thick with the unspoken. Harrison kept his eyes on the road, forcing his attention to the practical task of keeping the car on the correct side of the road. He kept catching glances of Cisco, fidgeting and pulling discretely at his pants to keep the damp fabric from sticking to this skin.
A parking garage a block away provided temporary refuge for the Foxmobile (Harrison still had no idea where the name came from and he was damned if he was going to let that go). They walked in silence, Cisco having to practically jog to keep up with Harrison’s ground eating strides. Usually Harrison did him the courtesy of slowing, but he wanted to get off the streets and into the promise of a dark private space.
The front door of Cisco’s building had no lock. No security camera as far as Harrison could tell. The checklist usually firmly stuck in the mental folder marked ‘Jesse’ quickly copied itself over into ‘Cisco’ with a lot of unchecked boxes. Blissfully unaware of Harrison’s internal click and drag, Cisco led him to a creaky elevator with ominously flickering lights.
“I keep thinking I should film a zombie movie in here,” Cisco muttered, a shadow of his usual chatter. Worry had wormed it’s way back into his hands and eyes, everything a little tighter and less relaxed.
“Do zombies use elevators?” Harrison asked mildly.
“Accidently maybe,” Cisco frowned. The elevator opened to a blunt hallway, three doors with chipped chrome letters. “This one’s me.”
The keys were apparently buried in Cisco’s bottomless backpack and Harrison was seriously considering the merits of just taking him up against the door. The thing didn’t really look sturdy enough for such activities, but a man could dream. The key fumbled into the lock eventually and pulled him back to the present.
Curiosity temporarily overwhelmed lust and Cisco tossed his keys into a bowl shaped like an angry bird. The apartment was more like a single cramped room, but for a half-hearted island that separated the kitchen from the living room area. If it was cluttered, it was only because there was absolutely nowhere to put anything. There was no smell beyond the ambient reek of the building. Despite Cisco’s warning, not a single shred of dirty laundry that Harrison could readily see. Instead, there were books crammed into a single book case. A laptop sat on a couch that boasted duct tape repairs and a desktop setup with an enormous monitor where most people would’ve put a television.
The bed was pushed into one corner, a full maybe. Workable if not ideal.
There were boxes carefully stacked and labeled lining nearly every wall. Some apparently held comic books and others circuit boards or stacks of paperwork.
“I keep thinking about moving,” Cisco touched one box that was conspicuously missing a paper. “With what I make now, I could, even with student loans.”
“Why haven’t you?” Harrison asked though he could see the answer lined up clear in front of him.
“Not here much, you know?”
No home, no life, just a slim fading thread of family tying him to any place at all. It wouldn’t be hard to disentangle Cisco from this place and install him where he should be. Harrison relaxed a fraction more. There was nothing to fight here, nothing to contend with. He let out one long breath and refocused on what mattered.
“Give me the tour,” he suggested and Cisco grinned at him.
“Welcome to Chez Ramon. Behold, kitchen full of soda and...things you are most likely allergic to. Living room full of things that wouldn’t fit at the lab. Bedroom...”
“Tell me more about that part,” he encouraged.
“Well, there’s a bed,” Cisco walked backward, somehow skirting the stacks. “Blankets, pillows-”
“Oh, yeah,” Cisco toed off his shoes. “Only half as shitty as you might guess.”
“Appealing,” Harrison took his shoes off, set them by the door. “I might need more convincing to try it out than that.”
“Yeah?” Cisco put his hands to the hem of his shirt. “How much more?”
“Make me an offer.”
It wasn’t quite one smooth motion, but button down, long sleeve and t-shirts came off and fell discarded to the floor. The tattoo revealed at last. Harrison considered continuing staying where he was and keep up the pretense. The call of the ink was too strong.
His hands fit over Cisco’s shoulders, thumb tucked into the divot over the collarbone as he leaned in to examine the ink. The piece was an odd shape, curving over Cisco’s ribs thin at the base and widened at the top with an incredible amount of detailing. The lines had softened a little suggesting it was at least five years old.
“It’s a diagram,” he guessed.
“A guess of one,” tentatively, Cisco ran his hand down Harrison’s arm. “of the thing that made me meta. I didn’t get a long look at it, but there’s been others since and I keep collecting information on them. Got drunk one night with some guys I thought were friends...anyway. The diagram was the only thing I had on me that I thought was cool enough to keep forever. Apparently. Irish car bombs don’t do much for the memory.”
“Cisco, what am I looking at? Because it looks like-”
“Transdimensional transport? Yeah, the DARPA guys call them ‘Boom Tubes’ which is the saddest attempt at naming things ever. But hard to critique when I’m poking around their servers illegally.”
Harrison’s blood ran cold. There wasn’t meant to be more. He was supposed to be safely sealed up here, both teams safe from the havoc their universes could wreck on each other.
“Woah, hey! It’s cool, I didn’t leave tracks or anything.” Cisco’s grip on his arm tightened, bringing him back. “Are you okay?”
“No, but I need...I’ll tell you why later,” another thing to set aside. At this rate, it would beat out Cisco’s wall of boxes. “It doesn’t have any bearing right now.”
“Ooookay. I think either you tell me or you take your shirt off because I’m starting to feel like this is a little one sided.”
Harrison took off his glasses, set them on the stack of boxes that seemed to serve as a nightstand. It had been a long time since he had been naked in front of someone and his body was not what it had been. Still, it was his and his long walks kept him trim enough. His shirt came off to land in the vicinity of the couch.
“I wasn’t sure you were serious,” Cisco said distractedly, stepping into Harrison’s personal space. He tipped his head back to look him in the eye. “I knew you had to be because of what I saw, but still. People like you don’t happen to people like me.”
“You are people like me Cisco,” Harrison tilted the critical inch, “more than you know.”
As soon as the kiss began, any real world concerns fell away. Cisco was good with his lips and his hands were everywhere, apparently systematically mapping the planes of Harrison’s back and chest. It was intoxicating to experience all that touch at once. Those engineer’s hands were capable and firm, steady fingertips winding their way up and down discovering an old scar.
“Pants,” Cisco gasped, breaking away. “they need to be on the floor.”
“Excellent idea,” Harrison hid his smile by dropping to his knees.
“I was thinking more taking them off. Oh,” Cisco swallowed when he got the jist of Harrison’s intent. “Really?”
“I’ve been thinking about sucking you off for weeks,” button and zipper caved to his hands. “Problem?”
“I’ve been thinking about pretty much everything. But honestly, it is way way hotter in real life.” Cisco kicked squirmed helpfully until underwear and jeans did slide to floor. His thighs were strong and nearly hairless. The muscle ticked and jumped when Harrison ran the palms of his hands over them. “I think I should sit down.”
“Then sit,” Harrison pushed him gently and Cisco landed hard on the edge of the bed, legs spread. He was modestly endowed, long enough to satisfy and thick enough to feel right in Harrison’s palm. Uncircumcised.
“This brings up some serious conflict of interest issues,” Cisco’s laugh was broken with a moan as the tip of Harrison’s tongue explored the head of his cock. “Like how I’m ever supposed to look at you and not think about this ever again.”
“I have faith in your compartmentalization,” Harrison sat back a little. “You want to talk about it or do you want me to make you shake this building apart?”
“The second one, definitely the second one,” Cisco buried his face in his hands. “Promise you won’t let me talk myself out of a blow job. It would be the low point in a series of very low points in my sexual career.”
“Shut the hell up.”
Cisco shut up. Harrison hadn’t given head in a long time, but it wasn’t hard to remember how it went. It helped that Cisco gave a lot of encouragement, hands gripping the edge of the bed white knuckled and soft, nearly pained sounds, dripping from his parted lips. Harrison kept his hands locked on Cisco’s thighs and his eyes on Cisco’s face.
He had a good memory. This night would be burned into it, available for slow replays for many years.
When Cisco was showing signs of approaching orgasm, Harrison forced himself away.
“Stopping?” Cisco looked dazed, dark tendrils of hair finally creeping out of elastic’s vicious lock, softening the edges of his face.
“You can come now or on my cock in about...” Harrison gauged his body. “Fifteen minutes.”
“You should take your pants off,” Cisco’s eyes darkened. “And keep talking.”
“I can do those things,” he let Cisco help, their hands overlapping and tangling through a brutal kiss.
The bed squeaked as Harrison rolled Cisco onto it, their bodies in contact from toe to chest in the most satisfying way possible.
“I don’t have anything,” Cisco groaned. “Sorry, I didn’t think it would come up today.”
Harrison reached over the edge of the bed, slapped a condom and a tube of KY into Cisco’s hand.
“Someone forgot the first lesson of field work,” he teased before taking an experimental nip at Cisco’s neck.
“Anticipate everything and bring booze?”
There was nothing clever to say after that. Cisco spread his legs, canting his hips upward. Harrison went to work, using slim fingers to coax Cisco open and shivering with it. Surprisingly strong legs locking onto his hips.
“Now,” Cisco demanded, meeting Harrison’s intensity with his own.
Pushing inside was perfection. Harrison took his time, Cisco bringing him in with sharp insistent groans that reverberated through the apartment. When he bottomed out, it was his turn to groan, head dropping and shoulders folding in. He kissed the hard line of Cisco’s thigh.
Then he went to work. It had been a long time, but the body didn’t forget. He was delibrate, taking it long and slow until Cisco’s eyes were glazed and sweat started to break out over both their skin.
“Hold on,” he ordered and Cisco nodded, clinging.
Harrison rolled them, settling Cisco on top, perched there like a god on a throne. The elastic in his hair had snapped, sending a cascade of black hair down his chest and arms. Now Harrison could see the whole long line of him and it was almost too much. A feast for a starving man.
“Impressive,” Cisco gasped.
“I can do better,” he reached out to hold onto Cisco’s hips. His grip was sure and stead, a counterpoint to the sharp upward thrust that sent Cisco’s eyes rolling backward. “Lean back.”
Cisco leaned onto Harrison’s bent legs, scrambling to find a balance while Harrison re-angled himself. The push-pull they settled into sent waves of heat over Harrison’s skin. The bed hummed with energy, sheets quivering under his back. With a shaking hand, Cisco started stroking his cock trying to match the pace Harrison had set. A box tumbled to the floor.
“Sorry,” Cisco groaned.
“Never, ever apologize for this,” Harrison thrust harder, moving the bed a little himself. “You are...without a doubt...one of the most extraordinary, exquisite people I have ever met. Like this...you are everything. Do. Not. Apologize.”
Cisco came seconds later with a weak cry. His come landed hot on Harrison’s stomach, the lit match to a smoking tinder. Orgasm ripped through Harrison and his vision blurred with it. When he crashed back to reality, he found the apartment in shambles and Cisco’s thighs trembling with effort under his hands.
“Come here,” he coaxed until Cisco was lying at his side, head on his chest. “Did we break anything important?”
“No,” Cisco answered, too fast and sure. “And fuck it if we did.”
“Question. What do I call you now? Cause Dr.Wells is a little too formal for the bedroom.”
“That’s what you want to ask?” Harrison carded a hand through Cisco’s hair, pleased with the soft texture that clung to his fingers.
“There’s a lot of questions, both ways, but you know. That’s the one that seems most important since I literally just held off the best orgasm of my life for a full minute trying to figure out what to scream out.”
Harrison laughed. A real laugh, for the first time in....well. It didn’t matter. He laughed and Cisco laughed a little with him and it was good. Very good.
“I’ve been told my name is Harrison.”
“So have I, but I never hear anyone use it.”
“Good. You can be the only one.”
“I’m honored,” it was probably meant to sound sarcastic, but some real tenderness snuck in. “Harrison. It’s a mouthful.”
“Cisco doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue. You’ll make it work.”
“What happened to falling asleep in the afterglow?”
“Please,” Cisco rolled onto his stomach, propping his elbows on the bed so he could look into his face. “Harrison, is it true that drummer’s do it to a rhythm?”
“Four-four time,” he grinned, pleased to be caught out. “Largo to allegro.”
“You’re a ridiculous person,” Cisco said, clearly pleased by this discovery.
“Question,” Harrison started.
“Of course, you did. Question, why didn’t you come to work for me sooner?”
“That does not follow the light hearted rules of this game,” Cisco sighed, chin landing on his folded hands. “And I’d return the question to ‘why the fuck did you hire me’ me, but If we’re going to do that...let’s just get cleaned up and turn out the lights. Secrets are better told in the dark.”
After a perfunctory trip to the bathroom (cramped, slightly mildewed and towels that must’ve been picked out by someone else) for Harrison and a quick shower for Cisco, they were back on the bed. The thick comforter swaddled them into a further layer of darkness. To Harrison’s surprise, Cisco didn’t seek him out, but tucked himself around a pillow, eyes two glittering points in the dark.
“I haven’t said this out loud,” Cisco did reach over and twine their fingers together. “I’m...you might want to leave after I tell you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said firmly, rubbing his thumb over Cisco’s knuckles. “I told you, I don’t let go easily.”
“The security clearance thing is from a sealed record which is a bitch and a half,” There was a long sucking breath, released in stages. “I murdered someone.”
“I’ll admit that wasn’t what I was expecting,” and isn’t that intriguing in and of itself? “Premeditated?”
“No. Not...no. I wasn’t actually found guilty. They could only prove assault and battery. The judge took my lack of a record and science nerd creds and decided to give me probation. Seal the record, but I guess Homeland Security doesn’t respect juvenile defenses,” he sighed. “I’m not proud of it.”
“But you don’t regret it either,” Harrison guessed.
“No. I don’t,” said with such heavy finality that Harrison had to reach out, breaking Cisco’s grip so he could touch his face, push strands of hair backwards away from cheek and forehead.
“The Boom Tube thing...we were somewhere we weren’t supposed to be. Me and my brother, Dante. He usually didn’t let me hang out with him and his friends, typical brother stuff I guess. But my parents were out and he couldn’t leave the house without me. His friends stole a pack of cigarettes so we found a spot behind a warehouse to try smoking them. Thought that was the worst thing that I’d ever do. Ironic, I guess.”
“How old were you?”
Harrison could imagine a small Cisco, balled fists and insistence on being included while his heart beat too fast and his nerves shook over the petty crime.
“How was the cigarette?”
“No idea. Everything went to shit before I even got to try. This...it was so weird. Like someone stuck a knife into a canvas and tore a hole, except the canvas was reality. I was right in the middle of it and I could see this long tunnel and a bright light at the end. Like I was dying, except I was so...alive. I wanted to go through it. I wanted to know what was on the other side. When I started toward it, Dante freaked out,” for the first time, Cisco shied away from his touch, turning onto this back to study the ceiling. “I can still hear him screaming sometimes. He went to grab me and the thing started closing up. We both passed out, I think. Came to in the hospital.”
“Scary,” he ventured.
“Yeah. Scarier for Dante. He never spoke again. Something he saw fucked him up. Before that he was the favorite, you know? He was going to go to Juilliard and become world famous. After...he couldn’t hack middle school anymore. My parents homeschooled him in theory, but neither of them pushed him hard.
“Mostly he plays the piano. He’s unbelievably good. If I can...I’ll play some of his stuff sometime. He can’t handle playing in public, but he likes YouTube and let’s me run a channel for him.”
“I’m sorry,” he offered, unsure of what else would fit into that silence.
“Yeah, me too. I hated him back then. But I like to think I would’ve gotten over it. We could’ve been...” Cisco waved a hand above him. “Whatever. Anyway, that’s not the story you want to know.”
“I want it all.”
“I need to take a break,” Cisco let his arm collapse back down covering his eyes. “Tell me something about you that I don’t know. Which is everything, I think.”
“You know more than you think. More than anyone left alive,” he considered. “You said that people like me don’t belong with people like you.”
“Shouldn’t listen to me. I just get low self-esteem when hot people take their pants off in front of me.”
“Yeah well. Where are you going with this?”
“I can’t speak for other people like me because I have no idea what that classification means to you, but I can tell you that I’ve only ever been with people like you.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve seen pictures of your wife. I don’t think I’ve ever looked less like someone.”
It was true. Theresa had been a blade of person from her sharp eyes to the stilettos she’d favored for formal occasions. There was no inch of give, even her hair was sheared into razor edge of the world’s most threatening pixie cut. She had been a winter, all ice colors and pale as frost.
“Physcial type never meant much to me. When I was in college, my roommates called me the Brain Fucker. Crude, but essentially accurate.”
“Brain Fucker?” Cisco snorted. “I could do a lot better than that.”
“Wasn’t a challenge,” Harrison studied Cisco’s profile, memorizing the slope of his nose at this new angle. “I’ve always had a talent for finding the smartest person in the room. And only taking them to bed if they were smarter than me.”
“Thank you, but I’m not actually that smart.”
“Agree to disagree on that one,” Cisco snorted. “I mean, I’ve read editorials that literally call you the Smartest Man Alive.”
“They’re idiots. I lack the spark. Call it intuition or instinct. I know how to work hard and I can grasp higher level concepts better than most, but you should’ve seen Theresa. The two of you would’ve burned down the world if you had a mind too,” the image of white-blond and black hair mingling as they leaned over a lab table was nearly real to him. “Genius, Cisco, isn’t about I.Q. points. I built Star Labs on Theresa’s dreams. I’ll keep it going now with yours. That’s why I hired you. That’s why I took you to bed.”
“For work purposes?” Cisco asked, only half-teasing.
“Because if I can’t have that spark than I can live in it’s glow.”
“That is...possibly the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me,” finally Cisco turned back toward him, their noses practically touching. “So me, Theresa ...not enough to get a shitty nickname. How many brainacs are we talking?”
“Only the two of you for the last twenty-four years. Not sure how anything before that is relevant.”
“Come on,” Cisco wheedled. “I’ll you mine if you tell me yours.”
“Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-seven, I slept with roughly one hundred and fifty-three people. There are a few lost nights that I can’t give an accurate account for.”
“Holy shit,” Cisco’s eyes went wide, barely visible in the low light. “That’s like...nearly two a month.”
“1.2. Don’t exaggerate. What about you?"
“Five,” he laughed weakly. “Wow. Not even close, huh?”
“It’s not a competition.”
“Tell that to my wounded ego. I was feeling all special, but man. One of a hundred and fifty?”
“You’re looking at it the wrong way,” slinging a leg over Cisco’s bare hip, Harrison drew him closer. “There was no one that mattered until Theresa. After her, there wasn’t anyone at all until you.”
“Why not? That was like five years of nothing. Must’ve been hard for a sex god.”
“Shut up, Cisco,” Harrison laughed. “I was waiting, obviously.”
“Waiting for what?”
“Oh come on. Only one of us in this bed can see the future and I’m reasonably sure it’s me.”
“Fair enough. It wasn’t you exactly. But after losing Theresa, I wasn’t interested in fucking my way through a field of Nobel Prize winners. I wanted someone like her. Like you.”
“So this isn’t an awkward one night stand scenario.”
“Are you asking my intentions?” Harrison pressed his lips to the curve of Cisco’s shoulder.
“Well, no one else will do it for me.”
“I’m not going to meet the parents?”
“Oh my God,” Cisco laughed shakily. “You’ve got no idea how awesome that would be, actually. Black sheep brings home an older white man? My Dad’s head might actually implode. My Mom would probably start off hitting you and end up trying to feed you until you went into anaphylactic shock out of sheer self-defense.”
“I look forward to it.”
“Weirdo,” Cisco beamed at him.
“I’ve been called worse,” he moved the lazy kiss to the Cisco’s neck, his face buried in a curtain of sweet smelling hair. “I intend to keep you. I hope that aligns with your intentions.”
“I’m good with being kept.”
“Enough of a break?” Harrison drew back, dragging his lips down the soft line of Cisco’s jaw.
“Yeah, I guess, but if you want to just keep doing that-”
“Fine,” with a careful nudge, Cisco tipped Harrison’s lips to his own and did a fine job of sidelining all conversation for several minutes.
“So murder,” Harrison prompted before Cisco could railroad them entirely.
“You suck,” Cisco decreed, but obediently pulled back a few inches. “I was fifteen. My mom asked me to get Dante out of the apartment so she could clean his room. He gets upset when he can see it happen. I promised him a Pepsi, so we headed to the Quikmart. When we go there, he didn’t want to go inside.”
“Too much noise?”
“The florescent lights,” Cisco shrugged. “his hearing is pretty sensitive and the buzz gets to him. I wound up waiting in line for a couple of minutes. When I got back outside, no Dante.”
“No. He gets freaked out, likes to stay close to safe places. At first, I thought he’d gotten distracted by something or saw someone we knew, but there wasn’t any sign of him on the block. I checked inside every store and still nothing. I started shaking. Well...everything started shaking. The thought that I’d gotten him hurt a second time...”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Tell that to my Dad,” Cisco rolled his shoulder as if trying to shrug away a burden.
“Don’t tempt me. So presumably you did find your brother.”
“In an alley two blocks down with our next door neighbor. The guy had him against the wall, his eye was bloody and he was bending back his fingers-” the bed creaked and another box inched off it’s perch.
“Breath,” Harrison wrapped his hand around Cisco’s neck, brought their foreheads together. “In. Hold...out.”
They breathed together until Cisco nodded faintly.
“Okay, wow. It’s been a really really long time since I’ve lost control this often.”
“It’s been an emotional day. Can you finish without causing a seismic incident?”
“Only way out is through, right?”
“Good man,” Harrison kissed him as a reward.
“Dante’s whole life is about his hands. The bastard was getting off on torturing him. I lost it. If I’d been normal, it probably would’ve been nothing. I wasn’t a strong kid or anything. I might’ve wound up in worse shape than Dante.”
“But you aren’t normal,” and he tried infuse that with as much warmth as he knew how.
“No,” Cisco agreed. “I shook him apart. It took seconds. No one saw it, but Dante and me. Someone called the cops when they heard me start yelling and by the time they showed, I almost had Dante calmed down enough to start walking. We were covered in bits of this guy, blood and meat everywhere. The smell...I’ll never forget it. The wouldn’t let us shower. Had to take evidence, so we sat in this skanky holding cell for hours. It dried and itched and stank. Eventually, a social worker convinced them to let Dante go since he was obviously a victim. My parents couldn’t afford to post bail.”
“Two months until I could get a hearing. They kept me away from gen pop at least. And like I said, the judge was pretty nice. So. That’s the story of how I killed a guy with my freaky mutant powers.“
“I’m sorry you were put into that situation.”
“Your brain damaged brother was attacked by someone you trusted and you responded with the only weapon you had your disposal. You’re hardly the Unibomber.”
“I could do it again.”
“And I could stab someone tomorrow with one of your kitchen knives. Potential isn’t action.”
“That’s not the same,” Cisco huffed.
“If you’re looking for someone to berate you about how all life is sacred, you’ve come to the wrong person.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You haven’t noticed?” Harrison snorted. “Cisco, I barely tolerate most people. There’s no official diagnosis on file, but the term ‘lack of empathy’ has been thrown around.”
“You’re emphatic,” Cisco argued, but Harrison could practically hear him re-examining interactions and finding him lacking. Everyone did. Even Theresa. Even Jesse sometimes.
“It’s not a binary. I can achieve it with people that I know very well, but I usually don’t care to know people beyond what they force on me,” he sighed. “So, I don’t really give a shit if you’ve carved up a shitty excuse for a human being. The world is better without him.”
“I have no idea what to do with any of this, you know,” Cisco said after a long silence. “I don’t know how to even do this. It feels...large. Important. What if I fuck it up?”
“That’s the beauty of a relationship. One of you falls, the other person can pick you back up. And we’ll both fall.”
“You’ve spent the last several months with me, Cisco. Would you say I’m easy to get along with?”
“Well,” he could feel the tight giggle reverberate between them, “no. You’re kind of a bitch, actually.”
“Thanks,” he went for maximum dryness and was rewarded with redoubled laughter.
“So I can expect you to bitch and push and generally act like a pissed off cat when you don’t get your way?”
“I wasn’t looking for a list,” but Cisco’s cheerful tone, a recovery to the norm, took away any potential sting. “You’re a ridiculous brat and you hum different songs than the one’s you have playing on the radio.”
“I’m adorable,” Cisco’s grin was pressed into Harrison’s skin. “You like me.”
“Less and less as this conversation goes on.”
“Lies,” a yawn cracked Cisco’s jaw.
“Sleep. There’s plenty of time tomorrow.”
“Think my boss will care if I go in late?”
“I’ll talk with him,” Harrison pulled the blanket more firmly around them.
He hadn’t anticipated sleeping himself. The room was pleasantly dark though and mostly smelled like Cisco’s detergent. It didn’t take long of Cisco to drop off, gaining that lovely still heat of the sleeping. Harrison had forgotten how good it felt to curl around that sweating sweetness. There was a base animal pleasure in sharing a bed that even his deep trenched insomnia had to respect.
It wasn’t for long, of course. Nothing ever fixed it for long enough to approach normal. He woke with dawn, better rested than usual and a few hours under his belt. Cisco was smeared on the other side of the bed on his stomach, one arm thrown over Harrison’s chest. He didn’t stir when Harrison got out of bed, except to rub his cheek on the pillow minutely. The blankets had fallen a little exposing the strong line of Cisco’s shoulder under the sprawl of his hair.
Lovely. And deserving of lovely things.
It took a quiet phone call in the bathroom and then Harrison used some of Cisco’s toothpaste. He studied himself in the mirror, found nothing to mark the difference he could feel settling into his bones.
Poking through the kitchen killed time and scratched an itch. He found nothing terribly interesting though the fridge did have a single bottle of his favorite black cherry soda, not a cheap brand and hard to find in Central City. They generally came in six packs.
“Hmm...” the cabinets were also mostly bare, a few staples of a busy bachelor with a frightening amount of Twizzlers stockpiled in one drawer.
The delivery must’ve stirred Cisco, despite the attempt at silence. Bare feet on the floor creaked towards the bathroom. Harrison set out the plates and opened the curtains to the apartment’s two windows. Light poured in, still golden with the early hour. Harrison fell into his usual pose, hands clasped at the small of his back and looking out onto his city.
“You know, I found that intimidating the first time I saw you do it,” Cisco walked up close behind him, not quite touching.
“It sort of loses it’s effect when you’re only wearing underwear.”
Harrison reached backwards, hit on Cisco’s elbow and tugged him forward.
“Look,” he pointed over the rooftops, “that’s where I was born.”
“St. Sebastian’s? Me too,” Cisco hooked his chin over Harrison’s shoulder. “You can sort of see the labs too. Until the smog settles in.”
“There’s a really good looking pile of food on a folding table that wasn’t in my apartment before.”
“It looks like the nutella chili crepes from Jubilees,” apparently gaining a little confidence, Cisco slid his hands around Harrison’s waist. “Jubilee doesn’t open for another two hours and they don’t deliver.”
“Apparently they do.”
“But they don’t. I mean- how did you get this here? Not that I’m complaining and it is really taking every ounce of willpower I have not to unhinge my jaw and eat the entire plate.”
“Eat,” Harrison turned and shoved him gently toward the food. “And the answer is obvious.”
“You know the chef?”
“Money,” Harrison folded himself down into one of the chairs the delivery boy had brought with him. “You might have noticed I have some.”
“Well, yeah. Hard not to. You’re not obvious about it most of the time, but there’s the car and the ridiculously huge house.”
“Money buys things. Enough money buys things not usually for sale. Capitalism at it’s finest.”
“I want to disapprove because you sound way too smug about this, but these crepes are manna sent from heaven,” Cisco did look blissful as he bit his way into it. “It’s a crime that you can’t taste these.”
“Trust me,” Harrison picked up his espresso. “I’m enjoying them vicariously.”
“You were going to tell me why you hired me,” Cisco reminded him when the was mostly gone and their legs were thoroughly tangled under the table.
“Yes,” he grimaced. “I suppose I was.”
The tangled weave of world jumping, betrayal, forgiveness and triumph would probably be better told by someone like Cisco. From Harrison any wonder or dramatic tension was sapped by his absolute exhaustion even thinking about the mess.
“When we were finally safe, Jesse and I locked down the house and stayed there for awhile,” he concluded. Cisco was watching him with wide eyes and his coffee going cold in his hands. “I needed to...do something. I started looking for their doppelgangers.”
“And so you got me,” Cisco turned his face away. “So....what? You wanted the other me? Because that’s very creepy.”
“No. I wasn’t interested in him. You’re not him.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Harrison snapped and Cisco flinched. “If I pitied you, I would have fixed up some imaginary postdoc program and set you up with a position in a nice college somewhere. You would never have seen my face. Heard my name. I hired you because I liked you and I knew I could use your brains.”
“What’s the difference then? Between the annoying kid over there and me?”
It took him a few seconds to parse why Cisco might be taking this badly. Pure fury at being so far out his depth sped through Harrison’s veins.
“Get up,” he pushed back from the table.
“No,” Cisco planted himself, elbows on the table. “you can’t just go into boss mode when you don’t like what I have to say.”
“Ah,” Harrison frowned. “Really?”
“Submission isn’t compliance,” Cisco smiled at him grimly. It had the pat sound of something memorized.
“That,” the anger subsided. “That right there. You’re more centered than he was. A little bitter around the edges and angry. I like that.”
“You like that I’m angry?” Cisco frowned.
“I like that you aren’t a paragon of kindness that makes my teeth rot. You’re sharp and real. You feel real to me, understand?”
“No,” Cisco stood up. “but I’ll take it for now. What are we doing?”
“Showering?” he managed to fumble it into a question.
“Good plan,” Cisco stalked away from the table and Harrison followed after him, happily unbalanced.
With the single minded focus that had driven him to the top of his field, Harrison set himself to recovering yesterday’s fervent lust. The shower stall barely fit them both which worked to his advantage. He took the washcloth from Cisco’s hands, lathered it with soap. He ran it over every inch of Cisco’s skin, taking special care over the patch of ink, tracing the lines.
It took a little maneuvering to get to his knees so he could lavish attention over strong thighs, the sensitive skin at the back of the knees and the hard line of the calf. Fingers alighted on his head.
“Can I?” Cisco asked and when Harrison nodded, he was rewarded with strong fingers on his scalp, taking care not to drip shampoo in his eyes. He rested his head on Cisco’s thigh, pausing in his own ministrations. “Good?”
“Mmm,” Harrison rumbled, pleased to have the vanilla scent of Cisco’s product rubbed into his own skin . “I’ll have to return the favor.”
“That’ll take a little longer.”
There was a process, apparently, but Harrison was a willing student and was amply rewarded by Cisco going liquid in his hands. When the long rope was thoroughly conditioned, Harrison experimentally wrapped it around his hand and tugged.
“Oh, fuck,” Cisco groaned, one arm lashing out to brace him against the slick wall.
“Ah,” Harrison grinned. “Is that so?”
“So so so much.”
Pulling again, he watched goosebumps raise over the back of Cisco’s neck. Leaning in he bit at the juncture of neck and shoulder. A whimper stirred him to distraction. After that, the only sensible thing to do was nip a path down Cisco’s spine until he reached the swell of his ass. Reluctantly, he released his hold on the length of hair to concentrate.
“You really don’t have to,” Cisco murmured into his arms. “I know it’s not everyone’s thing.”
“Is it yours?”
No reply. Harrison hummed, palming Cisco’s ass to spread it wide. The little hole was still pink and a little irritated from the night before. He ran his thumb over the puffy skin, watching at the minute shivers running down Cisco’s thighs. Leaning in, the tip of his tongue followed his thumb’s path and Cisco groaned so broken and raw that Harrison felt it in his own chest.
He had a very clever tongue and a lot of motivation. Even as the water went tepid, he dedicated himself to licking Cisco in a quivering, mewling mess. When it went utterly cold, he reached back to yank it off and left them in the steaming air, both out of breath.
“Is there anything in here that won’t give us both chemical burns?” He asked roughly.
“Baby oil...on the sink though.”
“More room out there anyway.”
And the bonus of the mirror over the sink. Harrison poured the oil over his fingers, down Cisco’s back until they were both sloppy with it. Though it practically killed him to pause again, Harrison managed to ask,
“Condom? I’ve got another. But-”
“You swear on Tesla’s grave that you’re clean?” Cisco wasn’t looking in the mirror, head hanging down and his hands braced on either side of the sink.
“Good, fine, yes, get on with the sex before I die of anticipation.”
He probably should’ve been gentle. Cisco was obviously still sore and his groan as Harrison pushed in had pain mingled in with pleasure. Yet, there was something ideal about that, the way Cisco stood against it and only spread wider. Winding his arms around him, Harrison managed a deeper angle than the night before, pulling them practically flush.
“Look,” he said into Cisco’s ear. “Look at us.”
“Why? I know what we look like. Sex isn’t the prettiest- jesus fuck,” he shuddered against a hard stroke.
“Because we’re brilliant. Look,” he twisted his hips harder. Cisco raised up his head and went still for a moment. “See?”
The steam rendered their features indistinct, they were a blur of tan and white, caps of dark hair and their eyes muddled points of color. Harrison dropped his hands down to cover Cisco’s further, bracketing their arms together.
“S’weird,” Cisco stared at the image.
Harrison watched the shift of their bodies, the loss of distinction between them. His rhythm went to hell after that. He grabbed Cisco’s cock with one hand, no hope of prolonging the inevitable. Soreness forgotten, he took Cisco hard enough to drive him to his toes. Cisco just braced himself and took it, practically sobbing as Harrison stripped his cock.
“Please,” he started to beg and it was like a drug. “Please make me come. Fuck...harder. Please pleaseplease...”
The sink cracked as Harrison slammed into him and they both came hard enough to go weak at the knees. It took the last of Harrison’s energy to make sure they only melted slowly to the floor rather than falling over. Shards of porcelain rained down on them.
“That was a first,” Harrison allowed.
“I think,” Cisco blinked, a fine white powder clinging to his eyelashes. “That if we’re going to keep doing this, then I better practice or something.”
“It would take a room that neutralizes your vibrations.”
“There’s a new material for earthquake proofing,” Cisco’s eyes went wide and bright. He jumped to his feet, stumbled and grabbed for the intact portion of the sink. “Okay. Also I’m calling a break on my ass for at least a day.”
“You have a remarkable faith in my ability to recover if you think I’m going to try anything again,” Harrison stayed down. The tile was remarkably cool and soothing. Also his thighs were burning and he might have put his left knee out of commission. “I’ll need a meal and at least six hours.”
“Oh,” and despite his complaints, Cisco sounded a little put out.
“If in theory, I regain some energy, I’m not adverse to bottoming.”
“Awesome,” a hand swam into his vision and he took it, letting Cisco do the majority of the work to get him back on his feet. “Some guys get weird about it.”
“Some guys haven’t gotten over their internalized homophobia,” Harrison shook his head to clear it.
They managed to get dressed not long after that and at Harrison’s request, they went for a walk. The day was cool, Cisco shrugging into an oversized hoodie with a faded logo on the chest. Harrison only his previous days clothes, but he found walking beside Cisco kept him warm enough. When they got out of the immediate area, Harrison offered his hand.
“We’re in public,” Cisco pointed out.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“People know you and at least one is gonna be shitty enough to take a picture.”
“Does that bother you?” Harrison raised an eyebrow.
“Can’t be good for your reputation.”
“I effectively ruined my own reputation when I had it out with the Flash on the evening news. I think being associated with you can only help. Now your reputation...”
“What reputation? My parents have written me off anyway. What about Jesse though?”
“I was planning on telling her when I got home. If I try to keep anything from her, I’ll get the silent treatment for weeks. She won’t actually leave me alone. She will sit very pointedly next to me and not talk. It’s annoying beyond words,” Harrison sighed. “It’s probably my fault. She tried it on me when she was four and I told her that I could outlast her.”
“How long did it take you to cave?” Cisco took Harrison’s hand, palms sliding easily together.
“Two weeks. She was a very determined preschooler. Of course, her mother helped her because she liked needling me,” he warmed his fingers against Cisco’s.
“Sucks though. She’s pretty much my best friend these days,” a soft snort scoffed at himself. “Guess I’ll live.”
“Jesse has a broad mind. I don’t think she’ll stop being your friend.”
“I would if she was having sex with my father,” the disgusted look that crossed Cisco’s face was impressive. “Bad thought.”
“You weren’t kidnapped and tortured for six months. It has a way of re-organizing your priorities.”
“I don’t want to choose,” Cisco admitted. “You’d win, but I’d hate to not be able to go to your house because she hates me.”
“Let me take care of it.”
Somewhere behind them a flash went off. He’d have to tell her before tomorrow's paper hit the stand. That was fine. He worked well with deadlines.
Back in Cisco’s apartment, Harrison gathered together the few things he’d brought with him. Cisco sat down heavily on the couch and watched him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he reminded him. “At work.”
“What’s the protocol there?” Cisco drew his knees up, folded small.
“Professional as possible when we’ve got eyes on us,” Harrison leaned down, dropped a kiss at the corner of his mouth. “Otherwise, I don’t care as long as we still get something done.”
“You’re distracting,” it came out as a whine and it really shouldn’t’ve been endearing.
“You’ll live, genius,” Harrison gave him a proper kiss. “Find those papers on earthquake proofing. I’ll send you the number of a discrete plumber.”
“Ugh,” Cisco grumped. “Fine. See you later.”
It took some doing to actually leave. Cisco was good at convincing him into one last kiss, almost getting him back onto the couch entirely.
“You’re bad for my self-control,”Harrison backed away from reaching hands.
“Good,” Cisco’s smile bore far too much resemblance to a naughty child.
“Stay,” he ordered and left before he could be further tested.
The drive back worked to sober him up from his satisfied stupor. His phone pinged with emails and questions from the labs. The time flew by as he made a series of progressively curter phone calls. By the time he pulled into the driveway, the knot of tension between his shoulders had returned to it’s proper twist.
Walking into the house in yesterday’s clothes couldn’t be helped, but that was another benefit to a monochromatic wardrobe. Who would know the difference?
“You didn’t come home last night,” the accusation was leveled before he could get off his shoes. Jesse stood framed in the hallway light.
“I told you I wouldn’t.”
“One text,” she waved her phone at him. “With no explanation! You know that’s not okay. We’ve talked about it.”
“I’m sorry,” he reached up to push his glasses out of the way and found dead air. A quick search of memory located them still on Cisco’s nightstand. He hadn’t needed to read anything all day.
“Where are you glasses? Why do you have a- You’ve got a bruise,” her eyes narrowed. “Did you get beat up or something?”
She rubbed a hand over her eyes. For a moment, all he saw was her her five year old self, pigtails mussed and eyes red from staying up too late waiting for him to come home.
Their code for a serious conversation. Theresa always had important talks over tea, even though she usually drank coffee. Jesse nodded once sharply, turned on her heel and led the way to the kitchen. The ritual of kettle and steeping soothed them both.
“Okay,” she set her spoon aside. “You’ve met someone, yes? Cause that's a hickey not a bruise.”
“Someone you care a lot about?”
“And you don’t go out these days except to walk, so either it’s someone from the labs or a forest ranger.” She watched her face for a reaction. “Right. Labs.”
“Would you like me to participate in this conversation?”
“No, thank you,” she tilted her head to one side. “Ok. It’s not someone who’s worked there forever because you barely notice them anymore. Definitely not someone who was working there before Mom died. Maybe even more recently. Not a visitor though because you wouldn’t tell me if it was someone passing through.”
“Correct on all accounts,” He took a sip of tea. It was awful. Neither of them actually liked tea. The bags were probably from the last box Theresa had bought before she died.
“Got to be someone smart enough for you not to lose your temper from minute one and with enough education to keep up without you having to stop and fill them in,” she wrinkled her nose. “So. A woman or a man?”
“Do you want the answer?”
“Man. You’re eye twitched.”
It was a strange thing to watch his own mind work behind her eyes. This was how he’d understood Theresa. Jesse herself. Cisco now. Careful observation, tucked away in file folders and compared to textbooks. He wondered sometimes if had done this to her or it was the inevitability of genetics.
“That gives me five. George, Ellison, Zhang, Dee and....” she faltered. “Oh. My. God. He’s only two years older than me!”’
“I noticed,” he wrapped his hands around the mug.
“And he’s my friend! You’ve never...so cliche, Dad! I’ve seen porn more original than that!”
“Well, now we’ve both heard something unsettling.”
“Ugh,” she laid her face down on the table.
“He’s worried you won’t be his friend anymore,” he said gently. “That you’ll hate him.”
“How could I hate him?” She said into the table. “He made you smile. It’s creepy and upsetting, but he’s my friend and you look...happy. Creepy. Unsettling.”
“Yeah,” she pushed up enough to look at him. “You trust him.”
“I think I would trust any Cisco Ramon, but please never repeat that to him. I think I accidentally gave him a complex about it.”
“You told him about that already?”
“Today. It mattered more today.”
“He knows about what happened to me then,” all the adult confidence bled out of her voice.
“Only in the most general sense,” he came around the table, put his arm around her shoulders. “If you want him to know more, that’s up to you. But he’s Cisco. I don’t think it’ll change how he looks at you.”
“Where is he now?” she asked, voice watery though her eyes were clear.
“At home, I’d guess.”
“Invite him for dinner,” she decided, sniffing deeply. “I’m going to do lasagna therapy. You can eat broccoli for your sins.”
“Why? Not the broccoli. Dinner with him at all.”
“Because if we put off sitting down together it will become a thing. I’m over things. Let’s get the weird in the rearview mirror.”
“If you want to do that, then you should call him.”
Her phone was in her hand an instant later, a dare in her eyes. He took a step back, picked up their mugs and dumped them ceremoniously into the sink.
“Hey, C,” she said quietly. “I’m fine. You? Yeah. I’m gonna make lasagna for dinner. You should come over and have some....yeah. No. Look, I’m not going to call you my stepdad ever because that’s fucking weird, but yeah. It’s okay. You tell me if he’s being mean to you and I’ll deal with him. Yeah...yeah. Yes. You’re a very big impressive man. I am scared. Come over, all right? Good. Seven. Bring booze.”
“I’m not sure adding alcohol to the equation is the best idea,” he set the oven to preheat, his sole contribution to the cooking experience.
“Then don’t drink,” she opened the fridge door and practically thrust her whole body inside. “Now leave me alone.”
He retreated to work in his study, losing time to the vagaries of paperwork, then burying himself deep into the math of his latest pet project. Dimly, he heard the doorbell ring. It took a few minutes for it to penetrate the dense wall of impossibility that lay before him.
By the time the penny dropped, it was seven thirty and the damage had most likely already been done. He went to his room to finally change though he skipped the shower and shave. He could still catch the smell of Cisco on his skin and that was worth preserving a little longer.
“-clearly superior game,” Jesse was lecturing when he walked into the kitchen.
“Only if you have decent aim. Anyway, if you play right everyone forgets what they should be embarrassed by the next day.”
There were four shot glasses set out in front of both of them, the bare hint of clear liquid clinging inside them. A bottle of vodka sat at Cisco’s elbow, the level having already diminished.
“I don’t think I like a single thing about this,” Harrison mused.
“Hi, Dad,” Jesse carefully poured out the next series of shots. Her hands were steady, but she was blinking far too much. “We already ate.”
Harrison’s glasses were perched on top of Cisco’s head. When he reached for them, Cisco tilted his head down so they fell over his eyes.
“What do you think? Too big for my face.”
“They do weird things to your eyebrows,” Jesse determined. “Better give them back or he’ll have to make real eye contact all night. Your broccoli is on the table.”
Harrison took his glasses, pressed his hand between Cisco’s shoulder blades and picked up his plate. Then he turned back around.
“Where are you going?” Jesse whined.
“I don’t think either of you need me for this part. Cisco, you know where my bedroom is, you can sleep there if she doesn’t drink you under the table literally as well as figuratively.”
Neither of them called after him. He waited out of the line of sight. They were quiet for a long minute and then Cisco said,
“Never have I ever cheated on an exam.”
“Boring. Neither have I. Obviously. Never have I ever slept with someone twice my age.”
“That’s just low.”
“Alls fair in love and shots, C. Drink.”
“Fine...ugh. Okay. Never have I ever kicked a professor in the crotch.”
“Extenuating circumstances!” She scoffed.
Harrison snorted and walked away, assured that they would drink themselves back to normal. Or find their new normal anyway. The work was waiting for him. When he finally decided to give sleep a chance, he found his bedroom still dimly lit. Cisco was curled up on the usually empty side of the bed, his skin practically glowing against the burgundy sheets. A glass of water was carefully seated on a journal.
Then he moved down the hall. Jesse’s light was off, but he could make out the faint sound of her whistling nose. It always did that when she was deeply asleep. He listened until he was reassured. A quick inspection of the house found all systems activated and the night guard stationed where they were meant to be.
Back in his room, Cisco had turned to face the door. His arm was outstretched, fingers curved as if beckoning. Quiet as a whisper, Harrison shed his clothes and slithered under that waiting arm. He threaded his hand to Cisco’s neck, rubbing gently at any headache that was threatening to form.
Everyone was safe, everything was calm. Harrison schooled his breathing into a deep, even pattern and forced himself to sleep. He had a feeling dealing with two cranky hangovers would prove taxing tomorrow.
A rock went flying by Harrison’s head, narrowly missing him. He looked up from his (third favorite and already dented) laptop. The seismic-proof room really could not be built fast enough. At the time he’d suggested it, an abandoned quarry had seemed like a reasonable substitute.
“It is in a reasonably small amount of pieces,” Harrison made a notation on the notebook beside him. “What were you trying to do?”
“Definitely not nearly murder my boyfriend,” Cisco frowned at the dust at his feet. “That would be way awkward to try to cover up.”
“There’s a lime pit halfway down the hill. Chuck me in and call my lawyer.”
“I’m alarmed and touched that you have a plan for your eventual accidental death at my hands.”
“You’re not going to kill me,” Harrison closed his laptop and shook a bottle of Gatorade at him. He didn’t have a speedsters overactive metabolism, but he did get dehydrated much faster when using his abilities.
With a dramatic sigh, Cisco threw himself down next to Harrison, took the Gatorade and drank half of it in one go.
“Am I actually getting better?”
“You’ve seen the same readings I have, what do you think?”
“Yeah. But it’s so damn slow,” the rest of the Gatorade disappeared. Cisco started picking at the label.
“Compared to what? You’re in an entire new category of human. There’s no telling how quickly or slowly any of this is meant to happen. You were practically dormant for over a decade.”
“Stop using logic against my pity party,” Cisco leaned into his side. “Logic pops the bitter balloons.”
“You haven’t accidentally exploded a feather pillow in weeks,” Harrison put an arm around his shoulders.
“Ugh. So much for superpowers.”
“You don’t have superpowers. You have genetic enhancements.”
“Uh huh,” Cisco rubbed his nose on Harrison’s shoulder. “That mean you’re not going to help me pick out a superhero name?”
“No. You can’t,” Fear took hold so fast, he barely had time to process it.
“Can’t what?” Cisco sat up a little. “You okay?”
“No hero-ing of any kind,” Harrison turned on him, grabbed Cisco’s arms. “Promise me.”
“Woah. Okay, you need to take it down several notches. I’m not anywhere near good enough yet to talk about that kind of thing.”
“Never. Absolutely not.”
“But I think I have to? Eventually. I mean with great power comes great responsibility, right?”
“Responsibility to who? To nameless people who will never be grateful enough to match your sacrifice or the people waiting for you at home, wondering if this is the time you don’t come back?” He could see Barry’s face as clear as day, the shutdown horror of failing to save someone else. Watching someone he loved bleed onto his hands. Worse, he could see Joe and Iris, smiles on their face that were a lie they had to tell. “Promise me.”
“What if someone needs me. If someone is dying in front of me?” An edge of desperation creeped into Cisco’s voice.
“It will always be someone, somewhere in danger. We’re fragile bags of water walking around in a world designed to kill us. You aren’t super strong or a fast healer or a speedster. There’s nothing to stop anyone from putting a bullet in the back of your skull.”
“Fuck, Harrison,” Cisco pulled away with one tug as if to prove he was strong enough for some things.
Harrison watched him walk away, stumbling a little over the broken landscape. The closet thing at hand was the empty bottle. It was an unsatisfying throw. Growling, he got to his feet and started in on the piles of rock that Cisco had left behind. He threw them into the wide pit until his rage was exhausted and he could do little more than kneel there under the sun’s unforgiving glare.
Harrison shook his head, about to deny it, but his palms did sting a little. When he unfolded them, he found a mess of dirt, blood and sweat.
“Ah,” he flexed his fingers, then winced. “So I am.”
“When people tell me how there’s such a gap in maturity between us and that I'm being used by an older wiser man, I really really want to tell them about your epic tantrums,” Cisco reaching into the bag they always brought on these ventures and pulled out the first aid kit. “Hands.”
Harrison held them out to him, watching in tired resignation as Cisco cleaned the cuts.
“If you have to do it, you know I’ll be there,” he said carefully when the last of the burning stopped and the neosporin came out. “Wherever you need me.”
“I know,” Cisco didn’t look up, went on tending the small wounds. “But you won’t be happy about it.”
“Is that a necessity?”
“Most people would be proud of a hero,” it was said flippantly, but Harrison knew exactly what the rabbit hole of familial pride was to Cisco.
“I’m proud of you every day that you struggle with this thing that you didn’t ask for,” Harrison sorted through the scatter of words in his head, aware they were navigating the first real minefield they’d encountered together. “I’m proud that you never give up. That you put your considerable brainpower into projects that you believe in. If you save lives, then I’ll figure out how to be proud of that, but don’t ask me to be happy that you’re putting yourself at risk because I can’t be.”
“It’s my risk against other people’s lives.”
“Fuck other people,” Harrison closed his eyes against Cisco’s expression.
“You really do mean that.”
“Okay,” Cisco shuddered out a breath. “Compromise.”
“Excuse me?” Harrison risked opening his eyes. Cisco was smiling at him.
“I’ve heard that’s what makes relationships work.”
“....so have I. What’s the compromise?”
“I will wait until I really have control over what I’m doing to even consider going out on the streets. If and when I decide that’s right for me, then you have final say on all of my gear and any invasive freaky surveillance you want on me. If a situation is too hot, I’ll put my safety first. Deal?”
“What if I say no?”
“Then we keep negotiating,” Cisco shrugged. “But I warn you, my mother taught me how to bargain and she’s the master.”
“That sounds..tiring. Deal.”
“Sweet. You win a Hulk bandaid.”
“Are you still angry?” He asked, mostly out of sheer curiosity.
“A little,” Cisco smoothed the neon green atrocity over the worst of the cuts. “But it’s like...if you told me about all your food allergies and then asked me out to dinner, I can’t get pissed that you won’t eat ice cream, right? You’ve been honest about who you were from the beginning. It’s up to me to decide if I can actually handle it when the cards are down.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Cisco chided and it was so perfectly Harrison’s own phrase and tone that he couldn’t muster any annoyance. “I’ve handled way worse than your antisocial behavior.”
The car was waiting from them at the crest of the hill. Just thinking about grabbing the steering wheel made Harrison’s hands throb. He fished out his keys and tossed them at Cisco.
“What? Really?” Cisco lit up like he’d won the lotto.
“Really,” Harrison go into the passenger seat. “Unless this is the moment you admit to not knowing how to drive.”
“I’ve got a license and everything,” Cisco open the driver’s door and then said something might’ve been, “course it’s expired.”
Harrison chose to ignore that. Instead he watched Cisco start the car, brow furrowed, but his hands steady. His hair was escaping again, falling around his face. Harrison reached out, tucked one lock behind his ear.
“What for?” Cisco guided the car onto the road and only gently eased onto the gas.
“Existing. It’s appreciated.”
“You got it, boss,” Cisco laughed and rolled down his window, the wind further mussing his hair.
A memory teased at the edges of Harrison’s mind. He didn’t often seek out information from his childhood, preferring to keep that door firmly closed. It seemed important though, so he tracked it down. Sorting through and bringing it to the surface took more time than he thought. When he came back to himself, they were nearly back to the labs. Their work day would begin soon, leaving their personal lives half-checked at the door.
“My mother wasn’t a well woman,” he said as Cisco pulled into Harrison’s designated space. “She died when I was seven.”
“What?” Cisco turned off the car, turning his full attention onto him.
“The details don’t matter,” Harrison waved around his head as if he could chase off the pesky minutia of her slow death. “But when she felt strong, she would tell me things. Anything she could remember. She told me I was an amanuensis.”
“A what now?”
“Someone who write down dictation. But I think she expected me to memorize rather than write.”
“Because you were a kindergartner?”
“That might’ve factored into it,” he searched the horizon, still pulling the last of the details out of his memory. “She told me there was a radioplay that she had loved as a child. The catchphrase was ‘Who knows what evil lies in the hearts of men?’”
“The Shadow knows!” Cisco filled in.
“Comics, Harrison. You’re in my wheelhouse there. The Shadow was like one of the first superheros ever,” he leaned in a little. “Where are you going with this?”
“You. If you do this vigilante thing. You won’t be the Flash or anything showy. That would defeat the deal, correct?”
“Right,” Cisco said slowly.
“And you’ve seen evil. You know where it lurks,” Harrison made eye contact, forced himself to hold it. To see Cisco look and really understand. “You know where the darkness lies.”
“Dramatic, but yeah. I guess.”
“But you still manage to live in the light. Penumbra. Almost a shadow,” he reached out, cupped Cisco’s cheek as best he could without scratching him. “The space of partial illumination between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light. Like during an eclipse. I’ve always liked the word. Never enough chances to use it.”
“Penumbra,” Cisco repeated and it sounded like a door opening impossibly wide. “I like it.”
It had another meaning. Words were slippery, fallible and perfect. Harrison kissed Cisco, mapping the name on both their tongues. He could see his way to letting Cisco be a shadow. Let him be that which shrouds or obscures. A penumbra of secrecy.
There's a time jump here, several months ahead.
“We can go,” Harrison leaned against the door frame, ignoring the annoyed look of the woman inside.
“No, we can’t,” Jesse protested. “We’re like five feet from the door.”
“Really. We can,” Cisco seized onto the out. “There’s a movie theater right now the street.”
“There he is!” The door rattled open, nearly sending Harrison to the ground. “Cisco, you’re late.”
“Sorry, Mama. There was-”
“Is this him?” She whirled on Harrison. “This is the one you’ve got us all mixed up with?”
“Dr. Harrison Wells,” he held out his hand. She ignored it. “And my daughter Jesse.”
“And this is my mother, the terror of Rose Street, Mrs. Elena Ramon,” Cisco muttered.
“This girl,” Elena looked her over, “you couldn’t have take her instead? At least she's a normal age! And she's the daughter! I cannot believe the shame you heap on us, Francisco.”
“I should say hello to Dante,” already the set of Cisco’s shoulders was wilting. Jesse looked bewildered.
For lack of any other cure, Harrison held the door open as they all trooped inside. Elena had apparently secured a row of seats near the front of the theater. After a flurry of gestures, Jesse followed after her and Harrison went after Cisco. This was what he had come her to do. The parents were irrelevant irritants.
“Here,” Cisco led him through a small door to the backstage. No one stopped them, through a stage manager gave Cisco a filthy look.
Several acts for the charity show were milling around, their talk a low hum that blended with the audience’s rising roar. Tucked in the corner was a young woman with sharply shaved head, the stubble the color of mold. Her hands were an origami of motion. The man with watched her mouth, but responded in stilted gestures.
Cisco waited at the periphery of their conversation, seemingly unwilling or unable to interrupt. When the signs slowed, he coughed softly.
“Sorry, Cisco,” she said, hands still moving. “Your brother is a chatterbox today.”
“No worries. Cassie, this is Dr. Wells.”
“Your doctor,” she took one of Harrison’s hands in both of hers, an intimate shake. “more handsome in person than the tabloids, I see. I’m Cassie, Dante’s agent slash translator slash personal assistant slash wrangler.”
“Basically amounts to getting him where he needs to go with minimal whining.”
Over her shoulder, Harrison saw Dante reach out for his little brother, putting his hands on Cisco’s shoulders. They seemed to evaluate each other, checking for who knew what. A rough embrace followed with a lot of back pounding followed by a heavy step backward.
“So he can communicate. Cisco was...vague on that point.”
“He’s protective. Dante still doesn’t think like the rest of us. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
She signed and spoke aloud to Dante. Harrison surmised it was more to enforce Dante’s usage than to make herself clear.
“This is Dr. Harrison Wells.”
Dante turned to him and it wasn’t hard to find the family resemblance. They even wore the same solid jewel toned t-shirt and denim uniform. To someone else, Dante would easily be the more fetching of them the pair with his extra inches and more classical build. Cisco stood a step behind his brother as if already resigned to the re-prioritizing that ritually took place in Dante’s orbit.
“Cisco’s told me a lot about you,” Harrison said after a beat.
Dante lifted his eyebrows and signed. Beside him, Cassie assumed the role of translator.
“You’re not what I expected. Cisco always drags home broken ones. You don’t look broken.”
“Thank you?” Harrison lifted his eyebrows. Cisco buried his face in his hands.
“Maybe he’s broken,” Dante indicated Cisco. “You fix things?”
“I make things. So does he. We improve them when we’re working together. Your brother is very smart.”
“I know that,” Dante sniffed. “Dangerous though.”
“That’s fine. So am I.”
Dante turned to Cisco and signed something at him rapidly. Cisco responded in Spanish, far too fast for Harrison even to guess what he was saying. It apparently grew headed and ended with Cisco stomping off toward the audience. Harrison made to follow him, but a hand on his arm stopped him. Dante had stepped into his personal space. Close enough that Harrison could see the uneven size of his pupils and the faint remains of scar bisecting his forehead.
Dante frowned and dropped his grip to sign something curt.
“You play music.”
“I used to,” Harrison shifted his weight.
Dante’s smile was a replica of Cisco’s, perfectly broad and sunny.
“That’s fine,” Cassie translated. “Cisco needs music.”
“He can have everything that he wants from me if it’s in my power to give.”
Dante thought this over for a moment, then slapped Harrison on the shoulder. It stung.
The theater wasn’t that large, closer to a cabaret with short rows. The Ramons had staked out the second row with Cisco’s parents in the very center. Apparently in his short absence, Cisco had been wrangled to sit next to his mother with some unknown relation on the other side. Jesse was sitting on the end, a heap of a man beside her taking up too much space.
“Hey, Dad,” Jesse said through her teeth.
“We can sit behind,” he decided. The third row as filled, but there were two seats in the fourth row though there was some climbing over legs to be done. By the time they settled, the lights had gone dim.
Dante performed close to the beginning. He was very good, Harrison could objectively admit. He played with a ferocious abandonment, leaving behind style for power. Sweat poured down his forehead by the end of the piece, but the tension he had carried onto the stage did not follow him back into the wings.
There were dancers, a magician and a some kind of abstract movement display that followed. Harrison only had eyes for the dim shape of the back of Cisco’s head. It had been lifted during Dante’s piece, but gradually started sinking downward afterwards. Beside him, his mother sat in rapt silence for Dante, then talked through the other acts. She was loud enough to garner polite shushing from before and behind which she roundly ignored.
Then Cisco tried, a faint gesture and a plea that Harrison couldn’t make out.
“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” Cisco’s father grumbled.
Intermission couldn’t come quickly enough. When the lights blessedly started to raise, Jesse tapped his hand.
“Daddy?” she sing-songed.
“Remember how we talked about acting normal and passive tonight?” She narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth. “I take it back. Let’s be one hundred percent Wells.”
“Good choice,” he kissed the top of her head. “You get him away. I’ll do the rest.”
Jesse bounced up to Cisco, all wide innocent eyes and questions. She drew him slowly away from the family until she was a wall between them. Harrison waited at the end of the row until the Ramons tried to get into the aisle. He wasn’t large enough to actually stop them, but he knew how to create a presence.
“Mrs. Ramon, I am duly impressed by Dante’s playing.”
“He is mar-” she began, eyes fluttering to the stage.
“I’m afraid that we won’t be staying for the second part of the show, so I want to be sure to tell you this now. I am far far more impressed by Cisco’s loyalty, kindness and wisdom in the face of your despicable parenting,” he lifted up his chin incrementally to really get a look down his nose at her. Mr. Ramon’s face was turning an alarming shade of red. “How he managed to crawl from your gonads to become the man he is today, is nothing short of miraculous.”
“You can’t speak to me like that!” Her voice rose several impressive octaves, drawing attention from all angles.
“On the contrary, Mrs. Ramon,” he kept his tone level, pitched low so that it would carry no further than it was intended to go. “I think it’s about time someone did. We’re leaving and until such a time that you can speak to both your sons with the respect they deserve, don’t expect to see or hear from Cisco.”
“You miserable piece of shit,” Mr. Ramon finally spoke, his voice shaking with rage.
“Most likely. Among worse things,” he turned his back to them. “But as miserable as I may be, it's my home he'll sleep in tonight. Consider that.”
He turned down the aisle and used the eavesdroppers as a convenient shield to the advancing rage behind him. When he made it outside, Jesse had her arm around Cisco and a vicious expression on her face.
“Booze,” she said firmly.
“Hopkins,” Harrison determined and got them all into the car before the Ramons could decide to carry the scene on to the outside.
Cisco went docilely in the back of the car, turning his head to look sightless out the window rather than make eye contact.
“How much did he hear?” Harrison mouthed at Jesse. She shook her head. Nothing. Good.
Hopkins was a beautiful length of mahogany in an open air garden at the top the tallest hotel in Central City. It was a good place for discreet business meetings with it’s private elevator and elite pricing. Theresa had loved it and they had celebrated no few occasions with drinks sipped at the railing, one heel tipped over the edge.
Tonight, Harrison kept them safely at the bar tucked into the tall stools with their curved backs to keep the rich from drinking themselves onto the floor. Jesse ordered them a round of drinks and a enormous platter of finger food, then said something about freshening up. When she was gone, Harrison finally turned his attention to Cisco.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Cisco crumbled, elbows planted on the bar head in his hands. “I told you it was a bad idea.”
“Meeting your brother was a positive,” he said lightly, reaching over to run a soothing hand over Cisco’s back. “Your parents...less so.”
“They mean well,” Cisco arched a little into the touch. “I think.”
“You may not want to call them for...hm. A month. Maybe two.”
“Words were said.”
“Necessary, if unkind, ones.”
“Fuck,” Cisco scrubbed at his eyes. “do I have to apologize?”
“No. In fact, I would recommend that you didn’t. You did nothing wrong. If anyone was to apologize, it would be me, but as I have no regret about the matter it might be ineffective.”
“They’re never going to talk to me again.”
“Right now, I can’t see why that wouldn’t be a positive,” Harrison tugged gently on Cisco’s ponytail. “They’ve done nothing to deserve you and everything to earn your hate. That you still try is....I don’t understand it, but I admire it.”
“They’re my parents,” Cisco shoulders shifted under him, a defeated shrug. “I have to try.”
“No, Cisco,” Harrison put his arm around him, kissed his temple. “They’re the ones that are supposed to try. That’s what parents do. They’re supposed to take care of you, protect you if they can and root for you when they can’t. It’s their failing, not yours.”
“I don’t know why they don’t...” Cisco heaved a sob and the damn broke. It was a quiet, ugly cry and Harrison angled himself as a shield. Let Cisco cry on the ancient wood that had seen much worse and eventually on Harrison’s shirt.
Their drinks and food arrived with appropriate discretion as the worst of it passed. Harrison took a cloth napkin, dipped it into water and cleaned Cisco’s face.
“You must think I’m such a child,” Cisco sniffed. “Fuck. I can’t remember the last time I cried.”
“I think you’re in pain. I think you should have your drink. And later, come home with us and let me take care of you.”
“Okay,” Cisco’s voice wobbled. “Okay.”
Jesse re-emerged a moment later and Harrison suspected eavesdropping. She sat down on Cisco’s other side and gave him a sideways hug.
“You want me to punch them?” she offered. “I’m getting pretty good at krav maga and no one ever sees the cute co-ed coming with a mean left hook.”
“No, thanks,” Cisco managed a watery smile for her. “But maybe you could give me a few pointers.”
“You’d love my instructor!” She nattered on, scrapping away the layers of pain in favor of gossip and rum. Harrison was so proud of her that he felt he could burst with it.
They didn’t get drunk, but Cisco had enough to weave a little on the way back to the car. Harrison had kept himself to a single drink and let the night air finish sobering him up. At the house, Jesse hugged them both goodnight before meandering in the direction of her room. Cisco’s mood took a distinct dive as they approached the bedroom.
“Here,” Harrison steered him to the bed. “Don’t...don’t do anything. Let me.”
In the close silence, Harrison undressed Cisco with as much tenderness as he could summon. He took care to kiss each inch of skin as it was exposed, running his hands over chilled limbs and rubbing at the places muscles had turned to knots. As he worked, he was aware of Cisco’s heavy pliance, almost an absence of space.
By the time he pushed Cisco down to the sheets and decided against anything more intimate than a loose cuddle, it was clear that their usual play wouldn’t solve this. Maybe nothing that would take less than several years could.
There was one thing though that Harrison had held in reserve. Not to tease or taunt, but because it needed the right moment and the right space. This wasn’t what he had thought it would look like, but plans were made to adapt.
“Cisco,” he ran his hand down Cisco’s cheek, put two fingers beneath his chin and lifted his face so they were eye to eye in the gloom.
“I love you.”
Cisco was on him in a breath, all reaching hands and desperate lips.
“Say it again.”
“I love you, Dr. Cisco Ramon.”
“Please,” Cisco begged as prettily as he did for an orgasm. “Again.”
“I love you.”
Harrison would gladly have said it until he was hoarse. Until the sun rose up if necessary. He let Cisco lead them in a frantic rut, accepting his ragged thrusts and kisses that slid into bites as the words melted between them. It was short, messy and unsatisfying. Harrison couldn’t have cared less.
“I love you too,” Cisco murmured afterwards, clinging to him as if the bed were a ship in a storm. “More than I want to, more than I knew I could.”
“Go to sleep,” Harrison tangled their legs together.
“You’ll say it tomorrow?” Cisco asked through a yawn.
“You’ll never go another day without hearing it.”
It wasn’t a promise he made impulsively or lightly. As long as there was breath to spare in his lungs, he would keep it. No matter what came next.
In the predawn light of the morning after the disastrous concert, Harrison slipped back out of the bed. With a soft grunt, Cisco claimed his abandoned pillow and buried in his face in it. Tempting though it was to wake him, Harrison left him for the woods.
The walks had begun years ago after Theresa died and the house was too quiet once Jesse went to sleep. Nature as a whole wasn’t appealing to him, but there was something to be said for the stolid sameness of trees and their tenants. He’d never spotted anything larger than a fearless doe or more dangerous than skunk. It was a tame, urbanized sort of wood separating their house from their neighbors. A walk around the perimeter took roughly forty-five minutes, enough time for him to sort out his plan for the day or work out whatever fury had gathered in his guts while he slept.
The sky was overcast as he settled onto his path, giving the thin forest a grayscale quality. The hush amplified the crunch of the dead leaves beneath his feet. The first real hint of the winter’s oncoming chill creased the air and wrinkled at the sliver of skin exposed between gloves and cuff.
Jesse hated it the single time she’d begged to accompany him. The isolation and the screams of birds had run roughshod over her nerves and she’d insisted they turn back around. She’d been all of thirteen then, but she’d never come back out with him. He hadn’t asked.
He hadn’t asked Cisco yet either.
It was too exposed for him. More than the nudity of a shared bed or the vulnerability of giving up secrets, the woods were his nakedness. There were trees here that bore the scars of his grief, rages that he barely remembered and ended only when he was utterly emptied of anything like emotion. This was the place that absorbed his acid and bile until he could swallow it down and manage the world again. It had witnessed his new loneliness, the first of it's kind. He had never felt alone before her. She had carved herself space inside of him
Some days went by now when he didn’t think of Theresa at all. Not because Cisco had replaced her. There could be no replacement for the woman who had seen the strange satire of a human being and decided that it was enough for her. She had never tried to change him nor allowed herself to be changed. He missed that more than anything.
The first day they had gone home from the hospital with Jesse, she had put their squalling daughter into his arms and wrapped his fingers around a bottle then left him there while she slept. She had always expected equal work without explanation.
That would never be Cisco. It couldn’t. Shouldn’t. He needed something else now, something more forgiving and lenient. Something he could mold, even if it was only a little.
A bird trilled nearby, then waited in vain for a reply. Harrison moved deeper into the woods and the sheltering branches, the first drops of rain spilling into his hair and clinging to his glasses.
By the time he arrived home, he was thoroughly soaked and thinking more about dry socks than revelations. Faint sounds from the kitchen re-routed him and he was surprised to find Jesse bent over a mixing bowl.
“Early for it,” he said mildly. She glanced up, flashing bloodshot eyes at him.
“I didn’t sleep great,” she ran a hand through her hair, sending it into a cascade of disarray. “I kept thinking about Mom.”
“I was thinking about her too,” he confided and sat across the countertop, heedless of the water he dripped onto the floor.
“I missed her last night. She would’ve known the right thing to say to fix it. To make it all right,” she set down her spoon and rubbed the sleeve of her bathrobe over her eyes.
“She would’ve,” he said with more faith than he had. Theresa had never suffered fools well. His own intolerance did make her look good in comparison.
“I would give anything to have her with us again. Even for an hour,” she swallowed down hard and returned her attention to her batter. “And instead that bitch gets to walk around and treat her kids like dirt.”
“It’s unfair. So what are you going to do about it?”
“Already did it,” she stirred with renewed ferocity. “I thought about what Mom would do. When I was like 9, she told me that people were like food. ‘Waste not, want not’. “
That sounded like her. He could even imagine the slight sing-song she’d use.
“And I invited Dante and Cassie over for breakfast. I figured Cassie could pry him away from the viper’s nest and serve as a buffer. I lifted Cisco’s phone last night and got her number.”
“You invited people to the house?”
“We’re not shut ins, Dad.”
“Agree to disagree.”
“They’ll be here in a half hour.”
“What are you making?” It occurred to him that it didn’t resembled her usual sludgy pancake mix.
“Nutella chili crepes. I bought the recipe off the chef at Jubilee’s at like 2am. That was a fun conversation, but you know. They’re his favorite.”
“Yes,” he hid a chagrined smile behind his hands. “I know.”
She pointed at him with a spoon. “Your lips are getting a little blue. Maybe dry clothes.”
Cisco hadn’t moved an inch since he’s left. There were goosebumps rising on his exposed shoulder, so Harrison flipped the duvet up to cover him. Then he indulged himself in a good long stare as he got changed, cataloging beloved features. It occurred to him that Cisco was ill prepared for the winter’s cold in their drafty house. The few items that Cisco had started to leave in an empty drawer were better suited for their temperate lab.
With absolutely no other motivation, Harrison found one of his own black cashmere sweaters and folded it neatly on top of the nightstand on Cisco’s side of the bed where it couldn’t be missed.
A few minutes in the bathroom and he heard the faint call of the doorbell. Early. He made the tactical decision to leave Cisco behind. Let him sleep through whatever the initial encounter wrought.
Jesse had laid places out in the dining room and there was a prominent bottle of open champagne next to the orange juice. Cassie had slid into a seat, a mimosa in hand as she and Jesse went through the motions of small talk. Dante hadn’t quite entered the room, hovering in the doorway with a large rectangular case in his hand.
“Ignore him,” Cassie waved a few fingers in Dante’s direction as Harrison choose a seat beside Jesse. “He’ll take a few minutes.”
“Thank you for bringing him. After last night...”
Dante signed something and Cassie laughed.
“He says that sometimes you need to borrow someone elses’ backbone. I say, everyone needs a good kick in the pants sometimes.”
“Has it always been like that?” Jesse brought in a last dish, set it among the bounty.
“Used to be worse in some ways. I mean, they started out with two precocious geniuses and ended up with a felon and a guy who will only travel with his keyboard. They never figured how to cope with the change.”
Dante deliberately set the case down after that comment and hovered behind Cassie until she pulled out a chair and gave him a stern look. Through breakfast, Harrison got a better idea of their symbiosis. What started as one-sided became more obviously a give and take with Dante providing Cassie with much needed distraction from her own skittish attention span. The conversation leaped wildly until Dante would redirect it back with a fast interjection of hands or the offering of some dish to Cassie.
When breakfast had come and gone with no sign of Cisco, Harrison assumed they would leave. Instead, Dante gathered up his keyboard and looked expectantly at Jesse.
“I might have suggested a jam session?” she smiled winningly at her father.
“I don’t jam,” he said flatly.
She covered a plate of crepes to leave on the counter for Cisco. He took her pointed non-answer for what it was and led Cassie and Dante to the ‘music room’ which was little more than a half-sound proofed rectangle with his drum set in the corner and Jesse’s neglected violon on a shelf.
Dante set up his keyboard and stool with fastidious speed, before running through a succession of warm up exercises while Cassie took her time settling on the floor, her head pillowed on Dante’s thigh. Jesse had a book in hand and a sofa cushion to sit on, choose the far wall to rest her back against. For lack of any other task, Harrison slid in behind the drums and found the first rhythm that suited the rising notes coming from the keyboard.
Dante paused, then set a few notes crawling after each other until Harrison placed them. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ had played on enough radios that he could follow along and play his part. Cassie started to sing along around the second verse and her voice was a wonderfully mellow alto. She suggested titles after that, firing them off seemingly at random until Dante would play them in to one.
They had gone through a half dozen before Cisco appeared in the doorway during ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’. He looked sleep drunk, hair barely dragged back into a limp tail and a tiny smear of chocolate at the corner of his mouth suggesting he’d already found the crepes. He was wearing the sweater with nothing beneath, the neckline hanging low enough to show off a few inches of his tattoo. The sleeves were too long, cuffs sweeping over his knuckles and adding an air of innocent vulnerability that twisted in Harrison’s gut.
Worst or best of all, without any way of knowing that the Wells had broken their prized isolation, he hadn’t put on pants. Only dark boxers that showed off the strong cut of this thighs and the slight bulge of a fading morning erection.
If they had been alone, Harrison would’ve been on him in a heartbeat. The sweater alone begged for hands to push it upwards, comparing the cashmere to velvet soft skin. He would bite at the exposed juncture of Cisco’s neck and skim fingers inside his underwear. If they’d been alone, he would have had Cisco right there against the door frame.
But they weren’t and Harrison could only lick his lips while Cisco took in the scene.
Jesse shifted on her cushion, offering half to Cisco, who took it with good grace. Cassie went right on singing, “It’s far beyond the stars...It's near beyond the moon...”
And Cisco joined in, honey warm tenor, untrained and lovely, “I know beyond a doubt...My heart will lead me there soon...”
Crooning gave way to pop again and if Harrison didn’t play another Taylor Swift song for a thousand years it would still be too soon. When the beat finally won out, he moved them into the music he was most comfortable with.
“Sometimes I give myself the creeps,” Jesse chimed in and Cisco grinned like a feral creature. “Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me...”
“It all keeps adding up,” Cisco got to his feet and padded over to Harrison, draping himself over him, singing right into his ear, “I think I’m cracking up. Am I just paranoid or am I just dumb?”
As far as Harrison could tell, Cisco and Dante never exchanged more than an aborted greeting from the time Cisco woke to the frantic phone calls that blew up Cassie and Dante’s phone. Yet, when Cassie deemed to prudent to head back home, they seemed much easier with each other.
“I’ll see you soon,” Cisco told his brother at the threshold and Dante nodded like it was a certainty.
Once they were gone, the proper quiet settled back over the house. Cisco tapped a finger against the closed door then turned on them.
“I’m still in my underwear, aren’t I?”
“You have a really cute butt,” Jesse offered, then went bright red. “I mean-”
“I think we’re all in agreement,” Harrison coughed. “You should...do something. In your room. Now.”
“Yep! Yes. I am going to go do things.”
“Thanks for the crepes!” Cisco called after her.
“She invited your brother too.”
“Oh, I know,” Cisco laughed weakly. “Not your style. Glad you went along with it though.”
“How are you?”
“Good,” Harrison crowded into him, sliding his hands to the back of Cisco’s thighs and with one grunt of effort picked him clean off the floor and slammed him into the door. “Let’s talk later.”
“Rain check issued and signed,” Cisco clung to him. He smelled of stale sweat, coffee and sugar. Harrison wanted to bury himself in him.
“You’re moving in,” he decided as he followed through on his earlier plans. “Because this. This needs to happen on more mornings.”
“Yeah,” Cisco agreed with no clear indication that he had any idea what he was agreeing too. “Fuck...yes!”
There was a slight ding in the white paint on the front door after that morning. The place where Cisco’s control had slipped fractionally as he came in a screaming rush with Harrison buried inside of him. When they moved Cisco in a week later, Harrison touched the dent with something bordering on reverence.
“Come on,” Cisco nudged him again. “Rise and shine.”
“I regret all decisions I’ve made that have led up to this point,” Harrison groaned and shrank away from Cisco’s touch.
“Yeah, I know,” Cisco mumbled and Harrison struggled to parse that as his brain booted up.
“Mhmmf,” he scrubbed at his face with his hands.
“You can sleep on the plane,” Cisco pointed out.
“I can’t,” he contradicted, only because he could. He was already sitting up though he reached out to bury his face into Cisco’s stomach temporarily. The warm cotton was soothing to the headache brewing in the back of his skull. Retribution for a sleepless night with no recovery time.
“You’re kind of pathetic this morning,” Cisco laughed, running a hand over Harrison’s hair.
“Travel,” he forced himself to his feet and fumbled on his glasses. “Not my favorite.”
“You didn’t have to agree to it.”
“Jesse wanted Gotham for her birthday, that’s what she’s getting.”
He shambled to the bathroom to splash water on his face and brush his teeth. A small thrill of pleasure still shot through him when he saw Cisco’s shaving cream and gel tumbled up with his own. Apparently practically living somewhere and actually calling it home made quite the difference for Cisco. The faint imprints he used to leave were nothing to the very real presence he now made. Entire rooms had been filled with new life.
Their bedroom had a cast signed and framed poster from The Fifth Element instead of the rather bland watercolor that some faceless decorator had stuck up year’s ago. Jewel toned shirts mingled with Harrison’s gothic sea of black cloth in the hamper. Hair ties cropped up in seemingly impossible locations. Cisco’s nightstand was cluttered with devices and secondhand paperbacks.
Harrison dressed slowly, inhaling the air to catch a faint reminder of Cisco’s shampoo, aftershave and deodorant that blended into the sharp fresh odor of his skin first thing in the morning.
Outside their door was an intricate rag rug, made by a long gone grandmother. The severe line of posed family photos was broken up with a few of a younger Cisco, sometimes with his brother or alone with an award clutched in one hand. Even one at the very beginning of the timeline, Cisco still small enough to be held close to his mother, her lips pressed to his forehead and Dante clinging defiantly to her leg. It hung slightly crooked and none of them had made an attempt to adjust it.
The living room had been thoroughly colonized, a new bookshelf erected and filled with more paperbacks and comic book trades. Jesse had rearranged a few shelves so that their childhood accolades blended together and their degrees hung above them in a neat line. There were several, including Jesse’s undergraduate degree which had been awarded quietly and quickly when she proved equal to the classes she’d missed. There would be a master's degree within eight months to join it and she’d prominently left space for both it and her eventual doctorate.
Suitcases were neatly packed at the front door, waiting for a driver to stack them in a trunk. Harrison fought the urge to check his again. They were hardly traveling to the middle of the rainforest. Anything he required would be accessible in Gotham. He did indulge himself in checking the contents of his coat pockets one last time.
Everything was as he’d left it, so he gave up on finding some small task to occupy him in the last few minutes at home and went into the kitchen.
“Coffee?” he asked plaintively.
“Here,” Jesse pressed a travel mug into his hands. “It’s fresh and I didn’t let Cisco make it.”
“Hey!” Cisco chewed through the piece of bagel in his mouth then continued, “My coffee is fine.”
“It’s fine for everyday,” she allowed. “But there’s a lot of bad java between here and Gotham.”
Harrison wrapped his hand protectively around the travel cup, using it to wash down two Advil fished out of the sundries drawer. There was a Mario figurine shoved in with an Exacto knife and bobby pins. He decided not to ask.
The car arrived a few minutes later, sweeping them off to the airport. Harrison closed his eyes and let the conversation wash over him. They were chattering about the play Jesse wanted to see and Tegan, the friend she had lost touch with and reconnected to in time to meet for dinner. The headache didn’t give in to the painkiller, clinging to his neck and eyes.
Originally the trip had been his gift to Jesse with no plans of his own attendance. There were ways and means of keeping her protected without him clinging on like a shadow. But she had asked and then Cisco had wistfully admitted to single plane trip to the funeral in the last decade. Harrison remembered a time when he’d been better at saying no.
“Boarding first class,” a young woman chimed as they got to the gate. No time to relax in the waiting area, but straight onto the goddamn plane.
“Great timing!” Jesse all but dragged Cisco onto the plane, her own nervous excitement nearly palpable. “I hate waiting around.”
Harrison wound up giving them the two seats together and retreating across the aisle. They could wear each other out while he closed his eyes and tried to block out what was rapidly becoming the first migraine he’d had in in years.
“Can I get you something, sir?” A concerned stewardess leaned in, trying to pull herself tight to avoid blocking the other boarding passengers.
“A seltzer,” he shuttered his eyes to her, “please.”
Take off lurched his stomach back and set the pain lancing through his head. Only vast oceans of practice kept him in his seat until the flight leveled out. The fasten seatbelt sign flickered off and he slowly made his way to his feet and to the bathroom.
As soon as the thin door closed behind him, he was violently sick. He braced himself against the sink and tried to take in even breaths. He lost track of time waiting for his stomach to settle. A single light rap at the door finally caught his attention.
He debated ignoring it. Weak and depleted, he had no interest in allowing anyone else in. But like a cornered animal, he had little choice in the matter. With a flick of his wrist, he moved the lock aside and let Cisco crowd into the postage stamp space.
“I was hoping I was wrong and this was a mile high club initiation,” Cisco’s nose wrinkled, but he gave no other indication of disgust. “Airsick?”
“No. Eggs” He let his head fall back on the wall, trying not to think of how filthy it must be. “Something I ate last night must’ve been contaminated with them. Or red dye. Or both.”
“Do you need epinephrine?” Cisco made to reach for his pocket.
“No, not that kind of allergen. Just gives me a raging migraine with all the fun that goes with it,” his throbbing head caught up with the motion. “You’re carrying an Epi-Pen?”
“Seemed like a good idea. You’re careful, but mistakes get made. Case in point,” Cisco waved vaguely at him, then reached into the tiny sink to wet a paper towel. “Small thing to prevent a big thing.”
“True,” Harrison always had one on him, of course, but if his throat had swollen up it would be hard to tell a medic where it was. “Clever boy.”
“That’s me,” Cisco pressed a cold wet paper towel to Harrison’s eyes. It was blissfully good. “You could’ve just said you were getting sick.”
“It took me off guard,” he admitted, taking over the cold compress. “I was caught up in other things.”
“It’s the first time you’ve left Central City,” Cisco agreed. “I didn’t think it was worth talking about, since you were acting like such a calm cool collected asshole about it.”
“Was I?” He surveyed his recent behavior and found an unflattering set of conversations.
“Yep,” Cisco popped the ‘p’. “S’ok. I figured it out. But maybe next time we can talk about it so I don’t have to spend a week wondering if I was going to be homeless.”
“You’ll never be homeless,” Harrison whipped off the paper towel and thrust it into the garbage. “Jesse would make me leave instead.”
“That’s not true,” but it did make Cisco smile. “Probably.”
“I’m sorry,” Harrison touched his arm gently, squeezed the barest amount. “Don’t..don’t let me get away with it that long. It will never be about you, I promise that. If we’re arguing, you’ll be certain of it.”
“You told me that one of us would make a mistake and the other would fix it. Don’t know why I thought it would always be me fucking up,” Cisco shrugged. “Thought you’d have all of this down, I guess.”
“No one is has ‘all of this’ down,” the plane wavered and Harrison closed his eyes against the reminder of lingering nausea. “Can we table this conversation until we reach land and I’ve had a few Excedrin?”
“I think it’s been had,” Cisco threw the lock and reached back a hand for him. “Jesse switched over to your seat to take a nap.”
It was strangely pleasant to have someone fuss over him. Cisco lifted the barrier between their seats, coaxed Harrison’s head to his shoulder and rubbed the back of his neck. A fresh seltzer in hand, Harrison closed his eyes and listened as Cisco read him the latest results on the labs biomedical experiments. Somewhere along the line he fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until the wheels hit the runway.
The migraine had mostly retreated to his intense relief and Cisco looked more relaxed than he had in days. It stung to know that he hadn’t really noticed. There was a car waiting for them, ready for their bags. There was no time for recrimination or discussion. Gotham spilled out before them, it’s spiky skyline posing dramatically against a cloudy sky.
“Okay,” Cisco rocked back on his heels. “Wow.”
“It’s an aesthetic,” Harrison peeled off bills to tip the driver. In Gotham, one was better off tipping before the service started to ensure decent care.
“It’s got character,” Jesse argued. “In the car. We’ve got things to do people.”
The way there was Jesse playing tour guide, pointing out places she’d visited before or explaining some piece of history she’d squirreled away until the Four Seasons came into view. The driver took them around the back, apparently well experienced with recognizable guests. A bellhop led them to a discrete elevator. It let them out near the top on an isolated floor. There were two other rooms, but Harrison had ensured they’d stay empty for their two night stay.
“Oh, thank god. I am taking a thousand showers,” Jesse announced banging open the door.
The suite was elegantly appointed and enormous, flinging Jesse’s bedroom/bathroom far enough away from their own that only minor discretion would be necessary. The floor to ceiling windows showed them how far above the elevator had brought them.
“This is...insane,” Cisco determined, “You know every asshole paparazzi that called me a gold digger? They can one hundred percent eat it. They would totally fuck a goat to live like this.”
“I’m not sure if that was an insult or not.”
“You’re not a goat,” Cisco looked out over the city and Harrison came to the window to join him. “It’s so different.”
“You have no idea,” Harrison’s eye caught on Wayne Tower. He pointed to it. “You and I have an appointment there later.”
“What for?” Cisco frowned.
“That would spoil the surprise.”
“I think so”
“Hm. Thought it was Jesse’s birthday?”
“I missed yours last year, didn’t I?”
“I just started working for you,” Cisco gave him a small smile. “That was a good gift.”
"I’m going to follow Jesse’s lead and shower that damn flight off myself,” Harrison kissed him gently. “Coming?”
The huge bathtub sunk into the middle of the bathroom stopped Cisco cold.
“We’re using that.”
“Not right now,” Harrison opened the shower door. “But if you want, we will before we leave.”
They showered together often enough now to have their pattern down. It was nearly a dance as they circled in and out of the water. Neither of them attempted anything beyond a few sudsy gropes, aware of the hour.
“Here,” Harrison handed Cisco a hanger out of his own garment bag when they emerged into the bedroom.
“You’ll feel uncomfortable if I let you go in what you brought. I had my tailor make this up for you,” Harrison had thought it a fitting preamble for what was to come.
“Based on what measurements?” Cisco frowned.
“The ones I’ve taken with my hands and my tongue. Very exact tools if you know how to handle them,” Harrison smirked.
The suit was a crisp steel grey, shot through with baby blue pinstripes. There was a shirt to match and silky tie just a shade darker than the pinstripes.
“This is sort of formal-” he was fussing in the mirror, coming to an abrupt stop as Harrison slid in behind him. “Is that a color? Are you wearing an actual color?”
“Perhaps,” Harrison allowed. The suit was black, but the shirt underneath was an electric blue. The same exact color as Cisco’s tie.
“Take off your glasses,” Cisco ordered and Harrison willingly obeyed. “Your eyes are so damn blue.”
“They were blue ten minutes ago,” he teased.
“Not this blue.”
Harrison surveyed their reflection and then unclasped his watch. He slid it onto Cisco’s wrist and closed it. Perfection.
“I should be angry about this somehow. You’re Pretty Woman-ing me all over the place.”
“It’s not for you,” Jesse cut in. She peered in through the crack in the door.
“Come on then,” Harrison took a step back as she walked in.
Her dress was a steely teal, cut to fit her like a second skin, showing off her shoulders. A gossamer thin silver wrap fell from her arms to her waist and a single unadorned diamond suspended by a wisp of a chain sparkled above her cleavage. It had been his gift to Theresa on their fifteenth anniversary.
“You look gorgeous,” Cisco mimed a picture. “What’d you mean it isn’t for me?”
“It’s for them,” she nodded toward the window. “Before Mom died, we were a small deal on the social scene. She grew up with money. We barely got a chance to mourn before we were thrown into it without her. The Labs were faltering, investors liked to see their indomitable leader rising in the face of grief with his charming waif of a daughter.”
“You were never a waif,” Harrison corrected.
“Maybe not,” she fixed the seam of her dress minutely. “We’ve been taking a break this last year, but the cracks are starting to show. Tonight is a premier. They’ll take our picture and we’ll make the social pages. The Wells will be back.”
“So we match because?” Cisco glanced between them.
“It’s sort of a family motto,” she explained. Harrison held out her arm for her and she slide linked with him. They both straightened their posture. In her heels, she was nearly a match for his height. In a heartbeat, all warmth left their eyes and faces. Smooth, bored and dangerous.
“Ice, ice, baby,” they said together.
“Oh my god,” Cisco started laughing hysterically. “You guys are so fucking scary.”
“Us guys,” Jesse let her face melt again and she held out her hand to Cisco. “I’ll show you how it’s done in the car.”
The next morning there was a crisp picture of the three of them on the social page. Underneath the blurb ran, ‘Dr. Harrison Wells and his daughter Jesse Wells have graced Gotham once again with their special breed of chill. Even their new playmate, Cisco Ramon (Wells’ senior’s new boytoy) seems bitten by frost though this reporter thinks he might be the hot new thing!”
“Ice, ice, baby!” Cisco laughed over breakfast, high fiving Jesse over the coffee urn.
“Why is it always boytoy?” Harrison groaned. “It makes you sound like a box of Lego.”
“Or a hooker,” Jesse pointed out to resounding glares from all sides. “What? It does.”
“When are you meeting Tegan?” Harrison prodded.
“For lunch. I told the meatheads so they can properly escort me to and from. We’re still meeting up for dinner at Zest?”
“Yes, of course,” Harrison poured himself another cup of coffee, aware of the fatigue from yesterday’s episode and the long night afterwards.
“What are we doing?” Cisco asked, turning his full attention to Harrison with hopeful expectation.
“Our appointment isn’t until 3. The city is yours until then.”
“Nothing you want to do?”
“I want to see this place through your eyes,” he said with a shrug, ignoring Jesse’s gagging noise.
“There’s the Keane Industrial Museum,” Cisco said tentatively.
“Oh! That place is awesome,” Jesse poked at her phone. “It’s not far from here.”
They wound up walking, coats zipped up against the biting wind. Cisco reached out and Harrison gratefully took his hand. No one paid them much mind, absorbed in their business and wary of making eye contact with strangers. Used to the over friendly nature of Central, Harrison always liked the frank disinterest of Gotham’s citizens. In another life, he could’ve been happy here.
“You can’t ignore me like that,” Cisco eventually said and Harrison gamely stepped back into their postponed conversation. “it’s too much for me. I don’t know how to fight back against it.”
“It wasn’t intentional,” he kept his eyes on the sidewalk, sweeping it for potential pitfalls. “and I can’t promise it won’t happen again. I can only say that I’ll try to do better.”
“Guess that’s all I can ask.”
Harrison waited, but nothing more came. He squeezed Cisco’s hand.
“Cisco. There’s nothing temporary about you. I asked you to move in because I want you to be there all the time. No one fight is going to end things, no one disagreement. That’s not how it works. I told you: I don’t let go of what’s mine.”
“And am I?” Cisco glanced up, eyes shielded by his impossibly long lashes.
“You know that you are,” Harrison moved his grip upwards, circling leather clad fingers around Cisco’s wrist. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Cisco swallowed hard and didn’t fight off the hold.
The museum was fine. Harrison had been there before with Theresa and then with Jesse. The exhibits were mostly unchanged. He hadn’t been lying about seeing things through Cisco’s eyes. It was very enjoyable to stroll through the renovated factory building with Cisco low level vibrating with excitement. He stopped and read half the placards, sometimes out loud to Harrison. When there was no corner left umplummed, Harrison led him back to the street and bought them both the famous Gotham pork bun off a shady looking cart. They ate it tucked up in an empty park on a freezing metal bench.
“Favorite vacation ever, go,” Cisco said around a mouthful of shredded park.
“Sesame Place,” Harrison answered without a second thought. “Jesse was three and in love with Grover. We took her over some long weekend and both managed to get there without any work to do. There was this tutu phase that Jesse was going through and when she met Grover, he told her that he liked her outfit. She actually cried she was so happy.”
“Grover is clearly the best.”
“I agree. It wasn’t particularly flashy as vacations went, but I remember thinking that that was it. I’d made it somehow. For years, I had imagined that I would spend my life alone and happily so. Yet there I was with this...family. All of a sudden,” he picked a piece of lettuce from the bun, twirled it between his fingers, “it was unexpected to say the least.”
“Yeah,” Cisco smiled faintly. “I can see that.”
“What about you?”
“Like I said, we didn’t really do vacations. Too much month at the end of the money for a few years. Then after the accident, Dante didn’t do cars very well.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“No idea. Anywhere. Can I ask you something...I mean something you might not want to answer?”
“I think after this week you’re owed.”
“I haven’t researched it because it seemed...wrong, somehow. How did Theresa...”
Harrison leaned back on the bench, watched a little old lady walking her fat corgi. The dog waddled to a stop, taking a long piss into the dead foliage.
“A stupid error. An interaction of two medications from two different doctors. She filed them at different pharmacies because she was under a deadline for a grant that we were aiming for. The chances of a fatal interaction were rare, but it happens. There was no one to blame. She just...died. In her car. Parked on the side of the damn road because she felt queasy.“
“That sucks,” Cisco held his hand tight.
“It does,” Harrison studied their joined hands. “Life is deeply flawed and unfair.”
They stayed there until Cisco started shivering. Harrison shook himself out his stupor and got Cisco to his feet, making him walk until he warmed up, then hailing a cab. Jesse texted to report her safe return to the hotel. It was close enough to three that Harrison directed the cabby to the Wayne Tower. They used their remaining minutes to gather coffees and drink them in the shadow of the monorail.
“You sure I still earned my surprise after bumming us both out?” Cisco had his nose half in the cup, trying to thaw out the tip of his nose.
“Yes,” Harrison took hold of a loose scarf end and pulled him close. “And more. I still intend to make use of that bathtub tonight.”
“Yeah?” Cisco’s eyes brightened.
“Turn the whirlpools on until your skin is buzzing and sensitive,” Harrison nuzzled into his neck. “Then I’m going spank you.”
“Fuck, Harrison,” Cisco grabbed hold of him. “I’ve got emotional whiplash.”
“Good,” he tucked a kiss in a the corner of Cisco’s mouth. “Now pull yourself together. We have an important person to meet.”
The glass and steel cathedral of the reception area seemed to sober Cisco. His shoulders squared while his hands fidgeted. Harrison took in the few people milling about until he saw a slim young man in clothes a shade to casual for the surroundings. He strode up to him, aware of being surveyed and weighted.
“Good afternoon,” he held out his hand. “Dr. Harrison Wells, I believe you were waiting for me."
“Among other things,” Greyson smiled, a flash of perfect teeth in his tanned face. His handshake was firm and assertive.
“This is Dr. Cisco Ramon, a collaborator and my partner.”
“Right,” Cisco took the handshake well, clearly already slightly taken with Greyson’s presence. There was an ooze of charisma there. “Nice to meet you.”
“Is it?” Greyson laughed. “Don’t get that much these days. Come on then.”
He led them through a few doors, casually reeling off department names and general descriptions of work being done.
“Which one is yours?” Cisco asked after they passed through their fifth hallway, working themselves deep into the warren of the building.
“Oh, I don’t work here,” Greyson punched a code into the next door.
“He was sent to monitor our visit.” Harrison surmised.
“Because your boss or boyfriend or whatever, pulled some very serious bullshit,” Greyson’s eyes hardened. “He poked a sleeping lion or two.”
“I sent a single email,” Harrison shrugged. “It wasn’t a threat. Just a series of observations that led to a clear conclusion.”
“Not clear to anyone else.”
“That is not my problem. If anything, I think I provided a valuable service. Pointed out a few holes worth patching.”
“You’re an asshole, Wells,” which sounded a bit like a compliment the way it tripped from Greyson’s lips.
“Hey now,” Cisco started, then stopped as Wells made a swift cut sign with one hand.
“This is your stop,” the door had no window or sign. It opened to Greyson’s handscan, the heavy metal parting soundlessly from the wall.
Harrison took the lead, letting Cisco dog his heels. He refused to be intimidated by amateur theatrics. Their shoes made a hush thud on the concrete floor, announcing their presence into the vast shrouded space.
“Is this the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Cisco’s eyes were wide. “Or are we about to be secretly murdered.”
“Neither, I hope,” a fresh voice emerged from between crates. An older gentleman in a beautiful brown suit and purple plaid bowtie stepped around some detritus. “Welcome to deep R and D.”
“You’re Lucius Fox,” Cisco blurted then turned to Harrison. “That is Lucius Fox.”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s noticed,” Harrison ducked his head to hide a grin.
“This must be your Dr. Ramon then, Harrison,” Lucius smiled at Cisco. “We’ve been talking about you.”
“I-ah-but,” Cisco kept looking between the two of them like he expected something to explode. “You’re like my number one idol. I based my dissertation on your research into miniaturized force fields!”
“Thank you,” Lucius tucked a hand into one pocket. “I read over your recent work. You’ve made impressive progress with integrating carbon fibers with traditional metalworking.”
“Oh,” Cisco flushed pink in pleasure. “Thanks! It’s sort of a side project.”
“Then I’m sure whatever your focusing on must be astonishing. Harrison rarely allows for anything less in his lab.”
“You know him?” Cisco looked accusingly at Harrison.
“We only recently reconnected,” Lucius chuckled. “I was invited to Berkeley as a visiting professor when he was in his...senior year?”
“My last semester,” Harrison agreed.
“Asked a lot of pointed questions and got asked to leave a seminar by my co-presenter if I remember correctly.”
“Munsch was and is a complete waste of a tenure,” Harrison shrugged. “And you must’ve agreed because you took me out to coffee afterwards.”
“Yes,” Lucius mouth softened a little and they shared a lingering look. “I hadn’t forgotten.”
“In any case, he’s the one I sent my apparently frightening email too.”
“Let’s not pretend that you didn’t do what you did deliberately,” Lucius turned on his heels. “This way.”
There was a slight recess in one wall. Lucius tapped in a long series of numbers. Inside something rotated and then clicked into place. The nearly invisible door slid aside. The work inside was impressive in it’s subtlety.
“Am I looking at what I think I’m looking at?” Cisco asked, his voice clogged with emotion.
“That entirely depends on what you think you’re looking at,” Lucius said smoothly.
It was, in it’s most base state, an outfit on a headless, mannequin. The color scheme was a soft black with small lines of burgundy leather trim. There were even tough combat boots with burgundy laces. The pants were form fitting and boasted cargo pockets. Wrapped around the left thigh was an intricate set of straps that suggested a decorative flare. Holstered inside was one Cisco-designed combination gun and taser that shot a near lethal amount of electricity. There were layers to the top, a tight fitting undershirt to prevent chafing from the slick bullet proof vest that was in turn disguised under a bulky knit sweater with the lush leather patched at the elbows. A set of fingerless gloves turned out towards the viewer, to show off palms that thinned into a patch of light mesh. Crowing it off were a pair of headphones, old fashioned with large ear pieces settled at the neck.
Nothing about it screamed danger.
“Is this...me?” Cisco reached out, touched the palm of the gloves. Like the gun, the fabric was his own design. It had been beautiful in its simplicity and Harrison had taken a certain pleasure in attaching the schematics to the fateful email.
“All the fabric is lightweight, flexible and capable of absorbing a lot of impact,” Lucius leaned in, turned out the cuff of the sweater to reveal a slight sheet. “It doesn't breath well, but there’s always a sacrifice.”
“So I’ll look bitchin’ and smell terrible. Got it,” gingerly, Cisco peeled on glove off the mannequin and then darted a look back at Harrison. “Can I?”
“There’s a testing facility for such things just down the hall. Better to try it all on at once. This isn’t a tailor,” Lucius stood straight again. “You get one fitting.”
Lucius left him to change. Cisco started at the glove, then up at Harrison.
“What do you have on him?”
“I’ll explain later,” Harrison reached for the zipper of Cisco’s jacket. “He’s not kidding about one fitting. I’m sure we’ll make our own adjustments, but I’d rather let him get a look at it in action before we go.”
“Dr. Fox made my supersuit,” Cisco said slowly. “And...you totally slept with him, right?”
“Yes,” Harrison draped the coat over a box, pleased that Cisco took over the stripping after that. “Five times. Six really though he only watched that once.”
“Harrison,” Cisco froze, one arm still in his t-shirt, “tell me something one hundred percent honestly.”
“Of course,” he tugged the t-shirt all the way off with one sharp twist.
“Did you at any point give my engineering idol a blow job?”
“More than once,” Harrison said carefully.
“Dr. Fox made me a supersuit and a mouth that has been on Lucius Fox’s dick has been on mine,” Cisco unbuttoned his jeans. “I think my head is gonna explode.”
“How about you explode it after you put on your suit.”
“My suit,” Cisco reiterated, still dazed, but picking up speed. “You let me get a suit. You somehow made a suit appear. This is...I don’t know how to say thank you.”
“No thank you,” Harrison put his hands on the shoulders of the mannequin, a sharp ache shooting through his chest. “Not for this.”
“Okay,” Cisco put a hand at he small of his back. “Okay.”
The pants fit perfectly, hugging Cisco’s strong thighs and leaving him with a wide range of movement. The vest needed a little tugging to fall right, but after it all came together. It was utterly Cisco with its approachable softness and underlying threat.
“What’re these for?” Cisco held the headphones, turning them over. “I figured we’d use one of your earbuds for communication.”
“You’ll like this,” Harrison plucked them up and settled the headphones over Cisco’s ears. They wouldn’t block out a lick of sound, being utterly hollow. “Nod your head once, sharply.”
Cisco touched one earpiece thoughtfully, then obeyed. As soon as his chin lifted, the black visor tucked inside the headband flew out, assembling itself from three plates to a single smooth piece. It resembled a motorcycle helmet with a opaque black plastic covering Cisco’s face. When Harrison had first conceived it, it was as a replacement for the ridiculous masks so many of the metahumans and others had adopted. As he worked on it, he’d started fiddling and wound up tucking a head’s up display with basic information in the upper right corner.
“I’ve got a Jarvis!”
“If you’re ready,” Lucius reappeared. “I do have a company to run, you know.”
“How do I?” Cisco knocked on the visor.
“Here,” Harrison reached under the visor and thumbed a tiny catch. It folded back up in a blink, revealing a beaming Cisco.
The testing room was little more than a large cleared section of the seemingly endless storage space. Greyson had reappeared there, casually doing back flips. His shirt rode up, showing off a frighteningly well defined muscle set.
“Your sparring partner,” Lucius rolled his eyes. “Stop showboating.”
“Aw, you love my style, Lucy,” Greyson mockingly stuck a landing, throwing up his arms like a gymnast. “Nice outfit, kid. Wanna show me what you plan on doing with it.”
“Hell yeah,” Cisco gave the nod, the visor flashing into place.
“Can he really do what you say he can?” Lucius asked Harrison.
“And more,” he folded his arms tight over his chest. “It’s probably going to get him killed.”
“Don’t let it get to far into him. This business kills more souls than bodies,” it was a tired warning, bent with hidden sorrow. “He seems like a good egg.”
“Yes. He is.”
Cisco was following Greyson’s testing movements, feints and sprinting jumps. When Greyson seemed to tire of trying to scare him, he straight out lunged, a dizzying spin of a kick that aimed to sweep Cisco off his feet.
Drilled in the seismic proof room all these months, Cisco’s hands went palm upward before anything touched him. Beams of focused vibration were near visible against Greyson’s chest, knocking him straight to the ground.
“Goddamnit!” Greyson hit the floor hard. “No one said he was a mutant!”
“What did you think he was?” Lucius rolled his eyes.
“Ugh,” Greyson let his head thunk against the floor. “That hits hard. Okay. Fool me once. Let’s go again.”
After that, Greyson systematically destroyed Cisco. He worked around Cisco’s focused beams, flipping behind or around him and getting him to the floor in a blink before Cisco could regain himself. By the end though, they were both sweating and Greyson was sporting an ugly red mark over one cheekbone that was definitely going to turn into a black eye.
“You’re good,” Greyson told Cisco as the visor folded back up. Cisco’s hair was sticking to his face with sweat.
“Are you kidding? I barely got a hit in.”
“Mr. Greyson is a special case,” Lucius cut in smoothly. “Most people wouldn’t make it more than a few seconds against him.”
“Aw, thanks!” Flipping his head, Greyson’s hair fell back into place. He gave Cisco a new kind of smile and a hard kernel of jealousy started to form in Harrison’s throat. “No formal training at all? Really?”
“We’ve been working on using what I’ve got,” Cisco took off one glove, flexing his hand thoughtfully. “A friend of mine has been taking krav maga lessons though. I might go with her. Seems like I need a few more moves.”
“More is better. Anyway, good match,” Greyson held out his hand and Cisco took it blithely. He wasn’t prepared for Greyson to seize it and study his palm. “Doesn’t look any different.”
“It’s just easier to concentrate there,” Cisco was clearly flustered, his free hand fidgeting with the hem of his sweater. “the vibrations are kind of a whole body thing.”
“Really,” Cisco swallowed. “Can I have my hand back there, Greyson?”
“Only if you’ll call me Dick.”
And maybe it was a smooth line and maybe it was meant to be a little funny in a smirking sort of way, but Greyson had clearly not been prepared for Cisco to double over with laughter. The hard knot in Harrison’s stomach dissolved.
“Oh my god, does that actually work?” Cisco asked, wheezing. “I mean, even if your name was like George or something it would be terrible, but you have to know that Dick isn’t helping.”
“Hey, man,” to his credit, Greyson took in stride, “some people love the D.”
Their conversation turned into a series of increasingly raunchy jokes after that, taking on a lockeroom jocularity as Lucius manhandled Cisco through a few adjustments.
“I’ll send the completed effort to your home. I think that would be the most prudent way.”
“Not through the postal service, I hope,” Harrison took the paper file Lucius handed to him, flipping through to find the specs they had discussed.
“I believe Mr. Greyson will willingly act as courier now. Perhaps he’ll take Mr. Drake with him. They could both use some time out of Gotham.”
“Who couldn’t?” Harrison tucked the file into Cisco’s backpack where it was bound to be discovered and gleefully marked up.
“Truer words,” Lucius sighed heavily.
“You would be welcome at our home,” Harrison said to the floor, not daring to make eye contact. “I know Cisco would roll out the red carpet.”
“It needed saying, Lucius. If I could piece it together for so little, their enemies can’t be far behind. And I had tried to get your attention in more subtle ways. You choose to ignore me.”
“I don’t remember that time of my life especially fondly,” Lucius locked his hands together. “I could do without the reminders. Even if you were one of the highlights.”
“Do you still speak with Alfred?”
“It’s hard for us to avoid each other,” Lucius nodded in Greyson’s direction. “But we’re not the friends we once were.”
“That’s a shame,” Harrison licked his lips. “I remember you working well together.”
“And that’s why I won’t be visiting your home,” a hint of a smile teased at the edge of Lucius’ lips. “My wife wouldn’t appreciate whatever trouble you got me into.”
A very large crate fell with a crash, spreading it’s contents on the floor. Greyson and Cisco pointed wordlessly at each other in accusation.
“The children are getting restless,” Lucius laughed. “Best get them out of here before they take out something valuable.”
Cisco was all chatter as he changed, said their goodbyes and followed Greyson back out into the lobby of the great building.
“Bye, Dick!” he shouted, letting the sound take up the sober marble space.
“Juvenile,” Harrison said under his breath and Cisco grinned at him, linking their arms together.
“Yep and you love it.”
“Apparently,” Harrison pushed out onto the street with an enormous breath of relief. “We made it out.”
“Was there a chance we wouldn't?” Cisco laughed, then stopped dead when Harrison didn’t react. “Holy shit, there was. Harrison, what the hell did you do to them?”
“Be clever, Cisco. What do you think?”
They walked for a few blocks in silence and then,
“No?” Harrison stopped at a crossing, waiting for the right of way.
“Are you-no. No, you didn’t. Because you aren’t suicidal.”
“Not today,” he agreed and started over the white stripes, Cisco half-jogging to keep up with him.
Cisco pulled him into the lee of a building once they’d reached the other side, hands fisting in his shirt.
“You figured out who Batman was?” he hissed.
“It wasn’t hard. I had the legal team file a patent on one of your designs and it turned up as already registered. I thought that was odd considering the nature of the patent, so I requested to see the existing one. It was proprietary, but there are ways around these things.”
“You’re no hacker,” Cisco accused. “Unless you’ve been holding out on me.”
“Not all hacking is computers,” Harrison put his hands over Cisco’s eased them into a gentler hold. “I’ve been weasling out desirable information from people for longer than you’ve been alive. The name on the patent was familiar, but the engineer in question is far far your inferior. There was simply no way he’d come up with it. And his company was a poor shell of a thing. I followed the line back and came to Wayne Enterprises.”
“And it was for the fabric of your suit. Who would need such a thing and even if they did why would Wanye Enterprises be the one to create and supply it? Why hide the patent? I’m still not sure why they bothered to patent it at all except to stop other companies from working with something similar.
“After that it was just asking myself a few questions and the answer was obvious. Lucius Fox was one of the brightest engineers I’d ever met and he had suddenly been appointed C.E.O. by the supposedly missing and then notoriously flaky Bruce Wayne. A man with enough money and power and misery to be anything he wants to be.”
“I can see that,” Cisco bit his lip and then reluctantly asked, “and you thought that the best use of this information was to blackmail them into making me my suit?”
“As I’ve been saying all afternoon, there was no threat or blackmail. I emailed Lucius what I knew after several more legitimate attempts to reach him. I had found a security breach, essentially and my payment for pointing it out was a relatively inexpensive bit of technology compared to what they must churn out for their majority shareholder.”
Cisco absorbed this, absentmindedly leaning into Harrison.
“Lucius Fox made my suit and then I got my ass kicked by Nightwing?” Cisco started vibrating very slightly. “He has to be. Too old to be Robin, but too flexible to be a normal person.”
“That would be my guess. I intentionally didn’t look any further than the man himself. There’s playing with fire and then there’s dousing yourself in gasoline.”
“I should be mad at you. That was a crazy stupid risk.”
“They’ve been in the supersuit business longer than anyone else,” Harrison wrapped his arms around Cisco, bringing him close. “Crazy would be not consulting with them. For all of Greyson’s fancy moves, how hurt at you?”
“Few scrapes and some soreness. You’re right, suit took the brunt of it.”
Cisco’s phone buzzed and he had to break the hug to ferret it out of his pocket.
“It’s from Jesse,” he muttered, reading. He frowned and turned the phone to Harrison.
how’s it look? Did you kick ass? PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN :D :D
“I did not take pictures.”
“You told her where we were going!”
“Of course I did. She lives with us and she’s smarter than a four year old. Or apparently the average Gotham citizen.”
“I thought you were going to call caveman protective about this.”
“What do you think I’m doing? I know my daughter. If she thinks we’re hiding something from her, she will do everything in her power to figure it out. I would much rather she finds out on our terms when it’s not a life or death situation.”
“Okay, you’ve got a point. But...I wish I could’ve told her,” Cisco put his phone away and they started walking back to the hotel. “It’s not exactly something I’m going to get a chance to do again.”
“Mhmm,” Harrison didn’t believe that for a second. These secrets had a way of expanding. “Sorry.”
“You’re not even trying to sound sincere,” Cisco pouted, but then he was taking Harrison’s hand. “Tell me about Lucius.”
The story occupied them all the way back even without getting into the juicy details of what followed their lunch meetings. Jesse was waiting for them at the front door, already dressed for dinner.
“You guys took forever!” She accused. “Man, if I took that long trying on one outfit...”
“It was worth it. I look amazing,” Cisco assured her. “You need to start making me go to class with you though. I cannot get beat up on my first day out.”
They ate dinner in style, plate after plate of exquisite food at one of Gotham’s few Michelin starred restaurants with Jesse explaining the intricacies of the experience to Cisco. Harrison concentrated on eating enough to sustain him and systematically wiping out the memories the day had visited on him.
A delicate cake arrived last, a single candle blazing and a lovely tall waiter singing a birthday seranade. Jesse smiled politely, made her wish and blew out the candle. Then she glared at Harrison.
“You suck, Dad.”
“I know,” he slid a wrapped gift across the table. “Happy birthday, baby girl.”
She was careful with the paper much to Cisco’s annoyance and the two bickered as she peeled it. Inside was a slim manuscript.
“I recognize this,” she studied it then opened the front page. “Mom used to have this.”
“Your maternal grandmother wrote it. Your mother’s copy hasn’t surfaced in years, but she would’ve wanted you to have it, so I tracked down another one.”
“She used to read me these poems,” Jesse scooted closer to Cisco, showing him a page. Then she favored Harrison with a smile. “Okay, you’re absolved. Thanks, Daddy.”
“You’re welcome, dear.”
There was a dance club after that. Harrison stayed firmly at the bar, watching them navigate the crowded floor and act like the kids they might still be at heart. Jesse danced until her hair tumbled down from its clips and Cisco made her laugh with stupid moves although Harrison knew for a fact how well he could move. When would be suitors made their attempts, Cisco always managed to be right there, warning them off without ever alerting Jesse to their presence.
It was a good night. In the taxi on the way home, Jesse’s phone rang and Harrison couldn’t help, but notice how she lit up when she saw the screen.
“Hi, Cassie! Yeah, yeah...thanks! It was great. I busted at least five moves,” Jesse listened then laughed. “Well you tell him that I want to see it if he thinks he could do better.”
Cisco shot Harrison a look which he returned with equal confusion. She just looked so happy as Cassie told her something neither of them could hear.
“Let it go,” Cisco said firmly before Jesse could end the call. “Just...let her have whatever it is.”
“Fine,” Harrison grumbled. “But I want it noted that I was giving out information twenty-four hours in.”
“She might not even be on hour one,” Cisco pointed out. “Hey, what’s our time now? From that first night, I mean.”
“Ten months, three weeks, five days, twenty-eight minutes,” Harrison lifted an eyebrow. “Correct?”
“And fifteen seconds,” Cisco teased and kissed his cheek.
Jesse turned to her room when they got the suite, off the phone, but texting fervently now. She did circle back quickly to hug them both quickly.
“Thanks for my birthday trip. Both for you. Even if you did take a detour trip and didn’t take pictures.”
‘Secrecy!” Cisco protested.
“Not from me!” Then she was gone, the door slamming behind her.
“I need a shower,” Cisco decided and headed towards the bathroom. Harrison followed at a more leisurely pace, stopping to take off his shoes and socks. By the time he reached the bathroom, Cisco had already discovered the filled tub, stripped and slide under the bubbles. His hair floated in a black halo on the top of the water.
“So good,” Cisco surface enough to talk. “Many magnitudes of good. I can’t think about how much water we’re wasting.”
“Turn on the jets and you won’t care.”
Leaving Cisco to fiddle with the knobs, Harrison took of his clothing and slid in under the water. His instructions had been well followed, the water still hot and the bubbles pleasantly scentless. Eventually sick of near drowning himself, Cisco paddled himself into Harrison’s arms and let his head fall back on Harrison’s shoulder.
“Fuck Jesse, I claim this as my new birthday,” Cisco decided. “The old one was never this good.”
“But if you keep your old one, I can try to top this in two months.”
“I am very interested in seeing you make the attempt,” his eyes were half-lidded and his lips reddened from the warmth.
The jets foamed the water, tingling over wakening nerves. Harrison walked his fingers over the inside of Cisco’s thighs, the soft skin welcoming there. When he cupped Cisco’s growing erection, he could feel the resulting moan in his own chest. He caressed the silky head of Cisco’s cock until the heat was a brand against his palm.
“Do you remember what I told you this afternoon?” Harrison rumbled into the shell of his ear.
“That..that you were going to spank me,” Cisco managed. “I don’t...I haven’t done that before.”
“I know,” Harrison moved his hands back to Cisco’s thighs, kneading them firmly to expose his puckered hole to the waters relentless movement. “I think you’ll like it. You know what to do if you don’t.”
“Tesla,” Cisco breathed out the safeword. It wasn’t a part of their everyday bedplay exactly, but Cisco had asked for one months ago and Harrison had obliged.
“Good boy,” Harrison nipped at his ear.
“Do good boys get spanked?” Cisco asked shakily.
“If they want to get fucked tonight, they do,” Harrison kissed a line from Cisco’s jaw to the wing of his shoulder. “You’ve got to earn it tonight. Understand?”
“What do I have to do?”
The water was too pleasant to leave entirely. Luckily the bench lining it was the right height. Harrison used the bouancy to his advantage, flipping them both over, forcing Cisco to find purchase on his knees. With a firm hand on Cisco’s neck, Harrison bent him over the cold tile. The gorgeous swell of Cisco’s ass rose out of the water, bumping into Harrison’s cock at first accidently and then with clear intent.
“What did I say?” Harrison asked coldly. Cisco’s hips stopped moving instantly.
“I have to earn it,” Cisco whispered.
“That’s right. You were supposed to get twenty, but now after that display...thirty, I think.” Harrison drew his other hand down Cisco’s spine. When he reached his ass, he kept his touch light, barely stroking the skin. “Do you know what I’m doing?”
Cisco shook his head, sending hair cascading everywhere.
“I’m waking up your skin. The water made you sensative, but not enough. Can you feel how all your nerve endings are paying attention now? As if each one were aware of my hand?”
Now Cisco nodded frantically.
“I can feel it.”
“Good. Very good,” Harrison bent down and nipped at one cheek, rewarded by Cisco’s startled yelp. “Pillow your head in your arms. Title your face to the side. Don’t even think about trying to hide it from me.”
With pleasing alacrity, Cisco obeyed. Harrison took a moment to steady himself, finding the non-slip pads at the bottom of the bath and finding his center of balance. He gave Cisco’s ass one final gentle touch, lengthening it until Cisco’s eyes were half-closed in pleasure.
Then he pulled back and struck. He didn’t approach anything like full strength, but it was enough that Cisco’s skin immediately went pink and Cisco had to bite his arm to hold back whatever might’ve escaped his lips.
“One,” he counted.
“Two,” and this time Cisco was a little more ready for it.
“Five,” and Cisco was starting to shake a little, his thighs especially.
“Ten,” Cisco stopped silencing himself, pained whimpers escaping. Harrison paused to slide his hand downward and was pleased to find Cisco painfully hard. He rewarded him with a few long strokes then returned to his handiwork.
“Fifteen,” and there were tears forming in the corner of Cisco’s eyes, his ass glowing red.
“Twenty,” the tears fell, slow and distinct, the whimpers had turned to a mottle of groans. Harrison parted Cisco’s cheeks fumbled for the lubricant he’d tossed from his pocket to the rim of the tub earlier. He coated his thumb and circled Cisco’s tight little hole.
“Please,” Cisco’s lips parted. “I want you. I’ve been good.”
“How many did I say?” Harrison asked calmly, the pad of his thumb resting on Cisco’s entrance.
“Thirty,” Cisco groaned.
“How many has it been?”
“Twenty,” the word broke in two as Harrison pushed his thumb inside, stretching Cisco faster than he normally would. “Ahhh...”
“Shh,” he withdrew as quickly as he’d approached. “Ten more, beautiful. You can do ten more, can’t you?”
“No,” Cisco rubbed his face against his arm. “I can’t.”
“You can,” Harrison rained down another blow. “Twenty-one.”
“Ow,” Cisco protested so plainly put out that Harrison had to bit back a laugh that threatened to ruin the scene.
The next six slaps were fast nasty things, one nearly catching Cisco’s balls which had tightened close to his body.
“Last three. Do you want them fast all in one place or slow and spread out?”
“I can’t-”Cisco had gone glassy, spaced out. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll decide for you then.”
They were messy and free form, the last more of a grope than a slap. Cisco’s skin was an angry red, a few clear shapes of fingers rising and others already fading. Harrison had been careful and hadn’t left anything that would be more than a good reminder tomorrow and gone the day after. He rubbed again as if to set the marks and Cisco’s hips started to roll becomingly again.
“I’ve been good,” he said again, more firmly and sure this time.
“You have been and always are, utterly exquisite,” Harrison agreed. He was at the wrong angle for kissing and too riled up to move either of them.
The prep work was faster than it should’ve been, lubricant spilling every which way into the water. Cisco’s restraint died along with the bottle and he started begging in a slurry of ‘Please’ and ‘Now’.
Harrison slid home and he could feel Cisco’s heated skin on his own thighs. The begging lapsed partially into Spanish, Cisco pushing himself up onto his elbows to meet the thrust. His head hung down, hair a dark mess that covered his face. Harrison got an arm around his chest, drawing him up from the tile and taking on most of his weight.
“Hard or slow?” He asked, already certain of the answer.
“Hard,” Cisco’s lips parted. Harrison’s fingers found one of his peaked nipples and tweaked. “Ah, fuck. Hard, please.”
“Since you asked so prettily...”
Cisco wound up clinging to the rim of the tub, the water a torrent around their joined hips and Harrison using tricks he hadn’t even thought of in decades to stave off his own orgasm. When Cisco finally came, it was with a complete collapse as if every system had failed him at once. Harrison came out of sheer self-defense, least their weight drag them under.
The water was still warm, when he sat back down on the bench, Cisco rag doll limp and draped over his lap.
“I think I like spanking,” Cisco muttered into his neck.
“Color me shocked,” Harrison teased, running his hands through Cisco’s damp hair to untangle the worst of the growing knots.
“This one’s my favorite vacation,” Cisco kissed him lazy and sated. “I’ve decided.”
It had been a very long day all in all. When they were finally ready to get out, Cisco was asleep on his feet. Harrison evaluated the situation and barely got them both into bed before unconsciousness overtook them. The box in his coat pocket stayed where it was. Too much had already happened, too many memories made and shelved in one night.
Instead he waited. Waited to get back home, for their real life to assert itself. For another fight, this one far more bitter and prolonged, but as satisfactorily ended and never so much as a night spent apart. He waited for Cisco to train and grow more confident. For Jesse to figure out their comm system and take point on public relations side.
He waited for Penumbra.
On Cisco’s twenty-eighth birthday, one year, one month, one day and one hour after the first time Harrison had given into the drug of Cisco’s body, there he was. The suit had gone through some changes, but it looked fundamentally the same. A police scanner mumbled inside the now functional headphones that hung limp around Cisco’s neck.
“I could wait,” Cisco said nervously. “If you want me too.”
“You’re ready enough,” Harrison’s skin was too tight, painful and stretched. “Ready as you can be. And it’s just for an hour tonight.”
“Right, an hour.”
Who was reassuring who was vastly unclear. Harrison put his hand in his pocket and closed his fingers around the, by now very battered, box.
“You’ll keep to the deal?”
“Yes,” Cisco reached up to move the headphones into place.
“Wait,” Harrison pulled the box out. “There’s one last piece of equipment you need.”
“Are you serious?” Cisco huffed a sigh. “If I load one more thing into this, the suit’ll just do the work for me.”
“If only,” Harrison opened the hinge, showing Cisco what was inside. “It’s a bit like a homing beacon.”
Cisco reached in and pulled out the small bit of metal and stone.
“Is it?” He asked weakly.
“The alloy has a bit of my own special blend,” Harrison admitted. “So it’s also a lot like a tracking device.”
“I’ve already got two of those. One which someone injected under my skin while I was sleeping like the world’s creepiest creep.”
“I have no regrets,” Harrison crossed his arms over his chest. “You don’t need to take this one.”
“I guess not,” Cisco let it dance between his fingers. “But it’s a lot nicer looking that the other one.”
“It’s-” Harrison started.
“I know,” Cisco flashed him a lightning quick version of his incandescent smile. He slid the piece home and then leaned in for a kiss. “Ready to rock?”
“If we must,” he slid into his chair.
The tight buzz of the slick motorcycle Cisco called ‘Luna’ came over the line a few minutes later.
“I’m here,” Harrison mumbled.
“Aw c’mon,” Penumbra’s voice was slightly different, deeper and more cocksure, but still his Cisco for all that. “Like I asked just once...please?”
The please always got him what he wanted. Always would.
“Silver Fox is on the line and ready.”
I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
The Gorillaz played through the lab, chanting their refrain. Harrison dropped his head to the back of the couch they’d shoved into a corner while Cisco, still half-dressed as Penumbra, napped with his head in Harrison’s lap. Each breath blew moist through Harrison’s shirt, a warm reminder of life. This had become their after patrol ritual. Cisco needed to wind down and close his eyes before he could gather himself together enough for the ride home. It interlocked with Harrison’s impulse to check and re-check Cisco’s well being after a fight.
Boneless, Cisco’s bare toes clenched and released with a kitten-ish sound of pleasure while Harrison tapped the song’s beat out on the exposed slice of skin between cargo pants and the thin undershirt. The world was down two rapists tonight and it was hard to feel anything other than accomplished.
Then the fabric of the world ripped apart. It was such a distinct sound that Harrison could never mistake it for anything else. The horrendous wrongness of it tore into his chest. Cisco went from near sleep to fighting stance in a blink, scooping up and deploying his visor.
In the middle of the lab, jagged red lightning crackled through the wound in reality. Three bodies tumbled through the rift, landing heavily. Two crouched low and the other, clad all in red took point, his eyes wary and fearful.
“Ah,” Harrison stood slowly, working out the stiffness in his left knee. “Mr. Allen. I’d say it’s a pleasure, but we’d both know I’m lying.”
“Dr. Wells,” the altered voice of the Flash shivered through him, “what do you call this reality?”
“I would call it Earth-1, but you would call it Earth-2 because you’re naively egocentric,” Harrison sighed. “We should come up with a better schematic.”
Beside him, Penumbra hadn’t relaxed a fraction, one hand resting on the butt of his gun.
“Oh thank God,” Caitlin stood up slowly. She looked far thinner than Harrison remembered as if a strong breath of wind would knock her off her feet. “After that dinosaur one, I thought we’d never get here.”
“Should’ve gone left at Albuquerque,” the mound on the floor groaned. Of course he’d come. Of course. Barry reached down to help Ramon to his feet. “I think I bruised my coccyx.”
He looked much the same in his jokey green t-shirt pulled over a white long sleeved shirt. His hair was still shoulder length and left to it’s own devices. Intellectually, Harrison knew there wasn’t that wide a gap, but it was hard to reconcile the boy before him with the man he had come to love.
“Penumbra, this is the other Flash, otherwise known as Barry Allen.”
“Please, Mr. Allen, use your brain. You’re not the Flash here, are you? No. And we’re hardly going to travel between dimensions just to give away your secret identity,” he could feel the headache coming on already, “the woman is Dr. Caitlin Snow, biomedical researcher.”
“And then some,” she said half-heartedly. There was a scorch mark on her otherwise pristine white blouse and a cut sluggishly bleeding beneath it.
“And of course, Mr. Ramon,” Harrison indicated him with a flick of his fingers. “Jack of all trades.”
“Master of them all,” Ramon’s mouth was tight and Harrison had definitely not missed the clear distaste.
Barry swept off his mask and started picking off his gloves, apparently giving in to Harrison’s logic.
“Penumbra, huh?” He cocked his head a little. “Does this identity share go both ways?”
“Shall we?” Harrison lifted his eyebrow, flashing the ‘all clear’ sign with his right hand. The visor slid back and it was satisfactorily dramatic. “This is Penumbra, generally known as Dr. Cisco Wells.”
Th Caitlin inhaled once sharply, Barry took an aborted step forward and Ramon...he looked as if he’d been slapped with a fish.
“You adopted him?” Caitlin asked, her voice rising into a near squeak.
“Aw, so close,” Cisco grinned and held up his left hand, wiggling his fingers. The engagement ring, black gold and rubies, caught the light and was nicely underlined by the gold band that matched Harrison’s own. “And yet so very very very very far.”
“You...and Dr.Wells?” Barry choked.
“They're kind of slow,” Cisco stage-whispered.
“Cross-dimensional travel does knock one for a loop," Harrison hooked a finger into Cisco's belt drawing him close. “Try to play nice. They don’t respond well to sarcasm. It’s an Earth-1 thing.”
"I think I should sit down,” Ramon groaned.
“It’s cute?” Caitlin’s nose wrinkled up. “Sort of?”
“Okay, not at all while we’re here,” Barry cut in. “We need your help, Dr. Wells. And...Dr. Wells, I guess.”
“Just call me Penumbra,” Cisco sighed. “Or this is going to get way too confusing.”
“The fabric of reality is getting thin. Think cheesecloth,” Ramon piped up, apparently refocusing, although his gaze seemed permanently stuck on Harrison’s arm around Cisco’s waist. He reached into this pocket, pulling out a thumb drive,“Doesn’t matter what we call them, all the Earths are starting to bleed into each other.”
“Ah,” Harrison frowned. “Is that what it is?”
“There’s been readings,” a quick hand squeeze and Cisco was peeling away from him, headed to their array of computers. “Close to the radiation that Boom Tubes give out, but nothing like dimensional tears that Harrison came through.”
“They’re natural phenomena,” Ramon tentatively moved towards the machines, then hung a tense foot back as Cisco’s fingers flew over the keys calling up data. He offered out the thumb drive and Cisco took it without looking at him, “As far as we can tell, it’s more a cascading effect from all the traveling that was going on for awhile there. I think we’ve got a solution, but we need at least two of the affected realities working together to fix it.”
“And you chose ours?” Harrison moved to his own machine, looking for the notations he’d made on his return trip.
“You’re a known quantity,” Barry stood at the center of it all, hands loose at his sides and the weight of many worlds laid over his shoulders. “But it took some doing finding you and we met a lot of villains and one pissed off set of dinosaurs on the way.”
“I liked the world without shrimp,” Caitlin sat down heavily on the sofa. “That was very restful.”
“Why Penumbra?” Ramon asked with feigned casuallyness.
“Because there’s light in the shadows,” Cisco narrowed his eyes at the numbers spooled out on the screen.
“Oh,” Ramon frowned. “I’m Vibe.”
“Vibe,” Cisco considered that. “Bit on the nose, but I can see it. How long have you been at it?”
“Visions started a little before Harry coming through,” Ramon shrugged.
“Harrison,” the correction was stiff and fast, laced with poison.
“Yeah, I’ve already had one of those. Been there, got the sucking chest wound. He’s Harry to me.”
“Right. Of course," Cisco sucked in a breath. "When did everything else start with your abilities?”
“If he’s capable of what you do, there was no evidence that I saw,” Harrison interjected.
“What can you do?” all interest now, Ramon rocked back on his heels.
“I haven’t gotten to try it on a speedster,” a hint of excitement curled into Cisco’s voice. “Harrison, can I?”
“How long will it take you to run the data sets against each other?”
“At least ten minutes. Their file format is wonky, but I think I’ve got it sorted.”
“Aim away from the hard drives. You blow out a window, it’s coming out of your salary,” Harrison said dryly.
“Awesome,” Cisco turned to Barry. “You wanna?”
“Here?” Barry gestured at the equipment. “That seems sort of...”
“We’ve got ten minutes, not an hour. Try to land a punch on me.”
“No!” Barry laughed. “C’mon, that’s-”
Cisco stretched his arms upward, the shoulder he’d dislocated a month before letting out a sharp crack. The black t-shirt rode up, giving a glimpse of the six pack he was ludicrously proud of. Sometimes Harrison missed the soft belly, but he appreciated that the work they represented kept Cisco safe.
“It’s what?” Cisco rolled his neck and then shook his shoulders, falling into a ready position. “One punch. Tell you what, if you land it, you get to call your reality Earth-1.”
“And if I don’t?” Barry was smiling now, apparently mistaking the bet as some friendly sign.
“I get to kiss that one,” Cisco jerked a thumb at Ramon, whose eyes went wide.
“Hey now! I get a say in that,” Ramon protested.
“I think I do too,” Harrison said mildly.
“Like you wouldn’t do it if you were me,” Cisco rolled his eyes. “It’s pure scientific curiosity.”
“I wouldn’t call it pure,” Harrison sighed. “Fine.”
“I haven’t agreed!” Ramon threw up his hands.
“I would recommend the experience,” Harrison turned his back on the whole thing. Then he pulled up the appropriate security feed so he could watch it on his monitor.
“Is kissing yourself incest?” Wondered Barry.
“Ethically or by the ick factor?” Caitlin asked. Her voice was a fine thread.
“There’s fruit and water in the fridge,” Harrison said without turning around. “I recommend you indulge in both, Dr. Snow.”
“Thank you,” she got up slowly while the boys postured on at each other.
“I think I can take him,” Barry offered to Ramon.
“See now you’ve backed me into a corner. Because either I agree that you can beat me up if I had superpowers which sucks or I’m betraying our friendship by siding with...me, I guess.”
“Tough choice,” Cisco mocked. “You guys are really talk talk talk, no action.”
“Fine,” Ramon groaned. “Punch him.”
“You got it,” Barry laughed . “Ready?”
“Ready,” Cisco squared his stance, then made a come hither motion with one hand. “Come at me, bro.”
Barry went. For a flicker of an instant, red lightning flared in the lab. Nearly as soon as it had registered to the naked eye, it was gone. Barry was prone on the floor, Cisco’s foot poised just above his neck.
“I win,” he sing songed.
“What was that?” Barry pushed himself up and away. “It was like running into a wall.”
“Those would be the good vibrations,” Cisco waggled his fingers.
“Wait, you can actually cause vibrations and you didn’t got with Vibe?” Ramon helped Barry up.
“Nuance. Look it up. Or look it up later. For now, pucker up.”
“I never actually agreed to that,” Ramon pointed out.
“C’mon,” with a slight shift of his body, Cisco went entirely into bedroom mode. Harrison had to stifle a laugh as he subtly canted his hips, dropped his gaze to Ramon’s lips, lowered his lashes and uttered a soft hopeful, “Please?”
It was possible that Harrison had let him get a little too good at that. Even Barry looked like he was considering moving in and Harrison was fairly certain the kid didn’t have a gay molecule in his body.
“Um,” Ramon swallowed. “Okay?”
Permission granted, Cisco struck. One of his hands slid under the heavy fall of Ramon’s hair and the other settled heavy on his waist. It was a very clever copy of Harrison’s own approach, down to the slow lean that built anticipation. The kiss landed soft and sweet. Ramon started stiff, but at Cisco’s gentle persistence, he melted like butter. It went on long enough for Barry to cough uncomfortably. Then Cisco released his prey and turned back to the computer bank.
“Oh man, some serious correlations going on here,” he bent over and Ramon, dazed and licking his lips, stared at his ass under the tight fit of the cargo pants. “Harrison, you should see this.”
He ambled over, settling a hand at the small of Cisco’s back as he leaned in to take a look.
“Evil,” Harrison whispered.
“Deserved it,” Cisco mumbled. “Calling you Harry like it was a dirty word.”
Harrison bit back a laugh.
The correlations were sadly only the beginning. The solution wasn’t going to come easy. Harrison and Cisco came to the conclusion at roughly the same time. They’d been absorbed for a while though and when they turned to share the news, they found Team Flash at a dead stop. Caitlin was huddled under Cisco’s blanket on the couch, Barry slumped on the floor next to her feet and Ramon listing to starboard despite the frantic way he was tapping at his tablet.
“Hotel?” Harrison half-asked, half-pleaded.
“Jesse would murder you and then I’d have to help hide your body. Way too traumatizing.”
Cisco called Jesse and they were off to the races.
“Up,” Harrison pointed at Barry. “We’re going.”
“Where?” Barry yawned wide, showing off a silver filling in the back of his mouth.
“Our home. This isn’t going to be fixed right away and the cleaning staff will have to mop around if you stay here.”
“Thank you,” Caitlin said in a rush before the other two could protest. “That would be amazing.”
The Foxmobile’s back seat was usually used to store empty soda bottles and Penumbra’s spare set of gear. Cisco shifted it into the trunk, before sliding into the passenger side. The threesome squeezed into the back, too worn out to do more than fall over each other.
“I feel like we just picked the kids up from soccer practice,” Cisco said, pitched loud enough for them to hear.
“Older than you,” Caitlin mumbled.
“Literally the exact same age,” Ramon chimed in.
Harrison turned on the music, bumping the volume up a few notches. The Clash sang them home, drowning out any potential conversation. The front door was open when they arrived, light spilling out onto the walkway. Jesse was framed in the square. As soon as he pulled into the garage, she was at car door.
“Barry!” She squealed and pulled him into a hard hug. “I’m so sorry things are messed up, but it’s really good to see you again.”
Harrison knew intellectually that without the trio, Jesse would be dead or worse. She’d only met Barry in person and he had been kind to her when it mattered. He knew he should feel...something. Something other than gnawing irritation and the desire for them to still be safely sealed away in their own world.
“Let’s get real food into him before his metabolism starts in on his bones,” Harrison said into the dark and got a ragged cheer.
Jesse had called out for food and apparently reinforcements. Cassie and Dante were setting out plates and silverware at the dining room. Before Ramon could enter the room, Cisco yanked him backward, saying something low and fast. Harrison could guess the contents of that conversation.
“Hope she didn’t get you out of bed,” Harrison said to Cassie.
“We were here already,” Cassie grinned. “Girls' night.”
“I’m the prettiest,” Dante signed smugly. Harrison had started learning to interpret for himself out of sheer self-defense. There was a wing of eyeliner on Dante’s left eye and a hit of red lipstick both on his lips and more disturbingly, his neck.
“I very firmly am not interested in details,” Harrison declared and went to get more glasses.
Dante and Ramon were staring at each other when he got back. Cisco was hovering beside him, one hand hovering near his brother’s elbow as if ready to snatch him backwards if disaster struck.
“You’re shorter,” Dante signed and Harrison could’ve hugged him. Cisco translated and Ramon sputtered.
“He just wears lifts in his combat boots.”
Cassie giggled and it spread around the table, lightening the mood fractionally. The late night feast disappeared into the gaggle of twenty-somethings though Barry murdered an entire chicken and most of the mashed potatoes by himself. After that food comas were inevitable and Jesse showed them to the guest rooms.
“We’ll stay too,” Cassie declared as if that hadn’t been the plan even before their unexpected visitors. There was a pause, but Harrison pointedly did not ask where the would stay.
“Do you want me to get extra pillows? Jesse hogs them.” Cisco offered, unhampered by such paternal revulsion.
“We brought from home,” she sketched a yawn, then reached for Dante’s hand. “C’mon, babe, comfy clothes.”
Dante held up a finger then turned to Cisco. He held his hand flat then touched the top of Cisco’s head then slowly moved it to one side frowning. Then he lowered it about an inch and nodded firmly. Cisco smiled wide at him and nodded, saying something that sounded like 'And I'm probably longer too' in Spanish. Instead of mockery, Dante hugged him briskly and Cisco froze before melting into it gratefully. Harrison slipped away. He needed the silence of their room. Taking his time changing, he was still pulling back the covers when Cisco came into the room.
“You okay?” He asked, closing the door with a final click behind him.
“No,” Harrison admitted and sat down on the edge of the bed. “They saved her life.”
“I know,” Cisco pushed Harrison’s knees apart to stand between them.
“I should...be kind. Feel kindly toward them, shouldn’t?”
“What do you feel?”
“Angry,” he turned his head to nuzzle Cisco’s wrist, pressed a kiss to his palm. “When I see them all I remember is how powerless I was. How I had to put everything that mattered to me in their hands. I was...cruel, perhaps. Certainly vicious.”
“Zoom had Jesse,” Cisco’s voice bordered on Penumbra’s for a moment. “If that were now...I would shake the world apart to get her back, you know that right?”
“Yes,” Harrison tipped his head back. “I know. And they did, after a fashion, on my behalf.”
“But you don’t like them?”
“I could’ve killed Barry and gotten the same results. I didn’t. I allowed myself to put him before her so I wouldn’t feel guilt. That means something, doesn’t it?”
“What are you getting at?” Cisco threaded his fingers through Harrison’s hair. “What do you need to hear?”
“I hate them. Does that make me a monster?” Harrison looked Cisco in the eyes, searching the warm brown for the truth.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Cisco said gently and leaned down to kiss him.
Harrison tumbled him down, tangling their limbs together and burying his face in Cisco’s neck.
“Was that kiss any good?” he asked, anything to change the subject.
“Yeah,” Cisco laughed lightly. “He’s not terrible at it. And he’s not a bad guy, I think. Insecure. Scared. I can relate.”
“You were never like that,” Harrison contradicted, wrapping his arms possessively around Cisco’s waist.
“I gotta shower before I get into bed,” Cisco got slowly to his feet. “ I’m gritty.”
Harrison followed him, overwhelmed with a need to be close. They shared the shower, Harrison dutifully taking the washcloth to rub away the dust and muck of Central City’s streets from the his husband’s skin. When all the soap was rinsed away, Cisco bent his back under the pressure, and slumped into Harrison.
“I was him. Before I met you. Worse because he had something like you earlier,” he bit at Harrison’s chest when he started protest. “It’s true. I needed someone to guide me and when I didn’t get it, I made the best of it. Maybe that’s made me stronger or sharper than him, I don’t know. I think it made me harder in some ways. Hard enough that I don’t care what you think of them or any other non-Wells or Ramon person.
“Fuck ‘em,” Cisco concluded and soothed the bite with a kiss.
They stumbled to bed, far too exhausted for sex. Their blankets pulled over their damp skin, they spooned in the dark, their heartbeats slowing in tandem.
The rest of the house slept. Except for one little mouse. Ramon, or as he doubtless thought of himself, Cisco, tiptoed out from his guest bedroom. Without turning on a light, he made his way back to the living room that they’d gone through on the way to the guest suite. He found the shelf that had caught his eye, a line of photographs.
There was Penumbra with his arm around this Dante’s shoulders, both looking grimly into the camera, middle fingers extended. Here was Jesse in cap and gown, Penumbra on one side, Harry on the other, all of them soberly looking at the lens. A stiff portrait of father and daughter, their ice blue eyes mirrors of faint disgust for the photographer. There were candid photos with actual smiles on display: the three of them at a restaurant table with Jesse and Penumbra flushed and tipsy, another of just Penumbra and Jesse asleep in a hammock head to foot, and one of Harrison behind a set of drums with his hair gelled into spikes with a dreamy distant expression. Mixed in were older photos with a classy lady that Cisco didn’t recognize.
He studied all of them with equal intent, but it was the last one that he actually picked up off the shelf and shone his phone’s flashlight onto. The background was a wood panel wall, some judiciary seal pressed into it. In the foreground, Penumbra was turned slightly away from the camera with eyes at half-mast. Harry was nearly out of frame, apparently just pulling away from a kiss. They were both wearing suits, not tuxedos, but Cisco could tell anyway.
A wedding photo. Two men stupidly, madly, obviously, entirely intoxicated with each other. Cisco’s chest ached and his eyes burned. He made it to couch, before doubling over with his head in his hands. If he’d had more rest, if the last year hadn’t been so impossible, if time hadn’t dimmed the horror, if he hadn’t been alone, if....then maybe he could’ve held himself together.
The tears were scant as it was, but he managed to sob without them, shoulders heaving and a raw ugly sound ripping from his throat with involuntarily force. So wrapped up in a grief he’d never allowed himself to properly feel before, he missed the shadow flickering into the room and coming to settle beside him.
“He wasn’t Harrison,” Penumbra spoke softly, but not harshly. He picked up the wedding photo from the cushion where Cisco had dropped it and place it with sweet care on the coffee table. "Your Wells. He was someone else altogether."
“I didn’t know that,” Cisco wiped at his face with his sleeve. A tissue arrived in his peripheral vision and he took it gratefully. “He was just this amazing scientist, who looked at me and thought I was worth keeping. It was never romantic. I never even thought about him that way.”
“Okay,” Penumbra sounded doubtful and Cisco couldn’t blame him. He was starting to doubt himself. “Did he praise you? Tell you how smart you were?”
“Yeah,” Cisco blew his nose and tried to even his breathing. “We played chess a lot. He won most of the time. He got me into books I never would’ve read and he’d actually watch movies with me once and awhile if we’d worked too late to bother going home. He...even when he was killing me, he told me how much he cared about me. There wasn’t ever...you know, right? We aren’t that different.”
“No,” Penumbra hesitated then took Cisco’s hand in his, laid their palms flat together. They measured up exactly though Cisco’s nails were torn and bitten while Penumbra’s had a manicured sheen. There were the rings too, glittering even in the faint moonlight and cool where they touched Cisco's skin. “I think I was wrong about something.”
“What’s that?” Cisco looked at their joined hands. He could feel something odd, something like a tremble, but faster.
“You’re stronger than me,” Penumbra slid his fingers slightly to one side, breaking the mirror. Then he curled them in between Cisco’s fingers, so tender and slow that Cisco nearly started crying again. “I couldn’t survive being without him.”
"I'm not sure I have," Cisco whispered and Penumbra only nodded, the soft vibration building to a soothing pulse. Hesitantly, Cisco laid his head on Penumbra's shoulder and let out a soft relieved breath when he wasn't pushed away.
They stayed like that, together in the darkness, for a long time.
Thank you all for reading along through this crazy week and a half! This story is over, but I'm not done with this universe. I fully plan to post a series of ficlets as as 'sequel' exploring missing moments, future or past, as well as other POV or even missing characters. If there's something you want to see, let me know in the comments.