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Seven Days of Falling

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Seven Days of Falling

All characters © DC Comics

 

 

 

Touching Damien Darhk is like making out with a vacuum cleaner.

Cisco would have found that funny, Barry thinks, as Damien’s fingers splay on his chest along the lightning bolt insignia, colder than anything he has ever felt before. There is this awful wrenching sensation, like his body is one giant sucker being ripped from a wet surface, and he feels something pass through him. Out of him.

Damien staggers back, trembling, and Barry takes the opportunity to get the hell out of there. He manages to jog two blocks before he runs out of breath, lurching behind a fence to dry-heave into someone’s forsythias. When he is done, Barry spits and clutches his comm like a lifeline, shaking.

“Ollie,” he gasps, “there’s a problem.”

 

 

 

“It’s not your fault,” Barry tells Oliver when he finally makes it back to the Arrow Cave, an hour later. The green fluorescents wash over them in an eldritch glow that makes his suit appear black instead of red. “I might not have my speed, but I can still help you find Darhk.”

Oliver runs his hands down the length of his face, looking uncomfortable. “Barry…not that I don’t think you’re helpful, but I need the Flash,” he says. “You are a liability now, and I can’t risk another person getting hurt because of me.”

Felicity wheels over to Barry with a file in her hand. “You’re taking this rather well,” she observes. “I would have thought you’d be more—” she wiggles her fingers “—I don’t know, freaked out?”

“This happened to me before,” Barry explains. “A meta ended up draining my powers. Luckily, I got them back after a day or so.”

“Damien Darhk isn’t a meta-human,” says Felicity, looking worried. “He absorbs life force. Like, when he touches someone, their cells literally atrophy and die. The only reason you’re even alive is probably because he took your speed instead.”

“Wait, does this mean Darhk has Barry’s powers?” asks Oliver.

Felicity frowns. “I doubt it, but he’s definitely going to be stronger for a while,” she replies, placing the file beside one of her computers. Barry can make out the words H.I.V.E. on a page that is sticking out.

He bites his lip, asks, “Is there anything I can do?”

“You should go back to Central City and have Caitlin take a look at you,” Felicity says. “I mean, I can run some bloodwork if you like but if you want a molecular diagnosis, she’s your best bet.”

“But—“

Oliver folds his arms over his chest, looking tired. “Go home, Barry.”

Barry’s shoulders slump in defeat. “Right. I guess I’ll just...go…buy a train ticket, then,” he says, gathering his things and trying not to take it personally.

“You might want to change,” Oliver points out, arching an eyebrow. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to call the others off. Darhk is too dangerous right now to engage.”

Oliver leaves; Barry turns to Felicity and slips off his cowl. “I don’t like being benched,” he grumbles.

“Barry.”

He pauses mid zipper, looking up. “Yeah?”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Felicity says softly, touching her wheelchair.

 

 

 

Barry feels what little color he has remaining drain from his face. “What do you mean, this could be permanent?” he asks, slowly.

Caitlin has those lines between her eyes, the ones Barry remembers from their early days when Ronnie’s death was fresh and her smile was nothing more than the glint of the sun in a storm.

“I mean, back when Farooq took your powers, your DNA was mostly unchanged,” she explains. She points to a digital slide on her desktop. “In contrast, whatever Damien Darhk did to you affected you on a molecular level. Your cells seem to be slowly mutating back to the way they were before the particle accelerator exploded.”

Barry squeezes his eyes shut and breathes deeply. “I just spent nine hours on a train. I can’t—I mean,” he shakes his head, “is there any way to get my powers back? Weren’t you developing something for Jay…what was it, Velocity 7?”

“No,” Caitlin says immediately, pursing her lips. There is something odd in her expression, and Barry decides not to question further.

“Then what about a tachyon device, like the one Wells had on his wheelchair?”

“Even if we could replicate that technology somehow, it took fifteen years for his speed to return,” replies Caitlin, somber. As she speaks, Barry feels something cold and gaping form in his chest, like rime ice around his ventricles. It reminds him of the way he felt with Farooq. Only much worse.

“Yeah, but Thawne was also harnessing the speed force artificially. It wasn’t natural for him, like it was for me or Jay,” he points out. “Maybe there’s still a chance I can get it back without having to wait that long.” He swallows, suddenly exhausted.

“Hey,” Caitlin says, putting a hand on Barry’s forearm and offering him a smile. “You’ll always have a place here at S.T.A.R. Labs, powers or no powers. You know that. And we are going to fix this.”

Barry takes her hand in his, small and cool, and tries to smile back despite the fact that he is not so certain.

 

 

 

Monday is a disaster, starting with the alarm that never rang.

Well to be fair it does ring, but Barry does not hear it until Joe is pounding on his door like it is high school all over again and he pulled an all-nighter cramming for a test. He shuts the alarm off and sits at the edge of his bed for a moment, staring off into space. His body feels sluggish, heavy.

Barry drags himself over to the closet and is changing when he notices it: the softness of the skin on his arms and stomach. The lightning from the particle explosion, somehow, had resulted in muscular hypertrophy—or abs, if you prefer English.

In its absence (no pun intended), he’s returned to scrawny Barry Allen the noodle. And not lasagna so much as, well, spaghetti.

Barry tries pulling on an extra sweater to add some bulk, but it only makes him look disproportionately poofy (and his arms even skinnier) so he sticks with his regular sweater-vest. It now has the impression of being a size too big on him.

“Barr! You comin’?”

“Yeah!” Barry yells down the stairs. “I’ll be there in…” he stops, realizes he has to get ready at a normal speed, and groans. “Soon,” he finishes lamely.

 

 

 

“Allen,” Singh barks, looking like he has swallowed a bag of Sour Patch Kids when Barry finally rushes into the precinct forty minutes late with his arms full of manila folders on their most recent homicide case, “I know being on time is remarkably difficult for you, but this is unacceptable.”

Barry swallows. “Yeah, look, I’m so sorry, Captain—” one of the manila folders he is holding falls to the floor with a smack “—I had this thing that I—” as he is picking up the folder another one drops “—I had to take care of—” he loses his grip and manages to drop all the folders. Papers slide everywhere, and Singh pinches the bridge of his nose. Barry flushes and mutters an apology as he bends down to collect the scattered papers.

“I’ve heard better excuses from Seven-Eleven robbers,” remarks Singh.

“I know,” Barry sighs, rubbing the corner of his eye, “I’m just not feeling like myself today.”

Singh peers at him. “If you’ve got something I don’t want you passing it around,” he warns. “Last thing we need is half the CCPD out with the flu.”

“I’m not sick,” Barry protests.

Singh’s nostrils flare. “Then why aren’t you upstairs, working?”

Barry trudges up to his lab after he finishes gathering the dropped papers, scowling. “Try not to cost us collateral damage by breathing, Allen,” he mutters under his breath, imitating his boss. He throws his coat onto a nearby chair, misses. “My precinct is not a petri dish, Allen. If you can’t make it to work on time I’m going to make you analyze your own cause of death, Allen.”

The rest of the day plays out in a similar fashion. Barry drops a test tube, makes an intern cry, and falls asleep at his desk. But the highlight comes after lunch, when he accidentally closes a locker door on his fingers.

Cisco texts him around four with: See you at 7?

Barry removes his hand from the ice pack long enough to text back, What? Did they find a way to get his speed back? A little flutter of adrenaline rushes through him at the thought.

Takeout, man, comes the reply. Monday nights, remember? Kung Pao chicken loves company.

Barry’s heart falls. He is ashamed of it, and has to swallow back disappointment before he writes, Can’t you ask Caitlin?

Cisco responds with a string of rapid texts.

bad idea

she’s all ‘organic’

seriously, if she goes vegan we gotta have an intervention

Barry stares at the phone screen blankly. It’s not like he can exactly fight crime right now, so unless Cisco has plans in the chem lab and needs Barry’s help (which does not sound like the brightest place for Kung Pao chicken), he cannot fathom why Cisco would want him around.

He texts back, Can’t tonight, sorry. At this rate it will be a miracle if he makes it to six o’ clock. He feels like a cat that’s gotten its whiskers clipped. Everything is too slow, too sticky. He’s so tired.

Six rolls by eons later, and Barry stops by the pharmacy on his way home to grab some painkillers for his hand. The index and middle fingers are turning a swollen purplish color, which can’t be good.

His stomach gives a single, solitary gurgle as he makes himself a sandwich for dinner. It is definitely strange, not having to eat constantly. He polishes off the sandwich and immediately makes himself another, despite the fact that he is full, because maybe if he eats enough he can regain some of the muscle mass he lost.

Throughout it all, Cisco keeps sending him random messages.

You alright?

losing your speed blows, I totally get it

but dude you’re missing out on some quality fried rice and grease here

Barry finally gets annoyed and punches out, Shouldn’t you be fixing me? Before pressing the power button on his phone. He almost feels bad about it, but something behind his ribcage aches, reminding him of the people he’s letting down by not being the Flash.

…including himself.

After changing into pajamas he sits on his bed with some Netflix but no chill, sadly. The way things are going, Barry doesn’t think he’ll be getting much chill anytime soon. Heck, the only reason he has any friends at all, let alone lovers, is because he is the Flash. Was the Flash.

So he loses the rest of the evening to mind-numbing dramedies, carefully avoiding the superhero section on his browse page, until the moon is high and white and somehow too small in the black expanse of sky.

His fingers throb.

 

 

 

The next morning Joe strides into his lab with the “We’re gonna have a talk” face, and it is all Barry can do to keep from groaning aloud. He sets his pen down from a game of hangman, wiping a smudge of ink off the side of his finger, and starts, “Look, Joe—“

“What happened to your hand?”

“Oh, um,” Barry wiggles the fingers, which are held together in a splint. “Slammed it into a door, sort of.”

“You’re not healing.” Joe looks grim. He pulls up a chair and eases into it with a grunt, lips pursed and eyes hard. “I spoke with Cisco,” he announces.

“Joe, I just need some time.”

“Look. You lost your powers once,” Joe says. “Back then, it could have been permanent, but it wasn’t. Just because you don’t have ‘em right now doesn’t mean you’re not useful, Barr.”

Barry turns to face Joe. “I know that,” he says, getting up from his desk. He feels like he has been sitting too long, like he needs to move. “I could profile DNA when I was seventeen,” he begins. “I have a double degree in chemistry and forensic science, and I’m the only person the CCPD has hired on the spot in twelve years.”

“Sounds pretty damn useful to me.” Joe frowns. “Sooo…what?”

“So I can’t go a day without dropping or tripping over something,” Barry says, his voice hard. “I weigh a hundred fifty pounds and I ramble when I get excited. That is like, textbook definition of socially awkward.”

“I don’t see where this is going,” says Joe, even though he is starting to understand. Barry is not upset about losing his powers. Barry is upset about losing his powers and being Barry.

Barry stops in front of his bulletin board. “I have friends now,” he says quietly. “More than I’ve had in a really long time. I don’t want to lose that. But what if—I mean, I know it sounds dumb, but…” he trails off, eyes on the floor. “Is it really me they’ve liked all along, or the Flash?”

“You are the Flash, Barry,” Joe says. “Even if you’re not the Flash here—” he gestures to his body “—you’ll always be the Flash here.” His hand comes to rest over his heart.

Barry is silent, but after a minute he forces a smile for Joe’s sake. “I guess you’re right,” he replies. He doesn’t feel great, but he feels a little better. Talking with Joe always does that, somehow.

Joe laughs. “Good. Now stop playing hangman with yourself and get off your ass. Go do something fun.” He points an accusatory finger on his way out. “And stop moochin’ off my Netflix.”

 

 

 

The Netflix Team sends him a binge-watching warning just as his phone chimes with his fifth missed call from Iris. Barry knows without even looking that it is Iris because he’s personalized her ring tone with the theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (college inside joke, don’t ask).

He sends a message to Joe to tell Iris that he is sleeping if she decides to come over. It is only half a lie. Barry is exhausted—a vapid, bone-deep weariness not unlike the feeling of getting into a car that is too warm, and he is only now beginning to suspect that Damien Darhk took a little more than just his speed.

Iris: Here to talk when you’re ready.

Barry rolls over on his bed with a groan. It’s not that he does not want to see her. He knows Iris, and knows that when it comes to pep talks she is even worse than Joe. She will try and try, and more than anything, Barry does not want to disappoint that smile of hers, the smile that reminds him of daffodils in June and hazelnut pirouettes.

It is usually a smile that makes him happy. But even Iris cannot fix this one.

Burrowing under the covers, Barry yawns, stretches. He’d taken the second half of the day off work, much to Singh’s relief, but if anything he is even more tired than before. Iris would only worry.

The little Netflix pop-up on his screen stares back at him disapprovingly. You doing okay?

“Don’t look at me like that,” Barry tells it. “I haven’t watched that much.”

 

 

 

“I’m aging,” Barry says on Wednesday night, when he takes Joe’s advice and finally musters up the courage to go drinking with Jay. He is still avoiding Cisco and Caitlin. Harry’s easy enough to avoid, since Barry suspects he is avoiding them in turn, and Jay is the only person he can stomach right now anyway.

Jay tosses back a Guinness and wipes foam from his upper lip. They are at a nightclub where the light is dim, the music is loud and irritating, and no one gives a shit about two ex-speedsters. “Gray hairs?” he asks.

Barry nods miserably. “Five. Which I don’t understand. My metabolism is slowing down, not speeding up.”

“The speed force can be unpredictable,” Jay replies, sympathetic. “It has the potential to accelerate or decelerate the aging process, and it goes different ways with different people. Good thing is, you’ll look more distinguished.”

“I don’t want to look distinguished. Leonard Snart is distinguished.”

“He really isn’t.”

“I guess girls seem to like that,” Barry waves his unbandaged hand, “silver fox thing.” What's unfair is how well Snart pulls it off, he does not say aloud, not to Jay.

Jay gives him a contemplative look. “You haven’t been drunk in a while, have you?”

“Buzzed, and no.”

“Do you want to go home?” Jay asks.

“Not really,” replies Barry. “You’re the only one besides Felicity who understands. I mean, she just got crippled for life, and Ollie’s still all over her.”

“You expected him not to be?”

Barry shakes his head. “It’s not that, I just mean…it’s not something that defines her. She’s so much more than that.”

“And you don’t think there’s more to you if you’re not the Flash?” asks Jay.

Barry does not answer.

After a pause Jay shrugs and says, “Hey, Caitlin somehow managed to fall in love with a regular, speedless Jay Garrick.”

Barry squints. “She loves you? Actually wait, I knew that.” He gulps down another shot with a grimace. “I want someone to love me, too,” he blurts out, before he can stop himself. “Girl, guy, doesn’t matter. And I mean for me, not for, for the Flash. Like Patty did.” The Flash had not gotten in the way that time; Barry Allen got in the way. Like he always does.

Glancing sideways, Jay nudges his elbow and replies, “Well, from the way that girl over there’s been looking at you, that may not be too difficult.”

“Huh?”

Jay points to a redhead at the far end of the bar who is clearly into one of them. She catches Barry’s eye and smiles. But it has to be a trick of the light, because Barry is the weird guy, the guy who Googles forensic entomology in his free time and gets excited over things like cordite and post mortem deterioration. No doubt she’s looking at Jay, with his leather jacket straining over hard, broad shoulders. That’s where the meat is.

Barry is just the stringy pasta, and girls don’t like carbs.

So he points out, “She’s probably interested in you,” and Jay responds, “We’re about to find out.” The girl has left her stool and is heading in their direction.

Jay uncrosses his legs. “Act casual.”

“Have you met me?” mutters Barry. He downs another shot and coughs just as the girl pulls up to the bar table.

“Hi.”

“Uh, hi,” Barry says. At this, the girl smiles and tosses some hair over one shoulder. Hair that is full and copper and definitely not graying.

“You’re cute,” she informs Barry, completely ignoring Jay.

Well that is unexpected. She’s probably into nerds, Barry suspects, but he is a little more than buzzed by now and it’s better than dying alone so he splutters, “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Next to him, Jay brings a hand up to massage his temple.

The girl licks her lips, grin widening. It’s not a lie; she is rather pretty, and after a few more semi-awkward but charged exchanges that make Jay take several large gulps of his beer, Barry and the girl, whose name is Rebecca, leave together.

It goes well, for a bit. They make out, plaster themselves against each other, the usual. Becky’s a microbiology major at Central Uni and is wearing a Captain America bra. Definitely into nerds.

But then things become intimate and Barry finds his mouth getting dry. Becky is generous with her compliments, but they are starting to make Barry more nervous than flattered. What would happen if she knew he used to be the Flash? Would she still like him? Or worse, would she like him because he used to be the Flash and not because he is ordinary, geeky Barry Allen?

Don’t know why you keep separating them, Joe’s voice chides, oddly clear in his mind. The Flash is Barry and Barry is the Flash.

But Barry is also drunk, and his fear gets the better of him. The night, much to his embarrassment, ends up being a repeat of his date with Linda Park all over again. He does not sleep with Becky, instead leaving things at that uncomfortable, “I’ll call you but I won’t actually call you” point before bailing with his fly undone and his shirt on backwards.

 

 

 

Thursday is the hangover from hell.

 

 

 

On Friday, Barry is poking at an unappetizing turkey burger when he receives a text alert from Cisco that simply reads ATTACK ON STAR LABS. His phone is supposed to be off, but by now he knows better than to underestimate Cisco when the guy wants something.

Barry grinds his teeth. Helplessness, thick and cloying, wraps around his throat so tightly he has to resist the urge to swallow. There is nothing he can do. But he has to go. His friends may not want him, but they need him.

So he grabs his CCPD standard issue gun, splinted fingers fumbling with the holster before he gives up and jams the weapon into his jacket. It doesn’t occur to him to text Cisco back.

Joe is stuck in a meeting so Barry takes his car, breaking about eight police and traffic rules on the way. He runs up the steps and through the revolving door, unlocking the safety on his gun as he bursts into the cortex—

—To find Cisco and Caitlin sitting calmly at their computers.

“What—” Panting, Barry doubles over to catch his breath. There is nothing out of the ordinary, no meta attacking, not even an alarm going off. “What’s going on?”

Cisco spins his swivel chair around, arms crossed. “You haven’t been answering your phone,” he says.

Barry regards the gun in his hand. What was he going to do with it anyway, miss spectacularly? He can hardly nail a trash can from three feet away, much less a moving target. Barry feels his ears turning pink. “So you sent an SOS?”

“We figured it was the only way to get you to come,” Cisco admits.

The corners of Barry’s mouth turn up in a humorless smile. Now that there is no imminent danger, he is fairly pissed off. “I can’t believe you guys,” he says.

“Barry, we’re only trying to help,” Caitlin says. “We’ve been really worried about you.”

Barry huffs, replies, “Why, because no one’s stopping the bad guys anymore? Find another meta for the job. You’ve got plenty to choose from.”

“We miss you,” says Caitlin, hushed.

Barry gives a sharp laugh and runs a hand through his hair. It’s all too much. “When the particle accelerator exploded, you only took me in because Wells insisted,” he tells them, bitter. “You had no idea if I was going to be a douchebag or a psycho, or what. Cisco even put together a gun to stop me.”

“Which was my bad, since you turned out to be supremely awesome,” argues Cisco. “And you’re going to get your powers back. Like last time.”

Barry points to his hair, which now has visible silver flecking at the temples. “Look at me, Cisco! This isn’t just ‘having the yips!’” he exclaims. He takes a breath in through his nose, calming himself. “Over the past two years we’ve become friends, but that’s mainly because I turned out to be a successful science experiment,” he says, jaw clenching. “Well, I’ve filled that quota. I’m not useful to you guys anymore, so it’s best if I just…stay out of your way.”

“Yeah, and Captain Cold is the mayor of Central City.”

Barry blinks at Cisco. “What?”

“My point is, that’s ridiculous, Barry.” Cisco waves his hand. “C’mere.”

Barry narrows his eyes at Cisco, but nonetheless he puts his gun away and slowly steps forward.

“Closer.”

Barry inches forward. “Cisco, what—oomph!”

Before he can protest Cisco’s squeezing him in massive hug, which would have been fine except Caitlin jumps on the glomp train too and Barry’s windpipe is suddenly squashed between them.

“I couldn’t give shit or shinola if you have your powers,” says Cisco, voice muffled against Barry’s shirt. His and Caitlin’s arms wrap easily around Barry and even though Barry can barely breathe, in that moment, he wants to stay like this forever.

“We know you’re hurting, Barry, but Cisco and I will always be there for you,” Caitlin tells him. “You’re our friend, and we want to help.”

Something swells inside Barry, twinging at the corners of his eyes. There is also a warm feeling in his chest, which has been cold ever since Damien Darhk put his hand there. He smiles, properly, for the first time that week.

“Thank you,” he says.

Cisco claps a hand on his back. “Also, I had to eat two servings of Kung Pao chicken, which is something I never, ever want to do again.”

“Why’d you get two?”

“Thought you might show up anyway.”

“Uh, guys?” Barry coughs, because his airways are waving little white flags, “love the hugging and all, but I love breathing more.”

“Whoops, sorry about that.”

After letting go Caitlin grabs a nearby folder and hands it to Barry. “Although we love you with or without your powers, we have been brainstorming ways to get your speed back,” she says. “Ideally we want to restore your speed in a natural way as opposed to an artificial way, so we’ve both been reading up on combining tachyon particles with electromagnetic currents.”

“There’s even a bulletin board,” Cisco chimes in. “It has graphs and everything. We haven’t been able to find anything yet, but I’m sure we’d make more progress with three heads put together.”

“I’ve been thinking about this for five days,” Barry says, frowning, “and I’ve been looking at it from different angles. I was thinking, instead of focusing on the solution, maybe we should be looking at the problem.”

“The speed force,” says Caitlin, tilting her head.

Barry nods. “From what we know so far, the speed force is basically extra-dimensional energy, right? I somehow need to tap into that energy again, and it should reverse what Damien Darhk did to me.”

“Great!” Cisco rubs his hands together. “I sense a geek-out coming. Let’s be fabulous. So, how do we harness extra-dimensional energy?”

“Minus opening a portal,” Caitlin points out.

Cisco snaps his fingers in her direction. “Right. How do we harness extra-dimensional energy without turning the fabric of reality into Swiss cheese?”

Barry rubs his forehead, unsure. He opens his mouth to reply, but as he looks at Cisco the answer comes to him all at once.

“With you,” he concludes, excitement dawning on his face. Oh, he is definitely going to geek-out. A part of him admits that he’s sorely missed this—the act of pure and simple sciencing, which had bonded them all together in the first place.

Cisco’s eyes widen. “Dude,” he says, “that could take a while. I’m nowhere near that level yet. That’s like passing the Lost Levels in Super Mario Brothers.”

Grinning, Barry says, “I trust you, Cisco. Even if you did build a gun to take me down.”

Cisco snorts. “Let’s get on it, then.”

Caitlin clears her throat.

“Oh, right,” Cisco says, suddenly looking sheepish. “Uhh, hate to burst the bubble, but can we maybe raincheck on the geek-out session?”

“What? Why?”

“Well…” Cisco shares a glance with Caitlin. “Thing is, there kinda was an SOS.”

Barry snaps his head up in alarm.

“A small one, though,” Cisco says quickly. He plops back into his swivel chair and pulls up to the main computer, opening a grid map of the city with a rather foreboding click. “I got word from a little birdie that the Rogues have their eyes on the Central City museum,” he explains. “Again. Apparently, Captain Cold heard from a little birdie that you were out of commission. So there are too many birdies out there and they all sing, which is good because we know about it, but bad because, you know, crime.”

“The museum just opened an exhibit on the New Kingdom of Egypt,” Caitlin adds.

“Isn’t that when King Tut lived?” asks Barry, scratching his head. His ancient Egyptian history is a tad rusty.

“Along with all the other very, very rich guys.” Cisco gives a sagely nod. “They were blingin’ back then.”

“Queen Renenet was recently discovered to have been buried with a diadem of pure lapis lazuli,” Caitlin says. “Along with…um…what was it, Cisco?”

“Gold scarabs,” Cisco supplies.

“Gold scarabs. That’s the main display. We think Captain Cold is going to hit the museum either tomorrow night or Sunday.”

“I’ve been gone five days,” Barry marvels. “How did he even find out about me?”

“Well technically you’ve been gone nine days, if you count your trip to Star City to help Oliver,” says Cisco. “And my guess is that Cold’s just speculating. He’s probably been planning this for ages, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.”

Barry raises an eyebrow. “So when nothing happens in Central City for nine days everyone just assumes the Flash is gone? I thought Snart was time traveling, or something.” Which he and Mr. Rip Hunter need to have words about at some point, but that is for another time and place. Literally.

Shrugging, Cisco says, “I don’t know, man, but I did hear from Ray a few days ago. He said something about a crisis, but he wasn’t making much sense.” Cisco holds up a finger. “And when I can’t understand Ray Palmer, we have a problem.”

“So yeah, they don’t exactly have the best timing,” Caitlin admits. Cisco opens his mouth, possibly to point out the pun, but changes his mind and draws up another document instead.

“Was Ray your little birdie?” Barry asks. “And wait a minute.” Just the words Egyptian empire are enough to have any sane, educated criminal drooling (though admittedly, Snart doesn’t drool. He sits there and schemes for weeks, which is somehow worse. And comically diabolical. Barry wouldn’t be surprised if he has an armchair just for scheming).

Not that Barry can sympathize, exactly—he just knows how Snart works. “Wouldn’t Cold pull this heist anyway, even if I wasn’t benched?”

“Maybe,” says Cisco. He considers. “Probably.”

“But he might not be on his best behavior anymore,” Caitlin remarks. Her nose wrinkles in distaste. “If he finds out you’re not able to stop him he could go back on the arrangement you two have.”

“Meaning he’ll kill civilians,” Barry finishes. There’s that lump in his throat again, hot and itchy. He sees Snart in his mind: cool, grinning, confident, and for a moment he feels an unprecedented wave of jealousy. Snart was never one to care how many friends he had or who liked him.

And while Barry is not so sure Snart will kill so easily (a lot has changed in two years), he does not relish dealing with Captain Cold and his renegades any day. Especially when he’s this scrawny, pathetic mess.

Barry worries his bottom lip. “I’m not the Flash right now, Caitlin. I don’t have my speed. The suit doesn’t fit me anymore.” He grits his teeth, suddenly angry. He’s not crippled, he’s not alone, and he deserves to help. Why is he finding that so difficult to believe? “Can I do anything at all?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Caitlin says, looking for all the world like Barry is their ace in the hole.

“We may have come up with a little something,” Cisco tells him, grinning. “Contingency plan while you’re without your speed. If this actually works, let me tell you—it is a bad day to be a Rogue.”

Barry, still uncertain, says, “I trust you guys, but are you sure I can do this without my powers?”

Caitlin meets his eye with a smile. It is the kind of smile that’s been on her face more and more, although now it has somewhat of a mischievous curl to it.

“We don’t need the Flash,” she says. “Today, this is a job for Barry Allen.”

 

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Seven Days of Falling

All characters © DC Comics

 

 

 

Len checks his watch—again. Fifteen minutes behind schedule. But that’s expected, he reminds himself. Barry doesn’t have his speed, which is the whole point of all this. Still, it makes Len itch to stretch his fingers, tap the side of his gun, pace back and forth in front of the archway into the New Kingdom of Egypt exhibit.

“He’ll be here, Lenny,” Lisa assures him.

“Know that, Lise.”

“Stop overanalyzin’ every tiny thing that could go wrong then,” Mick gruffs out. “Got an advantage this time, remember?”

Len is well aware. “Don’t get antsy and take that safety off,” he warns.

“Heard ya the first time. Yer the antsy one.”

Working with the Legends has made Mick marginally more tolerable, more controllable, more…companionable, if Len is being honest. Guy likes having a few added acquaintances who don’t stick their noses up at him as just mindless muscle. But Mick has a tendency to snap if he goes too long without something to burn.

“Half tonight’s entertainment is watchin’ you sweat, Snart,” Mick adds, and Len cocks his head at him, unimpressed, trying to hide the tension in the set to his jaw.

If it was just about a heist, Len could be cool under pressure. Lives for the thrill, after all. But this is different. This is about a crisis only he can avert, and the weight of that feels different than the usual excitement over a challenge. Someone counting on him, needing him. Especially when that someone is Barry Allen.

Len didn’t expect to be so affected by seeing a future where The Flash didn’t exist. Especially when an old man who had once been Oliver Queen looked at him with something other than scorn and commented on how happy he remembered Barry being before the end.

Before the end…

Len hadn’t asked why Oliver looked at him when he said that. Didn’t ask how or why Len would have a hand in the speedster’s happiness. Thoughts that sprang to mind were just wishful thinking when he first had the chance to mull over Queen’s words, but then…Rip’s face, trying and failing to hide the truth, gave the game away.

“Me and Flash, we…” Len trailed before finishing the question, asking it quietly, just for Rip to hear once they were back on the Waverider.

“Don’t ask questions I cannot give the answers to, Mr. Snart. We’re changing history enough as it is. Some things you will have to live for yourself.”

But Gideon soon informed them that something was off. Something was changed from the normal timeline even though they hadn’t done anything but start to head for their next Savage-related destination. Len pushed for more information about this crisis in 2024 he kept hearing so much—and yet not enough—about, but Rip shook his head.

“That isn’t the problem, Mr. Snart. It appears that something has happened…or perhaps hasn’t happened, to cease the Flash’s existence in 2016.”

“What?” Ray jumped up from his seat, Martin and Jax close beside him, the three of them knowing Barry best—next to Len and Mick.

Mick remained stoically frowning as Rip explained. Barry encountered Damien Darhk. Lost his powers. Didn’t get them back—wouldn’t get them back, if something wasn’t done. It wasn’t that Barry himself was gone, just unable to be The Flash any longer, something the timeline needed. Something Central City needed.

Something the world needed.

“The only explanation,” Rip said, “is that we, as outsiders currently to the time stream, are intended to intervene and set the course back on track. Something needs to be done to reignite Mr. Allen’s abilities.”

“So we’re already part of the timeline?” Ray asked with a frown, eyes nearly going cross-eyed as he worked things through in his head out loud. “Does that mean we’re destined to fail with Savage? It’s all happened before, it’ll happen again?”

“No,” Rip spoke up quickly, and Len could read him well enough now that he trusted the man to not be humoring them this time, “we can and will succeed with Savage. This is different. For whatever reason, the efforts Mr. Allen, Mr. Ramon, and Dr. Snow put forth to restore The Flash’s powers fail. Mr. Ramon is a very…unique meta human, shall we say. His connection to extra-dimensional energy should be enough, but Gideon shows that he comes into his full potential too late. Something needs to be done to push him to access his powers to a greater extent sooner, or Mr. Allen’s speed will become inaccessible indefinitely. In this case, for this particular malleable point in time, we need to interfere to correct the error.”

“No,” Len said, drawing everyone’s attention to him. “You don’t. I do. And I’m doing it my way.”

Rather than wait for anyone on the team to contradict him, Len asked Rip what Cisco needed in order to access more of his powers earlier and in turn use them to help Barry access his. Hearing what the situation called for only spurred Len on further that this was something only he could do.

For once, Rip didn’t try to talk him out of it.

Len took Mick with him, and asked only one thing of Ray and Martin before they returned to 2016. Help with instilling new safeties on his and Mick’s guns so that they could look like they were about to fire…but then not. He couldn’t risk a misfire but needed the threat to be convincing.

Len had Rip drop him and Mick off several days before the plan would take place. Interfering earlier, when Barry encountered Darhk, was too risky. But this gave Len the chance to prepare, plan the right heist, set everything in motion. He needed Lisa’s help as well, which she offered as long as he promised to do something for her at the end of the mission. Easily done. Assuming Barry played along as Len expected.

Now, Saturday night, pacing back and forth in front of the exhibit, where he easily could have gotten away with the loot by now before Flash showed up, Len feels a nervous energy he hasn’t felt in a long time. Maybe traveling with Rip and his merry band of heroes has affected Len’s idea of time; surfing through decades, knowing he could go back to any moment in history and live again from that point on. But all he wants is to be wherever Central City is at its peak, and the Scarlet Speedster owns the streets.

Barry isn’t wearing scarlet today.

Len allows the grin to widen across his face when he spots Barry turn a corner inside the museum and walk into view, hands held up in surrender as he moves—slowly—toward them.

“Mick, grab our insurance, would you? Lisa?”

“On it, Lenny.”

The both of them charge their guns as they head back into the exhibit, where just out of view of the entryway they’ve stashed the loot they intend to fence later—for a hefty price; lapis lazuli and gold from this era will fetch millions—while Mick comes back out with the bound and gagged curator.

“Snart!” Barry calls ahead as he draws closer.

He looks…frail. Half the size Len is used to, pale like he might be ill, with flecks of gray—not as much as Len but still noticeable—sprouting from his temples. Two of his fingers look discolored, banged up like he's only just taken them out of a splint. He’s wearing slacks, a sweater, and a navy trench coat with a red interior that Len wishes he saw the kid in more. It suits him. He looks tired, but still every bit as alluring as Len’s ever seen him, coming forward to face danger head on despite being without his powers.

“Did you forget our deal? No innocents,” Barry says, dropping his arms once he’s only about two meters away.

“Seems you’re without your mask tonight, kid.” Len casually aims his gun at Barry as Mick points his gun at the curator’s head—the man whimpering and pleading at Barry through his gag—while Lisa comes out with the bag of loot. “Whatever are Mick and Lisa going to do with this newfound information, I wonder.”

Barry doesn’t look worried or angry; he looks disappointed, and it twists something in Len’s stomach, almost enough to make him grimace and call this whole charade off, but he has to see it through. “So Cisco and Caitlin were right,” Barry scowls. “You only care about the deal if you have to. Helping people the last several months on that ship hasn’t change you at all?”

“It certainly has provided some insightful opportunities,” Len says gesturing at Lisa, who smirks as she holds up the prize—a fortune’s worth in artifacts. Len has no issue getting away with that as part of the plan. “For instance, I now know how much that’ll be worth in a few years’ time. Helping to potentially save the world from a psycho doesn’t mean I’d shed a tear over one lost soul, or suddenly grow a conscience at the first chance to pull off a good score. Heroism doesn’t pay as well, kid. You’re a civil servant. You understand.

“Now move along,” he gestures with his gun, still whirring in preparation to fire if Barry tries something foolish. “We were just on our way out. Thought we might need some incentive to keep the fuzz at bay,” he says with a nod at Mick and the curator. “Didn’t expect you. Seems you’ve been MIA lately. Now you show up in blue instead of red. I’m flattered and all, but if you wanted to get into my clothes, you could have just asked.”

A streak of color fills the edges of Barry’s cheeks, as he sputters, “Real funny, Snart. But as a…as a member of the CCPD—”

“He’s in forensics,” Len supplies to the curator, in case the man gets it into his head that an officer has come to save him. Wouldn’t want to give too much away to indicate that this is The Flash, though Mick and Lisa know of course. Len figures Barry will forgive him that caveat when all is said and done. Kid revealed his face all on his own after all.

“As a…representative of the CCPD, I can’t let you walk out of here with that man as a hostage.”

Mick and Lisa both laugh, while the curator pleads further with his wild eyes.

Len lets his smirk remain amused, and takes a step closer to Barry, who sways as if he wants to step back, but holds his ground. “Looking a little peaked, kid. Tell me now…” Len drops his voice to a whisper as he sweeps the cold gun down the length of Barry’s body, “if I cooled you down, would you heal all lickety split like usual, or suffer a deep freeze? You would make an impressive statue for my living room.”

Barry huffs. “Yeah…like a coat rack?”

Len takes a moment to admire Barry, reminding himself that for all he knows about Cisco’s hang-ups and what he’ll need to do to fix this, Barry is just as bad. Kid clearly thinks he isn’t much to look at with his powers gone, gangly and soft, with a few silver hairs.

Len makes a point of sweeping his eyes down the length of Barry just as he had with the cold gun. “Well, if I told you what I’d really like to do to you if I had you all pliant and at my mercy, you might turn a few shades darker than your namesake.” He licks his lips, flicking his gaze up to center on Barry’s hazel eyes.

Barry bristles, thinking Len is teasing him. And Len is teasing a little, but he also means every word. “Just let the man go,” Barry says, softly, this conversation only between them, while Lisa and Mick hold back and wait. “You’re right, I can’t stop you, but I can make sure you don’t hurt anyone else. You want a hostage in case the cops show, fine. Take me.”

Leave it to the righteous to make sure a plan comes together. “Deal,” Len smirks. “Mick,” he calls out without turning away from Barry, “let the old man go.”

“Boss?”

“You heard me. He can run along, trip any alarms he likes, we’ll be long gone. And with a much better prize than these relics.” Len grips Barry by the arm to pull him along with him, surprised at how thin it feels under his fingers, but not turned off, not thinking any less of Barry for his slighter physique. Never. “Haul the loot out, Lise! I’ve got our…hostage.”

The curator runs off, still whining but unharmed. Lisa has the loot, while Mick covers her in case any early bird cops show up, though Len is doubtful that will happen. Barry is only here because Cisco got word from Ray about the heist—all part of the plan. CCPD has no idea yet.

Len trails behind Mick and Lisa, taking his time, as he pulls Barry along with him, pocketing a few smaller display items that might sell well as he goes, much to Barry’s distaste. “Didn’t think to call this one in to your father, Barry? Hasn’t Detective West instilled the merits of backup to you yet? You come here playing martyr with no plan B. What did you think I’d do? Apologize for hitting the place while you’re on the mend, or whatever is wrong with you, and call the whole thing off? Not gonna happen.”

“I thought you were better than this,” Barry says with that disappointed look again. “Not better than a thief, fine. You are who you are. But better than the man you were when we met. Thought you were a man of your word who wouldn’t take a hostage anymore when you don’t need one.”

“Clearly, I do. Got me you, didn’t it?”

“What a prize,” Barry grumbles.

Len shakes Barry’s arm a little, feeling the frailty there like he could break it with barely any effort. “This is how you were before huh? Though I’m guessing the gray is new.”

“Just lucky, I guess. Back to my useless old body, and going gray on top of it. No bachelor of the year award for The Flash anymore.”

Len snorts. “Because people interested in you are only interested in the toned muscles and how well you fill out that suit, is that it?”

Barry doesn’t answer.

They get outside and Len waves Mick and Lisa off in the getaway vehicle, acting as though he plans to take Barry on his bike. There’s a car parked across the street that Len assumes is what Barry drove to get there. Perfect.

“How pathetic,” Len says, spinning Barry around and gripping his arm all the harder, hard enough to bruise as he points the gun in his face. “In the end the hero’s just a vain, selfish asshole like the rest of us. Not enough that he’s got eyes you could get lost in, or a smile that lights up every room he enters, brimming with confidence when he doesn’t get in his own way.”

Barry looks like he might be sick, certain Len is mocking him. Pathetic indeed, that even though Len is playing an angle right now, he means all of those compliments, but Barry can’t believe them.

“You really think the only appeal you have is how good you look in that leather?”

“Reinforced tri-polymer,” Barry deadpans. “And maybe you’re right, I don’t need the suit. Sometimes a few things other than just me…” He brings up his hand almost as fast as Len is used to from The Flash, slapping something on the side of his cold gun, “can be pretty damn helpful.”

A jolt like a Taser but much more powerful arcs up from the tiny device Barry put on his gun, shocking right through what SHOULD be insulated gloves, but damn, does Len feel it, and feel it, and then—blackness.

Vaguely, as a firm but faltering body catches him, he hears, “Benefit of being Barry Allen? Everyone underestimates the nerd.”

What must only be a few minutes later—though Len has no concept of time, and really laments that he barely remembers the kid attempting to carry him to that car across the street, though his hip sure hurts from where he’s certain Barry dropped him more than once—Len comes to in the backseat, handcuffed behind his back and still feeling his heartrate stutter.

“Th’hell, Scarlet…” Len slurs as he tries to sit up, then decides against it and merely lies there.

“Something Cisco and Caitlin cooked up for me,” Barry calls back from the driver’s seat. “Knew you’d let me get close enough, just had to be alone with one of you to make it work. Would have done the same to any of your guns, but doubtful I could have taken down all of you. So…thanks for being so certain you could handle poor, defenseless Barry Allen all by your lonesome, Captain Cold.”

Len groans, even though losing IS part of the plan; he didn’t expect to be electrocuted. The cuffs are a nice touch though, and easy enough to get out of in time. “Taking me to the cops, kid? That’s low.”

“The last thing you need is another jail cell you can bust out of. You’re going in the Pipeline this time.”

And while the thought churns Len’s stomach, that’s also part of the plan. “Still using isolation without due process, eh, kid? Sure it isn’t the bad guys rubbing off on you instead of the other way around? Not that I’d be opposed to rub—”

“It’s not like that,” Barry cuts him off. “Not anymore.”

“Oh really? Will you take me for walks and have heart to hearts? So much more humane.”

Barry goes silent the rest of the drive to STAR Labs. Len concentrates on the cuffs. He knows they really are doing better with how the Pipeline works, but he still wouldn’t want to spend any time in one of those five-by-fives.

When they arrive, Barry tries to act tough hauling him out of the car, but he can barely hold Len’s weight if he doesn’t support himself. So Len does, awake enough now, and with no lasting effects from the shock. He grins at Barry as the kid manhandles him toward the cortex. Barry had removed Len of the cold gun initially, but with nowhere to put it now, and wanting to keep both hands on Len as they walk, Barry slips the gun back into its holster, assuming Len can’t get to it.

“Seems we could have so much more fun given the situation,” Len says. “Who’s the real defenseless one here? You’ve got me all tied up, Barry. You could have your wicked way and I’d be helpless to stop you.”

“Will you knock it off? You’re as bad as Piper. At least compared to him, I know you don’t mean it.”

“Says who? Iron Heights gets lonely, Barry. Very few mugs as pretty as yours. ”

Barry snorts, keeping his eyes forward. “Turned on by premature gray?”

“Are you?” Len purrs.

Barry falters in his step, finally letting his eyes turn to face Len and the gray of his buzzed hair as he flushes with color. “N-No, I—! Shut up!” He pushes Len the rest of the way into the cortex where Cisco and Caitlin are waiting.

Barry isn’t as bright as he thinks. Should have taken the cold gun out of its holster again, not that Len couldn’t have gotten it back, but this makes his job easier, even as Cisco comes over to grab for the gun himself.

“This is mine,” he says as he draws it and holds it up nonthreateningly toward the ceiling but still close to Len’s face. “Stopped you in your tracks, Cold, no powers required.”

“So it would seem. I’m disappointed. Thought we all had a deal.”

“You threatened to kill someone!” Barry crosses his arms indignantly. “Or might have. Who knows what you would have done with that curator. And why? Just for some heist.”

“Which succeeded, I’ll remind you.”

“But now we have you,” Caitlin breaks in, all too pleased with events as she stands a little further back than the others, stiff and disapproving.

Len understands. The three of them, her and Cisco especially, have every right to hate him. But he isn’t here for himself.

“Do you? Or did I just want to find out whether or not The Flash was still The Flash and get unfettered access to the labs?”

A pregnant pause resonates as Caitlin backs up, Barry stands taller, and Cisco recognizes his precarious position standing so close to Captain Cold with his own gun held out.

Len’s hands fly forward from around his back, as the cuffs clatter to the floor. He grabs onto the gun, wrenching it from Cisco’s grasp. Cisco already removed the Taser, which seems to be a one-hit-wonder anyway.

In rapid succession, Len pushes Cisco back a step to give himself more room, then fires at Barry, just shy of hitting him. The console that takes the brunt of the damage immediately sparks and sends Barry backpedaling. Then Len turns to fire at Caitlin, freezing a computer terminal next to her. She dives to the floor, assuming he means to move the arc of cold closer if she doesn’t. Then it’s just Cisco.

Len stalks forward toward the young engineer, whose face fills with the same intense terror Len remembers from when he held Cisco captive. Len imperceptibly switches the safety on and points the gun right in Cisco’s face.

“What do you want?!” Cisco demands, panicked, hands raised as he backs away.

Len steels his face into as cold of an expression as he can make it. “Unfettered access means no more interference from you, I’m afraid. No hard feelings.”

“Snart, stop!” Barry cries, too far away and not fast enough to do anything—not yet.

“You’re not a killer anymore!” Cisco tries, tears already filling his eyes as he faces certain death down the barrel of Len’s gun. “You don’t do things like this. I saved Lisa!”

“And I thank you for that. I’m sure she’ll be upset, but she’ll get over it. Can’t pass up the chance to wipe out Team Flash while it’s no longer a threat. You’re too much of a liability to let live.” Len backs Cisco against one of the glass walls, ears tuned in to anything Barry or Caitlin might try behind him, while charging up his gun, aimed right at Cisco’s temple.

“Please, you can’t do this…” Cisco’s crying now, certain Len means to kill him, which aches more than Len wants to admit, but he can’t hold back now.

“And what are you gonna do about it, Cisco?” he speaks softly, too softly for anyone but Cisco to hear as he steps in close, glaring coldly through his goggles. “I’ll take you out, then kill both of them. Boom. No more Flash. Ever again.”

Len readies the gun to fire, the whirring louder, the light at the end glowing, with Barry and Caitlin yelling at him to please, please stop.

“This is gonna hurt,” Len says, but it’s not for Cisco’s benefit as much as his own.

He clamps his hand down on Cisco’s shoulder just as the gun finishes charging, and the contact is the final catalyst to ignite Cisco’s powers.

Cisco’s eyes clench shut as he’s assaulted by images, and in that same moment, his offensive powers kick in and a shockwave like heat ripples on a summer day explodes out of him, sending Len soaring across the room. He oomphs as he hits the ground hard on his side—the same side Barry dropped him on, naturally; he really hates the beating this mission called for—but manages to hang onto his gun.

Len’s half under a desk when he shakes off the blast. He struggles to his feet and sees that Barry and Caitlin have both run to Cisco’s side, rather than have one of them disarm him. Foolish kids really need to get their priorities in order.

“Am I harnessing the vibrations of the universe right now?” Cisco says breathlessly, tears already drying as his friends surround him with relieved smiles, and he holds out a hand, the molecules in the air around his palm churching with those same ripples.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Barry says, “if we harness that—”

“With tachyons—” Caitlin chimes in.

“We can totally get your speed back!” Cisco finishes.

Len leans against the desk he was just under. “You’re welcome,” he huffs, raising his gun in surrender before lowering it when the trio turns back to him with matching glares and ready attack stances. “Good job, Cisco. Knew you had it in you.”

Caitlin looks livid. Barry’s eyes dart back and forth as he analyzes what Len means. Cisco drops his hand, no longer pulsing with power, and rages forward across the room to reach Len in only a few quick strides.

“You were faking us out?” he nearly screams, then raises a hand Len almost expects to carry a fresh blast of vibrations, or maybe form into a fist, but no. Cisco open palm smacks him in the arm. Then shoves his shoulder. Then smacks him again and keeps on smacking. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

If Len wasn’t so sore, those hits would be annoying and comical more than anything, but—damn it. “Stop that! Heard your trigger was fear and adrenaline. Did what I had to do. Are you seriously hitting me right now?” Len uses his free hand to snatch up Cisco’s wrist, though he allows the kid to wrench his arm free immediately, assuming he doesn’t resume his assault. He doesn’t, but glares daggers at the cold gun.

“You pointed your gun at my head!”

Len sighs and aims the gun at the wall behind the desk. The gun charges, glows, sounds as if it’s ready to fire…but nothing comes out. “Added a safety. Turned it on before I approached you. Only way we knew to push you to fix Barry’s powers in time.”

Barry gapes. Caitlin’s face has gone blank in contemplation.

Cisco erupts now that he no longer has to be afraid. “We? Ray was in on this? That traitor! No wonder he called.”

Caitlin and Barry come forward, though Len can tell they’re still wary, so he puts his gun back in its holster.

“In time?” Caitlin asks. “Meaning it was possible we wouldn’t have succeeded on our own? You altered the timeline by doing this?”

“Corrected the timeline…technically. Besides,” Len smirks with a quick flick of his eyes down Barry’s body, the way he always does, always has, “the world needs The Flash.”

Len figures Barry will be humbled to hear that, blush and scratch his neck like Len has seen so many times, but the kid looks more nauseated than anything. Still disbelieving that he’s worth anything as just himself, and assuming Len feels the same. Damn martyr.

“I am still upset with you!” Cisco points an accusing finger in Len’s face, which shakes slightly from continued adrenaline, but his eyes are clear now.

Len knows Cisco needs this—to rail against him and scream and feel empowered facing Len’s coolness. So Len lets him, holds up his hands to show he’s been beat. He wishes he hadn’t had to put Cisco through that, any of them through that, but he’ll make it up to them, Cisco especially.

He already slipped Lisa’s number into the pocket of his hoodie.

“But…thank you,” Cisco finishes, rather than dive into another tantrum of angry strikes against Len’s arm. “Grudgingly,” he adds with a not entirely threatening glare. “Now, we need to put our heads together and figure out how to use this to help Barry.”

Len is forgotten for a time as the three geniuses before him grow increasingly more animated and excited as they discuss how Cisco’s powers can be used to facilitate a resurgence of Barry’s connection to the speed force. Most of it goes right over Len’s head, but he gets the impression that they’re confident their ideas will work.

Eventually, there isn’t much for Barry to do to help the others ready things for the experiment. It isn’t something that can be completed in a night. But tomorrow is Sunday. Barry doesn’t work. He can come straight to the labs, and before the end of the day…he’ll be the Scarlet Speedster again.

“Go home, Barry. You look exhausted,” Caitlin says, laying a supportive hand on his shoulder. “We’ll do everything we can here tonight then finish up in the morning.”

“Benched again, huh?” Barry sighs. “Great.”

“Not benched, man, you were amazing tonight,” Cisco says, “as just plain old normal Barry Allen. You took down Cold!”

“Right.” Barry couldn’t have sounded less convinced.

Cisco and Caitlin share a frown. “Hey, Cold!” Cisco calls to him. “Wanna make this up to us? You can start by giving Barry a ride home. And paying for the equipment you iced!”

Len chuckles as he finally pushes from the desk he’d been lounging against, and approaches Barry, who looks embarrassed and frustrated and antsy all wrapped up in a very frail looking package. “Send Raymond the bill,” Len says, and gestures Barry to lead the way out of the cortex.

Just before Len turns to leave, Cisco tugs the sleeve of his parka, whispers, “Some of the things I vibed when I touched you…” His mouth opens and closes a few times without finding any words. When he gives up, he nods at Barry.

“Surprised my intentions weren’t purely altruistic? Yeah, there’s something in it for me. If I play this right.” Len glances at Barry as well, too sore and worn to try and play things off like he doesn’t want what the future holds.

“Just…don’t be a dick,” Cisco says, no other warning or sign of disapproval present when Len looks back at him. Just an answering shrug. Vibing, whatever that looks like to Cisco, must be enough to convince him that what might happen between Len and Barry isn’t all bad.

They take Barry’s car—Joe’s car apparently. The detective is working late and will find his own way home from the CCPD. Len drives, goggles down now, gloves folded in the pockets of his parka. At least he doesn’t need to tell Barry to put on his seatbelt. Kid does so automatically, and looks over at Len as if surprised to see a super villain do the same. Then Barry leans against the window with a tired sigh, like he might doze the whole way home.

“Plan was to fill Cisco with enough fear that his powers would have no choice but to ratchet up a notch. Worked too. Had to make the heist convincing. Make sure your guards were down. Make the threat seem real.”

“The heist wasn’t just convincing. Heat Wave and Glider got away with those artifacts from the museum.”

“True. And next time The Flash will be there to stop us properly. Didn’t do so bad tonight though.”

“Right,” Barry says against the glass, not looking at Len, just as sarcastic as he’d sounded in the labs. “The world needs The Flash…and Barry Allen is just a poor substitute.”

Len frowns as he pulls into the driveway of the West home. He shifts into park and opens his mouth to speak, only for Barry to climb out of the car before he can say another word. Len turns the car off to follow him.

Barry doesn’t seem to care when Len walks in behind him before he can shut the door. Len tosses the car keys onto a table.

“Barry…”

“Sorry, okay, I know I’m being an asshole,” Barry says to the staircase, running his hands back through his hair before turning around to face Len. “Your bike was at the museum…shit. I can call you a cab. Or you can have Mick or Lisa pick you up. They already know what I look like, so it’s not like it matters—”

“I can take care of myself. Will you listen for a second?”

Barry stops the shuffling of his feet. Hazel eyes lock on Len curiously, but also exhaustedly, like Barry is ready to pass out or topple over at any moment. He’s hurt and weak and not really himself—neither The Flash nor the Barry Allen he used to be, no matter what he thinks. But he can’t see past his own insecurities.

Len knows how that feels, and might never have pushed against those barriers if not for a doe-eyed hero believing in him, or the brief knowledge of a future that might be too good to be true, especially if fourteen years from now Barry is destined to vanish, but damn it, Len is an optimist. As a criminal he has to be.

“The Flash is nothing without you,” Len says, watching the way Barry’s shoulders tense, already erecting barriers between them, “but you are not nothing without The Flash. If this was all you were,” he gestures at Barry’s slumped posture, “you’d still intrigue me and challenge me like no one else ever has. Proved that tonight.”

“You let me win,” Barry sneers.

“I needed you to win, I didn’t let you do anything. That trick you pulled? I did not see that coming. Hurt like a sonuvabitch too,” Len cringes, rubbing his sore arm that had several volts climb up it earlier and was also assaulted by Cisco numerous times.

Barry laughs lightly, a real smile finally worming onto his face. He gives another heavy sigh and seems to want to say more, but when he tries, he tilts forward like he’s about to pass out.

“Barry!” Len catches him, supporting half his weight as he hooks Barry’s arm over his shoulder and starts to lead the kid up the stairs. “Everyday human and still pushing yourself too hard.” Kid feels like he barely weighs 150 pounds. Len could probably carry him bridal style all the way up the stairs.

That thought makes something thick catch in his throat. It’s a nice thought, but he pushes it aside. Barry can walk fine, he’s just sluggish.

“This is so embarrassing,” Barry groans as they slowly ascend the steps.

“Get it through your head now, kid. This isn’t The Flash suddenly being Barry Allen again. This is more than no longer having your powers. I heard about Darhk. Losing your speed did some damage. You need rest. Tomorrow they’ll fix this. Now which room is yours?”

Len gets Barry to his bedroom, even helps sit him down on top of the mattress, still wearing his shoes and trench coat.

“Okay, okay,” Barry groans as he runs his hands through his hair again like he’s come down with the most awful illness, “so it’s just my noodly Barry Allen body that sucks.”

“Noodly?” Len scoffs, standing in front of him. “And what’s wrong with your body?”

“Trust me, you just can’t see enough of it with my clothes on,” Barry says.

Len smirks, waiting for that sentence to catch up with him.

When it does, Barry’s eyes widen and he stares at Len flustered and stammering. “I mean—”

“You make a good point, Barry. Need help getting out of those clothes?”

Barry scowls. “Stop. I’m not in the mood to be teased tonight. Not any more than you already have…”

Len can’t take much more of this pity parade. Nothing he says, nothing any of Barry’s friends say, seems to be getting through to him. Len has to be bold, like he’s been all night; bolder than he’d usually allow.

He parts Barry’s legs and steps in between them, earning a crinkled brow, then a sharp intake of breath when he grasps Barry’s chin. “What if I’m not teasing?” he whispers.

Barry swallows low in his throat, eyes trained on Len’s lips. He doesn’t struggle as Len crowds him, towering over him, and bends to capture a kiss. Any moment now, Barry will come to his senses and push Len away, he tells himself, but when their lips meet, and move, and part, that moment never comes. Barry’s tongue slides in smooth against his own, followed by a whimper, as Barry’s hands reach up to fist in Len’s sweater.

They’re both wearing far too many layers, but it doesn’t matter. Len lifts his legs to plant on either side of Barry’s hips on the bed, straddling him, as he lowers Barry back against the mattress. Barry tumbles over only too willingly, tugging Len closer with his fingers curled in the fabric of his shirt, sucking on his tongue like he’s been waiting for someone to take charge and not put up with his bullshit for days.

“Stop me any time here, Scarlet,” Len breathes hotly against Barry’s lips before kissing along his jaw.

“Uh huh…” Barry murmurs, arching his head back to allow Len more access. “Wait.”

Len stops immediately, pulling up ready to lurch off the bed if Barry decides he doesn’t want this. But the kid is smiling, batting at Len’s goggles that have fallen forward into his face.

“Kinda in the way,” he chuckles.

Len grins and pulls the goggles over his head, tossing them behind him, then shrugs his parka back and lets that fall to the floor as well. He takes the cold gun out of its holster next, and sets it on the nightstand, before returning to where he left off.

Barry’s still wearing that trench coat, which Len loves the lines of, the red interior, but it definitely needs to go. Len kisses the side of Barry’s neck to a hum of approval, and tries to coax his arms out of the jacket.

It’s only too easy after that, getting the trench out from under Barry, kicking off their shoes, pawing at Barry’s pants, while Barry unzips his. They reach for their shirts before either of their slacks come down fully. But as soon as Len has Barry’s off, the bashfulness returns, the hesitancy.

“Last time I tried this, I was drunk…and it still didn’t work out,” Barry says, avoiding Len’s gaze. It’s the way he tries to hide his middle with his arms, hide his skinny but soft stomach, that tells Len everything he needs to know.

“I do that too,” Len says, softly into Barry’s ear before kissing his cheek. “Hate it. Someone gets my shirt off and I just…want it over with. Keep it on sometimes. Even though I know it’s stupid. Mostly because…don’t wanna have to explain these.” Len grips the hem of his sweater and tears it off over his head in a single motion, revealing his bare chest.

He’s well-muscled, toned from effort and a hard life, though softer than he was a decade ago. But that’s not what Barry focuses on. He traces the tattoos with curious hands, assuming he’s been invited to, which he has been, but it isn’t the tattoos Len wants Barry to see. It still makes him flinch when Barry’s tentative, bruised fingers brush one of his larger scars, and the kid squints and sees and…gets it.

“You already know,” Len says, because Barry does, Lisa told Team Flash all those months ago, and even though a few scars are from heists or fights or prison, most are from Lewis. “Truth is, Barry…if someone’s doing their job making you feel good, any hang-ups you have should fall away. I like what I see.” He spreads his hands up the pale skin of Barry’s stomach, finally able to with Barry’s hands on him. Barry gasps when Len thumbs both of his nipples along the way. “Wanna see if I can make you forget you don’t believe me when I say that?”

Barry shudders, almost vibrating beneath Len’s hands. He nods.

Len bends to kiss him, rocking his hips that are wonderfully aligned with Barry’s, perfectly in sync.

“I like the tattoos,” Barry says, whining when Len kisses his neck again. His arms wind around Len’s back, hands spread over his shoulder blades and across more grooves of raised skin. “And your scars.”

For once, Len fights the urge to disagree, to turn things away from the physical things that would trip him up with anyone else. Not here. Not with Barry.

“Like your softness,” Len says instead, scooting Barry up the bed, encouraging him to turn so they can spread out properly, as he pivots his palm to drag down Barry’s stomach into his open slacks. “Your miles long legs and arms. Your ass,” he rumbles, when Barry lifts his hips so Len can pull his pants and underwear down.

Barry laughs like maybe, finally he believes Len, and grabs Len’s hips in turn so he can slide his hands down the back of his thermal pants and feel skin. “Yours is better.”

Barry rocks up into him a few times before Len has to get his pants the rest of the way off or burst. Removing them requires him to pull away completely, with how form fitting they are. It allows him a moment to really look at Barry—Barry Allen spread out naked on his bed, flushed and waiting, breathing heavily in anticipation and exhaustion, but alert enough that he knows what he wants.

Barry is softer, Len thinks when he kicks his pants away, crawling forward on his knees and enjoying the rake of Barry’s eyes over his body. He trails a hand up Barry’s thigh that no longer contains the muscles he’d have as The Flash.

He is weaker, but weakness isn’t only about the physical, and neither is strength. The first place Len always looks for Barry’s strength is his eyes, and it’s still there, staring back at him when he runs his hands up Barry’s stomach again, reaches for his hair, thumbs passing over the grayed temples, and kisses Barry as their bodies slot into place.

“Even love the gray,” Len says.

“Love yours,” Barry answers, and Len feels long fingers flutter over his scalp.

He shivers. And Barry shivers. And as they kiss, their bodies begin to move. It’s simple, and hot, and needy, the way they cling, Len between Barry’s legs now, lifting him up into an embrace until he’s half propped against the headboard, so Len can hold his face, and kiss him, and rock steadily against his cock.

Barry’s hands tremble when they reach for Len in return, across each artistic line of tattoos that Len knows the location and breadth of without having to look. Cards to mark the gambler in him, numbers to mark the planner, frost and snowflakes for obvious reasons, and a few sad designs of death and loss. But there’s room for a few more to mark hope…and maybe even a lightning bolt someday.

Just as intimately as his tattoos, Len knows the stories of his scars, even with his eyes closed, as Barry brushes the one from a broken bottle around the curve of his shoulder, the jagged edge of a coffee table at his hip after Lewis hit him. The one small burn on his right inner arm from when he’d pulled Mick from a building he’d set on fire and been too obstinate to leave on his own.

Len’s scars and tattoos tell his story, just as Barry’s long lean body and the grays in his hair tell part of his—gray that maybe he’d have naturally if he’d faced so much danger and near death experiences as a normal human.

They grip and cling and lose themselves in each other, while reaching for every part of themselves they’d normally keep hidden. Barry’s moans are the prettiest sound. The flush to his face, his full parted lips, begging to be kissed again, so perfect for something other than just Len’s tongue to pass between, but that’s for another time.

Len reaches down, needing more friction than this angle allows, and wraps his fingers around them both, dicks tight and hot as he presses them together and strokes.

Barry’s head drops back against the headboard, exposing his beautifully long neck.

Len spreads the precum, positively dripping down both of them, making the slide so much smoother with how wet they are. Barry’s fingers dig into Len’s shoulders, eyes heavy and body breathless.

“Never wanted…The Flash,” Len says, one hand on their cocks, while the other grips Barry’s neck and holds their foreheads together, breath mingling, Barry’s lips brushing his lightly as he speaks. “Flash was a nuisance…I wanted to be rid of. But Barry Allen…he got my attention. This face…” Len brushes his thumb across Barry’s cheekbone. “How damn stubborn you are when you look at me…and see more than just an old thief. How much I’ve wanted this…”

Barry laughs like he almost can’t believe it—almost. The smile stretching his lips proves he finally does. He kisses Len, a quick jut forward, hips moving madly into Len’s grip, until Barry’s whimpers grow so insistent, they have to pull apart. Their foreheads press together again to keep some form of connection as Barry holds Len to him, thrusting wantonly upwards, and Len strokes them and grinds forward at the same time. It’s messy and clumsy and everything Len would ever ask for.

Barry comes first with a cry as his head lolls to the side. He kisses Len’s shoulder through his aftershocks—right on the scar there. Len’s hand is sticky with Barry’s release as he pumps his hand harder, quivering when he comes shortly after Barry, and likewise presses a kiss to Barry’s temple and his graying hair.

Slowly, as the adrenaline stills, they untangle, huffing out labored pants. Len rolls to the side to keep the mess on him rather than smearing it across Barry’s bedspread. Barry’s breathing soon slows and evens out as if he might fall asleep at any moment.

“So…” Barry finally says, back still propped against the headboard, eyes closed, “this doesn’t screw up the timeline?”

“Corrects it…remember? Just making sure things happen as they’re supposed to.”

Barry doesn’t answer at first. When Len turns his head to look at him, those tired but vibrant hazel eyes hold something like hopeful trepidation. “We were supposed to—”

“Don’t over think it,” Len interrupts. “Fate’s got nothin’ on me. You, though…you got me good.” He allows himself to smile at Barry as honestly as he can. “Bugged me a little, at first, ‘til I realized it means I get to have this.”

Barry’s mouth opens but no sound leaves him. He looks down at himself and grimaces at his frailer body. Then laughs and shakes his head like he’s the biggest damn fool in the world.

Len’s still a mess from their activities but he doesn’t care. He pulls Barry to him, holding him against his side. Just for a few minutes he wants to hold Barry and not think about consequences, or the future, or what any of this really means.

Eventually though, Barry is dangerously close to passing out, and Len knows their languid afterglow will have to wait. He helps the kid to the bathroom, cleans them both up, gets Barry into soft sleep pants and a sweatshirt, and tucks him under the covers. Then he starts to dress in his Cold gear.

“You could stay,” Barry says, eyes half-lidded and voice gruff with the need for sleep.

“Doubt West would appreciate that when he gets home.”

“True…”

“Another time,” Len promises.

“Will you come tomorrow?” There’s hope and fear and nerves all mixed into the question—three things that always seem to thrum within Barry Allen, but usually hope wins out, and Len loves that about him.

“Sure, kid. I’ll be there.” Len bends down to press a kiss to Barry’s lips. When he reaches the bedroom door and looks back, his once again soon-to-be Scarlet Speedster is already fast asleep.

 

 

 

Len arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs bright and early the next morning. Even brought in coffee and donuts from Jitters as a peace offering. Though Cisco whispers a thanks for Lisa’s number in passing, and Caitlin gives him a grudging smile that proves almost all is forgiven already so long as he doesn’t give them any new reasons not to trust him.

Barry is buzzing with nerves. He seems nearly as tired this morning as he was last night, but a little of his old energy is peeking through. He doesn’t need to be The Flash to be worth something, Len knows that, Barry’s friends know that, and Len hopes Barry finally gets that too. But whatever Darhk did to Barry is killing him faster than dying of old age. That’s the real reason they need to restore his powers.

“The accelerator can do half the job for us combining tachyon particles with the electromagnets we’ve setup around the inner walls,” Caitlin explains. “The trick is for Cisco to vibrate the molecules around Barry and then channel that extra-dimensional energy into him after we turn things on.”

“You’re turning the particle accelerator on?” Len repeats.

“Not exactly,” Cisco says with a shrug. “It’ll be fine. Trust us.”

Barry scratches his neck in a display of his usual jittery enthusiasm. They’ve put him in the Flash suit to avoid any normal clothing from bursting into flames—“It’ll be fine,” Cisco says again—which sags on him now like it’s two sizes too big.

“You don’t have to do this,” Len whispers.

“But I do,” Barry says. “And not because being The Flash is the only thing that defines me,” he adds with a humble smile to admit that he knows they’ve all been trying to get that through his head and failing for the past week. “But because there’s still more for me to do, and this is the best way for me to do it. The world needs The Flash.”

Damn that grin, that boyish charm, repeating Len’s words back to him.

They shut Barry and Cisco inside the heart of the particle accelerator, and at the signal, Cisco projects his power outward to surround Barry like a shield in preparation for what comes next.

“Now!” Cisco calls.

Caitlin flips the switch, filling the large room with tachyons and a pulsing electromagnetic field, only visible as something like waves and lightning because of Cisco’s vibrations; him and Barry caught in the eye of the storm, until the moment Cisco pulls his energy from orbiting Barry…into him instead.

Barry screams, and Len and Caitlin both tense. Len looks to the doctor for reassurance, ready to rush the door if he has to, but he knows opening it before she turns things off again would be dangerous for everyone.

Fifteen seconds later, Barry is still screaming.

“Turn it off,” Len growls.

“Wait!” Cisco cries through the comms like yelling over a wind tunnel. “We got this!”

A few seconds more and then—a fuse breaks, the powers surges, and every light in the cortex blinks out. They’re in darkness for less than five seconds, but Len’s already at the door before the emergency lights kick on in faint shades of blue.

“Get it open!” he yells.

Caitlin’s there at his side, typing in a manual override, and between the two of them, they pry the door apart—only for a blur of red and yellow to zip out past them faster than the eye can catch.

Cisco’s grinning as he suddenly appears a few feet behind them, the streak of red and yellow zipping around the room again and again until it stops with a triumphant shout from Barry, both fists pumping up in the air as he skids to a halt beside Cisco.

They all laugh. Cisco hugs Barry. Then Caitlin does, catching Cisco in the embrace too, a jumble of limbs all together. Len holds back, but watches, noticing the way Barry cringes as the others squeeze him tightly because his body is rediscovering its former state faster than it lost all that muscle mass after Darhk. The Flash suit is filled out now, no longer hanging off his gangly frame. His muscles have hypertrophied again, returning his lost abs.

Len’s happy to watch the display from a distance, but Barry startles him by flashing over as soon as he’s released by his friends, having none of Len’s cool aloofness hanging back while the others celebrate. Len accepts the sudden full-bodied hug with a huff and, “Okay, kid, okay,” but he isn’t prepared for Barry to kiss him right there in front of the others.

“Oh!” Caitlin exclaims in polite shock.

“Ew, dude. Did not need to see that,” Cisco laughs. But he laughs, because he’s seen much more with his Vibe powers, and Len gets the impression that he doesn’t disapprove.

Barry is blushing when he pulls away, but he doesn’t explain anything to his friends, so Len doesn’t address the issue either, just stares at the kid’s bright, energetic face, so at home with being a god among men, and that’s not so bad, so long as that god is Barry Allen.

Most of the gray is gone from his temples, his body working in overdrive to find its equilibrium again, but a few remain, even hours later, after the several tests Cisco and Caitlin force Barry to sit through. Maybe three on each side, barely noticeable. But Len notices. He likes them, he thinks. He likes that there’s something to remember all this by. Besides his own confidence now to see things through, see where that bright and at times daunting future might lead.

Joe West is there eventually. Iris too. They’re skeptical of Len’s presence, but swallow their pride when the others explain Len’s role in getting Barry back to normal. No one mentions the kiss in the labs. And what they shared in Barry’s bedroom is theirs alone. At least for now. One day it’ll all come up, Len knows, for the Wests, for so many others in Barry’s life, and in Len’s life too. Today they’re on step one.

Len stays as long as he can, but the Legends crew is waiting on him. He has to go. He’ll be back—soon, he promises. And Barry can always call on him if he needs him. Barry follows him out, pulls him to the side of the winding hallway out of the labs to steal another kiss.

“Seven days,” Barry whispers. “Seven days with the ground falling out from under me.”

“But on day eight you found your feet again,” Len reminds him.

“Yeah. I guess,” Barry says. It isn’t skepticism in his tone though, it’s mischief. He kisses Len one more time—soft, tender. “But I think part of me’s still falling.”

 

 

 

THE END