Cisco's workroom was as cluttered as Joe had ever seen it, pieces of metal and equipment and who the hell knows what scattered on every conceivable flat surface. Joe knew that there was probably every do-dad known to man in here that could possibly stitch a solution together and save the world, but for the moment, saving the world wasn't what he was interested in.
Besides, his world had been saved already, a little over a year ago.
There was a person the in the room, sitting on a stool, picking listlessly at some of the detritus on the counter top. Cisco didn't look up as Joe walked in, kept his head down, his face as long as his hair. Joe had rarely seen the younger man look so serious, so morose, and his paternal instincts kicked into high gear. "Hey, Cisco." Cisco jumped, which made Joe feel guilty, and also gave him to understand that Cisco had been so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn't even heard Joe approaching, and given that the echo around the cavernous STAR Labs corridors made sneaking up on anyone an utterly impossible task, those must have been some thoughts.
"Hey, Joe." Cisco straightened up, tucked his hair back behind his ears. "What brings you deep into the bowels of STAR Labs?" He blinked as he finished the question, tilted his head and Joe had a feeling that he had figured out the answer to the question that he'd just asked.
He answered it anyway.
"I was looking for Caitlin," he admitted and Cisco snickered quietly, but not maliciously. "She's not around the cortex, I thought she might be back here checking on you."
"Not a bad guess," Cisco allowed. "But incorrect." He slid off the stool, began moving nuts and bolts around the counter. "I haven't seen her. Haven't seen much of anyone since we finished the time capsule."
At the mention of those words, it was like a heavy weight settled in Joe's stomach. For just a moment, he'd managed to forget about everything that was facing them, everything that was at stake. "Yeah," he sighed and Cisco's eyes, still dark and serious, met his. "How you feeling about that?" he asked.
Cisco shrugged, gave him a ghastly attempt at a smile. "The science bit is pretty cool. Building a time machine's always something I wanted to check off the bucket list, you know?" He blew a stream of air out between his lips. "I just guess I never thought of the implications of actually using the damn thing."
Joe braced his hands shoulder width apart on the desk. "Yeah," he sighed. "I know what you mean."
Cisco looked to heaven and shook his head. "I guess... I know why Barry wants to do it. I get it, I mean, I totally get it. And if he succeeds... I mean, we won't even remember anything different. Any of this." He waved a hand around the room. "But... I don't know, I like my life how it is. I mean, it's pretty crappy, to be honest, and nothing like I had planned... but I like the work we do here. I like the friends we have... our team." He shrugged, his shoulders held up to his ears for an exaggeratedly long time. "Part of me isn't so keen on that ending."
Joe looked down at the table, found a small length of thin copper wire and picked it up, rolling it around his fingers. The metal shifted easily under his ministrations and he tried to straighten it out, but the kink still remained. "Copy that," he murmured, more to himself than Cisco, but Cisco continued his train of thought.
"I mean, it hasn't all been bad, has it? I know the bad stuff's been bad... but we've done some good things here... and you and Caitlin... I know, it seemed weird at first, but you two..." He grinned suddenly, and Joe knew it was the real thing. "You make her happy, Joe. Like, really happy. Ronnie-type happy. I probably should have told you that before now."
Something swelled in Joe's heart hearing them now and he had to swallow hard against a lump in his throat. "Yeah, well, it's mutual." Because he'd spent a lot of years alone, a lot of years where he'd told himself that he had everything he needed with his job and his buddies and his kids. He hadn't realised how lonely he was until Caitlin had come into his life and stolen his heart - not that she'd had to try very hard at that, she'd sneaked right past his defences without him even noticing it, even had him, a grizzled twenty plus years veteran cop thinking in cliches that wouldn't be out of place in a romance novel.
Just then, he heard a familiar clack of heels against the tiled floors of the corridor outside, and the grin that came to Cisco's face told him that he too recognised the footfall. "I promise not to tell," Cisco said, an impish smile playing around his lips and Joe barely had time to shoot him a warning look before Caitlin walked in.
"Cisco, Professor Stein wanted to ask- oh, hi!" Her initial frown brightened to a beaming smile and she took half a step closer to Joe before she stopped suddenly, her head swinging towards Cisco. Her smile became slightly more fixed and Cisco rolled his eyes.
"Stay," he said, waving his hands in between them. "Steal a moment like the happy couple you are. I'll go talk to Professor Grumpy Pants and see what problems he's spotted in my marvellous machine..." He was talking as he walked, still talking as he walked through the door and Caitlin grinned as she looked up at Joe, tilting her head and bracing one hand against the desk.
"I guess we are a little obvious," she allowed and Joe shrugged, kept his face purposely blank.
"I dunno... at least it's not like the supply closet."
She laughed but in the gentle, embarrassed way she had when that memory came up. "They're never going to let us live that down, are they?"
"I dunno." He stepped towards her, covered her hand with his. "It's a good memory."
She stepped even closer, her free hand sliding around his waist. "The best." When she smiled up at him like that, he couldn't help but kiss her, so that was just what he did. Not as passionate as some they had shared, certainly not on a level of the supply closet of yore, but enough to lessen the weight in his stomach, enough to make him want to smile down at her when they pulled away. "How are you doing with this?" she asked him and he shook his head, pressing his lips together.
"Not great," he admitted. "The idea of losing Barry... losing you..." Her fingers tightened on his and she looked down. "I think... I've just realised how far we've come these last few months..."
"I know what you mean." Caitlin's voice was soft. "After the particle accelerator exploded, when we thought Ronnie was dead... I thought I'd never be happy again. I never expected..." Her fingers played with the buttons of his shirt and Joe forced himself to think non supply closet related thoughts. No matter how happy Cisco might be for them, Joe knew he'd never forgive either himself or Caitlin if he caught them getting over amorous in his private domain. "I never expected you," she finished softly and Joe brushed his lips over the top of her head.
"Yeah," he whispered. "I know exactly what you mean."
She smiled up at him and he moved to wrap both arms around her, realising as he did that he was still holding the slim length of copper wire in his hands. It glinted in the light as he looked down at it, and an idea took shape in his head. "What's that?" she asked him, her voice curious and he shrugged.
"A promise?" It was a question, a suggestion, albeit one she didn't understand, not if the tilt of her head, the pull of her eyebrows, was anything to go by. "Give me your hand."
Her frown became deeper but she extended her hand and he took the length of copper, began to wrap it around her finger. It was long enough to go around a little more than three times and he twists the ends together in a tiny knot, not wanting to leave any sharp edges. The kinks and twists that he'd worried into it meant that it didn't sit snug against her skin but the overall effect was reasonably pleasing to the eye, certainly to her eye if the soft smile on her lips was anything to go by.
"Don't tell me you're about to go down on one knee."
She was teasing, he knew, and he chuckled. "Baby, if I get down on one knee right now, I may never get back up again," he told her and her laughter was like music to his ears. "Look, I know this isn't the best time... but depending on how things go, I may never get a chance to do this..." He hadn't exactly been planning this, but then, so much of the last year had been unplanned and in some ways, it had been the happiest year of his life.
Caitlin's hand reached up to touch his cheek, that same soft smile still on her lips. "I think we've already got for better or for worse covered," she told him. "Definitely for worse."
"For better too," Joe pointed out, thinking of Cisco's earlier words. While the bad had, as he had said, been bad, there had been some good points too and most of his good memories of the last year involved her. "In sickness and in health... in injury and meta-human attack?"
Caitlin pressed her body against his chest, her hair tickling the skin of his arm as she tilted her head back and smiled up at him. "For poorer and poorer still?" she suggested and he grinned.
"On a cop's salary. You bet." His fingers touched the makeshift ring he'd fashioned and her smile was brighter than the glint of the light on the copper. "To love and to cherish?"
"Yes." Caitlin stood on tiptoes, her lips moving over his. "And yes," she whispered, her tongue sweeping across his lips as she deepened the kiss.
Joe didn't mention the last part of the vows; he didn't need to, because what threatened to separate them was something far worse. And as he moved his hands down her back, pressing their lower bodies together, he decided to concentrate on the vows that he could honour. After all, what Cisco didn't know wouldn't hurt him.