"Hey, Harry? Can I ask you something?"
Harry squeezed his eyes shut, opening them again with a sigh of aggravation. He knew that tone. Hesitant, nervous, a little sad. This was going to be one of those conversations.
"What is it, Cisco," he said, turning around on his stool. Well. Maybe 'growled' was a more accurate description, but they were all having enough troubles right now without ... whatever the kid wanted. Between Jesse and Barry being equally idiotic, Harry was not in the mood.
Cisco grimaced a little bit, his shoulders scrunching slightly as he took Harry's tone on the chin, but to his credit he didn't back down. He hadn't been backing down in quite a while, all things considered. If it weren't so aggravating, Harry might be proud. There was a look in the kid's face sometimes. An expectation of pain and a stubborn determination to carry on despite it. Harry hated that look. It made everything ... so much more difficult.
Cisco was wearing that look right now. Harry wasn't the least surprised. He'd known by the tone that it was coming. Still. He let out another breath, and put his tools down carefully behind him. "What is it," he said again, slightly less testily this time.
"... Were you afraid of me?" Cisco asked, after a long second. Which ... was not what Harry had been expecting. At all.
He opened his mouth. Possibly not to say anything, his normally-agile mind had neatly blanked on the question altogether, but Cisco spoke over him hurriedly regardless. Cisco took a couple of quick steps forward, almost right into Harry's space, and babbled out the rest of the question in a way that made it obvious that he'd been dwelling on it for quite some time. Quite possibly, given the subject matter, ever since they'd gotten back from Harry's Earth.
"I mean at the start," Cisco said, his hands sketching worriedly in the air before knotting carefully into fists down at his sides. "I've been ... I've been thinking, you see. You had to know. Me and Caitlin. You had to know whose doppelgangers we were from the start. When you first came here? You were tracking Zoom and the metahumans before you even jumped worlds. Those two were ... I mean, they were pretty important, man. You had to know, right?"
... Ah. Harry grimaced. Okay, so he probably should have expected that. He'd known Cisco was ... having trouble with the nature of his doppelganger. With his powers in general, really. Yet another thing to lay at Thawne's door. Even from beyond the grave, it seemed the man was bound and determined to do nothing except make Harry's life difficult.
"Cisco ..." he started, a whole dimension's worth of weary exasperation in his voice, and Cisco cut him off. Again. Harry was considering getting actively annoyed over here.
"Don't do that," the boy said softly. Harry blinked at him, and Cisco shook his head, gesturing at Harry's face. "No, man. I can see you doing it. Don't dismiss this, okay? I need to know. You came all this way. Into a whole other world. You were looking for help, and you arrived here, and you ... you saw him. Reverb. Are you gonna tell me you didn't have, like, second thoughts when that happened? You gonna say it didn't faze you at all?"
Harry ... thought about it. All right. Fine. The look on Cisco's face, the pain and the determination. All right. So they were having this conversation. Okay.
"It didn't faze me," he said, flat and bald and honest. Cisco opened his mouth, started to argue, and Harry rolled right over him in his turn. He held up a hand, an imperious 'shut up' gesture, and leaned forward to look the boy in the eye. "Yes, I knew. The second I saw you. Dr. Snow took a little longer, the lack of ..." He made a circular gesture, an attempt to sum up Killer Frost without words, and Cisco nodded hastily. Yeah. "Okay? I did know you. I did worry about who you were, and what it meant for who Barry was. My daughter's life depended on him. Finding out that half his team were working for Zoom in my world? That was cause for some concern. But it didn't faze me. You know why?"
Cisco shook his head. Slowly, warily, with an expression on his face that said he knew he wasn't going to like the answer. Harry almost smirked at that. Caught on fast, didn't he? Cisco could always be relied on for that.
"It didn't faze me because it didn't matter," Harry said, tired and cold. "Who you were, what kind of person you were? That didn't matter to me. Nothing mattered, aside from getting Jesse back safely. You could have been anyone. You could have been Reverb, you could have been Genghis Khan, and I would have gone to you anyway. Barry was my only hope of defeating Zoom and rescuing Jesse. I would have worked with Satan Incarnate if it helped with that. I wasn't afraid of you. But it wouldn't have mattered even if I was."
"... Thanks," Cisco said. Breathed, more so. He took half a step back, his expression crumpling as he did. "Thanks, that's ... Wow. That's good to know, huh? That's ..."
"Shut up, Cisco," Harry said. Tiredly, really tiredly. Cisco looked at him. The damn boy's heart was showing clear on his face, all but tipping out his eyes. That expression, the one that killed Harry every time. "How long do you think it took me to figure out you were different on this world? How long did it take you to realise that I wasn't Thawne? We're not them, Cisco. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks of us, because we're not them. Whether or not I was afraid of you when I first came here, you can't think I didn't figure out in very short order that I didn't have to be."
Cisco blinked at that. Rapidly, uncertainly. He looked at Harry like Harry was half way to being nice, and it was weirding him out. That, too, was becoming a very familiar expression. That, too, made things ... so very difficult.
Harry sighed. He reached up, rubbed his face, looked away from the boy in front of him. The boy who'd helped him save his daughter. The boy who'd died in another time, at the hands of a man who'd worn Harry's face. A man who'd made him afraid, afraid of Harry and afraid of himself, and so desperately determined to carry on despite it. It was so tiring sometimes, looking at Cisco. It made Harry so very, very tired.
"It would have been easier if you had been him, you know," he said softly, after a little minute. He looked back up, looked at Cisco, and caught the boy's face scrunching up in confused scepticism. The expression twanged something in Harry's chest, a surge of thoroughly unwanted fondness, and this was why. This was exactly what he meant. "What I said to you on my Earth? What I told you, not to get involved. That would have been so much easier for me if you'd been Reverb. I could have got in, got your help, got my daughter, paid the price and got out. When it went wrong, the deal with Zoom ... I could have sold you to him in a heartbeat if you hadn't been ... It would have been the wrong thing to do, it would brought me one step closer to being the man you think of when you see my face, but it would have been easy. I could have done it without a qualm. If you, if all of you, had only been ..."
"No you wouldn't," Cisco said. Quietly, very quietly, but with a thin core of faith behind it. Harry cut off. He blinked up at the boy in open dismay. "You wouldn't have done it. Or, well. Maybe you would have done it, but it wouldn't have been easy. You wouldn't have just brushed it aside, just like that. You're not like that. You're not like him."
Like him. Like Thawne. Oh god. Harry had to look away.
"... I'm closer to it than you want me to be," he said. "Jesse would still be here if I wasn't. Make no mistake, Cisco. I'm not a nice man and I'm not a particularly good one either. I'm pretty sure you've noticed that."
Cisco snorted. Harry looked at him, brought his head up on a surge of aggravation, and Cisco smiled at him. Wry and crooked and tired.
"We noticed the dickishness, yeah," the boy said, shaking his head gently. "And the fact that you are a scary son of a bitch where Jesse's concerned. Definitely noticed that one. But you're not like him. It took us a while to figure out, yeah, but you're really not. Dr. Wells didn't-- Thawne didn't care when he did something bad. I don't mean like, he struggled with it and he did it anyway, like what you do, I mean he legitimately did not care. The things he said ... I told him he'd killed me. In that other timeline. He said sorry. Not ... not for killing me, he said he was sure he'd had a good reason for that, but for the fact that I saw it. For what that meant about my powers. He didn't ... he didn't care. I mean he would love you and he would kill you and he would not even notice that that was wrong. You're not like that, Harry. As bad as you can be ... you have a conscience. And you still use it. And that is way more than he had left inside of him."
Harry closed his eyes at that. He took it, scrunched it up, shoved it deep inside him where he wouldn't have to look at it. Where he wouldn't have to feel it. That kind of faith. That trust so badly unearned. He shook his head, and shoved that carefully away.
"If that's all it takes," he heard himself say distantly instead. "If having a conscience is all it takes, why are you so afraid of becoming Reverb?" He opened his eyes. "If even the thought is enough to horrify you, why are you so afraid you're going to let it come to pass?"
Cisco paled. His expression, which had been earnest and gentle, turned hard and pained instantly. He looked away from Harry. His fists knotted gently at his sides. Harry felt something falter in his chest. Something that had been breaking slowly from the moment he'd started seeing these people as people, as something more than means to an end. Something that had been near all the way to broken for quite some time now. He reached out. He wrapped one careful hand around Cisco's wrist, and waited until the boy was looking at him.
"I'm going to tell you something, okay?" Harry told him softly. "You are going to listen to me, because I am not Thawne, and I am not Barry Allen, and I don't lie to people to make them feel better. You are not going to become Reverb. I don't care what Thawne said, I don't care what Reverb told you. There is no such thing as destiny. It doesn't work like that."
Cisco blinked at him, a desperate, shaking expression. There were tears standing in his eyes. This was a boy so very badly in need of hope. This was the man who'd helped save his daughter. Harry squeezed his wrist gently. Harry held on tight.
"We make our own decisions," he told him, with a black, desperate firmness. "Whether we end up good or bad, we decide that for ourselves. We make our own mistakes, and if we end up damned it's because we did it to ourselves. Nobody else. What happened in another time or another universe doesn't matter. We choose now. That's what makes us what we'll become. If you become Reverb, it will be because you decided to. So all you have to do to avoid it, is to make a different choice."
"... What if I can't?" Cisco whispered. "What if I'm not strong enough? What if I can't do the right thing?"
Harry blinked at him. "Then I guess I'll kill you for it," he said. He didn't ... he didn't know if he'd meant to, he didn't know what sort of black, evil whim had prompted it. He had killed Cisco. Some other him, some monster wearing his face, had done it before. Of all things he could have said. But he meant it, sort of. Some part of him meant it. If only to spare Allen, to spare Snow. If Cisco ever turned bad, became the sort of thing Thawne and Reverb had wanted him to be ... Harry would kill him. For all their sakes. Because he was as close to bad himself, and he could do it without a qualm.
Even if it killed him afterwards.
Cisco stared at him. Harry couldn't even tell what was in his face. Shock, probably. Not fear. It didn't look like fear. Maybe the shock had drowned that out. Cisco stared at him and then, slowly, Cisco started shaking his head.
"You ..." he started, his tone blank and disbelieving. "Oh my god, Harry. You are ... We are so messed up, you know that? We're messed up so freaking bad. Don't go pulling any punches or anything."
Harry coughed, glancing down. "Yes, well," he said, worrying his hand around Cisco's wrist. Not letting go. He should, probably, but he didn't want to just yet. "I never have, have I. You should have realised that by now."
"... Yeah," Cisco said. Slowly, almost thoughtfully, and Harry glanced back up again. Like a yo-yo. God, he needed this conversation to be over. Cisco was looking at him, though. Cisco was biting his lip, pained and thoughtful, and he was looking right at Harry with ... an expression Harry didn't know. One he didn't recognise at all.
"... You wanna know the bad thing?" the boy asked at last. A smile curled his lips, wry and tired. "I don't know what it says about my life ... but I think I actually found that comforting. The whole ... 'I'll kill you to save you' thing. You are like, the worst ever, but I think ... I think I'm actually pretty grateful for that. How bad is that right now?"
Harry stared at him. "Probably pretty bad," he said distantly. "Cisco, you ..."
"You're not a bad person, Harry," Cisco said over him again. More gently this time. He reached down, wrapped his hand around Harry's wrist, holding Harry's arm as Harry held his. "You think you are, but you're not. I'm not afraid of you. I seriously, seriously wish you would stop dressing up like Thawne and freaking me out, you are like the most demanding person on the face of the earth, you've just promised to kill me if I ever turn evil, and I'm actually not afraid of you. Because I know you'd only do it if you had to. It messes you up when you have to hurt people. You don't do it unless you think you've got to."
Harry ... couldn't answer that. He couldn't say a damn thing. He closed his eyes, pressed his lips tightly together instead. They needed to stop doing that. These people, all of them, and this one in particular. They really needed to stop believing in him.
"... This would have been so much easier if you'd all been evil," he said again at last. Wryly, with a dimension's worth of weariness in his tone. "This whole thing. It would all have been so much less difficult if you hadn't made me ..."
Care. Love. But he was never saying that. Not aloud. Never in a million years.
Didn't matter. Cisco, damn him, heard it anyway. Harry looked up at him, and there was a smile bright and beaming on his face, and the kind of faith shining in his eyes that cut Harry to his core.
"Maybe," the bastard said, still beaming. "Maybe it would have been a lot easier, but I think it would have been a whole lot less fun as well." He tilted his head, squeezing Harry's wrist. "Come on, Harry. You wouldn't miss us for the world, and you know it."
Harry glared at him, letting go and tugging his arm free with brisk, economical motions. "Go away, Cisco," he said. Growled. "I've got work to do."
Work to do, yes. And a whole lot more children than he'd planned on to keep safe.
Damn the lot of them anyway.