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To Change One Thing (Or More)

Chapter Text

Barry Allen.

It was one of the first names anyone new to Carmichael Elementary School learned.

His was the name taunted in the halls, the one at the center of gossip in the cafeteria.

It used to be stupid things that got him noticed--kids knocking his books from his arms or  him tripping in the halls. The way he'd just blush and look away when you stole his notes in class. His grades, always perfect; his geeky personality that drove everyone away from him alone on the playground most days.

After his mom, though, things were different. He wasn't just taunted or teased. The kids at school were just...cruel. They yelled at him, said some really nasty things. If they weren't being nasty, they were ignoring him. Honestly, he probably enjoyed the quiet more than the company of those mean kids.

It was only two weeks after Nora Allen's death that Leonard Snart arrived at Carmichael, a transfer from the shadier part of town.

Leo and Barry were technically the same age--eleven--when Leo first transferred schools, and he knew the kid's story almost immediately after stepping through the doors.

Leo already knew the basics of Nora Allen's murder. Man murders his wife, tries to kill his son, son runs away, comes back to see his dad dragged away and his mom's body covered with a tarp.

Everyone knew that, though. It was big news in Central--splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the Twin Cities the morning after it happened.

What he found out, what other kids didn't quite understand, was that people (including his own father) actually believed that Doc Allen had been beating his son and wife for several years.

There wasn't any evidence to "prove" that Henry beat Nora, but there was plenty of evidence on Barry--cuts, bruises, broken bones. Barry always told doctors that he fell or tripped or cut himself painting. He was always so cheerful and honest that nobody ever thought he was capable of keeping secrets. He was just honest like that--never cruel, but honest.

And then suddenly there were doubters. Outcries of domestic violence. Friends of Henry Allen were suddenly key witnesses in his trial--Lewis Snart himself testified at the trial, bringing up all sorts of claims against the man. Leo was in the back of the courtroom with Lisa, staying quiet as Lewis spewed lie after lie about the man who stitched all of Leo's cuts, who fixed every one of his broken bones.

He sat, and he listened, and he hated every second of it. He spent the majority of the trial talking in quiet tones to Lisa, contradicting every lie out of their father's mouth.

And then he got transferred to Barry's school, and he started paying attention to the other boy.

It wasn't like he knew it was Barry's school when his father first told him. He didn't know Carmichael from any other school in the county. Once he got to actually going to the new school, he figured out pretty quick that, even though Barry was a supposed victim of his father's anger, he didn't get any sympathy from his peers.

Even so, he still didn't have Barry's side of the story. All he knew was that it was, according to most, an extremely outlandish lie.

Leo, having told many extremely outlandish lies in his short life (and never getting caught), was curious.

Eventually, he got a little bit of an explanation.

After two weeks of observing his surroundings, Leo had gotten bored. He got so bored, in fact, that one day he was caught carving patterns into his desk with a pen. Mr. Thomas sent him to the office.

Leo sat patiently in the office, quietly casing the rooms around him. The secretaries were gossiping across the room.

They really needed to practice their observation skills--just by sitting quietly in one corner of the room for an hour, Leo had determined that not only was Barry in there twice a week, but he was a pretty hot topic of conversation. Understandable, considering the timing.

"Poor child," one of them said. "So confused. He keeps going on about tornadoes and men in lightning."

The other nodded grimly. "Too bad, really--he's such a smart boy. Won the science fair three years in a row."

And on, and on, and on. The kid had a real following, all the support he'd ever need.

Leo was not jealous. Not even a little. When you get that level of support twenty-four seven...Well, it probably hurts that much more when it all goes away over night.

Leo was, however, very interested. Barry's story--supposedly a lie--seemed a little far-fetched, even to Leo. A tornado? In his house? And what was that about men in lightning? Did someone get struck that night? Or was there lightning...in the tornado...in his house?

Maybe.

Leo wasn't really all that sure that Doc Allen actually beat his family--they'd met a few times, when Leo was kicked just a little too hard by his father, or when his little sister caught the pointed end of a broken beer bottle, and they had to take a trip to the hospital.

Henry seemed pretty decent--it didn't look like he had any deep dark secrets, and Leo was pretty good at judging people, he thought.

Eventually, the door to the counselor's office opened, and another kid stumbled out. He was mostly blocked from Leo's view by a couch.

"Thanks, Miss," the kid muttered dejectedly. "This helped a lot."

The counselor appeared behind him, smiling obliviously. "Of course, sweetheart. I'll see you on Friday."

"Okay."

And then he was gone. He didn't even notice Leo sitting in the corner. Before Leo could quite recognize the voice or the red backpack, the counselor honed in on him.

"Come in, dear. I heard there was trouble in your class today. Care to tell me?"

Leo had a feeling that he was going to be in here a lot, so he set about trying not to hate her as much as he wanted to.

Chapter Text

Leonard Snart.

If you wanted to be technical about it, Barry had known the name for a lot longer than most of the other kids at school had. The other kids only learned about him after they'd already seen Leo walking around school.

Barry had heard the name years before he ever met Leo Snart.

He's not some kind of stalker! He just...overheard a grown-up conversation. Yeah. It wasn't on purpose. He was just hanging out with Iris one day and she went to get a textbook and Barry just wanted a glass of water and--

But, wait, we're jumping ahead. Let's go back to how the conversation actually started.


Okay, so, earlier that day, Henry Allen picked his son Barry up from school, just like any other Tuesday.

At nine years old, Barry wasn't quite old enough to walk home by himself. Maybe when he was ten, but not at nine. Anyway.

"Hey, slugger," Henry said as Barry hopped in the passenger seat. He grinned at his son, watching him buckle in and tugging on the belt to make it secure. Barry was so thin--even if he was a bit squishy at the edges still--and he could almost slip out from under the safety strap if it wasn't tight enough.

Barry smiled back, pushing his backpack into the foot space with the toe of his sneaker. "Hey, Dad," he replied cheerily. He opened his science notebook, jotting something down before putting it away.

"So what did you learn today, kiddo?" Henry glanced at him as he pulled away from the school, smiling a little as Barry started talking about Math and Science, getting more and more animated.

By the time Barry got to talking about his new science project, which he was paired up with Iris to do, Henry was pulling up to the police station.

"--and we really only have to come up with a nice display of the definitions, but it's really cool! We've actually been working on it for a couple of days in class--I told you about it already, right? But the definitions are easy. And cool! I mean, I really think I could maybe do something in science. Maybe even be a doctor like you or Mom! But--" He cut himself off suddenly. "Hey! What're we doin' here?"

Henry sighed. "I need to talk to Joe about the case he's working on."

"Oh. Is it that boy? The one with the sticker board?"

He chuckled. "Yes, Barry." He unbuckled, opening his door. "Come on. You can wait inside."

Ten minutes later, Barry was sitting on a bench near the elevator, watching people walk past. He swung his legs back and forth, almost reaching for his notebook before remembering he left it in the car. Biting his lip, he glanced around. Not many people were around--just a couple of cops talking to...witnesses? Barry wasn't sure.

Anyway, Barry figured it wouldn't hurt anybody if he got up to stretch his legs. He was never very good at sitting still for too long--even if he tripped over his own feet every time he got up.

Hopping off the bench, he started pacing along the edge of it. Just walking. Watching his feet to make sure he didn't trip. Which was probably a mistake, because after only five minutes he ran head first into somebody.

Barry crashed to the ground, landing hard on his shoulder with a groan. Sitting up, he saw the man he'd run into--he was kneeling down right next to him. "Sorry," Barry said quietly. "I wasn't paying attention."

The man--his name tag labeled him as a Detective Snart--hummed. "You should be more careful, young man," he said as he stood back up. He watched Barry stand on his own, not offering help. "Not everyone you run into will be as lenient as I am."

"Yes, sir," Barry replied softly. He sat down heavily on the bench, watching as Snart nodded and walked away. When he disappeared, Barry looked back at his lap, twisting his fingers together.

"Barry!" Looking up, Barry saw his dad and Detective West coming down the hall.

Henry smiled as they got to him, ruffling his hair. "Ready to go, slugger?"

"Yeah, sure, Dad," Barry said dimly. He nodded to the detective, smiling. "See ya, Mr. West."

"You're comin' over tonight, right?" he asked. "You and Iris have that project, ya know. She's really excited." He smiled, pointing at Barry with the folder in his hand. "Don't mess it up."

Barry grinned, looking up at his dad. "Can I go, Dad? Can I?"

Henry relaxed, chuckling. "Sure thing, kid." He and Joe shared a look without Barry noticing, and then Henry looked back to his son. "We'll all go."

Joe laughed. "In that case, y'all better bring somethin' to dinner."

"Mom can make mac'n'cheese!" Barry said excitedly. The two older men laughed.


Later, after dinner was put away and the dishes were washed, Barry and Iris sat in the living room for an hour, sorting words and writing out definitions.

"So, what's the difference between evaporation and transpy--transpee--transpri--" Iris huffed, frustrated, as she glued down another square. "You know what it is."

"Transpiration?"

"Yeah, that."

Barry almost rolled his eyes at her. He didn't--but only because she's his best friend. He handed her another card. "Evaporation comes from, like, bodies of water. You know, lakes and streams and oceans. Transpiration comes straight up from trees. The other one, sublimation, is when ice and snow on mountains turns straight into vapor without melting."

Iris paused, looking down. "Do we have sublimation?"

Barry, too, looked over their notes. "Um... I don't think so..." He flipped his notebook open. "I don't think I wrote it down, either."

She hesitated, setting the glue down. "I left my notes upstairs."

He smiled, standing and giving her a hand up. "Go ahead. I wanted to get a drink, anyway." He watched as his crush grinned at him before flouncing off up the stairs, then shook out his aching arm and drifted over toward the kitchen.

At the doorway, he paused. He didn't want to interrupt.

"--eard Barry saw Snart today," Joe was saying. Barry heard a glass clink as it was set down on the table. Then he heard his mom cough a little awkwardly.

"Did he?" she asked. She sounded nervous. "What happened?"

"I'm sure it's nothing," Henry soothed.

"Tch. Yeah, right," Joe muttered. "Anything with Snart is bad. Just glad Captain separated us before I did somethin' he'd regret." He snorted.

"You still think he's corrupt?" Nora asked gently.

"Absolutely. Man's dirtier than a pigsty."

"Now, now," Barry heard his dad say. "Just because you don't get along--"

"No, it's more than that," the detective insisted. "Missin' evidence, witnesses skippin' town. That CSI, the new one? She showed up last month with a broken nose and dislocated shoulder. Put in her two weeks, never came back."

"My God," Nora murmured.

"Real shame, too," Joe said after a moment. "Snart's got two kids at home, nowhere near old enough to get out--boy's around Iris and Barry's age, sister's prolly around three." He paused, then continued. "Lisa and...Leonard? I think."

"Poor things."

After a few more seconds of silence, Barry finally stepped through the door.

"Can I get some water?"


So, yeah, Barry knew Leonard's name long before they actually met. When Leonard transferred to Carmichael Elementary School--Barry had heard he'd been "causing trouble" at the downtown elementary school, and that's why he transferred--it was early April, at the end of their fifth grade year.

Barry remembers very little about that year, actually. It wasn't anything special--other than the glaringly obvious--and he wasn't even going to middle school yet. CES held grades kindergarten through sixth instead of just to fifth, so fifth grade wasn't anything terribly exciting.

Until it was, that is. Things really changed when his mom died. It didn't get better for Barry, though, no.

No, if anything, things only got worse.

Chapter Text

The first time Barry actually saw Leonard, he had no idea it was him. Which wasn't unnatural. It was only a few weeks after his mom died. He wasn't exactly in a good state of mind.

When they officially met, Barry would think about how the boy he'd seen didn't look like a Leonard Snart. He looked more like a Michael, really. But it's whatever.

The first time he saw the pretty blue-eyed transfer, he barely even noticed when they passed each other in the hall outside the classroom.

All he could think was, Huh, I've never seen him around here before. And that was it. It wasn't one of those, "Hey, let's be besties!" moments.

Just a simple glance.

Barry didn't think about him again for a long time.

Chapter Text

Throughout the last couple of months of fifth grade, Leonard Snart was extremely bored. His old school, though run down and a little shady, was way ahead of Carmichael in their curriculum. The boredom was suffocating, and he just couldn't help but fidget.

He'd never been very good at sitting still for very long. Well, no, that's not true. When he was interested, or staring at something, or being lookout, or trying to be quiet...then he could be still for a long time. But he'd listened to these lessons five times at Upper West Elementary School (so creative, right? can you guess where it is?), and he didn't exactly want to hear them another ten.

His switchblade dug into the underside of his desk, carving a random pattern in the laminate. (It was a snowflake, actually, but shhhh--don't tell him yet.)

He got called to guidance not ten minutes later. Figures.

"You sit right here, mister," the office aide said sternly, pushing him down into a chair by the door to guidance. "I'll be back in a minute. She's with someone right now."

The boy mock saluted her. "Yes, ma'am." Then he pulled his knife back out of his pocket and started cutting loose strings from his shirt hem.

The aide paused for a second, as if debating on taking the knife, but he flicked it at her once and she scurried away.

A few minutes later, the door opened again.

A boy stepped out, stumbling over the doorway. It was Barry Allen, and Leo smirked as he remembered a different situation, not so long ago, with much the same setting.

It wasn't like he hadn't seen Barry around since that first time. On the contrary--the kid was everywhere. They had the same class, so it was kind of hard to avoid him. Honestly, Leo was pretty sure that he knew more about the kid than a lot of other people.

In just a few months, he'd become very familiar with Barry's schedule--even as similar as it was to his own, there were differences.

For instance, Barry only ever really talked to one other kid--Iris West, his best friend as far as Leo could tell. They sat together in the corner in the front of the classroom, which was about as far from Leo as possible in the small classroom. Barry was a total science nerd, so he was always explaining things to Iris when she didn't understand. The fact that he loved science would have granted him easy passage into the Populars, and it certainly gave him decent access to the science parts of the classroom, if only when Cisco, Ronnie, and Bette were there.

Barry and Iris both had a penchant for art, so Roy was generally cordial to them. He was still a little stingy with the paint supplies, though.

Both of them were pretty perfect. Iris was always so happy and cheery about everything, and her smile could brighten up a day for anyone. She was taller than Barry, though they were both exceedingly thin and bony. On the rare occasions Barry smiled, he outshone even Iris.

They were so perfect, in fact, that just last week he'd asked Mark, Mick, and Hartley why they weren't very popular.

Mick had laughed, Hartley had sneered and mumbled something about Cisco.

Mark had just shrugged. "They never asked," he replied, glancing over at the kids in question. Barry had fallen again--he was extremely clumsy, another thing Leo had noticed--and Iris was giving him a hand up.

Barry hardly seemed ruffled by it.

This time, however, pale cheeks flushed red, deepening to a dark crimson when his green eyes flashed up to Leonard.

It was too tempting. He couldn't help it.

"Cute," he said as the boy scampered off. He smirked when he noticed the boy hunch down even further before rounding the corner. Or, well, tripping around the corner.

Watching the red backpack disappear, Leonard Snart realized this was the first time they'd met, technically--and still not officially.

He was almost excited for the next time.

Chapter Text

As the weeks passed and it got closer to the end of the year, Barry didn't really pay attention to Leonard--Leo, he used the name Leo--at least, not consciously.

Like, they had the same class, but Leo hardly said a word in class unless he was asked a question--which he always answered correctly--and he sat on the other side of the room from Barry, who sat in a corner with Iris. And, yeah, he had his two of his thrice-weekly guidance appointments right after Barry's twice-weeklies, but Barry was always a wreck after his talks so he was always sprinting away as fast as possible.

(He did, however, know that Leo was there for correction of behavior. Barry was only there for 'spreading rumors'--which wasn't true, but whatever.)

A couple of weeks before school ended, Barry was late to school. And therefore, he was late to his guidance lecture.

Another kid took his spot for the day. Barry was stuck in the waiting area.

With Leo.

Just sitting. In silence. For an hour.

After about twenty minutes, Barry had pulled out his notebook, trying to finish some of his late work. Technically, anything he was missing today wouldn't be due until tomorrow, since he wasn't officially at school. He was there, just not in class. An office aide had caught him just as Joe was dropping him off and pulled him to the guidance office before he could check in with his teacher.

Of course, the only reason he was late was because he missed the bus. And the only reason he missed the bus was because he was getting another talking-to from Joe. And that was because he'd snuck out to see his dad last night. And, well, you get the picture.

Now Barry was stuck just sitting in the office, finishing homework he didn't need to turn in yet, sitting next to Leo Snart as the other boy picks at his nails with--is that a switchblade?

Jeez. Barry knew he was a troublemaker, but he didn't know he was dangerous.

Actually, to say Leo was a troublemaker was an understatement. Granted, Barry didn't know much to anything about him, but he knew what he observed.

Leo had thrice-weekly guidance visits. He also had detention every other day at minimum, and he was sent to the corner at least twice a day.

Besides that, he was a Popular with a capital P. They were the best of the best at something or other, every one of them. All between fourth and sixth grade, all beautiful, and all happy with their lives. Barry wasn't sure Leo fit in with that last one, but he also wasn't sure anyone else knew any different. And anyway, Leo fit two out of three categories, so that was good enough.

The Populars were kind of elite, but really not.

Okay, that was about as clear as mud.

What he meant was that the Populars liked to think of themselves as untouchable. They liked to push all the other kids around, call them names, exclude them from playing with them during recess, and otherwise generally ignore them.

Which, honestly, was just sad. The Populars were still kids, even if they pretended to be better than all the other ones. They got really attached to things--like the swingset, which was always kind of unofficially reserved so nobody else ever dared to touch it, or the art and science sections of the classrooms that no one ever went in unless they really, really wanted to get a lesson on whatever they were doing.

Same went for people.

There were three distinct groups within the general Popular title, but they were almost always all together. When they weren't all together, they usually traveled in packs of three.

(Okay, so maybe Barry got a little bit excited when they did the dinosaur unit at school. But whatever. Anyway.)

Okay, so, the three main groups were the Good Kids, the Troublemakers, and the Buffer Zone.

The Good Kids were all brainiacs. Barry actually knew a couple of them, and they were pretty cool--they'd even said he could have been one of them, but he never hung out. There were five of them. Bette Sans Souci and Hartley Rathaway were in sixth grade, while Ronnie Raymond, Mark Mardon, and Cisco Ramon were in fifth. Hartley and Mark occasionally toed the line, right on the edge of the Buffer Zone.

The Buffer Zone was smaller, with only three official members. Mick Rory, Shawna Baez, and Roy Bivolo weren't necessarily bad kids. They just got into trouble. A lot of trouble. But they weren't bad kids. Mick and Roy were in sixth grade, Shawna in fifth, and they were the kind of bad that got them invited to parties rather than sent to juvie. Mick really liked fire--he accidentally let a match set a lab table on fire one time. Didn't even try to stop it, just watched it burn. Shawna had a thing for starting dance mobs in the middle of the hallway. And Roy was known around the school as the Graffiti Master. He'd painted every wall in the school at least once. (Nobody could prove it, though, which was kinda funny, seeing as how if they'd looked at the signature on his wall art and the signature on his art for class, they'd figure it out pretty quick.)

The real bad kids were the Troublemakers. Clyde Mardon, Jake Simmons, and Axel Walker from fourth grade; Tony Woodward from fifth; and Sam Scudder and Digger Harkness from the sixth grade class. They were the bullies, the ones who were only popular because they had muscles and fear on their side. Well, Axel and Clyde mainly just pranked people and pickpocketed them, respectively, so they were closer to the Buffer Zone than the others. But they were still kind of cruel.

Tony, Jake, Sam, and Clyde seemed to have a personal vendetta against Barry, and he tried to stay away from them as much as possible. Sometimes one of the Good Kids would help him out, but mostly they stayed out of it. The only person that always helped him was Iris.

If he was being honest, he knew that Iris should have been a Popular. She just wasn't. Mostly because she spent most of her free time with Barry--which he was extremely grateful for--but also because she just hated the Populars. Always had. She couldn't stand how stuck-up the Troublemakers were every year, no matter who they were.

And his crush on her wasn't really that big. Just...long-standing. No one else even knew. (Totally a lie--almost everyone knew but Iris. Barry just didn't know they knew. You know?)

Leo was in fifth grade like Barry, and he seemed to toe the line between the Buffer Zone and Troublemakers, like Axel and Clyde. He didn't bully people, but he did cause property damage, and Barry was pretty sure he kept stealing money from Ms. Jones' purse. (Barry was on good terms with Mr. Jones, and he knew he was the other teacher's father. Barry didn't think Mr. Jones would appreciate his little girl being stolen from, even if she could take care of herself.)

Regardless, Leo's presence made the group a very interesting fifteen. But his addition to the Troublemakers' side meant Barry's chances of escaping a beat-down weren't exactly sky-high.

Said beat-downs were another reason Barry was in the office twice a week. He'd tried telling on the kids, but they just wailed on him harder the next week. Eventually, he just told everyone he was clumsy--which wasn't actually a lie.

Unfortunately, that lead to no one believing him when he said his dad didn't kill his mom--they all just thought the man in the lightning was a figment of a young boy's imagination, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Anyway, the point is, he was late to school because he was getting a speech from Joe because he'd snuck out to see his dad--well, try to, anyway, because he didn't even get past the gate--because Joe wouldn't let him go. And now he was stuck waiting for an appointment he didn't even want, sitting with a guy he didn't know, doing homework that wasn't due yet.

Barry absently doodled in the margins of his science notes, hardly looking up at all.

After a few minutes, he flipped to a new page, filling it with drawings. A lightning bolt. A swirl of wind, like a tornado. A figure kneeling on the ground. Another figure running straight forward. He was just adding a couple of details--a wine glass broken on the floor, the drapes billowing in the wind from the open window, a flicker of lightning in the eyes of the man running forward--when hands reached out and snatched his notebook and pencil from him.

"Hey!" he squawked. He tried to grab it back, but Leo just turned his back to him, still looking at the drawing.

After a minute, Leo turned back around, blue eyes meeting Barry's green. Barry felt his face heat up as he snaffled the book from the other boy's grasp, slamming it closed.

Leo smirked. "Don't like to show off, Barry?"

He blushed further, stuffing his notebook in his bag. He's not wrong, Barry thought. Though it can't be called showing off when the art sucks. "Don't like people stealing from me," he muttered instead.

Blue eyes rolled heavenward as Leo shook his head. "Tch. Better get used to it, with Mardon around."

"Mark doesn't steal."

"Wasn't talking about Mark." He grinned.

Barry almost laughed, but didn't, pulling out his English binder. "Clyde does seem to have sticky fingers, doesn't he?"

Leo hummed, going back to picking at his nails. Barry let it go, starting his draft. They had a reflection due next class, and he wasn't planning to be late turning it in.

Barry didn't notice it until much later. He didn't notice in the guidance meeting, or during class. He didn't notice when he was doing his homework.

Eventually, as he was getting ready for bed, pulling his notebook out for a bedtime drawing, he saw it. Rugged edges in his notebook.

The scene he drew that day was gone. And he knew exactly who took it.

Chapter Text

The next day was a field day. Half the class didn't show up. Including the Troublemakers.

It was to be expected.

Barry didn't see Leo for the whole next week, enough so that he completely forgot about the drawing.

They didn't talk for the rest of the year.

Chapter Text

Summer passed uneventfully.

Well, okay, that's not true. Things happened, sure, but it was the same daily minutiae as any other time of year.

Barry went off to summer camp at the end of vacation, going to study reptiles. He'd finally gotten Joe to let him see his dad a few weeks earlier, if only to get him out of his depression, so he was in pretty high spirits.

It didn't last, of course; as soon as he stepped back into the school, he was right back where he started.


Leo spent the summer pulling jobs--when he wasn't sneaking out to hang with his new friends. None of the Populars knew about his criminal habits, but they still deemed him cool enough to chill with them.

He didn't plan on telling them about anything he did at home, either. And if someone started asking questions about a new scar or bruise, he'd punch them in the face a couple times, and they'd let it go.


By the time sixth grade came, Leo had integrated himself into the cool kid group without batting an eye. He ate with them, pulled pranks with them, avoided doing schoolwork with them.

It was cool. It was almost fun.

Until it wasn't.

The first few times Leo caught some of his friends bullying other kids, he just brushed it off, let the nicer kids handle it. Hell, it wasn't like he hadn't been the bully before.

But then he caught Tony pushing around the scrawny nerd--Barry. He was saying some nasty things about the kid's parents, and then he just... shoved him. Right into the lockers. Barry went down without a fight, his arms slamming against the metal doors with too much force not to hurt.

Leo watched Tony smirk. “Looks like you were born to take a beating, Allen.”

As soon as Tony turned, Iris was kneeling by Barry, trying to help him up. Leo caught Tony’s collar before he could get too far, shoving the boy into the lockers on the other side of the hall.

“What's your problem?” Leo demanded. “You think it's cool to pick on him? What did he do to you?”

Tony shoved Leo's hands away, baring his braces. “Me? What's your problem, Snart? Don't act like you've never done it before.”

“So what?” Leo snarled. “I never took any cheap hits like the ones you just did! You can't just insult someone's family like that, Woodward!”

“Oh, can it, Snart! Just cuz your dad's a big bad around here doesn't mean you can just do whatever you want.”

“Actually, I can,” Leo replied, stepping away. He jabbed at the other boy's chest. “Stay the hell away from Barry Allen or I swear I will see to it you get suspended. I'm not gonna take any more of you and the others tossing around good kids.”

With that, he stalked off.

Tony threw one last glare towards his back, then towards Barry and Iris as they sat on the ground, before stomping in the other direction, punching a locker on the way.

Barry's eyes were as big as saucers as he stood up. “Whoa,” he said to Iris.

“Yeah.”

Taking a step, Barry winced. His elbows felt pretty bruised up, and his back was a little sore where it had connected with the locker door. His knees were probably scraped, too, if the way they were catching on the inside of his jeans was any indication.

“Oh, Barry,” Iris sighed. She grabbed his books along with hers, then wrapped an arm around him. “Let's get you to the nurse. I bet we can get Dad to tell them to let you out early."

Chapter Text

A candy bar was placed in front of Leo’s face the next day.

He slowly trailed his eyes up the arm to the face it belonged to, then sat back. He sighed. “West.”

She nodded once. “Leo.” She pushed the candy closer to him, smiling. “This is from Barry.” Leo's eyes immediately cased the room, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, he's not here today,” she supplied. “He had to get checked out by a doctor. But he bought this in a vending machine yesterday and asked me to give it to you. To thank you.” Then she pulled out a sucker. “And this is my thank you. For helping my friend. I heard you had a sister. Figured she might like some sugar, too.”

Leo blinked, his blue eyes flicking from the candies to the girl in front of him and back for a solid minute before putting the foods in his bag. “Thank you,” he said. “And it wasn't really a big deal.”

Iris grinned at him.

“I don't know. It's not everyday we get to see one of the Troublemakers be a Good Kid.”

At that moment, the bell rang, and Iris dashed off to her seat.

This was the only class he had with both Iris and Barry this year--English. All the other ones he only had with Barry. Both kids were smart, but Barry and Leo had an edge in math, science, engineering, that Iris didn't have.

Leo almost wished she was in more of his classes. She seemed nice enough.


Things didn't really change after that.

Leo was still a Troublemaker, and so was Tony.

Barry and Iris were still each other's constant companions.

Barry was still a klutz, still bullied, though less so now, since Leo was keeping most his friends from touching him.

But then Iris started sitting by Leo in class when Barry was absent. She started asking him for help with her science, claiming that Barry already helped her too much. She sometimes even gave him a brownie or two, when she'd been experimenting with her dad.

They actually got along well. Iris was nice to him in a way that the Populars weren't.

But Leo didn't get any closer to Barry--just Iris. And Iris didn't suddenly become a Popular, either.

His Popular friends were somewhat against it in the beginning, especially the Troublemakers, as Iris called them. (It had taken her ages to explain Barry's grouping of them. It was a little amusing, actually, when it was all laid out. He almost told the others, but then he realized they'd probably tease Barry.) They always tried to start arguments with Iris to drive her away. Iris was smart, though, and strong. She didn't take any of their BS, and she often schooled them on topics.

He was fairly certain that Axel, Clyde, Shawna, Roy, and Sam were halfway in love with her after that one time she flat-out turned Tony down when he asked her on a date. It was pretty great, Leo had to admit.

Leo doubted Barry even knew she hung out with him. And Leo didn't particularly want to be friends with Barry--he didn't even want to be friends with Iris, but she kind of forced his hand.

Although...The stories Iris told Leo about her foster brother were very entertaining. It was truly endearing, how flustered Barry could get, how clumsy he was.

Almost as endearing as it was that Iris couldn't see the boy's obvious infatuation with her.

But Leo wouldn't spoil it. No, all he did was listen. And keep Barry relatively safe from his friends.

Who often joked about it at his expense. But that's really neither here nor there.

Chapter Text

Detective Joe West scrunched his brow.

"Child Services?" he asked his captain incredulously. "Are you out of your mind?"

Captain Fallwiel glowered at him before turning back to his papers. "I don't believe I asked your opinion, Detective."

Joe scoffed. "Well, maybe you should have," he retorted. "Seeing as how, if you had, I'd have told you how much of a mistake this is."

"I don't particularly want to know why you think that," Captain said flatly. He didn't even look up, still reading reports. "But I'm fairly certain you'll voice your opinion either way, so go ahead."

The detective leaned against the captain's desk, crossing his arms. "Lisa is too little to be sent to a group home, but Leonard isn't. Just think about the repercussions for separating them. Besides that, though, my kids go to school with the boy."

"Your point?"

"My point is that the kids a thief. Now, nothin's been proven, a'course, but I've heard on several separate occasions that little Leo's been stealing from one'a the ladies' purses. Plus, he's got a guidance appointment right after Barry's every week, so he's got some kind'a problems. He goes into a home, he ain't comin' out nice."

"Few ever do, detective," Fallwiel said disinterestedly. "I still--"

"You don't get it," he snarled, cutting him off. "If you put that boy in a group home, I can promise you one thing, and one thing only: you will get a criminal back."

Now, Captain Fallwiel glanced up at Joe, surprised. Then he mellowed. "Well, Detective, if you're so worried about these kids, what are you going to do about it?"

Joe straightened abruptly. "Well, I can--"

"Let me remind you of the fact that you just adopted a displaced child. You can't save them all, Joe."

"Don't you think I know that?" He sighed, running a hand over his shaved head. "It's just...these kids need help. I can't expect the system to be able to help them all the time. Some kids, maybe. Not these."

Fallwiel just looked at him for a minute, then nodded. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"I will turn the children over to your care, but you're filling out the rest of the paper work. I've had enough of it this week."

Chapter Text

They'd barely made it to the second quarter before everything crashed down.

Barry didn't even know what was happening until it was almost over. Nobody knew.

Joe’s suspicion of Detective Snart finally got some proof to it--enough to put the man away for a long time. Like, forever. In a maximum security prison. With a .000000000001% chance of escaping or getting paroled. Given that Leo wouldn't be helping him, those odds were even slimmer.

It all happened so quickly.

Suddenly, Lewis Snart was put away with barely a trial to his favor, and his two kids were left homeless.

Luckily, Joe seemed to know they wouldn't make it in child services or the foster care system--at least, not in any healthy or legal way. He knew they'd probably turn to crime without a good role model.

And suddenly, Barry wasn't the only new kid in Joe's house.

Chapter Text

"Barry, Barry, Barry!"

Barry jumped as his door slammed open. "Jeez, Iris!" he spluttered, blushing. "What's the big deal?"

She grinned at him, hopping up onto his bed. "Barry, guess what?" she sing-songed cheerfully.

He eyed her warily for a minute before asking, "What?"

Iris frowned, sitting up. "Come on, guess!"

"No."

"Please?"

"No." Barry shook his head. "Just tell me."

She pouted. "Oh, you're no fun today. What happened to your good mood?"

He gave her a flat look. "You try doing four hours of math homework on a Saturday afternoon, then ask me that question."

She pondered it for a moment, then shrugged. "Good point." Crawling up, she plopped down next to him, throwing herself over his lap (and therefore textbook) to look up at him. Her smile was back. "You remember Leo?"

Barry's face, already red from having Iris sprawled on top of him, darkened to a deep crimson. "Snart?" he asked hesitantly. He was hoping the answer was no.

"Yes!" Iris cheered, dashing his hope. "And you know he has a little sister? She's like, four years younger than us."

"Almost five, actually." He dug his book out from under her. "But yeah. So?"

"How do you know that? I'm the one who's always talking to him!"

"But I observe, Iris. I saw her last month on the playground, talking to her friends--she said she was turned seven a couple months ago or something." He scanned the next page of his textbook.

"Ooh, Barry Allen, eavesdropper," Iris teased. He just blinked at her, and she laughed, stealing his book and tossing it away. "Anyway," she said over his whine. "Hush, Barry--anyway, what I was going to say was that Leo and Lisa are coming to stay with us!" She waved her arms in a ta-da fashion--it looked kinda weird, since she was wiggling to stay on top of Barry as he squirmed to get up.

Barry froze, stopping his struggle. "Really? Are you serious?"

"Yeah! Isn't it so cool?" she gushed.

"Yeah, sure," he said absently. "Listen, Iris--I've got a lot of work to do, and--"

"Okay, okay, I'll go." She giggled. "I gotta call Bette!"

Barry sighed in relief as Iris skipped out of the room, shutting the door behind her. He slumped in bed, muttering into his pillow. "Oh, my god. This is bad. I've only met him once! I can't just live with him! He's a thief! This is going to be so awkward!"

Sitting up finally, he ran a hand through his hair. He shook himself. At least I don't have a crush on him. It'd be Iris all over again! He groaned.

He went to get his textbook, drowning everything out with more math.

He ended up finishing the rest of the homework for the semester.

Chapter Text

"Here we go, guys."

Joe stood just inside the door to his home, holding the door open as he set two bags of luggage by the stairs. He turned to the two behind him, smiling brightly. "Come on in, yeah!"

A set of blue eyes peeked around the dark wood of the door frame, then dark hair, and finally the rest of Lisa Snart's body stepped into view. She frowned, backing away from the door.

Blue sneakers appeared next to her, a hand grasping hers. "Come on, Lise," Leo said quietly. He glanced inside. "Nothing's gonna happen. I promise."

She blinked up at her big brother, shaking her head. "But--"

"Leo!"

Joe turned at the high-pitched squeal. "Iris?"

The little girl grinned from her position at the top of the stairs. Seconds later, she was down them, linking her arm through Leo's and dragging him inside. Lisa was pulled inside by their linked hands, and Joe shut the door behind her.

"Isn't this just so cool?" Iris gushed. She plopped down on the sofa, jerking the boy down next to her. "I mean, it was pretty cool when Barry started living here, but now we can all hang out! And you have a sister!"

Leo and Lisa both winced as her voice climbed an extra octave.

Iris hopped up, standing in front of Lisa. She thrust a hand out. "Hi! I'm Iris. You're Lisa, right? I've heard about you!"

Lisa shrunk back, her eyes wide as she crept behind her brother. "H-Hi," she muttered. She shook her hair out, letting it fall in her face. "N-Nice to m-meet you."

Iris frowned. Her hand fell to her side as she took a step back. "Sorry. I just got excited. You don't have to talk. It's okay."

The other girl nodded, looking up at Leo. He nodded, then looked at Iris. "Thank you, Iris."

She grinned, ruffling his hair. "No problem, Leo." Backing up, she twirled on her heel and skipped out of the room. "Let me know if you want anything!"

Leo stood, still gripping Lisa's hand. "Hey," he muttered. He knelt in front of her. "It's gonna be okay. Detective West isn't like Dad, I promise."

 

Lisa whimpered, her eyes glistening. "How do you know, though?" she whined. "You've never met him.

"Sure I have. You have, too. Remember? Christmas last year?"

She sniffed, rubbing at her eyes. "Kinda."

"He was the one that gave you that bear, right?"

Suddenly, Lisa's eyes widened, and she grinned. "Miss Goldilocks!"

Leo's lips twitched up in a smile. "Yeah, Lise. Miss Goldilocks." He touched her cheek, wiping away a tear. "See, he's not so bad, is he."

The girl shrugged, looking down. "I guess."

Leo sighed, ruffling her hair. "Good enough, kiddo."

Chapter Text

Barry was walking down the hall to the kitchen when he collided with someone. A hand caught his arm before he hit the ground, standing him back upright. Glancing up, he saw Leo standing in the doorway to the dining room.

The blue-eyed boy tilted his head. "You okay?"

Barry blinked, straightening. He took a step back. "Yeah, sorry. My fault."

They hadn't really spoken except the one time in guidance, so they weren't really friends. And Barry hadn't actually been home when he and Lisa moved in--he'd come home from a friend's house to find his room split in half, straight down the middle.

They share a room, sure, but Barry mostly goes to sleep as soon as he gets in bed, and Leo isn't exactly a bedside chatter.

Leo shrugged. "It's not a big deal."

Barry froze in his spot. He scanned Leo's face, then turned and went to the kitchen. "You want any cereal?" he called behind him.

Leo crept around the corner, eyeing him. Finally, he gave in, accepting the bowl Barry held out for him. "Sure."

Chapter Text

By the end of November, the five of them were somewhat happily seated at the table.

It was Thanksgiving, and everyone had at least one thing to be thankful for this year, if not four.

It had been a tight fit--there were only three bedrooms in Joe's house, so Leo had been moved into Barry's room with him, while Lisa went with Iris. For a girl only seven years old, Lisa displayed real maturity. She was certainly cleaner than Iris.

Barry didn't have a problem with the new arrangement; he didn't take up much space, anyway, so having Leo in the same room just used up some of the unused square footage. No, what bothered Barry was that, in the last three weeks, Leo had hardly said anything to Barry. He talked fine with Joe and Iris, most of the time, but never Barry. Even now, sitting across from each other, they'd hardly said a word to each other.

Barry was actually in an interesting conversation with Lisa--she was telling him about her favorite ice skater.

“And that's what I'm gonna be!” she said excitedly. “I mean, that's what I've always wanted to do, and now I might get to! It's great!” She took a drink from her sippy cup, then gave him a toothy grin--her front tooth was missing, he noticed, smiling back. “What do you wanna do, Bawry?” She still had a little problem with Rs, but she was getting better every day.

Barry laughed. “I dunno. Something with science.”

Lisa nodded seriously, like this was very important. “Lenny good at science, too! But also math. Right, Lenny?”

Leo glanced up, frowning. “Be quiet, Lisa.”

Lisa pouted, turning back to Barry. He couldn't help giggling, patting her arm. “Don't worry, Lisa. I know Leo's good at math and stuff. We're in the same class.”

Lisa clapped her hands, squealing. “Yay, yay, yay!”

Later, Barry and Leo got stuck on dish duty while Joe went to the store for ice cream and Iris got Lisa into the tub.

“Does Detective West leave you guys alone a lot?” Leo asked suddenly.

“Hmm?” Barry stuttered, almost dropping the slick dish in his hand. “O-oh, um...No? I mean, it depends what you mean by ‘alone’, Leo. He mostly lets us do our own thing, but, like...he likes spending time with us? And, well, the store is really just down the street and even when he gets called into the station he lets us know where he'll be and that's not really that far, actually, but I guess you could say he's not always here, you know? But were not really alone, someone usually checks on us if he's gonna be gone all night and even when he's not here we really just hang out and watch movies and eat junk food so it's kinda cool and--” Barry's jaw snapped shut, his face going red.

Leo smirked. “So, yes to the not being here, no to the alone. Got it.”

Barry let out the breath he was holding. “Sorry, Leo. I don't mean to talk so much, it's just...Something I do, I guess.”

Leo grimaced. “Please don't call me that.”

“What?” Barry asked, startled. “Leo?” He nodded. “Why?”

“It's what my father and his people use'ta call me,” Leo muttered, drying another dish. “I hate it.”

“Oh,” Barry murmured. “Well...We can just call you Len, if you want. I mean, Lisa already calls you Lenny, so…”

He smiled softly. “Okay.”

Barry grinned back. “Okay. Len it is.”

Len’s smile twitched up even further, and he flicked bubbles at the other boy, laughing. “Len it is.”

Chapter Text

By the end of break, Barry and Len were much more comfortable with each other. They'd spent Black Friday with Iris and Lisa, just sitting on the couch snacking and watching movies. It was something Iris and Barry had done countless times, made all the more fun by Len and Lisa, who knew next to nothing about movies.

Allen and West took it upon themselves to teach.

So many movies, so little time.

Lisa fell asleep after the second movie, so they moved into the better ones--Lisa was mature, yeah, but she was more into princesses than good acting. Many superhero movies later, and they were putting in pirate movies. Then it was sci-fi time, a subject that was thoroughly picked over by Len and Barry as they watched. Len pointed out all the bad calculations, while Barry had fits over chemical formulas.

“Aww,” Iris cooed. “A match made in heaven.”

Barry turned red, wrinkling his nose at her.

Len just rolled his eyes and pointed out another bad calculation.


Eventually, Lisa returned from a long nap. Everybody squeezed onto the sofa for the last movie: Iris and Lisa on the ends and Barry and Len in the middle, with Barry by Iris and Len by Lisa.

The last movie--something about the ocean or something--was funny, but childish. Barry soon fell asleep, the weight of Iris pushing him down so he was laying in Len’s lap, Iris on his chest.

“Bawry!” Lisa whined, poking him. “Wake up!”

Barry opened his eyes a crack, enough to see Len shush Lisa, tucking her under his arm. He closed them again as a hand patted his head.

He sighed, pleased, and fell asleep.


When Joe got home later, it was to see his four kids, all intertwined: Iris on Barry’s chest, his arm around her; Barry's head on Len’s lap next to Lisa's; Len’s head tipped back on the cushions of the back of the couch, the fingers of one hand each in Barry's and Lisa's hair; Barry's legs were tucked under the arm of the sofa, Lisa's and Iris’ both hanging off either end, Len’s stretched in front of him. Joe took a picture, then carefully draped a blanket over Barry and Iris, then one over Lisa.

Len had plenty of protection.

Chapter Text

A packet of cards dropped onto the table in front of Len.

Len glanced at them, then at Barry's retreating back, his brow furrowed. His friends were exchanging looks, too, but they could wait a minute.

Len almost called him back, but then he glanced over the cards, and groaned. “Shit. Thanks, Bear! Lifesaver!”

He heard Barry laughing from a couple tables away as he took the rubber bands off the deck, flicking through the notes. “No problem, Lenny! Thought you might need them.”

“For damn sure,” he muttered. “What kinda teacher tests on a subject they don't even teach?”

He didn't really notice the silence at his table until Digger suddenly said, “Lenny?!"

Len froze, glancing up. A bunch of the kids were laughing. “Yeah, so?”

“Didn't realize you were tappin’ the nerds, Len,” Mark supplied with a smirk.

Len had to admit that, after so many years being called Leo, it was still a little weird to be answering to Len. But most of the Populars had just switched to it as soon as he asked, not even batting an eye. Not like they didn't know all the shit he'd been through the last year with his father.

He was actually kind of surprised they were actually still Populars, but he supposed things worked differently in a middle school where the kids only stayed for two years--not much room for age discrimination.

Len blinked. “We've been living in the same house for a year, now, guys,” he said, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “Lisa calls me the same thing. Iris, too,” he grumbled, looking back at his cards, “when she wants to be annoying.”

“Mm-hmm,” Tony hummed. “Bet you like it when he says it better, though.” His grin turned feral.

Len blinked at him, unimpressed.

At the same time, Shawna cooed. “And how is that cutie sister of yours? She's, what, eight?”

“Yeah,” Len replied absentmindedly, looking back at his cards. “Be nine soon, actually.”

“Shame she'll never be in school with you, though,” Bette said.

Len snorted, trying to memorize the next card. “Please. As if that would end in anything but a disaster.”

Finally, the subject of Len dropped, conversation splitting off into other categories.

A few minutes before the bell rang, Len grabbed his tray, tossing it before going over to Barry and Iris’ table.

“Hey. Ready for English?”

English was still the only class they were all in together--all the others were just him and Barry. Except one--Barry and Iris had elected to take Landscaping this year. Len had declined.

Barry glanced up at him, beaming, and he couldn't help smiling back.

Iris sighed as they stood up, throwing an arm across her forehead dramatically. “Oh, woe is me! How shall I perseve’e?”

Len snorted while Barry all out giggled as he tossed both his and Iris' trays. “It's not that bad, Iris,” Barry said. “Right, Len?”

Len scoffed. “Barry, considering you have a C minus in that class, I don't think you have a right to speak. Me, on the other hand…” He grinned slyly at Iris, who looked hopeful. “I concur that it is not that bad.”

Iris groaned, pouting. “Not fair.”

Chapter Text

Barry had a problem.

A very tall, handsome, blue-eyed, teenage problem.

Who was currently sitting on Barry's bed in their shared room.

Without a shirt. Reading.

Like, they were only in eighth grade, only a month in at that, but...damn had they both shot up in the last year. Barry was just taller and lankier, with hardly any muscle, but Len…

Len had grown into his height. Really well, actually. Barry knew he worked out--one of the reasons he was shirtless was because they'd just gotten showers after a run--but good grief, he didn't know he had that much muscle mass. Like, he had abs! Barry didn't have abs! He only had a flat stomach! Zero muscle!

Len glanced up when Barry knocked into his dresser, smirking when he saw the blush crawling up his neck. “You okay there, Bear?”

“I'm fine,” Barry squeaked out. Then he cleared his throat. “Just still running on adrenaline, I guess.” He tripped again, thankfully into his bed this time instead of the floor. His head landed beside Len’s feet, and he crawled up to sit against the headboard with him. “What're you reading?”

“That article from the Geometry textbook?” he said hesitantly. “I thought it might be a good idea to see what actual people in the field say about it.”

Barry shrugged. “Can't hurt, I guess. Maybe I'll do that with Chemistry.”

Len hummed. “If you wanna be a CSI like you said, it might be a good start.”

“And what do you wanna do, Lenny?” Barry grinned. “Teach AP Statistics to high-schoolers?”

He scoffed. “No way. Buncha snot-nosed brats. Worse than kindergarteners, I swear.”

Barry laughed. “So, then, what do you wanna do?”

Len thought for a few minutes, still flipping through the magazine. When he put it down, he turned to Barry. “I think I wanna be a detective. Not like my father, more like Joe--a good one, one that helps people. I mean, maybe I’ll break the rules a couple of times to help them, but...It's better than being a dirty cop or a criminal.”

Barry smiled softly. “That sounds nice, Len.”

“Yeah…” He trailed off, then smiled back. “Maybe we'll end up working together, huh?”

“Tch. Maybe, Len. Maybe.” He prayed that it was too dark to see the blush spread from under his shirt collar to his cheeks.

Judging from the way Len’s smile turned to a smirk, it wasn't.

“Aww, Bear!” Len lunged, tackling Barry. “You think I'm gonna embarrass you!”

“Len! Stop, Lenny!” Barry cried, laughing.

Len paused for a second. “I promise, Barry. If we work together, I'll be on my bestest behavior.” He lifted a pinky finger. “Pinky-promise.”

Barry stared at him, dazed, and he wiggled the finger impatiently. So Barry grabbed it with his own, twisting them together as he wrinkled his nose. “Pinky-promise. Me, too, Len.”

After a few minutes, Len finally climbed off of Barry, going to his own bed. “Night, Bear.”

Barry crawled under his covers, watching Len get situated before flicking off his lamp. “Night, Lenny.”

Chapter Text

He wasn't really sure when it had happened.

It could've started at any point, really. When he first saw him that day in fifth grade, the day he saved him from Tony in sixth, when he moved in, movie night, study dates, when he first hit puberty and just shot up over night...or any point in between.

It could've been anything. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, when they were shopping for Halloween costumes, when they were having last-minute cram sessions…

Any number of things could've been different.

It could've just as easily been Iris in those situations--could've just as easily made his crush on her grow stronger.

Instead, Barry Allen found himself falling out of love with his first best friend, Iris West, and in love with his second, Len Snart.

Chapter Text

Okay, wait a second. Let's make one thing clear.

Barry and Len? They did not get along.

This wasn't like Barry's crush on Iris when they were little. Barry didn't think Len was perfect. He didn't love everything about him, or think he could do no wrong. In fact, Barry didn't ever really like Len usually. And Len definitely didn't like him. He found almost everything Barry did annoying. (But that was different--Len wasn't in love with him like Barry was in love with Len.)

They argued all the way through middle school and into Freshman year. Most of the time, it was petty arguments. They never lasted more than the length of a day--Barry had a thing about going to bed angry or upset, ever since his mom died. He'd been depressed and angry for a long time after she died and Dad went to jail, and he never wanted to go back to that.

So, yes. Most of the arguments were pretty stupid.

Case in point.

"Len!" Joe called. He tossed another peeled potato into the bowl in the sink, reaching for another. "Take out the trash for me, wouldja?"

"It's Barry's turn!"

"Nuh-uh!"

"Yes, it is." Len popped his head into the laundry room, where Barry was folding clothes. "I took it out Saturday and Tuesday."

"No, Len." He put another folded shirt on the pile. "I took it out Saturday. And I took it out the Wednesday before that. Which means it's your turn again before I have to get it."

Len glanced over the clothes in the basket, his eyes narrowing. "You folded those clothes wrong. Again."

"My folding is just fine!" Barry said hotly. "OCD asshole," he muttered. He grabbed the basket, pushing Len back out the door.

"Language, Barry," Joe warned.

"Sorry, Joe," he called, already halfway to his room. He rolled his eyes, then squawked in surprise as the laundry basket disappeared from his hands. "Len!"

"I'm refolding, Barry. Obviously you can't do it yourself."

By the time Barry caught up to him, Joe was frowning over the basket as it sat on the kitchen table. "Len's right, Bear. I thought I taught you how to fold these right!"

"They are folded right," he said with a pout. "I did it just like you said. Halves, sleeves, and over. Waist half, then thirds."

Len scoffed, dumping the clothes out. "Yeah, sure. If you want wrinkles."

Barry scowled, flushing. He tried to protest, but Joe cut him off. "While he's doing that, Bear, why don't you take out the trash?"

"I--" He sighed. "Yes, Joe."

He shot another glare at Len, who just smirked.


"Len, what happened to the bowl in the fridge?"

He froze, turning to look at Barry slowly. "Why?"

"I was gonna take it to Cassie, and--" He paused, whipping around from where he'd been digging through the refrigerator. "You did not."

Len shrugged. "You didn't say anything."

Barry groaned, slamming the door shut. "Whatever. Just go away." He was already pulling supplies out for brownies, separating dries and wets between the two counters.

Len glared at the back of his head, crossing his arms. "It wasn't my fault, okay? I was packing mine and Lisa's lunches this morning and I grabbed it. It's not a big deal."

"I told you," Barry bit out. "I told you not to eat it. I told Iris not to eat it, and I never tell her what to do."

"Right, because you're in love with her."

Barry whirled around, spilling cocoa in the process. "I am not in love with Iris," he growled. "She is my best friend. And you don't need to be such a jerk."

Len scoffed, grabbing an apple from the bowl on the counter before waltzing out of the room. "Whatever you say, Barry."

Barry huffed, spinning back to his baking supplies. "I cannot believe he did that," he muttered, looking down. "I--oh, shit!" Quickly, he scooped the cocoa back up into the container. Cleaning the rest up just as fast, he sighed. "Of course. Another thing to go wrong today."

Cassie grinned when Len passed her the container of sweets the next day.


"What happened here?"

"Okay, wait. It's not what it looks like. I--"

"Oh, really, Barry? Because it looks like you completely shattered my glass planter."

"Well, technically that is what happened, but it was an accident!"

Len reached down, picking up one of the shards of glass and shaking the dirt off of it. "How do you accidentally completely shatter a container made of glass that is literally three inches thick?"

Barry's eyes flickered away nervously. "I tripped, okay?"

Len sighed, running a hand through his hair. He tossed the glass back on the pile, standing. "Yeah, I get it." He smirked. "Wish I'd been there to see that fail. You probably tripped over air."

Barry flushed. "A shoelace, actually."

Len rolled his eyes. "Sure." He gestured to the pile. "You're cleaning this up. And you better expect payback."

He frowned, shoulders slumping. "Yeah, okay."


"Oh, my God, Len!"

He smirked, throwing an arm across the back of the couch to look over at Barry. "Yes?" he asked snidely.

"You did not do this to me!" Barry stomped into the living room, fuming. His face was red, his eyes sparkling, and his goggles were crooked as they sat on his nose. "What the hell happened to my project?"

"Language, Barry," Len teased. "And I told you to expect payback."

"It took me months to get that formula right!"

Len's eyes narrowed, and he suddenly stepped into Barry's space. "It took me months," he ground out, "to get those plants to grow. You ruined my project, I ruined yours."

Barry glared right back. "That was weeks ago. You've already started a new batch. And I told you it was an accident!"

"Well, too bad."

"When did you even do it? I was with you all--" Barry froze. "That's why you wanted me to go to that party! I knew you left!"

Len shrugged, pushing past him to the kitchen. "So what? I needed an opening."

"And where did you put the chemicals? Please tell me you did not just dump it down the sink!"

He snorted, turning to him incredulously. "I'm not stupid, Barry. I diluted it first."

Barry sighed in relief. "Thank God." He grinned. "Okay, this is fine. I have a backup plan."

"First time for everything, I guess."

Barry spun around, heading for their room. "It's gonna be a tight fit," he was muttering. "But I think if I..."

Len listened as Barry's voice trailed off, smiling softly. "And now I'll have a new project for myself," he said to himself, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket. His smile widened at the chemical equations.

Chapter Text

"I want you to teach me how to fight."

Len choked, spitting out his soda.

Iris squealed, flinching from the spray. "Len! Watch it!"

He hit his chest, still coughing. "Sorry, Iris." Calming, he looked over at Barry, who was still standing by his chair and looking at Len with a flat expression. "What in the hell are you talking about, Barry?"

Barry crossed his arms. "You heard me, Len. I want you to teach me how to fight."

"Why?"

"Because I'm sick of being pushed around every time I'm away from you and Iris."

Len gave the other boy a calculating look. "You're lying."

He rolled his eyes. "Well, whatever. It's none of your business, anyway. Are you gonna do it or not?"

"Dad and me already tried to teach you," Iris said. She patted at a spot on her dress. "You quit after the first lesson."

Barry narrowed his eyes at her, sitting at the kitchen table. "That's because you didn't even teach me anything. You just had me throwing random punches. And then Joe was all, It's okay to run the other way, and all that. I don't want to run the other way. I want to learn how to fight for real."

Len was still staring at him. Then he waved him off. "I'm busy, kid. I don't have time to teach you."

Barry scoffed. "It's the first day of summer, Len. And you only work one day a week."

Len sighed, grabbing his plate to throw it away. He leaned against the sink. "Are you sure you wanna do this? It's gonna be rough, you know that, right?"

He nodded. "I've seen you fight. I know what I'm getting into."

Len gave him a look before finally shrugging. "We can start tomorrow."

Chapter Text

"Hands up. Not that far up! There, keep them right there. Now swing. There you go. Harder."

Sweat rolled down the back of Barry's neck as he threw another punch. He rolled his shoulders, shaking off the blistering July heat. Shifting his stance a little, he put his whole body into the forward motion of his gloved fist.

Len smirked, ducking out of the way. "Come on, Bear. Harder!"

Barry growled, his eyes narrowing. His next punch landed in Len's gut, knocking the wind out of him. He swung again, but Len easily switched their positions, pulling Barry's arm far enough away to unbalance him.

"Hn," Barry grunted as his back connected with the hard concrete. He took a deep breath, rolling over seconds before Len's boot landed where he'd been. Pushing to his feet, he wiped his forehead with his arm, trying to keep his sweaty hair from his eyes.

Len crouched into his stance again, grinning. "You're getting better. Faster, at least."

Barry's grin widened. "Yeah, I guess so."

Len was a much better teacher than Joe and Iris had been years ago. He knew it was important to Barry that he knew how to defend himself, even if it wasn't really necessary with him and Iris always around for protection. His lessons were painful, with harsh punishments for falling short with a kick or not being quick enough in getting back up.

It was exhilarating.

He feinted a punch toward his friend's head, then swung his other fist into the boy's ribs. Len gasped, doubling over, and Barry swiped his legs from under him. He grunted as he landed on the ground.

"Ha!" Barry crowed. "I did it!"

A split second later, his world tilted sideways. He didn't even have time to keep his head from hitting the ground.

His skull cracked against the pavement with a thud, and his vision blurred. But he didn't pass out.

"Got you," Len snarked. Barry watched as blue eyes appeared above him, a hand reaching out. "Come on, Bear. Again?"

His vision cleared for a second, and he took the hand, letting the boy pull him up to stand. But then he swayed on his feet, spots appearing.

"Barry? Barry!"

"I'm fine," he muttered.

Then he crashed.

Chapter Text

Consciousness came slowly, in layers. Barry tried to open his eyes, but he groaned as the light burned into his retina.

"Barry? Bear, can you hear me?" There was a pressure on his hand. "Can you squeeze my hand, Barry? Just squeeze my hand."

His fingers twitched reflexively, and a scream escaped his throat as pain lanced up his arm into his head.

"Barry! Barry, calm down. It's alright. You're okay!"

"Oh, my god...Bear, I'm so sorry." A cough, like someone was trying to mask a sob. "I'm sorry, okay? Just calm down. I'm sorry."

"Iris, get him out of here!"

A gentle voice, speaking in calm tones. A door opened and closed.

Barry groaned again, trying to roll over. A hand caught his arm, pushing him back down. A smaller hand smoothed over his forehead.

His eyes opened, immediately landing on Lisa as she leaned over his face. Her blue eyes glittered as she smiled down at him. "Hi, Barry," she said with a giggle. "You look funny with that thing on your head!"

Barry's brow furrowed, and he tried not to groan as it shot more pain through his skull. Instead, he gave a weak chuckle. "Glad you're having fun, Lise," he said hoarsely.

"Lisa, why don't you go see how Len's doing?" Looking to his other side, Barry noticed Joe sitting by his bedside, holding his hand.

"Sure, Daddy." Lisa smacked a kiss over the bandage around Barry's forehead before hopping over to the door. "Feel better, Barry!"

"Hey, send Iris back here, too," Joe called after her.

He looked back to his foster son as the door closed behind her. Barry was taking in the room around them.

"Hospital?" he asked. His voice was scratchy, and he cleared his throat. "Why...What happened?"

"Wha'd'ya remember, kiddo?"

Barry closed his eyes, thinking. "I was...fighting with Len? And...I fell. Or...he knocked me down, and I hit my head."

Joe sighed, relieved. "Good. You remember everything." He squeezed his hand again. "That's good, Bear."

He smiled--it was as much as he could bear. "Doesn't feel so good from this angle."

Joe laughed. "I guess not." Then he turned serious. "Now tell me, why were you and Len fightin'?"

Barry looked away. If he didn't already feel so bad, he would have cringed. "We weren't really fighting, just...sparring. I asked Len to teach me to fight."

"Why?"

"Because I want to be able to defend myself. Every time I'm by myself, some kid starts pushing me around." He huffed. "You didn't really think I got that black eye a couple months ago from falling on a doorknob, did you?"

Joe stayed silent.

"On second thought," Barry conceded, "Don't answer that. It could've happened, honestly."

His foster father chuckled, and he gave a sheepish smile.

"Barry?"

Len stood in the doorway. When he saw Barry, he grinned. "You're awake." He came over, sitting on the side of the bed and putting a hand on Barry's knee. His eyes were red. "I'm sorry, Barry. This is my fault."

Barry flushed a little at the contact, but rolled his eyes at the words--which hurt like hell, he would not recommend it ever. "Guess I just wasn't fast enough, huh?"

Len smiled, running a hand through Barry's hair. "Fast enough for me, Bear." He laughed. "You did really good. Barely even flinched. Until you stood up," he said teasingly, patting the other boy's chest lightly.

"Still, I don't think I'll be fighting for a while."

Len laughed again. "Sounds like a plan, Barry."

Chapter Text

"All I'm saying is, I don't want to be caught up in the whole champion thing," Barry was saying.

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" Len asked. He leaned his back against the locker next to Barry, absently tapping on his phone as his friend dug through his locker. The halls were mostly empty, but Len still preferred to have his back to a wall most of the time.

Barry rolled his eyes, grabbing the next folder to stuff it in his bag. "You know exactly what I mean."

"I truly do not. Please, enlighten me, oh, Brother, dear." He smirked down at him as the kid rolled his eyes again.

"All the athletes are put on this weird pedestal. As much as I like goofing around on the track with you and playing a couple of rounds of tackle football, I really don't like the idea of doing it in school."

"You were on the track team in middle school, Bear."

"Yeah, I know. And I know that you've been in every sport you could get into these last couple of years." He huffed, tugging at a couple of papers stuck to the bottom of his locker.

Len was so lucky--they'd had to rearrange the whole locker system over Winter Break because somebody (Axel) had filled the entire Sophomore Hallway with, like, foam or mashed potatoes or something, and he got a double locker when they came back. Barry could already see how their second semester of Freshman year was going to go, even after just the first day.

"Which is fine," Barry continued. "You're smart, you can handle five sports and all your classes. I just don't want to be pressured every week to win a football game or be the fastest on the track or make every goal at the soccer game. Especially..." He paused, finally yanking the zipper up on his bag. "Especially when I'm shooting for Highest Academic Achiever. Cisco, Ronnie, and Shawna already have an edge on me, and I don't want to--"

"Alright, hold on," Len cut in, shutting Barry's locker for him. "I get that, I do. Of course I do--you need that scholarship, I know. But you don't have to worry about that right now. Shawna doesn't even really have any better grades than you except for in anatomy, and Cisco and Ronnie are only beating you out in engineering because they've been taking those types of classes since sixth grade. Other than that, you don't have anything to worry about when it comes to them."

"Easy for you to say," Barry muttered, tugging the strap of his bag higher up on his shoulder. "You don't have to worry about anything but passing."

Len glared over at him. "I think you're forgetting that we have the same foster dad--we'll both get the same lecture if either of us ever bring C's into that house."

Barry sighed, passing a hand over his face. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just...you've always had an easier time balancing school, work, sports, everything. I'm just jealous, I guess."

Len smirked. "Of course you are." He laughed when Barry shoved at him.

"It's just...a lot different in high school. It doesn't seem right to do sports and schoolwork."

Len scoffed. "Just because you're smart doesn't mean you can't be in sports, Bear. Just look at me," he said. "I turned out fine."

"Yeah, well, you've always been smarter than me, haven't you? I don't think I can keep up with sports and clubs and advanced classes. And I still get those headaches when I push too hard."

"That's bullshit and you know it," he said flatly, shoving the exit door open. "Track only meets twice a week, and soccer practice is only an hour every afternoon. And I saw your latest brain scans. It's been six months, and you don't have any lasting damage."

"Only," Barry muttered sarcastically, barely catching the door before it could slam shut behind them. He did not need anybody to come snooping. "Because I don't need every minute I can get to do school work. And just because nothing showed up doesn't mean there isn't anything there, and--wait a second, how did you see them? didn't even see them!"

"That's right, you don't," Len stated with pride, ignoring that last comment. "Bear, you came into high school with a four point oh GPA and kept it flawlessly, plus you're already in four clubs--"

"Six, actually." Len looked over at him curiously. "Got recruited to Glee Club at the end of last semester when a couple kids caught me singing on the track. Friggin' Lisa and her Little Mermaid obsession got the stupid Under the Sea song stuck in my head again. Shut up," he said when Len laughed. "Then I got invited to join HOSA when I managed to totally school the teacher for eight millionth time during third period Anatomy this morning." Barry shook his head at his friend's look. "Don't even ask. I have no answers."

"So, six," Len continued. "You're already in six clubs. And what, you can join Glee Club, which is, by the way, basically a sport, but you can't join any actual sports? That's messed up."

Barry paused. "Well, when you put it like that--"

"Oh, you mean exactly how it is?"

"--then I guess maybe I could do it."

Len clapped him on the back. "There you go!" He grinned when Barry stumbled. "Just remember: they already asked. You just gotta make sure you don't screw it up."

"Oh, shut up."


Later, he, Len, and Iris had a movie night, putting Lisa to bed early.

Len got recruited to the soccer team, too, and an offer to play football next year.

Iris was asked if she wanted to be a cheerleader. “I hadn't thought about it, but if it means cheering you boys on, I guess I could do it.”

She started talking about her community service club. Again.

“I might check that out,” Barry hummed. Might as well see what it was all about now. After all, what's one more club? he thought sarcastically, shooting Len a glare that went unnoticed. Plus, Iris talked about it so much, he should just save his time and go with her.

“Me, too,” Len inserted, thinking the same thing. “What'd you say it was called?”


The next morning, Joe found the three teens sprawled across the floor, tangled together.

He snapped another picture, adding it to the collection of hundreds on his phone, then draped blankets over them before going up to catch a few hours of sleep before his next shift started.

Chapter Text

”Allen!”

Barry froze on his way to his lunch table. Suddenly, a hand clasped onto the back of his neck, swinging him from side to side. Glancing up, he saw a familiar face--but he shouldn't have been talking to him.

What was happening?!

“Mardon?” Barry squeaked. Then, louder, “Mark Mardon?”

The teen grinned wider. “Yep.”

Slowly, he wrapped his arm around Barry's shoulders, tugging him in a different direction from where he was going. Frantically, Barry looked for Iris, who was supposed to meet him at their table, or Len, hopefully lurking in the shadows like usual, but he saw neither. So he let Mark lead him in whatever direction, listening to what he was saying.

“Listen,” Mark said. “I know we got off on the wrong foot with that whole thing in el'ment'ry, okay? Tony was a real asshole. So were those other guys.”

Tony Woodward, Jake Simmons, and Digger Harkness had all been sent to Juvenile Corrections in seventh grade, leaving just the Good Kids and the less rule-breaking Troublemakers. Even with how close he and Len usually were, Barry never talked to his Popular friends.

He just didn't...belong. It seemed wrong for him to talk to Len when he was with the Populars.

There was a separation between the Populars and the Elites now.

Populars were the kids Barry knew from CES. Most of them were Freshmen and Sophomores--there were two Juniors, Jeremy Tell and Francis (Frankie, she'd said) Kane, but the boy was in and out of juvie for gambling and the girl only showed up to school every three weeks because of her dead-beat foster dad, so they didn't really count.

The Elites were mostly Seniors, with a couple of Juniors mixed with them, as well. Barry didn't know any of them.

“But now we got Len to help us out, right? He's a good guy--keeps us outta trouble.”

Mark pointed a few feet ahead, where Len and Iris were crowded into a table with Mick, Ronnie, Cisco, Bette, Shawna, Sam, Axel, and Roy. (Hartley should've been there, but his rich parents had sent him off to some private high school.)

Iris and Shawna were talking about girl stuff, it seemed, while Len was talking to Cisco, Bette, and Ronnie about some engineering project.

“Hey, guys,” Mark called, jerking Barry forward. “I found him!” He laughed, shoving Barry down into a chair between Len and himself. “Now, don't be shy, Barry! Say hi!”

Barry's face heated up as the conversation stopped. He coughed, then waved a little, hugging his books tighter to him. “Hi.”

Axel, Cisco, Ronnie, Bette, and Shawna exchanged looks. Then…

“Aww!!!” they cooed at him.

“He's a cutie,” Shawna sing-songed.

“Look at those cheeks!” Axel cackled.

Sam grinned over at him. "Ah see ya haven't lost 'at babyface, have ya, Allen? Don't worry--I'm sure it'll come sooner'r later."

Barry blushed harder. Len leaned over as the others cooed at him.

“Are you alright, Barry?” His brow was furrowed in concern. Barry nodded, setting his books in front of him. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Barry replied softly, his blush dimming. “Just don't really know what I'm doing here.” Len raised a brow. “I'm not, like…” Barry shifted in his seat. “I'm not Popular, or anything. Not like you and these guys.”

Len shrugged, sitting back. “Maybe not yet. But you'll be on the soccer and track teams soon.” He smirked, jutting his chin to gesture at the others, who were all talking to each other by now, ignoring them. “Everyone agreed to meet you before the fame ruined you.”

Barry rolled his eyes, scoffing. “Like it didn't go to your head," he couldn't help but snark.

“Don't know what your talking about,” Len replied nonchalantly.

“Uh-huh. Just you wait--I'll get you back for it.”

“Can't wait.” Len smirked again. “And there's no way you'll beat me this year.”

Barry smirked right back, oblivious to the quieting of the table. “Only reason you won last year was cuz you distracted me. And dumped it down the sink!”

“Oh, my god!” Both boys whipped around at Iris’ giggle. “You guys are still fighting over that?”

Barry huffed. “It was his fault. He could've at least helped me rebuild, but no. He just took advantage. Even stole part of the project he ruined.”

“Okay, technically you started it." He reached out and ruffled his hair, grinning. "And what can I say,” Len drawled. “I was raised by a criminal.”

Barry huffed. “Well, you're the one who wants to be a cop.” He flipped a page in his textbook, copying down the sticky note number and the information in it. When he glanced back up, Len looked confused.

“Barry, how'd you know that?”

Barry rolled his eyes. “You told me.”

"No I didn't."

"Yes, you did," Barry insisted. "Remember? You were reading the Geometry textbook for references, and I asked if you were gonna teach AP Stats to high-schoolers, and you said no, cuz they're all stuck up and snotty, and--"

"Gee, thanks, Len," Mick grumbled from the other side of the table. He was grinning, though, and Len just ignored it.

"--and you said that you'd be a detective," Barry finished. "But not one like you-know-who, one like Joe."

Len hesitated. "...I...vaguely remember. We made a pact, right? Something about behavior?"

"Yep," Barry replied with a grin. "We both said we'd be on our best behavior, so that we didn't embarrass each other." He laughed. "Gotta admit, though, Lenny, I really don't think we're gonna be able to keep that promise."

Len smirked again, turning back to his lunch with a shrug. "Probably not."

Barry chuckled, marking another page in his book. He ignored the giggling and cooing from the other side of the table. Teenagers are so immature.

"Still," Len added absently. "I only mentioned it that one time. Why do you remember it?"

He shrugged. "I guess I just pay attention. You--"

Len slapped a hand across Barry's mouth. “I'm gonna stop you right there, Bear. Before you start babbling like a brook.”

Barry grimaced as his face heated up again, automatically snapping at Len’s hand. He was quick, though--retracted his hand just in time. Barry scowled at the grin on his lips.

"Too slow," Len teased.

"Fast enough to kick yer ass, Lenny."

"You were the one who ended up in the hospital, if I recall."

"You took a cheap shot! I didn't have time to react!"

"Whatever you say, Bear."

"Exactly, Lenny. Glad you see my point."

"Jeez, lovebirds, get a room," Roy muttered from the other side of Mark.

Mark laughed as Barry turned red again. “Aww, come on, Roy. Just cuz you can't get a date don't mean you can be mean to the new kid.”

Most of lunch passed similarly, with Barry actually interacting with very few of his new tablemates. Mostly he just entered Len’s engineering conversation. He found himself easily getting along with Ronnie and Cisco, despite feeling less than genius next to them. Honestly, if they hadn't been somewhat friendly to him elementary school, he wouldn't have even bothered.

Bette was a refreshing change in the male-dominated group.

After lunch, Barry walked to science with Len, Bette, Cisco, Mark, Shawna and Roy. How so many of them managed to be stuck in class all together was beyond him, but he couldn't really be bothered by it as he found himself wedged between Mark and Shawna as they walked down the hall.

He barely managed to follow Len’s shirt through the crowd with his eyes.

Mark had thrown an arm around his shoulders again, talking animatedly about some kind of weather anomaly, and Shawna was wrapped around his arm like a snake, cooing at him as he blushed a steady shade of red at all the attention.

Len led the way into the classroom and Barry took the chance to extricate himself from the vice grips on him.

"Er..." He trailed off awkwardly, backing away from them. "Talk to you guys later."

Mark smirked as he went over to his own table, Shawna tagging behind after sending Barry a wink. His face turned red again.

Len looked up when Barry huffed, watching him slump down in his seat. "Made some new friends, have we?" he snarked.

Barry glared at his smirk. "I blame you. I didn't get into these situations before we were friends.

Len scoffed. "You weren't in high school before we were friends."

"Point taken."

Chapter Text

"Wait..." Len stuttered. "You want me to what?"

"Be my boyfriend."

"...What?"

Iris sighed, hooking her arm through Len's and dragging him along beside her. "I know, it's crazy, but--"

"Well, you're not wrong there," he interrupted. "Look, I'm not gonna be your boyfriend. That's it. No more discussion."

"Oh, because you're so busy?" she snarked. "Listen, it's not like it'll be real, I just need you to--"

"Make everyone think it's real, right?" Len scoffed. "Like that's any better."

"And what's so bad about dating me?" Iris asked defensively. She threw her locker open, fixing her hair in the mirror on the door. "I'm fabulous."

"And you're also my adoptive sister," he ground out. "How weird is it gonna be that we're supposedly dating?"

"Oh, please." Iris harrumph'd, rolling her eyes. "The whole school thinks you and Barry are dating, and they haven't blown up about that, have they?"

Len spluttered. "T-They do not!"

"Mm- hmm-mmm," she hummed with a grin. "So, at the very least, you'll be able to dispel those rumors by dating me, hm?"

Len hesitated. "Why don't you ask Barry to date you? You could use the same argument."

Iris was already shaking her head. "No, I can't asked Barry to date me. Sure, it'd be easy to convince people because we've been friends for forever, but he couldn't hurt a fly, and everyone knows it."

"So, basically, you need a bodyguard, is what you're saying."

"Not exactly, but yeah." She grabbed her textbooks, holding them out to him. "It's not enough for you and Barry to be around me every free second--I need to show these guys I don't have time for them."

Len just stood there, eyeing her for a second. She stared right back, not flinching.

Finally, he shrugged, sighing. "You're lucky I don't already have a girlfriend."

He took the books out of her arms, shifting the weight onto one arm. Iris grinned, taking his free hand and swinging it between them as she dragged them to her next class.

"Oh, but Len," she sang. Her smile was sinister. "You do now."

Chapter Text

Barry gave Mark a look.

"No, they're not."

Mark looked at him innocently, his eyes wide. "Honest to God," he swore. "You can ask Shawna--she's the one who told me."

The green-eyed boy flushed, looking away. "I guess I believe you. If Shawna says it's true," he muttered. "She's such a gossip."

"Very true," Mark conceded. He leaned forward over Barry's desk, crossing his arms. "Anyway, what're you gonna do about it?"

Barry looked up, startled. "Do?"

Mark rolled his eyes. "Come on, Bear. We've been friends for how long?"

"Ten months, one week, four days."

"Aww, you remember," he teased, ruffling his hair. "Anyway, that's plenty long enough to tell you've been crushing on Len for a while now."

Barry's face flushed, and he turned away to feign nonchalance. "I-I'm not. I don't know what you're talking about, Mark." He tore out his paper--he'd messed it up--and started over. "We're just friends. He's my foster brother, for goodness' sake."

"Yeah, emphasis on the foster." Mark scoffed. "Come on, Barry, it's not a big deal. Just tell him."

Barry tried to glare at his friend, but his blushing cheeks ruined it. "No."

Mark smirked. "Thought you might say that." He sighed. "Well, if you're intent on not saying anything, you should at least put yourself out there."

"What?"

"Oh, come on, Bear. You're a nice, attractive guy. You should be dating just as much as Len and Iris are right now."

Barry winced, and Mark cringed, backing off a little with his hands up in surrender.

"Okay, sorry, wrong choice of words. But really, just think about it."

"I don't date," Barry grumbled. He did another math equation. "Nobody likes me. Not like Iris and Len and you and Shawna and everyone get attention."

Mark shrugged. "I don't know, Barry. Maybe you're just not looking hard enough." He pat the boy's shoulder, leaning down to whisper in his ear. "I know Shawna and I are plenty...appreciative." He looked Barry up and down ostentatiously, then winked at him suggestively before going to his own desk just as the teacher walked in.

Barry's face burned. He buried his head in his hands as he groaned in exasperation.

Chapter Text

"--and I really think this is the best thing right now."

Barry shook his head, tuning back into the present conversation. About him. With the principal.

"I'm sorry?" he said uncertainly. "You want me to skip a year?"

Principal Schmidt shook his head. "Two, actually."

"You should do it, Barry," Len muttered from his position by the door. "You're smart--you'll be graduated next year, if you do this."

"I'm not really--" He cut himself off with a sigh when his friend gave him his flat, don't-try-to-bullshit-me look. "I mean, isn't there someone else who should get the opportunity before me?"

"You mean someone with better than a four-point-three GPA who also happens to be in three sports and six clubs, as well as two community service programs?" The principal chuckled, shaking his head fondly. "Well, there are currently only four students in this school who fit the bill." He glanced up at Len. "Two of which are in this room."

Len scoffed. "I may have a higher GPA, and I might be in a few sports, but Barry far surpasses me in community service."

Schmidt looked like he was going to protest on that note, but Barry shot him a look. Len doesn't like people knowing, it said.

The principal started over. "Regardless," he said slowly, "I still think this is a great opportunity. For both of you. Or either of you--one does not reflect on the other."

"Who are the other two kids?" Barry asked.

"Francisco Ramon and Ronald Raymond." He smiled softly. "And I'm only telling you that because I called Cisco in first, and he guessed that you two and Ronnie were with him. I assume you four are friends?"

Len chuckled. "You could say that."

Barry cleared his throat. "I, um...I need to talk to my, uh, sister." He scratched the back of his neck nervously. "And her dad, too, probably."

"Take Winter Break to think about it. You can tell me when you get back."


"This is great!"

Spindly arms wrapped around Barry, squeezing him. Len got the same treatment.

"Well, yeah," Barry blurted. "It's a great opportunity, but--" He sighed. "I don't really want to do it."

Joe, standing behind them, crossed his arms. "And why is that?"

Barry slumped on the couch, his head in his hands. "I just feel like..." He sighed, frustrated. "I mean, I just got into the groove of being in high school. After last year's failure...I'm finally almost normal. I have friends who I can hang out with. If I end up graduating in the middle of next year, I'll have to start all over in college. I'd be the tiny little new kid."

"You're smart, Bear," Joe said. "You'll be okay."

"If he doesn't wanna do it, he doesn't have to," Lisa piped in, settling beside Barry. "Right, Daddy?"

"Of course not." He sighed. "I just don't want to see you make a decision you'll regret later, son."

"I know," Barry groaned. This is why we waited until the day before school goes back to tell you. So we knew we were sure. "I know, okay? I do. But I'm not gonna regret it. I'll keep my friends, plus I can stay with Iris, and--"

"Don't do it for me, Bear," the girl murmured, her brow furrowing. "You need to do do what you want to do."

"I want to stay in high school."

Joe sighed again. "Alright, Bear." He looked to the other boy, still standing by the door. "What about you, Leonard?"

Len shrugged indifferently. "I figure I might as well stay in high school," he drawled. "Can't go into the police academy 'til I'm eighteen, anyway."

Iris grumbled lightly, "Don't see why he can be a detective when I can't." A pause. "Daddy, are you sure I can't--"

"No, Iris!"

It came from four voices.


"--but we've already decided not to do it." Barry smiled softly at Mark and Shawna. "I mean, I'm sure Len wouldn't want to tell people, but that's just him."

"Where is he today, anyway?"

"He wasn't feeling too great this morning--I think he got that stomach bug that's been going around."

Shawna touched Barry's arm gently. "So...you really aren't gonna take the offer?"

He shook his head. "Nope. Figured I could stick it out a couple more years, hang out with you guys and Iris and everybody."

Mark grinned, swinging an arm across Barry's shoulders in a one-armed hug. The smaller teen blushed as Shawna pressed against his other side.

"So, um...I guess you're happy I'm sticking around?"

"You bet, Bear," Mark said with a laugh.

Barry smiled, hugging them both back. "Me, too." He paused for a moment. Then, "And..."

Leaning up, he gently kissed Mark's cheek, then turned to Shawna to kiss hers.

"I know it's been a few months, but I was...kinda wondering if the offer was still open?"

Chapter Text

"Bartholomew Henry Allen!"

He jumped as a door slammed open downstairs. "Oh, shit," he muttered, trying to untangle himself from his position in bed.

"Where are you?!"

"Shh, Bear," Shawna cooed, wrapping her arms around him to keep him pinned. "It's okay."

"Uh...uh," Barry stammered. "No, no, no it's not, Shawna. It's definitely not okay. This might be the furthest from okay anything has ever been."

He wriggled out from under her, only to feel hands on his waist as Mark pulled him into his lap.

"Calm down, Barry. It's just Iris."

"Just Iris," Barry whimpered, burying his face in the other boy's shirt. "She's gonna flip."

"Maybe." Shawna shrugged. "It's still not a big deal. We weren't doing anything." Her hands crawled up under his shirt, curling around his hips. "Yet," she murmured. Her teeth grazed against the shell of his ear, making him shiver and flush crimson.

"H-Hey," Barry whined. "We've only been dating a month."

"Exactly," Mark groaned, exasperated. "You never let us have any fun with you."

"I still should have told Iris. I--"

"No, no, don't freak out. It's just--"

"Bartholomew!"

"Oh, shit."

Chapter Text

"Heard you been goin' out with Baez."

Barry glanced up from his homework to see Len leaning in the doorway to their room. "Yeah, so?"

Len came in, shutting the door behind himself. "Also heard you and Mardon were playing tonsil hockey under the bleachers during the actual hockey game."

Green eyes widened as Barry spluttered and turned red. "Tonsil--I don't--it wasn't like that, and--where did you even--how--Shawna and Mark--"

"Are together, I know," Len cut in suddenly, lying back on his bed. "I just wasn't sure you knew that."

"Of course I do! They've been together since eighth grade! How could I not know?"

"Then why are you helping them cheat on each other?"

"It's not cheating if they know!" Barry's jaw snapped shut, and he looked down at his hands, fisting his blanket. Calm down, he scolded himself. Breathe in, one...two...three...four. Breathe out, one...two...three...four.

He was interrupted when Len sat up fast. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

He glanced up. "Iris didn't tell you?"

"Why would she?"

"You're..." Barry trailed off, looked back down. "I mean, you're, you know, together and stuff...and she already knows, so I figured she just told you."

"Iris knows?" Barry nodded. "What, exactly, does she know?"

"We're dating. Me and Mark and Shawna, I mean. Obviously not me and Iris, I mean you're--anyway. The three of us have been dating for probably a month and a half now--Iris found out a couple weeks ago. We haven't, like, done anything other than kissing, so don't worry about it. But...I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Len. It's just kinda new, and I should've told you about it when Iris found out, but I thought she'd tell you. Really I did. And it's kinda complicated because we never know who exactly is with who when so I just didn't want anyone to know because it would make it worse and--" Barry finally paused for breath, his face twisting sadly. "Please don't be mad."

Len stood, running a hand through his hair as he paced across the room. "I'm not mad, Barry," he said. "I'm not."

"You never call me Barry unless you're angry."

"I'm not mad," he snapped. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"Oh, so you can go and date whoever you want, but if I actually like someone, I'll just get hurt." Barry scoffed. "Unbelievable. You're so full of it, Len."

Len groaned in frustration. "That's not what I meant. Mark and Shawna have been together for forever. They don't need anyone else."

Barry looked down, his hand tightening around his textbook as he slammed it shut. "I don't care what you think, Len. They asked me out, we started dating. We're just dating. It's not some kind of weird homewrecking thing like you seem to believe."

He stood, shoving past Len on his way out the door. Len followed him down the hall into the living room.

"It's none of your business, anyway. Why don't you go find your girlfriend?"

Barry shoved his feet into his tennis shoes, already halfway out the door. He almost ran into Joe.

"Hey, Bear," his foster father said with a grin, peeking over a bag of groceries. "Where you headed in such a hurry? You don't even have a jacket on!"

He backed up into the house to let Joe inside, simultaneously reaching into the closet to grab his windbreaker. "Yeah, okay, now I've got a jacket. I'm going out for a run before dinner, okay? My phone's in my pocket. See ya later."

The door clicked shut ominously behind him.

Len was left inside, wondering exactly what just happened.

"Hey, Len? You wanna cut these veggies up for me?"

He shook his head, jogging down the short hall. "Coming!"

Chapter Text

By Junior Year, things had smoothed out a little.

Barry, Shawna, and Mark had broken up before Summer Break. It was mutual, though--no pining or crying or whatever. Mark and Shawna had gotten back together over break, but Barry knew it just wouldn't be fair to get more emotionally involved.

Not when he was still in love with Len.

Even if his feelings for the other two were real--which they were, he really, really liked them--he just wasn't comfortable pursuing a relationship when he spent so much...energy crushing on Len.

Iris had broken up with Len sometime during break--Barry wasn't sure when, since he wasn't really home. All he knew was, when he got back from Camp Chem, Len and Iris were still pretty normal. Not together, but not mad at each other or jealous or anything, either.

It was still difficult, though. Barry and Len were fighting more than ever. And now it was rare that a fight ended before night fell--usually, the fights lasted days on end. Barry just couldn't stand that Len had such a double standard--he dated plenty of people, broke their hearts most of the time, and yet Barry was terrible? It was unsettling. He could hardly stand to be in the same room as him, both because of his disgust and because, well...

If Len felt that way about him when he was just dating a couple of people, he probably wouldn't ever consider getting together. Besides, he'd already gone through the dating-a-foster-sibling thing.

Though Iris had eventually told Barry that it was all fake--Roy and another kid...Mike? Matthew?...had been creeping on her, so she got a "boyfriend" to dissuade them.

Barry and Iris were closer than ever by the time school started, as were Iris and Len. Cisco and Ronnie were pretty close to the three of them, too, and so was Mick after he got out of his abusive home and over to a relative's, where he got therapy and help with his more...obsessive behavior. Barry and Len had been there for him when he got out of juvie in freshman year, and they'd spent a long time convincing him to seek help. Barry had even paid for his first session.

Bette had been close in their group, but she moved at the end of her own Sophomore Year to go to boot camp.

Mark and Clyde usually just hung out with Shawna and Roy--and Mark and Shawna were the ones who did the talking, as usual. Roy was agreeable enough, if a little schizo, but Clyde didn't like Barry and Len even a little bit.

Axel was...well, Axel. Sometimes they got along, sometimes not.

And Barry was still crushing on Len.

It made him sick.

He dated a couple more people Junior Year--two girls and a boy--and he really liked them, just like he should. It never went for more than two months. It just wasn't enough .

Even the gorgeous Elite Becky Cooper couldn't hold his attention for more than six weeks, and despite the rumors floating around, they'd never even made it past second base--or even really to it. Really she just dragged him around as something pretty to show off. Iris hated her for some reason, and, actually, so did Len.

Len was at least subtle about it--Iris wouldn't even be in the same room as her. Becky had actually been removed from a class they all had together, because Iris had complained that the other girl was antagonizing her.

Becky was pretty, and occasionally nice, but nothing could cure him. No high school romance was quite enough to keep his mind off of Len.

It didn't stop his heart from getting all fluttery when Len would casually throw an arm around him in the hall or at home on the few days they weren't at each other's throats. It didn't stop the blush from rising when he accidentally caught Len without a shirt on.

Barry couldn't tell him--that'd be weird! Len didn't feel that way! He'd dated people, too! His dating people had been the only reason Barry started dating, after all. It was easier, he'd learned, to be in love with someone you couldn't have when they were single, too. That way you could at least pretend that it was because they felt the same way.

And he definitely couldn't tell Iris, since she'd just tell Len, anyway--or worse, Shawna. Since the gossip already knew about his crush, her hearing it from Iris would just make it okay in her mind to spread it around to the rest of the world's population. Same with Lisa, except without the already knowing part.

Joe should never ever know. Barry refused to tell him he liked Len for the same reasons he'd refused to tell him about his crush on Iris. Seriously, how weird would it be if two of his foster kids got together?

(And no, the Len and Iris thing did not count. Joe had known about the fakeness of it since the beginning, supposedly. He gave Barry a weird look when he asked about that--it was almost knowing. Barry tried--really, really hard--not to think into that too much.)

Not that they were going to get together. Barry and Len, that is. More like, how weird would it be to find out one of his foster kids was crushing hard on another?

No. Just... No.

Chapter Text

"Barry?"

The teen looked over his shoulder. He smiled softly at the girl standing in the doorway to his room. "Hey, Lise. What's up?" He shoved the rest of his folded clothes into his drawer, leveraging it closed.

Lisa hopped on his bed, careful to keep her shoes from dirtying the comforter. She stayed quiet for a moment as Barry joined her. "We've lived here for a long time," she finally squeaked. She bit her lip.

He bumped her shoulder with his. "Yeah, we have." Lisa kept quiet, twirling her gold bracelet around and around her wrist, and his brow furrowed. "Hey, what's wrong?"

Suddenly, she looked up at him, her blue eyes pleading. Barry was a bit taken aback by the childishness in them. Lisa was almost five years his junior, sure, but she was always so mature, never showing any kind of fear or sadness. At least, not since about three months since she moved in. Those three months had been full of tears, but then she'd mellowed out. It was rare to see her upset, unless she was angry, which was totally different.

"Are we a family?"

Barry startled from his thoughts. He smiled down at her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Her head flopped onto his shoulder, her dirty-blonde curls swirling across his chest as her arm encircled his waist.

"Of course we are, Lise," he murmured. His hand glided up and down her arm in a soothing motion. "You're my favorite little sister."

"What about Iris?"

"That's different."

"Why?"

"Because we were best friends first. And best friends will always be family, no matter if they happen to live together or not." He pet her curls, squeezing her tighter. "But you're really my little sister. And I'll always be here for you."

"And Lenny?"

Barry swallowed thickly. "Yeah. And Lenny."

Lisa was quiet for a few minutes. If not for her hand bunching in his shirt every few seconds, he would have thought she'd fallen asleep. Then she spoke.

"How come you don't call Dad...Dad?"

Barry's hand stuttered to a stop for a moment before continuing to rub her arm soothingly. "Because..." He sighed. "Because he's not my dad. My dad is in jail, and one day we're gonna be together again."

"But jail is bad," she insisted, looking up at him through her eyelashes.

"I know, Lise. But he's not supposed to be there. Not like your father, with what he did. My dad didn't do anything wrong. Someone else did it, and let people think it was Dad. But I'm gonna prove he's innocent. I'm gonna get him out."

Lisa sniffed. "But...then we won't be a family anym-more," she warbled. "You'll leave, just like me and Lenny's father."

"Shh, shh," he murmured. He hugged her tighter. "We'll still be a family. Shh, it's okay. I'm not gonna leave you. Hey." He pulled her up, looking into her eyes. "Lisa...I promise, okay? I promise that it's gonna be...It's gonna be me and you and Iris and Len, okay? It's gonna be all four of us, all together, forever. I promise."

She sniffled again, a tear trickling down her cheek. After a second, she gave him a watery smile. "Okay, Barry. I believe you." She wiped her face on her sleeve.

Barry combed his fingers through her hair, smiling. "Come on," he said suddenly, grabbing her hand and tugging her from the bed. He reached under his bed to grab a box before dragging the girl outside.

Lisa giggled, following blindly. "Where we goin', Bear?"

"Just come on!"

Chapter Text

Cerulean eyes widened adoringly as they took in the expanse of white. Lisa squealed in delight. "Ice skating!"

Barry rubbed his neck sheepishly, grinning. He held the shoe box out to her. "I got you these, and I bought you a five-year membership. It kinda cost me my last eight paychecks, and I was gonna wait until Christmas, but I--"

He grunted as wiry arms wound around his neck in a crushing hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Lisa cheered. She bounced up and down on her toes. "Thank you, Barry!"

He chuckled as he hugged her back. "You're welcome, Lisa." Releasing her, he held the box out again. "Now get out there on the ice, Trainwreck."

She beamed up at him, opening the box. "Jerk." She hugged him again as he laughed.

Before she ran off, he added, "And you can come up here whenever you want. If you need to get away or...whatever. You can come here. Even in the middle of the night."

"Won't Dad get mad?" she asked, tying her laces. When she stood, she wobbled a little on her blade-guards. "Woah. Little out of practice."

Barry laughed. "You haven't worn skates in years. Take it easy." He held her arm, steadying her. "And no, Joe's fine with this. Len, too. I asked them both when I came up with it."

Lisa leant up on her toes, kissing his cheek. "Really. Thank you, Barry."

"No problem, little sister. Now get out there. I wanna see you in top form by the time I graduate."

Chapter Text

"Fuck!"

Joe poked his head around the door to the boys' bedroom, glowering when his eyes landed on Len ripping up another piece of paper. "Language, Leonard," he warned.

"Sorry, Dad," the boy groaned, rubbing at his eyes. "Just frustrated. This paper isn't coming out all that great."

"Application?"

"Application," he affirmed with a nod. "I tried to ask Barry to help, but Iris dragged him off to the bathroom. They've been in there for an hour and a half."

Joe glanced over his shoulder at the closed bathroom door, but elected to ignore it for now. "I thought you guys were fighting. Not that I condone the fighting, but..."

"But we were screaming at each other fifteen hours ago." He sighed. "I know. I apologized this morning."

"Didn't you think the whole thing was Barry's fault?"

Len's hand twitched through his hair in an anxious motion--absently, Joe recognized it as a tick Len picked up from Barry. "Well, I mean... yeah . He's the one who--" He huffed, sitting back. "Anyway, it doesn't matter anymore. The point is that it's done."

"Mmhmm."

"Would you just...ask him?" He sighed. "Please?"

Joe turned again, looking at the door behind him. "What are they doing in there, anyway?"

"Beats me," Len replied, gripping a new pen. "Pretty sure I heard the words prom, experiment, and possibly trans--though I'm not sure what any of that means."

The older man's eyebrows shot up. Finally, he asked, "Speaking of which, do you have a date? Or you running solo on this one?"

"Broke up with Sara a few days ago. She and Michael are going together."

"Huh. I didn't know that." Joe shrugged. "So it'll be you and Barry and Iris, huh?"

"Looks like it."

Seeing he wasn't getting anymore interaction from his son, Joe started backing from the room. But he stopped when Len's voice called out behind him.

"Hey, seriously. Can you ask Barry to come here when he's done? This essay really is giving me problems, and he's always been better with words."

"You've always had a better English grade than Barry, though." Len's expression was flat, and Joe raised his hands in surrender. "Sure thing." Turning, Joe knocked on the bathroom door. "Hey!" he called. "You two decent in there?"

"Come in!" Iris' voice rang out.

As Joe peeked his head through the doorway, he caught the distinct smell of strong perfume. His nose wrinkled as he gagged on the cloying scent. "God, what are you doing?"

Iris giggled. Glancing through the mist in the air, Joe could see her standing behind Barry, who was seated on Iris' vanity chair--she must have dragged it in there at some point. The boy was straddling the back of the chair as he faced the mirror, his head on his folded arms. He groaned as his foster sister tugged him up by the hair, which she was fiddling with. "Keep your head up, Bear. I don't wanna have to do this all over again."

Looking closer at Barry's reflection, Joe noticed that his boy's face was covered in makeup. It covered up the small spots of acne and little sunspots he usually had, creating a perfectly smooth and blank canvas. His mouth was lined in cherry red, his cheeks a dusty pink--though whether the latter was from makeup or his infamous blush peeking through, Joe wasn't sure. Even the kid's eyelashes seemed girlier; longer, more delicate, almost like--

"Are you wearing mascara ?"

Iris hummed, tugging at a new piece of hair. "And foundation, and blush...eyeliner, lipstick, lipliner, lipgloss, eyeshadow...you know, the essentials."

"...Right," Joe said slowly.

"She waxed my entire face first," Barry whined. His green eyes looked over at Joe with tears glittering in them. "I barely convinced her to let me keep my eyebrows. She wanted to just draw them back on."

"They would have grown back in a few weeks," Iris grumbled.

"I'm not wearing makeup for three weeks!"

"Anyway," Joe interrupted, finally stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. "Why, exactly, are you doing this?"

"Barry offered to be my experiment!"

"Don't listen to her, Joe. I'm being forced into this."

"Blackmail?"

Barry nodded, making sure not to dislodge Iris' hands as she--was she putting hair extensions on him? Well, at least that explained why Joe had caught her cutting a piece of Barry's hair last week.

"It's Barry's fault. He could just tell you, but he doesn't want to. He thinks you'll freak out. I told him a lot of teenagers do it, but--"

"Not under pain of a full-body wax would I tell him...that," Barry hissed. "He'll have me committed." Joe barely caught the last part.

Iris grinned ferally, though her eyes remained concerned, and Joe wondered what he was missing. "Is that an offer?"

Barry's eyes widened, and he floundered, realizing he'd said the wrong thing. "No! No, I--"

"Too late," Iris chirped. "It's happening. Right before we go out to get a dress. You're tall--getting a dress last minute shouldn't be a problem. Though we'll have to get heels first..."

"So you're dressing him up...to go to the store to get a dress to dress him up for prom?"

"Yep. And while we're at the store, Barry is gonna be wearing a skirt and blouse. Isn't that nice? He's gonna fall into character, so he can be a top performer tomorrow night." Iris finished the extensions, tugging the newly-long hair over Barry's shoulders to drape down his back, down to his waist. The color blended seamlessly with his natural hair color--you couldn't even see where she'd attached the pieces.

Joe shuffled uncomfortably, rubbing a hand over his head. "Well...Barry, are you sure you want to go through this? Why don't you just tell me?"

Barry glanced at the waxing supplies, swallowing nervously. "Y-Yeah, Joe. I'm fine."

The man's shoulders slumped a little. "Alright, you two...have fun."


As soon as the door closed behind Joe, Barry slumped. Iris' happy expression fell.

"I wish you'd tell him."

Barry sighed. "I know. I will...maybe."

"No, you won't. And I understand why. Really. I do." She sighed, too. "And I know why you did it."

"I just...I don't feel good anymore."

Iris' fingers carded gently through the long hair flowing from Barry's head. "I know, Bear. Just...promise me. Never again."

"As long as you don't tell Len and Joe. Or Lisa."

"Of course," she murmured. "Now...let's finish that wax."

Barry sighed again, defeated. "Okay." He took off his button-up shirt, tossing it aside so she could smooth a new wax strip across his chest. He chewed on a leather belt to keep from crying out as she ripped the strip off. She put a new one on, removing all the tiny, near invisible hairs from his chest before moving on to his arms.

Iris lingered for a moment before applying the wax, then finally smeared it across his skin. She made sure to avoid the pale scar tissue lining his arms.

Chapter Text

An hour and a lot of pain all over his body later--literally everywhere, which would have been deathly awkward if Barry still had romantic feelings for Iris, and it was still pretty awkward, because, hello, Iris saw him naked and that's weird and she should be uncomfortable with it, too, not grumbling about how his sweat and tears ruined his makeover and how she'd have to do it again before he got dressed and--

Anyway, an hour and a lot of pain later, Barry was pretty much hair-free except for his eyebrows, lashes, and the hair on his head. He had a newfound respect for women if they went through this much pain on a regular basis.

As he buttoned the blouse Iris had given him--there's no way it was hers if it fit him, and he had to wonder where she'd gotten it--he shifted in the skirt he was wearing. It had some kind of weird padding to disguise the fact that he was a guy, but Barry still felt uneasy about dressing this way in public. Or private, for that matter.

He winced as Iris pulled sharply at one of the hair extensions. She was giving him a loose, Hawaiian-style braid to draped over his shoulder. Barry was pretty sure that nothing she could possibly do would make him look like an actual girl and not a cross-dresser, but when Iris dragged him up to stand and turned him toward the mirror, he could see he was wrong.

Iris had somehow taken away all of his boyish edges--his cheekbones and jaw were still severe, but in a more delicate way. Like a female model rather than a guy. The blouse was both flowy and tight, giving him a more girlish figure--flat-chested, not straight up breastless. The tight jean skirt hugged his legs and hips, which (though Barry was loathe to admit it) were already pretty feminine to begin with. The only thing about his legs that screamed male were his knees, which were covered by the skirt, and his feet, which Iris had solved by shoving them into a pair of high-heeled ankle boots instead of the sandal-style wedges he usually saw her wearing.

Again, Barry wondered where she got all of this stuff that magically fit him.

Taking a step, he wobbled on the five-inch heels, not used to the added height. Vaguely, he realized the heels probably made him look about five-ten. Though he was still growing, he didn't come close to Len's six-foot-one yet. (Barry's calves had started aching lately, though, so he was pretty sure he was about to have a huge growth-spurt.) Without them wearing heels, he and Iris were pretty much the same height. Which was why he hated when she wore heels.

"Woah," Iris gasped, catching him. "Careful."

Barry walked around the room for a few minutes, getting used to the heels. Finally, he felt pretty comfortable walking on the heels--cough, stilts, cough--and let Iris drag him out of the room.

"Come on," she told him, grabbing the keys from the table by the door. "Lisa asked Len to walk her down to the ice rink, and she's gonna convince him to help with her form. They won't be back until around eight." She cupped a hand by her mouth, calling toward the kitchen, "We'll be back soon, Daddy!"

"Have fun, you two," Joe called back.

Iris climbed into the passenger seat automatically. Barry was the better driver--when it was just them, he usually drove so that they were less likely to get caught driving without someone over nineteen in the vehicle. But Barry couldn't drive like this--he didn't look anything like the picture on his driving license!

"Uh, Iris..."

"Oh, don't be a wimp, Bear. You never got caught before." She stuck the key in the ignition, buckling in. "It's not like you'll get caught just because you're cross-dressing."

He huffed, finally sitting in the driver's seat. "If we get caught, you get to tell Joe. And I am not paying for the ticket."

"Deal."


By the time they got to the shopping district, it was already two o'clock. Barry's hands were gripping the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles white.

"Bear? Bear? Barry!"

"What?"

"Are you okay?"

He sighed, his grip loosening. "Yeah, I'm fine, I just...I don't know if I can do this. What if someone sees me?"

"They won't know it's you, Barika." She grinned, already opening her door.

Barry groaned, his head flopping back even as he unbuckled and threw his door open. "You looked that up specifically for this, didn't you?"

"I gotta have something to say in case I accidentally call you Barry and people get suspicious."

He rolled his eyes, but allowed her to link their arms together as they walked into the mall.


Barry chewed on his lip nervously, staring at the box in front of him. "Six?"

"Yup."

"But..."

"No buts. You're wearing five. Six isn't too much worse." Iris pushed him down to sit. "Go on, put them on."

"Fine," he grumbled.


"I could always just cover your arms in makeup."

"It'll melt off."

"Or we could get a nude shirt for you to wear."

"We'd have to order it. And we don't have enough time."

Iris sighed, flopping down beside him on the bench and setting down her shopping bag between them. Barry had offered to carry it several times over the course of the afternoon, but Iris insisted it was fine--it only had a pair of shoes and the box for a tiny electrode from Kord Industries.

You know, for voice modulation. Had to hit those high notes if Barry wanted to pass for a girl.

He was actually already wearing it--the thing was small enough to easily clip to the inside of his blouse, and the guy at the store had helped them pick out the setting that matched Barika's face.

The only reason Barry had let her continue carrying it was because he was already pretty unsteady from walking in heels.

"You wanna go to Keystone?"

"That's an hour away," Barry replied, skimming through his phone. "No way can we go there, find a dress, and make it back to the house before Len and Lisa. It's already almost six." He paused, then opened a new tab. "Hang on a second."

"What are you doing?" Iris asked, leaning to look over his shoulder.

"Remember when Lisa had that competition in February? And we had to order her costume?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, Len and Joe didn't know how to order stuff, and you were on that ski trip with Shawna, so I got this app to tell me where things were and I think Keystone is one of the cities I added..." He trailed off, scrolling through his feed. "Gotham, Metropolis, Coast City, Seattle, New York, Central...Ha! Yes! Keystone!"

Iris pointed out a link. "Evening Wear, do that one."

When he clicked on it, a web page came up. He typed in red long sleeve prom dress, and dozens of pictures popped up, all with prices underneath.

"This one's got flowy sleeves and a bust line...and this one has a peasant skirt..." Barry kept scrolling, pointing out various dresses.

Suddenly Iris smacked his arm. "That one," she breathed. She pointed to one of the darker dresses. "That one's perfect."

Barry frowned. "It looks a little...see-through in the sleeves."

"Yeah, but look. The parts that are see-through are darker, so the shadows will cover the marks."

"It's got lace," Barry whined. "It'll be itchy!"

"Beauty is pain," Iris sing-songed, tugging him up. "Besides, I let you choose the color and sleeve length. The least you can do is let me pick out the material. I am buying, after all."

Barry groaned again.


At eight o'clock sharp, Barry and Iris snuck through the front door with their purchases. Barry kept having to brush hair out of his eyes--his braid had fallen out at some point, sending strands flying every which way.

He made to head to the bedroom, but Iris put a hand on his arm to stop him. "Daddy?" she called. "Are Lisa and Len home yet?"

Joe peeked around the door to the laundry room. "They got here about twenty minutes ago..."

"Crap," Iris hissed.

"...but I sent them to the store to get popcorn and ice cream for movie night tonight." He grinned.

The teenagers sighed in relief. "Thanks, Daddy."

"No problem, Babygirl."

Chapter Text

Nineteen-and-a-half hours later, as the clock ticked closer to four o'clock, Iris once again dragged Barry into the bathroom. She shoved him into the shower, leaving him a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt for when he was done.

The night before, they'd barely managed to get all the hair extensions out and wash Barry's face before Len had shown up. As Barry had thrown on a pair of sleep pants and a t-shirt, Iris explained that Lisa and Len didn't know about the makeover, and she wanted it to be a surprise. She'd shoved him out the door and into the living room ("Hey, Lenny! When did you get back?" "Hey, Iris. We just went to get snacks. Got you some of those brownies." "Awesome!") before he could ask why.

Now, as Iris calmly spread moisturizer over his face, Barry let himself relax. The whole experience was so much more subdued without the pain of waxing, and he barely noticed the passing of the hour as his foster sister used different brushes to go over his face.

Iris even made sure to fade the coloring out into his natural skin tone, spreading it out down his neck so it looked like his actual skin, not just makeup. A smaller brush was used under his cheekbones for a little color, and she used a little red eyeshadow to make his green doe-eyes pop against against his skin. Black eyeliner and a little mascara completed the smoky look. Iris had gone over his mouth a few times with crimson lip liner and lipstick, making his lips look cherry red and plump.

She sighed, observing her handiwork. "Oh, you make such a pretty girl," she cooed.

He blushed, running a hand through his hair--which Iris had blow-dried as soon as he was dressed. "Yeah, yeah. Can we get on with it?" he grumbled.

She sighed again as she grabbed a brush. "We just have to do the hair extensions. Those'll probably take an hour."

"It's almost five!" Barry cried. "You have to get ready, too!" Then he paused. "And I though the extensions only took like twenty minutes yesterday..."

"Well, yeah," Iris replied, like it was obvious. "That's because it didn't have to be perfect. Tonight it does."

Now it was Barry who sighed. "Fine. Just get it over with."

She hummed, already attaching one of the pieces. "By the way," she chirped. "It'll only take me an hour to get ready. You've never done this, though--that's why it's taking so long."

Barry didn't bother with a response.


Technically speaking, Junior Prom for Central City High School started at seven-thirty and ran until midnight.

But that was just how it was planned.

Most of the kids usually showed up between ten and thirty minutes late. Fashionably late, they said. But really, how fashionable can six hundred teenagers be? Plus, midnight was only the official ending to prom night.

Like every party, the best part was the after-parties. Those usually went on until four or five in the morning. Or until someone's parents came home. Whichever came first.

Barry tried to convince Iris that forcing him to go to the after-parties was a bad idea, but she just taped another piece of cloth to his upper chest and told him to suck it up. "You gotta have the full experience!"

So, at seven o'clock, as Barry sat on the bed in Iris and Lisa's room with his long, scarlet dress flowing around him and a pair of black, close-toed shoes digging into the back of his ankles, he was deeply regretting his life choices.

Especially when he heard the bedroom door at the other end of the hall open and a pair of footsteps heading in his direction.

"What are you doing?" Iris' voice rang out in the hall.

"Have you seen Barry?" he heard Len ask. "He was supposed to help me with this tie, but I haven't seen him in a few hours. Is he in your room?"

"Yeah, he's getting ready." More footsteps, then a yelp. "Hey! Don't go in there! He doesn't want you to see him. You know how he is about people...seeing him without a shirt."

Silence, and then Barry could swear he heard a sigh from Len.

"Yeah, I know. Just...tell him to get out here."

"We'll meet you downstairs. Barry can tie it before we leave." A pause, and footsteps receded a little. Then Iris spoke again. "And did you get that corsage I asked for?"

"Yeah. It's in the fridge." Len scoffed. "Don't see why you needed two--I know Barry got you one."

Iris didn't say anything as Len trudged down the stairs, but Barry could almost hear her evil grin through the walls.


 "Hurry up!" Lisa called up the stairs. "You're gonna be late!"

"We're coming!" a girly voice replied.

But it didn't sound like Iris.

Len went to stand by the stairs, peeking up through the banister at the top stair. He watched as a pair of heels appeared, then came around to stand with his sister and foster father. Joe had a camera at the ready. He snapped a picture of Len before gesturing for him to turn around to wait for his siblings to come downstairs.

The oldest foster-child in the house looked pretty dashing, if he did say so himself. He had on a pair of nice shoes, shined perfectly, hiding beneath a pair of black dress pants. His white dress shirt was fitted to his chest and tucked into his pants, and he had a light blue blazer over it. His blue tie was undone, but he was hoping Barry would help him to--

His brain stuttered to a stop as he glanced up the stairs.

His eyes had landed on Iris first.

She teetered on her golden six-inch stilettos, grinning down at the three at the bottom of the stairs. Her shimmering gold dress flowed delicately over her chocolate skin, and he could just barely see a dusting of silvery glitter in the outside corners of her eyes. Then she reached out, grasping something behind the corner at the top of the stairs.

A squeak sounded, and another girl came stand by Iris as she wobbled in her own heels. Iris was gripping the girl's wrist, both to keep her steady and...apparently, to keep her from running off, because as soon as she looked down the stairs, she turned to go back down the hall.

"Iris?" Lisa asked skeptically. As she spoke, the mystery girl turned to look down at her again. Her eyes skipped to Len, and she blushed when their eyes connected. Lisa continued, "Where's--"

Len's breath caught, his eyes widening as Mystery Girl locked eyes with him again. Except it wasn't a mystery. Not really.

"Barry?!" he choked out. "What the hell?!"

Sure enough, he recognized those bright green eyes, that sheepish grin. He recognized Barry's stride as the two girls walked slowly down the stairs. Len had watched Barry climb those stairs in exactly the same way every day for almost six years--it was barely different even with the heels added in.

"Don't you think she looks pretty, Lenny?" Iris asked, batting her lashes innocently.

Len was immediately on the defensive. "Why in the hell is Barry dressed as a girl?"

"Language, Len," Joe warned, still snapping pictures behind them. The teenager glared at him in accusation.

"You knew about this?"

He shrugged. "I sure did." He looked at Barry--even through all the makeup, the boy was beet red. "Oh, don't worry, Bear. You make a very nice looking girl."

Barry blushed further. "Yeah, whatever," he said. His voice was really high, though Len couldn't tell if he was doing it on purpose or if he was nervous.

"Still," the older teen insisted, "why? Why is Barry suddenly cross-dressing?"

"Blackmail," Iris replied giddily. "I have some of it. But, you know...I probably wouldn't have used it if I hadn't hung around you and Lisa so much. So...thanks," she chirped with a grin.

For her part, Lisa just started squealing. "Awww, Barry! You look so cute!" She clapped her hands. "Red is totally your color! And Iris!" She rounded on the other girl, grasping her wrist. "I love this color! Gold is, like, the best!"

Len winced at her tone. He needed to get out of there. "I'll go get the flowers," he muttered, already halfway to the kitchen.

By the time he got back, Barry was posing uncomfortably with Lisa as Joe snapped various pictures. Iris took the cross-dresser's place--because Len could only get through this embarrassment if he could make it about a weird fetish instead of his supposedly sweet sister turning evil--and wrapped her arm around Lisa as they grinned brightly.

Len gave Barry the gold-and-white-flowered corsage, which he--she?--took with a curious look. "For Iris," Len told her--might as well just go with it. He grabbed Barry's wrist, clipping the second corsage, one with green and red flowers, to the teen's wrist. "Which means I can only assume she asked for this one for you."

Barry's cheeks returned to a deep scarlet color. "Thanks."

Glancing down, Len could just barely see a small electrode poking from Barry's dress. "So that's where the voice is coming from."

She looked down. "Oh, yeah. Iris wanted it to be authentic. She said I was gonna be her experiment."

"Experiment?" he asked dubiously. "To determine what, exactly?"

"Oh, you know," she replied haltingly, her fingers twitching anxiously around the golden corsage. Barry had very nice hands, Len realized dimly. Elegant and thin, with long fingers and the softest of callouses from their sparring sessions years ago. Len had honestly never noticed. His thoughts were broken as Barry finally continued. "To see if babbling girls are more socially accepted. I mean, we both know I have a tendency to overanalyze and ramble and stick my foot in my mouth, so she wanted to know if the bullying goes on 'cuz I'm annoying and a guy, or just 'cuz I'm annoying." She cleared her throat nervously. "But, just...What if they still don't like me, Lenny? What if it's worse? I mean, at least if it's worse, no one will know it was me, and I can just go back to being stupid Barry Allen instead of silly Barika Jones--Iris' choice, by the way. What if is better, though? I'm not gonna do this forever!"

Big, green doe-eyes stared up at him, and Len swallowed thickly. He grit his teeth, resisting the urge to strangle Iris for making their best friend do this.

"Listen," he said finally, grasping Barry's arm. "No matter what happens, I promise I'll be there, okay? Just like always."

Finally, Barry smiled again. "Okay."

"Now tie my tie so we can get these stupid pictures done."

Chapter Text

"Don't let me fall."

Len shivered as Barry's breath ghosted across his ear as she spoke. "I got you," he assured tightly. He tightened his hold on her arm, twined with his. "Don't worry."

They'd barely managed to convince the ticket-checker that he was, in fact, Barry Allen, and not some weird girl without an invite. Iris had taken the woman aside to explain the situation, and they'd come back over grinning. Now they stood down the hall, the three of them listening to the base thumping through the walls.

Iris was bouncing on the balls of her feet, holding Len's other arm in a vice. "This is gonna be awesome!" she squealed before rushing off.

Yeah, technically Barry was Len's date to this party. Neither was very happy about it, but Len was convinced he had to protect his best friend--even from their other best friend.

He led her down the hallway patiently as she wobbled on her high heels--vaguely, he realized she was still a couple inches shorter than him. Before he could go further with that thought, she ran straight into someone.

"I'm so sorry!" she squeaked, blushing. "I didn't mean to--"

"It's fine," the boy sighed, already turning. Len could see him smiling before he'd even turned fully. "Hi, there," he said, holding out a hand in a friendly way. "Roscoe Dillon, how ya doin'?"

Barry flushed further, reaching her hand out to clasp his even as as she edged closer to Len. "Nice meeting you..."

Roscoe's grin turned feral, and Len's eyes narrowed, about to speak up when the other boy spoke again. "Ya wanna dance?"

Her eyes widened, and she looked at Len frantically before clearing her throat. "Um...don't you have a date, or...something."

"Nah, came here with my buddy," Dillon--Len wasn't gonna use his first name if he was gonna turn into a creep--was still holding Barry's hand, tugging her forward. "And my sister. Buddy didn't want us hanging out at home by ourselves. Which, gotta say, glad he dragged us out." He winked salaciously, almost resorting to dragging her away.

Len was quicker, tightening his hold and snapping his free hand out to bat Dillon's away. "Back off, creep," he growled with a huff. "She's not interested."

Dillon's blue eyes flashed over to meet Len's own.

Behind him, Len could see a girl approaching them. He recognized her, should have recognized Dillon's name as her own last name. Rosalind--Rosa--Dillon was hot, a huge flirt, and one of the most sassy and angsty cheerleader he'd ever met. She'd tried--multiple times--to get into the Popular group (and Mark's pants), before being set straight by Len (and Shawna).

Up close, it was even more obvious the two Dillons were related--they shared quite a bit of resemblance, from the blond hair (though the girl had bright green eyes instead of blue) to the way she swaggered her way through the crowd. She stopped a few inches behind her brother, eyeing Barry up and down. Len already didn't like her.

Dillon's leering grin turned into a scowl, drawing Len back to him. "What's your problem, man?" he asked heatedly. "We're just talking."

Len rolled his eyes. "Right," he drawled, moving his arm so it draped across Barry's shoulders. "Because I'm sure 'dancing' isn't a euphemism for anything." Barry gasped, eyes widening as she brought her recently freed hand to her chest. Len could see the tick in Dillon's jaw before it opened to speak. He cut him off. "I said, back off. She's not interested."

"Lenny," she murmured. "It's okay. I got myself into this. Let's just...find Iris."

"It's not okay, Bear," Len insisted quietly, finally looking away from the other boy. "The guy's a creep. But, yeah," he sighed when she gave him a look. "Let's go find her." He gave Dillon one last glare. "Stay away from us. And my sister."

Dillon sneered. "Say hi to Lisa for me, Snart."

Now, it was Barry's turn to glare. "Watch your tone when you're talking about our sister."

Len's glare was only sharpened by his razor sharp smirk, both directed at Rosa. "Nice seeing you again, Rosa."

With that, Barry dragged Len away, ignoring Dillon's sputtering and Rosa's simpering tones behind them.


Telling the story of Prom was pretty fun later, Barry had to admit.

She'd danced and had fun, and only tripped once. The after-parties were easy to get through, if only because it was mostly just sitting around and listening to music rather than dancing.

There were a couple of instances of spiked drinks, but Len fielded all of her cups after the first time, so it was okay. She was most happy at five a.m., when she was finally able to strip out of the dress and the stockings and the tape and the cloths and the...well, Barry would really rather not go there...and go back to being just regular ole Barry Allen, seventeen-year-old. He'd be happy if Barika Jones, sixteen-year-old girl, never showed her face again. It was bad enough that Shawna, Mark, Clyde, and Axel had managed to figure out what was going on--though watching Axel drool over her before recognizing the boy behind the mask was pretty amusing.

Not as amusing as watching him cower in fear under the glares from Len, Iris, Mark, and Shawna when he threatened to tell the whole school about Barry's cross-dressing.

Shawna, especially, thought it was the cutest thing ever. And Mark and Clyde would never say anything about it, because Mark had actually been Marcia until he was six and realized he wasn't like the other girls in day-care. Their parents were terrible, but not so terrible that they wouldn't help their child get through his natural transition.

Barry was relieved to find that people didn't really like Barika--they got just as irritated at her foot-in-mouth syndrome as they did with Barry's. Which, yeah, that meant he was just all-out annoying, but it also meant he never had to see Barika in the mirror ever again.

Telling the whole story to Joe and Lisa took about an hour. Lisa, at least, laughed--Joe just shook his head, rolled his eyes, made everyone (including himself) vow to never ever bring this up ever again, and went off to bed.

And, honestly, Barry and Len were so happy for that rule. Barry because he was eternally embarrassed and just wanted to forget. Len because, well...

...Well, Barika Jones had been pretty hot. And Len just didn't quite know how to deal with that.

Chapter Text

 "--saying is that if you didn't want me to critique it, why did you ask me to read it?"

Iris peered around the doorway in time to see Barry roll his eyes at Len with a scoff. "I asked you to check it and see if there were any mistakes I'd missed--not tell me I sound like a machine."

"But you do," Len pointed out with a raised eyebrow. He was still reading over the paper Barry had slid in front of him, still making tiny marks next to grammar mistakes. "Which I still don't get. You helped me with my papers last week and didn't have this problem. Why can't you do your own?"

Barry crossed his arms over his chest defensively. "I barely helped you at all. You just needed a starting point. Writing an entire paper is different."

"You've always been good with words," he said, turning the page. "You might say too many of them sometimes, but--"

Barry sighed, squirming in his seat. "Exactly. I always talk too much. If I ramble in my essays, why would they even consider me? I'm just some kid who can't write a formal essay."

"There is a such thing as too formal, you know." Len gave a pointed look to the essay. "This would be it. You need more...flowers. It's too cold as it is. Loosen up, go a little off topic. Everything can't always be perfect. Besides, CSI's have to be able to look at the big picture, not just one spec of evidence that happens to be there in one moment of time."

Barry's shoulders slumped. "Yeah, sure. I'll go over it again."

"Good luck."

Barry stood, wincing as his calves twitched. His growth spurt had started last week, and he'd already grown three inches--and he was still going. He made a hasty retreat from the table, swerving around Iris and sprinting up the stairs to shut himself up in his room.

"Everything okay?" she asked Len.

"Hmm? Oh..." he trailed off, looking over at her from where he'd been watching after Barry. "Yeah, everything is fine. Barry asked for help on a paper."

Iris gave him a skeptical look, but nodded. "Hey, do you know where Lisa is? I haven't seen her all day."

"Probably down at the ice rink--it's where she usually is."

"Thanks!"


A hand landed on Lisa's shoulder as she passed close to the wall. Spinning, she grinned at Iris. "What's--"

"Our brothers are idiots and I needed to escape that...love-fest."

"...Let me take off my skates and we can get hot chocolate."

"Sounds good to me."

Chapter Text

Iris couldn't help glaring at her two brothers as she stalked up to them in the living room.

The boys were sprawled out on the floor, textbooks surrounding them. It was a violently pleasant change from a month ago, when they'd been beating the tar out of each other and getting blood on this very carpet. Needless to say, that grounding lasted a few weeks. Not that it wasn't warranted--it was one of their more heated fights, after all.

Now, Iris kicked Barry's textbook out from under him, displacing his arm and sending his face into the carpet. Len laughed, at least until she grabbed his pen from his hand and tossed it across the room.

"Hey!" they said simultaneously. "Iris!"

"Oh, hush," she replied, crossing her arms. "Now, explain to me what you're doing here?"

"What're you talking about, Iris?"

"We do live here, you know."

She rolled her eyes. "Not here as in here, dorks. Here as in not out there."

Len retrieved his pen from the corner, glaring. "And where would you prefer us go, Iris?"

"Maybe the party down the street?" she asked, throwing her hands up as if it were obvious. "It's Summer! We're about to be Seniors! Go out and live a little! You've been cooped up in this house for a month--I would have thought you'd want to get as far away as possible."

Barry just shrugged, still lying on the floor. "So what if we don't wanna go out? We're trying to get summer assignments done, study a little bit before the first day. Who cares if we miss one party?"

"The point is that you missed a whole Summer worth of parties! Everyone keeps asking about you guys, and I'm tired of fielding questions." She sighed. "Look, you don't have to come if you don't want to, but it'd be nice for you guys to get back out there, you know?"

"We don't want to go," Len replied. He sat down on the sofa, writing a few more notes in his book. "I get that people want us back out there, but I, for one, honestly couldn't care less. It's been a perfectly good Summer without them."

There were a few moments of silence before Barry sighed, standing. "Look, I agree with Len here, Iris. Why don't we have a night in, all together? I'm sure you have to study, too, right?"

"Sure I do, but--"

"Then I don't see--"

"But studying can wait for school-time! Which doesn't start for three more weeks. So let's go!"

"I'm staying here," Len announced. "Barry can go with you, if you guys want to go. I'll wait for Dad and watch Lisa."

Iris snorted. "Because Lisa can't take care of herself. Besides, Dad won't be home until tomorrow."

"And you think you'll be home by morning? Really?"

She flushed. "Whatever. Stay here if you want." She looked at Barry. "Are you coming?"

He hesitated. "I think I'll stay with Len," he said slowly. "I really wanted to go over a few notes with him."

Iris huffed, turning on her heel and grabbing a sweater. "Well, fine. You boys have fun studying, then." She winked viciously at Barry before slamming the door behind herself.

Barry's face was tomato red, and he took a half a step toward the door as if to follow her before stopping himself.

Len continued leafing through his book as if nothing had happened. "I wanted to ask you if you'd clarify a couple of scenes for me. I know the test isn't until the second day of school, but I wanted to get it down before I--"

"Do you think Iris will be okay?"

"--forgot." Len paused, squinting up at Barry. He was still standing by the door, his face a little red. Len could tell he was worried, though, by the way his fingers wrung together and the twitch in his right eye he always got when he was nervous about something. "What?"

"Iris," he insisted, looking over at Len. "She seemed really upset."

Len scoffed. "She wasn't that upset, Bear. Calm down."

"She just wanted to spend time with us! And you blew her off like it was nothing!"

"I wanted to finish these assignments--"

"Oh, bullshit, Lenny," Barry interjected. Len sat back, stunned for a second as Barry glared at him with his arms crossed. Barry hardly ever cursed unless he was really upset. "You just want to sit in this house and avoid everyone, fine. But you really shouldn't have taken it out on her."

He turned around, digging through the hall closet for his jacket.

Behind him, Len sighed, tossing his book aside and putting his head in his hands. "I know, okay? I just--I just don't want to be around them right now, okay?"

"Why?" Barry asked, still angrily sorting. "You liked them fine before Summer, and now you just don't anymore?"

"No, I--Look, I'd be perfectly fine with our general friend group, but everyone else...God, everyone else is who I can't stand. They're all so fake. Ever since the school found out about the skipping two years thing, everyone has been trying to be friends with us. Haven't you noticed? It's disturbing."

"People have always wanted to hang out with you, Len. You're popular, you always have been." Barry sighed, finally finding his jacket and pulling it out before turning to Len. "Honestly, I'm not even that popular compared to how you've always been. If we'd never met--if you hadn't been transferred, if either of us had been adopted by Joe without the other--well, I'd probably still just be nerd-kid Barry Allen, constantly bullied and completely alone except for maybe Iris, if she didn't ditch me in high school."

Len glanced over at him. "That's not true, Barry. You and Iris would have been best friends for forever, even if Joe hadn't adopted you and made you siblings."

"Nah," Barry dismissed. "I'd've screwed it up somehow. Asked her out, went too far into full nerd-mode one day, retreated into myself after...Mom." He paused. "Honestly, before that day in the hall, before she met you, I think she might have been trying to leave me." He shrugged. "We might not even be friends now, if she hadn't met you."

Len sighed. "Well, I'm sure she's regretting ever meeting me, now."

Barry rolled his eyes. "No one regrets meeting you, Len. You're a great guy." Another pause. "Also, I'm pretty sure your puns and general snarky attitude could make anybody's day better."

"Really."

"Mmhmm. Really."

"Do you really think Iris was that upset?"

"Yeah, I do," Barry sighed. "And if she was upset, we should really be there to watch out for her. You know how she gets."

Now Len rolled his eyes, standing. "Oh, do I."

Barry went to shrug on his jacket, squeaking as it was jerked from his hands.

"You can't go dressed like that," Len chastised. "Honestly, Barry, you'd think you'd never been to a party before." He started pulling him back to their room.

"Maybe because I haven't?" Barry squawked indignantly as he was shoved into the room. "Something always came up before, remember?"

Len disappeared into their shared closet, rifling through Barry's clothes. "You mean all those times you made up an excuse not to go out with us? Yeah, I remember that pretty well."

"I--" Barry was cut off as a wad of denim flew at his face. "What?"

Len tossed him a shirt with it, pushing him into the bathroom. "Go on, put those on. And fix your hair." He shut the door to the bedroom so Barry couldn't see him.

Grumbling, Barry closed the bathroom door and started pulling on the jeans Len had given him. Naturally, he'd just had to pick the tightest pair of pants Barry owned.

Throwing on the shirt he'd gotten--thankfully long-sleeved--he looked over at the mirror. He groaned. Sure enough, his hair was a total disaster from when he'd been running his hands through it all day. He didn't have time to do much more than dampen it and smoothe it out a little bit, though.

A knock on the door made him jump and knock his head against the wall.

"Barry? You ready?"

He winced, rubbing his head. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming." Opening the door, he almost ran headfirst into Len--he was right outside the door. "Shit, Len."

Len snorted. He eyes flickered to Barry's hand where it was holding the back of his head. "You hit your head or something?"

"Yeah, a little. It's fine, let's just go."

He shrugged, heading back down the hall. "Let's go, then."

Barry knocked on Lisa's door before following. Peeking inside, he called out.

"Hey, Lise. We're going out for a little while. We'll be back soon."

"'Kay."

At the door, Barry shoved his feet into a pair of tennis shoes and grabbed for his jacket.

Len got to it before he could, though, and tossed it back into the closet. "You'll get too hot, Bear. Let's go." He grabbed his keys, locking the door behind them.

The party house was about three houses away from the West home, and it was a little surprising that they hadn't heard the music before, because it seemed like there were about twenty six-foot speakers spaced out around the lawn, all at full volume. It was almost ear-shattering by the time they got inside.

The second they stepped through the door, Axel appeared.

"Hey!" he squealed excitedly, bouncing up and down. "I didn't think you guys were coming!"

"Neither did we," Barry shouted back. He glanced at Len to find him casing the room for signs of Iris.

Axel was laughing. "Come on, Iris is in the kitchen with Shawna!" He grabbed Barry's wrist and dragged him through the throng of kids dancing.

"H-Hey!" Barry spluttered. He glanced behind him to ensure Len was following them.

Just like Axel said, Iris and Shawna were in one corner of the kitchen, giggling. They both had a drink in one hand and a cracker in the other.

Iris was the first to notice them. Her laughing subsided, and she looked over Axel to scowl at her foster siblings. "I see you decided to join us."

Barry flushed, pulling at the cuffs of his shirt. "Y-Yeah."

Len stepped up to Iris. "I'm sorry about earlier, Iry."

She fought a smile at the nickname. It was something he'd picked up when they were "dating"--he only used it then to get on her nerves. Now it just made her laugh. "Don't call me that," she snapped with a pout. "I'm still mad at you."

Len pretended to think about it, taking a step closer."

"Len..." she warned. "Do not. Len!"

"Are you sure you're still angry?" he asked. He couldn't even hide his smirk--Barry had to laugh. "Are you really sure?"

"Yes," Iris said flatly, backing away. Her back hit the cabinets, and she set down her snack and drink before scrambling up onto the counter, her heels clanking against the marble. "Do not," she warned Len again as he got even closer.

By now, Shawna and Axel were just about rolling on the floor with laughter.

Len held his hands up in Iris' direction. "What if I..." His hands landed on her waist. "...made you laugh!?"

Iris shrieked a laugh as he pulled her off the counter. "Stop it!" she yelled. She held on tight as he spun her around a few times. "Cut that out, Lenny!"

After a minute, he stopped spinning, but he didn't put her down yet. "Are you still mad?"

"If I say no, will you let me go?"

"Yes."

"Then, no."

"Are you lying?"

"...No, I guess not."

Len shrugged. "Okay, then." He set her on her feet. "Let's get out and party, huh?"

She grinned. "Sure thing, Len."

The other glanced over at Barry. "You, too, Bear," he called as he and Iris hurried out into the dance horde.

"I'm right behind you!" he called back with a grin.

Once they disappeared, his smile fell, his shoulders slumping.

"Wanna drink?" Axel asked, popping back up out of nowhere.

"Nah," Barry replied, waving him off. "I think I'm gonna head out. We left Lisa at home alone."

Shawna pouted. "Marky will be so disappointed."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm sure," he said drily. "Sam, too, huh?"

Axel giggled. "Sammy's just a sour-puss 'cuz the boss like you better than him."

Shawna linked arms with Barry. "You know...Mark misses you, sometimes."

He laughed. "Yeah, right. He has you, Baez-Bae," he teased as she tittered girlishly. "You guys are perfect."

She shrugged. "Still," she replied, kissing his cheek.

Axel threw an arm around Shawna's shoulders. "Let's get our groove on, girl." He cackled as they left, Barry waving bye from the kitchen.

Barry snuck out the back door, circling around to the street and returning home. He'd pickpocketed Len on the way to the party, taking his keys. It was a miracle the older boy hadn't noticed--everything Barry knew about pickpocketing, he had learned from watching Len...and sometimes Lisa.

He crept upstairs, peeking into Lisa's room. "Hey, Lise," he said softly. "I'm back. I'll be downstairs reading if you need anything."

"'Kay." Barry paused as he heard soft footsteps. After a moment, Lisa appeared at her door. "You wanna watch a movie?" she asked quietly.

"Sure thing, kid. Pirates of the Caribbean?"

"Uh, yeah!"

Chapter Text

Senior Year flew by a little too easily.

The whole year was captured through the lenses of Iris and Sam's cameras. There were parties and snowball fights, dance mobs in the cafeteria. There were endless pictures of Mark and Shawna kissing, of Sam and Axel pranking everyone. There were shots of Len and Iris racing on the track, snapshots of Barry winning Nationals for Glee Club.

There were videos of every moment of the year. The whole gang was there, and it was perfect.

Iris took the pictures, Sam shot the films. They made a great team.

Barry was riding the high just like everyone else, and none of them could have been happier.

Next thing they knew, it was graduation.

Roy was in jail for...something (it happened during Thanksgiving break, and nobody really wanted to talk about it so they just pretended they didn't know), Axel off who knows where. Clyde dropped out at the end of his sophomore year, staying home to take online classes instead.

Barry and Len were co-valedictorians. It was an interesting experience.

The speech was a joint effort. Both boys gave input, and they both had a part in giving it. It was kind of fun to have them both give the speech. It was like a dialogue between them. They had a nice flow, back and forth and back and forth. It was very nice. People said it was inspirational, watching them in such synchronization, hearing their words of congratulations.

After that, it was off to pictures. Lisa was there--she had the day off from school--and she jumped on all three of her siblings, though she still hugged Len the hardest. She loved Iris and Barry like siblings, but Len was her true brother. It's just how it is.

Mark and Shawna were close by. Shawna was planning to join Bette in the military, but as medical personnel. Mark would be off to Michigan for his degree--something with weather and lightning and such. Barry had convinced him to go, with help from Len. Mark had always loved meteorology. They'd all joked about how he'd be the first weatherman to get a prediction right.

Cisco and Ronnie had taken the principal up on the offer of graduating early. Everyone had been sad to see them go, but the two seemed pretty happy, from what little they'd heard from them after they graduated. Cisco had left to get his degree in New York, one in bio-engineering and physics. Ronnie was being similarly trained, though more toward the mechanical side of it, at the state university in Springfield.

Mick was also already graduated, working on a vocation in welding--he'd always loved fire.

Iris was staying close, working at the local coffee shop while taking oddball classes at the community college. Said she wanted to stay close to her dad, help out with Lisa.

Len was off to Gotham City, planning to enroll in the Police Academy there. “If any place can train hard-ons, it's Gotham,” he'd said once with a leer, making Iris laugh and Barry and Lisa blush.

Barry was going to Coast City for college--double majoring in criminal forensics and physics with a minor in bio-engineering. He was going to solve his mother's murder one day. He had to. If he ever wanted to see his dad out from behind bars, if he ever wanted any peace of mind...he needed to know who killed his mom.

Captain Singh, Fallweil's replacement for a couple years now, had said he'd have a job waiting for the boys when they got back. Both would be starting from the bottom, but it was a start.

Chapter Text

The weeks after graduation and before moving day were some of the most stressful weeks of Barry's life--though not for the reason you might think.

By some weird stretch of luck, when Barry and Len bought their plane tickets, they'd managed to have roughly the same boarding time. Barry's Coast City flight was set to leave at four in the morning on June twenty-ninth, and Len's Gotham flight would take off at 6 o'clock the same morning.

Twenty-seven days. Twenty-seven days between the day they graduated to the day they left home. It went something like this.


June 3rd

"Bear."

He shifted a little, murmuring before falling back into a doze.

There was a pause. "Barry."

Something poked his arm, and he batted it away as rolled over onto his stomach.

Another pause, then a sigh. "Barry Allen."

This time, it was whisper-shouted into his ear and accompanied by cold, slick thing pressed over his pulse-point.

Barry yelped, jumping in the opposite direction and tumbling off the side of his bed. The back of his head cracked against the end table, and he groaned as his spine thunked against the hardwood floor.

There was a shuffling noise, and then Len's head popped up over the bed. He smirked down at Barry. "You cool?"

Barry took the hand stretching toward him, crawling up on the bed and sitting back against his headboard. "I'm fine," he said. Then he winced as his head pulsed. "Mostly."

Len leaned over, flipping the lamp on. "You sure?"

He rubbed at his eyes, yawning. "Yeah. I'm good." Looking up drowsily, he got a little bit caught up in the blue of Len's eyes.

"Cool."

Shaking himself, Barry glanced at his alarm clock. "Len."

"Hmm?"

"Why did you wake me up at two in the morning?"

"Oh. Right." The older boy flopped backward on the bed, digging through his back pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and started flipping through it. "I just got in from the party. Thought maybe we could talk for a while."

"And it couldn't wait until morning?" Barry asked nervously. He tugged at the sleeve of his shirt.

Len paused in his scrolling, turning his head and raising a brow at Barry. After a minute, he turned back to his phone. "You left early. Again." His grip on the device was tight and he was frowning. "How many times are you gonna do that, Barry?"

"We're leaving soon."

"Not for another month."

"Twenty-seven days."

"Close enough," Len shot back, looking over sharply. "You know there're gonna be parties over the next few weeks. You'll probably get dragged to at least five of them. You gonna skip out early on those, too? What about Iris' birthday party? You gonna 'take a walk' in the middle of it, come back in time to see everyone out?"

Barry flushed under the interrogation. He could barely look at Len. "I--"

"And don't think I didn't see that crap you pulled at the last party before school started, either. You were all gung-ho to 'protect Iris' and whatnot, and then you disappeared on us."

"You know I don't like parties, and--"

"But why? Why do you even go?" Len sat up. He didn't say anything more until Barry looked up. "Is it a social thing? Do you just not want to go? What's your problem?"

"I don't want to go."

"Barry," he said flatly. "That's not an answer."

"That's my answer," Barry replied, just as monotone. He laid back in bed, pulling the cover up to his chin.

Len grabbed his arm before he could turn out the light. "You can't just end this conversation because you're uncomfortable, Bartholomew."

"I don't care, Leonard," he snapped, ripping his arm away. "I'm going back to sleep."

He kicked the man off the bed, flicked off the lamp, and buried his head in his pillow.

Len sighed and went to his own bed.

Neither slept for a long time.


June 8th

Barry startled awake in time to catch his textbook before it hit the floor. Unfortunately, he didn't wake up fast enough to keep himself from hitting the ground.

Important things first, right? Honestly, it's a wonder that he doesn't have any lasting damage to his brain or spinal cord.

Standing up, he glanced at the papers scattered around the room, especially those gathered across his rumpled bedspread. His first college summer assignment--an in-depth research paper about the effects of long-term exposure to fluorescent lighting on different types of evidence, from documents to metal to clothing to blood and fingerprint samples--was due on the first day of the semester. Which wasn't until July 31st, but Barry really wanted to have it done before he left, just so that he could have the month between arriving at college and going to college to rest and recharge...and maybe explore the Coast City College Conservatory, because everyone always said that it was really beautiful and spectacular and apparently there was a library underneath, so really he'd be killing two birds with one stone.

Maybe I can do some more tomorrow, he thought dreamily. Then he shook himself. No. No, you need to get this done. Come on, library time.

Sighing, he grabbed a binder and started sorting and clipping all the papers into it. He even stooped to check that none had fallen beneath his bed or behind the dresser. That done, he put the binder and his laptop--thank God he had at least remembered to charge it last night before crashing--into his shoulder bag. Changing quickly, he grabbed his bag and headed downstairs.

The smell of food hit him just as he hit the top of the bottom stairs, and he stopped for a second, inhaling.

Joe appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, grinning. "Hey, Bear. You're just in time. Len cooked breakfast for us all. Your favorite. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and--"

"--Hashbrowns," Len finished, popping up next to Joe. He was smirking. "Extra spicy, just how you like it. Even put a half-teaspoon of paprika in the pancake batter, and the bacon is--"

"--Extra pepper-crusted," Barry sighed, a little glassy-eyed. "Sounds so good." He shook himself, coming down the rest of the stairs. "But I should really get to the library--ooofff!" He stumbled, cutting himself off. Something had collided with his back, and he barely caught himself on the railing of the stair.

A blonde head popped up over his shoulder. "Don't even think about it, Bear!" Lisa cheered. "You gotta eat breakfast!"

"Oh, yeah?" Barry challenged. He dropped his bag so he could hike her legs up higher on his waist. He laughed as she squealed, only wincing a little when she nearly choked him to hold on. "And why's that?"

"If you don't eat some of those eggs and bacon and sausage, I'll eat it all! And then I'll get fat! You don't want me to get fat, do you, Barry?"

"Am I still gonna have to give you piggyback rides?"

"Yes! You're gonna gimme piggyback rides forever and ever!"

"Then no, I don't want you to get fat," Barry replied, dropping her into a chair. He sighed dramatically. "I guess I'll just have to eat some."

At that second, footsteps came pounding down the stairs, and Iris appeared. Her hair was pulled up high, she wasn't wearing any makeup, and she was still wearing her sleep shirt--though she had at least put on some sweat pants. Not that they were hers, though--they were actually Barry's, and he didn't remember lending them to her, which meant she must have--

"You stole my pants again!"

She was halfway through a yawn and just waved him off. "They're comfy, I told you, and did I hear paprika pancakes?"

Joe snorted into his coffee, and Lisa spit out her orange juice as she laughed.


June 11th

"If you're gonna spend all your time studying, you should at least bring a snack."

The nasally voice broke him out of his reverie, and he glanced up. "You think so?"

The librarian nodded sagely. "Brain food is very important, you know."

Barry studied the woman for a moment, thinking. Then he stood up and walked over to her desk. Leaning against it, he smiled charmingly. "When was he in here."

She raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I don't understand what you're asking, sir. Maybe try a different question?"

Barry grinned wider. "Okay. When were they in here?"

She smiled. "The man was in here about an hour ago, when you got up to get a book from the reference section. The little girl was in a couple of hours before that, when you were at the computer bank. The older girl was in here with the Detective early this morning, right after you got set up and went out to the hall for a drink."

"Uh-huh," he hummed. "And the couple?"

"After the Detective and his daughter, before the little girl. They had another young man with them."

"Short? Paint spots on his clothes?"

"The very one."

Barry hummed cheerily. "Thanks, Carrie."

"Sure thing, B. Got any of those brownies?"


June 15th

"So I just want to thank you for giving me a call."

"Sure thing, Len. Take care of our boy, huh?"

"You bet."

Barry pouted, grabbing his bag from the table. Len started dragging him out the door the second it was secure.

"Traitor," Barry muttered as they passed the desk.

Carrie waved cheekily. "Sorry, B! He promised Cas and Charlie Chocca-Chocca Triple Chocca-Chip Muffins. They make the decisions, you know that!"

"No brownies for you, traitor!"

"Let's go, Bear," Len said impatiently. He tugged on his sleeve forcefully. "We're gonna miss Happy Hour at Jitters."

"That lasts like three hours!"

"But everyone knows the best stuff is always gone after the first hour, Barry." Len rolled his eyes.

"Why are you dragging me away from my work, again?" Barry said snippily. Finally, they rounded the corner closest to jitters, and Len let go of his sleeve. Brushing the creases out, he raised a brow at Len. "Well?"

The other man crossed his arms. "We had a deal, Barry. It's Friday."

Barry jumped a little bit, pulling out his phone. "The fifteenth? Already?" Scrolling through his calendar, he groaned. "No! I've only got two more weeks and I'm not even halfway through! I still have metals to get through--not to mention blood and prints! I have to finish this paper." He turned on his heel, taking a step back in the direction they came from.

An arm around his waist dragged him further away. "No," Len commanded. "You're gonna come with me and actually eat for once this week."

"I ate!" he complained, still stretching to get away. Len just pulled him in tighter, lifting his feet up off the ground. "I ate!"

"When, Barry? When? Breakfast on Monday doesn't count."

"I ate! I grabbed breakfast at Jitters every morning! Just ask Tracy!"

Len hummed, finally putting Barry down. They were outside Jitters, and it was oddly empty for a Friday afternoon.

"See, I actually did ask Tracy. She told me all about how you've been in here a couple times a day."

"See!" Barry crowed triumphantly. "I told you I--"

"And how you only ordered coffee and a muffin."

"...Traitor."

"You keep saying that, you know," Len said with a smirk, throwing an arm around Barry's shoulders, "but we're just trying to take care of you."

"I can take care of myself."

"Mm-hmm," Len hummed sarcastically. He opened the door to the shop, holding it for Barry. "Honestly, Barry, I'm a little concerned about what's gonna happen to you after you leave."

"I'll go to college, get training done, come back, and work at the station." He paused. "And then I'll once again have to suffer through you and Joe and probably Iris constantly worrying over my eating. I mean really. Lisa and Iris are tiny and barely eat, and yet I'm the deficient one."

"They're girls," Tracy piped in. "They have to keep top shape for guys, and they actually have a system. For counting calories. You just don't eat enough, period."

"Stay out of it, Trace," Barry warned, slumping into a chair.

The girl just tittered at him, patting his head. "Aww. You poor thing. Let me get you some salted fudge. It'll match your tears." Barry stuck his tongue out at her, and she cackled. "What about you, Len? Anything? I think we still have a few croissants in the warmer."

"Sound great, Tracy," he replied with a smirk, settling in the chair next to Barry. "You know the order."

"Alright. Egg-ham-croissant combo with an iced mocha and a double order of chocolate chip pancakes with powdered sugar and a triple-espresso latte, cream cheese and syrup on the side..." She trailed off with a wink. "And a couple of fudge squares thrown in for my favorite guys, huh?"

"Fantastic."

"BRB," she chirped with a laugh, skipping away.

Len hit Barry's shoulder lightly, grinning. "Hey, cheer up. It's food."

"Not hungry," Barry replied distractedly. He reached for his bag, pulling out his laptop. "I tried to tell you. If you'd just let me go back, keep writing my paper--"

"You would have stayed in that library, and refused to come down for dinner, and skipped out for breakfast, and not answered your phone--"

"My phone was off! I was in the library!"

"I still don't think you should be spending all this time on this paper that's due--when, again?"

"You know when."

"Oh, that's right, silly me," he continued sardonically. "It isn't due until school actually starts. Which, if I'm not mistaken, isn't for more than a month."

"Six weeks!" Barry spat. "And I had hoped to have some downtime beforehand, so I could check out the campus."

"You mean the library," Len replied, rolling his eyes. "You wanted free time to see the library. Really, Barry. How different could it be from the one you've spent all of your time in this summer?"

"It has a telescope," Barry grumbled. He finally opened his laptop, continuing to type his essay as he spoke. "Co-CU has an extensive observatory over their library, which is even more extensive."

"And I'm sure," Len said softly, pushing the lid of the laptop down, "that it will be just as enjoyable for you during the year as it would be over the summer. Maybe even more so--I know you like the Fall constellations the most, anyway."

He huffed. "Yeah, so?"

"So, you're gonna come out with us tonight and have fun."

Barry groaned.


June 18th

"How much longer do you think it'll be?"

"I'm not sure. It might only take a couple more days, if I can manage ten straight on both of those."

"Seriously?"

"I think so. I only have...eh, three pages? Maybe five--it depends on how in-depth I decide to go on the last one."

"How many are left?"

"Just this one, that one, and the one in the middle. Then I just have transitions to make up and the levities to add, and I'll be done."

"What about--"

"Nah, I don't think I'm gonna keep that one. It's too weird. I mean, it's too much like..."

"Yeah, I get it. It's okay."

"Anyway, as soon as I'm done this one, I think I’m gonna head home. If I finish the other two with a day for each, I can be done by Friday."

"Isn't your sister's birthday coming up?"

"Ugh, yes. Not that I don't love her, but..."

"Your brother that bad?"

"...I mean, yeah, no, not really, but it's kind of just...getting on my nerves, you know?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

"...So, did you get her a present?"

"Duh! I made her this book of us--well, the four of us--and I put little stories and tapes in it, so she can look through it and remember us all, for when we're all away. We’re all leaving at the end of summer, so she’ll be the only one left."

"That's cute!"

"Yeah! And I added an extra story at the very end, to remind her that everyone is coming back, no matter who leaves or how far they go. Made one for our baby sister, too. That one is a little more funny and less embarrassing, though."

"Aww!"


June 24th

Happy Birthday, Iris.

I know you're the only one staying home this fall, what with me and Len going in opposite directions and Lisa headed to dance camp before school starts back up, and I wanted you to have something to remind you--you know, we're there. No matter what.

I hope you like it. Happy Birthday.

--Barry

She can't help but laugh as the first story starts. Quickly, she shuts the books to listen to it later, when she need the humor.

"Thank you. I love it."

"I thought you might."


June 29th

"See, this is why I don't go out! I--"

"Are you sure you have everything? Did you remember--"

"Of course I did! It was the first thing I packed. It's in my carry-on, and it's gonna--"

"Hey! Give me a hug!"

"My flight doesn't leave for another three hours, Lise, you can--"

"Oh, no way, Lenny! We are getting out of here! Bear, stop squirming!"

"I'm not wearing that hat, Iris!"

"Oh, yes, you are! Your brother gave you that, you're sure as hell wearing it for a picture!"

"Language."

"Sorry, Daddy. Tell Barry to wear the hat, please?"

"Ahem. I'd do what she says, Barry."

"But it's stupid!"

"I thought it was cute. It suits you."

"You bought it as a gag, you jerk!"

"So? It's the thought that counts."

"You can't--Hey! That was a dirty move!"

"Smile for the camera!"

"Did you glue this to my hair?!"

"Don't be so dramatic, Bear. It's just Elmer's. It'll wash off with some water."

"You gotta go, B! You don't wanna be late!"

"Crap, you're right, I--"

"Kisses! Kisses! Love you! Lenny, hug!"

"If you insist, sis."

"Go, go, go!"

"Bye, Len. Bye, Joe. Iris, Lisa...Love you guys, see you soon!"

"Bye, Barry! Love you!"

...

"Send me a copy."

"Already done. I got you back, bro."

"Cool. Bye, guys. I'll be back soon."

"You better not get kicked out."

"Puh-lease. As if I'd ever get kicked out of somewhere I wanted to be."

"Point."

"Love you guys. I'll see you soon!"

"Bye, Lenny! Love you!"


See? Stressful. God, if that argument with Len had stretched any farther...

Not that Barry entirely agreed with him. He was just so tired of being at odds. He could compromise.

Although...his "compromising" was really more like Len's "victory", seeing as how Barry was only allowed six days to try to finish his paper before Len was dragging him out to every party he could find.

I don't care if you finish by Saturday or not, he'd said. You're going to every party I go to, and every party Iris goes to. I will zip tie the two of us together if I have to. Or you two, it doesn't matter. The point is, you are gonna have fun for once.

Barry had blushed furiously at Len's declaration.

As much as he hated to admit it, he did have fun. And Iris had the proof on her camera.

Chapter Text

Summer flew by, as did Barry's first semester of school. He'd barely spoken to any of his family since being in college--well, they talked, just not for long, and only every other week. Which made him sad a lot, but he was going home for Christmas!

Nobody had made it home for Thanksgiving, but they'd Skyped over their respective meals, so it was almost okay. But not really. He missed his family like crazy. It was like being away from himself all those months.

Barry was extremely excited to get back--Co-CU had a great holiday system, so he was getting from the fifteenth to the tenth off. Almost a month. Plenty of time to fly home, get rested before Christmas, trade presents and hang out for a few days, then fly back a couple days early to get the jetlag out of his system before classes started up again.

Double majoring was hard, but it actually helped that his two subjects were kind of different from each other. And he was well on his way to graduating early.

He'd never really regretted not graduating high school early. It had been the best decision. But in college...Well, in college nothing was holding him back.

Anyway, the flight back home was boring. Quiet. Not many people were on the plane.

Barry slept through most of it, and almost missed when he was supposed to get off. Just like always. It didn't matter what happened--Barry was always late. It could almost be considered chronic.

(No--it was chronic. But don't tell him that. He'll need it, someday.)

Iris would be there, of course--she was still living at home--and Joe and Lisa, obviously. Len hadn't been sure, last he checked.

Barry tried not to think about it--but he did.

He tried not to think about what would happen when they started working together, and he didn't want to talk about it. But he did. And he's totally lying to himself--he just doesn't want anyone to hate him.

Barry ended up crashing on the couch that night, too tired to stand and go upstairs to his old room. He fell asleep almost as soon as he sat down, barely even greeting Joe and his sisters.

He tried not to be disappointed that Len wasn't there. (But he was.)

Chapter Text

The next few days passed in a jet-lagged blur. Barry knew his sleep schedule was going to be out of whack for a couple of days, but it was still a little ridiculous to sleep until noon and be (at least partially) awake until two in the morning. Because of the general haze surrounding his mind, the days kind of just slipped on by until it was suddenly time for the one thing he'd come home for. (Secondarily to his family, of course.)

Christmas day fell on a Tuesday.

"Barry!" Lisa squealed, jumping on his bed. "Wake up, wake up!"

Barry jumped up. "What? What's happening?"

She laughed, tugging on his arm to drag him from under the covers. "No, no, silly!"

"Where are you?" Iris' voice sing-songed from the bedroom down the hall.

"It's Christmas!" Lisa exclaimed excitedly. "It's Christmas, Barry!"

He chuckled breathlessly. "Yeah, I guess it is, Lise."

"C'mon," she replied, still jumping up and down. "Presents!"

Barry grinned. "You go ahead, sis, I'll meet you down there."

"'Kay."

With that, she was gone, taking off like a bullet down the stairs. Barry heard her squeaking excitedly, Joe's voice replying from the kitchen.

"Mornin', Bear," Iris mumbled behind him.

"Hey, Iry," Barry replied cheerfully. "You ready for today?"

She scoffed, picking at her sleep pants. "I'm hardly picture ready," she huffed.

He waved it off. "You look fine--and this is coming from a guy who's had chronic bedhead since third grade. I think you're good."

Iris giggled, linking arms with him and tugging him down the stairs. "I think at this point it's evolved beyond just bedhead, Bear."

"So what would you call it?"

"Sex hair, obviously." She rolled her eyes, laughing as he flushed red.

"Not funny," he grumbled. "I should take back your present, just for that."

"You got me a present?" she asked, surprised. "I thought you'd be strapped for cash."

Now it was Barry who rolled his eyes. "I bought presents for everyone months ago, Iris--before Easter, probably."

She pouted. "What if I don't like it anymore, though?"

Barry grinned, glancing over at the presents under the tree. "Trust me, sis. You'll like it."


 "Smile!"

"Iris, put that away," Joe warned. "It's late."

The woman pouted up at him. "But, Daddy," she whined, "I need pictures! It's Christmas--our first adult one!"

"Joe's right, Iris," Barry said, smiling. "Family time is more important than taking pictures."

She stuck her tongue out at him.

"I know!" Lisa suddenly cried. "We should sing some carols!"

"Which one?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. I got the idea, you guys get the action."

"All I Want for Christmas?" Iris suggested.

"No way," Barry insisted with a shake of his head. "I'll Be Home for Christmas is the best."

"I thought you liked It's Cold Outside," Joe said, raising a brow.

Barry flushed red, and Iris giggled. "Nu-uh, Daddy. That's Len's favorite."

"But I thought--"

"Nope," Lisa said, popping the p with a grin. "As similar as Len and B can be, they never agree on Christmas songs. Probably cuz Lenny likes non-Christmas Christmas carols and Barry's a sucker for the holidays."

Joe shrugged.

"Anyway," Barry interrupted loudly, still looking a bit flushed. "I'll Be Home for Christmas is great."

Lisa rolled her eyes at Barry's dodging. "Why don't we all do a mashup? They're similar songs, it shouldn't be that hard."

"Who's gonna sing what?"

"I'll do Lenny's, you two can do your own." Lisa shrugged. "Cold Outside is more of a background song, anyway."

"Aww," Iris whined. "That's no fun. Why don't me and Barry switch?"

Barry sighed. "I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"I'm gonna go with no on this one, Bear," Joe replied.

He sighed.

Iris shrugged. "Okay. You start, Bear."

He cleared his throat, then began to sing.

"I don't want a lot for Christmas--there is just one thing I need. I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree."

Lisa started up, her voice low and tinkly.

"I really can't stay--I've got to go away.

"This evening has been...so very nice."

Grinning, Iris started in.

"But I'll be home for Christmas--you can count on me."

"I don't need to hang my stocking there upon the fireplace..."

After about a minute, as Lisa finished singing "This welcome has been so nice and warm", a new voice joined in.

"Look out the window at that storm..."

Squeaking, Lisa jumped up, throwing her arms around Len and giggling as he spun her around. The second her feet touched the floor again, she started back up in her verse.

"My sister will be suspicious."

"Gosh your lips look delicious," Len intoned, spinning her around.

"My brother will be there at the door."

"Waves upon a tropical shore."

"My maiden aunt's mind is vicious."

Len's "Oh, your lips are delicious," ran into Barry's deep "'Cause I just want you here tonight...holding on to me so tight."

Grinning, Len switched it up, swinging Lisa over into Joe's arms so he could grab onto Barry's hands and waltz him around the living room.

Iris laughed, giggling her way through her next line. "Cuz I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."

"You've really been grand," Lisa tittered out. She switched over to Iris, spinning herself under the older girl's arm.

"I thrill when you touch my hand," Len sang, smirking, as he dipped Barry backward.

"But don't you see."

"How can you do this to me."

Breathless after being let up, Barry intoned sweetly, "What more can I do?" Abruptly, he and Iris switched partners on a whim. He grinned down at Lisa as she laughed. "Baby all I want for Christmas is you."

Iris was laughing, spinning in and out of Len's arms. Barry swore he kept catching sight of a camera in Joe's hand, but every time he turned to look at him straight on, he couldn't see anything.

"Christmas Eve will find me...where the love light gleams."

"There's bound to be talk tomorrow," Lisa sang, dragging herself up to hook her chin over Barry's shoulder.

"Think of my lifelong sorrow," Len hummed by Iris' ear.

"At least there'll be plenty implied."

"If you caught pneumonia and died."

Barry spun away from Lisa as she leaped toward Len. Iris took up her spot as Barry sang his next verse.

"Oh all the lights are shining, so brightly everywhere. And the sound of children's laughter fills the air. And everyone is singing--I hear those sleigh bells ringing. Santa won't you bring me the one I really need? Won't you please bring my baby to me?"

"Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams. I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."

"I really can't stay."

"Get over that old doubt. Oh baby it's cold outside."

"Oh, I just want you for my own. More than you could ever know. Make my wish come true. Oh, all I want for Christmas is you," Barry finished, trailing off into silence.

Everyone clapped for everyone, and then suddenly Len was surrounded.

Len grinned sheepishly, running a hand over his shortened hair. Barry noticed it had grown back darker.

Len waved. “Hey, guys.”

Barry beamed back at him brightly, leaping forward to give him a hug. Len dropped his hand so he could catch him in both arms.

"I didn't think you'd make it!"

"Wasn't sure I would, kid." Setting him down, he ruffled the other's hair.

Barry crinkled his nose. "I'm over eighteen, you know. You can't keep calling me that."

Len shrugged. "Whatever you say, kid," he said with a smirk.

Barry just rolled his eyes, stepping back.

A shriek erupted from Lisa.

“Lenny!” she squealed, jumping up into his arms again. “Looking good, bro!”

It was true--the police uniform he'd shown up in really suited him.

“You, too, sis,” he muttered, hugging her back tightly.

“Len,” Iris said with a grin as the two siblings released each other.

Len grinned right back, scooping her up and spinning her. “Iris.” Setting her down, he turned to Joe, shaking his hand. “Joe.”

“Glad to see you back, son.”

“Good to be back,” he replied. “Wasn't sure I'd make it.” He shifted, looking uncomfortable. “I kind of...just finished training? Three days ago. I go into the field January eleventh.”

Joe grinned. “That's great!” He threw an arm around his shoulders, his other going around Barry so he could steer them both toward the dining room. “You'll be working at CCPD in no time. And Barry's gonna graduate early--he'll be doing his fieldwork in a couple of years--and it'll be all three of us down there, drivin’ Captain crazy.”

Len and Barry laughed.

"You know, it could have been the four of us," Iris sing-songed.

"Yeah, well, excuse me if I don't want my baby girl gettin' hurt."

"Yeah, Iry," Len teased. "It was bad enough when you were picking fights in high school."

Barry coughed into his soda.

"Oh, please," Iris scoffed. "Most of those fights were with you and your--your--" She sighed. "What was that name?"

"The Rogues," Barry supplied. "Len and his band of Rogues."

She snapped her fingers. "That's it. You and your little Rogues Gallery."

"Hey, my Rogues were perfectly upstanding citizens. We never once got in trouble after I took over."

Lisa snorted. "Yeah, sure," she muttered. "Only because there wasn't any proof."

Len chuckled. "You got that right, Lise."

"And yet, half of them still ended up in Juvie, if I remember correctly," Iris tittered.

He shrugged. "Eh, you win some, you lose some. At least I was a perfectly good kid."

"Pfft," Barry giggled out. "Not until high school."

"Hey! Sixth grade was a good year, too!"

"One save does not constitute a good year, Lenny," Iris said. "If anything, it's the exception to the rule of those years."

"Everybody has to rebel at some point."

"I never did," Barry said proudly.

"Mmhmm," Len replied, unconvinced. "What about all those times you ran away from home?"

"That totally doesn't qualify!"

"Fine," he said with a shrug. "What about the summer before Junior year?"

"Okay, no. You don't get to bring that up."

"Why not?"

"Because you were being a jerk! I did it to get away from you!"

"So you became goth?"

"I was not goth!" Barry protested. "I was punk!"

"Oh, trust me, Bear," Iris inserted tauntingly, looking him up and down. "You were goth."

"I was not!"

"Besides," she continued with a flip of her hair, "I still have that secret. And let me tell you right now--that was a rebellion if I ever saw it."

"What?"

"You know the circumstances for that, Iris."

"Of course I do, B. Still, the fact that no one else knew makes it a rebellion." He looked like he was about to protest, so she challenged, "Wanna get the others' opinions?"

"No!"

"What are you talking about, Iris?"

"Oh, nothing."

"No, okay, yes! I admit it, okay, I rebelled! Gosh!"

Iris giggled. "There we go. Was that so hard?"

He made a face at her.

Lisa, Joe, and Len all shook their head. "I have no idea what's happening anymore," they said simultaneously.

"It's nothing," Barry grumbled. "Just something I did that--"

"Oh, that thing that Iris blackmailed you with?" Joe asked.

"Tch," he groaned. "Yeah. God, I'd almost managed to block that out, thanks a lot, Joe."

"It's what I'm here for," the man joked, clapping his shoulder. "Anyway, cheer up! We've got dinner to eat."

"Do we have any eggnog?" Len asked.

"With or without gin?"

He grinned. "With."

Lisa pouted. "How come you get to have alcohol?"

Joe patted her head, handing over the pitcher. "Don't worry, Lise, you'll be twenty-one soon."

"Lenny isn't even twenty-one!"

"Yeah, but he's just got out of the academy, and it's time to celebrate!" Iris giggled, swiping his fresh glass and taking a swig.

"Iris!"

Everyone laughed.

Chapter Text

New Year's Eve was...awkward.

In their defense, it started out totally fine.

Joe took them all out on the town to this little karaoke bar down by Central City Picture News. It was somehow the only place in the area that was open for the holiday, probably because almost the whole city was on the other side of town for the big countdown show.

The bar was only ever open to underagers on New Year's every year--any other time, security was pretty strict about keeping minors out. Which only meant that every year there was a huge flock of people lined up to buy beers for their underage siblings. The bar was always extra stocked that night--hey, they didn't actually condone underage drinking, but money's money, right?

There was this tiny stage up at the front of the bar, and someone was up there singing (obviously having already started their night, if the slurring was anything to go by). A couple of TVs were mounted up on the walls. One displayed the lyrics the singer was supposedly belting, while two others showed the countdown program.

As soon as they stepped in the door, the teens in the group were ambushed by a waitress.

She shoved a bowl at them, beaming. "It's a karaoke drawing! You guys wanna join?"

Len declined politely, edging closer to Joe to look for a table.

"Come on, Lenny!" Lisa whined, reaching for a slip of paper to write on. "We'll all do it!"

Iris shook her head fondly, stepping away and disappearing through the crowd in the direction of the stage. Lisa watched her go with a pout, then turned to look up at her last sibling. Her big blue eyes listened in the fluorescent lighting.

He barely lasted three seconds. "I'll do it with you, Lise," Barry sighed.

"Yay!" She shoved a slip of paper into his hand with a grin. "Come on, come on, you know you love it!"

He rolled his eyes, scribbling his name on the slip and stuffing it into the bowl. "Yeah, yeah."

"Hey," Len called over the music. "We got a table. Come on."

Barry nodded to show he'd follow, swinging an arm across Lisa's shoulders to drag her along.

The four of them ended up in one of the darker corners, in one of the only booths left. Len and Barry were across from each other, pushed up against the wall by Joe and Lisa respectively.

After a minute, Iris popped up. "Hey! Guess who just got hauled out of the parking lot!"

"Obviously not you," Len said sardonically. He smirked as Barry snorted.

"Who?" Lisa asked, her gossip radar obviously going into overdrive.

"Roy Bivolo."

"I didn't even know he was out of jail in the first place," Barry said.

Joe sighed. "That kid. He just got out, what, a month ago?"

Iris nodded sagely. "As far as I know, he's only been talking to Mick since he got arrested. I know they were writing back and forth when he was incarcerated."

Len hummed. "How's Mick doin'?"

She shrugged. "He's over by the bar, if you wanna see him."

"Maybe later."

Joe swung up and out of the booth with a grunt. "Sit down, Babygirl. I'm gonna get a drink. Anybody else?"

"I'm good," Barry replied absently, watching the DJ draw a new name. He sighed in relief when it wasn't his.

"Can I get a cider?" Lisa asked.

"Sure thing, kiddo. Iris?" Joe asked, turning to her.

Iris plopped down in his seat, scooting over to lay across Len's lap. "I'm good, Dad."

"Cider's fine," Len said.

"You wanna come help me carry drinks, Lisa?"

"Yup, I'm coming."

"Hey, Lise, snag a bowl of chips while you're up there," Iris drawled. She giggled when Len pinched her side. "Those jocks over there keep stealing them from all the other tables." 

Barry frowned.

Len caught the look with a grin. "Aw, don't be so down, Bear," he mocked. "Lisa'll knock'em around a little bit. Won’cha, sis?"

She saluted him. "Sir, yes, sir!" And she was gone.

Joe chuckled, shaking his head at them before following after her.


By eleven, only Len and Joe were left in the booth, frowning at all the underage drinkers.

After having finished his mandatory song, Barry was dragged onstage by Lisa, who insisted they sing at least one song together.

Len sat quietly, watching his sister being spun around the stage by Barry as they belted out Smooth Criminal. He laughed with Joe when Lisa dipped Barry instead of the other way around--it got a slew of catcalls and wolf whistles.

It's not like it was so hard to do; Barry was a twig, always had been, though he'd filled out a little--very little--in the last couple of months. Still, no way could he tip the scale at one-fifty soaking wet, even if he was over six feet tall now. Len hadn't even noticed until a couple of days ago, when he'd turned around and run smack into Barry.

"You're taller than me," he'd blurted.

Barry had blushed, stammering out a reply that was lost in translation, before grabbing his water bottle and heading out for a walk around town.

Lisa had grown since they'd last seen each other, too. She was already well on her way to six foot, barely a head shorter than Barry. She had a dancer’s body, all lithe and skinny, no body fat. Len was sure one-hundred-percent sure she'd grow up to be a heartbreaker.

By the end of the song, Len and Iris were dragging Joe up to the stage to cheer them on. Barry was flushed red, but grinning. His green eyes sparkled in the fluorescent lights.

Len made a beeline for the stairs leading off the stage, throwing an arm around Lisa's waist and spinning her around. “Nice moves, sis,” he told her. “You've been practicing.”

Lisa grinned.

Len turned to Barry, about to tell him he was great, too, when a voice called from behind him.

“A year later and he still sings like an angel.”

The five of them whipped around. Barry was the first to react, launching toward the two figures lurking near their group. “Shawna Baez Shawna bae!” he squealed. “Mark!”

Mark laughed, throwing an arm around Barry's shoulders as he clung to him. “Hey, Strawberry.”

Shawna giggled, tugging Barry over into her arms. “Aww. Hey, cutie.”

Barry flushed, stepping away after a second. Vaguely, Len saw Mark and Shawna exchange looks--a second later, they were smacking kisses onto either of Barry's cheeks, making him go even redder as they laughed.

“Guys,” Barry whined. “Could you not.”

Mark winked, stepping around Barry to shake hands with Joe while Shawna hugged Lisa and Iris. Eventually, Mark and Len were standing toe to toe. Len gripped the other man's hand tightly, grinning.

“Good to see you, man,” they said simultaneously. They laughed.

Shawna wrapped her arms around one of Mark's, leaning her head on his shoulder.

“So, how have you guys been?” Barry asked, coming up beside Len. Behind them, Lisa was dragging Joe and Iris over to the bar--presumably for more cider, though Len wouldn't put it past Lisa to ask for a burger.

“Great,” Shawna said cheerfully. Then she frowned. “Well, as good as possible since Clyde.”

“What happened?” Len reached out unconsciously to put a hand on Barry's shoulder--he didn't often do too well with bad news, Len knew.

“Busted for stealing,” Mark replied solemnly. “Shoulda seen it coming, but...I didn't expect him to go out and rob a bank. Let alone end up almost killing somebody.”

Shawna squeezed his hand, and Barry laid a hand on his other arm. “I'm sorry,” he said.

Mark grinned, though it didn't reach his eyes. “It's okay, Bear.”

Len raised an eyebrow over at them. "Seems like everyone 'round here is getting arrested."

Shawna laughed a little bit in surprise. "What?" she asked.

"Roy got hauled out of here earlier," Barry explained. "Must have happened right after we got here--Iris said they caught him in the parking lot."

Mark rolled his eyes. "You shouldn't be surprised, Strawberry. Roy's..."

"Out there?" Len supplied. "Tch, you could say that."

"Roy isn't so bad," Barry insisted. "He's just had a rough time. He's touchy about his art, you know."

"Just because you're an artist doesn't mean you have to defend every other one, Bear," Shawna teased. "There isn't some code among artists."

He scrunched his nose at her. "And how would you know?"

She snorted. "Because I know all things, duh." She pinched his ear, making him yelp. "Come along, honey-bunches. I need a drink and some healthy competition. Pool or darts?"

"Do I have to?" he whined, pawing at her arm to get her to let go.

She just held tighter. "Yes."

"Pool! Let's play pool, darts are terrible."

"Pool it is, then. Good choice, darling."

A second later, Shawna had let go of his ear, and Barry was pressed between Mark and Shawna as they dragged him over to the billiard tables. Len was following calmly behind them. It was always best to stay out of it when Shawna got that look.

“Wha'd'ya say, guys?” Mark crowed as he set up the table. “Guys against gals?” He winked at Barry while Len snorted--Barry knew where he was in that equation.

Barry almost shook his head, but Len piped up. “Not quite. Barry should be with Shawna only because you two disagree too much and us on the same team is just unfair.” He smirked. “Right, Bear?”

Barry frowned, but nodded.

Mark groaned. “Fine. Take all the fun out of it.”

It pretty much went downhill from there.

Chapter Text

Barry and Shawna were whipping up on their friends, winning two games in a row before taking a little break to get drinks.

And while getting those drinks, Mark failed to mention that he'd put alcohol in everything.

Wouldn't be a problem, except Barry was a total lightweight. Not surprising, considering his body mass. And the fact that he'd only ever drunk alcohol one time--also with a case of a spiked drink, but whatever--didn't really help things.

So, by the time Barry had finished his first drink, he was a giggling mess. When Shawna brought over the next round, Len stole Barry's glass before he could take a sip.

“Hey, that's mine!” Barry cried as Len sniffed at the cup.

His nose wrinkled. “I don't think so, Bear,” he replied, setting it aside. He shot a glare toward the other two, but they just grinned.

Barry huffed, rolling his eyes. “It's just a glass of soda, Len. S'not gonna kill me.”

Len winced at the slur in his voice. “No, Bear. They spiked it.”

“Spiked?” Barry frowned at his other friends. “Why would you do that? It's not nice! You shu-n-n't do that. Prom was bad enough...Remember whe--"”

Len rolled his eyes, pushing Barry down to sit on the edge of the pool table. “Just chill for a while, buddy. I'll get you some water.”

By the time Len got back with that water, it was only a minute or so till midnight. Barry was being cornered against the pool table, Mark and Shawna grinning at him. The guy was blushing at whatever they were saying, but he seemed to have sobered up a little. Mark and Shawna crept closer to him.

Len scoffed, shifting the glass to one hand so he could reach between the two stalkers and grab Barry's arm. He dimly heard the others squawk in protest, but he ignored them in favor of dragging Barry over to their family. They made it just in time.

Lisa lunged at Len, kissing his cheek; Iris did the the same to Barry. Once they were released, Joe kissed the girls’ foreheads and patted the guys’ backs. Len set the glass of water in front of Barry, patting his head and ruffling his hair a bit.

Barry beamed up at him, and, not for the first time, Len’s heart skipped a beat.

Shit.

Chapter Text

By the next morning, Len had brushed the whole thing off. It'd just been his brain, realizing how attractive his best friend was. It happened to everyone. Hell, it had even happened to him a couple of times--when they were in elementary, when he first moved in with the Wests, the time Iris told him everyone thought he and Barry were dating, when Barry went to prom as a girl...All times Len realized just how...beautiful his best friend was.

Inside and out, because Barry's kindness was the most attractive thing about him, and literally anyone who knew the guy could tell you that.

And the feelings abated. Really, they did. Len and Barry were just best friends. That's it. Besides, as far as Len knew Barry was still crushing on Iris.

Granted, he'd dated a few people through high school, but that could just be him masking his emotions. They'd never lasted, after all.

Not that Len cared. Nope, he'd be happy if Iris and Barry fell in love. And that's not even sarcasm. He really would be happy for them.

(Totally a lie, but shhh, he doesn't know that yet. Give him a little longer to relax in that Egyptian river.)

Chapter Text

Soon, Barry went back to school. Len went back to Gotham for a few months, getting his field training out of the way before showing back up in Central.

He got his own place, an apartment downtown that was right in the price range of a beat cop. The next week, he showed up to work at the CCPD.

Barry didn't come back that summer--instead, he stayed down in Coast City to pile on the classes so he'd graduate early. It'd still be two more years, though--and then fieldwork would take another year and a half, so Barry wouldn't be working in Central until he was twenty-two.

Len theorized that he'd be a detective by that point. Maybe even Joe's partner.

A guy could hope, right?

Iris was happy to see Len. They quickly fell into their old patterns from school--with Barry nowhere around, the two started talking a lot more. Len made a point of popping into CC Jitters every morning for his coffee, even hung around sometimes to chat before heading to the precinct. They almost always had lunch together, when Iris wasn't busy. They got sandwiches at their favorite deli, chatting about odd things in Len’s life, as well as Iris’ classes.

She'd been piling more and more on lately, almost fully enrolled at this point.

Len didn't get a lot of respect the first year--he was a rookie, the new guy. He was only beat cop, stuck on first shift patrol just because no one else wanted it. He didn't mind, though. It was usually pretty quiet in the middle of the day. Plenty of time for just roaming around his city while he waited for a call to come in over the radio.

What he did mind, though, were the remarks he got about his father.

"One Snart for another, huh?" they'd say, or, "Don't see how any of us are supposed to trust the runt."

Len tried to avoid people most of the time. It's not like he trusted them, either, so he tried to ignore their words.

Eventually, someone slipped up.

They said something in front of Joe.

Chapter Text

It'd been about two years since Len had started working at the station.

He was excited. He only had to go through a few more weeks of field training with Joe before he'd be an official detective. Finally, he'd be off the beat and working the real cases.

He was ready--everyone else, not so much.

"Why am I not surprised to see a Snart excited at a murder scene?" one of the responding officers said as they passed him on their way in. He had a hand over his eyes, shielding them from both the midday sun and the chilly September air. Nevertheless, anyone could see the contempt in his eyes as he caught sight of Len's grin.

Len's face fell, the story Joe had been telling him in the car fleeing his mind, but he didn't reply.

Joe reacted automatically, reaching out and grabbing the officer by his collar. "What did you say to my son?" he growled.

"I didn't mean nothin' by it, West, honest," the officer stammered. "It's just that--well, y'know who his kin is. A-And Lewis Snart can't exactly be trusted, y'know."

"Joe, it's fine," Len cut in. "I'm used to it."

Joe kept glaring at the cop in front of him. Finally, he pushed him away. "Get outta here. An' if I hear about anyone talkin' about my kid like that ever again...Well, don't make me do somethin' you'll regret."

The officer nodded frantically, running off.

"Did you have to torture the guy?" Len asked incredulously.

"Tch," Joe huffed, straightening his coat. "That was just practice. You could use some, too."

"Why's that?" He held open the door, pulling out a notebook and pen to take notes.

"'Cuz when Barry gets back and starts workin' 'round here, he's gonna need both of us watchin' his back."

Chapter Text

Iris and Len barely talked to Barry for a long time. Joe told them what he was up to every now and then, but other than a few group Skypes he didn't seem to want to speak to them. It would be worrying, except Barry often dropped off the face of the earth when he was engrossed in studying. It wasn't a big deal.

Barry skipped Thanksgiving again? No biggie. Barry didn't have time to fly in for Christmas that year? No problem. Skyping over meals was common enough already, and he seemed really apologetic when he said he wanted to be there.

Barry didn't answer his phone for a few days? Not unusual for him. He always made sure to turn his phone off when he was out studying, both because it was distracting and because he hated being the one to disrupt the peace in a library.

Barry didn't send a thank you for his birthday present? He was probably just cramming for finals.

A year turned into two, which turned into three. Barry hardly bothered with Skyping anymore, and telephone conversations were brusque at best, rude at worst.

Len graduated from beat cop to detective within his third year of tenure, though he was partnered with a different detective than his foster father. Most of the officers were friendly after that, though they still teased occasionally--it was all in fun, mostly, though, so Len wasn't bothered as much.

It was kind of like the senior officers were trying to encourage him more. He didn't always take their advice, but it was at least interesting to think he had people that weren't his family hoping he'd be better than his father.

Iris was officially enrolled in college soon after Len was promoted.

Then, one day near the four year mark, Barry just showed up, toting his official certificate of graduation from college and another letter of recommendation for his immediate hiring at any police department he wished.

Len and Iris were ecstatic, jumping him the second he stepped through the door to squeeze him in a hug. Lisa hugged him just as tightly when they were done.

“You sure grew up, Lise,” Barry said with a grin when they parted. Then he patted her head, still only coming up to his shoulder since she wasn't wearing her usual heels. “Well, maybe up is the wrong word.”

Lisa punched his arm playfully. “Jerk.” She was grinning.

"Trainwreck." He smiled fondly back.

Len leaned an elbow on Barry's shoulder. “Where you been, Bear?” he asked seriously.

Barry's smile wavered, his shoulders drooping a little bit. “Yeah. About that…” He hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck.

Len backed off of him a little bit. "Barry?"

He stayed silent, setting his bag by the stairs and keeping his head down.

Then Joe was there, hugging his first foster son tightly. “It's okay, Bear. You're home.”

Chapter Text

The next day brought some answers to their questions, though Barry spoke even more with his body language than with his mouth, as per usual.

It was clear that there had been some issues of acceptance the year before he'd graduated--he hardly talked about it, just said that he was put into the higher classes with the older, graduating class. Which, apparently, they didn't appreciate, if the shifty look Barry got when he talked about it was anything to go by.

Then, of course, there'd been the issue of field training. It had taken longer than he'd planned for, since the place he got sent to didn't seem to trust his ability for the first year; it'd taken him solving the cold case of a double homicide to get them to actually sign off on his hours, which was a problem because they couldn't remember how many hours he'd worked and just cut the number he gave them in half.

So, rather than a year and a half, it took Barry over two years at a place even more disrespectful than school to get his certificate of completion.

“I actually had to ride the bus back here,” he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. He'd been doing that a lot the last few hours. “I had another job in the next town making pizza deliveries, but it didn't exactly pay well. After food costs--they gave me and the other training CSI Assistant an apartment to stay in, not that being roommates meant we actually talked, the guy was like thirty-five and a total jerk--but anyway, after food and clothes costs, I only had a couple bucks a week to set aside for savings. I was hoping to buy a plane ticket, or even one for the train, but it wasn't enough. So I took the bus.”

Len smiled at his babbling, watching as the other ran an anxious hand through his hair. He noticed that Barry seemed shier than usual. He didn't cringe when people touched him, but he also didn't initiate anything like he usually did. He mainly just sat in Joe's living room, not too close to anyone, not moving around a whole lot.

Barry was still full of nervous energy--it'd been his staple for as long as long as he'd been tall and lanky. Though Len had to admit that the man had filled out enough to not look completely anorexic anymore. He was still skinny, with almost zero fat and very little muscle, but he wasn't quite as bony as before.

Barry's face had thinned, however, losing the childlike edge and becoming sharper, his jaw more defined. The fine bone structure made his eyes really stick out, shining with the same emerald sheen as when they were younger. His smile was still just as wide, as well.

There was something...off about Barry, though. He was dressed in layers--shirt, button down, sweater, jacket--even though he hadn't left the house all day. His hands were shaking, and he kept rubbing them together to try to mask it. His eyes kept drifting over to Len every now and then, though he would immediately snap away after a few seconds.

Not that Len was much better.

He'd always found Barry attractive, but he didn't think much of it--being pansexual, not to mention a serial flirt since tenth grade, meant there weren't a lot of people Len didn't find attractive. Barry was sweet, funny, adorkable, interesting--things that Len had found attractive for forever. But Len suddenly realized that Barry was also just really...hot. Not for the first time, of course, but it always seemed to take him by surprise.

Len found his eyes raking over Barry every now and then, locking on different things--his long legs as they kicked out in front of him, his grin, his lean neck, the sliver of skin showing when Barry stretched upward enough that his shirts rose up.

Maybe it was just because of the whole he-was-gone-for-four-years thing--some kind of Pavlovian response after not seeing him for so long--or maybe he'd just been so preoccupied with other things before that he hadn't noticed. Or maybe Barry had just grown into his body. Or maybe Len just wasn't used to seeing him anymore. It could've been anything--but that didn't mean it was something.

Barry didn't mean anything by the looks he was sending Len, and Len's own glances in his friend's direction were just as meaningless.

(At least, that's what they kept telling themselves.)

Chapter Text

Barry was almost disappointed when he got home to realize his feelings toward Len hadn't changed. If anything, they'd gotten stronger. Especially after his luck the last four years...

Okay, so he hadn't been completely honest with his family.

The truth was...the last few years had been...difficult.

So many things had gone wrong, so many bad things had happened, and Barry couldn't bring himself to tell them--not when they all looked so proud and happy. He'd wait until things settled, he told himself. Until things were back to normal. Then he'd tell them--help them see that it wasn't a big deal.

He was fine, everything turned out okay. He was home, and he wasn't going anywhere.

Everything was fine.

So, yeah, after...everything, Barry found himself more in love with Len than ever. His snark, his laugh, his smirk, the way his blue eyes sparkled when he told a story. Len was just as handsome as ever, with a swagger and muscle-y build that Barry could never quite embody.

Needless to say, Barry was completely oblivious to the looks Len was giving him, just as Len was oblivious to the meaning behind Barry's glances in his direction.

Chapter Text

"You started again, didn't you?"

Barry glanced up from where he'd been about to turn in for bed. It was Friday--he'd been back for just a few days, and he started work at CCPD on Monday. He really needed to get some sleep.

Judging by the look on Iris' face as she stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, that probably wouldn't be happening for a while.

"Len already went home," she said softly, lowering herself to sit on the edge of the guest bed. "Lisa went down to the rink for a couple of hours. Dad got called in." She looked over at him as he sat beside her. "We're alone." A pause. "You started again, didn't you?"

"I don't know what you mean, Iris." He picked at the cuff of his long-sleeve shirt.

"Yes, you do." Reaching out, she grasped the cuff, pulling it up to see the skin beneath.

Barry flinched, jerking away. "Cut it out, Iris," he warned.

"Why?" she bit back at him, a furious glint to her eyes. "Why are you doing this again? You promised."

"I--"

"And you can't honestly think no one will notice this time around." She spoke as if he'd never opened his mouth. "You're not some kid that needs a hoodie as your safety blanket. Not anymore, Barry."

"Yeah, well--"

"Len's already noticed. I saw him looking. And you know how observant he is. It's a miracle he didn't see the signs in high school, God knows it was--"

"It wasn't me!"

"--obvious, and--" She stopped abruptly, watching as Barry scrambled up onto the bed, curling up and wrapping his arms around himself. "What do you mean, it wasn't you?" she asked slowly. He didn't answer. "Barry?" Still no reply. "Barry!"

"I didn't do it all this time, okay?" he snapped. "And you don't get to give me that crap about promising. You don't know what's happened. You don't know what dorm college is like, okay, so just...back off."

"If you weren't being so stupid, maybe I would back off. But seeing as you've obviously been making some pretty idiotic decisions since you left, I'm pretty sure I'm entitled to worry."

Barry sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "It got...bad," he said finally, softly. "My last year of college was just bad. I started dropping places."

"What?"

"You know, class placement. I was third in my class the first two years, but when they put me in the graduating class, I started dropping."

"Oh."

"Yeah," he sighed. "Older guys would shove me out of the way, taunt me about staying out too late. These guys were probably in their thirties, and they were a lot bigger and smarter than me. That didn't really stop them from stealing my work, though. I actually almost got kicked out one time, but I was luckily able to prove that they'd stolen from me, not the other way around."

"So some guys were being bullies," she said softly, crawling closer. "So what?"

"So, I didn't have anyone watching my back this time. I haven't gotten into a fight since that one time sophomore year, and I'm out of practice. I started to sink back into the mindset I was in during Junior year."

"The last time you cut."

"Yeah."

"You didn't...I mean, did you ever."

"Try to die?" He shook his head. "It wasn't like that. I just wanted to feel in control of something, you know? And the only other thing I did that might have hurt me was--" He snapped his mouth shut, blushing.

Iris poked him. "Come on, spill."

"I tried smoking. Cigarettes."

She stayed silent for a little while, then started giggling. "Oh, my God, Barry! I can't even imagine you smoking! What the hell?"

He buried his face in his hands, groaning. "Yeah, it went about as well as you'd think. I almost suffocated myself. God, it was terrible."

It took a good five minutes for Iris to calm down, but she finally wrapped Barry up in a tight hug, her giggles subsiding into hiccups. "I'm just glad you're okay, Barry. Whatever you had to do while you were away...It doesn't matter. You're home now, and you're safe. You don't need to worry."

He buried his nose in her hair, a single tear trailing from his eye. "Yeah," he choked out. "Yeah, I'm home. I'll be okay."

Chapter Text

Barry stayed with Joe for several weeks after getting back, just until he could get his own place. Eventually, though, he moved into an apartment near the station--which just happened to be in the building beside Len's.

Like Len, Barry had trouble fitting in with the others at CCPD. His discomfort was for totally different reasons, though.

Well, okay, yeah, part of it was his dad. When you have a parent in jail, it kind of lowers people's opinions and expectations of you. It can be difficult.

But that wasn't the only reason people at work didn't like Barry.

There were so many others, it was hard to count them all.

Barry was too young, they said, too clumsy, late too much. He got off topic too much, geeked out over odd things at weird moments. He tended to put his foot in his mouth. He was too happy all the time, just optimistic enough to be annoying. He had a knack for doing and saying the wrong things at the wrong times.

"He's an embarrassment to the force." That was one of the most popular phrases tossed around.

Barry tried not to let it get to him too much. It wasn't ever as bad as in college, but sometimes...sometimes it got close.

Mostly, Len and Joe could keep everyone in line.

But sometimes even they had to admit that Barry was too open, said what was on his mind too much. He really didn't have a filter, they agreed.

Yet still they protected him. It was one of the only things that he could rely on--some days, it was the only thing convincing him not to hurt himself, just to feel a little more in control for a little while.

Chapter Text

A paper bag dropped onto Barry's desk one day.

He was startled out of his note-taking frenzy, looking up. Len was giving him a worried look, his brows furrowed.

Barry turned to the bag. "What's this for?"

Grabbing a chair, Len sat across from him, reclining with his own bag. "Lunch. You haven't eaten since yesterday."

"You don't know that," he complained. He looked at the bag hungrily.

Len raised a brow. "Actually, I do, because I also know you fell asleep here last night."

Barry jumped again. "I did not!" he cried vehemently.

He chuckled. "Yeah, Bear." He took out his sandwich, taking a bite and swallowing before continuing. "Yesterday, you were working on that case we got a couple days ago. You ate breakfast in here and didn't leave the office for the rest of the day. When I came up here to ask if you'd made any headway on the blood sample, I saw you conked out in your chair. I got Joe to take you home, since I had to go pick Lisa up."

At some point, Barry had started eating his own sandwich. Now, he swallowed the bite in his mouth. "That's right," he remembered. "She's on break now."

"Mm-hmm."

Barry gave him a look. "And how do you know I didn't eat this morning?"

"Seriously, Bear? I was right there when you showed up to the crime scene this morning after Joe called you in. I saw that Pop-Tart you practically shoved down your throat. Which," he said, cutting Barry off before he said anything, "does not count as a meal, by the way."

The other man sagged back in his chair, tossing his trash. "Yeah, okay."

"Oh, and Lisa liked that book you gave me."

"Tales of the Weird and Unexplained?" He nodded. "How'd she find out about it so fast? I literally gave it to you three days ago."

Len shrugged. "It was in my glove compartment. You know she likes to read in the car. She's weird."

Barry shrugged, too. "Hm. Cool." He turned back to his notes.

After a minute, Len spoke up. "I need help with Iris' birthday present."

"Oh yeah? Can't top the earrings from last year?"

He groaned. "I know. I should've just taken your advice and gotten her something simpler, but she really wanted them."

Barry coughed, looking away. "Right."

"So...Any ideas?"

He laughed. "It's supposed to be from you, Len."

"I'll help you with Lisa's present."

"Nice try, Lenny." Barry looked at him triumphantly. "I already got her present. I did pretty good, I think. And yes, I already got Iris' present, too, so, no, I will not buy a joint present with you."

Len scoffed, wadding up his paper sandwich bag and tossing it in the trash bin. He crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair. "Can you at least give me a hint on what I should get Iris? Please?"

Barry rolled his eyes. "Why don't you get her that new jacket she wanted? The designer one?"

"Which designer one? There are too many!"

"Yeah, but there's one she really liked. You know, the purple leather one--the one that actress wore when she was on tour for her movie in January or whatever."

"Movie?" Suddenly, recognition made Len's blue eyes light up. "Oh, the one about the reporter!"

"Yes, Len. The one about the reporter."

Chapter Text

Once Barry had got back, the dynamic had shifted again.

Iris had thrown herself into her studies more forcefully than before, trying to get out onto her feet. She wasn't exactly focused on anything, per se. She was really only trying for an undefined degree.

(Although, since Joe had forbidden her from being a detective, she was looking at the next best career: Journalism.

Barry had suggested it.)

Joe worked opposite hours from Len, so they hardly ever ran into each other at work.

Barry, however, was right upstairs at seemingly all hours of the day.

Which, actually, really made Len wonder. Like, he hardly ever saw the lead CSI of the precinct. She was there to watch Barry get adjusted to his new work space, and she sometimes showed up for bigger cases. But even then, it wasn't often. She'd been moved to the new CSI building, across the road from the CCPD.

Theoretically, Barry should have been moved to that building along with her, but he'd just gotten settled in when they asked. Barry didn't really like the idea of picking up and moving again so soon, even if it was such a short distance. And Singh liked the idea of having a CSI in the building, right upstairs.

(As disappointed in Barry as he appeared to be sometimes, Len knew that the man respected him at least enough to trust him with any and every case. After a few months, Singh had even begun to pass bigger cases onto Barry--cases that should have gone across the street.)

The distance--both physical and mental--between the CCPD and the CSI Department could probably explain why no one ever saw the Director of CSI, but it didn't really matter either way. Len was just glad he got to see his best friend so often. Even though he'd been friends with Iris first, it was much different with Barry. Not easier or closer, just...different. In a good way, mostly.

Anyway.

His baby sister had been going to school at the local dance academy since she got out of high school. She really wanted to get her dance moves establish before she tried to get back into the ice-skating world. It was a three-year program, so Lisa was already more than halfway through. Soon, she'd be graduating, and it wouldn't be long after that that she'd be on her way to being a successful ice-dancer.

(They were all pretty excited about it.)

Lisa stopped by the police station a lot that summer. She usually did when she was home, but now she mostly like to hang out with Barry. Honestly, it was probably because she was tired of Joe and Len. She'd seen them day in and day out for so long, having a new someone old to look at was probably a relief. Besides, Lisa had always gotten along well with Barry, even if Iris was more of a sister to her than Barry was a brother.

(Don't tell Lenny, but it's just easier to see it that way nowadays. It was weird when they were younger, seeing Barry give Len doe eyes while Len was oblivious, but it had gotten worse since Barry had gotten back from college. Now they were both giving each other googly eyes while the other was completely unaware of the effect they had on each other. So yes, it was easier to see Barry as a close friend instead of as her other brother. Iris had told her it was the same with her and Len.)

Even though it'd been more than a year and a half, Barry still got teased at work. But it was really just fond teasing at this point. More even than Len's situation, the cops in the building were really looking out for Barry. He was like that poor nerd kid at school who you couldn't help but like, even though he was annoying as hell.

(Barry should know all about being like that kid, because he was that kid. Only he got bullied more in school.)

Even if they were generally friendly with their teasing, there were times they got a bit mean. Barry didn't often take it to heart, but there were times--times when a detective would shove an evidence bag containing a knife or gun and bite out, "Prints, Allen," or, "Chop chop, Lab Rat," and Barry would sigh and head up to his lab to rush through the process as quickly as possible without...well, rushing the process.

At least the officers didn't touch him when they were angry--none of them ever laid a hand on him in violence. In the beginning, it was probably just because they were scared that Barry might be as bad as his father, convicted of murder--then, it was because they were afraid that any minor aggression toward Barry could push Len, his over-protective big brother, or Joe, his equally protective adoptive father, over the edge and into assault-level violence.

Barry and Len suspected (privately and only in their own minds, never spoken aloud) that it was now because they'd seen too many times the things abuse could do to people--how it could crush people--and knew that Barry, this kind and adorkable little man, could easily be pushed into that dark space of hurt and feelings of worthlessness.

Since they really didn't talk to anyone else, Len, Lisa, and Barry ate lunch together a lot. It was a routine that summer--either Barry would forget to eat and Len would bring him food, or Lisa would pop in in the middle of the day with sandwiches. Sometimes Iris got a day off from studying, so she'd show up out of the blue to drag them all out to lunch instead of eating in Barry's Lab.

And yes, it absolutely required the extra capital letter, because he was the only one who used the space professionally--and he would be for a long time.

Even when neither of the girls were around, Len often went up to sit with Barry during lunch hour. The younger man still babbled when he was upset or confused or excited--actually, make that all the time. Len still found it amusing. He always had, just because Barry got completely embarrassed when he realized what he was doing.

Now it was really just adorable. Len wasn't stupid--he knew he had a crush. But he didn't say anything.

Barry was his best friend. His adoptive brother. He didn't want to risk freaking him out by telling him about this. Maybe it'd be okay, maybe Barry would grow to like him back, or even just tell him he didn't feel the same and brush it off. (Len could admit that the last one was unlikely, given Barry's inability to say no to anyone or hurt anyone's feelings intentionally.) But maybe he'd be disgusted, or react terribly, or stop hanging out with Len. He couldn't have that. He couldn't lose his best friend.

Ironically, those were the same reasons Barry had kept quiet all these years.

Chapter Text

Barry disappeared for a week in December.

He'd been going on and on for weeks about the activation of the particle accelerator, how it was going to change the world and help them learn about the universe and blah blah blah. Len had been interested in the beginning, sure. But it kind of lost its luster with Barry blabbering on about it twenty-four-seven.

Anyway, he was always talking about it. Then, a week before the thing was set to be turned on, he disappeared. Called in sick with "food poisoning", of all things, told Joe and Len he'd be back up for work in no time, and hopped a train to Starling City.

This wasn't the first time Barry had gone off on his own to investigate the impossible, no. It had started when they were kids--Barry would hear news about some weird event and just run off to find it, sometimes in the middle of the day. Once, he even left in the middle of a class. Asked to go to the bathroom and didn't come back.

That had been in middle school. Lisa had looked up to Barry for months after.

Len had been so proud of him.

Joe and Iris had been less so.

It had happened pretty frequently since then--Len knew of all the times it happened before then, yeah, but it got a lot more often after that incident. Joe could only catch him so many times, and even when Barry got hired at the CCPD, he couldn't stop chasing all the impossible cases he could find.

Singh had suspended him only once, surprisingly, and only because he defied a direct order to go on one of his little crusades.

Barry had definitely skipped work more than once in the two years he'd worked at the CCPD, but he usually came out mostly unscathed. It was never really a big deal.

Len didn't get the full and complete story of this most recent trip--he doubted anyone did, except maybe Iris. Though Barry and Len pretty much told each other everything besides the one glaringly obvious secret, Barry was always more forthcoming either with Iris around or having already told Iris something. Anyway, the point is that Barry and Len rarely discussed anything with each other unless Iris was there, and if she wasn't there, chances were that Barry had already talked to her about it at some point.

Len was pretty sure that he was the same way--he was also sure that it was because Iris had seniority over both of them when it came to friendship with the other.

It wasn't a bad thing, per se. They'd lived with it and dealt with it for so long it was pretty much second nature at this point.

Barry didn't even bother to tell him the whole story himself, too busy working hard to keep inside of what little good graces he had. Iris had filled in a little bit of the story, but not a lot.

Apparently, Barry had decided to go to Starling City to research the Arrow, posing as a CSI working a case similar to one going on over there. After a few days Singh had had enough and made him come back to Central.

Joe had added to the story after that, saying Barry was late to a crime scene and had proceeded to "again stick his foot so far into his mouth I'm surprised he didn't choke" and embarrass everyone there, including himself, Joe, and the captain.

That part was actually true, but let's go back to Barry's trip to Starling.

It wasn't exactly just another trip to prove the impossible, and Len is definitely missing some key events here.

Chapter Text

"Oh, come on," Barry groaned as the train slowed in preparation for a stop.

Sometime between this station and the last one, it had started to rain.

Sighing, he quickly grabbed his suitcase from under his seat before standing just beside the doors to wait for them to open. He glanced through the sheet of rain, disappointed.

He checked his watch, noticing he was already late--damn, again--and quickly made it to downtown Starling. He'd heard that there had been a string of robberies around the city, and the latest one had been at Queen Consolidated Applied Sciences Division just last night. That's where he was headed.

Of course, he missed the last cab at the train station, then got soaked head to toe by a car passing through a puddle, but hey. Anything for proof of the impossible, right?

He finally got to the plant as the security guy was showing some people partial footage. He took out his own tablet, leaving his bag by the door and making his way over to them.

"--rest of the crew must've...come in after 'im."

"Actually, it was only one guy," Barry said impulsively. He watched as the others slowly turned towards him. "Sorry I'm late," he continued as he stepped into the light. His tablet wobbled slightly in his hand as he approached them. He explained, "Actually, my train was late. Well, the second one. The first one I--I did miss, but that was my cab driver's fault. I've got this great traffic ap, and--" The group was giving him weird looks, so he wrapped it up. "He--He thought that he was right," he finished weakly. Actually, they'd had quite the argument, which ended in the driver kicking him out of the cab. Luckily, he'd only been about a block from the station, so it was cool. "I'm here now, though, so..."

"Great," the man on the left said. It was Captain Lance of the SCPD.

Barry had done some research on him before coming to Starling, if only because Len would skin him alive if he found out he hadn't cased the--practically foreign--city before arriving.

Anyway, Lance was almost always the one involved with cases with the Arrow. Not, like, he was working with them, Barry only meant that the Arrow was usually the one being arrested. Or, at least, they tried to arrest him. Or her--no, he'd seen that sketch, it was definitely a guy. Well, he supposed they could be transgender, but they looked like a guy, so Barry was gonna go with he. Not that he didn't totally respect transgenders and their pronouns, but it got confusing to constantly be saying they, plus if he ever talked about them--him--then people might think he was talking about the group. Anyway, they never could arrest the vigilante and Barry--

--was interrupted in his thought process as the captain continued.

"Who the hell are you?"

"And do your parents know that you're here?"

He was almost irritated by the remark--it's very rude to talk about someone like that--but this was brushed away when he realized that the one making the remark was the Oliver Queen. It was kind of interesting, being in the same room as one of his celebrity crushes--though whether he could really call it a crush was debatable, since he'd never stoop so low as to agree to date someone purely because he found them attractive, because that's a bit sad, even for someone like him--but he was just going to have to power through.

Barry automatically fell into his act, making his face twist in confusion. "I'm Barry Allen. I'm from the--" he pulled out his badge, showing it to them "--Central City Police Department? I'm with the Crime Scene Investigation Unit?"

Captain Lance eyed his badge suspiciously, while a blonde girl leaned in for a closer look. Mr. Queen just nodded grimly.

"We're working a case with some...similar unexplained elements in Central," he continued. "So, when the report of your robbery came over the wire, my...captain sent me up here." He smiled, but he'd stuttered on captain, and he could tell by the look he was getting that Oliver didn't believe a word of his explanation.

Instead of looking at him, though, Barry turned to Captain Lance as the man spoke up.

"And you think one guy ripped through this door like it was--tin foil." He looked pretty disbelieving.

"One very strong guy. Yeah," Barry said, nodding. Now Mr. Queen was looking at him like he was insane, too, so he turned to his tablet, opening his files. He showed them a picture of one of the fallen officers. "Um, it takes about twelve-hundred-and-fifty foot pounds of torque to break someone's neck." He pointed to the screen. "You see the marks on the guard's neck? The bruising pattern suggests the killer used only one hand." All four of them leaned over the screen as Barry held it out.

He had to admit, he was fairly intimidated by the dark-skinned man as he came closer to see the screen. Must be a bodyguard, Barry thought. Not surprised the Oliver Queen has them.

Nervously, he leaned toward the CEO, flashing a smile. "I'm guessing you don't know how hard it is to break someone's neck," he joked.

Oliver seemingly shook himself out of his thoughts. "Hmm? No, no idea."

The security guy, standing behind them all this time, finally spoke, asking for a list of inventory. "To figure out exactly what was stolen," he said. Oliver was nodding at him as Barry broke in.

"Actually, I think I know what was stolen," he said. Instantly, their attention was back on him. Captain Lance and The Bodyguard looked confused, while Mr. Queen and Blondie seemed curious. Eager to keep their attention, he continued, leading them to the spot he'd seen earlier. "A centrifuge. An industrial centrifuge. Probably the Kord Enterprise's 2BX900, maybe the 6-Series. Both have a three-column base." He pointed to a large patch of ground with a ring around it, where bolts were sticking up in three distinct areas. "There. You can see the three sets of broken bolts where the thief just...pff. Ripped it out of the ground."

"And what exactly is a centrifuge?" Captain Lance asked, observing the scene.

"It separates liquids," Blondie answered before Barry could. "The centripetal acceleration causes denser substances to separate out along the radial direction."

The senior officer still seemed confused, like all those times Iris asked Len and Barry to please speak English.

"The lighter objects move to the top," Barry simplified.

Lance nodded gratefully, while Blondie looked at Barry curiously.

"What did you say your name was, again?" she asked.

"Barry? Allen?" he said uncertainly.

"Felicity. Smoak," she replied.

Barry nodded appreciatively at her, smiling for a second. Then his eyes moved to Oliver, and his grin fell. Why does he look so angry? he thought. Are they together? No, Barry. Back to work.

"Um...You can see the cracks heading towards the door. Footsteps. One guy," he said again. He watched Mr. Queen kneel down by the wreckage, touching one of the bent bolts and looking over the footprint-like cracks in the ground. "Anyway," he continued. "It's just a theory. One backed by a lot of evidence."

Captain Lance shook his head, already half turned to Miss Smoak. "There has to be another explanation," he said, taking a few more steps away from them. Barry noticed Felicity follow him to talk.

"Yeah, no, I'm sure you're right," Barry said reassuringly. He never was one to force his ideas on people--probably why no one ever believed him. But it is what it is.

He stuck around for a little while, explaining a few of the finer points to the police on the case. As he was organizing his things later, Felicity came over to talk to him.

"Hello, Mr. Allen."

"Oh, um, Miss Smoak. You can just call me Barry. If you want!" he added quickly. "I mean, not to sound like a cliche, but Mr. Allen is my dad, you know? But even that's technically not correct, I mean he's actually Dr. Allen. But I mean, if the shoe fits. And...I should stop talking now." He coughed awkwardly, taking inventory of his supplies again. For the fifth time.

The woman smiled softly. "Ah, a fellow rambler. Barry it is. But only if you call me Felicity." She shifted her bag to one hand to hold her other out. Barry shook it hesitantly. "Miss Smoak was my mother, you know," she joked.

Barry laughed, releasing her hand. "Yeah, um..." Leaning down, he grabbed his bag, along with the magazine he'd left on top of it. "I was just about to go over to the SCPD, look for a place to set up my stuff."

"About that," she said, walking along side him. "Oliv--Mr. Queen would really rather keep this whole thing...well, a secret. Bad for business, you know. So why don't you come by his office later, and you can set up. That way Mr. Queen can settle this whole thing with his--" Her face twisted in irritation, and she pushed up her glasses, sighing. "With his co-CEO. And you'll have time to find a hotel, or whatever." She rolled her eyes. "God, I sound like a real assistant."

He gave her a curious look, and she continued, "I am Mr. Queen's assistant. But I was in IT first, so it's still odd to be in direct contact with the CEO's orders. Besides, he only promoted me because...because we kind of became friends and I helped him a lot on personal business last year and he got tired of constantly going down to applied sciences. And I swear, Oliver gets a kick out of ordering me around. Same with Dig--his bodyguard that was here earlier--even though they're actually really good friends. It's an odd and interesting relationship they have."

Barry grinned a her rambling explanation, opening the door for her. She thanked him.

"Sounds good to me, Felicity."

Chapter Text

Later, after finding a hotel and checking in, he headed over to the CEO office of Queen Consolidated. He tried to make a joke, but it kind of failed.

Hey, at least Felicity laughed. Oliver gave the back of her head a weird look as she and Barry shared a grin, so Barry quickly got on with it.

"Um, where should I set up my equipment?" he asked, gesturing to his bag.

"I'll show you," Felicity offered, stepping toward him. She stopped and turned back when Oliver spoke.

"What's going on?"

"Your assistant--" he sent an apologetic look to Felicity "--said that you preferred to keep the investigation in-house, so I cleared it with my captain to give you a hand," he improvised.

Of course, no such conversation had taken place, but none of them needed to know that.

Oliver nodded in fake appreciation--Barry could tell that much, if only from experience with Len's snarky and occasionally condescending attitude towards almost anything Barry was interested in--and gestured Felicity over toward the window.

Their conversation was short and sweet, and Oliver didn't look very happy at the end of it. He tried to ignore it, instead looking around the office space. But that was also because Diggle kept his eyes on him the whole time, which was intimidated as all hell--John Diggle, Barry had found when he looked him up, was apparently a former soldier, served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That didn't really make Barry feel any better.

Felicity smiled pleasantly at Barry, leading him out the door. "I'll show you around."


After the tour, Felicity helped him set up a lab by the space where the missing centrifuge used to be.

He took a little while to set up a few different machines, then took a few pictures to catalogue the scene. After that, he got to work processing any and all information he could garner before he messed up any part of the crime scene by touching it.

Felicity and Barry chatted easily as he worked. They both had a tendency to ramble, but it was comfortable, at least.

He knelt by one of the footprints, scraping at one of the cracks in it with a pair of tweezers.

Felicity paused, leaning over the lab space to look at him. "What exactly are you looking for?" she asked.

He spared her a glance before trying to pick up a few specks of dirt he'd seen. "Um--your thief's shoes touched the ground. Which means he tracked in dozens of clues as to where he's been the past few days." Finally managing to grasp the soil, he stood and came over to her. He popped it into the scanner. "Shouldn't take long."

For a few seconds, they quietly watched the machine as it whirred. Then something occurred to Barry.

"So, you've seen him. Right? The Vigilante? I read that he--he saved you. What was he like?" he asked curiously.

Felicity swallowed, and he could tell she was a little uncomfortable. "Green," she said finally.

"Green," he muttered. He had heard that he wore green, of course--as well as that he used a bow and arrow. But reading about it and hearing it were completely different.

"That's interesting," he continued. "Right? I mean, why green? Black would be better--for stealth and urban camouflage." Felicity glanced over at him from where she'd been staring resolutely at the computer screen. "Me, personally? I think he trained in some sort of, like, forest or jungle environment, and the green is a nod to that," he said excitedly.

He watched as she went over to turn off the blacklights he'd left on--man, he really needed to break that habit, or he was going to get UV poisoning or something.

"I don't give the Vigilante much thought," she said vehemently.

On a roll now, Barry--unintentionally, of course--ignored her discomfort. "Police reports show that he uses carbon arrows, but if he switched to an aluminum-carbon composite, he would have far better penetration."

"Maybe he thinks he penetrates just fine," Felicity said defensively, rounding on him once again.

He frowned for a moment before grinning again. "You wanna know something else?" he asked giddily. "I think that he has partners. Definitely someone with a background in computer sciences."

He backed off a little as Felicity reached over to click around on her computer. "Well..." she trailed in a mutter. Barry leaned against the table beside her, watching her face. Suddenly, she looked at him curiously. "Why are you so interested in the Vigilante?"

His face fell, and he sighed. "When I was eleven, my mom was murdered."

"I'm so sorry."

"No, it..." He sighed again, glancing away. "They never caught the guy who did it." He smiled weakly, shrugging. "Maybe he would have."

He started to say more, but the computer beeped. Glancing over the screen, his brow scrunched.

"The soil. There's a crystalline structure in it." He typed in a new command, becoming even more confused at what appeared. "That's weird."

"What's weird?"

He leaned closer to the screen, peering at the formula and checking it with his mental database. Sure enough...

"It's sugar."

Chapter Text

Felicity had had the great idea of looking into the local sugar refinery, which helped them find what truck the thief had used. She'd insisted on giving the information to Oliver before they told the police about the connection, and Barry had agreed, if only to avoid making waves.

While they were telling the CEO about it, Felicity got an alert saying that the thief had just robbed a blood bank. But when he'd suggested telling the police all of this, Oliver had said he'd take care of it--and Barry was pretty sure that he'd intentionally gotten Barry flustered so that he wouldn't push the subject.

Anyway, after finishing up a few details, he'd gone back to his hotel to sleep--the day of lying had been a real drain on him, and he just needed a quiet night. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.


The next day, Barry continued casing the scene of the robbery. Felicity showed up after a little while, pulling on gloves as he waited for him to finish. He wrapped things up quickly after that, wanting to help her with whatever she needed.

At least, he was trying to wrap it up, until he caught sight of their chemical set-up.

"They have nitric acid next to hydrazine? Permanganates on top of acetone?" He scoffed, shaking one of the containers of permanganate. "This is the definition of dangerous."

He grabbed the jar of nitric acid, switching its position with that of the permanganate container.

"If it's so dangerous, maybe you shouldn't be touching them," Felicity supplied.

Barry ignored her--he knew what he was doing. Obviously, he knew more than whoever put this selection together. He grabbed the other permanganate container, putting a jar of perchloric acid in its place and putting the cyanide solution by the hydrazine, keeping them both far away from any of the acids.

He flinched at a crash of thunder outside, but managed to carefully set down the container of ammonium where it should have been. Glancing out the window, he noticed the lightning flashes coming dangerously close to the city limits. I hope it doesn't get too much closer. Then--

"Barry."

Felicity's voice broke him from his thoughts. "Yeah," he said quickly, shifting a few more bottles and jars as he watched her snap on latex gloves.

"I managed to get a sample of the perpetrator's blood from the police department. We need to isolate a sedative in the blood--it could lead us to the thief."

He paused for a second before continuing his process. "How did the police get it?"

Felicity hesitated, opening a fresh test tube. "Apparently the Vigilante shot him with an arrow."

Naturally, this got Barry excited. The Vigilante, working the same case as him? So cool! Did he have the same information as they had? Did he have some kind of emotional connection to the case? The police had somehow gotten a bloody arrow without actually catching the thief. Did that mean the Vigilante had connections in the SCPD? Why was Oliver Queen's assistant allowed to have police evidence? Of course, Captain Lance had been there that day--maybe he was their connection?

Barry tabled most of his thoughts for later. "Wow. Pays to work for a billionaire," he said instead.

Felicity chuckled, putting the first test tube of blood into the machine. "Actually," she said, shutting the lid, "my take-home's nothing special. Especially given I am rarely at home, since I'm with him every night."

Barry raised a brow, then looked away. "Oh, I didn't realize that you and he were--"

Felicity's eyes widened comically behind her glasses. She shook her head frantically. "Oh--oh no, we're--he--and I are not, no, I..." She took a deep breath, smiling tightly as she looked Barry in the eyes seriously. "Do not. Like Oliver."

Barry laughed quietly, turning back to the chemicals.

But she does, he thought. I know that look--I used to see it in the mirror, back before I really realized I loved Len. Or even before I knew I was in love with Iris. That was a long time ago, though. But she does look like I did before I accepted any of that. Actually, I probably maybe still look like that. No one has noticed, though, so...Is it a kindred thing, maybe? We both have feelings for someone we can't have, we both ramble all the time--I'm doing it right now, aren't I? Man, I need to get my thoughts under control. I--

Again, Felicity broke him out of it.

"Um, I was invited to a--a work function," she said cheerily. He turned back to her, nodding. "It's--It's a party. And I have a plus one." He nodded again. "I was thinking you would make a really good...plus one?"

Barry laughed, nodding.

Then he thought about it. "There's not gonna be dancing, is there?" he asked, frowning. She looked at him curiously. "I'm just not too good on my feet. I was in Glee Club in high school, but I haven't danced since my first year at college. I just kinda got out of it. Besides, I was never too good at the waltz. I got two left feet when I slow things down too much. Guess that's why I only had three relationships in high school--I can't believe I just said that." He really should just bang his head against a wall at this point.

Felicity grinned--he couldn't help but do the same.

Chapter Text

Later, Felicity invited Barry up to her office, right next to Oliver's, to wait for the final results.

After glancing out the windows--it was a very nice view, so different from the one in Central, even more so from the view he'd had at college in Coast City--he turned to her.

"Can I borrow your computer?"

After getting permission, he quickly maneuvered to the news channel feeds, scrolling until he saw one broadcasting updates on the particle accelerator.

"Central City is just days away from making history when the controversial STAR Labs Particle Accelerator is finally turned on," the news anchor was saying.

Felicity came around to where he was standing in front of the screen, observing along with him. Half turning to her, he said, "Pretty cool, right?"

She gave him a flat look. "You know there's been a hundred percent increase in earthquakes since they've turned on the Large Hadron Collider."

Barry scoffed. "That data is...misleading," he said defensively.

She raised her brow mockingly. "Oh, do tell," she teased.

"You know about misleading, don't you?" Mr. Queen said, entering the office.

Felicity took a step towards him. "What are you talking about?"

Oliver glowered at Barry, making him shrink a little. "He's not from CSI," he continued. "He's an assistant. Whose bosses don't know you're in Starling. And there is no similar case in Central City, so, tell me, Barry. What are you really doing here?"

Felicity stared at him in surprise.

Barry sighed, looking down at her.

"I told you my mom was murdered."

She nodded, but Oliver interjected. "By your father."

"He didn't do it," Barry defended, his voice raising.

"You said that the police didn't find the man who killed her."

"The police think they did," he replied bitterly. "My dad has been serving a life sentence." He shook his head, scoffing. "They didn't believe me."

"About what?"

He chewed his lip, his eyes tearing up. Finally, he turned to her. "I was eleven. One night...something just came into our house like a tornado. A blur. Somewhere inside the blur, I saw a person." Now he turned to Oliver, staring defiantly. Oliver shifted, and Barry could see just that part of the story was making his eyes tear up. Should've been there, Barry thought resentfully. It's so much worse to have been there. "My dad went to fight it. I tried to get 'im when suddenly..." He trailed off, swallowing, then started again. "I was twenty blocks away from our house. Nobody believed me." He laughed humorlessly. "They thought I was tryin'a cover for my father. But what I saw that night? Was real. As real as the man that ripped down that metal door with his bare hands."

Oliver sighed, taking a step back.

Barry scoffed as he watched the man try to keep his composure. "That's why I look into cases like this. The ones no one believes are possible." Felicity nodded at him. "Maybe, if I can just make sense of one...I might be able to find out who really killed my mother. And free my dad."

He sighed. "I am sorry I lied to you," he told Oliver earnestly, who nodded without looking him in the eye. Barry was pretty sure he was feeling guilty about this whole mess, but he wasn't gonna say anything.

He looked back to Felicity as he was leaving. "Better find another plus-one."


A few hours later, after getting his stuff from the lab he'd built by the crime scene, Barry went back to his hotel to pack.

Surprisingly, not ten minutes later, when he was trying to decide if the place would really miss any of their little shampoo and lotion bottles--hey, he had to live on an assistant's salary and suffer through student loans and try to pay off his apartment, he needed all the free stuff he could get, especially since this trip had cost him nearly a fifth of his savings--his room's phone rang.

"Hello?" he said after picking up.

"Do you have any idea how difficult it is to track people down when you don't know their whole name, Bartholomew?"

Barry started at the use of his full name, especially after recognizing the voice. "Mr. Queen?"

"I usually just get Felicity to do it, but she isn't exactly available to me right now. Which is why I'm calling." He rattled off the address to the Queen mansion. "Just be there. It's formal, so rent a tux or something. Just be there for her."

"Okay," Barry said slowly. His head was spinning. "I--"

But the line was already dead.

Chapter Text

Barry thankfully made it on time to dance with Felicity--not all that well, he was serious about not being good with slow dancing--but it was good enough.

And, okay, sure, he had been a little bit late. But so had the Queens, and they lived right upstairs.

He kind of thought it was weird that there were only, like, ten people going to a party hosted by the Queen family. But then again, Moira Queen had supposedly killed hundreds of people, so...

Anyway, after Felicity and Barry's dismal display of a waltz, they headed down to check on the results for the blood sample. As they were walking down the halls, talking about nothing, Barry got a call.

"Oh, shit," he muttered. He glanced at Felicity apologetically. "I'm really sorry. I have to take this," he said nervously. He brought the phone to his ear, pressing the answer button. He closed his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath. "Hello?"

"Allen!"

"Captain." He listened carefully as his boss yelled at him. He could see Felicity half-listening in on the conversation as she went through the results. Briefly, he peeked over her shoulder, noticing the chemical formula for the sedative, nodding as he went through his mental database. Ketamine.

"Are you listening, Allen?" Singh asked sharply. "This is the second time in as many months that you've disappeared."

"Yes. Yes, sir, I--”

"It would be different if this were the first time, but it isn't! And I've been lenient, I've been understanding, but you continue to do this! Repeatedly!"

He sighed. "Yes, Director Singh, I know that this is not the first time."

"And you lied! I know you've been through a lot over the years, but you can't just run off whenever--especially without telling anyone where you're going, and definitely not by lying. I mean, do you value your job at all?"

"Yes, sir, I do value my job. Very much."

"Then I suggest you get back here before you lose it. I don't want to have to find another CSI, especially if it means I have to suffer through the glares of two of my top detectives. You know how disappointed they'd be if you lost this job."

"Yes, I--Look, I will be on the next train."

"Will you, Allen? Because if not..." He didn't bother continuing--the implication was clear. Singh didn't joke about termination. Not that he ever joked about anything, but especially not that.

"Mm-hmm. I'll be back tonight."

Captain Singh sighed heavily. "You do that, Barry."

"Ok."

"You're lucky I'm not demoting you. Yet."

"Thank--" he started, but the line clicked uselessly, dead. He sighed, turning to Felicity. "Well, my boss found out I don't have food poisoning," he supplied, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "I need to get back to Central City if I still want to be employed. Which I do. Um..." He pointed to the computer screen. "Tell the SCPD that the sedative in the thief's blood is Ketamine. It's a schedule three controlled substance--it shouldn't be too hard to track."

"Yeah, I'll make sure they get it," she said, smiling and nodding.

After an awkward exchange--God, Barry just could not be cool, ever--he finally left, making his way back to his hotel to change into regular clothes and get the rest of his stuff, then going down to the train station. Of course, by the time he got through the foot traffic for the second time, he was too late to get a ticket.

He settled in to wait for the morning train.

Barely seconds later, he felt his world tilt sideways, and everything went black.

Chapter Text

Barry came to consciousness slowly, in layers. He sat up slowly as his vision cleared, looking around.

The things around him didn't make any sense. He blinked, trying to make sense of the mannequin, the bow and arrows, the bank of computers near him, any of it. Then his eyes landed on the figure across from him--a man in green, lying unconscious on a metal table. Barry's eyes caught on the hood, then the face it had been covering.

His head started spinning again. The Vigilante is Oliver Queen?!

Suddenly, Felicity was in front of him, looking at him desperately. "Will you save my friend?"

Before Barry could think of a response, the monitors they'd hooked up to Oliver started going off, and Oliver started thrashing.

Instantly, Barry and Felicity rushed to his side, standing across from Diggle. "Hold him!" Barry ordered.

Diggle latched onto Oliver's arm, holding him still for a second before checking his pulse again. "He's not gonna make it," he warned, glancing at the monitors.

"He will," Felicity said frantically. "We just have to find out what's in his system." She looked at Barry beseechingly.

He rubbed the back of his neck. "I--I--" he stuttered, "I usually only work on dead people."

"Barry!" she said sharply.

He shook himself, going around the table to grab a penlight.

"Alright, I can think of four possible diagnoses for what's causing his body to react this way."

He lifted Oliver's eyelid, shining the light into his retina. Dilation is normal, he noted.

"Make that three possible diagnoses."

He searched Oliver's neck and chest for any markings--a rash, long red marks, hives, anything--and noted none except the scars from years past.

"Two."

The heart monitor sped up. "Start chest compressions," he told Diggle, grabbing a nearby syringe.

"I need to get to his arm." Diggle moved out of the way just enough for Barry to bring Oliver's arm toward himself.

Now it just depends on if the blood is thick or thin, he thought, drawing blood out into the needle.

"Got it," he finally said. "He's suffering from intravenous coagulation."

Diggle and Felicity looked at him in confusion.

"What," she asked, but it didn't sound like a question.

"His blood is unnaturally clotting," he explained quickly. "It's like maple syrup."

"You can save him, right?"

"Uh...Alright." Thinking quickly, Barry sprinted toward the back of the room, searching. He grabbed the familiar red box. "Lucky you guys have a rat problem."

"Are you kidding?" Diggle asked incredulously, only slightly out of breath from pumping Oliver's chest. "That'll kill 'im!"

"He dies if I don't," Barry replied. He quickly mixed some of the poison with diluted acid, then pulled it into a new syringe.

"Felicity--"

"Do it," she said over Diggle's protest.

He brought over the syringe. "Okay, just the right amount of this stuff will thin his blood enough to get it circulating again." He pushed the plunger down, injecting the poison into a tube already connected to Oliver's arm.

The monitors still showed his vitals as uneven, and he ran a hand through his hair nervously. I hope this works, he thought desperately. Come on, Oliver. Please, don't die.

"He's crashing," Diggle muttered.

"Oliver," Felicity cried frantically, "stay with me!"

Chapter Text

Hours later, after Oliver had stabilized enough to wake up--and, you know, choke the living hell out of Barry--they all finally managed to calm down. Oliver had gone home, but Felicity and Diggle had insisted Barry stay in the...whatever place this was.

Judging by what he knew about Oliver and his friends, as well as the music and lights that had come in when Oliver left upstairs, not to mention the lighting situation and how the columns were situated--well, Barry was pretty sure they were two levels below ground, and probably under a nightclub.

Oliver owned one, didn't he? Vertigo? No, that's the drug. Verdant. That's what it was.

Barry found himself gazing at Oliver's suit wonderingly. He grinned, turning to Diggle. "I knew the Vigilante had partners."

"He likes to be called the Arrow now."

"You three have messed with some really nasty people," he added. He reached out to touch one of the arrows on display. "I mean, the Dollmaker, Count Vertigo, Dodger. The Huntress."

"We weren't keepin' score," Diggle replied.

"I was." He laughed.

"Barry." Oliver's voice interrupted him as he was about to continue. He looked up as the man approached. "The rat poison that you gave me," he asked, "are there any side effects?"

He rattled off the few major side effects he could think of, not really thinking about it.

What he did think about, though, was how he was right--it just dawned on him that, duh, jungle, forest, island. Oliver had trained on the island where he was marooned for five years. Of course.

Anyway, Barry offered to draw some blood. Then he remembered the question he'd wanted to ask since seeing the man under the hood.

"Why no mask?" he asked, rubbing a cleaning wipe over the inside of Oliver's elbow. He stuck a fresh needle in, drawing a fair amount of blood. "I mean, and not to tell you how to do your vigilante...ing. But...the--the grease paint thing?" He shook his head. "It's a poor identity concealer."

"So find me a mask that conforms perfectly to my face and doesn't affect my ability to aim while I'm on the run."

"You should look into a compressible micro-fabric," he replied instantly.

His eyes scanned the other man's face, quickly determining the size and shape of his eyes and producing a mental image in his head.

Huh, Barry thought curiously. He looks like someone. Well, obviously, he looks like Oliver Queen, but also...I don't know who, though. Is it--

He cut himself off mid-thought, grinning up at Oliver. "It could be great," he continued from before.

Oliver nodded, turning to Felicity as she and Diggle began explaining the situation with the thief.

Barry turned to his work station, beginning to test the blood manually.

Ronnie, he thought suddenly. He looks like Ronnie.


After reassuring Felicity that he could and would figure out what was going on with Oliver and how to fix it, Barry started messing around with a chemical formula--hopefully, he'd have a brand-new mask ready for Oliver before he left.

He was still messing with it the next day, still waiting for Oliver's blood sample to process.

"--crazy chances," Felicity was saying. "Even when he's not hallucinating about beautiful island girls."

Barry hummed, chuckling. "The other night, I asked you if you liked Oliver."

"I told you. I don't."

"I remember," he said with a laugh. "But...if...if you did," he continued. "I could see why." He scoffed. "I mean, Oliver Queen. He is a billionaire by day and saves the city by night."

Felicity giggled. "It sounds like you wanna date him."

He shrugged. "Maybe I would," he said. She raised a brow, and he laughed, shaking his head. "No, but seriously. I just...have a little experience with...liking someone who doesn't see you the same way."

She smiled sympathetically.

After a moment, he switched on the Central City news, where Linda Park was explaining what was happening outside of STAR Labs. The particle accelerator was due to be turned on in a matter of hours.

"Protests continue into the final countdown for tomorrow night's ignition of STAR Labs' controversial Particle Accelerator. STAR Labs founder Harrison Wells promises a new era of scientific advancement is at hand."

Barry sighed. "Guess I won't be back in time to see them turn it on."

"You might. I mean, you'd have to be on Central City time, but theoretically you could get back in time if you left a few hours before it was set to go off."

He shrugged. "Maybe." He glanced at the computer screen. Not much new information was being broadcast today, it seemed. "So, any plans for Christmas?"

"Lighting my menorah," she replied cheekily.

Before he could ask, Oliver showed up. Felicity offered to take Barry to Big Belly Burger to watch the countdown so Oliver could have some privacy.

It was a little fun, sure. Barry definitely felt a connection to Felicity--they were like kindred spirits. But sitting in the booth, eating fried food and slurping milkshakes with a pretty girl...it made him ache to have that kind of simplicity at home. With his family. Especially Len--nowadays, he had to work at the ease of their conversations, instead of just falling into it. He wished things were simpler. But, he'd have to enjoy it as it was.

At least Felicity didn't mind his babbling.

Chapter Text

Eventually, they figured out that Oliver's hallucinations had nothing to do with the rat poison--it was all in his head. Soon after that, Oliver went to check on Captain Lance, who'd been caught in a fight with Gold.

Oliver was barely back for two minutes before he was off again--off in search of the people behind all of it.

Barry left almost as soon as he was gone. He hugged Felicity, told her he had a great time, it was nice meeting her. He also left a box on the table--he'd barely finished it in time, but it should work as a nice mask for Oliver. It'd work better than grease paint, at least, and wouldn't move around enough to affect his aim.

The train ride back to Central was long. It lasted through the night and into the morning--it was almost ten by the time he got off, and when he checked his phone, he saw two new messages already, ordering him downtown to investigate a crime scene.

He was late, of course. At least Joe covered for him this time--the last time he'd had to make up an excuse, it hadn't ended well. Of course, even without a bad excuse, he still managed to stick his foot in his mouth way too many times.

It was terrible. Barry hurriedly finished up so he could retreat to his lab to work in peace. Without talking.

Chapter Text

When Len saw him later for lunch, Barry was frantically trying to get everything processed so he could take Iris over to see the particle accelerator get turned on. It was something Barry had been looking forward to for over a year.

Proof of the impossible, he said, because everyone said it shouldn't have been possible for at least another decade.

(They'll eventually understand how ironic that is.)

Len was supposed to go, too, but he and his partner were being put on the case Barry was working on along with Joe and his own partner.

Iris came in at one point, excited for Barry. Len just rolled his eyes as she sauntered through the door, getting up to toss the remains of his lunch in the trash.

“Okay, I'm ready to see this atom-smasher...smashing," Iris said cheerily.

Len snorted, and Barry shot him a look, sighing, before turning to Iris. "There was a shooting today. Your dad needs me to process some evidence, which means I don't know if we're gonna be able to make it to STAR Labs in time." His glanced over his notes, pinning a new paper to his map for reference.

Len frowned, watching the man tug absently at the cuff of his sweater--he almost pushed it up, but pulled it down just as quickly. "Sure you will, Bear."

"Seeing this thing turn on is like your dream," Iris added. "Your sad little nerdy dream." She grabbed Barry's leftover fries, popping one in her mouth. "Plus, I canceled a date for this."

Barry pretended to be offended, snatching the container back. "Hands off my fries."

He went back to his computer, taking his fries with him. As soon as he set them down, Len swiped them, picking one out before handing them to Iris.

Barry shook his head. "Tch. Unbelievable."

"Hey, I'm stress-eating over my dissertation," Iris complained, eating another fry. "We started selling cronuts at Jitters. I ate two today." She pointed at the boys with another fry. "If I don't graduate soon I'm gonna be more muffin-top than woman."

Barry and Len shared a look, rolling their eyes. "You look amazing," Barry assured with a sigh, looking at her.

Iris just scoffed, flipping through the magazines on Barry's desk while he trumped over to look over his papers again. She grabbed an issue of Science Showcase and followed him. "What is so important about this particle accelerator, anyway?"

Len laughed loudly. "Do we really need to go over this again, Iris?"

Barry shot him a glare before beaming at Iris. "Harrison Wells' work in quantum theory is light-years ahead of anything they're doing at CERN."

Iris looked at him incredulously. "You're doing that thing where you're not speaking English."

Len snorted as Barry shook his head with a sigh. "Okay," Barry said after a moment. He dragged his overhead board over, uncapping a marker. Len leaned forward, grinning smugly at Iris when she looked at him for help. "Just...Imagine that that dot--" Barry drew a dark spot on the board, filling it in, then looked at her "--is everything the human race has ever learned until this moment."

Iris crossed her arms. "Does that include twerking?" she asked dubiously as he turned back to the board. Len shook his head at her in fondness, watching Barry draw a large circle around the dot.

"That is everything we could learn from the particle accelerator," he said excitedly.

"It's a whole new way of looking at physics," Len added. Barry grinned, pointing the marker at him.

"Exactly. It will literally change the way that we think about everything."

Iris laid a hand on his shoulder with an exasperated smile. "You've gotta get yourself a girlfriend."

"Or boyfriend," Len added, his focus shifting to the door--he heard footsteps.

Sure enough, a second later Joe walked through the doorway, no doubt having heard the last part of that conversation. "Hey, leave him alone, he's workin'." He was talking to Iris and Len, but his eyes stayed on Barry.

"Hi, Dad," Iris said with a smile. Her hand dropped from Barry's shoulder, and he quickly went over to his beeping computer.

"Hey, Iris. Len. Barry."

"Dad."

"Oh, shit," Barry blurted. All three of them glanced over to see him standing over his computer with wide eyes.

"What's up, Bear?" Joe asked.

"Er...there was DNA at the scene. I didn't really think about it--DNA in the street could be from anywhere at anytime, but I went back to it and it was mixed with some of the dye from the bank so it was kind of obvious it belonged to the shooter and I didn't even know if I would get a match or if it would even be enough to do a full analysis on but I ran it anyway and--"

“Barry. Calm down,” Len ordered. Barry took a deep breath, nodding. “Whose DNA was it?”

Barry sighed, sagging into a chair. “Mardon’s. Clyde’s, actually.”

Len shook his head. “Not possible. The guy's in jail, Bear.”

“Not according to the arrest warrant I'm looking at right now.” Barry turned the monitor around so Len could see their old friend's face. “They issued it yesterday.”

“So it is Mardon,” Joe said from behind them. He sighed. “Any idea on where to find him?”

At that precise second, one of the machines beeped.

“As a matter of fact.” Barry quickly bounced over to the machine, grabbing the printout and looking at the two pages. After typing a few things into the computer, he sat back to point at the screen, then at the papers. "I think he's hiding on a farm. The fecal matter I found in the street? It was cow manure, which contained traces of oxytetracycline. It's an antibiotic. There are only four farms in the area that still use it in their feed." He handed one page to Joe, the other to Len. "I bet you find a really sweet Shelby parked at one of them." He grinned at Joe, who just looked at the paper in his hand.

"Dad, since Barry solved your poop problem--" Len snorted at Iris' joke, already standing to go find his partner "--how 'bout letting him go to STAR Labs?"

Both looked at him hopefully, and Len couldn't help smirking as he leaned against the door, waiting for the response.

Finally, Joe smiled. "Fine, go."

Barry's face lit up, Iris laughing as they both hopped up. "Thank you, Joe," Barry said as he grabbed his coat. "See ya, Lenny!" he cheered along with Iris.

Len watched them scamper off, chuckling. He came back in, sliding past Joe to turn a couple of machines off. "He always forgets," he muttered.

Joe laughed. "He's excited. Besides--" He stopped, turning back to his paper.

"What?" Len asked suspiciously.

"Oh, nothing," he replied. "Come on. We might actually be able to catch this guy before they get back, if we hurry."

Chapter Text

"So, Barry. How was your trip? Did you find proof of the impossible in Starling City?" Iris asked, looping her arm through his as they walked through the crowd, closer to the stage. "Or did you just make my dad mad for no reason?"

Barry laughed with her, tugging his jacket high up over his shoulder. "Actually, while I was away I had the chance to think about...you know, relationships. How I'm not in one. And you're not in one, either, or Len. And, Iris...you're my best friends."

"You're mine, too," she assured. She glanced around. "Why else would I be here? And Len feels the same, I know he does. And I know you guys don't always see eye to eye on everything, but we'll always be there for each other. Even when we don't want to be."

"Yeah, that's...not what I meant," he replied. He glanced away, frustrated. "What I meant--"

"I know what you're gonna say, Barry."

"I'm not...sure you do."

"Even though we pretty much all grew up in the same house together--and we're kind of like brother and sister--" she smiled "--well, Lisa is more of a little sister to us all, anyway, but that just proves the point. Because we're not brother and sister it can get really...weird and awkward to talk to me and Len about girls--or guys, like he said--but I just want you to know that it shouldn't be awkward. It hasn't been awkward since we were kids. People used to think you and Len were dating. Len had to give you that speech, remember, when you and Mark and Shawna were dating?" She laughed. "I mean, I dated Len, even though we're practically related."

"Fake-dated." Barry looked away for a second, glancing at his shoes and twisting his shirt between his fingers. "But what if--"

"No, Bear. There is nothing that I want more than for you to meet the right person that totally loves and adores you for the amazing guy that you are." She smiled, leaning her head on his shoulder. "And I know Len agrees, cuz he's been protecting us both for too long to not want us to be happy."

"Yeah, I guess. But I--"

"I always thought it was weird that Len took up the Big Brother role, but I guess it makes sense, since he was taking care of Lisa for so long. Don't you think, Bear?"

He blinked at her, sidetracked. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, they didn't have a great home before they moved in with us."

Iris rolled her eyes. "Well, duh."

Barry shook his head. "No, I'm trying to tell you something! I wanted to--"

He cut himself off, distracted yet again as someone passed in the corner of his eye. Was that--no. No way.

"Is that...Cisco?" Iris seemed just as startled as him.

"Huh," Barry let out. "I guess he did pretty good after he got out of high school."

Before Iris could reply, Harrison Wells took the stage, his presence completely overwhelming and brokering no room for other distractions.

At least, until a mugger stole Iris' laptop.


Later, as Barry nursed a bloody nose, he and Iris poked fun at the new detective.

"He's a transfer from Keystone," Barry supplied. "Started a couple of weeks ago? I spoke to him once, he seems okay. He said he likes my blog--the one about weird stuff that happens?"

"Ah, yes, as if you could write about anything else."

"He seems kinda clueless, though, I think."

"Oh, like you?"

"Har-dee har har," he mocked. "Anyway, he's apparently pretty good buddies with the lead CSI. I saw them talking a few days before I left."

"You mean the guy that never shows up for work?" Iris muttered.

Girl, actually. Barry just rolled his eyes, ignoring her.

"The detective's name is Eddie Thawne."

"Oh, that's Detective Pretty Boy." Barry gave her a look. "That's what my dad calls him. Says he actually keeps score when it comes to arrests." Her face twisted, as if to say, For real?

Barry nodded, shrugging. "Len doesn't talk about him--I don't think they've even met. And Joe never said anything to me about him."

Now Iris was the one to roll her eyes. "He talks to you about cases all the time, Bear. Can you blame him for not bothering with anything else?"

He shrugged again. "I guess."

"Besides, the way Dad was talking, he sounds like a tool. You don't need another jerk in your life around here. You've got plenty of other assholes bossing you around twenty-four-seven."

"I'm telling you, Iris, he doesn't seem so bad. No worse than Lenny or Officer Johnson."

"No one is worse than Johnson--the guy's a creep. But whether this Pretty Boy is actually decent remains to be seen."

They both glanced over to where the detective was talking to another officer.

"He is pretty, though," Iris conceded.

Barry shrugged. He grabbed another paper towel, pressing it to his nose. "I guess."

Chapter Text

"Hey, Len, you're gonna wanna get over here." Joe closed the phone, putting it back in his pocket as he backed away from the Shelby sitting in front of the last farm they'd checked.

The rain was quickly turning into snow, though not quite enough to stick to the muddy ground. The ground was icy, though, enough so that they had to be careful where they stepped.

Minutes later, a black car was pulling up outside the farmhouse, Len and his partner getting out. The four nodded to each other before automatically splitting up--Joe took his partner inside to look around, while Len and his partner, Vukovich, checked outside.

It couldn't have been five minutes before the sound of gunshots rang out from inside the barn. The other two detectives quickly rushed in, but at that point it was too late. Joe's partner was down on the ground and Clyde was flying off in a plane--it must have been on the other side of the building, because none of them had seen it. Looking closely through the snow filtering through the air, Len could see the shadow of a gun, pointing at the driver's side of the plane.

Len cursed, unthinkingly running out into the downpour, nearly thirty yards from the barn. "He's got a hostage!" he yelled back to the others, starting to backtrack. He and Joe kept an eye on the plane while Vukovich tried to save Chyre. "If I had to guess, I'd say it was--"

Suddenly the sky lit up--a wave of light passed through the air, knocking the plane down, making it combust. The energy was coming from the city, and it kept rolling across the terrain until--

Len gasped as the light hit him--he flew back, his eyes staying open only wide enough to know that the flare had dissipated before reaching the barn. Joe and the other two men were sheltered from it.

A noise escaped his throat as his back hit the barn, crashing through the thin sheet of ice on the exterior wall.

The next second, his skull smacked into the wood, and everything went black.

Chapter Text

Barry had bid Iris goodnight before heading up to his lab. His bloody nose was almost better, but he kept a napkin pressed to it, just in case.

Swiping his ID badge to open his door, he dialed the number he'd picked up in Starling.

"Hi," Felicity answered. She sounded hesitant.

"Hey." Even his own voice sounded tentative.

She paused. "Did you make it?"

"I--Ye--I made it back to Central City in time to not get my ass handed to me by the Captain." He chuckled wryly, shoving the door closed behind him.

"And I did make it to STAR Labs on time, but something happened...I left before I could see the particle accelerator turn on." Shedding his coat, he switched the receiver to his other hand, glancing out the window at the rain.

"By the time I got back, it was over. I was late," he sighed. "As usual."

He splashed across the floor, sighing again at the rain coming through the roof.

"But in the spirit of not being late again...uh..." He cleared his throat. "If you ever decide that Oliver Queen isn't the guy for you--that--I--loo--if you decide that you wanna go on a date with...someone else...um...you should know that--that guy? He'll be on time."

"Good to know," Felicity replied, her smile evident in her voice.

"Oh, hey, and I--I left something for Oliver. Hope he likes it."

"Bye, Barry."

"Bye, Felicity."

Smiling, he set the phone to the side, looking outside again and switching on his computer. There she was--Linda Park, reporting on the particle accelerator again.

He turned away from the monitor to pin a new piece of evidence up on his board, looking at the dots he'd connected in his mother's case.

It'd taken him years to get this far--his whole life, practically--and he still wasn't anywhere close to understanding what happened that night.

He could still remember when he first started really collecting evidence. He was sixteen, hiding newspaper scraps in a box under his bed. When he moved to college, he'd taken that box with him, started making a bulletin board of every case of the weird and unexplained, every news article concerning his dad's case, his mom's murder.

He couldn't leave it behind, so he'd brought it with him when he graduated--first to his internship-for-field-training job, then to his real job at the CCPD. As far as he knew, nobody else had found it. And they never would, he hoped.

Miss Park's voice droned on in the background. The launching of the particle accelerator had been something he'd looked forward to. He'd been talking about it for weeks, jabbering the ear off of anyone who'd listen to the point everyone pretty much steered clear of him.

It'd become his one beacon of hope for proving that the impossible was possible.

As he listened, he heard as the crowd in the background became frantic. The newswoman was saying there was a malfunction due to the storm--and then it cut out.

Barry looked up in time to see the particle accelerator light up, sending out a massive wave of energy. It knocked out the power, killing the lights.

The sleet was suddenly coming down much faster and harder, and Barry quickly rushed over to cover the skylight. Grasping the chains, he froze--they were weightless. He spun around, spying the chemicals rising from their beakers. A memory flickered by, one of water rising from a fish tank, a man in lightning, a scream.

And then the lightning struck, and everything went black.