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Collision Of Fire And Ice

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"I don't care!" Cisco almost shouts.

By the frozen expression on Caitlin's face and Doctor Well's unreadable one, Cisco clearly has shouted – something they’ve never seen from him but there had never been the need before. But now? Now Barry Allen needs something they don’t understand, that they can't provide and Cisco is damned if he doesn’t do everything in his power to remedy that. He takes a deep breath. Losing patience is going to help nobody and it wouldn't make Caitlin and Wells more prone to listen to him.

"Listen to me," he says, hopefully calmly. "I'm the Guide here. I have worked as a volunteer at Coast City Center since I've been eighteen. I know what I'm talking about, and this?" he goes on gesturing towards Barry, lying in their lab unconscious – actually in the deepest zone-out Cisco has ever seen. "This is a Sentinel almost at sensory collapse. We need outside help or we could lose him forever."

Doctor Wells’ eyes are chips of ice and Cisco shivers, looking at them. He admires and respects the man; he wouldn’t have stayed at his side after the clusterfuck of the particle accelerator exploding if he didn’t, but sometimes… sometimes his empathy picks up something that makes him tremble. It’s gone the moment he feels it, but he can’t shake the impression and he curses his weak gifts. If he were a higher Guide, maybe, he would understand why sometimes he wants to run when Wells looks at him like that.

Caitlin speaks and Cisco turns to look at her fully, leaving Wells in the corner of his eye.

“-matter, I defer to you. Barry is my patient and it’s my duty to do everything I can to ensure his well-being. If you are sure this is the best course of action, I agree.”

Cisco nods, grateful, and glances at Wells, who sighs.

“Well, then, Mr Ramon. As you said, you are the Guide here and frankly I can’t explain why Barry lapsed back into a coma after waking up. He’s stable, after all.” the man admits, looking at their resident sleeping beauty. Obviously Cisco doesn’t call him that, thank you very much, the last thing he wants is to perpetuate the idea that Guides are overtly sexual beings. He doesn’t believe Caitlin, or Wells, are like that, but this instance has showed how little they know about Sentinels and Guides and he doesn’t want to take the chance. He will see how they react to Barry and act accordingly. But Barry is very, very good looking, and it doesn’t take a bisexual, hormonal teenager to notice that. A part of him is sad Barry won’t probably be his Sentinel.

“Do you know someone trustworthy? I don’t want the Center involved just yet.” Wells goes on, steel in his voice, and Cisco understands. The Central City Center has got a spotty history, especially in the past twenty years, and even after two carefully audits, greedy and corrupts Guides seem to flock there. Not for the first time Cisco wonders what is about Central City that attracts this kind of trouble. But he has an easy and genial solution for that. He takes out his phone and grins.

“Don’t worry about that, I know a person.” he says, in his don’t-worry-I-will-solve-all-your-problems voice. Wells and Caitlin don’t seem very comforted, though. Seriously, those two have no faith. He should be offended. With a small glare, he calls the Alpha Guide of North America.

***

“No, seriously, how do you know him?” Caitlin whispers, looking rapt through the glass at what is happening in the other room. Unfortunately the lab where Barry is still lying is not a shielded room, but it has to do. Cisco had deemed it not safe to move him and Blair had agreed. Best to try to bring Barry out of it here and if that didn’t work, move him. After all not all Sentinels have an easier time getting out of a zone-out in a stimuli-free space. Maybe Barry finds their presence comforting, after spending so many months in their company, if being talked to by strangers can be considered company, Cisco thinks wryly.

When Caitlin tugs on his sleeve, he looks at her, faintly exasperated.

“I already told you, Cait. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Caitlin pouts.

“Oh come on, you know Blair Sandburg! He’s like a legend! Okay if you don’t want to tell me, but give me something.”

Cisco is, unwillingly, amused.

“I didn’t think Guides were something you were interested in.”

Caitlin’s expression freezes for a moment, then the woman looks away. If there weren’t a barrier of layer between them, Cisco could probably get something from her, but like this? He can’t and once more he wishes he could.

“My mother was a Guide. He left my father for her Sentinel and I never saw her again.”

Cisco gapes at her.

“But that is-”

“Unheard of, I know.” Caitlin admits. “For the longest time I blamed her biology for it. That is the first reason why I got interested in biology and genetics. I hated the Guide genes for the longest time. Until my father forced me to go to a psychologist and the woman gave me the chance to go to the Center and talk to as many Guides as I liked and there I learned that-”

“-that Guides never abandon their children, not even for their Sentinel.” Cisco completes. Caitlin nods, biting her lower lip, and her lost expression uncomfortably reminds Cisco of the time after she’d lost Ronnie. He instinctively hugs her. Caitlin is tense in surprise, but then she relaxes in his hold and chuckles, wetly. Cisco hugs her harder.

“I’m sorry you had a shitty mother.”

Caitlin laughs and the sound is wet, about to turn in tears, but doesn’t. Caitlin is so strong, Cisco thinks, and he’s lucky to have her as friend.

After a while, Caitlin lets go of him.

“Cisco, look.”

Cisco does, and in the other room Blair seems to have finally worked his magic, because Barry Allen is pale but finally conscious, talking to the Shaman and Cisco releases a breath in relief.

***

Barry shakes his head in denial.

“No, no, I can’t be-”

The other man, Blair Sandburg, puts a hand on his and Barry is filled with calm and oh god, Blair Sandburg is in front of him, Barry is too shaken to freak out and – strangely – too calm to do that (and that isn’t normal, what is happening to him-) but he is sure to do that later-

“Barry, calm down.” Blair says, voice gentle but full of something, because Barry does and-

“He’s freaking out.” the man in the corner points out and that must be Sandburg’s Sentinel, Jim Ellison, looking at Barry impassively. Barry tries to stay calm but how can he? The rational part of Barry knows he should be intimidated by the Sentinel, but another, deeper part of him is on edge, ready to strike forward and Barry doesn’t understand.

“Yes, thank you, Jim, I can feel it.” Sandburg snarks back and Barry can’t help but smile a little. Sandburg catches it and smiles at him, a bit ruefully.

“Sentinels.” he says, as if it explains everything, and maybe it does. Then the man fixes him with serious eyes, and it is different than Ellison’s gaze, but not less effective. Ellison’s is harder than Sandburg’s, but more relentless. Barry is pinned, but a part of him is comforted by the other man’s steady presence.

“You are a Sentinel, Barry, and a very powerful one at that.” Sandburg says for the third time and Barry is already on the verge of shaking his head, for the third time, but the other man goes on. “Believe me, you are. I’m a powerful Guide myself and a Shaman. I know these things. And you have been online for a while. I would have sensed someone so powerful coming online otherwise.” Sandburg says, frowning.

When the man doesn’t go on, Barry starts to fidget.

“What?” he finally blurts out.

Sandburg shakes his head minutely and looks at Ellison, who shakes his head too.

“What?” Barry asks again, this time with a sliver of panic growing in his chest.

Sandburg sighs.

“I asked Jim to check out the records at the Center. You are not registered.”

“Of course I’m not.” replies Barry. “If I came online, I did recently.”

Sandburg shakes his head and his expression seems frustrated now and faintly exasperated.

“You are online, Barry, believe me. You’ll see once I stop touching you.”

“I don’t-” Barry frowns and looks down at the two hands innocently wrapped around his wrists. How is it possible that he didn’t realize-?

“You are out of sorts, I can understand,” Sandburg gently says. “You have been struck by lightening, gone into a coma and nine months later you wake up and a stranger tells you you’re online as a Sentinel, but, Barry, believe me, you are online. And you didn’t become a Sentinel in the past nine months. Now,” he says and his tone now is serious, all business. “I want you to think. Think about the past, about any circumstances, maybe something dramatic, where something unexplainable happened to you. Maybe you heard something you shouldn’t have, or saw something you couldn’t have and-”

Barry’s heart does a somersault and he knows. He knows which dramatic event has brought him online and why his gifts (ha, as if they could be called that!) were suppressed. He hadn’t wanted to be a Sentinel. Barry wants to be sick.

***

When Barry is eleven years old a man in yellow lightening attacks his home and his mom. Barry is terrified and screaming. His mother is, too. The yellow lightening is chased by a red blur. His father arrives, running, and then Barry finds himself outside, a few blocks from his house. He runs towards home, profoundly aware that something terrible is happening.

Outside his house, there are cops now and half his neighborhood. Two cops are taking his father away. His father begs him to stay outside, but Barry doesn’t listen and runs inside.

In his living room there are strangers walking around and in the middle of the room something is hidden under a blue cover. All of Barry seems to focus on that blue cover. A part of Barry knows what is hidden beneath it. Another part of Barry wakes up, then, in anguish and despair.

The air is suddenly full of ozone and a strange, sickening smell reaches his nostrils. Barry walks forward, then falls on his knees. The strange smell is now overwhelming and Barry feels sick. He moves the cover. Nora Allen’s unseeing eyes looks directly at him and Barry feels a surge of nausea.

This is not his mother. His mother is gone.

The smell of death is now overpowering and Barry loses himself and doesn’t know anything anymore.

***

“And what happened after?” Sandburg asks, carefully, gently, when Barry lapses into silence. Barry swallows.

“I woke up at the hospital. Two Sentinels were there.” Barry says in a whisper. “They told me my father had been arrested for the murder of my mother and I told them my father didn’t kill her, that I saw another man in our living room. They didn’t believe me. I told them again and again, but they didn’t believe me. And I thought, I thought, they are Sentinels, Sentinels know when you tell a lie. I thought they would believe me and help me free my father. But they didn’t.” Barry chuckles, pained and bitter. “They told me they knew I wasn’t lying, but that sometimes a person can convince themselves of something so much that it’s a truth, for them.” he looks up then, and Sandburg’s expression is understanding but not pitiful, fortunately. Barry doesn’t know what he would do if he were confronted with pity. “They looked at me as if I was… damaged. And I loathed them. I’d always believed Sentinels were protectors, driven to help and protect, but they didn’t believe me. And I-” he falls silent, but there’s no need to go on. Silence falls, interrupted only by Sandburg’s heavy sigh.

“Well, that explains it.” the man says and looks at his Sentinel for a moment. If possible, Ellison’s expression is more unreadable than before. “They didn’t notice you had come online and when they didn’t believe you, you unconsciously – or consciously maybe – suppressed your gifts, because you didn’t want to be like them. Can’t say I blame you.” he sighs again, then looks directly into Barry’s eyes and Barry swallows at the heavy regard there. “I’m sorry that we failed you so completely, Barry.”

Barry flushes.

“It’s not your fault.” he stammers out.

“That maybe so. I don’t like to talk about our personal life,” he says, and looks at Ellison who dips his head as if to give consent to whatever Sandburg is going to say. “but we owe it to you. The CC Center has had many problems in the past thirty years and not until Jim and I bonded could we have done something about it. Fourteen years ago we weren’t bonded but we should have been. We were young and stupid, and we failed you.”

Barry frowns and thinks for a moment.

“I don’t know much about how prides work, but I know bonding is a personal matter and I don’t think it’s right to rush into binding yourself to someone else for life if you are not sure, despite everything else. You have a duty to others, but first to yourself. At least that is what my father always tells me. I chose to be a forensic scientist because I like it, but I can’t deny that mostly I did it to help my father. So I understand. You did what you could.”

And that, Barry knows. Sandburg and Ellison had toured the United States after coming online, after receiving many complaints about the Centers’ management all over the country. The US hadn’t had an Alpha Pair in fifty years and while many Centers had stayed true to their purpose and goals, not all of them had. Barry knows Sandburg and Ellison had worked hard for years to rectify the situation, but obviously not everything had been put to right. Barry is just glad they had done everything they could, and he is sure they had. They wouldn’t be here for a single Sentinel if they weren’t. For a moment he wishes Sandburg had been the one helping him out of his first zone-out fourteen years ago. Sandburg would have believed him. But he tries to think about something else. The idea that if Sandburg had been here, maybe his father wouldn’t have gone to prison is too painful to bear.

***

“His cells regenerate at the highest level we’ve ever seen and we could-”

“Caitlin, Doctor Snow, please, stop right there.” Sandburg says gently but firmly.

Barry looks around, still trying to process what he’s learned the past two hours. It doesn’t feel real yet and there are these people who treated him and now they speak of him as if he were some kind of accomplishment. Barry doesn’t know how to feel about anything right now, but especially not about that.

“I don’t think you understand.” Sandburg goes on. “Barry is an extremely powerful Sentinel. I can’t assess how much without testing his senses, but he’s at least a level eight.” he minutely frowns here. “I went over the data you collected and I’m pretty sure his new abilities affected his senses, because if he’d come online at a level eight, not even the lowest Guide on this planet could have missed it. He wouldn’t have come out of his first zone-out without a powerful Guide. That said, there is a reason why high level Sentinels are strictly monitored by the Center and flanked by a Guide. He could slip into another zone-out at any moment. Any moment.” he reiterates, looking at each person in the eyes. “Do you know what it means for a high Sentinel? I was able to bring him out of it but it took me too long. Next time I might not be able to, only his Guide might and what happens if they haven’t come online yet or for any reason they haven’t registered?” he asks in the now heavy silence of the room. “If a Sentinel isn’t brought out of a zone-out in time, they could go into sensory collapse and then into an irreversible coma.”

Now the silence is absolute and Barry’s mind is overwhelmed by questions and a touch of fear. The idea of losing himself so completely, to leave this world not unlike he’d done nine months ago, when he’d existed but the world has gone on around him, is horrifying.

“But they could be out there, right?” he asks and his voice isn’t as steady as he’d like it to be.

Sandburg looks at him gently and Barry wants to bristle. He has appreciated how the man hasn’t treated him like something to be handled and he doesn’t want him to start now.

“We don’t know yet. You have to be tested and registered, then the search will start.” Sandburg explains. “Usually nature provides and rarely a Sentinel as high as you comes online with a Guide still latent, but we can’t rule out the possibility. More over, Sentinels like you have just one perfect match. We can’t rule out that for any reason this person has never registered; then finding them could be next to impossible.”

Barry numbly nods. He can’t help but think his will be the worst case scenario: life has never been fair to him before, why should it start now and hand him a Guide to prevent him from going back into a coma?

He barely hears Sandburg’s request of caution and Doctor Wells’ reassurance that he and his team will do everything they can to ensure his safety. Again he wonders at these people, who already feel entitled to a part of him as if he were something of theirs and-

Then he hears footsteps coming towards the room, and there’s something familiar in that sound, in its rhythm, something that reminds him of home and-

“Barry, Barry!” Sandburg’s voice intrudes and Barry shakes his head, as if dazed. “Barry, don’t focus on just one noise and block out the rest, okay? This is a mistake, you could lose yourself.”

Barry nods, trying to focus on the man, but suddenly another person steps into the room and Barry smiles, for the first time in nine months.

“Barry!” the person cries and rushes to him.

Barry engulfs Iris in his arms.

“Oh God, you’re awake, you are really awake!” she says and looks up at him, eyes roaming over his face. Barry can’t help it and hugs her again. Her scent is so familiar and suddenly so powerful and welcome, that Barry wants to cry.

He doesn’t know how long they stay like that and he barely hears someone asking who called Iris and Cisco admitting he’d been the one to text her.

When Iris finally steps back, she frowns at him.

“You’re different.” she says. “No, you feel different.”

“I don’t-” Barry starts, confused, then for the first time he focuses on her and he believes he understands what she means. Iris stiffens in his arms and finally looks around. Her eyes widen when she sees Sandburg and Ellison and inclines her head in a way Barry had never seen from her.

“Alpha Sandburg, Alpha Ellison, it’s an honor to meet you, I’m Iris West, Barry’s sister.”

Once, Barry almost detested when Iris introduced herself as his sister. When he’d been very young he did, because the Wests weren’t his family and never would be. Growing up, with Joe gently and always patiently taking the role of his only father-figure and Iris that of the only and ever present friend, who never abandoned him despite the mocking and the bullying, he’d started to detest that assignation, because he’d loved her in the all encompassing way only a lonely orphan could, and ‘sister’ didn’t feel right, didn’t feel enough. He’d fallen in love with her without realizing it, he’d realized years later, and the ever present reminder of their brother-sister relationship was a painful announcement that that was always what they would be, and nothing more.

Now, something in him has definitely changed because no part of him takes exception at Iris’ introduction.

And suddenly, seeing Iris’ deference to the Alpha pair he realizes why.

“You came online.” he breathes out and Iris turns to him, a self-deprecating smile on her beautiful and familiar face. She nods, but Barry knows her too well. She’s on alert, and Barry realizes why.

A Sentinel. His sister is a Sentinel and Barry wonders where the regret, the rage at the unfairness of it all has gone, because if she’s a Sentinel, they could never be together, and why isn’t that a problem? When has his romantic love transmuted back into brotherly love?

“When?” he can only think too ask, too unsettled, but at the same time not unsettled enough by this revelation. Barry doesn’t recognize himself anymore. “How?”

This time Iris’ expression is painful.

“When I found you in your lab, almost dead, because a freaking lightening bolt had struck you.”

Oh God, she’d come online because of him. Like he’d done for his mother. He swallows, confusion and guilt warring inside him.

“I’m sorry.”

Iris smiles at him and steps forward, taking his hands in hers. The touch is grounding and comforting.

“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. And it’s not so bad.” she adds, smiling playfully. Barry knows that expression very well. Once he’d dreaded it because it meant he would have to endure seeing her with someone else, but now? Now everything has changed.

“You found your Guide.” he half-states, half-asks.

Iris nods, grinning.

“He’s Dad’s new partner. Barry, you should see him, Eddie is gorgeous! And sweet and-” she gushes and Barry laughs.

“Okay, okay, I get it, he’s perfect. How did Joe take it?” he asks, grinning, because he knows Joe very well.

Iris grimaces slightly, but before she can go on, the slight clearing of a throat diverts their attention. Sandburg is looking at them faintly amused.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your reunion, but Doctor Snow wants to do a few more tests and then I’d like you to come with me and Jim to register, Barry. The sooner we see if there’s a Guide for you, the better.”

Barry looks at Iris, smiling encouragingly at him, then at Sandburg’s soft expression, and nods. When Doctor Snow starts moving around him, calibrating monitors and so on, he lies down and hopes his life won’t get more complicated going forward.