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Collision Of Fire And Ice

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There isn’t a Guide for him. Of course, there isn’t, Barry thinks bitterly.

He’s spent six hours at the Center, doing every test Sandburg can think of to attest his level and control. Now they are in the Director’s office, who hadn’t put up much of a fight when Sandburg has stormed into the place, Ellison in tow as a silent and ever faithful presence, and started the process to register Barry. Doctor Snow had insisted to accompany them, supported by Wells, but Sandburg had been adamant to have no mundane in the place for this. They are going to keep Barry’s tests and registration under wraps as much as possible until they can determine how much his new abilities are either connected or influencing his senses, and Snow’s presence would gather too much attention.

That is one of the reasons why Sandburg has done the test himself – the main one being to be on hand if Barry risked another zone out – while Cisco runs a search for his Guide with the information they’ve gotten.

So, no Guide. Barry is not even surprised, just resigned.

Iris squeezes his hand and he looks at her. She smiles encouragingly at him.

“Don’t despair, Barry.” she says and in front of them Sandburg nods. They are seated at half circle and Barry feels suddenly trapped.

“Iris is right, Barry. We made a quick search in the US, but they could be abroad. I will lead the search myself as soon as possible and I will look into a Guide to help you in the interim. Obviously you will have a say in the choice, since you have to be comfortable with this person.”

Barry nods, but he feels numb.

“About your senses, instead,” Sandburg goes on, tactfully not saying anything about Barry’s sudden fall into depressed silence, “they are very strong, at level eight as I said. Your sight is your strongest sense at the moment, almost at level nine, which is almost unheard of. Jim’s is nine and in all the world, as far as we know, there are only ten Sentinels with sight at nine, only two with ten. Your other senses are at eight, your sense of taste the weakest of them, between seven and eight. That’s normal – coming online the senses aren’t always at the same level. They will level out in the next few months.”

Barry, who had done his best to listen to the man, is glad to finally have something to say.

“But not all Sentinels have the senses all at the same level, right?”

“That’s true, but that is valid for Sentinels without the potential to become an Alpha and you surely have it. To be honest, I’ve never heard of a Sentinel with senses so strong soon after coming online.” Barry is about to say something, but Sandburg seems to catch on what he’s said and he smiles, a bit self-deprecatingly. “But you didn’t just come online, right.” he sighs. “To tell you the truth, Barry, your case is unprecedented: while the suppression of senses after a trauma has been documented and studied comprehensively in the past fifty years, I’m pretty sure you suppressed your senses because you wanted to, not needed to. As far as I know, you are the first. Psychologists specialized in Sentinels studies would have a field day with you. That, added by the abilities you have developed during the coma, puts you in a unique position. That is why I want to keep monitoring your situation, if you agree.”

There’s a part of him that is in hackles at the idea of being under monitoring, but a more rational part of him recognizes the need to. The two parts are warring inside himself and Barry himself doesn’t know what he’s about to say when he opens his mouth, but Iris squeezes his hand and Barry turns to her. He’s almost forgotten her presence, as quiet as she’s been.

“Please, Barry.” she almost pleads and Barry is uncomfortably reminded that as much as it’s hard for him to adapt to his new life – it’s nothing compared to the hell he must have put through her while he’s been in a coma.

“That’s fine, Dr Sandburg.” and, really, there’s nothing else he could have said.

***

After that, he and Iris go to the precinct and Barry is overwhelmed by the warm and enthusiastic welcome back. Even Captain Singh, who has never been one of his fans (and how could he, after all the time he’d acted like a fool in front of the man?), spares a moment to inquire after his health and tells Barry to take all the time he needs to come back. Iris remains at his side all the time, a silent presence to keep everyone at bay. Sandburg had been very clear on what would happen if Barry were to have another zone-out and Iris has taken on herself the task to make sure Barry’s senses are not overwhelmed by their reception.

Barry tries to block out the nervous flutter of Iris’ heart when Barry freezes for a few seconds when someone else shows how much he’s being missed. It’s not his sense, but his mind. Something like this has never happened to him, to the little orphan who’s been so steady and stubborn in the defense of his convicted father. Barry’s mind is a mess but not because of his senses. It’s the easy acceptance and warmth that is getting to him.

Joe is obviously the most emotional about it all, and his hug lasts a few long moments and Barry savors all of them, carefully breathing in his foster father’s familiar scent, citrus mixed with the usual smells of a police precinct. When they finally disengage, Iris is looking at them fondly, arm wrapped around a blond man whose calm aura reminds Barry of Sandburg and Cisco.

“You must be Eddie.” Barry says, but doesn’t offer his hand. He doesn’t think Iris would mind but Barry’s an unbonded, powerful Sentinel and what Barry should do and shouldn’t do with a bonded Guide is widespread knowledge, even if Barry has never wanted to know much about his kind.

“Barry Allen, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Eddie Thawne.” the man says, offering his hand. Barry doesn’t hesitate to take it, and Iris beams, looking at them all as if this is all she needs to be happy in life. Barry too is happy, even if it feels bitter sweet and not completely right. Once again Barry feels a vague sense of disconnect, as if his life doesn’t feel really his anymore.

Iris shoots him a concerned look, but before she can ask, the precinct receives the call for an armed robbery and Eddie and Joe have to run out. Iris can’t mask her worry, so Barry takes it on himself to distract her and they go to Jitters. Barry is glad to see at least their favorite coffee shop hasn’t changed one bit in nine months.

But he’s spoken too soon, because things get weird once again.

***

“I wasn’t the only one affected by the explosion, was I?” Barry demands, feeling like the floor is about to break right under his feet. In less than twenty-four hours he’s accepted (almost, he thinks ruefully) the fact that he’s a Sentinel and he’s discovered that the explosion of the particle accelerator hasn’t just put him in a coma, but also that it has also made him faster than what should be humanly possible. If that weren’t enough, his healing factor is... astounding, for a lack of a better world. And he’s not the only one who has gained impossible gifts. Unfortunately, the other person is not using them to test himself, but to rob and hurt people.

Barry sees the guilty expression on Caitlin’s face, the icy demeanor of Doctor Wells and once again he wonders at these people... these people who clearly knew. Barry wasn’t expecting something from them, he is not owed anything, he knows, but he feels furious, and the more he looks at them, the more it grows in him. They should have told him there was a chance he wasn’t the only one. Instead they knew and they already have a name for them. Meta-humans. Meta-humans, as if being a Sentinel weren’t enough. Now he has something else that puts him apart from anyone else.

“He’s still out there.” he says, gritting his teeth. “We have to stop him, before he hurts anyone else.”

After that, he turns to go out, because in his opinion there is nothing else to say about this. Wells’ voice stops him and something in Barry goes hot and cold, ready to strike. He turns.

“That’s a job for the police.”

“I work for the police.” Barry counters, but he knows that’s not the point.

“As a forensic assistant.” Wells parries and well, this is so on. Barry won’t let this slide, he can’t, rationally, and something in him would go to war against anyone who says otherwise, even against a man in a wheelchair.

“You’re responsible for this, and even if you weren’t, I can’t let-”

“What’s important is you! Not me. I lost everything. I lost my company. I lost my reputation. I lost my freedom.” Wells states, and in another life Barry would feel bad for the man, for the way he’s antagonizing a man who’s been through so much and still carries the signs on his body and in his life, but during this life? Barry won’t back down. “And then you broke your arm. And it healed in three hours. Inside your body could be a map, to a whole new world--” and here, despite the fury, a cold part of Barry thinks, here it comes, finally, while Wells goes on, “genetic therapies, vaccines-”

“Stop,” Barry grits out, holding up his hand, “Stop right there.” he says, and Cisco, from behind a console, winces. Good, Barry thinks. “I’m not your lab rat, I’m not your project.” he almost spits, and he sees both Caitlin and Cisco recoil, while Wells’ expression only hardens further. “Your accelerator exploded and left us with this mess. Yours. Maybe you don’t feel it’s your responsibility, fine, but don’t tell me to sit here and do nothing.”

“You are not a hero, Barry,” Wells replies, as cool as ever, and Barry stiffens, instincts on edge. “You are just a young man who was struck by lightning.”

Barry looks from the man to the other two occupants of the room. He sees embarrassment, fear, an unwillingness to go against what Wells is saying, so Barry has only one choice.

“Fine.” he says and storms out.

No one calls after him and that is fine. Totally fine.

***

It’s not fine. As much as he’d like to ignore what Wells said, he can’t and the man’s words keep replying in his mind while he runs. He runs and runs and doubts.

He’s not a hero, Barry knows that. He’s never been one, not when he’d been a child and has stood against bullies, not when he’d run from said bullies, not when he’d been unable to persuade anyone of what he’d seen to free his father, after failing his mother. He’s never been a hero, Barry knows that. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him that. But how can he let this go? How can he? How can anyone?

Barry can’t and runs, until he realizes where his feet are taking him, and he breathes in hopeful relief.

***

“I don’t think it was a coincidence that you were struck, Barry. The lightning... it woke your Sentinel, what you were always meant to be, a protector. Have faith in this. You can inspire people, save people… in a flash. Be who you were always meant to be, Barry.”

Oliver’s words are a mantra that follows Barry back into Central City, replaying themselves when Cisco contacts him and tells him he’s built a suit just for him. They follow him when Caitlin steps in to help, when Wells’ voice reaches him through the comm Cisco has made for him, when Barry runs around Mardon to stop the tornado.

Having the support of the older Sentinel brings to light something about him Barry hasn’t realized until now. It doesn’t matter if he’s a hero or not, because he is a protector. He may not be ready to accept that he is a Sentinel but he wants to protect people, and if these new powers can help him do that? He will, with or without other people’s support.

***

When the mess with Mardon is done, Joe does what Barry has always hoped the man would do: he says Barry’s father is innocent. Barry, still wound tight by the fight, is elated, but the elation dies quickly at what Joe asks of him next.

“I need you to promise me something.” Joe starts, still shaken up and almost trembling. Barry can see almost too clearly the patina of perspiration left behind by the fear and the adrenaline. “I don’t want you telling Iris about anything you can do.” Barry’s heart plummets and he swallows, but before he can say anything Joe goes on, “Any of it. I want her safe. Promise me.”

Joe’s eyes are too dark, too earnest and demanding. A part of Barry would like to say yes, but he can’t.

“She’s a Sentinel, Joe.” he tries to say, calmly. Joe’s still too shaken up and Barry doesn’t want to rile him up further. “I can’t lie to her.”

Joe’s expression hardens.

“You’ll do this for her.”

Barry shakes his head and looks away. Despite the fact that he doesn’t believe it right, there is no way he can make this promise and not break it. Joe has to understand that.

“No one can lie effectively to a Sentinel, I’m sorry, Joe. I won’t tell her anything, but if she asks… I’m sorry.” he says, and maybe it’s insufficient, but it’s the best he can do.

***

Barry’s visits to Iron Heights to see his father are always a bittersweet affair, for the both of them. This time there’s a lot Barry has to share. It’s his first visit after nine months. It’s easy to see how his coma has affected his father: there are new and deep lines on Henry’s face and Barry is saddened to have increased the burden on his father’s shoulders. Henry detects Barry’s guilt almost too easily, demonstrating once again how well he knows his son even after seeing him only once a month, starting not too many years ago. Barry had always blamed more Joe than Henry for the denied visits over the years, despite what his father himself had told him the only time he’d been able to visit after the conviction. But once Barry had reached eighteen years old, Henry had recognized he couldn’t impose his choices on his ‘adult’ son.

Despite the years and the distance, Henry has quickly got to know his son, almost on instinct. Now Barry can say his father is the person who knows him better, who can understand everything that has happened to him by just a twitch of Barry’s expression and this time is no different.

When he’d got to Iron Heights, Barry hadn’t decided yet how he was going to tell his father about his Sentinel status and decided to let it slide for this time, but did Henry Allen got the memo? No, of course not, and when pressed Barry didn’t lie.

Thank the heavens, his father wasn’t angry or disappointed, only worried for him. He should have known better than to doubt Henry. Barry was so proud to be his father’s son.

***

“Have you both lost your minds?” Caitlin asks and wow, Iris furious is frightening and way worse, but Barry isn’t used to this kind of behavior from the doctor and it’s both embarrassing and a tad intimidating. “Was I the only one to listen to Doctor Sandburg when he talked about the risks Barry faces using his senses in stressful situations?” she goes for the kill. Cisco winces, but Barry is not a child, for God’s sake.

“I did,” Cisco replies, indignant, “should I have let him go gallivanting and playing hero alone then?”

“No, of course not, but-” Caitlin starts and Barry has enough of it.

“Guys, guys!” Barry stops them and both Caitlin and Cisco look at him, Cisco expectant and grateful, Caitlin still on the warpath. Barry goes on quickly to avoid the explosion. “I’m an adult, okay? And I remember very well what Sandburg told me, but this is my life okay? And I will choose how I want to use my new abilities and my senses. Caitlin, Cisco helped me because I asked it of him.” he takes a breath. “More over I thought we agreed I would use my powers to do good?” he asks, entreatingly. Despite the almost-too bad start they all had with this gig, Barry knows it will be better in the long run if he has the support of S.T.A.R. Labs. There’s still so much he doesn’t know about how the explosion affected him and the others, and while he’s not sure he will ever be comfortable enough to trust them, he wants their help.

“We talked about you helping us contain other people who might have been affected by the particle accelerator explosion. Meta-humans. And aside from Clyde Mardon we haven’t found any.” Caitlin says.

“People in this city still need help and I want to help them.”

It’s as simple as that.

“Will you please say something?” Caitlin asks, looking beyond him, and Barry exhales, tensing. Now he knows what the whirring he’d heard approaching was. Stupid of him not realizing it sooner.

Wells approaches them and smiles at Barry, who doesn’t relax in the slightest.

“What I believe Caitlin is saying, in her own spectacular angry way, is that we’re only just beginning to understand what your body is capable of, but your senses are something else, and we can’t, in good conscience, ignore what Doctor Sandburg warned us of. We have to be cautious, you have to be cautious, Mr Allen. Restraint is the key, Mr Allen. Know your limits.”

Barry nods, because he agrees. He doesn’t want to go back into a coma.

Know your limits. Barry can do this and be cautious. He can.

***

It’s a gentle voice that coaxes him back, familiar and soothing like an ocean breeze. Barry doesn’t particularly like the ocean, it’s too wide, too open, too wild, but the breeze is nice and-

Barry blinks and there’s a figure leaning above him. This too is familiar, like the instruction that follows.

“Dial up your sight, Barry.” the voice says, and there are other sounds, a machine whirring, the fans of computers, hearts beating and-

“Barry, listen to me, dial down your hearing by two, yes, like this-” Sandburg, his brain supplies, tells him and Barry tries to follow the man’s instructions, but it’s hard. There’s a familiar beating, and amidst the chaos, Barry tries to focus on that, trying to put himself back under control. When he finally does, his own heart is beating fast and his throat is dry.

“Everything is okay, Barry.” Sandburg says, but Barry knows it’s not.

When he can finally look around, he’s at S.T.A.R. Labs, as he’s suspected. Wells, Caitlin and Cisco are scattered around the room, to leave space to Iris and Joe. Iris’ expression is worried and she’s clutching Eddie’s hand like a lifeline.

Barry closes his eyes in guilt and leans back on the cot.

“What happened?” he asks, but he’s pretty sure he knows what happened. There’s a moment of pregnant silence where no one says anything and Barry wonders if the others are looking at each other to decide who is going to be the bearer of bad news.

“Come on, guys.” he says, opening his eyes.

“You lost control of your senses.” Sandburg says, softly, and his eyes are full of concern.

“We were at the party at Stagg Industries,” Iris supplies. “I found you outside, in a deep zone-out, after those men tried to rob the place.” she says, eyes narrowing but before she can go on, Joe cuts in and his face is thunderous.

“What were you doing outside, Barry? Were you trying to-” he starts to ask, but abruptly cuts down, as if realizing only then that Iris is in the same room as them. He shares a look with Barry, but Barry knows it’s already too late, Iris has already caught Joe’s slip.

“What are you talking about, Dad? What was Barry trying to do?” she fixes him with her hardest stare, and Barry really can’t lie to her. “Actually, how did you get outside so fast?”

And well, that is the nail in the coffin. Barry flushes and looks away from her.

He looks at Sandburg, who shrugs. For a moment he thinks he could ask Sandburg to step outside, that he could not share the news of his speed, but Sandburg is ultimately the biggest expert he could find to keep his senses under control. He should have gone to the man as soon as he’s discovered his speed.

More over, there’s a part of him that trusts Sandburg like he does no one else in the room. Must be the power of an Alpha Guide, Barry thinks bitterly, but he knows it’s not so simple. He is a Sentinel and the Sentinel in him recognizes Sandburg on a level Barry’s rational and emotional level can’t hope to understand.

“The lightning didn’t just fasten my healing factor or my metabolism. It made me also the fastest man alive.”

Iris looks at him dubiously.

“Fastest as in..?”

“Should I show you?” he asks, but before he can zip away, Sandburg’s hand stops him.

“No, don’t. Not right now.” the man asks. “First I want to understand what happened today – how you lost control.”

Barry nods and tries to remember, to focus back on what happened.

“I ran after the robbers, but I felt dizzy, so I stopped. The men were running away and when I tried to see the plates, I don’t know, I must have lost control of my sight, because I don’t remember anything else.”

Sandburg nods. “Were you still feeling dizzy?”

Barry shakes his head.

“I don’t remember, but I think so?”

“You were.” Caitlin pipes up from her chair and everyone looks at her. “Your vitals were down, your glucose level was dangerously low. You were in acute hypoglycemia. Then you went into metabolic failure. We had to give you forty IV. bags to bring your glucose level back to normal.”

“I wasn’t eating enough?”

Caitlin nods and her eyes go hard, just like Iris’.

“You didn’t tell us, we are your doctors-”

Barry shakes his head.

“I don’t-”

“You weren’t feeling well and you didn’t tell us?” Joe steps in, while Iris stays silent and furious at Eddie’s side.

“I-” Barry starts, but Sandburg is suddenly in front of him, hiding him from view. Barry is profoundly grateful.

“I don’t think ganging upon him is the best course of action.” he says, quietly but firmly, and Barry feels the emotions in the room quiet down, as if he were really shielded by Sandburg’s voice. His relief dies quickly when Sandburg turns to look at him. Barry still can’t see the others in the room but Sandburg’s presence is suddenly overwhelming and unavoidable, because a part of him knows he’s screwed up.

“Barry, I don’t want to lecture you. You’re an adult and entitled to lead your life as you want. But you told me in my office that you would keep me in the loop about what is happening to you. You slipped in a serious zone-out earlier and it took me almost three hours to coax you back. And you know why you slipped in the first place? Because your body was too tired to keep control of your sight, your strongest sense. And the sense any Sentinel uses the most.” Sandburg says calmly but hard. “We almost lost you today, because you didn’t talk to us.”

Barry swallows, mortified and overwhelmed with guilt. There’s only one thing he can say, one thing that won’t be enough for either Iris or Joe, but it’s a start.

“I’m sorry, I screwed up. It won’t happen again.”

He looks at both Iris and Joe when he says this, and after a few, charged moments, Iris gives him a shaky smile.

“You’re right, it won’t, because I lost twenty years of my life finding you like that, do you hear me?”

Barry nods, shaken.

Then a clasping of hands interrupts the silence and everyone turns towards Cisco.

“Let me show you the babies I invented to give you the equivalent of twenty burritos a day!”

Barry’s eyes almost bulge out of his head, like Iris’, but Sandburg and Caitlin look at Cisco faintly amused, as if used to the insanity that is Cisco Ramon on a genius spree.