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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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The following weeks are a whirlwind for Barry. After the scare he’s given Joe, his foster father almost overlooks the fact that Barry hasn’t even tried to conceal the truth from Iris. Well, that is not true: Joe doesn’t forgive him immediately but he doesn’t hold a grudge, and that is as much as forgiveness in Joe West’s books.

Iris, on her part, after the lecture about being cautious and how dangerous it is for him to withhold the truth, seems the more enthusiastic about his speed, even more so than Cisco, and Barry fears the insanity that has become his life when Iris asks him to go to a day trip to Metropolis and then Starling City, passing via Coast City. Barry complains he’s not a car or an airplane, but underneath it all, he’s relieved that she’s taken it so well.

Not that she’s letting him off the hook: when Sandburg tells them Barry’s sight has gotten stronger and that they should test his senses regularly, just like S.T.A.R. Labs is monitoring his increasing speed, Iris is the one who makes sure he go to the Center and actually accompanies him. It should be embarrassing to be treated almost like a child but Barry knows there is nothing but worry and care from Iris’ part and Barry tries not to mind. He feels loved, like he matters, and a buried, needy, part of him from childhood cherishes it.

Iris’ presence is the only thing that keeps him steady when Sandburg tells them his senses are indeed getting stronger by the week and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Three weeks after the whole Stagg affair, his sight has gotten almost to ten and all the other senses are above level eight. Sandburg’s heart is as steady as ever when he tells them the news, but his eyes betray his concern.

The search for Barry’s Guide is still inconclusive, and they have ruled out the whole North America, Europe and Oceania. Sandburg frankly tells them the search will be harder in the rest of the world: as much as the over all conditions of Sentinels and Guides have gotten better in the past fifty years, many countries guard jealously the status of their Guides and in others registration is neither encouraged or even existing at all.

Sandburg doesn’t say it, but Barry starts to feel as if running to the speed of sound is not the most impossible thing he has to accomplish.

Iris is his anchor through it all. When Wells suggests that maybe Barry should cut down the heroing, the risks too high for his control on his senses, and Joe backs the man, Iris is the one to point out that Barry is not just a person with impossible powers, but a Sentinel. The drive to protect is quintessential to him and they can’t stop him.

Barry is grateful for her support and it feels like Iris is the only person completely, one hundred percent in his corner. Even when they find a meta-human who can become poisonous gas and Barry can see her wavering in her worry for him, she never tells him he should back down.

In the end, even Joe seems to come around, but Barry knows the man won’t ever be completely supportive until they find Barry’s Guide, and who can blame him? Joe is not the only one worried Barry won’t ever come back from a zone-out.

So things are not completely resolved but they are good. They are all settling in a good routine when Barry is exercising his multitasking and Cisco warns him of an armed robbery taking place and Barry’s life changes once again.

***

Barry speeds through Central City and sees the van that’s been robbed. When he’s a few hundred meters away, the most tantalizing scent hits him, that reminds him achingly of warm apple pie in the fall. He runs faster towards the van, trying to pinpoint the origin of it, but he shakes his head. The robbers first of all. He hits them one by one, throwing them off from what they are doing, and one of them, one of them is the origin of that scent. The bluest eyes Barry has-

One of the robbers shoots one of the security guards and the smell of blood is at once overwhelming, but not enough to overpower the scent of crisp and buttery apples. For a moment Barry is frozen but the sound of gurgling breath is enough to shake him out of it and he runs to the guard, applying pressure and asking through the comms for the nearest hospital. In the background he hears the robbers get on their vehicles and drive away, one of them taking away all the control Barry has carefully built these past weeks. Barry, heart in his throat, asks for someone to call Sandburg while he whisks the injured man away.

When Barry goes back to the crime scene, his senses are once again under his control, thanks to Sandburg’s calm and soothing instructions, but that is not so for his mind. Barry is shaken and restless, something is calling to him, and the last thing he wants to do is play nice for Joe and the other cops and do his job. The scent of apples is now faint, mixed with another dozen smells. It puts Barry on edge, making him feel as if he should go and look for he doesn’t know what. When Joe asks him if he’s seen something to help the police identify them, Barry’s heart plummets and in a moment of panicked tension he outright lies, telling his foster father the robbers were all masked.

When Joe walks away to talk to Eddie and Barry wonders what the hell is happening to him, suddenly something goes alight in his mind, but he shakes his head. No, the thought is too frightening and tantalizing all at once, like that scent, but it can’t be-

Barry runs to the precinct and looks through the mugshots of the professional robbers they have on record and there, there he finds the owner of those blue eyes. Leonard Snart’s eyes are duller on photo, but he’s the man Barry has seen. Heart in his throat, Barry looks for the man in the police database.

Status: mundane.

Disappointment and relief war against each other in Barry’s mind and he still doesn’t know what to settle on after a while when a sudden voice almost makes him jump, demonstrating once again that it doesn’t matter how strong your senses are, when you are somewhere else, you are somewhere else.

“And how is my favorite CSI doing?”

Barry quickly shuts down the monitor of his computer and turns. Felicity is edging into the room and Barry can’t help but smile at her, heart lighter for a moment.

“Felicity!” he says, getting up

Felicity hugs him tightly, then looks him over.

“So you are a Sentinel.”

Barry winces, but nods.

“Oliver failed to mention that.” she offers, huffing, and Barry grins.

“Does he know you came over here?”

Felicity looks at him outraged.

“He’s not the boss of me.” she replies, then winces. “Actually he is, in a sense, but not really?”

Barry laughs.

“It’s good to see you again, Felicity.” and it really is. Barry hasn’t realized how much he’s missed Felicity’s playful aura until now.

Felicity smiles brightly and takes his arm in hers, leading him out of the lab.

“I don’t know if I should be grateful or not that you are not my Sentinel, Barry.” she mutters. “Lightning, really?”

***

Felicity is enthusiastic to see Barry’s speed, excited almost like a child, more than Iris if possible, and she claps in excitement when Barry comes back to her from the top of a skyscraper. They walk aimlessly in the park, talking of everything and nothing, when Felicity stops on a little bridge and looks at the water flowing under them.

“Do you want to talk about what is bothering you?”

Barry exhales in surprise and shakes his head, fond and exasperated.

“How did you know?”

Felicity smiles.

“I haven’t known you for long, but you have a not-so subtle tell here, on your nose-” she says, pointing and barely containing her laugh.

“I do not!” Barry replies indignant, but he laughs as well when she tickles his nose. Her scent is spicy and sweet, nice but not so, never as-

Barry shakes his head to focus back on the woman in front of him. So many things would be much easier if she was the Guide for him, but she’s not. She’s a dear friend, even if not an old one, and maybe that’s exactly what he needs right now.

So Barry starts talking.

***

“And you think he’s your Guide.” Felicity concludes and Barry nods.

“Yes...” he admits. “I’m not sure but I can’t stop to think about his scent, it’s still in my nostrils and...” he trails off, because he has no words to describe the sudden emptiness he’s been feeling since meeting Snart’s eyes, this overpowering yearning for something he can’t name, but needs.

“It’s different for Guides, but what you told me fits with what Sentinels usually describe when meeting their own Guides.”

Barry looks at her curiously.

“Did you meet your Sentinel?”

For the first time since meeting her, Felicity’s expression closes off, and Barry is instantly sorry that he’s asked.

“Not my business.” he says conciliatory. “And at the moment the fact that my Guide is a professional criminal fully occupies my mind.”

Felicity’s smile almost trembles but she takes the opening.

“Professional thief. At least he doesn’t hurt people.” she points out.

Barry sighs.

“For some reason that doesn’t comfort me.”

***

That night, at Jitters, when Eddie tells them someone has spotted their suspected perp, saying Snart’s name, Barry pales, heart suddenly racing, and shares a look with Felicity. He barely hears Eddie asking him if he could give him a ‘ride’. Barry nods, like in a trance, and ignores Iris’ look of concern. By the way his sister is looking at Felicity, he’s pretty sure Iris will know something by the end of the night. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Felicity, but the woman has the annoying tendency to blurt out clues she doesn’t want to give when cornered and Iris corners like it’s no one business.

He and Eddie rushes out of Trivia night and thank God that he leaves Eddie outside the theater where Snart has been spotted, because whatever weapon the man has hit him with, he’s pretty sure it would have killed Eddie. The pain is excruciating and widespread on his body. The Flash suit just sharpens the pain when Barry tries to move and through it all, the most horrible thing is that that sweet scent is back, more mesmerizing than ever (God, his olfactory memory didn’t give it justice at all) and there are three heartbeats he recognizes, of which Snart’s is the loudest.

The man is his Guide, now Barry knows it, deep in his soul.

What the hell is he going to do?

He looks around the corner and Snart is quick to shoot him again and Barry feels-

Barry doesn’t know what he feels. Confusion, fear. A touch of anger, because there are innocent people here, his foster father, his future brother-in-law and Snart is his Guide, what the hell is he doing?

He tries to get closer, to stop Snart, but the man is too quick to anticipate where Barry is going to be next, and it’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time and-

“Time for a test run.” Snart says to Barry or to himself, Barry doesn’t know, but Snart’s voice is deep and low and everything Barry wants to hear, beside his regular and calm heartbeat, but he doesn’t have the time, because Snart is relentless, and then, “Let’s see how fast you are.”

Snart points his gun against people and nothing is exhilarating anymore, because everything is just wrong.

Barry has no time to think. He barely has time to take people out of the way until-

Until he’s too late and he doesn’t reach the security guard in time and Snart kills the man.

“No.” Barry exhales, kneeling beside the man’s body. “No.”

Barry doesn’t know what he’s denying… that he wasn’t fast enough to save the man? That he doesn’t understand what he ever did to have a man like Snart as his Guide? That there is no way a Guide could have done this? That-that-

The shock, the pain is so overwhelming that he doesn’t even realize that he’s giving his unprotected back to Snart. He doesn’t hear when Snart starts walking away or when the man takes all the hope Barry has left with him.

***

At the labs, Barry barely hears Cisco’s explanation about the gun, why he thought to build it or why he never told him anything. Barry doesn’t hear Wells’ icy tone or Felicity trying to diffuse the situation. He barely hears anything at all.

Barry’s Guide has killed someone tonight, in front of him, to test him. And Barry failed. Everything matters so little beside that.

“We’ve worked together for weeks, I’m a Sentinel,” he hears himself say, but it seems so far away, like there’s another person talking in his place, “and yet you didn’t trust me. You didn’t tell me so I could be prepared. I don’t-” he exhales, shaking his head. “I can’t deal with this right now.” he ends, barely looking at any of them.

He walks out of the lab in a daze. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, what he could ever do, but one thing he is sure of. He has a Guide to find.

***

Felicity finds him on the bridge where they’d been that morning. The night is comfortably cool and the park is quiet. It doesn’t seem possible that just a few hours have passed since the last time they’ve been here.

Barry doesn’t bother to ask her how she’s found him. He has his phone with him and she’s the most gifted hacker of their generation.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks lightly.

Barry shakes his head and looks away, at the bay opening up in front of them. In a few hours dawn will be here and so will a new day. Barry hates it.

“Every time I close my eyes, I see that man’s face.” he confesses. “I can’t-” he trails off, because he has no words, no coherent thoughts. His mind is a mess, his emotions a maelstrom of chaos and his instincts are warring between find his Guide and protect him and find his Guide and make him pay.

“Snart is your Guide, isn’t he?”

Felicity’s voice is calm, comforting, with just a touch of her Guide’s gift to sooth him, if only for a blissful moment. Barry nods.

Felicity leans against him and her weight against him is nice. Once again he wonders why the fates haven’t given him her as a Guide.

"What are you going to do?"

“I don’t know.” he says, and it’s the truth.

***

At least the whole fiasco with Cisco has given him the excuse to shut off his comms without the need to give them other explanations when they get the news that Snart has been spotted.

Barry rushes to the train station, running past Joe and Eddie, thankfully safe and sound, and gets to the train, where Snart is mildly surprised to see him but ready to point his gun at him. Barry feels agony tear through him because he can’t hurt this man. He can’t stop him but he can’t let him get away either.

“There’s nowhere to run.”

Snart gives him a look, but Barry can’t see his eyes, hidden behind goggles.

“I didn’t see you before.” his Guide says, calm and collected, and it’s so unfair that Barry is shaking inside, that he’s the only one affected. “Your mom knows you’re out past your bedtime?”

Barry winces at the jab, because Snart has masterfully hit him twofold. The man doesn’t know about his mother, obviously, but Barry’s Sentinel can’t make the difference right now. And implying he’s not competent because he’s not old enough… Snart is trying to upset him and it’s working beautifully, Barry realizes.

“If you have wanted to get away you should’ve taken something faster than a train.” Barry says with a bravado he doesn’t feel. He doesn’t know why, but he knows he’s at a disadvantage here. Snart is smart, he is on this train for a reason and the man is playing to win their tête-à-tête.

Snart smirks and Barry tries to brace himself for it.

“Oh, but I will get away.” the man replies, confident. “I’ve seen your weakness at the armored car, then at the theater. You’re predictable like any other Sentinel. While you’re busy saving everyone else, I will be saving myself. You won’t ever find me again.”

Barry’s brain freezes.

“What-?”

Snart cocks his head.

“Don’t play dumb with me. You know my scent by now.”

The train keeps running, people keep on watching them frightened and wary, but Barry feels like they are on a frozen tableau.

“I don’t understand.”

Snart snorts.

“You are a Sentinel. Sentinels don’t give us a choice.” he says coldly and suddenly it dawns on Barry what Snart is saying and he feels sick.

“I’m not just a Sentinel.” Barry almost snarls. “I’m a person, and I don’t force people-”

“Please.” Snart interrupts him. “Spare me the spiel, I ain’t interested. I don’t believe whatever comes out of your mouth.”

Barry shakes his head, mind in overdrive, facts suddenly adding up in a twisted kind of scheme.

“Did you threaten all those people and kill that man, just to see what you had to do to get away from Central City and me?”

Snart dips his head and Barry feels sick. He swallows, heart painfully beating in his chest.

“You don’t have to threaten all these people to get away.”

Snart scoffs.

“As I told you, Scarlet, I don’t believe you.”

And with that, Snart ices the floor and the train lurches and breaks.

***

When all the people are safe and Snart is long gone (Barry could have tried to follow his scent, but he hasn’t even tried, it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but he hasn’t tried), Felicity, Cisco and Caitlin catch up with him. Barry is looking at the wreckage left behind by his Guide (no, Snart isn’t his Guide, he doesn’t want to be and he never will), sure that what he’s looking at is actually a bad metaphor for the state of his life. Like the train, he will soon ‘die’ in a way, after all. His only option has gone to drastic measure to make sure he won’t ever be an option and Barry is not the kind of person to force a person to do something they don’t want to do, not even a killer or a criminal.

“Dude, did you let Snart get away?” Cisco asks him bewildered.

Barry nods. It’s not like Barry has ever had any choice in the matter.

***

Life goes on. Felicity goes back to Starling City, to her Sentinel who doesn’t want her or their bond. Joe is pissed that Snart got away. Iris is worried for Barry and Cisco has done everything he can think of to make Barry forgive him.

Barry lets him do it. He understands that what Cisco is doing is more about Cisco himself than him. Cisco feels guilty and the guilt of having caused a man’s death is no easy task to accept or move forward from.

As for Barry… Barry keeps living, keeps going to S.T.A.R. Labs to do his tests, to the center and Sandburg to do his other tests and goes on living, always with the worry that one of his senses will suddenly spike and that that would be it for him.

He goes to the train wreckage almost every night, until the cleaning crew has taken away all the debris and not even a speck of apples can be smelled.

He doesn’t tell anyone Snart is his Guide. Felicity, somehow, has taken his secret back to Starling City and Barry is extremely grateful for it.

Then they meet Bette Sans Souci and for a while Barry is too busy with her and how to solve the problem of her powers, finally glad to have found a meta-human not hell bent to wreck havoc everywhere and a fellow Sentinel to boot, to think about Snart and his own problems.

Then Bette dies in his arms and he has to run far away from the city to avoid blowing up all of Central City.

He has to run faster than the wave caused by the explosion, and for a moment he thinks he will be able to do it, but none of them have considered the awfully loud blast of the explosion. Barry is not ready for it, and the sound blasts his hearing and before he can do anything, he’s lost in the white noise.

***

Cisco looks at Barry, lying in his by-now-usual cot, and wonders how things could have gotten so bad so fast. They should have thought about the strength of the blast, not just about what would happen if Barry got hit, but also the effect on his senses.

They had been so stupid, and now Barry is out of their reach.

The only saving grace was that when their comm link to Barry had been cut off, Cisco had been ready to call Sandburg. When they had reached the bay, General Eiling had fished Barry out of the water and had been ready to cart him off to whereabouts unknown. If Sandburg hadn’t been there with Ellison, they probably would have lost Barry forever.

Now that Sandburg has done all he could for Barry (after hours with him, Sandburg has shaken his head and told them all they could do now was finding Barry’s Guide), the man is on a warpath against Eiling and his 'misuse’ of Sentinels. Sandburg isn’t happy about what has happened to Bette and he and his Sentinel are on a plane to Washington to speak to the President herself.

God, Sandburg is one scary dude when pissed off.

All Cisco’s worries about Barry go out of the window when he hears the faint clicking of heels coming towards the cortex. Wells is somewhere in the building and Caitlin is ensconced in one of the labs now that Barry’s burns are completely healed. Cisco is the only person guarding Barry and he is sure no one with heels should be walking down towards them. Neither Caitlin or Iris make that kind of noise with their shoes.

And in fact it isn’t either Caitlin or Iris who walks in the room, but the most beautiful woman Cisco has ever seen. Their eyes meet and Cisco’s heart does a somersault. The woman grins at him.

“Well, cutie,” Cisco’s gorgeous Sentinel purrs, deadly as a panther, “we have much to talk about, but first I need to find my stupid brother’s Sentinel.”

Cisco’s brain isn’t working. It has broken when he’s realized life has chosen this bombshell for him (wow, he’s never going to complain about the unfairness of life ever, ever again, he swears).

“What-?” he not so smartly asks, but excuse him, his IQ is zero at the moment.

“My brother’s Sentinel. Sandburg told me he’s here. Where is he?”

There is only one Sentinel at S.T.A.R. Labs and Cisco’s eyes goes automatically to Barry even if the only thing Cisco wants to do right now is drink in every particular of his Sentinel.

The woman’s eyes follow his gaze and widen.

“What happened to him?”

Cisco swallows and just like that every problem, every worry about Barry is again at the forefront of his mind.

“Zone-out. We can’t bring him back.”

“But that means-” the woman’s eyes narrow and she goes rigid, before taking out his phone. “That foolish man,” she says, before looking at him and smiling, “wait right here, sweetie. I’m going to drag my brother here and then you and I will go somewhere and get to know each other.”

The last words are full of innuendo and Cisco flushes. He’s always thought he isn’t the kind of Guide who jumps in bed and in a bond with their Sentinel right after meeting, but his brain, his libido and his empathy are now in sync and thinking very differently. He swallows and salutes.

“Not going anywhere.” he reassures her, then frowns when the woman turns and walks away, probably to get a bit of privacy for her call, and Cisco realizes something, despite the tantalizing view of his Sentinel’s backside.

“Wait, who are you? And who’s your brother?”

“Lisa Snart, dearie.” she says back to him before going around the corner.

Lisa Sn-wait.

“Snart?” Cisco asks, panicked. “Snart as in Leonard Snart? As in Captain Cold’s sister?” he goes on, but just a tinkling laugh answers him.

Cisco is so doomed. And Barry… Barry has a lot of explaining to do!

***

Barry is warm and peaceful. He feels so good. He’s surrounded by the most amazing scent, that reminds him of when he was young and his mother baked apple pies every Sunday morning. Barry would wake up and only that scent would be enough to get him out of bed and down in the kitchen, to have breakfast with his parents.

It’s a sweet memory and Barry wants to bask in it.

But there’s something tugging him and Barry tries to ignore it, he doesn’t want to leave this new-found memory, his mother is there and smiling and-

“Wake up.” he hears and Barry does.

He blinks his eyes, because his sight is blurry, unfocused. His head is turned and someone’s face is in front of him. It’s familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, who-

“Like this, come on, focus on me, kid.”

The voice is deep and familiar, but the tone… Barry has never heard it quite like this.

And apples! Apples everywhere-

“’M not a kid,” he mumbles and shakes his head to clear it.

The man chuckles.

“Of course not.” he replies, amused disbelief coloring his voice.

Barry’s sight finally focuses and his eyes meet the bluest ones. Barry’s heart skips a beat, then starts racing. A monitor in the background starts beeping faintly and Leonard Snart turns his head for a moment, before focusing back on him.

Barry is speechless, but Snart just looks back at him, calm and collected. It’s a lie, because Snart’s heart is beating as fast as Barry’s and the man’s body metabolism is average, not like Barry’s.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, and he coughs, because his throat is sore. How long has he been lying down this time?

Snart sighs faintly and looks away, as if unable to meet his eyes now.

“Heard you were in a pickle.”

“And you came back to help, after everything you’ve done to escape from me?” Barry asks and it’s bitter and hurt. Barry has tried to go on, to make peace about his Guide not wanting him, but he hasn’t been successful, not at all. And now seeing Snart once again in front of him, tempting him with everything Barry has ever wanted and couldn’t have? This is just cruel. Barry almost snorts. Well, cruel fits Snart, after all.

Snart’s face muscles twitch and that is all Barry’s given to understand that his bitterness has hit Snart as well, that the man is not as cool and as unaffected as he wants Barry to believe.

Barry sighs and leans back on his cot.

“You can go now. I won’t follow you. I know you don’t believe me, but I will not.” he concedes, and this again… this is the hardest thing Barry has ever had to do.

“But I do. Believe you, I mean.” Snart replies, surprising Barry, who looks at him fully and carefully. Snart doesn’t move though. He doesn’t get up, or walk away, he doesn’t move a muscle at all. When a few full minutes pass and Snart just stares back at him, his heart racing as fast as ever, a new, painful kind of hope starts to blossom into Barry’s chest and he can’t help but break the silence because he needs to know and-

“Are you here to stay?”

Snart’s cool expression softens a fraction, and his eyes twinkle for a moment under the light of the cortex. Barry has never seen something more beautiful.

“I’m here to stay, Scarlet. I’m here to stay.”