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too hard and too scarred (for this to work again)

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1.

Barry's not always the Flash. It might even be most of the time that he's not. Sometimes he doesn't exist. Sometimes he exists, but like on Earth-2, he wasn't involved in the particle accelerator explosion. Sometimes there wasn't a particle accelerator explosion. When other people are the Flash (when Wally is, or Jay Garrick, or anyone else), who they keep around them is different.

The first other universe Cisco finds where Barry is the Flash, though, he's got all the same people around him. This Barry isn't a CSI. He works retail while he tries to get a Masters in microbiology, and has a loving dad and a mom who died just a few years ago, and he got hit with particles and lightning while he was on the treadmill at the gym. (The accelerator always seems to be literal like that.)

Caitlin was his doctor in the hospital, and she and Cisco were in college together. She calls him when they need help. Barry and Iris are friends, and she helps, drags her dad in (who drags Barry's dad in).

Their Wells is a distant figure, but he backs the team after figuring out its members.

Cisco thinks maybe they're happy, but that doesn't really matter. Something goes wrong, a secondary explosion when that earth's Wells thinks he can start the accelerator up again, and Central City doesn't last long after that one.

2.

On Earth-118, there was no particle accelerator explosion, but they all ended up working at STAR labs, which in this universe is trying to invent spacecraft, and the Wells from that earth asks if they want to go to space, and they all get excited, and they all say yes.

Cisco is pretty sure he read about the getting-powers-from-a-sun-storm thing in a comic book, but on Earth-118, it actually happens.

It's a lot rougher than the usual metahuman powers they deal with, and there are aliens, which Cisco doesn't have great associations with right now despite Kara.

All of them end up in the DEO for their own safety.

3.

Cisco still has dreams about the original timeline sometimes. The very first one, before Barry traveled in time for the first time. He has dreams about Wells actually being Eobard Thawne and putting his hand through Cisco's chest. He remembers Caitlin finding him, and Barry trying to keep a tidal wave from hitting Central City, Joe and Iris in danger.

He always wakes up sick, clutching his own chest.

4.

Earth-74 is a lot like Earth-1. Same team, same powers, though Caitlin's had hers all along there, and they don't drive her into a dark place. She's got Ronnie there too, and Cisco's got Dante, and Barry's got both parents for once.

Cisco expects looking in on that earth to feel like longing voyeurism, like they've got it all figured out and better, but it just feels exhausting. Because they're together, sure, but there's always something or someone new to fight. Someone is always coming for them. Someone is always challenging Barry or kidnapping someone one of them loves. Something is always going wrong.

Maybe as long as Barry's the Flash none of them get to be happy.

5.

He doesn't like to think about the earth where the particle accelerator just made them all sick.

Maybe they're just not happy as long as they're together.

+1.

Cisco has dreams.

Some of them are about flying or getting killed by evil Dr. Wells and some of them are about having a tea party with Oliver Queen and the Queen of England, but there's a set that all seem connected, and he's only been having them the past couple months.

In these dreams, Cisco is rich. He's helicopters-to-work rich. He's making-out-with-models rich. Everybody wants to know his opinion, everybody wants his latest invention.

He knows Iris and Wally, but he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to be involved in anything to do with metas (an echo of a dream within a dream, because Wells's hand in his chest is a centerpoint in way too many universes), but he wanted Wally alive, or maybe just wanted the challenge. So Wally's the Flash, and Iris takes care of them, and Cisco never dreams about Joe but they frown and talk around parents with each other whenever he has the dreams. But they love working together, love doing good in Central City.

He doesn't know Caitlin, but he sees her sometimes in the dreams. She's an ophthalmologist, and she ignores her mom's calls but that's a constant in all universes. She's seeing a guy Cisco doesn't recognize and wondering if she wants it to get more serious. She went on a date with Ronnie once, from some dating sight, but she thought he was intimidating and didn't ask for a second date.

Barry is a CSI. He is more often than he's not. But he lives with his parents, with two parents, who tease him and mess up his hair and ask when he's going to go on dates. Iris is a fondly-remembered face in an elementary school class photo. He doesn't have super speed, is just an ordinary person in the city. He thinks the Flash is a hero and keeps up on Ramon Industries in the news.

And then he starts acting different. He starts taking meals to a warehouse, he looks like he's going to cry every time he sees either of his parents, and he starts acting lonely.

And everything starts going wrong. Barry gets sick, he starts being forgetful. Starts going back to being the Barry he was before, but now there's a sense of sickening wrongness about it all. It only gets worse when Barry brings them all together, everything crashing down and going wrong and then a blank where whatever might happen next in that story comes.

“What was it like in Flashpoint?” he asks Barry when he catches him in the cortex the day after he has that last dream, where Wally got hurt and it all just ended.

Barry frowns, wary like he is whenever it comes up. “You don't want to know that.”

“I think I already know.”

Barry runs his hand through his hair, sighs, sits down. “Then why are you asking me?”

“Because I don't think anyone ever got a straight answer out of you about it, and I want one.”

“I know I screwed up, Cisco! I know I did. Why do you want to hear about it?”

“We talk a lot about how things are different now. But other than Wally, we don't talk about what happened there. You weren't the only one who was happy, right? We were all doing okay.”

“Not Joe so much. But the rest of us, yeah. If it had been the original timeline … I think the Barry there would have been happy. Maybe a little bored, but yeah, happy.”

“But you were getting sick.”

“Losing my speed. I don't know if I just would have turned into the Barry from the original timeline or if I was too different. I wasn't feeling … great.” His mouth goes tight. “Thawne was there.”

“I wouldn't be feeling too great with him around either.”

“I don't know what you want to know.”

“I don't really know either. I guess I keep seeing all these universes where the whole team is together and we can't keep anything from going wrong, and then I dream about Flashpoint, and the only people who know each other are the Wests and we're all fine.”

Barry's mouth twists, and Cisco is so tired of caring about him, tired of the reflex to back off and give him a hug. Backing off hasn't helped. Maybe facing it will. “Until I almost got Wally killed and ended the timeline and came back and screwed it all up, I know.”

“So we were okay. Were we happy?”

Barry opens his mouth and shuts it again. “I don't know. You were eating vegetable smoothies and Caitlin wasn't doing her research and I don't know, I was … I didn't see a lot of people but my parents. I don't think I had a lot of friends. And I think maybe Iris didn't either, or Wally, or maybe you and Caitlin.”

Cisco dreams about sleeping with a lot of models, but he doesn't dream about talking with anyone like he does with Caitlin and Barry. “So we can't win? We're all together and everything sucks or we don't know each other and we're just … bored?”

“I don't know.” Barry sighs. “I miss my parents every day, but every day I was in Flashpoint I was wondering what you guys were doing, wishing I could look you up, wishing I could have everything. But I've messed everything up too much for that.”

“I don't know what we're supposed to do. Can't we figure out some kind of timeline or universe where we all know each other and nobody's dead and everybody gets to be happy?”

“Let me know if you figure it out.”

Cisco doesn't get up and leave. Doesn't even really want to. He and Barry sit there in the cortex until an alarm goes off for the next thing going wrong.

Maybe there's not a timeline where it's all going to work out. Maybe Dante alive would mean Caitlin gone rogue or things going wrong with Wally and Doctor Alchemy. Maybe Flashpoint was the best timeline and somehow it just got screwed up.

“I've got you on the monitors,” he says when Barry's in the suit.

This is the timeline they're living in for now. Cisco can work with that.