Barry wasn’t really sure what he expected when he ran towards the swirling mass of clouds over Central City – but it wasn’t finding the world go back completely to normal. He saw things in the clouds, things that reminded him of his friends but not quite, like Caitlin in a… was that a superhero costume? And that was just the tip of the iceberg. He tried not to focus on the strange things, because he had a feeling that he couldn’t afford to lose his momentum by lingering to take in the sights – instead, he kept running as fast as he could, and didn’t think about how much strength he was exerting. However, when he set foot on an actual pavement again, the solid ground underneath him was a shock and a relief at the same time. He was drained and hungry, yes, and black dots were swimming before his eyes, making him dizzy, but Central City looked just like he remembered it from just a few minutes ago. Maybe the singularity has not messed with the natural order of things as much as they’d feared.
His stomach growled ferociously and Barry nearly doubled over. He needed food, and fast. It didn’t take more than two seconds to decide to forego STAR Labs for now so that he could avoid the interrogation and testing about whatever effect the singularity had – after all, the world didn’t seem like it was collapsing, so Barry could take a moment to have pizza. Or whatever was left at Joe’s house.
He ran back home, rationing his remaining energy to get there fast without overexerting himself. He was yanking the fridge open in just a moment: he must’ve been gone a few days, at least, days during which Iris had apparently taken over the shopping, because Barry did not remember either him or Joe buying this much healthy stuff. There were even Barry’s favorite chocolate puddings – his go-to comfort food when he’d been, what… twelve? Thirteen? He chuckled at the thought of Iris buying them for him, knowing he would be famished when he got back. Barry wolfed down a speedily whipped-up sandwich, then another, but he just had to savor the pudding: he wasn’t sure he deserved comfort food, after all, it was Iris who needed comforting now, after everything that went down with Eobard and Eddie – but he was going to enjoy this pudding before dealing with the fall-out of the Reverse Flash’s actions.
He’d barely put one spoonful into his mouth when he heard the door creak open: he hopped up on the counter to get more comfortable, waiting for Joe to get to the kitchen. If he was expecting Barry at all, he would know to look for him where the food was. Barry could already hear footsteps – but wait, something was a little different, what-
“Daddy, why is the Flash eating my pudding?”
There was a kid – a seven- or eight-year-old, two wide eyes, a few missing teeth and a Pokemon T-shirt, and he was giving Barry a speculative look as if Barry was the one who was in the wrong house. He hastily looked around just to make sure, but no, he knew every cut in the counter, he recognized that one cracked tile on the ground where he’d dropped a pan ten years ago, heck, the notches signifying his height throughout the years were still marking the doorway in which the kid was standing.
And behind him, all of a sudden, there was Leonard Snart.
The pudding splashed wetly over the tiles when it fell from Barry’s slackened grip.
“Nooo!” the kid made an aborted motion to try and salvage the dessert – Barry was with him on that one, he would absolutely be mourning the pudding if he wasn’t busy wondering why Captain Cold was in Joe’s house, with a kid who called him ‘Daddy’.
“Luke, remember what I told you about the Flash being daddy’s good friend? I’ll get you more pudding later,” Snart spoke, his eyes trained on Barry and tense around the corners as if he was trying to silently communicate something to Barry. Probably not to hurt the kid, which was ironic, because Snart couldn’t seriously believe Barry would ever do anything to a child. Or anyone innocent, no matter what age.
“Go play in your room,” Snart ushered the kid out of the kitchen and Barry blinked, sliding off the counter. What did Snart mean, ‘his’ room?! This was Joe’s house, as far as Barry knew-
He did not get much time to think about it properly, because there was a distinct sound of tiny feet thundering over the stairs and then Snart was stalking back with determination and what looked like irritation written all over his features. He was not wearing his signature parka – instead, a loose, navy-blue sweater hung off his shoulders. Somehow, that did not make him any less menacing.
“What are you doing?!” Snart hissed almost right in Barry’s face, yanking the pudding-covered spoon out of Barry’s hand and throwing it to the sink. It clattered against the metallic surface rather loudly, and Barry winced.
“I needed to eat,” he said weakly, but before he could suggest this was his house, not Snart’s, the older man was growling again.
“So you couldn’t take half a second to change? We agreed not to tell him yet.”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
Barry would’ve liked to play dumb – because playing implied that he would actually know what was going on.
“What’re you doing here?” the first crucial question slid off his lips reluctantly: Snart gave him a weird look for his trouble, but thankfully, he stepped back, out of Barry’s personal space and turned to the counter.
Barry had never thought that watching Leonard Snart wash a spoon would be this surreal.
“The doctor had an emergency, had to leave early,” Snart spoke, his back to Barry and his words making absolutely zero sense. What doctor…? “The nurse set up another appointment for us, next Thursday at eleven. I should be free, but just in case, I’ll call Lisa-“
“Wait, what?” Barry couldn’t just keep quiet any longer. He had no idea what was going on, and Snart was giving him a long-suffering look like Barry was supposed to know. It was unnerving, to say the least.
Especially when Snart dried the spoon with a dishtowel and put it in its rightful place. Since when did Leonard Snart know where Joe kept spoons?!
“The dentist Luke was supposed to see for his check-up?” Snart grunted. “What’s wrong with you today?”
“What’s wrong with me?” Barry scowled, taking a step forward, his fists clenched at his side. This was getting weirder by the second, setting his teeth on edge. All he wanted to do was go get changed and fall asleep, but he couldn’t, because- “There’s a criminal in my house with a child, acting like everything here belongs to him, and he has the audacity to ask me what’s wrong with me!”
Snart’s eyes widened – for a moment, Barry almost enjoyed his moment of questionable triumph, but then the other man leaned back heavily against the counter behind him, shoulders curling slightly forward and his hand coming up to rub down his face, muffling his sigh. He didn’t look sorry for barging into Barry’s home. He just looked exhausted, and Barry could sympathize. Now if Snart could collect his kid (or whoever’s kid little Luke was) and get out, so Barry could go about his business…
“Shit,” Snart exhaled, summing up the whole situation nicely. Had he not expected to be thrown out of this particular house? “What year is it?”
What? Barry frowned, and the words he had mentally prepared to ask Snart to leave stuck in his throat. What did Snart mean by ‘what year is it’? “Did you hit your head? Do I need to call Caitlin to check on you? Also did you just kidnap a kid?”
“Just answer, Barry.”
Having Snart call him by his first name rather than one of the dozen nicknames the guy always had for Barry was disconcerting, to say the least. So disconcerting that he found himself blurting out ‘2015’ before he could stop himself. Snart exhaled again, slow and deep, and groaned.
“The singularity year. Of course. Alright. I can explain things, but you need to promise me you won’t freak out. Also, you need to go get changed because Luke doesn’t know you’re the Flash and I don’t want him to find out.”
Snart ordering him around in Joe’s house rubbed Barry the wrong way, but he ended up nodding: the need to find out what was going on was greater than the urge to argue with Snart.
“Good,” the man returned his nod and waved his hand towards the staircase. “You look like you could eat some more, so have at it: I’ll bring you something to wear and you can plunder the fridge. Just leave at least one pudding for Luke,” Snart’s mouth curled upwards on one side, as if he was trying hard not to smile. Barry wasn’t in on the joke, but he didn’t argue for the sake of speeding things up a little. He didn’t get why Snart was the one bringing him clothes in his own home, but he did need to eat more to replenish his energy, so he wasn’t going to protest.
It took Snart forever to reappear with an armful of clothes: Barry didn’t recognize them, but his hunger was sated and his curiosity was not, so he flashed out of his costume and into the unfamiliar clothes in a second, deciding that he had more serious concerns on his mind than the ownership of the shirt and jeans he was currently wearing.
“Now,” he shuffled on his bare feet, folding the Flash uniform as best he could and setting it down on the kitchen counter. “Can you finally tell me what’s going on? What’s with the year questions? Why’re you here at Joe’s house? Did you ask him for temporary asylum? And who’s the kid?”
“Slow down,” the older man smirked a little – except it wasn’t a full-blown Cocky Snart, it was more of a… smile, a genuine, fond smile, and maybe the singularity changed the world more than Barry had originally believed. The thought sent a chill down Barry’s spine.
“Just tell me,” Barry tried his best to glare: it seemed to slide off Snart like water off a goose’s wings.
“Remember you promised not to freak out,” Snart spoke, and Barry thought about how weird a thing that was to say.
“Beginning an explanation by asking me that isn’t very conducive to stopping the freak-out,” Barry observed, but he steeled himself and nodded. “Just tell me. All of it.”
“That would take a bit too long,” Snart smiled again in that wry, secretive way. “But the concise version is: you travelled through time when you entered singularity. You’d better get used to it, because it is going to happen with increasing frequency – but so far, you’ve always managed to get back to your original timeline.”
“Great,” Barry huffed. He could do without more surprises like this – time-travel did not explain one thing, though.
“What are you doing in Joe’s house?”
Snart’s expression tightened for a moment, as if he were counting to ten – or maybe to fifteen, judging by the prolonged pause.
“I live here.”
“No, you don’t,” Barry automatically argued with the ridiculous notion: but it certainly explained why Snart knew where things were.
“Yes, I do,” Snart spoke gently. “I’ve lived here for four years.”
“Did Joe move?” Barry blurted out and his heart thundered painfully in his chest as another idea crossed his mind. “Is Joe…?”
“Joe’s fine,” Snart hurried to say. “He moved in with his EMT girlfriend. Left us the house, said we needed it more, for Luke.”
A frown creased Barry’s brow at the very idea. Why would Joe ever leave his house to Snart?
“When you say ‘we’,” he started slowly, letting the sentence trail off into an unspoken question. Was Snart’s wife somewhere around the corner?
Snart studied him for a moment – Barry’s eyes instinctively trailed to the man’s hands, searching for… oh, yes, there it was, a simple gold band around his ringfinger. He’d never noticed it before: had Snart been married and simply not wearing his ring for heists and jobs, or was that a recent development?
“When I say ‘we’,” Snart spoke up again, that gentle tone that annoyed Barry so much coming from the man who had betrayed Barry just days ago, “I mean you, me, and our son, Luke.”
“OUR son?! WHAT THE MMmmpph!” Barry’s shriek trailed into an incoherent, agitated squeak due to Snart immediately pressing a hand over his mouth. The hand with the ring. The wedding ring.
Barry’s eyes must’ve been the size of saucers, and he even forgot that he could’ve used his super-speed to flash out of Snart’s way. Not that it mattered – it wasn’t like Barry particularly wanted to scream. Or, well… scratch that. He did want to scream about the situation: however, there was no use yelling at Snart. Or was there?
He yanked his head to the side, freeing his mouth with a scowl, but he managed to keep his voice down to a frantic hiss.
“How the hell did you seduce me?! Heck, how did you convince me to marry you?!”
“Hey,” Snart huffed, taking a step back. Barry hated that it made him feel marginally better to have the man out of his space. “Both of those are on you. Asked me out first, got down on one knee… didn’t get me a ring, but with how much you spend on groceries, I understand.”
Barry really wished he was one of those people who fainted under unusual duress. That way he wouldn’t have to deal with Snart and his smug smirks, and his ridiculous hallucinations about Barry doing… that.
“Was I under some sort of mind control?”
“That’s hurtful, coming from the father of my child.”
“How do we even have a child?!”
“Once, we forgot a condom, you got pregnant-“
“Cool it, I’m kidding.”
“…you’re enjoying this so much, aren’t you,” Barry frowned, and Snart had the gall to honest-to-god snicker like a schoolboy.
“Not really. Got used to it a while back.”
“This has happened before?!” Barry yelped – this had to be a dream. Yeah. He probably went through the singularity and the strain on his system was taking its toll, and he was currently in a coma back in STAR Labs, surrounded by his friends and family and not married to Captain Cold.
“A couple times, yes,” Snart shrugged, smirking again: “The first time, you actually broke my nose. I didn’t expect another you would be standing in your kitchen, I got home, tried to kiss you…”
“Be glad you didn’t try that today, you’d have another punch coming,” Barry grunted.
“I’m not joking,” Barry huffed and stared at Snart, trying to decide whether this was an elaborate prank after all. Sure, the man was good-looking – now that Barry was really focused on him, he did look a little older than Barry remembered, a little more silver in his hair, slightly deeper lines over his forehead. And Barry would be lying if he said he hadn’t appreciated Leonard Snart, purely aesthetically, ever before. But to date him?! The man who had kidnapped Cisco and Caitlin, the man who had betrayed Barry, robbed people for a living…? Who would ever want to raise a kid with a man who took so much delight in criminal activities?! If it was true, then Barry’s self from this timeline must’ve gone completely nuts.
“I know you’re seeing something you like, but you usually have more questions than that,” Snart’s lips curled into another smug smirk. Barry really wanted to throw something hard and unyielding at the man’s head with superspeed, but shit, now he couldn’t unsee Snart with his kid. Fathers have always been Barry’s unfortunate weakness.
He decided to focus on the questions he probably should have, after all. “Usually? How many times has this happened, exactly?”
Snart gave it a thought long enough to signify it was more than once.
“Four?” he said tentatively, eyes flicking up to the ceiling for a moment before he shrugged: “I’d say five, but that one time you just saw me, we didn’t really talk, so I’m going with four.”
“I travelled through time four times?” Barry groaned – he shouldn’t be surprised, he’d personally time-travelled at least three or four times, too. But to always end up in this specific timeline… that was weird.
“Warned you it was gonna get more frequent from now on,” Snart shrugged easily. “Coffee?”
Barry refused to answer that – he was not getting Snart to make him coffee in Joe’s kitchen, he was still freaking out and even if caffeine burned out of his system fast, courtesy of super-metabolism, he didn’t find the idea of a hot beverage as comforting as he usually did. Not if Snart would be the one making it: his future self might be married to the guy, but Barry was not ready to put any trust in him.
“Suit yourself,” Snart said easily after the prolonged silence became an answer on its own, and he turned to the coffee maker, unperturbed by his guest’s refusal. Though he probably didn’t see Barry as a guest – Barry tried to imagine how weird it would be to have one’s time-travelling husband just randomly drop by, all confused and shit.
Oh god. Leonard Snart was the time-traveler’s wife. Husband. Snart was the sequel to Time-Traveler’s Wife called The Time Traveler’s Husband, except Barry hoped he would never ever learn the exact date of his death because that would be freaking scary… and what was Barry’s brain doing now?!
“How did I get back all those other times?” he asked, determined to re-focus on the important things instead of comparing his life to movies.
“No idea,” Snart’s reply wasn’t exactly encouraging. “You always- Barry- my Barry always helped you with that.”
The way he was still grasping at straws when it came to verbally distinguishing the real Barry from the… other real Barry was a bit of a relief: so Snart wasn’t as used to this as he pretended. Barry forbade himself to feel sorry for the man. He was the one out of his depth, out of his time and life here, dammit.
Also, it felt strange to hear Snart say ‘my Barry’ so smoothly, as if it was such a normal thing that he couldn’t even imagine not having that in his life, not having a Barry who was his. While Barry tried to process that, the coffee machine bleeped and Snart retrieved his coffee, turning to look at Barry again:
“He should be home any moment. You can wait here, or in the living room, whatever you like.”
Barry wanted to snap back that this was more his house than Snart’s – but that wasn’t true in this timeline, was it: the realization steamrolled over Barry and left him chewing on his lip to prevent any angry outbursts. How did he even find this timeline? Hadn’t the Reverse Flash shown him a newspaper with ‘Iris West-Allen’ on it? Whatever happened to that?!
“It’s mac and cheese for dinner, again – though I suppose it’s not ‘again’ for you, being a first-time guest and all,” Snart continued as if he hadn’t noticed the effect his words had on Barry. He probably had: he was observant like that, the jerk, always had been. Barry couldn’t say he found the quality especially endearing: admirable, maybe, in a completely non-romantic way.
“I’m staying for dinner?” he asked instead of reacting to the whole ownership-of-the-house thing. Snart’s raised eyebrow conveyed utter condescension as he shot back:
“Why, you pressed for time?”
Ohh and the awful puns made their comeback. Barry hated the man with passion.
“I’m just gonna be in the living room.”
Or anywhere else, honestly. Snart chuckled as he started pulling out ingredients for the dinner:
“By the way, you’re uncle Al, in front of Luke. Barry’s third cousin, twice removed.”
Barry had a feeling that Luke had met ‘uncle Al’ at least once already, so he decided not to argue with that ridiculous idea. He got out of the kitchen, to the living room - blessedly untouched, apparently neither the future him or his future husband were born decorators. Sprawling onto the worn-out sofa made his spine align in the best way and Barry allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment, trying to process what just happened, what was happening all around him. He wondered what Iris was doing in this timeline – how did she and Joe react to his marriage with Captain Cold?! Was Snart still ‘Captain Cold’, anyway? Barry had so many questions – and he didn’t particularly want any of them answered for fear of what he might learn. He remembered what learning about his future had done to Eddie, how broken, how resigned he had seemed. Barry didn’t want to let that happen to himself, if he could help it: after all, ‘future’ seemed such a fragile concept, when he thought about how Eobard had freaked out about the idea of Barry changing even the tiniest thing.
He heard the front door open again, but before he could sit up…
It was his own voice, echoing through the house with an undertone of laughter, contentment: Barry’s first instinct was the chicken-shit urge to press himself further down into the sofa so the other Barry (or just older…?) didn’t see him. Barry No. 2 passed the sofa without so much as another glance, and Barry could see his back and shoulders as he moved towards the kitchen; yeah, those were definitely his shoulders, even though he didn’t recognize the dark blue jacket, and his hair seemed a little… well, not necessarily longer, just cut in a different way, from the angle Barry was staring from.
“Hey,” he heard from the kitchen – Snart’s voice had opened up, the pitch changing from his usual provocative drawl to something softer, sweeter, and Barry recognized it as one of the things that had seemed odd about the man when Barry had been talking to him. Because at first, Snart had talked to him in this voice, and even when he had figured out that Barry wasn’t Snart’s Barry, the man’s tone had still been different from the voice Barry had learned to associate with Captain Cold.
“Hey,” Barry answered, the other Barry, and there was definite softness in it too. It made Barry’s heart ache, to hear himself sound like that around someone. He used to try his hardest not to sound like that around Iris, and it felt strange, hearing so much emotion from himself, directed at someone else. At Cold. “How did the appointment go? Did Luke make you buy him ice-cream afterwards?”
Luke. The kid Barry had with Cold. With Snart. God, he’d always wanted kids… he just never thought he’d have them with Leonard Snart.
Snart, who was now talking about the kid’s dentist appointment like he really knew all about it: and Leonard Snart being an involved father wasn’t what Barry would’ve ever expected. Maybe he should’ve, with what he knew about the man’s history with his own father. Barry pushed off the couch and tiptoed to the kitchen: he didn’t want to give his future self a heart-attack, but if what Snart had said about Barry having been here before, out of time and out of place, then his future self was well-equipped to deal with Barry’s presence.
Plus, who was he kidding: he was curious. He’d never imagined himself and Snart together – in the basic, physical way, sure, maybe once or twice, in the shower, in his weirdest wet dreams. But together as in married with children? Not so much. He had to see that to believe.
The kitchen was quiet and Barry carefully stepped over the creaky floorboard to avoid alerting them to his presence. Snart was at the stove, a pot of water sitting on it, letting out thin wisps of steam; the other Barry was wrapping his arms around his husband’s waist from behind, and it looked like he wanted to rest his chin on Snart’s shoulder, but Snart was turning around, his eyes half-lidded and his smile so bright and goofy that Barry felt like he was intruding on something private.
And he was – he just couldn’t tear his eyes away, even when Snart angled his head and kissed him, the older, married him – and the other Barry returned the kiss with slow certainty, like they both knew they had their whole lives together for this, for other-Barry to sigh against Snart’s lips, for Snart to curl his long fingers against other-Barry’s ribs, keeping him close.
Snart pulled away just a little bit, and Barry could see him smirk.
“We have a guest, by the way.”
“Huh? Who?” the other Barry asked – it spoke volumes that he didn’t even make an attempt to disentangle himself from Snart, as if he were one hundred percent certain that whoever was in their home knew and accepted the two of them as an inseparable unit.
“You,” Snart chuckled and leaned a little to the side- oh, so he had to have seen Barry stand in the kitchen doorway, and yet he hadn’t said anything sooner, the jerk.
“Um… hi?” Barry said, and the other Barry whipped around, eyes widening just a fraction, surprise melting into a wide smile immediately.
“Hey! Okay, I know this all looks scary – unless you’re from the future. But you’re not, are you?”
Barry shook his head.
“Good,” the other Barry nodded, then blinked: “I mean, not good as in ‘it’s better if you’re from the past’ – it really doesn’t matter: you don’t even have to be from either of those, you could be from a completely different dimension – did Len explain dimensions?”
Barry shook his head again – and ‘Len’?! That just sounded crazy, spoken in his own voice… except it didn’t, it fit perfectly with the other Barry, just like his name had so naturally fit into Snart’s speech pattern.
“Right,” the other Barry exhaled and finally pulled away from his husband, waving his hand towards the living room: “We should probably talk.”
“He’s the singularity instance,” Snart supplied from the stove: something in his eyes when he looked at the other Barry seemed significant. The understanding ‘oooh’ from the other Barry was proof that he got Snart’s meaning, and Barry felt a spike of weirded-out irritation at the thought of him and Snart having any wordless communication going on.
“We should definitely talk,” the other Barry amended his earlier statement and ushered Barry out of the kitchen, to the living room – he seemed to change his mind, though, before Barry could even sit down on the sofa.
“Maybe it would be better to take this upstairs,” he said, frowning thoughtfully at the coffee table, then at Barry. “I don’t want Luke to overhear by accident.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Barry agreed: he’d seen that same look on Joe’s face often enough, he knew what it looked like when a parent was trying to protect the kids. Was Joe where his future self had picked up that pinched grimace? Barry was protective of Joe, of Iris, of his father and of Caitlin and Cisco, but when the other Barry mentioned Luke, it seemed a whole new level of ‘protective’. As Barry followed his older counterpart up the stairs, he remembered how Snart had asked him to pretend to be ‘uncle Al’ – it wasn’t just the other Barry. They both loved that kid with uncompromising ferocity, and Barry couldn’t decide if it should make him happy that he could have something like that in his life one day, or wistful that he didn’t have it now, while this other Barry, who looked eerily untouched by the passing years, had it all. Being jealous of his own future self sounded ridiculous – but Barry wasn’t so sure that this was his future after all. The other Barry had mentioned dimensions: maybe this was a parallel universe or something, where Leonard Snart wasn’t Captain Cold at all?
The other Barry led him to the bedroom that used to be Joe’s – unlike the living room, a bit of redecoration had happened here, a new bed in the middle, a chest of drawers Barry didn’t recognize, light blue curtains that Joe would’ve never bought for himself. This clearly hadn’t been Joe West’s room for a good while: Barry looked around to analyze the changes further and his breath caught in his throat when he spotted the picture frames on the dresser. Most of them were photos of Luke – Barry had only seen the kid for a few seconds earlier, but it had to be him, laughing over a sand castle, dangling from a swing in the park, blowing out six candles on a birthday cake, asleep and bundled into cute pajamas with cartoon characters Barry did not recognize. And behind all these pictures, as if to mark the beginning of the story these photos were telling, a simple white frame held a photograph of Leonard Snart and Barry Allen, both smiling so hard their faces had to hurt, looking like they wouldn’t mind if the world was collapsing elsewhere because their world just got a lot more solid with the matching rings they were both showing to the camera. Barry had always thought he looked ridiculous in a tux – it seemed that all it took was Leonard Snart in a matching outfit to make it so much better.
“Scary, isn’t it,” the other Barry spoke quietly enough, but Barry still startled: he yanked his hand away from the pictures- when had he started reaching for them anyway? His first instinct urged him to lie, but as soon as the ‘no’ left his lips, he could see in the other Barry’s eyes that he didn’t buy it for a second.
“I am you, remember? Or… was you. Kind of?” the other Barry chuckled, shrugging. “God, I wish I was better at this. You would think you’d get the hang of explaining all of this the more you do it, but… not really.”
“Especially since you’re explaining things to yourself, huh?” Barry smiled a little, but it felt superficial. He was inclined to trust himself more than Snart: after all, Barry had trusted his future self once, when the future Barry had told him not to save his mother – and that had been a far more difficult situation. But this Barry… this Barry had a wedding ring on his finger that signified a bond to a known criminal, and Barry wasn’t so sure he could trust his future self like this.
“You’re wondering why I married him, aren’t you,” the other Barry said – it would be eerie how someone could see into his head if this wasn’t him knowing what he was thinking. Barry nodded, trying not to think about how the bed did not creak at all when he sat down on it. The mattress bounced a bit, yeah… Barry resisted the urge to test that bounce again because that procured mental images he was not ready for.
As if watching his older, supposedly wiser self smile at his wedding picture (with Leonard Snart!) wasn’t bad enough.
“Actually,” Barry mumbled, “I’m wondering why I- we… why you would start dating him at all. He said you were the one to ask him out?”
The chuckle that followed – Barry knew that chuckle. He’d heard it leave his lips after that fiasco with kissing Iris in the timeline that now didn’t even exist (or did it?): it was the ‘I can’t believe I’m that lucky’ chuckle, and Barry couldn’t believe he was hearing himself giggle like that about Snart.
“I did. And he dropped his gun, too,” the other Barry grinned – Barry resisted the urge to offer his older self a high-five. One did not simply high-five about dating Captain Cold.
Even though objectively, Snart was at least a nine in terms of looks. Too bad it didn’t cancel out the minus fifteen for personality and criminal records.
“Why?” Barry sighed – he really wanted his other self to have a better reason than ‘because he was hot’. It was the only reason Barry was seeing at the moment: sure, Snart had seemed… calmer, kinder, less dangerous and less criminal while making coffee or bringing his kid back from the dentist’s, but those things were not present in Barry’s timeline, in Snart’s past. So what had possessed this other Barry to ask Snart out?!
“I guess I saw something in him that I hadn’t seen before, and… it felt like I owed it to myself to give it a try.”
That was a strange turn of a phrase, if Barry ever heard one, but he decided that he didn’t actually want to know how easy it would be for him to fall for the wrong person, again. What he’d seen in the kitchen earlier, how happy they both looked together, like they couldn’t imagine their lives any other way… it didn’t seem like Snart was the wrong person after all, not for this other Barry, and the thought was enough to make Barry want to try and run back to his time as fast as he could.
Which brought him to a topic that, hopefully, did not include his ‘husband’.
“Snart mentioned that I’ve been here before. I mean… the me from a different time? Can you help me get back?”
He had honestly never felt more relieved than when the other Barry nodded, even offered a reassuring smile.
“Yes. You’ll go back tomorrow morning – but first, you should eat, rest, and build up your strength.”
Barry didn’t particularly want to stay here, but more food and some sleep sounded awfully good. He didn’t usually listen to people telling him he was pushing himself too hard, but if it was his older self who thought he needed strength… well, the other Barry probably knew what he was talking about, more than anyone else.
“Is there any reason why I came to this particular time?” he looked up at the other Barry. His stomach churned at the memory of how he’d left his timeline, the singularity vortex and the scared faces of so many people- his anguish must’ve shown on his face, or maybe the other Barry simply remembered what it was like, to be in that exact same spot, because he smiled at Barry again.
“Everything’s gonna be fine. It probably won’t be the kind of ‘fine’ you’re expecting, but it won’t be bad either, I promise. You know I can’t tell you much more than that, but you can trust me.”
A hand that looked exactly like Barry’s grasped his fingers in a gesture of reassurance, and he squeezed back, glad for the support for a moment.
“You can’t tell me,” he repeated, looking up at his older counterpart. It was strange how they looked exactly the same, as if there were just minutes separating them. He thought back to Eobard’s words, how he hadn’t wanted to hear anything about the past that Barry had changed, how he had warned Barry not to do anything differently, to keep the timeline intact: had the man only been worried about himself, or was there real danger, apart from the obvious consequence of time finding a way to knit back together, often bringing disasters worse than the ones that had been averted?
“Were you the one to warn me not to save Mom?” Barry whispered – the memory was still vivid in his mind, watching his mother die in his arms, and another Flash with his face shaking his head, his eyes pleading Barry not to do it, not to save her.
“I was,” the other Barry nodded – a wince contorted his face for a moment, and he shrugged: “Or rather, I will be. One day. You will be, too. Maybe.”
“You’re not making much sense,” Barry chuckled – he knew the feeling of thinking about being the Flash, like he didn’t have enough words in any language to describe what he inherently knew. This Flash, the older version of him, was more experienced, which likely meant a lot more subconscious knowledge, a lot more concepts clear-cut in his mind without any words to explain them.
The other Barry chuckled back; they exchanged an understanding look. “I know. What you have to know is that the speed force is a lot more complex than I- than we thought. It doesn’t just give you access to other timelines, it helps the time flow, or… this is really hard to explain, okay,” he sighed, shaking his head. “Jay always knows how to say these things – have you met Jay yet? Ah, right, you haven’t, that’s only after the singularity event… well, you will, soon. We’re not the first speedster, Barry. There have been others, and there will be more – not like Eobard, his connection to the speed force is limited and engineered. But the others will help you understand.”
Was that something to look forward to, or something to dread…? Probably both, in a way. But the other Barry was giving him this sympathetic look, and Barry felt like a kindergartener trying to understand quantum mechanics, so he simply nodded and pretended he wasn’t way out of his depth.
Before he could ask anything more, the door was pushed open, and a little ball of energy ran in, jumping up to the other Barry’s lap and curling his tiny arms around his dad’s neck.
“Daddy says dinner’s ready,” Luke announced with all seriousness of a kid: and it was cute, seeing him be so easily affectionate, like nothing bad had ever happened to him. Barry hoped, with all of his aching heart, that nothing ever would.
“Tell him we’ll be downstairs in a minute,” the other Barry smiled, pressing a kiss to his son’s messy hair: the kid laughed and was off, followed by his father’s shouted ‘No running down the stairs, Luke, do you hear me?!’
The Flash warning someone not to run made Barry giggle, and his older self returned the sound like an echo.
“He’s not always hyperactive, don’t worry.”
“So… you think I’ll be you, one day? With… all this?” Barry looked around – he could’ve done way worse for himself, if he were honest. There was something he craved about the easy, familial love that filled this house up like Barry remembered from the time when he’d lived here with Joe and Iris.
“Maybe,” his older self repeated the vague answers from earlier. “As I said… time, space, and the speed force are way more complicated than we thought. I remember having been you – that does not mean your future is set in stone. The newspaper that Eobard had from his time… it still exists, and it still says there will be a ‘crisis’, three years from now. I don’t let myself think about it. You shouldn’t change the past if you don’t have to… but you shouldn’t let what you think you know about the future influence your decisions. That newspaper?” the other Barry smiled, “It still says Iris West-Allen. And you know what? Tom Allen, her current boyfriend, is a cool guy, with absolutely no relation to me - us, might I add.”
Barry’s eyes went wide. That newspaper had brought him so much hope – so much determination to not let Iris slip out of his grasp again, to do everything in his power to keep them together, to tell her how he felt, again, and- now, he learned it wasn’t his surname Iris would be taking, after all…? He bit his lip, taking a moment of silence for his freshly deceased hopes, even as he could hear Luke yelling something about dinner from downstairs.
A hand came to rest on his shoulder, warm and steady, and Barry looked up to see sympathy again in his own eyes.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, I just… I wanted you to know that the future isn’t set in stone. Don’t assume you know everything, don’t compromise your own decisions because of what you think you saw in that vortex. I told you – everything is going to turn out just fine, so don’t worry and come taste the heaven that’s Len’s cooking.”
Everything Barry had believed in was wrong – and Leonard Snart was apparently some sort of a master chef.
Barry didn’t know where his life was headed anymore.
At least it turned out the older Barry wasn’t lying: the mac and cheese was pretty damn awesome and Barry dug in with gusto after the first tentative spoonful. Comfort food was just what he needed for this crazy day, and Len- SNART apparently knew what it took to feed a speedster, because the insane amount he made was a work of true beauty. Barry idly wondered if Snart’s dirty money was being put to good use in order to feed the Flash, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care when the cheesy, buttery goodness was melting on his tongue. Luke was saying something about school (“I didn’t do it, Dad, I swear!”) and the older Barry was trying to talk some sense into him, while Snart was mostly trying hard not to laugh out loud, if his choked-off noises were any indication – and it was all so domestic, so much exactly what Barry had once imagined for him and Iris and their potential children, that his heart swelled in his chest and ached all through the evening. He had so many questions trying to push to the surface, such as ‘is everyone I know alright with me being married to a villain?!’ – but the thing was, Snart did not look villainous or even criminal in his navy sweater, sitting behind the table with his family, laughing at his son and his husband, expression relaxed and warm as if he completely forgot how to be guarded and calculating around Barry, even if there was one more Barry in the room now, a Barry who wasn’t his husband, his lover, not even his friend. Barry found that oddly endearing: and when Snart glanced at him and caught him looking, offering a tiny smile, Barry ducked his head down and blushed into his plate so furiously he hated himself for it a little bit. Leonard Snart wasn’t endearing, no matter what his older self seemed to think, and he wasn’t going to let himself be tricked.
They couldn’t really talk much with Luke there: Barry didn’t have to ask to understand the need to keep a child out of the whole crime-fighting business. Or criminal business, in Snart’s case – but Barry couldn’t very well ask the man if he was still a thief in front of his son, so he kept all the questions bottled up inside, focusing on the dessert instead (of course it was ice-cream, what had he even expected from Captain Cold, ex-villain or not). And then Luke was yawning and Snart was announcing ‘bed-time’, and there was something in the way the man gathered the little boy up in his arms, allowing the kid’s face to rest against the crook of his neck, small fingers curled into Snart’s sweater… Barry knew he wanted this for himself, one day. He wanted to look at someone the way the older Barry looked at Snart, like he still couldn’t believe he got so lucky, even after all those years. He wanted someone who would go tuck their child in, someone who would be there, who would allow Barry to have what he probably couldn’t do alone: being the Flash was time-consuming, and Barry wanted children, yes, but he couldn’t imagine raising one alone.
Snart’s voice boomed from upstairs, making the older Barry chuckle – Barry didn’t even know how long they’d been sitting in silence. “Luke Allen, don’t you dare-!”
“Allen?” Barry raised an eyebrow – so Snart took his surname? Barry’s stomach twisted weirdly at the thought. The other Barry nodded and stood up to gather the ice-cream bowls from the table; Barry automatically followed suit to help.
“Yeah. Len’s got his past… he said he didn’t want Luke linked to it more than absolutely necessary.”
Barry didn’t know if Snart meant his criminal activities or his less-than-great father by that, but the man’s open, unguarded expressions from earlier resurfaced in his memory. Barry hadn’t thought about it before, but the idea of being Snart’s safe harbor was… humbling, to say the least. He wondered how it felt, to be included in Snart’s tight list of people worth protecting – and his mind went to Ferris Air, to the way Snart had jumped in front of Barry, freezing that escaped meta without so much as blinking, even after sabotaging the whole transportation to set the metas free. He’d claimed that the guy had owed him money – Barry suddenly wasn’t so sure he bought that. Neither was he sure if he wanted Snart to protect him like that, at the cost of other people’s lives – but a small part of Barry knew that if his child was ever in mortal danger, having a partner who did not hesitate to protect their son or daughter would be a hypocritical, terrifying sort of relief.
“You should go get some rest, too,” the older Barry tore him out of his distracted thoughts. “We’ll have to get to STAR Labs early, so that nobody sees you leave, just in case. I’ll wake you up when it’s time to go.”
“Okay,” Barry agreed – he was starting to feel a little weary. He didn’t usually need much sleep, but running through the singularity vortex must’ve drained him: he had to stifle a yawn just as Snart walked down the stairs, immediately smiling at his Barry.
“He’s finally asleep,” Snart announced, looking proud: the other Barry laughed softly and leaned in for a kiss. Barry felt like he was intruding on himself – but then maybe not. They both looked lost enough in each other not to mind company; Barry would’ve never guessed he’d ever be a part of The Annoyingly Perfect Couple.
“Good job,” the other Barry murmured against his husband’s lips before he remembered they were not alone (yet – and oh god why did Barry have to think about that). “’Al’ here was just about to go upstairs to have some rest, right, ‘Al’?”
The other Barry gave him a cheeky grin, and Barry laughed.
“Uh. Yeah. I’ll just… go. Upstairs-“
“Iris’ old room. It’s a study now, but the futon is unbelievably comfy,” the other Barry supplied helpfully. With the way Snart’s eyes slid down his husband’s body, Barry had to actively force himself not to use super-speed to get out of there. He just hoped they knew how to be quiet, with a child in the house, because Iris’ old bedroom was right next to Joe’s old bedroom, and the last thing Barry needed to hear was Leonard Snart consummating his marriage with Barry’s older self. They were sweet, weirdly sweet together, but… nope. There were things Barry did not want to know about his future, even if he had come into terms, more or less, with the thought that this could be his future, if he played his cards right (or wrong, depending on the point of view).
“Good night,” Snart called out as an afterthought when Barry was at the stairs. The man’s voice had dropped down an octave, becoming husky and rough, no doubt focused on the other Barry completely by now, and shit, Barry was not supposed to have butterflies in his stomach. He flopped down on the futon in the study, groaning quietly into the cushions and hoping he would fall asleep before he could hear any more.
Turned out that going back to his time wasn’t such a problem anymore – of course Cisco had found and engineered a way to do that. The older Barry led the way to STAR Labs, and Barry had never been so glad about his constant state of cellular regeneration: he still made damn sure not to look at the other Barry’s neck, just in case a hickey had survived the night, or had been made in the morning.
He said his goodbyes hastily – it wasn’t like he really needed to say goodbye to himself, anyway, and he was eager to get back to a time he understood.
The trip through time wasn’t as confusing as the singularity vortex had been: no strange images flashed around him, which either meant that trips back in time were easier, or that Cisco had found a way to stabilize it all somehow. When Barry set foot on solid ground again, his first steps carried him to STAR Labs: the city did not look destroyed, but there was some smoke on the horizon and he needed to make sure everyone was alright before he’d figure out what was happening in the city.
Cisco and Caitlin both startled when they saw him, but in the next two seconds, Barry ended up with an armful of happy scientists and he returned the hugs with a wide grin on his face.
“I missed you guys so much,” he exhaled, and Cisco laughed, sticking a licorice strip into his mouth.
“You don’t even know half of it, dude. You were gone for a couple of days – where have you been?”
“Trust me, you don’t wanna know.”
Cisco was laughing and patting Barry on his back when a familiar drawl interrupted them.
“As much as I’d love to hear about the Adventures of the Scarlet Speedster, I do believe we need to sort out our little problem before the city goes apeshit.”
Barry stared. Snart kept smirking at him. Barry couldn’t look away, but he inclined his head towards Cisco anyway.
“What is he doing here?”
“You were missing, and we needed more people,” Cisco muttered. That definitely made Barry look away from Snart – who looked nothing like his older, domestic counterpart, and yet exactly like him. He wasn’t wearing his parka and one sleeve of his thermal shirt was torn to shreds, but he seemed mostly unharmed – though he looked like he had been out-stubborning exhaustion for days. “Cold’s been helping.”
“Grodd is back,” Caitlin supplied, and Barry mentally groaned. That was the one thing he really needed now, an angry telepathic gorilla out to get him. Ah well… not like they had a choice now. He looked at the criminal, fiddling with his gun a few feet from Barry, and he wondered if this was how it had started for the other Barry, working with Cold to save the city before they started dating. His heart still ached at the memory of how well the other Barry, the other Snart, had fit together… and he remembered the other Barry’s warnings, he knew he shouldn’t give in to what he thought he knew about the future. But he also remembered what the other Barry had said about feeling like he owed it to himself to try. Barry understood that feeling now, watching the man who used to be his nemesis and now was possibly a reluctant ally, but Barry had seen him be so much more and he owed it to all his unfulfilled dreams, to his half-cracked heart, to give this a shot.
Before Barry could mentally talk himself out of it, he was stalking to Snart with a mischievous grin.
“Hey,” he said: Snart turned, eyes narrow and wary, but his trademark smirk was firmly in place, bravado and cocky charm combined.
“Good to see you back, Scarlet,” Snart drawled, and Barry chuckled. If only the man knew what Barry knew… he took a deep breath.
“So when the mess with Grodd is sorted… how about we grab coffee sometime? Just you and me?”
The cold gun clattered loudly to the ground and Snart was cursing when it accidentally iced the floor, making his feet slip a little when he tried to step out of the way. His eyes were wide (and oh so blue) when he glanced up at Barry in shock, and Barry remembered something the other Barry had said. He dropped his gun.
Maybe this was how it started, after all.