Five days after the Flash vanishes, the still bleeding body of Eddie Thawne appears in the speed lab.
Since the crisis, Bart’s been working with Cisco trying to figure out a way to trace Barry’s last known location. They’d both watched the fight, seen something that looked like Barry disintegrating, but no one knows what else to do, so Cisco’s been working the breaches in the hope that if Barry’s managed to lose himself in the wrong dimension just like Bart did when he ran towards the past all those years ago.
Neither of them are expecting a very familiar face to fall out of the breach.
“Holy… Christ on a cracker,” Cisco says, lowering his arm as the breach flickers close. “Is that who it looks like?”
Bart’s at his side in a second, a hand pressed against the single gunshot wound to the chest. “I’m seeing the same person,” he says, his opposite hand checking for a pulse. It’s faint and getting slower. “He needs help.”
“What do you mean help?” Cisco chokes. “Is he still alive?”
Bart nods. “I’m not sure for how much longer. You think I should run him to Caitlin?”
“Caitlin is in no way equipped to handle a near fatal gunshot wound to a non-meta human.”
“Thehospitalthen,” Bart says, thankful that he’s already in his Impulse gear. He shakes his head down, letting his goggles fall from his forehead and into place on his face. “Don’ttellAuntIrisyet.”
He scoops Eddie up in his arms. Bart’s still doesn’t have much by way of upper body strength, but Eddie, who had looked huge to him as a kid isn’t actually that big a guy. He takes a deep breath and runs, depositing Eddie five seconds later on a gurney in the hospital’s ER. The doctor in the room lights up. “Flash!” she says.
Bart feels sick. He’s been Impulse officially since he was eighteen, but his first appearance in costume was at age twelve and the first time someone from the newspaper had been able to get a picture, he’d been fifteen. Impulse is not a new quantity in the city. But right now, all anyone wants to see is the Flash. Bart can’t say he blames them.
“Youneedtohelphim,” Bart says. He winces internally practically hearing Barry’s voice scold slower and then recollects himself. “Gunshot to the chest. As of twenty seconds ago, he has a pulse.”
The doctor snaps out of her shock, focusing slowly on Eddie, barking out orders to the nearest nurse. Bart feels his own adrenaline leaching out of him as he watches the proceedings, the reality of the situation setting in.
Eddie had died when they were fighting the Reverse Flash. Sucked into the singularity, Cisco said. No body recovered, but no real doubt either.
He’s supposed to be dead.
“Impulse?” a nurse says. “Do you know this man’s information?”
“His name is Eddie Thawne,” Bart says. His voice stays slow, unconsciously translating his habitual speeding into vibrating his face. He’d worked that trick out with Barry, Dad, one summer when he’d first started training in the speed lab.
“Allergies?” she asks. “Medical history? Next of kin?”
Bart’s the next of kin. If Eobard Thawne--Bart’s grandfather--was erased by Eddie’s death, Bart had to be a blood relative as well. He’s probably the only person left in the country who has that particular credential.
Not to mention Aunt Iris, who had been Eddie’s fiancé almost a decade ago.
His tongue feels thick. He forces himself to say, “I don’t know.”
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“No,” Bart says.
Then he runs.
Bart comes back later the same day in his civilian clothes. His teachers at the university already know that he has a family emergency. Officially, Barry is listed under the dozens of citizens in Central City missing after the crisis. It’s… a convenient excuse. A way to mask Bart’s own involvement in the cleanup. He hates it.
He’s far from the only family member at the hospital. There are still dozens of patients without identification being treated and more nameless faces in the morgue. Bart thinks he might be one of the lucky ones.
At least he knows what happened to his dad.
What happened to Eddie is a different story.
“Bart Allen,” he introduces himself, careful to keep his speech even despite his nerves. “I got a call about my cousin, Eddie Thawne.”
He gets a once over. “You old enough to make medical decisions for your cousin?”
Bart’s twenty-one, at least according to his license. His first couple years were inside a VR that was paced to keep his mental development on track with his body which was aging at a hyperaccelerated rate. He always feels awkward when he’s pegged for younger that he is, like somehow they’re onto his less than legitimate identity. He slides his ID over the counter.
The nurse checks it against something on her computer and then slips it back. “You his only family?” she asks.
“As far as I know,” Bart says. “I haven’t seen him in years.”
Looking bored, the nurse gives over a room number. Bart nods briefly, moving towards the stairs and then has to backtrack, giving her a sheepish smile.
She clocks him immediately. “Forget the number?”
Bart nods. She rolls her eyes and jots it down for him on a notepad.
Eddie’s room is in intensive care, only private by virtue of a screen. Bart hesitates and then takes the chair in the corner of the partition, not close enough to accidentally dislodge anything. Aunt Iris keeps a picture of Eddie in her wallet, tucked behind the one of herself and Barry on their wedding day. The wedding day picture is formal, the couple smiling softly at one another, but the picture of Eddie…
Bart always loved it. He has no idea when it was taken, but Eddie and Iris are both covered in paint, sitting on a tarp covered couch. Neither of them are looking at the camera. Aunt Iris is laughing, Eddie has his nose pressed to her cheek a wide smile on his face.
He knows that Iris loved his dad… Loves his dad, but Bart’s pretty sure that Barry would have never had a chance if Eddie survived.
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t called Aunt Iris yet.
He drums his fingers on the arm of his chair, letting them blur with speed. He doesn’t know how normal people do this all the time. A glance at the clock on the wall says he’s been here five minutes, but it feels closer to hours.
He stands abruptly, takes two steps closer to the hospital bed to examine the unconscious man.
It definitely looks like Eddie. Like he hasn’t aged a day since Iris’s photo and that had to be ten years ago. With the number of versions of Harrison Wells they’ve seen through the years, Bart doesn’t really doubt this is some version of Eddie Thawne. He just hopes it’s not an evil twin. Inertia filled his evil twin quota for the decade.
“You’re not exactly the person I was hoping to fall out of a portal,” Bart says. “But it is good to see you, Uncle Eddie.”
The heart monitor blinks at him.
Bart pats Eddie on the hand. “Getwellsoonokay.”
Belatedly it occurs to him that after gathering up a ton of static electricity from drumming his fingers over a plastic chair, he probably shouldn’t touch someone hooked into that many machines. One of them starts beeping loudly and then a different one screeches. Bart forces himself not to flash off and find a doctor to physically put him in front of Eddie. Instead he waits ten agonizing seconds until someone hears the alarm and pushes him aside as they draw the curtains.
He has to wait in the hall for the next two hours.
When the doctor finally comes to get him, Bart doesn’t hear a single word between “He’s alive,” and “He been in and out of consciousness.”
“He’s awake?” Bart asks.
“For a few minutes.”
“I want to see him,” Bart demands.
He has to ask a few more times, but eventually, he’s ushered back into the ICU.
Eddie stirs when he sits next to the bed, his eyes slightly unfocused. It takes him a while to form a word, his brow creasing in concentration. When he forces it past his lips, it’s nearly inaudible, but it makes an impact. “Barry?”
Bart knows he looks like Barry Allen. They have the same rangy body type, the same baby face, the same hair color. He’s been wearing one of his dad’s old STAR Labs sweat shirts almost constantly since the crisis so even the attire has to ring of familiarity.
The resemblance was one of the reason it had been so easy to say that Bart was Barry’s son when he first ran to the past. Bart looks just like his dad.
It’s always been a point of pride.
“Barry?” Eddie says again.
“I’m not…” Bart says. He’s not sure how he’d planned to finish that sentence so he just trails off, staring at his hands.
“Where’s Iris?” Eddie asks. “Is she all right?”
“She’s fine,” Bart promises.
“Barry?” Eddie asks again.
“Barry’s my dad,” Bart says after a minute.
Eddie frowns, looks him over again and then slowly, like he’s not sure what he’s looking at is real. He says, “Bart?”
He’s unconscious again a few minutes later.
Later, Bart’s sitting on one of the terminals at STAR labs, tapping his foot against the ground as Cisco and Caitlin stare at him.
“Say that again,” Caitlin orders. There’s an almost cynical bite to her words these days, her eyes a cold ice blue. She hasn’t been a real member of the team in years, too many mistakes, too many people hurt, but while Killer Frost is a tentative ally at best, Caitlin Snow is always willing to provide medical expertise.
“Eddie’s alive,” Bart says.
“Eddie Thawne,” Caitlin says. “The one who shot himself in the chest and grandfather paradoxed the Reverse Flash out of existence? I thought Barry put a moratorium on time travel after the last incident. How does this happen?”
“We were looking for Dad,” Bart says. “Cisco had just closed a breach.”
“Then he’s a breacher!” Caitlin stands, her eyes flashing. The temperature in the room takes a nose dive.
“Breach was closed, Frosty,” Cisco snaps. “You know I’m good for that.”
“Really, Cisco, exactly how many times did Grodd manage to sneak through breaches you swore you closed? Are you absolutely sure he’s not some plant?”
“I’m sure,” Bart says. He’s got goosebumps from the chill in the air, but he knows he can’t move for the Impulse suit and the heated microfibers in the fabric without being seen as a threat. He likes being on Caitlin’s good side. The one time he had to fight Killer Frost, he got his ass kicked.
“Impulse, you’re hardly the expert.”
“Injury matches Dad’s story. When I went to see him he asked for Iris. He thought I was Dad when he first saw me, but he recognized me right after.”
“You were twelve the last time he saw you.” Caitlin’s voice softens slightly. “Sometimes I’m not even sure I recognize you.”
“Bart’s right.” Cisco steps between them. “Out of all the universes out there, we’re the only one I’ve seen that has both Eddie and Bart in the same era.”
“Fine,” Caitlin says, the frost seeping back into her voice. “It’s Eddie, back from the dead. Why call me?”
Bart fumbles a vacutainer out of his pocket. He’d stolen the blood sample from the panel the doctors had ordered. “You did some testing when I first got to the past. Should be able to confirm if Eddie’s from this dimension or not.”
“Not so sure after all,” Caitlin observes.
“Don’t want to stress Aunt Iris out.” Bart tosses the vacutainer over to Caitlin, who catches it without issue. “We’re sure.”
“How did you even manage to get in to see Eddie?” Caitlin asks, “Last I heard he was legally dead and had no next of kin.”
“I grew up in a virtual reality. I picked up some things about computers.”
“You don’t have the patience for hacking,” Caitlin scoffs.
“She’s got your number.” Cisco says, glancing to Bart. “Robin or Felicity?”
Bart deflates. “Robin.”
“Don’t worry, kid, we all have our strengths.” Caitlin laughs as she twirls the vacutainer in her hands. “Now, my lab or yours?”
“They’re both your labs,” Bart says.
Caitlin bristles. “I’m not on Team Flash anymore. I don’t want or need your invitation.”
Bart exchanges a glance with Cisco.
She doesn’t want or need their invitation, but they’ll continue Barry’s policy: Anytime she wants to come back to STAR labs, she’ll be welcome.
Another day passes and Barry doesn’t come back. Wally’s around, so it’s not like the city’s unprotected, but Wally spends most of his time on Earth-2 with Jesse. They’ve got kids. They’ve got a home. And Earth-2’s Central City needs the Flash just as badly as this one does.
Bart’s been avoiding Iris. He’s never been the best at secrecy and Iris has a decade of reporting under her belt. He’d say he’s lucky she’s distracted, but she’s distracted because Barry is missing.
He suspects Iris is avoiding him, too, both of them in their own orbit. The second she manages to have conversation with Impulse about the crisis, he’ll be forced to tell her what he saw.
Dad running fast enough to disintegrate.
Iris would rather follow Cisco’s theories, let him keep opening portals to other Earths on the off chance that Barry is just lost. If they ever get together, they’ll have to decide if they want to kill Barry’s Flash persona.
Bart takes to heading to the hospital after classes and before patrol. Eddie’s been moved out of the ICU, into a private room that he can only afford thanks to a generous contribution from Drake Industries. Eddie’s still in the phase where he sleeps a lot, but he’s been steadily more aware each time Bart visits until he finally asks, “Why do they think you’re my cousin?”
“Hacking,” Bart says.
Eddie frowns. “That’s illegal and I’m law enforcement.”
“You’re dead,” Bart says. “The badge doesn’t count anymore. I took a criminal law course.”
“They teach that in criminal law?”
“I don’t know.” Bart kicks his feet up against the bed. “I’ve only been to two classes this semester.”
“You should go to your classes,” Eddie says. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
“I said I’m your cousin because, I am. Probably. Nephew at least. You know how I’m not from this era? Eobard Thawne was my grandfather.”
Eddie’s eyes widen. “We’re related?”
“I shot myself,” he says.
“I shot myself because I was his descendant. Because removing myself from the equation removed him.” The heart monitors spikes, his face turning red. “Bart, I could have erased your existence.”
“I could have.”
Bart blows the bangs back from his eyes. “The way Dad told it, you saved everyone. And we hadn’t explained my family tree. You couldn’t have known.”
Eddie still looks distressed.
Bart makes a snap decision. Even if Caitlin’s tests come back negative, even if Eddie is some artifact from an alternate reality, he’s close enough. “Hey, I was thinking, you mind if I bring Aunt Iris with me tomorrow?”
Eddie’s still gaunt from the surgery, strung up in tubing like an insect in a spider web, but his grin is the only bright thing Bart’s seen since the Flash disappeared.