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"Cause I know I'm good for something (I just haven't found it yet)"

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“It won’t be forever, Bear,” Joe says as he hugs Barry goodbye. “We’ll get a new hearing, get you to come home with us.” 

Barry nods, clutching his backpack to his chest, keenly aware of the impatient sniffing of the woman who will be fostering him in Joe’s stead.  He wants to believe Joe, but more than that he wants Joe to believe him, believe in the man in the lightning and the fact that his dad is innocent.

There never is a second hearing.

(Eobard Thawne is still struggling with becoming Harrison Wells; he thinks about reaching out, adopting Barry Allen to mold him, to make him the Flash. He almost picks up the phone and makes a call. Almost.) 

**

The Johnsons are… nice. But just like Joe, they don’t believe Barry, don’t believe his dad is innocent. They sit him down and talk to him very seriously about getting him therapy, getting him medication for his delusions - and when Barry turns red, when he yells they’re not delusions, they shake their heads and tell him it’s for his own good.

When Barry tries to run - not away, just, to Iron Heights, to see his dad and tell him he knows he's innocent, that Barry will do anything to prove it and get him out of jail, he doesn’t get far. He’s three blocks from the bus station when a cop car pulls up and Barry feels his heart sink when he sees the officer.  

He’d been there. On the night that -

“You’re going to take after your old man if you’re not careful,” the man says, probably thinking he sounds sagacious and not condescending when he grips Barry by the neck and frog-marches him up the driveway to the Johnsons’ door.

The Johnsons tell him they are disappointed, that they expected better of him.

Barry isn’t surprised when it “doesn’t work out” and he isn’t a “good fit” - when he hears a phone conversation he is not meant to, about how you told us he was a good kid , when the social worker comes to pick him up and take him to his next foster home.

Mrs. Hansen is the tallest woman Barry has ever met. She smells like stale cigarettes and a floral perfume that reminds him of his mom and the first night he spends in her house, he cries himself to sleep.

It doesn’t endear him to Jerome and Tyrone, the boys he’s sharing a room with. He expects the worst but all that happens is that Tyrone throws a pair of rolled-up socks at him, which Barry thinks should be classed as chemical warfare because, ewww. It’s not like it leaves bruises, unlike the livid marks the cop left on Barry’s neck. Tyrone’s sister Elle offers to share her concealer, even if their skin tones are pretty drastically apart.

Barry soon learns to take the small kindnesses where he can find them.

Mrs. Hansen takes Barry to therapy and to church, the latter twice a week. It’s not bad but it’s boring, because they’re saying the same things every week - except sometimes they’re really wrong, like when they talk about science or gay people.

Barry doesn’t bring it up again after the first time, after the way Mrs. Hansen’s eyes darkened.  Not when she had almost agreed to let Barry go visit his dad, something his caseworker said might be good for him.

They think seeing his dad will help Barry admit that his dad is a killer. But they are wrong.

His therapist doesn’t agree; instead, Dr. Kwan tells Mrs. Hansen that it is imperative that Barry starts taking antipsychotics, that there is no other option. But medication is expensive and he wants to start Barry on a high dose, despite his age. 

The sample packs of Risperdal don’t last that long, not even when Mrs. Hansen lowers the dose, stretches them out. Barry is grateful for that because the drugs make him lethargic, make him feel like he’s not himself.

Barry hasn’t found a lot to laugh about since his mother died, but now he finds out he can’t.

It’s a relief when the drugs run out and Mrs. Hansen says they will get more later, that the pastor at the church thinks those things are worthless anyway and that Barry is better off with prayer and discipline.

It’s the discipline that lands Barry in his third foster home; Mrs. Hansen sends Barry to school without lunch on a hot day, for speaking out of turn when she was shouting at Elle and Jerome after she caught them together. He faints during PE and hits his head, and the nurse finds the welts left behind by the belt, the deep, black and blue bruises from the buckle dark against his pale skin.

“Can’t I go live with Joe and Iris?”  Barry asks, resigned, as he sits in the CPS office, his few belongings in a dirty duffel bag at his feet.

The new caseworker doesn’t even acknowledge his question as he flips through Barry's folder, making hemming and hawing noises. He finally looks at Barry over his glasses and Barry thinks with a sinking feeling that he doesn’t even see Barry, that he just sees a case file.

Foster home number three is with Mr. and Mrs. “Just call us John and Nancy” Stewart. They have a house in a tree-lined street that makes Barry feel homesick. He no longer has to share a room with someone else and he wonders what happened to Tyrone and Elle and Jerome. He’s got them on MSN but he knows now how hard it is for them to get online.

Barry doesn't have that problem, not with the computer the Stewarts have in the home office he is allowed to use, and the computer lab in the school they enroll him in. It’s a better school than the one he was with before, but not as good as the one he attended with Iris.

He misses Iris; he’s never imagined a life where she didn’t live down the street. Except that isn't exactly true, because he had thought about Iris like that , like one day they’d get married and live in a house down the street from both his parents and her dad. It’s not the same to get the occasional email from her, to try to see her when they now live on opposite sides of town, go to different schools and the Stewarts have been told Barry’s obsession should not be encouraged. 

Not that Iris does that - any mention Barry makes of his dad being innocent, of the man in yellow, gets shot down. Same with the articles he sends her, of unusual occurrences and things that could be something like what happened to him. Iris’ response tends to be oh Barry.

It hurts that she doesn’t believe him.

He’s given up on ever living with the Wests.

Barry knows that even if he makes it to Iron Heights, they won’t let him in to see his dad. He’s a minor and he will need an adult to go with him, and the Stewarts certainly won’t do that for him. Not yet. They are making noises about Christmas, if Barry behaves till then. He’s not going to blow his chance to see his dad for the first time since everything went down.

He blows his chance. Spectacularly.

The look on Nancy’s face when she comes to the police station is full of disappointment and anger. Barry ducks his head and doesn’t look up again, unable to meet her gaze as he shifts on his seat, the handcuffs too tight on his bony wrists.

 “What were you thinking?”  she demands, her voice so much like his mom’s Barry wants to cry, but she never sounded like that, so full of disappointment.

 “They had - they had reports of lightning. Like the man who killed my mom.”

“That’s your excuse for criminal trespassing, Barry?”

It’s the first time Barry gets arrested when he investigates something.

It’s not the last.

He gets caught being where he shouldn’t be more than once after the first arrest, it doesn’t matter if he’s just in a park after curfew or seeing if he can get into an empty lot, he’s hauled in and cited for it, racking up official reprimands on his record like he’s seen the pool sharks rack up the balls in the bars he knows he shouldn’t be at.

The look on Joe West’s face across the station doesn’t make Barry feel any guiltier, not any more. Joe doesn’t come to talk to him anymore, not after the first time he uttered the words “like your father” and Barry turned as far away as the cuffs would let him in a futile attempt to contain the anger that has his face red and his nails biting into his palms

The Stewarts find out that Barry had been prescribed antipsychotics and that he is not taking them: they are horrified and apologetic that they have been neglecting him and his needs. They make sure he sees a new therapist, too.

Dr. Monroe agrees with Dr. Kwan, and ups Barry’s target dose; by the time the carefully supervised increments have gone all the way up, Barry is on five milligrams of Risperdal daily, given to him in liquid form by a watchful foster parent because they can’t trust him to take them, not after the first time they notice him pushing the pill under his tongue.

The way his father sighs on the phone, tells him to please be careful, to please stay in school and stop getting into trouble makes his heart ache.

“But dad,” Barry says with all the conviction a fourteen year old possesses. “You’re innocent.”

“It’s not a reason to ruin your life, Barry. Please, for my sake, be good. How is school?”

Barry recognizes a change in subject when he hears it but he talks about school, about how hard it is now that he’s on the drugs. How slow he feels, how he has a hard time sleeping, a hard time concentrating, the excessive tardies the truancy officer is saying will soon get him worse than detention.

“My grades are slipping,” Barry admits.

“What dose do they have you on?”

Barry tells him and he hears his father swear. Once upon a time the words would have shocked him, but by now he’s used to much worse.

“You’re fourteen, Barry, and that’s a dose for a grown adult. What sort of a quack do they have you seeing?”

“I had a growth spurt,” Barry says. But he is still skinny as a rake, still barely a hundred pounds soaking wet.

They let him go see his dad for Christmas. It’s the first time Barry has seen his dad since the trial, first time he has been allowed to see him by the foster system. The look on his dad’s face makes Barry want to cry but he can’t.

The Stewarts trust Barry with pills now. He googles the right dosing for tapering off of them and starts flushing them down the toilet discreetly, careful to not to give himself withdrawal symptoms, or at least not ones he can’t help with the sleeping pills they have him take, too.

While googling, he finds a forum for like-minded people, who also seek the impossible for one reason or another. It’s inspiring enough that he starts a blog of his own, dedicated to the supernatural and the mysterious. He has to keep his investigations down low, to internet searches and lies about late nights at the library. In reality, he’s snooping around Central and even Keystone.

When Elle tells him she and Jerome got lucky, that they both got placed in families in Keystone, Barry feels guilty that his first thought is now he now has an excuse to ask for a bus fare to Keystone rather than being happy to see them again. He asks about Tyrone and Elle goes quiet, saying her brother is in prison because he got involved in a robbery and despite being only seventeen, tried as an adult.

Barry isn’t surprised but it doesn’t make him any less angry about it.

Someone at his school sees him flushing down pills and soon people are asking Barry for drugs - he plays it cool at first but caves in when someone offers him enough cash he could afford a train ticket to Gotham. Because if there is one place on Earth where the impossible is just improbable, it’s Gotham.

Antipsychotics are no good for recreational use, as he warns Rodney, but he’s willing to part with some Ambien, and gives Rodney a print out with side effects and what to do in case of overdose or symptoms.

It’s not the last time they do business; once Barry has weaned himself off the antipsychotics, he finds it easier to sleep, and when he’s not sleeping he’s doing research. He gets the money for the tickets together, but he never makes it to Gotham - he’s caught at the train station by a truancy officer before he even makes it to the ticket counter and taken home, via the police station and more disapproving eyes he can feel burning at the back of his head.

The Stewarts are concerned and ask his therapist if they should increase his dosage, if this is another symptom , but Barry lies through his teeth, about making plans for Elle’s birthday, and they buy it because what fifteen year old boy hasn’t done something stupid because of a girl?

Barry is pretty sure that if he was going to do something stupid, it would not be over a girl. Not even - not even Iris, who hasn’t replied to his emails in weeks, unlike Elle who’s still with Jerome. He’s got a job at a goat farm out in Keystone now, and the owner has said she’ll consider hiring Tyrone too once he gets out of prison. 

The school takes a dim view to Barry’s many absences and suspends him - which, fair, and as far as Barry is concerned it just means it will take less time to perform the community service he was slapped with, on account of truancy and drug paraphernalia. The latter because Barry had skins and glass vials in his bag, because, science, but nothing he says convinces them he wasn’t using them for anything nefarious.

It’s hot and gross and Barry gets sunburn from scrubbing graffiti from brick and mortar, but John thinks it builds character and will do good for him. Nancy grounds him and has a long, serious talk with him about how Elle is a Bad Influence and how she knows Barry can do better, will do better - how he has a future and he should not let himself be dragged down by someone like that.

Nancy is judging Elle without even having met her - all she sees is the brother in prison, the central slum drawl, the big earrings and the lacquered nails that are Elle’s armor.

He tries to keep his nose clean, once his community service is over. Without the drugs in his system it’s easier for him to be if not prompt, then at least present in school. His grades have improved, still nothing like what they were - before, but at least he’s not in danger of summer school or worse, repeating his freshman year.

(“The future remains intact,” Gideon intones and the article displaying the mysterious disappearance of the Flash, written by Iris West-Allen is as it always has been. Barry Allen will marry his childhood sweetheart, one way or another. Reunited after years apart or growing up down the street from each other doesn’t make a difference - Eobard knows time wants to happen.)

The summer is long and hot, the July sun beating down without mercy when Barry gets into trouble again, this time for taking paint samples off a fence - or, vandalism as far as the authorities and the owners were concerned.

“Doesn’t matter if you were just fucking around and not carving your initials, kid,” the cop tells him when they shove him into the back of the patrol car, only barely avoiding hitting his head on the door. Barry’s gained another four inches since school let out, a growth spurt that makes him feel as gangly as he is constantly hungry.

Barry feels guilty at how hard Nancy takes it - he hears her cry the night before he starts his community service, asking her husband what she is doing wrong, and his gut clenches with fear and disappointment.

“I’m doing everything I can, John. Why is he still acting up?”

Because my dad is innocent, Barry wants to scream. He bites his lip, eyes squeezed shut, body rocking back and forth under the thin blankets as he tries to block out their voices.

Come morning, Barry is bleary-eyed, trying to not to yawn because he knows it will just make the supervisors angry, make them think he’s bored or worse. This time it’s not graffiti removal that he’s stuck with; they have him working indoors, cleaning at a public library with three other guys close to his age.

Probably so the supervisor doesn’t have to be outside in this heat, Barry thinks as he listens to the guy drone on and on about policy and the consequences of shirking their duties. Nothing Barry hasn’t heard before and he’s much more concerned with if he can smuggle out some of the reference books he’s not allowed to check out, about forensic technique and lightning physics.

The lecture over, they get paired up and assigned a cleaning cart. Barry’s partner sticks a hand out and grins, eyes flashing behind a mop of long hair. “I’m Cisco. Possession of illegal fireworks.”

Later on, Barry will find out that Cisco had made the fireworks he’d been caught with, but no one thought a 13 year old brown boy was smart enough to make them on his own, let alone have access to the kind of chemicals needed to create more than just loud bangs and light. But Cisco is smart, scary smart, and he’s got   ways man, and a chemistry teacher who should have retired before they were born. 

It doesn’t occur to Barry to blame Cisco for giving him the idea when in September, he gets caught with acetone and hypophosphite in his bag, together with a recovery flask and a face mask bearing the school logo after the cops raid Rodney’s locker and he points a finger at Barry. Not to mention the other half of the box of Ambien he’d sold Rodney the day before.

Barry knows that when he goes to juvie, he won’t be coming back to the Stewarts’ house.

After hearing John tell Nancy that sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree he doesn’t want to.

**

Barry spends eight months in juvie that first time.

The food is gross and he gets pushed around a lot on account of being a skinny white kid, but it’s nothing worse than Tony Woodward did, and the bruises heal a lot quicker than the welts left behind by Mrs. Hansen’s belt.

When he says his dad didn’t do it, some of the other kids nod sagely and talk about family and friends who are in Iron Heights because the pigs had it out for them, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, Barry’s dad is white, middle-class, doctor, but all cops are bastards.

“Doc Allen is good people,” Clyde Mardon tells him. “Did my brother a good turn last year.”  

The worst thing about being in juvie is not being allowed to call his dad on Christmas.

The second worst thing about juvie is that the classes are - Barry doesn’t want to be a snob but the material covered in class is stuff he learned ages ago and he’s just bored out of his skull.

Boredom he can alleviate - he’s already good at picking locks but he’s learning more, he’s proving all those stories about how putting juvenile offenders behind bars is like, crime college - or maybe this is more like crime honors classes, but it’s not like it matters much.

He’s never taken a shop class before, but apparently juvie does offer that unlike his school; it makes sense considering how much of US manufacturing is actual prison labor, but since the teacher doesn’t seem to give a fuck about anything as long as they don’t try to kill each other, shop class is more like intro to electronic security systems.

Clyde is about to age out, go serve rest of his sentence in Iron Heights but he tells Barry to look up his big brother when he gets out, that Mark will hook him up with a crew.

Barry thanks him, even if he is pretty sure he won’t take them up on the offer.  Sticking up 7-11s is not his jam; he's’ never even held a gun, let alone pointed one at someone’s head and demanded money.

“For fuck’s sake, kid, look up Mark just so he can teach you how not to shoot yourself in the ass.”

 (The fact that Barry Allen is a juvenile delinquent does not come as any kind of a surprise to Eobard. The man has always been brash and arrogant, so convinced he was always right that Eobard found himself genuinely surprised he wasn’t a - what was that current word, jock , a sportsball player with an adoring harem propping him up. Perhaps he would have been, if not for Eobard’s great fuck up, but the future remains intact and that is all that matters)

Getting thrown into juvie naturally got Barry expelled, too. He’s lucky enough that the group home he ends up at doesn’t have an integrated school, instead bussing all of the boys to a local high school.  Despite effectively missing most of his sophomore year, Barry manages to make sure that when August rolls around, he’s a junior.

They’ve changed his medication and for that Barry is grateful. He gets told straight to his face that they won't prescribe him anything for his probably-ADHD because he’d just abuse it - or sell it - but at least the new regimen of drugs doesn’t cloud his mind as bad as the Risperdal did.

So okay maybe his nightmares get worse and he feels too queasy to eat a lot, but the former have never been good and the latter is no great loss with the food they serve at school and at the house.

School is - it’s better than in juvie, but not by much. There’s like, two AP classes and Barry with his juvie record and issues is not getting into them. 

The guidance counselor is less than helpful. He looks down his nose at Barry, bushy eyebrows scrunching behind his horn-rimmed glasses.

“I don’t see why you are concerned about AP classes, Mr. Allen.” 

Barry blinks. “Why wouldn’t I be?” 

The guidance counselor sighs. “It’s not like you’re going to make it to college. Better you leave those classes for kids who haven’t ruined their chances yet.”

And Barry knows what he means, doesn’t need to hear it but he gets told it anyway - that there is no way that a kid like him with barely-scraping-by grades and record is going to be accepted anywhere.

“Trust me, Mr. Allen, you would not be able to pay for college with petty crime.” 

Barry barely manages to bite back a swear when he stands up and stalks out, slamming the door behind him. The counselor doesn’t even bother shouting after him, assuming Barry is going to go off and cut class and go smoke behind the bleachers or whatever.

Like Barry would miss chemistry. It might not be AP, but the teacher isn’t too bad. Mr. Roberts lets Barry read more books than he probably should, even if he takes very good care of his keys.

Barry is pretty sure he can pick the lock to the storage room; he hasn’t tried yet, he is trying, dammit, to keep his nose clean but he recognizes the model and knows it would take him maybe two, three minutes to jimmy open depending on what tools he has on hand. 

Working with his hands - doing science - calms Barry down. His lab partner is more than happy to let him do all the work, dozing with her beanie pulled over her eyes. It’s nothing big, they’re making soap and Barry has done this so many times he could do it in his sleep. He knows Rosa is gonna take it home so he slips in a little bit of essential oil. He’d picked it up at the market, with all the hipsters and their wares, without even really meaning to; he’d been halfway past the fancy cupcake stand towards where Tyrone’s goat cheese was sold when he’d realized he’d slipped it in his pocket.

 He doesn’t dwell on it, like he doesn’t dwell on the way he catalogues just how easy it would be to turn the glycerin soap into nitroglycerin or the acetone on the shelf into tear gas. All the stuff left out for the next lab so Mr. Roberts wouldn’t have to carry it back and forth, he takes note of even as his hands carry on the work.

Rosa is surprised but happy about the soap. “You tryin’ to get into my pants, Allen?” 

Barry shakes his head. Even if he did like her like that, he’s not stupid enough to get between her and her boyfriend - Scudder’s got a mean streak a mile wide for anyone who’s not Rosa.

“It’s not like I was gonna use it,” he tells her with a shrug. “And you’re a good lab partner.”

Which is true - Barry gets to do his own thing and Rosa gets in a nap, it works for them both really well.

Scudder doesn’t see it that way and confronts Barry later on, crowding Barry against the lockers. “I heard you were making moves on my girl, Allen.” 

Barry is hoping this won’t get ugly. He’s had another growth spurt so he’s almost six feet now, but Sam Scudder still towers over him and has the kind of shoulders that would make him a shoo-in for a football team if the school had one.

“Wasn’t, I swear,” Barry tells him, eyes wide. “Just wanted to thank her for being a good lab partner.” 

“Bullshit, she sleeps through the fucking thing.” Scudder tightens his grip of Barry’s collar.

 “Yeah and - no one is watching what I do,” The words rush out. “I swear she’s not my type I don’t even like girls - 

 Scudder looks contemplative but pushes Barry forward for good measure anyway. Barry groans when his head slams into the lockers, but there’s no follow up punch, he’s not getting kicked down. Instead, Barry sways on his feet, the back of his head aching when his assailant takes a step back.

“You up to your old tricks, Allen?” 

And Barry realizes, Scudder’s been to juvie too, not at the same time as Barry but they know the same people, have heard the same gossip - Barry knows what Scudder did, and he bets it goes both ways.

 “Not right now,” Barry says and it’s the truth as he gingerly raises a hand to touch the back of his head. He hisses at how tender it is but there’s no blood or swelling.

 Scudder grins. “Lemme know when you are. I know people.”

 Barry manages a half-hearted smile. “Sure.”

“Just don’t hit on my girl and we’re gonna be fine, Allen.” 

It’s not like the thing with Scudder is the first or last time Barry’s gotten beaten up in school. He thinks Tony fucking Woodward is probably in the same high school as Iris, but he’s not heard from her since she sent a perfunctory Christmas email so he can’t be sure.

The difference between Scudder and Woodward is that Woodward never had a knife in his pocket. A beating Barry could handle, but now there’s more at stake.

He remembers Clyde’s offer; it’s not like Barry wants to shoot people but maybe Mark would be willing to teach him how to throw a punch at least.

Next time he’s allowed in Iron Heights to see his dad, he also goes to visit Clyde.

“Were you serious about your brother helping me out?” Barry says, his voice low.

Clyde smirks. “Yeah, you’ve got a good eye, kiddo.” He rattles off a phone number and Barry writes it down, clutching the slip of paper to his chest when he goes to see his dad.

His dad asks him about college. Barry can’t look him in the eye.

(The timeline is intact, Gideon says, but Eobard’s eyes are drawn to the byline. It no longer reads West-Allen, only West, even if the page is otherwise identical. Perhaps she will elect to keep her last name as is wont in this century.

In Eobard’s time, it is a matter of power and prestige who carries on the name of their family and who folds in; it’s not a matter of sex or any other archaic concept. To think these savages view their age so enlightened!

He closes his eyes. The foundations of the particle accelerator are already being laid; he has not been idle these past five years, having taken upon himself to be the man who put together the motions that created the Flash. Only, this time it will be his hand that creates the Flash, the Reverse as Alpha and not Omega.

No harm must befall Barry Allen; he will make sure of that.)

Mark Mardon looks a lot like his brother, the same rakish devil may care attitude in his grin.

“Clyde says you’re a quick learner.”

Barry nods. “Yeah he showed me so much stuff, it was awesome. And he told me you could - you could help me make sure I can look after myself.”

Mark grins. “I taught Clyde how to beat the shit out of anyone back in the day, knew I couldn’t always be there for him. He show you any of that, kid?” 

Barry ends up learning how to throw a punch. He’s still not that strong, and he’s better at running away but Mark’s - okay, Mark is a shitty teacher, but he’s not mean and doesn’t enjoy hurting Barry just because.  

Mark also gives him a crash course in gun safety and how to hit a target; Barry does okay, owing more of his skill to his grasp of physics than any innate talent or hand-eye coordination.

“If you want a piece, I can get you a good deal on one,” Mark tells him approvingly.

Barry shakes his head. “Can’t risk it, not as long as I’m in the group home.”  

Which, admittedly, is his go to excuse for everything he doesn’t want to do, but it's a valid one.

“Yeah, you can’t go see your old man if you go on the lam, right? That’s a raw deal.”

Barry shrugs. “Only for two more years.” 

“Well, let me know if you want to get some extra pocket money, we could use another pair of hands on a job.” 

“Thanks but no thanks,” Barry says.

Two weeks later, he hears Mark got caught on the job and is going to join Clyde at Iron Heights. He has a lot of time to dwell on it; he’s spending the weekend in isolation at the group home which he knows is illegal because minors and solitary, only since it’s not a detention facility they get away with it.

The supervisor threatens Barry with institutionalization. It’s not an empty threat, but it’s one Barry has managed to avoid for now. Some of the other guys have not been so lucky, a missed curfew leading to a stint in a rubber room and coming back with a vacant look in their eyes that gives Barry new nightmares.

He wants to believe mental hospitals are not all straight out of a horror movie but he’s seen pictures of Arkham. He’s heard stories.

Come Monday, Barry is back to school. The new kid he’d defended against being jumped and gotten into trouble for, Liam, wants to thank him. They skip the last period and head to the park together with a couple of girls Barry doesn’t know.

He’s not that surprised when Liam pulls a beer out of his backpack and hands it to him.

He’s a bit more surprised when he’s left holding the bag when the cops show up; Liam and two of the girls manage to get away, leaving Barry and Shawna on the hook for the booze and cigs in the bag.

Shawna gets community service; Barry goes into juvie. The judge peers down on him through her half-moon glasses and clicks her tongue, telling him how he’s made his own bed to lie in.   

The implication that if Barry doesn’t straighten up he’ll spend the rest of his days drinking in parks is clear, and Barry is just so fucking tired.

When he gets out of juvie a month later, he builds his first ATM skimmer. It’s not a roaring success, but he also doesn’t get arrested when it’s discovered, so he thinks it’s a win-win even if the profits weren’t that good. It’s enough to get him a new winter coat that doesn’t have suspicious smells or stains on it.

It’s his first new coat since his mom died. Not second hand or a hand me down. It feels a whole lot like home and freedom when he wraps it around himself in the cold attic room.

Barry ends up finishing his Junior year without further incident; he even goes to the junior prom in a tux that used to be Clyde’s; it almost fits, just a little short on the sleeve and loose at the shoulder, but it’s not like anyone is looking at him when Shawna is next to him.

She looks gorgeous in her peacock blue dress, her eyes sparkling with mischief. Barry has a matching tie, one she’d intended for her now-ex before she dumped him and asked Barry to come instead.

“Not into girls, eh?” Scudder grins and slaps Barry on the shoulder hard enough to make him stumble.

“He’s not,” Shawna confirms. “That’s why I asked him.”

The after party is when Barry gets really drunk for the first time, he pukes his guts out in a bush while Shawna laughs, but luckily enough the party gets to go on till morning without any interruptions. Scudder nearly crashes his car and Barry gets tossed into isolation when he staggers home, but it’s all worth it.

They go their separate ways.  Shawna keeps on partying, Scudder graduates and leaves town with Rosa in tow; she’s dropping out, not a big deal because it’s not like either one of them was going to college, but at least Rosa wasn’t pregnant so Barry thinks that’s a win.

 Barry gets a job for the summer. It’s not the goat farm, sadly, but he thinks working on the construction of a particle accelerator is the best thing ever, even if his job is to sweep dirt and haul rocks.

He sometimes gets to listen in on the architects and designers when they do site visits to see how things are progressing according to their visions, once, Barry even gets to see Dr. Wells, even if only from afar. Nevertheless for one long dazzling moment it feels like Dr. Wells is staring right at him, those blue eyes brighter than the blazing midday sun.

If Barry hadn’t already been sure, he would have been now; he didn’t just not like girls, he most definitely liked guys. Especially older guys.  

(There is a delicious irony to the fact that Barry Allen is, however minutely, helping to build the particle accelerator that will one day reveal him as The Flash. Eobard has to struggle with the urge to reach out and pluck him up like a ripe fruit. Barry Allen is not ready yet and Eobard does not dare to interfere, not yet.

He permits himself only one site visit timed so that he catches a glimpse of Barry Allen. The boy is a disheveled mess, sweaty and dirty, lanky where he once will be muscle-bound, all soft, big eyes and vulnerable lips instead of stoic heroism.  

Eobard has known this from his tacit surveillance, but it is entirely different to see the boy in the flesh, to have those bright eyes lock with his for a fraction of a second that is an eternity for a speedster.

The fact that the same surveillance gives him visions he was not ready for late at night is something Eobard will not entertain; there are limits even to his monstrosity. ) 

The summer passes in a hot blur. Barry works a lot more hours than he does on paper, getting paid under the table for a good half of his work.  He knows it’s something he should get used to but it still galls him. It’s the wrong kind of dishonesty for him.

Barry doesn’t hesitate when says no when a couple of guys approach him, asking if he’d like to help them out a little - just leave a chain unlocked on the edge of the site, nothing major, just liberating a few power tools.  He says no, but he’s not a snitch, so the job goes ahead without him.

He’s not surprised when the cops show up and arrest him. They roll in around lunchtime so everyone sees that it’s Barry who gets shoved into a squad car, bruises forming on his wrists from too-tight handcuffs.

By the time they get to the station Barry is sore and sweaty and sulky. He’s sullen when they ask him questions, knowing full well they’ve decided he’d done it already without a shred of real evidence. 

“We have witnesses who place you on the scene,” one of the cops says. 

“Well yeah I work there,” Barry snorts. “Can’t exactly telecommute when hauling brick, you know.” 

“We also have witnesses who say they saw you talking with the men we have in custody,” the older one says, leaning forward across the table. “Now why would a young man like yourself be talking to a couple of old crooks?” 

Barry shrugs. “They thought I was a hooker.” 

Which, was not entirely inaccurate, Barry reflects as the younger cop chokes on his coffee.

“And are you?”

 Barry has been asked that more than once; he’s pretty, with long lashes and soft lips; even the guys he’d turned down for the botched site job had asked him if he had a sideline, if he wanted some contacts. Which, no.

Maybe if he had, you know, slept with someone he actually liked he’d go there, but despite all the insinuations he’s actually pure as the driven snow.

“No, Detective,” Barry sighs. “I’m not. Look, I didn’t do it, I don’t know who did. Can I go now?”

He knows they don’t have anything concrete on him - the gate that was used is not one he works near so there’s no forensic evidence to place him there, not to mention he’d been in solitary at the group home all fucking weekend while things went down.

But of course these guys hadn’t checked that.

He gets handcuffed again, this time a little gentler and frog-marched through the pen towards the holding cells. He knows they don’t have anything, on him but they’ll still hold him as long as they can, just to teach a punk kid a lesson.

“Barry?”

It’s been years but Barry would recognize that voice anywhere. 

The cop pushing Barry along halts and he gets a chance to turn around, still cuffed.  She is staring at him with wide-eyes, looking nothing like she did when he last saw her but there is no mistaking who she is.

“Iris?”

“Is it really you?” Iris’s voice wavers. Behind her shoulder, Detective West is glaring at Barry, a looming shadow over his daughter.

“Yeah it’s me.”  

“What’s going on? Why are - what did you do?”

And it hurts, to hear her ask what did he do. Like she knows, just like everyone else that this is Bartholomew Henry Allen, doomed to be a criminal fuck-up.

“I ain’t done nothing,” Barry says, the words coming out on reflex, but it’s true, he’s not done what they are accusing him of, dammit.

“He’s involved in that job at the Star Labs site,” one of the detectives says, unhelpfully.

Barry is not sure which one, too busy watching Iris’s face fall, her lower lip trembling a little and he can feel his heart shattering into little pieces. Because this is Iris, his best friend.

Detective West puts a hand on her shoulder, eyes not leaving Barry. “Come on, baby, let's get you home.” 

Barry sees Iris tense, sees how she swallows hard before she nods. “Goodbye, Barry.” 

There was a book Barry read once where a voice was described as slamming of coffin lids; that’s how the words feel when they hit him, when they settle into his bones even as she turns from him, lets her father lead her away.

The painful shove between his shoulder blades jolts him out of his thoughts, has him stumble forward.

“She’s way too good for the likes of you, Allen,” the cop sneers. “Better move along.” 

**

Barry doesn’t get charged but loses the job.

Fucking figures.

The one bright spot is that he’ll definitely be free to go to the Summer Science Expo at the Central City Exhibition Court. It’s not something he could actually afford if not for the fact that some charity or other had made sure any disadvantaged youth would be able to attend at a fraction of the price.

(The Thawnes have long believed in noblesse oblige. Eobard makes sure the tickets are available. The idea that he is supposed to be upset that someone who is not Barry Allen, someone undeserving might also benefit from his generosity is as barbaric as the rest of the charity pageantry of this era, a unique danse macabre he wishes no part in.

His one true focus is the Flash, to create his nemesis like he re-created himself once upon a time. To return home, the Reverse Flash triumphant; he cannot do so if he attracts the attention of a time wraith, or worse. His impact must be minimal, carefully curated and delicate - there will be no convenient solar eclipses for him.

Gideon tells him the timeline is intact.) 

The Expo is awesome.

It becomes even more awesome when Barry runs into Cisco - literally, not just figuratively. It’s a mess and they nearly get thrown out but it’s so worth it, to get to geek over all the amazing shit together.

“Vacuum-distilling HTP, man,” Cisco waves his half-eaten lollipop, nearly getting it tangled in his loose hair, smiling broadly. “They’re gonna do it.”

“I know right,” Barry says, and he’s just a little dazed by how red Cisco’s lips are from sucking on the lollipop, how sticky-sweet they look.

Cisco notices him looking and grins.

Barry has been kissed before; but with Cisco it’s - different.  It’s not just  a drunken fumble or a dare, it’s - it’s not like some sort of a fairytale or anything, neither one of them is Sandra Dee, but kissing Cisco is good in a way Barry has never felt before.  

(Eobard Thawne has the vapors. For a moment he wonders if he has traveled back in time again, to an era better suited for romance novels.)

The next few weeks pass in a blur for Barry. 

Cisco is working in his uncle’s auto shop for the summer and a bit of fast talking gets Tito to take Barry on too - it helps that Barry speaks passable Spanish and doesn’t stare at Cisco’s cousin in her short shorts and crop top.

There’s a room above the garage that Cisco has been crashing in when he works late, to keep from waking his brother by coming home. At first Barry thinks it’s a younger brother, a kid, but when Cisco says Dante is the older one and that their parents are adamant the genius needs his beauty sleep, Barry hugs Cisco tight.

There’s no AC and the bed is narrow and lumpy, but it doesn’t make it any less perfect when Barry spends the night, when they go beyond kissing and groping for the first time.

Senior year starts and both Barry and Cisco go back to school. Tito is happy enough to let them work part time, let Cisco have the room still with a wink and a nudge, and a line about how Melinda Torres is back from Aguadilla

It means they can still use the room, steal a few hours of togetherness safe from prying eyes. They don’t spend all their time fucking; more often than not they just lay there, curled up together on the too-small bed and talk about everything and nothing.

They both know it’s too good to last.

Everything comes to a halt one quiet evening when Barry is sprawled shirtless on the bed, Cisco straddling his hips. It feels like they’ve been kissing for hours, lips red and swollen, Cisco’s hair a rat’s nest.

Neither one of them hears the stairs creak or the faint sound of giggling until it’s too late.

Barry isn’t sure what’s worse; the look on Dante’s face when he stumbles in with a girl, or the look of utter betrayal on Cisco’s when he sees who the girl with his brother is. “Melinda?”

What follows is a lot of shouting; Cisco asks Barry to go and he goes, uncertain if this will be the last time they see each other. 

If this was a great romance he’d kiss Cisco; instead, they clasp hands briefly, hard enough to hurt, both of them blinking away tears as Barry grabs his shirt and goes.

In the morning, Barry calls up Mark Mardon and asks if he has anything.

Mark is delighted. “Yeah, I have something lined up.”

**

Barry goes to see his dad on Christmas.

“Are you still moving in with your friend?” his dad asks, and guilt curls in Barry’s gut. He hasn’t told his dad about Cisco, about everything that went down and he bites his lip, tries to say something.

The fact that his dad’s next question is a soft “Did you break up?” should not surprise him.

Barry tells him everything, tells him about what happened with Cisco’s brother and the girl, about leaving and not looking back.

“You should call him,” his father says gently. “He’s important to you still, isn’t he?”

And the thing is, Barry is not in love with Cisco; he doesn’t think he ever was, but Cisco is - Cisco is Cisco. He’s important, and all Barry can do is nod in acknowledgement. 

He calls Cisco.

The phone rings and rings, and Barry thinks it was the worst idea ever, that he shouldn’t - but when Cisco finally picks up it’s like that first time Cisco grinned at him, like everything feels right again.

They talk for hours. Cisco tells him what happened, about his family’s reaction and they agree it’s best if they don’t see each other for a while, give things a chance to cool down.

“Uncle Tito might drop an engine block on you if you come by,” Cisco admits ruefully.

“Guess I’m not getting my back pay then,” Barry agrees softly, and smiles at the phone when Cisco laughs wetly through the tears.

**

In February, Barry accepts one more job; not from Mark but from Sam Scudder, out in Keystone.

Back in November when he’d first asked Mark for something, anything  angry and reckless, what he’d ended up doing was helping to pop out a couple of ATMs. With a little bit of liquid nitrogen and a sledgehammer, that was easy enough, getting through the shell of the ATM and taking care of the dye packs both. Banks have insurance and no one’s getting hurt.

Clyde was out of prison and on those jobs; it’s the first time Barry has seen him in what feels like forever. Clyde slaps him on the shoulder and demands to know if Barry scored with the hot chick he went to the prom with and if so, it was obviously all thanks to the tux.

Barry feels better than he has in a while.

(Eobard delights in the irony of the Flash using liquid nitrogen, using cold. He knows that before he will steal the core and build his cold gun, Leonard Snart will use the same technique on heists. One day, Captain Cold will be the Flash’s enemy, will lay claim to the title of his nemesis - but that is not something he will ever be. Because he is not the Flash’s reverse.

It’s not just because even in his time, the Legends are - well, legendary. No, Cold has his own epicenter, has the fulcrum to his lever in Heat Wave. He will never have the bond with the Flash that the Reverse has, no matter how skilled a thief he is.)

Scudder and Rosa don’t need him to play mad scientist on this job; they just need someone reliable to keep watch, someone fast on their feet if the need arose. If Barry wasn’t academically and disciplinary wise in the gutter, he’d be in the school track team and therefore the perfect pick.

“Just wear some tight jeans and guyliner and you’ll fit right in,” Rosa laughs. “But better make sure you’ve got a piece in case one of those pervs tries something.”

Barry doesn’t disagree with that; some of the people who pick up rent boys in the village are fucking vile. Having pepper spray in the pocket of his size too small jeans makes perfect sense when he’s on keeping an eye out for unwanted guests to the party.

When the job goes south and they can’t prove anything about Barry’s involvement, it’s the pepper spray they nail him on. They test it and discover it’s about 35% capsaicin, which, illegal. Barry was bored, okay? That’s why he’d tinkered with it.

Barry spends his 18th birthday in Keystone County Jail being told he’s damn lucky he didn’t get a felony charge out of it. If he’d listened to Rosa, he would have.

**********************************************************************************

“What’s got you so glum?” 

Len watches Doc Allen start when Mick speaks, shoulders straightening from an uncharacteristic slump. Being on the good side of someone who works the infirmary is always a good thing, not to mention Doc is good people.

“Do we need to bust some heads?” 

Allen shakes his head. “No, it’s... It’s about my son.”

Len pays attention. Despite being a lifer, Doc is a soft touch, something Len has gravitated towards over the years more than he’d like to admit. Len is very bad with introspection and Mick has given up on trying

Doc sighs and looks at Len, really looks at him and Mick in a way that would be unnerving coming from another man. “He got caught on a job out in Keystone.” 

“The warehouse job Scudder pulled?” Len asks, just to make sure. Scuttlebutt has it that the whole thing was a shitstorm from the start.

“Yes.”  Allen nods. “He shouldn’t have been there, Leonard. He should -” 

And Len knows where this is going; it’s the story of almost all cons he knows who have kids outside. They should be doing better, should be going to college finding a nice girl and settling down, whatever bullshit. Doc Allen was firmly upper middle class when he was out and he’d expect that from his kid, too.

Len is wrong.

“Barry should find a better crew to work with,” Allen says quietly. “I don’t want him to fall in with the Families.” 

Len nods, understanding. Barry is a good kid, a smart kid - if he’s applying that brain that won him science fairs in elementary school, he’s going to find himself on the radar of the Santinis, or one of the other Families in Central.  

“I heard he ran a few jobs with the Mardons” Mick says, nodding along. “But don’t think your boy is the kind to like waving guns around.”

Allen’s face twists into a grimace. “No, thank God.”

“We’ll see what we can do, Doc,” Len says even as Mick reaches out to put a companionable hand on Allen’s shoulder. “See if we can put in a good word for him.”

“That’s all I can ask for, Leonard.”

It’s another month and a half before Len and Mick get out; Len keeps his word and checks on Barry Allen, but the kid is still behind bars and there are limits to how charitable he is feeling. He asks around and it turns out Doc Allen’s kid has a good reputation but the boy has to start hanging out with a better class of criminal.

There’s a job in Opal City they were planning on before the unfortunate incident that landed them in Iron Heights; Mick is feeling antsy and Len thinks it’ll do them good to take a road trip, maybe burn a few abandoned buildings along the way. Something to let Mick let off steam in a way he couldn’t in prison, or in a city.

Lisa joins them on the job; she’s their getaway driver, in the 18 wheeler covered in garish neon green. She swears like a sailor when the cop cars whip past at breakneck speed, pursuing the wrong target, a courier who’s been given a couple of grand of incentive to deliver a package real fast.

More heat comes down on the job than Len had anticipated; turns out the diamond shipment was double the weight on the manifest, effectively doubling their take and tripling their problems. Fencing diamonds is not easy, not even when you have the kind of loose stones. There’s a delay in getting them to the right buyer and before Len knows it, it’s been almost a year before he makes it back to Central. 

Saints and Sinners never changes. Len is pretty sure that it’s where cockroaches will be drinking at after the end of the world and the jukebox will still be playing the soundtrack to Supernatural.

He notices the kid almost immediately. Tall, lanky, sinfully pretty and definitely too young to be in a bar. Beside him, Mick makes an appreciative noise, having followed his gaze to the pool table.

“Think he’s hustling more than pool?”

Len tilts his head and watches the kid sink another ball, the shot made with absolute precision. It reminds him of that one episode of Star Trek enterprise, with the Vulcans and their simple geometry but he’s distracted from that line of thought by the sight of a pink tongue peeking out in concentration as the next shot is lined up.

“Doubt it,” Len says after he takes a sip of his beer. He lets his eyes linger on denim-clad legs that go on for miles, putting that amazing ass on display. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see how the kid’s eyes read the table and the room, the way his quick little smiles as he sinks ball after ball are meant to be disarming, not beguiling.

Mick makes a contemplative noise at the back of his throat and Len knows what he’s thinking. It’s been a while since they’ve both had their interest piqued by the same person at the same time. There’s no guarantee, of course, that the kid would be interested but fortune favors the bold.

Len is surprised when the kid gathers his winnings - 60 bucks, not bad, not enough to piss someone off, enough for a few drinks and a decent meal - and instead of making his way to the bar, heads towards the booth where they are sitting.

From up close, he’s even prettier, eyes flecked with gold, the jut of his collarbone visible through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. Mick wasn’t too far off wondering if he was hustling, not with that outfit but Len thinks it’s more of the same calculated cheer that had seen him through the game.

“Well hello there,” Len drawls when the kid comes closer.

“Hi,” the kid blushes brightly and ducks his head a little. “Are you - are you Leonard Snart?” 

Len raises an eyebrow. “Depends on who’s asking, Scarlet,” he drawls, fascinated by how far down that blush might reach. 

Besides him, Mick squints. “Aren’t you Doc Allen’s kid?”

To Len’s sudden and inevitable horror, the kid nods and his smile goes up a notch, like a sunbeam breaking through the clouds. “Yeah, I am. Barry Allen. Nice to meet you.”

Len is so, so fucked.