Dante is fifteen and there’s blood on his hands on his hands and in his mouth and he can’t breathe he can’t think all he knows is that he has to protect Cisco, he has to save Cisco, if he doesn’t keep Cisco quiet then god only knows what will happen-
So he presses his hands tighter against Cisco’s mouth and pushes him down behind the dumpster they’re hiding behind and vomits onto the street instead of letting out the scream that rises in his throat. It comes out anyways, twisting and broken and half crying and that’s going to tell them where Cisco is so fuck, fuck, fuck, not Cisco-please, not Cisco.
Dante is fifteen and the words “drug shootout” are passed around in a whisper by his family members, all disbelieving and not understanding and there are people in his house searching for drugs that aren’t there because of course they aren’t there, of course not, Armando would never-
He says that to his therapist. She’s Cisco’s, too, and he hardly talks to her. Just looks at her fish tank and counts the number of times the little blue one pokes its head out of the cave it likes to stay in. The fish reminds Dante of Cisco, in a way. Reminds him of holding his hand over Cisco’s mouth and crying into his hair because they’ll see you if you move, Paco, they’ll see you, stay still stay down stay quiet-
Dante is fifteen and Cisco is trying to insist that Armando didn’t die because of gangs, that Armando never got involved in that because he wanted to set a good example, that the gangs all hated Armando because Armando did strange things-because they all did strange things, like Cisco’s pacing and hand flapping and Dante’s confusion at everything unless it was carefully explained and Armando’s chewing and the gangs hated them for it so Armando would never get involved in things like that, never ever.
But Cisco doesn’t know what Dante knows. Cisco didn’t see what Dante saw. So Dante has to lie to him and tell him that no, no, it was Los Lobos, of course it was. He won’t go so far as to lie and say that it was for drugs like the police said, so he says something else. Says that the gangs got tired of some of the things Armando did, that it wasn’t really the adults but the kids who went to school with Armando and thought that just because their parents were powerful they were too.
Dante is fifteen and his world has ruptured before his very eyes and he doesn’t know how to save Cisco. He doesn’t know how to protect Cisco. He doesn’t know how to protect himself because-because-because the police know what he saw. And he knows they know he knows. Fuck, fuck, fuck, please. If they go after Cisco, if they go after his Mama and his Papa, if they come for him, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.
And then they do. It’s all at school and Dante doesn’t even know if his parents know (he asks to be allowed to call them and they tell him no and Dante wants to say that that’s illegal but one of them has a gun and-) and he’s terrified out of his mind.
Dante is fifteen and a man sits down across from him with an easy smile and tells him that he’s here to talk about what happened to Armando.
“You’re Rosa Ramon, correct?” He raises an eyebrow, and Dante knows better than to correct him.
“Yeah,” he mumbles, squeezing his hands together under the table. “Am I in trouble, Mr…?”
The man ignores the obvious attempt at getting him to say his name, sliding a few pictures across the table. One of them is of Armando-a yearbook photo with him grinning toward the camera. The one in the middle is of Cisco, also a school photo with him beaming wide enough to light up the picture. The third one- red splattered floor and red on brown skin and red on a football jacket and red, red, red- Dante swallows and looks away. He sees that image enough in his nightmares.
“You’re not in any trouble,” the man says, and Dante doesn’t believe that for a second. “I just wanted to talk to you about something you might have seen during the shootout that killed your brother.”
“Are you with the police? Do I need a lawyer?” Dante asks, resenting that it comes out like a squeak. “I-I mean-”
“Of course not, Ms. Ramon.” The man smiles, all thin lips and no teeth. Dante shivers a little. “And no, I’m not with the police. I’m work for an organization called ARGUS.”
“I’ve never heard of you,” Dante says, fingers clenching again. Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. Oh god, oh god, oh god, he feels like he’s going to throw up right then and there on the table in front of him. “How do I know you’re really who you say you are?”
The man reaches into his jacket and flashes a badge at him. A glimmer of something, too fast for Dante to read a name or see a face or-or anything, really. “That, and you’ll just have to take my word for it.”
Dante swallows, shuddering. For some reason, he feels cold, even though it’s springtime. “What-what are your questions?”
“Did you see anything strange the day that your brother was killed, Ms. Ramon?” The man sounds like he’s trying to be gentle, trying to be like one of the teachers who gives Dante and Cisco more time for homework because they have to balance it with everything else that they have to do now. With Dante trying to find a job to replace the source of income that Armando used to be and with Cisco’s extracurricular activities where he disappears off into the woods and comes back with a muddy face and hands pricked with thorns and tears in his eyes. The man is failing miserably at it.
“Strange?” Dante says, spitting the word out. “Stranger than my brother getting gunned down for no fucking-” He shudders and lowers his gaze down to the table. He’s not supposed to swear, not around strangers (or around Cisco). Lately he’s been lax with it. “What kind of strange thing?”
“Anything out of the ordinary,” the man says. He fakes a laugh and Dante feels like he’s going to throw up again. “Especially anything that you might tell people about. We wouldn’t want you and your brother spreading any… False rumors, would we?”
Dante shivers. “No,” he lies. “I didn’t see anything strange. There was nothing weird about my brother’s murder.”
He spits the last part out, angrier than he should be. Angier than is safe. He forces himself to school his face into something more neutral, something sad instead of furious.
The man from ARGUS leaves. Dante doesn’t tell his parents or Cisco what happened.
Dante is fifteen and he is afraid for his family’s lives.
Dante is sixteen and he starts keeping his distance from Cisco after that. He doesn’t want Cisco to get hurt just because some government hotshot doesn’t like that Dante knows the real reason Armando died. Knows the real way that it happened. His therapist says that bottling up emotions isn’t healthy and he needs to express himself, so Dante hurls himself into whatever cheap thrill he can find that makes him feel a little bit less numb.
His therapist doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He’s fine. He’s healthy.
Dante is sixteen and has a crush on his Chemistry partner that he doesn’t know is a crush and he’s just stumbled home after a night out in the woods with people that he thought were his friends, people that he thought cared about him, people that he didn’t think had known his name hadn’t been Dante at first. Dante had thought they liked him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Of course they didn’t like him of course they only invited him out there so that they could-
Dante is sixteen and his shirt is utterly ruined and there’s no way to clean it, he smells like beer so his mama is going to be upset, he’s muddy and filthy, and there’s gravel buried in the skin on the back of his legs. He can’t go home. It’ll upset Cisco and his dad will be angry in the way that he is now, the kind of sad-angry that comes from being protective over the only two children you have left. His mama will be upset because being upset distracts her from Armando. So he can’t go home.
He does anyways. Tries to sneak back but his mama catches him and maybe it’s the look in his eyes but she doesn’t yell or demand to know where he’s been or anything. She’ll do that some other time. Not now. She helps him into the bathroom because he’s too tired to stand up straight, too numb and in shock still.
“I want to cut my hair shorter,” is the first thing out of his mouth, because he doesn’t know what else to say. What else is he supposed to say? Are they supposed to talk about this? They can’t talk about this. “I need to cut my hair short. People are-people know.”
Dante knows that if his friends know, by now everyone else in the school knows. He can’t handle that. It was easier before, in Detroit, because nobody cared about him. Nobody had ever noticed him and Cisco in Armando’s shadow. But after moving to Central City because his parents couldn’t bear to live on the same street that they had when their son was alive… He’d been going to school as Dante the whole time. Nobody was supposed to know.
“Do they know about Cisco, too?” She asks, worried. She’s smart. She knows what happened. She doesn’t want her youngest son to have to go through the same thing. Watching another one of her sons get hurt… She would rather die.
Dante is sixteen and it has never occurred to him that the people who hurt him might know about Cisco. The thought is terrifying. What if someone’s already tried to do this? What if Cisco’s already been hurt, but because Dante tried to push him away for his own safety, Dante wasn’t around to stop it. He feels like he’s going to throw up, but swallows it down at the last second. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The next day, Dante goes to school, finds a big heavy stick, and keeps it near him at all times when he’s outside. Watching Cisco carefully. The school is huge, first grade through high school, so Cisco’s gotta be around here somewhere in the crowd.
Dante is sixteen and he almost gets to his little brother too late, smashing the stick into the bridge of his former best friend’s nose. He lets out a choked scream and stumbles backward, and Dante smiles viciously. Revenge feels good. “Stay away from my brother,” he spits, “or there’s more where that came from.”
Cisco laughs, high and full of relief. “Hit him again!” He encourages. “Hit him again!”
Dante laughs too and ruffles Cisco’s hair, handing the stick over to him. “Go ahead. Make it count. Aim for his dick. Or his eyes.”
They’re going to be expelled for sure, especially with the ring of jeering students gathered around them to watch and poke fun at Michael-the-ex-best-friend for getting his ass handed to him, but it’s worth it. That bastard was going to hurt Cisco. (That bastard told Dante he wanted to be his friend and then six months later took it back and laughed into Dante’s neck in a gravelly field that it had all been a trick to find out if what was down his shirt was flat.) So Dante will hurt him back.
Dante is sixteen and he and Cisco are definitely changing schools.
Dante is seventeen and he’s not sure he likes Melinda Torres as much as she likes him (and Cisco) and the thought scares him. He’s seventeen and he breaks Cisco’s heart and he knows he shouldn’t, of course he shouldn’t, but maybe if he does this than he’ll like Melinda as much as he likes Josh from his math class who just changed his hairstyle and shaved off his dreadlocks and is still so handsome.
He has a dream about Josh from his math class and wants to kill himself for having it because he’s not a girl he’s a boy and only girls like boys like that. He’s a boy and he likes girls like Melinda.
Dante is seventeen and he has three more of those dreams about Josh before he breaks up with Melinda and tells her he’s sorry. That Cisco would’ve been better for her than he was because there’s something wrong with him and he doesn’t know what it is.
Cisco comes home and they don’t talk about Melinda outside of Dante softly saying that he broke up with her at the dinner table that night. Immediately afterward, almost as if it’s in an effort to make Dante realize what a mistake he’s made in letting Melinda go because soon Cisco will be dating someone (Dante knows it wasn’t a mistake. The mistake was not stopping it sooner), Cisco excitedly tells him about how there’s a boy in his science class that’s really nice and smart and funny and handsome and he’s gonna try to ask him out does Dante think that’s a good idea?
Their parents tell Cisco to go for it, but Cisco’s still looking at Dante with wide eyed anxiety like he wants to make sure he has Dante’s approval first. Dante swallows. It’s not fair that Cisco’s so comfortable in himself when Dante can’t even look at himself in the mirror some days without wanting to claw his skin off.
“Go for it,” he says instead, smiling a little painfully. “And tell him if he doesn’t respect you, we got expelled once for beating the shit out of someone with a stick, so…”
“Language!” Their dad snaps. Cisco giggles a little.
“I’m not going to threaten him,” he says. “I’m gonna take him out for ice cream! That’s romantic, right?”
Dante is seventeen and he thinks for the first time he might be jealous of his baby brother.
He tries not to think about it too much. Cisco is happy because of him, because Dante’s not close with him, because Dante’s been keeping him safe. Dante doesn’t need a girlfriend to be happy. (He still feels pangs of envy when he sees Cisco and his boyfriend holding hands or watching movies together.)
Cisco confronts him. “You’re making Luc uncomfortable.”
“Tell him I’m sorry.” Dante doodles a flower in the corner of his notebook. “He’s a nice guy.”
“Do you have a problem with the fact that he’s my boyfriend?” Cisco asks, puffing up to his full height of exactly five feet. Dante’s proud of the fact that he’s still taller than his baby brother even if he’s not very tall himself.
“I don’t care that you’re gay,” Dante huffs. “I just-”
“I’m not gay,” Cisco interrupts. At Dante’s confused look, he clarifies. “I like girls too. I wanted to date Melinda. And there were some other girls I really wanted to date but they all turned me down. But I like boys too. Like Luc.”
“Oh.” Dante swallows. “Well. I think I might be gay.”
It sounds so much more casual than the way that it’s been said in his head for weeks now. (Because Dante is a boy he can’t be gay unless-unless he can be?) Cisco blinks slowly at him. “Okay. That’s okay. Mom and Dad won’t mind, you know that. And neither do I. But- please stop acting weird around Luc, okay?”
Dante is seventeen and he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he nods and promises to try not to make Cisco’s boyfriend uncomfortable anymore.
When Cisco and Luc break up with the promise to remain friends and exchange letters and things because Luc and his family are moving to Coast City, Dante comforts him and hates himself quietly.
Dante is eighteen and his name has finally been legally changed alongside Cisco’s and he’s just realized that he hasn’t seen any signs of ARGUS in ages. It used to be that he would notice them around. See them ducking behind buildings slowly enough that he knew they knew he could see them. Notice their agents in vans around the neighborhood. But it’s stopped now, for some reason.
It didn’t stop when the Ramon family moved from Detroit to Central, but it’s stopped now.
Maybe they’ve realized that they’re not going to get anything out of Dante or Cisco. Maybe they think Dante was telling the truth when he said that he didn’t notice anything unusual about his brother dying in the streets.
It’s probably because Dante’s been hacking their incredibly well protected servers for months now and erasing mentions of him and Cisco from the system. He’s pushed Cisco away from him for years and now Cisco is applying to schools with names like MIT and Cornell ahead of everyone else in his class and meanwhile Dante doesn’t care about college even though he knows he should. He should care for Armando who was so proud to be going to college.
He can’t care about it. He just can’t.
Cisco’s the smart one, not him.
Cisco’s the one who’s going to go to college, not Dante, who’s never been good at anything in his life.
(Except, maybe, for computers. He takes a lot of silent pride in that. In the fact that he can hack into just about anything, thanks to a lot of trial and error and figuring out back doors. It’s a highly enjoyable feeling. But he can’t tell Cisco about it. That stings.)
Dante is eighteen and he still lives with his parents and he hasn’t dated anyone since Melinda even if Cisco’s dated plenty of girls and boys and other people since Luc and he’s accepted that his lot in life is to never have a boyfriend. He makes himself a couple of fake IDs and goes to bars and sometimes hooks up with guys but he always throws up afterward and it never gets farther than kissing because he doesn’t want them to know that a different box was checked when he was born.
It hurts him inside because god does he want to kiss someone and hold them and yeah, maybe have sex with them (maybe not. It’s been two years. Not long enough), but he can’t do that with a boy and doing it with a girl just seems… Wrong. He doesn’t want to. But wanting to date a boy means that he might as well just be a straight girl and thinking about that makes his intestines feel like they’re being eaten from the inside out.
Dante is eighteen and Cisco deals with the fallout of some kids at school finding out his birth name and pushes Dante away when he tries to help. Dante doesn’t blame him. He’s been doing the same thing to Cisco for his safety for years. While he wants to help… He knows he can’t. It’s upsetting.
But it’s his own fault for pushing Cisco away.
It was to protect him, Dante argues with himself. Everything he’s ever done has been to protect Cisco.
Dante is eighteen and keeps working on computers and volunteers at his local library to teach kids to build and take apart little motherboards and computers safely. At least they appreciate him. But he’s not getting paid for it. Whatever. He’s good enough at cheating at cards and his fake IDs are solid enough that he can usually get money.
Dante sits on the porch and looks outside and hears Cisco shriek with laughter from inside and he wants to go back inside but he can’t. He can hear his parents talking in low tones in two languages but it’s distant enough and through enough walls that he can’t actually make out the words. Just muffled sound. It’s not fair that they don’t know about ARGUS. It’s not fair.
Dante is nineteen and Cisco’s starting college at seventeen and he wants to cry because this is all Armando wanted for them and Cisco’s finally living out their big brother’s dream.
The ARGUS vans, Dante notices with dread pooling in the middle of his stomach, are back.
Dante is twenty, Dante is twenty-one, Dante is twenty-two, and now it seems like there’s always someone from ARGUS following him. He hopes it’s not the same for Cisco. Prays it’s not the same for Cisco, really. Cisco knows it wasn’t a gun that killed Armando, even if it was just as loud-probably louder-as one, but Cisco doesn't know that he saw it happen like Dante did. Cisco's lied to himself over and over again about seeing it, so many times that he believes the lie.
Thank god. It takes the target off of Cisco’s back, even if that means it is shifted over to Dante’s. Doesn’t matter, really. He’s used to having it there.
Dante is twenty-two and ARGUS still hasn’t caught on to his hacking. He’s read just about every single one of their files. And he’s developed a fondness for certain agents, even if they are potentially out to get him and his brother. One named Dale Gunn, in particular, mostly because Dante noticed that he changed Dante and Cisco’s gender markers from “Transgender Male” to just “Male.” Like it should say.
That’s pretty much the only thing left in the file, honestly. Sometimes someone will come check on it and be confused or try to add onto it, but… He modifies that too.
Dante never searches for Armando’s name. There’s no point. Nothing will come up.
Dante is twenty-three and it’s been eight years since Armando died and seven years since that night and nine years since the first time he tried to kill himself and three years since the latest time and it feels good to be alive.
He hasn’t seen Cisco in over a year and he wishes that weren’t true because he misses his baby brother, the only brother he has left, so much it hurts. It’s been hurting since Dante was fifteen and lying to a man who claimed to be from the government but the ache is so much stronger now.
He leaves a Happy Birthday message for Cisco and that’s the only time they talk that year.
Dante is twenty-three and he tries not to let the absence of his brother, the absence that is partially his own fault, bother him.
Dante is twenty-four and he’s considering emailing Amanda Waller personally to tell her that her security is shitty as fuck. But he doesn’t, because he’s a nice person. He’s also hungover. And sad. And waking up in the bed of someone he’s never going to see again.
Don’t get him wrong, they’re super nice, and very handsome, but it’s highly unlikely that Dante is ever going to see him again. That’s okay, really. He doesn’t mind.
Sometimes he still feels that sick feeling in his stomach. He hates it.
Dante is twenty-four and this is the most comfortable in his own skin he has ever felt and it still doesn’t feel like enough. Dante is twenty-four and the next day Cisco calls him while crying and Dante asks who he needs to kill.
And then Cisco gasps out “No, no, it’s good crying, it’s really good crying, I promise” and Dante relaxes.
“So… What’s the good crying about?” He asks, like it hasn’t been such a long time since they’ve spoken.
“I’m gonna-so-so you know how I work for Harrison Wells, right?” Dante doesn’t miss the reverence in Cisco’s voice when he says his boss’s name.
Dante nods slowly. “Yeah, at STAR Labs.”
“He’s been-I’ve been on hormones for awhile now, but-but I’m gonna get top surgery, Dante! Dr. Wells is paying for it!” He’s still crying, but now Dante can hear that he’s laughing through it. “I had to call you, I’m calling Mama and Dad next, but-I just-isn’t it great?”
Dante is twenty-four and he doesn’t have to pretend to be happy. “It is! That’s great news!”
They talk for over an hour, Cisco gushing about how much he loves his job and most of his coworkers except for one named Hartley, about how the work they’re doing is so, so important, how amazing it’s going to be when they finally finish the particle accelerator, how he’s sorry he hasn’t had a chance to talk in so long. Dante tells him about how their dad tried to watch cooking tutorials and almost burnt the house down, about how their mom is trying to get Dante to get a job, and about how he’s learned how to cheat at five more games.
It feels so good to hear his baby brother’s voice again.
Dante is twenty-five and STAR Labs has just exploded and for a moment all he can think about is losing another brother and he lets out a noise that’s part scream and part sob as he falls to his knees in the middle of the bar where he was watching it happen live and when someone asks him if he’s okay all he can gasp out is “My brother works there.”
And then he’s gone, sprinting home so he can tell his parents, never mind that they probably already know, frantically trying to call Cisco (oh god, oh god, please please please pick up the phone, he can’t lose the only brother he has left, he can’t lose Cisco now, he can’t ever lose Cisco but especially not now. Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, he feels like he did when he was hiding with Cisco from the monster that killed Armando and he doesn’t know what to do) but Cisco isn’t picking up and Dante’s sobbing loud enough to attract stares and the golden light that wrecked the whole city is giving his eyes a strange shine to them and-
Cisco picks up and he’s crying but he’s alive and they both cry into the phone and Dante doesn’t even notice that the tiny aftershock earthquakes stopped as soon as Cisco answered the phone.
Dante is twenty-five and he doesn’t know about his brother’s destiny but it feels like something that was out of place has just settled back underneath his skin and he would pay attention to it. (Across the city, Cisco feels the same way. This is the start of something bigger. They both know it.)
Dante has just passed twenty-six and he’s pretty sure that Cisco’s friend took his flirting seriously and Cisco’s trying not to laugh and this could be good.
Dante has just passed twenty-six and there’s a man with a parka forcing Cisco to build him weapons and things and Cisco is doing it because they threatened Dante, because he loves Dante so much, and he would be touched if they weren’t in danger of dying.
Dante has just passed twenty-six and his hands are so numb they hurt and he wants to die and oh god no please don’t let this happen to Cisco please don’t let this happen to Cisco please-he starts whispering the same prayer under his breath he said when he was trying to protect Cisco from that creature that killed Armando, the same one he half sobbed stumbling home from that night in the field at the edge of the woods, the same one he whispered when Cisco came home to them after the particle accelerator explosion hurt but alive.
Be gracious unto me-
Above him, he can hear Cisco sobbing and then gasping out a name-“Barry Allen”-and-
-rejoice the soul of Thy servant-
Someone’s moving him and oh god oh god his hands hurt so, so badly-
-in the day of my trouble I call upon-
Dante has just passed twenty-six and he has just now realized exactly how dangerous Cisco’s new life is and all he can think about is how all of his work to protect Cisco might amount for nothing if Cisco keeps getting tangled up in the life of the guy that fucking parka man wanted the name of.
Dante is about to turn twenty-seven and he’s just clicked on Armando’s name in ARGUS’s files.
And in that moment, Dante understands that he needs to die.
He doesn’t tell Cisco. That’s a mistake and he knows it but he’s been protecting Cisco for so long…
The official story is a drunk driver. That’s what Cisco tells everyone and the story their parents agree upon. Dante watches them do it. He’s a little bitter about it, but… Well… Maybe he just hadn’t faked his death well enough for another explanation (a less flimsy one) to be believable. It doesn’t matter anyway. The world thinks Dante Ramon is dead, and ARGUS is included in that.
Dante is about to turn twenty-seven and he finally understands why ARGUS didn’t want Dante to tell anybody what he had seen when Armando died. That he had seen something-the sky itself- open up, seen something step through it as a sound like thunder, louder than a thousand gunshots, echoed through the air. That he had seen that the monster that leapt out of the gaping hole in the sky as they ducked for cover and Armando screamed for them to hide was clearly not human.
They didn’t know that even as everyone had hidden, Dante had watched the monster stab Armando through the heart. And Cisco… Cisco had seen it too. But Cisco had managed to convince himself that he hadn’t. That it had been a gang, not a monster.
Well. Since Armando was alive, they’d evidently both been wrong.
Dante has turned twenty-seven and he is standing outside of ARGUS and he walks in like he knows exactly what he’s doing (which he absolutely and completely does not). He stole the ID of someone who works here, it’s simple to get in. Of course there are rigorous screens, but Dante gets passed those pretty fast-somebody even says hello to him using the name on his fake ID.
He doesn’t say anything back, just in case they recognize that his voice is different, but he remembers it.
Armando is on the lowest level in something called the Circus. Dante goes down there.
He kneels in front of the cell holding his brother and pressed it against the glass, smiling a little. “Hey, Mando,” he says, surprised he’s not flat-out bawling. “Long time no see. Let’s get you out of here.”
Dante leaves in a much more destructive way than when he entered, with the Hound of Mordeth at his back.
They’ll have to tell Mama and Dad that Armando and Dante are both alive. They’ll have to tell Cisco. God, they’ll have to do a hundred things. But...
Dante is twenty-seven years old and his family finally feels whole again for the first time in years.