The problem, Barry decides somewhere in the back of his mind that isn't preoccupied with the fact that he's currently in danger of drowning, is that he'd never really gotten over his fear of drowning.
He's not quite sure why his fear of drowning is the thing causing his current problem (drowning), but it makes sense. Somewhere.
He can't take baths anymore. Hasn't been able to since he was ten years old and his foster father held his head underwater- extensively- every time he got tired of listening to Barry talk about something.
Not being able to take a bath is not actually as big of an inconvenience as one might think, though. Barry's never liked to do things slowly, even before his accident, and the superspeed just made things worse.
Where was he? Right. Baths. Baths take too long and are boring. Showers are much quicker and let him get back to doing whatever thing is preoccupying his mind at the moment.
A thump on the glass surrounding him brings his mind back to the present. It's probably worrying that he didn't register drifting off into semi-consciousness, but Barry doesn't really have the energy to care at this point.
Still, another thump, this one louder and more annoying, prods him into opening his eyes. He slowly, so, so slowly peels them open, peering through crystal clear water at the man on the other side.
Barry's not sure who it is, honestly. Some low-level villain with super strength that he thought he could handle alone.
The guy had a partner, a woman that had come out nowhere and frozen his feet to the ground and then swung a block of ice bigger than his fist at Barry before he could get loose.
The next thing he knew, he was here. Chained to the bottom of a tank filled with water with a mask strapped to his face that was connected to the bottom of the tank and that was giving him enough oxygen to stay conscious and alert.
Well, the alert part might've been more successful if he didn't currently have a concussion the size of New Jersey throbbing at the base of his skull. At least his cowl had stayed on through the whole experience, even if he'd rather have it off right now.
Barry realizes that the man's stopped hitting the glass. Instead, he's staring at Barry in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. Like Barry's a science experiment that the man can't wait to dissect.
Which, for the record? Not something Barry's ever been or wanted to be. Somehow, 'lab rat' didn't come up on career choice day.
Apparently fed up with Barry's inattentiveness- get in line, buddy, you've got a lot of angry foster families ahead of you- the man hits the glass again, harder than he has before. The sound reverberates through Barry's head, and he tries to shake it to relieve the ringing in his ears.
The way his head moves so slowly only serves to remind him of the fact that he's trapped under water. Great.
Still, he forces his mind away from his situation and looks up at the man, who's grinning in the same way that all supervillains seem to grin.
(Seriously, do they take a class, or- no. Focus, Barry. Focus.)
Sound suddenly comes pouring out of tiny black boxes fixed to the top corners of the tank. Barry curls in on himself as much as he can at the onslaught of noise, so loud that he can barely focus on the words. "Welcome back, Flash. I'm so happy that you've decided to join us. Before you try anything, remember that the cuffs you're in neutralize your powers."
Barry shrugs. He'd say something snarky back, but. Well. Circumstances aren't the most accommodating towards that at the moment. The man continues, oblivious to his prisoner's thoughts. "I want you to know that you're going to drown, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Barry's heart is thundering in his ears now, and he only catches a bit of what the man says next. Something about an example. His captor reaches towards a switch and flicks it, and suddenly the mask starts to pull away from Barry and towards the bottom of the tank.
It vanishes, and so does Barry's calm. He thrashes, desperately holding his breath, giving every bit of power he has towards breaking free. The only thing that stops him from trying to use his speed is the knowledge that if he does, he'll electrocute the water and then he'll be dead anyway.
He can't breathe. He can't breathe and he can't move and he can't get free he has to get free can't breathecan'tbreathecan'tbreathe-
The man is still talking, the loud sounds coming from the speakers adding to Barry's terror, and suddenly, he's not in a tank, not a superhero, just a little boy that can't breathe because the man he thought would be his new family got tired of listening to him ramble on.
He sobs, inhaling water. He just wants his dad back.
Water's rushing out of the tank, and Barry sinks to his knees, limp. He gags, trying to cough water out and take in air at the same time. Someone's thumping his back, trying to get him to cough up the water he inhaled, and he can't get away-
Barry finally stops coughing, throat scraped painfully raw, and he takes in a ragged gasp of air. The hand is still touching him, large and coarse, and he twists away, a low noise coming from the back of his throat that he doesn't want to identify as a whimper, but really, there's no other word for it. The hand hesitates, then draws back.
Barry tries to remember how to breathe.
It takes him- he doesn't know. He doesn't know how long it is until he can finally breathe in a way that bears any semblance to normal, how long it is until he looks up and sees a large man crouching a few feet away from him, hands up and expression careful. "Barry," the man says, "Do you remember me? Do you know who I am?"
Barry thinks- he tries to think past the pounding in his head, past the trembling in his hands- Barry thinks he might. The man seems familiar. He closes his eyes, blinking them open again just as fast. "Arthur?"
The man- Arthur, Aquaman- nods. "Yeah. Yeah, it's me. I'm going to get you out of those chains, okay?"
Barry nods. He can't wait to get out of here. At least, that's what he thinks until Arthur stands and starts to walk towards him, and then all he can think is tall big strong-
He doesn't realize that he's starting to hyperventilate again until Arthur calls his name again. "Barry. Barry, look at me. I'm staying over here, okay?"
Barry looks up. Arthur's telling the truth. The older man's sunk into a crouch again, hands back up, and he's still a few feet away from his younger teammate. Barry watches as Arthur takes an exaggerated breath, then another, and another. Almost without thinking, he syncs his own breathing to that of Arthur's. It takes a moment, but he can breathe again.
He realizes that he can't see either of his captors and wonders detachedly what happened to them. He can't quite bring himself to care at the moment.
Arthur gives him another moment to collect himself, then starts to speak again. "I'm going to come closer, okay? But not until you say so. And if you tell me to stop, I'll stop. Does that sound okay?"
Barry hesitates, but he nods. In the back of his mind, he wonders if he even has a choice.
Slowly, painfully slowly, Arthur inches forward, still in a crouch, still with his hands raised. Barry watches as the man gets ever closer. When the trembling in his hands becomes too much to ignore, he chokes out, "Stop. Please- stop."
Wonder of wonders, Arthur stops immediately. He doesn't reprimand Barry for being weak. He speaks quietly, a drastic change from the screeching of the speakers. "Okay, Barry. I stopped. I'm just staying here. I'm not going to come closer until you're okay with it."
Barry watches in disbelief as Arthur does exactly what he says. He doesn't move any closer. He doesn't press Barry to hurry up.
Barry closes his eyes again, but still can't keep them closed for long. It takes him a few long moments, but eventually, he says, "Okay. You can come closer."
Arthur nods. He starts moving again. This time he's within arm's reach of Barry when he reaches for the younger man and then all Barry can see is his hands, moving fast and he pulls against the chains because he needs to get away-
Barry looks up to see Arthur just out of arm's reach, talking softly, speaking calming phrases. As soon as Arthur realizes that he's listening, he says, "I need to get close to you to get the chains off, okay?"
His voice is patient, and Barry doesn't know how to feel about that, but he nods.
Arthur moves closer, and Barry tenses instinctively, hunching his shoulders and trying to ignore the shaking in his hands as Arthur's hands, large and warm and calloused- but gentle, ever so gentle- close around his wrists and simply tear the cuffs off. Barry jerks away from him at the display of strength, scrambling backwards and towards the exit, but he's stopped by the cuffs around his ankles.
He watches, hardly able to think, as Arthur gives the ankle cuffs the same treatment. Then Barry moves backwards until his back hits the wall, and he stares at Arthur, who's still in the exact same spot, who's sitting cross-legged and leaning back on his hands.
It's about the most unthreatening position he can be in, and it helps Barry breathe. He rips the cowl off his face and feels instant relief at having the waterlogged clothing off of his face.
Arthur doesn't say anything for a long while, and Barry calms his heart rate. They sit there like that for a long time, and finally, Barry looks up and says, "Thanks."
Arthur nods, expression kind. "Of course. I was in the neighborhood. Are you alright?"
Barry recognizes the way the man holds himself, the way he shifts uncomfortably. He gets this way whenever he's out of the water for too long, and Barry knows the man's been away from the ocean for a few days now. He nods, pastes on a grin. "Yeah, of course."
Arthur still hesitates, and Barry saves him from having to make the decision himself. He stands, pulls the cowl back on, and says, "Well, uh, thanks again."
With that, he's out the door and into the darkness of the falling night.
He sleeps at the Manor that night, hoping that Bruce won't know, but needing somewhere he knows he'll be absolutely safe. He crashes on one of the many couches in one of the many living rooms and picks, by complete chance, the one that the entrance to the Batcave is in. He's fast asleep when Bruce stumbles over him on his way to get ready for the night.
Bruce watches the younger man for a moment, thinking about the call he received from Arthur earlier. He pulls a blanket over the younger man and tells Alfred to tell him if anything happens while he's on patrol. Alfred nods knowingly, muttering something about young men and their ability to sleep anywhere.
The next morning, Barry is still there, and Alfred invites him to breakfast with Bruce. Barry accepts, and no one comments on the way he sits with his back to the wall with a clear path to all the exits.
He mumbles an apology for staying at the Manor without an invitation, and Alfred looks very indignant and informs him that he's always welcome there and that "It's nice to have someone around that actually listens for once."
Bruce looks very, very exasperated, and Barry smiles down at his eggs.