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Timeless

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And after he's been hooked I'll play the one that's on his heart

Oh.

Oh.

Oh…

What a beautiful thing forever was, but lonely, Barry discovered, because with eternity stretching out around him, powered inexplicably by his own unstoppable Force, he couldn’t return home, not without becoming mortal again. All he had were the voices and an endless loop of memories from before and yet to come.

Run, Barry, run!

It wasn’t Hell. The Speed Force hadn’t lied—Nora, she hadn’t lied. It was harmony, pure and endless, a sense of wholeness and oneness with everything and nothing. What should have been overwhelming came easily because he was Time and Space and Energy all his own.

Timeless.

Every hour, every minute

The prison he’d worked so hard to create for Savitar dismantled like disintegrating paper when he willed it to reunite with the power it was born from—him. It was all him. He was—

He was.

Barry

The voices weren’t always in synch. One had a way of standing out, teasing specific memories to the surface as if to stir in him the will to be something else. With such power at his fingertips, he could have tapped the cosmos and changed the very nature of creation. But there was warmth here, cocooning him close, like it didn’t want him to leave.

Echoing through Time and every dimension, it wanted more—more breadth, more bearers. He knew without trying that in its embrace he touched every part of reality, every moment of probability, containing the knowledge of every place and Time that ever was or would be.

How could he be lonely when he was so full?

Barry got into a fight.
Oh, yeah?
And he won.
Ah, way to go, slugger. Oh, and uh, no more fighting.

The voice again, singular and unique from the others, contradicted the memory.

Don’t listen. Fight, Barry!

He…he had to keep fighting. He didn’t belong here. The lightning hadn’t opened his eyes, he’d opened something else. He was the conduit, but his creation, like all children, wanted freedom without losing the comforting touch of home.

The Speed Force didn’t need him, it merely wanted, yearned like consciousness, like he yearned, for something more. But in the end, it could only bend to his will, however it may howl.

No strings on me

It was time to go home, but it wouldn’t be easy once he left, a slog through quicksand drowning in the flood. Then he would know Hell, because the full scale of power would overwhelm him finally, and he might never crawl his way back to the surface.

Nora. Henry. Eddie…and Ronnie. Snart.

You can call me Leo

No.

Len

The list was longer, so long it wounded Barry, but here, he could see them all as they were, at their greatest and at their downfalls. He saw every memory that was and every future that could have been. And sometimes that voice standing out from the others seemed with him instead of a distant echo, like the disconnect between dimension and Time.

He wished there was a way to save everyone, but there would still be losses, and one great loss he couldn’t risk changing, because he knew where toying with his mother's death led.

But maybe he could save the rest and try again.

Don't like the future, Flash? Change it!

 

XXXXX

 

Barry’s eyes flew open with a shock to his newly solid system, and a small conscious part of him saw his friends, his dear beloved friends who he was so happy to see again, and he smiled—

Before the din, connected still to the endless everything, but displaced now and unable to sift out the chaos, roared.

 

XXXXX

 

“Pulse 120, pupils equally reactive to light.”

“Hey there, buddy,” Cisco tried to speak over Caitlin, because techy talk was not what their mutant potato needed to wake up to. “Everything's okay. You're at STAR Labs. I told you he liked this song,” he commented about the loop of “Poker Face” still playing over the speakers.

“Not now, Cisco. Mr. Allen, how are you feeling?” She put her penlight away and spoke seriously at the blinking hazel eyes and surprising smile looking up at them.

“Call him Barry, geez,” Cisco leaned over the man in similar fashion to get a good look, because a small part of him had feared he’d never get to meet the guy who he only really knew through his family, some odd friends in Starling, and the dirt he was able to uncover from Facebook and personnel files. “We’ve only been his babysitters for months. Right, Barry? Or is it Bart? Your family calls you Barry, but man, I could totally go with Bart if you prefer that, just not Bartholomew, coz you deserve better.”

Cisco,” Caitlin said with more urgency, tilting Barry’s head this way and that to get a reaction that seemed to simply not come as he kept smiling at them. “Barry, can you hear me?”

He smiled wider for a brief, blinding moment, then looked off distantly. “I’m the fastest man alive.”

“Okay.” Cisco shot Caitlin a confused glance. “Maybe not something to put on your dating profile.”

“You know I'm not much of a singer,” Barry went on as he attempted to sit up, still covered in electrodes and his IV, with breathing tubes wrapped around his head, shirtless in just the sweatpants they changed out regularly when they washed him.

“Also interesting,” Cisco said, while Caitlin pressed a hand to his chest to keep him from getting up too quickly, gently removing everything connected to him to prevent him from getting tangled in the wires. “Not judging or anything.”

“Barry,” meanwhile Caitlin kept trying to get his attention, “do you understand what we’re saying? Do you know what happened to you? You were struck by lightning. You’ve been in a coma for nine months. We’re at STAR Labs.”

Barry just blinked at her, then at Cisco, before the smile fell to something serious and angry. “No, you won't. You’re never getting out of here. And you're never going to hurt anybody ever again. I have everything back that you took away from me. I have everything Zoom took. I'm finally free. I'm home.” He struggled to sit up, and Caitlin had to make a final lurch to yank out the catheter for his IV so he wouldn’t tear it out himself.

“Barry!”

“Zoom?” Cisco questioned, trying to help Caitlin hold him to the bed, “that would make a great superhero name,” but Barry was larger than them and, just like they’d known from months watching his test results, he showed no sign of muscle atrophy.

“We are not going to hurt you!” Caitlin tried again.

Barry ignored them and moved for the nearest desk, grabbing a marker and glancing around like he knew what he was looking for but couldn’t remember where it was. When he spotted their translucent whiteboard, he rolled it closer to the middle of the room and started drawing—Cisco had no idea what, but they were strange symbols, mostly circular with tiny inconsistencies like some alien language.

“So imagine there are multiple versions of Earth... One where the Nazis won World War II... One where President Kennedy wasn't assassinated...”

“You need to lie down,” Caitlin took hold of the arm with the marker, but he shook her off and kept on doodling, more and more of those same odd symbols.

“A world where the Nazis won is a serious nightmare,” Cisco said, holding back since forcing Barry to listen didn’t seem to work.

“Been there,” Barry turned to him with sudden focus. “It sucks.”

“Uhh…”

“Welcome back, Mr. Allen,” Dr. Wells chose that moment to roll into the cortex, frowning with a knit brow when he saw the state of Barry and what he was doing.

Barry spun to look at him, completely unfazed. “That's what the other Wells said.”

“Excuse me?”

“Now that we've established that we're all uber-nerds,” Barry returned to the whiteboard, drawing away as if he were crafting something supremely important, “what are we gonna do about…a-about…” then it was like a glitch in the system, a shift and cringe of pain that tore across his face, almost causing him to drop the marker, but instead he pressed his hands to either side of his head, “…about…the stars? They’re singing. Screaming. Can’t you hear them screaming? Dreaming, scheming… Man, I wish I'd taken a language in high school,” he said with shocking clarity again, and went right back to his symbols.

Caitlin shrugged helplessly, while Wells looked on stern in his disappointment.

All Cisco could think was—this boy ain’t right.

 

XXXXX

 

Something had gone horribly wrong, but every calculation, every probable outcome had been accounted for. Yet Barry hadn’t come out of his lightning strike running on all cylinders.

What mattered more was whether he’d recover, and regardless of that, if he still had his powers and if it could be harnessed the way Eobard needed.

It bothered him, however, that Barry seemed so disjointed even if he could still be used to get home. Revenge wouldn’t be as sweet if The Flash wasn’t in his right mind to suffer through it.

“Run the tests,” he told Caitlin.

“Which tests?”

“Every test you can think of.”

She and Cisco snapped to attention, and as a unified front, they pried Barry from the whiteboard more forcefully, Caitlin carefully peeling the marker from his fingers.

“You can get back to your drawings later, okay?”

“Come on, man, we’re gonna lie back down now.”

“You just need rest, and we’ll get a look at all your moving parts to make sure you’re healthy.”

“Isn't that like saying I'm having a conversation with gravity,” Barry said, utter nonsense again, as far as Eobard could tell, but at least he was accommodating to being moved, “or light or—”

“Just relax, Barry,” Caitlin said.

Barry nodded as though he understood, allowing them to guide him to the bed, but the words that left him were, “No, Mom, I'm fine, but everything else has changed, and I have to find out why.”

Interesting. As if he was living every moment at once, or at least individual moments in the wrong order. A scattered puzzle box, with half the pieces upside down.

“Figure out what’s going on,” he told the others, eager to solve this one way or another, since his only way home depended on The Flash after over a decade of diligence. “We owe his family that much.”

 

XXXXX

 

These were not the circumstances Caitlin had envisioned for calling the Wests about their family member finally waking up. Someone deserved good news after everything the Particle Accelerator had cost them, but even now that Barry was awake, he was still lost to those that loved him.

She’d prepared Joe and Iris as best she could for when they’d arrive, but it would likely be far harder than they anticipated seeing him this way, like a shell of the man they knew.

“His neurotransmitters are functioning at five times the normal speed,” she explained to Cisco and Wells after their initial round of tests, some they were still waiting on, but for the moment, they’d allowed Barry to return to the whiteboard, which he was covering in symbols impressively fast.

“He’s even healthier than his muscle regeneration showed us,” Wells said.

“Exactly.”

“Then what’s wrong with him?” Cisco asked.

“I have two theories. One is that he's suffering from a form of schizophasia.”

“Assigning the wrong definitions to the words he’s using,” Wells said.

“Meaning, to him, all that crazy talk makes sense? Too bad we don't have a translator.” Cisco snapped his fingers with sudden purpose as he hopped off the desk.

“It’s not schizophasia,” Wells shot down.

“How can you be sure?” Caitlin asked.

“Because. He’s not talking to us, sometimes we just happen to be in his line of sight. However, the symbols might be worth decrypting,” he nodded at Cisco.

“I can work on an algorithm, see if anything pops up from known languages, numbers, codes.”

“Do it. You said you had two theories, Dr. Snow?”

“Without obvious brain damage, it could be neurological. Nothing about his condition has been normal. Maybe he was conscious all that time he was in the coma but couldn’t wake up and remembers everything. It would have been torture, could've caused dementia. That,” she stressed toward Barry, “may be all of him that's left.” Though she hoped that wasn’t the case and that somehow the real Barry might be coaxed out again.

“Hey, Barry, buddy,” Cisco called as he moved into Barry’s view, “you good over here?”

Barry paused in his frantic scribbling but didn’t quite look at Cisco. “No thank you, I'm not hungry,” he said, clear as anything, then focused right on Cisco as he shifted to distress. “He didn't do those things. He didn't hurt my mom. I was there that night. There was a man, plan. No plan. Have to throw away the plan.” He smacked the butt of his palm against his temple. “I miss you, where are you, I can’t hear you anymore…”

“Yeah…I’ll see if I can figure out those symbols,” Cisco backed away as Barry returned to his drawing.

Caitlin needed to focus on getting Barry fed and clean, make sure he was taken care of physically before he saw his family, which had the potential to trigger responses they couldn’t predict. Maybe he just needed time. Maybe he just needed them, and as soon as he saw Joe and Iris, he’d wake up for real. Caitlin hoped so, that he’d surprise them and snap out of it, or that maybe there was some message in the symbols and what he was saying regardless of Wells’ opinion.

For now, she could only keep on, like she’d been doing these past nine months.

 

XXXXX

 

He could feel the Speed Force within Barry, ever present like static, calling out like the pull of a magnet. But not once had the boy used his powers since he woke up, not even a stray spark, which was concerning but no reason to panic yet.

Even though the Wests dropped nearly everything the moment Caitlin called them to head to the Labs, the good doctor managed to clean Barry, dress him fully in STAR Labs sweats, and set him up in a more appropriate side-wing of the Cortex where he could doodle to his heart’s content before they arrived.

When Caitlin or Cisco encouraged him to stop for one reason or another, to eat, have blood drawn, in an attempt to talk, he allowed them to pull him away, but he always returned to his work. In all Eobard’s time and experience across dimension, he'd never encountered anything like those symbols. Every time he thought he might recognize what Barry was drawing, he realized he had to start over. It was maddening. Maybe Cisco would find the answer eventually, but for now, they were at a loss.

Joe and Iris appeared soon after with an eruption of noise and frantic movement, hugging Barry in succession and talking at him so rapid-fire, even a man in full control of his faculties might have had trouble understanding them. Barry smiled through it all as if, for a moment, he recognized them, whole and clear, before he tumbled into out-of-order nonsense again.

“Barry? It’s me, Iris,” she tried, holding his face between her hands.

“I always act weird,” he said, “I feel fine.”

“You do?”

He leaned in close as if about to share some intimate secret. “Whatever you do, don't look behind you.”

Iris did, but the only thing behind her was Cisco, Caitlin, and Eobard himself. “Barry, what are you talking about? Are you okay?” she asked more plaintively.

“Did you know zombies exist in nature? There's this species of fungi that infects ants, causing the ants to attack plants that release spores, which in turn effects new hosts—”

Again and again they tried to reach him, but his words were never meant for them in this moment.

The tears that followed struck a chord with Cisco and Caitlin, and soon their eyes were as damp as the Wests.

Eobard played the role of sympathetic caretaker, “Of course he can stay for as long as he needs. Our goal to give your son back to you and understand what happened to him hasn’t changed,” but he also had to be vigilant.

If Barry was experiencing multiple timelines at once, part of him could exist in a future where he knew the truth. Anyone overhearing accusations he might throw around would likely take it as nonsense, but Eobard couldn’t risk losing anyone’s trust when he was this close to his goal. He had to watch Barry carefully and decide if a moment came when he was more liability than lifeline.

The important thing was that Barry's test results showed the meta human gene and the Speed Force flowing through him, but Eobard couldn’t mention any of that or push for certain tests until Barry showed signs of his powers. In case he didn’t, or even if he did but was never able to fully control it, Eobard needed a backup plan.

His only chance for salvation without Barry was the boy’s successor.

 

XXXXX

 

“Excuse me. Mr. West?”

Wally spun about to face the voice that had startled him in the hallways of Keystone U, his eyes drawn downward to the man in the chair, but not just any man—Harrison Wells.

“Holy shi—uh…hey. You’re Dr. Wells.”

“I am,” Wells smiled in amusement. At least he was amused instead of annoyed. “And you are a very promising student from what I hear.”

“I am?” Wally didn’t think his grades were all that impressive lately. He’d gotten distracted from school ever since his mom started getting treatments. He worried they couldn’t afford too many more and that he might need to figure something out beyond getting another mediocre part-time job.

“You are,” Wells said. “Do you have any interest in thermodynamics, Mr. West? Theoretical physics?”

“Totally!”

“I thought as much. I don’t suppose you were in Central City for my spectacular failure last year?”

“I was there! I mean, not that it was a failure.” Damn, there went any chance he had at making a good first impression.

“Mr. West, I think disrupting the power of an entire city and the damage and injuries involved count as a failure,” Wells said, still smiling and patient with Wally’s flailing, “but I appreciate the attempt. You attended the event?”

“Oh…no, but I was in town. I wanted to get down there but didn’t make it in time. It was quite the show afterward,” he tried for levity since Wells didn’t seem to mind laughing at his catastrophe. For some reason, he even looked pleased by Wally saying that.

“Walk with me, Mr. West. Or accompany me at least,” he gestured down the hallway before shifting his chair around to wheel beside Wally.

Wally scrambled to match his pace.

“You see, I have this special case I’ve been working on, someone affected by the accelerator explosion in a profound way, and I need additional assistance from someone with talent, who can also be discreet and who wouldn’t garner too much attention by coming to STAR Labs regularly.”

“STAR Labs?” Wally had to be dreaming or he’d hit his head at some point this morning, because this sort of thing did not happen to him, not with the luck he’d had lately. “Me?”

The pleased smile on Wells’ face spread wider. “How would you feel about an internship?”

 

XXXXX

 

Barry’s peach fuzz was starting to grow in after a few days without a shave. Joe knew that another week would be enough to fill in the stubborn patches, but he wasn’t sure if he should let it grow, shave Barry himself, or risk a razor in his son's hand.

Caitlin had warned him against that. Barry was mostly calm, docile, but he would have fits of sudden fear or anger to match his words that sometimes Joe remembered from years ago, even from when Barry was a boy, and other things he didn’t understand at all.

Given Barry’s inactivity, he only needed to bathe once a week, but this time Joe had taken on the job himself. He was relieved, maybe a tiny bit hopeful when Barry started bathing himself once he was in the deep industrial bathtub of the Labs’ locker room. Joe had started by shampooing Barry’s hair, but the rest he did on his own, quiet, mechanical, and when he’d finished, he lay in the dirty water, head submerged save his face and closed his eyes.

“The stars keep melting, like rain on sheet metal, loud, proud, crowd. It’s too crowded here, Iris, are you sure this party's a good idea?”

Joe cringed with a halfhearted smile. “That something I’m not supposed to know about, kiddo? Better have been during college and not high school.”

Barry looked at him, Joe sitting on the bench he’d pulled over to be near the tub, and as he sat up smiling, he said, “Dad, I promise I’ll clean my room. Can we go to the zoo tomorrow?”

The fleeting smile at being called ‘Dad’ fell away when Joe realized he didn’t remember that reference. He’d never had to beg for clean rooms from his kids. If Iris wanted to go to the zoo bad enough, she’d clean Barry’s room for him rather than risk his slow-ass throwing off her good time. Barry always made it up to her though.

Those words hadn’t been for him. “Come on, Barr. Don’t want you turning into a prune.”

Iris and Eddie arrived soon after Barry was dressed and back to his drawing. He’d moved to the walls now, covering every inch he could reach in the room they’d set aside for him.

Joe wanted to be upset that Iris had been seeing his partner behind his back for so long, but she'd confessed to the relationship after Barry woke up because she wanted Eddie's support, and the way the man stood by her like the rock she needed made it hard for Joe to feel the disapproval he’d expected.

“Hey, Barr,” Eddie said with a natural kindness and patience Joe respected in his fellow officers and wasn’t always sure he displayed enough himself these days. “Brought you Big Belly Burger today. Don’t tell Dr. Snow, huh? She’s a stickler.”

“I heard that,” Caitlin called from across the room, tight smile not quite betraying itself.

They had indeed brought several bags of Big Belly Burger for everyone.

Even only a few days were enough to reach a sort of routine, talking around Barry, always including him even if he didn’t respond or if what he responded with was unrelated and difficult to understand. Iris had tried to convince Joe to take a few days off work, but he’d refused. Better to dive into cases when he wasn’t here to keep his mind off how he’d gotten his son back like a farce, which in his darker moments felt like he’d lost him all over again.

“What’s all this with Clyde Mardon I’ve been hearing about?” Iris asked, sitting on the floor with Eddie to be near Barry while Joe sat at the table with Caitlin. “People are talking superpowers, Dad.”

“You know I ain’t talking case work with you,” Joe said. “You think I want to see something show up on that blog of yours?”

“How about off the record?”

“How about you eat your fries?”

She sighed but never lost her look of determination. “Eddie…”

“And don’t even think about batting those eyelashes,” Joe broke in while Eddie froze halfway through a bite of his burger. “Eddie knows better.”

“Uh…yeah,” Eddie said thickly as he finished swallowing. “Work and personal life stays separate.”

That conviction would flounder in no time, Joe could already see it.

“He can control the weather,” Barry said, not even spinning to face them while munching happily on his meal at constant intervals, “there were robberies during freak meteoric events, when I confronted him, street enveloped in fog…”

“What’s that, Barry?” Iris asked, but no explanation came as he continued to alternate between eating and drawing without paying her or any of them much mind.

“Apologies, I didn’t realize you’d be visiting with Barry right now,” Wells’ voice cut into the room, drawing their attention to the door where a young man stood beside him, buzzing with nervous energy. “I was just showing a potential new recruit around the Labs.”

Cisco was right on their heels, looking similarly enthusiastic to have a fresh face in the building, but there was something about the boy that stopped Joe cold and he couldn’t place why.

“Hi,” the boy said, smile wide and blindingly bright, though it faltered when he scanned the room and took in the lonely figure at one of the walls. “Sorry, Dr. Wells told me about…the case and what’s been going on with Barry. He hopes I might bring an outside perspective.”

Sweet, Big Belly Burger,” Cisco went for the extra food waiting on the table. Good thing they’d brought so much if this young man was about to join them.

They entered fully and Wells made introductions. “Our bio-engineer, Dr. Snow. And this is Detective Thawne, Detective West, and his daughter Iris.”

“West, really?” the boy chuckled as he shook Joe’s hand. “I’m Wally West.”

That chill crept a little further up Joe’s spine.

“I guess it didn’t even dawn on me the coincidence,” Wells said.

“Wally?” Joe had to repeat, trying to shake off this sense of déjà vu. “Next you’ll tell me it’s short for Wallace.”

“It…is,” Wally said in confusion.

“Dad?” Iris pressed, hand gently touching his wrist as she sensed his growing unease.

“It’s nothing. Just a weird coincidence. Would have named you Wallace if you’d been a boy. Francine and I always planned to call a son that.”

The chill refused to diminish but seemed to spread to Wally, causing his face to pale. “That’s my mom’s name. Francine West.”

Everything in the room came to a stop like a moment plucked out of time. Joe’s worst fear had always been Francine coming back to haunt him someday after he’d thought for so long that lying about her death was the right call, now he couldn’t deny that this might be her smile looking back at him in Wally and his eyes.

“This’ll all make sense eventually,” Barry mumbled in the background, only audible because the rest of the room was silent.

 

XXXXX

 

While Eobard played dumb to the great ‘coincidence’ of having brought in West’s long-lost son, an eruption of discussion, amazement, and accusation began to unfold, mostly around Wally being tongue-tied and devastated that his mother had lied to him, and Iris being indignant and confrontational that her father had lied to her, with poor Detective Thawne in the middle attempting and failing to play peacekeeper, while Caitlin and Cisco held back from the family drama unsure what to do.

Which meant Barry was left unattended with no focus whatsoever anywhere near him.

He stopped every so often to take another bite of his burger or fries, drink from his water, but he kept on at the wall, mostly silent, sometimes rambling. It was no feat at all to roll up next to him, gently touch his shoulder with a small shocking spark, and whisper.

“Run, Barry, run.”

 

XXXXX

 

Iris wanted to be furious at her father, to scream and rail and maybe never forgive him for thinking he had the right to lie for years about what happened to her mother. But as her anger flared hotter, easy to ignite when she’d been so angry already over Barry’s condition, she felt the hair on her neck and arms stand at attention and smelled copper in the room like being outside in a thunderstorm.

A shriek left Caitlin at the first rush of yellow light zipping past them, spinning around the room like some out of control special effect with LED lights and a wind machine. Iris would have believed it was special effects if she didn’t feel the electricity and see items getting knocked over or sent flying to the opposite end of the room, including the scrawled over whiteboard.

“Barry!” she cried out, diving toward the wall where she’d last seen him—but he was gone!

“Iris!” Joe yanked her back to his side, Eddie boxing her in as well, both grabbing for their guns, unsure what this phenomenon might be but ready to protect against it.

“What is going on?” Wally called, all of them huddling closer to get out of the trail of that impossible lightning, moving fasting and faster around them—except for Wells, separate enough from the others that he couldn’t risk wheeling closer without running into the trail himself.

Then it widened, the radius getting larger, more out of control with sparks flying from the equipment it struck and, finally, Wells’ chair that went airborne like everything else and threw the man to the floor.

“Dr. Wells!” Cisco cried, but none of them could move any closer to help him.

Still, Wally tried, watching the streak of yellow as if calculating its movements and trying to guess when he might have a safe opening. He took a leap of faith regardless, but as time seemed to slow with his impressive bound forward, the yellow lightning and several brighter sparks of brilliant red, collided with him in a burst of light that forced all of them to shield themselves and turn away.

When Iris blinked the spots from her vision and turned back to the spot Wally had been, he lay on the ground, sprawled out like Wells but unconscious, and Barry stood between them, licks of lightning shocking around his body and in his eyes like something out of a Greek myth, as he wobbled on his feet.

“Want to see how fast I can run backwards?” he said to no one in particular, and then toppled right where he stood.

 

XXXXX

 

If the focus of all this chaos had been on anyone other than Iris’s loved ones, she would have been fascinated to learn more, to discover every secret and explanation for how Barry had done what he did and what it meant, but the safety of her brothers overrode thoughts of dissecting a new story or pushing her father away in this time of crisis.

Instead, she held Joe close as Caitlin and Cisco rushed to help Wells into his chair and all three of them went to work checking to make sure Barry and Wally were both okay.

It all seemed so impossible, and Joe looked lost in the science jargon more than once after everything calmed down and the explanations began. Barry’s amazing regenerating cells and whatever had happened to him during the accelerator explosion while getting struck by lightning had done far more to him than they thought.

“Is this why his mind’s jumbled?” Iris asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Caitlin said, a phrase Iris was getting tired of hearing, though she knew these kind and remarkable people weren’t to blame.

Wally woke up without any abnormalities in his speech or mental focus, which was a blessing, but his test results showed many of the same abnormalities as Barry.

“Barry can pass on what happened to him to others?” Eddie asked with some concern.

“Not just anyone, Detective,” Wells said. “Wally has something that not everyone else does, a unique characteristic to his genes also found in Barry. And he was present in Central City the night of the explosion, exposing him to dark matter previous to today’s encounter. Barry’s episode seems to have jumpstarted something in Wally’s cells, but I don’t believe it can be repeated with just anyone. You were predisposed to this reaction, Wally. A metaphysical brother to Barry Allen even if not biological.”

“He’ll be okay, though?” Joe asked. “Wally will be okay?”

“We should run more tests, continue to watch both of them carefully, but I promise you, Detective, I will not rest until I have uncovered every secret about what is happening to your sons.”

Wally appeared skeptical at being called Joe’s son so many times in such a short span, though they knew it had to be the truth. It just seemed so petty to be upset with Joe or Francine when so much else was happening.

The presence of Eddie beside Iris kept her grounded, the warmth of his arm around her shoulders, a faint kiss pressed to the back of her head. It helped more than she could say to have that consistent support when Joe had wounded her so deeply, Wally was all but a stranger, and Barry was far away.

“Can someone tell me, please,” Wally spoke up for the first time since being bombarded, “the same day I get called to STAR Labs, I find out I have a dad and a sister, have my DNA rewritten by my brother, and I just need to know…” his eyes really did look so much like Joe’s, “…what do we do now?”

There were tests to do, certainly, but there was also Francine to call and dozens of conversations to have, leaving everyone speechless for how to answer. There was still lunch in the other room that hadn’t been fully eaten. Could it be as simple as returning to that for an hour before they moved on to what came next?

"Sometimes the only way to move forward is to revisit the things in your past that were holding you back,” Barry said, staring up at the ceiling from his med bed, just shy of slurred speech from the sedative they’d given him to help prevent a repeat performance. “You have to deal with them head on, no matter how scary they may be. Because once we do, you'll see that you can go further than you ever imagined."

Tears strung Iris’s eyes at how much that sounded like the Barry she missed. “That’s…really beautiful, Barr,” she moved for the side of the bed to hold his hand.

“Yes,” Wells said, “quite beautiful.”

“Are you with us?” she asked, smoothing the hair from his face and looking into hazy green eyes.

“Yeah, Barry, you good?” Cisco came up on his other side.  

Barry looked at Iris with a warm smile, then at Cisco with just as much fondness. “This house is bitchin’.”

Any other day or time, Iris might have laughed, because that did not sound like Barry at all, but today it stung like an electric shock to her spine.

“Great,” Cisco smiled falsely in reply, always trying so hard to be optimistic, which Iris truly appreciated, but unable to deny when reality once again knocked them down a peg. “That’s great, Barry.”

“Why don’t we start,” Iris wiped the dampness from her eyes as she turned to the newest member of their family in the bed one over, “by getting to know each other. We can figure out the rest as we go.”

Nine months ago, watching Barry die over and over again, Iris didn’t think her heart could break that many times in a row, but these past few days had been worse. With everything else that was developing, she wished there was something, anything that could reach Barry to bring her best friend back to her when she needed him most.

 

XXXXX

 

Eobard breathed a sigh of relief. He was back on track.

It had been a gamble to discharge some of his own electromagnetic energy with a tachyon burst from his chair when Barry and Wally crashed into each other, but a worthwhile one, and now The Flash was all but obsolete, leaving room for his young partner to take his place early.

The strange thing was, the 2024 newspaper article hadn’t changed, other than the very curious alteration to the byline being written by Iris West-Thawne. Curious indeed, because if that solidified, Eobard could have a paradox on his hands that he could not afford.

Barry could still prove useful, could still recover and put on the mantle of Eobard’s greatest enemy, but what mattered now was tailoring the plan to fit the changing variables and to prepare to get rid of any of the players involved if necessary and if an opportune moment presented itself.

 

XXXXX

 

The calculations

Stay focused, Barry

I need a urine sample

We need a picture

I went to ask Joe for his blessing

You mean the half-man/half-shark that tried to kill you

I am really not feeling this

Now that’s the Barry Allen I know and love

I have been and always shall be—

I have been and always shall be

Time for a test run

Barry stopped, mid-circle for the next symbol on the wall of the Pipeline cell he’d been about to draw, the focus shifted to Wally now and running tests on him, while Barry was kept under lockdown until they could be certain he wasn’t a danger to himself or anyone else.

As he experienced one brief moment of true clarity, clinging to the faint sound of that old unique voice from inside Time, he smiled, “No strings…” before the din came in again like rolling thunder and he returned to his scribbling.

 

XXXXX

 

It was the perfect score, but the timing had to be exact, and Len wasn’t wholly onboard with the new crew he’d acquired for the job. He would have rather had Mick, even his sister along, but Lisa hadn’t been available when he first started planning, too late to bring her in now, though he’d get her something pretty when the job was done. And Mick…well.

He still needed to make things up to Mick.

Regardless, in a few weeks’ time, he’d be home in Central City, on his usual, bi-annual romp through familiar turf to steal something worthwhile. This time the payoff was like no other, sure to be a heist for the ages when Len finally got his hands on The Kahndaq Diamond.

 

TBC...