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Distant Melody

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It was the summer of 2021, and Cisco hadn’t left his home in over a month. He hadn’t even pulled back the curtains to let some sunlight in. Most of the time, he didn’t bother turning the lights on. He just stayed curled up on his couch with whatever program that happened to be on playing softly on the television. If he ate anything, it was usually half a slice of three-day-old pizza from the fridge that he rarely took the effort to heat up. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in almost a week, and that had been to tell his physical therapist that he wasn’t going to be coming back anytime soon.

He knew that he was sick, that he was depressed. But he couldn’t bring himself to care. What was the point of caring, or trying to get better? He had no friends left, no real powers, and no hands. Just an occasional excitable email from HR, the odd Vibe he got from brushing against something accidentally (and he threw out each and every item he had gotten a Vibe from), and a couple of shitty prosthetics that could barely grasp a door handle. What really made it worse, though, was that he had so many ideas about amazing prosthetics he could build--except that without better prosthetics, he wouldn’t be able to actually build the better prosthetics. A real paradox.

To his dull surprise (he hadn’t actually felt a single emotion that could be classified as anything other than dull in weeks, except for the occasional burst of Rage™ and the ever elusive Tears of Devastation at 2:30 in the Morning), his phone started to ring. He ignored it, wondering how the hell the phone wasn’t dead. He hadn’t charged it in...well, he didn’t actually know. Maybe when he had ordered pizza yesterday? Or was that two days ago?

The phone stopped ringing. Cisco closed his eyes and tuned out the sound of the random soap opera on TV. He didn’t know what time it was, and he didn’t care. He was going to sleep right there on that couch. His actual bed hadn’t been slept in for a few days, because he didn’t have the energy to get off the couch.

A few hours later, he was awakened by his phone ringing again. Irritated, he buried his head under the couch cushion so he didn’t have to hear it as loudly. The couch smelled musty and slightly sour. He didn’t care. He went back to sleep.

When he was woken up yet again by his phone ringing, he could feel the beginning of anger welling up in his chest. Who the hell was trying to contact him?

He finally sat up and looked around for his phone. It was on the corner of the coffee table, and he stuck out his foot to pull it closer to himself. The brightly lit screen read Unknown Caller . With something that could have been curiosity if it had been a full emotion and not just the tiniest blur of a passing thought, Cisco said, “Answer phone.”

The automatic system that was set up ages ago to be completely hands-free ( “Just like me!” Cisco had said when he still had any sense of humor left, and someone had laughed) answered the phone and put it on speaker.

“Hello? Who is this?” he demanded.

“Um...hi,” crackled a voice. “Cisco, it’s...it’s been awhile.”

Cisco froze. What the… “Who is this?” he asked calmly, knowing full well who was speaking.

“It’s...it’s Hartley, Cisco. Hartley Rathaway.”

Briefly, Cisco considered saying something about a wrong number and hanging up, but something deep inside him knew that he needed to talk to somebody. “Oh. Well, hello, Hartley.”

“Hello,” Hartley said again.

“You’re right. It’s been awhile. Six years definitely qualifies as awhile ,” Cisco said pointedly.

“I know. I’m sorry about that. Um...I...Do you want...to...catch up?” Hartley asked very slowly. “I’m back in Central City.”

“How did you get this number?” Cisco asked.

“A...Well, I tried to get it from a woman named Tracy, but she wouldn’t give it to me, so I...I kind of hacked the phone databases.”

Cisco blinked a few times. “Well. That’s...a colorful story.”

“I really wanted to talk to you,” explained Hartley. “I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I know that Team Flash is gone, and…like I said, I’d like to catch up.”

“Well, thanks, but I’m not exactly in a state to entertain company,” Cisco said sarcastically.

“Cisco, please?” Hartley’s voice almost shook. “We could meet for coffee or something--anything, I just…”

“I’m not up to leave my house right now,” Cisco said shortly. “Sorry.”

“Alright--listen, Cisco, I...I just lost one of my friends, a couple months ago, and I...I can’t stop thinking about my time on Team Flash, even though I know I left as soon as I wasn’t needed anymore--”

“You should have stayed,” Cisco said suddenly. “We wanted you to stay. You just left .”

“I know. I know. I thought you would want me gone as soon as the Time Wraith was dealt with.”

“After all we did together, I can’t believe you would think that’s all you were to us. To me , Hartley, after we…”

“I’m sorry.”

Cisco was biting the inside of his cheek, scraping it almost to bleeding. The scar tissue from where he had been doing that for the past year or so really hurt, but he didn’t care. “Alright. Fine. If it’s what you want to do, come to my apartment. It’s the same one from before. I’m not having this conversation over the phone.”

“Okay,” Hartley said immediately. “I understand. When...when do you want me to come?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’ve got a full calendar.”

“Tomorrow morning, then?”

“Sure. I guess I’ll see you then. Goodbye, Hartley.”

“Bye, Cisco.” A few seconds of silence, and then Hartley hung up.

“Call ended,” announced the automated phone voice.

“I gathered,” Cisco said dryly. The brief feelings that had accompanied the conversation with Hartley had all disappeared now, leaving Cisco once again an empty, numb shell. He slumped back down onto the couch and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

It took him a while to drag himself up out of the depths of dark dreams, but the knock, knock, knocking at the door was insistent and unceasing. Slowly, Cisco stood up and stumbled over to the door. His hair was pulled back and tied away from his face, and hadn't been washed in God knows how long, and he had been wearing the same sweatpants and sweatshirt for several days now. Only one of his prosthetics was even on. He looked terrible, but he didn't care.

He opened the door with some difficulty. Standing at his doorstep was Hartley, looking a little older and more worn out than how Cisco remembered him, but still just as beautiful. “Hi, Cisco,” Hartley greeted quietly. “May I come in?” He didn't react to Cisco’s appearance, or to the state of the apartment as Cisco gestured for him to come in and close the door. “Thank you.”

“Sit down, if you want. I'm going to.” Just standing up for a minute had made Cisco exhausted, and he sat down on the couch. Hartley followed his lead.

“How are you doing?” Hartley asked.

Cisco raised his eyebrows. “Pretty shit, actually, or are you blind as well as being nearly deaf?”

To Hartley’s credit, he didn't even react to the jab. “I'm sorry to hear that. You don't deserve to feel so awful.”

“Well, the universe must just hate me, then. How about you? Where have you been these past six years ?” Cisco asked.

“Here and there. Trying to stay low-profile and forget about my old life,” answered Hartley.

“And yet, here you are.”

“Here I am,” Hartley agreed. “I decided to stop running. I made some friends, in Europe, last year, but they all left. The last one, she passed away a few months ago. I decided to come back to Central City.”

“That's great. Why are you here ?” Cisco asked bluntly. “Why contact me?”

“I missed you, Cisco.” Hartley reached out to touch Cisco’s shoulder, but pulled back at the last second. “Sorry, I don’t know if...if that’s okay.”

“It’s fine.” Internally, Cisco’s mind was screaming, please, please touch me, nobody has really touched me in forever , but he forced himself not to say anything else out loud.

But Hartley still held back, and didn’t reach out again. “Can I help you with anything?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Hartley glanced around. “Just tell me if I’m overstepping, but this place is a bit of a mess. I could help make it a little neater.”

“Do whatever you want. I’m not going to be able to do it, so…” Cisco held up his arms in a kind of half-shrug. The end of his left sleeve flopped over the stump of his wrist, and his right prosthetic made a clicking noise.

Hartley didn’t flinch. “Okay. Good. First things first…” He stood up and went over to the window, pulling the curtains back. Bright morning sun flooded in, almost hurting Cisco’s eyes after being in the darkness for so long. “There. That’s a little better, isn’t it?” he said cheerfully.

“I guess.” To Cisco’s surprise, the light did actually make him feel a little less empty. It was kind of nice. He tucked his feet up onto the couch next to him, watching as Hartley moved around the living room and gathered up bits of trash and dishes that had probably been sitting there for weeks. He did this without speaking, just humming quietly with the sound of his footsteps as percussion. It felt good to not be alone.

“There, that looks a bit better,” Hartley said finally. He came back over to the couch and sat down.

“Thanks,” Cisco said. He glanced around the room. It did look better. “Thanks for doing that.”

“Of course. I know...I know how...how hard it can be,” Hartley faltered. “You know, um, when...when I first got hurt…” He tapped at his ear. “When I woke up in the hospital, it wasn’t even that bad at first. The tinnitus. It was annoying, but it wasn’t as painful as it is now. So I, uh, I went home, and I was...well, I wasn’t doing too well for other reasons. But then every day, I’d wake up and it’d be a little bit worse, and it wouldn’t stop, and eventually it was just...I was ready to...well, if I hadn’t been able to make it stop, I probably would have ended up...um, you know. I wouldn’t have lasted much longer if I hadn’t managed to make the implants.”

Cisco frowned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t talk about it. But anyway, I woke up one morning and it was so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed and I spent an hour trying to reach my phone, but I was crying and I couldn’t move, and I didn’t have anyone to call, anyway.”

With a pang, Cisco remembered having the exact same experience a few months after losing his hands. “I get that,” was all he could say.

Hartley acknowledged him with a nod before continuing, “And when I did finally manage to get up, I spent the whole day alternating between curling up on the floor trying not to cry, and building the implants. I had them finished by that night, and when I put them in for the first time, it...well, I did cry then, because it didn’t hurt for the first time in weeks. And it was that day I started planning...you know. My debut as Pied Piper.” He took a deep breath. “Anyway, when I heard about what happened to you, it was a while ago, and I didn’t think you’d appreciate me coming back then. But when my friend died, I realized that a lot of your friends had died, or were gone, and that you might...need someone, just like I needed someone.”

Cisco didn’t know how to respond to that, but he gave Hartley a look that he hoped communicated that he was okay with this. He didn’t mind that Hartley was there. In fact, he was kind of glad. He didn’t have the words to say right then, but his eyes said enough.

Slowly, Hartley reached out his hand and trailed his fingers down Cisco’s cheek. Cisco half-closed his eyes and leaned his head into the touch. A shiver ran down his spine as Hartley touched the back of his neck and, not really pulling or using any force, brought Cisco close. Cisco’s head rested on Hartley’s chest, and Hartley’s arms were around him, squeezing gently. “I’m here,” Hartley whispered.

With a quiet sigh, Cisco relaxed into the embrace. He hadn't even realized exactly how touch-starved he was, but now that he was being held and his back was being rubbed softly, he could barely stop himself from starting to cry.

They sat there together for a long time, not talking. Hartley eventually took the hair tie out of Cisco’s hair and began to untangle the thick knots. “So, Cisco,” he started. “Your powers, how…”

Cisco had almost completely loosened up against Hartley’s hands, but tensed again at the mention of his powers. “Vibe is gone,” he said shortly. “Dead. I can't use my powers anymore.”

“I'm so sorry.” Hartley squeezed Cisco’s shoulder. “That must be hard.”

“Yeah, well. Team Flash is gone, anyway. There would be no reason to use my powers anyway.”

“There are still people who need help out there,” Hartley reminded him gently.

“There are always going to be people who need help,” replied Cisco bitterly, pulling away from Hartley reluctantly. “No matter how many we save.”

“But the new Rogues are terrorizing Central City, Cisco. There's nobody to stop them.”

“No, there isn't,” Cisco agreed. “There isn't , Hartley. There isn't anybody to stop them.” He met Hartley’s gaze with a steady stare. “Thanks for the company,” he said pointedly after a few seconds.

Hartley understood. “It was nice to see you. I'll call you soon.” He stood up, brushing his hand over the top of Cisco’s head, and left.

The door closed behind him, and Cisco collapsed down onto the couch again. He pressed his nose into the pillow that Hartley had been leaning against, and breathed in. The musty smell of the couch had been driven mostly away by Hartley’s scent, and Cisco just kept breathing it in. It was a sharp, sweet smell, probably some kind of soap, maybe lavender. Without realizing it, Cisco had started to cry. His tears soaked into the pillow, and he closed his eyes.

It had been about 7 years since Hartley had joined Team Flash. Cisco remembered that first day, when Hartley had attacked Thawne-Wells’s house, and the Barry from the future had brought the Time Wraith. Trapped inside the cell, the Wraith banging on the glass, Cisco had clutched at Caitlin. It had been Hartley who tried to save them all, using his gloves. It hadn't worked, of course, but they did survive. And Hartley had stayed for a little while, curious, wanting to figure out how the Time Wraith, how to defeat it. He had been intrigued by time travel as well. But he hadn't been able to really stay and be a part of Team Flash, not like the rest of them. He helped them with tech, but he couldn't stand being around Wells.

For a while, he couldn't stand being around Cisco either. It wasn't until long after everything with Eobard Thawne happened, and Team Flash had disbanded after Eddie and Ronnie died that…

“Hey, Cisco, someone here to see you,” Joe said, tapping his shoulder.

Curious, Cisco left his workshop at the CCPD and went to find this mysterious caller. He stepped into the lobby and spotted him immediately. “Oh,” he said.

Hartley turned quickly to face him. “Cisco! Hi.”

“Hi. What are you doing here?” Cisco asked. He wasn't exactly rude , but there was a certain brusqueness to his voice. After all, Hartley hadn't contacted him in months, and he had to have seen what happened. With Wells, and the singularity, and...everything.

“Can't I just drop by to see an old friend?” Hartley replied lightly.

“Maybe, but I'm not exactly sure that we're friends. Friends usually don't go months without talking.”

“But you haven't talked to the others in months, either.”

Cisco bristled. “What do you want, Hartley?”

The cheerful expression dropped from Hartley’s face. “Actually,” he said seriously, “I need your help.”

It turned out that Hartley’s implants had been malfunctioning, and he couldn't figure out what was wrong with them. Cisco had helped him fix them, and they had talked about what happened. To Cisco’s surprise, Hartley hadn't once said ‘I told you so ’ about Dr. Wells, just offered support. Cisco had found himself wondering if Hartley really had changed. One thing had led to another, and they had kissed. And then done more than kissed.

It had been a great few months, aside from everything that then happened with Jay...Zoom, and Harry Wells. When Barry was going to travel back in time, Hartley came into the Lab. They knew that when Barry came back, he would be followed by the Time Wraith. Hartley had figured out how to take it down with his sound waves-- high frequency, low intensity!

And then, that very night, Hartley had gone to dinner with his parents for the first time since he had first come out to them. Cisco had made him promise to call afterwards, because either it would go well and Hartley might even be able to introduce Cisco to his parents...or it would go very poorly, and Hartley would need him there for comfort.

But Hartley hadn't called. Cisco tried to call him, but nobody answered. Dozens of texts and days later, Hartley had just...disappeared. Cisco even tried asking Hartley’s parents if they knew where their son was. Their cold, hateful response let Cisco know exactly how the dinner had gone, but not where Hartley went. Soon, the phone number was disconnected. Hartley never attempted to contact him again.

Until, of course, that day. Hartley had called and then come to his house, cleaned up, opened the window, sat on his couch, and cuddled him like the six years had never happened. Cisco just didn't know what to make of it. His mind was too tired, too stagnant and lonely to understand what had happened.

Maybe it didn't need to make sense, though. Maybe it was okay to just accept a good thing and move on with it.

Lost in thought, Cisco barely noticed the hours slipping away. He actually got up from the couch and wandered aimlessly around the house for a while. He had a glass of orange juice and called it enough food for the day. It was more than he had eaten yesterday, after all. Soon, he found himself in bed, on top of all the covers because it was too hot and he was too tired to pull the sheets back. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling until he was asleep.

Chapter Text

The next day, Hartley was back at his door. This time, he didn't call ahead. “Hope it's okay,” he said, pushing right past Cisco and his dumbfounded expression and letting himself into the house. “After yesterday, I decided that you shouldn't be alone. You can be mad at me if you want, but I'm staying here. You don't have to be in the same room as me, and I'll respect that, but I'll be here if you want me--oh.”

Cisco had stopped him in the middle of the living room by stepping directly in front of him and holding out his arms. It took a few seconds, but Hartley understood. He pulled Cisco into a tight hug. “I'm glad you came back,” Cisco said quietly.

“Me, too.” Hartley pressed his face to the top of Cisco’s head and kissed his forehead. He pulled back after a second, his nose a little wrinkled. “Okay, how long has it been since you've washed your hair?”

“I don't know.”

“Right. Would you be okay with me helping you do that?”

Cisco shrugged. “I guess.” Short, couple word answers were all he could manage today.

Hartley didn't seem to mind. He helped Cisco wash his hair at the bathroom sink, not bringing up the possibility of a shower quite yet, and even got him to change out of the sweatshirt and sweatpants he had been wearing for days. He could tell that Cisco didn't have the energy to do anything else, so he just led Cisco back to the couch and let him sit down. “Movie?” Hartley suggested.

Cisco nodded, then shook his head. “Wait, I have...I have to say...something.” How is it that trying to force words out of his mouth was physically painful?

“I'm listening,” Hartley said. He leaned forward attentively. “Take your time.”

“I...I'm glad you're here, but …” Cisco took a few breaths in and out before he could keep going. “I can't talk about what we were before. Just...just move forward now.”

“That's fine. Can I ask a couple of questions? Yes or no questions, just nod or shake,” Hartley clarified.

Cisco nodded.

“Is touching okay?”

Cisco nodded.

“Can you let me know when it's too much?” Hartley asked.

“Yeah.” But it probably won't be . Now that Hartley had been there and had started touching him, he didn't ever want him to stop.

“I'm just going to do what I think is helpful, but if I overstep any boundaries, you need to tell me,” Hartley said. “Is that okay?”

Again, Cisco nodded. “Movie?” he asked hopefully.

“Sure thing.” Hartley put his arm around Cisco’s shoulders and began flicking through channels to find something to watch. It became clear that Cisco had no preference, instead just shrugging at every title Hartley said aloud. So Hartley chose a random movie on ABC and let Cisco doze off against his side. He made no comment about how much Cisco seemed to be sleeping, but he did add it to the list of things that he was worried about.

As someone who had spent most of his life dealing with mental illness, Hartley recognized a major depressive episode when he saw one. He hadn't even really intended to try and get this close to Cisco again so quickly, but it had become very clear after the little bit he had seen yesterday that Cisco needed help. Probably more help than Hartley could offer, to be honest. It would be a while before he'd suggest Cisco see a therapist, however, because the last thing he wanted was to scare Cisco away.

No, all he could do for now was make sure that Cisco met the basic requirements for survival. It didn't seem like he was really doing that on his own. Hartley didn't blame him, of course. Depression was hard enough, but adding a new disability that made it nearly impossible to complete simple tasks? Hartley was almost surprised that Cisco had managed this long without at least someone checking in on him regularly.

So, Hartley would try to help Cisco get along. And he'd provide as much emotional support as he could, although even several years, many therapy sessions, and a few new friends after he had left Central City six years ago, he still wasn't too good at handling feelings .

Cisco kept expecting Hartley to leave. He would fall asleep on the couch or on his bed, and Hartley would be right next to him or in the other room. When he woke up again, he would have a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that Hartley was probably gone. And yet, every single time, Hartley was still there. Even after several days, Hartley was just...still there.

Occasionally, he would leave for a few hours, but he would always let Cisco know before he left. And he would come back with fresh food, or a Blu-ray with a movie that wasn't on Netflix (although regular DVDs were a thing of the past, Netflix remained strong). When Cisco did finally voice his concern that he might wake up to find Hartley gone, Hartley just smiled and said, “You don't have to worry about me disappearing again.” But that was the only time he even referenced their time together before. Other than that, he completely respected Cisco’s request that they didn't talk about it.

A whole week passed, and then two. With someone there to make sure he ate, Cisco could feel himself gaining back at least part of the weight he had lost. With it came a little of his old energy, and he was now only sleeping about 15 hours a day instead of 19 or 20. Things weren't quite as bad as they had been, but he was nowhere near fully recovered. He still couldn't find a single reason to smile or laugh, couldn't gather the energy to step outside, and didn't even have the slightest bit of motivation to actually work on anything. Hartley hinted a few times that they should design some piece of tech together, but Cisco would immediately shut down and not speak or react for a few hours afterwards. Hartley gave up on that for now.

Instead, he decided to focus on getting Cisco to see a doctor. It took another week and a half, but Cisco did eventually agree to go to a psychiatrist. Not a therapist, but it was at least something . And the medication Cisco went on really seemed to help. Things were starting to look up.

Chapter Text

“I wish I could help,” Cisco muttered. He gazed at the pile of materials Hartley had gone out and gathered. A dejected and wistful expression adorned his face, and his shoulders began to droop.

“You’re going to help plenty,” Hartley attempted. “Hey, hey! It’s alright, Cisco, it’s okay. And just think, after we finish these, you’ll be able to help more with whatever our next project is. Hey, come here!”

Cisco didn’t move as Hartley came up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist. “It won’t be the same.”

Hartley brushed Cisco’s hair behind his ears and pressed a soft kiss to his neck. “I know. I know it won’t. But it’ll be better than it is now.”

“Alright. Fine. Let’s build these fuckers.”

And so they built those fuckers. They also almost burned down the apartment building once, electrocuted themselves twice (“You clean up a water spill when you're working with electronics , Hartley goddamn Rathaway!”), and cried more times than they cared to count. But progress is pain (“That's a stupid saying, progress shouldn't be painful!”) and they got through it together.

Chapter Text

The moment of truth arrived. Hartley helped attach the new prosthetics, which were almost delicate looking, though very sturdy. The metal framing wasn't covered by anything, making them look very clearly robotic. They slid onto his arms all the way up to his elbows. At first, they were loose and didn't stay on, but Hartley adjusted them and they tightened and wrapped around his arms with a soft whirring sound. Cisco winced.

“It's connecting to the nerves in your arms so you'll be able to move them,” Hartley told him quietly. “It'll take a couple minutes to calibrate. I'm sorry, it might hurt for a little while.”

“I noticed.” Cisco gasped as a sudden pain shot through his arms like a burst of electricity. Reflexively, he pulled away. The prosthetics clenched into fists, and he stared. His breath caught in his throat and he slowly relaxed the muscles in his arms. The fingers of the prosthetics uncurled. “Holy shit,” he whispered.

Hartley held his breath. “What do you think?” he dared to ask after a few seconds.

“I...I don't know what to say, I…” Cisco’s lower lip quivered, his eyes filled with tears. He held his new hands up to look at them, carefully moving each finger. The movements were clumsy and imperfect because he wasn't used to them yet, but he was still moving his hands . “Holy shit, Hartley.”

“You okay?” Hartley made sure.

Cisco nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. I just…” His cheeks were damp from the tears that slipped from his eyes, and he went to wipe them away before pausing. “Will they zap me if they get wet?”

“No, they're waterproof,” Hartley reassured him. He held himself back from reaching to wipe away Cisco’s tears himself. This might be something Cisco wanted to do on his own.

After he carefully moved the pads of the new fingers across his cheeks, wiping the tears away, Cisco slowly reached out towards Hartley. “I want you to hold my hand,” he said softly.

Without a word, Hartley took the metal hand in his own flesh and bone hand, pressing their palms together and entwining their fingers. The metal was slightly warm, the palm and fingertips covered in a soft material for grip. It felt right. Cisco held out his other hand and trailed his fingers down the side of Hartley’s face. “I take it you like them, then?” Hartley asked.

With something that was halfway between a laugh and a sob, Cisco pulled him into a tight hug. “I love them,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Hartley rested his cheek on the top of Cisco’s head. “Hey, I've got you. I've got you, darling.”

“I love them,” Cisco said again. “Hartley, I love you.”

Hartley froze. His arms went stiff, his shoulders tensed. Cisco noticed immediately.

“Hartley? Hartley, I'm sorry, should I not have said...I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--” Cisco sounded panicky.

Very, very few people had ever said those words to him. Even before he came out, it was rare for his parents to show him any affection. He isolated himself by being a jerk so he rarely made friends, and he had never gotten to that stage with any boyfriend. And here Cisco was, telling him he loved him. When Cisco said something like that, he meant it. And when Cisco Ramon loved someone, he really loved them. He would do anything for them, unconditionally. That wasn't the kind of love Hartley had ever known.

“Oh god, Hartley, say something!” Cisco begged.

Hartley snapped out of his reverie and reached out to reassure him, cradling Cisco’s face in his hands. He wiped away the forgotten tears. “Hey, I'm sorry. I got overwhelmed for a second. Cisco, I love you, too, darling. I love you, too.” Saying the words pulled something inside of him, spilling out the deep fear that someone would overhear him saying something like that to a boy , but he pressed it back down. This was Cisco’s moment, his time for overcoming trauma. Hartley could wait.

Cisco breathed a relieved sigh, tilting his head forward. “You scared me.”

“I didn't mean to.” Hartley pulled Cisco close. They swayed from side to side, clutching each other tight to shut out the fear, if only for just a little while.

Chapter Text

“Hartley! Hartley, help!”

Startled, Hartley sat up in bed. He looked for Cisco next to him reflexively, but the bed was empty.

“Hartley!” Cisco screamed from the other room.

“I--I'm coming!” Hartley replied, scrambling out of bed and rushing down the hallway, turning all the lights on as he passed them. His heart was pounding. Was Cisco in danger? What would he find in the living room?

The living room light was already on. Cisco had collapsed onto the floor, his new prosthetics on. He held them close to his chest, trying to pull them off. “Help!” he cried. “It hurts, Hartley, it hurts!”

“What?” Hartley dropped down next to Cisco. “Let me see!”

“Oh, god, it hurts!”

Hartley touched the prosthetics and pulled back sharply. They were hot to the touch, not quite hot enough to cause real burns but hot enough to be very painful. “Alright. Okay. You tried to put them on by yourself, didn't you?”

“I'm sorry, I just...it hurts! Please, Hartley, get them off! Take them off me!”

“Shhh. Okay, okay. I need you to stay still, Cisco, I need you to stop pulling away from me.” Hartley was trying to stay calm, but Cisco’s pain and fear was getting to him. “You're going to be fine.”

Cisco was holding back a sob. “It hurts, Hartley, it's biting into my skin, it's burning me.”

“I know, I know. You calibrated them incorrectly when you tried to put them on by yourself. But you're going to be okay. You're going to be okay. Just stay calm.” Hartley got the prosthetics to release from Cisco’s arms after a minute, and he placed them a few feet away before turning back to Cisco and pulling him into his arms. “Come here, come here. I've got you. It's over.”

Cisco let out a long, shuddery breath and a sob. “Thank you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry…”

“For what?”

“I shouldn't have tried to do it by myself, I know that.” Cisco was trembling.

“Shh, shh. It's okay. I understand wanting to be able to do it by yourself, Cisco. But next time, let me help you. We can figure out how you can do it alone, just let me help you until then. Okay?”

“Okay,” Cisco agreed.

“Alright, good. Let me see, I want to make sure there's not anything I need to take care of, make sure you're not hurt.” Hartley gently examined Cisco’s arms. The skin was red but not blistered from the heat, and even though the prosthetics had dug into his skin pretty deeply, there was no blood. “Okay. You're okay. It's alright, you're fine. No permanent damage, huh? You're just fine. Come back to bed, okay? Come with me, it's 1 a.m. You need to sleep.”

“Okay.” Cisco let Hartley lead him back to the bedroom. “I'm just...I don't know, I don't know why I tried to…”

“Shhh.” Hartley made him lie down, putting a blanket around Cisco’s shoulders before lying down next to him. “Alright, Cisco. You okay now?”

“I'll be fine.”

“Yeah, I know you will be. But you're not right now, huh?”

“Not really.” Cisco sniffled. “Hartley?”

Hartley tucked a strand of Cisco’s hair behind his ear and rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah?”

“Nothing,” Cisco murmured. “Just...do that, please, don't stop doing that.”

“Yeah, of course.” Hartley sighed softly as he curled up around Cisco and ran his hand down Cisco’s chest and stomach. “This okay?”

“Mmmm,” breathed Cisco. “Yeah. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Cisco.”

Chapter Text

Cisco was shivering as the snow fell lightly around him. He was a little nervous. Well, no. He was terrified. He wasn’t supposed to be here, he knew that. Barry had made it quite clear. But here he was.

The abandoned building that used to house S.T.A.R. Laboratories towered in front of him. It’s funny, it never used to look that big , Cisco thought. The fence surrounding it had a locked gate, but Cisco opened it easily. He slipped inside and closed the gate behind him. He was gripped with foreboding, feeling like a child sneaking somewhere they knew they shouldn’t go. He walked across the shallow snow to a back door. It, too, was locked. But Cisco had set up that security system himself, just a few years ago. It didn’t stand a chance against him.

The hallways were dark and dusty. Cisco winced at the memories that wouldn’t leave him alone. He could remember walking through these very halls with Caitlin, laughing about something unimportant.

“Cisco, you’re absolutely ridiculous. You know that?”

“Just one of my many charms.”

He reached the Speed Lab, where the treadmill and the rest of the equipment were covered with white sheets. Like someone died here . But he could almost hear Wally’s excited shouting as he beat his personal speed record, passing Mach 2.

“Did you see that?! That was so cool, Cisco!”

“Yeah, it was awesome, dude! You’re gonna be faster than Barry soon!”

In the workshop, everything was shattered. It looked like someone had knocked all the tools and tech off the shelves in a fit of anger. Cisco reached down and picked up what he recognized as part of an early prototype of his Vibe glasses. Harry had hated their design, and had let Cisco know about it in no uncertain terms.

“You look like an overgrown insect, Ramon.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I think I look pretty dashing. They...uh, they could be a little less circular, I guess...”

He stepped into the medbay. All of the cupboards had been emptied, and the examination tables were covered in the white tarps. All the times that various members of the team had cheated death in that room...How many times had Cisco held Barry up as he limped in for treatment for something that would have killed anyone else? And in the end, it was someone else’s death that destroyed him.

“No--no, Cisco, don’t you dare--Iris! Iris!” Barry was screaming. “Iris! No! Iris!”

Using his powers to hold Barry still, Cisco injected a syringe into the side of his friend’s neck. “I’m sorry--I’m sorry--” he muttered, holding back his own sobs.

HR burst into the room, followed slowly by Joe. “Wally’s gone,” HR stated.

“Shit.”

Joe went over to Barry, who had slumped over with his eyes closed. “Is he…”

“I...I gave him a sedative,” Cisco said. “H-he was going to hurt himself if…Joe, I’m...I’m so sorry. I...we loved her. We all loved her.”

Cisco wiped his eyes tiredly, pushing the memories away. He went into the Cortex. More sheets covered everything. It all looked so empty, but he knew that Barry was there.

“Barry,” he called. “Hey, Barry. I know you’re here.”

There was nothing but silence.

“Yeah,” Cisco sighed. “I figured. Look, Barr, I’ve got some things I need to say to you. It’s been...it’s been over a year, man, since you kicked us out. Well, you didn’t physically kick me out, ‘cause...we weren’t here when you told me. That the team was over. That everything was over, and...I couldn’t even argue, or try to talk you out of it, because I was...well, I was in a hospital bed, half-conscious with no hands. I can’t…” Cisco swallowed. This was harder than he was expecting. “I can’t believe you just left me there, Barry. I was all alone. I kept waiting for you to come back, but you didn’t. It was four days before Felicity and Ollie got there, and I was alone until then. So...yeah.

“It’s, uh, it’s January 7th. It’s eight years ago to the day since the accelerator exploded. Our lives changed so much that day. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if it hadn’t. Would we...do you think we would be happier right now? I guess we’ll never know, huh? ‘Cause we can’t change the past. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t. It never turns out better than before.

“I know you’re listening, but in case you can’t see me, I’ve got some really great prosthetics now.” Cisco held his hands up, pulling off one of the gloves for Barry to see if he was watching. “And you’re probably wondering how I built them. Well, funny story, actually. Hartley came back.” He laughed quietly. “I know, I know. I was so angry at him before, for leaving without so much as a phone call. But I couldn’t stay mad, you know. He just wants to help me. He’s been staying with me for half the year, getting me back on my feet. And I’m doing so much better. I was in a really...really bad state for a long time. And I’m better now. Not perfect, but better. And it’s because of him. I love him, Barr. And...I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine...I don’t even want to imagine how it would feel to lose him.

“But Barry, we still need you. The city still needs you. I don’t know if you’re keeping track of what goes on outside, but god , it’s bad. It’s getting worse all the time. The New Rogues are terrorizing us. I can tell that Hartley wants to go stop them, even if he won’t say it yet ‘cause he knows it’ll upset me. And yeah, it will. I can’t watch him go out there and get himself killed, you know? Yeah, of course you know. But as long as they’re still out there hurting people, he’s going to want to go out and save the day. And he’s going to get killed.

“So I’m asking you...I’m begging you, as m-my best…” Cisco’s voice trembled. “As my best friend , Barry, don’t let him. You can stop them. Central City needs the Flash. I need the Flash. I need you, Barry. Please, save him. Save me. Please.”

There was no answer.

Cisco sort of nodded. “Yeah,” he whispered. “I should have predicted that, shouldn’t I? You really are too far gone. You don’t even care anymore. Okay. Well, I’ll leave, then. Leave you to your sadness, to...whatever it is you’re doing here. I hope you change your mind, but I don’t think you will. Just do me one last favor. If you see that Hartley is dead, just remember that I asked you to save him, and you didn’t. You know, I did everything I could to save her. I wish you could do the same for me. But I guess you can’t. But I’ll hold out hope, I’ll keep defending you, even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it. Well...goodbye, Barry.”

What else could he say? There weren’t any more words that Cisco could think of, so he tugged his glove back on and went home.

Chapter Text

“I know what you're going to say.”

Hartley closed his eyes and took a deep breath before hitting mute on the TV. The news report played silently, showing yet another looted building, smoke billowing from the windows. It was Volcana and Copperhead this time. Five people were dead, nine more hospitalized. “Cisco…”

“I said, I know what you're going to say. And I don't want you to say it.”

“How can you--”

Cisco crossed his arms, the narrow metal fingers of his prosthetics digging into the opposite shoulders. There was an exhausted look in his eyes. Dark, even. “How can I sit back while the city is in ruins? While people are dying?” he finished for Hartley.

Yes .”

“Because I have nothing left that I'm willing to give this city, Hartley. I can't go out there anymore. Vibe is dead.”

“Then I'll go!” Hartley shouted. He stood up, turning his back to the television and its awful story. One of the nine injured had just died from extensive burns. The news correspondent just looked tired. “I'll go out there, Cisco! I have my Piper gear, I can go!”

“No, you can't.” Cisco said it so matter-of-factly, like he thought Hartley couldn't possibly argue.

“What's stopping me, huh? What's stopping me from going out there and dealing with these New Rogues once and for all? Why should I stay here when so many people are suffering?” Hartley shook his head and started to turn away.

“You don’t have real powers, Hartley. You have glorified gloves and hearing aids. You go out there and try to fight Volcana and Copperhead? Or Top and Mirror Master? You’re dead in two hours max.”

“So what?” Hartley said, slowly and clearly. “What does it matter if I die, Cisco? And no, maybe I don't have powers like your friend who's supposedly still holed up in STAR Labs, sulking over his lost love, but even so, I'd sure as hell be more useful to the city out on the streets than he is in his little lair!”

“That isn't fair,” Cisco said quietly. “Barry has nothing to do with this.”

“Doesn't he? Because from where I'm standing, the city could really use the Flash right about now, and he could be out there helping. He chooses not to be.”

“He's hurting!”

“The city is hurting, Cisco! I'm sick of you trying to defend him when he's done nothing worth defending!”

“He's my friend!” Cisco cried.

“He stopped being your friend the minute he left you alone to deal with this!” Hartley retorted. He could see how much his words were hurting Cisco, but he couldn't stop them from tumbling out. “Two years ago, you finally stopped Savitar, captured Killer Frost. He stopped caring about anyone long before that. He only kept you around to get them, because he needed your help. And look where that got you.”

“That's not true,” Cisco insisted. “Barry did--does care about me. We're family.”

“Family doesn't abandon you when you need them the most, Cisco. Barry abandoned all of you. Joe, Wally, Julian, HR...Caitlin. And you. I'm sorry, but it's the truth.” Hartley stood there for a moment, watching Cisco’s expression turn from hurt and angry to numb acceptance.

“Maybe so. Maybe you're right. Maybe Team Flash was never really family, never anything but a group of people thrown together by chance and necessity. Maybe none of it meant anything. Maybe you're right.” Cisco nodded slowly, and turned to walk away.

“Cisco--”

Cisco interrupted him before he could say anything else, spinning back around to face him with renewed vehemence. “And is that what we are, too? Nothing? Nothing but chance and necessity? If you walk out that door right now and never come back, does that mean that none of what happened between us ever meant anything? Would it mean I would just stop caring for you, stop loving you? If I walked out...would your feelings for me have never existed? Whatever those feelings actually are, because frankly? I don’t even know anymore.”

Hartley reeled like he had been slapped. “How can you say that?” he asked softly. “I love you, Cisco. You know that.”

“No, no, no. You can’t love me, Hartley, because you say you want to go out there and get yourself killed, but then you say that people who love you don’t abandon you when you need them most. And guess what, Hartley? I still...I still need you.” His voice broke. “I still need you.”

“I’m not saying I’d abandon you, Cisco!” Hartley tried to protest.

“Yes, you are! Yes, you are, Hartley! If you go out there, knowing you’re going to die-- that’s abandoning me. I already told you. I've got nothing left that I'm willing to give to this city. I’m not willing to give you to this city.”

Hartley stared. “Cisco, I love you. But I’m not yours to give.”

“No, you’re right. You’re not mine. You never were.” Cisco walked over to the side table next to the couch, opening the little drawer and pulling out a bundle of fabric. It was Hartley’s gauntlets and weaponized hearing aids, wrapped in his cloak. Something else clattered back into the drawer. Before Cisco could close it, Hartley saw with a pang that Cisco had kept his Vibe glasses after all this time. But the drawer closed a second later, and Cisco didn’t take any notice of it as he shoved the bundle against Hartley’s chest. “So go ahead, go be Pied Piper. Get yourself killed, but if you do go out there as Piper, don’t...don’t come back, because I can’t lose another person I love.”

Hartley took the bundle slowly. “I’m sorry.” Those two small words were the only ones he said as he opened the front door and walked out. The door closed behind him.

After a moment of standing in stunned silence, Cisco stumbled over to the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. He reached for one of the pillows and held it against his chest. A second later, he started to cry, the faint scent of lavender not a comfort anymore. It just brought more pain.

When he went back into the living room an hour or so later, he unmuted the television.

“--And I am just receiving word that a mysterious hooded vigilante  who uses sound waves as a weapon, similarly to the Black Canary of Star City, has engaged Volcana and Copperhead in combat! Over to correspondent Tom at the scene of the battle!”

“This man bears a striking resemblance to the 2014 attacker of Rathaway Industries where he called himself the Pied Piper! We don't know yet if this is the same man, but no matter who he is or what he has done in the past, he is bravely facing down two of this city’s terrorists. Sir, you have our thanks--”

Cisco turned the television off. He couldn't hear any more of this.

Chapter Text

He spent quite a bit of time with Wally and Beth, the woman who took care of Wally since the incident, because being in his own house hurt too much. Beth didn't ask him what had happened, just let Cisco sit with the mute, unresponsive, paralyzed former speedster. Every few hours, she brought him a cup of coffee and sat with him. They talked about meaningless things for the most part, but occasionally Beth would want to discuss more serious matters.

“Did you hear that the Piper brought down Volcana two days ago?”

“I haven't really been following the news,” Cisco said shortly.

“Well, some people are saying that the Piper is dead now. He went up against Copperhead after Volcana was arrested, but nobody has seen him since. It's a pity,” Beth sighed. “Central City really needed a new hero.”

“Yeah.” But Cisco’s heartbeat had quickened. You shouldn't be worried about him , he chastised himself. But it had been over three weeks since Hartley had left, and he’d had time to think about what had happened. He knew now that he had been unfair, that Hartley had just wanted to help the city's people. But Hartley had walked out, and he hadn't attempted to contact Cisco again.

“But then, maybe all heroes meet that fate eventually.” Beth sadly looked over at Wally’s blank face. “Even the Flashes.” Although most people still didn't know that Kid Flash was Wally West, it hadn't been possible to hide his speedster biology from his caretaker. She kept his secret, and she kept it well.

“Seems that way.”

“I often find myself wondering what happened to the other one. The Flash. And there were other speedsters as well, the young woman and the older man. And of course, Vibe. Nobody knew anything about him, or how his powers worked. And then he disappeared right when the Flash did. Oh, I'm sorry, Cisco. I know you knew them all, and I don't mean to pry, I really don't. Those aren't my secrets.” Beth touched his shoulder reassuringly.

Cisco managed to smile at her. “It's alright, Beth. Maybe I'll tell you about them another time. But I really should get going. I'll stop by again soon.” He put his mug of coffee down and went over to Wally, resting his gloved prosthetics against the broken young man’s shoulders. “I'll be back, Wally. You keep working on coming back to us, okay? I know you're in there somewhere, buddy. Come on back to us.”

He walked the mile and a half home, keeping to the safer streets out of habit but not really caring. Let the rogues attack me , he found himself thinking. It doesn’t really matter now.

Climbing up the stairs to his apartment, Cisco couldn’t help but wonder if Hartley was alive. He wished that he hadn’t exploded at Hartley. He knew that he was the reason Hartley had left. If only he could just go back in time and say he was sorry--

Someone was lying on the ground outside the door to his apartment. Cisco’s heart skipped a beat as he rushed to them. He knew, before he even rolled the person over, but he wasn’t quite prepared for the ashy-grey face that greeted him.

“Hartley! Hartley, wake up! Wake up!” Cisco started to search for the pulse before stopping and cursing under his breath. Of course. He couldn’t feel a pulse even if there was one. Just one more disadvantage of having metal hands. “Hartley!”

To his relief, Hartley coughed weakly and his eyelashes fluttered. “Cis...co?” he breathed. “Cisco, is...that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. It’s me, Hartley. I’m here, I’m here.” Cisco unlocked his door and half carried, half dragged Hartley inside where no prying eyes could see them. He brought Hartley down the hallway and lifted him up onto the bed as quickly as he could. “Hartley, I’m here. What happened? Where are you hurt?” He was swiftly removing Hartley’s hood, cloak, and gauntlets. Then he ran to grab a pair of scissors from the kitchen and cut away Hartley’s shirt. To his surprise, there was no obvious injury anywhere to be found and no blood. Just a few bruises and...a couple of pinprick scrapes on his neck. “Oh...oh, no…”

Hartley was struggling for breath. “Copperhead’s venom,” he managed. “Cisco, I’m so sorry--”

“No, don’t be sorry. I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said what I said, I shouldn’t have--Hartley, I’m so sorry, please don’t leave me! Stay with me, please!” Cisco begged. “Stay with me!”

“How...how did I get here? I’ve been...trying to get back here...for two days, since I got...got bitten. I’m sorry, you told me this w-would happen…”

“Shhhh, Hartley, don’t try to talk.” Cisco didn’t know what to do. Snakebites weren’t something he had ever needed to know how to deal with, and nobody knew how to counter Copperhead’s venom. He might be named after the Southeastern reptile, but his venom was unique and nothing like any real snake in the wild.

“No, listen...you were right, I shouldn’t have tried to...and now I’m dying, and I’m leaving you alone, like...like you said I would.”

“You’re not dying,” Cisco said helplessly. “Hartley, please…”

The edges of Hartley’s lips curled up in what was almost a teasing smile. “Cisco...we both know...this poison has no cure.”

Cisco couldn’t hold back a sob. “I’ll find one,” he promised. “You’re not going to die, Hartley.”

“I’m so sorry, Ci…” Hartley’s voice trailed away, his chest rising and falling shallowly.

For a second, Cisco just stood there, frozen. Then he rushed to find his phone. It’s dead, you stupid, stupid… He scrambled to find the charger, plugged it in, and waited in agony for it to turn on. All the while, he was making sure that Hartley kept breathing. “Don’t you dare slip away, Hartley,” he threatened. “Don’t you dare die on me.”

As soon as his phone turned on, Cisco called a number he hadn’t called in quite a long time. He hadn’t had the heart, but now he needed--

“This is Dr. Julian Albert.”

“Julian! Julian, please, I need your help!”

“Cisco? Cisco, is that you? It’s been months, mate! What’s wrong?”

“I need your help, Julian, please, I need you to help me, I need an antivenom for Copperhead’s venom.”

“Did you get bitten?” Julian asked, shocked. “Cisco--”

“No, not me, my...my friend, he’s dying, please, Julian, I know you said you wouldn’t come back but I’m not asking as part of Team Flash, I’m asking as a friend!”

“Is that Cisco?” The voice came from the background on Julian’s end of the line. “Aw, does he need your help? Are his hands giving him trouble?” But then a door closed and the voice was silenced.

“I’m sorry about that, Cisco,” Julian apologized. “She’s...not any better.”

“I know. You’d call me if she was. But Julian, please, he’s going to die and I need you to help me save him.” Cisco held his breath.

“Okay,” Julian said finally. “Alright, I’ll try to help. I’ve been working on synthesizing an antivenin for Copperhead for a few months now, but it’s nowhere near ready. I’ll need to see your friend, take some samples. Is this friend, by chance, the Pied Piper?”

“Yes. His name is Hartley Rathaway.”

“I figured as much. Alright, can you bring him to my lab in Iron Heights?”

“I think moving him would kill him.”

“Then I’ll come to you. It’ll take me about half an hour to get there. Try to keep him alive until then, I’m past the days where my patients are already dead when I get to them.”

Before Julian could hang up, Cisco said, “Wait! What do I do, Julian? He’s barely breathing, he’s so pale...I’m scared he’s already mostly gone.”

“Keep him warm. If it’s a recent bite, wrap the limb from the bite wound up towards the heart.”

“It’s not, it’s two days old and on his neck, I think he just barely got scratched, but it was enough.”

“Can’t have been too much venom, or he’d be long dead. Is he feverish?”

Cisco blinked. His prosthetics couldn’t detect heat. “I...I don’t know, I’ll check.” Carefully, he leaned down and pressed his lips against Hartley’s forehead, remembering how his mother would check for a fever if he or Dante or Armando claimed to be sick. He recoiled. “He’s burning!”

“Good. Well, not good, because he might die of fever before the venom takes over. But at least we know his immune system is working, hmm? Ignore my earlier advice, keep him cool. Get some water into him, he’s probably severely dehydrated.”

“What if he stops breathing?” Cisco asked.

“Rescue breaths and CPR, and don’t stop until I get there. Okay? Can you do that, mate?” Julian checked.

“I...I can do that,” agreed Cisco. “Please hurry!”

“I’ll do my best, mate.” Julian hung up.

Checking again to make sure Hartley was still breathing, Cisco ran to get a bowl of cool water and a washcloth. He placed the damp cloth against Hartley’s forehead before wiping down his cheeks and neck. “Stay with me, Hartley, stay with me,” he murmured. He lifted Hartley’s head up and dripped a bit of water into his slightly open mouth. After an anxious second of waiting, Hartley swallowed. “That’s it, Hartley. Stay with me now.”

Half an hour seemed like an eternity. At times, Hartley’s breathing got so shallow that Cisco was convinced he was going to have to start CPR, but Hartley would take in a deeper, shuddering breath after a minute every time. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled once, and Cisco wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for so he just stroked Hartley’s damp hair and told him he was forgiven.

There was an urgent knock at the door before Julian found it to be unlocked and just walked right in. “Cisco, I’m here!” he shouted.

“Back here!” called Cisco.

Dragging a cart behind him that was barely small enough to fit through the width of the door, Julian rushed to the bedroom. “Hi, Cisco,” he greeted as he began to examine Hartley. “Been awhile since you visited.”

“Been awhile since you visited,” Cisco countered. He stepped back to let Julian work, but watched worriedly.

“Fair enough. I’m sorry about that.” Julian took Hartley’s pulse before shaking his head and grabbing some things off his cart. He put an oxygen mask over Hartley’s nose and mouth. “That should help for a little while,” he muttered. “Maybe even long enough for me to save him.”

“What can I do?” Cisco asked quickly.

“You know how to give someone an IV?”

“Caitlin taught me...in case she wasn’t around. So, yeah.” Cisco took the bag of solution and the needle from Julian and set to work.

Julian had drawn a blood sample from Hartley and was dropping in a little bit of liquid, swirling it around and holding it up to the light. Apparently, he saw something in the vial of blood that made him very happy. “Good! Oh, wonderful, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

“What? What is it?”

“Well, nobody else has lasted this long with Copperhead’s venom in their system,” Julian explained as he started to mix a few other liquids in with Hartley’s blood. “Which means their immune systems haven’t had the time to produce antibodies. See, usually, with envenomation of any kind, it’s either the toxin’s swifter acting components that kill you or an allergic reaction. But if you can survive through those, and your immune system works properly, and assuming no secondary infections or tissue decay...your body can often beat the toxin by itself.”

“Okay, I understand that,” Cisco confirmed.

“But with a swifter hemotoxin or neurotoxin, like I said, the immune system doesn’t have time to identify and attack the toxins. Which is where antivenins come in, see, they’re just the antibodies! They make it so your immune system doesn’t have to identify every bit of the poison in your body by itself, which saves time. And so the antibodies act like little flags, marking the toxin molecules so that the white blood cells can come along and…” Julian snapped his fingers. “No more poison.”

“That’s fascinating and all, Julian, but what does it mean for Hartley?” Cisco asked urgently.

Julian sighed. “What it means, Cisco, is that not only do I think your friend is going to survive, he may have just provided the key to making the antivenin that will save... countless other lives of Copperhead’s future victims.”

“So Hartley will be okay?” Cisco made sure.

“It’s not certain yet,” Julian warned. “I’m not promising anything. But the prognosis is mildly favorable. I’d say he has about an 80% chance of surviving.”

“That’s 80% more of a chance than I thought he had,” Cisco breathed.

“Your friend must be very strong,” Julian said. “Even with the minute amount of venom it looks like entered his system--those scrapes aren’t even full bite-marks--the LDS-50 of Copperhead’s venom is incredibly low. It’s comparable to that of the fierce snake, or inland taipan, which is the single most venomous snake known to science. Some studies have shown it to be even lower. So your Hartley is either very, very lucky or very, very stubborn.”

Cisco laughed, a sound built from relief and panic and hope. “I think he’s probably both,” he managed to say through the lump rising in his throat. “Thank you, Julian. Thank you so much.”

“Well, we’re not done yet.” Julian had leaned back over Hartley to take another look at him. “I’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure he stays with us. Make us a cup of tea, would you?”

Sniffing and blinking away his tears, Cisco said, “You’re so British.”

Julian laughed softly and glanced at him. “Well, you’re not wrong.”

Cisco went to boil some water.

A few tense hours later, Julian concluded that Hartley was stable. “He’s gonna make it, mate.”

Cisco couldn’t hold back his tears any longer. He sat down on the edge of the bed, clutching Hartley’s hand. He pressed a shaky kiss against the back of Hartley’s hand and closed his eyes, letting the tears drip down his cheeks without bothering to wipe them away.

“Oh, dear. Cisco? Why are you crying? I just told you he’s going to be alright,” Julian said, confused and just a little uncomfortable. He wasn’t too sure of what to do when someone was crying.

“I know, I heard you.”

Cautiously, Julian placed his hand on Cisco’s shoulder. “There, there, mate. It’s going to be alright.”

Cisco nodded. “I can’t thank you enough, Julian.”

“Well. You can thank me by stopping those tears, alright? No need for that.”

Again, Cisco nodded and took a deep breath, getting his crying under control. After a few minutes, he let out a long sigh. “I’m exhausted,” he realized.

“Well, it’s almost midnight. Go get some sleep, on the couch or something. I’ll watch your friend.”

Cisco hesitated. “Can...actually, Julian...I’m going to stay here. In this bed. With him.”

“Ohhh…” Julian said as it dawned on him. “Oh. He’s not just your friend, is he?”

“No, he’s not.”

“Well. Well, um, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to sleep next to him as long as you don’t dislodge his IV,” Julian conceded.

“I’ll be careful.” Gingerly, Cisco went around to the other side of the bed and climbed onto it. He lay down a short distance from Hartley, on his side so he could watch the rising and falling of Hartley’s chest. His eyes drifted shut after a minute, and then he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Every inch of his body ached. Hartley groaned quietly and wished he had stayed unconscious.

“Hartley?” The voice was coming from a long way away, and he didn't recognize it. It had a British accent. “Are you waking up? Can you hear me?”

Hartley tried to open his eyes but they felt glued shut. He couldn't move.

“Cisco, mate, wake up. I think your Hartley is almost back with us.”

There was a gasp and something shifted next to him. “Hartley?”

“Hmm…” was the only sound Hartley could make. A hand was on his forehead.

“His fever is mostly gone.” The hand lifted away, and then slipped into Hartley’s own hand. “Squeeze if you can hear me, mate.”

Hartley squeezed weakly.

“Alright, there. Well done, and welcome back to the world of the living! I'm Dr. Julian Albert.”

“Hartley,” Cisco said quietly. “I'm here. You're going to be okay.”

A damp cloth was patted very carefully around his eyes and then over his lips. His mouth felt as dry as sandpaper, and he licked his lips to try and get the moisture from the cloth.

“Here, have a sip of this.” Someone propped his head up and pressed a cup to his lips, slowly letting some water drip into his mouth.

After a few swallows, Hartley said hoarsely, “Where am I?”

Cisco inhaled sharply. “Hi, there, Hartley. It's alright. Everything's okay. You're here, you're in my...you're home, Hartley. You're where you belong.”

“Home?” Hartley mumbled.

“Yeah, home. With me. And Julian is a friend, I promise.”

“You...you told me about him.”

“All good things, I hope?” Julian said lightly.

“No.”

Cisco sniffed. “I have no idea what he's talking about, Julian.”

“It's alright, I understand.” Julian’s hands touched Hartley’s neck. They brushed against a spot that made Hartley flinch away with pain. “Easy, easy, mate. I know, it's a bit sore.”

“Hartley, can you open your eyes?” Cisco asked.

“He might need a little more time for that,” Julian said. The damp cloth was back, wiping around his eyes.

“I can…” Hartley forced his eyes open. The world was even blurrier than when he usually had his glasses off. Above him was a pale-ish blob that might have been a face. “Yeah, but I can't...see very much.”

“Oh, here.” Someone placed his glasses on his face gently.

Hartley blinked a few times as his vision focused. “Hi,” he mumbled to Cisco.

“Hey, you.” Cisco’s voice shook. “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty...pretty dead,” Hartley decided. “Everything hurts.” He frowned as he remembered what had happened. “What...what is going on? H-how am I alive? Cisco, did I die? Is this h-heaven, or…”

“Shhh, shhh,” Cisco soothed. “No, no, no, you're not dead. You're very much alive, Hartley, calm down. Don't worry about that at all.”

“But how? Copperhead…” Hartley gasped and reached for his neck. He felt a strip of gauze with his fingertips before his hand was being grabbed and forced back down to his side.

“Don't want to touch that, mate. That'd really hurt,” Julian warned.

“I told you I'd save you. I kept my promise. Well, Julian saved you.”

“Cisco helped. A little.”

Hartley could barely breathe with worry. “Cisco, about...I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have--”

“Not now,” Cisco hushed. “Hartley, we're not talking about that right now. Shhh, sweetheart, lie back and rest. You need to rest.”

“But Cisco--”

“It's okay, it's okay. It's all okay. I don't want you to worry about it, okay? We'll talk when you're all the way better.”

“I can't...you're not mad? You don't hate me?”

“No, Hartley. I'm not mad, and I don't hate you. I love you very much, and I need you to calm down and rest, cariño .”

“I...I love you, too, Cisco, and I shouldn't have left--”

“What did I just say?” Cisco chastised gently. “No more talking, okay? Here, let me take these.” Cisco removed the glasses from Hartley’s face, and a very soft touch on his eyelids made Hartley close his eyes again. “Shhh. Rest. Just rest. You're alright.”

Hartley nodded slightly. “Cisco…”

“I'm here.”

“Did...did they get Volcana? Is she still in prison?” Hartley asked. “I took her down, but…”

“Yeah. She's in prison. She's not going to hurt anyone again.” The soft fabric of Cisco’s gloves touched Hartley’s cheek. “You won, Hart.”

“No, there's still Copperhead, Top, Mirror Master…” Hartley tried to sit up abruptly, but he had no strength and it only took a gentle shove to keep him down.

“Don't you dare. You stay still,” Julian exclaimed. “Cisco was right, you are stubborn!”

“Hartley, we can talk about taking them down after you're recovered.” Cisco stroked Hartley’s forehead. “Okay? I'm going to listen to you this time, I promise. I won't just dismiss it. We can talk about this. But not right now. Please, just rest.”

“Fine,” Hartley agreed. He didn’t really have much of a say. Not only would Cisco and Julian not take no for an answer, his body had decided to to pull him back into a state that was either sleep or unconsciousness, but he couldn’t tell which. It didn’t really matter.

Chapter Text

There were snakes on the ground, slithering towards him. It was strange, because he wasn't usually afraid of snakes, but terror seized his heart and froze his limbs as the serpents spat their venom towards him. It got in his eyes and mouth and burned, tasted like acid. The snakes’ fangs pierced his skin and he screamed, trying desperately to stay standing because if he fell, the snakes would reach the people behind him. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't…

“Cisco? Cisco, wake up! Cisco, you're dreaming!”

With a cry, Cisco sat up. He looked around wildly, but the snakes were gone. Julian stood over him, Hartley lay beside him, and there was early morning light coming in from the window. “Oh,” he said, breathing hard. “You're right, I was...I was dreaming.”

“Yeah, you were. And you were screaming in your sleep, it woke me from the other room. Are you alright?” Julian asked worriedly.

“Um, yeah, I'm fine.” Cisco turned to Hartley, who hadn't woken up. He had been mostly unconscious for the past day and a half now, only waking up for a few minutes at a time before falling back asleep. “How's he doing?”

“I haven't checked, mate, I just came in here,” Julian reminded him. “Let's see, shall we?” He started examining Hartley, who still slept soundly. “Pulse is strong, no more fever. He's not so pale anymore. I'd say it's looking fairly good. He should probably wake up more today, and once he can get up on his feet, I'll be taking my leave. I told my boss I had a family emergency. Something about a cousin dying, I think. She seemed to believe me, I managed to sound pretty choked up on the phone.”

“Thank you,” Cisco said yet again. “I don't know what I would have done without you.”

“Well, you would probably have lost him. Anyway, I'm going back to the couch to get more than two hours of sleep. Come get me when he wakes up, ‘kay? I've got a couple more things I'd like to check before I leave.”

“Yeah, sure. Go sleep, Julian. I'm sorry for waking you up.”

Julian waved his hand dismissively. “We all get nightmares. Don't apologize. Cheers, mate.” He left the room with a yawn, probably very glad to go back to sleep, even if it was on a couch.

Cisco turned to Hartley. He was still attached to an IV drip and a small device clamped over one of his fingertips. If his pulse stopped, a warning alarm would sound and wake them up. But it had remained comfortingly silent since Julian had hooked it up.

Even so, Cisco rested his head down onto Hartley’s chest to hear his heartbeat. The soft pounding sent a wave of reassurance over Cisco, quieting his anxiety and letting him fall back asleep, this time without nightmares tormenting him.

It was a hand in his hair that woke him, as it slowly tugged its fingers through the tangles. Cisco caught his breath and opened his eyes. He was still using Hartley as a pillow, his ear still pressed against the other man's chest. But now Hartley’s arm had lifted and curled around him to bury his fingers in his hair.

“Hartley,” Cisco murmured.

“Hey, Cisco,” Hartley replied.

“You're awake,” Cisco observed brilliantly. He sat up, blinking hard. Hartley’s hand moved from his hair to his shoulder. “Hey, Hartley. How are you feeling?”

“I think I'm okay.” Hartley offered him a weak smile. “Thanks to you.”

“You remember what happened? Last couple of times you woke up, you didn't really.” Cisco hurriedly turned to the bedside table, where a contraption was waiting for him to put his arms in so his prosthetics could attach. “Hold on, just one second, Hartley.”

“It's okay.” Hartley waited patiently for Cisco to get his hands on. “I remember most of what happened,” he said as Cisco turned back to him, pulling on his gloves and reaching to stroke Hartley’s face. “I remember going to fight Copperhead and getting nicked.”

Cisco nodded. “You're lucky it wasn't a full bite.”

“I know I am.” Hartley shivered. “And I remember...spending so long trying to get here, passing out in alleys because of the pain…” He stopped talking and closed his eyes tightly, like he was trying to will the memories away. “It was like hot needles under my skin, Cisco, everywhere, and it hurt so badly…”

“You're alright, you're safe now,” Cisco soothed. “You're alright.”

“And I remember...thinking I wasn’t going to be able to make it here, but then it all goes black.”

“You had a really high fever, Hartley. It's okay, you don't have to remember that part.” Cisco took his hand and held it tightly.

“But then I remember waking up, and your friend Julian was there, you said he saved me, and something about us talking later, telling me I needed to rest. That's all.”

“That's okay, that's okay. Don't worry about it. That's pretty much what happened.”

Hartley looked unconvinced. “I know I said a lot, I don't remember what I said. Cisco, what did I say?”

“You just kept apologizing. And I kept telling you there was no need. I told you...that after you were recovered, we'd have a real conversation about you going out there to fight the Rogues. But you're not there yet,” Cisco hastened to say.

“Okay,” Hartley agreed.

“Really? I was expecting more of an argument! Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're not arguing. I'm just surprised.”

“Everything hurts too much to argue.” Hartley winced. Every muscle in his body was sore, and the side of his neck stung and itched.

“I'm going to get Julian to come take a look at you,” Cisco said. “He's going to check you over one last time before leaving you with me.”

“Okay.” Hartley closed his eyes as Cisco left the room. A minute later, someone was patting his face gently.

“Hartley, are you awake?”

“Umm...yeah,” Hartley mumbled. He opened his eyes. Julian’s blurred face was above him. “Hi.”

“Hi. Alright, can I get you sitting up?” Julian asked. “Slowly, now, slowly. There we are.”

Hartley tried to hold back a groan. Cisco and Julian were both helping him to sit up, but his body was protesting by sending sharp pains shooting through his muscles

“What's wrong?” Cisco asked quickly. “You look like you're in pain.”

“I'm okay,” Hartley tried.

Julian narrowed his eyes. “That's a lie. Alright, I'm going to need you to be very honest with me and let me know what you're feeling. I can't help you if I don't know.”

Hartley bit his lip. “Um, it hurts?” he said blankly.

“That's not helpful,” sighed Cisco. “Hartley…”

“My nerves are misfiring,” Hartley said, giving in. “It's probably from the neurotoxic components of Copperhead’s venom, which might have degraded my nerve tissue and it hasn't had time to regenerate yet. My guess is that there's not much you can do for me now, Dr. Albert. All I need is time. So, it hurts was accurate and all I needed to say.”

Julian raised his eyebrows and looked at Cisco. “He's got a bit of a mouth on him.”

Cisco looked almost proud. “I know.”

“Well, you're probably right, Mr. Rathaway. I already suspected some mild nerve damage. You did have the venom in your system for two days before you got help, so there was plenty of time for the toxin to attack your nerves. I can give you something for the pain, but you're right, there's not much else I can do. You'll be alright in time.” Julian touched the edge of the gauze patch on Hartley’s neck. “Alright if I remove this? I want to make sure it's healing properly, because the cytotoxic components destroyed some of the tissue. It might be a little painful.”

“Go ahead.” Hartley tipped his head up slightly, staring at the ceiling and holding his breath. As Julian pulled the gauze off, Hartley almost cried out. It hurt more than he had expected, almost burning as the wound was exposed to the air.

“Hartley?” Cisco asked worriedly. “You alright?”

“Uhhh...no,” Hartley said through gritted teeth. Immediately, the soft cloth over hard metal of Cisco’s prosthetic was grasping his hand.

“Squeeze as hard as you need to,” he said. “Don't worry about hurting my hand.” The last statement was joking, trying to make Hartley laugh. It worked.

“I think I built them strong enough to withstand my grip--” Hartley gasped in pain as Julian touched the skin near where Copperhead had bitten.

“Sorry, mate. It's not looking great. I don't think it's healing on its own.” Julian sounded hesitant and apologetic. “I...I really didn't want this to happen.”

“What is it?” Hartley said tightly.

Cisco could barely look at the injury. “Hart, it's pretty bad.”

“I want to see it.”

“I wouldn't advise that,” Julian started to say.

“I'm not squeamish, and I want to see what it looks like. I know how much it hurts, and I want to know if it's as bad as I think it is, Julian. Show it to me,” Hartley insisted.

“Alright.” Julian shook his head and pulled out his phone to take a picture of the injury. “Here.”

Hartley stared. An inch or so radiating out from where the bite mark was, the skin had necrosed. It looked infected, mostly red but with some yellow and white pus. “You're right, it's pretty bad,” he acknowledged. His heart pulsed in the wound, throbbing. He swallowed the pain and continued speaking. “It's not going to get better all by itself, and it might spread further. Right now, it's not anywhere near my jugular, which is good. Less chance of blood poisoning.”

“Yes, I know that, Hartley,” Julian said testily. “This is my job, you know.”

“No, it's not. Your job is working with metahumans in prison to try and reverse what happened them and get rid of their powers. You're doing this for Cisco.” Hartley waved his hand, gesturing for Julian to put the phone away. “Which is wonderful, and I'm sure you're very skilled at chemistry, but are you really capable of debriding a wound?”

“Absolutely. I was a field medic in Vietnam for a while.”

“Alright. So you'll do it?”

Cisco frowned. “What's debriding?” he asked.

Julian hesitated. “It's the process of cutting away the dead tissue of a wound that has necrosed, so the wound can heal again,” he said. “Which is what Hartley and I both know we're going to have to do.”

The grip on Hartley’s hand tightened as Cisco paled. “H-Hartley?” he managed.

Hartley tried to smile at him. “It's not like it's you we have to do it to,” he said. “If anyone should be turning white as a sheet and shaking, it should be me.”

“And yet you look as calm as can be!” Cisco exclaimed. “How are you not freaking out?!”

“I'm not scared.”

Julian had begun to look through his equipment. “I'll have to run out and get a few things, including some kind of anesthetic for you. And don't--” he added, as Hartley started to say something, “--tell me you don't need it, because I've performed surgery on someone without anesthesia before, and it's not an experience I want to relive.”

Cisco gasped quietly. Hartley could tell from the look that he and Julian exchanged that they both knew what he was referring to. He decided not to pry.

Julian touched his shoulder briefly. “Be right back.”

As he left to get the supplies, Cisco helped Hartley lie back down. “There, okay. You doing alright?”

“I should be asking you that,” Hartley said. “You really freaked out at the thought of Julian debriding the wound, Cisco. I was hoping you'd be able to stay with me while he was doing the procedure, but I understand if you can't.”

“What? Of course I'll stay!” Cisco exclaimed. “Hey, hey, listen. I will stay right here by your side. No matter how...how grossed out I get, okay? I'm sorry that I'm not too great with body stuff, medical...stuff, you know, I'm better with tech, I mean…You know, machines don't bleed.”

“I get it.” Hartley took a few deep breaths. The side of his neck was throbbing again, even though Julian had replaced the gauze. “Thank you for staying.”

“Wouldn't think of being anywhere else.”

 

A grey fog was clearing slowly. A dull ache on the side of Hartley’s neck sharpened and he gasped quietly, reaching out blindly for something to hold onto. Both of his hands were caught and held tightly, and someone’s voice was piercing the fog.

“Alright, you’re alright. It’s over, Hartley, it’s all over.” Cisco’s voice shook, and he sounded a little bit faint. “The procedure is done, Hart. You’re okay.”

Hartley slowed his breathing as his brain cleared and he remembered what was happening. “Are you ?” he mumbled.

Cisco laughed, a high, nervous sound. “You did way better than me. I almost passed out.”

“He did,” came Julian’s voice. “But he stayed with you the whole time. Now, try to stay very still for at least a day, preferably two or three. That wound on your neck is going to sting like hell for a while, but there shouldn’t be any more necrosis or infection if it’s cleaned regularly. I’m going back to work now, but I’ll drop by tomorrow to make sure everything’s going well. Alright?”

“Thank you,” Cisco said. “Seriously, so much. So freaking much.” He let go of Hartley and went over to Julian.

“Alright, alright, no need to make a fuss,” Julian tried, but Cisco wasn’t having it.

“Come here,” Cisco insisted.

There was a sound of protest before Julian gave up and hugged him. “Alright, now. Don’t you dare start calling me every time either of you have a scrape you need patched up, though. I don’t want you getting any ideas about me joining this little team you’ve got going here, Team Piper or whatever you’re calling yourselves. Okay? I’m not having it.”

“We’re not asking you to join us, and I know you’re not. That’s why I’m so grateful you came when I asked, I know you have no reason to.”

“Well, I couldn’t let him die.”

“But I think I am going to call you more often, visit you. Just as your friend, though. No Team Piper talk.” Cisco came back to stand next to the bed.

“That might be nice,” Julian admitted. “Cheers.”

Hartley raised his hand slightly to wave as Julian left. “Right, I’m...exhausted,” he managed to tell Cisco after the door closed. “Is it okay if I go back to sleep now?”

“Of course it is. Get some rest. We’ll talk when you wake up.”

With the knowledge that Cisco wasn’t upset at him anymore, Hartley could sleep easy, unburdened by worry and fear.

Chapter Text

“It’s been a year.”

Cisco looked up from what he was reading. (It was HR’s newest book, which was ridiculous and over the top as always but made Cisco laugh. He bought every book as soon as they were printed.) “What did you say, Hart?”

“It’s been a year,” Hartley repeated. “Since I called you. A year ago today.”

“Aww. Is it cute or a little weird that you remember that?” Cisco teased.

Hartley rolled his eyes and huffed. “It’s not weird. I had been working up the courage to call for weeks, and I wrote down the day I was going to call you so I wouldn’t back out. June 15th.”

“Happy anniversary, then?”

“That wasn’t...That’s not what I’m trying to say, Cisco.” Hartley sat down next to him, making him put the book down.

“Hey, I don’t have a bookmark!” Cisco protested.

“Page 118, calm down. I wouldn’t make you lose your place.”

“Fine,” Cisco conceded. “Okay, what were you trying to say?”

“Just that…” Hartley looked around the apartment. There was such a huge difference to how it had been last June. The curtains were perpetually open, letting in the light. It was clean, and the picture frames were upright again, as opposed to knocked over so the photos couldn’t be seen. The air wasn’t dusty and hard to breathe. It felt like a home again. “You’ve come so far, Cisco. So far.”

We have.”

Hartley shook his head. “No, Cisco. You have. It wasn’t me who did this. It was your strength that made it possible. You pulled yourself out of the darkness, and I’m so proud of you.” Although he was trying to hide it, his voice shook with emotion.

“Stop, you’re gonna make me cry.” Cisco put his arms around Hartley’s waist and rested his head on his shoulder. “Besides,” he murmured, “even if I pulled myself out, you gave me the rope. I would never...never have even tried without you.” Now he was holding back tears as well. “Hah, a nice pair of sappy idiots we are,” he joked.

Hartley kissed the top of his head. “It’s okay. I don’t mind being a sappy idiot with you.”

“Me neither.” Forgetting about the unfinished book on the table in front of them, Cisco closed his eyes and appreciated the feeling of Hartley pressed up beside him. “Are you going out today?” Cisco ventured after a minute.

“No. After I took down Copperhead, things have been a little more quiet out there. I think Top and Mirror Master are nervous.”

“They should be, with Hartley Rathaway hunting them,” proclaimed Cisco. “But I'm glad that you're staying in. I'm always so scared when you're out there, even when you're on comms with me.”

“I know you are. That's why I'm always careful, because I know I've got someone waiting for me at home.” Hartley tucked Cisco’s hair behind his ears with a gentle hand.

“Do you think that's why Barry could do what he did? Because he had someone waiting for him at home, and that's why everything went wrong when Iris died?” Cisco wondered.

“I don't know, my love. I don't think you’ll ever really know what went on inside that man’s head, and I don't think you should try. Living in the past doesn't help anyone. You just have to try and move forward.”

Chapter Text

“You didn't say anything about Thanksgiving last year!”

“Last year, I was in a depressive slump and probably didn't know what month it was. Why are you upset about this?” Cisco asked. He was looking at some recipes.

“Thanksgiving is awful. It's a celebration of the beginning of a genocide and an excuse for all your shitty family to sit at the same table, make snide remarks, and ask when you're going to get married to a nice girl,” Hartley replied. “I hate Thanksgiving.”

“Well, I'm not going to invite your shitty family,” Cisco said gently. “I was thinking of inviting Julian, Beth, HR, Joe, and Wally. And Joe and Wally will almost definitely not come. HR probably won't, either. He doesn't respond to anything I send him. Julian doesn't really do holidays very well anymore, and Beth will probably be too busy. So in all likelihood, Thanksgiving dinner will just be you and me. And it's just an excuse to make a lot of really good food and then have leftovers for weeks. So what do you say? Can I try to make Thanksgiving a little less shitty for you?”

Hartley hesitated. He had a lot of terrible memories associated with holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular. But Cisco’s eyes were big and soft and pleading, and he couldn't say no to that. “Alright,” he conceded. “Okay. We'll do Thanksgiving, if that's what you want.”

“Thank you!” Cisco threw his arms around Hartley and kissed him warmly. “Also, just a heads up, Team Arrow is probably going to send us an invitation to come and have a combined Chanukkah and Christmas celebration with them. I haven't been in...ooh, probably three years, but it's an option, if you'd like. We can get out of Central City for a few days and catch up with our friends in Star. Oliver’s oldest kid, William, is...oh, my god, he's starting college next year? I feel old.”

“I don't know if I can handle that, Cisco. I'm not sure I can be around that many people for a holiday.” Hartley shifted uncomfortably. “I'm sorry. I'll try.”

“Hey, it's okay, it's okay,” Cisco said quickly. “If we can't go, we can't go. Don't worry about it.”

“I'll try to wrap my head around it, though. You might just have given me enough time to prepare.” Hartley laughed quietly. “It's what you get for living with such an introverted person.”

“I wouldn't trade you for the world,” Cisco assured him, and Hartley felt something deep inside him ache with love for this wonderful person.

“Right back at you,” was all he could say, but it was enough.

Chapter Text

Hartley was pretty sure he had never felt so stuffed with food in his entire life. He had finished cleaning up from Cisco’s cooking by himself because Cisco’s prosthetics would occasionally fritz out if they were exposed to too much water, so Hartley got to wash all the dishes. But he did it without complaint, because he wanted Cisco to be in a good mood that night. He had something to ask him.

Apparently, Cisco believed that Thanksgiving dinner should actually be Thanksgiving lunch. “That way,” he explained, “nobody goes to bed having eaten too much too late, and so nobody feels sick.” It had seemed reasonable, so Hartley agreed.

After everything was cleaned up and the leftovers safely packed away into containers that filled the fridge and freezer, they watched movies all afternoon. It was almost seven o’clock when Cisco decided he wanted some of the pecan pie. Hartley declined, still feeling full from the lunch. But after Cisco had eaten, they showered and got into bed. It was only around 9, but they were tired.

“That wasn't nearly as bad as you thought it would be, was it?” Cisco asked. He was sitting up in the bed, cross-legged. Hartley mirrored, facing him.

“No, it wasn't bad. It was kind of nice. But we didn't do the whole ‘what am I thankful for’ thing? I thought that was what Thanksgiving was all about.” Hartley was leading the conversation somewhere, and Cisco remained oblivious.

“I thought about it, but I figured you would prefer not to, so I didn't bring it up. I really wanted to make this experience something nice, and not something that made you uncomfortable.”

“No, it doesn't make me uncomfortable. I'd like to do it.”

Cisco smiled and put his hands on Hartley’s knees. He leaned forward. “Okay. What are you thankful for?” he prompted.

In response, Hartley tilted his head forward and pressed his lips against Cisco’s softly. “You.”

Cisco rolled his eyes and blushed a little. “That's a bit cliché, don't you think?”

“Yes, it is.” Hartley’s heart quickened. “And it's probably too cliché to get on one knee, especially since we're already sitting…”

What.

“But Cisco,” Hartley continued, pulling out a small box from behind him, “even if it is cliché, to do this on a holiday…”

“What.”

“I'm just going to go for it,” Hartley decided. “Francisco Ramon, will you marry me?”

“Yes. Yes, of course,” Cisco said, gazing at Hartley fondly. “Oh, my god…”

“Here, this should just kind of…clip on…” Hartley said as he struggled to attach the ring to Cisco’s prosthetic. “I really did try with this, but I don't think I quite…”

“You made this?” Cisco asked. He held his arm very still to help Hartley out. The ring was silver, sturdy, and studded with light blue jewels all the way around. “It's beautiful.”

“I may have pulled a few favors from people I used to know when I was still rich,” Hartley said. He finally got the prosthetic to let the ring snap into place. “Hah! There we go. Yeah, I made it, and it's not made of silver. Look at it a little closer.”

Cisco brought his prosthetic up to his face to examine the ring. “White gold?” he guessed.

“Sort of.”

“Wait a minute, is this a white gold/dwarf star alloy?!” Cisco exclaimed. “Hartley, where did you--”

“I told you, I pulled some favors,” Hartley said proudly.

“I thought it was, like, impossible to find any dwarf star metal, not since Ray Palmer used the last big supply of it years ago.”

“Shhh, it's our secret.” Hartley grinned. “Cisco, look at the gemstones.”

“They're glowing ?! What are they? Don't make me guess, because I have no idea.” Cisco stared at the pale blue gems.

Hartley was a little nervous about this part. “Okay, so they're blue diamonds, but they're actually infused with interdimensional energy. I wasn't sure if you could...like, feel them, or…”

Cisco flinched. “Oh.” He hesitated, concentrating. “Maybe? They're kind of humming to me,” he said after a few moments. “It's nice. Quiet.”

“So you like it?”

“It's beautiful. Everything you make for me is so beautiful.” Cisco looked like he was about to cry. “So, we're getting married?”

“That's usually what happens when one person proposes and the other says yes, so...I think so. Unless you changed your mind?”

“Don't tease.” Cisco couldn't stop reaching out and touching Hartley, finally resting his prosthetics on the other man's shoulders. “Hartley…”

“Come here,” Hartley said. He pulled Cisco down to lie on the bed, holding him close. “Hey, you.”

“Hey,” Cisco replied, nudging his nose against Hartley’s neck.

Laughing a little, Hartley pulled his head away. “Stop that.”

“No, I don't want to.” Cisco kissed the skin next to the round, puckered scar a few inches below Hartley’s ear.

Hartley sighed almost blissfully. “I don't want you to, either. Mmm…”

“Alright, well, we're engaged now.” Cisco sounded like he hardly believed it, even as he kissed Hartley’s neck again. “We are... engaged now.”

“I kind of noticed that. Ohhh…” Hartley moaned. “Oh, god, don't stop doing that.”

“What, this?” Cisco said innocently. He nipped at the underside of Hartley’s jaw, and Hartley made a sound that was almost a whimper. “Shh.”

“Don't you tell me to--ohh!”

Cisco giggled at the noise Hartley had produced when he had bitten a little harder. “Come on, now. You and I both know you don't mind,” he whispered.

“Oh, shut up.” Hartley couldn't help smiling at him, though, and he closed his eyes as Cisco kissed him again. “Hey, Cisco? We should go to Star City for Christmas.”

“And Chanukkah,” Cisco reminded him between kisses. “Half the Arrow team is Jewish, and Felicity and Ollie are raising baby Rachel to be Jewish as well.”

“I've actually never been part of a Chanukkah celebration before.”

“It's beautiful. You'll love it.”

Hartley nodded. He couldn't concentrate on the conversation anymore with what Cisco was doing to him. “Hmm...ahh, and...you can...uh, show me off...if you think I'm something to show off.”

“You're beautiful,” Cisco murmured. “Lying there, all pale and pretty...of course I'm going to show you off to all my friends.” He stopped suddenly. “Do you have a ring? We have to both have promise rings, I won't have my fiancé wandering around without something to prove he's taken.”

“Your fiancé,” Hartley said dreamily. “I like that.”

“Focus, Hart. Ring?” Cisco repeated, laughing. “I know, I'm incredibly distracting.”

“Mm, you are, you have no idea. Yeah, yes. There's...kind of a ring, but it's not done. I figured we could finish making it together.”

“That's really romantic.”

“Well, I didn't want to finish it by myself in case you said no.” Hartley tried to pull Cisco’s head down, hinting that he wanted the kissing to start again.

Cisco wasn't having it. “I mean, you had to have known I'd say yes. We've been living together for a year and a half, we have a history, and we had no plans to discontinue this relationship. It's the next step.”

“Maybe. I just didn't want to jinx it. Now would you please kiss me again?” Hartley requested.

“Since you asked so nicely.”

Later, cuddled together in a pile of tangled limbs and bare skin, Hartley trailed his fingers down Cisco’s arm. Cisco’s prosthetics had been removed for bed, which he had a bit of an issue with today.

“No, no, I want to wear the ring to sleep,” Cisco whined. “Hartley! You didn't think the whole ring thing through, I don't have actual fingers!”

“Hey, hey, hey, calm down,” Hartley soothed. “You didn't really think I didn't think about that, did you? Hold on.” He rolled over and pulled a chain out of the bedside table drawer, slipping the ring onto the chain. “Here. See, it's alright!” He put the chain around Cisco’s neck and fastened the clasp.

“Aww. You really do think of everything.” Cisco gazed at the ring, which rested over his heart. “Although, I’ve got my mother’s voice in my head telling me never to wear anything around your neck while you sleep or you'll suffocate before you wake up.”

“Well, tell her I'm not gonna let that happen.” Hartley snuggled a bit closer to Cisco. “Hey, my love?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I take your name?” Hartley asked quietly, solemn and serious now.

“Of course. I would love that.” Cisco blinked at him slowly through the dim light from the window. He understood why, of course, but Hartley seemed to need to explain.

“Because, it's not only that I want everyone to know that I'm yours, and that we're together, and that we love each other, though that's part of it. I just... Rathaway hasn't really belonged to me for a decade now, but I haven't changed it before now because I don't...I never…”

“I know, I know,” Cisco murmured. “I understand. Shhh, it's okay. Yes, cariño , you can take my name. You'll be Hartley Ramon. Okay?”

“Thank you.” Hartley closed his eyes, his eyelashes brushing against Cisco’s cheek because their faces were so close together. “My...my parents will be so glad I'm no longer associated with them. I think they always hoped that I'd change my mind, marry a woman, and they'd take me back. But since I'm marrying a boy, they'll be glad I'm giving them back their pure family name, untainted by us queers once again.”

“They can have it back and welcome, because it means I'll have you.”

Hartley smiled. “Light of my life,” he whispered.

Amor de mi vida,” Cisco replied.

Amor meus amplior quam verba est ,” countered Hartley.

“I still don't speak Latin,” Cisco reminded him gently. “You'll have to translate that if you want me to one-up you again.”

“I said, my love for you is more than words,” Hartley told him. “Any words, in any language.”

“That's cheating, I can't top that.”

“You don't have to, my love. You don't have to.”

Chapter Text

“Hello, hello, hello!” Felicity greeted cheerfully. She was in her wheelchair, baby Rachel asleep on her lap. “Hi, Cisco! Ohh, I haven't seen you in forever, come down here and hug me.”

Cisco leaned down and hugged her carefully. “Hey, you. You look lovely, and Rachel’s pictures don't do her justice.”

Felicity looked proud. “I know! I couldn't love her more if I had pushed her out of my body myself. Which I didn't, because, you know.” She gestured down at her chair. “Anyway, do come in! Ollie is out and he’s got most of the team with him, but Thea and William and Curtis are all here already. And Hartley, it's good to see you again.”

Hartley nodded at her. They had only met once, when Hartley had been a part of Team Flash before. But he had liked her, and admired her brain as well as her unfailingly kind nature. “Hi, Felicity. Your daughter is beautiful, and I'm sure she's going to be a much better owner of the name than the other Rachel I know.”

“And who’s that?” Felicity asked.

“My mother.” Hartley followed Felicity and Cisco into the spacious house.

“Cisco!” exclaimed a tall man who came running over to wrap Cisco in a tight hug. “Oh, I missed you! Hey, let's see the ring!”

“Patience, patience, my friend,” Cisco laughed. “Don't you want to meet the man who gave it to me first?” He grabbed Hartley’s arm and pulled him forward. “Hartley, this is Curtis. Curtis, Hartley is my fiancé, and the one who made these.” Cisco held out his arms to display the prosthetics, and Curtis gasped softly.

“These...are...beautiful. Seriously, incredible. A work of art.” His hands hovered over the prosthetics, but he didn't touch them yet. “May I?” he asked.

“Sure.”

Felicity had also rolled over to admire the prosthetics and the rings. “Well, Hartley, it's clear you know your way around technology.”

“I would hope so, I have degrees in mechanical engineering and physics,” Hartley replied.

Raising her eyebrows and adjusting baby Rachel against herself, Felicity said, “But do you have a degree in Cisco’s heart? Because if you hurt him, you'll have the entirety of Team Arrow hunting you down.”

“Felicity…” Cisco said softly.

Hartley squeezed his shoulder, telling him it was okay. “Don't worry, Felicity. We've both already had enough hurt in our lives, I'm not going to make it worse. I promise, I'm not going to hurt him.”

Felicity held his gaze for another minute, scrutinizing him like she could read his mind. He remained steady and didn't flinch. Eventually, she smiled and said lightly, “Good answer. Hey, Curtis, did Ollie tell you when they were going to get back? Rory told me he'd help me make latkes for dinner.”

From out of the other room came a woman and a boy about 17 years old. “Cisco!” called the woman.

“Hey, Thea! It's nice to see you. And you're William,” Cisco said, offering to shake the kid’s hand. “Hi, I'm Cisco Ramon. This is Hartley, my fiancé. You weren't around when I visited last. We’re friends of your dad’s.”

“The last of Team Flash, yeah, I know. That's cool.” William offered him a bit of a smile. “I liked the Flash when I was a kid. I had his action figure.”

Cisco laughed, a bit startled but pleased with how forthcoming the kid was. “That's awesome. Did your dad ever introduce you to him?”

William shook his head. “But he told me stories.” Suddenly, his eyes widened as he looked at Hartley again, and he realized. “You're the Pied Piper!”

“Um…” Hartley blinked a few times before just deciding to go with it. “Yeah. Hi.”

“I've been following your work,” William informed him. “It's awesome! You're an amazing hero. Is it true that you took down Volcana and Copperhead, all by yourself?”

“W-well, uh…” Hartley stammered, flushing. “I mean, I couldn't have done it without Cisco, obviously.”

“Aw, honey. He's being modest,” Cisco added, giving Hartley a little shove. “Go tell William all about it, Hart.”

Giving Cisco a slightly panicked look, Hartley let William take him out of the room. “And is it true that you got bitten by Copperhead and survived, before Dr. Julian Albert even came up with the antivenom? And is it true that…” William’s rapid-fire questions faded as they got out of earshot.

Felicity laughed. “Oliver won't tell him any detailed stories about the fight, but he loves superheroes and he'll take anything he can get. I hope Hartley can handle him.”

“He'll be fine,” Cisco said airily. “He probably needs to let his guard down and boast a bit. The past few months have been pretty hard, and he's feeling really dejected because he can't beat Top and Mirror Master. It might be good for him to be reminded who we're fighting for.” They all made their way over to the couch and sat down.

Thea was reaching for baby Rachel, who Felicity relinquished reluctantly. “Oh, let her come to her Auntie Thea. Hi, baby girl! How's my favorite niece?”

“How old is she?” Cisco asked.

“Seven months, which means she isn't going to answer you, Thea,” Felicity said pointedly.

“That's okay, we understand each other anyway. Don't we, little one?” Thea cooed as she sat down and bounced Rachel gently against her shoulder.

“So, Felicity, I hope you don't mind me asking…” Cisco started hesitantly.

“Why I'm in the chair again? It's alright. The implant is undergoing some repairs at the moment, but it should be ready next month. Besides, I don't mind it. How are you dealing with yours ?” Felicity gestured towards his prosthetics.

“Good. It's good. I mean, it's hard not having real use of my powers,” he admitted. “Especially because Hartley goes out to fight, and I can't help him. But I'm okay, for the most part. A lot better than last year.”

“We got so worried when you didn't even answer our messages,” Curtis interjected. “I mean, you always used to at least answer us.”

Cisco nodded. “I'm sorry about that. After I lost my hands and Barry went under and Team Flash disbanded, until probably about this time last year, I was...in a really bad place. Even with Hartley’s help, it took me awhile to get back on my feet.”

“Well, we're glad you're back,” Thea told him. “Speaking of Barry--”

Felicity shook her head warningly, for which Cisco was very grateful. He didn't want to talk about that anymore. The subject changed to what Team Arrow had been up to, then to Curtis’s potential new boyfriend, and then, just as they had begun to discuss baby Rachel’s adoption, the door opened.

Cisco stood up, grinning. “Well, if it isn't Oliver Queen. Hey, man. How are you?”

Oliver looked happy, more happy than Cisco had ever seen him. Having a family suited him. “Cisco Ramon, as I live and breathe. I'm alright, I'm doing fine.” He grasped Cisco’s shoulder. “How about you?”

“Well…” Cisco shrugged and held up his prosthetic, showing Oliver the ring.

Ollie smiled. “I heard. Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Cisco gestured to baby Rachel. “You, too. She's beautiful.”

“Yes, she is. Where's your fiancé?” Oliver asked.

Felicity rolled over to them. “William took him away to interrogate him about being the Pied Piper.”

Oliver sighed. “I deliberately didn't tell him who Hartley was, how did he figure it out?”

“No idea,” Felicity replied. “Where's everyone else?”

“Dig will be joining us a bit later, but Rory and Dinah should be here soon. Rene is spending Christmas away with his daughter,” Oliver let Cisco know. “So he won't be here today. Hey, can I talk to you alone for a minute? Actually, Felicity, you should come too.”

Cisco nodded, and let Oliver take him and Felicity down the hall and into an office. Oliver closed the door. Cisco was pretty sure he knew what this was about. “Oliver--”

“Have you heard from him? At all?” Oliver had started pacing, looking a bit more like his haunted, constantly worried self that Cisco used to know. “Have you even spoken to him?”

Cisco closed his eyes for a second. “No. Nothing. I know better than to go back to STAR Labs and try again. I did once, in January. He wouldn't even come out of wherever he was hiding to talk to me.”

“The same thing happened to me. And I know he was there. He wouldn't even talk to me.

Felicity just looked sad. “Guys...I don't think you're going to get through to him like this. He just needs time.”

“He's had five and a half years since Iris died!” Cisco exclaimed. “Two since we beat Savitar and he cut us off. He's had time, Felicity. I don't think he wants to get better, or be himself again.”

“He won't talk to me, Felicity. Me . And I'm the one he used to come to when he started going down that darker path.” Oliver sounded very upset.

“He hasn't come to me, his best friend. And he hasn't gone to Joe, either. Not in years . I think...I think he's too far gone,” Cisco said reluctantly. “I don't think he's coming back.”

Felicity looked close to tears. “I don't think we can give up on him,” she protested. “I don't want to give up on him.”

“Hey, hey, Felicity…” Oliver went over to her and held her face between his hands gently. “We're not giving up on him. It’s just...he's given up on himself.”

“I can't accept that. Not our Barry Allen.”

“He isn't, though,” Cisco murmured. “He isn't our Barry anymore.”

Felicity let out a sob. “I didn't want to believe it,” she whispered.

“Neither did I.” Cisco sighed and leaned against the wall. “But it's the truth.”

Pressing a trembling hand to her lips, Felicity nodded. “I know. I know. I...I'll be out in a minute, okay? Go back out, Ollie, Cisco. Give me a minute alone. Please.”

Oliver hesitated, but led Cisco out of the room. “I'm sorry to put you through that,” he said softly. “I know it must be hard for you.”

“It's alright. I understand, you needed to know.” But there was a bit of a lump in Cisco’s throat. “So, um, where do you suppose your son took my fiancé?” It was a good way to change the subject, but also Cisco just needed Hartley at the moment.

Oliver didn't need to answer, because they stepped out into the living room and saw that William and Hartley, as well as Rory and Dinah, were there. Cisco went over to Hartley immediately, wrapping his arm around Hartley’s waist just a little too tightly. Hartley noticed, of course. “You okay?” he murmured under his breath. Nobody but Cisco heard as everyone else talked amongst themselves.

“I am now,” Cisco responded. He put his head down on Hartley’s shoulder for a second, soaking in the comfort of the contact before putting a smile on his face and introducing Hartley to the new arrivals.

The group talked and laughed. Felicity came back into the room a few minutes later, and if they noticed, nobody said anything about the slight redness around her eyes. Around six o'clock, Oliver, Felicity, and Rory went into the kitchen to try and make latkes. “There's other food, too, but latkes are the most important,” Felicity said seriously.

As Cisco sat on the couch with the others, passing baby Rachel around because everyone wanted to hold her, life almost seemed normal. Sure, their conversation topics were mostly supervillains and past battles won and lost, but they were happy. Normal. Felicity, and then eventually Oliver got kicked out of their own kitchen as Felicity’s mother, who had just arrived, and Rory took over the cooking.

“Donna, I can actually cook,” Oliver attempted.

But she wouldn't hear any of it. “I wouldn't be a Jewish mother-in-law if I didn't cook for you all. But first, give Rachel to her bubby. Hello, precious! Oh, you're more beautiful every time I see you. And so are you, Felicity.”

“Mom,” Felicity said, embarrassed. “If you're going to go cook, go cook. But don't just hover, okay?”

About ten minutes later, a loud alarm went off. Cisco panicked. He was holding Rachel at the moment, and he pulled her close and leapt to his feet, ready to bolt if there was a fire.

But Oliver’s posture had shifted instantly from relaxed to warriorlike. “That's the intruder alert,” he said. “Felicity, take Rachel, William, and your mother--”

The door burst open and everyone either gasped or screamed.

Standing in the doorway, looking incredibly pleased with herself, was Sara Lance, aka White Canary. “Did I scare you?” she asked delightedly.

A couple seconds of shocked silence later, and Oliver rushed forward to embrace her. “Sara?! Oh, my god.” Then he let go of her and smacked her arm gently. “Don't do that!”

She laughed. “Hi, Ollie. Quite a gathering you've got here.” Then she saw baby Rachel, still being clutched by Cisco, and gasped softly. “Ohhhh…”

“Sara, first of all, you almost gave me a heart attack.” Felicity took Rachel from Cisco and rolled over to meet her friend. “But secondly, meet Rachel Moira Queen.”

It was almost comical to see the former assassin and current captain of a timeship reduced to a speechless, teary-eyed mess because of a baby. Sara reached out wordlessly, and Felicity deposited the infant in her arms. “Hello, there,” Sara whispered, totally enraptured. “Hello, there. You're so tiny and perfect. Yes, you are.”

“What on Earth has Sara Lance baby talking?” a loud voice asked, approaching the door.

Felicity sat bolt upright. “Raymond!” she screamed. Faster than should have been possible in a manual wheelchair, she shoved her way past Oliver and Sara to greet her friend.

Ray Palmer laughed and leaned down to throw his arms around her. “Felicity Smoak! Oh, you're choking me, you're choking me.”

“I can only reach your neck when you’re leaning like that, you absolute giraffe,” Felicity said.

“Can I pick you up to hug you a little better?” Ray requested.

“Yes, but don't break me any more than I already am.” Felicity giggled as Ray lifted her up effortlessly. “Ohh, I've missed you! Hey, you haven't visited in forever! Where have you all been?!”

Ray placed her gently back into her wheelchair. “We've been all over. Everywhere, everywhen. It's been great.”

“Where's everybody else?” Oliver asked.

“We actually came to this time investigating an aberration,” Ray said. “But Sara and I decided to come here instead. They can handle themselves and oh my god it's an actual baby!” He had caught sight of Rachel.

As Ray was introduced to the baby, Hartley tapped Cisco’s arm. “Cisco? Aberrations? Every when ? What am I missing?”

“Oh, uh, these are our friends the Legends. They have a time travelling ship called the Waverider, and they go around stopping time aberrations from happening and messing up the timeline,” Cisco explained succinctly. “That's Sara Lance, the White Canary. And that's Ray Palmer, the ATOM. She was an assassin, and he was a billionaire who built a supersuit that lets him shrink, and they were recruited into this team by a guy named Rip Hunter.”

“Oh,” Hartley said faintly. “Did I know we knew professional time travellers? Or, um, assassins?”

“And Cisco, how are you doing?” Ray asked, finally pulling himself away from baby Rachel. Sara was still completely enamored and not paying attention to anything else around her.

Cisco broke into a wide smile. “Doing alright. Hey, look, you're not the only one with cool tech anymore!” He showed Ray the prosthetics.

Ray gasped. “Oh! Cisco, what happened?”

“Uh, I got a bit of frostbite. But that's not the point.” Cisco drew attention to the ring.

“Hah! Who's the lucky person?” Ray asked.

“I am,” Hartley replied.

Ray looked him up and down appraisingly. “Cool, cool. Who are you? Other than Cisco’s...are you married yet? No? Okay, so other than Cisco’s fiancé?”

“I'm Hartley. Pied Piper. Last line of defense in Central City against the New Rogues.” Hartley shook Ray’s hand.

“Ray Palmer. The Atom. Nice to meet you.”

Sara still hadn't let go of baby Rachel, but she was at least coherent enough to come over and talk to Cisco. “Hey, bro. Cool hands!”

“Thanks!”

“I doubt you want to, and I don't mean any offense, but I have to offer--”

Cisco nodded. “I know. No, thank you.”

Hartley frowned. “I feel very out of the loop. What…”

“The Waverider has tech that can regrow limbs,” Ray let him know quietly.

“Oh.”

“So, how are Jax and the Professor? Still Firestorming strong?” Cisco asked.

“Oh yeah, they're great. Driving each other and all of us insane, but great.” Sara got distracted by baby Rachel again and kissed the top of her head. “Hey, sweetheart.”

“You're so nice right now, with the baby. It's adorable,” Ray said without thinking.

Not missing a beat and still speaking to Rachel in a soft tone, Sara replied, “But I could still kick his ass in a heartbeat, couldn't I, baby girl? Yes, yes I could! Yes, I could!”

“Point taken,” Ray sighed.

In her normal voice, Sara added, “Laurel wanted kids. I always said I'd make a wonderful aunt.”

“You can share aunt privilege with me,” Thea said quickly.

“Thanks, Thea.” Suddenly, something in Sara’s pocket made a beeping sound. “Oh, hell.” She let Thea take Rachel and pulled a device from her pocket. “Can't leave them alone for two goddamn minutes--Oh. Uh-oh. That's not good. Ray, we gotta go!”

“What's wrong?” Ray demanded.

“Aberration was a rogue Time Master. Bad one. She has Nate and Martin, probably at somewhere near the Vanishing Point. It hasn't been two minutes, either. They've been fighting for almost a week, and Jax is starting to get unstable. God knows how bad Martin is. We gotta go.” Sara was heading towards the door.

“Wait, let me come,” Cisco said impulsively. “I can help.”

“And me.” Oliver grabbed a bag from an unassuming cupboard. The edge of a bow stuck out the end of the bag.

“Cisco, no,” Hartley exclaimed. “Absolutely not.”

“They're my friends!”

“And you'd get yourself killed. No. I'll go, if the Legends will have me?” he made sure.

Sara shrugged. “The more, the merrier. Let's make it a real team-up. Dinah, Curtis, want to join?”

And so they left. Cisco remained behind with Thea, Felicity, Rachel, and William. Also, Donna and Rory stayed to watch over the food. They didn't seem to mind. “They have a time machine, yes? So they'll be back for dinner,” reasoned Rory.

“I hope you're right,” Felicity said dismally.

Just then, the door burst open. Oliver stumbled in, a bit bruised and bloody. “Guys, we need some help out here!”

“What the--it's been less than a minute!”

“Time machine. It's been eight days.” Oliver ushered Cisco out of the door and pulled him into the Waverider, camouflaged behind the building. “It's Hartley.”

The lights in the ship were all off, and no electronic whirs or the soothing voice of the A.I. Gideon could be heard. Cisco’s heart pounded as Oliver led him into the medbay.

Everyone was there, in various states of injury and disarray. Sara had a cut on her cheek, and she was standing over Nate. He seemed to have a broken wrist, and it was very swollen and purple. Way more than it should have been. “We have the medicine, but you need to stay still, okay?” she said softly.

“I know.” Nate stared at the ceiling, breathing heavily.

Professor Stein was lying on his side on another one of the beds, looking rather the worse for wear. He didn't seem to have any life threatening injuries, just lots of cuts and bruises. Jax stood protectively next to him with his hand on Martin’s shoulder.

But Cisco only had eyes for Hartley. Lying on his back with Ray beside him, his face was tight with pain and his back arched slightly. He barely moved, but his shallow breathing told Cisco that something was very wrong. “Hartley!” he cried.

Ray looked up. “Cisco! Thank god you're here. We don't know what's wrong with him! He doesn't have any injuries we can find--”

“I know what it is.” Cisco turned Hartley’s head to the side to confirm his suspicion. Sure enough, his implants were gone. “How long has he been like this?”

“We aren't sure. We've had him back for a few hours now, but we lost him for two days before that.” Ray shifted on his feet anxiously. “What's wrong with him, Cisco?”

“We need to knock him out,” Cisco said bluntly. “He's in way too much pain, he needs a break. Why is the ship dark? And why haven't you let Gideon fix everyone's injuries?”

“The ship is dead,” Sara chimed in. Her voice was flat and miserable. “It's going to take ages to fix it.”

“If I can fix it at all,” Jax sighed. “Gideon stretched all the ship’s power out to be able to get us through, but it was so damaged, it shouldn't have been able to work.”

“Everything shut down the minute we landed here,” Sara finished. “Gideon told us that the ship should only have been able to keep going for a day while we were fighting, but she found enough reserve power and had just enough strength to keep us alive until we landed.”

“For eight whole days,” Ray added. “It was--”

“It was a Channukah miracle,” mumbled Martin. “Fitting, too--” He broke off coughing, and Jax gripped his shoulder worriedly.

“You're okay, Grey,” he said. “You're okay.”

Suddenly, Hartley let out a loud whimper and opened his eyes. “Cisco?” he managed. “Cisco?”

“I'm here, I'm here.”

“I can't hear you! M-my implants, sh-she took them! Cisco!” He panted and grabbed at his ears, clawing at them.

“No, no, no, don't do that. We both know that won't help.” Cisco shook his head and started to sign to him, the prosthetic hands whirring a bit in protest from moving so quickly. “It's going to be okay,” was the first thing he signed. “We're going to help you.”

Hartley replied in sign language as well, reflexively, even though it was clear he could still speak. “It hurts, it hurts so much, it hurts, it hurts…” He kept making that sign over and over, until Cisco was forced to cut him off.

“I know that. Be still. We're going to make you sleep while we make something to stop the hurting. Alright?” he asked.

“Please,” Hartley signed. The look of desperation on his face was enough to tell Cisco how bad it was. Hartley didn't like being put under, so he had to have been in total agony and completely exhausted for him to not even hesitate. “Anything to make it stop.”

“Hold on for a little bit longer.” Aloud, Cisco said, “Does anyone know where to find a sedative to knock him out?”

“Gideon would always do it by herself...but I'll look for something,” Ray said hastily, seeing the look on Cisco’s face.

“No, I need you. And Curtis. We have to rebuild Hartley’s hearing aids from scratch, and I need all of the genius tech brains working together,” Cisco told him. “And Jax, if you can, we're going to need materials. I'm sure you know where scrap stuff is?”

“Yeah, sure, but it's all from the Waverider’s engine and I don't know how much you'll be able to use for these...hearing aids?” Jax checked.

Amaya, who had been quietly looking through cupboards until now, came forward with a syringe. “This is the sedative Gideon uses to put us to sleep if she needed to,” she told Cisco quickly.

“Oh! You are incredible!” Cisco exclaimed. He examined the syringe and nodded. “This will work.” He turned back to Hartley and signed, “Calm down and breathe. Over soon.” Then he injected the contents of the syringe into Hartley’s arm before he put the syringe aside and started stroking his hair. “I'm here, I'm here,” he whispered. He knew Hartley couldn't hear him, but it seemed to help anyway. “I'm here.”

Hartley’s eyes fluttered closed and his body went limp. Cisco waited for another few moments, his hand on Hartley’s chest, before pulling himself away.

“What happened?” he demanded, staring around at the Legends and Team Arrow. “It's been two minutes for me. What the hell happened?”

“It was an ambush,” Oliver said dully.

Sara nodded. “The time traveller created an Aberration to lure us in, and they were waiting for us.”

“Who were?” Cisco asked.

“We don't know yet. We're time travellers, Cisco. We haven't met all our enemies yet,” Sara said tiredly.

“Hartley saved us,” Ray said. “He stayed behind after we had gotten Martin back, to let us get away.”

“Without him, they would have gotten Grey again and me and Amaya and Ray,” Jax stated quietly. “He did save us.”

“We went back for him and Nate as soon as we could,” Sara said. “But it was two days until we could get back into the enemy facility, because of how little power the Waverider had left.”

“He's a very brave young man,” Martin added. “He knew they tortured us, and he still chose to stay behind. If there's anything you need from me to fix whatever it is he needs--” He started to sit up.

“No, Grey, you need to rest.” Jax pushed him back down. “Me and Ray and Cisco and Curtis can take care of Hartley.”

“We can go to my workshop,” Ray said. “If that's alright? And do we need to carry him with us?”

“No, leave him here. I know how to build them. He showed me, in case something like this ever happened. Your workshop is fine. Thank you.” Cisco looked down at Hartley’s pale face and bent down to kiss his forehead. “Stay asleep, please,” he murmured. “It'll be so much better for you if you just stay asleep, sweetheart. I'll make it better for when you wake up, I promise.”

“Hey, he'll be fine here. C’mon, my workshop is this way.” Ray put his hand on Cisco’s shoulder to lead him off.

“Wait, just a second.” Cisco didn't want to leave him.

“Cisco, he needs us to work,” Ray told him gently. “We're no good to him here.” He finally pulled Cisco away with difficulty.

It took them about an hour and a half to construct a pair of headphones that would keep Hartley from being in pain while they built the more permanent implants, which could take another few days. Cisco left Curtis and Ray with those instructions and went back to the Waverider’s medbay. He carefully placed the headphones over Hartley’s ears, injected him with the antidote solution to the sedative, and waited.

A minute later, Hartley stirred weakly. He reached up with his hands to feel the headphones, confused. Then he flinched and was awake, though his eyes didn't open. “Wh-what’s going on? I c-can’t hear! Where am I?” he cried.

Cisco caught his hands before he could dislodge the headphones. Hartley seemed to recognize the touch of the metal prosthetics, and relaxed instantly. Breathing a sigh of relief, Cisco stroked his hair for a minute until he was able to open his eyes and focus.

“Cisco,” Hartley murmured. “What happened?”

Your implants got stolen. We made you some headphones. Don't take them off. We're working on new implants,” Cisco signed, a little reluctant to take his hands off Hartley. “Sorry you can't hear. I did what I could.”

“Well, I'm not in pain. So you did plenty.” Hartley reached up and touched Cisco’s cheek. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome. Are you hungry? D-o-n-n-a and R-o-r-y and F-e-l-i-c-i-t-y are keeping dinner warm for us,” Cisco signed, spelling out their friends’ names letter by letter. “O-l-l-i-e told them what happened. They want to have the celebration anyway. It works after a H-a-n-u-k-a-h miracle.” He didn't know the sign for Channukah or how to spell it exactly, and made a mental note to look it up later.

“I need a few minutes before I'm ready for that,” Hartley warned. “But it sounds lovely. Well... sounds is a loose term.”

Cisco laughed and took Hartley’s hand briefly before signing, “I'll translate everything for you.”

“I love you so much.”

Making the hand sign for I love you , Cisco placed his hand right over Hartley’s heart. Hartley smiled and put his own sign against Cisco’s chest. They stayed there for a minute, until Hartley was ready to sit up and move. He was unsteady on his feet and leaned heavily on Cisco.

Cisco led him to the fabrication room, which could generate whatever clothing the Legends wanted. He had decided that Hartley’s current apparel was a bit too torn and bloodstained to wear to dinner. Hartley didn't mind, and kind of just chattered as Cisco got him dressed. “I missed you, you know. I was gone for eight whole days. Time travel really is amazing. But I missed you.”

“I'm right here.” Cisco helped him remove his shirt, very cautious not to dislodge the headphones.

Once Hartley was in clean clothes, they left the Waverider, got Curtis and Ray, and went back into Oliver’s house. Everyone else had already gone in. Nate’s arm was in a sling and he looked a little drowsy, nodding off on the couch. Martin seemed to have recovered a bit, and he sat talking with Felicity’s mother. Felicity, Oliver, and Rory were frantically trying to extend the table and pull together more food to accommodate the Legends, and William seemed rather star-struck as he listened to Jax and Amaya talk. Sara was once again holding baby Rachel. Everyone else was just sitting and talking, or trying to help Oliver and Felicity. Cisco would have done the latter, but he didn't want to leave Hartley without an interpreter.

“I think--I hope everything is ready to sit down and have dinner,” Felicity called. “I know that there are plenty of latkes, at least.”

When everyone was seated at the table--a little cramped and crowded, but nobody really minded--Martin stood and lifted his glass of white grape juice to make a toast. “Friends, family,” he began. “I hope it isn't presumptuous of me to make this toast?”

“Perfectly alright,” Oliver told him, and Felicity nodded in agreement. It was their house, so if it was alright by them, it was alright by everyone.

“Thank you. I'd like to begin by saying that we all appreciate Oliver and Felicity for putting up with the added, unexpected guests. We're a lot to handle, and we're very grateful.”

Oliver laughed. “Professor, you're always welcome. I admit, I was worried about everyone fitting at our table, but we made it work. I've had to do harder things.”

“Yes, we know.” Martin nodded at him respectfully. “Second, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we are all very glad to be here on this fine evening, and in such wonderful company.”

“Hear, hear,” said Ray, Felicity, and Cisco simultaneously. They laughed.

Martin’s voice became more somber now as he resumed his toast. “And lastly, I believe we should take a moment to think about everyone who is not with us today.”

Cisco’s arms shook as he signed the words for Hartley, who reached across the table and touched his shoulder. “ Thank you,” Cisco added swiftly before Martin continued.

“Whether they are not here because they are simply not able to join us today, or because they have given their life for us in one way or another, they are here in our hearts, and we shall carry them with us forever. Let's take a moment to remember them all.” He fell silent.

The only sound in the room was baby Rachel whimpering softly because she wanted her bottle. It was on the table in front of her where she sat in her mother's lap. She could see it, but she couldn't reach it, and that clearly made her very unhappy. Felicity stroked her hair down and kissed the top of her head with a shushing sound.

“Thank you.” Martin motioned for everyone to lift their glasses into the air. “L’chiem.”

“L’chiem,” everyone echoed.

Cisco had stopped signing for a moment to raise his glass, but Hartley was frowning, trying to figure out what everyone had just uttered. It wasn't a word he recognized. Cisco was about to put down his glass to explain, but Hartley’s eyes lit up as he realized. “Oh! Oh, l’chiem!” he cried, a little too late. There was laughter, and they all clinked glasses and began to eat.

Late that night, after everything had been cleared away, seven candles lit in the windowsill, Jax and Ray back in the Waverider to try and get a head start fixing it, and baby Rachel finally put to bed after a lot of fussing (who could blame her? There were new people in her house, and they were exciting!), Cisco and Hartley found themselves in one of the many guest bedrooms in the spacious house. Hartley was exhausted and collapsed instantly onto the bed. Cisco shook his head, smiling, and went to sit down next to him.

Eight days fighting, two of those captured and in pain, and then having to socialize again for hours? Forget it. Hartley was very, very done. He barely reacted as Cisco shook his shoulder, trying to get him to get up and put pajamas on.

“No,” Hartley mumbled, and stubbornly refused to even look up and acknowledge what Cisco was signing to him. He let out a yelp as the tips of the metal fingers found his side and tweaked it. “Not fair!” he protested, and finally rolled over so Cisco could talk to him.

“I know you're tired, but at least put on pajamas,” Cisco signed, his face pleading. “ And then sleep.”

“Too tired.”

“Please.”

Hartley groaned, but let Cisco hand him pajamas and put them on. “Happy?” he griped.

“Yes. Go to sleep now.” Cisco pulled the cream-colored, patterned sheets up to Hartley’s shoulders and helped make sure the headphones were still on securely. “Don't want these falling off in the middle of the night. Don't want to wake up to you screaming.”

“Might happen anyway.” Hartley blinked slowly, long eyelashes fluttering.

“Nightmares? Want to talk about it first?” Cisco asked. “Might help.”

Hartley hesitated, then nodded, and signed, “Easier to sign than to talk, though. Just one language.”

“That's fine.”

A few moments later, Hartley began to sign again, slowly at first but gaining speed until Cisco could barely follow it. He caught a lot of words about trapped , and hurt , and screaming . His hands started shaking so badly that he couldn't sign clearly anymore, and Cisco decided that was enough.

“Okay, no more. No more.” Cisco laid down and pulled Hartley into his arms, rocking slightly back and forth until Hartley had stopped trembling. “Go to sleep,” Cisco said aloud, making sure Hartley could see his mouth to read his lips. These phrases were simple enough for that. “I'm here. You're safe. Go to sleep. I love you.”

“Thank you. I love you, too.” Hartley rested his head down on the pillow and closed his eyes as Cisco stroked his hair.

He was asleep after just a few minutes, and Cisco took another few minutes just to sit with him and hold him before letting him go. Then he turned out the light and crept out of the room, knowing that Sara and Oliver would be keeping watch over everyone, and would hear immediately if there was a problem. He went out and boarded the Waverider. He had work to do.

Chapter Text

The world was silent as Hartley awoke. He opened his eyes. The cream pillowcase was a bit blurry without his glasses, but he could see well enough to know that there was nobody else in the room. Fighting back a moment of panic, he sat up. He touched the headphones which had miraculously stayed on his ears the whole night. The clock on the wall told him it was almost 7 a.m., and he frowned. Where was Cisco? He usually slept until at least 8.

As he got out of bed and got dressed, Hartley reflected on what had happened aboard the Legends’ ship. It had been a battleground, explosions and gunshots, arrows and fists and superpowers blasting everywhere. Everyone except him seemed to have been in fights on that scale before, but Hartley had never fought with that many people on either side. He had been terrified.

And then they had finally broken through to the enemy’s ship, about three times the size of the Waverider. He and Jax and Ray had rushed through, covered by Sara and Oliver and Amaya. They were searching for wherever the enemy was keeping Nate and Martin, but had only found Martin. Jax had stumbled away from Ray’s support to reach his partner, opening the cell door and throwing his arms around Martin. As soon as they touched, they merged into Firestorm. Martin hadn't known where Nate was being held, and wasn't in much of a state to do anything other than cling to consciousness inside Firestorm. He had been tortured. He tried to brush it off, saying that it had happened before, and worse, but he was clearly very shaken up.

Ray had wanted to keep searching for Nate, insisting they couldn't leave without him. But a group of the enemy was no longer distracted by their cover, and they had to make a break for it or risk all of them being captured. It had been Jax who made the decision to leave, promising they'd return for Nate. Hartley had needed to physically drag Ray along to get him to come with them.

But then, just as they were nearing the jumpship, another bunch of the enemy had surrounded them. Hartley had made a split second decision, and sent a sound blast that knocked Ray and Firestorm farther along towards the jumpship. He had turned to fight the enemy, shouting to the Legends to leave him there. There had been just enough time for him to hear Jax shouting that they'd come back for him and Nate before something hit him from behind and he had blacked out.

When he came to, a woman was pulling his implants out. He hadn't tried to be brave, and he screamed and cried and begged her not to, but to no avail. The rest of the time had been a blur of agony until the Legends came back to rescue him. Then Cisco had been there, and everything was okay again.

Hartley sat down on the bed, keeping the door in his peripheral vision. He didn't want to be surprised by anyone coming in when he couldn't hear them.

Soon, the door opened and Cisco walked in. “You're awake!” he signed in surprise.

Hartley narrowed his eyes. Cisco looked absolutely exhausted, and was still in the clothes he had worn yesterday. “What have you been up to?” he asked.

In answer, Cisco held out a small box, inside of which was a new pair of hearing aids. Hartley gasped.

“Those should have taken days!” he exclaimed. He could feel his pronunciation slipping, but Cisco understood.

“I spent all night on them. Want to try them out?”

“You shouldn't have done that. You look so tired.” But Hartley did want them, and he reached out for Cisco to come over to him.

Without needing Cisco to sign anything, Hartley knew what he needed to do. He waited for Cisco to sit down, then lay on his back across the other man’s lap. He turned his head to the side, exposing his right ear first. Then he braced himself.

Cisco took a moment to rub his shoulder comfortingly before pulling the headphones off just the right side. Hartley bit back a wail as the piercing scream stabbed his head like it had been waiting for this exact moment. And then the new aid was in, and he could hear again.

“Hey, hey, you,” Cisco was saying. “Hartley, can you hear me? Can you hear me, mi alma ?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hartley answered breathlessly. “I can hear you.”

Cisco let out a delighted sound. “Oh! I really made them! Did I make them right, is it okay?”

“It's fine, it's fine.” Hartley turned his head to the other side. “Get it over with, please.”

“Okay. It's okay, it's okay, it'll be over soon. Shhh, just hold tight.”

A brief moment of agony later, and Hartley could hear out of both ears. He panted a little, having held his breath against the pain. “Thank you.”

“I've got you, baby. I'm here, I'm here. You did such a good job, cariño . There, it's over now.” Cisco helped him sit up, pulling him into a tight hug. “I've got you. Hey, Hartley?”

“What?”

“Merry Christmas!” Cisco said delightedly. “How about that? Seventh day of Chanukah and Christmas Day.”

“Merry Christmas,” Hartley responded, but he didn't really care. He was just happy to hear Cisco’s voice. “Did you get me a present?”

“A little something, like we agreed.” Cisco kissed the top of his head and fell silent, just holding him.

Hartley whined softly. “Keep talking,” he pleaded.

“Ohh, of course. Alright, alright. I'm here. I'm here. You know, you're going to have to listen to me talk all the way home. We're starting the drive back to Central City tomorrow. Remind me again why we didn't take a plane?” Cisco sighed.

“Because metal detectors would have a field day with us, and because the air pressure changes are incredibly painful for me,” Hartley said. “We’ve talked about this.”

“I know, I know.”

“Besides, don't you want to be stuck in a car with me for 15 hours over 2 days?” Hartley teased. He looked up at Cisco through his eyelashes and batted them. “We can listen to show tunes and sing all the duets.”

Cisco rolled his eyes, though they both knew he would love to do that as much as Hartley would. “I can't believe you're not tired of me yet.”

“I'll never be tired of you.” Hartley flopped back down across Cisco’s lap. “But Cisco? Why did you stay up all night making the implants?” he asked seriously. “Really, why? I would have been fine with the headphones for another few days.”

“I didn't want you to hurt any more than you had to,” replied Cisco.

“That's very sweet, but you're exhausted.” Hartley reached up and trailed his fingers down the side of Cisco’s face. “You look so tired, my love. You actually do need sleep, you know. You have robotic hands, but you aren't a robot.”

“I know.” Cisco yawned. “It's only 7:30. I'll take a nap, if you'll stay and cuddle me?”

“Of course. Let's get your hands off and onto the chargers, you've probably depleted the batteries by using them all night.” Hartley helped him remove the prosthetics and then tucked him into the bed, curling up around him. “I've got you, love,” he murmured. “It's your turn to sleep now. There, that's it. Shhh, shhh. I've got you.”

Completely worn out, it didn't take long for Cisco to fall asleep in Hartley’s arms. Hartley was startled by a quiet knock on the door a half hour later.

“Come in,” he called softly. “Just be quiet.”

Felicity rolled into the room. “Good morning,” she said. “Did you sleep alright?”

“Somehow, yeah. Even though Cisco was working all night.” Hartley sat up carefully, not wanting to disturb Cisco. But he seemed to be sleeping soundly. “Thank you again, for letting us stay.”

Felicity waved her hand dismissively. “You came 1500 miles to spend the holiday with us, and Cisco is basically family. Well, kind of like a distant cousin we see once a year, if that. But still family.”

Hartley smiled. “He knows.”

“I'm so sorry we couldn't come more often, last year,” Felicity said sadly. “We did come for a few weeks, right at the beginning, when he first lost his hands. Oliver wanted to try and hold Barry back from the darkness, but he couldn't. They actually fought. And I don't mean tossing words, I mean full on Flash vs Arrow. Except Oliver refused to hurt him, so he barely defended himself. He wouldn't tell me exactly what happened, though. He came back to the hospital where I was staying with Cisco, and he was all beat up. All he said was ‘it didn't go well’. I figured out the rest.”

“Oh,” was all Hartley could say.

“We stayed with Cisco until he was out of the hospital and set up with some prosthetics. Not nearly as good as the ones he has now, of course. But after a week back at home, he seemed...alright. Not great, obviously, but okay enough to leave him alone.”

“That didn't last,” Hartley muttered.

“No. No, it didn't. And I wish...I wish we had stayed, checked in on him more. But we didn't. We were so busy here, with some rogue ARGUS agents. Ollie almost died, and that's when we decided that we were going to change things a little bit. He's still Green Arrow, but he's much more careful now because we have Rachel at home.” Felicity was rolling back and forth a few inches at a time, looking up at the ceiling as she recounted the story. “And we were going to visit Central City again, I swear, we wanted to. But Cisco wouldn't reply to any of our messages. We should have gone anyway.”

“By that point, I was there,” Hartley said softly. He was stroking Cisco’s hair lightly. He hoped Cisco would stay asleep. They could leave the room to keep talking, but he had told Cisco he would stay there. He was sure Cisco wouldn't mind, but still. “I've been with him since last June.”

“I'm glad you were there. And I'm glad he's okay now.”

“He's doing alright,” Hartley agreed. Cisco sighed in his sleep, turning his head to rest against Hartley’s hand. Hartley smiled and shushed him gently. “Shh-sh-sh. Stay asleep, my love. Stay asleep. There, there. Stay asleep,” he whispered.

“You seem like you really love him,” Felicity murmured.

“I do. I really love him.” Hartley smoothed the comforter over Cisco’s shoulders. “I want to stay with him forever.”

“Good. He deserves that.”

“He does,” Hartley agreed.

Across the house, Rachel started wailing. Felicity flinched and looked over her shoulder.

“Do you need to go get her?” Hartley asked.

“No, Ollie has her.” Sure enough, the crying died away after a minute, and the tension left Felicity’s shoulders. “It scares me,” she said quietly. “When I hear her screaming. I know we're safe here, but every time she cries, I just get so scared, that someone found us, that they're hurting her--Sorry, I don't know why I'm telling you this,” she interrupted herself, forcing a laugh. “I barely know you.”

“It's okay,” Hartley said quickly. “It's okay, it's fine.”

“So, um, you and Cisco. Are you planning on having kids?” she asked.

Hartley’s eyes widened. “Uhhh…” he stumbled. “Uh, I don't know? We haven't talked about that. I don't think so, certainly not yet.”

“Oh, okay! Sorry, I didn't mean to spring that on you.”

“It's okay, I just wasn't prepared for that question.” Hartley shook his head. “I think we should leave Cisco here to sleep. I'll come back to wake him up at maybe noon, because we have to get up early tomorrow to drive home.”

“Yeah, sure. Oliver made some pancakes earlier, if you want some,” Felicity told him as they left the room and closed the door behind them.

“Sounds delicious.”

In the kitchen, which was high-tech and shiny chrome and had the bright morning sun coming in through the window, Oliver was standing over the stove. He had baby Rachel on one shoulder, a bright blue pacifier in her mouth, and a spatula in his free hand. “Good morning,” he greeted. “I see Cisco finished making your new hearing aids?”

Hartley reached up and tapped them. “Yeah, he did. He was up all night. Sleeping now, but I'm going to wake him up before noon so he'll sleep tonight. We've got a long drive tomorrow.”

“I could let you fly home in a Smoak Technologies jet,” Felicity offered. “You wouldn't have to drive, and you wouldn't have to try going through airport security with prosthetics and implants.”

“That's very kind, but I can't fly. The change in air pressure with the damage to my inner ears doesn't make for a very pleasant combination. I did try a few times, but when my ears started bleeding, I decided I wouldn't be doing that anymore,” Hartley explained. “But thank you for the offer. You're the CEO of Smoak Technologies, right?”

“Formerly Palmer Tech, formerly Queen Consolidated. Keeping it in the family,” Felicity joked.

“I'm so glad you have the company now,” Oliver said. “You're a much better CEO than I was.”

“Hell yeah, I am.” Felicity reached up and pulled a pancake off the counter.

Hartley’s stomach growled. He looked longingly at the pancakes. Felicity noticed and handed him a plate. “Thanks,” he said, a little embarrassed. “Um, any maple syrup?”

“Yeah, we've got the real stuff and the fake stuff,” Felicity told him, opening the fridge and pointing. “Because someone was a rich kid who never had Aunt Jemima’s growing up.”

“Oh, yeah, that'd be me,” Oliver announced. “I don't understand how you can stand the fake stuff, Felicity, it's sticky and it's mostly corn syrup.”

“I agree,” Hartley said, choosing the genuine maple syrup and closing the fridge. “It took a lot of getting used to when I had to start eating cheap food.”

“Oh, poor billionaire children,” Felicity griped. “And their billionaire childhoods.”

“I mean, my parents kicked me out and disowned me when they found out I was gay.” Hartley took a bite of his pancake. “So...I might have grown up in a rich family, but not really a lot of great one. Your mom is amazing, Felicity.”

“She is. My dad is an evil genius hacker, of course, but we can't all be perfect.”

“No, we can't,” Hartley laughed, taken aback slightly.

“Hey, Felicity? Take Hartley and our daughter and get out of my kitchen if you're just going to sit there chatting.” Oliver waved his spatula at them. “See if the Legends are awake, but stop crowding me while I'm making pancakes.”

Felicity took Rachel and rolled out of the kitchen, Hartley following. They found the Legends in the Waverider (“This ship is not very wheelchair accessible,” observed Felicity) and had breakfast together, though Jax stayed in the engine room and kept working to fix it. He claimed he wasn't hungry.

“I know for a fact that he's lying, but he refuses to be disturbed while he's working,” Martin let them all know. “I'll bring him something back later.”

At about 12:30, Hartley decided he was tired of ‘people-ing’ as Cisco called it, and slipped quietly away back to the room they were staying in. Cisco was still asleep, and Hartley went to go sit next to him. “Cisco,” he called softly. “Cisco, wake up, my love. It's time to wake up.” He rubbed Cisco’s back. “Wake up, Cisco.”

“Hmmm.” Then he gasped sharply and raised his head. “What?”

Hartley almost laughed at how disoriented he looked. “Time to wake up,” he repeated. “It's past noon, lovely. Did you have a good rest?”

“Sort of.” Cisco stuck out his lower lip and let his head fall down on Hartley’s lap with a soft whimper.

“What's wrong?” Hartley asked.

“Some bad dreams,” Cisco said evasively.

Worried, Hartley ran his fingers through Cisco’s hair. “You didn't wake up, though? You usually wake up.” When Cisco didn't answer, Hartley sighed and continued stroking his hair and back. “Cisco, love. It's alright, it's alright. Talk to me, my love.”

Cisco sniffled. “I'm okay now. It wasn't...it wasn't scary dreams. Not the kind that...wake me up.”

Not the kind that make him wake up screaming, Hartley interpreted. “Want to talk about it?” he asked.

“No.” Cisco let out a gasping breath and buried his face against Hartley’s leg. His shoulders shook.

“Oh, no. Oh, no.” Hartley shook his head. “Cisco, it's okay. It's alright, it's alright. Don't cry. Shh, don't cry, shhh, shhh…” He tried to comfort him, but it wasn't easy when he didn't know why Cisco was crying. “Hey, baby, talk to me. Please. Tell me what happened in the dream, maybe I can help?”

Cisco sat up, his face streaked with tears that he tried to wipe away with his shoulders.

“No, no, let me, lovely.” Hartley grabbed a tissue off the nightstand and patted away the tears. “There. Alright, come here. Shhh, shhh…”

“I was just alone,” Cisco mumbled as Hartley held him. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't be upset. It was just a dream.”

“No, it's okay. You're allowed to be upset. I've got you now, though. It's alright. Do you need anything?” Hartley inquired.

“Nothing other than this.” Cisco nestled closer to him. “I'm okay now.”

Hartley held him tighter. “Good, that's good. Shh, shh,” he breathed. “Shhh. I'm here.”

“I know you are. I'm just gonna cry for a little longer now.” Cisco let out another quiet sob.

“That's okay.” Hartley kissed the top of his head. “You can keep crying as much as you need. Alright, ‘s okay. It's okay.” He rocked Cisco slowly until he stopped crying, and then kept holding him until Cisco decided he was ready to sit up. “You okay now?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. Help me get my hands on?” he requested.

“Of course.” Hartley checked the prosthetics. They were fully charged again. It only took about three hours to recharge for a full twenty-four. Once they were on, Cisco got dressed. “Want to go out and be with them all?” Hartley asked. “There might be some pancakes leftover, but I'm not sure. Ray had just found another plate of them.”

“I better hurry, then,” laughed Cisco. “Gonna wash my face first, though. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I look like I've been crying?”

“Oh, a solid 7,” Hartley assured him.

“Nice. Great. Thanks.” Cisco rolled his eyes and went to wash his face.

Chapter Text

It shouldn't come as a surprise that it was a small ceremony. Team Arrow came, true to their promise. Julian, too, and though he pretended that he only came reluctantly and grudgingly, he really was happy to be there. Cisco was actually surprised that Joe, Wally, and Beth showed up, although Joe was very quiet and offered his congratulations in just a few words. A couple of Hartley’s friends came, as well. HR didn't even respond to the invitation. Neither did Barry, although Cisco left an invitation outside STAR Labs and it was gone the next day. Cisco tried not to be upset about that, and Hartley tried not to say ‘I told you so.’

And then they were married, and they held a small reception in the little building, and drank champagne and gave toasts and received toasts and congratulations and mazel tovs from everyone. Felicity threw a handful of rice (nobody knew where she had gotten it, and they didn't want to ask) and then...it was over. A whirlwind of activity and an outpouring of love, and Hartley and Cisco hadn't even really had time to talk to each other the whole day.

“Home again, home again,” Cisco sighed. He was about to unlock the door to the apartment when Hartley cleared his throat. He turned around to see Hartley holding out his arms. “Seriously? We're doing that?”

“Absolutely.” Hartley gestured for Cisco to come over to him, and picked him up.

Cisco put his arms around Hartley’s neck, rolling his eyes. “You're ridiculous, you know that?” he laughed.

Hartley stepped over the threshold carefully, grunting a little. “Yeah, I know. Call me traditional.”

“We're the opposite of traditional,” Cisco reminded him as he was being put down. He kept his arms around Hartley and pulled him in for a kiss. “Hey, you.”

“Hey,” Hartley murmured. “Did I tell you yet how nice you look in that tux?”

“Not yet.”

“You look really good in that tux.” Hartley kissed Cisco’s cheek and tugged at the little bowtie. “But you know what?”

“I'd look better out of it?” Cisco guessed dryly.

“You're good at this game.”

“Are we going to consummate our marriage?” Cisco asked. “Mr. Traditional?”

“Mr. Ramon,” Hartley corrected him. “Because I'm also Mr. Ramon now. No more Rathaway.”

“Yeah, ‘cause we're married !” Cisco said gleefully. “Which is so awesome.”

“It really is.” Hartley gazed at him, love in his eyes. Cisco bit his lip and blinked slowly, suggestively, and Hartley’s face flushed. “Francisco Ramon,” he said in a low voice. “Will you come to bed with me?”

“I think I will, Hartley Ramon . I think I will.”

Chapter Text

“I still think we should have gotten a honeymoon,” Cisco sighed. He was sitting on the couch with his feet up and his tablet in his lap, special touch-screen gloves over his prosthetics. He had a pair of headphones with one ear cover on, the other tucked behind his head.

“Is! This! The! Time?” Hartley shouted over the comms. There was a loud crashing sound.

Cisco winced. “Sorry, babe!”

“One second while I--” Another crash, and someone shouted. A second later, Hartley panted, “Got him.”

“Nice!” Cisco said appreciatively. “Proud of you.”

“Did you really think you could get away with robbing all those apartment complexes?” Hartley asked the criminal he had just caught.

“Not with my husband out there!” Cisco called, though he knew the criminal couldn't hear him. It was entirely for Hartley’s benefit.

“Okay, listen, I'll be back soon, but you've got to stop distracting me while I'm taking these guys down,” Hartley said quietly. “Bringing him to the police.”

“Useless for everything except keeping them all in prison now,” Cisco sighed. Since Joe had left and Captain Singh had been forced to go into a witness protection program because of the threats on his life, there weren't many good cops on the force. What was left of the police department was fairly pitiful, and there weren't many members anymore. They had all died, or quit because they didn't want the New Rogues to kill them. Cisco didn't blame them.

“Yeah.” Hartley flicked the comms off.

When Hartley returned home, he discarded his bag of Piper regalia next to the door and headed straight over to the couch. Cisco put aside his tablet.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

Hartley sat down and collapsed across Cisco’s lap. “That kid I just caught. He was stealing because his sister is sick and they don't have the money to pay for her treatment.”

“Shit,” Cisco breathed. He rubbed Hartley’s shoulders gently. “What did you end up doing?”

“Nothing, Cisco. I can't do anything about it. The kid stole, and he hurt people. He's going to jail. I can't do anything about that.” Hartley closed his eyes, pressing his cheek against Cisco’s thigh. “What am I supposed to do about that?”

“You have to choose your morals, I guess, and decide how much of the law you think is right. And then you have to accept that no matter what you choose, there will be consequences, and you won't be able to save everyone,” Cisco said. “And you have to live with that.”

“I'm going to see if I can find some money to send his sister. She's only 14, Cisco, and he's 18. And now he's in jail, because he stole some jewelry. And because I caught him. Fuck.” Hartley groaned. “Fuck. I wanted to help them, but nothing I do is making this any better.”

“That's not true! Hey, hey, that's not true!” Cisco exclaimed. “You put away Copperhead and Volcana, and Top and Mirror Master’s kill rates have halved since you went out as Piper. They're scared of you, and so are the rest of the Rogues and their gangs.”

“But it's not enough, Cisco, it'll never be enough.” Hartley sounded like he was choking back tears.

“Barry used to say that.”

“Then he was right about something, at least! This is all his--”

“Not fair,” Cisco reminded him. “We talked about this, remember?”

“I don't care,” Hartley muttered.

“Yes, you do.” Cisco stroked Hartley’s hair. It was getting a bit too long, but neither of them minded. It seemed to fit. “And you know what? Maybe you're both right. Maybe it isn't enough, it'll never be enough. But that's because these problems run too deep to be fixed by one person, or even by a small team. Superheroes can't fix systemic poverty and racism, they can't magic away cruelty and illness. So no matter what you do, it won't be enough to make the whole world completely better. You just have to believe that you're doing something .”

“If Central City still had the Flash, this wouldn't be happening,” Hartley insisted stubbornly.

“Maybe. Maybe not. We'll probably never know what would have or could have happened. But this is what happened. These are the cards we were dealt, Piper. Now, what are you going to do with them? Are you gonna fold, or keep playing?”

Hartley let out a long sigh, the tension leaving his shoulders. “I'm going to keep playing,” he admitted.

“Good.”

“Though you know my game is chess, not poker.”

“Yes, I know. I love you.”

“I love you, too. You know, you didn't want me to do this at first,” Hartley remembered. “I...I almost wish…”

“I know. I know. Me too, sometimes. Wish I had managed to stop you, wish we had just moved far, far away and never came back.” Cisco shook his head and leaned back, still rubbing Hartley’s shoulders gently. “But we didn't. So here we are.”

“I need to not talk about this anymore,” Hartley mumbled, a catch in his throat. “It's too hard right now, Cisco, it's too hard, it--”

“Shhh. We can stop talking. Okay? We'll stop talking about it,” Cisco reassured him. “What do you need?”

“Just...keep doing what you're doing. Just keep being here with me.” Hartley buried his face in Cisco’s lap and breathed slowly.

Cisco kept stroking his back. He hummed softly. After several minutes, Hartley seemed to be asleep, and Cisco gave him a few final caresses before going still.

Hartley stirred and turned his head. “Why’d you stop?” he mumbled.

Cisco tried not to smile and started scratching Hartley’s back lightly. “Sorry, mi alma . I thought you were asleep.”

“I'm too upset to be asleep.”

“Well, you need to sleep soon anyway. You were out all last night again.”

“That's when I'm most needed,” Hartley reminded him. “Which means...I need to leave again pretty soon.”

Cisco winced, though he knew Hartley was right. It was almost 10. “Please, just stay for a couple hours. Get a little bit of rest. You'll be safer if you’ve had even a couple hours of sleep.”

“I'll try. Keep the alerts on, though. If something happens, I want to know about it.” Hartley sighed and closed his eyes again.

Chapter Text

Hartley struggled to stay on his feet. His head spun. Top was laughing. “This is too easy, isn't it, sweetie?” she said delightedly to her partner.

Mirror Master nodded. “How many times have we done this? ‘Pied Piper’ here is no match for the pair of us.”

Gathering his strength, Hartley directed a sonic blast towards the two of them. His vision was so unsteady that he missed by a few feet. He knocked over a table covered in a white cloth and platters of fancy, expensive food. Several people at the gala screamed.

“Pathetic,” Top sneered. “Why do you even bother, Piper? We own this town.”

“Don't listen to her, Hartley,” Cisco urged over the comms. “Focus! You can do this! You need to shatter any mirrors in the area, okay? You know how to do that. Set the gauntlets to shatter glass.”

Hartley braced himself and shot out another blast of sound, high pitched and extremely loud. His aids filtered out the worst of the gauntlets’ noise, but as the sound intensified and the glass windows began to shatter, he winced. The aids didn't filter out the sound of people screaming.

Sam Scutter, Mirror Master, began to look a bit worried. He glanced around, searching for a reflective surface to leap into. Top covered her ears as the building itself started to shake. Hartley made the sonic device reach an even louder peak. He didn't have to be able to stand upright or keep his balance for the gauntlets to work.

The paned skylights began to fracture, one by one. Scutter grabbed Top and found a shiny metal platter to disappear into, but Hartley didn't see that. He just kept making the gauntlets release pulse after pulse of sound.

“Hartley! You can stop now!” Cisco shouted. “They're gone!”

Panting, Hartley let his hands fall to his sides and collapsed onto the ground, kneeling. The world was still spinning from Top’s powers. “They're gone?” he asked hoarsely.

“They're gone. You scared them off. C’mon, Hart, get out of there.”

“What if they come back?”

“The police are on their way, Hartley,” Cisco told him. “Even they won't risk coming back.”

“Useless--”

“But they still have guns. And even though the police aren't saying they're looking for you, I don't want them to catch you. Please, Hartley. Come home.”

Hartley tried to stand up, cursing under his breath. He didn't have amazing balance anyway after his inner ears had been damaged by the particle accelerator explosion, so he really hated getting hit with Top’s powers.

“Excuse me, let me help you,” a voice offered. A hand touched his shoulder.

Immediately, Hartley pulled his hood down over his face. “No, thank you,” he said gruffly, trying to disguise his voice a little.

“But sir, Piper, you just saved us!” the woman exclaimed.

And then Hartley’s heart almost stopped. He knew that voice, and it didn't belong to someone he wanted to talk to. Overcoming his dizziness, he stood up and fled without a word. He didn't look at anyone, and nobody tried to grab him, but the woman let out a gasp. He ran faster.

“Hartley?” Cisco called. “Hartley, what happened, mi alma ? What's wrong?”

Without thinking about it, Hartley turned the comms off. He ran into the alley behind the building, pressing against the wall to catch his breath. He should have known there was a possibility they would be at this gala event, but he hadn't really thought about it because he was just so stupid --

“Hartley? Hartley, that's you, isn't it?”

Hartley froze. He considered fleeing again, but he was already short of breath and still dizzy. There was no way he could run fast enough to get away if she decided to follow him. So he slowly turned to face the woman and pulled off his hood. “Mother,” he said coolly.

“It is you!” exclaimed Rachel Rathaway. Her dark silver dress was a bit rumpled from chasing Hartley out of the building. “Oh…I knew, I knew it was you.”

Hartley said nothing, but he took a step back as Rachel reached out to touch his shoulder.

“Hartley?”

“What, were you expecting me to greet you with warmth and affection?” Hartley demanded. “I want nothing to do with you. I don't want to speak to you.”

“I've missed you.”

“You don't have the right!” Hartley was trembling with anger. “You...you have no right to miss me, to want me back in your life after what you did to me. You're nothing to me. Goodbye.” He turned to walk away.

“Please, son! Wait!”

“How dare you call me son?” Hartley asked, icily calm and quiet. “How. Dare. You?”

Rachel's face was so heavily caked in makeup that it barely moved, but she still managed to look upset. “I'm sorry, Hartley.”

“Good for you.”

“Really, I am. I'm sorry for what we did to you. Times...times have changed.”

Hartley raised his eyebrows. “Times have. But you haven't. Father hasn't. I know you better than that.”

“I...I've apologized,” Rachel said blankly. “What else do you want me to do?”

“I want you to let me walk away now. I want you to let me forget that you ever existed, and that this conversation ever happened, so I can go home to my husband without having to dump more of my problems onto him.” Hartley crossed his arms. “But I don't accept your apology, Rachel. And I never will. It isn't something I can forgive.”

“Y-your husband?” Rachel stammered, trying to sound less horrified than she was.

“Yes. My wonderful, loving husband who you will never lay your hateful eyes on. And you know what else? I took his last name. I'm officially not a Rathaway anymore, Rachel. That should make Osgood so pleased.” Hartley narrowed his eyes. “Where is he, anyway?”

“Y-your father, Hartley, he…”

“You know what?” Hartley interrupted. “I don't care. Goodbye, Rachel. I'm glad we had this talk.” And ignoring her pleas, he disappeared through the alley, pulling his hood back up and returning through back streets to his and Cisco’s apartment.

Cisco was literally halfway down the apartment steps when he saw Hartley. “You! Get up here, now.” He sounded angry, but Hartley knew he was just worried.

With mild trepidation, Hartley discarded his cloak and gauntlets. “Will it make it better if I say I'm sorry?” he asked hesitantly.

“Will it--no, no, it won't.” Cisco was pacing furiously across the living room. “We've talked about this, Hartley, you do not turn your comms off. Especially not without telling me why! I have no way of knowing what's happening, if you're hurt or dead or worse--”

“I know.”

“And god damn it, Hartley, I was so scared. I was so scared. I can't lose you, Hartley, I can't--”

Hartley caught his shoulders as he let out a sob. “Cisco, I know. I know. I'm sorry. Cisco, I'm here. I'm still here. You're not losing me.”

Cisco hit him in the arm weakly, not really trying to hurt him. “I'm still mad.”

“That's okay. I deserve it. But...just let me hold you anyway, okay? Come here. Hear me breathe, I'm still here. I'm right here.” Hartley was still trembling from the encounter with his mother, but he decided that Cisco didn't need to know about that. He was already upset enough. “I won't do it again. I promise.”

Cisco sniffed. “Okay. I appreciate that, thank you. But Hart, what happened ? Why did you turn the comms off?”

After a brief moment’s hesitation, Hartley answered, “It doesn't matter now.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure,” Hartley lied. “Don't worry, Cisco. I'm fine.”

Chapter Text

Hartley half-listened to the early evening news as he fiddled with his gauntlets. He wished he could figure out the exact frequency that Mirror Master vibrated on to let him jump through mirrors, but it continued to prove itself a mystery.

With a sigh, he stood up and walked over to the couch. Cisco had left a mug on the coffee table earlier, which had been annoying Hartley all day. He picked up the mug as the news anchor prattled on about some company merger in Keystone that would apparently affect the stock market. And then--

“In other news, the death of the CEO of Rathaway Industries, Osgood Rathaway--”

Hartley stopped dead in his tracks.

“--comes as a sorrow but not a shock after his long and public battle with cancer--”

The mug fell from his hands and shattered against the edge of the table.

“Although the family has faced controversy and quite a bit of public hatred after they disowned their gay son, there has been an outpouring of support for Rathaway’s widow, Rachel.”

“Hart? What just broke…” Cisco’s voice trailed away as he saw the screen. Osgood Rathaway of Rathaway Industries dead at 68 . “Oh…”

Hartley couldn't breathe. Even as Cisco turned the television off, the anchor’s voice echoed in his ears.

“Oh, Hart. Come on, let's step away from the broken mug. Come here, come here.” Cisco carefully led him away and sat him down on a chair in the kitchen. “I'll clean it up, okay? I don't have to worry about getting cut on the sharp edges, huh?”

Staring straight ahead, Hartley barely heard him. He didn't feel anything. Why couldn't he feel anything?

“Okay. Hartley? Hartley, love, can you talk to me?”

Hartley shook his head numbly.

“Alright. That's fine,” Cisco let him know. “You don't have to.” He had finished clearing away the shattered mug pieces and came over to stand in front of Hartley silently, not even touching him.

A few minutes passed. Still, Hartley said nothing. It felt like there was a great tumultuous storm inside him, but he was stuck behind a wall of clouded, soundproof glass. He could see it vaguely, as a sort of abstract concept, but he didn't know what he was seeing. He didn't know what he was feeling. What am I supposed to feel? he thought dully.

He must have said it out loud, because Cisco replied, “You aren't supposed to feel anything. There isn't a rulebook for this. It's okay. Whatever you're feeling, it's all okay.”

Slowly, Hartley leaned forward until his forehead rested against Cisco’s stomach. He felt Cisco put his gloved hands against the back of his neck and hold him close.

“I've got you,” Cisco murmured. “I've got you.”

I know , Hartley wanted to say, but the words felt heavy and he couldn't get them out, he couldn't get any words out. Everything was just too much and he couldn't--he couldn't--

“Breathe,” Cisco reminded him. “Breathe slowly, Hartley. That's it.”

“Cisco, I don't know...I can't…”

“It's alright.”

“Why don't I feel anything?”

“Shhh.” Cisco ran his fingers through the hair on the back of Hartley’s head. “Shhh, shhh. It's okay. You don't need to know what you're feeling, okay? We can talk about it if you want, but we don't have to. I'm here. I'm here.”

“I hate him, Cisco,” Hartley said suddenly. He looked up at Cisco. “I hate him so much.”

“That's okay.”

“I don't care...I don't care that he died, Cisco. I don't care at all. Does that m-make me a bad person?”

“Oh...no, Hartley. It doesn't.” Cisco sat down next to him, holding his hand tightly. “You don't have to care about that man. It doesn't make you a bad person.”

“But he was my father .”

“He hurt you,” Cisco stated simply. “He hurt you, more than anyone should ever be hurt. You might share half his DNA, but that means nothing more than what you make of it. Do you hear me?”

Hartley nodded, lips pressed together tightly. “I didn't even know he was dying,” he added in a whisper. “I think…”

“Your father, Hartley, he…” Rachel’s voice rang in his ears.

“Oh, god,” he breathed. “Oh, god, she was trying to tell me.”

“Who was trying to tell you what?”

“And that's why he wasn't there. That's why…” Hartley groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Shit. If...maybe if I had just...we might have had some fucking closure.”

“Hartley?”

“But even if they...I could never have let them near you. Never have given them the opportunity to hurt you. But now she knows...and what if she looks for me? What if she finds us ?” Hartley was starting to panic now.

“Hartley, who is she ? Hey, talk to me!”

“My mother,” Hartley said finally. He looked Cisco in the eye. “I lied to you. It did matter, why I turned the comms off. My mother was at that gala, and she saw me. She followed me, wanted to talk to me, wanted...I didn't let her get far enough, but I think she must have wanted reconciliation. Because of my father. Because he was dying. And I think she tried to tell me, but I didn't let her.”

Cisco paused, taking that in.

“I'm sorry I lied to you,” Hartley added. A hint of desperation entered his voice. “I just didn't know what to say, and I didn't want you to worry about me any more than you already were, and--”

“It's okay,” Cisco said quickly before Hartley could work himself into an even deeper panic. “Hartley, I knew that something had happened and that it wasn't an ‘it doesn't matter’ situation. I let you have a bit of space. Hey, listen to me. It's okay. I promise.”

“Okay,” whispered Hartley. He put his face back down in his hands. “I need a minute.”

“It's alright, take as long as you need.” Cisco didn't reach out to touch him again, just sat to provide a little company.

After a little while, Hartley raised his head again. “Cisco, I need to go. I need to...I have to do something.”

“How long will you be gone?” Cisco asked immediately.

Grateful, Hartley touched his knee. “Not long, I don't think. Maybe an hour, maybe two. But I need to do this.”

“And you promise you'll be okay?”

“No. I can't promise that. But I'll come back, and you'll make it okay.” Hartley stood up. “Before I change my mind.”

“I'll be here, waiting for you.”

 

The Rathaway mansion was a dark silhouette against a setting sun. The smog and pollution of the city clouded the air, making the sky an orangey-brown, and Hartley shivered in the cool spring evening air. He kept his hood up as he knocked on the door.

“Mrs. Rathaway isn't taking callers at the moment--” began a servant who opened the door. Then she stopped talking. Hartley had pulled his hood off, and she had seen his face. “Um...just...just one moment, I'll ask her if…” The door closed.

Hartley stood at the doorstep at the top of a long stretch of stone stairs, the same stairs he had once been thrown down by the man who had just died. He absently rested his hand against his side, where one of his ribs had broken and the skin torn so badly that he still had the scar twelve years later. This wasn't a place he had ever wanted to return to.

The door creaked open. “Hartley.”

“Mother,” Hartley acknowledged. “May I come in?”

Rachel nodded, her face in shadow. She stepped back into the house to let him enter the wide, sweeping foyer that led into the parlor. “I didn't think you would come,” she said in a low, exhausted tone. “I hoped you would.”

“I'm not staying long,” Hartley replied. Even as she gestured for him to sit down, he remained standing. “No, I really can't stay long.”

“Can't, or won't?” Rachel asked dully. Now fully in the light, Hartley could see that she wore a long, plain black dress for mourning. To his surprise, however, she wasn't wearing any makeup at all, and her eyes and nose were blotched with red. She had been crying. He had never seen her without makeup before, and he had never seen her cry. It made him uncomfortable.

“Both,” he responded. “I told my husband I would be back in two hours, but to be quite honest, I don't want to stay in this house any longer.”

“Then why come at all?”

That was a good question. “Paying my respects.”

Rachel sat down on a silken futon with a sigh. It almost seemed like she was actually sad. “What respects?” she asked bitterly. “You have nothing but contempt for the both of us.”

“And you both had nothing but contempt for me, so…”

“That's not true. We loved you.” She sounded like she believed herself, too.

“You didn't, Rachel. Neither of you ever loved me.” Hartley was calmer than he had anticipated being. “And I've realized something. I'm finally at peace with that. I don't need your love, and I never did. So again, my respects. Condolences for the death of your husband. Please don't come looking for me. I'd like for this to be the last time we ever speak.”

“Hartley, your fa...Osgood left you a letter,” Rachel said hastily. “Will you please stay for just one minute while I send someone for it?”

“I don't want the letter.” Of that, he was certain. “I don't want anything to do with you or Osgood beyond this. Don't expect me at the funeral.”

“Please,” Rachel repeated. “Just take it. You don't have to read it, just take it.”

Hartley hesitated. “Alright,” he conceded. “I'll take the letter, but get it quickly.”

She gestured to a servant standing in the doorway, who walked off swiftly and silently. “I know you say you don't want anything more to do with me--”

“That's right, I don't. I've done what I felt the obligation to do.”

“But I'm still your mother, Hartley. I'm willing to try to have a relationship, if you'll let me. We're both alone now.”

Hartley raised his eyebrows. “No, you're alone. I'm married, remember?”

“Of course. I...I forgot.” Rachel winced and glanced away. “Tell...tell me about h-him.”

“Absolutely not,” scoffed Hartley. “There's no way I'm telling you anything about the one good thing that has ever happened to me. I’m going to say this again and make it perfectly clear. I’ve done what I felt the need to do, and I am not interested in any sort of relationship with you after this. Nothing you can say will change my mind.”

“And I just have to accept that? That I’m losing my son forever, the day after losing my husband?”

“You lost me twelve years ago, Rachel. I’m surprised you haven’t realized that.” Hartley looked over to the servant, who had walked into the room nervously clutching a large envelope. “Thank you,” he said, taking the envelope from her. “Goodbye, Rachel. Again, my condolences for your loss.” His voice was calm and steady, but his hands that held the envelope shook as he walked back down the wide marble steps.

He didn’t go straight back home, because he still had over an hour until Cisco expected him back and he really just wanted to be alone for a while. He walked all the way to the waterfront. The park there was in disarray but still beautiful, trees and hedges turned wild. There was nobody else there. Nobody was brave enough to be out after dark anymore.

Hartley sat down on a bench, staring out at the sun sinking below the horizon. He still held the envelope, but didn’t open it yet. The light shining on the water was almost blinding, and the after image remained on the back of his eyelids as he blinked. It stayed, fading only slowly even after the sun disappeared completely. It wanted to be remembered.

The stars couldn't be seen at all through the polluted atmosphere. A faint orange glow betrayed the moon’s position. Hartley spent quite a long time looking up at it and watching it slowly, slowly change angle. He looked at his watch, wondering what time it was. With twenty minutes left to get back home before Cisco would start worrying, Hartley glanced back at the envelope in his lap. Alright .

Hartley didn't bother neatly opening the envelope. He just tore it open with a satisfying rip and tugged the folded paper out.

Hartley,

I cannot pretend that I could ever agree with your lifestyle. That being said, I know that I wronged you as a father, and I apologize. I will be dead before you read this. Your mother will attempt to find you and give you this letter, but will be instructed not to read it. This is because what I have to say to you is not something she ever needs to know.

I know that you are the Pied Piper. I have known since 2014 when you attacked my building. I have always known where you are, and kept track of you. When you may have found yourself in any trouble, I did my best to protect you from afar. I could not have someone like you affiliated with my family and my business, but you were still my son. Perhaps that was wrong of me. I did what I thought was best for my family and my business. I know you disagreed, and I wish I could have made you see what I saw.

But all of that is over. I am dead now, so you will never run the risk of seeing me again. I doubt we will meet in death, either. However God judges us, I don't believe that we could ever be sent to the same place. Make of that what you will.

I am enclosing in this envelope a check with a sum of 50 million dollars. A small fraction of what your original inheritance would have been, but a respectable amount. I hope it will be enough for you to get by, and to continue your work as the Piper. I might not agree with your personal lifestyle, but I think you have been doing good work. You have kept the city safer, and we thank you.

Farewell, son. May God forgive us both.

Osgood Rathaway

The check slipped out of the envelope and fell to the ground as Hartley turned it upside down. His hands shook too badly to reach in and pull it out. Such a small piece of paper, but such huge potential. The things he could do with 50 million dollars...the people he could help…

And then he looked at the check. Hartley Rathaway , it was addressed to. He started to laugh almost hysterically, closer to sobbing. Hartley Rathaway didn't exist anymore. There was no Hartley Rathaway for the money to go to.

Maybe he would talk to the bank, try to explain, but maybe not. He had said he didn't want the letter, after all. He could get on just fine without it.

So he put the letter, check, and envelope into his pocket and walked home in the dark. The lights in the house were off, except the very front one which had been left on for him. He crept quietly into the house and into the bedroom, where Cisco lay asleep. Hartley undressed and pulled on a t-shirt, too tired to shower. He crawled into bed.

Cisco stirred. “Hey,” he mumbled sleepily. “Are you good? Did it go okay? Are you okay?”

“I'm...I'll be okay.” Hartley nestled beside him. “Hold me, please.”

“C’mere.” Still barely awake, Cisco curled his body around Hartley’s and kissed his shoulder. “Talk in the morning, mi alma. Sleep now.”

His breathing slowing down, Hartley replied, “I love you, Cisco. I really love you.”

“Mmhmm, love you too…” Then Cisco was asleep again. Hartley wasn't far behind.

Chapter Text

In the end, Hartley had made the decision to take the check. Immediately after depositing it into an account that he made specifically for this money, though, he gave most of it away. To public works programs, to the police department, to Julian’s meta-curing research, to funds that were trying to reverse the damage done to the polluted world they had all created...the list went on. He kept enough so that he and Cisco would never have to worry about living off a disability paycheck, or have to take a job that would consume their time and focus and pull them away from what really mattered.

It was also enough to purchase a small building near the center of town. The building was unobtrusive and plain on the outside, but the interior was a beautifully decorated home. It wasn't showy, or flashy, or crass. It was just lovely and homelike. If one went down into the basement and then down again into a hidden lower level, one would find a shiny, high-tech superhero lair that would put the Arrowcave to shame.

Hartley did enjoy using a little bit of the money on petty things, however. It gave him a lot of pleasure to buy a collection of pride flags with the money his father had left him, even if part of him thought he might have been acting a bit disrespectful of the dead.

Well, when the dead start respecting me, maybe I'll apologize .

Cisco had gotten sick while Hartley was busy with the new home, so he had been unable to really help. “I want to make our home with you,” he whined, then coughed pitifully.

“You can help after your fever is below 102,” Hartley replied. “Besides, this isn't the part that matters. It's what we do while we're living there that really matters.”

“I can't wait to do those things with you,” Cisco hinted.

As he rolled his eyes with a small smile, Hartley said, “Well, you're going to have to wait until I've got everything set up. I'd wait for you to move in, but remember, we've got to leave this apartment by next Saturday. So rest up.”

When the time came for them to leave the apartment for the last time, Cisco stood in the middle of an empty living room. His arms were at his sides. He looked around. “Lots of memories here,” he said softly.

Hartley stepped outside. It wasn’t like he had forced Cisco to move out, or even really tried to convince him. Cisco had been totally on board with the idea of getting a new home. But even so, it must have been difficult for him to leave the place he had lived for so long. Ghosts of the memories of his friends probably still lingered in every corner, clung to every windowsill. He had to say goodbye to them, and that was fine. Hartley could wait.

When Cisco finally came out the door, eyes a bit damp, he reached for Hartley’s hand silently. To their new home they went. It was Cisco’s first time in the house since Hartley had begun furnishing it, and he gasped as he walked in. “Holy shit,” he breathed. Cream and light blue furniture made up the living room. It was well-lit, the curtains on the windows pulled back to let in the sun. The light hit a crystal vase on the coffee table and shattered, sending small, pale, dancing rainbows all over the walls.

Hartley smiled, and pulled Cisco along to continue the tour. There was a kitchen and dining room, already fully stocked with food and dishes. Cisco looked through the cupboards and found a bag of chips to snack on while they walked around. That made Hartley laugh fondly. “Getting crumbs everywhere already?” he teased.

“It’s not a home until I’ve eaten in every room,” Cisco retorted.

“Fair enough.” The first guest bedroom was colored in red and dark gold, and had a pull-out couch bed as well as a queen-sized. The second was pale pink and silver, and the third was dark teal. “In case the Legends ever need a place to crash, I made sure there was plenty of space for all of them. Team Arrow, too. Maybe we can host Christmas this year.”

Cisco was grinning widely. “Channukah, too,” he reminded Hartley. “And maybe so.”

Hartley led him back down the guest wing hallway and into the other portion of the house. Down a small flight of stairs, there was a small office with a desk and some shelves, filled with movie props, memorabilia, and action figures. Cisco let out a gasp as he saw a few of the items, rushing over to them and staring.

“Hart...but I...I didn’t…” Cisco had thrown some of his most treasured collectibles away during a really rough patch two years ago. Unbeknownst to him, Hartley had saved them.

“I know.” Hartley came up to stand behind Cisco and put his arms around his waist. “I hope that was okay. I just kept them safe for you.”

Cisco turned around and hugged him tightly. “Thank you.”

“Yeah. Of course. Ready to keep going?”

“How much more is there?” Cisco wondered as Hartley led him out of the office. He had grabbed one of the action figures and didn’t want to let go of it. Hartley didn’t point it out.

“Well, let’s think. What other room do we need in a house?” Hartley teased gently.

The master bedroom was blue, like the living room, but darker and brighter. It wasn’t extravagant or too much, just simple. White bookcases lined an entire wall, filled with titles that ranged from a multi-volume encyclopedia to every single one of Cisco’s comics, and everything in between. Cisco spent a few minutes marvelling at it before turning to the bed and smiling at the sheer number of decorative pillows piled on top of it. “Hartley, why would we ever need this many pillows?” he asked.

“For this.” Hartley didn’t hesitate before launching himself at the bed, directly in the middle of the pillows. A few flew off the bed, one falling at Cisco’s feet.

Cisco couldn’t hold back a laugh as he picked it up. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?” He tossed the pillow at Hartley’s face.

“Hey, watch the glasses!” Hartley exclaimed.

There was a look on Cisco’s face. He walked over to the bed and climbed up so that he was sitting on top of Hartley’s legs, looking down at him. “Yeah?” he murmured. He reached for Hartley’s glasses and pulled them off gently, placing them on the bedside table. “I’d prefer to watch you .”

Hartley’s breathing hitched. “Uh-huh?” he asked.

Cisco leaned down in a swift, fluid movement and covered Hartley’s lips with his own. “This bed is really nice,” he whispered.

“Good, I spent a fuckton on this mattress.”

Giggling, Cisco kissed him again. “Don’t ruin the mood .

“Was I?” Hartley asked innocently. He bit his lip and stared up at Cisco, blinking slowly.

“Like what you see?” Cisco inquired.

“I can’t tell, you’re fucking blurry,” Hartley said bluntly. “Because you took my goddamn glasses off. Idiot.”

“Smartass,” Cisco retorted. He pressed down against Hartley’s body, prompting a soft whimper. “Let’s make this bed really ours, hmm?”

“Sounds...sounds good.” Hartley reached up and pulled Cisco down hard. “Welcome home,” he breathed.

Not a single one of the pillows was left on the bed soon enough. They were scattered all across the floor, keeping company with discarded clothing, an empty chip bag, and an action figure. After the two were quite sure that they had claimed the bed as their own, they spent a while just clinging to each other on top of smooth blue sheets with soft promises of home and forever.

Chapter Text

“Top and Mirror Master’s gang must have gotten hold of some really high tech weapons,” Hartley grimaced. “Either they stole it from a lab or the military, or they've got a techie to build their stuff for them. Either way, not good--ow!”

“Sorry!” Cisco said quickly. He pulled away from the wound on Hartley’s arm. It was a thin stripe of torn and burnt flesh, about three quarters of an inch wide and five or six inches long. “Was it some kind of laser?”

“Yeah, must have been. Felt like I got sliced by a lightsaber, but they were coming from some woman’s hands. Like my gauntlets, but they shot light, not sound--ow!” he cried. “Shit, Cisco!”

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry!” Cisco groaned. “I'm trying to not make it hurt worse, I promise, but you're bleeding, and the wound can't get caught on anything or stretched. Or it'll tear, and burst a vein. And then where would we be? So I have to stitch it up.”

Hartley turned his face away so he didn't have to look at what Cisco was doing. Cisco had gotten much better at the medical aspect of this life, since it was just the two of them and they didn't have an actual doctor to rely on. And the facility that Hartley had put together underneath the house, complete with a fully stocked medbay, didn't hurt. It was kind of amazing, really, how much of a difference a good lair had on their operation. They had a better lab and workshop, so they weren't trying to build things in a tiny apartment’s living room anymore. And now they were able to afford an actual computer system as opposed to using Cisco’s laptop. The odds were still stacked against them, but they had evened it out just a little.

“Ouch!” Hartley yelped, trying and failing not to flinch away from Cisco. That just pulled on the thread and made him cry out again, though. “Are you almost done?” he snapped.

Cisco remained calm. “Almost done,” he assured. “Just hold still for another minute, and then you can have a bit of a break. You're doing great.”

Hartley bit back another cry and just whimpered miserably. Cisco took a second to kiss the top of his head and then made the last few stitches. “Why do you put up with me?” muttered Hartley. The stitches burned and itched and he squirmed uncomfortably.

“Easy, stay still.” Cisco was applying an opaque cream to the wound. “This should help. Just stay still, Hart. You're fine.”

“I'm serious, why do you put up with me?” Hartley pressed. “I get hurt and I snap at you, I'm…”

“You're hurt,” Cisco replied. “And you snap because you're in pain. It's okay. You're not hurting me when you lash out like that. And you weren't bad at all today. Don't worry about it.” He put away the medical supplies and set to analyzing the sample he had taken from the wound. If it really was a laser, there wouldn't be any particulates left over, but it might have been something else. “You got pretty close to Top and Mirror Master today,” he reminded Hartley as the test ran.

“Not close enough. Cisco, taking them down is going to be damn near impossible, especially now that they're sending their super-strength goons to do their dirty work, and whatever did this.” Hartley pressed the palm of his hand against his injury roughly, making himself wince and grit his teeth with pain on purpose.

Cisco reached out quickly. “Don't do that,” he said, taking Hartley’s hands. “You'll mess up my pretty stitches, huh? Hart, we're doing the best we can, baby. You have to stop expecting to be able to take down an entire gang of superpowered villains and Rogues.”

“Then what's the fucking point, Cisco?” Hartley demanded.

Patiently, Cisco sat down across from him, still holding his hands. “We've had this conversation before, Hartley. You are doing good, and you're saving people, and that's what you should be focusing on. Alright?”

“Alright,” Hartley agreed. “Okay. I'll...try to stay positive.”

“Hey.” Cisco smiled at him warmly, holding his face between his hands. “I love you,” he said softly.

“I love you, too.” Hartley closed his eyes. “Check the scanner. I can hear it beeping from the other room.”

“Yeah, I'll check it.” Cisco kissed Hartley quickly and headed into the room with the computers, treading across the shiny metal floor. “Um...Hartley, there's a shooting at a...a health clinic downtown. You need to go back out, now!”

Hartley was already pulling his gauntlets back on. “The one on Twelfth and Holmeson, right?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“A hunch. It's the Planned Parenthood.” Hartley was already getting into the elevator to the garage, where their ‘crime car’ was. “

Cisco jogged after him, shifting his feet. “I want to come with you. Help,” Cisco said. “I want to help.”

Hartley hesitated in the doorway of the elevator. “Well, get in, then,” he said finally. “Grab some stuff.”

“Wh--Really?” Cisco exclaimed. “I can come?!”

“I'm not the boss of you. Just hurry! We haven't got all day.”

Cisco rushed and grabbed a mask and a pulse gun he had built. “Let's freaking go!” he said delightedly, hopping into the elevator.

“Cisco. There's a shooting at a health clinic. Should you really be grinning ?” They were climbing into the car, on their way.

“Hart, I haven't been in the field in years with these babies,” Cisco said, holding his prosthetics up. “I'm excited.”

The car was zooming down the empty street. “Estimated arrival, two minutes thirty seconds,” Hartley said. “I can knock the thirty seconds off if I drive reckless and with no regard for the rules of the road.”

“Fucking go for it.”

One minute and forty-nine seconds later, Hartley leapt out of the car sending out a pulse of sound that would jam most conventional firearms. There were screams inside the clinic, cursing and shouting. One window had been shot and shattered. Loud sirens came from a distance--the police were on their way.

Cisco was the first one inside the clinic, assessing the situation. There were about a dozen people in the lobby. Two people had been shot. They were bleeding on the ground, and Cisco was going to go to them when he saw that another person, a young woman with short purple hair, had a knife pressed to her throat by a man in a ski mask. “Hey,” Cisco said quickly. “You don’t want to do this, okay?”

“The gun won’t work!” a second man shouted to the first.

Cisco took a small step forward. “Your guns have been jammed,” he told them, softly, not threatening. “You can’t get out of this with violence. Put the knife down, let the woman go.” Why isn’t Hartley inside yet?

“Who are you?” the second man demanded, but Cisco wasn’t paying much attention to him. After all, his gun was useless. He couldn’t do anything.

“Come on, man.” Cisco kept a good grip on his pulse gun, not wanting to pull it out and frighten the man into hurting the woman. “Just let her go, okay?”

The man shifted his feet. At that exact moment, three things happened at once. The woman kicked up and back, driving her heel into the man’s crotch. She twisted out of his grip. Hartley came crashing through the door. And the second man, who Cisco had ignored, sprang forward with a knife. That knife found its mark in Cisco’s upper back, near his right shoulder blade.

For a second, everything was in slow motion. Cisco could barely feel the blade, and thought for a second that the body armor he had donned as a precaution had stopped it completely. But then he felt the pain, sharp and all-consuming, and he fell to his knees with a shout.

A couple of piercing emissions from Hartley’s gauntlets, and the two men were incapacitated. Cisco panted, unable to move with the knife in his shoulder, expecting Hartley to come to him. But there was no worried voice, no gentle hands on his back, and Cisco tried to look around.

Hartley was facing off with the woman who had just had a knife to her throat. Both of their hands were up in a defensive position, and they were staring at each other. “You’re the one I fought earlier today,” Hartley said.

“Piper,” the woman said coolly. “I thought my lights had taken you down. You disappeared.”

“Just a scratch. What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

Hartley frowned. “Stopping those gunmen.”

“I had it under control,” the woman dismissed. “Even if I wasn’t expecting to be attacked at my doctor’s appointment.”

“You were going to try and stop them, too? But you...you’re a…”

“What, I’m a Rogue? Just because I like to steal shit doesn’t mean I’m not going to stop murdering, misogynistic assholes who think it’s okay to shoot a health clinic just because people can get an abortion here.”

“Har--Piper!” Cisco managed to cry. “Piper, I need some help here, and so do these other people. And the police are almost here.” The sirens were much louder.

Both Hartley and the woman broke away from their stand-off. “Truce?” Hartley asked her swiftly.

“We’re on the same side. For now.”

Hartley knelt down by Cisco as the woman went over to the two gunshot victims. Some of the doctors at the clinic had already begun looking after them, and one of them rushed to Hartley and Cisco. “Can I take a look?” she asked Cisco. “I’m a doctor, I can try to help.”

“I…” Cisco was breathing shallowly from the pain. “Thanks, ma’am, but my partner and I need to get out of here b-before the police--”

“I understand. Do you have someone to help you? I could come with you.”

Cisco looked at her curiously. She seemed in earnest. “You’d do that? You don’t know us,” he managed. “For all you know--”

“You saved us,” she said simply. “Please, let me help you.”

“Alright.” Cisco glanced up at Hartley, checking that it was okay. He just nodded, deep worry in his eyes. “We need to get out of here,” he said again. He could feel a bit of shock setting in. “N-now.”

Hartley lifted him to his feet. “Let’s go,” he said. He cast a glance back at the woman he had spoken to. “I’ll deal with her later,’ he added in a mutter.

The doctor hurried along after them, out of the clinic and into their car. “Do you have a base of operations?” she asked, kneeling next to Cisco in the back of the car. She hadn’t removed the knife. Doing so could cause more damage and worse bleeding if she didn’t figure out exactly what she was dealing with first.

“Yes, we do,” Hartley said tightly. “And I’m going to need you to not pay attention to where we’re going, Dr…?”

“Goodwin. Dr. Salabha Goodwin. I won’t ask your names unless you want me to, and I promise I won’t pay attention to where we are. I swear, I just want to help you.” She was pressing gently around the knife wound. “Sir, I’m going to need to cut some of your clothes away, if that’s alright.”

“It’s fine,” Cisco gasped. It really hurt. “Thank you.”

Salabha pulled a pair of trauma shears out from a bag around her waist, slicing away Cisco’s shirt and making a sound of relief as she saw the body armor underneath. “The injury probably isn’t nearly as bad as it could be,” she told him. “But it’s going to be hard to cut through this. I’m going to try, though, and I’m only going to cut from the top down to the knife. We’ll pull it off after that.”

“Can it wait a minute until we’re at our base?” Hartley called. “We’re nearly there.”

“Do you have any sort of a medical facility?” Salabha asked.

“Yeah. It should be enough. Is he going to be okay?” asked Hartley, a note of concern entering his otherwise professional voice.

“I don’t know, but I think so,” Salabha said honestly. “I won’t know how extensive the injury is until I can take a better look at it.”

Cisco could barely breathe. Every breath he took sent a deep, fierce pain shooting through his shoulder and back. He was pretty sure that the knife had taken a slice off his bone. He found his vision starting to go blurry, some dark spots dancing in front of his eyes, and lost track of reality.

When he snapped back to himself, he was lying on his stomach on the low metal table in their medbay. They had gotten the armor off him, and Hartley was talking to him quietly. “Hey, hey. Vibe, are you okay?”

“Don’t...I don’t care if she knows my name, just d-don’t call me that,” Cisco begged. “What’s she going to do with my name, anyway? Nobody knows who I am.”

“Vibe?” Salabha asked. “But I thought he--”

“Cisco,” Hartley interrupted. “His name is Cisco. Cisco, hey, Cisco, we’re going to give you something for the pain and shock, and then we’re going to get the knife out of you. It’s not too bad, but it hit your shoulder blade and stopped. It probably nicked the bone, and it’s going to hurt.”

“Okay.” Cisco closed his eyes, feeling the pinch of a needle in his arm. The drugs soothed the pain to a bearable sharp ache, and he could feel his heart rate and breathing slow. “It’s a bit better,” he mumbled.

“Alright, Cisco, you’re doing great,” Salabha said. “You might want to hold onto your friend’s hand while I take the knife out--”

“Husband. He’s my husband,” Cisco made sure she knew.

“Hold onto your husband’s hand,” she corrected herself smoothly. “It’s going to hurt, I’m sorry.”

Hartley had already taken Cisco’s hand, squeezing the metal fingers tightly, but Cisco shook his head quickly. “Not going to help,” he said. “Not going to help, not there, Hart, I can’t… can’t feel it there, remember, I can’t…”

“Oh, of course. Sorry, here.” Hartley buried one hand in Cisco’s hair, and held onto his shoulder with the other. “There. Better?”

Cisco focused with all his mind on the touch, blocking out the knife. “I’m good,” he whispered. “I’m...Go for it.”

And then there was an agonizing, wrenching, tearing sensation in his shoulder, and he screamed until the world went silent.

Chapter Text

Salabha was gone. She had needed to go to the police station to make her statement about the attack, though she had promised Hartley that she wouldn't tell them anything about Team Piper. “I'll extend doctor/patient confidentiality to you,” she told him before she left.

Hartley had removed Cisco’s prosthetics to charge them and then sat next to him, waiting for him to wake up. He felt exhausted, wishing that they could just have a normal life, where they didn't have to worry about getting stabbed .

I don't want him to go back out again, Hartley found himself thinking. I don't want either of us to have to do this anymore.

But they were the only ones who could protect Central City. It was their responsibility .

God, Hartley hated knowing that something was his responsibility.

“Why am I going to have to take over the company when I grow up?” he had asked, innocently as only a young child could. “It sounds so boring. I want to build robots, Mother!”

“It’s your responsibility, Hartley.” And that was all there was to it.

It was past midnight, and the combination of drugs and pain had kept Cisco under for almost three hours before he finally woke up. “Hart…?”

“Hey, hey,” Hartley replied quickly. “Hey, you’re okay. You’re fine.”

“Oh...I was...pretty stupid out there,” Cisco mumbled.

“Yeah, a little bit. You’re just out of practice.” Hartley tried to keep his anger out of his voice, because Cisco didn’t need that stress right now. It was difficult, though. He was angry. Cisco should have been more careful.

“No,” Cisco said. “I fucked up. I didn’t...wasn’t paying attention to everyone, and...I didn’t notice that he had a knife. And you’re mad, and that’s okay. I deserve it.”

The anger melted away. “No, Cisco. You don’t deserve any of this.” Hartley reached out and stroked his hand down Cisco’s back, carefully avoiding the large gauze patch covering the stitched-up stab wound. “I should have gotten into the building sooner. I should have gone first. And to be honest, I shouldn’t have let you go out in the field with me.”

“It was my decision--”

“And if I had said no, you would have stayed here. No, you weren’t ready,” Hartley sighed.

“I know.” Cisco’s voice was thick with tears, and he rolled his head to the side to look at Hartley. “I won’t do it again.”

Ignoring him, Hartley continued, “You weren’t ready yet . We have a lot to work on before next time, but we’ll get there.”

Cisco blinked, pushing one tear out of his eye. It started rolling down his cheek as he asked, “You mean…?”

“Vibe and Pied Piper are going to have a real teamup,” Hartley said, wiping the tear away. “But hopefully with less stabbing, okay?”

“Only if you stop calling me Vibe,” Cisco said, a soft laugh behind his voice.

“We’ll find a different name, then. It’ll be great. But you’ve got to get better before we start any sort of training, so let’s get you into a bed.”

As Cisco carefully stood up, letting Hartley take most of his weight, he asked, “How bad was it?”

“It wasn’t great,” Hartley admitted. “It did chip your shoulder blade, and Salabha had to remove the piece of bone. But she said it should heal pretty well, and only leave a small scar.”

“Cool,” Cisco mumbled, eyes drifting shut as he stood in the elevator. “Dudes dig scars, right?”

Hartley snorted. “Cisco, love, you’re beautiful no matter how few or how many scars you have,” he said affectionately.

“I’ve already got quite a few.”

“I know, dear. I’m well acquainted with your body.”

“I’m on some pain meds, aren’t I?’ Cisco wondered.

“Yep. Believe me, you’re grateful for that.” Hartley led him slowly down the hallway and into the bedroom, laying him down on his left side and propping him up on several pillows so he wouldn’t roll onto his injury. “Will you be okay if I don’t stay right here? I have some work to do, but I’ll leave your phone right there and you can tell it to call me if you need me. Remember, your number is patched directly into my aids, so I’ll answer right away. I won’t be far.”

“That’s fine, I guess.” Cisco blinked at him with big, sad eyes. “Stay until I fall asleep?”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Hartley sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked Cisco’s hair until his eyes closed and his breathing slowed. “Sleep well, dearest one.” He stood up quietly and left the bedroom for the cold, metal lair. As comfortable as he had tried to make it, the Hideout, as Cisco called it, was still undeniably a functional vigilante base and laboratory, and it wasn’t very home-like.

He should still be able to tap into his Vibe senses, Hartley mused, not for the first time. He got out his notes, hidden in a nondescript folder in his desk, an L-shaped piece of furniture that protruded from the wall and offered a little rectangle of privacy. It was his own space--he didn't poke through Cisco’s personal desk, and Cisco didn't poke through his. So that's where he kept the notes on Vibe, because he didn't want Cisco to know what he was researching.

Subject claims to be unable to use his dimensional vibration powers at all, though his DNA remains unchanged.

Though the loss of his hands may well have provided an obstacle against the vibrational blasts that Subject could once shoot from his palms, there should not have been any interference with Subject's visions, or Vibes, in which he may touch something (though often, tactile contact is unnecessary) and catch a glimpse of something in the past, present, or future. He can still touch objects with other areas of his body, and the non-tactile induced visions should still be happening just as frequently. There is no biological reason why Subject is unable to use his powers.

Conclusion: Subject’s block from his powers is mental, not somatic: psychological, not physical. Severe traumatic events and major depressive episodes severed the mental connections Subject had with these powers, and there is no guarantee or tested way to help him regain that connection. If Subject is afraid to use his powers, it is easier for him to believe that he simply cannot--that way, there is no temptation. It's possible that the only way to help Subject regain his powers is to make him aware of that fear and embrace it. But that may cause more harm than good if the reason Subject doesn't want to be able to use his powers is rooted in his PTSD, as I suspect.

How to proceed:

And that was all he had, other than some sketches and equations. Hartley read over the notes again and again, feeling his gut clench at the use of the word Subject . It was the only way he knew how to make this bearable--if he didn’t separate Vibe from his Cisco, he wouldn’t be able to remain objective. And to help Cisco, he needed to be the objective scientist. Questions, hypotheses, experiments, and conclusions...that was what he knew how to do. Sure, he had gotten better at interacting with people on a personal level, but he was still a scientist, a physicist, an engineer.

With a sigh, Hartley slid the folder back into the drawer and looked up at the computer screen in front of him. His heart skipped a beat. “What the--?!”

The video feed from a security camera just a few blocks away from their house was showing a violent struggle in the alley next to a convenience store. There were five people on the screen. Three of them were men, and seemed to be attacking a young girl. But Hartley had looked up just in time to see another person leap into frame. There was a bright burst of light, and the person looked up at the camera right before it shorted out, leaving a patch of static on the monitor.

That’s the woman I fought...and from the clinic!

Hartley scrambled to his feet and donned his Piper costume as he rushed to the elevator and out the door. He didn’t bother with the car--it was only a couple blocks away, so he just ran.

Making like the Flash , he thought to himself, a bitter joke he would never say out loud.

He found his way to the top of the building next to the alley and peered over the edge uncomfortably. He didn’t like heights. But the view shocked him. The woman was standing over four bodies, breathing heavily like she had been in a fight. Of course, she had been.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked, offering her hand to the girl on the ground. “I didn’t hit you, did I?”

Although she was speaking quietly, Hartley adjusted his hearing aids and could make out every word.

“Did you kill them?!” the girl exclaimed loudly.

Hartley winced and quickly turned the aids back down.

“They probably would have killed you,” the woman said bluntly. “But no. They're alive.”

The girl, only about eighteen, was hyperventilating. She sat up and looked at the woman standing over her, hand still outstretched. “H-how did you do that?” she asked. “The l-light from your h-hands…”

“It’s a long story. Come on, get out of here. Go to the police, to the hospital, or go home. To a friend’s house, even. You shouldn’t be alone after what just happened. Actually, I’ll walk with you.” The woman pulled the younger girl to her feet. “Come on, let’s go.”

I need to talk to this woman , Hartley decided. He tracked them, quite a ways behind and never letting them see or hear him. After what she had done to those three men (deservedly), seeming like a creepy dude who was just following them wouldn’t have been in his best interest. He wasn’t going to hurt them, of course, but he wouldn’t blame them if they thought he was.

The woman got the girl into a house and then headed back down the street. Hartley waited until they were a little ways from any residential areas so he didn’t disturb anyone if he had to use the gauntlets. He hoped he wouldn’t have to, but he had no idea how this confrontation would go.

“I know you’re there, Piper,” the woman called, stopping at the edge of a parking lot behind an abandoned shopping center.

“Shit,” Hartley muttered. He took a deep breath, preparing himself for whatever she might throw at him, and stepped out into the flickering light of a streetlamp that should have had its bulb changed months ago. “And what do I call you?” he asked smoothly.

“You can call me Lumen.”

“Cool name. My husband comes up with better ones, though,” Hartley said conversationally. “You just saved that girl.”

“I did. You didn’t.”

“I was busy, and I didn’t even see that it was happening until you arrived,” replied Hartley. “I try, but I can’t be everywhere at once.”

“No, you can’t be,” agreed Lumen.

Hartley cut to the chase. “How is it that you’re acting as a vigilante and running with the Rogues?” he asked. “They’re contradictory.”

“Not necessarily. Stealing stuff and raping and killing people aren’t on the same level, you know.”

“You just almost killed three people,” Hartley pointed out.

Lumen scoffed. “Those weren’t people. Those were primal animals, evil manifestations of the basest, grossest human nature, and they're lucky I let them live.”

Hartley tilted his head, conceding. “So why do you steal? Got someone you’re giving the money to? Someone you love? Are they sick?”

“Why can’t I just like money?” Lumen asked.

“You just don’t seem like the type of person who would steal without a reason.”

“I’ve got a reason. I like money. But I also have a code. Most crime isn’t actually caused by evil , you know. A lot of the so-called criminals out there, the thieves and the druggies, they’re just coming from impossible circumstances. It’s the terrorists, the rapists, and the corrupt politicians you should be focusing on, Piper, not the kids who steal from ATMs and rich people’s apartments.”

“I came to the clinic, didn’t I?” Hartley shot back. Who was this person to tell him off? “And for your information, I know that most crime isn’t caused by evil. I haven’t just been out fighting thieves. How do you know that I’m not also working to solve the social problems?”

“Yeah, what are you doing?” Lumen said, unimpressed. “You a politician in the daytime? An activist, a public figure, what?”

“It doesn’t matter who I am. But I’m doing everything I can to make sure the city becomes a better place. You want to do the same thing,” Hartley added. He could hardly believe that the next words were coming out of his mouth, but he found himself saying, “Why don’t you join me?”

“What, like a partnership? Sorry, sweetheart, not interested. In any of you.” She glanced him up and down. “You’re not really my type.”

Hartley raised his eyebrows. “Believe me, you’re not my type, either. That was...definitely not what I was suggesting.” He almost shuddered. “I literally just mean joining me in this. We could be on the same side. I want to take down the patriarchy, rape culture, and heteronormativity too. Come on, sound and light. You’d make a good addition to our team.”

“You mean you and your partner who came out yesterday for the first time and got himself stabbed?”

“He’ll be fine.”

“Some team. Can’t even protect each other. No, I think I’ll stay where I am.”

“With Top and Mirror Master? You do realize that they’re terrorists, too, right?”

“I’m not actually working with them. I was helping a friend who got into a bit of trouble with their gang. She owed them money. I ran with them for one job to pay off her debt.” Lumen shrugged and started to walk away. “But thanks for the offer, Pipes. See you around.”

Hartley started after her, intending to chase her down and keep trying to convince her. She wasn’t the kind of person Hartley wanted to be on opposite sides with. “Wait--”

She spun around and shot a thin blast of bright purple light at Hartley. It scorched through his cloak and hit him in the side. Although it barely brushed against his skin, he could feel it burning, and he let out a cry, pressing his hands over it. “That was a warning. Don’t follow me,” Lumen ordered, and headed off into the darkness.

He didn’t follow her again. He turned the opposite direction and headed home, not taking his hands away from the new wound. It seemed to hurt less when he pushed on it, though he knew that was ridiculous. It just hurt.

Back in the house, Hartley didn’t really want to go down to the hideout to take care of his injury. He also didn’t want to do it by himself, and Cisco was presumably still asleep. But he gritted his teeth and went down, discarding his cloak and shirt and taking a look at the burn over his lowest rib. “Oh, fuck,” he muttered. It was red and blistered, and the concentrated heat had split the skin just like before, under the gauze on his arm. “That fucking hurts.”

He cleaned it up, cursing all the while, and was just finishing applying another gauze patch when his hearing aids gave a familiar pattern of beeping.

“Hey, Cisco,” he answered the call. “You okay, love?”

“I’m...uh...what’s goin’ on?” Cisco mumbled. “My shoulder hurts.”

“Oh, I know, dear. I’ll be up in a minute with some more medicine, okay?” Hartley said.

“Mm...okay. Where ‘re you?”

“I’m just downstairs, Cisco. You’re alright, okay? I’ll be with you in just a moment.” Hartley headed upstairs.

“Hartley,” Cisco said.

“Hey, I’m here. I’m here.” Hartley came into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. Cisco was still lying on his side, blinking sleepily. “Hey, lovely. How are you feeling?”

“I’m...okay.” Cisco examined Hartley’s bare torso, looking concerned. “This...this is new,” he said, looking at the gauze on his side.

“It’s fine, love. I’m fine. It was just a scratch.” Hartley tucked a strand of Cisco’s hair behind his ear.

“You went out without me there,” Cisco stated.

“I wasn’t going to, but I saw Lumen. The woman who shot the sort-of lasers. That’s how I got this. But it’s okay, it’s not bad. She wasn’t aiming to kill me or anything, she just wanted me to leave her alone. She’s not actually that bad. I don’t understand her fully yet, but she’s not evil. She protected the people at the clinic, and she saved a kid tonight. I don’t know, she’s… something.”

“Hmmm. That’s interesting.” Cisco shifted slightly and gasped in pain. “Oh! That wasn’t smart.”

Worried, Hartley put a hand on Cisco’s neck and one on his lower back. “Stay still, okay? Here, I’ve got some more pain medication for you, and something to drink.”

Cisco swallowed the pill and the sports drink, making a face. “It’s grape. Yuck.”

“Sorry, it’s what we had, and it’s good for keeping your electrolytes balanced. Especially because you won’t eat anything while you’re on these meds.”

“It makes me nauseous,” Cisco protested.

“I know, love.” Hartley yawned. “We should both try to get some sleep, okay?”

“Okay.” Cisco closed his eyes with a sigh. “How am I supposed to get to the point where I can go out there with you?” he asked softly. “Hart, I don't know if I can without my powers.”

“We'll see what we can do about that,” promised Hartley. “If this is something you want, we'll make it work.” His limbs felt heavy and his mind exhausted. Tossing his clothing into the basket in the corner, he slid into bed next to Cisco, the sheets cool against his skin. He had to toss and turn uncomfortably for a while before he found a position that didn't put pressure on any of his injuries, and kept his hand on Cisco’s back. “You good, love?”

“Goodnight, Hartley,” Cisco replied softly. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Hartley shifted and kissed the back of Cisco’s head, then pressed another light kiss against his shoulder, right next to the edge of the bandage.

“Trying to kiss me better?” Cisco teased.

“Oh, absolutely.” Hartley trailed his fingers down Cisco’s back, and Cisco shivered a little. “You'll be okay. You scared me, though, you know that?”

“I'm sorry.”

“It's okay. It's not your fault that I'm an overprotective, anxious person,” Hartley sighed.

“I love you,” Cisco said again.

“I love you, too.” Hartley settled back down and rested his face against the pillows that held Cisco up. “Sleep well, my love.” He closed his eyes and lay there, listening to Cisco’s light breathing for a long time before he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“Close your eyes.”

Cisco forced his anxiety away and let his eyelids drift shut. “Okay,” he replied. “They’re closed.”

“Shhh, try not to talk unless I ask you a question, Cisco. Now, focus on your breathing. You’re going to breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for three, and breathe out for five. I’ll count for you. Breathe in--one, two, three, four. Hold--one, two, three. Breath out--one, two, three, four, five. And again, in--one, two, three, four…”

The rhythmic breathing and Hartley’s calm voice drew him into a focused and relaxed state. It was more like meditation than hypnotization, but according to Hartley, they were going to try and find Cisco’s powers again.

“They’re in there somewhere,” Hartley had told him. “And we’ll be able to coax them out. I’m sure of it.”

“I’m not,” Cisco had muttered in response, but had agreed to try. So here they were, sitting on the ground in a darkened room without any distractions.

“...out, one, two, three, four, five. Now, keep breathing, in whatever pattern feels most comfortable to you. I’m going to stop counting now, but you’re going to keep your eyes closed. Don’t let anything reach you except my voice. Ignore the fears that this isn’t going to work; if they come into your mind, don’t fight them, just let them slip away again. Are you doing that?”

“Yes,” Cisco said after a second, remembering that he could answer if Hartley asked him a question.

“Good. You’re going to find yourself falling deeper in a moment, but don’t be afraid. You’re not falling anywhere I can’t reach you. It’s getting darker, and my voice is getting further away, but you’re still safe. Nothing bad can happen to you here.” It did sound like Hartley’s voice was coming from a distance. “You’re somewhere else now, Cisco. You’re going to open your eyes inside your mind, and you’re going to be somewhere else. Remember, don’t be afraid. I can still reach you, even if you can’t see me. So open your eyes.”

Cisco opened his imagined eyes, though he kept the physical ones closed. The light was bright here, and he recognized it instantly. His breathing quickened.

“Stay calm,” Hartley said. “Remember, I’m here with you. Where are you, Cisco?”

“I’m in STAR Labs,” Cisco replied. He looked around the Cortex. It wasn’t filled with debris and covered with white plastic sheets like it was now. Instead, scientific instruments and computers covered the surfaces. Against the wall were the display cases. Barry’s suit, Wally’s suit, and his own suit were all there, and there were empty cases for Jay, Jesse, and Oliver for when they visited.

A bit of laughter echoed out from the next room. Cisco flinched as he recognized the voices.

“What is it?” Hartley asked softly.

“I can hear Barry and Caitlin,” Cisco responded. “They're laughing.”

“Don't go looking for them,” Hartley instructed.

But Cisco wanted to go to them, to his friends from whom he hadn't heard laughter in so long. He cast a longing glance in their direction, but didn't move towards them.

“Are Vibe’s glasses there, or his suit?” asked Hartley.

“Yeah, they’re in the case.”

“Go to them.”

Cisco walked over to the cases, lingering over the Flash and Kid Flash suits before stopping in front of Vibe’s. The quilted leather jacket and dark red pants hung on the mannequin, lifeless. His gloves and glasses were there as well.

“Can you open the case?” Hartley asked.

“Yeah.” Cisco didn’t touch the glass, but it was already open. Everything moved here like a dream. He reached for the glasses and realized suddenly that his hands were flesh and bone, not prosthetics. He gasped sharply and pulled back.

“Cisco? Cisco, it’s alright. You’re safe, remember? What’s happening?”

“Nothing,” Cisco whispered. “My hands…they’re not my prosthetics…”

“It’s not surprising that you have your hands in this world in your mind. That’s alright, it’s fine. Take the glasses down, alright? Just hold them, don’t put them on.”

Trembling, Cisco put his fingers against the side of the glasses and took them off the clear mannequin. He cradled the object in his hands like it was some sort of small, fragile animal. Like a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, and might break if he held it too tightly.

“It’s alright, just breathe,” Hartley murmured. “Just breathe, stay calm. Nothing bad can happen to you here. Do you have them?”

“I’m holding them.”

“Focus on what it felt like to tap into the dimensional vibrations. Keep your mind there. Remember yourself as Vibe. You are entirely capable of doing this, and the whole of the multiverse is available to you, within your reach. Focus on that, and put on the glasses.” Hartley didn’t vary his tone, keeping it low and soothing.

Cisco raised his hands to his face and slipped the glasses on.

Instantly, he felt himself being transported somewhere against his will. He cried out. The forest was cold and dark, and she was there, in front of him. He threw his arms up in protection but it was too late, too late, and the ice was coming towards him too fast, and he couldn’t fight back because that’s Caitlin . The ice hit him and the pain came rushing back as he brought his ice-solid hands up to look at in horror. The sound of his own hands shattering into a million pieces was worse than the pain, worse than anything, and he screamed and screamed--

“Cisco, come back! Cisco, come back to me, it’s alright! You’re safe, you’re safe, it’s alright!” Hartley was exclaiming.

The end of a scream clung to his lips as he opened his eyes. Breathing heavily, Cisco took in the dimly lit room and the sight of Hartley kneeling right in front of him, not touching him. “Hart--”

“You’re back, you’re safe,” Hartley continued. “You’re here with me now. Wherever you went, you aren’t there anymore. See, I told you I can reach you to pull you back, no matter where you are. Cisco, just breathe.”

Cisco buried his face in the soft fabric of his gloves. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen, Cisco, I’m sorry,” Hartley apologized, regret in every syllable. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” It wasn’t anything he hadn’t already re-lived a thousand times in nightmares, anyway. “It wasn’t y-your fault.” He let out a sudden sob into his gloves, still trembling.

“Oh...oh, no, no, hey...Come here, okay? Can I touch you, is that okay?”

He nodded with another sob, shoulders shaking. That made his healing stab wound ache, and he whimpered.

Hartley put his arms around Cisco’s waist and tugged him to be sitting almost in his lap. “I’ve got you,” he murmured. “You’re safe, Cisco. Shhh, shhh, you’re safe.”

“I wanted it to work,” Cisco said plaintively. “I was r-really trying to make it work.”

“I know, I know. It’s okay, my love, it’s alright, I promise. I wasn’t expecting it to work the first time we tried it.”

“I don’t know if I want to try again,” Cisco admitted.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s alright, everything is fine. Shh, shhh, just breathe. Just breathe, there you go.”

The scent of lavender on Hartley’s shirt kept Cisco grounded as he tried to calm down. “Hold me tighter,” he pleaded, and Hartley obliged, squeezing him so tightly that it almost hurt.

“I’m not letting go,” Hartley told him. “It’s alright. Cisco, what did you see? You don’t have to talk about it, but if you can--”

“I was back in the forest,” Cisco answered. “I was fighting her again.”

Hartley just nodded. Cisco had endured that nightmare enough times that Hartley had seen it more than once. “I’ve got you,” was all he said, and for a while they just stayed there in silence.

Eventually, Cisco disentangled himself from Hartley and stood up, kissing the top of his head before leaving the room without a word. Hartley let him go--he knew that if Cisco went off by himself, he needed to.

Cisco appreciated that. He wandered off to the front of the house, intending to leave and go for a walk to clear his head. But when he opened the front door, he saw something he didn't expect.

“Oh!” exclaimed a woman, who had been pacing a few yards from the threshold. “Oh, um--”

“What are you doing at this house?” Cisco growled, instantly on high alert. This was the woman who had been there at the clinic during the shooting, the one who had hit Hartley with the laser blasts. Lumen, he had called her.

“I…” Guarded, she crossed her arms and stood up straight, trying to appear larger and more in control. There was fear behind her eyes, though, and she looked rather like someone who was hiding from something. “Where is the Pied Piper?”

“The vigilante doesn't live here,” Cisco replied. “Go away.” He was preparing to close the door.

“Wait!” she exclaimed, almost desperately. She changed instantly to a more self-assured, posturing tone--hiding again. “I know that he's here. You're not fooling me. Now, don't worry, I'm not going to hurt him. I just want to talk.”

Cisco stared. “Right,” he said finally.  “Let's say, hypothetically, Piper was here. What would you want to talk to him about?”

“A deal,” she answered. “I want to work with him to take down Top and Mirror Master.”

“In exchange for?”

She sighed. “His help in taking down Top and Mirror Master. That's all.”

“Why?”

“Because they want me dead,” Lumen said matter-of-factly. “Can I come inside now? The longer I'm out here, the bigger chance that they find me.”

“How do I know this isn't a trick?” demanded Cisco.

“Because it's not. Look, your husband asked--yes, I know you're his husband, he talks about you a lot, even during a fight--he asked me to join your little team here. I turned him down then, and I'm taking him up on his offer now. Just temporarily. Until I'm safe.” Lumen glanced over her shoulder nervously.

Cisco had to say, she seemed pretty genuine. Sure, she was being standoffish, but he could tell that she was genuinely scared. “Alright,” he said eventually. “Come inside, but no weapons. Absolutely none.”

“I…” Lumen reached into her pockets and pulled them inside out, taking out a bottle of pepper spray and a small knife. She put them on the table in the foyer as Cisco shut the door behind them. “The only weapons I have,” she told him. “At least, the only ones I can take out.”

“What does that mean?”

Lumen held up her bare hands, palms facing each other. After a second, a bright beam of light bounced from the fingertips of her right hand onto the palm of her left, and was reabsorbed. She winced as she did so, like it pained her. “It means that without cutting my hands off, I can't get rid of my real weapon.”

Cisco raised his eyebrows and wiggled his prosthetic fingers. “In this household, we take our hands off, too,” he said seriously.

Lumen looked alarmed, and stumbled over a few words before Cisco interrupted.

“I'm joking. That's just me. Sit down, I'll get him. Don't touch anything, don't laser anything. Don't look at anything, for that matter, and if I notice you doing anything suspicious, well...there are more weapons in this house than a pocket knife and some pepper spray,” Cisco warned.

Lumen sat down carefully on the edge of a chair in the living room. “I won't.”

Still amused by his own joke, Cisco stepped into the hallway. He kept his eyes on Lumen, pulling out his phone. He called Hartley and waited a second for him to answer.

“Hey, something wrong? Should I come find you?” Hartley asked immediately.

“All’s well, my love, but we have a visitor,” Cisco replied, quietly, so Lumen didn’t hear. “Come up to the house. She’s in the living room.”

“Who is?” There was a shuffling noise, like Hartley was putting away some papers, and a drawer closed.

“Well, apparently you offered her a position on our team. So I figured you’d know who it was.” Cisco couldn’t help it if a note of irritation found its way into his voice.

“Oh. I’ll be right there.” The tapping against the mic that always preceded Hartley hanging up a call made Cisco wince away from his phone. He shoved it deep into his pocket, tapping his foot anxiously.

A minute later, Hartley came down the hall. Cisco fell into step behind him without a word. “Lumen,” Hartley said. “What can I do for you?” He used a calm, detached, polite voice that vaguely sounded like a rich businessman greeting a potential partner that he didn’t really like, but could improve the production margin by half. Cisco caught a sudden, unnerving glimpse of who Hartley could have been if he had actually inherited his father’s company. He didn’t like it at all.

Lumen raised her head. “Do you still want my help in taking down Top and Mirror Master?” she asked.

“...I think we can come to some sort of agreement,” said Hartley.

Chapter Text

“So, how did you get your powers?” Hartley wondered. He was sitting on the ground, breathing heavily after a bit of training with Lumen. She leaned against the wall.

“Same as most of us. Particle accelerator explosion.” She made a bright purple light dance across her fingertips before extinguishing it against the wall. The scorch mark was added to several already there. As it turned out, she could reabsorb the light, but it was painful, so she avoided it. “I was, uh, working at a bar at the time. Taking down a neon sign. It shattered all over me when the wave hit, and now I can make these lights.”

“Where have you been all this time?” asked Hartley.

“I tried not to use the powers, and I lived in Opal for a couple years.”

Hartley raised his eyebrows. “Why on Earth would anybody move back to Central City?”

“I didn't have a choice,” Lumen said shortly. “And it's none of your business.”

“What's your real name?” Hartley had been trying to catch her off guard for days. He really wanted to know who she was, and even Cisco hadn't been able to find her in one of the databases he could hack.

She glanced sideways at him. “Nice try, Hartley.”

He sighed. “Fair enough.”

“How about you? Why did you pick up your... gauntlets ?” She said the word like she couldn't believe he would actually call the gloves something so dramatic sounding.

“First of all, that's what they're called . It's the style of glove and wrist guard, it's not like I made it up,” Hartley protested.

She shrugged. “Whatever. Doesn't answer my question.”

“I...well, I was in the particle accelerator explosion as well,” he said reluctantly. “I was actually...one of the protesters.”

“Really?” Lumen said, interested.

Hartley shifted uncomfortably. Was he really going to tell the whole story? “I worked at S.T.A.R Labs. I was fired when I discovered the possibility of a malfunction.” He found himself reaching up to touch his ears. “My hearing got damaged. I built my hearing aids to combat the tinnitus, and the gauntlets to...get revenge on Harrison Wells.”

“A mission of vengeance. Nice.”

“Thanks?” Hartley said sourly.

“No, really. I appreciate a good story. That one was pretty good. What about Cisco?”

With a frown, Hartley asked, “What about him?”

“Well, how exactly do his powers work?” Lumen wondered. “And why did he lose them? I know you've been trying to get them back. You're not as subtle about sneaking off as you think you are. The only reason I didn't figure out what you were doing sooner was because I'd didn't want to follow you and find you banging.”

“If Cisco wants to tell you about it, he'll do it himself. He's been working on making you a suit, by the way. He likes making our outfits. They're usually pretty great, too, I can't wait to see what he's going to deck you out in,” Hartley hinted snidely.

“Wonderful. Do I have to wear it?”

“Absolutely. If you don't, he'll be sad, and then he'll give you this adorably pathetic look and you'll feel like you just kicked a puppy. And then suddenly you'll be putting on the suit just to see him smile again,” said Hartley.

“Speaking from experience?”

“Oh, yeah. It doesn't just apply to supersuits, either.”

“I'm going to choose not to read into that,” Lumen decided. “Ready to get back to training?”

“Sure. And Lumen? We weren't always just working on getting his powers back. You weren't wrong about what you thought we were doing most of the time.”

“Thanks for telling me.”

Chapter Text

Holding a bundle of fabric, Cisco rushed after Lumen as she walked down the hallway to the room she was staying in. “Hey, Lumen, wait up,” he called.

She turned. “What is it, Cisco?”

“I made you something.” Hopeful, Cisco held out the bundle.

Lumen took it hesitantly and let it unroll. It was made of black leather, loose enough that it was comfortable but not so it would get in the way of movement. The interior of the suit was lined with a soft cloth. The sleeves of the top cut off at about the elbows, and a pair of gloves fell to the floor. Lumen leaned over to pick them up. They were black as well, and the palms and fingertips were open. The suit was accented in a bright, dark purple. A large purple symbol was displayed across the chest. Lumen was looking at in confusion. “What is it? Some kind of...X?”

“Sort of. Look, see, it’s a Roman numeral 10. Because neon is 10 on the periodic table. I figured it was vague enough, but also it looks cool. Do you like it?” Cisco said eagerly. “It’s a sort of protective armor. It probably wouldn’t stop a bullet, but it’s designed to protect you from Hartley’s sound waves if you accidentally get in their way. It also can absorb your lights if you don’t have anywhere else to throw them, so they don’t hurt your hands.”

She traced her fingers over the symbol. Cisco waited anxiously for the verdict. He had worked pretty hard on the suit, and was very proud of it. He hadn’t made a supersuit in...well, a long time. And the Roman numeral had been Hartley’s idea. Cisco had been lamenting the fact that he couldn’t think of a cool symbol for Lumen like the Flash’s lightning bolt, or Hartley’s music note (which Hartley didn’t like much, but Cisco did), or his own interlocking circles. And then Hartley had mentioned that Lumen had gotten her powers from a neon sign, and everything just sort of clicked.

“It’s nice,” she said eventually. “Thanks.”

Cisco beamed. He’d take it. “Want to try it on?”

“Maybe later.” She turned and started to walk away. “I’ve got an errand to run.”

“Oh. Okay. Are you sure you don’t want one of us to go? I mean, if Top and Mirror are looking for you, you really shouldn’t be going outside…”

“Cisco, I do have a life. I have people on the outside, people I need to see. People worth putting myself in danger for.” She shrugged. “Besides, I'm good at disguising myself.”

“Okay, well...be safe.”

Lumen paused. “Thanks,” she said. “I'll try.” And then she left.

Cisco headed off to find Hartley, wanting to tell him about the suit. He hadn't shown it to him yet, because he hadn't wanted to jinx it in case Lumen hated it and he had to start over, but he felt confident enough to show Hartley the design now. “Hey, you,” he greeted as he approached Hartley’s desk.

“Hey,” Hartley said absently.

“I gave Lumen her suit.”

“Uh-huh.”

Cisco sighed. Hartley was clearly very focused on his work. “So listen, I also invited all the Legends to stay here for a week.”

“Mmhmm.”

“And I ate your entire stash of chocolate.”

“Okay.”

Rolling his eyes, Cisco continued, “Also, I adopted four cats.”

Hartley looked up. “Huh?”

“There he is! I'll start over. Hey, you. I gave Lumen her suit.”

Hartley eyed him suspiciously. “Did you say something about cats?”

“Oh...nothing,” Cisco dismissed. “I was just trying to see if you were paying any attention to me at all.”

“Um, no, I wasn't. Sorry.” Hartley shoved the papers back into his desk, adjusted his hearing aids, folded his hands, and looked up at Cisco. “There. You have my undivided attention, and I can actually hear you.”

“Why were your aids turned down in the first place?” Cisco wondered.

“I've got a headache. It's fine, though. So, you gave Lumen her suit. Does that mean I can finally see it?” Hartley asked.

“Well, she has it right now, but I can show you the designs and the pictures I took.” Cisco handed Hartley his tablet with the photos open. “Pretty sweet, huh?”

“Nice,” Hartley remarked. “I like the purple. Hey, the X symbol looks good, too! Does she like it?”

“She didn't throw it back in my face, so I'm hopeful. Also, she's running an ‘errand’.”

Hartley flinched. “What? She can't leave, it's not safe!”

“I know. Apparently, she has someone she needs to see.” Cisco took the tablet back. “You look busy. Should I follow her?”

“Um...I mean, maybe we should trust her?”

“Oh, c’mon. Don’t you want to know who she’s going to go see?” cajoled Cisco. “I know I want to know more about her.”

Hartley leaned back in his chair. “Or we could let her have her privacy.”

“Hart, I’m not sure you or Lumen quite understand how much keeping secrets hurts a team,” Cisco said seriously. “When Barry came back from Flashpoint, he tried to keep it from us. When the truth came out, we all fell apart. When Caitlin was getting her powers, she tried to keep it from us. If she had told us as soon as she figured it out, we might have been able to save her. Secrets do nothing but cause pain, especially in this kind of situation.”

Tilting his head forward in acknowledgement, Hartley replied, “I know that, Cisco. But spying and crossing boundaries doesn’t help, either.”

“Okay,” Cisco conceded. “Okay. I won't go follow her. But I will ask her increasingly persistent questions about where she's been as soon as she gets back.”

“Go ahead.” Hartley smiled affectionately. “God knows if anyone can get through to her, it's you and your stubborn ass.”

“My stubborn ass can do anything,” Cisco agreed. “You're right.”

“Modest.”

“That's me.” Cisco grinned. “Hey, can my stubborn ass get you to stop working for a little while and spend some time with me? We’ve been so focused on all of this stuff, it seems like we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to have a life outside of it.”

“What do you want to do?” Hartley asked.

Cisco hadn’t gotten that far. “I don’t know. Want to go on a date?”

Raising his eyebrows and crossing his arms, Hartley said, “When? And what would we be doing?”

“I don’t know yet,” Cisco admitted. “But c’mon. You know you’re bored holed up in here. We’ve got to do something other than vigilante stuff, babe, it’s driving us crazy. Please, go on a date with me. Pleeeeease.” He batted his eyelashes, and Hartley softened.

“If you can figure out where we’re going…”

“I will! It’ll be fun, I promise.”

“That’s what they all say,” Hartley muttered. He held his arms out and Cisco, smiling, settled down on his lap. Hartley wrapped his arms around Cisco’s waist and kissed his shoulder. “Hey, there.”

“Hey.” Cisco pressed his forehead to Hartley’s. “Did you know, I love you?”

“I did have a slight idea, yes. The fact that you married me seems to be an indication, but I suppose one can never tell for sure,” Hartley teased.

“Jackass,” retorted Cisco. He rested his head against Hartley’s shoulder.

“I love you, too.”

Cisco kissed Hartley’s cheek. “Still have a headache?” he asked.

“Yeah. It's been pretty bad all day.” Hartley rubbed at his temples.

“You're spending too much time looking at the screens and those papers,” Cisco said. “Wow, I sound like my mom.”

“Yeah, but you're probably right.” Hartley groaned. “Ughhh. I'm really tired, Cisco.”

“Ohh, baby. Come on, come upstairs with me. I think you need a nap.” Cisco stood up and pulled Hartley to his feet. “C’mon, there we go.”

“I'm fine,” Hartley said, but a yawn betrayed him. “I just didn't sleep well last night.”

“Yeah, I know. You were crying out for ages before I could get you to calm down,” Cisco said gently. “What was it?”

“I don't remember exactly. Something about Copperhead, I think. Cisco, I've got so much work to do,” Hartley tried to protest. “I can't take a nap. We're supposed to be getting ready to take down Top and Mirror Master, I don't have time…”

“Listen to me, mi alma . You do have time. Tell me what you're working on, maybe I can try to help,” Cisco offered.

“It's...their frequencies. They're so tied up with the dark matter and the timelines, and my sound waves just don't cut it,” Hartley said. “I just can't…”

“Well, I'm sure I can't help with that at all. Because, you know, I have absolutely no experience with frequency and vibrations,” Cisco teased.

“I should have asked you for help earlier.”

“Maybe so.”

“But I didn't think you'd want to have to work on that sort of problem, especially with how hard it's proving to reconnect with your powers,” Hartley added. They were almost at the bedroom.

“That's very thoughtful, sweetheart, but I'm fine. I'm fine with it all. You don't have to worry about me.”

“I'm always going to worry about you,” muttered Hartley.

Cisco shot him an affectionate glance as he pulled out a large t-shirt from a drawer. “I know. Here, napping attire. I'll even rub your shoulders until you fall asleep.”

“I love you.”

“I know,” Cisco repeated fondly. He watched Hartley undress. “Ooh, you're very pretty today. It gives one so many ideas.”

“Uh-huh,” Hartley snorted. “Keep those ideas for a later date.”

“Is that a promise?”

Hartley glanced over his shoulder. “Are they good ideas?”

Grinning, Cisco replied, “Oh, I'd say they're pretty good.”

“Then absolutely.” Dropping the flirtatious attitude, Hartley sat down on the edge of the bed with a long sigh. He put his head in his hands, whimpering softly.

“Oh, darling…” Cisco went over to him quickly. “Hey, there, baby, what's going on? Talk to me.”

“It hurts,” Hartley answered simply. “Everything is too loud today.”

“Ohhh. Okay, alright. Here, should we turn them down like you had them earlier?”

Hartley nodded, his lip quivering slightly. Cisco pretended not to notice that as he watched Hartley adjust the hearing aids to a quieter level. Then, he cast himself facedown onto his pillow. “Don't let me sleep past 4,” he mumbled.

It was about 1pm now. “Deal.” Cisco made sure his gloves weren't on at a weird angle and started rubbing Hartley’s shoulders softly. “It's okay, it's alright. You're alright. I'm here, you're safe and everything is fine. Go to sleep.”

Some of the tension was leaving Hartley’s body. “Hey, Cisco…?” he said sleepily.

“What is it, my darling?”

“I'm glad I married you.”

Cisco felt a rush of warmth and love in his chest as he responded, “Right back at you.”

“Mmmm…” was all Hartley said after that, sighing and making soft sounds of pleasure as Cisco continued kneading at his shoulders and back, until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“So, you've been leaving the house a lot.”

Lumen jumped. “Don't sneak up on me like that!” she exclaimed.

“Sorry,” Hartley said, sounding suspiciously unapologetic. “You have been leaving the house a lot, though.”

“So? I'm not your prisoner. I came to you for help, remember?”

“I remember you said that if any of the Rogues or their gang were to see you, they'd kill you on the spot. So I have to wonder, what is worth risking all of that for?” Hartley paused for a second. “More specifically, who ? And why haven't you asked to bring them here for protection, too?”

“You think you're really clever, don't you?” Lumen retorted.

Hartley shrugged. “I'm one of the smartest people in the world, so...yes, I think I qualify as ‘clever’.” He drew quotes in the air with his fingers. He was deliberately being as much of an asshole as he could be, channeling who he used to be. “So, who could you possibly be so ashamed of?”

Stiffening, Lumen snapped, “You'd better watch yourself, Hartley.”

“Or what?” he pressed.

“This has nothing to do with you. It's my business, not yours.”

“Oh, it's ‘not my business’? Well, listen, pal, you made your business part of my business when you came to me and my husband, asking for our help. I've been pretty lenient so far, given you your space--because Cisco told me to.” Of course, it had been the other way around. But that wasn't something she needed to know. Hartley continued, “But I'm done. I can't trust you anymore without knowing who you are and what you're hiding. I'll be in the workshop if you decide that you're ready to tell me. If not, I expect you gone by tomorrow morning.” And then he walked away, satisfied.

 

Right on schedule. Cisco heard footsteps approaching, and turned his head. “Hey, Lumen,” he said. “What's up--oh, hey, you look mad. What happened?”

“I'm leaving,” she said shortly.

“What? Why?! What happened?”

Lumen was carrying a bag over her shoulder. “Your husband gave me an ultimatum.”

“What--”

“Either tell him my life story, or get out. So, I'm getting out.”

This is more extreme than I had hoped, but I can work with it. “Whoa, hey, Lumen. Wait, we can talk about this.”

She turned to him abruptly. “How can you stand being married to him? Does he invade all of your personal space, too? Do you have no privacy?”

“Okay, I, uh...I think it's a little different,” Cisco said. “But...look at this from our point of view. We don't know wh--”

Our ? You feel the same way?”

Cisco groaned. “Lumen, please, listen. Secrets are never, ever a good thing when they're between people who need to trust each other. You know who we are. All we want is the same level of trust back.”

“My name isn't important. Who I'm visiting isn't important,” Lumen stated. “What's important is that we're working together to take down a group of terrorists in the city. There doesn't need to be anything more personal in it than that.”

Trying to reason, Cisco said, “So you wouldn't care if you didn't know our names?”

“Oh, please. Your husband is so easy to identify that it's a joke the media hasn't figured it out yet,” dismissed Lumen. “And if someone knows that you even exist, you're not that hard to find, either.”

Cisco made a mental note to find the last traces of them both online and get rid of them until only someone with talent on the level of Felicity Smoak-Queen could ever uncover them. “That's not the point, Lumen. If you hadn't been able to figure out who we were, would you still be so quick to trust us and to sleep in our house and fight alongside us?”

Lumen was hesitating. “I...I suppose not,” she admitted eventually.

“Hey, sit down, okay?” Cisco prompted. “Like I said, we can talk about this. Hartley was probably a little too hasty, he does that. I'm sure we can come to some sort of agreement.”

Lumen sat down in the chair across from the couch that Cisco was curled up on. He pushed himself upright and faced her. “What is...the bare minimum of information you'd accept and let me stay until Top and Mirror Master are down?” Lumen asked.

“How about we start with your first name?” Cisco suggested. “Just your first name. And I promise not to go looking for you in records if you promise to tell me the truth.”

Tugging at the strings on her bag, Lumen said, “Fine. What else?”

“We'd really like to know where you've been going when you leave here,” replied Cisco, though he rejoiced at the small victory of agreement to share her first name.

“In how much detail?”

“Anything is better than nothing.”

“Fine,” she said.

“Let's start there.” Cisco sat back and waited.

“I'll tell you my first name, but you have to still call me Lumen,” she stipulated.

“Deal.”

“Celyn,” Lumen said. “My first name is Celyn. And I've been leaving to visit someone very important to me.”

Celyn . “Thank you,” Cisco said. “For trusting me, Celyn. And I won't call you that again. I just wanted to remember it.”

She nodded tightly. “Thank you.”

“Are you sure you won't tell us who you've been visiting? What's their relationship to you? Anything?” pleaded Cisco.

“It's not important.”

“It could be. Are they in danger? If you bring them here, we can protect them,” Cisco urged.

“Trust me. They're better off where they are,” Lumen replied. “So, is that it?”

Cisco hesitated, then nodded. “Alright. Thank you. Like I said, I promise not to use the information you've given me to find anything else.”

“I appreciate that. I'm going to go back to my room and work on something.” Without another word, Lumen left.

“Hell yeah,” Cisco whispered. A minute later, Hartley came into the room, and Cisco gave him a rundown of what Lumen had said.

“Celyn?”

“Yep,” Cisco confirmed.

“Well, I doubt she would have made that up,” conceded Hartley. “Okay, good. And you think she's still trustworthy? Did you figure out enough to keep working with her?”

“Yeah, for now.” Cisco took Hartley by the collar and pulled him in to kiss him. “Thank you for letting me make you the bad guy,” he added softly.

“Yeah, well. I'm used to the role.” Hartley settled down on the couch and nestled against Cisco’s side. “It worked, didn't it?”

“Yeah, but you had to pretend to be a jerk again.”

“Cisco, it's really not a problem. I wasn't that bad. I just had to irritate her enough to send her running to you.”

“Still. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” With a sigh, Hartley said, “Do you think we were being too manipulative?”

“No. I mean, maybe a little, but without any harmful intentions. Plus, I'm pretty sure she knew what we were doing and played along.”

“I hope you're right. So, um...do you have any plans tonight?” Hartley said slyly.

Cisco blinked at him. “Uh...no. Hart, what kind of plans do I ever have outside of us and the work?”

“Fair enough. Anyway, I got us a reservation at a restaurant just outside the city, for 7:30.”

It took a second. “Aww, babe!” Cisco said delightedly. “You listened to me when I said I wanted to go on a date.”

“I try to always listen to you,” Hartley said. “And I've missed you. I know we spend...a lot of our time together, but it seems like we haven't actually been together in ages.”

“We've been so busy.”

“And what we do is important. But sometimes, I don't want to be the Pied Piper. I just want to be Hartley Ramon.”

“And you always will be.”

Chapter Text

Hartley sat on the ground, bloody, in shock. Someone was shouting his name at a distance, and part of him recalled that they shouldn't be doing that.

“Hartley! Hartley!”

“I don't…” he mumbled.

“Hartley, help!”

Lumen’s desperate plea snapped him back to reality. His head pounded and the world spun as he stood up and surveyed the wreckage around them. Parts of the building had collapsed on top of them. Smoke from the explosions the Rogues had caused were clouding the air. “Where are you?” Hartley found himself saying. There was a high-pitched buzzing in his ears--his hearing aids had been damaged. Luckily, it wasn't debilitating at the moment. “Lumen, where are you?”

“By the wall,” Lumen cried. “Th-the beam fell on top of me, I can't get it off.” She sounded afraid.

“I'm coming.” Hartley stumbled through the debris, not letting himself think. He was dizzy, an aftereffect of Top’s vertigo powers and possibly a concussion. “Lumen?”

“Here,” she repeated.

Hartley spotted her, pinned under a large wooden beam. A line of blood dripped down the side of her face. “Are you okay?” he asked. He dropped down to his knees next to her. Somewhere during the fight, he must have lost his cloak.

“Do I look okay?” Lumen hissed. “Get this fucking beam off me.” She looked terrified. “I can't move.”

He tried to lift the beam, but it didn't budge. “I can't move it.”

Neither of them were acknowledging what had happened. It wouldn't do any good until they had dealt with the immediate situation.

“Piper, I think something is broken,” Lumen said urgently. “My leg, my hip...I need to get this off of me.”

“I'm not going to be able to lift it,” Hartley repeated. “Cover your ears.”

“What?”

“Cover your ears!” Hartley held his hands out, noticing with dismay how broken his gauntlets looked. “Come on, come on…”

Lumen pressed her hands over her ears and closed her eyes tightly.

“Got it!” Hartley yelped. He had found the frequency of the beam of wood. “Oh, okay, watch out. Watch out!” He closed his eyes against the splinters that shot out of the wood as it vibrated into molecules.

Lumen screamed. “Piper!”

He stopped the sound blast after a few more seconds and opened his eyes. The beam had dissolved into sawdust, and Lumen was staring at him. “Lumen, are you okay?” Hartley asked quickly.

“Ouch,” she replied. “In more ways than one.”

Hartley put his hand on her leg and pressed, trying to figure out where it was broken.

“Wrong leg, but don't touch the other one or I will shoot you with my lights,” Lumen snapped.

“Okay, okay.” Hartley snatched his hand back. “You need to go to a hospital. I need to fix my hearing aids. You have to get your suit off, so I can call you an ambulance.”

She was breathing quickly. “I can't. Hartley--”

“It's alright, Celyn. It's alright.”

“Hartley...Cisco.”

He shook his head. “Get your suit off.”

“I r-really do like it, I d-didn’t tell him that--”

“You're in shock. Celyn, we have to take your suit off so I can get you to the hospital.” Hartley shook his head again, forcing himself not to think about anything except helping her. “We can't have your identity revealed to the media.”

“Kylie,” Celyn gasped. “Kylie, I have to…”

“Celyn! Focus on me. Oh...I'm sorry, Celyn.” He reached out and took her hands, guiding them to the zippers on the suit. Once there, she seemed to be able to do it on her own, though she kept mumbling something about Kylie. Hartley took the top part of the suit as soon as she had it off her arms. The purple X emblazoned on the front had to be hidden, but the black pants and tank top she had on now weren't anything to worry about. “I'm going to call an ambulance for you,” he told her firmly. “And you're going to be fine.”

“Kylie,” she whispered. “I want Kylie.”

“I'm sure you'll see Kylie again.” Hartley had called for an ambulance.

Lumen stared straight ahead, panting shallowly. “Cisco.”

Hartley couldn't acknowledge her. She said it again, louder, persistent.

“Cisco!”

“Hush.”

“Y-you can't ignore that--” Her voice was shaking.

“You're in shock.”

“I...you saw them t-take him, you can't…”

“I said, be quiet!” Hartley shouted. He could barely breathe through the panic he was unsuccessfully forcing down. “You need to stop talking about it.”

“But Cisco--”

“Please, stop,” Hartley begged. “Celyn, please, you need to stop.”

She fell silent. There were sirens, probably on their way before Hartley had even called. The explosions near the edge of the city must have attracted a lot of attention. “Are you alright?” Lumen asked after a few moments.

The clouds in Hartley’s mind wouldn't clear long enough for him to lie. “No, not really.”

“Are you g-going to come with me?”

“No, I'm going home. I have to...I'm going to call for some help,” Hartley said. “The ambulance is almost here. I'm going to leave.” He stood up and walked away.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back on the floor in the Hideout. What happened? he thought dimly, before realizing that he had blacked out.

“Oh, shit,” he mumbled. “Oh, no, oh, shit.” He sat up, extremely dizzy. “Definitely a concussion. Oh, shit.” After managing to stand up and make his way over to the medbay, he got some ice and pressed it onto his head. His knees buckled and he sat down quickly on the couch. “Oww…”

Without intending to, he started to cry. He wasn't trying to think about it, but he couldn’t help it.

“Cisco,” he whispered. “Cisco…”

The look on Cisco’s face when he had been pulled into the mirror…

“I'm so sorry.”

And Mirror Master had been laughing…

Hartley took a shuddering breath and sobbed. He looked down at himself, noting how much dust and blood he was covered in. “I need to clean up,” he told himself.

But Cisco had been screaming for him…

I told her I was going to call for help . But he didn’t have anyone to call, did he? Just Cisco. He only ever had Cisco.

“You idiot,” said a quiet voice in his head. “Pull yourself together, Hart. You do have people you can call for help. We have friends, friends who are very capable and who would probably drop everything to help us. So just go to the phone, call Team Arrow, and save me .”

Hartley held his breath as the phone rang.

“Hello, this is the Smoak-Queen residence!” Felicity said cheerfully.

“Felicity--” Hartley started, intending to keep it together. But his voice shook and he couldn’t stop himself from sobbing again. “I...we need help.”

A sharp gasp. “Hartley?!” Felicity exclaimed. “Oh, my God. What happened?”

“They took him. Top and Mirror Master took Cisco.”

“We’ll be there. As soon as we possibly can. I’ll get the Smoak Tech jet to fly us. It’s going to be okay. Stay calm, okay? We’re coming.” She sounded determined.

“I don’t know what to do,” Hartley admitted. “Lumen’s in the hospital--I probably should be, but I’m at home.”

“Sit tight, hun. We’ll come to you. Three, four hours tops. 1500 miles in this jet is nothing, okay? Don’t worry about it. Oliver!” she called loudly. “Ollie, get in here, please!”

“Felicity, I don’t know what to do,” he said again.

“Calm down, Hartley. We’ll be there.”

“Okay.” Hartley put the phone down. He wasn’t thinking clearly. Whether that was a result of his concussion, or the sheer, overwhelming panic he was feeling, he wasn’t too sure. Probably both. He pressed the ice pack down harder onto his head, rested his cheek on the arm of the couch, and waited.

He must have blacked out again, because it seemed like only a few seconds before someone was saying his name loudly. “Hartley. Hartley! Wake up!”

Oliver’s low, worried voice was grating on Hartley’s damaged hearing aids, and he winced. “Shhh, please…” he mumbled.

“Hartley? We came, okay? We’re here.” Felicity spoke quietly and soothingly. “Open your eyes, okay? You need to fill us in.”

Painfully, Hartley dragged himself fully into consciousness. “I’m okay,” he insisted weakly.

“You are not. Listen, Ollie and I are here. We brought Curtis and Dinah, too, but they’re not down here with us. They’re out learning the terrain, and trying to piece together what happened, but you’ve got to talk to us,” Felicity said urgently. “You said Top and Mirror Master took Cisco?”

The reminder made tears well up in Hartley’s eyes. “Scutter pulled him into the mirror. They c-could be anywhere, and Cisco wouldn’t let me give him a tracker. I shouldn’t have listened, I shouldn’t have--”

“Whoa, hey, easy,” Felicity told him. “Hey, hey.” She sat down on the couch next to him, picking up the ice pack that had fallen. “Okay, this isn’t cold anymore. Ollie, go get a new one and put this back in the freezer.” Oliver took it and stepped into the other room.

Hartley put his head in his hands and groaned.

“You said someone was in the hospital,” Felicity prompted. “Lu...something?”

“Lumen. We’ve been working with her, she’s a metahuman...she got hurt.”

“How about you?” asked Felicity. “How badly are you hurt?”

He tapped his head gingerly. “I’ve got a concussion. My h-hearing aids are damaged, and I’ve got to fix them, but usually Cisco…”

“Curtis and I can help you for now,” Felicity hastened to assure him. “We’ll get you all fixed up, and we’ll get Cisco back. Stay positive. Okay?”

Hartley couldn’t answer. From his perspective, there wasn’t anything positive to be found. So he just hid his face again and let Felicity put the new ice pack against his head and rest her hand on his knee. And if a few more sobs escaped him, she didn’t even let on that she noticed.

Chapter Text

Cisco had given up screaming.

It wasn't going to do him any good, after all. Nobody could hear him. There wasn't anyone else in this strange, terrifying mirror dimension except for occasionally Scutter--and Cisco didn't particularly want to attract his attention.

It was dark here. Besides a smooth black floor of indeterminate material and the backs of mirrors that seemed to float in midair, there wasn't any structure. The space seemed to continue for eternity in every direction but down. Cisco had tried to explore and find a way out for exactly ten seconds before panicking and rushing back to the mirror he had been pulled into. He didn't want to get lost in this hellscape, even if the alternative of remaining exactly where his captors had put him wasn't much better.

It had been a portable, handheld mirror. Scutter seemed to have realized what an excellent prison it made if Top held it ready for him to hop into. Now Cisco was trapped. He was sure that if he still could Vibe and open breaches, he could find his way out of the dimension. But he couldn't Vibe anymore. He was useless.

The worst part was how quiet it was. Cisco could occasionally catch snatches of faraway conversations, but he couldn't quite tell if he really heard them or if it was all in his head. Neither answer would surprise him.

After pounding on the glass for a while, to no avail, he gave up. He sat down on the ground and wrapped his arms around his knees. He took comfort in the fact that they hadn't taken his prosthetics--they couldn't figure out how they worked. So he kept his hands. That was something, at least.

But it wasn’t enough to stop him from burying his face in his arms, his knees to his chest, and making himself as small as possible so he could cry. This time, he had done everything right. It hadn't been a stupid mistake like at the clinic. But even his absolute best wasn't good enough anymore. Maybe he really wasn't cut out to be a hero anymore. Maybe he never had been in the first place.

He wanted Hartley. He wanted his husband to be there, to take him in his arms and tell him that it was going to be okay, but it wasn't. It wasn't going to be okay. It might never be okay.

He didn't want to die.

Sometimes, Scutter was there. He would hurt Cisco, asking him questions. It felt awfully similar to when Snart had taken him and Dante all those years ago, as Scutter demanded he divulge Piper’s identity. Cisco didn't answer. His pain didn't really matter anymore. They were just going to kill him anyway.

He didn't want to die.

Chapter Text

“You're going to want to brace yourself,” said Felicity.

“What did you find?” Hartley asked anxiously. He slid his chair over to look at her computer screen. “It's a location?”

Felicity bit her lip. “It's their location. This is where the Top and Mirror Master have their base.”

“What?” Hartley exclaimed. “But that's, like, the top floor of an office building. A still operational office building. That's not some dark abandoned warehouse.”

“I guess not. Looks like they've upgraded.”

“How did you find them?” Hartley wondered.

With a sideways glance, Felicity answered, “I hacked into one of ARGUS’s satellites to scan for Mirror Master's specific frequency.”

“But...but I haven't been able to figure out his frequency.”

“We don't have to understand it to recognize it,” Felicity responded. “I just took a reading from where we know he was, extrapolated something to look for, and sent the satellite after it. Like, you don't have to have a fully decode a DNA sequence to match two samples of blood.”

Hartley nodded, wincing as the bruised lump on his head was jostled. “Ow. Okay, I get it. So he's there?”

“Far as I can tell, yeah. Let's get Oliver and Curtis and Dinah in here, pull up some schematics, and plan our attack.” Felicity waited for a response, but Hartley was silent. “Uh, Hartley? Earth to Hartley, come in, Hartley.”

“Sorry. Yeah, call them in.”

“Hartley, I just want to...make sure you know. You can't go with them when they make their attack, not with your concussion.”

“I know,” Hartley muttered. “I know.” He crossed his arms defensively. “I need to go. Visit Lumen.”

Felicity looked at him sympathetically. “Hartley, I think…”

“I'm going to go.” Hartley stood up.

“Don't drive,” Felicity hastened to say. “You are not allowed to drive yet.”

“I know.”

“We’re going to be gone, you know. Or, they are. I’m going to be here to coordinate, but the others are going to head out as soon as we have a plan. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

“I have to see Lumen,” he repeated firmly.

“Don’t you want to be here if... when we get him back?”

“I…” Hartley breathed in tremulously, his chest tight. “ Can’t , Felicity. Not...not until I know. One way or another. I can’t be here while it’s uncertain, not when I can’t do anything about it. I have to see Lumen.”

“If that’s what you feel you need to do.” Felicity reached out and touched his hand sympathetically. “Get a cab.”

He nodded and left.

At the hospital, Hartley found his way to Lumen’s room. He knocked on the door and stepped inside. He stopped in his tracks. There was already someone in the room with Lumen.

“Hi,” he stated.

Lumen looked up at him. She was holding the hand of the woman sitting next to her. “Hi,” she replied.

The woman stood up and walked over to him, holding her hand out to shake. “Hi. I'm Kylie,” she greeted.

“Hartley, this is my girlfriend. Kylie, Hartley is…”

“I know,” Kylie said. “Come in, sit down, Hartley.”

Hartley nodded, a blank expression on his face. Kylie is Lumen’s girlfriend. Kylie...is pregnant.

“Have you found Cisco yet?” Lumen asked quickly.

“Um...our friends from Star City are about to go...We know where they are--I'm sorry, does Kylie know everything ?” Hartley had to ask.

Kylie patted Lumen’s hand, smiling. “Don't worry, Piper. I'm very good at keeping secrets. Hey, babe, I'm going to go grab some food,” she added softly. “I'll be back in a little while.” She left the room and closed the door.

Lumen watched her go, not looking at Hartley. Eventually, she said, “Now you know who I was leaving to visit.”

“Yeah. I figured that out.” Hartley sighed and sat down. “You should have told us.”

“The fewer people who know about her, the better. Something...something like Cisco being taken is why I didn’t tell you. The Rogues are looking for me, Hartley,” Lumen said, upset. “They want to hurt me. They want to hurt you, too. They probably are hurting Cisco--”

“Please, don’t--” Hartley started.

“Face it, Hartley, they’re going to torture him. They want your name, they want my name. And they get what they want. I’m sorry. It’s the truth.”

Hartley hid his face in his hands. “Fuck,” he muttered. “I know , Lumen. You don’t think I know that?”

“Well, you weren’t acting like you knew it.”

“Because if I remember it all the time, I’d be a constant wreck and no help to anyone,” Hartley retorted. “It doesn’t help to dwell on.”

“Okay, well, as long as you’re prepared.”

“Lumen, please,” Hartley said. “I just came to make sure you were alright.”

“I’ll be fine. If Team Arrow is going to go try to get him, shouldn’t you be there?” Lumen asked.

“I’ll be back soon enough. I can’t do anything about it anyway.”

“But if they get Cisco back, wouldn’t you be the first person he wants to see?”

Hartley clenched his fist. “Celyn, please understand. I cannot be there, useless .”

“Fine.”

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. Then Hartley said, “She’s beautiful.”

Instantly, Lumen gained a wistful expression. “She is. Our daughter is going to be beautiful, too.”

“A daughter?”

Lumen nodded slowly. “As far as we know, that is. Who knows what she’s going to end up identifying as? But yes. A daughter.”

“How...how long?”

“She’s due on January 1st,” Lumen told him.

“A New Year’s Day baby. Of course, knowing one of her mothers, she’ll probably end up completely surprising us all.”

Lumen laughed. “That’s true.”

“Hey, look,” Hartley began. “I know...after we put Top and Mirror Master away, we won’t really have any reason to see each other. But I think that Cisco would be devastated if he never got to meet your kid.”

“Just Cisco, huh?” Lumen teased. She got more serious. “Don’t worry. It wasn’t my intention, but you two have grown on me. I doubt you’ll get rid of me that easily.”

“Good.” Slightly uncomfortable with how sappy the conversation had gotten, Hartley looked away. Just then, his phone rang. He scrambled to answer it. “Felicity?!”

“Hartley, you need to come back to the Hideout right now. Right now !” She hung up before he could ask for details.

Shaking, Hartley stood up. “I have to go.”

Lumen leaned forward, worried. “What happened? Did they find him?”

“I...I don’t know. I just have to go!” Hartley turned and ran.

Dizzy, out of breath, and incredibly anxious, Hartley arrived at the house and rushed down the stairs to the Hideout. “Hartley!” Dinah exclaimed, waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. “Alright, come with me.”

There was a full-length mirror sitting on the floor in the lab. Hartley ran to it. Cisco was on the other side. Trapped. He was bleeding from several places, and Hartley couldn’t even tell what the extent of his injuries were. “Cisco!” he cried.

Cisco placed the palm of his prosthetic against the glass between them. His mouth moved, but hardly any sound made it through the glass, and what Hartley could hear sounded like gibberish.

“Top and Mirror Master escaped, but we got him,” Oliver said.

“Yes, but we don’t know how to get him out of there,” amended Curtis. “And it looks like he’s hurt, so it’s important that we--Hartley?”

Hartley was ignoring them. He began to sign at Cisco slowly. “ We got you, ” he signed. “ You’re safe now.

Cisco responded in kind. “ Get me out of here. ” He looked desperate, terrified.

We’ll figure it out, I promise. Are you okay?

Shaking his head, Cisco signed, “ Hurt. They hurt me. I need you.

Hartley pressed his hand to the mirror, trying to reach through. He leaned his head in, touching his lips to the glass where Cisco’s forehead was. “ Do you know what to do? ” he asked.

Cold.

We’ll get you warm as soon as you’re home. How do we get you out?

Cisco was shaking his head. “ No. Cold. Freeze it.

“Oh!” Hartley exclaimed as he realized what Cisco was saying. “ How cold?

She did it, when Barry was in this. ” The sign for Barry was a B , moved in a quick, zig-zag motion that was meant to be a lightning bolt.

Hartley recoiled. “ C-a-i-t-l-i-n? ” he spelled, making sure. They didn’t talk about her enough to have given her a sign.

Cisco nodded.

Any other way?

You can try. A gun like S-n-a-r-t-s wouldn’t even be enough, because I’m too slow.

I understand. We’ll get you out. Just wait.

Hurry, please .”

Hartley kissed the glass again, letting his forehead rest there for a second before pulling away. “Curtis, Felicity, we need to build something cold. As cold as we can get it. If we slow down the molecules in the mirror enough, Cisco can step right from that dimension to this one.”

“We'd have to get it almost to absolute zero,” Curtis worried. “Do you think we can?”

“We have to,” Hartley stated. “We have to.”

Chapter Text

“Damn it!” Hartley shouted. The test had failed yet again. They just couldn't get the temperature low enough to allow a transfer between dimensions.

Curtis tried his best to calm Hartley down, but he was getting frustrated as well. “Hey, hey, shouting isn't gonna fix anything!” he said. “It's going to take time, you know.”

“We don't have time!” Hartley smacked his palm down onto the table they were working at. “Don't you get it?”

“As far as we can tell, none of his injuries are life-threatening,” Curtis reminded him.

Hartley was pacing. “It doesn't matter. We need to get him out, he's miserable and he's in pain. And it's possible that Mirror Master can find him in there. We can see him, but we don't actually have him back home and safe until he's in my arms. And this stupid machine--” He threw a piece of the gadget across the room. “Isn't working !”

“Hey! That won't help, either!” Curtis picked the piece off the ground, dusted it off, and placed it delicately on the table. Walking over to Hartley with his hands outstretched in a gesture of reassurance, he added, “Look, I know you're upset, but you can't help him unless you stay calm.”

“Fuck that, I did all my best work for years in a state of perpetual anger and panic,” Hartley retorted.

Curtis kind of snorted. “That's great, Hartley. Hey, take five. Try to calm down. Then we'll get back to work.”

“I'm going to go check on Cisco.”

“Felicity is sitting with him.”

“I don't care.” Hartley strode out the workshop and into the part of the lab where they were keeping the mirror.

Felicity was sitting on the ground with her head resting against the glass. Cisco was mirroring her, no pun intended. He looked up as Hartley came in.

Hi ,” signed Hartley. “ How are you?

Cisco looked very unhappy. He pressed himself up against the glass, his eyes tired and a little teary. “ How close?

We're getting a lot closer.

I can tell when you're lying.

Hartley sighed. “ Sorry.

You need to ask her.

No .”

Cisco insisted. “ Yes. It's the only option.

We can do it!

Hartley! ” Cisco brought the H from his heart to his ear in a sharp gesture. “ You need to talk to her.

She won't help us.

You don't know that.

She's not C-a-i-t anymore, ” Hartley insisted. “ She won't help us.

Cisco’s lower lip trembled, and he shot Hartley a heart-wrenching, pleading look. “ She will. Trust me.

Hartley couldn't stand it anymore. “ I'll call J-u-l-i-a-n ,” he signed reluctantly.

Thank you.

I love you ,” Hartley told him. “ We'll get you out, I promise.

I love you ,” Cisco replied. “ I love you.

Hartley touched his hand to the mirror and then turned to Felicity. She looked up at him. “What did you say?” she asked.

“There's been a change of plans,” Hartley told her. “I have to make a call.”

Chapter Text

It had been almost midnight when Hartley finally called Julian. The chemist agreed to go to Iron Heights and set it up for them to come in and talk to Killer Frost. “I can't guarantee anything, mate,” he warned. “She probably won't help, at least without something in return.”

“Then we'll give it to her,” Hartley replied, determined. “We have to make it work. How soon can we be there?”

“Make it two hours. I'll clear the area out, but try to be discreet.”

Hartley glanced at the full-length mirror. “We'll do our best, but it won't be easy.”

“Just...don't make a spectacle. I'll make sure nobody disturbs us.”

“Thanks, Julian. We really appreciate it.”

“Don't thank me yet, mate. Alright, see you soon.”

Hartley decided that they should take as few people as possible, so Oliver and Felicity came with him while Curtis and Dinah stayed behind. As he told Cisco the plan, he realized that Cisco wasn't signing back to him, but appeared to be trying to tell him something. With dismay, he realized that the batteries in Cisco’s prosthetics had died. They only lasted about 24 hours at a time, so Cisco must have powered them down for most of the days he had been in the mirror. “It's going to be okay,” Hartley tried to assure him. “As soon as we get you out. Not much longer now.”

In the metahuman lab at Iron Heights, Hartley paced outside the room where Killer Frost was imprisoned, trying to work up the courage to go inside. Julian, Oliver, and Felicity kept trying to talk to him, but he snapped at them to be quiet.

“Alright,” he said finally. “I'm going in.” Without waiting for a response, he opened the door and stepped inside.

“Hartley Rathaway, as I live and breathe.” Her voice was strange, slightly distorted. It had an echoing quality to it, and it was unfeeling. Cold. “What brings you to my lovely home?”

Hartley stared at her. He knew , of course, but it was still a shock. He hadn't seen Killer Frost in person before. It was terrifying how much she didn't look like the Caitlin he used to know. “We need you to do something for us,” he said.

She tilted her head. “Oh? Really? Who's we ? And what could the great Hartley Rathaway need from me?”

“Cisco needs your help.”

Frost narrowed her brilliant white eyes. “Cisco needs my help? What sort of help does he think I'll give him? And what is it to you? You left him, remember? Eight years ago.”

Hartley didn't want to tell her, but he held up his left hand. “I came back.”

She looked confused for a split second, and then figured it out. Letting out an icy peal of laughter, her breath freezing in the air, she said, “Oh, I can't believe it! It really did end up being you two! Aw, why wasn't I invited to the ceremony? Afraid I'd freeze over the champagne bottles? Or maybe that I'd shatter your hands as well.”

“Stop talking now,” Hartley growled.

Pretending to wipe away a tear, Frost continued, “So. What is it that your husband needs from me?”

“Sam Scutter trapped him inside a mirror. Apparently, when that happened to the Flash, you were the one who slowed the molecules of the mirror down enough for him to step between the dimensions,” Hartley explained. “We need you to do that again.”

“Even if I wanted to help you, Barry needed to use his speed to get out of the mirror last time, even with my frost. And poor Cisco has lost his powers, hasn’t he?” Frost reminded him.

“You can make it colder this time. And I can set a vibrational frequency even without superpowers. It’ll work. He says it’ll work, and I trust his judgement.” Hartley acted more confident than he actually was, but the pretending actually made him feel a little better. “So, what do you say?”

“I’ll do it.”

Hartley sighed in relief.

“But I want something in return.”

He had expected that. “What do you want?”

“Five minutes,” she replied. “Five minutes alone with Cisco.”

Hartley frowned. “No.”

“Five minutes alone with Cisco, after he gets out of the mirror. I’ll be in here, he’ll be out there, don’t worry. There’d be no way I could hurt him. But nobody else is allowed in the room, for the whole five minutes. No matter what.”

Shaking his head vehemently, Hartley said, “Absolutely not. Name something else.”

“Those are my terms. Oh, and if you try to cheat, don’t even think about returning for my help again. I don’t care if the world is going to burn unless I use my powers for you. I’d let it happen. So, what do you say?” Frost placed her hand on the glass between them, sending icy fractals shooting along the surface.

“...I’ll talk to Cisco,” Hartley said reluctantly. “If he agrees, we’ll do it. But if he says no, there’s no way.”

“Go ahead,” she invited. “I’m in no rush.”

Glaring, Hartley backed out of the room.

Cisco agreed to the terms immediately, despite Hartley and Oliver both trying to talk him out of it. He just kept nodding, staring at him intently. Even without the use of sign language because his prosthetics had no more power, it was clear what his decision was.

“Guys...let him do it,” Felicity said quietly.

“It’s not a good idea,” Oliver said. “We don’t know what she’ll say to him, what she’ll try to do.”

“And if something like this happens again, cheating her or tricking her now could mean death in the future,” Hartley added.

“But Cisco says he can do it,” Felicity told them. “Don’t underestimate him. He’s strong. He can handle whatever she throws at him.”

“It feels wrong!” Hartley insisted. “And she said that no matter what , we couldn’t go back into the room until the five minutes were up.”

“Let her know that rule doesn’t apply if she begins physically hurting him,” suggested Felicity. “Compromise, negotiate. Let her know that you won’t just blindly give in to demands. Appeal to her logic. Caitlin...Caitlin was always so logical.”

Painfully, Hartley remembered that Felicity had been her friend as well. “Okay,” he said. “You’re right. Let’s do it.”

With a high-strength metahuman dampener collar around her neck and a tranquilizer dart gun pointed directly at her, Frost was led out towards the mirror. Everyone was on edge. Felicity wouldn’t look at her.

Julian kept a very wary eye on her as he stepped back. “Caitlin, I’m going to power down the dampener for just as long as it takes for you to freeze the mirror. If you try anything else, it won’t end well for you.”

“Don’t worry,” she told him. “I’m not going to try to escape or hurt anyone, today.” She held her hands up at the ready.

“As soon as you get it as cold as we need it, I’m going to release a wave of vibrational energy that will disturb the molecules of the mirror at precisely the right frequency, and Cisco will step out.” Hartley said it in English and in sign language so Cisco could understand as well. “Then you go right back into your cell, and you get your five minutes with him. As agreed, we’ll be able to see into the room, but audio will be disabled so you can have your private conversation .”

“Sounds good. Can we get going already? It’s so warm in here.”

Hartley nodded at Julian, who prepared to power down the dampener. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Julian replied. “Counting down from five. Five, four, three, two, one.”

An icy blast from Frost’s hands hit the mirror. Cisco’s image began clouding over, and he tried to give Hartley a reassuring look before he disappeared completely.

“It’s not cold enough!” Hartley said, gazing anxiously at the temperature gage they had set up.

“Give me a minute,” Frost hissed. “It takes time.”

The numbers ticked down, down, down. Hartley held his breath. The change in temperature slowed, and they still weren’t anywhere near the necessary 12 Kelvins, or -261.15°C. “We’re not going to make it,” Hartley realized.

“Let me get closer,” said Frost.

“Absolutely not,” scoffed Julian.

Frost shot him a scathing look. “Without getting closer to the mirror, I cannot make it much colder. You have to let me put my hands on it.”

“Let her,” Hartley said. He didn’t know why he said it, but his heart was pounding. So close . “Julian, let her !”

“Fine!” shouted Julian. “Go on, then!”

Frost stepped forward and touched her fingers to the side of the mirror. The numbers sped up again. 72 Kelvins turned to 71, then 70. They were almost a blur, slowing down again as they reached 20. Painfully slowly, they kept going down. 19. 18. 17.

“We’re almost there,” Hartley breathed. “We’re almost there, keep going, Caitlin!”

“Don’t--” Frost’s eyes sparked. “--call me... Caitlin !” She let out a shout of effort, and the numbers reached 12.

“Now!” cried Hartley. He shot a blast of vibrational energy out of his gauntlets. Everyone covered their ears as it hit the mirror with a sound like a cannon.

For a second, nothing happened. Then, as if in slow motion, Cisco stepped right through the mirror into the room. He collapsed forward onto his knees, and the mirror shattered behind him.

The blue light returned on the dampener around Frost’s neck, and she dropped her hands. Julian rushed to grab her arm and lead her back into her cell.

“Remember, five minutes!” she called. “Five minutes, starting now!”

Hartley ran to Cisco. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you!”

“Hart,” Cisco mumbled. “You did it.”

Pulling him to his feet, Hartley hugged Cisco tightly. “I’m here. I’m here, you’re safe now. We got you.”

“I...Five minutes?” Cisco said. “Let’s...just do it, get it over with.”

Not wanting to release his husband but forcing himself to, Hartley let Cisco go into the next room. “I’m right on the other side of the door,” he promised.

“I know. I’ll be okay.” The door closed.

Hartley turned to Julian. “And you’re sure she can’t get out of that cell?”

“If she could, don’t you think she would have done it four years ago?” Julian said tiredly. He was watching the video feed, but apart from Frost’s mouth moving, there was no way to tell what was happening. “Only four minutes and forty-five seconds left.”

Hartley stared at the screen. As Frost talked, Cisco’s face gave away nothing. She continued to speak for two minutes, with only occasional interjections from him. He held up his currently useless prosthetics and said something that made Frost glare. Then, to Hartley’s shock, Cisco started to laugh. He walked right up to the glass and kept talking, looking utterly unfazed by whatever Frost tried to interrupt him with.

“Attaboy,” Felicity whispered. “See, I told you guys. He knows what he’s doing.”

Still worried, Hartley watched as Cisco’s face grew solemn. “Caitlin. I’m sorry.” Hartley couldn’t actually read lips very well, but he could read that. He was pretty sure that she shot back with a demand that he didn’t call her that, but he took no heed. As the last 60 seconds slipped away, Cisco was still talking to her, calling her Caitlin every few words. Hartley could tell that he was starting to cry, but he still kept going. “I’m so sorry, Caitlin,” he said again as the clock reached zero.

Hartley opened the door. “Time’s up,” he said. Frost glared at him and said nothing. He could have sworn that her eyes looked slightly brown for a second, but dismissed it as a trick of the light. “Cisco?”

Cisco turned away from Frost and raced into Hartley’s arms. “Hartley!”

Shushing him softly, Hartley led him into the other room and closed the door without giving Frost the satisfaction of any last words. “C’mere, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”

“My prosthetics died,” Cisco told him.

“I know, love, I know. Let’s get them off, okay? They must be so uncomfortable.” Everyone else stayed a few paces back as Hartley took care of him, sitting him down in a chair and gently removing the prosthetics. “There, is that better?” he murmured.

“Not so heavy,” Cisco agreed. “Hart, it hurts.”

“Show me where.” Hartley helped him take his shirt off, revealing mottled bruises and cuts that smeared his skin with blood. “Oh, sweetheart…”

Julian cleared his throat. “I know I told you I wouldn’t come running to patch you up, but since you’re here...Cisco, mate, can I take a look?”

“Okay,” he said. He was shivering, covered in goosebumps. “It's c-cold in h-here.”

“After I make sure you're not in any immediate danger, we'll go someplace warm,” Julian replied.

Hartley hadn't noticed before, but it was freezing in this room. Most of the frost had disappeared, but the shattered remains of the mirror and the floor around it were still iced over. “Cisco, do you want to go home?” he asked. “If Julian is okay coming with us?”

Julian was examining Cisco’s injuries. “That's fine with me,” he said absently. “It'll take time to fix all this up, but you'll be alright. Is there anywhere else? Do you think anything’s broken?”

“Nothing is broken, I think. And home...home sounds nice.” Cisco leaned his head against Hartley’s hands.

“I've got you,” said Hartley quietly. “I've got you, Cisco. You're okay.”

“Alright, then, we should be safe taking you home. Can we all fit in your transportation, or should I drive my own car?” Julian asked.

“We'll all fit. Oliver, will you drive?”

“No, he won't,” Felicity said instantly. “Not if you want to make it back to your house with the car intact. I'll drive so you can be with Cisco, Hartley.”

“Thanks.” Hartley wrapped his arm around Cisco’s waist and helped him up, holding him close as they made their way out of the prison lab and into their car. Cisco nestled against his side in the backseat. “Warmer now? You can stay right there the whole ride home.”

Still shivering, Cisco hid his face in Hartley’s sweater. “I'm gonna...kinda just...I'm so tired, I'm not gonna be very…”

Hartley understood. “Shhh, it's okay. We'll take care of you until you feel more up to talking. Don't worry about anything.” He kept reassuring the trembling Cisco until they were all the way home and in the med room in the Hideout.

“This is a better setup than Cisco’s bedroom in his old apartment, that's for sure,” Julian observed. “How I managed to save your life there, I'm still not sure.”

Still holding onto Cisco, Hartley sent Team Arrow upstairs and told them to go to bed. “We've got three guest rooms and the couch, I'm sure you'll find a place to sleep. We'll be fine, just give us space. Thank you, by the way. So much.”

“You're family,” Felicity replied. She kissed Cisco’s cheek. “I'm so glad you're safe,” she added in a whisper.

He made a humming sound and gave her a small smile as she headed upstairs with Oliver, Curtis, and Dinah.

“How much have you had to eat and drink the past few days?” Julian asked Cisco.

“Um...they gave m-me water. And enough food. They d-didn’t want to k-kill me, so…”

“That's good, that's good. You're just a little dehydrated, but we can fix that.” Julian was already making himself familiar with the med room, opening all the drawers and cupboards and figuring out what went where.

Hartley pulled Cisco’s hair back from his face gently. “You doing okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Cisco blinked slowly. “Tired.”

“Me, too.” Hartley kissed his forehead. “I couldn't sleep with you gone.”

“‘m sorry.”

“Oh, no, no, no, you've got nothing to apologize for. Shhh, baby.”

After Cisco was patched up and had a bit of food, he kind of attached himself to Hartley’s side, head on his shoulder. Hartley kept his arms around him and took him in the elevator to the first floor. “Can I go to sleep?” Cisco mumbled.

“In just a minute, love.” Hartley looked at Julian. “I think Dinah took the couch, so the teal bedroom is yours. It's second on the right down the hallway. Thank you for all your help tonight.”

Julian waved his hand dismissively. “It's alright, mate. See you.”

“Night.” As soon as Julian was gone, Hartley continued to lead Cisco up the stairs and to their bedroom. “C’mon, love, let's get some clothes and into bed. That's it.”

Letting Hartley help him into some pajamas, Cisco said, “I want to go somewhere.”

“What do you mean?” Hartley sat down on the bed.

Cisco followed him, curling up on the bed with his head in Hartley’s lap. “With you. I wanna go somewhere with you.”

“Where do you want to go, baby?” Hartley asked, a little confused.

“Anywhere. As soon as we get Top and Mirror Master, let's just...take off. Leave Central City for a while. A couple weeks, maybe.” Cisco could barely keep his eyes open, but he kept talking. “Drive to someplace we've never been. Someplace without superpowers and vigilantes and people who want to hurt us. See something beautiful, you know? And...sleep in a hotel and stay in bed until noon and let people bring us food...and just do something normal. Something that people do.”

Hartley understood. “Ah. We could finally have a real honeymoon of sorts.”

“Exactly.” Cisco sniffled. “I just...I don't know, I feel like...if we don't do it now , we'll never have time. Like...everything is almost over, and we won't be able to do it anymore.”

“Well, that's just silly. We have plenty of time. We have our whole lives, Cisco.” Hartley stroked his hair soothingly.

“Please.” Cisco looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. “Please, Hartley, you don't understand. It feels like we don't have time.”

“Okay,” Hartley said quickly. “Okay, alright, shhh. It's okay, don't cry. If you want to go on a trip, that's what we'll do. Alright, it's okay.” He slid under the covers and pulled Cisco close. “I've got you, lovely. I've got you.”

Cisco snuggled as close to Hartley as he could get, like he would never get to hold him again. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too, sweetheart. Hey, what makes you think we don't have time?”

“Just...a feeling. A bad feeling.”

“Well, push that bad feeling away. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. I'm right here. I'm right here.”

Chapter Text

Cisco stumbled downstairs in a daze. He wasn’t thrilled that he had woken up alone, but it was almost noon. Besides, Hartley had stayed with him all yesterday, barely leaving his side as he slept and recovered. It wasn’t like it hadn’t been plenty of time.

At the bottom of the stairs, Cisco almost bumped into Hartley as he rushed out of the kitchen with a plate. “Oh!” Hartley exclaimed. “Oh, you’re awake! I’m sorry, I was…” He held the plate out. It had a couple of pancakes and a strawberry on it, all dusted in powdered sugar. “Oliver took over the kitchen, I was just getting you pancakes.”

Cisco stared for a minute, and then grinned. “I like Oliver.”

“Hey,” Hartley said, trying to pretend to be offended. “I thought you liked me.”

“No, I love you.” Cisco kissed him quickly.

“Aw,” Hartley mumbled, turning pink. “Well, that’s good. Hey, how are you feeling? You look a little better.”

Glancing down at himself, Cisco didn’t see how Hartley thought that. He was wearing a loosely tied robe over a t-shirt and sweatpants, and he hadn’t washed his hair in literally weeks. Underneath his pajamas, he was bruised and bandaged along his entire torso. “I feel okay,” he said eventually. “But I look gross.”

“Your eyes are brighter, and your lips aren’t as pale. And you’re wearing your prosthetics already, which means you had enough energy to put them on. You look better ,” Hartley insisted. “Although your hair could use a wash.”

“Yep.” Cisco stared at the pancakes longingly. “Hey...can you set those aside for a minute and help me shower before I have to see anyone else?”

“Um, sure.” Hartley tore a pancake in half and handed him one piece with a wink. “Just to tide you over.”

“Is there cinnamon in this?” Cisco asked curiously as they walked back upstairs. “Because it’s not like any pancake I’ve ever tasted.”

“Oliver won’t tell us what he put in them,” Hartley replied. “He says it’s a family recipe that he guards more closely than his actual secret identity.”

“To be fair, that’s not saying much,” Cisco pointed out. “He gets revealed as the Green Arrow about once every three years. How Star City still acts unsure is beyond me.”

After he got out of the shower, feeling much better with clean hair and clothes, Cisco leaned on Hartley and went back downstairs. He was surprised by how much joy he got from seeing a group of his friends sitting at his kitchen table, but his heart swelled at the sight and he couldn't help smiling.

“Cisco!” Felicity said happily. “Oh, hey! How are you?”

“Alright, but I'll be even better when I have some of those pancakes.” Cisco sat down at the table next to Curtis, and Hartley went into the kitchen. “Oh, also, thank you so much for coming all the way out here. With a toddler at home, it must be difficult.”

Felicity sighed and shrugged. “Thea is a wonderful babysitter. Rachel will be okay. I, on the other hand, am very strongly missing my baby girl.”

Cisco reached across the table to touch her hand. “I know, and I really appreciate what you did.”

“Oh, pssh, don't worry about it. This was an emergency, and we would have dropped anything. Like I said, you're family, Cisco.” She smiled at him.

“Thanks, Felicity. How is Rachel, by the way?” Cisco asked. “She looked so big in the pictures you sent last month.”

“She's getting fast,” Felicity said. “As soon as she was walking, we could hardly keep up with her. And she will eat everything she can fit into her mouth. Seriously, everything .”

Cisco laughed. The conversation just felt so nice and normal and happy. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey, I'm gonna go ask Hart something,” Cisco said impulsively. “Be right back.” He stood up and went over to the kitchen.

Hartley and Oliver were talking quietly in the corner, a plate of pancakes forgotten on the counter. “...like you're just outnumbered,” Oliver was saying.

“Exactly. And with Lumen unable to--” Hartley broke off as he saw Cisco. “Hey! Sorry, I forgot, I was bringing you pancakes.”

“It's okay. Um, Hart, can I talk to you for a second?” Cisco asked.

“Sure, sure, of course.” Hartley rested his hand on Cisco’s arm to follow him down the hallway. “Is something wrong?” he asked as soon as they were out of earshot. “Are you alright?”

“I'm fine,” Cisco responded. “I'm good, actually. Really good. Like...I don't even understand it. But even though I...I shouldn't be okay, I am . Even after what Scutter and Dillon did to me, what Caitlin said...just being here with you and with Team Arrow, waking up and...and having breakfast and talking to my friends…” He shook his head, having a hard time explaining. “What I'm trying to say is, I want to have the holidays here.”

“Oh!” Hartley exclaimed. “Oh, okay. I honestly didn't know where you were going with that speech, you had me a little worried. Yeah, okay. We can have the holidays here.”

“Really?” Cisco marveled. “Just like that?”

“If it'll make you happy, I'd agree to anything,” Hartley told him. “And I was actually thinking the same thing.”

Cisco smiled fondly. “I love that we're on the same page here.”

“Me, too. By the way, Lumen has a pregnant girlfriend.”

“I--wait, what?” Cisco stammered, startled. That had come right out of the blue. “Say that again?”

Trying not to smile, Hartley repeated, “Celyn has a pregnant girlfriend. Her name is Kylie. They're having a daughter, in early January.”

“Oh...okay.” Cisco paused, taking it in. “You said Celyn is in the hospital with a broken leg, right?”

“Yeah. And she knows you're safe, but she won't be able to come and fight with us for a long time, and she and Kylie are laying low. So…” Hartley hesitated. “Oliver has agreed to stay here with the team and take Top and Mirror Master down. Right away. If we can outnumber them…”

“Good,” Cisco said immediately. “Do it. Take them down. I can help Felicity from here.”

“We've sent a message to the Legends, but they haven't responded. If we can get their help, we may even be able to face the rest of the New Rogues. We should have asked for help so much sooner,” Hartley said.

“Well, we’re nothing if not stubborn. C’mon, let’s go back out there.” Cisco laced his metal fingers through Hartley’s. “I’ve got pancakes to eat.”

Cisco stumbled downstairs in a daze. He wasn’t thrilled that he had woken up alone, but it was almost noon. Besides, Hartley had stayed with him all yesterday, barely leaving his side as he slept and recovered. It wasn’t like it hadn’t been plenty of time.

At the bottom of the stairs, Cisco almost bumped into Hartley as he rushed out of the kitchen with a plate. “Oh!” Hartley exclaimed. “Oh, you’re awake! I’m sorry, I was…” He held the plate out. It had a couple of pancakes and a strawberry on it, all dusted in powdered sugar. “Oliver took over the kitchen, I was just getting you pancakes.”

Cisco stared for a minute, and then grinned. “I like Oliver.”

“Hey,” Hartley said, trying to pretend to be offended. “I thought you liked me.”

“No, I love you.” Cisco kissed him quickly.

“Aw,” Hartley mumbled, turning pink. “Well, that’s good. Hey, how are you feeling? You look a little better.”

Glancing down at himself, Cisco didn’t see how Hartley thought that. He was wearing a loosely tied robe over a t-shirt and sweatpants, and he hadn’t washed his hair in literally weeks. Underneath his pajamas, he was bruised and bandaged along his entire torso. “I feel okay,” he said eventually. “But I look gross.”

“Your eyes are brighter, and your lips aren’t as pale. And you’re wearing your prosthetics already, which means you had enough energy to put them on. You look better ,” Hartley insisted. “Although your hair could use a wash.”

“Yep.” Cisco stared at the pancakes longingly. “Hey...can you set those aside for a minute and help me shower before I have to see anyone else?”

“Um, sure.” Hartley tore a pancake in half and handed him one piece with a wink. “Just to tide you over.”

“Is there cinnamon in this?” Cisco asked curiously as they walked back upstairs. “Because it’s not like any pancake I’ve ever tasted.”

“Oliver won’t tell us what he put in them,” Hartley replied. “He says it’s a family recipe that he guards more closely than his actual secret identity.”

“To be fair, that’s not saying much,” Cisco pointed out. “He gets revealed as the Green Arrow about once every three years. How Star City still acts unsure is beyond me.”

After he got out of the shower, feeling much better with clean hair and clothes, Cisco leaned on Hartley and went back downstairs. He was surprised by how much joy he got from seeing a group of his friends sitting at his kitchen table, but his heart swelled at the sight and he couldn't help smiling.

“Cisco!” Felicity said happily. “Oh, hey! How are you?”

“Alright, but I'll be even better when I have some of those pancakes.” Cisco sat down at the table next to Curtis, and Hartley went into the kitchen. “Oh, also, thank you so much for coming all the way out here. With a toddler at home, it must be difficult.”

Felicity sighed and shrugged. “Thea is a wonderful babysitter. Rachel will be okay. I, on the other hand, am very strongly missing my baby girl.”

Cisco reached across the table to touch her hand. “I know, and I really appreciate what you did.”

“Oh, pssh, don't worry about it. This was an emergency, and we would have dropped anything. Like I said, you're family, Cisco.” She smiled at him.

“Thanks, Felicity. How is Rachel, by the way?” Cisco asked. “She looked so big in the pictures you sent last month.”

“She's getting fast,” Felicity said. “As soon as she was walking, we could hardly keep up with her. And she will eat everything she can fit into her mouth. Seriously, everything .”

Cisco laughed. The conversation just felt so nice and normal and happy. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey, I'm gonna go ask Hart something,” Cisco said impulsively. “Be right back.” He stood up and went over to the kitchen.

Hartley and Oliver were talking quietly in the corner, a plate of pancakes forgotten on the counter. “...like you're just outnumbered,” Oliver was saying.

“Exactly. And with Lumen unable to--” Hartley broke off as he saw Cisco. “Hey! Sorry, I forgot, I was bringing you pancakes.”

“It's okay. Um, Hart, can I talk to you for a second?” Cisco asked.

“Sure, sure, of course.” Hartley rested his hand on Cisco’s arm to follow him down the hallway. “Is something wrong?” he asked as soon as they were out of earshot. “Are you alright?”

“I'm fine,” Cisco responded. “I'm good, actually. Really good. Like...I don't even understand it. But even though I...I shouldn't be okay, I am . Even after what Scutter and Dillon did to me, what Caitlin said...just being here with you and with Team Arrow, waking up and...and having breakfast and talking to my friends…” He shook his head, having a hard time explaining. “What I'm trying to say is, I want to have the holidays here.”

“Oh!” Hartley exclaimed. “Oh, okay. I honestly didn't know where you were going with that speech, you had me a little worried. Yeah, okay. We can have the holidays here.”

“Really?” Cisco marveled. “Just like that?”

“If it'll make you happy, I'd agree to anything,” Hartley told him. “And I was actually thinking the same thing.”

Cisco smiled fondly. “I love that we're on the same page here.”

“Me, too. By the way, Lumen has a pregnant girlfriend.”

“I--wait, what?” Cisco stammered, startled. That had come right out of the blue. “Say that again?”

Trying not to smile, Hartley repeated, “Celyn has a pregnant girlfriend. Her name is Kylie. They're having a daughter, in early January.”

“Oh...okay.” Cisco paused, taking it in. “You said Celyn is in the hospital with a broken leg, right?”

“Yeah. And she knows you're safe, but she won't be able to come and fight with us for a long time, and she and Kylie are laying low. So…” Hartley hesitated. “Oliver has agreed to stay here with the team and take Top and Mirror Master down. Right away. If we can outnumber them…”

“Good,” Cisco said immediately. “Do it. Take them down. I can help Felicity from here.”

“We've sent a message to the Legends, but they haven't responded. If we can get their help, we may even be able to face the rest of the New Rogues. We should have asked for help so much sooner,” Hartley said.

“Well, we’re nothing if not stubborn. C’mon, let’s go back out there.” Cisco laced his metal fingers through Hartley’s. “I’ve got pancakes to eat.”

Chapter Text

“We did it,” Cisco whispered. He could hardly believe it, but the cheers on the other end of the comms told the truth. “We did it.”

Felicity let out a joyful shout and turned to embrace him. “We did it!” she squealed.

Slowly returning the hug, Cisco tried to wrap his head around it all. “We did it,” he repeated.

“We’re coming home!” cried Hartley over the comms. “All of us! We’ve got a few injuries, but we’re coming home!”

The Legends had answered their call, sending Sara, Zari, Nate, and Ray to lend a few hands. The rest of their team remained on the Waverider to go after some giant lizards in 1210 C.E. China (“Don’t ask,” Sara had muttered, and they had obliged). The four of them and Oliver, Dinah, Curtis, and Hartley spent a week strategizing and fighting the New Rogues in a huge, city-wide battle.

And then today, finally, Top and Mirror Master were defeated. They were taken to Iron Heights, to be watched over by Julian and the rest of the prison staff. The rest of the New Rogues surrendered quickly. Central City rejoiced at what the news called “the greatest superhero showdown since the Dominators invaded”, and Cisco realized that he could finally, finally breathe again.

The Legends disappeared swiftly, saying that they needed to get to China (“Genghis Khan has the lizards!” came a panicked message from Jax). Felicity and Oliver were eager to get back home to their daughter, and Curtis and Dinah went with them. But they all promised to return for the holidays.

And so, that night saw Cisco and Hartley curled up on their couch, watching news coverage of the final battle. “Cisco, I was there !” Hartley protested. “I don’t need to rewatch it.”

“Hush, you,” Cisco told him. “Listen to them. They’re all thanking you.”

“I don’t need to be thanked, either.”

“Shhh,” Cisco pleaded. “Just be proud of yourself for once, okay?”

Hartley quieted down. “It was pretty amazing, wasn’t it?” he said softly after a few minutes.

“It sure was.”

Exhausted by the nonstop fighting, Hartley fell asleep on the couch. Cisco smiled and turned the television off. The house seemed quiet and empty after having so many people there for almost three weeks, but it was kind of nice to have the house to themselves. For the first time in ages, they could fall asleep without worrying that an alarm would wake them and tell them that they had to go out and fight again. Cisco didn’t even consider waking Hartley to get him to bed. He took his prosthetics off and settled down on the couch with his husband, content.

Chapter Text

The very next day, Cisco began planning their trip. He woke up well before Hartley and sat in an armchair with his laptop, looking at hotels and national parks and road maps. He had never planned a trip like this before, never having the time or the reason. He kind of liked it.

“Hmm…” Hartley mumbled. He stretched on the couch and yawned, rubbing his eyes and sitting up. “Morning, Cisco.”

“Morning. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow, and we’ll be gone for at least two weeks,” Cisco replied. “Better get packed.”

“Um...what?” Hartley didn’t look very awake yet.

“Our not-quite-honeymoon and not-quite-one-year-anniversary trip,” Cisco said. “We’re leaving the day after tomorrow. I’ve already got about two weeks figured out. A nice mix of nature and cities, but never too far from somewhere to plug my hands in. I doubt we’ll get through the whole country, but that’s okay. Also, I’m not sure where you stand on museums? Some of them, you have to go through a metal detector to get through, so those are out. I’ve always wanted to drive down Highway One in California, down the coastline, so we’re doing that. And the Grand Canyon! But that’s on the way back home, we have to decide if and where we’re going to visit in the more Eastern states.”

“Alright, slow down,” Hartley pleaded. “I just woke up.”

Cisco laughed. He put his laptop aside and went back over to the couch to wrap Hartley in his arms. “Come here, you. Oh, I love you.”

“Mm, I love you, too.” Hartley yawned, snuggling closer. “Five minutes to wake up, and then we'll talk.”

“Sounds good.”

Hartley sat back a few minutes later. “Okay. I'm awake. Can you repeat everything you said?”

Cisco repeated it and added, “We've got to pack soon.”

“All the way through California, huh?” Hartley asked. “The Grand Canyon, too, and then heading east. That's pretty ambitious.”

“We've got until December 21st,” Cisco reminded him. “Even though I don't really want to be on the road for quite that long.”

“No, me neither. Okay, let's look at these maps.”

Chapter Text

“It’s five a.m. on Halloween and you’re wearing a homemade costume of a superhero from a different Earth,” Hartley muttered. He gazed at Cisco with a sort of soft, exasperated fondness.

Proudly twirling around to show off the cape he had made from a red sheet, Cisco replied, “I'm Supergirl! C’mon, I look great.”

“You drew the symbol on a piece of paper. With crayon . And then safety pinned it to a blue t-shirt. Your skirt is made out of the bottom of the sheet, that you cut off so you didn't trip over it. And you're wearing jeans underneath it.”

Cisco crossed his arms. “So?”

“You look wonderful, dear,” Hartley sighed. “Are you going to get ready to get in the car?”

“I'm ready.”

“You're not wearing that, are you?”

Pouting, Cisco said, “It's Halloween.”

“The first day of our honeymoon, and you're wearing a costume that looks like it was designed by a first grader.” Hartley paused. “I knew there's a reason I love you.”

“I love you, too!” Cisco said happily. “Everything is packed, right?”

“All three suitcases, both laptop bags, one duffel, and two backpacks,” listed Hartley. “Yes, everything is packed.”

“And my chargers?” Cisco checked.

“In the laptop bag by the passenger seat,” Hartley assured him. “Right there for you to check whenever you think we might have forgotten them. And the two extra pairs of hearing aids you made me promise to pack.”

“Oh, I do love you. Alright, then. Are we ready to go?”

“Ready to go. After you,” Hartley said, opening the passenger side door.

Cisco hopped in. “Thank you, sir.”

Hartley rolled his eyes and went around to the other side of the car. “I’m just letting you know that if you, at any point on this road trip, play Never Gonna Give You Up, I’m filing for divorce,” he said as he got in the car.

“Yes, dear,” Cisco said lovingly. “Whatever you say, dear.”

Eying him suspiciously, Hartley insisted, “I mean it!”

Cisco broke. “But it’s our song!” he wailed.

“It’s not our song! It’s the song you played once while you had me in a prison, to literally torture me!” Hartley protested.

“It worked, too,” Cisco said, grinning.

“No comment.” Hartley turned the car on. “Okay, I won’t divorce you. I’ll just dive out the window while we’re moving.”

Gasping with mock-horror, Cisco put his hand to his chest. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me,” Hartley said half-heartedly, backing out of the driveway. “And we’re off.”

“Like a hundering third of turtles.”

“That’s...not correct.”

“Pretty sure it is.”

“I’m not arguing this one with you,” Hartley decided. “Next stop, Wyoming.”

Chapter Text

“Geyser, geyser, geyser, geyser!” Cisco chanted enthusiastically.

“Yes, we know,” Hartley muttered. “It’s a spout of hot water that comes shooting out of a hole in the ground. Very exciting.”

“Oh, you’re secretly enjoying this,” Cisco said. He nudged Hartley’s shoulder. “It’s like, the one thing everyone says you’re supposed to see in Yellowstone.”

“We’ve been sitting on these thin wooden benches for twenty-five minutes, staring at some rocks,” Hartley pointed out. “Nothing is hap--”

Cisco gasped, grabbing Hartley’s arm.

“Ow!” Hartley yelped. “Sometimes I think you forget that you have robot hands and that they hurt !” Then he gasped, too.

The steam that had steadily been floating out of the rock intensified, filling the air with a white cloud. A small spurt of water came out of the ground for a few seconds and then died away.

“Was that it?” Hartley asked, disappointed. “I thought it would be…” His words faded away as the plume of hot water and steam began to rise. Ten, twenty, thirty feet up, then higher. Exclamations of awe echoed between the other fifty or so people watching with them.

“It can reach a hundred and fifty feet tall,” Cisco whispered to him.

“Holy...Harry Potter,” Hartley breathed.

When it was over, Cisco and Hartley walked slowly back down the path to the parking lot by the ranger station, hand in hand.

“Was this your first time visiting the park?” an older woman walking behind them asked.

Cisco answered her. “Yep. That was pretty great.”

“You have to drive through Lamar Valley,” she told them. “It’s your best chance to see a wolf. My husband and I got up at four this morning to do it, and we saw three of them disappear behind some rocks.”

“We’ll keep that in mind, thanks,” Cisco acknowledged, smiling at the woman. “What do you think, Hart?”

“Sure.” Hartley didn’t look at the woman. He didn’t like trying to be friendly to strangers.

They drove around the park until the sun was setting. Hartley got irritated the fourth time they got trapped in a line of cars only to figure out that someone had stopped to take pictures of bison. “Bison are cool!” Cisco said, trying to cheer him up.

“Not the hundredth one we see in a day,” griped Hartley. “I understand stopping for a bear, but there are literally thousands of bison here.”

“I know, babe. We’re on our way back to the hotel, though.”

Back in their hotel room, Hartley sat in an armchair with a book. He was tired from driving and walking all day, but he could tell that something was bothering Cisco. He decided to let Cisco come to him with whatever the problem was in his own time.

Eventually, Cisco did. “Hey, Hartley?” he said suddenly.

Hartley put the book down. “Yeah?”

Cisco came over and sat on the edge of the bed to talk to him. “You are...actually enjoying this, right?” he asked nervously. “Sometimes it feels like you don’t want to be here.”

“Cisco…” Hartley sighed. “I don’t care what we’re doing. I’m happy just to be with you.”

“You don’t have to say that. I want you to be honest.”

“I mean…” It was hard to articulate. “This isn’t really my thing, national parks and wildlife and all that. I don’t have any...roadtrip nostalgia, or whatever it is. But watching you talk about the chemistry of the hot springs and the mudpots and getting so excited about Old Faithful... that makes me happy. I’m sorry if I complain about traffic, or can’t have conversations with people on the trails.”

“I don't care about that,” Cisco dismissed. “That's part of what makes you you . I just don't want you to be miserable on this trip.”

“I'm not,” Hartley promised. “I'm happy. I really am.”

“Good.” Cisco reached out to rest his prosthetic on Hartley’s knee. “Hey, you know what people also do on their honeymoon?”

“This isn't really a honeymoon,” Hartley reminded him.

Cisco sighed. “Shut up and come kiss me,” he said.

Hartley met him in the middle between the bed and the chair, both of them standing up to press their bodies and their lips together until they fell slowly backwards onto the bed. Some parts of Cisco’s prosthetics were slightly cold as they slipped under Hartley’s shirt, making him gasp. He didn't pull away, though, instead letting the metal warm up against his skin.

“I'm so glad we did this,” Cisco whispered from on top of him as they managed to pull their shirts off and toss them away. “If only because of these nice hotel rooms.”

“Mmhmm,” Hartley agreed. He might have said more, but Cisco kissed him again and stopped his words short.

Later, after showering and turning out the lights to get some actual sleep, Cisco couldn't seem to keep his eyes open. “Are we gonna do that in every hotel room we stay in?” he mumbled sleepily into Hartley’s collarbone.

Hartley caressed his shoulder. “I think we'll figure it out as we go along,” he murmured back.

“How is it that hotel beds are simultaneously the most and least comfortable beds in the world?”

“I don't know, baby.”

“Mm,” Cisco acknowledged. He was quiet for a minute before adding, “Don't let go of me.”

Holding him closer, Hartley replied, “I won't, my love. Are you alright?”

“How could I be anything but alright with you right here?” Cisco answered, barely awake.

“Just making sure. Now hush, go to sleep. Goodnight, my dearest.”

“Night.”

A frantic scream woke Hartley up, his heart racing as he tried to figure out what was wrong. His mind immediately leapt to a lot of terrible conclusions as his senses slowly came to understand that Cisco was writhing in his sleep and wailing. “Cisco, wake up!” Hartley exclaimed. “Cisco! Shhh, it's alright, it's alright, it's okay. Wake up, wake up, darling.” He wrapped his arms around Cisco’s chest and held him tightly. “It's alright, I'm here. I'm here. You're safe. Wake up, Cisco, baby.”

Sobbing and gasping, Cisco grew still. “Hart?”

“I'm here. There, now, you're safe.”

“Th-the mirror--”

“Shh, shhh.”

“It's so cold!” Cisco whimpered. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!”

“Shh, it's alright, nothing to be sorry for. I've got you, I'm here.” Hartley sat up with him, rubbing his back to try and calm him down. “It's alright.”

Cisco was shivering. “It's s-so c-c-cold,” he stumbled.

“You were dreaming,” Hartley told him. “It's nice and warm in here. You're safe, you're alright.”

“Hurting me,” Cisco whispered. “They were hurting me.”

“Not anymore. They can't hurt you anymore. I've got you now, Cisco.” Hartley wasn't surprised by the nightmare. In fact, he had been expecting it. Cisco had seemed so okay with what had happened. Too okay. And a delayed reaction sometimes happened with him. One could never tell. “I've got you.”

“They're going to come back.”

“No, no. They're in prison, Cisco. We caught them and sent them to jail. They're not coming back.”

“They're going to come back ,” Cisco insisted with a sob. “You don't understand!”

“Breathe, sweetheart, breathe. You were just dreaming.”

“I...I don't…” Cisco was barely beginning to calm down. “But it...felt so real.”

“I know, I know, love. Shhh, shhh, it's okay. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Talk about it?”

“About what happened while you were captured,” Hartley said gently. “You haven't really talked about it more than the very simple stuff. And you never told me what...Caitlin said to you.”

“Oh,” Cisco said. “Oh...okay.” He hesitated.

“Take all the time you need.” Hartley settled against the wall, still holding him close. “It's alright, you're alright. I've got you, love.”

Cisco was attempting to slow his breathing. “I'm sorry...this isn't supposed to be happening on our vacation,” he said quietly.

“Shhh,” Hartley murmured. “Shhh, don't apologize. It's alright. You really have nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart.”

“I know, but…” Cisco sniffed.

Hartley sighed and stroked his hair. “No, I know. But it's alright, love. Just breathe. Talk when you’re ready.”

A few of Cisco’s tears fell onto Hartley’s skin as they sat there. Cisco didn’t say anything for a long time, and Hartley realized that he had fallen asleep again. Silently, he slid back down under the covers, keeping Cisco in his arms. We’ll talk tomorrow , he thought, and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

“We are literally in Endor,” Cisco stated, gazing around at the huge redwood trees. “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to see this place?”

“I’m guessing a long time?”

Cisco glanced over his shoulder at Hartley, who was leaning against the car. “I fell in love with this forest the first time I watched Star Wars. Picture little baby me finding out that Endor is real, and then spending almost thirty years never visiting. I am actually living my dreams right now. Take pictures.”

With a lot of eye-rolling and fond, exasperated sighs, Hartley took what Cisco estimated to be a couple hundred pictures for him. “It is beautiful here,” Hartley remarked as Cisco splashed through the shallows of the stream running through Fern Canyon. “But these wooden planks are here so you don’t have to get your feet wet.”

Cisco was having too much fun to listen. The high walls of the canyon, covered in ferns and moss, stretched up to the sky on either side of them. There weren’t many tourists here in November, so they had this area of the trail all to themselves. “Walking in the water is half the fun,” he retorted.

“Well, don’t complain to me when your feet freeze on the way back.”

It is pretty cold , Cisco had to admit. He hopped up onto the little wooden bridge in front of Hartley. It wasn’t wide enough to walk side by side.

The sky was grey and a little gloomy, but occasional sunlight peeked through the clouds and sparkled off the icy water in the narrow canyon. Tiny drops of water that had either condensed from the damp air or had fallen from last night’s rain clung to the tips of each bracket of fern that brushed against Cisco’s jacket and hair. They had to climb over a couple of huge fallen logs to get through the trail, and Cisco laughed and helped Hartley up when his jacket got stuck on a branch.

“Can’t handle a little nature?” he teased.

“The tree grabbed me!” protested Hartley. “We shouldn’t have to climb over things, anyway. This is supposed to be a trail!”

“It is a trail. It’s a pretty easy trail, actually. And we haven’t even gotten to the uphill part yet,” Cisco said. “But none of it is really difficult, according to the trail map.”

“It’s going to rain soon,” Hartley said doubtfully. “Maybe we should just turn back?”

“Absolutely not,” scoffed Cisco.

“We don’t want to be caught out here in the rain, we’ll be freezing.”

Cisco looked up at the sky. The clouds were getting a little darker. “We have raincoats.”

“Raincoats or no raincoats, we’ll get soaked.”

“Then we get soaked,” Cisco said decisively.

“If you say so.”

They made it up the canyon wall before the heavens opened. Taking swift shelter underneath a tree, Cisco said, “The rain is beautiful, too!”

“Yeah, but it's wet !” Hartley whined. “Come on, the sooner we get back to the car, the sooner we can be in the hotel getting warm and dry.”

That didn't sound too bad. Cisco took Hartley’s hand as they made their way through the woods along the edge of the canyon wall and down some carved stone steps. “It's slippery, be careful!” he warned.

A little too late. Hartley slipped and fell onto his backside. He would have tumbled down a few of the steps if Cisco hadn't tightened his grip. “Ouch!” Hartley yelped.

“I told you to be careful!” reprimanded Cisco. He pulled Hartley to his feet and brushed a bit of dirt off him. “You could have hurt yourself.”

“I'm okay,” Hartley grumbled. “I think my tailbone might be bruised. And my ankle got a little twisted.”

Concerned, Cisco asked, “Can you make it back to the car?”

“Yeah, I'll be fine. How much further?”

“Not far.” Once they were back in the car and heading down the road, Cisco realized that he was shivering. “Can we turn the heat up?” he asked.

“I was thinking the same thing.”

Still cold, but thrilled about seeing some elk at a distance from the car, they got to their hotel. Cisco immediately took off his wet shoes and socks and then hung his jacket up to dry. Hartley was doing the same. “I know we were going to go out to eat tonight, but it's already seven and I'm cold and tired,” Cisco said. “You want to just order room service in our pajamas?”

“Sounds perfect.” Hartley stepped into the bathroom to shower, limping slightly.

Cisco got an idea. It was a little bit ridiculous, but it made him happy, so he did it. Using the extra pillows they had asked for, all the blankets from the bed, and the luggage racks and their suitcases as props, he built a blanket fort and crawled inside.

“Cisco?” Hartley’s voice was filled with amused affection. He poked his head into the fort. “What are you doing?”

“Come on in, it's nice and warm,” Cisco invited. “And I'm an engineer, so it won't fall on our heads.”

“You're utterly ridiculous.” Hartley started to climb inside.

“Wait!” Cisco exclaimed.

Hartley froze. “Something wrong?”

“What's the password?”

“Cisco…”

Smiling benignly, Cisco repeated, “What's the password?”

“I don't know, Cisco. What's the password?”

“No, you have to guess.”

Humoring him, Hartley pretended to think. “Pied Piper is the best?” he tried.

“Nope. Guess again.” Cisco crossed his arms, enjoying himself immensely.

“Is it something about Star Wars?”

“No, but that is a good guess.”

Hartley paused. “How about ‘if Cisco keeps making me stand here guessing passwords, he's not going to get kissed when he finally lets me in’?”

Raising his eyebrows, Cisco replied, “I guess that works, now get in here.” He held out his arms for Hartley to fall into, and kissed him softly. “Are you alright? How's your ankle?”

“Oh, I'm fine,” Hartley said airily. “It's so much warmer in here.”

Their combined body heats did make the little fort nice and cozy. They curled up together, cuddling until Cisco was almost asleep. “No, it's not even eight,” he mumbled. “We've got to order some food. I can't fall asleep yet.”

“I'll order,” Hartley said, kissing him on the nose. “You stay here and try not to fall asleep.”

“Do my best.” Cisco blinked slowly and watched as Hartley left the fort. Maybe I could just close my eyes for a minute, he thought.

A red blur passed by. Cisco reached out to catch it, but it disappeared. “Stay,” he said. There was no answer. “Come back!” Nothing happened. Then, something huge shifted inside of him and everywhere else, something drastic and world-changing and…

And then he was so terribly lonely. It was like some part of him had been ripped away, although something else might have returned. But he was empty, something was missing, nothing was right…

“Hey, Cisco?”

Cisco gasped, sitting up and grabbing at his chest. He couldn't breathe.

“Oh! Hey, hey, what's wrong? Cisco, what happened?” Hartley exclaimed. “What's wrong?”

“It's all going to change,” Cisco managed. “Hartley, something’s going wrong.”

“Cisco? I don't understand. Hey, come here, come here. Come out of the fort, I'm sure that only makes it worse.” Hartley helped him out and got him sitting in one of the two armchairs in the corner. “What's wrong, love?”

“I don't know, I don't…” Cisco hid his face in his gloves, breathing heavily. He felt panicky, like he was trapped in a tiny space without much air and with no way out.

“Just breathe, try to calm down until you can explain to me what happened.” Hartley knelt in front of him, his hands resting on Cisco’s knees. “Take your time.”

Cisco struggled to get his anxiety under control. “I don't know what happened, I barely remember…”

“Did you fall asleep? It couldn't have been for long, it was only about ten minutes. Was it a bad dream?”

“Must have been.” Cisco rubbed his eyes. “I don't remember it.”

“You said…‘it's all going to change’,” Hartley recalled. “Any idea what that meant?”

Cisco shook his head. He couldn't focus. The dream was slipping away. “No idea.”

“You've had a lot of bad dreams in the past week or so,” Hartley said. “Can I help?”

“I don't think so, I don't…” Frustrated, Cisco stood up. “I'm fine . More than fine, Hart, I'm happier now than I've been in years. Every day I spend with you, I'm happier than the day before. So why do I feel like everything is ending?”

“You keep saying things like that, but I don't understand what you mean,” Hartley said worriedly. “What's ending?”

“I don't know ,” Cisco repeated. He paced back and forth across the hotel room. “It doesn't feel right.”

“Maybe…” Hartley hesitated.

“What?”

“Maybe it's because you're happy. Maybe you're just having a hard time believing it, so...you're searching for something wrong, because that would feel more realistic.”

“You think I feel like this is too good to be true?” Cisco said.

“Maybe. You're going to have to tell me.”

Cisco stopped pacing. He sat down on the edge of the bed with a groan. “You're probably right. That must be all it is.”

“Yeah.” Hartley sat next to him. “Everything is okay, Cisco. We're on this trip, and we're happy, and Central is safe from the New Rogues. Our friends are coming to our home on December 21st, and we're going to spend the holidays with them. And then we're going to spend the rest of our lives together, happy.”

“I know.” Cisco put his head down on his husband's shoulder. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Hartley kissed the top of his head gently as there was a knock at the door. “Hey, I bet that’s our room service. You hungry?”

“Absolutely.” Cisco forced a smile. “Let's eat.”

Chapter Text

Almost home , Hartley thought. They had been driving for hours from where they had stayed in Colorado last night, having left the Grand Canyon the day before.

Cisco was quiet. He tried to excuse it as just being tired from the long trip, but Hartley knew it was more than that. The nightmares had been increasing in frequency, from once or twice a week to almost every night. Every time he tried to get Cisco to talk about it, he'd brush it off. And in the morning, he'd be just as cheerful as ever, admiring the scenery and climbing up on rocks, laughing. Hartley got the feeling that he was trying to make the most of the trip. He knew Cisco wasn't convinced that they weren't running out of time, though he pretended to be.

“I’ll get everything unpacked,” Hartley told him as soon as they were inside. “You should go to bed, you’re exhausted.”

Although Cisco hesitated, he agreed to go to bed. “Don’t do it all tonight, okay? Leave something for me to help with tomorrow.”

Hartley assured him that he would, but he didn’t. He finished unpacking everything from the car and started laundry, then went around the house to brush away all the dust that had accumulated over the two weeks they were gone. He was humming quietly, making effortless transitions between classical pieces, pop songs, and some improvised melodies that he considered writing down later. None of them were good enough for the song he wanted to write Cisco for their anniversary, though.

“I should go to bed,” he muttered after a while, but he didn’t. Somehow, even after driving the whole day, he wasn’t tired. It was nearly one in the morning and the world felt so still. He could actually breathe for the first time since they had left home. He hadn’t realized how anxious he had been to leave Central City, how much he had grown to depend on life as Pied Piper. And although nothing bad had happened to the city while they were gone--indeed, without the New Rogues on the streets, the city was in better shape than it had been in years--he felt achingly responsible for the possibility of people harmed because of his absence.

He wondered if the Flash ever felt that way, holed up in his Lab. Did he ever see what was happening outside? Did he watch the news and see the people hurt and killed that he could have saved? Did he feel guilty? Or was he too damaged to feel anything other than pain anymore?

Sometimes, Hartley wanted to march into S.T.A.R. Labs by himself and just shout into the empty space. He wanted to scream at Barry for having hurt Cisco, for having abandoned the city and his friends. He could picture himself standing there in the dust and the debris, in the empty shell of the place he used to work, just screaming. But if Barry bothered to come out of hiding, Hartley didn’t know what he would say to his face. He would probably never get the opportunity to find out.

It was just after 3 now and Hartley was sitting at the kitchen table, staring into space. He could feel his heart beating, counting down the seconds until...something. You’re being ridiculous , he tried to tell himself. You know that Cisco’s ‘time is running out’ thing isn’t true. It’s not true. But he couldn’t fully believe it anymore.

“Hartley?”

He flinched and turned his head. Cisco stood in the doorway with tearstained eyes, not looking fully awake. “Hey,” Hartley said softly. “Hey.”

“Where...why…” Cisco’s voice was quavery.

“I’m sorry,” Hartley said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...it got so late, I didn’t mean…” He stood up and went over to wrap Cisco in his arms. “I’m sorry.”

“You weren’t there, I reached over and you w-weren’t there.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Feeling tears come to his own eyes, Hartley tightened his grip as Cisco buried his face in his shoulder. “I’m here,” he whispered. “I’m here.”

They stood there in the kitchen, swaying back and forth for a long time. Both of them were crying quietly, though they weren’t entirely sure why. And they barely remembered it the next morning when the fear and the sadness were driven away by the feeling of waking up in each other's arms.

Chapter Text

“It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” Cisco hummed absent-mindedly as he sketched a 3-D model of some circuitry on his tablet.

“Thanksgiving was yesterday,” Hartley complained. “It's too early for Christmas songs.”

“Never too early for Christmas songs,” Cisco responded. “Especially since the snow is coming tonight.”

Hartley was standing at the refrigerator, trying to organize the Thanksgiving leftovers so they all fit in the freezer. “You keep saying it's going to snow, but none of the forecasts agree with you. Not for another week or so.”

“I'm like Lorelai Gilmore. I can smell the snow,” retorted Cisco. “You just wait and see.”

“Uh-huh.”

But Hartley had to admit that his skepticism had been unfounded, because it snowed that evening. Cisco rushed outside to catch the first few flakes on the tip of his tongue. Hartley grabbed both of their jackets and followed him.

“Put this on, you're going to freeze to death!” Hartley scolded.

“You're such a mother hen! I'm fine!” Cisco scooped up a handful of snow from where it was beginning to collect on the cold ground.

“You're lucky your prosthetics are waterproof, because that's going to soak through your gloves in an instant--oh, no--” Hartley ducked quickly, and the snowball just barely grazed the top of his head. “Cisco!”

“Aren't you going to fight back?” Cisco taunted, grinning. “Come on, babe. Or are you too scared?”

“I'm not having a snowball fight.” He half-heartedly dodged another snowball, but it splattered against his shoulder. “Besides, those two handfuls are basically all that's fallen. And it's stopping.”

Disappointed, Cisco looked up at the sky. “Aw. You're right.”

“Well, at least it was something,” Hartley tried to say cheerfully. “And there'll be more soon. We weren't expecting much anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Cisco pulled his gloves off as they went inside. “These are...absolutely soaked.”

“I think you're getting waterproof gloves for Christmas,” Hartley stated.

“That would be a good idea,” agreed Cisco. “Oh, ow. It's cold out there.”

“‘Ow’? Are you okay?”

Cisco stretched his arms, wincing. “Apparently, my shoulder gets stiff when it gets cold, where I was stabbed in September. Oh, god, am I getting old?”

Hartley snorted. “You're thirty-six. You're not getting old.”

“When I do get old, though, all my battle wounds are gonna hurt like hell, aren’t they?” Cisco griped.

“First of all, ‘battle wounds’? Second of all, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and find out.”

“Oh, well. At least I'll be growing old with you.”

Chapter Text

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Cisco called. There had been a knock at the door, and he assumed that Hartley had forgotten his keys on his way out to get groceries. “Sorry, I was all the way downstairs and--oh, you are not my husband!”

“No, definitely not!” the heavily pregnant woman at the door agreed cheerfully. “You’re Cisco, I’m guessing?”

“Uhhhh….” Cisco blinked. “Yeah, that’s my name. Do I know you?”

She laughed, crinkles forming at the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. “No, you don’t. But you know my girlfriend. I’m Kylie Shimizu.”

“Oh!” Cisco realized. “Oh, you’re Lu--Celyn’s girlfriend, of course. What’s up? You want to come in?”

“Sure,” Kylie said. As she walked inside, she added, “Celyn doesn’t actually know I’m here, but I’ll tell her as soon as I get home. If she knew I was coming to see you, she’d have tried to come with me, and she’s not supposed to get out of her wheelchair for another week.”

“Yeah, Hartley told me that her leg was broken really badly,” Cisco said. “I...well, I wasn’t there when it happened.”

Kylie sat down on the couch comfortably. She smoothed down the skirt of the loose cotton dress that she wore over a pair of warm leggings. Somehow, she made just that simple outfit look stunning. “I heard. I’m glad they found you safe. Celyn is glad, too.”

“So, you know everything?” Cisco asked. “About who we are, what we do…”

“Oh, yeah. I, well…” Kylie closed her eyes and looked like she was concentrating. Cisco was confused for a second, and was about to say something when suddenly, she lifted up off the couch and hovered two feet in the air.

“Holy--what the hell?” Cisco exclaimed.

She smiled, placed her hand carefully on her stomach, and drifted back down. “I have powers, too. I can go up about eighteen feet, but I don’t do it as much with the little one on the way.”

“That’s...that’s really cool,” Cisco said. “That’s, like, awesome . You can fly?!”

“It’s just hovering. I can’t move very quickly while I’m up there, but I also have a bit of enhanced strength--not anything extremely drastic, but enough to give me an edge in a fight or let me cling to the ceiling,” Kylie explained nonchalantly. “That’s why the Rogues wanted me.”

“Wait, so it was you that Celyn was working with the Rogues to protect!”

She nodded. “I turned them down, and actually fought them for a little while. I ruined several of their big scores, and they had a price on my head. Celyn promised them that she’d work for them if they left me alone, and she did, for a little while. She didn’t tell me, either. Until the day that my doctor’s appointment at the health clinic became part of a shooting, and I overheard your husband say that he had faced Celyn as part of the Rogues.”

“You were there, too?” Cisco said. “I didn’t see you.”

“I think you were a little preoccupied with getting stabbed,” Kylie replied.

“Yeah, okay, you’re probably right.”

Kylie laughed, light and airy. “Afterwards, I confronted Celyn about it and she told me what was going on, and that she had to help the Rogues for another month, or they’d kill me and her. And I told her absolutely not, that she couldn’t do that anymore. So on the next heist, she betrayed them, and got one of their main henchmen killed. That’s when she went to you and your husband for help, and I went into hiding somewhere else.”

Cisco was nodding. “I wish she had just told us that,” he said. “It would have made things easier.”

“Celyn is...really bad at trusting people,” Kylie responded. “It took her ages to open up in...well, don’t tell her that I told you this, but we met in a metahuman support group in Opal City. And then we fell in love and I wanted to move back to Central City to be closer to my dad while he was sick. Well, anyway, what I’m really here to say is...thank you. Thanks to you and your husband and your friends, Celyn and I don’t have to look over our shoulders every other minute to make sure that the New Rogues aren’t standing there with guns pointed at our heads. That would be no way to raise our daughter.”

“I’m glad we were able to help,” Cisco said.

“I can guess that Hartley isn’t here, but will he be back soon? I’d like to thank him, too. I barely got the chance to talk to him when he came to visit Celyn in the hospital.”

Cisco looked over at the door. “He just went to get some food, but he should be back pretty soon. I’m sure he’d love to see you.”

“Oh, it's alright. I should really get home before Celyn freaks out because I'm gone and tries to come find me. That wouldn't be good for anyone. It was nice to meet you, Cisco. I'm sure I'll see you again soon!” She stood up and shook his hand before leaving.

I am gonna have a lot to tell Hartley when he gets home, Cisco pondered.

Chapter Text

“Cisco, wake up!”

“Wha’, wha’s goin’ on, ‘s something wrong?” Cisco mumbled, startled.

“No, no, everything is fine.”

“Then why’re you wakin’ me up at 5 in th’ morning?” complained Cisco. He sat up, yawning.

“Celyn’s kid was born last night.”

Cisco was awake now. “Oh, awesome!”

“She wants to know if we want to come see the baby,” Hartley said.

“Um, absolutely. That's so cool, oh my god. A baby,” Cisco marveled. “Our friends have an actual baby. How's Kylie?”

“Celyn says she's perfectly fine. She's looking forward to seeing us again.”

They got up and got dressed to go down to the hospital to see their friends. Celyn’s hair was as bright purple as always, but it was mussed and she looked exhausted. She was beaming, though. “In here,” she said.

Cisco and Hartley followed her into the room. Kylie was holding a small bundle, wrapped in a pastel green blanket. “Hey, you two,” she said. “After my sister, you're the first ones to meet her.”

“We’re honored,” Cisco breathed, going over to her side. “Oh, my…”

“Well, we don’t really have many people in our life right now,” Celyn said. “But since the New Rogues have been taken care of, we don’t have to hide anymore.”

“What’s her name?” Hartley asked softly.

“Hope Celia Shimizu,” Kylie said.

“Beautiful,” Cisco said. “And she’s adorable.”

“She really is,” Celyn agreed, taking the infant from her girlfriend’s arms. Baby Hope started fussing, scrunching up her little red face and letting out a bit of a wail.

“We'll leave you to it,” Hartley said hastily. “Congratulations, again.”

Cisco managed to wave before Hartley pulled him out the door, down the hall, out of the hospital, and into the car. “Well, you were in a hurry to get out of there,” Cisco remarked.

“I don't like hospitals, and I don't like hearing babies cry,” Hartley stated. “It's at this one particular frequency that makes my hearing aids fritz out for some reason.”

“Huh. I didn't know that.”

“Well, we've never really talked about babies. Except baby Rachel, I guess.”

Cisco raised his eyebrows. “Are we...like, supposed to talk about babies?”

“That wasn't what I meant.”

“What did you mean?” asked Cisco.

“Just that...you had no reason to know. That's all.”

“Okay,” Cisco said. He decided not to ask any more questions, at least for now.

Chapter Text

The sound of an urgent pounding at the door woke Hartley abruptly. He sat up and looked at the clock, which read 2:05 am. “Who the hell…” he muttered.

Cisco was stirring next to him. “Hart? Is someone knocking on the door?”

“Sounds like it.” Hartley got out of bed. “I’ll go see who it is.”

“Mm-kay. I’ll come along in a minute,” Cisco replied sleepily. “Must...must be important. I’ll put my hands on.”

Hartley went downstairs warily, ready to defend himself if something attacked him. The knocking didn’t stop. He opened the door.

“They escaped,” Lumen panted. “They got out.”

“What--” Hartley tried to take in the sight. Celyn was wearing her mask, pajama pants, and the jacket with the Roman numeral X on the front. She was bleeding from the side of her head, and she was holding a small bundle wrapped in a blanket. “What happened ?”

“Top and Mirror Master escaped.”

The words made Hartley’s stomach rise to his throat. “Oh, no.”

“They came for me and Kylie, they attacked us,” Celyn explained quickly. “We barely escaped with our lives.”

“Where’s Kylie? Is she alright?”

“She’s okay, she’s fine. She’s already in hiding, I’m going to go meet her. But we need you to take Hope.” Celyn sounded like she was about to cry. “Please. We can’t take her with us, it’s not safe for a baby on the run, she’s not even a month old yet.”

“I...I don’t know how to take care of a baby!” Hartley said.

“Hartley, please ,” Celyn begged. “We don’t have any other options. Kylie’s sister has gone back to Japan, and they know who she is, anyway. They don’t know where you and Cisco live. She’ll be safe here, Hartley, please…”

Slowly, Hartley reached out and let Celyn put baby Hope in his arms. She was much smaller and more fragile than Rachel had been at 7 months old, who had previously been the youngest child Hartley had ever held. Hope let out a cry, pushing her tongue out of her mouth and squirming. Hartley flinched.

“Will you take care of her for us? Just until it’s safe for us to come back.”

“I…”

Suddenly, Cisco appeared behind him. He took Hope from Hartley’s arms and held her gently. “We’ll take care of her, Celyn,” he promised. “Don’t worry about her. We’ll keep her safe.”

Celyn nodded. Her lip was quivering, and she stepped forward to hug Cisco quickly. “Thank you,” she whispered. She hugged Hartley next, to his surprise. “Thank you.”

“Stay...stay safe,” Hartley told her.

“We’ll do our best. Get them back in prison where they belong, okay?” Celyn requested. “Soon as you can.”

“We will.”

Celyn put her hand on top of the blanket that Hope was wrapped in. “We’ll be back for you soon, baby girl,” she whispered. “I promise you. Me and Mama will be back for you soon.” She kissed Hope’s forehead and ran off into the night.

For a minute, Hartley and Cisco just stood there in stunned silence. Hartley was starting to shiver from the cold. “Should...should we get her inside?” he asked in a hushed voice.

“Oh--yeah. Yeah, that’d be a good idea.” Cisco stepped back into the house as Hartley closed the door.

“Cisco? What do we do now?” Hartley’s voice was actually shaking. He stared at the bundle in Cisco’s arms with wide eyes. I’ve fought the most dangerous New Rogues in Central City, and I’m terrified of a tiny baby .

“It’s alright,” Cisco said. “It’s going to be alright, Hartley. It’s okay. We’ve got to...well, we need to do some shopping. The closest 24-hour store is only about ten minutes away by car. Let’s go get dressed, and I’ll make a list.”

“How are you so calm about this?” Hartley demanded. “We were just handed an actual baby! And now we’re supposed to keep it safe!”

“It’s fine. I’ve got tons of cousins, and I was always in charge of taking care of them when I was a kid. And then I got to babysit their kids. I know how to take care of babies. I even kinda like it.” Cisco rocked baby Hope lightly. She hadn’t made a sound since he had taken her. “Even it this isn’t under the best circumstances.”

Hartley was unconvinced. “But…”

“Hart.” Cisco looked up at him. His eyes were calm, his expression reassuring. “It’s going to be okay .”

Chapter Text

In the pink guest room, just down the hall from the master bedroom, Cisco was standing over a crib. He was absolutely exhausted. Neither he nor Hartley had slept much at all since Hope had arrived at their door. His hair was tied back in a messy bun, dark circles had become permanent residents under his eyes, and he was wearing the same jeans, green t-shirt, and dark blue sweater that he’d had on for two days.

Top and Mirror Master were still at large. Hartley had gone after them a few times, but with no success. Right now wasn’t the best time, anyway. They were both so sleep-deprived that there was no way they could beat the duo at the moment. Besides, keeping Hope safe was more important.

Cisco gazed down at the baby who had become their responsibility. She wasn’t asleep, and her big brown eyes looked up at him with such calm. He smiled at her. “Hey, niñita ,” he said. “If I move, you’re going to start crying again. Which means I can’t go sit down. And you’re supposed to go to sleep, so I can’t pick you up. So what’s it gonna be, hm?”

Hope’s eyes were closing slowly. She sniffled.

Carefully, Cisco took a step back. As soon as he was out of the room, Hope let out a wail. He groaned. “No, no, no. Don’t cry, kiddo. Okay, fine, c’mere.” He picked her up, and she stopped crying after a few seconds. “There, that’s better.”

Hartley walked into the room, rubbing his eyes. “Everything okay?”

“It’s 7 in the morning, and she hasn’t slept since 2,” Cisco let him know. “No. It’s not really okay.”

“I’ll take her, go get some rest.”

Cisco nodded and handed her over. He had been surprised. After Hartley’s initial reservation, he had adjusted his hearing aids so the crying wasn’t as grating, and had fallen into the role of babysitter/temporary father with ease. “Thanks,” Cisco said. He started to walk out of the room.

With a shocking jolt, the world around him suddenly turned blue. Cisco cried out and looked around. He was standing in an alleyway. How did I get here?

A glowing circle appeared a few feet off the ground in front of him. He stared. Out of the circle came tumbling a man in a very familiar red leather suit.

“Barry?!” Cisco cried.

But the Flash didn’t hear him. He just found his footing and took a few steps forward, then leaned down and picked up a newspaper off the ground. “February 3rd, 2024,” he mouthed.

And then the world was shifting again, and he was panting, gasping for air. He fell to his knees on the soft carpet of the bedroom, almost about to throw up.

“Cisco? Cisco, what’s wrong? Cisco!” Hartley was grabbing his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

“I…” Cisco was shaking. “I...oh, my god, oh my...god…”

“Cisco, what’s wrong?” Hartley dropped down next to him, holding Hope in one arm and cupping Cisco’s cheek with the other hand. “Hey, what happened?”

With tears in his eyes, Cisco looked up at his husband. “I...I just had a Vibe,” he whispered. “Hartley, I just Vibed...Barry.”

Hartley blinked. “You…”

Vibed ,” Cisco repeated. “I...I’ve got to…” His mind whirling, he rushed downstairs, all the way into the Hideout and sat down at the computers. “Where are you, where are you…?”

Hartley followed him, still holding Hope. “Cisco, what are you doing?”

“Hacking some security cameras,” Cisco told him. “I’ve got to find him.”

“Find...Barry?”

“Barry, yes, Barry!” Cisco typed furiously. “He’s here . And…hah!” He pulled up a video feed of the alleyway he had Vibed. There Barry was, in his old suit. The Flash symbol was the old version, with the white in the emblem. The red was a bit duller. “2017.”

“What?”

“He’s here from 2017,” Cisco said. “It’s--” He broke off as someone else stepped onto the camera. “Top!”

Hartley was staring. “Cisco, what do you mean, 2017?”

“He came from the past--oh!” Cisco gasped as he watched Barry fall.

“Should we go help him?” Hartley asked.

“I think...he’s got it under control.” Cisco watched, and sighed in relief as Barry ran off. Top and Mirror Master disappeared into the nearby window. “I’ve got to go to him.”

“He’s from the past?” Hartley checked. “Like...time travel?”

“Must be. He must be here for something, I’ve got to help him.”

“But he just ran away. How will you find him?”

Cisco looked up. “I know where he’ll go. Take care of Hope, I’ll be back as soon as I can!” He stood up and went up the stairs, heading to the door.

“Cisco!” Hartley cried.

He turned back. “Yeah?”

Hartley caught his arm and kissed him. “Be safe.”

“I will.” Cisco went out the door and headed straight for the building where Barry and Iris’s apartment had been.

He knew that Barry was there. He could feel it. So he went up through the abandoned building, up to the very top floor. The door to the apartment was open. He stepped inside.

Crouching on the ground, looking at a photograph, Barry didn’t seem to notice Cisco’s presence. He was wearing a red zip-up sweatshirt and blue jeans. His hair was shorter than the last time Cisco had seen him. But then, for this Barry, that hadn’t even happened yet.

“I knew it was you,” Cisco said softly. His voice broke slightly from exhaustion and emotion.

Barry turned. “Cisco?” He stood up quickly.

Cisco walked towards him. “Barry Allen,” he said. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling and laughing a little bit as he wrapped Barry in a hug. God, I’ve missed my best friend.

“Um…” Barry returned the hug, but pulled back quickly. “How did you know I was here?”

“I had a feeling,” Cisco told him. “A feeling I have not felt in a long time. And so I hacked into the security cameras, and I saw you fighting Top and Mirror Master...in your O.G. suit! With the white emblem, 2017 edition, of course…” He realized he was rambling, and crossed his arms. “Being here...this is no accident, is it?”

Barry sighed and shook his head. “I came here for some information. And then I’m...I’m going back.”

“What’s the information?” Cisco asked. Internally, he was pleading for Barry not to go back. Stay here, please. We need you. Help us take down Top and Mirror Master so Hope can go back to her moms.

But Barry didn’t answer, just sighed softly again.

“Oh,” Cisco acknowledged, almost laughing. “Oh. Time travel, yeah, yeah.” He started pacing, thinking, trying to connect the dots. But he was tired, and it wasn’t as easy as it should have been. “You say something, you might mess something up, right? Don’t worry, my powers of deduction have improved since 2017...2017…” And then he realized. “Savitar.”

Barry avoided his gaze, but his face confirmed it. “I need to talk to me. Do you know where he is?”

 

If anyone can get through to Barry, it’s himself , Cisco thought as he led the Barry from the past through the abandoned halls of S.T.A.R. Labs. He hadn’t been there for over 2 years.

Barry was looking around. “So...H.R. stopped the S.T.A.R. Labs museum?”

“H.R….went on to...other things,” Cisco answered.

“What about Caitlin?”

A pang in his chest made Cisco wince. “Once she became Killer Frost, she never stepped in this building again,” he said quietly.

“So I shut down this place?”

So many questions . Cisco snorted. “My friend, you shut everything down. S.T.A.R. Labs, Team Flash...You didn’t want us around. So you pushed us away.”

“Why?” Barry asked.

Cisco remembered what Barry had said to him in the hospital. It was a bit fuzzy, but some things stood out. “You said it was because of what we represented. That we were a constant reminder to you of what you’d lost. But you weren’t the only one who lost something.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep a hint of bitterness from creeping into his voice.

They were both quiet in the elevator down to the Cortex. “Are you sure he’s here?” Barry wanted to know as he stepped out.

“He never leaves this place.” Cisco lingered in the elevator.

Barry turned back. “Well, what are you going to do? Aren’t you going to come with me?”

Cisco shook his head. “Man, I shouldn’t even be here.” The elevator door started to close, and he stopped it. “Get what you need. Just...don’t leave without saying goodbye.”

“Alright,” Barry said, and he walked away as the elevator door closed completely.

He’s going to need my help to get back, Cisco thought to himself. He made a decision, one he knew was morally grey and probably not going to work well, but he was going to do it.

 

“Cisco, what’re you doing now?” Hartley asked, a little exasperated.

“Buildin’ something,” Cisco muttered. He was focused on a tiny piece of technology.

“What’s it for?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He wasn’t going to tell Hartley that he was building a resonance field disruptor that would prevent Barry from going back to 2017. Hartley would try to stop him.

“Alright,” Hartley conceded. “I’ll keep taking care of Hope. But I’ll get you back by tomorrow, right? It’s our anniversary.”

“Right,” Cisco said absently. “Tomorrow, yeah.”

Hartley sighed, adjusted the way he was holding the baby, and left the workshop.

 

“Are you sure you can’t stay?” Cisco pleaded. He glanced around nervously, trying to keep pace with Barry but wishing they were anywhere but in the Lab.

“I’m not going to get what I came for,” Barry replied.

“Look, we could really use you--” Cisco really didn’t want to use the device. If he could get Barry to stay and help of his own free will, that would be infinitely better.

But Barry interrupted him. “Cisco--”

Cisco interrupted him right back. “I mean it. Mirror Master and Top are not the only villains in the city. Barry, we don’t have a Flash here, not anymore, okay?” He was trying to make Barry understand.

“Well, Cisco...I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Cisco glanced away with disappointment. Barry sounded like he wasn’t going to change his mind.

Barry smiled at him, like he was trying to reassure him, and put his hand on his shoulder. “Look, it’s good to see you in any time, alright?”

“Yeah.” Cisco tried to return the smile. “You, too.”

The speedster took off, running around and around the particle accelerator. The laps got faster and faster. Cisco went over to the screen. It’s working . Barry came back, panting, looking very confused.

“You okay?” Cisco asked. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Barry said. “A portal won’t open, I can’t get back. I can’t get back to the past.”

I know . But he said nothing.

Barry tried another half a dozen times before giving up. He paced down the corridor. “What’s happening, Cisco?”

“I don’t know,” Cisco lied.

“But...why can’t I open a portal? Wasn’t I going fast enough?”

“Well, I don’t know, we don’t have the telemetry for the suit,” Cisco said. At least that much was the truth.

“Okay, well…” Barry was at a loss for words. “We’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to get back.”

“We’re going to get you back home, not to worry,” Cisco said. That was true, also. But not yet. “But look, good news, good news. You can always go back to the exact time in which you left, no matter how long you stay here.” He sat down on the ridge along the length of the corridor.

“Yeah,” Barry sighed, sitting down as well. He thought for a second. “Maybe it was Scudder or Dillon. They seemed a little different from the last time I fought them.”

Cisco laughed. “I mean, look around you. Everything’s different.” He paused. “Except you. Maybe this means we can get the team back together.”

“Why haven’t you done that?”

Suddenly, Cisco realized that he couldn’t tell Barry about Hartley. His heart sank. He wanted nothing more than to tell his best friend about his husband, about the life they had built together. But he couldn’t. Not without risking damage to the timeline. And he wasn’t about to do anything that might put the course of his and Hartley’s relationship in jeopardy. He’d tell him something else, instead. “I’ve tried,” he said. “Believe me, I’ve tried. But you see, Caitlin’s not the only thing Killer Frost took.” He stood up and pulled off one of his gloves, showing Barry the metal fingers underneath. “No hands, no Vibes,” he said, and hoped that Barry wouldn’t ask how he had build the prosthetics in the first place. “And without my powers, without you…” He didn’t finish the sentence, but he knew Barry understood.

Barry was looking at him with something like pity. Cisco didn’t like it, and was glad when Barry changed the subject. “What hap--what about everyone else? Julian, Wally, Joe…?”

Cisco sighed softly, and decided to take Barry on a tour.

 

They found Julian in his lab at Iron Heights, cleaning off a tray. The scientist turned to them tiredly. “It’s been a while, gentlemen. Especially you, Flash,” he greeted.

Cisco could tell that Julian thought this was Barry from now , and he gestured for Barry to come forward into the light. “More than you know,” he said.

“Allen?” Julian asked warily.

“Yeah, it’s me, Julian. From the past. 2017.”

Understanding glimmered in Julian’s eyes. “2017. The year it all began.”

That’s not dramatic at all, Cisco thought.

“I’ll assume you’re here for some answers, then, are you?” Julian asked.

“Something like that,” Barry said.

Julian turned to Cisco. “Well, you brought him to the wrong place, mate,” he said, almost angrily.

“I just wanted him to understand,” Cisco explained quietly.

“Julian,” Barry said. “Can I see her?”

Cisco flinched a little as Julian took them into Caitlin’s prison. The memory of the mirror was a little too fresh in his mind. He hoped that Caitlin wouldn’t say anything about Hartley.

“I tried to find her something a little more humane, but this is the best I could do,” Julian told Barry before turning on 2-way audio into the cell.

Frost had been lying down, but sat up as she saw Barry.

“It’s me,” Barry said to her.

“Barry Allen,” Frost said with a little surprise in her icy voice.

“I’m…”

“From the past. I can tell,” replied Frost bluntly. “There’s no hate in your eyes...yet. So, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit? Come to see how things turn out for Team Flash?”

Cisco could tell that Barry was searching for words. “I wanted to see what happened to my friend,” he came up with eventually.

Frost strode up to the glass angrily. “I am not your friend, Flash.”

Barry stepped closer. “I’m so sorry that I did this to you. I should have saved you.” He unknowingly echoed the same words that Cisco had said to her just a few months ago. And Caitlin responded in the same way.

“I’m glad that you did this to me.”

“Caitlin wasn’t.”

Frost rolled her eyes.

“I failed her,” Barry continued. “But I won’t, when I go back. I’m gonna find you. And I’m gonna help you.”

“You’re no match for the God of Speed,” Frost said disdainfully. As Barry didn’t reply, Frost’s gaze turned to Cisco. “Oh...you didn’t tell him, did you? Well, secrets always were our thing, weren’t they?”

Cisco closed his eyes for a second.

“When I became Killer Frost, Savitar appeared to me and showed me the way,” Caitlin informed Barry. “We made one hell of a team.”

“Why would you help him?” Barry wondered.

“Because, he gave me the thing you couldn’t: the cure to my illness--embracing who I really am!” Frost’s voice rose.

Barry stared at her. “You know who he is.”

Frost smiled, which was answer enough.

“Who is he?” Barry demanded. He got close enough to the glass that his nose was almost touching it. “Tell me who he is.”

Frost shook her head and wagged her finger. “I’ll never tell.” She looked him up and down. “You are gonna be so surprised when you find out.” She started to walk away from the glass, saying, “You know, I think your protege went toe to toe with Savitar. Maybe he can help you out.”

Cisco could see the hope, the light in Barry’s eyes as he turned back. “I need to see Wally,” Barry said, and Cisco could have cried.

 

Beth answered the door. “Hello?” she said.

Before Cisco could answer, Barry stepped forward. “I’m looking for Wally West.”

Smiling, Beth said, “I recognize you from Joe’s photos. You’re Barry, right?”

“Barr...Barry, right. Uh, this is Cisco…”

Cisco almost giggled. “Hey, Beth,” he said.

“Hey, Cisco. I’m Beth,” she told Barry. “Come on in. I’ll be upstairs if you need anything, and...stay as long as you like. We don’t get many visitors.” She headed up the stairs, touching Cisco on the shoulder briefly as she went.

Cisco didn’t even have to say anything. Barry turned to look around and saw Wally immediately, sitting in his wheelchair in the living room. He looked at Cisco with questioning horror. Cisco walked closer to Wally. “Hey, buddy. I brought a friend,” he said, nodding to Barry to tell him that it was alright to go over to him.

“Wally?” Barry said cautiously. “Hey, it’s me. It’s Barry.” Wally didn’t respond, of course. “Hey,” Barry repeated. He crouched down in front of the wheelchair and put his hand on Wally’s knee. “Can you hear me?” When Barry didn’t get so much as a blink of recognition from his little brother, he looked at Cisco desperately. “What happened to him?”

“Iris died. And that sent him into this...rage. And, uh, he went after Savitar by himself one night. Joe found him the next day.” Cisco watched Barry carefully. “With a shattered spine. No one knows what he saw that night, but whatever it was...he’s been like this ever since.”

Barry was almost crying as he told Wally, “I’m so sorry.”

Cisco took a step forward. “Listen, Barry, you and Joe…”

“Where is he?”

“Well, he’s not here. Which means there’s only one other place he can be.”

 

And so they went to the cemetery next, and Cisco did his best to hold it together when he saw a few tears slip out of Barry’s eyes. They could see Joe in the distance, putting his daily flowers on Iris’s grave. “You go,” Cisco told Barry. “I’ll stay here.” After Barry had started to walk across the graveyard towards Joe, Cisco pulled out his phone. As soon as Barry was out of earshot, Cisco said, “Call Hartley.”

“Calling Hartley Rathaway,” the phone responded smoothly.

It took longer than usual for Hartley to pick up. “Yeah, Cisco--no, shhh, shhh, shhh, Hope, don’t cry!” The baby’s wails were the only thing Cisco could hear over the phone for a minute, before she quieted down, and Hartley’s voice returned. “Sorry, Cisco. She’s…”

“Everything okay?”

“It’s alright. She finally took a nap, and she just woke up. How about you?”

“Oh, it’s…” Cisco watched as Joe and Barry talked, small figures in the distance, Joe never turning around to look at his son. “It’s not easy.”

“Is everything going to be alright? With Barry, I mean?”

“We’ll see.”

“Reason you called?”

Cisco glanced around the graveyard. “Missed you,” he said. “Just missed you.”

“Love you, Cisco. Come home soon, okay? I can’t do the whole single parent thing.”

Laughing, Cisco said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be home soon, I’m sure. That’s all. I love you. Bye.”

“Bye, lovely.” Hartley hung up.

Barry was heading back towards Cisco. “Hey, Barr, are you--” Cisco started. But Barry didn’t answer, taking off in a blur of golden lightning. “Oh, no.” Cisco sighed, and got a cab back to S.T.A.R. Labs.

“Cisco!” Barry strode towards him in the Cortex. “Did you find out what’s keeping me here? I need to go home.”

“What? You’re leaving...now?” Cisco said, shocked.

“He--he’s--” Barry gestured back towards the hallway he had come from, indicating the present Barry. “He’s not gonna help me, man, he’s broken. And if Caitlin’s working with Savitar, I need to get back, I need to--before she’s lost to us forever.”

“What about everyone else? Don’t you want to help them?” Cisco pressed.

“I can’t help them!”

So this was how it was going to be. Barry would never accept that what happened, happened, and that the past couldn’t be changed, but the present could. “I should have known. No matter what I do, you’re going to abandon the ones closest to you.” He started to walk away, to go back home to Hartley and to Hope.

“Cisco, it’s not like that, it’s just...I can’t stay here.”

Cisco stopped, but refused to turn and face him.

“But...you want me to.”

He’s going to figure it out .

“To get the team back together,” Barry continued, realization dawning in his voice. “It wasn’t Mirror Master or Top who did something to me. It was you. Wasn’t it?”

Still not turning around, Cisco nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

Not angrily, but with soft, gentle curiosity, Barry asked, “What did you do?”

Resigning, Cisco reached out and pulled the small device off the table in front of him. “You know the resonance field you create when you run?” he said, holding the piece of metal up for Barry to look at. “This disrupts that.” He handed it to Barry. “I might not be able to use my powers, but I still know something about tech.”

Barry shook his head in disbelief. “Why would you keep me here?”

“‘Cause I miss my friend,” Cisco replied easily.

“Cis…” Barry started, but couldn’t even finish saying his name.

“If you want to go, I’m not going to stop you. I don’t know why I expected you to be the same Barry Allen I remember.” All this time, Hartley has been right . “That guy still had some fight left in him.” When Barry didn’t reply, Cisco left.

Except he couldn’t bring himself to actually leave. He stood at the doors to the elevator, trying to will himself to push the button, but he didn’t. A few minutes later, he felt the rush of wind and crackle of electricity behind him. He turned around, and there was Barry.

“You were right. This isn’t the future I wanted,” Barry said. “I can’t go back, knowing I let it stay like this. You want to help me try to fix it?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Cisco replied.

“Well, let’s get the team back together.”

Cisco opened his mouth, wanting to say something but not sure what.

“Even H.R.,” Barry added, sparing Cisco from having to think of something, to his relief.

 

“What do you mean, you’re putting the team back together to take down Mirror Master and Top?” Hartley demanded.

“Okay, okay, shh,” Cisco said quickly. “Look, I’ve gotta make this quick. Barry doesn’t know about you, and I’m trying to keep it that way. He’s getting everyone else.”

“I should be there to help fight them!” Hartley protested.

“No, you’ve got to take care of Hope. Please, Hart. Trust me.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. “I do trust you,” Hartley conceded. “I always trust you, my love.”

“So keep Hope safe. If all goes well, her mamas are going to be able to come get her again really soon. Love you, Hartley.”

“Love you, too, Cisco.”

“I’ve got to go.” Cisco put his phone away quickly as, one after another, Team Flash appeared in the room in a whirl of lightning.

“Julian...H.R….” Joe said numbly. “What the hell is going on?”

“I-I-I would like to know the very same thing--I was about to check one of the most important boxes a man can check in his life!” H.R. stammered, gesturing wildly. “And--and who brought us here?”

“I brought you all here,” Barry said, standing next to Cisco. All three turned to face them.

“Ah, it’s you again,” Julian muttered.

“Barr…” Joe stared at him. “You...you look…”

“Young?” Barry supplied.

“He’s from the past, Detective,” Julian said. “2017, to be precise.”

“I knew something felt weird in the cemetery, you hadn’t visited Iris in years,” Joe said.

Barry nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. Cisco told me, or showed me, that you all haven’t been a team in a long time. And I know that I’m the reason for that.”

When Julian gave Cisco a very curious look, Cisco shook his head. Don’t ask , he communicated silently, and Julian understood.

“Iris’s death shouldn’t have driven me away from you all, I mean, it should have driven me closer,” Barry continued. “This isn’t what she would want. But I’m here now to tell you that, no matter what happens in the past, I will not abandon you.”

Cisco wondered if that was true. If this was going to change anything. But he would just have to wait and see. Just then, his phone began to beep.

“What’s that?” Julian asked.

“It’s a metahuman app,” Cisco said, looking at the phone screen. “Mirror Master and Top are at it again.”

“Let’s get them,” Barry said, his eyes lighting up.

“Us? As in, Team Flash?” Joe checked.

Cisco stepped forward. “Guys, we have a chance to put some hope back into our lives.” He didn’t miss the irony of his statement. He thought about Celyn and Kylie, forced to leave their newborn daughter behind and flee for their lives. “And I…I really need it right now. I think you do, too.”

A pause hung over the room as everyone thought about it. “So what do you say?” Barry asked finally. “You ready for Team Flash to take down the bad guys again?”

H.R. hesitated for a second, and then put his hand out, palm down. “Team Flash,” he said.

Cisco grinned. I love Team Piper, but...I’ve missed this. He added his hand to H.R.’s. Barry followed, and Julian, who murmured, “Team Flash,” in echo of H.R. Finally, Joe put his hand on top.

“On three,” H.R. said. “One, two--three!’ And they all raised their hands in celebration of something that had returned from once upon a time and long ago.

 

From over the comms, Cisco listened as Barry taunted the pair of Rogues while he rushed around the Cortex, turning lights on and uncovering computer monitors. “Man, it’s good to be back,” he said aloud.

H.R. was tearing through the Cortex, looking for something. He actually picked up the resonance field dampener off the table and then put it down on the desk, muttering, “Well, that’s--what the--”

“What...what are you doing?” Julian asked him.

“I just...I had a…”

“What are you looking for?” Julian pressed.

“I just--I found--oh!” H.R. picked something up from underneath a stack of papers and turned to the rest of the team, grinning. It was his drumsticks. “Now I’m ready.”

Cisco rolled his eyes fondly and listened to what was happening with Barry.

“You should have done as you were told, Flash,” Mirror Master said. “It’s two versus one. Odds aren’t in your favor.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Barry replied boldly.

“Give him a little ride,” Mirror Master said as an aside.

“With pleasure,” Top said.

Worriedly, Cisco kept listening. Barry was panting. “Well, that’s new,” muttered Barry. “Oh--”

“He can’t move!” H.R. said, staring at the screen.

“They’re using their powers at the same time,” Cisco said.

“What are we gonna do?” Julian asked.

“Can’t he phase, or something?” Joe chimed in.

“That doesn’t work on these guys,” Cisco told him.

“Well, what will?” pressed Joe.

Cisco thought quickly and looked at H.R. “Give me that thing in your hands.”

H.R. tried to hand him a drumstick.

Clinging to patience, Cisco said, “The other thing.”

H.R. gave him the resonance field dampener that he had been fidgeting with. “That makes more sense.”

“I can rejigger this to mimic the resonance fields from Scudder’s portals to make it so Barry can manipulate the mirrors,” he said, remembering something that Curtis had mentioned as an offhand comment. Cisco had dismissed at the time because they didn’t have a speedster handy, but now...

“But what about Top?” Joe asked.

“This will also restore whatever rarefaction event she’s causing.”

“Yes, that’s good, that’s brilliant,” Julian said. “But without opening another breach, how can we possibly get it into his hands in time?”

Cisco hadn’t thought of that. He looked around, but nobody seemed to have any ideas. Then--

“I’ll take it to him.”

They all turned to see Barry, present Barry, with his long dark hair and his sad, angry eyes, standing at the edge of the hallway.

“I saw what you were doing, from the Time Vault,” Barry said. “You need help.” He nodded towards the resonance field dampener. “Give it to me.”

A fraction of a second’s hesitation, then Cisco grabbed the device and tossed it to him. The speedster caught it easily. “Go!” Cisco said.

Barry nodded again, and was gone in a flash. A few seconds later, his voice came over the past Barry’s comm. “I thought it was about time I did something.”

Damn right , Cisco thought privately.

“Cisco made it,” present Barry said. “Now her powers won’t affect us, and we can go anywhere he does.”

Past Barry panted for a second. Then his slightly higher, lighter voice came over the comms as well. “The odds seem pretty even now, huh?”

“Go, go,” Mirror Master said, probably urging Top to run.

“You mind?” asked present Barry.

“Be my guest,” past Barry responded.

Cisco held his breath, but there was no need to be worried. They had done it.

 

“In a bizarre twist, and the first sighting in years, eyewitnesses claim not one, but two Scarlet Speedsters were responsible for apprehending Sam Scudder and Rosalind Dillon, aka Mirror Master and Top. I’m sure I speak for all residents of Central City when I say this: Flash, if you’re watching, it’s good to see you again.”

Cisco turned off the screen. “Ladies and gentlemen, Team Flash, back at it again!”

“Yeah!” H.R. cheered.

A little less enthusiastic, present Barry said, “Yeah. I think this was a good first step, Cisco, but, yeah, we have a ways to go. Especially me.” To past Barry, he added, “I heard what you said. And you were right. Iris wouldn’t have wanted this. She would have wanted us to stay a family.” An immediate solemn hush fell over them all as he continued. “I broke that promise to her--to all of you. You made me realize, even though Savitar’s gone, I’ve...I’ve still been letting him win. I was wrong to do that. If you’re all willing to...try to be a family again, I think I can, too.”

Joe was looking between the two Barrys. “I don’t...know which of you to hug first,” he said.

Past Barry pointed to present Barry instantly. “Him.”

Joe went up to present Barry and pulled him into a tight hug.

He looks like he needed that, Cisco thought. Both of them do.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but...I’m in,” Julian said. “H.R.? What do you say?”

“Yeah, I got a lot of coffee tastings and some book readings, lots of women left to charm--” Everyone groaned. “But I’m in,” he added hastily. “You know what? Free coffees for the gang at H.R. Jitters. Maybe 10% off, on me, let’s go!” He rushed down the corridor.

Cisco followed him. “Hey, H.R., I really appreciate it, but I’ve got to get Barry home. And then I have to get home. I’ve got people waiting for me, you know.”

“Oh, yes, I got the wedding invitation. So sorry I couldn’t come, you understand, lots of things to do.”

“It’s alright. But I’m going to head down into the pipeline and wait for Barry. Okay? Have fun at Jitters. And--oh, I won’t actually be able to come in tomorrow,” he remembered. “It’s mine and Hartley’s anniversary, and with Top and Mirror Master put away again, I’m sure Celyn and Kylie will be coming back for Hope--anyway, it might be a few days before I can actually come in. But I’ll see you soon. I promise.” He hugged H.R. quickly, patted Julian’s shoulder, hugged Joe, and then headed down.

He waited in the pipeline for a few minutes before past Barry arrived. They stood facing each other for a minute.

“Weird, it feels just like Back to the Future,” Cisco broke the silence.

Barry laughed.

“Which would make me Doc Brown,” continued Cisco.

“You’re not gonna give me some kind of letter, are you?” Barry checked.

“No, I will not,” Cisco said, still laughing, but a little more serious now. He took a deep breath and held out his prosthetic to shake Barry’s hand.

Barry took it. “I’m gonna do something to fix that,” he said.

I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t need fixing.

Pulling Cisco in to hug him, Barry added, “You’re too good of a superhero to lose those powers.”

But I just found them again. Cisco said nothing, though, and just opened the round door to the accelerator. “Hey,” he said impulsively. “You know you’re my BFF, right?”

Barry smiled at him. “You too, man.” And then…

Faster and faster and faster he went, around and around until there was hardly any time at all between when his lightning flitted across the door. Then nothing. He was gone.

Cisco stood there, shaking a little from everything that had happened. He took a deep breath and glanced at his phone. 10:28. Still enough time to make it home before midnight.

 

As soon as he stepped into the house, he could hear baby Hope wailing. He went upstairs and into the pink room, where Hartley was walking her back and forth to try and calm her down. “Cisco!” Hartley exclaimed. “Oh, thank god you’re home. She won’t stop crying. And she’s eaten and she’s clean, but--”

“Here, give her here.” Cisco lifted the baby out of his husband’s arms. “It’s alright, I’m home.”

“I saw on the news, you got them. They’re in prison.”

“And they’ve ramped security up so high that they’re never getting out again,” Cisco said over the infant’s cries. “Celyn and Kylie can come back and take Hope.”

“Yeah.” Hartley had a strange expression on his face. “Yeah.”

Cisco narrowed his eyes. “Hartley...are you going to miss her?”

“I…” Hartley sighed. “Yeah. I mean, we’ve only been taking care of her for just over a week, but I’m already...I don’t know.”

“Well, maybe we can talk about getting one of our very own,” Cisco suggested gently.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

A warm feeling rose in Cisco’s chest. “Go take a shower, get some pajamas on, okay? You need to rest.”

“I need to know what happened today! You have to tell me everything.”

“There’ll be plenty of time for that. I’ll put her to bed.” Cisco shooed Hartley off and started walking Hope back and forth across the room, bouncing her gently.

A minute later, she still hadn’t stopped crying. Cisco started to sing to her, desperate for anything that might get her to quiet down.

“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry,” he started, and sang as much of the song as he knew, making up nonsense lyrics when he couldn’t think of anything else. Her wails got a little quieter, but she didn’t stop. Encouraged, Cisco changed the song to a Brahms lullaby. “Lullaby, and goodnight, with roses of white, and lilies bedeck baby’s small bed…”

He went through every lullaby he knew, which wasn’t really very many. As soon as he would stop singing, she would let out an even louder wail.

One song popped into his head. It was the lullaby from the Broadway version of Peter Pan that Wendy Darling sang to the Lost Boys to get them to sleep, “Distant Melody”. Can’t hurt, even if it’s not a traditional lullaby.

“Once upon a time, and long ago,” he sang. “I heard someone singing, soft, and low.” Miraculously, Hope quieted down. He smiled, and kept singing. “Now, when day is done, and night is near, I recall this song I used to hear.”

Hartley’s voice joined him from the hallway, slipping into Peter’s harmony. “My child, my very own, don’t be afraid, you’re not alone.” He came and put his arms around Cisco’s waist. “Sleep, until the dawn, for all is well.” Alone, he continued, “Long ago this song was sung to me, now it’s just a distant melody.”

“Somewhere from the past I used to know, once upon a time, and long ago. Somewhere from the past I used to know, once upon a time, and long ago…” they finished together.

Hope was asleep. Well and truly asleep. Carefully, Cisco placed her down into the crib. She didn’t stir. Taking Hartley’s hand, he tiptoed out of the room and into their own bedroom.

“So, do you think she’ll sleep through the night?” Hartley asked softly.

“Probably not, but let’s take advantage of it while we can.” Cisco discarded his clothing and slid on some soft pajamas. He removed his prosthetics and put them on the charger.

“Did the Barry from the past go home?”

“Yes, he’s gone.”

Hartley nodded slowly. He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Will it change? Will he change the past, do you think he can do it?”

“It hasn’t changed yet.”

“Will we know?” Hartley wondered.

Cisco lay down on the bed, exhausted. “Hartley, I don’t know.”

“But you will,” said Hartley. “If it changes, you’ll be able to tell. You can see through the timelines.”

“Hartley, lie down.”

He obliged, pulling Cisco into his arms so that their faces almost touched. “Cisco, promise me something.”

“Anything, my love,” Cisco told him.

Hartley pressed their foreheads together. “If it does change...if something does change, and we don’t...we never…”

“It won’t happen.”

“You said you would promise me!”

“Alright, alright. I’m sorry. Go ahead,” Cisco apologized.

Hartley was stroking Cisco’s hair, fiddling with a lock of it. “You’ll find me, right? No matter what timeline we end up in. Promise me that you’ll make sure we find each other. Because I don’t care what else is fixed, or if the New Rogues never rise to power. If it’s not a world where we’re together, I don’t want to live in it.”

“I promise,” Cisco said easily. “I’ll find you, Hartley. I’ll find you.”

“Thank you.” Hartley glanced over at the clock. “It’s almost midnight.”

“Our first anniversary.” Cisco smiled. “Hey, Hartley? I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

As the seconds ticked down to midnight, they moved in to kiss each other on their anniversary. As the clock changed to 12:00, just before their lips touched, Cisco closed his eyes…