When he sees her lurking in the doorway he wants to believe she came back to help him, that Caitlin is still in there, still cares.
“Please tell me we're not gonna just let her walk out of here?“ Joe is right, they can't let this opportunity go. He looks to Cisco and to Julian, “We have to try.“
As they come face to face with her by the elevator he swears the room is a touch cooler than usual just by her presence.
“Now you want to fight?“ She looks surprised but Barry isn't sure why them coming after her causes that. Had she hoped they'd let her slip out without another word?
“We don't want to fight you,“ Cisco says, sounding hard and tired.
“Can't really avoid that now, can we?“ she retorts, like it is a full gone conclusion.
He can't quite comprehend how it has come to this. That they are on completely different sides, that he can't tell what one of his best friends is thinking when he looks at her, her expression so cold.
“Yeah, we can. You can stay here with us. We're your friends. Your family. “
He gives it his best shot, but it proves to be just another shot across the bow, futile. He'd hoped he could appeal to her memories. She simply blinks and turns away from them. Possibly he has only better shown her, and by extension Savitar, their weakness in the fact they still want to bring her back to them. He has no more words right then for her, unable to figure out why they aren't enough to sway her, but Julian steps up, earnest in his last ditch pleas to her.
“Caitlin, I can fix you.“
“You already tried.“
“Well then, I'll try harder. I don't care what it takes. I don't care what I have to do. I swear to you, I will find you a cure. Caitlin, I love you.“
He has hope when Julian confesses he loves her that maybe that will pull her back, because he's realised all too late that Julian had been the one helping her hold on, the one who understood the real danger her powers posed to her.
Barry knows now that he'd taken it for granted that Caitlin could be strong. And she had been strong, had seemed to be doing alright, right up until the point where she was no more, when Julian had made the fateful decision that this was better than no Caitlin at all. Cisco had been angry at first, but Barry was grateful because he isn't sure he could cope with another person he cares about dying, not with the threat of Iris's death hanging over them and especially not when he wonders if he could have done more for Caitlin, if they could have stopped this. He still hopes they can, he won't give up on her.
“I don't love you, Julian. I never did. “
When she says she never loved any of them his heart sinks. He doesn't want to believe she's gone.
He stands in the infirmary afterwards, mood melancholy, wondering if this is where his friend died, where Killer Frost was born. If that's true it feels unreal to him, maybe that's the only reason he can't accept it. That he wasn't there, that he didn't get to say goodbye. He has to take a steady breath and push back against that sense of hopelessness.
Even now, Julian, the designated pessimist of the team still thinks they can save her. Julian hasn't taken her rejection to heart, so why is he taking it so hard? If Caitlin is still in there then he doesn't believe she meant what she said, and if she isn't, then that's not his friend saying those words. Either way it hurts though. Is Caitlin just another person he couldn't save? He hadn't tried hard enough and right now he hates himself more than a little for that.
When he looks back over the last few months he thinks of the flashes of doubt he had seen on her face, places where he could have said something more, moments he could have reached out. He'd expected she'd ask for help if she needed it, he'd thought she was doing okay and there had been plenty of others things happening that had seemed more important. The temporary fix they'd given her had lulled all the rest of them into a false sense of security, all except Julian and Caitlin herself. He'd not noticed the battle that Julian has talked about since, the everpresent fear of her powers that remained despite the delicate necklace that housed the vital power inhibitor.
She'd still been afraid, desperately pushing it down, avoiding dealing with what she could do as much as possible and Barry hadn't recognised that as an immediate issue because he thought they'd changed the future. He hadn't understood it properly, what it meant for Caitlin, but then he has never felt fearful about his powers, only about losing them. He'd had dark thoughts, sure, but they had been fleeting, the temptation of vengeance never great enough to follow through.
Caitlin's emotions had always been more explosive, her trying to batten them down until she couldn't contain them anymore. All her worry pent up into panic, pretending she could cope just fine with the spikes of adrenaline, until the times Cisco would guide her to the gurney or one of the couches to sleep it off. All her sadness so often twisted into blaming herself instead of others, like how she'd never blamed him for Ronnie's death. Nor Cisco the first time for locking in Ronnie when the particle accelerator went off. Yet her words when they'd locked her up before, when she'd first shown signs of struggling with her powers, had revealed that those feelings lurked in her mind, the blame suddenly turned outward instead, trying to inflict maximum damage to everyone around her with sharp slices of the truth.
He'd never been denying what he was, he'd never denied how he felt. Caitlin had and when she'd been at her weakest everything had come out all at once and taken her over. Or so he hopes, as awful as it sounds to hope for it, because if she just couldn't fight it anymore then at least there's something to fight, some way to ger her back.
He's relieved to have his memories back, because his memories make him who he is, but he can see the appeal sometimes of being numb to all the pain. He'd rather believe she's simply freezing them out, emotionally, that it is easier to stop feeling, to reject them before they reject her because she's hurting and afraid. But is that what she's doing, is his friend even in there anymore?
Iris walks in, concern for him evident as she approaches, and it does him good to talk to her rather than brood alone. He allows her optimism about Caitlin, and about who he is - who he can be despite his pain and darkness - to lift his spirits, even as the fear and guilt eats at him.
After their chat he feels at least a touch hopeful again and Iris's kisses chase away all remaining thought for a little while, grounding him. When HR interupts he scowls, wishing he could have more time away from the constant pressure. He supposes he's had his reprieve though, as Bart, and in Flashpoint – a reprieve that no one else got. It's selfish really to wish for more. Duty calls.
Like so many nights lately, he can't sleep. Going for a run usually helps but this time no amount of speeding through the city alleviates the dull ache inside. Their half formed plan simultaneously relieves and frustrates him. They have the what but not the how - 3.86TJ of power to conjure up. There's some comfort in knowing Savitar doesn't have everything he needs just yet. He wishes he knew what it was Savitar needs other than Iris's death. Part of him worries it has to do with Caitlin.
Seeing Caitlin again has shaken him up. When she'd been out there more obliquely it had been easy to place her in the back of his mind. A threat that he could mostly ignore because she didn't seem a real threat, not Caitlin. But she was a threat, a threat that he honestly didn't want to think about if he could avoid it. He didn't want to consider what she might do, of how different she was from the woman he knew. She'd failed at killing Tracy but was it for lack of trying? Up until now he'd tried to tackle or take all her hits as if he alone could make up for what was happening, like he could prevent her from doing anything she might regret. One day he wouldn't be able to, maybe only then would it hit home that she wasn't his friend anymore. Until that day he didn't think he could give up on her though.
Wally and him had searched the city several times over looking for her before. Which was probably in vain considering her alliance with Savitar, she couldn't be found unless she wanted to be. If he's honest with himself, they could have tried more. He doesn't think he was ready to find her then, to face that frosty mirror of her, nor hear her blame him. Caitlin might not have but Killer Frost is another matter, tongue cruel and free, well aware of everything she could say to hurt him best. Maybe those hits were ones he should be taking willingly too. He owes her something more than he has given so far. One last chance.
He remembers where Killer Frost roamed on Earth-2, seeking refuge in the forest. Caitlin definitely had a fondness for forests, if her desktop wallpapers were anything to go by. That's where he might go too, if he was afraid of his powers, if he didn't want to hurt people like he hopes some part of her feels. He speeds around the outskirts of town, running rings deeper and deeper into the woodland until he comes to a quaint clearing at the bottom of a cliff. It's an idyllic spot, where a small waterfall runs into a stream with a tiny bridge crossing it, peaceful in the dead of night, no hikers or tourists in sight thankfully.
But he finds her, toying with the waterfall, and he freezes, suddenly fearful of the confrontation, of all the things she might say. She's almost playing the trickles of water coming down from the cliff, fingers plucking like at a harp, each icy touch solidifying a fall of water into a string, pin point precision. She's in infinitely better control of her powers now.
She doesn't show any recognition of his prescence at first, not until her low drawl breaks the silence, “Are you gonna stand there all day Flash or did you have a point to make?“
“Caitlin, come back with me, please,“ he practically begs, despite knowing it can't work, it won't be that simple.
She tsk tsks at him and cocks her head, examining him like he's a disappointment.
“Is that all you got? Because it's pithy even coming from you. I'd expect better. I thought inspirational talks were your thing, or are you running a bit low on optimism in the face of Savitar, hmm?“
He swallows hard, finding it difficult to form any words as she looks at him with barely concealed contempt. The only thing he can think to say is the most basic, the truest feeling that warms his heart against the cold as he stands there, “I still believe in you.“
“Ah, belief. You practically run on that, don't you, Barry,“ she says dragging out his name as if it's an insult, poking her finger pointedly at him across the distance that separates them. “Belief, hope. I'm afraid I'm fresh out of those. I can do you some ice though, if you want something chilling to go with your pity party.“
She conjures up tiny icicles flicked his way lazily, as if the risk of impaling him is nothing; of course he's fast enough to avoid them all, she knows and did it just to be an inconvience, to prove she could. He can't quite help the anger that swells in him, resulting in a harsher response than he intends. “It's better than running on fear. Running away from things.“
That gets a wide grin and a loud laugh out of her though, a response that throws him off completely, alarmed at how awfully this is going. The only upsides are he's not impaled yet and Savitar is not here too, that he's aware of.
“Ha. That's rich considering you proposed to dear darling Iris out of fear. And considering this is the first time you've actually found me, but then, you didn't really want to, did you?“
“Did he tell you that, Savitar?“
She says nothing, just looks bored, as if this is predictable. If Savitar has told her how this goes then maybe it is, just like at the warehouse, maybe this means nothing to her, all his words empty echoes that Savitar has twisted already.
“Did he tell you why I'm here? Or did he miss that part out because he wants to use you.“
She smiles again and laughs bitterly this time.
“Are you going to tell me you're different? That I'm something other than a headline you couldn't erase, another pawn to exploit in your doomed game to save the love of your life.“
Her eyes bore into him, the coldest stare he has ever felt from her as she awaits an answer. He can't look back more than briefly, face turned tensely down and to the side, jaw clenched, as he contemplates what he could say to make her feel differently. He could have done more for her, it is the truth and that's why it hurts to consider. He'd been so wrapped up in the possibility of Iris dying that he'd never seriously considered the possibility someone else he cared for could, he'd been focused so intensely on one aspect of the future he hadn't seen the wood for the trees.
“It's not like that. You'll always matter to me,“ he says looking back at her, wanting to see some hint of Cait recognising him speaking to her.
She smiles tightly at that, replying simply, almost sadly, with a firm, “I know.“
It seems an odd thing to say in that way but he knows from how she says it that she believes it. It wasn't the wrong thing to say. That's when he sees it, that it doesn't matter how much he pleads.
Why would she risk coming back to them - her fear of trying and still being feared, her fear of being shunned like Savitar was - when she already has someone who accepts her as she is, just like her future self had said. She knows he means it because Savitar has told her too, but Barry has to try as well, has to make her see if he means it so far removed from where they are, at the point where he is corrupted into Savitar, then it does matter he means it now as well. He takes a tentative few steps towards her and she doesn't move back, watching him warily.
“Julian will do everything he can to help you.“
“He's a fool,“ she says angrily, register dipping lower, colder. “It's such a great irony, he loved her so much and he was the one who killed her. Goodbye Dr Snow. 'Spose I shouldn't be too bitter about that when he made me what I am.“
She freezes one larger trickle from the waterfall and swings around it like a pole, using it to launch herself onto the path next to the brook, iced over in an instant, elegantly gliding around him on the impromptu rink created. She's teasing him with closeness, with the desire to reach out that mixes with his concern for what she might choose to do to him at any second. It makes him tense up, utterly unsure of her intentions, of whether she's going to hurt him again as she keeps that holding pattern around him. Finally she breaks the loop and it feels like an eternity waiting to see what she will do next, if she will be further away than ever.
“Why are you bitter at all if you're not her anymore?“ he half shouts at her, as she creates an arcing ice bridge up to the clifftop above the clearing.
“Memories, Flash,“ she quips back confidently, as she towers over him, practically gloating. “Gotta have 'em, you should know that better than anyone.“
“So you do remember, being my friend? And it just means nothing to you anymore, is that it?“
His words are almost spiteful, anger and hurt transforming what had felt like a pertinent question into more of an accusation by the time they come out.
She rises to the bait of his ire, an icy path sliced down in the air bringing her to stand right in front of him. Despite the dramatics, the emotional flare up at the challenge he'd unwittingly spoken doesn't seem so far removed from past disagreements with his friend. Whoever it is in front of him still cares, isn't simply cold and indifferent like she'd tried to present to them earlier.
“You don't need me anymore. You got your happy ending -“
“And everything else be damned,“ he says finishing for her, parroting her words from the pipeline. “Yeah, I remember that, but it's not true.“
She glares at him sourly from just a meter away, the closest he's been to her for so long.
“Why? Because Iris dies. Boohoo. Not my problem if you're not fast enough Barry. “
Her words are biting, designed to provoke, to entice a certain reaction but he knows they are an action of someone who is cornered, like a hurt animal lashing out. Instead he says softly, attempting to imbue them with a comforting, genuine, certainty, “I do need you. “
She smiles but it's missing the menance. Neither is it the smile of his friend, it entirely lacks cold or warmth.
“No, you don't,“ she says, sounding as certain of that as he had been of what he'd said. He doesn't understand for a second until it crystalizes for him, what it is she thinks she can do.
“But you think he does. He isn't me, he isn't your friend.“
“Oh but he is. You want to pretend you're so different; honorable, noble Barry Allen could never kill. Savitar calls himself a god but he's still a man. He wouldn't be what he is if he hadn't been you first. If he hadn't suffered, like you will. If he hadn't know what it was like to be on the inside and then suddenly be nothing at all to you.“
“So that's it,“ he muses roughly, taking a step forward, his breath coming out in puffs as he gets closer, “He was broken and alone and now you're broken and alone together? Does that make it all better?“
She surges forward, in his face suddenly, her hostility evident, and he has to stop himself flinching as he feels the temperature plummet, not daring to retreat, willing Caitlin to come closer, to come closer to the surface.
“Caitlin struggled so hard for so long, but you didn't see, you didn't care. Now that struggle's over, that makes it better. I get stronger every day. Being powerful, you should understand Flash. The feel of it in your veins, intoxicating. After all, you couldn't give it up either. You could have had a normal life, you had that option but you always chose to be the hero, again and again, to take that pain.“
“I'm not running away from my pain“
“No, you're not.“
She looks as if she admires him for it, for holding his ground, his strength that Killer Frost can understand better than anything else, but he isn't sure if she is simply admiring the shadow of Barry Allen that Savitar once was, the part that remained, both of them so determined.
“Why are you?“ he asks quietly, curious why in all this she won't come to them, accept their help and face up to what has caused the pain she is attempting to cast back out into the world.
She says nothing. Her eyes are like ice, her expression seemingly inhuman and impenetrable, but he spies some hint of sadness that creeps through at the edges.
“Please come home, Cait.“
She looks away, steps a fair few steps away too, fingers tracing icy trails across the top of a wooden post near her. She's put the wood between them, standing on the ramshackle bridge over the small brook that runs from the waterfall, a barrier that is trivial compared to the emotional chasm between them and yet it seems to put her fractionally more at ease. Like she has taken back some power his plaintive words had taken from her.
“Funny thing about that, home is where the heart is, right.“ She contorts her face into a wry smile, “Are you deluded enough to think I still have one to appeal to? This is my better nature, the superior one.“
So many things he could say are poised on the tip of his tongue. He doesn't say any of them. She turns away, not waiting for an answer.
He thinks, 'Yes', as he watches her glide over the treetops on her spray of ice, running away yet again. He believes she has a heart under all the cold, everything said here indicates she still feels something, however mangled her motivations are right now, but like she'd said before, and he hadn't accepted as true, she was broken. Was that why she couldn't let herself be Caitlin anymore, life having made her too brittle. And they, he, hadn't been there to pick up the pieces, like she had always been there for him.
He wonders if she thinks Savitar is her happy ending, what little she can get; that she could be Savitar's in some twisted way. When Savitar talked of being thrown out, rejected, he'd visciously spat out their names, every one, except hers. So Barry knows why Savitar had gone to her. He'd been broken too, he'd wanted to not feel, to be a God, but he wasn't that yet, so he'd still taken what acceptance he could, just like Killer Frost is. Savitar is a broken man lashing out, as if breaking everyone else will make things right. Frost follows his lead, what she can't have she will break down instead even if that means breaking him, making him into Savitar. Is she working with Savitar to ensure he exists, to ensure she gets what little she can have of him, as her supposed only hope of acceptance?
Barry has no idea what he can say when he can't give her what she wants. He thought he and Iris were meant to be, but right now it seems like they are all destined to be alone, each and every one of them in pain if he can't stop the fever of Infantino Sreet. He's felt this pain building for months, waking up in terror, living in fear, letting it guide his decisions in his weaker moments, choking the words in his throat he should have said. He's been to the future and has seen how it consumes him, guts his life and destroys his family. This pain is what Savitar felt once, and then more. He doesn't want that either, he never wanted that for any version of him but he's being held accountable.
He just wants to wake up from the nightmare, wake them all up, but he can't even bring Caitlin home. His world fractured too long ago, before he'd realised, and he can't fix them now no matter how hard he tries. As he walks away, dejectedly, he's scared of what it will take to stop them. Savitar, Killer Frost, they'd do anything and so must he.