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Stopped Cold

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Stone Cold

The heist was, of course, planned to the second.  As always.

The target was Central City National Bank.  After hours:  there would be no customers to keep under control, no innocents who might get hurt, no risk to his agreement with the Flash.  The usual security personnel would be on site; but that was inevitable.

Captain Cold pored yet once more over the blueprints that were spread across the table in their headquarters.  He was prepared, as always.  He was exact, as always.  Even so, he intended to spend the time—as always—making doubly, trebly, sure of every detail of every variant version of what might go down.  Plan A (the nominal Plan A) had them in and out in four minutes and fifty-seven seconds, before the police could arrive.  Plan B (his expected plan) accounted for the Flash turning up after twenty-seven to thirty-two seconds, depending on how long it took for his team to alert him.  That, of course, assumed that Barry was where Cold had planned for him to be at the time he got the message.  Plan C took into account the not-unlikelihood that the diversion never actually took place—Scudder being less than reliable—in which case the Flash might be anywhere in the city when he got the call.  Plan D considered the chance that the newest member of the Rogues, still untested, might actually prove as valuable as hoped, in which case all previous plans would be moot.  This was the only version he had told her; but the more experienced Rogues had been familiarized with the probability that things would not go that way.  Plan E, which he had told no one but Mick and Lisa, considered the opposite possibility: that Zap (as she called herself) might turn out to be the utterest of liabilities and bring the roof down on them all.

Make the plan; execute the plan; expect the plan to go off the rails….

 


 

Out Cold

As the EMP blast hit, the Flash jerked forward sharply, arms flailing as he tried to regain his balance.  Momentum sent him over the balcony, barely skimming the flame from the heat gun, to crash in the centre of the floor below, fifteen feet down and yards from the staircase.  His body slid over the largest patch of ice, scarcely slowed as it hit tile, and rolled rapidly across the room to thud audibly into the cashiers’ counter.

For a long, long moment Captain Cold stared.  At the back of his mind, the seconds ticked down.  Faintly, far away, he heard a siren.

Panic hit; but he squelched it down and yelled, “Right!  The cops’ll be here in sixty-three seconds.  Grab what you can and get out!”

Mardon came out of the vault pushing another trolley laden with stacks of bills.  He stopped dead as he caught sight of the Flash; and Rosa Dillon nearly collided with him.  Swerving agilely round, she gave barely a glance round the room, but raced to the front doors.  Behind her, Peek-a-Boo came out still stuffing a handful of diamonds into her shoulder bag, took line of sight through the bank windows, and disappeared.  Only Mick headed back into the vault, methodically taking maximal advantage of the time remaining.

Zap just stood, staring at the fallen hero.

“Get out!” Cold snarled at her as he headed for the Flash.  The new Rogue flinched at the tone and bolted.  In the distance, more sirens joined the hunt.  Outside the bank, a motor revved as Lisa threw the van out of neutral.  It would still be tailgate down, ramp out:  there was time to get away, but barely.

Cold fell on one knee, sliding a finger under the throat of the Flash’s hood to feel for a pulse.  Behind him were footsteps—not Mick’s, which were familiar.  He turned to see that Mardon had abandoned his trolley, and was heading towards them with a dangerous look on his face.  His right hand was raised, a tiny tornado swirling on the palm.

Cold’s hand dropped to his gun.

“Pull it off!” Mardon said viciously.  “See who he is … then snuff him once and for all.”  The funnel expanded ceiling-high, lifted from his palm, and started to move.

Cold barely glanced at the storm, and narrowed his eyes and his aim on the truer threat.  Then, before he could pull the trigger, a sudden blast of flame shot between them.  Mardon jerked back in alarm; and the whirlwind died to a flutter.

“What the hell are you doing?”  Mick holstered the heat gun, and gave his own overladen trolley a hard shove forward.

“Get out to the van,” Cold ordered.  He kept his own gun fixed on target, just jerking his chin toward the trolley of cash in the middle of the room.

With a curse, Mardon backed a step, turned to grab it, and followed Mick.

Twenty-six seconds.

Captain Cold looked back down at the Flash, who hadn’t moved.  The thickness of the tripolymer suit made it hard to see if he was breathing.  With a glance at the door swinging shut behind Mardon, Cold holstered his weapon and, once again, felt for a pulse.  Then he leaned down, thinking he would hear the faint voices of the Flash’s back-up team at S.T.A.R. Labs; but there was silence.  Or, at least, silence except for the nearing sirens.

He considered the situation.  The EMP blast had taken out the suit:  that much was clear.  Back at S.T.A.R Labs, the Flash’s friends would be frantic; but they would not know exactly what had happened, only that the speedster was not answering.  They presumably knew where he was; but they would have no way of telling he was injured, let alone how badly.

(Len himself didn’t know how badly.)

He bit his lip and looked up, fingers still at the Flash’s throat.  Beyond the doors, the Rogues were waiting; and he needed to go now.  In fact, he should have heard the van leave already.  Perhaps they were still loading.  (He hoped Lisa and Mick would have the sense to leave without him.  Surely, the others certainly would.  Except that he had not yet heard the van drive away.)

He should leave.  Now.  Fourteen seconds.  He had to leave.

When the police arrived, though, they would not know that the Rogues had escaped.  They would act with prudence and remain outside the bank.  Only when the brass decided to give the go-ahead would they enter, safe behind shields, guns drawn, wary of ambush.

How long before anyone found the Flash?  Who still hadn’t moved, though there was a pulse, fluttery and faint.  Damn!  The speedster needed medical attention, and needed it fast.  Preferably without someone unmasking him, whether from idle curiosity or medical helpfulness.  In his opinion, too many already knew the secret of Barry Allen; and, in a hospital, there were bound to be civilians with smartphones, which could betray him to the world.  Then again….

He looked back down at Barry.  Who still hadn’t moved.

… what point was a secret if the Flash died?

Len dithered.  Captain Cold dithered, which was embarrassing.  And the seconds ticked down in the back of his head until there were nine left, which was not enough.

There was a sudden *POP*.  He jerked round, and saw Shawna.

“Boss!  You gotta come now!!”

She ran towards him, arm reaching out.  It was his best chance.

Yet, as she came close enough to grab, he intercepted her hand and set it round the Flash’s arm.  “Take him,” he ordered.  Even as her eyes opened wide in shock, he scrambled to his feet and bolted for the door.

Behind him, he heard another *POP*.

***

Holding one of the rear doors open, Len fired a sheet of ice over the road.  Twisting round, he roared, “Fog!!!” at Mardon, and yanked the door shut.  In the cab, Lisa hauled on the wheel, turning the van crazy fast down a side street it barely fit.  Beside her, Rosa grabbed the dashboard; and, in the back of the van, Mick and Len braced the nearest trolleys of loot from sliding over the Flash’s prone body.

Mardon raised his arms and flung them wide; outside the mist thickened.  Behind them, the foremost squad car skidded on the ice halfway round to block the lane; more cars jammed the street outside the bank.

Lisa floored the gas pedal till they popped out on a nearly empty downtown through-street, where she braked sharply and continued at a douce and decent pace.  Transport travels at all hours; so, with the signage on the flanks of the van, they could pass for legitimate at a casual glance.  What lay inside the van was another matter:  they could not afford to be pulled over for speeding by a traffic cop.

“Ye-e-e-s,” Mardon gloated, pushing askew the trolley that Mick was bracing and kneeling down beside the Flash. “ I like your style, Cold, bringing him along.  This way we have time.  Gonna be fun.”

He began to finger the mask.  When his fingers were knocked aside, he looked up into a sneer.

“Take care of business first,” said Cold with contempt.  He gave Mardon a shove that left him sprawled against the side of the van, and pushed past to knock on the back of the cab.  Rosa twisted round to thumb the mike.

“Glider, get us to the rendezvous,” he said crisply.

Ten minutes of maze-like turns brought them to a side street of small businesses, closed for the night.  Among the cars along one curb were a small florist’s van, a Honda Civic, and his motorbike, forged parking permits prominently displayed.  The bigger van pulled to a halt in the middle of the street.

Silently, Mick flung open the rear doors, and pulled out the ramp.  Cold grabbed the first trolley and rushed it down, unlocked the back of the florist’s van, and started to throw in the money.  Mick joined him.  Mardon followed with the next trolley, followed uncertainly by Zap.  Rosa opened the cab door and stepped down to the road.

“You drive,” Cold said to Mick.

Running back to the van, he saw Peek-a-Boo kneeling beside the Flash, one hand on his chest, waiting—he presumed—for orders.

“The Honda.  Back seat.”

He waited only long enough to see them *POP* off, and then bolted for the cab to slap wordlessly on the driver’s door, sending Lisa away.  She already knew her instructions: to abandon and torch the big van a couple of miles away.  Turning, he saw that Mick had seated himself in the driver’s seat of the florist’s van and started the engine.  Further down the street, Peek-a-Boo had bamfed both herself and the Flash inside, and laid the unconscious hero across the back seat, legs dangling awkwardly into the well of the car.  She opened the car’s rear door and scrambled out.

Slowly, Captain Cold trotted back down the street.  The last of the loot was tossed into the florist’s van, the trolleys abandoned.  The other Rogues athletically leapt up to sit on the piles of cash; and Mick rolled down the window.  Leaning in, Cold said quietly, “Start the share without me.  If Scudder comes by, give him his cut.  Keep an eye on them, Mick—all of them.”

“Gotcha.”

Mick put the van in drive and took off.  Cold strode down the street to the car.

“Boss….”  Peek-a-Boo bit her lip.  “We taking him to the hideout?  I know it’s the Flash; and he deserves all he gets; but even so … he needs a doctor.”

“You going soft on me?”

“I was in the Pipeline,” she said in a low voice.  “Believe me, I’d like all of them dead, but….”  She shook her head.  “Boss, we don’t kill.  I don’t kill.  We should take him to a hospital.”

“They wouldn’t know what to do with him,” he said brusquely.  “He’s a meta.”  He shoved his hand in his pocket, pulled out a key ring, and unlocked the car door.  “Inside, Shawna.  You’re driving; I’m taking the bike.”

“Where’re we going?”

“S.T.A.R. Labs,” he said shortly; but, as he headed further downstreet to the bike, he realized she hadn’t moved.  He turned his head, looking back at her even as he continued to walk away.

“No!” she choked in a panic.  “No!!”

He stopped.  She looked as though, at any moment, she might teleport in terror.  Biting his lip, he tried to relax lest he scare her further.  Then he turned and walked slowly back, his arms slightly spread to the side, hands well away from his gun.

“Hey, Shawna,” he said gently, stopping a good yard away.  “You can do this.”

She shook her head, eyes pleading.

“I won’t let anyone get you, I promise.  You’re never going back in the Pipeline. If  there’s any trouble, I’ll see that you get away, if they catch me myself.  But I need you to drive so that I can take the bike.”

“But S.T.A.R. Labs?”  It was a barely audible whimper.

“It’s got to be them.  Who else can help him?”  He waited for a response, and then added reasonably, “I said … he’s a meta.  If we drop him off at Memorial Hospital, regular doctors won’t know what they’re seeing.”

A meta herself, she had to know this was true.  To his relief, she gave a shaky nod.  Then she took the keys out of the car door, and got in.

***

S.T.A.R. Labs security was appalling, but not quite non-existent.  For a moment, Cold paused, turned to check that Peek-a-Boo was still waiting—nervously shifting from foot to foot—by the car, with the hero unconscious at her feet; then he turned back to work, heard a click, and pulled the door open.  Behind him, he felt the shift of air as Shawna teleported in, and felt the downdust as she left again.  Brushing at his parka, he heard the car door shut, the engine shift into gear, the tires squeal her departure.  He knew she would call Lisa and pick her up, that they would park near (but not at) the warehouse, and then rendezvous with the rest of the Rogues.

Meanwhile, he considered how best to carry the Flash inside without aggravating his injuries.  There was no indication that his break-in had been noticed, though there were cameras in the vicinity.  Having had dealings with Team Flash before, this was no great surprise; but it still annoyed him for their sheer neglect of the most obvious precautions—especially right now when it would have been so convenient to be able to hand the hero over to his friends and simply leave the responsibility with them.  In lieu of this solution, he slipped his right hand under Barry’s shoulders as gently as he could, careful to support his head against his upper arm, and then put the other under Barry’s hips.  Lifting him as smoothly as possible, he rose to his feet.

When Cold arrived—still unchallenged—at the Cortex, he found the place deserted.  Which explained much, he supposed, but helped not at all.  He thought it unlikely that Flash had been on patrol that night without back-up; but where everyone had gone was a mystery.

Still, it did not take long to locate the med-bay and slip the Flash onto the bed.  (Shawna’s help would have—no!  He wouldn’t go there.  If he’d insisted she come in with him, she’d probably have quit the Rogues on the spot.)  He looked around to see what equipment, if any, looked sufficiently familiar for him to use.  Over the years, he’d picked up a fair amount of First Aid, not to mention watching closely any time he had needed a doctor.  Granted, this had left him with more knowledge of the proper treatment of bullet and knife wounds than injuries as severe as Flash’s seemed to be; still, in the circumstances, doing anything ought to be better than nothing.

Afterwards, he dithered—loath to leave the injured hero unconscious and alone, but equally wanting to get the hell out and away.

Finally, he returned to the Cortex.

 


 

Cold Sober

As they came closer to the bank, Caitlin turned onto a side street and slowed to a crawl.  Finally, she pulled over to the curb and stopped.  Ahead, the way was barred by a police barricade; there were emergency lights, squad cars, and—as they could hear once the window was rolled down—the sound of Captain Singh’s voice hailing whoever was inside, warning them of the police presence and calling on them to surrender.

“Okay,” said Cisco.  “I guess we aren’t going in the front way.”

“Can you breach us in?” Caitlin asked.  But Cisco shook his head.

“Not without knowing more of what’s going on in there,” he explained.  “I mean, I’ve never been inside—it’s not my bank, I’ve had no reason to go there—I don’t know the layout.”  After a pause for thought, he added, “It’ll be in the city records,” then slapped his thighs in frustration.  “Which I can’t access from the van, of course.”

“Maybe if you said you were called in by the Task Force?” she said hopefully.

He shrugged.  “Well, Joe’d cover for me—though what you’d be doing here is another matter.”  He got out.  Then he hesitated.  Hand on the open door, he looked up the street towards the barricade, considering the situation.  Then he bent back down to point out, “But, if I’m here officially, I’ll never be allowed into the bank.  They’ve got the whole area on lockdown.”  The CCPD would be keeping civilians safely out of the way, whether bystanders, reporters, or S.T.A.R. Lab consultants.  After all, from their perspective, the bank robbers could well be trapped inside.  There might be a shoot-out.  There might be hostages.  They didn’t know the robbers were the Rogues—which, given Snart’s organizational ability, meant that they had almost certainly got away before even the first squad car had arrived.  Which made the entire CCPD response a moot issue.

Except that, with the sudden silence from the comms and the suit, Team Flash had a very different, urgent priority.

Caitlin bit her lip.  “If you get closer to the rear of the building, could you vibe?”

“Maybe,” Cisco said.  He was not in costume; but, in the circumstances, that wasn’t a point he intended to bring up.  Leaving the van door open, he crossed the street and walked up to the rear wall of the bank, keeping as much to the shadows as possible.  There he laid one hand on the brick and sank into trance.  At first there was nothing but an impression of daily routine.  Then, vaguely, he could sense the recent disturbance.  There was little detail.  He pushed for clarity; but he was not touching any part of the building that had experienced the robbery.

Focusing harder, he tried to extend his vibe beyond the offices on the other side of the wall—to the customer service area at the front, to the vault, the security office.  Dimly, a floor up, he picked out the anomaly of a dizzy, slipping, falling form.  And … was that a figure?

Then he realized that the vague standing shape was female—a woman with arm outstretched, pointing towards a dazed man in uniform, down on his knees.  The Top, it must be:  Rosa Dillon using her powers to disorient one of the security guards.

Of Barry he could tell nothing:  not now in the present, nor during the robbery.  Cisco sighed and relaxed his focus.  When he returned to the van, he simply shook his head and slumped back in his seat.

“Open a breach back to S.T.A.R. Labs,” Caitlin suggested.  “If you can find the floor plan of the bank….”

“Right now,” Cisco said with only mild exaggeration, “I couldn’t breach from my couch to the kitchen.”

“Sorry.”

Cisco rubbed his eyes, and then sat up a bit.  “Look, maybe we can get some help on this.”  He reached in his pocket for his phone.  “Felicity can get the plans fastest, have them waiting for us.”

As he searched for the number, though, there came a voice on the van’s radio.

“Chill out, folks—”

Their eyes met.  “Snart,” they mouthed to each other.

“—your hero’s back here at S.T.A.R. Labs.  I’d say ‘safe and well’—”  The mocking drawl did not reassure.  “—but I have to admit, he’s a bit banged up round the edges.”

Caitlin swung the wheel round in the fastest three-point turn of her life.

“Want to come and take him off my hands?”

She floored the pedal.

*** 

Perhaps Cisco should have tried to breach them back anyway, though it would have meant leaving a marked S.T.A.R. Labs van suspiciously close to the scene of the crime.  Later, when they had time to think of that wild race through the city, they realized they’d been lucky not to have been chased down and ticketed by a roving cop car; but then, most of those had been pulled off patrol to surround the bank.  At any rate, they arrived at the Labs without incident, parking only feet from the entrance.  Neither of them noted a motorbike parked discreetly far off.  In his urgency, Cisco fumbled the keycard twice before finally getting it oriented to slide into the slot.  Then they bolted down the corridor with the tips of Caitlin’s hair starting to frost.  She desperately fought for calm.

When the elevator doors opened, a frantic glance showed the Cortex to be empty.  Without hesitation, Caitlin headed for the med bay.  There she found Barry lying carefully stripped of his suit.  A light hospital blanket covered him; superficial abrasions had been cleaned and bandaged; and a catheter had been inserted into his arm and neatly taped in place.  Tubing led up to a bag.  She checked the label quickly:  glucose.

“How is he?” asked Cisco.

She glanced round.  He stood a few feet into the room, his eyes on Barry.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  Training won over urgency.  She washed her hands and put on gloves and mask before grabbing a stethoscope.  Barry’s heartbeat was erratic, his breathing shallow and laboured.  A quick manual check suggested damaged ribs on the right side; the leg on the same side was clearly badly broken, though someone—presumably Snart—had done their best to set it.

Then she turned and pulled down the mask.  “I need X-rays,” she said.  “Probably an MRI.  I suspect internal injuries; I don’t know how bad.”

A half hour of tests later, they had to admit the really bad news.  Barry wasn’t healing—or, at least, as Caitlin put it, no faster than anyone else.

Two hours later, sitting at her lab desk, she said, “No change to his DNA as far as I can see; but he seems to have only a residual connection to the Speed Force.  Something has—”  She paused to choose her words.  “—shorted him out.  So to speak.”  The metaphor made her grimace; but it made more sense to Cisco than medical Latin.

“So we’ll reboot him,” he said, and shrugged.

*** 

Of course, it was not that simple.  Barry had lost his powers before; but each time there had been a different cause and a different cure.  The cold gun could not have taken Barry’s powers, Cisco was sure of that; nor (for that matter) the heat or gold guns.  Weather Wizard had the power to start a thunderstorm; but such lightning would otherwise be natural, and could not cancel Barry’s speed.  Of Mirror Master and the Top they knew less; but they were pretty sure neither had the ability to sever Barry from the Speed Force.

“That new Rogue we saw,” Caitlin began.

“Yeah,” said Cisco thoughtfully.  “Who was she?”

The question was rhetorical, since neither of them recalled seeing her before.  Captain Cold could have answered the question; but, in so far as either of them considered the matter, they assumed he’d left S.T.A.R. Labs as soon as he knew them to be heading back.

Caitlin redonned gloves and mask to examine Barry again.  Cisco picked up the Flash suit, discarded over the back of a chair, and took it off to his lab.  He returned some twenty minutes later to report that the suit was as fried as Barry’s power.

“It looks like some sort of extremely powerful electromagnetic pulse,” he said.  “If that new Rogue is a meta who can throw EMP blasts….”  He looked thoughtful.  “I wonder what we should call her?  EMPact, maybe?”

Caitlin rolled her eyes.

“Why not?  It’s a good name?”

“More to the point,” she said impatiently, “it would explain what happened to Barry.  The EMP blast ruptured his link to the Speed Force.”

“Well, we aren’t going to recreate the dark matter explosion!  Not again!  I won’t even try!”  Cisco thought for a bit.  “We have used high voltage.”  He frowned doubtfully.  “Well, Blackout siphoned his powers, which isn’t quite the same.  But, yeah!  I can modify—!”

He startled Caitlin by jumping up and heading out of the med bay at a run.  “No, wait! Cisco!” she called.  But he was gone.

She debated going after him; but then Barry stirred behind her.  There was a small beep from the monitor.  She turned, just as he opened his eyes.

***

Barry blinked.  It hurt.  A lot.  And … he turned his head slightly, eyes scanning the room.  Yup.  He was in the med bay.  Again.

Caitlin’s face loomed close as she bent over him.  “Hey, Barr,” she said softly.  “How’re you feeling?”

He licked his lips, and croaked, “Okay, I guess.  What’s the damage this time?  How long am I going to be here?”

She took a deep breath.  “Well, about that.”  She looked round, grabbed a chair, and carried it back to sit by the bed.  “It’s a bit complicated.  What do you remember?”

“Well, there was a bank heist.”

She nodded.

“The Rogues.  We knew they would … sooner or later.  I got there.”  He broke off and coughed, then winced.

“You broke a couple of ribs.”

He nodded, not too vigorously.  “Well … I was fighting with Cold, zipping around past his shots; and Heat Wave and Weather Wizard got into it, too.  And then I figured I should go check on the guards—I mean, we had agreed no killing….”

“You and Cold, that ‘Rogues Code’.”

“Yeah.  And I trust him … mostly … but he’s working with a team.”  He struggled to sit up, but only for an instant.  Sudden agony flattened him.  He blanched and pressed his lips hard together.

Caitlin put a hand gently on his shoulder.  “Barr, don’t try to tell me the whole story.  Just … do you know how you were injured?”

He shook his head.

“Your suit camera showed … there was a new Rogue?”

He nodded.  “A girl.”  He thought back to the robbery, and then said uncertainly, “I checked for the guards and then came back to the … upstairs, I was upstairs … I headed back.  Then I—”  He looked at her questioningly.  “I don’t know what happened after that.”

She nodded.

“Where did you find me?”

“Back here, actually,” she said gently.  “Captain Cold must have brought you.”

A faint smile lit his face.  Then it was replaced by puzzlement as she injected medication into the drip.  This only deepened when she said, “This should help.”  Then she turned, and added, “You’ll feel better in a little while, Barry.  I’ve just given you some painkillers.”

He frowned.  “But…?”

She sat back down beside him, and patted his arm.  “Barr, there’s something I have to tell you.”

***

She sat with him, chatting inconsequently about the arson case and teething babies and the new barista at Jitters.  He responded almost randomly, knowing that Cisco must be working on some miracle in his lab—one or the other of them always pulled the proverbial rabbit out in the nick of time—and wondering how long it would be.

“Did you call Iris?” he broke in suddenly.

“To worry her before we know more?” Caitlin asked.  “We’ll call her, it’s okay.”

But he could see that she was worrying; and that, in itself, concerned him.  That, and the fact that (though he felt little pain) there was a dreadful weakness throughout his body, and a fuzziness that he couldn’t quite think through (which might just be the drugs).  He’d lost his speed before; so he knew what that felt like:  the un-super un-powered ‘weakness’ of people who didn’t have the Speed Force coursing through them; of his normal non-meta life before the explosion.  This weakness was scary different.

Eventually, Cisco returned.  His step was buoyant; he radiated triumph.  “Okay, I’ve got it!” he said.  In one hand, dangling, he held something that looked vaguely like a spear gun.  “When Barry was drained by Blackout, we jump-started him back to his powers with a jolt of 20,000 kiloamps of electricity fed through the treadmill—”

“Cisco!  Barry’s in no state to use the treadmill!”

He nodded vigorously.  “Soooooooo, I’ve modified the delivery system.”  He hefted the mystery device.  It was about four feet long, most of the length being a slender rod with a pointed tip.  Around the lower portion of this spiralled a bright strip of metal; and both jutted from a short bulbous base with an insulated stock.

The angle was awkward from the bed; but Barry’s eyes scanned down the device from tip to base.  A heavy cable fell from there to the floor, snaked out the door, and—he assumed—continued down the hall to connect with the main generator.

Caitlin looked at Cisco with a look of despair that Barry almost missed.  “Barry can’t take 20,000 kiloamps!  Don’t you realize—”  She choked off her words and smoothed her features to blank professionalism.  With a glance at Barry, she got up, whisked over to Cisco, grabbed his free arm, and steered him out the door.

For a good five minutes he could hear dim arguing from the Cortex.  He couldn’t make out the words; but, being far from stupid, he had a fair idea what Caitlin’s objection probably was.

Finally, they returned.

“Cisco feels we should discuss this with you,” said Caitlin.  Her voice was frosty.

The engineer smiled weakly at Barry and shrugged.  “Look, man, she’s the doctor.  I just build gadgets.”

Caitlin came quickly over and checked Barry’s pulse.  Only then did she put a hand gently on his shoulder and say, “Barry, you need to listen to me.  It is my medical opinion that your injuries are too severe.  This ‘treatment’ of Cisco’s may work—I’m not denying that it may theoretically work—to reconnect you with the Speed Force.  But what good is that if it kills you first?”

Yes, this was what Barry had concluded the two of them were discussing.

“You have an alternative,” Caitlin went on.  “And I think you should consider it seriously.  If we take you to hospital, if you receive the same medical treatment that any other person would get, you should recover normally.  It’ll take time, same as it would for anyone else—for me or Cisco—but it’ll probably be only a few weeks in the ICU, and then a couple of months maybe in a ward, and then some rehab.  And, if I’m right and you reconnect naturally with the Speed Force as you get stronger, then it’ll take less time than that.  Anyway, even if you don’t, you’ll be stronger—and then you can use Cisco’s whateverhecallsit.”  She waved dismissively at the device in Cisco’s hands.

“Electrostimulator.”

“In two or three months,” said Barry.

“Probably.”

He thought about it, but only for a moment.  “Caitlin, I appreciate the warning; but let’s not forget that I am still the Flash.  You told me that my DNA hadn’t changed and there’s still a trace of the Speed Force in me.  I think I’d rather take my chances, and go with the Electro Gun.”  He waved a finger weakly in Cisco’s direction.

“You sure, man?”

Barry nodded.

“No!”

“It’s my decision, though, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Caitlin vigorously.  Striding over to Cisco, she plucked the Electrostimulator from his hands, put it on the lab desk, and walked him firmly back out of the Med Bay once more.

 


 

Cold Comfort

Knowing that Team Flash were on the way back to their hero, Len did not bother to wait for their arrival.  He had done what he could; and Dr. Snow could take it from there.  She didn’t need his input.  Still, though he did not doubt that Lisa and Mick—and the rest of the Rogues—would consider it obvious that he return to the warehouse and split the take, he could not resist the opportunity to have a look round.  Making sure that the internal security system was off (and with the strong suspicion that Flash’s friends would be too busy to notice the fact), he left the Cortex to explore the empty corridors, labs, and offices.  He paid particular attention to the Speed Lab, and grimly visited the infamous Pipeline, though he found the cells unoccupied.

Eventually, he returned to the Cortex.  Glancing at the monitors, he realized that the security systems were back on line; and, for an instant, he wondered why no one had spotted him and raised the alarm.  Then—kicking himself for a fool—he realized that, of course, their primary concern would be their injured friend, and slipped silently down to the med bay, intending to hover unseen outside the door.  Inside, though, was none of the all-engrossing activity he expected in a medical emergency.  The room was empty, except for the body on the examination table.

If the others had left Barry there, unattended….

For a moment, his mind froze.

Then, knowing his cowardice, he did not go in but returned unseen to the cortex.  There he checked the monitors, and found Ramon and Snow in the S.T.A.R. Labs cafeteria.  He slid into a chair, grabbed an earpiece, and switched on the sound.

“You’re the best qualified,” he heard Ramon say.  “If he can’t take it, you’ll spot it faster than I will.”

“No way!” said Snow, waving her denial emphatically.  “Do no harm!  I’m a doctor, Cisco.  There’s a viable alternative—all emphasis on ‘viable’!  If he goes to hospital….”

“He doesn’t want to go to hospital!”

Hospital?  Snow’s favoured option startled Len.  He could have taken the Flash there himself, hours ago.

“He’s not in a fit state to decide what he wants,” Snow declared.

“Why?  Just because he’s not got his powers?”

“Because he’s not thinking clearly.  It could kill him, Cisco.  Don’t you get that?  It could kill him.”

Len could see the patience Ramon forced upon himself.  “The Electrostimulator will reconnect Barry to the Speed Force.  I’d bet my life on it.”

“You’re betting his life on it.”

“No.  He’s betting his life on it.”

“The treatment is experimental and I do not authorize it.”  The words were Snow’s; but, with fascination, Len saw Snow turn to Frost even as she replied.

“Get a grip on yourself,” Cisco said urgently.

“Why?” came the chilly reply.  “If you want him shocked, then I can do it.  Better than she ever could.  I don’t mind hurting him.  Might be fun.”

Len took off the earpiece and, after a moment’s consideration, switched the security cameras off again.

*** 

Barry woke to a touch on his shoulder, opened his eyes, and saw the sleeve of the parka.  He looked up at Len, puzzled; and Captain Cold smirked back down at him.

“Well, Twinkle-Toes,” he drawled.  “You flash no more, I hear?”

“I thought you’d gone already,” was the reply.

“What? And miss all the excitement?”  With a flourish, Len gestured round the room.

“I take it you’ve been lurking.”

Len pursed his lips.  “I do not ‘lurk’, Scarlet.  I ‘case the joint’.”

“What did you take?”

“Not this time.”  Len winked.  “Oh, I looked round—got a reputation to keep up—but I stayed to find out….”  He hesitated.

“Aw, you were worried about me.”  Barry smiled broadly.

“Chill out, Speedy.  You're fun to have around, that’s all.”

“Speedy’s in Star City,” Barry informed him.

For a moment, Len almost sat on the bed to talk; but, just in time, remembered Snow’s obvious worry.  Whatever Barry’s injuries were, they were serious—and that was in addition to the loss of his healing ability.  A chair lurked a few feet away, presumably used by someone while speaking to the patient.  He snagged it, swung it round, and straddled it.

“Okay, Barry,” he said briskly.  “How much did your doctor actually tell you?”

“I’ve lost my connection to the Speed Force,” Barry said weakly.  “Cisco’s come up with a thing—”  He gestured vaguely towards the lab desk, and Len twisted round to see a lengthy doohickey.  “—that he thinks will work.  But, if it’s like the last time, it zaps like lightning and hurts like hell.”

Len nodded, grasping the sense of the argument he’d overheard.  “I think I should tell you that Dr. Snow seems to have vetoed it.”

“Damn.”

Len raised a brow.

“She wants me to go to hospital … for like the next two-three months or so.”

“She’s worried.”

I’m worried,” said Barry, with a vestige of vigour.  “Central City needs the Flash.”

Len got up and went over to the lab bench, where he spent a few minutes examining Cisco’s gadget from tip to cable.  Briefly, he slipped out the door to see where the cable led—too far off scene for him to take the risk of tracing it—and then came back to pick up and heft it again.

Then he put it down.  And heard a whimper.  He turned round to see Barry’s pleading eyes.  Biting his lip in thought, he looked back down at the … Electrostimulator … and then at Barry again, and finally crossed the room to stare imperturbably at the fallen hero.  He waited, with a raised brow, for Barry to speak.  After a while, he was rewarded with a long-suffering sigh.

“Will you do it for me?”

“Me?” said Len archly.  “Really, Flash.  You do keep coming to me asking for things, don’t you?”  His pause was far too short for a reply; he snapped, “Give me one good reason why I should!”

Barry looked taken aback; and Len continued, pointedly, “What if your Dr. Snow is right?  If you’re too weak to take the shock … do you think I want that?  Never mind about another murder on my record—”

Barry looked as if he were about to speak, but Len forged on.  “Why should I be willing for you to die?  Life here would be a lot less interesting without you around.”

Len paused; but this time Barry didn’t try to interrupt.  Instead, he looked gratifyingly worried as Len continued, “On the other hand, I gather that, if your friends take you to the hospital, you’ll eventually make a complete recovery.  Sounds like a win-win to me.”

There was a slight frown on Barry’s face.  He looked up at Len searchingly, but forbore to plead.

“There’ll be at least a couple of months when you’ll be on ice,” Len added, and saw the pun elicit a twitch of the lips.  “That’s a couple of months in which Central City is wide open for me and my Rogues to plunder at will.”  He flung one arm dramatically wide, laid a hand on the cold gun, and struck a pose, glaring villainously down at the Flash.

Barry grinned broadly.  “I take it that’s a yes, then?”

Len rolled his eyes.  “You do realize,” he asked more moderately, “that there’s no guarantee this’ll work?”

“Worth a try.”

“The risk of death is worth ‘a try’?” Len asked quietly.  He searched Barry’s face; but there was no flinch, just a nod.

After thought, Len nodded decisively.  Fetching the Electrostimulator, he checked it over quickly once more, then aimed the tip at Barry’s chest.  “Not here,” he said simply.  “Too near the heart.”  With a wicked little smile, he lowered the tip to point at Barry’s groin—that elicited a flinch—before finally raising it to slightly below waist height.  “Gonna hurt,” he warned.

“I know,” Barry whispered.  “I can take it, Len.”

Their eyes met; and then Barry pressed his lips tightly together and gave a sharp nod.

Len pulled the trigger.

***

It went on too long.  That was all the thought Barry could manage.  He was determined not to scream:  it was a matter of pride, and more than pride:  it was a matter of kindness to Len, so as not to make the pain harder on him.

Barry gritted his teeth, and finally set them into his lips.  Behind the pain, he could feel the tip of the Electrostimulator.  Not sharp (not as the pain was sharp):  it pressed bluntly into his body just below the navel.  Agony flashed from that blinding point along his limbs to his fingers and toes.  Barry thought—in the tiny bit of consciousness still capable of thought—that, if he were able to turn his head and look, there would be lightning sparks from those fingers and toes.

He did not turn his head to check.  He held himself rigid in a tetany of agony.  If a muscle shifted, he would be lost in writhing.

He did not look away from Len—from Captain Cold, his own gun holstered, who held lightning in his hands.  Face grim as granite and chill as an antarctic glacier.  Ice-blue eyes that scarcely blinked.  Barry stared back, eye to eye, through his tears.

His teeth broke the skin of his lower lip; and a thin trickle of blood ran sideways down his chin.

It went on too long.

***

Abruptly, Len flicked off the power.

“Don’t stop,” Barry muttered hoarsely.  “I can take it.”

Setting the Electrostimulator across the seat of the chair, Len leaned over.  One finger brushed lightly along Barry's mouth, blotting up blood to show fresh skin.

“You don’t need to,” he said softly.  “Your lip’s healed.”

For a moment, this seemed meaningless.  Then Barry felt the Speed Force tingling through him, energizing his cells.  As Len looked down marvelling, the minor scrapes and bruises simply faded before his eyes.

“Cold,” Barry murmured.

“I’m here,” Len said.  Then he saw Barry shiver, and shiver again as his metabolism ran through the energy in his body.

***

When a deFrosted Caitlin finally returned to the med bay to check on her patient, she found Barry deeply asleep.  A fresh bag of glucose hung on the pole, fueling the speed of his recovery.  Around him was tucked a warm blue parka, the fur trim of its hood snugged cosily under his chin.