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Into the Rift

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 “Captain Lance!”

 The AI’s voice broke through Sara’s jumbled and tired post-nap thoughts. How long had she slept? If Gideon thought it wise to wake her, after so little sleep, then it had to be urgent.

 “What now, Gideon?” she groggily asked, rolling out of bed and doing her best to shake off the exhaustion.

 “I have detected a temporal anomaly of unknown origin at the Vanishing Point,” the AI answered, “as well as a string of anachronisms throughout the timeline past August 2018.”

 “All right,” Sara said as she made her way to the bridge. “Wake everyone up. Even Mick.”

 “Certainly, Captain,” said Gideon, although Sara got the distinct impression that the AI didn’t much enjoy having to deal with a possibly grumpy arsonist.

 The bridge was still deserted when Sara got there, so she sat down in the captain’s chair and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. She was glad for the temporary solitude, because it gave her time to mentally prepare for the potential disaster of what more than one anachronism meant. It was a miracle that Ava hadn’t shown up yet.

 “There better be a good reason for this, Boss!” said Mick, as he walked in pulling a sweatshirt over his head. He headed for one of the jumpseats and plopped down into it with a grunt, leaning back and closing his eyes. “Wake me up when everyone’s here.”

 “Sure thing,” she said.

 Sara was surprised that Mick had been the first to show up. That was always the thing about him; one never knew how he’d react.

 A whoosh and a gust of wind that blew Sara’s hair around announced the arrival of their resident speedster who, despite his swift entrance, only looked half awake.

 “Couldn’t whatever it is that’s wrong this time wait until we got some more sleep,” Wally groaned, his words almost slurring.

 “Apparently not, otherwise I don’t think Gideon would’ve risked having to poke Rory awake,” said Amaya from the doorway, fighting to tame her hair and losing spectacularly.

 “Amaya’s right,” Sara said, chuckling and nudging Mick with her foot. “Not even Gideon likes to do that, especially since most of us tend to be cranky if we don’t get enough sleep.”

 Ray and Nate appeared next, both of them in pyjamas and sporting impressive bed heads, while Zari followed behind them with eyes half closed, looking like a sleepwalker. Of the three, Ray seemed the most awake and to Sara’s – and everyone else’s – eternal gratitude, he was carrying a jug of coffee in one hand and cups were dangling from the fingers of the other.

 “You’re a lifesaver, Haircut!” said Mick, who had perked up at the scent of fresh coffee and made a beeline for Ray, helping him distribute the hot beverage to the team.

 “So, now that we’re not sleepwalking anymore,” Sara said after a while, “we can ask Gideon what’s going on.”

 “Yeah,” Zari, whose eyes were still bloodshot, grumbled, “some info would be really nice…”

 “I do apologise for disturbing your sleep,” said Gideon, “but my sensors have detected a severe temporal anomaly, located at the Vanishing Point, that seems to have caused a number of anachronisms throughout the timeline starting August 2018.”

 “What caused the anomaly?” asked Mick.

 “I don’t know yet, Mr. Rory,” Gideon said, “but it seems that whatever it is has caused a ripple effect on the timeline.”

 “What sort of anachronisms are we talking about?” asked Sara. “And how many?”

 If this was really as bad as Gideon thought it was, then there was no telling how hard it would be, or how long it would take, to sort everything out. Hopefully, they wouldn’t need to ask the Time Bureau for assistance.

 “That seems to be the problem, Captain,” said the AI, “because I can’t pinpoint them. There are several hundred, all at level 1, that keep fluctuating, which makes it impossible to asses the exact changes that are occurring. What is happening, when and where, is constantly changing.”

 “So how do we fix it?” asked Zari, who was now a bit more composed after her second cup of coffee. “If we don’t know what’s going on, how can we change it?”

 “The only stable reading I can detect is the anomaly at the Vanishing Point,” said Gideon. “That and the fact that the anachronisms, as unstable as they are, are confined to the future, starting August 2018.”

 “So we go to this Vanishing Point,” said Wally, “fix whatever’s gone wrong there, and it all goes back to normal. What exactly is this Vanishing Point, anyway?”

 “It’s a place I really didn’t wanna go back to,” said Mick, flipping the lid of his lighter open and closed with increasing annoyance. “I frickin’ hate that place!”

 “The Vanishing Point, Mr. West,” Gideon explained, “is a place outside of space-time where the Time Masters had their base of operations, including the Time Council. When my former captain, Mr. Hunter, rebelled against them, he and his team realised that the Council was using a device, called the Oculus, to manipulate people’s choices in order to steer history in the direction they saw fit. The device was destroyed, but at the cost of one of our own losing his life.”

 “That team mate was Snart, wasn’t it?” Nate asked.

 “Yeah,” said Ray, “it was. He held down the failsafe and sacrificed himself so that the rest of us could get out alive.”

 There was a moment of silence, as the people who had known the original Snart were reminded of their loss. Sara was starting, just like Mick, to get fed up with that place. Having to go there after its destruction, to retrieve part of the Spear of Destiny, was one time too many for her.

 “OK, Gideon,” Sara said, turning her seat around to face forward. “Set a course for the Vanishing Point. Let’s see if we can get rid of that place once and for all this time around.”

 


 

 

 The Vanishing Point hadn’t changed much since the last time Sara had set foot there. It was still a ruin and it still held unpleasant memories, which she tried to push to the back of her mind. Some of her struggle must have shown on her face, because none of the members of her team said anything to her before they headed for their quarters to get changed. Now, she sat in the captain’s chair, trying not to think of what ifs and would-have-beens, as the ghosts of the past taunted her. She was glad she and Ava had decided to take a break from their relationship, because Sara didn’t know if she could deal with having to explain to a woman she loved why this place held so much pain for her. Leonard Snart would always be her greatest regret, the only what if without a possibility of change. At least with other relationships, she’d had a choice.

 “Oh-oh,” came Zari’s voice from the entrance to the bridge, effectively cutting through her melancholy, “you look like you want to murder someone. Should I be worried for my safety?”

 “No,” Sara said with a sigh, “you’re not the one I want to skewer. And those I do are long gone.”

 “Good to know,” said Zari, making a show of looking relieved, which made Sara chuckle. “Will you reconsider that if I asked what’s eatin’ you?”

 “Maybe,” Sara smiled as she said it. “But if you must know, I’m angry at the people who ran this place for their manipulation. It’s also frustrating that this place existing outside of time doesn’t allow me to change what happened here.”

 “You mean Snart dying?”

 “Among other things,” said Sara. “They also tortured Mick and turned him into a bounty hunter to chase us down, so they were grade-A jerks, through and through.”

 “Yikes,” said Zari. “I guess they were poster boys for the ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ saying.”

 “Are we doin’ this, or what?” said Mick as he entered the bridge, geared up and ready to burn everything in sight, interrupting the two women’s chat.

 “As soon as everyone else is ready,” Sara said, patting Zari on the arm in gratitude.

 Having someone to talk to had calmed her conflicting thoughts somewhat, and she was now as eager as Mick to get to the bottom of this anomaly. Even if not much was said during the brief conversation she’d had with Zari, it had eased the tension a bit. She was glad she’d gone to bed fully dressed, because it gave the her time to talk to her team mate.

 “Should we tell the Time Bureau about this?” Ray asked, ATOM suit helmet in hand. “Or do you think they already know?”

 “I think we should wait and see what’s wrong first,” said Sara. “If we can’t figure out how to fix it, we call for help.”

 “The less time it takes, the better,” said Mick. “I don’t wanna spend more time here then I have to.”

 By the time the rest of the crew filed in, Sara had gotten even more restless, but she held her irritation under wraps. She was the captain, after all. No need to behave like an eager brat and annoy her team too. With everyone present, though, the decision was made that they should get going, so Sara parked the Waverider in front of the building that had housed the Oculus. It was the closest open space, and something told her that the problem would be there.

 “Gideon, can you pinpoint the location more exactly?” Sara asked, dreading the answer despite her hunch.

 “The anomaly is located at the site of the Oculus Wellspring, Captain,” the AI said, confirming her suspicion.

 “Peachy,” grumbled Mick, who was already on his way to the exit.

 Once outside, Wally sped around the place to make sure they weren’t walking into an ambush of some sort. Sara was thankful, because in their line of work one never knew. They entered the building when they got confirmation from the speedster that the coast was clear, but Sara just couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. With her senses on high alert, she and Mick led the others inside, where Wally was waiting for them.

 “I think I found the problem,” the speedster said, staring at the place where the Oculus device had once stood.

 “What problem?” said Nate.

 “Dude, it’s right there,” Wally said, pointing towards something apparently only he could see.

 “I don’t see anything either,” said Ray, looking a bit unsettled by the exchange. “Anyone else see what Wally’s seeing?”

 “Nope,” Zari answered, slightly perturbed as well.

 “I see somethin’,” said Mick. He put his heat gun back in its holster. “Looks kinda like a haze, though. Nothin’ clear.”

 “Hold up,” Wally sped away and back, now holding a device he’d once made with Ray, when they were both bored.

 It was a repurposed tablet that could measure a wide array of frequencies invisible to the human eye. He fiddled with it for a minute, then turned it so his team mates could see the readings.

 “How about now?” he asked.

 The screen displayed an image of something that looked like a rift in the fabric of reality, surrounded by flares of wispy strands coming out of it and dissipating. It reminded Sara of the solar flares she’d seen in documentaries, but instead of a star, the source was something else entirely.

 “Well, crap…” was Nate’s reaction.

 “It looks different to me, though,” said Wally, “like a doorway to another place.”

 “What’s on the other side?” Mick asked, studying the image intently.

 “A windy wasteland with a weird green fog blowing about,” said Wally. “Kind of like the timestream in colour.”

 “Well, whatever that place is,” said Sara, “this rift leading there seems to be causing all these anachronisms, so we better find a way to close it.”

 “We better do it fast,” Zari added, her eyes glued to the readings, “’cause it looks to me like it’s growing. At this rate, it’s gonna swallow the whole building in a few days.”

 “If it weren’t for all these weird anachronisms,” Mick grumbled, “I’d say let it.” He studied the readings pensively. “Ain’t gonna be easy, though. And something tells me blowin’ it up a second time won’t work.”

 “What if blowing the Oculus up,” said Amaya, “was what caused this in the first place?”

 “That’s possible,” Ray mused. “Maybe that explosion ripped open a gateway to another dimension, so another explosion would definitely not work again. Might do the opposite and blow the rift wide open.”

 “And then,” said Sara, “we’re in even deeper trouble. Great… this place seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.”

 A chorus of sounds of agreement accompanied that statement.

 “What if,” said Zari, “instead of blowing it up, we make it implode?”

 “That could work, right?” said Ray.

 “Let’s ask Gideon,” Mick said, taking the tablet from Wally and heading for the exit. “If we’re gonna fix this, we gotta do it right. Don’t want an encore of what happened last time we tried to destroy this place.”

 Neither Sara, nor Ray wanted to point out to him that Gideon had been involved in the plan back then too. And even she could not have predicted the outcome. So they both said nothing and, together with the newer crew members, followed him out. Hoping against all hope that, this time around, things would work out better.

 


 

 

 Ray was becoming increasingly frustrated. None of their simulations, so far, had been successful and running on less than six hours sleep didn’t help, either. He, Zari and Wally – with the occasional input from Mick and Cisco – had been working with Gideon non-stop to find a way to close the rift. Particularly, a method that didn’t cause the entire universe getting sucked in as well. So far, they’d hit dead end after dead end. Ray was starting to think that throwing in the towel and taking a break was the only sane thing to do in light of their failures. They all needed a breather and probably another gallon of coffee. Sooner or later, something had to give. So they did just that.

 Sara had gone over to the Time Bureau headquarters to let Ava know of the cause of all those anachronisms. The Bureau had probably already started trying to deal with them, but Sara wanted to make sure they knew why they were popping up. She came back with the news that Ava would deal with the effects on the timeline and that they should call in back up from her agency, should they need it. Ray had then sent Sara to take a break, promising to call her if she was needed, and went to the kitchen to get a coffee and keep Wally company.

 Eventually, Wally grew restless and decided to see if he could pass through the gateway and then come back, but was stopped by an invisible barrier. On the one hand, Ray was glad the younger man didn’t succeed, because they’d have yet another problem if he couldn’t get back. On the other hand, that in itself was a problem. If even a speedster couldn’t get through, neither could the device they’d eventually manage to whip up. So they were back to square one.

 “I don’t understand why it’s not working,” said Wally as he was scarfing down his third sandwich. They were back in the kitchen now, where the speedster was re-fuelling. “Am I not going fast enough? I also tried slower and normal speed… not even vibrating works.”

 “Maybe you’re not vibrating at the right frequency,” said Ray.

 “Yeah, I tried matching that frequency and I can,” Wally waved a vibrating hand in front of Ray’s face. “Still a no-go.”

 “That might be,” Gideon chimed in, “because your own natural frequency doesn’t match, Mr. West.”

 “And you didn’t tell me that before because…?” Wally asked her indignantly.

 “Because,” the AI responded, “I have just now made the correlation.”

 “Is there anyone on the ship who does match?” Ray asked.

 “Not on the ship, Mr. Palmer,” said Gideon. “But if my calculations are correct, Mr. Allen’s natural vibrational frequency might correspond. At least, according to the readings I have performed the last time he was on board, there is a possibility that he’d be able to break through the barrier.”

 “He could?” both Wally and Ray asked, their tone hopeful.

 “As I said,” Gideon went on, “if my calculations are correct. I would have to do another scan to be certain, but my database suggests that a speedster who has time-travelled using the Speedforce acquires that particular frequency. Or rather, their own internal frequency changes and adapts to accommodate time travel.”

 “So we have to go get Barry to help us,” said Ray. “Sara can do that. Let’s get back to work.”

 “I’ll go tell her,” Wally said, putting his coffee cup away.

 “And I’ll let Cisco know she’s coming,” said Ray.

 They both went on their way and Ray felt a bit better, knowing that they at least had part of a solution. Now, if only they could get that damn implosion to work.

 


 

 

 Barry was having a really bad day. On top of being late to work – as usual – he’d had to speed off at least five times to deal with crime in the city, one of those crimes being a bank robbery. He was on his sixth trip now – a fire – and he was fed up. He just wanted to finish his workload and get ready for the date he’d planned. He and Iris hadn’t had an uninterrupted date night in so long and he was looking forward to it. All work and no play made life rather exhausting and it was really not fun. He just wanted some peace and quiet to enjoy with his wife.

 Having finished with the fire, he headed back to his lab to finish his work and clock out. He’d ask Cisco and Ralph to cover crime-fighting for the rest of the day, with Caitlin running comms. Then he could enjoy some much needed time out with Iris. Barry was just about to call her and tell her the plan when his phone started ringing.

 “Yeah, Cisco,” he answered, while speedily finishing up his last report for the day, “I’ll be done in a minute and then head over to STAR Labs.”

 “Good,” came Cisco’s reply over the speaker, “’cause Sara’s here and she needs your help with something.”

 “Fantastic…” Barry grumbled, “just what I needed today.” He paused, pinching the bridge of his nose in irritation. “Tell her I’ll be on my way in a bit.”

 He hung up and heaved a sigh. If Sara was asking for help, it probably wasn’t going to be an easy fix and would almost certainly take a while. So much for his plans tonight he thought, as he filed the report.

 His work finished, he shot Joe a quick text to let him know he’d be going straight over to STAR Labs and sped off. He first ran a few laps across the city to clear his head, though. If he was going to help the Legends, he needed to calm down.

 The cortex was crowded by the time he got there. Cisco was talking to Ray on his special communicator, while Sara and Amaya were explaining the problem to Iris, Caitlin and Ralph. They stopped as soon as he entered the room, and Iris met him half-way to give him a hug and a kiss.

 “So now that we’re all here,” said Cisco, hanging up on Ray, “let’s get Barry up to speed on what’s going on.”

 “Seems that now that the geek squad finished the bomb,” Sara started, “we just need you to be our delivery guy. There’s a rift at this place outside of time that needs closing, since it’s causing trouble throughout the timeline. We’ve just figured out how to do it, but we need you to get in, drop the charge and get out. Then we’ll be out of your hair.”

 “Get in where, exactly?” Barry asked, confused.

 “Some sort of other dimension,” said Sara. “But if we don’t close it soon, it’s gonna mess up the timeline even worse.”

 “OK, I’ll do it,” said Barry. “Let me get my suit and kiss my wife and we’ll be on our way.”

 “Just don’t take too long, lovebirds,” Sara joked and everyone laughed.

 Barry grabbed his suit and led Iris away from the group, going into Cisco’s workshop to get some privacy.

 “Promise me you’ll be careful,” said Iris as Barry speed-changed.

 “I promise,” he said, hugging her tight. “You know I’ll always run home to you, no matter what. You’re my lightning rod, after all.”

 “I know,” said Iris, “but that doesn’t stop me from worrying every time you put that suit on. I just want you to be safe.”

 “I will,” Barry said. “I love you.”

 “And I love you,” said Iris, kissing him and lingering a bit. “We’re doing date night as soon as you get back.”

 “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said, hating that he had to leave.

 “You better,” said Iris, smiling into the kiss. They broke apart and headed back to the cortex, holding hands. “Say hi to Wally for me,” Iris added as they rejoined the others.

 “Will do,” said Sara. “Took you long enough, loverboy,” she teased Barry.

 “Shut up,” Barry mumbled. “Waiting for you now.”

 “Alright, let’s go,” Amaya piped up, interrupting their good-natured bickering.

 Nodding, Barry gestured for the ladies to lead the way and followed them out of the cortex. They had a job to do and he really wanted the problem to be dealt with, so he could return to his lovely wife as soon as possible.   

   

    

    

 

         

   

 

  

   

                      

 

  

 

 

Chapter Text

“So, why am I the only one who can do this?” Barry asked, juggling the implosion device from one hand to the other.

It was a metallic orb, about the size of a tennis ball, but it apparently packed quite a punch if it could close a portal to another dimension. It also had a small, red circle, which Ray told him he’d have to press to activate the timer and would give them about twenty minutes before it went off, causing first an explosion of energy, that would then collapse upon itself when it reached critical mass. Kind of like a super-powerful grenade.

“You’re the man for the job,” said Sara, “because you’ve acquired a special frequency, by time travelling, which allows you to go through the barrier in the portal.”

“But you guys time travel all the time,” Barry said.

“Not by Speedforce we don’t,” Ray chimed in. “That’s why Wally couldn’t do it, ‘cause he’s never time travelled on his own before. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bothered you.”

“Ah, that makes sense,” said Barry. “I’ve also been trapped in the Speedforce a lot longer than he has, so that could also be a contributing factor.”

“That’s possible,” Ray said, contemplating for a while. “That might explain why the extra-dimensional energy it emits is similar to the Speedforce readings I detected in Wally during my tests.”

“That means,” said Barry, “that the two dimensions are similar. No wonder it’s causing so much mayhem.”

“That’s why we gotta close it fast,” said Mick, getting up from his seat. “So, less talking, more doing. Let’s get it over with.”

Having said that, he led the group off the ship and into the building. The gateway was pulsing slightly and Barry, just like Wally, could see it unaided by any equipment. He thought it was more fitting to call it a rift, seeing as it looked nothing like Cisco’s portals to another universe. It was a lot bigger, for one, and was oblong with jagged edges instead of circular. Also, it was see-through, something that Cisco’s breaches weren’t. All around it, Barry could see numerous types of measuring equipment, set up to monitor its rate of growth. Wally, Nate and Amaya were gathered around one of the devices, while Zari was making adjustments to another one.

“Has it gotten bigger since you guys found it?” Barry asked as he joined them, studying the data displayed on a monitor.

“Yeah,” said Wally, tweaking a few measurements, “it almost doubled in size since then. Also, it appears that we’re the only ones who can see it with the naked eye. Looks like it’s another perk of being a speedster. Oh, and Mick can too, just not as clearly, just a haze.”

“Are you ready for me to do this?” Barry asked, impatiently playing with the charge again.

“Just about,” Wally answered, as everyone gathered around them.

“Well,” said Sara, joining them too, “let’s recap the plan. Barry, you know what you’ve gotta do?”

“Yeah,” Barry said, “I go in, push the red button on this grenade, drop it and get out. Then we all hightail it out of here.”

“Pretty much,” said Ray. “The… grenade has a timer, which should give you plenty of time, but you still need to be careful.”

“We don’t know what’s on the other side,” Zari added, “so, yeah, watch your back out there.”

“Don’t worry, guys,” Barry said, grinning, “I’ll be fine. Be right back.” With one last look at the monitor, he made his way to the rift.

The barrier the Legends had encountered was like a pane of glass in a window, that was the feeling he got when he put his hand on it. It was giving off pretty strong vibrations, which Barry had already felt from a few feet away. He didn’t want to attempt a running start and risk bouncing off the barrier, so he started matching that frequency until he hit the right pitch, like he would when phasing. Slowly, his hand went through, so he took a step forward, then another and another, and then he was completely on other-dimensional ground.

The green, swirling mist he encountered as soon as he was completely through made him pause. There were figures moving about in it that he hadn’t seen from the other side, though he couldn’t see their faces. The chaotic movement reminded him of the Speedforce, so he started thinking of Iris. He concentrated on Iris, his lightning rod, the mere thought of whom kept Barry from getting lost in the whirlwind of outlines in the mist, in the figures that had started to take on the shape of familiar people, their faces becoming clearer by the second.

Deciding that he’d spent enough time in this weird place, Barry pushed the button on the grenade and threw it a few feet away, at the same time turning to leave. But then, there was a flash of bright light and pain and he knew no more.

 


 

“What’s taking him so long?” Wally grumbled, while nervously pacing, unable to shake the feeling that something was very wrong.

Barry had gone in almost an hour before and still hadn’t returned. Maybe their plan wasn’t as foolproof as they’d thought, but Wally hoped that wasn’t the case. He didn’t want to imagine having to tell his sister that the love of her life wasn’t coming home.

“I don’t know what’s happening in there,” said Ray, “but the rift stopped expanding about half-an-hour ago.”

“That still doesn’t explain,” said Zari, “why Barry’s not back yet.” She looked through the readings again, trying to figure out what went wrong.

“Maybe that other dimension is different in the way time passes there,” Amaya chimed in.

Of all of Wally’s team mates, she seemed the most level-headed and less stressed out, at least outwardly.

“Amaya's right,” said Mick, while playing with his lighter. “Different place, different rules.”

“We never took altered time passage into account,” Ray said, a worried look settling on his face. “Maybe we should’ve – “

He was interrupted by a loud blast that echoed throughout the building. A bluish energy wave blew them off their feet and sent their equipment flying in all directions. The lights they’d set up earlier flickered, but luckily didn’t go out.

Wally’s head was spinning as he forced himself to get up. The others did the same, with grunts of varying intensity, and turned to look at where the rift was now pulsing ominously, a deep shade of red.

“Are we supposed to see it?” Zari asked, staring slack-jawed at what every member of the team could now see with their own eyes.

“I don’t know,” said Ray, his eyes fixed on the one monitor that hadn’t been knocked over.

“Crap,” Wally muttered as he saw Barry’s prone figure, crumpled on the ground ten feet from the rift.

He took off towards his brother-in-law, only to be stopped by the energy field that had formed like a dome around the area surrounding the gateway.

“I can’t get through either,” said Ray, pressing his palms against the newly formed obstacle. “Try to phase through it.”

Wally tried, but phasing through a literal force-field wasn’t as easy as going through solid objects. No matter how much effort he put into it, it was impossible.

“Barry!” Wally called out. “Dude, wake up!” If he couldn’t get in, then maybe Barry could get out.

“Barry!” Sara yelled as well, the others joining her in an attempt to make as much noise as possible and rouse the speedster from unconsciousness.

After a few minutes of their yelling, Barry stirred and rolled over with a groan. Wally noticed a gash on the left side of his torso, bleeding slowly, probably caused by his proximity to the explosion. Barry tried to get up a few times, but failed, so he resorted to crawling on all fours until he reached the edge of the energy dome.

“Ray, how long do we have until the chain reaction reaches critical condition?” Sara asked.

“According to the readings I’m getting now,” Ray said, “about ten minutes, fifteen max.”

“Barry,” she said, turning back to the speedster, “we need you to try to get out from your side, ‘cause we can’t reach you.”

“OK,” Barry said, pain evident in his voice, “I’ll… ugh… try.”

“Wally,” she addressed the younger man, who was still trying to phase, “I need you to get Amaya and Ray back to the Waverider, then come get Zari too.”

Wally stopped vibrating, because it wasn’t working anyway, in order to focus on Sara’s instructions.

“Ray, Zari, start working with Gideon,” she went on, “and try to figure out what went wrong and how to stop anything else from going sideways. And Amaya, I need you to contact Ava and tell her that we need her help and a time courier.”

They all nodded their agreement and Wally grabbed Ray, speeding off in a blur of colour and lightning. When he returned for Amaya, he saw Barry leaning against the energy shield, vibrating erratically, and his stomach dropped at the very real possibility that they might not be able to save him. Pushing those thoughts aside so he could focus on the task at hand, he sped Amaya to the ship, taking her to the bridge, where she promptly opened a channel to the Time Bureau. Zari, on the other hand, stopped him as soon as he reached for her.

“Gimme a moment,” she said, furiously typing on the keyboard attached to the one monitor still left standing.

In her left hand, Wally saw that she was holding the Flash emblem that had been blown off Barry’s suit in the explosion, and another twinge of worry crossed his mind.

“There,” Zari said, “I bought you an additional ten minutes. Now we can go.”

Wally didn’t waste any time asking how she’d done that, he sped her to Ray’s lab with a whispered thank you and went back to where Sara and Mick were encouraging Barry to try harder.

“Gideon,” Sara said into her earpiece, “take the ship to a safe distance from the building.”

“No… Sara,” Barry said, stopping his attempt at phasing, “you guys need to… ugh… get out of here.”

“We’re not leaving you!” Wally said. “Here, let’s try something else. Put your hands on the dome where mine are,” he pressed his palms against the energy shield, “and let’s both vibrate at the same time.”

“Alright…” said Barry, mirroring Wally’s stance as best he could.

They both went at it for a bit, but besides the dome shimmering and glowing while they did, nothing else happened. Barry was still stuck and after some time, he stopped vibrating, too exhausted to continue.

“We can’t just leave him here,” Wally said, kicking the dome in frustration.

“If there’s… no other way…,” Barry whispered, wincing in discomfort as speech became difficult, “you’ll just have to.”

“No, we won’t!” said Wally. “Think about Iris, man. I don’t wanna have to tell her you’re not coming back.”

“I’m sorry…,” Barry said, dropping to his knees and removing his cowl. “I just can’t… ugh… do it… can’t phase… through this.” He leaned his head against the inside of the dome and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.

Behind them, a rectangular gateway opened and Ava stepped through, looking sad and defeated.

“I tried opening a portal to the inside of the energy field,” she said, “both from my office and from the Waverider.” She tried again from where she stood. “It’s not working here, either.”

“You’ve gotta… go,” Barry said, using his free hand to lean on while the other clutched his side.

“No!” Wally was getting angry now; this couldn’t be happening.

“Wally… listen to me,” Barry said, his breathing becoming more laboured with each word. “You can still… get out alive. There’s not… enough time… to figure something out… so please… just go.”

“According to Gideon,” said Ava, “we still have…” she paused to look at her watch, “about five minutes until this thing goes critical. Mr. Allen’s right, there’s no time.”

“Tell Iris… that I love her,” Barry said, looking straight at the other speedster, and Wally could feel his eyes welling up with tears. “I always will. And ask her… to forgive me… for failing to run… back home to her.”

“I will, I promise,” Wally barely managed a choked whisper.

“I’m sorry, Barry,” Sara said, her voice also choked. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“It’s not… your fault,” Barry said with a gasp. It was a miracle he was still conscious.

“Been an honour knowing you, Red,” Mick said. Of them all, he was the only one not crying.

“Likewise, Mick,” said Barry, mustering a smile for the arsonist. He turned back to Wally and Sara. “Now go… ugh… before it’s too late.”

With a nod of goodbye to the trapped speedster, Ava opened a portal back to the Waverider and she and the three Legends went through. Wally turned to look back one last time and swallowed thickly at the sight. Then, the portal closed.

 


 

On the Waverider, the team was assembled on the bridge, looking out at the Vanishing Point through the ship’s front windshield. As the four who came through the portal joined them, Zari felt as though she was at a vigil. Even though no one had died… yet. She still clutched Barry’s Flash emblem in her left hand, the last tangible connection to the man trapped in the structure that was about to be no more.

“How long, Gideon?” Sara asked the AI.

“Two minutes, Captain Lance,” came the answer, Gideon’s normally chipper tone now subdued.

The team continued staring out the window at the remains of the Vanishing Point. Zari thought it was ironic, in a morbid sort of way, that it was called that, considering it was about to vanish soon. The energy field had expanded, its bluish glow encompassing the surrounding buildings and with every passing second, it shone brighter and brighter, until they could barely look at it.

Zari gripped the emblem tighter, but that did nothing to lessen the pain of their failure, the cost of which was so great. She was starting to think the place was cursed, since it seemed to require a sacrifice every time someone tried to destroy it. First it was Snart and now Barry. At least this solution was final, Zari thought. There would be no more Vanishing Point – no man-made constructions, anyway – when this was over.

A few moments later, there was a resounding crack and the ship shuddered. That meant the chain reaction was nearing its end. Zari closed her eyes as the glow became blinding, sending a prayer to Allah on Barry’s behalf. Then, the light was gone and when she opened her eyes, the former residence of the Time Masters was gone.

Chapter Text

The silence was deafening as the Waverider’s crew struggled to come to grips with the fact that they’d lost a friend. Of the people assembled there, Ray had known him the longest, although Mick had known the Flash since before the scientist did. But they’d all been friends, fellow heroes and, in Wally’s case, family. Ray couldn’t even imagine how the younger speedster felt, having lost his brother-in-law and mentor. The latter looked lost, standing there and staring out the ship’s window, fists clenched and tears running down his face.

Amaya was the first to move, putting a hand on Wally’s shoulder and guiding him towards the captain’s chair, where he promptly sank down and covered his face with his hands, elbows leaning on his knees. Slowly, the silent tears turned into full-on sobs and Amaya, standing off to his side, embraced him. Wally hugged her back fiercely.

The younger man’s continued cries were what broke Ray out of his stupor. He grabbed the tablet he’d set down earlier, the one he’d used to store the data collected at the Vanishing Point, and connected it to the holotable. The least he could do, he thought, was try to figure out what went wrong. Zari joined him not long after – he noticed that she still held on to Barry’s emblem – and Ray was grateful for the emotional support and help in trying to solve the puzzle.

“I’m guessing that this’ll be very bad for the timeline,” Ray heard Sara say, her tone belying her exhaustion.

“Yes,” Ava answered, “he was the Flash, after all, and a very important figure in the future. His death will cause a reshaping of the timeline from the day he joined you on this mission.”

“It’s been over two years since you guys blew up that place,” said Nate. “How come none of our equipment – Gideon’s or the Time Bureau’s – detected this… anomaly… until now?”

“It is possible,” Gideon said, “that our fight with the Legion of Doom, as well as our scuffle with Mallus, has caused the rift to gradually grow and have an effect sooner than it would have otherwise. I believe that without those temporal shocks, the rift at the Oculus Wellspring would have taken longer to expand and cause anachronisms.”

“Be that as it may,” said Ava, “this snafu is on me. I focused my resources in the wrong place. If we’d worked together from the start to deal with the cause, instead of wasting time trying to mop up the effects, the outcome might have been different.”

“You may have gone on a wild goose chase,” said Ray, looking up from the data Gideon was analysing, “but we messed up big time. So it’s on us too.”

“What do you mean?” Ava asked.

“We didn’t account for time passing differently in that other dimension,” Ray went on, pulling up an image on the holotable. “It’s possible that dissimilar temporal flow, coupled with Barry’s speed, caused the grenade to malfunction and detonate instantly.”

“But Barry was in there for almost an hour,” said Sara.

“To us,” said Zari. “Gideon found that Barry’s emblem was equipped with a device that stored his vital signs and according to that, he was in there for less than five minutes. For us, it was a lot longer.”

“The grenade exploded the moment Barry threw it,” Ray continued, “pushing him through the rift and back into our dimension.” He stopped and ran a hand through his hair. “We should have set the timer to more than twenty minutes.”

“What I don’t understand,” said Ava, “is why only Gideon could detect the anomaly at the Oculus. When Sara came to tell me that you’ve found the cause of all those anachronisms that were popping up in our system, I was confused how none of the Time Bureau’s sensors picked it up.”

“That, Director Sharpe,” Gideon said, “is a riddle I cannot solve at this moment.”

“So, what now?” Mick asked, as he played with his lighter again.

Ray had a hunch it was some sort of coping mechanism, Mick’s playing with the fire he loved so much, a distraction from the reality of their situation. What happened with Barry must have reminded him of last time, when they’d lost Snart.

“Now,” said Sara, “I’ll go give Iris and the STAR Labs crew the bad news.”

“No!” Wally said, having composed himself somewhat, although Ray noticed that he was still blinking back tears. “I’ll do it. I’m her brother; she should hear it from me.”

“No, Wally,” said Sara, “it’s my responsibility as this ship’s captain. You should get the chance to mourn your loss without the added burden.”

“How about,” Ava chimed in when Wally seemed inclined to respond, “we do this together. We all had a hand in this, we all miscalculated. This is probably the hardest part of a mission gone wrong and no one should bear it alone.”

“Director Sharpe is right,” said Amaya, giving Wally’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “We should do this as a team. But I think that Wally ought to get the right to decide whether he wants to be the one to tell Iris or not. She is his family and so was Barry.”

Everyone agreed to that, to Ray’s relief. Sara did insist, though, that it was better if they all had a shower and took a short nap before they went back to Central City. Gideon promised to let the crew know when two hours had passed and they, albeit reluctantly, agreed and headed to their rooms, even Sara. Ava went back to the Time Bureau, with the reassurance that she’d return as well to accompany them to STAR Labs.

Ray had a sneaking suspicion that nobody would be able to actually sleep. He was too wired from the day’s events and, as a result, he definitely knew he wouldn’t succeed to properly rest, so he smuggled the tablet he’d been working on into his room. Going over the data again was his way of coping. And he was determined to look for a way to use all the knowledge he’d gained about time travel to find a means to prevent this catastrophe from happening. If Barry was important for the future, then Ray was going to give it his best to figure out a way to ensure that future.

Having found a distraction, Ray didn’t even notice how fast those two hours went by. Before he knew it, Gideon was calling them to the bridge, so he quickly put on some presentable clothes and a jacket, and went to join the others. When he got there, everyone looked like he’d expected them to: tired, but they’d at least had a chance to freshen up a bit. Wally still had bags under his eyes and looked a little worse for wear, but he, too, had pulled himself together.

“OK,” Sara said, just as Ava joined them, “it’s time to face the music.” She sat down in her chair and the team followed suit, strapping into their own seats. “Gideon, set course for Central City, August 3rd 2018.”

“Yes, Captain,” came the AI’s response.

Ray grabbed the seat’s harness in a white-knuckled grip. Never in his three years of time travelling had he felt so anxious about a mission. He really hoped his plan succeeded.

 


 

   

Cisco had a bad feeling about today. It was already noon and he still couldn’t shake the sense of gloom caused by the dream he’d had the night before. A dream of Barry trapped in a bluish energy field, wounded, and with tendrils of green fog wrapped around his ankles. He’d woken up with a gasp, shaking, and drenched in sweat. As soon as he’d regained a measure of control, he’d tried to vibe his friend, but the vision he’d gotten while asleep was gone. There was nothing. At first, he’d panicked, thinking that something had gone wrong. Then he’d remembered that the Vanishing Point was outside of time and maybe that was the reason he couldn’t vibe any of the Waverider crew.

He tried not to panic again, sitting in his workshop, after his fifth attempt to contact the timeship failed. There had to be a good explanation for why they weren’t picking up the damn phone… he took a few deep, calming breaths. No reason to stress out anyone else, especially Iris. She’d stayed over at Joe’s, later telling her friends that it was because she’d wanted to spend some time with her baby sister. But Cisco knew the real cause was that she didn’t really like sleeping in the loft on her own. And after Barry’s stint in prison earlier that year, and his time in the Speedforce the year before, he couldn’t really blame her.

“Still no word?” Caitlin asked from behind his chair – and nearly giving Cisco a heart attack.

“Jeez, Cait, a little warning!” he said, trying to calm his heartbeat for an entirely different reason now. “Nope, nothing yet. Radio silence.”

“Sorry about that,” said Caitlin, sounding a bit sheepish at having startled him. “I could tell you were worried, so I thought I’d check up on you. Iris isn’t doing much better, although she’s hiding it like a pro.” She frowned when she noticed the bags under his eyes. “Seems the two of you didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Busted…” Cisco mumbled. It looked like there was one person he couldn’t hide from. “Had a bad dream, couldn’t fall back asleep, the usual…”

“Bad dream or vibe?” she asked.

“Couldn’t really tell,” he said, “though it felt like both. It was pretty weird. But now I can’t vibe any of them, so that’s what’s probably driving me up the wall.”

“I bet,” she seemed lost in thought for a moment. “The worst part is we can’t actually help if something were to go wrong.”

“That’s why I tried calling them,” Cisco said. “Maybe I’m overreacting.”

“Well,” Caitlin said, looking at her watch, “it’s been almost twenty-four hours, so I don’t think you are. Even if Sara didn’t say when they’d be back, they’re on a time-travelling spaceship, so…”

“Yeah,” Cisco went on, “but they’re in a place where time doesn’t exist, so that’s probably the reason I can’t vibe them. Or just call the ship. Maybe something’s causing interference or…” The more he thought about it, the more he realised that he might be blowing this out of proportion. “Wait, what time is it?”

“It’s half-past-four,” Caitlin said.

“Holy crap! Already?”

“You’ve been holed up in your workshop for over four hours,” said Caitlin, “that’s why I came looking for you.”

He’d spent the entire afternoon sitting there, trying to contact the Legends, and going over their data, without noticing the time. No wonder Caitlin was worried.

“Guys?” Iris’ voice came over the speakers. “The Waverider just landed in the parking lot.”

Cisco’s heartbeat sped up again. Time to see if he’d vibed the previous night, or if it’d been just the run-of-the-mill nightmare he occasionally had. He got up from his chair and followed Caitlin out of the workshop, trying to muster a convincing smile for her as they walked towards the cortex.

Joe and Cecile had come over for a visit in the meantime and they’d brought Jenna with them too. Iris was making funny faces at her sister, who was seated on her mother’s lap, making them both laugh. Joe was talking to Ralph, probably about some case they were working on. The mood was happy and light-hearted, but there was something still bothering Cisco and it frustrated him that he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. Caitlin patted his shoulder in what was meant to be a soothing gesture – which did nothing to calm his nerves – and went over to join Iris in making faces at Jenna.

A few moments later, footsteps could be heard from the corridor outside the cortex and, as Sara and Wally came through leading the group, Iris turned around to face them.

“Took you guys long enough,” she said, but her smile slid off her face when she did a head count and noticed that her husband wasn’t among them. “Where’s Barry?”

“Iris…” Wally started, his voice hoarse.

“No…” said Iris, in barely a whisper, covering her mouth in shock.

“I’m sorry,” the younger speedster had tears in his eyes.

“No, no, no…” Iris was trembling now, the hand at her mouth shaking and partially muffling the sound of her choked voice.

Her brother ran to her in a burst of lightning and engulfed her in his arms. She let out a sob as the tears started to fall and Wally hugged her tighter to his chest.

“What happened?” Cecile asked, rocking her daughter when Iris’ cries made her fuss.

Cisco’s attention was only half on Sara and Ray’s explanation of what had occurred at the Vanishing Point. The other half was focused on the object Wally had put down on the surface of the central console, before rushing to his sister: Barry’s Flash emblem. The ultimate proof that what he’d seen in that ‘dream’ had been real. It had happened. Because the image he’d vibed was of Barry in the suit, sans emblem.

He forced his legs to move, to reach the console. In the background, he heard Joe say that he needed some air and saw him pass, as the man crossed his field of vision. But he didn’t stop, not even when Iris, her voice still tinged with grief, called his name. It was as if the emblem was pulling him forward and Cisco had lost all control over his limbs.

Once his fingers made contact with it, Cisco was thrown into a vibe unlike any he’d experienced before. His friends’ voices faded to nothing, replaced by the sound of howling winds, and the cortex vanished, its place taken by a wasteland of dried red earth and swirling green fog. Here an there, boulders the size of a car broke the flatness of the landscape. It was trippier than the Speedforce, was the first thought that crossed Cisco’s mind.

He took a few steps forward and looked around, trying to get the lay of the land. That was made difficult, though, by the wisps of mist and the wind blowing his hair about. But just as he thought there was no sense to the vibe, the fog parted to reveal one of those huge boulders and two figures sitting on the ground next to it.

Cisco took another step forward in their direction, and then another, until he could see them better. When he got closer, he realised that one was actually squatting, while the other was sitting with their back propped against the stone and their legs spread out. As he continued walking, the fog cleared a bit more and Cisco was able to see that the figure on the ground was wearing a red full-body suit.

“Barry!” Cisco called, breaking into a run when he recognised his friend. The other man’s pale face was getting clearer with each step. “Barry!”

At the sound of his voice, the other figure, who Cisco could now see was wearing a black jacket and jeans, turned around. Wide blue eyes made Cisco stop in his tracks about five feet from the two.

“Snart?” Cisco couldn’t believe it. “How?”

He was staring a dead man in the face. Leonard Snart, who had been gone for over two years, was standing before him, seemingly fine. Was this the afterlife?

“I have no idea,” Snart said, lowering himself to his knees next to Barry’s prone form once again. His position now allowed him to continue applying pressure to the wound in the side of Barry’s torso, while at the same time being able to face Cisco.

“What is this place?” Cisco asked, gesturing around. “It looks like a mix between the Twilight Zone and Hell.”

“I don’t know exactly what it is,” Snart said, “but it’s more of the former than the latter. And it seems to have a mind of its own.” He paused, seemingly gathering his thoughts. “Barry took a pretty bad hit closing that rift and needs medical attention, so you need to find a way to get us out of here.”

“Yeah, we thought he was dead,” Cisco said, crouching down to be eye-level with the other man.

“Not yet, he isn’t,” said Snart, glancing at the unconscious speedster. “If he doesn’t get help soon, though, he will be. I’ll try to keep him alive, but this place doesn’t seem to like him much, so you guys better hurry up.”

“OK, I’ll tell the others,” Cisco said, “we’ll get you both out of here.” He swayed, suddenly light-headed, and he would have fallen on his face if Snart hadn’t caught him with his free hand.

“You need to go back, Cisco,” said Snart, squeezing his shoulder gently. “You’ve been vibing for too long.”

“How did you…?” Cisco shook his head, a sinking feeling settling in his stomach. “I can’t.”

“You have to focus,” Snart’s voice had become urgent. “Your powers are overtaxed. Focus on breaking off the vibe. Focus!”

As he uttered the last word, he shook Cisco firmly and the world seemed to flip on its axis. There was a brief feeling of falling and Cisco closed his eyes. Then the surrounding noise stopped and was replaced by the worried voices of his team mates. When he opened his eyes, Iris’ face came into focus and he realised he was now sitting in an office chair at the central console.

“What just happened?” Zari’s voice reached Cisco’s ears, sounding like an out-of-tune radio.

“He must have vibed something,” said Wally from his left, handing him a paper towel. “Here, your nose is bleeding.”

“What did you see?” Iris asked trying, and failing, to mask the hope in her voice.

“I saw Barry,” Cisco said.

The headache was kicking in, full force, but he tried to ignore it. His friend depended on him.

“He’s alive…” Cisco continued, “He’s hurt and trapped in there… not alone, though.”

“Who else could possibly be there?” Ray asked, nonplussed.

“Snart.”

 

             

 

 

      

 

           

 

Chapter Text

Stunned silence accompanied Cisco’s statement. The Legends’ gobsmacked and confused expressions would have been hilarious, had the situation not been so dire. Iris dried her eyes and turned back to Cisco, trying to muster a hopeful smile.

“Did you… talk to them?” she asked.

“Barry was out cold,” Cisco said, “but alive. Snart told me that we had to find a way to get them out of there.” He winced and closed his eyes. “He said that the… waste they were trapped on… didn’t seem to like Barry… thought it was hurting him. Like it had a… mind of its own.”

Iris noticed that Cisco’s speech was becoming increasingly halting and slurred, and that he was doubled over, leaning heavily on the chair’s armrest. His eyes were also screwed shut in obvious pain.

“Cisco,” she said, “why don’t you let Caitlin check your vitals, see if everything’s OK?” She motioned to the other woman and the latter immediately went into doctor mode. “We can talk about this when we’re sure you’re fine.”

“But Barry and Snart… need help…” Cisco protested, sitting straight with another wince.

“No, Cisco,” said Caitlin, putting a hand on the back of the chair and gently pushing it towards the infirmary. “You need medical attention, now.” She grabbed the chair’s armrest on her side to better be able to control its course. “Besides,” she went on, “you can’t help them if you’re dead on your feet, which you kind of are at the moment.”

“Cait’s right, Cisco,” Iris said, as she took hold of the chair’s other side, helping her friend to steer it out of the cortex. “At least let her do a check up and give you a painkiller. Then get a bit of rest.”

With the two women having him cornered, Cisco had no choice but to comply. Leaving him in Caitlin's care once they reached the medical room, Iris returned to the cortex, promising to return if she was needed.

“OK,” Iris said to the group of still disbelieving heroes, catching their attention, “Cisco probably won’t stay put for more than an hour. We need to figure out what exactly happened to both Barry and Snart first, and then find a way to get them back. So we need to do some more research on that Oculus thing.”

“That could be better done on the Waverider,” said Sara, in such a hushed voice, that Iris had the impression that the former had just been broken out of a trance. She cleared her throat. “We could ask her to look through her database.”

“I’ll go tell Dad the good news,” Wally said, promptly speeding off to find their father. Iris was grateful for that. She couldn’t yet bring herself to hope too much.

“Good, we have a plan,” Sara said, nodding at Iris. “You mind if we use the ship as our mission base?”

“Not at all,” Iris answered.

 


 

 

Gideon’s only reference were a few old entries in the chronicles from before the formation of the Time Council. Apparently, some years after the Oculus Wellspring was built, a Time Master doing maintenance lost his balance and fell into the shaft surrounding the device. The report was very short and vague, but after being thought dead, he was recovered by a colleague. A few other entries recounted several attempts to explore the Oculus Waste, as they called it, which were unsuccessful. The last record from that time was of an effort to retrieve the missing scouts, but that team was lost as well. After that, no further attempts were made at either recovery or reconnaissance. The only truly useful information was that two people survived that place and their names: Time Master Will Rook and engineer Mary Xavier.

To Iris’ relief, one of those names was familiar to her friends. Mary Xavier seemed to be someone they knew, so Iris allowed herself to feel a slight glimmer of hope that Barry, and by extension Snart, could be saved. She’d been so devastated in those moments when she’d thought her husband was dead, that she hadn’t been able to feel anything except the crushing pain of loss. Even her brother’s warm embrace had seemed in vain. Iris shuddered at the thought of Barry being lost forever, had it not been for Cisco and his ability to see beyond their universe.

She now sat in the Waverider’s library, listening to Ray and Zari theorise about the nature of the mysterious dimension, with the occasional input from Wally. The door opening distracted her from that conversation and she turned to see Sara entering the room, accompanied by the woman she was told was the Director of the Time Bureau, Ava Sharpe.

“We have a new complication,” Sara announced to the room at large, attracting everyone’s attention and halting all discussions.

“A pretty big one,” Director Sharpe continued.

Iris could see the worry lines on the other women’s faces and her stomach sank at the thought of a possible road block that they couldn’t overcome.

“Complications seem to be par for the course with this mission,” Amaya observed from her seat at one of the desks.

“Appears so,” Director Sharpe said. “Some of those anachronisms,” she continued, “have gone from a level one, and below, to level two. If this keeps up, they’re going to reach level four within a week. Past level five, the changes will start solidifying and the timeline, from today onward, will be completely altered.”

“Director Sharpe is correct,” Gideon said. “The longer Mr. Allen is absent from the timeline, the more the future changes. And as a result, the possibility of those alterations becoming permanent increases, even if he is recovered.”

“So we need to get moving,” said Sara. “The sooner we talk to Mary Xavier, the faster we can find a solution.”

“This time,” Iris said, “I’m coming along.” Even if she could be nothing more than moral support, she was determined to help save her husband.

“Alright,” said Sara, “then go tell your team. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to have Cisco with us too. He’s the expert on inter-dimensional travel.”

“I probably couldn’t keep him away if I wanted to,” Iris said, getting up and heading for the door. She was glad that Sara didn’t object in the slightest, because Iris didn’t think she had the emotional strength to argue.

 


 

 

Once she reached the entrance to STAR Labs, a whoosh behind her alerted Iris to Wally’s presence.

“You know Dad’s gonna hate this, right?” he said. “You coming with us.”

“He can hate it all he wants,” said Iris. “Barry’s my husband and, this time around, I’d like to be in the loop.”

“And I’m totally on your side,” Wally said, raising his hands placatingly in a peace-offering gesture. “It’s just… you know Dad. I just want you to be mentally prepared for his pushback.”

And Wally was right. Her father was none too happy about her decision. But, unlike the Joe West from a few years ago, he didn’t try to stop her or change her mind. He knew how much she loved Barry and had somewhat grown out of that overprotective phase.

“Just be careful, Babygirl,” Joe said. “Come back home to us.”

“We will, Dad,” said Iris, kissing him on the cheek. “All three of us.”

“Four,” Cisco piped up from the entrance to the cortex. “I’m going with you.”

“Only if Caitlin says so,” Iris teased.

“He’s good and rested,” said Caitlin, who had followed him from the infirmary. “Although, he is prohibited from trying to open any more breaches to that place anytime soon.”

“Say what, now?” Wally asked, looking confusedly between the two.

“I tried opening a breach,” Cisco mumbled, “to where Barry’s trapped. Didn’t work.” He avoided eye contact with the West siblings.

“Almost gave yourself an aneurism is more like it,” Caitlin said, scowling at him.

“Cisco!” Iris and Wally exclaimed in unison.

“Hey!” Cisco defended himself in an indignant tone. “I had to try! At least now we know it doesn’t work.”

“Guys!” Wally interrupted, “We gotta go. We can argue about this later.”

“You can count on that…” Iris mumbled. “Cisco, if there’s anything you need to take with you, now’s the time. We have a lead and we’re leaving as soon as possible.”

“Yeah, there are a few things,” said Cisco. “I won’t take long.” He hurried to his workshop to get whatever it was he needed.

“I’m gonna go grab some stuff too,” Iris said. “A change of clothes, for starters.”

“I’ll help with that,” said Caitlin, following her out of the cortex.

The two women walked in silence into one of the storage rooms, where Iris picked out a few items she thought she’d need for the trip on the Waverider. Opting to keep what she was wearing – a grey shirt, a pair of jeans and sneakers – she dug out her purple jacket, the one Cisco had modified for her when she’d temporarily been a speedster, and put it on. She knew that there was a fabricator on the ship, but she wanted something familiar to wear, so she packed some STAR Labs t-shirts and sweatpants, as well as some of her own toiletries. She had a stash in the building, for the times when Barry was too injured to go home and she’d chosen to spend the night with him in the infirmary.

They also got some spare clothes from Cisco’s personal supply, just in case he wanted his own instead of using the fabricator. Caitlin brought her a duffel bag and they filled it up.

“It’s going to be alright, you know,” Caitlin said as they sifted through the clothes one more time, making sure they were all the right size. “You’ll get him back. You two seem to have a knack for finding your way back to each other.”

“Thanks, Cait,” Iris smiled at her friend. “I really appreciate the encouragement.”

“Happy to help,” said Caitlin, returning the smile. “I’ve come to understand that talking to someone in times like these, even if it’s just something as simple as a bit of support, goes a long way.” She closed the zipper on the bag and squeezed Iris’ hand gently. “You and Barry have done it for me, and now, I’m trying to return the favour.”

“Thank you,” Iris said, feeling her eyes well up. “It means a lot.”

“OK, got everything you need?” Caitlin asked, looking around and surreptitiously drying her own eyes.

“Yep, all set,” answered Iris, grabbing her bag.

In silent companionship, they went back to the cortex. Cisco and Wally were waiting for her, the former with his own backpack full – probably with some sort of equipment – and slung over one shoulder. In his left hand, he held his Vibe goggles and the fingers of his left were closed around the strap of Harry’s pulse gun.

“Thought you should be prepared,” he said, handing Iris the weapon. “Just in case.”

“Whose idea was this?” Iris asked as she took it. She fully expected it to have been either her father’s or Wally’s.

“Mine, actually,” said Ralph, to her surprise. “In this line of work, it seems that it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

“Thanks,” Iris said, dropping her bag on the ground and slinging the gun over her shoulder and positioning it to rest across her back. “I hope I won’t need it, but you do have a point.”

She turned to her father and hugged him again and he, in turn, kissed the top of her head.

“Be safe, baby,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” Iris told him. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

“You better,” her father grumbled, but he had a smile on his face nevertheless.

“I’m putting you in charge of this bunch,” Iris continued as they parted. “Ralph, you’re on crime-fighting duty, with Cait at the comms. If there’s anything you guys can’t deal with, call Jesse or Jay to help out.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” said Ralph. “We’ll hold the fort here. You just be careful out there.”

“Yeah, we got this covered,” said Caitlin.

“Great,” Iris said, picking up her duffle again. “Give my love to Cecile and Jenna,” she told her father, who nodded. “See you in a bit.”

“Good luck!” said Caitlin. “Oh, and Cisco,” she added, turning to her friend and fixing him with her best doctor scowl. “No breaching whatsoever!”

“Yes ma’am,” Cisco said, shooting her an impish smile, and turned towards the exit.

Reassured that the city was in good hands, she led the way out of the room and down the corridor, her two companions close behind her. However, with every step she took on her path through the building, Iris struggled to calm her erratic heartbeat. She was relieved that Wally hadn’t offered to speed them to the Waverider, because, despite the need for haste, this whole ordeal had left her with a sense of apprehension, in spite of the good news, that she was trying to fight her way through. And, in that moment, walking and thinking were the best solutions to conquering her demons.

In the elevator, Wally demanded, more than offered, to take her bag and she reluctantly relinquished it. When Cisco nudged her, she turned to look at him questioningly. His expression was a mix between thoughtful and determined as he peered at her.

“What?” she asked him, when he didn’t immediately respond to her implied inquiry.

“This can’t have been easy for you,” he said, “considering something similar happened quite a few times before.”

“It doesn’t get easier,” said Iris, her mind jumping back to all the times she’d almost lost Barry. “I guess it comes with the territory of loving and being married to a superhero. I’m just thankful that now, like then, he’s not really gone.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Cisco. “Whet I’m trying to say, though, is that if, or when, you need someone to lean on during this whole debacle, I just want you to know that I’m here for you.”

“I know,” she said, her grip on the strap of the pulse rifle tightening. “Thank you, Cisco.”

“We’ll get him back,” he said, now looking away. “I know you’re scared. So am I. But I promise you, we’ll get him back. We always do.”

Iris swallowed thickly, yet declined to point out that he shouldn’t make promises he may not be able to keep. She hoped, with all her might, that this time, things wouldn’t go sideways. That they would succeed without any hiccups. That, for once, the plan would run smoothly.

 As they stepped out of the confined space and then, into the crisp Central City night, she was reminded of Leonard Snart’s words what seemed like eons ago: ‘make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan’. The Legends had gone through those stages with their own plan. She just hoped that they wouldn’t have to repeat them throughout their recovery mission.   

 

   

Chapter Text

Sara was really thankful that the trip to the Sanctuary was spent in relative silence. In the aftermath of Cisco’s announcement that both Barry and Snart were alive, both teams had gone into a frenzy of surprise, relief and confusion combined. The news about the latter had turned her world upside down, but Iris’ presence and quick-thinking initiative to take control of the situation had helped her focus again.

During Cisco’s recovery, though, the close quarters of the library and the team’s excitement – the main culprits being Ray and Wally – had stifled her, driving her to seek a distraction and calmer surroundings. She’d gone and called Ava to ask about the status of the timeline, and made small talk with her former girlfriend. Anything to keep her mind off the fact that Snart had been alive the whole time, trapped in a wasteland with no way to return. She’d wondered, then, if Rip had known about it and simply couldn’t find a solution, or if he’d been clueless. Maybe he had known and it had been a piece in a grander game he’d been playing, or if it had just been the how it was supposed to unfold. After all, time had a way to course-correct.

She shook those resurfacing thoughts as she landed the Waverider at the Sanctuary, deciding that those puzzles might never be solved. The person who could offer her answers was gone and there was, now, no changing what had already happened.

“Alright,” Sara said, turning her chair to face the others, “let’s go ask the lovely Mary Xavier some questions."

The newer members of her team didn’t know Mary and hadn’t been at her residence before, but Gideon and Ray had filled them in when they found the information that had led them to her doorstep. As Sara anticipated, Mary was waiting for them at the entrance to the manor, hands clasped in front of her and a smile on her face.

“I was expecting you to eventually visit me,” Mary said to the approaching group. “Michael came by a while ago and asked that I help you, if you ever seek me out.”

“He did?” Sara asked in surprise.

So Rip had known something. He must have visited the Sanctuary either during his tenure as the director of the Time Bureau, or some time after escaping their prison.

“Yes,” said Mary, “seemed to be certain you would, some day, need my assistance. With what, he didn’t say.”

“Can we come in, Mrs. Xavier?” Iris asked. “It’s a long story and we’ve had a couple of really bad days.”

“Certainly, dear,” said Mary, gesturing for them to follow her inside. “And you can call me Mary.”

She led them into the manor, towards the guest room where she’d once welcomed them all those years before. And, just like then, it was decked out to receive visitors, with freshly baked cookies and tea on the table. Soon enough, everyone was sitting comfortably, a plate and cup in their hands or on their laps, and Mary took a seat facing them.

“So, tell me,” she said, pouring a cup of tea for herself, “what brings you to my home?”

“How much did Rip… Michael, tell you about what happened after we left the last time?” Sara asked.

“He told me that you destroyed the Vanishing Point,” said Mary, a touch of sadness in her tone. “It’s a shame, what they’d become,” she mused, regret crossing her features.

It was clear to Sara that the Time Masters she’d raised – would raise, was raising, it made her head hurt just thinking about it – mere children, still living in the building where time was too weird to comprehend, meant a lot to the woman sitting across from her. She hadn’t raised them to be power-hungry manipulators.

“He also told me,” Mary went on, “about the business with the Spear of Destiny and how, afterward, he’d built the Time Bureau.” She shook her head, probably in disapproval of the name. “Other than that, he didn’t tell me much more. He’d seemed stressed by his latest mission against the demon Mallus, but wouldn’t disclose many details. The last time he visited, he was very adamant that there would be something in your future that would bring you here. What that would be, he didn’t say”

So Sara, with the occasional input from her team, filled her in. She told her about how they’d defeated Mallus, about how Rip had died and about their newest problem, and why exactly they needed her knowledge. After Sara was finished, Mary was quiet for a very long time, and she worried that the older woman might refuse to help them. Her expression was blank, but her eyes were filled with pain and unshed tears. Then, she took a deep breath, wiped her eyes and, when she faced the Legends again, the look on her face was steely determination.

“I knew when we built that thing,” Mary said, “that it would be too much power in human hands. I said as much to the Head of the old Council, but he was convinced that it would never be misused. Alas, I was proven right.”

“Gideon said you were one of the engineers who built the Oculus,” Ray said, trying to steer the conversation back on track.

“Yes, I was,” said Mary. “But we didn’t fully understand what we’d practically stumbled upon when we built the Vanishing Point. How much information did Gideon have access to, regarding the incident with Time Master Rook?”

“Not much,” Ray said, “only that he’d fallen into the shaft surrounding the Oculus and ended up in another dimension. There weren’t many details available about the rescue and subsequent attempts to explore that place, only a few short reports, and your name and his.”

“Did he survive after being recovered?” Sara asked.

Maybe Snart and Barry weren’t the only ones trapped there, if this guy lived to tell the tale. She shuddered at the thought of the other Time Masters, that were present in the building when the Oculus exploded, being there as well. That would make for lousy – and dangerous – company.

“He did,” said Mary, “but the recovery was long and difficult.”

“How did you know that he wasn’t actually dead?” asked Ray.

“When we built the Oculus,” Mary answered, “we practically ripped open a window into the very essence of time. The Vanishing Point was the only place where we could do that.” She paused for a moment, thinking, then continued. “A window into time itself allowed us a more accurate view of the timeline and better navigation while time-travelling. So I theorised that someone falling into the temporal energy released by the Oculus into the shaft would likely be displaced in time. But when I found no trace of my colleague anywhere – or when – the thought occurred to me that he might be stuck on another plane of existence altogether.”

“Another dimension,” Cisco concluded.

“More or less,” said Mary. “I’ve studied the data collected for years, trying to understand that place. When Will, my colleague, recovered, he called it ‘the home of Time itself’.”

“It kind of sounds similar to the Speedforce,” said Cisco. “It’s a place that is another dimension which is, at the same time, intrinsically connected to our own multiverse. Like some sort of… Timeforce.”

“That is a very astute observation, Mr. Ramon,” Mary said, looking impressed. “They are, indeed, very similar in how they operate, both having something resembling a conscience and a will of its own. That is why we’ve given credence to the saying ‘Time wants to happen’.”

“So how did you get Master Rook back?” Iris asked the most important question before Sara could form the words.

“I fashioned a harness for myself and one for my partner,” said Mary, placing her cup on the table. “Using metal from a temporally displaced meteorite, I built the harnesses similarly to how chain mail is made and attached them to long cables coated in the same material. Then went in to get him back, asking a trusted friend to reel us in once I found him.”

“I can’t help but get the feeling,” Iris said, “that your colleague meant a lot to you. Much more than just a work friend.”

She was on the edge of her seat and Sara could see that she was eagerly absorbing every bit of information like a sponge. Sara didn’t fault her for her curiosity. After all, it was her husband’s life at stake as well.

“You are very perceptive, Mrs. West-Allen,” said Mary, a knowing smile gracing her lips. “Will Rook was not only my colleague and friend, he was also my lover.” She laughed at the team’s shocked faces. “This was before Time Masters were forbidden from having any emotional attachments. It was still frowned upon and not normally practiced, but no yet against regulations. In later years, I have come to the conclusion that our bond was what allowed me to save him. My partner later told me that it was the thought of the woman he loved, that kept him from succumbing to the temptation of the visions he’d seen in the mists of the Oculus Plains, as he calls them.”

“Did it try to prevent you from getting him out?” Sara asked. “Or did it try to tempt you too?”

“Yes, both,” said Mary. “But our connection was stronger than the temptation and those cables, attached to a pulley, certainly helped.”

There was another long moment of silence as everyone processed what had been discussed. Sara realised that it was probably not going to be that easy, so she decided to ask a more uncomfortable question.

“What was it like, that place?” she said.

“It was… disturbing,” a look of fear flashed across Mary’s face at the memory, “and frightening. I’d only spent about half-an-hour there, but Will… he’d been trapped for almost two weeks. He was disoriented and confused after his escape. A few days later, when he was  a bit more coherent, he said that it had felt like months wandering a hellscape.”

“Months…” Sara whispered, a heavy weight settling in her stomach. “Snart has been stuck there for over two years.”

“And it is a miracle,” Mary said, “that he’s still alive after all this time. And still sane, per Mr. Ramon’s account.”

“Has anyone else returned from there?” Ray asked, his face pale. Sara had the feeling that hers was the same.

“No,” Mary answered. “Neither did those who tried to explore the Oculus Plains. We never found out if they died or were simply enticed by the visions in the mist to remove their harness and wander off. After a few failures, we stopped exploring.”

“Did Master Rook ever fully recover?” Sara asked, dreading the answer.

“He did,” said Mary, “it took him almost a whole year, but he managed to overcome the temporal displacement the return trip caused him. It would have been a lot harder, for both of us, had we not had those special harnesses to protect us from the temporal backlash.”

“You don’t happen to still have those, do you?” Ray asked. “That technology would really come in handy.”

“Will must know where they are,” Mary said. “Would you like to talk to him?”

“He’s still alive?” Sara’s eyes were wide, and her heartbeat sped up at the prospect. She hadn’t anticipated the man still being among the living.

“Yes,” said Mary. “Once he recovered, I was tasked with building the Sanctuary and maintaining it. Will decided to retire here a few years later, when Council affairs had turned into intrigue.” She rose from her seat. “He’s most likely in his quarters on the top-most level of the manor.”

Sara put her – now cold – cup of tea on the table and got up as well. But Mary raised a hand to prevent the others from doing the same.

“It is better,” she said, “if only two of you went to speak to him. He doesn’t like to be crowded, so Ms. Lance and Mrs. West-Allen is enough for now.”

“I’m not sure I’ll understand the more… technical parts,” said Sara, sharing a look with Iris.

To her surprise, the other woman didn’t seem too bothered by the prospect, the predominant emotion in her posture being determination.

“Don’t worry,” Mary said, “he’ll come down to talk to the others afterward. But you are the team captain and Mrs. West-Allen has a personal stake in this endeavour, so we start with the pair of you.”

With the assurance that the scientists of her crew would get to pick Master Rook’s brain later, Sara and Iris followed Mary up the stairs.

 


 

 

The retired Time Master was nothing like Iris expected him to be. Will Rook was jovial and friendly, if a bit scatterbrained, but there was no visible trace of his past trauma in his demeanour. He greeted them by their names and offered them tea and asked them about the timeline.

Once the small talk was over with, he inquired about the reason for their visit and promptly became more serious, upon hearing of their plight.

“We wanted to ask you,” Iris said, “what it was like, being trapped on the Oculus Plains. If you’re comfortable with telling us, that is.”

“It was…” Master Rook said after a long pause, “terrifying. The first thing you need to know about that place is that the more time you spend there, the more it changes you. And it gives it its all to change its visitors. Not all of it is bad, but it is change nonetheless.”

“How does it do that?” asked Sara.

Iris noticing that, for some reason, this conversation was a hard one for her friend, reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze of reassurance. It helped ground her as well. Thinking that her Barry was stranded in a place that had the potential to be hostile made bile rise in her throat. She couldn’t bear the thought of the man she loved being hurt so bad, that it might change the kind of person he was.

“It shows you parts of all possible timelines,” said Master Rook, “without rhyme or reason. Whether it’s your own, someone else’s or nobody’s in particular, it doesn’t really care.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment, then suddenly continued. “Sometimes, I thought it was trying to show or teach me something. Other instances felt like an attempt to manipulate me and entice me to stay.”

“Sounds like it’s sentient,” Iris said, reminded of Cisco’s analogy to the Speedforce.

“I came to the same conclusion after studying it for years,” said Master Rook. “I’ve analysed the data and my experience extensively, in an effort to understand it, attempting to figure out why I managed to escape, but others didn’t.”

“It was because Mary came for you, wasn’t it?” Iris said.

“Yes,” he replied animatedly. “She was my anchor, my lifeline to this plane of existence. The others, lacking any emotional attachments, were lost and thus, never made it out. It was our bond that allowed her to draw me back to our universe and me to keep my sanity, in the end.”

“She acted as your lightning rod,” Iris smiled as she said that, reminded of her and Barry’s similar connection.

“Lightning rod…?” Master Rook straightened in his seat, unexpectedly becoming very alert. “I’ve only ever heard that expression used in matters regarding speedsters. Is one of your two friends one?”

“Yes, that would be my husband,” Iris said, a tint of fear creeping into her voice.

“Then we must make haste,” Master Rook said.

He rose from his chair and started frantically looking through his notes, scattering papers all over his desk in his search for something. Iris’ heart was hammering in her chest by then.

“Time itself doesn’t much like speedsters,” he continued, still searching. “It tolerates them, like it does all time-travellers, but barely. They were the reason Time Wraiths were created and the Oculus Plains are swarming with them.”

The mention of those horrible creatures made Iris’ heart skip a beat, yet it felt more like something squeezed her chest real tight, making it hard to breathe. She turned to Sara, fully expecting to find horror written on her face, but instead, the other woman’s expression was merely confused.

“What’s a Time Wraith?” Sara asked in a hushed tone.

“You really don’t wanna know,” said Iris, “unless you want to have nightmares for the rest of your life. You could ask Gideon to show you, though, if you want. But they’re really freaky. They kind of look like the dementors in the Harry Potter movies.”

“Yikes, those things really are freaky,” Sara shuddered.

“And extremely dangerous,” Master Rook said, drawing their attention back to him. “That’s why you have to move fast. Here, take this.” He extended his hand to Sara, offering her something that looked like a memory stick. “This is all the data I’ve compiled about the Oculus and the dimension beyond the gateway. I’ve also added the coordinates of the meteorite you might need to build additional equipment, as well as where you’ll find the harnesses Mary and I used.” He also produced a disk-shaped device and handed it to Iris. “This is a communicator. You can use it to contact me, in case you find yourselves in need of advice or have any questions.”

“You knew we were coming, just like Mary did,” Sara said. The hard lines of her face made Iris suspect that she had a hunch about a grander plan, put into motion by the Waverider’s former captain. “How much did Rip really know about this?”

“When he came to see me after you’d destroyed the Oculus,” Master Rook said, “I theorised that by blowing the place up, you’d blown that gateway wide open and that your team-mate might not have died in the first place.”

“So Rip knew,” Sara whispered, disbelieving, “and he didn’t see fit to tell us?”

“Neither of us were certain it would even be possible, Ms. Lance,” Master Rook said. “And with the Wellspring demolished, there was no surefire way to know. But he did seem to think that there would be a time to recover Mr. Snart, just not right away. Time wants to happen and all that.”

“But after spending over two years there,” Iris said, “won’t it be even harder for him to readjust? You were only trapped for a couple of weeks.”

“It will, potentially, be hard,” said Master Rook. “But Mr. Snart and I are two very different people. His experience might be unalike to my own, since you said he seemed clear-headed when he talked to your friend. I was confused and out of touch for quite a while, both in there and after escaping. He may need some time, but something tells me that it will be much easier for him than it was for me.”

“We’ll probably need to use another method to enter the Oculus Plains,” said Sara, “now that the gateway’s been sealed. Do you think we could fly the jumpship into that place if we found a way to open a portal?”

“You could,” Master Rook said. “You would need a small crew, three at the most, so you would have enough space for your two friends on the return trip. Someone to pilot the ship, obviously. Mrs. West-Allen is a rather straightforward choice for Mr. Allen’s emotional anchor. But what of Mr. Snart? Does he have someone who could act as one?”

“He has a very good friend,” said Sara, “who’s also a part of our crew. They were, you could say, thick as thieves.”

She smirked slightly at the double meaning of her words, but she wiped her palms on her jeans as she did and Iris realised that there was something left unsaid, an undertone of regret in her voice. Iris’ keen senses picked up on that and figured that there must have been something more between Sara and the former crook.

“Friendship is a strong bond, indeed,” Master Rook’s eyes glinted mischievously. It was clear that he, too, had caught on. “But love is an even stronger one. Did he ever express… interest in anyone on the team?”

“He did,” Sara mumbled, looking away, “wonder what the future may hold… for him and… me.” She looked up and her expression hardened. “That was after he’d shoved his gun in my face, so it never went beyond ‘what if’. And then, he blew himself up and we never got to find out.”

“Well, now you’ll get that shot,” said Master Rook. “Although, that is up to you to decide. But, since you did seem to have caught his eye, the chances of you succeeding in being his anchor are rather high.” He smiled jovially and clapped his hands. “Any other questions before we head downstairs?”    

“Yeah,” Sara said, relieved for the opportunity to steer the conversation away from the elephant in the room, “any ideas on how we can beat those Time Wraiths?”

“Yes,” said Master Rook, “when you go in there, take a weapon with you, any kind. They never bothered me when I was there, though I saw them floating around. Yet something tells me that, as soon as they sense Mr. Allen, they’ll be swarming, so be ready to shoot at any moment.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” Iris said, glad that Ralph had thought to suggest taking the pulse gun. “Thank you, Master Rook.”

“No need to thank me,” the former Time Master said. “Safe travels, my dears.” He ushered them towards the door. “Now, let’s go downstairs and have a quick chat with your scientists.”

They descended the stairs in silence. When they reached the guest room, everyone started asking questions and Sara had to intervene so that they wouldn’t all talk at once. Iris stood to the side, lost in thoughts of how Sara Lance and Leonard Snart could have possibly gotten so close. She didn’t know either of them very well, but she’d never imagined Snart would ever want to settle down with someone, at least not their universe’s version. Barry was going to have a blast with this when they got him back.

Before she knew it, all questions had been answered and plans had been made. They soon took their leave from Mary and Master Rook – who told them to call him Will – with a promise to inform the two of how the mission went when it was over. As the Waverider took off, Iris tried to keep her worry in check, reminding herself that they’d beaten impossible odds before. There was no reason to think it would be any different this time. Even if their plans had a tendency to fall apart, she was determined to make sure they’d have backups. She wouldn’t be kept from her husband by anything, not even dementors from hell or Time itself. And Iris would make damned sure that Snart would get a chance to get the girl – if said girl didn’t stab him first, by the looks of it.

They had Gideon go over the data from the memory device, once they were back in the time stream. They gathered around the holotable, discussing all the possibilities – both of what could work and what could go wrong – and making a list of all the things they still needed. The make the plan part of their planning process had begun. All they needed now was luck on their side.            

            

       

  

    

Chapter Text

The first phase of the plan was rather simple: the team would split up into three groups. One would stay on the ship (Zari, Ray and Cisco) to work on the portal generator – using Cisco’s design – they would use to open a breach to the Oculus Waste. The second group would go to the Cretaceous period (Amaya, Nate and Iris) where they’d located the meteorite fragment they would need to build additional equipment. The third party (Sara, Wally and Mick) would head over to the abandoned Time Masters’ outpost where, according to Will, Mary’s original gear was stashed.

The only reason Iris even offered to leave the ship, in the first place, was the hope of getting to see Gertrude, after hearing Ray mention his time spent in that particular era. As dire as their situation was, Iris saw no point in wasting an opportunity to see a real-life dinosaur of any kind, never mind a T-Rex. And besides, Amaya seemed delighted to have female company on their excursion and Iris was more than happy to get to know the legendary hero a little better.

“The walk and fresh air will do you good,” Amaya said as the three of them started their trek. “Help you clear your head.”

“Yeah,” said Iris, “I thought an outing would offer a decent distraction from the constant worry.”

They walked in companionable silence for a while, letting Nate go ahead with the special metal detector. Something in Amaya's tone, as she spoke, gave Iris the distinct impression that the other woman had experienced loss of this kind as well and that she was trying to convey her support through her presence.

“It’s not easy,” Amaya said, catching Iris unawares after a long stretch of quiet. “Losing the man you love. I used to think that the pain would never go away.” She took a breath and spared Iris a sad glance. “And it hasn’t, rally. It’s just become more… bearable with time.” She sidestepped a boulder in her path and then returned to Iris’ side. “You’re luck to be able to get him back.”

“Who did you lose?” Iris asked, keeping her voice gentle.

“His name was Rex Tyler,” said Amaya. “We were both members of the Justice Society of America during World War Two. He was killed before we had a chance to attempt building a life together.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Iris murmured.

Turns out they had something in common, she and Amaya. They had both lost someone they’d loved, yet managed to be happy in love again – if the heart eyes Nate was making every time Amaya so much as spoke were any indication.

“Found it!” Nate interjected, cutting their conversation short. “You keep an eye out for Gertrude and I’ll dig it up. Won’t take long.”

“Sure thing,” Iris said, looking around for any sign of the dinosaur.

When she couldn’t find any trace of the T-Rex, she turned back to Amaya, who was watching Nate with a wistful expression etched into her face. Ah, Iris thought, the heart eyes go both ways, as she’d suspected.

“I guess I am lucky,” Iris continued, drawing the other woman’s attention again, “because I’ve almost lost Barry a few times, but he always finds a way to come back to me. On occasion, I can’t help but wonder, though, how many times we can beat the odds. And every single time still feels like a knife to the heart and I think ‘Is this it? Did I lose him forever, this time around?’”

“Seems that all you can do,” said Amaya, “is live in the moment and cherish the time you do have together.”

“That sounds like pretty good advice,” Iris said with a smile.

They were interrupted again by a loud roar in the distance. Iris and Amaya turned their heads in the direction of the sound and, soon enough, the silhouette of what had to be Gertrude could be seen on the horizon. Amaya stepped forward and touched her totem – channelling the traits of a T-Rex – and Iris watched in astonishment, as the huge prehistoric lizard stopped and rubbed its massive snout against Amaya's forehead.

“If you want,” said Nate from behind Iris, “I could take a picture with you and Gertrude. It’ll be quite something to show the grandkids.”

So they did, with Iris and Amaya standing beside Gertrude, while Nate snapped a few photos with Iris’ phone. By the time they got back to the ship, Iris was so giddy at having seen and touched a living, breathing dinosaur, that she couldn’t help but smile a little wider. She couldn’t wait to show Barry.

 


 

 

Mick was really not happy about having to step foot into yet another place built by the Time Bastards. He’d had enough at the Vanishing Point to last him several lifetimes and then some. The only bright side was that those damn contraptions Mary had built and hid away there would be useful in bringing his friends back. That, and the fact that they had a speedster with them to disable all the booby-traps in that cursed place. The former Time Master at the Sanctuary gave them the override security code for the veritable minefield of an outpost, as well as a blueprint of the place with the location of the armoury marked by a red X.

“Man,” Wally said, after bypassing another obstacle, “these guys thought of everything.”

“Except a speedster,” said Sara. “At least, I hope so.”

“They probably thought of that too,” Mick grumbled as he consulted the map again. “We just haven’t bumped into any of those, yet. Head left, down that hall,” he told Wally, “watch out for the laser grid.”

Wally promptly sped away to disable yet another trap. He went ahead, since he was the fastest of the trio, dodging the traps and using the code to neutralise them. Mick was his guide, while Sara kept an eye out for any danger they might have missed. And it was a good thing she came along, too, because if it hadn’t been for her keen assassin senses, they would have been ambushed by a group of terminator look-alike robots right past the entrance.

But there was something going on with Sara and Mick could tell that there was something bugging her. She’d seemed off-kilter ever since they’d first set out for the Vanishing Point, to see what the problem was. And when everything had gone to hell, she’d been even more shell-shocked by the outcome than she’d let on. That’d been a hard blow for everyone, even Mick, not just because it’d reminded them of when Snart died to save them.

When they found out that Red wasn’t actually dead – and that he wasn’t the only one to cheat death – the realisation had hit Mick like a ton of bricks. His partner had been alive all this time, stranded and alone in another dimension, and they hadn’t known about it. It was still a tough pill to swallow, even now, when they had a way to save both self-sacrificing knuckleheads. So, to distract him from all those complicated feelings, he threw himself into the rescue mission with abandon.

Sara, on the other hand, looked like she was caught in a confusing dream. Mick knew that she and his partner had become close, even friendly. But seeing her reactions both then, after Snart ‘died’, and now at the revelation he was alive, made him think that there was more to that friendship than both parties led on. And Sara was trying to hide how she really felt about the situation.

After a lot of twists and turns along the hallways of the outpost, the three finally reached their destination. The code was, once more, used to disable the security protocol and open the door to the armoury. They split up to have a look around at the many weapons and gadgets stored there, taking note of anything that might be useful, both in their current and future missions. Wally found the harnesses and some device that looked like a prototype battery of sorts.

“At least it was labelled as that,” the kid said, “and who knows if we’re ever going to need a backup power source. Might come in handy to have as a spare.”

“Good job, Wally,” said Sara and took the offered device, handing it to Mick, who stuffed into the backpack he was carrying.

She still had that jaded look on her face, Mick noticed. He was going to have to talk to her, for both her sake and his.

“Yeah, kid,” Mick said, turning to the speedster, “ya did good. How about you take those things to the jumpship and, on your way out, make sure none of the traps got reactivated. We’ll meet ya there.”

After throwing a sideways glance at Sara, who hadn’t said anything about Mick’s plan of action, caught on to the arsonist’s intent and nodded at the older man.

“Sure,” Wally said, securing his grip on the objects in his hands. “I’ll let you know if there’s any trouble along the way. See you there.”

The kid was off in a flash of yellow lightning and Mick had to rub his eyes to get rid of the afterimage it left behind. He turned back to Sara, only to find her staring into space. Oh, boy… this wasn’t going to be easy, especially since he himself would have to struggle for the right words.

“We gotta talk, Blondie,” Mick said, once he was sure the young speedster was out of earshot.

“There’s not much to talk about,” said Sara, turning and starting to walk towards the exit and the hallway beyond.

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Mick retorted, following her out of the armoury. “Snart was our friend. But he was something a little more to you, so stop trying to hide it.”

“I’m not trying to hide anything!” said Sara, a slight growl in her tone. “I’m just trying to sort out how I feel about this whole… situation.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Mick. “But we both need a clear head going into this mission, so we gotta talk it out now.” He rubbed a hand over his face as he walked, then continued. “Look, the past is… how’s that saying?”

“Prologue,” Sara muttered, a slight smile breaking through her gloom.

“Right,” Mick went on, “so we can’t change what happened, or what we did and said. All we gotta do now is get Snart back and then we both get to punch him in the face for what he did.”

Sara laughed at that and Mick smirked, pleased that he was getting through to her, even if it was in his own… unique… way.

“But the two of you,” he continued, “had somethin’ more than friendship goin’ on. Always talking and playin’ cards and having each other’s backs. You’ve gotta admit that much.”

Sara’s smile faded, replaced by a thoughtful look. He could practically see the cogs turning in his mind’s eye as she processed his words. That’s it, he thought, think about it. He’d never cared much about their relationship while Snart was still around, and afterwards he’d dismissed it entirely, being busy hunting Savage and then all the other stuff. But now that they knew Snart was alive, he started seeing the signs again – and now he cared about the team, despite what others thought and how he acted.

“There was,” she murmured, “an… almost. Maybe if he hadn’t… died, it could have become something more.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “I’m just mad that we didn’t know he was alive, to begin with. We could have gotten him out of there sooner.”

“Mhmm,” Mick hummed, frowning. “Seems like Rip knew something, but for some reason, didn’t want us to. Lucky he’s dead, or he’d have gotten punched by half the crew plus Red’s family.”

“I guess he had a plan,” said Sara, “judging by what Mary and Will said. He just got sidetracked and never got around to putting it in action.”

“Or maybe,” Mick said, “it was always supposed to play out the way it did.” He rubbed the back of his head in thought. “Sometimes, when Time wants to happen, it can be really hard to change its mind.”

“Rip Hunter,” Sara said, “always doing his best to ‘preserve the integrity of the timeline’.” She made air quotes on the last few words and spoke them in a British accent, which made Mick guffaw. Progress. “Or something along those lines.”

She paused again, and they were both reminded that Rip was yet another friend they had lost in the three years since they’d started this whole adventure.

“It’s times like these I miss Rip,” said Sara after a while. “He always knew how to solve all these problems, or at least how to try to.”

“Yeah, he was annoying now and then,” Mick said, “but he did his best. Even though you had to punch him, occasionally.”

They spent the rest of the walk out of the building in silence, and Mick tried to put his thoughts in order for the most important part of the conversation. He wanted to use the right words, despite words not being his forte. When they reached the exit, Mick stopped Sara and turned her to face him, keeping his hands on her shoulders.

“I know that what you guys…” he began, “almost had was… complicated. But now you get a second chance, to see if you can un-complicate it.” He squeezed her shoulders lightly, then continued. “The past is done with, but the future’s all yours. So when he’s back, sort yourself out and tell him what you want, is what I’m sayin’. And don’t dwell on those regrets anymore.”

Sara looked at him, speechless as she was studying his face. He couldn’t tell if she wanted to hug him or smack him upside the head. Or even stab him; that was always a possibility with the feisty assassin. He settled for humour again.

“If you want,” Mick said, grinning at the thought, “I’ll let you punch him first. You’ll feel better, trust me.”

Sara’s face broke into a wide smile and she didn’t exactly laugh, but… was that a giggle?

“Thanks, Mick,” she said, after her fit of laughter subsided. “I think I needed to hear all that. And you’re right, I did like Snart, maybe as more than a friend. I just need to weigh the ramifications of such a decision and I need to deal with the thought that, now, I might get the chance to explore that possibility.”

Mick nodded and let go of her, satisfied that he’d managed to make himself understood, and they made their way towards the jumpship. He was relieved that he’d succeeded without getting himself kicked or stabbed in the process. Although, he was never going to forget the sound of the fearsome assassin literally giggling for the rest of his life.

“You know,” Sara said when they reached the ship, “you’ve gotten really wise since you first stepped foot on the Waverider. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel different.”

“Oh, no,” said Mick, smirking again, “if people think I’m dumb, they’ll let loose around me. Makes it easier for me to read them, I’ve found.”

“Shrewd too,” Sara whistled in appreciation, “that’s a useful skill to have.”

The ramp opened and Wally stepped out, assessing their stance to see if they were done… talking.

“We’re ready,” Sara told him, “you can reactivate the security protocols. Wouldn’t want anyone stumbling across this place and causing mayhem.”

“On it,” said Wally and, in a few seconds, he was gone and back. “Done. Now nobody can raid the stash.”

“Good, then let’s get outta here,” Mick said, heading for the pilot’s seat. “This place gives me the creeps.”

 


 

 

The crew that was left on the Waverider, in the absence of the other two groups, was working on their part in relative silence. The ship was parked in the Cretaceous period, cloaked so that wildlife didn’t see it. Although, Ray doubted it would have any effect on the timeline if Gertrude saw a time-travelling spaceship.

He, Cisco and Zari were working on a portal generator capable of opening a breach, which would be large and stable enough, for the jumpship to pass through. It’d been decided that a smaller vessel, as well as a smaller crew, was better equipped for such an endeavour, even is they hadn’t yet decided who would go. They first had to solve the problem of not being able to get there, since Cisco himself couldn’t open a breach to the Oculus Waste.

Cisco had managed to vibe the two captive men a few times, catching a few glimpses of them. Beyond that, he couldn’t do much more, because the prolonged vibing was draining him. Those peeks revealed that both men were alive, and Barry was even awake and talking to Snart, so at least there was good news. It fuelled their attempts with renewed vigour to finish as soon as possible. Ray just hoped that the others were faring well in their respective searches.

They’d been at it for about five hours, when Ava popped in. She looked stressed and worn out and, by the look on her face, she wasn’t the bearer of good news.

“What’s wrong?” Zari asked, before the other woman had a chance to speak.

“The anachronisms are getting worse,” said Ava, taking a seat and pulling her chair next to Ray’s workbench. “Most of them changed from level two to level three and some even reached level four. If this goes on, we’ll be having a hard time reversing the effects.”

“I don’t understand it,” Ray said. “If they were caused by the rift at the Oculus site, sealing the breach between dimensions should have stopped them from occurring. Or, at least, stopped them from progressing to a higher level.”

“They were initially caused by that,” said Ava. “But the Flash’s absence made them take shape. We can track a number of them, now, and we’ve figured out the changes taking place are because Mr. Allen is missing from the timeline.”

“As soon as we get Barry back,” Cisco said from his place at his own workstation, “everything should snap back to normal.”

“Yes, it should,” Ava said. “Yet, the longer it takes to retrieve him, the more the chances grow of certain changes solidifying. And then, we’ll never know if they’re for the better or worse.”

“Well,” said Zari, her tone clipped, picking up a wire cutter, “we’re working as fast as we can.”

“I know,” Ava said, raising her hands placatingly, “I’m not here to scold, just to let you know what’s going on. And maybe help, if I can. So if you need me to hold something still, or hand you a tool, I’m here for that.”

“Sorry,” Zari mumbled. “I’m just a little worn out. Didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ava said. “We’re all tired and short-tempered, there’s no need to apologise.”

“Alright,” said Ray, “I do need some help with this piece, anyway. Just hold the two parts together, while I weld them.”

“Sure,” Ava said as she moved over, so she could sit across the table from him and easily hold the device in place.

Zari and Cisco turned back to their own work, while Ava helped Ray, dutifully following his instructions step by step. They didn’t talk for the next half-hour, enjoying the quiet company while they worked together. Ray suspected that Ava was looking for a distraction, that being the reason why she’d sought them out. He was going ask her about it when he finished welding, but she beat him to it.

“I needed a break,” she said. “Seemed like a better place to spend it than my office.”

“This isn’t a stress-free environment, you know,” Ray quipped, managing to draw a smile from her.

“At least it’s a different kind of stress,” Ava retorted, “than the one currently at the Time Bureau.”

“I bet it is,” said Ray, putting down his tool and picking up another one. “Less people, for one.” He chuckled. “Some days, I’m glad I’m not in charge of this lot.”

“I can attest that being in charge is not all it’s cranked up to be,” said Ava. “It’s a big responsibility and, sometimes, I miss just being a simple agent.”

“It takes its toll, I recon,” Ray mused. “It’s why I admire you and Sara for keeping a cool head in tough situations. I don’t think I could do it.”

“Speaking of Sara,” said Ava, a thoughtful expression settling on her face, “she seemed pretty rattled at hearing this Snart fellow was alive, more so than the rest of your crew. Looks like there’s a story there.”

“Kind of…” Ray pondered his answer carefully. “I don’t really know what went on, if they were anything more than friends. They played cards – a lot – and they talked, but that’s about all I know for sure. We were all shaken when he… died.”

“Sounds like he went out being a hero,” said Ava.

“Yeah,” Ray chuckled, “but don’t say that to his face. He’d hate that.” He pulled a mock serious face. “To quote the man: ‘hero ain’t on my résumé’.” He even attempted to imitate Snart’s drawl, being more or less successful.

“He said that?” she asked, bemused. “Well, better tell him he’s full of shit the next time he utters those words.”

“You bet I will,” Ray said with a grin. “He deserves it, after the stunt he pulled.”

Ava laughed at that and was about to say something else, when the door to the lab opened and Amaya and Iris came in, followed by Nate. The latter was in Steel form and was carrying a big, metallic chunk of meteorite. Ray immediately got up and cleared one of the workbenches, so that Nate could set his charge on it.

“You found it!” Cisco piped up excitedly. “That’s great. I’ll get the fabricator set up with my improved design, then I’ll upgrade the harnesses as soon as the others are back.”

Nate helped Cisco wheel the meteorite out of the lab and Ray turned to Amaya and Iris.

“Did you see Gertrude while you were there?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Amaya, “she says hi.”

“Sweet!” Ray was happy that the T-Rex was still around. “Maybe next time we visit this era, I’ll be able to see her.”

“I even got a picture with her,” said Iris. She pulled out her phone and showed him the photo. “Look!”

“Barry’s gonna be so jealous that he missed this,” Ray said.

“I’m certain that, when this is over,” said Ava, getting up, “you guys can spare some time to visit again and take Mr. Allen to see the dinosaur.” She smiled at Iris. “I’m sure he’d like that.”

“He’s the biggest nerd I know,” said Iris, “so, he’d definitely love it.”

“Well,” Ava turned to face the rest of the team, “I’d better go check on things at the Time Bureau. Let me know if you need any help.”

“Will do,” said Ray. “We’re only a call away, if anything major comes up.”

Ava nodded in acknowledgement, and then opened up a portal to her office, stepping through. But before she closed it, she turned back to face them again.

“Good luck!” she said and with that, the portal closed.

Like flipping a switch, the mood on the Waverider went back to serious. They had work to do, so Ray returned to tinkering with the portal generator. He noticed that Iris and Amaya had joined Zari at her table, lending a hand in any way they could, just like Ava had done with him. No one spoke much after that, each of them being preoccupied with their own task. Ray was so deep in thought, that he almost didn’t notice the door opening and Wally striding in. The speedster walked over to his table – at a normal pace – and set down a cylindrical object about the size of a bottle.

“Found this at the outpost,” Wally explained. “It was labelled as a prototype battery and Gideon said it’s fully operational, and charged to boot. So I thought that we could, maybe, install it in the jumpship as a backup power source. Just in case.”

“Having extra juice on the ship won’t hurt,” Ray said, turning the battery over in his hands. He checked Gideon’s readings on his tablet. “It’s not a lot, but it has enough energy stored in it to sustain life-support and communications for quite a while, if the main power goes out.”

“That’s why I took it,” said Wally. “Better to be safe than sorry. Sara said that we should handle this, while she and Mick help Cisco adjust the rest of the equipment.”

“Great. I already have an idea on how to do it,” Ray said, rising from his seat and heading for the door, and Wally followed. “We’re almost done with the generator and Cisco’s working with Gideon on making the additional gear. We decided to convert those harnesses into vests and make a few more for the others going in.”

“Yeah, I thought that the whole pulley system might be a bit cumbersome,” said Wally, “especially since whoever’s  going in is gonna do it differently from how Mary did. The cables would just slow them down.”

“Exactly,” Ray said. “Vests are a better option. They offer the same protection, with the added freedom of movement.”

Discussing more possible modifications while they walked, they soon reached the hangar where the jumpship was parked and, together, started working on their little contingency plan. So far, everything had gone really smoothly and, hopefully, they could pull this off without too many parts of their plan going off the rails.           

 

 

 

    

Chapter Text

The howling of the wind was the first thing Barry became aware of. Then came the sensation of sitting on a hard surface and being propped against a slab of stone, which was poking him in the back – it felt like the cold, hard ground. He took a deep breath, relieved that he could, and then winced when a stab of pain shot through his left side, just under his ribcage. With the rude reminder that he was injured in mind, he tried opening his eyes, fighting the heaviness threatening to drown him.

A slight movement to his left caught his attention and he turned his head to glance in its direction. Through his blurry vision, the only thing he could discern was the vague shape of a man.

“Welcome back,” the man said. “Had me worried there for a minute.”

His voice was so familiar, but Barry couldn’t pinpoint where he’d heard it before. He shook his head and blinked to clear his sight and, when the man’s face came into focus, Barry felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. Because, staring back at him was none other than Leonard Snart, who – to his knowledge – had died.

“Am I dead, too?” Barry croaked, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “I’m dead and this…” he looked around, “this is Hell.”

“No, you’re not dead,” said the Snart look-alike, “and this isn’t exactly Hell, just a different dimension. We’re both very much alive.”

At the mention of another dimension, Barry realised where he was: that wasteland he’d crossed into when he’d gone through the gateway at the Oculus Wellspring.

“The implosion must have sucked me in,” Barry muttered, more to himself. “But I don’t understand how I’m… how we’re still alive.”

“I have no idea, Barry,” said Snart – it was him, after all, impossible as it seemed. “Maybe our time just wasn’t up yet.” He paused for a moment, staring at his blood-stained hands. “Besides, if you were truly dead, you wouldn’t have bled all over my favourite jacket.”

“I thought the parka was your favourite jacket,” Barry quipped, shifting to sit up straight.

The movement jostled his wound and he doubled over in pain, dark spots dancing in his field of vision. Snart put a hand on his shoulder and kept him from toppling over. Groaning and closing his eyes against the wave of dizziness that washed over him, he straightened up again.

“How long was I out?” Barry croaked, opening his eyes when the world stopped spinning.

“Long enough to have me worried that you wouldn’t wake up,” said Snart.

“Leonard Snart worried about his nemesis?” Barry said with a grin. “That’s new.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Snart responded, a touch of his usual drawl, that was absent until then, seeping into his voice. “And I wouldn’t call you my nemesis at this point in time. That’s a thing of the past.” His expression turned thoughtful for a moment. “Besides, last time we met we were more like… what do the kids call it… frenemies.”

Barry snorted a laugh at the use of the last word, promptly having to clutch his side at another bout of pain. Thankfully, this instance didn’t leave him as breathless.

“Who are you?” Barry asked. “And what have you done with Snart?”

They both burst into a laughing fit at that. Barry had to put a lot of effort into stopping, because as fun as this was, it really hurt. After having regained control of his breathing, he wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes and gazed at Snart.

“Seriously, though,” Barry said, sobering up. “You’ve changed a lot.”

“Some of that hero crap you preached,” said Snart, “must have rubbed off on me. That and being part of a team that cared, plus the time I’ve spent here, watching from afar.” That thoughtful expression settled on his face once more. “How long has it been for you guys since…?”

“A little over two years,” said Barry. “Ray said that you went out a hero, which means I was right about you all along. You can’t deny it anymore, Snart. There’s good in you.”

Barry smirked as he spoke the last sentence, yet he fully expected the other man to deflect by using his perpetual snark. To his surprise, Snart actually smiled at that, although his eyes sparkled with a hint of mischief.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that there are worse things to be, Barry,” he said. “Hero doesn’t sound so bad anymore.”

There was another lull in the conversation as Barry struggled to come to grips with the fact that his former enemy had changed so drastically. It made Barry wonder what kind of hardships Snart had gone through, both alone and with his team, to transform him from the self-centered man who’d once betrayed him into one willing to die for his friends.

“Anyway,” Snart said, “I think this shared imprisonment calls for a transition from ‘frenemies’ to actual friendship. If you want, that is.”

The sudden insecurity took Barry by surprise, but he was determined to show the man that he really did earn his place among their ranks. So he extended his hand to Snart.

“You bet I do!” Barry said, as they shook hands. “Besides, you kept me from bleeding out. Anyone who does that for me is a friend in my book.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Snart, seeming relieved. “In that case, I’d like you to call me Len.”

“I can do that,” Barry said. “After all, friends are supposed to be on a first name basis.”

Having agreed on the terms of their newly-formed friendship, Len sat down next to Barry, close enough that their legs touched, and Barry turned slightly, so that he could see him better.

“So, Len,” Barry said after a moment, finding that he liked using the man’s first name a lot more than his surname, “tell me more about this place.”

 


 

 

The perpetual twilight and greenish tinge of the sky made it hard for Len to keep track of the passage of time. His highly-trained thief senses told him that they’d been talking for at least two hours, but – without a working clock – he couldn’t really tell for certain. His wristwatch had spazzed out the moment he’d woken up in this waste, so it had been impossible to keep up with how much time had passed since then. Along with the ever-changing ‘windows’ into the past, present and future that the green mist showed him, those were the things that had made that dimension, sometimes, feel like a personal hell.

“Other than that,” he told Barry, “it didn’t feel so much like torture. More like…” he searched for the right word to convey the notion, “penance. It showed me all the wrong I’ve done and all the good things I could do, that I could make a difference if I managed to find my way back.”

“You’ve already done that,” Barry said. “You helped ensure that the Time Masters’ control over free will was broken, which allowed your team to stop Savage.” His face lit up with the next thought. “You practically gave the universe back its autonomy.”

“I know that, now,” said Len. “Didn’t see it that way, at first. Thought it was some sort of punishment for all the bad things and was really annoyed by the method for a while. Until I realised that, whatever kind of entity it was, it was trying to tell me something in its own way.”

“It kind of reminds me of the Speedforce,” Barry said. He was pensive for a moment, probably sifting through his own memories. “Except, the first couple of times I’ve been there, it was a lot different from this place. And that entity usually took the form of someone I knew.” He cocked his head to the side, frowning. “Among the people whose face it wore the second time I went in there, you were one of them, Cold Gun and all.”

“That’s… interesting…” said Len.

It felt strange, but oddly flattering, that an all-powerful, extra-dimensional entity had considered him important enough – to Barry, at least – to assume his shape. Even if it was just to get through to the speedster by trying to seem more familiar.

“This… Oculus Entity,” Len mused, after mulling over Barry’s words for a bit, “seems to be a… distant cousin of the Speedforce, only it’s more of a time-based entity.”

“Yep,” said Barry. “That would explain the dozen or so Time Wraiths I’ve seen circling us since I woke up.”

“Mhmm,” Len hummed, “something’s got them all in a tizzy and I think that something is a speedster’s presence on their turf.”

“I bet they’re not too fond of me,” said Barry, his effort of hiding his fear slipping slightly.

“They’ve never bothered me be before,” said Len. “Though that might have something to do with the fact that I had a hand in destroying the device used to manipulate time itself.” He smirked at the next thought. “And, they were pretty busy with the few Time Masters that made it through the explosion. It was quite a sight, watching the Wraiths feast on those bastards.” Len shuddered, vividly recalling those events. “Freaky, but satisfying.”

Barry blanched, possibly at imagining the horror of what had happened to those Time Masters. Though it had brought him satisfaction, Len remembered all too well the fear that had gripped him at the thought that those creatures might come for him next. He hadn’t been able to close his eyes for quite some time, without envisioning the possibility of becoming the Wraith’s next meal. Only when exhaustion had won out and he’d taken a long – if unwilling – nap, did he realise that, had those things wanted to, he’d be dead and staying awake wouldn’t help him avoid that fate.

“I realised,” he said, drawing Barry’s attention away from the circling Wraiths, “that they didn’t mind me being here. Either that, or the Oculus – as I’ve come to call the Entity – was keeping them away from me. It’s probably a bit of both. Although, sometimes, I’m inclined to think it’s more of the latter.”

“I’m actually surprised,” said Barry, “that they haven’t torn me to shreds yet.”

“Yeah,” Len mused, looking around at the Wraiths, “they seem dead-set on getting their snack. I’ve been trying to send them away since before you woke up, but they’re not budging.”

“You can do that?” Barry asked, surprised and a little hopeful. The slight look of fear hadn’t yet slipped off his face.

“Normally, yes,” said Len, concentrating – like he’d done countless times before – on willing the Wraiths to scatter. “Your presence here seems to attract them like carrion attracts vultures. No offence.”

“None taken,” Barry said, although he grimaced. “It’s a fitting comparison, after all.” He smirked at the thought that crossed his mind. “Vultures are also drawn to weak and injured creatures. So I fit the bill on both accounts.”

“Nerd…” muttered Len.

“Sorry,” Barry said. “Force of habit.” He paused and winced, clutching at his side. “How did you figure out how to send them away?”

“After I discovered that they wouldn’t hurt me,” Len answered. “I was angry and fed up with their constant floating around, so I thought that it’d be great if they would just go away. And, to my utter shock, they did. Ever since, when they’ve shown up, I’ve just thought ‘scram!’ and they left every time.” He scowled at the closest Wraith. “Except now.”

They both fell silent. Barry seemed deep in thought, but Len noticed he was struggling and obviously in a great deal of pain. His brow was covered in sweat and his breathing was shallow, becoming more and more laboured. Len could feel the Time Wraiths’ hunger and put all the force he could muster into keeping them at bay. The Oculus itself was conveying a sense of acceptance for the speedster, having seen that he was a friend to Len. But the Wraiths had been made with one purpose: a single-minded hatred for all time-travellers, especially speedsters. Even the very Force that had created them could not hold them back forever.

If their friends didn’t find a way to get them out of there, Barry would either die from the after-effects caused by the exposure to a huge amount of temporal energy, due to the explosion that injured him. Or the Time Wraiths would eventually kill him.

More Wraiths had gathered around them, their piercing screeches giving off a deathly aura. Len was stubborn, but even his iron will was nothing more than an obstacle in the path of the immovable object that was the horde of Time Wraiths. He could only hold his ground for so long in this battle of wills and he was certain that, had he not been in the Oculus’ favour, he would have lost that fight a long time ago.

“We’re not gonna… make it… out of here… are we?” said Barry, his eyes half-closed and a shiver shaking his, otherwise prone, form. “Everyone thinks… you’re dead… and they probably think… the same of me… now. They won’t… be looking.”

“Cisco knows,” Len said, putting a hand on Barry’s forearm in an effort to ground him. “They’ll come for us.”

“You… talked to Cisco?” Barry asked, his eyes opening fully and then closing in a grimace.

“He vibed us while you were unconscious,” said Len.

He was starting to get worried when Barry’s shivering fit turned into mild vibrating, with jolts of Speedforce electricity sparking across his arms and legs. Len held on, despite the slightly uncomfortable shocks. He feared that if the contact was broken, the Wraiths would take that as a sign and jump at the chance to claim their, in their mind unprotected, prey.

“Cisco’s a smart guy,” Len continued. “He’ll find a way. And the rest of your team and mine, they’re a bright bunch too. If they work together, they’ll be able to figure something out.”

When he was met with silence, Len turned to look at his companion, only to find him out cold yet again.

“Damn it, Barry!” Len hissed, tightening his grip on the other man’s forearm.

The speedster’s light vibration had become barely there. Only the Speedforce jolts were still present, having intensified in his unconscious state, as if to protect him. Len didn’t know how much longer the Wraiths would stay away. But he was determined to fight them tooth and nail if everything else failed, and only let them get to Barry over his dead body.

Len tried to convey that intention to them with his thoughts. He hadn’t spent what felt like an eternity in isolation, learning to accept his flaws and become a better person, only to be thwarted at the finish line by a bunch of dementors. Not when he’d finally embraced his role as someone willing to do good and had earned a second chance at life. Not when he’d begun forging a friendship with the man who’d pushed him to be better, as well as do better. And certainly not before he’d had a chance at strengthening his other relationships, those with the members of the team he’d almost died for. He owed Mick an explanation for knocking him out again – he’d probably get punched, though – and owed Sara a real apology for the stunt he’d pulled at the Vanishing Point, when he’d pulled the Cold Gun on her. So a bunch of speedster-hungry ghouls would definitely not stand in his way.

“I won’t let you have him!” Len shouted at the Time Wraiths. “If you want to take him, you’ll have to go through me first!”

He didn’t care how silly or cliché his words sounded. He would not let the only other person, besides his sister, who’d ever believed that there was potential in him to be more than just a crook be taken away from him. And not even Lisa had ever tried to convince him to change his ways.

A faint blue glow drew Len’s attention and he looked at where it was coming from. Starting from the hand he was gripping Barry with, a bluish aura was spreading in two directions, engulfing both him and his friend, radiating from the point of contact on Barry’s forearm. He’d seen that blue glow only once, before: at the Oculus Wellspring, right before the device used to control time had exploded. If Len had to hazard a guess, he’d say it was some kind of temporal energy, but he wasn’t sure. And since it didn’t seem to actively hurt Barry, it didn’t worry him much. All that mattered was that it appeared, for the time being, to make the Wraiths retreat somewhat.

As the creatures screeched in annoyance at being held off by a force stronger than even their own combined numbers – there were a few dozen circling by that point – the wind started picking up speed. It went from a hefty breeze to a full-on green blizzard, obstructing Len’s view of the surrounding area.

After quite some time, a crunching sound started, like that of rocks being dragged on sand. It made Len realise that the Wraiths were, for some reason, rolling the boulders in the vicinity away from their places in order to form a circle around Len and the wounded speedster, trying to box them in. Why they were doing that was anyone’s guess.

With every stone rolled into place, the Wraiths seemed to be growing increasingly agitated in their attempts. Len caught a glimpse of a group pushing frantically – the boulder and each other – when there was a breach in the wisps of fog to his left, and it dawned on him that the sudden misty onslaught was an effort by the Oculus to hide him and Barry from the ravenous ghouls. The Wraiths were desperate and angry because the Oculus itself was opposing them, as well as Len.

One of them found its way through the maelstrom, approaching them from the right. Len reacted on pure instinct. He knew he wasn’t fast enough to get in between the Wraith and Barry. So he jumped up and simply extended his arm, palm pointing outward and towards the oncoming ghoul. For a second, Len felt foolish, because there was nothing he could actually do. But then, from his glowing right hand, something that he could only describe as a bolt of lightning shot out. It hit the Wraith square in the chest and sent it flying backwards a few hundred feet.

“Holy shit!” Len whispered, looking at his hand incredulously.

The glow intensified and Len felt a sense of calm from the Oculus, a feeling of ‘everything will be alright’. He came to the realisation that the very entity helping him was using his body as a conduit, granting him the power to repel the advancing Wraiths, which were no longer content with waiting for their target to become exposed. Inhaling deeply, Len sent his gratitude along the bond he shared with the Oculus and positioned himself in front of Barry. If he now had use of a weapon of sorts, he would make damn sure that nothing short of an entire swarm of those creature would take him down.

A loud boom – like a clap of thunder – nearly made Len jump out of his skin. He turned his head in the direction it came from and saw the mist blowing about frantically. The wind had become so strong, that he found it impossible to keep his eyes open any longer. He couldn’t fathom how the Wraiths hadn’t been blown away by the gale-force wind yet. But, as suddenly as it had started, the storm died down and Len chanced opening his eyes.

The wide circle of stones surrounding them was almost perfectly round, with spaces between each individual boulder barely wide enough for a person to pass through. The fog had cleared and he could see some of the Wraiths peeking through those openings, chomping at the bit to begin their assault. A few had even crossed into the inside of the circle, but were dissuaded from attacking by Len throwing another bolt their way. But the large group visible through the bigger gap to his left was looking upward and snarling at something Len couldn’t see.

Yet, he could hear something up in the sky in that direction. It was a sound that Len had almost given up hope ever hearing again. Just as he glanced up, the jumpship un-cloaked and turned around, the blast from its engines buffeting the Time Wraiths and making them scatter.

Help had arrived.                 

 

 

Chapter Text

They were finally ready. The jumpship was fitted with a breach generator – or inter-dimensional extrapolator, as Cisco insisted on calling it – attuned to the frequency of the Oculus Waste, and Ray and Wally had built in the emergency power source. The vests were also ready, Gideon having fabricated three more from the same material to be used by Barry, Iris and Mick respectively. Sara would wear the one Mary had used, keeping Will’s vest for Snart.

She adjusted the straps of the vest over her White Canary suit, making sure it was fastened securely. If Mary was right about the shielding properties of the meteorite metal the vests were made of, then those garments were going to be the only protection they and the two men trapped there would have, both on the trip there and back. It would also hopefully soften the transition for all involved.

They’d decided that Mick would pilot the ship, while Sara and Iris would act as anchors for Snart and Barry respectively. The rest of the team, together with Cisco, would stay on the Waverider and wait for the jumpship’s return. Considering the temporal difference between dimensions, Sara hoped they wouldn’t have to come up with a Plan B.

“Amaya,” Sara said, “I’m putting you in charge of the Waverider and its crew. You’re now interim Captain in my absence.”

Amaya nodded and the others gave murmurs of assent. They were all gathered on the bridge for one final recap of the plan, while the Waverider hovered in the Vanishing Point, not far from the position of the former Oculus building. According to Gideon’s calculations, that was the optimal place to open a breach to the Waste.

“Seeing as time passes differently there,” Sara continued, “we’ll probably be gone for a while. But if we’re not back in three days max, then something went wrong. If that happens, go to the Sanctuary and ask Master Rook for advice on what to do next.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Amaya, in an obvious effort to stave off any doubts.

“We have to be ready for any possibility,” Iris said, adjusting the strap on her pulse rifle. She turned to Wally. “If things do go sideways, make sure Dad’s alright.”

“Speaking of being ready,” Cisco interjected, before Wally could respond, “Ray and I fixed Snart’s Cold Gun.” He turned to Sara and held out the gun for her. “I think you should take this with you, just in case there’s a Time Wraith, or more, lurking about.”

Sara looked at the weapon, a swirl of emotions she couldn’t quite pinpoint gripping her at the sight of the device Snart had once aimed at her. Even though he’d said, afterward, that he wouldn’t have pulled the trigger, she’d felt betrayed nonetheless. Now, with Cisco holding it in his extended hand, it was a stark reminder once more, of the could-have-been that never was. An ‘almost’ that, if all went well, would be given a chance at being explored, if she so chose. Remembering Mick’s words at the old outpost, she made a decision to take the leap. She took the gun from Cisco, nodding in gratitude.

“You’re gonna need a holster for that, too,” said Ray, bending down and plucking something from the box at his feet. “I had Gideon make you one that’s adjustable, just like the original,” he went on, handing Sara said holster.

She took it and strapped it on, placing the gun against her thigh, ignoring the strange feeling carrying such a weapon gave her. She remembered all too well what she’d read in Gideon’s database about Time Wraiths and realised that a set of knives wasn’t enough to keep such opponents at bay. Neither was hand-to-hand combat. The cold radiating from the gun was bearable, a slightly chilly thigh a small price to pay for having a weapon capable of evening the playing field if those monstrosities were to attack them.

“You look more badass than usual,” Iris whispered, hip-checking her and grinning ear to ear. Sara grinned back.

“Well,” Sara said, straightening her back and putting on what she hoped was a determined expression, “now that we’re all set, we should really get going. Everyone knows the plan, right?” Another round of murmurs of assent. “Then we’ll see you as soon as we get back.”

That said, the two groups split up and the away-team went on to board the jumpship. Mick ran a diagnostic scan one more time, checking that all systems were running smoothly. Sara and Iris took the seats directly behind the pilot’s chair. They’d sit in the side seats on the trip back and put Barry and Snart in the front-facing ones then, to make their return journey easier.

When the scan confirmed that everything was functional, Mick started the engine. Before the hatch in the hangar opened, though, there was an incoming transmission from the bridge. Sara exchanged a worried look with Iris when Mick patched it through.

“What is it?” Sara asked, before Mick had a chance to utter a single word.

“I just tried to vibe Barry and Snart,” came Cisco’s voice over the speakers, “to tell them you guys are coming. But all I managed to see was a whole lot of green fog swirling about like a blizzard and an unsettling number of Time Wraiths. So I thought I’d give you guys a heads up. Be careful over there.”

“Thanks, Cisco,” said Iris.

“At least I get to burn something…” Mick muttered as he closed the channel.

The hatch opened and Mick steered the jumpship into the open, flying it to the chosen position. Iris stared at the vast expanse of the Vanishing Point, eyes wide in wonder and Sara put her hand on the other woman’s forearm in a comforting gesture.

“Wow…” Iris said, voice hushed, then turned her head to look at Sara. “It’s like being in outer space.”

“Not quite, but close,” said Mick, fiddling with some switches. “OK, buckle up! ‘Cause I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

The two women made sure that they were properly strapped in and so did Mick. He then pushed the button to open the breach and, within seconds, a portal just like those Cisco made appeared in front of their ship. This one was a lot bigger, though.

“Here we go!” Mick said as he steered the vessel into the blue vortex. “Hold on to your lunch!”

The ship shook as Mick flew it through the opening, shuddering in the gale-force wind that was blowing it about like a hurricane. Iris grabbed Sara’s hand and squeezed hard. As the hull groaned under the pressure of the onslaught, Sara closed her eyes and clutched her friend’s hand just as tightly.

 


 

 

Crossing through the breach didn’t take all that long and, just as Iris thought the jumpship was going to shake apart, they were out the other side. The ship continued to be rocked by a strong wind for a while and all she could see through the windshield was green mist. Then it all stopped and the mist was cleared by the force of the ship’s engines, allowing them to catch a glimpse of the ground below. As Mick held the ship steady, looking for a place to land it, Iris noticed the ring of giant boulders that was being circled by a veritable army of Time Wraiths. And there, smack-dab in the middle of it all, were the two men they’d come for.

Mick seemed to have noticed them too, because he growled and cursed, and then turned the ship around so that its back was facing the circle of stones. The easier to get to their friends, Iris presumed, something she appreciated, considering Barry’s current state.

The landing wasn’t smooth and it jostled them a bit. As soon as the ship stopped moving, Iris unfastened her safety belt and grabbed the vest meant for Barry, and put it on over her own in order to keep her hands free, Sara mirroring her actions just as quickly. Mick got up from his seat and un-holstered his gun, but kept the engines running so they could make a swift escape.

“You two go get Snart and Red,” he said as he went to open the hatch. “I’ll stay here and cover your six. Make sure none of those flying zombie things get on the ship, either, while I’m here.”

“Watch yourself, too,” Sara said, readying the Cold Gun.

“Don’t worry ‘bout me,” Mick grumbled and slapped the button to lower the ramp. “I’ll be having fun burning those things to a crisp. You’re the ones runnin’ straight into danger, so be careful out there.”

Iris nodded and squeezed his elbow in thanks, the gesture earning her a grin from the arsonist. She secured her hold on her own gun and, making certain that the coast was clear in the ship’s immediate vicinity, followed Sara out.

But they didn’t have to wait long for the Wraiths to take notice of them. As soon as they stepped foot onto the surface of the Oculus Waste, a number of Time Wraiths turned away from the stone circle and came at them, hissing and clawing at the air in their wrath. Iris took aim and fired, hoping that she hadn’t lugged the pulse rifle all the way to another dimension in vain. To her satisfaction, the Wraith was blasted backward and seemed to think better of its current course of action, slinking away into the shadows beyond the stone circle. She shot another one while she strode across the open space, sparing a glance in Sara’s direction as the latter iced the Wraith closest to her. Much like with the one Iris had blasted, it worked. But instead of running for the hills, this one keeled over, covered in a thick sheen of frost.

“Remind me to thank Cisco for fixing this thing,” Sara said, shooting again.

With an affirmative hum, Iris chanced a look behind her to see how Mick was faring. As expected, the arsonist was having the time of his life, roasting anything that dared come too close – to them and the ship – hollering gleefully at the top of his lungs. Well, she thought, smiling as she returned to her task, at least someone is having fun.

A flash of blue light within the ring of boulders caught Iris’ attention as she was nearing the crowd of rabid Wraiths. Another flare and the zombie-like creatures became increasingly agitated. Whatever it was, they didn’t seem to like it. There was yet another flash just as Sara waved the Cold Gun’s stream from left to right and the Wraiths, caught between a hammer and anvil of sorts, scattered. In doing so, they freed one of the openings between two boulders, giving the two women a possibility to enter the makeshift enclosure. Seizing the opportunity, Iris and Sara sprinted across the remaining stretch, not stopping until they were past the line of stones.

They came to a halt about fifteen feet within the circle, a Wraith hot on their heels, having seized the opportunity to follow them in. Sara turned to fire, but before her shot hit its target, something that Iris could only describe as a bolt of lightning struck the approaching ghoul, throwing it backwards and out of the stone ring, screeching in rage. When its screams died down, Snart lowered his arm and flexed his fingers. Apparently, he was the source of the blue flares – which turned out to be actual bolts of lightning that Snart could shoot from his palms – the flashes they’d seen being his attempts to fight off the encroaching Time Wraiths. Iris and Sara stared at him in disbelief, but Snart just shrugged.

“I have no idea how I’m doing it,” he said, indicating his hands, which were shrouded in a faint blue glow. “But I’m really glad you guys are here, ‘cause I’m not sure how much longer I would have been able to keep them away.”

“They haven’t hurt you, have they?” Sara asked.

“I’m not the one they’re after,” said Snart, motioning towards Barry’s prone figure. “I’ve been trying to keep them away from him, but they’re relentless. They won’t stop until they get him, so we should really get out of here.”

At seeing Barry, propped up against a boulder right in the centre of the circle, Iris let the rifle hang at her side and hurriedly kneeled down by her husband. Sara and Snart were having a quiet conversation, to which she paid no attention whatsoever. Her only concern was Barry who, by the looks of it, was unconscious. She called his name and framed his face with her hands.

“Barry, honey, wake up!” she said, moving one hand to gently shake his shoulder while still caressing his face with the other one. “Listen to my voice. Focus on the sound of my voice and come back to me.” She swallowed a sob and irately swiped away the tears in her eyes, then leaned her forehead against his. “Come back to me, Barry!”

Her pleas were met with a ragged intake of breath and Barry’s eyes slowly blinking open. He looked around, gaze unfocused for a bit, until he became aware of Iris’ thumb tenderly stroking his left cheek. Then, his eyes zeroed in on her face and spread in a smile.

“Iris?” he whispered, extending a hand to touch the side of her face.

“Yeah, honey, I’m here,” she whispered back, her voice cracking a little. “We’re going home, OK?”

“Mhmm,” Barry murmured, leaning into her touch.

A gentle hand on her shoulder alerted Iris of Snart kneeling by her side. He’d already donned his vest and was gesturing for her to help him get Barry into his own. Quickly, Iris unzipped it and took it off and, together, she and Snart maneuvered Barry so that they could put the garment on him without jostling his wound too much. A few groans of pain and winces later, the vest was in place and Iris zipped it up carefully, mindful of her husband’s injury. They then helped Barry up, each supporting him on one side while the speedster regained his footing.

“Thank you for looking after him,” Iris said, moving the pulse rifle so that she could use it with her left hand.

“No need to thank me, Iris,” said Snart as they started their walk back to the ship.

Sara went ahead of them, clearing the way of Wraiths with repeated blasts form the Cold Gun. Iris kept looking over her shoulder, in case one of them decided to employ a sneak attack, and saw Snart do the same from time to time. It was a shame, Iris thought, that in their haste to rescue their friends, none of them thought to bring along an extra weapon to arm Snart with. Although, considering that he’d been shooting literal bolts of lightning not too long ago, a gun might have been superfluous. Iris wondered if that ability was a side effect of being stuck there for years and if it was permanent, or merely temporary and would fade away in time.

The trek back to the ship took longer because Barry was extremely unsteady and barely conscious, dragging his feet in the dust of the wasteland they were traversing. Also, the fog had begun to close in on them again, greatly reducing their visibility.

“Is this damn fog trying to keep us from seeing those dementor things?” Sara asked, exasperated that her shots had missed repeatedly.

“More likely, it’s trying to shield us from them,” Snart replied, in turn missing with one of those bolts. “I also think I’m almost out of lightning.”

His breathing – just like Barry’s – had become heavier and it was obvious, by the pinched look on his face, that he was overtaxed.

“Well,” Sara nearly snarled as she aimed a shot and, this time, hit her target, “it’s doing a lousy job helping us.”

She’d barely finished her sentence, when Iris felt something jerking her back. Barry’s cry of pain came at the same time as Mick’s shout of “Behind you!” and all three of them stumbled backward. Snart was the first to react, whirling around and shooting a bolt at the Time Wraith that had sunk its claws into Barry’s right shoulder, sending Barry crashing to the ground in the process. Iris’ and Sara’s shots followed in quick succession and the creature was pushed back and iced over, falling onto the hard soil with a thud. The blue light emanating from Snart’s hand was gone now, a slight glow in his eyes the only thing remaining.

“Sorry, guys,” he said, swaying a bit, “I’m out of juice.”

A jet of flame fried the next Wraith that tried to ambush them and Mick joined them where they were gathered around Barry’s prone form. The fog was beginning to dissipate, revealing the Wraiths closing in on their group.

“Sara, give Snart the gun,” Mick said, kneeling down next to Iris. “Go to the ship and stay by the hatch. Be ready to close it soon as we’re all aboard.” He handed Iris his Heat Gun. “Here, take this and give Blondie yours.”

Iris and Sara complied, swapping weapons, as Mick took hold of Barry and slung him over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Iris’ heart broke at hearing her husband’s gasps and groans, but she knew there was no other choice. They were out of both time and options, and the faster they got out of there, the better.

“I’ll take him to the ship,” Mick continued, making sure his charge was secured safely, if a little – or a lot – uncomfortably. “Cover me and then run like hell!”

With that, he was off and Iris quickly spun around to shoot at the Wraiths, the Cold Gun whirring to life moments later. She and Snart fought side-by-side, their two weapons working in unison to keep the rabid ghouls at a distance. Iris glanced behind and saw that Mick had almost reached the ship, while Sara made good use of the pulse rifle, keeping the arsonist’s path clear of obstacles. So she turned back to focusing on the charging horde, careful not to cross streams with Snart’s Cold Gun.

It was a last ditch effort by the Time Wraiths to get to their target, but Iris was damned if she would let them touch Barry again. Walking backwards at a hurried pace, she and Snart made their way to the ship. Her heart was in her throat as the fear of possibly failing gripped her, but her determination to escape – without losing any friends or her husband in the process – won over and, before she knew it, the two of them had reached the ramp. With one last shot from their respective guns, they were onboard. Sara slapped the button to close the hatch, shutting out the danger for the time being.

“Get in yer seats!” Mick bellowed from his place in the pilot’s chair.

Iris hurriedly went for the side seat, gesturing for Snart to take the other forward-facing one. He and Sara also scrambled to strap in as the ship took off and Iris snuck a glance at Barry, who was already secured in one of the chairs behind Mick. He seemed out for the count again, his head lolling sideways and Iris was reminded of his most recent injury. She really hoped that that Wraith’s attack hadn’t done that much damage, but she knew there was no way to be certain until they reached the Waverider.

“Stupid Time Wraiths!” Mick growled as he tried to fly the ship on a steady trajectory.

It was lucky that the Wraiths couldn’t pass through the ship’s fuselage the same way they would be able to on their Earth. It didn’t stop them from trying, though. Iris remembered Barry mentioning that particular detail a while ago and mentally shuddered at the thought of those creatures being able to board that way.

A few maneuvers later, Mick managed to shake their pursuers and immediately opened the breach back to their universe. This time around, though, the ride was even bumpier, rattling the jumpship with a vigour that made Iris’ teeth chatter. By the look on Sara’s face – whose seat was right across from hers – she was just as uncomfortable.

They emerged at the Vanishing Point with one last shuddering wrench, the breach closing behind them with a sound like that of a clap of thunder. Despite the ominous crackling sound that could be heard in the background, they all breathed sighs of relief.

“We made it,” Iris said in a hoarse whisper. “It’s over.”

“Not quite yet,” Mick grumbled, un-strapping himself and pointing out the windshield. “The Waverider’s not here.”     

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“They probably went back to the Sanctuary,” Sara broke the silence that had settled after Mick’s statement, unfastening her seat’s harness.  “We just have to let them know we’re back.”

Mick tried hailing the Waverider, but as soon as he opened the corresponding channel, the power went out, plunging them into complete darkness.

“Crap!” Snart’s voice came from somewhere behind him and Mick echoed the sentiment with a growl.

A few moments later, the emergency back-up power source kicked in and the lights were restored, eliciting sighs of relief from his team mates. But their luck didn’t last, though. A spark and a crackle from the control console, followed by the distinct smell of burnt plastic, alerted them that something was wrong. Mick realised that the whole thing was fried when none of the buttons he pushed, or the switches he flipped, had any effect.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” he grumbled.

“There’s… sparks… coming out of your… control panel,” Red murmured in a slurred voice.

“No shit, kid!” Mick said, getting up and heading for the back of the ship, where he knew the tool kit was stored.

Iris and Sara went to check up on the – apparently now conscious – speedster. Snart tried to get up too, but he lost his balance and nearly toppled over. The two women reacted fast enough to steady him, just in time to prevent him from face-planting into the busted control panel, and helped him sit back down. Figuring that they could make do without him for a bit, he got to work on fixing the communications system at least, hoping he wouldn’t have to enact Plan B.

The whole ship was shot to hell, by the looks of it, and there was no way to get it back running with what he had available onboard. The safeties were blown and needed replacing and the wiring was toast. But the comms system was their only hope. And they couldn’t afford to time-jump anyway, because both Red and Snart were in need of medical assistance. Red, especially, wouldn’t survive it in his current state.

“Need any help?” Iris asked him while he was in the process of repairing the part that would let them broadcast a distress signal.

“I got this, thanks,” he said, giving her something that he hoped came across as an encouraging smile.

She smiled back and returned to dotting over her husband, working with Sara on staunching the bleeding from the speedster’s injured shoulder and stitching up the wound.

“I’ll offer my help as soon as the ship stops spinning,” said Snart, eyes closed and head bent, slouching in his seat.

“Sure you will,” Mick snorted in amusement. “But I’d hold off, if I were you. You look a little bit green around the gills at the moment.”

His friend chuckled at the quip and they spent the next half-hour in companionable silence. The only sounds occasionally breaking the quiet were the murmurs of Red and his girl in the background, as they rejoiced at their reunion. Mick figured they’d earned a moment of privacy, so he ignored them and let them have this. It wasn’t as though they were in a hurry anyway.

He was so focused on his task, that he didn’t notice Red approaching him, until the man literally handed him the screwdriver he was looking for. The kid – he was still a kid in Mick’s eyes, no matter what – was leaning heavily on the back of the pilot’s seat and favouring his right arm. But his expression was so devastatingly eager to help, that Mick felt like saying no would be cruel.

So, without a word, Mick gave him the seat and let him assist with the repairs in any way he could. It was a good thing too, because Red seemed to know what he was doing and caught a few problems that Mick had overseen. Together, they managed to restore limited communication ability, but no matter what they did, they couldn’t get the damn thing to broadcast the S.O.S. on the Waverider’s frequency.

No problem,’ Mick thought, and sent a distress signal on another frequency altogether. Sara gave him a perplexed look, clearly surprised at his calm demeanour.

“When we were doing our last-minute adjustments to the jumpship,” Mick explained, “I thought of a contingency plan. Something to work with, just in case our plan went south and we ended up stranded somewhere. Or somewhen.”

“You called someone else to help?” asked Sara.

“Sort of… someone,” Mick said, staring out through the windshield. “Wait for it…” he continued, as the others mirrored his gesture.

They didn’t have to wait for long. As the Styx emerged from its jump, Mick turned to look at the expressions of disbelief on Sara and Snart’s faces – and the confusion on Iris and Red’s – glad, for the first, and probably only time, that he hadn’t disposed of the ship he’d used as Chronos.

“Never thought I’ be happy to see that thing ever again,” Snart muttered, as the Styx flew itself below them and docked with their jumpship.

“Me neither,” said Mick, helping Red get up and supporting him as they headed for the hatch.  

Sara and Iris helped Snart to his feet and followed them into the other vessel.

“Welcome back, Chronos,” said Gareth, the ship’s AI, as they stumbled towards the medical room.

“Don’t call me that!” Mick snapped.

“My apologies,” said the AI, “but I only have that name in my database, in regards to your identity.”

“You could call him Mr. Rory, like our own AI does,” Sara suggested.

“Anything but Chronos,” Mick said, helping Red into the medical chair and snapping the medical cuff around his wrist.

“Very well, Mr. Rory,” Gareth said.

No sooner was the cuff attached, than the monitors to Mick’s right went haywire, the kid’s vitals all over the place.

“This looks bad…” Mick muttered, noticing that the readings were off the charts, possibly even for a speedster.

“Mr. Allen has been exposed to a high level of temporal radiation,” Gareth informed them. “Combined with the damage to his shoulder, which gives off a different temporal signature, his chances of survival are minimal.”

Iris was by his side again, holding his hand and combing back his hair with trembling fingers. Mick figured she’d be familiar with her husband’s vital signs showing a bad condition.

“Can’t you help him?” Snart asked from his position in the doorway, heavily leaning on Sara for support.

“I can try,” said Gareth. “But I have never treated a speedster before and the information on his condition is scarce. I cannot guarantee I will be successful.”

“I’m sure you’ll do your best,” Sara said. “The best course of action, right now, would be to get to the Sanctuary. Can you take us there?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Lance,” said Gareth, “I’m only authorised to obey orders given by Mr. Rory.”

“Code 4814,” Mick tried to keep the bite out of his voice; it wasn’t the AI’s fault that the Time Bastards created him, after all. “I’m authorising you to take orders from everyone present here. Set a course for the Sanctuary.”

“Certainly, Mr. Rory,” the AI said. “As soon as I’ve stabilised Mr. Allen, we’ll be on our way.”

They stood in silence and waited, as Red’s vitals slowly reached a more reasonable level. Mick could tell that the kid was exhausted and in a great deal of pain, especially from his shoulder wound. By the looks of it, there was some internal bleeding as well, probably from the way that Time Wraith had sunk its claws right below Red’s neck, above his clavicle. The kid was shivering now, eyes blinking sluggishly, a sign that the damage was extensive.

“Can’t you give him something for the pain,” Snart asked, a hint of annoyance in his words even as he slurred them slightly.

“It wouldn’t work,” Iris answered, before the AI had a chance to respond. “His body would burn through it too quickly for it to have any effect.”

“Mrs. West-Allen is correct,” said Gareth. “Any sedative I would administer would be processed almost instantly. It wouldn’t offer any relief.”

“Bummer,” Mick said under his breath, not missing the looks of horror on both Sara and Snart’s faces.

“I suggest you return to the bridge and take your seats,” Gareth told them after a moment. “Mr. Allen’s condition has stabilised somewhat. We will be leaving shortly.”

Mick touched Iris’ shoulder to draw her attention and the woman leaned over to place a gentle kiss on Red’s lips. The kid’s eyes were shut now, the pain having – thankfully – rendered him unconscious. Then she straightened from her position and, with a watery smile in Mick’s direction, went ahead of him towards the ship’s bridge, helping Sara support the still unsteady Snart along the way.

He shook his head slightly and followed the others, still not used to people actually smiling at him and openly addressing him like an actual person. In moments like those, he was glad to be a part of a team that cared and had open-minded friends. He wished he could do more to help the kid, but he realised that there was nothing more he or the Styx’s AI could do. Their last resort was the Waverider, which was hopefully still at the Sanctuary. If not, maybe Mary and Will could help them.

Plopping down in the pilot’s seat once more, Mick tried not to think of all the times he’d flown the ship as Chronos. Those were memories best kept at bay and if he’d had any other choice, he would have preferred not to step foot on the Styx ever again.

“Setting course for the Sanctuary,” Gareth’s voice echoed across the bridge and Mick squeezed the armrest of his chair in a white-knuckled grip.

 


 

 

Return to consciousness took longer this time. He struggled to fight his way to the surface through the murky waters of his jumbled thoughts. Barry didn’t understand why his injuries hadn’t healed yet, at least a fraction. He still felt the same as he did before drifting into the darkness, unless less time than he thought had actually passed.

Barry only vaguely remembered fragments of a worried discussion about his wounds between Iris and Sara while still on the jumpship, followed by helping Mick fix something… he wasn’t sure what. Afterwards, there was an exhausting walk into another ship, the effort draining him to the point of almost needing Mick’s full support to merely stay upright. He remembered some of the discussion that had taken place after he’d been set down into some sort of medical chair, mainly the part where his friends talked about painkillers and Iris pointed out that they wouldn’t work. He drew a blank on what happened next.

The only clear recollection was the excruciating pain in his shoulder, which had only gotten worse as time passed, until he’d blacked out. Now, it returned steadily, being part of what awoke him from his slumber-like state. That, and the feeling of the ship landing, was what roused him.

Had they managed to get back to Central City? Barry certainly hoped so. Even though he couldn’t tell where they’d landed, he found it odd that nobody had come to check on him. He really craved Iris’ presence to distract him from the pain, which was slowly starting to border on agony. He almost hoped it would pull him under again, just so he could be rid of it. He’d been stabbed before, but none of those instances could compare to what he was feeling now. The only other time he’d felt a similar pain was in the Speedforce, when the Black Flash had tried to kill him – and even that hadn’t been as agonizing. And that comparison only evoked a sense of dread, so he tried to focus on anything else to distract him from that thought.

He settled on the – rather rapid – beeping of what had to be the heart monitor. He tried keeping count of the shrill sounds, breath coming in harsh gasps and pained whimpers escaping him from time to time. Remembering the few times he’d tried counting sheep when he’d had trouble falling asleep as a child, he let out a breathy chuckle. Because now, just like then, it didn’t do much more than slightly take his mind off of the fear that plagued him. Back then, it had been his fear of being alone in the dark. Now, it was a fear of dying and leaving Iris, which is probably why he’d focused on the monitor, subconsciously connecting his heartbeat to his love for her. ‘It’s still beating, Iris. For you.

His delirious musings were interrupted by the sound of voices and footsteps coming down the hall just outside the medbay. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but their tone was riddled with an undercurrent of urgency. Just as Barry recognised Iris’ voice, the door slid open.

“Let me see the wound,” a foreign male voice demanded.

Someone opened the top half of his suit and he was jostled a bit – albeit gently – as the garment and the bandage were removed. The movement brought with it a fresh wave of agony and Barry had to bite back a keen. No matter how hard he fought, though, he couldn’t open his eyes. Why couldn’t he open his eyes?

“It wasn’t like that when we bandaged it,” Iris said in a worried tone, gently brushing her fingers along the biceps of his right arm. “What is it?”

“That,” the unfamiliar man answered, “is an after-effect caused by the Time Wraith’s unique temporal signature. It’s called ‘time poison’ and it’s usually deadly, especially for speedsters.”

“There has to be a… an antidote, or something,” Len said, voice steadier than it was after they’d left the Oculus Waste.

“There is a solution,” the other man said. “It’s good that you didn’t jump back to 2018 with Mr. Allen in this condition. That would have, without a doubt, killed him.”

“So what can we do?” Sara’s voice sounded subdued.

“It won’t be as simple as it was with Mr. Snart,” the man replies, “where a simple reset of his internal vibrational frequency solved the problem.” He paused for a moment, humming thoughtfully. “According to these readings, that sort of reset is necessary here as well. But there’s nothing this AI can do about the time poison.”

The silence that followed was so thick, that even Sara’s knives would not be sharp enough to cut it and Barry wanted to laugh at the comparison. He would have loved to at least be able to do something as simple as open his eyes, not to mention laugh. That was quite some poison, if all he could do was breathe and listen.

“There’s only one thing this ship is capable of,” Mick muttered, seeming none too happy, “that would protect him ‘till we get to 2018. The Waverider is a lot better equipped to handle somethin’ like this. What do ya think?”

The other man hummed, probably weighing the possibilities. Barry fought to open his eyes again, only managing to crack them half-way, and then promptly closing them and wincing at the stab of pain shooting through his skull. No one gave any sign of having noticed his attempt.

“Yes,” the stranger finally answered, “it appears to be the only viable option.”

“What is it?” Len asked, and Barry had the distinct impression that he was on the verge of losing his cool.

“The ship’s AI can keep Red in a protective temporal field,” Mick said, “kind of like that…” he seemed to struggle briefly, searching for the right word, “stasis thing Rip put me in, back when we used the Waverider to stop that atomic bomb.”

“Wait, what?!” Iris said at the same time Len exclaimed “Holy shit, what?!”

“Long story,” said Sara. “The important thing is that it keeps Barry from dying when we make the jump.”

“But first,” the unfamiliar man said, “we have to reset his frequency.” Barry heard footsteps and figured the stranger had walked to one of the many monitors in the room. “This is going to be tricky,” he went on, “because of your ship’s limited information about speedsters. I’ll have to do it manually, until it gets to as close as possible to his natural frequency. That’s all I can do with the available tools.”

There was some sound of tapping in the brief silence and then Barry started feeling a pressure build behind his eyes, and he could hear an increasingly high-pitched whine coming from somewhere above him.

“Can you feel that?” Iris asked. “And what’s that sound?”

“That, Mrs. West-Allen,” the stranger said, “is a very complicated speedster reset.”

“I can hear it too,” Len whispered, a note of unease creeping into his voice. “Is that normal?”

“Not really,” was the answer he received. “For you, it’s linked to the effect the exposure to the Oculus had on your body. For Mrs. West-Allen, it’s because of her status as her husband’s lightning rod.”

Barry’s hands and feet started trembling slightly and he could feel the pressure in his head expand. The tremor extended to his arms and legs, the shaking only worsening the pain in his shoulder. Then there was a pop and a spark of static that seemed to travel from his head to his toes, and then his eyes popped open seemingly of their own accord. He heard Iris gasp and quickly turned his head in her direction, nearly giving himself whiplash.

“Iris…” he mumbled, smiling at her as their gazes met and she was by his side faster than he thought possible, for a non-speedster.

“Bear, are you OK?” her voice was choked and her face a mask of worry, as she took his right hand in both of hers.

“Shoulder… hurts,” he gasped, his injury throbbing. “But… I’m OK.”

He smiled at her again, softly rubbing her fingers with his thumb, trying to reassure her and fight to stay conscious. It seemed that, all of a sudden, he was so tired, like he’d run around the world a million times.

“You’re lucky, Mr. Allen,” the stranger addressed him and Barry turned his head in the other direction to look at the man – elderly and grey-haired, dressed in some sort of weird robe. “Your healing factor saved you from succumbing to the time poison. It’s still fighting it, that’s why you feel tired.”

Barry blinked sluggishly at the explanation, but couldn’t muster the energy to reply. The stranger adjusted something on the touch-screen nearest to him and Barry felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him. He frowned. He couldn’t possibly be that tired.

“I’ve had Gareth administer the heaviest sedatives and analgesics in his arsenal.”

Barry blinked again in confusion. Last he remembered, the ship didn’t have drugs strong enough to work on him.

“The high dosage and concentration,” the older man said, as if he was reading Barry’s mind, “should knock you out for long enough to ease the stasis process.”

“How… is it… working?” Barry all but slurred. Ever since he’d gained powers, no drugs had had any effect on him.

“Your body is too busy fighting off the poison. By the time it realises it has something else to fight, you’ll be out cold and in the stasis field.”

“It’s going to be alright,” Iris said, squeezing his fingers reassuringly. “I love you.”

She leaned over and brushed her lips gently against his, and his eyes fluttered shut. Partly from the kiss and partly from exhaustion.

“Don’t fight it, Bear,” Iris murmured against his lips, then pressed her forehead to his. “It’s OK.”

“I love… you,” he whispered as the darkness encroached on him and he finally tumbled back into oblivion.  

      

   

Chapter Text

The temporal stasis field wasn’t really visible, but Len could feel it giving off what he’d come to recognise as time energy. He could sense its unique vibrations, like one would be able to sense heat or cold, and he found it didn’t unsettle him as much as he thought it would when the former Time Master had warned him about it earlier.

He stared at Barry’s lax face and was hit with a mix of feelings, the strongest of them being worry and guilt, although he couldn’t pinpoint the reason for the latter. Iris and Sara had gone to have a talk with Mary Xavier, taking Mick with them and leaving Len alone with Master Rook.

“Are you sure this is gonna keep him safe?” Len turned to the older man as he spoke, searching his face for any hint of a lie. Because, after all, the last Time Masters he’d dealt with hadn’t been the most truthful bunch and he’d never been a trusting person to begin with.

“It’s the only solution we’ve got,” Rook answered. “Our infirmary here at the Sanctuary isn’t equipped to deal with something as severe as time poison.” He threw Len a considering look. “How are you feeling, though? Is the dizziness gone?”

“I’m peachy,” Len shrugged. “Literally. Ever since you’ve reset my frequency.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Rook said.

“Something tells me you weren’t expecting it to be that easy,” said Len, trying not to frown. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop any second now.

“I’m just surprised, is all,” Rook, rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a few moments. “Considering you’ve been trapped there for a lot longer than I was, your recovery has been rather swift, compared to mine. Spectacular even. I’m worried of any delayed after-effects, though.”

Len did his best not to let what he was feeling show outwardly, keeping a lid on both relief and dread. The first at the apparent easy fix and the second at the prospect of future difficulties.

“Well,” Len mumbled, “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of missing two years of my life.” He smiled a genuine smile, and resisted the urge to dwell on the easiness with which he did so. “Also, I’m trying not to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“If you put it that way…” Rook said. There was a lull in the conversation, during which both men turned to look at the prone speedster. “That particular hurdle notwithstanding,” he went on, turning to peer at Len once more, an unreadable expression on his face, “your life will be different from now on. You will be different.”

“I think I’ve begun to change long before even setting foot on the Waverider,” Len said after a moment, not taking his eyes off Barry’s unmoving body. “And this man right here started that transformation. He’s the reason I joined this time-travelling crew. He saw something in me that no one else did, and his belief in my ability to be something more drove me to accept Rip’s offer.” He drew in a deep breath and swept a hand across his face. “By the time I held down the failsafe at the Oculus, I’d gone through a few more changes since joining Rip on this crazy endeavour.”

Len paused then, something in Barry’s hairline drawing his attention. Strangely, the hair above the speedster’s right ear had started becoming flecked with grey. A strand, about two inches wide, had become completely white. Len knew it would never fade because, in the glimpses of the future he’d seen, Barry had had that streak in his otherwise auburn locks.

“I guess,” Len went on, “that my time on the Oculus Waste helped me accept that I’m not the same man from before this all started, nor the one who stole a cold gun to keep the Flash on his toes. And that I’ll never again be that man. Given what I’ve seen, I don’t think I could return to being that person.”

“Maybe it’s that acceptance,” Rook mused, “that gave you the ability to resist losing your sanity, which, in turn, made the transition back to this dimension easier to bear. And, from your friends’ description of what transpired, the Oculus Entity seems to have accepted and even protected you. My experience wasn’t as… pleasant and it took me a lot longer to readjust to normal life.”

“Oh, I think I’ll need some time to deal with this, regardless,” Len turned to look at the other man and saw him in a different light.

Learning that he was speaking from personal experience, one they shared to a certain degree, made it easier for Len to trust the former Time Master.

“You are right about that,” Rook said after a moment of silence. “The first thing you’ll have to contend with, and probably the most noticeable, will be an altered perception of time.”

“Altered how?” Len asked, eyebrows drawing together in a frown.

“Nothing too drastic,” Rook hurriedly replied, apparently noticing the uneasiness in Len’s stance. “You’ll just be more aware of the passage of time when you are not in a place like the Sanctuary or the Vanishing Point, where there is none.”

“I’ve always been pretty good at keeping track of time,” Len said. “Guess that’ll be one of my talents kicked into overdrive.”

“You will also probably be able to sense temporal energy,” Rook continued, “and I have a suspicion that that particular ability will be sharper in you than mine ever was.” He paused shortly, as if for emphasis. “And last, but not least, you’ll have the capacity to tell where and when you are in the timeline, if you’ve been dropped off somewhere without being told or by accident.”

“Those sound like really nifty gifts, actually,” Len said, not understanding the serious tone.

“And they are,” the other man said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t embrace them. But you spent two years exposed to pure temporal energy, not to mention the amount you’ve been irradiated with when the Oculus exploded. So there’s no telling what else you might be able to do. And you might not even be the only one walking away from this with alterations to the core.”

Len swallowed hard at the thought of other – less savoury – ‘abilities’ interfering with him, or his friends, leading a relatively normal life. What he’d seen as a blessing could easily turn into a curse, if he didn’t have full control over his body and – as outlandish as it sounded – his powers.

“That thing I was able to do when the Time Wraiths attacked,” Len said, voice almost a whisper, “when I practically shot lightning from my hands… is that the kind of thing you mean?”

He turned his face back towards Barry’s form, needing something else to focus on than the whirlwind of his thoughts and emotions. Len knew Rook understood what he meant. He remembered that Sara had recounted their actions to the older couple while Rook was working with the ship’s AI to reset his frequency.

“Your scans indicate that that was a one-off,” the other man replied. “I’m thinking of more subtle things, but there’s no way of knowing with certainty what they’ll be until they manifest.” He sighed and Len turned to look at him, surprised to find a softness in his eyes. “I’m not telling you this to frighten you. I just want you to be prepared for anything, because we’re in uncharted waters, despite my experience, or Mary’s.”

“Thank you,” Len said.

He wanted to say more, but was at a loss for words, and was saved from having to wrack his brain for something – anything – by the sound of footsteps on the hall. Not long after, Mick came stomping in, his usual gruff self.

“We’re ready to go, boss,” his partner said, nodding at Rook after completing his sentence.

“If you ever need anything,” said Rook, extending his hand to shake Len’s, “be it help or simply advice, just drop by. We’ll be there for you if you encounter any hurdles you can’t overcome.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Len and accepted the offered handshake. “Thanks.”

Rook repeated the gesture with Mick, who shook the man’s hand curtly, but not unkindly, and then the three of them started towards the exit hatch. Before leaving the room, Len spared one last glance in Barry’s direction, then scanned the vitals display on the wall by the medical chair. But nothing had changed – for better or worse. He just hoped that Gideon would be able to fix the damage quickly and spare Barry any more pain. And, that they were in a timeline where Barry would actually survive this ordeal, despite the fact that Len’s senses seemed to indicate that they were. The best laid plans and all that…

Trying not to let his mind wander down the dark path of a possible future where the speedster didn’t make it, Len left the room and jogged to catch up with the others. It was time to go home.

 


 

 

Around the Styx’s holotable, Sara and Iris watched as Mick ran a diagnosis on the jumpship to find out just how much damage the smaller vessel had sustained. They’d left the medical room in order to give Will space to set up the stasis field that would keep Barry stable enough to survive the time jump. Only Leonard had stuck around, allegedly to help the older man in case there was a need for it. Although, Sara doubted that that was the only reason he’d hung back. There had been an undercurrent of urgency and a hint of anxiousness in Leonard's demeanour, a worry for Barry’s wellbeing. The speedster had apparently become somewhat of a friend during their shared entrapment and, according to Gideon’s files, they had started tolerating each other before Leonard joined the team.

But Sara was now acutely aware of the fact that the man they had recovered from the Oculus Waste was a very different person from the one who held down the failsafe at the Vanishing Point over two years prior. He seemed a lot more open in his interactions, for one. He was even more accepting of help when he needed it, whereas before, he would have insisted that he was fine, even if he’d have to crawl on all fours to make his point. And he no longer looked at the people around him as if they were just part of a crew and nothing else. He looked at them like he considered them friends. Real friends. Even Iris, whom he barely knew.

She’d begun noticing the changes, starting with that brief discussion they’d had on the Waste, when she’d explained the protection vests and their escape plan to him and he had, in turn, told her about what had been going on with Barry. The lines of his face were softer somehow, the colour of his eyes intense in a different way, less like ice, and his voice lacked that distinct drawl that had been his trademark throughout the time she’d known him.

Her musings were interrupted by the soft footfall echoing in the hallway leading to the bridge. A minute later, Mary entered the room and joined the two women by the holotable.

“How are you feeling, darling?” Mary inquired after a moment, putting a reassuring hand on Iris’ arm and squeezing gently.

“A little shaken,” Iris said and rubbed a hand across her face, “but relieved too, now that I know Barry’s safe.”

“And you, my dear?” Mary addressed Sara and manoeuvred to stand in between her and Iris.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around the thought that…” Sara took in a deep, steadying breath, “that Leonard's  alive. That he’s been alive all this time…”

“You couldn’t have known,” Mary said. “Not even Michael was certain, even if he had his suspicions.”

“But why didn’t he say anything?” Sara burst out, angry at the situation all over again. “Why didn’t Rip even give us a hint that this might be a possibility?”

“I think the reason he didn’t mention it,” Mary answered, “was because your friend’s… circumstances were vastly different from Will’s. I also believe that he didn’t want to give you false hope, only for it to lead nowhere.”

Sara considered that for a few moments. Would it have really helped her then, to be given that hope and then to have it snatched away? If things wouldn’t have worked out, on top of her grief over Laurel’s death, how would she have coped? Would she have been able to handle it? Probably not. The truth was that, with Rip gone, they would never know and it was certainly futile to dwell on all the possibilities that would never come to pass.

“Besides,” Mary went on, “by the looks of it, you might not even have been able to enter the Oculus Waste if that rift hadn’t appeared between the dimensions.”

“Mary’s right,” Mick muttered gruffly from his place at the holotable across from them. “We got the frequency of that place from that rift. Without it, Cisco couldn’t have set up that gizmo to open a portal to the right place. At least not so fast.”

“I think we can agree that,” Iris said, “given all that’s happened, we’re lucky we’re all in one piece. And I’m grateful for it.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Sara, trying to calm her racing thoughts and deciding to take the win, despite its lateness in arriving.

Having succeeded in getting her head back in the game, she chose to voice another dilemma, one she’d had since her previous visit to the Sanctuary.

“You told us,” Sara said, “that Will had some trouble readjusting to life after you brought him back from that place. Do you think we have reasons to worry about Leonard? Or Barry?”

“From my observations of Mr. Snart before the frequency reset,” Mary replied, after careful consideration, “I would have said yes. Yet, seeing how… normal he behaved afterward… I don’t really know, to be honest.”

“He was like that on the Oculus Waste too,” Sara said. “He was very much aware of the situation and extremely clear-headed the whole time.”

“Even after we got out of there,” Iris chimed in, “he was quite coherent. Just unsteady on his feet, like he was dizzy.”

“Well, taking that into consideration,” Mary said, “it is entirely possible that his and Will’s experiences on the Waste itself were wildly different. Especially seeing as their reactions at being found and then returned to our dimension contrast so sharply. But there still may be some subtle side-effects not yet noticed.” She paused, looking at each of them in turn in a calculating manner. “I have a suspicion that you were all affected to a degree, the three of you included, even if it might not be noticeable at first.”

“Affected how?” Iris asked, a hint of worry touching her tone.

“I’m not certain,” said Mary. “In my instance, a while after returning to the Vanishing Point, I’d noticed I had gained a heightened sense of the passage of time while on a mission. Will had, as well, developed that sense after recovering. That was one of the reasons for volunteering to do research at the Vanishing Point after retiring, and then watch over the Sanctuary.”

“Because those are places where time doesn’t pass, right?” Iris concluded, turning to Sara for confirmation.

“That could be both a blessing,” Sara murmured, her fingers going numb at the thought, “and a curse.”

“Indeed it could be,” Mary said, nodding for emphasis. “There is no need to worry, though. It is not something that one couldn’t adapt to or fail to control. For me, it was simply being more aware of how time passed, like a sixth sense in the background.”

“And what about Barry and Snart?” Iris asked.

Sara could tell that the other woman was still uneasy with this new development, even if on the surface she seemed to have taken it in stride.

“I really don’t know what effects this might have on a speedster,” said Mary. “To my knowledge, none has ever been on the Oculus Waste before. He might exhibit some symptoms, slightly milder ones maybe, if he does at all. It is entirely possible that his connection to the Speedforce may help him bounce back from this unscathed. At least physically.”

“I really hope so,” Iris whispered and Sara felt a pang of heartbreak for her.

“As for Mr. Snart,” Mary continued, “again, I truly cannot say, as his situation is unique and he’s been there a very long time. Also, from what you’ve told me while Will was resetting his frequency, it seems he’d managed to channel that place’s very essence into a weapon to fight off the Time Wraiths.”

“You think he’ll be able to do that again?” asked Sara, thinking that such an ability would be a pretty nifty trick to have up one’s sleeve.

“The only way to know,” Mary said, “is through, if he’s up for it, trial and error.” She tapped a few times on one of the holotable’s screens, sifting through some data. “Although, according to these scans, I find that highly unlikely.”

“Well, it would have been kick-ass,” Sara said at the same time Mick muttered “Bummer…” and Iris said “Shame…”, which made all three burst into laughter.

“What I do know for certain,” said Mary when they had quieted, “is that Mr. Snart, at least, has spent two years in a place that shows those who wander it various iterations of the past, present and future. If he decides that he wishes to talk about what he witnessed in those windows in time, he needs someone to be there for him emotionally. Because some things are hard to reconcile, especially when they haunt one’s dreams.”

Sara mulled over that new piece of information and realised what Mary was implying. Depending on which parts of the timeline Leonard had seen in those swirling mists – Zari’s future came to mind at that point, among others – there was a strong possibility that those after-effects would resemble PTSD. And Sara didn’t know if the changes Leonard had undergone since his heroic ‘death’ would extend to wanting to talk about his demons to anyone.

“What you’re describing,” said Iris, after presumably giving it some thought herself, “sounds an awful lot like PTSD.”

Sara didn’t know if she would ever get used to how perceptive Iris was. No wonder she’d been so successful as an investigative journalist.

“In a manner of speaking,” Mary leaned against the holotable and sighed. “There is really no telling until it happens, if it even does. Like I said before, Mr. Snart seems normal. A lot different than the first time I met him, yet a far cry from what Will was like after I got him back.”

“And how do I help him if things do get bad?” Sara asked, and she had to put some effort into preventing the tremor that was creeping its way up her throat from surfacing.

She really hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But, ever since boarding the Waverider for the first time, Sara realised that nothing was impossible. And that nothing seemed to go according to plan, not in their line of work.

“The only way to help,” Mary said, a sad look on her face, “may be something as simple as listening if he wants to talk and supporting him in any way he might need. He might also need a reminder – or more – that he’s no longer a prisoner of that Waste. The rest is up to him.”

“I really hope he’ll accept it,” Sara murmured, biting her lip as a wave of uncertainty gripped her. “In the time we’ve worked together before he… well… he wasn’t one to open up to anybody. It took a near-death experience for him to tell me how he’d met Mick. So the chances of him seeking out help are pretty slim.”

That had been one thing about Leonard that had infuriated Sara, even though she understood where he was coming from. She’d hit the same roadblock when dealing with her own demons. And she understood this inability to talk about what was eating away at her very soul, especially since her resurrection. But she’d become a little more forthcoming about that sort of thing in the past couple of years. And Leonard – she suddenly realised that she’d started thinking and speaking of him on a first name basis, and when had that happened? – seemed to have changed somewhat too, so hopefully things could only improve, given some time.

The feeling of a warm hand settling gently over hers drew her attention back to the present. She glanced down at the brown skin and slender fingers – one of them adorned with a wedding band and an engagement ring – and then raised her gaze to meet Iris’ kind eyes.

“I have a bit of experience in dealing with someone who’s experienced trauma,” Iris whispered, her tone soft. “I can help with that, if you want me to.”

“I’d appreciate that,” said Sara and straightened her back as she pushed away from the holotable. “I’ve had my fair share of… skeletons in the closet, so to speak, and I know it can get really bad when it comes to letting others in. I’d be grateful to get some advice from someone who’s seen a different side of this.”

“Also, I don’t think it’s going to be that hard to get Snart to open up,” Iris mused, gazing at Mick for some reason. “He seemed a lot friendlier and more ready to help than the last time I met him.”

“Yeah, that’s weird,” Mick chimed in, a sign that he’d clearly been eavesdropping. “He even ditched the drawl. It’s gonna take a while to get used to that.”

“I think,” Mary said with a tilt of her head and a smile, “that your entire group of friends will have to adjust to a new dynamic.”

“We’ll have to burn that bridge when we get there,” Mick grumbled. “Or something like that… y’know what I mean.” He paused and typed something on one of the screens, then turned to them again. “Now, we better get movin’. I’ll go tell those two we’re ready to go.”

With that, he turned on his heel and stomped out of the room. And while his gruff exit made Iris throw her a confused look and Mary raise an eyebrow, Sara smiled at the arsonist’s antics.

“Don’t worry about him,” Sara told the other two, still smiling. “He’s a little blunt and sometimes has a hard time expressing his thoughts, but his heart is in the right place.”

“Well then, I guess this is goodbye for now,” Mary straightened and clasped her hands in front of herself. “Give my regards to the rest of your team.”

“Will do,” Sara said. “We’re really grateful for all your support.”

“Thank you so much,” Iris said, “for helping me get my husband back.”

“It was my pleasure,” Mary inclined her head and turned for the exit.

They walked in silence until they reached the ramp and Sara felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest at the realisation that this was, for the most part, over. They’d succeeded without losing anyone in the process, at least not permanently. With Gideon’s help, Barry would recover, and he and Leonard would have a support system to get them through any possible after-effects of this ordeal.

Sara herself had also found a friend in Iris, someone loving and empathetic, whom she was determined to get to know better. And if there was anything she could, in turn, do for Iris, she would do it without hesitation.

So she decided to take the win and live by Mick’s words: they’d deal with any problems when or if they arose. For now, it was time to head home.