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(Forced) Retirement

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He's still half-asleep when he sits up, squinting into the darkness and reaching out to the Speed Force before he remembers that he can't access it anymore. Barry's breath catches in his throat as he sighs. He listens for what woke him up, one hand poised to shake Mick from his near comatose slumber… hovering over the empty side of the bed. The slow, steady "click, clack" of typewriter keys makes his shoulders slump in relief; Mick is writing. That's what woke him.

Barry fumbles for his cell phone, pushing down the silent litany of "too slow, too late" that seems to always run in the background of his mind. It's after 3 a.m. and he's sure he won't get back to sleep, now. He kicks the sheets off and finds his pajama pants on the floor, stepping into them, stumbling once, and catching himself on the corner of the dresser. The keystrokes falter, stop, start up again after a few seconds of silence. Barry creeps past the office, carefully avoiding the squeaky board and keeping close to the wall. He knows if Mick hasn't settled back into his story, he'll feel Barry in the hall the way he always seems to know where Barry (or a threat) is. After a particularly bad nightmare and on the anniversary of Leonard's death several years ago, Mick admitted he'd learned that skill from his old partner.

There are too many cereal boxes in the cupboard; a holdover, an old habit, from Barry's speedster days. He doesn't cry anymore when Mick cooks too much food or brings home too many groceries, but he does feel the urge to crawl back into bed as he studies the variety of cereal. The remains of a box of Count Chocula are combined with some bran flakes, because Barry may still be young, but he has to think about his health sooner rather than later. He sits at the dining room table and looks out at the backyard, sprawling and flat, lit by a couple phosphorus yellow lights on high poles. The cornstalks were cut down a few weeks ago, extending the horizon for a few more miles that Barry can't see at this hour. Mick would tell him that the land is measured in acres and Barry smiles around a bite of soggy flakes and almost-stale marshmallows.

There are papers to look over, from the class he teaches on forensics at the community college, but he doesn't want to think about schoolwork so early in the morning. After rinsing out his bowl and setting it in the dish drainer, he goes outside, pausing at the sofa to grab an afghan. Barry settles into one of the rocking chairs on the back porch, hunching in on himself beneath the soft blanket- it's the middle of November and the late autumn mornings are downright cold in Kansas.

Mick had purchased the land around them when he was still working with the Legends, setting it aside for the day he "got sick of all that saving the world crap". After the Oculus, he'd planned to build a small house and live there alone, but he hadn't accounted for Barry. Neither of them had, really.

There were team-ups over the years, the Legends returning to Barry's present and he and his team seeking out Mick and his. They worked well together, complimented each other, slowly filling holes they never talked about, back then. Mick was a surprisingly sympathetic ear about Barry's divorce and Barry could spot a Leonard-triggered breakdown seconds before Mick even registered it happening. Alien invasions, adventures on other Earths, and time travel both necessary and accidental eventually found them in Mick's bunk. And then Barry's apartment, the rooms he'd put aside at STAR Labs when he was too tired to run home, and once at Joe's, in Wally's old room. Mick told Barry about the farmland one night, that he was thinking about walking away from the Waverider. Barry immediately suggested that he could learn about building and farming in a matter of minutes, retain the knowledge as long as the books were on hand, and Mick had just shrugged saying, "Not gonna say no to an extra set'a hands".

Over the course of a month they built the house and got the land ready for wheat, corn and soybeans. The blueprints were for a modern farmhouse, something that echoed the layout of Mick's childhood home, but was fitted with enough conveniences and architectural flourishes that it was its own, distinct structure. He let Barry pick the interior paints and asked his opinion on furniture and fixtures by dropping photos and catalogues in his lap during their breaks. By the time the house was done and the corn had grown waist-high, Barry had moved all of his things and finally himself in.

It was an adjustment, going from life in the city to the near-silence of the country, but Barry found it peaceful. He was able to make it back into Central for Flash-related emergencies only a few seconds slower than when he had lived in the same state. Until the accident; until he lost his powers, permanently. He and Cisco had tried everything- traveled to as many different Earths as they could, and consulted with other speedsters. But after a year with no progress, no results, Barry finally called it, put up the Flash suit for good, and then called Mick to take him home.

The door opens on silent hinges; a breath of warm air and a step on the only squeaky board on the porch letting Barry know he isn't alone. Mick only makes noise when he thinks (or knows) that Barry is lost in thought. He stands behind Barry's chair, big hands resting on the backrest, on either side of Barry's head, letting the motion of Barry's rocking move his arms.

"Didn't wake you, did I," he asks. There's a quiet, soft note of concern in his words that Barry's sure only one other person would have heard.

"Nope," Barry replies with a smile. He reaches up and out from under the blanket to rest a warm hand on one of Mick's. "Got the late-night munchies and couldn't sleep through 'em. How's the conquest of New Mars going?"

Mick snorts and pats Barry's hand with his free one, their wedding bands sending musical notes out into the chill, morning air. He moves over to the other chair, pulling it closer to Barry's so they can share the blanket across their laps. "Great for the Martians, not s'much for the invaders. I think Buck's gettin' tired of all the fighting."

"He can always leave the mercenary life to his kids, take up solving space mysteries or something."

"Maybe," Mick hums. They sit quietly for a while, rocking in synch, Barry listening to their breathing and the soft creak of wood on wood. "That Conan Doyle guy killed Sherlock when he got sick of 'im. Maybe Buck won't make it off New Mars."

"There are worse places to die," Barry muses, adding after a pause, "You won't stop writing altogether, will you?"

Mick sighs and shrugs- the Magic 8-Ball equivalent of 'ask again later'. He's been in slumps before, months spent away from his typewriter, and even locking the door to his study to avoid writing. Barry won't say anything (unless Mick asks him directly, which isn't likely to happen any time soon), but he likes when Mick takes time away from his novels. They cook more together, take picnics in nice weather and visit Barry's friends and old teammates, as well as former Legends that have settled down nearby. And when it's cold or there's no farming to be done, Mick works in the garage; restoring the muscle car Barry got him at a police auction a few years ago or just tinkering with some of his "souvenirs" from missions aboard the Waverider. Barry loves to watch him wherever he occupies himself- be it garage, kitchen or out in the field.

They stay outside until just before first light, when Barry can't fight his shivering and yawning anymore. He has two more days off, so he resolves to look at his class's assignments tomorrow. Once he goes back to the college, there's only a week of classes before Thanksgiving break. Mick offered to host everyone for the holiday this year and they've been putting a menu together for over a month. Barry shuffles inside, Mick close behind, his hands finding Barry's waist and squeezing a tired giggle out of him. Barry doesn't get past the sofa, curling up under the afghan and only scooting down enough for Mick to sit and take his head onto his lap, carding calloused fingers through his hair and over his scalp. He falls asleep almost instantly.

Mick wakes him around noon, unable to keep a grin off his face. He's up to something and Barry can't help but be a little cautious with his own excitement- Mick's surprises are bonfires, more often than not.

"Go get dressed," Mick tells him, slapping him on the ass when he doesn't move away from the couch right away. "I got us lunch packed- we're going for a drive."

Barry decides to take a quick shower, since he can't quite remember the last time he had one. He tries to be quick, at least. Thinking about doing things fast still depresses him and he ends up standing under the warm spray, mind in the past, playing over anything he could've done differently to get his speed back. Mick gets in the shower at some point, washing Barry's hair for him and giving him a rough scrub down with lathered up hands. He's rinsed and toweled off and by the time Mick leads him into the bedroom, Barry comes back to himself and throws on clean underwear, jeans, and an old sweatshirt. Neither one of them say a word until they get to the garage.

Barry stops just inside the doorway that connects the house to the garage, eyes wide and mouth working for a few seconds before asking, "Is it-? Did you finally-?"

"Yep," Mick beams, slipping around him to stand beside the fully restored 1968 Chevy Camaro, one hand hovering above a brilliant, blue door. "She's ready to go."

Barry just watches as Mick carefully loads the cooler, cardboard box of non-perishable food, two blankets and two folding lawn chairs into the trunk. He shuts the lid forcefully, but doesn't slam it, almost skipping around to the driver's side door. Barry can't remember the last time he saw Mick look so… young; happy. It's entirely infectious and Barry climbs into the front passenger seat, smiling the entire time as he fastens the lap and then shoulder belt. Eyes sparkling and smile lighting up his face, Mick turns the key and they both let out an appreciative breath at the roar of the engine. Barry doesn't know much about cars in general, but he's spent enough time listening to Mick- and watching a number of TV shows with him- to know what a powerful, well-tuned engine sounds like.

With one arm on the back of Barry's seat, Mick cranes his neck and looks over his shoulder as he backs out of the garage and turns the Camaro around. The car purrs as it- as she, Mick said- idles at the end of their long, paved driveway. Mick gives Barry a grin that can only be described as boyish before he lets off the brake and hits the gas. The farm is a ways outside of Keystone, on nearly 700 acres, and the land around them is deserted for miles in every direction. In less than 10 seconds, they're going over 100 MPH. Barry lets out a startled "Woo!" as the speedometer continues to climb, passing 150 and then 200 in another 15 seconds. This is no ordinary Camaro.

"How did you do it?!" Barry shouts over the roar of the engine. There's no other sound from outside the car- no wind against the windows or even road noise.

"Got some special parts," Mick yells, the car finally leveling out around 375 MPH. "Gideon owed me some favors!"

Mick handles the Camaro with ease, taking the few gentle turns in the highway at speed, not even a squeak from the tires as they practically fly. Barry stares out the windshield, transfixed, as the scenery approaches and then blurs past them. He turns his head, trying to keep the details in focus like he used to do when he ran, but the car's going too fast and his eyes don't work that way anymore. He braces for the wave of sadness, that empty, cold feeling that seeps into his limbs when he thinks about Speed, but it doesn't come. He's never gone this fast without his Speed, before or after, and it's different, but in a good way. His legs don't ache in sympathy and his heart doesn't try to beat out of his chest, but he feels like he's flying, like the car isn't even touching the pavement. Everything blurs again, tears spilling down his cheeks, but he's… happy. Ecstatic, overjoyed!

They drive almost to Colorado, to where the land starts to think about rising and becoming the Rockies. Mick slows them down, gradually, and miraculously there wasn't a cop car the entire trip. Barry's out of the car before she's come to a full stop, door hanging open, and he jogs around to the driver's side to greet Mick as he gets out, jumping and shouting incoherently, his eyes still damp, but his face aching from the size of his grin. Mick catches him up in a hug, spins him around and kisses him breathless.

"Couldn't wait for Hanukkah," Mick admits halfway through lunch. He's sprawled in his chair, a stack of paper plates with half a sandwich balanced on his knee. "I knew she'd be ready before then, but… Noticed you'd been kinda down lately so, hey. Here we are."

"That was- Mick, I don't know what to say," Barry stammers. "Amazing! I've never gone that fast in a- a vehicle before! I wanna know how you did it- you have to tell me everything and the 'special parts' you used and how long have you even been planning this?"

Even though they've been married for three years (and together several more before that), Barry is reluctant to ask if Mick souped up the car just for him. It's been four years since he lost his Speed, almost to the day, so it's possible the modifications at least are for him. Mick shoots him a big smile that takes nearly a decade off his face. "A while, now," he replies cryptically. After a finishing his second sandwich, his grin is positively impish as he adds, "Might've installed some equipment that peeks into the immediate future, lookin' out for cops."

Barry cleans up their picnic, putting the chairs and blanket back in the trunk. The only leftovers are a bag of chips and two cans of soda. Mick didn't pack any beer, a sign that he's still in Writer Mode; he never drinks when he's working on a story. When they get back in the car, Mick turns a couple dials on the vintage dash radio and shows Barry the futuristic console beneath. He points out the sensors that are tuned to any police presence, looking forward in time up to 15 minutes. The former-CSI in Barry wants to scold him, but the vigilante and supportive husband parts are much bigger and louder. He kisses Mick's cheek, then soundly on the lips, and tells him how clever the entire set-up is.

The drive home is just as fast, the speedometer's needle hovering at 400 MPH and then darting over as they bypass the exit to the farm and head into Missouri. Mick slows considerably once they enter Central City, taking them out to STAR Labs. "Promised the nerds I'd swing by once I got her out for her test drive," Mick explains as they drift perfectly into a parking space in the underground garage.

Wally jogs at human speed out of the elevator ahead of Cisco, always mindful not to tap into the Speed Force around Barry unless an emergency comes up. They crowd Mick once he steps out of the car and fire questions at him while practically drooling over the Camaro. Cisco is less interested in the car than he is the tech inside, but Wally is all eyes and ears for things like horsepower, how she handles, and her suspension. Barry laughs as Mick squeezes underneath the Camaro with Wally, Cisco crouching off to the side to listen in. He's within sight of the elevator and only has to look up when the doors open to watch Iris exit into the garage.

"Holiday came early this year," Iris observes with a chuckle, stopping to bump her shoulder against Barry's arm. He laughs and pulls her into a one-armed hug.

"Mick said he couldn't wait. I'm glad. That he didn't. I kinda needed this." He lets out a full-body sigh, sagging into Iris who grunts and leans against him to keep her balance. "How's things around the command center?"

"Busy," Iris sighs, sounding equal parts exhausted and pleased. "Lisa's planning something big and Cisco's still being a baby about our, y'know."

Barry raises his eyebrows suggestively as he asks, "'Relationship' still a swear word for her?"

"It is whenever Cisco's out in the field. He's gotten better, but I know he's still hurt."

"How long's it been, now? Couple months?"

"Six, pretty much. I've asked Lisa to stop baiting him- like, we each have a few things that are just off-limits and 'Glider teasing Vibe about the R-word' needs to go on the list."

"Maybe he needs a vacation," Barry suggests. "Things've been pretty quiet the past week, Glider's next big heist notwithstanding."

"Oh yeah? What and how do you know about crime in and around Central, Barry Allen?"

Barry flushes and tries to pull away, but Iris has an iron grip around his waist. "Police scanner," he mutters, embarrassed. It's his guilty pleasure and personal torture device, rolled into one, compact radio. He's told himself that he keeps it for his friends, to make sure they stay safe while saving the day, but that's only a small part of it. And he's certain that Mick's found it every time he hides it around the house, though his husband never says a word.

"Bear," Iris sighs and rests her head against his chest. He's not sure if she wants to scold him or sympathize, but Mick doesn't give her a chance. He laughs and claps Wally on the back, sending the Speedster stumbling a step as Mick walks over to Barry and Iris.

"What're you making my man blush about, West?" Mick demands with a smile. He snakes an arm around Barry from the other side and pulls him flush against his hip, tucking his big hand into Barry's front pocket.

"Just talking shop," Iris replies, nonchalant. "You guys gonna be ready for Thanksgiving- I heard Sara's bringing the new recruits and Felicity made Oliver clear his schedule."

"Ugh, he said he wouldn't make it," Barry practically whines. "Ollie's such a picky eater!"

"He's gonna eat what we give 'im and like it," Mick grunts. "Got all my Gran's recipes out an' Barry's gonna make his Bubbie's apple cake."

"Tell me you've been working with him in the kitchen," Iris implores Mick. "He made that when he was in college and Dad chipped a tooth."

Barry sniffs, indignant. "I'll have you know I'm an excellent baker. Now."

Iris eyes him warily but doesn't argue; Barry thinks it's partly because she doesn't want to start a fight with Mick since they've finally started getting along and partly due to all the dirt Barry can bring up about her. They talk about the upcoming holiday dinner, putting together an updated guest list and who will bring what dishes. Barry swears that if Felicity shows up with an apple cake, he'll throw it out in the corn field. He won't admit as much to Iris, but he's been working on perfecting his recipe all year. That Mick can even look at an apple without gagging is just one of the many reasons Barry loves him.

Barry and Mick head into the Cortex for a tour of the new security measures, Cisco grinning and puffing out his chest when Mick says it would take Leonard twice as long to break in, now. Iris tries to wheedle information about Lisa and any of her plans out of Mick, but he keeps quiet, only giving her a smug smile. Barry pleads ignorance when she turns her inquisition on him and he's never been happier that there are still a few things he and Mick don't talk about.

The conversation in the Labs does give Mick some ideas about his current novel, so he and Barry take their leave while the inspiration is fresh. Barry gets to drive them home, so that Mick can transcribe his thoughts; it's even more thrilling behind the wheel of the Camaro and Barry revels in the feel of all that power at his hands and foot. He passes 400 MPH and has to turn around to get them back to the farm. He can't remember the last time he smiled so much in one day.

As he's brushing his teeth and listening to Mick batter the typewriter keys, Barry thinks about getting rid of the police scanner. He's spent a lot of time dwelling on the past when he should have been present with Mick, his family and friends. He gets ready for and sits up in bed, going over assignments while waiting for Mick. It's a good life, he knows; he's lucky to have everything and everyone in it. Barry falls asleep halfway through the stack of worksheets, waking enough to curl into Mick when he eventually slips under the covers.

"Buck stopped the invaders," Mick whispers into Barry's hair. "He's gonna retire."

"He's earned it," Barry mumbles. They all have.