"And I assume saving your girlfriend requires us doing something... less than lawful?" Leonard asked.
"We need to break into ARGUS," Barry replied. "And steal an alien power source."
"The Flash, a thief?" Leonard smirked. He flexed his right hand, making sure his fingers were plenty limber for whatever he might need to pick up. "That's my kind of mission." He frowned. "Just one problem; when are you from? When's this heist supposed to go down?"
"Um...." Barry shuffled his feet; he wouldn't look at the thief. "2017," he mumbled.
"Hmmm.... sorry, I'll have to pass," Leonard said. He turned around and walked into the Waverider.
Barry followed close behind. "But Snart, I—"
"Mr. Snart!" Rip snapped. He glared at the thief. "How many times do I have to tell you people, to stop bringing in—Mr. Allen?"
Barry sighed and removed his cowl. "So much for keeping it a secret," he muttered.
"Everyone on this ship already knows who you are," Rip replied.
Leonard merely pointed at Mick.
Mick only stared back with his mouth hanging open. "He's a kid?" the arsonist finally managed to say. He shook his head and began laughing. "We've had our asses handed to us by... by jailbait? Jesus, Len, no wonder you've gone soft."
"Not the time," Leonard growled.
Mick just shook his head again and kept laughing.
Rip's face paled. "My—my apologies, Mr.... Flash," he mumbled. He threw his hands in the air. "Er, Mr. Allen," he repeated. "But what exactly are you doing here?"
"He says he needs my help for something," Leonard replied before Barry could say a word. "He's from the future." He waved vaguely at the rest of the crew. "Our future. 2017."
Rip crossed his arms. "I assume you refused."
"Are you that stupid?" Leonard snapped. "Of course I refused. Now if all of you will excuse me, I'll be in my room trying to pretend that this conversation never happened." He turned to Barry, took one look at the speedster's expression, and walked out without another word.
"Would you like to listen in?" Gideon asked once the thief reached his assigned quarters.
"Et tu, Gideon?" Leonard asked. "You know what he's asking from me." He lay on the bed and closed his eyes.
But though the AI had phrased it as a suggestion, her tone said it was nothing of the sort.
He sighed. "I suppose if I must."
"You've got to talk to him," Barry's broken voice sounded over the speaker. "Please. I've run out of options; Iris will die if we can't get this thing built, and Snart's the only one I know who can get the part I need." A pause. "Er... sorry, Mick."
Mick only grunted.
"I'm afraid I don't understand what you think we can do about it," Rip said. "You can't honestly believe that I—that any of us—can persuade Mr. Snart to do something he doesn't want to do? And the fact of the matter is, while I sympathize with your plight, I happen to agree with him. He cannot risk learning his own future."
"I know it can be dangerous—" Barry protested.
"You cannot begin to comprehend how dangerous," Rip said.
"Wanna bet?" Barry muttered.
"I am truly sorry," Rip insisted, "but I cannot approve of this plan. It would be too complicated to involve Mr. Snart at this time."
"It's already too complicated," Barry complained. "How could he possibly make it any worse?"
"I'm afraid that is on a need-to-know basis," Rip replied. "And Mr. Snart will be the one to decide if you need to know." He sighed. "If you believe that his skills are critical to your mission, then you will simply have to recruit him from your own time."
"Do you really think I would've come here if I could do that?"
"Why can't you?" That was Ray's voice. "I mean, if you honestly trust him enough to ask him now.... He can't change that much in the next couple of years. Can he?"
Leonard snorted. Compared to how much I've changed in the last couple of years?
"I can't—" The speedster sounded near to tears. "It's complicated. Just... please don't ask me why."
Well, that was unexpected. Leonard wasn't surprised that tears would be involved, not with Iris' life on the line, but for that question to be the final push?
Obviously the argument was running too long, fraying whatever shred of control Barry had been clinging to. But the thief found the timing unsettling.
The door to his room slid open and Sara poked her head in. "Having fun eavesdropping?"
"You know why I can't help him," Leonard replied. "All the tears in the world won't change that."
"I know," Sara replied. "But Barry doesn't. Are you seriously going to stay in here and let him think that you don't care, instead of explaining why you can't help him?"
He shrugged. "Works for me."
Sara shook her head. "You are unbelievable, you know that? You honestly think that admitting that you're scared would make you weak, but the truth is, you're just too scared to admit it."
"Too scared to admit what?" Barry asked.
Leonard opened his eyes to see the speedster standing in the doorway.
Barry stared at the floor. "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to eavesdrop."
"I guess I will leave the two of you alone, then," Sara said.
Leonard growled, but he couldn't even protest without admitting that she was right.
Barry waited until the door slid shut behind her before he faced Leonard. "Snart, please. I know changing history is complicated under the best of circumstances, and with you guys doing your own mission.... I wouldn't even ask you if I had another option."
"And asking my future self is not one of those options?" Leonard asked. "Or at least that's what you told the others. Gideon?"
"Yes, Mr. Snart?"
"What if I did agree to this field trip?" Leonard asked. "Hypothetically.... Can you tell how that would affect my timeline?"
"I'd return you right to this same time," Barry said. "If I need to."
"But you couldn't stop me from seeing my own future," Leonard pointed out.
"I mean, you could try," Leonard continued to murmur, "but there's bound to be something you'd miss. A random word. A stray glance. Something that means absolutely nothing to you but speaks volumes to me.... You don't think like a thief, so you might not realize just how much I can learn from somebody's body language. Your diagnosis, Gideon?"
"In this hypothetical timeline," Gideon replied, "I'm detecting unusual levels of temporal energy surrounding your near future. A side effect of Mr. Allen bringing you through the Speed Force. But the changes are minimal and I can help you manage any lingering symptoms once you return to the Waverider."
"Symptoms?" Barry whispered. "What are you—"
"For how long?" Leonard asked.
"A matter of weeks," Gideon replied. "From your perspective. The symptoms would vanish by the time Captain Hunter's own mission is completed."
Leonard nodded. "Good to know. So you really think you need my skills as a thief? Then I have one condition: My rules."
"Your rules," Barry repeated. "Right. I can do that."
"Can you, though?" Leonard said. "I wonder...."
—WHAT IF: CATALYST—
Rip met them outside of the cargo bay. "You're doing this after all," he muttered. "Despite the consequences."
"Gideon said she can manage it," Leonard said. He smirked. "Or am I not supposed to trust the team?"
Rip glared at the thief. "I swear you're doing this just to annoy me."
"I wouldn't take this kind of risk if that was the only benefit," Leonard replied.
"But you don't deny that you consider it a benefit." Rip shook his head. "Never mind. Good luck to both of you." He glanced back inside the ship, then turned back to face them again. "Ah, Mr. Allen, a moment. I believe Dr. Palmer has something for Mr. Snart."
Ray walked to the opening, stared at frozen ground below them, and backed up a few steps. "Um...."
"Any time, Ray," Leonard growled. "It's not even snowing out; my cold gun can freeze you worse than anything else out here."
"Er... right." Ray stepped out of the Waverider and immediately started shivering. "I... I, um, just wanted to give you these?" He held out a pair of wristbands.
Leonard examined one of the bands and found what appeared to be a rounded stone set on the inside. "Sea bands." He quirked an eyebrow at the scientist. "Thank you?"
"Temporal energy siphons," Ray corrected him. "And converters. Although I guess that crack means you've already figured out how to wear them. Gideon and I have been working on some ways to deal with the side effects of time travel. Easier said than done since those effects seem to change every time, which is probably why the Time Masters haven't developed their own cure-all. But since it tends to leave you 'dead to the world' lethargic, I came up with these to try to restore your energy. They're designed to absorb the temporal energy from our traveling and feed it right back into you." He shrugged. "They still won't help with other side effects, but it'd be like your, um, affliction never existed. Or at least it shouldn't matter to the jumps; theoretically you'd be ready to join in whatever mission as soon as the rest of us are."
Both of Leonard's eyebrows shot up at the explanation before his eyes narrowed into a frown. "Theoretically. I don't know that this is a good time to try something you've never tested."
"Actually, we have tested them," Ray said. "Me and Firestorm both. They work great. I wanted to give them to you after Nanda Parbat, but I discovered a tiny problem... They need to be exposed directly to the temporal energy to absorb it, and I haven't come up with a way to make them store that energy, so...."
"So I would need to be exposed directly to that energy to use them," Leonard finished. "Meaning I can't use them on the Waverider."
Ray nodded. "Not yet. I'm still working on a battery for them. But with Barry taking you through the Speed Force, Gideon says you'll be able to absorb that energy without a problem, and have the same protection he does."
"Huh." Leonard thrust his gun into Barry's arms, forcing the speedster to fumble to keep from dropping it. He placed one of the bands on his left wrist, with the stone directly over the pressure point on the front. He felt a slight jab, identical in sensation to acupuncture, and the band vanished from sight.
He felt along his wrist but there was no sign of the band.
"It camouflages itself," Ray explained. "Not just from view, but from, well, physical reality. You won't have to worry about it catching on anything, and it won't come off until you want it to. But I think even you would forget you're wearing it before that happens."
"Huh," Leonard said again. He held up the other siphon. "If these work even half as good as you say, I might have to take back everything I've ever said about you."
"Thanks!" Ray grinned. "Wait, what?"
Leonard flexed the fingers on his right hand a few times as he continued to examine the second siphon.
"Your DNA isn't any different," Ray murmured. "Not after.... Professor Stein made sure everything was compatible. It'll work the same."
Leonard nodded, took a deep breath, and slid the other siphon into place on his right wrist....
Only when the second band vanished like its twin did he release that breath.
"You like it?" Ray asked.
"It'll do," Leonard replied. He glanced back at the scientist. "You can go now. Both of you."
Ray fled back inside the ship without another word.
Rip stuck around for just a moment longer. "Keep him safe, Mr. Allen," he said. "Mr. Snart might be embarrassed to admit it, but for some reason Gideon's taken a shine to him. I suspect she'll have both of our heads if you don't return him intact." He closed the cargo bay door before either of them could form a reply.
Leonard sighed. "Go on, Barry," he said. "I can see you're burning to ask."
But Barry only looked at him with the first real smile he'd worn since arriving. "I just... never mind."
"My rules," Leonard said. "Did you forget that part already? Maybe you should get the distractions out of your head before we start planning any heists."
"Well, I suppose...." Barry shrugged. "I mean, even Cisco said there were side effects. But I guess it's just a little weird hearing you guys talk about time travel like it's some kind of disease."
"For me, it is," Leonard replied. "Maybe being a speedster makes you immune, but for us mere mortals, traveling to another time can be damned uncomfortable. And apparently, having an eidetic memory makes me a little more sensitive to it than the rest of the team." He cocked his head. "There was something else?"
"Um...." Barry stared at the ground again. "I.... I'll need to get a running start. But we need to be somewhere more open for this to work."
There was the familiar sensation of vertigo and Leonard found himself deposited at the edge of the woods, watching the speedster run in circles, before he finished processing that Barry had evaded the question.
Fine. The thief sighed. Keep your secrets... for now.
Then there was no more time to complain. A hole opened in the sky, and a flash of red and yellow lightning propelled him towards it and into another time.