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I Can Only Stare

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Ever since she was a child soul marks had confused her. Or, more precisely, the way people reacted to them, to the knowledge that someone out there was intended for you. For a lot of people – both in the stories and increasingly in real life - she saw it take over their life, it was their one goal. Cait couldn't understand why, not when there was so much more to life than one person could give you.

When she was younger she looked to the skies with her father, camping under the stars. In general, she looked at the world around her with marvel. Equally she looked at the skin around her mark with curiosity. Naturally she wondered what the triangular shape of the mark meant, what the wooden texture inside it signified, what the word that looked as if it was engraved on it would be paired with, but she also wondered about the layers underneath, the fat and muscle and blood vessels, the things most people took for granted and thought little of. Those were no less mysterious to her as a child, but those things had sure-fire answers waiting for her if she just tried hard enough. The word on her mark was the only thing she thought much of – heals, which did not surprise the daughter of doctors – because she knew she wanted to be like them, that fit her already. Her goal in life became scientific discovery, searching of a different kind to the one people expected of her.

She never even signed up for the soul marks matching service once she was of age, she wasn't in any hurry to find someone she wasn't even sure to like. It wasn't that she hated the idea of having a soulmate. She saw the appeal in having someone to share things with but you could share your life with anyone, with several someones. Her childhood had become lonely after a certain point; her father gone, her mother withdrawn and she yearned for a connection she didn't find, but she never dreamed about finding that one in several billion person, she would have been happy to have a friend or two. One she didn't leave behind when she skipped grades or they moved for her mother's work. Going to college a couple of years early had not helped her flourish socially – she was awkward, a little too abrupt like her mother and didn't have the same experiences as her almost peers - but it had been okay because she was on target for the career she wanted.

It helped that her mother understood her focus, defended her choices. Her mother had been much the same in terms of choosing her career since her husband had died. Even so Cait had often wished she'd spared some more time for her, it didn't feel like they alone made up a family anymore, not like when her dad had still been alive. The special moments she'd once had with her mother growing up had dwindled over time and her attempts to recreate those occasions fell flat, too painful to relive in the shadow of their grief. Eventually she had given up trying to gain attention from her mother – the best she got was a card or two a year, with her mother's PA's handwriting on the envelope, and a reasonable level of feedback when she sent links to her published papers.

 


 

S.T.A.R. Labs changed everything. She met Ronnie. She met Cisco. She felt loved again.

She knew Ronnie wasn't her soulmate from the very first date. He told her about his mark – an empty flame over his heart, the core of it missing - and there was no way it matched hers. She'd promptly told him as much and he'd simply grinned and said 'So what? Are you dating me or my soul mark?' At first she worried it was a bad choice, that one or the other of them would regret 'settling'. Of course she worried about other things too - was he too adventurous for her, was she too predictable for him, would it cause trouble at work, would it be too distracting at work. Eventually she trusted the empirical proof in front of her. She and Ronnie were good together. Caitlin found she didn't care about their supposed lack of compatibility based purely on not having matching soul marks. Being someone's soulmate wasn't a recipe for happiness, she only had to look to at what remained of her family to know that. So she took what happiness she could get and didn't regret it for a second.

For a while she felt blessed – her career was going swimmingly, she worked at a wonderful research company, the opportunities for studies were endless. She managed to find a good work-life balance and keep her priorities straight despite the temptation to play hooky from time to time when Ronnie was around. She even suspected Dr. Wells cut them some slack there, because on the odd occasion they were late back from lunch he said nothing. Cisco was supportive, though he'd roll his eyes and sass her about catching them having a moment. It was amazing to have not just a fiancé, but to have found a fantastic friend in the same year, in the same place no less. Cisco and her were quite different in many ways, yet they had a companionship that was easy and an ability to spark off each other that greatly helped the projects they worked on together. She could see Wells approved of their partnership and she couldn't wait to come to work every day. In retrospect things were going a little too well.

Her and Ronnie were happy, so very happy, until that fateful night when he apparently died and the Flash was created.

 


 

Just a few weeks after the incident she meets her soulmate and he's in a god-damn coma but Caitlin can't find it in herself to care about that, not initially. She doesn't mean to uncover his soul mark – the protective patch over his hip comes unstuck as she does her tests - and at first she's just embarrassed to see it. Most people keep theirs covered by clothing if they can because of how taboo it is to share them with anyone but your soulmate. Patients are always given the option where possible to cover with special patches but she can't pretend she hasn't seen a few by accident before, during her residency. Somehow it still disturbs her, an invasion of privacy she hadn't intended.

It takes a few seconds for her to realise the proper implications of what she is staring at though – the triangle, the wood texture it's filled with, the same dark engraved script of the word everything. She blanches and in a panic goes to cover it back up as if that will make it possible to ignore, except she is clumsy and her fingertip grazes it in her hurry. Instantly she knows her mistake – there's a jolt where she touches it, an undeniable connection made, just like she has read about. It makes her feel sick to the stomach, this can't be happening. Because Barry Allen isn't anything to her, Ronnie was her fiancé. Ronnie is the one she misses. No one can replace Ronnie.

 


 

When Barry wakes up, she almost hates him for being there when Ronnie isn't. It's a fleeting thought, hidden with professionalism and nudged out by her scientific interest in finding out what exactly is going on with him. She doesn't feel so weird about being interested in him like that. Science is her fallback, she can depend on it to get her through the tough times. That and Cisco. Work has been a distraction for the last nine months and she is perfectly happy for things to continue like that, but she has no such luck.

Barry wants to play hero and Cisco is eager and onboard too. Despite sharing her initial concerns Wells seems intrigued enough to try, to improve the state the city is in. She feels guilty she hasn't fully considered how things are for everyone else in all that time she was grieving, too swept up in trying to survive, in keeping herself, and then also Barry, alive. Now there is more to consider and it starts to overwhelm her a bit. Each time Barry goes out on a mission, she has to fight the panic that reminds her Ronnie died being a hero, people who try to be heroes end up expendable more often than not. Each time Barry comes back injured she presses her lips tight, resisting saying more than she has to, and not always succeeding. It's not her place to worry for him, not as anything more than his doctor, but she can't help it at times.

After she's learned to tolerate him and slid into sort of liking him too, she almost hates him for how he's in love with Iris. It's a flash in the pan as far as feelings go, only stirring up from time to time when she sees his dedication to Iris, but it exists and she feels ashamed of it. She doesn't say a thing about the soul marks because she doesn't believe in destiny. Iris may be with Eddie right now but there is still the possibility of Iris that she sees Barry cling to and she doesn't want to break them apart with the truth. The matching mark of his isn't more meaningful than over a decade of closeness him and Iris share. She can imagine Barry feeling a sense of duty to his soulmate, despite how he feels about Iris, and Caitlin would never want to have someone like that. Soul mark or not, she wants to be chosen. Everyone with eyes knew Barry already chose Iris long ago.

Still, she grows to appreciate Barry's company and he seems glad of hers and Cisco's too. He opens up about his mother's death, and bit by bit his anecdotes uncover the deeper effects of it – not simply grief, nor the just as painful absence of his father, but the alienation of his peers. People didn't believe in Barry, they judged him and passed him over as crazy or naïve, not the kind of person most people wanted to associate with. Clearly Barry had had Iris, but the picture he unintentionally painted with his comments showed he hadn't had many friends since his family had been torn apart. She feels pity for all the people who passed up an opportunity to have such an amazing guy in their life but is sadder for Barry, and honored she and Cisco get to be part of the team who support him. Barry deserves support and it becomes ever clearer being a superhero requires plenty.

 


 

The more time she spends with him the more she considers what their connections means; soul marks aren't always romantic in nature and she entertains the idea that perhaps they are simply marked because of this partnership – she knows he's helping her come out of her shell again and she likes to think she's helping him at least scientifically, not to mention medically with the bumps and bruises and broken bones he'd had so far.

That whimsical idea gets completely thrown out when he loses his powers. Catching him mournfully eyeing up The Flash suit on the mannequin, she sees how much he's struggling to believe in himself and she only means to reassure, yet her heartfelt words come out with far more meaning than she'd expected. Barry either doesn't notice or thinks nothing of it, confiding in her about feeling like he's missing a part of himself.

“I'm not sure I can live without it, Caitlin.”

For a moment he looks at her and she feels this pull, an innate desire to close the distance. Her stomach sinks as she recognises the flutter in it, oh no. Her breath catches in her throat as he looks back at her like he's lost, and she wants to reach out, ground him, and stop that worry and self-doubt. She thinks she should turn away, yet she can't because this is Barry and finally she can see exactly what he means to her – her muddled faith coming to a clarity because it isn't merely about the purpose she has, or who she is working with, those things help, make her days better, but it's because it feels right. Her life has shifted tracks and even though it looks nothing like she'd dreamed of, it is the right track for her, for him. Her eyes are drawn to his lips and the air feels thick between them - she takes a step forward. Suddenly Cisco appears, interrupting the moment. She can't decide if she's relieved or disappointed. Overall she thinks it's for the best, probably a mistake (because there's Iris) and knows it once she finds out Ronnie is out there, alive.

But that day is an exception. Barry's powerless, Farooq enraged and threatening them on their home turf – they creep around the halls, trying to figure out a plan and failing to come up with anything that doesn't involve shocking Barry to within an inch of his life, possibly ending him anyway if they are wrong. As she sits on the floor in the dark with him and his hand curls around hers, her heart beats faster but she feels like things might just be okay. Maybe that's what gives her the courage to do what Barry asks, their last ditch effort. She doesn't want to watch another person die here, so she dearly hopes her faith is well placed, holding her breath as she pulls the lever. Nothing turns out quite liked expected, no powers manifest then, not until they are all in the line of fire, yet at the end of the day Barry is fine, back to normal, passing the inadvertent test they were all put through.

Not that that is the only trying time they have...The experience of being kidnapped isn't as alarming as she'd have expected. She holds onto the idea that as long as they want her for something they won't kill her. She baulks when Rory teases her with the lighter, but Snart has him stick to the plan. She wishes the plan didn't involve Barry outing himself as The Flash to the city, it's paramount to painting a big red target on his back. He might move fast but that's not something she wants to be responsible for. It isn't just heroes who are expendable, she tells him not to come in rushed words on the broadcast. Barry ignores her, unable to resist saving the day – she doesn't entirely believe it's about her though, really he wants to be known, wants to be seen. Don't they all?

She thinks of Barry, of Cisco and Wells, in the moment of doubt she has when she hears the tripwire set off during her rescue, wondering if she will be blown to smithereens. She thinks of all they've achieved in such a short time, and she wants to live. She thinks, Of course I want to live. Simple and obvious, but has she actually been doing that in the time since Ronnie died? That's when she resolves to do more, to keep making a difference, to make a true effort to overcome her past.

The one wrench in that plan is that Ronnie doesn't turn out to be dead after all, her past haunts her more literally. She chooses to ignore whatever Barry is to her, because she chooses Ronnie. She chose him long ago, much like Barry had with Iris. Even if she hadn't chosen him again, Ronnie needs help and she would never abandon him. She pokes her nose into places people think it doesn't belong and they find a trail of breadcrumbs leading to... more confusion. Which is about the time her and Barry end up commiserating together under the guise of recon.

When she steps into the bar dolled up for a change she feels self-conscious, unable to let Barry's surprise slide by without a self-deprecating remark, but she enjoys seeing him momentarily speechless. No one has looked at her like that in some time, it makes her feel more normal, not purely the workaholic scientist or grieving fiancée she has been for too long. There are too many drinks consumed for sure, but it helps to let go of all her hang-ups about spending time around him. Living in the now is like a luxury she hasn't let herself have and she has fun, until all the 'fun' catches up to her. But Barry takes care of her, helping more than she'd asked for, speeding her out of her frustrating dress and into her favorite pyjamas. Mentally she panics for second – Did he see her soul mark? Had she covered it enough? - though she isn't as panicked at the possibility as she normally might be.

“Did you sneak a peek? At my goods?” she asks cheekily, aiming for covering up her interest with teasing.

“I wouldn't be much of a hero if I did.” Barry replies, ever the gentleman. It's said far too straightforwardly for him to be lying, just like her he tends to get flustered and babble when caught in a deception.

"Yeah, but it's okay if you peeked a little,” she says teasing a little more. “You deserve a peek for all the good stuff you do.”

That doesn't come out quite right. Deserve isn't what she meant, he deserves something, sure, but not her, not people, just...good things. She stumbles over what she means mentally even worse than she had physically at the bar, before she gives up and figures it's close enough to something true.

And somehow also far enough away from expressing the truth she isn't drunk enough to forget she shouldn't admit, how she kind of wished he had looked. Would it be the worst thing in the world if he knew? Some days carrying the secret weighs her down.

Today she feels light, a reminder of what it could be like if things were different, if she could just say what she wanted. She doesn't though. Barry leads her to bed. The closest she manages is asking him to stay, to stave off the loneliness for one night, knowing he cares and will be there for her even if things aren't like that between them.

 

 

After the karaoke she has a brief hope that maybe they can both move on – an inkling of some nervousness when she talks about that to Barry in the hallway a few days later - but Barry moves on to Linda and Caitlin gives up whatever hope she had. Even without the consideration of Iris she isn't the one Barry turns to, of all the possibilities hers isn't seen. In her eyes, that's another mark against the idea of their marks meaning anything.

Then Cisco gets a decent lead on Ronnie. Things turn out to be more complicated than she could ever imagine. Ronnie isn't Ronnie at first. There's an awkwardness to a stranger using his face to study her as she runs her own tests, setting her on edge, making her heart clench at the use of 'Cait' in a tone that isn't his. Then Ronnie is practically a nuclear bomb and there's no time to think of anything but the practical, a rushed merely potential fix it might kill her to deliver but she has to try. There's a hammering in her chest as Barry runs her out of there, only just outpacing the explosion, clinging to him as hard as she clings to the hope Ronnie will survive.

She can't think of Barry when Ronnie is around – she is elated, she is thrilled to see Ronnie smiling down at her, like before. Except, he asks her to leave with him and then the thought of Barry creeps in. Not as her soulmate, as her friend, as her team-member. She's been a part of something larger than herself for months, doing good, making up for S.T.A.R. Labs' mistake and there's more to be done, more she wants to do. Ronnie had always supported her career, but this isn't a job anymore, it's a calling and she isn't any more certain she could leave Cisco either. Ronnie used to be the center of her world in some ways, but her perspective is different now, her alignment shifted and she can't just go back to how it was. He's baffled at her reluctance and she's saved from explaining further by chaos breaking out in Jitters, another crisis, another Tuesday.

It turns out the decision is made for them because evading capture by rogue military elements outweighs any other considerations. She's going to miss him, but it's not as bad as thinking he was dead all those months. They can both be happy without each other, Ronnie has his soulmate now, in another way - platonically in Stein. Neither of them found their person how they expected to but it will be okay. Ronnie leaves and she sidesteps the whole issue of exactly how attached she has become to not just this life she's leading, dangerous as it is, but to Barry, whom she can't imagine leaving.

 


 

It feels like things get back to normal, or as normal as weekly metahuman threats allow. That is, until Barry time travels, unwisely tries to break up Iris and Eddie, plus Cisco starts being jittery. To round it all off Barry reveals a conspiracy she can barely believe involving Wells. She's still trying to come to terms with that supposed betrayal when the kiss happens. It comes as a complete surprise – nothing like the time before when she was the one tempted. There is no pull towards him preceding it, no sparks flying. If she'd had time to process it she might have noticed what was off, might have realised what he'd said didn't sound like Barry, too coolly smooth, calculated, an act. As she kisses him back, a whole fleet of rapid thoughts spiral out of control and she is relieved when they are interrupted. It felt wrong. It felt like a mistake, and it's not too soon after that she pinpoints why. It wasn't Barry. His lips may have felt like Barry's in theory, an odd memory she now has, but they wouldn't move like his would, much like his voice had seemed off, lacking warmth.

She feels relieved for a single moment to know she didn't kiss Barry before the realisation makes her feel wretched knowing she'd actually kissed the shape-shifter Hannibal Bates, had a kiss stolen by him posing as Barry. It's worse in an entirely different way she couldn't have prepared for and it makes her twitchy, nervous to have it discovered, both for her indiscretion (what about Iris, Ronnie, what would Barry or Cisco think, what would they ask) and because she shudders at the thought of the violation. She never wants to talk about it, however well meaning, nor about how she feels a fool. Of anyone she feels like she should have known it wasn't her soulmate.

Everything about that day she wishes she could forget, but she can't. The awfulness is further solidified when she can't stop Iris' plan to take Bates to CCPD without breaking the secrecy surrounding the pipeline and The Flash. She hates lying to Iris, it would be so much easier if Iris knew, and she hates the consequence of the deception even more, Bates escapes with another act to fool well-meaning citizens. Barry apprehends him at the airport later but the very bad not good day is rounded off when Barry calls her to his forensics lab to verify the identity of one Harrison Wells, who is a decade and a half old corpse. If she'd thought their lives were crazy enough prior to that she'd been very much mistaken, they start to get out of control, or she should say, are revealed to be under the control of Eobard Thawne.

She starts to see her whole history with Dr. Wells in a new light. She wakes up in a cold sweat too many times from dreams where the apparent Wells said exactly the same thing as in her memory, said with another intonation, a subtle change that twists the meaning and makes it creepy. It reminds her a little too much of Bates playing at Barry, an uncomfortable blending by her subconscious to conflate being fooled by one as the same as being fooled by the other. Except, being fooled by Thawne does feel worse, it went on longer, and it cut deeper because she'd thought he'd had her back, been behind her. Instead he'd been out for himself, watching over her shoulder, using her skills. Did he know about the soul marks? Would he use that against her or Barry? It wasn't a blackmail that would work on her, but that didn't mean Thawne couldn't do damage by telling Barry if he so chose.

If Thawne chose at all, he chose differently she thinks when she sees the newspaper byline in the time vault. Barry doesn't question it, it confirms what he's always believed – Iris is his destiny. Meanwhile Iris chooses Eddie, is certain of her choice, happy to go with her heart and accidentally crush Barry's in the process. It feels like destiny is laughing at them. Caitlin starts to wonder if their fates are cruel, to tell you one thing and give you another. She had Ronnie who got taken away, only to find Barry, but Barry has never been hers. Even with Ronnie alive, neither is Ronnie hers, not really, not anymore, distant for a multitude of reasons. But Ronnie does come back, a heroic return and the turning tide in their fight against Thawne.

It helps to have Iris finally know about Barry as The Flash. Sure, Iris is angry at first, Caitlin doesn't blame her, but she is still there for Barry, for the team, when it matters, and they could do with the help. They flounder for a while without Wells. His absconding throws things off kilter, no one to lead them, everyone doubting their instincts because they trusted a man who turned out to be Barry's greatest enemy, a murderer. When Iris looks to them, looks at what they've made of S.T.A.R. Labs, she doesn't appear to see the same failings as they do – Iris has objectivity they sorely need. She's exactly the right person to help them get past the walls each of them has put up after learning the truth, because she asks the tough questions that are easier to avoid in the light of their mistakes. And Iris asks the questions they wouldn't think to, that get them reconsidering, coming at problems from another angle. There's a renewed hope once Barry holds off Grodd and they rescue Joe. Maybe they can be better now than they were before, now they know who they are fighting.

Sadly knowledge doesn't make things easier like she'd hoped. They capture Thawne and yet Thawne, being from the future, intrinsically has more to draw from and is eager to use it against them to get what he wants. Whilst Barry wrestles with his own dilemma over destiny, whether to go back and save his mother, she agrees to marry Ronnie. She doesn't care what happens if the timeline changes, she has no control over that, but this in the here and now she does have a say in. She takes a page out of Iris' book and goes with what she knows to be true, forsaking the hypothetical. She knows Ronnie, believes in him, believes in his love for her. She doesn't need soul marks to know he loves her, understands her, and she loves him, whether he's one man or occasionally two. Everything seems simple as she says 'I do'.

Yet it's just as simple for Ronnie to fly to his death when the skies open up that evening. He was always the hero, same as Barry is. Nothing could stop them. Both of them leave her standing there, only one of them comes back. She's relieved either comes back and instantly she feels guilt at that, Barry being alive doesn't change the hole opened up at Ronnie's absence. Barry moves to console her, holding her close as she sobs, feeling like she doesn't deserve any comfort but unable to stand up on her own.

 

Chapter Text

 

She goes to work, logs more than her requisite hours because honestly she doesn't want to leave work. Reluctantly she returns to her apartment but it isn't home, like Mercury Labs isn't home. Home was S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry, Cisco. It was home long before either of them.

But home used to mean Dr Wells too. No longer. Home is tainted.

Ronnie died there, not once but twice. Before, she'd punished herself by remaining there, without facing up to it until Barry had accompanied her to the pipeline. She'd spent a long time there fooling herself into thinking she could deal with it and not actually dealing with it at all. Now she's dealing with it this time, by being anywhere else.

Still, she feels guilty to have abandoned the place, to have abandoned Barry and Cisco, even though Barry had made it clear they shouldn't come there anymore. He'd not been coping well with being left S.T.A.R. Labs and all the press that came with that last confusing choice of 'eoWells'. Barry had closed off, pushed them away. Cisco tried to stop him, but she...she let Barry. She closed herself off just as much. It was easier. Every month she is reminded by the fact Barry is still paying them, the outsourced HR never told to stop. She doesn't tell him, there's no confrontation. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things but she can't pretend she is dealing with what matters most when she hides herself away in another place, in a less obvious form of cutting herself off.

 


 

Iris turned up on her doorstep after a month. Obviously catching onto her confusion of how she knew where she lived, Iris had answered her question for her with a cheeky smile. “I'm a reporter, this is part of what I do.”

The other question was why. Iris hadn't been so confident on that point, nor so quick to explain. She'd asked a little nervously if they could talk and Caitlin, too tired from not sleeping well to think of a reason why not to, went along with it. Maybe she wanted someone to talk to too. She couldn't talk to Barry, and Cisco she'd felt guilty enough about leaning on so much the first time; Iris knew what it was like at least. The singularity took Eddie and Ronnie away, no bodies, no closure.

Caitlin couldn't even have a funeral for Ronnie. Legally he was already dead. He had a tombstone already because of that. She visited every day for a while, talked to him as if her husband could hear her. She'd wanted it to help, other people had once said it would and she'd never done it then. Trying now, it feels wrong because there is no grin and witty comeback, no teasing in reply. The wind flaps her hair into her face, an eternal silence except for the elements and the rush of traffic in the background – life goes on. Eventually she admits it doesn't work for her, it reminds her too much of what she misses.

She wondered how it is for Iris, with Eddie's send-off so incredibly public. He's a hero, recognised for his good deeds, even though those deeds are, in the case of his final hours, entirely fabricated. No one except those there that day know the true reason he is a hero. Everyone else gets the more believable cover-up. Does it hurt Iris to have to pretend, the same way Caitlin must pretend her fiancée died practically two years ago instead of her husband only a month ago?

They go to Jitters, familiar territory, a small comfort to them both. Caitlin chooses a table at the back, darker for her eyes that aren't so used to daylight. Some part of her considers Iris could have chosen it so they might run into Barry, and sitting where they are gives a good vantage point in case he does come in, but there's no sign of him whilst they sit quietly sipping their mochas.

They don't say much overall. Iris seems uncharacteristically shy, focused on her hands, her drink, rarely looking up – probably not looking, hoping, for Barry to turn up here then. It really does seem to be about her and Iris alone.

Mostly that time they sit in silence. Caitlin doesn't know Iris especially well but she's seen her socially at the West house enough times to know this isn't like her. Neither is she like she was during their few missions working together – that Iris was more like the Iris who turned up at her door, determined, open, asking you to see what you could do together.

This Iris starts a conversation weakly, “I couldn't sleep the first week...”

Caitlin doesn't interrupt. Some things need to be said, to be heard.

Iris goes on, clasping the mug tighter in response to her own words. “I boxed up practically all his stuff so I didn't have to keep looking at all the places he wasn't...I still keep finding things of his I've missed. I kept a few things out. I wanted to remember him, the good times -”

Iris glances back up, catching Caitlin's eyes. Cait thinks it ought to be uncomfortable, talking about something so personal with a woman who she doesn't exactly know, but it's not somehow – it feels right to share this. She can't give much at all right now, but she can give Iris that.

“I smashed a mug against the wall last night because -” Iris falters, looks around, paying attention to who might be listening like she's worried of being overheard and Caitlin hurts for her at the thought of how self-conscious she is over her grief, and how it manifests. Iris needn't be with her - Caitlin knows grief comes in many forms, in anger as much as sadness or numbness- but Iris doesn't know her well enough to realise she'd understand so very well.

Eventually Iris continues, her attention switched back to the table as she speaks, avoiding Caitlin's gaze, ”I couldn't stand seeing it on the shelf any more, because it was gonna sit there forever if I didn't. I thought we'd have, not forever...just, more time, more life together but we don't get that.”

Caitlin doesn't have anything to say to it, other than a nod of agreement. For the most part she doesn't have that problem this time, Ronnie's presence is long removed from her life, kept to fleeting in the recent past, but she knows the feeling well. The closest she had come to that was Ronnie's abandoned bags at S.T.A.R. Labs, Cisco had taken care of them, though she's not sure if he got rid of the contents or is merely holding onto them. She should care perhaps, but she's glad it isn't her problem today or any day in the near future.

Iris looks up at her, eyes watering, and she sees how wrong she was to think Iris was weathering Eddie's death better than anyone else. She was just better at keeping up a strong front and this, this is Iris reaching out. Iris isn't asking for help, but she can see she doesn't want to be alone. Cait doesn't tend to be very physical with people she doesn't know well but she slides her hand across the table to squeeze Iris', an attempt at showing she is here for her.

After that, she has coffee with Iris sometimes. It's still a little awkward, they don't know each other that well, they lead very different lives, but it means there is always the option to talk to someone for both of them and it seems to satisfy Iris enough to see she's okay despite how she's not in the orbit of S.T.A.R. Labs anymore.

 


 

She isn't sure why she goes to the Flash day celebration, hanging on the sidelines to see what happens. Is it the hope she will see Barry after months of missing him? He didn't want to see them and she'd respected his wishes. However, it isn't going against that if he voluntarily turns up here, like she has. Of course, Cisco spies her there instead and she gets sucked back in. She simply can't say no to some people, to some causes. Her need to help is almost pathological. In truth, she's missed it. The work at Mercury Labs might change the world some day. The work at S.T.A.R. Labs tended to change the world there and then, it saved people, quantifiably and indisputably.

What she doesn't expect is a visit from Barry. As he rambles on in what she thinks is an attempted apology she shouldn't be surprised he blames himself. Taking the weight of the world on his shoulders is a very Barry thing to do. She is surprised by it though, probably because she's been too busy blaming herself all these months. There's a weight taken off her shoulders to find out he doesn't hate her anymore than she hates him. She knows Iris doesn't blame anyone, except Eobard Thawne, and that would've been a much healthier attitude to have, except her and Barry don't appear to act all that rationally when it comes to blame or self-appraisals.

Clearly guilt isn't all Barry's struggled with. After the USB stick falls out of his pocket, he confesses to the video he's been putting off watching for just as long as he's been pushing them all away. It feels a nice symmetry to be able to offer her support, to do it together, to be there for him like he once was when she was stuck in the past, in her own head, not facing up to the reality of Ronnie's death. She wants to reach for his hand as they watch it, but she doesn't know if it's appropriate. Thawne wearing the face of Harrison Wells does what neither of them could have predicted, he gives Henry Allen his long overdue freedom. She sees the tentative curve of Barry's lips forming into a small smile, not breaking into an outright expression of joy because he appears unable to quite believe it, rushing to call Joe to share the news. She feels the sense of hope too, that Barry' dad could have his life back at last.

But her mind is stuck on the other words of Thawne - You'll never be truly happy, Barry Allen, trust me – that rile up the guilt that lurks inside her, knowing she isn't telling him something he has a right to know. Is her secrecy, her reticence, going to prevent his happiness in the future? That seems absurd to her, she doesn't believe he needs her. People, friends, support - yes. But not her. He would have watched this eventually, with or without her influence. She doesn't want to believe she is important, she'd had too much of that already. No matter what anyone tells her, she knows Ronnie could be alive if she'd said she'd leave with him. A few different words and she could have changed the world that day as surely as she had every other day. She won't speak the ones she wants to now because she fears the truth, the changes it would bring. How can she know which way to go, what side is the right one.

She feels his joy at getting his dad back in every smile and grin and distracted wondering stare into the distance until his dad's release is fully approved and the whole team watches Henry Allen enter the West house to matching grins all round.

Martin gives a quiet, poignant speech and she's glad for his considered thoughts shared there. After, smiling, she goes over to greet him truly thankful to see him here - she hasn't seen him since they visited Ronnie's grave together, right after the singularity. Neither of them had had any words then for what had happened. He'd been an unexpectedly silent but welcome presence that first time, she'd needed not to be alone and probably he had needed it just as much. Both of them had their ties to Ronnie abruptly severed, a trauma it would take time to heal and a problem to solve, of how their lives would be without him. They'd kept in touch via sporadic emails, and occasional phone calls, that Martin tended to fill the space in with his scientific musings. Sometimes during those calls he'd trail off at a thought and she knew he'd been reminded of Ronnie. There'd been a lot of listening she'd been doing, with Stein and Iris, but she hadn't minded. Listening didn't ask as much of her as talking would have, though she could have been wrong to avoid that. Not talking meant she hadn't made much effort to get herself out of the pit of self-doubt and blame she'd been in before Barry had stopped by Mercury Labs and made her see it didn't make sense for either of them to be like that.

She feels Barry's pain too when there is an all too serious conversation to one side during the party, so many conflicted emotions flitting across Barry's face during it, and when he lets Henry leave without protest a few days after it.

She doesn't need to share that one secret to share everything else with him.

 


 

Jay seems fine. More than fine. She's sure he's telling the truth and yet Barry has an instinctual dislike of Jay. What does he see that others don't? The evidence convinces Cisco, who has plenty of reason to distrust people after Wells, as has she. It's only Barry who it's hard to prove Jay's worth to. Eventually he comes round, to her relief.

There's no hiding she likes Jay. He's a hero, a speedster even if formerly. A scientist too. He ticks so many boxes, including ones she hadn't been conscious of before. She starts to think on how similar Jay is to Ronnie, and to Barry. What if her soul mate is simply an ideal, a template for her, not an absolute. It helps to think that. It helps to think it could be okay to go for someone else. Is fate really against her or was it bad luck?

The thought comforts her, up until Barry sits in front of her speaking about other possibilities. “...right in front of us, and we don't see them, because we choose not to. I think that we need to be open, to exploring something new.”

For a moment she thinks he could mean her, and she wants him to, despite everything else – Iris, Jay, how the F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. crisis has brought out the worst in her judgement. Now really isn't the time. The moment passes and she knows she's kidding herself. Barry doesn't mean her, no matter how much she wants him to then. The question is, is what she feels even real? Could it be simply confirmation bias? Does she expect to feel something more for him, to see something more between them, and so she finds it - can she trust her feelings for Barry? How can she tell for certain? It's never worth the risk to say anything, especially if she could still be wrong, so she doesn't.

There are more important matters, like Professor Stein's deterioration and the apology she sorely owes Jax. There are possibilities alright, just not the ones she'd first thought of in either situation, personal or scientific. Ronnie is gone and she can accept that, had prepared for finding Stein another partner – isn't it time she does the same? Barry isn't hers, not like that, no matter what the marks say.

 


 

Moving on does seem to be the thing to do. Stein with Jax, Cisco with his barista crush, Barry going on a first date with Patty. Plus everyone manages to find it in them to forgive Harry for the sins of his doppelgänger. They face up to who Thawne wasn't - a pretender at Harrison Wells, Harry the real thing, or a real Harrison, if not theirs - and Caitlin faces up to who Jay could be. Jay's from another world. They don't talk about soul-marks and she hadn't see any during the tests done. She has no clue if they are a thing there, if they could be something cross-dimensional. What if she's fated to a Flash but not this world's Flash? Either way, she finds the courage to do something. She'd taken the risk before with Ronnie. Proof that marks didn't matter ultimately. Luck does matter though. A second away from a kiss and there's blinding light, her world upended in a more literal way than she'd expected.

Things start happening fast. Harry reveals Cisco's powers. Linda is brought onboard, a plan to have her pose as her doppelgänger. Luck doesn't seem to be on her, or their, side most of the time. Jay turns away from the team out of conscientious concern over their plan against Zoom. Nothing comes of their ruse with Linda either. The one piece of good luck is seeing Harry's detector not react when he flashes it up in front of her. Once she'd thought to test her DNA after the explosion – she'd gotten as far as taking the sample before the fear of what it could mean stopped her. But of course it is nothing in the end, as Harry proves measurably. Their world is expanding, in scope and in people, but her corner of it is still reassuringly the same, medicine and science are what she offers the team.

 


 

However bad their luck seemed, it is nothing compared to catastrophe when Barry faces off against Zoom the first time. There's the initial elation at Barry's genius to fight him in free-fall - his infectious optimism and lack of fear spreads amongst them all - but it comes crashing down as she hears the horrifyingly audible crack over the open comms. Seeing him slump down on CCTV, there's the visage of Zoom hovering over Barry, stabbing him with one of the serum loaded darts. Both her heart rate and his vitals spike at that, but no sooner than she reads the alarming changes the suits telemetry cuts out. Zoom has him. Barry is lost, until he is returned to them, right in front of them in the Cortex.

Zoom dangles him, held up limp, gasping, and her fear is in her throat; she can't stop herself calling out, standing up, even though she can do nothing. Caitlin is barely aware of Cisco's touch as they watch Zoom unmask a bloody Barry, taunting them with their failure and stabbing Barry again with one of his monstrous claws. Blood drips from his mouth as Zoom lifts him up. Is she witnessing another person she loves dying in this building? No. There's the zip of the dart from Cisco's gun, Cisco who is not paralysed with fear like her. Zoom drops too with the dose of serum but not for long. Then at least he's out of there and she runs to Barry's side, adrenaline getting her going as she defaults to doctoring mode, something she knows how to deal with unlike the many emotions that had run through her in the few minutes previous.

It's bad but Barry comes through. And Caitlin neatly pushes aside her feelings on everything as she tends to his broken body. Barry always heals. This time it's harder, longer, he's despondent for the whole first week. When it finally looks like he will be okay, physically at least, it turns out his mind is what they should have been worrying about. She hates to see him lose his hope and no matter how many times she tells him it isn't his powers, his abilities, that make him a hero, sometimes he can't see past that mental wall.

 


 

The second time she's kidnapped doesn't feel much more alarming than the first. Possibly less so because she knows Grodd doesn't want to hurt her. He wants what anyone wants – what she's wanted and found - to not be alone. She wishes she had a way to help. The fear only creeps in when she realises she probably can't. Help comes for her at least, in the form of Harry, and with Harry's help a second time, alongside the reunited team, they give Grodd something like what he wanted, with the sanctuary on Earth-2. It also gives Barry the proof of what he can do, what they can all do, Harry included, if they stick together. It gives them all hope again.

But she isn't sure what use hope is against magic. Literal magic, that Barry and Cisco and Team Arrow go off to defeat. She's used to superpowers, based on science and she is perfectly comfortable with that, even when that's a speed enhancing serum for an ability no one knew existed a couple of years ago. Magic by comparison is scary. It sounds as ephemeral as...destiny. Maybe they shouldn't be so surprised really. But she is glad her life and death situation sticks to medicine even if Harry gives her a scare when Patty shoots him. She knows Harry wouldn't be alive without Jay and she's grateful, though she doesn't fully understand Jay's new reservations about their serum.

When she thinks of magic or destiny, she thinks of the requirement it takes to believe. Like the leap of faith Cisco described Kendra taking, risking plummeting to her death for a chance to prove to herself who she was. Except Kendra was real to Cisco before that and she sees how it hurts Cisco to be left out, the chance he had snatched away so quickly. She's reminded yet again why not to say anything, Barry is happy with Patty now and she has her own chance with Jay. Mind you, Cisco seems to be channelling most of that frustration over the weeks that follow into snarking none to subtly about her and Jay, which isn't useful. She wants to get over this awkwardness she feels around him, giddy but nervous about taking that step off the ledge and committing to what she wants.

In the end, it's Iris who gives her the push – handing her the mistletoe with a knowing look and suggesting she might be able to get a little help from one of their resident tall and handsome fellows. For a second Cait is confused, wondering if she means Barry but she follows Iris' line of sight to Jay. She blushes and goes to try to put the mistletoe up by herself, not quite ready to go and directly ask, but he takes the bait, like possibly Iris planned. Jay politely comes to her rescue, not just decorations-wise, also saving her from her social bumbling about the plant classification – is she picking up that bad habit from Barry, or Felicity, she didn't used to be this bad – with the suggestion of a customary kiss. It's short but sweet: a lightness to it she's needed. There are no questions about fate hanging over them, simply the promise of who they could be together, if they choose.

But it's never simple really. He refuses her tests. She thinks it's just pessimism about getting his speed back, she's seen how it can get a speedster down to lose that, and so she does her own tests, more optimistic, two heads are better than one. And she finds out he's been lying. Jay is sick.

 


 

Things are not happy in the New Year. Thawne returning, however briefly, leaves its mark – Cisco almost dies, making it clear that Thawne will be entwined with them forever more, part of Barry's timeline that he can't erase without risking severe consequences.

Patty leaves, leaving everyone surprised – she'd thought Barry was going to tell Patty his secret, hopeful to avoid the problems it would cause, but he opts not to. Cait feels a sense of disappointment knowing he doesn't take that step and to see his relationship fail, because she does want Barry to be happy. Though she can hardly judge him for keeping secrets when she harbors her own significant one kept from him.

 


 

Harry's betrayal is a shock, prompting uncharitable thoughts about whether every Wells is fated to do so. It's irrational to think that kind of thing, but her anger is justified. She's angry at herself as much as at him, because she wanted to find a friend in this Harrison Wells, to prove the connection she thought she'd had with the fake Wells as based on something real - had that meant she'd been too willing to trust him for the possibility of fulfilling that desire? His actions do make a sad sort of sense once they learn why, his daughter is in jeopardy. Barry goes further than forgiving Harry though, proposing a decidedly risky mission to Earth-2.

There's no convincing Barry otherwise about the mission, and she isn't sure she'd have it any other way. Harry is one of their own now and regardless of that his daughter doesn't deserve the torment she's experiencing. Cisco's letter – his will more or less – scares her though, makes it realer than it had been before. There's a whole other world full of dangers, the home of Zoom. At least Harry is there to guide them. Does that world have a Reverse Flash too? She supposes if it had, Zoom vanquished him long ago, unable to tolerate any opposition. Somehow that isn't as comforting as it should be.

 


 

The breach was never stable exactly, but they made it work with the right technology – Geomancer undoes that in a matter of minutes, damaging the hope of a safe return for her friends. The foundation of their home is shaken. Jay steps up, protects them. He takes on that burden, of the serum, as well as fixing the breach machine. She doesn't realize at first what a burden the serum is, that it's killing him. His mistake was a big one, potentially fatal, but he was alone then, he's not now. It's not hard to commit to helping him. He's proven himself every bit the hero as Barry, someone who tries his best no matter the risk to himself.

She knows she can help, it's a relief to know more and be able to. For the first time in ages she feels like she has the power to do something truly meaningful in giving back Earth-2 their Flash. She'd intended to fix Jay, reconnect him to the Speedforce, but there's a bigger picture here she spies – the serum could make speedsters. Which means it's dangerous information, a clear duty she has to uphold to ensure it doesn't fall into disreputable hands.

She isn't so sure about fixing the breach, but her and Jay do it, together. Relief flooding her system once it's done and waiting patiently for a sign. The rest of the team come back in a blink and she breathes again. They bring Jesse home too, but there's a cost to it. One second Jay's smiling. The next there's a hand in his chest. Then he's gone, consumed by the closing breach. No body, there's never any body, she thinks, but she can't accept it yet and refutes that thought with words that tumble out high-pitched in a panic, ”He's not dead.”

She turns to see Barry and the others staring at her, at where Jay was. There's a pained look on Barry's face. No one else wants to break the silence and admit what they all saw, that would set things in motion and make it something that happened, past tense. Jay was.

“This isn't happening. This isn't happening again,” she blurts it out, wishing it were true, seething at the unfairness of this when she's finally managed to move on. Is destiny saying she can only have Barry, and if not him, no-one - is she cursed?

Cisco leads her away and she thinks, he would know how it feels, if Jay suffered. She doesn't ask him. She doesn't say anything more for fear of saying things she might regret later, which is the only thought of later she can manage as her mind tries unsuccessfully to cope with the now she is presented with. Cisco stays with her. Eventually she sleeps, welcoming it as an oblivion, a stopper on her emotional turmoil that she can't push back against at the moment. She never has dealt well with feeling out of control.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

In the aftermath of Jay's death, cultivating numbness, as opposed to letting herself succumb to a potential breakdown, becomes her best strategy to get through the days. She works harder than ever, trying to blot out any flickering feelings that flutter about in the back of her mind, pushed down by her focus on work above all else. She ignores the concerned looks from people over it – everyone deals differently, this is her way, though she is irked to think she learnt it from her mother who is the epitome of cold in the face of tragedy.

She's the one they worry about most, but she isn't the only one running herself hard – she sees Barry doing the same. He shouldn't blame himself, but it seems like an empty sentiment when she knows full well he does and nothing she says is likely to change that fact. He's definitely been different since he came back, and so too has Cisco.

With Cisco there's something more, an expectation she isn't meeting. Like he thinks she isn't behaving as she should. It starts to drive her nuts, how he looks at her, she really doesn't need that on top of everything she is already trying not to feel. Cisco cracks easily under her scrutiny, divulging his Earth-2 secret about her metahuman doppelgänger.

For her, Cisco has always been associated with warmth, his sunny personality shining through the dark times they've weathered together. He's seen her like this before, it's only now he views it another way, and even though she knows it comes from a place of concern, it hurts to have him confess he's worried she could become an ice queen permanently, a killer. She tries to explain to him why she's like this, what it does that she needs, but doesn't feel confident he understands. What she needs is more information and another opinion.

Barry has this caught out look when she asks him matter-of-factly about her doppelgänger and she is half expecting him to trot out excuses about non-interference, like Cisco had vaguely hinted at, Harry disapproving. But Barry's hesitance gives way to relief and he ends up recounting the whole tale to her, possibly an attempt to dispel her fear, but she isn't afraid of being Killer Frost, another her from another world. She's more afraid of who she is here, the detachment necessary to function – how long will it take this time before she heals and will she be able to find the courage to move on one day, a third time?

Barry seems to sense she's getting lost in her thoughts, his hand reaching out to rest on her arm, bringing her back to the present, to find his earnest gaze upon her. “You don't have anything to worry about, Cait. You're not a meta and even if you were that wouldn't be you. Besides, she wasn't completely evil. She helped us escape. There was still good in her.”

His faith in her helps a little to settle the worry into more of a dull ache instead. His touch remains steady, aimed as reassurance but it has the opposite effect, setting off a flurry of nervous energy in her stomach – she's more relieved when he removes his hand and sits back a respectable distance that lets her get back to her somewhat normal, measured self. There's still a lingering tension she is sure only she feels, but she discards the thought as not useful. She's got what she needs from Barry but there's more to be said to Cisco on the topic, something that could do with a little levity if she can pull it off.

“So, what exactly did she say?” she asks cannily.

“Why do you wanna know?” he replies, narrowing his eyes slightly like he's cottoned on to something being amiss with her request. Perhaps Barry can spot the twinkle in her eye as she hatches a devious plan to mercilessly tease Cisco about the ridiculous notion he has. Given the pep talk of his, she's fairly certain Barry will be onboard with the idea of ribbing Cisco about it in order to not let that notion stand.

 


 

Life in general still retains a hard edge from then on. She starts to heal a little, ease up on herself, able to take feeling something if not much. But Barry takes it on himself to forge ahead, no matter the cost and his reaction to finding out about the Velocity serum – so eager to test it on himself for the slightest promise of more speed - is a huge red flag for his behavior. If it weren't for the side effects being so concisely presented to them in the form of Eliza, would he have taken it despite the risks? That's a small upside to find, not enough to balance out the reality she endangered one of the few friends she has – had - in the city. They'd wanted to help, but Eliza was too far gone.

However, the tragedy of Eliza is drowned in the the larger realization they garner from what it tells them about the serum. Causing addiction, sickness - like Jay. Creating blue lightning - like Zoom. Fear permeates her mind as her subconscious struggles to put two and two together, to process what it means. There's a heaviness to the room as the back and forth builds to the conclusion they surely should deny. She tries, but then she looks to Cisco, to the defeated expression as he tells them he's vibed Zoom. When Barry smashes the cabinet holding Jay's helmet her illusions are shattered too, even before Cisco has the helmet in hand and confirms the theory. What does another betrayal she didn't see coming say about her? How could she love a monster like him?

 


 

The fear she'd felt about Zoom when they'd first learnt of him is nothing in comparison to the fear she feels at knowing he stood next to her, joking about inconsequential things, as he planned to goad Barry into throwing lighting at him and breaking Barry's back, his spirit. There's a sickness that rises each time she remembers. Barry only pushes harder at this knowledge. It feels disloyal to think it, but what if Barry can't run as fast as Zoom? She hates to bring it up: she still has to, she can't avoid that inevitable conversation.

Barry has some...radical ideas in response. Knowing in advance that Barry is going to time travel is odd to think, to realize how the past and the present fit together. Nothing seems different, they knew it would come one day. It's only his weird behavior once he returns that indicates things have changed. No one but him knows how, the strange fluidity of what others think of as destiny. It calls plenty into question but she doesn't have time to contemplate any of it. The hard work continues with the speed formula and Cisco's powers also coming into the equation.

In the middle of it all, Iris opens up to her in the medbay, searching for answers she seems to believe Caitlin holds. Caitlin realizes it's been far too long since their last coffee, everything at S.T.A.R. Labs and CCPN getting in the way of their almost tradition. More has happened that Caitlin has only vaguely heard of, with Francine and Wally, not managing to be there for things she should have if they intended to be friends. Yet Iris still seeks her out to talk about her attempt to move on, her date with Scott, and a hopeful glint to her eyes as she discusses what's really on her mind. As Iris talks of the destiny of other Earth's, she gets up, coming closer to Caitlin, moving to lean against the edge of the window support, turned away from the rest of the Cortex.

“Now that I'm finally ready to move on, I just wonder if that should be with Barry.”

“Everything seems to be pointing in that direction,” Caitlin says with a smile. She's seen how Iris has been looking at Barry lately and she's honestly happy for her, for them. It's been a long time coming but it wouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention.

There's a pause in the conversation, Iris looks so excited she might burst. Caitlin is genuinely surprised by what comes next. Iris untucks a section of her top on one side and pulls down the corner of her skirt's waistband, revealing the mark that lies there starkly near the top of her hip. To deliberately show your mark to another - to someone who isn't family and who you don't have reason to believe is your soulmate - is a bold choice, but Iris has never shied away from what she feels she needs to do.

“You've seen Barry's, haven't you?”

Caitlin doesn't confirm or deny. Just stares at it – the triangle, the grain of the wood fill for the shape, the word seemly engraved on it ' Time ' - and takes in Iris' expectant expression. She nods weakly. Iris grins, eyebrows raised, silently asking if she means it and Caitlin nods again firmly.

“Do you believe in destiny, Caitlin?”

She looks at Iris again, meeting her wide eyes, seeing her in a whole new light. That mark, and her mark, and Barry's mark were each one third of a puzzle Caitlin hadn't anticipated - not the ominous arrow pointing down hers and Barry's made together but a complete triangle, a fully formed phrase when they were considered together. They made something quite different to what she has mulled on for practically as long as she has known either of them, this new information invalidating almost everything Caitlin thought she knew about the situation she finds herself in.

Cait's heart is pounding at the revelation and she is sure she will feel the full shock of it later, when she is alone and can let it really hit her. Until then she puts on a bright, congratulatory smile that Iris returns, beaming back at her. Does it mean anything that Iris felt it was right to show her her mark? There is a sliver of hope at that but then she remembers clearly why Iris did it, her burning curiosity and need to know if Barry was the one for her. Cait feels something twist in her gut; Iris chooses Barry, just like Barry has chosen Iris.

“Maybe for you,” she replies, unable to keep the wistfulness out of her voice as she turns away, feigning interest in the results on her screen. From the corner of her eye, she spies Iris turn to watch Barry through the medbay doorway.

There is no one choosing her, except a psychopath.

 


 

She's seen time and time again what Barry does for complete strangers, so it is entirely expected that Barry would give up his speed for Wally, for his family.

But seeing 'Jay' as Zoom, his mask dropped, painfully highlights the stark difference between who she thought he was and who he truly is – nothing like Barry, nothing like the man she'd thought she loved. Zoom joyfully speaks about how it thrilled him to pretend to be a hero, secretly taking hope away – not giving it like Barry does. Her blood boils at the thought of what he's done to her, to them, to the city, and something in her snaps at hearing that glee he expresses over it.

“You were no hero. You're nothing but a monster.”

There's a satisfaction to be felt when his expression falls at her words, but he recovers in mere moments. Nothing is going to stop him.

Barry climbs onto the treadmill and fulfils his promise, running as if a life depends on it – Wally's. She holds a hand over her mouth, anxiety gnawing at her as they see the Speedforce leaving him completely. It's done. Barry slows, stumbles, prompting her to rush into the room at seeing him collapse, exhausted. Iris is there first, by his side as Cait watches on, wanting to do something, but uncertain of her place now more than ever. Cait stays her distance, angles herself away, giving them privacy until she can check on Barry. In the meantime, she tries to preoccupy her mind running through a list of all the tests she's going to need to run to verify he's fine. He will be fine though. He's strong, healthy, his speed isn't everything, no matter how important it is to him.

She feels a telltale rush of air past her, glancing to find Zoom throwing Barry against the wall with a brutal thud. Zoom has Barry by the neck, delighting in hanging him out, body dangling beneath too reminiscent of the last time, in the Cortex, when he'd nearly killed Barry. They hadn't known it at the time but he'd needed Barry then, he doesn't now. He's going to kill him.

“Jay, stop!” She scrambles for something, anything to say. “Please.”

Behind her Harry cocks his gun, energy flooding the rifle, ready – it's an idle threat when Zoom is faster than he's been before. None of them have a hope in hell of stopping him from doing whatever he wants. Watching Barry struggle to breathe, she feels just as powerless as Barry is now. What would she give to have one more minute, to save him, if she could? This isn't the destiny he has, to die human, afraid, sacrificed to the desires of a madman. But there's nothing Zoom wants more than speed and now he's got Barry's there's nothing else to hold over him. Except he isn't simply Zoom, he's Hunter too. He played at a hero, toyed with her emotions but was it all false - can she play that game too?

“If anything you ever said to me was true - or anything we ever shared was real, then please just let him go.” Her pleas come out in a rush, barely thinking, voice almost cracking as she begs for Barry's life. “Please. I know some piece of you did care for me, so if you have any humanity left, then please, let him go.”

It works. It works too well. One second she is staring at Barry fallen on his knees, desperately gasping for breath, and the next she feels the lurch of movement, the scenery changing to a rusty, dank cell. Zoom smiles at her, oddly genuine and almost like 'Jay' in the moment – it's more sickening than she could imagine.

“Welcome to your new home, Cait.”

 


 

There's nothing to do in Zoom's lair but think, and her thoughts circle around on her time with him, on how he thinks he loves her. He's deranged but people like him still want not to be alone. She appealed to his emotions and this is where it got her – trapped; alone, no matter what Zoom claims. As far as she knows Barry and everyone else is alive, so possibly it was worth it, her sacrifice for those she cares about.

Even when Zoom uncuffs her as a show of faith, she can't fathom an escape plan. Until she's facing Killer Frost, trapped too. She remembers Barry's faith in her, in this version of her as well, and decides she can be practical about it, forge an alliance for mutual gain. Unfortunately she overestimates the good in her doppelgänger, and misunderstands the situation here entirely, but in the end it's not her who pays for it.She watches Zoom pierce Killer Frost's heart without remorse. That's when she truly understands her place here - there is no hope of escape, the only way she is leaving is if he lets her. She tries to talk him around and misses her mark entirely, accidentally talks him into far worse.

“You want to go home? Then let's go. After all, this Earth has already been brought to its knees.”

 


 

She convinces Zoom not to kill anyone the first time he clashes with CCPD but her influence wanes as his frustration grows. After warning the team about Rupture, she's cuffed again. She's left wondering, as her stomach growls from lack of food, how long before she runs out his patience. Later in the night, he enters with the drama of the crackling blue lightning surrounding him and flaunts Barry's death. She bites back a sob, she can't think about the reality of it right now. She knows she can't give up. If Zoom has his way more will die - Iris, Cisco, everyone at S.T.A.R. Labs, everyone she holds dear.

She doesn't escape though. He gives her a choice. Maybe it shouldn't surprise her when she knows what it is like to want to be chosen. Walking down the streets, the chant of the metas ringing in her ears, she's on edge, nervous for what's coming, waiting for the other shoe to drop, knowing any minute now his army will surge through the city. By the time she's plodding along into the reception, into the elevator, into the Cortex, she is on autopilot, aware of the sounds of destruction in the distance but unable to process anything more than 'get home'. Both Cisco and Henry Allen guide her to a seat as she shakes in their steady arms, the elder man moving to check her vitals.

Her heart skips a beat as she sees Barry rush into the room. Was Zoom lying or mistaken? Either way she's elated to see Barry. It makes her break into a smile, for the first time in days, she thinks. She's not sure how long she's been gone. His relief is evident too, breaking into a brief smile at the positive prognosis from his father, before his focus switches to asking about the how. As he kneels in front of her, she tries to answer.

“He let me go. I didn't think he would; I thought it was a trap. But...he told me you were dead.” She can't stop her voice cracking as she says it.

Barry's quick to reassure her, with his words and with his actions, his hand gently resting on her knee as he replies, “I'm not. I'm right here. We're all here, together.”

The fear that's in her isn't so easily quelled, not after seeing Zoom kill her doppelgänger and being all too aware he could get to her anywhere, on any Earth. Barry's confident for some reason unknown to her, and catching the looks passed around the room when he presses for agreement there's clearly more to that, but regardless of his certainty there's nothing he can say to dispel the dread sitting deep within her. He tries nevertheless to explain as he guides her to the medbay. It helps that he stays with her until she falls asleep, a small comfort after days with none.

 


 

No one knows what the Speedforce did to Barry, but she can see the difference in how light he is, a burden lifted, and in how fearless he is too, and she wishes she could borrow some of that. She's jumping at shadows, afraid of the monster coming back for her. For a time it seems like an advantage, Barry not weighed down with doubt means he naturally pushes them past their fears. They form a plan, a good plan, and despite the impersonation of her and Cisco's doppelgängers going pretty sideways, they still succeed in incapacitating and removing the Earth-2 metas, sending them back where they belong. Zoom no longer has an army behind him and they have each other, complete with group hug. A celebration is in order. There are drinks, a toast, warm smiles, food served up – and then Cisco's eyes glaze over, like he's looking through them all.

The other shoe drops. Confusion abounds as Cisco foretells the apocalypse with a sigh, but that's just a drop in the ocean compared to the arrival moments later. Zoom is there, she isn't imagining him, the others react too. He has Henry Allen in a headlock and then Zoom and Barry are gone, leaving a stunned silence.

They don't find out immediately what happens. Barry doesn't answer his comms. Cisco starts to track his suit, logging in remotely on his phone. That's when Joe gets a call about a murder at Barry's childhood home. Based on the description of the victim it's not Barry. Joe doesn't say anything more but they know who it must be, not simply a coincidence. The next time they are together like that again is after Henry's funeral and Zoom can't resist making an appearance then too, he won't let Barry's anger be, purposefully riling him up.

The lightness Barry had is gone. In its place is a burning anger beginning to show, engulfing every other emotion. When the consensus of the team is to lock Barry up, to save him from his impulses, she hates the decision but agrees. She's never seen Barry like this before. His reviling the Reverse Flash is the closest he may have come. Of course, that trauma, the death of his mother, isn't as fresh as this one. They try their best without Barry.

 


 

It's daunting to face Zoom again, acting as bait. She'll be perfectly safe, projected as a hologram, so long as he doesn't know where she actually is but it isn't just the physical danger she worries about. Zoom's legacy isn't injury, it's fear, doubt. Iris seems to pick up on her discomfort, reassuring her with a concise nod and “You got this.” The behavior's a bitter-sweet reminder, however short, that Iris has gotten to know her, and has faith in her, just like Barry. Something in Cait likes knowing that, feels hope, but she can't let the feeling flourish.

Instead she gets on with the plan, Iris' encouragement softly spoken in the background of the van as she does. Zoom appears to buy her act, but sticks to his prior promise to show her no mercy, eliciting a gasp from her as his hand thrusts into where her heart should be. But she's okay, it's the others out there taking the real risks. So much happens in quick succession after that and Zoom is banished to Earth-2...along with Joe.

 


 

Wally means well letting Barry out of the pipeline, but yet again Barry's anger gets the better of him, almost screaming in Cisco's face as they try to get him to see sense. Barry's only slightly placated at her reminder that she knows full well how he feels. He calms a little, but remains as stubborn as ever. They've been here before with Barry, they know he'll do it without them if he feels he must – historically that's never been the good option. So Barry races, and Barry wins.

One of him, anyway. She feels glad Barry is alive, this Barry, and simultaneously sad that another Barry sacrificed everything, died for them. And there's a part of her brain, the part that over-thinks things, that wonders what that means. Everything they know about soul marks is based on an outdated understanding of the universe, a simplistic idea in comparison to the multiverse and to the powers they see every day defying their old expectations of how the world works. What if she's not fated to be with both Iris and Barry, like she could normally assume, what if she's fated to a different Barry, one that dies?

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

There's never just one problem at a time for her. Caitlin has only barely started getting over the vestiges of Zoom when she develops a new issue. It's a relief she sees the visage of Zoom less and less as an awful mirage on the edge of her vision – initially, he had been a ghost of fear everywhere she'd stepped. The dreams of him, nightmares really, are fading over time, though they still sometimes wake her in a cold sweat.

She starts to hear things instead. Whispers at first, that she can't make out, like someone is in the corridor, just out of hearing. Sometimes she thinks she hears outright, but it's gone as quick as it came and she can't recall what is said, the realization stunted, unable to repeat them, the words left on the tip of her tongue. Eventually, it's a voice, almost her voice, in a way that is eerily familiar. The voice is distant, cool, and it tells her things she doesn't want to hear. It is the cruel thoughts she normally would push aside and it's intruding more and more in her day to day life.

That's also about when she realizes the waking in a cold sweat was a precursor to something else. She wakes one night to the crunch of frost on her sheets as she grips at them. The whole room is chilled, her breath puffs in the air, her mirror on her dresser iced over. There's no good explanation for it, she didn't have the metahuman gene, they'd checked with Harry's metahuman detector but here she is, sitting in the cold night terrified of what she is.

She gets a warm drink, to comfort herself, even though she can't find any evidence the cold is harming her. She presses her hands against the mug, clinging to it as a token of normality, and sips it methodically as she thinks the problem over. It isn't just powers. It wasn't just circumstance that made Killer Frost the way she was. These unwelcome thoughts that uncurl around her usual demeanor, tainting it with an aloof cruelty, aren't that unlike what she can imagine her doppelgänger saying, what she has thought in her worst moments, if only briefly. This time the voice that might've stayed in the back of her mind, is pushing to the front, louder, wider, taking up too much space.

She's already been concerned at the changes in her, though it hadn't been hard to dismiss them as simply tiredness if anyone asked. No one really had asked though, too distracted by their own problems – Barry's father dying, Cisco's brother dying, the rift in the West family. It's not hard to withdraw when she needs to, careful to present the right front to everyone when she can manage to. She's been alone with this but it's been for the best. Maybe that would be the best thing, for it to stay that way. They have enough to deal with as it is.

 


 

People not paying attention, not communicating like they usually would, benefits her, but it's also how no one puts together quite how oddly Barry is behaving. He says a few decidedly off things, making her wonder if he should be the one having tests run on him, but she dismisses it as nothing much. Really, with their history of people being whammied by meta's she shouldn't have ignored it, yet another side effect of her eagerness to avoid scrutiny from others.

Learning Barry has changed the timeline - not once but twice, with Flashpoint and then undoing Flashpoint – leaves her feeling...nothing much, at first. She stares at the diagram Barry draws on the board and it seems meaningless – it says nothing about what's actually happened. She knows he did exactly what he'd first intended to, back before the singularity formed, the temptation finally too much in the face of his father's death. She was fine with the idea then, there's no reason she shouldn't be now, in theory. And as he finishes explaining, it's obvious there's nothing to be done about it, not without risking further changes. She doesn't even know what her other life was like so she can't miss it.

But she starts to wonder, what conversations has she had that Barry hasn't had with her, that he won't remember – how exactly is what she thinks to be true, not true for Barry now? It can't be anything significant, he doesn't take any time out of his day to speak to her, not like with Cisco. Her first thought had been what if what she's going through was caused by it, but possibly nothing at all is changed for her, however unlikely that sounds. She can't let herself go down that track, she battens down to do what is needed – their day to day is what matters, saving the day.

The others aren't so easily convinced, coming back to questions of what right did Barry have to do this. Iris, of course, implores the others to forgive Barry for his mistake and Caitlin is inclined to agree.

“Guys, Iris is right. We all have secrets. We've all screwed up, but this is Barry we're talking about.” She tries not to let her voice waver as she says it, very much aware of how it now applies to her more than anyone else. Will they forgive her as easily if and when they find out?

One good thing to come from the confession of Barry's is Joe and Iris let bygones be bygones. They do so with a long overdue hug and warm smiles at each other, a sight Caitlin hadn't known she'd missed, part of their extended family reconciled. Trouble soon strikes though, rallying everyone to Barry's side, taking up their duties no matter how they feel about what he's done. There's nothing like a crisis to pull the team together, turns out they don't need that retreat Barry'd suggested after all. Even Cisco takes a small but firm step toward mending things by risking his life out in the field and coming to Barry's rescue.

At least Barry is more optimistic once they defeat The Rival, and Cisco shows signs of maybe one day considering forgiving him. It's nice to see Barry beaming, the day brightened by his cheer. She knows he's excited about things getting back to how he feels they should be.

“You have nothing to worry about, Cait,” he says as he's almost out the door, as if it's an afterthought. “I think out of everyone, actually, you're the only one that wasn't really affected when I messed with the timeline.”

He makes a joke too, that she doesn't entirely hear, her brain caught on the words that ring familiar – taking her thoughts back to the conversation months ago, about Killer Frost of Earth-2. He'd been so sure she had nothing to worry about, that she would still be good if she got powers. She doesn't feel that way when it comes into her these days, the way the words have of digging into her, getting at her so she can feel herself losing control. She'd been so sure it would never matter, not without the metahuman gene. It looks like they were both wrong, looking in the wrong places to find reassurance. Somehow she has powers now – a different gene she presumes, or a later mutation - and somehow goodness doesn't feel like enough to overcome the encroaching cold that detaches her from sense when it creeps up on her.

 


 

Some days it's so much easier to ignore what's happening, the days when she's managed a full night's sleep with no incident. The arrival of Harry and Jesse seems like a good distraction for a bit, the good fortune to expand their dataset and work out a little more about Speedster physiology.

But then they get to the crux of why Harry is here, his fear about Jesse's newfound powers, and Caitlin is the one who gets lumped with the responsibility of talking to her. She doesn't feel like it's her place to, but she tries anyhow. Jesse sees right through her attempt - Caitlin is just glad she sees through to the machinations of Harry, and not deeper, to see that she is speaking from experience.

Harry hardly appreciates her efforts, because they don't come to the right results. Every word from his mouth berating her for what she's done is another piece of a burden she can't bear, building her ire up until she explodes at him.

“Maybe if you helped her navigate her powers rather than just assuming they'll destroy her, she'd turn to you rather than push you away.”

She storms out, before she can say anything more, afraid of how everything that comes out of her mouth has a double meaning. It isn't like she wants them to know, not yet, not when it's out of control, so new and she doesn't know what to do, what she can do. Understanding it herself is part of her plan to take it slow. There's still another part of her that wants to have support - like Jesse could have if Harry could deal with his own fear.

It helps to see Frankie overcome Magenta's influence with their help, to see the team's faith in Frankie resisting the voice inside her and believing she's a good person. Seeing that restores some of Caitlin's faith in how they might react should she tell them, but she isn't sure faith is going to really help, hers or anyone else's. She needs to work out what to do sooner rather than later.

 


 

It's no secret Barry and Iris are dating, it's hard to miss the blissful look Barry gets when he sees Iris enter a room. They're also not shying away from public affection, going to kiss goodbye in the Cortex, a perfectly natural thing for them to do. Caitlin is happy for them, yet she's feeling more than just that, more than when she had thought about the possibility before. Is it because of the difference between hypothetical and real? She doesn't know. She has to turn away, avoid the vision of them together in order to avoid the possessiveness swelling inside, and the confusion, because who is she feeling possessive of, one or both of them? She isn't wrong about feeling happy for them. It's...complicated, a messy twist of emotions called up at the sight. All she knows is she should do something and checking over Jesse has been an excellent distraction, while it lasted.

Harry at least provides another distraction in the mission to lure another Harrison Wells to their team. It takes the edge off, but she's getting worried about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person; Harry's less likely to judge her for a social faux pas, less likely to gossip if she says anything she doesn't want repeated, and Cisco she would hope could be discreet. She can let her guard down a little around them. It's possible that's not such a good thing to be doing, getting used to being okay with less control.

“Good-looking guy,” slips out as she looks at Sam Scudder's mugshot appreciatively in the Cortex later on. “For a criminal,” she adds, glancing to Cisco to see how he takes it. It isn't exactly any worse than Cisco has said from time to time, but it isn't entirely like her either. It's nothing, isn't it? But there's the urge to look to Barry too, to see how he reacts, a flare of want at the thought it might make him feeling something, anything. It doesn't seem to, Barry's focused on the case. There's still a lingering defiance in her as she turns back to the screen and tries to ignore the slip-up – it had felt good to say whatever came into her head and poke at feelings she wouldn't normally touch, things she didn't normally address, like what she wanted. She tries to let it go, to not over-think the significance.

She never plans to use her powers but when Barry is trapped by Scudder - Mirror Master - she knows it will take too long to free him by conventional means, and she has other means, means that no one has to know about if she does it right. A metahuman alert pops up on the computer and she hangs back as the rest file out to deal with it, using the distraction to get behind the mirror, where Barry can't see her unleash the cold from her hands to frost up the glass.

Necessary as it is, she's scared to do it, because every instance of accidental usage coincides with an uncomfortable feeling, some kind of bitterness rising in her that gets harder and harder to quash. That voice inside that comes with using her powers tells her they don't appreciate her, that she's not good enough to be a hero like they are. It's easier to ignore this time because she saves the day, that's what counts.

Easy to ignore - until it comes back to bite her once she's home. A warm shower seems the perfect antidote and it works for the briefest time. The chill is instant – somehow it feels distant to her skin, like it can't touch her properly - and she opens her eyes to see the frozen shower stream. Scrambling out of the cubicle, she wipes the mirror and is met with the sight of her lips, a deathly blue, and the strip of white hair she hurries to cut out. It doesn't look like she gets to take things slow.

 


 

Remembering back to how Cisco had been about her doppelgänger makes her dread telling anyone, she isn't certain Cisco would trust her anymore. Barry might have faith she could fight it, or that they could fix it, as he had with Frankie, but she doesn't want to bother anyone with it, not anyone who's response she cares about. It sounds rational enough. She doesn't recognize how it is fear driving her.

She goes to her mother instead, trusts that her mother will care more about science and getting answers. Her mother won't ask her how she is, except to gauge what is happening to her, so she won't have to lie, nor worry if she reacts badly. The worst that could happen is she will turn her away and that Caitlin can cope with, wouldn't exactly be much of a change to their normal.

But she realizes once she is there, she wants more than that, she wants to see if there's a heart in there, the care she used to have. She wants her mother to be her mother again.

Her mother does drop everything for her, but she doesn't understand any better, despite the coldness they have in common. There's so much lost time and a whole heap of things Caitlin can't reveal about her work at S.T.A.R. Labs: it's too hard to separate her life from her work. The apple hasn't indeed fallen far from the tree.

What she learns from the tests they perform feels like a kick in the gut. This ability, the power she holds in her hands, is far more powerful than she'd guessed. She doesn't want that responsibility, she never has. It wasn't meant to be this way. She wasn't meant to be a monster either, yet the darkness Zoom had seen, and relished, is proven to be in her.

“You are not going to test me, now or ever,” she spits out with venom at her mother's colleague, subduing him with a cold grip and cruel ease.

Call it self-defense - Nigel had threatened her, intended to use her as a guinea pig - but all the rationalizations in the world don't change a thing about how she had felt when she used her powers. The voice inside had taunted her, he doesn't see you as human, does he deserve being treated like one? It pushed her intended protection from a sharp deterrent snap of cold meant to provide an escape, into pure malice. Burning the hands that meant to do harm, making sure he couldn't do it again, wouldn't think to, would forever be reminded of the consequences in the scars she wanted to inflict.

Her mother stops her going too far and she'll be eternally grateful. Even if she's not confident her mother's words are true – the 'This isn't you' had felt ironic and too easily twisted under that spell of cold – it means the world to her to have heard her mother apologize for not being there for her. Over a decade of hurt is stripped away with it, but it isn't an instant fix. If only it changed who Caitlin is, but what she is was forged long ago, out of layers of pain and repeated trauma. People have always considered her cold, ever since her father died, setting the tone her life keeps circling back to, one of detached grief – and now Central City is making that nightmare come true to her form.

But the city is her home, the place she has chosen because of the people she has chosen – it doesn't matter if they've not chosen her too. They are why she starts to think she may need to leave and deal with it by herself, limit the damage she could do to them. She won't leave right away, she needs to run more tests, she needs to make arrangements, she needs to make sure they'll be okay without her first. She hopes maybe she won't have to go, but she is willing, albeit regretfully, to do what she has to, to ensure they are safe, from her.

 


 

She dreams of everything around her crumbling under her touch, the remains nonsensically crackling underfoot, like the ice on her sheets when she wakes up.

She dreams about being warm in a way she can't be anymore. She dreams about Iris sometimes, her hair blowing in a summer breeze as she gazes upon someone lovingly, knowing Iris isn't looking at her, isn't smiling at her; Cait's invisible in these dreams. She dreams of Barry sometimes too. Sometimes the pair of them, smiling at someone, someone who isn't her, because she knows she doesn't belong in this dream, in the contented warmth of their presence.

Sometimes she can't sleep at all, lying awake with too much time to think. Often enough she wonders what things were like in that other timeline. She's certain even there, like on Earth-2, they can't have been together, all three of them. Barry would say something, would act differently if that were the case. What does it say about their supposed destiny if they aren't even together in other timelines, other universes?

 


 

When she sees the opportunity to stave off her deterioration with the new technology Cisco's developed, she grabs it. Of course, she feels bad for stealing the power dampening cuffs, but she needs them. And the team needs her, as her, not as whatever is creeping into her. The dampeners are a quick fix.

A temporary fix, she realizes, because there's only going to be so long she can hide them under long sleeves. At some point Cisco might believe HR when he says he didn't take them. She does the right thing, she comes clean to Cisco, and she asks a favor of him - the one reassurance he can give her, to vibe her future.

“I didn't see anything,” he says, trying to pass it off as no big deal.

She wants to believe him, but at the end of the day Cisco isn't a good liar. With a bit more prodding about it he gives up the truth, confirming her worst fear, she will become Killer Frost. He's keen to point out his vibes don't always happen like he sees, but it isn't as compelling an argument as he probably thinks it is when there is one lone example of that. The last of her hope dulls with this knowledge.

Cisco doesn't drop the issue like she asks him to, which is how she finds herself staring at the baffled faces of the team, Cisco pushing further with his implications of what she isn't telling the rest of them.

“I have powers,” she admits, not happy to have her hand forced.

“What? What kind of powers?” Iris asks.

Their looks all round change to concerned as she removes the cuffs and summons the icy mist. Her anger spills over into her accusatory “The cold kind. Happy now?” and rises steadily as she retorts at Cisco's protest about not keeping secrets. “Yeah well, this wasn't your secret to tell, was it, Cisco?”

“I did that because I care about you,” he counters.

It isn't enough to justify it in her book and it's hypocritical of him when he'd wished for the same as she had, with the same done to him, Harry revealing Cisco's powers before he was ready. Out of all of them Cisco should have understood, that makes it a worse betrayal and it feels almost unforgivable as her emotions get the better of her.

“If you cared about me, then you would have let me tell them all when I was ready. Because this is happening to me, not you. I'm the one turning evil. I'm the one who's gonna have to leave soon.”

She has to walk out. Already there's the horrifying desire to hurt Cisco in return for what he's done, even if it's verbally. Can she trust herself now, knowing what is in her and what his vibe has shown of them fighting? A good chunk of her brain is telling her to walk right out the door, to get out of the city, because of it. Instead, she hides away in one of the medical rooms, not wanting to deal with their questions, nor hear what else Cisco might tell them. Some calm returns once the cuffs are on again and she's feeling marginally better when a troubled-looking Barry joins her.

She expects a rousing talk about goodness or choice, what she gets is Barry taking the blame. He confesses to a whole slew of changes to their lives due to Flashpoint and it's clear this has been burdening him ever since they decided he shouldn't tell them about the other timeline. There's a nugget of anger that forms in her at it – she doesn't want to have that burden either. She didn't want to know she wasn't meant to be like this, that he caused this change. There isn't anything encouraging she can say to him about it, she swallows down her feelings, though she is saved from the need to formulate any reply by Wally needing her attention.

She at least finds it in her to talk things over with Cisco and make up with him. Despite her hurt at the time, she does eventually believe it's better to have it out in the open. She wishes she felt the same about her talk with Barry. It's hard to know now how to feel about what he's done.

 


 

For a while Cisco succeeds in making her believe in the impossible – the idea she can resist what is in her. She tries to use it for good, to save Barry from Savitar, but that tips something over inside her.

Her guiding instinct is the willingness to do anything to protect those she loves, but using her powers to that end corrupts her intention. It makes her dispassionate about anything else, willing to threaten, kidnap and hurt Julian Albert. And when Barry tries to talk her down, she can't accept his gentleness, it doesn't sit right with the sting at his words. What he says isn't harsh itself, but it makes her feel wretched anyway.

“I know that we love you,” he says. “And we will do everything that we can to help you. You and I, we've been through too much together to let each other down now. Please. Let me help you.”

But she doesn't see it in his actions, his selfish choice got you here, the voice tells her somehow convincingly. She knows it is greedy to want more, yet it feels like the love she has, that he is using against her here, isn't enough. She also sees she has no right to feel like that. Still, she can't stop the thought or the itch she feels to lash out. She wants so much to throw everything he doesn't know in his face, but another part of her panics at that thought, desperate to switch to something less dramatic. What comes out is probably worse.

“Like you helped your mother? Or Wally? Or me?” She doesn't stop there, flinging more accusations, taunting him with his mistakes and exposing his secrets instead, the consequences for Dante. Barry remains sure, somehow forgiving everything she throws at him, saving her from CCPD's gunshots when they storm the warehouse. But that voice of hers asks if he wasn't just saving CCPD from her. It points out she doesn't need his protection now, he's more in need of hers.

She's willing to hurt Barry too. To protect him, she thinks, and the other side of her says she has to stop him, and it says to push him away, and, he ought to know you're dangerous. It says, almost proudly, he should run away.

Everything in her pushes past her limits. There's no one she won't threaten, with the single goal to get to Alchemy. Neither are they idle threats, part of her even wants the acolyte of Savitar to resist, a little practice of what we can do. He talks of her future, Savitar's plans for her, yet another man who claims to know her destiny and she hates how it is apparently all set out for her, nothing for her to decide.

Cisco and Barry tail her there, unable to give up on their dear friend. She wants to scream at them to leave while they still can – everything she says to them comes out a threat instead of a warning. She'd thought things were out of control before, but that was nothing of the sort – this is what she should have feared. Her powers draw everything she sought to hide to the surface and she's had to work so hard to keep it in; this, however, is freeing, the release of it all, and the accompanying satisfaction of finally holding nothing back. No longer are there the warring factions in her mind, as she loses the battle to resist, the stronger portion coming out on top.

The worst of her is only gaining a handhold because of her naïve belief she could handle her powers if she tried hard enough and put her faith in the impossible. It's easier to blame Cisco though, for convincing her and Barry, for his meddling. She throws icicles at Cisco and ices the ground under Barry, gratified as she lords it over the felled Flash. Barry isn't above hurting her though, swiping at her leg so she's flat on her back too.

“That was cold, Flash. But this is colder.”

She presses the kiss to his lips, bestowed with no grace and no enjoyment except the thrill of beating him, hurting him. It could kill him. She never finds out if she would go that far, Cisco's blast knocking her out.

 


 

She wakes to an audience, watching her in a pipeline cell. Her one desire is to get out, any lie will do but they don't buy her all fine and dandy act. Harder to fool than she'd hoped.

“I didn't want to hurt you,” Cisco says, apologetically.

Her voice remains scathing, that bite is what she needs, all of her agrees. “You're pathetic,” she replies to Cisco.

They still want to help her. Barry promises. They really don't understand anything.

“Oh, like you promised Eddie? And like you promised Ronnie? You know, for a hero, Flash, you sure let a lot of people around you die.”

Barry doesn't even flinch, it's like he expects the worst and has prepared for it. He blames her powers. He thinks that she's less herself like this, not more. This her isn't hiding what she's capable of. She wants them to be afraid. She wants them to let go of her. If she has to push them until she breaks their hearts she will.

“I'm broken, Barry. But what do you care? 'Cause you've got Iris. You got your happy ending. Everyone else be damned. So, I'll tell you what: you guys let me go, and I will leave you to your sad and miserable lives.”

“No. We're not abandoning you.”

Trust Barry to be stubborn. If she thought it would get them to let her go, she'd tell them about the marks, but that would have the entirely opposite effect. She fumes, banging against the glass in frustration and throwing the one remaining taunt she has at him.

“You did this to me!”

They lock her in, leaving her to her thoughts, but it isn't that much later Barry is there again, opening the cell, giving her what she wants, what she needs. Freedom. For a price. His 'You have to kill me' is so far from what she could have guessed. What is he playing at? Is this him mocking her? She has an icicle pointed at his heart.

“What are you waiting for? What's the big deal?” he asks coolly, still calm.

“Come on,” he taunts, taking on a slightly cruel edge, “Live up to your name, Killer Frost. I want to see some killing. You want to be the villain? This is what they do. They kill their friends because nothing matters to them anymore, right? Right?”

None of it is right, it confuses her to hear it from his lips.

He's tugging on her arm, pressing the ice dagger more insistently to his chest. Practically daring her to do it. “Come on. Kill me, Caitlin. You can't do it.” Barry is so intent as he says it and she sees what this was, how he was so certain he offered himself up on a platter just to prove it to her, “You can't, because underneath all that cold, you're still you.”

The anger in her dies down at this. The haze in her mind withdraws, she remembers more clearly why it was important to get out. She'd wanted to get as far away from them as she could. She'd wanted to protect them. Of course she can't kill him. She drops the icicle with a clatter to the floor in horror and wraps her arms around him, teary-eyed and terrified of how close she had come to making a mistake there was no undoing. He doesn't know the connection they have exists, but she feels it in the moment, clinging to this new slither of hope, Barry as her tether to the goodness in her.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

She's spent most of the past few months avoiding people where she can, out of fear of being discovered or out of fear of what she can do, so it's strange to no longer need to. With the cuffs back on she's starting to feel more normal. There are still consequences to her rampage – apologies she needs to make, and one hell of a thank you to Barry for preventing her arrest. Another consequence is Iris seeking her out. They haven't talked much at all since Iris revealed her soul mark to her, a few words here or there. Now Iris has a look of determination and she's headed straight for her. Caitlin swallows, worried because she has plenty to be sorry for, endangering Cisco and Barry merely one potential thing Iris could be mad about.

“I wanted to check, are you okay?” Iris asks, settling to lean on the desk close by, not seeming mad at all. The softness of her voice belies the compassion Caitlin should have predicted. She sees Iris give her a once-over, she imagines she's searching for indications she should be concerned. It's a little hard to find an adequate reply as she feels under that careful scrutiny.

“I...Yeah, I'll be fine. So long as I have these,” she says with a shrug and bending her wrist to indicate the cuffs hiding under her sleeves.

Iris doesn't look entirely satisfied with her response, her expression taking on a thoughtful bent, lips pressing into a firm line.

“I saw what Barry did for you.”

Caitlin swallows hard again, nervous about where this conversation is going. She has no idea what Iris had made of Barry's testing her will and his willingness to risk his life in the process. If Cait's honest she thinks it was rather reckless, and she actually knows about their soul marks. Barry doesn't and Iris doesn't and that makes it all the more illogical for him to have done it, she shouldn't mean that much to either of them.

“He talked you down. He reminded you of what was important, of who was important. He brought you back to us, like we knew he could.”

Caitlin glances up to Iris, to see her face calm, no anger, no jealousy displayed. Iris has a certainty there so similar to the way she had found Barry looking at her with in the pipeline.

“All you needed was an anchor,” Iris says firmly. Suddenly she's fiddling with something at her wrist, undoing a thin black wrap around bracelet Caitlin has seen her wear a few times before, “Here.”

Iris is reaching for her arm over the desk, her warm hand taking Cait's cold one, and Caitlin does nothing as Iris wraps the fragile studded suede bracelet around her wrist several times, fingertips brushing the tender skin there as she fastens it up for her. When she's done Iris leans back and Cait immediately misses the contact, but Iris is smiling so genuinely at her she's dazzled by that, forgetting to thank her, to say anything at all.

“Now you have a reminder. It's not much, but I hope it'll do. Something to carry with you when we're not around.”

Caitlin can only nod mutely, stunned at Iris' talent for making the little things into so much more than they ought to be by any right. Iris stumbles each time into more meaning than even she realizes, touching on something she can't know. Watching Iris leave feeling better about things, Caitlin feels a familiar lurch in her gut; the agony of wanting something she can't risk. No matter how much faith Iris and Barry have in her, she's damaged, her powers too dangerous to expose them to. She needs to get rid of the cold in her, she just needs a better plan.

 


 

 

The bracelet didn't work out so well with her cuffs jangling about, she feared it would get torn, but she carries it on her person and made sure Iris knew that was the case. No one else would read anything into the token, just a friendly gesture, but she's still a little self-conscious of showing it off. Besides, she likes to have it to herself, a small thrill to have something special from one of her soulmates.

She tries to get on with her life, to ignore the worries that swirl around in her mind. She tries to enjoy the company she has - which is increasingly Iris', looking out for her - knowing the support of her friends is behind her. Some damage done she can't undo though. No one is mad at her anymore, far too forgiving, but Cisco's mad at Barry and it's her fault. Not even an appeal to old times can tempt Cisco to pretend they're friends for a single evening, that would be too easy, and lately hard seems to be how they do things. Some things aren't better out in the open.

Other worries tend to take priority at times – like aliens invading, aliens who want Barry. Of course Barry self-sacrificing Allen wants to give himself up, but she understands this time. His guilt. His desire to protect people at any cost. Giving up isn't the answer though, and at least the rest of the team sees that when Barry can't. She's also glad no one pushes the idea of her helping with her powers during that crisis, the mere idea panics her. Instead, she does what she can to support Martin and to counsel him on his conundrum, his daughter Lily. His brilliant daughter, who didn't used to exist. The more they explore other worlds and other timelines, the less the idea of destiny makes sense to Caitlin. She can only advise him to deal with what's in front of him, the now that he sees and knows in his heart, because anything else surely leads to madness.

 


 

Alchemy's stone is her plan.

They banish the rest of the stone, catapulted into the Speedforce. It looks like taking a piece of it was fine, Savitar is gone. Just a small piece, enough to hopefully help her. It could hold the key to reversing her powers, especially if she didn't have them in Flashpoint. It's not hurting anyone. Julian is free of Savitar's control. Cisco stops seeing Dante. The day is saved and now she can focus on saving herself.

Savitar's prophecy haunts her - I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death – she could be any and all of them for all she knows. She won't let that happen.

What she needs is someone who understands the stone – Julian. He's already shown kindness in getting Barry his job back and his turning up to the Christmas party shows he doesn't want to be alone. So she goes to appeal to his good nature. She doesn't expect his bite when she asks for his help getting rid of her powers, the jab implicating she should by all rights be in prison. Feeling bound by the cuffs already has her uncomfortably reminded of how she isn't free and clear from her problem, one for the future.

She doesn't give up on him just yet, because that would mean giving up on her best chance. She knows how he feels too, to have something in you using you for nefarious purposes and it could be good for both of them to have someone else like that around. Mind you, she does offer a bit more than simply an olive branch, accidentally surprising the team with him accepting her invitation to S.T.A.R. Labs when he turns up at the museum opening. They come around to the proposition eventually, but not before another blow comes, another prophecy.

“Hey, guys, um Iris and I, um we have something we need to tell you,” Barry says rather seriously, and Caitlin knows, from how he looks back to Iris for strength to go on, that this isn't going to be anything good.

Iris is going to die. In four months. Four months to prevent it sounds like a long time, but it's also a long time to live with that hanging over you. Barry sticks close to Iris during the explanation and Cait wishes she could be there at her side too.

While HR prattles on about dominoes, demonstrating the difficulty in changing the future with Barry's help, Caitlin is only half paying attention. Her mind sticks on the fact Iris is going to die. What if they can't change the future? What if this is the last chance she has to come clean to Iris about what they are destined to mean to each other? But nothing has changed out of the reasons she has to not say anything. Barry and Iris are together, happy together, except for this impending future he's glimpsed. Happy without her and she still has powers she can't risk exposing them to.

The decision is reinforced when Cisco vibes Barry and him into the future, calling out every detail they can to trace how they get to the scenario: Cisco hesitating before he recounts the headline Killer Frost still at large.

Iris points out “Guys, my future isn't the only one that we need to change,” and that solidarity is nice, but no, nothing has changed. Another vision of her future where she is no longer an ally. Barry, ironically, talks of how nothing is set in stone, and Caitlin can't help but be glad she took some of the Philosopher's stone. The guilt of going against the team weighs on her but not as much as the fear of what she could become, the threat she would be if the visions come true.

The team has a plan to change the future and so does she, there's no conflict there despite her secrecy. Things look hopeful. Later at the housewarming for Barry and Iris, Cisco and Julian present her with an alternative to the cuffs, a small freedom found as she slips the snowflake necklace over her head.

They toast the couple of the hour and she is truly happy to see what they have built here. It reminds her of when she and Ronnie moved in together, though they didn't have nearly so many people to invite. Their life together wasn't quite as full of warmth and joy as hers is now – though she gets the highs and lows to go with that - but it was good and she can at last look back on the memories with fondness, no longer tinged with regret. The regret she feels briefly is for what she wishes her life could be, the idea she could share in the cozy comfort of somewhere like this, if she could find it in her to speak up. She dismisses that as a selfish thought and files it under things to forget about.

 


 

Iris isn't meant to die for four months, which makes the current situation – the curl of decay spreading up her arms - more alarming. The others come up with the bright idea to freeze it into submission, to buy Iris time. Caitlin isn't sure they know what they are asking of her, how much control it will need. She's had the dampeners off for a small time, like at Christmas to create snow flurries, but never very long and never for anything that matters.

“I can't, even if I wanted to. We're not talking about a cold blast. This is a specific and continuous cold stream. Too high a temperature and the decay spreads, too low and the frostbite will destroy your nerve endings. And that long using my powers, I could lose control.”

“Caitlin, you are strong, okay? Stronger than you know. You are not going to lose control,” Iris says, with the look of certainty Caitlin is beginning to fear. They all have such a great belief in her, faith that far exceeds what she thinks is likely. One of these days she is going to disappoint them.

“Caitlin, try, please,” Barry pleads, his eyes watery at the prospect of losing Iris. Losing her even sooner than expected. She does have to try, she wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she didn't

 


 

There are alarms going off. She is dimly aware of her name being called. Those things should matter, but they don't register as important anymore. The voice in her head has been drumming viciousness into her mind the whole time she's tended to Iris, the steadily increasing bite of the words eating away at her resolve. Keep going, just keep going, has been her mantra, ever simplified as she tries not to listen to what it claims. It's been pushing her towards colder, meaning she has to pull back or risk too much, but then the tendrils are spreading up towards Iris' neck. The voice is right there, jumping on her failure, telling her it's hopeless, repeating every single insult it knows will cut her to the bone to take advantage of her vulnerability. It wants her emotional, it wants her to lash back and give it an in.

“I'm losing control,” she manages to get out to the bodies streaming about around her, a warning.

“We need you,” someone says, and it replies to her, the accusation the others present can't know, they only need you, they never want you.

“Just a little bit longer, and she's dead.” She means it as a reminder of the stakes - it doesn't come out like that, the spiteful lilt shocking her, and then her control slips further, “How's that for changing the future?”

She struggles to reassert control. She doesn't want Iris to die, she knows that, but you wish you were her, you wish you had her place, you can. Julian's words ring in her ears, repeated by the voice as some kind of evidence she is deluding herself - people are responsible for their own actions, this is you.

What comes out of her mouth after that doesn't feel like her, but she can't tell where the line is between the other side of her – full of hate - and what she thinks of as who she really is, the person who loves Iris. She's never let herself think it before, as if that matters, it scolds her for losing sight of what it thinks of as important; them, only them.

Julian appeals to her with their shared experience, with a belief in her that she can't exactly believe when he hardly knows her, but he reaches out to her arm, warmth flooding her system where he touches and that's her in, her way back to her senses. Warmth the reminder of why she is doing this: Iris.

Iris is mostly fine in the end, full of gratitude for the risk Caitlin took, that Caitlin doesn't feel worthy of when she came so close to either killing her or letting her die, so she deflects it as a team effort.

“No more lies even well-intentioned ones,” Joe tells them and Barry agrees, “From here on out, complete honesty.”

It's a nice idea, but Caitlin's been lying for years, why change that now. Shame washes over her, still she stays silent, hoping no one sees her stifled reaction. Some things she has to keep to herself, for everyone's protection. It feels like her goodness is fading any time she takes off the dampener. Science has failed her so far, she needs the stone. That headline can't be her future any more than Iris's death is hers.

 


 

Revisiting Earth-2, and the unpleasant reflection upon her doppelgänger it brings, wasn't part of her plan, but it's Harry, he needs them, obviously she goes. Unfortunately, so does Grodd, trapping them to use Barry for his nefarious plan to take over Gorilla City. His plan doesn't end there even, wanting both revenge and Central City made his too. And the best hope they have of escaping is her 'killing' Barry.

It scares her, using her powers on Barry. Using them for good doesn't stop her fearing a loss of control. Intentions can be subverted. At least this shouldn't need to be long. Barry holds out his hand through the bars and she removes her necklace, handing it to Harry for safekeeping, trusting him to know when to put it back on her if he needs to. Lightly she presses her finger to Barry's and lets the cold flow into her veins, the chill directed to him alone. As his skin begins to go blue, the memory of the street flashes up and she recalls with mortification the time she did this to him before. A stolen kiss as she froze him, entirely wrong once more, the only kind of kiss they've ever had.

In the now, Barry's gaze loses focus and he collapses to the floor, completely motionless where he lands. There's only so long he can survive without breathing. Mentally she counts as the others shout out for help. She continues counting in her head between every word she says to convince Grodd Barry is indeed dead, as Grodd prods what he thinks is a corpse, dragging and then slinging it onto a pile of bones, every action feeling excruciatingly slow to her. Harry calls out to Barry to do his thing once Grodd is gone. She fears for every second he is cold that it was too much, but Barry vibrates it off, and they are soon all free.

After they are home and safe, Julian is there again. After everything he has seen, everything she has done in the past, somehow he isn't put off but it seems fair to warn him, to make sure he means what he's proclaiming.

“Fear me, Julian. It's not a threat, just good advice.”

He takes it in his stride. “Okay, fine. I'll fear you. You know what really helps me when I'm scared?”

“What?”

“Just a good fillet steak bit of béarnaise on the side, mashed potatoes does the trick every time.”

She can't help but laugh. “Really?”

“I promise. I think we should find a local steakhouse and be terrified together.”

“Sure. Together it is.”

Together sounds good, really good. She's scared she's no good for him - that she doesn't need his protection, that he'll need protection from her - but Julian feels safe and she wants that for an evening. She already knows his dark secret. And he knows hers. No more surprises, she hopes. It could be good, if she lets it.

 


 

Barry and Iris stand together in the Cortex, as if to address everyone again, and Caitlin's stomach lurches. Thankfully it's better news than the last time they did that, Iris beaming as she holds up her hand to show off the ring – engaged. Caitlin gasps, excitement and relief peaking in her. She's congratulating them, rushing over to see the ring. She clasps Barry in a hug and then Iris tightly too, sharing in the moment in the one way she can. Her heart swells with love, they deserve this.

She isn't sure what she deserves, probably nothing good. Wally definitely doesn't deserve the suspicion thrown on him later that day, when he admits he's been seeing Savitar for a whole week without telling anyone. Is this her fault? Wally might well be facing the consequences of her action, keeping a piece of the stone. Julian too, Barry deciding they need to use his connection to find out more and Julian is scared of what she'll think of him. What will he think of her when they find out what she's done? Julian kisses her, for her kindness in reassuring him, but it doesn't feel right, knowing she's lying to him at the same time.

It only gets worse, with the box still existing, with Barry's exclusion of Wally driving Wally to ask Cisco to vibe him into the future and discover why Barry proposed to Iris – an attempt to change her fate. When Julian starts to blame himself, Caitlin knows she has to tell them what she's done. She expects anger – she would be angry if the roles were reversed - but none comes from Barry, he asks why and then he moves on, figuring out what to do next. She doesn't know if he's being restrained or if he simply isn't surprised she betrayed them. It's Julian who's mad at her, questioning everything she's said and done with regard to him. Despite that, he helps them one more time to track the stone, to no avail.

They think Savitar can't get out without all of the stone. They're so very mistaken. Wally is dragged through a portal of some kind and Savitar escapes from the Speedforce, terrorizing Barry, a spear thrust in his shoulder. It's her fault, she knows, she can't apologize enough – for the pain he's in, for what's happened to Wally – she can only do her job. Barry passes out when they remove the shard of armor and he wakes to a morose assembly around his bed. No one can miss Iris's bare ring finger as she reaches for Barry's hand and Caitlin understands a little there, about wanting to be wanted, not picked out of a duty, to save her, like Iris might feel the proposal was.

As Iris walks away silently, and the others leave behind her, Caitlin grasps her crossed arms tighter, tensing up as she tries to apologize again, “I'm sorry. I should have never - I was afraid.”

“I know,” Barry replies bleakly, blinking the tears from his eyes. “Believe me, I know. Fear makes us do a lot of things that we shouldn't. My fear's the reason for all of this.”

He blames himself, as usual, but he could just as well be speaking about her. Fear is what she circles round to, as much as grief – fear is why she didn't tell them about her powers, why she took the stone, why she said nothing about the piece of the stone and it's why she says nothing of the soul marks. She's so afraid she's bad for them, bringing them down, like she has here. It's not like soulmates guarantees happiness, she only has to look to her parents' marriage cut abruptly short to see that. Or to Nora and Henry Allen, their family ripped apart.

She probably should have left when she had the chance, but she'd been too selfish there, and she won't be now, she has to make amends, see things put right for her friends, if not her.

 


 

Amongst all the sadness following Wally's disappearance – and Barry's guilt-driven mission to follow him into the Speedforce - it's easy to forget Jesse can be as reckless as Wally at times. She foolishly tries to take on Savitar alone. She's lucky she doesn't suffer worse than bruises and a head contusion. HR is ecstatic for what it teaches them, “He's just a man, baby.”

They hadn't believed Savitar was an actual God anyway, but it is good to have confirmation, a little more known about the mystery villain. She wishes it made her feel better. It doesn't, because she's just a woman but she knows she can do terrible things, would do them if the cold, dark side of her had the chance. Under no circumstances will she let it.

 


 

Kara in a coma is worrying enough, then yet another mysterious villain whammies Barry too and there's nothing she can do for either of them. She waits for their cross-universe team up to catch this Music Meister so they have some idea of what they're dealing with, but he's all sing-song platitudes and cryptic hints. They get to the point they're so desperate Iris has Cisco vibe her and Mon-El into the dream keeping Barry and Kara under, a decision that could cost them both their lives if it's the wrong one.

Like in a fairytale, a kiss wakes them, and Music Meister is there to celebrate and elaborate.

“...the lesson was Love, Supergirl. Love is about letting yourself be saved. It's not just about saving other people. Even if you are superheroes.”

She's not sure what lesson she is meant to learn when she doesn't feel like anyone is coming to save her, nor love her. The chance she had with Julian feels ruined after her recent confession about the stone.

If she had kissed Barry, would it have woken him? Is it destiny that made it true for him and Iris, or what they have made over years, a true love, not merely a fated one? She can't compete with the latter. Of course, it isn't a competition but she remembers the thoughts she had before, the echoes of the other side of her. Those are buried now but if it's all a part of her, she still thought those things somewhere inside her, the jealousy, the bitterness. It isn't a matter of letting herself be saved. She can't trust that anyone is there to save her if she falls – this is of her own making, because she's the one responsible for her being alone.

 


 

 

She explicitly tells them she would rather die than become Killer Frost. She's willing to make that sacrifice to ensure she doesn't hurt those she loves.

Julian robs her of that agency and the rage at his defiance Frost is all too happy to take as invitation to deliver a deadly kiss, fortunately interrupted by Cisco's blast.

Frost is her pent-up anger let loose, every taunt and strike against her friends the outlet for it, a deflection of her own pain. Frost might not be stopped - too eager to get her day and turn the tables on those she sees as responsible - but if Caitlin can flex a muscle and put Frost's aim off she will try. She can't tell if that's what happens or if Frost is simply too lackadaisical, little care for follow through as long as she can get them to fear her. It hurts to see even these near misses and then Barry is there, another juicy target. Naturally, he's trying, in vain, to appeal to her good side. He still believes but her good side isn't strong enough anymore, the fight to resist this too long, too much now. The only appeal to Frost that gets through is the one Caitlin can manage, weakly, to leave. That turns out to be something they can agree on for wildly different reasons – Caitlin wants to flee, remove the danger with herself, Frost simply wants to be done with Team Flash and all their moral indignations, their restraint she doesn't wish to be held to.

Frost doesn't feel anything significant standing in the snow flurries, yet Frost is struggling with the echoes of regret and sadness that Caitlin feels, cursing feeling anything when she should be done with it all. Caitlin has battled with this other side of herself for months and now it is Frost's go. The price of control is it will never be complete, Caitlin is made the tiny voice in the back of her mind, asking what the plan is, fearful of Frost's answer.

It's never so simple though, like Frost yearns for. Wandering lost in the woods Savitar finds her and Caitlin's curiosity flares up at the same time as Frost's bite is evident in questioning his intentions.

“You want to cure me? Turn me back into Caitlin Snow?”

“No. I want to make sure Caitlin never returns.”

Caitlin's fear multiplies but he has Frost's interest with that proclamation. Still, Frost questions, “Why should I trust you?”

As he steps out of the suit and reveals the truth, Caitlin is shocked, nothing to say, but Frost is relieved, an emotion Caitlin never would have expected. Savitar is Barry, another Barry from who knows where or when and he wants Frost to stay Frost.

“What do you need me to do?” Frost asks in a manner somewhat subdued for her, something that sounds almost obedient but Caitlin knows what it is really, acceptance in return.

Out here in the cold, someone wants her, wants her not despite the darkness but for it. Caitlin had never wanted Zoom, who equally had seen it and wanted her, the her no one else could see, but Savitar is Barry and Barry is a part of her destiny, so the universe told. Frost appears to feel it's fitting – however he came to be, Savitar is clearly the dark side of Barry, a mirror to hers, a place to belong.

Deep in the recesses of her mind, there's still the inherent instinct of Caitlin's - the curiosity of her brain no matter how cool, saying how is this possible, how is he Barry? Both sides of her want to know; they both want to help, however they see help being.

 


 

There are many things Savitar shares with Frost, knowledge of the future and of what he needs from Frost. He tells her the exact words Barry will say in an attempt to sway her, making them meaningless as he mocks his younger self's inability to provide anything concrete to back them up.

What Caitlin wonders is what he doesn't say. Sometimes the vagueness of elements of his plan, or how he intends to rid Frost of Caitlin, make her doubt that he can pull it off, it gives hope to her and instills a small amount of fear in Frost. Frost is good at ignoring it, it barely lasts, no real handhold gained by the flash of emotion. Anger is one of the few emotions Frost calls on, relishing the satisfaction at lashing out at Barry on the occasions they clash, at least limited to minor injuries, another stabbed leg, because she isn't allowed to do any serious damage just yet.

Caitlin is now the weak voice inside, pathetically asking what about Iris? But Frost doesn't care because Iris didn't choose Caitlin, that Barry hadn't chosen Caitlin either – and no one would ever choose Frost, but this Barry, Savitar, does. When Frost helps with the memory loss snafu Team Flash creates for Barry and Savitar, the words from Cisco, and Barry, and Julian, aimed to bring her back don't work because there is no traction found in appealing to Frost's heart when it is closed, clasped tightly to what little she has found in Savitar. Caitlin isn't strong enough to overcome Frost because love is what pushes her away from them, the desire to protect them all from her.

Strangely the sense of protection is always there, not just for them, but for Savitar too, in a way. The Caitlin in her wants to touch his scars, still curious about them, one of the unexplained aspects of the future. Caitlin imagines how her fingers would trail tenderly, if he'd let her, if she'd let her. Maybe she could get through to him. Frost doesn't. Frost doesn't care how, why he is. Frost understands that now is all they have, something Caitlin had never been too good at, often worrying too much to live well.

And yet, Frost doesn't make a move on Savitar. She teases herself with closeness, laps up the tension; she wants him to choose her like that, that matters even more for Frost, rejected by those once called friends. So Frost doesn't mention the mark but Caitlin knows she looks to where it would be, wants to know if he knows about her mark. If he does he doesn't bring it up, but it doesn't surprise her when he fashions himself as a God – destiny isn't something a God would follow. He must notice those looks though, and get sick of them she guesses, because eventually he very casually strides about the lair with a towel slung obscenely low on his hips, a pointed look to Frost as he walks so slowly across the room to give her a chance to see the scars aren't limited to his face.

Tendrils of marred flesh spread out across his torso and mesh together to cover lower too, from his hip running down his leg she assumes, as she can see plenty more below the towel – in amongst this the mark is mangled, the word indecipherable and the shape nondescript. If it's destiny, if this is where they fit together, it's only because they are broken down and incomplete, rough edges ignored as they are forced together by circumstance.

This is not the dream, of what they could be, this is the two of them taking refuge together from the nightmare their choices have rung out. Savitar said he wanted to take everything from Barry, but does that include Frost, Caitlin? Everything he's said indicates he rejects his destiny, how he was made to die, and intends to make his own at any cost. Iris's death is the single part of the future not rejected, embraced against all reason, as necessary. Even Frost cannot deny what is missing there, how they have defaulted to this in Iris's expected absence, bracing against it instead of fighting it.

She can't stop Frost, events firmly in motion and Frost's control mostly intact, but there, Caitlin finds her way in, the wedge to drive, we wanted to be chosen, not like this, there has to be a better way, there has to be more, doesn't there?

 


 

Nothing comes of her new-found advantage until the moment Team Flash is facing them and Cisco is offering Frost a choice, his hand reaching out with the cure, not forcing her.

Frost hesitates. Savitar does not, prepared to kill Cisco for his interference in the plan to become a God by splicing himself into every moment of time.

“You'll pay for what you did! And you can die the same way twice,” Savitar gloats as he readies himself to murder the man he not so long ago called his best friend.

That's when she sees what Savitar is to her. None of his promises came to fruition; he needed her more than she needed him, like he had needed Cisco to play his part too. Barry was a tether to her goodness, marking the path to follow home, but Savitar's connection to her was a leash, limiting her to darkness, his bitterness feeding hers. He had latched onto the reinforcement she provided, as if he was justified with fate playing out as expected with her by his side, allowing him to give in to the path of least resistance, the easy way out.

Cisco has reminded her she still has a choice. She realizes she doesn't want Cisco dead. Neither side of her does. She can't let that happen. Savitar is thrown into a tree with an unexpected ice blast from her and things go very rapidly downhill for him from there.

Savitar doesn't choose to hurt her, retaliation like he had Cisco, he doesn't threaten her despite Cisco's earlier warnings he'd betray her. No, she is the one betraying yet again. She silently watches him burn his anger out in a last dash attempt to goad Barry into killing him. But Barry makes the right choice. Savitar chooses wrong again, going for Barry as he walks away from him, and she watches Savitar fall from Iris's gunshot before he fades out of existence completely.

She watches the relief and excitement at the victory for the others - Iris and Barry with the weight of the last few months lifted from them, happy again. Barry, and Iris, may be her path home but is it her home anymore? She doesn't have to follow that. She has a choice.

Caitlin always had a choice. She'd made the wrong ones too. She should have left before. For her, it's not too late to make the right one for a second time that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She packs up the remnants of Caitlin Snow's life and places them in storage. Nothing about that life is hers when she doesn't know who she is now. But leaving is harder to do than she would like because she looks like a known criminal. All the people she could have called on before knew her as Caitlin, as a member of Team Flash – those people aren't her people anymore, not after what she has done. Every connection she has was severed by her actions, by her siding with Savitar. Her last-minute change of heart does not change that fact. She can't go to her mother like this or use her mother's connections either. She's alone and it is her own fault.

As she'd told the team, hovering at the edge of H.R.'s funeral to say goodbye, she can't be Caitlin Snow anymore and she isn't Killer Frost. She runs away, though she doesn't think of it like that at the time. She can't be there, near them, in such close proximity to where she went so wrong, the reminders of her bad decisions around every corner.

A fresh start requires fresh places, fresh faces, including hers. She picks a new name out of the fake IDs she's presented with – Bianca L. Lincoln – and buys a decent wig as far from her icy white hair as she can get to have a photo taken in for it. A set of new clothes in styles Caitlin wouldn't have worn completes the disguise but one item she buys is reminiscent of a certain bracelet she has become accustomed to carrying; a bracelet boxed up with the rest of her belongings, that she could never wear again regardless, because of the risk of destroying it with her icy inclination. The replacement is a thin black studded double strand choker - she shouldn't have bought it, let alone take it with her, not if she wants to break completely from her past. She does want something familiar and that is what she settles on. After preparations are adequately made, she drifts to other climates in search of something elusive she figures she will know when she finds it.

She doesn't find answers though, just loneliness in the vast space she has put between herself and the people who matter. She can see a thousand faces pass her by with no feeling inside but her heart lurches at the sight of a tall lanky figure in the distance, or the slightest hint of a woman looking to her as if she sees something in her, despite the fact no one here can possibly know her, especially when she doesn't know herself. Every now and then she catches sight of a fancy leather jacket, one made with care and flair, and her brain thinks Cisco! For weeks she tries to be invisible, stays off the grid as much as possible to avoid Felicity finding her – but there's part of her that doesn't want to hide, that wants to be found, to be sought.

There's that difficulty in staying put, the fear someone might come looking, and then there's the problem of who is she here and now that remains no matter where she moves to. What does she trust to be true about herself? She is neither one nor the other of the people anyone expects her to be. It's so hard not knowing who she is anymore and the one advantage she has far from her old home is that she gets to shape her story. Facts can't be changed but she can channel things towards what she needs. At least here in Europe, no one suspects - they don't have conspicuous metas. There's been preemptive legislation in some countries but it's not on anyone's radar the same way.

Even so, she aims to work in positions that give her plausible deniability about her powers and where it's casual work to the point of no one looking too closely at her passport. The ice cream parlor had been fun, especially making ice cream and 'finding' already made tubs in the rush, freezing it in an instant in the back-room to meet demand. The meat packing place had built up her muscles some. Dodgy bars were a perennial easy to come by and behind her bar ice buckets never went empty. She'd practiced in the quiet hours, learning how to crystallize specific forms, to make the perfect ice cube. The trivial usage of her powers quells the rising urge to use it more. She still fears it, she can't leave it behind completely.

She moves on every week or so, never forming ties, lonely in the summer warmth. If there's one thing she misses it's her former work and how it was good for keeping her brain busy and somewhat distracted from her tendency to over-think her worries. Cisco's commentary always helped there, his ambling connections sparking thoughts for her too. All she has now is physical work in the day to tire her out and yet she doesn't tire easily, not unless she uses her powers. She needs more to do. Mingling into the crowd at thriving clubs she dances, her coolness a relief and barely noticed in the throngs of people. Surrounded by people she is still so lonely, she might as well be nameless, faceless, like everyone else is to her.

Lying becomes easier, a habit that gnaws at something in her gut. She shirks off attention with claims she doesn't speak the language and usually it works when she isn't working but sometimes people are too chatty. When she works she can make excuses about tasks, hide behind efficiency, behind tiredness, jokes about staying out too late having a good time she wishes were possible. She can always be somewhere else at a moments notice, be someone else for the day, for the night. The American taking a gap year, the aloof party girl. Practically means she has more than her two, or arguably three, personas and she doesn't feel like she fits in any of them. There is no place for her anywhere anymore, not even in her own body.

When a random guy at a club makes a dodgy pass at her in a language she doesn't understand and is very much not taking no for an answer, she is scared. But not of him. She fears the biting edge coming out in her defense. She fears his fear, that's her horror and she can't escape it. This is her life no matter where she lives. Over time she's worn down, realizing she can't run from it. So there's only one place she wants to be really, might as well deal with it there.

What breaks her resolve is doing a little checking up herself, finding out Barry Allen is on 'sabbatical' and The Flash has been missing for several months after a freak storm in Central City. Iris is alone too and if that's anything to do with her then she needs to make things right. She can't do that from half the world away, so she goes back. She could protect her maybe, from a distance at least - not reliable, merely a last option in an emergency. But she's not going home, home doesn't exist for her.

 


 

Being in Central City isn't any less of a problem when she gets back than when she left. All the places that were once hers she can't have back without risking Team Flash locating her. She still looks like a wanted criminal, has no job, and she still has her chilly problem. She needs a solution if there's any chance of her being a help again. She needs to be able to rein that part of herself in if she can be trusted around people she cares about, she won't risk it otherwise.

Her inquiries indicate there is a person who could help – for a price. Amunet Black is the very epitome of the black market. Amunet is dangerous, but the part of her that is Frost says so are we. With her sing-song speech and apparent lack of understanding for the technology she has, it is easy to underestimate Amunet, to think little of owing her 'a favor' for the use of the splicer that separates Caitlin and Frost into two distinct personalities.

It's a massive relief to have her sense of control back, if only for some of each day. A peace comes with it too, of having her head to herself with the urge to use her powers gone. This time she has no memories of what Frost does for Amunet and she likes it so much better, to be free of those feelings entirely, but what she doesn't know haunts her when she can't be sure what Frost has been doing out there with her face shown to the world. She writes notes to Frost to try to satisfy her curiosity and assuage her fears. She gets no answer.

There are times when she wakes up abruptly from a nightmare to feel the change overcome her, control slipping away with her panic and allowing Frost an in. Caitlin finds she comes back to herself sometime in the afternoon usually, weary with all Frost does to her body, despite the healing powers. And then there's the time, a few weeks after the splicer, when she loses days and wakes up four states over in entirely different clothes, and no necklace, in the middle of the desert. That's when she starts leaving notes for Frost every single day without fail, insistently . After that she sometimes gets replies, not that they are in any way contrite about the chaos she leaves behind her – like Caitlin having had to deal with an unhappy Amunet, making promises that feel like she's getting in deeper. What Frost does reply with, scornful and scant on details, isn't quite what she hoped for, but it is something, a line of communication opened. Frost apologizes in her own way for the Burning Man incident by buying another necklace, not the same but enough alike to satisfy, something to hold onto through difficult days, to indulge her habit of fiddling with it at her neck when she is worried.

Now she's back she's at least managed to find out more about what happened – Cisco never suspended her login tied to her laptop she eventually locates in her storage unit - and she knows Barry is in the Speedforce as a direct consequence of freeing Jay from the prison intended for Savitar. Caitlin wants to go to Iris, to be there for her in the absence of Barry, but Iris must blame her. Caitlin already hates herself for who she can be – having that split off from this person she's always thought of herself as does not change what she was capable of, what she could do, what Frost did that Caitlin could not stop. That's on her too. Even then she didn't have enough conviction in her to follow through with Savitar. It was the right thing to back out of siding with him, however late that decision came, but it has left her wretched and vulnerable. She doesn't realize how much until she unexpectedly wakes up in a basement to Amunet cheerily greeting her.

“Oh hello, Caity. Frost has told me so much more about you, most of it a little, shall we say, disparaging,” she speaks in an unwaveringly upbeat tone, though the latter admission is said with a crinkle of her nose and a casual hand wave to seemingly indicate she doesn't particularly care about such trivialities as that might be considered. “Once upon a time we worked out a mutually beneficial deal, and now,” she says with a finger in the air to punctuate the point, “Frost and I have 'renegotiated' it, but I do so like to check in with all parties, to avoid any...disagreements. And you do sound equally as useful, in your own way. But enough chit chat, I have a proposition for you.”

Amunet starts out asking for small, 'incy wincy' favors that should by all rights add up to paying off their debt to her. Just protection, intimidation, nothing Frost would give a damn about, nor Caitlin think of as being too bad, something worth refusing. That slides into Amunet occasionally asking for medical checks on her people – she isn't particularly forthcoming about whether 'her people' means staff, or something else. Alarm bells ring in her head but Caitlin doesn't know what to do, how to get out of this hole she's dug. Amunet is dangerous and only Frost has any hope of defying her and Frost doesn't see any good reason to the rock the boat that's as close to home as they've got, the boat of the boss that feeds and clothes them both so nicely.

Amunet also gives Caitlin a crummy job at a bar, all the better protected for Frost's presence technically there. People are starting to fear her too, she can tell by the flashes of recognition when a newcomer walks in and takes a moment to parse her face as belonging to another, less friendly, woman that makes them blanch. No one gives Caitlin any trouble once they've been acquainted with her other half. The longer this goes on the more she worries about what Amunet is asking Frost to do, whether Frost stays because Amunet is also giving her an outlet for the violence she almost ached to do. Caitlin doesn't miss that, but it's no more comforting to wonder what is happening instead.

Something bad is going on though, she knows there must be. There are rumblings of dealings she hears at the bar and she starts to do a little digging. Rumor is no one testifies against her, or rather, no one lives to. There's no shortage of evidence in front of Caitlin that Amunet is bad news but she needs to know how bad. A long letter left for Frost doesn't get getting the answer she is looking for. Her reply is a succinct post-it note in return as usual but it gives Caitlin pause for thought in its content ' Amunet taught me, don't start fights you're not willing to finish'. If Frost is scared then Caitlin knows it's beyond dangerous. Unless they make a move against her, they're trapped in this.

There's still the faint urge to go Iris. She'd thought this fix would enable her to return but it hadn't taken away her fear of the reaction she might get and now the Amunet situation complicates it. Already Caitlin doesn't feel like she deserves any forgiveness when she chose Savitar, over Barry himself or Iris. There's another layer to her fear, not knowing how Frost will react, what Frost might give away if she is feeling spiteful, too many things possible to be said in her haste to make a cutting remark.

It isn't until Cisco is there in her bar, asking for help, that she feels there's a chance for her to get out.

“My shift's over in an hour,” she admits, trying to avoid seeming too eager. She could never resist offering her help for long and getting Barry out of the Speedforce is a major step in setting things right.

“Girl, I got time.” Cisco tries for nonchalant but she can see how pleased he is to see her and to know this isn't the last time. “Oh, this is good. Is there anything you can't do?” he asks, probably not expecting an answer.

“Move on, apparently,” she replies without thinking too hard about it, letting it slip out, followed by a wry smile. It's certainly true, if she wanted to do that she could have stayed where she was months ago, kept running, but she hadn't been able to. Even when Central City can't be called her home, it is her place, somewhere she has a pull to. Maybe some of that is due to Barry and Iris, or maybe it's her history here, but she is sure at least part of it is Cisco too. He grins at her and she realizes how much she's missed him and how much he might have missed her, if she can let herself believe it. She wants to come home, if home will have her. It isn't just her she'd be coming home with though.

 


 

They do get Barry out of the Speedforce but unbeknownst to them, he's far from home himself where he comes out. The moments after they launch the quark sphere has the atmosphere on the airfield going from excitement to disappointment in rapid succession at their apparent failure, and then Iris arrives, looking like she's a cross between angry and betrayed, before she stalks off and everyone is part of a mad dash back to S.T.A.R. Labs to figure out what went wrong. Cisco barely seems to care about how Iris views it, although as he makes his way back to his lab he seems to bear the brunt of Iris' anger until Caitlin makes the mistake of speaking up.

“I don't know, Iris. I think we were pretty close.”

Suddenly Iris' attention is on her, a barely contained fury directed rightly at her absence, “I'm sorry, 'we'? Where have you been the last six months again?”

It's an accusation Caitlin knows she deserves, she has nothing to say in return and so Iris moves on, moves her focus elsewhere, onto more important things. It hurts to think she isn't important to Iris anymore, but if that's the truth she's brought it on herself and she will deal with it. Besides, Barry is what is important here, saving him and saving the city. Caitlin's feelings don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

The arguments could probably circle round for a good time yet if not for the phone call Joe receives, telling him Barry is being held at CCPD. The team files out and Joe holds her back for a minute.

“You might wanna come prepared.”

“Prepared for what?” she asks, concern rising.

“Cecile says he's not himself and.... we need to get him out of there without too much fuss, if you know what I mean.”

She nods and jogs to the medbay, quickly grabbing what she needs to sedate a Speedster, trying not to let her brain preemptively worry so much. There's no point jumping to conclusions before she's seen him.

 


 

When they enter the room he smiles brightly at them and she smiles back because there's no mistake, Barry is right in front of them for the first time in six months. He looks to her with that wide, exuberant smile, happiness that can be barely contained, and she feels like for a single moment he really sees her, like she matters to him then, like she's wished for so long he would - but it's only passing.

The second he opens his mouth they all hear what's wrong, nothing he says makes any sense with where he is. Whatever he is saying he is so earnest, he believes it is what he needs to say. It gets worse as he goes on, confusion clouding his features at their blank responses, his agitation growing. A minute or so in and Barry's practically waxing poetic in rhyming and lines of what appears to be nonsense about the stars. Caitlin is glad she brought the sedative. Barry looks to where she presses it into him, before looking to her, no resistance.

Back at S.T.A.R, Labs she runs every test she can and there are merely two conclusions she can come to. He either thinks what he is saying makes sense or it's thanks to the effect of an indeterminable amount of time spent in isolation in the Speedforce. She's not sure which would be preferable. What causes it isn't the point – they wake him up, hopeful, and it's clear he's a danger like this, unable to comprehend anything around him, prone to bursts of speed. Sad as it is, they can't let him roam free, so into the pipeline he goes.

 


 

Joe has been in the cell to shave Barry already, but Caitlin goes to take his vitals in person. As she takes his pulse, hearing the steady elevated thrum of a Speedster's heart beating, she feels a swooping joy to be in his presence again. He might not be the Barry any of them remember, but he is their friend, in need and she will be there for him.

“You look really...nice,” he begins with and she thinks he may be coming to, but the spell is broken as he descends into fractured sentences, “Price. Mice. This isn't right, you can't....”

He trails off, voice breaking and his eyes boring into her, plaintive and as if his world is ending, as if she is his world in this instant. She doesn't know what he is seeing or remembering, or thinks he is saying, but it is clearly upsetting him. She pats him on the arm, just a small touch meant, but he closes his hand over it desperately. “Caitlin, try, please.”

She wants it to mean something but nothing he says is anchored in their time. She can't be sure he knows what anything anyone says means but she will try to get through, to give him hope, she can only treat him like he understands and hope for the best.

“We wanted you back but no one...no one imagined this. There was a life you're destined to live and this... it doesn't feel like it. It isn't what we'd want for you. But we know,” she says tentatively touching his other arm, a light embrace created, “We know you're still you, underneath it all. Iris knows it too, but... But we're all scared, of what this means. You're always you, without your powers, and with your powers. Sometimes they change who you are but we know you, Barry Allen. ”

She can't tell if he is staring into her eyes or seeing through her to some other memory, a different face. She sighs. She can believe in him but it doesn't change what this is, hard on the heart and feeling like she is responsible for something she can't begin to fix.

But Iris knows what to do. Iris knows her limits and she presumes Barry's, correctly. Iris is not wrong but when Caitlin learns what Iris did, offering herself as bait to the Samuroid to draw Barry out, she curses that confidence, afraid one day it will be her undoing. How many times can Iris be right? She doesn't say anything, it doesn't feel like she has any decent reason to bring it up when she endangered Iris not so long ago.

The results are the key here - Barry is cognizant again and healthy as ever, peak performance for a Speedster, and Iris is whole and happy, everything is right in their world. It's easy to get caught up in that happiness as it floods the room, Cisco and Barry just as smiley, Joe grateful too. It feels like old times, only better.

Except Caitlin forgets about what looms on her horizon - Amunet, who delivers her message succinctly later that night. She knows it is likely far from over, just a reprieve.

 


 

She watches Iris and Barry butt heads over the next week. It's subtle, due to the way they are, but it's no less obvious when she knows them. Caitlin tries to suggest couples therapy, couching it in her past experience so it's less a blow to Iris' esteem to consider it, the same as she'd had to approach it with Ronnie.

“We don't need therapy. I mean we're Barry and Iris, right?” Iris half dismisses it, but somehow ends up semi-questioning it too.

“Right,” Cait tries to confirm, though she's not exactly feeling that.

“Thanks, though, I mean, you know, I don't have anything against it, it's just...”

“You're Barry and Iris. Gotcha,” Cait parrots back to her, not really believing it excuses the problems they're having any more than she thinks Iris does.

It's a nice line, a decent reason to doubt the issue, but knowing each other for years doesn't preclude needing help when your dynamic changes. She could barely think of any relationship that has undergone more changes than theirs. It certainly couldn't do them any harm to consider...and that's where she feels the fear and anger coming out. What if they aren't as strong as they think? What if it's her fault? What if Iris ignores what she shouldn't? The alarm for the unauthorized breach only amps Caitlin up further and the cold creeps in, the start of something she cannot deal with today. Don't change, don't change, don't change, don't change, she mutters under her breath like a mantra.

“Caitlin, let's go,” Iris calls to her and she remembers she's needed. Her, Caitlin. She focuses on that, swings by the medbay to pick up the cold gun stashed there, and rushes to the Speedlab, to find her place by Iris' side. She can make this work, just like they can.

 


 

Learning they made the bus metas brings about a strange feeling of responsibility. Not the kind of responsibility she would expect or could foresee. Bringing Barry back creating other metas wasn't an action with carefully weighed up pros and cons, like she is used to, that outcome hadn't been on any of their radars.

So when Ralph is in her medbay, scared witless, accusations flying about who is to blame, she feels for him and she feels responsible too. But Barry can only see the danger Ralph presents, because he can only see Ralph's past – it feels odd to know he sees past hers whereas he won't for Ralph. What makes her different? Why does he believe so ardently she is good? The argument isn't over but Iris defuses it with grace, and she's grateful her and Iris have found a way back to a functional relationship, she can trust Iris to be practical and gets what needs to be done, done.

Unfortunately, what needs to be done – obtaining a DNA sample for Ralph in order to stabilize his cells – puts Barry and Iris in the line of fire and gets Barry's ire up as they narrowly avoid a bomb in Ralph's office to get it.

“I'm just glad you two weren't hurt,” Cait says, finishing her check of Iris, to make sure Barry phasing her through several apartment floors had no ill effects.

“No thanks to your new buddy in there,” Barry huffs. Caitlin isn't sure why his anger is being redirected at her, except that she is the lone voice advocating for Ralph.

“He's not my buddy. He's my patient,” she points out tersely, not sure she has much patience for where Barry might take the conversation.

“Caitlin, I just don't understand why you're defending him.”

Barry seems exasperated as he explains his frustration and Caitlin feels the same at his lack of understanding, so she doesn't hold back, she lets every thought she has out in an unrelenting stream in the hope he can see if not Ralph's view, hers, why she understands.

“Because I know what it's like to suddenly find yourself with extraordinary powers and be totally freaked out by it. And so do you, for that matter. You and I both woke up in this lab once knowing that our lives would never be the same. So how about you give the guy a little sympathy?“

Out of the corner of her eyes, she's aware of Iris watching them argue, not quite sure if she should get in the middle of it or let it play out. Barry concedes, though Caitlin doesn't know if that's him giving up or if she's gotten through to him.

Later, once Ralph has proven himself Barry changes the heading on the bus metas board, from 'villains' to 'victims'. She doesn't know if it was her or Ralph that changed Barry's mind, but it makes her smile, a small but appreciated gesture.

 


 

As gestures go, there have been plenty to make her feel at home since she returned, but Amunet's chirpy message scratched out on her apartment door 'We miss you. Come back soon' is louder than all of them. It ignites Cait's ever-present fear about the danger she's putting everyone she associates with in.

Which is why she tries to get out of the bachelorette party she has been roped into. The trouble is, this is Iris reaching out, wanting more than Caitlin wants to give her. Knowing she is scheduled to depart later in the night, she decides to give Iris one more night. What can it hurt?

The answer is, a lot. Cait sits there awkward in a prim pink number, drinking her champagne more in desperation than celebration and quickly nabbing Cecile's spare glass when proffered. Seeing Norvak in the doorway makes her blood run cold, and not in the useful way, not then anyway. She sits perfectly still as he enters the restaurant with a swagger, not knowing what to do, her anxiety rising as he approaches. How no one else realizes the threat he is seems bizarre to her, but Felicity's misguided babbling about strippers provides time to think while he reveals his mutated nature. Flipping the table somehow seems an appropriate response and people flee like they probably should. But Felicity and Iris don't have that same response, they stand up for her, smashing chairs over the bad guy and generally getting in the way. Caitlin begs Norvok not to do this, but there was never really any hope she could stop him and then there is a wash of nothingness as Frost takes over. Her memory is fuzzy from there until she wakes to a punch in the face from Amunet looming above her, and sirens in the distance.

There is the fear that comes with her consciousness - what has Frost done and said in the meantime? Along with the twinned fear of what Norvok and Amunet may have done as well. She has no idea, all she has in the moment is fear. As Amunet slams her fist into her another time she slumps to the floor, fakes losing consciousness. The sirens come closer and Caitlin scrambles away, ashamed, knowing the officers who are her distraction will fare far worse than her. She's plenty scared but it's a low level of terror instead of a full flush of fear and she can't find the rage inside her, any thoughts that might inspire Frost to take control falling off too quickly to catch hold. There is no surge of cold as usual, somehow tapped out: she's vulnerable.

She stumbles back to S.T.A.R. Labs, holding her hurt right arm protectively and feeling it throb with each step. She finds the Cortex empty, checks the status of the panic buttons, none registering as active currently, feeling slight relief at no obvious danger. So Caitlin gets to cleaning the large cut on her arm in peace, extracting a metallic shard left in the wound from Amunet, no doubt intended as a present to remind her of the damage she can do.

It's worrying to not know if she has revealed too much to the team, to Iris, about Amunet and her remaining Frost issue. Do they hate her? Will they ask her to leave? She can't cope with such thoughts, so she concentrates on stitching herself up. If she got Frost to the forefront again, she could heal in an instant but that isn't what she wants even if she could, she shouldn't need Frost - this is the price she's paying for getting involved with Amunet and she will pay it.

She doesn't expect Iris to walk in, eyes widening at the sight of her injured, and to offer her help like it's nothing. It will never be nothing to Caitlin, but she tries not to let that show, accepting it in the manner it's intended, as friendly, as the right thing to do.

“It's already knotted, you just have to pull it tight.”

Iris follows the instructions intently, taking over and taking care with doing the stitches properly.

“What happened?“ Caitlin asks, curiosity forcing the words out despite her fear of the truth.

Iris glances up, her brow furrowed. “You don't remember?”

“When she's in control, I don't remember much of what happens. Did she – I - hurt anyone?” she asks, still afraid of the answer. What more will she need to take responsibility for before the night is over? All she can recall from Frost in charge is the satisfaction of being let out, of having something to do. That and animosity for Amunet, presumably for daring to boss her around, Frost never liked being controlled. Caitlin has no clue what else she might have said, or revealed, but Iris isn't angry with her, even after her drama ruined the bachelorette party.

“Just that snake-eyed scumbag. Didn't kill him, though.” Iris pauses, looking thoughtful before her own curiosity catches up with her and a question comes out. “So the cure...”

“ - it didn't work. Not all the way.” It's not the whole story, of course. Caitlin isn't ready to talk about the deal with Amunet and the splicer. Everything about the last several months makes her feel shameful and sick to her stomach. There's no wiping her slate clean, but she wants to figure it out by herself – this was never a burden she wanted to share.

“Which is why you wanted to leave tonight?”

Caitlin sighs. Trust Frost to have let the cat out of the bag about that plan. She's failed so abysmally at keeping any of what she needed to secret. Except about the splicer maybe.

“And why it took you six months to come back?”

Iris hasn't asked about the time gap of hers since the time she snapped at her when she returned, but it seems it has been weighing on her mind judging by that question.

“When Cisco said he was gonna get Barry back from the Speed Force, I thought that maybe I could come back and make up for some of the pain that I caused, but she's getting stronger. I never should've come back.”

“That's not true, Caitlin. You can always come back to your friends. Why didn't you tell any of us?“

Friends. She doesn't know why Iris uses the word. She hasn't felt like she deserves to have any after what happened, let alone that Iris would say so when they've been slowly drifting apart from what friendship they'd once had. Ever since Caitlin found out about her soul mark there'd been conflicting parts of Caitlin – one who wanted to draw closer to Iris and one who wanted to push back against it all, same as she'd tried futilely to with Barry.

It hadn't done any good to pull away from them though. However much she cared for them, she couldn't stop Frost from hurting Barry, Iris or Cisco. She'd been lucky Frost had drawn the line at Savitar killing Cisco, but there'd still been so much that had gone wrong she would never have done if she'd been herself. So much she regrets and can't find good enough words to apologize with.

“I didn't know who to talk to,” is her pithy reply, a lie. She knew who, she just didn't know what to say. She didn't know how to explain it without the backdrop of her anguish over being left out. But she'd caused that by keeping quiet, she was the one who hadn't dealt with it right and now she is too late.

“Could've talked to me. I'm your friend, Caitlin.”

Iris looks at her with such compassion and she can't believe how readily Iris wants to help her, still. How she wants to make things right even though Cait is the one who broke things spectacularly.

“Work friend,” she replies, trying to keep her voice neutral, to be objective about it – she doesn't exactly succeed. “I mean, it's not like you and I have become besties over the last few years.”

They could've been, if she hadn't held herself apart from Iris. If she had seen her at times as the competition. Or seen her at other times as her weakness, like Barry had become. What love she held for them felt like it would be her downfall. Frost had already used it against her, to get her foot in the door mentally. She couldn't fool herself either, it was a huge part of why she'd come back, she just can't admit as much to anyone else.

Iris would understand the need to do right, that's something true to cover over the rest of the truth with. She doesn't expect to see Iris' disappointment at her words though.

“Yeah, I guess we haven't.”

Hearing it spoken aloud makes it realer than it has ever been before. The gulf between her and Iris began an age ago, before they'd had any chance really and Caitlin worries it might never heal from that invisible wound. From every resentment Barry's love for Iris, and not her, fostered in her, however deeply those thoughts were buried. Now she has neither Iris or Barry. Except the wound isn't all hers anymore – Frost shattered that illusion and she can't run from this reality anymore. She has to find a way to heal, for everyone's sake.