I wanna make you smile whenever you're sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do is grow old with you
Allow me, once again, to set the scene for you. Imagine, if you will, a map view of Central City. Can you see STAR Labs? Good, now ignore it. Instead, we zoom in on one of the nicer suburbs. And closer, till a familiar house comes into view. You remember it—large but not too large, so as not to be conspicuous. The same double black doors, with maybe a bit of wear around the edges, where Mick Rory’s habit of kicking them open has taken a toll on the paintwork. The lattice windows are still as nice as ever, though one has recently been boarded up, as though some villain or other got a bit too close for comfort and found himself hit with a warning shot from either a heat gun or a cold gun—hard to tell which.
As we pan up to one of the windows on the upper floor, it bangs open and a head sticks out.
“Boss!” Mick yells.
In the yard below (still lovely, although it looks like the vegetable garden could use some work), Leonard Snart is sitting on a chair by the fish pond, reading a book. “Contrary to appearances, Mick,” he calls back up lazily, “I’m not actually that old. I can hear you fine even when you don’t yell loud enough to burst my eardrums.”
Mick ignores him. “I got Red on the phone in the other room,” he calls back. He thinks about adding that he can’t bring the phone down because Len still refuses to let Mick call STAR Labs on a cellphone. Because he enjoys being the walking stereotype of a weird, stubborn old bastard. Then he remembers that Barry is patiently waiting for him on the other end of the line, and that’s probably painful for a speedster, so he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, Len has gained a slightly shifty expression. “Tell him I don’t know anything about the interdimensional extrapolator that’s missing from STAR Labs,” he calls up.
“Right, like he’ll believe that.”
Len shrugs. “He’s not that bright. So, what does he want?” He sing-songs the last part, like just thinking about Barry has him sliding into Captain Cold mode.
“Wants to bring Nora over tomorrow. They’ve got a babysitting emergency.”
Mick suppresses a chuckle as Len’s head does an-almost 360. It’s better than The Exorcist. “What?”
“Iris double-booked herself, I dunno. I didn’t ask. D’you wanna help or not?”
Len’s eyes narrow. “Just Nora? Not the other one?”
“You know damn well the ‘other one’ is called Wallace.” Mick does the air quotes. The movement jostles the window, making it fly back against his head. “Ow.”
“I do. It’s just a terrible name that I refuse to call him.”
“Don’t tell his uncle that. And, yeah, they only want help with Nora. Wallace is at, uh… space camp… or was it time travel camp… or maybe it’s the actual Waverider…”
Len’s head is buried in his book again. “Mick?
“Oh, right. What would I do without you, Boss?”
“May we never have to find out,” Len says in a long-suffering tone that betrays more fondness than he’s probably aiming to.
Mick closes the window—carefully—and heads back to the hallway.
On the way, he trips over the phone cord and falls flat on his face.
“Fuck!” he shrieks. “Oh God, my ankle…”
Almost a full second later, Barry Allen speeds to a stop in the middle of his hallway. Which has Mick wondering why he bothered to call on the phone in the first place. And also, whether Len’s going to mind that #ProjectSpeedsterProofTheSnartRoryHouse2027 has failed again. (Yes, there was an actual hashtag.) And also, why Mick’s still on the floor.
“Mick!” Red’s voice cries out from somewhere above him.
“How the hell did you get in here?” snaps Len’s voice from somewhere down the hallway, confirming Mick’s theory that, when he wants to be, he’s as fast as any speedster.
“Oh, I can still phase through your door.”
“We got meta dampeners!”
“Yeah,” Barry chuckles. “From Cisco…”
“Hi,” Mick says into the carpet. “Can we talk less about that, and more about how I’m still on the floor?”
Len gets Mick to the couch and dispatches Barry back to his actual duties of rescuing people around the city. Which doesn’t include his partner, who Len can look after perfectly well on his own, thanks.
“I ain’t an invalid, Lenny,” Mick grouses, as Len comes back with a blanket, a hot water bottle, a cup of tea and an armful of elastic bandages.
“Shut up and let me look at that ankle.” Mick gives him a familiar glare, but is oddly quiet while Len looks at the bruising.
“Ow,” he says when Len turns it to the right.
Len shrugs. “Don’t think it’s broken. You probably sprained it.” He concentrates on bandaging the ankle up, barely paying attention to the rain clouds gathering over Mick’s head. “Hey,” he says when he’s done, patting Mick’s shoulder. “Thank your nursemaid.”
Mick just shrugs silently, staring out of the window.
Len raises an eyebrow. “You want a doc? I still have Shawna’s number somewhere, if you wanna relive old times.”
“She’s a nurse practitioner in a big hospital in Star City,” Mick murmurs.
“Hah, seriously? Good for her.” Mick still isn’t looking at him, so Len claps him on the shoulder. “C’mon, buddy. You’re okay.”
“Sure, Lenny,” is all Mick says.
“What do you need? Painkillers? Ice pack? Coffee?”
Mick shakes his head at the window, with distant eyes. Len thinks about asking what’s really wrong. But it’s time for his art class, so he gives up, walking away with a shrug.
He turns back to ask, “Hey, do you know where the cold gun is? I’m sure I had it yesterday, but it’s gone walkabout.”
Usually, Mick loves to berate Len for losing his cold gun. (Which happens surprisingly often, recently. Gone are the days when he was meticulously organized. If he occasionally forgets where he’s left his super tech, he figures he gets a pass, at his age.)
But this time Mick just says, “Haven’t seen it.”
Before Len leaves, he makes sure Mick is surrounded by books, snacks and hot cocoa in a thermos. Topped up with a big handful of mini marshmallows, obviously.
For an eight-year-old, Nora West-Allen sure has a lot to say. Len never knew kids could be this chatty. Not until he met this one, a few years ago, when she was already explaining to him the actual scientific reason why the sky is blue.
“It’s called Rayleigh scattering and it affects which light wavelengths reach our eyes,” was the first thing the tiny four-year-old said to him. She came up to his knee.
“And here I just told Lisa it’s just the way things are,” he remarked to Mick.
“Uncle Lenny! You have to tell kids the truth,” she insisted, stomping her little foot.
“Truth’s subjective, kid,” he groused. They had fun debating that one for a bit, while Wallace jumped loudly around the West-Allens’ living room pretending to be a flying cat. On balance, Len preferred Nora, though he made sure to tell Scarlet that both kids were clearly future scientists, while crossing his fingers behind his back. (He particularly didn’t mention that he’d spotted a certain budding criminal talent in young Wallace. He just quietly showed him how to lift candy from the jar in the kitchen while his mother’s back was turned. Not his fault if Wallace was a pro in no time.)
Four years later, and Nora is now oddly attached to her Uncle Mick and Uncle Lenny. But damn, the kid can still talk.
“Uncle Lenny,” she says, in the middle of the book he’s reading with her.
“I’m confused. If Ron’s rat is Peter Pettigrew, and Fred and George have had the Marauders’ Map for a long time, then why didn’t they notice his name on there before and figure out who the rat was? He must have been hanging out in their common room a lot. I have a rat. Have you seen him?”
“Yeah, kid. Mick gave him to you. I went to the pet store.”
“He’s awesome. He goes round and round and round in his wheel. Mom wants the cage to be not in my room at night because it keeps me awake but I love watching him. He runs really fast. Not as fast as Dad though. Why don’t Fred and George notice Peter Pettigrew?”
Len takes the book out of her hand. Flicks through a few pages. Hands it back to her with a shrug. “No idea, kid. You bored?”
“Little bit. Want to play a game? I know one where you describe a word and the other person has to guess. For example, if I got the word ‘red’ I would say ‘the color Dad wears for being a superhero.’” She kicks her feet where they’re barely hanging off the end of the sofa. “Do you know why Dad wears red for being a superhero?”
“No, but I bet it’s just as interesting as why the sky is blue.”
So if Len finds a kids’ show on one of the three dozen streaming services they currently subscribe to—Mick’s TV addiction is funded by most of the interest on their past ill-gotten gains—and puts his head down on the couch for a little nap around 6 PM, surely no one could blame him.
An hour later, Len is yelling “Mick!” at the top of his voice, staring at the scorched patch of carpet in front of the TV where he was sure Nora had just been sitting.
“What?” Mick shouts, from elsewhere in the house.
“How long has Nora West-Allen been a speedster?” he calls back, his eyes darting around the empty room.
“It’s genetic. So, like, a while,” Mick yells back helpfully, as he drags himself in from the kitchen on crutches, half a candy bar sticking out the side of his mouth. “The twins have been running since they could walk. Do you not listen when Red talks?”
“Obviously not.” Len heads down the hallway and sticks his head out the front door. No sign of the kid in the yard. “Also,” he calls back, “we have a slight problem.”
Of course, Barry and Iris left Len instructions for what to do if anything went wrong.
They consisted entirely of, “Oh, I don’t know, call STAR Labs. But it’ll be fine!”
Calling the STAR Skype account is always a guessing game of who, on the spectrum of ‘least annoying’ to ‘Cisco’, will pick up. As luck would have it, this time it’s the least annoying one.
“Dr. Snow here,” says a face framed by white hair who is clearly not Dr. Snow, but doing a good impression of her.
“Frosty, is there a reason why you’re pretending to be—” He puts up a hand. “You know what? I don’t care. We’ve got a, um.” He coughs. “A slight problem.”
Frost cocks an eyebrow at him through the screen. “What is it now, Cold, dear? More villains on your backs again? If it’s the Young Rogues again—hah, such a ridiculous name now that they’re in their thirties—in fact I’m pretty sure Silver Ghost is at least forty by—”
“Shut up and listen, Frost,” he snaps, his already rather stretched patience starting to fray at the edges. “We’ve got an eight-year-old speedster problem.”
“Is that the Chilly Charmer?” comes Mick’s delighted voice from the hallway, where he’s on ‘stand at the door and watch for lightning’ duty. He pulled in a chair to sit on when he thought Len wasn’t looking. Kind of odd that he didn’t just ask him to bring one out, but then Len has never entirely understood the mysteries of Mick Rory’s brain. “Tell her she’s gotta come over soon!”
Len pinches the bridge of his nose. “Not the time, Mick!” he yells back. Then, putting on his best fake smile, only tinged with the mildest touch of villain smirk, he turns back to the screen. “Nora’s run off somewhere. I’m guessing she could be anywhere in the world. And her parents are on another Earth, right? So if one you heroes could just—”
Frost interrupts with a laugh. “Oh, is that all? She runs off twice a week. She’s probably headed here. I usually just get Cisco to vibe her. Quicker to check the location tracker on her phone though,” she says, pulling her own out. “Just a sec, Snart…”
Mick appears at his shoulder, moving awfully fast for someone on crutches, and beaming. “Frosty!”
She looks up from her phone with her own delighted grin. “Micky! How’ve you been?”
“Better for seeing your face! Where’ve you disappeared to, Cold Stuff? You gotta come over. I got some whiskey in that you’re just gonna love. Serve it over ice for ya.”
Len attempts to communicate existentially deep frustration through an extended sigh. “Frost. Phone. Nora.”
Frost raises an eyebrow. “Someone’s testy.”
That does it. The thin elastic of Len’s patience snaps almost audibly in half. His smile remains in place, but he imagines it turning rather chilly, as he hears his voice drop into Captain Cold’s signature drawl. “Surprisingly enough, I am, in fact, a little irate. Seeing as how I’ve lost a speedster’s daughter. You remember speedsters, Frost? They’re the ones with so much power they can run you into the middle of a black hole and leave you there, but they mostly don’t, because a surprising number of them are dumb as gnats and so boringly lawful good they make Mother Teresa look like an asshole. And do you know what the only thing worse than losing Barry Allen’s daughter is, Frost?”
Frost is looking at him with uncharacteristically nervous eyes. “What?”
He stretches his smile into something he hopes is even more ominous. “Losing Iris West’s daughter.”
Frost’s wide eyes dart down to her phone, her hands scrolling frantically across a map. “I’ll find her.”
There’s a moment of tense silence, broken only by Mick clattering back to the door. Then Frost looks up at him, narrowing sardonic eyes. Len’s always been envious of her ability to communicate sarcasm without a single word. “Her phone’s still in your house, Snart.”
He manages not to roll his eyes, even as he spies it under the armchair on the other side of the room. “Oh, for fuck’s… Then get Cisco,” he grinds out.
“Yeah. Minor issue, hon. This thing that Barry and Iris went off-world for? He’s gone too.”
Len attempts to scowl harder, but his face won’t screw up any more tightly. “Then you’d better think of something, Frost. And fast.”
She reassures him that Nora is probably just taking the long way to STAR Labs, promises she’ll try to reach Cisco, and tells them to stay put in case the kid comes back.
He’s staring at the empty screen when Mick returns to the lounge.
“This is pointless,” he grumps. “She ain’t coming back. And I need more Tylenol.”
That’s when the brick comes through the window, narrowly missing Mick’s head. Len ignores his “Shit!”, leaning down and unwrapping the message from around it. He reads it and passes it over to Mick.
Who whistles loudly. “Call Frost back.”
“On it,” says Len, whose nerves have been replaced by a dull dread in the pit of his stomach.
Snart. Rory. We have something of yours. Negotiate. Docks at 10 PM.
At STAR Labs, Len stares at the message again, then glances over at the clock. An hour has already already passed. Two hours until 10. Anything could happen to her in the meantime.
Frost has tried everything, but Barry and Iris are unreachable.
Len feels sick.
Especially when he looks at the cops on the STAR Labs feed (holy hell, he still can’t believe he called the cops), where it’s picking up security cameras at the docks.
Joe West’s voice—he came all the way from Star City PD, with Kid Flash’s help—echoes over the radio. “Nothing. She’s not here.” His voice is wrecked. “We’re gonna have to send in Cold.” His tone shifts, and suddenly he sounds every bit the police captain he is. “Snart, if you screw this up, you’re even more dead than you were already gonna be.”
Len doesn’t hesitate, leaning over the mic. This is West’s granddaughter. He’ll do whatever it takes. “Ten-four, Captain West. Send me in.”
West’s glare has softened a bit around the edges, now that Len and Mick are standing in front of him.
Being around Joe West is always a game of roulette, and it usually feels like the Russian type. Sometimes, West remembers that Len and Mick are on the same side as him now. (Mostly. With minor lapses that even Barry tolerates.) It helps that Len and Mick come to West-Allen family dinners a few times a year, even if the police captain routinely glowers at them across the table like he thinks doing anything else would be a betrayal of his badge. And sometimes, West looks at Len and Mick and sees those criminals he first encountered years ago. Who stole STAR Labs tech, kidnapped his friends, exploited his foster son... and killed people.
Len supposes that’s fair enough. Gets a bit pissed at himself about those days, sometimes.
So he’s quietly relieved that right now, West is looking at them like trusted family friends.
“Okay,” he says to Len. “Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that this is your fault, Snart—”
Len doesn’t even have to pretend to look guilty at that.
“—you’ve got a chance to fix it. So you’re gonna do that, and I might not tell Barry and Iris how you fell asleep on the job. You got that?”
The threat doesn’t really land, but he swallows anyway, thinking about what he’s gonna deserve if he can’t fix this. He stares over at the row of run-down warehouses in front of them, some with boarded-up windows, missing door panels. She could be in any of them.
He tries not to let himself think about how cold she must be.
“Anti-meta tech,” sighs Wally, biting his nails on West’s other side. “Everyone’s got it, these days. You wouldn’t believe how useless we speedsters are starting to feel.”
“Aww, diddums,” Len says vaguely. He’s counting warehouses. Calculating the time needed to search each one. Adjusting the timing, because—
Mick limps up to them, waving a crutch at West. “And you really want me going in on these things?”
West shrugs. “The note said both of you, so both of you are going in. Someone starts shooting at you, we’ll get you out.”
That gets nothing but a serious nod from Mick. He’s got his determined hero face on, the one he always pretended he didn’t get on Waverider missions, and Len almost smiles. Nice to see him bring the big guns out again, even if the circumstances could be less awful.
By the time they’re trudging their way through the fourth warehouse, Len is starting to get desperate.
“She ain’t here either,” Mick growls into the police radio.
West’s voice crackles back at them. “Okay. Get out of there. Warehouse five next.”
“Gimme a sec,” Mick says. Len looks up, suddenly hearing the pain in his voice, but it’s too late to catch him when he goes down.
“FUCK!” Mick yells. He pulls himself up into a sitting position, slamming the radio down on the floor.
Len tuts. “Mick. You’re gonna break that.”
Silence. Interrupted only by Mick’s heavy, pissed-off breathing. His head is in his folded arms.
Len slides onto the floor next to Mick, his back giving him a twinge of complaint as he does. “Buddy...”
“Shut up,” Mick growls.
“Look, I know this is my fault…”
Mick shakes his head against his arms. “Ain’t you. It’s me.” He picks up a crutch where it’s sitting next to him, waves it at Len, and drops it back to the floor with a petulant crash.
Len sighs. He picks up the police radio. “Give us one minute.” He puts a hand on Mick’s back. “Mick, we don’t have a lot of time.”
“I KNOW!” he yells, raising his head to give Len a look that in any other situation would be a warning of an imminent blaze. But Mick doesn’t have any matches, and he’s almost past his fire-starting days anyway. The closest he gets these days is small bonfires in the tidy, well-maintained fire pit in their backyard.
And that, Len realises with a shock, might be half the problem.
Mick is sighing out a harsh breath. “Tell them to keep looking without me. I’m a liability.”
“Mick.” He finds himself rubbing his hand between Mick’s shoulder blades. “You ain’t a liability. You just got injured.”
Mick’s wide eyes get wider. “Yeah. For the fourth time this year.” He turns a hopeless look on Len. It hurts. “Let’s face it, Lenny. Don’t matter if I’m a villain or a hero. My fighting days are done.”
Len wants to tell him he’s wrong. That’s he’s still got years of fight in him.
But he’s never been able to lie to Mick.
“Come on, buddy,” he says quietly. “We got two more warehouses to go. She’s gotta be in one of ‘em.” He stands, and offers Mick a hand.
Mick stares at it.
Slowly, he reaches out his own, and lets Len pull him up.
“C’mon buddy,” Len says again. “Lean on me.”
He all but carries Mick through the next empty warehouse. And the next.
At a quarter to eight, Len and Mick are sitting silently on the dock. The police have moved out of sight, figuring that following the hints on the note is the only way forward now. No one has said we don’t negotiate with kidnappers. In fact, while he’s given them no specific instructions, Len suspects Joe West would be prepared to give the kidnappers rather a lot in exchange for this particular hostage.
Len tugs on the wire under his shirt. Murmurs a prayer under his breath. Briefly considers offering to go to synagogue on Saturday if they can just get the kid back... but he figures G-d knows him better than that by now.
“Snart,” says a quiet, ominous voice behind them.
He knows that voice. It’s been irritating him for the past decade.
In sync, he and Mick turn around.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t stand,” Mick says drily.
Len is already on his feet. “Raya Van Zandt,” he sighs.
Silver Ghost’s face splits into one of her cold smiles. He never found that even slightly threatening before today. “Leonard Snart.”
Oh, hell. “Are you seriously telling me the Young Rogues were stupid enough to kidnap Nora West-Allen? You utter nimrods.”
She blinks at him. Looks blankly around the docks. Looks back at him. “Um... Huh?”
He taps his foot impatiently. “The note was you, yes? You said you have something of mine?”
She opens the bag at her feet. Beckons him towards her. Rolling his eyes, he lets her triumphantly show him the contents.
It’s the fucking cold gun.
“This is what you meant?”
She’s giving him a confused stare. “I did think you’d be keener to get it back than this.”
The calculations are starting up in Len’s head again. Clearly in Mick’s, too—he’s dragged himself up from the ground. “You saying you never had the speedster’s kid?” Mick asks.
She throws up her hands. “What the hell are you boys talking about?”
Len sighs, holding down the button on the police radio. “Stand down. She doesn’t have the kid.”
“What?” says West’s voice.
“The note was about the cold gun,” he mutters just loud enough to be heard over the radio. Not that it’s going to help. The entire CCPD is watching him screw this up.
Silver Ghost’s eyes have gone wide. “Have you seriously lost the Flash’s kid, Cold?”
Next to him, Mick points. “It was his fault.”
Van Zandt taps her ear. “Girls. New job,” she says, sounding every bit the professional crew boss as he ever did. “Remember Nora West-Allen?” She listens for an answer and chokes a laugh. “Yeah, of course you do, Spencer. Well, if you don’t want to make the time paradox that is your memory of her even worse, there’s something we gotta help with.”
Damn, Len thinks. The wasted talent. She’d have made a great asset for the real Rogues.
“Don’t worry, Snart. We’ll get her back for you.” She smiles at him, and he once again has to remind himself that a) she’s young enough to be his daughter, and b) he’s not her type.
Fortunately, she’s distracted already, her hand on her earpiece again. “For fuck’s sake, Joss, she’s eight years old at this point. Go find a way to time travel if you want to catch the one that got away.” Her eyes roll to the sky, then meet Len’s again. “The whole of my crew is in love with a speedster. Years after she went home.” She gestures at him with an odd kind of respect. “Bet you never had this problem, Snart.”
At his side, Mick guffaws. Extra loudly.
Len raises his eyebrows at him. “Shut up, and let’s go find his kid before he speeds us to Iron Heights.”
He walks away, with Mick’s laughter ringing on and on behind him.
Mick was always his priority.
With the cops and the Young Rogues—he’s still laughing about how they continue to go by that moniker—on the case, Len figures there isn’t actually a need for the old guys out in the field. They swap with Frost, and end up sitting in front of the STAR Labs monitors eating their way through a pile of tootsie rolls.
“How is Cisco, like, forty and still living on this stuff?” Mick asks through a very full mouth.
Len shrugs. “Some people just never grow up.”
Mick’s face crumples. He says nothing.
Patting him on the shoulder, Len asks, “How long you been feeling like this, buddy?”
“Don’t do feelings,” Mick grumps, the words all slurred together in a rush. Glaring at Len, he stuffs a couple more tootsie rolls into his mouth, apparently out of spite.
Len aims a look at him. “That really how you’re gonna play this?” But he lets Mick have the few minutes of grumpy silence that he clearly needs. Len fixes his eyes on the monitors, watching for movement, lightning. Seeing nothing but evening traffic crawling, painfully slowly, through the Central City streets.
After a minute, Len decides his partner has had enough sulking time. He takes Mick’s hand in his own, thumbing the ring on his middle finger, as he’s been absently doing for so many years. “Remember when I got you this? I guess it was… mid-2000s.”
Mick’s eyes lock with Len’s. “Sure…?”
Of course the bastard is making him say it out loud. He clinks his own pinkie ring against Mick’s black ring, the old symbol that he doesn’t see much anymore, though he still runs into older ace folks wearing the black ring on a middle finger, now and then. “Was never much good at words, when it came to us, but I guess I was trying to tell you I’ll always take you as you are.” He attempts to raise meaningful eyebrows at Mick. “You know that goes for everything, right?”
He watches Mick frown down at the ring, at their linked hands.
Sighing, he decides to drive the fucking point home. “You’ve been a pyro since the day I met you,” he carries on, his voice softer. “You’ve been a big scary villain and a bigger scarier—” he pauses at Mick’s raised eyebrow— “h-word. We’ve both done and been things that no one else would put up with from either of us. I think I can learn to live with you becoming a bit less steady on your feet.” He rubs a hand across Mick’s head. “Horrors. You might lose your hair.”
He gets a hint of a smile for that. Then more silence, except for Mick’s loud chewing.
At last, Mick takes a thin breath, letting it out again slowly. “Just don’t want you to… end up alone.” He looks up at Len with troubled eyes. “Like I did. You know. After the Oculus.”
He drops his hand from Mick’s head to the back of his neck. “You want me to give you some bullshit spiel about how tomorrow is promised to no one? Or you wanna listen to me berate the next generation of useless criminals for not having updated us in…” He checks his watch. “Ten minutes? Fucking hell, Raya!” He slams his hand onto the mic button. “Are you dead or just an idiot, Van Zandt? You’re meant to keep your men in the chairs in the loop!”
“Hold your goddamn horses, Snart,” comes the auto thief’s lazy voice over the radio.
And then he swears he hears Barry Allen’s. And for about five seconds, Len’s never been more terrified in his life, and he’s survived Iron Heights, the Oculus, and a four-decade-long partnership with Mick Rory.
“I can’t believe no one called us!”
“We tried!” yells West’s voice. “Next time you leave one of your kids to go gallivanting off to another Earth, for God's sake leave us a way to contact you!”
Len closes his eyes. Mick snorts and leans over the mic. “Silver Ghost, if you tell us what’s going on right now, you can have a fucking job.”
“Aww, you mean that?” Len can practically hear her grinning. He rolls his eyes. “Everything’s fine, you old bastards. Nora’s at the Central City Citizen offices. Just got here. Apparently she’s been running around the city looking for her parents all night. She forgot that they were on another Earth. And that she’d been told to stay with you.”
Mick chuckles indulgently. “Little scamp.”
Len attempts his iciest glare at his partner, but he’s seriously out of practice. “Little...?! What the… We thought she’d been kidnapped!”
“Well, she hasn’t, Lenny, so stop worrying.” Mick pulls himself up with a steadying hand on the desk. “C’mon. We’re going to the Citizen to apologize to Iris, and then we’re taking her, Barry and Nora out for ice cream. Or possibly diamond shopping… let’s see how much trouble we’re in.”
When they get there, Nora is suitably sorry. She’s sniffling into Iris’s arms that she just missed my mom and just forgot that you’d gone away and just didn’t want to bother Uncle Lenny and was just going to be right back and a lot of other incoherent crying eight-year-old stuff that absolutely does not move Uncle Lenny nearly to tears. He probably isn’t the next one that the teary Nora throws her arms around, and he definitely doesn’t remember telling her how sorry he is for not noticing that she wasn’t okay. Nor does he offer her the world in an ice cream cone. Nope.
“I just wanted to see you and Mom,” she says over his shoulder to Barry, when she’s calmed down a bit. “You’re always running off on missions, and Mom’s always running after a story…”
Barry’s face is a tragedy as he drops down to his knees next to the crouching Len, who is somehow still being hugged tight by Nora. “Hey,” Barry says gently to her. “How about we all do something next weekend? Go camping?”
“Why not this weekend?” she sniffs into Len’s shoulder, who sighs about the laundry he’s going to have to do when he gets home.
“Because,” Barry says, still in a very gentle voice, “you’re grounded until we’ve had a long chat about this whole ‘running off’ thing. ‘Cause it has to stop, honey.” He glares at Len with just a hint of the Flash in his eyes. “Even if Uncle Lenny did fall asleep while he was meant to be watching you.”
“Oh. Okay.” She pulls away from Len’s shoulder. He takes the opportunity to roll them back, since he’s got a crick in his neck now. “Can Uncle Lenny and Uncle Mick come with us for camping next weekend, then?”
“Camping?” said Mick, whose grin suggests he’s already running scenes of a weekend in the fucking country through his head. “Awesome!”
No one notices.
“It’s July,” he attempts to say. “It’s gonna be fu— really hot…”
The weekend planning goes on around him.
“Mick and I get our own camping area,” he says with a sigh, when he realises no one is ever going to ask for his opinion.
Barry claps him delightedly on the back. “Sure! But you have to come make s’mores at our campfire, okay?”
Len looks at Nora’s hopeful face. She’s smiling through her tears.
“Pleeeease, Uncle Lenny? For me?”
“Fine,” he mutters.
She squeals and hugs him again.
If anyone sees Len smile, they politely don’t comment on it.
“Best. Fire. Ever.” Mick says. He’s piling more logs on top of the little campfire outside their little cabin, conveniently close to the West-Allens' slightly larger cabin, but not too close.
“Yes, Mick. And last week you said that about a stick that Wallace found in the backyard and set alight with a magnifying glass.”
Mick beams at the memory. “Yeah, okay. That was a pretty good fire too.”
As campgrounds go, even Len has to admit that this one—on the edge of the lake out by Keystone—is not the worst that Mick has dragged him to. In one of his better moods, he might even call it beautiful. He’s mostly just annoyed about the mosquitos.
(Nora has repeatedly and gleefully informed him that this is called being salty, as in, “Uncle Lenny, stop being salty about the mosquitos. They’re just bugs. They won’t hurt you.”
He tried to retort with, “Kid, I’m scratching my arms off. They have literally hurt me,” but she was too busy explaining mosquito biology to him, in far more graphic detail than Len ever needed to know about the bloodsucking bastards, to listen.)
There’s a familiar shimmer of lightning on the edge of Len’s vision. It resolves into a speedster wearing a STAR Labs hoodie and a red baseball cap, even though he’s nearly forty and far too old to dress like that. “Come on then,” Barry says, nodding in the direction of their cabin.
Len looks pointedly at their roaring fire.
When Barry fails to get the hint, he says, even more pointedly, “Perhaps you’ve noticed that we’ve already made a fire here, Barry.”
Barry shrugs. “Well, we’ve made one at our cabin. And the kids have already started roasting their marshmallows. So, come on.”
Mick gets up, peering across at the West-Allens’ fire. “Ain’t as good as ours.”
“Wallace insisted on building it himself, and he’s eight and easily distracted.”
Grinning, Mick says, “That’s a good kid you got there.”
“Still,” Len interrupts, since that’s a risky direction for this conversation to drift in, “we’re staying. Bring the kids, and their marshmallows, over here.” He helpfully gestures at the ground in front of him, in case Barry still hasn’t got the point.
And Barry’s smile turns just a little dangerous. “You fell asleep and let Nora run away, Len. You can assume we’re winning every argument this weekend. Ten minutes, then you’re joining us.” And then he speeds off without letting Len get so much as a word in edgewise.
“He’s right,” says Mick, who’s still looking way too cheerful about this whole thing.
“Yes, thank you, Mick.” Len shakes his head at the cloudless sky. The last shades of sunset-orange are fading over the lake. It’s still not quite what he’d call beautiful, but it’s almost acceptably pleasant. “Can’t believe you’re the one who’s freaking out about getting old,” he mutters, “when I’m being tormented for one five minute nap.”
“It was an hour nap. While you were babysitting Barry Allen’s kid.”
“I’m trying to make a point, Mick.”
Mick chuckles. “Fine. Go ahead, asshole.”
Len watches him poking at the fire with a stick. Mick’s hands aren’t as steady as they used to be. Those hands that saved him from an almost certain death in juvie. The hands that made breakfast for him and Lisa for years, after so many nights when they’d fled Lewis’s house, ending up at Mick’s tiny wreck of an apartment every single time. The hands that almost casually slipped a ring onto his finger one day when they were in their twenties, decades before they could legally marry—and that cooked so many decent meals for him that Len eventually had to move that ring to his pinky. The hands that nursed him when he came back from the Oculus, all while Len barely recognized him for weeks. That fixed up every inch of their house, with its sleek black doors and fish pond and lattice windows, after they retired. That are still, whether Mick’s hugging or (occasionally) decking him, the safest hands he’s even known.
So what if they shake a little now where they’re hovering over the fire, as he’s watched them doing for so many years? They’re the same hands.
Mick looks up at him, waiting expectantly, but Len’s still trying to figure out how to put it into words.
Just then, three flashes of lightning come shooting past, circling the lake again and again. Two streaks of purple-and-yellow lightning chasing a more familiar yellow bolt.
“Hah,” Mick says, grinning up at them. “They ain’t caught him yet, but they’re getting faster.”
Len smiles at him. “Next generation of heroes, huh?”
“Guess so.” He looks hopefully at Len. “Unless they wanna be villains.”
Laughing, he shrugs. “We can but hope.” While Mick’s grinning back at him, he takes the opportunity to catch his eye. “And maybe a couple of old ex-villains like us can teach them a few new things that the hero types can’t.”
Mick’s eyes narrow into a frown at the ground. “You saying we can still be useful?”
Raising eyebrows back at him, Len says, “I like to think we’ve got a few years in us yet.”
“Even with my crappy joints and your thing of falling asleep at all hours?”
Len aims a wry smile at him. “Yup.” He reaches out for Mick’s hand, curling his slender fingers around Mick’s gnarlier ones. “And I don’t know about you, but I still want you around, even if we can’t.” He pointedly adds, “No matter how long it’s for.”
“Huh,” is all Mick says.
But he smiles at Len, and it’s good enough for now.
Then Mick squints at him. “Can’t believe you didn’t know Nora and Wallace fucking West-Allen were speedsters.”
“Please don’t mention that one to their father. I’m in enough trouble already.”
The trails of lightning shoot up to their fire, where they shimmer and resolve into three figures. Wallace grabs Mick’s hand (“Careful, Wally, he’s injured!” his father warns).
Nora grins up at Len. “Coming, Uncle Lenny?”
Len raises an eyebrow at Mick. “Their place?”
Mick sighs and gets up, slowly, but under his own steam. “Their place. Gonna make me some s’mores, kids?” he asks, to several protests in unison about how he can make his own.
As they’re all walking to the next cabin, Len hears Wallace ask Mick, “Were you heroically injured?”
“Damn right,” Mick says, with a look at Barry that dares him to say a single word about phone cords and people who aren’t as steady on their feet as they used to be.
“Oh yeah, kid,” Len says. “We’re heroes from the old days, remember?”
“Yes!” Nora says, bouncing while holding onto his hand. It’s very irritating. “Tell us a story about a time you did hero stuff, Uncle Lenny!”
“Eh,” Len says, “you don’t want my stories. You want Uncle Mick’s. Did he tell you about the time he had a fire totem that let him shoot fire from his hands?”
To squeals of delight from the kids, Mick cheerfully launches into a story—of fighting a dragon, with fire spurting from his hands and, apparently, eyes—that Len is pretty sure is at least partly a fabrication. Though it’s always hard to tell, with Legends stories. It’s a damn good tale, all the same. As they near the West-Allens’ fire, where Iris is roasting multiple marshmallows like the superhero she is, Mick follows right up with another equally unlikely story that Len’s never heard. He grins at him, over the first of what is bound to be at least sixteen questions from Nora. (“What’s a Garima?”)
Len crouches down at the fire, grabbing the marshmallow that Iris offers him, and nudges Wallace in the direction of the box of chocolate she’s keeping very safely at her side. If Wallace just spontaneously decides to steal his uncle some extra s’mores fillings, they can’t blame Len.
Yup, he thinks, as Nora launches into some kind of physics-based explanation of why s’mores are so delicious. There’s still time for these villainous old dogs to teach the heroes a few new tricks.
“Beautiful night,” Mick whispers in his ear, dropping down next to him, in a clatter of crutches, to roast his own marshmallow.
Gazing up at the stars, with the voices of chatty kids and their chattier parents echoing around him, and with Mick’s hand in his, Len is inclined to agree.
So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you've had too much to drink
I could be the man who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you