Chapter 1: Home
The story so far: When Len returned from the dead, Barry and Iris helped him adjust to some disabling time travel powers. In the process, they all fell for each other. When he returned to the Oculus to get answers, it offered him a choice. He chose to keep his powers - and to move in with Barry and Iris. Time for the happy ending... right?*
*Don't worry, there will be a happy ending... eventually!
It’s not completely necessary to have read Stealing Time, but it might help. The one-shots are totally optional.
Song: God Says Nothing Back, The Wallflowers
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Barry,” said a distant voice.
He groaned, clamping his arms tighter around the source - a broad, warm back that Barry never wanted to let go of.
“Good morning,” purred Iris’s even more distant voice. Barry opened one eye to watch her turn over and kiss Len. The three of them had been together nearly a year, and Barry still wasn’t bored of that sight. He wasn’t sure he ever could be.
Len smirked as she pulled away. “Mmm, very good morning indeed.”
“Hey, sleepy-head,” Iris said, reaching over Len to poke Barry - he groaned again. “You’re gonna be late.”
“Don’t care,” he murmured, and pulled a pillow over his face, just as a deep chuckle from Len made him smile beneath it. Grabbing the pillow, Len shot him a devilish grin, then turned back to Iris.
Barry leaned up on his hand and took in his sleepy wife, in that pink silk nightgown she loved because Barry had given it to her, comparing schedules with his former nemesis, who was lounging against the headboard in his blue striped PJs. Sometimes Barry stood back and wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. But not often - it was all too perfect for that. It was one thing that the universe had finally seen fit to have Barry’s gorgeous, badass best friend fall in love with him, but to let him have a roguishly handsome hero of a lover as well seemed a little unfair on everyone else. Not that Barry was complaining.
“Barry, you’re in the shower first. I’ll start the coffee machine.” Shucking on a pair of fluffy slippers, Iris trudged towards the kitchen.
“Don’t put the toast on till I get there,” Len called helpfully after her, and she waved a dismissive arm behind her.
Barry put the pillow back over his face.
Len slapped him lightly on the arm. “Job, Barry. Have to get up and be a CSI, remember?”
His heavy eyelids fought the warm temptation of a few more minutes of sleep. “Imma quit,” he mumbled.
“Probably shouldn’t make that decision at 6.30 a.m.” Len patted him on the shoulder. “Go shower. I’ll make you some toast.”
Sitting up slowly, Barry reached out and ran a hand across Len’s chest. “My hero.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he heard Len grumbling, as he flashed into the bathroom.
He made it to breakfast just as Iris was putting the finishing touches on laying the table. Len was watching from the kitchen island, smirking as Barry kissed her on the forehead and said, “See? You totally have a role at breakfast!” He added “…ow” when she hit him playfully on the head with a fork.
“Now now.” Len put down a big plate full of toast. “Save it for the dangerous metas. You could take down the Hulk with that fork action.”
Barry had half of the toast buttered and in his mouth before Len had sat down. “This is amazing.” He shot Len what he suspected was a very dopey smile. “I love you and you should come home more often.”
“It’s just toast, Barry.” Len was clearly trying not to smile back at him. “And didn’t I ban superpowers at the table? Let the rest of us get some food.”
“Oh, you’ve got plenty.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“I’m not,” Barry said through his second piece of toast.
“Boys,” Iris chided, her focus on the toast she was covering in peanut butter. “Can we save the bickering for when we have an actual problem?”
Barry smiled as he watched Len raise his eyebrows at Iris over the coffee mug that Barry had bought for him. One morning, after a panicked realisation that every mug in the apartment belonged to either him or Iris, Barry had pulled up one of those ‘design your own crockery’ websites right at the breakfast table. He’d ordered Len a huge blue mug with a picture of a parka on it and ‘My Time-Traveling Hero’ in bold font underneath. Admittedly, he might have thought more about the message if he hadn’t been rushing out of a terrible sense of guilt - and Iris had been no help, just laughing at his pain. Len pretended to find the mug eyeroll-worthy, but he wouldn’t drink coffee from any other cup.
Len tilted his head at Barry. “Is she tempting fate?”
“Oh, definitely.” Barry leaned over to kiss Iris. “I can’t wait to blame you when we next have a crisis.”
“Mmm. A really terrible crisis.” She grinned. “Maybe with aliens. Lots of them.”
“Meanie,” Barry murmured, smiling against her. As he drew back, he caught sight of his watch. “Oh, crap.” He jumped up, pulling on his shoes. “Len, you’re going to STAR Labs this morning, right?”
“Yup.” Len swallowed a last bite of toast. “Hold up. I’ll walk out with you.”
Hopping as he wrestled with his infuriating right shoe, Barry made a face at him. “Yeah, that’ll help me be on time.”
“Oh no. However will you make it in by 7.30?” Len circled the table to get to Iris. “If only you were the fastest man alive.”
A year ago, the sarcasm would probably have rankled with Barry. Now it just made him grin - and so did the sight of Len leaning down to kiss Iris. “You’d be surprised,” she said. “Barry could be late if— mmm, come back here.” She grabbed Len’s collar before he could pull away, dragging him back in for another.
This time, Len was clearly savoring the kiss, closing his eyes, a hand on Iris’s cheek. Barry leaned against the table, allowing himself a moment to watch his two favorite people enjoying each other. He couldn’t imagine life getting any better than this.
Even if Len was really taking his time now. He coughed. “Uh, Len? It’s 7.25.”
“Six seconds, Barry,” he said, opening his eyes and sharing an appreciative, amused look with Iris. “That’s how long it takes you to get to work.”
“And then I have to get up the stairs and into my office, all without using—”
Ever the dramatic asshole, Len sighed loudly. “Fine.” With a hand on Barry’s back, he aimed him at the door.
“Bye-bye, my heroes,” Iris said with a little smile at Len.
“Cute,” Len called back, taking his time to roll his eyes fondly at her.
Sighing, Barry pulled him through the door and flashed them both down the stairs, taking exactly five seconds to peck Len on his soft, smirking lips.
“Not even giving me a lift to—” he heard Len start to ask. By the time he’d thought of a suitably witty reply, Barry was already halfway to the CCPD.
At the Cortex, Len lingered at the door for a minute. Through the glass he could see Caitlin at her desk, her face scrunched up in the direction of her computer screen as though she was puzzling something out.
“So I see it’s you today,” he called out, by way of announcement of his arrival. “Thought there was probably a 50-50 chance I’d get Frost.” He grinned as he headed for the divider between the two rooms. “Would have made therapy a lot more fun.”
Caitlin smiled up at him. “Well, she likes you. Can’t think why. Is that for me?”
He handed her the coffee in his left hand, leaning back against the glass wall and sipping his own. “So. Usual Friday schedule?”
In eight months, Len had almost never missed a therapy session. He timed his Waverider work schedule so that, one way or the other, he could get back to STAR Labs every other Friday. When he thought about it, he couldn’t honestly say why. Sure, it helped some. But, gazing now at the doctor he’d grown rather fond of, Len wondered if it was partly about not wanting to disappoint the formidable Caitlin Snow. Who, he had to admit, he found a little intimidating - far more than Frost.
The one time he had been forced to skip therapy, he’d ended up in an awkward inter-temporal communicator conversation in which Cait had actually said the words, “Well, Len, I understand that work is important. But neglecting your health is bad for your work, your personal life, and your control of your powers. I want you to think about that before next week, okay?” He had spluttered something about an emergency involving aliens in the 1920s, which was the actual truth, and ended the communication feeling like a small child who had forgotten to do his homework.
Caitlin was frowning at her computer screen again. “There’s something I want you to take a look at first.”
He stepped around to look at the screen. It was a scan of his brain - not that he’d have known that without the ‘Leonard Snart’ label below - together with a row of unintelligible numbers. He peered at it, patting his pockets for his missing glasses. “What am I looking at, doc?”
Pointing at the list of numbers first, she said, “These are your meta genes.” She tilted her head to peek up at him. “Remember how I theorised that you had them, and they’d been activated by the Oculus?” Len nodded. “Well, I confirmed that you have the genes. Now I’m working on figuring out exactly what they’re doing for you.”
Len turned to lean against the desk, running his fingers along the edge of it. The feel of the wood grain was grounding. He was learning his own tells, he thought ruefully, thanks to all this work in training and therapy. Signs of anxiety he never would have realised were that, before. “Run that by me again?”
Caitlin clearly hadn’t noticed his ramping-up nerves, just steamrolling on. “Every metahuman’s body is differently affected by their meta genes. Ralph’s genes reshape the cellular structure of his collagen, making him stretchy. Barry’s speed up his metabolism so that he can function at extreme speed. Mine allow my body to tolerate and produce cold. I can see all those changes on a range of tests - metabolic, blood count, and so on.” She pointed at the scan of Len’s brain, lit up brighter than the West family home at Christmas. “Your meta genes are mainly affecting your brain, and in ways I’ve never seen before. The closest thing I have seen is in Barry, when he’s been in the Speed Force.” Grinning, she added, “I got him in an MRI so fast after he first came back from there—”
“What’s your point?” Len had to pause, taking a deep breath, when he realised he’d snapped.
Her eyes alight with the possibilities, Caitlin hadn’t noticed that, either. “Every year we find more metahumans with more kinds of powers than we could ever imagine. The ones whose powers have a psychic component - well, it’s almost always challenging on their mental health. And your powers have some of the strangest neurological effects I’ve seen. Think of the answers your brain could unlock, and how many of those other metahumans we could help.”
His hands were tapping out an insistent rhythm behind him now, counting out regressive patterns. “You asking if you can study my head, doc?”
You’re fucked in the head, boy. No wonder you’re no use to me.
He cut the string of dim lights that ran through his own timeline, forcing himself back into the present.
And finally Caitlin put the science babble on pause, looking over at him. “Len,” she said, concern filtering into her voice. “Is something wrong?”
“Everything’s fine, doc. So, what - you want a consent form?”
Caitlin frowned, but she pushed a thick file towards him. “Yes, but think about it for a while first, won’t you? It would mean more scans, tests… I want you to be sure you’re happy with what I’m proposing here.”
He swiped the folder like a stranger’s wallet. “Got it. You know what, Caitlin?” he drawled lazily. “I’m not feeling well. I only got back last night - guess maybe I’ve got a touch of time lag. Can we reschedule for tomorrow?”
Her eyes widened and she pushed her chair backwards, very nearly catching him in the leg with the edge of it. “Oh, of course. Go take care of yourself, Len. I wouldn’t want to tire you out.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said, already at the door.
And then he paused. His hand was cold on the door handle. He didn’t turn around. “Caitlin.”
“Yes?” She already sounded distracted by her next task.
“If something ever… changed. With my powers,” he said into the dark, empty Cortex. “Would these brain scans help?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she chattered. “We can establish a baseline for your current brain functions. Then we’ll know how anything new affects you. It could really be very useful.”
“I see.” He glanced over his shoulder to find her smiling encouragingly at him. “Thanks, doc. See you tomorrow.”
He didn’t wait for her answer before striding out of there. When she called out that he’d left his coffee behind, he pretended he was already too far away to hear her.
It was warm and damp under his back.
Len was lying in a field. The stars were slowly spreading themselves out in a thousand colors across an Oculus-blue sky above.
(there’s a pattern to it)
Frowning, he turned his head to look at the source of the voice… and came face to face with himself.
“Who are you?”
(got bigger things to worry about, wouldn’t you say?)
He glared up at the stars in their ancient, fixed patterns. Never changing.
There was a laugh, musical as Iris’s, though he wasn’t hearing it with his ears.
(they’re going to be angry)
His other self raised a shaking arm to point off into the distance.
On the other side of the field, Barry and Iris were laying out a picnic on a Flash-red blanket. In perfect dream logic, Len could hear them clearly, even from far away. “Open this, would you, babe?” Iris asked, holding out a bright blue bottle of champagne.
Barry reached out to accept it, his face a picture of joy - and paused. “I can’t help feeling like something’s missing,” he mused.
Iris’s mouth, which Len could also make out at a distance, moved as if she was saying Where’s Len? But what he heard was, “No. All my heroes are here.”
A chill was enveloping Len, paralyzing him against the ground.
(you haven’t told them)
Barry was suddenly standing at a STAR Labs whiteboard that had appeared beside them, with Iris still lounging on the blanket. “This used to make sense,” Barry was saying, as he scribbled unintelligible symbols in red pen on the board. “Now I don’t know what it adds up to.”
“Oh!” Iris said, with her hand in the air. “I know what it is.” They both turned to look at Len, with eyes that could see into his wretched, rotten soul. “It’s him.”
He felt the bottom drop out of the ground beneath him. He was drowning in stars.
Barry shook his head sadly, pointing at the board. “You’re unbalancing my equations, Len.”
“No,” Len murmured. He couldn’t move. “Barry. I’m not—”
Whatever he was going to say, he was interrupted by a roar in the distance. A seven-foot tall Lewis Snart was storming across the field, the ground shuddering beneath him with every stomp. “You idiots!” he yelled at Barry and Iris, who just smiled at him, even as he sent the whiteboard crashing to the ground with a single swipe.
Len tried to call out to them run - but his throat felt like a vicious hand was crushing it.
“They’ve got no idea, have they, son?” The giant wheezed a laugh that sent another shiver through Len’s frozen body.
Beside him, his other self began to laugh along with his father.
Then Barry joined in, his face twisting, his mouth leering open in loud mockery.
And then Iris.
Len woke shivering in the dark, still feeling the chill of the damp grass, even in his bed with Iris on one side of him and Barry on the other.
“Len?” Barry murmured, wriggling in closer to his side. “You’re freezing.”
“I’m fine,” he managed to reply between harsh, rapid breaths. “Go back to sleep.”
The damn speedster would never take Len’s word for it that he didn’t need help. Barry wrapped his arms around him, rubbing his shoulder. “It’s okay,” he murmured. “It’s going to be okay.”
It should have grated. Would have done, back when Len had been the person he… used to be. But now, much too tired to fight, Len just leaned back into him, listening to his familiar, rapid heartbeat, letting Barry's safe warmth seep through him. Letting himself be comforted like a whimpering child - from whatever weird shit that was.
But he couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t going to be okay at all.
Seems like the world's gone underground
Where no gods or heroes dare to go down
Thanks to Thette for fantastic beta reading and character/plot discussion that helped me get out of some stuck moments in upcoming chapters...
Chapter 2: Secrets
Barry worries about Len. He might be right to...
Content warnings for smut, and a shooting (not of a major character, not graphically described). For more detailed warnings and where to skip parts, see end notes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next couple of weeks were busy for Iris, but she didn’t really mind. In these early days of establishing the Citizen as a real media outlet, she didn’t want to miss out on any of the fun and challenge of having her own start-up. But that meant days at a time when she only saw the sun through the downtown office window. For ten nights, as soon as she got home, she crossed a square off the kitchen calendar, while Barry rested his head on her shoulder. ‘LEN HOME’ was written in a neat hand across the Saturday and Sunday squares, with a little smirking face doodled beside it.
It wasn’t as though she didn’t appreciate the time she got to spend with Barry, just the two of them. Even with her long hours, they managed to fit in dinner and cuddles and TV nights. But there was always something missing until Leonard joined them again.
Thursday night finally arrived, and Iris managed to crawl home at an almost reasonable hour. She collapsed onto the big bed, just letting her eyes close for a minute or two. She must have looked a sight when Barry came in, with her hair hanging limp around her and a smear of mascara across her pillow, but he stopped in the doorway and smiled as though she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Seriously, being married to Barry Allen was doing fantastic things for her self-esteem.
She grinned when an insistent pair of arms wrapped around her and a firm kiss pressed her back into her pillow. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
His smile was bright as lightning. “I flashed,” he said, the same pride in his voice as on the first day he’d appeared to her as the Flash.
“I figured. Did Len say if he’ll be home in time for dinner?”
“Uh, I think so?” Barry rolled away. His brow was furrowing, a change of mood clouding his face.
“Well, don’t forget to take the pie out of the oven. If it’s crispy, he’ll think I forgot about it.”
When she got no reply, Iris glanced over at him, frowning at the timbre of his silence. She’d known Barry a long time, and loved him almost as long. She knew his contented silence, his thoughtful hush and his sulky quiet. And, from her vivid, sad memories of their childhood, she knew what his silence sounded like when he was afraid.
His green eyes were fixed on the ceiling, a distant look in them. “He had a nightmare the other night.”
“He has those, Barry,” she said gently. She rolled towards him so she could slide in against his side, rubbing his shoulder when he wrapped an arm around her. “You wouldn’t like it if I panicked every time you had one.”
“I guess so. But... there’s other weird stuff, too. His mood is all over the place, recently. Do you think something’s wrong?”
This wasn’t just Barry’s usual anxiety, free-floating and always looking for a target. He’d been thinking about this. “What other weird stuff?”
He shrugged. “I’ve just got this feeling.” He ran the back of his hand softly across her cheek. “Caitlin mentioned he missed therapy last week, too.”
“Barry. You know that’s between them. Client-doctor privilege.” He nodded, and she ruffled his hair. “Let me see what I can get out of him, yeah?”
She didn’t get to hear what Barry thought of that idea. A key was rattling in the door, and the sound still made her smile. He’d spent so many months breaking in. A few more just ringing the doorbell, guarding his heart too hard to let himself think of the West-Allen apartment as his own. But Leonard Snart was finally using his own front door key to their shared home.
“In here,” she called out.
“Iris, your beauty is incomparable,” Leonard said before he’d even stepped in from the hallway.
Okay, if one guy doing this was good for her self-esteem, two were going to inflate her ego like an out-of-control balloon. She scoffed. “Oh please - you can’t see me and I’m a mess.”
“Doesn’t make a shred of difference,” he said, jumping up onto the bed next to her with such a welcome smile that she forgot all her worries, and all of Barry’s, and let him sweep her up in a hug. “Hi. Missed you,” he said in that gorgeous, roguish drawl of his.
On the other side of the bed, Barry was watching them with an impish grin of his own, arms folded in mock offence. “Did you miss me?”
Len’s eyes softened as he let go of Iris and took Barry in. “Damn right I did,” he said, with more feeling than she ever thought she’d hear from him, and he shuffled past her and curled his arms around Barry.
After a minute, when it became clear that Leonard’s wandering hands were stealing Barry’s attention, she coughed. “Barry. Would you like me to finish dinner? You seem busy.”
“Mmf—No… I’m going…” He pulled reluctantly away from Leonard’s rather passionate embrace, removing Len’s hands from his butt, and wriggled out of bed. But he found time to turn back and grin at them both before he flashed out.
Leonard chuckled, his eyes roaming down Iris’s body. “I mean it. You’re beautiful.”
She rolled her eyes. “Flattery will— mmm.” She didn’t protest his interruption - the kiss was too good. His tongue teased at her lips, always a flashing neon sign that he wanted to do more than just kiss. “Dinner’s nearly ready, Leonard,” she said, laughing.
His chuckle rumbled against her. “We can put it in the microwave later. I really missed you.”
It was too easy for his clever hands to persuade her, as they reached effortlessly back to unbutton her dress with elegant skill learned from years of pickpocketing and safe-breaking.
And then a smaller, warmer pair of hands were on her back, pulling her dress off and sliding down to settle on the curve of her thigh, stroking softly while Leonard kept kissing her.
No one had warned Iris about how good the sex would be for her, when there were three of them, but she wasn’t complaining.
“God, Barry,” she whined, as his tongue joined his hands, slowly teasing up her thighs towards her folds, skirting them and pulling away, again and again. “Come on, Barry…”
Leonard’s smirk was unfairly sexy. “Patience. He’s an artist,” he murmured in her ear, making her giggle.
And then everything was white-hot bliss for a while, with Barry sucking her off while Leonard nibbled at her nipples and stroked her thighs, and she couldn’t have told you whose name she was calling out when she came, but they both looked damn happy about it.
Iris sighed into the quiet moment afterwards, stroking Leonard’s face as she smiled at Barry. A year ago, she could never have imagined a third person slotting into their relationship like he was made to fit there. She had been happy with Barry; she didn’t expect anything to shake that up. But then Leonard stumbled out of the dark and into their lives. He hadn’t just added to her relationship with Barry. He had transformed it into something new - a life that belonged to all three of them.
And the hot sex didn’t hurt, she thought, rolling over as Leonard turned his attention to Barry. She grinned at Leonard’s smirk at her. He knew just how much she loved watching them together. It had been strange at first, watching her husband with another man - but very quickly, Leonard just… fit.
He was already wrestling Barry a bit to be on top, always a little rougher with him than with Iris. That healing factor meant Barry could take it - and his eager eyes said he loved it. He was playing along, strong enough to roll Leonard over and straddle him if he wanted to, but letting him Leonard win. With a delighted smirk, Len finally pulled himself on top, throwing a leg over Barry and pushing his arms down against the bed. “Are you going to be a good boy and not move, or do I need to tie you up?” he purred, while Barry squirmed under a playful grin - and oh God, Iris was going to want to go again soon if they kept this up.
“I’ll be good,” Barry murmured back.
Iris’s right hand drifted almost unconsciously to her pussy.
Leonard noticed, raising amused eyebrows at her. “Want to help hold him down, Iris, or are you busy?”
Barry turned his head to shoot her an adorable grin.
“Sure you’re good with this?” Len was asking him, his voice dropping out of his drawl for a moment.
“Yes,” he hissed, squirming again, his dark eyes already needy. “Get on with it, Len.”
Len’s eyes got just a little bit wider. “Brat.”
Iris laughed. She scrambled up towards the headboard, pinning Barry’s hands behind his head. He gave her the briefest of delighted smiles, then raised his eyebrows at Len, daring him to do something.
With another well-timed smirk at Iris, Leonard caught Barry’s eye and licked his lips, his playful mask slipping. For a moment, Iris could see just how crazy he was about Barry, and it took her breath away. Then the smirk was back, and he smoothed his hand slowly across Barry’s body, moving down to palm his cock.
“So villainous,” Barry whispered. “I love it.”
Len went still, so briefly that only Barry or Iris could have noticed - and Barry was a little distracted. But he shrugged one shoulder quickly enough, a slightly subdued smirk back on his face. “Yeah, you do.”
Her time-traveling lover was a little quieter than usual after that, focusing on her other hero, wrenching down his pants and licking his tip, then taking Barry’s whole length into his mouth with the practiced cockiness of someone who knew he was damn good at what he was doing.
He’s just focused, Iris told herself, choosing to ignore Barry’s earlier worries. And soon enough she was distracted by Len’s attentive gaze on Barry. When Barry’s eyes began to drift closed, Len patted his thigh and softly ordered, “Uh-uh. Eyes on me, Scarlet.” He obeyed at once, matching Len’s look of complete adoration. It sent a shiver through Iris, and her left hand roamed back downwards. Len grinned in approval before he turned his full attention back to Barry’s cock.
As Barry’s moans rose towards their peak, Len pulled away, beckoning to Iris. She crawled to Barry’s side, dry-mouthed, and Len slid a gentle but firm finger inside her, adding another, making her gasp. Her head dropped down to the pillow behind her, her own fingers finding her clit, adding a touch of her own to that gorgeous feeling of Leonard moving inside her, as she watched him finishing Barry off with his other hand. Len knew them both well enough to time everything to the second. Iris came in time with her husband, Barry calling out something unintelligible, Iris just sighing with the quiet, warm wave that ran through her.
Len finished himself off just a few seconds after them, while Iris leaned over to kiss him, sloppy and soft in the afterglow. He grabbed Barry for his own long, slow kiss, his hand firm on the back of Barry’s head. Then he turned back to Iris with a smug grin. He probably deserved his self-satisfied moment. “Happy, baby?”
She just smiled in answer. She ran her hand across his head, enjoying the feel of his rough, short hair under her fingers. This was too good for words, and she never wanted it to end.
But, too soon, it had to. Barry blinked, awareness returning to his eyes slowly, for a speedster. “Dinner time,” he declared.
There was a groan from Len’s side of the bed. “Can’t believe you like food more than sex.”
“It’s a close one,” Barry admitted, leaning over him for another quick peck on the lips.
He shook his head sadly at Iris. “And so pretty, too. You’d think he’d be more invested.”
The space beside Iris on the bed was suddenly cold. From the kitchen Barry called out, “It’s in in the microwave! Two minutes.”
Iris flopped back onto the bed, laughing at the expression on Len’s face until she couldn’t breathe.
It was early the next day, Saturday morning, when Barry was called out to the scene of a shooting. A thin line of gray light was just starting to filter through the gap under the blinds. He slid out of bed quietly, mindful of Iris’s regular breathing beside him.
As he turned back at the door, he half-noticed the empty space on Len’s side of the bed, too sleepy for it to register properly.
At 11am, as he was being given the all-clear to leave for the rest of the weekend, his phone buzzed.
Coffee. CC J.
Barry raised an eyebrow at the message. “Good morning to you too, Len.” Slinging his bag over his shoulder, he headed down the street towards Jitters.
Len was hunched over a latte in the corner, wearing that overcast expression that always heralded a coming storm. If Barry hadn’t been so tired, he might even have paid enough attention to that.
“What happened to you this morning?” Barry asked, sitting down across the little table from Len.
Len gave him a slightly irritated tilt of his head. “What do you think?”
Barry paused with his coffee cup at his lips. Len was taking fewer unplanned time-jumping trips than ever, but they still happened. “You okay?”
“Peachy.” There was a very Snart shrug. “Nothing monumental happened,” he drawled. “Don’t worry.”
Actually, Barry had mostly been ruminating about the new crime lab director and whether he was making a good impression on her. He turned his attention to his partner, watching him over the rim of his mug. Other than looking like he was having a bit of a crappy day, Len seemed okay. He was lounging in his chair, one arm hiked over the back, his eyes roaming the coffee shop.
Len looked over at him, sighing. “What are you staring at, Barry?”
He shook his head. “Nothing…” But the worry he’d told Iris about was curling uncomfortably in Barry’s insides again. “Did you have a bad dream the other night?”
That seemed to catch Len off guard, a bit of tension slumping out of his shoulders. “You know I don’t sleep well sometimes,” he said softly, the snap gone from his voice. “I said, don’t worry, hmm?”
Nodding, Barry smiled. “So. Tell me about where you went this morning?”
Len’s eyes clouded, and he was somewhere else for the briefest of moments. Then he was back, with another of his signature shrugs. “Popped over to the 1970s in the early hours. It was dull. Tell me about work.”
As Barry began to whine about being called into work on a Saturday, Iris’s voice interrupted him. “I see you two got started without me.” She slumped into a chair beside Barry. “Oh God. So tired. Why am I working on the weekend?”
“It’s like no one warned you that news is on a 24-7 cycle,” Len quipped.
She reached over to slap Len’s knee and he grinned at her. “Shut up, you.” She leaned back and closed her eyes, waving at the two of them. “I’m just gonna— yeah. You carry on without me.”
Barry snorted and picked up his story.
A second later, Iris opened one eye. “Oh, Leonard, I almost forgot. I stopped by the apartment on the way over. You left your communicator there. Mick called - he wants you to call him back.”
Barry didn’t miss how Len stiffened beside him. “Everything okay with you two?”
Through a clenched jaw, Len took a sip of his coffee before he answered. “Fine. There’s just stuff I need to sort out. Work schedules… you know.”
Barry put down his coffee.
Len wasn’t looking at either of them.
Barry could feel all his energy draining away as he tried to suppress the jolt of frustration. Maybe one bad morning didn’t add up to anything. Maybe it really was just a difficult time travel trip that Len didn’t want to talk about. But his reluctance to share anything with them, still, was giving Barry a headache. Communicating with Len was always a damn tightrope act, even after all this time together.
And, yeah, Barry knew he should be putting the work into his relationship, and making the compromises his partners needed, and all that jazz. But some days, especially when he’d had to get up at 5 on a Saturday morning, he was just too tired for this shit.
He sighed, trying not to glare. “Something you want to tell us, Len?”
Barry glanced over at Iris in a quiet plea for help.
“Leonard,” she said gently - how did she do that? She was always so much more patient with him than Barry ever managed to be. “If you want to talk about it, we’re right here.”
Len met her eyes for a moment, and then his gaze slid to the floor. “I said, it’s nothing. Really, I mean it, guys.”
She gave Len a little smile when he finally looked back up. “Well. Even if it’s only the stress of the hero life—”
No one could fail to notice that the h-word sometimes led to some odd reactions from Len. Barry had never seen him have a reaction like this to the word before.
He stood up so hard that his chair squeaked against the floor, drawing glances from nearby coffee-drinkers, and began to walk away.
“Len, wait,” Barry started.
Len turned back around. There was something very dark behind his eyes. His lips were pressed together in a tight, vicious snarl that reminded Barry of his early encounters with Captain Cold.
Ignoring Barry, he raised his eyes to meet Iris’s again. “Don’t call me that,” he said, in a strangled tone. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
And then he was gone, striding towards the door.
Barry started to get up. “I should go after him.”
Iris put her hand on his knee. Her face was tight. “Leave him. I don’t—” She shook her head. “Just leave him.”
“I’m sick of this, Iris!” Barry didn’t realise he was yelling until it was too late, and there was yet more hurt in Iris’s eyes that she didn’t deserve. “Sorry.” He shrank back down into his chair. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged, but there was something cold in her eyes. “Usual routine, Barry. He’ll come to us when he wants to.”
Barry glanced towards the door. “That wasn’t his usual shit, though.” He reached out and squeezed her hand. “Something’s wrong.”
“I know,” she murmured, squeezing back. “But there’s nothing we can do until he wants to talk.”
(not now please not now)
Len could feel the time shift begin to hit before he made it through the door of Jitters. He stumbled out into the alley, whispering an almost-silent prayer that he wouldn’t disappear where Iris or Barry could see him.
Then there was the horribly familiar feeling that he was being torn apart, dragged through an opening tear in the universe—
He blinked the blue light from his eyes, and looked around to find himself in the same alley. But now it was dark, the streets all but deserted. Stepping out onto Main Street, he spotted four or five landmarks that he faintly recognised, familiar but still strange, like an out-of-focus photograph of home.
He was back in his own timeline, for the fifth fucking time that month.
It was 1989, and he knew exactly why he was there.
Len ducked back into the alley as his younger self passed, flanked by Mick, his head plumed with a burst of red hair - the sight nearly made Len snicker. And then he stepped back onto the street to watch them heading for the Motorcar diner. An ache of nostalgia stirred in him at the sight of the place where his grandfather had taken him for milkshakes. Where, night after night while he was growing up, he had sat curled up in a dark booth at the back, making a single burger last for hours, until it was late enough that Lewis would be passed out when he snuck back in. Where he had learnt his trade, listening to police radios and watching the cops come and go, counting the minutes and learning their patterns.
Where he had killed a man, back when he was still practically a kid.
(don’t go there)
But he couldn’t help it. The pull was a dark magnet. He could never look away.
He watched until Mick and his younger self reached the diner. He waited for Mick to pull a crowbar out of his bag, smashing in the glass door.
And then he began to count.
At 15 seconds, he started walking.
At 28 seconds, he reached the door.
At 33 seconds, he had hiked himself up onto the low roof, swinging his head down to a high window in the rafters. Peering down to watch himself raising a gun with shaking hands.
“Come on, kid,” pleaded the guy on the other end of the barrel. At the time, Len had thought the Family flunky was so much older and scarier than him, but now he could see that he was maybe 21 - not much older than the Len who was holding the gun. “Snart. We can talk about this.”
“Sorry, Billy,” young Len said, in a stronger drawl than Len remembered having at that age. “The Santinis want the score settled. And, honestly? Better you than me.”
Below him, he heard Mick bolt the front door.
Billy let out a near-hysterical, high-pitched laugh. “Bet Lewis sent you to do the dirty work, like the snake he is.” Len couldn’t see his younger self’s face, but he had to be scowling. “I can make you a better offer. C’mon, Snart. You gonna let your old man just push you around?”
Over the gunshot, Len didn’t hear what his younger self replied, and he didn’t remember.
He swung himself back onto the flat of the roof, listening for two running sets of footsteps echoing away through the back alley.
He stayed there, his arms wrapped around himself, for a long time afterwards.
He stayed there until a bright light, and a noise like the universe ripping itself apart, pulled him away again. To his own living room, dark and silent. Because apparently the universe had a fucked-up sense of humor, taking him back to the one place he didn’t want to bring that memory. Or any memories of his past that didn’t belong here, with Barry and Iris, who were too light and loving and good for him.
“You’re shaking,” Iris said from the door to the hallway, rushing over to him in her robe.
He leaned gratefully against her, drinking in the silence and the scent of her perfume. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, even if he didn’t know where the urge to apologize had come from.
She shook her head against his chest. “Len, whatever it is, you can talk to us. Don’t you know that by now?”
But he couldn’t. The fucking words wouldn’t fucking come.
She pulled away to look sadly up at him, reaching up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
Then she went back to bed and Barry, leaving him alone in the dark.
God bless the void of my daydreams
Head back in the snow making angel wings
If you’re skipping parts, here are the start and end points:
Smut scene - begins at: “His chuckle rumbled against her. “We can put it in the microwave later.’” Ends at: “But, too soon, it had to. Barry blinked...” You won’t miss any plot if you skip it, except that Iris is a bit concerned about Len.
Shooting scene - begins at: “And then he began to count. At 15 seconds, he started walking.” Ends at: “He stayed there, his arms wrapped around himself...” Summary: a younger Len (aged about 17) kills a man for the Santinis - it’s implied that it’s on Lewis’s orders.
This chapter isn’t fully beta read, because my lovely beta reader Thette is away this week - but thanks to her for looking at snippets for me, and thanks also to Aurelia for the same! <3
Chapter 3: Lost
Things quickly reach breaking point.
A couple of chapter content warnings. References to past dub con/non con, not described in detail. Also, towards the end, someone hits a wall in frustration. See end notes for where to skip both small sections.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Iris West-Allen was tired.
“His cold gun hasn’t been used in three days, Iris.”
From her seat at the computer, she bit down on an impatient reply - though it wasn’t really Barry she was losing patience with - and just nodded. “Yes. You said.”
She’d been watching him pace around STAR Labs for fifteen minutes now. And honestly, she was starting to feel… done. There was something coiling in her chest, a tightness that she’d been ignoring for too long.
“Babe.” She got up, joining Barry on the other side of the console, slipping a hand around his waist. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Barry ran a hand through his hair and stared at nothing. “There has to be. He’s in trouble, Iris. I just know he is.”
He just looked so sad. The tightness in her chest constricted a little more. Like it did every time Leonard refused to talk to them, and she had to see more hurt on Barry’s face, when he didn’t deserve to feel like that. She loved Len, and he knew that - had to, by now. But this shit was unfair on both her and Barry.
Leonard’s trying, too, she told herself - a hollow echo in her head.
But only one of her partners was here now. She turned her attention fully to him, keeping her voice as reassuring as she could. “Barry, you must be used to his disappearances by now. He’s been gone longer before.”
“Not with no contact,” he muttered, leaning back against the console and letting out a long, slow breath. “And three days could mean anything, if he’s gone traveling in time.”
“Right…” There was something to that. She pulled away to look at Barry. “These days, he can usually come back to any moment in time that he wants to, right?”
“Usually, yeah.” That dark cloud crossed his face again. “If something hasn’t gone wrong.”
But Iris shook her head, pulling at a thread in her mind. It was that feeling she got when she was beginning to root out a story. She followed the trail - it was a good distraction from everything else. “If he wants to.” She put a hand on Barry’s shoulder, feeling him tense under her touch. “Maybe it’s not that something’s keeping him from getting back. What if he doesn’t want to come home?”
She didn’t like how Barry stared at her, eyes suddenly wide and afraid. “Why wouldn’t he?”
Iris kissed him on the cheek, resting against the side of his face a minute, not knowing what to say. Then she pulled away, drumming a thoughtful hand against her hip. “Last time either of us saw him was the coffee shop, right? When he was acting super weird.”
“He was acting weird before that,” Barry murmured. “The nightmares, the mood swings… I thought it was just him being him, but now I feel like something was ramping up.” His eyes had gone distant again. “How did I miss that?”
The image of Leonard getting up from his chair, that morning in the coffee shop, had left something buzzing in her head. “Hero...”
Barry raised an eyebrow. “It’s not like he’s ever been fond of that word.”
“I never saw him take it that personally before, though.” Letting out a hard sigh, she leaned back into Barry, and he put a soft arm around her. “Do you ever get tired of this?” she whispered.
“Sometimes,” he admitted, a returned whisper into her hair. “But we said we’d be there for him - whatever happened, whenever he needed us. I’m not about to stop now.”
The pressure in her chest coiled a little bit tighter. “We said we’d be there for him if he was honest with us. If he shared things with us.” She shook her head. “But, yet again, we've got no idea what’s going on with him. Where is he, Barry? Whatever’s happening, he should know he can always come home. That we’ll stand by him, no matter what. But if he doesn’t…”
Barry tilted his head back to give her a searching look. “You really think he’s choosing not to come back?” She didn’t answer, and he ran a hand down his face. “God, I don’t know what to do. I’m all out of ideas.”
Without thinking - because if she thought about it, she might change her mind - Iris glanced in the direction of the time vault. “I want to talk to Mick.”
She was already turning towards the door. “He called the other day, remember? It was the other thing that Leonard reacted weirdly to. Just following the clues. Come on.”
“Clues,” Barry murmured behind her. As he caught up, he was clearly having trouble keeping a smile off his face. There he was, her sunshine - and everything was right with the world again, as he caught up and followed her out of the Cortex. “All right, ace reporter. Your move.”
Len was cowering in the garden of his childhood home like a fucking coward.
He told himself it was because he’d be tempted to shoot his old man if he went into the house.
It was mostly a lie.
He vividly remembered the argument, even if he couldn’t hear all of it through the distant raised voices. Breathing so hard that his chest hurt, he was trying not to listen. But just like last time, he couldn’t make himself do anything but follow, down, down, and let Time drag him into hell.
“...gonna go to that hotel and you’re gonna seduce that woman, and if she’s not into it you’re gonna persuade her she is, or so fucking help me God…”
He couldn’t listen to the rest of it. Dragging himself up, he strode out of the garden with his shaking hands shoved in his pockets.
When his father was finished with him, Len had done exactly what he wanted.
And Len could make all the excuses he wanted to. I didn’t have a choice. I had to keep his attention off Lisa. He could have killed me. They were just excuses.
They were always excuses. It had been his decision; his actions, not Lewis’s.
His first seduction scam, and he’d made Lewis Snart proud.
He’d heard the girl throwing up as he fled with her money and jewelry. He couldn’t remember her name, but he remembered that.
She was rich, and that was all he’d let himself care about. She wasn’t a person to Lewis, so why would Len have let himself think of her that way?
When he came back to himself, he was sitting on a bench in the park near his house. He liked this bench. He’d slept on it, more than one night, growing up. It was a breathing space.
All he could do right now was sit there, and breathe.
He wanted to go home.
The irony hit him, that he was home, and he almost laughed out loud.
The timing was incredible. He had a real home, now, for the first time in his fuck-up of a life - and he couldn't go back there.
On the other side of the screen, Mick growled, “I’m gonna kill him.”
Iris felt her eyebrows go up. “Mick, hon, we’re on a bit of a time crunch here. Sorry, no pun intended - Len hasn’t had that much of an effect on me.”
Standing beside her at the time vault screen, Barry was so quiet it was making her nervous.
Mick sighed. She could see him playing with his gloves - tugging at their edges at his wrists, taking them off and pulling them back on. “He ain’t talked to you.”
Iris shook her head, biting down on a sharp reply. It wasn’t Mick’s fault that Leonard was playing his old, secretive game again.
He frowned at her, hard, like he was considering something. If she and Barry could be trusted, maybe. If he should trust them - or if Len should.
“Things started to change.” he said, shrugging. “Couple of months ago. Snart and me figured out the places he was traveling to were different. They weren’t random anymore.”
Iris could hear Barry holding his breath. “How do you mean?”
“He was getting taken to places where…” Mick shrugged again. “He thought was meant to do things. Help people. Said it had been a bit like that from the beginning, but not every trip, not by a long shot. But then…”
“Then it was every trip.” Iris finished. She was trying to work out why she didn’t like that. Why Leonard would hate it.
He just stared back at her. “Yeah.”
“And then something else changed,” she guessed, because even a nudge from the universe towards heroism couldn’t explain the way Leonard had been acting.
“He started going to his own past,” Mick said, tone matter-of-fact.
Beside her, Barry sucked in a breath. “You’re kidding,” he muttered.
Mick raised unimpressed eyebrows at him. “I wouldn’t joke about this, Red. It’s fucking him up.”
The horror was starting to hit her. Iris cut back in before Barry could answer. “Has he been lost in his own timeline before?”
“Lost?” He scowled at her. “What d’you mean?”
“He hasn’t been back for three days. First he arranges to take the week off work to be with us, and now he’s just gone, without a word. Even for him, that’s… unusual.”
He shook his head slowly. His tight expression was worried, and once again Iris was reminded how much Mick loved his best friend - even if they both had some ways of showing it that were totally foreign to her. “You could talk to Gideon,” he was suggesting. “Ours or yours. But I dunno.” He shot her an apologetic look. “I didn’t know he hadn’t told you,” he said, as if he really was sorry.
She tried to smile. “Not your fault.”
Barry’s earlier words - how could I have missed this? - were ringing in her head like an alarm.
Never one for small talk, Mick ended the call a moment later. “God,” Iris breathed.
She stared at the blank screen for a minute, till Barry broke into her numb paralysis, tapping her on the shoulder. “I have an idea.”
Watching Leonard in a time bubble that he’d wrapped around himself was always a bit spooky. Until Barry ruptured the edges of it, all he saw was Len frozen in time.
And right now he was frozen in time on the back lawn of 1629 Handley Avenue, crouching on the ground with a blank, hopeless stare fixed on his face. From Barry’s perspective, it would be fixed there forever, unless he did something.
For a moment, Barry just looked at him, trying to ignore whatever was suddenly boiling in his gut. Something in him wanted to turn around and speed away, before he could find out if Len had got lost, or decided not to come home. Instead, he took a deep breath and sped in, punching through the shimmering edge of the bubble.
Len looked up at him with - not surprise, exactly. A moment of confusion, and then resignation. “How did you find me?” His voice was hoarse.
“Speed Force. I asked it for a favor.” Barry tried to look like he was leaning casually against the broken swing set Len was crouched under. It creaked under his weight, threatening sharp edges too close to his arms. “Did you know it thinks of the Oculus as a sort of distant relative?”
Len didn’t react. Intent eyes focused on the house, as if he couldn’t look away.
Barry sat down on the patchy grass. He glanced up at the deathly-still house, looming in evening shadow above them. The house was a mess, with an overgrown yard and a nailed-up front door. Barry looked back at Len’s dead eyes, deciding against asking what year this was.
He looked like he’d given up.
“We were worried.”
Len was silent.
Barry blew out a breath. “For God’s sake, Len, would you please talk to me? Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“Very,” Len said. Coolly, as though it were just a fact.
Barry rubbed a hand down his face. “We - me and Iris - we can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep doing—”
“I’m not just freaking out, Barry,” Len interrupted, and Barry watched his resistance crumble. “I'm in trouble.” Finally he met Barry’s eyes, fear set deep and dark in his own.
It wasn't quite a plea for help, but it still hurt to hear from Len. It was honest, at least. “What’s happening?” he pushed, as gently as he could under the circumstances.
The look that crossed Len’s face was terrifying. “Barry. Please don’t make me…” He trailed off, pinching his lips together.
Barry had seen Len go through a lot, over the past year. He’d seen him lost, vulnerable, shaken. Never, at least not since they got together, had he seen him look this pissed. He placed an open hand on the ground next to Len. “Whatever it is, we can deal with it together.”
A high-pitched laugh, on the verge of hysteria, broke from Len’s lips. He shook his head at the dark, starless sky. “Not this, we can’t.”
A long, tense silence later, Len’s hand found Barry’s, closing tight and desperate around it.
The scene shimmered and shifted. Night gave way to the painful glare of sharp sunlight. The tumbledown wreck of a house was suddenly restored to one piece, more or less. Peeling paint and a small boarded-up window revealed the cracks in the facade of suburban bliss, but it was mostly holding itself together.
“Shit,” Len snapped. “I lost the bubble…” He got up, tugging on Barry’s hand and pulling him behind a low line of shrubs.
They were out of sight just in time for the green front door to fly open. A young man, maybe 17 years old, slammed the door behind him. He had a duffle bag slung over his shoulder, a trail of bruises down one side of his face, and he was walking with a purpose that looked like all he had left in the world.
Behind him, the door opened again. The boy didn’t look back at the little girl with the tear-streaked face who was calling his name.
“Please, Lenny,” she sobbed. “Don’t go.”
The boy stopped walking. “I told you, Lise. I can’t do this anymore.” He glanced briefly behind him, but didn’t meet her eyes. “I’ll call you.”
The girl straightened up, scrubbing tears away with a savage hand. “Don’t bother!” she screamed. “I don’t need you! Don’t come back!” She pulled the door shut with a half-hearted bang. “Don’t ever come back!” her muffled voice finished from behind the door.
The boy closed his eyes, just for a moment. And then he set his face like ice, tugged his bag a little further up his shoulder, and walked away.
There was an eerie laugh on Barry’s left.
Barry managed, at last, to look away from the scene to Len. He was gray-faced, shaking his head at the blazing sky. “Fine,” he hissed. “I give up. I don’t know who or what’s doing this, but I get the fucking message, okay?” He stood up, apparently no longer concerned about being seen or heard. “I fucking get it!” he screamed.
Scrambling to get up, Barry laid a hand on Len’s arm. “Come on,” he whispered.
“Where?” Len snarled.
Barry met his gaze, trying desperately not to let it go. “Home,” he said, in the most insistent voice he could manage. “We need to talk, and there’s another person we should be having this conversation with.”
Len’s eyes slid down to the ragged lawn. “I can’t go home.”
“Yes, you can,” Barry murmured. He felt like he was being torn in two. He wasn’t really in any mood to try and persuade Len, if he was going to kick back harder than this. Not even after the scene he’d just watched. But he found himself squeezing Len’s shoulder. When Len didn’t move, he added, “What does Iris say about home?”
Len’s lips twitched with the smallest of smiles. “It’s where you hang your hangover?”
Barry rolled his eyes. “The other thing she says about home.”
Len glanced up at the house in front of him with a sneer. Then he looked at Barry, eyes troubled. “It’s where we can be who we are and not be questioned for it,” he said, a little mechanically, like he still didn’t believe it.
Barry ignored another stab of hurt.
But at last Len nodded. “You’re right,” he said, not explaining what he meant. He peeled off his right glove, grabbed Barry’s hand, skin to skin… and the universe flared iridescent blue.
I'm calling out from the deep ends of my bones
Time says nothing back but I told you so
Iris watched Leonard walk slowly to the fireplace, leaning against it like he needed something, anything, to take all his weight.
She just waited.
Barry was the one who broke the silence, a minute later, settling next to her on the couch. “Have we been gone long?”
“About twenty minutes, for me,” she answered, watching Len. There was a desolate look in his eyes, fixed on the empty shell of the hearth. She wanted to sympathize, she really did... but he wasn’t even looking at her, and he clearly wanted to be anywhere but here, and she was just done. “Are you ready to share now, Leonard?”
And then she sat back, mostly silent and increasingly stunned, as he rattled through half a story, and Iris tried not to feel like she was forcing it out of him.
How he, Mick and Gideon had noticed a change in his powers, a few months ago. “Like they’d become less random.” First, taking him to places where he was needed— “...as if someone wanted me to be a hero,” he snarled.
Iris shook her head. “I know the word’s not your favorite thing, Leonard, but didn’t you at least appreciate being needed? That is kind of your thing, these days.”
His face darkened. “I won’t be forced into doing something I don’t want to.” He added, “Not ever again,” in a low mutter that would have broken Iris’s heart, if she hadn’t been so damn angry.
And then he told them how things had changed.
“You’re telling me,” Barry said, low and slow, “that you think someone’s doing this to you?” He was sitting forward, his face a picture of rage at the idea. So much so that Leonard, looking up, shrank back perceptibly.
“Can’t see what else could be behind it.” Leonard laughed - a desperate, awful sound. “All the worst things I’ve done, Barry. Just paraded in front of me like some fucked-up This Is Your Life, like someone wants to—" He swallowed. “Like someone wants to punish me for all of it.” He glanced between Iris and Barry, sitting silent in the face of it, then turned back to the wall.
Iris felt her mouth tighten. Someone was doing this to him. She wasn’t sure if she was more angry at whoever was behind it, or at him for not telling them any of this... or at herself, for not seeing any of the signs.
She crossed her arms, eyes narrowed at him. “Okay. So what are we going to do about this?”
He coughed a damp laugh, shaking his head at a far corner of the room. “We? Nothing.”
She felt Barry stiffen beside her. “Come on,” she coaxed, a last push. “You’ve had your moment of self-pity. But don’t tell me Leonard Snart ever gets knocked down and just stays down. Don’t tell me you’re going to give in to this.”
It felt like it came out of nowhere, when he slammed his fist into the wall above the fireplace.
A breathless silence followed, broken a moment later when Barry stood and strode out of the room. Iris turned, following him with her eyes, only deciding against doing that in person when she turned back around.
Leonard’s face had twisted in pain. He was crouched against the wall, cradling his hand with his eyes closed.
She had dropped down beside him in a moment. “What the hell, Len?” But she had a hand on his back. Her anger was draining away. No one she loved should be going through this, no matter how pissed she was. “Wiggle your fingers.”
He shook his head mutely.
“For fuck’s sake, Leonard.” She sighed. “Just do it.”
He obliged just as silently, wincing but stretching his fingers out. But he pulled away when she tried to grab his other hand. “Don’t.... You shouldn’t be taking care of me right now.”
It was like a light switching on, painful in its bright clarity.
“No,” she said, “you’re probably right.”
He froze, then raised his eyes to meet hers.
“I’ve really done my best to be there for you, Leonard,” she went on, not inclined to fight the flood about to pour out of her. “Barry and I both have. But if you’re going to keep pushing us away, I don’t know what else we— what else I can do.” She shook her head. “I know things are a mess. But there are only so many ways I can tell you that you’re not alone, when you just keep on self-fulfilling that prophecy.”
He turned a hard stare on the floor. “Iris, I can’t. You’re the two people I can’t talk to right now.”
“Why not?” she asked softly. One last try.
Leonard grimaced. “You don’t know the worst things about me. Don’t know what I’ve done.”
“We know enough,” she tried to say.
He ran a hand across his head. “I know you think that. I believe you mean it. But I don’t know what… if you knew.”
She glanced up towards the hallway door that Barry had slammed behind him. “Last chance, Leonard,” she murmured, rubbing his upper arm, muscles taut with tension under her fingers. “Tell me you’ll let us help you fix this. The three of us can deal with anything together. But if you don’t know that by now…”
He closed his eyes. Shook his head.
She sighed and pulled away, standing up. “Do you have somewhere to stay?” The spike of pain that ran through her at his terrified face nearly made her relent, but she stood her ground. “Just for tonight,” she clarified. “You’ve scared Barry, and he and I are going to need to talk. And honestly, Len, you need to sort your head out.” She took a deep breath, still fighting the urge to smooth everything over and save him.
Maybe it was time for Leonard to start saving himself.
She crossed her arms, watching him pull himself up on unsteady legs, grab his coat and stagger to the door - where he turned around. Hopeless eyes met hers.
“You know where we are when you’re ready to trust us,” she said.
He nodded - and walked out, closing the door silently behind him.
Iris went slowly to the bedroom, got into bed, and fell apart in Barry’s arms.
This was an extremely hard chapter to write without demonising anyone OR making them doormats. I don't know if I've achieved the right balance, in writing the hard-to-reconcile feelings of all three of them, but I hope so. There are one or two more angsty chapters to come, but not without hope.
If you're skipping bits:
The dub con/non con reference begins with "He vividly remembered the argument, even if he couldn’t hear all of it through the distant raised voices" and ends with "She wasn’t a person to Lewis..." Summary: Visiting his past, Len listens to an argument he remembers between himself and Lewis, who was forcing him to do a job involving a seduction scam. He contemplates how he made the choice to go through with the job himself and briefly remembers the event.
The brief moment where Len hits a wall starts at: "It felt like it came out of nowhere...." All reference to it ends at: "But he pulled away when she tried to grab his other hand."
“Are you a complete fucking idiot?” she asked before she’d even got the door all the way open.
“Nice to see you too, Frosty,” Len drawled, leaning as casually as he could manage in the doorway to her apartment and flashing her a smirk.
(when the world is shattering around you like ice, fall back on what you do best)
She rolled her eyes and let him in. “Please, help yourself,” she snarked when he headed straight for the drinks cabinet in the corner of her living room. He ignored her, despite the feeling of a cold stare on his back. “But then it looks like you’ve already got a head start on me.”
Well, duh. He’d drank his way through three bars already, ending up at Saints and Sinners at the end of the night. Because apparently it wasn’t enough for him to be going spiralling through his past - he had to add a few metaphorical stumbles back down memory lane for good measure.
Len waved the whiskey bottle at Frost, pouring one out for her when she shrugged and nodded. “Save the lecture. I’ve already had one of those.”
She perched on the edge of Cailtin’s couch, aiming a dark look at him. “Well, you deserve another one.”
He passed her the drink and slumped down beside her with his own. “I take it Iris talked to you.”
Her smile was a little more knowing than Len was comfortable with. “To Caitlin, couple of hours ago. She figured you’d be looking for one of us sooner or later. Gotta say, I thought it would be later.”
He shrugged, gulping down a mouthful, relishing the burn in his throat. At least it was something he could feel right now. “Apparently, I really have changed.”
“That remains to be seen.” She leaned back into the couch, her eyes still cold and angry at him. “And you’re damn lucky you got me and not Caitlin. The worst I can do is kick your ass.”
He paused, glass halfway back to his lips. “Maybe I deserve that too.”
She sighed - a strange sound, in her otherworldly voice. “What the fuck is going on with you, Snart?”
“I screwed up,” he muttered.
“Yeah, I figured that much.” The snark was typical of the ever-prickly Frost, but her eyes were heavy with an empathy Len wasn’t used to seeing there. “What’s got you so fucked up that you’ll risk your domestic bliss with the multiverse’s most perfect couple?”
He had begun counting carpet squares before he’d realised it. “Did you ever live up to your name, KF?”
Her eyes widened briefly, and then she shook her head. “Not particularly. The name was sort of… inspired by someone who did.” She sipped her whiskey. “Been getting lost in the past, Leonard?” She shot him a wry, sad smile. “Guess there’s two meanings to that. Neither of them sound like much fun.”
The room was spinning. He let his head fall back against the back of the couch. It was a sour thought, that he was too old to drink this much. He couldn’t even fuck up properly anymore. He was a mess. “They deserve better than this. Better than a villain like me.”
“Oh, come on. That’s bullshit.”
(he’s fourteen years old in an alleyway watching blood gushing out of a man’s side. he looks down at the knife in his own hand—)
Len repressed a shudder. “They wouldn’t understand.” He took another gulp of whiskey. “They shouldn’t.”
She tilted her head back and forth, considering. “You sure about that? Didn’t you kill someone right in front of Barry, when you first met?”
Frost’s eyes were narrow in an icy stare at him again, and Len looked up, meeting the challenge. “They think they know who I am. They’ve got… no idea.” He frowned at the half-memory that the words brought, buzzing like an insect at the back of the mind, but he couldn’t place it. “Damn, I miss my eidetic memory. From before my brain got all fucked up. In the good old days, you know.”
“Right.” She raised skeptical eyebrows over her glass. “Back when you liked to kill people. Do you miss that too?”
“Wasn’t like that,” he muttered at the floor.
She sighed, her stare softening into the distance. “I tried to kill Barry more than once, you know. And Cisco…” She trailed off, biting a black lip, quiet pain in her eyes. A second later, the mood passed and she was back to her usual self, aiming a self-deprecating grin at him. “The thing about Barry and Iris? They’re good. Truly, disgustingly good people. They forgave me for all kinds of crap I pulled on them when I was basically a stranger to them. You, they love. You really think you’re too far gone for the same treatment?”
“No, but… I can’t explain it,” he muttered, ignoring the sting behind his eyes. He had no idea how Frost, of all people, had this effect on him. There was something about her and Caitlin, though, and their unlikely truce.
The two sides of her that had found peace.
Her smile turned sad. “You don’t have to explain it to me. But if you don’t start to try sharing it with them, you’ll lose them. You wanna relive the past that much, be my guest. But I don’t think you do.”
Somehow, after everything he’d heard tonight, most of it just noise in his freaked-out brain, her words kept echoing in his head.
(you wanna relive the past that much?)
He remembered life before Barry and Iris. He couldn’t go back to that - not when he knew what it was like to have them in his life. He had to fix this.
“You love them, don’t you?” Frost’s echoing voice cut into his spiralling thoughts, her dark mouth curling with the surprise of realization.
“Yes,” he said without hesitation. He swirled the last of the liquid around at the bottom of his glass, trying to make it last a little longer, even if the attempt was doomed. “They’re the only things really worth a damn in my life, KF. I can’t do this without them.”
“Lucky for you, you don’t have to.” Frost was standing, reaching out a hand for him. “Come on. The guest room’s nicer than the couch.”
“Thanks,” he said, and meant it.
“Drink some water,” she ordered, pointing towards the kitchen.
He did as he was told.
“Iris!” Barry yelled over the comms. “It’s Fast Track!”
“Not again,” he heard her sigh into his ear. “I thought we warned her she’d end up in the meta wing in Iron Heights if she messed with the Negative Speed Force again?”
Barry sighed as he attempted to keep up. In her sleek suit, with her long dark hair flying behind her as she ran, the other speedster always looked too young and earnest for the kind of stunts she kept pulling. Her power source gave her a slight pace advantage over Barry, but she couldn’t keep it up for long.
“Meena,” he called out, hoping Fast Track could hear him. He didn’t really understand how his own Speed Force connected to the one she used, and he wasn’t keen to find out.
Sliding off the water and onto the dock, she skidded to a stop. Her night-black suit was good camouflage at this late hour - Barry wondered for the thousandth time why he hadn’t thought of wearing a less conspicuous color - but he could see her glowing eyes as she ducked out from behind a warehouse. “What?” she snapped, in a voice that dripped with a terrifying excess of Negative Speed Force energy, far more than he’d ever heard from Nora. “I’m busy, Flash. I haven’t even broken any laws this time. So unless you want to break the Geneva Convention, which I wouldn’t put past you after what I’ve heard about what you used to do to metas... you can’t take me in.”
He raised his hands. “I don’t want to take you in, Meena. I just want to talk. But you did promise not to use the Negative Speed Force anymore. It’s dangerous—”
“Spare me the fake concern,” she hissed. “If that’s all you wanted, I’ll be off now. Bye-bye, Flash.”
Fast Track took off, heading for a shimmering Negative portal. Barry flashed forward. After what he’d seen the Negative Speed Force do to Nora, he was not leaving anyone else at its mercy without help.
Later, he would admit that he acted too quickly, and probably scared her. And that grabbing a young woman, even one who was trying to be his adversary, wasn’t ideal. But he didn’t have time to consult with Iris and the team. He reached out and took Fast Track by the arm. “Don’t,” he yelled.
She was already at the entrance to the portal. Stretching out her other arm, she pulled something out of there - it looked like pure Negative Force energy - and reared back to throw it at him. “Stop!” Barry cried out, afraid it was already too late. He had no idea what being hit with a lightning bolt charged with that stuff would do to him, but probably nothing good.
Behind Barry, a familiar whirr was building. “He said, don’t do that,” drawled Len’s very best Captain Cold voice. A single shot of cold later, Fast Track collapsed to the deck.
“Meena!” Barry yelled, already at her side.
“Lowest setting,” he heard Len murmur behind him.
But in the instant he turned his head to look at Len, Fast Track struggled up. A bright flare of white lightning was shooting off into the dark before either of them could do anything else about it.
“Crap.” Barry sighed hard. He stood up, brushing dirt off his suit. Something inside him was warring over whether he wanted to hug Len, yell at him, or both.
Len was leaning against a wooden pillar, examining the dock beneath him. “Friend of yours?”
He got a brief knowing look for that. “But someone you’d like to save.”
“What’s going on, Barry?” crackled Iris’s voice over the comms.
“I lost her. Captain Cold kept her from doing too much damage to me. Just a sec.” He stepped around, trying to look Len in the eye. He wasn’t making it easy. “Thanks for the rescue.”
“You’re welcome,” he said.
Then he turned around and walked away, leaving Barry alone in the dark.
“Come on, babe - we’ll make the coffee,” Barry said. It had been a long debrief, with half a dozen loudly-argued opinions shared on what should be done about Fast Track, and he was falling asleep on his feet.
The night Nora had gone back home to the future, the remaining Negative Speed Force energy in her cells had been picked up by the lightning storm that had been raging all day. Meena Dhawan, a young TV engineer who had been working on an aerial on the roof of a building near STAR Labs, was hit by lightning seeded with the Negative Force. Or so the team had figured out later, when she started using her powers to steal art and antiquities from Central City Museum. “What? I have a hobby!” she’d whined, when Barry brought her in. The team had given her a very long lecture on the dangers of the powers she was messing with and the quality of accommodation in the meta wing at Iron Heights. But apparently, none of it had sunk in.
And so what if Barry wanted to save her? Even if he was starting to think he wasn’t very good at saving thieves who had access to too much power.
Barry stepped out of the busy Cortex with Iris behind him, and Cisco and Ralph’s bickering in the background. They stepped to the right and—
Len was leaning against the corridor wall, his granite gaze fixed on the slice of metal wall opposite.
“Convenient,” he drawled, without looking at them. “I was just working up the courage to go in there.”
Barry blinked to stop himself from gaping at him. In the whole of the almost-year since Len was resurrected, Barry didn’t ever remember him coming to them after a fight or crisis - not without a hell of a lot of encouragement.
Iris laughed quietly. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Oh, about twenty minutes.” He rolled his eyes self-deprecatingly, and Barry snorted, despite himself.
Then, in a moment of clear bravery Barry wasn’t expecting, Len’s eyes flickered up to meet his, then over to Iris. “I’m good to try talking now, if you’ll listen. I’m sorry... about the lying, and the way I acted yesterday and— all of it.” His eyes got a little distant again. “The whole ‘no violence in the house’ thing… I, uh—”
“I know,” Barry said quickly, scrambling to head off the shared discomfort. He hadn’t seen shame in Len’s eyes for a long time.
They all three remembered sitting down one night, after a drunk Len had brought an altercation with an old rival to their front door. Barry hadn’t forgotten how Iris looked when she told Len how hard Joe had worked to keep their home secure from criminals with grudges who might want to use his kids against him. How it was only much later that she’d realized that his history with Francine was the dark underside of her father’s obsession with keeping their home free of that kind of hostility. And when the ice in Len’s face still hadn’t melted, Barry - who’d been hoping he wouldn’t have to - stumbled through the story of the home invasion that took his mother from him. That had made sure he would never feel entirely safe between the four walls he called home, not for the rest of his life. Len knew the shape of that story, but Barry needed him to know how it felt. And that was the kicker - Barry didn’t doubt that Len did know what it was like to grow up feeling unsafe in your own home. But until he was able to share a single story with them, show them any sign that he was willing to identify with their experiences, then all Barry could do was tell him how he felt.
A very quiet Leonard had finally got the point. They never again saw him get violent anywhere near the apartment. A sudden, surprising absence of bruised knuckles and cut lips suggested he wasn’t getting into fights at all, anymore. Not until last night. Fights with himself definitely counted.
Len was still watching him, something wary and fragile in his eyes. Without thinking, Barry reached out and grabbed a familiar gloved hand.
It was strange, how this had become their touchstone. They were two poles of a magnet, set at odds as much as they were compelled to come together. They couldn’t even reach out, skin to skin, without sparking at the edges of Time. And this was how they told each other they loved each other - not often with words, but with the touch that the universe so often denied to them.
Iris was watching them, warm humor filling her eyes. “Is it a bad time to tease him about how that’s the quickest I’ve ever heard him apologize after a fight?”
“Probably,” Barry said with a chuckle. He gave Len’s arm a tug. “Come on. Lounge.”
Slumped over his coffee in the lounge a few minutes later, Len was clearly still having trouble finding words. Barry fought not to rush him. Len was quiet for a little while, until he finally looked up at Iris. Her smile had always unlocked his heart.
“This might suck,” he said.
“Tell us anyway,” Barry said, ignoring the stab in his gut, and Len nodded.
“I’ve done some real shit in my time. More terrible things than either of you know.” He was running his fingers up and down the side of his coffee mug in an endless spiral. “More than I ever wanted you to know.”
“Well, we kind of assumed—” Barry started, cutting off when Iris kicked him in the shin.
Len was already shaking his head. “Whatever you’ve guessed, trust me, I’ve done worse.”
His eyes were dark, but it wasn’t guilt shadowing them. It was something Barry couldn’t begin to read. He loved Len, but he was too often left feeling like he shared his life with a complete mystery. “Okay, but I still don’t get it. You’re not doing any of that now. You’ve changed.” Barry grasped at the only straw that he could understand. “Is this like Flashpoint - are you worried you’re going to change your own timeline, or…?”
Snorting a derisive laugh that hurt a little, Len put his mug down. “No. That’s not what I’m worried about.” He sighed and reached out a hand, running his fingers through Barry’s hair like he sometimes did when he couldn’t ask for comfort. The normalcy of it settled Barry’s nerves, just a little. “Been trying to pretend none of it ever happened. But I haven’t changed - not really.”
Iris was shaking her head hard, like she could prove him wrong through her own willpower. “Oh, that’s just not true, Leonard.”
He shook his head slowly. “I can do all the pseudo-heroic deeds you like. Doesn’t change what I am. Come with me - you’ll see.”
Barry half expected to see a shadow of the old Captain Cold in his face, but there was only sadness there. “What do you mean, come with you?”
As she always did, where Len was concerned, Iris got there a little bit before Barry. “He wants us to come back into his timeline with him,” she said, staring into her empty latte glass.
Len raised his eyebrows in affirmation. “I can’t figure this out alone. Need you to help me look at this problem from a different angle - or two.” He let out a quiet chuckle. “How often d’you hear me ask for help, Scarlet? Don’t make me beg.”
“No, no, of course not,” Barry scrambled to say. He’d just been stunned into silence by the idea that Len would willingly take them back in time to see things he never even strayed towards in casual conversation. “Is this really what you want?”
His jaw was set tight. “Ain't exactly my idea of a good time. But I trust you. Both of you.” Before Barry could react to the unfamiliar warmth filling his chest, he saw Len’s face and shut up. “Something I need to tell you, first. Don’t wanna lie to you anymore.”
“Anything,” Iris said, leaning forward on his other side.
He took a gulp of his coffee and stood up, taking a few steps away towards the balcony. The wind was lifting and billowing the drapes around the edges of the big window. A few weak stars were appearing in the evening twilight, the rest drowned out by the city lights below. In his blue ribbed super-suit, with the cold gun at his thigh, Len was a dark shape against all that light.
“You’re about to see some shitty sides of me, one way or another,” he murmured. “You keep saying it’s all in the past - but sometimes that’s a hell of a lot closer to the present than you’d think, for a time traveler.” When he turned around, there was something old and timeless in his gaze. “Do you understand that I don’t regret any of it? The reason I won’t let you call me a hero isn’t what I did. It’s that I’d do it all again.”
Barry shook his head. “I don’t understand—”
“No, of course you don’t, Barry.” He sighed. “You’re an actual hero. Both of you. You see too much good where it— doesn’t exist…” He trailed off, turning back to the stars.
Iris’s hand tightened around Barry’s - he hadn’t even felt her holding it - but she didn’t say anything.
“I saw how you looked when you watched yourself walk away from Lisa,” Barry protested.
Len turned around, inclining his head towards Barry. “...Fine. I regret some of it.” He had his hand on his gun, as if he were afraid to let go. “But doing what I had to do to survive? No.”
“Not even when you killed people?” Barry asked quietly.
“Not even then.” As he caught Iris’s eye again, his tone softened, and he stepped back towards her. “I wish I did.”
Iris leaned up on her hand on the counter. “Okay. We asked you to be honest, and I appreciate that you’ve tried. Of course we’ll do whatever we can to help you figure out what’s going on, fix this. Beyond that? Let’s just wait and see.”
Barry lowered his eyes and let her take over. A dull sense of dread was sitting like a stone in his gut. He didn’t want to wait and see... He didn’t want to see.
“But this all ends now, Leonard,” she went on, reaching up to put a hand on his arm. “The running away, the refusing to talk to us, the defensive shit… If we do this, we do it together.”
“He’s never stopping with the defensive shit,” Barry muttered, fighting a grin.
Leonard choked back a laugh. “Yeah, not asking for anything small there, are you, Iris?” But he nodded at her. “Okay. I’ll try.”
Barry found his voice at last. There was one more thing he didn’t understand. “After what you’ve just said, why would you want us to see that part of your life?”
Len’s voice shook when he said, “Oh, I don’t. Never wanted anything less. But someone’s really trying to drag me through hell here.” His hands were drumming on the counter. “If you really mean it, that I can ask for help… don’t make me do this alone.”
No matter what else Barry was feeling, he couldn’t refuse him that. Splaying a soft hand over Len’s, he stilled his fingers. “Okay.”
Len sat down on the stool between them again, drawing a smile from Iris. “So,” he said, clearing his throat. “Where do we start?”
The three of them walked hand in hand back to the Cortex.
Still waters rising in my mind
Black and deep, smoke behind my eyes
“You’re an idiot,” griped a familiar gruff voice, as Len stepped back into the Cortex with Barry and Iris trailing behind. “I can’t believe it took you this long to tell them.”
“What is with everyone calling me an idiot this week? Love you too, Mick.” He grinned at his old friend, and turned a glare on the STAR Labs team. “Right, ‘fess up. Which one of you called him?”
Caitlin raised an unconcerned hand, meeting his eye with a look that dared him to complain. He laughed and tossed her a lollipop he’d stolen from the jar in the lounge.
“Stop buttering her up with my snacks.” Cisco didn’t turn away from the whiteboard, where he was scribbling numbers, to varying grunts of approval or disagreement from Mick.
Len shrugged. “She’s the only person in this room with the power to ground me from the Waverider.”
“And don’t think I won’t, if this harebrained plan of yours goes wrong. You’re on thin ice, Cold.” He snorted, and she mock-glared at him, then threw one at Mick for good measure, who stiffened and looked back at the board. Mick had been appropriately terrified of Caitlin ever since he started spending more time at STAR Labs. He claimed she’d once told him she was still working on her vengeance plan for the kidnapping, “because revenge is a dish best served Frosty-cold.” Len didn’t know whether to believe Mick or not. Probably best not to think about it.
“Guys,” Barry said, his face set in the concentrated frown that said he’d shifted into science mode. Len would never say it out loud, but his heart did a little leap every time Barry got that look. It was even more impressive than his hero face. “We don’t know how long we’ve got till Len starts time jumping again, and he had trouble getting back last time, so let’s get working on this. We need to put together any clues we can find to what’s going on. Then Len’s taking me and Iris back with him to… observe.” Len ignored the twinge of fear that came with that thought. Barry frowned at the board. “Cisco, have you calculated something wrong? These equations don’t make sense.”
Len felt his eyebrows crease into a frown.
On his right, Iris asked, “What?”
“I’m not sure, but… Barry, what are the equations about?”
With Barry deep in thought, Cisco answered instead. “Vibrations in the multiverse. I can calculate changes in the timeline based on what I vibe across different universes. Mick can tell if the calculations are right. Barry too, usually.”
“Huh.” Len glanced at his old partner, impressed. “That a Chronos thing?”
“Yup,” Mick said shortly.
“Except this isn’t right.” Barry pointed at a symbol that Len didn’t recognise - it looked like one of Nora’s time-fixed symbols. “What’s this constant?”
Cisco shrugged. “It’s always been there. Well, ever since we started doing this.”
Shaking his head, Barry said, “It’s changed.”
The sudden weight of certainty was heavy in Len’s chest. “Could it be me?”
Barry’s eyebrows raised at him. “What makes you say that?”
Len shared a look with Mick.
“Snart’s been having these dreams,” Mick said, apparently deciding that Len wasn’t going to mention it. “Knows things he shouldn’t, sometimes. Useful on missions, even if they are a bit cryptic.”
The pissed-off stare Barry was aiming at Len, over folded arms, was a little uncomfortable. “Dreams, too? Anything else you haven’t told us?”
Len picked a shiny patch of floor to stare at. “Don’t think so, but it’s hard to say. It’s all been a little overwhelming.”
Glancing back up, he saw some of Barry’s anger ebbing away. “Right. Sorry.”
Len leaned back against the console, tapping his foot. “When did this - what did you call it, Ramon? A constant? When did it first change?”
He frowned at the board. “It’s been in flux for a while now. When I vibe it, it feels like something’s—”
“Pushing it,” Len said in unison with him.
Cisco dropped his board marker. He leaned down to pick it up, and came back up nodding at Len. “Like something’s trying to force it out the way. Or…”
“Move its attention elsewhere,” Len finished for him.
Barry was blinking between the two of them. “So much for solving this with equations,” he said, grinning. “Am I any use at all anymore?”
“Sure you are, Scarlet,” Len said in a soothing voice. “You can run really fast. It’s handy in a crisis.”
Iris laughed out loud, then looked appropriately sorry when Barry glared at her.
Barry turned back to the board, starting to debate some point of math with Cisco that Len couldn’t translate into the guttural sense of Time that he carried inside him. He shrugged at Iris, who grinned back at him. It settled something that was raging deep within him. She was… safe. And that was all he wanted to be for her, too. “I really am sorry for being such an asshole.”
Iris smiled like it was all going to be okay. “I know.”
“When this is all over,” he said, low enough that he could be sure the nerds wouldn’t overhear, “I wanna take you out. A date. Just the two of us.”
She was looking at him like they were two teenagers in love, and it left Len with the odd feeling that he was somehow managing to charm the most popular girl in school. “I don’t think we’ve ever done that,” she said with a little smile.
His smile back at her was only a little bit of a smirk. “Time we did. You’ll get a proper apology, Ms. West-Allen. I promise.”
“I’d better,” she griped, but she was still smiling.
He paused, looking back up at her with a vulnerability that he couldn’t hide. By now, he guessed she knew what it cost him to show her that. “I can’t promise this ain’t gonna get worse before it gets better.”
She just bumped his shoulder, not making any more promises out loud, and he was grateful.
“So,” Barry was saying, tapping his whiteboard marker against his chin. “Are we theorizing that there’s a sentient force behind all of this?”
Len turned around. The symbols on the board were still mostly unintelligible, but there was a pattern to them that he almost recognized. “We might be.”
Barry was nodding at him with the kind of trust that set Len’s heart racing - and reminded him just how little he deserved it, from either of them. “Then let’s test that hypothesis.”
The corners of the room were turning fuzzy, flooding the world with blue like ink spreading through water. Len grabbed Barry’s hand. “Time to do just that.”
“Now?” he heard Iris ask. She sounded very far away. He reached for her in the dark, grateful when she took his other hand.
“Now,” Len confirmed. “And whatever you do, don’t let go.”
(please, don’t let go)
Meena Dhawan/Fast Track is a DC Comics character whose story I haven’t even tried to keep accurate here, and I’m sorry - but this version is at least vaguely inspired by the original! (Damn, I’d love to see the real version of her in The Flash TV show, though...)
Thanks to Thette for excellent beta reading. Even if she did make me add an action scene. :D
Chapter 5: Abandoned
Barry struggles when he’s faced with Len’s past.
Content warning: brief description of a shooting, overheard but not shown, and reference to it in a couple of discussions that follow. More details are at the end, if you want to skip it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once the dizziness had calmed down, Iris was surprised when she opened her eyes to find herself somewhere that didn’t look much like the past.
They were on the docks in Central City. Boarded-up warehouses stood in dark lines along the waterfront, like sea monsters rising from the deep. The lack of foot or boat traffic suggested it was the middle of the night.
“Perfect,” Len muttered behind her, and she whirled around to check he was upright. He looked surprisingly healthy, compared with the last time she’d traveled like this with him, all those months ago. He was looking at her with something like shame, scratching the back of his neck. “Can I change my mind and just have you two go for a nice walk?” he drawled.
“No,” Barry said, stepping up behind them and laying a hand on Len’s shoulder. Raising his eyes to take in the warehouses, he asked hesitantly, “Here?”
“Here,” Len confirmed. He swallowed hard, as if he was nauseated - a weakness Iris knew he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to notice, so she said nothing - and moved towards the second row of warehouses. “We need a spot where we can look but stay out of sight. We gotta confirm anything strange or different about these trips.”
Barry was already vibrating the padlock of an adjacent warehouse - it fell off the door in pieces. “Close enough to the action?” he asked.
Len’s lips thinned. It looked like he was fighting the urge to tell Barry that this wasn’t a movie. “Close enough.”
They slipped inside the dark warehouse, pulling the door shut behind them. Iris followed Len to the broken window, where he was pulling torn curtains halfway across. “Do you know what the date is?” she asked quietly.
He stilled, then looked at her. “Yes.” He turned back to the window, clearly reluctant to say any more for now, and she didn’t ask.
The expectant silence had them all on edge. Barry was rubbing the back of his neck and tapping his foot, as if he was desperate to move. Iris put a light hand between his shoulder blades, feeling a little of his tension ease out as he exhaled.
Finally, Len’s voice shattered the silence. “This is it,” he murmured, very quietly.
Through the window, Iris could see a group of people approaching the nearby warehouse. Nothing about them really shouted ‘criminals’ to her. In their jeans and hardy jackets they could have been a group of dock workers heading off for the night - and that was probably the impression they were aiming for. One or two of them had roaming eyes, their shifty glances around the area marking them out as the less experienced members of the group. At the head of the gang - crew, Iris corrected herself - were a Leonard Snart and a Mick Rory who looked just a few years younger than the ones she knew. Confidence radiated from the younger Snart, who was unmistakably the one in charge.
It hit Iris harder than she was expecting. Almost everything about this man was different from the Leonard she knew. He was a criminal. It was an identity, obvious as the prison tattoo on his arm - clear in the hard way he stood, walked, gave orders.
Of course Iris had known Len was a thief and a killer when she met him. It had been almost all she’d known about him. But by the time she really started connecting with him, he had already left that life behind. Maybe that was why it hadn’t stuck, when he’d made that desperate little attempt at returning to the criminal life, soon after his return from the dead. It wasn’t him anymore.
She strained her eyes at the dusty window, risking a closer look… and what she saw then was worse. There were too many things that she did recognize in the Snart who was now beckoning to a young white guy, laying a heavy hand on his arm that said screw this up and you’re done. Iris knew that sneer. The calculating gaze, counting seconds, analysing people. The brutal look behind his eyes that said he was willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted.
She glanced at her Leonard. His eyes were fixed on the scene as if he couldn’t look away. She wondered if he was seeing all the ways he hadn’t changed, too.
“Shoulda been the easiest heist we ever pulled off,” Len said, his drawl thickening into something unfamiliar. “But we screwed it up.”
Through the window, Iris could see the crew at the door of the warehouse. As the young crew member cracked the security pad, the other Len gave a hand signal that didn’t mean anything to Iris. She’d long wondered if his unique gestures were left over from some kind of criminal code.
The door swung open, and the crew entered one by one, while the young guy stood watch at the door.
“Art,” Leonard whispered beside her. His gaze hadn’t moved from the window. “Got word that one of the highest value shipments Central City had ever seen was coming in that night, courtesy of the Belmont Gallery - they never had great security, and we’d already bribed the guards to make themselves scarce. Plan was, anything went wrong, Mick would burn the evidence and get the crew out.” He nodded at the scene unfolding in front of them. “Watch how well that went down.”
Iris frowned in confusion. There was nothing to see - the crew had closed the warehouse doors behind them.
And then she heard the sirens.
Len shook his head, clearly lost in the memory. “There was no way they’d have found out. That’s how I knew we had a snitch.”
The shriek of the sirens was closer now, clearly heading in their direction.
Iris couldn’t hear anything from inside the warehouse… until it went up in flames.
Then, chaos erupted. Iris could make out Snart’s voice somewhere among the yelling. His attempts to take charge were failing, from the sound of it. It was hard to make out through the noise, but she couldn’t hear Mick’s voice.
Barry was shaking his head. “I don’t under—”
He fell silent with the gunshot.
Through the windows of the warehouse, now illuminated by flames, Iris could see beams falling. Snart appeared, clearing a path to the exit. “Out, before they get here!” Iris heard Snart yell, and three of the crew fled.
The young guy, the one who had cracked the security system, wasn’t with them.
He was on the floor.
Snart ignored him, turning back to the flames. “Mick, leave!” he yelled. He got only silence in return. Iris thought she could make out the shadow of Mick, unmoving, his face turned towards the fire - but it could have been an optical illusion in the bright firelight.
Snart turned and strode out of the warehouse, disappearing into the darkness.
Iris, Barry and Len all stood silent until after the police arrived, and then the firefighters, dragging a visibly charred Mick Rory out of there on a stretcher. Len swallowed hard and turned away from the window. The firemen were flanked by cops with guns raised, which Iris thought was overkill for an unconscious burn victim - but then, she’d heard that Mick had woken up and escaped from the ambulance, so maybe it wasn’t.
“What happened?” Iris asked, long after the fire truck’s sirens faded into the distance, when she couldn’t take the tense silence anymore. She turned around when Len didn’t answer.
He was standing a little way behind them, grinding the toecap of his boot into the dust on the floor. His face was pinched.
“Leonard,” she said.
“It was my fault.” He didn’t look up from the floor. “Hudson - the guy who broke us in. I knew he was the weak link from the start.” His voice was low, like he was talking to himself. “He’d been scared all week while we were planning, but it was his first big heist, so I figured it was just nerves. As soon as I heard the sirens, I knew he’d turned us in.” He laughed a little, his eyes drifting to the ceiling. “Mick was following the damn plan, for once in his life. He set the warehouse on fire… and then he wouldn’t get out. He wouldn’t fucking leave.”
“What happened to Hudson?” she asked, but she already knew.
“Shot him,” Leonard said without missing a beat.
On her other side, she felt Barry go very, very still.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed. Len glanced up at him, and Iris saw him slip into defensive mode. “Really, Flash? I thought we covered the thing where I’ve killed people.”
“Are we done here?” Barry asked Iris, after a moment’s pause.
“Yes,” she said.
“…No,” Len said, taking a step closer to the window. “That’s— what?”
Iris leaned in next to him. On the other side of the window, there was a subtle flash of blue light.
Then the other Snart - no, another Snart entirely, Iris realized - emerged from behind a nearby pillar, checking for cops and firefighters before ducking under yellow police tape and back into the warehouse.
“That never happened.” Len’s eyes were wide at the window. “I didn’t go back.”
Iris gestured in the direction of the warehouse. “Apparently, you did. Or… maybe you will?”
Len was shaking his head. “I don’t get it. If I was gonna change things, wouldn’t I have done something before Mick got hurt? Wouldn’t I have fixed it?”
“I thought you didn’t regret anything,” Barry said in a flat, tired voice.
“Iris.” Len grabbed the windowsill. “Flash. Can either of you see that?
Iris followed his gaze, but couldn’t see anything but darkness. “What?” Barry was shaking his head, too.
“Thought I saw someone moving out there. Blue… blue guy.” He shook his head. “Guess I’m finally losing my mind.”
They all watched as the other Snart eventually resurfaced, looking around again before heading behind an adjacent wall... and disappearing.
Leonard turned away from the window. “Need you to speed us somewhere, Flash. A safe house - cabin just past the Keystone Bridge.” He wasn’t looking at Barry, but a sudden gust of wind suggested that arguing wasn’t high on Barry’s agenda right now.
Glancing back out of the window, while she waited just a few seconds for his return, Iris tried to push away the image of Barry’s face when Leonard admitted he shot a member of his crew.
It was all going to be fine.
The cabin was almost homely.
“What,” asked a sarcastic Len, “you thought every safe house was an abandoned warehouse with broken windows?”
Barry didn’t answer.
There was even a full set of crockery in the kitchen. Finding that the gas stove worked, Barry set about making cocoa. “Any chance we’ll be interrupted?” he asked Len, who just shook his head.
There were mini marshmallows in the cupboard.
When Barry handed out the cocoa, Len didn’t look at him - but he stayed nearby, curling up on a chair while Barry and Iris sat on the sofa.
“So,” Iris said, blowing on her mug, “should we be talking strategy? Getting your observations from tonight?”
Len had his hands clenched together, up at his face. “Not right now,” he said, after a moment. “Let’s see if we jump. Last time, I went to five time periods in five days. There are beds upstairs and it’s warm. We can wait it out - shouldn’t be long.”
Barry was trying to stop the shaking in his hands. Too late - Len had already noticed and glanced away again. “I guess you’ve got questions, Barry.”
“Not really,” he muttered into his cocoa. The image of the other Len, stepping casually over the body of a man he had shot, had seared itself into his memory.
Len raised disbelieving eyebrows. “Oh, go on, Barry. Get pissed at me. You know you want to.” He sighed. “What do you want me to say?”
Something was itching at the back of Barry’s busy mind. A case, back when he’d just been a CSI assistant.
He blinked up at Len. “I think I processed the evidence from that shooting,” he said, as calmly as he could.
Len’s eyes flickered upwards, but otherwise he didn’t move an inch. “Did you?” He sounded almost bored, his face impassive, but there was something in his eyes.
“Kids,” Barry murmured, trying to remember. He looked up into Len’s paling face. “He had two little girls.”
When Len didn’t answer, Barry pushed himself off the couch, his hand slamming into his mug of cocoa as he scrambled to get up. It landed on the carpet with a dull thud. A dark stain began seeping, spreading across the clean white rug.
No one moved to clean up the mess.
Barry held his breath… and it exploded out of him. “Kids, Len!”
“Right,” he drawled. “I didn’t realize you thought I only killed evil mob bosses with maniacal laughs and no family. So sorry to disappoint you.”
Leonard wouldn’t even fucking look at him.
His fists clenched tight at his sides, Barry marched out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
He sat on a porch swing for a while. The rocking motion was soothing. It stopped him thinking.
He didn’t know how much later it was when he heard footsteps behind him. There was a broad hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Barry didn’t look around. “For?”
“Getting defensive. It’s what I do.”
Barry almost smiled. “Yeah. I figured that out by now.”
“Talk to me.”
“Not until you talk to me.” It was a childish reply, but he couldn’t make himself care.
Len pulled on the chain of the swing, slowing its motion, and turned Barry around to face him. “Fine. Then I’ll talk.” He held Barry’s gaze for a minute. Then he took a step away, jumping off the edge of the decking, and leaned against the wall of the cabin.
Getting up, Barry slowly took the steps down, stopping a little way away from Len. He couldn’t quite look at him right now. “Okay then. Explain it to me.”
“Explain what, Barry? Why I killed the guy?” He was staring into the darkness, down towards the lake. “He turned us in. That didn’t just mean prison for me and my crew. It could easily have got us all killed.” He shrugged, clearly going for an air of indifference that Barry could see right through. “It was about surviving.”
“And let’s just say for a minute that I accept that… That’s not what I meant.” He took an unsteady breath. “I really want to understand, Len. Why did you live like this? I know about your father, and yeah, that explains a lot. But why did you keep living like this?”
Len’s face was set hard, his eyes fixed on the dry, unforgiving ground. “I told you. Survival. This is the person I had to become to get through… the things that happened.” Barry’s face must have showed his skepticism, because he added quickly, “That’s a reason, not an excuse. These were my choices. No one else’s. But I chose to survive—” he glanced up at Barry— “and that’s not an easy thing to give up doing. And yeah, part of me wishes I could have been like you, and have it all turn me into a hero. But it didn’t. I became the villain.”
There was something dangerous in his face that was hard to look at. Barry couldn’t breathe till Len turned away again. “That can’t be all it was,” he pushed.
“No.” Len smirked, just a little. “You know it wasn’t. I wanted to be the best at what I did, and I was. Better than my father. Better than all the Families in this town, who thought I was a worthless piece of shit. Better than every shitty judge and teacher who said I was just a Snart, how could I ever amount to anything? I proved every fucking one of them wrong, and I kept proving them wrong.” He was tripping over words, breathing faster. He seemed to realise he was spiralling - paused and took a slow breath. “I’ll never be that good at anything ever again. I miss that. Miss a lot about it…”
“This is what you didn’t want me to see.” Harsh realisation hit Barry as he said the words, his voice cracking at the end. He cleared his throat. “The things you don’t regret.”
“Yeah. Like I tried to tell you,” Len drawled. “The things I do regret, those are the easy part.” He glanced at Barry with fear in his eyes, and suddenly there was no trace of the smirk left. “You won’t hate me for those.”
Their faces flickered through Barry’s head. Leonard Snart’s victims. The men who had sold him the stolen cold gun. The usher in the movie theater, who Barry wasn’t fast enough to help - he’d never forgotten that. Hudson, from tonight’s crew, shot and still on the warehouse floor. Dozens more who didn’t have faces, whose names Barry would never know.
Barry almost wished he could hate him.
Len’s hands were tapping out a familiar pattern against the wall, an anxious rhythm Barry knew well. His blue eyes were captivated by the stars - even if he probably wasn’t seeing them, but looking at his web of the timeline, laid out across the universe. He was wearing the leather jacket Iris and Barry had bought him for his birthday, after he’d insisted he didn’t need a present and that birthdays sucked. His face when he’d opened the box had made all the earlier protests worth it. I haven’t had a birthday present since my mom died, he admitted days later, in a quiet moment in bed.
It was the first time he’d told Barry and Iris that he loved them.
Barry walked around to stand beside Len against the wall, kicking his feet in the dirt. “I don’t hate you, Len.” He glanced at him, but Len’s eyes were still turned towards the sky. “Yeah, it hurts. Hearing you kill that guy was pretty brutal. And, yeah… he had kids…”
Barry trailed off and followed Len’s gaze upwards. The stars were dizzying, this far outside the city - the whole cosmos laid out above them. Somewhere up there, out there, was a universe where a version of Barry visited his parents for dinner every Sunday, and another where a version of Len had never felt like he needed to live a life of crime to survive.
But Barry had met some of those other Leonard Snarts. And this was the version of Len that he loved.
“I don’t care about being a hero,” Len said, so quietly that it hurt to hear. “I only care about being yours.”
Barry couldn’t stand it anymore. He stepped forward. “Len, look at me.”
The thief shook his head. His chest was rising and falling, now, hard and erratic.
“Incoming,” Barry said, their old code word signalling that he was about to touch Len, skin to skin. Painfully slowly, he reached out a hand. Len raised surprised eyebrows, then shrugged and nodded. Barry took Len’s chin in his hand, tilting his face towards him. Len’s eyes were wide and scared. “I’m not going anywhere, Len, and - well, I can’t speak for her, but I’m pretty sure neither is Iris.”
“She’s not,” said another voice, moving towards them, but neither Barry nor Len broke eye contact to look at her.
“And, yeah, this is gonna take me some time to process. But you were who you were— you are who you are. And I’m not going to judge you for either.”
“Maybe you should,” Len muttered, as Iris joined them, standing silently nearby.
Barry chuckled under his breath. “That’s why we have a legal system.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Len’s eyes got wider. “Yeah,” he whispered, turning away, pulling out of Barry’s grasp.
Iris put a hand on his shoulder before he could walk off. “What did we say about running away?”
Len just shook his head at her, licking his lips. Barry wanted to say something to ease that desperate look in his eyes, but he had a feeling Iris would have better luck there.
“Iris, I… You know I should be in prison, right?”
“Yes,” she replied without flinching, and Barry watched Len swallow. “You’re also legally dead, work with a team of superheroes on a time ship that doesn’t officially exist, and you can do impossible things that would freak out every physicist on Earth-1 if they found out. Also, you’ve saved the world a few times. Oh, and your boyfriend is the Flash.” Barry snorted quietly. “Everything about you is a paradox, Leonard. So, yeah, you could turn yourself in and waste away in a prison cell for the rest of your life, if you wanted to. And maybe it is what you deserve.”
She offered him her hand, a challenge clear in her face.
“Or,” she went on, “you could work towards that redemption thing that everyone seems to want to come a little too easy to them, these days.” She tilted her head, her eyes twinkling a little. “I mean, it’s not like you’ll ever reach it. So what’s the point, right?”
Len was matching her stare for stare now. “What is the point? I ain’t ever making up for any of it.”
“Nope,” she answered softly. “Someone once told me that redemption is a station on a ghost-train line. You’re always travelling towards it and it never gets any closer. And you’ll always have to live with the specters of the past. But there’s a lot of work to be done along the way, and no one else there to do it.”
She was still holding out her hand. Still waiting for him to make a choice.
“No, you never can make up for the things you’ve done,” she added, catching Barry’s eye. He nodded at her last-ditch attempt, and she looked back at Len. “But you can try, and make the world a better place in the process. And not waste that gift you were given.”
He reached out and grasped her hand, letting her pull him towards her. “Who told you that, about redemption?”
She grinned at him. “Oliver Queen.”
“Of course.” His eye roll made Barry smile.
“Now, are you going to quit this ‘I’m such a self-reliant villainous badass’ shit, and let us help you?” she asked firmly, despite a bit of a twinkle in her eyes.
He nodded mutely for a minute, and didn’t struggle when she wrapped her arms around him. “Iris,” he whispered, hiding his face in her shoulder.
He didn’t try to apologize. Barry guessed he would never be able to do that, given what he’d just told him. He just needed breathing space.
They all did.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Barry murmured to Iris, and she nodded at him.
He was glad no one offered him company. He wanted to be alone.
Barry walked down to the edge of the lake, sparkling in the moonlight, and found a bench to sit on. He put his head in his hands and cried for two little girls who lost a father, criminal or not, many years and two hours ago.
And for a boy who lost a mother, even more years ago, though sometimes it still felt like yesterday.
And for himself, now, who couldn’t tell the heroes from the villains anymore, and wished he didn’t want to.
To be in your heart I failed my own
Love says nothing back but I told you so
The shooting, which Barry and Iris hear but don’t see, starts at “Then, chaos erupted” and ends with “Snart turned and strode out of the warehouse, disappearing into the darkness.” Summary: in the warehouse, Barry, Len and Iris hear a gunshot during the chaos of a heist gone wrong. Len references this shooting a few times afterwards, but not in any detail.
There’s one more chapter in Part 1 of this story, and then I’m going to take a few weeks’ break before starting to post Part 2, as work and life have exploded a bit, and I don’t want to leave you hanging without warning! I don’t plan to leave it too long though :)