When Barry wakes up, his head feels distinctly fuzzy.
Nothing is really different. He’s in bed, stripped down to his underwear from last night with his dirty clothes added to the mess scattered around the room. It’s morning, maybe - not very early, but he’s sleepy. Really, really sleepy, and the bed feels really, really comfy, and he thinks that he wants to just stay here forever. He yawns, nuzzles his cheek against his pillow, and pulls his blanket tighter around himself as he curls up in the foetal position.
His thumb is halfway to his mouth when his eyes snap open and his whole body goes rigid.
A part of his brain startles and then begins wailing like a baby, upset at having something it wanted dangled right in front of it only to have it suddenly pulled away. Ridiculously, he feels tears gathering in his eyes, feels a whine building in his throat - feels himself desperately wishing that there was someone around to see him cry, hear him whine, and react by scooping him up in their arms to rock and coo at.
He blinks the tears away in a nanosecond, then takes the rest of the feelings swirling around and does his best to envision himself scrunching them up into something tiny, a tight little ball, and then throwing that into his brain’s garbage disposal.
Nope, don’t need that, not today.
Not ever, if he really had a choice in the matter, but it’s not something he can just make go away completely.
He’s considered really trying, a few times. Wondered if he could make some sort of treatment, some sort of chemical or drug, some sort of…Speed Force trick, that would wipe it out of his mind, even though he knows it’s ridiculous. He’d probably just end up somehow fucking up the entire world in his selfish quest to make things better - because he’s pretty good at that.
It’s not something he’d like to dabble in again, though. So, he’s been making simple mental suppression work - won’t even let himself slip on occasion like he used to, when he would spiral too deep into a meltdown and have no choice but to just let himself curl up and wail for hours like he had a Caregiver who would hear and take care of him.
Even if the experience had always been cathartic, it quickly began getting in the way. The more he let himself dip into his headspace, even just in those brief meltdowns to try and get it out of his system, he’d find himself feeling the pull of it more frequently and more firmly in day-to-day life. Someone would yell at him for not finishing work on time and his eyes would start burning. He’d be stood facing a foe down and find himself wanting to recoil in fear and scream for someone else to protect him, even in his full Flash suit - and that, truly, was the breaking point.
If his headspace would get in the way of him helping people, saving people, then it had to go. That’s it. No real loss on Barry’s part - it’s not like he’s ever had a Caregiver, or any real indulgence in his headspace, or ever even told anybody at all. He doesn’t even have a pacifier or a blanket or a stuffie, not even ones carried over from childhood - most of them, after all, had been tainted by his grief and pain after his mother’s death.
More times than he cares to count, he’s found himself stopping in front of Little supply stores after something in the window caught his eye, but he’s never given in to the craving.
What an embarrassment it would be, after all, if someone he knew - a coworker at the police station, or a fellow League member somehow - saw him or found out about his Classification, which he’s done his best to hide for as long as he’s known about it. He can’t even imagine how ashamed he’d feel, though he frequently tortured himself by imagining different people’s reactions. Lips curling in disgust, eyes glaring at him, smiles taunting him with mock pity to match how pathetic he is.
Imagining it again is more than enough to get him out of bed and dressing for work, telling himself over and over again that he is a grown ass man, and going to work and acting like one is a very simple task. Other people manage it, every single day, and his own pulling reluctance is something to be fought through, something to be brushed over as he lets his thoughts race with the often overwhelming comprehension of the Speed Force, letting himself rush through analyses of his surroundings and outcome predictions and knowing what’s going to happen - who’s going to step where, what’s going to fall over, who’s going to slam their breaks - an agonising amount of time before it happens.
Three times during his commute he gets entirely lost trying to tell his thoughts from reality, and ends up taking wrong turns or getting himself caught up in crowds of pushing strangers all bustling to get to their own workplaces. He arrives to the police station late, head scrambled and thumping and hands shaking just a little, and is greeted with a sea of frustration and disappointment, and then a pile of work that has to be done now — now, now, Allen!
But it’s fine. This is what he wanted. He loves his job and he loves doing this and he wants to solve these cases and help these people and make his superiors proud and then follow up on that mission for the League later, so he dives into his work headfirst and forces his mind back to focus every time it drifts even slightly, telling himself - as always - that work is what he needs.
Batman is notified near immediately of the mission gone wrong, but it takes him almost two hours to get away from the meetings and courtesy and bureaucracy of his day job.
Despite that, when he arrives on the Watchtower, there is apparently little more information to be offered. Flash had gotten caught up in something that had apparently been building for a while. There had been a fight, thankfully with almost no civilian casualties despite taking place within the bustling environment of Central, but there had been one casualty - the Flash himself. He’d just frozen, apparently. Been battered, let the bad guy get away, and then he’d ran off. No mission report - no frantic, deep-set guilt for his failure, no babbled apologies.
It’s an issue that Jordan would’ve almost definitely been set on the tail of, if only he were present. He’s the specialist on Barry-related affairs, as Barry is with Jordan-related affairs. As it is, though, the Green Lantern is off-planet, somewhere too far away to contact in the throes of a deeply important mission, and somehow Bruce is the next-best choice. Not to find the villain, no - somebody else had been set on that trail - but to find Barry.
Well. He hadn’t exactly been told that he has to find Barry and find out what had happened, but he is entirely unwilling to let this go unchecked. Barry is injured, for one thing - but this sequence of events is also entirely uncharacteristic. Bruce wants to know what went wrong, more importantly wants to know that Barry is alright — and that is an instinct he must chalk up to his Caregiver instincts, despite the bitter taste they always, always leave in his mouth.
There is no real reason for his instincts to come out around Barry. Bruce has never thought to ask about his Classification, has truly never really cared when it seems to have so little effect on Barry as a person and as a Leaguer, but he has always assumed that the other man is a Caregiver-leaning Neutral. He seems to be altogether not quite together enough to be a real Caregiver, after all, but he cares for others with an urge as natural as breathing.
It’s something Bruce admires, though Barry’s tendency to care for everyone before himself is a point of concern.
Really, right now, it’s the most obvious theory. Barry was tired, pushed himself into a fight that he couldn’t handle, and is now attempting to hide away rather than face his recklessness and ensuing guilt, and it’s that line of greatest-detective thinking that has Bruce standing at the front door of Barry’s apartment only an hour later, dressed in as casual clothes as he owns in an attempt to avoid attracting the attention of all of Central City. He still sticks out like a sore thumb, of course, particularly with the usual dark aura of Gotham surrounding him, as he waits impatiently in the cramped hallway of the moderately run-down, certainly low-rent building Barry resides in, but he doesn’t mind.
Not until he knocks for the third time and waits a further three minutes with no answer, nor any sign of life from inside. Barry likes to be late , yes, but it taking more than sixty seconds for him to do something as simple as answer the door is almost absurd. Even if the man was putting conscious effort into taking his time, he would hardly be able to bear more than a minute or two, as Bruce knows from every patience or waiting-heavy mission they’ve been paired for.
For a moment, Bruce entertains the thought that Barry simply isn’t here. It’s entirely possible, of course - maybe Barry sought out a friend, or made some effort into seeking out Hal - but Bruce didn’t rush between Gotham and the Watchtower and Central to give up on this immediately.
As a last resort, a moment before he plans to turn and walk away and work out where the second most likely place Barry would be is, he turns the handle on the door and is immediately surprised when it opens.
Of course, it doesn’t take the world’s greatest detective to work out that someone's door being unlocked while they aren’t home rarely means something good. Preparing for a fight, Bruce keeps his back to a wall and enters, shutting the door silently behind him and listening intently. The apartment is almost entirely silent, but there’s the distinct sound of something coming from the furthest room, what Bruce can only guess is a bedroom - probably the sole bedroom, if the size of the apartment is any indication. He’s still thinking burglar, or kidnapper, or someone otherwise out to hurt Barry, but the closer he gets, the more he begins to doubt that theory.
The apartment, as he steadily moves through it, is a mess - but not a mess that indicates a burglary or ransacking. There’s clothes everywhere, seemingly stripped off wherever Barry stood and then left there over the course of more days than Bruce cares to attempt to guess. The small kitchen is bare of necessities but filled with the wrappers and remains of the cheapest kinds of junk food, as well as a pile of dirty dishes that stretches high above the rim of the sink and a pile of mail on the small table, most of it seemingly unopened. The living room is filled with files and case work spread over the coffee table, stretching partially onto the battered couch which has the distinct indent in the clutter which tells of someone sleeping on it frequently.
It’s the apartment of a man with no hold on himself, but it reminds Bruce vividly of something that he’s seen before, something that he knows about.
And his suspicions are confirmed when he finally dares to push open that final door, the only closed door in the entire apartment, and he is met with the sight of Barry Allen collapsed on the floor amongst more clutter, still dressed in his Flash suit, shaking and sobbing into his knees like a child.
Like a Little.