1. for auld lang syne, my dear
New Year's Eve isn't Barry's favorite holiday. All that depressing introspection usually gets him down, but this year he can add superhero to his resume--well, he could if he didn't have to keep his secret identity secret--which is pretty great, considering he spent most of the year in a coma. So he wants to do something to celebrate being awake and alive. He can worry about making next year even better in the morning.
Of course, Iris is spending the night with Eddie at some expensive dinner-and-dancing thing at the Marriott, and Joe is at the captain's party, which Barry wasn't invited to. He's probably going to end up playing Mario Kart and drinking Cold Duck at midnight with Cisco, which might not be the most pathetic New Year's Eve ever, but it probably ranks in the top five.
Then Felicity calls, and she sounds so sad that Barry's running before the conversation's even over. Her eyes are red-rimmed and puffy when she opens the door to his knock, and he pulls her into a hug without a second thought.
"What's wrong, Felicity? What happened?" He walks her back to the couch and slowly the story spills out of her: Sara's death at the hands of a brainwashed assassin and a whole league of assassins gunning for Oliver in revenge.
"Wait, what? Can you run that by me again?" Barry says. "The League of Assassins? Really?"
"They're assassins," Felicity confirms, balling up another used tissue and adding it to the pile beside her, "in league with each other."
"I was hoping they were, like, a really hardcore bowling league."
"You know, the kind with their own bowling shoes and custom-made shirts?" He grins winningly and she gives him a watery laugh in response.
"Oliver still might have lost but at least he wouldn't be dead," she says, and starts crying all over again, so Barry decides not to ask about why the League of Assassins is settling their scores with a duel instead of a sneaky ninja-like assassination.
He gathers her close and drops a kiss to the top of her head. "It sucks, I know," he says, "but it'll get better. You just have to give it time." He brings her a glass of water and then wraps his arm around her again. "I don't know yet how it'll work, but I will absolutely help out here if you need me. It's only a six hundred mile commute, right?"
"I couldn't ask you to do that."
He gives her a gentle squeeze. "You didn't. I'm offering." He shakes his head when she tries to talk him out of it. "I'll have to discuss it with Joe and Dr. Wells, but I'm sure we can figure something out." He flicks the television on and they watch Ryan Seacrest count down to the New Year in Times Square, accompanied by the occasional sounds of Felicity's crying.
He kisses her gently, chastely, at midnight, tasting the warm salt of her tears on her lips, and they fall asleep cuddled together on the couch.
The morning is bright and cold, and Barry wakes up and mutters, "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit," before he realizes where he is.
"What?" Felicity murmurs, shifting against him.
"Nothing," he says. "Go back to sleep."
A long time ago, his mother had told him to say it out loud, first thing on the first morning of the month, for good luck. He hasn't thought of it since the coma, but they say you should start the new year the way you mean to go on, and they could both use a little luck.
He makes French toast with the loaf of stale bread in the fridge, and mimosas with the champagne chilling in the freezer. He hopes she wasn't saving it for something special (the tag on the bottle is signed Warmly, Ray), but he decides not to ask.
"We'll take a cup of kindness yet," he warbles, off-key, and gets another one of those wobbly smiles from her. He raises his glass and clinks it against hers. "To making this year better than the last."
"Thanks," she says, taking a sip of her drink. "For everything."
"Any time, Felicity. For you, any time."
He washes up and makes her promise not to wallow too much, and leaves her watching the rose parade with another mimosa in hand.
He makes it back to Central City in time to catch Joe at the stove, making pancakes and bacon. He slides into his seat at the table and beams.
Joe raises an eyebrow but doesn't ask where he's been. There'll be time enough later to discuss how they can help out Felicity and Starling. Right now, it's time for pancakes and bacon.
2. what becomes of the broken-hearted?
Two days before Valentine's Day, Iris moves back in with Joe. All she'll say when Barry asks is, "It didn't work out like we expected." Barry looks at Joe, who shrugs. Barry feels for him. In some ways, it's going to be more awkward for him than it is for Iris. After all, she doesn't have to partner with Eddie every day.
"You can join me in my yearly Jurassic Park marathon," Barry says when he picks up his morning coffee two days later, "if you haven't made other plans already."
"You sound just like Eddie," she says.
Barry blinks in surprise. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"He thinks I was cheating on him with someone else."
"What? You would never!" Maybe Iris doesn't know him as well as she thought, but he knows her well enough to know she'd never betray Eddie--or anyone else--like that.
"I know! But he was convinced..." She trails off and heaves a sigh. "I don't have any plans tonight, Barry. Let's do the marathon thing."
But when he swings by Jitters to pick her up, she says, "I was thinking, how do you feel about going out for drinks instead?"
"Great," he says, confused but willing. "I feel great about it."
The bar is loud and crowded, no doubt full of other single people trying to have fun and couple up, but Iris finds them a high top towards the back, where the heavy thump of music is slightly muffled. They order drinks and shots and a bucket of super-hot wings. For a few minutes, it's awkward. There are so many things Barry wants to tell her and can't, and he doesn't want to get stuck talking about work (which will lead either to Eddie or the Flash), so he asks what she's working on instead.
Her face lights up as she tells him about the story she's writing for her capstone thesis, about the work being done in the city to hook homeless kids up with doctors they can trust. "It's a small community-based organization, funded by grants from the Wayne Foundation. I met the facilitators, and even some of the kids," she says. "I feel like this story could really make a difference, you know? There are so many kids who fall through the cracks, and shining a light on this program could help it get funding for another year."
"That's great," he says. He nudges the metal bucket of wings towards her. He's got a pile of gnawed-on bones in front of him, and Iris has been so busy talking she hasn't had time to eat. He unwraps a wet-wipe and cleans buffalo sauce off his fingers, wondering if there's a way he can help, not just as himself but as the Flash, too. Maybe he'll ask Caitlin about it.
He waits until they've refilled their drinks (luckily, Iris has had enough beer that she doesn't wonder why he's still sober; at least it means he won't try to explain string theory to her, the way he always used to when he got drunk) and she's eaten a few more wings to say, "I heard the Royals signed a left fielder."
She starts talking again, this time about the Royals and their Cinderella season, her words tumbling over each other in her excitement over what the new season might bring, and Barry basks in it. He misses the days when he saw her like this all the time, and promises himself he's going to be a better friend. Hanging out with Iris is still one of his favorite things, regardless of his more-than-friendly feelings, and all the other demands on his time. What good is super speed if he can't make time for the people he loves?
3. I could've been at a barbecue, but I ain't mad.
There will be fireworks downtown after it gets dark, but for now, Barry's content to lie on the grass (that he still mows for Joe every week, excruciatingly early on Saturday mornings, even though he hasn't lived in the house since he graduated from college; super speed makes it way more fun now, though) and watch as Joe and Caitlin discuss the best way to marinate chicken for grilling and how to achieve the perfect sear on a burger. Dr. Wells had declined the invitation, but Cisco's on the deck with Iris, lounging in the shade and arguing about baseball, beers in hand.
"Barry knows I'm right," Cisco says, raising his voice in Barry's direction.
Barry waves a hand in acknowledgement. "I defer to Iris about baseball," he says. "I only know anything about it because of her." As a kid, he'd been more interested in his chemistry set and comic books, but she'd taught him to love the game. Joe had played minor league ball for a few years, and though he'd never made it to the majors, he'd passed his love for it on to Iris, who then shared it with Barry, a way for all three of them to bond when they'd first taken him in, even if he'll never have the same bone-deep attachment to the game that they do.
"But the Red Sox are clearly the superior team," Cisco says.
"In what universe?" Iris retorts. And they're off again, so Barry doesn't need to pay any more attention.
It's at times like these that he misses his dad most. He hopes that with the clues he and Joe have started to put together, he'll be able to track down the Man in the Yellow Suit, and that he'll be better prepared to fight him a second time. He thinks about his dad withering away in Iron Heights when he should be here in the warm sunshine, drinking a beer and hovering over the grill with Joe.
He's definitely making an effort to move forward with his life, but that doesn't mean he's going to leave his dad behind.
Joe calls out that the food is ready, and Barry shakes himself out of his depressing reverie. Food always cheers him up. He tries not to be obvious about how much he eats in front of Iris, but he burns through calories so quickly now that an hour after the food is served, he's back at the leftovers for fourths, or possibly fifths. He hasn't really kept track. He just knows his stomach is rumbling again.
After ice cream and brownies for dessert, they head downtown to the park to stake out a spot to see the fireworks. Barry's dozing on the blanket, warm and full for the moment, content to let the world move at its own speed for once, while Iris and Caitlin discuss some movie they both want to see. Iris occasionally brushes his hair off his forehead with a gentle hand, and he pretends to be asleep so she won't stop.
The strains of "Stars and Stripes Forever" boom out over the speakers as the fireworks show starts. He can't pretend to sleep through that, so he sits up.
First there are red, white, and blue blossoms, and then silver starbursts that turn into waterfalls. Barry's splitting his attention between the fireworks and the rapt expression on Iris's face when Joe's phone buzzes. He answers it with a resigned expression that goes serious when he hears about whatever it is that's happening, and then waves Barry over.
"There's apparently some kind of unusual weather near the main branch of the Central City Bank," he says when he hangs up.
"Like a localized lightning storm."
"Okay." Barry gives him a decisive nod and takes off, hoping the crowd is too distracted by the show to notice. It's only when he's halfway to STAR Labs to pick up his uniform that he realizes Iris was there, too, and watching.
He can't think about that until he finds out what's going on.
The bank's security system has been shorted out and there's a woman in the vault, shoving cash into a bag.
"Hey," he says, "that's not yours."
She shoots lightning at him and only being as fast as he is saves him. She tries again, and when he dodges, the piles of cash strewn around the vault catch fire.
"Dammit!" She slings her half-full bag over her shoulder and pushes past him, giving him one hell of a shock when he tries to stop her. He's still recovering from it when the sprinklers go off, and she wilts visibly. He doesn't want to electrocute himself (he's pretty sure she's immune) but braces for another shock and grabs her. She sparks and fizzles under the water, and he's able to get her to STAR Labs without getting fried.
Dr. Wells is there, waiting for him. He wonders if the guy ever goes home, but knows better than to ask.
"She's electric," he says. "I mean, like, I think she's made of electricity, but water shorts her out."
Dr. Wells nods and says, "I'll handle it, Barry. You should get back to the fireworks."
"Are you sure?"
After a brief hesitation, Barry says, "Okay," and doesn't stick around, even though he's interested in whether she's actually made of lightning or can generate it or just control it--really, he is--but he needs to get the bag of money back to the bank and get himself back to the park.
He doesn't think he's been gone longer than ten minutes--fifteen at most--but Iris gives him the stink-eye when he walks over to her, and he knows she knows.
"I'm sorry," he says before she can light into him. "I should have told you, and I didn't. I thought you would be safer not knowing." He doesn't mention Joe's complicity, though he knows she'll figure it out eventually, if she hasn't already. One of them in the doghouse is enough.
"It's not just that you kept it a secret, Barry," she says, as the music segues into "God Bless America," and the fireworks show comes to its epic climax. "It's that you lied to my face, repeatedly, and made me look like an idiot. Not to mention what happened with Eddie."
"I can explain that!"
She holds up a hand. "I'm sure you can, but right now, I don't want to hear it."
"Just go away, Barry. I'm so mad at you right now that I can't stand looking at your face."
"Okay," he says, chastened, his heart aching in his chest. "But I really am sorry."
Iris's lips tighten, and she turns away.
His eyes burn and his throat tightens. He tells himself it's just the smoke from the fireworks.
He calls the house in the morning, but Joe answers. "She's still not talking to you."
"I figured, but I had to try."
"I get it, but I think leaving her alone for a while is probably the smarter idea."
"Yeah." Barry sighs explosively and rubs the back of his neck. "I know."
Joe's voice is warm and sympathetic. "Thanks for not throwing me under the bus."
Barry shrugs, even though Joe can't see him. "No need for her to be mad at both of us."
"She'll come around," he says. "Just give her time."
Barry sighs again, plaintively this time. "I can do that."
Iris doesn't talk to him for a week and a half (nine days, seven hours, and thirty-seven minutes, not that Barry's counting or anything), and she's clearly still angry when she does, but Barry swears he'll never lie to her again and really, truly means it. He hopes he never has to.
4. He did the mash, it caught on in a flash
Halloween is Barry's second favorite holiday (he likes Christmas best), because he's always enjoyed dressing up as someone else, pretending to be something he's not. He used to dream about being an astronaut or a paleontologist, and one year he even dressed up as Indiana Jones (Joe wouldn't let him keep the whip), but now he's a real live superhero, and he doesn't feel the need to dress up as one.
He's excited about Halloween, though, enough to dig out his old Spock costume and glue on the pointy ears before he heads home to help Joe and Iris hand out candy. He doesn't expect Iris to be wearing the Uhura costume he'd gotten her. She looks so amazing in it that he's speechless for a moment.
Things have been a little strained between them ever since she discovered his secret identity, but tonight, she seems content to smile and hand out candy with him when the doorbell rings, and to talk about the World Series in between. Some of the kids recognize them from the rebooted movies (a couple of the parents smile knowingly, and Barry wishes they really were a couple, instead of just dressed up as one on Halloween), and Barry has a good time guessing what the kids are dressed up as, too, but he's not expecting to open the door and find a tiny little Flash in a homemade red costume on his doorstep.
"Oh my gosh, look at you," he says, smiling so wide his cheeks are starting to hurt. (Later, Iris will tease him about sounding like her grandmother.) "Do you like the Flash?"
The kid nods solemnly. "My mom says he's a real hero, and I wanna be like him when I grow up."
"Make sure you eat all your vegetables and stay in school," Barry says, dumping an extra handful of mini M&M packets into the kid's pumpkin. "And you can be a hero and help people too." He doesn't mention the 'getting struck by lightning' part. He's pretty sure the kid wouldn't be so interested in that.
When he closes the door, he can't help but grin at Iris. "Did you see that? There was a mini-me!"
"He was very cute," Iris says. "But not as cute as you." She presses a quick kiss to his cheek, which tingles warmly at the contact.
"What'd I miss?" Joe asks, coming in from the kitchen with another bowl of candy.
"Not much," Barry answers nonchalantly. "A Harry Potter, a couple of cowboys, and an itty-bitty Flash."
Joe beams. "Our boy's made the big time," he says to Iris.
Iris beams back. "Yeah, he has."
5. hang a shining star upon the highest bough
Barry brings the boxes of ornaments and decorations down from the attic while Iris makes Grandma Esther's famous eggnog.
Barry sets down the box containing the Nativity scene and says to Joe, "Are you gonna help or are you gonna just sit there?"
"I'm supervising," Joe answers with a grin. Iris hands him a glass of eggnog and he takes a sip. "Needs more bourbon." She laughs and tips a little more into the punch bowl. Barry sets up the Nativity scene but leaves the baby Jesus out--Iris will put him into the manger after dinner. Then he starts hanging ornaments on the tree.
"Did you check the lights first?" Joe asks.
"Yes, Joe." He plugs the lights in and sets them to the non-blinking setting, then goes back to decorating the tree.
"You've got too many red ones in a bunch," Iris says, handing Joe a new cup of eggnog and then pointing to an overly-decorated part of the tree.
Barry laughs and switches a red ball out for a green one. "Better?"
Iris nods. "How's the eggnog?"
"Perfect," Joe says. His phone rings, and he grimaces when he looks at who's calling. "I better take this." He heads into the kitchen, his voice a low, familiar murmur.
Barry speeds through the rest of the decorating and then over to stand by Iris. "How's it look?"
"Good," she says, handing him a cup of eggnog. He takes a sip and it's definitely a little heavy on the bourbon, but that's what makes it so tasty. And it's not like he can get drunk anymore. (Not that he ever needed being drunk as an excuse to act like a fool.)
"Good," he repeats.
She grins at him, wide and warm and a little mischievous.
"What?" he says. "Do I have an eggnog mustache?" He licks his upper lip but it seems to be eggnog-free.
Her smile just widens and she points up. Barry raises his gaze to the ceiling, where a sprig of mistletoe dangles. "I don't remember putting that there."
"You're not the only one who can decorate," she answers. "Now are you going to argue or are you going to kiss me?"
Barry's heart speeds up in his chest and when he puts his cup of eggnog down, his hand is trembling a little. "Kiss you," he says fervently. "Definitely kiss you."
Iris curls her fingers in his shirt and tugs him closer. "Then stop talking and start kissing."
And he does.
He brushes his lips against hers tentatively at first, then sucks her full bottom lip into his mouth, tasting a hint of cherry lip balm. She gasps, and he slowly slides his tongue into her mouth, reveling in the velvety slide of her tongue against his. Beneath the spiciness of the eggnog, her mouth is warm and welcoming. He doesn't know where to put his hands at first, and he rests them lightly on her hips, her shoulders, her cheeks, before he buries them in the soft silky fall of her hair and holds her close.
His whole body feels electrified, like he's been struck by lightning again, but this time there's no pain, just a livewire hum of desire in his veins. His heart races, fast enough and loud enough to register like a sonic boom in his ears.
"Merry Christmas," she says when she eases back just the tiniest bit. She gives him a small, secret smile and says, "I love you, Barry."
His whole body lights up with joy. Forget about running. Right now, Barry thinks he could fly. "I love you too, Iris."
It's the best Christmas present Barry's ever gotten, better than new leads on the man who killed his mother or even the super powers the lightning gave him.
He stands under the mistletoe and basks in the glory of it for a few seconds before he asks, "Can we do that again?"
And Iris laughs and kisses him.