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Sacrifice

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"Fight for me Barry."

 “Fight for me.”

 Barry Allen woke from a dead sleep, staring at the ceiling in the darkness of his room. For a moment he was disoriented, his surroundings seemed so unfamiliar. The voice reverberated through his mind as he blinked sleep away. He waited for the lump in his throat to fade and the weight on his chest to lighten.

 They didn’t.

 He looked at his bedside clock. It was five a.m. He knew he might as well get up; he wasn’t going to sleep any more tonight. But he still didn’t move.

 It had been this way for two days. The lump in his throat. The weight on his chest. He tried to go through the motions of his life, but it all felt hollow. He felt hollow. He wondered how long it would take before things felt anywhere near normal again.

 He realized his hand was searching for something on the mattress, even though he knew it wasn’t there. That spurred him to get up for a drink of water at least. He sat up, and the motion created a breeze across his face.

 It was only then that he noticed his face was wet. His pillow was wet too. It had taken him a moment to realize it this time.

 He wasn’t surprised, though.

 


 

 

 Barry’s door creaked every time he opened it. He kept meaning to oil the hinges but always forgot. It stayed forgotten until he opened it in the quiet morning, and then he wished he had done it because he didn’t want to wake up Joe. Joe was a cop; Joe would know he was up.

 He should have oiled it. No sooner had it creaked open enough for Barry to tiptoe out, then Joe’s door also opened. Barry’s gaze didn’t quite hit Joe’s as he offered a quiet explanation. Instead it landed somewhere to Joe’s left on the doorframe.

 “I was just getting a drink of water.”

 Joe didn’t answer. He just looked at him, eyes serious and concerned. Then he seemed to reach a decision. He tied the belt on his robe.

 “Get your robe. Let’s go downstairs.”

 Barry’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Joe wanted him to talk about it. He’d been avoiding that for two days. He hesitated a moment, then shuffled back into his room to put his robe on over his nightclothes. When he emerged again Joe put a hand on his shoulder and guided him down the stairs to the couch. Barry sat and clutched a pillow to his chest. Joe surveyed him a moment, then headed into the kitchen. Barry could hear the clinking of mugs and pans and knew that he was making hot chocolate for both of them.

 When Joe came back into the living room he was carrying a mug in each hand. Barry accepted his dutifully, even though he knew he probably wouldn’t drink it. Joe settled into the chair by the couch and warmed his hands on his mug; Barry was pretty sure he was just using it as an opportunity to observe him from behind it.

 “You need to talk about it Barry.”

 Barry stared at the blank television. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 “I know. But it’s eating you up. You need to talk about it.”

 Barry just shook his head slightly. Joe leaned forward and put his mug on the coffee table, then laced his fingers together on his lap. He studied them for a moment before he spoke again.

 “Bear, we’ve done this before. This is all just a repeat of fifteen years ago. You, me, hot chocolate, middle of the night. And I know that time I didn’t believe you when you told me what happened, and I know I let you down. But I’m still here, and this time I will believe you. You need to talk about this, because even though it was fifteen years ago, it was three days ago for you. What happened?”

 Barry was swallowing against the lump in his throat, tears rimming his eyes. He put his mug on the coffee table too and put his face in his hands. Joe moved to the couch and put a hand on his shoulder.

 “Bear, I’m smart enough to know it didn’t work. I’m so sorry. Talk to me.”

 “It did.” Barry’s voice was soft from behind his hands.

 Joe leaned closer. “What?”

“It did work.” Barry lifted his face from his hands, and it was streaked with tears.

 


 

 

 

 

Three Days Ago

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Joe’s expression was worried, and his voice was full of misgivings.

 Barry’s was a study in determination. “Yeah. I need to.”

 They were in S.T.A.R. Labs, at night. Everyone else had gone home, and they had sneaked back in after. Barry couldn’t quite explain it, but this felt like such a personal mission that he hadn’t wanted to include everyone. Joe had been the only one privileged to be let in on what Barry was planning to do.

 They were busy in the treadmill room. Barry was wearing his suit and strapping a belt that held two small devices around his waist. Joe was stacking Cisco’s cardboard boxes filled with styrofoam peanuts around the room as buffer - just in case.

 “How did you get Cisco to make those for you without asking questions?” Joe motioned to the devices clipped to Barry’s belt.

 Barry looked slightly abashed. “I told him I wanted them for training exercises. Captain Cold and Heatwave escaped police custody, so it was a perfect excuse.”

 Joe chose to ignore the sore topic of Captain Cold and his new partner’s escape. Instead he was looking at the devices with skepticism. “He really thought you’d be training against those?”

 Barry smiled in spite of himself. “Cisco is the one who has the least reservations about how intense training tools should be. I never would have gotten these past Caitlin or Dr. Wells. Cisco knows that too so he agreed to do it quietly. He just thinks we’ll be using them at the next training session.”

 Joe looked like he wanted to say something, hesitated, and then said it anyway. “Maybe there’s a good reason you wouldn’t be able to get it past them.” He met Barry’s eyes and recognized the glint of determination in them. “Look, I’m just saying that this isn’t training and we have no idea how this is going to go. If you end up in trouble there is nothing I can do to help you, and I think one reason you don’t want to tell Dr. Wells is because he’d have a serious problem with this. There’s no one else like you. Well, except the Reverse Flash, and he’s not going to help you. Maybe we need to do this after we’ve got everyone on board.”

 Barry shook his head. “We’ll never get them all on board. This is my fight, my past, my decision. Whatever the consequences.” Barry looked Joe in the eye. “I need to do this, Joe.”

 Joe held Barry’s gaze for a moment before he sighed. “I know. Just…promise me you’ll take care of yourself.” Barry nodded. He understood how Joe must be feeling right now. He stepped up onto the treadmill and took a deep breath. Joe was watching with great trepidation. Barry gave him as reassuring smile as he was able under the circumstances.

 “Maybe you should wait on the other side of the glass. Just in case. I’m not really sure how this works.”

 “Yeah, right.” But Joe didn’t move. “You sure you’re ready?”

 “I’ve studied those images a thousand times. I know exactly what not to do.”

 “Okay.” Joe still didn’t move. Finally Barry stepped back off the treadmill. They hugged, both realizing they were saying goodbye but with no idea for how long. When they separated Joe put both hands on Barry’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. “You go get that bastard.”

 Barry took strength from Joe’s look. “I will.”

 Slowly Joe moved to the other room to watch through the glass. Barry stepped back onto the treadmill. Joe waited as Barry put on his hood and mask, took one last deep breath, and began to run.

 Joe watched, thinking he would never cease to be amazed at what Barry could do. This was so unlike seeing Barry vanish in a blur on the street. Here he could watch as Barry’s limbs and eventually his entire body became blurred. Electricity arced off him. Joe looked at the console and noted that Barry was approaching 800 miles an hour. He looked back up and could tell even in the blur that Barry was increasing his speed. He waited. The electricity seemed to increase. Joe was sure if he was in the room that every hair on his body would be standing on end.

 The first time it happened Joe almost missed it. He caught a glimpse out of the corner of one eye. But the second time he definitely saw it. The air in front of the treadmill rippled a tiny bit. A small dimple spreading outward from a central point. Joe’s jaw dropped. He looked back at Barry, who was now going even faster. The air rippled even more, like a quiet pond that had just had a huge rock thrown into it. Joe’s skin goose-bumped, and he felt a frisson of fear.

 Barry disappeared. The air rippled and heaved, and then gave several more quiet tremors as it returned to its original state.

 Joe could feel his heart pounding, and even though he could have blamed it on what he had just seen he knew it had little to do with that. He was scared of what was now happening. In the past, but now. To Barry. To his family. Everything he now knew could be wrong. Barry could fail. Barry could succeed. But worst of all, Barry was going up against someone he had never been able to beat as far as Joe knew.

Joe felt like Pandora’s box had been opened, but he couldn’t foresee the consequences.

 He was terrified for Barry.

 


 

Barry was running so fast that he didn’t even notice the first ripples in the air. The last time he increased his speed, giving it everything he had, something felt different than usual. The energy his body produced increased tenfold, he could almost feel it in every cell of his body. Then it was like things came to a standstill all around him. For one brief moment Barry was perfectly aware of the utter stillness surrounding him, and then everything changed.

He finally caught sight of the last giant ripple of the air in front of him. Then he was running somewhere different entirely. Shockwaves moved past him, like when he ran at mach speed but even more intense. He forced himself to keep his speed up despite his great surprise.

 Light was streaming past him on all sides, and there was no ground beneath him. Flickering images rushed past, and even though they went by too fast for him to see he knew what each and every single one of them were. Apparently there was far more instinct involved in time travel than he would have ever guessed. He could only figure that his fixation on one event in his history had led him to this particular path in the space-time continuum, because he was clearly on a road into the past.

 Each image was a memory from his own life, and he understood intuitively that, just as Dr. Stein had hypothesized, he was traveling on a free-flowing highway with many exits. He kept his mind focused on the night of his mother’s murder; sure he would know it when it arrived.

 Memories flowed and passed. Fifteen years of them. Joe and Iris, his father, birthdays and graduations and quiet moments. Happiness, pain and everything in between. He kept moving. He passed all of them without letting them envelop him in the emotions related. But he could feel their pull, inviting him to revisit them. He focused on just one.

 When he arrived at it, the flickering image left just one impression in his mind: The man in the yellow suit.

 He barreled straight toward it, pushing harder in the last few steps. Shock waves enveloped him once more. Suddenly there was ground beneath his feet again, and the feel of it was enough to cause him to stumble. His knees buckled.

 He went down and skipped like a rock on a pond for a good distance before finally skidding to a stop. The smell of earth and vegetation filled his nostrils as he lay there. He was in a field. His body was aching but he ignored it. He regained his breath and stood up, looking around.

 It was dark already. Night had arrived at whatever time he was in. He tried to get his bearings, noting the city’s skyline and the lack of one close by on the other side. The sounds of a flowing river reached his ears.

 His jaw dropped. He was at S.T.A.R. Labs.

 Or at least, where it would be one day.

 He had done it.

 Barry realized that he should be whooping in triumph, but instead all he could do was stand and stare. The thought occurred that he should find a paper somewhere in the city to check the date and make sure he was in the right time, but for some reason he didn’t think he needed to.

 He knew this night was that night, fifteen years ago. He knew it.

 And his mother needed him.

 Right now.

 He ran straight for his childhood home.