1) You have the right to remain silent.
It’s a typical weekday, six thirty sharp, when Len steps in line for his morning coffee. The baristas aren't letting the rush overtake them, equipping customers with their choice of caffeine and sending them off to battle. It won’t be long until Len gets his.
He sends a cursory glance at the display of muffins and brownies. Not that he is considering. Sugar is best kept simple, a chocolate bar or a lemon drop, instead of baked into complex, crumbly concoctions. He likes his sweets concise and basic although Lisa calls it a travesty.
The line moves a step, a woman walks past with her coffee, and she smiles.
"Good morning, Mayor.”
Len nods and watches her go. People are kinder now after Zoom disappeared, fear no longer clouding their visages, and the City is slowly regaining it's trademark cheer. Their speedster remains MIA, some speculating he sacrificed himself to defeat Zoom and others hopeful for his return, although no one is certain what became of Jay Garrick. In Flash's absence, Mayor Snart picked up the mantel as city protector, promising Central City will rise from the ashes, better and stronger this time.
If Len was a power-hungry fat cat, he would consider Zoom a godsend.
The villain provided an opportunity to prove the mayor's strength and its timely exit gift-wrapped an approval rating promising an easy win in elections next year. Len is not about to thank the blue bastard for any of this; if anything, he is furious. Zoom left behind a strong anti-meta sentiment that was increasingly vociferous and difficult to ignore.
Len rubs his eyes, headache pending behind the sockets, and breathes out the toxic fumes churning in his gut. Hasn’t history taught mankind enough times that singling out one group of people as root of all evil is not the way to go?
Sure, the anti-meta fanatics are just a loud minority now, shouting crude slogans in hand-made t-shirts, but Len isn’t a gambler. He is a chess player, always thinking ahead and manipulating scenarios to his favor. This is not a game he can afford to lose. Central City will not go down in history as the birthplace of meta-human prejudice.
The man in front swipes out a high score on Angry Birds, in tandem to Len's phone buzzing in his pocket.
"Morning, brother," Lisa chirps. "Are you making Sam wait again?"
Her voice blows away the darkness in his chest and Len feels himself smile.
"I don't make him wait. Sam likes his free coffee. Needs it too, considering he yawns his head off every morning.”
"I assure you, we don't stay up past our bedtimes,” Lisa says cheekily and Len groans.
"Didn't need to hear it."
"You asked. And I would ask about you too if I didn’t know how cold and empty your bed is.”
“You know me so well,” Len drawls as the Angry Bird champ moves to order. “So what’s up, sis? You didn’t call me early in the morning just to talk about how much sex you’re having with my secretary.”
There is a choking sound from behind. Len turns around to a young man in a beanie, hacking like a cat with hairballs. The guy hides his flushed face with flailing arms. He'll live. Len turns back to the conversation.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“I said,” Lisa’s eye roll is audible, “that your secretary will be your brother-in-law pretty soon so get over it already. And this is me reminding you that the wedding rehearsal is this Saturday. Eight o'clock, sharp."
“I know. I've known that for the past week because you put a daily alert on my calendar. You sure you understand what 'rehearsal' means, Lise? Because I've never seen anyone get so anal about a mock wedding."
The beanie kid coughs again. Does he have asthma? Allergies? Whatever it is, Len hopes it’s not contagious.
"I'm not sure you understand," Lisa cuts into his thoughts. “The rehearsal is very important. I also happen to know you.” She punctuates the sentence with an irritated huff. "How many times have you rainchecked on me over the years? You're the worst when it comes to living outside that office."
This is one of Lisa's favorite criticisms, along with his relationship status. In his defense, Len ran for office because he loved Central. He is single by choice, favoring work efficiency over whatever good Lisa believes a significant other can bring ("Oh I don't know, like living?"). Work and life is indivisible for Len and it suits him just fine until it gets in the way of more personal matters; for example, his sister's wedding preparations.
“Lise, you know I won't miss it for the world." She knows, of course. She just needs to hear him say it. "I'll walk you up and down that aisle ten thousand times if that means you have the perfect wedding. Stop worrying. I will be there, everyone will be there, it will work out fine. Alright?”
"Alright," Lisa breathes out. She sounds just like when she was ten and still believed her brother can promise her the world.
They haven't had the easiest of upbringings, brought up by their mother once the divorce came through, a decision Len thanks her to this day. There was never enough money but there were no bruises on Mom's cheeks and that more than made up for everything else. Lisa entered the police academy, Len earned a full scholarship to Keystone University, and the siblings kicked all odds in the nuts until they managed this far. It was easy to imagine an alternate scenario, and yet, Len doesn't doubt he and his sister would've earned respect anyway. Snarts always come out on top.
"As much as I love you, dearest sister of mine, my secretary is waiting for his coffee. Anything else you want?"
Len walks up to the counter where the barista is ready with his usual order. He winks and tips the girl more than usual.
"Oh no, I wouldn't want to put myself between Sam and his coffee. Remember, Saturday at eight. Talk to you soon. Love you."
"Love you too."
As Len headsto the door, he catches the beanie man staring, unheeding of the fact that he's holding up the line. There is something more than recognition, possibly disbelief. When Len raises his eyebrows, the man's face spasms and he flees towards the waiting barista.
"What took you so long?" Mick grouches as soon as Len boards the car, forcing his way into morning traffic.
Len sips his coffee, contemplating. No name or face matches a lanky, twenty-something year old who would be startled to see the city mayor in a coffee shop. But then, he can't remember every hand he shakes or every feather he ruffles, especially after Zoom. Not everyone likes change, regardless of it's effectiveness.
The coffee kickstarts his brain, flicks the switch, and Len forgets everything aside from the job at hand.
The day has already begun and he has a city to run.
2) Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Len throws a glance at the body next to him. The grey suit is passable but obviously off the rack, paired with wingtips that has seen better days. It's an attempt at faking it rather than a thought-out ensemble. The budget fashion would be off-putting if the guy wasn't so young. It also helps that his slim frame is well-toned, a straight line running from necktie to legs that seemingly goes on for miles.
There is no beanie this time but it's the man from the coffee shop. And now they're both on an elevator in the Mayor's Office.
Len resumes checking emails and wonders if a spy could look as nervous and uncoordinated as the kid next to him. Maybe it's his first assignment, an easy job to steal some files or to learn the mayor's daily routine for future nefarious plotting. Or Len is being paranoid and this is all just a coincidence.
"Do you work here?"
The man jumps. Most definitely not a spy. Len amuses himself as the kid tries to come up with a reply.
"I, uh, yeah, not really?" The man immediately cringes. "Not that I'm here uninvited or sneaked in or anything. I know someone who works here and I came here to check up on him, because I haven't, uh, really seen him working and he, I, well, we know each other and he's been doing things for Central and I wanted to make sure that he is doing his job, you know, because Central City is my city too and I'm a concerned citizen with, uh, concerns." He looks at his shoes like he's willing the ground to swallow him up.
Hazel eyes look up in surprise. Len would laugh if it weren't for the unfairly long lashes and the honest bewilderment they frame.
"I don't know which division your acquaintance works for but we've all been overwhelmed with the clean up after recent events. You're not the only 'concerned citizen with concerns'." He implies the air-quotes with an uptick of his mouth, playful so that it won't come across the wrong way. The beanie guy stares at Len's mouth for a while, reminiscent of the disbelief he showed at the cafe. Len really wants to ask what he did to make the man so unsure of his character.
The elevator dings and a few people file inside. Interestingly enough, the man scoots closer to Len instead of using the interruption as an excuse to end the conversation.
"So," beanie-suit says in a softer voice now that they're not alone. "I hear you're planning a meta-human unit for the CCPD."
That he was, with Lisa acting as liaison. CCPD has a meta-human task force but it isn't the same as having a team of meta-human officers with proper training. ARGUS agreed to supply personnel, alongside Mercury and STAR labs that will provide scientific expertise. The process was slow going, meta-human resentment further complicated by exploitative schemes, petty rivalry, and political backstabbing. The media was having a field day calling it Suicide Squad 2.0.
This must be the man's concern. Len squares his shoulders.
"Yes," he replies curtly. "I believe it necessary with the Flash is gone, and even with him, he wasn't able to stop Zoom alone."
The elevator stops at the ground floor. Len gets out with everyone else and the beanie guy follows.
Before he says anything, Len decides to make things clear.
"This isn't the best place or time for an in-depth discussion on the topic. If you would like an interview, please set up an appointment with my secretary and I will gladly listen to your concerns, Mister...?"
Beanie man blinks. "Uh, Sebastian? Sebastian Smythe." Len decides not to question why he seems unsure of his own name and hands Smythe a business card.
"I will let Lashawn know that you will be calling. Your concerns are my concerns, Mr. Smythe, don't hesitate to share them. My office is dedicated to the wellbeing of our citizens." Regardless of your prejudices, Len adds in his head. Smythe isn't wearing one of Wells' meta-human detectors but most people don't look favorably towards the 'meta-freaks'. Hypocritical, considering the Flash is a meta-human too, but whatever let's them sleep at night.
Len turns to leave.
Len almost snaps but stops when he sees Smythe. Jelled hair unravelling haphazardly across his forehead, there is a fire in his eyes that Len hadn't seen before.
"I just want to ask you one thing."
Green irises sweep up Len like a riptide. No longer a kid in a cheap suit, Smythe stands with the surety of a fighter who wouldn't hesitate to enforce his claim. This isn't a conversation, Len realizes sluggishly, this is a confrontation. And Smythe fires before Len can regain his footing.
"Meta-humans aren't weapons. They're people. They have powers that can bring down buildings but that doesn't mean they don't hurt like anyone of us, or ... die."
The last word is choked out, broken. Smythe shakes off his momentary lapse and continues. "I don't want you using them, experimenting on them, weaponizing them. I need to know that you know their rights, their basic human rights, and that they will always have a choice."
Len weighs the acknowledgement with everything he can't explain: that he turned down military cooperation for that very reason, that he knows many hide their abilities fearing just what Smythe described, and that this project is not only about public safety but also about promoting meta-human acceptance. It's about providing not only one but many choices, opportunities if you will.
His mother took one to charge their father with assault. Lisa and Len took one to achieve higher education. Choices kept them alive, kept hope alive, and it was what he wants to protect.
Len colors his gaze with determination of his own, what he imagines as ice-cold blue against the green. It's half reassurance and half counterpunch, far from friendly but Smythe isn't interested in politeness. He wants honesty and Len respects that.
Hazel eyes stare into him, calculating, and a shot of lightening runs down his spine.
"Good," Smythe nods.
And with that, he walks out the door.
En route to his lunch meeting, Len laments not leaving his personal number on the business card.
He regrets again when Smythe never calls.
3) You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning.
As luck will have it, Smythe pops up again.
This time, it's at Central City Park and during Len's evening run. He wouldn't have noticed if it wasn't for the beanie as Smythe's face is hidden behind a book. The kid should invest in glasses if he needs to hold a book that close to read. Cut into soft lights and shadows by the setting sun, Smythe looks the perfect representation of city life. A lonely one too, considering it's Friday and the guy has nothing better to do than read at a park.
Len jogs past, reconsiders, and walks back to the bench.
"Reading for your Literature course?"
It takes a moment for Smythe to peek over the book cover. His eyes travel from the sweat-stained t-shirt and lingers on the thermal jogging pants. It's flattering really, and Len feels good about himself at Smythe's appreciative albeit flustered reaction.
"You don't need an excuse to read Sherman Alexie," Smythe retorts. "And I'm not a student."
He sounds defensive, against the assumption or jogging attire, Len can't tell. Maybe both. Len shrugs.
"Didn't mean to offend you, kid, but you do have the college student vibe." He knows there is no Sebastian Smythe living in Central, so he'd guessed political science or journalism major working under a pseudonym and left it at that. Which, apparently Len shouldn't have if Smythe's bristly reaction is anything to go by.
"Then you're 'vibing' wrong. I'm an adult with a respectable and promising career. Stop calling me kid."
So, not eighteen. The news does wonders to his conscience.
"I just..." Smythe sags into the bench. He suddenly looks tired. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you like that."
The smile is off, the you stressed as if it was replacing an unmentionable topic.
Len takes it in stride. They're just two lonely strangers in a park. He sits down on the opposite end of the bench, conscious of the distance.
"Some people find it flattering to be seen younger than their age."
It's the first time Len hears Smythe laugh. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But there is only so many times I can take being called 'baby-face'."
Len grunts at that. "I don't think I've ever been called that in my life."
"I bet. You have a hardened, cold exterior."
"It's a mask to hide my warm, cuddly heart. Can't let it show in front of my enemies."
There is a big belly laugh at that. It rings out into the evening air like rays of sunlight, dispersing the previous tension. Len hopes it also erases any lingering image Smythe has of him. It has been nagging him more than he cares to admit.
"Oh man, you're just full of surprises," Smythe gasps after a bout of laughter. "And here I thought you were a politician."
The laughter is catching. "I can't let on I'm made of sugar. There is no surprise in that."
Mirthful eyes meet his. "Well, consider me throughly surprised, Mayor Snart."
"Len." The correction comes smoothly. "I'm not in my suit right now."
Smythe's smile is open. "Okay, Len." It is the polar opposite of their last encounter. The kid must make friends in a heartbeat.
Len is good at reading people but it requires no skill to see that Smythe cares and cares deeply. He also has the balls to ambush a politician in an elevator. Tactless maybe, but full marks for theatricality. Smythe is a protector, just like Len, and yet different in a way he can't describe. It's intriguing, whatever it is, and Len doesn't want to let go.
"Is that your to-go Alexie novel then?"
Smythe looks down at the book on his lap, tracing the title with long fingers. "Yeah. Flight is my favorite."
He is about to ask when Smythe answers the question for him. "I read it when I was in high school but it talks to me in a different way now. I understand what it's like to feel trapped." The night is steadily enclosing around them and shadows cut into Smythe's cheekbones, carving a hollow ring around his eyes. "When the one voice you trusted turns out to be the devil."
It's a voice that knows loss and regret.
"But you won," Len says. Of this, he has no doubt.
Smythe nods with a soft smile gracing his lips.
"Yeah. It's not really about winning or losing, though. Sometimes you just have to accept it and keep moving, keep running, because that's the only thing you can do."
"You didn't let the devil stop you, you won. Don't be too hard on yourself, kid. It's called life."
Smythe mouths 'kid' and shakes his head. "Thanks, dad."
"That's a title I don't appreciate being used outside my bedroom."
It has the desired effect, stuttering Smythe out of his memories into a blushing mess. "I--, you--, I can't believe you!"
"You can, I'm an honest man who makes a living out of keeping promises. I was voted into office for that particular trait."
"I'm glad to hear democracy is working in Central's favor but I do NOT have a daddy kink!"
"There is no shame in admittance," Len says with a wink that only makes Smythe blush harder. Thanks to all the flailing on Smythe's part, they're sitting closer now. "It's quite vanilla, really. Compared to preferences some people have. But if you don't, then you don't. It's not a must for me and I'm quite accommodating."
"Are you seriously negotiating kinks with me right now, on a park bench, after the conversation we just had?! You--" Smythe starts and then gulps down whatever he meant to say. He chews on his lips, which naturally distracts Len and disarms him against the comment that follows. "--You haven't even asked me out to dinner."
There are questions, so many of them, unknown variables that this young man represents, and even so, at this moment, Len doesn't hesitate in his reply.
"Would you say yes if I did?"
The answer is lost when a loud "Mayor!" shatters the moment.
A man is briskly walking towards them, black coat billowing, almost as irritated as Len is although it turns into shock once he recognizes the intruder.
"Dr. Wells?" He stares at the head scientist of STAR labs. "You're alive, I thought you--"
"Yes, yes, I'm alive and not missing, as you can see, at least not anymore. Thank you for your concern." Wells cuts him off and looks pointedly at Smythe. "Now if you will excuse us, we have places to be."
Smythe stands without a word, looking chastised. Len can't help but remember his earlier outburst at the word 'kid'.
"He works in your lab, Doctor?"
Wells doesn't hide his impatience at Len's question. "No, but he works with us. I apologize for my lack of manners but we really need to get going. I'm honestly surprised that he is dallying around here instead of where he is supposed to be."
If Wells was a meta-human, his death glare would've killed Smythe on the spot.
Len watches the two leave, Smythe following Wells with no parting word or even a glance, whatever they'd shared forgotten like the book on the bench.
They've only talked twice, it shouldn't matter. And yet the night seems colder than before.
Len picks up the book and resumes his jogging route.
4) If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
The man looks up, his bowtie askew with a confused expression on his face. Len takes in the round spectacles and the wardrobe change. It's not much better than the grey suit but it does make him look older.
"Fancy seeing you here."
It is a CCPD affair after all, most people on the police force or their plus-ones. Len is here with Lisa for lobbying purposes, a night of making friends over tasteless champagne. Police events always skimp on the alcohol.
Smythe looks around like he expects someone to pop up behind the canapé. "Pardon?"
"I still have your book, you left it behind on the bench. Or have you bought yourself a new one in the meantime?"
"I, uh, I'm not sure what--"
Len finds his incoherence weird, until he notices the wedding ring. It hits him like cold water.
"Apologies." Len knows a cue when he sees one. "I mistook you for someone else."
Same voice, same word, and again Len finds himself stopping. He takes a breath, blows it out his nose, and keeps himself in check as he faces whoever this man is.
Smythe looks as lost as Len. "Mayor, please, may I speak to you in private?"
"I believe there is nothing to discuss."
This time, Len lets his anger known. It is probably unfair but he doesn't care. Right now, he is feeling betrayed by the soft 'Len' he heard several weeks ago, at the way he'd smiled and asked for dinner, no ring on his finger, open towards something that could've been more.
Either Len is good at hiding his emotions or Smythe is bad at reading people because he insists. He steps closer and whispers, "Please, I think I can explain." It's the urgency in his voice that moves Len to follow him out on to the veranda.
And that is where Len learns that there are more than one universe, and more than one Bartholomew Allen walking around Central City.
"I'm not sure who Sebastian Smythe is," West-Allen says, fixing his glasses in a nervous habit. "But he, the other Allen, must have chosen that name so as to avoid ... confusion."
The fact that he failed spectacularly is left unsaid. Len empties his flute glass. At least the champagne tastes as shitty as it did before. He takes comfort in that.
"I didn't think he'd still be around. He came here to take down Zoom, which he did, so there isn't a reason for him to be here, in our Earth, anymore."
Len remembers Wells and how furious he was. Kid indeed. If Allen was waltzing between dimensions, he was most definitely in need of parental supervision regardless of him being a superhero, which Len didn't know counted as a 'respectable and promising career'.
"I just hope you won't let that encounter taint our relationship, Mayor." West-Allen smiles hopefully. "My wife and I are in support of your meta-human policies and the rehabilitation program you've been working on. We would love to work with you on implementing it."
Let it be called fate. Gaining support was the point of his being here and, as West-Allen goes to find his wife to continue their discussion further, Len finds it in himself to forgive and forget.
The next time he sees Barry Allen, he is prepared.
"I suppose I should thank you for saving our city."
Allen sips his coffee, feeds the pigeons some crumbs from his sandwich, and shrugs.
"I don't know. Do you feel like thanking me?"
"How did you figure it out?"
"I had a chat with West-Allen."
Allen snorts. "That must've been enlightening."
The words contain a surprising amount of venom. It is entirely unwarranted, both Bartholomew and Iris are charming people, but who knows what Len would think of his own counterpart? He has bigger questions to ask anyways.
"Why are you here?"
The sky is cloudy, covering the sun in an icy blanket. A flock of birds cut across the horizon. Just two strangers, from different worlds, sharing silence on a park bench. The bizarreness of it all reminds Len of the book in his office drawer. A relic from a parallel universe. Too bad one can't certify that with a provenance. It would probably sell at a mind-boggling price.
Allen chews on his sandwich, looking out into the park.
"I wanted a chance." The sandwich paper crumples loudly. "I wanted to see what it could be like." This time, his eyes are steely grey. Len wonders what they've seen to become so hardened, so desperate. "I needed to know what it would be like, what you would be like, if it hadn't been, if things were different." Each word clinks like ice cubes hitting glass, crystalized emotion that are painful to the touch.
Allen closes his eyes.
"I know you're not him."
The sentence freezes Len to the core.
"At first I was worried because ... I won't go into details but you'd agree my worries were justified. I watched you and it didn't take long to know you're nothing like him. And then ... and then I got selfish." The smile is brittle, cracked around the edges. "I kept my distance but you noticed. Of course you would. You notice everything, that part seems to be the same."
The you is confused, and Len doesn't know if he should thank his counterpart for setting the bar so low or be angered that he makes Allen desperate enough to frequent an alternate universe for a glimpse of what? Him buying coffee? Jogging in the park? Couple that with Allen's 'worry' and it paints a grim portrait of this other Leonard Snart.
Len doesn't want to be confused. As far as he is concerned, this is the only version of himself that Allen should know.
"I noticed because you were that bad at snooping. I'm completely different from this other guy who, from what I can gather, sounds like a jerk."
Allen's eyes, now a soft brown, looks at Len in what could only be affection. It pains to wonder if it's for him or for the other man wearing his face.
"Yeah...he betrayed me once."
"Then the guy is obviously not me and isn't worth your time."
"I told you you're nothing like him. But come on, as if you haven't broken promises yourself, Mr. Mayor."
"Only out of necessity." Allen laughs at that, but stops when Len places an open palm between them. "And never for people whom I care for."
They look at each other, similar to the standoff they had in the lobby, harsh colors clashing and fighting for dominance. What's different is that they both know who they are and what they want.
"Len," Allen sighs. "I'm sorry." His hands curl into fists, instead of taking Len's offered hand.
A man from a different universe, who wants something he can't have.
There is so much that could go wrong. There is so much that could go right.
"Allen," Len throws out a lifeline. "Live a little."
He can hear Lisa yelling "That's what I've been telling you for the past decade!" but Allen doesn't need to know that. It's been so long since he felt this way-excited, his mind supplies, intrigued. This Barry Allen found this Leonard Snart in this world. Odds be damned, that's a chance that shouldn't be wasted.
Len smiles to convey what they both need: a choice.
"I get it, you have responsibilities, as do I, and I still don't know if I really get this whole idea of doppelgängers and dimension-travel aside from it sounding like sci-fi nonsense. But I think that's something Dr. Wells can worry about. It's not my concern. All I want, right now, is to take you to dinner. This is me being selfish, selfish for you, Barry Allen."
Allen doesn't move as Len stands, placing another business card on the bench, this time with his personal number scribbled on the back.
"I won't wait for you," he says. "And your choice is your own. But consider this an open invitation to find me on the elevator, or the coffee shop, or my front door which I'm sure you've figured out already."
There is nothing more to be said. Len made his case.
"I'll see you around, kid."
"Stop calling me kid."
And with that, the ice begins to melt.
Barry reaches out, and Len takes his hand. It warms him, just like Barry's smile does.
"Hello, Barry. Do you like Italian?"