Speedsters don't like cages.
Barry paces restlessly, aware that no amount of creative thinking will phase him through these walls. He presses his hands against the glass, frustration mounting as time passes. Curling his palms into fists, he pounds them against the wall, shouting at the top of his lungs, needing to hear someone's voice. He doesn't know who might be listening to him, but he refuses to be silent.
Out of sight, out of mind prevails: no one responds. Even when he shouts himself hoarse and bruises his fists with the intensity of his efforts, no one comes down to free him. No one even acknowledges him over the comms, leaving him utterly stranded, alone. In a place where no one would ever think to look for him.
Sick with the effort of trying to be heard, Barry slides to the floor, head aching, mouth dry. Pressing his fists against his closed eyes, he tries to compose himself. They won't let him out if they think he's unhinged. Of course he's in his right mind. His anger is justified; his frustration, valid. They have no right to imprison him. Coaxing in deep breaths, he reminds himself that it doesn't matter how right he is: they have the key. If they expect him to grovel for his freedom, then he needs to grovel.
Just the thought fills him with so much bitterness he almost cracks a tooth.
It doesn't help that the quiet is its own punishment, an Antarctic stillness that makes him fidget. He pries at his gloves just to hear the Velcro-like tear of interlocking fabric coming together and apart, again and again and again, peeling off his boots for the same effect. It doesn't do much for his mood, but it gives him something to do for a time, distracted, taking out his pain on the suit.
Alternately too hot and too cold, he unzips the torso of the suit, self-consciously putting his back to the camera in the upper left corner of the cell, huddled in on himself while he waits for the sickening sense of helplessness to pass. It doesn't. Anger washes over him, but cold sets in, prompting him to zip up the suit again. Putting his back against the wall, he scowls when he thinks about its creator. About his so-called friends.
Honestly? Fuck groveling.
He'd rather starve to death in this cell than admit they had any right to put him here. He's not Zoom. He doesn't kill people. He isn't dangerous. He doesn't belong in a cell.
It's a mantra that carries him through the first quarter hour. It's hard to think about anything else: Harry's sedative didn't just knock him out, it took all of the fight out of him. Under the right circumstances he could handle a tranquilizer – he'd shaken off Oliver's before – but he lacked the necessary rage to burn through the crippling exhaustion. Shock took care of that.
Even hopped up on Bivolo's hormonal hell, Barry had been focused on the fight, ready to take whatever Oliver threw at him, but having a discussion with Joe? He wasn't expecting a fight. He barely had time to register dart before the first wave of fatigue hit him, staggering him. Then pain punched through his stupefying consciousness. The burn of the serum combined with the intense stabbing ache of the dart to bring him to his knees. Under that pressure, he didn't stand a chance at fighting off the drug. He didn't even have time to yank the dart out of his shoulder before the world fell out from underneath him.
Next thing he knew he was fuzzily piecing together the last ten seconds – dart, pain, sleep – as he took in his new surroundings.
He thinks, Dart and feels its soporific effects tugging at his eyelids, at sore knuckles, at non-acquiescent shoulders slouching with premature relief. He thinks, Pain and tightens his hands into fists, grits his jaw, focuses his energy on being ready. He thinks, Sleep and nearly capsizes, holding onto consciousness by a thread, pinching his own arm hard enough to bruise to help center him again.
Breathing deeply through his mouth, he closes his eyes, focusing on remaining calm. His shoulders relax; his fists loosen. Somewhere, intrusively, he remembers, They'll let you out sooner if they think you're complying.
Instead of relaxing him, the reminder infuriates him. How many times has he been falsely imprisoned? Zoom and Trajectory had both locked him in cells. Cisco's White Whale, The Turtle, had pinned him down with his waves of inertness. Farooq had stolen his Speed; Zoom had taken his Speed. Countless metahumans had had their turn at immobilizing the great and invincible Flash.
But resistance requires strength and he has none, opting for staying on the floor, back against the wall and shoulders relaxed, jaw tight.
Zoom murdered his father and he's the one sitting in a cage for it.
Unbelievable, he thinks, without vehemence, without heat. Unbelievable.
Hands off my fries.
He scoffs lightly at the memory. It's from a lifetime ago, an entire Barry ago, back when the most pressing matter on his table was arriving at work at a reasonable hour with a hell of a good excuse. Back when chasing impossible dreams in Starling City was the highlight of his month. Back when he amounted to little more than an underling, subservient to his own obsession to solve his mother's murder.
Wrapping his arms around himself, he tries to shut that thought out, aware that he's dangerously close to crying territory. He couldn't even if he wanted to, too tired, too frustrated. Being on display only hammers home the point.
They don't deserve his grief. They have no right to know what he's thinking. He will not give them the satisfaction of knowing just how fragile his hold on his own emotions is.
I am in control.
And they put him away like an animal. Darted him, went behind his back. Acted like they couldn't trust him, like he wasn't an adult capable of making choices.
But, sniffing slightly, hating himself for it, Zoom was going to kill them if Barry didn't intervene. All of them. Maybe he'd do it right in front of Barry, stuck behind this stupid glass wall, helpless to save them. One by one. Slow enough to savor his victory, fast enough that none of them stood a chance.
Only speedsters could take on speedsters.
Much as they might want to, they couldn't take on Zoom alone. There was no alternative. It didn't matter how many times Zoom shattered him. Barry was the only one fast enough to stop him. And he had to. He had to.
Even if he might not be able to.
Never forget, I am the fastest man alive.
He can still hear Zoom's guttural declaration, close enough that he huddles back, heart racing. Zoom could be there in less than a second, holding a hostage. Barry doesn't know who he would grab first but he doesn't want to know. The possibility terrifies him; the probability that he would fail paralyzes him.
For a time, all he can think is, What if I can't win the race?
Then he thinks about that black box. He can almost feel his dad's hugs, almost hear the comforting It's-okay-slugger in the air between them, and almost see that proud-to-be-your-dad smile.
And he thinks, I have to.
He thinks, I will.
Zoom will pay for what he did. To all of them. To Barry.
You don't get to ruin my life, he thinks, glaring outward at that invisible presence behind the glass wall. Not anymore.
No matter what his friends think (friends who locked him up in here), Barry will stop Zoom. For himself. For them.
Dozing, still sedative-heavy, he sits on the floor and does not beg his captors for freedom. He didn't beg Zoom or Trajectory or the Turtle. He didn't beg any of the other metahumans, either, no matter how cruel they were.
He did not beg then and he will not now.
Drifting into a stupor, Barry almost doesn't notice the wall rising on the opposite side of the glass. Dream-like, Wally appears, walking forward, opening his cell. Barry stares at him, asking him what are you doing because Wally wasn't one of the six. Wally didn't betray him; why the peace treaty now?
Wally doesn't explain – just they won't be happy that I did this – but that's okay because Barry doesn't need him to.
Don't make the same mistake twice, Barry thinks bitterly. Watch your back.
When Wally mentions Joe, Barry doesn't have words. He doesn't dare speak. Instead, he scoops up Wally and Flashes them both to the cortex.
The look Jesse gives him is full on tiger-on-the-loose terrified and it's gratifying.
You don't want to be my enemy, he thinks, directing his rage at Harry when he threatens to tranq Barry again, clashing with all of them, lashing out, finally giving voice to the muted threats they chose not to hear before. They can't not listen to him now. Soundproof walls don't hold him back anymore.
All the while, he feels a strange guilt twisting in his belly at the tension in the room, aware that he is the source. He feels distanced and out of place, not sure where he fits in anymore, wanting to be part of the team they once were – but not this team. He misses being able to trust them with his life, being able to trust that they would never, ever, ever go behind his back.
You don't have veto power anymore, a snide side of him points out.
Bristling, he works with them, knowing that he needs to because they don't have time to fight. Zoom has Joe. For now, it's incentive enough to work with, if not forgive; to be cordial, if not warm.
They're not speedsters, they don't get what it's like to be locked up. They don't understand the raw fear it elicits when Harry threatens to dart him again. He'd know, and he'd fight it, but there is a chance – a painfully likely chance – that he will fail again.
I'm not gonna be put down anymore.
It's a resolution he makes in the middle of the night and breaks early that same morning, gasping, caught in the whirlwind of go, now!, startled at how much he can feel the time remnant's breath, his pulse, his committed, suffocating thoughts.
When the moment comes –when the Magnetar powers up – Barry doesn't even hesitate to die for them.
Shaking, exhaling, Barry feels the collar of Zoom's control tighten around his neck, narrowing his airway. Zoom is gone. He should feel great – the monster's gone – but all he can think is, Not forever.
Cisco runs up to him, bear-hug, and Barry welcomes him, feeling some of the tension ease from his shoulders.
You're okay, he tells himself, hugging Cisco back, ashamed at how anxious he feels in the aftermath. You're okay.
Harry says, "Well done," and Barry can feel the tentative peace in the air, promising resolution. He looks around, accepting the much gentler hug Caitlin gives him a moment later, before his eyes meet Iris' and he thinks, You, too?
The way she looks at him is satisfyingly remorseful, tightening the knot in his belly.
They didn't lock you up to hurt you, he thinks.
He wants to believe it, that they really did do it for his own good, but he feels a strange detachment from them.
They're the reason I'm running, he thinks.
And yet one of his most unalterable reasons for living is six feet under.
Iris hugs him and he lets himself belief for a brief, blissful moment that the war is over. That he can relax and let go of Zoom's presence in his life.
But the anxiety doesn't go away. The fear of being locked up resonates.
When he smiles at them, there is a side of him that already knows, I do have veto power.
He exercises it that night, taking off, aware that they won't remember any of the changes he makes. Saying goodbye to that life is almost a relief.