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Dark Water

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The nightmares condition Cisco to hate speedsters.

Heart pounding, he awakes with a hand clutching his chest, the noise caught in his ears, a deep thru-thru-thrum resonating in them as the Reverse Flash's – Dr. Wells'– hand plunges into his chest. Throat tight with dread, Cisco freezes and looks around his room, expecting red eyes to glare back at him from any corner. He searches for an upraised hand, strains to make out Dr. Wells's ponderous, almost funereal gait from the shadows, listening for that devastating to-me-you've-been-dead-for-centuries confession.

Even when his cantering heart slows to a stiff walk, he doesn't relax, climbing out of bed instead. It isn't over. Not until the Reverse Flash is dead, permanently dead. It'll never be over, the search, the expectation of the Reverse Flash's return, loose ends, untied strings.

And if there is one thing that Cisco has learned from nightmares, it is that the dead do not stay at rest.

So when he walks into Star Labs the next morning, he carries the haunting forgive-me whisper, the crushing fatigue of compounding sleepless nights, and the bruised good humor of a man attempting to conceal his own pain. Caitlin side-eyes him, upraised eyebrow asking are-you-okay?

Cisco smiles at her and does not visibly recoil when Barry steps closer to him, an unconscious gesture.

But he feels it, escalating heart rate confirming that it's happening, it's happening, it's – then he's in that dark place, watching Dr. Wells advance, and no, no, no, don't, please—

Blinking, he feels Barry's hand on his arm, curious, comforting, the lightning under his skin like a fire, get-it-away-from-me, and Cisco shudders and somehow does not shove him off. "You okay?" Barry asks, thumb grazing the bare skin of his forearm. Cisco can't help but notice how easy it would be for that hand to migrate north and curl around his heart, utterly immune to the restrictions of other human beings. He swallows, manages a stiff approximation of a response, and Barry retreats, a little furrow between his brows unmissed.

Cisco tries to act-normal, to sink into the rhythm of their ritualistic lifestyle, hunt, gather, repeat. He offers his services in the hunt (I'm-the-eyes-and-ears-and-he's-the-feet), leaving Barry to handle (dispose of) their metahumans in the particle accelerator below them. Standing beside Caitlin, Cisco feels a mixture of dread and shame at his own fear. Dr. Wells isn't evil – and Barry isn't, either – but all he can feel in the presence of the storm is the lightning, the electricity threatening to put him down.

Sometimes, when Barry stands next to Dr. Wells, the fear?

Cisco can scarcely contain it.

He wants to contain them, to put them in one of those safe, impenetrable cells for a while, just to be safe – but he can't do that. They're his friends. Friends don't lock friends in inescapable cells.

So he smiles stiffly and keeps his distance, remaining at Caitlin's side, trying to conceal his open dislike because he doesn't hate them – just their abilities. The power that they hold. The lives they could end, before anyone else could take a breath to stop them.

Dr. Wells is paralyzed, Cisco reminds himself, stepping back whenever Barry's casual, chaotic walking orbit brings him closer. Barry would never hurt you.

Wouldn't he? He hurt Eddie, tore into him like a dog's chew toy, satisfied to exact some revenge under the influence of a powerful metahumans attack. Where would Barry draw the line? Which meta would compel him to kill, to walk across the cortex not slow at all but too fast to see, ending Cisco's life before he even saw it coming?

His chest hurts, his eyes burn, and when noon arrives Cisco gratefully excuses himself for lunch, needing some air.

He conceals his reactions for almost a week. Soon, however, insomnia removes his inhibition. He's too tired to play nice, to not flinch whenever Barry comes too close to him. He keeps his distance and removes himself when Barry does not do the same.

Like a shark in the water, radiating electricity, detectible by a reputation that precedes it, hair-raising, heart-stopping terror, Barry radiates benign danger, lurking near but not chomping down on him – yet. The insidious expectation keeps Cisco away, magnetically repulsed by him. He wants out of the water, needs out of the water, because it doesn't matter that it's a benign danger (gentle giant, I'm-not-gonna-hurt-you half-promises because even Barry breaks his own rules). It feels real and Cisco can't breathe.

Every morning he gets back in the water, letting Barry come closer and closer to him, never unaware of that bruising, crippling strength locked in his muscles, capable of maiming and killing. Cisco doesn't know which would be worse: the finality of death or the agonizing continuity of torture. He knows that Barry wouldn't bite without provocation, that he wouldn't turn on Cisco – but why shouldn't he?

Who was to say Speed Force didn't drive speedsters mad, power-hungry, and one day those closest to them would realize that the sharks had ventured closer, closer, closer, and then—

Cisco shudders, and does not throw up when Barry hovers at his shoulder for nearly an hour, casually tossing out ideas that Cisco cannot casually answer, feeling interrogated, compelled. It doesn't help that when Barry is gone Dr. Wells ventures closer, quiet, solicitous, a source of great strength in dark times – another shark, stay away, except—

Dr. Wells isn't the Reverse Flash.

It's the product of a nightmare, the notion of a reality that does not exist. Dr. Wells' association is merely coincidental. Evidently the recesses of Cisco's imagination feel the absurdity of making one of his closest friends, his mentor, his father their most harrowing adversary.

Dr. Wells is not evil, Cisco reminds himself, putting on a fake smile when Dr. Wells asks him if he is okay.

I'm fine, he replies, feeling his ability to tolerate the fear shrinking until he finds a reason to be out of the Labs not only at lunch but to leave early. To abandon afternoons to the precinct. To run away, run away – leaving for days at a time, being there less and less, finding the temptation to drag Caitlin and Dr. Wells with him nearly irresistible at times.

Leave Dr. Wells with Barry, Cisco thinks, in the surreal, irrational hours before sunrise after dark, take Caitlin and run.

They worked, before Barry ever came into the equation, they were good, a family, and it twists in Cisco's heart that he hates Barry's presence but he can't take it, he can't, he won't die here, not like this, not—

"Cisco?" Caitlin asks.

Cisco realizes that he is hunched over the console, hands gripping the edge of it. He cannot bring himself to release it. Barry steps closer to him and sick with it, paralyzed, Cisco entreats, "Don't."

Barry backs off.

The guilt comes later, when his heart rate is slow enough that thoughts can circulate through his veins again, controlling impulses, steadying his hands. It doesn't really take ownership until it's been two days since Barry and he have even spoken, somehow in the same space but not occupying the same reality.

Cisco forces in a suffocating inhale, stepping closer to Barry, politely standing in one of the many, many (many, many…) abandoned labs rather than the cortex. He has his back to Cisco, but Cisco is supremely aware of Barry's lucidity: he knows Cisco is there. He knows, just as with every step his own shoulders tense slightly, half-expecting – what, exactly?

Cisco can feel the calm around him, like a blanket, a sedative, sweeping in, low and heady, lulling, calming. When Barry turns to face him, Cisco owns up to the way his feet halt, looking at Barry and saying in a stiff, unused voice, "Can we talk?"

Barry nods, gesturing with a hand – you have the floor – before staring him down, not malicious but intent. Paying attention.

Cisco exhales, forcing himself to see Barry and not that thru-thru-thrum as Barry's hand vibrates, edging closer. Oh-I'm-not-like-The-Flash-at-all, the Reverse Flash sneers, Cisco's no-no-no falling on deaf ears.

Then Barry says, "Cisco?"

"I saw him," Cisco whispers, ashamed, looking at Barry in genuine bewilderment. Please make sense of this. Please make it stop. "He – he – Dr. Wells –"

Barry frowns, holding his ground but swaying closer, like he wants to step forward but doesn't dare. Frozen.

I thought you trusted me, I thought we were friends!

We are friends, Barry—

Cisco's heart hurts, thinking about what the Cold Gun would do to them, to Dante. Maybe he was onto something, building something that could stop The Flash, but he'd put out a weapon that had been used for great harm. Had taken lives. He'd been right to question The Flash's loyalties; but – had he been right to ask forgiveness his own haste?

Trust your gut, he thinks, slowly, slowly forcing himself closer. Just a little bit. One step.

"I have these – nightmares –" He grasps at straws, feeling Barry's gaze soften, something akin to understanding building in the shadow of those dark, gold-less eyes. "I – I'm sorry." They're not true; I shouldn't blame you.

But there is a kernel of truth to them: Barry can do the impossible, the extraordinary. Cisco took for granted that he would always use that ability for good. The visions simply showed him the alternative.

They're not visions, he thinks.

Barry asks, "Can I hug you?"

Cisco thinks, If you promise not to kill me.

He nods, and Barry steps closer.

It takes – a while for Cisco's heart to stop pounding, for Barry's warm arms to feel secure instead of suffocating, never limp but never crushing, either. He tries to exhale, mouth pressed against Barry's shoulder, and he's tired, he's tired of being scared of the monster-Barry-is-not, tired of seeing teeth whenever Barry so much as smiles at him. He hugs Barry hard, trying to assure himself that he is in control, that he is safe, that The Flash can't hurt him if Barry is here.

At last, his grip loosens, balanced with one hand locked around his wrist behind Barry's back. He can't bring himself to say, I think you're dangerous because he knows Barry is, and he knows Barry can't change it, either. He can't bring himself to say, It scares me that I can't control you because he knows he can't, and he knows Barry won't submit to chains forever to appease him, either. He can't bring himself to say, A speedster kills me every night and now I can't look at you because the truth is too raw.

He's edgy, anxious, but he doesn't shove Barry away or walk away from him. He stays put, taking it in. Forcing himself to acknowledge that the warmth under Barry's skin is benign, that the glow in his eyes is simply reflective, not possessed.

"I'm sorry," he says again, voice muffled, and he's tired and scared and sick of missing Barry because we-wouldn't-be-us-without-you.

Barry squeezes him, promising in that familiar steady tone, "It's okay."

They separate, and maybe Cisco can't quite bring himself to turn his back on Barry, but he does let Barry trail him back into the cortex. He does visit Barry at the precinct again, popping into his lab with Big Belly Burger, offering peace and atonement. He does follow Barry, alone, to the particle accelerator, watching Barry talk with other metahumans, trying to reach them through the glass, the profound sorrow and concern in him almost palpable, rendering Cisco's fears mute, insensate.

Being with him – alone, together, in action, at rest – helps Cisco cope with the idea that only some sharks bite. He doesn't unlearn his fear altogether, but he learns to trust Barry again – trust Dr. Wells, too, even though Barry seems increasingly edgy around him.

They've been through a lot, in the past year. Growing pains don't surprise Cisco. It took him months to adjust to working with a living scientific legend, and at times, even he chafed with the great man. For Barry to feel the same way doesn't alarm him.

The visions don't go away, but their potency fades. His fear levels out. His ability to tolerate the impossible increases once more, until finally, finally he can stand in the same room as a speedster (two speedsters) without feeling an urge to run.

In the end, the nightmares fail. They don't condition Cisco to hate speedsters.

They condition him to hate being afraid of them.