Barry’s taken to calling it their normal Tuesdays. Outings to the movies, the museum, go-karts or the arcade. Something to get Bart out and acclimatizing to the twentieth century world. The only thing the kid finds natural about the past is video games, but Barry’s determined to make him try something new.
“Bowling?” Bart asks skeptically. “Can’twejustplayitonwii?”
“Way more satisfying in person,” Barry says. “Trust me on that. Ball return might drive you a little crazy, but the rest of it, it’s pretty great.”
“Sure,” Bart drawls.
Barry chooses to overlook the sarcasm. “Look at that, understandable and normal speed. I didn’t have to prompt you at all.”
“I talk slow at school.” Bart scowls. “Whycan’tItalknormalwhenI’mwithyou?”
“It’s good practice,” Barry answers. “Think of it like your secret identity.”
“You said I’m not allowed a secret identity.”
“Not until you’re eighteen at least.” Barry laughs, wrapping an arm over Bart’s shoulder. “Give bowling a chance, okay? This is one of my favorite places in the world.”
He leads them thorough the flashing neon lights, keeping a hand on either one of Bart’s shoulders. They’ve almost made it to their lane when he hears a voice shout. “Barry! Bart!”
He turns to find Iris grinning at them both, Eddie hovering awkwardly beside her. “Guys’ night?” she asks.
“Thought this might go over better than the museum,” Barry admitted.
“You should join us!”
Barry backpedals. “I don’t think you want us crashing your date.”
“C’mon Barry. You’ve been keeping Bart all to yourself. It’s not every day we get a new part of the family.”
He’s never had much defense when Iris asks for something so he looks sideways and meets Eddie’s eyes instead. “You okay with this too, Eddie? You might have to pull up the bumpers.”
The blond shrugs. “I’ve heard a lot about Bart. It’d be good to finally manage a chance to meet him.”
“Eddie?” Bart asks, looking at Barry. “The one Aunt Iris is dating.”
Barry could kiss the kid for not calling her Grandma Iris. He even managed it at a normal pace. He does some mental calculations. He’s pretty sure he’s got enough to spring for a couple pints of ice cream before heading home tonight if Bart manages to keep this up.
“Eddie Thawne,” Eddie says solemnly crouching in front of Bart and extending a hand.
Bart flinches at the name, but recovers quickly enough to grab the hand and shake. “Bart Allen.”
Barry takes a step closer to Iris, lowers his head and whispers, “If this goes wrong, it’s all on you.”
Iris swats him in the chest. “Eddie’s great with kids.”
But, Barry thinks darkly, Bart isn’t exactly a normal kid.
Bart loves Eddie.
Ten minutes into the game, he’s already gained the honorific as Uncle Eddie, and Bart spends all of the downtime, chattering in his ear.
“He’s good with him, huh?” Iris says.
“Bart’s a good kid. And Eddie’s good with everything.”
“You don’t have to sound so jealous,” Iris says. “You were the one saying you wanted Bart to get out of your little circle.”
“I know,” Barry grumbles.
Eddie laughs and something Bart says, though Barry would be stunned if he’s managed to pick out one word in seven. After some prompting, Bart twirls away from Eddie’s shoulder, grabs a bright pink bowling ball and heaves it down the lane, nearly slipping onto the greased portion.
The ball hits the bumper four different times, criss-crossing down the lane before finally knocking down every last pin. Bart whoops in joy, and shouts, “Dad! Look!”
Barry catches him as he runs back, twirling him around as the frustration bleeds out of him. “I see, buddy.”
“We’llcatchupsoon!” Bart crows.
Barry snorts with laughter. They’re down a good sixty pins in the eighth frame without even counting the fact that Iris rolled a strike her last time up. “I think you’re right,” he tells Bart. “No one can take the Allens!”
“Big talk, boys,” Iris says, moving to the ball return to take the same bright pink ball that Bart had used. “Let’s see how it holds up.”
“Hold that thought guys,” Eddie says, looking down at his phone. “I’ve got to run, emergency at the morgue.”
He grabs his jacket and kisses Iris on her cheek, leaning over to ruffle Bart’s hair.
Barry watches him go without a word until Bart tugs on his sleeve. “Dad.”
“What? Guys’ night remember.”
“If they’re calling Eddie on their night off, it might be a little bit more pressing,” Iris pushes.
“For the crime lab?”
“No!” Bart chirps. “FortheFlash.”
Iris gives the kid a high five. Barry pines the days when he actually had a secret identity.
“I’ll get Bart home,” Iris says. “Besides, hanging with Aunt Iris is way cooler than a guys’ night anyway.”
Barry knows they’re right. He’d just wanted to hang with the three of them. Bart, Barry and Iris. Almost like a real family.
He skids to a stop halfway to the morgue, looking over his shoulder like he’s seen a ghost.
Or, you know, the phantom of another Flash.
It’s well past midnight by the time Barry finally makes it to Iris and Eddie’s place to pick up Bart. Iris answers the door. Barry looks past her shoulder expecting Bart to have destroyed the apartment. “House is still standing,” he jokes. “That’s a good sign.”
“Of course it’s still standing,” Iris answers. “Bart’s asleep on the couch.”
“I swear to god, you work miracles,” Barry says. “Kid never sleeps if he can help it.”
Iris leans against the door frame. “He’s a good kid.”
“The best. But he’s also a twelve year old boy from the future with super speed. Not something I want to dump on an unsuspecting babysitter.”
“You’re lucky you’ve got me then.”
“Well, I’ve always known that.”
“I actually kind of wanted to ask you a question about the whole future thing.” She hesitates for a second. “You know Bart calls Dr. Wells ‘Evil Grampa’ right?”
“You noticed that too, huh? Wells offered to take him in when he got here, but we figured it was probably not the smartest move given the nickname.”
“You ever bothered to ask him why Wells is Evil Grampa?”
“No.” Barry’s brow furrows. “Bart’s from an alternate future. And there’s no way I’m going to start blaming people for something their alternate selves did.”
“And I absolutely agree with you there. I am in no way asking for him to start calling me Grandma Iris again, but my mentor at the paper, Mason Bridge he’s been investigating Harrison Wells. Something about being connected to the murder of Simon Stagg. And well, you know him better than me. Do you think he’s capable of something like that?”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“Bart literally calls him Evil Grampa. And in Bart’s timeline, you’re still the Flash. Is it really so weird to think that their might be some other similarity?”
“Harrison Wells is a good man. He’s—”
Iris raises a hand to cut him off. “Look, the story aside, I thought I should ask because your kid seems afraid of him.”
Barry forces himself to swallow. He runs a hand through his hair and moves to where Bart is sleeping on the couch, curled up into a ball like he was terrified he would be found. Barry runs a hand over the kid’s shoulder watching as some of the tension leeches from of his spine. “You’re right. I’ll talk to him about it. I should have talked to him about it a long time ago. But Harrison Wells, this Harrison Wells, is not the same person.”
Except the conversation sticks with him even after he hauls Bart back to their apartment and tucks the kid into bed.
“C’mon,” Cicso mutters to himself looking at the readouts from the night they’d captured the man in yellow. “There’s no way.” He takes an angry bite of his licorice. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Oh my God!” Cisco spins in his chair to find the bright face of Bart Allen peering up at him from under his bangs. “Bart! Okay, we’re putting a bell on you. Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
“Lunchbreak,” Bart says. He leans over Cisco to open his drawer of snacks and pulls out a string of licorice.
“Is that where all my candy’s been going because I’mma tell Barry on you in a heartbeat.”
Bart takes a big bite of licorice and gestures to the screen. “Showme. Icanhelp.”
Cisco turns his chair into Bart’s stomach, positioning his body between the kind and the computer monitor. Bart takes this as an invitation to climb over Cisco and hit the space bar to start the video.
Then he freezes.
It’s scary. The kid hadn’t even been that still when he was shivering in Captain Cold’s trap. The color is gone from his face, his eyes wide. Cisco hits the pause button before the man in yellow abducts and beats Wells. He carefully pries the boy off his back.
“Reverse Flash,” Bart says after a moment. “Daddidn’tletmewatchbefore, butthat’stheReverseFlash”
“Reverse Flash?” Cisco repeats because it’s the only thing said slow enough to understand. “That’s a pretty good name. You trying to steal my thunder, Bart?”
Bart swallows. “He killed my dad.”
“What?” Cisco sputters.
“Not Barry,” Bart corrects.
“That’s not the point… wait, how far in the future are you from? How long do speedsters stick around anyway?” Cisco trails off looking at Bart’s face. “I mean… that’s horrible. Are you okay?”
“Didn’tknowhimverywell,” Bart says. “CanIwatchthevideo?”
“Can I watch?” Bart repeats slowly.
“I’m going to go with… no. I don’t think that’s healthy. I’m taking you back to class.” Cisco grabs Bart by the shoulder before he can skitter away.
“But I can absolutely call your father,” Cisco says, punching the button on his watch that sends Barry an emergency alert. Two taps, quick code for Bart Allen related.
Barry blurs in twenty seconds later. “You,” he says pointing at Bart. “It’s a school day.”
“Lunch,” Bart counters.
“Lunch is literally the best part of the school day. I know it’s weird being with all these kids from the past, but remember how you were working on that secret identity?”
Bart’s eyes widen at the implication. Cisco stomps on Barry’s toe.
“That you’re absolutely not allowed to have until you’re at least eighteen,” Barry finishes.
“Whywon’tyoujustletmewatchit?” Bart asks, “Youallkeeptalkingaboutitandyouwon’tletmeseeit.”
Barry meets Cisco’s eyes over the kid’s shoulder, translating before he can ask, “What video is he looking to watch?”
“The man in yellow,” Cisco says, hating the way it makes Barry’s face go pale.
“Ideservetoseeit,” Bart says, turning to Barry. “It’s…”
“You’re right,” Barry says. “We shouldn’t be hiding things from you. Especially when they’re dangerous. Me and Cisco will watch with you, but you have to promise me that if you see him, you’ll run the other way.”
Bart lunges forward to pull Barry into a hug. “Ithinkhekilledmydad,” Bart admits, the words half lost in Barry’s shoulder.
“There’s no way in hell I’ll let him get you,” Barry says. “You can watch, but only if you promise to run when you see him.”
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” Cisco says.
“I promise,” Bart mutters.
“Play us the tape, Cisco,” Barry orders.
“I’m not sure you two made the best move with Bart’s mental health,” Caitlin chastises.
“What were we supposed to do?” Barry moans. “He would have found the tape one way or another. Better we watch it together than him watch it alone.”
“Sorry man, I should have covered better, but I got thrown off when he said Reverse Flash was the one who killed his dad.”
“Reverse Flash?” Caitlin asks. “Did you give him a name?”
“Bart gave him a name,” Cisco says. “Except I’m pretty sure that Bart just called him a future name. We have to face the fact that maybe, whatever happens, Barry doesn’t manage to take him down in the future either.”
“Don’t talk like that.” Caitlin sat down at her chair, spinning in Cisco’s direction. “Alternate universes by definition play out differently.”
“You know it’s possible Reverse Flash is from the same future that Bart is,” Cisco says thoughtfully. “He may have followed the kid here, drafting or something.”
Barry leaned back against the desk. “Which you are definitely not going to tell him. Because he’ll probably immediately decide that this is his fault.”
“You might be conflating his hero complex with yours here, Barry.” Caitlin says.
“I keep thinking I’m screwing this up.”
“You’re absolutely not.” Caitlin puts a hand on his shoulder. “You’re doing well with him.”
Barry’s not sure this can be classified as doing well. Bart’s damaged in ways he recognizes from his own childhood, harder to see because of his natural exuberance, but always lurking just under the surface. Ever since the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, he’d been expecting a minor meltdown. “I wish I could do more.”
“We all wish we could do more for the younger Mr. Allen but I’m afraid we have more pressing issues.” Harrison Wells says, rolling into the room. “In the form of a Mr. Clyde Mardon.”
Barry sags back into his chair. “Right. I should get back to the precinct. Joe seems pretty unconcerned about Mardon gunning for his life and I promised Eddie I’d help keep an eye on him. I really can’t deal with two family crises at once.”
“Considering Joe West is on the front lines of the police force and the younger Mr. Allen safely returned to his classroom for the remainder of the day, I highly suggest you prioritize.”
“Right.” Barry gives himself a small mental shake. “What can we do about Clyde Mardon?”
Barry slides to a stop in the lobby of the GCPD, Cisco’s wizard’s wand clutched in his hands.
Around him the storm dissipates. A smile curls around Barry’s face. He wasn’t entirely sure that would work.
Mardon makes his escape and Barry takes a step towards him to follow.
Then he hears Joe’s cry. “Captain!”
Bart’s asleep on Iris’s couch again by the time he makes it back to pick him up. No real discussion this time, but with Mardon still at large, Barry hadn’t expected much. Unlike last time, Bart stirs when Barry scoops Bart up in his arm, mumbling a sleepy, “You get the bad guy this time?”
“Not yet,” Barry replies. “But he doesn’t stand a chance.”
“I can help,” Bart says.
“You can help by not skipping out of school. Even if it’s just lunch time.”
“Is everyone at the police okay?” Bart asks.
“Alive,” Barry says, thinking of Captain Singh unconscious on a hospital bed. “And getting better. We’ll catch him soon. If not the Flash, then Joe and Eddie.”
“I like Uncle Eddie,” Bart says.
“How’d Eddie earn uncle status faster than Cisco and Caitlin?” Barry asks with a snort of laughter.
He loses Bart’s response in a yawn and Barry knows better than to wake the kid back up if he’s nodded off.
It’s supposed to be a long shot, an old hideout where Joe West knew the Mardon brothers used to stay. A wild hunch, a chance to confront Mardon on his own before Barry or Iris paid for his perceived crimes. No back up, just him his gun and a quick decision. Eddie shows up to watch his back, but even that feels unnecessary. He’s confident that he knows Mardon well enough to take him down.
Right up until the moment the tornado sucks him out a window.
Cisco has about an hour before Wells and Caitlin get back to STAR labs.
The combination of Bart’s moniker of ‘Evil Grampa’ and Joe’s past suspicious has him paranoid. And after Bart’s reaction to the video, Cisco owed it to the kid to follow through on any leads with the Reverse Flash.
Naturally he’s only just started when he gets a call. Unfamiliar number, but it’s a Central City Area code so he picks it up.
“Mr. Ramon,” a formal female voice says. “I’m calling in regards to Bartholomew Allen.”
Cisco pulls his phone back from his ear, stares at it for a moment and then brings it back. “Are you sure that you didn’t mean to call Barry?”
“We tried Mr. Allen several times. Neither he nor the Wests were picking up their phones, but I understand this is a busy time at the police precinct. You were listed as an alternate contact.
Cisco pinches the bridge of his nose. “Is everything all right?”
“Bart never made it to his second class today.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“We understand that Bart’s home life has been in upheaval, but this is the third instance of skipping class in the past two weeks.”
“You caught him then?” Cisco asks. “Because this is a whole different conversation if you don’t actually have eyes on him.”
There’s hesitation over the line.
Cisco feels panic well up in his gut. Mardon had threatened Joe and his family. If he’d found an easy target in Bart like Captain Cold had…
“We suspect that he’s left the school’s campus.”
Cisco blows out a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll do my best to get to in touch with Barry. We’ll find him.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ramon,” she replies. “I will of course like to have a conversation with Mr. Allen about the repeated incidents--”
“Of course,” Cisco says. “I’ll let him know.”
She disconnects, leaving Cisco cursing as he tugs his laptop from the console. Between Wells and Mardon, he couldn’t have worse timing. He’s going to lowjack the kid if he gets his way, but first he has to confirm that Bart hasn’t snuck into the Impulse costume and leave to help Barry. After that he can probably retask one of the STAR labs satellites to track faster than usual motion, using that to narrow the location down…
From his vantage near the pipeline’s entrance, Bart watches Cisco leave.
“Really no a good time, Cisco,” Barry says as he picks up the phone. There are storm clouds building in the distance, Iris clutching at his elbow.
“Bart’s skipping class again,” Cisco says. “They called me.”
“You’re one of the authorized contacts,” Barry says. “You can pick him up, right?”
“I would be totally up for it, except they still can’t find him.”
“Was there any sign of a struggle?” Barry asks.
“No,” Cisco says. “The lady seemed pretty sure that he was just skipping. It’s not like he doesn’t have a history. I figure you do a quick lap of the city. Track him down.”
“I can’t,” Barry says. He sounds distressed. “Mardon has Joe. He wants Iris at the docks. Says he’ll kill Joe if any of the cops show up. If the school doesn’t think this was a kidnapping…”
“I’ll take care of finding him,” Cisco says. “I promise.”
“I owe you Cisco. I owe you big.”
“Save Joe,” Cisco says. “We’ll call it even.”
Bart tries not to flinch when the hologram bursts into being, he’d known this would happen. Cisco was very good with computers, but Bart was from the future. Bart had grown up in a computer. Even watching a feed on a recorded playback, he could tell a hologram from a person. And the man in the yellow suit, well, he was definitely a hologram.
Bart hadn’t wanted to be right about this. Because if he was right, that meant that Harrison Wells…
“You,” a voice says from the doorway, “are not the person I expected to find here.”
Bart winces with his full body, fingers pausing over the keyboard. He forces himself to stand straighter as he turns around. “You’renotHarrisonWells.”
“No,” Wells says. “No, I supposed you would be the only person in this time who knows exactly who I am.”
“Eobard Thawne,” Bart says.
“It is good to hear that name again.”
“Thenyouaremygrampa.” Bart feels his words accelerating with his nerves. He’d never met his grampa, not properly, but there’d been stories.
(Bart was in the VR when the Don Allen was killed, but the whispers all blamed Thawne, Thawne, Thawne.)
“Maybe,” Thawne concedes. “The timeline’s a tricky thing, worse when you factor in a set of alternate realities such as your own. I must admit, while I had been aware of the possibility of your existence, I had not expected someone of my blood to be so… you.”
He takes a step forward and Bart vibrates back through the computer console, the motion causing the program to restart, the man in yellow blurring back into being behind him.
“You know.” Thawne advances slowly towards him. “I’ve often wondered how young Mr. Allen managed to adjust so quickly to your presence. Maybe he suffers the misguided notion that you’re a credit to the bloodline rather than a festering sore on an otherwise proud lineage.”
“You’rethemaninyellow,” Bart says. Before today, he’d almost convinced himself that Wells wasn’t the same. That the Thawnes in this world were all people like Eddie. Trustworthy. Good. “Theoneinthevideo. Youkilledmydad.”
“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting your father yet, though if he’s anything like you, I’m sure killing him will be a pleasure.”
“Because I hate the Flash. He took everything from me. And after I get what I need from him, I will take great satisfaction in removing him from the world.”
Bart lunges for Thawne at top speed only…
For Thawne to sidestep him neatly and shove him to the ground. “Impulsive,” he commented. “Cisco really was spot on with the name. It’s a shame, you hold great potential, but you understand, I can’t let you leave here.”
You see the man in yellow, Barry’s lecture echoes in his head, and you run. You don’t fight. You just get away as fast as possible. It’s the same thing grandma Iris told him in the future. The same thing threading through his few memories of his real father and Aunt Dawn. His entire family were heroes who would never dream of backing down from a fight and they wanted him to run.
Bart juts his chin out in defiance, raises his fists the same way he’d seen Barry the few times the Flash had been caught on the news.
Thawne laughs. “Oh child, you can try to defeat me if you wish, but know I can kill you without consequence.”
Bart lunges forward at top speed…
Only to be met with a sudden resistance. His breath catches in his throat.
“See,” Thawne continues, “Bart Allen was not even a footnote in history.”
Bart opens his mouth to reply, but instead of words, a wet trail of blood bubbles through his lips. He looks down just as Thawne pulls his vibrating hand out of his chest.
On the docks at Central City, Barry runs against a wall of water.
And then it’s yesterday.