Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.
If Hannibal Barca could cross the Alps on elephants, Harrison Wells could cross worlds with a backpack.
This was war. Losing wasn’t an option.
And as in any war, there were risks to be taken—sacrifices to be made. Hannibal’s mission was as ingenious as it was ruthless. He led soldiers who’d never seen snow into a harsh, alpine climate. Most of the elephants didn’t survive. But that’s not what people remember. Historians praise Hannibal’s tact, not his morals. There is no morality in war.
Harrison knew that. He had, after all, spearheaded scientific discovery for the past several decades with cut-throat efficiency. Passivity wasn’t in his nature; he wasn't going to wait around for a hero. Jesse didn’t need a hero. She needed a father, and what Harrison needed were soldiers. Luckily, this Earth's Flash wasn’t as defeated as Jay Garrick. It was easy convincing Barry Allen that he must hit hard, fast, and now. Morality be damned, Harrison pitted the scarlet speedster against Zoom.
The Hannibal analogy is frustratingly fitting in this case, since Carthage loses the Second Punic War. Not because of Hannibal per se, but because war is a group effort and no general is above making rash decisions. Harrison made a mistake. Strategy called for tactical retreat.
So it really didn’t make sense that he was still lying here, in a different universe, with new stitches in his stomach. Or maybe it did.
Harrison shifted on his cot in STAR labs, feeling his body object against the movement. He didn't expect to be convinced by Snow of all people that fighting Zoom required a ‘team’. She saw strength in numbers and it made sense, of course it did. There was only so much one man could do, regardless of his intelligence or capability. Snow proved that by inspiring a new plan Harrison hadn’t thought of. Closing the breaches was a brilliant idea, the one issue being that Harrison had lost what little trust he’d had by almost killing their beloved speedster, which meant he had to regain it. He donned the musty yellow suit, got banged up, and saved the day. Snow was all soft eyes in her gratitude, and everyone’s cold gaze thawed at her open smile. It was a good thing the plan worked on multiple levels. Snow's intellect would’ve been wasted on a talking gorilla with daddy issues.
Harrison remembered the massive animal and the weight of it's fists. Yet another mess his alternate self had created and, by gods, did that man leave a hell of a lot to clean up.
The cheap bed groaned like his battered muscles.
He did not look forward to tomorrow.
A soft voice pulled Harrison's eyes to the doorway. He was stationed in Ramon’s workspace, as per usual, and today was a Eagles kind of day. Don Henley sang about a hotel in California as Barry stood awkwardly with unsteady eyes. Harrison watched the younger man hesitate, shoes toeing the invisible line between in and out, before walking and resting his hip at the edge of the table.
“So…there is a gorilla haven in your world.”
Harrison turned back towards the computer screen. Barry's voice grew a little stronger with the lack of scrutinising eyes.
“Are there, uh, many Grodds on Earth-2?”
"No, you don’t have to worry about Zoom sending an army of talking apes.”
“That’s good to know,” Barry said with lack of enthusiasm.
The table creaked a bit and music took over the room again. Harrison studiously kept his eyes on the computer, ignoring the nervous tension radiating from a few feet away.
Barry Allen was another mess, similar to Grodd in that way— a mess of broken promises that Dr. Wells left behind. Harrison didn’t know the details but Barry had said enough. What he didn't say communicated in his approach. Their conversations were strictly business and always with other people present. Despite being the one who convinced everyone to trust him—this Wells—Barry Allen was having the hardest time accepting the ‘same face, different people’ concept. Harrison didn’t give a shit. He wasn't that Wells (Eobard—who would punish their son with a name like that?) and had no reason to apologize for other people’s tragedies. He had enough of his own. It wasn’t his job to pamper superficial idiots who judged people by their faces. Everyone had a face, even the devil.
There was a soft sigh.
“I wish we had some place similar for metahumans," Barry said. "There is only so much protection Iron Heights can offer and everyone here is still new to the whole metahuman business. Lian Yu kind of fits the bill but…” There was a chuckle. “We tried once. It didn’t go so well.”
And he proceeded to narrate a desperately stupid manoeuvre that included trusting a known criminal. It was an amusing story, Harrison conceded midway, but baffling. Baffling not because Barry could be such a naive moron, that was a given, but because there was no point to the retelling. Barry wasn't asking for input or expertise. He sought Harrison out, alone, and was just…talking. In the end, Harrison decided that this thing Barry was doing, whatever it was, didn’t pose a threat. He let himself smirk at the other’s expense. The moral of the story was Don’t Trust Shady People but there was more to lose than gain by pointing that out. If there was no ulterior motive at work, he might as well try his hand in small talk.
“Well, it only makes sense that our city’s mayor is a backstabbing villain in yours.”
“Wha—mayor?! How could—I—what?!”
Barry looked so offended, Harrison had to laugh.
The conversation lasted until Cisco popped in, asking about lunch. Barry left with a tight smile, his exit much more confident than his entrance, and Harrison felt a strange feeling of accomplishment.
“You know, I was thinking---”
Ramon gave a scandalized squawk. “Wha…! Dude, you didn’t even—”
“I don’t care. Don’t call me ‘dude’.”
“I was just thinking, dude, that maybe the calculations need an additional—”
“Ramon, don’t make me repeat myself. I don’t care what you ‘think’. Bring me results before you start talking.” Harrison shot him a glare. “Also, call me ‘dude’ again and you’re never going to eat another Twizzler.”
The conversation ended with a mumble that suspiciously sounded like “dick”.
It was still early morning, a quarter past seven, although time never made itself known in the cortex. Harrison woke and slept here so it made sense for him to be here at this hour; however, the same couldn't be said about Ramon who'd begun to spend enough time in the lab to believe he’d made himself a geek den in one of the unoccupied rooms. The man stayed increasingly longer hours and, obnoxious t-shirts notwithstanding, there was a certain harried tinge to the way he threw himself into work.
Harrison let the train of thought meander through various pathways as he worked on designing a device to close the breaches. Soon, Snow arrived and the coworkers began their usual chatter.
A coffee cup landed near Harrison’s keyboard. The logo was recognisable—apparently, Jitters exists on this Earth as well. White, slender fingers grazed the cup and left without explanation. With his own coffee in hand, Barry turned and started questioning Ramon about the treadmill. They've all been trying to figure out a way to improve Barry's speed, which hasn't looked too promising so far. Harrison remained outside the brainstorming process, coffee cup sitting innocuously where Barry left it, and watched the soft grey sweater scrunch and move as Barry gesticulated his frustration in ridiculously skinny jeans.
The coffee was perfect. Good strong brew with the right amount of sugar, no cream. Harrison refused to think too much of it.
It was Harrison who suggested V9 after watching Barry run session after session, numbers unwavering. The serum came with side-effects, sure, but any medication had a warning label.
What else could be done?
Every cup Barry left on his desk, a habit developed at some point Harrison couldn't quite recall, weighed wordlessly on his shoulders. Each coffee tasted like a pious offering, and, as any god, Harrison accepted the alms in silence.
What else could be done?
Garrick's warnings were redundant and unnecessary. Harrison knew the risks.
But what else could he do? What else could they do?
"You really have shitty luck," Barry said.
He was standing with a slight pinch in his eyes, looking down at Harrison laying in bedrest. And this time, it wasn't a crazy gorilla or even a metahuman that almost killed him.
"You really have a shitty girlfriend,” Harrison drawled.
Barry replied with a tired huff. "No, she's awesome."
Which was true. Patty Spivot didn't flinch pulling the trigger. It was the second time Harrison got shot at by a cop now. A hero holding back the power to kill, protected by those willing to step over the line. It was comforting in a twisted way. Harrison closed his eyes, thoughts on lethally blonde women, but snapped them open at the smell of something amazing.
"I don't know if you're allowed, so don't tell Caitlin."
Barry pulled over a little stool, sat down, and proceeded to take out two burgers and a box of fries. He elevated the hospital bed so Harrison's body was at a sitting position, setting down a box of Big Belly Triple Decker on pristine sheets. The warm smell of savoury meat permeated the room, oily and perfect. Harrison didn't wait to reach out and dig in.
The late night food fest was accompanied with a report on what went on in Starling. Barry talked and Harrison listened. To sum up, Flash and Arrow were introduced to three reincarnating supernaturals caught in a three-way relationship that dated back to ancient Egypt. Some people had all the luck.
"If magic is real," Barry said. "Maybe there is a way to magically enhance my speed."
Harrison took the last fry and chewed on the possibility. He was a man of science, never trusted superstitions lacking proof other than faith, but he was also never one to stick his head in the sand. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable.... It was hard to stomach. He really wasn't young enough to be ingesting this much fatty calories so late at night.
"So your plan is to find a magician that'll shazam you into getting faster?” Find another alter to leave offerings at?—he wanted to add. It should've assuaged the weight he'd been feeling, only it didn’t.
Barry laughed away Harrison's question, slurping the last of his milkshake. "It's tempting but no, the only magic I rely on is our collective intellect." His smile didn't hesitate to include Harrison. "Speaking of, I heard you're working on a serum."
"Not worth it."
It came out of nowhere. Barry cocked his head, asking for further explanation, and Harrison felt the food gurgling in his gut. Barry Allen, giving and giving until he had nothing left, trying and failing, trusting and betrayed. Jesse's deploring eyes came to mind. What else can I do?
"There are consequences to using V6 that far outweighs the good. And even taking the risk, the effect won't last long enough to ensure your win against Zoom."
Barry dropped an "Oh" aimed at the floor. "How much of a risk are we talking about?"
"Ultimately, death. After losing your powers and suffering from various health complications. If you don't get killed by Zoom first, of course."
It was meant as an ultimatum but Barry was undeterred.
"Death is always in the equation," he shrugged. There was a nonchalance to the statement, a been-there-done-that attitude of a man who has gambled with his life multiple times before. The carelessness of his tone aggravated Harrison's bullet wound. "We should still try. If there is even a slightest bit of chance, I want to take it."
"There is no magical solution to your problems, Barry." And this was one thing Harrison could do. "You dying won't help anyone."
Their eyes met in silence, smell of junk food wafting in between, until Barry allowed a small uptick of his lips. It said enough, the gesture remembering Harrison's own willingness to push limits, and pointed out the hypocrisy in his statement. Harrison geared up for the accusation he sensed, and was therefore caught off guard.
"And you dying won't help either. Especially your daughter.” Barry smiled. "Try to stay away from bullets, or pushing people with guns into shooting you. Please?"
Before Harrison could reply, Barry stood and gathered up the garbage with a "See you tomorrow."
The burger churned in his stomach. He really wasn't young enough for this.
It was Christmas evening, when most people were celebrating the birth of Christ with too much food, that Barry entered the lab. Harrison quickly shut off the screens as the young man put down several tupperware. He was wearing a ridiculous sweater with a reindeer, red nose adorned by a fluffy pompom sewn on. It bobbed up and down as he moved.
"Are you still working on the breach thing?"
"No." Harrison gritted his teeth. Why was Barry here? The timing couldn't have been worse. He could still feel the trembling body of his daughter as she clung on to him, pleading, asking him to help her, she didn't want to go back, please, Dad, please....Barry clanked down on a vacant wheely chair and twirled around a bit, long legs stretched out. The room was cold and devoid of cheer or spirit. It was meant to be punishing. A reminder of what was lost. What had to be won back.
"Why are you here?” Harrison sounded judgmental even to his own ears. And why not? It was Christmas after all.
Barry shrugged. "I'm giving them some family time," he replied. "Also, everyone was getting way too drunk."
"So you came here?"
"Don't mind me."
Before Harrison could nag further, Barry took out headphones and printed material from a messenger bag. He set it down on his end of the table, clearing away the keyboard and other clutter, before popping the earbuds in and playing around on his phone. Deciding on whatever tune he deemed fitting, the man quickly became lost to the outside world, flipping through at inhuman speed. Harrison watched as one file got lost, then the next, before a tupperware was nudged towards him, lid open and revealing cookies. Angels, bells, and santa hats were decorated by icing.
Harrison picked up a pink star, happy and neatly iced to its pointy edges, and bit into it with contempt. There was nothing to be done now. Might as well start on Ramon's goggles. He clicked on the minimised windows and started drafting. Hours ticked by without interruption, punctuated by an occasional cookie and a new tupperware lid opened for even more cookies.
"I'm going now."
Harrison grunted and made a shooing motion with his hands, mind still full of calculations.
When concentration broke, it was well past midnight. The tupperware of cookies was still left on the table, with another one yet unopened that looked like chicken and roasted vegetables. It was cold but it tasted home-made. And on his cot was a burgundy sweater.
That night Harrison slept, and dreamed of Jesse.
“Don’t you get tired of black?”
Harrison continued with his equations.
“—if colors offend you. Maybe you can start with the S.T.A.R. Labs sweatshirt. They’re black with white lettering.”
It was obvious at this point that the calculations won’t match. Another failure, another hour wasted, all because he wasn’t good enough, smart enough, and just…not enough. It was never enough. The world kept taking and taking until there was nothing left to give. Unless he stole.
Harrison cleared the tabletop in one violent sweep. The resulting crash didn’t right the universe but at least it shut the kid up. Glass shards, pens, and pooling chemicals—installation piece Angry Mess, a work in progress by Harrison Wells. Barry stared at the floor like it was the world’s greatest mystery. It set Harrison’s teeth on edge. Of course, Dr. Wells didn’t do things like this. Dr. Wells was a man of suave intellect, cool and collected, comfortable in his fake face and wheeling around in his fake paralysis.
There was a cough of badly suppressed laughter. In the span of Harrison’s inner monologue, Barry had replaced surprise with mirth.
“So this is what Cisco was talking about.” The man sounded weirdly pleased. “Do you do this at your lab as well? I’m sure your assistants love the extra clean-up.” Barry quirked his lips like a dare, although it was unclear as to who he was daring—Wells, Harrison, or himself. Probably all three. It came out crooked and half-assed. Harrison could’t decide what was more irritating: the poor attempt at cheekiness or how it affected him. It was too much work to stay angry in the face of bad conversation. Pitiful was what it was. He gave a grudging sigh.
If everyone else was stupidly cautious, Barry Allen was stupidly trusting. How anyone can preserve so much faith in humanity after all thats happened was simply beyond Harrison. Joe West must have been a hell of a good father. Or maybe it was just in Barry’s nature. The latter wasn’t so hard to believe, especially after Christmas.
“I don’t understand,” Jay had said. It was right after they exploded the holy night with an impromptu firework display. “Barry seems to have a harder time accepting me than you.”
It was hypothetically conceivable, at least in some sense, or no sense at all, that Barry was marginally attuned to Harrison.
No, not Harrison. Dr. Wells.
It was like the Dolby logo: a dog listening to a record player playing it’s dead master’s voice. Trained—the scientist in him observed. It would’ve been comical if it wasn’t sickeningly Pavlovian. And that was a Pandora’s box Harrison never, ever wanted to open. Fleeting glimpses were more than enough. They were hidden well and Harrison only noticed because he was an outsider. When everyone else was talking or otherwise occupied, Barry slipped. The twenty-something-year-old resembled a lost soldier in those moments—hollow eyes and absent lips attached to a body hastily sewn together to keep running. Harrison recognized that look. He saw it in the mirror every morning.
The observations didn’t mean anything. Not his world, not his problem. Then Christmas came, and whatever holiday epiphany Barry had had changed not only his attitude towards Harrison but his general demeanour. It was like adjusting the focus lens and Harrison understood then that what he’d been seeing was a diluted, blurry version of Barry Allen.
A brighter, clearer Barry Allen was a strong, scarred thing. His guileless face had visible cracks, no longer an absent-minded slip but willful decision. That Barry decided to prove his resilience by making friends with Harrison was superbly inconvenient. It was too close, too raw, too much.
“Shouldn’t you be training to increase your speed instead of wasting time, Mr. Allen?” The name came out as a snarl and he felt small vindication at Barry’s discomfort. “You do realise that we are fighting against a man who is stronger than you, faster than you, and have dragged you around the city like a rag doll? Central City and my daughter’s life depends on your ability to defeat Zoom.”
It was as harsh as it was meant to be. Harrison couldn’t afford getting distracted. These people meant nothing to him. All he cared about was Jesse. If that meant stealing the Flash’s speed, so be it. Playing nice was a means to an end.
Brown eyes repeated the apology; a promise and a prayer. It shattered against the walls and settled like dust on their shoulders.
“We will… you will, get Jessie back.”
Barry left the lab without another word.
What would the hero say, Harrison wondered, when he found out that he was betrayed again by the same face?
Later that night, Harrison found a navy sweatshirt on his cot.
Harrison refused to look up from the computer screen. The chair next to him creaked and a long slurp followed. His fingers dutifully kept typing despite the provocation.
“Huh,” Ramon repeated. A cautionary glare made the kid grin harder. “So you decided to upgrade your wardrobe, Darth Vader?”
The kid was a constant nuisance with his pop culture references and gaudy t-shirt choices and, had he been half as brilliant, Harrison may have given in and shot Ramon in the mouth. Several times. If Barry Allen was the Dolby dog, Cisco Ramon was a different breed altogether. He was insistent and loud, poking his nose into other people’s business. Once he bit, he didn’t let go. Harrison imagined a bull terrier, a fighting dog that one slowly came to tolerate it’s ugliness.
It was just a sweatshirt. The fabric was cheap, foreign like the coffee that was starting to cool, and entirely unnecessary. A distraction. Harrison was conscious of it the entire day.
That night he found a forest green sweater on his cot.
Harrison was on to his fourth sweater when Reverse-Flash reentered their timeline.
Barry lost all focus, he was a blur of aggression. There was no visual, only dots on a map where one man was finding vindication in another man’s pain. It was hard to tell which was which. When the comm asked for a cell, Harrison took a breath.
The devil smiled a toothy grin.
“I win, Flash.”
There was no winning or losing in catatonia. Human emotion got swept aside by the universe trying to right itself. Harrison was man enough to admit that what he felt was fear when Ramon lost solidity. He yelled out a solution and got yelled back with so much more. It made him take a step back.
Barry Allen—who always put others first; the hero of Central City; trusting, caring and loyal—glared with eyes were almost red, two spots of blood coagulated into stone. Only Joe could reach him and then he fell apart at the seams.
It made Harrison’s heart stop. Can't, as in won't, as in letting a friend die for a chance to exact revenge—? And then Barry explained that he broke the Tachyon device and Harrison breathed again. There was a solution for that. That, he can fix. Everything else, Barry had to face himself.
Still, Harrison pointed his gun at Eobard wishing he could end things here. It was a primal urge, almost instinctual, that itched to pull the trigger. This abomination will later wear a different face and cause irreparable damage. Everything from Eobard’s mannerism to his suit screamed ‘wrong’. Although Barry will win against the man in yellow, it was hard to find peace in that knowledge seeing the aftereffects.
That was probably why Harrison reached out. It was uncharacteristic of him to give any advice let alone an inspirational speech. He searched for brown eyes behind the cowl and tried to say this wasn’t losing. Don’t play his game, don’t let him own you—the harsh whisper was a barely masked plea.
It was well after midnight that Barry returned. Ramon had followed the rest of the crew home after demolishing a burger, nuggets, and an extra large milkshake with his very tangible body, leaving STAR labs empty aside from lingering ghosts.
Harrison slid the tachyon device from view.
“What do you need, Barry?”
Barry didn’t come in. He stood in the doorway like he wasn’t sure, eyes fixed somewhere to the left. Harrison waited as Barry blinked rapidly.
“I was on my way out, I wanted to return the suit and I…I just…Thank you. For helping us, helping Cisco.”
Barry closed his eyes and shook his head, looking so hopelessly lost. So recklessly young. His lashes were wet.
"I don't need anything, I've got all I can ever hope for, right here and now. I don't regret anything. And I'm happy. I'm really, truly happy.”
Who are you talking to? Who are you trying to convince?
"Good night, Harry.”
The sweater was mahogany, wavering between brown and red.
And it went on like that, Barry testing the limits of the color spectrum, until Harrison broke.
“I did it.”
A man’s daughter was hospitalized but what pushed him was irritation. He blamed the coffees, the sweaters, the gestures, the smiles, the trust, the hug— the unnecessary nature of it all. Barry Allen kept giving in a world that kept taking.
Harrison knew he couldn't give what Barry wanted. The comparison with Jesse, an admittance that the two were alike, was self-serving. Dr. Wells may have played house but Harrison knew what it meant to love a child. He refused to be compared with a psychopath who preyed on loneliness and warped people into tools. Harrison wasn’t Dr. Wells. His fatherly duties were towards Jesse and Jesse only. Harrison didn’t—couldn’t—take what was offered. So he gave back Barry’s trust. It was a farewell. He didn’t want anything more. This fight was his.
And then Barry Allen decided that it wasn’t.
“We will go with you.”
Brown eyes reached in and pulled out a forgotten prayer. There was fierce determination, fragile like lightening captured in a bottle, that made Harrison realise that this man was a hero. Soft edges in focus, Barry accepted the dark and made it his. The resulting brilliance was intoxicating.
Warm hands touched Harrison’s shoulder, gripping, burning through the fabric and blazing the skin. It was a promise. He searched for something, anything, and found nothing but trust. The whys bubbled up and died before they reached the surface. Asking questions one already knew the answer to was a waste of time. Harrison knew because he knew Barry Allen. The ever sensible part of his brain told him he must look like an idiot, standing there and staring at a man who just offered to risk his life. Idiot with idiot, they must make the perfect pair.
It was at this moment, basking in the light, that Harrison wondered if his heart had space to spare.
Barry nodded towards the cortex. There was planning to do, stunts to pull, and lives to save. The hand left his shoulder and, for one irrational second, Harrison wanted to capture the hand in his own. He wanted to trace it, to confirm that it was real, so he can believe that maybe this world wasn’t so cruel after all.
This must be what getting hit by lightening felt like. The energy jolted something awake and there was no turning back. Hot and bright, it coursed through rusted veins he’d forgotten he had.
Harrison took a breath. There was a time for everything. The nostalgia made him smile.
And if that smile shocked Ramon into dropping his Icee, that was a small victory on Harrison’s part.