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no love in the hunt

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This is not the first time Iris has woken up in the trunk of a car, hands bound and mouth gagged. But this time, she’s not joining a sorority, and she thinks something a lot worse than whipped cream and kegs are waiting for her once the car stops moving.

This time, she thinks she’s in a whole lot of trouble that, really, she’s got no one to blame for but herself.

-

Six months earlier...

-

Day #0 of Investigation

As she gets out of the cab, her cell vibrates with a text message:

LINDA: it’s not too late to not do this. please.

Iris ignores it, slipping the phone back into her purse. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate her best friend’s support, and advice, but honestly, they’ve already had this argument (multiple times) and Iris’ mind is made up. Anyway, Linda won’t be able to keep texting her tonight – she’s staying at Wally’s, her boyfriend and Iris’s brother, and Iris made her promise not to breathe a word to him.

She looks up at the bar, looks at the bodyguard at the entrance and the music drifting out between each swing of the main door. The Star is a well-known haunt of Thawne affiliates, of the mob family that’s been increasing its influence over the city and into the wider state. Rumour has it that the big boss himself will be here.

But she doesn’t need the head of the operation. She just needs an in, needs someone she can flirt with for information. It’s why Linda is so adamantly opposed to the plan: because the plan involves trying to seduce a Thawne crook.

She’s spent the past few years at CCPN working on small investigations, trying to break into the big leagues but forced to churn out local stories, safe stories. She’s tired of waiting for Mason to hand her the story of her life, it’s time for her to go and get it herself, by any means necessary.

Resolve reignited, Iris sets her jaw and puts her best foot forward. She looks good, she knows it, and the bouncer only needs to give her a once-over before allowing her inside, not even asking for her ID. Her dress clings and her hair bounces, and she keeps a coy turn to her lips as she walks inside. Thankfully, it’s busy enough that she doesn’t stand out. It’s a nice bar, loud enough to keep up the atmosphere but not so deafening that you couldn’t hear yourself think. There looks to be some woman in the VIP section celebrating her birthday with cherry vodka shots and a light up crown, and there’s various groups dancing in the main area.

She moves forward, intending to at least go to the bar to get a drink and scope the place out a bit more, but her shoulder gets checked, hard. She spins a little with the force, glowering at the assailant. It’s some drunk guy, accompanied by a friend who cheers obnoxiously once they both get a look at her. “Ooh, you’ve made her mad,” the friend teases, and the original guy leers at her, as if walking into her counts as courtship. She rolls her eyes and moves to continue her journey - but she gets pulled back by a clammy hand on her hand, and then she’s being dragged into his chest. “Come on, don’t be like that.”

She pushes at his torso and takes a step back. “Get off.”

Then he starts braying to his mate, and other guys, obviously part of their group, start wandering over. “Oh, does she think she’s better than us? Thinks she can do better?” The rest of them laugh, and as much as Iris wants to ram the heel of her palm into his nose, she doesn’t want to cause a scene.

“Maybe she just prefers someone more like me,” one of the other men jokes, stepping forward with the clumsy footing of someone six pints into the night. As she takes them all in, growing numbers against her, she begins to feel crowded in. She steps back, but there’s another group walling her there, dancing madly to the music.

She jolts as someone clasps her shoulder, and she looks up to see a blond, classically handsome guy, built like a Navy SEAL. “Everything alright her, miss?” He asks, looking down at her. He’s wearing the deceptively casual black clothing of every bouncer and bar staff in the country, but danger leaks from him in his stance, his cool eyes, the square of his stubbled jaw.

Even as she says, “Yeah, I’m fine,” internally, she’s freaking the fuck out.

This could be one of the Thawne henchmen. This could be the leader of the mafia controlling the city, and what, she expects to seduce him? Manipulate him? All to get a front page article. The plan she walked in with feels more and more stupid, and she’s starting to feel very small.

The handsome bouncer’s talking to the guys now, telling them that he thinks they’ve had enough, and she takes the opportunity to sneak away to the doorway marked ‘Smoking Area’.

The cool air is a welcome relief, as is the empty alleyway littered by burnt cigarette ends and garbage. There’s a lonely stiletto shoe discarded by the opposite wall, and she hopes its owner got home safe. She rummages in her purse and pulls out what was intended to be her reward for the evening, but is going to have to be her emergency courage: a shame cigarette. She’s going to quite next week, honest.

She’s looking for her lighter when her fingers fumble and the cigarette falls to the ground, landing on the tarmac floor. She deflates, wondering whether she’s really hit low enough to pick it back up.

“That kind of night, huh?” A voice sounds from behind her and she spins in shock.

A guy stands there, tall and slim. In the streetlight, his eyes are dark but his cheekbones stand out, and the top of his combed hair reflects a little. He’s handsome, and cute, and so embarrassingly her type.

She exhales a sort-of laugh, and half-heartedly gestures to the space above her head. “Sorry, did the rain cloud following me not give it away?”

He snorts at that, and then steps a little closer, holding something out. It takes her a moment to figure out he’s holding out a cigarette - and no, that’s not because she’s focusing on how long his fingers are. “Here.”

“You sure?” She checks, even as she takes it, letting her fingertips brush against him a little more than is strictly necessary. “Thanks.” She lets him light it, breathing in as he cups his hand around his lighter. She takes the first inhale and then lets the smoke out, letting it calm her.

“Let me guess: work? Room-mate?” he asks, lighting his own and leaning casually back against the wall to take a drag. He looks at her with a sideways glance. “Boyfriend?”

She does not care that he wants to know if she’s single, she doesn’t. “Work,” she says. And because that reminds her why she’s here, she says, “I wanted to come here to let off steam, but some jerks in there kind of killed my vibe.”

He frowns at that. “Didn’t any of the staff help you?”

She nods - maybe here’s her chance to find out a little more about the dangerous-looking guy from inside. “Yeah - blonde, kind of looks like an Abercrombie model joined the Marines?”

The handsome stranger snorts at her descriptive. “That’s Oliver - glad he helped you.”

She commits the name to memory to investigate later. She knows some will be ordinary staff, but if she wants to follow the trail all the way to the top, she needs as many leads as possible.

“So, do you work here as well?” She asks, taking in his shirt and black jeans.

A smirk. “Yeah, something like that.” Before she can press the point, he asks, “This might sound crazy, but do you-”

Before he can finish the question, the door to the bar opens, and a guy with dark hair pulled back into a scruffy ponytail sticks his head out. Upon seeing Iris’s shame-smoking partner, he raises his eyebrows and asks, “The Lances are here, Barr-” He catches sight of Iris, and corrects himself. “Mr Allen.”

Iris feels her blood freeze in her veins, and she looks down, concentrating on her cigarette so her expression doesn’t give away her shock.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a moment, Cisco.” But he doesn’t take his eyes off Iris, even after Cisco shuts the door behind him and leaves them alone together. “What I was going to say, was that you’re very beautiful. And now I guess I’m saying that I’d like to see you again.”

Now or never, she thinks.

She spreads her lips in her most dazzling smile, and sticks out her hand. “Iris West.”

He takes it, and his eyes are deceptive charming as he says, “Barry Allen.”

His name confirms it: the hand she shakes is stained with blood.

-

The Thawne family have a history that goes back at least two generations, with no important arrests or cracks in their organisation. They’re connected to low-grade drugs, shipping foreign goods in on the black market, money laundering, and, most recently, illegal gun trades. Everyone in Central City knows of them, and everyone knows not to talk about them. Iris knows how much her dad has complained about trying to get a hold of them, how many cops and politicians have been accused of corruption and how many more get away with it.

Barry Allen is one of the names that keeps springing up - everyone knows he’s connected. After all, his parents were the infamous Henry and Nora Allen, married duo linked but never pinned down to various smuggling rings. But if he’s a leader, he’s a private one. Even the CCPD only have a few pictures of him, and certainly nothing like prints or DNA.

She confirms all this when she gets back to her apartment that night, Barry’s number in her cell and the promise to call her still in her ears. She’s sitting on her living room rug, various files (illegally photocopied from her dad’s collection), photographs and newspaper clippings surrounding her. She’s already investigated the file on the Lances, but apart from their political and police involvement, there’s nothing concrete for her to follow up.

Her phone starts vibrating, and the caller ID reads, “Barry.” She takes a deep breath, and picks up.

“Hello?”

“I know I’m supposed to wait three days or whatever but- I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he admits, in a tone she could almost believe he doesn’t use on all the girls he dates.

She’s looking at his incomplete police file as she replies, “Yeah, I can’t stop thinking about you either.”

-

Day #3 of Investigation

BARRY: are you a vegetarian?

IRIS: No, but I’m allergic to peanuts.

BARRY: I’ll let the restaurant know

BARRY: Excited to see you

-

Day #4 of Investigation

BARRY: Okay I know I last saw you two hours ago but I just saw they’re playing Die Hard on TV, and I can’t believe you still haven’t seen it.

IRIS: I saw the sequel!!

BARRY: I know that you know that is unacceptable.

IRIS: well you haven’t seen Blade. Or any of the X-Men movies

BARRY: I hate superhero films

IRIS: …wow

IRIS: maybe we shouldn’t see each other again.

BARRY: haha

BARRY: wait

BARRY: you’re joking, right?

-

Day #7

On their second date, he brings her a bouquet so big she struggles to hold it. It’s around then she realises that she needs to stop expecting him to bring knives and minions, that he’s a normal guy doing exceedingly criminal things. He only has to leave the table once to take a mysterious phone call, and his lie of working in finance is so casual and well-told that she’d believe it easily if she didn’t know better.

She realises that this is going to be a long game, that she’s going to have to commit.

When he tells her the dorkiest joke she’s ever heard that actually, genuinely makes her laugh, she thinks that there are worse criminal overlords to fake-date.

-

Day #23

If she had to imagine what a mafia don’s apartment would look like, she might have imagined more leather and moody lighting. As it is, however, Barry’s is full of natural light, comfy chairs and a kitchen that looks designed to be cooked in.

They’ve been on five dates when he invites her to his place - she tells him she doesn’t want to go to hers because of her roommate, which is true, since Linda would absolutely threaten murder if Iris brought him back. She knows what this means, and, honestly, she’d been expecting it a lot earlier in the relationship.

Like the apartment, she’s been surprised by what dating Barry is like. He takes her to lovely restaurants - though she’s sure they only go to ones he owns - and he asks her about her day like he genuinely cares. He even took her to the park to walk his friend’s dog - who was a perfectly tame terrier, not the pit bull she had been half-imagining - and wore plaid rolled up to his elbows that made him look unfairly attractive.

Which is the second hiccup she hadn’t imagined: he’s hot. She regularly looks at police cases and newspapers now, not only to keep her focus and aid her investigation, but also to remind herself that this isn’t real. Her feelings aren’t real, and this nice facade of his is going to slip. And when it does, she’s going to be there, ready to expose him and his illegal activities.

She spins to take in the furnishings. “Who decorated?” She teases, making the tips of his ears go red. “Seriously, this is too nice for a bachelor pad. Are you a secret interior designer? You have a wife?”

He shakes his head, stepping closer with that small smile she likes to think of as reserved for her on his lips. “No wife. No interior designer. Just expensive taste.”

She kisses him, knowing exactly how he can afford such taste, arms looped around his neck. “Good taste,” she corrects.

“Clearly,” he says, before pointedly pressing his lips to hers.

Issue that she didn’t think would be an issue number three: Barry is a good kisser. Unfairly so. She’s not faking it when she gasps against his lips, when she threads her fingers through his hair and he hugs her closer, arms snaking around her waist. He walks them backwards, and she’s glad she kept the heels on otherwise their already awkward shuffling would be downright dangerous. Her ass hits back against a solid surface but he wastes no time in bending down, grasping at the back of thighs and lifting her up to sit on what she’ll later realise is the kitchen island counter.

She gasps on his tongue, slips a hand down the back of his collar to feel his bare shoulder blades. He stands impossibly close to her, between her spread legs to press his crotch against hers. It was a warm day, and she’s definitely not regretting her choice of bare legs underneath her skirt as he moves against her. His hands roam over her and she sucks a mark onto his neck that he only groans at. She shoves off his blazer, letting it hit the floor in a crumple, and moves for his buttons. She’s a third of the way down to freeing him from the admittedly-nice shirt when a harsh ringtone sounds, a shrill thing that makes Barry rip himself away from her, breathing heavily. It takes her a dumb moment to catch on that it’s his phone as he fishes it out from his back pocket and answers sharply, “What?”

He sounds angry at being interrupted, she realises with a low thrill, his hand still firmly grasping the meat of her ass. Then she catches sight of a thick scar protruding from his right pectoral recently freed by her wandering hands. It quickly dawns on her, like cold water thrown across her, that his anger can have real consequences.

Whoever’s on the other end of the phone says something; Iris strains to hear it, but the volume is too low. Barry exhales sharply, and then hangs up.

“What is it?” Iris asks, using the heel of her stiletto to trace a tantalising line up the back of his thigh.

He breathes out, heavy. “I have to go.”

She frowns. “What?”

“I’ll be ten, fifteen minutes, I promise.” He grabs her back for a forceful kiss, hand cupping her jaw and thumb stroking her cheek. He pulls away, holding her gaze as he says - no, commands - “Stay here. Wait for me.”

She’s about to argue before she remembers that whole investigative reporter shtick she’s supposed to have, and then she nods, making sure to look frustrated. She readjusts his collar as he starts to rebutton. “You’d better to come back.”

“Believe me,” he assures her, pupils blown. “I would sell a kidney to stay if I could.”

She can’t help the full-body flush at that. He steps away, somehow managing to look composed, and takes a long look at her, eyes dark as he examines how wrecked she obviously looks.

“Ten minutes,” he says, flattening down his hair and grabbing his keys before striding out.

Iris waits a good moment in case he forgot anything before she hops down from the counter. She takes the opportunity to slide off her heels, and makes her way out of the kitchen and into the main living room. There’s one hallway out of it, and she moves towards it. She almost falters - surely he’d have cameras in his own apartment for security - but decides to play it off as generic, well-intentioned curiosity if he calls her up on it.

She finds a bathroom, which seems impersonal, with a 2-in-1 shampoo and some expensive looking body wash that probably helps explain how good he usually smells. There’s a first aid kit in the medicine cabinet that looks well-used, which she can make her own assumptions about, and there’s an electric toothbrush on the sink. She finds herself looking at the toothbrush, so inane and boring, for a moment too long. She forces herself to snap out of it - after all, she’s on a deadline here.

The bedroom is her next stop.  She enters slowly, well aware that she’s breaching some serious boundaries. She flicks the light switch and sees a warm room – again, lacking in any real decoration. The bed sheets are a rich, creamy grey and there’s two normal pillows. She begins rifling through the wardrobe, but there’s barely two suits, never mind the jumpsuit for disposing of bodies she might have pictured. She moves on to the dresser – the first drawer holds underwear and socks, the second undershirts, and the third sweats and exercise clothes.

At this rate, she’s beginning to think she’s picked out the wrong Barry Allen.

She startles at the sound of someone clearing their throat.

“Oh- sorry.” She’s flustered, having been caught out, but allows it to work in her favour. She’s heard all the stories about nosy girlfriends, and she’s not afraid to play into the admittedly awful stereotype.

Barry leans against the side of the door. “It’s fine. Investigative reporter, right?”

She rolls her eyes. She’d had to tell him the truth, knowing full well he’d probably do his research on her even before the first date, but she actively downplays it. “Hardly.”

He smiles indulgently. “Well, did you find anything to make your snooping worthwhile?”

No, she thinks privately. Instead, she nods to the photo frame of his parents next to the bed. They’re young in the photo, and even if Iris hadn’t also done her own research, she’d know fully well what that means. “When did they pass?”

His smirk shutters away. His arms cross, but he admits, quietly, “When I was eleven years old.”

“I’m sorry.” She finds she really is - somehow, she hadn’t put the dates together, and she aches to think of any parentless child.

“You’ve lost someone?” he asks, and she nods.

“My mom.”

“What happened?”

She huffs out a humourless laugh, and he moves forward into the room. “It sounds like a soap opera, I have to warn you.”

“Tell me,” he says, quietly, like she might startle.

“I thought- well, my dad told me that she died when I was very young. She’d actually left. She had a drug addiction. I only knew what really happened when I found my brother.”

Barry raises his eyebrow. “You didn’t know about him?”

She shakes her head. “No clue.” She shrugs. “I mean, it’s- I wish I had more time with her. But I know why my dad did it, and now I have a little brother who I love to pieces, even when he’s being an idiot. He’s, uh, actually dating my best friend now.”

Barry’s closer now than she thought. When his arms go around her, she realises that she should’ve told him a cover story. Just that she lost her mother - she didn’t need to tell him the whole, truthful story. But she finds herself relaxing into his hold. When he kisses her, it isn’t the fire of before - it’s something even more dangerous. It’s intimate, and careful, and tender. “I’m glad it’s brought you some happiness, along with all the terrible things,” he says, and she feels his words pierce straight through her.

“Did you sort out everything?” She murmurs against his lips, trying to restructure the conversation as she threads her fingers through his hair. He doesn’t seem any different from when he left – not even an eyebrow hair out of place. He makes a confused sound, kissing her, and she explains, “You left. I hope it was a successful five-to-ten minutes.”

He smiles. “Did you miss me?”

It doesn’t miss her notice that he avoids her question, but she allows him to kiss her lips, her jaw, to move his way down her neck and mark her collarbone.

She pushes at his blazer, making an annoyed sound that he put it back on before he left. He shrugs out of it, and moves for the bottom hem of her top, sliding it through her arms and over her head. He’s moving down her chest, cupping her breasts and kissing the swell of them out of her bra. Her head falls back as he uses his tongue against the lace trim, the wet sensation at contrast with the itch of the old fabric.

Unable to let him have all the fun, she reaches down for his shirt, making him stand properly so she can undo all the buttons.

But she falters. To the left of the fourth button down, there’s a small, but unmistakeable bloodstain she’d bet her car wasn’t there fifteen minutes ago.

He follows her gaze, and his happy expression fades. “Ah,” he says. “I cut my finger on breakfast this morning – I must’ve got it on my shirt without realising.”

They both know he’s lying. But she doesn’t say anything – she quietly undoes his buttons, strips away the shirt, and the evidence. Something like relief colours his face, something like gratitude, and he kisses her extra-sweetly. His hand braces on her back and he lowers her down to the bed, moving on top of her.

She cries his name when she comes, when he’s moving inside her, when she realises this is already nothing like she predicted.

-

Day #24

CCPN can report that the man found underneath Central Bridge this morning was Oscar Kyle, known affiliate of the Thawne family. What this means for gang relations, we don’t yet know. Early information we are receiving suggests he was killed very violently – we go now to Scott, our crime correspondent. Scott, what’s the scene like now?

-

Day #26

She thinks that’s going to be it – or at least, she’ll have to fight hard, and intelligently, to stay dating with him. She’s been with a few guys before who have been all romantic only to ghost her as soon as they have sex.

But she stays the night, and Barry cooks her breakfast, and then round two (well, technically round three or four depending on how you count) happens. And when she leaves, he texts her asking to meet her again in a few days.

It’s a good job she has those few days spare, because she needs that time to wheedle any information about the Oscar Kyle murder from her dad as possible.

“No, Iris,” he says, for possibly the fourteenth time in ten minutes.

“Dad, come on, it’s common information anyway. I just need the official time of death, and how it happened.”

“The coroner hasn’t even finished her report yet,” Joe says, with an admirable poker face.

She tilts her head in scepticism. “You and I both know she’ll have given you her initial thoughts – which, if I know Cynthia, and I do, will be one hundred per cent correct in the final report.”

“Captain Singh will have my balls – we’ve already had to have a precinct meeting about not leaking to the press.”

“He won’t know for ages, Dad, this is a big story I’m-“she realises her error when his eyes narrow.

“What big story? You haven’t told me about any big story. I thought your latest assignment was on the flower parade.”

She forces herself not to roll her eyes – yes, that was he article she was supposed to be writing this week. She’d done it in an hour as soon as Mason had given it to her.

“And what story are you doing that involves Kyle, huh?” He shakes his head. “Iris, I swear, if you’re looking into the mafia, I will enforce a curfew.”

“I’m twenty-six, dad.”

“Don’t think I can’t ground you, baby – I can and I will.”

She’s saved from having to think up a cover story by the appearance of a beat cop coming to ask Joe a question, and she darts away before her dad can stop her.

-

Day #32

BARRY: I can’t believe I let you talk me into buying a turtle.

IRIS: you love him. And call him by his proper name.

BARRY: I can’t remember what it is. Barry Junior?

IRIS: not quite

BARRY: Ozymandius

IRIS: no, but that would be an amazing pet name.

BARRY: don’t get any ideas. McSnurtle’s enough.

IRIS: hah! You do remember!

BARRY: shut up. And hurry back from work

BARRY: McSnurtle misses you

-

Day #39

Note on delivered bouquet to CCPN main reporting office:

I’m guessing all your other boyfriends bought you irises – I’m going to make my way through every other type of flower the florist near my apartment sells. – B

-

Day #46

She’s leaving Barry’s apartment that evening – she’d stay longer, but she has to have an early start tomorrow to leave for a work assignment and she just knows he’ll do everything in his power to make sure she doesn’t leave the bed in the morning.

The thought makes a private smile appear on her lips as she waits for the elevator.

When she gets through the doors, there’s a blonde man inside. He doesn’t get out, stays leaning against the back of the elevator car. Something about him makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up – Barry lives in the penthouse, the only one on the top floor. This man must’ve just pressed the wrong button, she tells herself, even though instinct screams at her to not turn her back to him.

The light display over the door ticks down floor numbers – no one else gets on for six flights.

Iris hears, in the silence, the sound of fabric rustling, the sound of his arms uncrossing. She hears his exhale, and she pulls her bag forward. But before she can fumble for her pepper spray, her arm is grabbed and she staggers back with a scream.

He pushes her against the wall, slamming out a hand for the emergency stop. The carriages shudders to a halt, and the automated voice asks what assistance they require.

“Your name,” he demands, a cold curl to his lips.

“Fuck off,” she snaps, refusing to be cowed.

“Trick question, my dear, I already know it. Iris West.” His mouth slithers over the words. She feels like a fly about to have its wings pulled off. She wishes someone was home waiting for her, knew where she was – but Linda’s on a date with Wally, and her dad thinks she’s already at home. Barry makes her text him when she’s home safe, but she imagines that’s just a rule he wouldn’t actually follow up. “I know your name and your family. Now tell me what you’re doing here.”

She frowns. That’s not what she expected – except, she realises, this isn’t about her, or some random robbery or assault. This is about Barry. “I was here to see my boyfriend, you creep.” She makes another attempt to shove him off but his grip on her shoulders is tight.

“Oh, your boyfriend,” he mocks. “You guys are at the stage now, are you? You’re exclusive?” He pulls her forward and them slams her back against the metal wall, forcing a cry of pain from her. “Tell me what you’re really after.”

He might have his suspicions, but he obviously doesn’t have any evidence. She sticks to her character. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, yes you do,” he snarls now, grip tight and squeezing her flesh. “What makes you so special, huh?”

“Sounds like you want to be Barry’s boyfriend,” she counters fiercely.

He narrows his eyes at her. His jaw sets. He pulls her forward and to his side, and bangs at the emergency stop again, making the elevator come back to life. Iris’ blood pumps with adrenaline – her best opportunity to get away is between the elevator and wherever this strange guy is planning to take her.

The automated voice declares they’ve reached ground floor, and the doors slide open-

And there’s a gun pointing straight at them.

Iris’s gut swoops. Barry holds the handgun straight in two hands – is this it? Did he send this guy to try and catch her out? But she realises he’s not looking at her, and the gun is pointed an inch to her left: at the blond.

“Eobard,” Barry says, voice deceptively cool. Even Iris can read the dangerous fire raging in his eyes. Until it’s gone, she hadn’t realised how accustomed she was to his kind expression. “What are you doing?”

‘Eobard’ doesn’t seem at all fazed by a firearm pointed at his face – Iris has a sneaking suspicion this isn’t the first time it’s happened. “I wanted to ask your new beau some questions of my own.”

“I told you that wasn’t necessary.” Barry’s arm doesn’t waver.

Iris’ patience with this situation is quickly waning. She isn’t faking the stress of her tone when she demands, “You two know each other?”

Eobard snickers. “Oh, this should be interesting.”

“Let her go,” Barry commands.

Eobard sighs, sounding very put-upon for someone who was threatening a young woman in an elevator, and lets Iris go with some force she stumbles an inch away. “Fine, fine. But I want it on the record that I don’t trust her.”

“Well, on the record, I think you’re a fucking nutcase,” Iris responds. In a far part of her head, something sounding like her brother’s voice points out this is hardly the time for a smart-ass comment.

“Noted.” Barry says. “Eobard, please leave.”

There’s a moment of tense silence – Iris realises Eobard was expecting for her to be the one dismissed. But he obliges, finally, and steps forward. Barry lowers the gun as Eobard passes, but his gaze is steady, watching as Eobard strides away.

The elevator pings as it begins to shut, and Iris throws out her hand to catch one sliding door and halt it. “Barry,” she says. “What the fuck?”

-

They go back to his apartment – he keeps hesitating towards her, as if he wants to touch her but doesn’t think it would be welcome. To be honest, she’s not sure it would be.

He opens the door and goes in first, asking, “Do you want a drink?”

She means to say some scotch, or whiskey, or something badass to keep his regard of her high. But what comes out of her mouth is, “Do you have some tea?”

He pivots to look at her, and his mouth quirks. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, of course I have some tea.”

He makes it for her in a large mug and then sits down next to her on his large, cushy leather sofa.

He asks, carefully, “Do you want a blanket? I can-“

“Barry,” she says, and his gaze falls.  “I want answers. What was that?”

He looks away, his fingers twisting. He could lie to her right now, she’s sure of it. They’d both know, but she’d drop it.

But he says, “I- I don’t know how to explain. Where to begin.”

She swallows. A small voice wishes she’d worn a bug, but instead, she reaches out to cup the top of his hand. He twists at the wrist to intertwine their fingers.

“That was Eobard Thawne.”

Her hand clenches in his involuntarily. If she’d known at the time, she would have been a whole lot more panicked.

He smiles ruefully. “You know the name, then.” He exhales. “When my parents died – well, when they were murdered, Eobard took me in. He’s my uncle, on my mother’s side. He- he told me the truth about my parents, even though I was so young, and he told me the truth about their deaths.”

“Which was?” Iris prompts, hushed.

“The police killed them.” Barry’s voice is tight. “They couldn’t get a court case, and they faked an intrusion and killed them in our own home.”

Iris’s instinct is to deny it, to argue, on behalf of her father and all the good police officers he works with. But she can’t do that without breaking whatever trust she’s apparently managed to gain so far.

“I began to do little jobs for him, at first,” Barry explains. “But my mom had always wanted me to go into the business. Eobard started to train to take on bigger shipments, to organise larger accounts and finances.”

“And what business is that?” Iris asks quietly.

“I mainly deal with money laundering and the robberies,” he says, matter-of-factly, as if he hasn’t admitted his qualifications for five years in prison, at least. “We target rich people around the city, those with the biggest funds available. We take valuable items, and any dirty secrets we find if we want more money from them later.”

“That’s blackmail,” Iris says, feeling herself curl away from him.

“Of people who’ve done some terrible things themselves,” he replies.

“Is that how you justify breaking the law?” she snaps. Then she remembers she’s supposed to be the supportive mob girlfriend, not the moral cop’s daughter. She exhales sharply. “Is there anything else? Prostitution, drugs, guns-?“

“No. No,” he hurries. “Most of it is white collar stuff – influencing a politician here, stealing an heiress’ pocket money there.”

“But why?” Iris asks. “Barry, you’re clever, and there’s so much else you could do.”

He shrugs. “I was born into it. My parents did it, why shouldn’t I?”

And that, Iris realises, is the crux of the matter. She doesn’t think Barry cares about the money, or the power. It’s the closest he’s going to get to his parents – who she definitely needs to start a file on when she leaves.

He’s watching her carefully now, as if she might bolt at any sudden moves. “Where does this leave us?”

She chooses her words deliberately, taking her time. “I might need some time to process.”

His eyebrows raise, and, god, she hopes he never plays poker by the hopeful smile on his face. “Yeah, of course, whatever you need.”

“But this… this doesn’t change how I feel about you,” she admits. His hand squeezes around hers. But she’s not exactly telling the truth, is she?

If anything, it makes her feelings a lot more complicated.

-

Day #72

IRIS: someone just cut me off at the lights

IRIS: can you organise a hit on them

BARRY: you think you’re so funny, don’t you?

-

IRIS: someone at work sent me a chain e-mail

BARRY: oh, then they definitely deserve to… sleep with the fishes

IRIS: you’re terrible

-

Day #88

Iris downs the third shot of the night, wincing as the tequila burns down her throat. Next to her, Cynthia lets out a loud, satisfied exhale, slamming her shot glass back down on the bar and biting down on her lime slice.

All Iris can do is let out a weak cough. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

The plan was to just have a quiet night in, sharing a bottle of pink wine and a bowl of popcorn on the sofa. But considering the two women had known each other since college, maybe Iris should have known to adjust her expectations. Instead of her sweats, she’s currently in a slinky red dress, and in a sweaty, loud club rather than her living room.

Cynthia laughs. “Come on, this is fun. We haven’t had a proper night out in ages. And Linda told me you’ve settled down now.”

“I should never have introduced you two,” Iris says, shaking her head.

Cynthia’s about to reply, but then she sees something behind Iris that makes her expression turn predatory. “Hold that thought,” she commands. Iris can only roll her eyes as Cynthia moves past her in the direction of a Tall, Dark and Handsome with his friends. She’ll be back in a few moments once she has the guy’s number, which is a certain thing when she’s wearing that particular black dress chosen for tonight.

She turns back to bar, letting the tequila replenish her buzz. Honestly, she’s already missing the past hour from her memory, though she’s sure her bank account will remind her about it tomorrow.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

She jolts at the voice, so close to her ear it sends shivers down her spine, and she turns, already saying her excuse: “I’m sorry, I have a-“

It’s Barry, looking delicious in a dark shirt and teasing smirk.

“-Boyfriend,” she finishes.

“Hi,” he says, arms creeping around her waist.

“What are you doing here?” She frowns. “Do you have someone following me?”

Luckily, Barry doesn’t seem offended, content to only grin at her. “You don’t remember texting me, do you?”

Iris’ mouth falls into an ‘o’. “I didn’t. Did I?”

He only raises a brow. “Why don’t you check your phone?”

Doubtfully, she does. And there, clear as day:

IRIS: dxcom varppppp56

BARRY: you ok?

IRIS: come to Verdant xoxoxox

IRIS: nowww

IRIS: bring a cute fried

Barry’s grin has only grown as Iris sinks further into her embarrassment. “I presumed you meant friend rather than fried.” He jerks a thumb to his right. “This is Cisco.”

It’s the guy who was there the first time she and Barry met. Iris waves meekly. “Hi. Sorry for dragging you out.”

Cisco waves a dismissive hand. “It’s cool, me and Barry were only watching Empire for the fourth time.”

Iris tilts her head. “The TV show?”

Barry hides his snicker in the top of her head. “The Star Wars movie.”

“Iris, I don’t know whether to proud or surprised.” Cynthia’s voice startles Iris from trying to hide her face in Barry’s chest, and she jolts. “Fifteen minutes and already necking someone.”

Barry’s arms tighten around her, but she ignores it and winces as she turns back to Cynthia. “This is Barry. I drunk texted him.”

Cynthia’s eyebrows raise. “The Barry?”

“I’m sorry, I know it’s bad etiquette on a girls’ night-”

But Cynthia isn’t even looking at her anymore. “No, it’s alright,” she says, eyes hot from where they examine Cisco. “You’re forgiven.”

-

The two couples separate a few hours later outside the club – Cisco and Cynthia get into their own taxi, and Barry guides Iris into his parked car, having deliberately not drunk anything alcoholic all night. To thank him for being so responsible, and for coming to her when she texted, she should probably behave herself, and make the journey as easy as possible.

Instead, before he can start the car and leave the dimly-light carpark, she quickly undoes her seatbelt and inelegantly climbs into his lap. She loops her arms around his neck, pleased at his instinctive hold on her hips, and grins. “Thanks for coming tonight. Even though my invitation wasn’t particularly, um…”

“Coherent?” Barry finishes, biting back a grin.

She fights the impulse to kiss that smile, and then decides not to bother, leaning in and pressing her lips to his. He responds gratifyingly quickly, pulling his close and helping to support her admittedly unsteady balance.

She breaks away, breathing heavily, to say as the thought occurs, “I’m glad Cynthia and Cisco got along.”

“Good match-making,” Barry agrees absent-mindedly, still staring at her kiss-swollen lips.

“Where do you know Cisco from?” Iris asks.

“We grew up together,” Barry says, eyes finally focusing with the memory. “He lived next door to me when I moved in with Eobard. And then when his parents divorced, and his mom started drinking pretty heavily, we grew really close.”

Iris frowns at that, warning bells sounding faintly in the back of her head, though the reason why escapes her. “How young was he when that happened?”

Barry thinks back. “It was probably a couple of months after I moved – so maybe ten, eleven?”

She thinks of Barry, small and lonely and bereaved, and she adds a young Cisco to the picture. She asks, though she thinks she can guess, “And he knows what you do for a living?”

Barry pulls a face like she’s being ridiculous. “Of course. Eobard trained him like he did me.” His heads tilts a little in thought. “Why do you ask?”

She shrugs, remarkably casual despite the rapid-fire of cogs turning in her head. “Just wondering.” She trails her hands down from his shoulder, letting her fingers tuck in between the buttons of his shirt. She looks at him from underneath her lashes. “Now, where were we?”

-

Day #97

Voicemail from BEAR, received at 10:12 PM

“Don’t read anything into this, but I bought you a new toothbrush. I accidentally knocked the one you kept bringing over in your bag on the floor, when I’d just mopped it with chemical floor cleaner, and I figured that definitely couldn’t be good for your oral hygiene. Um. So, yeah, I bought you a new one. Well, I bought you three, but only because it was a better deal if you bought the multipack. And I got you the electric ones designed especially for sensitive teeth because you keep complaining about yours, so. I’m rambling. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve bought you three new toothbrushes that look nothing like your old one and it doesn’t mean what toothbrushes can sometimes mean, relationship-wise, unless you want it to mean that. Right, I’m going to cut myself off before the voicemail machine-“

-

Day #102

Iris thanks the waitress who brings them their drinks, immediately reaching for the cream to pour into her coffee.  Across the table, Linda looks as stony-faced as she had when they first sat down.

Iris sighs. “Come on out with it, then. What’s up?”

Linda raises a well-groomed brow in response. “How’s your article going?”

“The one on local businesses versus the new K-mart? Fine, it’s done.”

“No,” Linda says. “Your other one.”

Iris twists her lips - so that’s what this is about. “Look, I know you’re mad I brought him back to our apartment. And I’m really sorry, I already apologised to you. But he was getting suspicious as to why we were always at his, and-”

“Listen to yourself!” Linda explodes. Luckily, the cafe they’re in is a busy one, and they’re sat in the outdoors section with the city noises to drown out Linda’s anger from passer-byers. “'Always at his’. Even if you were in a normal relationship, I’d feel you were getting too intense.”

“I know, I know,” Iris placates. “Linda-”

“I’ve looked through your notebook.”

“What?” Iris’ mouth falls open - it was an unspoken rule, in the five years they’d lived together, that their private writings were exactly that: private until they gave the other permission to read the first draft or edit the final one.

But Linda steamrolls on. “And I know you’ve got plenty of information now. Correlating dates and times, scraps of evidence…”

“There’s not something for definite though,” Iris argues, though it sounds lame to even her own ears.

“There’s enough, put altogether,” Linda dismisses. “You’ve even met an acquaintance, this Ramon guy, who I bet would snitch on Allen if the police put enough pressure on them. That’s more than the actual detectives have.”

Iris spins her spoon aimlessly in her cup, stirring her drink past necessity. “Yeah, I suppose. But if I keep going, I have an opportunity to get the whole operation.”

Linda looks like Iris just declared a desire to behead puppies. “Please tell me I misunderstood that.”

“It’s bigger than Barry. I think he’s just a pawn.” At Linda’s scoff of disbelief, she amends, “Okay, he’s more than complicit. But this guy, Eobard, recruited him, with a lie about his parents’ deaths. He says the police murdered them.”

“Well, he’s lying-”

“Eobard is, yes, obviously, I’ve looked at the files. But Barry honestly believes that. Think about it, Linda - this is an eleven year old, recently orphaned after a horrific act of violence. And this family friend, this uncle, convinces him it was directly the fault of the law. You don’t think that’s a twisted recruitment tactic? It’s basically brainwashing.”

Linda at least looks to be considering it. “I like the angle on the story, I guess,” she says. “Doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. Sad childhoods don’t excuse everything.”

“I’m not saying that.” Iris takes a deep inhale, because she knows that, she does, no matter how much her heart squeezes at the idea of a small Barry being so awfully lied to. “I- I have a suspicion about who really killed them. And I think that if I uncover that, I can bring the whole operation down.”

Her friend tilts her head. “Including Allen?”

Iris looks at her hands, clasping her coffee, and agrees hollowly, “Yeah, including him.”

Day #124

When Barry gave Iris a spare key for ‘emergencies’, she’s pretty sure he was talking about real emergencies, like if she was in danger, or he needed her to pick something up, or whatever.

But it’s also his birthday tomorrow, which is why she’s currently wearing smutty underwear underneath a knee-length coat and riding the elevator up to his floor. She’s never done anything like this before, and she’s torn between feeling free and just plain embarrassment. Barry’s at a work meeting for the whole evening, supposedly, and said he probably wouldn’t have time to see her tonight. But she wants to celebrate his birthday properly, and she’d been struggling with gift ideas all week. She’s also hoping that he’ll be so blissed out by the time she’s done with him that he won’t even realise some of the questions she wants to ask him about Eobard tomorrow.

She puts the key in his door, already planning where the best place to wait for his return would be: the sofa, or the bed, or maybe just the table with some cheesy joke about what’s for dinner?

But as she steps inside, the apartment is far from as empty as she thought.

Barry’s there, with another woman.

Iris would be freaking out over that, but instead, she gets to freak out over the blood on her boyfriend’s face, his swollen eye, and the arm hanging unnaturally by his side. She drops her bag in her shock, the door swinging automatically shut behind her.

“Iris,” Barry starts to placate.

“Oh, this is Iris!” The woman says, from where she’s inspecting Barry’s swollen shoulder, looking up and smiling. She has long, auburn-blonde curls, and a pretty face. She’s also wearing medical gloves, and has a bag full of bandages and other tools by her feet. “Pleased to meet you,” she says.

Iris finds a new, dangerous voice coming from her lips as she asks, “Barry. What. The fuck.”

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he says quickly as she storms forward to inspect him herself.

She raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Really? Because it looks to me like you lost a fight with a large gorilla, or a truck.”

He starts to say something, and then frowns. “That is oddly specific-“

“Barry!” she snaps. “What happened? I thought it was a ‘run-of-the-mill meeting’,” she quotes.

“It started that way, but then the other party had an issue with the Russians, and things kind of escalated.”

“I thought it was all white-collar crime,” she snaps, not hiding the derision or frustration of her voice. “I thought you stayed away from the violent stuff.”

“It is!”

“Then why do you have a dislocated shoulder?” She kind of wants to hit him, if that wouldn’t kind of defeat the whole point of why she’s mad.

And, really, why is she so angry? She’s well-aware that she probably should be doting on him, should be fussing and helping to care for him as dutiful girlfriend. But she’s shaken by the sight of him, that much is obvious. She’d been doing so well to separate the distant awareness of what he does from the ugly reality.

He clearly doesn’t have an answer for her. Iris lets out an angry huff, and turns to the woman. “Sorry, who are you?”

“Caitlin,” the woman says, and holds out her hand to shake. Iris takes it. “I’m the Thawne family doctor, in my spare time. I’m usually at Central City hospital, in the ER.”

Iris turns back to Barry as she says, “So, you specialise in trauma and violent injuries, would you say?”

Barry winces as Caitlin replies, “Yes, I suppose so. I’m looking to move to a different ward this winter, though.”

“Caitlin’s a family friend,” Barry explains.

That peaks Iris’ reporter-side. She asks Caitlin, “Of Eobard?” She ignores the questioning expression from Barry.

Caitlin nods. “Yeah, he knew my parents. Well, he knew my father.” The way she says the latter part means Iris doesn’t need to ask what happened to him, and she adds the mental note to her growing ideas about Eobard.

Caitlin keeps prodding around Barry’s shoulder as he says, “Iris, I’m sorry, you weren’t supposed to be here.”

For some reason, that stings. “What was your plan, then? To hide from me until your eye healed?”

“Not… necessarily,” Barry says, but his guilty expression disagrees. Then he frowns. “Speaking of, what are you doing here? I thought I told you I wouldn’t be back for a while.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was counting on,” Iris admits. She crosses her arms, feeling self-conscious now and glad she was still wearing her coat for decency. “I was going to surprise you for your birthday.”

A small, private smile grows on his lips. “You were?”

Behind him, Caitlin pointedly looks at Iris, and then looks down at Barry’s shoulder, which she’s braced against. Iris understands the silent direction: keep him distracted. “Yeah,” she says. “I even brought you a present.”

“You did?” Barry asks, and reaches out with his uninjured hand to hold hers. “That’s really nice.”

Caitlin’s lips press into a thin line.

Iris makes sure to focus on Barry – if this is all she can do to help heal him, to protect him, then she’d better not fuck up. “Well, it’s kind of ruined now.”

“I’m sure I’ll love-“

Caitlin yanks, and there’s a sickening pop, and Barry goes white. His grip on iris’ hand is so tight, and all she can do is squeeze him back.

He lets out a gasp. “Love it,” he finishes. “Love you.”

Iris’ heart stops. He- he obviously didn’t mean that. Even the syntax barely makes sense, and he’s obviously just confused by the pain.

But Caitlin avoids Iris’ gaze as she begins to pack up her stuff, as Barry winces and lets go of Iris to gingerly hold his own arm.

Iris wets her lip with her tongue. “Thank you, Caitlin,” she says, surprised by how much she means it.

Caitlin smiles, though it looks a little awkward. She nods, a little stiff, and says to Barry, “Keep pressure off that whole arm, and take your pain killers this time. You still have your sling, right? I have to go to my shift, otherwise I’d put it on you myself.”

“You have your own sling?” Iris asks, as Barry stands to thank Caitlin himself.

“Thanks, Cait. Give my best to Ronnie, tell him I’ll call him soon.” Once she’s left, he turns back to Iris. “Yes, I have my own sling. It’s in the bathroom – can you get it for me?”

A small part of her is glad to be of some help finally – she finds it in the cupboard underneath the sink and quickly brings it back to him.

As she helps him put it on, she says, for the sake of breaking the quiet, “Caitlin seems nice.”

“She’s great,” Barry agrees as Iris clasps the buckle of the sling into place. “That’s perfect, thank you.”

In the following silence, she twists her lips, and then says, “Maybe I should go.”

He frowns at that, and actually moves to block her path. “What? Why?” At her look, he continues, “Come on, I want to see my present.”

She crosses her arms, feeling silly after the evening’s events. “No, it’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow or something.”

“Iris.” With his good hand, he clasps her elbow. “Please? It is my birthday in… three and a half hours,” he pleads, after quickly checking the clock.

Her jaw sets. “Fine. If you really want. But it’s stupid, so, whatever.” In short, sharp movements, she reaches for her coat buttons and undoes them, letting it drop to the floor once free.

He’s silent, and she puts her hands on her hips, feeling stupid. The lingerie is a pretty red, after he’d told her that was his favourite colour, and she bought it specially for him. Her hands float awkwardly, torn between her sides and trying to cover herself a little.

“Look, let’s just forgot tonight happened, and-“

“I love you,” he croaks.

“What?”

He looks back up and his pupils are blown and his eyes are liquid fire. “I love you, Iris.”

She shakes her head, feeling her stomach churn. “You don’t mean that. You’re in pain, and I’m half-naked, and-“

“And what?” He steps closer to her, his voice firm. “I don’t need you to say it back, if that’s what you’re worried about. But it’s not because my shoulder’s fucked, and it’s not because you look like every fantasy I’ve ever had come to life.“ He swallows, licks his lips. “You make every single day better, Iris. With what you do, and what you say, and how you make me feel.” His good hand reaches to curl around her waist, pulling him close.

She wants to cry. As she gently touches his face, brushing her fingertips over the bruises and cuts on his face, and steps into him, she whispers, “I love you too.”

What makes her stomach squeeze like a vice and her hands tremble is the thought that she almost definitely means it. That she isn’t lying anymore.

-

Day #130

BARRY: I have to go out of town for a few days.

IRIS: when?? I thought we were having dinner tonight

BARRY: something’s wrong with the shipment at Coast City

IRIS: shipment of what?

BARRY: doesn’t matter. But I’ll be back soon, okay? Don’t miss me too much.

IRIS: yeah, try not to miss me either

IRIS: .jpeg sent.

BARRY: you are evil.

-

Day #145

Iris is still in bed, pleasantly sore from the previous hour’s activity. She’d immediately called dibs afterwards, which was why Barry could be heard fumbling around in the kitchen making breakfast.

They both had the day off – or rather, Iris had the day off, and she thinks Barry told his colleagues to not contact him except for emergencies – and they were spending it being lazy and happy. The warm morning sunshine was floating through Iris’s windows, and she finds herself liking how easily Barry seems to be finding his way around her apartment.

“Hey, I’m trying to set up the dining table,” Barry calls, and Iris mumbles something back that he definitely can’t hear through two rooms. Really, he should take her non-verbal state as a compliment. “Do you want these notebooks anywhere in particular?”

Something nags at her – and then she sits bolt upright. Grabbing the closest clothing near her – his discarded shirt from last night – she throws it on and hurries out into the main living space. “Don’t open those,” she hurries, shuffling forward. He’s holding one black, non-descript notebook in his hand, and another is on top of her laptop.

She’s a damn idiot.

His arrival last night had been a surprise; she thought the plan was to meet at the movies, but he’d come straight over declaring the only thing he wanted to see was her. At the time, it was romantic, and sexy – enough so that she forgot about the work she’d been doing on her investigation on the table.

She hastily collects it all up in her arms – he’s giving her a funny look. She gives him a weak smile, well aware that this is not her coolest moment, or subtlest. “Uh,” she says. “Sorry, it’s a project for work – I don’t want anyone seeing it until its ready.”

His expression clears and then morphs into something kind. “I’m sure it’s going to be amazing,” he reassures her. She remembers all the times she’s bitched to him about doing boring, safe stories for work, and realises he’s trying to be supportive of her being ambitious. The irony could make her laugh, or possibly cry.

Feeling too much of something, she darts forward to kiss him on the cheek. “Love you,” she says, even though she’s been trying to say it as little as possible, and then she runs off to put away her stuff before he can respond.

When she comes back, she sees his original intentions, before they were interrupted by her completely failure at secrecy. He’s set out the table with her fancy cutlery that even she doesn’t know where it’s kept, and displayed the bouquet of flowers he brought her last night in a vase. She feels her heart swell, and she pads over to him, wrapping her arms around his torso from behind.

“This is nice,” she mumbles into his back. He’s cooking some kind of fancy egg dish. She’s dated guys before who didn’t know how to make microwave popcorn, so forgive her for feeling a little bowled over.

She leans up to kiss him on the back of his neck, but he bats her off with his spatula. “Stop that,” he warns. “I don’t want to burn anything. You make the coffee.”

“Yes sir,” she says, mock-saluting and obediently starting the coffee pot. She makes the mugs – cream for her, black and one sugar for him – and sits down at the table to wait.

Once he’s served the plates, and she moans at the first amazing taste which makes his ears go pink, she asks, “What’s all this for?”

“You make me want to do stuff like this,” he says, simply.

She smiles at her eggs.

“Also,” he says, slowly, and she lift her head to direct her raised eyebrow at him. “Don’t give me that look, I was genuinely just being nice. But I wanted to ask – maybe we could have dinner next Sunday at mine.”

She frowns in confusion. “Sure? Why-“

“I was thinking you could bring your father.”

She suddenly understands how Barry Allen manages to convince millionaires to part with their money, apart from the whole blackmail thing – his poker face is perfectly innocent, as if he hasn’t just asked for the equivalent of a unicorn at a birthday party.

 “You want to meet my dad.” She can’t help the scepticism dripping from her words.

“Yes,” he confirms – to his credit, he doesn’t look like he’s joking. In fact, she’s starting to get suspicious that he did all this to soften her up.

“My dad, the police detective.”

Yes,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I’ll use a different name or something.”

“He’s not stupid, Barry!”

He has the audacity to look hurt, as if she isn’t being the only sensible one sitting at this table.

“Do you not want me to meet him?” Barry asks.

“Of course not!” she snaps without thinking.

His eyes fall to his plate. “Right.”

She sighs. “Babe, I don’t mean it like that. I’m only worried. If he does recognise you-“

He looks up sharply. “Then what? They know who I am, Iris, they know where I live. If they had any evidence, I’d be in jail.”

Her gut twists, sharply. Because she has all the evidence they’d need to do just that. “Bear-“

But he’s annoyed now, and hurt, and she can see it in the fired up eyes he locks on her. “Would you come visit me in prison?”

“Don’t make me the bad guy because I want to keep you safe!” she retorts, eggs forgotten.

He exhales sharply and looks away. He stands. “Look, I get it. I just- I’m going to go.”

She gets up as well to reach for him, but he’s already backing away, grabbing his jacket from where she’d thrown it away to the sofa. He’s only wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt because she’s still wearing the plaid shirt he’d worn atop it last night. “Wait, don’t-“

But he shuts the door behind him. She sinks onto the nearest armchair and hugs her knees to her chest.

Barry Allen is dangerous, and a criminal, and there are a thousand reasons why she should hand in the report before swiftly checking into witness protection. She probably has enough to put him away for a while now. He is fucked up and bad news.

But, well - isn’t she a little fucked up as well? Didn’t she take on the entire Thawne mafia with a prayer and a pretty smile, all for a chance to prove herself in a local newspaper? She’s seen his lighter moments, and he’s loved her darker parts. And she doesn’t know how to settle that with the overriding logic and morality in the back of her head.

-

Day #146

Voicemail from IRIS W, received 2:38 AM

“Babe, look – I couldn’t sleep. I hate fighting with you. I mean, real fighting, not just arguing over where the best deli in the city is. I still don’t like the idea of your formally meeting my dad, and I’m not prepared to risk it. I’m sorry. But, uh, I was thinking maybe, next week when the Central Miners are playing, we could go to watch the match with my brother? Ring me when- oh. You’re calling me now. Uh-“

-

Day #151

Voicemail from BEAR, received 3:02 PM

“I know you’re at the dentist right now, just wanted to say, um- I just finished my first class at community college. It was pretty boring, actually. But, in a good way? I don’t know if that makes sense. It was on Intro to Chemistry, which was always my favourite subject at high school. Anyway, we both know that I wouldn’t have even googled the idea without you. And I also know you didn’t come up with the idea, or suggest it, but- I don’t know. This is really, really rambling, sorry. You were just the first person I wanted to tell, even though I didn’t even tell you I enrolled. Kind of wanted it to be a surprise, kind of was scared I’d disappoint you if I backed out. Um, right. See you tonight. Love you.”

-

Day #169

IRIS: super weird that I have to ask this, but my brother just rang me to tell you to hurry up and reply to his email.

BARRY: the one about our fantasy football league or the one about his cost-plus contract

IRIS: sorry, what

BARRY: what

IRIS: are you… are you giving my little brother fantasy football advice and financial advice

BARRY: in separate email chains, I’m not a monster

IRIS: I’m going to go make a strong coffee

IRIS: maybe I’ll make it an Irish one

-

Day #172

The investigation has hit a dead end, really. Without getting closer to Eobard, she doesn’t have any more concrete evidence to pin down his culpability and responsibility for the whole operation. He’s been sneaky, that’s for sure, using Cisco and Barry to do the high-tier dirty work and using them to communicate with the lower members. It’s a tight-knit group, with no more recruited than necessary. From what Iris can tell, from the odd names she’s been able to gleam and hear from conversation snippets, Eobard specialises in finding vulnerable children and training them to join his operation.

So, all she has is circumstantial evidence against Eobard, and a sob story for Barry and Cisco’s defence attorney. It’s not enough to clear Barry – and really, that’s all she’s beginning to care about.

Barry himself is currently on a business trip for the day, and she’s aimless with nothing to do until the new articles are assigned on Monday - it’s Thursday now. He left her in his bed this morning, and she takes her time waking up.

She decides to do some laundry, so he has fresh sheets to climb into tonight if he gets back late. She’d cook dinner for him, but the only recipe she knows is her grandmother’s gumbo, which serves ten people at the least. So, she’ll do laundry, and check off her mental list for 'perfect domestic girlfriend’ for today.

She pulls the bag from his laundry basket, and starts to drag it along his bedroom - as she does so, she sees the clothes he discarded last night. (Or, rather, the ones she pulled off him last night). On impulse, she picks up the sweater, the under-shirt and the socks, and stuffs them in as well.

But as she reaches for the jeans, pulling out the belt and checking if he’s left his wallet or something in there, she feels something else.

She pulls out a small, velvet, black box.

Her heart feels too heavy, too large for her ribcage, as she drops the clothes in her shock, leaving only the box in her trembling hands. She tells herself it’s probably just earrings. Their six-month anniversary is coming up soon, right? Or perhaps it had already been, she wasn’t one to check dates.

She opens the box, and it’s the most beautiful ring she’s ever seen. A gold band houses a huge diamond, centred in between two smaller diamonds. It looks extortionate, and gorgeous, and understated and perfect, and she wants to scream.

This should be a happy occasion. But in that second, she realises two things that make this impossible: if she says yes, she’s lying to him, and if she says no, she’s lying to herself.

As she stares down the ring, she knows deep in her heart that she wants to spend the rest of her life with this man. That the voice in her head sings 'Iris West-Allen’, that she can’t picture anyone else waiting at the end of the aisle.

Her legs will no longer support her, and she sits on the bed gracelessly, laundry forgotten.

A small voice tells her that she could delete the file on her computer, and burn her notebooks. Barry could take another name, and she’s sure her father wouldn’t recognise him by his face alone. But how can she live with herself with such a selfish decision?  When another generation of children will be recruited to be Eobard’s pawns, when others will suffer because of his criminal empire?

She realises she’s crying, and she quickly shuts the box before she accidentally dirties the box. She puts the ring back in the original jean pocket, and throws back his clothes as if they hadn’t been touched. She wishes she could ask someone’s opinion - but Linda has never understood Iris’s growing feelings, and Cynthia would threaten Barry herself if she knew.

Before she can think further, her mind going round and round in circles, her phone starts buzzing. Madly, she panics that it’s Barry, and she answers without checking the caller ID, forcing her voice to unclog and sound normal. “Hello?”

But it’s not Barry. Instead, Linda’s voice sounds through the phone, and even the tinny connection can’t mask the sound of her tears and her panic. “Iris! Iris, please, you need to come over now, Wally is freaking out!”

“What?” Iris says, focusing on the problem at hand. “Linda, slow down, what’s going on?”

“I- oh god, Iris, I’m so sorry - I told him about Barry. About what Barry really does. I’m sorry, he mentioned he met your new boyfriend, and he’s always been able to read me so well, I couldn’t hide my shock! And I couldn’t lie, not to him. You have to come over, he’s threatening to tell your dad, and to go confront Barry.”

Iris stands, an eerie calm washing over her. Finally, she thinks, the storm has broken. “Tell him I’m coming over, and I’ll explain everything. Don’t let him do anything rash, I’ll be there in five.”

-

When she gets to her and Linda’s apartment, she can hear the shouting from outside. Linda is screaming back just as much as Wally yells, and Iris won’t be surprised if the police show up any minute now. She has to get this under control, and quickly.

As soon as she walks inside, the shouting stops, and the couple turns to look at her. Linda’s face is red from arguing, and Wally looks thunderous. In the quiet, he asks, “Iris. Tell me this isn’t true. Please.”

She presses her lips together. “Wally-”

“God!” He cries out, gesturing his hands up wide. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“I know you have a lot of questions, and I can answer some of them. But- Wally, please, you can’t tell Dad. You can’t tell anybody. I’m so close, and-”

“Close to what?” He demands. “When does this end? When you have enough evidence against Barry? Or against his boss? Or against the entire city? Is it over when he asks you to move in, or are you waiting until he proposes?”

She flinches with that last comment, but manages to power through. “There’s more going on. It’s not just Barry, okay, it’s the guy who manipulated him and countless others! He kills or manipulates parents who work with him, presumably once they’re of no use to him anymore, and then he recruits their kids!”

“They’re not children anymore, Iris, they’re adults responsible for their own decisions. Do you even really know what Barry’s capable of?”

“He’s not violent,” Iris tries, but it’s weak to even her own ears when she’s seen him roughed up, when she’s found mystery blood on his clothes and he’s gone for hours, days at a time. “He’s involved with the money side, mostly.”

Wally scoffs and it’s vicious. “Yeah, right. He’s involved in violence, and some pretty horrific stuff at that. You’ve seen the dead bodies on the news, you’ve heard Dad! The Thawne mafia have started trading illegal guns, did you know that?”

No, but she knows Barry had been arguing with his colleagues, and with Eobard, more and more, and now she can imagine what that was about.

“How long until they move past gun trafficking, huh? What’s next, prostitution? Drugs? Body trafficking? You’re stuck in this cycle now, Iris, and it’s more than some newspaper article!”

Iris looks to Linda, but she can see it in her best friends’ eyes, in her guilty expression: they both think she’s nuts. They think she’s spiraled out of control, and maybe she has. Because she can’t argue with Wally as she admits, quietly, “Yeah, it is.” Her eyes water and she blinks it back. “I love him.”

Linda inhales audibly through her teeth.

Wally shakes his head. “You don’t mean that. It’s Stockholm syndrome, or something.”

“It’s not.” Iris dares to step closer, keeping her voice low. “Please, Wally, he doesn’t want this life, he doesn’t. He’s better than this. He’s kind, and he’s intelligent. You met him!”

“I didn’t know the truth,” he argues, but his gaze falters.

“I can help him,” Iris pleads. “I just need a little more evidence. I really am so close. If I can get Eobard-“

“Barry will go down as well, you know he will,” Linda points out.

“Not if…” Iris trails off as the thought strikes her.

“What?” Wally asks.

“Not if he takes a deal and gives information on Eobard,” Iris realises out loud, mind whirring a hundred miles a second. “I have to tell him the truth.”

Linda and Wally share a look. It’s Linda who says, tentatively, “You’re going to tell your boyfriend that you’ve been dating him in order to spy on him and expose his criminal dealings? And then try and convince him to rat on his mentor?”

Iris pauses. “When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous.”

Wally raises his brows as if to say ‘you think?’ But then his expression shifts, and he says, “You’re going to do it, though, aren’t you?”

She wets her lips as she considers, and slowly nods. She thinks she knew, deep down, as soon as she found that ring, or maybe even earlier, that this could only end with the truth. “If he leaves me, or hates me forever, but he’s safe from Eobard? I can live with that.” It’ll hurt to hell and back, but she can cope.

She leaves Linda and Wally with a plan forming in her mind. She’ll wait for Barry to come back to his apartment, and she’ll wait for him there, and she’ll tell him everything. She’ll show him the evidence, and she’ll tell him her plan. And then she’ll tell him the most important thing of all: that it wasn’t fake. That she loves him, more than she’s ever loved anyone else.

She steps out the apartment block with a lighter footstep. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but maybe it can be something lighter than she dared hope.

But as she walks through the car park to her car, she hears footsteps heavy on the tarmac. Before she can even try to turn around, something sharp jabs her neck, and she feels the eerie pulse of something entering her bloodstream, and everything fades away.

-

Voicemail received from EOBARD T, 12:42 PM

“Barry, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. But Iris has been lying to you this entire fucking time. I know you like her, but god, she’s fucked up in the head. Listen - I bugged her apartment a few days ago. A precaution, you understand. You were talking about getting new keys made for her and even meeting her family and I had to check her out. You know I’m only trying to look out for you, don’t you? Don’t be mad. Especially because you’ll be glad I did bug her. Listen to the audio file I emailed you. It’ll explain - well, it’ll show you who she really is. What she really wants. I’m out of town this evening, but we’ll talk properly when I get back, alright? Stay safe, kiddo.”

-

Now.

-

The car rumbles to a stop, and she feels her heart hammer in her chest. Her best bet is to get out as soon as the door opens - she’d been trying to kick the tail light out, but with her legs and hands bound together, it’s proven near impossible.

She hears voices, muffled through the metalwork of the car. Her mouth is stale, and her head still feels groggy from whatever they drugged her with. But she’s still going to fight as hard as she can.

The car door opens suddenly, and she’s left blinking against the harsh light as they haul her bodily out. She thrashes in their arms but the two large guys manage to drag her over to the chair in the centre of the room. They’re in an unfinished apartment building, still being constructed with tarp and loose wires hanging from the walls. Bright lamps are set up, mostly pointed at her, and her immediate head count suggests six people: two leaders, four henchmen.

She recognises one of them: the blond hair and the mean smirk are none other than Eobard Thawne’s. Perhaps she should have seen that coming.

She exclaims a profanity at him that only gets bumbled by the fabric gag in her mouth, but makes her feel a little better as she strains against the rope they’ve attached her to the chair with.  

But Eobard only ignores her, turning to the other smaller man, a brunette with groomed eyebrows. “This is her.”

The brunette appraises her. “Hm. No accounting for taste, I suppose.”

If she wasn’t gagged, she’d spit at them both.

“I trust you’ll deal with her efficiently,” Eobard says, and ice trickles through Iris at the meaning. She starts thrashing more wildly, kicking her legs and struggling against her bonds. Eobard has the audacity to roll his eyes at her. “Oh, for God’s sake.”

He stalks over, and rips out the gag, making her cough against the fresh air and her freed tongue. She glares up at him. “Barry’s going to kill you,” she snarls.

Eobard makes a tutting sound. “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. I sent him the audio of your little argument with your brother.” At her horrified expression, he smiles. “Yes, I am just so glad I invested in bugging your apartment. It came in very handy.”

She’s thinking as fast as she can, adrenaline rushing through her system. “Then he’ll know my theories about you.”

He twists his lips, as if in commiseration. “Not quite. There’s this magical thing called, ah, audio editing?”

She hates him with every fibre of her body.

“Such a shame, Barry will be so heartbroken.” His false sympathy is palatable. “His girlfriend betrayed him, and now she’s run away into witness protection.”

“Wally and Linda-“ She tries, but he shakes his head.

“They’ll be convinced, or disposed of. If you were alive long enough to observe, I think you’d be surprised by how easy it will be to make you disappear. And how much is of your own making.” Before she can resist, his hand snaps back out to stuff the gag back in her mouth, clutching her jaw hard enough to leave bruising. “Now, you’re going to go with the Merlyn family here. Retribution for a little misunderstanding we had. Two birds with one stone, and all that.”

She starts shaking her head, yelling against the gag. She knows the Merlyn family, knows the stories about their fanatic beliefs and inclination towards violence.

Eobard gives her one last satisfied smirk before just leaving, two of his men following him. The brunette man takes his place, standing in front of her.

“Hello, Miss West,” he greets in a deceptively friendly tone. “We’re going to take you back to one of our own safe houses. And then we’re going to use you to send a message. Sorry that you’re all caught up in this, but it’s simply business. Barry was responsible for killing one of our men, you see, and Eobard’s giving us you as a peace offering.”

She wishes she wasn’t gagged so she could scream at them that they were being manipulated by Eobard as well, that he was undoubtedly the one to kill the man, but the fabric is too thick in her mouth.

The man, who she presumes in Malcolm Merlyn himself, gestures for his men. “Come on, let’s get going,” gesturing to his men ass if she were an Amazon delivery to be collected. Both her shoulders are grabbed as they begin to lift her away from the chair - stubbornly, she throws her weight in the opposite direction, refusing to go without a fight.

Madly, she hopes that at least if Barry hates her now, he won’t be too upset by whatever they send of her death to him as proof.

But there comes a noise from behind one of the plastic sheets hanging from the walls, and the men stop instinctively. Malcolm cocks his head. “What was that?” he asks.

One of the men clutching at Iris’s shoulder shrugs. “The wind. This building has more holes than concrete-”

He doesn’t finish his sentence as a whizzing displacement of air sounds. At first, nothing seems to have happened. But Iris flinches as the man falls, like a cut tree trunk, to land at her feet. The back of his head is caved in with the wound of a bullet, and she screams into her gag.

Malcolm and the other men go straight into panic mode, straightening out their guns and looking all around them. But there’s another gun shot, and one of them whirls back from the momentum of a bullet speeding into his shoulder, yelling out in pain. Iris tries to shrink, reducing her body’s vulnerability, as chaos ensues. One of the larger men shouts out, pointing to the already-retreating silhouette behind one of the sheets, and runs in that direction.

Just as he disappears, two shapes come hurtling into the huge room, and Iris’ heart stops.

Barry, wielding a gun and shooting with deadly accuracy.

She can only watch, her pulse skyrocketing and her stomach plunging, as the groups square off against each other. Malcolm goes down with a shot to his stomach, falling behind Iris with a yelp, and Barry makes quick work of the others. Within minutes, though it feels like both hours and a micro-second have passed, no more of Malcolm’s men are left standing.

Barry is barely out of breath.

He raises his chin to look her in the eye. His eyes are fire. His arm is still raised from where it was pointed at the men. She licks her bottom lip to wet it, and readies herself for his anger, his revenge. He lowers his gun, and she sees in his face the moment his hard exterior falls away. He reaches for her, stepping forward, and she strains against her bonds, and-

And the sound of silenced gun breaks through. She frowns in confusion. hasn’t Barry lowered his gun?

It takes her a second to register the pain.

Her side is on fire, her back is being sawed in half. Barry’s eyes widen and he runs to her, undoing her gag even as he aims over her shoulder and fires. She remembers Malcolm had fallen behind her as she registers the wet crunch of flesh behind her.

Barry pulls out her gag, clutches her cheek. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he says, speaking quickly, hands skidding all over her and her rope confinement.

The pain is too much, and everything hurts, and wetness is creeping down her lower back. His arms are around her as they untie the knots attaching her to the chair - she can tell the second he frees her, because she can’t even keep herself up anymore, and she pitches forward into him. The last thing she knows is his arms keeping her from the floor, and his frantic voice calling her name.

-

She wakes up on a hospital gurney, being dragged somewhere, and she thinks she says Barry’s name, or maybe asks for her dad, or Linda. Or maybe she doesn’t say anything at all in the loud voices and bright lights.

-

She drifts in and out. Her head is groggy and befuddled. She knows she’s in a hospital, curtains around her bed and the steady thrum of doctors and patients and machines.  

It’s dark, but there’s someone slouched over in the guest chair, by the foot of her bed. His arm is slung over her feet. She croaks out, “Bear?”

He jolts and lifts his head. He looks so tired, and pale, his hair dirty and his cheekbones prominent. She wants to reach for him, but her arms feel so heavy.

“Iris,” he says, voice breaking on the second syllable. “I’ll go get a doctor.”

She tries to shake her head, breathing, “Stay,” but he’s already leaving, disappearing behind the curtain, and she’s asleep again before the doctor comes. The next time she wakes, she won’t be able to say whether it’s a dream or a memory, and she’s scared to ask.

-

Day #178

The next week involves a lot of medical information and a lot of physical therapy. Turns out she lost a kidney when Malcolm shot her through the back of the chair, so she’ll have to watch herself for the rest of her life, and take special meds, which is honestly not the worst way that day could’ve gone.

Linda, Wally and her dad take turns coming to visit her, and rearrange her pillows, and yell at her. Her dad particularly swings between raging, “What were you thinking?” and nearly crying over how close he came to losing her. There’s a lot of painful, and honest, conversations. Even her editor, Mason, comes in to awkwardly hope she gets better, give her a cheap bouquet of flowers, and offer her a promotion to investigative news journalist.

But no-one mentions Barry.

-

She’s watching the TV, hanging on the wall opposite her bed, and making her way through various vending machine snacks with Linda when the channel changes to CCPN Breaking News. Linda flinches beside her, and immediately starts looking for the remote to change channels back. It takes Iris a moment to register the story.

“We’re showing you live feed from the arrest of Eobard Thawne, notorious Central City mafia don. He’s wanted on several counts of murder, illegal guns and drugs trafficking, money laundering and grand theft. Police surround his car just before the state border. This arrest comes after one of Thawne’s anonymous accomplices has come forward with new information for the police. Thawne looks to be coming peacefully - and they have him in handcuffs. This is a big day for the city. Back to you, Don.”

Iris’ mouth hangs open as the screen changes back to the anchors, who direct the viewer to the weather girl. She can’t get that image out of her head: of Eobard, climbing out of his ridiculous car, being handcuffed.

She swallows, and can sense Linda’s tension without even turning her head. “Anonymous accomplice?” she asks.

Linda sighs. “We didn’t want to tell you until it was all confirmed, to avoid worrying you. But, I guess it’s out of the bag now.”

“How?” Iris breathes.

“Wally’s been using your notebook with your dad. They worked out a plea deal for him.” Linda pauses, and says it: “Barry’s having to do sixteenth month’s community service. He gave them everything. Cisco’s out as well, and Caitlin, and a couple of others they’ve linked to Eobard’s other murders.”

Iris claps her hand over her mouth in a sob, the tension of the past six months finally released.

“There’ll be a long court process, but, yeah, it looks like it’s all over.” Linda reaches over to squeeze Iris’s hand. “You did it, babe.”

Iris clutches her back. “You did it as well. Thank you so much.”

Linda smiles weakly. “I’m so proud of you.”

“All for a stupid article, huh?” Iris jokes faintly.

Lina barks out a laugh like it’s forced from her. “God.” She shakes her head. “I definitely wasn’t going to tell you this until you were better, but- Mason wanted me to ask you if you still wanted to write it. He said your perspective and your hard work would make it a front cover story.”

Iris raises her eyebrows. “Mason said that?”

Linda nods, and then pauses to amend, “Well, he said that it would be front cover as long as there wasn’t a tsunami or alien invasion.”

“That’s fair,” Iris agrees. She twists her lips. “So- Barry’s free, huh?”

They’ve been best friends long enough that Linda understands the unspoken question. “He hasn’t mentioned you since he brought you into the ER. You said you understood what would happen when the truth came out. The risks.”

Iris tries not to let the disappointment show on her face. “Yeah. I know.”

-

Day #201

The Fall of The Thawne Empire: Murder, Family and Love.

CCPN reporter, Iris West, gives the exclusive of what really happened in her undercover investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Central City’s most notorious criminal, Eobard Thawne.

-

She’s at home in her pyjamas, a baggy jumper and boyshorts, ignoring her phone from yet another producer trying to get her to come on their show. She’ll sift through all the messages tomorrow, and talk with Mason about what the promotion plan is. People are already throwing words like Pulitzer around, and the mayor’s invited her to a fancy function at his house next month.

She should be happy, probably.

Instead, she’s nursing a bottle of wine, alone and sombre. Linda and Wally are on a week-long vacation, a gift from Mason and Joe after their help in finalising the investigation. The TV is playing the late-night talk shows on mute, and her laptop lies ignored on the coffee table.

The door knocks. Iris rolls her eyes:  the neighbours downstairs have just moved in and are still confusing the sounds of the pipes with some imaginary noise Iris is apparently creating. She finishes her glass and slams it down, stalking over to the door well-aware that her tube socks are hardly going to help the intimidation she’s going to try for.

She pulls open the door and snaps, “The TV’s on mute-“

Then she sees who it is.

She hasn’t seen Barry for over a month now, and the sight of him knocks the breath from her lungs. “Oh,” she says. “Hi.”

But she was too shocked by the sight of him to really analyse his expression. His jaw tight, he brandishes a newspaper at her – it takes her a second to realise its CCPN, the issue with her article on the front page. Ah.

“I’m sorry,” she tries to say, but he’s already stalking past her and into her apartment.

“What the hell, Iris?” He throws the newspaper aside, letting it land with a smack on the sofa. “Do you enjoy putting yourself in more and more danger?”

She frowns. “Wait, why-“

“Why did you even need to publish this? Why did you have to continue to lie?” His voice cracks, and she gets it. Finally, here is the confrontation she’s been aching.

No-one would give her Barry’s changed address, and when she’d rung his number, the operator told her the contract has been cancelled. She’d ached, all the time to explain herself: and so she had, in the only one possible. She’d put it all into her article.

Mason had commended her on an original angle to an already powerful investigation. Her father had hugged her tight, and Linda had given her a knowing look. But she had no way of knowing whether Barry had read the article – after all, for obvious reasons it didn’t specifically mention him – and understood her meaning.

“I- I just wrote the truth. All of it,” she says. She wishes she’d prepared this conversation better. Maybe some kind of written list of all the apologies she needs to make.

But he shakes his head. “No. It was all a lie. You’re just- phrasing it for a better article.”

Okay, she deserves that, but it still makes her flinch. “Barry, it’s true. I fell in love with you.”

He steps away, avoiding her gaze. “No, you didn’t. You were spying on me.”

She can’t even imagine the trust that has been shattered between them. “If that were true,” she counters. “Why would I be here still pretending? Barry, please, believe me. I know I hurt you, but you have to believe me.”

“Why should I?” He snaps. “I heard the tape of you. I heard you telling Linda and Wally.”

“I was telling Linda and Wally that I was going after Eobard because I blamed him for all of it,” she tries to explain. “I was telling them that I was on my way to tell you the truth!”

That makes him pause, at least. “Then- that’s why Eobard took you.” He runs his hands through his hair. “That shouldn’t have happened, especially when you didn’t even… God, Iris, this is all so fucked up.”

“Didn’t what?” She says, and she dares to step closer to him. “Didn’t love you? Barry, how many times do I have to keep saying it? I fucked up, okay? I spied on you, and wrote it all down. That’s awful, and I don’t expect you to ever forgive me. But you have to know that I loved you. I still love you.”

He visibly flinches. “Don’t. Stop lying.”

She thinks of all the people he’s lost, of the father figure he thought he could trust and the girlfriend he was going to propose to, and her heart breaks a little more. She steps close again. “Barry, I love you.”

He’s shaking his head, looking at the floor, and she steps close enough to touch him.

“I love you. I love your loyalty, I love your sense of humour, I love the dimples that come out when you smile.” Her voice is barely audible, but she knows he hears her by the tightness of his shoulders. “I love the way you make me feel. I love that you hate horror movies, but you watch them with me anyway and you hold my hand when I get scared. I love-“

“Stop it!” He surges forward and captures her in a searing, fiery kiss.

She responds instantaneously, reaching up his back and grasping at his shoulder blades. He pushes her against the nearest wall, making her let out a gasp against his forceful lips. (Yet he only puts his weight on her upper torso, away from her lower back and her still-healing scar.) He barely gives her a second to catch her breath, leaning down to pick her up by her thighs and wrap her legs around his waist.

His grip is bruising, and she gets it. She knows he’s vulnerable, and raw, and if she can give him this relief, she’s more than willing. Her hand scrubs through his hair, and tugs. He uses his grasp on her ass to grind them together and she moans, head falling back to thud against the wall. He doesn’t pause, moving forward to suck a fierce mark on her jugular.  “Stop,” he growls, in between kisses that leave her panting, “Lying.”

“I love you,” she replies simply, and he snarls, spins them around, still carrying her. He sits down on her sofa, with her on his lap, and massages her ass to make her gasp. He’s biting her bottom lip and then he’s nipping along her jaw and she lets him, lets him take what he needs because all she wants to do is give it to him.

His shoulders are still so tense, his biceps bulging with restrained power. He wants her to crack and she doesn’t know how to make him understand she’s been the most open with him than she has with anyone else.

He moves to pull up her jumper and she raises her arms to let him, but he stops, pauses for long enough that she starts to feel really kind of awkward with her hands in the air.

“Bear?” she asks.

She follows his gaze, and sees his hands thumbing the hem of the jumper. It’s then she remembers that it’s his, a sweatshirt from a trip to watch the LA Clippers with Cisco. She’d just laugh when he complained about her always wearing it, and tell him that if he wanted it, he’d have to pull it off her himself.

“You kept this?” he says, sounding like she’d punched him in the stomach.

“It still smells like you,” she admits quietly.

Finally, finally, he looks her in the eye, and she reaches to gently caress his face. “You,” he swallows thickly. “It’s true?”

She nods. “I love you. So much.”

His hand rises to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear. His eyes are liquid. “I love you too.”

Her heart soars and she can’t help it – she kisses him, and she tries to make him feel everything she feels, all the love and the regret and the apologies. “I’m sorry I lied to you,” she says. “I wish we didn’t start out this way.”

“I was so scared,” he confesses against her lips. She realises he’s gently stroking her lower back, right over where she was shot. “Even though I was so mad at you, I still can’t fucking deal with the thought of you in danger. Especially because of me.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, and he shakes his head.

“Not your fault,” he replies. Then he frowns. “Well, some of it is. You did seduce a mob boss.”

She realises he’s teasing and lets out a laugh, part of relief and part of love. “Yeah. I’d say it was a stupid idea, but look where it got me.” To prove her point, she shimmies her hips and rubs her crotch against his, making him groan. “I’m not complaining.”

She’s almost deliriously happy that this seems to be all working out so well. They can finally be truly be honest with each other, and together. He’s kissing her but they keep smiling, which is just ridiculous, really.

“I love you,” she says again, just because she can, and he kisses her grin. “I wish I’d stayed in your room that morning. I wish I’d have waited for you to come home and ask-“ she stops herself, only realising halfway through the sentence how it was going to end. She bites on her bottom lip in the awkward silence that follows. “Um.”

His lips quirk ruefully. “I know you found the ring, Iris. It was in a completely different pocket, and you put the wrong t-shirt back from the laundry.”

“Oh,” she says. So much for subtlety.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, quickly. “It was too soon.”

She tries not to let her expression expose her as she says, “Oh,” again. Then she nods. “No, yeah, totally.”

He tilts his head. “Iris?”

She thinks of all they’ve been through, and all he’s done for her, and she thinks, fuck this. Fuck any more games or lies or keeping their cards close to their chest. So she says, “I would’ve said yes. If you asked. I know we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we need to rebuild us, but. I want to be honest with you.”

He swallows. “That- you.” He seems genuinely lost for words; he pulls her down for a kiss and she feels it, feels all he wants to say and everything he feels in the movement of his lips against hers. He breaks away, leans his forehead against hers. “I still can’t stop thinking about you,” he says, lightly, and she has a flashback to when they first met, his first phone call to her.

She lets out an exhale of a laugh, and replies, “I never want to stop thinking about you.”

-

Later, lying in bed together, she thinks aloud as the sudden worry comes to her: “Hypothetically, if we were to… you know, get married. Hypothetically.”

“Sure,” he agrees, a little sleepy from the hour’s past activity, flat on his back with his arm curled around her waist.

“How many of the attendees would be criminals?”

She feels him pause. “Hm.” Then he rolls to face her. “I may need to expand my social circle.”

She laughs, pressing her smile into his bicep.

Then he prods her. “And, hypothetically…”

“Of course,” she says, with a straight face.

“How many cops and reporters would be coming?”

She groans. “Oh god.”

“Think of the seating chart,” he says, teasingly.

She shakes her head and rolls on top of him. “Nope. We’ll elope.”

He laughs, and she feels the movement of his chest underneath her. “Sure. Your dad would love that.”

She leans down to grin, “Come on, I’m sure he’d have no problem with his daughter leaving for a week and coming back Iris West-Allen.”

His entire demeanour shifts: his pupils blow wide and dark. “Say that again.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Iris West-Allen?”

He rolls them over, kissing her passionately and insinuating himself between her hips.

“Really?” she laughs at this ridiculous boy, even as she kisses him back and feels heat stir in her belly. “That’s what gets you going?”

“Shut up,” he says, pressing a kiss underneath her ear and making her eyes roll back. “You love it.”

“Fuck,” she says, running her hands up his back. “I guess I do.”

Iris West versus the mafia: Iris absolutely, unequivocally wins.

-

So, what do I have to say about my personal experience in this story? I’ve lost a kidney to this investigation, and, though it may be too open to write, I’ve lost my heart. I’ve spent six months working to infiltrate an entire criminal family, at the risk of my life and my family and friends. I was successful, but I came so close to not being.

I suppose I’d like to end with an anecdote from my days working my way through a part-time journalism major. We were told by one of our teachers that we should always work to humanise our subjects, no matter who or what they were. It would make our writing stronger and our angles more unique. But it was not Professor Kole’s advice that made me fall in love with my subject, and I can’t be sorry that I did – it pushed me to dig deeper, to work harder, and to protect those who might’ve been lost in the bigger picture if I hadn’t. So, this article is dedicated to him.

And to McSnurtle.

- Iris West, Investigative Correspondent