The plan was simple:
Barry would drop Iris and Joe with Wally in National City three days before Christmas, then return promptly to Central in case of any Flash-related emergencies.
In his downtime, he’d take care of decorating Joe’s house. Iris and Joe would help Wally get packed and ready to go (Iris was vitally important in getting anything involving a speedster done on time, and Joe would ensure his children didn’t get sidetracked by an organized crime ring), then Wally would run everyone home to Central.
It was nothing they hadn’t given a practice run at Thanksgiving; in theory, everyone would be in one place by Christmas Eve, and they could all relax, kick up their heels, and celebrate as a family.
But the best-laid plans of mice and metahumans, etcetera.
The sky was a strange, foreboding grey when Barry left with Iris and Joe for National City on the morning of the 22nd. By the time he returned, heavy, lead-colored clouds had begun to gather, and bemused weathermen were predicting snow.
Barry wasn’t worried, at first. The snow was unusual for their part of the country, sure, but it was only weather. Mardon hadn’t kicked up this kind of a fuss since being brought to heel as a proper member of the Rogues, and in any case, the breadth of this particular storm was beyond his capabilities.
When the snow first started, Barry only put on an extra layer and went about his day. When he got off his shift and found three inches had already accumulated outside the precinct, he was surprised, but just cleared off Joe’s steps and left the shovel by the door.
By the next morning, the city was buried beneath two feet of snow. The blizzard warning was issued just after midnight; public transportation ground to a halt some time before two.
Barry woke up to the weather alert (hours old by that point) and expected chaos. He made an aborted attempt to run to STAR Labs, and discovered that issues with speedsters and ice weren’t exclusive to a certain Rogue’s cold gun. So he doubled back to Joe’s house, a little worse for wear, and called Cisco for a status update.
“You actually went out in this?” Cisco asked, interrupting him mid-story. “Dude, the entire city is snowed in. No one is trying to commit crime.”
“Power-outages?” Barry asked, brushing the last of the snow out of his hair.
“Nope,” Cisco said. “STAR Labs generators are keeping everything online. Say what you want about metahumans, they keep Central’s infrastructure crazy prepared.”
“We,” Barry corrected him.
Cisco conceded the point with a grudging noise of agreement.
“Seriously, though,” Barry said. “I might need your help. All the flights between us and National City are grounded, and I don’t think Wally can run in this.”
Barry’s heart sank. “What’s ‘uh,’ Cisco?”
“It’s just… all my Vibe stuff is at STAR Labs, Barry,” he said. “This storm caught me by surprise as much as everyone else. Normally, you know I’d go get it in a heartbeat. But…”
Barry glanced out the window, certain that Cisco was doing the same at his parents’ house. With the wind blowing, he could barely see to the edge of the porch. It wasn’t weather he could run in, even with his reflexes; on the unlikely chance the city did actually manage to get the streets cleared, there was no way he could ask Cisco to try to drive in it.
“Hey, you want me to mount a rescue mission?” Cisco asked. “I’ll call Caitlin, see if she thinks Frost can lend a hand. You could come spend Christmas with my family.”
“For real, my abuela would actually ascend. She’s been asking after you ever since you ate six helpings of her arroz con gandules at my birthday party last year.”
Barry laughed, but another look at the still-falling snow dampened his spirits again.
“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I’m gonna call Iris and see how they’re doing. The storm might blow over soon, anyway.”
“Sure, yeah,” Cisco said. The doubt in his voice was obvious. “Well, let me know what she says, okay? I’m serious about that rescue mission.”
Barry smiled despite himself. “Thanks, man. Tell the family merry Christmas for me.”
“You got it,” Cisco said. “Keep me posted.”
Barry hung up feeling, if anything, worse than he had before he’d called. But he rallied quickly; he hadn’t gotten a start on decorating yet, and resolved to work on that while he called Iris.
But the news from National City proved no better than that from Cisco. Iris was apologetic when she answered the phone, but refused to let Barry get too far into his pity party before cutting him off, gently but firmly.
“We’re working on it, Barr,” she said. “Wally’s talking with Harry right now. Half of this family has superpowers, a little snow isn’t going to keep us apart at Christmas.”
An hour passed with no news, then two, then six. Night had fallen properly by the time Barry gave in to the urge to sulk, and he slumped down on the couch amid the tangled Christmas lights and boxes of ornaments. He’d gotten the tree up, at least, but hadn’t had the heart to decorate it. It stood in the corner, unlit and slightly crooked, looming over the mess in silent accusation.
When he could no longer stand the silence, Barry pulled on a coat and scarf, and headed out the door.
He had the vague idea of finding an open bar or coffee shop, just to break the disquieting feeling of being the only person left in the city. He checked a couple places he doubted would be open, which proved him right, and then a few he thought might not be closed, which proved him wrong.
Even with his metabolism, the cold was beginning to settle into his bones after nearly thirty minutes of walking. He’d forgotten his gloves, and he might as well have worn sneakers for all the good his boots were doing him in the knee-high drifts.
After a couple more blocks of shuttered storefronts, Barry decided to call it. But he’d no sooner started to turn towards home when the lit sign on the other end of an alley caught his eye.
He knew it at once, but was somehow startled to see it anyway. He hadn’t made a conscious choice to walk this way; it wasn’t even the fastest way home. But now that he looked at the rusted lettering, he suspected he knew the reason his feet had carried him to this particular bar. He’d found himself arriving at Saints and Sinners at the end of his rope more times than he cared to remember; it was no surprise that he’d detoured there when he was feeling the same way now. Cisco would have something to say about Pavlovian responses.
For once, no heads turned when Barry pushed open the door. The few people curled over drinks at the bar only pulled up their collars against the biting gust of cold, and the bartender didn’t spare a glance for the fresh snow that blew in across the floorboards. The small room held its usual smells of cheap beer and stale cigarettes—smoking indoors had been illegal in Central for over a decade, but the health department tended to give Saints a wide berth.
At a guess, Barry would say the parka hanging by the door probably had something to do with that.
If Len had seen him yet, he wasn’t letting on. Only a sliver of his profile was visible where he was sitting in his usual booth, and he seemed to be focused on the half-hearted game of pool going on nearby. His hands were folded around a heavy mug, and there was a picked-over plate on the table in front of him.
It was hardly cozy in the bar; the door didn’t fit well in its frame when Barry let it drop closed behind him, leaving cold air to leak in over the threshold. Most of the patrons were still in their coats, and Len wasn’t the only one who’d bypassed a cold drink for a cup of coffee. Likely not just coffee—not that Barry was in a position to judge. If he thought the liquor would actually warm him up, he would’ve been tempted too.
Len didn’t look over at once when Barry sat down across from him, confirming Barry’s theory that he’d made him the moment he walked in the door.
When Len finally did meet his eye, he looked more resigned than anything else. “Neither snow nor rain, hm, Flash?”
“‘Nor gloom of night,’” Barry agreed. “But now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure the mail didn’t actually get delivered today.”
“Guess they’ll have to change the motto.” Len’s gaze slid over the remaining customers without much interest, then ticked back to him. “But I’m guessing you didn’t come here to discuss the postal service.”
Despite the muted atmosphere of the bar, Len didn’t appear to be in any worse a mood than usual. But he was looking at him closely, head tilted just so, and there was something sharp and watchful in his pale eyes.
He was waiting, Barry realized. Not just for him to say why he was here, but to ask for whatever it was he’d come for.
“Believe it or not,” he said. “I did just come here for a drink.”
Len studied him for a moment longer. “On Christmas Eve?” he asked. “Company at the West house can’t be that bad.”
Barry should’ve been ready for it, but felt a renewed pang of sadness nonetheless. “Joe’s in National City with Wally,” he offered. “Iris too.”
His fingers itched for a mug of his own to fidget with, and he contented himself with stealing a fry from Len’s abandoned plate. On a whim, he did it with a spark of super speed; worth it, he decided after, for the unimpressed look that Len leveled him across the table.
“You really must be hard up for company if you’re bothering me,” Len said. “Where’s the rest of Team Flash?”
“Snowed in with their families,” Barry said. Then he paused, and took another furtive glance around the room, looking for a particular face this time.
“My sister’s not here, if that’s who you’re looking for,” Len said.
Barry started to ask, but Len cut him off.
“Holidays weren’t big in our family.” He looked up briefly, a warning look in his eyes. “Oddly enough.”
Barry winced. He was just casting around for a safer topic of conversation when the overhead lights in the bar switched on, startling him and Len both. The dim space was abruptly bathed in bright fluorescents; a moment later, the bartender shouted for last call.
Barry checked his watch: it was barely eight. A couple patrons had the same thought, calling out their protest, but the bartender only began wiping down the bar, obviously unmoved.
“Storm’s only getting worse,” she said. “You want to stay here until the door gets snowed shut, be my guest. But no more booze, and my shift is over.”
Barry’s attention was pulled back when he saw Len move out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to find him tucking his wallet away, a few bills on the table in front of him.
Len paused to give him an odd look, then drained the rest of his coffee. “Typically what last call means.”
Barry felt a fresh wave of despair at the thought of the loneliness waiting for him at home. That had to be the reason that he blurted, without thinking: “It’s early.”
Len’s gaze snapped up, and Barry almost lost his nerve. Then he remembered the night of pointless worrying looming in front of him, and he pushed on: “Do you want a nightcap?”
Len looked at him for a long moment, gaze flickering over him in a way that left Barry feeling exposed and too-aware of his own body language. He passed a nervous hand over the back of his neck before he recognized the tell and dropped it. But he didn’t back down, and forced himself to meet Len’s gaze.
“A nightcap,” Len repeated.
Barry lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “You said you didn’t have plans.”
“I said I didn’t have plans with my sister.”
Barry didn’t take the bait, and tilted his chin at the plate between them on the table. “Your fries are stone cold,” he said. “They’ve been sitting there at least an hour. You don’t have plans.”
Len looked at him, neither conceding the point nor changing the subject. He was going to make him ask.
Barry sighed. “Look, if you’re just gonna"—he gestured dismissively at Len—“sit around and brood all night…”
Len raised an eyebrow, and Barry exhaled sharply, annoyed.
“You’re really gonna pass up on another chance to go through my cabinets?” he asked.
Amusement ghosted across Len’s features. He leaned back, then dropped his gaze with a private smirk before looking up at Barry again. His expression was a little too knowing; if they had a chessboard between them, Barry would’ve leaned over and tipped his king.
“Joe does buy the good whiskey,” Len said, pretending to mull the invitation.
Barry rolled his eyes. “Just don’t steal the silverware.”
It was rough going walking back to Joe’s. The snow hadn’t let up, and what was normally a twenty minute walk took them more like thirty minutes. But Len barely seemed to notice; he was a quiet presence at Barry’s side, apparently lost in thought.
It was easier to take in the beauty of the night with someone else for company. The trees were heavy with ice, branches bowing under the weight, while snowflakes swirled against the dark in the isolated beams of the streetlights. The only sound was the creak of packed snow under their boots as they walked, their breath coming in fog.
Barry stole occasional glances at Len as they made their way back across town. Len walked with his eyes forward, taking periodic sweeping glances of the street despite the limited visibility. He kept one gloved hand on the cold gun, and his walk managed to be a strut despite the knee-deep snow.
Barry tried not to notice the movement of his hips, the way he adjusted his movement so naturally to account for the weight of the gun strapped to his thigh. But it was a doomed effort; even in the foreign beauty of the landscape, he found his eyes drawn to Len again and again.
Under the next streetlight, Barry paused for a moment to look around in wonder at the snow drifting down on them. They’d reached his street, but it was barely recognizable under the heavy blanketing. Snowflakes were settling in his eyelashes, and he’d just reached up to brush them away when he became aware of Len’s gaze on him.
He tried to meet his eye, one eyebrow raised in question, but Len cut his gaze away before he could ask.
Len stooped to fix something on his boot before they moved on, leaving Barry to breathe into his hands as he tried to work some circulation back into them. Whatever Len was doing took him longer than just tying a shoelace, and Barry was just turning to check his progress when a snowball exploded in a cloud of powder against the side of his head.
Barry jumped back out of sheer surprise, and promptly tumbled back into a waiting snow bank when his boots stayed stuck in the deep snow. He barely kept himself from reaching for his speed on instinct, mindful of the dark street around them, but he threw Len a disbelieving look from the ground.
Len gazed down at him with poorly disguised satisfaction, hands tucked innocently in the pockets of his parka. “Not so tough without the suit,” he said.
“You threw a snowball at my face!” Barry said. “What are we, twelve?”
“Twelve-year-old would’ve ducked.”
Len made no move to help Barry up, and once Barry started to haul himself back to his feet, he set off down the street again at a leisurely stroll.
Barry stared after him and briefly weighed his options. Throwing a snowball back, while satisfying, would probably only end in embarrassment; the wind was still blowing hard, and pitching had never been his strong suit.
On the other hand, he could just let it go. They were adults, after all, no matter how juvenile Len felt like acting. Barry could take the high road, as usual, and be the bigger person.
It was probably the right thing to do, and Barry discarded the thought in favor of taking three running steps and tackling Len into the snow.
They went down in a near-soundless whump. Barry had just managed to sit up, grinning widely in triumph, when Len caught him by the back of his coat and shoved a handful of snow down his collar. He twisted away with a yelp, but his legs were helplessly tangled with Len’s, and he only spilled onto his back into the snow again.
Len threw another handful of snow into his face while he was down, and Barry dialed back his estimations of Len’s honor code a corresponding amount. He tried to wipe the ice out of his eyes in time to retaliate, but Len got his feet under him first, and Barry found his hips pinned by Len’s weight a moment later.
Gloved hands caught his wrists, the dusting of snow on the dark leather melting against the warmth of his bare skin. The laugh died on Barry’s lips when he finally blinked his vision clear, and found Len much closer than he’d expected. In the muted light of the storm, his eyes looked more grey than blue.
“You’re out of your element, Flash,” Len said.
Barry tried to blame the shiver on the snow, but it was a lost cause. It was that damn Cold drawl, the slow, dirty way he said Flash when he was trying to throw Barry off his game. He usually managed to shake it off without much issue, but Len wasn’t usually straddling him when he did it, close enough that Barry could feel his breath against his lips.
Len studied him for a moment longer, head cocked. If Barry hadn’t been watching for it, he would’ve missed the way Len’s gaze dropped to his lips for the barest moment. It took everything in him not to let his breath catch, acutely aware that the cold would give it away instantly—and that was only if Len didn’t feel it, pressed as close to him as he was.
But he didn’t have long to think about it; Len was leaning back a moment later as if nothing had happened, and this time, when he stood, he held out a hand to Barry.
Barry almost knocked it away out of spite, but Len saw it on his expression, and raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. So Barry shook the snow out of his sleeve, reached up, and caught Len’s wrist. Len’s fingers closed around his arm in turn, and he pulled Barry up with an easy strength that only served to scatter Barry’s thoughts anew.
Once Len released his wrist, Barry ran a numb-fingered hand through his hair, dislodging a fresh cloud of snow. He threw Len a glare without much heat. “Thanks for that.”
“Any time,” Len said, perfectly sincere, and Barry seriously considered pushing him down again.
“Uh, sorry about the mess,” Barry said, pushing the front door open. “I meant to decorate, but…”
Len took a considering look around the room as he slipped past Barry. He stripped out of the parka with practiced ease, and dropped it on the coat rack without invitation.
Barry got the door shut behind him with some effort, the wind putting up a brave fight, then worked on getting out of his own thoroughly damp coat. “Do you want dry clothes?” he asked. “I think I’ve got something that’ll fit you.”
Len hummed a vague answer, already wandering deeper into the house. Barry bit back a sigh, and turned to add his coat to the rack. He pulled up short, though, when he saw the cold gun there alongside Len’s parka, swinging innocently in its holster where Len had left it.
He only had time to look at it for a moment, though, before he realized he’d left Len unsupervised, and he hurried to kick out of his shoes and go find him.
It didn't take long; he’d left a stack of Joe’s records on the living room table during his earlier attempts at manufacturing Christmas cheer, and he found Len browsing through these with evident interest.
“Jazz fan?” Len asked, without looking up.
His tone clearly expected a negative, and Barry weighed lying just to prove him wrong. But the odds that Len would see believe him were minuscule, so he answered truthfully. “No," he said, "but Joe is.”
Len made another ambiguous noise, and continued to sift through the covers.
Satisfied that he was occupied for the moment, Barry sped through gathering the scattered decorations and dumped them haphazardly into their respective boxes. Then, noting the chill in the room, he paused to rekindle the fire he’d put out before leaving the house. Fire at least, he could work with. It wasn’t quite as easy to manipulate as air, but he could encourage it to catch a little faster, and make quick adjustments to the tinder before the flames could lick his fingers.
The fire was well on its way to crackling before Barry sat back on his heels and held up his numb hands to the warmth. He was distracted enough that it took him a moment to notice the music, so deeply familiar that he hadn’t even realized it was out of place. It was one of Joe’s favorite albums, a Nina Simone bootleg that Barry was fairly sure was worth more than he made in a month.
“Joe will actually shoot you if you scratch that,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Len. “Like, not in a joking way. He'd kill for that record.”
Barry saw amusement pull up at the corner of Len's lips, but Len set the empty sleeve down with care when he placed it back on top of the pile.
“Was that a yes on dry clothes?” Barry tried again, and this time, Len allowed him a slight nod.
“Cool,” Barry said. “I’ll just—”
He was upstairs and back before Len could get as far as the dining room. He’d considered bringing Len real clothes, but had caught himself thinking a little too hard about what Len’s inseam might be, and had grabbed for a pair of STAR Labs sweats instead. The long sleeve shirt he picked out was probably going to be a little small in the shoulders, but Barry told himself resolutely that that wasn’t why he picked it.
He'd changed into his least embarrassing pair of pajama pants and a NASA shirt Cisco had gotten him the year before, then headed downstairs before he could change his mind about any of it.
Len raised an eyebrow when Barry came to a sharp halt in front of him, but accepted the proffered clothes without comment. He gave Barry’s new clothes a shameless once-over, then disappeared down the hall to change.
Barry was usually good at ignoring his tendency to self-sabotage, but he had to admit he’d made a mistake when Len made his way back into the living room. He was wearing the sweatpants slung significantly lower than Barry usually wore them, and the shirt was pulled tight across the strong line of his shoulders in exactly the way Barry had known it would. What he hadn’t counted on was the way the dark fabric clung to Len’s arms, displaying lean, dangerous muscles that made Barry think helplessly of how easily Len had pulled him out of the snow.
He knew he was staring, but all of his self-control was focused on not flashing across the room and adding that shirt to the night’s tally of ruined clothes. It took Len holding out his own clothes, carelessly folded, to snap Barry’s attention back to the present, and he blinked forward to take them out of Len’s hands.
“I’ll throw these in the drier,” he said, and he forced himself to walk at normal speed to the laundry room, where he tossed them in on a low cycle with his jeans.
“So. About that nightcap,” Len said once he returned. He glanced towards the kitchen, then back at Barry. “Don’t suppose you bought mini marshmallows.”
Barry ducked his head to cover his smile. “In the pantry,” he said.
Len gave him a considering look, then nodded, and headed towards the kitchen. To make cocoa, Barry was pretty sure, but also probably to steal something in revenge for his earlier comment about the silverware.
Left alone in the living room with the boxes of heaped lights and garland, and in considerably better spirits than earlier, Barry decided to take another stab at decorating. He sped through getting the lights on the tree, then about half of the ornaments; the rest, he left in their boxes, a last gesture to the hope that the rest of the family would be home to decorate before Christmas was over.
As the smell of melting chocolate joined the scents of wood smoke and pine, Barry couldn’t help but think about the oddity of having Leonard Snart in his home, especially at this time of year. Two years ago, he’d arrived with Iris to find Len waiting in a chair by the fire, and Barry winced to remember how poorly he’d reacted. It had been a matter of wrong place and wrong time; they’d been in the middle of bringing Wally into their family, not to mention dealing with the two—three, as far as Barry had known—escaped Rogues haunting his every step.
In retrospect, he’d probably driven their relationship five steps back in as many minutes. Len had risked everything to bring him that information, after all. It was possible, though Barry didn’t like to think it, that if he hadn’t pushed so hard so fast, it wouldn’t have taken Len joining and leaving the Legends to reach this point: still thieving, yes, but just as likely to use his cold gun to defend the city as he was to rob it.
But whatever the setbacks, they had managed, somehow, to end up here.
Barry caught the quiet sound of a whisk scraping rhythmic circles against the inside of a pot from the kitchen, and tamped down a smile. He took in the room, deciding where to put decorations, when his eyes caught again on the cold gun and parka hanging in its holster from the coat rack.
The sight of them there alongside his own coat snagged at something in his chest that he’d thought he’d long since buried. It was a quiet longing, small and a bit pathetic, more embarrassing than anything else. But Barry made the mistake of entertaining the self-pity for a moment, and the rest of the feelings hit him broadside before he could slam the lid back down.
The hope, the betrayal, the intensity of all the emotions that Len made him feel; the inexplicable way his control was always slipping around him, like Len’s very presence was enough to reach into his chest and turn everything inside him up to eleven.
The gun was an incriminating reminder of the all furtive, guilty glances he’d stolen of that holster wrapped tight around Len’s thigh. And that was on top of was the magnetic way Len drew him in, without fail, coaxing him closer with feinting glances and half-truths until he was worked up enough to push into his space. And then Len would look up, and the knowing flash of blue eyes would be his only warning before Len sprang the trap.
Sometimes, the trap was metaphorical: preferable terms for a team-up or something else that left Barry backpedaling while Len looked on with cool amusement. Other times, it was unfortunately literal: Barry had found his boots gilded to the floor more than once when Lisa had shot him cheerfully from behind while Len distracted him.
Either way, Barry knew his feelings had become tangled. He felt pulled in a hundred directions at once, but somehow, all of them seemed to lead him back to Len. The messy thing between them was clarifying, slowly; neither of them could deny that. But it was resolving into something whose depth and intensity had them both skirting the edges, shying away from confronting it head on. It left them in an odd kind of limbo: stray glances that lingered just a little too long, and touches that withdrew just a little too soon.
But Len was here, despite what appeared to be his better instincts on the matter. And while Barry didn’t regret it, he still wasn’t sure what he’d been thinking when he’d invited him back. He’d been lonely, and he trusted Len. He corrected himself: trust was a maybe an overly strong word where Leonard Snart was concerned. He cared about him, though, maybe more than he should’ve, and he couldn’t deny taking a fascinated, twining enjoyment in his company.
He was still trying to drag himself out of what he knew was a dangerous line of thought when his eyes landed on the mistletoe.
It was an ornament, technically, and old enough that the cherry red paint on the berries was beginning to peel away to reveal the white plastic underneath. Barry had never once given it a second glance when he was decorating the tree with the Wests. But now, alone, with Len in the next room, he found himself hesitating over it.
He knew, rationally, that it was a bad idea. But he found himself deeply, deeply uninterested in rationality at the moment, and he was stepping onto the couch to pin it to the ceiling before he could talk himself out of it.
If it went poorly, he reasoned, he could always brush it off as a joke. He doubted it would be convincing, but he didn’t really care. High risk, high reward; he was pretty sure stealing a kiss from Leonard Snart would be the heist of his lifetime.
He stepped back to look at it, and nodded to himself. Finally having a plan of action was a strangely exhilarating thought; whether Len took him up on it or not, the declaration would be there. There was no else to blame for putting it up.
The thought was triumphant the first time, a little faltering the second, and panicked the third. There was no one else to blame for putting it up.
This had been, Barry realized, a terrible idea. Len was going to think the invitation had been a—a booty call, or else the most fumbling, convoluted attempt at a seduction he’d ever see.
Barry jumped back onto the couch, and was just reaching for the hook when a voice from the dining room froze him to the spot.
“Any particular reason you’re hanging holly above the couch?”
Barry didn’t look over at first, panic at being caught stalling his thoughts to white noise. Then the words caught up to him, and he blinked: first at the decoration an inch from his hands, then at Len. He was watching him with an utterly impassive expression, a mug held casually in one hand where he leaned against the door frame.
Len pushed off the wall with an easy grace, the cocoa in his mug barely stirring at the movement, and sauntered closer. “Holly,” he repeated, seeing the confusion on Barry’s face. “The berries are red.” He placed the mug down on the table in front of the couch, and looked up at the plant, apparently uninterested in the blush that Barry could feel scorching his cheeks. “Mistletoe is white.”
Barry looked at him, speechless. He wasn’t entirely sure which reason he would list on the note he left to the team, explaining why he’d had to leave the country so suddenly: that Len had caught him trying to hang mistletoe, or that he’d caught him failing to.
Len stepped onto the couch next to him, then reached up, brushing Barry’s hands away with an impatient flick.
Barry dropped them, embarrassment giving way to the creep of shame up the back of his neck. He could feel Len’s heat this close, a scant couple inches between them, and he tried desperately to focus on anything else. He held his hand out, resigned, and waited for Len to drop the cheerful plastic plant into it.
After a few moments of silence, he glanced up from his empty palm, and furrowed his brow in confusion. Len wasn’t taking the holly down, but appeared to be fiddling with something on it. As Barry watched, Len scratched at a bit of the flaking red paint, then peeled a long strip of it carefully away from the plastic underneath.
After a couple repetitions of this, the paint was mostly peeled away, and Len picked off the couple remaining flecks with a critical eye. Then he let go of the decoration, leaving it to swing lightly from its hook, and dropped the scraps of paint into the hand that Barry had forgotten he was holding out.
Finally, Len tilted his gaze at him. He looked up, once, pointedly, and Barry glanced in confusion at the little plant, as he suspected he was supposed to. When he brought his eyes back down, Len was looking at him with sharp intent, and Barry realized how close they were, barely inches between them. He could feel Len’s breath, smell a hint of his aftershave.
“Now,” Len said, reaching out to brush away a flake of paint that drifted down onto Barry’s shoulder, “it’s mistletoe.”
Barry looked up again, stared for a long, disbelieving second at the little ball of white plastic, and then back at Len.
Len smirked, and Barry paused just long enough to call him a couple of unflattering names before he dragged him in by the front of his shirt and kissed him.
It took a hard grip on his self-control to keep the kiss chaste, but Barry managed; just a demanding press of his lips to Len’s, more a firm statement of intent than anything else.
But Len made a quiet noise in the back of his throat, and he pulled back an inch to give Barry an amused look. Barry had just enough time to blush, reaching desperately for the first excuse he could find, before Len tipped his jaw for a better angle and kissed him again.
Barry froze for a moment, too surprised to kiss him back. Then Len stroked light fingers down Barry’s jaw, coaxing him closer, and Barry gave in to the shiver that chased up his spine.
Len shifted again to catch his lower lip, and gave it a last, lingering press before drawing away.
Barry was thankful, distantly, that Len had thought to break the kiss; he’d been having a hard time trying to convince himself to loosen the hand he’d tangled in the front of Len’s shirt instead of pulling him forward.
“Acknowledging this is a kettle-pot situation,” Len said, close enough that Barry could still feel his breath on his lips, “you do know there were significantly less elaborate plans that would’ve produced this result?”
Barry ducked his head with a rueful grin, and flashed Len a dry look. “Yeah, nothing about this was in the plan,” he said.
Len rolled his eyes, but there was something a little furtive in his expression. He met Barry’s gaze for a fleeting moment before glancing down at his mouth again, then ghosting his thumb over his lower lip.
“I know the feeling,” Len said.
He dropped his hand, and Barry could swear he could still feel the touch when Len stepped out of his space, then back to the carpet.
Barry watched him cross the few feet to the hearth and kneel in front of the fireplace. Then his rational brain, which was gradually recovering from the feeling of Len’s mouth against his, politely reminded him that there was no reason for him not to still be kissing Len, and he cleared the coffee table in a blitz of yellow lightning.
He had the poker from Len’s hand and the grate back in place before Len could blink. A moment later, he was back, draping himself over Len’s lap with his arms over his shoulders, thighs bracketing his. The fire was warm against his side, nearly as hot as Len was through his clothes.
“What was that?” Barry asked.
Len shot him an annoyed look as he shifted his legs to a more comfortable position, but made no move to push him off. “What was what?”
Barry dropped his voice into an exaggerated drawl, overshooting Len’s voice by about half an octave as he mimicked: “‘I know the feeling.’”
“Didn’t think it needed elaboration.”
Barry raised an eyebrow, but Len was studiously avoiding his gaze.
“A little elaboration might not be terrible,” Barry said. When Len still didn’t move his gaze from the far wall, Barry steeled his spine, and pressed on: “See, I have kind of a stupid number of feelings for you.” This finally won him a sharp glance from Len, even if it was only a fleeting one. “I guess what I’m wondering is, any chance it’s one of those that you’re so familiar with?”
Len didn’t quite sigh, but there was something resigned about the way he exhaled all the same. And then, after a moment, one of his hands found Barry’s waist. “Making this a lot more complicated than it needs to be,” he said.
A year earlier, Barry might’ve taken the carefully neutral tone for ambivalence; now, he knew guarded when he heard it. So he tilted his head, trying again to catch Len’s eye, and said: “I thought complicated was your specialty.”
The glare it earned him was flatly unimpressed, but Len still leaned in to kiss the answering smirk off of his lips.
Barry wasted no time sharpening the kiss this time, catching Len’s face between his hands and nipping urgently at Len’s lower lip until he parted them for him. He pressed forward, memorizing the taste of him, and made a low approving noise when Len’s other hand came up to circle his waist.
Len’s grip tightened at the sound, and Barry slipped his tongue between his lips shamelessly, slipping one hand around to scrape appreciative nails against the top of Len’s spine.
Len allowed him to control the kiss for a few moments, apparently content to let him set the pace. But he was sliding his hands steadily lower, distracting Barry from his exploration of Len’s mouth. First brushing his fingers over Barry’s hips, then the tops of his thighs; then he gripped his ass in both hands and pulled him in flush.
Barry groaned against Len’s mouth and tightened his thighs around him, chasing that teasing pressure even as Len’s hands ghosted away again. Len slipped his fingers into his hair, cupping the back of his skull; Barry made an embarrassing noise of encouragement into his mouth, hoping he would pull. But then Len’s other hand caught him under a thigh, and it was the only warning Barry got before Len rolled them over and tipped him onto the ground.
Barry’s head bounced harmlessly off the carpet, thanks to the cushion of Len’s hand, but he still pulled back to ask, a little breathless, for a warning next time. Len silenced his complaints with a bruising kiss, his stubble scraping against Barry’s skin in a way that left him scrambling to get a fresh grip in Len’s shirt.
Still, Len kept a bit of distance between them, caging Barry back against the rug but not nearly as close as the skin-to-skin Barry needed. Barry tried to spread his thighs in obvious invitation, but Len ignored the request, focusing instead on teasing a bruise into life under the corner of his jaw.
Barry snapped Len’s name, impatient, and hooked his leg over Len’s waist to try to pull him in. Len breathed an exasperated reprimand against Barry’s neck, but he leaned up to kiss him again, and Barry angled closer with a pleased hum.
Len finally brought their bodies flush as he reclaimed his mouth, an intoxicating weight against Barry that made him groan into Len’s mouth. Len got a hand under his shirt and rucked it up, sliding his hand over his stomach, and Barry shivered at the prickle of heat from the fireplace against his bare side.
Barry took his hands off Len just long enough to help him pull the shirt over his head, then slid them over his shoulders, memorizing the way Len shivered at the drag of nails down his spine, and reeled him back in.
The soft pants Barry had gotten Len were doing nothing to hide the way Len was getting hard against his hip, and Barry had to force his powers down to keep a vibration from shimmering into his fingers.
Len braced one forearm against the carpet and slid the other down Barry’s side as he kissed him, leaving a scorching trail across his skin that the fire couldn’t hope to match. Len dropped his head to scrape his teeth over his pulse point, and Barry dropped his head back and pushed his hips up to meet Len’s.
The carpet was soft under his back, and the few lights he’d managed to get strung glittered in his peripherals. The jazz record was still crooning as Len kissed his way down his neck, and when he reached his shoulder, Barry realized with a flush that he was mapping his freckles. It felt, just for a moment, unbearably intimate; then he remembered Len’s averted gaze, his soft, “I know the feeling,” and Barry dragged him up for another desperate kiss.
Len rocked against him in a steady rhythm, torturously slow, dragging his hard length against Barry’s through the thin material of their pants. Barry tried to distract himself with the movement of Len’s lips against him, but he only managed to last a couple minutes before dropping his head back against the carpet to catch his breath.
“Len, please,” he said. “I need…”
Len dropped another kiss to his parted lips, then said, “Pants.”
Barry let go of him, untangling their legs to fumble with his drawstring. Len pulled the pajamas down his thighs, then leaned back to drag them over his feet. He cast them somewhere in the direction of the couch, then slid his hands up Barry’s bare calves. He braced one hand on the carpet, and cupped Barry through his underwear with the other.
Barry made a broken sound of relief and pushed up into his palm. Above him, Len stilled, watching him with rapt attention. He felt on display with Len still dressed, and wanted him skin-to-skin an hour ago. But before he could ask, Len stroked him through his boxers, long and considering, and Barry arched desperately into the touch, a vibration tripping down his body.
Len repeated the motion, maddeningly slow, not anything close to what Barry wanted. He pulled Len down by the front of his shirt, making Len catch himself with both hands before he unbalanced.
Barry snapped the waistband of Len’s pants, and said: “Off.”
The shirt was implicit, and he saw Len’s jaw tick when he picked up on it.
“Could take you apart just like this,” Len said, shifting his weight to one hand to trail his fingers up the inside of Barry’s thigh.
It was a tempting offer, and his tone said he meant it. But Barry hadn’t come this far not to have all of him, and he flashed Len his best look of earnest concern.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a fire hazard,” he said. “And I’d really rather not have to explain this to Joe when he asks how the house got burned down.”
Len rolled his eyes, but he bit back his objections and let Barry drag the shirt over his head.
There were scars and tattoos in equal measure and Barry wanted to spend hours exploring them, but the tension in Len’s expression suggested it wouldn’t be welcome. So Barry pulled him down and kissed him, kept his hands above Len’s shoulders until Len began to relax against him.
Len pushed his hand into Barry’s hair and held him still while he licked into his mouth. Barry sucked on his tongue with a helpless moan that made Len tighten the grip in his hair and rock a little harder against him, more of a thrust this time.
Len pulled back to strip out of the pants and Barry’s pulse fluttered at the sight of the thick curve of Len’s cock. He knew he wasn’t desperate enough to go slinking into his old room for the dusty box of condoms in the dresser, but it was a close thing. He wanted to feel Len so badly his hands were shaking with it, wanted to feel him buried deep inside him when he came.
But he was close, and Len’s clever fingers were already pulling his underwear down. He got them lined up when he leaned back in, and tangled his fingers back into his hair as he kissed him deep and hard.
Barry allowed it for a few minutes, then pulled away with an impatient huff. When Len only moved to his attentions back to his neck, Barry wiggled an arm free, licked his palm, and reached between them to get his hand around them both.
He was on edge, and knew he wouldn’t last much longer with the possessive way Len reclaimed his mouth, kissing him relentlessly. Len got a fistful of his hair and pulled his head back roughly to kiss him deeper, and Barry gasped, hips jerking up in response. His fingers were slick with his precome on the next stroke, and Len grinded closer to him, twisting his hand a little tighter to make him moan against Len’s lips as he arched up again.
Len was kissing him too thoroughly to let Barry warn him he was close, but the way Len was rocking into his hand, forcing Barry to match his rhythm, suggested he wasn’t far behind.
Len raked his teeth over his neck, and Barry moaned, tipping his head back to breathe Len’s name in warning. Len gave up on the assault on his neck and dropped his head against his shoulder, then reached back to hitch Barry’s leg higher. He thrust into his hand again, cock sliding against Barry’s, and Barry’s control slipped.
His powers shimmered through, fingers vibrating as he sped his hand around them, and Len bit his shoulder hard and muffled a groan against his skin. Barry moved his hand faster, vibrations ratcheting higher. Len laved his tongue against the spot then pressed his teeth in again, and the pleasure tipped Barry over the edge. He bit his nails into Len’s hip as he spilled onto his stomach with a hoarse cry, and the intensity of the vibrations had Len following him moments later.
He came back to himself to Len gingerly nudging his still-shimmering hand from him. Len started to sit up, shifting onto one hip, but Barry stopped him with a weak bat to his naked side.
“Don’t—” he started. “I don’t want to have to dry-clean this rug. Just, give me a second.”
Len looked at him like he’d grown a second head, so Barry hauled himself out of his shaky-limbed haze to drag Len to the bathroom, too sated to even think about running.
Len took the towel from him and cleaned him up with wandering hands that had Barry flustered again before long. Len took his time, a little too intent in wiping away the come streaked on his stomach, and Barry finally had to catch his hands with an embarrassed mumble about his metahuman refractory period and not starting something he wasn’t going to finish.
Len was too pleased with the discovery to put up much of a fuss when Barry dragged him down onto the couch.
“You do have a bed here, if I’m not mistaken,” he said, but he didn’t shake Barry off when he threw an arm over his stomach and tucked in against his side.
“It’s festive down here,” Barry said.
“Fire’s going out.”
“You’re welcome to sleep on the porch.”
Len huffed a laugh against his hair, but finally settled back into the cushions. Barry twined a little closer to his warmth, and he fell asleep to the feeling of Len’s fingers tracing the already-healing bite mark at the base of his neck.
It took nearly twenty minutes for Len to wake him the next morning, and it was only when Len sucked a bruise under his ear and muttered, “Just trying to make coffee” that Barry finally let him up.
He’d barely gotten a step from the couch, though, when Barry changed his mind and dragged him back in for another kiss. Len chased his lips when he broke away, sending a thrill of Barry’s spine and pulling a breathless smile from him.
Len rolled his eyes, but there was a touch of color to his cheeks, and he let Barry kiss him again before saying: “Brush your teeth. Maybe I’ll share the coffee.”
“My coffee,” Barry reminded him, and Len waved him off as he made his way towards the kitchen.
The doorbell rang as Barry was shimmying back into his pajama pants, and he paused, glancing in confusion at the snow still falling in the early light outside. He pulled his shirt over his head all the same, and ambled over to open the door.
Iris nearly knocked them both over with the force of her hug, and it was only the threat of falling that made Barry remember to wrap his arms around her.
“I told you we’d figure it out!” she said, and the others—Joe, Wally, Cisco and Caitlin; even Harry Wells and Jesse—chirped hellos and Merry Christmases from the porch.
Barry felt Iris still against him, and she drew back as the others streamed around them out of the cold to fix him with a look of surprise.
“Barry,” she said, voice low, a hint of disbelieving humor pulling up on her lips. “You reek of sex.”
Barry tried to get a hand over her mouth before she could say anything more, but she sidestepped him easily.
“Whoever you’ve been doing, you’d better have washed that hand since,” she said.
She’d meant it teasingly, but one glance at his face was enough to read the panic there.
“Oh my god,” she said. “They’re not still—?“
Barry gave her a desperate look, glancing at the others.
“Barry,” she said, in that scandalized voice of hers that was more delighted than anything, and he groaned and hurried her inside.
Caitlin was just stepping past Harry to place her jacket on the coat rack when Barry saw the parka and cold gun still hanging there. There was no time to worry about acting suspicious; he sped around the group to snag the gun and parka, and stashed them in the closet before taking quick stock of the room. He straightened the blanket on the back of the couch, then shoved the cold mug of cocoa into the closet with the parka, resolving to deal with it later.
When he finally came to a stop, it was with the surprised eye of everyone in the room on him.
“Uh,” he said, struggling to find an excuse. “Your presents.”
“Well, we’re about to do them anyway,” Cisco said, looking at him closely.
Jesse and Wally, he realized, were giving him twin suspicious looks, and he wondered how much of it that movement they’d tracked. Wally glanced pointedly at the closet, and Barry shook his head minutely.
There was a chance Len could get out the side door in the kitchen, if he moved fast enough. But he didn’t have his coat, let alone the boots that Barry had just noticed still heaped next to his by the door. Len was resourceful, though; Barry was sure he would come up with—
“Well, well, well,” Len said, sounding far too cheerful by half, and Barry closed his eyes for a moment to spare himself the way everyone spun in alarm towards the other side of the living room. “Isn’t this cozy.”
He had taken no pains to make anything about his presence look any less incriminating. He was propped lazily against the hearth, and he took a long draw on his coffee to give everyone time to take stock of his appearance.
The stubble on his jaw was more pronounced than Barry had realized, and he was still dressed in the clothes Barry had lent him the night before. Smug satisfaction radiated off every inch of him, and there were fading scratch marks on one shoulder that Barry was pretty sure he’d had to have adjusted his collar specifically to make visible.
Joe broke the silence first.
“What is this man doing in my home?” he asked, not taking his eyes off of Len, although the question was clearly aimed elsewhere.
“Barry, I think,” Wally offered.
Barry threw him a betrayed look, but Wally only shrugged.
“No,” Cisco said, even as Caitlin put a hand to her mouth and began to nod. “No, Barry wouldn’t— he’d never…” He looked from Len to Barry, then gasped, “Dude!”
Barry cringed, and opened his mouth to explain, but Cisco silenced him with an outraged, “We have a no Snarts rule!”
“What— you broke that first!” Barry said, without thinking, and Cisco’s eyes went wide as his gaze flickered back toward Len.
Barry turned just in time to see the amusement slip out of Len’s eyes, but Iris stepped forward before Len had the chance to straighten out of his affected slouch.
“Guys. Guys!” she said. “It’s Christmas. Surely we can manage a truce for one day?”
Barry was reminded for perhaps the thousandth time how ready he was to die for her, but Joe looked at her in outright disbelief.
“Morning,” she amended quickly. “For one morning?”
Joe stopped inching towards the gun safe, and Barry called it a win.
“Afraid I’ve left everyone’s presents at home,” Len said, turning his gaze boredly away as if he hadn’t been locked in a staring contest with Joe a moment earlier.
“I suppose there’s no better way to keep him out of trouble than surrounded by speedsters,” Harry offered.
Len’s eyes sharpened at that, and Jesse raised her hand in a jaunty, if slightly confused wave.
Harry pushed it back down. “That doesn’t mean talk to him,” he hissed.
Iris came to the rescue again, eyeing Len’s mug as she asked, “Is there more coffee?”
Len turned his gaze on her, all smooth charm. "Milk and sugar?
“One sugar,” Iris said. Her glance told him he was on thin ice, but Len inclined his head and slipped back towards the kitchen.
Barry watched him go, then turned around to find everyone staring at him again.
“I’ll help,” Barry said, a little hysterically. “Coffee for everyone?” he asked, and zipped away before anyone could answer.
In the kitchen, Len was lining up mugs on the counter next to the coffee maker.
“You don’t have to stay,” Barry blurted out.
Len looked up slowly, then turned to him, expression carefully blank.
“I just…” Barry dragged a hand over the back of his neck. He couldn’t look at Len straight on, not with the scratches still visible under the collar of his shirt. “I know this isn’t what you signed up for. Not that you signed up for anything,” he hurried to amend. “But if you, uh, did want to. Sign up for something.”
He managed a quick glance back at Len, and the air went out of him when he found him still watching him. “Look,” he said. “We don’t have to do this now. If you—”
Barry finally met his eye, and Len pushed off the counter and began making his way across the small space.
“You’re a badge,” Len said, tilting his head to keep Barry’s from dropping his gaze again. “You’re a metahuman.” He came to a stop just in front of him, close enough that Barry could feel the warmth radiating off of him. “You can save this entire city without breaking a sweat...” He slipped a hand over his jaw and Barry swayed helplessly into the touch. “... And somehow, you can’t tell the difference between mistletoe and holly.”
Barry breathed a shaky laugh, and Len traced his thumb over his bottom lip.
“Trust me, Barry,” Len said, leaning in until their lips were just barely brushing, “I know exactly what I signed up for.”
Barry surged forward to close the remaining space between them, catching Len’s face between his hands as he pressed their mouths together in a desperate kiss. He shut his eyes hard to hide the tears that threatened, but the fond exasperation in Len’s eyes when he pulled back told him he hadn’t succeeded.
“Shut up,” Barry said, then leaned in to press another kiss to the side of Len’s mouth anyway. “It’s Christmas.”
“So I gathered,” Len said, and Barry rolled his eyes.
“Would it kill you to just say ‘merry Christmas’?”
“No,” Len said. “But your father still might.”
Barry grinned despite himself. “Just bring him coffee,” he said, “and let me handle the rest.”
He started to step back from Len’s space, but Len curled his hand around the back of his neck before he could get far.
Barry raised a questioning eyebrow, and Len drew him in for another lingering kiss. Barry melted against him, twining his arms around his neck as Len slipped a hand to his lower back.
The coffee was forgotten by the time they broke away, Len pulling back just far enough to rest his forehead against Barry’s. “Merry Christmas,” he said, voice quiet, and Barry shivered at the feeling of the fingers still tracing a pattern on his lower back.
“Yeah,” he said. He leaned in to press his lips to the corner of Len’s mouth, then smiled. “I think it really is.”