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Destiny is Not Desire

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Prelude

The idea that he and Iris will one day be together has been the cornerstone of Barry’s existence for as long as he can remember. They’re soulmates, after all.

Sure, Barry knows that not all soulmate bonds are romantic, but most of them are, and he’s always known how he feels about her. Even when they were kids he’d confidently assure people that they were going to get married one day. The way that Iris always rolled her eyes and said, ”No, we won’t,” never deterred him, not when the adults who saw their marks nodded knowingly.

It’s not that he doesn’t believe her when she says she’s not in love with him. It’s just, his life keeps changing and he keeps changing with it, so he assumes it’s only that he hasn’t turned into the person she’ll fall in love with yet. The only time get gets really worried is after he settles in at the CCPD. After all, this has to be his final form, right? Why is Iris still looking at him the same way she always has? Why is she still dating other people?

But then the particle accelerator explodes.

Once Barry wakes up, he figures this explains everything. Joe’s insistence on keeping his identity secret is doubly hard to swallow because surely this is what Iris needs to change how she feels about him, to make her realize that Eddie might be a good guy, but he isn’t her soulmate.

Barry is stunned when, after they get Eddie back from his kidnapping, Iris agrees to marry him.

Barry can’t help but think that this means that Eddie is going to die. After all, the future newspaper said West-Allen. A small, guilty, awful part of him hopes for it.

Cisco is the one who suggests that if Eobard is Eddie’s descendent, a vasectomy could solve their problem. Caitlin is the one is reminds them that even if his sperm doesn’t get ejaculated naturally, someone could still take it directly from the source, as it were.

Eddie is the one who suggests castration.

They go through with it, and they know it works because Thawne shows up at Star Labs in the middle of the procedure, smugly confident that Barry will give in and go along with his plan.

Watching him fade out of existence on the monitors is less satisfying than Barry thought it would be. Iris looks more in love with Eddie than ever, full of admiration for his sacrifice.

 

One

Barry slips out of the cortex while the others are still laughing and hugging each other. They won. He should be celebrating. He’s sure he will, later, but right now he just feels drained. The grey, concrete corridors of the labs seem bleak.

When he finds himself in front of the time vault Barry hesitates, then lets himself in. The future newspaper is displaying a completely different article now, reporting the Flash victorious in a fight. That should be amazing news, but the byline is Iris West-Thawne.

He’s still standing there when Iris finds him.

“Barry?” she asks carefully. “Is everything okay?”

“You never doubted that our soulmate bond was platonic, did you?” he asks, not looking away from the article. No matter how in love Barry had felt, in the face of her certainty he had doubted.

Iris stops next to him, silent, and Barry turns to see that she’s looking at the article, too. She almost seems to glow in the bright lights of the time vault, but Barry knows that’s just how he sees her. Or maybe it’s the light from the projected article, or the way her eyes brighten when she sees the byline.

After a moment she turns to meet his gaze. She smiles and reaches out to touch his hand. “The idea just never felt right to me,” she says. “You’re my best friend. You’re incredibly important to me. Having you as a part of my family has always felt essential. Adding a romantic relationship to that… the thought of it is,” she makes an inarticulate gesture, searching for the words before biting her lip and settling on, “suffocating.”

Barry winces.

“I’m sorry,” Iris goes on, reaching up to push a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m not saying what you feel isn’t real. But us, together? It’s not meant to be. I hope… I hope you can be happy for me. And I hope that one day you’ll find someone of your own.”

Barry scrapes up a smile. Iris has always been honest with him and supported him. It’s not her fault she’s not in love with him. “Thanks,” he says. “And I am happy for you. It’s just going to take some getting used to.”

‘Some’ turns out to be an enormous understatement.

Barry built his entire life on two pillars of faith: his father’s innocence and an eventual romance with Iris. Now one of those pillars has been knocked out from underneath him. He spends every second he can working, either as a CSI or as he Flash, because work is just about the only thing that makes him feel normal.

There isn’t even anyone he can go to for advice. Everyone he knows has a romantic bond, hasn’t met their partner yet, or has no mark at all. Barry almost gets desperate enough to talk to Eddie, even if being unmarked isn’t much like finding out your bond isn’t what you thought it was, but Wells--Eobard--had used Eddie’s lack of a mark against him, and Barry can’t bring himself to poke at a wound like that.

Actually, there is one person he knows who has a platonic soulmate, because Barry read it in his records before he destroyed them. Leonard Snart, platonically bonded with Mick Rory. But even if Barry was willing to talk to Snart about something so personal, even if Snart was willing to talk to him, what was he supposed to do, walk into Saints and Sinners and sit down for a chat like Ferris Air hadn’t happened?

Somehow, that’s exactly what he does.

After nearly five hours of wedding planning with Iris, Eddie, Caitlin, Ronnie, and Joe, the thought that Snart or one of his associates might put a bullet in Barry sounds like a nice change of pace.

Saints and Sinners is even darker now than it was the last time Barry was here, even though the daylight hadn’t made it past the entryway then. Between the felt of the pool table and the lights off the pinball machines everything is tinged red. Barry’s honestly not sure if that’s for the Sinners part of the ambiance or if it’s to hide blood.

A quick glance around reveals Snart alone in one of the booths. That’s a stroke of luck of some kind. Barry strides across the room and slides onto the bench across from Snart.

Snart goes still for a long moment. There’s a plate of nachos in front of him. They don’t exactly look appetizing, too limp with runny salsa and oil from the cheese because Saints and Sinners doesn’t buy high quality anything, but Barry is always hungry and still feeling reckless, so he reaches out and tugs a couple free and eats them.

“Hungry?” Snart says dryly.

“Yeah.” Barry takes another nacho even though he knows damn well that wasn’t an invitation.

“I didn’t expect to see you again.” Snart smirks. “Except maybe on the other side of my cold gun.”

“I need advice,” Barry says baldly, because he’s got a feeling the best way to cut the taunting short is with surprise.

It works: Snart’s eyebrows actually go up and he sits back against the cracked vinyl backing the booth. “Have you forgotten how it went the last time you asked for my help?”

“I didn’t say help,” Barry shoots back. “I said advice.” He takes another nacho. Snart doesn’t stop him. Is that a good sign? It seems like a good sign. “It’s personal,” Barry goes on, wiping up a salsa drip rather than look at Snart, “and there is absolutely nothing for me to lose or you to gain by you giving me bad advice, so I figured I’ve give it a shot.”

“What on Earth could you possibly need my advice on? I would have thought you’d go to… literally anyone else first.” Despite the sharp tone, curiosity comes through. That’s definitely a good sign.

Barry makes himself look at Snart. “I would,” he agrees. “Except that you’re the only person I know who has a platonic soulmate bond.”

Snart’s eyes narrow and he just watches Barry for a long time. Barry continues to steal nachos and waits. Snart certainly would have done research on him after finding out the Flash’s identity, so he must know that Iris is Barry’s soulmate, and that their bond status is listed as “disputed” in his medical files. That’s the word they use when the people involved in the bond have met but disagree about the nature of the bond. Barry needs to file the paperwork to update it--that’s on him, not on Iris, since it’s his evaluation that’s has to change--but he can’t handle taking that step just yet.

“I wouldn’t have expected you to lose faith after so long,” Snart says finally. He pushes the plate of nachos across the table. Barry’s not sure if that’s meant as a comforting gesture or a surrender to the fact that Barry has eaten at least half of them already.

“I got a peek into the future,” Barry says. His shoulders slump, remembering. He rubs a thumb over a chip in the table’s clouded varnish. “It’s one thing to keep faith when your soulmate is dating someone else. It’s another thing when they’ve been married for ten years.”

“And now what?” Snart challenges him. He flicks a dismissive finger at Barry. “Your future is bleak because your bond is only platonic? Your soulmate matters less because you’re not the love of her life?”

Barry’s head jerks up, taken aback by the venom that suffuses Snart’s tone. “Do people really say that about Mick?” he asks, horrified.

Snart stops, eyes Barry, and snorts. “Not anymore,” he says, smirking. Barry can’t help rolling his eyes. Snart sobers. “They’ll say it about you and Iris, too, once they find out.”

“Great,” Barry sighed. How was he supposed to defend his soulmate bond if he hadn’t even figured it out? He stuffed a nacho into his mouth.

“So if that wasn’t what was bothering you, what was?” Snart asks.

Barry shrugs and swallows the mouthful of nacho. “I had a really clear picture of the future in my head, you know? Even after…” he waves, meaning becoming the Flash. “Everything made sense. Now it doesn’t. Iris proves that a platonic bond doesn’t mean giving up on romance, but I don’t even know where to begin. And if I do find someone, how are our lives going to fit together? What would that look like? Where does Iris fit in?” Barry waves his hands, feeling helplessly frantic as question after question spills out of him. “Isn’t your soulmate the most important person in the world to you? Where does that leave a potential partner? Do they have to be unmarked, like Eddie? How many unmarked people even are there?” He runs out of breath and gasps it in for a second before rubbing his hands over his face. “Oh my God, why did you let me go on like that?”

“Seemed like you needed it,” Snart says simply. Barry lowers his hands. Snart looks relaxed. He’s gone from wary readiness to something that can only be described as lounging. For the first time, Barry notices that he’s not wearing his jacket--it’s on the seat beside him--and he’s not visibly armed. Sure, there could be something under the jacket, but Snart is resting one hand on the table and the other across the back of the booth. He looks like he’s settled in for a good chat.

“You’re being way nicer about this than I expected,” Barry admits.

Snart tilts his head. “And you came to talk to me anyway.” Barry shrugs. He already explained that, didn’t he? Snart reaches out and takes one of his nachos back, gesturing with it. “So which of those questions did you actually want me to answer?” He eats the nacho.

Barry groans. “I don’t even know where to start. It feels like one big mess in my head right now.”

“In that case, let’s start with the two questions you asked that actually have answers,” Snart says. Wait, Barry actually asked questions that had answers? Encouraged, he nods. “First off, how many unmarked are there? The answer is about one percent of the population.” Barry winces and Snart rolls his eyes. “There are fourteen million people in Central City alone, Scarlet. One percent is a hundred and forty thousand people. That doesn’t account for platonic bonds and widows, either. If that’s not enough opportunity for you, you’ve got a whole other problem.”

“Oh.” Barry frowns. “But people talk about it as if it’s incredibly rare.”

“Most people don’t bother to look up from their own narrow lives,” Snart says. “If you’ve only ever made the acquaintance of a hundred people, then it would seem rare. That doesn’t mean it is.”

“Huh.” That was weirdly encouraging, despite the way Snart had put it. “What’s the other question with an answer?”

“‘Isn’t your soulmate the most important person in the world to you?’” Snart quotes. “To which the answer is no, they aren’t. Not by definition, anyway.”

“But… how is that possible?” Barry asks. “I mean, they’re your soulmate. How do you have a connection deeper than that?”

“Soulmates don’t have anything to do with ‘connection’,” Snart says. “Haven’t you done any reading on this?”

Barry shakes his head. “I’ve kind of been avoiding thinking about it at all.”

“You’d think a scientist would prioritize research more,” Snart needles, but he doesn’t wait for Barry’s reaction before going on. “Your soulmate is the person necessary for you to become the person you’re meant to be. Or the ‘truest version of yourself’.” Barry can hear the quotes. “Depends on if the person describing it is a nature or a nurture type. Either way, you don’t necessarily even need to like your soulmate.” Snart takes on a contemplative air. “There’s a couple of cases of bitter enemies being matched to each other.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Barry says slowly. “But then why are romantic bonds so common?”

Snart shrugs. “Why wouldn’t the average person fall in love with someone who makes them feel more completely themself? Isn’t that why you fell in love with Iris?”

Part of Barry wants to say no, to insist that Iris is special, but he asked for Snart’s advice, didn’t he? If he’s honest, the more he thinks about it, the more that does describe the way being with Iris feels. She makes him feel complete. Anchored. “I guess so,” he admits. “But if that’s what being a soulmate means, then I’m never going to stop loving her.”

Snart arches his eyebrows. “Do you want to?”

“I want a partner.”

“Oh, please,” Snart scoffs. “People are perfectly capable of loving more than one person at a time, despite what soppy soulmate romances would have you believe.”

Okay, fair enough, but… “What kind of partner would want to be with me, knowing that I’m also in love with my soulmate?” Barry asks doubtfully.

“One worth being with,” Snart says intently. “One who trusts you. Anything less isn’t worth it anyway.”

Barry thinks about that for a while. Absently, he shoves another nacho into his mouth, grimacing when he discovers they’ve gone cold. It doesn’t improve the taste. “So where do I go from here?”

Snart shrugs. “Wherever you want.”

Wherever you want.

It’s an alien thought. Barry’s had his whole life planned since he was 11 years old. Nearly every decision made since then has been a question of either What am I meant to do? or What does my dad need me to do?

When was the last time he asked himself what he wanted?

“I think I need to do some thinking,” Barry says finally. He smiles. “Thanks, Snart.”

“Don’t mention it,” Snart says dryly. He probably means that literally. Barry’s about to stand when Snart drops his hand to his jacket. He doesn’t come up with a weapon, but with a pen. Tugging a napkin into reach, he scrawls something on it and flicks it across the table. It reminds Barry uncomfortably of their negotiation before Ferris Air, but this napkin only bears a phone number. Barry raises his eyebrows at Snart.

“It’s not good for us to be seen together too often,” Snart says. “You can reach me there if you need to talk soulmates again.”

“Why are you being so nice about this?” Barry asks.

“I can stop, if you want,” Snart says. He reaches out, as if to take the number back, but Barry doesn’t even need his superspeed to snatch the napkin away. Snart snorts. “Get out of here, Scarlet.”

Barry goes, phone number securely tucked into one of his own jacket’s zippered pockets. Just to be safe.

 

Two.

Barry doesn’t expect to actually use the phone number Snart gave him. Sure, the man was kinder and more helpful than Barry had any right to expect, but Barry has finished unburdening himself and he has plenty to think about. More than enough to find his own path from here, right? After a week, he even gets his feet under himself enough to file the paperwork to have his soulmate declaration changed from romantic to platonic.

That’s when things get messed up.

He files the paperwork just before he leaves for the day on a Friday because he knows how CCPD gossip works and he’s hoping that by the time he’s back on Monday the novelty will have worn off a bit.

But then there’s a murder on Saturday and he has to go in. No one says anything at the crime scene, although later Barry isn’t sure if that’s because the uniforms are being decent or if they’re just keeping their mouths shut because Joe is around. So he gets the evidence collected and he’s starting to hope that his soulmate status isn’t such big gossip item after all when he gets back to the lab.

He hasn’t even finished getting the first piece of evidence out of its bag before one of the other CSIs, Kelly, comes into his lab.

“Hey, Kelly,” Barry greets her. “You need something?” Their labs are their kingdoms; mostly they socialize around the shared machines.

“No,” she says. “I just… well, I wanted to say I was sorry to hear about Iris.”

Barry doesn’t get it at first. If something had happened to her, there’s no way Kelly would hear about it before him and Joe. “What are you talking about?”

Kelly shrugs. “I heard you changed your status declaration. I wanted to give you my condolences.”

She leaves while Barry is still staring at her in disbelief.

Kelly is the first, but she’s not the last. Not by a long shot. The day is full of people he would have said he’s friendly with telling him they’re sorry and people who dislike him making snide remarks about how unsurprised they are that he doesn’t have a real soulmate. The absolute cap on the shittiest day ever is that when he vents to Joe about how awful the comments are, Joe tells him that he shouldn’t give up. That things still might not work out for Eddie and Iris.

Barry doesn’t have the energy to argue with him, not after a day full of this bullshit. So he just stands up and goes to his room and closes the door. All he wants in the world is someone who knows how he’s feeling. Someone who’s been there. So he calls Snart.

The phone rings exactly once before Snart picks up. “Snart.”

“Do you have a minute?” Barry says, only realizing after he speaks that his voice is shaking. “Actually, more than a minute. A few minutes. Maybe an hour. I’d don’t know. It’s been a shitty day.”

“Go ahead,” Snart says, and there’s something in the way he says it that makes Barry think he knows exactly what made the day so bad. That makes it easier to pour it all out.

It’s not just his voice that’s shaking with agitated energy, so he paces back and forth next to his bed while he talks. And talks. And talks. When he finally gets to the end of it Barry discovers, to his surprise, that it’s not Joe or the assholes that bother him the most. He takes a minute to catch his breath--he half thinks he didn’t take a breath through the whole rant and wonders if it was even intelligible--and then repeats the worst of the comments: “Condolences. Like, six people gave me condolences, as if Iris had died. Who does that?”

Barry knows there’s no real answer, so he’s not surprised when Snart doesn’t try to give him one. “It’s not going to stop,” Snart says instead. “The comments will get less sympathetic, and they won’t stop.”

Barry sits down on his bed heavily. The springs squeak loudly. “I thought you said they did, before.”

“Because I made them stop,” Snart reminds him. “If you’re willing to break someone’s teeth, or worse, for making a snide comment, please invite me along. It’s very satisfying.”

“Did you--” ever kill anyone for it? Barry swallows the words. Even if it wasn’t a stupid question, Barry doesn’t really want to know. He feels like he should apologize, for some reason, but Snart isn’t likely to respond well to that. “How did you and Mick meet?” he asks instead, and hopes that’s not crossing a line. They’re still talking soulmates, right?

Snart goes quiet for a minute, and Barry bites his tongue to make himself wait. Snart would tell him if he didn’t want to talk about it.

“In juvie,” Snart says finally. “I was 14. It was my first time, and I didn’t know how things worked yet. Got jumped by some of the older kids. Mick got between me and them. He made them back down.” There’s a pause. Barry can hear Snart breathing. “No one had ever stepped between me and a beating before. Mick didn’t even know my name yet, had no idea we were soulmates. When we realized we were matched, that was the first time I thought maybe the whole soulmate deal wasn’t bullshit.”

Somehow, that isn’t what Barry was expecting. He thought they’d met as adults. They seemed to balance each other out: Rory was impulsive where Snart was calculating. Thinking of Snart needing someone to protect him was… weird. But Barry knows that Snart wouldn’t want to hear anything like that, so instead he asks, “What made you think it was bullshit before?”

Snart snorts. “My old man was an asshole,” he says, and Barry suddenly remembers what Joe said when he first encountered Snart: Snart’s father was a cop. A bad cop. Took his anger out on his kids, till he went to prison. The way Snart’s voice sounds, Joe had been understating it, and it had already sounded bad. “The thought that I was destined to drag someone else into that with me felt like a cruel joke.”

Barry lies down and swings his legs up onto the bed so that he’s stretched out on top of the covers, staring up at the white popcorn ceiling. “You never, ah, dreamed about your soulmate showing up and saving you?” Barry hopes Snart doesn’t take that the wrong way--it’s a pretty common fantasy for people in bad situations.

“I didn’t think I needed saving. I thought I needed to be better. Stronger, smarter, you name it, I wasn’t enough of it.” It doesn’t take a genius to guess where those ideas came from. A rush of gratitude goes through Barry that, after his dad, he’d had Joe. Snart goes on: “But once I had Mick, I knew I’d always have someone to back me up.”

Barry closes his eyes and lets out a slow breath. The bed, a twin, feels very narrow. He’s never shared it with anyone. “I’m afraid that if I keep hearing people put down our bond all the time, I’ll start believing it, too.” He half expects Snart to tear him a new one for that, for ever doubting his soulmate.

“Hm. How much time have you been spending with Iris lately?” Snart asks instead.

It takes Barry a minute to process the question, it’s so far from what he was expecting. “Uh. Not a whole lot? I accepted that our bond was platonic, but I wasn’t exactly happy about it and I didn’t want to take that out on her. I’m in on all the wedding stuff, though.”

“Under the circumstances, planning your soulmate’s wedding doesn’t count as quality time together,” Snart says dryly.

Barry frowns and sits up, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “Quality time?”

“Christ,” Snart says under his breath. Then, louder, “Your relationship with your soulmate doesn’t magically take care of itself. If you don’t work on it, you will end up doubting it, the same way you’d start doubting the friendship of someone that you never talk to.” Barry’s gaze lands on a picture that’s sitting on top of his dresser. It’s him and Iris at fifteen, grinning into the camera over a science project adorned with a first place ribbon. How long has it been since they worked on something together?

Snart is still talking. “And while I’m stating the obvious, I might as well mention that you will have arguments, and if you’re not careful you might not speak to each other for years.”

That was pretty specific. “Mick?” Barry asks, before he can think better of it.

A pause. “There are a lot of ways that the Flash showing up did me a favor,” Snart says.

“Thanks,” Barry says softly, because he’s suddenly sure that at least some of these conversations are about repaying that.

“Don’t mention it,” Snart says, like before, and hangs up.

 

Three

After Barry has called once, it’s easier to do it again. Snart doesn’t always answer, but he always calls back. The first time Captain Cold pulls a heist since they’ve started talking, Barry uses the number to call him, but before he can get a word out, Snart says, “If this is about what happened today, I am going to hang up and this number will be out of service the next time you use it.”

Barry swallows hard and thinks fast. His next question is a risk, but it’s one he has to take: “If I talk to you about it without using this phone number, is that still going to happen?”

Snart is quiet for a minute. “No,” he says finally.

They talk about something else.

By now, most of the calls are less about advice--Snart only has so much of that to give on the one topic--and more about having someone to talk to who understands Iris’s role in Barry’s life. Other than Iris, of course. Tonight, Barry really needs that. He makes sure his bedroom door is shut, because while he hasn’t kept it from everyone that he’s been talking to Snart, he’s so not in the mood for Joe’s disapproving glare. Sitting on his bed, Barry rubs a hand over the back of his neck and stares at the faded beige carpet while the phone rings.

Happily, Snart picks up right away. “Barry,” he greets. Barry wonders, not for the first time, if Snart has caller ID or if Barry is the only one who has this phone number. The former seems risky, all things considered. What if someone got a hold of the phone? The latter… Barry kind of likes that idea.

“Hey,” Barry greets him in return. Calling Snart by his last name is starting to feel weird, but he’s not sure what else to use. “You have a minute?”

“I’m all yours,” Snart says. There’s no pause, no sound of paper shuffling, which means he’s not putting something aside to talk.

Suddenly, the last thing Barry wants to do is worry about keeping his voice down. It makes him feel like a child, sneaking his own life in around his dad’s. For all that this is Barry’s room, he looks around and sees more of Joe than of himself. An impulse strikes. “Could, uh, could we talk in person?”

“Something wrong?” Snart’s good at covering, but Barry’s pretty sure he’s concerned.

“No. Well, nothing serious,” Barry amends. “I just… It was a shitty night and I don’t want to shut myself in my room like a teenager. I want to have a real conversation with a real person, and being on the phone makes me feel like I’m alone even though we’re talking and I don’t want to be alone right now.” Snart is silent, and Barry winces. Damn it, too much. He always gets ahead of himself. Snart set pretty clear boundaries around this soulmate thing and here Barry goes, trampling all over them. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have--”

“It’s fine,” Snart interrupts. His tone is sharp and a little cold, which is why Barry takes a second to register what he says next: “Meet me at 10th and Pine.”

“Okay,” Barry manages, finally, only to realize that the call is already disconnected.

Barry is expecting a safehouse, or an abandoned building, or something. Instead, there’s a diner.

The fact that he didn’t recognize the intersection right away should probably have been a clue that they weren’t meeting at one of those places. Barry is familiar with those sorts of areas, thanks to Flash business. That and downtown. This is a very residential neighbourhood, complete with manicured lawns--it’s wealthier than Joe’s area, but not wealthy enough to have private collections to target, which means that Snart probably doesn’t spend much time here, either. That’s why they’re here, Barry realizes: no one is going to recognize either of them.

The diner is one of those retro places, but everything is newer and cleaner and more highly polished than Barry is used to. The floor is black and white checked and gleams brightly. The walls are a vibrant turquoise and the booths are pristine red vinyl. He’s glad, suddenly, that he’s in a dress shirt and slacks, even if he left his sweater at home. He’s arrived first, of course, so he claims a booth and tries to imagine Leonard Snart in this place. It doesn’t seem like his style.

The bell over the diner door jingles and Barry looks up and freezes. Snart is wearing a crisp white dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, tucked into a pair of dark blue jeans. This… this is the guy he’s been talking to on the phone for weeks now. This man under the Captain Cold persona.

Snart slides into the booth across from Barry and for a moment neither of them speak. Barry feels off balance even though he was the one to ask for it; it feels oddly like they’re meeting for the first time.

“You said you had a shitty day,” Snart prompts.

“Night,” Barry corrects automatically, and that’s all it takes for the awkwardness to pass. He sighs. “The day was fine. Normal. No… you know. Extracurricular stuff, even. Then I had a date.” The waitress drops by and they order coffee. Barry is hungry, of course, but he’s not in the mood to eat.

“First date since Iris?”

Barry smiles wryly. “No, actually. I expected the first couple to be tough, you know? And they were. But I thought it’d get easier.” The waitress returns with their coffee. Barry half expects Snart to take it black, but he dumps just as much cream in his as Barry does, and almost as much sugar. “I get why every date starts with talking about our soulmates,” Barry goes on. “Get the elephant out of the room, right? But the soulmate stuff just keeps creeping back in.

“The unmarked ones don’t seem to really believe me when I tell them that it’s my bond is platonic. And the ones with platonic bonds can’t seem to stop talking about their soulmate even when I tell them I want to talk about something else.” Barry sighed and poked at his coffee without drinking from it. “I guess… Between you and Iris and Eddie, I thought I was the weird one for not accepting I didn’t have a romantic soulmate and moving on. But everyone I go on a date with reminds me of me three months ago--not able to fool themselves anymore, but not willing to move on, either.”

Snart lifts his coffee with both hands and takes a long, slow drink from it. The expression on his face is… not blank, not empty, but something like lost without ever being that vulnerable. Eventually, he sets the coffee down again. “I wish I could help you with that one, Barry,” he says quietly. “Relationships have never been my forte. I’ve got Mick and Lisa. There’s never been anyone else.”

“And me,” Barry says, without thinking. Snart’s eyebrows shoot up and Barry rolls his eyes. “We’ve been talking for weeks, about stuff I can’t talk to anyone else about. That’s friends, in my book.”

“I shot you last week,” Snart says dryly.

Barry can’t help glancing around to see if anyone heard that. The waitress is chatting with the cook through the service window and there’s no one else in the booths. “And I was fine ten minutes later,” Barry says. “That’s how this thing we do works. You take your shot, and I take my shot, and whoever loses ups their game, and we’re both stronger in the end.” Barry thinks about that for a minute, finally sipping his own coffee. “That’s kind of like friends, too,” he decides. After all, Oliver once shot him with a pair of arrows to force him to admit he needed to do better. That hurt worse than the cold gun. Taking them out had not been fun.

Snart stares at him for a minute before laughing and lifting his coffee cup in a salute. “You have a unique way of looking at the world, Barry.”

Barry frowns. “Is that good or bad?”

Snart tilts his head, giving Barry a long look. “Good,” he says firmly.

Something in his intent expression makes heat rise to Barry’s cheeks. He quickly takes a sip of his coffee to cover. After a second, he remembers the reason he called Snart in the first place. “Anyway, I guess the dates have just been making me feel more and more isolated. I want to try and build the rest of my life, you know? But they feel like a step backwards, not forwards.”

“Give it time.” Snart’s mouth curls up at the corner, too soft to be a smirk but not really a smile either. “Speedsters. So impatient.”

Barry grins. “Are you telling me to chill out?”

“It’s a step up from feeling ice-olated,” Snart drawls, and Barry breaks down laughing.

“I have to ask,” he says when he calms down, “are the cold puns just because of the Cold Gun, or did you always have a terrible sense of humor?”

“You laughed,” Snart points out, and now he is smirking.

“I didn’t say mine was any better,” Barry shoots back, unrepentant.

It’s Snart’s turn to chuckle, warm in a way Barry hasn’t heard before. He likes it. “The puns aren’t new,” Snart admits. “Neither is my affection for freezing things. Never had a moniker, though. Too bad Cisco wouldn’t appreciate my thanks.”

Barry sobers at the reminder of their history. “I want to ask you a question, but I’m not sure if it crosses the ‘this number will be disconnected’ line.”

“Consider my curiosity piqued. Go ahead,” Snarts gestures with his coffee cup. “Temporary amnesty.”

“The people you’ve killed,” Barry says, before he can think better of it. “Do you ever regret it?”

Snart puts the coffee down. “You mean, do I feel bad?” There’s a mocking edge to the question, but Barry nods anyway. Snart watches him. “No,” he says flatly.

“Not even--”

No.” Snart’s voice slides down into the Captain Cold side of things. “I learned the hard way: human lives have no inherent value. I don’t enjoy killing. It doesn’t particularly bother me, either. Every person I’ve killed -- or not killed -- has lived or died for a specific reason. Our agreement may have put a little more weight on one side of the side of the scales, but it didn’t change that about me. I thought I made that clear at Ferris Air. So tell me, Barry,” Snart pauses and finishes his coffee, holding Barry’s gaze as he puts the cup down with a hollow click, “are we still friends?”

Barry takes a slow, deep breath past the knot in his stomach. “I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t bother me that it’s that easy for you to kill someone,” he says, “but that’s not all there is to you, either. You’re not some sociopath, you care about people. Specific people instead of people in general, but you do.” Barry pauses; Snart doesn’t try to argue the point. “There’s more to people than their morals. Harrison Wells--” Barry’s throat closes up for a moment and he has to force himself to swallow past it. “Harrison Wells tried to kill me and everyone I love. He did kill my mom. Everything he did, he did to hurt me. He was also an incredible mentor, and he made sure my dad went free after he died, and he left me a legacy that’s made sure that my friends and I can go on helping people. Figuring out how I feel about that is a lot harder than figuring out how I feel about a guy who agreed to stop killing just because I asked, and only broke that promise to save my life. So yeah, Snart, we’re still friends.”

Snart considers him, poker faced, for a long minute. “Call me Len,” he says finally.

 

Four

Eight months after they erase the Reverse-Flash from existence, Iris and Eddie get married.

Barry is Iris’s best man. Man of honor? He’s not sure. Either way, despite all the hard work he’s done, when he steps to the side at the altar and watches her turn away from him to face Eddie it feels like a hand has wrapped around his heart and squeezed. She’s absolutely radiant, glowing brighter than her white dress even though it seems like the sun has arranged itself specifically to spotlight her. By the time they get to the vows he’s got tears in his eyes. He manages to smile, though, so everyone assumes they’re happy tears.

It’s not that Barry isn’t happy for her. He is. It turns out you can be happy for someone else and sad for yourself at the same time, though.

He’s glad he didn’t bring a date. Barry can’t help feeling a little guilty about that, because even though he’s seated with the wedding party at the head table for the reception and not with the singles, he still catches Iris shooting him glances and knows that she hates that he’s alone. The truth is, Barry would rather have company, too. The problem is that he wants specific company. The team is more or less resigned to Barry’s friendship with Len by now--Joe doesn’t even glare at him over it anymore, although that might have more to do with Barry moving into his own place--but that doesn’t mean they want Len showing up to social functions.

So Barry keeps his smile on and chats with Joe during dinner and dances with Iris and with the women who don’t have other partners, and at 10:00pm on the dot he says his goodbyes and leaves even though the reception is still going strong. By 10:01pm he’s sliding into a shiny vinyl booth across from Len, grinning when he sees that Len has already ordered enough food that the dishes completely cover the table, knowing that Barry wouldn’t be free to eat his fill at such a public event. “Thanks,” he says, picking up a fork and digging into the corned beef hash that happens to be closest to him.

“How’d it go?” Len asks, and he actually sounds interested.

“Smooth,” Barry says between bites. “Which kind of surprises me. The way our lives have gone the past two years, I kind of expected a meta attack.”

“Fancy that,” Len drawls, and takes a long pull from his coffee.

Barry pauses in his eating and narrows his eyes. “What did you do?”

Len smirks. “Nothing that will require you to get out the red leather, Barry.” He raises his eyebrows. “Scout’s honor.”

Barry thinks about how it has been a quiet day even for ordinary criminals, quiet enough that even Captain Singh was able to get away to see Joe give Iris away. He thinks about Len’s reputation, and about five metas who owe him big time. And he thinks about Len’s genuine question, and how smug he seems now. Slowly, Barry starts grinning, and when that makes Len look wary, he only grins wider. “You told everybody to keep their heads down today, didn’t you? You used your big bad reputation to make sure nothing spoiled Iris’s wedding day.”

“Not exactly,” Len says.

Barry checks his logic. Nothing else makes sense. Oh, wait. “Well, my soulmate’s wedding day,” Barry amends.

Len claims a piece of cherry pie from the array of food and focuses on cutting off a bite with the side of his fork. Bright red filling spills out. “It was going to be tough enough without throwing your ‘secret identity’ into the mix.”

The knot in his heart that Barry has been ignoring all day unwinds. “It was hard,” he says quietly. “But I got through it, and I’m even actually happy for Iris. So thank you.” Barry doesn’t just mean for the hiatus on crime, and the fact that Len doesn’t look up from the pie tells him that he knows.

He’s not expecting Len to acknowledge it. Anything personal is potentially a vulnerability to be exploited, and Len had learned not to leave openings a long time ago. So Barry almost chokes on his food when Len, still looking down at his pie, says, “Mick’s saved me in so many different ways I don’t even know how to explain them all, and all I ever heard anyone say about having him as my soulmate was that he wasn’t enough, he didn’t count, how unlucky I was. I’m never going to stand by and let anyone disrespect a platonic bond.”

Barry wants to say I’m glad you had each other, but he’s got the feeling that might be a bit too far, even now. The next thing that pops into head pops out of his mouth: “I want you to meet Iris.”

Len finally looks up from his pie and smirks. “I’m pretty sure she’s busy, Barry.”

“Not right now, obviously,” Barry says, rolling his eyes. He finished the corned beef hash and starts in on a bowl of mac and cheese. “After the honeymoon, once she and Eddie have had time to settle down.”

“Are you sure she’ll want to meet me?” Len asks, raising his eyebrows.

Barry takes a couple more bites before answering. “She knows you’ve been helping me figure things out. She might not be thrilled about it, but she’ll make the effort if I ask.” He hesitates. “I want her to know you the way I know you. Or, well, to know more than that you get a kick out of robbing banks and don’t have a problem hurting people if you think you need to.”

Len goes still, fork clicking against his plate. “Iris knows we’ve been talking?”

“Yeah, of course,” Barry says, still eating. After a second he registers the silence from the other side of the table and stops, wincing and looking sheepishly back at Len. “Was it supposed to be a secret? You never said not to tell anyone, and I didn’t give them the number…”

“It’s fine,” Len cuts him off. He turns his attention back to his pie. He’s almost finished. “It’s not a secret. I just didn’t think you’d want anyone to know you were talking to me.”

“Because of Ferris Air? Because you used me to get an advantage for yourself?” Barry says, and can’t help but be proud of how calm he sounds. Len gestures sharply with his fork, not really an affirmative, more of a… concession, if the man could be said to concede anything. “You know what I realized after all that?”

Len tilts his head, real curiosity peeking through his poker face. “What?”

“The way that turned out was my fault,” Barry says. “Not for trusting you, but for trying to use you like a tool. My way of doing things wasn’t working with Wells, and I thought I could take a page out of a friend’s book and be more… ruthless, maybe? More about the ends and less about the means.” Barry stabs the mac and cheese with his spoon a couple times and shakes his head. “But that’s not who I am. It’s not how I think. Of course it blew up in my face.”

“Somehow I doubt your friends will be equally willing to blame you for my betrayal,” Len says dryly.

Barry laughs. “You didn’t hear them, after. But I wasn’t talking about where the blame belongs, or forgiveness, or even trust. The problem was that I was treating you like a tool, not like a person. If I’d stopped to think about who you were, about how you think and how we’d work together, I think it would have gone differently.” Barry shrugs and goes back to the mac and cheese. “Everyone’s worried about me talking to you, but less, I think, than when we were moving the metas, because I’m acting more like myself.”

Len snorts and shakes his head. He takes a moment to finish his pie, and Barry catches himself watching as Len licks the fork clean. He sets it down slowly. “Mick is worried about me,” Len says.

“What, now?” Barry asks, startled.

Len nods. “He thinks you’re going to turn on me when you realize you can’t change who I am.”

Oh, well, that’s okay. Barry smiles. “I don’t need to change you. You told me yourself: you do everything for a reason. All I have to do is give you more and better reasons to do good things than bad ones.”

“Am I supposed to be pleased that you’re manipulating me?” Len says dryly, but he smirks even as the waitress comes around with coffee.

“I kind of think you are pleased, whether or not you’re supposed to be,” Barry says, grinning. Len doesn’t reply, but from the way his smirk softens into a real laugh, Barry knows he’s right.

 

Five

After some discussion, Barry and Len decide that introducing Iris to Len, as opposed to Captain Cold, should start with a phone call between the three of them. If it goes well, then it’ll only take Barry a moment to fetch Len for a face to face, and if it goes poorly some distance will make sure no one does something they’ll regret.

Barry invites Iris over to his apartment for the call. He and Len considered neutral territory but they both know the conversation is going to turn to subjects neither of them want overheard. Plus the home field advantage makes Barry feel better.

It’s not a big apartment. Barry could have afforded one, thanks to the money Wells left him, but when he looked at the larger places he felt like he’d rattle around in them on his own. He did indulge in nice furniture, though. Joe’s place was all dark woods, and although Barry likes the wood--he is not a steel and glass type, no matter how modern it is--he decided to go with burnished gold tones for his place. The upholstered furniture and rugs are a mix of dusty blue and darker red. Overall, it makes the open plan space colorful and bright.

Taking a seat on the couch next to Iris, clutching his phone in one hand, Barry is abruptly grateful to be doing this here. Joe’s cozy feeling living room would feel suffocating right now; Barry needs the brightness and the space.

Calling Len with Iris sitting right next to him feels deeply weird. Barry hadn’t realized until he was holding his phone in his hand and debating hiding Len’s number how personal these conversations had become. His friendship with Len is something that’s been his and his alone, and he realizes now that he’s been taking that for granted.

But Barry does want Iris to know Len better, and after all the work it took to get the two of them on board for this, he’s not about to be the one that spoils it with cold feet. So he takes a deep breath and dials Len, not missing the way Iris’s eyebrows go up when she sees he’s got Len’s number in his favorites.

“Hello, Barry,” Len says when he picks up. He’s on speaker, the way they talked about, and he sounds more like Captain Cold than he has in months. Barry’s not really surprised.

“Hey, Len,” he says, hoping that if he sounds relaxed, maybe Len will relax. It’s tough, since Iris is stiff as a board next to him. “So, I need your advice.”

“It’s been awhile.” Len sounds curious more than surprised. They didn’t talk about how the conversation was going to go, worried about seeming rehearsed, and Barry hasn’t straight up asked for advice in ages. “On what?”

Barry puts the phone down on the coffee table in front of him and Iris and glances over at her. She’s watching him, and Barry smiles nervously before turning back to the phone as if it was Len himself. “I was hoping you could help me figure out how to convince my soulmate to give my morally flexible friend a chance.”

There’s a long, silent pause. Barry catches himself holding his breath.

Then Len starts laughing, his real laugh, not Captain Cold’s sharp snicker. It’s deep and full, making it all the more noticeable, since that Len’s voice is usually a bit nasal. Barry looks at Iris and grins to see how surprised she looks. The tension has broken, and she’s not exactly relaxed but she’s not as stiff as she used to be.

“I don’t have any direct experience,” Len says, sounding more like himself, “but I could tell you how I got my morally flexible soulmate to give my goody two shoes friend a chance.”

Barry perks up. “Does this mean Mick doesn’t think I’m dangerous anymore?”

“He never thought you were dangerous, Barry.” Len’s tone is amused. “But if you mean, is he less worried, then yes.”

“I can be dangerous,” Barry protests.

Next to him, Iris chuckles. “I don’t know that that’s the word I’d use,” she says.

Barry feels his cheeks heat and he ducks his head. He’d forgotten she was there for a second. “I go out and fight dangerous people all the time.”

“That doesn’t make you dangerous,” Len jumps in. “You don’t want to have to hurt anyone. Kind of takes ‘dangerous’ off the table.”

“Then why was Mick worried?”

Len goes quiet, and Barry wonders if he shouldn’t have brought that up. At least not here, with Iris looking curious. “You don’t have to want to hurt someone to do it,” Len says finally.

“So how did you convince him to give Barry a chance?” Iris jumps in, and Barry flashes her a grateful look for getting them back on track.

“I told him that even after I’d hurt Barry’s friends, hurt Barry, and betrayed his trust, Barry didn’t write me off as worthless,” Len says baldly. Barry blanches. Jesus, maybe they should have talked about this conversation in advance. Had Len forgotten they want Iris to like him? Len goes on before Barry can think of what he could possibly interrupt with. “I told Mick that even though Barry is annoyingly persistent about convincing me to change my behavior, he’s using who I am to do it, instead of trying to change me into a different person.

“In my experience, people who see you for who you are, flaws included, and want you around anyway are rare. Even,” Len’s voice took on a sardonic edge, “if we disagree about what qualifies as a flaw.”

If he was alone, Barry would be rolling his eyes now--debating virtues and flaws has become a thing for them. But with Iris here Barry presses his lips together and stares at the phone, a lonely black rectangle sitting on the golden wood of the coffee table. It’s not that he wants Len to pretend for her, but nothing he’s saying is going to endear him to Iris.

“I can see why that worked for Mick,” Iris responds. Her voice is a little too even. “I have no trouble understanding how Barry’s faith in people could be appealing. What I don’t understand is how this friendship could be good for Barry.”

Barry puts his head in his hands. How many times has Len teased Barry about being a bad influence? He’s not serious and they both know it, but Iris will probably take it seriously.

“Well, that depends,” Len says. “What is there that Barry needs that I can give him? What’s as important to him as acceptance is to me?”

That brings Barry’s head back up from his hands, curious about Iris’s answer. Curious about Len’s answer, too, but Iris has known him longer and considering how certain she had always been that they weren’t meant to be together he has to wonder if she’d seen some need in him that made them incompatible.

“You think you know what’s important to Barry?” Iris says. It sounds like she’s just giving Len a hard time, but Barry looks at her, her fingers plucking at the edge of the couch, and he realizes that she’s buying time. She doesn’t have an answer.

“Yes,” is all Len says. Is he avoiding giving Iris ammunition--more ammunition--or does he know she’s stalling? Len would refuse to play along.

But then Iris’s hands still and she smiles at Barry, almost triumphantly. “Someone who believes him,” she says, “and someone to believe in him.”

Barry smiles back, even though she’s missed the point, because it is good to have people who believe. It’s good, and he couldn’t have done half as much as the Flash without it, but they’re talking about his friendship with Len. That’s not what Len gives him, and Iris has apparently forgotten what this conversation was about.

“Someone who listens,” Len counters. “Someone he can say anything to, without worrying how they’ll react.”

Iris frowns and looks at Barry. “We listen to you.”

“Sometimes,” Barry agrees. He stands up, suddenly restless, and takes a couple steps toward the kitchen alcove before turning back to Iris. “And sometimes Joe looks at me and still sees a kid instead of an adult. Sometimes Caitlin and Cisco still see the coma patient that needed taking care of instead of the hero. Sometimes you still still the teenager with the supernatural events blog instead of the forensic scientist.

“When those things happen, you stop hearing me. And--” Barry hesitates, but forges onwards in the name of explaining why Len has become important to him, “--sometimes even when you are hearing me, there are things I can’t get out. Sometimes I’m too afraid I’ll disappoint you, or make you angry, or make you lose faith in me, or lose your trust, or…” he waves his hand “...whatever. I don’t worry about that with Len. There have been times when the only reason I got up the courage to talk to you or Joe or anyone was because I could talk it over with him, first.”

“And you don’t worry that he’ll use all the information against you? Against us?” Iris asks.

Barry take the two steps back and sits down beside her again. “No. At first, the stuff I needed to talk about wouldn’t have been any use. Later...,” he shrugs. “We figured out our rules of engagement. It’s been working for months, hasn’t it?” It’s not really a question--they both know it has. Cisco even said that Flash versus Cold fights were starting to feel almost scripted, not that Barry is going to tell Len that.

There’s silence for a moment after Barry finishes speaking. Then Iris gives the phone a look, as if Len can see her. “Aren’t you going to defend yourself, Snart?”

“Why bother?” Len drawls. “There’s nothing I could say in my own favor that would make a difference to you. If you decide to tolerate my friendship with Barry, it will be because he asked you to.”

Barry groans and glares across the room at a sculpture Len got him as a housewarming gift. Right now he’s remembering that he hadn’t been able to entirely confirm it wasn’t stolen. “Damn it, Len, will you at least try to work with me here?”

The edge comes off Len’s voice. “I never back down from a challenge. Miss West hasn’t exactly brought her warmest, fuzziest side to the table, either.” That’s… fair. Damn it.

Iris frowns thoughtfully for a long moment. “Barry, can you get Snart and bring him here?”

Barry’s straightens up. “Sure. Why?”

“Because I want to look him in the eye when he answers my next question.”

Barry and Len has planned to avoid the face to face unless the conversation went well. This can’t be described as ‘well’. On the other hand, Barry doubts that it’ll get any better if he refuses. “Len?”

“Fine.”

It’s the work of a few seconds to race across town, pick up Len, and race back to his apartment. It takes another second to decide where to put him. If all three of them are on the couch, it’ll be crowded, and Barry figures that’s way too close for Iris and Len, even if he’s between them. Plus he’ll have to look from one to the other like he’s at a tennis match. On the other hand, if he puts Len in the chair, it’ll be like it’s him versus Iris and Barry. Iris wouldn’t like being moved without warning, though. In the end, Barry leaves Len standing, but comes to a stop standing next to him.

The rush of displaced air passes. Len and Iris blink and take a moment to adjust to the new arrangement of the room.

Len is the first one to settle. Maybe it’s just because he’s so hardwired not to show weakness, but it occurs to Barry that he’s pretty sure he’s run with Len more often than with Iris. Not just because he frequently uses his speed on Cold when they’re fighting, but because Len never seems bothered when he does it. The rest of Team Flash don’t like it it when he moves them around.

Len is wearing black jeans, motorcycle boots, and a royal blue henley. It’s a brighter blue than Barry is used to seeing, and it looks great. Weirdly, he looks more casual than usual, even though most of Len’s normal clothes aren’t formal in any sense of the word. The shirt is new, Barry realizes suddenly. Had Len gone shopping for this? Barry takes another look at him and realizes that Len fits perfectly into Barry’s decor. If it had been anyone else, Barry would have assumed that was coincidental. From Len, he bets it was calculated. Maybe that should seem weird, or creepy, but Barry can’t help smiling.

“Your question?” Len prompts Iris.

She starts to ask, then shakes her head and visibly changes direction. Barry looks at Len, wondering if the shirt threw her off that much, and only then realizes she was probably surprised he didn’t bring the Cold gun.

“I am going to give you a chance,” Iris says firmly, “and you’re right, it is only because Barry asked. But you’re only going to get one chance, and this is it, right now. Convince me that Barry isn’t going to regret trusting you.”

“Iris--” Barry protests, because that’s not fair at all. Everyone on Team Flash has lost trust in everyone else at one time or another. Several of them more than once.

“It’s fine, Barry,” Len interrupts. Calmly, he looks Iris right in the eye and, without a trace of his usual sardonic drawl, says, “I don’t care what you think of me, Miss West. I don’t care if you trust me, I don’t care if you like me, and I don’t need any more intel on ‘Team Flash’,” Barry can hear the quotation marks, “than I already have. Despite that I’m here, having this conversation. I’m having it for the exact same reason you are: because Barry asked. Not only would it make him happy if we could get along, it would make his life easier. I care about that, and you can believe it because I sure as hell wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Barry finds himself holding his breath as he watches Iris consider Len’s argument. Finally she tilts her head slightly and Barry knows she’s made her decision. “You know,” she says, “I think I believe that more than any heartfelt plea or logical justification you could have made.”

Len sniffs but doesn’t reply, and that’s when Barry knows that he actually is trying. Leonard Snart holds back a smart remark for no one. Except, it seems, very occasionally... for Barry.

“Does that mean we can call this--” Barry waves between them “--a truce?”

“For now,” Iris allows.

Len nods agreement and Barry relaxes. It’s somewhere to start.

 

Plus One.

Stretched out on his couch, Lisa at his kitchen table messing around on her phone and Mick in the kitchen, cooking, all should be right with Len’s world. Instead, he’s scowling down at his own phone. Playing nice with Iris somehow eventually led to exchanging numbers with her. Once upon a time this phone had been a burner, kept handy in case of emergency. Then he’d given Barry the number and he’d never used it to speak to anyone else. Even weeks later Len hasn’t gotten used to checking it to find a text from Iris instead.

“Well, that’s new,” Lisa comments. “Your badge finally step over the line?”

Len looks up. “What?” Lisa has put her cell away and is focused on him now.

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you scowl at that phone,” she says. “You enjoy talking to Barry. But not so much today. What’d he do?”

Mick looks up from his cooking sharply. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Len says, irritable. “It’s not Barry. It’s Iris.”

Lisa straightens up in alarm and a clatter comes from the kitchen as Mick slams a wooden spoon down on the counter. “Something’s definitely wrong if Barry’s giving your number away,” Lisa argues.

I gave it to her,” Len snaps. He deliberately looks away from Lisa and Mick, only to catch sight of Iris’s message again. It didn’t help his mood that she’d texted him to let him know a meta had knocked Barry around pretty badly and he might be out of touch for awhile.

“What’s going on, Snart?” Mick asks.

Looking up, Len sees that Mick has come out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel as he does. Lisa is leaning forward over the kitchen table. They both look worried. He rolls his eyes. “She’s not my friend, we’re just tolerating each other.”

“For Barry’s sake,” Lisa says, like it means something.

“Yeah.” Len frowns and pushes himself up off the couch, coming around to lean against the back of it so that he’s facing them properly. “Problem?”

“Kind of a problem that you that you don’t think it’s a problem,” Mick says.

“Mick--”

“Look, Lenny, Barry’s a sweet kid--” Lisa starts.

Len can’t help but interrupt, because Barry’s been through some shit, and it’s not like he’s underage. “He’s not a kid.”

Lisa and Mick trade another look. “Kid or not,” Lisa goes on, “he’s pretty sunshine and rainbows. You’ve lightened up a lot since you started talking to him. Badge or not--”

Not, Len thinks, because it’s a laminate, not a badge, and Barry has stories about how a lot of the officers treat the forensic techs. He doesn’t interrupt again, though.

“--he’s been good for you,” Lisa’s saying. “But you don’t want to be getting comfortable with Iris.

Len raises his eyebrows, because this is an interesting line they’re drawing. “Why not?”

“Do we have to count the ways?” Mick asks. “Married to a cop. Daughter of a cop. Way more involved with Team Flash than your boy is.” Len suppresses a snort. If only they knew. But Mick isn’t finished. “And you can’t tell me that she buys into Barry’s whole ‘give you reasons to do good’ schtick.”

“I don’t think Barry’s actually explained that part,” Len comments.

Mick grunts. “So I gotta wonder, why’s she playing nice?”

Well, that’s easy enough to answer. “She’s not playing some long con, if that’s what you’re worried about. She’s doing it for the same reason I am.”

“And that is?” Lisa prompts.

This is ridiculous. They know why--they said it themselves just a moment ago. “Because Barry asked,” Len says, shooting them an impatient look. They trade another glance and Len braces his hands on the back of the couch and raises his chin. “Get to the point.”

“Lenny,” Lisa says slowly. “Chatting with Barry is one thing. Making nice with his family to keep him happy is a whole other thing.”

A chill goes through Len. “So. You’re not okay with this anymore?” He sets his jaw, bracing for the answer. What the hell is he gonna do if it’s ‘no’?

“That’s not the point,” Lisa says.

Mick jumps in before Len can lose his temper at the repeated evasion. “Makin’ nice with the in laws is something you do for a boyfriend, not a buddy,” he says bluntly. “Just sayin’, it seems to us you’re in deeper with Barry than you’ve said.”

Len opens his mouth, then has to swallow the prepared retort because it doesn’t at all fit what Mick has actually said.

“There’s a first,” Lisa says gently, like she knows exactly what’s going on in his head. “Lenny at a loss for words.”

“I can’t,” Len snaps.

Lisa looks at him. “Can’t what? Be in love?”

“I’m not capable,” Len shoots back. This is firmer ground.

But Lisa just snorts. “Don’t be stupid, of course you’re capable. The problem isn’t that you can’t love, Lenny, it’s that when you do love, you do it so damn hard it scares people, yourself included. I know that better than anybody.”

Len can’t meet her eyes. “Not like it matters if I am.”

Mick laughs. “What, you think Barry wouldn’t be all over you? Come on, Snart, that kid drinks up affection like a man in a desert drinks up water.”

That doesn’t make Len feel better. He can’t quite put words to the uncomfortable, almost angry feeling twisting itself up in his gut, but his face must be expressive enough because Lisa says, “But that’s not what you want from him, is it? You want him to love you back for you, not because you’re giving him something--even if that something is your own love.”

The real problem is, she’s right.

Somehow, when Len wasn’t paying attention, Barry slipped past his defenses. Well, no, that wasn’t quite right. He hadn’t crept around them like a thief. It was more like he’d walked through them like they didn’t apply to him, like his smile and his faith in goodness were some sort of shield against every ‘lesson’ Len had learned.

“You can’t seriously be suggesting I do something about this.” Len finally meets their gazes again, because he needs to judge their reactions. “All the reasons you didn’t like me being friends with him would go double.”

“The reason we put up with it goes double, too,” Mick says. “He makes you happy.”

‘Happy’ isn’t a word Len has ever used to describe himself. But Mick isn’t wrong, either. Still-- “And if he doesn’t feel the same?”

Mick snorts, as if it’s stupid question. Lisa shrugs. “Maybe it’ll be awkward for a while, but from what you’ve told me, Barry’s pretty familiar with unrequited love. You’ll get through it.”

Now there’s a thought. Barry does have a lot of experience in this area. More than enough to give a little advice.

Len doesn’t go to see him right away, of course. He takes some time to let the idea settle, first. He needs to be able to actually talk about this with Barry, and that’s… not a small ask. But Len is the master of calm--he can be calm about this, too, damnit.

It helps that Barry is always pleased when Len reaches out first. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and Barry smiles like Len’s made a declaration every time. Len may have started initiating meetings more often when he noticed that, which should probably have been a clue.

Regardless, Barry cheerfully agrees to meet up at his place on a Friday after work, no questions asked. Len’s already waiting inside his apartment when Barry gets home. He catches sight of Len as he’s unslinging his messenger bag from across his body and just laughs. “I should get you a key. Being picked this often can’t be good for my locks.”

Being with Barry now that Len is aware of more of what’s going on his own head is an experience. His smile, his laugh, the teasing comment… Barry is as warm and colorful as his home, but instead of being cast in shadow Len feels like something inside him is lighting up too. Just a bit. He doesn’t smile, but he suspects there’s one in his voice when he replies, “That thing on your door doesn’t qualify as a lock.”

“It came with the building,” Barry says over his shoulder as he heads into the kitchen. “You want anything?” He gets one of Cisco’s protein bars out of a cupboard and starts working on it.

Len carefully leans back against the pale blue couch, watching Barry from across the narrow wall that’s pretending to be a breakfast bar in Barry’s small apartment. “I’m good.” Barry’s eyes twinkle and Len narrows his gaze. “Don’t start.”

“I didn’t say anything!” Barry says, raising his hands.

Len snorts, but doesn’t argue the point the way he does sometimes because tonight he’s got bigger fish to fry. “Patrolling tonight?”

Barry shakes his head. “It’s been a quiet day so far, and we all agreed that it’s better if I take days off when I can get them.”

“Good,” Len nods firmly. “For once, I could use your advice.”

Barry actually stops eating for a second, he’s so surprised. Then he finishes chewing and sets the remains of the protein bar down and comes out of the kitchen, leaning against the end of the wannabe breakfast bar across from Len. “Yeah, of course,” he says. “On what?”

Len takes a breath and doesn’t miss the way that makes Barry’s gaze focus; he knows that Len doesn’t ever visibly work up to saying anything, not even with something as subtle as a deep inhale. “Unrequited love,” Len gets out, pleased that his voice is smooth and calm.

Barry’s jaw drops, and even in these circumstances a part of Len can’t help but note that it’s a good thing Barry stopped eating. Len doesn’t say anything else, just lets Barry’s speedster brain catch up with that. Sure enough, it only takes him a couple of seconds to get back into gear. “You, or someone else with you?”

Huh. Not the question Len was expecting. “Me,” he admits.

Barry’s face lights up and he takes a step closer, smiling. “Well, from personal experience I recommend against keeping quiet about it for more than a decade,” he says. He takes another step. The apartment isn’t big; he’s barely outside Len’s personal space. “Really, the first thing you ought to do is find out if it really is unrequited, or if you just think it is.”

Len should have known that it would take Barry half a second to figure out exactly who he was talking about. Maybe a full second, if he was having a bad day. On the up side, his reaction is… promising. “Well, Scarlet?” Len asks, half drawl and half warmth. “Is it?”

Barry laughs. “Oh, no. I let you get away with a lot, but not this time. This once, you’re going to have to actually say it.”

Len takes that as a challenge, because if he doesn’t it’ll scare the shit out of him. So he straightens up away from the couch, which puts him just inside Barry’s personal space, and looks Barry right in the eye. “I love you, Barry Allen. And I’m starting to get the feeling it isn’t unrequited, after all.” He pauses for half a breath. “That doesn’t mean you want the trouble being with me would bring. So think very hard about what you say next.”

Barry, of course, doesn’t stop to think at all. He just beams at Len and says, “I love you, too,” as if this can be that easy. Len could argue, probably should argue, but he knows Barry--if he isn’t thinking about this now, he won’t stop to seriously think about it until something actually goes wrong. So fuck it, Len is going to have this while he can.

He takes the last step into Barry’s space and cups his face in his hands. Len draws him into a kiss, not slowly but not rushing it either. In the instant before their lips meet, Barry’s hands come to rest on his hips and he leans into it. Len closes his eyes because it’s Barry, he can let himself relax, he can let himself just enjoy the press of Barry’s lips, the heat of his mouth, the hot touch of his tongue as the kiss deepens.

As the kiss goes on, long enough that Len is breathing through his nose, he waits for Barry break it. Len loves kissing, always has, but most people get impatient to move on to other things. Surely a speedster would be even more… fast paced. But although Barry does tug on Len’s hips until their bodies are pressed closer together, he doesn’t seem inclined to stop kissing.

In the end, it’s Len who breaks the kiss. Barry leans after him for a second before letting him go, and he’s so beautiful when he’s flushed and licking Len’s taste off his lips that Len almost leans in and kisses him again. But Len is too curious--the next kiss can wait a second. “I thought a speedster would be more impatient.”

Barry flushes even redder. “I’m, um, a little… quick off the mark? Drawing out the foreplay means the whole thing lasts longer.”

Len looks at him speculatively and lets his hands slide down from Barry’s face, one coming to rest on his shoulder and the other sliding around to stroke the back of his neck. Barry’s eyes half close, he’s so responsive to the caress. “How’s your recovery time?”

“Hmmm? What?” Barry focuses on him again.

“Your recovery time,” Len repeats. “If you get off, will you come again by the time I’m ready?”

“Oh God,” Barry moans. “It’s pretty short, so probably? Kind of depends on how long you go.”

Len smiles, a slow and dirty grin. “Oh, I have plenty of stamina,” he purrs. He shifts his weight and presses a thigh between Barry’s legs. Sure enough, Barry is already hard and throbbing against him.

“We better get moving if you don’t want to get me off in the living room,” Barry pants, hips hitching up against Len’s leg.

“Hmmm. It has its charms, but no, not tonight,” Len says. He starts to step back, but Barry tightens his grip, stopping him.

“Do you mind if I, uh, use my speed?” he asks.

A thrill goes through Len. “Go ahead.” There’s a crackle of lightning and then they’re in the bedroom. The sudden dislocation is disorienting, but it’s also a rush, and the only thing Len regrets as he grabs Barry and kisses him urgently is that it didn’t last longer.

This kiss goes on forever, too, but they’re multitasking now, pulling at each other’s clothing. They separate barely long enough to toss shirts away and then they’re entwined again, skin to skin, tongue to tongue. They’re both hard, but where Len is only just getting to that nice, solid level of arousal, Barry is throbbing and rutting against Len like he’s a hair away from coming. When they break the kiss Barry is wild eyed and urgent and Len realizes he really is that close.

“I need--” Barry starts, and his voice breaks.

“On the bed,” Len orders. Barry scrambles up immediately, sprawling on his back, and Len crawls up until he’s on his hands and knees above Barry. “You’re incredible,” Len says, looking down at this powerful, beautiful, infinitely forgiving man and marveling that somehow Len is the one he wants.

He doesn’t give Barry time to reply, instead lowering himself down and slotting their bodies together, cocks trapped between their bellies. Barry’s arms curl around Len’s shoulders and Len braces his elbows on the bed so that he has the leverage to grind against Barry. It doesn’t take long before Barry is crying out with pleasure and clutching him close. “Let go,” Len urges him. “Let go, Barry. I never want you to hold back with me.”

Barry gasps out his name and blurs in place for a second and then he’s coming in hot spurts between them, slicking up Len’s cock and the space between their bellies and it’s so fucking hot that if Len was a little further along he’d come, too. But he’s glad he’s not, that he’s still climbing towards his own peak, because it means he gets to drink in the impossibly gorgeous sight of Barry coming apart for him and know that he’s going to make it happen again very soon.

Len stops grinding, not wanting to overstimulate Barry as he comes down, but stays pressed close and warm, kissing softly along the line of Barry’s jaw. Eventually a breath shudders past Len’s cheek and he pulls back enough to meet Barry’s languid gaze. “Good?”

“Yeah,” Barry says, not a drawl but not far off. “But what about you?”

Len chuckles. “I’m saving that for round two, remember?”

Barry’s eyes brighten and he licks his lips. “Right.”

“Why don’t I clean us up?” Len suggests. “That,” he nods towards their lower bodies, “is going to feel a lot less sexy very soon.”

Barry laughs. “Way to break the mood,” he says.

Len just grins. He gets up and goes to the washroom, gets a warm, damp washcloth, cleans himself up and brings it back with him. Stretching out beside Barry, Len slowly, tenderly draws the cloth over Barry’s heated, sticky skin. All of it. When Len meets Barry’s wide eyes, he smirks. “Is the mood broken?”

“No,” Barry breathes. He reaches up, fingers trailing over Len’s cheek for a moment before drawing him down for a kiss. Len breaks it for a moment to toss the washcloth onto the bedside table before leaning back in. There’s something oddly intense about holding Barry in his arms and kissing him gently while Len is fully aroused. Knowing that, while Barry isn’t ready to go again just yet, he will be soon raises the anticipation to heist levels of excitement. Len never expected any person to be able to deliver the same thrill as a good job, but fuck, Barry does it over and over again.

They curl together on their sides, indulging in long, deep kisses even more than before. Their hands roam as they do, learning each other’s bodies, enjoying the heat of bare skin. Len doesn’t miss the way Barry’s fingers trace the shape of Len’s scars, but he doesn’t break the kiss to ask. They’ll talk about it one day, but tonight Len loves that Barry is too interested in pleasure to stop for pain.

It doesn’t take long at all for the tenderness in Barry’s touch to slip back into eagerness. His cock begins to grow heavier between them and Len can’t help the smile that curves his lips and breaks the kiss. “Gearing up for round two, I see,” he murmurs against Barry’s mouth.

“Getting there,” Barry says.

Len presses on his shoulders, turning to kneel above him again when Barry obligingly settles on his back. “How about I give you an assist?” He smirks and slides down.

Barry props himself up on his elbows and catches his breath looking down his body at Len. “Okay, sounds good,” Barry manages, a little higher pitched than normal.

Len would laugh, but he’s got better things to do with his mouth.

Barry’s cock is just like the rest of him, gorgeous and slender and more than it seems. Len savors the taste of salt and skin and the almost imperceptible vibration under his tongue. Barry is making the most incredible noises and for a moment Len can’t decide which part he likes best. Then Barry’s hands tentatively come to rest on Len’s shoulders, fingers digging in when Len strokes his tongue up Barry’s length, and it all merges into one delicious experience. Len doesn’t want to stop, not with the musky scent of Barry in his nose and the taste of him on his tongue.

“Len,” Barry moans. His hips hitch up towards Len, who rode the motion easily. “Len, I… If you don’t want me to come yet, you better…” His voice breaks, and a rush of satisfaction goes through Len.

Raising his head slowly, Len holds Barry’s gaze as he pulls off his cock. “I better what?”

Barry holds his gaze, eyes dark, and licks his lips. Slowly, he pulls his legs up until his feet are flat on the bed and Len is framed by his spread thighs. Len smiles and runs his hands up Barry’s legs, ending with them curved around Barry’s hips, fingers pressing towards his ass. “Is that a hint, Barry?”

“More of a request,” Barry says. He’s flushed enough already that Len can’t say if he’s blushing, but the way he bites his lip when Len moves up to kiss him suggests it.

“Happy to oblige,” Len breathes, leaning and kissing Barry hard. For all that Len is very much looking forward to what comes next, he doesn’t rush the kiss. Neither, to his pleasure, does Barry. They lean into each other, mouths eager without being urgent. Barry’s knees and inner thighs brush Len’s hips but he doesn’t try to hold on or to pull Len closer. Not yet, anyway.

The kisses eases to an end and they spend a moment breathing against each other’s mouths before Barry murmurs, “Just let me…” he trails off and Len pulls back a bit to let Barry lean over and pull over the nightstand drawer. He thumps back onto the bed with a grin, holding out a bottle of lube and a condom.

Len grins, too. He kisses Barry quickly before taking the offered items and moving back down between Barry’s thighs. “You done this before?” he asks, setting the condom aside for now and slicking up his fingers.

“Yeah,” Barry says. He props himself up on his elbows again, watching eagerly. “Not for awhile, though.”

“You want me to go slow?” Len asks, mostly teasing because he’s already sliding one finger into Barry’s heat.

Barry’s answering laugh is breathless and he lets his head fall back, arms wobbling before he lets himself down again. “Not really,” he gasps.

Len just hums, watching Barry and focusing on the tension in his muscles as Len works his finger around for a moment before carefully testing a second. Barry is tight, but not so tight that Len is worried about hurting him, so he eases the second in also. The moan Barry releases is beautiful. Every twists of Len’s fingers draws out another, until Barry is sucking in breaths between moans and Len is achingly hard.

Barry’s cock, jutting up in front of Len, is flushed dark and leaking pre-come. Len licks his lips, tempted to taste it again, but he’s pretty sure that if he puts his mouth on Barry, Barry will come, and Len doesn’t want that. Not yet.

Instead he coats another finger in lube. “Three?” he asks, his voice coming out rougher than normal.

Please,” Barry gasps. He makes a sharp noise when Len presses in with three fingers, but a pause garners a desperate, “Don’t stop!” so Len keeps going.

Maybe Len is just impatient to have that tight heat wrapped around his cock, but it feels like forever before Barry relaxes around his fingers. “Sure you’re ready for this, Barry?” Len has to ask. He’s never liked pain with his sex, not his own and not anyone else’s.

Barry props himself up a bit. “Come up here,” he says.

Len obliges, letting his fingers slip free of Barry and moving up to brace himself over Barry, face to face. Barry lays back down and raises his hands to cup Len’s face, smiling. “You’re not going to hurt me,” he says warmly. There’s nothing but trust and heat in his eyes. A thrill goes through Len, because no one has ever looked at him like that before. Len has to lean down, kissing him quickly but intensely, trying to pour the rush of feeling into Barry through their lips. The way Barry arches up into him and moans, it feels like it works. When they part, Barry says, “Come on, Len. I want you to fuck me.”

Len kisses him again in silent agreement before sitting back on his heels and quickly rolling on the condom. As tight as Barry was around his fingers, he doesn’t show any sign of pain as Len slowly sinks his cock into Barry’s body. His eyes are clenched shut, sure, but his expression and the catches of breath and uneven moans are all pleasure. Barry’s face and the pleasure written so blatantly across it are damn near as good as the velvety heat clutching at Len’s cock. Len can’t tear his eyes away; he’s almost surprised when he bottoms out, his hips pressed close against Barry.

For a moment, everything is still. Then Barry’s eyelids flutter open. “You feel so good,” he says, thighs flexing as if to pull Len in deeper.

“Try it from my end,” Len teases, rolling his hips.

Barry moans loudly, hands clenching in the bedsheets. He pants a bit, then smirks up at Len. “Even I’m not fast enough to fuck myself.”

The sound that pulls out of Len is somewhere between a laugh and a moan, because that’s one hell of a pretty thought even if it isn’t possible. Shaking his head a bit, Len adjusts his grip on Barry’s legs where they’re wrapped around him. “Guess I’ll have to pick up the slack, then,” he says. He doesn’t give Barry a chance to reply before moving, real thrusts this time instead of a tease.

“God, yes,” Barry groans as Len’s cock drives into him. His hands are still tangled in the sheets, probably to stop himself from stroking his own cock, but Len wants more of Barry, more of his touch, so he lets the rhythm of his thrusts stutter long enough to pull Barry’s hands up to rest on his flanks.

Once his hands are on Len’s skin Barry strokes and explores like he was just waiting for permission, touching everywhere he can reach, his grip faltering or tightening only when Len finds just the right angle. Every touch feels like it’s lighting up the nerves in Len’s skin, like his body was wired extra sensitive just for Barry. It only gets better when Barry starts losing control, his body blurring every now and then with vibrations.

Neither of them have touched Barry’s cock, but those vibrations say he’s close. It’s okay--Len’s thrusts are growing ragged. He’s close, too. “Barry,” he says, voice hoarse, and catches Barry’s hands in his.

“Yeah?” Barry answers, just as rough.

Len laces their fingers together and draws Barry’s hands up above his head. He leans forward, cock driving deep, and presses Barry’s hands to the bed. Their faces are close, thrusts stilled for the moment. “Okay?” Len asks.

“It’s good.” Barry blurs with vibration. “Kiss me?” he asks when he’s back.

Len does. The kiss is deep and dirty, messy with spit and lips skidding past each other when they gasp because Len has started fucking into Barry again. The thrusts are shorter like this, shallower, but being buried in that heat is so good and Len’s belly brushes Barry’s hot, dripping cock and even when the kiss misses Barry’s breath is mingling with his.

“Len,” Barry moans against his mouth. “God, Len, Len...”

“Barry,” Len gasps back.

Their names spill out of them over and over, like it’s all they can remember. Climax comes on Len like a wave, building and building until it rolls over him and sweeps him away in a tide of pleasure. He lets it take him, the moment only made sweeter by Barry blurring beneath him, his cry of completion harmonizing with itself.

Len keeps his wrists locked and his body still for a moment as they both come down from their high and catch their breath. When he’s feeling a bit more stable, he carefully withdraws, disposes of the condom, and eases himself down next to Barry, who immediately turns toward him and slings an arm over his waist, cuddling close.

Len goes stiff for a moment and Barry immediately backs off a bit, leaning up to meet his eyes. “No cuddling?”

“No, it’s fine,” Len assures him, and tugs him back into the embrace, putting an arm around him for good measure. It does feel good, being skin to skin like this in the aftermath. “Just been awhile since anyone was interested in afterglow.”

Barry rests his head on Len’s shoulder, nosing softly at the skin of Len’s throat. “Afterglow’s the best part,” he murmurs.

The first thought that leaps to mind is, If this is the best part, I did something wrong. He doesn’t say it, because Barry’s actually right. This time, with him, it is.

Len closes his eyes, a rush of tenderness going through him like nothing he’s ever felt before. He can almost hear Lisa: That’s love, dumbass. Len’s lips curve into a smile and he turns his head, brushing his lips over Barry’s forehead. “Yeah, it is.”

~End~