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Not Exactly A Spring Awakening

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The first time Hartley 'left' STAR Labs, he was escorted out by security.  He couldn't bring his favorite mug home with him because it wasn't in his office when he cleaned it out under the watchful eyes of the security guards.  It was in the break room where he'd left it earlier on a drying rack.  He didn't realize he'd left behind one of his favorite pictures of his sister until days later when he was mid anxiety attack, unable to find it.

He found the mug and picture later, once he was 'reinstated' at STAR Labs.  They were in a box, with a few other things he'd left at the lab, or at Harrison's house, neatly packed away in Harrison's office.  Hartley doesn't find them until after Wells is revealed to be a fraud in ways that even he hadn't expected.

How, exactly, is one supposed to react when they learn their ex-lover had been wearing the face of his murder victim the entire time they'd been dating?  Hartley has no idea.  But finding out that Harrison had hung on to all of the little things Hartley had left behind and kept them close...

That was what decided Hartley.  He couldn't do it anymore.  He couldn't stay at STAR Labs any longer.  Too many memories, too many ghosts...

So Hartley leaves a second time.  This time, he has all his things.  And on the off chance he forgot something, Hartley knows all he has to do is ask and Cisco or Caitlin or Barry will find it for him.  He also gets a farewell dinner and a reminder that if he ever wants to come back, he's guaranteed a place with them no matter what.  It's a relief to know that despite everything, the three of them don't really hate Hartley after all.  He's leaving on good terms and, if his reputation hasn't been repaired as well as Hartley hoped it was, then going back to STAR Labs after some time away wouldn't be the worst fallback option Hartley's ever contemplated.

Of course, the next step is to work on his resume.

Hartley gets maybe a halfway through it and suddenly he can't concentrate anymore.  He finds himself on his tumblr dashboard for the third time in an hour and decides its time to take a walk.

Fresh air will help him concentrate... right?

So there Hartley is, wandering around a few blocks of downtown near his apartment complex, when he sees the sign.  There's literally a shaft of light coming down on it.  Central City Queer Theater Presents "It Shoulda Been You".  Auditions to be held starting that very day.

In high school, Hartley had participated in the after school theater.  He'd sold his parents on how it'd make him look well rounded on his college applications and reveled in the chance to be as flamboyant as he damn well pleased without being judged for it.  He'd taken part in "A Little Mermaid" - the sassiest Sebastian in a red suit - "Bugsy Malone" - starring as Bugsy himself, though their adaptation used water balloons and squirt guns and the audience got into the final battle too - and a few others.  All fun and respectable plays for a Catholic school to perform.  Hartley had longed, however, to perform something more modern.  Something political or queer or both.

But by the time Hartley was out of the closet, he was firmly entrenched in his career at STAR Labs.  No time for performing theater when he had science to do.

Staring at that sign, Hartley suddenly realized he'd missed it.  Missed the costume changes and the makeup and the singing... missed memorizing lines and getting so thoroughly in character that he was inadvertently acting the part in every day life... (playing the part of Bugsy had gotten Hartley through the only date with a girl he'd ever been on and even then there was - thankfully - no second date.)

Before Hartley was really aware that he'd made the decision, his legs were walking him into the theater and into the line for auditions.

Hartley doesn't really know much about the play.  He grabs a script to read from, joins the line of hopefuls, and flips to the synopsis first.

Brian and Rebecca are about to be wed, but what seems like it should be the perfect wedding is quickly marred by bickering in laws, the return of a trouble making ex, and the revelation that the bride and groom are both quite very gay.

Since the audition line is pretty long, Hartley has time to flip through the excerpts being used for the auditions to get an idea of what the play is like and it seems pretty amusing from what he reads.  He settles on auditioning for Greg and mentally goes over the section noted on the chalkboard for the Greg audition.  The scene where Greg, Brian, Jenny, and Annie try to convince Rebecca not to call off the wedding and singing part of Greg's only song in the play, "Love You Till the Day".

Which is when it occurs to Hartley that he hasn't really sung much since that last play he took part of in college.  Singing along to the radio didn't really count and the karaoke bars were a relatively new thing because Caitlin apparently loved them, despite being a truly awful singer.  (It's also hard to tell, in a karaoke bar, whether or not he's actually on key.)

So he's a bundle of nerves by the time he gets up on stage with two other hopefuls - a cute guy who is auditioning for Brian and a redhead auditioning for Annie- and they act out the scene with the director and a few others below subbing in for the other characters in the scene.  And despite Hartley's nervousness, he slides into character immediately.  Suddenly he's Greg, who was part of the planning for this whole thing but now desperately wants it to be over and getting snippier than he means to in his frustration, sending poor Annie running away in tears.

Then he's singing the first part of the "Love You Till the Day" with the redheaded woman.  They hook arms around each other's shoulders, swaying to the beat of the piano music, and Hartley gets her to pretend to clink invisible champagne glasses together with him as the music builds.  And then he's singing.

You, and only you forever.
You and me. A tie we'll never sever.
Will I ever leave?
Never ever.
I could never tell you goodbye.
I'll love you till the day you die.

The redhead takes over from there, belting out her part of the duet sweetly.

Now you'll always have me near you.
You can speak, and I will always hear you.
Want to know the truth?
I revere you.
Love for you I'll always supply.
I'll love you till the day you die.

The piano cuts off and Hartley pulls away to stand on his own, flushed and grinning because... he'd forgotten what a rush it was to perform on stage like this.  Even if he doesn't get the part, Hartley's ridiculously glad he came inside.  He and 'Annie' head off to the side while 'Brian' sings part of "Back in the Day" with the pianist himself filling in for George.

Then they all head off stage together.

"I'm Rachel Newetz," the redhead introduces herself, shaking first Hartley, then 'Brian's' hand.

"Brian Capell, so I was sort of obligated to try out for that part."  Brian grins impishly and Hartley's stomach flutters just a little bit.

"Hartley Rathaway."

"Any relation to the Rathaway Industry Rathaways?" Rachel asks, her tone going a touch frosty.

"Unfortunately," Hartley responds neutrally.  His parents were known for donating to queerphobic organizations, after all.  "Though if you can get them to admit that, it'll be more than I've managed for the last several years.  They didn't really take me being gay very well."  His tone went perfectly dry.

"That sucks," Brian offered.  "I was lucky my parents were cool with me being bi; didn't see that coming at all.  But what really blindsided me was when my favorite aunt - well, she used to be my favorite aunt anyway - turned out to be biphobic.  Real kick in the teeth getting told I'd make up my mind eventually."

Rachel gave Hartley another frosty look and politely bid them goodbye, heading out of the theater.

"Haven't had someone react that badly towards me over my parents in a long while," Hartley sighed, shifting uncomfortably but not really wanting to leave just yet.  He might never see Brian again if he left now, after all.  He should say something, ask the guy out for drinks later that evening maybe or get his phone number at least... right?

He was too nervous though and couldn't quite get the question out.

"It's not like you chose them and it sounds like you got disowned?"  Brian asked, tone gentle.

Hartley nodded.  "Yeah.  Haven't even spoken to them since right after college when I finally came out to them.  I know they do a lot of really shitty stuff, but that's not really something I've got any sort of control over.  Yet, sometimes people blame me anyway."

"Well, hopefully we'll get the parts, she won't, and the play will be absolutely awesome.  You were great up there, by the way.  Toasting the glasses - I assume that's what you were going for? - was a cute improv."  Brian grinned enthusiastically.  "I bet we'd have a lot of on stage chemistry too."

Hartley could feel his cheeks heat up.  "Y-yeah," he agreed, mentally cursing himself for the slight stammer.  Ask for his number, ask for his number, ask for his number, his thoughts basically chanted.

"Anyway, I've got to head out now, but we should hear back for callbacks this evening.  So I've got no doubt I'll see you tomorrow."  Numbly, Hartley replied affirmatively and then Brian was gone.

Hartley did not have the other man's number.  Dammit.

When Hartley gets back to his apartment, he returns to his resume.  He gets maybe a quarter more of it filled out, up to his 'termination' from STAR Labs.  And then he just...

He turns on Netflix and orders dinner and tries not to think about Harrison.  Or the play he'd auditioned for because he was so out of practice there was no way he'd get the part.

But then... Hartley's phone rings.  Unknown number.  He almost lets it go to voicemail, but picks up anyway.

"This is Donald Terrence," the man on the other end of the line greets him.  "Am I speaking to Hartley Rathaway."

"Yes," Hartley manages not to add an awkward 'that's me' on there.  The name sounded familiar and, hesitantly, Hartley asked, "is this about the audition earlier today?"

"That's right.  We'd like you to come back in for a callback tomorrow.  One o'clock sharp.  You'll be reading for Greg again, but we'll have you read a few other parts too.  You took a copy of the script excerpts home with you, right?"

The audition excerpts had been marked free for them to keep, so Hartley had indeed held on to his copy.  "That's right."

"Good.  I'd advise you read over it a few times tonight and in the morning.  Is there any reason you might not be able to make the callback?"

"No," Hartley assured him.  "I'll be there.  Thank you."

"You're welcome."  The call cut off there and Hartley bounced giddily in his seat.

He had a callback!

Clutching his phone in his hand, Hartley abruptly realized he didn't have anyone to share the news with.  He wanted to tell someone; this was good news, it deserved to be shared.  But... who'd actually care?  

There were only five contacts on Hartley's phone anyway.  STAR Labs, Cisco, Caitlin, Barry, and Joe.  Only four of those were actually people and none of them would be interested.

About to toss his phone away and curl up on his couch, feeling suddenly depressed and very, very lonely, the decision was taken out of his hands.  Sort of.  The phone began to ring again.

Barry's name was on the caller id.

Hartley answered and greeted Barry, trying to keep the caution from his voice.  There wasn't something they needed his help with back at STAR Labs already, was there?  Not likely, when they had Cisco, but it was possible.

"Hey Hartley," Barry replied, voice cheerful.  "Cisco, Caitlin, and I were about to head out to Catastrophe and we were hoping you'd join us?"  Catastrophe being a karaoke bar that rented out rooms instead of inflicting strangers on their patrons.  It was loud and Hartley kind of loved that about it because everything outside blurred together so well that it became a white noise of a sort and the only sounds he could process were the ones in the room he was in.

"Yeah, sure.  I... have something to celebrate anyway.  Kind of.  A tentative something anyway."  He put a hand over his mouth to stop the babbling.

"Do you have an interview lined up already?"  Barry sounded enthusiastic.  "That's awesome."

"Actually, no.  I'm still putting my resume back into something approaching order.  But I, uh... I might have a temporary, non-science job lined up.  Depends on how tomorrow goes."  Hartley paused a beat and then said, "I'll explain at the bar."

"Whatever it is, you sound happy about it.  I'm glad."

Hartley found himself grinning again.

He gets to the bar and heads inside, describes Barry and the others to the woman in charge of the room bookings, and is pointed in the direction of room four.  He stops by the bar and orders a blackberry cider and then pokes his head into the room.  Sure enough, Team Flash awaits him.

Caitlin must be a little tipsy already because she actually hugs Hartley - careful of his drink - and proclaims that she's missed him.  Cisco echoes the sentiment which is just odd.  Barry immediately demands Hartley share his good news.

"I kept deliberately distracting myself from finishing my resume so I ended up going on a walk around a few blocks, just to clear my head.  And it turns out there's a new community theater that's just gone in.  Central City Queer Theater.  They were holding auditions for their first play and..."

"You auditioned?"  Barry actually sounds jealous.  "Did you get the part?"

"I got a call back for tomorrow afternoon," Hartley replies, grinning.

"What's the play?" Cisco asks.

"It's a musical called It Shoulda Been You and it's a comedy.  And there was a really hot guy there who auditioned with me and I'm really hoping he's there again tomorrow because I froze up when I should've been getting his phone number."  Hartley put his glass on the table and flopped dramatically onto the couch next to Cisco.

Cisco laughs and pats Hartley's shoulder.  "There there," he teased.  "Better luck next time."

Caitlin snorts with amusement.

"It's a musical," Barry repeats, looking wistful.  "If you get that part, I'm gonna live vicariously through you," the speedster declares.  "I love musicals.  If it is possible to be addicted to musicals, then I most certainly am.  And unashamed."

"So, whose turn is it to sing?"  Hartley asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

"Yours," the other three chorused.

Snitching the controller for the karaoke machine off the table, Hartley pulled up the song list and started looking for just the right song.  Preferably something from a musical.

He settled on one of the songs from Wicked and turned to Barry.  "Duet?"

"Sure."  Barry beamed and Hartley started up the music.

Hartley is back at the theater exactly on time and spends the next couple of hours reading lines with a lot of other perspective cast members.  Including Brian, whose presence makes Hartley a little giddy every time they read together.

There's only thirteen parts, though, which means only twenty-six of them are going to make it as either main cast or understudies.  Hartley's fairly confident, by the end of the hour, that he's getting a part.  No idea at this point which part, but he's been called on to read lines and sing a lot.

But once again, they're all let go with no promises made.  It makes Hartley nervous and, once again, he fails to get Brian's phone number.  He goes home to his apartment feeling wound up and anxious.

They don't call back until the following morning and he immediately heads over to the theater.

He's been cast as Greg after all - Hartley is completely okay with this part - and he skims over the contract they offer him before he signs.  It's not the best paycheck he's ever earned, but he can afford the temporary pay cut for the next month and a half.  Then he'll be recharged from doing something fun for a change and go back into science.

(Hartley tries not to think too hard on why he's enthusiastic about the play and reluctant to work on his resume or submit applications... honestly, all he had to do was call Dr. McGee and he'd be hired on at Mercury labs without even needing his resume.  He just... needs a break, that's all.)

Hartley calls Barry afterwards.  "I got the part," he says when Barry answers and he grins ridiculously when Barry cheers for him.

Their pianist is a guy named Dante Ramon.  Hartley probably wouldn't have guessed he was Cisco's brother - Ramon isn't exactly a rare surname, after all - but he's heard Cisco bitch about his brother enough times to be reasonably sure that this isn't just any Dante Ramon.

So Hartley's not surprised when, almost inevitably, he manages to rub the guy the wrong way.

Maybe he's too acerbic, maybe Dante's just unnecessarily territorial about a piano that isn't even his, maybe Cisco said something to Dante about Hartley back when they still loathed each other's existence...

Maybe Dante just really hates Hartley's taste in music?

But, yeah, Hartley gets there early for the first rehearsal and kills some time reacquainting himself with how to play the piano while waiting for everyone else to show up.  (Okay, so he wasn't just early; he was extremely early, filled with nerve-wracking, excited energy.)  He was in the middle of playing - and singing - "Someday" by Rob Thomas when Dante Ramon arrived and he could feel the elder Ramon brother's glare on his back all the way up until the man was standing by the bench and the last notes of the music were fading.

Hartley smiled politely, vacated the piano bench immediately, and attempted to introduce himself.

"I know who you are," Ramon snaps testily.

That evening, Hartley hesitantly calls Cisco.  "I think your brother hates me," he says.

"Dante's a dick.  Don't worry about it," Cisco assures him in amusement.

"What the hell are you doing here, Cisco?" Dante demands.

"Is that a normal, brotherly greeting between you two?" Hartley asks innocently, sidling over to Cisco.  It's lunch time and Caitlin was supposed to be here too.  He doesn't see her, though, and wonders if she's waiting in the car or if she went ahead to the cafe.

"Unfortunately."  Cisco rolled his eyes and turned back to his brother.  "I'm not here for you, Dante, you can relax."  Then, to Hartley again, "Caitlin's getting us a table.  Barry isn't going to be able to join after all, but Iris will be there."

"Just let me go grab my stuff and I'll be right back," Hartley replied with a grin, heading off to the locker room to get his wallet and phone.  His keys can stay, though, since the rehearsal will resume after the lunch break is over.

"So... is that your boyfriend?" Brian asked, fidgeting with the contents of his own locker.

"Cisco?  No, we're not dating."  Hartley grinned and shook his head.  He wants to say they're friends, but he also doesn't want to presume.  "I used to work at STAR Labs with him."

"Oh, you're a scientist then?" Brian was grinning over at Hartley now and he nodded.


"What brought you to the theater, then?"

"Procrastinating on updating my resume," Hartley admitted.  "The last few years have been kind of intense."

"After what happened with the accelerator there, I can imagine," Brian responded sympathetically.  He really can't imagine at all, but its sweet of him to try to sympathize nonetheless.  "So, a group of us are going for drinks this evening.  Do you want to join us?"

Hartley nods and smiles a little brighter.  "I'd love to."

On the afternoon of their last full dress rehearsal before the first performance, Hartley snatched up three tickets for the premiere and headed out to the lobby to wait for Caitlin.  They were allowed four free tickets for any one performance for friends and family, but Cisco was getting one from Dante so Hartley was only providing three: Caitlin, Barry, and Iris.  It did mean that Cisco wouldn't be sitting with his friends, but he would be sitting with his parents and apparently he was trying to get on better terms with them.  Hartley wished him luck and kept any jealousy he might feel to himself.  (Because he really wanted Cisco to have that, even if Hartley never could.)

It turned out, however, that Caitlin got there ahead of Hartley.  And Rachel was there, flirting with her.

Caitlin looked caught somewhere between flattered and uncomfortable.  And it was no wonder, considering Caitlin had only been a widow for a few months now.  Even if Ronnie's death had been something she'd grieved once before, there was no way Caitlin was ready to deal with something like this.

So he walked up, ignoring Rachel's baleful glare (she'd been made an understudy for Annie's part and that had only kicked her dislike of Hartley up a notch since he was on the main cast), and handed over the tickets to Caitlin.  "Alright, three tickets as ordered," he said cheerfully.

"Thanks, Hartley," Caitlin replied, smiling and looking a touch too relieved to see him.  "I can't wait to see the play tomorrow night."

"I'm really glad you're all coming," Hartley admitted.  "Your seats shouldn't be too far from Cisco's," he added.  "The tickets Dante grabbed are for a row ahead and a little to the right."  He'd been surprised Dante had even let Hartley see the tickets before leaving with them earlier, but the pianist had sullenly allowed Hartley a look.

"Iris said the new critic at the Central City Picture News is supposed to be there too," Caitlin told him and he felt his anxiety go up a notch.

He should've expected that, really.  It was a new theater troupe putting on their first play and some local coverage could help boost sales.  If the play did well enough, they might even extend showings by a week.  And the next play... well, Hartley wasn't going to let himself think about the next play right now.  Because if he let himself start thinking about that then he'd have to consider where his career as a physicist was going and he wasn't... he wasn't ready to decide anything there yet.

(His resume was still unfinished on his laptop.)

"A critic, really?  And I'm going to be stuck backstage the whole time," Rachel huffed, pouting and batting her eyes at Caitlin.  "Such a shame."

"That's... too bad," Caitlin replied, with a stilted, forced smile.

"Do you want to grab dinner?" Hartley asked, "or did you need to head back to the lab already?" Either way, Caitlin had an out now.

She smiled gratefully.  "Dinner sounds lovely.  Cisco's with his parents tonight and Barry and Iris are at Joe's, so I hope you don't mind its just me?"

"You're always excellent company," Hartley assured her.  "Let me go change and then I can meet you outside?"

"Sounds good.  My car is parked in the first row, okay?"  She gratefully slipped away while Hartley could feel Rachel's angry glare settle on him.

"What the hell was that?" she demanded.  "I thought you were gay."

Hartley gave her his best bewildered stare because, seriously, what the hell?  "I am gay.  What, are gay guys not allowed to have dinner with friends now?  Or is it just that you don't think I should have friends."

And, okay, so it was possibly a one sided friendship where they tolerated him for reasons he didn't understand, but Rachel didn't need to know that.

"I was flirting with her," Rachel stressed.

"You were making her uncomfortable.  Her husband died during the singularity event, Rachel, and you were ignoring her not so subtle cues to back the hell off."  Hartley scowled at her.  "Not everything is about you."

He turned and stalked off to go change into his clothes and grab his things from the locker room.  One of the other actresses, who'd been quietly eavesdropping, scolded Rachel too, only serving to piss the redhead off further.

"Everything okay?" Brian asked, when Hartley joined him in the locker room and he saw the grumpy look on Hartley's face.

"Just Rachel being a bitch again.  Apparently I'm not allowed to get in the way of her unwanted flirting with Caitlin.  Because god forbid I be friendly with a woman or my gay card will be revoked."

Brian choked on his laughter. "She didn't."

"I thought you were gay," Hartley repeated in a falsetto.

"Wow, she did.  I really don't know if I wish I knew what her problem is or if I feel I'm better off not knowing."  Brian shook his head, shutting his locker and picking up his bag.  "Do you have dinner plans?"

"Dinner with Caitlin, but... you could join us if you wanted.  I don't think she'd mind."

Biting his lower lip nervously, Brian nodded.  "If you're sure?"

"I'm sure."

(Caitlin didn't mind at all and dinner was fun.  And Hartley maybe touched Brian's hands a little more than was strictly necessary, but the other man seemed to very much enjoy the attention.)

While the audience is being seated, Hartley takes a look out at the audience and nearly has a heart attack.

His parents are out there.  It's a cramped little community theater where pretty much all the seats are cheap seats and his parents are in one of two little balconies.  His parents are in the balcony of the opening night of a musical that Hartley is performing in.  They rarely came to see him in his high school performances and they hadn't even disowned him then.

And it's being marketed as a queer play with a queer cast and... and...

What the fuck are they even doing here?

Hartley feels like he's got a panic attack coming on and Dante, of all people, grabs Hartley and pulls him into a relatively quiet back hall.

"Hey, don't worry," the older Ramon offers Hartley a stick of gum.  "I always get nervous before any kind of performance."

"Thanks."  Hartley takes the gum, but just sort of stares at it blankly.  "But that's... its not performance jitters or something like that.  My parents are out there.  My homophobic parents.  Who hate me.  They're out there in balcony section."

"Oh."  Dante sounded uncertain.  "That, I'm afraid I have no good advice for."

"I don't even know how they found out about this," Hartley's voice shook and went a little shrill.  Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he covered his face with his free hand.  "Better I know now than notice them mid line on stage.  I'd never hear the end of it if I had to get prompted after staring in shock at the audience," he muttered.

"Want me to get Brian?"

Hartley shook his head, giving Dante a confused look.

"Oh come on.  You two are the worst flirts in the history of actors flirting with their co-stars."  Dante smirked and Hartley couldn't help but snicker in amusement.

"I'll be fine," Hartley insisted, and then shook his head ruefully.  "It could be worse."

"What would be worse than your parents?"

"Harrison Wells back from the dead," Hartley dead panned.  Dante didn't even need to know Hartley's full history with that man to nod in agreement.

"Okay, yeah.  Don't know what went down with him, but anything that could make Cisco's opinion of the dude one-eighty like it did had to be bad news."  Dante paused and then shuddered, "Captain Cold and Heatwave showing up would be pretty awful too."

That was right.  Dante had a very bad experience with those two.  Lisa Snart, too, though she didn't seem to register much compared to her brother and his partner.

Hartley quirked an eyebrow.  "Cisco made a panic button app for our phones; he did stick one on yours too, right?"

Dante nodded.  "Yeah, and it does make me feel safer, but... I'm still pissed at him.  For getting me dragged into that bullshit in the first place."

"That's why you don't like me, isn't it?  Because I'm involved with Team Flash, even if only peripherally these days."  Finally, at last Dante's dislike of him made sense.

Shrugging, Dante looked away guiltily.

"Look... your brother did something stupid, letting Snart see his face.  But dressing up a vacuum cleaner with LEDs to try and protect his friend was kind of badass too.  Sometimes trying to do the right thing comes back to bite people on the butt.  And Cisco is nothing if not the poster child for trying to do the right thing."

"LEDs on a vacuum cleaner?" Dante echoed, eyes widening.

Hartley smirked, knowing he'd hooked the other guy.  "Yeah.  Bluffed Snart with it, apparently.  I doubt Snart actually bought the lie, but he didn't call Cisco on it either.  Of course, I only know the story second hand.  You should get Cisco to tell it.  He claims its a harrowing tale, but mostly it's just hilarious the way he embellishes things."

Snorting in amusement, Dante nodded.  "How did we get onto this topic anyway?  I thought this conversation was about your family drama?"

"Aww, man, I was just calming down too," Hartley grumbled.  He glanced at the gum in his hand again and then unwrapped it, popping the mint flavored stick into his mouth.  "My parents are in the balcony and there's at least one newspaper critic in the audience somewhere.  God, my nerves are awful right now."

Dante grimaced.  "This is my first live performance since my hands got iced."  He clenched and unclenched his hands nervously.  "But you know what?  Doesn't matter.  Any of it.  You're going to go on stage and give an amazing performance.  I'm going to do a great job on the piano in the orchestra pit.  And tonight is going to go extremely well for all of us."

"Yeah.  Yeah, it is," Hartley agrees.  "We're gonna be fine."

The play goes off without a hitch.  Hartley has a blast playing Greg; he doesn't get self conscious the three times he got to kiss Brian on stage or when he sings the duet with Annie's actress Tammy, both of them pretending to be a little drunk at the reception for their respective lover's wedding.  It's all weirdly cathartic to be putting on such a blatantly gay musical in front of his parents.  And somehow Hartley manages to avoid the temptation to look up to find out if he could even see them in the darkened theater until the curtain call, when all the actors come out for a final bow.

Though he can tell there's two somebodies up there, Hartley can't see their faces at all.

Hartley walks out into the lobby - still dressed as Greg - to do a meet and greet with audience along with the rest of the cast.  They're all in character and its a lot of fun, taking pictures with... fans?  Does Hartley have fans now?

He gets asked a few times if he's got a youtube channel because his voice is gorgeous or they want to listen to more of his singing or...

Holy shit, he's got fans now.

It's a good thing he's in character or Hartley might have started freaking out a little bit.  Brian's hand on Hartley's shoulder is a wonderfully steadying presence.  Which is especially useful as Hartley is peripherally aware that his parents are still there.  In the lobby.  Standing off in a corner talking quietly and glancing at him.

Hartley's got his aides turned down to their second lowest setting so that his hearing is almost normal and he's grateful that the noisy crowd drowns out whatever his parents are saying to each other.  He'd probably break character if they actually spoke to him.

But, eventually, they head back stage and change into their own clothes and Hartley heads back out into the lobby.  He meets a few more fans on his way to Cisco, Barry, Caitlin, and Iris.

"Hartley, you were wonderful," Iris tells him enthusiastically, hugging him first.

"I'm more jealous now than ever," Barry informs him mock solemnly.  "You really were great out there."

"Your delivery of the lines was hilarious," Caitlin chimed in, giving him a hug of her own.  "I couldn't stop laughing."

Cisco hugs Hartley too.  "I don't think I've ever seen you have so much fun.  Are you thinking of sticking with acting after this play is over?  Because you definitely have the talent for it, dude."

And that's when the light bulb goes off over Hartley's head.  Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

These are his friends.  Not just some one-sided thing the way he'd feared, either.  They honestly like him and want him to be happy and consider him a friend.

Hartley can't remember the last time he had honest to god friends.  It feels good and he smiles even brighter just... basking in the suddenly warm feeling inside his chest.

"I don't know," Hartley responds, a little slow to respond because of his epiphany.  "I do kind of feel like I've found something I love more than science."  It's oddly freeing to admit that out loud.  "But I don't want to give up being a physicist altogether."

"You could always work out something part time with STAR Labs.  Something you could mostly do working from home, since I know half the reason you left was because you don't feel comfortable in the building anymore," Barry offered.  "I'm sure Cisco has plenty of ideas for things you could do."

"Quite a few ideas, actually," Cisco said with a grin.

"We did promise you'd always have a place with us, after all," Caitlin chimed in.

"So tell us about this Brian guy I hear you've got a crush on," Iris spoke up.

Hartley hushed her, blushing as he glanced over at the man in question.  "I'm wary about dating a coworker when that went so badly for me the last time," Hartley hissed quietly.

"Sorry."  Iris had followed his gaze, though.  "That's right, Brian played Brian.  That's cute.  He's cute," she amended.

"He likes Hartley back," Caitlin added conspiratorially, a teasing grin on her face as she linked arms with Hartley.  "He was very sweet when he went to dinner with Hartley and I last night.  Couldn't take his eyes off Hartley all evening."

Hartley blushed hard.  "Caitlin," he whined.

"All right, all right.  I'll stop teasing.  For now."

"Also, you brought up food and I'm starving."  Hartley gave them a woe-begone look.  "I need food."

"And food you shall have," Barry promised with a laugh.  "I know pretty much all the restaurants in the area.  What are you in the mood for?"

As they made dinner plans and left the theater, Hartley deliberately ignored his parents off in the corner.  They hadn't tried to approach him themselves and while it was possible they were waiting for him to be alone, Hartley wasn't going to make it easy for them.  He wasn't going to be the one to walk up to them either.  After years of reaching out and having his hand slapped, they could put forth the effort if they wanted something from him now.

So he walked out of the theater into the cool evening air and felt... triumphant.