* * *
Cisco was beyond relieved when his elderly neighbour Eobard Thawne died – which sounded awful, obviously, but Cisco couldn't help how he felt. The guy had freaked him out since the moment they'd first met! There'd just been something about his icy stare and cold handshake that had pierced Cisco right through to his heart. Anyway. The point was, Thawne had been living in the apartment across the hall from Cisco for what seemed like centuries, but now, it was empty.
Well. For approximately 24 hours.
Cisco was running late – he was supposed to be at class in five minutes, and campus was a ten minute walk away. He was juggling his satchel, headphones, jacket, apartment keys and a piece of toast while trying to open his door to leave. He made it into the hall before losing his grip on his satchel. Textbooks decorated the carpet, pens rolled in spirals around him. Cisco sighed, shoved the piece of toast in his mouth, and bent down to start picking everything up.
"Are – are you okay? I, um, heard a crash and thought you might need some help?"
Cisco blinked up, and saw a man leaning through the doorframe of the apartment opposite. Thawne's old apartment. He was peering down at Cisco, eyes full with concern, and a tuft of his brown hair had escaped from his otherwise perfect quiff. He was, quite possibly, the prettiest person that Cisco had ever encountered. Naturally, Cisco's cheeks and neck flooded with heat in seconds.
"Mm fnne," Cisco said through his toast. He swallowed his mouthful with difficulty and threw the rest of the toast, along with his textbooks, into his satchel. Cisco reached out to snag one of the runaway pens, but long slender fingers bet him to it.
"Oops, sorry," said the man, and was that a giggle? He handed the pen over, along with all of Cisco's other pens too. Their skin brushed together, sending sparks up Cisco's arm.
"Oh! I'm Barry," he said. Barry waved his hand towards the apartment he'd appeared from. The door was still hanging open. "I just moved in this morning!"
Did Cisco have a guardian angel that he didn't know about? Because seriously, the upgrade from Thawne to this – this fucking gorgeous human being in front of him – this was more than he deserved. Cisco's heart felt like a butterfly dancing in his chest. He had to play this cool.
"Well," Cisco said. "You're already in the running for the Best Neighbour Ever, just so you know."
"Okay," Barry let out another giggle, and Cisco decided it was his new favourite sound. "Who's my competition?"
"You'll have to watch out for Mrs Briggs downstairs, she's a total sweetheart. The only reason she hasn't already won the title is that she plays her music really loud, because she refuses to wear her hearing aids at home, but you know. Other than that."
"I will note that down," Barry said. "And, um, speaking of noting things down – I don't think you told me your name yet?"
Flames returned to Cisco's traitorous face.
"Oh god, yeah, sorry. I'm Cisco."
"Cisco," Barry repeated, as if he was tasting the name on his tongue. "That's a beautiful name!"
Really? Really? Who even went around saying that to people, fuck. Especially to people you've literally just met? Cisco stared at Barry, who stared back, and the silence was getting a bit awkward now, but what was there for Cisco to say?
The moment between them was broken when Barry's apartment door suddenly slammed shut, seemingly of its own accord. Both Cisco and Barry jumped, and it certainly didn't do Cisco's pulse rate any favours.
"What the hell? Man, that was loud," Barry laughed, and his eyes actually fucking crinkled – and yeah, this was outrageous. Cisco tried to force his brain to come up with something, anything.
"Oh, don't worry, that's just the apartment ghost," he joked.
"Right, of course," said Barry, nodding seriously. His lips, however, were twitching. "Hope it's a friendly ghost."
"Hmm – yeah, given that the guy who used to live there was a total creep, I doubt it."
"That's alright," Barry said softly. "I've got a good feeling about this place, so I'll take my chances."
Cisco felt a dopey grin begin to slide over his face. He gave his head a little shake, and gripped his satchel strap tighter.
...oh no, his satchel. He was supposed to be in class right now.
"Shit, I've got to go – sorry," Cisco added, grimacing at Barry. "I'm really late."
"Oh, no, I've been holding you up –"
"No, no, it's... fine, you weren't – "
"I'll see you round?" Barry said, and his smile was so sweet that Cisco likely would have gotten a tooth cavity if he'd looked at it for any longer.
"I hope so," said Cisco, before he lost his nerve. And then he fled. You know, like the cool, calm and collected person he was.
* * *
Cisco absolutely had been hoping to see Barry again – but he hadn't thought it would be in circumstances quite like this. It was two days later, and Cisco had the front door of his apartment flung open, as well as all of his windows. He'd been craving his abuela's alcapurrias and had been attempting to recreate them, but it had not gone as planned. His kitchen was a smoky haze, his eyes were watering and he was pretty sure that his eyebrows were singed. Cisco was just wondering which Chinese takeout to order when he heard a scream, followed by a thump.
It kind of sounded like it had come from across the hall, from Barry's apartment. Would it be weird if Cisco went over there to check? It would probably be weird. But, what if Barry was hurt? Or unconscious, even? What if nobody checked on him for days, or weeks, and then their building's landlord went in for an inspection and found that Barry had been dead for months, lying there on the floor, rotting –
Cisco shuddered. Sometimes he hated having an overactive imagination. Now he had to go and check. He squinted his way through the grey plumes still filling his apartment, and made his way to Barry's door.
He knocked. There was a muffled curse from somewhere within. Cisco waited a long moment, and then knocked again.
"Barry? You in there?"
There was a clatter of footsteps, and then –
"Wha – Cisco? Uh... what's up?"
A crucial connection had short-circuited in Cisco's brain, rendering him unable to do or say anything, because Barry was – well, Barry was naked. Half naked, his brain supplied helpfully, not that the towel thrown around Barry's waist was leaving much to the imagination. There were actual water droplets glittering on his chest, which Cisco was definitely not staring at.
"Ahh..." Cisco blinked firmly, ripping his gaze up to Barry's face. To Barry's wet hair, flopping down onto his forehead, and the pink flush painting Barry's cheeks. "I, ah. Heard a scream. I thought you might be... rotting to death?"
Yep, he seriously did just say that out loud.
"Oh – um, yeah, that was me – I screamed. I was in the shower, and I thought I saw someone out of the corner of my eye." Barry gave a small laugh. A shiver of goosebumps raced across his bare shoulders. "It was nothing, obviously, it just gave me a fright. But definitely not, um, rotting to death!"
"Right. Good. I'm glad. Because. That would, you know... suck."
Cisco was not thinking about Barry in the shower. Not even a little bit.
"Anyway, everything's fine. I'm fine. I'm just not used to my new apartment yet."
Barry had barely finished speaking when a deep groaning noise came from within said apartment, almost like metal scraping together. There were a few more rumbling pings, and then silence.
"...uh, that wasn't creepy at all," Barry said, clearly trying to sound like he was amused by this, but his eyes were wide and he had his arms hugged around his own waist. Something tugged at Cisco's heart, and before he'd thought it through, he was saying,
"Maybe you could come over to mine for dinner? So you can... let everything settle down in there?"
Relief flooded Barry's eyes.
"Are you sure? I wouldn't be, like... imposing, would I?"
"No way, man. Although I did almost burn my kitchen down five minutes ago, so heads up, we will be having Chinese."
"I love Chinese," Barry smiled. Cisco didn't realise that he was drifting closer to Barry – or was Barry drifting closer to him? – until another ancient, metallic creak made Cisco blink.
"Um, let me just get dressed first. I mean, obviously, ha, can't come over like this," said Barry. Cisco nodded, furiously biting the inside of his cheek.
Oh hell, he was so screwed.
After they'd eaten far too much chow mein and countless wontons between them, Barry and Cisco wound up watching Mean Girls (a cinematic masterpiece, in Cisco's opinion). Well, Cisco did – Barry actually fell asleep halfway through. Cisco spent the rest of the film fretting over whether he should wake Barry up, or leave him. He did look pretty tired. Even with the dark smudges beneath his eyes, Barry was still breathtaking. Cisco's gaze caught on the way Barry's eyelashes were brushing against his cheeks. Cisco had managed to remove himself from the sofa and had just shut his fridge door when Barry jerked awake, his long limbs floundering for a second.
"Oh, man, sorry," Barry said. He blinked owlishly, and shoved a hand through his hair so that it stuck up in all kinds of ridiculous angles. "I didn't mean to fall asleep!"
Cisco raised his hands in a placating gesture from over in the kitchen.
"The body wants what the body wants. You must have needed it."
"Yeah... I, uh, haven't been sleeping well since moving in," Barry said. He averted his eyes to the carpet. Cisco was trying to work out the etiquette here – should he ask Barry to stay for coffee? Would Barry take that as coffee, or "coffee"? And what way did Cisco even want Barry to take it? However, Barry unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps) soon derailed that particular train of thought.
"Cisco... do you believe in ghosts?"
Cisco raised an eyebrow, but Barry seemed sincere. His mouth was creased into a tiny frown.
"Barry, I'm a man of science, so..." Cisco said diplomatically.
"Dude, so am I!" Barry let out a humourless laugh, and rubbed his forehead with his knuckles. "But, it's – there's something about this apartment that doesn't feel right. It feels... kind of like it's haunted."
Cisco couldn't repress a snort.
"I mean, I wouldn't put it past old Eobard Thawne to come back from the grave if it gave him the chance to piss people off and/or freak people out –" Cisco began.
"The guy who used to live in my apartment is dead?" Barry cried. His face had turned a grey milky colour, and he was gripping the edge of Cisco's sofa with an alarming amount of strength.
"Well, yeah, seeing how he actually died in the apartment..." Cisco trailed off as Barry made a distressed 'nngh!' sound. Oops. "Wait – I thought the landlord would've told you?"
"Ha. Nope." Barry's voice was definitely higher pitched than usual.
"Ah." Cisco winced. "But, like – Thawne was old. Old people die, that's what old people do!"
Cisco didn't think he was reassuring Barry at all.
"It's just... argh," Barry scrapped his fingers down his cheeks. "This is going to sound crazy. But weird things have been happening since I moved in. Like, okay, the door slamming when I first met you in the hall? And a couple of my windows have been opening and shutting by themselves, and my stuff keeps, like, randomly moving around my apartment. I mean, that last one is probably just me forgetting where I put things, because it's a new layout and everything, but – I don't know! And now this thing in the shower –"
Cisco's feet were moving before he realised it. He lowered himself onto the sofa next to Barry, and resisted the urge to curl his arm around Barry's shoulders.
"Hey, everyone who's even heard of Psycho knows that the shower is the scariest place in any house," Cisco said gently. "And like you said, it's a new and strange apartment to you. Things aren't where you're used to them being. As for the door, and the windows – that's probably just the wind."
"I guess," Barry said. He was studying his knees.
"Barry, I swear to you, your apartment doesn't have a ghost. That was a stupid joke I made, because – I don't know – I'm generally awful at human interactions?"
"You're doing okay right now," said Barry, quietly, so that Cisco had to lean forwards slightly to hear him. Barry turned his head, one side of his mouth lifting upwards ever-so-slightly, and wow, they were a lot closer than Cisco had expected. How had his arm ended up resting on the back of the sofa behind Barry? All he had to do was move a few inches closer, and their noses would touch –
One of their cellphones chose that moment to vibrate, and they both sprang apart. Jesus, if that was Caitlin sending him another cat video, Cisco would seriously scream.
"Sorry, it's, uh, it's my Dad, um, my – Joe, he wants to – he was wondering if it was good time to call," Barry said, and they both pretended that he wasn't stuttering over every word. "I'd better go."
"Sure, yeah. Of course. I'll, uh, see you next time!" Cisco said, injected a tad too much cheer into his tone.
"Thanks for dinner," Barry said, looking at him through his eyelashes. "And... everything."
"Oh, anytime, dude. My door's always open. Uh, like, not literally always open, because I don't always burn stuff – I can cook, I swear –"
"Maybe you can show me sometime," said Barry. No force in the universe could have prevented Cisco from swooning on the inside.
* * *
Barry began dropping by Cisco's apartment more frequently after that. He usually had some sort of reason, like he'd bought too many donuts for one person to eat, or he wanted to watch a certain movie with Cisco, but other times he just seemed like... he didn't want to be alone.
Which Cisco was fine with. More than fine with, actually. Getting to spend more time with his beautiful neighbour Barry, who was nerdy like he was, who had an adorable laugh and a smile that shined like... like, literal sunshine? Of course Cisco was fine with it.
However, putting Cisco's ridiculous crush to one side, there had been something a bit off about Barry. Enough to worry Cisco. Barry had been acting oddly, such as jumping at sudden sounds, or regularly glancing around the room, and he often appeared to be exhausted, as if he wasn't sleeping at all. Cisco wasn't quite sure how to ask what was going on – he really didn't want to scare Barry off.
"Hey, uh, Cisco," Barry said one evening, during the closing credits of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. "Do you mind if I use your shower before I leave?"
"Uh... no, I don't mind?" Cisco swallowed down his more inappropriate thoughts. "But... can I ask why?"
Barry sighed, and looked away. The table lamp cast shadows across his face.
"It happened again," he said. "Last night. I was taking a shower, and I could have sworn I saw someone in the bathroom with me! But when I turned to get a proper look, they disappeared." Barry swallowed thickly. "And I don't know why, but I just got this awful feeling that something bad was going to happen."
"Barry –" Cisco said helplessly.
"And the night before that, my kitchen light was sizzling, like on and off. I thought it was a faulty bulb, but I changed it for a new one, and the same thing happened." Barry was chewing his bottom lip, and his eyes looked suspiciously shiny. "I think I'm going crazy."
"Barry, you're not crazy," Cisco said. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for all of this –"
"Yeah, that my apartment's freaking haunted!"
Cisco wanted to hug Barry so badly, but he didn't know whether they'd reached that point in their friendship yet. After a few more seconds of watching Barry almost vibrate with anxiety, however, Cisco decided that he didn't care. Barry needed this. Cisco shuffled over on the sofa and wrapped both arms around Barry's shoulders – not an easy feat, with Barry being taller than him, but Cisco was determined to make Barry feel safe and surrounded, like he was snuggled in a blanket. It took Barry a moment, but eventually he raised his hands to sink into the back of Cisco's shirt. They slotted together as if they'd been created specifically for each other.
"You must think I'm a total mess," Barry murmured a few minutes later. His breathing had finally slowed to match Cisco's. "I promise I'm not usually this... weird."
"Lucky for you, I like weird." Cisco's cheek had, at some point, nestled against Barry's shoulder, which meant that Barry's nose was probably buried in Cisco's hair. It was surprisingly comfortable being bundled up like this.
"Do you believe me, about all the freaky things going on in my apartment?" Barry asked. Something in his voice sounded like he might crack apart at the slightest provocation. Cisco moved back so that he could look Barry in the eyes.
"I believe you, Barry," said Cisco, and Barry released a deep pent-up breath. "I also believe that there will be an explanation for them. We just have to find the cause to the effect."
"Um... 'we'?" Barry repeated. His irises had flecks of green in them – Cisco hadn't realised before now. "Does that mean you're gonna help me? Like, do some paranormal investigating with me?"
"I mean, what are friends even for?"
The smile that broke out onto Barry's face was like staring directly into the sun.
"Thanks, Cisco, you're the best."
Barry pulled Cisco close again to give him a grateful squeeze.
"By the way. I lied before, when I said I'm not usually this weird. I am... often weird."
"I'd noticed," Cisco said drily, but he couldn't help a fond smile taking over his lips. "So. Wanna watch The Search For Spock next?"
* * *
True to his word, Cisco went over to Barry's apartment the next day after class to start their, well, paranormal investigation. They began with the windows.
"I mean... these are pretty old latches," Cisco said, inspecting them. "Maybe they've been coming loose in the wind?"
"Yeah, I suppose that makes sense," said Barry, but he was frowning.
"You could ask the landlord to replace them."
"Pfft, fat chance."
Next item: the apartment front door.
"I could try tightening the hinges," Cisco offered, after they had both stared at the door for a solid minute. "That might... help?"
"You're just making shit up, aren't you," Barry said, pouting.
"Hey, I'm a scientist, not a builder, alright?"
Barry hid a laugh behind his fingers.
"Want me to Google it?" he asked.
Checking out the kitchen light was a little nearer to Cisco's area of expertise, but not by much. At least, he'd thought it would be. He switched the light switch on and off a couple of times. So far, so good.
"What did you say the problem was again?" he said, but before Barry could even open his mouth, there was a sudden smashing noise, and glass was skidding over the entire kitchen floor. The light bulb had dropped straight out of the fitting and shattered into thousands of pieces.
"Oh, shit," groaned Barry. Thankfully neither of them had been standing near the light bulb, but Cisco insisted that they brush each other down, just in case any glass had jumped onto them. Strictly for safety, of course.
"I think you need an expert," Cisco said.
An electrician came the next day. He unscrewed a few things, mumbled to himself, screwed the same things back in, and said that everything should be 'all good now'. And... as unlikely as it sounded, everything kind of was good? Granted, Cisco and Barry hadn't investigated the shower yet (something which Cisco was purposely putting off for as long as possible because, hello, his ridiculous crush didn't need any more fuel with an exact image of Barry's shower) – however, Barry said that he hadn't seen anything for a couple of nights now.
"I mean... I have kind of been showering with my eyes closed," he admitted somewhat sheepishly. "But, you know. That's still something. Right?"
Barry's eyes were so earnest and puppy-like that Cisco didn't have the heart to disagree with him.
* * *
It was around eleven o'clock on Friday evening. Cisco had only been home for an hour or so – he'd been at the lab, monitoring an important section of his current experiment. Yeah, he was that much of a nerd. He was in bed, playing Hogwarts Mystery on his phone, because he was shameless, and because, goddamn it, didn't everyone have a secret desire to go to Hogwarts? Anyway, he was living out his life-long dream of becoming a wizard, and then someone was knocking on his door. Very loudly.
"M'coming," mumbled Cisco, blinking rapidly as he turned on the light in his living room. For some reason, it never occurred to Cisco that it might be Barry. He'd seen Barry earlier that morning, and everything had been fine. He was looking better – less tired, less freaked out. It wouldn't be Barry at the door. It was probably, Cisco thought sleepily, Mrs Briggs – she sometimes came to Cisco for help with technology related problems. She kept odd hours. Maybe she'd blown up her microwave. Again. Anyway, Mrs Briggs wouldn't care if he was just wearing a pair of boxers and a singlet, so Cisco headed straight to his apartment door.
And promptly regretted it.
"Barry!" Cisco said, probably louder than necessary. He was suddenly conscious of the fact that his singlet exposed a lot of his arms and chest, and that his boxers were very thin.
"Hi Cisco," Barry said with a weak smile. Cisco's brain was just about to start cycling through a stream of panicked thoughts about his own appearance, but then he noticed that Barry wasn't looking that calm himself. Barry's gaze was darting over his shoulder, and then back at Cisco, and his hands were clenched together like he wanted to wring the life out of his fingers. His hair was a bit damp and sticking up all over the place, as if he'd rubbed a towel over it without paying any attention to what he was doing. The sight of Barry looking so – well, scared and miserable – forced Cisco's embarrassment to fade into the background.
"What's wrong?" Cisco said immediately.
"Um – it's stupid, I'm just being ridiculous, but – uh, could I maybe sleep on your sofa tonight?"
A neuron misfired in Cisco's brain. That was... unexpected. It was enough of a surprise for him to hesitate, and Barry's mouth crumpled.
"Actually, never mind – it's fine, I don't need to –"
"Wait, no, Barry, of course you can stay here," Cisco blurted out. He noticed that Barry was shivering, despite being huddled in a baggy hoodie and sweatpants. "Come in. Just, uh, give me a second –"
Cisco threw on his Star Wars dressing gown, so that he wasn't completely underdressed, while Barry collapsed on the sofa. He then made two mugs of hot cocoa, because it seemed like the Right Thing To Do, and moved to sit next to Barry.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Cisco asked. Barry bit down on his bottom lip.
"Not really, because I don't want you to think I'm a freaking lunatic. Even more than you already do, I mean."
"Barry, we've talked about this. I don't think you're crazy."
"Well I think I'm crazy," Barry sniffed. He wouldn't meet Cisco's eyes, instead choosing to fix his gaze on the depths of his cocoa. "I was in the shower. I thought everything would be fine, because everything has been fine, but. This time, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye, I froze. I kept looking at it, and it just – stayed there. Like this big shadow, just beyond my vision, and I started getting goosebumps all over my skin – I thought I was gonna throw up, or something – and then, then, I hear this – this creepy music, like the dramatic violin music that's in movies when something major is about to happen, and I completely freaked out."
"Music? That's new."
"Yeah. Anyway, I," Barry swallowed audibly. "I tried coming over here, but you weren't home –"
"Oh, man, sorry –"
"No, it's okay, I mean, you have a life outside your apartment! So then I just – got into bed and tried to fall asleep, to forget about everything, but that awful groaning or, like, bubbling in the walls started up again, and I could still hear snatches of music every so often, and I – I literally can't take this anymore."
Barry's eyes were decidedly wet, and he looked like he was holding in a deep breath, like he was scared to let anything more out, like he was scared to have told Cisco so much already. Over the past couple of weeks, Cisco had come to care about Barry more than – well, more than anyone else in his life, to be honest, and if he could have ripped out his own heart just to erase that look from Barry's face, he would have done it in an instant.
"That's it," Cisco said, with a strength that surprised even himself. "We are going to figure this out, once and for all. Er – in the morning, not right now, obviously," he added, with a glance towards Barry's pale face. "Otherwise we'll probably both scare ourselves to death, ha."
"Thanks," Barry said, with a watery smile. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
* * *
After ensuring that Barry was tucked under some blankets on the sofa, Cisco stayed up 'til 2:00am, trawling through the internet. He was searching for anything that might be helpful, to explain what might be happening in Barry's apartment. He even Googled "how to tell if your apartment is haunted" which was a humiliating thing for a man of science to admit to. There was nothing remotely helpful. (Cisco refused to stoop as low as burning sage, like he was some hippy from the 60s. Refused!) The thing was, there was something gnawing at his edges of his mind, something that he thought he remembered reading ages ago, that had some connection to all of this – but what? It was like trying to remember a dream in those first moments of consciousness, with more detail slipping away the harder you tried to keep it in focus.
He jerked out of a light doze at around 7:00am. On a Saturday, to add insult to injury. There was only thing worth waking up at a hellish hour for: pancakes.
Barry continued to sleep while Cisco quietly rattled around his kitchen, and only opened his eyes when Cisco rescued the first round of pancakes from the pans.
"Figured we deserved some sugary goodness," Cisco said. "Good for the nerves, or something."
Barry stretched widely, revealing a thin band of skin where his hoodie rode up, which required Cisco to focus intently on his spatula – so intently, in fact, that he didn't notice Barry entering the kitchen until he was peering over Cisco's shoulder.
"Oi," Cisco said, whacking Barry with the plastic utensil. "These ones aren't done yet. Your pancakes are over there."
"It smells amazing," said Barry easily, and slid onto a kitchen stool. "I could get used to this."
Cisco coughed, to avoid the need to say anything. Was it getting really hot in here? Better turn the stove top down. Once Cisco's batch was done, he joined Barry, who was halfway through his pancake stack. Maple syrup covered every inch of Barry's plate. He even had some on his chin.
"So," Cisco began, mostly to stop himself from reaching a finger out and – "Um. I think the best plan is to go into your apartment, metaphorical guns blazing, and recreate the scene from last night."
Barry stared at him for a long moment, cheeks slowly turning pink.
"You want – um – me to get in the – the shower with you? I mean, with you, uh, there too?" Barry said, the pitch of his voice wandering higher with each word.
"No! That is, um," Cisco spluttered. "I think it would be fine if we – if we just had the shower running, I don't think we actually need to, uh, get in."
"Right – right, of course, yeah. That's... what I meant."
Cisco didn't know what to expect when they finally made their way into Barry's apartment. He wasn't scared, as such, but his anxiety levels certainly weren't very stable. Barry was already breathing quicker than normal, and Cisco had to make an effort not to let his own breathing fall into the same frantic pattern.
"Okay, entering the bathroom," he said. "Should we be recording this? I feel like we should be recording this. We could make a killing in YouTube revenue."
"I can't even think straight, let alone hold a camera straight," Barry pointed out shakily, followed by a giggle laced with hysteria. Cisco opened the bathroom door, Barry close behind him, and flicked the light on. It was a standard fluorescent light, necessary because there weren't any windows in Barry's matchbox-sized bathroom.
"So I'll just... turn the shower on now," Cisco said, keeping his voice steady for Barry's sake. "Do you think it matters what temperature the water is?"
"Hmm, let me think – sorry, this is my first time trying to bust a ghost, so I have no freaking idea!" Barry said in a fast whisper. Cisco couldn't hold back a snort of amusement.
"'Who ya gonna call...'"
"So not funny."
Cisco reached into the shower, and turned the faucet on. As the water warmed up, steam began to float through the air.
"Oh, shit, I better turn the fan on. I'm supposed to use it every time – it was in my rental agreement," said Barry.
He pulled on the straggly cord that was hanging from an ancient extractor fan – it looked like it was installed in the 90s, at least, if not earlier. It began struggling to work, emitting a hum that was closer to a rattling moan. Cisco swore he could almost feel it vibrating. They both stood still, silently agreeing to keep their eyes on each other. After several seconds, Cisco felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to prickle.
"Do you feel that?" Barry hissed, and his eyes were wide, his pupils dilating. "It's not just me, right?"
It was... strange, but Barry was right. It was a feeling of fear, a primal sort of fear that tore through Cisco's spine. Barry had turned almost completely white. His freckles were suddenly much more prominent, and he was visibly shaking. Now that Cisco thought about it, he could feel his body trembling too, as if he was vibrating in time to that cursed extractor fan –
Something clicked inside Cisco's brain.
"Fuck! The extractor fan! That's it!"
Barry had leapt almost a foot into the air at Cisco's sudden exclamation. Cisco clamped both hands around Barry's biceps, forcing Barry to look at him.
"Barry, the extractor fan is what's causing all of this! There was this scientist – dude, I read an article about this years ago! – the lab he was working in had this industrial air conditioner, and everyone was reporting having hallucinations, and generally feeling scared to death. So he did some investigating, and realised that the air conditioner was, like, causing infrasound! That's fucking it!"
"What?" Barry nearly shrieked, looking like he hadn't understood a single word Cisco had said.
"Infrasound is sound that's below 20Hz – as in, below our normal hearing range. It's literally evolution! We developed the instincts to feel fear whenever our brains perceive sounds that we can't hear, because usually that means something terrible's about to happen – like, an earthquake. The vibrations caused by infrasound can also vibrate our eyes, which explains your hallucinations! Fuck yes, science, biatch!"
Barry's mouth was hanging open, and to be fair, he still looked absolutely terrified.
"It's... it's not a ghost? It's the... extractor fan?"
"I'm 99% certain!"
Barry let out a wrecked laugh.
"Okay! Well. Great! So. Do you think we can turn the fucking thing off then?!"
Cisco let go of Barry in order to yank on the cord, and also reach past Barry to switch the shower off. Somehow, his hand crept its way back to Barry's upper arm.
"There! How do you feel?" Cisco asked. Barry's eyelids fluttered shut, and he took a measured, deep breath.
"Um. Better? I think." He carefully opened his eyes. "I can't believe it – do you really think that's all it was?"
Apparently Cisco's hand hadn't stopped at Barry's upper arm, because it was currently cupping Barry's jaw. Oops? Barry wasn't complaining, however. If anything, he was leaning his head closer, and could Cisco feel Barry's fingers brushing his waist?
"It makes sense, doesn't it?" Cisco deliberately pushed up onto his tiptoes. Barry's gaze flickered down at his lips. "Your apartment is officially ghost free. Case closed."
Of course, that was when the ceiling collapsed and dumped a tonne of water on them, drenching them from head to toe.
It turned out that Barry's apartment had a burst water pipe in the bathroom ceiling. Which accounted for all the metallic cranks and groans they'd heard over the past couple of weeks. Which Cisco had accidentally forgotten about. The burst pipe also accounted for the faulty kitchen light, as it had evidently caused damage to the wiring. But Cisco was right about the extractor fan – it was way past its expiration date, and was probably doing nothing at all to extract any steam from the bathroom. Adding all of those problems together resulted in a soggy apartment that needed urgent and extensive repair work.
Barry and Cisco were back on Cisco's sofa, side by side, somewhat subdued. It had been a Long Morning. It was also the first time that Cisco had ever been cock-blocked by a collapsed ceiling.
"So, I'm homeless," Barry said glumly.
"As if I'd let that happen!" Cisco scoffed. "You can stay with me! Uh, that is, if you... if you want to. I wouldn't mind."
Barry's face was flushed.
"I'd like that."
"Actually, you – you could always move in with me, as in, properly move in," said Cisco, super casually, fiercely ignoring the way his palms were sweating. "This place is big enough for two."
"There's only one bedroom," Barry said slowly, softly.
"Yeah, I know," breathed Cisco.
Barry surged forwards so quickly that he momentarily became a blur in Cisco's vision. One agonising second later, Barry's lips were pressed against Cisco's. He felt his chin being tilted upwards, and okay, both of Barry's hands were cupping Cisco's face, which felt amazing. Cisco clutched at Barry's waist, and held on.
"Holy crap, why didn't we do that sooner," Barry gasped as soon as their lips parted.
"Dude, I was trying, believe me," Cisco said, and there was Barry's beautiful giggle – he'd missed it.
"I never thought I'd say this – but I'm freaking glad my apartment was haunted," said Barry. "Or, you know, not haunted, to be more accurate. I mean... otherwise we might have just been two neighbours, going about our separate, neighbourly lives."
"The only thing I don't understand is where you heard that music from," Cisco said thoughtfully.
"I know, right!" Barry frowned, and it was adorable. "I could have imagined it, I suppose, but I don't normally listen to classical music, so I don't know why I would –"
"Mrs Briggs!" Cisco shouted, and slapped his forehead. "Oh my god. I told you she listens to her music really loud."
"Does that mean I can now claim victory for the Best Neighbour Ever?" Barry grinned.
"I dunno... I might need some more persuading..."
"Challenge accepted," said Barry, already scrambling into Cisco's lap.