She'd always had a thing for parks.
That much she knew.
She always loved running through them and sitting in them.
She loved parks right after it's rained and during sunsets as the leaves changed.
She loved people watching and picnicking and she would never get enough of the disordered chorus of families and friends laughing and playing together.
For as long as she could remember, Iris had always made it a habit of hers to be in a park at least once a week to take in the tranquil atmosphere.
Jogging or strolling along soft pavement was as much a part of her morning routine as downing a piping hot mug of Jitters coffee.
It was a tornado that crashed into her and swept her out of her morning routine that warm, sunny day.
Later Iris would discover that the tornado was actually an adorable little girl, but in the moment, it felt like a force of wind.
She was on her morning run, focused on controlling her breathing when she passingly registered a firm voice somewhere up ahead to her left.
Iris always liked Victory Park. It was spacious and open with a beautiful view of the city's waterfront.
The early morning granted a serenity and quiet that she enjoyed.
The usual silence, however, was shattered as she came upon that loud, exasperated voice by the picnic areas.
"Dawn, stop that."
"You're going to hurt yourself, sweetheart."
As she finally turned to see what all the racket was about, Iris's lower half collided with a short, but sturdy wall.
And even though she braced herself, the shooting pain when she hit the ground was surprising.
"Oops," the tiny force whispered.
Iris groaned and looked up to find a young girl peering down at her with sparkling brown eyes.
From the way her arms were still outstretched wide and the way she sounded slightly out of breath; Iris pieced together that the young girl heeded those loud warnings too late to stop spinning around with her arms fanned out. To add to that, the big red action figure Iris saw in the child’s hand definitely contributed to the wallop.
Iris sighed as she looked at the kid, doing well to hide her annoyance.
The girl was staring at Iris inquisitively and Iris didn't want to scare her by showing frustration.
Iris also had to admit that the heavy lisp she'd just spoken with was cute enough to soften the sting of the fall just a tiny bit.
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
Iris twisted a little to see a concerned brown-haired man hustling over to them.
The chubby baby strapped to the man's chest, bouncing up and down due to the man's hurried movements, just added a comedic effect to an already peculiar 30 seconds.
"I'm fine, thanks," Iris lied and got back on her feet.
Her butt and her hands hurt like hell, but the truth was she didn't want to make a big deal of a tiny kid knocking her flat on her ass.
The man quickly studied her over and caught sight of her palms.
“You're bleeding,” he observed in dismay.
“Oh. It's fine,” Iris tried to say, but the man already turned his sights on the small girl before them.
"Look, Dawn, she's hurt,” he pointed to Iris. “What should you say?"
The girl didn't answer.
She furrowed her brow and folded her arms as best she could while holding a big, intricate-looking action figure.
And the longer her father stared at her, the tighter she pressed her lips together.
"Dawn Nora Allen, apologize. Right now," the man ordered.
It was subtle, but Iris could tell he wasn't used to using the strong voice that he did on the child.
Tears quickly clouded the little girl's eyes and Iris was surprised when the child looked up at her intently as if waiting for the stranger to intervene on her behalf.
When Dawn didn't find what she was looking for in Iris, she slammed the large toy at both of the adults' feet before storming off.
The baby on the man's chest babbled loudly at the commotion his sister was creating.
And the poor father looked genuinely shocked, but he didn't chase after his daughter.
Iris passively thought that it was mature of the man not to immediately devolve into a yelling match with the little girl as Iris had seen parents of stubborn kids do so often.
And she briefly noted how even more mature it was of the little girl herself, instead of running off into the park in anger, to return to the family's picnic blanket, begrudgingly pick up a book, and take a seat next to another little boy who looked to be around her age.
"She never acts like that," the man said apologetically, drawing Iris's attention back to him. He bent down and picked up the pieces of the now-disassembled toy. The red spandex suit the action hero was donned in was vaguely familiar.
"It's okay," Iris shrugged off. "We all have bad days."
"I-I definitely have some band-aids in my bag,” he said.
Iris looked him over as he fumbled around in the giant diaper bag on his shoulder.
He was cute. She realized that after a moment.
A little surprising for a guy with what looked to be three kids.
The sturdiness of his stance was almost contradicted by the long limbs that jerked around in his bag.
Taking pity on him, Iris repeated her claim that she was just fine, but he insisted.
She knew she probably wouldn't finish her run with her tailbone already throbbing and she didn't have anywhere else to be anyway. So, she just watched him poke around.
His chestnut hair was coiffed and neat and the converses he wore somehow fit the aesthetic perfectly of a surprising father of three.
He triumphantly pulled out a case of children's band-aids and when he smiled Iris saw that he had small dimples to complete his boyish look.
He carefully cleaned her palms with disinfectant.
“Thank you,” she said when he was almost done. The care with which he handled her was instantly disarming. And she found herself lingering just a smidge.
He seemed like a nice enough guy to be so concerned about a stranger and a small scrape.
“I'm Iris,” she introduced herself amicably. “Iris West."
The man flashed her another bright smile before looking back down at her hands. “Hello, Iris West.”
"What's your name?" Iris inquired after a few beats of silence.
“Oh, sorry. I'm Barry,” he said softly. He finished patching her up and stepped back. “Barry Allen.”
For as cute as she thought Barry was, Iris didn't stare at him too long after she finally caught sight of his left hand.
If the three needy children didn't warn her off of him, the bright silver band on his ring finger certainly did.
As if he read her thoughts, the baby strapped to Barry Allen's chest began to mumble loudly and flap his arms.
“Okay, buddy, okay,” Barry murmured soothingly as he deftly unstrapped the baby from his carrier. “I didn't forget about you.”
"And who's this?" Iris asked, finally cracking a genuine smile at the fluffy bundle in Barry's arms.
"This is Andre," Barry introduced happily.
The baby started babbling even more at the sound of his name.
Iris was typically not a fan of children in general, babies even less so, but like his father, Barry's baby was disarming enough to hold her attention.
"Hello, Andre," she greeted warmly.
The baby babbled excitedly, as if returning the greeting and Iris laughed.
"Wow, you're very cute, do you know that?” Iris told the child.
The baby flashed a set of dimples that matched his father's and then dove into Iris' arms.
"Oh!" She startled, but still reflexively held out her hands to catch him.
“Sorry,” Barry apologized, hurriedly. “Sorry. He gets a little too excited sometimes.”
He went to quickly take the child back, but Iris took the tiniest step away. “It's alright,” she assured.
The baby seemed to be delighted that she was indulging him and he chatted her up in his own nonsense language.
Barry looked apprehensive and wary the longer she held his son, and Iris figured he was one of those parents that didn't really let other people hold their kids if they could help it.
And Iris wanted to respect his wishes, she did. But, the baby was drawing her in.
He really was adorable.
His smooth brown skin was silky soft, he had chubby cheeks and chunky thighs and his incessant babbling revealed two tiny bottom teeth.
Iris ran a gentle finger along his dark kinks. “How old is he?”
"Ten months," Barry said hesitantly.
The baby tried to eat her Fitbit, but Iris skillfully turned his attention to the pacifier clipped to his shirt.
“You're a natural,” Barry said, his smile now just the slightest bit strained.
“Oh. I don't know about all that,” she said. Iris handed the baby back to Barry, but not before Andre blew a giant bubble of drool her way.
“That's how he blows kisses,” Barry chuckled apologetically.
“He really is beautiful,” she complimented again.
“Thank you,” Barry said genuinely before he hesitantly added. “He gets it all from his mom.”
Iris smiled at the sweet sentiment. “Well, thanks for the Doc McStuffins swag,” she joked, holding up her bandaged hands. “It was nice meeting you, Barry.”
She smiled brightly at him and his son one last time as she backed up from them.
“Goodbye, Iris,” Barry whispered.
Even from the growing distance between them, Iris could still hear the baby babbling after her.
And Iris didn't know why she took one last look back before she rounded the corner out of sight, but when she did and she saw Barry's two older kids had joined him where he stood and the four of them had their full attention on her as she walked away.
Iris faltered a little at the surprising sight.
But, then she quickly faced forward and hustled out of view.
Iris loved parks. But, not just any old park could earn her satisfaction.
It was specifically Central City parks that encompassed all of Iris's favorite things.
Tall oak trees and endless wildflowers, a beautiful view of the waterfront or the city skyline depending on which one you went to.
Friendly people and clean spaces. She loved it all.
But, the parks were still only a piece of the perfectly simplistic life Iris led.
The life she cherished.
Iris loved the warm and cozy house she lived in with her father, a retired police chief turned amateur painter.
She loved her part-time sales job at the small, historical bookstore in town.
She loved her daily cappuccinos at Jitters Café and her nightly yoga class downtown.
Thursday mornings she was able to jog through Victory Park because of her late, alternating work schedule.
Iris worked out a few times a week at the gym by her house, but every Tuesday and Thursday, she carved out an hour to put her feet to the pavement.
She liked Victory Park best for jogging because it was large enough to have runners, families, sports events, and wildlife alike and not feel cramped or stuffy or industrialized.
The park was so big that you could start at the entrance gate and still roam the entirety of the park all day without coming across the same person twice.
Which is why Iris was a little surprised to see a familiar face halfway through her morning run.
As she passed by the picnic area near the waterfront, Iris saw Barry Allen using one hand to stabilize his infant son who was sitting comfortably in his big sister's lap.
Barry's other hand was holding a baby bottle filled with milk.
The little girl who'd thrown her toy on the ground at Iris's feet in anger last week seemed to be in a much better mood today.
She was grinning widely, tickling the baby making him squeal with glee.
It was a very cute picture to anyone passing by, but Iris was more focused on how overwhelmed Barry looked.
He looked tired. Exhausted actually.
He was trying very hard to get his daughter to stop exciting the baby while making sure his son didn't slide off his sister's lap in his excitement and hurt himself while also simultaneously trying to screw on the top of the baby bottle with his only free hand.
And his older son was tugging on his shirt, repeatedly asking him a question.
His hands were completely full and Iris didn't want to distract him and send everything crashing down, so she just jogged on.
A while later, when Iris looped back around, she saw a calmer sight among Barry and his kids.
The little girl, now joined by her other brother on the blanket, was enraptured by whatever storybook their father was reading to them.
The baby was fast asleep beside them, cushioned comfortably among small pillows and a blanket.
Iris decided that it was safe enough to make a quick stop over there.
She veered over in their direction, not fully stopping pumping her feet as she called out to her new acquaintance.
“Hi, Barry,” Iris greeted cheerfully.
Barry's head shot up at once and his jaw dropped.
His eyes were locked on her as if she were suddenly the only thing he saw.
Even his children were forgotten as Barry's hands slipped and he dropped the book he'd been reading to them.
“Iris,” he said breathless.
The book hit the now-empty baby's bottle and flopped out of reach, but Barry didn't even notice.
He just stared at her.
“You-you remember?” he asked tremulously.
“Of course,” Iris's smile faltered a bit at the disbelief on his face. Her brows furrowed.
Was it really that mind blowing to him that she'd still remember a face and a name after a few days?
Barry stood up quickly and rushed to her, never breaking eye-contact.
And when he swooped down and hugged her tightly as soon as she was within reach, Iris gasped in surprise.
Iris laughed uncomfortably and kept her arms to her side.
When it was clear he wouldn't be the one to let go first, Iris patted his back once awkwardly and then took a full two steps back.
Barry took a step towards her looking at her with an intensity that fluttered her stomach.
She was a little creeped out by his overreaction and didn't know what to say next.
"Um," Iris coughed uncomfortably. "Yeah, good to see you again."
Something like realization walked across his face.
And then Barry's eyes dimmed.
Iris had never seen someone smile so widely before and yet still look so sad.
"Sorry," he said before he looked down at the ground. He heaved a deep sigh and looked back at her.
He laughed and shook his head in a self-deprecating way.
"Sorry... I'm uh.. I'm a hugger," he explained. "I think I get it from my kids. Even the most basic thing needs a hug and a round of applause."
"Oh," Iris laughed, relaxing a little bit. That made some sense. "It's fine. I get it."
"Sorry," Barry repeated and Iris waved it off.
"Don't worry about it," she said. "It was nice."
"How's your hand?" He wondered.
"Oh, it's fine," Iris held it up for him to see. She'd almost forgotten about the injury.
"I'm glad, I'm sorry again about that," Barry profused.
Iris laughed. "It's alright. Really. But, you should maybe get her into a pee wee football team. Her center of gravity is no joke."
Barry laughed too. "Yeah… getting in her path when she's moving is never a good idea. But, I think she's more into track than anything else."
Barry looked back at his kids who were watching the two of them curiously.
"We were just about to have some drinks and fruit," Barry said, turning back to Iris. "If you want to join us."
"Oh, umm, no that's okay, thanks though," Iris declined after actually considering accepting for a beat.
Barry nodded and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Iris smiled and pointed down the road.
"I should get going. Just wanted to say hi," she explained, already backing up.
"Oh-sure. Okay thanks," he said.
Iris decided that his stammering was nowhere near as annoying as it should've been.
After that, much to Iris's delight, she saw Barry pretty regularly on her jogs.
He was never without his family, but Iris didn't really speak to his kids. Though she did finally get a proper introduction to the tiny tornado who'd knocked her down and her brother a few weeks later.
"This is Donovan and this is Dawn," Barry introduced lightly as he motioned his kids a little in front of him.
They'd all been playing a loud and chaotic game of soccer when Iris happened upon them.
"Hello, ma'am," the two children said in unison. Iris could tell it was a greeting they'd practiced.
Up by the tables, the baby slept soundly with his butt sticking up in the air and his tiny fists curled at his side.
Iris thought that Barry had one of the cutest broods of children she'd ever seen.
Accepting Barry's invitation, she joined them in their soccer game. And keeping up with the small children actually managed to give Iris's three mile jog a run for its money.
About halfway through the game, Iris realized that Dawn and Donovan were actually twins, not just siblings.
In spite of the intense game that left Iris huffing for breath, the two kids seemed completely unaffected physically. They chatted up a storm as they ran and played, joking and laughing with each other. They spoke so quickly Iris could barely keep up with what they were saying. Barry kept having to reel them in to focus.
In no surprise, the twins beat the adults and as she watched them do celebratory cartwheels while she struggled to catch her breath, Iris couldn't help but smile.
A text from her dad asking where she was broke her out of her mood. His worried message made Iris realize she was supposed to be home a half hour ago.
She quickly wished Barry and his brood a good day and raced out the park to her house.
The rain over the weekend kept Iris indoors, but she was up bright and early Monday morning.
Just in time for outdoor celebrations.
It was a holiday, so families were taking advantage of the time off and the warm weather with barbecues in the park.
It was a little more crowded than normal for this time of day, but nothing too terrible.
The festive air had Iris in a good mood as she ran her usual track.
And she wouldn't really admit it to herself, but the joyous anticipation of seeing her new friend may also be contributing to the pep in her step.
Running into and talking to Barry was becoming a much-cherished part of her routine.
She liked talking to him. He was intelligent and laid-back and he was funny in a way that came from his awkwardness.
He also wasn't so terrible to look at.
His kids were cute too. They were more than a handful and even standing next to their high energy could be very draining very quickly. But, they were polite and amicable and they mostly kept to themselves while she and Barry droned on and on together.
There was a jittery anticipation on the tips of Iris's fingers as she looped around the park after her run. She told herself it was just her runner's high.
Even with him sitting down, she spotted Barry's now-familiar coiffed brown hair over the crowd.
His head was thrown back in laughter and Iris felt a tiny flutter in her stomach that she told herself was just hunger.
She was already smiling in anticipation before a group of kids moved out of the way and Iris took in the full view of the picnic area.
She felt her heart sink to the ground.
He was with his wife today.
Barry's wife somehow looked even younger than he did, but she was no less beautiful.
The smiling young woman with flawless skin and a bright smile was helping their daughter out of her sweater and onto her seat.
Then she did the same with the other two kids. Iris watched her put up a hand and calmly instruct something to the children. All of the kids responded by putting one hand up as well, even the baby.
They obediently sat around the table, a scene that was routine for them, but it looked much less chaotic than Iris had ever seen before.
Unlike Barry who could barely get a word in edgewise as he tried to reign in the rambunctious tots, his wife commanded the children's attention in a seemingly effortless fashion.
And as embarrassing as it was, Iris couldn't take her eyes off the woman.
She had an easy air about her and all three of her children seemed hooked on whatever she was saying to them.
Barry was sitting right beside her, he was tapping his fingertips on the tabletop, checking his watch and shaking his leg up and down under the table.
Iris thought he looked anxious. But, then his wife put a hand over his and he stopped his tapping. He looked at her and smiled a small, appreciative smile.
Iris felt nauseous.
And then she felt embarrassed that she'd really spent time counting down when she'd be able to see Barry again.
No matter how much she lied to herself, she had begun looking forward to their weekly meetings.
No matter how brief they were, Iris always walked away in a much better mood than she'd started. It was the way she never had to say too much. He understood what she was saying before she even said it. Like he could read her mind. She felt good talking to Barry.
But, now more than anything else, Iris felt like a complete ass for even having thoughts like that about a married man.
She sighed harshly. What was wrong with her?
Unfortunately for Iris and her bruised ego, at the same second she turned to walk away, Barry's eyes wandered from his family to her.
And Iris couldn't look away fast enough before they locked eyes.
As soon as they did, Barry smiled brightly and put up a hand in greeting. He waved Iris over, but she stayed rooted in place.
After a beat, Barry whispered something to his wife and got up to walk towards her.
Iris dreaded him reaching her. She dreaded what was undoubtedly going to be a full conversation about his wife. She dreaded being invited back to their picnic and having a front row view of Barry smiling that boyish, dimpled smile at the woman he shared his life with.
'Grow the hell up, Iris,' She chided herself bitterly. 'You knew he was married since the beginning.'
She did know.
But, that hadn't stopped her from falling for him just a little.
"Hey!" Barry greeted when he was in earshot. "How's it going?"
"Good," Iris said. "You?"
"Can't complain," Barry shrugged. "You know I took your suggestion. With the long weekend I took the kids to the planetarium yesterday. They hadn't been there in months."
He launched into words of gratitude, but Iris unconsciously droned out whatever Barry was saying. She couldn't help it.
Her eyes kept roving back to his pretty wife by the picnic tables.
Now that she was turned slightly, Iris was even more taken by her profile. She had high cheekbones. Her big natural kinks framed and haloed around her face looking effortlessly chic and moisturized.
And the stylish denim jacket and scarf she donned made Iris feel frumpy in her workout tank and running shoes.
Barry could see he wasn't holding Iris's attention in the least and he eventually just stopped talking and turned to see what she was looking at so intensely.
"I've never seen them sit so still," Iris noted evenly when Barry followed her eyes back to his family.
Barry laughed and nodded. He pointed to the woman leading the kids in a simple read-along story.
"She's threatened to take away the brownies she made for them if they don't sit quietly for ten minutes," he turned back to Iris and smirked. "I should've thought of bribery ages ago."
Iris gave a pitiful laugh in response. "She's very pretty."
"Hm? Oh yeah she's pretty," Barry agreed. "She's great. I don't know how I'd get through some days without her."
Iris swallowed hard. "Dawn takes after her,” she observed. “I can see it a little around the eyes."
Barry's brows furrowed and then he shook his head quickly.
"Oh…Oh! No, no Joanie's not- that's not their mom. That's not… That's my wife's stepsister," he explained clumsily. He laughed a little at Iris's train of thought. "She helps me out a lot. Babysitting the kids when I'm working, wrangling them at parks when they're running around everywhere, that type of thing."
Iris's sour mood mysteriously vanished in a puff of vapor and she smiled in return. "Oh, really? That's so nice of her."
His smile dimmed. "It's just... really hard. Three kids can be a lot sometimes. Especially all on my own."
His eyes took on a sadness that was undeniable and Iris felt her heart clench in sympathy.
And she felt grossed out that she'd been celebrating the fact that that wasn't actually his wife.
This whole time she'd enjoyed Barry's company, despite constant mentions of his wife. She never stopped to think about why she never saw the woman with the rest of her family.
Now she knew.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Barry," she said mournfully. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you're a widower."
Barry blinked. "I'm not," he hissed.
His cheeks grew splotchy and his fingers fumbled around the children's book he was holding.
"Sorry," he said, immediately regretting his harsh response. Feeling even worse that Iris took an infinitesimal step back. "I'm sorry. I'm not a widower. My wife is just away so my family has been helping when they can till she gets back."
Understanding washed over her. The tightness in her throat loosened. She nodded. “Ah I understand. I’m… sorry for the-”
Barry shook his head cutting her off. “It’s okay.”
Iris chuckled sheepishly. “That was a morbid conclusion to jump to.”
Barry smiled gently. “It’s fine,” he repeated. “Really. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
Iris put up her hand. “It’s totally fine. We’re good.”
“Do you want to come sit with us?” Barry pointed behind him. “Donovan was asking about you earlier and Joanie’s made enough food for an army.”
Iris smiled amicably and shook her head. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but I actually have plans with my dad.”
Barry visibly deflated in a way Iris tried not to be flattered by.
He stuttered as he nodded slowly. “Right. Of course. On a holiday you… you want to be with...your family."
"Right," Iris agreed. As much as she tried to fight the urge, Iris still brushed her hand on his arm as she said her goodbyes.
And she was so focused on berating herself for doing so, that she didn't feel the heat of Barry's longing gaze as he stared after her. Nor did she turn back and see the tiny disappointed faces at the picnic table watching her leave.
"She's getting better, Joe. We should take her to Star Labs. Run some more tests. Tonight."
"No more tests. That's what we both agreed on, son," Joe reminded again from his spot on the couch.
"But this is different," Barry insisted as he paced Joe's living room. "Holding Andre made a difference. She hasn't forgotten anything since she carried him in the park. That's never happened before."
Joe was thankful that he'd sent Iris on a grocery run for dinner just before Barry's unannounced visit.
Though he'd warned Barry that Iris would be back soon, his son-in-law showed no sign of leaving. In fact, he grew more hyper and moved further into the house the longer he stayed.
Joe rubbed his eyes tiredly.
He didn't know what else to do to finally put an end to the same conversation they'd had over and over again.
"Barry, we've been over this dozens of times before," Joe said remorsefully. "You say you saw her do or say something that could be a crack in whatever Thawne did to her, we race her to STAR Labs with clearly b.s excuses and we run every invasive and terrifying test and analysis we can think of with zero results until she's sobbing, begging us to let her go home."
"I'm not doing that to her again," Joe said gruffly. "We both said after the last time never again."
"But, this is different," Barry muttered pitifully.
A part of him knew that Joe was absolutely right.
Running repeated neurological tests on a long-term amnesiac was traumatizing to say the least.
On everyone involved.
But, a bigger part told him to follow his gut and fight for his wife. For her chance at her old life and for his.
But, Joe wouldn't budge. "It's in your head, Barry. Whatever change or twitch you're seeing in her again is all in your head. It's not real. I'm sorry. More than anyone. But the Iris we once knew is gone."
Barry was already shaking his head, cutting Joe off before he could finish.
But, Joe pressed, making Barry finally accept what he's refused to.
And Barry let Joe talk for the sake of peace, but he didn't accept his words.
He never would.
All the medical doctors at the hospital, all the science at STAR Labs, all the words of family and friends could tell him otherwise, but Barry would never accept that he'd lost his wife. His best friend. The mother of his children.
It infuriated him that the rest of the world wouldn't stop trying to get him to abandon all hope.
And as he listened to Joe talk now, Barry finally let months of resentment and anger and devastating grief roll over him and saturate his suddenly angry words.
“She's my wife and the decisions for her medical care fall on me alone,” Barry told his father-in-law harshly. “I don't need your permission to do what's best for her, you know. If you don't want to try, I can get her the help she needs by myself."
He huffed forcefully and ran a shaky hand over his face. “I know this has been awful for you too, Joe, but you get to see her every day. You get to talk to her and laugh with her and touch her and what do I get? Five-minute conversations in a park once or twice a week?”
He ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
“What do Dawn and Donovan get? Awkward, stilted small talk for a few seconds as she jogs along? What does the baby get? He'll have no real memory of his mother.”
"Barry," Joe sighed.
"I don't think I can do this much longer, Joe," Barry confessed in a choked voice, finally admitting what he'd been too scared to.
The hairs on Joe's arms raised immediately.
He knew that defeated tone well.
It meant his son was about to do something desperate.
"Barry... you have Dawn and Donovan and Andre," Joe said slowly, stepping closer to his son. "You have so much here. You have three wonderful kids who need you now more than ever. You have to give them their best chance. You can't be consumed by the past. You can't go messing with it either."
"I'm saying this with the utmost sadness," Joe tried. "Son, you have to find a way to move forward for them. You have to give them their best chance here. Now."
"How can I when I know the amazing life they'd have with Iris here as their mom? When I know the best chance for all of us is with her?" Barry asked tearfully.
Joe closed his eyes. "What are you planning to do, Barry?"
Barry hesitated and then revealed his plan. "I think a part of her is still trapped in the speed force. I've been running some tests and I think I found a way to run back in time without actually stepping outside of the speed force. That would prevent any disruption to the timeline. I can find her, Joe. I can fix all of this."
And he had to.
Because it was his fault after all.
After years of battle with no victory in sight, Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, finally turned his sights on Barry Allen's children as the final means to debilitate the hero once and for all.
It was a random, peaceful afternoon three months ago when all hell suddenly broke loose.
Thawne wreaked havoc on the city for hours, attacking and destroying indiscriminately and without order, sending the citizens into chaos.
It was only then, at the peak of the confusion and damage, that he finally started his plan.
Thawne ran to Carmichael Elementary school and came for the small boy with lightning in his veins.
But, the Flash, ever the genius, was right on Eobard's tail.
Barry had been able to stop the Reverse Flash from grabbing his son at the elementary school, but with his hands full there after Thawne set off a series of bombs with complex deactivation, Thawne was able to sneak away and burst into the West-Allen home where Dawn and Iris were both recovering after a week-long bout of the flu.
Iris had tried to hold Eobard off as best she could when he came, but Thawne didn't hesitate as he snatched Dawn from her parents' bed and entered the speed force with her.
Iris didn't think twice before she grabbed the folded up suit on her dresser and jumped in after them; just barely clearing the breach Thawne had left behind.
"It's too tight."
"Dawn, it's not too tight. It's the same tightness it always is," Barry said, exhaustion lacing his voice.
He'd been trying to get everyone settled for lunch, but Dawn had been restless all day.
He'd managed to convince Iris to join them for lunch after her run. And although she'd only decided on politely sipping a glass of water, Barry still danced internally when she agreed.
But now Barry feared the small victory would lead to disaster as his daughter's agitation grew.
"It's too tight!" Dawn insisted, her voice tremulous and growing louder. "It hurts!"
Barry saw her lip quivering and her eyes growing misty.
Barry had been doing Dawn's hair since she was a baby. He knew how to braid it comfortably and he knew her hair didn't hurt now.
She just missed her mom doing it.
She didn’t want the braids woven into her hair by her father. She wanted different hands lovingly braiding her tresses.
She wanted her mother’s hands.
His daughter tried her best. She really did, but there were some days when her sadness and her raw emotions just bubbled over in a way she was far too young to manage.
Today was clearly one of those days.
"Okay, we should go," Barry sighed as he looked around the table to see what to pack up first. He apologized profusely to Iris who was looking at Dawn with understanding.
"I don't think she got enough sleep last night," he tried to explain. But Iris shook her head in reassurance.
"It's alright," she responded.
She piled her napkin and empty cup and picked up a nearby empty plate. She began helping Barry clean up the table, but when she looked back at the young girl, she saw that her tears had spilled over and she was gingerly touching the colorful hair bobbles at the ends of her braids.
It was the saddest sight Iris had seen in a long time.
"I can fix your hair. I can redo the braids and make them looser if you want," Iris reflexively offered the child, putting down the cutlery she was holding.
She quickly looked at Barry, realizing she might be overstepping. "If it's okay with you of course."
Dawn's eyes widened and she looked at her father intently.
Barry's mouth opened and he looked conflicted. But, after a minute he nodded his head slowly.
Iris smiled and gestured Dawn over to her. The child hurried over and plopped down at Iris's feet, situating herself comfortably between her legs.
Iris gently untied Dawn's hair bobbles and undid Barry's braids, making sure to compliment his skill to Dawn as she did.
Once the braids were out, Iris carefully massaged the child's scalp, double checking that the pain was alleviated.
Barry watched the tension leave Dawn's shoulders when Iris began to re-braid her hair. After a few minutes, Dawn gently rested her head on Iris's knee. And when she closed her eyes contently and smiled a small smile, Barry felt his heart crack in two.
Barry swallowed hard and turned away from them, focusing on packing up the picnic table as best he could with shaking hands and misty eyes.
Barry couldn't say if it was a series of unfortunate events or a culmination of bubbling emotions that caused the breaking point.
The first reason he has to believe it to be the former is the fact that he wasn't even supposed to be anywhere near the park that day. It was a last-minute decision to cut through the waterfront bridge as a shortcut on his way home from work that blew everything up.
Barry had his head down and his legs pumping when he almost collided with her.
Though they both narrowly avoided each other, the jerking motions resulted in him dropping his work bag and her dropping her large stack of books.
"I'm so sorry!"
"I'm so sorry!"
They both apologized at the same time. When they recognized the other they both laughed in surprise.
"What are you doing way out here?" Iris wondered as she picked up his bag and tucked in the few sheets of paper that slipped out.
"Shortcut home," Barry explained. He stacked up her books. "I just got out of work. You?"
"Same. Just got out of work. I guess I wasn't watching where I was going."
They both stood back up at the same time and they paused for a beat, taking in the other person as if just fully noticing them for the first time.
Iris quickly realized that this was the first time Barry was seeing her in anything other than her workout clothes.
And Iris realized Barry didn't look so young when he was dressed up a little. He looked nice and professional in his blazer and sweater. Business casual suited him well.
Barry smiled tightly. "You look nice," he complimented.
She knew her form-fitting leather maroon skirt and white button down didn't exactly scream part-time antique book saleswoman, but Iris liked dressing up. So she didn't mind if her outfits maybe looked too fancy for work.
The only things she regretted about her outfit now were the stylish maroon heels that were slowing her race home.
Barry handed her back her stack of books and Iris traded off his leather bag.
"Are you planning on reading all that?" Barry nodded to the pile.
"Yeah," Iris smiled shyly. "I know it's excessive, but the way I read I'll be done with all these in under two weeks."
"Wow," Barry's eyebrows shot up. "That's amazing!"
Iris thanked him for the compliment and tried to readjust all the novels into a secure position.
"Hey, those are pretty heavy even for me," Barry noted when he saw her dilemma. "I live not too far from here if you want a ride. I can pick up my car and take you home."
"Oh no, that's okay," Iris shook her head and backed up. "I like the scenic stroll home. But, thanks so much for offering."
Barry nodded. Concern still creased his brow, but he wasn't going to push. "Okay. If you're sure. Just hurry home cause you know tonight it's supposed to--"
Before he could finish his warning, a crack of thunder ripped through the air and shook the trees around them.
In seconds a torrential downpour surrounded them.
Iris moaned pitifully at the assault, having been completely unprepared.
Barry quickly reached into his bag and pulled out a large umbrella. He pulled Iris under its protection.
"So, about that ride?" He joked.
Iris sighed and reviewed her options.
She still had fifteen minutes left on her walk home. In heels. Carrying expensive literary antiques through a rainstorm. This is what she got for not checking her weather app this morning.
She smiled appreciatively. "If it's not too much trouble.."
When the duo pulled up to Barry's house, Iris whistled lowly.
She wasn't expecting the wide front lawn and the large three-story house that loomed in front of them.
"You live here?" Iris asked, trying to keep her astonishment out of her voice.
"For a few years now," Barry nodded. "We moved here when the twins were three."
As they walked up the long driveway, Iris noted the mighty oak tree looming in the back of the house. There looked to be a wide, homely treehouse perched on top of it.
Not even the sheets of rain could muddle the picturesque exterior of the house.
And even that didn't prepare Iris for the sheer splendor of the house's interior.
Iris's eyes bulged when she took in the foyer and she couldn't help cursing softly under her breath in awe.
"Um.. so what is it you do for a living again?" She carefully asked, trying to make sense of how he and his family could afford to live here.
Barry smiled. "I'm a CSI. My wife writes for a newspaper."
He heard Iris whisper a confused 'What the hell?' to herself and he hid a wider smile. Astonishment from friends and strangers alike over the size of their home had been a thing since their days in their old loft.
"Let me just grab my car keys and we can go," Barry laughed.
Iris looked down at the dripping wet books she held and sighed. She really wished she'd known it was going to rain before she decided to take over $600 worth of books home with her. "I'm so sorry, Barry. I really don't mean to put you out, but I don't think these will survive the car ride home. I see some of the edges already starting to crinkle," Iris groaned in dismay as she further surveyed the tomes.
"Oh no," Barry murmured, seeing the same damage she saw. "What do you need?"
"Do you have a roll of paper towels? I just need something to soak up some of this water. Hopefully ink hasn't started smudging. These are really old."
"Oh… umm yeah sure," Barry looked behind him towards the living room and she assumed the kitchen. He suddenly looked really uncomfortable.
"Actually, it's really okay," Iris shook her head, letting him off the hook. "It's only ten minutes. It won't make much of a difference."
"No," Barry said quickly. "No, we should dry them first. It's just uhh... your shoes!"
He pointed to her heels. "Yeah. We don't wear shoes in the house. I'm sorry."
"Oh," Iris smiled. "Okay no problem."
She bent over to slip off her heels and as she did she felt two consecutive bursts of cold air on the side of her face. Iris frowned, looking around for a possible air vent. But, all she saw was Barry leaning casually on a decorative end table, smiling at her. "Good?"
Iris nodded and followed him through the foyer into the living room.
As she suspected, the living room and the kitchen were both large and beautifully furnished.
And woven among the expensive looking ornaments and rugs were children's toys and kids' drawings.
The house was a perfect blend of elegance, chic, and hominess.
"Your house is beautiful," Iris complimented as Barry went to grab paper towels from the kitchen.
"Thank you," Barry responded.
He handed her a large stack of tissue and laid out a thick towel on a nearby table. Then he watched her roll up her sleeves and set the books down.
She carefully blotted the soaked pages before placing paper towels in between the pages, taking care to not open the books too widely and disrupt the spine.
Barry was transfixed as he watched her hands glide across her books with ease and care as if she'd done this a thousand times.
"Where'd you learn to take care of books," he asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence.
Iris shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I've just always had a thing for reading since I was a kid. I may have picked up some tricks for care along the way. I've also learned a lot working at Pownell's Books."
When she was done and satisfied that she hadn't completely ruined the books Iris stood up and cracked her knuckles. "Good to go," she announced cheerfully. "Thanks so much, Barry."
Barry waved off her thanks and gathered up the wet towels.
When he went into the kitchen again, Iris realized she hadn't heard any sounds from anywhere else in the house.
"Are your kids asleep?" Iris called out in a low voice to Barry.
"They're with their grandparents for the night," he responded at normal volume. "It's their grandma's birthday tomorrow and she wanted to spend the day with them."
When he returned, he was holding two mugs of something steamy and sweet-smelling.
"Hot chocolate," Barry announced before she could ask.
Iris blinked at him in fascination.
She couldn't understand his generosity of spirit.
Not only had she almost mowed him down as he was trying to get home, all she'd done since was use up a huge amount of his tissues and drip all over his fancy rugs.
Now he was brewing her hot drinks before he had to trek back out in the rain to take her home.
"You really, really don't have to do all this," Iris insisted.
She tried to resist the mug he was handing her but he was persistent.
"You're shivering," Barry drawled when Iris reiterated that she was perfectly fine.
Iris's teeth chattered still even as she smiled sheepishly and accepted the drink. "Thank you."
She looked into the mug and saw a pretty pile of whipped cream and cinnamon.
"I know this is gonna sound weird, but I'm not really the biggest fan of hot chocolate," Iris revealed as she swirled the cup a little. "A lot of people think it's gross, but for me, white hot chocolate is the only way to have this drink. You should absolutely try it," she recommended before she took a polite gulp of the warm beverage anyway.
When she did, her taste buds were gifted with the familiar creamy sweetness of the drink she'd just been describing.
Her brows shot up and she looked up at Barry who was watching her curiously.
"Oh my God, you like white hot cocoa too?" She asked excitedly.
Barry grimaced and chuckled, shaking his head. "No. I've tried it and I think it's disgusting and totally offensive to the concept of hot cocoa, but my… daughter loves it so the ingredients are always in the kitchen."
He tried not to laugh as Iris finished her whole mug in record time.
As much as he thought her drink was gross, he did feel a lot better when he saw she'd stopped shivering and her cheeks looked a bit warmer.
"Speaking of Nora," Barry resumed conversation when he realized he was staring at her for too long. He walked over to an end table that had a small stack of drawings on it and picked up one on top.
"She made you this the other day. For doing her hair. She was going to give it to you the next time we saw you at the park."
Iris took the paper from him.
It was a drawing of a flower.
The picture had all the unpolished trademarks of being drawn by a seven-year-old, but the shape and the colors were correct, allowing Iris to see clearly what it was.
"It's an Iris," Barry supplied softly.
"Oh my goodness. That's so sweet!" She gushed.
On the bottom, the child had written a simple message of thanks and had signed her name.
“I thought your daughter's name is Dawn," Iris wondered aloud, pointing to the name signed on the drawing. She'd always been confused about the interchangeability of the young girl's names.
Barry nodded. “Her first name is Dawn. When she was about four I think, she just woke up one day and demanded she be called something different from her brother. Even though we tried to explain, four-year olds don't really have a big grasp on homophones. So we just started calling her by her middle name,” Barry explained. "Of course these days she still answers to Dawn way more than she ever does to Nora anyway which is just…"
Barry laughed and shook his head at the thought of his firecracker of a daughter.
Iris smiled as she watched his face light up as he talked about his family. It was plain to see that he loved them dearly.
“Maybe Donovan should get the middle name treatment instead,” Iris suggested lightly. "He might be better at it."
Barry chortled. “That would be a hard sell for a seven-year-old. His middle name is Bartholomew. The kids would be ruthless."
Iris’s eyes widened and she winced. "Oof. That's… wow. That’s rough. What happened? You guys had to name him after a relative from the 1800s?”
Barry bit his lip and looked down. "That's actually my name,” he explained, rubbing the back of his neck. “My full name. It’s kind of a family tradition to name the first son after the father.”
Iris looked mortified.
"It's not that bad,” she amended quickly. “It has character.”
He let her try to lavish the name with compliments before he cracked and shook his head, bursting out laughing. "It's okay, Iris, it's a terrible name."
Iris reluctantly joined in, still embarrassed that she'd trashed it so hard. "It's… not the best."
Barry’s laughter died down and he shook his head in amusement.
He twisted the wedding ring on his finger as he called up a memory. “Growing up, my best friend used to tell people that I was named after the Apostle. Which was a complete lie. But, she told the kids at school that if they made fun of my name, it was considered sacrilegious and that God would smite them.”
Iris guffawed. “What!?”
Barry laughed loudly. “I don’t even know how she came up with that. We were only nine. But, it worked. No one made fun of my name after that. I might have to pass that along to Don.”
“Your friend was a smart kid,” Iris said.
“To this day, she’s the smartest person I’ve ever met,” Barry told her honestly.
Iris smiled and awed softly at the sentiment. When she turned slightly, a portrait in the corner of the room caught her eye.
"Oh wow! That's amazing!" She said, pointing to the mosaic.
Barry released a shaky breath and swallowed hard as Iris breezed right past the tender nostalgia he'd brought up.
He settled his emotion and turned to see what she was pointing at.
It was the large picture of Central City's greatest hero.
"That was a gift," Barry explained simply as he put down his mug and walked over to where she stood. "For my birthday a few years back. I'm a fan of Flash collectibles."
"This is unreal," she whispered, mystified by the intricate detail of the picture. It was a colorful mosaic style portrait of the Scarlet Speedster himself. With each tiny piece of the mosaic being a different photo of him saving the day. There were news photos and amateur snapshots alike of the elusive hero.
As picturesque as Central City was and as much as Iris found joy in her mundane routine, there was a chaotic and dangerous underbelly of the city.
Underbelly was even an understatement.
Central City actually existed in a duality.
For as much as there was quiet, safety, and community there was crime, destruction, and metahuman attacks.
There were many who sought to destroy the city she loved, but thankfully there were many who'd made it their life's purpose to protect it.
The strongest, most-reliable man with that purpose was The Flash. His triumphs over evil were legendary. And his admiration throughout the city was everywhere.
In billboards, city holidays, posters and action figures. He had more items of food and drink named after him than any other person or thing in the large city.
She'd never seen him herself, but Iris had heard about the Flash. She'd heard about how he protected the city time and time again only to vanish in a blink. He hadn't been seen or heard from in months.
Most people these days feared he might even be dead.
"I've heard the stories about him," Iris said lowly, eyes still locked on the spectacular picture. "They say he's vanished. After that battle downtown a couple of months ago he just disappeared. I hope he's alright. The world still needs real heroes like him."
"Heroes are overrated."
Iris turned around, surprised by the statement and the undercurrent of bitterness in Barry's voice.
He was looking at the picture with slightly narrowed eyes. "Have you ever noticed that all the heroes we read or hear about usually are so invested in justice because they failed to protect someone they loved? What good is being a hero if you can't save those closest to you?"
Iris mulled his words over. He wasn't wrong. That was such a common thread of superhero life, some could even call it a cliché.
"That's true," she agreed, turning back to the picture, tilting her head. She shrugged. "I don't know, I guess I just think being a hero isn't really measured by any real quantity of lives you're able to save. It's about inspiring people. Giving them hope. Standing against evil even if you lose."
She felt Barry come closer to her. Felt the warmth of him right at her shoulder.
She turned back around and saw that he was no longer looking at the picture. He was watching her with eyes that pierced her gut.
"Would you forgive them though?" He wondered, his voice barely above a whisper. "If you loved someone and they had power you couldn't even imagine, power to stop the world with the snap of a finger, but they still couldn't save you… would you forgive them?"
"I would like to think so," Iris nodded, trying to keep down the heat she felt rising at Barry being so close to her. "I'd hope that my death would be the lesson that saves countless other lives."
"It's a beautiful thing," she finished surely.
"What?" Barry questioned, still not really accepting her belief. "Forgiveness?"
She shook her head. "Hope."
Barry looked down at her, feeling the bitterness dissipate, if only for a moment.
Whatever beauty was described a second ago paled in comparison to the sight of her.
Somehow, working a nine-hour day and then being semi-drowned in a downpour couldn't even put a dent in her perfectly put together appearance.
Her deep red lipstick still coated her lips neatly and her shirt and skirt combo, though damp, clung to her curves in a death grip.
Even her natural curls were tighter from being out in the rain and bounced with a lively fullness as she moved her head.
Barry couldn't help moving away a few tendrils that had fallen in her face.
Iris stopped whatever conversation was still going at once and she tensed up at his touch.
They both watched the other, both deciding that breathing was too risky of a move right now.
And Iris didn't know who kissed who first.
All she knew was that one minute she was watching his long lashes feather his cheek and the next she was wrapped up in his arms, lips pressed to his in a heated lock.
There was the slightest pause as the reality of kissing him set in.
And then there was complete and total surrender.
She melted further into him and slowly returned the embrace, slipping her arms across his neck. He was a good six or seven inches taller than her and Iris expected to have to stretch herself completely to reach him comfortably. Instead, Barry was already bending his body at the perfect angle.
Iris sighed into the kiss and Barry pulled her closer. In spite of her desperation, Iris wanted to take her time with him. And she wanted to savor every second of this moment. This was what she'd dreamed of since the moment she'd met him.
But, she could barely keep up. Because Barry was holding her in a way that seemed far too intense for just a few weeks of pent-up desire.
He was pressing her to him, cradling her so assuredly that, for a split second, Iris questioned her own sanity.
He handled her with such a devastating familiarity and Iris felt her head begin to spin. She couldn’t make sense of it.
They fit together seamlessly. Like two perfect pieces of a puzzle.
It was because this kiss was so perfect. It was because it wasn't messy or unsure or hesitant that Iris felt a cold, bitter dose of reality wash over her.
This wasn't right.
What they were doing wasn't right. It didn't feel like it should.
The kiss didn't feel like it should.
No matter how much they may have wanted it, a kiss like this should've still felt naughty and risky and desperate. It should've felt selfish and disorienting and unsteady.
But, it didn't. It felt opposite from all of that in every single way.
And that's when Iris knew she had to stop.
Because how could she possibly feel such peace in the arms of another woman's home? How could she possibly feel her heart had found its missing half when that half already belonged to another.
This wasn't her.
She wasn't this type of person.
And she never wanted to be.
Iris broke their kiss and immediately put a wide berth of space between them. "You're married," she blurted out. "Your wife--"
Barry shook his head and moved closer, closing the distance she'd put between them. "There's no one else."
Iris put a shaky hand on her mouth, trying to get the incredible feel of his lips against hers to dissipate.
She tried to make sense of his words as she caught her breath. "What?"
"There will never be anyone else but you," Barry said in a voice so genuine, Iris felt a prickling behind her eyes.
"I - I don't understand."
"You feel it," Barry stepped towards her again. Iris noted that his hands were trembling and she was shocked to see tears in his eyes. "I know you feel this between us. It wasn't all a dream. These years finally together after so much pain, it wasn't all a dream. I can't go back to not being with you, Iris. Especially not now when we're even worse off than before."
Iris felt a dull pain creep up her neck as she struggled to digest his rambling. "I...I should go," she decided out loud, abandoning the task.
Even from their place in the living room, Iris could still hear the rain coming down in sheets outside, but she didn't care. She'd run home barefoot if she had to.
All of a sudden, she was hit with the strongest warning to get out of there and away from this man who seemed to be getting more jittery by the minute.
"Wait! Please, don't go," he begged. He realized Iris was really leaving and it snapped him out of whatever state he'd been in. His eyes cleared and his hands stopped shaking.
"I'm sorry. Don't leave. I realize I'm not making any sense," Barry tried with a calmness that only frightened her more.
"I'm leaving. Now," Iris declared with as much firmness as she could.
It wasn't much.
She was all turned around and she didn't want to chance having to push past Barry to get to the front door, so Iris picked the first door she saw, hoping it led out the back. She'd leave the rest of her stuff and come back for them later with her dad.
"No-wait. Don't go in there!" Barry tried to warn, but it was too late.
Iris stepped into a beautiful, spacious den.
Like the rest of the house, it was heavily decorated. Gold and earth tones gave the room a warm, inviting feeling.
But, unlike the rest of the house, this one room held an abundance of one specific thing.
Frames. Dozens and dozens of frames.
Some ornate, some small and understated. Everyone with a variety of pictures all containing the same face.
Iris saw her own smiling face staring back at her all throughout the room.
In a wedding gown.
In a bathing suit with arms wrapped around the very man she'd just run from.
She saw her own face awash with wonder as she looked down at two small bundles in her arms.
And another where she was joined by two school-aged kids as they all gazed at a familiar-looking newborn with a mane of curls.
Iris stumbled backwards and hit Barry's chest before scrambling away.
He looked cautious now. Cautious and so, so sad.
The creeping pain that started at the back of her neck a minute ago was now spread along her head, throbbing on beat with her racing heart.
Barry took a small step forward, but Iris stepped back again. She felt a painful jolt in her temple.
"W-who are you?" Iris asked fearfully.
"Iris, honey, you have to take it easy alright?" Barry advised slowly. "You have to calm down."
One more jolt split against her temple.
"Ah!" Iris groaned in pain.
She grabbed her head.
Barry was across the room and by her side quickly.
Too quickly for a normal human, Iris noted, now completely terrified.
She didn't even realize she'd started crying until Barry was begging her to stop.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he rushed repeatedly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ruin everything, I just lost my head."
"Please, get away from me," Iris sobbed. "Don't hurt me."
"I'd never- Iris, I'd never hurt you. Just please look around," he pleaded in one last desperate effort.
"You remember them don't you?" Barry asked gently, pointing to a picture of his three laughing children.
"They're so beautiful, Iris. They're so perfect. And you loved them so much. I know you still do. I know you still love me. I can feel it. Y-you love me," he said determinedly before his shoulders hunched and fear flashed across his eyes. "Right?"
Iris looked at him tearfully.
Her heart didn't stop pounding, but as he talked, Iris's breathing evened out.
Her head screamed at her to get away from him. To not be affected by his nonsensical words.
Nothing about this night made any kind of sense. And the danger every synapse in her brain was warning her about was palpable.
But, in spite of that, Iris took a tiny step towards Barry.
Because there was still something so innately safe in his eyes.
Something that still felt like a refuge she'd lost.
Iris took another slow step towards him.
"What's happening to me?" She whispered before she reached him. "Who are you?"
"Iris, it's me. Barry. Your… Barry," he said softly.
He didn't come any closer. He didn't want to scare her off. So he lifted a hand and let her come to him. "You need to remember. You just need to remember your life. Your real life.”
When Iris was close enough, Barry slowly tugged down the collar of his shirt and Iris saw a silver chain on his neck.
He pulled it out and revealed a band encrusted in diamonds and a silver ring with three very large stones lined along it.
He unclasped the chain and let the rings fall into his palm. "Do you remember these? Do you remember singing and candles and the waterfront?"
A plate of noodles, tap shoes, two blondes near a lake. Those were the images that blinked across her mind in response.
She shook her head in answer to his question.
He held the two rings out to her and Iris realized they were wedding bands.
"Y-your wife…" she stuttered, so perplexed by the gesture. "Those are hers."
Barry nodded and held them out further for her. "They're yours."
A tear escaped down her cheek and Iris shook her head miserably. "I don't understand. Please, I don't…"
"Who are you?" She tried again desperately. She pointed to the frames all around them. "These pictures don't make sense. How did you do this? How did you forge them? Why?"
"They're not fake. They're real. I'm your husband," he told her gently. "Barry Allen. We've been best friends since we met at P.S. 23 twenty-five years ago. We've been married for nine years. We have three children."
Iris was shaking her head violently before he even finished. "That- that doesn't make any sense. I'm not married. I'm not your wife. Y-you talk about your wife all the time, Barry. You said she's on a trip! That's what you said!"
"I said she was away," Barry smiled mournfully. "You got hurt really badly, Iris. You got hurt and you haven't been the same since. You can't remember anything about your life. Joe decided it was best if you stayed with him while we tried to fix you."
"Joe… th-that's my dad."
Barry nodded. "I know your dad. Joe West."
Iris swallowed her fear. "Who am I?" She wondered half-aloud.
"You are the bravest, most loving and caring person I've ever met," Barry said without hesitation.
Iris blinked up at him. She pointed again to the hospital picture with her and all three of his kids. "We're married. We're parents. Those…. Those are my…?"
Iris pressed her lips together stubbornly. "You're a liar."
"Why do you jog in the park so much?" Barry asked, swerving the conversation entirely.
Iris frowned, but answered anyway. "Because I like working out."
Barry shook his head. "You hate working out. But, you and I started jogging Tuesdays and Thursdays through Victory Park together about ten months ago. After Andre was born."
Barry took another small step to her. "You remember to go for runs on those same exact days. You remember that you love white hot cocoa. You remember the way I taught you how to dry an old book in high school after you spilled a jug of water all over one of your grandmother's antiques."
"I know you can remember us too," he said softly. Desperately. "Me and the kids. We're somewhere inside of you too, you just need to remember, Iris."
Iris felt her heart beating in her ears. She couldn't explain why she hadn't just called him insane and run off yet. She couldn't explain why the rambled and jumbled up words were somehow soothing her.
She couldn't make sense of anything.
Iris looked around the den in anguish. Her eyes landed on another happy picture.
Four of them standing in what looked to be a half-finished nursery.
Iris saw herself, visibly pregnant and holding a paintbrush. With Barry and the twins by her side. Every one of them was covered in yellow paint.
Her brows furrowed as she studied the photo. A flash of something dainty and white and yellow blinkered behind her eyes before it petered out pitifully.
Barry saw how hard she was studying the picture and he felt hope bubble inside him. "Do you remember this? Do you remember this day? We were trying to finish the nursery, but the twins were running around so much, they tripped over a paint can and splashed us all."
Iris exhaled a shaky breath and shook her head quickly. It was that type of recount that made what he was saying even harder to believe.
She couldn't have had a whole life like this. Something so readily captured in photos like this. Something so like a perfectly crafted movie.
But, there was a quick flash of that white and yellow something across her mind again. Too quick to make out the picture she saw, but the lingering scent of a sensory recall that accompanied it helped her put a name to the object.
"Daisies," she whispered in confusion.
Barry's head snapped up from the photo and tears flooded his eyes. His mouth broke out into the widest grin.
"Yes! Daisies!" He nodded happily. "The twins brought us a pile of daisies from the backyard as an apology afterwards. Only they had torn up your garden to get the flowers. So they snuck into the neighbor's yard and pulled up their roses to bring you as an apology for the daisies."
He laughed lightly and pointed to her stomach. "Do you remember you laughed so hard I was scared you'd go into labor?"
"Do you remember Andre? We named him after you. Your middle name."
"I… I don't know my middle name," Iris slowly realized, before fear started to creep back in. "I can't think of what it is. I-I know I have one, but I can't remember what it is."
"That's okay," Barry said quickly to halt further distress. "It's Ann."
"Ann," she repeated slowly. She bit the inside of her cheek and shook her head.
"What you're saying is impossible," she said in a hushed tone. All the wind had been knocked out of her and Iris didn't know how she was still standing. "It's completely impossible. I'm not a wife or a mother. I live with my dad and work at a bookstore. That's my life and it has been my life for years. I know that."
"You have a master’s degree in criminal psychology. You own a very large newspaper- The Citizen. You're married and you have three children. You've lived in this house for four years. Before that you and I and then the twins lived in a loft on Park Place for five years. That's been your life," Barry countered gently. He'd tell her her history again and again and again until it sunk in for her.
He didn't know if it was sinking in now, but Iris was silent for a long time.
And then she asked. "How did I get hurt?"
"You were protecting our family," Barry said simply. Iris saw he didn't want to go further into it.
But, he didn't need to. Because as soon as he said that, bright colors raced through her mind.
A flash of red.
Iris felt a heavy haziness set in the corners of her eyes. She felt disoriented. Dizzy. Confused.
"The stars were melting," Iris suddenly whispered sadly. "Red stars were dripping and melting."
Barry's breath hitched and nausea crept in. 'No'.
"You need to sit down, Iris. And you need to take deep breaths, alright? There are no stars. You're safe at home."
Iris looked up at Barry and shook her head, tears flooding her eyes. "The stars were melting!"
Iris didn't know what had come over her and doused her veins with freezing ice, but she no longer felt refuge when she looked at Barry.
There was no more interest in the stories he weaved. No more benefit of the doubt. No more longing.
There was only terror when she looked at him.
Pure unbridled terror.
But, Iris didn't even have long to sit with that terror.
Because just as soon as she thought to scream, a blinding white light overtook her senses.
Against her will, Iris's knees locked up and her heart began to race painfully. Her already hazy vision started to darken around the edges.
She was going down.
And the last thing she saw before the darkness overpowered her was Barry's terrified face and impossible streaks of lightning surrounding him as he ran to catch her.
When Thawne grabbed Dawn from her home, Iris barely managed to grab her suit from her dresser just before she threw herself into the shrinking breach after them.
When she cleared the breach Iris was shocked at the state around her. She was in the speed force. But, it wasn't like any version she'd ever seen before.
Over the years, the speed force had presented itself to Iris in different ways. An unassuming lightning storm when Iris pulled Barry out after he'd gotten lost trying to recreate the particle accelerator explosion. The form of Barry's mother after Savitar's demise. A beautiful oasis right before the twins' high-risk delivery. And Iris's own mother, Francine, during Iris's hideout from Thawne.
Now the speed force looked like something new entirely. She'd entered a swirling, crackling abyss that had no one and nothing to greet her.
The air was hard to breathe in, like it was charged with something heavy. The skies flashed angry red and white strings of energy and the ground was rocky. Hard to find her footing and her balance.
But, in spite of all this, Iris kept on the path ahead. Because she saw Thawne and Dawn a few feet away. Her daughter was struggling to free herself from the man's tight grip and Eobard ignored her, strolling leisurely on. Unaware that Iris was right on his tail.
She wished she'd grabbed a stun gun or weapon of some kind in her haste, but she was grateful that she'd grabbed the most important thing she could.
She tightened her hold around her super suit.
The one Barry had made for her during her aforementioned hideout.
When the Reverse Flash was after her and she'd had to hide undetected in the speed force. The face mask made her invisible to the eye and the body suit itself protected her from the raw energy of the speed force.
Over the years, they had turned to the speed force for help and it had protected them with everything it had.
Iris didn't exactly feel that protection now, so she trusted her own skill and looked for an opening to strike.
It came seconds later when the Reverse Flash howled loudly enough to hear over the cacophony of lightning around them.
Iris watched him drop Dawn roughly and hunch over, shaking out his hand, yelling angrily at her.
As soon as his bent body made his face leveled to hers, Dawn didn't hesitate to punch Thawne as hard as her small fist would allow.
It wasn't nearly enough to knock him out, but the killer right hook Dawn had inherited from her mother was enough to disorient the man for a few precious seconds.
Enough time for Iris to run as fast as she could and scoop her daughter up.
While Thawne cursed and held his eye, trying to clear the stars now dancing behind it, Iris moved a few feet away with Dawn.
Dawn gasped when she realized her mom was standing there and she tried to hug her, but Iris stopped her.
She quickly unfurled her suit with shaking hands and grabbed the face mask. She hurriedly showed it to her daughter as she instructed her.
"Listen to me, do not take this mask off your face okay? Don't take it off no matter what you hear or feel, Dawn, do you understand? No matter what. He won't be able to see you if you have this on," Iris explained as she yanked it over Dawn's small face. Ignoring the tiny sound of question Dawn was starting.
At once, Dawn disappeared from view, but Iris could still feel her as she held her tightly.
"I'm right here okay? But, I need you to be brave. Daddy will be here as soon as he can and this will all be over, but until he comes you keep this mask on," Iris repeated. "No matter what."
"Okay mama," Dawn agreed fearfully.
"Be brave, baby," Iris whispered to her.
She heard Thawne quieting behind her, so Iris quickly straightened up and pushed Dawn a little ways back behind her.
"Iris West," Eobard growled with a confused satisfaction when he saw her.
"Thawne," Iris said plainly.
"I would ask how you could've possibly gotten in here, but the one thing I've learned about you is that you're a woman full of surprises," he chuckled as he slowly stalked towards her.
He looked around and then frowned. "Where's the girl?" He demanded.
Iris didn't respond.
Eobard used his speed to search around them, but he didn't see her anywhere.
He halted in front of Iris again. "Clever trick," he complimented. But, he wasn't deterred from his ultimate plan.
He felt a crackle in the air and shivered.
"You've made a big mistake coming in here unprotected," Thawne told Iris. "It was never you I wanted to hurt. This isn't the same speed force you've known. It's changing. It's very dangerous for a human to be in here."
As if to prove his point, the sky above them boomed angrily.
Iris heard Dawn yelp in fright, but Iris didn't react to it, and thankfully the boom was loud enough to keep Eobard from hearing her.
Iris scoffed at the concern she saw on Thawne's face now. "You took my child. What did you think I'd do?"
"I took Barry's child because she's needed for me to complete my plan."
"What's your plan?" Iris questioned.
As expected, Thawne smirked and shook his head tauntingly.
"What do you want?" Iris pressed.
"To make Barry suffer. To make him loathe his own existence and to hate all that he claims to stand for. He's always blamed me for all the pain in his life. But, soon he'll know what real pain looks like. Soon he'll know real suffering. And he'll never forget it was me who gave him this gift. All I need is one of his… brood."
Iris felt a fiery rage fill her up at the obvious implications in Thawne's rant. "You're not going to touch a single hair on their heads! You're going to slither back into whatever dank sewer you came from while you still have the chance."
Eobard tsked and stepped closer to Iris. She didn't back down, but she felt her skin crawl at his proximity to her.
"You can't even see how they've weighed you down for so long," Thawne said bitterly. "The Allens don't deserve you, Iris. All they've done is suck you dry and keep you small."
Iris rolled her eyes. These words were nothing new. For years now, The Reverse Flash's obsession with her had revealed itself to be as much a part of him as was his hatred for Barry.
Dawn whimpered and huddled closer to her mother when she suddenly heard the sharp sound of skin hitting skin.
"Don't ever touch me again," Iris spit out.
"I'm everything Barry Allen could never be," Thawne sneered, rubbing his aching jaw. "You'll see. When all of the Allens are no longer there to hold you back, you'll find that life is so much better. Now, where's the girl?"
"She's gone," Iris snapped. "I already sent her back to earth."
"Possible," Iris retorted. "She knows how to access the speed force. The speed force protects us. It showed me how."
"That's a lie," Eobard grinned deviously, catching her in a trap. "This isn't the speed force that you know. This is not the all-knowing force that babies the Flash and uses its power for useless heart-to-hearts whenever Barry's sad."
"I know," Iris nodded. She'd figured that out already. "This is a pocket dimension. Where you live. That's how you're always popping up and disappearing without a trace over the years."
Iris smiled as she watched Thawne's cocky grin drop completely. "I know how to maneuver through pocket dimensions," she revealed. "I learned from the best. My daughter's already back home with Barry."
Thawne breathed heavily; Iris could see he was livid.
Iris's breathing involuntarily started to mimic Thawne's. The air was even harder to breathe now than when she'd first entered.
"One of these days, I'll remember not to underestimate you, Iris West," Thawne jeered.
"H-how did you get speed force energy into your pocket dimension?" Iris struggled to ask.
She had to know how to get Dawn out of here for real. If she was struggling to breathe herself, Iris didn't know how much air her daughter was taking in under her oversized mask.
Thawne's smile returned, though not as wide. "My greatest idea yet. I realized a few months ago that if I shrink the speed force enough, the gravitational pull of my dimension will be enough to shift and absorb the speed force's radiating energy. So I've been slowly injecting it with the negative speed force, diminishing its reach just enough for my pocket dimension to take it in."
He held up his hands and gestured to the chords of energy flashing around them. "If you think this is power now, just wait until it's fully under my control."
Iris looked at him in disgust, swallowing the fear at the thought of the Reverse Flash in total control of the speed force.
Eobard put his hands down and sighed at her stoicism. He stepped close to her, but didn't try to touch her again.
"I'll go find the little runner and bring her back and then I'll finish Barry off," Eobard said as if he were listing errands. "You'll stay here. Wait for me, I'll be back for you. Together we can watch my plan unfold, live in action."
Thawne left, smart enough to speed far enough away from Iris before he breached away so that she couldn't follow.
When the breach closed and silence returned, Iris let out a choked breath and a soft sob.
She turned and reached around blindly for her daughter. "Dawn!? Where-"
Dawn grabbed her mother's hand and ripped off her mask.
Iris sighed in relief and pulled her into a tight hug.
"We have to go," Dawn sobbed into her mother's neck. Her small hands were shaking and her lip quivered. "We have to run before he comes back!"
Iris nodded sadly. She pulled back and looked at her daughter.
Dawn was so little.
She couldn't carry Iris the way Barry could. And Iris knew that if she tried to run beside Dawn, she'd only slow them down.
Thawne could return any second.
Dawn had to escape. She had to break free.
"It's time for you to go now, honey," Iris told Dawn and she smoothed her hair away from her face. "And Mama can't come with you."
Dawn's brows furrowed. "Why not?"
"I'm not as fast as you, Dawn. You have to go without me," Iris tried to reason, but Dawn was already shaking her head and cutting her off.
"I'm not going then!" She argued. "I'm staying with you!"
"You can't, honey. It's not safe. He wants to hurt you. You run back home and you'll be safe there."
"Just run back home. Daddy will come get me as soon as he can. And he'll keep me safe from the bad man."
Dawn's tears spilled over. She saw her mother was unmoving, but still she begged desperately. "Please, mama. Come with me. I'll protect you! I can keep you safe from the bad man too!"
"I know you can, sweetie, but right now I have to keep you safe. Okay?" She pulled Dawn into a tight hug, not letting her get another word in. They were out of time. She quickly wiped her eyes before she pulled away so Dawn wouldn't see the devastation bubbling through.
"You have to run now, honey," Iris whispered, as she stood. "You've seen daddy come in and out of the speed force a bunch of times. That's almost like where we are right now. You just need to run as fast as you can and you can leave it too."
"I can't," Dawn sniffled. "I can't run fast like Donovan or daddy."
Dawn's powers hadn't come in like the rest of the speedsters. She could run really fast in short bursts, but nothing long enough to go great distances.
"Yes, you can," Iris insisted, not worried about that. She'd seen Dawn do impossible things. She could do this too. "I believe in you. You think about going home and finding daddy and Donovan and Andre as you run, okay? You think about all of them and you'll be the fastest girl alive."
The sky started to rumble again. Iris knew Eobard was returning.
She yanked the mask back on Dawn's face and pushed her ahead.
"Be brave, honey. Okay?"
"Okay," she heard her daughter say meekly.
"Run, Dawn. Run!"
Iris couldn't see Dawn, but she felt the blast of air as her daughter took off. And after a few painstakingly long seconds, Iris saw a pocket open and close in the distance and she knew Dawn had gotten away.
She knew Dawn was safe.
And she heaved a labored sigh of relief.
Before she looked around and realized she was now completely alone in a stormy abyss.
It was getting even harder to breathe now. Iris could hear her own raspy gasps as she fought for every breath she could find.
She felt herself getting weaker and weaker the longer she stood. And it wasn't long before she felt herself being pulled under.
Iris tried to stay awake. Tried to focus on breathing, but it was fruitless.
Using the last bit of air from her lungs, Iris whispered a broken plea. "Find me, Barry."
The last thing she saw before her eyes closed were the angry crackling red and white streaks bleeding together in the sky.
Barry made it back to his house from the school, running faster than he'd ever run before.
It'd taken too long to defuse the bombs the Reverse Flash had triggered. Far too long.
He held Donovan in his arms as he burst through the front door and up the stairs to where he'd last seen the rest of his family.
In the nursery he saw Andre still fast asleep, none the wiser to the mayhem right outside his door.
He tried Dawn's room next, but there was no one there.
His room was the same, but the way his bed was tousled made Barry feel ill. That's where Dawn and Iris had been huddled up together for the last week.
He put Donovan down carefully and told him to stay put before he went searching the house, calling for Iris and Dawn.
He found the latter in the backyard by the pool.
Dawn was trembling.
Her kinks were windswept and her tears were streaming down her face in thick rivulets.
She held a purple fabric in her hand that was vaguely familiar, but Barry was more focused on his daughter.
He was in front of her, pulling her into a tight embrace in an instant.
"Hey, you're okay," he used his speed to confirm she was in fact physically alright. "You're okay, Dawn. It's alright."
Dawn's wails didn't die down as Barry reflexively checked around for his wife.
He rubbed his daughter's back. "It's okay. Where's your mom?"
Somehow Dawn's loud sobs got even louder and Barry felt his blood run cold.
He tried to pull back so that he could see Dawn's face, but she clung tighter to him.
"Where's your mother?" He tried again. But, the longer Dawn didn't respond, the clearer the answer was.
"She wouldn't come with me," Dawn sobbed. "I told her to come with me."
Barry swallowed bile. "Whe-where?" He asked, desperately needing to know, but dreading the answer.
"The bad man has her," Dawn whispered brokenly. "In the speed force."
Barry wouldn't have believed what Dawn was saying if he hadn't felt a charge all over her as he held her. Remnants of the speed force.
By the time Barry searched the vast openness of the speed force to find the stretch of it that was bleeding into a pocket dimension and pulled Iris out, she'd spent close to two hours surrounded by the purest, most powerful and unfiltered energy source in the multiverse.
She was weak and barely conscious as he tried to speak to her. But, before she collapsed in his arms, she was mumbling incoherently, saying the most confounding turns of phrase about blood red stars and melting pages.
He took her to the hospital and they put her into a medically induced coma.
And when she came out, she had no idea who she was, where she was, or who any of the people around her were.
The rest of the team thought it best to take her to STAR Labs and keep her locked in there like they'd done Barry when he came out of the speed force, but Barry wouldn't hear of it.
He took his wife home and vowed to nurse her back to health on his own.
But, after a disastrous two weeks at home with Barry and the kids, Joe decided it was best if Iris came to stay with him.
Iris seemed to do best when it was just her and her father alone together, so Cecile moved in with Joanie downtown and Iris moved into the old West house and Barry and his team tried everything they could to bring his wife back from the brink.
Until the day in the park when she unknowingly held her youngest child in her arms.
Then she remembered.
She didn't remember her old life, but she at least stopped having daily mental resets.
She was able to form new memories. And certain procedural memories were strengthened.
And by anyone else's standards, that was a silver lining to build a dream upon.
But, it wasn't enough for Barry. Not by a long shot. Because Iris was still suffering even if she didn't know it. Even if the physical scars weren't there, Iris was still hurt. She was still lost.
Without her in their lives, they all were.
Still, he hadn't meant to blow up what little progress they'd made together that night at the house. He knew over three months of bottled up emotion was bound to erupt sometime. He only wished he'd been able to handle things better. He'd held on, however shakily, to his sanity all those months for the sake of their kids. Despite how much he wanted to run- into the speed force, back in time, far away- he stayed put and he did his best to take care of them.
But that night when Iris regained consciousness. After she discovered the den full of photos and fainted, Barry couldn't hold on anymore.
Because when Iris woke up, dazed and confused, she looked up from her place in her bed to see Barry and Joe's worried faces looking back down at her.
She fearfully asked both of them who they were and where she was.
And Barry felt his heart light on fire and crumble to ash.
And after three months of fighting his old habits of dealing with grief, Barry finally gave into the loneliness.
And he finally retreated.
Iris West was happy and content in the simple life she and her mother led.
She enjoyed her job as a paralegal, working in her mother's office and living in their nice, spacious apartment in town.
One would think being a paralegal for the district attorney would be a hectic or stressful job, but her mom made it easy.
Iris's days were peaceful and organized enough for her to have bi-weekly picnics at Bassett Park where she spent the afternoons completely unplugged from the world.
As Iris gathered up her water bottles and her lunch, her mom hurried down the steps slipping on her watch and quickly checking the time.
"I am so late," Cecile groaned.
Iris stopped her packing. "Do you need help with anything?"
Cecile shook her head. "I'm fine," she kissed Iris's cheek and headed out the door. "You have a nice day, Iris. I'll see you tonight."
At the last second Cecile ducked her head back inside. "Remember I have a board meeting tonight. I'll pick up some Indian food for dinner, okay sweetheart?" Cecile told her.
Iris agreed excitedly and wished her mother a good day. When she left, Iris returned to her picnic basket.
While Iris's schedule was peaceful and organized, her mother's was not.
It seemed like Cecile always needed to be in a million places at once. On top of being the district attorney, Cecile had a million other side projects and obligations. Including her seat on the board of S.T.A.R Labs Enterprises, which meant she had to attend their weekly board meetings.
Iris wasn't allowed to attend, not that she minded.
That place gave her the creeps whenever she drove by it. She couldn't figure out what was in the condemned building that was even worth discussing weekly.
And anyway those meetings were on Thursdays. One of the two days a week Iris spent at the park.
She usually set up a blanket by the waterfront and enjoyed fruit, wine, and a good book.
Today she'd opted to watch a documentary while she chowed down on some charcuterie.
On her way out after an afternoon of relaxation, Iris passed by a frantic looking man surrounded by three park rangers who were listening intently to whatever he was telling them.
When Iris got closer, she picked up a piece of the conversation.
"I don't know! She was right here and then she wasn't," the frantic man said hurriedly. "You have to close all park exits and send out an apb!"
"Sir, this is a gated park with only two points of entry at a time of day when there are so few people here. We've locked the gates, but we do not believe she has left the premises at this time..."
Iris walked on out of earshot of the anxious conversation.
She passed a park ranger who was walking in the direction she'd come from and she heard what she assumed to be the missing girl's description over his walkie talkie.
"Seven-year-old African American girl with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. Wearing blue overalls and pink converses. No one who fits that description was seen leaving the park so she's still in here somewhe…."
Iris sent a silent prayer that the rangers would find that poor man's daughter soon.
Iris passed by a wide stretch of hydrangeas and heard rustling among the bushes. She almost walked on, chalking the noise up to a rabbit or a squirrel. But, a glittery pair of converses caught her eye.
Iris veered off to the bushes and when she looked through the leaves, she saw a small girl who fit the description of the missing child.
"Hello," Iris said softly.
The child startled, but when she looked up at Iris, she grinned.
"You're picking some flowers?" Iris noted the bouquet of wildflowers in her hands. "How long have you been over here?"
The girl shrugged. She climbed out of her spot and put her haul on the floor between them.
"These are very pretty," Iris complimented. The girl didn't look like she was going to run, but Iris was cautious anyway and decided to keep her talking until a ranger came back their way. "Are they going to go in your hair?"
"No," the little girl responded. "They're for daddy. He's sad and needs cheering up."
"Oh that's very nice of you," Iris smiled. She pointed back in the direction she'd come from. "Why don't you go give them to him now. I think he's looking for you back there."
The young girl furrowed her brows in a way Iris found passingly familiar. "That's not my dad, that's my pawpaw. Daddy's at home in bed. He's always in bed."
"Oh," Iris said. "Well, you should still-”
"-Pawpaw says daddy's heart is sick," the little girl continued on.
Iris looked around, unsure why the child was so comfortable revealing so much to a stranger.
She was at a loss. "Oh... uh, well...um I'm uh I'm sure he'll tell you how thoughtful your gift is when you give it to him."
"No he won't," the little girl said simply as she dusted herself off and gathered her bouquet. "Daddy doesn’t talk to me anymore."
She didn't say another word as she skipped along back to her grandfather and Iris was left dumbstruck.
Her eyes traced after her long enough to see the girl reunite with her grandfather in the distance and field concerned questions from park security before Iris walked out the park herself, struggling to shake off that chilling interaction.
"Do you like these? I got them just for you," Dawn revealed happily as she carefully arranged the small bouquet.
She'd gone through a lot of waiting to get these flowers. She'd been banned from going to the park since she'd snuck off and almost gave Papa Joe a heart attack two weeks ago.
Today had been the first day since the incident that he let her tag along to the park with him and her brothers.
"Do you want purple flowers next time or yellow ones?" she asked.
The silence that followed the question pierced the seven-year old's heart.
She waited as long as she could for a response- a nod, a murmur, even a grunt. But, nothing came. She swallowed tremulously then smiled.
"I'm gonna get you yellow ones," she continued on. "That way it can match your curtains."
She thought maybe a story would help.
"I saw mama again today," Dawn recounted merrily. "She was reading a book by the water. I saw her laughing and feeding some duckies before we left."
Dawn finished arranging the small mason jar of wildflowers she'd picked for her dad.
"She looked really pretty today," Dawn said softly. "Mama always looks pretty. Like a barbie doll. Right, daddy?"
The silence continued. Dawn came around the other side of the bed and saw her father's pale face.
He was wide awake, but his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Dawn noted a picture of her mother resting right beside her father's head on his pillow. On top of the picture sat a silver chain with two sparkling rings attached to it.
Dawn rested her soft, warm hand on her dad's cool cheek.
"Can you hear me, daddy?"
Barry slowly dragged his eyes from their fixed position on the window and looked at his daughter.
Barry could only look at her for a few seconds before his eyes flooded with tears.
He turned over to face the wall.
He heard Dawn's tiny, sharp intake of breath.
And Barry wanted to turn back around. He wanted to apologize and pull her into a hug.
But, he couldn't.
He couldn't cut through the haze clouding his mind. He couldn’t overcome the lead weight that now encompassed his heart.
Minutes passed and Dawn stayed where she was by his side.
Barry wished she'd take the hint of his continued silence and leave.
In spite of his cold shoulder, Barry still had a minuscule presence of mind to wait until he was alone again to break down so as not to terrify her completely.
That's how he spent the majority of his days. Weeping and cursing fate.
And looking at his daughter only increased the need to break down tenfold.
Barry didn't like looking at his kids anymore.
He used to spend hours watching them, observing them, thanking whatever deity sat on high that they were here. But, now even the briefest of glances he got of them were just too hard.
Donovan took after him, but Dawn and Andre were perfect replicas of their mother.
Looking at them and seeing his wife looking back at him was a pain so excruciating it knocked the wind out of him every single time.
"Do you want some dinner?" Dawn tried one last time to get her father to speak. "Pawpaw made tacos."
Barry stared on.
When he still didn’t answer, Dawn finally gave up for the day.
He wasn't going to speak.
She comforted herself with the same thought she had every day that he didn't speak.
She'd try again tomorrow.
"Good night, daddy," Dawn whispered as she exited the room.
She quietly closed the door and calmly made her way to her own bedroom.
When she was alone, she slipped into her closet and she cried.
On the day of the lightning storm, there was an eerie silence stretched all throughout Central City.
Longtime denizens of the city- those who’d lived through crises and singularities- could feel something brewing just below the surface.
The air felt charged. Raw. It felt angry.
No one could pinpoint exactly why, but the citizens of Central City braced for danger.
And the one person who could shield them from harm; the city’s former sworn protector, laid in bed wrapped up in his sorrows and misery. Too shattered to feel the storm that was coming right towards him.
But, there was one other speedster in the West-Allen household that felt the call to action. One little girl who felt a warning with the rising sun and decided to do something about it.
When her eyes finally adjusted to the tiny bit of sunlight in her room, Dawn West-Allen looked around her room suspiciously.
She didn’t know what had woken her up at - she checked the digital clock on her side table- 5:25 a.m., but she was now wide awake and restless.
She checked under her bed, in her closet, and the hallway, but there was nothing and no one.
When Dawn peeked outside her curtains she saw just the faintest flash of lightning in the sky. This wouldn’t have concerned her as much as it did if the lightning she saw hadn’t been the starkest shade of scarlet she'd ever seen.
Dawn gulped and let the curtains fall back into place. She took a step back.
Something bad was coming, she knew.
Dawn quickly tiptoed next door to her brother’s room. “Don,” Dawn whispered urgently. “Donovan.”
Her twin brother groaned in his sleep and rolled over, bringing his comforters up over his head.
“Donovan, wake up. Something’s happening. Something bad.”
But, Donovan West-Allen slept on.
Dawn gave up on Donovan providing any help. Their parents always said that he could sleep right through an earthquake and they were absolutely right.
Dawn left his room and went down the hall to her parents’ bedroom.
Her dad could help.
He would know what to do and what the red skies meant.
Dawn slinked up to the door, but right before she turned the knob, she heard noise coming from the other side.
She pressed her ear to the wood and took a second to make out what she was hearing.
More like sobbing, she realized the longer she listened.
Her father was sobbing.
She'd heard him cry a lot since her mom had to go away. But, these last few weeks her father had spent in bed, the muffled sounds of him crying were almost constant.
Dawn swallowed hard and she took a step back from the door, pulling her hand away from the knob.
She was wrong.
Her father couldn't help them now. Not like this.
And as Dawn returned to her room, she thought that maybe that was for the best.
Because, while, yes, the Flash was a protector of the city, he wasn't the actual superhero in Dawn's life.
Dawn, Donovan, and their dad all had special abilities. But, there was really only one member of their family who had actual superpowers.
Only one of them could and had saved the world again and again and again. Alone and entirely by her force of will.
Dawn pulled her backpack from its spot in her closet and quickly went to work.
She packed a water bottle, her reading flashlight, and she pulled down her map of Central City from the wall.
Dawn was going to find the one person who could make everything better.
She was going to help her mom find her way home once and for all.
Dawn knew she could do it. She knew where her mother was. She was staying with Mama Cecile. And Dawn knew the way to her grandparents' house like the back of her hand.
Granted, she’d never trekked there without an adult, let alone on a bicycle by herself when it was still dark out. But, Dawn didn’t let fear stop her now.
She would go find her mother and bring her back home. Her father would be whole again. And together they would stop whatever bad thing was coming.
Once Dawn's bag was packed and her bed was made, she journeyed downstairs.
She'd have to take her bike.
Dawn's speed hadn't fully come in the way Donovan's had and while she could run really fast in short bursts, her bicycle was the most reliable mode of transportation for the young girl right now.
Dawn crept past her Papa Joe snoring lightly on the couch and she slipped out the back door.
She pulled her bike around to the front driveway and the long stretch of muted darkness ahead of her made her heart flutter.
The child exhaled tremulously and put on her helmet.
“I’m Dawn Nora West-Allen," she muttered with a shaky confidence. "I’m brave and I’m strong.”
Dawn tightened the straps of her helmet. “Be brave," she told herself, repeating the last words her mother ever said to her.
She climbed onto her bike and kicked off, starting slowly down the street.
Before she turned the corner Dawn spared one last look at the sky.
Another flash of blood-red lightning ripped across the horizon.
She swallowed hard and pedaled faster. "Be brave.”
"Barry, get up! You have to get up right now, son!"
Barry's eyes opened slowly. He felt a flash of red-hot anger at being woken up.
Not because he needed the rest. Barry could never sleep for more than 40 minutes anymore.
He was angry because Joe interrupted his dreaming.
In his dreams his family was together. They were happy and safe and whole.
He held his wife and hugged his children close in his dreams.
But, now Joe had pulled him out of that utopia and dropped him back into his harsh reality.
His stomach rolled with nausea.
Barry groaned in helpless frustration.
He ran a hand over his face and wasn't surprised to find it wet.
It seems like Barry went to bed crying and woke up crying.
He couldn't make sense of what Joe was shouting and he didn't bother. Instead he settled back in bed and tried to chase the remnants of his sweet dream.
"Nora is missing!" Joe repeated again frantically when there was no movement in the bed. "Did you hear me, Barry? She's missing!"
Barry didn't answer for a few seconds.
He sighed and it took all his mental and physical strength to utter just one word.
"Tree," Barry rasped.
"What?" Joe hissed in confusion.
Barry lowered the comforter from his face. Joe wouldn't leave him alone until Dawn popped up from wherever she was hiding so Barry indulged him.
“She's in the tree house," his voice cracked painfully from days of disuse. "She likes hiding in there to read old newspaper clippings."
He swallowed hard as he tried not to think about Iris. It was her articles that Dawn would take up there and read over and over. She'd been doing that since they'd taught her how to read.
Barry didn't bother waiting for Joe's reply to this information. He just returned the thick blankets back over his face.
And after months of grief and fake stoicism, Joe West finally lost it.
He angrily ripped off the blankets covering Barry and threw them off to the side. He didn't care about the sound of glass hitting the floor with the blankets.
"Get the hell up, God damn it!" Joe demanded lividly. "She's not in any tree house! I checked. Barry, Nora is gone! She's gone!"
“I went into her room this morning to wake her up for breakfast. Her bed was made. No Dawn. Donovan has run the entire block three times. I’ve checked every crevice of this house. She’s not here, Barry.”
Barry finally sat up. Slowly. Squinting his eyes at Joe as he went.
If a lie about Dawn's safety was being used as a ploy by his father-in-law to get him out of bed, Barry would officially lose control of the loose grip he had on his rage.
But, one look at Joe's face told Barry that this wasn't a trick or a lie.
"Dawn's missing?" Barry croaked out. He said this more as a statement than a question.
Joe's eyes flooded with tears and his chest heaved. "We can't find her anywhere."
It took Joe a few seconds to realize his son was no longer in bed. No longer in the room.
Joe hurried out the door and could only stand still as yellow streaks of lightning burst all around him.
Barry checked every square inch of the house. Peeking into places Joe wouldn't have reached. Places he thought a seven-year-old speedster could get into.
But, it was pointless. Joe was right.
Dawn was gone.
When Barry finally came to a stop, he took in his surroundings.
Joe had his phone pressed to his ear, speaking frantically to someone on the other line.
Donovan was standing in the middle of the staircase looking terrified.
And the house was eerily quiet beyond where they stood.
"Where did you last see your sister?" Barry quickly asked his son.
Donovan's lip quivered. "I don't know. I think she came to my room this morning. She said something bad was coming. But, I thought it was a dream, daddy. I wouldn't have left her alone if I was awake. I thought I was dreaming."
Barry frowned. Something bad was coming? What did that mean? And why had it come for an innocent seven-year-old?
Dawn was missing.
Barry's breath was choppy and his head pounded. He grabbed his hair and closed his eyes.
He couldn't do this.
He couldn’t lose his wife and his only daughter months apart.
Barry was already broken. Iris leaving their lives shattered him.
And now if anything happened to Dawn, Barry was certain he'd cease to exist altogether.
Sweet, gentle Dawn.
Taken by something evil. Something she'd seen coming and tried to get help for.
Barry swallowed down a sob. But, then shook his head as if to shed his morbid line of thinking.
He'd find her. Whatever it took he'd find his daughter and bring her back home.
Barry ran back upstairs to the nursery and gently pulled Andre out of his crib. Then he ran Joe, Donovan and the baby to STAR Labs.
He immediately told Joe to get the kids into the meta-proof bunker, promising he'd return as soon as he had Dawn. And then he was off.
By the time Barry was out and about speeding around in search of his child, the city had already descended into escalating chaos.
It wasn't just a crisis in his house.
Whatever evil thing Dawn had seen was affecting the entire city.
Eyewitness statements of red lightning and red skies flooded the streets. Though the skies were clearer now save for some rain clouds, no one was fooled that danger had passed.
They took this morning's sunrise as ominous warning for something deadly to come.
Those red skies at dawn.
Barry tried not to think further into the symbolism of that statement.
While he ran, Barry was using a small tablet from STAR Labs as a reference of where to go.
He had Dawn's heat signature on file, and he was waiting for her to pop up on the gps satellites, but it was silent on that end.
And Barry knew why.
When he was combing the house he had noticed Dawn's missing bicycle.
A made-up bed and a missing bike suggested Dawn wasn't taken. At least not from the house anyway. It looked like she'd left on her own.
He had no idea where she'd be going or if someone had gotten to her on the way.
Deep down Barry was certain he knew the face of the evil heading their way.
It had to be Thawne coming to finish what he started three months ago.
This could be the final piece to a plan Barry still hadn't completely figured out.
It made sense that Dawn would be affected by it. She'd been there with him in the speed force after all.
And the red skies reminded Barry of Iris's mumbling when he'd pulled her out the speed force.
It had to be Thawne.
Thawne had taken his life and shattered it twice over.
Barry wouldn't let Eobard walk away a third time.
This time, Barry vowed, he'd be ready for him. This time he'd see the man's reign of terror end once and for all.
Barry heard the city's alarms begin to blare and he heard a mandatory citywide lockdown being issued over the town's PA systems.
Barry swerved in and out of buildings, searching high and low for Dawn everywhere he could think to look.
Eventually he made it to the park.
He was covering a lot of ground, but that made his anxiety grow the further he went without seeing any sign of his daughter.
Barry slowed down to a brisk walk as he passed the waterfront.
Between checking his tablet for a sign of Dawn's heat signature and the dozens of hiding spots in the park, he didn't want to miss a single clue.
Because he was so focused on looking through trees, shrubbery, and the heat maps, Barry didn't notice the curious citizen who'd shirked every and all shelter-in-place order and emergency advisory.
Barry collided with the small woman in a brutal fashion.
The sheer force of the collision pushed them back several inches.
When Iris caught her bearings, she was shocked to find Central City's very own scarlet speedster looking as surprised as she was.
"Flash!" she said in wonderment
"Iris!" he said in anger.
"What are you doing here?" They both asked at the same time, their tones once again on opposite ends of a spectrum.
"I heard people from my apartment," Iris pointed to the tall high rise a ways away. "I came to help."
Barry exhaled sharply and shook his head. Iris thought he looked disappointed in her.
"There are orders to stay inside. You should be following them," he told her.
"But, I just-" Iris started to explain before the world suddenly shifted.
One second she was standing by the waterfront, the next she was in a bright windowless room that had nothing but a broken looking white podium.
She gasped and looked around. "What the hell?"
The Flash was in front of her, hurriedly checking the perimeter of the small white room.
"Where are we?"
"The second time vault. You'll be safe here. He doesn't know it exists,” The Flash rushed out.
Iris frowned. "Who doesn't?"
But, the Flash didn't answer her, instead he obsessively checked the room, finally seeming satisfied that it was secured and he turned back to Iris.
"He's not going to hurt you ever again," The Flash vowed adamantly.
"Who?" Iris pleaded. "Who are you talking about?"
But, it was as if he couldn't even hear her.
"I have to find Dawn and then I'll end this once and for all," he said.
Iris was so confused by all the names and mentions the Flash was dropping but she had a sudden thought that gave her pause.
"Wait a minute. At the park… how did you know my name?" She questioned slowly.
But, it was too slow, because the Flash was already rushing past her towards the door.
"I'll be back for you as soon as I stop him," The Flash said over his shoulder.
Iris panicked. He was really leaving her here confused and without answers. "No, wait…wait!"
She felt it.
A huge spark as she grabbed his hand just as it slipped past her.
Iris didn't know if he felt it too. He was there one second and completely gone the next.
The room was empty and she was all alone.
But Iris barely noticed.
She was still staring at her hand.
The spark that'd hit still tingled on her palm.
It was more than a spark, she realized.
It was a jolt. A shock. A recalibration.
"I know you," Iris whispered after the man, long after he'd gone.
She cradled her hand against her chest and willed the lingering sensation to dissipate. "I know you."
Iris hurried in the direction of the exit, but the door that had once been there was now completely blended into the white wall with no visible handle or button for her to open it.
She looked around. There were actually no visible doors, windows, or latches of any kind.
At first Iris tried pressing the large white bubbles that covered the walls, thinking maybe there was a pattern or hidden bubble that would unlock an exit, but after several minutes she realized the bubbles were just decorative parts of the wall.
She sighed and looked around, trying not to panic. Had the Flash dumped her in this dungeon to die?
No, he said he'd be back for her. After he took care of the "he" he kept referring to. And after he found Donna or whoever it was he'd mentioned too.
Iris sighed in defeat and gave up trying to find a secret way out of this box.
It was probably a good thing.
Whatever was happening outside this room had shaken Iris to her core.
At first she'd been content to barricade herself in her apartment when the sirens started. But, she didn't feel comfortable sitting safe at home while there were citizens still in serious danger outside.
She still didn't feel good about her safe haven now, but there was nothing she could do. She was stuck in here.
At least she knew The Flash was outside now on the scene. He would help the people who needed it.
The elusive speedster everyone always whispered about.
She never thought she'd see him up close. Let alone talk to him or touch him.
How did he know my name? she wondered again.
His knowledge of her, that spark when their hands touched, his sincere promise of her safety all left Iris reeling.
She didn't know where she was. Didn't know how long she'd be here. She didn't even know where her mother was in all the chaos.
Iris sighed heavily and sat down in the middle of the desolate room, leaning her back against the only piece of furniture there. A short, broken podium.
She leaned her head back against it too and sighed, ready to count time in her head until the Flash returned. When all of a sudden a gentle computerized voice spoke.
DNA submission accepted. Access granted.
Iris scrambled away from the podium and when she stood she saw that the formerly blank surface was now blinking green. Above it a projection hovered. The only words on the screen read: PLAY ARCHIVE?
"Hello?" Iris said hesitantly.
But, whatever computer had spoken a second ago was silent.
Iris looked around, unsure of what to do. She tried her luck after a few minutes and pressed the glowing green button.
Request accepted. Video archives opened.
Iris's hand hovered as she braced for whatever she'd unlocked. Still, she startled when a video began to play.
The screen was black for a few seconds, and then a man appeared.
He sat behind a fancy looking desk and wore a neatly coiffed hairdo. He looked about her age.
He was completely unfamiliar to her, but there was something about his eyes…
He clicked his pen and then began speaking. "Video log number one. She has lost the majority of her memory function. She seems to be suffering from both anterograde and retrograde amnesia. She can't remember her life. She doesn't recognize her children, husband, or her brother. She has no recollection of her newspaper or any friends- new or old. She also wakes up every day to a reset mind. She can't form new memories."
"Her agitation and stress levels are high. Her trust level is very low. She isn't responding well to physical touch or verbal encouragement," the man listed off slowly.
"She also shows severe signs of aggression. Particularly where me and the kids are involved. Her agitation hasn't stopped in the two weeks she's been home. It seems to be getting worse."
The man pointed to a large mechanical looking hat on the table in front of him.
"I think if I can reverse the three main pillars of the Cerebral Inhibitor I can use it to jumpstart her hippocampus and her amygdala," he said hopefully. "That should be enough to get her memory going again."
The video cut off and immediately another began to play.
The man was back. He was sitting in the exact set up as before, but this time he looked slightly less calm. Less put together.
"Video log number six," he announced. "My blood cells have rejuvenating properties. I can try to use that for neural repair. She and I don't have the same blood type. But, Andre does. There's been no sign of the baby having the speedster gene. But, since there's no blueprint to follow with genetically acquired speed, we still don't know how the children's abilities work on a molecular level. I've gotten a tiny blood sample from Andre," he said as he held up a miniature sized vial half-filled with what Iris assumed was blood. "We'll start running trials this weekend."
Iris realized these were video diaries. Medical diaries from the looks of it. She didn't know how or why these had begun playing or why they were in this abandoned room, but she hoped they held some answers for her about where she was.
The screen went black again. Then the man reappeared.
He looked progressively more disheveled here. The clock behind him read 3:10. And from the bags under his eyes, Iris assumed that was a.m. rather than p.m.
"Video log number fifteen. Blood transfusion trial number nineteen. This time I'll be putting her under during her next transfusion. Sleep repairs neural pathways and solidifies memories. I believe it can be the boost the blood needs to actually work this tim-."
The video ended before he finished speaking. Iris had half a mind to look for an off switch and return to her quest of finding a way out of the room, but she couldn't look away from the screen. Besides needing answers, there was something about this man, gentle and increasingly desperate, that kept her locked in place.
After a pause longer than the others, video returned and the man was back.
This time he was dressed more casually in a grey t-shirt.
Iris saw a bed behind him and figured he was at home now. He was rubbing his eyes even as the recording was going and Iris thought that the full beard on his face aged him significantly.
"Video log number forty-eight," he said. He sighed and rubbed his neck. His other hand tapped his desk anxiously. "I need to know what happened that day in the speed force. Dawn hasn't really talked about it much and I don't want to push her. But, I need to know every detail. There has to be something that I'm missing. Something that can help Ir--"
There was a loud thud as a door swung open and the man jumped a little.
"Hi daddy!" Iris heard a young voice speak off camera. Then she saw a small hand hold a jar of peanut butter up into the corner of the camera frame. "Can you open this for me, please?"
The man sighed and looked down at the person who'd interrupted his diary. "You have to knock, buddy," he reprimanded gently. "I was in the middle of something really important."
"Oh…" the voice responded, sounding far less enthused than when they'd first arrived. "Sorry."
The man sighed again and he looked down guiltily.
He bent down and scooped the child up, turning his seat sideways so the child could comfortably sit on his lap, facing him.
The little boy in his arms was almost shockingly adorable, Iris observed. He couldn't have been more than six or seven years old and he looked darling and delicate.
She also noted that even from the side, he resembled his father greatly.
The man playfully tugged the boy's ear and the child laughed and swatted his hand away, previous tension forgotten.
"You've already had two pieces of pie and a brownie today," the man recounted as he plucked the jar of peanut butter from his son's hands. "Why do you want this open?"
The young boy blinked up at his dad and then stuttered before he landed on an answer that even Iris found suspicious.
"I was going to make Andre a sandwich," he said slowly. "He asked for one."
"He asked for one?" His father repeated suspiciously. "He spoke to you?"
"Well, not exactly. I heard it in his cry," the boy backtracked coyly.
The man looked at his son and quirked his mouth. Then he reached over and held up a small square monitor.
The boy's eyes widened when he saw whatever was on the screen and he began to ramble. "Oh well… it was before he fell asleep."
The man laughed and his son joined in after him.
"Alright," he chuckled as he twisted the jar open. "Here."
He handed the boy the open container and kissed his head as he put him back on the ground.
The boy thanked him excitedly and hurried off.
"Make a sandwich for your sister too!" He called before the boy was out of earshot.
The door closed and the room grew quiet again.
And Iris watched the majority of the man's smile dim.
He exhaled and looked down.
He didn't look the same way he had a minute ago.
In the seconds he'd returned to solitude, his face regained its weathered, haunted shadow.
He looked aged again.
Iris pitied him.
Even before the video cut out, he remained frozen in place staring off. Iris would've thought the video stalled if it wasn't for his periodic blinking.
The video went black and then the archive continued on.
The next time she saw him, he was clean shaven again.
And he looked excited.
"Log number one hundred eighty. There's a Ukrainian study that suggests cryogenic chambers can slow dementia and Alzheimer’s. I'm starting to build one. Hopefully it'll be done soon."
A new video cut this one off and played without delay. Iris tried to keep up with the information she heard.
"--ust a recording so we have a clear account of everything we do tonight," the next video started mid-sentence. The man was up close, adjusting the camera as he spoke. "I know you're scared. But, I promise I'm not going to hurt you."
"What's this supposed to do?" a feminine voice asked hesitantly.
There was something familiar about that voice, but Iris couldn't place it.
"It's to help you remember," the man informed the woman before he spoke into the camera. "Video log number two hundred and one."
"Remember what?" The woman asked.
The man looked satisfied with the camera's position and he backed up. When he was far enough away, he turned and Iris was able to see the petite figure standing behind him.
She felt half her soul leave her body. And goosebumps cover her flesh.
She was certain her brain was malfunctioning.
Because she was looking right at herself in the video.
She was watching herself stand donned only in pajamas and fluffy slippers talking to the man in the video.
"But, my memory is perfectly fine," Video Iris insisted.
The man nodded. "Okay. We can just run a simple diagnostic test to check."
Video Iris hesitantly agreed and settled into a chair.
"What was your name again?" She wondered. "Gary?"
"It's Barry," the man re-introduced.
In the video, 'Barry' sat down in front of her and smiled amicably before he asked. "What's your name?"
"Iris West," Video Iris responded.
"How old are you?" Barry questioned.
Iris was enraptured. Terrified. Confused.
That was her. She was looking at herself.
The date on the bottom of the projection said that this video was a month old.
And yet, Iris had no recollection of this.
Had she been drugged? Was she sleepwalking? Was she dreaming now? Was this all a hallucination?
"What's your father's name?" Barry asked, drawing Iris's scattered attention back to the video.
"Joe West," Video Iris responded.
"What's your daughter's name?"
Video Iris raised a brow. "I don't have a daughter."
"What's your favorite movie?" Barry continued.
Video Iris frowned and stuttered. "I..."
"What did you have for dinner last night?" Barry inquired when she didn't respond for several minutes.
Video Iris shook her head. "...I… I don't know. I don't know. I can't remember."
"That's okay," Barry calmed.
He changed routes.
"How do you properly disable a Montgomery 3000 security alarm in under fifteen seconds?"
Video Iris's furrow relaxed some and she didn't hesitate this time. "You need to first disable the three-step, three voice-recognition system and then rewire the manual passcode system to connect the alarm's physical sensors. That'll fire the unit and disarm the entire thing," Iris recounted easily.
Barry's mouth turned upwards. "Great. That's really good. Can you tell me the steps to making blueberry pancakes?"
Video Iris's frown returned and she thought very hard before she tearfully shook her head.
"What are your three children's names?" Barry pressed.
"I don't have any children," Video Iris mumbled meekly.
Barry put down his pen and Video Iris swallowed and sniffled.
"Something’s wrong with me isn't it?" She asked him bluntly. "If I think too hard about even stuff I already know, everything starts to get hazy and my head hurts."
"I know," Barry nodded. "You're hurt. But, it's gonna be okay. I'm gonna help you."
Barry got up and wheeled over a vital signs cart.
He carefully hooked Iris up to the monitor and then removed her silk sleep bonnet to put an EEG cap on her head.
"This is just going to monitor your brain activity and the rest is to monitor your breathing and your heart rate," he explained as he fixed all the dangling cords. "We don't want you to get too worked up or too agitated. Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
Barry smiled and touched her cheek reassuringly.
Video Iris looked after him as he got back up to connect a long wire to a large black box she hadn't noticed. "Do we know each other?" She wondered out loud.
"We do," Barry responded.
"We know each other well?"
Barry finished connecting the cord and looked back at her. He nodded. "We've known each other since we were little kids. You're my best friend."
Iris frowned. "I'm your best friend? But, I don't even know you."
Barry chuckled. "I know. That's alright. Like I said, it's just your injury. We're going to fix it."
Video Iris's frown didn't ease.
It deepened the more she studied him.
Until she suddenly hissed in pain and grabbed her head.
Barry quickly rushed over to her. "Are you trying to remember me?"
"I was," she eked.
"Don't try to remember me," Barry instructed quickly. "Don't try to force memories that aren't there. That's why your head hurts. Don't think about anything or person in your own life. Just think about... sandy beaches! Think about sandy beaches and brownies and mai tais."
Video Iris hunched over and cried out.
"Hey, it's alright," Barry comforted. He knelt down in front of her and put his fingers gently on her temples. "Just take deep breaths. Deep breaths. Think about water and calm waves."
He massaged her head and Iris watched, fascinated, as tension slowly escaped her counterpart's shoulders.
She herself tried to remember the man who called himself her friend, but although she didn't get a headache like she had in the video, her thoughts did get very hazy.
She stopped for fear she might black out.
"Do you like brownies with nuts inside?" Barry asked after a few minutes of silence.
Video Iris shook her head.
"Why not?" He wondered.
"They're gross. And they make brownies taste chalky," she said.
"I like them," Barry countered. "I think plain brownies are disgusting. It's just too much chocolate at once."
He smiled knowingly when she scoffed and shook her head.
"How is it possible for a chocolate fudge dessert to have too much chocolate?" She demanded. "You should eat dry trail mix if nuts are so important to you."
Video Iris couldn't see Barry fighting off a smile as he continued to rub her head for a few more seconds before he pulled back and asked if she was alright now.
"Yeah," Video Iris responded, forgetting their tiff and her headache. She gingerly touched her head in awe. "The pain's completely gone."
He looked pleased. "Good." He straightened her cap back on and stood up. He read something off her chart and walked over to a large silver contraption Iris hadn't noticed in the corner of the room.
Her video counterpart must not have noticed it before either because she asked. "What are you doing with that thing?"
Barry quickly tapped away on the small keypad. "I'm just locking in your vitals. That way I can monitor them and keep you safe." He patted the machine and the heavy metal echoed.
"This is a cryogenic chamber. It can be used to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia," Barry explained. "It's meant to slow the progression of the disease."
Video Iris gasped and pulled back. "Is that what's wrong with me? I have dementia?!" She sounded horrified.
"No," Barry rushed to correct. "No, you don't have dementia. Your memory's just a little wonky right now, but I'm going to fix it."
Video Iris quieted a little, but she still looked very worried.
Barry watched her and came back over slowly. "I know this is all confusing and scary, but you don't have to be afraid. I swear I won't let anything bad happen to you in there. Do you trust me?"
Video Iris looked into his eyes and nodded. She smiled, secure in that at least. "I trust y--"
"Flash! Open the door! You're going too far now."
"Barry, please let us in."
They both jerked and looked towards the locked door.
Iris herself was jarred out of the tender moment between the two.
"Who's that?" Video Iris asked as Barry swore under his breath.
"No one," he stated. "Just ignore them."
But his movements were more urgent now as he helped Iris up and led her towards the chamber.
The machine beeped as its door swung open and thick fog exited.
The pounding on the locked door grew louder.
"Stop what you're doing! Don't put her in there," the angrier of the two voices demanded.
"Barry, please, we all want to help her, but not like this," a gentler voice cautioned.
Video Iris took a half step back. "Who are they? What do they mean? Is this dangerous?"
"No, it's not dangerous," Barry shook his head. "They have nothing to do with this. Ignore them."
Video Iris looked unsure. The confidence she had in him was slipping the longer those two women shouted from outside.
Still she stepped slowly into the machine and sat down on the small bench.
"Hey," Barry said softly when she was settled. He made sure she was looking at him when he promised once more. "I'll keep you safe. And when it's done you'll be all better."
Video Iris smiled a little. "Okay, Barry."
It felt like the women outside were once again forgotten.
Until the locked door between them practically flew off its hinges into the room.
Video Iris screamed and Barry turned around angrily.
Two women entered the room. The leader had an angry scowl and arms that were glowing rainbow colors. The second, taller woman was cautiously holding a very large, very odd-looking gun.
"Get out," Barry said immediately.
"Let her go," the leader countered.
"Barry, please," the smaller woman pleaded. "Just listen to us. You're not thinking clearly right now."
"I don't know how you guys even got here, I already told you I have a plan!" Barry responded with annoyance.
"Your 'plan' is to stick her in a freezer overnight! What the hell are you thinking!?"
"I'm following a clinical trial," Barry argued. "I know what I'm doing!"
"Ryan Choi told us that those studies are ongoing!" the woman rebutted angrily. She shook her head in disbelief. "I think you're really losing it, Barry."
Barry ignored her and turned back to the machine.
The woman stepped forward, but her partner stopped her. "Allegra, calm down. Please.”
'Allegra' scowled, but she waited.
"Barry." The calmer women tried.
Barry ignored her too and started punching a sequence into the chamber's keypad.
"Barry. Please, listen to us."
"Kamilla, I know you think you're helping right now, but all you two are doing is making this worse."
Kamilla hesitated. She waited for Barry to see reason, but when he showed no sign of slowing down, she raised her gun steadily and blinked back tears. "I don't want to hurt you, Barry. But, I'm not going to let you turn on that machine with her in there."
Barry looked so disappointed as he took in his friend pointing her weapon at him. "Are you going to shoot me?"
"If I have to," Kamilla responded immediately. "I know you want to fix her, but this isn't the way. This could kill her."
Despite Barry's earlier reassurances, Video Iris could no longer hold in her fear as she took in everyone's words.
Her tears spilled over, running down her cheeks as she desperately asked for someone to tell her what was happening.
Barry tried to comfort Iris in-between yelling at Allegra and Kamilla. But, it was fruitless.
Between all the yelling and the tears, they were all just a garbled orchestra of chaos.
"We said we would try!" Barry finally cut through the noise.
Allegra stepped closer to them, announcing her intent to take Iris and leave and Barry said in no uncertain terms that if she tried, he'd be forced to take her down.
"She's screaming and crying," Allegra fumed as she pointed to Video Iris's shaking body.
"Yeah, because you're scaring her!" Barry told her, completely enraged. "Just please, get out"
"I'm not leaving you to freeze her brain solid," Allegra volleyed back angrily.
"That’s enough!" Kamilla jumped in, angrily pointing at Allegra. "I needed your help getting in, not making him feel like crap. I know you're scared, Allegra, but we can't turn on each other now."
She turned to Barry and her voice softened. "We know you wouldn't hurt her on purpose. But, this experiment is volatile and it’s untested."
"I love her too," Kamilla whispered, tears in her eyes. "And I miss her. So much. We all do. But, I know we have to find another way."
Watching her, Iris felt her heart clench at the pain in Kamilla's eyes. She didn't know her. Didn't remember her. But Iris wished she did.
Allegra too, she realized as she took in the younger woman's pain-filled eyes. Her anger wasn't from a place of cruelty. It was from love.
They loved each other. They loved her.
And yet she had no idea who they were.
Barry bit his cheek and shook his head. "I can't stop now," he said thickly. "I can't. Not when we're so close. Not if this can save her."
Kamilla put down her weapon and wiped her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Barry. It's already over. We already called Joe. He'll be here soon. Cisco should be done turning off the power in the building any minute now. You've tried your best, but this one isn't going to work."
Iris could see Barry violently swallow down a sob as the fight left him.
They'd backed him into a corner and cut off his resources.
He couldn't win.
As much as she’d wanted to see his idea for a cure to her ailment play out, Iris thought that maybe it was for the best.
Video Iris's sobs were loud and heart wrenching. She sounded terrified and traumatized. And Barry’s friends looked just about ready to cross the line on their difficult decision.
"Dad!" Video Iris suddenly cried out.
Everyone in the video turned and saw a man standing frozen in the doorway.
His eyes were wide and his mouth was open as he took in the sight before him.
This must have been the 'Joe' that Kamilla had called.
As far as Iris had always known, she didn’t have a father. And looking at the man in the video, Iris was certain she had never seen him before in her life. But her video counterpart's loud relief at the sight of him suggested he was just one more person she couldn't remember.
When Video Iris ran to him, Joe snapped out of his stupor.
"What the hell, Barry!" Joe reprimanded. "You just snuck into the house and took her out of her room in the middle of the night?!"
Barry looked desperate as he held Iris back before she reached her dad. He desperately addressed the shaking woman in front of him in one last ditch effort. The trust Video Iris had previously gazed upon him with was gone now.
"Iris, you have to wake up now. Please, just--" his voice broke and he leaned his head against hers, cradling her face gently in his hands. "Please, come back to me. Please."
"Barry..." Joe stepped forward.
"Barry, that's enough. Just let me take her home," Joe pulled Iris from the distraught young man. He gestured for Allegra and Kamilla to take her outside which they quickly did.
"You're not thinking clearly anymore," the older man stated, his voice dripping with disappointment, eyes still on Barry who'd kept his head bowed. "You haven't for a while now."
"I can save her," Barry whispered, head still looking down. "Just give me a chance."
"This is it, son," Joe said gruffly. He rubbed his eyes. "We're not doing this again. Not ever again."
"Never. Again," Joe cut off. "We help her adjust to this new normal. We love her and keep her safe. We don't keep torturing her trying to bring back what's no longer there."
There was a long stretch of tense silence.
Then Barry nodded once and turned away.
“It doesn’t mean we love her any less, Barry. It’s just something we have to learn to live with. For her sake,” Joe tried to explain, but Barry signaled that he didn’t want to talk.
Joe sighed heavily and left the room.
Alone, Barry fell into the seat her counterpart had occupied. Iris could tell he was mumbling to himself, but the hands over his face obscured her from hearing clearly what he was saying.
Right before the video faded to black, he moved his hands enough for Iris to hear the four words he was repeating again and again.
“Come back to me.”
A tear trailed Iris’s cheek.
That was it. The last one in the archives. Iris waited for the next video, but it never came.
What happened to her?
Iris thought about the questions Barry had asked her in the video and she realized she couldn't answer a single one.
She didn't know what she had for dinner last night.
She couldn't recall how to make blueberry pancakes.
She didn't know how old she was.
Iris felt nauseous. She pressed the flashing button on the podium again, turning the projection off entirely.
She pressed her fingers on her eyes and tried to control her choppy breathing.
She couldn’t remember anything.
She knew her mother, Cecile Horton. She knew she worked at the county courthouse. She knew she lived on Archer Avenue.
But, that was it.
That was all.
The people in the video. The one she called dad. The ones named Kamilla and Allegra. She had no memory of them. Not one.
And the man who’d spent well over two hundred diary entries trying to fix her brain.
The only person who seemed to be still holding out hope she would one day come back to herself.
Who was he?
Who was she?
She tried to think. Tried to focus her million racing thoughts on that one question.
Iris couldn’t bring anything up. The minutes stretched and Iris thought the attempt was fruitless. But, right before she gave up and opened her eyes, she was hit with a distorted mental picture.
There was a little girl. Iris couldn’t make out her face, but she knew she was scared.
There were bright lights and lightning.
The little girl was being chased.
Iris focused on trying to see who was chasing her and where she was, but she couldn’t expand the image.
The girl ran and ran.
Then there was a boom. And then nothing after that. Everything was blank.
Iris opened her eyes.
Who was the girl? Was it her? Was it a memory or a vision of some kind?
Iris needed to know.
And she was absolutely certain she wouldn’t find any more answers in this place.
She had to find Barry. Whoever he was. Wherever he was, she had to find him.
If he was really her friend like he said he was, he’d know what happened to her. He’d know why the Flash had locked her in here. He’d know who the ‘he’ that was after her was.
Iris forgot about the danger outside. She forgot about the blood red skies and the warning sirens.
Now that she knew his name, now that she’d seen his face, all that mattered to her was finding Barry.
And she would find him. Her life depended on it.
But first she had to figure out how to get out of a completely sealed off, secret room.
‘We’re not stuck in here… these are a little worst-case-scenario I had Cisco whip up.’
Iris touched her head.
She had no idea where that faint voice inside her head came from.
It sounded like her own.
'How do I get out of here?' She asked it.
'Amazo's broken into the building. We don't know where. Don't use your powers and don't touch any of the computers until we find him.'
'If I can't use the computer to access the security pad, then we're trapped in here.'
'Not quite. I always have a fail-safe...'
"Check the fifth bobble on the wall closest to the door." Iris said out loud at the exact same time as the voice in her head said the same thing.
She didn't question this. Only hurried to the adjacent wall and felt around. When she saw the bubble that wasn't quite like the others, she pressed it and it opened to reveal two small pieces of jewelry.
"Put them on the wall and stand back," she once again said in chorus with her inner voice.
Iris touched the earrings to the wall and they magnetized together. She quickly stepped backwards just in time to get out the way of the explosion.
The wall shattered and gave way and Iris was looking at a brightly lit hallway on the other side of it.
She rejoiced loudly and carefully stepped through her exit.
Iris was very surprised to find that she was actually in STAR Labs. Even though she'd never been inside the building before, she recognized the logos adorning the walls and elevators.
She blinked away her confusion and her slight disorientation and she urgently called up an elevator.
While she waited, Iris heard anxious voices somewhere down the hall. She thought to follow the sounds, but she thought better of it.
None of the voices sounded like Barry's and finding him was her sole focus now.
When the elevator arrived, Iris hurried inside and rode it down to the parking lot.
The good thing about the Flash taking her to Star Labs was that she was now right in the center of the city.
It was where the voice inside her head was telling her she needed to be and that voice was all she had to hold on to.
A loud crash shook the ground under her and screams and car alarms began sounding.
A billow of smoke was towering up towards the sky, making the air a little sharp to breathe in.
Iris raced down the street, towards the destruction.
She avoided massive crowds of people running in the opposite direction as her. A few citizens tried to get her to turn around and follow them to safety, but Iris declined.
She had only one thought.
Find Barry. Find Barry. Find Barry.
She knew that was the only way she'd be safe.
Iris made it to the open town square in record time. Though it looked completely unrecognizable now. Overturned cars, broken storefront windows, and debris as far as the eye could see littered the street. There were booms and crashes every few seconds and through the smoke surrounding them, Iris could make out people racing by around her. Some on the ground others in the air.
Metahumans, she realized.
She was in the middle of a battlefield.
Punches were being thrown, fire, lightning, rocks, wind. Every possible element was being weaponized and used to brutalize anyone in the way.
Iris couldn't begin to tell which side was which. Who were the good guys and who were the villains.
Everything and everyone whizzed past her at breakneck speed. Orders were shouted and cries of pain saturated the air. And Iris was so shocked she hadn't yet been cut down.
"Barry, on your left!"
Iris gasped and turned around frantically looking for the source of the warning.
Barry was here! She knew he'd be! He could help her. Or maybe, she thought as the ground shook again and a painful scream echoed in the street, she could help him.
Iris looked around, but she couldn't make out brown hair and pale skin anywhere.
Most of the metas fighting were in super suits and there were no visible humans. She thought maybe he'd ducked behind a car or a building and moved in what she thought was the right direction.
A powerful gust of wind shifted the thick smoke for a few minutes and Iris thought she saw a little girl in the middle of the mayhem.
At first she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her before she realized that, no, that was a little girl throwing rocks off a slingshot at the metahumans flying above her.
The girl's aim was solid. She hit just about every meta at least once and she even managed to dive out of the way of their retaliatory fire.
Iris also noticed The Flash on scene for the first time.
He was limping and hunched, holding his rib cage as he used his free hand to punch an advancing meta.
When the attacker was down, he turned and addressed the small girl. "Dawn, get out of here!! Run!! Now!"
The girl shook her head and hit another flying meta with a heavy rock. "No, I have to find mommy!"
The Flash started to yell again, but he was grabbed from behind and pulled back into the fray.
Iris looked back at the girl. But, it was getting harder to follow her with her eyes.
One second the child was in front of the fire hydrant, the next she was several feet away near the stop sign.
It was like she was blipping away, ducking and diving punches and fire balls and razor-sharp icicles in a blink
She was a metahuman too, Iris realized.
The girl and her slingshot took down two more metas in quick succession. And the next time she blipped, she ended up right by the Flash. He was breathing heavily and so was she. The Flash immediately bent down and started talking quickly, checking the girl over.
And neither of them saw the menacing shadow stalking towards them.
Iris couldn't speak out in time to warn the Flash before the yellow-clad meta clapped his hands together and fired lightning right into the scarlet speedster's chest.
The Flash went down hard. He flew feet back and crashed into a brick pillar. Iris waited with bated breath, but he didn't get back up.
And the yellow speedster who’d hit him didn't slow down his path to the small girl. She'd turned her back on him, shouting out for the Flash who laid unresponsive on the floor.
She didn't see the man coming.
But Iris did.
And as the meta advanced, pulling back his shoulders as if to strike, Iris abandoned everything else in service of the child.
All thoughts of finding Barry and answers and help evaporated. There was no thought in her mind as she ran as fast as she possibly could to the middle of that street.
She didn't know how she made it there before the metahuman, but one minute she was frozen in place watching, and the next Iris stood over the small girl, keeping her body between the murderous metahuman and the child.
When she felt Iris shielding her body, the girl turned and looked at her. Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak. But, the speedster over Iris's shoulder caught her attention.
Everything seemed to suddenly move in slow motion.
Iris watched the girl's eyes fill with confusion and then terror. And then… pure rage.
"Stop it!" the small girl bellowed out. She ducked out from under Iris and jumped towards the man.
The speedster smiled ominously and raised up a hand. He was now close enough that Iris noted that his hand was vibrating and it had specks of lightning dancing off of it.
Iris unthinkingly pulled the child back towards her, but the girl wretched herself from her grasp and gave an angry shout.
And then time seemed to freeze around them.
Iris felt every hair on her body stick up.
The sky above dimmed in perfect synchronization just as thick ropes of blinding light started to surround the child.
The air was so thick that Iris couldn't even scream at the sight.
It took a lot of effort to even move her head an inch, like wading through cold molasses, but Iris did. And she saw the man's previously cocky grin now morph into open mouthed shock.
Then thunder sounded and seemed to break them out of their suspended state. And Iris gasped for air.
The little girl stood, the very center of a storm.
The world was silent except for the crackling sunlight that cloaked her.
Lightning, Iris realized. The girl was cloaked in lightning.
The lightning crackled and snapped and buzzed angrily, but the girl didn't seem to notice.
She moved and the lightning moved with her. It wasn't hurting her. It was a part of her.
"LEAVE HER ALONE!" The girl bellowed at the predator before them.
But, it wasn't her voice alone. There was an echo as she spoke. A shadow of Something powerful. Something ancient.
The meta seemed to realize this too. The dread in his eyes spread to his face and dripped down to his shaking hands.
He froze in place.
"How is this possible?" Iris heard him whisper in disbelief.
The girl flicked her wrist and the thickest stream of lightning flowed from her and lashed out at the man like a whip, slicing his cheek harshly.
The man grabbed his face and leapt back, retreat in his stance.
The girl lifted her hands to strike again.
Before he ran off, he actually looked past the girl and locked eyes with Iris. "We'll meet again, Ms. West," the man addressed her. "Under another red sky somewhere."
And then he was gone.
Iris released her tight breath and staggered backwards. She could actually feel the threat gone. It felt easier to breathe.
"Are you okay?" Iris panted as she looked at the girl who still hadn't moved. "You shouldn't have jumped in the way of danger like that."
The child didn't answer her. Behind them Iris heard a groan and turned to see Flash shakily pull himself up from the floor. He touched his head and then his side before he looked up and saw Iris standing beside the glowing girl.
He frowned and called out. "Dawn?"
Iris turned back to the child. 'Dawn' must have been her name.
"Dawn?" Iris tried. "Are you alright?"
Iris was worried. She'd protected Iris, but now she seemed stuck in whatever meta state she was in. Iris reached out for her.
"No!! Don't touch her!" She heard the Flash yell out behind her.
But, it was too late. Iris unthinkingly touched the girl's shoulder in an attempt to calm her and she was instantly shocked.
Iris flew back hard, landing on the road, hitting her head against the unforgiving asphalt.
Her father's scream did the trick, shaking Dawn out of her trance and she slowly came back to herself.
The lightning storm around her dissipated and her fury retreated.
She looked around in confusion. Everything was still. There were no more loud explosions or bad metas trying to hurt her. None that were still awake anyway.
When Dawn's eyes landed on her mother laying on the street with her dad hunched over her, fear once again returned.
Dawn ran to them and grabbed a hold of her dad's arm right before he picked her mom up in his arms.
Dawn didn't think before she placed her hand on her mother's cheek, making sure the very tip of her forefinger was right on her mom's temple vein.
Dawn concentrated harder than she ever had before and she sent the tiniest electric pulse from her finger to her mom's temple.
Barry watched the spark of purple and yellow glow under Iris's skin before it disappeared. "Why did you do that?"
Dawn shrugged and whispered truthfully. "I don't know."
Barry was so overwhelmed, he didn't know what to do first. Iris was unconscious, but breathing. Dawn was exhibiting a surge of powers Barry had never seen before. And the deep gash on her temple concerned him. He didn't know if he needed a doctor or a meta scientist at the moment.
After a quick mental struggle, Barry told Dawn to follow him, deciding a hospital check was more important.
He shifted his weight, ready to run Iris to the hospital. But, before he could go, his wife began moving in his arms.
Iris groaned and very slowly blinked her eyes open.
She touched her head gingerly, cognizant of the faint throbbing there and waited as the blurry world around her came back into focus.
When her eyes focused and everything stopped spinning, Iris found herself looking up at two semi-blurry faces.
"W- what's going on? Where am I?" She looked around at the crumpled buildings ahead of them and the smoke billowing all around the square.
Iris turned back to the two people looking down at her sadly.
She became even more confused as she next registered the cold asphalt she was half resting on.
She was laying down in the middle of the city.
In the middle of the road.
And no one was answering her questions.
"Barry," she breathed out, focusing on the masked speedster. What parts of his face were visible were covered in bruises and scrapes.
He had a busted lip and glassy, wide eyes and he struggled to speak.
But, then Iris fully registered the young girl looking down at her with scared bewilderment and her confusion quickly gave way to worry.
"Dawn, sweetie, what are you doing out here?" Iris hurriedly sat up, wincing at a sharp pain in her abdomen.
She touched Dawn's arm when she didn't answer. "Are you okay, honey? Oh my God, you're bleeding!" Iris observed. She carefully grabbed her daughter's chin and turned her face so she could see the deep cut on her head. "What happened!?"
"Barry! She's bleeding! You're both bleeding!" Iris exclaimed. Thoroughly confused as to why they were looking at her in disbelief.
She lightly tapped her husband's face. Breaking him from his silence. "Barry!"
"D-do you know who we are?" Barry asked.
Iris's brow furrowed. "Do you know who you are?" She asked slowly, pulling back a tiny bit.
The question was random and confusing, but in a world of doppelgangers and cerebral magnetic disruptions gone wrong, Iris braced herself.
Barry nodded in response to her question. "Of course. Yeah." He wiped a tear from his cheek. He gestured between himself and Dawn. "Do you know who we are? Do you know who we are to you?"
“My family,” Iris stated. Though it sounded somewhat like a question.
And she was completely taken aback by the sound that tore through her husband.
Dawn gasped happily and looked up at her dad excitedly then back at Iris.
"You remember us, mama?" Dawn asked, practically bouncing up and down. She looked ecstatic.
And despite his tears, Barry was beaming too.
Iris swallowed hard. No, it wasn't doppelgangers. It was her. She knew she was waking up from something monumental.
She just didn't know what.
"Of course," she rushed to reassure Dawn. "I know who you are." She looked up at Barry, instinctively putting a hand on his arm to calm him. "I know who both of you are. I'm-"
Iris couldn't even finish her assurances before Barry and Dawn threw themselves on her, hugging her as tightly as their arms would squeeze.
Iris's mouth was opened. She was so lost. But, the feel of her husband and daughter's arms around her calmed her at once.
In spite of her waking up in the middle of the street to a world quite literally on fire, she stayed there with them. Feeling their tears soak her shirt, her neck, her face.
She stayed and she held them both just as tight. Her head throbbed and her stomach ached from the awkward position she was twisted in, but she didn't say a word.
Except to reassure them again that she was really her and they were them. And whatever hell the three of them had just emerged from was over.
Eventually, Barry gathered himself enough to stand all of them up.
He held both his daughter and his wife in his arms as he ran them away from the center of destruction, to the hospital downtown to be looked over thoroughly.
After a series of scans, neurology tests, and blood work ups, the doctors declared Iris's memory restored. Mentally, she was healed. But, she wasn't completely out of the woods yet.
Turns out her stomach ached because she'd managed to crack three ribs when she shocked herself. Between that and the nasty whack her head had taken, she was ordered to bed rest for two weeks.
Barry alerted the Wests to Thawne's disappearance and Iris's miraculous recovery and they were able to leave the bunker at Star Labs.
Cecile and Joe went down to the police station to alert the public that the threat was over and Kamilla watched Andre and Donovan while Cisco and Wally swept the city, cleaning up and rounding up the escaped Rogues.
And Barry stayed at the hospital, sitting by his wife's side. He kept Dawn close to his chest, cradling her in his arms the entire time they were in the hospital.
He didn't let her go except for the few minutes it took to run a CT scan for her as well.
He'd spent hours thinking that he'd lost her. Hours praying to feel her warm small hands in his own. He'd pleaded with every higher being he knew of to allow him the chance to look upon the tiny perfect face he'd spent the last two weeks avoiding.
And now he held her. Just as precious and delicate as the day he first held her in his arms.
He carefully moved her kinks out of her face as he listened to her excitedly tell her visibly distressed parents how she rode her bike all the way downtown in search of her mother. Only to see her father injured and fighting off a horde of metas alone.
She hadn't hesitated to join the fight with just her slingshot and a sack full of rocks.
Barry had been terrified when he looked up and saw his daughter suddenly beside him, her small hands slinging rocks at Rogues indiscriminately. But, she refused to leave his side. She refused to go anywhere until she found her mom. The Reverse Flash and the rest of the Rogues Thawne had sprung from Iron Heights were coming at him so hard, Barry had no chance to get Dawn out of there.
When she was done with her story, they commended Dawn on her bravery and swallowed down their terror for a later talk.
Hours later, Iris had tearful reunions with Joe and Wally. And Kamilla and Joanie brought the boys in to see Iris too.
As they all talked, Iris got a much fuller picture of what exactly happened to her.
Though she didn't remember a second of the last three months, Iris did remember jumping into the speed force after Dawn.
Now, she wanted to know every single thing she missed while she was hurt.
In an attempt to keep things light, Barry tried to brush past the dark days and focus more on happy moments he'd shared with the children. And he even told her about the moments at the park they'd shared with her those few weeks she was forming new memories with the four of them.
It was so surreal to hear stories about herself and her family that she had no memories of, but she soaked them all in.
She was scared and sad that this happened to them, but she was also incredibly hopeful.
Hopeful that, in spite of such trauma, they could all still find one another in the dark. That there could still be a happy ending no matter the pain.
Her family didn't sugarcoat how hard it was without her, but there were so many good moments laced into their stories, her heart soared.
Though the twins were more than happy to put Barry's less than stellar moments on blast.
"Daddy said a lot of bad words while you were gone," Donovan revealed as he took the hospital pudding his mom offered him.
Barry blushed and chuckled sheepishly. "That's… not true."
"Yes it is," Dawn echoed. "He said a really really bad word one day when he was doing laundry."
Dawn leaned in and whispered the phrase her dad had shouted at the washing machine.
Iris gasped, so shocked, she forgot to reprimand Dawn for repeating it. "Barry!"
Barry rubbed his neck and shrugged sheepishly. "The machine turned all the whites pink."
Iris bit her lip to keep from laughing. The twins shouldn't think cursing was funny.
Iris looked at Donovan and Dawn. "I think we can give daddy a break, yeah?" she proposed. "We all know we shouldn't use those words. Besides, I'm sure you guys did a lot of not so bad things too, right?"
That set the twins off. They tripped over their words, talking over each other trying to list all the fun activities they did with their dad every day, describing the elaborate meals and treats he'd made for them, and all the times they got to spend hours on end at the park.
Iris's smile was almost too big for her face as she listened to all their stories. She felt a warmth seep into her very bones.
This wasn't even a worry she needed to have soothed.
There was never any doubt in her mind that Barry would still take on the abrupt and unwanted role of single father with diligence and love.
Hours of recollections of all he did to make their family happy, to ease the burden of her absence, just confirmed what she already knew.
But, when she looked at Barry, she saw that he didn't look happy listening to the twins recount events. He looked embarrassed. He looked ashamed.
Iris filed her questions for him away for a later time.
The kids stayed for as long as their tiny bodies would allow, but they started drifting off a little after lunch.
Joe announced he'd take Andre home for a nap. And, after the traumatic wake up Donovan had that morning, Barry had Joe take him home too.
Dawn was cleared to leave the hospital, but she wanted to stay close to her mom. And Barry and Iris felt better keeping her close to medical help anyway. Just in case.
Barry ducked out the room for a few minutes to ask the doctor some follow up questions and Iris used the time to check up on her daughter.
"Does your head hurt, baby?" Iris asked Dawn. She'd gotten much quieter when her dad left and Iris thought it was because of a headache.
But Dawn shook her head.
"Mama?" She asked softly.
"Are you still mad at me?"
Iris brows furrowed and she looked down at Dawn. "What? Dawn, I was never mad at you, honey!"
Dawn nervously chewed her bottom lip. "When you came back from the doctor you didn't like us very much. You weren't happy to be around me and Donovan or Andre or daddy."
Iris remembered Barry and Joe mentioning the two weeks she spent at home after her coma. They didn't go into details, but it was alluded that she'd been violent and erratic because of her understandable confusion and anger at her memory loss.
Joe and Barry had taken blame for that saying they'd probably pushed too much on her too quickly in the beginning.
"I love you more than anything else on the planet," Iris swore with intense emotion. "You're my favorite girl in the whole wide world."
Dawn looked down at the hospital blanket and picked at it mournfully. "You couldn't run away cause of me. In the speed force."
Iris used her finger to raise her daughter's chin. "I stayed behind because I love you and because I will never let anyone hurt you," Iris said seriously. "Not Ever. It wasn't your fault the bad man took you. And I'm so glad that you're safe."
Dawn's lip trembled and Iris pulled her into a tight hug, rubbing her back soothingly. She whispered words of love into Dawn's hair and waited for her to settle. When she did, Iris pulled back again.
"I promise I wasn't mad at you," she finished, making sure Dawn was certain of this. "Mom was just a little confused."
Dawn nodded and wiped her eyes, her mouth quirking up. "That's what daddy said."
"Well, your daddy is a very smart man," Iris concurred.
Dawn smiled and nodded. "Just like you, mama."
Iris grinned and kissed her cheeks.
She settled them back on the bed, pushing aside the support pillow they'd given her in order to give her daughter a proper cuddle.
"So, speaking of daddy," Iris started. "What other bad words did you hear while I was gone?"
"Hi, I'm home!" Barry announced as he closed the front door and chucked off his sneakers.
"Hey, babe. How was your day?"
"Long," Barry groaned, noting the greetings came from the living room. "I missed you all."
He headed in that direction, eager to see his family after fourteen hours away. And he found them all together, huddled closely on the couch as they watched a movie on tv.
It was a picture-perfect image to be greeted by.
But when he realized all three children were resting their full weight on Iris one way or another Barry couldn't help but sigh, exasperated.
Dawn was sitting in Iris's lap, luxuriating in the feel of her mother running a hand through her afro. Andre was leaning snugly in Iris's arm sucking his thumb in contentment and playing with Iris's necklace with his free hand. And Donovan rested on her other side, actually pushing himself into her so that he could lean on her as he watched television.
Barry was dumbfounded by the feat of someone so petite managing to hold all three of them so effortlessly, but Iris was doing it.
"Guys, I keep telling you not to sit on her," Barry chided tiredly. "She needs to heal and she can't do that if you guys are constantly climbing all over her."
In the children's defense, they weren't even the biggest offenders of this.
Iris had blown past every and all medical advice to rest her ribs.
She was constantly trying to carry Andre when Barry wasn't looking. And she sneakily encouraged the kids to snuggle her for hours on end.
Even now she looked unbothered having the kids flocking her like they were.
Dawn at least looked guilty at the reminder now, though she made absolutely no attempt to move away. And Donovan pretended not to hear Barry's reprimand at all.
Barry at least tried to pick the baby up and off of Iris's chest, but he whined angrily and wiggled himself free, snuggling further into his mother's arms.
"Leave my babies alone," Iris chided when Barry finally managed to remove Dawn and Donovan from her body and put them in front of the tv.
The instant physical relief she felt when the twins moved was so great, Iris sank gratefully into her seat.
"I know that feels better," Barry said knowingly. He wore a smug grin that Iris didn't particularly care for.
"Eh, feels the same," she lied.
Barry chuckled and leaned down and kissed her soundly. He only pulled away when Andre started fussing over the intrusion into his space.
"What do you want for dinner? Something light? How are you feeling today? Did you take your pain meds already?" Barry torpedoed a bunch of questions at her at once.
"I feel fine and I took the pain meds an hour ago," Iris answered calmly. She patted the empty seat beside her. "I ordered takeout for dinner. You need to rest. You've been running around like a madman all week."
Barry reluctantly sat down after double-checking that she didn't need him to get her anything.
Iris handed him the baby, no longer able to sustain her game face, no matter how much she wanted to hold her kids.
And Andre seemed to sense his mother's exhaustion, because he went willingly into his father's arms this time, babbling at him happily once he was settled.
Iris sighed in relief and twisted around in search of a more comfortable position. Barry helped her out by carefully swinging her legs across his lap so that she could stretch herself.
"You have to stop pushing yourself so hard," Barry told her, running his free hand up and down her calves.
"I know for me it's like no time was lost, but I don't know. I still really miss them," Iris admitted softly. "And I see how they look at me sometimes. Like they're still a little bit scared."
Iris looked at her two oldest children who were still very much babies themselves.
"They're so little," she murmured. "I don't know how they were able to get through something like this."
Barry didn't know either. Between his own numerous breakdowns and blowups that preceded his complete mental shutdown, he was in awe that the twins held so much patience and understanding throughout such a dark time.
They hadn't been okay. They were confused and sad and scared every day, but they didn't let their, very justified, emotions consume them.
And they'd especially shown their father more grace than he felt he deserved the last few months.
"They're brave and they're resilient," Barry noted quietly as he stared at his perfect little gifts. He looked over at his wife. "Just like you."
Iris smiled softly at him, forever appreciating how he saw her. "I love you."
Barry smiled tremulously and Iris noticed. Since the hospital, he'd looked slightly overwhelmed by emotions he hadn't yet explained to her.
Not that he really needed to. Iris had always been in-tuned with what Barry was feeling.
Since she'd returned, Iris had seen a shadow of something haunted on his face.
Something broken that was trying to mend itself quietly. He was keeping it to himself so not to upset or overwhelm her.
Even if Joe hadn't told her about Barry's mental breakdown, Iris would've guessed it herself.
She'd known Barry her whole life. She knew how he handled grief. She knew how he handled separations between the two of them. In spite of the kids that he loved so much, Iris knew he'd still have to have a breaking point.
"Three months is a long time," Iris said gently, ready to share his load.
Barry looked down.
"I don't think I could do what you did," Iris whispered. "Holding this family together like that all that time."
Barry laughed humorlessly and looked away in shame. "I didn't do anything. I quit being The Flash and had to have Joe live here with me by the end. That's nothing to applaud."
Iris frowned and sat up. "You spent every second of every day trying to find a cure for me. You raised our babies and you kept them safe and loved. They have more happy memories of the last three months than sad ones and that's because of you."
Barry shook his head, but Iris didn't let up. If there was one thing she'd never allow, it was Barry to feel inadequate in their lives.
"Some days were harder and you needed help. So what?" Iris persisted. "That doesn't make you any less of an amazing father and husband. Not for one second."
Barry couldn't help the tears that flooded his eyes. The way the tightness in his chest unraveled as she spoke… the way the love reflecting in her eyes as she looked at him eased his shame… Barry could never fully verbalize what Iris meant to him.
"I missed you so, so much," he said thickly.
Iris carefully pulled her feet off his lap and slid close to him.
Iris whispered sweet nothings against his lips before she kissed him. Sealing her words of love.
When she pulled away, she snuggled into his warm chest. Barry held Andre in one hand and wrapped his other tightly around her body, drawing her comfortably to him.
At once, the restlessness in him settled and he felt peace.
"I love you," Iris whispered into him.
He closed his eyes in total contentment.
"Uh oh," Iris murmured after a few minutes.
Barry opened his eyes to see what she was reacting to.
The twins had abandoned their movie and were now turned around, looking at their father with narrowed eyes.
"How come we can't hug mommy but you can?" Donovan demanded indignantly.
Iris laughed and Barry gestured to Iris resting on him. "This is not the same thing you all do. I'm not sitting on mommy, she's on me. I'm not pressing on her stomach."
Dawn looked at her mom for confirmation that this was the case and Iris nodded.
"I'm okay like this."
Dawn and Donovan huffed and looked back suspiciously at Barry one last time, but they turned back to their movie. Barry shook his head and Iris chuckled.
When the doorbell rang, signaling their dinner had arrived, Barry put Andre down on the couch and quickly made sure he and Iris were fine before he ran to answer it.
Barry took the giant order of food to the dining room.
He returned to the living room ready to announce it was time to eat when he saw the state of his family.
All three kids were back to their original spots, cuddling close to their mother, not a care among them.
And Barry admitted it was a lost cause to even try and keep them away from her.
Iris was the sun.
The person around which all four of their whole worlds orbited. The one who gave them warmth and light. They would forever be drawn to her like moths to a comforting flame.
Barry decided to just leave the food in the dining room. They would get to it when they were ready.
Right now, he slipped back onto the couch and moved the kids around so that they weren't all completely on top of Iris, but still as close to their mother as they needed to be.
And Barry thought that maybe it wasn't so confounding that Iris could hold all their children at once. As he slipped his arm around her waist and drew all of them to him, Barry thought that this was how it was always meant to be.
They fit together like perfect pieces of a puzzle, the five of them. It was a puzzle Barry had been working to complete his whole life.
One that had often been scrambled and stalled and broken up. But, the pieces were always there.
No matter what, they were all built to find each other. Built to fit as one.
There would never be anywhere else for them other than right here together.
“The twins are asking if we could go to the park tomorrow,” Iris revealed over Dawn’s head.
Dawn whipped her head around. “Can we go, please, daddy?” she asked excitedly. “We haven’t been in so long.”
Barry was a little surprised that they would still want to go to the park. Barry assumed they would've associated it with their mother treating them like perfect strangers. But, everyone looked at him eagerly, waiting for his answer.
Each of them had eyes just like Iris. Brown and twinkling with galaxies behind them.
For as long as he lived, he'd never be able to deny those eyes a single thing.
"Of course," he agreed, with barely a thought. "We can go tomorrow."
Donovan clapped excitedly and a round of thank-yous were thrown his way.
But, it was Barry that was the one drenched in gratitude.
He'd fought so hard to get Iris back home. To get back the life they had. And now that they were all reunited, Barry was one again shocked to think that this life was actually his. That this was actually his family.
Every single person in his arms mystified him.
They were perfect.
The puzzle was perfect.
And, once again, it was complete.