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one day, we'll get nostalgic for disaster

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The first words that Caitlin Snow ever say to Iris are, “I need you to urinate in this.” It might be the weirdest introduction of her life. Somehow, more so because of the way that Caitlin and Cisco are checking her pupils, and her heart rate, and telling her that she has been in a coma for the last nine months. That's the bit she focuses on. A coma. Not the urine; not till later.

Later, when she's all but run out of S.T.A.R labs and as far away from those people as she can get, she remembers the urine thing. Banging on the front door of her house, because she woke up in some empty lab to a bunch of strangers telling her that she's been in a coma, and she doesn't have her key.

She wants to laugh, but when her dad opens the door, looking at her like... like she's causing him physical pain just standing there, a sort of choked keening sob comes out of her instead. Her father wraps her up into his arms, so tight the sound disappears against his chest. There isn't any room left for it to come out. Iris hangs on for all she's worth till it feels like she can breathe normally again. Then, she pulls away and jokes to her dad that she woke up to some hot girl asking for her urine; the dating game sure has gotten weird in the last nine months huh?

Joe laughs so hard that tears form in his eyes, looking more relieved than Iris has ever seen him. If she ever ends up seeing Dr Caitlin Snow again, she's gonna have to thank her for that ice breaker.

Her reunion with Barry turns out to be ten times weirder than with her dad. His entire face lights up when he sees her, which is not the weird part. Neither is the crushing hug that he gives her, or the way that he pulls back and starts just staring at her, like he can't believe that she is here, firing a million questions at her. That's all very Barry, and probably, a normal reaction to seeing someone you love wake up from a coma.

The weird part, is the way that her heart is beating like, really, really fast. And when a detective turns too quickly with a load of files in his hands, and whacks his coffee cup off his desk, Iris can see it fall in perfect slow motion.

Barry keeps apologizing to her as she watches it happen. Somehow, thinking that it could possibly be his fault that lightning chose to strike the night Iris happened to stop by to try and drag him out for dinner unannounced. Iris just watches the mug shatter, each piece cracking in vivid detail.

“Iris?” Barry bends down slightly, both hands resting on her shoulders, looking at her, worried. “You okay?”

“I—” Iris stares at the remains of the mug. “Yeah, I'm fine,” she beams up at Barry. “Awake, alive and all that,” she jokes. Barry's face twists painfully. “Sorry,” she winces. “That was—sorry.”

A blond man bumps into them in a rush to get across the bullpen. “Sorry!” he calls over his shoulder.

“Who's that?” Iris asks, she knows almost every face in the precinct. Has since she was little.

“Eddie Thwane. Your dad's new partner,” Barry supplies, shouldering his work bag. “They've got a case, which... I kind of need to get to,” he says, face apologetic.

“No problem, I've... gotta get a check up anyway. Coma survivor!” she jokes again, sticking her thumbs at her chest like a moron. It gets Barry to grin at her though; his face practically splitting open with it. So, mission accomplished.

She goes back to S.T.A.R labs. Not because she wants to, but because she feels her limbs kind of... vibrating. And when she jogs across the street, it's like she disappears and reappears in the blink of an eye. Her hair whipping around her face. And her heartbeat is like, really fast. She's not sure it should be able to be that fast. Something about her is different. Wrong. And, her dad had Iris put into their care. He trusted these doctors. Maybe, Iris should too.

“Dude, not actually a doctor,” Cisco informs her, a grin on his face that rivals even Barry's. Completely despite herself, Iris feels a smile tug at her mouth. “Medical engineer,” he points towards Caitlin, currently bent over, flashing a very bright light into Iris' eyes and frowning. The smile on Iris' face drops. “Cait's the one with medical training,” Cisco explains. “I mean,” he shrugs, “I've got some but like, basic stuff.”

“Why exactly did my dad have you guys take care of me and not like... a hospital full of trained doctors?” Iris asks, looking back and forth between Caitlin, Cisco, and the man in the wheelchair. She vaguely recognizes his name. She's pretty sure that Barry's gone on and on about his scientific achievements more than once.

“Cause of the explosion,” Cisco prompts casually. Dr Wells closes his eyes. Caitlin's entire upper body stiffens momentarily. Then she puts down the pen light and starts taking Iris' pulse again, frowning down at the device. Again.

“I thought I was struck by lightning.”

“You were. Lightning, caused by an explosion. Here in fact,” Cisco explains. “The explosion was here. At S.T.A.R labs.”

Iris looks at each of their faces again. Caitlin won't meet her eye, Cisco looks apologetic, and Dr Wells looks guilty. “Oh,” she says softly.

They take her out to a remote track and shove her into a ridiculous looking, leotard-like uniform. It's supposed to help with aerodynamics or something. Iris is only listening to half of what they are telling her since Cisco started going on about superpowers. Basically, they seem to want her to run.

While looking like an idiot.

Iris looks at Caitlin's blank no-nonsense expression, Cisco's barely contained excitement, and Dr Wells' calculated curiosity and shrugs, takes off running.

That she can run kind of fast now is an understatement.

Cisco starts cheering, arms up, grinning at her like they've been best friends forever and he's never been more proud. It's infectious. Iris isn't even breathing heavily. She's never felt anything like this before in her life. Powerful. Strong. For a moment, almost invincible. She lets out a whoop to echo Cisco's, unable to control herself. Even Dr Wells cracks a smile.

Caitlin walks up to Iris and starts checking her vitals, the same blank detachment on her face. “You saw that right?” Iris asks. “That was insane.”

“Your body is in peak physical condition,” Caitlin says, only the barest hint of amazement on her face.

“Well, I work out,” Iris jokes. Caitlin doesn't laugh. Just readjusts the stupid helmet on Iris' head, then stares down at the readings on whatever device she's got in her hands. “You know, I notice you don't really smile too much,” Iris tells her.

Caitlin looks up from the device. She towers over Iris a bit, prickly, professional, beautiful in that ice queen way. Iris smiles at her, jumping up and down in place, unable to restrain herself.

“The explosion that put you into a coma, also killed my fiancé,” Caitlin says, sobering Iris immediately. “So, this blank expression feels like the right way to go,” she flicks a stray hair out of her face, then tells Iris to try it again. See if she can go faster this time. Iris tries to apologize, for what she's not quite sure. Putting her foot in her mouth maybe. That's usually Barry's job. Caitlin brushes past her, moving over to stand beside Cisco. He grins at her, offering her a Twizzler. She declines, but her expression minutely changes to something fond. They both look up at Iris expectantly.

So, Iris runs.

Her dad is, understandably, terrified.

Iris would be lying if she said that she wasn't a little frightened about the changes as well. She's stronger, faster, and her body can heal itself at an alarming rate. Cisco dubs her as a 'metahuman' with a straight face. Somehow, it sounds genuine coming out of his mouth. Iris only partly rolls her eyes at him.

Initially, her father forbids her from crime scenes. Or exposing herself to anyone. Including Barry.

Iris reacts to this about as well as she had reacted to him trying to tell her that she couldn't try out for the football at eleven, because, she'd get hurt with all the boys. He'd never underestimated her before; he had her boxing at five. Iris had sneaked out to tryouts anyway, Barry covering for her, and won herself a slot on the team. The boys' jeers and taunts silenced as she shoved her way through them. She'd come home, dumped the dirty football gear and permission slip onto her father's lap with eight new bruises on her body and a grin on her face. He'd looked, scared, then proud, and gave her permission to play.

Iris had told them all to go to hell. She never wanted to play football anyway. Just wanted to prove that she could.

She's no less stubborn now than she was at eleven. Joe sees it the moment she grits her teeth at him in suppressed anger. He sighs, and pulls her in for a hug. “I'm just trying to keep you safe,” he says, kissing the top of her head. The thing is, she knows this already. Figured it out at eleven after his fear and anger quickly switched to pride. She can't imagine what it was like, to watch her sleep, day after day for nine months, not knowing if she'd ever wake up.

“Got these nifty new powers,” she jokes, “think they might come in handy for that.”

Joe kisses the top of her head again, not saying anything. The fear doesn't leave his eyes.

Barry sits across from her at a table in Jitters, speechless. Iris waits him out, fingers clasped together underneath her chin.

“Superpowers?”

Iris nods.

Barry tilts his head, studying her for a change he can see with his own two eyes. Iris bristles a little. “I've already got three science nerds studying me, I don't need my best friend doing it too,” she says, a little harsher than she'd intended.

Barry looks her in the eye. “Sorry,” he says, sincerely.

“It's fine,” Iris tells him, meaning it. “Just a little sensitive I guess.”

Barry reaches his hand across the table, slips it into her own, and smiles at her. “I think I would be too,” his smile widens. “You always were Batman, when we played superheroes as kids.”

“Well, naturally. You couldn't fight for shit. You made a good Robin though,” Iris agrees.

Barry shakes his head, laughing. “Maybe you'll meet them now,” he jokes. “Do superheroes all hang out? I can get you an in with The Green Arrow. I met him that one time.”

“You won't tell me who he is,” Iris reminds him. “I've asked you a million times.”

Barry mocks locking his lips. “Sworn to secrecy,” his grin widens, running a hand through his hair. “I still can't believe you're working with Harrison Wells. That guy's like my—”

“Hero,” Iris finishes for him. “I know.”

“You'll totally sneak me into S.T.A.R labs though right?” he asks, his voice a whisper.

“Oh, totally,” Iris grins at him.

It doesn't take a lot of convincing from Cisco for Iris to run straight into a burning building. He builds her a suit to protect her, and she doesn't hesitate. There's a little girl, and Iris is fast enough to save her. Not going in doesn't ever really enter her mind. Not till she's in the center of the flames, smoke filling up her lungs, feeling like she's going to pass out.

She saves the girl though, so, she grins while hacking up her lungs.

Caitlin comes bursting into the labs, her whole body held stiffly, chewing the both of them out for their recklessness. Cisco, used to her moods, sort of rolls his eyes behind her back and apologizes, Iris gets shoved into a chair as Caitlin starts inspecting her for signs of injury.

“We have no idea how this could affect you,” she chastises. Iris doesn't mention the small fainting spell she'd had earlier that morning until it looks like Caitlin has calmed down some. It was the wrong move. Caitlin's eyes go as wide as saucers, and she all but shoves Iris back down onto a table and yells at her for a good half hour. Snapping at Cisco not to even think about leaving this room right now, as he tries to duck out and leave Iris alone with Caitlin.

Once she's done chewing them both out, Caitlin and Cisco make Iris run on a treadmill, monitoring her vitals until she ungracefully passes out again.

She wakes up to Caitlin's worried face hovering above her, immediately twisting into a frown once she sees that Iris is awake and breathing normally.

Apparently, her metabolism can't keep up with her new powers. She is literally running herself into unconsciousness, not nourishing her body the way it needs ger to now. Cisco orders pizza. And Chinese. And Mexican. And burgers and fries. He tells her she needs to eat the equivalent of eight hundred and seventy tacos from now on. Caitlin shoots him a glare, and he adds veggies to one of the pizzas. Caitlin rolls her eyes and hands Iris a glass of water.

Iris eats most of the food all on her own.

She can eat whatever the hell she wants now and not feel guilty about it. It's a superpower all on its own. Barry is incredibly jealous. Her father grumbles a little about food costs, but takes it in stride. Cisco looks at her like she's a god.

Caitlin just snaps at her to remember to eat more, and then walks out of the room. Leaving Iris and Cisco to stuff their faces and watch superhero movies. For research, Cisco says with a wink.

They play games to test Iris' powers. She's never been good at Chess—that was always more Barry's game—but she doesn't lose as miserably to Dr Wells as she thought she would. His eyes never leave her face. He just stares at her constantly. In a way totally different from Cisco and Caitlin. They make her feel a little bit like a puzzle that they're trying to figure out, but, she knows there's nothing malicious in either of them. Dr Wells... the way Dr Wells looks at her makes Iris want to squirm in her seat. There's anger hidden beneath his smile. Iris doesn't think it's exactly directed towards her, but she can never be sure. When she reintroduces her dad and Barry to him, he glares at Barry the entire time. No one else seems to notice. Iris decides to file it away as a problem for another time. He's trying to help her discover her powers. Caitlin and Cisco worship him. So does Barry. Her dad trusted him with her life. Maybe she's making something out of nothing.

She crushes Cisco at Ping Pong and Caitlin at Operation. Grinning madly the entire time and teasing Caitlin that a doctor should probably be better at this game.

She thinks that she almost catches a hint of a smile on Caitlin's face. Somewhere underneath the glare.

She's not the only person affected by the explosion. There are other metahumans out there. So far, they all seem to have a penchant for causing as much damage as they possibly can. Joe comes to her after firing bullets stops being good enough, Barry right on his heels.

“Where's your new partner?” she asks, arms crossed, smirk on her face. She's enjoying her father asking for her help a little more than is necessary. “The hot blond guy?”

Barry's jaw clenches. Joe rolls his eyes. “Ditched him with a lead at the station. Your friends say this guy can control the weather?”

It starts to downpour around them. “Apparently,” Iris drawls.

People start whispering about seeing a bright red streak right before they're saved. The Streak doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and hold power like Superman; but, Iris remembers him being dubbed The Red-Blue Blur for a while, so, she figures a better name will come along. Cisco's naming all the other metahumans, they'll get around to Iris' eventually.

It's cooler than she would have thought, to hear people whispering about her being a hero right in front of her. No idea that she's right there, getting their coffee orders.

Though, it's a little annoying, that everyone just assumes that The Streak is a guy.

So, Iris decides to put her journalism degree to good use for once.

Kind of.

Blogging about herself in secrecy isn't ever really what she had in mind. But, Lois Lane has a friggin' Pulitzer, and she writes about Superman as much as she damn well pleases. People still respect her.

“You're writing about yourself?” Barry asks, coming into Jitters for his morning coffee.

Shush,” Iris hisses at him. The old lady waiting in line pays him no mind. She gets Barry his usual and grabs the cash he passes over, shoving it into the register with a little more force than necessary. “People thought that I was a man,” she whispers.

“Well, you move too fast to really tell,” Barry shrugs, his whispering not quite low enough. He never was able to be quiet enough. Joe always caught them as kids because of Barry.

“So they just assume?” Iris snaps. “They see a hero and think, yup, gotta be a white dude?”

Barry frowns. “Well, the world sucks a little. I always knew you had it in you though,” he adds, grinning at her. Iris rolls her eyes but smiles back at him. “You gonna keep writing about The Streak?” he asks.

Iris shrugs. “Who's got a better inside scoop than me? But the name needs work.”

“The Red, Not-Blue Blur 2.0,” Barry offers, a shit-eating grin on his face.

Iris throws a bear claw at his head once her manager's turned around. Barry laughs all the way out the door.

Iris looks up at the building with a frown. “What if I just get like, a crap ton of mattresses?” she asks Caitlin and Cisco through the coms. The man up on the roof loses his footing a little, screaming as he clutches tighter to the ledge.

“No,” Caitlin says immediately. Iris huffs, then, Caitlin's voice changes, and thoughtfully, she adds, “though... maybe you could run fast enough to get up the side of the building.”

Seriously?” Iris asks, just to be sure that she heard her right. Cisco starts agreeing with Caitlin and Iris looks up again. It doesn't really seem possible, but, they're the science nerds. And if Caitlin thinks that she can do it...

Iris takes a breath. Caitlin says, “Good luck,” and, Iris runs.

Right up the side of a damn building.

They meet another metahuman like Iris. Not actively trying to hurt people, but desperately trying to avoid it. But her powers are so much more unstable than anyone thought. Iris holds Bette in her arms and screams in frustration, running for all she's worth.

Bette dies and it's not fair. Even the fact that she ran so fast, that she walked on water doesn't cheer Iris up. For a minute, it felt like she wasn't alone.

She sits in the lab, still in her suit, dejected. Caitlin walks up and lowers herself down beside Iris after smoothing out her skirt. “You saved a lot of people,” she says, softly.

“Not Bette,” Iris says, looking down at her hands. “She exploded. I had to get rid of a human bomb and leave her alone to die.”

Caitlin's fingers twitch, like they're trying to reach out to Iris, but instead, she folds them together in her lap. “I know,” she whispers. Instead of trying to say anything else, she just sits there quietly beside Iris, their shoulders almost touching.

It's how Cisco finds them, half an hour later. He comes up to sit on Iris' other side and passes over a Twizzler. Iris takes it and bites into it, hard.

“So, is anybody gonna mention the fact that you ran fast enough to run on top of a liquid?” he asks, after a few beats of silence.

“That was pretty cool,” Iris hums.

“Dude,” Cisco says, knocking his shoulder into Iris'. “You walked on water. You're like Jesus! A black, girl Jesus with superpowers!”

Caitlin closes her eyes, trying to fight off a laugh. Iris bursts out with one. The tension she had been holding up in her shoulders melts away as Cisco's laughter mixes together with her own, and Caitlin's shoulders, shake just slightly while she grins at them.

Barry finally tells her that he saw a bright red streak in his house the night that his mother was murdered. All of the heat drains out of Iris' body. “How... I mean, I was nine too. I didn't have...”

“There was a yellow one too,” Joe adds.

“I think,” Barry takes a breath and pulls out a bunch of folders. Iris has known that he has been trying to solve his mother's murder since they were seventeen. But she didn't know he had so much. He never likes to talk about it. “I think that you time traveled,” he admits.

“I'm sorry, what?

“Theoretically, it's possible. If you ran fast enough, you could technically go back in time. Or, into the future. I think you were there the night my mom died,” his voice cracks just the slightest bit. The way it always does when he talks about that night. “I think maybe you tried to save her. I think the yellow streak is what killed her.”

“Who though?” Iris asks. “And why? Why would anyone want to kill your mom? It doesn't make any sense Barry.”

He caps and un-caps the pen in his hand a few times. “I don't know,” he admits. “We don't know enough yet. Maybe to hurt you? In the future? Some enemy of yours? I don't know,” he runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “I don't know,” he repeats quietly.

Iris looks at her father, feeling sick. Because, if this is true... if this is true, then it's her fault that Barry's mother died. Joe sees her face twist and wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her in tight.

“No,” he whispers against her temple. “No baby girl, it's not.”

Iris wants to believe him. She doesn't. Not even a little.

“The Flash,” Cisco says, trying it out. He opens his arms in front of him as he says it.

Iris bites her lip. “Too on the nose?” she asks, leaning over him as he reads her latest blog entry.

“No,” Caitlin says, softly. Iris turns to look at her. She's hunched over her computer. Dressed impeccably. Smiling lightly over at Iris. “I think it works.”

Iris breaks out into a grin. Caitlin's smile widens momentarily, then she turns back to her computer.

Iris is late for dinner with Barry and her dad. She tries, she really does, but Cisco wanted to see if she could run fast enough to carry him around S.T.A.R labs.

(She can, for the record.)

Joe looks up as she slams into her seat and sighs. The napkins fly down to the floor. Barry grabs at his water glass to keep it from spilling over.

“Nice of you to join us,” Joe says, hint of an exasperated smile creeping onto his face.

Iris grins back at him. “Practicing stuff with Cisco and Caitlin. Sorry I'm late.”

“We ordered for you,” Barry tells her. “The chicken thing you like.”

“Great, I'm starving.”

She spends the evening listening to her dad whine about keeping his new partner off of his metahuman daughter's trail and curiously eyeing Barry's overbright smile. When they're leaving, Joe's cell phone rings, and he has to go help Eddie with a new lead in their case. Barry and Iris decide to walk home, rather than call a cab.

“I could run us there,” Iris offers. “I carried Cisco all around the labs. You're taller, but scrawny,” she pokes Barry in the gut and he twists away from her, laughing.

“How about we just walk?” he asks.

“Fair enough,” she shrugs, looping her arm through his, “but, I could do it.”

“I don't doubt it,” Barry says, giving her that odd smile again. He's been doing that a lot since she woke up from the coma. Lingering looks that she can't quite make out the meaning of. She's always been able to figure Barry out. She's not sure what changed. But, he relaxes into his normal smile, and asks her about Cisco and Caitlin, and Dr Wells, and Iris talks and forgets all about it.

She walks into the labs, and Caitlin is the only one there. Iris pauses, it's odd seeing Caitlin without Cisco. Even more jarring that Dr Wells is nowhere in sight.

“Hey,” she says, taking in Caitlin's outfit, “you look nice today,” she says, absently.

Caitlin's whole upper body goes stiff in her seat, and she doesn't say a word in response, just sort of hums in Iris' direction. Iris frowns, walking over and sitting on top of the edge of Caitlin's desk. “Whatcha doing?”

“Working,” Caitlin says, like Iris is dragging it out of her.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Nothing,” Caitlin snaps. “This isn't related to The Flash. My life doesn't revolve around you.”

Iris feels herself leaning back from Caitlin's wrath. “Wow, sorry... I wasn't...”

Caitlin visibly sags in front of her. Her palms pressing against her forehead. “No, I'm sorry,” she says, her voice low and scratchy. “I didn't mean...” she sighs, “I didn't sleep very well last night. I'm overtired and kind of mean in general. I'm sorry I snapped at you.”

“That's okay,” Iris starts.

Caitlin cuts her off. “It's not,” she insists, looking up at Iris now. “I'm sorry.”

Iris nods. “Apology accepted,” Caitlin gives her a shaky smile before turning back down to her computer. “You're not, by the way,” Iris adds after a beat. Caitlin looks back up at her in confusion. “Mean,” Iris clarifies. “A little prickly maybe,” she grins, leaning over and gently poking Caitlin's side. Her face softens. “But you're not mean.”

“I'm not nice,” Caitlin argues, not a ton of feeling behind it.

“Nice is relative,” Iris says, flicking her hand out. She jumps down off Caitlin's desk and bounces a little on the balls of her feet. “Besides, you're good. That's way more important.”

Caitlin puts her pen down and just... looks up at Iris. Confused expression on her face. Iris sighs, she's going to really have to beat it over her head apparently.

“You've never hesitated once to help me. You're a doctor, and a scientist, and ridiculously smart. You go over to hang out with Cisco like, at least four times a week. And I caught you feeding that stray cat that hangs around Jitters,” she says, grinning wickedly as Caitlin frowns. “And, you come back here, to this place where your fiancé died, and help people every day. You're a good person Cait. And a good friend. Try giving yourself a break sometime.”

“I—” Caitlin stares at Iris for an uncomfortably long time. Iris stands there and lets her, despite the slight awkwardness. Caitlin seems to be searching her face for something. What, Iris doesn't know. She must at least have found something that she was looking for, because she nods, once, and then stops fidgeting with the string of pearls around her neck.

They all go out to a bar. Iris, Caitlin, Cisco, and Barry. Iris figures they all need a night to feel a little normal. Dinner, drinks, friends. That's what most twenty-somethings do right? It's what Iris used to do all the time before lightning struck her. It's what she'd been on her way to do when lightning struck her; spontaneous dinner and drinks with Barry.

She pushes that thought down quickly. S.T.A.R. labs isn't going to explode again. Besides, this time, she can run out of danger fast enough.

Barry and Cisco hit it off right away. They start geeking out about something or other that Iris tries to follow and loses track of by her second drink. Caitlin sits a little stiffly between Iris and Cisco and regards Barry warily. Occasionally interjecting into their conversation. Iris realizes that all of her friends are way smarter than she is when she can't figure out if they are talking about physics or sci-fi. She stops trying to make sense of their conversation. She's used to Barry going on about something she only has a small grasp of. Science was never her thing. She passed in high school because Barry wouldn't let her fail; tutoring her after he'd already blown through his own homework. She'd gotten the satisfaction of him having to come to her with help for his English homework. It all evened out in the end. He's never made her feel stupid.

Iris sips her drink and reaches across the table and picks at Barry's fries. A waiter tries to dodge a drunk man rising from his seat and knocks into Iris a little, pushing her up against Caitlin. Practically in her lap.

“I'm so sorry,” he apologizes, trying to regain his balance.

“Don't worry about it,” Iris waves him off. “I work in a cafe. I know how it goes.”

He smiles at her gratefully and rushes back over to the bar to get his orders. Iris detracts herself from Caitlin, giving her an awkward smile. Caitlin tries for one back and fails slightly, downing the shot in front of Cisco instead. Her face is flushed. Iris doesn't remember her doing much more than sipping one drink, but, it is kind of hot in here.

“You want to get some fresh air?” she asks her, leaning in close to her face to be heard over the music.

“No,” Caitlin answers, too fast. “I'm fine.” She won't quite meet Iris' eye, looking somewhere to the left of her instead. Iris catches Barry frowning at her from across the table, his brow creased in what looks like annoyance, but only for a moment. Caitlin gives Iris another half smile, too forced, but she looks like maybe she's about to cry, so Iris leaves it alone.

For now.

Caitlin finds her on the floor of S.T.A.R labs, groaning and clutching her right shoulder. Cisco and Dr Wells are hot on her heels, but Caitlin is the one who gets her upright and onto a table. Caitlin is the one who's eyes are panicked and breathing is erratic. Caitlin is the one who pops her shoulder back into its socket, taking stock of her three broken ribs, and various other cuts and bruises. Caitlin is the one who yells at her.

“Don’t expect me to patch you up every time you break something!” she snaps, a slight wobble to her voice as she stalks out of the room.

Cisco whistles. “Haven't seen her that pissed off at anyone since Ronnie.”

“Who exactly did this to you?” Dr Wells asks, effectively changing the subject. Iris eyes him, she doesn't get what Barry and Caitlin and Cisco see in this man. He still just makes her feel uncomfortable most of the time.

“Some guy who can turn his arm into steel,” Iris moans, rubbing at her shoulder. Her ribs still hurt, but she can feel them healing already. It's insane; she's still not quite used to it. “He sounded kind of familiar,” she adds. Something about his voice, Iris knows that she's heard it before. “I'm not sure.”

Dr Wells rolls out of the room to go find Caitlin, and Cisco plops himself down beside Iris. “She's gonna be mad at you all day, just roll with it.”

“Why is she mad at me?” Iris asks. “I'm hurt. I didn't do anything!”

Cisco looks at Iris very seriously. “She found you basically unconscious on the floor of the same place her fiancé died in. She's a little sensitive to people she cares about getting hurt in here.” He reaches over and grabs a glass of water, passing it into Iris' hands. She downs it gratefully. “One time, I kinda blew up a project I was working on—nothing major, not even a fire extinguisher needed—but she came in and caught me and flipped out. It was right after your dad had you moved in here actually. She'd been checking on you. So, it was like... four, maybe five months after Ronnie died. I found her on the floor of the bathroom, crying. Felt like an asshole for a week.”

“Oh,” Iris says softly. “I didn't really think about... shit.”

“She'll be fine,” Cisco jumps down off the table. “Just kinda snappy for a bit.” He holds his arm out to help Iris down. She groans a little, but otherwise, can feel herself still healing. “Come on. Let's find out how a dude can turn into steel.” Cisco says, a little more cheerfully than Iris feels is necessary. She rolls her eyes at him, and they go off to find Caitlin and Dr Wells.

“It's Tony Woodward,” Iris gasps, a few minutes later, looking over Caitlin's shoulder at the computer screen.

“Who's that?” Cisco asks.

“I went to elementary school with him. He used to bully Barry. I mean, he bullied everyone. But he really focused on Barry for a while. I can't believe he has superpowers,” she snaps. “Tony fucking Woodward broke my ribs. What a shithead.”

“And dislocated your shoulder,” Cisco adds. Caitlin glares at him till he has the decency to look momentarily ashamed.

“Yeah,” Iris mumbles, “not forgetting that anytime soon,” she rubs at her shoulder. It's almost healed, but still. “So... how do I stop a guy who can beat the crap out of me and turn into steel?” she asks.

No one is particularly forthcoming with answers. So, Iris goes to work. Running around being The Flash isn't going to pay back her student loans. Getting coffee orders probably won't either. But, it's better than nothing.

Caitlin stares at her silently as she leaves; she hasn't said a single word to Iris since snapping about her shoulder.

Whether Iris has any ideas about how to stop Tony is irrelevant when he shows up at Jitters. He remembers her. Taunts her about Barry and asks her where to find The Flash. Maybe blogging about herself wasn't the best idea she's ever had.

Tony menaces forward and Iris is itching to punch him. But she looks at his arm and chest, steel coated, and remembers the burn of Caitlin shoving her arm back into its socket. She thinks better of it. Instead, she runs, feeling like a coward.

Also, totally outing herself as The Flash to Tony fucking Woodward.

She should have seen him kidnapping Barry a mile away, but she doesn't. Not till Barry is calling her on his cell phone, running through the dark halls of their old elementary school.

“Now would be a great time for one of your ideas!” Iris snaps at Cisco and Caitlin over the coms.

“Well,” Cisco starts warily, “I think I've got one, but neither of you are gonna like it.”

“What?” Iris asks.

“If you can go fast enough to break the sound barrier, you can probably punch him hard enough. But... also, you could die instead.”

“Absolutely not,” Caitlin says immediately. “Iris, no,” she sounds panicked again. “We'll find something else that will work, We'll—”

“He's got Barry,” Iris says, voice low. Caitlin sucks in a breath. Iris can picture her bitting at her bottom lip, desperately trying to come up with an alternative idea. If she had one, she'd have told Iris it by now. “How fast exactly do I have to run?” she asks the both of them.

“Faster than you ever have,” Cisco says. “And then even faster than that.”

Iris turns and runs the other direction, hearing Barry yell after her. “Shit,” she mumbles. She gets to the opposite end of the school and stops, sucking in a deep breath. “If I die, tell my dad I'm sorry.”

“Don't you dare die, ”Caitlin hisses in her ear.

“Do my best!”

Iris!”

Barry lets out a wail, sounding ten years old and terrified again, and Iris takes off running. She vaguely registers Cisco asking Caitlin, “How many bugs has she swallowed since getting her powers you think?” before she's in front of Tony, her fist connecting with his face.

It hurts. She starts moaning, “Ow, ow, fuck, ow,” as Tony yelps in pain. Barry sits up and punches his flesh again, for good measure, but Iris already knocked him down. He's not getting back up.

“I've wanted to do that since I was ten,” he says, helping Iris up.

“I know. Me too.”

He grins at her. “You came and saved me. I was your damsel in distress.” Only Barry would say this sincerely and happily. Any other guy she knows would be posturing and trying to appear manly. Barry just smiles at her like she's his hero. Iris leans into him, returning the grin. He holds her hand gingerly in his own. “We're probably gonna need to ice that,” he says, wincing at it. There might already be some swelling. It feels a little broken. Caitlin is gonna kill her.

On cue, her voice fills Iris' ear. “Are you okay?”

“Still in one piece,” Iris supplies.

Caitlin lets out a sigh of relief. “Probably somewhere around twenty to thirty bugs a day,” she finally answers Cisco.

Iris groans, “Gross.” Caitlin's laughter fills up her ears as she and Barry hobble out of their old school together.

She feels her powers being sucked out of her, like someone ripped out all of her organs and left her hollow. Iris gasps, bending over and trying to run even though she knows. Caitlin and Cisco's worried voices fill her ears, talking over each other.

She makes it back to S.T.A.R labs, but only just barely.

“You're slow even for a normal person,” Cisco says, dejected after he and Caitlin run their tests. Iris feels sluggish and angry. “Blackout took all your powers,” he adds, naming the man. Iris isn't really in the mood. Caitlin whacks him in the chest lightly and glares. Iris appreciates it.

“I love being The Flash,” she admits in a whisper. “I don't want to—” she swallows, “—I love helping people. I love feeling powerful,” she looks up at meets their eyes. “I don't want to lose that.”

“You won't,” Caitlin insists fiercely. “We'll figure it out.” She looks so sure, so determined. Iris wants to believe her.

“We will,” Dr Wells reiterates. Iris frowns at the look on his face. It's nothing like the determination on Caitlin and Cisco's, there's something else there. Iris' head hurts too much to worry about it now. And he's the only one with a plan.

They're gonna hook her up to a treadmill and jump start her like a battery. It's not the worst idea she's ever heard, but Iris climbs on skeptically all the same.

That's when all the power in the labs go out. “Shit,” Iris mumbles.

“He's here,” Cisco says, looking worriedly towards Iris in the dark. Iris feels panic at the back of her throat. She can't protect them. She moves in front of Caitlin and Cisco anyway. She's the daughter of a cop, she's known how to defend herself since she was four. She's still the best shot they've got.

“Dr Wells, what do we do?” Caitlin asks, turning in the dark. “Dr Wells?” Caitlin turns back towards Iris and Cisco. “Where'd he go?”

“He was right here,” Cisco says, looking around. He turns the flashlight app on his phone on, twisting it all around. “Maybe he had an idea. I'll go look for him. See if I can find something to help jump start Iris' powers.”

“Okay, be careful,” Iris tells him. “We'll keep trying this I guess.”

Cisco runs out of the room and Caitlin frowns at Iris. “We can't use that without electricity Iris.”

“Shit.”

Someone punches the wall beside Iris' head and she screams, running towards Caitlin. Blackout stands in front of them, a manic grin on his face. “Hello ladies,” he taunts. Iris can feel Caitlin trembling behind her. Iris reaches out blindly and grabs Caitlin's hand and squeezes it. Caitlin lets out a little moan and grips Iris' forearm. She balls her hands into fists and stares Blackout down as best she can in the dark. She's not about to let them die in here. Scared and trembling in the dark. She's not going to let Caitlin die at all. Blackout laughs at her. She knows that she's really no match for him like this; one blow with his electricity and they're both dead in an instant. Caitlin's grip on her tightens, pulling her almost into an embrace from behind. Blackout advances on them, laughing.

“Iris, listen—” she whispers in a panicked jumble. “I want you to know that—”

The power turns back on. Iris quickly whips around and pushes Caitlin towards the door, taking advantage of Blackout's momentary distraction. They run down the hall, hand in hand.

“We've got to get my powers back!” Iris says in frustration. “What if you shock me?” she asks, pausing at the defibrillator in front of her.

“No,” Caitlin says firmly, trying to tug Iris away from it. “No, Iris that will kill you.”

“Or, it will shock my powers back to life.”

“No,” Caitlin repeats, almost pleading.

“We have to try something!” Iris lets go of her hand and grabs the paddles, ready to try it herself when Caitlin grabs them out of her hands. “Caitlin...”

“This is a terrible idea,” she snarls, and shocks Iris with the paddles. It hurts. Fuck it hurts so bad. Iris falls to the ground, letting out a scream of pain. “Iris!” Caitlin yells, terrified. She chucks the paddles away and rushes to her. Pulling Iris' head into her lap. “Iris,” she repeats, shaking her a little and checking her pupils.

“I don't think it worked,” Iris groans. “But I'm not dead. I think I am kinda healing though.”

“Goddamnit,” Caitlin hisses. The lights flicker around them. “He's coming,” she whispers. “We've got to hide.” She pulls Iris to her feet and holds her up. Iris' legs still feel a little shaky, but she lets Caitlin pull her along down the corridor. She turns, trying to make sure that she's between Blackout and Caitlin. “Stay with me,” she says, attempting to sound annoyed, but there’s a tremor in her voice that betrays other emotion. Her grip on Iris tightens.

“Fuck,” Iris breathes, when they come up on Tony Woodward lying in a pool of his own blood in the middle of the corridor. Someone has beaten him nearly to death.

“Iris,” he chokes out, “run,” then his eyes close.

Caitlin bends down quickly and puts her finger to his pulse. “He's dead,” she announces.

Iris tugs her along. “Come on, we've got to get out of here.”

They find Cisco and Dr Wells at the same time. Iris tells them about Tony, worried that if he got out somehow, other metahumans might have.

“I let him out,” Dr Wells says calmly.

Iris whips her head around to him in shock. She can see Caitlin and Cisco's equally shocked faces out of the corner of her eye. “What?” she snaps.

“He worked as a distraction,” Dr Wells just says with a shrug. “I would rather sacrifice Tony's life than ours.”

Iris feels herself shaking with fury. “How could you do that?” she asks, her voice dangerously low. “How — Tony was a bully, but he didn't deserve to just die. How could you just use people like pawns?”

“Iris,” Dr Wells sighs, “it was Tony's life for ours. It bought us time to restore your powers.”

“You don't care about people at all!” Iris shouts.

“Maybe you care too much Iris,” he responds quietly. Iris wants to hit him. She watches Caitlin's face twists uncomfortably, but otherwise stands there in the middle of them, not saying a word. Cisco is frowning at Dr Wells, also silent. Iris balls her hands into fists and squeezes, trying to calm herself down.

“Iris,” Cisco says after a moment, “there's no reason for your speed not to be back since Cait shocked you. If your blood is still healing rapidly, your speed should be back too.”

“But it's not,” Iris snaps in frustration.

“I think it is,” he says softly. “I think now, it's just in your head.”

“I've been trying,” Iris insists.

“We've got to just get out of here,” Caitlin says, grabbing her car keys. “We can figure it out when a homicidal maniac isn't trying to kill us.”

“Which is never,” Cisco grumbles, but follows her out of the lab. Iris and Dr Wells behind them.

They almost make it to the parking lot.

As they push out of the front doors to S.T.A.R labs, a bolt of electricity shoots out and sucks the power out of Caitlin's car. And then Dr Wells' wheelchair. Blackout appears before them, electricity shooting back and forth between his fingers. Iris grabs Caitlin, trying to pull her back so Iris is in front of them all.

“Please don't hurt them,” Dr Wells pleads. Iris turns to look at him, shocked. “The explosion was my fault, not theirs. I do care. I know the names of every single person who died. Your friends included. If you want to punish someone, punish me.” Blackout moves towards Dr Wells, ready to kill him, and Iris remembers what Cisco said: that it's just in her head now.

She closes her eyes, and runs.

When it's over, and Blackout is dead from his own electricity, Iris walks over and holds out her arm for Dr Wells, helping him back up into his chair.

“I was wrong,” he says to her. Iris raises her eyebrows in question. “I thought caring too much would be your downfall. Instead, it's your strength. It's what brought your powers back.”

Iris frowns, still not liking the way that he looks at her like she's a puzzle for him to figure out. But, Caitlin and Cisco are smiling at her, and technically, she did save the day. Her powers are back. Dr Wells and Cisco head back into the labs to start cleaning up the damage. Iris reaches out and holds Caitlin's elbow, stopping her. Caitlin looks down at the place where their skin is connecting and Iris pulls back.

“What was it you wanted to say?” she asks. “When he had us cornered in the lab. You started to tell me something.”

Caitlin looks panicked. She starts fidgeting with her pearls and backing up from Iris, her face flushed. “Oh, nothing. I can't remember.”

“You sure?”

“Yep!” Caitlin says, voice too high. “Definitely nothing! See you tomorrow!” She all but sprints into the lab, leaving Iris alone in the empty parking lot.

“So, you're one of those people who wears Santa hats to work,” Caitlin says as she walks into Jitters. She's smiling at Iris, genuine and warm. Iris gives her a grin and a little twirl.

“I am indeed,” she says, and Caitlin laughs. Then, her face turns somber and Iris sets down the small tray in her hands. “What's up?” she asks.

“I just...” Caitlin shakes her head a little, “it's silly.”

“No,” Iris reaches out gently and tugs on Caitlin's arm. “What is it Cait? I'm a girl who wears Santa hats to work,” she says, pointing to it. “Probably not gonna sound silly to me.”

Caitlin smiles, but it's too tight. She's nervous and fidgety. “I was wondering if you had any advice about exes?”

“Oh,” Iris sits down at a stool. Caitlin following suit. “Um... could you be more specific?”

Caitlin looks like she'd rather do anything else in the universe, but she jerks her head up and down in a nod anyway. “Like... seeing them again after a long time?”

“Like, wanting to see them again? Or, awkwardly running into them again?” Iris asks for clarification. “Like, once in college, I ran into my ex Haley — like, literally ran into her. Knocked her textbooks right out of her arms. Totally embarrassing. I kind of just apologized and ran away. When I bumped into my ex Shawn at the movies once, I freaked out and babbled about a fictitious new boyfriend for like ten minutes until Barry saved me. I'm not... the greatest person to ask for advice on this topic.”

“Oh, so you...” Caitlin blushes, “you date both men and...”

“I'm bi, yeah,” Iris says with a laugh.

“Wonderful!” Caitlin practically yells. Wincing, she lowers her voice. “That's... awesome, sorry. I'm just... it's been a very weird day.”

“Well, yeah. Exes will do that to a person. Can you... I mean is this about Ronnie?”

Caitlin clams up. “No, uh. Like I said, it's silly. I... you helped. It's fine. I've actually got to go, but I'll see you later okay!” Caitlin grabs her things and before Iris can blink, she's all but sprinting out of Jitters.

“Bye,” Iris says with a small wave. She doesn't think she understands Caitlin Snow at all. Socially awkward, and adorable, and super smart is all she's got.

Barry tells her that he's been in love with her since they were kids the day before Christmas Eve. That he spent every day by her bedside while she was in a coma, hating himself for never telling her. That he's been working up the courage to do so since the moment she woke up and ran to hug him. That he was afraid that if he told her, and she didn't feel the same way, that he would lose her too. That he couldn't bear it after his mother's death and father's imprisonment. Iris sits there on the couch, shocked and silent as he talks. He looks terrified. She feels numb; his words wash over her like water, a baptism she did not ask for. When he walks out of the living room, her mind feels clearer than it's felt in years. She had no idea but now that she does, a lot of things about Barry are starting to make more sense.

She twirls the ring Barry gave her the day before around in her fingers, needing to do something with her hands. She's still there, just sitting on the couch when her dad finally comes home. Exhausted, he plops down beside her. “Hey baby girl,” he says with a tired smile. Iris doesn't respond till he wraps an arm around her shoulder. Then, she's tucking herself into him.

“Barry's in love with me,” she whispers into his chest. Just to make sure it's real.

Joe stiffens momentarily. “Oh, damn. He finally told you.”

Iris pulls herself out of his hold. “What,” she hisses through clenched teeth. “You knew?”

Joe sits up, arms in the air as if in surrender. “Baby girl, anyone with eyes knew.”

“How could you not tell me this?” Iris snaps.

“Honey, it wasn't my thing to tell.”

Iris recoils from him, shaking with fury. “I can't be here right now.”

“Iris!” her father calls, but she's already gone.

She meant just to run. To clear her head. No destination. But, somehow, she winds up at Caitlin's apartment. Caitlin opens the door with her cell phone up to her ear, donned in a light cream sweater and black leggings; it's the most casual that Iris has ever seen her. It's also incredibly sexy. “Oh, sorry,” Iris says, backing up. “I didn't—I didn't actually mean to—” she bursts into very embarrassing tears.

“Mom, I'll have to call you back,” Caitlin says into the phone. “My friend's having some sort of breakdown.”

“Oh, fuck, no,” Iris mumbles through tears. “Don't hang up on my account. I'm fine.”

“Merry Christmas Mom. Love you, bye!” Caitlin hangs up and pulls Iris into the apartment. “Are you kidding me? Your timing couldn't have been more perfect. I was having a horrible time coming up with excuses not to go home. I'm a terrible liar. I babble, and turn red, and make no sense.” Caitlin still hasn't let go of Iris' arm. She directs her towards the couch and sits down beside Iris. “What's wrong?” she asks. “Is it... should we be in the lab right now?”

Iris shakes her head. “No, it's... god this is so embarrassing. I have no idea why I'm crying,” she swipes at her eyes and sucks in a breath.

“Want some tea?” Caitlin asks. “Or... something stronger?”

“Tea's fine. No, stronger,” Iris decides.

Caitlin nods and goes to rummage through her kitchen. “All I've got is some wine or whiskey that Ronnie never finished.”

“Whiskey,” Iris calls out immediately. She chokes through her first sip, then just knocks it back down. Caitlin watches her warily as Iris takes another. “So, Barry is in love with me,” Iris announces. “And my dad knew, and never told me.”

Caitlin pauses from sipping her wine, the glass held up in front of her face awkwardly. “You didn't know?” she asks.

“What?”

“That he was in love with you,” Caitlin clarifies. “You didn't know?” she asks this as if she did know and now Iris wants to scream.

“You did?” she asks incredulously.

“I thought that... everyone knew,” she says, looking incredibly uncomfortable. “It was — he's not subtle. I sort of thought that you were aware.”

Oh my god,” Iris moans into her hands, bending over and groaning into Caitlin's couch. She feels Caitlin reach out and sort of... pat her on the back a little. Iris appreciates it, even if it's not really that comforting. Caitlin is trying. “What the hell do I do now?”

Caitlin's hand disappears. “Well... what do you want to do?” she asks. “Do you,” Iris hears her swallow a gulp of wine. “Do you love him back?” her voice is scraped clear like dead leaves. Iris sits up and looks at her. Caitlin won't meet her eye, she's staring at the dregs of her wine. Running her finger around the tip over and over. She looks—she looks terrified of Iris' answer, but Iris has no unearthly idea why. Apparently, a lot of things are going over her head lately. Maybe the coma did more damage than she thought.

“Of course I love him,” she says. Caitlin grips the wine glass too tight. “He's Barry. He's my best friend. But I — he's like my brother. I don't...” Iris sighs. She pulls herself out of the couch pillows and plays with the bottle of whiskey. “I love him like he's my brother. I always have. I've never seen him that way,” her voice levels, she feels calmer.

“Do you now?” Caitlin prods. “Now that you know how he feels?”

Iris thinks about it. It would certainly make her life a lot easier. Barry is... Barry. He's infinitely lovable. He's respectful. He's a feminist who actually understands feminism. He can make her laugh. She can hang out with him doing just about anything and have a good time. He makes her feel good about herself. He's attractive, even though she's never really thought about it much other than knowing that he's a good looking guy. She tries to picture it. Them, together. She tries to picture herself kissing Barry. Waking up to his sleepy smile. Having sex with him. Being with him.

She can't.

“No,” she admits after a few moments. “I don't. I kind of wish I did though. It would — I mean I love him. My dad loves him. He's already part of the family,” she frowns. “Maybe that's the problem. He's already part of my family,” she looks up at Caitlin finally and sees her chewing at her bottom lip. She only does that when something's wrong. “He's my brother,” Iris says with a shrug. “Crap,” she groans, “things are gonna be all weird now.”

“Maybe,” Caitlin agrees. “For a little while.”

“Are you okay?” Iris asks, setting the whiskey back down. She doesn't actually like it.

“Me?” Caitlin asks, “I'm fine. Why?”

“You're bitting your bottom lip,” Iris points. “You only do that when something's wrong. Or you can't figure something out. And, you were making up excuses not to go visit your mom on Christmas.”

Caitlin looks shocked. She touches her bottom lip unconsciously, then sets her empty wine glass down beside the whiskey. “I—” she sighs, “—my mother just won't stop pestering me about getting back into dating. She keeps trying to sign me up for OKCupid. Or telling me about her friend's sons who are single. She keeps telling me that it's been over a year and a half, and I should be done moping. She actually said 'moping' before she corrected herself. I just... she's driving me crazy.”

“I'm sorry,” Iris reaches out and takes Caitlin's hand into her own. Caitlin stares down at the space where they are connected in what appears to be shock, but doesn't pull her hand away.

“She's not wholly wrong,” Caitlin almost whispers. “I don't... Ronnie wouldn't have wanted me to mourn him forever. But—”

“You're allowed to take however long you need,” Iris says, coming out fiercer than she'd intended.

Something flashes across Caitlin's face, too quickly for Iris to try and decipher it. “There's something I haven't told you,” she starts. Iris frowns, but waits, motioning for Caitlin to go on. Caitlin swallows, and pulls their hands apart, wringing her own fingers together nervously. “The Burning Man, he's — he's Ronnie.”

“What?”

Caitlin looks up from her hands finally, looking apologetic. “I wasn't sure at first,” she explains. “When he attacked me in the parking lot he sounded so familiar, but I thought I was just going crazy. I made Cisco promise not to tell you. Not till I knew for sure. He didn't think it was Ronnie either. Not till he really saw his face. And then... I was going to tell you,” she insists. “Things just... I didn't know how to feel about it. I'd finally felt like I was moving on, and then he just... shows up. I didn't want to think about it. And, if I told you, then it would be real. And then I'd have to,” she meets Iris' eye. “I'm sorry.”

“It's... you don't have to apologize. It's okay.”

“It's not,” Caitlin says, shaking her head. “It was irresponsible. He's been doing god knows what. We could have stopped him. Helped him. I should have told you and Dr Wells.”

“Well, you did,” Iris tells her with a small smile. She fidgets with the ring Barry gave her, swinging it side to side on its chain. “How do you feel about it?” she asks softly. “Ronnie I mean. Being alive.”

“I — I wish he'd died,” Caitlin admits in agony. “He's... he's so different. So angry. I just... I used to wish for just one more day with him. Now, I just wish he'd been able to die in peace. God,” she cries, “I'm a terrible person!”

“No,” Iris insists, scooting forward on the couch and wrapping her arms around Caitlin. She stiffens in Iris' arms. She's not big on physical contact. Iris has been aware of this for months now, but this feels like a situation that warrants a hug. Caitlin relaxes into Iris' arms after about a minute, tears still falling softly down her cheeks.

“God, what a shitty Christmas,” Caitlin finally says after she's calmed down.

Iris laughs so hard she can't keep her hold on Caitlin. Caitlin's laughter mixes with her own, and suddenly, they're just a pile of tangled limbs, laughing too hard to catch their breath.

When she can finally calm down enough to rest her head back against Caitlin's couch, she smiles. Caitlin's face is only a few inches away from her own. And her face is flushed, still lit up with laughter. It makes her look... stunning in a way Iris hadn't considered before. Not since they first met. Iris' eyes flicker down to Caitlin's lips unconsciously. Caitlin is calm enough to notice, because she sucks in a breath and Iris' gaze snaps back up to her eyes. “Thanks,” she says softly. Trying to shake off the awkwardness that's just settled between them.

“For what?”

“Listening,” Iris shrugs. “Plying me with whiskey and letting me cry and laugh on your shoulder? Being my friend.”

Caitlin gives her a rare smile; genuine and easy, like it belongs on her face. Not one she's trying to force there. “Thanks for the same,” she says. She hesitates for a moment, looking like perhaps she is going to say something else. And then, it looks like she might lean in and... Iris sucks in a breath, finding herself leaning in closer to Caitlin. The moment she realizes it, Caitlin snaps her head back and shakes it. Iris swallowing and following suit. “Wow, it's late,” Caitlin says, stretching away from Iris. “I think I drank more wine than I realized.”

“Yeah,” Iris gets up off the couch. It's nearly midnight. “I should probably...”

Caitlin notices the time and freezes. “It's too late to walk home Iris,” she insists. “You can... the couch is actually pretty comfortable. And I've got plenty of blankets and pillows.”

Iris can tell that Caitlin doesn't actually want her to stay. She's biting at her bottom lip and tugging uncomfortably at the end of her sweater. She's just being polite. She doesn't want Iris to be uncomfortable, so she is willing to be. It's... honestly somehow a nicer feeling than if she had really wanted Iris to stay. She wants to want Iris to stay. The sentiment is enough.

Iris smiles and moves over towards Caitlin, her mind still reeling from all of the new information she's gained tonight. Barry is in love with her. She is not in love with Barry. Ronnie isn't dead. He might be someone they have to contain. Caitlin isn't quite over him.

Caitlin almost leaned in and kissed Iris. And Iris almost kissed her back.

She is far too tired and a little too drunk to properly deal with any of this, so she gives Caitlin a quick hug. Barely touching her as she grabs her coat off a chair at the kitchen table. “I'll get a cab,” she says with a shrug. “I forgot my phone, and my dad will be worried. Thanks though. For offering.”

Caitlin shrugs one shoulder. “Yeah, sure.”

Before she can second guess herself or worry about it meaning anything, Iris leans up on her toes and kisses Caitlin on the cheek. “Merry Christmas Cait,” she whispers, and slips out the front door and into the quiet night.

Fucking Leonard Snart and Mick Rory kidnap Caitlin. Cisco tells Iris that she was looking for more information on Firestorm, and how that relates to Ronnie. Captain Cold and Heat Wave grabbed her, wanting to lure Iris to them. Iris stops bothering to roll her eyes at the names Cisco dubs them with. She watches the video they sent beside Cisco, the ridiculous cold and hot puns washing over her as she locks onto Caitlin's face. Her arms are bound behind her. She looked disheveled and shaken. Leonard yanking her around as Caitlin tries to fight him off. She quickly informs them that it's a trap; they want to find out who The Flash really is. She begs Iris not to come and get her.

Like hell.

“Can you trace it or something?” Iris snaps at Cisco. He looks just as shaken up as Iris feels, and she quickly softens her voice. “How can we find her Cisco?” she asks. Desperately trying not to let the complete and utter panic she is feeling show in her voice. This is what they do. This is what they do every day. She's dealt with Captain Cold and Heat Wave before and won. Kind of. She can do this. She can get Caitlin back. Two idiots with a fondness for puns and the name Snart aren't going to stop her.

Except for the fact that Caitlin is always there to help them.

Iris and Cisco both look at her chair expectantly at the same time. Iris clenches her fists together and paces, Cisco just squares his jaw and starts typing furiously on his computer. Iris can't concentrate on anything. Despite still being angry with him, she's relieved when her father walks through the door. Sinking into his arms immediately. “Dad.”

“We'll find your friend Iris,” Joe assures her.

Barry shifts his weight from foot to foot behind Joe, not saying anything as he watches the two of them. Iris closes her eyes and presses her forehead into her father's chest.

“We have to,” she whispers. Quietly enough that no one else can really hear her. Barry moves over to sit beside Cisco and help. Pointedly not in Caitlin's chair. Iris feels a surge of love for him, but she remembers that things are still awkward between them. “Dad, I — I can't lose her.”

Joe looks down at her a little oddly. Studying her face. Iris just lets him, too tired to care. “Oh,” he breathes, hugging her tighter. “Okay, okay. We'll find her baby girl,” he rubs her arms and kisses her forehead. “We'll find her,” he repeats. Then, they separate. Joe levels her with a look; the same one he used to give her when he was teaching her how to box as a kid. Iris nods back and squares her shoulders.

“Okay,” she says, turning to the boys, her voice clear. “What have you got?”

When Iris has Caitlin in her arms, running them out of the building to safety, it's when she realizes. She'd known already, but she hadn't really let herself know. Ignored it because there were too many other things going on. Pushed it away as a problem for another day. But now, she can't ignore it anymore.

She likes Caitlin.

Now that she knows, it feels like a huge relief has been lifted off her shoulders. She sets Caitlin down and starts inspecting her for injuries. Caitlin almost laughs at her. “I'm the doctor, remember?” she asks, with a shaky laugh. Iris can't help it, she lunges herself at Caitlin; wrapping her up tightly into a hug. “Woah!” she exclaims, stiffening as always at the contact before she relaxes and hugs Iris back. “I'm okay.”

“Good,” Iris says firmly. She pulls away, feeling a little idiotic, but trying not to worry about it. “Cisco was very worried,” she says, mock serious.

Caitlin laughs, and Iris can't believe how much she loves that sound. She is so screwed.

“Oh, well, let's go make sure that Cisco is okay,” Caitlin says, bumping her shoulder into Iris'. She's never one to initiate physical contact with anyone like that. Not that Iris can remember. She grins the whole walk home, feeling Caitlin's shoulders pressing against her and trying to calm her heart rate down.

There is still, of course, the problem of Barry and Ronnie.

There isn't a whole lot Iris can do about Ronnie. But, she owes Barry the truth. He gave her the truth—it took him a long time—but he still got there. Iris can do the same.

They agree to meet for coffee at Jitters. Iris sits in a secluded booth in the corner and nervously taps her fingers against her coffee mug as she waits for Barry. He walks through the door, eyes searching for her, and his entire face just lights up once he catches sight of her. For one solid, panicked second she thinks that she's going to tell him that she loves him too. Because if she doesn’t, then Barry is all alone in this. He had been so afraid that he would lose her, but he didn't. Not like he thought he might, but, if she doesn't love him back, then they are separate in a way that they haven't been since they were nine years old. Since the day her father brought him into their house and Iris reached out and took his hand. If she doesn't love Barry back, then she will be the one to lose him.

Barry sinks down into the chair opposite her and beams, babbling away as he does when he's nervous. Iris almost blurts out that she loves him. Instead, she swallows the words. Presses her lips together tightly, because it wouldn't be right. Because Barry, of all people, deserves better than that from her. Because if her only reason for saying it back is that she is so afraid of losing him that she’d rather just say whatever he wants to hear, and his reasons for telling her the truth had been to finally take a risk, and because he was tired of lying, then that would be a step forward for him and a step back for her, and then they would be even further apart. She can’t stand the thought of that. So, she swallows the words down and doesn't open her mouth again until she is sure that they won't just spill out of her on their own accord.

“Iris?” he prods, after she's been silent far too long.

If he can give her the truth, then she can give it back to him. She plays with the ring around her neck; her finger looped through it, pulling it back and forth nervously. Barry grins when he catches sight of it. She drops it immediately. The chain feels too tight against the hollow of her throat as he smiles at it. She presses her fingers against the rim of her mug instead.

“I'm sorry Barry,” she says, her voice not quite as steady as she would like. Barry almost deflates in front of her. He knows what is coming. Iris almost tries to take it back. No one knows her like Barry does. They shared a childhood; no one else will ever understand her in quite the same way. “I wish that I loved you the way you love me,” she says, because she does. Everything would be easier. Everything would be perfect if she did. “I almost just said I did,” she admits, “because I want to. But, you deserve the truth.”

Barry is silent. Nodding, fighting back tears. Iris wants to reach out and take his hand again. The same way she did when they were nine. But, she's the one causing him pain now. She presses her fingers against her mug till it's uncomfortable.

“I do love you Barry. You're my best friend. My brother. I'm sorry that I don't love you the way that you want.”

He looks up at her finally. Swallows. Sniffles his nose and then nods, once. “It's okay,” he says. “I mean, it sucks,” he laughs darkly. “But, it will be okay.” He says this with such determination that Iris believes him unquestionably. “I might need a little time,” he adds, “but, you're my best friend too Iris. It'll be okay. I'm not sorry I told you though. Now, I won't be wondering all the time. I can move on.”

“Yeah,” she croaks.

Barry nods again; final acceptance. His coffee has gone cold and untouched in front of him, but he rises, ignoring it. “Thanks,” he says, “for being honest.”

Iris only nods, not trusting her voice to speak. Barry gives her another smile that's far too forced, and then he leaves. Iris sits there, sipping her own cold coffee and trying not to play with her necklace, feeling drained and incredibly lonely.

“You like her,” Cisco whispers in awe. Iris whips around and smacks him silent. “Ow,” he says, pointedly rubbing his shoulder. “She can't hear me. She's across the lab.”

“Shut up,” Iris orders.

“But, you do don't you?” he asks. “You're all gooey,” he sticks his finger in front of her face, bright, shit-eating grin on his own. “You're gooey over Cait, this is fantastic.”

“I'm going to murder you,” Iris hisses.

Cisco holds his hands up in surrender, and Caitlin starts to walk back over to them. “I won't say a word,” he promises. “I wouldn't do that.”

Iris sags. “I know,” she grins at him. “Thanks.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Caitlin asks, looking between them.

“Nothing,” they respond in sync. Which isn't suspicious at all. Caitlin's eyebrows raise, but she just shrugs and turns back to her computer.

“Gooooooeeyyy,” Cisco sings into Iris' ear.

“Muuuurrrderrr,” she sings back.

“I worry about the two of you constantly,” Caitlin mutters.

Iris starts calling Caitlin almost every night. Making up excuses for the call each time. Little things. Almost nothing important. She staunchly avoids anything revolving around Firestorm, Ronnie, Dr Wells being shady, or the fact that every time Caitlin accidentally brushes up against her in the lab, her heart rate goes up to an embarrassing degree.

She wonders if Caitlin can hear her heart pounding right now; her pulse through the end of the phone. In the tenth grade, Barry told her that sound travels fastest through solids; something about the waves touching the atomic particles and making them vibrate in association and the density of matter. Iris hadn't been paying full attention. Caitlin would know. Iris should ask her. Instead, she swallows again, trying to still her pulse and steady her voice. Caitlin says her name, like she's been repeating it for a few minutes.

“Sorry,” Iris laughs, “what did you say?”

“Are you getting enough sleep?” Caitlin asks. “Just because you have superpowers doesn't mean you don't have to take care of yourself.”

“I'm fine Cait,” Iris insists. She probably could get more sleep.

“Have you eaten a vegetable in the last week?”

Iris has to think about it. She takes too long. “I'm coming over,” Caitlin says. “I made awesome Zucchini Stuff last night. I'll bring you the leftovers.”

“Zucchini Stuff?” Iris asks dubiously.

“It's my mom's recipe. It doesn't have a proper name. It's delicious. It doesn't need one.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. I'll be there in half an hour.”

“I could just be there in like two seconds if you want.”

Caitlin pauses, “Oh, right. Get over here and eat some vegetables. Doctor's orders.”

Iris runs, not bothering to hang up the phone. “I don't like tomatoes,” she says as she enters Caitlin's apartment. “Are there tomatoes in it?”

Caitlin whips around, cellphone still held up to her ear and glares at Iris before hanging up. “You'll like the tomatoes I put in it.”

She won't. But she eats them anyway.

Simultaneously, Iris is trying to figure out the identity of the Reverse Flash, how to separate Ronnie, and Martin Stein back into their own bodies, who killed Barry's mother, and what exactly is going on between herself and Caitlin.

She's cried three times in the last week from exhaustion.

When they do manage to separate Ronnie and Martin Stein, Iris carefully watches Caitlin's face as Ronnie leans in to hug her. When he kisses her, Iris turns away, catching Cisco's eye. She glares at his pitying look. She doesn't want, nor need it. Saving Ronnie is a good thing. She's proud. (She kind of hates him, but she's glad that he's alive.)

The thing is, they're not separate. Not really. Together, they are Firestorm. They help save Iris from the Reverse Flash, and then, they leave. Iris watches Caitlin stand there beside Clarissa Stein and stare as Ronnie flies away from her. She doesn't know what to say. But she goes over and gives Caitlin a one-armed hug anyway. Caitlin almost sinks into her, a small little sob spilling out.

“I'm sorry,” she says, collecting herself.

“I think this is a situation where it's perfectly acceptable to cry,” Iris tells her.

Caitlin lets out a laugh. “Probably,” she says. “But I'm sick of crying over Ronnie. I've been doing it for over a year and a half. I... I'm glad he's okay, but, I don't think we're ever going to have the life together that we imagined. I don't want to dwell on it. I told him no.” Iris raises her eyebrows in confusion as they walk down the sidewalk. “He sort of re-proposed. I told him no.”

Iris had no idea. She tries very hard to keep her face neutral. “Oh,” she says, too quietly. She clears her throat. “Wow!” she's almost yelling now. Caitlin looks at her oddly. “Wow,” she repeats again, at a normal volume this time.

“Yeah.”

Silence falls between them as they walk. “I told Barry no too,” Iris blurts out. “I mean, a while ago. Did I — I told you that already didn't I?”

“You did,” Caitlin says with a small smile. “Looks like we're both single and alone.”

“Yep.”

“Did you want—” Caitlin straightens her spine. “Cisco tells me that I have no life. Which, is just patently not true! I do things!” Iris nods, feeling like disagreeing will definitely be the wrong move from the look on Caitlin's face. “Well, I thought we could go get drinks or something. Since we're both...” she trails off, looking incredibly uncomfortable.

“Drinks?” Iris asks. “You and me?”

“Unless you don't want to,” Caitlin says quickly. “If you have plans that's fine, I don't want—”

“Sure,” Iris interrupts. “I'd love to.”

Caitlin is still babbling; it seems to take a second before Iris' words finally sink in. She pauses, “—Really?”

Iris nods.

“Okay, so... tonight then?” Caitlin asks, unsure.

“Sounds good.” Iris gives her a warm smile, internally freaking out.

“Woah,” is all Iris can say when Caitlin walks in to meet her at the bar.

“What?”

“You... look really good,” Iris settles on. It's an understatement. She's never seen this much of Caitlin's skin before. The dress is hugging every curve.

Caitlin glances down at herself, then back up to Iris, slipping onto the bar stool beside her. There's a hint of smugness to her smile. “I don't always dress like a high school principal.”

Iris just gives her a weak smile, trying not to ogle her like an asshole. She isn't entirely sure if this is a date or not. It sounded like just friends meeting up for drinks, but now, with what Caitlin's wearing, and the way she's grinning at Iris, she's not so sure. She's glad that she chose one of her favorite dresses. Skin tight and jet black. At the time, she'd been afraid of being overdressed, now, she's reveling in the way that Caitlin's eyes are roaming her body.

“So... want a drink?” Iris asks.

“I do,” Caitlin declares. “I'm getting very drunk tonight.”

“Oh?”

“Very, very drunk. My ex-fiancé came back from the dead as one half of another man, fire creating metahuman, drunk. I think I deserve it.”

“You do.”

Caitlin is true to her word, in the next three hours, they share various combinations of drinks, giggle like schoolgirls, and touch each other more than they have in the entire five months since they've met.

Iris is having a blast.

Caitlin disappears when Iris slips into the bathroom, and when she comes back out, she finds Caitlin up on the stage, karaoke mic in hand. “Oh, shit,” Iris mumbles. Caitlin catches sight of her and stars chanting for Iris to join her. Somewhat reluctantly, she does. They sing 'Summer Lovin'. It's terrible. Iris has never had more fun.

That is, until Caitlin's face turns green and Iris grabs her and runs her outside to vomit.

“Ugh,” she moans, “it's not fair that you don't get drunk anymore.”

“A travesty,” Iris agrees, holding Caitlin's hair out of the way and rubbing her back. “Want to call it a night?”

“Yes please.”

Iris lifts Caitlin into her arms and runs her home. She's only been in Caitlin's apartment one other time, on Christmas. Caitlin immediately starts stripping out of her dress as she stumbles towards what must be her bedroom. Iris chases after her, trying to keep her upright and not look at her body.

“I'm stuck,” Caitlin declares after trying unsuccessfully to yank her dress over her head for the third time.

Iris sighs. “Right, okay,” she undresses and redresses Caitlin in her pajamas as fast as she can.

Caitlin stares down at her PJs in awe. “That was very quick,”

“Yep. Called The Flash for a reason, let's get you into bed,” Iris shuffles her forward.

“My bra's gone!” Caitlin grabs at her chest. “You didn't peak did you?” she narrows her eyes. The effect isn't accusatory so much as hilarious; her left eye twitches. Iris bites back a smile.

“No,” she assures her. “I did not.”

Caitlin flops onto the bed, crawling up like a child and kicking herself under the covers. Iris leans over to help, tucking her in. Before she can sit up to turn off the light, Caitlin reaches out and grabs her hand. “Will you stay with me till I fall asleep?” she asks.

Iris sits back down on the bed. Caitlin hasn't let go of her hand, her fingers loosely gripped in Iris'. She smiles up at her as she closes her eyes. Iris reaches out and brushes some hair out of her face. She looks beautiful. And adorable in these pajamas.

“This was a fun date,” Caitlin mumbles. Iris sucks in a breath. “Was it a date?” she adds. “I talked about Ronnie a lot,” she frowns. “It wasn't a date,” she decides. Then, her eyes light up and she grins, tugging Iris' hand. “But, we should have a date! Because you like girls, and I've only kissed one other girl, but I told my mother I like them when I was thirteen and she cried,” Caitlin is babbling now. Iris is sure that she would never say any of this was she sober. “And I want to kiss you too. Do you want to kiss me? We should go on a date.”

Iris can't help the grin that slips onto her face. Caitlin looks about half a second away from passing out, she might not remember any of this in the morning, but Iris doesn't care. Caitlin likes her back. Iris rubs her thumb along Caitlin's hand, humming a lullaby that her father used to sing to her. Within minutes, Caitlin is out cold. Iris bends down, placing a soft kiss on her temple, and shuts off the light. “Night Cait,” she whispers, then goes home, the grin never leaving her face.

“Good morning!” Iris almost sings to Cisco. He turns around in his chair and frowns at her.

“Did you get laid?” he asks, his head tilting. Then, his eyes widen comically. “Wait, you and Cait went for drinks last night! Did you and Cait have sex?”

“No!” Iris says forcefully, looking around to see if Caitlin or Dr Wells are in the lab. She grins at him conspiratorially as she sits down beside him, her voice dropping to an excited whisper. “But she did tell me that she wants to kiss me, and sort of asked me out on a date. She was very drunk though, I doubt she remembers.”

“Then why are you grinning so much?”

“Because she wants to go out with me.”

Caitlin chooses that exact moment to stagger into the lab. Sunglasses on her face, very large cup of coffee in her hands. She nods towards them both as she slinks down into her seat. “Ugh, it's not fair that you don't get hangovers anymore,” she groans in Iris' direction. Cisco laughs at her.

“How much of last night do you even remember?” he asks before Iris can. She pinches his thigh under the table.

“Not a lot.”

“Summer lovin', happened so fast,” Iris sings, “summer lovin' had me a blast.”

“Ugh,” Caitlin groans, dropping her head into her hands. “That I remember. I'm a terrible singer, why'd you let me do that!?”

“It was adorable,” Iris shrugs. She takes note of the way Caitlin freezes momentarily before sitting up and casually sipping her coffee. This could be a little fun. “But, your PJs were more adorable.”

Cisco's eyebrows shoot up, and he tries to fight off laughter. Caitlin looks horrified. “Oh god, I vomited in the street. And you changed my clothes.”

“I did.”

“That's very embarrassing,” Caitlin says in far too calm a voice.

“I didn't peak,” Iris assures her.

Cisco can't hold his laughter back anymore. Caitlin whacks him on the arm. “Shut up,” she hisses. “I have sexy PJs too.”

Iris desperately tries not to picture her in them. She fails. Caitlin and Cisco start bickering about something else, and Iris updates her blog. She's gotten an offer to work at an actual newspaper. She stares at the email, dazed. She could quit her job at Jitters. She could be an actual reporter. She might have a date with Caitlin in the near future. Barry is almost normal with her again. Iris can't imagine things being more fantastic.

Iris runs to the future. She runs into the future. On accident. When she realizes, she almost can't breathe. She ran so fast that she moved ahead a single day in time. She's almost giddy with it. Till she remembers Barry going on about time travel and paradoxes and alternate universes. She's pretty sure that she's not allowed to change a single thing.

Except, Cisco dies. Cisco, goofy, beautiful, kind Cisco, dies. Iris runs into the lab and sees Dr Wells standing before him, his hand vibrating inhumanly fast, inside of Cisco's chest. She doesn't even have time to react, even with her powers. She's too late. Cisco is slumped against Dr Wells and Iris runs away. Like a coward.

She barrels into her father, sobbing. Unable to say the words because the day is used up. It's tomorrow. Except tomorrow is today and none of this has happened yet and Cisco is alive.

Cisco is alive and Iris isn't allowed to change the future. She's going to. There is no way she is letting that happen again.

She finds Barry. Tells him what's happened. He knows more about this stuff than she does, and telling Cisco would just be cruel, and telling Caitlin... telling Caitlin would ruin everything. She trusts Dr Wells too much. She would never believe Iris. Not in time. Barry warns her about changing things, but is in total agreement that they can't let Cisco die. He doesn't take the news about Dr Wells particularly well either, but, he believes her. Iris stays by Cisco's side all day. Flashing in and out when she has to, but otherwise, not letting him out of her sight. Barry tries to distract Dr Wells. He loses him within ten minutes, but, he finds a secret room in the lab. Calling Iris and telling her everything he saw as he runs out to the parking lot.

He was meant to be The Flash. In another world, he was. In another universe, he probably still is.

Barry is babbling in her ear. She vaguely registers him turning on the ignition in his car. Only catching some of his words. She remembers suddenly the science fiction books he plowed through when they were twelve. He let her borrow a few, she ended up liking them a lot more than she thought she would. She liked the idea of parallel universes best; the idea of branching probabilities, everything happening somewhere. The coin comes down heads, comes down tails, but maybe not here, or now.

Here, Iris decided to take Barry out for dinner and pushed him away from a window.

The coin comes down heads.

Somewhere else, Iris wasn't there to push him out of the way. Somewhere else, Barry was the one who fell into a coma. Somewhere else, Iris was the one to sit there, day after day, and watch him, waiting in agony to see if he would ever wake up. Somewhere else, Barry Allen is The Flash.

The coin comes down tails.

Not here, though.

“I think...” he swallows, his voice rough, “I think that's why my mom was killed. To stop me from becoming The Flash.”

“Fuck,” Iris whispers, her forehead pressed against the wall.

“Yeah,” Barry is silent for a beat, then, “we can't let anyone else die,” he insists, firmly. “We've got to save Cisco.”

He's right. Iris straightens up. “He's here. He's okay. I'm not going to let anything happen to him. You go tell my dad what's going on.”

Cisco turns to her, sliding his chair over and bumping his leg against hers. “Sooooo,” he drawls, “when am I gonna start finding you and Caitlin macking on each other in inappropriate places in the lab?” He has become one of her favorite people. She refuses to lose him. Iris reaches her leg out and taps his own. Mimicking him.

“Soon, I hope.”

“Ugh,” he groans, “wear bells or something.” But he's grinning at her.

“Nah, rather scar you.”

“Rude.”

She makes it to the end of the day. Cisco is still alive. She takes it as a win. Somehow, it doesn't feel like much. Like it's enough.

Things suck.

The newspaper only wants her to report on The Flash, and nothing else. Dr Wells, isn't actually Dr Wells. Most likely, he had something to do with Nora Allen's death. If not outright murdered her. And Caitlin doesn't believe them.

Iris sits in her living room with her father, Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin, and listens as Joe and Barry explain all the evidence they have against Dr Wells. Cisco interjects with his own information and Caitlin looks at him like he's slapped her.

“This doesn't make any sense,” she insists, looking to Iris. Her eyes are pleading. Iris knows how much this must hurt. How much she looks up to Dr Wells. How much he means to her.

“It does though,” she says quietly. “You know it does.”

Caitlin storms out of the house.

Things suck.

Caitlin becomes prickly and short with Iris. It helps a little that it's not just Iris—she's even angrier with Cisco. Iris has to stop her from straight up knocking on Dr Wells' front door and asking him point blank if he's impersonating a man and possibly killed Barry's mother.

“What are you doing?” Iris snaps at her after she deposits her in the street, several blocks away.

“Me!” Caitlin yells, “what are you doing? Are you following me?”

“He's dangerous Caitlin! You can't just—” she runs a hand through her hair, wanting to scream, “—you have to wait till we come up with a plan.”

“I think this is all just a misunderstanding. And we should let Dr Wells clear it up.”

“HE'S NOT DR WELLS!” Iris screams. “Harrison Wells died years ago. My dad found his remains. Whoever that is, it's not Harrison Wells. He has been lying to you, to Cisco, to me, since the moment he met all of us. He killed Barry's mom.”

“So this is about Barry,” Caitlin snaps, with such vitriol that Iris takes a step back from her. “Of course it is.”

“What?” Iris is so confused. “No, it's not about Barry. Why....” she tugs her hands through her hair in frustration; grabbing the ends of them tight enough to hurt. Iris lets out a sigh. “We can't trust him, Caitlin. I know, deep down, you know that. And I'm sorry.”

Caitlin looks like she is going to let out another impressive argument, but then, she just sags. In a way, it's so much worse. Iris wishes she'd just screamed at her. Caitlin starts sobbing, leaning on Iris to keep herself upright.

“I trusted him,” she moans. “Ronnie... you, I trusted him.

“I know,” Iris just holds her and lets her cry. “I know.”

“Eobard?” Cisco says incredulously.

“Thwane?” Iris looks over at her father. “That's your partner's last name right?” Joe nods, a deep frown on his face and Iris' twists to match. “What the hell?”

“Guess it's time to finally answer all his damn questions,” Joe mutters. “Gonna have a few of my own for him.”

They find Dr Wells'—Eobard Thwane's—secret lair. (Cisco is the only one who calls it a secret lair.)

Iris can only stare in shock at the images in front of her. A future where she is married to Barry, a real reporter, and he's The Flash. He's Eobard's enemy. The future that was supposed to happen. Caitlin is stiff and angry at her side, Iris can feel it. She's bitting at her bottom lip and trying not to pace. Cisco's just cataloging everything he can, as fast as he can, because that's not the only future up there.

In another, Iris is still The Flash. Still married to Barry.

In another, she's married to Eddie Thwane, her father's partner. Eobard's ancestor.

In another, she's a cop. Like she wanted when she was little.

In another, she's married to Caitlin.

She can't see what else that one says, because when Caitlin gasps as she reads it, they hear footsteps coming.

“Shit,” Cisco pushes them both towards the door. “We gotta go.

Iris grabs hold of them both and runs. Caitlin won't look at her when she sets them back down. She's gonna chew her bottom lip into nothing. Iris pulls out some chapstick and hands it to her. Caitlin stares at it for nearly a full minute before she accepts it.

“What do we do now?” she whispers.

“Stop him,” Iris declares firmly.

Admittedly, their plan is shitty at best. Cisco fuses with one of the containers in the basement and makes it so it can hold Iris inside. If it can hold Iris, it should be able to trap Eobard.

Except of course, that it doesn't. Because he's three steps ahead of them. And then, then he looks right at Iris and tells her that she can go back in time and save Barry's mom. Then, he can go home. To the future. Iris has to run fast enough to create some kind of black hole, terrible science thing. She stops listening because she makes the mistake of looking over at Barry's face. He's trying so hard not to look hopeful. Not to plead with her. But he is, and he knows it.

He's not the only one staring at her. Eobard goes on about changing futures, and paradoxes, and Iris can feel Caitlin and her father's eyes on her.

She can save Barry's mom, and probably, she'll never become The Flash.

Barry won't be her best friend, her brother. He'll grow up several blocks down the street. They'll occasionally see each other at school. Iris won't know to seek him out. She won't remember. Her father is working his jaw when Iris looks over at him. If she saves Barry's mom, she'll take away her father's son.

Caitlin and Cisco will never meet the false Dr Wells. They'll probably never come to S.T.A.R labs. It won't exist. They won't be best friends. Iris will never have the chance to meet them. She won't play video games and go bowling with Cisco. She'll never meet Caitlin at all.

Of all the things, that probably shouldn't be the thing weighing on her mind the most. Because also, she could accidentally create a black hole and potentially destroy the entire world. But, she looks over at Caitlin, and all she can think is: I can't lose her yet.

No one tells Iris to do it. And no one tells her not to. Everyone just... waits for her to decide. Iris wants to scream.

Her father finds her pacing in the hall. “Tell me what to do,” Iris pleads.

“I can't do that baby girl.”

“Dad...”

He pulls her into one of his crushing hugs. Iris can feel him shaking, trying not to cry. He doesn't want her to do it. But, when she looks up at him, she can tell that he also does. She sees Barry round the corner and presses her forehead against her father's chest. She has to do it. It's selfish not to.

“You don't have to,” Barry says quickly. He comes up to them, hovering just beside them. “I mean it, Iris, you don't have to. I'm okay. I love you guys, I don't — you don't have to.”

Iris and Joe open their arms at the same time and pull Barry into their hug. The three of them just stand there, clutching each other quietly. It feels like the end of something. Iris knows that it is.

“I'm doing it,” she whispers softly. She rises up on her toes and kisses Barry on the cheek. Then she slips out of their grasp, giving them time to say goodbye. She can already hear her father crying.

Iris finds Caitlin alone in one of the smaller offices. Her mascara is running. She jumps when Iris slips in through the door. “You're doing it,” she says once she's studied Iris' face for a moment. It's not a question. Iris nods in confirmation anyway. She watches Caitlin's hands ball into tight fists and sees her trying not to cry. Iris decides that enough is fucking enough; they like each other, and they both know it. She crosses the room in seconds, grabbing Caitlin and leaning up to press their lips together.

Caitlin kisses her back hungrily, like she's been waiting to do it forever. She lets out a moan at the back of her throat that send shivers down Iris' spine. Iris' hands are tangled in her hair, tugging, desperate to be closer. Caitlin's hands are touching her everywhere, as if it's not enough.

It's not.

“Don't do it,” Caitlin pleads against her mouth.

Iris whimpers. “I have to.”

“I know,” Caitlin sucks Iris' bottom lip. She's crying again. Her kisses are salty. “It's why I love you.”

Iris gasps. Caitlin captures it with her mouth, and then they're kissing again. They never really stopped. Iris kisses her for all she's worth, she knows that she's probably never going to get another chance. “I love you too,” she whispers when they finally pull back from each other. Caitlin gives her the widest grin Iris has ever seen on her face, then leans in to kiss her again.

Caitlin's impeccable clothes are a mess. Iris is secretly glad to see it. That she's left some mark. Proof that she was there. No matter how insignificant.

Cisco finds them still a bit tangled in each other and he laughs. “In my lab!” he jokes, “with the world possibly ending! What an inappropriate place to make out.”

“I think there's no time better,” Iris says, throwing a pen at him. He grins, and leaves them alone. Iris turns back to Caitlin. “We should...”

“I know.”

They hold hands as they walk back to the main lab. Iris just wants to pull Caitlin away and forget that all this is happening, but she doesn't. She walks up to Eobard Thwane and listens to his instructions for the final time. Then, with a glance back at everyone, locking eyes with Caitlin, she runs.

She doesn't save Barry's mom.

She makes it there in time, is about to, but, she sees herself across the room. Older, she's not sure by how much exactly. But it's her, and she's still The Flash. And she's shaking her head no. Iris hesitates. And then, Nora Allen is dying alone on her living room floor. Iris rushes over to her. If she can't save Barry's mom, she can make sure that she doesn't die alone and scared. She's probably completely confused by it all, but Iris tells her all about Barry. About the time her dad taught him to box. About the time they built their own tree fort and spent every night there during the summer. About the time he won the science fair and got a trophy bigger than he was. About Christmases. And Birthdays. And how well he did in school. About how kind he is, how loving. How he's her best friend. How he's happy, and loved, and safe.

Nora looks confused, but happy. She dies smiling. Iris lays her down as gently as she can, then, she runs back home. She's not letting Eobard get away.

When she gets back, it's chaos. She punches Eobard before he can slip away to the future. But the whole building is shaking, and Cisco and Barry and Caitlin are running around, fiddling with things urgently.

“Dad!” Iris yells.

“Remember that whole, might blow up the world thing?” he asks. “Kinda happening.”

Eobard flips out. Running and punching Iris. It's all she can do to keep up with him, and then, a single shot rings out, and he stops. Iris hears Caitlin's scream. Hears her father's deep groan of anguish. Watches, utterly confused as Eobard almost blinks out of sight, yelling all the while. Iris looks around and sees her father, running towards Eddie Thwane's lifeless form. He put a bullet in his brain to save them all from his future descendant. He sacrificed himself to save them all. Iris can only stare at this man she barely knows, unmoving, until Caitlin is beside her. Slipping her hand into Iris' and squeezing.

The world is kind of still imploding around them.

Barry runs over to them and Iris sags. “I'm sorry Barry I—” he wraps her up into a hug, cutting her off and not seeming to mind one bit that she hasn't let go of Caitlin's hand.

“It's okay,” he promises. “I like my life, Iris. I didn't really want to lose it.”

“I told her all about you.”

Barry pulls back and smiles. “Not about the time we stole candy bars from Mrs Henson's house?” he jokes.

“Yup,” Iris grins. “Loads of other embarrassing things too.”

He laughs, and looks down, seeing her hand clasped with Caitlin's. He grins at her. It's not quite a full Barry smile, but it's very close. “Good,” he says. Looking between them, “I'm glad.”

“Hey, guys!” Cisco yells, “world's still kinda falling apart!”

Their new plan isn't really any better than their old one. Basically, it's just: Iris runs really fast. That seems to be the crux of most of their plans. Caitlin glowers at her and reaches out, yanking Iris to her. “You could die.”

“If I don't, we all could.”

Caitlin glares, looking furious and stunning. Her hair whipping all around her face from the forming tornado. Her hand is tight in Iris' own. “Pick me up at seven tomorrow, I know a really good first date restaurant. Don't you dare die first.”

Iris beams at her. Jumping forward and kissing her with fervor. “I'll be there at six-thirty,” she promises. Iris allows herself one last look back at Caitlin. Cisco, Barry and her father are all standing just beside her. Staring at the forming black hole in front of them all.

In another world, Iris never goes to surprise Barry with dinner. Never becomes The Flash. Never falls in love with Caitlin. Never saves the world.

It's not here, though. Iris squares her shoulders and runs.