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“Detective West?”

“That’s me,” Joe answered. Both he and Iris looked up from his desk, where they had been sitting and talking about the conversation topic of the month: Barry.

Barry Allen and his depression for the past two months, since Eddie died and he had saved Central City. There was a crease which never seemed to leave Iris’ brow these days, and Joe, for the first time in his life, didn’t have a clue how to make things better for his children. It wasn’t a feeling he liked. But he also knew that there were times he couldn’t be there for Barry, times he couldn’t be the solution to his problems, but he had every faith that the boy he had watched grow into the city’s saviour would rise to meet them on his own. And in the meantime, Joe could just be there for him in any way possible.

His eyes found the source of the voice and he stood, offering a hand. “But call me Joe. And this is my daughter, Iris.”

At the sound of her name, Iris raised her hand in a small wave. “Hi.”

“Well, aren’t you a sweet thing.” The speaker was taller than him, dark haired and odd in the way he carried himself, walking with caution, eyes flicking to the corners of the room as he crossed it, extending a hand. But he smiled kindly at Iris, in a warm way that was fitting with his heavy New Orleans twang and over-fondness common from that part of the world. His eyes turned back to Joe. “Jim Corrigan. I’m here from GCPD investigating a case and your captain said you were the man to talk to.”

“Gotham?”

“I moved there a few years ago,” Corrigan answered with a half shrug. “The life I had in New Orleans . . . it was over, shall we say. I moved for a fresh start.”

“Hell of a place for it,” Iris commented dryly.

“Gotham’s got its good spots. The people have their odd ways,” the other detective said, lips twitching up to one side. “But mostly, they’re just people trying to get by. It’s a tough place – sometimes they just need a helping hand.”

Iris smiled, “And that’s you.”

In response, Jim raised his hand and wiggled his fingers, imitating her wave from earlier with a smile. It was modest in his own way, earnest, like he meant nothing behind the action but a genuine kindness rooted in his soul.

She liked him. Iris grinned back at the new detective, noticing her dad’s approving look as he watched the exchange, and took a step towards the door.

“Well, of all the reasons to become a cop, I’ll admit it’s a good one,” she admitted, earning a small laugh. “I’ll let you boys get to it, then. But if you’re staying in town for a while, we’d love to have you over for dinner sometime, Detective Corrigan.”

“It’d be my genuine pleasure.”

Delighted with the answer, Iris nodded her goodbyes, stopping to hug her dad before she left. As she rested her head on his shoulder, her eyes met the desk a few places away, still empty – Eddie’s. It hurt more here, the absence of him seeming to fill to space to the point it felt like he was everywhere, in the desk, the walls, even the air of the precinct.

It hurt a little less, some days. Especially when her family and friends were with her, and today, Iris was able to tear her eyes away from the empty desk after just a second; her heart tightened like it had been put in a vice, but then Detective Corrigan was saying goodbye behind her and asking about where he could get a good cup of coffee in the city, and Iris turned away without even having to think of it.

Now especially, she was grateful for good friends and simple, honest moments with them. The thought stayed with her as she turned, walking away from them, her smile brighter than it had been in weeks as she left the precinct.

As she left, Corrigan turned back towards Joe. “Hell of a girl you’ve got there.”

“She’s strong, my Iris.” The other man said, pride shining is his eyes as his daughter disappeared from sight. At the questioning look he received in response to that, Joe just shrugged, “It’s been a long few months.”

“I get that, partner.”

“So the case you’re here for - the girl?” Joe asked for confirmation, business face on immediately. He had always compartmentalised his life, able to change from worried dad to focused cop in a heartbeat, never anything but what was needed of him at that moment.

It was his only case right then: teenage Jane Doe found dead in an alley with strange markings on her body, with no forensics to match to either her identity – or her killer’s. The markings alone suggested a homicide and the press was already murmuring of a ritualistic killer loose in the city, so Joe was eager to solve the case fast, something even Barry hadn’t been able to help with.

Corrigan nodded, “The Jane Doe.”

“What did you find out when you were working the case?”

“Not much,” Corrigan replied, but there was something different about him this time. He didn’t look Joe in the eye as he answered, putting his hands in his pockets and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Another two bodies were found in Gotham, killed in a similar way. When my team got wind of another body showing up in the same way . . .”

“You came straight here,” Joe finished, knowing the feeling. As a cop, unfinished business was like a stain on your soul; old cases could haunt them for years. Wanting to solve the case, Joe understood. What he didn’t understand was why Corrigan was hiding something from him, as the other man obviously was. For now, he would let it drop – but he was going to be keeping a close eye on the other man. “Alright. Where do you want to start?”

*

Barry was running when he got a call from Iris.

“Heeeey, what’s up? Not that I don’t like talking to you, I do, really, I’m just a little busy right now.”

“Firstly: stop babbling,” Iris instructed, and he could hear the laugh on her voice. “You weren’t answering your phone, so I stopped by to tell you that a detective working a case with my dad is having dinner with us all tomorrow.”

Barry pouted, just a little. “All of us?”

“Yes, Barry. As in you have to be there too.”

“Why?”

“Because normal human beings talk to other human beings. It’s called socialising, and you’ve been terrible at it recently.”

“I socialise!” Barry argued, still running. Although he knew Iris was only teasing him, there was a grain of truth in her words which rubbed him the wrong way. It turned his skin raw, electric, feeling every breeze that touched his skin and every bump in the pavement. It alerted him to every irritation at hand, turning him straight to defence. “I see you and Cisco and Caitlin . . . and Joe. Uh . . . my dad – I see my dad! I even bumped into Linda at the store last week; she says she’s doing great. I do socialise.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I have friends, Iris.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And I have friends outside the city, too,” Barry argued petulantly. “I have Felicity and Diggle and well, I wouldn’t exactly call Oliver a friend, he’d have to actually like me to be that, but -”

“Uh-”

“Don’t.”

“-huh.” Iris finished triumphantly. Barry groaned loudly, hoping the comms were on the fritz again and the sound would spike metallically in her ear. “Just be on time for dinner, please. And actually on time, not Barry on time – twenty minutes late.”

She clicked off without giving him time to argue. Cursing once, Barry tried to stop pouting as he ran his usual patrol route, knowing it was stupid to be angry at Iris, she was only trying to look after him, but after what happened with Eddie, Barry felt like the area around him was a minefield. Anyone who got too close got hurt.

He didn’t want to socialise. He wanted to run, and preferably, punch someone.

*

The next day Captain Cold decided to show up outside Jitters as Barry was getting his after work fix.

“Flash.”

He hated that tone – it was ice, cold and unfeeling and annoying enough to make the hairs on the back of Barry’s neck stand up. Groaning inwardly, the young man made a face before he turned, crossing his arms. “Snart. What have you done now?”

The older man laughed. “It’s not something I’ve done – it’s something you haven’t.”

After waiting a moment for an explanation, Barry heaved a sigh and raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so this is one of those conversations where you say vague half-sentences and act all cryptic? I don’t have the time. Either tell me or leave.”

“Touchy, touchy,” Snart breathed out a breath, smirking in a way Barry would love to punch off his face. “No wonder you’re off your game.”

“Snart-”

“Someone is attacking criminals,” the criminal finally answered. His face straightened out, becoming serious as he looked steadily back at Barry, sensing the other man’s impatience, “Beating them up in the alleys – the streets are talking. There’s a new vigilante, they say. I don’t know much about him: the boys say he must be a meta-human, but can’t give a description other than a flash of green.”

“And why should I care?” Barry asked.

“Because you’re a hero,” Cold answered, although there was a sneer in his voice. “And because he’s killing people.”

That got Barry’s attention. “How?”

“Tearing them limb from limb - from what we find of them.”

“Definitely a meta-human, then,” The Flash sighed, running a hand through his hair. “This isn’t good.”

“I agree,” Snart put in. He took a step closer to the other man, glancing both ways and finding them alone. “I don’t care what sort of circles you’re running in these days, Flash. I won’t have other heroes getting in my business. We’re cool - for now. Find whoever this is and ice them.”

“I don’t take orders from-”

Barry’s growled threat was cut off by a swift punch to the stomach. He doubled over dropping to his knees and eventually just giving in, letting his head fall to the pavement and lie there, all while emitting a low grunt of pain. It must have been a targeted punch to hurt that much – something only someone like Snart would know.

Faintly, he heard the criminal leave. “Be seeing you, Flash.”

*

Jim was heading towards the coffee place Iris had recommended, eyes on the piece of paper the address was scrawled on. He almost fell over the boy on the ground.

“Are you okay, kid?”

The brown haired man, with a baby face marred with pain, rolled his eyes skywards to meet his own. As soon as they did, Jim felt a jolt of electricity flow through him – sometimes, if a person was particularly special, the world-saving, history-making kind – the Spectre would show them to him.

It was a feeling – a jolt, and a soft glow emanating from their centre which seemed to set the world on fire around them. And man, this kid was like the sun.

Hands on his knees, bent over, Jim peered down curiously at the wonder below him, waiting for an answer. It had been years since he had been shown someone like this, and that had been the day he first went to Gotham and almost got run over by a billionaire.

“M’fine,” the boy answered. “I fell.”

Noticing the way the kid was holding his stomach, Jim knew that was a lie. Eyebrows twitching upwards, he nodded once. “Alright, partner. How about a hand up?”

He held out a palm and the kid glanced at it with hesitation before taking it, letting himself be pulled to his feet but hissing out a breath of pain at the motion, which Jim was putting a steadying hand to in an instant, looking as if to assess the injury.

He pushed, but not too hard. “Must have been a hell of a fall.”

A wry smile stretched across the young man’s face; he shook himself a little when he got back to his feet, like he was itching to run off somewhere. “Believe me, I’ve had worse.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. Pain’s like that, kid. You can get used to it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there – or that you shouldn’t ask for help.”

The kid looked up and blinked a few times, slowly nodding his head. It took a few moments silence before he started rocking on the balls of his feet, looking down the street, ears pink with embarrassment.

“Uh, thanks-”

“No problem,” Jim cut him off. It was obvious the younger man didn’t want to talk about it, and he didn’t blame him for not wanting to share with a stranger. But he should tell someone. He reached out a hand, clapping the man on the shoulder. “Just get yourself checked out if you’re still in pain later, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah – promise,” the kid nodded earnestly. He threw one last awkward half-smile before running off, ducking around the nearest corner.
Jim watched him go with a curious expression, smiling to himself when he eventually tore his eyes away to enter the coffee shop, wondering what that kid was going to do for the world that was so good the Spectre took notice.

*

“I’ve got to run,” Barry said the next day, haphazardly pulling a S.T.A.R Labs sweatshirt over his head. He emerged with a frown, but a tired one, collapsing in a chair to fumble with his laces next. “Iris is making me go to a family dinner with her and Joe and some cop from Gotham.”

“Good, you need to talk to people,” Caitlin said, agreeing with Iris one hundred percent. “Even the Flash has got to slow down sometimes, Barry. Take a night.”

Barry frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. “That’s what Iris said.”

“She’s right. Look, it’s been a hard month for all of us. But what happened wasn’t your fault – none of it was. Wells did this.” Caitlin’s eyebrows turned downwards in a pained way. The betrayal of their boss still hurt her. “You can’t blame yourself forever. You might be the Flash – but you also have to be Barry Allen, sometimes. We need him just as much.”

“Yeah,” Cisco agreed, appearing out of nowhere. He leaned against the back of Barry’s chair, putting his hands on his friend’s shoulders. “We’ve missed you, buddy.”

“I’ve been right here, guys,” Barry argued, shifting uncomfortably.

“Really? Because I’ve seen this guy who looks a lot like you walking around here, but he’s not our Barry Allen. I don’t know who that guy is, but he can’t be you: he doesn’t laugh enough, or talk with us like you do, and he trips over a lot less-”

“Alright, alright, I get it!” Barry laughed, holding his hands up. Getting to his feet, his smile simmered to something apologetic, facing his two best friends as honestly as he could. “I know my mind’s been somewhere else lately. I’m sorry. It’s just . . . it’s hard.”

“We understand,” Caitlin replied. “And we’re not trying to push you. Whenever you’re ready to come back, to be the way we used to be? We’re here for you.”

“Just don’t stay away too long,” Cisco added with a smile.

“I won’t,” Barry promised earnestly. Looking at them, his own heart ached a little; after everything, after he’d failed – they still looked at him like he was the sun. He didn’t think he deserved that, but appreciated their support all the same. “Would you guys like to come to dinner with us? At least with you there, it might be a little less awkward.”

“I’m always down for free food,” Cisco grinned, grabbing his jacket and slinging it on faster than even Barry could sometimes. He was already a few steps towards the door, one of the biggest fans of Iris’ food, by the time Caitlin opened her mouth.

“I don’t see why not.”

“Great,” Barry said, relieved. At least with more people, there shouldn’t be too many painful silences. “Iris said to be on time, so-”

“I’ll drive,” Caitlin laughed, and they all walked out together with lighter hearts than they walked in with.

*

Jim Corrigan knocked the door with an ounce of anticipation, hoping the circles underneath his eyes weren’t too obvious. It had been a long two days in Central City: every day, he worked the police side of the investigation with Joe, and when night fell, he spent the hours on the backstreets of the city, looking for what no normal cop would ever waste time on.

So far, he had found nothing but whispers.

“Detective, I’m so glad you could make it,” Iris said when she opened the door. There was that smile on her face again, the one that could rival sunshine. Stepping to one side in an instant, she let him into the house.

“Thank you for having me,” he replied. “And please, call me Jim.”

“Jim,” Iris said, happy with that. “If you want to take your coat off, there are hooks in the hall. Dinner isn’t quite ready yet, but my dad and Barry are in the other room, if you’d like to sit down.”

“Sure. Unless you need any help?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks for offering, though.”

She disappeared with a smile and swish of hair, leaving Corrigan alone in the hallway. He looked around for the coat hook, wandering over and checking his pockets before taking off his trademark long coat, hanging his gun holster beside it.

Apprehensively, he walked into the living room. Four heads looked up at him, almost in sync, from two sofas in the centre of the room. Jim felt like he was the opening act for a circus, trying to play it off as he strolled into the room.

“Evening, partner,” he nodded at Joe.

The older West got to his feet, putting a hand on Jim’s shoulder. He turned back to the people on the couch, who were staring without abandon at the stranger. “This is Jim Corrigan. He’s helping me with a case which has crossed over from Gotham. Jim, this is Caitlin and Cisco, they work at S.T.A.R Labs. And Barry is the CSI that has been doing the forensics on our case.”

“Oh,” Jim said, recognising Joe’s son as the man from outside Jitters earlier. Barry was obviously having the same reaction from the spark of panic that ignited in his eyes when theirs met. Jim decided to save an awkward explanation by playing along as if they’d never met before, walking over as the others stood to say hello properly. Barry was rubbing the back of his neck bashfully when Jim got to him, but shook the offered hand quickly. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

“Right. I’m sorry I haven’t been around the precinct much – my work keeps me busy,” Barry said, eyes darting nervously as his lips twitched up in a silent thanks to Jim for not mentioning earlier.

And it was only half a lie. He was always busy, but it was usually as the Flash. Barry Allen, bumbling, blabbering, blushing CSI took a backseat in his life these days.

“Think nothing of it, pal. The analysis you sent us this morning narrowed down our search parameters to ten miles of industrial land.”

It was true - Jim was grateful to the younger man. Barry had found some kind of chemical on the body which was only used in a single factory in Central City but had been abandoned years ago, leaving them with a smaller area to search. Officially, Jim and Joe were supposed to be leading a squadron of cops to search the area tomorrow.

In reality, his night didn’t end with dinner.

Barry smiled wanly at the comment. It wasn’t a disinterest in the way he looked at Jim then looked away, nothing else to say – everything about the kid screamed exhaustion. If Jim were to guess by the circles around his eyes, he would say Barry hadn’t slept in days, and hadn’t slept well in months.

“So, you’re from Gotham?” the one Joe had introduced as Cisco asked, and Jim stored the man’s name and face into his memory. “That’s pretty hardcore.”

The detective forced a laugh, “I don’t know if that’s the word I’d use.”

Cisco the steamroller didn’t stop for a second. Lollipop hanging out of his slack mouth and saucer eyes shining, he asked, “Are the rumours about that place true?”

“Rumours?”

“He means about the vigilante,” Caitlin said with a roll of her eyes. Obviously used to her friend’s excitable moods, she put a hand on Cisco’s arm.

“Yeah,” the boy agreed, nodding his head violently. “So, is he real? The Batman?”

Jim’s lips pressed together, rocking on the balls of his feet. “Well, I don’t know about that. Do you believe every urban myth you hear?”

“Oh, come on! It wouldn’t be that strange – the world’s a different place now, what with the particle accelerator explosion and the Flash,” Cisco argued confidently. “With all the meta-humans and heroes running about, yeah, I believe in the Batman.”

“Meta-humans?” Jim blinked.

“You don’t know . . .” Cisco trailed off, amazed.

“Sorry,” Caitlin added with a laugh. “Cisco sometimes forgets that the sun doesn’t orbit around Central City.”

Joe took his turn to explain, pitying the bewildered Corrigan. “When the particle accelerator exploded, it had certain . . . effects on certain people – gave ‘em powers. One of them was a man who now calls himself the Flash,” if his eyes flicked to Barry as he spoke, Joe swore it was with pride, not worry. “He saved the city from the singularity a few months ago.”

“Right,” Jim nodded, brow creasing. “I remember seeing that on TV . . . so he’s a hero here? The police let him crusade around the city?”

“The cops . . . look the other way,” Joe amended, wincing. “The Flash saved us all. He helps people – so they choose to let him. There is a section of the police who deal with meta-humans, though-”

“The Meta-Human task force,” Cisco announced proudly. To him, the title was a badge of honour. “Joe and I run it. So, is there something like that in Gotham? Someone who looks after the things nobody else can explain?”

“Actually, that’s why I’m here,” Jim replied. For a moment, he wondered if he was revealing too much, but the way Cisco was glowing and they talked about heroes, Jim Corrigan believed for a blissful moment that he could be proud to fight monsters the way he did. “The case I’m working here, the homicide - it was on my radar because it was unexplainable. It’s what I do.”

Cisco somehow smiled brighter. “I knew it! So, what’s your team called?”

Jim shrugged, but there was a twist in his mouth that was almost proud. “They call us the Midnight Shift.”

“What’s tha-”

Cisco’s question was cut off by Iris, who appeared at the door.

“Dinner’s ready,” she announced, breaking the tension that had arisen in the room from the name. All eyes swung to her, distracted, as she lingered for a second on all their surprised faced before laughing. “What are you all waiting for? Come on.”

*

Jim went to the factory alone that night, looking for answers.

Dinner had been good; it was nice to sit and talk to people and pretend to be normal for a few hours. They were good people, interesting, but he spent the entire night dancing around the subject of his own work, giving away as little as possibly when answering a question was unavoidable – it was exhausting, but he left full and warm.

It was quite a difference to the cold of the night, cheeks flushed and coat done up all the way as he walked through the darkness. Never faltering, not to check his way or for the ominous creaks and groans of the building, which would have caused even the most lion-hearted to flinch, the darkness as grim and all-surrounding as it was.

But Jim knew what waited in the dark, and he was ready for it.

“Oh, God.”

When he found the red markings on the wall, he knew exactly who was killing the women, the runes in blood and dripping down the wall. Outside still, he walked over to the brick wall, telling himself the shiver up his spine was because of the temperature. He walked over slowly, taking it in, the wax of burnt out candles underfoot.

“Well, not quite.”

The voice spoke from behind him; Jim had turned and drawn his weapon before the speaker finished. He stood, coat-tails flapping in the wind, firearm levelled at what looked like a pasty teenager in a weird costume. It was laughable, to an outsider who stumbled into the conversation.
Right on clue, the Flash blew into the building.

“What – I -”

“Get down!” Jim shouted a moment too late – the dark-hooded teen had used the distraction to sneak up on the Flash, tossing the scarlet clad man across the room like a ragdoll. Having to duck to avoid being likewise discarded, Jim found his bearings and let off a few shots in their attacker’s direction, but the young man was long gone, dust on the wind.

“Pal,” Jim turned from the empty space and back to the ‘Flash’. He crouched over the hero, who was lying on the floor, dent from his impact let on the wall alongside a fine layer of dust. “Hey, Flash. Wake up.”

“Mhnnnmmmm.”

At the groan, Jim laughed. “You’re alive, at least. That’s something.”

It was only at the flood of relief from seeing the other man was alive that Jim noticed the glow, for the second time that day. It clung to the red suit and set it on fire, sparking and ebbing as the Flash slowly sat up, looking up at him with recognisably bleary eyes, still shining as brightly as a supernova.

“What was that?”

But Jim didn’t hear the Flash’s question, he stepped back a few paces, shaking his head gently. He would have laughed to himself, but then he noticed the other man’s eyes flicking to his body and widening in fear, looking down to see his own aura had taken on a green hue.

“Damn it,” Jim cursed, backing away even further, arms extending in front of him. The crimes of the man he had been tracking was more than enough to evoke the wrath of the Spectre, but he was gone –

It wasn’t enough. There was blood on the walls and whispers from beyond of the women it had belonged to; people the man he was tracking had killed on Jim’s watch. He was responsible for them.

But Jim as a cop had failed to save them. The Spectre was coming for their retribution.

Staggering backwards with a cry of pain, Jim felt him coming. White lightning arced outwards from his glowing green body as he bent over, trying to hold it back, but the pressure in his chest was only rising, building, growing; when he gasped for breath, he knew there was no stopping it now.

“Run.”

Jim managed to growl out the word through gritted teeth, eyes slitting open to reveal sockets filled with a blinding light, seeing the Flash watching him in abject horror a few feet away, hand outstretched as if to help him. He would be the only victim if the Spectre was released – blessedly, they were far enough out from the rest of the city to be touched by the Spectre’s influence. All Jim could do was pray that the Flash was as fast as his reputation suggested.

“What? Detective, I -”

“I said, RUN!”

The last word out of his mouth was not Jim’s voice. It was his.

It rolled out like thunder, loud enough to fill the echoing space with a boom loud enough to amplify across the water to Keystone, and finally, the Flash seemed to understand. With one last worried glance, the hero turned on heel and dashed from the warehouse.

And Jim exploded.

Usually, when the Spectre surged out, leaving his body in a trail of green smoke to materialise around him in its divine form, sleek pale body and green cloak a presence in any space, Jim went with it. It wasn’t like being possessed. He was the Spectre, and he was Jim. He heard its thoughts and felt its actions, saw them even when he wanted nothing more but to close his eyes away from the violence it inflicted. He was a witness as much as a vessel.

Tonight, there was no one for the Spectre to punish. It was just angry, and raged in a burst of light and pent up power, extinguished fast and leaving him exhausted, but the city untouched. Nobody was hurt, this time.

The next thing he was aware of was lying on the cold concrete floor of the factory, feeling like every joint in his body had been taken apart and put back together again, rusted in his own skin.

But even then, Jim smiled from the ground. It was fading; a blessing, he was being released tonight. The cosmic being still itched at the edge of his consciousness, waiting to be sated by its own version of justice, but as he put his head in his hands and slowly counted to ten, taking even breaths, Jim knew he could keep it at bay tonight.

“Are you alright? Detective Corrigan?”

The Flash’s voice called him back; when Jim looked up at the scarlet clad man, he was calm again. The glow had faded, it was safe. He was safe.

He stood slowly, trying to keep his face impassive.

Desperate to regain his control of the situation, Jim just turned to the Flash with what he hoped was a good imitation of the ‘John bloody Constantine’ smile, as it was called most un-fondly in their circles: all cocky upturns of your lips and a stupid smug expression, like mud wouldn’t stick to you.

“I told you to call me Jim at dinner, Barry.”

The Flash paled beneath his mask, starting so violently Jim thought he might fall over, feeling guilty for how he went about the whole situation instantly – smugness wasn’t him, it didn’t suit him. But as the Flash failed quite dramatically to keep his composure at the revelation, Jim changed his whole stance and posture, taking a step closer, hands held open in peace.

“Sorry, kid,” he said. “That didn’t come out right. I know who you are – but it’s okay, I won’t tell anyone.”

“How did you know?” Barry asked, not even trying to lie or feign ignorance – his reaction had already given that game away. He stepped back when Jim advanced, defensive in his stance.

The detective shrugged, deciding to tell the truth. “Divine intervention.”

The Flash scoffed; standing and crossing his arms. Barry looked angry now, glaring out of his costume, nodding at something Jim couldn’t hear – a comm system of some sort. He shook his head after a moment, holding up his hands, “Whatever. You can explain when we get back.”

“Back where?”

“S.T.A.R Labs,” The Flash said. “You’re coming with me.”

Jim raised his eyebrows a tad sarcastically, taking a few steps closer. He’d like to see the kid try and get him to do anything he didn’t want to do. But then again, that wouldn’t end well for either of them. He pointed to the crime scene, “Let me just take a look around first. Unless you have a problem with that?”

Barry nodded stiffly. He stepped aside, but as soon as Jim started wandering towards the wall, the Flash snapped to curiosity again, stopping to look at the runes. Jim watched him looking with a little smirk. Barry knelt to see at a better angle, reaching out to rub the red lines.

“Blood?”

Jim nodded. “It’s a shrine, of sorts. That’s just nonsense – it does nothing, it’s just a prayer. He was trying to bargain with destiny.”

“It’s not like a prayer I’ve ever seen,” Barry replied. His tone was disgusted as he looked at all the blood on the wall, standing and backing away, like it was poison, recoiling from the sight. He turned to Jim almost desperately. “Are you done?”

“Yeah. Lead the way, Flash.”

*

They were walking through town. Barry had offered to carry Jim and run them to S.T.A.R Labs, only to be adamantly turned down. So instead they walked in silence through the empty streets, both grateful they hadn’t yet run into anyone – it was a hard thing to explain for both parties.

“Kid,” Jim said after a while, as they walked through a well lit alleyway, under hazy streetlights and surrounded by red brick walls on one side and the metal walls of a factory on the other. Barry had been quiet for the entire walk, and carried himself in the way of a man lost in thought. “Listen, I know seeing stuff like that for the first time can be a shock. It was for me,” Jim huffed out a laugh. Noticing Barry was watching him from the corner of his eyes, he went on. “It gets easier. It’s horrible, but it gets easier.”

“I’m used to finding gore and even bodies, I’m a CSI,” The Flash argued suddenly, stopping. Under the light, his eyes sparked dangerously with electricity. “I’m used to blood. But that . . .”

“Yeah,” Jim agreed. There was nothing more to say than that, at least not until he explained. Finding out the ghost stories you told around campfires were real was a surreal experience, after all. So he changed tack, “So, the Flash, huh? And I thought my life was weird.”

“Yeah,” he echoed, distracted. Looking up nervously, Barry spared a glance down the alley before dropping the cowl of his costume, exposing his face and letting out a soft chuckle. “You know anyway, so . . .”

“C’mon then,” Jim asked. “I barely saw you move when you came in. Aren’t you gonna show me?”

Almost gleefully, Barry looked both ways before speeding off down the alley - and Jim was blown away. He had heard stories about the Flash over dinner, about super speed and so much running – but it was quite different to see in person. As the hero zipped about in a crimson blur, sending up a flurry of dust and a gust of wind wherever he moved, Jim took a few steps back, putting his hands up and laughing aloud at the absurdity of it.

“I mean, there are other perks too, like healing – but really, it’s all about the running,” said Barry as he returned. All the while there was a smile was playing on Jim’s lips, one that for once believed in something miraculous. “Detective?”

Jim just laughed, and even added in a few claps at the spectacle of the super speed, stuck between genuine amazement and trying to save face. He couldn’t stop shaking his head in disbelief – which was new for him.

Pulling a hip flask out of his pocket, he took a generous swig before regaining his voice long enough to ask, “What’s it like?”

Barry smiled wider, obviously used to the question. It was the first one that sprung to mind, a universal reaction to someone running at the speed of sound. Amazement was usually a precursor to jealousy, no matter how subtle it was. Everyone wanted to know how it felt to experience the world the way he did, but as hard as he tried, Barry hadn’t been able to pinpoint an answer to that yet.

“Fast,” he answered, but expanded at the snorted reaction he received. “It’s . . . I don’t know. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt. Sure, it’s dangerous and exciting at the same time, it’s useful, for another thing – I just, uh, I feel connected to everything.” Barry was beaming, eyes unfocused, reliving it already in memory. He hoped the wonder at what he could do never wore off. “I feel the wind on my face and every inch of the ground beneath my feet, and the world – it slows, just for me. It lets me see things I’d usually miss. I feel it all.”

Jim could only shake his head and imagine what that must feel like. Partly, he could relate – the Spectre was all-knowing and understood everything in the environment around it, but he felt far off from it in terms of knowledge. A lot of time he saw, and knew what it did, but it didn’t make sense to his human comprehension.

“So you’re one of these meta-humans?”

Barry nodded. “And you’re something else entirely. Aren’t you, detective?”

Now it was Jim’s turn to laugh. “You’re not wrong. It’s uh, it’s a long story, kid. Even you might have trouble believing it.”

“You’re talking to a man who travelled in time two months ago,” Barry replied, self-assured. “Nothing surprises me anymore - I’m the fastest man alive.”

“- I’m the literal personification of God’s Vengeance.”

Barry laughed, then his face dropped when he saw Jim was serious. “Wait, wait. What?”

*

“You’re what?” Iris spluttered when they were back at S.T.A.R Labs. She and their team faced the lone detective, who subtly laughed.

“It’s called the Spectre,” Jim explained again, shrugging earnestly. The faces of the people before him ranged drastically in expressions – Barry looked disbelieving, Caitlin sceptical, Cisco unsure, Joe along the same lines as his son, while Iris just looked betrayed at the lack of trust. “It’s . . . God’s vengeance. Although that’s wrong . . . it’s justice. Black and white justice, sure, but the Spectre’s purpose is to find and punish sins.”

“Which is why you were skulking around looking for a killer in the middle of the night?” Joe asked, eyebrows raised.

“I wasn’t skulking,” Jim said defensively. “Listen, I had to investigate on my own time! - ‘Hi, I’m Jim and an ancient being of justice makes me fight supernatural crime’ doesn’t exactly come off right as far as first impressions go.”

Even Joe had to tilt his head in agreement at that, but Barry frowned, advancing. “So you’re the one who killed those men?”

Jim crumbled a little, looking at his feet. “No. Not really – it was him, not me.”

“You have no control over it,” Caitlin realised aloud. Brow creasing in sympathy, she shook her head. “I don’t understand. If it’s God’s justice – shouldn’t it benevolent? Why does it kill?”

“Because it doesn’t care. It’s not supposed to be benevolent; it’s supposed to punish the guilty and move on.”

“And you have no choice.”

Jim shook his head. Seldom did he indulge in anything as selfish as pitying himself, but to stand alongside heroes, an executioner, he felt shame for what he was. The noose from his hand was around his neck at that moment, a sad hangman.

“I didn’t ask for this. But I have it, and mostly, it’s not human things I hunt – spirits, demons, witches. It’s only cases like this when-”

“People get hurt?” Barry said, the disgust back in his voice. “Why should we believe you?”

“Barry!” Caitlin shouted warningly.

“No, I’m serious,” The Flash argued. “Why should we believe him? This guy shows up just as people start to die and spins a story about God and spirits a-and – it doesn’t exist!” Barry was shouting, jabbing an accusing finger in Jim’s direction as he stalked the Cortex, face like thunder. “Ghost’s don’t exist! This is crazy-”

“Crazier than you being able to run at the speed of light?” Cisco challenged. “I can’t believe in saying this, but I believe him. The world’s crazy - but we made it that way to begin with.”

“Joe,” Barry said imploringly, turning to his foster dad. “Tell them this is absurd!”

Carefully, Joe regarded his son. There was something too desperate about Barry’s disbelief – this, the kid who had spent most of his teenage years searching for the unexplainable. Now his eyes twitched and the sweat on his forehead gleamed under the bright lights, so Joe considered his options before he spoke, “I’m a cop. Jim’s a cop. I understand the use of lethal force – when necessary. And I do believe that if he is facing forces beyond human nature, it may be a whole other ball park than we’re used to, so we can’t judge.”

Barry just let out a mangled scream of frustration. “But they’re. Not. Real.”

Iris tried, more gently than the others. “But how can you be sure, Bar?”

Barry’s voice broke, “Because if ghosts were real, my mother would have come back!”

He spat out the words loudly, eyes wide and unthinking, even as they left his mouth. A moment later, he realised what he had said, taking one look at their shocked faces before taking off.

“Barry!”

Iris shouted, but he was long gone.

*

“So . . .” Cisco said. He was sitting on a wheeled chair, pushing it back and forth in a small circle out of boredom. “Demons?”

“Real,” Jim confirmed. He was sitting on the table opposite Cisco and next to Iris, who had been deemed his babysitters while the others went out in search of Barry – the girl staying as a mediator in case he returned still angry.

“Vampires?”

“Yup.”

“ . . . Frankenstein?”

“Actually much nicer in person,” Jim nodded with a smile. “You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy after you’ve talked to him.”

“And Ghosts?” Iris cut in, thinking about Barry’s outburst. “Ghosts are real?”

“Absolutely. But most people don’t get a say in whether or not they come back,” Jim confirmed. Wincing a little, he shuddered unconsciously as he spoke. “Technically speaking, I’m a ghost. That’s how I became the Spectre – I died. Took four bullets on the job.” Tapping his chest where the some nights, he could still feel the phantom pains of the bullets like ice, Jim briskly moved on. “I was offered a chance to avenge my death and I took it. I didn’t really understand what I was signing up for.”

“If you were asked again . . .”

“Oh, I’d make the same decision. Any day.” Jim shrugged at their surprise. “Last week, I saved a family from a demon which kills children. I stopped an escaped murderer from killing the victim that got away the week before that. At the end of the day, there are people on this earth who would be without him. So I bear what I have to when the Spectre’s gone, and they get to keep on breathin’.”

Iris thought about that for a moment before nodding. She smiled a little, asking, “Werewolves?”

Grateful for the reprieve, Jim just grinned. “Now you’re just talkin’ crazy, sister.”

*

Barry was at a payphone on the edge of town, head against the dirty glass, not even thinking about the probability of him getting attacked at this time in this area. He just waited for the line to connect, counting the rings to slow his breathing.

One, two, three, four-

“Hello?”

Barry’s face cracked into a smile despite himself. “Dad?”

“Barry?” Henry Allen asked, confusion clear in his voice. “Is everything alright? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine, dad,” the younger man confirmed. It was nice to hear his father’s concern. After all the years he had visited the prison, hearing his dad’s voice down a phone line instead of aloud was oddly comforting too, like falling back into an old routine. “I’m sorry it’s so late. I just . . . I needed to talk.”

“Never apologise for that. You know you can call me any time, anywhere.”

“I know.”

“What’s happened, Barry?” Henry asked, very careful not to ask what was wrong. He had realised that the question could be just as harmful as an action. People could believe there was a problem, an obstacle and think around it, but as soon as the implication something was wrong rooted itself into their heads it had a habit of poisoning their thoughts.

“I, er. I met a man today. A detective. He, uh . . . he’s not . . . normal.” Barry sucked in a breath. Suddenly, the phone booth was stifling, and he pushed his head hard into the glass, twisting it from side to side as he tried to breathe. “I – I’m sorry. This is hard.”

“Take your time,” Henry told him calmly. “I’ve got all night, slugger. I’m not going anywhere.”

Barry’s lips twitched into a lazy smile. It was a relief, to know that he could run to his dad now. After a minute, he went on. “This man . . . he’s showed me things I wouldn’t have believed a year ago. I probably wouldn’t have believed him yesterday! But I – I saw it, dad. With my own eyes.”

He shook his head, biting down on his lip before he spoke again. “I’m a scientist; I believe evidence when it is presented in front of me. It was real.”

Henry pushed, “What was, Bar?”

“Ghosts,” Barry said. The world burned his throat, poisoning the line to silence. “He showed me that ghosts were real. And I just couldn’t – I kept thinking that if that were true . . . why did mom never come back?”

He was crying. They both knew it, but Barry tried to stop before it got too much to bear, letting out a strangled cry to try and break himself out of it. He gripped the phone with white knuckles; the sound raw in his throat. When his heaved breaths steadied, he heard his father start to speak on the phone.

“Because she knew it would hold you back. Barry, your mother, she loved you so much . . . but she would never do anything that would stop you from reaching your full potential. And the truth is that you never needed either of us-”

“-Dad.”

“No, listen,” Henry said sternly, a father’s voice, through and through. “You were so strong, Barry. Your whole life. After . . . what happened, you hurt – but you moved on. You lived a life you could be proud of, and if your mother would have come back? Even if her ghost was a comfort, it would have stopped you from letting go and moving on. It wouldn’t have been a kindness – listen to me.” Hearing his son crying steadily, Henry spoke up, waiting until the sniffling subsided. He could be patient, over a decade in prison had taught him that. When Barry sounded ready, huffing what he assumed was a nod down the phone, he continued gently. “Your mother loved you. You’ll see her again, I know it – but not like this. It wouldn’t have been what you wanted; it would have just stopped you from living, spending all your time thinking about the dead. And Barry, you don’t want that albatross around your neck.”

Barry nodded, palm wiping over his face as he sniffed loudly, trying to stem the flow of his tears; the words rang in his head like a bell. He waited, knowing his dad would do the same, until his eyes were dry. They stung in a good way.

“Okay, dad,” he said simply. “Okay.”

“Are you going to be alright? I could come over -”

“No, no,” Barry shook his head quickly. “You needed a break from Central City, I understand that. This is your time. I know you’d be here, and I appreciate it – but I, uh, I think I’m going to be just fine.”

“I love you, slugger.”

“Love you, dad.”

*

“Are you okay?” Joe looked over at the woman in the car beside him curiously.

Out of all of them, Caitlin was the one most likely to sit in peace without Cisco’s babbling or Iris’ questions, but she had been noticeably silent for the entire journey so far, eyes adrift out the window. They were supposed to be looking for signs of Barry, but Joe got the feeling that the Flash could be doing cartwheels outside and she wouldn’t blink.

She jumped a little at his voice, sitting up straighter in her seat before looking over to him quickly, “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Joe said casually, turning his eyes back to the road. He knew she was like Iris in that way – she liked to look after herself, so if he tried to ask her head on she would shut down. So he kept his eyes to himself, and phrased everything as a question and not a concern, happy to let her talk if they needed to. “If was just some heavy shit in there. I’m freaked out.”

Caitlin blinked at him. It took her a minute or so to reply quietly. “I’m trying not to think about it.”

“It’s okay to think about those things. I mean, I really shouldn’t be talking – I’m a cop, I repress bad memories for a living,” Joe barked out a laugh at that. “It comes with the job. And I imagine you’ve got that same mentality too, since you’ve been working with the Flash – we bottle our losses, Caitlin. We keep them hidden until it hits us and knocks us out. Then we get back up. It’s in our blood.”

Caitlin’s lips pressed into a small smile as she shrugged, “I’m not a cop.”

“Eh, you might as well be. You save people with the Flash, but I know – I know you’ve seen horrors too,” Joe said. His tone was low and calm as always, assessing constantly but holding the metre of a poem, fatherly. “And even after all we’ve seen, this is still a shock. I know I’m thinking about all the people I’ve lost; and you must be thinking about-”

“Don’t,” Caitlin interrupted her voice a little desperate and wet. He glanced over, seeing the glassy tears in her eyes. “Please, don’t. I don’t think I could bear to hear his name today.”

Joe half-nodded, putting an understanding look on his face, but guarding it well away from pity – she didn’t need that. “I’m just saying that it’s okay, what you’ve feeling right now. I’m feeling it to – everyone in that room is. And any one of them will be there for you if you need it.”

“I know that, Joe.”

“Good. I just wanted to make sure.”

She smiled at him in thanks, and they understood. It was a shared look of people who had lost: love, time, hope for a while. But they had each other.

Joe waited for a while before he spoke again, eyes on the road looking for his son. But the words were on the tip of his tongue, and he knew she out of anyone would appreciate them. “Can I tell you something?”

Although he waited for her agreement, not wanting to hurt her further, Caitlin gave a small nod after a beat. “Sure.”

“When I first heard Corrigan speak about the dead and ghosts and monsters, I was terrified. I was so scared about what that meant for everyone I love,” he admitted. The fear was evident in his voice, holding the shake of the memory but strengthening as he cleared his throat. “Then I understood. Corrigan . . . he said he came back to help people, to settle something – that most do because their unavenged. And do you know what that means?”

Eyes wide, Caitlin shook her head.

Joe smiled broadly, “It means that the other option – the normal one – it’s peace.”

The woman felt her own lips twitch up weakly, a barely-there glimpse of a smile, “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“And it sounds like Corrigan’s job is making sure that the ones who haven’t found peace do. That’s not a bad thing, it’s not evil, it’s-”

“Hopeful,” Caitlin finished, smile widening. She looked ahead again, face alert now, broken from the shock Joe had seen set in. Noticing this change, he relaxed back into the driving seat and started looking for Barry again, content in making that small change.

“Hope,” he echoed. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

*

The trademark whoosh and flurry of papers in the air sounded Barry’s entrance back at S.T.A.R Labs. His civilian clothing singed at the edges, the smell of burning rubber lingering on him in a smoking halo as Barry skidded to a halt, facing Jim and taking in his team with a brisk nod.

“So, I’m not saying I’m accepting that you have no choice but to kill as the Spectre,” Barry said, holding out his hands. He half-pouted. “But I do trust my own eyes. And what I saw tonight . . . Who is killing those girls? And how do we stop him?”

Jim looked at him for a moment, assessing. His eyes flicked briefly to the door, then to Barry’s smoking shoes, before he shuffled from foot to foot and answered. “Brother Blood. And you don’t.”

Jim had stood, but grabbed his coat and started walking away. “It’s not safe for you, kid. I get that you have something going on here-” Jim gestured to the entire lab, “That’s not normal – but science and the supernatural ain’t the same thing. You’ll get yourself killed.”

“Not acceptable,” Barry said. He moved to stand in the other man’s path.

“Kid-”

“I’m the Flash!” he shouted. “It’s my job to protect this city, from any threat. I intend to do that, detective. With or without you. I just expect that with you, I stand a better chance.”

“Please,” Iris added, moving to stand beside Barry. Side by side, they looked invincible. “People are dying. We need to work together.”

Slowly, Jim’s head rotated, taking in to two youthful faces staring back at him, so fierce and young and determined. He knew he didn’t stand a chance.

“Fine,” he sighed, not at all bitterly. “But Brother Blood is protected by his own magic – I can’t find him. We can’t do anything until we find another lead.”

Barry felt a smile grow on his face. “Actually, I might be able to help with that . . .”

*

It had been a quiet night as Rick’s, meaning there had only been two fights and nobody was in the hospital, until the cop arrived. For the dingy bar hidden underneath the bridge to Keystone, gloomily lit, a glaring neon sign with the first letter burnt out announcing it’s dismal existence, such a quiet night was considered a miracle.

It was known locally as the ‘Rogue’s Bar’. People kept asking Barry why he let it keep operating if he knew this was where his villains came to scheme and drink, only to get a shrug and stock response: “At least I know where to find them.”

Today, that rule was proving useful.

As soon as Jim entered, every head in the bar snapped towards him to register him as a cop; a murmur shook the room, raised heads turning to one another in the darkened corners. And there was no mistaking him for anything other than what he was – he walked like a cop: it was everything down to the swagger, the head held high, the refusal to drop eye contact with anyone. The long coat flapping behind him in the wind as he entered just added to the effect, Jim facing the bar’s inhabitants with a half smirk.

“Evenin’, fellas. Jim Corrigan – GCPD.”

A few people moved, ready to fight or run, but were held in place by a raised hand from a man sitting in a booth in the corner, speaking up and commanding the crowd with ease.

“Sit down, boys,” the man said, revealing himself instantly to be the man Jim was looking for. Barry had been right in his description, and the tone gave him away – it was cool, words menacing and soft in a way no one else could replicate. Jim turned towards the man, waiting for the rest of it. “The detective here is a long way out of his jurisdiction. He can’t touch us.”

Jim made a beeline for the booth, sliding into the opposite bench with a barely suppressed smile. “It’s cute that you think that.”

“Oh, I know it,” Captain Cold replied smugly. Turning to the bar - still silent, every eye on them, he spoke loudly. “My friend will have a beer. And didn’t anyone ever tell the rest of you that eavesdropping was rude?”

At the comment, spoken with more bite than his tone before, the other men in the bar burst into noise again, like a switch had been flipped. The dive atmosphere was restored, talking and glasses clinking and the hard slapping of pool cues filling the air. It left Jim in the silence of the booth, staring down the enemy.

“Captain Cold?”

“Some call me that,” the man replied. “Others call me Len. My name used to be public record, of course, until The Flash deleted all my information on the police records. Do you know why I’m telling you this?”

Jim had been surprised by the information, but masked it well. He had assumed Flash was clean as a whistle after the guilt trip he got for the Spectre’s deeds – but now he wasn’t so sure. He shrugged, accepting the beer placed in front of him a second later and tipping the glass in ‘Len’s’ direction before sipping.

“I have no idea, to be frank.”

“Because you have no power here,” Len replied. Unlike his goons at the bar, Captain Cold kept Jim’s gaze, the piercing blues unhesitating and dominating, “I’m officially a ghost, and you’re a long way from Gotham. I’m untouchable.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Jim leaned back in his chair, holding the gaze. In all his years as a cop, he had met a thousand guys like Cold. Hard on the outside, but inside, they were just as scared as anyone. “You see, Cold - do you mind if I call you Cold?”

He paused, and the other man shrugged. “Go ahead.”

“Thanks – as I was saying, Cold – I wouldn’t be so sure of myself if I were you.”

“And why is that, Detective . . . Corrigan, was it?”

“Because I’m the one who killed your guy’s the other day. I tore them apart with my bare hands and nobody will ever be able to trace it to me.” Jim leaned forward, putting his arms on the table, leering across the booth, close enough that Cold could see the truth in his eyes. “Oh – and it was the Flash who told me they were working for you, so don’t think he’s a threat to me. Do you know why I’m telling you this?”

At hearing his own words repeated back to him, Cold’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch, but that was the only slip he gave during Jim’s confession. Face stone-like, he forced himself to stay still until the end.

“I expect you’re about to.”

“Because you’re not untouchable. And you’re going to help us find your employer.” Jim smiled sweetly, standing before turning and waiting for Cold to follow. “You’re going to come with me without a fuss, because it’s very important that I stay calm. Bad things happen when I don’t. Not even your ice would stay frosty faced with my dark side, trust me.”

*

Back at S.T.A.R, the team assembled once again – this time with a supervillain in their midst, unsubtly glaring at them in front of the case where they kept Barry’s suit. Cold crossed his arms.

“I don’t know anything, okay?” Snart said, and when Cisco shook his head disbelievingly, went on. “It’s not something I like to admit. This is my city, and I don’t like new players, you know that.”

Barry nodded, “He’s telling the truth.”

“How do you know?” Cisco asked, turning to his friend. Of them all, he had a reason to mistrust Cold’s intentions, eyes dark as he glanced at the criminal, obviously not buying it.

Keeping his eyes on Cold, Barry answered, leaving no room for doubt in his tone. “I can tell.”

Although he didn’t look convinced, Cisco stepped away, sharing a silent look with Joe. They both trusted Cold about as far as they could throw him, both listening but regarding the criminal with unhidden disdain as he began to speak again.

“Thank you, now, if you’re all done questioning me?” Cold looked around. He smiled at their silence, opening his hands with a flourish. “Listen, I didn’t like it, but the guy had money. He paid promptly and well. That was enough for me.”

“What did he pay you to do?” Joe asked, cutting in.

“When he arrived, he needed the muscle. Looked sick.”

“Sick?” Jim repeated, frowning. “He doesn’t get sick.”

“He does now . . . Apparently. He hired us for protection, said it was while he was working on something in the city – I didn’t ask what.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Cisco shook his head. The contempt with which he looked at the other man was venomous, thickly hanging in the air between them. His lip even turned up in a sneer, “You don’t care who gets hurt, so long as you get paid.”

“Hello?” Len held up a hand, giving them a sarcastic wave. “Criminal.”

Barry rolled his eyes, “Enough stalling. What happened next?”

“We spent a few nights driving him around town, he was looking for something – never told us what. After a few days, he seemed to find it. Gave us the night off.” Pausing; Cold looked around them. His confusion was betrayed only by the fact he was telling them anything at all, instead of keeping his cards close to his chest. “The next day he seemed suddenly better – strong, even. Asked to keep a few men in case the cops got too close . . . and you know what happened to them.”

The look he fixed Jim with was accusing, but the cop didn’t even seem to notice.

“They were guilty of something, pal.” Jim replied smoothly. In the next breath, he brushed past the incident like it was nothing but an inconvenience. “Did you have a way to contact him? Or a meeting place, perhaps?”

“He . . . contacted us, you could say. Never called, but just seemed to appear if he wanted to talk.”

“And if you wanted to talk to him?”

“I didn’t,” Cold bit out. “As for meeting places, there were none. But there were a few places he would regularly make us drive him to.”

Barry looked up, “Where?”

“The Hospitals, Keystone City Library, some bars and clubs, Central Women’s Shelter-”

“- That’s the one,” Jim interrupted. Eagerly, he nodded at the others, turning to address the other hero. “Brother Blood is seeking a mother. He – it’s hard to explain, but he thinks he needs to find a woman to create an heir. That’s what he was looking for.”

Joe frowned. Brows creasing together, something struck him in the tale that didn’t fit quite right, but it took him a few seconds for it to click. “Wait,” he said. “You said he was looking for a mother? But he killed the girl.”

“She was a failure,” the other cop winced out. “Even I’m not totally sure how it works. But there’s -there’s a test, and it they fail . . . he uses their life force to heal himself. It’s why he got stronger after he killed her.”

“What hurt him in the first place?”

“That’s his state of being,” Jim said, “He’s an abomination.”

His grit teeth were bared as he ground out the last insult, like it was physically pained him to speak of it. For the second time that night, Jim Corrigan’s eyes turned green, blazing brightly as he struggled to keep the Spectre leashed. After a second, he calmed.

“Brother Blood, like his father before him and grandfather before that, is a being born cursed. In every generation, the son kills the father and then himself begins to die, his illness held off only by taking the lives of others. He must find a mother for his son, and wait for his own end at the child’s hands.”

Their horrified faces were answer enough as Jim finished, looking around. Traces of morbid fascination were amid the looks of disgust and fear, but it sickened him that some among the crowd looked piteous. Therein lay the problem with his new friends: they were too good. The kind of evil he fought wasn’t something possible in their world, where it was sunny and they had hope in saving people.

“That’s awful,” Iris finally said. Her voice was quiet, tinged with emotion; her arms crossed herself, a barrier between the world and herself. “To have to live like that, with no choice . . . destiny isn’t fair.”

She was thinking about Eddie as she said it. Eddie who thought it was his fate to be the ancestor of a great evil and chose another way out of that future, who sacrificed himself instead of giving in to the cycle of pain laid out before him. He had felt it was his destiny; that he had no choice – and he made another one.

Ignoring their pained looks, Jim pointed towards Len, indicating what he had said. “If he’s telling the truth, the shelter is where we’ll find him. We need to start watching it. Waiting.”

Although he started to walk out of the Cortex, Jim was stopped by a hand on his arm. He turned to find Barry standing there, a more serious look in his eyes than he had seen from the younger man so far.

“You should stay here, Corrigan.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re not in control,” Barry said calmly. “I’ve seen it. We need cool heads on this mission, not uncontrollable variables. If the Spectre gets out-”

“It won’t.”

“How can you be sure? Because I’m not. From what you told us about it, what I’ve seen – nobody controls The Spectre. Not even you.”

Barry,” Jim said, and the name alone was a warning. They stood eye to eye now, the speedster looking up at a man he both feared and respected, but Jim’s voice was low now, dangerous. He was the storm you didn’t see coming. “You can’t even imagine what this kind of evil can do. I’m not just talking about killing people – at full power, Brother Blood could burn entire cities to the ground. The Darkness we fight to keep at bay, one evil son of a bitch at a time? Eventually even the Spectre won’t be enough to balance the cosmic scales, and then it’s game over for all of us, pal. I won’t let him add to that tide, not today.” Jim shook his head. “The Flash can save the city but I’m trying to stop the whole damn world from toppling into the abyss.”

The intensity in the detective’s eyes was startling. In them, there was no hesitation or doubt of what he was claiming, just a stark, absolute truth. Jim Corrigan believed he was carrying the world. Whether or not it was true made no difference – the belief was enough to place a weight on his shoulders that Barry could understand, barely.

He took a step back. “Okay. But the minute I think you’re not in control, I’m pulling you out of there.”

Although he didn’t look happy about it, Jim nodded. Reluctantly, he dropped his gaze, silently turning and striding out of the room, back into the darkness to fight monsters.

*

On the first night, there was nothing.

Barry and Jim spent hours sitting awkwardly, side by side in the S.T.A.R Labs van until it became apparent that Brother Blood would not be stopping by. Although the younger man kept sparing glances in his partner’s direction, mouth opening with the weight of questions he wanted to ask; things he wanted to say, every time Barry closed it before they escaped. There were some things he just didn’t want to know.

But, he kinda did.

All night, the rain was louder than they were, howling a sonnet outside the car and slapping against the windows, a constant drumming, never letting the silence between them linger. It gave him an easy out of the conversation until 5am, when they decided to call it a night and get barely two hours sleep before having to show up at work the next day.

The next night, he spent three hours building up the nerve to ask.

“What you said . . .” Barry started awkwardly, eyes fixed on the shelter across the street or out of the window – basically anywhere except at Corrigan. He had one elbow against the window, his fingers moving rapidly from his chin to swipe through his hair. “About . . . holding back the tide of evil? Is that true?”

Jim copied Barry’s lead, keeping his eyes fixedly ahead when he spoke. “Yes. Or at least it’s my truth.”

“What do you mean?”

Jim rubbed his beard, thinking intently before he spoke. “Most people, they walk this earth without a clue of what really goes on beneath the surface of it. For people like me, who know the truth of what’s out there-”

“You can’t look away,” Barry finished. That was something he could understand.

“My team, even the community of mystics and magicians and . . . other things, we do what we can. We fight what most people wouldn’t even believe existed, but it’s not enough. The small victories, tiny battles we win? It’s just keeping up the walls of the floodgate. There’s evil in this world, and it’s growing, kid. I feel it.”

The Flash looked over to see the cop had his eyes scrunched closed: a pained expression, and a resigned one. Jim Corrigan had the look of a haunted man the same way Barry did, a quiet sort of loneliness etched onto the features mixed with the ten yard stare of a soldier. Jim winced, but opened his eyes, his iris’ their usual brown.

Barry finally held his gaze, when Jim looked over. “What happens if the evil gets too much?”

“I don’t know,” Jim shook his head tiredly. “I’m just trying to stop it from getting to that point. I don’t think about after.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Barry turned his head towards the rain again. It drummed against the windshield, leaving on a blurry haze of the world outside, a dark mirage of pavement and buildings, so faded. It didn’t look real. This conversation, Corrigan, the things he had seen in the last three days – none of it could be real.

But it was.

And now he knew what was out there, knew about the rising chaos and seen the fury brimming in the detective’s eyes, the edge of a Spectre he never wanted to see – Barry Allen couldn’t ignore it. Now, it was there, in his mind and heart; and it was his fight, too. If it was up to every man on Earth to shoulder some of the burden, to fight the darkness even with the simplicity of their own kindness, then he would take as much of the weight as he could.

Jim’s voice cut through his thoughts. “I know, kid. I know.”

“But-”

Barry was cut off by a hand on his shoulder. He looked at Corrigan, and mixed with the guilt and frustration in his eyes, there was an infinite kindness.

“There’s bad, but there’s good too. People like you. I was . . . I was starting to forget that. I was starting to forget that we weren’t the only ones fighting; that everyone does, in their own way. And you do more than most, Barry.” Jim smiled, a flick of his lips that was there and gone in a heartbeat. “Thank you for reminding me of that.”

That night, the quiet was more comfortable, switching to friendly conversation at times later on in the night, when the sun started to rise and slowly erase the darkness, inch by inch. Just like them.

*
The next day, Barry was running his usual patrol as the Flash, reminded by a robbery at Central First and National that the whole city hadn’t stopped in shock the same way they all had, too wrapped up in the Brother Blood case to remember there was a city out there relying on them, too.

While the Flash was putting out fires all over town, his team waited in the Cortex. From where he sat behind the computers, Cisco could see everyone – he watched Barry via the monitor, although he didn’t seem to be having any trouble tonight. He twisted his head to look for the others.
Iris and Joe were talking quietly in the room with the sonic treadmill, their words brimming on an argument from what he could read in Iris’ erratic hand gestures and her father’s expressions. He didn’t need to hear them to know what it was about. It was the usual: Barry, and for the past few days, Jim.

With a piteous curve downwards of his lips, he looked in the opposite direction to Caitlin the lad, a slightly more hopeful sight. She was working on something which might be able to stop Brother Blood based on the crate on case files Jim had sent over the day before, able to use some of the information inside to come up with something that might work. At least she was trying.

Cisco smiled in her direction when she glanced up and noticed his gaze, sending him a hurried one back before returning to her work.

Finally, he spun around in his chair. Behind him, Jim Corrigan was pacing.

“Jim?”

The Detective looked up eagerly, probably hoping for news that the Flash was returning. His face was fraught with worry, darkness encircling his eyes; Cisco knew he had only eaten in the past few days because Iris forced him to stay with them and her dad had been helping to make the four of them dinner.

Cisco chose to make his words a joke to lighten the mood, “You’re gonna wear a hole in the carpet if you don’t stop pacing. Sit down.”

With a sigh, the detective wandered over. Hovering still, but closer now, the older man swiped a hand over his eyes. “Sorry, pal.”

“When was the last time you slept?”

In reply, Jim just dropped his hand and raised an eyebrow.

“That bad?” Cisco asked.

“Worse,” Jim replied, as if confessing some great sin, voice lower. “The Spectre . . . he doesn’t like Blood being loose. I can feel him-” He lifted a hand, fingers bent awkwardly, and tapped the side of his head. It expressed the emotion well enough.

“Dude,” Cisco breathed. “Is it always that bad?”

“Not always,” the cop confirmed, a resigned shake of his head in an almost self-deprecating way, the kind people who were so accustomed to suffering they downplayed its significance wore. “Hey, that’s my team’s motto. We do not sleep.”

“I think you need a new one.”

“Yeah,” he laughed breathily. “Me too.”

In a second of their shared look, Cisco’s smile fractured. It dipped and fell on his face to an abject look of fear and confusion; his eyes remained on the other man, but the image reflected back in them changed. One second, Jim looked as he always did – green suited and long coat clad, a noir detective stepped into colour – the next, the man changed.

In between seconds, Jim fell into darkness; the bright lights of S.T.A.R Labs turned to a grey sky like a switch had been flipped, not gradually. Lightning tore the air around him, but it was not generated by the storm – no, it was sourced from the man himself, crackling from his body in waves, like an almighty power inside him was about to burst at the seams.

The seconds in this dark world scared Cisco to his core, a feeling of dread he couldn’t quite place keeping in frozen, staring.

Jim was green. The colour was leaking from him, the colour of his suit spreading out alongside the lightning, an aurora borealis tied to him.

But none of that – not the darkness or the lightning or the green light like something out of an episode of scooby doo – none of that bothered Cisco. It was the blood that sprang first to his attention then captured it. Jim’s smile turned bloody, teeth stained with red that also dripped down his chin, a crimson grimace.

Then there were the four bullet wounds.

As Cisco watched, barely able to hold his tongue from crying out loud, his friend’s shirt changed from pristine white to marked with four holes, circles appearing and beginning to spread, growing across his chest. Jim looked like he was dead, or on his way there.

“Cisco? Are you alright? Cisco!”

Snapped awake as if from dreaming by the sound of his voice being called, the younger man jerked in his seat, blinking, the image of horror dispelled as he looked around before turning back to Jim, who had been the one calling for him. The Detective looked concerned now, a hand on Cisco’s shoulder.

“Sorry, I must have spaced out there for a second,” Cisco lied easily, getting hurriedly to his feet and heading for the door. “-Just going for some air.”

It was getting easier to distinguish his ‘Vibes’ for what they were. He knew what he had saw, Jim shot and glowing, was not real. Or it was not happening there and then, he should say. Cisco knew it was a vibe, and could feel it was an important one . . . but in this case he could not tell whether it was a vision of the past, the future . . . or something in between.

Whatever it was, it meant nothing good.

So wrapped up in trying to figure out the vibe that he didn’t even hear the Flash blow in, Cisco jumped and let out a shriek when he bumped into Barry, the other man laughing at his reaction.

“I know, I know. I’m terrifying,” Barry joked easily, having stopped Cisco from falling during the collision through a hand, which still stayed firmly on his friend’s arm. It took him a moment to notice Cisco’s face – it did not show fear or horror, necessarily, but rather an absence of emotion. It was something so uncharacteristic for the other man that even the blankness on his face stood out as something to be worried about, and Barry’s face sobered instantly. “Hey, what’s wrong? Cisco?”

“I – nothing. Just,” Cisco shook his head, telling himself he was being stupid for getting so worked up over the vibe – Jim had told them that he had died from gunshot wounds before he became the Spectre, so it was the past. It had to be. He was just letting the last few days get to him, creating irrational fears that didn’t exist. Shaking his head a little, he looked up at Barry. “Just be careful tonight, okay?”

“Of course,” Barry replied, careful not to dismiss it with a joke or brush off as he might in another circumstance. Cisco was worried, and that came from an honest place, so he validated it with a promise and a smile. “Come on, man. We’ve got a killer to catch.”

“And I didn’t even get to name him,” Cisco finally joked, walking back with Barry towards the Cortex, slightly unburdened. A fragment of worry remained anchored to his heart, but he kept it there, silencing it – they were going to be fine.

He hoped.

*

“There.”

Barry had been half asleep, head against the window, but snapped to attention at the urgent word. Sitting, he peered out the windscreen, following Jim’s pointing finger to a figure walking down the street towards them, heading towards the women’s shelter. It limped slightly with each step, dark cloak obscuring the figure almost completely as he approached.

“Yeah,” Barry agreed in a whisper. “I mean, nobody but a demonic killer would dress like that.”

“Shhhh,” Jim chided, but there was a smirk tugging at his lips as he did it. Keeping his eyes on the figure, one hand slowly moved towards the car door handle, the other settling on the coolness of the gun on his belt. “What’s your play, Flash?”

“Well, usually I go in and hit ‘em until they don’t get up the first time. Then when that doesn’t work, my team works something clever out and I try again.”

Jim definitely rolled his eyes that time. “Right.”

“It’s a learning curve,” Barry shrugged. Pulling his cowl over his head, he glanced at his partner. “Do you want to sit this one out?”

“Nope.”

“Alright. Follow my lead and keep your head.”

Barry’s last command was a stern whisper; he disappeared from the car in a blur of red a second later, appearing behind the figure and motioning for Jim to step in front of him. The older detective frowned.

Follow my lead, the twelve year old rookie says,” Jim grumbled, but did as instructed. Slowly, he left the car as quietly as possible, waiting just in the shadow of a nearby building for Brother Blood to get closer. “Kids these days.”

Stepping into the light underneath a streetlamp, Jim hid his gun with his coat and walked forward a few steps. Standing resolute, he shoved one hand deep into his pocket and kept his chin up, glaring down the advancing man until the figure walking towards him stopped in their tracks.

“Evenin’, pal.”

Brother Blood stood still, just watching Jim for a few seconds. Then a sinister smile twisted his lips as he pulled down his hood to reveal a pale face – giving Barry his first real look at their enemy from where he waited behind. No older than twenty, the kid was deadly pale, skin almost translucent in the lamplight, veins a deep river marking out his neck and arms. Unnervingly, Blood’s eyes were the same colour as his name, bloodshot and bulging hungrily.

Blood tilted his head to one side, “Spectre. Aren’t you tired of this game?”

That voice – Barry recoiled at it. High and nasal, something that sounded fundamentally ill and would be frail, if not for the steel cutting through it, scraping like nails on a chalkboard. Barry looked up in time to see Jim’s lips press into a thin, angry line. The detective’s hand unconsciously shifted to his gun, but he seemed to be holding it together – for now.

“I’m not playing, son.”

“Why not?” Brother Blood sneered. A low, hollow laugh gurgled at the back of his throat, gritty and wet. “It’s a game, detective. Cat and Mouse. You come after me, I get away. I live and die and live and die; and you’ll be chasing my family for all eternity.”

“Not if I stop you before you find a wife,” Jim said. There was something in his voice that time.

He moved quietly and quickly, so much so that Barry was too busy watching for his feet to catch up in time to stop it – Jim pulled his gun from his holster and let loose a clip of bullets towards the villain’s chest.

WAIT!”

The scream tore itself out of Barry’s mouth as he ran forwards a few steps, mind racing faster than he could move for once, time like thick soup around him. This was not how they did things. They did not – he could not kill. It was a line he could see in the distance faintly, fading in and out of focus when his life spiked violently; the closest he had got to it was after he had travelled in time but not saved his mother, with Wells – Eobard.

That night, had it not been for Eddie, Barry thought he would have crossed that line, or died trying. And then, he didn’t know if he would be able to stop. Because although he was level-headed and tried to be kind, Barry felt an anger in him sometimes – something dark and malignant around his lungs, wrapped around them like some great serpent, squeezing away his breaths in short bursts of anger, his vision going black at the edges.
And sometimes – sometimes, if someone he loved had been hurt or was in danger, he got so angry.

It scared him, the fury he felt sometimes. He vaguely wondered if that was the spectre in all of them: the things they could do if they lost control, the hate everyone was capable of. So he did not kill.

We do not kill.

But Barry was for once too slow to get to the bullets – as Brother Blood lifted a hand and the bullets changed in mid air, turned to dust by the time they reached him, scattered to the wind in an explosion around them. He skidded to a stop, feet sparking.

Brother Blood turned at his cry, seemingly unaffected and . . . smiling.

He flicked his wrist, and Barry felt like he was being struck by lightning all over again, chest flaring with an invisible fire as he was knocked from his feet and propelled through the air. Hitting a brick wall hard enough to shatter bones, Barry felt his mouth let out an involuntary scream of pain, dropping to the floor as if all his bones had turned to rubber.

Through squinted eyes as he pulled himself up, he saw Blood turn back to the detective. Barry could feel his breathing go shallow, aware of the probably concussion from the hit forming. But he forced himself to stand, even if he couldn’t remain upright without leaning against the wall.

“Oh, Spectre. You kept the little hero?” Brother Blood looked back at Jim, who was fuming, gun expended and chest heaving with breaths, like he was barely holding himself back from turning this into a fist fight. “It’s funny, Jim. Your team. Your friends . . . Constantine? Drake? This . . . Flash. Haven’t you realised yet that it is your destiny to live alone?”

“And yours is just to die.”

Jim launched himself at him. His fists collided with the teenager’s body, landing heavy blows to his face, chest, gut. Long before he was anything else, he was a cop – one who had dealt with his fair share of bar brawls and riots. Jim knew how to fight, a brawler in his blood, which boiled with more than his own anger as he felt him coming.

To his surprise, Blood did not fight back. He fell and coughed up real blood, red and stark against his pale skin, but did not lift a hand. He just let Jim hit him, over and over. It was then that the rational part of his brain realised there was something wrong. When his fist slammed down accompanied by the white lightning of his counterpart, sending Brother Blood to the ground a few weeks away, he found out why.

The villain started laughing. He looked around them, at the residential area, hundreds of lights in homes, hundreds of people – people the Spectre would kill without hesitation. His victims. Both of their victims.

“There is a woman already pregnant, somewhere in this borough,” Brother Blood announced. “With my child. But he will not kill me, not this time. I will not die by my child’s hand. You will end this, Spectre.”

“No, no, no,” Jim whispered to himself, stepping backwards, away from Blood. His eyes went wide as he looked around desperately, seeing nothing but the thousands of potential deaths if he let the Spectre out here. His gaze turned back to Blood, “Why?! Why this? You could have ended it another way!”

“Not absolutely,” Brother Blood said, blood spilling over his cracked lips. He licked them, still lying panting on the floor. “If I killed myself, there’s still a monster out there with my blood in its veins. But the woman got away, you interrupted me that night at the docks . . . you let her escape, Corrigan! It has to die, too! We have to go together!”

Brother Blood was raging now, insanity shining in hallowed sockets of eyes as he slammed feeble fists against the dirt, face contorted. There was a manic glee in his words too, looking from Jim to the stars as if relishing the sight.

Jim shook his head. It couldn’t be right, he couldn’t –

“Argh!”

With a raw scream, he bent over double again, dropping to his knees a second later. Hands scraping across the pavement, he pushed his head to the concrete, trying with every fibre of his being to keep the Spectre under control – but it was just behind his eyelids already baying for blood, pushing his organs to their limit to seize control; he panted for breath, felt his heart hammering, blood surging through his ears.

He couldn’t stop it. But he could be make sure Brother Blood didn’t live to see his victory.

Jim’s eyes snapped open with a blinding light. Rising, he felt strength return to him – the Spectre was giving it to him, gifting him this moment. And he was damn well going to use it.

Green light hanging from his frame like a translucent cloak, Jim Corrigan stalked towards Brother Blood, who noticed his approach with widened eyes, trying to shuffle away too slowly. Taking him by the collar, Jim lifted the other man off the ground, hoisting him off his feet; his eyes were burning with barely contained power.

He took a breath, and was about to let it lose when he felt a hand on his arm.

Jim turned his head to find the Flash standing there, blood dripping from his lip and cowl broken, exposing a tuft of blonde hair, standing awkwardly like he was in pain. Barry was barely staggering on his feet, the hand on his shoulder tight, like it was all that was keeping his standing. He was broken, defeated, but he was still standing.

Barry shook his head, saying simply. “Don’t.”

“I can’t stop it! Barry, the Spectre is coming out and it’s his fault,” Jim spat out the words, looking back to Blood for a second. In the teenager’s eyes, he saw only fear, none of the vile maliciousness of their previous encounters. Jim had to look away, back to the Flash. “People are going to die because of him. I can’t . . . I can’t hold him back, I – but he can pay. I can do that.”

“Why?” Barry asked weakly. In his tone, there was no judgement, no anger. He simply spoke, and it rang with truth in the way only an earnest man’s voice, some who wanted nothing but to help, could. “Even if you kill him now, would it make a difference?”

“No, but -”

“We don’t kill, Jim. You could kill him, but it would just mean another black mark on the world, another death at the hands of hate and rage.” Barry’s eyes shone with a different light, damp but fierce in a way that contradicted itself. There was something strong inside of him. Something Jim had seen the first time they met. It was power, but courage; vulnerability, but hope. It was the Flash. Barry almost smiled, but it was a sad look, “It’s like you said – the world is heading for a cliff. We’re holding on by our fingertips, but we’re still holding on. We have to try, always.”

Barry stepped back, holding out a hand. “All it can take is an act of mercy instead of anguish. Please.”

*

There was a moment when Barry thought his words were futile, that they were falling on ears too filled with a heavenly chorus screaming to hear him. His chest burned intensely with each gasped breath through broken ribs, his own hand covered in blood as he held it out.

Jim turned his face back to the teenager in his grip. In his defeat, Brother Blood did not look like the threat he was, but a broken kid, eyes glassy with fear as he faced down the Spectre. Jim’s hands tensed briefly, balled up in the fabric of Blood’s cloak – but then he dropped the boy to the ground.

A man with eyes like stained glass windows turned back to Barry, placing his hand in his own. Elbows bent, Barry lifted their joined hands an inch, an act of brotherhood and compassion cemented instead of a senseless death.

Barry found himself nodding at the other man, smile gracing his features for a second. “Do you trust me?”

“I d-” Jim’s voice was cut off by another cry of pain as he flinched away again, hands turning to clutch at his chest. Blood red tears spilled from his eyes at the strain of holding back the Spectre, and he looked up at Barry imploringly. “Please, kid – the world needs the Flash. You can run. You can get away.”

And there was the world at his feet – an out, a chance to save himself, to live to pick up the pieces from the destruction to come and live with that decision. He entertained the idea for less than a second. Although it hurt to even stand, Barry knew that it was never an option for him to just give up.

He shook his head instead, putting a hand to his ear. “Are you there?”

“Barry,” Iris replied. Of all of them, it had to be her – the one voice he always wanted to live to hear again, the one he knew he might not if he did this. “What’s going on?”

“Corrigan’s about to go nuclear. Luckily, we know how to deal with that,” he replied. Barry tried to keep the shake, the strain, from his voice. He failed. “I’m taking him where we took Ronnie. He – if the Spectre comes out here, thousands of people are going to die . . . I – I have to get him out of here.”

“Barry, what if you don’t get out of there in time?”

“We find out just how good a person I am, I guess.” He tried to joke, “Really regretting about all those lies I told about my identity right now.”

Iris' breathing hitched. But then it steadied with steel, and she pleaded. “You know I would never ask you not to save people, but I will ask this: try. Try to come home.”

“I will; I promise.”

“Barry?” Caitlin asked. “What about Brother Blood?”

“He’s here, you’ll have to come and pick him up. I’ll sedate him,” he replied, doing so without giving the villain a chance to argue. The teenager slumped back to the pavement next to Corrigan, who was tearing at his hair – they were running out of time. “Get him somewhere secure. If . . . If I don’t come back, find Corrigan. He’ll be able to find a way to keep Brother Blood where we can keep an eye on him.”

“We’ll put him in the pipeline,” Cisco promised. His usually playful voice was serious for a moment, before he went back to playing the part and huffed out a laugh. “And if not, you’ve seen The Exorcist, right? There will be someone who can help.”

“Yeah,” Barry agreed. “If not, call Oliver. He might know someone, and . . . he’ll need to know.”

“You got it.”

“Joe?”

“I’m here, Barry.” The older man replied, his voice coming through stronger a second later, like he had stepped closer to the mic. Barry could imagine them all standing around the monitors with perfect clarity – his team, his family. That was the image he was going to take with him.

“Thank you, Joe. I didn’t say it enough -”

“Of course you did.”

“I didn’t,” Barry shook his head, shaking the tears away from his eyes. He coughed, clearing his throat. “I should’ve. I will. And if I . . . I need you to tell my dad. It has to be you, Joe. I don’t trust anyone else to be there for him like you were there for me after my mom . . .”

“Bar-”

Please.”

“I’ll find Henry. I promise you that, son.”

Barry took a breath, gasping and nodding to himself, content to have been given that moment. A lot of people didn’t see the apocalypse coming; he was lucky in that sense. He was choosing to do this; for them. He turned, looking back over to the fallen detective. “And guys? I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Ending on a smile that could be heard in his words, carrying a warmth to them all through the speaking that was theirs to keep, Barry turned off his comm. They didn’t need to hear what came next, whatever happened.

“Corrigan,” Barry said, kneeling in front of the detective. They locked eyes, both pairs as desperate and terrified as the others. “I’m going to get you out of here. Hold on.”

*

Feet hitting the ground at a thousand miles an hour, Barry ran towards desolation.

To him, the wasteland was a salvation – the only hope for Central City was to get the detective in his arms there before the arrival of the Spectre. It was safe distance. It was isolation enough for their survival, and that was enough for him.

In the early morning’s grey, a darkness not quite absolute but tinged with light, he tried to keep moving, repeating it in his head like a mantra. But Barry felt himself grow wearier with every forced step forwards, the energy he was expending on the run and the added weight of Corrigan taking away from his own healing, adding to the fatigue.

Essentially, his body was slowly shutting down. His collision with the wall had broken his body, striking his head against the concrete had left him bleeding out, and whatever magic Brother Blood had hit him with had left him feeling like his bones were concrete. Each step was an effort he didn’t feel like he had left, the momentum jolting his injuries in a way that crunched and snapped and left him with slick blood in his eyes, fixed on the horizon.

And then there was Corrigan.

The Detective was screaming the entire time, the sound coming from his throat raw, primal in a way. Barry was carrying him as they ran, hands under his knees and Corrigan’s arms unashamedly around his neck, face against his shoulder. It was this or thousands dead, and neither of them were so insecure in their own masculinity to be embarrassed at the damsel carry – both were too focused on the screaming agony waging war against their bodies for that.

Then there was the lightning, even stronger than his own yellow streaks, convulsing off Corrigan’s body; white and brighter than anything Barry had ever seen. It wasn’t normal lightning, striking him as he won and setting his body aflame, scorching and burning and eating away at him as he struggled to hold back his own screams of pain.

It was hotter than hell, more fierce than the particle accelerator – it was power in its truest form, mingling with the green aura surrounding them both as he ran them, their destination appearing on the horizon. And it was all coming from Jim Corrigan, who grit his teeth through all but the worst bouts of convulsions and lightning, barely holding onto himself, the Spectre and its vessel mingling and each fighting for dominance.

The Flash began to slow, seeing the hole in the ground Ronnie and Stein had created and making a beeline for it.

“Barry,” Jim managed to whisper, “I don’t think I can – I – I am an agent of heaven, mortal-”

And the voice in Barry’s ear was not his friend then, the darker tone he had only heard a single words from in a warehouse what felt like a million years ago, but had been only days. It was still cold, still like thunder.

It cracked the sky around them, and Barry finally faltered, falling to the ground and rolling until he came to a stop, crumpled in the dirt. They were in the pit, but it seemed too late to run as he slowly dragged himself to his feet. Corrigan was on his knees a few feet away, but now there was more green and lightning than man, and the eyes that looked up at him were filled with light.

No! No, Barry, he’s – you have to run, you have to-” Jim’s pleading was cut off with a scream, his voice his own again for a moment before it was stolen. "You would steal my justice, mortal? Brother Blood has committed sins and will be judged. You have no right to stand in the way of that, fool. I am the Spectre; I am the blade of justice!"

The green light shrouding him, like smoke in its appearance, began to flow more strongly from his mouth, his eyes, his ears – his body was unaffected, Jim kneeling with his head to the heavens and the Spectre was unleashed, not with a bang, but with a build too controlled and deliberate to be something innocent.

And then, he was there. The being was at least forty feet tall, looming over the bleeding Flash – it has long, sleek limbs, pale in a different way to Brother Blood, his form translucent and ghost-like, yet Barry had no doubt that if it chose to reach out and tear him apart, the Spectre’s touch would be real. The mighty cloak around its shoulder was harnessed to the body by straps crossed against a colossal chest, the green cloak waving as if affected by the breeze as it merely hovered, towering above even the tallest trees on the landscape, void-like eyes taking in everything and staying rooted to Barry all at once.

The sight took his breath away.

"Well?" The new Spectre asked, its voice manifesting from itself this time and not from Jim, which was somehow a relief – it had been disjointing to hear it speaking through his friend. At least now the voice fit the image. "Have you nothing to say, little mortal?"

“I . . .” Barry felt the words die in his throat. The feeling of standing in such a grand presence was overwhelming, stealing the air from his lungs as his broken body began to fail him, barely staying on his feet. Then, the world seemed to right itself and Barry Allen began to laugh.

"You mock me?"

“Not exactly,” he replied. “I’m just not impressed. Sure, you’ve got the whole Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors thing down and you sure know how to make an entrance, but . . . I don’t know, really. I’m too tired and too hurt to care.”

Barry shook his head softly, holding his side tenderly as he looked up at the being without defeat in his eyes, only exhaustion. “And frankly? I don’t believe you. You claim to be a being of God or Justice -”

"I am!" The Spectre boomed. “Do not be so naive to mistake me for what you are – an accident in nature, a mistake. I am the one true Justice. I am-”

“Yeah, yeah, ‘God’s gift to sinners’ and all that – I get it,” Barry rolled his eyes. “But it doesn’t mean anything to me, because I don’t even know if I do believe in a divine power, or some sort of greater influence in the universe enough to want that sort of balance – but if there was, it isn’t you.”

“How dare -”

“I know that righteousness is kind of your whole gig, but I was talking!” Barry shouted, facing down fury and matching it, sounding out each of the last three words with a stronger tone. He gritted his teeth in anger, ploughing on. “Killing people? Innocents? What part of that is Justice?! You claim to be a balance, Spectre – but all you do is take! Take and take and take, lives of so many . . . even tonight, you would have decimated my city. How is that balance? You take so much, but give nothing. You are not a savoir.”

Breathless from his rant, standing with his chest heaving and leaving him holding back a wince of pain at the effect on his ribs, Barry stumbled back a few steps. The anger was back again, nestling in his pain and manifesting outwardly towards the Spectre, but he was keeping it in check this time.

The Spectre was what you got when you poured all of that anger, and bitterness, and righteous fury at injustice in the world and put into one vessel. It was what a man became when he gave into those emotions, too.

Barry knew the line now. He knew where the path of anger leads, so he chose the other way. He felt it, he used it – and he let it go.

All of it blazed and burned away during his rant, Barry fell silent, not even looking up with defiance again now – but there was no fear, either. No awe. No respect. It was as if he was looking at a stranger on the street, not a forty foot ghost.

The Spectre’s lip had pressed into a thin line. It was forged of anger, Barry could almost feel the bristling of the Spectre’s fury; it snaked off of him in lightning. But it was different now – the bloodlust had been sated, leaving a cold, cruel anger instead. It did not speak straight away, choosing to glare at Barry for a few minutes. The Flash met the look.

“Such a strange, foolish thing you are, little mortal.” The Spectre boomed still, but his voice was musing now, somehow calmer and quieter. “You speak of my justice being wrong, yet do you not do the same? Playing at being a hero has its consequences too. Or do you not too decide who is guilty and who is not?”

Barry did not reply to that. Taking that as an answer itself, the Spectre grew taller, igniting in passion again.

“Fool! To doubt me, to believe yourself any different? Barry Allen, you are wrong.”

Seeing it coming, Barry was running before the Spectre had even finished speaking. It sent out a wave of power as it exploded in anger after him, a green blast that was steadily gaining on the red figure as he ran, injured and stumbling.

Any other day, it was a race Barry would have won.

But as the wave weakened by distance, it still engulfed the Flash as Barry ran, causing him to trip and fall into the dirt. His tired eyes closed, and the last thing he saw was the green.

*

Jim Corrigan awoke gasping, face pressed into ashy soil. Eyes flicking from side to side in panic, he saw the edges of what looked like a pit and a grey sky, dawn approaching.

With a groan, he managed to sit; every time the Spectre was released it left him exhausted, as if he hadn’t slept or eaten in a month. It was a parasite in that way, sapping his energy and strength, a husk of a man left in its wake.

It hurt, to put it in the simplest of ways. He supposed it was the least he deserved.

“Barry.”

The name left his cracked lips as soon as his mind managed to piece together the fragments of memory he had from the night: Brother Blood, him loosing it, coming here – but the last memory, an image so strong it burned him, was of the Flash looking towards him in fear as he fell to the Spectre.

“No,” Jim got to his feet, muttering to himself. There was a circle of devastation around him: a pit, then a wider ring of chaos, the trees knocked over like a nuclear blast had torn a scar in the face of the earth, everywhere the soil turned to ash and ruined. The thought that Barry could have been there, could have been obliterated – “Barry!”

With difficulty, Jim climbed out of the hole, looking around. In the distance, he could see Central City, gleaming and safe. But there were no other signs of life. No Flash.

Tears sprung unexpectedly to his eyes as Jim looked around desperately, taking his steps towards the city, sure that if the kid managed to make a run for it, he would have headed home.

“No, no, no, he’s fine. He ran, he must have,” Jim muttered again and again as he staggered onwards, trying to convince himself. He could not run, so began to trudge wearily towards the city. “Barry? BARRY!”

It took him almost eight hours to find the other man. They had come a long way to put the city at a safe distance, miles spent walking back towards it scanning the area for a hint of a red suit - and as Jim was about to lose all hope, there it was.

“Kid,” he breathed. Running over with renewed energy at the sight, Jim knelt quickly at the figures side, turning Barry from his stomach to lie on his back – the boy’s face was pale, eyes close. “Please, please.”

As Jim did what he did not do often and prayed, he put two fingers to Barry’s throat to try and find a pulse.

Feeling one, weak but there, Jim’s face cracked into a relieved smile. He let the laughter bubbling up out, roughly barking it out, as well as the stream of tears from his eyes falling, tracing tracks down to his beard.

Barry was unconscious, hurt badly from what he could tell. The Flash should have been much further away than this if he had been running at his full speed, as well as the pulse being slow for a normal humans – and Barry wasn’t that. He needed help, fast.

“Okay, kid. I’ve got you,” Jim spoke gently, lifting up Barry as best they could before turning back to the city, starting to walk supporting them both towards it. “I’ve got you; it’s going to be alright. I’ll get you home.”

*

There were 178 IV bags hooked up to Barry. A heart rate monitor blipped next to him as he lay in S.T.A.R Labs, at first not registering him as being alive but picking up after the first hour, rising steadily since then. A speedster’s heart beat fast, and the pace of the beeps was un-nerving to those at his bedside, the rhythm too fast; the sound of a hammering heart putting them all at a distinct unease.

When Jim had brought him in, both of them bleeding and the Detective barely on his feet until Joe and Cisco took Barry, running him to the medical area to be ambushed by Caitlin in seconds, he had four broken ribs, two more bruised ones, a dislocated shoulder, a substantial head wound, and was severely dehydrated. It wasn’t the worst he had been injured, but it was the longest he had gone without medical attention.

Unable to use technology because of the Spectre, it had taken Jim twelve hours of carrying the Flash, at one point hitching a ride into the city with a very confused elderly couple, to get to S.T.A.R Labs. Once the Flash was taken from his arms, the Detective too sunk to the floor next to the elevator. Exhausted, he passed out there and then, woken an hour later by Iris, who shook him gently and told him without having to be asked that Barry was going to survive.

For the next two days he lay on the bed in a kind of coma, Caitlin said. All of them stayed for the entire time. Even Joe and Jim called in sick to the precinct, the latter actually diagnosed with severe exhaustion and suffering some deep cuts in his hands, some torn deep into the flesh from his own fingernails as he tried to keep a hold of reality that night.

Jim would live. He waited, but took the chair nearest to the door, feeling that he was intruding, somehow.

The first thing Barry did when he woke up was look to Jim in worry, even after all of that. The younger man’s eyes scanned the crowd then landed on him; face breaking out into a smile at the sight. “You’re alright.”

Me?” Jim spluttered out, getting to his feet and walking over to the bedside. “You’re the one who just took a two day nap, kid. And you were there when he came out. How did you-”

“I argued with him,” Barry admitted, only a little sheepish. A chorus of groans and mutterings sounded around them, no one particularly surprised that Barry decided that the thing to do when facing an immortal being capable of levelling a city was to talk back. “Heh. I’m not just fast with my feet.”

Despite himself, Jim started to laugh. Covering his mouth with a land, he saw that the people around him had either done the same, or were looking at Barry with a fond disdain.

“Kid, don’t do that again. I don’t think the world could take loosing you.”

For a moment, Barry sobered. He nodded gratefully at the comment, before his eyes flicked up to Jim’s hair – and he burst into laughter again. “I don’t think you could, either, by the looks of it. I didn’t know you cared so much.”

Rolling his eyes, Jim ran his hand through the aforementioned spot – a white streak of hair that had appeared after that night, probably from the sheer force it had taken to suppress the Spectre for as long as he managed to. Caitlin had said that there was no established link between stress and going grey – but his biology wasn’t exactly normal, after all. Jim knew it was probably a warning not to disobey again.

“I happen to like it,” he half-pouted at Barry’s teasing. Turning to Iris for support, he grinned. “It’s sexy, right?”

Iris played along, “Oh, absolutely. You’re a fox.”

“I used to have a streak like that when I was in high school. You got it without having to pay for the hair dye,” Caitlin agreed. When she realised all eyes had turned to her, the tips of her ears turned red. “What? I had a phase.”

Their relieved laughter filled the room for a long time that afternoon.

*

Jim stayed for another week. Really, it wasn’t necessary for him to. He had put warding on Brother Blood’s cell that should keep him there the day he had arrived with Barry, effectively ending the case. It was over; he could have gone back to Gotham right then – but then he wanted to wait for Barry to wake up, then it was another two days until the Flash was at full level. It was a Friday, and with a weekend free ahead of him . . . a few days off didn’t sound like a bad thing.

He stayed with them, watching movies on the West couch and eating food better than he had in months, the sun there so bright and warm – there was nothing like it in Gotham. By the time Monday rolled around and it was time to leave, his skin was slightly pink from its rays; his smile was larger and more frequently seen. But it couldn’t last, he knew that.

The thing about being an ancient sentinel was that you didn’t get days off. Gotham was a beacon for all things evil, they flocked to the city to the point its streets were alive with it, the Spectre drawn there every time. A few times, he had tried to leave – to get away from people, keep them safe from him – each time to pass out on the road from Gotham, only to wake up back there. The trip to Central City had only been allowed because he was following Brother Blood here, now that was done, he knew he had to leave soon.

“Are you sure you can’t stay?” Iris asked him, as they all assembled outside S.T.A.R Labs on Monday morning, the sky still pink in the sky. He stood by his newly loaded car, a wistful look on the Detective’s face.

“I have work to do, I have to go. I wish I could stay . . . God, I do.” Jim replied, but he knew his smile was forced. Seeing in her eyes how honest her wish for him to remain was, he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek friendlily, hugging her with one arm in farewell. “This is a good place. Thanks for everything, darlin’.”

“Be safe,” she said in response, stepping back towards her father. The words were a common goodbye, but from Iris West, there was never a doubt that she meant them. In her heart, she wanted the people she cared about safe, above all else.

She was replaced quickly by Cisco and Caitlin, the former Jim hugged similarly. Reaching into his pocket, he rattled the bottle of painkillers she had prescribed him gratefully. “Thank you, Dr. Snow. I owe you for these; they’re a darn sight quicker than whiskey at putting me to sleep.”

She rolled her eyes a little at that response, but chuckled anyway. “You’re welcome, Detective. . . I hope you find peace.”

“I already did.”

She smiled sadly, so Cisco stepped forwards to shake Jim’s hand, breaking the sombre mood. “I’m sorry we couldn’t hook you up with any sweet gadgets to help out, man.”

“It’s alright. Technology and magic . . . they don’t really go together,” Jim replied easily, shaking the hand strongly. He added, “You don’t want to see what happens when I try to use a computer.”

Cisco laughed, “I kind of do, now.”

Laughing, the two stepped away, and Jim turned to Joe, extending a hand. “I hope your next partner is easier to deal with.”

“Oh, I doubt it around here,” Joe replied, walking forwards to accept the handshake, but steering them further away from the building, so they could speak and not be heard. He lowered his voice to speak again, looking around before he did. “Listen, I’m grateful for what you did getting Barry home safe, and I know what you do is important . . . but think about how do you it. I get the feeling a lot of your cases don’t make it to court.”

“It’s a different ball park, Joe. Do you want to try and jail a demon?”

“No, but the other ones? The humans messing with all this freaky shit?” Joe let it hang in the air a second. “There’s another way, partner. A better way.”

“I saw,” Jim smiled wryly, looking back towards S.T.A.R Labs. “But it wasn’t exactly legal, either.”

“It’s a start,” Joe replied, but he admitted the truth in it. His voice held its usual humour now. “Just think about it. Good luck, Detective.”

“And to you.”

He left quietly, leaving his words in Jim’s head. Joe had a way with people that had a lasting effect, and so did his son, who approached next. Dressed in his civilian clothing, Jim could hardly believe that kid had stood up to the Spectre and lived to see the other side of it. To survive meant something important, although he hadn’t said it. Only the pure of heart or those too important to the universe survived the Spectre’s touch – Barry Allen was both. He had a good heart – not entirely untouched by sin, true, but it still shone bright enough for Jim to have seen his aura the first time they met. He was someone special, without a doubt.

Barry Allen had a big future, of that Jim was sure. That kid would carry the weight of the world one day.

But no one deserved to live with the burden of the future, so Jim just smiled and went to shake the younger man’s hand - only to be pulled into a hug.

“Oh,” he said in surprise. “Right. You’re a hugger.”

“Accept it,” Barry joked, squeezing briefly before he stepped back, bobbing on the balls of his feet. He was so unchanged by what he knew it almost blew Jim away – in the space of two weeks the kid had learned about magic and the supernatural, helped to talk down one of the worst monsters out there and stared down the Spectre; it had cost him personally too, testing his faith and making him ask uncomfortable questions about his own tragedy – yet there he was, still grinning, still so full of life.

Jim felt his hand reaching out again before he knew it was moving, landing heavily on Barry’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Barry Allen. Don’t ever let the world take that.”

Barry’s lip twitched up at one side and he nodded, looking down as if embarrassed. When he glanced back up, there was sunlight in his eyes. “Keep fighting that tide, Jim. If you ever need me -”

“I’ll get someone else to call,” Jim joked. He stood suddenly, tapping his pockets, searching for something before pulling out a card. “This . . . well, it belongs to a dick. But he knows his stuff, and he’ll help you if you call it and tell him I gave you his number. If anything ever happens, call him, and he’ll find a way to contact me.”

Barry took the card, turning it over in his hands and scanning it. “John Constantine. Exorcist, demonologist . . . Master of the Dark Arts?”

Jim tilted his head to the side, “He’s having new ones made.”

Barry laughed, flicking the card in his hand and not quite knowing what to say. It had been two weeks, but Jim had become a good friend to all of them. His story was one hard not to sympathise with, and as a person, there were few as kind.

With a sad smile, the Detective turned and began to trudge towards his car. It took Barry a whole ten seconds to make up his mind – he wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

“Hey!” he jogged to catch up, clapping Jim on the back as he man paused at his open car door. Barry grinned, lightning in his eyes. “I’ve been meaning to go on a long run for a while, stretch my legs. What do you say I race you to Gotham and see if I can’t find some proof of the Batman for Cisco while I’m there?”

Jim’s smile re-appeared in a second. “I’m not stupid enough to bet on it – but you’re on.”

He got into the car as Barry ran over to his friends to tell them where he was going, and then they both raced off towards the rising sun.

*
Nine Months Later . . .

Somewhere in a squat in Keystone, a young mother sat with her baby on a dirty mattress, pressed up against the wall and shivering. The mother had a stab wound on her side that was nowhere near healing, and would never get better unless she stopped numbing the pain and all that she had seen with drugs. In her arms, the baby cried.

It hadn’t stopped crying since birth.

It clutched a tiny fistful of his mother’s hair and wailed, eyes turning bloodshot.

The first thing he saw in the world was misery.

Brother Blood’s son opened his eyes.