It starts with an extra ticket.
Barry has one, held between two fingers, offered at her in a ticktock motion. The Aztec downtown is playing the Wizard of Oz, his original movie mate canceled at the last minute, and he doesn't want to be the pathetic loner in the back row so could she please help him out?
For a moment she thinks he's messing with her. Like he's seen the ruby slippers wallpaper on her phone, or snuck into her apartment and noticed the poster on the wall. One eyebrow arches, her face a mask of skepticism, noting how his posture deflates slightly at her hesitation.
"Or not," he says, letting the hand down. "I mean, if it's not your thing no big deal."
She looks down at her notes, seriously considering letting him walk way without ever having to say a word, but doesn't let that happen.
"Okay," she says to his retreating back.
He spins back with a gleeful smile and instantly she regrets it.
They meet at the theater because it's not a date.
But he still opens doors for her, buys the popcorn, and says ladies choice when picking seats. He eats half the bag and the movie doesn't even start for another five minutes, but she knows by his last glucose reading that he's no longer shy about packing in the snacks now because of his abilities.
"So why so eager to see this movie?" She asks. "Got a thing for blue gingham?"
He laughs in a goodhearted way, though even in the dim light she can see that it's something more than just love for a classic for him.
"It's my mom's favorite," he admits. "And I sort of make it a point to see it whenever it's in a theater. Iris and I, um, well it's tradition but she had other plans."
"Breaking tradition because of the boyfriend," Caitlin says, hoping her tone is jovial. "Ouch."
Barry looks sheepish.
"I kind of didn't tell her. It's been a few years since any place has shown it, I wanted it to be a surprise."
Caitlin cringes inwardly. It doesn't take a genius to figure out he has unexplained feelings for the girl. Even if there's a part of her that finds it slightly odd they're basically foster siblings, she tries not to let that be a factor in her appraisal of him.
"Well, I hope I'm a worthy back up plan."
He smiles at her.
"You're more than that."
They go for coffee after.
Actual coffee, not the euphemism for sex kind, and talk about everything they have in common that isn't the pain of loss. Turns out the be a lot actually, and she feels herself laughing freely for the first time since Ronnie's voice last echoed on that walkie-talkie.
The shift is felt by both, a needle pushing past colleagues to friends, and the night is ended with a hug and promises to do it again some time.
Some time happens a few days later. Lunch at a sandwich shop Barry insists has the best homemade pastrami. Best in the twin cities, she might begrudgingly agree to, but having been to Gotham she'll argue best of all time. He polishes off two subs by the time she's almost halfway done with hers, something her face can't help react to, and suddenly he's swallowing loudly covering his mouth with a mortified hand.
"I'm sorry," he says. "Guess I don't realize how hungry I get these days."
"Ignore me," she replies, inadvertently waving a hand. "I make faces. They look negative but I don't mean them that way."
He grins at that, one cheek still bulging with food, but regulates the rest of his intake to one of a normal person. She grins back when suddenly Iris happens by in some awkward serendipitous moment. Barry shoots out of his seat as if something bit him on the backside, eyes wide with surprise, and oddly overzealous in his greeting.
Iris looks directly at Caitlin, a polite smile on her face, eyes ducking to her plate on the table.
"I bet he convinced you to try the pastrami," she offers. "Barry would eat a whole tub of it if he could."
A small laugh escapes Caitlin's throat, the image of such a thing not hard to picture with his eating habits. Iris laughs along, and Barry just shrugs, knowing the truth of the statement not at all an exaggeration.
He extends an offer for Iris to join them, but she declines not wanting to interfere, and walks off promising to call Barry later.
They look at each other.
Interfere with what?
It's three in the morning, when she hammers on Barry's door, test results clenched in her hand. He doesn't answer right away, so she goes on banging like a crazy person strung out on an entire pot of coffee and an obsessive need to get answers.
There's a breeze in the hallway, out of place but brief, then the door cracks open and a bleary eyed Barry answers in nothing in his boxers.
"Was that?" She asks half a question, finger pointed at the spot of displaced air.
"Insane door knocker in the middle of the night," he answers. "Can't be too careful."
She looks down at his legs, bony little things capable of so much.
"Maybe you want to-?"
"Pants!" Barry shouts, suddenly realizing the lack thereof. "Yes. Come in, and I'll, uh, pants."
She steps inside blinking, and he's there again, fully clothed but still half asleep.
"What's so important that you came all the way here at this hour?"
"You didn't answer your phone."
"Probably because I forgot to plug it in," he replies scratching the back of his head. "I do that."
She shoves the results at him.
"He's not a meta."
"Who's not a meta?"
"And it's not magic," she goes, nodding at the paper. "It's technology. Advanced too."
"Quoting Cisco? By like, centuries. I think the question now is how this Hocus Pocus guy-"
"Did you just sneeze?"
"He called himself Abra Kadabra."
"Right, well, I think the question is how he got his hands on technology that won't exist for a couple hundred years don't you?"
"And you want to figure that out right now?"
She doesn't remember falling asleep.
But when her eyes open it's not her apartment that comes into view. It's not her bed she's cuddled up in, and the heartbeat in her ear is definitely not coming from her pillow. Barry doesn't stir when she does, slowly lifting her head to see him still nodded off, mouth handing slightly open.
How late were they up? She wonders. What time is it now? How the hell did they end up all snuggled and cozy?
Moving to disengage as carefully as she can, Caitlin pushes up from the couch, and quietly surveys the living room for her shoes. Finding one under the coffee table, and one behind a chair, she slips them on as quiet as a mouse, before reaching for the paperwork that brought her here in the first place. Intent on slipping out without a word, she makes for the door and hits a bump in the rug, flailing back against the couch and onto Barry's sleeping form.
She's frozen when he looks around confused, shifting under her until their eyes meet, surprise and confusion on his face just as hers upon waking. Still, it's not as awkward as it should be.
"Morning," he says in greeting.
She wants to be him in that moment. Able to run far, far away.
Cisco makes some off the cuff remark, about her smiling more, further twisting the needle as if Barry has something to do with that. It's a joke she knows, his goofy grin never meaning any harm, but nothing about it strikes her as funny. Something inside seizes right up, hands clenching at her sides, as she swiftly exits the room ignoring his echoing calls of apology.
Ronnie has been gone less than a year.
She hasn't smiled much because there hasn't been anything worth smiling about. But all of a sudden some string bean of a police scientist wakes up from a lightning induced coma, and her facial muscles magically remember how?
It feels like a betrayal.
She doesn't talk to anyone the rest of the day.
Barry is not that complicated of a person. He wants to do good. He is good.
She's never met someone so astonishingly unselfish before. It's almost infuriating yet somehow enduring. He picks up right away that she isn't happy with him, but acts so much like a lost puppy about it, it's damn near impossible to keep up an anger he didn't intentionally cause and in all honesty has very little to do with.
"Talk to me," he says with terrifying sincerity.
Closed off. That's how she's always been. If someone wanted to know her, then damn it, they had to climb some walls. Only one man ever scaled them as if they were no challenge at all, and she was going to marry him. Ronnie was it.
Then scientific miracle Barry Allen comes along and suddenly it's not so clear. He sees her walls and tears at them with kindness, integrity, that strange unparalleled optimism. He breaks them down without even trying. Without intent.
She doesn't know what to do with that.
"I like you," slips out, and she wants to take it back immediately.
He doesn't say anything at first, just pulls her into a hug and she lets him.
"I like you, too."
It feels so good it must be wrong.
He saves her life.
In a moment as quick as his namesake would indicate.
Those few seconds, so thrilling, the scientific itch in her mind wondering just how much ground is covered in the blink of an eye. The speed and fluidity at which he runs, so amazing, stars in her eyes as the heart pounds inside her chest. No human is meant to move so fast, not a normal one as she anyway, fingers tapping on his shoulder when the realization that she can't breathe at this velocity hits.
Barry slows down and they're miles from the explosion. The heat still felt on skin, now nothing more than a flush, her hands are shaking but she's never been so excited.
"Caitlin," Barry says, voice edged with concern. "Are you alright?"
Fine, she wants to reply, but still hasn't caught her breath.
He looks back, head twisted toward the plume of smoke rising in the distance.
"Someone tried to kill us," she says, slightly hushed.
His hand is on her cheek, lingering far too long to be friendly, and she sees in his eyes just how concerned he is for her life. For her. She can't help but look at his mouth, the moment feeling like something significant, and her hands reach to cup his face with thumbs hooking the sides of his mask and pushing it back.
He doesn't object, feeling the significance as well, knowing she'd prefer to kiss the man rather than the hero. Closing the distance as her eyes flutter shut, she gives into the sensation, building since the day his opened again for the first time in nine months.
It's over in a second, like almost everything with him, and she won't let herself be greedy for more.
"I should," he starts, thumb jerked in the direction of the lab, before looking back to her. Eyes up and down, in a quick once over.
"Go," she says.
"I'm fine," she goes on, hoping it not a total lie. "I'll make it back on my own."
He's gone before the sentence is even finished, as she brushes the hair whipped into her face away, unable to keep the smile from her lips.