Sometimes It Has to Have Itself a Little Earthquake
"Dude, I swear I wasn't snooping."
"Then what were you doing on Caitlin's computer?" he asks, eyes tripping up and down the printouts Cisco handed him in panicked frenzy—he knows most of the words, even understands a lot of them, but genetic bioengineering isn't his forte. As far as he can gather Caitlin has built a matrix of RNA sequences that can integrate foreign DNA into tissues or organs of new recipients, and he's fairly certain she found a way to do so based on sequencing parts of his genetic code.
"I was installing some new software." Cisco raises his hands in surrender. "Hand to God."
"And you–" His eyes find Cisco, skip back down to the page, back to his increasingly hysterical friend, and he stands up. Cisco's freaking out for a reason, one he can't even begin to guess at. "What is this? Anastasis?" He reads the title off the top of the page. "What does that mean?"
"She cracked it, dude."
"You!" Cisco exclaims, flapping his hands around. "Your code! Your DNA! She's isolated the genetic markers in your DNA that give you your abilities."
His eyebrows rise. "And that's bad," his voice lilts into a question, because that's what he thought Caitlin focused on the most around here—mapping his genes, charting how the dark matter wave had transformed his DNA and generally trying to fathom how he could do what he did so she might understand his powers better. Caitlin's the best at what she does; he wouldn't know half the things he's capable of if it weren't for her research.
He has no idea what Cisco's trying to say to him.
"She didn't stop there." Cisco takes a few steps closer, a hand on his shoulder, pulling closer and looking him in the eyes the way he does when things get serious around here, when even Cisco can't think to crack a joke. When he's about to tell him something he won't like. "She's found a way to replicate it. To mutate foreign DNA like yours."
He stares at Cisco long and hard, recollecting some of his college classes on DNA and mutations, but not nearly enough to comprehend the magnitude of what Cisco's saying—not all mutation is considered bad, after all.
Cisco throws him a dead stare back. "She basically bottled metahuman abilities in a syringe."
It's only then that the same frown etched so precisely in Cisco's face sets between his eyebrows, the weight of his clarity not shared, but doubled in the tight space they occupy. Why would Caitlin try to replicate metahuman abilities after everything they've been through? After everything she's seen some of them capable of? After seeing what it did to Ronnie and Professor Stein? Why would she risk bottling something so dangerous?
Forget what it could even do in the ways of harming this city: why did she keep this from them? She must've known they wouldn't approve, she must've known that the mere idea of this serum being developed from blueprints of his genetic code wouldn't sit right with him. Caitlin's been struggling for a few weeks now, since he got shot, since Ronnie left again, but would she make the mistake Cisco had when he built the cold gun? It doesn't seem like something she would do.
"Why wouldn't she tell us?"
Both of them failed to hear the approach of heels ticking along the tiled floors.
"Tell you what?" Caitlin's voice soon rises along the walls, and he and Cisco both jump like two boys caught rifling through a skimpy magazine.
"About your little side project." Cisco recovers, and walks over some of the papers he printed out.
"Cisco–" he cautions.
"Anastasis?" Cisco asks.
Caitlin cocks an eyebrow. "You went through my files?"
"I wasn't snooping!"
"It's an encrypted file," Caitlin says matter-of-factly, crossing her arms over her chest, any humor flitting the corners of her expression—she hasn't denied a thing, her eyes unanimated and devoid of any sort of emotion.
"Why was it encrypted?" Cisco asks, his anger spurned by fear of another disaster that could be traced back to S.T.A.R labs—a disaster in itself with Cisco so desperately trying to hold on to Doctor Wells' legacy. "Why would you hide this from us? Do you have any idea what you've done?"
One of the printouts curls along a leg of a desk, the crack of the paper a blanketing sound that fails to clear when Caitlin answers, "Exactly what I set out to do," and leaves the room the way she came.
Cisco throws up his hands and starts cursing in Spanish, tracking back deeper into the room, while his gaze falls to the fault line Caitlin's footprints left behind, heavy, laden with sorrow.
Last time he saw her like this she confessed Everyman had kissed her, told him in not so many words she'd kissed him back because he'd worn his face and the panic that had caused– the guilt that had caused– tore through her like wildfire. Ronnie left her. But she'd said her 'I do' no two weeks before.
She'd claimed her hurt to be anger, her guilt usurped by the body bags amassing down in a refrigerated room they'd appointed, and neither he nor Cisco have been watching her close enough to know in any certain terms what that spun into. Has her anger blinded her to the danger she designed?
He tracks her displacement back to the Cortex, standing in front of her monitor, unmoving, the silence before an earthquake—it's been a while since they talked, he'd given her too much space, enough to start keeping secrets she once preached they wouldn't, not in science, not among friends. The past few months have been saturated with small tidal waves of lies and secrets, of broken promises, of silences that used to be filled with playful banter or words of caution.
"Caitlin, you can't do this," he says. "This serum. If it falls into the wrong hands–"
What if the man in the yellow suits finds out? What if the metahumans down in the pipeline find out? Worse, what if the CCPD decides their officers could do with a metapower or two? A thing like this could change the world as they know it, tear it up much more violently than the particle accelerator explosion already has. After seeing what it did to Ronnie, after seeing what it did to him, why would Caitlin even risk it?
"You're playing with things you might not be able to control. Giving people powers? Why would you want to do that?"
"That's not what it's for," Caitlin says softly.
"You have to stop, Caitlin." He takes a step closer. "What if–"
But the moment Caitlin turns around his words catch at the back of his throat, the sight of her red rimmed eyes and the salty lines down her face nearly sending him to his knees. How much has she been keeping buried between the crusted layers of her anger?
"You don't get to tell me what to do, Barry Allen." She grits her teeth together, her eyes on fire with madness he fights to contain on a daily basis, madness he made his own after his mom died. "Not when Joe carries you in here and you're not breathing. Not after you show up on my operating table with a bullet through your heart."
He can't remember, the eons between that bridge and the lab, between his blood licking into the grooves of the cold concrete and the tiptoe of her fingers along his skin—all there is, when he reaches back that far, is pain. Blinding pain. Memories flashing in front of his eyes. And then—nothing.
Until Caitlin Snow's worried eyes.
"I'm not trying to give people powers, Barry."
A desperation sets above one of her eyes, the kind that echoes I don't want you to be hero, a pain equally blinding and I want you to come back to me spun around the memory of empty promises and another person in her life who will always, without fail, rush into danger. That's how he is, that's who he's been, and Caitlin was right. It would've gotten him killed if not for the impossible running through his veins.
"I'm trying to find a way to jumpstart your healing."
Of course, he thinks, last time he saw her like this he made her an impossible promise too, a promise he shouldn't have made and a promise she couldn't hear just then– her mom left, Wells disappeared, Ronnie said goodbye. Somehow Caitlin's convinced everyone else will too.
"So that next time you show up near death I can do something other than shoot you up with adrenaline and pray."
Weeks of her secret project take their toll as her shoulders sag in defeat, silent tears running down her face the likes he's never seen. Caitlin doesn't do this, she doesn't fall apart, she keeps it all together for God knows what reasons and rarely shows this depth of distress. This part of her that feels more acutely than any of them. This part of her that shattered, broke again, falls to pieces every single time her sensible entitlement gets threatened– somehow, with a strength of mind he doesn't possess, Caitlin accounts for people leaving her.
And while he's not eager at all to prove her right, he takes risks she warns against every single time.
"Do you have any idea how useless that made me feel? I'm the one who's meant to fix you and I–"
She bites at her lips.
He tracks a step closer. "Caitlin–"
"You don't know what it was like." She shakes her head. "You just run into danger without thinking and without looking back. You catch bullets without thinking about the people you're leaving behind. If you think that after all we've been through I could–" Caitlin gasps for air, a hand over her heart, "I could stand to lose you–" and he needs her closer, needs her in his arms all torn and bleeding so he might fix her for a change, so he might hold together all the delicate strands that make up his Doctor Snow and stop her from losing herself in this anger, in this pain, in this solitude she's appropriated in the wake of her losses.
He should've been there for her. It's something that they do, check up on each other after the cruelty of the world reminds either of them why they're connected, why they're drawn to each other's tragedy, lined carefully around a life they're trying their best to live in happiness. But he's been lost, too, drifting without Doctor Wells' guidance, untethered since Iris decided to take some distance and focus on her own happiness. He can't blame her, can't blame Caitlin her unwillingness to let herself lose him.
No matter how much he tries to push everyone away the people in his life knit him together. And he's not sure where he'd be without his personal physician.
"I'm sorry," he whispers into her hair, arms wound tight around her while she cries into his shoulder, shakes like the temperature has dropped well below freezing and she could shatter into a million pieces any moment, clutches around him like he's the final lifeline before she detaches completely.
"It's only meant for you," Caitlin cries, losing any strength left in her legs and he lowers them both to the floor, where they curl up and face the brunt of the shockwave together, like they were always meant to.
"I'm so sorry," he chants, even though Caitlin cries for all of them, cries for his mom and Ronnie, for what almost happened to Eddie and could've happened to him, for Doctor Wells, for all the possible disastrous outcomes her mind's already thought up. "I'm sorry."
He rocks their bodies back and forth, coming to a stop for the first time since he woke up from that coma and saw her face.
He thinks they'll be feeling the aftershocks of that day on the bridge for a long time to come.