Notes: This fic languished on my laptop for some time. I wrote the first three parts slowly over four months, and then finished the last two parts over the last few days, since I finally had time to think about how to end it. This is set during the silence following the singularity, and is not S2-compliant. It's also a Caitlin-centric character study and angst and hurt/comfort and slow burn Snowbarry, but… enjoy? This was pretty cathartic for me to write, so… I hope it will be for you, too.

Warnings: Alcohol use, light smut. Trigger warning for those dealing with grief.

Revised as of May 2017


i.

I know what my heart is like
Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
Left there by the tide,
A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Ebb"


When Ronnie dies a second time—if it can be called a death—Caitlin expects her grief to be the same as when she had first lost him. She expects passionate grief: she expects to be hysterical, stubbornly inconsolable, unable to function for weeks; she expects to lash out in anger at someone, something, anything.

But save for the few silent tears on Barry's shoulder, there is no passionate demonstration of sorrow, no irrevocable shattering of her world, no feverish incantations of Ronnie, this is too much to bear, you should have taken me with you.

Instead only a dull ache settles in her chest.

It disturbs her, and she wonders if her lack of passion in grieving is related to her dwindling passion for Ronnie. It is a thought that besets her with guilt, but she pursues it with masochistic curiosity. She thinks that her feelings for him before his first "death" were simple enough—she was in love with him, and she was completely convinced that there was no better way to spend life than by his side. He was her love and her future, and when he died, she grieved because she was burying a love and a future that had not yet been soured by the passing of time.

But in his absence, she slowly rebuilt her life, prepared herself to accept a new love, envisioned a future without him. She got used to tracking meta-humans with Barry and Cisco and Dr. Wells. She rediscovered that she could be just Caitlin around them, not Caitlin-Ronnie's-fiancée. She saw herself spearheading future research on medical bioengineering with insights from meta-human physiology. Whether she liked it or not, Ronnie's death changed her as much as his life had (perhaps even for the better, her mind whispers treacherously), so that when he returned a part of her wondered, What if the life I dreamed of is no longer the life I want to live?

She shoved that thought down, swallowed it like a shard of glass. Any response other than eagerness to resume her former life with him had seemed irrational, immoral, unacceptable. He was a hero during that explosion, he loved her even when he lost control over his body and his mind, and telling him that maybe he, and all that he represents, isn't what she wants anymore seemed cruel and heartless.

Of course that didn't mean that she hadn't wanted him back. She was anxious to find him, she was overjoyed to see him, and was convinced that there was still love in her heart for him. But a week after his return, she realized that her love for him was only a relic of what it used to be. Even after they got married—a milestone that should have purged her misgivings and restored the happiness she'd felt when they had first planned their lives together—she still had lingering doubts that maybe this wasn't what she wanted, after all.

She pretended not to know why. She suspected the reason already, but she disguised it in so many layers of denial that sometimes she's still convinced that the answer to that "why" is a mystery to her.

A day after the singularity, Caitlin looks up at the sky that swallowed Ronnie. For reasons that she is determined to keep murky, the memory of her kiss with Everyman-Barry is a betrayal burning on her lips. I'm sorry, Ronnie, she whispers to the sky, I'm so, so sorry, you deserved better, I wish you didn't love me so much…

. . .

There is one thing in her experience of grief that remains unchanged: telling his parents is still the hardest part.

She is in their living room now, and her attention latches onto familiar details—the fresh yellow daisies in the blue vase on the coffee table, Ronnie's high school and college football trophies by the television set, the white-framed pictures on the upright piano. Her gaze lingers on her impromptu wedding picture with Ronnie, on the kiss that rendered their vows binding, 'til death do they part…

She averts her eyes.

"You've got to be kidding," Mrs. Raymond is the first to speak. She lets out a harsh bark of laughter that makes Caitlin wince. "This has got to be some cruel joke."

She shakes her head slowly. "I'm so sorry. He…" She checks herself, because they don't know that he was a meta-human, and they won't be able to understand singularities—how singularities were a one-way portal, how the chances of another one opening up and spitting Ronnie out alive were so negligible that they were close to zero. "He disappeared in another explosion—"

His father scoffs. "Bullshit." He reaches for his cane—his limp is from a confidential military operation years ago—and trudges to the telephone by the kitchen counter. "That's bullshit."

Caitlin and Mrs. Raymond exchange anxious looks.

"When he comes home, let me give him a good beating first, eh, Cait? Then you can have him. Hope you don't mind treating a black eye or two," he chuckles. He dials a number and tucks the phone between his ear and neck. "Yeah, can I speak with Officer Terry? I'm filing a missing persons case…"

The dull pain in her chest becomes a fist clenching around her heart.

Just like last time, Mr. Raymond refuses to bury an empty coffin. He argues with the officer, tells him that his only boy would not die so easily, and Caitlin anticipates that she and the elder Mrs. Raymond can only watch as he badgers Officer Terry in the following weeks for leads, possible sightings, and—as the months wear on—for any of Ronnie's body parts, anything on his person the day he disappeared, anything at all that they could bury so they can finally move on.

Caitlin looks away. She cannot bear to watch a proud man wither away from too much hope.

. . .

Shortly after, she attends Eddie's wake.

There are so many flowers. Carnations, chrysanthemums, lilies, birds of paradise, roses, orchids, all in resplendent white. Always remembered, the CCPD's wreath of lilies and roses declare. With deepest sympathies. In loving memory. In celebration of Eddie's life.

The moment of death prolonged and displayed to resist forgetting.

Her eyes settle on pictures of him in the slideshow. Her chest tightens. The memories of the dead are a knife. Remember and bleed. Caitlin understands this, knows that holding on to a blade-edged memory is better than having nothing to hold on to.

She gives Iris and Eddie's family her condolences, and because they are talking to other guests she moves to the back and lingers there for the rest of the service.

She wonders what story they are telling everyone else. She wonders about the story she will tell others if this had been Ronnie's funeral.

Ronnie was a hero…

She stops.

Or: Ronnie, my husband, was a hero.

Or: Ronnie, Central City's hero, was my husband.

And she was his wife. She is his widow. She is not Caitlin Snow, she is Caitlin Raymond, and even in his death she will bear the weight of his name. Caitlin Raymond, the hero's widow. She never wanted him to be a hero, and she never wished herself a widow, but she is trapped in these significations. Wife, widow. Wife: not woman as self, but woman always in relation to man. Widow: woman who is always in mourning.

The scent of lilies clings to her hair long after she leaves.

. . .

She visits Eddie's grave three days later.

She doesn't completely understand why she does, but she's developed an inexplicable association between Eddie and Ronnie, so that coming to Eddie's grave feels like closure for Ronnie's death. She needs a body to mourn.

Eddie can't hear her, but she mutters an apology to his gravestone before laying a bouquet yellow roses on the ground.

She waits for the tears to come, but they don't, perhaps precisely because she expects them to. The catharsis she's seeking still eludes her. It's been two and a half weeks since the singularity, and she's supposed to feel something by now, something other than numbness, or guilt, or this diffuse sadness that stubbornly refuses to crystallize into tears.

She starts when she hears the rustling of dry grass.

"Cait?"

"Barry?"

His hands are shoved in his pockets. Everything about him looks duller than usual—the green of his eyes, the pallor of his face, even his jeans are tinged with the grey of the stones. But behind him the sky is a brilliant expanse of blue. Dimly, Caitlin marvels at the contrast.

"I didn't hear you coming," she says. "Or I didn't feel it."

His lips quirk up. "I walked at a normal human pace," he says, shrugging. "It's a more suitable pace for moping."

Caitlin presses her lips into a line and resists the urge to berate him for what she's certain is unfounded self-blame. She's been through this many times before, and consoling him only makes him heap more blame on himself, as if he's punishing himself for accepting her comfort. So instead she says (carefully, because he looks like the only thing holding him together now is a dry sense of humor), "Penny for your mopes?"

He shrugs again. He places a bouquet of white carnations on the ground. "The usual guilt for not being the hero I was supposed to be." He gives her a weak smile. "I'm sorry, Cait. I know you told me to stop saying it, but now I'm just saying it for myself. I'm sorry I couldn't save him."

She sighs. "Barry, I know you won't stop blaming yourself, but you know I don't blame you, right? And neither does Iris."

"I know," he says, his voice distant. "You always say that. Both of you."

He pauses. "So how are you holding up?"

"I'm fine," she says. She is disappointed that she is, but she doesn't tell him that.

"I have to go." She doesn't have to, but she doesn't tell him that, either. Something tells her that he needs to be alone with Eddie.

"Okay," he says, turning to face her. "Hey, if you need me, you can always call."

"I know," she says. She knows she won't, though—call, not need him. She doesn't want to burden others with her grief. "You should call me, too. If you need me."

He smiles wanly. "Yeah, thanks." He opens his arms for a hug, and she steps into his embrace. It seems like the embrace is a little too intimate, lasts just a heartbeat longer, than would an embrace between friends, but they are both broken and desperate, and in times like these touch is a form of sanity.

"I'll see you around?" he whispers into her hair.

"Yeah," she says. She pulls away, and maybe she's imagining it, but he seems reluctant to let her leave. There's a look of longing on his face that she can't place—a look similar to how he used to look at Iris, before he'd come to accept her engagement to Eddie—but then he gives her another small smile, and that expression vanishes.

Halfway down the gentle slope of the cemetery, she glances back at him. The view is breathtaking from below—the land is thrumming with the quiet rest of souls, the grass is shivering in the breeze, and the flowers are flecks of vibrant color at the feet of headstones. And at the center is Barry's silhouette, slumped against the endless blue of the sky. It reminds her of something mythical, of a god from a dead civilization condemned to bear the heavens on his shoulders.

She remembers him like that for weeks afterwards: that look of longing, his silhouette against the sky, that desperate embrace.

. . .

The next day, he's decided to dissolve Team Flash.

The e-mail has no subject line. Intrigued, she goes through it quickly. And then she through it again slowly. Rubs her tired eyes to make sure she's not imagining things. Contemplates calling Barry to hear from it himself, but her hand wavers above her phone, because at that moment she feels a strong sense of déjà vu, feels that her life is on loop: she loses Ronnie, and right after she loses her career, and she considers that next, she will lose her mind.

She takes a shaky breath.

She almost makes the call, but it occurs to her that maybe he needs to be away from everything that reminds him of his guilt.

She remembers the kiss with Everyman. She remembers refusing to leave the city with Ronnie, not begging him harder to stay out of the singularity, not telling him, you don't have to be a hero, you just have to be by my side—and she understands. Maybe sheneeds to be away from him, too. From all of them.

So she doesn't call.


ii.

and the silence answers

if your soul died, whose life
are you living and
when did you become that person?

Louise Glück, from "Echoes"


The dissolution of Team Flash marks the beginning of the months of silence.

Caitlin busies herself with the logistics of grief.

She starts with the living room of her apartment. She puts on some music, dons an old shirt, begins to clear out Ronnie's things. She takes down his whiteboard first, grants the blueprints of his latest inventions a cursory glance. But her gaze lingers on his blueprints for their house: the dimensions of the rooms that will never be built, the swatches for the furniture that they will never buy, the fireplace that will never be lighted…

She doesn't shed a tear. Instead she untacks the blueprints, rolls them up, and places them inside a waiting box with detached clinical efficiency.

She moves to her kitchen and gathers the tools he left there, when he tinkered with small gadgets while she cooked so he could keep her company. Screwdriver, pliers, soldering iron, pieces of wire, LED lights for the miniature Christmas tree he was planning to put up in the middle of summer—and it is this one sentimental holiday that shatters a barrier in her mind, scatters her memories before her eyes in a dizzying kaleidoscope of images: their first kiss under the hundreds of mistletoes he had installed in STAR Labs; snuggling under the Justice League blanket in his car on Christmas Eve during the long drive to his parents' place; him writing her name on the snow; all those Christmas songs he would sing—songs about Santa, songs about happy Christmases, songs about sad Christmases—and the rock songs he would sing when he was sick of Christmas songs—and the cheesy songs he would sing when he had to apologize to her, how he would bring her out in the rain and croon, I'm falling even more in love with you, letting go of all I've held on to…

And then the strains of a song on the radio bring her back to the yellow walls of her kitchen. I just can't you out of my head, boy your loving is all I think about—

Caitlin feels suffocated. She wants to scream.

Ronnie isn't only in her head. He is everywhere. He is everything. The couch is not a couch; it's the couch Ronnie takes a nap on after a long day. The LED lights are not LED lights; they're Ronnie telling her that her apartment needs more cheer. The blueprints are not blueprints; they're Ronnie's smile when he talks about plans for a future that now neither of them will see.

Caitlin is rooted to the spot, staring at blank yellow walls, LED lights still clasped painfully in one hand. She wants to say something, but all words flee her like bats in morning light. In the background, Kylie sings, I just can't get you out of my head, la la la la la la la la…

. . .

It is a week before she brings herself to clean their—her—room.

She opens her dresser, pulls out the two drawers reserved for Ronnie. An open shoebox containing scattered photographs of them catches her eye. They're the ones that his photographer friend sent, most taken at the various bars and clubs that his other friends co-owned or managed. She never did like them—neither the bars nor the friends. She was always tagging behind Ronnie while he charmed people, and he never understood her need for solitude, couldn't seem to accept that watching a movie at home on a Friday night with him by her side was more enjoyable for her than drinking and dancing and loud music…

Caitlin thinks of Barry saying, "My social life consists of running at superhuman speed and Netflix," thinks, Barry would understand—and immediately guilt knifes at her gut.

She shoves the shoebox back into the drawer. In grief she understands that it's a transgression to think ill of the deceased, much less think about replacing him; and her nostalgia filter returns with force: but Ronnie was a good to me and he loved me he loved me he loved me…

She repeats this over and over again as she empties out Ronnie's things from the second drawer and from other odd places. She retrieves a few pairs of boxers from her underwear drawer, his cap and styling gel from her vanity. She leaves few articles of clothing in the drawer, those dearest to her, and refolds the rest of his clothes with care, smoothening wrinkles and applying pressure to the edges to give them the appearance of being freshly ironed. She then arranges them in a cardboard box by type, by size, by color. She fits his shoes in, makes sure that the laces are neat knots and that the leather ones shine. She gently runs her fingers over them before she replaces the lid.

Then she seals the flaps of the box with packing tape and sets it aside for charity.

It's what he wanted, she thinks, pushing the box to a dark corner of their cabinet. It's what he wanted.

. . .

Some days she misses Ronnie so much that she cannot breathe; his absence is a howling black hole in her lungs, pulling her into herself, crushing her under the weight of its devourings.

But on other days, she doesn't think of him at all.

. . .

She nearly loses her ring once, and after that, she decides to wear it around her neck. She uses the white-gold chain of the necklace that he'd given her for their first anniversary.

The word chain reminds her of something that binds, and a chain around her neck reminds her of a noose, and a noose—

She doesn't mean it. She loved Ronnie very dearly. She believes that she will never unlove him, but she also knows that she didn't love him the same way the second time they try at a life together.

She can pinpoint the moment that she realized, even when she was with Ronnie, that she could love someone else again. It was a different love; it was new, and so certain in its newness that it frightened her. It was a tidal wave crashing on the shores of a tranquil cove; it displaced the skeletons of soft-bodied animals on the sand, altered the currents in surrounding waters. She can pinpoint the moment her love for Ronnie shifted irrevocably because this new love had sown it with doubt…

But this is a realization she will weave and unravel, weave and unravel.

. . .

Strangely enough, she never dreams of Ronnie.

Instead she dreams of shadows, swirling around her wooden vanity, skimming the brass knobs of her dresser, caressing the arabesque designs of her curtains, dancing across her sheets. She thinks she recognizes Ronnie in one of the shadows by the set of his jaw, but when she tries to hold it, it glides through her fingers like water, dissolves into particles of light.

At the end of the dream, the shadows always flee, and she is always begging them, please, please, please, come home…

But the shadows do not speak; they only dance.

. . .

Eventually the diffuse sadness gives way to listlessness.

She gets a new job, because she feels useless if she isn't doing anything with her hands. She develops an uncanny attention to inconsequential details: the uneven haircut of the head scientist on her team, the stain on her male colleague's lab coat, the fact that her glassware isn't arranged by height on the shelf. She is desperate for human contact, but the one time she goes out with her new colleagues, she has the immediate urge to go home—she suddenly loathes them, loathes the small talk, the inside jokes that she is an outsider to.

But she doesn't find solace at home, either. When she arrives to her empty apartment she begins books but stops after the first chapter, watches an episode on Netflix but falls asleep halfway through, subscribes to scientific journals but leaves them unopened in her mailbox. She cleans obsessively until she collapses on her bed in exhaustion. She tries different recipes but she loses her appetite after she finishes cooking. She has meals at irregular times, and on some days, not at all.

By the third month, Caitlin develops insomnia, and with it an obsession for Sudoku. She has little accidents at work from lack of sleep: a careless calculation here, a misaligned apparatus there. She forgets the dates of meetings and birthdays, forgets to pick up her laundry, forgets to stock up on groceries. She pretends to forget sending Ronnie's things to charity.

On a particularly terrible Friday night, after messing up the extraction of an enzyme, Caitlin goes to the movies alone. She doesn't even remember the name of the film—she just wants to be somewhere that reminds her of her old life. Before the lights go back on she leaves to avoid the crowd and sits on the benches outside the theatre, watches dried leaves spiral in the wind, fall into a canal; watches the water wash them away. She looks up at the waning moon, listens to the loud ticking of her watch, catches sight of someone crushing a plastic cup, watches the cup fall from hand to pavement…

She thinks of Ronnie, swallowed by the sky. She thinks of the life she had, the life she could have had. Portraits of people flash through her mind. There's Dr. Wells—no, Eobard Thawne—who was the first to believe in her brilliance. His betrayal is a scab she still picks. There's Cisco, whom she had pushed away the first time she lost Ronnie, so that now he's learned to keep his distance. And then there's Barry…

Barry. That night at the karaoke. Him in her room. That kiss with the man who stole his face. That last, desperate embrace, heavy with the sky.

She thinks of everything she has lost.

. . .

She is a ghost.

All she is is past, all she is is memory—memories of the dead, of the life that is now dead to her.

She is so full of ghosts that she has become one.


iii.

Are we all lost stars, trying to light up the dark?

Adam Levine, "Lost Stars"


After three months, Caitlin turns to alcohol. She is no stranger to drinking, but now she takes three, four shots of vodka in place of dinner because it helps her sleep, helps her forget. Sometimes she spikes her coffee with it, and if her co-workers notice the alcohol on her breath, they don't say anything.

She runs out of vodka late one night while solving a Sudoku puzzle, and in a fit of panic she rushes to the nearest convenience store. They don't sell hard liquor, but they do have cheap beer, so she grabs a six-pack instead. It's better than nothing.

She's making her way to the counter when someone calls her name.

She pauses. She sees herself in the convex mirror and harsh white lights of the store, and she looks like shit in her ratty sweater and jogging pants and haphazard ponytail. In that moment she wants so badly to have make-up and a pretty dress on—and then she hates herself for it, because she is grieving and she is a widow and she must look the part.

"Barry?" she breathes.

"Hey," he says, eyes softening. He is wearing sweatpants and a dark-green pullover. She hasn't seen him for so long that he looks unreal under the glare of the lights. "Can't sleep?"

She notices the six-pack he's holding, and her lips lift into a smile. "Can't get drunk?"

"You could say that."

They make their way to the counter. There are so many questions she wants to ask him—how are you, how's Cisco and Iris and Joe, what are you doing now—but she holds back. Questions like those could be jabs at a still-fresh wound. Instead she says, "What are you doing here?"

She adds, "There are a lot of convenience stores near your place."

"Yeah," he says. "But sometimes I flash around the city when I can't sleep."

"Mmm," she says. "At least your late-night hobbies are healthy."

"Yeah? What are yours?"

They pack their respective drinks in paper bags. "Don't laugh," she warns. "But I do Sudoku."

There's a teasing smile on his lips, and for a moment it seems like they're back in the Cortex on a slow day, making up names for imaginary meta-humans and gorging themselves on Big Belly Burgers. "Way to go for making me feel bad about my unintellectual hobbies, Dr. Snow."

She stills. Dr. Snow. She is not Dr. Raymond to him, she is still Dr. Snow. He doesn't notice the slip, and she chooses not to bring attention to it. "Well," she says, "Sudoku keeps me sufficiently preoccupied."

His smile softens. "Yeah, I get what you mean," he says quietly. They walk out of the convenience store, and by some implicit agreement he walks her to her apartment. She doesn't try to stop him, because his presence is a balm to her loneliness, even as they—or he, more precisely—talk about inconsequential things. They ask each other how they are, and they both answer I'm fine when they're not, but by now they've both fooled themselves into thinking that pretending to be okay will make other people worry less.

She talks about her job. He talks about his. They discuss Cisco at length. Iris, Eddie, and Ronnie never come up.

They arrive at her doorstep. "Well, this is me."

"I know," he says. "The last time I was here…"

"Oh, don't remind me," she groans.

He laughs. "Seems so long ago, doesn't it?"

She hums in agreement. Her fingers are shaking as she fumbles with her keys; she misses him—and the team, she is quick to add—so much that the emotion swallows up all other words. "Anyway, I shouldn't keep you."

"Yeah, I should… I should probably go." He rubs the back of his neck. "Good night."

"Good night."

And just like before, he opens his arms for a hug. Caitlin returns his embrace. She leans her head on his shoulder, and his rests his cheek against her hair. Again it lasts a few seconds too long and is too intimate for an embrace between friends, but she doesn't really care. A wave of nostalgia surges in her, and her chest constricts because here is a remnant of her former happiness and she cannot have him, but just to see him, hold him, to be engulfed by the smell of summer rain on his skin, to be still in this warmth—

She tightens her hold around him once, and then lets go. Barry's fingers trail down her back before he pulls away. "Bye, Cait."

"Bye."

He gives one last smile and turns to leave.

Caitlin unlocks the door to her empty apartment. She comes face-to-face with the gaping darkness. The only things waiting for her inside are Sudoku workbooks and cheap beer and grueling hours of waiting to fall asleep and her dead husband's possessions that still haunt…

And then she realizes that she doesn't want that. She doesn't want to be alone. She doesn't want to solve Sudoku anymore, doesn't want to spend the rest of her night trying to forget Ronnie, trying to rid herself of the guilt of wanting to forget him; she doesn't want to dwell on the past or the dread of working with the boring head scientist and his fucking uneven haircut—

Before she knows it, her body is propelled to Barry's retreating figure. He is still by the elevator. It dimly registers that he hasn't flash out, that instead he is walking at his moping pace. Maybe he doesn't want to be alone, either, she thinks. Maybe he doesn't want to leave yet—

It gives her enough courage to call out to him.

"Barry, wait." She bites her lip when he turns to face her. "Please," she says, voice shaking. "Please… stay."

It's quiet for a moment, but then he breathes her name, and she looks into his bright green eyes she sees the same loneliness that she has suffered for the past months, the same longing on his face as when she last saw him in the cemetery under that blue blue sky; and it isn't clear who moves first but suddenly his hands are hot on her waist, pulling her to him, and he's threading his fingers in her curls and tilting her head to his; but just before he kisses her there is a heartbeat of hesitation, and Caitlin knows she shouldn't be doing this but she needs this now, anything to feel the blood rushing in her veins, anything to feel alive; so she pulls him down and kisses him, the real Barry this time; and it's anything but gentle, it's all tongue and teeth so when they pull apart her lips feel bruised, and she really isn't supposed to be doing this, but then they're both a little tipsy and they both want this; and before she knows it she's leading him to the door of her apartment, breaking the kiss only to push the door open and to kick their purchases in, and when she shuts it he pins her against the wall of her hallway and she wraps her legs around his waist, and he makes a strangled noise when his hard length comes into contact with her core, and when she grinds her hips against his he groans and sucks hard on the sensitive skin on her neck; she thrusts her hands under his pullover, and his taut skin is a furnace to her cold hands; he traces the hem of her sweater, slides his fingers under it, trails them up the curves of her bare torso, and she whimpers, please, please, please…

He stills at the sound of her voice.

With what seems like considerable effort, he withdraws his hand from under her sweater and uses it to brace himself against the wall. He buries his head in her neck and his breathing comes in short, harsh gasps.

The change is so abrupt that it worries her.

"Barry?" she says, her own voice barely a whisper. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," he said, "just, give me a sec…" He is still rock-hard against her, and she doesn't know what to do, so she stays still until his breathing finally evens. He presses his lips to her neck and trails slow kisses down her throat, but he stills again before he reaches the chain with her wedding ring.

He hovers a hand to trace it. He clenches his fist and pulls back, as if scalded. He takes a step back.

"I'm sorry," he says. "You deserve better."

Guilt clears the haze in her mind.

She shakes her head. She shakes her head vigorously. "No," she says. She doesn't—she doesn't quite understand what just happened between them, or how it happened, or most especially why they'd both allowed it to happen, but whatever it is, they both know it's somehow wrong, so the last thing she wants is to feel like she deserves anything. "I don't…"

But he silences her with a kiss, and then he brushes the hair from her eyes. He wraps an arm around her waist and around her knees and he lifts her, moves to her bedroom.

"Barry, what are you…"

"I'm sorry," he says again, and she feels so frustrated because he keeps on apologizing, and can't he stop blaming himself and blame someone else once in awhile? "You're tired," he says. "You should rest."

"Tired is the last thing I am right now," she snaps, and he chuckles, and it's so absurd because he's still hard; he so obviously wants this but he's also so obviously holding back because of some ridiculous hero complex.

He gently puts her down on her bed and kisses her forehead. Her lips thin—here she is, almost ready to rip his pants off, and he just kisses her on the forehead? She is insulted. She is embarrassed beyond belief. She almost says, do you not want me, but it sounds childish and so she instead she pulls the covers to her chin and turns her back to him on the bed in sullen silence—which, admittedly, is more childish, but it's better than saying something stupid.

"I'm sorry," he says again, quietly. "It's just… It doesn't feel… The timing is…" She hears him sigh, hears him rake his fingers into his hair in frustration. "I'm sorry. I'll just… I'll stay with you until you fall asleep."

He falls quiet.

She closes her eyes. The frenzy subsides slowly, and she doesn't fall asleep right away—she never does, lately—so she listens to him breathe.

Even if she's still annoyed at him, she thinks that his breathing the closest thing she has to a lullaby.

. . .

He is gone when she wakes.

There are pancakes and coffee for one waiting for her on the counter.

They are still warm.

. . .

But he doesn't call.

She is on edge the whole day, and every time her phone vibrates her heart leaps to her throat because it might be him, but as night falls it becomes clear that whatever happened between them is not something worth talking about.

This fiction wounds her, groundless as it seems, but she clings to it because it's much easier to believe in this than to believe that last night could have actually meant something—becauseif it meant something then she would be confirming what she had long been denying: She would be confirming her infidelity. She'd been engaged to Ronnie, but she'd kissed Everyman-Barry back because for that split-second the ring on her finger had failed to mean anything to her. Ronnie had been gone for some time then, and she had been so irresistibly, inexplicably drawn to Barry, and she had been so certain that the affinity she had for him was only friendship until that kiss made her hope

She doesn't believe in ghosts but she almost wishes that Ronnie will haunt her for this, that he will stop her from wanting it.

But Ronnie doesn't haunt her, not in the way she wants to be haunted. His possessions are still in her room. The couch is still not a couch, the LED lights are still not LED lights, the blueprints are still not blueprints. Maybe if I had loved him enough, maybe if I had asked him to stay, maybe if I forced him to be at my side, maybe—

It's a sentimental exercise of self-torment. Words won't bring him back. Guilt won't bring him back. Regrets won't bring him back. Everything, says King Solomon, is a chasing after the wind…

Her conscience tortures her. She curls up into a ball, she contorts in guilt. There is no end to the labyrinth of her mind.

. . .

After three days of complete silence, of drinking herself into a stupor at night to avoid the descent into her memories, Barry turns up at her doorstep.

Caitlin blinks at him.

And then she slams the door in his face.

Or she tries to, because he catches it before it lands on the frame, and already he's slipped half of his body inside. "Cait, wait—please hear me out—"

"Go away," she says, shoving him, but there is no force in it because she is tipsy. That doesn't stop her from trying, because cannot deal with the riot of emotions he is eliciting in her now: She is remembering his kiss, and she is remembering Ronnie, and she wants so badly to be held but her conscience will not let her indulge, and the only response she can manage is pathetic anger. "I want to be alone."

"I'm sorry," he barrels on. "I should have called, I thought about it all the time, and I… I stopped by here a lot, but I didn't know what to say—"

"God, I'm fine with acting like nothing happened, if that's what you want. Just please go away."

He stops speaking, wraps his hands around her clenched fists, no doubt before she draws blood from digging her nails into her palms. He peers into her eyes, and she stubbornly juts her chin out at him to intimidate him into leaving.

"You haven't been sleeping," he says quietly, grasping both her wrists in his right hand, while his left moves to touch the dark circles under her eyes.

She jerks away from his touch. "Well, thank you for coming here to tell me the obvious state of my health—"

"Caitlin," he says. His hand on her chin gently coaxes her to look at him again. "Remember when we were at that convenience store, and you asked me what I was doing there?"

"You said you flashed around the city when you can't sleep," she says tersely. "What does have to do with anything?"

"That was technically a lie."

"Technically?"

"When I can't sleep," he says, "I flash to your place. Or any place near you."

She stares at him.

A blush is creeping up his neck. "Cisco said that we should probably give you as much space as you need, because the first time that Ronnie—the first time you thought him dead, you just shouted at everyone to leave you alone. He said that you hated it when you thought people were pitying you. He said you wanted to be alone now, and we should respect that, and that you'd come around after a while. But it killed me not knowing how you were, so I'd just drop by from time to time. I didn't know you'd be in the store because I went there before checking on you, but when I saw you… I just had to talk to you. I—I missed you, Cait."

Her fingers uncurl. How can she resist his sincerity?

"You stalker," she says lightly.

He gives her a small smile. "I prefer to be called concerned."

She snorts, and then pauses to give him a searching look. "Are… are we going to talk about what happened?"

He hesitates. "Do you want to? I mean, we're talking about it now, anyway, but… If… Like you said, we could act like nothing happened…"

"Except neither of us are good at acting," she says.

"There's that," he concedes.

"So…"

"So…"

"Well. Do you… want to come in first?"

"If… that won't be awkward?"

She gives him a wry smile. "Now that you pointed it out, you just made it awkward."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I should—yeah, I'll just close the door since I'm already technically inside. Yeah. Um, I forgot to ask last time since we—I was—well, you know, um, distracted… Do you want me to take off my shoes before I go inside? I mean, it just seems like something you'd make a house rule, since your floors are spotless and my shoes aren't, is all."

She can't help the smile that creeps to her lips. She'd forgotten how easy it is to be with him. "Yes, you should probably do that."

Later on, when she's finished making hot chocolate for both of them, Barry begins rambling off apologies again, and she has a feeling that it will go on endlessly. His word choice—I'm sorry I took advantage of you at your weakest, I should have known better, I should have asked—makes it seem like she'd been a passive spectator in this whole debacle instead of being complicit in it, and it irks her. So she stops him from speaking by placing a hand on his, and when he finally stops speaking, bemused at her sudden gesture, she says, "Do you want to watch a movie?"

"Um…"

"Because I feel like re-watching Guardians of the Galaxy." She pulls her hand away and stretches as she stands. She catches the way his eyes follow the movement, and she'll be lying if she says that she doesn't like it, doesn't imagine him mapping her curves with his warm, calloused hands, or tracing the line of her throat with his lips—

"Look," she tells him, resolutely refusing to pursue that line of thought, "it's not your fault, Barry. I can't forgive you for something you don't have to apologize for in the first place."

"But…"

She holds up a hand. "No buts. I'm not saying that we should pretend like it didn't happen, just that… I hope that nothing will change, despite it." There is something that twists at her heart even as she says this, but after listening to his bumbling apologies, after discerning that he is in no way ready for the implications of what just happened (although, to be honest, neither is she), it seems like the best course of action to take.

Here's my rational side now, she muses. She wonders where it was three nights ago. She supposes that'll always be a mystery to her.

For a moment he's very quiet, and he searches her with his earnest, bright-green eyes. And then he says slowly, "Okay." He presses his hands against the curve of the mug. "Okay."

And then he jerks up to look at her, with a smile of too much cheer. "So, Guardians, huh? Excellent choice."

They pretend they are okay. They pretend like her leaning against him on the couch, him staying until she falls asleep, doesn't mean anything.

They're both good actors, after all.


iv.

The long and winding road . . .
always leads me here, leads me here to your door

The Beatles, "The Long and Winding Road"


Barry visits her nearly every night over the next few weeks.

By implicit agreement, they never broach the subject of what they are, and they never invite anyone else over. It's always just the two of them, in her apartment at night, with some drinks and a movie. They both know that they can't keep up this pretense, but talking about it will make it real, and if it's real it can end, and if it ends it will hurt. And because they are already filled to the brim with hurt, neither of them want that.

But they talk about everything else.

Well, almost.

. . .

He always asks the questions first.

Tonight, she's in the kitchen making them dinner, and because he's finished chopping the vegetables and the meat for her, he follows her around instead.

"Where did you learn how to cook?" he asks. "And what're we having? Is it pasta? I'm craving for pasta. Are you a red sauce or a white sauce person?"

"Which question do you want answered first?" she says dryly.

"Oh, sorry," he says, sheepish. "How about in the reverse order that I've asked them?"

She hits his arm. "Get out and buy your own dinner."

"Why? We both know yours is so much better."

"A hungry man will say anything."

"But a scientist will only state facts."

She rolls her eyes, but she doesn't suppress her smile. "I'm a white sauce person," she says. "I didn't prepare noodles, so obviously it's not pasta. We're having omelettes. I watched my mother cook when I was young, and I cooked for all of us when my mother had to work to pay for my dad's hospital bills."

"Oh…" he stills and blinks. "How… How's your dad now?"

"He passed away."

"Oh." He frowns. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says quietly, as she cracks an egg at the edge of a bowl. "I never knew."

She shrugs. "It never came up, and it's not something I just… tell people."

He looks genuinely puzzled. "Why not?"

She gives him a sidelong glance. She wonders if he will understand, because they're so different in this respect—he wears his heart on his sleeve, she conceals hers in labyrinths; he shows his emotions even if he doesn't want to, she has trouble expressing them even when she does.

"I don't want to be pitied," she finally says.

"I don't pity you," he says, and she knows he is telling the truth. "I wish you'd told me sooner."

"What difference would it have made?"

He shrugs. "Is it the difference made that matters?"

She stills for a moment and he swipes a piece of omelette from the pan, so fast that she doesn't realise it until she hears him chewing. "Mmmm, this is amazing!"

She snatches the fork from his hand. "It might taste even better when it's actually cooked, Mr. Allen…"

. . .

A few nights later, as he waits for her to fall asleep, he leans back against the headboard of her bed. "Where's your mother now?" he asks.

She's still wide awake, solving a Sudoku puzzle. He'd already finished three before she calls him out for being a show-off.

Her hand pauses in the middle of filling in a box. "She's in Keystone City," she says.

"How is she doing?"

"She's fine. She runs a daycare."

Caitlin remembers the last time she saw her mother: nails painted with fresh polish, hair styled into a bob, curves flaunted by the flowing floral dress she wore. She remembers her mother when she'd been caring for her ailing father: a bony wisp of a woman, hair pulled in a haphazard ponytail, bags like bruises under her eyes. She remembers her mother a month ago, when she called to ask Caitlin how she was doing. Oh, sweetheart, she'd said, before hanging up, don't be afraid to move on.

"She's dating someone," Caitlin adds, looking at him. "I think she's happy."

He hums, and then they are silent for awhile.

"You should meet her some time," Caitlin says, and only when the words are out of her mouth does she realize the implications. "I mean, she's met Cisco, and she loved him. She'd love to meet you, too."

"You tell her about us? Team Flash, I mean."

"Of course."

"What do you say about me?" She cannot make out his features well in the meager glow of her tiny reading light, but she can make out the teasing lilt in his tone. She wonders if he's asking only out of mere curiosity.

She chooses her words carefully. "I tell her you're brave and selfless," she says. "And that you make me laugh."

"I do?"

He sounds so incredulous and hopeful that she wants so badly to see his face, but she resists the urge and says instead, "Yes. Why else do I feed you for free?"

He laughs, and her heart skips a beat. It is so painful, being so near to him, but having to be so cautious around him.

"My mother would've loved you," he says. And then, so quiet that she stops scribbling to hear him, "You know, I don't think about her every day, but when I do I miss her so much that I feel like I'm ten and alone again."

She bites her lip. "I'm sorry, Barry." On impulse, she takes his hand and squeezes. "I know what you mean."

He gives her a small smile. "I know you do."

She falls asleep at two in the morning. He is beside her when she does, but as usual, he is gone when she wakes.

He always leaves her breakfast, though. She doesn't ask him why.

. . .

But there are times—thrice, four times, maybe—that she finds him still curled beside her when she wakes. Sometimes he's muttering under his breath, and she'll think that he's awake, but when on she catches him shaking, and she realizes he is having nightmares.

Once, when she wakes him from one, he bolts up, his eyes flying open, wide and terrified, and for a few moments he doesn't see her; he's looking into the distance, and his gaze is searching, frantic. She calls his name, once, twice; she shakes him and grips him tightly; she does this until his eyes dilate and focus on her face.

"Caitlin," he says, digging his nails into her skin until it almost hurts, as if she is a ghost that will dissolve at his touch. His breathing is harsh, his voice cracked.

"Barry, I'm here," she says quietly. "I'm here."

His grip slowly loosens, and he sags into her. She rubs circles on his back. "You're here. I'm here," he murmurs, disbelieving. "I thought… I thought I was never going to come back."

She undoes the tangles in his hair, no doubt from thrashing in his sleep. "Come back from where?"

His voice is so low that she has to lean closer. "From the singularity." He leans his forehead on her shoulder. "Sometimes… I dream it was me. Me instead of Ronnie."

She doesn't know what to say, but she holds him until he stops shaking.

. . .

Barry doesn't like talking about his nightmares. After a bad night, sometimes he's quiet for a long time. Sometimes, when he's really trying to forget, he's deliberately light. There are a few times when he doesn't think of his nightmares at all and he's genuinely light, but those are rare, and she can always tell the difference.

Today, he's deliberately light.

"Did you ever like Cisco?"

They're at a supermarket buying groceries, because she'd run out of food a week before her usual shopping trip—Barry eats a lot, and she's regained her appetite with him around.

She scrunches her brow. "Where did you get that idea?"

"Just a random question."

She peruses the fruits. "No, never. I hardly even talked to him before we worked on your recovery together."

"Huh," he says. "I guess I have a talent for bringing people together."

"True. I suppose people just inexplicably gravitate to your poor unconscious body."

"Poor unconscious body with abs."

"You didn't have them at first."

"Glad you were paying attention to my ab formation."

She narrows her eyes at him. "I was paying attention to your vitals and your physical condition."

He grins, but he drops it. She tugs on his elbow so that he'll guide the cart to the frozen goods aisle instead of the sweets aisle.

"If I didn't become the Flash," he says, "do you think we'd have been friends?"

"I don't know," she says, truthfully.

"Hmm," he says, thoughtful, "I think if you weren't forced to tolerate my company, we wouldn't have become friends."

She gives him an incredulous look. "You think I just… habituated to you?"

He smiles sheepishly. "Yeah, sort of. I mean, when we first met you didn't like me very much."

"I didn't like anything very much back then," she scoffs. "If we met under different circumstances I would've been less of a bitch."

"You weren't a bitch. You were just sort of a bit mean."

She raises a brow at him.

He raises his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine, I did think it, but it was just once and then I immediately thought that, you know, you were just misunderstood."

"Misunderstood?"

Caitlin laughs, a little hysterical. Misunderstood. Well, even until now, she thinks, she doubts that he really understands her—but then maybe it's because she will not let him.

"Yeah… Did I say something wrong?"

She wonders what they're doing right now—playing house, playing at lovers—and why they're doing it. It feels a little silly, but it also feels right, somehow, and she doesn't know how to move on from what they are now. Should she bring up the night she kissed him? Should she ask him if he still loved Iris? Should they just… let it be for now? But until when will they stay in this limbo? Until when will her guilt hollow her, until when will she close herself off?

"Cait," he says, taking her wrist. She startles at his touch. "Are you okay?"

She takes a deep breath and looks away. "I'm fine, Barry."

His brow furrows, but he lets her go. She busies herself with choosing between three different frozen chickens.

After a pause, he says, "But I think there's one way we'd become friends. If I hadn't been struck by lightning."

She spares him a glance. She finally decides on the most fleshy-looking chicken, and hopes it isn't injected with hormones. "What is it?"

"Well, in my imaginary alternate universe," he begins, as she steers him, hand on his elbow, towards the cashier, "we would meet in Jitters. I'd be running late, and you'd be running early, and I'd spill coffee on you, and you'd get mad at me."

"That's how we become friends?"

"Yeah," he says. "I would buy you a new cup of coffee every day for the rest of the week, and you can't resist free coffee, so you won't refuse. And since I'm buying you coffee, you'd be obliged to stand in line with me every day for the rest of the week, and I'd talk too much and you'd talk too little and bam! Friendship."

"On your part, maybe."

"Seemingly on my part. You know you'll grudgingly admit it's friendship."

"I suppose," she says. And then, as the cashier is scanning their purchases: "Barry, what are these bags of M&Ms doing here?"

"Huh." He looks at her innocently. "How did they get there? They must have accidentally fallen into the cart."

She raises an eyebrow at him, but she passes them over to the cashier anyway, and he tries and fails to hide his grin.

. . .

She finally gives in one night, finally tells him what she should have told him months and months ago.

She doesn't know what triggers it. It's not really the alcohol—she's more than a little tipsy, yes, but not as wasted as the night she sang karaoke with him. Maybe she's grown tired of this game they're playing, this game she started. Maybe she has a penchant for self-sabotage. Maybe she finally feels brave enough to be vulnerable to him. Or maybe it's because he silences the ghosts in her mind, makes her laugh, makes her apartment less empty at night, makes her feel safe.

As in all matters of the heart, she can't pinpoint the exact reason. It can be one or two or all of the above, or it can be none. It might just really be the alcohol. It might be the way he looks in the darkness of her living room, his profile outlined by the faint glow of the television screen; how it reminds her of something elusive and fleeting, something like happiness. And it makes her ache because she doesn't want this to end, because she just wants time to stop unfolding, wants it to spiral instead around these moments so she can relive them over and over again, and she wants and she wants

She's the first to ask him a question. They're sprawled on her couch, staring at the names at the credits of the second movie they've watched that night. She's pressed up against his side, and he's tracing circles with his thumb on the back of her hand. When they've had a little to drink they get like this—they're careless with the distance they maintain when sober, and they're more generous with these little, not-so-innocent touches.

"Violet," he says. "I don't get why people name their kids after colors. I mean, when anyone says the common-noun violet, capital v Violet has to look, too. She responds twice as often but it's not her half the time."

"Poor Violet."

"April. That's another name. May. Any month name. Angel—what if she grows up to be, you know, demonic? Thomas, Chris, David… Oh, there's an Allen!"

"Barry," she says.

"There's a Barry?"

"No, silly." She hides her face in his shoulder. "I was calling your attention."

"Oh, right. Yeah?"

"Do you remember Everyman?"

It is discouraging, how long he pauses to think. She can't forget that name if she tried.

"Oh, that shapeshifter!" he finally exclaims. "Hannibal Bates, right?"

"Yes," she says. "He kissed me."

He jerks from his seat so abruptly that her head falls off his shoulder. "What?"

"I kissed him back."

"Okay, Cait," he says, "I think you've had enough to drink…"

"He shape-shifted into you," she continues, unable to stop the confession once she's started it. "He shape-shifted into you and kissed me. And I kissed him back."

His jaw drops. He closes his mouth, opens it, and then closes it again. His brow furrows.

"Why?" he says, a strangled sound.

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

She casts a glance at him, and all his emotions are on display—he's confused, incredulous, conflicted, bewildered… hopeful?

"No," she says, because denial is easy, familiar. But when his face falls she inhales and says, "Yes. I don't know."

"Is that why you slapped me?"

"Yes."

"And Ronnie—"

"—was away." Alive, but absent.

There is a long silence.

"Do you love Iris?" she asks.

"I… did."

"Do you still?"

"Why did you kiss Everyman?"

They're asking questions they know the answers to, but these are answers neither of them will believe unless said out loud.

They really are quite the pair, she thinks dryly. The hero who believes himself a murderer, the widow who believes herself unfaithful. They whose sins (imagined or exaggerated, it doesn't matter, because if you think it too often it becomes real) condemn them to be unworthy of love.

The silence stretches.

The words are easy enough to say. I like you. Not I love you, she thinks, because those words scare her. So: I like you. They're sweet and light on her tongue—frivolous, even—but this deceptive lightness hardly betrays the weight of their meaning. Those three words will change everything between them. Is she ready for that? Is he ready for that? What if he still loves Iris? What if he thinks he likes her, but has in fact never moved on from Iris? He's loved Iris for more than half his life, how can a benign thing such as her like ever compare?

Suddenly she feels sick. Heat is flooding her face and the room is spinning and she doesn't remember why she thought this was a good idea, why she said what she did, or what she even expected from it—no, that's not true. She knows what she expects from this—she wants what they have right now to last a long time, she wants to go out with him too during the day, wants to introduce him to her mother, wants Cisco to tease them and whine about being a third wheel on all their movie dates, wants him to want her back… And she was so caught up in the whirlwind of her own want that she'd forgotten that he might not want the same things with the same intensity. She'd forgotten that what she's doing is a gamble: nothing will be the same between them again.

She closes her eyes. This is the first time she's even truly admitted it to herself, and now she has to admit it to him, too.

He shifts.

She wavers.

She takes a breath to steel herself—but before she can say anything he blurts out, "I don't love Iris anymore."

Hope blooms in her chest, and she thinks, say it, say it now—

But he looks away from her. "I mean… I'll always love Iris as my closest friend," he says. She watches him wring his hands together. "She's been there for me through everything, and… and I owe her so much. I mean, for the longest time she was the only one who believed me about the yellow streak." His lips quirk into a wry smile. "She was always so kind to me, and she stood up to bullies for me, and… how could I not have fallen in love with her?"

Caitlin feels the twist of a knife in her gut, and a voice in her mind says, Will he ever talk about you like this, and You will never be what Iris means to him… but she keeps quiet and lets him continue.

He exhales. "But I guess she never felt the same way, and I held on to my feelings for her because… this sounds stupid, but I felt… I felt, who was I if I wasn't the Barry who was in love with Iris? So I held on to that because I felt it was what I deserved. I thought that I wasn't good enough for Iris, and not being good enough gave me something to work at." He lets out a bark of laughter. "It became… a sort of game to me. 'Maybe if I top the exams, Iris will finally notice me. Maybe if I solve this case, Iris will be impressed.'"

"That isn't fair to you," she says quietly. "Or to Iris."

He lowers his head. "I know. I realized." He pauses. "I've been told not to tell anyone this," he mutters, glancing at her, "But I went back in time, once. Back in that other timeline, Iris… loved me back."

The knife twists again. What other timeline? But he is still speaking, so she tucks her questions in for some other time.

"We kissed right before the tsunami came in. When I came back to the time before that happened, I thought, you know, maybe if I did something life-threatening… Iris would be so scared of losing me that… that she would…"

"Realize that she loves you, too," she says.

"Yeah," he sighs. "It's stupid, I know."

"And pointless, if you actually die," she adds.

He flashes her a small smile. "Yeah, but I wasn't thinking very logically." He presses his palms together. "And then I see her around Eddie. I mean, really see them together. She was so happy, Cait, and everything between them was so weren't trying to prove themselves to each other, and Eddie… really put her first. Her goals, her dreams… even when he didn't like the Flash, he supported her. He even broke up with her for awhile because he thought she'd end up with me and be happier with me. And it made me realize how selfish I was. I was so obsessed with how to make Iris love me back that I don't think I ever knew what it meant to really love her the way Eddie did."

She tells him, gently, "Just because someone else loves her differently, doesn't mean you lose the right to love her, too."

"But the thing is," he says, "When I finally accepted that Iris and Eddie really loved each other, I knew that I didn't love Iris anymore. She'll always be my first love, but… she doesn't have to be the only one, or the last one."

He glances meaningfully at her.

She digs her teeth in her bottom lip.

"How's Iris now?" she says instead, and she feels like a coward.

He blinks. "She's… coping," he says, slowly. "She works more than ever to keep from losing her mind, but she's strong. She'll… she'll be okay."

"That's good," she says. "I'm glad to hear that."

"Caitlin," he says.

She glances at him.

"You haven't answered my question."

She sighs. "There's nothing much to say."

"Oh?" he says, eyebrows shooting up. She knows that expression—he always does that with his eyebrows when he is about to tease her. And somehow, she's glad that he's going to, because she thinks she's had enough drama for one night. "Maybe I should rephrase the question."

"Please, do."

He leans back against the couch and slides nearer to her. "Did… Did I kiss better than the fake me?"

She purses her lips. "I don't know," she says. This is almost too easy. Barry has never been good at hiding his intentions. "My memory of your kiss is a bit fuzzy."

"That's not good," he says lightly, shifting so that he can face her. "Want me to… refresh your memory?"

He grins.

She can't resist this if she tried.

"By all means, Mr. Allen," she says, and he smiles again, but this time it's smaller, uncertain. He tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, the pads of his fingers brushing lightly against her cheek, and he moves to cup her chin. She stays still, watching him. His eyes flicker to her lips, and he moves closer but he's so very cautious, and just a few centimeters before his lips touch hers he draws back imperceptibly, asks, "Are you sure?" and she says, "Are you?" and he grins, and finally, finally, presses his lips to hers, and Caitlin feels something has just clicked into place; feels, for the first time in months, that something is right.

When he pulls away, he trails his hand down her bare arm, moves to take her hand. "Well?"

"Silly," she tells him, twining their fingers together. "I kissed him back because I like you."

"That's not the question anymore," he says. "But that's nice to know, too."

"Hmm," she says, looking at him through her lashes. "I think I don't have sufficient evidence to answer your… rephrased question."

His eyes darken. "Oh?"

Before she can say anything else, he pulls her back again into a kiss, this one less gentle than the first. His hand slides down her back, leaving goosebumps in its wake, while the other runs through her hair before settling firmly on the nape of her neck, and he pulls her closer, closer, so that she's pressed tightly up against him. She tangles her hands in his hair, and he nips on her lower lip so she parts them in a gasp, and his tongue sweeps into her mouth, licking and tasting and plundering, and he shifts so that she's straddling his lap, and oh, she shouldn't be aroused from a kiss but he is hot and insistent against her and—

"So," he says, pulling away when they are both out of breath, "how's that for evidence?"

His fingers are playing with the hem of her tank top and it's driving her mad, it doesn't help the fog that's clouding her mind, but she manages an "It's passable, I suppose" and he chuckles because they both know it was far from passable. She leans her forehead on his and his hand slips under tank top and traces the skin just above the rim of her shorts, and she squirms in his lap.

"And here I thought you had nothing much to say," he drawls, voice rough and an octave lower.

She smirks. She squirms again, intentionally this time.

Her name tumbles from his lips in a low growl.

She gives him an innocent smile and says, "I didn't really have to talk, you know."

It's only half-true. There are other things she wants to tell him. But she supposes that telling him that she likes him is good enough for now.


v.

If one heart can mend another
Only then can we begin

Lykke Li, "No Rest for the Wicked"


The next day Caitlin is humming Summer Lovin' at work.

No, they didn't have sex, but he did choose to stay the night with her, and he even lingered over breakfast that morning—meaning that shortly before she left for work, he started an all-out M&M war. Out of nowhere, he used his speed to flick M&Ms at her, and she retaliated by slipping them down his clothes, and it was childish and utterly ridiculous but she hasn't laughed so hard since…

Well, since.

It puts her in a good mood throughout her ride to work.

"Good morning, Caitlin," her colleague Eliza greets her. Caitlin smiles and greets her back, and Eliza looks mildly surprised. "Huh," she says. "Did somebody get laid last night? Considering it's a Monday morning, you look unusually happy."

Caitlin stills. The word happy sounds suddenly unfamiliar, like meeting an old high school friend that she hasn't seen in years. Happy, she tries again. The word is an exhale cut short by a press of the lips, ends in a vowel-sound that forces a smile. Happy. Happy. Happy. Meaning elation, meaning pleasure, meaning contentment.

Meaning absence of sadness, absence of grief.

Is she happy? The word summons an image of Barry. He's the song she hummed, the secret in her smile. But is she allowed to be happy, and happy with Barry, only mere months after Ronnie's death—or possibly his disappearance? If Ronnie returns to her now, will he ever forgive her this happiness?

The answer constricts her throat.

She doesn't resume humming.

"Caitlin?" Eliza says, concerned.

She turns away. "It's nothing," she clips.

But she closes her hand around the ring on her neck until the metal digs into her flesh.

. . .

She doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve Barry, not after what she'd done to Ronnie. She doesn't deserve happy.

Her days with Barry flit in her mind like scenes from a movie. She feels like she's waking up from a dream. How could she have let that happen? Had she forgotten Ronnie so easily? Ronnie, whose things are still in her closet? Ronnie, whose promise is still nestled around her neck? Ronnie, whose name is still half of her own? 'Til death do us part, they said in their vows, but she knows that the dead never really leave.

And then there is that one secret she kept from him—that she liked Barry, that she liked him before Ronnie came back into her life, liked him when Ronnie reappeared and then went away, liked him enough to return the kiss of a stranger with his face, liked him enough to doubt her love for Ronnie—oh my God, I was in love with Barry this whole time

And suddenly it's so clear to her now, why she felt uneasy around Ronnie when he returned and proposed, why she was so cautious around Barry, why, even as she said her vows, she thought, No, I'm not ready, why she wasn't really devastated by Ronnie's second death, why she caught herself thinking, once, while watching Barry sleep, maybe Ronnie's death was for the good

It was because this emotional infidelity of hers had already allowed her to detach herself from him.

She's a terrible person.

She's a mess of frayed nerves when she arrives at her apartment. She instinctively reaches for the vodka in her fridge, but it's the same bottle of vodka she and Barry had shared the night before, and her gut twists. She really shouldn't have said anything, she thinks dimly. She should have just let them stay as they were. But she was greedy, and she felt entitled to be loved, even if she isn't worthyof it. She's an idiot. How could she have let her self-control slip? She should have kept her walls up, should have pushed him away from the very start, should have never asked him to stay, should have stayed away from vodka in the first place so she'd never run into him…

She wrenches all the bottles of alcohol from her fridge and pours everything down the sink.

. . .

She doesn't return any of his calls.

Still, he comes knocking on her door right after his work. "Cait, are you okay?" His voice is thick with worry, even when muffled through her door. "You haven't returned any of my calls, and I thought that something might have happened, but your colleagues told me you went to work and went straight home as usual, so… I was worried. Is something wrong? Cait?"

"Go away," she tells him. She doesn't trust herself to kick him out of her apartment once she lets him in, so she speaks through the door instead. "I'm not feeling well."

"Are you sick?" he says, and her heart clenches. "Please let me in, I can't cook but I can probably microwave a can of chicken noodle soup…"

She takes a deep breath. "Barry, just leave. I—I don't want to see you."

There's a painful pause. And then: "Why?" he asks. "Did I do something wrong? Did I say something wrong?"

"No," she says. "I want to be alone."

"Cait," he pleads. "This isn't making any sense to me. Please just tell me what's wrong."

"You didn't save Ronnie," she says, and she startles even herself with her words. She doesn't know where they're coming from, but she does know that she doesn't deserve him, and that she'll hurt him now so he'll hateher, as he should, and never come back. "You saved Professor Stein but you didn't save Ronnie."

It's deathly silent on the other side of the door.

"Cait, I—" His voice falters. "I—shit, I'm so sorry, I tried to—to look for him, but I was—I was terrified to go any further because—"

"Because you're a coward," she says, and her voice is sharp because she's on the verge of tears. "I wish it had been you instead of Ronnie. I wish you were the one who disappeared."

She never hated herself more than when she says those words.

"But last night… I thought…"

His voice breaks, and something withers inside her.

"Like you said," she says, "I had too much to drink."

She hears a dull thud outside, like he's pressed his forehead to her door. Or maybe it's his back, and he's slid down to the floor, holding his head in his hands. God, she wants to see him so badly, wants to take back all she said, to tell him No no no don't believe me you're the only good thing in my life now

But she makes a fist around her wedding ring, bites her lip until it bleeds.

"Cait," he says feebly. "This isn't you, I—can you… let me in, tell me what's… what's really wrong—"

"I already did." She feels suddenly very tired. "I don't want to see you, Barry, and I'm not going to change my mind. Can't you take a hint?"

"Okay, I'm—I'm sorry, I'll—" There's shuffling on the other end. "I'll go—"

She feels the wind rush in from the crack under her door.

When everything is still again, she leans back against the door, slumps to the floor, and sobs.

. . .

She goes to bed at midnight, shaking, nauseated, head stuffed with cotton. She's cried so much that her face is raw from her constant swiping at her tears, and when she takes a bath the soap stings the skin around nose. She can't cook properly, since her hands keep trembling, so she microwaves chicken noodle soup instead. She doesn't bother to wash the dishes afterwards.

She's underestimated the extent of her alcohol dependency, she thinks dimly. Eight hours without a drink and she's already feeling the symptoms of withdrawal.

Her phone is silent. There isn't even a text from Barry. She expects this. She drove him away, after all, practically told him that she wished him dead.

And yet—

She keeps staring at her phone. Listens for his characteristic knock on her door.

Waiting. Aching. Wanting.

. . .

She dreams of shadows again.

The dream is familiar: She's in her room, floating above her bed, and the pale light of the moon trickles in from her windows. The shadows dance around her. They have no faces. She follows them, asks, Have you seen Ronnie, but they slither away from her translucent hands.

And then the air shimmers and she knows that it's not the same dream anymore. Suddenly the shadows are dancing around her—they dance until they close in on her, tighter and tighter and tighter until she can't slip away—she wants to scream but before she opens her mouth they start speaking in keening, wailing voices, voices like the cold edge of a knife—and they laugh and say, Can you tell which of us is your Ronnie?—they whirl to face her—they have faces of hollows for eyes and smiles of blood—and she screams, but her voice drowns in their laughter—You should not have come looking for me here, they taunt, You should not have followed me into the singularity—a nameless fear plunges cold fingers down her throat and clenches around her heart—Let me out, she screams, shutting her eyes, you are not Ronnie!

The vision dissolves.

When her eyes flutter open, she's standing in the middle of a field, under a blue sky. She hears the sound of a river gurgling in the distance.

Caitlin.

Ronnie? she whirls around. Where are you?

I've gone home, he says. She can't pinpoint the source of his voice, but she runs away, she runs down the length of the endless field to find him. If only she could see him again—if only she could tell him that she's sorry, that she's so, so sorry, because he loved her so much with a love she didn't deserve—

Caitlin, I've gone home.

She collapses on the grass. The tall stalks sway gently in the wind. She tilts her head to the sky. But where's home?

The wind lifts tendrils of hair from her shoulders, caresses her heated skin. You'll have to find yours. The voice fades away, and even if she can't see him, she feels that he's leaving.

Ronnie, wait, there's something I need to tell you—

The grass stills. The river gurgles in the distance. She's alone again, but the sky stretches around her and opens to receive her, and she curls into the center of its warmth.

. . .

There are streaks of fresh tears on her face when she wakes. She's disoriented by the darkness of her room, because she can still see that silent field, that blue sky, hear the gurgling of the river and the whisper of Ronnie's voice—and she feels suddenly nostalgic, because it's been so long since she's last heard his voice, since she's last seen his face. Is her memory of his face even accurate? Was that really the way his jaw curved? What was the exact shade of green of his eyes? And his scent—she has no memory of his scent—

Caitlin scrambles out of her bed, ignores the way her stomach heaves, and rushes to her closet. She drags the box with his clothes out, rips the tape from the flaps, and grabs the first shirt that she touches. She buries her face into it and inhaleslike a woman starved of air, and yes it smells a little stale but it still smells like Ronnie, still smells like sandalwood and musk, and she savors this, revels in it, commits it to memory…

And then she pulls her dresser open and unearths their shoebox of pictures, and she pauses at each shot as she goes through them, thinks, his eyes are an army green, thinks, this is the way his jaw curves in profile, this is the crooked line of his mouth when he smiles

She's crying and hiccupping when she starts going through their wedding pictures. There are pictures of them exchanging their vows, and she remembers them already exchanging lengthier ones the night before, remembers her telling him, If you disappear on me again I'll go to the ends of the earth to find you, remembers him telling her, I'll never disappear again, and no matter where I am or who I become I'll always love you and I'll never stop loving you, and even if I lose all my memories I'll know you when I find you—

She sobs into his shirt. Ronnie, I am so sorry, she mouths. Her throat is clogged with tears. I'm so sorry I didn't set out to find you, I'm sorry I didn't try harder to make you stay… If only I'd made you stay, if only the particle accelerator had never exploded, if only we could have back all that lost time, if only I—I'd been honest about Barry…

There were moments when she was certain she loved him, like that night before their wedding, and there were moments when she looked at Barry and felt drawn to him, drawn to his playfulness and his bravery, drawn to the sadness he always tries to hide…

She should have told Ronnie, but now he is dead and he will never know, and she has no one to ask forgiveness from.

She wipes the tears from her eyes and takes a deep breath. She thinks of the Ronnie from her dream. She remembers him saying, You'll have to find yours—she will have to find her home. She thought he was her home. She thought Team Flash was her home. And then she thinks of Barry—

But they are all gone, now.

She wonders if Ronnie was the wind. She wonders if he was the sky. And a sudden knowledge blooms in her heart: he would have forgiven her. He would have been furious, but it would be because he loved her. He wouldn't hold a grudge. He would have said, I love you, so go to Barry. I want you to be happy. She knows this because he's a man who gave his life twice to the city, and a heart like his will always be large enough to give.

All she has to do now is to receive.

. . .

The next day, she takes the day off from work.

She finally sends Ronnie's things to Goodwill.

She visits his parents. Mr. Raymond is still searching for him, but they have Ronnie's favorite food for lunch and they tell Ronnie's jokes to each other and they smile and cry at his baby pictures together and it's cathartic to finally be able to cry with them, these people who have loved him first and who still love him most.

She calls her mother, and she tells her, Mom, I think I'm finally trying to move on.

. . .

She leaves Barry for last, because she is afraid and she doesn't know what to say.

When she pulls up at the CCPD she feels more nauseous than usual, and her hands are clammy and shaking. She's gone a whole day without a drop of alcohol and the symptoms of withdrawal are at their worst, but she needs to speak with him before the end of the day, needs to know that their relationship isn't irreparable. But she'll understand if he tells her he needs time. She'll understand if he doesn't want to be her friend anymore. But she needs to tell him that she meant nothing of what she said yesterday before he starts believing that they're true.

She doesn't run into Cisco, but she sees Iris and Joe, and they give her hard, hostile looks when she asks for Barry.

It's Iris who finally relents. "I don't know what happened between you two, but please fix it. He's barely slept last night and he's hardly eaten anything the whole day."

She's about to ask how they know it's her because she and Barry agreed to never tell anyone, but then Joe is a detective and Iris is a journalist so of course they would know.

She finds him in his lab, and for a moment she leans against the entrance, watches him work. He's using his speed, but he's careless with the samples—he curses every so often when a solution spills from the rim of the test tube or when he mislabels blood samples. He throws a few pieces of evidence onto the table and sighs in frustration, rubbing his hands over his face.

She clears her throat.

He swivels around so fast that he nearly knocks the evidence off the table. His eyes widen when he sees her, and she immediately sees the hurt in his eyes, but in the next moment his face becomes a blank mask. The change startles her. Since when has he been able to do that?

"Hey, Barry."

"Caitlin."

She inhales and exhales slowly, and decides it's better to get straight to the point. "I—I'm sorry," she says. She worries her bottom lip and averts her eyes. She fiddles with the strap of her handbag. "For all the things I said. I didn't mean any of them."

He crosses his arms. "Yeah? Why did you say them in the first place?"

"I…" she gulps. This isn't going to be easy for her. "I was trying to push you away."

"You told me you liked me the night before and then you push me away?"

His scathing tone wounds her, but she's braced herself for this. "I know, it was stupid of me." She picks on a loose piece of thread on her bag. "I was guilty and angry at myself, and I took it out on you."

He's silent.

She pulls on the thread until another inch unravels. "Barry, I… I've liked you for… a while," she says. "Even… Even before we found Ronnie again. I just never really admitted it to myself. At least, not until Everyman kissed me." She twirls the thread around her finger. "I liked you enough to doubt getting married to Ronnie"—at this, his eyes widen—"but I never told anyone, and I never told him, and I never told you… And I felt—I still feel, sometimes—that somehow I was unfaithful to him, and because of that I didn't deserve to be with anyone." She swipes her tongue over her bottom lip to soothe the sting of her bite. "So I pushed you away. And… And I used what I knew would hurt you so you'd hate me. And I know it was terrible of me to do that, but I didn't mean it. Any of it."

He looks away when she tries to catch his eye. "Did you ever wish it had been me instead of Ronnie?"

"Never," she says, with vehemence. "You have to believe me now. I never did. You were a hero that day, too. I always tell you that."

He gives her a mirthless smile. "Sometimes the bad things are easier to believe."

Her posture sags. "I'm sorry."

"You… You really hurt me, Caitlin."

This time his mask has fallen away, and he's looking at her with naked hurt on his face. She wants nothing more than to embrace him and tell him—for the rest of her life, if she needs to—that she never meant what she said. But his arms are still crossed and his shoulders are still hunched and he's never like that with her, he's never defensivearound her—he's always open arms and animated gestures, and seeing him like this, like he's bracing himself for an attack, hurts more than she can admit.

She closes her eyes. "I know. I wish I could go back in time and unsay the words."

"Last night, I…" He exhales shakily. "I went to the building I climbed to save Professor Stein from the singularity."

Her chest tightens. "Barry…"

"I thought maybe there would be something of Ronnie's… to bring back, so you'd forgive me."

She can imagine him there, frantically searching. Shaking in fear. Trying to be brave. She feels the familiar lead weight of guilt in her gut.

He lets out a brittle laugh. "Believe me, I've wished it was me instead of Ronnie, too, me instead of Eddie, so I wouldn't have to live with the guilt—"

"Stop," Caitlin says, her voice breaking. She takes a step towards him, but he recoils—he actually recoils from her. She quickly moves back and lets her hands fall to her sides. "Don't do this to yourself, Barry. I'll say it as many times as I need to. I didn't mean anything. There's nothing to forgive you for because you did nothing wrong…"

He doesn't believe her. She can see it in his face—he doesn't believe her.

He tells her he needs time. He asks her to leave.

There's a howling in her chest. She feels that she has lost him.

. . .

She takes the next two days off because she can barely function. She can't think clearly and she can't sleep properly and she can't hold anything without trembling. Every time she tries to eat her stomach heaves, but even when she hasn't eaten anything she goes through the motions of vomiting, anyway. She looks and feels like shit. She swears that she'll never touch another drink again.

She has nightmares, but they seem like Barry's nightmares—she finds herself floating in the void of the singularity, and she hears familiar voices but they can't hear her when she calls them, and she never sees anything other than an endless abyss of darkness all around her.

So when she wakes up from a nap on the second afternoon to the sound of knocking and Barry's voice, she thinks she's still in a dream. She mechanically gets up from bed and trudges to the door. She doesn't expect to see a face—but when she pulls the door open and sees Barry there, in the flesh, holding a huge pack of M&Ms, she blinks and stares.

And stares.

She rubs her bleary eyes and presses the heels of her palms to clear them, but he is still there, looking apprehensive and confused.

"Cisco… ran into Eliza today, and… I heard that you called in sick for the past two days," he starts, haltingly. "And you never call in sick, not even when you're actually sick, so I… was worried."

She can't bring herself to speak. She's resigned herself to never seeing him again for a very long time that him being here just two days after they've last talked is surreal.

"I brought…" He gestures to the M&Ms. "Medicine?"

A small smile makes its way to her face, unbidden.

"Just what I needed," she manages to croak.

She lets him in. He's careful not to touch her as he enters, careful not to maintain that blank mask, but when he sees her unwashed dishes and empty alcohol bottles in her sink, his eyebrows shoot up in incredulity. "Did you drink all that?"

"No," she says. "I dumped them down the drain."

His brow furrows. "Why?"

"I was getting rid of a bad habit."

Comprehension dawns on him. "You quit cold turkey so you're going through alcohol withdrawal."

"It's not so bad," she hedges.

"Are you sure you're a doctor?" he demands, setting the bag of M&Ms on her counter. "Isn't there a prescription to ease the symptoms?"

"I have a slight allergic reaction to it," she says. "And besides, the symptoms should subside by tomorrow."

He gives her a dubious look. And then he says, "Huh, it's not every day that I can see your apartment messy. It's even worse than my room."

"Revel in it while you can," she says.

"I could," he says, thoughtfully. "But then I could also show off my cleaning skills."

This time, a grin finally surfaces on his face, and relief floods her body. He's not mad at me anymore, she thinks dimly.

Before she can think anything else, he's tidying her apartment in a blur—she hears the rush of water and her dishes are sparkling clean, hears the tinkling of bottles and her trash is taken out. He folds her blankets, fluffs her pillows, clears the clothes littered in her room.

And then he stays with her for the rest of the night. He microwaves a can of chicken noodle soup for her (and a can for himself—solidarity, he says), holds her hair back as she vomits the chicken noodle soup he'd heated, and presses his body against hers when she starts shivering uncontrollably. He holds her when she gets into bed that night, and she clutches at his shirt, afraid that he's going to leave, but he doesn't; instead he runs his fingers through her hair, and in the dark she starts crying, tells him, "Barry, I'm so sorry, I don't deserve any of this," but he silences her with a kiss to her hair and he says, "It's not about deserving anything," and she wonders if he's remembering how he keeps trying to prove himself to deserve Iris's love… But she doesn't wonder about it for long. She doesn't want to think anymore; she just wants to be close to him, so she holds onto him tightly and buries her face in his chest, breathing him in.

For the first time in days, she feels warm and safe, and she falls into a deep sleep.

. . .

It won't always be easy after that. Sometimes she'll compare herself to Iris. Sometimes he'll compare himself to Ronnie. Barry still has nightmares about the singularity, and there are days when she misses Ronnie so much that she gets up in the middle of the night and cries into one of the shirts of his that she'd kept.

But she always wakes Barry from his nightmares and grounds him with her voice, and somehow he always knows when she misses Ronnie, because he gets up no matter how quiet she tries to be, and he holds her close until she stops crying.

And sometimes, the sound of a voice, the comfort of a touch, is all they really need.

. . .

When they finally make love, it's completely unlike the time that they almost did. It's slow and so very gentle, and Barry takes his time in tracing all the contours of her body with his mouth, and she learns all the marks on his, every freckle and every scar. He's so very careful with her, and when he looks at her his gaze is so reverent and adoring that her heart melts and she understands that yes, it isn't about deserving anything, love isn't about giving what the other deserves, it's just giving and giving and giving… And when he slides into her she loses herself; her world bursts at the seams with light, and she soars to the sky's embrace; and when he brings her back to him with his voice and earth-green eyes, she feels like she has finally found her home.


epilogue

love is more thicker than forget . . .
it is most mad and moonly . . .
it is most sane and sunly

e.e. cummings, from "[love is more thicker than forget]"


A month and a half later, the night before Flash Day, Barry takes her on her kitchen counter as part of their mission to baptize every flat surface of her apartment, and in the aftermath they're both boneless and sated on the kitchen floor, surrounded by displaced utensils and salad ingredients. She places her chin on his chest and smiles sleepily at him.

"When you were five," she says, "what did you want to be?"

He replies without hesitation. "A doctor. Just like my dad."

She hums. "So you've always wanted to help people, huh?"

"Yeah," he laughs. "Well, my dad was really something. He would have patients calling him at midnight, but he never turned them down. Not even if it was only a stomachache or the flu."

She laces her fingers with his as he speaks. "Your father's a good man."

"Yeah. I wish everyone else could see that," he says quietly. He traces aimless circles on her bare hip. "How about you? What did you want to be when you were five?"

"Oh my god," she says. "You're going to laugh."

"I won't. Scout's honor."

"Liar. And you were never a scout. Oh, don't look so surprised. Cisco and I learned a lot about you while you were in that coma."

He laughs. "C'mon, you can't just bait me like that. What is it?"

"It's a secret…"

There is a mischievous glint in Barry's eyes, and he begins kissing down the column of her throat. "I can keep secrets…"

"No—bribing," she grouses, but it ends in a breathy gasp when he swirls his tongue around her nipple. Her toes curl and her back arches off the floor, and she knows she's going to surrender. "Fine, fine," she relents, and he pulls back with a wicked smile. "I wanted to be a princess. There, happy? Hey, you said you wouldn't laugh!"

Barry presses his lips into a line, and he is kissing down her stomach but he's laughing. "A princess?"

She sulks. "I was five and watched Disney nonstop—I was a normal girl at one point, you know—God, I won't even try explaining myself. Forget it. I know it's stupid."

"Hey, hey," Barry says, reaching for her shoulder before she turns away from him. His hand slides down her arm to intertwine their fingers, and he brings her hand to his lips, peppering her knuckles with light kisses. "I'm not laughing because it's stupid. You're just… really cute." He knows she's struggling to stay upset at him. "Does that appease your ire, your majesty?"

Caitlin sniffs. "No. Your compliment is a paltry gift."

Barry chuckles and drapes his arm around her waist. "Princess Caitlin, you are a tyrant."

"Only to disobedient subjects," she returns. She tilts her head to touch her lips to his jaw. "Even then, I let my prisoners choose their punishment."

Just as he says "Why do I like the sound of that," Caitlin moves on top of him, rolling her hips against his. His eyes darken and he immediately hardens under her.

"Hm," she says, bending to trace his cock with her lips. "I rather enjoy the perks of your rapid regenerative abilities."

"Caitlin," he growls, half-warning, half-plea, and she takes him into her mouth and teases him until he's incoherent from arousal. Before he comes he flips them over and flashes them to her bedroom, slamming the door behind him and completely forgetting about dinner.

. . .

They don't come out again until morning, and Barry's almost late for the celebration held in his honor, but even as she shoos him away he dilly-dallies on her doorstep.

"You'll be there, won't you?"

"Of course, silly."

"And you'll be cheering me on?"

She rolls her eyes. "I'll think about it."

He grins because they both know she will, and then he pecks her on the lips, whispers a "love you" into her mouth, and leaves a gust of wind in his wake.

She leans on the frame of her door and smiles. Not just because of Barry, but because she's marveling at how they're both okay now, because they've struggled against their demons and won, because it's time for Team Flash to regroup and move on.

Because the city needs them, and they are finally ready.