A/N: I finally finished Season 2 and ideas kept churning through my head and wouldn't leave me alone...so I guess I'm back to SnowBarry! At least temporarily...we'll see if Season 3 gives me any good ideas!
Anyway, this is set right after the Season 2 finale. Please read and review!
She said she was okay. Fine. Recovering.
That was what she said every time he asked, but the shadow lurking behind her eyes as she looked down at the floor, avoiding his gaze, betrayed her lie.
In the midst of the conflict with Zoom, she'd said that she wasn't okay, but that she'd get there. It'd been a week. Or maybe two weeks. Barry wasn't sure - he was as broken as she was, and keeping track of time seemed so insignificant compared to the storm of emotions inside him. But the point was, she hadn't improved. Neither had he, but he didn't care about that - it was easier that way. Pretend to be numb and maybe one day he'd get there. But for Caitlin...he wanted better.
She'd been through so much. Ronnie's death, Jay's betrayal, her time as his captive, and she'd soldiered through. She'd pretended to be Killer Frost and had pretended to care for Jay to distract him - Barry couldn't even imagine how difficult that must have been for her in her emotional state. But she'd done it. And he respected her for it. But now that things had slowed down, now that they weren't jumping from world-ending disaster to world-ending disaster, the shock had worn off and she'd retreated back into herself. Even Cisco had been unable to reach her, no matter how hard he tried.
But Barry couldn't miss how she flinched every time someone entered a room unexpectedly, or how her hands shook sometimes, or how she never spoke unless addressed with a direct question. It was the worst he had ever seen her.
"Okay," he finally said, after a too-long pause.
Caitlin started, seeming to have forgotten that they had been speaking. She had become lost in her own head again - something that happened much too frequently now. "Thanks for asking," she replied briskly, with a forced smile.
"Just...just let me know if I can do anything." Barry stepped forward and went to place his hand on her shoulder, but she flinched away instinctively. He withdrew the hand without commenting on her reaction. "Please." He didn't know if he could offer much more to her than being broken together, but he felt like he needed to say something.
Caitlin nodded, again not meeting his eyes. "Of course."
"Uh, great." Awkwardly, Barry turned away, unsure of what to say, what to do.
Surprisingly, even though she was generally monosyllabic and terrible company, Caitlin was probably his favourite person to be around since...everything... happened. Everyone else kept trying to tell him that things were going to be okay and that he would get through his grief. However, Caitlin didn't try to comfort him. Whether or not it was healthy, Barry wasn't ready to move past his messed up state and he appreciated that she was the only person who accepted that and would let him wallow. No questions asked. No words said. Just silence and shared suffering.
Maybe one day, that silence could be broken and both of them could find a way to heal. But, for now, this was okay. This was what Barry needed. He just wished that he could offer her the same small comfort in return that she offered him.
It was that evening that he returned to STAR Labs. It was late - the fact that it was dark outside registered dimly in Barry's brain, but it made no difference to him. Why should it? Sleeping just invited the nightmares, and he didn't need any more of those. He had enough of them during the day, anytime he wasn't actively involved in something. He just couldn't stop reliving his father's death at Zoom's hands…
The lab was deserted, as he'd hoped. He liked the alone time, the peace of being the only one there. For some reason, this was always where he came when he didn't know where to go. A small part of him whispered that he should really go see Iris, that she would be touched if he would confide how he was feeling in her, but he couldn't bear to do that. He loved her, that much was true, but seeing her just reminded him of how happy he should have been, would have been, if not for Zoom. And he couldn't handle that. Instead, he avoided her. Just like everyone else.
Rounding the bend in the hallway, he entered the main room in the lab. And then he saw her, huddled on the ground with her head resting on her knees, and his broken heart twisted just a little bit more inside of him at the sight. His foot scuffed on the floor as he took an involuntary step forward, reaching out towards her.
Her head rose and whipped around to face him at the sound and she let out a panicked soft gasp, scrambling backwards away from where he stood. There was stark terror in her eyes, a sharp contrast against the tear stains on her cheeks. He noticed that there was a tranquilizer gun clutched between her trembling fingers, a fact she seemed to have forgotten in her fear at his sudden appearance. "Please, no, not again…" The words were soft, but Barry heard them clearly in the silence.
"It's just me, Cait," he said reassuringly, holding up his hands non-threatening. "It's just Barry." He approached until he was crouching down next to her on the floor. "Can I sit?"
Nodding, she shifted slightly to allow him to ease into a sitting position next to her. "And can I just…" he didn't finish his sentence, instead reaching for the gun, still resting, forgotten, between her fingers. She released her grip on the gun and it nearly clattered on the floor before Barry caught it. "Thanks." Whatever had scared Caitlin enough to put her in this state, huddled on the floor of the lab with a gun in her hands, made him wary of letting her hold a gun, even if it was only a tranquilizer.
They sat in silence for a while, neither of them willing to confront their own inner darkness out loud. Turning slightly towards her, Barry noticed that Caitlin was wearing fuzzy blue pajamas, striped with purple. Her hair was in a messy knot at the back of her head instead of its normal straight style. Obviously, she had come here for the same reason he had - to escape the nightmares. Normally, she was so put together that it felt odd to see her so...vulnerable. Like she was letting a tiny bit of what she felt on the inside escape to the outside, at least for the moment.
"I see him," her voice broke the silence, trembling. "I see him and he won't leave me alone."
Barry didn't have to ask who she meant. "He's gone, Caitlin," he said gently, shifting even more towards her. "He can't hurt you anymore."
"I don't know if he'll ever stop hurting me," she whispered, turning her tear-streaked face towards him. "Even though he's gone...he's not gone in here." She tapped her head. "I know, it's ridiculous, but…" she trailed off.
"It's not ridiculous. What you went through...it doesn't just vanish. It takes time to deal." After going through what she had, anyone would be a mess. It was surprising that was holding together as well as she was, honestly.
"I'm not the only one who needs time," she remarked dryly, glancing pointedly at him through her tear-filled eyes.
It was the most normal, Caitlin-like thing he had heard her say since Zoom, and he smiled despite himself. "I very definitely don't have to take my own advice," he responded with a slight smile. "Avoidance is…" he sighed. Avoidance was complicated. He knew that he accomplished nothing by avoiding how he felt, but at the same time, avoidance brought the numbness that got him through each day.
"Yeah," she agreed, nodding as if she could hear his thoughts. "You really should try, though," she started, biting her lip and looking straight ahead. "Talk to Iris."
"I will if you'll talk to Cisco," he returned her challenge.
"Neither can I." Iris couldn't understand. Neither could Cisco, and Barry knew that. No one had been through what they had - seeing someone they loved being ripped away and killed. Feeling a part of their own hearts being ripped away and killed.
The silence returned for a while, neither of them sure what to say and both scared of being more vulnerable. There was a very real possibility that torrent of emotions, once released, would overwhelm them and destroy them completely, and neither of them were ready to face it. Not yet.
"Cait," Barry finally spoke, his eyes soft as he looked at her.
"Don't," she interrupted, shaking her head. "Please. I should...I need to go home. Put on some real clothes." She gestured to her pajamas.
"Let me take you?" Holding out a hand, Barry hardly dared to breathe, wondering if she would take him up on his offer, wondering if she would let someone touch her.
Hesitantly, she nodded and accepted his hand. "I guess. I mean, we have to be back here in…" the rest of her sentence was lost as Barry pulled her gently to him and took off towards her apartment.
It only took a second to arrive, the sky lightening slowly as they stood in front of her door. "Thanks," she whispered, stepping away from him. "For tonight. For driving away the nightmares." She unlocked her door and entered, closing it behind her.
"You're welcome," he whispered back, too late. But, to his surprise, he realized that his waking nightmares, too, had stayed away throughout their time together.
Barry left Caitlin, feeling the tiniest spark of hope in his chest. It wasn't much, but it was the most he'd felt since his dad's death. Maybe, someday, he'd feel normal again.