author's notes: written for Snowbarry Week 2017, day 3+5: supervillains + amnesia.
If You're a Man At All... (I Will Figure This One Out)
She sighs deeply, grown tired of the persistent silence accompanying the metal clang of chains caught in the wind; it's grown cold and stale, and while the cold stopped bothering her the moment Julian freed her inside her own body, it doesn't serve to stifle the thaw of her wandering thoughts. Those that conjure good old Dr. Snow, kind Caitlin, team Flash's darling personal physician.
She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, then back again, unsettled that all the commotion of these past few weeks all of a sudden ground to a dead stop. Ever since that day in the snow, when she'd felt lost and alone until Savitar found her, she hadn't once stopped moving, or stopped changing. Every minute that passed brought her closer to the killer inside and further from the healer and–
Enough of this. It's been days now, of waiting and sitting around and staring up at the ceiling. She's not a pawn, not some puppet for him to use when it suits him and bench when he thinks her in the way. His way won't dictate her actions.
She marches downstairs with that conviction, body still growing accustomed to her new outfit, though if she's meant to be Killer Frost the word 'costume' might be a more apt description.
"What's that saying?" she asks, searching for him through chain link fences and empty metal racks, where he's prone to hide himself away from her and the rest of the world; it's often made her curious whether he's a man tortured or haunted by the past, but that train of thought does nothing to dispel her own fears. How is he meant to teach her about life without Caitlin Snow when he still carries Barry Allen around inside him?
"Man plans and God laughs?"
Somewhere out there, Barry now knows who hides inside the mask, how intricately connected he and Savitar are and he's no doubt brooding over that very fact — but knowing Barry, almost as well as Savitar does, he won't let that stop him. No one on the team would let that stop them.
Why is it then, that she finds the Future Flash sitting idle inside his suit?
"Well, men are planning, and what's the God of Speed doing?"
Her eyes fall to the suit, nothing big or flashy or imposing about it down on the concrete floor. It's sad, really; she usually enjoys seeing him knelt down at her feet.
"Kneeling," she sneers with an appropriate amount of disdain. She hasn't yet mastered a delicate way of talking to him; so far everything she's suggested has been met with distrust, even though he's the one who came to her, who revealed himself for the sole purpose of drawing her to his side. And for what? All so she could lie around and stare at the ceiling every damned day? So she could be bossed around like some lackey?
When Barry spoke the word, lackey, it'd stung harder than she cared to show at the time; for all of Savitar's talk of ascension and giving her what she wanted the most she doesn't understand her place by his side — she refuses to see herself as a subordinate or a soldier in his ranks, but Savitar hasn't said that in so many words. What if she's collateral damage? What if he keeps her close because cold can yet defeat his speed? What if it's all a ruse to get what he wants and leave her behind? She's used to that, Caitlin's used to that, but she won't take that lying down.
She walks over to him, to where he hasn't moved an inch since she spoke up.
"Brooding time is over," she says, still assigning him qualities belonging to Barry against her better judgment. Perhaps some part of her enjoys antagonizing him. "You revealed yourself, now what? Any idea what to do with Flash and friends? Because we are getting pretty close to your big becoming and if we don't take them down neither one of us gets what we want."
She pauses for a moment, checking to see if this will get a reaction out of him, but the Great and Mighty Savitar doesn't stir. Is he even in there? Is she here making a fool of herself talking to an empty shell?
"Hello" –she knocks at the suit– "anybody home?" and expects little by way of answer, but she's no sooner spoken or the suit springs to life. One of its large claws reaches around her throat and slams her against the wall — her skull cracks on impact and heals, even as she chokes out, "What are you doing?"
"Who are you?" Savitar demands.
Who is she? The man with all the answers dares ask her that?
She kicks at him but hits only metal. "What's wrong with you?"
"Who–" Savitar tilts his head "–am I?"
For half a second she loses her bearings, caught off guard by Savitar's confusion and her own growing helplessness. Who is he? Why is he asking her? Why is he asking her like this? Why is he asking her at all?
"Answer me!" Savitar shouts and adds more pressure, crushing her chest in the process — she struggles for a single breath of air and anything to hold onto before she goes into shock and passes out. He could kill her; he could kill her and not realize. How was this possible?
"Let– go," she wheezes, and freezes the claw at her throat as deeply as she can muster, every chemical bond between each metal particle, past every layer of protection he created to shield himself from the destructive power of the Speed Force, right up until the cold hits flesh. Savitar cries out and lets her go, and she flees like an injured animal with a hand around her throat, coughing, breathing in excessive amounts of oxygen. What the hell brought this on? Who could've—
Cisco, she thinks, Cisco did this. Somehow he messed with Barry's memory and it's caught up to his temporal duplicate. But what good is Barry to anyone if he can't remember who he is? Presumably it'd erase every trace of the Flash too. What was the strategy behind it?
Savitar takes another step in her direction and she raises both her hands in defense, drawing the cold to her like a coat of armor, a thick mist she could disappear into if she had any better control of her powers. She'll kill Cisco for this.
"Stay back," she warns, and Savitar stills, "Or I swear I'll break something."
To her shock Savitar seems to tremble at the sound of her words, shake even, and next thing the suit opens at the back and Savitar comes stumbling out backwards, falling to the floor like a limp sack of bones.
"What is this?" Savitar rasps, trying to take in everything all at once; the foundry, the suit, her black leather outfit. "Where am I?"
Her brow lowers over her eyes; she's seen enough of the impossible over the past three years to question this act, like shapeshifters and doppelgangers, alternate versions of the same person, but this seems different. Savitar seems almost frightened, which isn't something she thought him capable of.
"How–" Savitar chokes out, before his legs start vibrating — he startles and tries to stand, but groans instead, curling up into a ball on the floor. He cries out. "What's happening to me?"
She blinks a few times, concern lacing into her veins like double helixes.
Savitar is in pain.
Real physical pain.
Was it some kind of sensory overload, or his brain scrambling for memories? Or was this something else Cisco did?
She looks to the suit, which stands with its back split wide open, regained some of its threatening allure; Savitar never went anywhere without it, and she hadn't seen him use his speed outside of it until right this moment. Her eyes fall to his vibrating legs again.
The Speed Force animated Savitar's body on a cellular level, much faster than Barry's. Could it be the suit served as more than protection from the static his speed built up? Could it be that her savior, this God, experienced pain each time he tapped into the Speed Force without the suit? If he did he'd hid it well, but she'd seen people carry pain every day of their lives without pain relief, without help, and she knew from firsthand experience pain was something one learned to live with. 'Learn' being the operative word.
Savitar has no protection anymore, not even the power of his own mind.
It must be torture.
It must be hell.
Slowly, as if approaching a child, she moves closer, urged by a part of her she's tried so desperately to push away, to ignore, because giving into it might undo all the changes she's made. Dr. Caitlin Snow, God of Speed's personal physician.
She spreads a cold chill throughout the room to slow down his restless limbs, and kneels down next to him.
"What's wrong with my face?" Savitar stutters, touching a hand to his injured cheek. "Why am I–"
"You don't know who you are?" she asks, the scientist in her trying to find empirical proof, and notes with great fascination the total lack of recognition in his eyes. How incredibly makeable he is right now; if he stayed this way she could teach him and maybe he wouldn't have to leave, maybe he could exist as an eternal paradox in a world where he's never born.
But then, what about all his promises? She's in that same makeable state and she's not finished; she still needs his help.
Savitar sits up. "What's my name?"
Her eyes widen, caught in his un-becoming. This self-made thing squirming on the floor is nothing but a man now and God laughs at him too, so easily unspooled, undone, unmade. He's not Savitar or the Future Flash, he's barely even a speedster. So what's his name?
"Barry," she says, "Your name's Barry."
"Barry," he whispers, testing the name in his own mouth, and gets up, standing to his full height. "How did I get hurt?"
She frowns, "I don't know," and rises from the ground, wary of the proximity — it was different when he lay on the ground in pain, when he needed her, but beneath his amnesia he's still a man with super speed and no idea who he is. That might frustrate the best of them. She wonders how Barry's faring.
As expected, he draws a menacing step closer, sneering, "Don't lie to me."
Even now he reads her like few others do, even beneath all her new layers, below her willful forgetfulness. She raises her hands in surrender, taking a careful step back.
"You lost someone," she tries the words out in her mouth the way he had his name, and they come away bitter like dark chocolate. "It changed you."
"Into what?" he urges, foregoing the 'who' as if something in him already knows, as if deprived of his memory he still senses he's something other, something different. Something monstrous.
"Something stronger than what he was," she growls, and reconquers some distance between them. "Someone who feels no pain and doesn't doubt himself."
Someone who'd help her make sense of all of this without devolving into a confused mess.
His eyes narrow. "You're angry at me."
Her jaw sets tightly, loath her see-through armor. "I'm angry at the people who did this to you," she sells him a half-lie, because she's not a pawn or a puppet, and she won't let him boss her around in the state he's in. It's her time now. It's time she took charge and returned to the place that made her, that spun dark matter into her DNA, that resurrected her into this new skin.
"Take me to them?" Savitar asks, voice soft and undemanding for the very first time, and she can't for a moment decide whether he's simply unlearned to hide his manipulation. It's an enticing offer, take him down to S.T.A.R. labs and allow him to wreak havoc on everyone there, but she can't risk him hurting Barry, or worse.
"No," she says, "I'll take care of it," but she hasn't taken a single step or a hand grabs around her arm.
Her eyes find Savitar's and she almost slaps him across the face there and then for thinking her not only a puppet but a ragdoll on top of that — what is it about her that screams this kind of handling? Or –her anger mellows– what is it about him that craves this kind of control? Can he feel even now that it got stripped away –his sense of self, his true nature, his heart– and seeks to reclaim it?
"Trust me," she hushes, and gently peels away from his hold, brushing a hand down his arm in a moment uncharacteristic of her new persona. But if she means to quell his thirst for control she'll need a new approach. "We're partners."
"Partners?" he inquires with another step forward, with a subtle rise of one of his eyebrows, and his eyes skip haphazardly to her lips, sticking there like glue.
Her lips part.
It's a mode of manipulation both of them have tried before, to such little avail neither tried again, but now– he's never been at her mercy before and she's never held so many of the cards. Where's the harm in having a little fun? Where's the harm in showing him that keeping such tight control on everything will never leave any room for play?
"In every way," she says softly, and lets each barrier between them wane, allows him to push into her personal space and linger there — he studies her face, her lips, her eyes like he's searching for a clue, the truth, a way inside, before he leans in and brushes his lips to hers.
She kisses him because she can, not necessarily because she wants to, but he kisses her back like he does; he tastes of something bitter too, worn to the bone and broken, tore at the seams, but a heat beneath that's so seductive it sparks off the cold inside her. He licks into her mouth and spreads his fingers over her face, each one of his limbs slowing down further as she feeds off his speed.
When he found her stumbling through the snow the idea of this hadn't occurred, how speed and cold may be opposites but could complement each other all the same, a trade their bodies could make willingly to both get what they needed. Heat to live. Cold to slow down.
Could she remake him, she wonders once again, into a man who'll never leave?
Savitar pulls back before frostbite can kick in. "We are quite the pair."
She smiles, ignoring the sour burn of the memory it unearths, and taps a finger to his lips. "Wait here for me."
Once she reaches the lab, she takes in its familiar surroundings as something of a curiosity; quite a few years ago she'd stood at its doors with her knees knocking together, dreaming of all the things she might achieve under Dr. Wells' tutelage. Another man who'd proven to be a bitter disappointment. Should she have tied herself to yet another?
As expected, Cisco hasn't removed her palmprint from any of the security locks, though he's cleverly added a thermal sensor, easily circumvented by using the heat she drew from Savitar. He'll never learn, her Francisco, ever the sentimentalist.
She thought being back would feel different; she carries all of Caitlin's memories, but she's not her, yet she can't see this place through her new eyes — the familiar corridors stood as foundations of the person she became in spite of Eobard Thawne, and the lab they set up for Tracy is still Ronnie's. It takes her every ounce of self control not to kill the theoretical physicist there and then. How dare they, she thinks, how dare they defile her husband's—
No, she breathes in deeply. Not her husband. Caitlin's.
And that's not why she's here, in any case.
Her fingers trace along walls she once called home, now all distant memories she tries to bury deeper still. She finds the Cortex empty, which might explain why no one rushes in guns blazing because they didn't bother checking the security feeds. Idiots. Quickly heading to her old lab she unlocks the computer with the same old password, and reads up on what Team Flash has been up to of late.
Of course. Clever Francisco, targeting the part of Barry's brain that retains new information and blocking the connection with a magnetic disruptor. That must be it, then; they sought to lock off Barry's short term memory so Savitar wouldn't know what they were planning, and it backfired; they failed to account for Barry's increased neural velocity, throwing off every single one of Cisco's calculations. Or Julian's calculations, judging by some of the shorthand. Cisco should count himself lucky he didn't fry Barry's brain to a crisp.
They should never have tried this without Caitlin.
Voices in the Cortex draw her attention.
"Barry's memory loss is starting to become a problem," Cisco says, closely followed by Wally and Julian.
"It sure is" –she emerges from the other room, because she sees no point in hiding when she's already puzzled out a fix– "for more than just him."
Wally's quick on his feet and charges toward her, but that proves rather difficult with the Speed Force unable to animate his cells.
She smiles; she's none too worried about this sorry bunch, not even when Joe barges in and immediately draws a gun on her. Their fear or anger isn't one of her immediate concerns, rather what will happen once her Speedster God gets bored of her promises and decides to venture out into the city; then again, without any Flashes to protect Central City, it might spur Team Flash into action.
Barry's getting his memory back one way or another, even if she has to do it herself and kill everyone who stands in her way.
It comes as no surprise that the Barry she meets at S.T.A.R. labs isn't anything like the mess she left on the outskirts of the city — this isn't a man in pain, not a man broken by tragedies lesser than any Savitar suffered; Barry hasn't been abandoned and wished dead, he was never shunned by the people who were meant to care or broken in the process.
Once again, Barry Allen gets away clean while others suffer.
"Are you like a supervillain?" he asks her excitedly, and this naive unthinking boy trusts her even in that knowledge, because a few hours later he finds her at the lab, checking over her calculations to make sure she hasn't missed anything. That's what she tells herself, anyway, rather than admit that S.T.A.R. labs fits her far better than her costume, with an added familiarity to it that's as seductive as any heat — the warmth of her memories here, Caitlin's memories, were something Cisco counted on as well.
"Are you going to fix me?" Barry asks, hands in the pockets of his jacket, biting the inside of his cheek like a curious child.
An amused smile curls around her lips. If this were The Flash he might try and appeal to her heart the same way Cisco had. If this were Barry Allen he'd see Caitlin Snow alone, and not the supervillain this amnesiac boy was so eager to talk to. It's funny how much she likes that, how it's Barry Allen at his purest and most innocent who sees her the way she wishes to be seen.
"That's the plan."
"Why would you help me?"
She turns around and faces him, reasonably enamored by his innocence — he doesn't fear her because he doesn't know any better, and he's not weighted by the guilt Barry's been shouldering since Flashpoint. For that reason she can't seem to locate her anger either, right at that moment. This wasn't anyone's intention, but there was someone in the Cortex not a few hours ago who didn't yet wish this undone.
"Helping you helps me."
"They haven't told you." She laughs, but it comes out as scornful as she means it to. "Of course they haven't. Why ruin a perfectly angst-free Barry Allen?"
She blinks. "What?"
Barry shrugs. "I'm more comfortable with Bart."
Her head tilts and she regards him in silence, astounded by how unscathed he is without his memories, how undamaged in comparison to Savitar. She understands now why Iris insisted they could teach this Barry to be the Flash. Why burden him with all that pain again, all that tragedy, all that rightful guilt over what he's done? Why give him back death and loss and Flashpoint, when all that could be erased with the flick of a switch? How very convenient.
"What's your name?" Barry asks.
She can't decide whether it's sentiment or pity that keeps her anger at bay, or if maybe it's both, even though she wished it pushed at her like it had earlier. Not everyone gets to be this lucky, not everyone can be granted a clean slate, washed from sin and guilt, and still keep those closest to him.
"Killer Frost," she says, voice falling flat, reminded of exactly why she came. Barry doesn't deserve this. He doesn't get to forget. He doesn't get to wash his hands clean of this. No, she'll fix this, put everything back as it should be, give Barry back his pain, give Savitar back his control, give herself some semblance of hope. If she can't forget, if her memories can't disappear, then she'll damn well make sure Caitlin Snow never surfaces again.
"I'm sorry we're enemies."
The words pull down the corners of her mouth; the real Barry is still kicking around in there, somewhere.
Which almost robs her of any hope at all.
"Why are we– enemies?" comes the next incessant question, and she returns her attention to the computer monitor. Why, indeed? Why did it become Killer Frost and Savitar versus Team Flash? Why did these powers make her evil, instead of simply something slightly different? When did she decide it would?
"I lost someone." She swallows hard; it's anyone's guess who she means—Ronnie, Jay, herself. "It changed me."
She thinks of Savitar squirming on the ground, Barry all spry and playful, and wonders, however briefly, is she in pain? Was Caitlin in pain before the winter freeze closed all the wounds?
It doesn't take long for her to find the answer to that question. Years before the idea of her even existed in Caitlin's mind she'd loved and lost a great many things; her father gone, a mother who forced her to mourn by herself, Ronnie dead in a hail of fire, Hunter a betrayal that broke both her heart and took her ability to trust. She'd had Cisco through all of that, Barry through some of it, and Julian for the most insignificant part of it. Yet it's this last man who tells her he can fix her, like she's some porcelain cup he can attempt to glue back together again if he could just find all the pieces. If she'd just let him.
Cisco's earlier try proved a lot more subtle, far more effective, and a lot more honest.
"I love you, Caitlin," Julian says.
Even Bart gave it a better try than that.
"I don't love you, Julian," she says, and that comes easy, because she's not Caitlin, she's not his darling doctor, and she recalls enough of their time together to shrug it off as ultimately meaningless. "I never did."
Then, her eyes skip to Cisco and Barry — take charge! Ronnie's voice echoes, like a thaw coming in from afar, like it's the dead of summer and snow has no place here, but once her lips remember the warmth of a kiss she'd stolen earlier she comes to her senses. Cisco or Barry can't give her what she wants, and what she wants is Caitlin gone, the pain, the memories, the tragedy, not a cure for what supposedly ails her.
"I never loved any of you."
Cold. Calculated. Rejection.
Cisco and Barry don't try this time, don't try to stop her from getting on the elevator or bring back memories of the good old days, and she fears that's why she falters as soon as the doors close on them — for two, three short moments, Caitlin scratches the surface, her knees knock together and she forgets what's up or down. Would they let her come back, reach their arms around her and take her in as one of their own again? Would they forgive her if she—
Her hands ball into fists. That's not what she wants. She wants to be someone, something stronger and in control, a frost that can't be puppeteered by anyone, past or present. There's only one man who can show her that path.
Once again, she chooses the cold.
When she returns to the foundry Savitar's in the process of repairing the arm she destroyed, and the taste of him on her tongue returns ten times stronger — wide wiry shoulders move under his black shirt, and she considers a whimsical little fantasy, how Iris hadn't wanted to give back Barry's memories and she'd entertained the idea of denying Savitar his sanity, and perhaps it's not the same, there's no love between her and Savitar, but it peeks her curiosity nonetheless.
Imagine what they could accomplish if they viewed each other as equals.
"I'm assuming I don't need to electro-shock your brain too?" she asks and studies her nails, her accomplishments today sending a pleasant chill down her spine. She took charge like she said she would and showed Savitar the kind of partner she can be; one he can count on, one who wouldn't abandon him or cast him aside like so many others have done.
Though, judging by his silence now, she won't be getting so much as a 'thank you.'
"No," he answers at last, long after her need for one has waned, and he keeps his back turned to her as if he's ashamed of what happened. "I remember."
For a while there she had been angry at him, not just Flash and friends — quantum dynamics dictated that one day he'd abandon her too, leave her for a Speed Force prison, and it looked like time was desperate to catch up to him, sink its claws deeper into his pretty face and tear into his flesh trying to reclaim some of its logic. Maybe she should've given him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had no right to it, or her loyalty. Maybe seeing him helpless, alone, stumbling through the ashes of his past reminded her of herself lost in the snow.
She couldn't really say.
One thing's certain. Even after all their transformations, they are still quite the pair.
There's nowhere else she'd rather be than by his side.
"Gotta admit" –she crosses her arms over her chest and cocks a hip against one of the work benches set in an irregular pattern around the suit– "Rather clever of them to play with Barry's memory."
She makes it sound like she admires their grit, even though she knows for a fact that if Caitlin had been part of the team she'd have advised against it. There's no reason she can think of to go rooting around a healthy brain, especially a brain as uncharted as Barry's still is.
No, she doesn't mean it to be a compliment, if anything she's trying to find a way under Savitar's skin, because maybe, maybe, he owed her one for saving his sorry ass today.
"Could've ended up really bad for you," she says.
Savitar turns to face her, and there's that same undecipherable recognition in his eyes of all that she is, all that she will be. "Are you fishing for a 'thank you'?"
"No." She crosses her arms over her chest. "But I meant what I said. I'm your partner. Not your puppet."
Savitar laughs, and she can't help a smile of her own, even if it's not for the same reasons; they're still not entirely on the same page, possibly not even reading the same book, but the truth is without her Barry might never have gotten his memory back. Helping Barry helped her but it helped Savitar even more so. Not even the God of Speed can deny that.
Man plans and God laughs.
She wonders where that leaves Woman.