On the Use of Mirrors
(In the Game of Chess)
"All these years, all these moves, counter moves, the watching and the waiting…"
A sacrifice made to clear a square for a different piece of the same colour
Vulgar curiosity brought him here and it sat ill in Harrison's heart. It was not the fine precision tool of science that he was used to instead this was base and blunt, gasping for attention that wouldn't be satisfied by merely objectively observing via Gideon's cameras.
The Family Courts were attached to the main Central City courthouse, but had their own entrance. The corridors and rooms were smaller, the ceilings not so high and imposing and one small corner had been carpeted and held a child sized table and chairs and a box of brightly coloured and well-worn toys. No doubt the adults responsible had congratulated themselves on making this place less frightening for its young visitors, as if such small sops could dull the horror of this place.
Futures were decided here and the children were merely pawns in someone else's chess game, slaved to the will of others. The panic they must feel, to stand here and know their own helplessness as strangers debated their fate…
Harrison smiled, belly warmed by the thought of every shred of fear and vulnerability that Barry must be feeling.
The entrance door opened and there was Joe West, dressed in a suit and tie, holding the door for his daughter. Iris wore a yellow skirt and cardigan with a flowered blouse and looked around the courthouse nervously as if expecting someone to jump out at her. And behind her came Barry Allen.
Slowly, Harrison's smile fell away.
The boy looked pale and frightened, skin sallow and his eyes drawn and shadowed. Gideon had shown him many nights the boy didn't sleep for nightmares, many days when he pushed Joe's food away or forced down tiny bites. It was everything Thawne had hoped for when he slid the knife through Nora's heart and yet he could enjoy it.
Now he had to hope the damage could be healed, had to work to repair any damage because that boy – that hateful, sanctimonious, vile boy – had to become what he was always meant to be: The Flash.
Thawne knew fate was tricky. Apparently it had a fine sense of irony too.
"We'll all go out for Big Belly Burger when this is done," Joe was saying, "or even to that new restaurant by the waterfront." He sounded upbeat, confident. "Put these fancy threads to their proper use." It wasn't fooling Wells for a second. The man was scared. He knew there was a very real possibility, with Henry Allen now convicted of murder, that he would lose the temporary custody of Barry that he had been granted and the boy would be placed somewhere within the Central City care system to grow up alone and lost.
It clearly wasn't fooling Barry or Iris either because the girl took her father's hand and offered him a smile and Barry hunched in on himself, clearly holding back the protest that he might not be going anywhere with the West's ever again.
A woman approached the family. "Mr West?" She held out her hand. "I'm Carol Marks, your new family liaison."
Joe frowned, shaking her hand. "Where's Diane?"
"A family emergency has called her away but I have completely familiarised myself with this case and I can assure you that a change in your court appointed liaison will in no way affect your case."
On the contrary, Wells was banking on it very much affecting the case. Diane Dumont was strongly biased towards keeping children within their own ethnic background and many of her reports throughout Henry Allen's trial on the wellbeing of Barry had included concern of his living in a black family. A laudable, if bigoted, opinion perhaps, if presented to the right ears with the right words, (but history told that the succession of nice white families she wanted had trampled on Barry's aspirations and he had ended up working as a teller in a bank.) Thawne had felt a special satisfaction when he had shred apart her heart and dropped her body in the ocean.
"And Barry and I have already met," Carol was continuing, and she cast a smile in Barry's direction, "haven't we, Barry?"
Marks had escorted Barry to hospital the night his mother was murdered and sat with him while a doctor examined him to ensure he wasn't injured or that his fantastical tale of a man in lightening wasn't due to concussion or ingested drugs.
Barry didn't answer. He probably didn't remember. But Wells did (and could have Gideon replay the scenes to better enjoy if he so wished) and he had bargained on Marks more liberal views to make this go the right way.
The right way…
…Which was also the wrong way.
Right because he needed to create the Flash, wrong because he despised the hero with every fibre of his being and the thought of his being shuttled, unwanted and uncared for, from foster family to foster family would have been such exquisite revenge and oh, how it pained him not only to know that Barry would not suffer it but that he was the very person preventing it.
Fate was mocking him.
But he would have the last laugh.
"Miss Marks, can I have a word in private?" Joe asked.
"Yes, of course," she replied, "and please, it's Carol."
Harrison watched them walk a little way down the corridor, watched Barry's eyes follow them. His lips twisted into something like a smile. Poor little pawn…
Wells made his way to the vending machine and stood in front of it as if deciding on his snack. He was close enough to overhear Joe and Carol.
"…at such a late stage and I'm concerned on the impact it will have on Barry."
"It's by no means uncommon for liaison's to be swapped out and granted it's not usually in the same week as the custody hearing, but believe me when I tell you: I know this case."
"I don't doubt you know the facts and I don't doubt you know every word in those files, inside and out. I know the law, I know how the law works and I respect every single person here, because I know how hard the job you do is but you don't know Barry – you can't know Barry – not from words on a page and that kid has been through so much already, he deserves to be represented by someone who knows what's best for him."
"Joe, the family court system exists to represent what's best for children like Barry and I won't patronise you by pointing out that objectivity is exactly what is needed. I think you already know that." Her voice softened. "I know you're afraid of losing Barry, but his placement with you was always intended to be temporary."
"It was never temporary to me."
"Custody hearing," a loud voice called out, "minor child, case J.A. Eleven, fifty two."
Wells looked round to see Joe square his shoulders, walk over to his children, touch each of their cheeks with a big reassuring smile on his face before heading into the hearing room.
The door closed behind the court officials and Joe, leaving only the children, the liaison and Wells in the hall. Barry was staring at the door behind which he thought his entire future was being decided and never knowing that the man currently choosing a Snickers bar just fifteen feet away already held more power over his life than any court in the land and that grip would only grow stronger with every passing year. Thawne felt almost giddy with the triumph.
After a long moment, Barry turned away and sat on one of the chairs lining the corridor. Iris went to sit with him and they talked softly together. Wells couldn't hear their words and cared not to. Gideon was recording the events of the hearing and he would no doubt enjoy them later with a glass of single malt and perhaps some music. History had assured him of the outcome. And the family that had walked in these doors together would leave together. The future was back as he had left it that bitterly cold day in April.
All he needed to do was enjoy the suffering of a small and frail boy…
The small and frail boy getting up from his chair and walking towards him….
Barry Allen stopped before the vending machine and pulled out the change from his pocket. He studied the chocolate bars and then at the few coins in his hand. Then he looked up at Wells.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "do you have change for a dollar?"
Wells stared at him. He had never seen the boy up close before, always either at a distance or through the filter of Gideon's cameras. There were red blotches around his eyes – he'd clearly been crying on the journey here – and the green of his eyes stood out in stark contrast. Wells had planned every detail, taken every caution and this – Barry speaking to him – had never featured in any of the scenarios.
"Barry?" Carol called out. "You can get chocolate later. You need to be ready to go in, OK? They'll call us soon."
"OK." The boy replied and his head lowered, eyes leaving Wells' face and yet not before he saw the utter despair that twisted Barry's features at being denied such a small distraction. He walked back to the chair and Wells knew it was unwise to let his eyes follow him but he could not drag them away.
It seemed his taste for vengeance had soured. And he had no more time for vulgarity.
Harrison Wells walked firmly towards the exit.
He did not look back.