Sorry this last chapter took a while to post - a LONG while, over a year! - but hopefully you'll enjoy it anyway.
"…And truth be told, I feel…anticipation for that moment, not just because it means I can finally go home but because…over these years, I've come to…like him, admire him… "
The stage of the game where few pieces are left in play
"…I think that might be the biggest irony of all."
It amused Wells, over the years, to come here, to stand at Nora Allen's grave and tell her about her son. He had no belief in an afterlife and he held no delusions that his words met with anything but empty air. And yet it still granted him some satisfaction that was missing in his log reports to Gideon.
Perhaps it was because Barry himself had never set foot here. Afraid, Wells had long ago decided, not of the grief but of moving past it, moving on, leaving behind all he had left of his mother.
Joe came here, every Monday on his way home from work, and laid flowers on Barry's behalf. He would linger, sometimes for more than an hour, rain or shine, to tell Nora about her son.
But Joe would never know enough, not the small details that only Barry knew, that only he could share…
…That Wells too could share, as he snooped and spied on every tiny moment. And perhaps, in truth, that was why he came here; to do what Barry could not, to face what Barry could not and feel – no, relish - the triumph over him for it.
Wells bore Nora no ill will, not even on that day when he had sliced into her heart. She was not accountable for the actions of her son and would probably have freely offered her own life for that of Barry's if she had known. She would even have thanked him for his mercy with her dying breath. He knew that.
Perhaps, deep down, he even admired that.
"And I look for traces of his future in his face, expecting to see the extraordinary and there is none. He's ordinary." He shook his head as he chuckled. "Barry Allen is ordinary."
The words fell deafly on the grave stone. But he was sure a woman like Nora Allen would defend the honour of being 'ordinary' if she could.
How little she knew.
Last night he had watched the staff at Baristas 'N Books, where Barry had worked in his last couple of years of high school, talking, planning to throw Barry a surprise goodbye party before he left for college. There had been genuine regret to lose him and Joe…
Joe sat in house sometimes, when Barry and Iris were at school, listening to silence as if inuring himself to the emptiness before it became permanent.
That was the effect of this 'ordinary' man: the barest ripple in the grand scheme of things.
"And now we enter the endgame. Before this month is out, Barry will be college and the diggers will begin excavating the land for the particle accelerator."
His watch beeped a warning. Wells turned to see Joe entering the cemetery and halting midstride at seeing an unfamiliar figure standing by Nora's grave. He knew the man was too far away to see his features clearly but this was still unfortunate. He always timed his visits to Nora's grave when Barry was either working or in class, and both the Wests were occupied, but perhaps he should have foreseen Joe's extra visit here as Barry's departure grew ever closer.
Wells ducked his head down, walked quickly away. He didn't dare to look round to see if Joe was following him.
"Excuse me." Joe called out in his best polite policeman voice, strong and loud even over the distance.
Wells walked quickly and smoothly to the exit, keeping his pace as even as he could so he wouldn't appear to be hurrying away.
"Do I know you?" There was note of suspicion in Joe's voice. "Did you know Nora Allen?"
At the line of trees sheltering the graveyard from the office blocks beyond, he took the opportunity to glance back and considered, briefly, using their cover to speed away.
But no, he could not risk Joe seeing his lightening.
And it was hardly necessary, Joe was too far behind and Wells was only a few paces away from the low wall that enclosed the cemetery and beyond it, he saw that fate, for once, was not only on his side but clearly abetting him because an unoccupied cab was approaching.
He put up his hand as he hopped over the wall. The cab stopped.
Wells opened the door, got in, gave the driver the name of a street in the city centre – a generic spot that even if traced by an overzealous Detective West would offer nothing to identify Wells with.
The cab pulled out and through the window, Wells saw Joe in the distance, watching with a frown as the cab moved away.
That night, after Barry and Iris had gone to bed, Joe had pulled out Nora Allen's file and sat on his sofa to go through the names and the pictures of the men she had an acquaintance with. Wells watched, as aware as Joe was, that the police file in that regard was not as comprehensive as it should have been. There was some logic to it. The police had their prime suspect, Henry Allen, and the investigating of other suspects had been slightly better than cursory.
And even if it hadn't, there was no way that Harrison Wells was in there, or that Joe had been able to get a good enough look at him to be able to identify him.
Nor was there any real danger that Joe could come to believe that Henry was innocent, or that, deep down, he wanted to believe Barry's fantastical tale of a "man in lightening."
Joe was merely being the conscientious man that Wells knew him to be and following up on an anomaly that he would soon, almost certainly, put down to his own misreading the situation or dismiss as just a stranger interested in reading names on gravestones.
Over breakfast the next day, Joe handed Barry the orange juice and said, in his best 'casually' tone: "I saw your mom's friend yesterday. Couldn't remember his name," he shook his head, feigning disbelief at his slip, "getting old."
Barry said some names, all of which were in the file, and Joe shook his head. "He was tall, slim, white, black hair."
Barry took a swallow of juice, "maybe Mr Patton, my 3rd grade teacher. He lived on the same street as us and mom often spoke to him."
"No one else fitting that description?"
"No," and Barry frowned, clearly growing suspicious, "is there a problem?"
Joe shook his head, "no, it's fine." He offered Barry a reassuring smile. "Just felt bad for not saying hello."
"Where did you see him?" Iris chipped in, "that might help identify him."
Joe hesitated, clearly caught off-guard by his daughter's question. Perhaps he had anticipated Barry asking that, perhaps not, but having a second focus made his answer sound like the evasion it was. "In town."
"Town's a big place, dad," she smiled.
"On the west side," he told her, which was technically true; the cemetery was on the west side of town, "I forget which street." He quickly gulped down the rest of his coffee and stood up, "I better be going or I'll be late for work." He looked over at Barry and patted his shoulder, speaking before the boy could ask any more questions. "Mr Patton." He said, "I'll be sure to remember that and say hello next time. Can't have people thinking the West's are a rude family."
Wells watched Barry's eyes follow Joe to the door and the look on his face said this wasn't over.
That night, and for the following day, Barry asked for more details of this "friend" and Joe, understandably, was reluctant to reveal that he had been seen at his mother's grave . The boy was desperate to prove his father's innocence and seized on any aberration that he could with the zeal of a Rottweiler with a locked jaw and that little detail was just the sort of thing that could not only send Barry on a wild goose chase but cause him much distress at the same time.
Joe deflected admirably at first ("Look, Barr, he was just walking down Lytton Street, I saw him, couldn't remember his name and that was it. Now that's the last time I'm gonna go through this, OK?")but slowly lost patience as it became obvious that Barry wouldn't let it go. He wasn't stupid and could read in Joe's behaviour that something was being held back from him.
The boy even went so far as to talk to Joe's partner, Fred Chyre, about Joe's movements that day and it was there that Joe's lie was laid bare.
And, Wells watched, single malt in hand, as Joe entered his house after work and stopped at the sight of Barry standing in the hallway, slight and pale and obviously angry.
"I spoke to Fred. You didn't go to Lytton Street."
Joe looked incredulous, "are you checking up on me now?"
"He said you didn't even go near there."
Joe tossed his keys in the bowl by the door and took a deep breath, clearly reigning in his temper. "You have to stop this, Barry."
The boy looked desperate. "I know you're hide… " He swallowed the rest of the sentence and went with something less confrontational. "It feels like there's more."
Joe sighed deeply, looked away for a moment, then came to a decision. He laid a hand on Barry's shoulder. "He was by your mom's grave."
Barry's eyes widened.
"I didn't recognise him and…I'm a cop, I ask questions, at this point I can't turn that off, even when I probably should." He met the boy's eyes. "I didn't wanna upset you, Barr, I'm sorry."
"You need to find him, Joe!" Barry said urgently. "He could be the m-"
Joe immediately stopped him. "He's not." He said but stopped short of saying he can't be. "I looked into it, but…"
The boy turned away, hiding the bitter disappointment and sorrow on his face from his foster father.
"…Barr, he was probably just some guy taking a walk, stopped to look at the gravestone."
Over the next 2 days, Wells watched, via Gideon's cameras, as Barry tied himself in emotional knots trying to see any link between the "lightning man" and this mysterious stranger with the tiny scraps of information Joe had shared. It was most entertaining and the pain he could see in Barry eyes… so satisfying. And perhaps the most delightful aspect was that Barry had no idea just how close he was to the truth. So very, very close and so…amusingly far…
Lightening was such a part of Barry Allen, even if he did not know it yet, that Wells found it only right that the air was filled with the static of an approaching storm as he watched the boy on Gideon's monitors finally put away his investigation notes and walk out of the house. A signal that Barry had finally accepted that, for this lead at least, he had come to a dead end and while he would carefully preserve all his work so far, and probably re-read it again in a few months, he would waste no more energy on it right now.
The boy walked the streets as the skies darkened both with the encroaching night and with the heavy rainclouds, not flinching as the heavens opened. He simply pulled up his hoodie and kept on walking.
Wells guessed – knew – where the boy's feet would take him, probably long before Barry did and, warmed by the satisfaction of watching his suffering, gave into to the compulsion to get there first and enjoy the moment first hand.
Wells parked his car some way off from the cemetery gates and walked through the rain to an overhang of a building, which shielded him from the rain as well as cloaked him in darkness.
It was only a few minutes later that Barry came into sight, walking on the pavement opposite the graveyard. He stopped, barely six feet away from Wells, and bowed his head, eyes falling to the asphalt beneath his feet as if he couldn't even bare to look at the gates across the street.
Wells could not really see the boy's face from this angle, which was a little behind him, certainly well out of Barry's line of sight, although Wells had determined to remain absolutely still just in case. But he could see the jut of his nose, the curve of his cheeks, which were wet, but perhaps that was just the rain, pelting down relentlessly.
Finally, Barry raised his head and stared at the cemetery gates. "Who were you?" He asked.
All these years and Wells had never spoken to the boy, all those chances he had not taken…
Lightning flashed abruptly.
And as the thunder rumbled, Wells replied, "your future," but the words were lost to the storm.
Barry drew a breath, "just some guy taking a walk…" he murmured to himself before bowing his head to driving rain and walking on passed the cemetery.
Wells watched him go for long moments before looking over at the cemetery gates. Perhaps it was the cold and the damp leeching the warmth from his bones that made him turn away, because what other reason could there be to deny himself the chance to gloat over Nora's grave?