"What if you just… try and unfuse?"
They'd been working for two days at STAR Labs, him and Ronald, Dr. Snow and Mr. Ramon, and Dr. Wells, with Clarissa hovering in the background. Through him, but not without errors and small arguments caused by their short tempers and fear of what they were capable of if they lost control, Ronald had painstakingly written Martin's FIRESTORM equations on every surface available to him.
At first, Martin had bristled at displaying his research so openly to other scientists – this was his life's work they were asking to see – but a glance at Clarissa (looking at his wife through someone else's eyes) was enough to set his priorities straight. There were more important things than work, and after everything that Clarissa had gone through the past month without him, it was high time he realized that.
So, they were surrounded by his work and his equations, going over all that he could remember about the FIRESTORM matrix now in their blood, and what it was capable of. Everyone had helped in any way they could – even Clarissa, who forced them to stop and drink and eat every now and again – but the going was slow, given that Martin could only speak through Ronald.
Now, Ronald turned toward Dr. Wells, who had spoken, surprise filling the both of them.
"What?" they asked in unison, though only Ronald's words were heard by the room.
"Well," Dr. Wells explained, "there's nothing I've seen in your research so far that suggests the transmutations aren't reversible. Given that there seems to be a mental component to your usage of the FIRESTORM matrix…" he trailed off suggestively.
"We might simply be able to unfuse!" Martin finished for him in astonishment, chiding himself for not having come up with the solution on his own and amazed with the simplicity of the idea.
But no one but Ronald could hear his words or knew of his agreement, and the other three in the room were watching Firestorm (as the two of them had taken to being called) uncertainly.
"Just… think about separating?" Ronald asked uncertainly. Martin wasn't sure whether he was speaking to him or Dr. Wells.
"There's no place like home," Mr. Ramon quipped uncertainly, offering his friend a hesitant smile and a shrug.
Ronald shook his head. "Not here," he said.
Excitement dying down somewhat as he considered the logistics, Martin found himself agreeing with the young man. "Indeed," he said, and he chanced another glance at Clarissa through Ronald's eyes.
"We can try in the accelerator," Dr. Snow offered hesitantly. "It should be able to contain you."
"No." Martin spoke quickly, sensing that Ronald was about to nod in agreement, and his word stopped the other half of Firestorm in his tracks. "Unstable nuclear fission could have catastrophic consequences. We cannot rush into this, and we probably should not even remain within the city limits."
Dr. Wells was nodding as Martin spoke, unknowingly interrupting him. "It's an accelerator, it'll contain nuclear fission."
Ronald was torn between two conflicting opinions, and his hesitation showed. "The professor thinks we should take this slowly. If our… fission, is unstable…"
"There's no reason to think it should be," Dr. Wells countered. "If fact, you theorized that you two are actually absorbing radiation. There shouldn't be any danger."
"Theorized," Martin emphasized, well aware that he was speaking only to Ronald. "We don't know enough."
Ronald's fear of hurting his loved ones won out over his trust in his mentor. "I don't know," he said hesitantly, "maybe we should…"
Dr. Wells spun his chair around to face a particular whiteboard, pointing at an equation. "Professor Stein's own equations practically say that there's no reason you should ever give off any radiation."
Still Ronald hesitated, and this time Martin got the feeling he was waiting for him to agree.
"He is right about that," Martin said reluctantly. "But I still have no desire to test that in the middle of the city."
"Alright," Ronnie voiced out loud. "We'll give it a try, but… not in Central City. We want to go somewhere isolated."
Dr. Snow looked as if she was about to speak, but Ronald interrupted her.
"Alone." He met his fiancée's gaze firmly, and Martin wished that he would turn and give him a view of his wife (but he had no control over Ronald's movements).
In the end, it was all actually rather anticlimactic.
Google Maps quickly helped them locate a relatively isolated section of land, far enough from other people but not too far to drive, and then, with hugs and wishes of luck, they were off.
Ronnie and Stein both spent the drive in silence – there was nothing to say, really – and once they'd reached their destination, they only wished each other luck before they got down to business. What did you say to a stranger you barely knew, but whose life was impossibly entwined with your own?
If they failed, they would either return together to search for an alternative, or they wouldn't return at all. And even if they succeeded, they would still be returning together. There really wasn't anything to say, given all that.
Standing a few feet from his car, the fire came first. This time, neither Ronnie nor Stein attempted to hold it back and it blazed high before shifting to a different sort of light entirely. Ronnie focused on separating, on physically pulling apart from Martin Stein, and it seemed to be working. He felt almost… insubstantial. He could no longer feel the wind on his face or the Earth beneath his feet, but he could feel himself moving forward ever so slightly.
It was over in mere seconds, before Ronnie could put words to what, exactly, he was feeling, or figure out exactly what had happened. Ronnie stumbled forward on solid ground once more, and he could hear footsteps beside him that indicated another person was doing the same. Without even turning to look, he knew it had worked.
When he'd first woken as Firestorm, he hadn't been aware of how much he had changed; now he was keenly aware of the professor's absence, and the lack of fire running through his veins. He turned, grin on his face, to find an older man smiling back at him. About his height, with white hair and glasses, Stein matched the few photographs Ronnie had seen of the man.
The lightness of being one instead of two filled him, elevating his mood.
Ronnie let out a breathless laugh. "It worked, Professor!" he exclaimed, not even caring that he sounded like a giddy child. It had worked.
"Indeed it did, dear boy," Stein replied, equally as ecstatic and uncaring about letting it show. His voice was exactly as Ronnie had heard it in his head, if slightly more real to him. "And without any noticeable side effects."
Their eyes met, elation and joy within both their gazes, and there was no awkwardness at that moment, just relief. But neither of them had forgotten everything that had happened, and their gazes shifted toward Ronnie's car.
Without speaking, they both moved toward it, Ronnie pulling Cisco's phone out of his pocket as he did so.
"Caitlin," he said, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice as Caitlin picked up on the first ring, "it worked!" He slipped into the driver's seat as Stein took the passenger's, and wasn't that amazing: after three days of knowing the man but not seeing him, Stein was finally next to him.
Caitlin gushed and laughed, and Ronnie promised her that he was fine, but they could talk when he got back – he wanted to start the drive immediately. With one final "I love you," he passed the phone to Stein and started the car.
This time the drive had an air of excitement underlying it, rather than the somber tension of before, and Ronnie practically skidded to a stop in the STAR Labs parking lot, barely able to keep from speeding as they neared home.
Rather than waiting inside, everyone was standing around waiting for them to return, and Ronnie swallowed Caitlin into his arms as Stein embraced his wife.
"There were no problems then?" Dr. Wells asked as Ronnie pulled apart from his fiancée, tears of joy on both their cheeks.
"Not a one," he agreed, glancing over at Stein.
The older man nodded. "Indeed. It was so easy I can't help but scold myself for not thinking of it earlier."
"Martin…" Mrs. Stein chided softly as Dr. Wells shook his head.
"Sometimes an outside perspective helps," the scientist said charitably.
Stein nodded again in assent, still holding his wife close. "Well then, I suppose we should have one last check up before we part ways?" He glanced toward Caitlin, and Ronnie followed his gaze.
"Of course," Caitlin agreed easily.
She worked quickly and fluidly, and in less than a half hour, both Ronnie and Stein had been declared healthy.
"Well then," Stein said, standing once more and taking his wife's hand. "I must thank you all again for your help but I don't believe any of you would begrudge us if Clarissa and I took our leave." He paused in front of Ronnie, and stuck out his free hand. "Ronald."
They'd spent the past three days stuck together, Martin trapped within Ronnie, and it was still strange to hear Stein's voice while looking into his face. Ronnie shook his hand. "Professor Stein," he returned, equally as cordially.
Stein nodded at the rest of the room, then left with his wife.
Ronnie wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel something, watching Stein walk away, but he didn't. The truth was, they'd only known each other for a few days, and they hadn't been very good days (though, under the circumstances, they hadn't been terrible). He didn't think he would miss Stein, but he wasn't glad to see him go either. He wondered if he would ever see the man again.
"Could've been a superhero," Cisco said in dismay as Ronnie turned back towards his friends, but from the wide grin on his face Ronnie knew he was joking.
"Could've been," he agreed, and his voice held no regrets.
Martin had wondered if there would be an adjustment period, after getting his own body back, but he was no more unsteady on his feet than he had been beforehand. There was a noticeable difference, of course, between his body and Ronald's, and he was aware of his limbs and organs and the sensory input he was receiving in a way he never had been before, but it didn't feel strange, to be himself again, despite the month he'd apparently gone without a body.
But while the experience hadn't exactly been traumatic, Martin had still been confined, unable to move or speak to anyone but Ronald. As fascinating as the development of the FIRESTORM matrix had been, Martin was not interested in trying to repeat his results. This was one experiment he felt he could safely abandon – especially given its own safety concerns.
Martin could still remember the fire that he and Ronald had controlled, and the danger it presented. Between forcing two unwilling people together, and giving them access to a power no one man should have, FIRESTORM was a project that did not need to see the light of day again. Some vague statement of Dr. Wells', about the cost being too high for certain scientific advancements (his accelerator included), had stuck in his mind even when he'd been stuck in Ronald's.
Which was why, after spending the evening with his wife, Martin was now making his way to his office long after the winter sun had set. He wanted things over and done with, wanted Firestorm out of anyone's else's hands. He'd seen the evidence of the grief he'd caused his wife, and he wanted to move toward fixing it.
Even knowing what she did, it had been a task convincing Clarissa to let him out of her sight. But they both knew the dangers of Firestorm. One night, an hour or two cleaning out his research, and then Martin would return home to Clarissa and they could put the past behind them.
Shifting his car into park and turning off his engine, Martin stepped out into the dark and cold winter night. He wanted to be quick, but he also needed to be thorough. Still, it wouldn't take long.
It felt later than it was. Before, Ronnie used to routinely stay up to eleven or midnight, and it wasn't even nine yet – but between the pitch-black darkness of winter and the exhaustion from the past few days, he could have fallen asleep just then. He didn't move.
Caitlin was curled up next to him on the couch, still awake as well, and given how reluctant she'd been to touch him once she'd learned about Stein, Ronnie wasn't about to do or say anything that might end in her moving: not even suggesting turning in for the night.
Besides, Cisco sat in the chair next to the couch, feet tucked under him, beer in hand. The three of them had simply talked, for hours upon returning to the apartment, finally catching up now that they were alone.
Ronnie had had a difficult few days, but his friends had had a tough month, weeks of thinking he was dead, of mourning him. They'd attended his funeral, which was something Ronnie hadn't even considered until Cisco had mentioned it a few minutes ago. None of them wanted to move, and none of them wanted to be apart.
"My parents…?" Ronnie asked hesitantly. He loved both of them, and called them up on birthdays and holidays, if they didn't call him first, but they weren't close – not to him or to each other. Still, losing your only child…
Cisco winced, glancing away. "They were pretty devastated, man. I think your mom even went back to Coast City with your dad."
Ronnie felt a surge of guilt at the thought of their suffering, made all the worse by the fact that he didn't regret the decision he'd made to enter the accelerator. He'd saved lives, and it had been worth it, but that didn't mean he could brush aside the suffering his parents were going through.
At his side, as if knowing what he was thinking, Caitlin's hand squeezed tighter in his and she shifted from her spot leaning on his shoulder to look up at him. Ronnie smiled down at her. He couldn't even begin to imagine what she'd gone through.
Before Ronnie could say anything in response though, to either Caitlin or Cisco, he felt a sudden wave of dizziness, the urge to sleep surging forward stronger than it had thus far that night. He closed his eyes against the onslaught, yawning. Something was trying to pull him into unconsciousness, but Ronnie fought back, blinking himself awake again.
"You alright?" Cisco was asking when he managed to refocus.
Ronnie gave an easy shrug, mindful of Caitlin half-drowsing on his shoulder. "It's been a long few days."
Caitlin hummed in agreement, the sound moving through her jaw and vibrating against Ronnie's left side.
Cisco shifted in his seat, pulling his feet out from under him and placing them on the floor. Uncertainty entered his expression.
"Why don't you take the guest room?" Ronnie suggested before his friend could say anything.
"Of course," Caitlin said, pushing herself upright. "We should all get some sleep, and you're in no condition to leave."
Cisco had taken the bus, and he was still nursing his second beer, but they all knew what she meant. Together the three of them pulled themselves upright, flowing around each other as they cleaned up their snacks and drinks and shared the one bathroom to get ready for bed. As expected, Ronnie drifted off as soon as his head hit the pillow, thankful to be alone in his mind once more.
Unexpectedly, he woke to a jolt of fear several hours later, early in the morning, heart pounding far faster than Ronnie figured it had any right to. Whatever nightmare had woken him though, he didn't remember it.
Ronnie tried to get his heartbeat under control, regulating his breathing, but he was freezing too, shivering under his covers. Had the heat turned off overnight? He shivered again, brain muddled as it tried to figure out what to focus on: the terror that was taking longer to dissipate than Ronnie expected, or the unexpected cold.
Taking another deep breath, Ronnie glanced over at Caitlin. Still fast asleep, she didn't seem bothered by the cold. Ronnie tried ducking back under the covers, but a minute or two was enough for him to realize he wouldn't get back to sleep that way.
Shivering, he reluctantly pulled himself out from under his blankets to check the thermostat in the hall. His heartbeat had calmed down, but the terror was still present in the back of his mind and, aside from the cold, there was a strange but faint tightness around his middle, as though his shirt was too snug, or he was wearing a back brace.
But the cold was the most pressing issue. Ronnie frowned at the thermostat. Seventy-one degrees. Not hot, exactly, but far from cold. He tapped at it, his sleep addled, strangely frightened brain wondering if it was broken.
Ronnie turned, resigning himself to grabbing an extra blanket and saving the investigation until the morning. That was when the pain hit.
Screams ringing in his own ears, Martin panted as the cattle prod separated from his midsection. It was pain like he had never known it before, all encompassing, penetrating deep into his bones. He gritted his teeth against the aftershocks and his shivers that followed were not just from the cold, but also the electricity still coursing through his veins.
He'd been taken prisoner, drugged and chained and imprisoned and now, tortured. There was a tight band around his middle, the chains around his hands and feet both connected to it, and it was connected to the chair Martin now sat it.
"Tell us about FIRESTORM," the man in front of him commanded for the second time.
Weak though he was, Martin managed to raise his head and glare at the man – soldier – before him. (Of course it was the army who had taken his research. Who else?) "As I said… before," he managed to get out through gritted teeth, "we never… got past… the preliminary stages."
Martin could understand why he'd been kidnapped. He'd gone to his office for the very reason he was now refusing to speak: to prevent anyone from abusing the power Firestorm offered. But what he couldn't understand was how this soldier, this army general, had discovered what had happened to him, or how he'd even known Martin had returned. Before the accelerator explosion, they never had moved past the preliminary stages, and since then, no one knew what had happened to him and Ronald.
He and Clarissa had been waiting until tomorrow (or, Martin thought morosely, later today) to head to the police station and rescind his missing person's report, and though he and Ronald hadn't exactly been careful to ensure that they weren't overseen while working on controlling their fire, there was no reason anyone who had seen them would have linked the strangeness to either him or FIRESTORM.
But somehow the general did know, and Martin had been abducted, and there was no one coming for him, no one who even knew he was in trouble. Clarissa would be worried, but it would be a far cry for her mind to jump to kidnapping when he didn't return home, and even less likely for her to suspect the army of being his abductors. They hadn't even bothered to hide his location from him, which was a clear sign that he wasn't going anywhere.
The man before him – Eiling, his name tag read – shook his head, as though disappointed in Martin. "And I already told you," he responded matter-of-factly, "we know that you were able to infuse your matrix into a living test subject. You will tell us everything you know," he continued, as though there was no question about it. He brandished the cattle prod, or stun baton, or whatever it was, slightly, drawing Martin's eyes toward it. "How comfortable your stay is while you do so on the other hand…"
Swallowing back his terror, Martin wrenched his gaze from the instrument of torture. "About that," he said stuffily, mustering his strength, "it is freezing in here. Surely you can do something about that?"
Eiling grinned, and it was not a friendly expression in the slightest. "Sure, Professor," he said easily, moving toward a thermostat on the wall. "Like I said, your comfort is entirely up to you." He turned back toward Martin after fiddling with the dial. "Now, where were we?"
The remnants of the pain were fading slightly, but Martin doubted that the reprieve would last long: he had already made up his mind. There was no one he would trust with the power Firestorm had at their fingertips, least of all this psychopathic army general. They'd taken his blood and what research he'd had on him, but that wouldn't be enough to give them what they wanted and Martin would do his level best to ensure that he didn't fill in the blanks.
Still, as the stun baton drew nearer once more, Martin couldn't help but wonder how long his resolve would hold, especially because it seemed as though he would be imprisoned for a long time yet to come.
When the pain faded, Ronnie found himself on his knees in the hall, arms wrapped around his middle, teeth gritted. He thought he might have cried out, but he wasn't sure. One particular spot on his side throbbed, as though the pain had originated from there, and Ronnie struggled to his feet with the aftereffects still causing him to shake slightly.
He took a deep breath, trying to figure out what had happened. The pain had been prolonged, almost, rather than sharp and stabbing, and had been in the wrong spot anyway to be a cramp. And he still felt terrified and freezing.
Ronnie didn't know what to do. Take something for the pain, which was mostly gone now? Grab an extra blanket and try to fall asleep again?
But determination crept over him from behind, and his brain seized on a single thought: he and Stein had run hot as Firestorm. Maybe the cold was a symptom of their separation. Contacting Stein was a concrete goal, and one that might help him figure out what was going on. He stumbled back into the bedroom, loosening the grip he had on his midsection as he did so.
Whether it was because of whatever noise he'd made in the hallway, or simply because of the emptiness of his vacated spot in the bed, Caitlin rolled over and blinked at him as he approached, awake even if she wasn't quite alert yet.
Ronnie gave her a small smile. "Sorry," he offered quietly, torn between telling her everything and not wanting to worry her, "mind if I borrow your phone?" The answer was no – he didn't need Caitlin to tell him that – but it was something to say that distracted him from the lingering pain.
She frowned sleepily, and even Ronnie's distraught brain couldn't help but focus on how beautiful she was. "What for?"
"I wanted to call Stein," he explained apologetically. "Just… it's probably nothing." Probably wasn't, actually, given how much pain he'd been in, however briefly, but Ronnie didn't want to make a big deal out of something that could have been nothing. Maybe it had just been a cramp. (But then, why was he so terrified, even now?)
"Sure," she offered.
Ronnie grinned again, and picked the phone up off the bedside table. "Thanks." He wandered back over to his side of the bed before using it, getting comfortable again (covering his freezing limbs with the blankets he'd abandoned a few minutes before).
He'd typed in the passcode, and navigated to the 'recently dialed' page, when the phone slid from his grasp and onto the mattress beside him. With a strangled gasp that turned into another painful groan, eked out through gritted teeth, Ronnie doubled over again, incapable of focusing on anything other than the pain that whited his vision.
God, it hurt, and he didn't even know why, and it wasn't even really originating from the same place as last time even if it was just as intense.
But it did die out again, leaving him hunched over in bed, arms hugging his middle, forehead pressed against his knees, teeth gritted, eyes screwed shut. He groaned again at the aftermath, and became aware of a sound from next to him.
There was a hand on his shoulder, a worried voice in his ear.
Ronnie blinked, forcing his eyes open, relaxing his jaw. "I'm… I'm alright," he managed to say, glancing up to see Caitlin leaning over him in alarm.
"No, you're not," she said plainly, worry evident in her voice and expression and the way she clutched his shoulder tightly and stared into his eyes.
He tried to grin but it came out as more of a grimace. "Maybe not," he allowed weakly, "but I'm sure it's nothing. I was just going to call Stein to make sure."
"You think it's related to Firestorm?"
It was Cisco's voice asking the question, and Ronnie's gaze flickered upward in surprise. His best friend was standing in the doorway, worried expression on his own face. Either Ronnie had been louder the second time, or Caitlin had also cried out in alarm.
"I don't know," he answered simply.
"Here, I can..." Caitlin started to offer, fishing around for her phone among the tangle of blankets now between her and him.
"No, I got it," Cisco interrupted, stepping forward and holding out his hand. Caitlin hesitated for the briefest of moments, then handed the phone to Cisco. As their friend started dialing, she turned back to Ronnie.
"Where does it hurt?" she asked.
"That's… that's the thing," Ronnie said, relaxing slightly. His middle still ached, but, like before, the lightning that had traveled through his veins, frying him from the inside out, had mostly dissipated, "it's not constant. It's like… like…" But Ronnie had no comparison to draw on; he'd never felt anything like what he was experiencing now: the random bolts of pain that were periodic but oh so intense.
He shivered again, drawing the blankets closer.
"Hi, Mrs. Stein, this is Cisco Ramon…"
Ronnie and Caitlin both glanced over at their friend, listening eagerly for news. But Ronnie was still terrified, and freezing, and he couldn't escape the feeling that something was terribly wrong. When Cisco stopped speaking, his expression shifting to surprise, Ronnie felt his own heat skip a beat.
"No, no," Cisco said quickly, "we haven't…"
Another pause, more pregnant than the last. Under the blankets, Ronnie sought out Caitlin's hand, squeezing it tightly. It was more for his own comfort than hers – he couldn't get his heart to settle.
"If we hear anything… Yeah, I promise. We can come over in the morning…" Cisco nodded absently to whatever the woman on the other end was saying, stumbled through a goodbye, and then hung up.
"Something's wrong with Stein," Ronnie said without waiting for whatever news his friend had.
Cisco grimaced. "Maybe," he allowed. "He left to collect his FIRESTORM research and never came home–"
Ronnie shook his head, convinced. "No, I mean something's wrong with Stein. This isn't… it's not a symptom of our separation – someone's hurting the professor."
"How… how can you be sure?" Caitlin asked hesitantly, but after all that had happened the past few days, she didn't seem to doubt him.
Ronnie shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, but… It's like when I was feeling his emotions. Right now, I'm... I'm terrified, even though there's no reason to be. No reason for me, at least, but if someone grabbed him…"
"You think you're still, what, linked with him?" Cisco asked.
"I don't know, but," Ronnie shivered again, "you're not cold, are you?" His gaze flickered between his two friends, both of whom shook their heads.
"Because I'm freezing. At first I thought maybe it was because we had separated, but now I think it's because wherever Stein is, it's somewhere cold."
It had taken Ronnie a while to connect the terror in the back of his mind with all the emotions he had felt from Stein, but now that he was voicing his opinions out loud, now that he knew Stein was missing, he was sure of it: nothing was wrong with him, and nothing had gone wrong with their separation. Someone was torturing Martin Stein.
Ronnie shifted, putting his feet on the floor again. There was no way he was going back to sleep now.
Three more times Ronnie felt the burning pain, and three more times he hunched over in agony, Caitlin and Cisco watching him anxiously, before the terror in the back of Ronnie's mind had mostly faded.
"I… I think," Ronnie managed to get out, breathing heavily and straightening, still recovering from the most recent shock, "I think Stein passed out," he said. As much as he hated the idea of it, it was something of a relief. The pain dissipated more quickly than it had so far, with Stein unconscious, and his heart finally settled.
It had only been thirty minutes at most since he'd woken, maybe no more than fifteen, and the three of them had gathered in the living room. Ronnie was on the middle of the couch, wearing thick socks, an old hoodie of his, and curled up under a large blanket. Cisco sat on one side of him, Caitlin the other.
"Are you sure?" she asked anxiously.
Ronnie wasn't sure if she was worried about him (knowing that if Stein was awake he could still be tortured), or about whether or not Stein was had entered a state worse than unconsciousness.
He shook his head. "No, he's still alive, I can still feel him. I think. We have to do something." It was the second time he had uttered the words, but the first time he'd said it had been right before he'd doubled over in pain again, and Caitlin and Cisco had summarily been distracted.
"What can we do?" Cisco asked hopelessly. "You said the police are already looking for him, because they don't know he's, well, back I guess, and we don't know where he is. Do we?"
Ronnie shook his head again. No, he had no clue where Stein was, other than the fact that, wherever he was, it was freezing. "We have to help him," he repeated helplessly, brain still not working at full capacity. And it wasn't just for his own benefit that he wanted to help Stein – whatever their relationship, another man was being tortured and Ronnie couldn't just stand by and do nothing.
Caitlin and Cisco exchanged glances over his head.
"All… alright," Caitlin said hesitantly. "How do you want to start?"
They were so far out of their depths, but they were going to set things right. Ronnie wouldn't allow himself to imagine any other scenario. (And the ache in his gut, the tremors in his limbs, the pain that lingered even then – they were more than enough of a reminder of the urgency of the situation.)
Martin ached. He ached in a way he'd never known before, the remnants of the electricity in his system still bringing him pain, though the stun baton itself had long since left the room. He had no idea how much time had passed since he'd fallen into unconsciousness. Each limb felt heavy, his breathing harsh, and he was having trouble keeping his head upright in the chair they'd chained him to.
Shivering, breath catching, he jerked his head upward again as he felt his eyes begin to close. He didn't want to fall asleep (or, more accurately, pass out again). The last time he had done that… or well, the second to last time that had happened, he'd woken up here, and he wanted to be awake to face whatever the general had in store for him.
But that was going to be a hard task. The room was freezing, causing shivers to rake through him every now and again, his teeth clattering together in a way that made his head ache whenever he twitched from the cold. And the cool metal handcuffs encircling his wrists didn't help any.
Despite all this, and though the cold was undoubtedly part of the torture, it was almost irrelevant compared to the actual torture. Martin could still feel the sting of the electric charge, the white-hot pain as the rod had connected with his torso and fire had raced through his veins. Not the power and warmth of Firestorm, but a cold fire, white and painful. Martin was not ashamed to admit that he had screamed – several times – but that just meant that now his throat ached as well.
He was terrified and in pain, trying to keep his determination not to tell these people anything about the Firestorm matrix, trying to keep his eyelids from falling shut and swallowing him in a darkness in which anything could happen.
However terrible Martin had felt when he'd woken in a body that wasn't his, this was one hundred times worse, for a hundred reasons, not the least of which was that Firestorm hadn't caused him any pain.
Except… just then, as Martin was contemplating Firestorm (the reason for his imprisonment, after all), he felt a small jolt of pain in his right foot, lancing up his big toe. It was enough of a surprise to cause him to wince, but it faded quickly.
With his torturers gone for the moment, and his torment ceased (no doubt temporarily), Martin had the chance to focus, and think clearly for the first time since he'd been kidnapped. And he was starting to realize that the panic in the back of his mind wasn't all his. Oh, the terror – that was all Martin – but the panic…
If he and Ronald had identical brainwaves as Firestorm, there was every chance they still did. But what did that mean? Had Ronald just stubbed his toe? Martin felt hope stir within him – if that was the case, then it was likely that someone did know what had happened to him – but he wasn't sure yet how that would help him.
Blinking himself awake once more, Martin looked at the chains that were holding him, and an idea came to mind. He could only hope that it would work, and that his tortured brain wasn't imagining things.
Ronnie rubbed his wrist for the third time, as the strange sensation that he was bumping into something filled him. Hours had passed, hours of frantic activity in which they'd made absolutely no progress on finding Stein. Eventually, they'd called Clarissa again and had invited her over – she'd be there in another hour or so, because she had wanted to try talking to the police first. (Ronnie didn't imagine that would go well.)
He'd been pacing for the past fifteen minutes, since he'd felt Stein waking up (the terror surging forward once more), and had already stubbed his toe once. Suddenly, on his umpteenth circuit around the room, Ronnie froze, a thought occurring to him.
Caitlin and Cisco noticed the change in him immediately. "What is it?"
He surged forward, pulling out a chair and taking a seat at the table. He could feel an ache in his chest, a tightness in his middle, a chill that had nothing to do with the room he was in, and a terror that wasn't his. Had Stein also realized the connection still existed between them?
"Does anyone know Morse code?" he asked quickly, hoping against all hope that that was what was happening, and that he wasn't simply imagining things.
"I do," Cisco responded just as fast, grabbing a pen and piece of paper as if sensing Ronnie's urgency.
"I think… I think it's Stein," Ronnie said. "Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap, tap. Tap. Tap…" He paid careful attention to the pauses between the taps – he didn't need to know Morse code to know that it would be hard to differentiate between the dots and dashes – but as he worked his confidence that Stein knew what he was doing only grew. They were still connected, and both of them knew it.
"Alright, I think it's just repeating," Cisco said after a moment. He spun the piece of paper around to show both Ronnie and Caitlin:
"Army 27," Caitlin mused out loud. The three of them exchanged glances, and Ronnie tried to ignore the tapping he could still feel on his wrist.
He rubbed at it again anxiously, wondering how to tell Stein that he'd gotten the message. "Maybe Mrs. Stein will know more," he said. "What's the Morse code for OK?"
Cisco wrote it out: four long, one short, one long.
Ronnie looked down at his bare wrists. Stein… well, he wasn't sure exactly what Stein was using, but whatever it was felt cool, like metal (like handcuffs, Ronnie mused unhappily). And a faint touch wouldn't work – Ronnie could barely feel the slight pressure against his wrist, which probably meant that though he and Stein were connected, they didn't feel exactly what the other felt. This thought was backed up by the fact that Stein had passed out while Ronnie hadn't, and it only made the younger man worry more about the condition Stein was in.
Ronald got the message. He must have, because Martin began to feel a similar pressure on his right wrist, only he wasn't the one creating it. Just two letters: O and K, thrice over. Ronald had gotten the message.
Martin sighed in relief, slumping down in his chair, finally relaxing his arm. He'd passed along the most pertinent information – his location – and now he could only hope that Ronald (and presumably his friends) were capable of doing something with it.
But he didn't let himself get his hopes up too high. Three young adults did not exactly have the resources to go up against the army, and it was doubtful the police would believe their tale. Perhaps Dr. Wells could have done something, but it was doubtful as well that anyone would listen to a disgraced scientist who had no connection to Martin whatsoever. Who would believe any part of the story, after all?
No, his hope upon learning of the connection that still existed between him and Ronald had been false hope. They knew where he was now, yes, but there was nothing they could do about it. And as Martin still was not willing to give in and share any information with the general, then it was likely he would remain a prisoner until his death – however little time that took.
Hours had passed. Terrifyingly, horribly, agonizingly, hours had passed as the hands on the wall clock continued to move forward. It was long past nightfall again, he and Cisco and Caitlin and Mrs. Stein and even Dr. Wells all holed up in their apartment together, and they had still gotten nowhere.
They knew a few things: Martin Stein had been abducted by the army, taken to army base 27, and was being tortured, presumably for information about Firestorm.
What they didn't know was what they could do about it. Contacting the police or the army had been discounted from the beginning. None of them had any contacts within the army itself who could help them. Except for a few research projects Dr. Wells had done in his past, none of them even had any experience dealing with the military.
And the base itself was three hundred miles away – a five-hour drive, minimum – across the Missouri river and practically on the other side of Kansas. Dr. Wells was doubtful there was anything more that could be done and Caitlin, sharing his pessimism, wanted to more research into the bond between Ronnie and Stein. She hadn't said as much, but Ronnie knew she was thinking about trying to sever it.
Mrs. Stein was trying to remain strong, but she, just like the rest of them, was so far out of her depth. Every time she saw Ronnie wince it became that much harder for her to keep it together.
Cisco, it seemed like sometimes, was the only one getting anything done. He'd managed to track down the blueprints of the army base (no one had asked how), and he'd already mapped out the most expedient roads to get there.
Ronnie himself was… not as much of a help. He ached, from head to toe, and three more times he'd retreated from the others and curled up on his bed in pain as Stein had been tortured. The other man's terror was a constant presence, so much so that Ronnie could almost say he'd gotten used to it, and the cold… Despite the layers Ronnie was wearing, the two pairs of socks and the gloves on his hands, his fingers and toes were stiff and numb. He was hungry too, in an odd, distant sort of way, just another ache to add to his list, even though he'd forced himself to eat three meals that day.
The bickering was starting to get to him, and the hopelessness of it all. He slammed a hand down on the table and, though the resulting sound was muffled by the gloves he wore, it got his point across. Everyone promptly shut up.
"I'm going after him," Ronnie said plainly, firmly. They'd had the argument far too many times already, and now they were just wasting time. He wasn't going to waste any more. "You can come with me or not, but I'm going."
The four of them watched him carefully, then Dr. Wells shifted slightly toward him. "Ronnie…" he started, tone low and cautious.
"No." Ronnie shook his head. "I don't care if we have less than a one percent chance of succeeding. I don't. I have to try, and if you're alright to just sit by and do nothing, then fine, but I'm going."
Cisco took a step forward, looking slightly sheepish. "I… actually packed the van a couple hours ago," he said, "last time you were…" He gestured toward the bedroom, looking uncomfortable. "GPS is already programmed."
Ronnie couldn't help but smile at his friend, despite the circumstances, gratitude welling through him, and he nodded, glancing away from Cisco.
"I don't believe I'll be much help," Mrs. Stein spoke up, "but I can't just sit here while you rescue my husband. At the very least I can drive."
Ronnie nodded again, then glanced toward Caitlin and Dr. Wells, both of them looking apprehensive.
"Ronnie, I get that you want to help the professor, but… can we?" Caitlin asked him.
"Would you be able to live with yourself if we didn't try?"
Caitlin's expression was answer enough. Ronnie knew his fiancée – despite her pragmatic nature, she always tried to help people in need.
"Well," Dr. Wells said, drawing attention back to him, "I can see I'm outnumbered on this one, so if we're going to move forward with this, the least I can do is give you as much help as I can."
And with that, the five of them started planning possibly the weirdest – and most important – road trip that Ronnie had ever been on.
Only an hour into the drive, Ronnie fell asleep. Stein had drifted off some time ago, he was pretty sure, and other than a brief nap that had rudely been interrupted by torture session number three, Ronnie hadn't gotten much sleep. He knew they had to plan, knew there was work to be done if they were somehow going to break into a military facility and rescue the professor, but he was so tired, and he also knew he would be no help if he couldn't stay awake when they needed him to.
They'd taken a STAR Labs van, to accommodate Dr. Wells, and Mrs. Stein was driving, stating that she would leave the planning to them, so Ronnie fell asleep to the motion of the van beneath him and the comforting sounds of his friends and mentor speaking in his ears.
He woke sometime around hour five, when Mrs. Stein pulled off the highway and stopped at a gas station.
"Do we have a plan?" he asked sleepily, blinking himself awake as he ran a mental check for any new aches or pains.
"No," Caitlin said quickly, with a firm look at her co-conspirators.
Ronnie knew that look. He glanced over at Cisco.
"Wellll…" Cisco trailed off hesitantly. "We have a potential plan."
Ronnie waited expectantly.
"Look, none of us are ever going to get on base, not unless they want us to," Cisco said, and his tone was lightly apologetic.
"So, how are we going to get invited in?" Ronnie asked.
"You're not," Caitlin said. "Which is why we need to think of a different plan." She looked pointedly at Cisco, but Ronnie had caught her slip up: she'd said you, not we.
"You think they're so interested in Firestorm they'll let me in," he said. That... might actually work."
"It's a possibility," Dr. Wells allowed. "We were thinking that if you could get close enough to Professor Stein…"
"We could merge again?"
Dr. Wells and Cisco nodded, Caitlin bit her lip anxiously.
"It's too risky," she countered. "There's no guarantee that they'll take you to the professor, and even if they do, we don't know if you're even capable of remerging."
Ronnie shook his head absently, searching out those emotions in the back of his mind that weren't quite his. "We're still connected," he said confidently, "we can merge again." Back when they'd separated, he'd never even considered it. That had been the end of Firestorm for him, and he'd been fine with that. But desperate times called for desperate measures.
"Ronnie, you have to have skin to skin contact for it even to be a possibility," Caitlin pleaded.
"We've been working on this for almost twenty-four hours now – do we have any other plans?"
No one spoke.
"Look, what if I just… tell them I'll talk about Firestorm, but only if they let me see Stein first?"
"There are too many things that could go wrong," Caitlin countered. "We don't even know how they found out about Stein, they might not believe that you know anything about Firestorm. Or they might know too much, and not let you near him. What if you go in there and you don't come back out?"
"Well then we've got proof, don't we? You guys will know for a fact where I am."
Cisco shifted uncomfortably. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news," he said, "but you're still legally dead, Ronnie. We can't just say that our friend who, oh yeah, we already had a funeral for? He just got kidnapped by the army."
"That might actually work in our favor though," Ronnie said, thinking hard. "I'm supposed to be dead, right? The army's going to wonder why I'm not. And if they want to find out, they'll take me to Stein."
There was silence for a moment as everyone considered it.
"It… could be our best option," Dr. Wells allowed after a moment.
Caitlin shook her head again, but she didn't protest.
Ronnie glanced toward the front seat, where Mrs. Stein had remained silent as she'd gotten in and out of the van to refuel. "How long until we get there?"
"Another half hour, I believe," she said gently. There were unshed tears in her eyes, and gratitude etched into her face.
Ronnie smiled back at her. "That gives us another half hour to plan then," he said confidently, shoving aside his own anxieties and fears. They'd come too far to turn back now.
A commotion outside drew Martin's attention, pulling him from the half-asleep state he'd been in for a while. Footsteps. He was beginning to dread that sound, but at the moment he couldn't bother to muster up enough energy to care. His heart was too tired to beat frantically in his chest, and his breathing was shallow enough as it was.
So, Martin sat there, limp and uncaring as his torturers approached yet again. He still hadn't said anything, and by now he'd come to the conclusion that he was, at the very least, strong enough to hold out until his death. It wasn't exactly a comforting thought, given that he doubted it would be long before his captors realized the same thing, but at least he could go out knowing that he hadn't helped the bastards create any weapons of mass destruction.
He didn't even bother to lift his head as he heard the lock click open. The footsteps entered the room. Martin's fingers curled in irritation, his heart dropped with dread. He swallowed heavily, already bracing for the coming pain. He dismissed his earlier, optimistic, thoughts. No, it wasn't his strength that was preventing him from talking, not anymore. He just simply didn't have the energy. He was going to die here, so why fight it?
He didn't want to tell anyone anything about Firestorm, but he wasn't even sure he would be able to speak anyway if that hadn't been the case. He hadn't even been able to scream last time, his throat raw, his mouth dry.
"See," Eiling's snide superior tone was saying, "intact."
What did it matter who he was talking to, or even what he was saying? Martin blinked, his fear of pain keeping him awake (the cold had long since simply become numbing), but didn't bother to look up or try to figure out what the words might have meant.
The footsteps drew closer, and he forced himself not to tense in anticipation of the coming electric shock. But there was no point in delaying it, and Martin did derive a small glimmer of satisfaction in staring Eiling down, refusing to speak (in the moments before the cattle prod was used, of course; after that, Martin usually lost his ability to focus on anything). So, he looked up, glaring (a weak glare, but a glare nevertheless), straight into the stoic face of Ronnie Raymond.
He blinked in shock, mouth gaping open slightly, hands clenching onto the armrests of his chair in surprise. He had to be hallucinating, didn't he?
But off to the side, Eiling was watching Martin's surprise with perverse satisfaction, relishing it, and Ronald had to be real, because he quickly took advantage of the general's distraction.
The younger man subtly reached forward, hand latching onto Martin's own, and the older man felt a tugging sensation somewhere… somewhere. He didn't respond instantly, but the tugging sensation increased in intensity and Martin's mind (sluggish and tired and confused) was still quick enough to realize what Ronald was trying to do.
They'd never done it before, never willingly merged, but in the end, it was as simple as unmerging had been. Martin mentally reached for Ronald, felt his limbs become lighter, his aches evaporate. For the briefest of instants, he could no longer feel the chair beneath him or the chains holding him down, and then he was standing on two feet again (even if they weren't technically his feet).
There was so much they had yet to learn about Firestorm – Martin felt his pain mostly evaporate, though some of it lingered, felt his hunger simmer down, the stiffness of his limbs vanish, his mind clear – but there was no time to consider that, to think about it, to wonder what it meant.
Eiling might have allowed himself to relax slightly, and get distracted, but his reaction was still incredibly quick as he reached for his gun.
Ronald was faster, brain already thinking quickly as Martin's got up to speed. He flung their hand forward, unleashing a fireball that knocked the general into the wall behind him. He didn't wait to see the effects of his actions, darting for the door.
"I presume you have a plan?" Martin asked as they sprinted onward, his mind clear and focused in a way it hadn't been for the past… however long he'd been a prisoner.
"Yeah," Ronald answered shortly, conserving his breath, "run."
Not much of a plan, but it would have to do. Ronald shot another blast of fire forward, forcing a soldier out of the way. There were shouts from behind them, but neither one of them were really listening.
Together they sprinted down the hallway, blazing and burning, throwing fireballs at anyone who neared as alarms blared overhead. There was no time to wonder how much damage their fire was doing, no time to stop or discuss anything.
Ronald, at least, seemed to know where he was going. He turned without hesitation, pushing through some doors and ignoring others, until Martin could see the darkness of the night from beyond a glass door.
They pushed through it, and finally stopped running. There on the lawn, between them and freedom, stood ten to twenty men, all heavily armed, all aiming at Firestorm. Ronald's feet skidded to a stop, catching his breath. No one seemed to know what to do (not without the general there).
Martin was pretty sure that they were wanted alive, but if Ronald moved to attack some of the soldiers, that didn't mean the others wouldn't fire. They couldn't go forward, and they couldn't go back. But a thought occurred to him, as he remembered how much thrust they'd generated when they'd thrown Eiling into the wall.
Ronald's hands were down at his sides at the moment, his shoulders tense with anticipation as his gaze flickered back and forth.
"Upward," Martin said. "Our… our fire, might be able to generate enough thrust to lift us over them."
Ronald's hands clenched in anticipation, his gaze flickered up to the stars.
"They might still fire," Martin allowed, guessing at the reasoning behind the man's hesitation, "but if we move fast enough…" It was the only chance they had.
Ronald gave the smallest of nods and, sensing the other man's determination, they both put the full force of their power into blasting their fire downwards, lifting them into the air. Martin had been picturing perhaps a large leap or something similar, but that wasn't what happened at all.
No, as they aimed their power at the ground, Firestorm flew.
The world looked different, from above. Ronnie hadn't expected to fly, but he didn't have time to stop and consider what he was doing. His and Stein's burst of energy had thrust them up, up, up, faster and faster, until the military compound could have been a dollhouse and even the bursts of gunfire had faded – but that didn't mean they were out of danger.
In the still winter night, their blazing form was a giant target, and if the army decided they didn't want Firestorm to live, Ronnie wasn't sure there was anything he and Stein could do about it.
So, he took only a moment to catch his breath, to gaze at the Earth spread out below him and come to terms with yet another shocking revelation, and then refocused on the here and now.
"Are you alright?" he finally asked.
Stein… hadn't looked good, not in the slightest, but there had been no time for worry as Ronnie had approached the chair the older man had been chained to. But he'd still noticed the way most of his own aches had dissipated when they'd merged.
"Remarkably, yes," Stein answered. "Possibly a result of us merging, or simply because my body no longer exists, so to speak. How did you… how?"
The other man seemed to be lost for words, but Ronnie felt a swell of gratitude and befuddlement that let him know what Stein really meant.
"It's a long story," he said (and still they climbed upward, slowing down now, but still moving). "It can wait until we meet up with the others again."
"I cannot thank you enough, Ronald, for coming for me," Stein stated plainly.
Despite their circumstances, Ronnie felt a small smile tugging at the edge of his lips. "I'll call us even if you can figure out how to land," he found himself joking. He knew very well he had saved Stein's life – had come to that sinking realization the moment he'd laid eyes on the other man – but right now he didn't want to think about what would have happened if he'd arrived too late, or hadn't managed to come up with a plan.
There was a huff of surprised amusement from Stein at the comment, but Ronnie would swear he could feel the professor's mind refocusing. Together they ignored what they were fleeing from, ignored the tumultuous past twenty-four hours of their lives, and focused for the second time on determining exactly what they were capable of.
Going upward was easy. Aiming for a particular direction was much more difficult. Luckily, they got the hang of it quickly enough, and it didn't take long after that for Ronnie to find the parking lot Caitlin and the others were waiting in.
They landed to the amazed and joyous looks of all four of the people waiting for them.
Caitlin rushed forward to hug him as soon as his flames were extinguished, Mrs. Stein taking a few hesitant steps forward.
"I'm alright," Ronnie promised, hugging Caitlin tightly. He looked over her shoulder at Mrs. Stein. "We're both alright."
"Martin…?" Mrs. Stein said hesitantly.
Ronnie paused, drawing back from Caitlin. Stein hadn't been in great shape before they'd merged – what would happen when they separated? The thought had stopped them from unfusing the moment they'd landed, but was the worry of what would happen strong enough to deny Stein a face to face meeting with his wife?
From Stein's own hesitation, Ronnie guessed he was feeling the same thing. "What do you think?" he asked out loud.
Caitlin hesitated, clearly wondering if he was addressing her, but she caught on quickly enough, closing her mouth before she spoke.
"I… I wish to see my wife," Stein decided after a moment's hesitation.
Ronnie nodded once, then took a few steps back from the rest of the group. At some internal, unspoken count, he and Stein reached for their power and pulled apart from each other.
Their second separation was the same as the first: they stumbled as they separated. This time though, it wasn't because they were readjusting to life apart. It was because as soon as they became two separate beings, as soon as Stein's body rematerialized, the pain returned. The pain wasn't as severe for Ronnie as it was for Stein, but it still caused him to miss a step.
Spinning around, his gaze locked quickly on Stein. The man barely looked as though he could stay upright and Ronnie hurried to his side, grabbing his arm and keeping him vertical. It was a motion he'd done without thought, and after all they'd been through together, the physical closeness wasn't strange or uncomfortable, never mind that Stein was still practically a stranger to him.
In front of them, Mrs. Stein gasped in shock, raising a hand to her mouth as her eyes watered with unshed tears.
"I'm…" Stein tried to speak, tried to reassure her, but his voice broke and he coughed instead, hacking fits that sent small spikes of pain shooting through Ronnie's own gut. He tightened his grip on the old man's arm.
"He's just tired, and hungry," Ronnie said for the man. It wasn't true – it was incredibly obvious to Ronnie, at the very least, that Stein's pain was not just a result of exhaustion and mild starvation – but along with Stein's pain, he could also feel the man's worry and love for his wife. Ronnie was sure that his words echoed what Stein would have said, had he been able to.
"Oh Martin," Mrs. Stein said worriedly. She hurried forward, grasping her husband's hands.
With her supporting him, Ronnie let go, giving them a private moment as he stepped away – towards Caitlin and Cisco and Dr. Wells.
"See," he said to his fiancée, "it worked."
Caitlin just smiled up at him and took his hands.
"Thanks for the blueprints," Ronnie continued, turning to Cisco.
"No problem, man. Flying is new, though."
With a deliberate movement, Dr. Wells moved his wheelchair forward slightly, catching their attention before Ronnie could speak again. "Not to ruin the moment," he said carefully, "but this isn't over yet."
His careful words were enough to draw the Steins out of their murmured greetings.
"I'm afraid Dr. Wells is correct," Stein said, voice shaky and faint. He was starting to shake with the effort of standing, even with his wife at his side.
"They're never going to stop looking for us," Ronnie said in realization. He'd always known that, from the first moment he'd considered rescuing Stein, but he hadn't really let himself think about it. Hadn't contemplated what it would mean for his life.
"What are you saying?" Caitlin asked worriedly, though from her tone she knew exactly what he meant – she just didn't want it to be true.
"I'm sorry, Ronald," Stein managed to say, "to have dragged you into this."
Ronnie shook his head, gazing around at their friends and family. At the people who had agreed to a five-hour road trip to rescue one man from the hands of the United States military. He hadn't let himself consider anything but rescuing Stein, but the sheer scale of what they had just done hit him suddenly, as he realized he was about to leave these same people behind.
"No, neither of us chose this," he countered. "No one here did. And we're not going to drag you down with us." He took a few steps back from Caitlin, heart aching as he did so, and held a hand out toward the professor, as if to shake.
Stein looked down at the hand in confusion for a moment, then glanced over at his wife. Realization colored his expression. He took a few shaky steps forward, and grasped Ronnie's outstretched hand.
Their clasped hands meant they were in agreement, and brought back the return of Firestorm. The light swirled around them once more, drawing them together, and they stood straighter at the end of it, stronger.
Caitlin shook her head. "Ronnie…" she said.
Firestorm shook his head. "The army is after us," he said, and though it was Ronnie speaking, it was both their words. "We couldn't have escaped without all of you, but we're not putting you in any more danger."
"What… what are you saying?" Clarissa asked.
Firestorm turned toward her. "Going home would only put you in danger," he repeated. "In fact, the army probably saw us land – they could be heading here right now."
"You can't just leave, man, we just got you back!" Cisco argued – but the words weren't as strong as they could have been.
Ronnie quenched his flames, and stepped forward to embrace his friend. "We'll be in touch, if we can be." Pulling back, he silently shouldered the backpack Cisco handed him, then held out a hand towards Dr. Wells, who took it firmly. "Thanks for everything."
The man only nodded solemnly.
Firestorm stepped back again, reigniting his nuclear fire. He glanced toward the two women he loved most. "We love you," he said, a promise and a fact, and then he soared into the air once more.
But even as Ronnie knew he was doing the right thing, even as Stein agreed with him, he couldn't help but resent the decision he was making. Separation had given him a brief moment of hope, the thought of a return to a normal life. Now he was choosing to leave that life behind to keep those he loved safe.
He had no idea of where they were going, or what they would do when they got there. Stein was still injured, Ronnie still legally dead. They couldn't contact anyone; couldn't meet with anyone they knew. They were a nuclear-powered amalgam of two people, connected even when they were separate, and they were being pursued for the fire at their fingertips.
His life had effectively been taken prisoner by the FIRESTORM matrix, and it was thrusting him in a direction he didn't want to go, with a stranger at his side.
AN: This chapter ends this story, but there will be a sequel if anyone's interested. It's partially written, so the first chapter of Binding Energy should keep to the current schedule, and be up in two weeks.
Thanks again to radpineapple for the beta reading.
Let me know what you think!