Barry Allen was pissed. The past day of his life had been a whirlwind of unbelievable activity. He'd woken up at STAR Labs, found out he'd been in a coma and had missed nine months, discovered he had superspeed, and had seen another man call an unnatural fog into being. He didn't know how to tell Joe, his foster father, about his speed, didn't know how to explain it, didn't know how to talk about something that wasn't humanly possible (shouldn't have been humanly possible, and yet somehow was, because here he stood), but he knew what he'd seen staring down Clyde Mardon, and he'd never expected for Joe to react the way he had – with scorn and anger.
He knew how ridiculous it sounded, a man controlling the weather, but he'd seen it. The facts fit – the sudden fog during his confrontation with the other man, the freak storms during the recent bank robberies.
But Barry had been in a coma for nine months and the world had moved on without him in it and apparently Joe's tolerance for his obsession with weird and freak occurrences, already low beforehand, had become practically nonexistent. Especially because Iris, Joe's daughter, had been with Barry when they'd come across Mardon.
A chance, random coincidence, though it may have been, Joe was still pissed that Iris had been in danger and all Barry could talk about was someone he thought was dead.
Still, Barry knew Mardon wasn't dead. He'd seen him. Joe wouldn't listen to him, which meant that no one else in the CCPD would either, which meant that a killer was going to continue to walk free.
And if Joe wouldn't believe him, he'd find someone who would.
He stormed into STAR Labs – the building that, only a few days ago from his perspective, had been his inspiration, the building that held the people who'd watched over him while he'd been in a coma, the people who were, however inadvertently, responsible for his current condition, and for Mardon's. He was already half-yelling as he entered the room where Caitlin, Cisco, and Dr. Wells were working.
"I wasn't the only one affected by the particle accelerator explosion, was I?" he asked angrily. They'd reacted to his speed with amazement and astonishment, more than willing to help him test it, but they hadn't once suggested that he'd been seeing things. They'd believed him from the start, without evidence of his new abilities. Which meant, now that Barry was finally thinking about it, that they were hiding things from him.
He'd spilled the truth to them easily, and they'd responded by keeping the truth from him. Just another source for his anger.
Dr. Wells hesitated, glancing over at the others, who seemed equally as reluctant to speak. He pursed his lips, as if about to talk, but a sound from behind Barry stopped him.
"No, you weren't."
Barry spun around, some of his anger evaporating into confusion at the new voice. The speaker was young, his and Caitlin's and Cisco's age. Maybe six feet tall, with a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a heavy backpack, his clothes were old and dirty, his shoes ragged, his hair a touch too long. In all honesty he looked… homeless, and he smelled it too.
But Caitlin lit up at the sight of him, and Cisco grinned, and even Dr. Wells offered him a smile.
"Ronnie!" Caitlin said, pleased, rushing into the man's arms despite the fact that he looked like he could use a good shower.
"You made it man!" Cisco said, equally as excited, going in for his own hug as soon as Caitlin pulled away.
"We came as quickly as we could," Ronnie said, also grinning.
But Barry was still angry, despite the obvious reunion taking place in front of him. He faced Dr. Wells again. "You said the city was safe, that there was no residual danger, but that's not true, so what really happened that night?!" Even with everything that was going on, Barry couldn't get the image of the car crash victim out of his mind – Mardon's victim, and only because of what the man was now capable of.
After a moment of hesitation, Dr. Wells explained: antimatter and dark energy, theoretical particles and energy waves with unknown effects – all unleashed during the accelerator explosion.
"We've been searching for other metahumans like yourself. And like Mr. Raymond here." Dr. Wells nodded at the figure who'd interrupted them.
Barry turned to him. "You…?"
Ronnie grinned. "Yeah, though my story's a bit more complicated than yours. Caitlin and Cisco called as soon as you told them about your speed – they thought you could use someone who knows what you're going through."
"Fast?" Ronnie finished for him, shaking his head. "No. I'm something else entirely."
Barry's mind momentarily blanked. He'd come here angry about Mardon, but he hadn't expected for the STAR Labs group to already know about… metahumans, or whatever they were called. He hadn't expected to run into someone else who'd gained strange abilities. He shook his head, trying to get back on track.
"I saw another metahuman today. A bank robber who can control the weather."
Cisco grinned. "Cool!"
"No!" Barry cut him off, images of the car crash in his mind, the knowledge of Joe's partner's death nine months ago, which he'd only known about since that morning. "This is not cool! A man died!"
Cisco's grin vanished.
"Mardon must have gotten his powers the same way I–" he turned to Ronnie "–we did. We have to stop him, before he hurts anyone else." Barry turned to leave.
"Barry, that's a job for the police," Dr. Wells cautioned him, but Ronnie stopped him at the door.
"No," he said, a hand on Barry's shoulder, holding him back. "Barry's right." He took off his sunglasses, revealing pure white eyes that locked onto Barry's gaze. "We'll help you take care of this, just… Maybe a shower, first?"
Ronnie quirked a small grin, and Barry found himself smiling back ever so slightly, grateful for this stranger he didn't know.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, though he still had no idea of what he was going to do to stop, or even find, Mardon.
"Hold on," Dr. Wells said. "We are not the police. Whatever the two of you are capable of, it doesn't mean you can just go out on the streets and take on criminals."
Ronnie raised an eyebrow. "What do you think I've been doing the past few months?"
Dr. Wells spluttered and shook his head. "No. Listen to me. I lost everything. I lost my company. I lost my reputation. I lost my freedom. And then you broke your arm, and it healed in three hours. Inside your body could be a map to a whole new world… Genetic therapies, vaccines, medicines, treasures buried deep within your cells, and we cannot risk losing everything because you want to go out and play hero! You're not a hero, either of you. You, Mr. Allen, are just a young man who was struck by lightning."
Silence followed. Barry had nothing to say after that, but he knew he couldn't just sit by and do nothing. The police couldn't handle it because they didn't know what they were getting into with Mardon. Barry did.
He turned and left the room, pouring on the speed he'd only recently gotten control of and racing out of sight.
It'd been nine months, apparently, and there was no telling what had happened in Starling City in the meantime, but there was a friend there Barry wanted to talk to.
STAR Labs might not have believed in what he was capable of, but Barry Allen had a feeling that Oliver Queen might just understand.
Ronald moved to follow after the young man, but the hallway was empty, and from what Dr. Snow and Mr. Ramon had told them, there was no chance that even Firestorm would be able to catch up with him. Barry Allen had apparently woken from his coma capable of running over three hundred miles-per-hour – something equally as out there and fantastic as what he and Ronald could do.
"We can talk to him later," Martin told his friend, and Ronald, with displeasure but agreement, turned back to the accelerator's main control room where his friends were waiting.
Caitlin engulfed Firestorm in a hug again as soon as they re-entered the room. "I'm so glad you're back," she breathed into their shoulder.
"And no offense man," Cisco said with a grin, as Caitlin pulled away a second time, "you need a shower."
"A shower would be nice," Ronald and Martin agreed at the exact same time, and Ronald grinned as Martin huffed out a laugh because of their synchronicity. Without discussing it, Ronald took a step back and they unfused.
"And perhaps some food, after," Martin suggested as he reformed. "It was a long flight."
"Something easy," Ronald told his friends. "Pizza, maybe."
"Of course," Dr. Wells promised easily. Martin studied him – there was no trace of the frustration he'd shown toward Mr. Allen, no trace that he disagreed with how Firestorm had been spending their time in the same way that he disagreed with what Mr. Allen had wanted to do.
A kiss on his cheek distracted him, and he glanced down at Dr. Snow's loving smile. "It's good to see you both," she told him, and he smiled warmly at her.
After all Ronald had told him, he felt like he rather knew Caitlin and Cisco, despite the fact that they had barely said more than a few sentences to each other in person. "Thank you," he said.
Ronald glanced over at Mr. Ramon. "The locker room still up and running?"
The young man nodded. "Yeah, we'll have something to eat when you guys are done," he said.
"And I'll call your wife," Dr. Snow promised.
"Thank you my dear," Martin repeated.
The two halves of Firestorm – the partners, the friends – retreated, glad to be home.
Having her husband back – embracing him, seeing him smile – was all Clarissa had dreamed about the past nine months of her life. She was overjoyed. She felt as if her smile would never leave her face, even just watching her husband and their new young friends eat.
Except… it didn't diminish her joy in any way – she knew Martin would be different, knew his experiences would have changed him – but this wasn't exactly the sort of change she had anticipated.
"Martin used to despise pizza," she whispered to Caitlin, more bemused than disconcerted.
The younger woman smiled at her, shrugging helplessly. "Ronnie never used to get his with olives," she countered.
They exchanged a glance, and Clarissa could see that the love and concern she felt for her husband was echoed in Caitlin's mind for her own fiancé. They both knew that their partners had downplayed their troubles while they'd been on the run, and they both knew that those troubles were far from over. They weren't out of danger just yet.
After a refreshing – and long – hot shower, after changing into his own clothes – fresh and clean, brought by his wife – and after dinner – which they'd enjoyed in STAR Lab's now-no-longer used cafeteria, even Dr. Wells lingering to eat with them – it was time to talk.
Martin sat on one side of the table, his wife's hand in his. Ronald sat across from him, similarly close to Caitlin, with Mr. Ramon on his other side. Dr. Wells had pulled up his wheelchair to the head of the table.
Martin was cleaner and more comfortable than he had been since they'd left John's house, and happier than he'd been since he and Ronald had first managed to contact the ones they'd left behind in Central City, and the combination of these two feelings had put both him and Ronald in good moods, despite the nature of what they were about to discuss.
"Eiling's not going to stop just yet," Ronald warned the group, once the pizza boxes had been pushed aside, their paper plates disposed of. "We came back because we think we can handle him, but we also don't think he's going to stop trying."
Dr. Snow nodded solemnly, glancing across the table at Clarissa. "We figured as much," she said. "We just… weren't sure how you wanted to handle it?" Her tone shifted upward at the end of the sentence, turning her statement into a question.
Ronald grimaced and exchanged glances with him. "That's the part we don't think you're gonna like," he said apprehensively.
"We can't separate," Martin took over, sensing his partner's reluctance to continue. "We're vulnerable alone. Ronald and I will have to stay close to each other, and that means…" He trailed off, turning to Clarissa.
"That means you can't come home," she said softly.
"We were thinking STAR Labs," Ronald said, with a questioning glance toward Dr. Wells. "This place was built for a large work force – it's got kitchens and showers and plenty of empty space."
"You mean, living here?" Mr. Ramon asked, glancing between Firestorm's two halves. "Just the two of you?"
"Living with one of you guys would only put you in danger," Ronald told him. "And seeing as I'm legally dead and the professor is still missing…"
"It would be pointless to get a place of our own when such space is readily available. Eiling has no reason to link us to STAR Labs. That is," Martin turned to Dr. Wells, "if you'd be willing to let us stay here?"
Dr. Wells smiled easily. "Of course," he said. "We don't exactly have any sleeping accommodations, but I'm sure something can be arranged."
"Not that I disagree – with any of your plans – but… you can't be planning to spend the rest of your lives here?" Dr. Snow asked hesitantly.
Martin and Ronald exchanged glances again. Their instinctual reactions to the idea were the same – repulsion, a sort of mental 'of course not' – but neither voiced those emotions out loud.
"The thing is," Ronald started hesitantly, "that… we, uh. We don't really have a plan for how to get Eiling to stop coming after us."
There was a beat of uncomfortable silence, a momentary pause at the unpleasant news, and then Martin felt Clarissa draw herself up beside him.
"Let that be a problem for another day," she said, "one we can all work on together. For now, you're home, and that's what's important."
Martin tightened his grip on her hand, reveling in the feeling of her fingers entwined with his own, of her presence, rock solid at his side. He had taken their marriage – their love, their partnership – for granted once.
He would never make that mistake again.
Despite the knowledge that they would have to go home eventually, that as the days passed they would have to sleep in their own beds each night as Martin and Ronnie stayed at STAR Labs, no one seemed to want to leave. Dr. Wells begged out a few hours after dinner, but Cisco left for only a short while, returning with two brand new double air mattresses and one old and worn single from his apartment.
They found a suitably empty room – somewhere between the locker rooms, a break room with a stove, and the main control room – pushed aside the little furniture and set up their beds.
"I haven't slept on the floor in a long time," Clarissa said with a nostalgic grin and a small laugh as they began the process of inflating the air mattresses.
Ronnie saw Martin glance over at his wife and knew from his hesitation and apprehension that he was probably thinking of all the places they'd slept the past eight months. But the professor pushed those feelings aside and smiled gently.
"You don't have to stay the night, my dear," he said, though Ronnie was sure that everyone in the room knew that Clarissa would stay, and that Martin wanted her to.
He glanced away from the longing and the love that he felt emanating from the other man, turning toward Caitlin and taking her hand in his own.
"Thank you," he said, pouring every ounce of sincerity and love he could muster into his own tone. "For… for everything. For understanding."
Caitlin smiled softly back at him. "I thought I lost you, once, and then I got you back only to watch you leave. I'm not letting go again."
Caitlin and Cisco were both still employees of STAR Labs, but there was no strict schedule that they had to keep to, no projects that needed to be finished by a certain deadline. Especially with their comatose patient now up and running – quite literally – there was even less work for the two of them.
It also helped that they were very friendly with their boss. Dr. Wells gave them the next day off easily, and in the morning both Caitlin and Clarissa decided that if Firestorm was going to be spending most of their time at STAR Labs then at least they could make the place habitable, and somewhat comfortable.
"Eiling doesn't know you're back yet," Caitlin argued, "there's no harm in stopping by our places and picking up a few things."
Neither Ronnie nor Martin could think of an argument to the contrary – they weren't intending to confine themselves to STAR Labs, they'd simply needed a place where they could both stay while they were at their most vulnerable. So long as they stuck close, or went out as Firestorm, there was no reason they couldn't leave.
And so, off they went. It felt almost like moving day, and they spent the morning and early afternoon in a whirlwind of activity. Caitlin's apartment was closest and they went there first, gathering sheets for the air mattresses, packing Ronnie's favorite clothes, some books, his old laptop that Caitlin hadn't been able to bring herself to get rid of, back when she'd still thought him dead.
Then it was off to the Steins' house, several hours later, where they repeated the routine, gathering supplies to make STAR Labs a little homier, their lives a little more comfortable. The five of them gathered around the Steins' dining room table when they were done, snacking on vegetables and hummus and pita as they reveled in each other's company and drank in each other's presence.
Ronnie felt like he knew Clarissa – and she had no problem with him using her first name – after all that Martin had told him. He could tell Martin felt similarly, and after a few firm statements from Caitlin and an outright refusal from Cisco to be addressed formally, the professor took to calling his friends by their first names as well. (He'd tried calling Cisco Francisco once, but that error had quickly been corrected, Cisco's exaggerated revulsion to the name causing them all to laugh.)
Then it was shopping, grocery and otherwise, and they brought their spoils back to STAR Labs in the early afternoon, loading up the fridge, placing the dishes they'd bought in the break room/kitchen cabinets. They set up two small, plastic dressers in the room with the air mattresses, unpacking their clothes, and spread some proper sheets and pillows over their beds.
Caitlin had dropped a statement about moving one of the beds later on, so they could have their own 'rooms', so to speak – not meaning anything by it – but Ronnie and Martin had exchanged glances, knowing that it would be some time before they would be able to give in to such sleeping arrangements.
Ronnie hadn't minded it so much, at the Byerly's home. He'd been more comfortable that way, in fact, but now that they were home… When they did manage to separate, if they did stop Eiling and get to go home…
Would he be able to sleep with only Caitlin at his side, and his partner halfway across town in his own bed?
It was a troubling thought and after an enjoyable day, in good company, Ronnie didn't want to dwell on it. He pushed it aside and voiced his agreement with Cisco when the other man suggested giving the Steins a tour of STAR Labs.
Late that afternoon, and early that evening, they turned to more serious topics, discussing Barry Allen, the possibility of other metahumans in Central City, and the possibility that some of those metahumans might be criminals (and those who were not were likely scared and confused by whatever new abilities might have manifested).
They debated warning the city, letting people know that they might have been changed by the strange energies that had been unleashed the day the accelerator had failed. They debated trying to find a way to help the other people whose lives might have been irrevocably altered that night, just as theirs had been. And they debated fighting those metahumans who decided to use their newfound talents to harm people.
Dr. Wells was no longer present to argue against this last topic, and after a slight hesitation from the three non-metahumans present – during which Ronnie and Martin shared some of their stories of the times they'd saved lives and helped strangers as Firestorm – they all ended up agreeing that Barry had been right.
They knew what they were up against, and they had abilities that gave them a fighting chance. It was their responsibility to do something about it.
Once the others left that evening, Ronnie and Martin had a conversation of their own, and it wasn't one that Ronnie enjoyed.
Martin settled into one of the office chairs in the room, gazing over their new 'bedroom' before turning to Ronnie.
"Despite all this talk about helping Mr. Allen," he said cautiously, "Dr. Wells is still against it."
Ronnie shook his head, uncomfortably reminded of his partner's belief that either Cisco or Dr. Wells had somehow told Eiling about them (Caitlin and Clarissa had long since been discounted). "Look, you don't know him like we do," he countered.
Martin gave him a look. "Did you not listen to what he said today? Not only did he adamantly tell Mr. Allen to stay away from this bank robber, but he flat out told him that he wasn't a hero."
"He's not," Ronnie said, "not yet. The guy just woke up from a coma – his heart's in the right place, but he doesn't have any idea of what he's doing, and he's barely gotten used to his new abilities."
It was Ronnie's turn to give Martin a look, but his was confused rather than skeptical. "What?"
"Dr. Wells is well aware of what we have been up to the past few months, yet he denied our heroics as well and did not even suggest that we might take on Mr. Mardon, as opposed to Mr. Allen."
Ronnie found himself struggling to come up with a response. Martin was right – Dr. Wells seemed dead set against Barry using his speed to stop the metahuman criminal he'd come across, which didn't make sense given all that Ronnie and Martin had been doing the past few months.
"We're not exactly heroes," he ended up saying, knowing it was a weak argument.
"Perhaps not," Martin allowed, "we've done little but scare away common thugs. But have you forgotten your own actions in the particle accelerator – the catalyst for our entire situation?"
Ronnie looked away. No one – not even him – could deny that what he'd done certainly qualified under the definition of heroic, and Dr. Wells' scornful tone about 'playing hero' almost spit in the face of what he'd done that day.
But he trusted Dr. Wells, even if Martin didn't. He didn't know the other man like Ronnie did.
"He lost the use of his legs when the accelerator exploded," Ronnie reminded his partner, "and he watched his life's work kill people. I think he can be excused for not wanting a repeat of those circumstances."
Martin sighed heavily but didn't argue. "I suppose for now we'll have to agree to disagree," he said.
Night had long since fallen before they got a hold of Barry Allen again, and only because he called them, asking for their help. He lugged a few boxes into STAR Labs, setting them down under the watchful eyes of Caitlin and Cisco (who had returned after he'd called them) and a merged Firestorm (because Barry didn't yet know about the dual nature of Firestorm, or the other man in the room with them).
"I've been going over unsolved cases from the past nine months, and there's been a sharp increase in unexplained deaths and missing people," Barry said, indicating the boxes. "Your metahumans have been busy."
Cisco and Caitlin exchanged glances; Ronnie frowned. Knowing what the lightning had done to Barry, even while he'd still been in a coma, they'd never imagined that Firestorm was the only after effect of the accelerator explosion, but to see evidence that some of those affected metahumans were criminals, and they hadn't done anything to stop them, or at least alert the public…
"Now, I'm not blaming you," Barry continued. "I know you didn't mean for any of this to happen."
"Hold up," Ronnie interrupted, before the other man could say anything else. "You don't have to convince us. Dr. Wells doesn't speak for all of us." He still wasn't happy about Martin's opinions of the other man, but he wasn't happy about what Dr. Wells had said to Barry either. Maybe the older scientist had changed more than Ronnie had realized, since the explosion.
"I've got something that might help," Cisco took over. "We were talking, while you were gone. Here, c'mon, I'll show you."
Cisco led them to his lab, where his main focus the past few months rested on a manikin, practically finished. "It was designed to replace the turnouts firefighters traditionally wear. I thought if STAR Labs could do something nice for the community, maybe people wouldn't be so angry at Dr. Wells anymore."
"How is it going to help me?" Barry asked, stepping toward it.
Ronnie couldn't hold back a small grin as he listened to his friend explain his work. ("It is quite a feat of polymer engineering," Martin commented appreciatively as Cisco spoke.)
"It's made of a reinforced tri-polymer. It's heat and abrasive resistant, so it should withstand your moving at high-velocity speeds. And the aerodynamic design should help you maintain control. Plus, it has built-in sensors so we can track your vitals and stay in contact with you from here."
"Thanks." Barry turned to Ronnie. "And what about you?"
Ronnie grinned. They hadn't really gotten the chance before to tell Barry exactly who – or what – he was. "Have you had a chance to catch up on the news yet?"
Barry frowned. "A little, but…"
"Heard anything about Firestorm?"
Barry shook his head.
"You might want to take a step back."
The young man looked around, noticed that Caitlin and Cisco had already stepped a few feet away, and backed up a few paces.
Without further prompting, Ronnie and Martin called on their fire.
Barry took another step back at the sight of Firestorm wreathed in flames, but his face broke out into a wide grin. "Cool."
Ronnie nodded, then let the flames die.
"Now we just need to find Mardon," Barry continued.
"I've already retasked the STAR Labs satellite to track meteorological abnormalities over Central City," Caitlin jumped in. "And we just got a ping. Atmospheric pressure dropped twenty millibars in a matter of seconds. I've tracked it to a farm just west of the city."
Barry approached his new suit, then glanced over at Ronnie. "Meet you there?" he asked, tone serious.
Ronnie nodded back, then headed for the exit. "I could probably use a head start while Cisco shows you how the suit works," he said. "Oh, and, by the way? I'll be flying."
He left to an astounded look on Barry's face.
"Very amusing, Ronald."
Ronnie shrugged, grinning. "What? Not often we get to show off," he said.
As they exited STAR Labs and took to the sky, wearing the earpiece that Caitlin had gotten them earlier during their planning, Ronnie could feel Martin rolling his eyes.
Flying over Central City – the city he'd made his home, no matter that he hadn't grown up there – was made all the sweeter by the fact that they'd been away for eight months. They were home now, and there would be risks and complications because of that, but they were home now, and Ronnie let himself enjoy the feeling of the wind in his face as his city passed by underneath him.
Barry was far faster than him, but Barry was stuck on land. He had to go around obstacles, and he'd had to take the time to put the suit on. As such, Firestorm got to the farm just after Barry did, watching as the young man threw aside a piece of the barn that had almost hit the police officers hunkered down behind their vehicle.
There was a tornado headed for Central City.
"Barry wasn't kidding when he said this guy could control the weather," Ronnie muttered under his breath as he drew closer, worry flooding him.
"Indeed," Martin agreed. "It's fascinating!"
Martin's mood sobered slightly, but Cisco's voice came over the connection before he spoke again. "Wind speeds are getting closer to two hundred miles-per-hour and increasing, are you guys seeing this?"
"Yeah, we're seeing it," Ronnie answered, landing next to the red-clad speedster as Barry caught his breath. "Any suggestions?"
There was silence for what felt like a long pause, none of them able to come up with a solution.
"What if I unravel it?" Barry suggested, speaking loudly over the wind.
"How the hell are you going to do that?" Caitlin asked.
"His speed," Martin said, just as Barry spoke:
"I'll run around it in the opposite direction, cut off its legs."
They could hear Cisco over the mic. "He'd have to clock seven hundred miles-per-hour to do that."
"We don't know enough about what you're capable of yet Barry, your body might not be able to handle those speeds," Caitlin told him, worry and concern in her tone. "You could die."
"I have to try," Barry said resolutely.
Ronnie put a hand on the other man's shoulder, knowing there was nothing they could do to help. "Good luck," he said sincerely.
Barry nodded at him, and then he was gone.
"What now?" Martin asked.
Ronnie glanced over toward the cop car that had apparently beaten them to Mardon's hide out. He hadn't extinguished their flames yet, but he did so now, making his way towards the officers. One of them was looking over the safety of the car at the blur of red lightning circling the tornado, but he glanced Firestorm's way as they approached.
Ronnie kept them carefully back, mindful of the man's gun.
"You and your partner alright?" he asked.
The man blinked at him, shook his head. "What…?"
"Do you need a hospital?" Ronnie asked, firmly.
The man glanced down at his partner behind the car (presumably – Ronnie couldn't actually see the other man) but the tornado distracted him again as Barry was thrown clear of it.
"It's too strong!" Barry said into their connection.
Ronnie tuned him out, trusting Caitlin and Cisco to figure things out, and turned back toward the cops.
"You should go," he said. "We've got this."
"It doesn't look like it." The man's tone wasn't skeptical really, just disbelieving – everything going on was a lot to take in, even for someone whose body currently housed two people.
"Even so," Ronnie argued, "there's nothing you can do here anymore."
"And if you catch Mardon?" the man asked, drawing himself up, regaining control of his mind and body.
"We certainly can't arrest him," Martin pointed out.
But… "How are you going to hold a man who can control the weather?" Ronnie countered, to both Martin and the other man.
With a flash of wind and a sudden explosion of air, the tornado vanished just as Ronnie finished his question. He didn't wait for a reply. Turning, ignoring the police, Ronnie lit up again, and flew to Barry's side. The young man was on the ground, hood thrown back, breathing hard. Mardon was standing a few feet from him, with a gun.
Ronnie didn't think, just acted. He could control their flames with astonishing precision now, and he sent a burst of fire at Mardon that blasted him backward – strong enough to throw him off his feet, but not hot or long lasting, and therefore incapable of burning him. Still, it was a forceful blow, and Mardon didn't get back up.
"Ronnie? Barry?" Caitlin's worried voice came through their earpieces.
"It's over," Barry assured her, looking gratefully toward Ronnie as he stood. "We're okay."
Ronnie glanced over at the policeman, hurrying toward them. "And unless you want the police to find out who you are…?"
Barry hesitated, but pulled up his hood and zipped a couple hundred feet away in the blink of an eye. Ronnie lifted Firestorm into the air, watching as the man threw glances their way, then felt Mardon for a pulse.
"I suggest keeping him sedated, until we have a better option," he shouted down.
The man glanced up at him, frowning. "We?" he asked.
This time, Ronnie wasn't just referring to Firestorm's dual nature. He pointed toward Barry, waiting for him at a distance. "We'll think of something," he promised.
Firestorm landed back at STAR Labs several minutes after Barry Allen got there. Inside the building, Cisco was already gushing over Barry's speed, the young man standing there in his new red suit, grinning.
Caitlin came to their side, but she was mindful of Martin's presence, and only placed a comforting hand on their arm, smiling fondly.
Dr. Wells sat in the corner, slightly out of the way, watching it all with a faint smile on his own face.
"That was…" Ronald said, mind searching for words, brain circling through so many emotions.
"Breathtaking," Martin suggested. "Awe-inspiring. Good."
Mr. Allen had stopped a tornado from hitting Central City, and together they'd saved so many lives in the process.
Ronald nodded. "Exactly," he said.
Mr. Allen shot them a glance. "What?" he asked, a frown on his face.
Martin and Ronald couldn't exchange glances, not in the same body as they were, but they did their equivalent – pulling back and turning their minds toward each other, searching out how the other was responding to the question.
"Just talking to myself," Ronald answered easily, but his emotions were still a giant question mark, a silent 'should we tell him?' He hesitated, then with an equally silent wave of permission from Martin, spoke again. "Remember how I said my story was a lot more complicated than yours?"
Mr. Allen nodded. "Sure," he said, contemplative frown on his face. "Though I'm not sure how much more complicated you can get than unraveling a tornado at seven hundred miles-per-hour by yourself."
"Like this," Ronald said. He took a step back, and Martin stretched to the side, and Firestorm separated once more.
Cisco watched the newcomer's expression eagerly, Dr. Wells watched the process with interest, and Caitlin had eyes only for Ronald. Mr. Allen, however, took a step back, blinking.
"Wha'… What just happened?" he asked in shock, eyes flickering back and forth between the two of them.
Martin wondered if the young man was recognizing him from their brief encounter on the train before the accelerator had exploded. Such a miracle of probability, that they had run into each other on that fateful day, given where they were now.
"How familiar are you with nuclear transmutation?" he asked.
They were in Central City for good now, or at least, they intended to be, and that came with its own challenges. Barry Allen was a scientist, through and through, soaking up Martin's explanations of Firestorm's powers. (Not everything, not nearly everything, because Martin and Ronald were not nearly so trusting anymore, but enough to explain what they were capable of.)
The next day, Saturday, after stopping Mardon and their late-night chat, the six scientists and his wife met again at STAR Labs.
Caitlin sat Ronald and Martin and Barry down, and pulled out her medical equipment. Blood tests, heart rate, blood pressure, pupil reaction… every test she could perform with the equipment she had on her she did so.
"There's so much we don't know about what the three of you are capable of," she said, half excited, half worried, before telling Martin and Ronald to merge and performing the same tests on Firestorm.
In the meantime, Dr. Wells went over the data from the aftermath of the particle accelerator explosion, they filled Barry in on the bare basics of their history with General Eiling, and Cisco rambled about idea after idea – a supersonic treadmill, a suit for Firestorm.
It was Clarissa who asked the big question though.
"What's going to happen to Mr. Mardon?"
Martin and his partner did their mental equivalent of exchanging glances, still merged at the moment. "We told the police to keep him sedated for now," Ronald told the others.
"That's not going to hold him forever," Clarissa pointed out needlessly. "Isn't there anything that can be done for him?"
"You mean like a cure?" Dr. Wells asked skeptically, the slight disdain in his voice letting them all know how he felt about that idea.
Clarissa shook her head and glanced helplessly at Firestorm (at Martin, though he wasn't visible at the moment).
Inside Firestorm's head, Martin spoke. "Clarissa is right, sedation is not a long-term solution."
"Maybe some sort of… containment field?" Ronald asked, drawing more from science fiction than from any real idea of how to proceed, based on the uncertain flow of his thoughts.
Metahuman containment, fusion experimentation, the best way to measure Barry's speed, studying the energies generated by the explosion, radiation experiments, cellular microscopy to gauge Barry's rate of healing… the scientific ideas flew around the room, bouncing from individual to individual. It was thrilling and engaging and comfortable. The seven of them fell into an easy rhythm, passing time without trying to, shifting fluidly from one conversation to the next.
A nuclear physicist, a mechanical engineer, a structural engineer, a bioengineer, a forensic scientist, a physicist, and a librarian, all in the same room together, all eager and excited for what the future might hold.
There were so many possibilities in the room with them. So much hope for the future. Solutions for nuclear fallout, cures for any disease or quick healing for any injury. Lightning fast reflexes and safe nuclear power.
Martin couldn't forget the dangers Firestorm (and now, Mr. Allen) presented, nor the dangers the people in the room were in, but it felt good to simply hope for the future, to brainstorm idea after idea as the hours passed and the sun rose and set.
He and Ronald went to bed that night alone, sure, stuck in STAR Labs, but far less alone than they had been lately, with a team at their backs.
The next day was Sunday, and even though Caitlin and Cisco didn't have to work, they still came to STAR Labs.
Ronnie glanced between the two of them, then over at his partner. "C'mon," he said, sensing Martin's agreement. "Let's get out of here. We can swing by Clarissa's house and… I don't know, go to a park or something."
"But I thought…?" Caitlin asked hesitantly.
"We'll have to stick together," Ronnie reminded her, "but there's no reason for us to remain cooped up here forever."
"I agree," Martin said stuffily. "It would do us all good to spend some time elsewhere."
Ronnie rolled his eyes but was secretly (and not-so-secretly, to Martin at least) grateful for the support, for the fact that they were friends now, and all that meant.
Caitlin smiled softly at him and reached forward to link their hands together. "Alright," she said. "Let's get out of here."
Barry stopped by STAR Labs the next day, after Caitlin and Cisco left, and after his job was done for the day.
"Blood tests take a while," Ronnie told him. "Caitlin doesn't have any results yet."
Barry shook his head. "No, I… I know. Besides, she shared all her data with me from the tests she ran while I was in a coma. I'm still going through it. No, I'm…" he paused, thoughtful, considering. "I'm here for a different reason."
Ronnie didn't really know Barry – at all, actually, but he could guess the reason for the other man's appearance. He exchanged glances with Martin over the table they sat at (his partner had been teaching him chess).
"Metahuman to metahuman?" Martin asked over his glasses.
"Something like that," Barry allowed, fidgeting.
Ronnie nudged at another chair with his foot, inviting Barry to sit. "The professor and I have spent eight months learning about what we're capable of, and we're still far from figuring everything out," he said seriously. "It'll take time. But anything you need…"
"You can always come to us," Martin finished for him.
Ronnie didn't really know Barry – but he could understand the confusion and turmoil that was no doubt going through the other's head at the moment, the endless questions, the wondering of what came next.
"I just…" Barry stared at his hand, as if seeing his own flesh for the first time.
"No doubt you have a thousand questions," Martin said. He settled back in his chair, properly ignoring the chess board now. "Why don't you start with just one?"
Barry glanced up and looked around wildly, mind probably trying to figure out which question to settle on. He shook his head. "There was… there was a car accident, I ran past it on my way here. The driver, she'd broken her leg, and the ambulances couldn't get through the rush hour traffic. I just… I didn't even think about it. In seconds she was on the stretcher in the ambulance. I… I didn't save her life but…"
Ronnie and Martin were both silent, letting the speedster gather his thoughts and come up with the right words.
"I stopped Mardon because I didn't think the police could. They're not equipped to… to deal with what, uh, what we can do. But… I think I can do more than that."
"You want to keep helping people," Ronnie said, tone gently urging Barry to continue.
Firestorm exchanged glances again. Determination, righteousness, satisfaction, agreement.
"Well," Ronnie said, "I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard for us to connect to dispatch, with all this equipment we've got."
Barry visibly relaxed, as if he'd expected them to turn him down.
"You're not the only one who believes we should use the abilities we've been given to help people, Mr. Allen," Martin said, kindly but firmly.
Barry blushed slightly. "No, I, of course not, I just… he trailed off, grinning sheepishly. "This is so hard to talk about."
Ronnie understood. "It's difficult," he agreed, "finding the right words to describe…" he gestured wordlessly between him and Martin. How did one describe the empathic bond that was constantly flowing between them? The nonverbal cues that Ronnie still picked up on perfectly even when Martin had no body with which to act out said cues? The shared feeling of calling on Firestorm's flames? The ability to burst into flames at all? How did one describe what it felt like to fly? To absorb nuclear radiation? To stop a mugging, a carjacking, an attempted assault?
"Indeed," Martin said solemnly, and Ronnie's spiraling thoughts took comfort in his calm determination. (And how could he ever describe that sensation to anyone else?)
Barry glanced between them again. "You two… I can't even begin to imagine…"
Ronnie offered him a small, understanding grin, and exchanged glances with Martin once more. "Yeah, it's…"
"Impossible to describe," Martin finished for him, lips quirking upward ironically as he used Ronnie's words.
"I just… I want to talk to people about this, but I don't want to… to put them in danger."
"Your family?" Martin asked.
"Or someone you love?" Ronnie added.
Barry shrugged weakly, looking anxious.
"Then tell them," Martin said simply. Ronnie shot him a glance at the straightforward statement, but he didn't entirely disagree. The professor shook his head. "I couldn't even imagine keeping my current state from Clarissa. Granted, as we said, our situation is a bit different than yours, but…"
"But it helps, having someone to talk to," Ronnie finished. Being back with Caitlin, with Cisco and Dr. Wells, discussing Firestorm with them, relaxing, living… It was almost enough to make Ronnie forget about the past eight months he'd spent on the run. Almost, but not quite. He couldn't forget that life hadn't quite returned to normal yet, but he'd reveled in every moment he'd spent in Central City since returning. And the large majority of the reason behind that was not the city itself, or the chance to stop running (because they were still hiding, after all), but the people who'd supported him since his return.
Barry swallowed uncomfortably. "But…" he shook his head. "I don't want to put anyone in danger," he repeated.
"Well, it's your decision," Martin said. "In the meantime, if you need to talk, you can always come to us."
Smiling gratefully, Barry nodded. "Thank you," he said, sincerity ringing through his words.
Again, things shifted. Again, life moved forward. After their late-night talk, Firestorm and Mr. Allen started to spend their days and nights saving the almost-victims of Central (and occasionally Keystone) City. With Cisco and Caitlin relaying police calls to them, they stopped muggings and caught carjackers and rescued innocents from burning buildings.
Dr. Wells, after his help with Mardon, no longer seemed to disapprove, and helped them whole-heartedly when he was around, but he still cautioned restraint and still tried to get Mr. Allen to focus on whatever secrets might lie inside his cells. Martin still wasn't sure how he felt about the other man, but he did sometimes appreciate having another veteran scientist to bounce ideas off of, despite how engaging and interested Ronald, Cisco, Caitlin, and even Mr. Allen could be.
Word started to spread across Central City of an impossibly fast red streak, and a man on fire who could fly.
Two days after their conversation, as Firestorm and Mr. Allen finished evacuating people from a burning apartment complex, Martin caught sight of a uniform he knew would haunt his nightmares for years to come.
"Down and to the left," he warned his partner, tone urging caution.
Ronald moved his gaze to the indicated location, and the tight thread of controlled panic that raced through him at the sight of an army uniform echoed what Martin had felt when he'd first seen the man. The body of Firestorm muted their comm. link.
"Maybe he lives here," Ronald murmured half-heartedly, moving his gaze away from the lone soldier to scope out the scene. There was no sign of any other soldiers, nor of Eiling himself, and no indication that this was an ambush.
Martin's emotions indicated his skepticism about that idea for him. "No sign of soot on his clothing, no concern about the fire, and he's currently staring at us." He stood apart from the crowd too, a sure sign if Martin had ever seen one.
Ronald hesitated, then… "Well then," he muttered to Martin, meeting the soldier's gaze from his position in the sky, four stories above him, "why don't we say hello?"
Agreement passed through their connection, and Ronald controlled their flames to bring them to the ground. The soldier's eyes followed them as they moved, and he met their pure-white gaze calmly, but both Martin and Ronald noticed the way he tensed, how he shifted to have better access to the gun holster on his hip.
"I take it you're here for us," Ronald said, not really a question. His voice was calm, Firestorm's body held steady, but Martin was aware of the undercurrent of fear that filled his partner. He felt it too, after all.
The soldier didn't respond. Ronald ignored that, swallowed down his fear and kept their senses alert in case of an ambush.
"Well you can stand down," he continued strongly. "Tell Eiling to stop coming after us. He's tried and failed three times already – he doesn't want to try for a fourth. Next time… Well, let's just say next time he won't get off so lightly."
The truth was, coming up with a convincing threat on the spot, when you weren't the threatening type, wasn't an easy thing to do. The truth was, neither Martin nor Ronald had any plans as to what they would do if Eiling tried to capture them again, other than fight back and escape, of course. But the soldier was here, seemingly alone, seemingly watching them, and it had been too good of an opportunity to pass up.
By now though, a small crowd had gathered, murmurs spreading through those watching, wary looks from the firefighters now hard at work dousing the flames. As soon as the police also reached the site…
Ronald took off again, turning on their connection with Mr. Allen and STAR Labs once more.
"What was all that about?" Mr. Allen asked, no doubt having seen the confrontation. Martin spotted him a few streets away and pointed him out to Ronald. "Was that about the general who's chasing you?"
"Something like that," Ronald admitted, as Caitlin and Cisco's questions suddenly gushed over the comm. link.
Ronald glanced backward, toward where they'd just stood. The soldier wasn't there anymore. He muted the comm. link again for a quick second.
"Did we do the right thing?" he asked Martin anxiously, before turning the connection on once more.
"Only time will tell," Martin answered, himself unsure. And then, over more conversation from the others: "But by my book, it's a step in the right direction."