For those who haven't read the earlier chapters of this story, here's some quick links:
If ever you consider jumping up the ruins of a former skyscraper and running headlong into a black hole, I strongly suggest you get your head examined ASAP. It's very, very, VERY much not recommended. Even if you are a superhero. Even if you can actually run and jump like that, like you're some kind of video game character. Even if you can heal super-hella-fast.
The next thing I remember after that collision, I'm waking up in the same place where my nine-month post-particle-accelerator-accident coma came to an end. I blink rapidly a couple of times, then look up and see Joe, Iris, Cisco, and Caitlin peering down at me.
"Did I grow a third eye or something?" I ask, my voice a little more hazy than I would like.
"He's back! Whoo!" Cisco cries, leaning back so he can safely do a fist-pump without hitting me in the face.
"Or a third nostril? A second mouth?" I grin dopily at everyone. "Come on, guys, what are you looking at me like that for?"
"What, we can't all be concerned for you and your well-being?" Joe asks. He holds out his hand and helps me sit up.
I don't know how long I've been out, but clearly, it's been a while. I'm stripped down to my underwear, hooked up to an IV drip in one arm, and those round EKG contacts are arranged in a row over my chest. I look down and see that, unfortunately, my latest insane encounter with STAR Labs' latest experiment gone awry has not given me more abs to work with. Not that I needed any more, but it would be so cool to add to my less-than-a-year-old six-pack, though.
"Okay," I say, peeling the unwanted sticky stuff off my chest. "Give it to me straight - how long was I out?"
"Two thousand years, and we're all clones of the people you knew and loved in your time," Cisco deadpans.
"More like two thousand seconds," says Caitlin as she smacks Cisco in the shoulder. She pauses to run through the calculation in her head. "Yeah, it's been about half an hour, actually."
"No more nine-month comas for me, then," I laugh as Caitlin undoes the IV in my arm.
"Next time you pull one of those on us," Joe says with a grin, "we might just pull the plug."
I laugh along with him, but the good humor gets sucked out of the room when we both look over at Iris. She's sitting in the corner, hugging her knees. Talking about death...yeah, it's too soon for her to deal with that now. I can talk about it all I want in my own internal monologue - specifically, about how there was really no need for Eddie to have shot himself dead like that, because it was too easy a way to stop Wells-slash-Eobard-Thawne and there had to be a catch to it all.
I could do that - but I could also offer Iris some much-needed comfort. Finding one of the many STAR Labs T-shirts that seem to be laying around this place (it must be from an extra shipment intended for the athletic department or something), I put it on, along with matching sweatpants, and walk over to her just as she's about to get up and possibly walk away.
I don't tell her how sorry I am. She doesn't need to hear it, not when I say it in the hug I give her.I think I hear her whisper, "Thanks, Barry," before she finally disentangles herself from my arms, gets up, and leaves the room for good.
Joe and I both set out to follow her, but he tells me to stay back. "I'll handle this," he says. "You should rest easy a little longer. You just saved the world, after all. You deserve it."
I'm about to object, but there's really no arguing with that paternal tone of voice. So I obediently take a seat on the table where I woke up. I don't strap myself back into the medical machinery, though. I think we all know there's no need for that right now.
"Half an hour, huh?" I ask Caitlin and Cisco. "So, how'd I survive? Don't tell me - I hit the black hole, and then I just miraculously reappeared on the ground and said something like, 'Praise Jesus!'"
"Didn't know you were religious," Cisco says wryly. I think, like me, he's trying to keep his brave face on.
"Neither did I."
"Actually," Caitlin says, looking more serious, "you wouldn't believe who saved your bacon even if we told you."
Caitlin wrings her hands - it's a nervous habit of hers. "You ever heard of the web-slinging vigilante of New York?"
"New York? As in, Fake Gotham New York?" I crack a smile at the thought - of the two enormous East Coast cities laying claim to being called "Gotham," New York is at the distinct disadvantage of having not been built and/or named first.
"They call him 'Spider-Man,'" says Cisco, "and for whatever reason, he was in town today, so he went and helped you out."
"He caught you before you hit the ground," says Caitlin. "Thank God, too. That was...I don't think I could have handled that, seeing two people die in less than five minutes." She shudders, then pauses to think. "Wait a minute...Cisco, didn't you take a picture of the guy?"
"'Cause I knew you'd wanna see it," Cisco says to me, producing his phone from his pocket and showing me the picture in question. It's a bit hard to tell, but there does appear to be a red and blue human-shaped blur swinging over a street covered in broken glass.
"He looks like he's going towards CCU," Caitlin muses as she peers at the screen over Cisco's shoulder.
"Hmm," I say. "Is that significant?"
"Could be," she says, rubbing the bridge of her nose and the space between her eyebrows. "I heard that there was some group of visitors from New York this weekend."
"Visitors?" Cisco repeats. "You don't mean...?"
I frown deeply at the screen. "If what you're saying is true, are you trying to suggest Spider-Man's a kid? A high school kid?"
"We weren't the first insufferable genii to go through high school," Caitlin says - I wonder if she's deliberately going for the Latin plural to underline her point. "And we certainly wouldn't be the last."
Cisco crosses over to one of the Apple desktop screens and fires it up. Within seconds, he's able to start working some hacker magic. He's no Felicity Smoak, but he's the best we've got. I do have to give him his props - IT isn't my forte, not at all. I prefer real-world science to cyber-science - but don't tell Cisco that. And especially not Felicity.
"So, it looks like you were right," he says after glancing at an internet window. "There are a bunch of high school tour groups at CCU today - but only one from New York. Midtown Science High School."
"Are you seriously gonna-" I begin.
"Hey, relax," Cisco says, opening another window and typing in some code. "Without Spider-Man, your ass would be grass. You'd be squished all over the street outside right about now."
"Thanks for that lovely image," Caitlin groans.
Cisco ignores her disgust. "The least we can do is show him our gratitude."
"True, but..." I'm torn about this. Like me, Spider-Man wears a mask in public. If we were to breach his privacy like that, even if it was being done for good instead of evil, would he still appreciate any gesture on our part?
And when Cisco does inevitably get his hands on the list of visiting students from Midtown Science, who's to say which of them is Spider-Man, anyway? Even after eliminating all the girls, there are twenty or more boys to choose from.
"Okay," Cisco says, sitting back with his hands folded behind his head, like a Latino version of Sora from Kingdom Hearts. "Place your bets."
Caitlin and I exchange glances, then turn to look at the screen properly. This list of names doesn't yield much - only a small color photo of each boy, presumably from his school ID; a column of boxes marked "M," likely for "male;" and their names, laid out in alphabetical order of last name, comma, first initial. For example - "Grayson, R." Or "Parker, P." Or "Thompson, E."
"Where do you think we should start?" Caitlin asks me.
I step aside with a theatrical flourish. "I defer to you on this one."
"Come on, let's think about narrowing it down further," Cisco says. "Spider-Man's built kinda like you, Barry - tall, thin. Not as tall as you, but still." He scans several photos, one after the other, then eliminates a few who look like they'd be too athletic or overweight. "Thompson, E." is one of these lost candidates.
Now we're down to eight possibilities. But with no further details about them, it's harder for Cisco to cut any more out of the running. "Let me see if I can get into, like, their records out east," he says, cracking his knuckles. "Man, the one time a superhero shows up and it's not the Arrow...where's Felicity when you-" Before he can finish his sentence, though, he stops short, looking up like a dog that's been spooked.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"I dunno," he says, looking around from side to side. "I just thought I heard something."
"Actually, you're right."
We all turn around - and I can't speak for Caitlin or Cisco, but I can safely say that there's now a leaden pit in my stomach. "This...this isn't possible," I say to the intruder, a bald man in a blue coat and tinted square goggles. "You're locked up downstairs, i-in the accelerator..."
"Why would I be down there when I can be up here to take you little whiz-kids out?" says Leonard Snart as he fires up his signature frigid weapon. "But first, I'd like you to riddle me this...where's that wheelchair-bound boss of yours?"