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A Lie or Something Worse

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Sunday mornings were one of the few times he turned his back on his responsibilities. The rest of the week, the world could demand his attention, but Sunday mornings were for lazy indulgences and family. He still woke up before six in the morning, but instead of forcing himself to get up and moving, he rolled back over, draped an arm over his wife’s waist and went back to sleep, his nose buried in her hair. Today, by the time he woke up a second time, the sun was well up and his wife was starting to stir in his arms. He growled, burying his face against her neck to block out the light.

She laughed. “Come on, baby. It’s almost nine o’clock. We have to get up sometime.”

“No, we don't.” He tightened his hold on her, trying to keep her in place. “Junior is old enough to feed himself without burning down the house. We can just stay here. Enjoy the morning. Nowhere we have to be.”

“We could, except someone,” Joanna dug a knuckle into his ribs, “promised Jesse waffles her first Sunday back home.”

“Dammit, I did, didn't I? Why did I agree to that?” He leaned back against the pillows, trying to enjoy their comfort for a few minutes more.

“Because you love your kids. And you’re a sucker.” She leaned over him, her weight braced against his bare chest. The light that snuck past the shades was enough to backlight her. It brought out the red and gold highlights of her hair and made them glow. He reached up to twine a lock around his fingers. It was sleek against his skin, and he couldn’t help but rub the strands between thumb and forefinger, enjoying the texture.

She bent her head to kiss him. He released the strands of her hair and reached down to grip her thighs. A thrill went through him at the feel of her beneath his hands. He ran his palms up her sides, slipping them underneath the slick softness of her nightgown. She squirmed away as his thumbs traced the line of her ribs. “No time for that.”

She rolled off him and out of the bed. He turned with her, ending up sprawled across the mattress, still reaching for her. She gave him a light smack on his rear. “Kids are waiting. Up and at ‘em, Harrison Wells.”

---

He threw on a t-shirt and padded barefoot into the kitchen. Junior sat at the counter. He still wore his pajamas, his hair sticking up every which way. He had a half-finished bowl of cereal in front of him. “Seriously, kiddo? I'm making waffles and you’re ruining your appetite with cereal?”

“I can eat waffles,” he said around a soggy mouthful.

“Of course you can. God, to be that young again. It's a little disgusting how much you can eat.” Harrison pulled milk, eggs and butter from the fridge. He turned to see his son drop his spoon in the bowl with a plunk that sent a small tidal wave of milk over the edge of the dish. “Junior, you’re getting cereal all over the counter. Wipe that up, would you?”

The boy scowled. “Dad, I told you. Junior is a baby name. It's JR.”

“Oh, excuse me, JR.” He gestured to the boy with a stick of butter. “Because what I always wanted was a son with a name like a soap opera star. If you don't want to be Junior any more, what about Harry? We could call you that.”

“Are you trying to get him beat up? Stop and think about what a bunch of ten-year old boys would do with a name like Harry.” Jesse shuffled into kitchen and sat down next to her brother. She was still wearing her pajamas, she had fuzzy slippers on her feet, and her hair was uncombed and pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. As always, Harrison was struck by how amazing his daughter was.

“How bad could it be?” he asked.

“He’d be Harry Balls in under five minutes.”

“Fine. JR it is. But we are revisiting this at a later date.” He pointed a finger at his son. “You won’t be ten forever.”

“Awesome. Oh, hey, Dad, look.” Harrison turned and was presented with the view of a mouthful of chewed cereal. After a couple of seconds, JR closed his mouth and grinned.

“Was that really necessary?” JR shrugged in response to his question. Harrison shook his head. Kids. “You know what? You get the last waffle. You’ll have to wait on Jesse and your mom, because obviously you need the extra time to chew.”

“That’s not fair. Mom isn’t even here yet.”

“Okay, first, your mom's in the shower, so she'll be here in time for waffles. Second, tough. You may have heard the saying life's not fair. Well, it’s true.”

Jesse rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Dad? You’re going with life is not fair? You want to know what’s not fair? If I’d done that, you’d have said no waffles at all.”

“Sucks to be the oldest.” Harrison poured some batter into the waffle iron. “Plus side, it was a lot easier to fool your mom and me with the puppy dog eyes the first time around.”

From the doorway, Joanna laughed. “You had the cutest puppy dog eyes as a kid. ‘But, Daaaaaaddy, don’t you love me anymore?’ You were such an evil little mastermind.”

“An adorable evil mastermind.” Harrison put an arm around his wife’s waist and leaned down to kiss her. As he did so, there was a prickling sensation at the back of his neck. He frowned and pulled back.

“What is it?” Joanna asked.

He turned the feeling over in his mind, trying to put it into words. “I don’t know. You ever get the feeling you're forgetting something, but you can't remember what?”

“Generally, when you remember what you forgot, it's not forgotten anymore.”

“Mocked by my own wife. What is the world coming to?” He gave her a squeeze and dropped a kiss on her offered cheek.

“Hey, Dad,” said JR, “Maybe you forgot about the waffles. ‘Cause they're burning.”

“Oh, shit.”

---

Monday morning, he didn't wake up until his alarm went off. The sudden, blaring noise shattered his dreams and left him blinking in confusion. He fumbled with the buttons, taking a few moments to silence the noise. When he finally managed it, he was left with the feeling that he had been dreaming of something important, but anything more than that was like trying to grasp smoke.

The other side of the bed was empty, but still warm. He called out, “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

Joanna came out the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. “I figured if you were sleeping, it was because you needed sleep. I don’t get this weird obsession you have with waking up before your alarm. The entire point of an alarm clock is to wake you up.”

“No, the entire point of an alarm clock is to keep you from oversleeping. Oddly enough, I don’t enjoy being woken by the sound of a parrot being strangled.” He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed and scratched at his neck. “It’s not restful.”

“I will keep that in mind for next time.” She sat down next to him and leaned in, her arm a warm line against him. “So, ready for today?”

“Today?” Harrison blinked and racked his brain for his schedule for the day.

“The meeting? With Drake Technologies?” She searched his face, then added, “About purchasing their Keystone facility. You really are not awake, are you?”

He rubbed one hand over his face. “Yes. I mean, no, I’m not. Fully awake, that is. See, this is why I hate the alarm clock.”

“Poor baby.” She reached up and brushed his hair off his forehead. “Why don’t you go jump in the shower? Maybe that will help wake you up. I’ll lay out your clothes. That way you can take a little extra time.”

“Thank you. And maybe after work, we can ritually murder the alarm clock.” He stripped and tossed his dirty sleep clothes into the hamper. Naked, he walked into the bathroom, calling over his shoulder, “Stop ogling my ass, woman.”

Joanna laughed. “God made that ass for ogling.”

He shook his head. She was incorrigible. He turned on the water to let it warm. “So what’s on your agenda for today?”

“I’ve got the progress meeting with the medical division. We’re going over the artificial lung project. The team thinks they’ve made a breakthrough on the biosynthetic compounds involved. If they're right, it will push the project forward like nothing else so far.”

“How did it end up that you get to go to meetings on groundbreaking research and I get stuck with administrative meetings and paperwork?”

Joanna stuck her head into the bathroom and gave him a quick kiss. “You lost the coin toss.”

---

The meeting was mainly a chance to confirm the terms that the legal teams from Drake Technology and STAR Labs had spent months negotiating. A chance for the lawyers to flex their muscles and posture at each other. Harrison was only there to lend an air of authority and sign where indicated.

It was boring as hell.

The lunch break finally came, and he had to fight to leave the room at a normal pace. When he saw Jesse waiting at the front desk, his steps picked up speed. He put an slung around her shoulders and pulled her into a one-sided hug. “There’s my girl.”

“You successfully escaped.” She grinned up at him.

“Which means for the hour, I don't have to be the head of STAR Labs. I get to be just your dad, who is going to be taken out for lunch by my beautiful and brilliant daughter.”

“Excuse me? Which of us just got their degree two weeks ago, and which of us has a job? You're taking me out for lunch.” She tugged on his arm, pulling him towards the door. “Come on. I want Big Belly Burger. I would kill for a cheeseburger.”

“Well, obviously we need to discourage murder at every possible opportunity, so I guess I have to get you that burger.” He backed out of the building, his eyes on his daughter. His bright and shining Jesse Quick. Focused on her, he didn’t register the other person until the body slammed into his own, sending both of them crashing to the ground.

Stinging pain where his elbow cracked against the pavement had Harrison ready to snap at whoever was responsible, but when he looked up, he froze. The young man stared back at him, wide dark eyes in a rapidly paling face. He crouched next to Harrison, one hand half-stretched out in an aborted offer of assistance.

Harrison was sure he was familiar, but he couldn't think of from where.

“Dad! Are you okay?” Jesse rushed to his side. She helped Harrison up, before turning to the young man who was carefully rising to stand. “You should watch where you’re going.”

“Sorry. I just… Sorry.” The man mumbled and wouldn’t look up from his feet, much to Harrison’s annoyance. He wanted to see the man’s face again. Maybe if he could, he’d remember where he knew him from.

He held out his hand in offer of a handshake. “No harm done. And it was as much my fault as anyone’s. I wasn’t watching where I was going, either.”

To his frustration, the man barely looked up before looking back down at his feet. Nor did he shake Harrison’s hand, instead shoving his own hands into his pockets, before mumbling another sorry and walking away, leaving Harrison staring after him in confusion.

“I’m a little surprised you didn’t tear that guy a new one. Are you feeling okay?” Jesse asked.

Harrison frowned. “Did you recognize him?”

She looked down the street at the man’s retreating back. “No. Was I supposed to?”

“I don’t know. He looked familiar, but I can't think of why.” He shook his head. “It’s going to bother me for the rest of the day, isn’t it?”

“And then you’ll probably remember at 2 am. Isn’t that how it always works?” She looped her arm through his. “Now, where is my cheeseburger?”

“Ah, yes, your cheeseburger. Can’t lose sight of what’s really important.” He let Jesse drag him down the street. She was light on his arm, her mind spinning out random thoughts about everything around them. That woman wearing the latest style. The newspaper headline about the wildfires out west. A bouquet of flowers that had her reminding him about his anniversary and not forget to it.

Like he’d ever forget the day he married his wife.

She wound down by the time they were seated with burgers and shakes. Harrison ate only half his own food, too busy enjoying Jesse’s company to worry about being hungry. She wiped at her mouth with a napkin. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m just happy to have you home.”

“You make it sound like I went to the moon, not to college.” She snagged some of his fries. “You made me come home for every single break. Even the three-day weekends. You saw me less than two months ago.”

“So now your mother and I aren’t allowed to want to spend time with our first-born child? We're not allowed to love, care for and nurture you?” A few other customers glanced over at Harrison’s dramatics, making Jesse sink down in her seat. Harrison continued, “I suppose there's a time in every parent’s life where they have to accept that their child no longer needs them. Of course, you realize that means I'm not making you any more waffles.”

“You are such a dork, sometimes.” She covered her face with one hand. “How would you like it if I embarrassed you in public?”

“Don’t play games with the master, child.” He grabbed her milkshake. He took a drink, making it as loud and as long a slurping noise as he could manage. “You will lose.”

---

He got home late. Most of the lights in the house were off, but he followed the glow of one lamp into the living room. Joanna curled up on the couch with JR asleep, his head in her lap. She looked up from her book. “You made it. There's leftovers in the fridge, if you're hungry. Meatloaf and baked potatoes.”

“I got a sandwich from the vending machine at work. Believe me, I would have preferred the meatloaf.” He gestured to JR. “Shouldn’t he be in bed?”

“He wanted to wait up for you. Obviously, he wasn't very successful.” She ran a gentle hand over JR’s hair. “He’s going to be disappointed.”

“You should have made him go to bed.” Harrison crouched so he was at eye level with his son. JR’s breathing was slow and steady. “It’s a school night.”

“It’s the last week of classes. At ten, that means ice cream parties and field trips. He’ll be fine.”

Joanna shook the boy's shoulder. Grey eyes blinked open. “Dad? You’re home.”

“I am.” He cupped a hand over JR’s head. “What do you say we get you to bed? I bet it will be a lot more comfortable than the couch.”

“Okay.” He rubbed at one half-shut eyes with the knuckles of his right hand. “You work too much, Dad.”

“I know.” He helped JR off the couch and led him towards his bedroom, doing his best to keep the boy walking a straight line and not into any walls. “I’d rather be home with you and your mom, but it’s my job to make sure things get done right.”

“If you’re the boss, why can’t you make someone else do it?” JR leaned into him, a small, steady weight against his side. Harrison placed a hand atop his son’s head, running his palm over the fine strands of his hair. They fell straight, lacking the slight curl of Harrison’s own hair, for all the color was the same.

“You’re right. I should delegate better. Now, into bed with you.” He nudged JR into position and pulled the blankets up around him. “Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, too, Dad.”

Joanna waited outside JR’s bedroom. As Harrison carefully shut the door, she said, “He's probably already asleep.”

“No probably about it. I don’t think he lasted more than a few seconds after I said good night.” He looped an arm around her waist, drawing her to him. She tucked her head into the crook of his neck, her hair tickling at his cheek. He breathed in her scent and sighed. “God, the things I would do to you if I wasn’t so exhausted.”

“Promises, promises. I’ll take a rain check, Harrison. Right now, you’re not the only one who’s tired, and I just want to sleep with you next to me.”

---

Press conferences were an unfortunate necessity of being the public face of STAR Labs. Being primped and then paraded in front of reporters was not his idea of a good time. Not that it stopped him. He and Joanna had put too much into the company for him to give less than he could. So he stood in front of the reporters and their cameras, a careful smile on his face and did his familiar dance.

Joanna and Jesse stood to the side of the crowd, right where he could lift his gaze above the reporters’ heads and see them. Jesse gave him a thumbs up the first time he looked over. The next time he looked over, he frowned. She was talking to a young man with shoulder-length dark hair, his back to Harrison. From this angle, he couldn’t see the other man’s face. He leaned to the side, trying to get a better angle.

“.... Dr. Wells. Dr. Wells?”

“Hmmm?” He turned back to the reporters. “Ah, sorry, Angela. A hazard of running such a large company. You always have about thirty things on your mind. Could you repeat the question?”

Faux pas aside, the rest of the press conference went well. But he was glad when it was over, and he could finally drop his carefully cultivated public face for being just himself. He wrapped an arm around Joanna’s shoulders and pulled her against his side. “So, how did I do?”

She pursed her lips. “Well, you’ve done worse.”

“That bad, huh?” Harrison sighed. “I was hoping it wasn't too noticeable.”

“Sorry, Dad.” Jesse clung to his other side. “You were staring off into space long enough for everyone to notice.”

He winced. “Well, there goes my dignity.”

“That implies you ever had any to begin with.”

“Bah. No loyalty from my own offspring.” He dropped a kiss on the top of Jesse’s head. “For that, you’re out of the will. I’m leaving everything to your brother.”

“You realize he’ll sell off STAR Labs for candy.”

“Why should I care? I’ll be dead.” Jesse punched him in the arm. It didn’t hurt, but he made a point of gripping the spot with his other hand. “Beating up on your father? Vindictive and disloyal. What did I ever do to deserve this?”

“I’m pretty sure you were doomed when you decided to pass on your genes.” She went up on her toes to place a kiss on his cheek. “I’ll see you later.”

She was off, weaving through the crowd, before he could respond. “Where is she off to so fast?”

Joanna waved a hand through the air. “She said she has a thing.”

“A thing? What do you mean a thing?” He looked in the direction Jesse had gone. “Is it that guy she was talking to?”

“What guy?”

“The guy.” He gestured towards where Joanna and Jesse had been standing earlier. “The one she was talking to during the press conference.”

“I didn’t see her talking to anyone.” She held up her hands, palms out, in a pacifying gesture. “I’m not saying she wasn’t, just that I didn’t see it. She’s meeting some friends from school.”

“You’re sure?” There was a nagging feeling, like an itch along his spine, that he couldn’t shake.

“I’m sure. She mentioned it on the way over here. Maybe you saw her with one of her old classmates.”

He took off his glasses to rub at his eyes. “Maybe. Maybe I’m just working too hard.”

“When are you not working too hard?” She slipped a hand around the back of his neck. “As head of research of STAR Labs, and as your wife, I’m pulling rank. You are going to go home and rest.”

“It’s the middle of the day. I’m not tired enough to take a nap.”

“I will personally make sure you are tired enough to sleep.”

---

Paperwork was a constant. Hell would not be fire. It would be endless forms. A bottomless ocean. It was possible he was already there.

“Daaaad.” JR hovered in the doorway to his office, as close to the threshold as he could get without breaking the rules about staying out of the office. “Aren’t you done yet?”

“Just about,” Harrison said. “Give me another half an hour.”

“That’s what you said an hour ago.” He gripped the door frame and leaned into the room. “You promised.”

“It has not been that long.” He glanced at the clock. It read eleven-forty, which couldn't be right, because ten minutes ago it hadn't even been a quarter to ten. But the gnawing in Harrison’s stomach suggested there was nothing wrong with the clock. He shut the laptop. “Let's get lunch. Then I'm all yours until three.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

The half-wary gaze he got from JR hurt. Not because it wasn’t deserved, but because it hurt to admit how often work won over family. When he worked from the office, there was no kid to remind him to step away. He’d missed Jesse’s first steps because he’d been busy chasing deadlines when he was supposed to be home. That was the first time he’d promised himself he would do better. The promises never lasted, but he kept making them, hoping this time it would be different.

He made the promise again, looking down at his son and realizing JR was taller than he remembered him being. STAR Labs was important, but his family came first. If something happened to Joanna or the kids, he didn’t know what he would do.

JR latched onto his arm the moment he stepped out of the office. “I want grilled cheese for lunch.”

“Okay, we can do that. What do you want with the grilled cheese? Remember, vegetables are not optional.”

“Ketchup.”

“Ketchup is not a vegetable,” Harrison said. “Try again.”

JR leaned back, swaying from where he hung on Harrison’s elbow. “Is tomato soup a vegetable?”

“Yes, tomato soup is a vegetable.” Too late, he recognized the trap.

“But if they’re both made from tomatoes, shouldn’t they both be vegetables?”

“I… Ask your mother.”

---

 

He lay alone in bed. He could hear the familiar sounds of Joanna’s evening routine from the bathroom, and he could smell her on the sheets. It felt distant, like he was untethered from reality. He rolled over and hugged her pillow to his chest to hide from the feeling. This close, the scent of her shampoo was so strong on the pillowcase it clung to the back of his throat, but like everything it still felt flat.

“Hey, baby, you okay?” A touch to his shoulder and the world snapped back into three dimensions.

He pried himself loose from the pillow. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? Because you’ve been odd since Jesse came home.” She stroked her fingers through his hair. “Please tell me you’re not having some kind of mid-life crisis now that you have a child who is a college graduate.”

“I don’t think so?” Joanna wasn’t wrong that he’d been off. As answers went, her suggestion was an easy one, which told him it wasn’t the right one. Whatever it was, it wasn’t Jesse. He wrapped his arms around Joanna’s waist and buried his face against her chest. “Have I told you I love you?”

“That would be the first time today, but I always like hearing it.” She rested her cheek atop his head and dropped one hand down to rub delicate circles on his back. “Is there anything I can do?”

He tightened his grip. “Just stay here and don’t let me go.”

“Like I ever would. You’re mine, Harrison Wells, and you’re stuck with me forever.”

With his nose against her skin, he could smell the clean scent of her soap. He pressed his lips to her chest. He could see her, hear her, feel her, smell her, and now he could taste her. Every sense affirmed her reality. She set her hands on his cheeks and raised his head to kiss him. She said, “Never letting you go.”

He went willingly to her and chased away every idle thought in the knowledge of her flesh. For one night, at least.

---

Jesse threw up her hands. “Dad? Will you tell JR he has to listen to me?”

Harrison paused and looked away from the dresser mirror where he was trying to tie his bow tie. “JR, listen to your sister. She’s in charge tonight.”

“Not fair. Why is she in charge?”

“Because,” said Harrison, “she’s old enough to drive and tall enough to see over the steering wheel.”

JR pouted and flopped down across his parents’ bed. “Not fair.”

“You said that already.” He put the finishing touches on his bow tie. “Tell you what. Your mom left you guys a casserole to heat up for dinner, but if you agree to listen to Jesse, you can order something for delivery instead.”

“Sushi!” JR shot upright on the bed. “Sushi, sushi, sushi, sushi.”

“Can you even get sushi delivered?”

Jesse snorted. “Pretty sure if you pay enough, you can get anything delivered.”

“What about the Hope Diamond? Could I get that delivered?”

“If you paid enough, sure,” said Jesse. “But I don't think we're that rich. Besides, it’s cursed. If you’re going to spend that kind of money on a diamond, get one that’s not cursed.”

“Sound advice.” He reached for his wallet. “How much should I leave you for food?”

“I don't know. A hundred?”

Harrison looked up from his wallet. “Are you planning to have it gold-plated?”

“Sixty should be plenty and then some,” Joanna called out from the bathroom. “JR will order too much, but if all they serve tonight are those teeny-tiny hors d'oeuvres again, I'll eat the leftovers when we get home.”

Harrison turned and stopped. Joanna made his breath catch in his throat. Her hair up. The curve of her neck bare, except for the gold chain that held up the pendent that sat just below the hollow of her throat. He wanted to push it aside and replace it with his lips. She held a bracelet. “Can you? I’m not getting the clasp to cooperate.”

He took the chain from her, a string of tiny, glittering gems. He fastened it around her wrist, then lifted her hand to press a kiss to the back. That got him a warm, fond smile. “You old charmer.”

“Oh, please, I’m not that old, I hope.” He wagged a finger at Jesse and JR. “Not a word out of you two.”

“I was going to say that you both look very nice.” Jesse’s expression was nothing but guile.

“I’d call you a liar,” said Joanna, “but you’re right. Your father does look very nice.”

She brushed a few stray pieces of lint from the shoulders of the jacket and straightened his bow tie. Her gentle hands completed the familiar ritual as they had a hundred times before. She looked up at him through the veil of her lashes. “There you go, Dr. Wells.”

“Thank you, Dr. Wells.” He leaned down to find that she’d met him halfway. It made him want to forget everything. All his obligations. The party tonight. STAR Labs. Even the kids. Throw it all away to exist here, in this moment, with the woman he loved. With reluctance, he pulled back. “I suppose the car is waiting.”

She tucked her arm into his. “Oh, hush. It won’t be that bad.”

---

It was that bad.

It had taken less than ten minutes for Dr. Harmon to corner him while Joanna was occupied with the mayor. Harmon was young, bright, eager and utterly boring. He wanted out of the inane chit-chat, but since that was a central feature of these sort of events, he would settle for a drink. But none of the waiters had come near him. He couldn’t even fake choking on one of those crackers topped with salmon mousse, because every time he tried the ease Harmon closer to the waiters, the crowd moved to block his way.

When Joanna finally turned away from the mayor, he seized his chance. “Excuse me a moment, Dr. Harmon.”

He slipped an arm around Joanna's waist. “Dance with me.”

“You hate dancing.”

“I don't love dancing,” he admitted, “but that's hardly the same as hating it. What is there to hate about being in the arms of a beautiful woman?”

“Why, Dr. Wells, you’re trying to seduce me, aren't you?”

“As much as I would love to, we have an audience who might object. No, I want to make sure no one drags you off again and leaves me all by myself.” He drew her onto the dance floor, steering her around the other couples.

She looped her arms around his neck. “Need me to protect you from terrifying small talk?”

“I do. You know I’m no good without you.” He put his hands on her waist, drawing her close.

“You are such a flatterer, Harrison Wells.”

“It’s not flattery if it’s true.” He spun her in time with the music. A flash of dark hair in his peripheral vision made him turn his head to make sure they wouldn’t collide with another pair of dancers. There was no one there. The closest couple both had light hair, the man with light brown hair cropped short, the woman with blonde hair that fell around her shoulders. He turned the other way, because he knew he’d seen something, but whoever it was must have slipped away into the crowd.

“You okay, baby?”

“Hmmmm?” He turned back to Joanna and fumbled for a response. “I was looking for a waiter. I cannot face the rest of this evening without a drink.”

“I saw one over by the musicians. Let me lead, and I’ll get us over there.” She guided them off the dance floor until she could pluck two delicate glasses, filled with bubbling, pale gold, from the waiter’s tray. “There you go.”

“Thank you. I know all this,” he gestured around the room with his glass, “is somehow for charity, but next time can we just give them the money and stay home?”
“See, this is why you have a reputation for being difficult to work with.”

“It prevents the idiots from wasting my time,” he said.

“You’re incorrigible.” Joanna leaned into his side. “Not that I’d have you any other way.”

He pressed his lips to her hair. “Lucky for the idiots of the world, the kids both take after you in that area.”

“I don’t know. Sometimes people need to be reminded not to be idiots.” She pulled back from Harrison. “Oh, there's Tina McGee. Will you be okay for a few minutes while I talk to her about the Girls In Science summer program?”

“I think I can stay out of trouble for a few minutes.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I'm holding you to that.”

She stepped away, and Harrison positioned himself in a corner, alongside a large potted plant. If no one noticed him, no one would bother him. He finished off his glass of champagne. He considered stepping out of his hiding spot to hand his empty glass off to one of the waiters. He also considered hiding the glass in the potted plant.

He glanced over at the hallway entrance where the waiters came and went in a bustle of black and white uniforms. A single figure, dressed in a brown jacket over a blue shirt, stood out from the rest. Harrison watched the young man reach up and tuck black hair behind one ear. The movement drew him in, and even knowing it was rude, he stared, until the man lifted his face, his dark eyes meeting Harrison's own and breaking the moment. He blinked and found himself looking at the man's back as he turned away and disappeared around the corner.

Harrison's feet moved to follow and carried him through the flow of staff until he stood alone in the back hallway he’d seen the man head down. He tested a few of the doors that lined the walls. Locked, all of them. And the hallway came to a dead-end. Harry turned in a slow circle, but whatever he’d missed, he couldn’t determine what it was.

He worked his way back to the party, pausing only to let a passing waiter take his glass. It was taken from his hand without any notice from him. The situation was like one of those riddles Jesse had loved as a child, about finding a dead body in a pool of water in a locked room. The only way out had been past Harrison.

“Hey, there you are.” Joanna slipped her arm through his. “Where did you get off to?”

Harrison groped for words. I think I’m being followed. I think I’m going crazy. “Just needed the bathroom. So, did Tina have anything interesting to say? I don’t suppose she let anything slip on her fusion engine project.”

---

He started with STAR Labs. Due to the sometimes delicate nature of their work and the ever-present risk of corporate espionage, cameras were everywhere. He wanted it to be paranoia. One of those statistical unlikelies where someone had to be the one in a million. But he needed to be sure. Needed to know that any threat existed only in his mind, that his family was safe.

STAR Labs having cameras everywhere meant more footage than he could review on his own, even if he had time. What he does have is a starting point. He’d run into the man, literally run into him, at the entrance to the building. Given the nagging familiarity, Harrison suspected it might not have been the first time the man had been skulking around, but it was enough to get the video image of his face.

He pushed a printout of the image across the table to Rory, his head of security. Rory examined the image. “You think he’s trouble?”

“Wayne Enterprises, maybe.” Everyone knew something was off about Bruce Wayne. It made a good excuse, one that wouldn’t worry Joanna too much. “I’ve seen him a few times, and he’s not one of ours. I want you watching for him. We need to determine how he’s gaining access.”

Rory bristled at the suggestion that his security was less than perfect. The implied criticism ensured he wouldn’t give up until he, and Harrison, had answers. He picked up the printout. “I’ll get a couple of my people reviewing the security footage. And make sure all the door staff know his face. We’ll find him.”

“Good. I want to know the moment you find anything.” He wanted to know yesterday, but his people were the best. Whatever there was to find, they’d find it.

---

“Could you pass the potatoes?”

Harrison shoved the bowl down the table without a word. According to the background check he’d had done, Wally West was a harmless, decent young man. Harrison couldn’t stand him. But Jesse and Joanna had both made it clear that his opinion did not matter and he would bite his tongue.

Wally took the bowl with a quiet “Thanks.” He spooned a pile of potatoes on his plate and turned to Jesse. “Do you want any?”

“Yes, please.” She held out her plate. “So, Wally’s dad is performing tonight. We were going to go hear him.”

“Tell him we said hi,” said Joanna. “I’d love to hear him sing again, but I’ve been so busy. Plus, you probably don’t want us crashing your date.”

“If West’s father is going to be there, I don’t see why it would matter.” He stabbed a piece of carrot with his fork and tried to chew menacingly at Wally.

“Dad would be happy to have you there. He loves an audience. My whole family is going.”

“Your sister’s going to be there?” asked Harrison.

“That's the plan. There’s always the chance that something will come up with her job. Criminals aren’t known for being considerate and staying home when you’re supposed to have the evening off, you know?”

“No, I don’t suppose they would. Well, have fun.” Joanna, Jesse and Wally all stared, until he said, “What? Your mom is right. We’re both too busy to go, and if the police will be there, I don’t have to worry about you getting into trouble.”

“Dad!”

“I’m your father. I’m supposed to worry about you.”

Jesse rolled her eyes. “You know what? I think we’re about done eating.”

“Uh, thank you for dinner. It was excellent.” Wally stood to follow Jesse.

Joanna gave him a disappointed look. “You need to stop doing that. Wally is a perfectly good kid.”

“Exactly, he’s a kid. They’re both kids. We’re not going to be sitting across the table from him twenty years. Eventually, they’re going to break up, and he’s going to break her heart.”

“Give our daughter some credit, Harrison. Maybe she’ll break his heart. Anyway, you should be glad she’s dating Wally. She could do so much worse.”

“Why does she have to date at all?” Harrison asked. “Look at JR. He’s not dating anyone.”

JR looked up from where he was pushing vegetables around his plate to make it look like he’d eaten some of them. “I’m ten. I’m not allowed to date. Besides, I like Wally.”

“I’m not going to win this one, am I?”

Joanna reached across the table to take his hand in hers. “You’re really not, baby.”

Later, he stood at the sink, scraping the plates and loading them into the dishwasher. Joanna came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, her cheek resting on his back between his shoulder blades. “It’s hard for you, isn’t it? Watching Jesse grow up.”

“She’s my daughter.” His beautiful, brilliant daughter. He remembered when she had been born. The nurse placing that delicate warmth in his hands and, for the first time, wanting a child for his own sake and not for Joanna’s. Falling in love under his wife’s tired gaze and promising to be the best father possible to make up for the reluctance he’d felt before.

“I know, baby. She’s my daughter, too. But this is part of the bargain. They grow up. And that means letting her go on dates with nice boys, even if it terrifies you.”

He couldn’t tell her that it wasn’t nice boys, but mysterious men who terrified him.

That night his thoughts spun, ever moving and making no progress. Beside him, Joanna slept. The details he couldn’t see in the dark were filled in by memory. The curve of her cheek against her pillow, the fan of her eyelashes, the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes, steady and slow. He knew them as well as he knows himself.

Getting out of bed without disturbing her was impossible. She turned towards his side of the bed, one hand reaching out. “Harrison?”

“Shhhh.” He squeezed her hand in his. “Go back to sleep.”

She made a sleepy murmur and rolled back to her side of the bed. He waited a moment to confirm that she’d gone back to sleep, then crept from the room. The house is dark and quiet. The only sound he heard was the slip of his feet against the floor and the occasional creak of a board beneath his weight. He eased the door open. Jesse sprawled across her bed, a pale figure against dark sheets. She didn’t stir under his scrutiny.

JR’s room was down the hall from Jesse’s. There was a faint glow from under the door, and Harrison opened the door to reveal JR with a flashlight in one hand and a comic book in the other. “Hey, kid, it’s after midnight. What’s the rule?”

“Lights out by nine.”

“So you know what that means, right?” He held out his hand, until JR placed the flashlight in it. “Thank you.”

He took the comic book and glanced down at the cover. “The Shadow. Good choice. You can have it back in the morning.”

“Daaaad.”

“Don’t ‘Dad’ me. Night is for sleeping.” He tucked the blankets around JR. The boy grumbled, but allowed Harrison to settle him into bed. “I was thinking that we could do something fun this weekend. All four of us. The zoo, maybe. Or a picnic at the park.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Your mom and I have both been working hard. We've earned some time off. But it won't be any fun if you're too tired to do stuff. So if that's something you want to do, no staying up all night reading.”

JR chewed at his lower lip, his brow creased, before he relaxed back against his pillow. “Night, Dad.”

“Goodnight, kiddo.”

From JR's room, he moved downstairs to circle through the kitchen and the dining room before coming to rest in the living room. The window overlooked the front yard, cast in shades of blue by the moonlight. He sat on the couch, searching the shifting shadows, until he was certain there was nothing there. It was nearing two am when he made his way back to bed.

Joanna didn’t give him time to pull the covers up before she tucked herself up against his side. “Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere. I’m right here.” He clasped her to him, letting the weight of her draw him down into sleep.

---

On the screen, the young man stood in front of Harrison’s office. He looked up and down the hall, then reached out to touch the handle of the door. He didn’t try the handle, instead resting his hand against the metal for several long moments before he released it, stepped back and moved down the hall, disappearing from the camera's sight as he rounded the corner. “When is this from?”

“Six days ago,” said Rory. He stood over the laptop, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Where does he go from there?”

“Nowhere.”

“What, he just goes around the corner and stands there?”

Rory shook his head. “He goes around the corner and never appears on the next camera. I tested them myself. There’s no blind spot. I’ve got my forensic computer guy looking at the video files now, see if he can figure out how they were tampered with.”

“Good. People don’t disappear.” Harrison pushed thoughts of dead-end hallways from his mind. “Does he show up anywhere else?”

“We found video of him in the lobby a few times. Never stayed for more than a few minutes. Never talked to anyone. Just looked around and left. Spotted him once in the cafeteria. Same thing there.”

“What about at the press conference? I saw him speaking with Jesse.”

Rory pulled up a different clip of video. “She approached him. He exits the conversation pretty quickly.”

Harrison removed his glasses and rubbed at tired eyes. “Keep looking. If you find evidence that he’s spoken with any of our people, detain them and contact me immediately.”

“Yes, sir.” Rory gathered up his laptop. He was to the door, when Harrison stopped him.

“Rory.”

“Sir?” He turned back towards Harrison.

“Has he gone near my wife at all? Her offices, her projects?”

“No, sir. Not that we’ve found.”

“Good.” He didn’t know what he would have done if the answer had been different. The thought of it planted the seed of something ugly in his chest, and he’d hate to see what would bloom from it. “I don’t want to worry Joanna unnecessarily. There’s no need to tell her about this. Not as long as it doesn’t involve her.”

Rory hesitated. “It’s your call, sir. But if she finds out, I’m telling her you said not to say anything.”

“Fair enough.” He waved Rory away. “Let me know what your computer guy finds in the video.”

Once the door shut behind Rory, he leaned back in his chair, staring out the window, but not seeing any of it. Strange men near his family frightened him, but strange men who disappeared offended him. All things could be explained. As a scientist, he knew this. You just needed all the information, something he was sorely lacking.

People did not disappear into the ether. But eyes, and cameras, could be fooled. STAR Labs had experimented with such technology, but it was finicky stuff that required controlled conditions. Nothing that could work like what he’d seen. Harrison would say he liked puzzles, but that wasn’t true. He liked solving puzzles, the satisfaction of a solution. Here, all he had was more questions. The whole thing made his insides itch.

A knock at the door pulled him back. His secretary stood there. “Your next appointment is here.”

“Right. Send them in.”

---

Saturday morning dawned a mild day for June. If part of him felt guilty at skipping out on work, he squashed it into a tiny ball and stuffed it down. Even Jesse was coming, tempted by reports that the new baby tigers were now on display. She had no willpower in the face of small, fuzzy animals.

Broome Park, where the zoo was located, was the largest in Central City, and Joanna insisted they make a day of it. She packed roasted chicken, a bean salad, bread, cheese and fruit, and then handed it to Harrison to carry. He took the pack with a sigh and a smile.

At the zoo, Jesse wanted to go straight to the tigers. And possibly stay there all day. JR wanted to see the monkeys. And the seals. And the reptile house. And he wanted to see the all at the same time. Joanna loved the bird aviary, with its brightly colored residents. Harrison was content to enjoy time with his family. Well, mostly enjoy.

“Hey, Dad, look! The rhino is pooping.”

“I can see that. Everyone can see that.” Heads turned in their direction, expressions a mix of amusement and the sympathy of fellow parents. His kid wasn’t the only one fascinated, just the only one who announced it loud enough to be heard in Keystone. At least JR wasn’t the kid taking pictures.

The moment JR turned away from the enclosure, Harrison nudged him along. “Come on. We need to catch up to your mom and Jesse.”

JR resisted, until something in the next enclosure caught his attention. Then he was darting forward, leaving Harrison to chase after him. “Easy, kiddo. No running off. I don’t want to lose you.”

JR rolled his eyes. “I'm not going to wander off with some stranger who offers me candy. I'm not stupid.”

“That's great, but I still don't want to lose you in the crowd. This is a family day. So we should stick together. You know, as a family.”

“Fiiiiiine.” He put all the annoyance a ten-year-old's body could hold into that single word, but slowed down and stuck to Harrison's side.

They caught up to Joanna and Jesse at the giraffe enclosure. Jesse leaned over the railing to get a closer look, far enough that Harrison wants to her shirt and haul her back. She turned back to him. “You’re here, good. You have the food, and I’m hungry.”

“It’s,” he glanced at his watch, “not even eleven-thirty. How can you be hungry?”

“It’s been hours since breakfast. Of course I want lunch.” She looked around. “Oh, or ice cream.”

Harrison followed her gaze to an ice cream cart. He wrinkled his nose. He knew what those little carts were like. Mediocre quality at a price three times what they were worth. And now JR was eyeing the ice cream cart of terrible decisions. He threw up his hands in defeat. “Fine. It’s lunchtime.”

The park had a collection of picnic tables right outside the zoo entrance, but Joanna insisted on the full picnic experience with a blanket on the ground and easy access for the bugs. He kept an eye out, but none invited themselves to the party. There was enough food that, by the end, he was ready to lie back and nap. JR and Jesse pulled a frisbee out the bag. Jesse tried to entice him into joining them, but he declined in favor of lounging on the blanket.

Joanna curled up against his side. “So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“Oh, I don't know. I was thinking of making love to a beautiful woman this evening.”

“Sounds like fun.” She rested her head against his shoulder. “Introduce me to her?”

“Cute.”

“Oh, I am.” She kissed his cheek. “I am the cutest.”

He cupped her face in one hand and leaned in to capture her mouth with his own. She yielded to his touch, and he sank into the soft heat of her, tongue to tongue. The frisbee bounced off the side of his head. Jesse stood over them, hands on her hips. “Gross. We’re in public. Have a little decency.”

His response died upon his lips. He was there, watching from the other side of the picnic area. Watching Harrison’s family. Harrison stood and put a hand on Joanna’s shoulder. “All of you, stay here.”

“Harrison, what’s going on?”

“Just stay here,” he repeated. “Please.”

At Harrison’s first step, the man turned. Not running, because running would attract attention. Harrison didn’t care who stared and broke out into a light jog. He wanted to go faster, but he had to maneuver around the scattered tables and their attendant groups of people. By the time he made it to the other side of the picnic, the man was gone. Gone to wherever it was he went when he was trying to drive Harrison mad. He searched the crowd, knowing he wasn’t going to find anything, but needing to try.

At his hip, his phone rang. “What?”

“Sir? It’s Rory. Your man was spotted in the south wing labs. We tried to retain him, but he got away.”

He shivered, despite the early summer warmth. “When?”

“Ten, maybe twenty minutes ago. It took a bit to confirm he’d given us the slip.”

STAR Labs was on the other side of the city from Broome Park, a thirty minute drive in the best of traffic.

---

“You lied to me, Harrison.”

“I didn’t lie to you,” he insisted. “I just didn’t tell you, which, okay, is a lie of omission. I did lie to you. But only because I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Well, it didn’t work.” Joanna threw herself down on the couch. “Because instead of worrying about the real issue, I’ve been worried you were having some kind of midlife crisis. You’re lucky I didn’t think you were having an affair.”

“I would never--”

“I know, baby. If there’s one thing I have never doubted, it’s that you love me. But you still lied to me.”

Harrison perched at the end of the couch. “I know, and I’m sorry. What do you need me to do?”

“Why don’t you start by telling me what the hell is going on?”

He started with running into the man, literally running into him, on the sidewalk and went through everything that happened since then. Once he finished, she leaned back in her seat, a frown on her face. “And you thought I didn’t need to know?”

“He never seemed threatening. I would have told you if I thought there was any threat.”

“You thought he was enough of a threat that you were willing to scare the kids at the park today.”

 

Harrison wanted to deny it, but he remembered the confused look on Jesse’s face and the worry on JR’s when he’d returned from chasing after a shadow. “I screwed up.”

“You really did. And I don’t know if I should banish you to the couch for lying to me, or keep you close, because what if you’re wrong and this guy is out to hurt you?”

“He’s had more than one chance, and he’s done nothing.” Harrison cupped her face in his hands. “But I will be careful. I promise, okay?”

“You’d better be. Because if something happened to you, I couldn’t stand it.”
---

She didn't banish him to the couch. Instead, they spent the night clinging to each other, He didn’t sleep much, and he didn’t know if Joanna did either. He didn’t ask, too afraid of the potential answer. Sunday, they stayed home. Much of the day was spent watching movies, old cartoons that were comfortable and familiar.

And then Monday came.

He lay staring up at the ceiling in the early morning silence. The pale blue of a world just past dawn snuck around the edges of the curtains. The alarm was long since silenced. Joanna leaned into him and said, “We could tell them we’re sick.”

“You always say that’s a terrible habit to get into.” Harrison pulled away, swung his feet over the edge of the bed, stretched his arms above his head until his spine popped and then, after a pause, collapsed backwards into the blankets. “God, it's tempting, though.”

Joanna rolled onto his side to look down at him. “So, why not? I’m not going to stop you.”

“It’s nearly quarter-end. I’m going to be up to my eyebrows in Financial reports starting today.”

That meant longer days than normal, holed up in his office, a rotating cast of department heads through his office long into the evening. And then further hours into the night, going over the information they’d provided him. Joanna has tried for years to get him to delegate more of the work, but he’d never found anyone he trusted with the work. What was normally one of the many tedious chores of running STAR Labs now seemed weighted with potential disaster.

“You could work from home.” Joanna laced her fingers in with his and drew the joined hands to her chest. “That would work, wouldn’t it?”

“I’m not going hide from something when we aren’t even sure it’s a threat. What kind of example would that be for Jesse and JR?” He pulled his hand free and rolled away, so that he could sit up and swing his legs over the side. “And if there was a threat, do you think I’d let it come near my family?”

“No, you wouldn’t.” The mattress shifted beneath him as she made her way across and wrapped her arms around him from behind. “I love you, Harrison Wells, and everything you are, but please be a little less quick to sacrifice yourself for us.”

He patted one of the arms she held against his chest. “I’m not looking to throw my life away. I will be careful, take every precaution, and do everything in my power to always come back to you…. But I’m still going to the office today.”

“I know.” She placed a kiss against the bare skin of his shoulder and then released him. “But I had to ask.”

She helped him dress, doing up the buttons on his shirt, straightening the cuffs of his jacket, as if helping him ready for battle. She kissed him, long and fierce, before they split, each to drive themself to work. Joanna would leave for home long before Harrison could even think about it.

He spent Monday braced for a disaster that never happened. Everyone was asleep by the time he made it home. He climbed into bed behind Joanna, curled up behind her, and fell into an exhausted sleep, only to wake up and do it over again.

By six, the meetings were done. That left only hours of reviewing the reports. It was nearing nine when “You're a hard man to get alone, Harry.”

He turned to find the man behind him. Over twenty years since the war, but his service piece was a familiar weight in his hand. His arm held steady, a sight that gave him a moment of satisfaction. On the other side of the gun, the man’s hands came up, like he thought they could stop bullets. “Whoa. You know, I’m not sure what that would do to me here, and I don’t want to find out, so why don’t you put that down, Harry?”

“My name is not Harry.”

“Harrison then, because there’s no way in hell I’m calling you Dr. Wells.” His hands dropped to his waist, and he slid one foot forward. “My name is Cisco Ramon. I’m a friend, so why don’t you put the gun down?”

“Because friends have to introduce themselves.” He cocked the gun. “Because friends stalk you and your family.”

Despite the gun in his face, the man kept his eyes locked on Harrison. He even took a step forward. “I’m not a threat. I just want to talk. Like I said, you’re a hard man to get alone. There are things I need to tell you.”

“Like what the hell you’re doing here? Why you're following me?”

The man, Cisco he’d called himself, sighed. “Okay, so there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m going to just get to the point. None of this is real.”

“What?” The tip of his gun dipped as he tried to process the words.

“This life? Your family? It’s not real. I wish to God it was, Harry -- Harrison, sorry. But it’s not.”

“That’s insane. You’re insane.” He brought the gun up and put his finger to the trigger. “You’re not getting near my family.”

Cisco’s hands came up again, but he took another step. “I’m not a threat. I’m not to to go near them Just answer me this. When Jesse graduated high school, you took her to the planetarium. You looked through the telescope there, the big one, and then you gave her a telescope all her own. You remember that, right? But what did your wife give her?”

“What? Nothing. I mean, not nothing. The telescope was from both of us.”

“And when your son was born? Tell me about that.”

He remembered holding her in his arms for the first time. The shocking swell of love for the tiny, helpless things in his hands. Knowing that he’d do anything for her. But, no, that had been Jesse. When JR had been born, it had been early in the morning. Or it had been afternoon. Joanna had been the first to hold him. Or he had held him while the doctors had cleaned up Joanna. Or… Or…

Pain blossomed in his wrist, and the gun fell to the floor. He tried to follow it, but Cisco stepped into his space and blocked his move. When had he gotten so close? “Get out of my way.”

“Harry, I’m sorry, but I can't do that.” He used his hold on Harrison’s arm to pull him downward. And he kissed him.

Harrison’s mind screamed alarm, but his body fell into the kiss, as forgotten tension within his chest made its presence known by finally releasing. Like silence after your ears had rung for so long you’d stopped hearing it. Cisco pulled back and left Harrison gasping in the aftermath. He stared at the smaller man. “What just happened?”

“I kissed you.”

“That isn’t what I meant.” He stumbled back a few steps, until he collapsed into his desk chair. His heart pounded so hard in his chest that the sound echoed in his ears. “What did you do to me?”

“I told you. I kissed you. That’s all. Anything else that happened isn’t something I did.”

“How can I know you when I’ve never seen you before? How can my whole life be a lie?” Because this, here in this room, had to be the lie. It had to be. He’d hugged JR goodbye this morning, the boy solid in his arms, and that was not a lie. But he couldn’t remember his son’s last birthday.

Cisco knelt beside his chair. “It’s not all a lie. More like a dream or a distortion. You have a family, and they want you back. There’s a real Jesse out there, and I promised her I’d bring you back. Please don’t make a liar out of me.”

Jesse. Jesse, real and solid, and she was there is every memory he brought to mind. He needed to hold her in his arms, to anchor himself in knowing that as long as she was there, some part of his world, some part of him, was intact. “What do I need to do?”

Cisco placed his hand in Harrison’s. “Just close your eyes, and hold on.”

---

He opened his eyes to a sea of white light that slowly resolved itself into the ceiling of Caitlin Snow’s infirmary. Caitlin Snow, because that name had meaning now, and a face attached to it. As if summoned by his thoughts, she appeared in the periphery of his vision.

“Harry?” She said his name like it was a delicate thing.

He turned his head in her direction, surprised when it didn’t hurt. His body felt stiff, like moving should take more effort than it did. Caitlin hovered by his side, wearing that expression of Professional Concern that doctors on every Earth seemed to have perfected. Beyond her, he could see Cisco, hunched over with his arms wrapped around his stomach. He turned his head the other way, but the rest of the room was empty. “Where’s Jesse?”

“She’s with Barry. They went after the meta, the one who did this. She’s okay. They got him, and they just need to take him to Iron Heights. She’s been worried about you.”

“Can you… Can you tell her I’m alright? That I want to see her?”

“As soon as I make sure you’re okay.” She reached for her stethoscope.

Harry pushed her hands away. “I’m sure Ramon is capable of watching me lay here and do nothing. He can yell if I suddenly stop breathing or whatever dire thing you’re imagining.” She hesitated, and he made a shooing motions with his hands. “Please. I don’t want her to keep worrying.”

She went, though not as quickly as Harry would have preferred. Once she was out of the room, he turned to Cisco. “Probably easier to keep an eye on me from here, rather than way over there.”

Cisco stepped forward, and his lower lip trembled. “God, Harry, I’m so sorry.”

“For what? For bringing me back to my daughter? You did what I would have wanted you to do, what I would have asked you to do, if I’d been a position to do so.” He reached out and took one of Cisco’s hands, though he had to pry one of his arms loose from where they gripped his waist to do so.

“I just wish it could have been real. That I could have given you that. I didn’t even realize that you wanted more kids.”

Harry stared past Cisco, unable to meet his gaze. “We’d just started trying for a second baby when she… When…”

“What happened?” It was a question Cisco had never asked before, even when he had the chance. It was a relief to stop avoiding it, even as it hurt to answer.

“Hit and run.” He'd been working, always working, when he'd gotten the call. Jesse had been so confused when he'd been the one yo pick her up from her after school program instead of her mother.

“Did they catch them?”

“They did.” His eyes drifted close. “He was a damned kid. Younger than Jesse is now. It had been raining so hard that night and he just… didn’t see her. Not until it was too late. He panicked. Left. Not that it would have made a difference. She was gone by the time she hit the ground. They found him when he tried to kill himself. Like that would fix things. The note was a confession. He survived, pled guilty in court, and I promised myself I’d never waste another moment thinking about him again. I break that promise almost every day.”

There were tears on his cheeks. He’d thought he was past the point of crying for that old loss. Maybe he never would be. He scrubbed the damp from his face with the back of one hand.

“You wanted to stay, didn't you?”

The question produced a ball of ice in his stomach, the cold spreading through his body. But he couldn't lie. “Of course I did. It was everything my life was supposed to be.” He ignored Cisco's crushed expression and pushed on. “But it's the dream of another life. What I have now? I want that, too.”

That got him a watery smile. Cisco leaned down and kissed him. The press of lips to lips soothed some raw within Harry's chest. He rested his forehead against Cisco's. “You really like kissing, don't you?”

“I really do. I was afraid I wasn't going to get to go that again. If I couldn't convince you. Or if, God, if you shot me.”

Harry shivered, remembering the surety of that weight in his hand. At not knowing that man who now perched on the edge of his hospital bed. He could have pulled the trigger so easily and destroyed everything. He tugged on Cisco's arm. “C'mere.”

“We are not both going to fit,” Cisco said, even as he let Harry draw him downward.

Harry pulled Cisco into his space and tucked his head against Harry's shoulder. “We'll make it work. I promise.”