"Hey, hey!" Iris West-Allen shouted as she chased after her husband, Barry Allen, who had just left the office where she ran her up-and-coming newspaper, the Central City Citizen. Barry turned to face her as she caught up to him outside of the office of a literary agent who shared the floor with her and who had been trying to get himself a cut of the CCC pie (unsuccessfully). "We can't keep treating Nora like she's some sort of super-villain, we're just going to keep pushing her away!"
"What are we supposed to do?" Barry demanded with his hands spread wide. "Just let her keep taking advantage of us?"
"No," Iris replied, staring at him in disbelief and wondering why her husband was acting so dumb for such a smart man. "We try to see where she's coming from, figure out why she's doing this."
"It doesn't matter why, Iris!" Barry snapped, growing more agitated by the moment and feeling like he had had this argument with Iris already. Oh, wait, he had. "This is Thawne. It’s his plan! "
"Then maybe his plan isn't so bad!" Iris snapped back, and instantly regretted it, seeing the way Barry's face shifted. Well, she would just have to work with the cards she'd dealt and get through to him.
"What?" Barry asked, his voice cracking. "Maybe…" he trailed off, putting his hands on his hips as he tried to process what Iris had just said. "I thought we were past this. It's not okay for her to work with Thawne." He punctuated each word following 'not' with a jerk of his pointer finger towards the floor. "You saw him. You said he's manipulating her."
"And I said that he cares about her," Iris rebuked, and Barry held his tongue, letting Iris finish what she had to say. If they were going to have this out, he wasn't going to have her try and pretend like he interrupted her every time she was making a point. He'd gotten enough of a glimpse of what Oliver and Felicity had gone through to know that he didn't need that kind of headache. "He's worried about her safety."
"No, he needs her, Iris, he needs her," Barry said, wondering how Iris could've forgotten everything else they had been through with the man. Or maybe she had been so caught up in her grief over Eddie that she hadn't realized just how much Thawne had done, the legacy of chaos he had left behind after Eddie killed himself to try and stop his insane descendant. "
"Or," Iris replied, emphasizing the word, "he's changed. Barry, Thawne is the one who convinced me to come back home and try and patch things up with you."
"Thawne?" Barry asked incredulously with an underlying tone of accusation. "Thawne gave you advice?"
Iris sighed, looking to the side as she formulated her response. "Look, I know it sounds insane, and I know this must be hard for you to hear, but Barry, ever since I got back home, the same question keeps running through my mind. What if Nora is right? What if Thawne really is trying to redeem himself? And that he does want to stop Cicada? And the only reason Nora hasn't come back home is she knows that you don't trust her." Iris was watching Barry's expression; he had always been very open, but right now his expression was guarded, and she could only hope her words were getting through to him. "Look, Barry, having Nora in our lives has made us better people. Isn't it possible that she did the same thing to Thawne?"
Barry stared directly at Iris as he responded. "No," he said, "it's not. Everything Thawne does has a reason that serves him. Nora asked me once if I thought he could change. The truth is I don't think he can. Every time we've run into him, he has an angle he's working, Iris. He killed the real Harrison Wells and Tess Morgan just so he could accelerate the timeline of the accelerator. He took over my treatment and trained me to go faster only because he needed me to go fast enough to break down the time barrier.
He recruited Cisco, Caitlin, Ronnie, and everyone else he knew would be able to help him build the accelerator faster or help him treat me when the time came. He manipulated me with the promise of saving my mother so I would break down the time barrier and open a singularity that he could use to go home. He made me beg for him to kill my mother during Flashpoint to set things right, just because he wanted to hear me broken, because it made him happy to have gotten one over on me again.
"Thawne was working with the Earth-X Nazis the last time we saw him. He was working with people who would look at you and consider you subhuman. He was going to cut one of my friends open and steal her heart for her twisted doppelganger. Finally, when Nora and I went back to the past and had to get his help, he was very interested in her, Iris. He knew about Nora before she met him in that cell in 2049. He had plenty of time to plan how to manipulate her for his own purposes. And there is only one reason he gave you advice, and that is because it benefits him."
"How does us patching things up possibly benefit that man?" Iris asked angrily.
"Nora," Barry replied, and Iris rocked back as if he had slapped her. "If we don't patch things up, we separate, maybe divorce. We do that, Nora is erased from existence, and Thawne has no one to manipulate to save himself from what he deserves." Barry vanished in a blur of lightning and returned a moment later, holding a manila envelope and Iris felt a sense of dread go through her. "Laurel passed through here while you were gone, heading back to Earth-2," Barry said quietly, "and she helped me with these. I'd hoped we could settle this without it, but I can see now that you are going to let your need to have a relationship with Nora overshadow everything else. I can't do that, Iris. Every time I have put a selfish need above everyone else, it's had consequences."
Barry handed Iris the manila envelope and she took it numbly, knowing what was inside. "When I opened the singularity for Thawne, it opened this world to Zoom and killed Ronnie," Barry said quietly. "When Zoom killed my father, I created Flashpoint out of grief, and not only did I have to ask the man I hate above all others to kill my mother, but I made changes to the world around us that I couldn't alter again. If you think that I don't understand when I've messed up, Iris, then you don't know me at all." Barry stepped back.
"So, now you're just going to run away like you did after we beat Savitar?" Iris asked. "You're just going to leave me like you did when you went into the Speed Force?"
"Something you don't seem to understand is I did that to save the city, maybe the world, from the Speed Force!" Barry snapped, lightning flickering in his eyes again. "You call me selfish and throw things like Flashpoint and going into the Speed Force in my face, but look in the mirror, Iris! You wanted me to, what, stand there and talk it out with you while the city was torn apart? You wanted me to stay even if it meant losing Wally or Jay? You dragged me to that therapist and didn't give her the whole picture so you could vent at me and I couldn't defend myself! And now you want me to trust Thawne and trust he's changed from the monster he's always been because, what, he met our perky daughter and thought, 'gee, she's so innocent and pure, maybe I can be better just this once'?"
Barry shook his head in disgust, his eyes shining, as were Iris'. "The fact is, Iris, you have been emotionally abusive for years. You've sabotaged my relationships with other women. You've made comments about how hot Oliver is when we were dating and were doing that even when you were dating Eddie, and you never once asked how I ended Flashpoint, just assumed like everyone else I'd stopped myself from stopping Thawne. You are supposed to be the person who knows me better than anyone, but it’s like you won't even try. And I'm done trying to live up to your impossible ideal while you do nothing to try and change yourself. I remember Elseworlds, Iris. When everyone thought I was Oliver and he was me, you told him that you could 'never' like Oliver Queen. You have a type, and it's not me; and I'm done forgiving and forgetting every time you have demeaned my looks, my intelligence, and my friends. Don't bother coming back to S.T.A.R. Labs. You're more useful at Triple C." Barry left, not giving Iris an option to answer.
Iris' first thought was that she would challenge the divorce proceedings, but as she looked through the divorce papers, she found that Barry and Earth-2's Laurel had built a pretty solid case for emotional abuse with how she made comments about his interests in scientific fields ("Seeing this thing turn on is like your dream, your sad little nerdy dream"), comments about how attractive other guys were while Barry was standing right there, and the therapy sessions where she vented and he wasn't allowed to say anything. The court would compel the therapist to turn over any recordings of their sessions, and it would prove exactly what Barry had listed.
Barry arrived in front of Thawne's cell for the second time. "That was quite the trick you pulled with Iris," Barry said as Thawne turned to face him, his typical callous smirk in place. "You had her convinced Nora was right about you. But I know better. Do you remember what you told me during Flashpoint?"
"I do," Eobard replied, stepping forward. "I told you many things during that incident. Which one are you referring to?"
"You said the me you know in the future wasn't 'that stupid'," Barry quoted, and Thawne smirked. "Well, I guess I'm finally learning. When you changed the timeline and created the accelerator six years ahead of schedule, it was more than that, wasn't it? The Flash you knew was more confident in his own skin, more capable of doing everything himself, without a team behind him. You made sure I depended on a team, and someone had to make sure I ended up somewhere that my belief in my father would be derided. Joe taking me in when he was the one who arrested my father shouldn't have been possible, but it happened."
"Now, that, you can blame on the corruption in your city," Thawne replied. "The overworked office workers who handle that sort of thing were more concerned with actual cases of abuse and didn't give it a moment's thought."
Barry looked at the countdown on the wall. It read seven minutes. "So, what is it about stopping Cicada that helps you?" Barry asked. "Does it shift the timeline some way, make sure you're never cau-" Barry stopped, looking at Thawne hard. "That's it, isn't it?" he asked quietly, and Thawne returned his look, stone-faced. "Cicada's dagger. You were exposed to it, or something like it, and that's how you ended up in here."
“Close,” Thawne said, tapping his chest. “Cicada’s dagger is right here, keeping me from using my powers. If the dagger is destroyed in the past, it vanishes here, and I am free. All I had to do was get Nora to trust me and get her to convince you to destroy the dagger.” Thawne smiled coldly. "As I told you before… I always win, Flash."
"Not this time," Barry said. "Because I'm guessing the Flash you knew wasn't such good friends with Oliver Queen. That's why you tried to stop our friendship." Thawne's eyes narrowed but said nothing, and that was enough for Barry to know he was right. "Because of my friendship with Oliver, I've learned that no matter what, the city and the world come first. And that's why you lose this time, Thawne."
"What are you saying, Barry?" Thawne asked.
"I'm saying that the future you were so obsessed with was intact even after I came out of the Speed Force," Barry said, "which means that even without Nora, I destroy the Thinker's satellite and Cicada is born. The only difference is you have an agent in our midst with Nora. But once the timeline settles, she'll be gone." Barry stepped closer so he was only inches from the glass, Thawne in the same position inside of the cell. "I served Iris with divorce papers, Eobard," Barry told him. "There is no West-Allen family. No Nora West-Allen soon enough. And I'm going to stand right here and wait for that clock to hit zero." Barry smiled coldly. "I think that since you were there when the Flash was born, it's only fitting I'm here when you die."
"You are different from The Flash I knew," Thawne said. "He wouldn't be so callous. He'd be asking himself why this is happening."
"You're not talking yourself out of this, Thawne," Barry told him.
"I'm not the only one your condemning to death, Barry Allen," Thawne said. "In 2021, the Anti-Metahuman Act was passed into law and soon adopted world-wide and included an anti-vigilantism clause for the powered and unpowered alike. Metahumans are locked away for a crime of genetics, and vigilantes are targeted for death in this new world order. I am only one of many who have suffered."
"You also only care about yourself," Barry shot back. "We both know you will never change, Thawne. And if this future is as bad as you say, well, you've spent all this time proving it can be changed, haven't you?" Barry smirked as he stepped forward. "I'm sure there's a way to alter the timeline so that this act isn't passed into law and you still wind up in this cell." Barry looked at the clock. Two minutes. Barry studied the layout, eyes narrowed in thought. Thawne watched him. Then Barry blurred away, moving to a dark corner, as the guard entered.
"Time's up, Professor," the guard said with a cruel smirk. "Hope you've made your peace with your maker." Eobard glared over the guard's shoulder at Barry, but as he had done this sort of glaring many times, the guard ignored it. "The scientists want to study you, learn about speedsters in depth. So, we won't be incinerating you like we do most." The guard pressed a button, and Thawne's hair fluttered as the air in the room began to drain out. The guard chuckled in dark amusement as the speedster gasped, one hand on his throat and the other braced against the floor. Soon, Thawne collapsed to the ground, writhing and gasping, and after a few more moments, lay still. The guard watched for a minute more, and then left. The room would remain airless until the scientists came for the body.
Barry left his dark corner and approached the cell, staring down at the man who had killed his mother and manipulated his life on more than one occasion. "You lose, Professor," Barry sneered and then vanished in a blur of lightning to return to 2019. There were a few things that he needed to handle.
Barry entered the Cortex to find Iris was there with Joe, Cecile, Sherloque, Ralph, Cisco, and Caitlin. Under one arm he held a folder, in the other a briefcase. "Barry, where were you?" Caitlin asked concernedly. Iris had told them all about the argument and Barry handing her the divorce papers, and while she was sad for Iris, it wasn't like they had been close friends. Her concern was more for Barry.
"I had a few stops to make," Barry replied. "For one, I visited Thawne in 2049. He confirmed what I thought. This is all to save his own skin. He’s being held in his cell by Cicada’s dagger; it’s strapped around his chest. " Cisco muttered something nasty under his breath while Iris grimaced. "I waited there and watched his execution," Barry continued, and this time everyone stared at him. "I needed to confirm he wasn't going to weasel out despite what I did earlier. And… I wanted to see it happen. After everything he's done, I wanted to watch him die, to see me on the other side and know that in the end, he doesn't always win."
"What've you got there?" Cisco asked, gesturing to the briefcase and folder Barry was carrying.
"The folder has the deed to S.T.A.R. Labs," Barry said. "The briefcase's contents, I hope I don't have to use." Barry held up the folder. "This folder contains the deed to this facility and the ownership papers, showing it was legally transferred to my custody upon the death of Harrison Wells." Barry gave a hard look. "Since I came out of the Speed Force, and maybe even before it, I've taken a back seat and let others call the shots. That's ending here and now. Cisco, Caitlin, Ralph, you are the only ones who need to be here all the time. Cecile, Joe, we can call you on an as-needed basis. Iris, you don't have a place here. You're not a scientist and you're not a meta. You have rarely been in the field and shouldn't be the one calling the shots in life and death situations." Barry held up the briefcase. "Inside here are restraining orders I had drawn up after I got back from 2049. If someone who doesn't need to be here continues to come here and interfere with operations, I will file them."
"Why the turnaround?" Ralph asked. "I mean, no offense, but you've been letting Iris call the shots since I've been here."
"A mistake I won't repeat," Barry said. "And the turnaround, Ralph, is because Iris is hypocritical and wanted me to work with Thawne, to trust Nora about him. I can't. He murdered my mother. He manipulated our lives. When I created Flashpoint and had to change it back, he made me ask him to kill my mother. And last year, he was working with the Earth-X Nazis. He can't, couldn't be trusted, and Iris would've kept pushing until I accepted her view.
"But I can't do that, we can't do that," Barry continued. "We have to put this city, it's people, and sometimes the world over our own desires. I learned that the hard way with the singularity and Flashpoint. The Speed Force didn't just imprison me; it showed me what my actions had wrought, forcing me to look at them without bias. The person who leads this team's gotta look at the bigger picture, not follow their own desires. Iris can't do that." Barry sighed. "I'm not going to argue the point with anyone. You can either accept things are going to change, or you can follow the restraining order." Barry vanished in a blur of lightning again, leaving a troubled group behind.
Elsewhere in the city, Nora West-Allen began to fizzle out of existence and tried to access the Negative Speed Force but vanished before she could muster the speed she needed.
600 miles away, Barry Allen arrived in time to see Oliver talking to a woman on the other side of reinforced glass. Barry phased through the glass and knocked the woman out, taking the detonator she had been holding from her and tying her up with his super-speed before returning to through the glass with her. "We need to talk," Barry told his friend, and Oliver simply nodded.