Sources: Mark Waid's "Brave and Bold" miniseries, John Ostrander's "JLA: Incarnations" segment on Barry Allen's death.

After Life
by 'rith

They stand in a place of silence, between Barry's past and Hal's future. It looks very much like a beach. Barry doesn't think this is the afterlife, if there really is one; more like a stopping-place along the way. He had died, and died well--if such a thing could be said--saving all of existence. A hero's death. Small consolation to Iris and Wally, and the others he's left behind. But in the space between the seconds, between life and death, Barry had been permitted to say his good-byes. And he knows that nothing is forever.

Hal is here too, but he isn't dead. Or not yet. Or... Barry gives up trying to quantify it. He's a scientist by nature, but has never been so strictly ruled by logic that he's unable to accept things on faith. He's seen too much, experienced too much, to discount the possibilities of the infinite multiverse.

"Well, buddy," Hal says softly.

"It's okay," Barry replies. That's how their conversations always go. Hal's friendship with Ollie revolves on arguments and conflict. His relationship with Barry is quieter, formed of a balance between opposite types. It's brought them through the years, all the way here.

Hal looks uncomfortable for a moment and then blurts out, "You remember when we fought Sinestro? The empathistar? I said it was easy to be brave... when you don't have anything to lose. I learned to be afraid. For YOU. And now you're..."

"I saw what had to be done," Barry says, "and knowing you helped me not to be afraid."

"But it's not... *right.* It's not fair," Hal protests, and Barry can see the tangled mute anger that lies behind his sorrow. At the universe, for allowing these things to happen. At himself, for failing to stop it.

"You sound like Ollie." Barry smiles, trying for levity, and after a moment Hal laughs ruefully.

"Railing against the fates *is* more his style. He'd tell me to quit whining and DO something about it... except I can't." 'Helpless' isn't Hal's style, either. "Dammit, Barry, why you?"

"I couldn't outrun it," Barry says quietly, and Hal slumps, understanding. Barry had already been living on borrowed time in the future with Iris. It had been too idyllic to last, and he'd subconsciously known it. *I'm so sorry, honey,* he thinks, and hopes that Iris can find some peace in her 30th century world.

Hal is watching his face, maybe even sensing the tenor of his thoughts. "You're thinking about Iris." He pauses. "She'll be all right. I'm not sure how I know it... but I'm positive."

"Thank you," Barry says with relief, accepting it as truth. Because now he sees a glimmering of what waits for Hal after the city, after the sun, and he knows what Hal's...destiny...will bring him to. He sees that Hal's dark road begins here, with Barry's own death. The frustration feeds a sense of powerlessness, becomes rage, blossoms into madness. There's nothing he can say to it, can't warn Hal about what's to come.

Barry Allen looks at his friend, his still-living best friend, and wonders if fate must be immutable. If what he senses must inevitably come to pass. It's not a comforting thought. But hope lies at the end of it, and that will have to be enough.

They're nearly out of time. Or maybe nearly back *in* time, as the moment of his death moves from the present into the past. "Hal... I have to go. And you still have work to do." He stretches out a hand to his friend.

Hal looks at it, takes his hand, and pulls him into a strong embrace. "I'm really gonna miss you, Barry."

"You too," he replies truthfully, because accepting inevitability doesn't mean he still can't feel regret.

The place around them is fading, becoming thin, and he's going with it. "Hal," he says, hoping it gets through, "*nothing ends.*"

And he's gone.

[never ending]

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