-I couldn’t lie to you anymore-
The problem is; now that she’s thought it, it’s not like she can just go back and…unthink it, or something.
The next time is awkward, maybe because she can’t go two seconds without her head clocking in an I love you, Iris, and it’s so startlingly close to her ear- because it’s in your head, Iris, she tells herself ten times a day- and each time it makes her heart skip a nervous beat. When did he get that close.
She thinks that look in his eyes might be resignation. She’s lying. She knows the look in his eyes is resignation. It’s his gaze stuck on god I’m stupid okay, I’m the worst, sorry I ruined everything, and she wants to tell him-
-something. She wants to tell him something. But she can’t get past the white noise in her head that sounds like his voice telling her he loves her, like, he’s in love with her, and this is the insanest thing that’s ever happened- this makes less sense than the time Lisa Baron stayed over for the night and giggled her way through dinner and said “leave your door open, Ri, I want to see your stepbrother come out of the shower. The boy is fiiiiine.”
(Barry had come out just then, as if on cue, his hair shower-wet, plastered over his forehead, dripping water into his eyes, his shirt stained dark- did he not understand how a towel worked or what- and she’d felt an irrational surge of- annoyance like, okay, you’re not fooling anyone with the Hot Girl In The House Alert routine, Allen.
“He’s not my stepbrother,” she’d said, automatically.
In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the point of the conversation.)
So instead, she says back, “hi.” Thinks about how they’ve never been awkward before. They’ve been a lot of things, but this isn’t one of those.
He’s gone two minutes later. He can’t seem to meet her gaze these days and-
I love you, Iris.
For one solid, panicked second in there, in the moment, she’d thought she was going to tell him she loved him too, desperate, reaching. Because if she didn’t, if she didn’t, Barry would be alone in this. For the first time in forever, they wouldn’t be in something together. He hadn’t lost her then, not like he thought he might, but she, she would lose him.
But she didn’t. She'd swallowed the words, threatening to spill over, because it would be wrong. Because Barry, of all people, deserved better than that.
If her reason was that she was so afraid of losing him that she’d rather just say what fit, whatever he wanted, whatever would make him stay, and his reason for telling the truth had been to jump in because he was tired of lying, then that would be two steps forward for him and three steps back for her, and they’d be even further apart.
-that's the irony, I was so scared of-
And she can’t stand the thought of that.
“This is ridiculous,” Barry says under his breath, and he’s right because this is only the fourth time they’ve seen each other in three weeks and they can’t so much as look at each other.
She thinks of- you need to get yourself a girlfriend. She’s apparently so oblivious, she can’t see a love story when it shoulder bumps her for fifteen years in the hallway, and helps her with her calculus homework. Those observation skills should really get that journalism career going.
(And thinks that maybe someday he will. Get a girlfriend. And fall out of love with her.
That would be-
Yeah. It's not like there's anywhere else for him to fall now but out.)
“I’m sorry,” he says, still under his breath, because there are other people in the room and their tableau is the least of the Department’s concerns, with the sudden sharp increase in the spate of violence in the city. And her best friend is in love with her.
Suddenly- it's weird- but she’s hyper-aware of his presence in this completely…awake sort of way. Like every single nerve-ending in her body woke up and she can literally feel the weight of the air against her skin. That he’s standing close enough to touch. That he’s wearing the perfume she’d given to him as a joke on his birthday, as a precursor to his real gift. Sometimes, these days, if she stays still long enough, she can still feel his hands ghosting down her back, his mouth near her earlobe, telling her he loves her. She doesn't stay still long enough. “I don’t- I don’t know what to-Iris- I’m just really-“
She reaches out a hand, and shoves him, automatically. Subtly.
He rubs his arm like it actually hurt. Maybe it did. “What the-“
"Stop saying it."
"Stop," he's genuinely confused, "saying what?"
“Don’t you,” she whispers, gritting her teeth, still staring ahead, “dare apologize to me about it. Don’t you fucking dare say you’re sorry for being in love with me.”
As ridiculous as it is, as selfish as she knows that is, sometimes she hates him so much, because he can function like a normal human being still. Move on. And she's the one remembering moments in stopgap intervals, in endless repetitions, she's the one burdened.
There’s a second’s pause, which she takes note of, because she’s a mess, clearly. She has no idea what the hell she’s doing. That’s Barry’s territory. She does the rushing in, he does the cleaning up. This is uncharted. She can feel the ring against the hollow of her throat, cool metal against heated skin. She really needs to stop wearing that every single day.
When she glances over next, he’s standing a little straighter, the corner of his mouth just slightly upturned, “well, that’s good then, because I’m not sorry about it at all.”
“Don’t say that,” she hisses, again, because, like she said, mess. Eyes fixed on the conversation going on in front of her. She hears someone mention The Flash, strains to listen in for a second, then lets go. Today, even The Flash isn’t enough to distract her. She needs all the faculties she has to keep her sanity, when her head just refuses to cooperate and keeps repeating a conversation long over on a broken loop- if you didn’t feel the same-
He turns to her, and it’s the first time since- since- that he’s looking straight down at her, his gaze serious, “I am sorry about a lot of things. But I’m not sorry about that. I'm sorry I'm not sorry, though- if that helps.”
There's an unfamiliar intensity to him, these days, and she’s the one who can’t meet his eyes this time, she finds. She does try, though. For what it’s worth, she tries.
See, here’s the thing; loving Barry is- it’s one of those things that’s just- it’s like if someone were to go “man, I do so love breathing” which is just a ridiculous, pointless thing to say or think about, so she hasn’t. Thought about.
That’s a lie. She’s thought about it sometimes; junior prom which she spent trying to hook him up with Dana Carlton and they still somehow ended up together on her bed at night, watching Some Kind of Wonderful and she’d looked over at him at one point and he was so into it that it was two minutes before she looked away again. The time he went to college and she spent all of the next week keeping things down harder than necessary, banging the dishes, and she’d cracked her dad’s favorite mug and her dad had just given her his infamous eyebrow-raise and not said anything when she said she didn’t feel like dinner for two days straight.
(The time he came back from college, his hair parted differently, wearing a fancy letterman jacket which he'd probably stolen from someone because since when did Barry play varsity sports, but it still fit across his shoulders, and she'd noticed it fitting across his shoulders, which was a bizarre thing to notice. And standing on her doorstep, he’d smiled at her, when she’d opened the door, a stranger for five seconds and she’d felt breathless and teenage, and had to look down for those five seconds.)
-but I never did, I just-
But that’s- that’s not thinking about it, they're just…the exceptions that prove the rule. It’s not like she hasn’t spent enough time around Barry to know all the geeky scientific principles of statistical exclusion by now.
The part that cuts is that Eddie doesn’t look surprised. He doesn’t look angry. He doesn’t look…anything particularly.
“…Some time apart,” she stumbles over the words. He just nods. Takes back his key from her open hand without a word. Maybe that’s worse.
She nods too, looking down. Realizes she's nervously playing with her mom's- Barry's- mom's ring on the chain around her neck only when she sneaks a glance up, and Eddie's eyes are on her hand, curiously blank. Stops immediately.
It's becoming a habit hard to break. She really needs to stop doing that.
"You never take that off," he notes, mildly.
"It was my mom's-" she says, defensive, automatically, "I mean, yeah, not technically, but it's just-"
"I know," Eddie counters, raising his hands in a gesture of peace, "I didn't mean anything by-"
"I'm sorry," she draws out, uneven, even though that doesn't make sense at all. That's not an answer. She doesn't even know what the question was.
"I know." He sounds like he does. Like he doesn't hate her. Or maybe she's just projecting.
She thinks of all the times she's kissed Eddie in front of- timing couldn’t be- and now, it makes something inside her twist with guilt. She doesn't know who that's more unfair to. Probably means she's a terrible, no-good, awful person. Take it to the press.
Sometimes, these days, when she’s sitting at her desk, and she can’t seem to concentrate- which is beginning to happen a lot more than is good for her sanity or her thesis- she wonders what she’d have said if Barry had told her he was in love with someone else.
She’d have told him to go for it, she decides, because of course. She’d have told him to tell the girl. To go get the girl, Barry, you dork, because any girl would be crazy to not be in love with him. There’s no second answer to that. You don’t stop feeling something just because you can’t say it out loud. She’d old enough to know that by now. The only difference between saying it and not saying it is just the training wheel on the cycle. Her dad took hers out when she was eight.
“You’re a big girl now,” he’d said mock-seriously, and she’d responded with a solemn nod. But secretly she’d been terrified. She knew she was supposed to be strong, she was a cop's daughter, but sometimes she just wasn’t.
(Barry had fixed them back on for her the next day when she’d refused to go cycling at all.
“It’s okay,” he’d said, “you don't always have to be strong. You can take it off yourself whenever you want.”
-even before I even knew what the word-
She’d taken them off herself a month later. After she'd made him promise to hold on to the back and not let go.
"Not like the movies," she'd said, sternly, "because they always let go when they say they won't, and then the girl looks back and there's no one holding on and it's cool for three seconds and she's all happy like hey, I'm totally doing this, but she always falls flat three seconds later. How come no one cares about that?"
"I won't, Iris," he'd sighed, "I promised, remember? When have I ever let you fall."
The screen stays blank, when she powers up her computer. Abso-fucking-lutely great timing, considering she has a submission due the day after.
She thinks of calling Barry. Almost does call him, on sheer instinct. To bitch about her assignment and how it's all his fault for making her take an unfun, assignment-laden course, to tell him to somehow fix her computer using his superpower of being a nerd extraordinaire, to tell him to just come home and stay the night because today sucked so much.
It's five digits in before she remembers.
-so many times I wanted to-
She leaves the number half-entered, doesn't look at his name at top of the suggestions list. Doesn't accidentally press speed-dial. Switches off the lights, instead.
When she gets home from work, she lies flat on her stomach, on the bed, hands under her chin, staring out the window at Central City spread outside. It’s beautiful at night.
Barry used to sneak into her room sometimes, in the early days, when he’d first shifted in with them, when it wasn’t as weird as it got when he did it later because hormones didn’t have that discerning off limits feature handy, just to look out the window with her.
(“I’m not scared of the dark,” he’d said, once, “I’m afraid of being alone in the dark.”
“But you’re not alone,” she’d replied, bemused.
“No,” he’d said, smiled for the first time since she could remember, since his mother had died, “no, I’m not.”)
The phone rings, startling her. And- oh, yeah, her dad had told her Barry wanted to ask her about the weekend conference that she'd been about to drag him to, raising his eyebrow perfectly to let her know that this whole thing- whatever this thing was- wasn’t lost on him.
He’d literally asked her dad to warn her he was going to call. Given a freaking time. Like his being in love with her barred him from all future conferences. Like he needed to go through someone to reach her. Like he wasn’t the only person she’d ever taken to her conferences.
-if you didn't feel the same way-
“Hello,” he says, formally, stilted, when she picks up the landline. He sounds rushed, like he’s going to launch into his monologue and keep the phone down before she can get the wrong idea, or something.
You had me at hello, she thinks, randomly. He'd once said that the line and its pop-culture misappropriation was the greatest argument for context there was- come on, she means 'hello', as in, since he entered the room some two minutes ago, and not 'hello', like, the-first-time-I-ever-met-you 'hello'. He didn't even say 'hello' the first time they met- and she'd emptied the brownie crumbs from her plate in his lap because who even talks during Jerry Maguire, seriously.
She wonders if he can hear her heart pounding. Her pulse through the end of the phone pressed against the base of her throat. Sound travels fastest through solids, he’d told her that in the tenth grade. Something about the waves touching the atomic particles and making them vibrate in association and the density of matter.
(“Okay, so you probably didn’t need to know all of that about acoustics to- wait, what were you asking again?”
“I-” she’d cleared her throat, “how come the bell sounds like it’s taking light years to reach here. It was… rhetorical. And the bell rang ten minutes ago, Vitruvius, just FYI.”
"You remember Vitruvius?" Then, chastised, "sorry. Why don't you ever shut me up."
“No,” she’d said, laughing, the sound echoing in the by-now empty classroom, “no, you’re cute." And felt it.)
Strange, that she still remembers what he’d told her such a long time ago.
She tightens her grip on the phone. The ring clanks against the receiver, when she leans in. She realizes then; she forgot to take it off again.
-our whole lives to tell you-
“Hi,” she says.