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because that's what love is (equivalent exchange)

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It's hard for Barry to get along with Taako when he's so sharp, and so dismissive. Barry's never been dismissive; while he's awkward going about it, too tentative, words fitting clumsily in his mouth and tripping out in the wrong order, he always tries to learn something from people, to get close to them, to discover. To learn.

So it's not a surprise he falls in love with Lup. Who doesn't have to try to learn something from people when she talks to them once and then just knows them. Lup, who he met first in the IPRE hallway, when she yanked him out of the cafeteria line to ask if he was trying to poison himself or if it was just his first day. Lup with bangles up and down her arms and suspenders she hooks her hands into, sauntering wherever she goes. Walking like spotlights light her way. 

When Barry met Taako, he didn't realize until halfway through the interaction. He had thought that something was weird- Lup never sat like that, with her feet slung on the table, arms wide on the back of the chair, and she certainty never would've laughed so delightedly when Magnus broke into a three minute coughing fit after drinking water that somehow had chilli powder in it, but it wasn't until Taako told Barry that if he was only wearing blue jeans because that was his last name that he was a hack, but if he genuinely liked them despite his last name then he was a legend, that Barry realized, oh God, this was My-Dipshit-Brother, this was And-Then-Taako-Said, and Taako saw it on his face or something because he stopped talking mid sentence and just smirked, said, about time, said, but really I can't tell if you're being ironic or not?

Barry's never been one for irony. He wears jeans because they're comfortable and he studies magic because it's fascinating. He likes straightforward things, like telling someone you're going to do something and then doing it. He admires the art his Mom hung on the wall of the study she made in his childhood bedroom. Landscapes, with a silhouette of a young girl tossing a handful of stars into the sky.

"Why'd you buy it?" He'd asked his Mom.

"It reminded me of you," she'd answered, "And I'm planning to spend a lot of time in here reading, and I like thinking about you. My little boy."

Barry has two older brothers, Sildar and Hallwinter. Sildar is good at sports and Hallwinter is good at words. They're both good at being brothers, and Barry was always walked home from school, accompanied to the library, invited to "the big game," cooked for, helped, and loved. He was never taught how to swim because it was a long-held Bluejeans tradition to be afraid of the water. Hallwinter, the oldest, moved away first, and Barry sat in the passenger seat of the car with a cardboard box of fake plants and loose-leaf paper where Hall wrote poetry. When Sildar moved out Barry couldn't help because he was out of town with friends, but he called and Sildar described every detail of his apartment in agonizing detail until Barry was laughing so hard he had to hang up and call back a couple minutes later.

Lup and Taako aren't like that. While Barry can't describe entirely what, 'that,' is, it's a different love from what the Bluejeans brothers do. Their love is expressed in Lup trying to trip Taako every chance she gets, in Taako kicking the chair out from underneath Lup the second before she sits down, in Taako giving Lup piggyback rides around despite the fact they should both be over that kind of thing; Lup kissing Taako softly on the forehead and him blinking up at her in surprise, Taako leaning on Lup's shoulder and tucking his chin on the top of her head, grinning as she tries to kick him off. How they read each other's minds. How they touch like the other is the most fragile glass and at the same time unbreakable.

When Barry first is starting to tell them apart, he does so in how they smile. Lup's mouth is constantly moving, curving to the side in a wry dig, balling up to the right when she's focused on something, thinning out if she's upset, twisting in on itself as she chews on her lip, taking over her whole face as she busts out a laugh, all at once.

Taako's always in the same place, with his amusement expressed mostly through minuet twitches. A smirk, a tiny leer, small little giggles. With Taako it's about tone of voice, and with Lup it's about body language. With Taako it's about what he's thinking about, and with Lup it's about what she tells you.

Making friends with the Starblaster gang was never going to be easy, just because Barry doesn't make friends easily. Lup and Merle do most of the work; cajoling everyone into joint bar trips, team bonding sessions, and easing the conversation through late night training drills. Merle has this way of compacting a huge personality into a tiny body, and Barry feels like a tiny personality stretched too thin around his huge body, his awkward hands, his permanently scrunched back. Not like Magnus, who treats the space between people like a challenge, who treats people like undiscovered space. 

"I think these people are crazy," Barry tells Lucretia, more then once, as Davenport has his papers yanked away for yet another game of keep-away between Merle and Magnus, Lup scorekeeping but she's just making up rules, 10 points to Merle because his flower crown is on point today.

"I think these people," Lucretia usually answers, but Barry never gets tired of hearing it, not ever, "Are going to hate it when I drop them out the airlock of the Starblaster." 

It's so strange settling into the Starblaster. There are personal quarters for everybody, a cargo hold where Taako strung up a hammock, the bridge full of postcards that Lucretia collected from everyone's hometown and stuck up in picture frames, and the common areas that slowly fill up with carved ducks and Merle's socks, pens that everyone knows are Davenport's but uses anyway. Lup's bunk is right across the hall from Barry's and they develop a knocking code to talk to each other without words. Barry knows she has another code with Taako, who's next to her, but it doesn't involve knocks. It involves colours, somehow? And song lyrics?

Barry feels himself growing into the space he occupies, that he feels he's allowed to occupy. He starts to unpack his bag between cycles and doesn't feel awkward about walking into rooms where people are already. He joins conversations, lets himself be coaxed out of his shell. It's especially easy when he's around Lup, because she's interested in the same things he is. They'll stay up late and discuss theology, art history (the history on their world and the history they wheedle out of residents of other worlds), and make up games for each other to play, like Lup's invention of SPACE LICENSE PLATES and Barry's wildly popular NEW ACRONYMS.

 He learns more about the six people he's travelling with. He puts effort into remembering things about them. Davenport doesn't share much but Barry is resilient, and good at listening, and one night there's a time where everyone else's gone to fetch the Light of Creation, which crashed in a cornfield only a couple miles away.

"I'm not trying to, to, shut everyone out." Davenport explains, frowning. He's holding onto the steering wheel so hard that the veins on the back of his hands are visibly popping out. "I just don't have, have much to me. I wasn't close to my family; I didn't have a partner, no hobbies really. You know that one person the waiter always forgets to bring water? That was me, you know, so now there's this, this- mission, that's so important, and I've thrown myself into it, it's all I've got going on right now."

Barry takes his hands very carefully and pulls Davenport's arm, tugging him gently out of the pilot's seat, and cups his head firmly.

"Buddy." He says. "You have substance."

Davenport blinks, and to Barry's horror he sees that he's tearing up a little bit. Trembling. Barry hugs him because he isn't sure what else to do, and that's what Sildar would do for him when Barry cried, and a few seconds later he feels the soft rasp of Davenport's breath against his neck. 

"My favourite colour is green? I, uh, I've always liked. Romance novels. And those scented candles that just smell like s-s-soap."

When the other four get back, Davenport is asleep against Barry's shoulder, and Barry is just awake enough to see Lup's wide and gleeful Here's Some Blackmail smile. 

Getting to know Magnus only requires spending time with him. Magnus can be angry and brash and frustratingly stubborn, but other parts of him are so tender and good that it can hurt to look at them. Magus tells Barry about the first time he went roller skating, about the BEST way to make hot dogs ("If you put relish on it, it's already ruined! Ruined, Barold! No amount of cheese can save you then!"), and about his favourite subject in grade school. Gym.

Merle has the weirdest past, just because Merle seems to not really care what happened to him at all but from his stories it sounds like he was in a cult, maybe? He refers to Pan like an estranged cousin that he's still quite fond of, or maybe an old buddy from college, instead of like a God that he's worshiped since he was small. Barry asks him about that.

"Oh! It's simple! Well, Pan and I... It's like, if he ever got his Godly ass down here... You know, if he ever smote something, or me, I'd treat him a little different. But all he does is grow plants! And he doesn't seem to care too much about what I'm doing down here. Stand up guy, really." 

When getting to know Lup, knowing things about her past don't actually seem that important in comparison to other stuff. It feels like they can talk about anything, even Barry's embarrassing allergy to milk that she only gives him a little bit of ribbing for (she gives him a little charm of a cow that she bought from a merchant). She tells him about her Aunt, and Barry feels like that signifies she trust him. He wants to spend time with her, even when he's already doing it. She's so fascinating, so deep, like everything she says is linked to seven other things that she's just waiting for you to ask her about. They're never going to run out of things to talk about, he hopes. Whenever they reset into the new cycle their bodies are so close to each other that if the ship jerks they stumble into each other.

Lucretia gives information in trade. They go back and forth, swapping stories from childhood, someday plans, dream travel destinations, favourite novels. They agree that beaches are overrated and more people should be forced to learn about philosophy in schools, although their reasons differ dramatically. Barry thinks it's a good idea to open young minds to different paths that aren't just religious, and Lucretia thinks it could spark some important conversations in the classroom.

Taako's different. He doesn't warm up to Barry. He doesn't touch anyone except Lup, doesn't let his guard down unless Lup's there. He looks spiny and angular. Tilts his head when he's curious like he's a judge giving a cursory glance in the hall to the murderer he just sent away. It's like Taako's in a complete different place from everyone around him, except their bodies are cohabitating. 

Sometimes Barry looks at Taako and he's terrified. The amusement in his eyes as he talks about the Hunger devouring those idiot robots who couldn't even evolve laser guns. The way he holds his body like he has control over every individual cell within it. How Lup seems to have to remind him to be sad about things, or that he very obviously doesn't care about people until he sees that his crewmates do. And even then Barry's pretty sure it's an act.

Whenever anyone needs something from Taako they have to bargain for it. He'll do something for you if you do something for him, be it a favour of equal value or just a compliment or, memorably, "A twenty minute backrub, I will time you, Magnus, so don't short change me!" In that manner, Taako reminds Barry of the fae- creatures with such a different way of life that they're alien, and then inexorably bound by balance and the minutia of phrasing. Barry mentions this idea to Lucretia the next time they're having one of their philosophical debates. He asks her if she thinks balance is an important concept.

"Well." Lucretia pauses before answering, and trickles her index finger along the bark of the tree they're sitting under. "Balance as in the struggle between chaos and law is important, but I don't think that there's a need for balance to be important in individual lives. When people make choices they're not deciding to do something based on it being random or predictable, they do it based on something they need or want. So the concept only matters in institutions trying to govern those people."

"Like jails?" 

"No. Like marriages." 

It's hard to get along with Taako when he doesn't like you, doesn't even hate you, just doesn't care about your existence at all. 

Barry feels like he makes progress on the beach cycle, like maybe he received a blessing of some sort. It was emboldening, made him realize that not everybody felt like there was magma in their stomachs when they talked to Lup, that not everybody felt like spinning Lup around and around, holding her, lifting her up, wanted to kiss her when she had that look on her face right after casting fireball.

That look on her face, the one where she would be half illuminated in a warm fiery light, her mouth still slightly open and cheeks flushed in delight, how time slowed slightly and she'd blink, eyelashes fluttering against her cheek like tiny butterflies- Barry thinking he wants to share infinite time with her so she could be this happy, forever, thinking that she's the most beautiful woman he's ever seen in his whole life.

He's never loved anyone like he loves Lup. Sometimes he feels like he's burning up with it, his hands shaking and his ribs tender from the warmth his heart is giving off. Barry's constantly overwhelmed with how lucky that it's Lup he gets to spend all this time with. There's a dream he has where he's holding Lup's hand, and then he sees Lup on the ground running after the ship desperately- but they're leaving without her, and he knows suddenly that the cycle won't reset, she's going to die, permanently- and he turns to see the person's hand he's holding is Taako's. Taako, who's grinning that tiny brittle smile. The fuck you smile. Barry drops his hand and starts beating at the window, because now he is in a cube made out of windows, and he's watching Taako and Lup wave at him as the Starblaster leaves.

He wakes up with his fist pressed into his mouth, blankets wrapped around his legs, Lucretia leaning over his face. 

"Hey," she says, drawing back. Her hands flutter nervously. Barry remembers her Grandmother got sick a lot back at home, and she would be the one to take care of her more often then not. Lucretia, he thinks, has always been taking care of people.

"Thanks for waking me up. Nightmare."

"I- Yeah. I could hear. Just because I was walking by, I don't think you woke anyone else. So don't. Worry about that."

Lucretia stands up and smiles quickly before closing the door gently behind her, her bare feet (because none of them wear shoes after Davenport's There-Is-Dirt-Covering-My-Important-Research tirade, except for Merle, who wears crocs) silent on the floor as she goes.

On the cycle where they pick up the voidfish, where Lup and Barry play a duet that brings tears to his eyes, Barry thinks that something about the silence after they've played and when they're waiting for the fish to either reject or project the song feels the same as the silence that Lucretia leaves behind her. There is something anticipatory about it. Then Barry loses the thought because music is in his head, music, their music, the music that says, for everybody, forever, I love Lup- and Barry's laughing, overflowing with it, hoisting Lup above him and spinning her around and around. Her hair whips behind her like a cape. Her eyes are fixed on the clouds and then they slowly lower to him, and time doesn't so much freeze as there is nothing that matters, nothing at all, like she does. 

Magnus' duck and Merle's dance weren't really Barry's thing, but he'd die before he'd tell either of them. Barry always believed in letting things grow where they're planted, and he sees the potential for Magnus to carve gardens. And it's hard to mock Merle, no matter how stupid he looks, when his face is so calm and simply happy.

But something about Taako's- Barry doesn't even know, sayings? Something about them is hard to accept, like the students seem to do. They're sweet things, nice sayings with a good message, but something about Taako's delivery sinks like black ink into Barry's tongue and stains it. Taako just seems so inauthentic, like he doesn't believe a word that he's saying and he finds it hilarious that everyone else has bought into it. And Barry knows that he's heard a few of them before somewhere, but maybe it's just because Taako's said them around him before? Barry wants to think that. He always wants to think the best of people. He always wants to love Taako, and Taako even lets him sometimes.

There's a night a couple cycles after that when Barry's trying to isolate the chemicals making up the water of the current planet, and he's so tired he can barely stand up, when he stumbles into the kitchen to grab a glass of water and comes back to the table to find Taako in his chair, sipping daintily on what looks like a margarita, looking immaculate and concerned.

"Barold, jean man," grins Taako. "Lup's forgotten your face. Time fades behind us. It's been 17 years since you went to sleep."

"Uh, sorry-" 

"Magnus has mistaken you for a statue you've been zonked out here for so long." He folds his left leg over his right one and kicks back the chair, still somehow remaining upright, and levels a bemused glance down at Barry's rumpled clothing.

"Yeah, I know. It's just that if we can isolate the chemical root of this water then there's a possibility that I could create a whole new element, not to mention that this really precise magical, kinda, extraction thing, would be really good practice for when-" Barry cuts himself off. He knows Lup hasn't told Taako the plan yet. Taako's eyes narrow but he thankfully doesn't pursue it.

"How about this. You go to bed in a different room from my sister, I know your game, and I'll do something for you later. You won't even need to give me something in return. Generous, I know, I just give and give and give, I'm a saint."

Barry laughs, and scrubs his face. He needs to shave again. And a nap sounds nice. "Yeah, thanks man. It's just hard to get my head out of the zone once I'm in it."

Scooping up all the papers and journals into a pile in his arms, Barry feels the weight of Taako's stare on his back and he turns curiously. Taako's face is gentle in a way that Barry hardly ever sees around anyone who isn't Lup. 

"Look." Taako says. "You're one of the six people that matter, alright?"

Barry slams his foot into the table leg in his haste to turn around and gawk, and Taako watches him do it. The Starblaster engine whirs a little bit, which Barry and Lup figured out it does when it's reacting to a bond in some way.


"You won't hear it again! That was all the Taako affection I could dish out right now!" He waves a dismissive hand, flicking the tip of his nail right at the end. It's the kind of mannerism you'd expect from a Queen. "We're on a tight schedule! Get the light, get the fuck out! Go to bed!" 

It's been more then seventy years since the start of the journey, and Taako's eyes are twinkling in amusement, the ends of his face crinkled. He looks a little bit like Lup, but he mostly looks like something all his own. Barry hugs him. There's a second, and then Taako squeezes him back and shoves him roughly away, so fast it was like it never happened.

Lup rolls over sleepily as Barry pads into her room and tucks himself under her arm. It's completely dark because she can't sleep if there's even the tiniest amount of light. Barry, who used to be scared of the dark, has needed to get used to a few things when they started sleeping together. Lup readjusts herself, yawning, until the back of Barry's legs are pressed against the top of hers, his head tucked under her chin, with Lup's arm slung over his hips and fisted into the front of his sleep shirt.

"G'night Loopy," Barry whispers, loving her.

She drops a tiny kiss into the top of his fringe, and hums quietly. Lup smells like smoke and dark chocolate and pine needles. He wants to grow old with her. He wants to marry her. He imagines Merle officiating, Magnus being the ring bearer, an uncomfortable Davenport being pressured into being the flower person. Lucretia would be his best man, and Taako would probably give Lup away. If he proposed, would she like it if he made her a ring? The only ring-like object they have currently on the Starblaster are Magnus' Cheerio’s. Barry tries to imagine himself proposing to Lup, the love of his life, with a Cheerio, and then he's laughing, kicking Lup accidently, cackling because she might even still say yes, she might even think it was funny. She's perfect. She's so perfect.

The day that Barry gives Lup is just as much for him as it is for her. She gives him a day, a separate thing that she planned, but he could've sustained until the end of time as a litch with just ten minutes of the day he gives Lup.

Being litches is a different thing entirely from being people. Barry sees it in Lup's face, and feels it in himself. Floating out of his body and existing in that one moment of instability, that moment of terror and elation and hunger like he's never before felt- and then thinking, stabilizing, holding out his hands and meeting Lup's eyes. Thinking. Yes. This is our chance. He can feel the wind like a stream through his immaterial body and feels powerful and stable. It's like being untethered from weakness. When he waves at Taako it's actually a shock to see how scared he looks, the only time Barry can remember seeing Taako scared. Terrified, even from this distance, like he's petrified of what Lup and Barry have become. Barry knows it's only because he doesn't understand it fully, but it's startling. He drops back into his body and a second later so does Lup. They make eye contact as people again, as changed people, and Lup's blushing, sparkling, her whole self jittering with pride and elation that what they did actually worked, is going to save them.

And it does. She blows up a column of the Hunger next time it appears, and Barry wants to yell and yell, yes, YES, they're doing it, they're so fucking close--

But they're not. And then they are again.

"So I'm making a fun little transmutation jump starter, Lup's thing is like, here's some fire, and then we've got Merle's 'nature rocks,' sash, Davenport's insta-illusion, Magnus rolls up like, I don't know, here's a cup? That stops time? Then Lucretia makes a stick. Sure. Rock on. But Barry. Barold, 'lemme real quick rip out your soul and hop in-ta your body,' Bluejeans-"

"-Good point. Barry, I'm not really sure why-" 

"-Like, we do plan to give these objects to real actual people-"

"-Fuck off! Davenport's thing creates matter out of thin air, and you really breezed over Magnus stopping time!" 

It's funny and then the objects are out in the world, and it's instantly not funny.

When they're nearing the end of the first year of their new homes and discussing with one another what to do next, Barry's wondering if it's time to suggest to Lup that they buy a house together. He's only ever lived with his Mom before, and then the Starblaster, but he wants to share his life with Lup. He wants to give her everything he has. He wants to buy things for her to blow up, find things for her to learn, steal kisses off her soft mouth and make her feel love like she could've never thought existed. He imagines picking out paint colours together, arguing about what tiles to put on the bathroom. He still hasn't proposed but he could probably find a ring now, if he wanted to.

It's hard to imagine Lup being that domestic though. It's hard for Barry to even picture himself in a bathrobe. A long time ago, before they went through an eternity that didn't count, Barry could have probably been the kind of person that could care about buying groceries and changing light bulbs. Now it seems unthinkable, unreal, in the face of the crushing guilt and just the weariness of age that burdens him. It gets to Lup, he can tell, sees her grief in the tepidness of her smiles. Lup was never built for grief. She was built for exploration and for fireworks and for running, running, running, laughing until her chest hurts. 

"Lup," Barry says, and he has it, suddenly, and he's holding her hands in the kitchen of the same party where Merle is trying to dance so he doesn't feel anything, "Let's go travelling. We'll take the money we have saved, we'll just get on a bus-"

Her face lights up slowly like the sun dawning. "Yes," she answers, teeth bright white, hands tightening on his, "Throw a dart at a map, fuck-"

The same party where thirty minutes later Taako tells him that all people are dust. Barry feels him slipping out of gear. This is the Taako that had to harden himself from loss until all that was left inside him was room for bitterness and Lup. Barry remembers him saying, you're one of the six people that matter. He feels hysterical. He feels like something huge and reckless, something monstrous, something hungry, is clawing it's way out of his chest.

Back soon.
It's now later.

Barry is so exhausted he can feel stones tied to his ribs. A week after the paper has stayed on the counter and Lup has stayed gone, Taako finds Barry slumped in a pile of book.

"Get ya' fuckin' coat." Taako demands. "We're going."

They pour over maps. They try all manner of tracking spell, then move on to all manner of wanted ads, like Lup is some kind of lost cat instead of the most important person in both their lives, and then they're out in the world themselves. Barry managed to bond with the others as they meandered through the early cycles and then solidified that bond in the tough grit of the later cycles, but now he's growing close with Taako because they're staying up late together, missing meals together, in sync with one another as Taako throws him another map with potential cities circled on it and Barry catches it without looking, using the hand that's not hanging tight to the cow charm Lup bought him, almost eighty years ago. 

When they develop shorthand and inside jokes they're deeply unfunny jokes like, "Imagine how hard this would be if Lup were a subtle person." They finish each other's sentences. Sentences like.

"Let me grab my-"

"-Coat, I'll be there in a second. Did you pack the-"

"-List of names, I'm not an idiot-"

Everything said between them reminds Barry of an unfinished conversation that they constantly pick up and drop again. They work in the Starblaster constantly. It's one of the most intense periods of Barry's life. They fit their bodies around each other awkwardly at first, and then they're too tired to keep up the pretence of shame. Barry gets Taako glasses of water when he gets himself some, and Taako makes Barry laugh so hard he almost cries with a breakdown of the type of clothes they can expect Lup to be buying for herself without Taako's guiding influence. Together they sweep through the land with a vicious single-mindedness that feels like a mockery of the trip Barry and Lup and been briefly planning together.

"I keep catching you staring at me." Taako tells Barry, while they're waiting for the elevator to come to the lobby floor of the museum of necromantic artifacts that they're investigating. "Is it because I look like Lup? That's fine homie, just tell me. But the stares you're firing my direction on the sly are starting to freak me out." 

Really he's been staring at Taako because there's jam on his lip and Barry's been trying to find a tactful way to bring it up for the last several hours, but he frowns.

"You and Lup look nothing alike."

"We're identical."

The elevator beeps but they're staring at each other, frowning. Taako looks almost offended. Barry pushes past him and hits the top button. They're trying to find the manager, and they've found that the staff doors on the top usually lead to the paper pushing offices that lead to people that have access to security cameras, whereas the lower down floors just have janitorial closets. 

"Physically you're. Uh. Really close?"

Taako snorts and the tension in the elevator releases. "You're hopeless."

Barry grins and says, "There's jam on your face."

The lead doesn't pan out, and the next lead doesn't pan out, and all traces of levity that they've still managed to hold onto slip through their fingers to be replaced by a level of desperation and panic akin to that which they felt when the Hunger killed one of them for the first time, back during that first cycle when they didn't know that time would reset. Barry starts to feel obsessed. He sleeps and dreams of Lup and wakes up and dreams of Lup. They look in towns, in fields, in dungeons, in oceans, in forests. They track down people who answered the classified ads and pick their brains until everyone involved wants to scream of frustration. Time flows until a year has passed and Barry can only think that the reason they haven't found Lup is because she doesn't want to be found and- 

"How's it goin'?" Taako asks. He meanders into the kitchen with a juice box held daintily with two fingers, but it's a weak imitation of a saunter. His hair's pulled up into a dirty ponytail, clearly slept in, and his sleep bags are just as pronounced as Barry's. Barry, who hadn't even realized he was falling asleep, jerks awake.

"Uh sorry, I- Sorry, um. There's a dungeon out beyond the Felicity Wilds? It's this subterranean. Demonic keep? Thing, and there's a bunch of arcane energy coming off it. I was gonna check it out tonight if you wanted to come with." He asks because he feels it's rude to assume, but there hasn't been a single time that they didn't go together. Sure enough, Taako sets down the juice box and wanders up to the map, frowning blearily down at the circles they'd marked last night to indicate where they'd already searched.

"Mhm, yeah- Remind me how far is that in relation to the last glassing?"

"I triangulated it here." Barry points and Taako traces along Barry's hand until he's reached it. His shadow even looks exhausted. Something pulses in Barry's head like the start of a headache, and he takes a step back. 

"Yeah. Seems as good a place as any. Do you want to do the usual? I'll go down and start casting around, see if I can pick up anything, and then you start talking to folks?" 

It works better that way because Barry is bad at finding clues and Taako is bad at being gentle with people. "Sure." Barry sighs. "I mean. It hasn't worked before, but it's got to work one of these times?"

Taako scoops his juice box back up and wanders back toward the kitchen. For some reason Barry feels like if he leaves he'll be gone forever, and his head hurts, and he feels like something's slipping away, something important, maybe? And without really meaning to, he blurts- 

"Taako, what if she's just gone?"

Taako stills. He's framed perfectly in the kitchen doorway, backlit. A silhouette. Posed with a hip cocked to the side and ponytail soft down his back. And then he turns and something in his face is still and terrible. It is still and terrible because it's absolutely void of grief.


Barry's heart stops in his chest. Taako looks like he did before he gave a shit about Barry. He looks like he did when he calmly told Barry that he hadn't cared about a single person other then them for the last ninety five years.

"Ta- Taako, I'm-" And now his heart's making up for lost time, crashing against his body like it's trying to smash out of it. His hands are shaking. He wants to use them to put Taako back together, but he can't make himself move.

"What if who's gone?" Taako's watching Barry flounder and fall apart, a disinterested yawn slipping out. He looks like a minimum wage employee helping out a parent at the lost child desk. Something about him is so familiar? Which-

"Oh God, Lup- Taako, I'm, I can't remember her face- Taako, Taako, where-"

"Who's face?"

"Is this fisher?" Barry thinks aloud, but the only way that that could've happened is if he got the notebook of. Of, whoever it was that wrote things down. He spends a couple seconds chasing that thought, and then it doesn't matter because he's only putting off what he knows has to happen. He's not scared anymore, just desperate for this ordeal to be over quickly.

"Taako! K- Kill me! Right now! I'll remember if I'm a litch, I can- Please, Taako," and some part of Barry is remembering that conversation, you won't even need to give me something in return, and he's pleading to Taako's indifferent face, Taako's bemused fuck you, brittlebrittle grin, "Just kill me, I- I'll- It'll be okay, I can't forget, I'm begging you, please, Taako! Please!" 

Before he's even got through Taako's name for that last time, he's moving. He hits the Starblaster deck railing before he registers the burning pain in his abdomen, the tiny scrunch of confusion in Taako's eyebrows as he blasts this, to him, total stranger. There's no pain, or there is but Barry's mind doesn't pick up on it because he's so fucking relieved to remember Lup, her pointy teeth, her long fingers, her Bambi eyelashes.

Head rush. Or the litch equivalent. He has a last glimpse of Taako, flicking out his hand to examine a nail with an air of detached befuddlement, and then he's looking at the stars.

Barry's falling through space, off the Starblaster, dying, or dead already, and it's at that moment that he realizes what it was that struck him as off about Taako's statement, apart from the implication that only six people in all of the universe and time mattered. 

There was seven of them.

There's only one of him now.