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Palliative

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Just moments ago, Lup had been in pain. She had felt herself fading, finally fading. And now she stood with Barry’s arms around her and Taako. Clearly, if Taako let Barry hug him, she’d missed something big.

She took a deep breath, amazed that she could fill her lungs without that burning sensation taking over. Cautiously, she raised her arms to hug Barry back. When that didn’t hurt, she finally let herself relax.

She was okay. It was over.

Taako tensed beside her. Barry let them go and instead cupped Lup’s face in both of his hands. She could see his eyes scanning her features, as if trying to memorize them. Lup smiled gently and rested her own hand on his.

She saw Taako shift and turned to him just in time for him to envelop her in a tight embrace. Barry stepped back, giving them some space. “Hey, Koko,” Lup whispered.

"Alright gang," Davenport called back from his place behind the wheel, "We've got a lot to do to get settled in. Let's get to work. Lup, it's good to have you back."

"Good to be back, Captain." Lup grinned. Taako gave her one final squeeze before letting go, and she leaned over to place a gentle kiss on Barry’s cheek.

--

The rest of the day passed by in a busy haze. This world seemed to be inhabited; they could see lights glowing on the horizon and the shapes of domed buildings in the distance. Davenport set the ship down in a harvested field.

Taako spent the entire day arm-in-arm with Lup. And Lup understood, but by the time night rolled around she was more than ready to spend some time with Barry. She hadn’t had a moment alone with him since she came back. She hadn’t even been given the chance to kiss him.

“Sorry that took so long, babe. Had to tell Koko I’d chill with him tomorrow.” She quietly closed the door to their room, throwing Barry an apologetic look. “But I’m here now. How you holdin’ up? Ready to catch up on some smoochin’?” With a sigh, she flopped down onto the bed beside him.

Barry stayed silent, and Lup’s tired smile fell. He looked at her as if she were a ghost, his eyes wide. Lup pushed herself up. “Hey,” she whispered, “I’m right here.”

He pulled her wordlessly into a hug and took a shaky breath against her. Lup wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him the best she could. “You wanna talk?”
Barry nodded, straightening up a little. He touched her hair softly and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Sorry." He cleared his throat. "It’s... It's been a really hard year, Lup. Really hard. I don't know what you think about what happened, or how much you remember, but… It wasn't good."

Lup straightened up with him, concern clear on her face. She remembered burning, her lungs and her body on fire. She remembered each movement shooting more pain through her body, and she remembered being unable to escape. She remembered death coming as a relief. "I... I remember how bad I was hurting Bar, but that's about it. I'm sure it wasn't great to see. Was that it? Or...?"

Barry’s face fell. He took her hands in his and stared at them, rubbing his thumbs over her skin methodically. “I kept stabilizing you with spare the dying and y-you, um… Kept screaming and things were bad, and you kept saying 'please.' And I killed you, Lup. I-I thought that's what you were telling me, and things were bad. And now… I don't know. If you don't remember, I don't know what that means."

At first, all Lup could give him was a soft "oh." She pulled his hand into her lap instead and traced circles along his palm, trying to keep both of them grounded. "Bar... It was the worst pain I've ever felt, and you know that's saying something. I definitely wanted it to end."

"I wish I could've saved you," he muttered. "I buried you and went back alone and… and Taako almost killed me and I probably would've been okay with it." He sighed, his shoulders sagging. "Things got a little easier as the year went on, but… Things weren't good, and just… Fuck, I missed you."

Lup's hand stalled. "Taako what?"

Barry looked up and touched her knee gently “It's really not a big deal, Lup, I promise."

"Bar, you say that about a lot of things that actually are a big deal." She caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. "What did he do?"

He stuttered for a moment before finally finding his words. "When I got back, he beat me up a bit and Magnus had to step in. And then for a few weeks he used dairy in his cooking so I couldn't eat with everyone. Which was honestly fine, after the first time I just ate alone because I was depressed anyways.” Then, as if it would lessen the blow, he quickly added, “And Davenport intervened, and we worked it out and were good friends again for the rest of the cycle."

Lup's mouth fell open. Her body shook with anger. "Oh, no fucking way that's gonna fly."

Barry's brows knit together and he took both of her hands in his again and squeezed them. "Lup, we were both hurting. We worked it out and talked about it and supported each other the rest of the cycle. It's okay, it's over now. Please."

"I don't care how much he was hurting, Barry!" She shook her head. "I shouldn't have to worry about my brother killing my boyfriend when I kick the bucket!"

"Lup, just… Wait until tomorrow to talk to him. Please. That was so long ago and we worked it out. Davenport helped us work it out."

Lup tried to calm down, for Barry's sake. But it hurt. It felt like her brother had gone behind her back and betrayed her. She was supposed to be able to rely on him like she always had. She thought he liked Barry. "I don't think I'm going to be able to calm down, Bar," she sighed, "This is a big deal."

Barry chewed on his bottom lip. "I know it seems like that. And… I mean, it is. But getting angry at him isn't going to fix it. It already happened and we moved on." He brought her hand up and pressed it against his face, leaning into it and turning to kiss her palm. "Please just wait until tomorrow. This cycle was so hard for both of us and… we're both tired and so happy to have you back."

It had only been a second for Lup, but it had been months for Taako and Barry. Life had gone on without her. Finally, she managed a whisper. "You promise you two are over it?"

Barry put his arms around her and pulled her into his lap. She leaned against his chest, wanting to be as close to him as she could. He nodded. "I promise. We talked it over and he started cooking things I could eat again. We even hung out a lot this last year. He let me help him cook, and he hung out with me down in the lab. We're friends."

Lup forced herself to relax into him. "Okay. Okay, fine. I'll wait until tomorrow. But I'm still talking to him about it, because I need to be able to trust him to fucking behave when I'm not here."

Barry squeezed her and kissed the side of her head. "That's fine. I just know how hard it was for both of us and I just… Go easy on him, okay?"

"I'll tell you what," Lup grumbled, "it'll be an actual conversation instead of me kicking his ass. Okay?"

"Deal." he ran his fingers through her hair, catching some of the curls. "I never want to stop looking at you," he added gently.

Lup hummed contentedly, twisting around to face him. “What about kissing me? Do you wanna do that?”

“Yeah,” Barry chuckled, “I do.” He leaned in and kissed her, gentle and slow.

And then he started to tremble against her.

Lup pulled away, concerned. “Hey.”

Barry’s eyes fluttered open, and he shook his head. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for, Bar,” she whispered.

"Can we lay down? I want to hold you." he smiled, but it didn’t meet his eyes.

"Yeah. Whatever you need, babe." Lup's heart crumpled in her chest. She hated seeing Barry this upset.

He turned on his reading lamp before scooting down on the bed, and Lup nestled herself into his chest, facing him. “I know you probably wanted things to be a little more exciting in bed tonight. I just don't think I can right now." He wrapped his arms and legs around her. “I just… I just keep thinking about how you looked. How your eyes were open but you weren’t seeing me, and how your face was so twisted that you didn’t look like you. And I still hear your screams. I just…”

Lup pressed a finger to his lips. “It’s okay, babe. You’re fine.” She didn’t think she could handle talking about that right now. If anything, she’d been hoping for a distraction. This death had been particularly rough, and it had shaken her up more than she wanted to admit.

Barry needed her to be okay, and so she would be okay.

The laid in silence for a while. Lup hooked her arm around his waist and Barry rubbed her back. She tilted her chin up to kiss him, just a soft peck. Barry frowned after she pulled away. “Lup what’s wrong?”

"I'm just worried about you, babe," Lup sighed. She didn’t want to worry him, and so she wouldn’t give him any more than that. "That, and it's always a little disorienting coming back. You know?"

"Be honest with me, Lup. Please. It's been so long since I've seen you."

Her stomach sank. "I am being honest."

Barry searched her face for a moment. “I've had a lot of nightmares this last year. And just a hard time in general." He stroked her cheek with his thumb. "Really depressed for a lot of it. Some dissociation too, which is new."

Lup chewed her lip. "But it's over now." She said it for herself as much as she did for him. "I'm here."

He nodded. "I know, but... It still hurts. It's still gonna be awhile til the nightmares go away, probably.”

“I know.” She pulled him close to her again, taking in his smell. “I’ll do what I can to help. I’ll hold you while you sleep.”

Barry exhaled. "Dunno if I can sleep tonight. Last time I fell asleep next to you, I woke up to you dying." He laughed humorlessly and squeezed her tighter. "Was this one bad?" he asked quietly, "Compared to other times?"

Lup took a deep breath. "It was the worst," she said finally. "It was the worst pain I've ever felt."

Barry closed his eyes and shifted, his leg slipping over hers. "Do you think it's going to bother you?" When she hesitated, he added, “You can just say yes or no. We don't have to talk about it anymore."

Lup swallowed the lump in her throat. "Of course, it is."

He rubbed his thumb along the small of her back. "Will you promise tell me when it does?"

Lup hesitated. "I... Bar, right now I just need to make sure you're okay. Okay?"

"We have to both be okay, not just one of us." He pulled back to look at her with concern. "We have to be there for each other."

"Y-Yeah, but..." Lup shook her head. "You said we didn't have to talk about it."

Barry sighed, but nodded. "I did. You're right." She could hear his exhaustion. “Can we just hold each other like this? I’m tired, but I'm… A little scared, Lup. Of sleeping. And I want to keep feeling you breathe.”

"I'm scared, too, Bar," she whispered back. She wiggled a little closer to him, trying to take comfort in his warmth and his arms.

"Is the light on going to bother you?”

"No. It's fine." Usually, she would ask Barry to keep it dark. Even dim light could be too much with her darkvision. But tonight, she didn't plan on sleeping, so what did it matter?

"I love you, Lup.”

"I love you too, Bar," she hummed.

Lup held tightly onto Barry as he drifted off. Once he began to snore softly in her arms, she finally let herself release the tension she'd been holding. She curled into him, with her face in his chest, and let herself cry silently as he slept.

She stayed like this for a while before Barry jolted awake, terrified. "Lup?"

Lup steeled herself quickly, keeping her face hidden in his hair. "It's okay, Bar. I just moved a little bit. Didn't mean to wake you." She hoped his drowsiness would make her sound more convincing.

He shifted down until they were face-to-face. His chest rose and fell rapidly with tell-tale signs of panic.

"Deep breaths. It's okay." She smiled softly, slowing her own breathing.

He tried to copy her, but his breaths stayed shaky. He took her face in both of his hands. "I hope it's not like this for long." He started to laugh, but his face fell. No doubt he’d noticed the redness at the tip of her nose and eyes. "Were you crying?"

"Course not. Don't worry about it." She ran her fingers through his hair.

Barry pressed his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. "Do you trust me?" he asked sleepily.

"With my whole heart," Lup answered honestly. This wasn't a matter of trust. Lup just needed to work through this in a way that wouldn't hurt Barry any more. He’d been through so much already.

He kissed whatever part of her his mouth was closest to. He got just below her nose. "You were crying," he said. He sounded tired, but not accusing. He was just stating a fact. "S'alright." He adjusted himself to kiss her on the lips. "Can you try and sleep with me? Or are you staying up tonight?"

"Staying up. Maybe I'll try to meditate." She didn't want to think about the last time she fell asleep.

He nodded. "M'gonna try and sleep again. Here." he turned onto his back and opened his arms. "I can be a pillow. M'still pretty soft."

Lup didn't hesitate to curl up on his chest. "Go back to sleep, babe. I'll be right here."