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The Weight of Living

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Barry couldn't sleep. It wasn't all that unusual for him, to be honest. His sleep schedule had never been the most regular even before he became an archlich, and after that it got even worse. Sleeping in was a luxury, especially when Barry's brain wouldn't shut up at all hours of the day, be it from anxiety, new ideas he wanted to try out, or researching a case for work. It was the last one that saw him puttering around in the spacious kitchen of the sprawling house he, Taako, Lup, and Kravitz shared at three in the morning, his eyes itching from staring at maps and too many pages of small print font in preparation for their next bounty.

He looked blearily at the kettle as it slowly heated up on the stove, zoning out but not so much that he missed the sound of footsteps on the tiled floor behind him. "Can't sleep?" he asked, blinking a few times before turning to find Taako watching him. "Me either."

Taako huffed and then took a seat at the counter, hooking his heels around the rungs of one of the stools there. "Thought your passive perception was for shit."

Barry shrugged, turning to look more closely at his brother-in-law. "It's gotten better over the years." He took in the dark shadows under Taako's eyes, noting the way stress pulled at their corners. "What's on your mind, bud?"

Taako gave him a long look before glancing away, his arms crossing on the counter in front of him. "Ran into Lucretia today."

"Yeah? How'd that go?"

Taako shrugged, his shoulders rising and falling jerkily. "Okay, I guess." He fell silent for a long moment, fingers picking at loose threads on his long-sleeved sleep shirt. Barry turned back to the kettle, content in letting Taako work through whatever was on his mind. He had to quickly hide his grin when the silence was broken a minute or so later.

"How the fuck can you forget what she did and pretend like nothing happened?" Taako blurted out, his frustration clear in his voice.

Barry sighed and turned off the stove, leaving the kettle where it was. His tea could wait. "I didn't," he replied, turning to look at Taako once more. His answer seemed to have been unexpected, judging from Taako's confused expression. Barry leaned back against the nearby fridge, crossing his arms loosely over his chest.

"Forgiving isn't the same as forgetting," he said gently, and then held up a hand to stop Taako from interrupting. Taako subsided back on his stool, but only just. "Lucretia... I can see now that she acted out of desperation. She wasn't sure if it'd work, but she wanted to give us all a chance to rest and not have to worry about the Hunger coming for us. She didn't go about it the right way, obviously, but at the time, there didn't seem like there was much choice."

He rubbed at his chin, the gentle rasp of stubble against his scythe-callused palm reminding him that he needed to shave in the morning. "The way I look at it, you can deal with the situation with Lucretia like a broken leg. There's three different ways you can take care of one, but not all of them are gonna work out. You can ignore it, but it's going to heal wrong and cripple you. Sure, you can get around, but it's not going to be easy or worth your while. You can cut the leg off, but that's overkill unless the leg can't be saved at all, and I don't think it's at that point, even after everything that's happened. Finally, you can treat the wound, set it and wrap it in a cast to let it heal. It's going to take a while, and it'll still ache occasionally even once the cast is off, but over time, that ache's only going to pop up when it rains or when it gets too cold. It won't be the same as it was before it was broken- maybe you can't run as far or as fast -but it'll still be a whole leg again, able to get you around where you need to go.

"Lucretia made a lot of shitty choices, but all of us did. None of us will forget what happened to us. Lup and I both have nightmares about that decade. There are times where they get bad enough that neither of us sleep at all. It left marks on all of us, some more visible than others, and Lucretia wasn't left out of that. My advice? Don't cut her out of your life, but don't expect that things will go back to what they were before. Holding onto the past isn't going to help, but making a new future? It's gotta be worth it, Taako."

Barry fell silent, watching Taako process his words and then get up from his seat. Taako rounded the counter, coming to a halt in front of him. Barry pushed away from the fridge and held his hands out, letting Taako make the decision of what he wanted to do next. Taako stepped into his embrace, for once not muttering something about not telling anyone how mushy he was being.

Barry quietly ignored the hot tears he could feel dampening the fabric of his t-shirt, letting Taako get out his emotions in the safety of his arms and the hush of the night. Taako pulled away a minute or so later, a brief wiggle of his fingers banishing the tears from his cheeks as if they'd never been there. Barry smiled fondly at him and squeezed his shoulder gently.

"Go sleep. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

Taako nodded and then headed off back to the bedroom he shared with Kravitz without another word. Barry tidied up the kitchen before returning to his own bedroom, slipping in under the covers next to Lup. She immediately sought his warmth out even in her half-awake state, snuggling in and wrapping herself octopus-like around him. Barry smiled to himself and settled in to sleep, his thoughts quieting down for once.

It was a few weeks later when Lucretia visited them at the house, coming by to share a meal and catch up on what had happened since they'd last seen one another. Barry had heard from Kravitz that Taako had gone to visit Lucretia, but nothing much beyond that. He watched the two of them interact, the conversation more than a little stiff until Lup said something wild that caused Taako and Lucretia to make identical snorting sounds of disbelief. They exchanged cautious glances, much like cats warily sizing one another up, and then returned to the conversation, the atmosphere easing considerably.

Barry kept observing them throughout the meal, a sense of peace settling over him the longer it went on. His family was finally healing. Sure, it would take time and effort all around, but it was healing nonetheless, and if that wouldn't make him sleep soundly that night, he didn't know what else would.