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Safe and Sound

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Lup was trying her best to not appear as excited as she actually was. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed or anything like that, she just didn’t want to do this whole song and dance with her brother again. She loved him, he was the one solid constant through her life and her heart, but damn if his teasing didn’t get a little old sometimes.

Even if he insisted he wasn’t actually teasing her that much, that she doth protest too much and all that junk. It wasn't that, and with anyone else she would have written it off and not thought about it twice. Taako knew her better than she knew herself sometimes though, so the fact that he was that far off the mark was a little weird.

Lup had absolutely no idea where Taako had gotten the idea that she was in love with Barry from to begin with. She swore it wasn’t true, and every knowing look Taako gave her was just way off base.

The thing was, Lup and Taako had never had a lot of friends growing up. It was kind of hard to make them and even harder to keep them moving in and out of relatives homes, and then in and out of foster homes when they ran out of family willing to pretend to give a shit. People didn’t bother to stick when you’re a kid and only in a place for maybe a year at most. Eventually they got tired of trying. They had each other, and in the end that was all they needed. Lup would say that was how it was with everyone, but there was one person who didn't fit that mold.

Barry was the one exception.

It probably helped that they met him while staying with their aunt. It was the longest either of the twins could remember staying in one place, and it was also the best by far. Even still, at twelve they were already starting to give up on the concept of trying to get to know any of the other people around them. They knew enough at that point to know that no place was going to be permanent. That sooner or later they’d get shuffled off to the next home and any tentative relationships they’d tried to develop would be cut short.

Lup had always been the more social out of the two of them though. Sure, Taako loved his time in the spotlight, but when it came to actually needing people he was quicker at cutting out everyone but her. Lup always found herself lingering just those few seconds longer, making just one more attempt to reach out, even when she didn’t realize she was doing it.

Barry had lived two doors down from their aunt, but Lup hadn’t known that when she first started talking to him. All she knew was that he was the nerdy kid who sat in front of her and Taako in school, who Lup would whisper teasing things about to her brother, just loud enough for him to definitely hear. An easy target that Lup, in all her twelve year old decision making skills, saw more as a source of amusement than a person with feelings. Definitely not a potential friend.

That changed very suddenly one day, when he went punching right through the barrier she’d begun building up around herself. Literally punching.

Lup hated social studies, because it was the only class she didn’t share with Taako. She didn’t actually mind the subject at all, in fact she liked it. Teachers were usually pretty surprised how well her and Taako did in school, how much they managed to absorb despite their constant whispering and fidgeting. They were fucking smart, and they liked to show that off.

Except Lup didn’t care much about that if she wasn’t able to stay with her brother, at least not at that age for sure. So, Lup tended to skip her social studies class more often than not. She’d skipped that day. Honestly, she’d skipped so much she hadn’t even realized Barry was also in her social studies class. So she had no idea where he was supposed to be when she saw him in the hallway.

Wherever it was though, she figured it wasn’t caught between three older students, getting shoved around and made fun of. Sure, she’d made a fast habit of teasing Barry already, but this was different. She never pushed him, and the stuff she said about him she didn’t think was actually bad. Sure, he was a nerd, and she called him out whenever he acted like one, but so were her and Taako! They just didn’t show it as much, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. It was one of the things that made Barry funny to her, and not in a bad way. She liked it.

Whoever these assholes were clearly didn't see it that way. It was obvious that they thought they were better than him because of it, and that sent Lup's blood boiling.

Needless to say, Lup wasn’t the best at controlling her impulses at twelve. She’d gotten a hell of a lot better, but at the moment she was pissed. Without thinking twice she went up and punched the next one to put his hands on Barry in the gut, catching all of them off guard.

She’d expected it to be a one on three fight. She did hate to get in fights without Taako, but she’d accepted that fate the second she’d come stomping up in a rage.

Except when one of them tried to grab her by the hair, instead of cowering in the corner or running away like she’d expected, Barry was next to her, swinging his fist right into the asshole’s face. There was a small moment of shock from everyone, Barry seeming the most surprised of them all.

Unfortunately the moment had not lasted long, and the fight did not actually end that well for the two of them. Afterwards Lup was nursing a nasty black eye and Barry had actually managed to lose a tooth. Lup could remember it all clear as day, sitting slumped in a chair while the nurse bustled about, chastising them. She tried her best to look dejected, Barry not having to try at all from the looks of it. As soon as the nurse left to go call their guardians Lup let the grin she'd been fighting back show, turning to Barry. He still looked on the edge of a panic attack.

"That was awesome," she said, adjusting the ice on her eye some. Barry looked at her like she was insane, which wasn't an unusual thing at this point. Lup was used to people looking at her like that, even at that age.

"Are you crazy? We're in so much trouble. What if we get suspended? Oh god, what if we get expelled?" he asked, and Lup frowned some at that. If Barry was worried about that, then he probably wasn't hurt that bad physically, which was all that concerned her. She spent a second looking him over, the pathetic terrified look on his face, the bruises already forming and the empty gap in his mouth his tongue kept poking. After a moment she shook her head decisively.

"Nah, you won't get expelled. I don't think they'll even suspend you. It's your first offense and you're all weepy, and you didn't even throw the first punch," she said with confidence. Barry actually looked a little less worried at that, and then an expression Lup couldn't read fell over his face.

"What about you though?" he asked, and Lup scoffed at that.

"Oh, they'll definitely suspend me. That's not even a question," she said. It really wasn't, this wasn't the first fight she'd had. The staff already didn't like her and Taako for so many reasons. This was just another excuse for them to get rid of her for a few days. To her surprise, Barry actually looked even more worried when she said that.

"But- but you were defending me. If we explain what happened they might-" he started, but Lup shook her head before he could finish.

"Nah, I mean, you can try if you really wanna, but I doubt they'll listen. They aren't all that fond of me and Taako," she said. Barry looked hesitant at that, and it was quiet for a moment. From the other room Lup could just hear the nurse on the phone, although she had no idea if it was with her aunt or Barry's mom.

"Thanks, by the way. For helping me. I kinda thought you guys hated me," Barry mumbled after a moment, and that caught Lup's attention.

"What? No, you're great," she said, and Barry looked really confused at that. She guessed it made sense, she never expected anyone to get her other than Taako after all. Still, she hadn't thought the gap would be that wide. She thought Barry was fun, she figured he'd get that.

Before either of them could say anything else though the door was suddenly shoved open. They could hear the nurse shouting, and instead of her coming back into the room Taako ran in.

"Who do we need to kill?" he asked immediately, looking like he'd ran all the way here. At that Lup grinned, slinging an arm around a confused Barry's shoulders and getting an equally befuddled look from her brother. It wasn't often that she could catch him off guard, and it was always a delight when she could.

"No need, we already took care of it," she said. At that the nurse came back in, snapping at Taako for not listening to her. Lup had figured that would be the start of the two of them getting suspended for this. That wasn't what happened though.

Instead, Barry started crying. He started going on about how these guys had been messing with him for so long, and he'd been too scared to say anything. Then lying, about how he had been the one to drag Lup into it, asking her to help him walk to class since they had social studies together and he was too worried to go alone. All this stuff on how it was his fault and he didn't mean for any of it to happen and to please not punish her for it.

It actually ended up working, the administration coming in at some point to dole out punishment and getting subjected to Barry's rant as well. Lup actually found herself a little speechless, and so did Taako. Neither of them could think of a time someone else had tried to protect them like that.

As far as Lup was concerned they were friends after that. She didn’t expect it to last, she knew that sooner or later her and Taako would leave, and she figured that Barry would forget about them like everyone else did. Even when they stayed a bit longer than usual, almost two whole years, nearly two years as a trio instead of a duo, eventually it came time to leave.

It actually hurt when they got the news. Their aunt's health had declined too much to keep looking after them. They were heading off to some cousin’s place half a state away. Lup had forgotten the other reason they didn’t like making friends. They never stayed, and when they actually found someone they liked it sucked having to leave them behind. And by that point, they both really fucking liked Barry. The three of them that obnoxious type of inseparable, their teachers sure those darn twins were such a bad influence on sweet, quiet Barry.

Barry was just as bad as they were though, the only difference was that he was quieter about it. Lup didn’t think they were bad influences for bringing him out of his shell. He was a damn good liar too.

None of that really mattered though, because Lup figured that’d be the end of their little trio. Even when Barry begged for their new address, assuring them that he’d write them as much as possible, that as soon as they had a phone he’d call too. Lup gave him the information, not actually thinking anything would come of it. It wasn’t that she thought Barry didn’t care, that just wasn’t how it worked. They left, and people forgot about them, and the world kept turning.

And then a week after moving into their cousin’s place they got a letter. It was the first time either of them had actually gotten any mail addressed to them, and Lup could remember reading it over and over again in stunned shock, until she had the whole damn two page document memorized.

Barry had actually remembered them.

They kept up with the letters for a while, until Lup and Taako had gotten their first jobs and were able to afford phones of their own. After that texting and calling became a pretty regular thing. Each call or message a pleasant reminder, sending a shadow of that same warm delight that had ran through her as when she’d received that very first letter.

Barry had never forgotten them. Lup had reached out, and even though it would have been easier, Barry had bothered to reach back. To continue to bridge that gap even when he didn’t have to, to the point where Lup no longer worried that one day he would disappear. A simple assurance that he would be there, just like she knew Taako would always be there.

Despite that though, neither of them had actually seen Barry since they had first moved away. Sure, they had seen pictures, did the occasional video call later on, but visiting just wasn’t an option. Lup and Taako still hadn’t ever managed to stay in a single place long enough to know if it was worth trying to visit, and it wasn’t like any of them had the money anyway. Sure, Barry certainly had a more stable life than they had, but being raised by a single widow didn’t exactly spell for a lot of extra spending money.

But that was going to change today, after what was damn near a fucking decade. Lup and Taako weren’t helpless kids getting shuffled around by the whims of the system anymore. They could finally decide where they wanted to go.

And where they wanted to go, to absolutely no surprise to anyone who actually knew shit about them, was to college. They sure as hell were smart enough, and a story like theirs did wonders for the scholarship money.

There was no reason not to talk to Barry about it. He had become a stable pillar in their lives, one of the very few, so of course they included him in on it. Of course all three of them had decided without much hesitation to try and get into the same college. And of course, once they had settled on a place they all got in with fucking flying colors.

So yeah, Lup was pretty damn excited about today. She was going to get to see her best friend, the one person she considered a constant in her life other than Taako, for the first time since she was thirteen years old. Of course she was excited. She knew Taako was just as excited as she was, Barry was his best friend too.

The difference was she hadn’t been giving Taako any knowing smirks or teasing jabs for the past two weeks. She hadn’t somehow gotten it into her head years ago that her brother was in love with Barry and refused to let the idea go.

Somewhere along the line Taako had though, somehow managing to insist she had feelings for Barry without ever actually saying that’s what he was doing. It definitely was though, and no matter what Taako insisted she wasn’t projecting and she certainly didn’t actually have feelings for him. He was just her best friend in the whole damn world.

Lup tried to push all those thoughts to the back of her mind for now though. She wasn’t letting anything dumb like that ruin this, not able to wipe the grin from her face as her and Taako made their way to the chosen meeting place. It was just outside of the campus coffee shop, seeming a pretty easy place to find and a decent enough area to sit at and catch up.

“We said two right?” Lup asked as they reached the area, heading over to the low wall out front of the coffee shop and sitting down. Taako followed along right beside her, nodding as he pulled out his phone.

“Yes, give the nerd five minutes,” he said, which was fair. It had literally just turned two, and they weren’t usually as punctual as this.

“Barry isn’t typically late though,” she said, which was something she knew despite not having met the guy in nine years. In response Taako held his phone up to her face, displaying a clock that still said 2:00pm on the dot.

“That would be because he’s not,” he said, which was true but it didn’t feel that way. As Lup was pouting at the time she saw an incoming text flash across his screen at the same time she felt her own phone buzz in her pocket. Taako turned it around to actually read it, so Lup pulled her's out. She didn’t have to check to know it was Barry.

Reading the message Lup couldn’t help but snort, and she could feel a stupid, fond smile spread across her face.

“Fucking dork,” she said, rolling her eyes. It read that he’d be a few minutes late. He spent ten minutes looking for his shoes for them to be under his coat that accidentally fell on the floor.

“He’d probably let you,” Taako said, not looking at her as he was occupied on his phone. Instead of justifying that with a response, Lup simply reached out and pushed him off the fucking wall. He made a satisfying squawk as he went over, and Lup did not feel sorry for him in the least as he pulled himself back up. “Yeah okay, I deserved that one,” he said as he sat back down, and Lup just nodded.

It honestly wasn’t that much longer when Lup finally caught sight of Barry coming around a corner a few buildings down. He looked like he’d been running most of the way here, which wasn’t much of a surprise. Immediately Lup felt a smile start to spread across her face as she stood up.

“Found our nerd,” she said brightly, catching Taako’s attention. As soon as Barry caught sight of them Lup watched his face shift from mild panic to a delighted, still somewhat nervous grin, his pace picking up despite how tired he already looked. When he finally stopped in front of them he almost doubled over panting, a grin still plastered all over his face.

“Sorry about- sorry to keep you guys waiting. Swear I almost just came here barefoot,” he said, and it wasn’t like they didn’t talk on the phone all the time. Lup knew what he sounded like. Despite that, there was something about hearing him without the distortion of the phone or voice call, of seeing him clear as day in front of her, that made her chest feel full.

Fucking hell she missed him.

“We appreciate you not doing that my dude,” Taako said, and despite his attempt at appearing casual Lup could hear the smile in his voice as well.

Before any of them could say another word Lup closed the distance between them, wrapping Barry up in as big of a hug as she could. It seemed to catch him off guard, it taking a moment before he actually responded and hugged her back. When she pulled back she was definitely grinning from ear to ear.

“So, you’re still a huge dork, good to know,” she said, and Barry laughed at that.

“You guys are still pretty good at hiding what big nerds you are, also good to know,” he said, and it was nice. Knowing that despite how long it had been since they’d actually seen each other it didn’t actually feel like it. That somehow all of them fell back into place like they’d never left each others lives, and in a way they really hadn’t.

They managed to corral Taako into a hug after that, despite her brother’s half-hearted protests. After that they headed into the coffee shop. They had to force Barry to get almond milk in his drink, and Lup could barely remember her own as they all sat and talked. They were definitely too loud for the other people in there, but she couldn’t really give a fuck.

Like, Lup knew she missed Barry. She was deeply aware of this fact in the pages of letters they’d wrote each other as kids, in the way she’d fallen asleep on the phone talking to him late into the night, in how she’d spring up to immediately answer every text he sent. Of course she knew she missed him.

Somehow though, she didn’t realize just how much until he was in front of her again. Until she saw him laughing so hard at something dumb Taako said that he snorted ice coffee out of his nose and had his face full of napkins for the next five minutes.

When he finished his drink, he tossed the empty plastic cup at Taako’s head in retribution, and Lup suddenly found herself fighting back the urge to reach over and pull his smug, adorable face into a kiss.

Fuck.

Taako might have been right after all.

She might have just the tiniest little crush on Barry.