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Learning to Breathe

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“Let’s go, let’s go!”

            “I’m driving as fast as I can!”

            “Well, drive faster!”

            “Caitlin –”

            “I need medical equipment now!

            Cisco rounded a corner and nearly threw Caitlin against the side of the van.  She was up again in a second, shining a light in Barry’s eyes, pulling back the eyelids with her thumb.  Joe was holding onto Barry’s hand, and he was starting to grip back, to shift and move and moan in pain.  He was completely naked, covered in blood.

            “Barry, can you hear me?” Caitlin asked.

            “It’s alright, Bar, it’s OK now,” Joe said, even as Barry started to struggle against the ties holding him down to the flat board.  It didn’t matter much.  He was unconscious again in a few minutes.

            They rushed him into Star labs.  He had patches of frostbite all over his legs and there were cuts and scrapes all over him, dozens of bruises.  There were scars that weren’t there before and Caitlin was sure she would find evidence of broken bones as well.  Iris and Eddie were waiting for them when they got there.

            “I need an IV line and sutures, now.”

            Cisco ran to get supplies.  Eddie helped Joe get him off the board and onto a bed.

            “Oxygen,” Caitlin said when Cisco got back.  He ran off again.

            “Is he OK?” Iris asked, hands over her mouth, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.  She couldn’t breathe.  Eddie put an arm around her shoulder, started to pull her away, but she wouldn’t move.

            “His lung’s collapsed,” Caitlin said, not loud, more to herself than anything.

            “Oxygen,” Cisco said, pulling out the mask.  He fitted it over Barry’s face.

            Caitlin shook her head.  “Put in a ventilator, his heartrate is dropping he’s going to –”

            There was a loud beeping that started and didn’t stop.

            “He’s not breathing,” Caitlin said, “ventilator, now.”

            Cisco fumbled and Caitlin took it, ripping off the mask and putting the tube down Barry’s throat, more roughly than if she had time to be careful.  She put a pulse oximeter on his finger and got the needle for the IV in.  The beeping stopped.  She turned to the monitors, glanced at something and then went back.  She turned to his thigh and the gaping wound there, still bleeding.

            “Sutures,” she said, and Cisco had a tray there and she threaded the needle before putting in tiny, neat stitches.  She repeated the process with another cut on his arm, and then began treating the frostbite on his legs.  Joe was still holding his hand, limp now, and Iris was staring, crying silently while Eddie held her, a blank expression on his face.  And then Barry twitched and his eyes started to open.

            “Barry,” Iris said, jolting forward, and Joe was leaning over him.  Barry’s eyes started to focus, pain-filled and dazed.  His expression changed from confusion to fear and he choked on the tube in his throat, going stiff.

            “Easy, Bar,” Cisco said, “you’re on a ventilator, just relax.”

            “You’re at Star labs,” Joe said, “we got you, it’s OK.”

            There was a sudden relief in Barry’s eyes even as tears gathered there in the corners, his expression still pained and uncomfortable.  He reached up for the tube and Eddie grabbed his hand.  He made a noise of protest in his throat and tried to tug it back.

            “I’ll take it out in fifteen minutes if everything is still good,” Caitlin said, taking Barry’s hand from Eddie and bringing it down flat against the armrest.

            Barry moved his hand up again, looking at Joe, and it broke his heart, the fear and pain there.

            “Just fifteen minutes, Bar, relax,” he said.  Barry started to trembled, and a tear ran down his face.

            “It’s OK, Bar,” Iris said, and she was taking his other hand, holding tightly.  Caitlin moved around him, still cleaning up the wounds, and Barry winced and flinched every time she touched him.  He kept looking from Joe to Iris, begging with his eyes for them to make her stop.  He was confused and disorientated and the tube in his throat felt awful, made him panic at the discomfort of something lodged in his throat.  Every touch hurt, and he wanted Caitlin to stop, to let him rest, but she wouldn’t.  He started to squirm away, but her hand just came down on his skin, firm and gentle, holding him in place.

            “It’s alright, Barry,” Joe said.  He kept saying that, repeating it over and over again, and Barry was thankful, because all he wanted was to curl up in a ball and maybe go home and make Iris watch movies on the couch with him until he fell asleep.  But everything hurt and he was so happy to be out, but he wanted to talk and to hug them and to sleep.

            There was a cough from the far wall.  Barry saw everyone turn, but he couldn’t see.

            “How is he?” a voice said.

            “Stabilizing,” Caitlin said, and then Barry felt a prick on his arm and he jumped, head rocketing to that side, to find Caitlin taking another blood sample.  He made another noise in his throat.  He wanted the tube out.

            “Why does he have that down his throat?”  Another voice.  Barry ducked his head, closed his eyes.  Caitlin kept touching him and it hurt.

            “Oh my God.”  A female voice this time, but Barry wasn’t paying enough attention to identify it.  He pulled away from Caitlin, and squeezed hard on Iris’s hand, backing up on the bed towards her.  Hands reached to hold him in place and he squeezed his eyes shut, more tears sliding down the sides of his face.  He was trembling now.

            “Give him some space.”

            “I need gauze.”

            “Is he OK?”

            “Blood pressure, Cisco?”

            “He’ll be fine.”

            “88 over 58”

            “He’s going into shock.”


            “Get me a blanket.”


            “Top cabinet on the right.”

            “Can’t you sedate him?”

            “Just one, or?”

            “Two – grab two blankets.”

            “Sedation doesn’t work on him – metabolism.”

            “Oh, Christ.”

            “Is he conscious?”

            “Blood pressure?”

            “86 over 56”

            “Jesus – someone hold down his wrists.”

            Barry’s head was spinning with the noise and the pain and the panic.  He kept trying to reach up and his hands were met with resistance.  He couldn’t breathe.

            “Respiratory rate increasing.”

            “Calm him down.”

            Suddenly Iris was in front of him and he wanted to lean forward but he couldn’t move.  Her hand was in his, and then she reached up with the other and touched his face.

            “Barry, it’s me, it’s Iris.  You’re OK, Bar, but you have to calm down for us, OK?  It’s alright, we’ve got you.  It’s OK.”

            Barry tugged at his other arm, but someone was holding it down, so he made vague motions with his head instead.

            “I know, Bar,” Iris said, stroking his hair, “The ventilator is scary and it doesn’t feel good.  They’ll take it out in a little bit, but you have to be good for Cait and stay still, Bar.”

            Barry shook his head, and kept trying to move his hands, crying out of frustration and pain.  He wanted the thing out of his throat and he wanted Caitlin to stop prodding him and he wanted everyone to be quiet except for maybe Iris because her voice was soft and he missed it.

            “Easy, Barry, they’ll be done soon.”  Barry opened his eyes to see Oliver in front of him, a hand on his knee.  Barry blinked, and then started looking around, and sure enough, Roy, Dig, and Felicity were there too.  He closed his eyes again, his head spinning, feeling claustrophobic.  He felt something warm go over his legs, and then around his shoulders and opened his eyes again to see a blanket.  And then another wash of dizziness swept over him and he was out.





            He was kept tied down and blindfolded.

            He couldn’t use his speed.  He didn’t know why – maybe it was a drug, or maybe it was because he was starving all the time.  Maybe the way it was always freezing in there did it.  He didn’t know.  It wasn’t blocked, but he was too weak to do much more than vibrate.  So he stayed tied down to the table, naked, blindfolded, continuously slipping in and out of consciousness as they cut and stabbed and poked and prodded.

            General Fawcett.  He took over for General Eiling.  He was nasty, cool-headed, and Barry only saw him once.  At least when he was conscious.

            They barely fed him.  When food was pushed to his lips he swallowed it down fast, teeth crashing together, swallowing so fast he choked.  Water was even worse – he gulped and gulped and arched up when they took the bottle away, trying to get more that they never gave.  He heard voices all the time, a mess of noise, but the silence was worse.  He’d lie awake and in pain, starving, freezing, for hours, trapped in his own mind, blindfolded, seeing nothing, in absolute and total silence.  If he screamed too much when they were working on him then he was gagged, and he was never, ever, let up from the table.  When things were really bad he’d bang his head down against it, try to make himself pass out – he’d beg them to stop, but he never got an answer.  Sometimes they didn’t even speak English, and they never acknowledged anything he said.

            They didn’t know how they had gotten him.  Barry had just disappeared one day.  He was gone for a little under a month before Felicity finally tracked him down.  Oliver went in that night.  They were in the middle of a surgery when he burst in, which was why he was in such bad condition when they got him to Star Labs – Oliver had pulled out all the IV’s and monitors and grabbed him up and ran. 

            When Barry woke up the next day, he didn’t remember what had happened.  And then he opened his eyes, and there was light, and it all came crashing back.

            He jolted upwards and there were hands on his chest in a second, and he panicked, eyes darting everywhere.

            “Easy, easy, man, it’s just me.”  And Barry’s eyes settled on Cisco, and he had a hand gripping his wrist tightly, but Cisco just gently leaned him back again against the bed.

            The ventilator was out.  Barry hadn’t been awake when they took it out.  Caitlin walked in quickly.

            “I’ll get Joe and Iris,” Cisco said, already walking out while Caitlin came up to him.

            “Hey,” she said, smiling at him, and he tried to smile back, once again felt the immense relief to be back, to be out of there.  She took his hand and then Barry turned at the sound of running footsteps as Iris burst in the door, followed by Joe.

            “Barry,” she said, and hugged him and Barry let out an “oof” as she tightened her grip.  “Oh, God, Barry, I missed you so much.”

            Barry closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against her shoulder, hoping that would convey the same.

            “You need to rest right now,” Caitlin said, once Iris had let go of him.  “But you should be fine in a few days.  I just need to do a couple of tests.”

            Barry frowned, eyes moving over all of them.  He was having trouble focusing even now, everything too bright and too fast and too soon.  He still felt weak and tired.

            “Can you tell us what happened?” Joe asked.

            Barry froze up.  Images flashed across his eyes of what happened, of the days spent blindfolded, unable to move.  He opened his mouth, closed it.  He didn’t know what to say.

            “You don’t have to right now,” Iris said, and Barry offered her a tired smile.  He really didn’t want to talk about it right then.  He didn’t really want to think about it, he just wanted to relax with his family and friends, to know that they were there and he was really alright.

            “I’m just going to take a blood sample, Barry,” Caitlin said, approaching him from the other side.

            Barry froze.

            He was pushed back into the corner of the bed, clutching Iris’s arm, in a second, eyes glued to the needle and frantically shaking his head.  They watched as his face went from pale to deathly white, and he started to tremble all over.

            “Bar?” Iris said, and Caitlin moved, back lowering the needle.

            Barry flinched.  He couldn’t breathe.  He didn’t want a blood test, no more poking, no more prodding.  He looked desperately at Iris, then at Joe.  Cisco was staring, and Caitlin was just blinking back at him.

            “You don’t like needles?” Iris said slowly.

            Barry shook his head, trying to calm himself down.  Tears pooled up in the corners of his eyes, and he couldn’t stop shaking.

            “Did they use needles a lot?” Iris pressed, her voice gentle.

            Barry nodded.  He didn’t want to talk about it though, didn’t want Caitlin to stick him with anything.  They already had an IV in, which he was only really noticing now, and he didn’t like that either, but it was already in.

            “Barry,” Caitlin said carefully, “it’s just me.  I’m not going to hurt you.  Can I just take one sample?”

            Barry shook his head, backed up farther towards Iris and Joe. 

            “Barry,” Joe said, “look at me.”

            “No,” Barry said, and his voice croaked, the first thing he’d said since they got him.  He pulled back when Caitlin tried to take his arm, looking desperately at Iris for help.  His face was crumpling with fear and panic.

            “Just look at me,” Joe repeated.

            “Squeeze my hand, Barry,” Iris said.  “It’s just Caitlin.  She won’t hurt you.”

            Barry squeezed his eyes shut as he felt fingers wrap around his arm, and then there was a prick and he bit down hard, a muffled cry coming out from between his teeth.  He squeezed down hard on Iris’s hand and Joe’s came up to rub his shoulder. 

            “It’s OK,” Joe said, “you’re doing a good job, Bar, it’s alright, almost over.”

            Caitlin finished and Barry let out a dizzy breath, trying to stop the gasping he was doing. 

            “It’s alright,” Iris said, and soon Barry found himself wrapped in a hug again.  He melted against the feeling, of a soothing touch after so long of fearing any contact, of knowing that someone was keeping him safe, that he wasn’t alone anymore.  It calmed him a lot, but he was still shaking when she let go.

            “Were you in a medical setting, Barry?” Caitlin asked when he seemed to be better.

            Barry tensed again, swallowed, and nodded, wincing at the memory.

            “Did they like… experiment on you?” Cisco asked, his eyes wide.

            Caitlin shot him a glare, but Barry just nodded, shivering, pulling his arms in tight to his chest.  It felt so good to move, to be able to move around.

            “OK,” Caitlin said, “well, I’m not going to do that to you, Barry.  Not without your consent anyway.  I just want to make sure you get better, OK?  I’m not going to hurt you.”

            Barry nodded, wanted to tell her that yes, of course he knew that.  He knew Caitlin would never hurt him – it just… it just scared him now.

            “I think,” Joe said, “that it would be really great if we got you home.  What do you think, Barry?”

            And Barry nodded fast.  He wanted to go home, to go home to his bed and the couch and watch TV and sit with Joe and Iris and get a blanket – God, a blanket.  He wanted something to eat too – Joe’s spaghetti, or a hamburger – and coffee – he wanted coffee.

            Joe looked up at Caitlin.  “What do you think?”

            “He’s not healing quite as fast,” Caitlin said, “but I’m fairly certain it’s just because he’s malnourished.  I need to take the stitches I put in out, and check up on some of the injuries, but I can do that tomorrow.  As long as you stay with him and make sure he gets lots of rest, I think it’s fine.  Take it slow with food at first.”

            Barry was already sitting up, trying to go.  Caitlin had to take the IV out, which he didn’t like, and the little flinch and the way his forehead creased in fear didn’t go unnoticed, but she got it out fast, and before Barry could think about it too much Joe was putting a hand over his shoulder.

            “Come on son, let’s go home.”