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Bear

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Behind a nickname there are thousands of possible reasons. It can be an inside joke, a personality trait, a memory or a mistake. But each name has an unique story. And this is how Barry got his.

When Joe had decided to take Barry in, it had seemed the most logical and easy choice. That didn't mean there weren't problems in the West-and now Allen house. Barry had always been a calm, shy boy, whose love for science had often excluded him from his classmates. After Nora's murder he had stopped talking to those few friends he had, with the exception of Iris, and he had started causing trouble at school. Nothing too big, he just didn't run from bullies anymore. Maybe it was because he felt like there was nowhere to run to, but Barry now preferred to reserve his escapes for his weekly attempts to visit his father. Which meant that Barry had started fighting more with Tony, as he had to defend himself, even if usually he ended up losing. It was after one of those fights that he got his nickname.

Barry had been sitting quietly in a corner of the courtyard, reading a book about science application, when Tony had approached him. At first it had been the usual insults, the kind a smart person takes as a compliment, but then they got meaner.

"Oh, look at him, all lonely, I guess not even his mother could stand him. I think she was really happy to die, to stay away from him."

Barry really tried to keep calm. He used a technique the therapist had taught him. Inhale, exhale. Which sounded really stupid to him, as that was what people normally do when they breath. Seeing him loose his usual calm appearance, Tony and the other kids started laughing, keeping the insults going. As much as a person can be patient and calm there's a limit for everyone. And Barry reached his, just as his teacher walked out of the building. Throwing the book aside Barry punched Tony in the nose. The kid stood shocked for a second then with a scream he brought his hands over his nose, the first tears quickly falling.

After a visit to the school nurse and two quick calls to the boys' parents, Barry and Tony were left waiting outside the principal door. They could hear a quite discussion going on, but both of them were too occupied glaring at each other to eavesdrop. Barry had in his hands the science book and was distractedly reading a few sentences when Tony broke the silence:

"You know he is going to get tired of you, right?"

Having already got in enough trouble for the day, Barry kept the pages moving, his heart beating faster. "He took you in just because he pitied you, but he will get bored just as your parents did." Tony whispered, a mean glint in his eyes. "Just because you and his pathetic daughter are friend it doesn't mean he will let you live with them any longer". Barry sharply turned over him, his mouth already open to tell him to shut up when a very annoyed woman, Tony's mother, came out, followed closely by a exhausted looking Joe. Without even looking at the other two, he made a stiff gesture to Barry and steered towards the exit door. Barry quickly took his book and backpack and ran after him.

The return home was made in a deep silence and Barry couldn't think of anything but Tony's words. Maybe he was right, maybe Joe was going to get tired of him, maybe he was going to send him to an orphanage. It was with these dark thoughts that Barry faced Joe once at home. It was only 2 p.m. and Iris was still at school. Joe went into the kitchen, poured himself a glass of water and after drinking it he stared at Barry, who was still standing in the doorway waiting for the lecture he was sure he was going to get, and with a sigh said: "The principle decided that you will have to help Mrs Bell in the library for a week as a punishment."

Barry nodded immediately, he liked Mrs Bell and he thought it was a relief to spend the punishment with her. With another tired sigh, Joe looked at Barry again, this time with disappointment in his eyes.

"I really don't know what to do with you Barry, you need to behave better, you can't hurt other boys, no matter what they say to you." At this Barry started to protest, he had really tried to keep calm.

Joe stopped him from saying anything more than a "but," and kept talking: "I have to get back to work, we will talk about your punishment when I get home. Can you stay out of trouble of an hour?"Barry answered with an upset "Yes, Joe" and a few minutes he was alone in the house.

Tony's words were still wandering in his head and a few tears streaked his face. He was right. Joe was already tired of him. Probably at his return he would tell Barry he didn't want him anymore. He had really tried to behave in the last months, but it wasn't easy. Even if Joe had agreed to take Barry seeing his father every couple of weeks, he still felt as he was abandoning him in that horrible prison, for a crime he didn't commit. That was why he was working so hard to prove everyone that he hadn't made up the two "flashes". But nobody, not even Iris believed him.

And the reason he had stopped running from bullies was because his mother was no longer at home, waiting for him, always ready to put some ice on his bruises. The first few times, after his mother's death, that Tony had bullied him, he had run home, only to find it empty. He had been so destroyed at the simple reminder that everything had changed. So he had promised himself that he would never again run from bullies. Which led to the recurring fights and the punch he had thrown that morning.

Feeling trapped in the house, Barry took a bottle of water and his backpack and once outside started running. It had been only a few days from his last run, but how wonderful did it feel. For Barry running was a way to escape reality even if only for a few minutes. It was his way to deal with the world and with his problems. When he was feeling tired enough he looked around and with a soft smile he noticed he was near the park, in his old street. He was a bit out of breath, so he walked slowly towards his favorite tree and climbed it with ease, in a way that revealed he had done it lots of time. After drinking from the bottle of water he placed himself against the tree trunk and with sad smiled he stared at the sky, dark thoughts in his head. After a while he decided to distract himself and taking the book, he started reading again.
He must have been more concentrated than he thought, because next time he looked up, the sun was almost gone and with a quick glance at his watch, he realized it had already been two hours since he had left home. He felt really torn. On one hand he just wanted to go back home, take a shower and eat. On the other hand he was so afraid he was going to be sent to an orphanage that he didn't want to climb down the tree. After a few minutes of thinking, he decided that returning home was still the best choice. And so, with slow steps he made his way back.

Almost fifteen minutes later he opened the door, hoping that Iris and Joe hadn't noticed his absence. Which wasn't the case, obviously. As soon as he stepped into the house, Iris screamed his name and in a blink of an eye he was engulfed in a hug. Joe was talking on the phone, now saying goodbye to the other person with a relieved smile.

"Iris, stop chocking Barry and go upstairs to do your homework!"

Iris looked at him, silently mouthing: "Good luck!", before disappearing in her room, probably getting ready to eavesdrop the discussion. With a firm hand Joe led Barry towards the couch and after a brief hug, he sat down in front of him.

"What were you thinking running off like that again? I was worried sick about you, nobody had seen you in two hours! And I think I had clearly told you to stay home and wait for me." Joe didn't even take a breath, he was concentrated on his lecture. Barry in the meantime was trying hard not to cry. He could feel that Joe was really angry about this last trip around the neighborhood, probably he had already called the social worker to take him to the orphanage. Keeping his eyes on the floor, the first tears were already falling down on his face.

As soon as Joe noticed that Barry was crying he stopped talking and moved to kneel in front of him. "Barry what's wrong? Why are you crying?". All he got as an answer was a shrug of the shoulders. Joe took a deep breath and asked again: "What is it Barry? Is everything ok?"
At the soft question Barry couldn't stop a sob and soon enough he was begging Joe: "Please Joe, don't throw me out! I promise I will be good, just let me stay with you and Iris! Please Joe!"

Joe was confused and shocked at his words. He put his arms around the trembling body, whispering soft words to Barry. After he had calmed down a bit, Joe went quickly to the kitchen and got Barry a glass of water. Then he sat again in front of him with a worried face.

"Barry, why are you asking me not to throw you out? You know this is your home, just as much as it is Iris' and mine." Barry was still staring at the floor, not believing his words. He took a deep breath and with a weak voice said: "Tony said you would get tired of me, but I promise I'm going to behave better, I don't want to live in an orphanage." Joe was again stunned, but after making a mental note to remind himself to talk to the boy's parents, he touched calmly Barry's arm: "Look at me Barry" After a bit of hesitation Barry complied, tears still fresh on his face.

"Barry I know it has been bad for you lately, but when I said I would take care of you, I meant it. I don't care if sometimes I have to chase you around the neighborhood and I'm not angry at you for defending yourself, even if you shouldn't have punched Tony. Things won't be easy, but I really want you to trust me, this is your home too, I will never throw you out or take you to an orphanage. I promise you that I will do everything I can to be always there for you, even if you don't always behave perfectly."

Barry didn't say a word for a few seconds, then with another sob he jumped in Joe's arms, hugging him tightly. Joe was really surprised by his action, it was the first time Barry had initiated an hug. He held him close for almost fifteen minutes until he stopped crying again, then he tried to get up. It was dinner time and he was sure both kids were hungry. But Barry didn't loosen his hold, he just hugged with more strength. Joe chuckled softly.

"As much as I love this hug, I need to cook something Barry or else Iris won't be very happy with us."

Barry still refused to let him go, his head shaking against the man's chest.

"Ok, ok, I'll have to admit you really know how to give me a bear hug". With some difficulties Joe stood up, Barry still in his arms. The kid might have been thin and small for his age, but Joe wasn't twenty anymore. He took the phone and dialed their favorite Pizza Restaurant. After ordering, he called down Iris to prepare the table. Barry didn't say a word for the entire time, his head now resting on the shoulder. When Iris came down, she couldn't stop from laughing at the scene and asked: "What is Barry doing?"

Joe looked down to the silent boy and then with a big smile answered: "He decided he likes hugs, right Bear?"

Barry smiled: "Yes, I love them."

After that day Barry got stuck with that nickname, it was a sweet reminder of everything that night had gave him. A second dad, a new family and a home.