“Okay,” Barclay says once he’s managed to get her settled in their room, Thacker safely tucked away in the basement. “So. Some bad news.”
Mama wrestles her shirt and sports bra off, chucking them at the laundry basket in the corner. She misses, and it jostles her arm, a deep ache picking up in her shoulder and elbow. She suddenly remembers she dislocated it at some point in her fight with Thacker and reset it over in Sylvain, and had forgotten to tell the doctors. Oops. “I ain’t even gonna get the buffer of some good news too?” she drawls, trying for humorous but landing squarely in the realm of tired.
“Well, we got the abomination this month,” he says, walking over and picking the clothes up for her. “Water elemental. Almost drowned Jake in the hotspring.”
Mama takes a deep breath, exhales it slowly, trying to loosen up the tension that’s suddenly coiling around her spine. “He alright?”
“Little shook up,” Barclay replies. “Had to shut the whole thing off for a bit. Wasn’t fun, but we got through it. Glad you insisted on keeping, like, a year's worth of water bottles in the basement.”
“Fuck,” she says, trying to wrestle her sweatpants off. She can blame the sudden tightness in her throat on the way the action is making her stitches pull. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I wasn’t here, I should’ve been, shouldn’t’ve fuckin’ left -,”
Barclay smacks her hands to get her to stop, gentle, sits down by her feet and gingerly tugs her sweatpants over her cast. “Hush,” he says. “You don’t need to apologize. What you do need is to go back to the hospital, but I assume I’m not gonna be able to sell you on that.”
She shakes her head. He gets the sweatpants off and chucks them into the laundry basket, then leans forward and presses a kiss to the bent knee of her uninjured leg, settling the one with the cast out straight and in his lap. “I missed you,” he says simply, his beard making her skin prickle. It’s the first physical contact that she’s had since she left, beyond the fight and subsequent carrying of Thacker back through the wilds, and it makes her eyes burn a little, so she shuts them. It’s a relief to be in her bed, in her home, where it’s the noisy kind of quiet and she’s not likely to get jumped while she’s sleeping and wake up to find something trying to chew her hand off.
“That’s not the bad news,” Barclay says, pulling back, and suddenly he’s the one sounding exhausted.
“Christ,” she says, peeling her eyes open. She is so fucking tired. “Can it wait?”
“I mean, yeah,” he replies. “You’ll be mad if I keep sitting on it, though.”
“Fine,” she says, sitting further back into her pillows. “Hit me.”
“Ned caught video of me fighting the beast abomination in the woods and posted it and it went viral, so now we got an FBI agent staying in room 108 trying to ‘find Bigfoot’,” he says, all in one breath, then covers his face with his hands. “His name is Agent Stern and he’s a nosy ass. He keeps following Moira around and trying to talk to her, ‘cause she seems the most sane out of all of us, I believe, and looks too polite to tell him off.”
Mama very briefly, but very seriously, considers going back into Sylvain and letting the Quell infected Sylphs eat her. “So you let the water elemental drown Ned, right?”
Barclay barks out a laugh, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “No, Mama. Our new protégées did a pretty good job, actually! We can’t go to H2-Woah ever again though, even if it does re-open. The manager thinks I’m a federal pool inspector. Well, actually, now he thinks I’m a jackass who pretended to be a federal pool inspector, but he did briefly think that I was a federal pool inspector.”
Mama tries to laugh, but it hurts and turns into a cough that hurts even more. Barclay looks at her, face creasing in worry as his hands curl protectively around her calf, but it’s over quickly and she waves him off.
“I’m fine,” she says. “What’re we doin’ ‘bout our new pet Feeb?”
“Aubrey thinks we should just play it up like a joke, so that’s been the plan thus far,” he answers. Mama clicks her tongue.
“I’ll figure somethin’ out,” she says.
“I’m vetoing killing him,” he replies immediately, gently picking her leg up and lifting it off of his lap before standing up.
“Aw, c’mon,” she says with a smile, putting her hand over her heart like he’s wounded her. “You ain’t even heard my plan for it yet! We could totally get away with it.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” he replies, smiling back and leaning down to kiss her, humming low in his throat when she deepens it, threading her hands through his hair - loose today, and curly like he’d taken his time with it, slippery soft between her fingers. His mouth is blood hot against her own, hands pleasantly firm as they cup the back of her head, curl around the base of her neck. She missed him.
When he finally pulls back he says, “Need anything?”
“You,” Mama says, crooking her fingers at him in the universal come hither gesture. He wrinkles his nose at her, which she can tell he means to look disapproving, but she just thinks it’s cute.
“I have to make dinner,” he says.
“It can be late,” she replies. “Ain’t nobody gonna mind.”
“Our pet Feeb might,” he grumbles, but he’s unbuckling his belt, shucking off his jeans. He knows her opinions on what clothing is acceptable to get in bed while wearing, and denim is nowhere on that list. “I’m heading down after you fall asleep,” he tells her as he folds them and puts them on the end of the bed, and she nods.
Mama lets him fuss her into lying on her back even though she’d much rather little spoon it, accepts the pillow he puts under her injured leg, and he finally slips under the sheets with her. As his arm curls around her torso and his leg slings over her uninjured one she exhales a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding, muscles she didn’t even realize she had unclenching, and almost immediately she starts crying.
She thinks briefly about trying to hide it, some old reflex rearing its ugly head - she hasn’t been ashamed to cry in front of Barclay in years - but he notices right away as her breath hitches and he props himself up on one elbow.
“Mama?” he asks, worried, his hand fluttering from her hip to her shoulder to her face, like he’s not sure what to do with it.
She shakes her head, kicking the pillow out from under her foot and rolling onto her side, tucking herself into his chest. He rests his chin on top of her head and pulls her in close, his hand stroking soothingly down her back.
“I got you,” he tells her, and his voice breaks a little. “I got you, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
“It’s so quiet,” she gasps out finally, “There’s no - no birds, there’s no crickets, there’s just nothing, it’s so empty.”
“Breathe, sweetheart,” he murmurs. “I know.” And he does, she knows he does, he’s been out there in that vastness of his dying, choking world - she remembers his story. He got exiled because he wouldn’t return to his position in the burn teams being sent out to try and push the Quell back, because it was a suicide mission. Groups 20-30 strong would come limping back in, numbers decimated, and that’s if they came back at all. Barclay’d gone once, survived, and refused a return trip, and so Sylvain had thrown him out.
The horror is in the name, in all of its names: the Great Termination, the Many-Mouthed Silencing, the Last Revenge, the Desperate Cull, the Quell. The Quell is an extinction event. Sylvain is ripping itself apart just to get back at them.
Barclay lived there, he’s been in the wasteland. He knows its nightmarish face. She’d watched him go terribly still after telling her about it, she’s woken him out of the nightmares. She doesn’t want to remind him, doesn’t want to set his anxiety off, but she can’t seem to make herself stop talking.
“It’s empty,” Mama tells him. “It’s so l-lonely unless they’re tryin’ to kill you, and then Thacker -,” her voice breaks on his name, she can feel his hand gripping her throat, the cold rough of the cave floor scraping against her back as they grappled with each other, has to remind herself that it’s not happening anymore. “Thacker was empty too, there was just nothing until I touched him, and I-I… I almost had to kill him. He wouldn’t - wouldn’t go down.” She remembers to inhale, although the breath bursts out of her a half second later. “He almost killed me. He doesn’t - he doesn’t -,”
Her words fail her. Barclay holds her tighter, presses kisses into the crown of her head, reminds her that she’s here with him, that she’s safe. Eventually her breaths even out; she’s cried a wet patch into his shirt.
“He doesn’t know me anymore,” Mama says, quiet. “It won’t matter what I do. He doesn’t know who I am. He’s my best friend, and he just -,” she sighs shakily, shuts her eyes again and rests her forehead against Barclay’s sternum. “He doesn’t remember us. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Barclay tells her, tight and fierce. “Don’t ever be sorry.”
“I love you,” she tells him, her fingers loosening their hold on the back of his shirt, withdrawing her arm from under him because it’s gone numb.
“I love you too,” he replies. “I love you more than anything.”
Mama falls asleep sometime not long after that, wakes back up as the door creaks open and Barclay pushes himself up slightly to look at whoever it is over her shoulder. She feels him press a finger to his lips.
“Oh, sorry,” she hears Jake whisper. “I’ll tell Stern you’re sick. Is… is she okay?”
“‘S alright,” Barclay whispers back. “She’s gettin’ there.” His hand strokes down her back again, protective. “Make spaghetti. There’s stuff for meatballs, get Dani and Aubrey to help.”
“But we were gonna order Gino’s,” Jake whispers, almost a whine, and there’s a pause where she can feel him and Barclay making faces at each other.
“Jake,” she says, although it’s more of a croak than anything, and muffled because her face is still smashed against Barclay’s chest.
“Yeah, Mama?” he replies, soft.
“Heard you got hurt, baby. You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m all good now,” he says. “Was just scary.”
“Good,” she says, pauses, licks her dry lips. “Sorry I wasn’t here.” She would gesture him over so she could give him some approximation of a hug, but that’d require pulling away from Barclay, which she isn’t ready to do just yet.
“It’s okay,” Jake tells her. “You don’t need to apologize. We’re just glad you’re home.”
Mama curls further into Barclay, taking back the space that falling asleep had put between them. “Me too,” she mumbles. “Me too.”