There’s a chest in the back of their closet that Lup isn’t supposed to open.
Barry has never asked her not to, exactly, but there’s something about the way he looks at it - like it’s full of some unimaginable horrors that no one should have to witness. Like if he hides all those things away, maybe the memories will stay in there with them.
Lup knows that they haven’t. They haunt him still, less often now that more than a year has passed since the Day of Story and Song, but she can always tell when they return. When he wakes from a dream, shaking, clinging to whatever part of her he can reach first. When his eyes follow her constantly whenever she isn’t at his side, as if she’ll disappear if he looks away. When he turns to her, out of nowhere, sometimes in the middle of a conversation, and tells her that he loves her with just a touch of desperation. The memories have never left him.
But still. He never asked her not to. Whatever’s in there, Barry shouldn’t have to deal with it alone anymore.
And honestly, there’s only so much Lup can take before the curiosity becomes too much.
She drags it out into the middle of the floor and flips the lid open - it’s not locked. It’s filled to the brim with items, and Lup recognizes some of them as things that were in Barry’s hidden chamber: a map of Faerun, covered in markings representing the places Barry searched for her; stacks of papers outlining theories and spells and experiments; a spare vial of blood for the growth pod. And tucked away in the bottom right corner is a coin.
She remembers this, from when she was trapped in the Umbrastaff. It held recordings of Barry’s voice that guided Taako, Magnus, and Merle to the place where Lucretia kept the baby voidfish. But this one is different, she thinks, from the one Taako returned to Barry after it was all over. It has different markings, but more than that it feels different.
Lup clicks it on before she can talk herself out of it.
“If you're hearing this, Barry, stop the playback right now. Do not listen any further.
I mean it, Barold J. Bluejeans, this is not something you wanna hear. It's not something you can hear because it'll probably break your brain. Put the coin down and follow the instructions on the other one you found in your pocket. Trust me.
This coin isn't for you, Barry, in your body with no memories and no idea what you've lost. This coin is for me. And it's for...it's for Lup, too.”
At the sound of her own name, Lup takes a deep, steadying breath and takes the coin over to their bed so she can sit down.
Yeah. Yeah, wherever you are, Lup...this is for you too.”
“I still can't believe she did it, Lup. She just...just took everything from us, just like that. Poof, gone. All the things we did, all the memories we made, all the worlds we saw. As if they never existed at all.
Lucretia's out there somewhere. I don't know what her plan is, exactly, but I can guess. I bet you can too. And she's got the Starblaster too, and all the resources that were on it, and I...well, I've got nothing. But that's still more than everyone else has, somehow. At least I still remember.
I'm gonna find you, Lup, I swear. I’m gonna get my body back and I'm gonna find you. And...and we won't remember each other at all, goddamn, but I have to hope that...maybe part of us will. ‘Cause there's a part of me that's always belonged to you, Lup, there's a part of me that's yours, and maybe you'll recognize it. I hope you will.
And when you do, we’ll find Lucretia together, and we'll stop her. And we'll get everyone their memories back, somehow. There has to be a loophole in the voidfish’s powers, there has to be…
We'll figure it out. You and me. Just like always.”
“I found a way to get my body back, Lup. It's...pretty gross, actually. You'd love it. I'll show it to you when I find you, there's this huge tank…
Anyway, I know I won't remember anything once I'm in this new body, which is why I've been taking notes on the other coin. I just hope it's enough. How do I convince myself to trust myself when I can't remember why? How will I know?
I won't even...I won't even be me anymore, Lup. I'll be...hell, I'll be just like I was when we all first met. “Stubborn and kind of an asshole,” isn't that what you called me back then? I mean, you were right.
I became better because of you. You, and the others, and everyone we met in those hundred years. We all did.
I...I don't think I'm going to like the Barry that comes out of that tank. But he'll get the job done.
He has to.”
“I was right, Lup. I didn't like that Barry at all. I hope he's...better when you meet him.”
“Why does this process have to take so long? There has to be a faster way, I just haven't found it yet. Something I can add to the mix to speed up cell growth, a spell maybe…
It's been five years since you left, Lup. And I've spent too much of that time in this damn cave, waiting for bodies to grow. It would be so much easier if I could just search as a lich, but I can’t let her find me.
You'd hate this place. I hate this place. It's like those few cycles we went through where the outside environment was just too toxic and we couldn't leave the Starblaster for the whole year. Trapped in the same place, staring at the same walls, reading the same books. Watching through the windows for hours just in case something outside changed and we might be able to leave.
Only it's worse. At least on the Starblaster, there were people to talk to, even if they drove you crazy after a while.
At least on the Starblaster, I had you.”
There's a sharp intake of breath, as if Barry isn't sure that he wants to continue.
“I wish...Lup, I wish you hadn't left. I know why you felt like you had to and I guess I wasn't really surprised that you did, once I calmed down enough to think about it. You wouldn't...you wouldn't be you if you hadn't tried to stop what you created. I get that.
But I didn't realize how much I needed you until you were gone, with no guarantees of returning when the year was over.
...I need you here, Lup. I don't know if I'm strong enough…
I have to find you.”
“Well, I figured out where Lucretia's been setting up shop, and babe, you are not gonna believe this.
She made a fucking moon base. Not like, on the moon. She made a second moon, and then made the world forget that there hadn't been two all along. If I wasn't still so pissed at her, I'd be impressed.
Okay so I guess I'm pretty impressed anyway.
She's got some kind of security in place to keep my lich form out, and obviously I can't just waltz in there as good ol’ Barry Bluejeans. I'll have to figure out some other way to get in and find out what her plan is.”
“Lup, Lup! I found them! Taako and Magnus and Merle, I found them! They don't remember each other, obviously, but it seems like they've been traveling together for a while. Davenport isn't with them, unfortunately - I still don't know what happened to him. But at least those three are together.
I've got a new body coming out of the tank soon. If I hurry, I can set up a meeting with them before they head off to some other town and I lose them again.”
“Uh, well...I’ll admit that went pretty badly. By which I mean I...well I got incinerated. Phoenix fire style.”
Lup grips the edge of the bed so hard that her fingers start to hurt, her nails digging into the sheets. Barry hadn’t told her that part.
“It didn't...it barely hurt at all. That's something at least. I know how much that worried you, if people were suffering terribly because of what you created. But it was over so quickly that I barely felt it.
Who knows, maybe I'm just used to dying at this point.”
She can’t believe he’s being so casual about this. Didn’t it make him upset, angry even, that he had to die because of what she created?
“It’s a setback, I’ll admit. Now I have to wait for a new body to grow. But I had to try, Lup. I had to try to stop Gundren. Ultimately I couldn’t...I couldn’t save Phandalin. But the gauntlet, it’s gone now, Lup. They took it back up to Lucretia’s moon base - I can’t even imagine how that meeting’s gonna go. Will she tell them? I doubt it. Not after all the work she put into making them forget.
But that’s something at least, isn’t it? No matter what Lucretia’s doing with it, the gauntlet isn’t here anymore. It can’t cause the kind of destruction it did down here again. You don’t have to worry about it anymore, Lup.
But I can't get the thought out of my head - if you weren’t there with it...then where are you?”
Barry’s laughing, this time, the way he does when he can’t help himself. Lup smiles.
“Babe, you’re not gonna believe this.
So I saw one of those spheres come down from the moon and I followed it, just in case it was one of the boys. Turns out it was all three of them. They’ve got these...cuffs on their arms with some logo engraved on them. Not sure what they do, but they’ve gotta be one of Lucretia’s creations.
Anyway, they were heading towards Rockport, and I caught up to them just in time to see them crash land into the middle of a swamp just outside the city.”
He’s giggling again, and almost can’t continue telling his story.
“Babe, they...they just...I mean I feel kinda bad for laughing because so much has happened to them but…
They landed upside down and then Magnus punched a hole in the sphere so they could get out, but then they all just kept falling in the swamp. And then there were leeches! Lup I swear, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
I couldn’t follow them anymore once they finally managed to escape, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of those three trudging into Rockport drenched in swamp water as long as I live.”
“Hey, at least I'll never forget your face. You know, because it's Taako's face too?”
Barry laughs. It's quiet for a moment, and then he continues more quietly.
“Your faces aren't exactly the same, though. There's little things. The way you smile, the way you raise your eyebrows. And Taako, he's...he's sharper, somehow. Not in a manly sort of way but like...like he carries all his hardships in his expression in a way you never really did. Like the weight of it gives him edges you don't have, especially now that he can't even remember why that weight is there.
You wouldn't want to see him the way he is now, Lup.
But me? I'll uh...I guess I'll take what I can get.”
“Lucretia’s got the boys hunting down the relics for her, that much is clear. Which means there must be some kind of loophole with the voidfish, otherwise their brains would be exploding or something. I gotta get up there, Lup. I gotta find out what’s going on, somehow…”
“I finally made it up to the moon base, Lup. What Lucretia’s created up there it’s...I mean it’s amazing, really. All the people she’s got working for her, the way the whole place looks…
I guess I never thought about it before, but out of all of us, Lucretia was the one who changed the most over those hundred years. You remember how she used to be, always so quiet, just following along behind us all with her notebooks? And then to see all of this...I just wish she wasn’t using it undo all the work we did, creating the relics and keeping the Light away from the Hunger.
And Davenport. God, Davenport. I didn't see Lucretia up there but I did see him, and he's...he got it the worst out of all of us, I think, except maybe Taako, but at least Taako is still Taako. He can barely say more than his own name, Lup. Everything that makes him Davenport is just gone. I don't think Lucretia intended for this to happen when she erased our memories but...fuck, Lup. It was so hard to see our captain like that.
But I did it. I had to possess one of her Bureau members to do it - that’s what she calls this place, the Bureau of Balance - and that was, well. It was unpleasant. Felt kinda like I was high the whole time. But at least I got what I needed: I know how to get to the secret chamber where Lucretia’s keeping the relics. It wasn’t easy; she’s made one hell of a puzzle in there. But I can leave myself instructions on how to get through it again.
I had to ditch the guy I was possessing before I could actually get in the room, and I barely made it out of there before her anti-lich security system, whatever it is, could trap me there. I won’t be able to try that again.
Which means I’m going to need some help.”
“If I tell them too little, they won’t trust me. If I tell them too much, it could damage them forever. What do I do, Lup? Which role do I play?”
This time, Barry doesn't start talking immediately. She can hear him breathing, just barely, shallow with an occasional choked off sound that might be a sob. There's a rustling of movement followed by a soft thunk, and when Barry finally speaks, his voice is shaky and so thick with grief that it's an almost palpable thing. She wants to turn the coin off, she doesn't want to hear this, but then Barry says her name and well...she can't help but listen.
“I was so sure I'd find you, Lup. I mean, fuck, sometimes that was the only thing I was sure of. That I'd see you again. That I'd get to hold you again, and hear you laugh, and run my fingers through your hair and tweak your ears in that way you always pretend to hate and kiss you…”
There's a heavy, fraught silence. Barry sniffles.
“I'm not sure anymore, Lup. I'm just...I'm not sure.
I met them again, Lup. Face to face. And I was trying to...to tell them what I could about the Hunger without giving too much away, without hurting them. And it was so nice to talk to them again, you know? They weren’t the same, and I guess neither was I, but...still, it was nice. They always did make me laugh.”
Barry sighs, and sniffles again, and Lup can picture him so clearly, trying to pick up the broken pieces of himself so he can finish his story. A story he thinks she will never hear. Her heart aches for him.
“And then I saw it. Right there, dangling from Taako’s hand, and I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. The Umbrastaff. But it was the wrong twin holding it.”
He chuckles weakly, a wrecked little thing with no real humor in it. Lup would laugh too, at the sheer irony of it all, if she wasn't already crying. She remembers it too, remembers being so close to Barry but unable to give him even some small sign that she was there, trapped in that umbrella. Alone, just like he’d been all this time.
“And Lup you...you loved that thing. You took it everywhere, it was everything you wanted. Your perfect weapon. You...god, Lup, you wouldn't have left that behind. Not if...if you had any say in it.
And then they said...they said they found it on the body of a person wearing a red robe, and I--”
Barry sobs, loud and clear and unmistakable this time. Lup’s hand clenches around the coin, so hard she almost turns it off and the next few words come out slightly muffled.
“--don't know what else to think. Ten years I've searched for you, Lup, ten years! And maybe it was...maybe it was all for nothing, maybe you were already…
Lup, if you...if you're...Lup, I can't--”
There's a sound like a static shock, and then nothing.
“I almost lost myself there, Lup. Almost went hardcore lich-y with it. Twice, actually, if you count back in the lab too. You know how it is. One minute you're yourself and the next you're--”
“It won't happen again. I've got those three idiots to take care of. It doesn't matter if...if you're gone. They're still here. And they've only got half the story and they need all the help they can get. I'll figure out a way to help them.
Even if that's all I've got left. Especially then.”
“No, you know what, fuck that. You couldn’t have died in that cave Lup, you’re a lich for god’s sake and even if you lost your body you’re still out there, I know it. I know it, I can feel it, and I swear to any fucking god who’s listening that I'm gonna find you again. That's the only option.
I miss you so much.”
“Damn it, Lup, they’re going to Wonderland.
They must be nearly done collecting the relics, if Lucretia’s decided it’s time to send them after the Animus Bell. That place and those liches who run it, they’re gonna make life hell for those three. I can’t let them go in there alone.
I’ve been in my lich form too long, but that doesn’t matter now. They’re gonna need my help in there. I just hope Magnus trusts me enough to listen to me - he’s the only one who really seems to.
Lup, if this works...if they retrieve the Animus Bell, that means all this is almost over. And I’m ready, god I’m so ready. I’ve got it all planned out, I’ve got a body ready to go in the pod, and me and the boys, we’re gonna put an end to this. And as soon as we’re done, Lup, I promise you, I’m gonna put everyone to work finding you. It won’t be much longer.
We’re almost there. Almost there…”
Lup sighs heavily, mind reeling, and stands up to go return the coin to the chest. She knows what happens next, after all. But a slight movement catches her eye, and she turns to find Barry, her real flesh-and-blood Barry, leaning against the door jamb just...watching her. She freezes in place - how long has he been standing there? - but before she can say anything, Barry speaks. Not from the doorway, but from the coin, one last time.
“I found you, Lup.
I finally, finally found you.
God, I feel so stupid. Why didn't it ever occur to me that a lich could be absorbed by the Umbrastaff if they were defeated? Well, I guess no one thought of that, not even you. You keep telling me to quit beating myself up about it. I suppose I should try harder to stop.
I...I still have a hard time believing you're back. That you're just...here. You're in the kitchen right now, with Taako. I can hear you both just...laughing. You turned to me, just a few minutes ago, and you smiled at me and told me dinner would be ready soon, so I should ‘go slip into that fancy denim, babe.’”
Coin-Barry laughs, breathless and ecstatic and so full of joy that tears start to well up in her eyes again. But she can't look away from the Barry standing in the doorway, and he's smiling too but more importantly he's here and he's real. And she knows, in this moment, exactly how Coin-Barry feels.
“I love you, Lup. So, so much. More than I could ever explain in words, but I think you get it even if I can't.
But I'm gonna go out there right now and I'm gonna tell you anyway. And Taako's probably gonna make some crack about us being gross in such close proximity to his food, but hey, he's literally boning Death now so he doesn't have room to talk.
I'm gonna go tell you that I love you. Right now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and every single day of our lives after that, and I'll probably have to double up on some days because I didn't get to say it to your face for twelve goddamn years. I've got a lot of time to make up for.
And I'm never gonna forget how much you mean to me ever again, Lup. I promise.”
And he did tell her, she thinks. That day, and every other day since Taako broke her out of that umbrella. Every day for more than a year, even when the memory of losing her came back so fiercely that his voice shook when he said it.
“I wondered how long it would take for you to find that,” says the Barry in front of her. She doesn’t respond, at least not with words. Instead, she crosses the room in a few short strides and launches herself into his arms. He holds her tight and doesn’t let go for a long time.
Eventually she says, her voice muffled where her face is pressed into the fabric of his denim jacket, “I thought I felt you out there, sometimes, while I was trapped in the Umbrastaff. It was...so hard to tell what was real from in there. I was never sure. And then I heard your voice, and I was so...relieved and frustrated at the same time because you were so close but not close at all, and if I could I would've torn all those damn curtains down with my bare hands if it meant seeing the face that went with that voice.” She chuckles. “Well...I did try that. Didn't work.”
Barry laughs too. “It must have been frustrating, not being able to burn the whole place down, huh?”
“You have no idea, Barold,” she says. And then she thinks about all that she heard, and adds, “Well...I suppose you do.”
Barry shrugs, jostling her slightly, and he pulls away just enough to be able to look into her eyes. “Sometimes I wanted to. Just destroy everything in that crypt, or let myself fall away and allow the lich to take over completely. But I knew if I did...I would never see you again. And that,” he says, grinning, “was just unacceptable.”
Lup smiles, a little bit smug. “Well, clearly.”
He kisses her then, softly but with intent, and Lup thinks of all the years she spent waiting for moments like this to happen again, and she never wants it to end. And she thinks that maybe she has a few years to catch up on herself.
When their lips part, she says, “I love you, Barry.”
Barry huffs, catching her in another kiss before responding, “You stole my line.”
“Too bad, nerd. It’s a competition now.”
“Yeah, and I plan on winning.”
“Well, in that case,” Barry says, leaning in to kiss her cheek and whisper in her ear, “I love you too. And I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Lup laughs, loud and carefree, and pulls Barry further into the room, kicking the chest back in the direction of the closet as she goes. They’ve got something much more important to worry about right now.