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Sigh No More

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It's late when Barry wakes. He can't say for sure what it is that initially wakes him, but he finds himself blinking blearily into the darkness of the room that he shares with Lup nonetheless. He lays there, listening to the familiar sounds of the airy and sprawling house he and Lup share with Taako and Kravitz. The sound of a quiet whimper next to him has Barry sitting up and then turning to look at his wife, a floating dim ball of Light conjured with a hasty cantrip.

Lup is frowning heavily in her sleep, her whole body tense. Her fingers are clenched tightly around the lightweight blanket that covers her, and Barry can see faint sparks drifting off her skin and making small scorch marks on the fabric. Uncaring of his own safety, Barry reaches out and runs his hand gently down the length of Lup's arm in a soothing manner, repeating the motion until she slowly relaxes and then wakes.

"Hey," he murmurs, sliding his hand down Lup's arm one final time before taking her hand and loosely interlacing their fingers. He pretends not to notice how quickly Lup tightens her grip on his hand almost to the point of pain, waiting as she recalibrates to the waking world.

"Hey," she replies, her voice rough from sleep as she sits up. Barry smiles at her, the expression soft and warm and overflowing with love, just as it always is whenever he sees her.

"You okay?"

Lup shrugs before glancing down at the blanket. She winces at the sight of the scorch marks and then casts Mending, making it as if they'd never happened. "Bad dreams. It's nothing."

Barry doesn't press, knowing that it'll just make Lup turtle up and try to gloss over it. It's a habit she shares with Taako, a lesson hard-learned from their past: don't let people see you're vulnerable, even if you trust them. Trust can get you hurt. Instead, he just squeezes her hand comfortingly, content to let her go at her own pace.

"Alright. Are you up for a hug, or would you rather just sit here for a bit?"

Lup immediately shifts so she's pressed against him, her free arm sliding around his body as she snuggles in against him. Barry returns the hug gladly, running his free hand up and down her back in a lazy glide that inevitably has Lup all but purring after a while. Only when he feels her grip on him relax and her breathing even out does Barry stop his motions, carefully rearranging the two of them so that they're reclining on the bed with Lup half-sprawled on top of him. He stares up at the ceiling for a goodly portion of the night, ideas flying through his head as he tries to come up with something that'll help Lup.

One of the last thoughts that flits across his mind as his exhaustion takes him an hour or so before dawn is that he can't do this alone. Thankfully, he knows just the people to reach out to.

Barry goes to Taako first. There's no question of who knows Lup best, even after all these years. He finds Taako in his office at the school, waist-deep in what seems to be never-ending paperwork. Barry knows that he can just portal in and Taako won't mind, but there's something reassuring about a good knock on a door and an answering call to come in. Taako looks more than a little frazzled thanks to all the paperwork, but when Barry explains that he's there to talk about Lup, Taako immediately puts everything aside.

"Let's go for a walk, m'dude. I need to get out of this hellscape of paperwork anyways."

Barry laughs as Taako pulls on his coat and then all but pushes him out of the office, eager to get away from the minutiae of the day to day life of running a school. As much as he goes on about Ren being the brains of the operation, Barry knows that Taako is just as invested in the school as she is. The school campus is beautiful and very open-plan, though not so much so that the students have to rush overly much to get from class to class. Barry and Taako stroll along the white-paved walkways until they reach an area with a duck pond and several benches off the side of the path.

Taako settles down on a bench, waits for Barry to join him, and then immediately pokes his brother-in-law in the arm.

"So? What's up with Lup?"

Barry hesitates, not sure if he really should be talking about this even with Taako, and then mentally shakes his head. He knows Lup won't mind, and for all he knows, she's already spoken to Taako about it like she does most things.

"Lup... Her nightmares are getting worse," he says quietly, keeping his eyes trained on the ducks swimming around serenely on the nearby pond. "She burned the blanket last night with how bad it was. Nothing that couldn't be fixed, but still. I just... I want her to be able to sleep peacefully more than once or twice a week. It gets worse when we take a job where it's particularly dark or close-quarters. We had a bounty a few days ago that decided an old crypt would be the best place to do their death crimes. Not unusual, but the crypt was very tiny and very dark, so it didn't help matters."

Barry lapses into silence, his fingers worrying at the familiar scratched and slightly dented wedding ring he's worn for longer than most of the students here have been alive. Taako doesn't say anything for a long stretch of time, and when he does speak, it's with a firm determination that lifts Barry's spirit.

"Alright, what do you want me to do?"

Getting the other Birds on board isn't hard to do, though Taako leaves Barry to go collect Lucretia from the Bureau of Benevolence on his own. Barry doesn't mind, to be honest. He's working on forgiving Lucretia, but all of them know that forgiveness does not mean everything's going to be as it used to be before everything happened. That's alright, though. Growth isn't supposed to be returning to what was before; it's about moving on and becoming something greater and stronger than before.

Even Kravitz joins in on the project once he catches wind of it, as do several other people, Angus included. It takes some time to get things done, especially given everyone's busy schedules, but when it happens and everything's in place, Barry can't wait to show Lup. He waits until it's time for bed one night and then has Lup close her eyes, telling her he has a surprise for her.

She does so without question, making Barry's heart skip at how much trust she has in him. It never fails to astound him just how much of herself Lup has given to him to hold and cherish, no matter how long they've been together or what they've been through.

"Alright, so, I- I was thinking about some things," he begins, drawing her carefully over to the side of the bed and then directing her to sit down, "and I think I figured out how to solve a problem."

"Yeah?" Lup smiles in his general direction. "Always the problem-solver, Bear. One of the many things I love about you."

Barry feels his cheeks warm a little at the compliment but soldiers on regardless. "So... I... I know you don't really like to talk about it, but we both know you've been having some pretty bad dreams about what, uh, what happened while we were... apart. I hate seeing you having those nightmares, so I wanted to help." He lets out a soft laugh as he fetches a small wrapped box from the drawer where he'd hidden it and sets it on her lap. "Turns out, so did the rest of our family. They helped me put this together for you. Open your eyes and look inside the box."

Lup does so, shooting him a questioning look before unwrapping the box and opening it. She draws out a plain looking crystal orb that's roughly the size of an eight-ball. The orb is smooth and a faint light swirls within it, casting minute flickers across Lup's face.


"Just-- hang on. I need to turn the lights out for this."

Barry turns off the lights and then returns to Lup's side, sitting next to her. "This," he says, cupping his hands beneath hers so they're cradling the orb together, "will hopefully help with the dreams. The keyword is 'safe'. Try pushing a bit of your magic into it while saying the keyword."

Lup arches an eyebrow at him. "Safe," she repeats, zapping the orb with a spark of her magic. Immediately, the orb's internal light blinks and then scatters, collecting on the ceiling like stars in the night sky. Lup looks up, letting out a startled noise when she realizes that's not the only thing that's happened. The faint sounds of familiar voices come next, followed by the gentle salt-scent of the sea and the feeling of a faint breeze across her skin and hair. She closes her eyes, soaking in the sensations. It feels like she's back on the shore of the beach plane, though this time she can hear what sounds like Angus and Carey and Killian and oh so many others of their friends in the gentle murmur of her companions.

"Like I said, everyone helped with it," Barry says, bringing her attention back to him. "Lucretia was the one who-- she figured out how to incorporate an impression of everyone into the illusion. Capn'port did the illusion, Merle helped with the dream-shield, and Taako transmuted the orb after Magnus carved it." He laughs softly. "He wanted to make a duck but Taako refused to work with that. We went around and had as many of our friends do a small donation of their magic or an impression as we could manage. If... If you're deep enough in a dream that you can't wake up easily, the orb can be activated by your unconscious mind; you just need to add a drop of blood to it to bond it to you. Dav says that it'll also help change the dream too. It's got several charges of the Dream spell and it'll project this into it, easing you away from the nightmare. It's also easy enough to recharge, so you won't have to worry about it not working or anything."

Lup runs her fingers carefully over the orb, sets it on the bedside table, and then wraps her arms around Barry in a tight hug. Barry hugs her back, pressing his face against her hair. He studiously ignores the growing damp patch he can feel on his shirt, letting Lup get her emotions out for as long as she needs to. Eventually, her tears dry and she moves back enough to kiss him in thanks.

"Hey babe?"

"Yeah?" Barry replies, gently brushing the remains of tears from Lup's face.

"Let's go to bed."

Barry nods, and before too long, the two of them are tucked under the covers, drifting off to the sound of friends, family, and the quiet hush of the waves.