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It turns out better than she ever could have dreamed.

In the moment after the Hunger is defeated, Lucretia is lighter than she'd been in what felt like centuries, because everyone is safe. Everyone is safe. They'd gotten through it and her friends are all alive and the world is safe and her friends--

Are furious with her.

Remembering this brings her crashing down from the high again. Not all of them are outright livid, but she knows the anger is there in most of them. Lucretia knows them all so well, and there’s resentment around her that can never go away completely (most of that resentment is her own, directed at herself, sharp claws tearing her chest up from the inside nonstop, bound to break through skin eventually).

There isn’t any resentment coming from Merle and Magnus, however. She wasn’t sure what she expected when she dropped her barrier and apologized but it wasn’t a hug from both of them, and Magnus immediately telling her that it was all okay. The reminder of what she used to have is what got her through her final spell, because on her own, she wouldn’t have been enough for all that.

It makes sense that the rest of them have other things on their minds than listening to Lucretia give more apologies, and she’s more than willing to give them this option (because she knows she has done absolutely nothing to earn their forgiveness, and she can promise to make it up to them all she can but nothing can actually do that).

As the recovery and regrouping begins happening on the base post-battle, Lucretia seeks them out to have the one-on-one conversations that she needs to have with them before they go--she knows that they’re all going to meet up with each other again on the base by the evening, because she’d heard Magnus and Carey talk about some celebration happening that evening.

The plan to get the important conversations out of the way falls apart right away when Davenport refuses to look at her, or say a word in response to any of her apologies, electing instead to very deliberately pack up all of his belongings in front of her and then head back to help out with cleaning up, quickly leaving her behind. He talks plenty to everyone else, Lucretia hears him down the hallway as he moves farther away from her. She stole his words from him before, and he’s reclaiming them.

When she finds Barry, he’s using whatever powers he has to aid in clearing rubble from the domes so that people can recover their belongings from their personal quarters. She catches him right as he’s finishing stacking some huge pieces of glass that are still intact, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a bandage wrapped around his forehead that’s almost bled through, and, similar to Davenport, he won’t make eye contact with her either. A few feet away, Lucretia sees Lup, who’s back to being as hyper-aware of anyone coming near her husband as she used to.

Even though she’s in her lich form and there is hardly any definition to any of her face, Lup is making piercing, terrifying eye contact that more than makes up for the lack of it from Davenport and Barry. Lup stares, and Lucretia almost doesn’t hear Barry’s “This isn't the best time, Lucretia.”

“I understand, I just--”

“Look, are you going to help? Or are you just going to stand there and do what you think is going to help?” Barry snaps and looks up at her then, pausing his work for the first time. “You did what you thought you had to do, and I understand that completely, but you can’t expect us to bounce back from that sort of betrayal.”

Lucretia doesn’t have a good answer to that, because he’s right.

“Take my spot, babe,” says Lup’s voice, and Barry nods to Lucretia and moves away.

Lucretia turns back to Lup, hand clutching her staff so hard her fingers lock, and says, “Lup, I’m sorry. For everything.”

“I know you are, Lucy.” Lup sighs, and wraps an incorporeal arm around Lucretia’s shoulders in a sideways hug. Her gaze is somehow calculating as she says, “We’re having a party this evening, Magnus is throwing it.”

It takes Lucretia a second to recover from the change in conversation. “Oh, uh--yes, I heard talk, I think they’re using the Fantasy Costco--”

“It’d probably be better for you to, ah, not come,” Lup says bluntly. Not hostile, but miles away from being any kind of friendly.

Lucretia blinks at her.

“Taako’s going to be there, and he doesn’t want to see you.”

It doesn’t come as a surprise, exactly, but the feeling of having a dear friend tell her to stay away from a party Lucretia has every right to go to (the feeling of having someone who Lucretia had a crush on for decades tell her that she’s lost her place among the rest of her crewmates) is...not great. She’s fought against the Hunger too, she’s dealt the final blow, she’s earned this, she’s done so much to get here and she can’t have a drink with her friends after all of it has ended because of what she’s done.

“I’ll see you around,” Lup says, and goes back to helping with the recovery effort.

It’s just a party. Lucretia tells herself to stop being irrational, and also decides not to pursue a conversation with Taako today. Actually, she gives up on most conversation, and that’s fine because everyone is busy anyway. Even those that are usually the most friendly, like Carey and Angus and Avi, are quick to move past her in favor of others who they’re close to. Lucretia’s their boss, not their friend. She goes to her quarters and locks the doors.

By the time the party starts that evening, she’s still holed up in her quarters, trying to get up the courage to pack up her things, and Merle knocks on the door of her office, saying “Lucretia, we got Kravitz to do a keg stand, you’re missing out!”

“You should get back to the party.” Selfish as she is, she unlocks the door and lets Merle in anyway. Crossing back to her desk, she opens another drawer and retrieves some more files to go through, hearing him follow behind her and perch on a chair.

“You sure you’re alright in here alone?” Merle spins in the chair once. “I know you’re not a big party gal, but you deserve a night off!”

“Let’s not get into what I deserve, Merle.” Lucretia gives him a small, fake smile, sitting in her own chair and opening the first file. It’s full of case reports about the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet. She closes it again. “I’m just getting this all sorted out, so I can focus on transforming the Bureau. Big plans. Gotta do my job, uh, no rest for the wicked, I suppose.”

“I see. Yeah, I figured it would be a lot of, uh, logistics.” Merle isn’t surprised at Lucretia’s refusal to listen, but he still stands up and walks over and takes the files out of her hands. “Come on, just for a little while. We miss you!”

Lucretia shakes her head, and gently takes the files back. “Thank you. I’m sure you’ll have a lot more fun without me.”

Merle looks at her in a way that makes her feel like she’s being stared into , but then he just shrugs. “Stop by later, if you’re feeling up to it. Taako’s leaving early to get some time alone with the grim reaper, I’m pretty sure.” He winks, and then walks out of her office.

He’s hit the nail on the head, of course, but she still can’t find it in her to go and face Lup and Barry and Davenport (and she's exhausted, and none of her employees really like her that much, anyway) so she sits in her chair for a very long time, then retires to her bed and spends a very sleepless night nursing a long-since-cold cup of tea.

 

As the dust settles, a sense of normalcy returns. By the time she gets through the line of people getting their bracers removed (and not everyone wants to get them off, apparently, Avi and Magnus thinks theirs look sick and Taako, as is expected, doesn’t show up), most everyone is planetside again, leaving her to go back to work.

The next few weeks and months are full of reports of her friends going and creating new lives and turning into teachers, mentors, benefactors, heroes (better lives than Lucretia gave them, lives that won't collapse like a house of playing cards and leave them alone again).

After she finishes all the reimbursing and relocating and brings down the now-empty moon base into the ocean, after the only home she’s had for the last ten years is destroyed in favor of creating an accessible new headquarters on the ground, Lucretia is easily forgotten.

Not forgotten, but--put aside. It’s expected that she can take care of herself and the organization by herself, and she can but she also wants to have companionship again, she wants to laugh--she hasn't laughed in weeks, she hasn't laughed since the last time Carey and Killian and NO-3113 invited her to their movie night before she sent some of her dearest friends off to Wonderland, off to actual hell (isn't it amazing she was even invited to the movie night at all, but she’d had such a fun time and they at least pretended she was their friend). A few of them get in touch for personal reasons every few weeks but they're all busy doing good work and Lucretia is kind of boring to talk to, she suspects. The calls sort of peter out and that's fine, they have their own lives to lead. It's fine . Even Magnus’s calls are starting to slow down, and Lucretia is so lonely she clings to them like a lifeline, unsure what’s going to happen when they stop altogether.

After all, she hadn’t exactly planned for life after the Hunger was defeated. She figured (hoped?) she would die in the process and that everyone else would be safe and she never dreamt of a time where she had to exist knowing that what she did didn’t even end up being the fucking right thing to do. Continuing the Bureau as something new seems like the only thing she’s equipped for, so she throws herself into the work.

She buys a small cottage in the woods near a satellite town of Neverwinter. It’s a two-bedroom (though she doesn’t expect many overnight guests), with a small garden in the backyard and vines crawling all over the entire structure. Everyone in town knows who she is, and most of them are friendly and thank her for things she doesn’t need to be thanked for.

It’s busy work, transforming the Bureau into something better, and it’s exhausting. She does paperwork and more paperwork and she’s always calling people to set up new events and locations and she feels like she’s working twenty-three hours a day--but despite all the good she’s doing, despite the fact that she should be happy like this, she’s just tired. Lucretia begins to feel like a loose end, one that will eventually need to be cut off, and on one particularly summery and bright day, she’s sunk so low that she's planning how to do that herself, planning a next-in-line, when someone knocks on her cottage door.

Selfishly hoping it isn't someone looking for a fight, she walks to the entry hall and pulls a robe on over her pajamas. (She's so tired tired tired and she hasn't planned on seeing anyone else before she sees Kravitz and-- she didn't think that through, because Lup and Barry work for the Raven Queen now too and they would see her weakness and scream at her for giving up when she was the one who ruined their lives and--)

She opens the door. It's Merle.

He looks healthy, if a little aged, his skin tanned darker and his laughter lines deeper. Merle gives her a kind smile and invites himself in, handing her a bottle of wine. He's surprisingly without his children, but he talks enough to make up for that, chatting about Lord Artemis Sterling still attempting to build a bar on the beach, a bar that has had no customers but has enjoyed continual structural failures. Merle talks about Mavis, and Mookie, and how he and Davenport are seeing each other again (they both step neatly around the subject of Davenport’s refusal to speak to her). He talks about life and how he's successful and happy and proud of his kids and students and it's amazing.

Lucretia unabashedly drinks it all in; Merle’s voice, his calm presence, his achievements, the excellent wine. She doesn't contribute much, Merle seems to sense that she's not up to it, but eventually he does steer the conversation back to her.

“Whatcha been up to, Lucretia?” he asks.

She takes another sip from her glass in order to stall, and immediately hates that the first lull in conversation of the afternoon is her fault. “I haven't been-- well, it's been weird not being in charge of you boys, but I’ve been reorganizing the Bureau,” she says.

Merle snorts. “You did love to boss us around.”

The comment should sting, but it doesn't (a step forward, or too much wine? Lucretia puts her glass down). “I've started painting again, too. I teach classes. To, um. I teach classes at the retirement home.” Sometimes people don't even show up, but when they do Lucretia has a good hour of time away from her own thoughts (she feels like maybe she's only worth keeping alive to be useful to someone else).

“I bet you're a hit with the hot old ladies.”

Lucretia cracks a real smile, for the first time in weeks, and she knows Merle notices, and he even seems a little relieved. He's always known exactly how to cheer her up.

“Why did you choose to come today, Merle?” Lucretia asks later, following a story from Merle about Mookie’s new boar-wrestling habit. “I'm happy to see you again, of course! I'm just wondering.”

“Aw, you know...I just felt like I hadn't talked to you in a while. And something told me you needed a friend today.” Merle shrugs, the picture of sincerity. “I think I was right.”

The sunshine Merle brings to her house is brighter than the day outside, but he can't stay forever. Shadows start creeping across the sitting room and Merle stretches as he gets up off the couch. She walks him to the door, waves as he climbs into his new wagon with flame decals on the sides and three phone books stacked on the driver’s seat so that he can see over the steering wheel.

He leans out the window as he turns the key in the ignition. “Hey, don't be a stranger, okay?”

Lucretia nods. “I have a feeling you won't let me.”

“True that, sister.” And he drives down the long lane, away from the cottage.

Lucretia gets inside before she lets herself cry-- Merle still cares enough to call her ‘sister’ and she doesn't deserve it she doesn't deserve the peaceful afternoon she's had with him--and “cry” is a mild word for what is actually a full-on relieved breakdown about the seemingly unlimited amount of forgiveness that Merle Highchurch can give out. She’d known he’d forgiven her before, but it was just the sweet reminder she needed, and she sends up a prayer to Pan in thanks, even though she’s never considered herself to be a follower of his.

Her mind keeps telling her that this would be the perfect last afternoon, that she should finish it before something else knocks her down. Instead, she gets up off the couch, her joints aching, and goes back to a stack of correspondence she needs to get through. If she does it tonight, Merle will blame himself for not noticing or stopping her.

 

The thing is, she's lived for so long--about a hundred years longer than any human should have, and fifteen years longer than she wanted to--and she feels so impossibly old and tired, her bones creaking and mind aching. She's obtained forgiveness from two of her friends, at least. She’s already accomplished what they came to this world to do. It’s done. She’s done.

So she picks a day, a respectable amount of time after Merle's visit, long enough later that she might have developed a new problem and spiraled after he had come and gone, carefully choosing one that isn’t near any important birthdays or holidays or anniversaries--she’d ruined Davenport’s birthday when she literally ripped all sense of person from his mind, more than ten years ago, and she’s not doing that again. It’s a marathon, getting everything in order for an “extended vacation,” but. The end is in sight and she sprints towards it.

At four o’clock, late enough in the day that she knows Taako will be awake, she calls him. Back in the first few months after the day of Story and Song, she had tried calling him once every few weeks, and he’d always ignored the calls, but she has nothing to lose, now, and this is her last chance. After the third ring, the line picks up, and Lucretia’s heart begins to pound.

“Hello, Taako,” she begins.

“What’s poppin’, Madame Director?” he says.

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m fucking fantastic, actually. I’m on a beach vacation with Lup and Barry and my gorgeous boyfriend, so you’d better make this quick, because I have a Mai Tai that’s wayyy more worth my time than you.” He shouts, “Hey, boner squad, say hi!”

Lucretia flinches away from the sudden noise, but hears very muffled, unenthused greetings from all three reapers.

“What do you want?” Taako asks her.

She pulls her knees into her chest, because she has nothing else to hold onto in comfort, just stacks of paperwork around her. “I was just checking in on you, we haven’t spoken since--”

“Since I found out you were the one who ruined my life, yeah. I remember. Funny how that works, huh.” Taako’s probably rolling his eyes, and Lup and Barry and Kravitz are definitely listening in to this pathetic last conversation Lucretia’s ever going to have with anyone. “Did you just call to say sorry again?”

“No,” she lies. “Just to say hi.”

Taako laughs, a harsh sound that hurts her ears more than the shouting had earlier. “Yeah, okay. Hi. Hey, did you know that Lup’s claustrophobic now?” In the background, Lup says a warning “ Taako, not right now ,” and Taako huffs out a frustrated breath. “Whatever. I’m blocking your number if you call again. Bye.” And then he hangs up.

Lucretia takes ten deep breaths, puts down her stone of farspeech, puts on her boots, and then leaves to visit the apothecary and retrieve the hemlock she’d ordered the previous week under the guise of needing it as a spell component.

The new knowledge that all the reapers she knows are on vacation cements her plan. She's also counting on the fact that no one will try and get in contact with her before she drinks the poison, because then she might lose her nerve. She’s probably in the clear in that sense, as Merle is busy being an earl, and Avi hasn’t called for three months, and Carey and Killian are busy loving each other.

What Lucretia isn’t counting on is abysmal luck and Magnus fucking Burnsides.

It's only a minute or so after she's downed the majority of the fatal dose, mixed with wine to help it go down, that her stone of farspeech starts buzzing, and Lucretia, wiping her mouth with one trembling hand, knows that ignoring this call it will be even more cause for alarm than whatever she says if she answers--she’s never missed picking up a call, she’s reliable in that sense, at least (and also, part of her wants a better goodbye call than the one she had with Taako earlier). She presses the button and says a cautious, “Hello?”

The sound becomes clear. “Lucretia! Long time no see. Listen, I seem to remember that a certain beloved friend of mine loves puppies, and I have one that needs a home!”

Not now , Magnus . Lucretia suppresses a cough that shakes her whole body like a leaf--the poison is working, definitely. She imagines it coursing through her blood and feels relief, enough relief to answer professionally. “Hi, Magnus. Can this discussion happen in the morning when I'm capable of making grown person decisions?” She's reeling from Magnus calling her a beloved friend, so much so that she forgets she can't be making plans for later. Why couldn’t he have called ten minutes earlier?

“Not much of a discussion to be had! This puppy will love you. When can I drop her off?”

Lucretia feels another cough rise, and she can't hide this one. It's loud and very noticeable when it comes, no hope in Magnus ignoring it, either. “I can't take her, Magnus,” she forces out. “I'm sorry.”

This is a bad thing to say, and Magnus definitely knows something’s wrong. Lucretia remembers the first time she got sick on the Starblaster, Magnus picking up on the signs like a private investigator and refusing to leave her side until she fell asleep every night, because Lucretia will work through anything and that led to her passing out in the middle of the ship’s deck one morning. In the past, she had appreciated Magnus’s overprotection, but now, it’s a liability to her plan. “Why not? Are you sick? What’s going on?”

“I'm fine, just a head cold. I can’t take on the responsibility of a dog right now, I’m so busy...” Lucretia has to stop talking or she’ll vomit. Never mind, she vomits anyway. She coughs yet again, feeling something acidic and bitter burn her throat. Her vision is sliding away from her, and she spends her remaining energy to finish the glass, hoping that she didn’t expel enough of the poison that it won’t work on her. “I'm sorry,” she says again, choking on both tears and bile and losing all semblance of composure. “I’m really, really sorry, Magnus, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t--”

“Lucretia, whatever you're doing, stop it . I'm coming to check on you,” is the last thing she hears from the stone, Magnus’s voice raised in alarm, and she can't even get her mouth to move to say anything back. Her hand shakes, she convulses, she drops the stone and it bounces, the sound loud as cannonfire in her ears.

A cool hand takes hers what feels like centuries later, and Lucretia raises her head to see Kravitz. She blinks at him, awash with the fear that Lup or Barry are going to show up.

“The others aren't coming,” Kravitz says evenly, and helps her sit up from where she'd fallen into a deep red puddle of her own sick. He’s in his human form, but his suit is replaced with a button-up and more casual pants, and Lucretia hopeshopeshopes she hasn’t interrupted an important moment with Taako. Taako can’t know.

“Am I…”

“Almost.”

“I was under the impression that reapers only concerned themselves with those who had committed some sort of crime against your boss.” Lucretia knows something else is going on, but maybe she’s too far gone for it to matter--she knows her body isn’t the one making her say that, she’s communicating with Kravitz nonverbally and he seems to hear it just fine.

Kravitz presses his lips into a thin line. He’s produced a rag and is wiping her face. They’d met before, once. After Lucretia had gotten wind of someone unauthorized visiting the moon base periodically, she’d been so happy that Taako had found someone so down-to-earth and polite and, yes, intimidated by her that she’d authorized him after a long conversation in her office--and it’s such a blessing that it isn’t Lup or Barry here to do the opposite of take care of her. “Magnus called me,” he admits.

“I'm dead now, though. I have to be. He’s too late, right? You have to take me back now, that's the law!” Lucretia falls back into violent coughing, holding onto Kravitz’s hand tightly and praying to the Raven Queen that he’ll just get this over with so she can finally rest.

“I’m not here to reap your soul, it’s not your time yet.” Kravitz looks immeasurably sad, as if he can hear her prayers too, and squeezes her hand in return. Lucretia doesn’t know why he isn’t angry and vengeful on behalf of Taako, but she appreciates it nonetheless. “Magnus called to ask me to check if you were doing anything dangerous. He also called Merle.”

Lucretia’s front door bursts open, and she knows it’s going to be Merle, coming to heal her and bring her back and she doesn’t want that . She tries to scramble to her feet, to run and hide from Merle, to go and find a knife or something and finish it like she should have months ago, but she can't move, the poison is confusing which parts of her body are supposed to move when and Kravitz now has a hand on her shoulder to hold her down.

“Budge up, death boy.” Merle is pulling out his bible, Kravitz is obliging and moving aside, Lucretia can't look up and make eye contact with either of them. She failed and she's going to pay for this, because Merle is never going to trust her again and Taako is going to find out and be so fucking angry (how dare she use poison he's going to fly off the handle) and Magnus is going to cry so much and Lup

Lucretia opens her eyes and she's on her back on the kitchen floor, with Merle in front of her and Kravitz kneeling up by her head, holding it steady. Kravitz and Merle have clearly finished some kind of important conversation that she’s missed, but that isn’t her problem right now. “Was that a Calm Emotion?” she asks, her tongue feeling too big for her mouth.

“No, you had a seizure,” Kravitz tells her.

“I'm casting Protection from Poison,” Merle announces, “and then we're gonna sit and talk about all this, alright, ‘Cretia?”

Lucretia feels the poison being neutralized, she wants it to stay so badly she would counterspell if she could just move her arm to do something, her struggle is so weak and Kravitz won’t stop looking at her with so much pity in his eyes--but then the pain is gone and she knows she's stuck being alive and both Kravitz and Merle look extremely relieved.

Kravitz helps her sit up again, then gets to his feet to leave, and Lucretia finally gains enough control of her arm to grab at his sleeve. “Please don't tell them,” she begs. He's already seen her at her worst, there's no point in being ashamed.

“They're going to find out at some point,” he says.

That probability is high, because Lucretia is definitely going to try again, but. Still. “Please, this is only going to make them hate me more.”

“Who hates you?” Merle asks sharply, glancing between the two of them.

“Taako and Davenport and Lup and Barry and, and everyone ,” her breath is hitching with tears again. This time, Merle actually does cast Calm Emotion, but she beats the saving throw and buries her face in her hands to let herself cry.

“Lucretia, they don’t hate you, honey, they-- Lucretia .” Merle runs a hand over her short hair. Lucretia is much too old to be treated like Merle’s ten-year-old child but she’s missed this, she’s missed having anyone to look after her, she’s spent so much time looking after everyone else. “Look at me. They don’t hate you.”

Lucretia looks at him with eyes that are heavy with years of guilt and pain and loneliness and rejection, and Merle wipes tears from her face with his thumb.

“I won’t tell them. There’s no guaranteeing they won’t figure it out, but I won’t say a word,” Kravitz says quietly, and he uses his scythe to split reality and create a rift. Lucretia considers making a break for the astral plane, but Merle shifts, effectively blocking her path, and she can’t tell if he did it on purpose or not.

“Thank you,” she bites out, though she’s not pleased about the reaper’s refusal to do his job and Kravitz probably knows this.

Kravitz inclines his head to her. “Get some rest, Lucretia.” And he’s gone, the rift sealing up behind him.

Lucretia is still feeling the leftover effects from the poison, even though it unfortunately isn’t going to kill her anymore, and she’s shaky on her feet as she tries to stand up. Merle helps her to the couch in the sitting room, and bustles around for awhile. He brings her the comforter from her bed and wraps it around her, he goes to the kitchen and presumably cleans up the mess Lucretia made, and eventually comes back with two big cups of tea, one of which he places in Lucretia’s trembling hands.

He sits on the other end of the couch for a moment, but then there’s an urgent knock at the door and he gets back up, going to answer it, pointing at Lucretia threateningly when she tries to stand up herself. “It’s probably Magnus. Drink that.”

She doesn’t want Magnus to see her like this, but it’s too late to stop Merle from opening the front door--she can hear the two of them talking in low voices in the entry hall. Magnus is either going to get super angry or he’s going to start crying, and Lucretia has done enough crying in the last hour or two to be sick of it. He’s going to think she’s pathetic, that she should have at least succeeded if she was going to take the coward’s way out, that she’s--

“Woah, breathe,” comes Magnus’s voice, he’s prying the tea out of her hands and setting it aside, and then he’s wrapping his arms around her in an amazing hug that’s over way too soon. He puts a hand on her shoulder and smiles. “I’m so glad you’re okay, I was so worried .”

Lucretia shakes her head over and over, wiping new tears from her eyes with some of the comforter that’s balled around her hand. “Magnus, why did you do all this?” She hears snuffling, and looks over the edge of the couch to find a beautiful rottweiler puppy sniffing its way underneath her couch. “ Magnus .”

“If by ‘all this’ you mean ‘save your damn life,’ you’re welcome,” Magnus says, and lifts the puppy up onto Lucretia’s lap so that she can pet her. The puppy wiggles happily, leaning into Lucretia’s touch and reaching up to lick the tears that are still falling on Lucretia’s face.

“I think Chesney is a good name,” Merle contributes, settling onto the couch with his tea.

“That name is dumb, Merle, and I’m not naming this dog, I can’t keep her,” Lucretia forces herself to say. She can’t be making plans for the future, she isn’t going to last long enough to take care of this amazing dog.

“Nope, she’s yours now,” Magnus says. “Might I recommend the name Scooby?”

“Thank you for the offer, Magnus, but it’s the wrong breed and I’m not exactly--I’m not in a position to be planning anything long-term.” Lucretia’s exhausted, hardly awake or strong enough to be making words, much less argue with her friends about whether she’s going to stay alive.

“Yes you are,” Merle says, his voice steel. “You aren’t going anywhere. What’s the dog’s name?”

“I need to get back to work, Merle, if I’m going to be awake, I might as well be accomplishing something.” But when she tries to stand, Magnus pushes her back down, telling her to take a load off. Lucretia isn’t going to win this one, especially in her current physical and mental state, with a puppy in her lap. She tries very hard to think of a name good enough for the puppy, but eventually just ends up falling asleep with it curled up on her chest.

 

In the morning, the sun coming in through cracks in the window shutters across the living room and the smell of a freshly made breakfast wake her up, and when she opens her eyes, the puppy is gone.

Disoriented (she hasn’t slept in past dawn in months), Lucretia sits up, pushing the blanket off of her (of course Merle had tucked her in), looking around for any sign of her friends, and hears low-volume conversation happening in the kitchen. Said conversation alerts her to the fact that she has a killer headache, and her mouth tastes like a rat died in it, both probably effects of the lethal amounts of hemlock she ingested less than eight hours before.

Groaning, she gets up off the couch, back so sore she’s sure she’s permanently deformed now, and immediately stubs her pinky toe on the coffee table.

“Ow, fuck!” she exclaims. The puppy comes bounding into the room, feet clicking on the stone floor, seemingly answering to the word. She jumps up and puts her paws up on Lucretia’s knees, and Lucretia has to sit back down because she starts giggling so hard her chest hurts. She realizes it’s her first time laughing since that movie night, before the apocalypse happened, and it feels amazing.

“Good morning, Lucretia!” Magnus booms from the kitchen, making her head spin.

“Hi, Magnus,” she calls back, and reaches down to pull the puppy onto her lap. Sadly, Fuck is a bad name for a dog, no matter how tempting. “Any more name ideas from you two?”

Magnus appears in the doorway, but beside him isn’t Merle, like Lucretia expected. It’s Lup.

Lucretia freezes, and the puppy nudges her hand to make her start petting her again. “Oh. Good morning. I, um, wasn’t expecting you.”

Her face must be more than a little surprised, might be more like shocked or terrified, because Lup glances at Magnus before saying, “Sorry to drop in on you like this, babe, but. It seemed like we needed to talk.”

“Did Kravitz…” Lucretia accepts the glass of water Magnus hands to her, but she doesn’t take her eyes off Lup. It’s not that she thinks Lup is going to attack her, or anything, just. Lucretia just never expected to see her again.

Lup shakes her head. “No, but he’s, like, a super bad liar, for the record. I heard Magnus sounding pretty scared about something on the stone of farspeech when he called, and figured it was about you, because Magnus would call me before Krav if it was about anyone else.”

“I’m kind of a controversial figure, huh?” Lucretia says, and downs the entire glass. Magnus snorts, because she’s acting like a client in a noir novel, but then he leaves the room to let them have their conversation in private. “Did you tell anyone?”

“Come on, I’m not that much of a snitch.” Lup walks by Magnus as he leaves and ignores his disbelieving look.

“You told Barry, then.” Lucretia sets down her glass, fixing Lup with a Look that she perfected whilst being Director, one of sophisticated authoritarian exasperation.

Lup sighs heavily, then flops into an armchair, spreading her hands out in a sue me gesture. “Yeah, I did. You’re a smart cookie.” She hesitates, then asks, “You didn’t just do this because you thought we hated you, right?”

The air feels colder, all of a sudden, and Lucretia looks down at her (her own!!) dog. There’s no point in holding anything back, anymore, so she just goes for it. “Partially, but no. To be honest, I just don’t really serve a purpose that nobody else could fill if I wasn’t there, now that everything’s done with, so I didn’t want to keep being miserable and alone if I could just have it be done with. I would try again if I knew you all wouldn’t stop me.”

“That’s bullshit.” Lup says quietly. “But I get it.”

Lucretia just nods. There’s quiet in the room for a moment, before she blurts out, “I shouldn’t have called Taako yesterday, right? Like, that was a boner on my part?”

“Please don’t say boner, Lucy, we’ve discussed this.” Lup wrinkles her nose, then gets serious again, picking at some loose threads on the chair. “But, for real, I don’t know. It’s been almost a year now, and he needs to start being a grown-up at some point.”

“He doesn’t need to forgive me,” Lucretia says. “I understand if he doesn’t, I absolutely understand if you don’t, either.”

“Yeah, I’ve had a rough time, too, forgiving the woman who ripped me and my brother apart and left me to rot in an umbrella while all the cool shit happened outside it for a gazillion years and then tried to end the world,” Lup says, examining her nails, her voice like a knife.

But Lucretia knows her. “I have too, but with the woman who chose a man with questionable denim choices over me and let me live in guilt and despair for nine months after the apocalypse, eventually leading to me trying to end my own life.”

“We’re cool, then?” Lup asks, looking up.

Lucretia nods, relief washing over her. “Totally chill.”

“Okay, awesome , because I missed you, holy shit.” Lup makes kissy noises at the puppy, who had previously fallen asleep in Lucretia’s lap, and the puppy gets up and and leaps off the couch towards Lup, like a traitor. “What’s her name?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Lucretia says. “Magnus brought her to me yesterday.”

“I like Greg Grimaldis as a dog name. That shitweasel never paid me back my fifteen dollars,” Lup complains, and Lucretia snickers at the old joke. Lup, looking very proud of herself for earning a laugh, gives the puppy a few good pats, then gets up to go back to the kitchen, her voice carrying as she leaves the room. “I made french toast, by the way, if you’d like some--oh, fuck, Magnus, what have you done! Never mind about breakfast, Lucretia, Magnus ate two entire loaves' worth.”

“It was for the gains,” Magnus says guiltily through what sounds like a mouthful of french toast.

“FUCK gains, Magnus! You’re already built like a shithouse, homegirl’s gotta eat!”

“I’m fine without breakfast, Lup,” Lucretia tries to protest, but Lup snarls “ No you’re not! ” and noises of her making more food begin to come from the kitchen. Lucretia hadn’t even realized how little she’d actually been functioning until she has her first full breakfast in months (Merle must have been busy burning healing slots on her after she fell asleep--she doesn't feel like she could be bleeding internally anymore and her appetite is back).

Magnus opens all the windows in the cottage that afternoon and the stale air and darkness start to dissipate. Lup takes a broom to some of the cobwebs, and Merle wakes up around noon, makes more tea for Lucretia, and goes out to try and rescue the dying plants in her garden (and possibly talk dirty to them, but she doesn’t want to check).

Later that evening, she’s given up on trying to teach the still-unnamed puppy how to roll over (while Merle, Magnus, and Lup argue over what board game to play, Magnus had literally carried Lucretia back from the kitchen when she’d tried to return to work) when there’s a knock on the door, and the puppy yaps and runs towards it excitedly, sliding around on the smooth floor and running directly into the wall on her way.

“That's Barold,” Lup says, looking up from where's she's wrestling Scrabble away from Merle. “He said he wanted to come apologize and make sure you were okay.”

After checking to make sure the puppy isn't injured from the collision (she hasn’t stopped wagging her tail, she’s fine), Lucretia opens the door. It is indeed Barry, and he holds out a bouquet of sunflowers to her sheepishly. “Sorry I was an ass this year,” he says. His eyes are red and puffy, but Lucretia decides it's probably just allergies.

“Sorry I sent you on a ten-year lich quest because I was overprotective,” Lucretia responds, taking the flowers from him and pointing to the puppy. “Any name ideas?”

“Sildar Hallwinter,” Barry says, bending down to pet the dog, “or Todd. How are you feeling?”

“A lot better now, thanks.” Lucretia smiles and invites him inside. “May I ask who Sildar Hallwinter is?”

“My fursona,” Barry says, and sniffles.

“Is that my love I hear?” Lup shouts, and Barry wanders into the living room to sit down next to his wife, leaving Lucretia to process and deal with this information on her own.

It's a lovely evening, aside from the screaming match Magnus and Lup get into about Trivial Pursuit. Magnus leaves after they finish that game (not because of the argument, but because Angus is coming back home from school the next morning and he wants to be there) and Merle leaves about an hour later, because of some early-morning duties he has in Bottlenose Cove (Lup says “ Earl -y, huh!” and Barry sighs and Merle high-fives her). By the time Lup and Barry get ready to leave because they ditched Kravitz and Taako all day, Lucretia feels so loved she can hardly process it.

“I'll see you later, nerdlord,” Lup says to her, standing from where she'd been on the ground, wrestling her extravagant boots onto her feet, and blows a kiss.

Lucretia puts her hand up and catches it. “I look forward to it.”

“I see you, Director-Steal-My-Girl,” Barry says, but he's not jealous, just amused (all three of them have moved on from that debacle). He gives her a short hug. “Let us know if you need anything at all.”

“I will,” Lucretia promises.

“And we'll talk to Taako, okay?” Lup says. Her cape is wrapped around her and looks oddly bulging, from what Lucretia sees before Lup turns and heads for the door very quickly.

“Give me back my dog, Lup.”

“What dog?” Lup asks, not slowing down, swinging open the front door. “Come on, Barold! We're leaving!”

Lucretia casts Prismatic Wall, and the wall blocks off the doorway so Lup can't continue. The spell is level nine and a little much for her exhausted body, but it holds. Lup summons her scythe and tries to slash through it, and ends up getting hit with a beam of white-hot flame. It's not enough to really hurt her, just to surprise her, because the wall is kind of flickering after being slashed (Lucretia really didn't do a great job on this one). “Holy shit, Lucy!”

“I know, it's dope. Dog, please.”

Lup sets down the puppy, who runs back to Lucretia, stumbling over paws much too big for herself. “I'll be back soon to visit her, then. Whatever. Bye.” She slices open a rift to the astral plane with her scythe (she'd only made a stink about not being able to leave for attention), and steps in. Barry’s close behind, tripping over the edge of the rift on his way in, and Lup’s obnoxious cackling laughter is cut off as it closes.

Lucretia sits down on the ground, and her puppy licks her face, and she smiles, and then she gets up and returns to her paperwork.

 

The few weeks are pretty rocky, because her friends seem to know her a lot better than she thought. Lying doesn't seem to be working on them anymore. They call more frequently than before, and she's become much more honest in answering their questions, but she begins turning to lies of omission instead. (Avi in particular becomes extremely suspicious of her after she returns from her “extended vacation” after only a day, and her only excuse is that her plans fell through. He’s been campaigning for her to take an actual vacation, and she can only hope that he doesn’t get in touch with Magnus about it.)

She eventually tells Avi that she’s given in to his constant advice to take a break, and about a week after the Whole Ordeal, she asks Carey and Killian to take care of her dog (now named Georgina) for a couple of days. She says it's just because Georgie needs to be with someone who runs for a couple days, but it's also because Lucretia has a late-night panic about hardly being able to take care of herself, let alone a pet who relies on her, and if they really like Georgie, Lucretia won't have to worry about her well-being anymore and she can try to get rid of herself again.

Lucretia must have sounded like something of a wreck when she talked to Carey, because although she and Killian watch the dog for a day or so, the two of them and Magnus show up on day two with Georgie in tow. Georgie runs to her and whines until Lucretia picks her up.

“She wouldn't stop crying after you left,” Killian says. “She really loves you.”

“We called Magnus to try and brainstorm how to get her to calm down, but he said it was best to bring her home,” Carey says, shrugging. An accusatory glance at Magnus shows he’s already watching Lucretia intently. He nods to her, then walks around the three of them to the kitchen, carrying six grocery bags, apparently on his way to get himself a snack with food he brought for himself. Carey rolls her eyes at him, then continues. “Sorry, boss. She's a cutie, though.”

“She sure is.” Lucretia looks down at Georgie, who stares back up and looks awfully satisfied with herself. “I apologize for the inconvenience, thank you for trying.”

Killian nods, then nudges Carey, who produces an envelope and hands it over sort of shyly. “And this is for you.”

Setting Georgie down (who trots over to the kitchen, in hopes of a handout from Magnus), she uses her nails to slide under the flap and open it, and when she does, her brain almost shorts out. It's a wedding invitation. She looks up, and Killian is trying to gauge her reaction, and Carey is flashing her engagement ring proudly and grinning.

Lucretia gets a little teary-eyed, but nobody comments. “Congratulations. This is--” She takes a deep breath. “I'm so proud of both of you.” And then she doesn't have to talk anymore because Killian gives her a big hug and Carey isn't far behind.

Killian doesn’t say much as Carey starts explaining logistics and food and everything, but she's alight with happiness and Lucretia can see it. When Carey starts winding down, Killian says, “Also, uh, we were wondering...Since neither of us have, like, a parent attending--”

“Well, my parents are coming, but they suck,” Carey says brightly.

“Ha, yeah, they do. Lucretia, we were wondering if you could. You know. Do the parents’ speech at the reception.”

Lucretia must be silent for a minute too long.  Her mind is racing and screaming that she doesn't deserve any part of this, that she's going to ruin the entire occasion, that her speech will be awful and her friends will be so angry but Killian is looking at her expectantly, Carey doesn't look worried at all, and Lucretia nods. Once, then again and again, and she covers her mouth.

“I’d be honored,” she chokes out.

“Aw, you reacted like a mom, you're doing great already,” Carey says, and gives her another hug.

“To clarify, I’m not pretending to be a parent, right? I’m just taking the place of one?”

“Well, I think you’ve done both of those already, but just standing in place of one is good for the speech.” Carey grins. “Perfect. I knew we chose a good mom. Thanks!”

“Yeah, thank you,” Killian says, and grins, and gives a small wave. “We're gonna head out, we're having dinner with some friends of ours in Goldcliff in an hour or so.”

Carey waves too, then calls, “Magnus, you good sticking around here?”

“Yeah! Say hi to Hurley for me!” Magnus yells back, and Lucretia realizes what's happening. She bids farewell to Killian and Carey, closes the door, sets the invitation down, walks to the kitchen.

“Am I--am I on a suicide watch?” she asks, her hands in tight fists by her sides.

Magnus looks up from the sandwich he's munching on, unsurprised that he's been found out so quickly. “You tried to give your dog away for a week, and Carey said you sounded bad on the phone. I talked to Avi and he said you’d taken another “extended vacation,” and the last time you took one of those was when you tried to--when you tried to kill yourself .”

He’s done quite a bit of detective work, then, and Lucretia furrows her eyebrows as she realizes she’s going to have to be a lot more careful than she would have been if she’d succeeded the first time.

Magnus is still talking. “You said you would call if you weren't feeling well, how are we supposed to keep you safe if--”

Lucretia snaps. “You don't need to keep me safe, Magnus! I'm a grown woman and it's my responsibility and my consequences and my choices that I have to make on my own.” Lucretia straightens her shoulders (when had slouching become a habit of hers?) and stares him down. “I don't appreciate you getting all up in my business like this, like I’m eighteen fucking years old and wanting to cut bad cycles short again!”

“Can you look me in the eye and promise you weren't going to try again this week?”

The staring contest goes on for a very long time, but Lucretia looks away first. “I'll wait until after the wedding, don't worry,” she mutters.

“I'm still worried,” Magnus says, “but that gives us time to change your mind.”

She goes to bed angry because her friends think she's naive and needs protection from herself and everything else (though she hasn't done much in the past few months to convince them otherwise). She should’ve ignored that stupid call, maybe then her friends wouldn’t have found her body until two weeks later, too late for Kravitz or Merle or Magnus or anyone to swoop in and act like a hero.

But she’s alive, she reminds herself, and she’s not going to have much of an opportunity to go for a secretive way to become not -alive, at this rate, so what’s she going to do about it? There has to be some productive thing to do besides wait for old age to take her or work herself into an early grave, as she’s been attempting to do.

She doesn’t sleep well at all, but as soon as she hears Magnus moving around in the kitchen, she decides it’s acceptable to give up and join him.

After she’s procured a cup of coffee, Lucretia sits across from Magnus at the kitchen table, where he’s enjoying a massive breakfast of eggs and waffles (he must have brought the ingredients for those himself, because Lucretia can’t remember the last time she actually went grocery shopping). Before she can lose her nerve, she says, “I'm going to call Taako and try to get through to him again, Lup said he's awake. Will you sit here and be silent emotional support?”

“How about I talk first--?”

Silent emotional support, Magnus.”

“But I'm like, actually his friend right now--”

“Okay, yeah, silence, though.” Lucretia holds up a hand. “Interrupt only if it goes down to Frown Town.”

“You're already frowning, so--”

“This is-this is just my face , Magnus--”

“Mmmmmmm, looks like a frown to me.”

Lucretia sighs heavily, and rubs her eyes, beginning to regret bringing him into this. “I'm calling him now.”

Taako picks up after the fourth ring. “Hail and well met, who the fuck is this?”

“Uh, it's--Lucretia.” Lucretia looks up at Magnus, panicking already and doing her best to hide it. She used to be so put-together and stoic and seemingly sure of herself, but somewhere along the way, she’s lost vital building blocks of this quality.

“Oh, in that case, hail and not well met. I told you I'd block your frequency if you called me again, darling.” Someone other than Taako says something in the background, and Taako responds, “Yeah, she called me again, against all odds. What do you want?” he asks, presumably directed back at Lucretia. “Do you want like, some of that silverpoint venom to drink? Because offer’s on the table and that’s the only thing I can think of that could be of use to you at this point--”

Lucretia opens her mouth (to accept? She isn’t sure what she’s going to say, her heart is pounding in her ears), but both Magnus and whoever’s on the other end with Taako seem to decide Taako’s out of line somehow. Magnus snatches the stone of farspeech from Lucretia and says harshly “Taako, what the fuck, she's our friend ,” and on the other end, the person who turns out to be Lup says “--not cool, Koko.”

Magnus hasn't looked away from Lucretia, probably trying to check if this call has gone on long enough, but she's fallen quiet again in order to hear what happens next. She's not okay, her hands are shaking and her stomach is turning over and over, but she needs to know what Taako is going to say.

Taako’s angry voice comes through, muffled by what's probably Lup’s hand but still very audible, saying “You and Mags on her side now? Fuck this!”

“There aren't sides here, she's not the enemy--”

“Bull. Shit,” Taako spits. “She ruined everything!”

“Yeah, kind of, but then she saved the entire world,” Lup says, voice deceptively light and casual. “Doesn’t that, I don’t know, make up for it? I was the one who ended up in an umbrella for fifteen years, but we’re chill now. Ducks under a bridge.”

“Do you fucks get off on being morally better than me, or do you actually not understand what she did to us ? She had no right to make that decision, and I--I don’t care how she feels right now! She deserves to feel bad about it forever!”

Lucretia wants to tell Magnus to turn it off, but she stares blankly at the stone instead, knowing she needs to hear it, Taako needs her to hear this. She knew this was coming when she called, but somehow she still wasn't ready.

Magnus speaks up then. “She did the best she could in a difficult situation. She did it for us , not for her, Taako.”

“And she does feel bad right now, babe, how bad does she need to feel before you’re willing to talk to her like a person?”

Taako sputters, most definitely glowering at his twin. Lucretia has no idea why Lup is going to bat for her, but she’s so, so grateful for it.

“I know I fucked up,” Lucretia speaks up then, her voice wobbling and breaking, and everyone else falls quiet, even Taako, which is either a very good or very bad sign. “I know I hurt you and took everything from you and it doesn't matter what my intentions were, I know it was a--a real dick move. I'm not asking for forgiveness, just a truce.”

“A truce .” That seems to stump him for a moment.

“So we could maybe be in the same room sometime?”

“You started it,” Taako says.

“Okay. Yeah, I did. And I definitely deserve whatever harm you want to do me, but,” Lucretia ignores Magnus shaking his head, “are you willing to move on from this?”

“I kind of just want to Magic Missile you,” Taako says, but it seems like the wind has been taken out of his sails.

“I'm sure you could schedule an appointment, I’m extremely busy,” Lucretia says, and Taako snorts. She breathes out slowly, a huge weight lifting off of her shoulders, because even if Taako refuses to say so, she's on her way to being friends with him again. Magnus gives her a wide grin and a thumbs-up. “How about the silverpoint poison, by the way, is that still an offer?” Magnus changes his mind and gives her a thumbs-down.

“I was totally bluffing, compadre. Merle might have some if you need it,” Taako says airily. “Anyway, Ango McDango is coming over for lunch in three hours and I need to get ready. Emotionally.”

“Okay,” Lucretia says.

“This doesn’t mean I’m not still super fucking angry with you,” Taako reminds her.

“I would be concerned if you weren’t.”

“Bye, Lucy!” Lup shouts in the background. “And Magnus, feed her .”

“I’m not a child, Lup,” Lucretia says, at the same time Magnus gives an affirmative noise through a mouthful of waffle. Lucretia is glaring at him so hard she almost doesn’t notice when the line goes dead.

Taking both a deep breath and the stone back, she rolls her shoulders to try and release tension she’s just realized is there. “That went a lot better than expected.”

Magnus nods, but he’s studying her carefully. “Except for the stuff about silverpoint, what was that about?”

“You know, it’s great fertilizer, and my begonias have gone to shit,” she deadpans, but Magnus doesn’t even look close to smiling (he’s probably going to call Merle later and get him even more worried). Time for a rapid change of subject. “I’m calling Davenport next.”

“Woah, okay, no rush, you look exhausted.” She is. Magnus stands up and goes to the counter, where he’s already made up an extra plate of food. He sets it down in front of her. “Here. Did you eat yesterday?”

“I had….almonds. The power snack of the gods.” She squints, trying to remember if she’s eaten anything but almonds for three days. She’s had other things on her mind. “Magnus, I’m fine, you can eat this. I just need coffee, and I got it right here.” Lucretia holds up the mug.

“No, now I’m even more sure you need to eat that.” Magnus shakes his head.

Lucretia’s about to argue when there’s a huge ripping noise, like paper tearing, and the sound of Taako’s voice fills the kitchen, loud and angry. “--GOING TO KICK YOUR WRINKLY ASS, LUCRETIA, HOW DARE YOU, YOU NEVER TOLD ME--”

Lucretia gets out of her chair, almost tripping in her haste. She turns to face Taako, bracing herself for whatever spells are going to hit her. He’s still ranting, throwing threats around like confetti, stalking towards her from the hallway with Lup in tow. Just when he gets right up in Lucretia’s face and she’s sure he’s going to get physically violent--Magnus is out of his chair too and ready to pull Taako off of her--Taako reaches out and yanks Lucretia into the most desperate-feeling hug she’s ever received.

He’s still talking, Lucretia is too shocked to hear most of it, but he pauses when he realizes she’s started crying.

“What the fuck,” Taako mutters, pulling out of the hug and giving her a once-over. “Lup told me everything, compadre.”

“Aren’t you going to--aren’t you going to Magic Missile me?” Lucretia swipes at her tears with the back of her hand, trying so hard to get her composure back--Georgie is sniffing at Taako’s feet, trying to figure out what’s going on, probably. “You talk a big game, Taako.”

“I’m so fucking angry at you, and there’s no way I’m letting you eat those shitty waffles.”

“I followed the directions,” Magnus says, sulking.

“Which directions? Not ones to make good waffles, apparently!” Taako stomps over to the counter and rinses out the mixing bowl previously used by Magnus. “Lucretia, the fact that you thought something like that could tear a family apart permanently is a bad sign on its own, you need to get your shit together. We’re getting you a new hobby.”

“A--sorry, a hobby?” Lucretia’s reeling from the word ‘family,’ so much so that she doesn’t point out Taako’s equal refusal to let bygones be bygones. Magnus sits her back down.

Taako opens the pantry and finds nothing but a bag of flour, some rice, and the almonds, as well as some powdered hemlock in a phial on a taller shelf she’d honestly forgotten about in the commotion of the Whole Ordeal (or maybe she’d just assumed someone had found it already--Magnus spent more time in her kitchen than she did). Taako snatches the poison, ignoring the sudden tension in the room, transmutes it into a fruitcake, and then slam-dunks it into the trash, before grabbing the flour and beginning to go through the bags of groceries Magnus brought.

“Yes, a hobby , grandma, what do you even do all day?” Taako looks up, and then rolls his eyes and goes back to making whatever he’s making. Lup goes over to help him. “Never mind, don’t answer that, I know you just sit in your dumb house and do more and more Director work, like a nerd.” He cracks an egg too hard, it splatters all over the counter, and Lup cackles as he whines in disgust.

“I paint. I teach it at the retirement home,” Lucretia says, equal parts amused and confused. “And I don’t have time for anything else in my schedule.”

“Well, give some responsibilities to someone else for a while, then, goofus,” Magnus says. “You need to find some way to relieve stress.”

“Get a new chill part-time job doing something you actually like,” Lup suggests.

“I like running the Bureau.” Lucretia sips her coffee. “I wouldn’t keep it going if I didn’t.”

“Okay, but that’s not a one-person job anymore, and you need to branch out,” Lup retorts.

“Like anyone’s going to hire me part-time.”

“What ever !” Lup rolls her eyes, in an echo of her brother. “Like any place wouldn’t jump to hire you, you’re a legend and you can write with two hands at the same time.”

“Ah, yes, essential parts to every good resume.”

“Fuck you, Lucy.”

“There’s like, four newspapers hiring in Neverwinter, I’m sure they’re dying to get their hands on you, you’re like, the writer, that’s your whole spiel.” Taako’s mixing something very angrily, there’s flour streaked across his forehead from where he’s brushed his hair away. “ I’ll hire you, if you want to come teach some nerd-ass wizards abjuration.”

“Not if I hire you first,” Magnus challenges, looking up from where he’s been petting Georgie.

“No, I’m hiring her,” Taako snaps, slamming the bowl down.

“Taako, you run a school of transmutation magic, and Magnus, you already have enough help, sit down.” Lucretia smiles nonetheless. “Thanks for the offers, but I’ll have to decline.”

“If you’re not getting a job, you need something to do,” Magnus says, still shooting glares at Taako. “Rarely is Taako anywhere near to a solution, but--”

“--Watch your back, Burnsides--”

“--but he’s right this time,” Magnus admits.

“I’ll think about it,” Lucretia says. When Magnus and Lup and Taako all open their mouths to pressure her into taking control of her life, she holds up a hand. “I’ll think about what to do. I promise I’ll choose something.”

Seemingly satisfied with this answer, the three of them move onto other topics of conversation, ones that are considerably less directed at her.

 

After this second breakdown, Avi must figure out something’s up, and he offers to take some extra responsibility, as do Carey and Killian and Leon, who seem to have decided together that Lucretia’s a hot mess and needs some time off (the four of them stage what feels like an intervention when they break this news to her, saying that they need to “delegate more” and Lucretia is “doing the work of five people” and working an “unhealthy amount of hours” every day). Lucretia stops fighting them on her ability to do a hundred-and-fifty-hour work week, shortens it to a ninety-hour one, and takes to spending the time off every day sitting outside on her porch, on the swing. Starting off, she spends the time meditating, but she moves on to reading what remains of the copies of her journals that she didn’t feed to Fisher or Junior. As she gets tired of cringing at her old writing, she starts the project of revising and rewriting them.

There’s not really a point to all this, she thinks, as literally everyone in the entire universe had heard the story already, but it’s something to do, despite the fact that nobody’s going to want to read it when she’s finished. It’s interesting, going through old memories of old friends, remembering things she’d forgotten sixty or more years ago (like the cycle where Lup put pink streaks in her dark hair and wore all black and was very angry all the time, or when Magnus and Barry built a horrifying animatronic rat man who encouraged kids to try the game of rebound, or when Davenport learned how to make illusory doubles of himself and never stopped doing so for an entire year ).

On the day she gets to journal about the puppy town cycle, a welcomed break from some of the heavier years, she’s alerted to someone coming up her driveway by Georgie raising her head and growling. She looks up to see Merle walking up to her porch, accompanied by a very serious-looking Davenport.

Merle waves, and Georgie bounds towards him, already twice as big as she was when Lucretia got her. “You look nice today, Lucretia!” he says, petting Georgie, who’s wiggling excitedly, and Lucretia’s not too modest to admit he’s right. The amount of sun and extra sleep she’s been getting has given her some kind of glow back that she’d had before the Bureau, and she feels lighter today, and so she just smiles instead of deflecting.

“Hi, Davenport,” she says, trying to maintain the same easy smile in the face of uncertainty.

Davenport looks well. She knows he’s been out at sea most of these eleven months, going back to the captain life that he’d been meant for his entire life, and she has no idea what to expect from him. He’s not one for angry tirades, like Taako, but he also isn’t one for flowers and forgiveness, like Merle.

At least, she hadn’t thought he was, but maybe he’s decided that almost a year of no communication was enough time to think things through and move on. “Hi, Lucretia,” he says, sitting on the unoccupied end of the porch swing. “Rewriting?”

“Yes.” She holds up a drawing that Davenport himself did of some of the fauna on the puppy planet, when he and Merle had gone on another one of their expeditions.

Merle sees it and laughs, settling onto the swing between Lucretia and Davenport, moving some journals out of the way very carefully in order to make room. “Well, you haven’t gotten any better at drawing in thirty years, buddy.”

Davenport’s eyes crinkle up in an incredibly slight smile. “It’s never been my strong suit.”

It’s a peaceful two hours that they chat, about Merle’s town and Davenport’s new crew and Lucretia’s garden, surprisingly so. Most conversations with Merle present are this level of placid, however, so when Merle excuses himself to answer a call from Mavis, Lucretia takes the opportunity to figure out what’s going on.

“I imagine you’re still angry with me,” she says, more boldly than she expected of herself.

Davenport looks up from the journal of her sketches he’s been perusing, and thinks for a while before answering. “I was, for a while,” he admits, “but that got tiring, and eventually Merle talked me out of it. So, short answer, no. Long answer, I was humiliated for years, being your ward and only saying my own name and having everyone think I was, similar to a Pokemon, only able to say my own name because I was a simpleton. But everyone learned better when our story was broadcast, and I’ve found nothing but deep respect from the people I’ve come into contact with. So, don’t take too much credit for ruining my life, it’s going just fine. The longer I stayed away, the harder it was to come talk to you, but Merle reminded me that you had feelings about the matter too and we needed to clear the air before the wedding. Make sure there weren’t going to be any shouting matches.”

He stops there, seemingly satisfied with his words, and holds up the journal. It’s one of her earlier drawings, a one of Davenport and Merle standing on the edge of the deck, looking over the railing to the ground far below. “What I do have a bone to pick with you is this--I’m not that much smaller than him.”

Merle, choosing this moment as a safe one to re-enter the scene, claps a hand on Davenport’s back and says, “Yeah, you definitely are,” and Lucretia laughs.

 

The wedding is beautiful, and Magnus sits next to her and cries much louder and bigger than she does, so no one really notices her getting emotional, and she’s grateful (though unsure if Magnus was playing it up at all).

As her speech draws nearer, though, her happiness for her friends gives way to something more resembling dread, and she retreats to a back hallway of the church to get her act together when Angus finds her. Well, they collide head-on, as he seems to have been looking for her.

“Oh--hi, Madame Director! Are you alright?” Angus asks, straightening his glasses. He’s so much taller already, and school’s been good to him--she reads all his letters multiple times and takes her time with the replies. “It’s just, Magnus sent me to find you because he was worried about you because you disappeared, and. Well, you look very nervous.”

“Thank you, Angus. I’m fine.” Lucretia takes a deep breath, which does nothing to settle the anxiety in her stomach, and folds and refolds the speech in her hands.

“You don’t have to be, I’m sure I would be very very nervous if I had to speak in front of all these people,” Angus says matter-of-factly, but takes her hand and begins to lead her towards the garden across from the church where the reception is being hosted. “But we’re all your friends! Except Miss Carey’s parents, who are really upset that she didn’t marry who they picked out for her, but you’re a much better mom and that’s why they chose you, I think!”

Lucretia walks alongside him, listening to his chatter, and when they reach the garden, her stomach settles a little as she sees her friends. Killian and Carey are both glowing, greeting well-wishers in a long line and possibly picking their pockets as they go. Taako is breezing around the food table, making sure everything is going smoothly, and talking to Kravitz, who’s accompanying him. Lup and Barry are running a scam on one of Taako’s cooking students, and Barry has sixteen cheesecake bites in the container in his hands by the time the student figures out what’s going on and stops listening to Lup list a hundred made-up food allergies. Davenport and Merle are at a table with Mavis and Mookie, Mavis telling her dad about something and Davenport trying to teach Mookie a secret handshake in a last-ditch attempt to keep Mookie under control. Magnus waves her over to a table in the front, where he’s sitting with Avi and Ren.

When it comes time for her speech, she’s forgotten to be nervous, knowing she has at least seven people who have her back if something goes to shit, but it won’t come to that. She takes the microphone as it’s handed to her, and smiles at Killian and Carey, who give her thumbs-ups and grin in return.

“Hello, I’m Lucretia, the chosen replacement mother of today,” Lucretia starts, and Killian snorts into her champagne and Magnus whistles. Lucretia gains sight of Carey’s parents, who are glowering, and stands up straighter. They’re not going to ruin this for anyone, she decides, and shoves the prewritten speech into the pocket of her dress. “Yes, thanks, everyone, for coming, and for the amazing champagne, I’m quite enjoying myself. However, I’m not here to talk about my expertise as a sommelier, I’m here to share some stories about my newly acquired daughters.”

It goes smoothly, much more smoothly than anyone, including Lucretia, would have guessed, considering her previous nerves, and by the time she finishes the story of Carey pickpocketing the engagement ring off of Killian and proposing to her before Killian realized it was gone, Lup is wheezing and Killian is blushing and Carey is laughing at her and Lucretia is happy .

“All this to say,” Lucretia says, taking on a more serious tone (Taako would say it was just her normal voice, a little lower), “that I’m incredibly proud of both of these women. Killian, I’ve watched you grow up into someone so capable, so brave, someone who anyone would be lucky to know, and Carey, you’ve become such a kind, resilient, intelligent individual who is so damn good at what she does. I love both of you so--so much,” her voice is cracking, time to finish up time to finish up, “and I would trust both of you with my life. And I have. You’re such a wonderful couple, and I look forward to seeing the life you two create together, with or without me as both of your mother-in-laws. Thank you.”

She’s hardly finished her toast by the time Killian and Carey are on top of her, giving her a hug and both kind of crying on her (she’s crying onto them too, the only one of the three who later denies shedding any tears whatsoever is Killian). There’s applause and she squeezes both of the women’s hands affectionately before returning to her seat.

Later, when they’re having the first dance, and Lucretia and Merle are watching the two circle the dance floor (Carey is standing on Killian’s feet and giggling as Killian carries her around), Merle asks, “How are you feeling? Heard a rumor you wanted this to be your last hoorah.”

“No, not anymore.” Shaking her head, Lucretia smiles, feeling like she’s full of light. “I think I’m ready to try again.”