"Late night, bubeleh?"
Lucretia startles so violently that her pen goes flying over the edge of the couch and halfway across the room, where it skids to a halt at Taako's slippered feet.
"Jumpy, aren't we?" He says, raising an eyebrow at her as he folds over to pick up the pen. Lucretia, blushing, accepts the pen that he passes back to her and mumbles an apology, avoiding eye contact as she tucks her feet closer to her body and resettles the blanket in her lap. She perches her notebook on top of her knees and continues to write, trying to pretend she doesn't feel Taako's eyes on the back of her head. After a moment, she hears a slight clattering from the kitchen, and tries to relax her muscles. Her eyes are itching with tiredness, but hundreds of nights spent staring at the blank ceiling have taught her better than to try to go back to sleep.
A deliberate shuffling noise behind her alerts her of Taako's return. She doesn't look up from her notebook until a purple-nailed hand shoves a mug of tea under her nose.
"Thank you," she says, glancing up in surprise and taking the mug. The elf hums in acknowledgement, and breezes out of the room. Lucretia puts her pen down for a moment, inhaling deeply - the tea smells like chamomile, and…lavender, maybe? She gently sets it on the table to cool, and continues writing.
When Taako slouches into the kitchen to begin breakfast the next morning, he finds the dishes from the previous night's drinks stacked neatly in the dish drainer, and next to them, a small sketch of two flowers - chamomile and lavender.
She hears a familiar shuffling noise behind her, and when a voice behind her asks, "Tea?" she doesn't jump, but looks up and nods affirmatively, and returns to her notebook. When a turquoise-nailed hand sets the mug on the table next to her, she gives a small, tight smile and a nod of thanks. Taako pauses for a moment, eyes slightly narrowed, then pats her lightly on the head and drifts out of the room.
The next morning, Taako enters the common area to find Lucretia curled up on the couch. He stares at her for a moment, frowning, then sighs grumpily, casting Mage Hand to pull the blanket up over her shoulders and pick up the journal from where it had fallen from her limp fingers to the floor. In the kitchen, he finds the dishes once again washed and left to dry in the dish rack, and next to them (his lips almost quirk into a smile), a small drawing of a lemon and a piece of ginger.
They rarely speak, except for the occasional query ("Dammit, we're out of chamomile - lemongrass sound good to you tonight?") and Lucretia's routine quiet "Thank you" as Taako shuffles back to his room. Taako never asks Lucretia why she's awake, for which she's grateful; and, following his lead, she never asks why he's awake, either. She knows that elves technically don't need to sleep, but that doesn't seem to stop either of the twins from sleeping until noon whenever they're given the chance.
Whatever his reasons are, she's grateful for his fleeting presence. During the day, the cabin is bursting with life and energy. The Fantasy Rolling Stones sound faintly from Barry's lab as Lup and Taako yell to each other from across the hall. Merle's crack of laughter can be heard from one end of the ship to the other, and Lucretia isn't sure if Magnus just isn't aware of how loud his voice is, or if he simply doesn't care. At night, there's silence, punctuated only by the occasional snore and the ever present humming and whirring of the ship's engine. It's soothing, but strangely isolating. While she knows, practically, that the others are just a few feet away, it's hard not to feel swallowed by the silence. Taako's presence is comforting, providing quiet confirmation, however brief, that she's not alone. She also appreciates the never acknowledged agreement of silence - she loves her team, but she also knows that if Magnus had been the one to wake up, he would want to talk about what was wrong, Merle would want to keep her company, Davenport or Barry would try to find a solution, and Lup would try to find a way to fight off the night terrors, however impractical it sounded. Sometimes, she just wants to be quietly acknowledged, and left alone.
So she is surprised when, one evening, a pink-nailed hand appears in her vision, followed by the rest of Taako as he settles next to her on the couch. She takes the mug, instinctively pulling her limbs closer against the corner of the couch so as to take up the least amount of space.
Taako leans forward and picks up a notebook from the table, lifting an eyebrow in a silent query. She hesitates, then shrugs and nods. He nods in satisfaction, and leans back to read.
She picks up her pen again and continues to write, stealing glances at Taako out of the corner of her eye, but he never looks at her (or, if he does, she never catches him). After a while, he replaces the notebook on the table and, tipping his head back to drain the rest of his tea, he leaves without a word.
Taako doesn't reappear during her night-time writing sessions for some time.
Instead, he slumps down at the end of the couch and surveys her over the rim of his mug. Lucretia shifts uncomfortably, scooching her heels in as close to her butt as she can without sitting on them. She chews on the end of her pen, her eyes occasionally flicking up to meet Taako's gaze before returning to stare at her notebook.
Finally, Taako clears his throat, breaking the silence.
"I might be wrong," he says, "but I think I remember reading somewhere that humans actually do need to sleep occasionally. Maybe more than an hour per night."
Lucretia frowns at her notebook. "I sleep," she says defensively, unsure whether this is an accusation or merely a statement.
Taako snorts. "Like fuck you do," he says, a slight smile playing across his face. Lucretia isn't sure how to read that smile - is he mocking her? Condescension? She isn't sure how to respond, so she ignores him, and continues writing.
Taako exhales through his nose. "Look, my dude," he says, "I frankly don't give a shit whether you sleep or not. You do you, y'know?" His forehead wrinkles, and his ears twitch backwards ever so slightly. "It just seems like you've been out here, you know, a lot. You always finish recording the day's notes before you go to bed, and I know you're not dedicating that notebook to my rad fashion sense, so…"
Lucretia suddenly understands - Taako is trying, in his own way, to give her the opportunity to talk about it.
She picks at her pen, thinking, trying to form the right words. Taako inspects his nails.
Finally, she says slowly, "I…don't sleep very well, as you may have noticed." Taako's mouth twitches. "I have nightmares," she continues. "I-" she presses her lips together, not meeting his eyes. "I know it probably sounds ridiculous," she says flatly. "But I just- I-" she takes a deep breath, and then the words just flood out of her, before she can stop them.
"We have witnessed the loss of entire worlds. Entire planar systems. And that's- There are seven of us, and we are the only thing remaining that even…even proves that this world ever existed, at all. And if I stop writing, if I forget something, I am condemning it to obscurity for the rest of eternity. I know that I can't save everything, but some things - some things are worth saving, some things need to be saved, and I can't- I have to- who am I to decide what's important and what isn't? I have to write down everything, because if I don't-"
Lucretia's throat is tight, and she tries to take a deep breath - too deep. She chokes and begins to cough, and she can't breathe, her throat and chest are too tight-
She feels tears prickling at the back of her eyes, and she blinks furiously as she tries to control her breathing, inhaling through her nose and out through her mouth. She feels cold and, suddenly, exhausted. She desperately wants to go back to bed, but the idea of missing a night of writing makes her stomach lurch and her heart beat faster and gods, now she feels sick-
She hears a small sigh, and then feels a warm presence at her side as a thin hand rubs small circles on her back. "Hey, habibti," he murmurs. "Hey, now."
She feels Taako's steady, deep breaths beside her, and tries to match her breaths to his. She hesitates, then leans against him gently, pressing her eyes shut. They sit in silence for a while, just breathing, Taako still rubbing her back in small, even circles.
"Listen," Taako begins, and Lucretia looks up at him. He's staring straight ahead, not looking at her. "You don't need to talk about it if you don't want to-"
"Good," mutters Lucretia. She still feels slightly sick, but her heart rate has begun to slow.
"Because fuck knows I don't want to hear about it," Taako continues, nudging her gently. "But, you know-" He pauses for a moment, looking at her stack of notebooks, the open notebook and pen in her lap. "Look," he says finally, "Look, you can try to record it all, but who the fuck needs that kind of pressure? Nobody is going to care about this world except for us. Nobody is going to care about any of these worlds except for us, and to be honest? Some of these planes fucking suck," and Lucretia isn't sure if he's being serious or not but she snorts quietly anyways.
"I mean, I don't want to trivialise your job or whatever, but you're technically working for an organisation that doesn't fucking exist anymore. Nobody is going to blame you if you need to take a break every now and again, you dig? And-" He rolls his eyes, and then looks at her.
"You know, if you're afraid of forgetting things - you can ask," he says. "We're your team - you can talk to us. Not me, obviously," he adds casually, flicking an ear back, "don't talk to me about this shit, but everyone else. I bet they'll help you reminisce on the good times, or whatever."
Lucretia huffs out a small laugh. "Yeah," she says. "Okay."
He examines her face, and then nods, both ears raising slightly. Then he leans back and closes his eyes.
Lucretia watches him for a moment, tapping her pen against her bottom lip. She takes a deep breath, and says, "You don't-" Her voice cracks, and Taako opens one eye. She tries again.
"I don't...presume to know what brings you out here. But don't- you can talk to us, too. You don't have to bottle up your feelings all the time."
Taako snorts, and closes his eye again. "Bubeleh, I don't have any feelings to bottle up."
Lucretia exhales softly - a laugh, or maybe a sigh. After a minute, she closes her notebook. She notices Taako's ears twitch slightly, but he doesn't open his eyes again. She selects a new notebook, green with gold edging, and begins to write.
When Taako wakes up the next morning, he finds the dishes washed and neatly stacked in the rack, and, next to the sink, a notebook - green, with gold edging. On the inside cover, he reads the title: "Taako's Rad Fashion Sense".