Taako visits the castle like clockwork. Every night after the sun sets he scales the sheer face of the outer walls, sneaks past each sentry and every guard. Darts from shadow to shadow like a wraith, undetected and out of sight, his silhouette all but invisible against the darkening sky.
At least, that’s what Kravitz imagines to get himself through the drudgery of the day. Truth be told, he’s not sure how Taako does it, but he supposes that’s the whole point. If Kravitz could figure him out, Taako would have never made a name for himself as the kingdom’s most successful thief.
Every night for the past three months Kravitz has entered his chambers to find Taako lounging on his chaise, eating grapes, or playing dress-up with his fine jewelry; has come home to Taako warming his hands by the fire, or, on one noteworthy occasion, passed out dead asleep in Kravitz’s bed.
And every night, Kravitz has let him.
It’s dangerous. They can’t keep doing this. Every guard from here to the Sword Coast knows Taako’s name, his too pretty face. Security has only gotten tighter since the latest assassination attempt. If a servant were to catch sight of Taako in the prince’s quarters, of all places, if they were to ring the alarm before he could pull off yet another daring escape—
Kravitz is royalty. He is, first and foremost, loyal to his people; to the crown. But he cannot bear the thought this might be what gets Taako killed one day.
Still, he doesn’t linger when dinner ends. Kravitz bids his mother goodnight; hopes, as always, that his hasty retreat down the hallway isn’t too suspect. The queen has a sharp eye, but Taako will chew him out if Kravitz is late again. He smiles at the thought.
The guards snap to attention as Kravitz hurries by. He gives them a proprietary nod as they let him through to his rooms; wonders if he’ll be able to cajole Taako into another game of cards. Kravitz never wins—which is to say, Taako always cheats—but nobody else ever wants to play. The crown prince doesn’t have many friends.
It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the low light of the sitting room, and then Kravitz is scanning the area for signs of life. The fireplace is unlit, and the bowl of hard candies he’d left on the table seems untouched, but—oh, yes, the door to the bedroom is ajar. Subtle, Kravitz snorts.
Here, too, it’s dark, save for the moonlight spilling through the wide, open windows. A thin figure unfolds itself from the shadows and leans against the frame, hip cocked.
“Hey there, handsome,“ Taako drawls. “Took you long enough. Ch’boy was so bored I coulda expired on the spot.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Kravitz grins. “Didn’t mean to keep you waiting, honest.” He turns to hum a scale and the magic that spills from his lungs lights the lanterns throughout the room. He glances back towards his guest. “Are you going to stand there all night, or did you want to—” The words die in his throat. “Taako?”
Fuck but that’s a lot of blood.
Taako’s entire right side is slick with it, dappling his shirt wet and red. There’s a long slash in the fabric that leads to his hand, palm pressed flat against where a wound must be as if to stem the blood.
Kravitz takes a halting step forward. Now that he’s really looking, he can’t miss the way Taako sways dangerously on his feet. His eyes are glassy even as they try to track Kravitz’s movement. It must be taking all of his concentration to stay upright.
“What happened?” Kravitz breathes.
“Had a disagreement with a guy ‘bout a thing,” Taako says. “S’fine. I’m fine. You got any booze? Ch'boy could really use a drink.”
Nausea curls in Kravitz’s stomach. He can't—he can’t call for a healer. They’d patch Taako up and send him straight to the gallows. Kravitz can recite Taako’s criminal record like a well-worn love letter. The charges are an ever-present missive in his mind.
The culprit has stolen sixty thousand gold, the contents of the Rockseeker vault, and a set of sterling silverware belonging to Lord McDonald; aided and abetted in the disappearance of his sole heir; crashed a train in his escape from the Rockport militia. Wanted for petty theft and grand larceny across the continent. Monetary reward offered for his person dead or alive.
He allows himself one brief and blinding moment of panic before instinct kicks in. No, he will not let Taako die here.
“Can you walk?” Kravitz asks.
“Yuh,” Taako says. “Didn’t you hear me? Taako’s right as rain.” He grins guilelessly. The effect is ruined by the tell-tale sheen of sweat on his forehead, glistening in the low light. “'Tis but a flesh wound, my guy, you worry too much.”
He makes as if to saunter towards the couch and immediately stumbles. Kravitz jolts forward and catches him before he can slump to the ground, and once he’s been steadied, sweeps Taako up and into his arms, mindful of his injured side. Taako chokes back a pained noise anyway, exhaling harshly against Kravitz’s ribcage.
“C'mon,” Kravitz says, willing his voice not to shake. “Let’s—let’s get you patched up, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Taako says.
Kravitz nudges the bathroom door open with his foot and sets Taako at the juncture of where tub meets wall. Taako presses his temple against cool stone and sighs.
Kravitz can feel Taako’s eyes on him as he goes rifling through the vanity drawers. He comes up with a tube of ointment and a small pair of sewing shears, then wets a washcloth at the sink and turns back to face Taako, who quickly glances away to study the art on the wall.
“Fancy fuckin’ bathroom,” he mutters. “S'that a Fantasy Monet next to your godsdamn shitter?”
Kravitz presses his lips together to hide a shaky smile. “It is,” he says. “Would fetch a pretty penny on the black market, I’d wager.”
Taako narrows his eyes, humming as he considers this, and Kravitz takes the opportunity to kneel before him. “I’m going to have to remove your shirt,” he murmurs. “It’ll be easier if I cut it away, I think. Move your hand for me?”
Taako complies. Kravitz moves as quickly as he dares, trimming the bloodied cloth away until he can get a good look at the shape of the wound: a deep gash that extends from the bottom of his ribcage all the way to his hip. Kravitz feels a little sick. It looks like someone took a greatsword to his side; close-quarters combat, maybe. Taako must have been taken by surprise. He doesn’t seem like the type to get within slashing distance if he can help it.
Not for the first time, Kravitz wishes he could take Taako away from this life. Tear down every wanted poster that bore his likeness, condemn every man who would dare draw their blades against him. Get on a horse and go, run far away from here, on horseback, hand-in-hand, until they find a place where nobody knows either of their names.
Fantasy. Idle wishes from a boy with a crush stuck in an ivory tower. Danger is a bedtime story for a prince; an adventure he might go on someday. For Taako it’s a daily reality. Routine. Even the attempts on his mother’s life seem far away to Kravitz. He feels the divide between them like a stab wound.
Kravitz squeezes some of the ointment onto two fingers and gently presses them against Taako’s side. Taako hisses.
Quietly, Kravitz begins to sing.
It’s a lullaby. Old magic, something his mother had used to coax him back to sleep after nightmares once upon a time. The flow of blood tapers off into nothing. Kravitz trails his fingers along the length of the wound and Taako’s skin begins to knit itself back together in their wake.
“Could use another pass, I think,” Kravitz murmurs when he’s done. It’s scabbed over nicely, but left alone it’ll definitely scar.
When he glances up, Taako’s watching him again. It’s different this time. Eye contact. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Kravitz opens his mouth to speak, but the breath catches and sticks in his throat. He swallows down the feeling burning bright in his chest and moves to recast the spell instead. The slow-soft lilt of his voice fills the room.
Kravitz has to cast the spell twice more before the wound closes up and then fades entirely. By the time he’s done Taako lists against the wall, exhaustion set into the slope of his shoulders, the quiet curve of his mouth. Kravitz commiserates. He’s burned through a lot of spell slots.
Still, they’re not done. Kravitz touches the washcloth to his side and glances upwards; Taako inhales but nods minutely. He closes his eyes.
Kravitz busies himself with the methodical swipe of rag against skin and tries not to think about Taako’s freckles in the lamplight or the intensity of his gaze. He wrings the washcloth out in the bath until it runs clear; remembers Taako swaying on his feet. This is not the way Kravitz had imagined undressing him for the first time.
They’ll have to burn his shirt before the maids come by. Can’t have anyone bringing this to his mother. For now, he stashes the scraps under the sink with the washcloth.
“How are you feeling?” Kravitz asks softly.
There’s a pause. “Better,” Taako says. He glances at Kravitz through his periphery, lips twitching. “You’re real good with your hands, y'know?”
Kravitz huffs a laugh even as his cheeks warm, and some of the tension that had burrowed into his stomach and taken root uncoils. He offers Taako one of those very good hands, palm up.
Taako hesitates for length of several heartbeats, long enough that Kravitz starts to think he won’t take it, but eventually Taako sighs and pulls himself up. A small victory.
Kravitz leads them out of the bathroom, through to the bed, which is - maybe a tad presumptuous on his part, if not for the fact that Taako hasn’t let go of his hand.
Besides, it’s not as if Taako hasn’t commandeered his bed before. Kravitz doesn’t mind a night on the couch, so long as Taako is safe. He’s a prince. Roughing it is a novelty.
Taako kicks off his boots and burrows under the covers without so much as a passing glance Kravitz’s way. Kravitz has it on good authority that his pillows are overstuffed and his blankets obscenely luxurious, but if these things bother Taako tonight, he makes no mention. His body is barely a comma on the overlarge mattress. Kravitz’s heart squeezes painfully in his chest.
Kravitz blinks and suddenly Taako is squinting up at him, expression unreadable. “Wh—what?” he asks.
Taako’s head hits the pillow with a soft fwump. “You gonna stand there all night, or didja wanna join me?”
“Oh.” The room is abruptly very warm. “I was going to—I mean, you lost a lot of blood, and—I didn’t want to presume—”
Taako snorts. “I think we’re well past that, don’t you?” A moment’s pause, and then, quietly, “C'mere, rabbit.”
This time it’s Kravitz’s turn to hesitate. He takes a step forward, stops, and then turns to lock the door. From there, it’s all he can do to strip: jacket first, his vest, his tie. Kravitz is acutely aware of each button of his shirt undone, and the cool air against his skin as the fabric hits the floor. Taako’s eyes glow in the low light.
Silently, so as to not to break the spell they’re under, Kravitz pads across the room and slips under the covers beside him.
Kravitz lays on his side, close but not touching. Taako shifts forward until their chests meet. He drapes an arm across Kravitz’s ribs, and his fingers are hot where they ghost along the length of Kravitz’s spine. Kravitz shivers.
“This cool?” Taako asks.
“I feel like I should be asking that of you,” Kravitz tells him. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“'Course not,” Taako says, a puff of breath against his collarbone. “You're—I mean, this is—” He sighs. “Look. I’m exactly where I want to be, okay?”
Oh. Kravitz presses their foreheads together and closes his eyes. “Okay,” he says.
Taako as Kravitz has known him is tightly wound, a coiled spring, a bird poised for flight; but here and now he is quietly unfolding. This evening has taken its toll. Each breath he takes is slower and deeper until it evens out entirely. Kravitz marvels at each inhale.
Tomorrow he will wake and Taako will be long gone before the sun has even risen. (The guards change shifts at dawn, and Taako has places to be.) But for now Kravitz can pretend that this is all there is: just Taako, warm and whole in his arms, his heartbeat a steady rhythm that carries Kravitz through the night.