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A Candlenights Carol

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They were dead to begin with.

His sister and her husband had been dead for a long time, even before they were out of his life forever, and his ex-boyfriend for even longer than that.

Everything was perfectly fine.

Taako raised a hand and the huge stack of gold coins he’d been counting and recounting for the last hour flew through the air in a glittering arc and settled into a velvet-lined drawer with a satisfying series of clinks. His silk robes shimmered atop the floorboards as he made his way to answer the door.

“Taako!”

Magnus. The son of a now-deceased business partner of his, his godson and honorary nephew. He was just twenty-four in september, and although Taako had been there to hold him the night he was born, they were sort of the same age, he supposed, 250 being widely called the elvish twenties.

“Magnus,” he allowed him in, closing the door against the cold. Not that it was much warmer inside his frigid little office. Lucretia never took off her coat or gloves, and he’d repeatedly seen her fingers turn pale before she stuck them in her mouth in a desperate attempt to warm them. He didn’t mind. Too much heat was bad for the pores.

“Merry Candlenights, Taako!” Magnus settled the wreath he’d been carrying on a nearby coat hook and hopped over to Taako’s desk, where the wizard had draped himself miserably into his chair.

“Merry Candlenights,” Taako scoffed. “Ain’t nothing merry about it, kemosabe.”

“There’s plenty to be merry about, whether you like it or not.” Magnus grinned, his red scarf bringing out the rosiness in his cheeks, a sharp contrast to Taako’s usual malnourished pallor. “I don’t understand why you’re so determined to be a big grump all the time.”

“I am a curmudgeon,” Taako corrected. “I don’t understand how you can be so happy. You’re poor as shit.”

“And you’re rich as shit!” Magnus pointed accusatorily at Taako, the effect somewhat ruined by the genuine smile that seemed to always be plastered on his face. It would have been endearing if it wasn’t so fucking annoying. “So why are you so fucking angry all the time?”

“Listen, my man, I don’t stop you from celebrating in your own way. All I ask is that you don’t stop me from celebrating in mine.”

“But you don’t celebrate at all!” Magnus was now draping various pieces furniture with tinsel, probably improvising due to the lack of a candlenights tree. Where did he even get that? Did he stuff his pockets with it? “It’s unacceptable.”

The door opened again, Taako jumping. His fingers were still twitching, aching to clean up the garbage Magnus was tossing everywhere. “What?” he shouted.

He quieted right down when a towering orc walked in, followed by a huge dragonborn, although still quite small for their race, if Taako remembered correctly.

“Excuse me,” the dragonborn piped up in a high, kind voice that didn’t at all match her tough exterior. “We are taking donations for the candlenights season. Do you have a minute?” Her orc companion shook the box a couple times to make the coins jangle, looking extremely bored.

Magnus grinned, and Taako relaxed as he finally stuffed the remaining tinsel back in his pocket. “A lovely idea!” Magnus turned back to Taako. “Well, Taako, I just came to invite you to candlenights dinner with me and Jules.” He pressed on despite Taako’s annoyed huff. “It’s tomorrow at six o’ clock, I’m pretty sure you already have our address. Now, I will make my donation,” he turned to the two behind him, rooting through his pockets before dumping a handful of coins into the box. “And I’ll leave you to make yours.” He tipped his hat to Taako.

“Thanks,” the dragonborn said sweetly.

“Merry Candlenights,” Magnus replied. He opened the door and gave one last farewell wave. “Merry Candlenights, Taako!”

“Get out!” Taako cried, standing up with such force that his desk drawers rattled. He could hear Magnus’ laugh through the closed door, all the way down the steps until it was lost in the hubbub of the street.

“So, sir,” The dragonborn turned back to him. “How much can I put you down for?”

“Nothing,” Taako said flatly.

“You want to be anonymous?”

“I want you to leave me the fuck alone,” he answered. “The government already forces me to pay taxes to fund welfare and homeless shelters. Asking me for money on top of that to hand out to freeloaders and stoners is practically larceny.”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” the dragonborn said, frowning for the first time. Taako thought it improved her looks. “There are economic circumstances that force people into poverty, and some who have children to feed would rather die than ask for-”

“If they’d rather die, then they should fucking do it,” Taako interrupted. “There’s too many people on this planet anyway.”

At this, the orc moved to storm towards Taako, but a hand on her arm stopped her. “Killian,” the dragonborn warned, shaking her head. The orc seemed to relax and they quickly left the office, but not before they sent one more look Taako’s way, the orc glaring and the dragonborn merely sad. He sighed as the door closed, finally rid of annoying visitors.

An hour later, Lucretia began packing up. Taako almost wanted to laugh. Every ten minutes or so, she’d try to look up at the clock on the wall without him noticing (he always noticed), hoping desperately for it to be seven o’ clock, and then getting very excited when the time finally came that she looked and it actually was seven o’ clock. He’d once moved the clock into the other room, the one filled with accounting books, hoping to thwart her, but she’d just ended up taking a trip in there twenty times a day claiming to be looking for a book she needed, so he’d moved it back. But there was nothing stopping him from putting it on the other wall, forcing her to crane her neck at a weird angle every time she wanted to look at it.

He stopped paying attention to her graceful, practiced dance around the office, slotting away files, closing blinds, dusting shelves, and finally shrugging on her coat and flinging a scarf around her neck. By the time he zoned back in, he jumped a little, as she was standing in front of his desk expectantly.

“What?”

“Could I have my wages, please?” He sighed and waved a hand, fifteen freshly-shined coins flying out of their drawer and dropping into her open palm. “Thank you.”

He grunted in response and went back to his papers. Soon, however, he heard a little cough, and looked up to see her still fidgeting in front of him. “Is there something else?”

She fiddled with the fraying end of her scarf. “Well, it’s candlenights tomorrow.”

“Yes, and?” He asked irritably.

“It is customary for employees to receive time off.” Her face was carefully expressionless.

“Really,” he deadpanned. “How much time off?” They did this dance every year, but it was getting less fun now that Lucretia was on to him. She knew he wouldn’t actually make her come in tomorrow. He didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh. Maybe he needed a new, fresh, more anxious employee.

“The whole day,” she answered.

“And why should I give you a whole day’s wages for no work?”

“It’s only once a year.”

“Seems a poor excuse for picking my pocket every december twenty-fifth.” He looked up, but she was already out the door, a ‘goodnight, then’ tossed over her shoulder, leaving Taako alone and shivering with nothing but the small wisps of smoke from the remnants of their fire for company.

He packed up his things and locked up, heading home with his eyebrows in their usual place, furrowed angrily on his forehead.

_____________________________________________________________

“Hello, my love.”

Lucretia swung Angus up on her shoulder, tucking his crutches under her arm with practiced ease. His arms went around her neck, squeezing tight as they embraced. Finally they were off, practically skipping through the busy streets, past carol singers and buildings covered in lights. “What should we get for dinner tomorrow?” Angus’ eyes were bright, reflecting all the lights in the trees and shop windows.

“Well,” Lucretia started. “I think we’ll start with the biggest, plumpest goose in town. It’ll be the most delicious one in the mortal realm, just as good as the ones the gods will be eating.”

Angus laughed. “I don’t think Davenport’s skills are quite that refined.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” she whispered, a finger to her lips.