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You Are My Lucky Star

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Kravitz was good at his job.

Of course he was - it was the family business, he’d been raised to excel, practically born with the air of formality and subtle empathy necessary for his line of work.

Despite this, he couldn’t help but feel a little… unfulfilled.

His mother pointed this out regularly.

“You look a little sad,” she’d say as they closed up for the day, locking up the doors to the offices and mortuary, turning off the lights in the lobby.

“I’m not,” he’d reply, simply, and it was true. “Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s my job to worry, you’re my son,” she’d point out. “And maybe you’re not sad, but you don’t seem happy.”

He couldn’t argue with that, so he’d say, “I’m fine.” And then he’d ask about how her pet bird is doing, and is Istus well, and she’d invite him to dinner, and they’d move on.

It was part of the routine, he supposed.

The routine was:

Wake up at six.

Read through old music books in bed for an hour.

Get up, quick shower, put on suit, out the door by 7:30, at work 7:45, Mother arrives 7:55, opening the doors 8:00.

From 8 to 12, work.

From 12 to 1, lunch.

From 1 to 6, work.

Close at 6.

Get invited to dinner by Mother, no reason not to go.

Dinner at 6:30 with Mother, Istus, and the pet raven that he’d long been used to eating with them at the table.

Leave at 9, almost always with something newly hand-knitted and a cryptic saying about fate from Istus, and almost always with his Mother handing him leftovers, insisting that he “really should find a boyfriend, or a hobby, instead of coming here every night,” (as if she wasn’t the one inviting him over).

Arrive at his plain little one-bedroom, put the leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch, get to bed, read old music books until passing out around ten.

The routine worked. The weekends were work, too - funerals and last minute arrivals at the mortuary. He didn’t need a day off, he didn’t have anything to do. He was healthy, he wasn’t unhappy, and he was contributing to society (though running a funeral home was probably not the most glorious job around). He wouldn’t say he was thriving, but he functioned on the regularity of it all.

He wasn’t sure why he decided to change it. Maybe it was the concerned look that his mother kept sending him when he spaced out a little more than usual that day. Maybe it was the calmly confident look on Istus’ face at dinner when she said, “you know, fate has its designs, but you’ve got control, Kravitz.” Maybe it was the soft way his mother told him, “you really should find a hobby, dear.”

“Mother, do you still have my instruments in storage?” he asked, not entirely consciously.

For a moment, his mother looked surprised, then she smiled. “Well, you can’t take the piano, but I think we’ve got your old bass in the attic. Might have your fiddle in there, too.”

Kravitz smiled, if only a little. His heart beat a hair faster. “I barely touched that one. Can I go grab the bass?”

His mother smiled a little wider and nodded. As he half-walked, half-ran to the stairs, he glanced at Istus, who looked up from her knitting to send him a knowing wink.

He’d forgotten exactly how big the upright bass was. And how much dust it would collect in the years since he’d moved out and let himself get absorbed by his work. He took the new scarf from Istus - soft and blue and still in his hands, he hadn’t thought to put it down - and wrapped it around the lower part of his face before brushing off as much dust as he could from the instrument’s case.

The dust now swirling in the air made his eyes water, but his nose and throat were at least saved by the scarf. Once the case was mostly cleared, he left the scarf on his face and went to drag the instrument down the stairs.

It was heavier than he’d expected, too, but he was a fairly strong man, so he didn’t have much trouble once he found a good way to carry it. Down the stairs he went, pulling the bass after him, wincing when it hit the walls or the floor with a hollow thud and a low chorus of twang s. He managed to get it down the stairs and to the door without anything obviously breaking, though, so he counted the trip a success and pulled the scarf away from his face.

“Hopefully your playing sounds better than that,” his Mother mused. Istus laughed.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s worse,” Kravitz said, his hands already itching to open the case and get back to playing. He’d forgotten how much he loved it. “It’s been years.”

“It has, hasn’t it?” His mother replied, one hand drifting towards the case.

“Oh, you’ll have to play for us soon,” Istus said, hands knitting at a speed that Kravitz hadn’t thought possible before meeting her. “I haven’t heard you yet, and Raven says you’re incredible.”

“I was, at least for a student,” Kravitz agreed. He was well aware of his skill - or, at least, the skill he used to possess. He had yet to find out if he could still play. “I’m not entirely sure why I stopped.”

“Because you decided to spend all your time working,” his mother replied, sounding amused.

“You spend all your time working,” Kravitz said, furrowing his brows.

“Not as much as you. You don’t even to take a day off.”

“We all know Istus is the reason that you do.”

“That’s true,” Istus chimed.

Raven raised an eyebrow. “Maybe you need to get an Istus of your own then, to make you take a break.”

Kravitz rolled his eyes. “I’m fine being single, Mother. And besides, as much as I love Istus - “

“Oh, thank you, dear,” Istus said, smiling in her chair.

Kravitz smiled back. “As much as I love Istus,” he said again, “she isn’t really my type.”

His mother rolled her eyes. “Go out somewhere, or something. Isn’t there that place on Tosun street - Star Chaser? Space Blaster? Some weird name like that.”

“Star Blaster,” Istus said, beginning to cast off. Kravitz gave her an odd look, and she smiled serenely. “You’re right, Kravitz, I’m not a bar person. The owner is my friend’s partner’s partner.”

Kravitz had long since stopped questioning Istus’ strange ability to read him like a book, so he simply shrugged and leaned against his bass.

“Yes, that’s the name,” Raven agreed, humming contemplatively. “And it is a gay one, right?”

Istus nodded. “Pan’s been there a few times. He’s suggested we - that is, he and Merle, Raven and myself - go dancing on a sort of double date, actually, but I told him we prefer to stay in.”

“And I can’t stop thanking you for that, my love,” Raven said fondly. “Merle is a rather horrifying little man, from what I’ve heard.”

“Yes, that’s why Pan likes him so much,” Istus said with a little laugh.

Raven laughed and Kravitz shook his head, a smile on his face. “I’m not exactly a bar person, either,” he pointed out, standing up straight and adjusting his grip on the bass. “But I appreciate the suggestion.”

“Maybe if you were a bar person, you’d have a boyfriend,” his mother pointed out, opening the front door.

“Maybe if I wanted one, I’d look for one,” he said pointedly. Then, he picked up the bass and carried it out the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mother.” He placed a kiss on her cheek and made his way out to his car parked in the driveway as Raven waved from the front steps.

It was a bit tricky, but he managed to fit the instrument inside, on the backseat with the neck sticking out the rolled-down window.

Then into the driver’s seat and down the road he went. His house wasn’t far, so it wasn’t long before he pulled up at his apartment building.

It was trickier to get the up the stairs to his unit than it had been to get it down the stairs at his mother’s house, but he managed to drag it in the door with only a little sweat to show for it.

In a few minutes he’d shed the outer layer of his suit and had his bass standing against a wall in his tiny living room.

“Right….” he muttered, arms crossed as he stared at the instrument. He took a deep breath and dragged a chair from the kitchen to sit next to the bass.

The first notes he played were awkward and out of key, fingers plucking at the strings as he winced at the sounds. He adjusted the tuning keys. Played again. Adjusted again. The notes sounded halfway right, that time - maybe not perfectly tuned, but at least set to the proper intervals.

He didn’t play long - a few awkward notes, an attempt at the bassline for a simple song he half-remembered with a softly hummed melody. Then he sighed, leaned the bass against the wall, and went to bed. But, he flipped through his old music books with a new energy, tapping his fingers to a beat against the covers, humming melodies until he fell asleep, songbook open against his chest.

In the weeks following, Kravitz’ routine was interrupted.

He still went to work, of course, but he started letting his mother take over closing up (on her insistence, of course). He started turning down some of the invitations to dinner to practice instead, though he still visited a few times a week. He spent less time reading in bed and more time playing his bass in the living room.

Three weeks later, he found himself in a music store, checkbook in his pocket, nervously glancing around the instruments, books, and accessories on the shelves. (There were also a variety of potted plants all around the store, between displays and lined up on the windowsill. Kravitz decided not to question them.)

“Can I help you with something?”

Kravitz looked around for the source of the voice, brows furrowed.

“Over here, big guy,” the voice said, and a short man with a voluminous grey beard emerged from behind the counter.

“Oh,” Kravitz said. “Hello. Um - I’m looking for new strings for my bass. Also, uh, maybe a keyboard? The sign says - “

“Yeah, we carry that new shit. Hang on.” The man made his way towards the back wall, beckoning for Kravitz to follow. After a brief hesitation, he did, only stopping to grab a thick book of jazz standards that caught his eye.

“Alright, we’ve got two options for ya,” the shopkeeper said, reaching up to pat the keyboard on his left, which looked like a smaller, blockier piano in pale wood with a huge speaker to its side. “This one’s the Ondioline. Works fine.” He turns towards the one on his left, a darker and yet smaller model. “This boy’s a Chamberlain. Newer. Works fine.”

“Is there, a, ah….” Kravitz looked between the keyboards, then at the bearded man. “Difference?”

“Not a clue,” the man said, voice gruff. “I’m not much of a musician.”

Kravitz gave him a blank look, and he rolled his eyes.

“I just run the place,” he grunted. “I just sell the stuff. There’s a dumb kid that comes in to help sometimes, he’s the one that actually knows things. I’m more a plant guy.”

That explains the foliage, Kravitz thought. What he said was, “Okay. Um… can I play?”

“Go for it, kid,” the man said, waving a hand and walking back towards the front desk. “Call me if you need me. Name’s Merle.”

Kravitz looked at him oddly. “Merle? Do you know a, uh, Pan?”

Merle turned back, sending Kravitz a sharp look. “How do you know Pan?”

“He’s my… a friend of my mother.” It wasn’t entirely accurate or specific, but it was safe to say.

“What was your name?”

“Kravitz. Kravitz  Queen,” he clarified, adjusting his tie awkwardly.

Merle smiled at that. “Oh, you’re Raven and Istus’ boy. Yeah, I’m Pan’s Merle.” The little man’s eyes sparkled a little at that, before he rolled his eyes and turned back around. “Let me know if you decide on something. I’ll grab the strings for ya.”

Kravitz nodded and walked up to the Ondioline, tapping at the keys experimentally. A few notes in different keys played from the speaker. He winced, then awkwardly played a quick melody with half-right notes.

The same thing on the Chamberlin, then he looked at the price tags on both and sucked in a breath. He had more than enough money to buy one - never going out, living in a tiny apartment, and working seven days a week was good for his bank account, to say the least. Still, as someone who never spent amounts of money larger than his rent, the cost of an electric keyboard was a little anxiety-inducing.

This was good for him, though, and he reminded himself of that as he walked up to the front.

“I’ll get the Chamberlin,” he said to Merle, who was climbing down a ladder with packages of bass strings. “And, uh, this book.” He set the thick set of standards on the counter.

“The strings, too, I’d hope,” Merle huffed. “This ladder is a pain.”

“Oh, definitely, yeah,” Kravitz confirmed, a hand running through his hair.

Merle rang him up, told him the total, took the check he handed over, and jerked his head towards the door to the right of the Chamberlin. “I’ve got the boxes with a new one in the back. You can go grab it. Left of the door.

Kravitz gave him a questioning look, which the shorter man ignored, then rolled back his shoulders and went to drag the box into his car.

It was heavier than his bass, even with the speaker and keyboard in seperate boxes, but if he could move a corpse into a coffin, he could carry a big instrument into his car. (He realized, at that point, that maybe his line of work had affected his mental metaphors, but he ignored that thought.)

His new keyboard safely in the trunk, he returned for the strings and book.

“Say hi to Istus and Raven for me, kid,” Merle said with an over-exaggerated wink.

Kravitz stared at him, for a moment, then said, “Sure, Merle,” and left the store perhaps a little quicker than necessary, purchases in hand.

That night, after the debacle of setting up his new keyboard, he plucked out a couple melodies from his new book of standards, accustoming his hands back to the keys. After a little of that, though, he turned his attention to changing out the old strings on his bass for the fresh ones and tuning the instrument, for real, to actual notes, for the first time in years.

In the months following, his mother noticed an improvement - and, if he were being honest, so did he.

“You’re happier,” his mother said one night, as they were closing up together.

Kravitz paused in the middle of drawing the curtains closed. He turned to her, a contemplative look on his face. “I suppose you’re right,” he admitted, adjusting the curtains one last time and brushing his hands together. “I didn’t realize how much I’d missed playing.”

“I’m glad you’re back into it,” Raven hummed. “You’re not like me.”

“How do you mean?” Kravitz asked, rather perplexed. People generally remarked that he was the spitting image of his mother, in looks (down to the vaguely skull-like vitiligo patterns across their faces) and in mannerisms (professional, reserved, refined). Though, he supposed, most of those people really saw work-Kravitz (not that another Kravitz had truly shown his face for a long, long time).

“I can live for my work,” Raven said. “Even before Istus, even before I had you, I was happy just spending my time here. You need a creative outlet. You wither.”

Kravitz considered that, for a moment. He hadn’t really realized it, but now - seeing the difference between the way he lived only a few short months before, day to day, work to dinners to sleeping, repetitive; versus his life now, still routine, but now with music and creativity and joy - there was a clear difference.

“I suppose you’re right,” he agreed, hands fiddling. He had calluses on his fingertips now that he hadn’t felt in years. “I don’t think I could be truly happy without music.”

Raven turned away from locking the door to her office, a rare grin on her face. “I’m glad you’re back to it, then.”

Kravitz nodded, smiling, and put a hand in his pocket, the other running absently through his hair.

“You should come to dinner tonight,” Raven said, placing her keys in her purse and holding it in both hands as she regarded her son. “We’ve missed you there, and Istus wants to hear you play.”

Kravitz smiled wider at that, hands suddenly itching to play. He hadn’t played for anyone since before he’d picked it back up again. “I’d love to,” he said, excitement creeping into his voice that made the corners of his mother’s eyes wrinkle a little more. “I’ll just have to go pick up my bass.”

“Well, hop to it, then,” Raven said, walking briskly towards the coffee table to tidy it. “I’ll finish up here. We’ll see you at home.”

Kravitz didn’t waste time, walking (perhaps a bit rushed) to his car and driving (perhaps a little fast) to his apartment. Moving his bass was a pain, as always, but easier downstairs than up, and he was starting to remember the best ways to carry it.

At his mother’s house, Istus opened the door with a broad smile.

“Kravitz! It’s wonderful to see you,” she said, bending down to kiss him on the cheek and beckoning him inside. “Your mother is finishing dinner. You know she doesn’t trust me with the seasoning.”

“You never spice it enough,” Raven called, voice carrying from the kitchen with little effort (she had the strange ability to speak at an even lower-than-normal level and be heard, which Kravitz was well used to by now).

“I only do what I’m meant to,” Istus hummed, drifting towards her chair to resume her knitting. “And, I suppose, I’m not meant to spice the food.”

“We can’t all have good taste.”

Kravitz chuckled at his mother’s words and leaned his bass up against the piano in the corner before making his way into the kitchen.

“Anything I can help with?” he asked, breathing in the scent of the stew his mother was currently stirring with a bird on her shoulder and a contemplative look on her face.

Raven nodded, less at Kravitz and more at the pot, and reached to dump a copious amount of garlic powder in the stew. Then, she turned to smile at her son. “Set the table, will you, dear?”

Kravitz nodded and did as she asked, setting bowls and saucers for three-and-a-bird around the dining table - which, he noticed now, was new; a heavy piece of dark wood with smoothly carved legs.

“New table?” he asked, running a hand along the glossy finish of the top.

“Oh, yes,” Raven hummed, walking into the dining room with the stew and placing the pot on a stone trivet in the center of the new table. The bird on her shoulder cawed in agreement. “Remember the Waxman funeral?”

Kravitz thought for a moment, sorting through memories of the past several weekends, then nodded. It had been more of a wake, with a little crying at the beginning - mostly from a hulking man with huge sideburns, consoled by an even larger woman with bushy hair and reddened eyes that seemed to have cried all the tears she had - followed by drinking and dancing and celebration Kravitz wasn’t sure he’d seen anywhere else.

“Well,” Raven said, “you’ll recall I gave them a discount, tough times for them and all. The son-in-law - Waxman’s daughter’s husband - was also his carpentry apprentice. He offered a table to make up the difference. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted.”

“I’m not complaining,” Istus said with her ever-present serene smile. “It’s a lovely table.”

“Plus, we were threatened with an army of wrought-iron lawn flamingos from Waxman’s daughter if we turned him down. I’m sure her skills at the forge are as incredible as the carpenter’s woodwork, but I really don’t think we have any need for wrought-iron lawn flamingos.”

“It was more for his closure than our benefit,” Istus said.

Raven looked contemplative, for a moment, and then nodded. “Right as ever, my love.”

Istus smiled a little wider.

They ate dinner in good company, and Kravitz complimented the cooking as he always did.

Then, Raven stood. “Istus and I will clean up here,” she said with a small smile, “why don’t you get set up to play for us?”

Kravitz grinned and nodded.

He sat on the edge of the piano bench, facing out. It didn’t take long to get the bass set up and tuned, and Kravitz warmed up a little, plucking out a few notes, then a little bassline. He looked up as Raven and Istus (and the bird) entered the room with three glasses of wine between them. Kravitz took the one offered to him, placing it on top of the piano, and then - following a pointed look from Raven - on the coffee table a little further away.

Istus settled in her chair, picking up the already-enormous afghan she was knitting and clicking away at it. Raven perched on the arm of the chair, one hand gently running through her partner’s hair and the other scratching the chin of the bird standing on her lap.

“What should I play?” Kravitz asked, arms draped around his instrument, fingers tapping against the wood. His heart beat a little faster, excited at the prospect of performing again, even for his tiny family audience.

Istus hummed as her knitting needles clicked. The raven on Raven’s lap gave a strange chirp.

“Play us your favorite,” Raven suggested, leaning back against the wall.

Kravitz thought for a moment - he didn’t have a favorite, with so many songs he loved to play - and decided on April in Paris. He had learned it years ago, and had just re-learned it the week prior. He began to play the bass line, then hummed the melody.

Istus and Raven watched, Istus smiling her serene smile, the corners of Raven’s mouth twitching upwards.

Kravitz stumbled over a note, but they said nothing, and he recovered quickly, humming the melody a little louder to cover it up.

As he approached the end of a verse, he felt a swell of confidence, took a deep breath, and improvised, hands flying, now practiced once again, over the strings.

His mother smiled wider, at that, and Istus nodded to the beat. The bird on his mother’s lap bobbed its head, and Kravitz was taken back to his teenage years, when he’d practice in the living room and that bird would dance along.

The song was over far too quickly, a last refrain as he finished improvising, and his hands fell still, his face smiling.

Istus dropped her knitting to clap in a way that was - for her, reserved as she was - ridiculously enthusiastic. Raven joined in, her expression proud. Kravitz flushed, giving a half-bow over his bass, still sitting.

“You need to find a group to play with,” Raven said, lowering her hands back down to Istus’ shoulder and her bird’s back, both leaning into her touch. “You’ve still got that talent, you should play for people besides us old ladies.”

“You’re hardly old,” Kravitz chuckled. Then, her suggestion hit him, and he hummed. “Maybe you’re right, though. I do miss playing in a group. And for an audience.”

Istus picked up her knitting again, needles back to their clicking rhythm. “You know,” she said, “Pan mentioned, recently, that there’s this up-and-coming trio at that jazz bar - the Star Blaster. He says they’re pretty good, but they’re missing a bassist.”

Raven nodded. “I remember him mentioning them. Said they’re an interesting bunch. The vocalist and drummer are siblings, aren’t they?”

“Twins,” Istus said, “the three of them are customers of mine, as it turns out. The vocalist and drummer are incredibly beautiful.”

“Just like you,” Raven whispered, planting a kiss on Istus’ head as she blushed a rosy pink.

“The pianist is rather plain, though,” Istus continued, leaning in yet closer to Raven. “He and the drummer are married, actually. First met the pianist when he bought his wife an anniversary sweater.”

Raven hummed, then turned towards Istus. “Wait, is the vocalist - is he that odd man who came in for that…” she made a face. “Unicorn sweater?”

Istus laughed. “That’s him. Probably my favorite custom creation,” she mused, pausing in her knitting with an amused expression. “I think using that gold thread on the horn was a great touch.”

“It was horrifying,” Raven said bluntly. “How anyone could wear such a thing in public - “

“Oh, he won’t,” Istus replied. “He told me he wouldn’t. Seemed incredibly disappointed about that, though. Did you know he named the unicorn Garyl?”

Raven looked horrified. “You know what,” she said, turning back towards her son, voice flat. “Kravitz? Do not approach these musicians.”

Kravitz chuckled. “They sound a little wild for me, if the others are anything like that one.”

And yet, when he returned home, as he lay in bed, reading his music books, he couldn’t help but consider.

And the next day, he turned down his mother’s offer of dinner to make a rare trip downtown to Tosun street.

It took a little searching to find it, which made sense, after what Istus and Raven had told him about it. The little wooden sign over the door caught his eye, though - painted a dark midnight blue with little silver stars dotting it, around neat lettering to declare the name of the bar. He pulled his car to the side of the road and sat there, for a moment, fidgeting nervously with his tie.

He was not a bar person.

-----

“You’re up next,” Davenport said, ducking his head into the back room. “5 minutes.”

“Got it,” Lup said, applying a quick dusting of rouge to her freckled cheeks and spinning around, putting the mirror down on a table next to her. “How do I look, Ko?”

Taako looked up from his songbook - more writing in the margins than sheet music, at this point, but who was counting - and flashed her a grin. “Stunning, Lulu, you’ll knock ‘em all off their feet.”

“Why thank you, brother dearest,” she said. “Tragic, really - someone will have to tell them I’m a married woman.” She stood and spun, the green tulle layers of her dress skirt fluffing up. She smiled, satisfied, and turned towards her husband, who was sitting in a chair against the wall, fingers tapping at invisible piano keys on his legs, eyes closed. “Kiss for luck, Bluejeans?”

Barry opened his eyes and smiled. “You don’t need luck, but I won’t say no to a kiss.”

“You’re gross,” Taako said, making a face and snapping his book shut. “Get a room, heterosexuals.”

“Still bi,” Lup and Barry said in unison before Lup walked to the wall where Barry sat and leaned down to kiss him, hands cradling his face. Taako gagged over-exaggeratedly.

“You’re lucky you’re my sister,” Taako grumbled, slamming his book against his head to hide his face. “Fuckin’ nasty.”

“You’re just jealous,” Lup said, turning back to stick her tongue out at her brother.

“Absolutely not,” Taako huffed, removing the book from his face and tossing it onto the table, next to where Lup had set her mirror. He stood and stretched, then ran a hand through his short, curly hair and made a face. “Still not used to this cut,” he muttered, removing his hand and shaking it.

“It’s been years,” Lup said, though her voice held a hint of sympathy.

“Yeah, and people at least see me as a fuckin’ man now, so I guess I shouldn’t complain,” Taako grumbled, though his twisted face betrayed him. His hand drifted back up to where he should have felt a long braid against his shoulders, then fell back down. “Never mind that,” he sighed, shaking both hands now, straightening his tie. He loosened it a little and hummed. “Let’s get out there, then.”

Lup released her husband, moving over to her brother, and ruffled a hand through his hair before twisting a strand in front of his forehead around her finger, leaving it a loose curl in the middle. “There,” she said, moving her hands to tug at the bottom of Taako’s suit, straightening the blazer. “A bit of flare.”

Taako rolled his eyes, but gave a half-smile as he turned towards the door. He grabbed a rose out of the vase by the door, which he fiddled with as he headed out. Lup beckoned to Barry with a wink before grabbing her drumsticks from the table. Barry grinned and stood up, following the twins out the door, taking his wife’s hand as they approached the stage.

“We’ve got a favorite here, tonight, folks,” Davenport was saying as they emerged, mic lowered to accommodate his diminutive size. “You can’t see ‘em anywhere else, yet, so this is a special treat just for you. Give it up for Sizzle it Up, with your favorite singer, Taako!”

Taako stepped towards the mic, nodding at Davenport’s chipper salute as the small man hopped off the low stage. As Lup and Barry parted and set themselves up at the piano and drums behind him, he adjusted the mic up to his height and gave the quietly applauding crowd a dazzling grin.

“Good evening, fellas,” he said, once the microphone was at his level. “Gotta say, we love playing here for you all.” He paused as clapping picked up again, smiling and resuming as it died back down. “We’ve got some great swing ready for you tonight. Dancing is mandatory,” he added with a wink, which garnered a few chuckles from the crowd.

He turned back to glance at Barry and Lup, who both nodded. He turned back to the mic, said, “Here’s Sing, Sing, Sing,” and they began to play.

-----

After psyching himself up for a few minutes, Kravitz managed to emerge from his car and walk towards the door. He could hear a faint piano tune from behind the wall, a muffled voice.

As the door opened, he was greeted first by a large person - he couldn’t entirely tell their gender, hourglass figure and broad shoulders clad in a patterned button-up shirt and pressed slacks - blocking the opening, back to him. As they heard, or maybe felt, the door open behind them, they turned. An astonishingly androgynous face looked down at him, brows furrowed. This was probably the bouncer.

“Um, hello,” Kravitz said, giving an awkward wave. “I’m here to, uh - there’s jazz?”

The person smiled a little, at that, but their eyes still scowled as they looked Kravitz up and down. “You’re new here,” they said, and - nope, still no clue as to gender, their voice pitched high but with a masculine quality to it.

“Yeah,” Kravitz said, his hand moving from a wave to rubbing the back of his neck. “My, uh, my mother told me about this place. Said there’s some good musicians here.”

The bouncer’s face softened at that, and they smiled a little wider. “You’re in luck, then,” they replied, stepping to the side to let him in. “Sizzle it Up just started playing.”

Kravitz gave the bouncer a small smile and entered, drifting towards the nearly empty bar, behind which stood a slight, dark-skinned woman with short hair pinned up in curls around her face. Looking around, he noticed that about half of the patrons of the bar were scattered around at tables, drinking and chatting softly, or watching the performance. The other half were up by the stage, dancing or just standing, absorbed in the music.

And, as Kravitz turned his attention to the stage, he could understand why.

The first thing he noticed was the singer. He was - and Kravitz knew he had a weakness for pretty, curly-haired men, but this man - he was stunningly beautiful, his violet eyes darting around the crowd through thick lashes, brown hair falling around his ears, with a single curl over his forehead. Freckles were scattered across his whole face, but especially over his nose and cheeks. As he sang - and oh, did he sing, a strong tenor that cracked occasionally as he switched registers, though it seemed almost intentional, adding to the quirky swing of the song. Occasionally, his voice would fly up, at the end of a verse or the middle of improvising. His range alone set his voice apart, with a high register that didn’t quite hit falsetto tones. Add his fluid, skilled style that allowed him to go up and down practically without a care, plus a cadence to his voice that Kravitz found enchanting - this singer was something Kravitz had never experienced before.

As the singer’s eyes landed on him for a moment, his face flushed, the singer smirked, and Kravitz found himself wanting the song to never end.

But it did end, pretty soon after that. Kravitz found himself staring at the singer, who was grinning out at the crowd, one hand on the mic, the other at his hip. He looked over his shoulder at the other players - and Kravitz managed to look at them, now - a woman with stylish brown hair and a green dress, nearly identical to the vocalist, and a plain-looking man wearing a denim suit. They were on drums and piano, respectively, and Kravitz realized this must be the trio Istus had mentioned.

After this realization, of course, his eyes drifted back to the singer, who was turning back to the mic and beginning to address the audience. The woman behind the bar laughed, and he turned back to see her smirking at him.

“First time hearing Taako sing?” she asked, wiping down the bar as she spoke.

“His name is Taako?” Kravitz said, confused.

She laughed again. “Yeah, that’s right. T-A-A-K-O, just pronounced like the food.”

Kravitz hummed, glancing back at the man, who was swaying at the mic as the drummer began to lay down a beat. His cheeks grew a little warmer. “Yeah, uh - first time.”

“Not an unusual reaction,” the woman said, chuckling. “Though maybe a little more extreme than the rest of us.”

“He’s incredible,” Kravitz remarked, eyes glued to the singer.

“That he is. A little weird, but worth getting used to.” She regarded him, setting down her cloth and adjusting the glasses on the bar. “Say, I don’t think I’ve seen you ‘round here at all. Name’s Ren, I’m the bartender here.”

Kravitz turned back to her, tearing his eyes away from Taako to offer his hand for a shake. “Kravitz,” he replied. Ren smiled and they shook hands.

“You don’t really seem like a bar person,” Ren said, looking at him analytically.

“I’m not, to be honest,” Kravitz admitted, tapping his fingers on the bar and stealing another glance at Taako, who was singing again, a hand on the mic and the other waving. He forced himself to turn back towards Ren, to at least avoid being rude.

Ren looked amused. “What brings you here, then?” She leaned on her arms against the bar.

“The music, actually,” he explained. “My mother’s - “ He hesitated, glanced around. Raven and Istus had been right, this place seemed pretty safe. There were a handful of men and women dancing and sitting together, but besides them, he could also spot a slim butch woman dancing somewhat acrobatically with a muscular, tall woman in a polka-dotted dress in front of the stage, and a flamboyant man gesticulating wildly with one hand to a large, quiet fellow sharing the table with him, their hands clasped together above the surface of the table. A noise at the door drew his attention there, and - in walked two women - one small and bulky and short-haired in a black and white dress, the other tall and skinny with long, straight hair, dressed in dark blue. As the door shut behind them, the small one gave the bouncer a tight hug, enthusiastically returned, and took her companion’s hand and pulled her closer to the stage. He turned back to Ren, who was looking at him with narrowed eyes. “My mother’s partner told me about them,” he continued, nodding towards the musicians. I’m actually - I’m a musician myself, and I was looking for people to play with, and she mentioned they didn’t have a bassist. They seem to manage just fine without one, though.” He chuckled, feeling the blush rise back to his cheeks.

Ren’s face relaxed, and she smiled sympathetically. “Yeah, I have some bad news for you, fella. Your chances of getting to play with Sizzle it Up are very low.”

Kravitz didn’t want to examine why his heart dropped at that, so he ignored the feeling ( it’s just a lost opportunity, Kravitz, nothing more, nothing to warrant the crushing disappointment ).

“Taako doesn’t really like sharing the spotlight,” she continued. “If he weren’t related to Lup and Barry, I don’t think he’d play in a group at all. That’s why they’re Sizzle it Up with Taako - he’s the big deal, and that’s how he likes it.”

Kravitz hummed, trying not to let his disappointment show.

Ren reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s worth a try, I’d say - hell, best case scenario you get a date,” she added with a wink.

Kravitz was growing tired of the warmth in his face, and he couldn’t deny that his heart skipped a beat at that suggestion. (He ignored that, too.)

“I’ll…” he trailed off, turning back towards the stage, where Taako was leaning against the mic with a smile, watching as the drummer played an elaborate solo. (If the way Taako’s hair fell to the side as he stood like that made his heart do very strange things, made his hand twitch to brush it out of the man’s face, he didn’t admit it to himself.) He turned back to Ren, who looked extremely amused, and cleared his throat. “I’ll definitely talk to them,” he said. “It’s worth a try.”

Ren nodded sagely. “I’ll give you some tips on dealing with,” she jerked her head towards the stage, “with a drink, if you want. He - well, all three of them, but mostly him - he’s a bit of an odd guy.”

“You know Taako pretty well, then?”

“Oh, he’s my mentor,” Ren said. At Kravitz’ curious look, she clarified - “in cooking. I’m not a very musical person, myself. But Taako works the restaurant here, when he isn’t singing, and he gives me tips. Actually got me this job. Also got me my girlfriend.” Kravitz’ brows shot up, and she laughed. “So, yeah, I guess you could say we’re close, by Taako definitions of close.”

Kravitz shrugged and took a seat on one of the bar stools. “Sure, can’t say no to some free advice.”

“It’s my secret method to getting people to buy drinks,” Ren deadpanned. Kravitz laughed, and she smiled. “You’re not a bar guy, hm? I’m gonna say you’re a wine boy - am I wrong?”

“You caught me,” Kravitz said, and Ren chuckled. “I’m fine with whatever you have.”

“Dav likes this stuff,” Ren said, reaching under the counter and coming up with a dark bottle with a worn blue label. “Which is one of the only things I know about wine.” Kravitz gave her a confused look, and she raised an eyebrow. “What? I’m a bartender, not a sommelier.”

He supposed he couldn’t argue with that.

Ren reached down a wine glass from the few that stood on a high shelf behind her, filling it and passing it across the counter to him. Kravitz took a sip.

“Here’s the deal,” Ren said, once he had set his drink back down. “Taako is…”

And as Ren kept talking, Kravitz found his attention drifting back to the stage. They were on another song, now, and Taako was improvising, high and low, hopping between registers freely. Kravitz found his fingers tapping against his glass to an imaginary bass line as he watched the singer singing, snapping to the beat of the drums, bobbing his head as the piano played, his curls bouncing.

Taako was all movement and song, and Kravitz couldn’t help but be drawn in.

It took a sharp tap on his shoulder to snap him out of it, and he turned back to a smug-looking Ren.

“Wow, you didn’t get any of that, did you?”

Kravitz flushed. “No, I totally got it,” he lied.

“Yeah, sure you did,” Ren chuckled. “Well, good luck. I should get back to doing my job and all that.” She gave him a little wave and wandered down the bar to where the women who’d walked in earlier were leaning against the counter. Well, the tall one was leaning - the short one was up on the stool, feet dangling, her head still not even reaching up to her companion’s shoulder. The tall one said something quietly to her, and she laughed before Ren interrupted them with a warm greeting.

Still rather embarrassed, he turned back to the stage to listen as Sizzle it Up finished their rendition of a song Kravitz couldn’t place.

“I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves,” Taako said, leaning against the mic as the music faded out. “I know I am,” he continued, looking around the crowd before his eyes landed on Kravitz, who flushed. Taako winked, and his heart did a flip.

He did not sign up for this.

-----

Taako loved performing for several reasons.

First, he loved showing off. He knew he was good, and he wasn’t going to hide that from the world.

Second, he loved to make. That’s why he cooked - he could create something worthwhile, that made him feel worthwhile.

Third - and this was the biggest reason - he loved to be loved.

If he were to psychoanalyze himself - which he tended to avoid at all costs, but often ended up doing regardless - he could definitely see why. Most of his childhood had been spent without love - with the exception of Lup, of course, but she was his heart and he was hers, so she was in a category of her own. The only real taste of love either of them had in their early youth was their aunt, who they lived with for a warm and comfortable too-short year and a half before they turned eight, and she died, and they were on the streets.

At this point, of course, he’d surrounded himself in love - he had Lup to thank for Barry, of course, but as much as he complained, he couldn’t ask for a better brother-in-law. He had friends, too - people he’d met on the job and in the bar and around town who, somehow, stuck around. Like Lucretia, who’d found him and Lup performing on a street corner before ducking into the alley when it rained, who’d snuck them in to the apartment above the Star Blaster that she shared with her adoptive father and brother. Like Lucretia’s brother, Magnus, who had a heart of gold and a talent for woodworking, who’d helped Lucretia convince Davenport to give two rain-soaked, homeless pre-teens a job and a bed. Like Davenport and Merle, the first adults the twins felt they could trust in years - as strange as they were, a dishonorably discharged gay navy man and a polyamorous ex-pastor with a love of plants, they were kind and supportive and gave them a chance. Like Ren, who latched onto him as a fan but became one of the best friends he had (though he’d never admit it), or like Roswell, who understood aspects of his identity that even his twin sister could never really relate to.

He could go on, and even that fact was more evidence that he’d built something great.

He was absolutely certain that he had his skills to thank, though, and that was a point of pride and terror.

When Barry had started sharing his testosterone supplements with him (it was already hard to find hormone therapy at all, let alone for gender transition, and it was all but impossible for a gay, gender-defying trans man), he’d warned Taako that his voice would change. It was a change he wanted - as skilled as he’d been as a soprano, he’d never been read as a man when he sang, and that definitely hurt, especially alongside the intense dysphoria of his too-feminine voice. And yet, every time he’d thought about the, however unknown, chance of losing his vocal prowess in the process of his transition, he was filled with a familiar fear.

If he can’t sing or cook, he loses his value to the people around him.

Not to Lup, of course, they were stuck with each other - it was everyone else he was worried about (though he’d never, ever, ever admit it). He’d grown accustomed to a support system larger than one person in the same shitty situation, grown used to being loved, and he was not ready to let that go.

He’d had a taste of the reality of his fear before.

Sazed hadn’t seen him as a man - and he wouldn’t have dated him if he had - but he was sweet and warm and soft, and acted like Taako hung the moon, and Taako loved him for it.

Taako’s voice started cracking not long after starting on testosterone. He hadn’t told Sazed about it, naturally - every time he’d tried to explain his gender to his boyfriend, he’d been brushed off and gently told that he was just being silly, just trying to be special, that he was already special enough. Still, he couldn’t avoid Sazed noticing the effects.

He’d been singing to Sazed as they lounged on the couch together, cuddling up side by side, when his voice cracked without warning.

It wasn’t the first time it had cracked - the first couple times were when he’d practiced with Sizzle it Up, and it had been followed with a thrill and a side of anxiety and a grin and hug from Barry.

This time, Taako cut himself off, hands slapping over his mouth, and Sazed gave him an odd look.

“Are you getting sick, Taako?” he asked, his voice concerned. One of his hands moved to feel his forehead. “You don’t feel warm…”

“All good, baby,” Taako replied, lowering his shaking hands to smooth the fabric of his dress. “Just a little - “

“Mistake?” Sazed interrupted, raising an eyebrow. “You usually don’t make mistakes.”

The tone of his voice made Taako feel far to cold far too fast, and he froze for a moment before waving him off. “Don’t worry about it, it was a one-time thing.”

“I sure hope so. Maybe you should practice more. Make sure you’re warming up.”

I always warm up, he wanted to say, or maybe, you’re not a musician, babe, or, my voice is changing so I don’t sound like a fucking twelve year old girl anymore, this is part of the process.

What he said instead was, “Sure thing, Zed.”

And Sazed always said what he wanted to, so what he said was, “Good, good. Can’t have my girlfriend losing her touch before she gets started.” And then he held Taako closer, and Taako sighed, and that was that.

(That wasn’t that, things escalated, and then other things escalated, and then he didn’t see Sazed anymore.)

And maybe Sazed was a bad example, someone he was better off without, but if it happened with the worst it could happen with the best.

But that didn’t matter now - now he was skilled, and he was making things people loved, and that meant he was loved, and things weren’t changing anytime soon.

As long he kept performing, he’d keep being loved.

So he kept performing, even if it was only in one little gay bar on Tosun street for now. It kept him where he liked to be.

And after all that, he was given one more reason to love performing when he sang that night.

He came in during the middle of the first song of their set and had gone straight to the bar. He was handsome, to say the least - a strong jaw and cheekbones clear even across the room, dark skin speckled with pale spots in beautiful patterns, dense and curly black hair with strands of white where the white patches on his skin met his hairline, dressed in a pressed black suit that accentuated his broad shoulders and red tie. Taako found his gaze gravitating to the man as he sang and discovered something even better than his dazzling good looks - a burning rosy blush that appeared on the white of his face when they met eyes, which made Taako feel both very smug and very homosexual.

Taako sang some of his best work that night, that much he knew, fueled by the reactions of the handsome man at the bar. Some of the time, he wasn’t watching Taako, instead talking to Ren at the bar. A slight disappointment, but those moments were more than made up by the reactions he got when the man was looking - wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked and slack-jawed. At one point, Taako glanced at Ren as he’d turned to talk to her, and Ren shot him a look of amusement that screamed “get a load of this one, huh?” He simply smirked back with his own “not that I’m complaining” look, and Ren rolled her eyes, and he turned back to the rest of the bar.

Their set flew by, as it always seemed to, and before long Taako, Lup, and Barry were headed off the stage.

They’d spend some time in the bar that night, and Taako would go back to the kitchen for a while most likely, but as always, they first retreated to the back room to take a breather.

“You did some great work out there, Taako,” Barry complimented as the door shut behind them.

Taako flashed him a grin, flopping down in a chair and throwing his arms behind his head. “Natch’. Always getting better.”

Lup snorted, sitting in another chair and pulling Barry down to her lap. “That was ‘Taako saw a cute guy’-good singing, I think.” She landed a kiss on Barry’s cheek, and Taako made a face. She stuck her tongue out at him. “Newcomer in the black suit, right?”

“I can’t believe you’re exposing my secrets like this,” Taako groaned. “What can I say, I’m easily motivated.”

“Oh, are you talking about the guy with vitiligo? The one who stood by the bar the whole set?” Barry asked. “He was easy on the eyes. Got a glance of him.”

Taako rolled his eyes. “Glad those nerd glasses are doin’ something for you.”

Barry and Lup laughed, and Barry pushed up said glasses on his nose.

“Think he’ll still be there when we go out?” Lup asked with a wink.

“Oh, definitely, obviously. Who wouldn’t stay for another look at this,” Taako replied with a smirk, gesturing to himself, which made Lup roll her eyes and Barry chuckle.

They didn’t stay for long, just enough to take a breath and relax for a moment. Once that moment was up, Taako pulled himself up and cracked his back. He picked up the mirror Lup had left on the table, examining his face and messing with the curls that framed it for a moment before sighing and setting it down. Absently, he ran a hand against his jawline, feeling the fuzz that had finally started making its appearance.

“Bad dysphoria day?” Lup asked, voice soft.

“Every day, sister dearest, you know how it is,” he replied, voice light. His chest twinged, and he rubbed at his ribs. “Ugh, I’ve been wearing my binder too long.”

Barry gave him a concerned look. “Do you need to take it off for a few?”

“All good,” Taako replied, stretching his arms above his head. That helped, a little. He lowered them back down and adjusted his blazer. “The fans await.”

With that, he turned for the door.

-----

Sizzle it Up had disappeared backstage, which was a bit of a disappointment. Kravitz watched as the door closed behind them, then took a deep breath and turned back to his wine.

“You know, you can go knock or something,” Ren said, approaching him with a bottle in her hand, which she stowed below the counter. She brushed her hands off on her apron.

Kravitz… hadn’t considered that. “Oh,” he hummed, “that’s true.”

Ren snorted. “Finish that wine and go get ‘em.”

And that’s what he did. He probably drank the wine a little fast, but he was eager to meet Taako ( and the rest of the trio, obviously, he was here for a reason) . Ren smirked at him as he pushed his empty glass towards her, took a deep breath, and said, “here goes.”

“Good luck,” Ren said, taking the glass with a short laugh.

He started walking towards the door, then froze, turning back and rushing to the bar as he reached into his pocket. Ren gave him a questioning look.

“I didn’t pay for the drink,” he said, sounding flustered as he pulled out his wallet.

Ren laughed. “Right, right. I was just gonna put it on your tab, but I guess we agreed you’re not a bar person, hmm?”

Kravitz chuckled uncomfortably and put what he assumed was more than necessary for the drink on the bar. “Keep the change, for the advice.”

“Advice that you definitely did not hear?” Ren laughed. “Sure, alright. You gonna go talk to him yet?”

“I’m on my way, for real this time,” Kravitz replied, straightening his suit and tie.

“Good luck again,” Ren said, and Kravitz walked with purpose towards the room that Sizzle it Up had disappeared into.

He hesitated at the door, for a moment, then willed his hand to move and knock.

Before he could, though, the door opened, revealing -

“Taako,” Kravitz blurted, now face to face with the singer.

He was a little shorter than Kravitz, and even more beautiful close up - bold violet eyes that widened a little as they met his and more freckles than he could ever count, even seeing them close up.

“That’s me,” Taako said with a lazy smirk that sent a chill down Kravitz’ spine. This close up, Kravitz could see a gap between his front teeth. “And what’s your name, thug?”

Kravitz cleared his throat, tried to avert his gaze to somewhere that wasn’t Taako’s (big, gorgeous) eyes to clear his head. He was unsuccessful. “Kravitz. Kravitz Queen.”

Taako shot him a sloppy grin and leaned against the door frame, the door falling mostly closed behind him. “Nice to meet’cha, Kravitz. What’s a fancy guy like you doin’ in the Star Blaster, hm?” Taako looked him up and down, and Kravitz shivered.

“I heard about you, actually,” Kravitz replied around the nervous lump he couldn’t seem to clear from his throat. “My, ah - my mother’s partner, Istus, told me about your trio.”

Taako’s eyebrows raised. “Oh, shit, Istus - Istus Providence?” Kravitz nodded, and Taako laughed. Then, he said, “Tell her Garyl’s doing well.”

Kravitz remembered the sweater his mother had mentioned and almost wanted to ask, but he simply said, “sure,” and tried not to think too hard about it.

“So,” Taako said, shaking his head to let his curls fall further towards his forehead, glancing up at Kravitz through thick lashes. “Here for me, then? Gotta say, I’m flattered.”

Kravitz almost protested, almost went straight for what he’d actually come for, to asking, say, do you need a bassist?

Instead, without any input from the sensible part of Kravitz’ brain, he said, “Well, you are incredibly beautiful,” and immediately felt his face catch on fire.

Taako jerked his head up towards him, and something flashed in his violet eyes, but his expression smoothed almost immediately and his lazy grin was back, perhaps a little tense.

Oh no. Kravitz tried not to let his panic show. He’d assumed - Raven had said, and he’d seen, the Star Blaster was - but Taako was performing here, not just visiting, what if he wasn’t -

“You’re not too shabby yourself, handsome,” Taako said, and Kravitz relaxed, his cheeks still burning. The possibility remained, he had to keep in mind, that this was just how performers would act at a gay bar , but hopefully…

“Thank you,” Kravitz choked out, screaming internally for his face to cool down, please.

Taako laughed, and the sound made Kravitz’ heart stutter for a moment. “Sure thing. Now, tall dark and handsome shows up at my dressing room door - what’s your deal?”

Kravitz was most certainly not unaffected by the compliment, but he pushed aside the feelings for you have a mission, Kravitz, get your head in the game. “Actually,” he said, and cleared his throat again - that time it seemed to mostly work, at least. “Well, I came to - first off, your performance was incredible.”

“Natch’,” Taako said, smirking and tilting his head back.

“Well, I actually came to see if,” Kravitz took a deep breath as Taako stared at him. “Well, I’m actually a musician myself. A bassist, mostly. And you three - you don’t have a bassist. So I was wondering - “

“Right,” Taako interrupted, the expression on his face amused. “You thought you’d just ask the best trio in Neverwinter if we’d let you in.”

“Well, I figured it might be worth a try,” Kravitz replied. His face burned a different way, now. Embarrassment. “I’m not a master, but I’m good, and - “

“You’re dealing with a master here, is the thing,” Taako said, eyebrow raised. “You really think we need your help to do what we do?”

“Oh, no, your music is - you were amazing up there, I just - “

“No, listen.” Taako crossed his arms, staring at Kravitz with an amused, but slightly annoyed, expression. “Once we get a gig outside this place, we’re going big. And we definitely don’t need the help of some guy who decided to learn a few basslines.”

And after months of relearning, practicing every day what he’d done for years in the past, that kind of hurt.

“You haven’t even heard me play,” Kravitz pointed out, voice sharp. “If you’d just give me a chance - “

“Jam with us,” said a new voice, lilting and just higher than Taako’s, cutting him off.

Kravitz’ head jerked up to see the drummer had made her appearance behind Taako, holding the door open behind him. She was nearly identical to him, the only really clear differences in the patterns of their freckles and their hairstyles - the drummer’s hair fell to her shoulders, the top pinned up in curls. She was wearing some makeup, too, rouge and bold red lipstick.

Taako spun to glare at her. “Seriously?”

“We were literally just talking about finding a bassist the other day,” she said, eyes on Kravitz, but voice pointed at the singer. Her expression said very clearly that she had an ulterior motive, but Kravitz couldn’t think of one - or any reason not to count this as a blessing, though he was not nearly as keen now on playing with Taako, if this was his attitude going in. (He tried giving Taako the benefit of the doubt, but it was possible that as beautiful as he was, Taako was just an asshole.)

“Yeah, sure, as a concept,” Taako huffed. “We don’t need another person.”

The drummer frowned, turned to face Taako. “I understand your concern - “ Taako rolled his eyes. “ - but we really - we’re having - “ She paused, turned to Kravitz with a strained smile. “Actually, can you give us a second? I’ll convince my brother.”

Kravitz paused. He could just leave, find another group that needed a bassist, one with maybe a less haughty vocalist…

And yet, that didn’t seem like an option. Taako was still drawing him in, and beyond that, he didn’t want to miss an opportunity like this - Sizzle it Up had a sound that Kravitz envied being a part of, and he didn’t want to lose this chance.

“Sure, yeah,” he said.

The drummer grinned at him, dragged Taako back with an arm, and shut the door behind them.

Kravitz took a deep breath and moved to lean against the wall. He glanced around, eyes landing on the bar, where Ren was giving him a sympathetic look. He sighed, ignored the nervous feeling in his belly, and tried not to think for a few moments.

-----

“Absolutely not,” Taako said.

“This could be great,” Lup said excitedly, ignoring him. “We could really use the bassline to round out our sound, and it would be crazy hard to try and find someone who actually wants to play with us around here. And - this guy actually looks, like, pretty masculine. We might actually get a fuckin’ gig outside this place - I mean, sure, love it here, but we gotta branch out - and - “

“Still a nope on that, Lulu,” Taako interrupted, leaning against the wall and examining his fingernails pointedly. “We don’t need to split the credit another way.”

“You already have most of the credit, Koko ,” Lup huffed. “Besides, you don’t seem to care about splitting the credit with me and Barry.”

“You’re family, doesn’t count,” Taako mumbled. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced around the room, avoiding his sister’s gaze.

“We all know why you’re actually worried, Taako,” Barry said, approaching them from the chair he’d been sitting in with Lup before.

Lup turned to her husband with a loving, though slightly annoyed, smile. “Bear, hon, I love you, but I think this is twin talk.”

Barry opened his mouth, then shut it, then nodded. “Yeah, you’re right,” he agreed, walking backwards to sit back in the chair.

Lup turned back to Taako. “He’s right, though, you know that. We can’t just avoid the real problem - “

“Sure we can, my specialty,” Taako snapped. “Let’s just stick to the fact that we’re fine as a trio, and we don’t need some random guy taking credit for what we’ve been doing for years.”

Lup raised an eyebrow. “Back on the credit thing, huh? They literally call us Sizzle it Up with Taako .”

Taako glared at her. “Yeah, and what if he wants it to be Sizzle it Up with Taako and Kravitz ?”

“And there it is!” Lup said, gesturing to Taako with both hands. “You can’t avoid this! Taako, not everyone is Sazed, you can’t just - you can’t just be stuck on that forever!”

“Stuck on what? No idea what you’re talking about,” Taako replied, crossing his arms, his voice raising half an octave.

“God, Taako, I - I get that he hurt you, and you have the right to be upset, but - this isn’t the same situation.”

“Yeah, obviously, yeah,” Taako huffed. “This guy is a complete stranger. So you know what, yeah! I’ll definitely let him in, actually! Since I didn’t want my boyfriend to play with us, it totally makes sense that I’d let a random stranger .”

“Because him being a stranger negates the fact that this guy might actually be a real musician, and just wants a group to play with. Sazed wanted to take - “

“Can we just - can we stop this, actually? Stop with this whole - “ Taako waved his arms vaguely. “Stop with this whole - this?”

“No, we can’t,” Lup replied. “Because you’re trying to skip on the opportunity of a guy that might be as good as he says on bass. A guy who is super hot, might I add.”

“I mean, yeah, you’re right on that point, fuckin’ handsome as shit - “ Taako cut himself off and glared at his sister, who was giving him a shit-eating grin. “Don’t change the fuckin’ subject. That’s irrelevant here.”

“It’s not irrelevant, it’s probably the most convincing point I have. I can’t make you drop those dumb ideas about this situation, I can definitely get you to spend time with a beautiful man.”

“Yeah, okay, I’m a little offended that you don’t think I have any self control,” Taako huffed.

“One practice, Taako,” Lup responded, ignoring him. “One practice, a few hours with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, and we find out if an actually good bassist just walked up and asked to join us .”

“Nope.”

“Hot masculine bassist might mean more opportunity at other bars.”

Taako made a face, but didn’t protest that.

“He might be really good.”

Taako didn’t bother disagreeing.

“He seems really into you.”

Taako looked conflicted for a moment, then - “he does, doesn’t he? Did I pass enough to actually catch a real life gay guy?” he blurted, hands going to the back of his neck. He’d seemed gay, seemed to see him as a man -

“I think you did, ‘Ko,” Lup replied, grinning at him. “You gonna give him a chance?”

Taako was an expressive person when his walls weren’t up, and they never were around Lup, so she could see every thought on his face. After warring with himself for a moment, he groaned. “I can’t believe you’re getting me to agree to this because I’m gay.”

“That’s the spirit,” Lup said, grinning and giving her brother a pat on the back as Barry tried to stifle his laughter from behind her. “Let’s go see if this guy stuck around.” With that, she turned to open the door.

As it turned out, he had stuck around, leaning against the wall, eyes roaming the bar.

“You work weekends, fancy man?” Lup asked, making Kravitz jump a little. He turned towards them.

“Oh, uh - usually,” he replied, looking confused.

“We can’t practice at night - that’s performance time,” Lup said. “When are you free during the day?”

Kravitz’ eyes widened. “So you - “

“This is an audition, basically,” Taako interrupted. He avoided looking directly at Kravitz. “We don’t even know if you can play, yet.”

“I appreciate it,” Kravitz said, and he sounded like he meant it. “I understand how weird it might be for - for some stranger to come and ask to join your group out of nowhere.”

“Just be glad you’re handsome,” Taako replied. He gave a satisfied smirk as he saw Kravitz flush out of the corner of his eye.

“Lovin’ the flirting you fellas have going on, obviously,” Lup said, amused. “But I wanna go dance with my boy, so let’s get this figured out, hmm?”

Kravitz flushed darker, and Taako rolled his eyes.

“I think I only have two funerals tomorrow,” Kravitz said, thinking. “I could do -”

“Whoa, whoa, back up there,” Taako interrupted, confused and vaguely disturbed. Just his luck that this extremely attractive man would be cursed, or a murderer, or something. “Two funerals? Only?

“Oh, I - I run a funeral home,” Kravitz explained. “I usually have at least a few funerals to attend on weekends.”

“Oh, big fancy job,” Taako said. “Was worried you were, ya’know, murdering your friends or something, there.”

Kravitz chuckled awkwardly, unsure how to respond to that. “Definitely not a friend murderer, no. It’s just the family business.”

“Friend murdering?” Lup asked, amused.

“The funeral home,” Kravitz replied, brows furrowing.

“Yeah, figured that,” Lup laughed. “So, tomorrow? Time?”

Kravitz paused, thinking for a moment. “I can do 2:00? My work at the first funeral will be done at one, so I should be good by then. I’ll just have to leave around 4:30 for the next one, depending on - where would we be practicing?”

“Our apartment,” Lup replied.

“It’s the place above the general store on Moon Street and Second - Fantasy Cost Company,” Taako said.

Kravitz looked rather surprised at that. “You live in - you live in the Fantasy Cost Co.?”

“Rent is cheap and owner doesn’t mind the noise,” Lup said, waving her hand vaguely. (Garfield was also the only person they could find willing to rent to them, back before they really passed, and they just stuck around.) “We just have to give him some stuff for his weird science every once in a while.”

Kravitz’ face turned concerned. “Stuff?”

“Blood, hair, you know.” Taako shrugged. “Stuff.”

His expression became horrified as Taako and Lup looked at him, amused. “You are kidding, right?” He asked, voice wavering. “There’s no way that’s legal.”

The twins laughed.

“The guy’s a creep,” Taako said with an amused smile. “Hasn’t broken any laws yet, though.” He thought for a moment, then added - “Actually, yeah, he has. Just not those ones.”

“Wouldn’t be surprised if he asked me for blood,” Lup snorted.

Barry appeared behind the twins. “Oh, he’s asked me.” Taako and Lup spun to face him with incredulous expressions, and Kravitz somehow looked more apalled than before. “Hey, I’m Barry, by the way,” he added, looking at Kravitz with a friendly smile.

“Excuse me, he has? ” Taako sputtered.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” he replied, shrugging. “Anyway, you can avoid Garfield - the creep that runs the place - just go around back to our entrance in the alleyway. There’s a broken piano bench by the door that we never hauled away, you can’t miss it.”

Kravitz seemed a little less horrified, now, or at least he’d started hiding it. A little relief showed, likely at the prospect of not crossing paths with their landlord.

“Well, got that figured out, then,” Lup said, grinning and looping an arm around her husband before turning to face Kravitz. “I’m going to go dance with my husband. See you tomorrow, Mr. Bass Man.”

As Barry and Lup made their way to the dance floor, Taako stared, wide-eyed, after them. “Wait, I need to hear about the Garfield thing!” He explained, moving to chase them down.

“Later, Taako,” Barry replied over his shoulder. Then, he and his wife disappeared behind the other couples on the dance floor, both laughing.

Taako huffed, crossing his arms and making a face in their general direction. Kravitz chuckled, somewhat uncomfortably, and Taako turned back towards him, an unreadable expression on his face for a moment before his (now somewhat familiar) lazy smirk returned.

“Guess I’ll be seeing if you’re really up to scratch tomorrow, huh handsome?” Taako didn’t sound very pleased about that fact, though his voice was light.

“I appreciate the chance,” Kravitz said, regaining his composure, for the most part, after the horrifying Garfield revelations.

“You can thank Lup,” Taako said, waving a hand. “Far as I’m concerned, we’re all we need. But hey,” and he looked up at Kravitz with a wink. “If someone’s gonna try and join up, might as well be someone as good-looking as me.”

Kravitz flushed, but forced his voice level with a small smile. “The highest of praise, I’m sure,” he said.

The two of them stood there for a moment, not entirely awkwardly, and then Taako’s gaze drifted past Kravitz towards the dance floor. Kravitz glanced back, seeing where Taako was looking at Lup and Barry dancing together in front of the stage. Now, a saxophone player was at the mic with a drummer, pianist, and bassist accompanying behind him. They were playing an upbeat song that Kravitz recognized, but couldn’t name.

He hesitated for a moment as Taako shifted, leaning against the wall as he watched his sister and brother-in-law. Then, he took a deep breath.

“Would you care to dance, Taako?” he asked, taking a step towards the other man, offering a hand. He did his best to sound suave and cool, but he wasn’t entirely sure he succeeded.

Taako’s head jerked towards him, an unreadable expression on his face. His violet eyes met Kravitz’ reddish-brown, flashing with emotions that Kravitz was not familiar enough with to name.

(For Taako, those emotions had too-familiar names: desire, terror, anxiety, dysphoria, longing.)

“I’m sure you’re eager to get a piece of this,” Taako said at last, flashing Kravitz a grin. “But I think I’m gonna ask for a raincheck on that.”

Kravitz couldn’t help but be disappointed, if only a little, and it showed. (He couldn’t really understand why, he’d never been in any rush for a relationship, or anything like that, but he supposed it must have been only a matter of time.)

“Don’t gimme that look, handsome,” Taako said, grin softening just a little into a smile. “We’re here every night. Maybe buy me a drink sometime and we’ll come back to this.” At that, he stopped leaning against the wall, straightening his posture, one hand going to his hip. His other hand went up, down, hesitated (he knew his hands were still too slim, too feminine), then reached out towards Kravitz. “It was, uh, nice to meet you.”

Kravitz took his offered hand, shook it. His grasp was firm and formal - out of habit, unsure how to adjust to a casual (was this casual?) scenario. Taako’s was lighter, though after a moment it tightened in response, something unrecognizable to Kravitz (it was fear, the terror of a close secret exposed) flashing in his eyes.

They stood for a moment, there, hands clasped but now still between them. Taako gave Kravitz, who looked unsure how to proceed, an amused smile.

And then Kravitz, without thinking, shifted his grip, lifted Taako’s hand to his lips, and placed a kiss on his knuckles.

Once he realized what he’d done, Kravitz panicked. He dropped Taako’s hand, shoving his own back into his pocket. His face heated once again, and he knew the pale spots on his cheeks had to be a too-bright pink.

Taako, on the other hand, looked absolutely delighted. (Internally, of course, there was the anxiety of that’s what men do to women, but it was overpowered by the excitement of this one is an attractive, most likely homosexual man, and he’s into me. ) He had a smug grin on his face and a rosy blush dusted across his freckled cheeks, and he lifted the kissed hand to his face, his eyes travelling from his hand to Kravitz’ averted gaze.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Taako said, running his hand through his hair and turning towards the bar.

And with that, he walked away, leaving Kravitz standing, flustered, by the door.

He couldn’t help but think this may have been a terrible mistake, or possibly his best ever decision.

He’d figure that out tomorrow.