Lup and Taako shared a dorm at the IPRE, which neither of them minded in the slightest, but it did get slightly annoying when one of them came home later than the other, wasted and tired and still punch drunk.
This happened a bit too often than it should have.
This time Lup was lazing in bed, slipping in and out of meditation, the book she was holding beneath her nose slowly falling onto her chest. Things were quiet for a change - it was three in the morning, and Lup could hear her own heartbeat if she focused hard enough. It was nice.
Then Taako blasted open the door with Mage Hand and stumbled inside, wearing a lopsided grin on his face and holding a half empty bottle of what smelled like moonshine. Lup jolted awake, bumping her head on the bunk above her, and scowled at her brother.
“What was it this time?” she groaned as she rubbed her temple.
“Who!” Taako announced, holding up a finger. “Who, is the question. And the answer is - an asshole.”
He slumped into the tiny beanbag they’d set up in the corner and stared at the ceiling, the bottle slipping out from beneath his fingers. Lup slid partially off the bed to face him.
“What happened, Taako?”
He was still grinning, but his eyes had turned sad. His hat he had been wearing earlier was missing, and his shirt looked disheveled, like he had shoved it on in a hurry.
“He put on a show, seemed fuckable,” Taako stated to the air. “He was a good kisser, I’ll give him that. Then he had to go and speak words from his luscious lips.”
He dragged a hand down his face and slowly pulled himself up so he was facing Lup. He flashed her a cheeky smile.
“Don’t worry, Lulu. I got out of there before things went metaphorically and literally south.”
He chuckled, before standing up and plopping himself on the bed, next to her. He tucked his head into her shoulder and settled in.
“Mind if I sleep with you tonight?” he asked, already yawning.
“Sure thing, Ko,” Lup said as she wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer. “Just next time? If someone treats you bad, you send them my way, kay?”
Taako nodded sleepily.
The kiss was soft, and tender, and exactly what Kravitz wanted. The moment felt blissful.
They broke apart, Taako a breath away, and Kravitz looked into his eyes. They were full of fear, and vulnerability. Taako was chewing his lip and cast his gaze downwards, away. He brought his hands up to his hair and began nervously braiding it. His fingers were shaking.
“Taako?” Kravitz asked.
He received a short hum in response.
“Taako, I really enjoyed tonight, you know.”
Taako glanced up, before just as quickly glancing back down.
“Yeah. Sure,” he said shortly. “So I suppose you’ll go back to your work, then? Get down with the Raven Queen and all of that?”
He raised his fingers, tilted Taako’s chin up towards him.
“Taako, I would like to see you again.”
“I mean it Taako.”
He gestured around wildly, then between him and Kravitz.
“This wasn’t...too much?”
“No, Taako. In fact, this was very nice.”
Taako let a hesitant smile creep onto his face.
“Alright, Skele-man. If you’re sure.”
Kravitz rested his hand against Taako’s cheek.
“You cannot be serious.”
Taako was standing before Lup, arms outstretched as he twirled, showing off his outfit. He wore a wide-brimmed hat with individual crystals hanging off the edges. They reflected the light off his glittery top and his shimmering skirt, which was far too long for his tiny body. They were both still growing, and neither of them liked being as little as they were. It made the adults look down at them, even if they were well past their early years.
“What? Too much?”
“Taako.” Lup put a hand to her hip. “You look like a walking Candlenights tree.”
Taako grinned sheepishly.
“Suppose you’re right,” he laughed, taking off the hat. “Hey, do you want some? I scrounged all this from the Fantasy Goodwill, there’s lots of stuff for you to pick.”
“I don’t know, Taako.”
“Come on!” He began sifting through the pile of clothes behind him. “You’re my sister now, remember? Pick something out that makes you feel like you.”
Lup smiled at him and began picking at the clothes. There was a lot there, and they spent the better part of two hours trying on various items and laughing at each other’s choices.
Taako ended up giving most of the flashy things to Lup, whereas he held onto the subtle fashion statements that he declared made his natural beauty shine through more.
Lup finally pulled together an outfit, and Taako had to admit that she looked more like herself than anything else.
He kept the hat.
Living in such tight quarters, the three of them got used to changing in front of the other fast . It also meant that Magnus and Merle were subject to Taako’s fashion whims.
“Figures you’d have a bag of holding just for your hats,” Merle groaned as Taako pulled each one at a time out of the bag, trying them on to see which one matched his outfit.
“Hey, homie, I can’t go adventuring anywhere without the proper equipment.”
“Taako, it’s just basic training,” Magnus tried. “You don’t need to get dressed up for basic training. ”
“Not my fault you look awful,” Taako mused, looking Magnus and his humble garbs up and down. “One should always be prepared.”
Both of them sighed and headed towards the door.
“Taako, you’re already pretty good looking,” Magnus observed.
“Oh?” Taako teased. “Want a taste?”
Magnus rolled his eyes.
“My point is that you don’t need to look fancy to look good. Why do you do this every day?”
Taako gazed at his reflection in the tiny mirror. He drew his fingers along the brim of the current hat and nodded, before shoving the bag back underneath his bunk.
“Because,” he said, as he gathered his things and magically adjusted his makeup. “Maybe I’d like to prove that I can still look good, even with all the hell they throw at us.”
He kept walking ahead, as Magnus and Merle stopped, shocked by his frankness. Taako looked over his shoulder and grinned.
“Well, come on. Basic training won’t wait forever.”
He was bloodied. He was hurt . And all because he had strayed too far into the battle. He retreated further, keeping his spell slots to himself, as he ran back to the Starblaster . As he left his friends behind to fight, because he needed to run, he needed to be the coward, because someone needed to survive, and sometimes that person was him.
He watched from afar while his friends died. While Lup died. And, through tears, he managed to get the ship up and into the sky.
When he reformed, he hugged Lup first, as he always did whenever he lost her.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered into her robes. “I left you, I shouldn’t have, I ran away, I - ”
“Hey.” Lup gripped his shoulders, looked him in the eye. “You needed to, okay? It’s your job . You saved us all by running away, okay, Taako? Don’t cry over that.”
“But what if you don’t come back?” he breathed. It was a fear all of them had had. Every time anyone died, at the end of the cycle. Always that nagging thought of what if? What if this was it? What if they’d be alone forever?
“Then you’d keep going. Keep running.”
Lup wiped a tear from his eyes, as the others sat close by, touching Taako however they could, supporting him.
“For us. For me.”
Taako sucked in a breath and nodded.
It wasn’t as if Taako enjoyed seeing others get hurt. Quite the opposite. Sure, he had a fun time watch Magnus and Merle almost get eaten alive by a rogue cockroach, but he would have stopped it if it got too horrible. It was just a stupid bug.
Even in bigger fights, in life-threatening situations. He didn’t hang back because he wanted Magnus to fall off the train. He just didn’t want Taako to fall out of the train. It was a mere question of survival. Pragmatism.
Besides, fighting was messy, and the bonkers situations they found themselves in were insane at best, and he didn’t want his hands in all that.
If anything else, he was just being lazy. Why waste a spell slot if Magnus can chop the tree in half? Why get down and dirty with stupid puzzles, or petty fights, when he could just as easily sit back and let the professionals handle it?
He was thinking through all of this as he watched himself be blown to bits in a locker room. Thinking over his strategies. Maybe he’d miscalculated.
Then the damn Chalice had to go and remind himself why he was like this. He wasn’t just lazy. He wasn’t just pragmatic. He was a coward , and he knew it. He’d run away from his problems from day one. Why not add all of this other shit to the ever-growing list of “Things Taako is Afraid Of”?
It was a damn long list.
A dignified looking gnome was standing in front of Taako. Taako looked up from his books, where he was busy doodling a caricature of Lup, who was off somewhere flirting with someone about something.
His hair was bright red, and he had an ostentatious handlebar mustache that made Taako want to laugh. Though he was much shorter than Taako, he exuded a presence about himself that made Taako choke said laugh down. He was wearing the red of the IPRE, but he had a smart hat perched on his head and a patch on his shoulder that declared him to be a much higher ranking than Taako.
“My name is Drew Davenport,” he said, extending his hand. Taako took it. “I would like to speak to you about a project the IPRE is working on.”
“Oh, that big spaceship plan you guys got going?” Taako raised an eyebrow. “Everyone’s talking about it. What do you want with me?”
“Taako, you’re one of the top students here at the IPRE.”
Taako let out a snort.
“I think top is a little - ”
“You’re smart, Taako. Please don’t try to deny it.”
Taako relaxed back into his chair a little.
“I’ve seen your records, but I’ve also observed you in action. You’re one of the best transmutation wizards I’ve ever seen.”
Davenport straightened up.
“I’d like to have you on my team, Taako. I think you would contribute excellently, and I believe you will be more than capable of performing the duties required.”
Taako stared at him.
“You think that I’m worth that much to you? Why?”
“Taako, upon your acceptance and arrival here, you single handedly outclassed your primary teachers. Upon the IPRE moving you to a higher level, you promptly took the lesson, rewrote it , and all but discovered a new type of spell. You’re very talented, and I don’t think you quite realize it.”
He gave Taako a short bow.
“If you choose to accept this invitation - and I very much hope you do - feel free to meet with us next week.”
“Alright, my man, I’ll give it a whirl, on one condition.”
“And that is?”
“That my sister comes with me.”
Davenport smirked in response.
“Taako, your sister excels in her field too. She’s just as talented, and succeeded in simultaneously almost burning one of her teachers alive and sculpting the spell to perfect dimensions. Did you honestly think we wouldn’t invite her as well?”
Taako stood up, grinning.
“Name a time and place. I’m in.”
Taako was a very lucky wizard.
It was really the only explanation for the shit that happened to him. How his skills sometimes went exactly the way he wanted them to.
He had never studied anything, never practiced. He had picked up everything over time, through exposure, through never wanting to go to sleep because his aunt’s transmutation-based cooking was far more fascinating.
Sure, he was good at it. But that didn’t mean he tried to be. He just got lucky.
He wasn’t skilled, he knew that. Forty people knew that. He had made mistakes, awful mistakes, and for a while after that he hadn’t even wanted to use magic at all anymore. But he kept going because he needed to, and he waved his arms around and shouted “Abraca-fuck you!” and shit happened.
He was never good at this shit. It just sort of happened.
He was never some super special high end wizard. He had never been that. He was an idiot.
That’s all he’d ever be. An idiot wizard who happened to occasionally shoot some well-aimed magic missiles.
A d20 is random as hell. It just so happened to roll higher for him.
He was never alone. He had Lup.
He was always alone. He had no one.
The recovery from the end of the world was a slow one, and busier than ever. Taako was cleaning up things here and there, opening up a new school. And Kravitz was anointing two new reapers into the folds of the Raven Queen.
It made sense that they didn’t really have a chance to talk, properly, for a while.
Eventually, an indeterminate amount of time later, they found themselves sitting in the same room, with no one around but themselves.
Kravitz spoke first.
“Taako.” He wasn’t really sure what to say. “I, uh, I saw a lot, in the song. I saw you . But, you weren’t you. At least, not the you that I met. That I knew.”
Taako watched him curiously.
“Know that I love you, Taako, so very much. The song made the feeling stronger, if that’s even possible. But I...I am trying to make sense of it, in my head. It’s almost as if…”
“I have two different lives?” Taako offered.
Kravitz took a deep breath, but nodded.
“Yeah, Krav, that’s kinda been fucking me up too.”
He moved closer, wrapping his hand around Kravitz’s. He picked it up and kissed it.
“Your hands aren’t cold anymore,” he observed.
“But they used to be.”
“Krav, it’s really fucked up what happened to me. But I don’t want you thinking that you need to...fix it, or anything. ‘Less you wanna go stick it to old Lucy.”
Kravitz smiled sadly.
“Unfortunately that is outside of my jurisdiction.”
“Damn,” Taako said, but the anger was half-hearted. He settled his head against Kravitz’s shoulder.
“We’ve all...changed,” he said quietly. “Mostly for the better. Certainly don’t wanna go back to forgetting Lup. But...it’s hard to deal with, y’know?”
“Do you ever talk to her about it?”
“Who, Lup? Yeah, man, but, you know her. Just cuz we’re twins doesn’t mean we talk each other’s ears off every chance we get. Besides.”
He squeezed Kravitz’s hand.
“I think it must be hard for you too.”
“I wish I could do something. To help, I mean.”
“You know I want that too, Krav. But this isn’t…”
He gestured vaguely at the air.
“This is anyone’s game. And I think we gotta take what we have and...live on.”
He kissed Kravitz’s cheek.
“What better way to spite the Hunger, huh?”