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the game is already lost

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Life is essentially a chess game. You have to plan and calculate and I am so lonely.

(If you play the opening wrong, the game is already lost.)

- A Softer World, Emily Horne and James Comeau

Magnus Burnsides is a human furnace and, quite frankly, it is insulting.

Taako first discovers his companion’s preternatural talent for heat emission the day of their first official Bureau assignment, after the three of them encounter an unfortunately located swamp and need to get hosed off in a stranger’s backyard before boarding a train. While relieved to no longer be crusted in swamp muck, Taako had not enjoyed the part where he then had to walk to the train station dripping cold water and shivering every time so much as a breeze accosted him.

Apparently, he must have looked just as miserable as he felt, given Magnus’s decision that the appropriate response to Taako death glaring at nothing in particular as he walked down the street was to drop an arm around the dripping elf’s shoulders and inform him, “You look a little chilly there, buddy.”

For his part, Taako nearly jumped out of his skin. He sputtered and tried to figure out how to respond, what he was supposed to do about the situation he unexpectedly found himself in when all of a sudden they’d reached the train station and Magnus deigned to take his own arm back where it belonged. All in all it’s a weird, unwelcome moment of Magnus being Magnus, and far be it from Taako to suss out the guy’s motivations for doing what he did. He’s lucky Taako didn’t throw him off or burn a spell slot on him. Except.

Except that, unwelcome though it may have been to begin with, Taako was mildly horrified to discover that the feeling of having an arm around him, pulling him against someone’s side and squeezing him lightly, wasn’t… the worst thing ever. His brain had cycled fairly quickly through several iterations of ‘fuck, what is he doing, why did he do that, I think he’s hugging me ’ before arriving at the conclusion, shortly after Magnus let him go, that he hadn’t actually wanted Magnus to let him go.

Which is how Taako finds himself once again drenched in cold water, this time thanks to a poorly constructed bridge and a river he had to be fished out of, much to his eternal humiliation. He, Magnus, and Merle have decided to stop until morning in the relative shelter of a rocky cave, carved into the side of a mountain by a mining expedition that has long since abandoned the area. There’s a fire going, but Taako doesn’t find it particularly helpful, and all in all, his night is going spectacularly badly. He’s cold, wet, irritated, just having disgracefully fell into a river, and in the equally embarrassing position of wishing Magnus freaking Burnsides would hug him already. Cause the thing he discovered in Rockport? Magnus radiates heat like it’s his job. And that is absolutely the only reason Taako presently wants him to do that thing he did on the way to the train station. It has nothing to do with a desire for affection, or a belief that he and Magnus are friends.

After firmly establishing that this was a situationally necessary desire to no longer be freezing, Taako confronts the next problem in his elected mission of stealing Magnus’s body heat - how to actually get the man to hug him without literally outright asking him to do so, which would completely destroy the reputation Taako has built for himself of firmly not giving a shit or having any feelings.

Steadfastly ignoring the fact that he’s for all intents and purposes trying to find a way to trick someone into giving him a hug and the levels of pathetic that reaches, Taako decides that his most reliable strategy will likely be to play on Magnus’s frustrating inability to stand by and not help someone. It’s been pretty obvious since the beginning, this particularly vexing aspect of Magnus’s personality. Therefore, all Taako needs to do is make it seem like he’s in some kind of trouble, the solution to which is being held against someone warm while they wait out the night in this shitty, dingy cave.

Which, if you want to get technical about it, is not actually necessarily totally a lie. He is, in fact, very cold, and still damp from his stint in the river. Taako does not enjoy being either cold or wet. Elves are not designed for this kind of thing. They are not creatures who are fond of water being on their person. That, combined with the stiff breeze sneaking occasionally through the mouth of the cave, has resulted in an incredibly displeased elf who would very much like his circumstances to change, preferably right now immediately. So it’s with absolutely no qualms whatsoever that Taako begins to complain about his situation. Loudly and extensively.

“-then I wouldn’t have ended up in a river , and I wouldn’t presently be freezing to death with no extra coat or anything , so thanks a whole lot, you two were super helpful . Great work, team.”

“Hey Taako,” Magnus says, breaking into the string of kvetching coming from the shivering elf sitting closest to the entrance to the cave.

Shit, dude, finally, it took you long e-fucking-nough , Taako thinks, folding his arms and glaring at Magnus. “What?”

“Do you want to move or something? You're kinda far from the fire.”

“Excuse me?” That’s not at all what Taako had been going for.

(Merle, for his part, is paying no attention to all of this going on across from him, choosing to focus solely on keeping the fire going. He’s ignoring both Taako’s complaining and Magnus’s concern with truly impressive success, given the vigor of the former and the proximity of the latter.)

Magnus doesn’t elaborate on his suggestion, just sighs and gets up. He walks over to Taako, who is watching him with raised eyebrows, and drops down between him and the cave opening. Then he proceeds to pull a sort of shuffling ooch maneuver wherein he scoots to the side, shoving at Taako to get both of them further into the cave, closer to the fire and farther from the wind. When he’s decided he’s satisfied with their positioning within the cave, Magnus pulls Taako close, tucking him firmly under his arm and doing the same little squeeze thing he’d done in Rockport.

“Better?” asks Magnus, sounding proud of himself and satisfied with his choices.

In the name of not appearing like this had been his endgame the whole time, Taako blusters his way through some indignant muttering, but gets over it pretty quickly. He settles into the situation, leaning against Magnus in a way he hopes is subtle. It turns out the phenomenon of Magnus being literally a warm person as well as figuratively so wasn’t a mistaken observation or a fluke due to a fever - he’s annoyingly comfortable to lean on, and Taako can feel the grip the cold has on him lessening.

From the moment he’s first touched, he’s braced for Magnus to decide this has gone on long enough, to decide he’s been sufficiently warmed up and go back to where they’d previously been sitting. It doesn’t happen, though. Right up until Merle puts out the fire and they set the first watch, Magnus sits there and holds Taako in a sideways hug like it’s the most natural, easy thing in the world. Like it isn’t completely ridiculous that Taako doesn’t want it to end.

Which. Of course it’s ridiculous. After not to long in his new place next to Magnus and closer to the fire, Taako has dried almost completely, and he’s warmed significantly. That was his point to begin with, nothing to do with being hugged in itself, obviously.

Obviously .