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your head is good, it’s loyal, it’s clean

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He is a comfortable amount of drunk, and the tavern is a pleasant hum around him, like a heavy blanket. The noise of lots of happy people is like salve over the stress of the last mission, and right now he's content to soak it in alone at his seat by the bar.

Merle had excused himself a moment earlier, said something very kind-- something Magnus failed to hear clearly, and has already forgotten-- clapped him on the shoulder, winked charmingly, and headed out into the night with an aging druid at his side. He's happy for Merle, almost deliriously, and there isn't a thought in his head that doesn't go by like a nice, warm ball of cotton. He's just sober enough to think, I better watch how much I enjoy this.

Drink didn't tempt him back then, otherwise it would have on those first, most awful nights. There's something else about it now, something beyond his coherency or self-awareness. Something that only feels like a threat when he isn't miserable.

 He didn't have the memory of her, of what he was when she was alive, so fresh and agonizing in his mind as to rouse him from self-pity. Back then it was almost like she was there, fighting him out of despair every step of the way.

 Memory's mountain had come to fill despair's valley, and here he was, just a man. Not a miserable man, or a man freshly gutted, but just a man. Maybe that was it. The final realization that he had lived through it, all of it, and apparently intended to-- even wanted to-- go on doing just that. He couldn't understand a thought like that even as he was having it. That would be enough to make anybody drink, he thinks. So he promises he'll stop at this ale.

 Somebody appears at his left. For a moment, he expects it's Taako, but a glance across the tavern places the elf right where he'd last seen him, entertaining the bartender with some story that requires practiced flourishes of the hands. The person at his left is-- oh.

 A really charming guy, all things considered. A bit shorter than him, a bit leaner, a lot paler, nice layer of red stubble on his jaw. His ears and eyes have the shape of a half-elf, and the callouses on his hands say something like dock worker.

 "Sorry, I couldn't help but--" The man stops, and his face lights up. "No shit. The hammer?"

 Whoops. He grins, and shields as much of his face as he can with his palm, genuinely bashful. "Yeeep. You found me."

 "I mean, I thought maybe, but wow." Suddenly the man's eyes are glowing, absolutely. "You're a legend. I-- you know, I tell stories about you. To my brother's kids. To get them to do their chores, you know?"

 "Wow," he says. Somehow it's all he can say. Just the idea is strange; he loves kids, but he's no better at doing his chores now than he was at their age. Maybe even worse. Crap, he's getting old.

 "Yeah, wow." The guy seems to catch himself, jolts to sit a bit straighter, and gestures to Magnus' drink. "Hey, can I get you one? I mean, to say thanks."

 "For what?"

 "Oh, you know," the man fidgets. "For... everything? I had, uh. Well, not close family, in Raven's Roost. But I mean, I knew people. Of people."

 He's trying hard to smile, but he doesn't think he can, at least not in a way that this guy isn't going to notice something's up. He tries to change the subject; "Uh, actually, the guy... the bartender. I tried to talk him out of it, but he's letting me drink free, so...." He pauses, looks the man's over-eager grin up and down. The whole bar sort of tilts and heaves when he moves his head. Oof. "...What's your name?"

 "Thomas," he says, sticking out a hand. Magnus shakes it heartily. "I... okay, this might be a little forward, but I'd kick myself if I didn't ask-- are you here alone?"

 He stops. Instinctively, he looks back to Taako, who is looking at him, now, and trying to make it seem like he isn't. Swaying, his first instinct to reassure and deflect turns into a awkward dismissive wave, as if Taako was right in front of him, not stealthily eyeing the situation from across the entire tavern. Thomas squints, at what must look to him like an ambient gesture.

 "Uh," Magnus resolves, turning back to his mug. "...Sorry. Yeah. I mean, I am, but. I'd kind of like it to. You know. Stay that way?"

 "Hey, that's cool." Thomas initially agrees-- but something about that pause falters, slightly. "...You're a hero, though, dude. You shouldn't be alone." Thomas' hand crosses the gap, rests on his forearm politely. "I mean, not if you don't want to."

 His whole body tenses up. He's about to say something-- he's not sure what-- when suddenly there's someone in his lap.

 "Heyyy buddy!" Taako exclaims. Loudly. Sooner than he knows what to do with it, there's a lot of elf in his face, and a sudden peck of lips to his lips. "You ready t'go home yet? Lemme tell ya, I'm pooped. You might have to carry me. I'd ask Merle, but he ditched us, can you believe it?" He's absolutely babbling, purposefully stretching his words into long whines, and if he's not sincerely drunk, he's at the very least been drinking. The sprawl of himself there into Magnus' personal space is somewhere between earnest and deliberate, and he flicks his eyes from Taako to-- oh. To the place where Thomas was, now empty.

 He feels a little guilty. But also relieved, more than a little. Taako slips into the empty seat, looking pleased with himself.

"You're welcome," he mutters, crossing his legs. He picks up the drink the handsome dock-worker had left at the bar, and resumes it without a thought. Magnus blinks, then realizes what just happened.

"You didn't have to do that." He rubs his lips into the back of his forearm. "You... shouldn't have done that. He was just being nice."

"He was making you miserable, bubale." Taako settles him with a scowl. "I could tell from way over there. What was he even talking to you about? You looked ready to start crying... I mean, not like it's my business." Taako deflects, looks away as he curls some of his long hair around a finger. "But I thought, you know. New year, new Taako. Maybe I try being nice to you for a change." He pauses, glowers facetiously. "Don't make me regret it."

"You kissed me," Magnus explains, a little firmer. "I didn't ask you to do that."

"Sor-ry," he says. Almost sincere. "Won't happen again. I like when guys know what they're gettin, capiche? You should be thanking me."

"But really, he--" Magnus stops, half because he wasn't sure what he was going to say, and half because Taako is looking at him. Oddly serious. Almost mad.

Before he knows it, Taako is back there in front of him. Not sitting on his lap, like before, but fitting in the small space between him and the bar, poking at his chest. Oh. Taako is drunk, he's just hiding it well, but this close he can see the flush under his skin, detect the looseness of his posture. "You shouldn't let people make you feel however they want you to feel. They'll eat you up, Mags."

Magnus squints. "And you won't?"

He grins, and slips back into his seat. "Nah, not hungry. Too full of myself!"

He should laugh, really. It's funny, it's just that...

He sighs, heavy, and looks back down to his mug. Damn. Bartender got it while he wasn't looking. He'll just... sip it, to be polite. But he doesn't want to get any drunker than he is now; he can already feel his brain fizzling. "I just wish people could... you know. Without asking. I'm... not so good at telling people no." He rolls his shoulders awkwardly. "It's like I mean to, but then it comes out, 'Oh yeah, sure!' And then before I know it..." He sighs again, and maybe even means to look a little pitiful. "Stupid Magnus."

Taako smiles, and hums sympathetically. "Stupid Magnus," he parrots, drumming his fingers on the table. Then he stops, perking upright and lifting his hands.

"Here, I do this all the time."

Too quickly for him to react, Taako plucks away one of his golden rings and slips it onto the ring finger of Magnus' left hand.

He stares at it numbly for a second, curls and uncurls a fist. But he doesn't take it off.

He'd only stopped wearing it once he'd started adventuring, not wanting it damaged. But he still had it on him, in a little box, in the bottom of his bag, carried with him everywhere. He hasn't taken it out in--

"Problem solved! Now when they ask, say you're taken. Show em that." Taako elaborates a few syllables too many, pointing at the thing when words fail to sway him from odd silence. Magnus forces a cracked grin and rubs his thumb over the band, over and over, almost like he's trying to smear it away. (But he doesn't take it off.)

"...Nahhh," he mumbles. There's a tiny spark of panic, but not big enough to compare to the loom of something else. "It works for you because they look at you and assume there's a bigger guy, and they don't want to piss him off." He can't look him in the eye, still, and he holds his hand shut so tight he can feel the pressure of the band around his finger. He's surprised it fits-- Taako probably did something subtle and magical, as is his way. He only opens his hand to pick up his glass of ale, which is-- damn, he hadn't been paying attention-- a lot lower now than he'd meant it to be. "I'm the bigger guy. Won't shake em. They'll still think they can convince me." He can remember enough times back in Raven's Roost, after his marriage, though there wasn't long enough for there to have been many. Just a few people that knew the name, but not the point in the story where he'd married the woman of his dreams and settled down to be nice and domestic. And then, after that...

When Magnus looks up, Taako is smiling a lazy smile down into his stolen drink. He sighs wistfully, before muttering; "Speaking from experience, huh?"

It could be a cutting thing to say, and the only hint of self-awareness is a next-to-nothing tension that finds Taako's shoulders. But he sees the half-empty glass in Taako's hand, thinks about what they'd all been through just before this-- and sighs in forgiveness. "Yeah."

He watches subtle relief settle into the wizard's posture, and licks his own lips trying to center his blurry thoughts. He focuses through his gentle inebriation, almost too intently, on the dusting of freckles and healed blemishes along Taako's collar. With the cut of his shirt, there's a lot of collar to look at, and as he finishes the mug of ale he finds he's just compromised enough to appreciate it without any guilt. Well, without much guilt. That's still his best friend.

He finds himself in a moment. "...Aren't you? I bet you've seduced married men before."

"Ugh," Taako rolls his eyes in disgust. It was petty revenge, sure, but well-deserved. "You folks always think we're after your husbands, or wives, or babies, or something. Please! I've got natural magnetism. I don't have to swoop things away into the night. The homeboys come to me."

"Swooping is bad," Magnus agrees toothily. "But... I mean, have you?"

Taako caves, waggling his eyebrows, but in a way that seems to submit more than it confirms. The tired way his gaze retreats to the side settles it for sure. Oops.

"Sorry," Magnus admits. "That was mean." He resists following it up with I'm too drunk to be polite, and so are you. And speaking of drunk, there's the bartender to fill his mug again-- he picks it back up before it fills to the edge, out of self-preservation, and sips down a mouthful. "Just saying. Won't work."

"Well," Taako suggests, voice fluid and drawling. He's tracing a fingertip along the grain of the counter. "Maybe you're not here alone, big guy. Maybe you're with your husband."

"My who?" All things considered, it takes him a shamefully long time to catch on. "...Oh."

Taako merely grins, and gracefully transports one of his rings to the significant finger of his left hand, and wiggles all the digits proudly. "Tadaa. You didn't even have to pay the dowry." His expression lowers, suddenly, into a mocking kind of earnestness. He curls his fingers shut, and props his cheek on the heel of his palm. "Lucky you-- elven dowrys are a bitch."

It's the alcohol or Taako or something, but a warmth swells in his chest and comes out as a big, staccato laugh. Taako's grin turns toothy, and he returns in kind, until he shakes his head and hides the width of his smile behind his mug. It's making his cheeks hurt. When was the last time that happened? Taako's warm gaze glows into his left like the sun, and ironically that's what chills him back into imbued silence. Memories. He's caught between years, like pages out of order in a book.

The problem is he likes this. Which is a stupid, stupid problem.

"Alright, alright, bad joke." Taako (incorrectly) reads the thoughtful silence as rejection, fans his free hand dismissively, and returns to his beverage. "...Your damn fault for being so handsome, bucko." He hasn't swapped the ring back, though. And for some reason, Magnus wants to be tender-- Taako is rarely earnestly, unmistakably happy, enough to lower his guard in favor of some other kind of weird, flowering guard, and if he's not making it up-- if he's not imagining it-- Taako's only enjoying himself so much because he's not alone, here, either. So he inches a bit closer.

"Nahhh, it's just..." he turns his mug around in his hand on the counter, and plays along. "What if somebody starts asking questions? I'm a bad liar," he lies. Prodding. Intentionally prodding. Taako smiles that same, airy smile.

"Questions like what, babe?"

He's caught for sure, so he grins sheepishly, but keeps prodding. What's he doing? Being drunk at his best friend, probably. "Like, y'know. When we got maaaarried."

"We're officially conspiring, now, Maggie. That makes this a con." Taako swirls his glass thoughtfully, eyes lidded. He closes them for a second, clearly thinking about it before he answers. "Two years ago."

His smile falters. That's longer than Julia and he were... "One year ago."

"Fine, fine." He pauses, takes a sip, and Magnus watches the glass against his lips. They're a soft sugary pink compared to the rest of his deep, coppery skin. "Where was the wedding, huh?"

"Neverwinter," he provides, after a distracted pause. "We rented a lovely venue." He heightens the word lovely in a sort of earnest sarcasm, like he's really selling it, or selling the joke of selling it. The idea is pleasantly absurd, and they both giggle, warm and drunk and happy.

"No gazebos for me," Taako snorts. It doesn't sting like it should. Magnus remembers blurting the story out at a campfire, drunker than he is now, almost a year ago, and he nearly blushes. It was too much, too soon, which is probably why Taako remembers. "How many kids do we want?"

It's Magnus's turn to snort. "You don't want kids."

Taako shrugs like he could argue, but doesn't. "Yeah, but you do. Tons of kids. And it's like, a thing. But we don't go around airing our dirty laundry. The Burnsides are the repressed type for sure." Taako's neck is craned gracefully so he can watch Magnus over his right shoulder, without facing away from the counter. While he talks, his fingers fidget together on the hand not clutched around his drink, rubbing neighboring rings so they click softly. He realizes just then that the tavern has grown quiet enough for him to hear it.

"I was thinking adoption," he answers, swaying. Speaking too gently, now. It's a dumb thing to say, like he'd skipped a step in the conversation, but his lips are loose.

Taako groans, and rolls his golden eyes. "You would. That's so in character." He lifts his glass to cradle it in both hands, and empties it slowly. Magnus' whole world tunnels around the light catching in Taako's drink, off the rings on Taako's fingers, off the discs of his golden irises.

This isn't so bad. He's too drunk to name what he wants, teetering on the edge of something, awkward in the adult way, like the cusps of things are always awkward. He doesn't know which way to tip yet, or why, but he knows there's something coming. The way he feels is the way he's seen dogs look at dinner tables. The way he feels is all broken up and incoherent, like its name is tucked away into the coils of a secret voidfish. He's gonna fall forward, and fall, and fall, and fall, and at the realization, he's happier than he is scared. And he's a lot of both.

It doesn't take too much longer. Taako doesn't pull his eyes from the middle distance when he speaks. "...Mags?"

"Yeah, Taako?"

For a bit more, there's just quiet. "...I don't... know. I don't know what I was going to say. I'm drunk."

He hums. "Me too."

They look at each other, and, well. That's about all it takes.

 

----

 

It wasn't their first time.

The first time had been, by all means, alarmingly soon in knowing each other. Giddy off of a job well done and eager to celebrate, they'd found themselves tangled up in the sheets of a crappy bed in a crappy inn and that had been that.

He'd stopped. Wondered aloud if this was a good idea.

Taako had grinned wide, promised him it wasn't, and pulled him down.

After, he'd gotten a longer justification, though by then afterglow was smoothed over the weird, complex edges of guilt and confusion. You don't do romance, and me, I'm an emotionally deadened narcissist who never thinks of anyone but himself. It's perfect! Something about the way he said it turned it from alarming to absolutely earth-shatteringly funny. He remembered he was still laughing as he pulled Taako close, burying his grin into the elf's soft middle, and promising to himself he'd be kind to Taako forever.

Taako made living look easy, even when it wasn't. Maybe he'd needed that. Maybe he wanted to wrap himself around it and keep it safe and close.

 It had seemed like they were going to make it a habit, but then there was Refuge. They'd tried, but getting that close was suddenly-- even thinking about-- if they looked at each other, they were going to--

So now, it's only the second time he finds himself lowering Taako down into a bed.

He covers Taako's small frame with his bulk and kisses slow and deep. The arching of Taako's spine and the clutch of his hands in Magnus' shirt screams impatience, but Taako reciprocates with his mouth evenly. In many ways it's the same, so it brings all those images back into his head, replaying soft skin under his palms and teeth before he feels them.

It's different, because this time he's not worried about liking it. Magnus feels somehow more adult about it all, easing Taako's shirt off his narrow torso to kiss every little blemish on his shoulders, and suck gently on his neck. How long has it been since he's slept with the same person more than once? It was a kind of all-consuming, soul-soothing comfort that almost completely numbed any lingering bashfulness. His soul is ravenous for this, for familiar skin under his palms, for a lover. And he could be guilty for that, since it wasn't his plan. But a lot of things were starting to peel away from his initial, near suicidal resignations. A lot of things felt less obvious and innate, as if alcohol had dissolved them away.

At some point, when he hadn't been paying attention, Taako started to feel like home.

He's peppering kisses down Taako's neck and over his torso, when petite hands fist into his sideburns and pull him back up, till they're face-to-face. It has the added benefit of sliding his body up until their hips and stomachs press, then Taako kisses him. And it's good, because it's good, and good is good, and he's happy in a way he's unused to being happy. A manic bubble and fizz in his chest and absolutely mind-obliterating relief that scares him. Taako's sweet, warm mouth in his own. Taako, Taako, Taako.

He knows there's so much softness and warmth waiting for him under Taako's loose clothes, knows where to kiss and touch and how because he asked the first time, over and over, and altogether it's a blissful, soporific haze. Everything's fuzzing together; the room, the past, the present, the way he glides his hands over Taako's skin. And he's so hard, and Taako is rolling his spine under him to rock up against it, and he can barely think like this, he's so happy, so happy and so drunk, and.... fuck.

He stops, slowly pulls away. Taako looks back up with genuine hurt, so he tries to clear the blurring from his thoughts before he speaks. "...We're... absolutely wasted, Taako."

Taako quirks an eyebrow, still panting softly. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," he agrees, letting himself fall down beside Taako on the bed, heavy as the whole world. Taako turns to face him, looking vaguely grumpy, and gently rakes his fingernails into the hair on Magnus' chest. The sensation is bright through how everything else is warm, soft and dull. He struggles to talk through the urge to just burrow down into warm soft elf and go to sleep, right now, without having to make his dumb heavy mouth make any more words. He struggles to articulate his reasons. "In the morning, you might not want to... have wanted to?"

A little sigh shakes out of Taako, sounding resigned. He hopes the fervor in him isn't so obvious; he knows Taako is skittish, and doesn't want to hurt him. Doesn't want to hurt Taako, ever, ever, ever. He promised to be kind.

"...That's what I'm scared of, bubale. Don't wanna miss our train."

A sound escapes him, humored and soft and pitying. "Noo," he coos, and wraps arms around Taako instead. Kissing is just kissing, and they can do plenty more of it without worry. Taako doesn't hold back, smoothing warm palms along his cheeks, down his shoulders, holding him close by whatever point of leverage he can get. When they break away, he meets those eyes. They search him deep, like they're carving all the way down to the core of him to find something, and in a moment genuine disappointment fills Taako's expression.

"Shit," he mutters, utterly defeated. Then he pouts, and it's beautiful, and far too effective on him. "You're not gonna fuck me."

"Nope. Sorry." He buries his face into Taako's neck apologetically, wraps his arms around his middle, holds him, holds him, holds him-- every little tap of heartbeat against his skin met with a surge of pleasure in his chest, a celebratory cry that Taako is here. God, he's drunk. He's forgetting everything as soon as he thinks it. "But... let me stay?" He stops, feeling the room spin around him, and holds onto the tiny elf for anchorage. It works perfectly. He doesn't need to remember anything with now playing so sweet and soft in his ear. Taako's here, Taako's here. Thump, thump, thump. "I, uh... don't think I could find my room, anyway."

Taako's torso jumps in a scoff, but fingertips come down to trace the back of his head with as much grace as always, and he melts under it. "Course, babe... I mean, we're married. Where else would you sleep?" Magnus is not nearly sober enough to peel the lie from the truth, right now, so he lets the glow in his chest be felt. Married. Married to Taako.

Taako turns over to give him his back, which Magnus spoons around easily-- he finds their hands and touches palm to palm, fingers along fingers, as much as he can, and Taako's too sedated (or too content) to pull away. There's the rigid circle of each ring cool and bright along the soft skin, and in one place, two meet together in a cold kiss.

He wants to stay awake, and soak in the frantic, simple joy of this, but with Taako's back under his cheek the world fades away.

 

---

 

They wake up the next morning in a too-warm embrace, each to their own splitting headaches. He takes off Taako's ring. He isn't sure how it got on, he says. Taako shrugs, and smiles, and collects it back into a soft palm.

He squints up at Taako, watching coppery skin disappear under a clean white shirt. Though his hangover pounds, something else nags more insistently.

"...I dreamt we were married."

Taako turns around, and goes still. It takes a while for an easy grin to find him, and he crawls back onto the bed to leave a kiss on Magnus' cheek.

"Keep dreaming, homeboy."

It sounds like an invitation, and his heart insists maybe. Maybe.

Maybe.