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Formaldehyde and Seek

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Necromancy has always been around, but it never quite caught on enough to be common.

In the public eye, it is a school of magic that has long since been looked down upon for good reason. Not only is it harmful to the living but is known to cause no shortage of problems for the dead as well. Relatively harmless spirits become dangerous. Riots break out, living people die, dead people return with a vengeance.

It goes along with blood magic in terms of taboo.

They’re the cases Kravitz most detests working with. He doesn’t have any special area in his work that he’s best with, but after doing well on a couple cases involving it, he’s become known for success in dealing with necromancy. So he gets called for it more than anyone else--as unfortunate as it is, he’s never one to turn a person in need away.

If he’s the only one who will take a case, then he has to do it.

He gathers a number of them over the course of a few months, given they tend to be rather slow work and thus better to do multiple at once. Although Raven offers to help him and extends her contacts to him, Kravitz is, for the most part, alone in his work.

And then, he receives a call from a woman who gives the minimum information for him to consider taking her case. He does, after a bit of debate with his superior. She’s searching for one necromancer in particular who after careful investigation, appears to be linking many of his previous jobs together. A constant that could never be defined, a variable that’s always changing, but somehow appears in nearly every case.

Standing on the linoleum of some degenerate’s lab, Kravitz picks up a small postcard taped to the side of what looks to be a personal computer. It’s separate from the rest of the papers on the desk with the only letters on the front being written in bold black marker ‘DON’T FORGET!!!’. It’s the same handwriting used on the whiteboards and notes he found elsewhere in the lab, so Kravitz can assume it belongs to the owner of this place being arrested upstairs. He flips the card over.

Now, the writing takes a quick turn. Instead, the words on the back are printed from what looks like a typewriter. They hardly take up any space on the page, but what they have to say is enough for him to be intrigued.

Awaiting payment for [j]N-M13. You know where to find me--don’t make me find you.

-FW

If the contents of the note aren’t enough to rattle Kravitz, there’s a sticky note attached to the card in his hand. On it is what appears to be gibberish, capital and lowercase letters with a variety of numbers. There’s a couple lines of them, and he can tell they’re separate by the spacing. Next to the first line is S-6:18. The second has M-19:02. Then T-20:34. W-5:55.

Kravitz is a private investigator, not a software engineer. But he’s seen enough by now to recognize they’re URLs that, given the times listed beside them, can likely only be accessed at the specific windows provided. Sunday, 6:18AM. Monday, 7:02PM. And so forth. The dates are more shorthand than they are a code, thankfully.

On the desk, there’s a check written out for 8,000GP, addressed to a “Leon Kessler.” Unsure of what to make of it, he simply packs it into another plastic baggie and sets it aside to be collected later. Chances are high it’s intended for the same ‘FW’ they’ve been trying to track for no short amount of time, though he doubts Leon Kessler is his real name. Any person who’s done this good a job at keeping themselves secret would never list their real identity anywhere.

It’s a lot of work to go through to keep whatever information this guy is keeping on these sites from being accessible to the public. If he has to guess, Kravitz would say this ‘FW’ has been doing a spectacular job at keeping them on their tail searching for any clues they aren’t dropping.

That is, until they gave their information to an idiot who decided to write it down where anyone can see.

“Kravitz.” He turns at the sound of his name, nodding as Raven approaches him with her arms crossed. “What are you thinking?”

He looks past her at the rest of the small lab, crude and far more informal than anything they’ve busted before. Usually cases like these involve some kind of rich political figure with a hidden secret below their basements. It takes an anonymous tip for them to even consider reaching out to those people, but this was different.

Their current host is a man named Marvey, more of a gangster than anything. He’s rich, and it shows in the equipment he has down here, but obviously not smart enough to use any of it. And obviously not smart enough to hide his sources where no one could find them.

Kravitz holds up the note in his hand, and she smiles. “It seems like Marvey was receiving help from that FW as well,” he says while handing over the original letter for her to see.

“Just like every other wannabe-necromancer in these parts,” she mumbles. “You think you’ve got something this time?”

“Yeah.” Today is Monday. He originally intended to go home, watch TV by himself and eventually fall asleep before he’s called into work the next morning. The note in his hand is heavy, and Kravitz stares at it--M-19:02. “I think I do.”

He allows for Raven to handle most of the logistics of speaking with the police and gathering all the evidence as he continues wandering around the lab. There isn’t much else that’s particularly interesting besides what he already found. Although it’s a very expensive laboratory, it doesn’t look like any real work was actually done here. Marvey never had any interest in the sciences, as far as Kravitz or any of his other contacts knew. This is entirely out of the blue.

There’s a reason for it somewhere within all of this madness--but that’s not why Kravitz is here. No, he’ll leave Marvey to Raven, knowing she’ll take care of it just fine. She’ll end up writing a fine report about the man’s motives, history, everything leading up to here, like she always does.

Kravitz pulls out his phone and speed dials his most frequented contact.

It picks up almost immediately.

“Did you find something?” a female voice on the other end asks, and Kravitz nods before remembering she can’t see him.

“Yes--in fact…” He looks down at his watch. It’s only 5:20PM. “I may be able to make contact with FW very soon. Would you like me to reach them directly?”

“Please.”

And she hangs up.

The woman who has hired him is mysterious, sometimes more so than the person they’re tracking. He’s never met with him in person, but she’s managed to keep Kravitz feeling safe with large checks for every end he follows. She’s never given her reason for asking his help in tracking down this secret necromancer. Kravitz hasn’t even asked for a reason--he’s fine with knowing he’s working to put some sick fuck behind bars.

Satisfied with his find, Kravitz puts his phone into his pocket and returns to helping his superior.


With a mug of tea on his desk and a copy of the note in hand, Kravitz sits down at his computer. He’s already typed out the corresponding URL in and is simply waiting to press ‘Enter,’ more afraid of what will come up than anything. Thankfully this is his work computer and nothing personal, all the files are backed up and heavily protected with the help of Raven. At most, he gets some fucky virus that forces him to factory reset his PC and work from his laptop for a while.

Or worse, he actually gets in contact with a necromancer.

FW has been a plague across the country for about a year now. As soon as there was an increase in necromantic crimes, FW began popping up too. They were only present in notes and interviews, and no one would ever give information on their whereabouts or identity even if they were interrogated for hours.

There’s hardly any telling what FW does with these people. One would think their fear of FW being found would come from some kind of threat, like they’re blackmailing all these magicians into keeping them a secret. But some cases, oddly enough, have hinted that it’s more akin to… loyalty. It makes Kravitz believe FW is more like a supplier, or some kind of ring-leader.

Which would also imply there’s something greater in the works between all these arcanists.

His phone beeps with an alarm, signalling it’s 7:02PM, and his finger hits the Enter key automatically.

The screen changes immediately.

It isn’t the dark-web browser he expected, and there’s no immediate pop-ups showing him some odd torture porn or other abomination. Instead, it’s a simple pink page with minimal text on it. Not the flashiest, not the dreariest, and definitely a little too pretty and cute for the cultist leader he expected.

At the top, the only header reads “Referral Type #4.” There’s three links below it.

“Receive Update (500GP)”

“Order Equipment (150GP Starting)”

“Cancel (1000GP)”

Kravitz curses, biting his nail out of habit. Whoever FW is, they aren’t stupid enough to put all of their information on one site. Not only do they keep it locked and have it accessible at very specific moments, there must be a number of different pages for different ‘clients.’ This is only ‘Type 4,’ whatever that means, and likely only reveals what would be useful to Marvey.

Besides those, the page is nearly empty, save for another line of text at the very bottom of the page. Kravitz’s eyes widen when they finally scan over it.

“Hiring Lab Assistant.”

As to not disturb the delicate screen, Kravitz simply uses his phone to take a picture of the monitor. The first three options won’t lead him anywhere besides ‘update,’ but he doesn’t really have 500GP to throw around at the moment. Maybe in the future he can revisit this site on another day and use it, or tell the client he’s working with in case she wants to pay.

For now, he focuses on the final option. It must be a recent addition, and likely his best bet for information.

Clicking on the link opens up another similar page with much more text and areas to input information. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

A position of the utmost confidentiality and secrecy.

Risks include: poisoning, immolation, drowning, electrocution, laceration, suffocation, and mild temperatures so bring a jacket.

Shall never know the full contents of this position or the work you will be doing.

I will pay for your initial travel fee and nothing more. You must be capable of providing your own lodging within Neverwinter.

“This is not a government approved job,” it says in bold text, “and you can expect no compensation for any injuries or side effects of taking this position. If any data that has passed through your hands makes it into another’s possessions, you will be terminated immediately and disposed of. If you cause more disturbance than you bring benefits, you will be terminated immediately and disposed of. If you decide to leave and I deem you cannot be trusted, you will be terminated before you can quit, and then disposed of. No one will hear from you again, and you will do down in history as a lost cause.”

The only high point there seems to be is a promise of high pay, and even with that Kravitz isn’t sure who would be suicidal enough to take the job. It’s to be expected--they would be working with who they assumed to be a powerful necromancer, a person so hidden and secretive they can never be tracked down.

And yet here they are, so close.

Kravitz crosses his arms behind his head and tries to think through the situation clearly, laying out all his options.

He can notify Raven, tell her about everything he’s found, and ask for her help. She’s no doubt busier than he is, and this is his chance to make it big and get a position beside her instead of being so far down below. It’s a chance to prove himself.

He could continue pestering his own client for what she would like him to do, but isn’t he a professional who’s supposed to be doing everything on his own? The woman might as well do everything herself if he’s just going to ask her about everything.

Kravitz is a grown man, a professional--he can make a decision about his own job for himself.

The location itself is a little too convenient to pass up, given Kravitz is literally sitting in his apartment located in the heart of the city. At the same time, it makes his heart stop--has FW really been this close the entire time? This alone is a great lead, but he can go so much further.

Slowly, and ever so carefully, he leans forward in his seat, and begins to fill out the form provided.

Thank you for your time ,” the screen says once he’s finished. “ Signed, Flip Wizard .”


 

A week passes uneventfully.

It's surprising he gets a response.

It's astonishing he's invited to an interview.

It's a miracle when he realizes where the directions sent have led him--The Academy for Arcane Arts, the most renowned school for magic users in the country.

Then and only then does Kravitz realize he may be in over his head.

Chapter Text

Before anything can happen, Kravitz emails with Flip Wizard himself directly. They both use throwaway addresses, and it’s mostly a matter of interrogating Kravitz to make sure he’s both qualified and secure.

He knows the job is secret, given he has been trying to track this guy down for nearly a year now. He uses his real name but gives someone else’s address, says he’s currently unemployed for lack of a better cover. In retrospect, he probably should’ve prepared more beforehand, but it works out in the end.

A final email comes in with a date and time, along with the words ‘Don’t try anything funny, sweetheart,’ which leave a bad taste in his mouth.

Kravitz has never been in possession of magic. He didn’t plan to go to school for criminal justice, he just sort of ended up there. Without any grand passions for investigation, he cruised through school easily, got his degree, and joined up with Raven after an encounter in his past. She took him in willingly after proving himself, and the rest is history.

Magic school, he decides, is entirely different.

It’s like an entirely separate world from what he’s used to. From the outside alone, the academy is more a palace than it is any school he’s ever visited. Given it includes multiple dormitories to host its students, but the main buildings are rather large themselves. It’s an all-in-one deal that offers lessons to students as early as middle school up to specific graduate programs. The selection process for each department is entirely specialized and difficult to get into, Kravitz has heard, but those who complete any level of education at the place are set for life.

He adjusts the umbrella over his head to retrieve the permit from his pockets as he approaches the gates. The academy itself is large enough to be an entire town with just its school buildings alone, and it’s understandable with how delicate everything within is that the security would be top notch. Seeing as it’s still a highly populated area with high traffic, the lines move smooth and methodically until Kravitz is given a brief body scan and allowed into the streets leading up to the Academy for Arcane Arts--Triple A.

Flip Wizard is smart to plan their meeting here. With the level of security enforced within the school limits, there’s no way Kravitz could bring anything with which to harm him, and a second gate before the building he’s directed to will prevent him from bringing in any magical items either. A simple spell to block out any electronic devices and the Flip Wizard will be entirely secure within a playing area he can control completely.

Kravitz is at a disadvantage, but continues nonetheless; now is not the time for any confrontation or grand battle. It’s hardly even reconnaissance--he’s simply getting a lay of the land. If he’s learned anything over the past year looking into this specific case and its subsequent smaller instances, it’s that it’ll take a lot of care to handle. He’s already waited this long to get in here though. Kravitz can be patient.

He steps aside as a group of children run past him with their bags held over their heads to protect them from the rain, nearly splashing his feet as they go. From what he knows from a simple search before he came here, they’re headed in the direction of the academy’s middle school, far north of where Kravitz is going.

The address for the Transmutation Tower, one of the larger buildings on campus, sits heavy in his pocket, as if he wouldn’t be able to see it from a mile away. It’s connected to another main building intended for older students and their specific classrooms, along with a number of laboratories. With another show of his permit and a scan for magic items, Kravitz makes his way into the main hall.

It’s a tall area, despite only having two floors. Long, marble pillars sprout from the ground and into the ceiling all the way to the end of the main room. The floor is made of a similar white stone that meets every kiss of his boots with a loud clap. To the right, a dark, wooden balcony leads another hall down the second floor and through another series of classrooms and offices.

Less people are around now that it’s midway through noon, likely still in classes. It’s another wise move for the Flip Wizard to call him here in the middle of the day when he can restrict the time they’re together in a public area, constrained now by the clock and the possibility of intruders. With every loud step down the hall, Kravitz feels his nerves shoot from his feet and up into his chest where his heart pounds loudly.

The hall ends at an open set of stairs, the same dark wood as the balcony, and into the tower. The change in architecture isn’t too grand, the ceilings lower and made of less expensive materials. It’s more indicative of the high school Kravitz attended. Though he has it memorized, he pulls out the paper once again, just to make sure he has it right.

Seventh floor. Room 700.

The elevator is fast without anyone else waiting on it, and Kravitz is taken up six more floors without any delay. Higher up, now, the building is different than its first floor which is occupied mostly with offices. It appears that each level of the tower is a different laboratory or set of them, gathered in the middle of the circular tower. A hallway wraps around the labs, covered in glass so the outside of the tower can be seen.

This is the second highest floor, with the top being what he assumes is an attic or god knows what magicians would use it for. Kravitz allows himself a moment to look down on the rest of the school below them.

There’s a few buildings as tall or taller than this one, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Up here, he can get a good view of the gardens below being taken care of by the rain. A few students run about with umbrellas over their heads or nothing at all, obviously late to something, and for a moment he’s taken back to his own school days. Triple A is a little more than different from where Kravitz went, but he figures school is school to any student.

“Never been on campus grounds before?”

He jumps at the voice, unable to hear the footsteps that crept up on him over the sound of the rain. Kravitz turns to greet his visitor and immediately freezes.

As technology continues to advance and the world hurdles forward in science, many old customs and traditions have been lost to time. Kravitz thought the stereotypical wizard died out long ago along with the stereotype of evil tieflings or woodsy gnomes. But the man standing before him is nothing if not the archetype of a perfect wizard with a modern twist.

The hat is something like uniform for the professors here, though his is bright purple and covered in no small amount of decoration. Sparkling lines of ribbon are weaved through a long braid that’s draped over his shoulder. He stands just about as tall as Kravitz and regards him coolly with his chin tilted upwards, hip cocked to the side as his eyes unabashedly search up and down his figure.

Then he smirks, and Kravitz feels just a bit ashamed at the small stammer of his pulse.

“It’s my first time, yes,” he finally answers with another glance over his shoulder before returning to the man before him. “You must be…”

The man’s smile widens, and he sticks out his hand for Kravitz to take. “Professor Taaco, but you can call me Taako. Or Professor Taako, if that’s your gig.”

Kravitz almost falters as he reaches out to shake his hand firmly. The elf doesn’t let go. “Right, Mr. Ta--”

“Professor or nothing, no mister.”

“Right, Taako,” he corrects himself, earning another show of teeth from behind the teacher’s pink lips. “It’s nice to meet you, I’m Kravitz. We spoke earlier.”

Taako’s brows raise unconvincingly. “Uh, yeah. C’mon, I’ll show you around.”

His hand slides up to Kravitz’s wrist, and the next thing he knows, he’s being dragged down another hall that cuts through the middle of the floor. The area consists of eight laboratories that split the floor into even slices, surrounding a singular office that waits in the very center. Taako explains the layout as they go, from the offices he’d seen on the first floor along with how it differs from the rest of the levels. As he does so, his free hand fiddles in his pocket for a pair of keys just as they arrive at a door at the end of the hall.

With only small windows peeking into the labs, Kravitz can’t see very much of the place, but he hopes Taako’s office isn’t indicative of the rest of the school.

“Pop a squat, handsome,” Taako says, shrugging off the open robes he’d been wearing and hanging them on a coat rack. Kravitz pointedly steps around the number of papers and--clothes?-- scattered around the floor as he approaches a set of chairs on the other side of a desk. “Want anything to drink?”

Kravitz grimaces at the stickiness of the armrest he’s currently sat on. “No, I’m, uh, quite fine where I am.”

“Good, we can make this quick.”

He waits for a few moments without turning and instead listens to the sound of papers being crumbled and furniture moving. A cup clinks onto another piece of porcelain, and then Kravitz hears something being poured.

Before he can turn around, a pair of hands clamp down on his shoulders from behind.

“Let’s talk business.”

He immediately tenses. Right. He isn’t here for a visit--this is work.

Taako’s fingers curl into his chest, thumbs digging into the backs of his shoulders. “You know why I brought you here to meet, right? So you can see who I am, big deal and all--get an idea how much I’m not here to fuck around.”

“Quite aware.”

“Cool.” The claws don’t let up. “On this floor, there are eight identical laboratories run by me and my assistants. On the other side of that door,” one finger lets up to point across the office where there is, indeed, a door, “I see to the disposal of all hazardous materials that can’t be thrown out with the rest of the regular shit. Only I go in there, and by the time stuff makes it to the bottom floor, a bar of gold looks no different from a pile of shit. You followin’?”

“You’ve already threatened me thoroughly before,” Kravitz says. “If I was afraid, you would’ve deterred me sooner.”

Silence hangs heavy in the air for one, two, three beats, and Kravitz thinks it might be the last thing he hears before the necromancer simply slits his throat. There might be some use in having a freshly deceased body to use for his experiments and spells, right?

But the blade doesn’t come. He hears Taako hum agreeably and his hands are off the human’s shoulders, finally walking out from behind him to sit on the other side of his desk after retrieving a cup of steaming coffee. Taako crosses his arms on top of the dark wood and grins at him in a manner that seems far too delighted for one seeking to disturb the balance between life and death.

“Kravitz is your real name,” Taako says, more of an observation than anything.

He nods. Stops. Realizes his mistake, and lifts a wary brow to try and cover himself. “Or… is it?”

The wizard snorts without an ounce of grace, sending a bit of coffee across the desk. “Yeah, damn right it is. Had my guy look you up before anything else. Pretty impressive you ain’t got a thing on you online--but also, fuckin’ really, homie? Giving out your name that easy?” Shaking his head, Taako leans back in his seat, chair creaking as it follows him. “Ain’t no rocket scientist, huh?”

“I’m fine on the ground. I figured transparency was easiest,” Kravitz shrugs, trying to pass off the anxiety rising in his chest. He should’ve expected this guy would do a background check, but how thorough did it go? His identity is protected under his work with Raven, but there’s no saying it isn’t on a record or form somewhere on the great wide internet. He’ll have to look into who ‘my guy’ is. “Nor am I a magic user, if that’s a problem.”

Taako shakes his head and waves a hand dismissively. “That’s actually what I’m looking for, dog. The less ability you have to understand what’s going on while still, like, actually doing shit, the better for me.”

“You’re extremely careful about protecting your work.”

At once, his eyes harden, squinting at Kravitz. The room is colder than he remembers it being, but Kravitz doesn’t back down. If he’s going into this, even if it is a ruse, it won’t be as a blind sheep being led into fields he can’t tread.

“You don’t look stupid,” Taako says, less amusement than before in his voice. “I’m not gonna explain why my work on necromancy has to be kept secure. You still in?”

Kravitz has taken complicated cases before. He’s spent entire days without sleep tracking a person’s movements, hiring a number of other professionals to help analyze a piece of evidence, and confronted criminals head on. Never has he been this close to one without the intention of immediately apprehending them, though. Never has he committed himself to such a large task.

Before him, Taako’s eyes droop with a curious brow quirked upwards.

“I think I’m already too far in to pull out,” Kravitz finally answers, watching as the magician’s lips instantly curl up.

“That’s what I like to hear,” he purrs. “You super don’t wanna know what would’ve happened if you said no.”

He has an idea, but Kravitz feels a chill down his spine anyways.

Taako turns to pick up a few papers hidden beneath a stack of others and holds it out in front of him to read. “As an actual employed person…” Even though Kravitz definitely has a job and is doing it right now, the comment about his persona’s ‘unemployment’ bites. “I will be unavailable all regular school hours from eight to four in the afternoon. But I do wanna get started as soon as possible.” His eyes lift from the paper to meet Kravitz’s. “Are you good to go today?”

Today? That’s awfully little notice, though he supposes there’s little to go off of for a job as skeevy as this one. It’s just a step above dealing in the black market--no, that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? This man, Taako, is the one distributing the means to study necromancy to deranged fools across the country.

This is below the black market.

Kravitz nods, unable to say anything else. He won’t have the time to call his client and speak with them about this, but he can tell what she’ll say already. Yes, please continue working with him. Thank you. And then, like always, she’ll hang up without saying anything else, and he’ll receive a check for a few hundred GP in a couple days.

“Good!” Taako says as he promptly feeds the papers in his hand into a shredder beside his desk, no doubt having to do with Kravitz’s application. He stands from the desk and rounds about the other side of Kravitz. “I’ll send you directions later, come around seven tonight.” As Kravitz stands and walks to the door Taako is holding open, the elf finger-guns him. “I’ll kill you if you’re late, yeah-huh?”

It’s only a half joke and he knows it. “Won’t be an issue,” is all Kravitz says under his breath as he shuffles out of the room and listens for the door to shut behind him.

Almost immediately, he lets out a breath that had hidden in his lungs the entire time and drinks in gulps of fresh air.

He’s been doing this work for a long time, but never has he felt so… put off by a person before, and he can hardly explain why. Something about the way Taako moves, the air around him, his expressions and speech; he acts as if he’s in total control of the world around him. He acts like a god who can’t be touched and is simply gracing Kravitz with his presence alone.

The location for their meeting wasn’t just so the necromancer was safe--he was asserting himself over Kravitz.

The idea makes him shiver again as much as it makes a hot anger boil in his chest. He shakes his head just to rid himself of the feeling of those sharp eyes boring holes into him and takes the stairs down to the first floor this time.

What a disgusting man.

Stepping outside, Kravitz doesn’t bother pulling the umbrella over him, allowing the rain to soak into his clothes as he takes off for the entrance of the academy.

This case can’t end fast enough.

He doesn’t calm down until he’s back in his apartment and shucking his wet coat and pants off. Kravitz can’t relax just yet--it’s still afternoon, but he’ll be called out to Taako’s to… begin his new work, soon enough. The thought alone is enough to disturb him. It’s as if, so appalled by the man himself, Kravitz has forgotten the actual work he’s agreed to.

He’ll be the assistant of a necromancer.

He’ll be dirtying his hands as well.

Pulling out a book he’s already read, Kravitz forces himself to sit still and wait for the telltale buzz of his phone with an email from the professor. There’s nothing he can do to prepare for the evening.


The message comes sooner than he expected.

Surprisingly, he recognizes the location--it’s one of the richest neighborhoods in the city.

Kravitz runs the thought through his head again. It’s a neighborhood .

He doesn’t take anything with him, as instructed, going against his better judgement to bring his phone. If he plays nice now and adheres to all of Taako’s rules, Kravitz will be given leeway in the future. He just has to trust it won’t take that long and he can be over with this sooner rather than later.

The house he’s led to is… normal. It’s obviously the wizard’s, given its size and bravado. There’s a number of odd lawn ornaments and decorations that don’t match each other and appear just a bit too bright for the somber task at hand. It isn’t a surprise that there aren’t any other houses directly beside his, a good distance between his next few neighbors. As a professor at the best academy in the country, Taako must have a lot of money to spare. Still, there’s nothing that screams ‘a horrible, horrible necromancer lives here!’ from the outside.

As directed, Kravitz rounds the house and passes through one gate with a provided code, then another right in front of the back door. Before he can knock on it, the door flies open, and Kravitz braces himself for another unpleasant interaction with the magician.

Except, Taako isn’t standing there at all.

A child is.

The kid doesn’t speak, and Kravitz stares down at him in shock before regaining the ability to form words. “Are… you Taako’s child?” he asks, because it couldn’t be , right ?

The little boy, no older than ten, looks up at Kravitz with a confused expression and shakes his head. “Oh, no sir, not at all--”

Oh, god. It’s worse than Kravitz thought; Taako’s experimenting on children .

His face pales, and he almost doesn’t hear the boy’s next words. “He is my legal guardian, but we’re not related! My name is Angus McDonald--well, McDonald-Taaco, officially.”

Ah. That’s… better, he supposes.

The boy steps back from the door and holds it open for Kravitz to step inside, a gesture he thanks him for as he walks into the house. “Taako told me to let you in myself so you wouldn’t be tempted to snoop around like a dog and fuck his house the whole way up. His words, not mine.”

With the reassurance this child likely isn’t being held prisoner and tortured, his voice becomes mindless chatter in the background as Kravitz examines his surroundings. Its obvious where he’s meant to go, given how Angus angles himself so the only route he can take is towards a black, iron door. He can just barely see the rest of the house, lit by overhead bulbs, from behind Angus, but doesn’t make an effort to investigate.

“Thank you, Angus… I’m Kravitz, by the way,” Kravitz says, sticking his hand out for the boy who takes it with a grip too firm for his age. It’s oddly endearing, despite the situation.

Once Angus lets go, his face lights up in a smile. “You don’t have to be so nervous, sir! Taako might seem weird at first, but he isn’t bad!”

Weird is an understatement. All Kravitz can do is smile and nod before reaching for the door available to him.

A cold burst of air rushes up to greet him, crawling out of the stairway and into Kravitz’s clothes. From here, he can see the steps below him, but not much else. There’s no lights on the wall to turn on, either. He shivers involuntarily and steels his resolve on the first step down.

The way is lit only by the hint of light at the bottom of the stairs. Nothing can be seen from the entrance once the door behind him is shut. There’s no turning back now. Kravitz takes one last deep breath, reminding himself who he is and why he’s here before walking down the rest of the stairs in one steady go.

The woman who hired him better have a damn good reason for chasing this guy down.

A faint green light pulses at the bottom where a small hallway turns into what he can only assume is the library.

“Oh, you actually came. I kinda expected you to chicken out from how you looked back at school.”

Kravitz turns the corner where Taako’s voice is coming from.

Kravitz likes to believe he knows his body relatively well. When embarrassed, his skin will heat up. When shocked, his brows raise, and scared, he’ll go cold. Bashful happiness, his stomach flips, and horror, his heart stops. He’s like any other human with biological responses to outward stimuli.

Now, he questions if he really is human, because his body stops moving altogether.

He can’t react.

There are no words to describe the scene before him.

He has seen no shortage of laboratories where necromancers work, as he’s been the one to bust them many times now. It’s his job. It’s as if he has only just now truly understood the scope of the situation he’s gotten himself into.

This man, Taako, has never just been a slightly more responsible necromancer.

He’s the head of them.

Their supplier.

Although many of the scientists he’s caught before had top notch equipment and the highest technology available, Kravitz fears an entire circle--no, a black market of equipment and research that has not yet reached the public yet. He has never seen anything like the machines kept here.

In the main room of the laboratory, long rows of tables span the entire length of the room. They’re covered in repeating units of equipment, each holding a number of beakers, tools, balances, and a contraption holding filled flasks above them. In total, there must be about fifty in this room alone, all looking the same from a distance.

Behind the tables, counters and fume hoods line the wall to the left of the doorway Kravitz is standing in. Crumpled papers, half empty bottles of beakers and soda cans alike are strewn everywhere. Certain areas don’t appear to have been cleaned in years. Broken pieces of glass are swept under counters and tables. Mouse traps are in every corner of the room.

To the right and left, open archways lead to more rooms of this underground laboratory, but Kravitz can’t be bothered to look into them yet.

The main event is right here, after all.

In front of him, lining the back wall, one large pod, illuminated with green liquid inside, stands tall and proud in its horrifying glory. He can make out the shapes of wires and pipes dangling within it, attached to what looks like nothing more than a mass of roots stuck together. He knows the reality will be far worse, and tries not to focus on it.

Taako is standing in the middle of the room, beside a large drain on the ground. Only when he notices it does Kravitz look down and study the grooves in the floor that act as a drain system to remove spilled fluids from all around the room. Over the hum of electricity flowing to the pod, Kravitz can hear the smallest trickle of liquids, and follows a dark stream feeding into the drain on the floor to Taako’s feet.

The elf turns around at last, eyes drooping neutrally in contrast to the smile on his face. In his hand, a deep red chunk of flesh and veins identical to the one in the tank continues to leak onto the floor.

“Let’s get cookin’, handsome.”

Chapter Text

Formulas line the whiteboards in the leftmost room in no particular order or pattern Kravitz can decipher. Open markers are thrown around the room with a single pink one in Taako’s hand. He stands in front of a second whiteboard which shows a map of the lab printed in permanent black lines that can’t be erased. It’s already covered in a number of marks and symbols, and he avoids disturbing them as he draws more lines onto the map.

Kravitz’s eyes can’t leave the deep red on Taako’s hands that is now smeared across the marker.

“For now, I’ll have you working in here today where I can see you,” he says, putting an ‘X’ over the room they’re in. “All you’ll be doing is reading a machine, pressing a few buttons, move to the next, then come around a second time when you’re done and do it again. Too hard?”

“No, I can manage.”

“That’s the spirit.” Taako remains at the board, drawing a few more lines and circling a couple of objects. “I’m going to be over here doing my own work. Don’t cross this line or I’ll blast your ass so fast you’ll forget you had one.”

The worst part about the arrangement is how docile Kravitz is forced to act. The slightest hint of resistance would have him kicked out immediately, or if Taako’s threats were serious, killed. He goes along with everything given to him with nothing more than a sigh or slightly widened eyes.

For the sake of uncovering the truth, he has to do everything right and play nice.

Taako brings him to a counter at the side of the room. On top is a row of devices, all the same, that he’s never seen before, and Taako gives him a quick run-down of how it works. From his explanation, it’s simple enough; load a rack of cuvettes in a specific order, open a cartridge, press a few buttons, write down the numbers, and repeat. The machine does most of the hard work and switches the samples automatically. Even so, there’s still a good dozen per station, and ten machines to test them on.

Once he’s finished showing Kravitz what he’ll be doing, Taako dramatically turns on heel and marches to the other side of the room where a desk is sat separate between a number of carts and movable shelves. “I’ll be doing some high-tension work over here if you need me, but between you and me? Don’t need me.”

Taako holds himself the same way he did back in the school, as if there is no difference between the two environments. To him, there might as well not be; he reigns supreme within both. Perhaps one lab is just the same as another, though the thought of an esteemed professor teaching his students with the same mindset he uses to raise the dead doesn’t sit well with Kravitz.

He tries not to think too hard about the situation he’s in and begins his work. Thankfully, it’s easy, repetitive work he doesn’t have to put too much effort or thought into and can be distracted by the monotony. Load the tiny vials into the side of a machine, open the lid, press a few buttons, write, buttons, and keep going. The lid closes when the machine is reading whatever it is inside, so he can’t tell what’s really happening in there or what he’s reading. For all Kravitz knows, this could just be a really elaborate scale and he’s weighing them. Except the numbers don’t make any sense.

Kravitz lifts his head to ask Taako a question and watches the man across the room. Taako is sitting at a desk with a loupe-like contraption over one of his eyes, focused on the task at hand. Before him, the same mass of what Kravitz believes to be muscle or skin from before is inside a metal bin where he has it pinned open like a surgical procedure. He pokes around with a metal instrument in his hand for a while, moving parts out of the way with his finger to reach something deeper when his voice catches Kravitz off-guard.

“If you want to stare at me for an hour straight, just come to my lectures.”

He jumps and feels his face heat in shame. “I didn’t mean--I was trying to decide if I should, uh, ask you something?”

Taako juts out his lower lip and blows upward to get a strand of hair out of his face. “Already ruined it, so go ahead, bub.”

“What are the… these things I’m reading? If they aren’t pounds or temperature I mean, what are the--numbers?”

The scientist stops moving, a few seconds pass before he lifts the odd glasses from his face to stare at Kravitz incredulously. “ Units ?”

Evidently that’s the word he meant to use, so Kravitz nods.

Taako shakes his head and lowers his loupe again to continue working. “It’s a spectrophotometer, it doesn’t have units. It’s just a fraction.”

It’s a cue for Kravitz to go back to working too, so he tries to maintain conversation while writing down numbers. Numbers that apparently don’t mean anything, he thinks, but stops questioning the logistics behind it. He might as well just look it up when he goes home if it keeps being confusing. “You aren’t afraid to tell me about what I’m doing?”

“Since you didn’t know what units or a spectro are, nah, I don’t think you’ll be runnin’ away with my work on the first day at least. Not like you could do anything with just those numbers, anyways.”

The conversation stops there, and Kravitz makes no effort to pick it back up. Speaking with Taako isn’t particularly… pleasant, so to say, and he’s never minded the quiet before. He’s a creature of solitude to begin with. It’s clear Taako doesn’t view him as a person so much as a means to an end or a tool to be used by his lack of respect or the abundance of sarcasm in his voice at all times. He holds himself high above Kravitz and talks down to him, and although he knows Taako isn’t actually his boss, Kravitz is offended on behalf of his new docile persona.

But he’s playing nice, and that means following all the rules and being good.

Kravitz pretends he’s doing something else, anything else, and continues taking readings in relative silence. He can occasionally hear a few noises from Taako’s end of the room, be it a huff of breath or the squish of wet solids colliding that makes him shiver. The clipboard provided to him fills up with pencil markings quicker than ever. Even if Kravitz doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing this for, he’s efficient and can work quickly.

Eventually, the peace is broken as Taako stands from his station and grabs a rag on the counter to wipe his hands. Kravitz tries not to think too hard about the red color that comes away on it, focusing on the device in front of him instead. It doesn’t take too much thought to write numbers down, so he continues to listen for Taako’s next movements.

The elf takes whatever he’d been picking apart and dumps it into a trashcan with something muttered under his breath. He rounds up all the tools he’d been using and tosses them in the same metal tray he’d been working in with a too-loud clang, picking the whole thing up and taking it to a sink on the wall behind him where he leaves them in the bottom with the water running. His hands dip under the water for just a moment and come away without any red staining his skin this time.

For a few seconds, Kravitz doesn’t hear anything, and he can see Taako standing in the middle of the room from the corner of his eye. Unease quickly fills his body from feet to head and he tries to focus on the machine in front of him instead. He couldn’t be fucking up, not when his job is so simple--he knows he’s doing just fine. Still, being scrutinized by an all-powerful wizard who he’s now sure has more than enough power to make him suddenly disappear? Not his favorite thing, he decides.

He somehow finishes his work like that. Kravitz doesn’t realize he’s reached the end of the table until he takes a step to the side and finds there’s no other devices to read from. To make sure, he looks down at the paper provided to him, and sure enough, it’s completely full.

“Sweet,” Taako says, his voice suddenly much closer standing directly behind him and makes Kravitz jump. “We’ve still got some time before it gets like, crazy late, so come over here and I’ll show you something else.”

“Sure thing.” Kravitz follows as Taako crosses the room in a few long strides to pick up a paper from where he’d been working earlier, gesturing for Kravitz to join him in the main room again.

“The biggest thing you’ll probably be doing for a while is organizing and sorting papers and data,” Taako speaks while unrolling the sleeves of his red-speckled labcoat as they cross the main room of the laboratory and into another Kravitz hasn’t seen before. Evidently it isn’t their destination as Taako keeps walking, but Kravitz takes the few seconds he has within it to observe what he can. There’s similar pods like the tank in the main room, about seven or eight lining the wall entirely. Some are full of luminescent fluid, some have wires hanging down, and some are completely empty. One on the far right is covered in a sheet, but is still glowing with the telltale light of the same green liquid.

He follows after Taako into another smaller room containing far less science-y experiment things. There’s a file cabinet, a few computers, a number of monitors showing what appears to be security camera feeds around the laboratory, along with a number of desks with trash and papers scattered on top of them. To his surprise, Taako actually flips a light switch that brings the small room to life and removes it from the rest of the dark lab.

“You ever done any paperwork?” Taako asks, closing the door behind them.

“More than I’ve done lab work, yes.” Kravitz’s response makes Taako snort, and he considers it a small victory.

“Thank god for that.” The professor takes the clipboard out of Kravitz’s hands and gives him the one he’d been holding originally which, much to his horror, is covered in bloody fingerprints and smears. Taako hadn’t bothered removing his bloody gloves before writing on it, evidently, and Kravitz can’t even be bothered to try and read the contents of the page in his disgust. “I’ll show you how I like my papers labeled and sorted, give you a stack, and let you go to town while I input all of this, capiche?”

Kravitz nods and looks back up as Taako drops the clipboard on a desk with a computer. “...right, whatever you say.”

Taako hums to himself while retrieving a folder of papers from one of the cabinets. When he turns back to Kravitz, the grin on his face can only be described as ‘shit-eating.’ “You hate this, don’t you?”

“I don’t mind learning the work--”

“No,” Taako interrupts, walking close enough to stand directly in front of Kravitz, “working with me . I can tell you’re not a good boy--what was your name? Cheez-Its?”

Kravitz . And I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m a perfectly good boy.”

He pauses.

“I mean--”

“No, I got you loud and clear, good boy.” Taako’s snicker makes it hard for Kravitz to not just reach up and punch the elf across his face. Or crawl into a hole and die. If there’s anything Kravitz hates, truly and honestly, it’s being mocked by someone who actually really isn’t above him at all. “You really wanna hit me right now, don’t you? Not the first time either.”

At least the man’s perceptive. Kravitz takes a deep breath to steady himself, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’d prefer to continue working, and just working, instead of wasting time talking?”

“Whatever you say.”

The conversation takes a sudden turn at that moment as Taako launches into a long monologue about organizing documents. He shows Kravitz how he prefers them to be labeled by number and name at the top, giving a single example before switching to something else entirely. Thankfully, Kravitz is no stranger to odd paperwork, and he’s far more adept at handling documents than any complex lab equipment.

Taako explains he’ll be across from him the entire time if something comes up, given some papers might be out of order or missing. Kravitz is relieved more than anything to sit down at a regular old desk, papers fanned out in front of him, and take the first one off a stack to his left. It’s easier to do real, familiar work, and he begins to relax.

A pair of hands clamp over his shoulders from behind.

Kravitz wonders if this is going to be a regularly occurring thing.

“I should have asked this at the start,” Taako says, low and dangerous in his ear, “but have you ever lost anyone, Kravitz?”

Yes , his head says immediately, and he has to take a deep breath to prevent himself from giving any tells. He’s a detective (of sorts), Kravitz can work his way through an interrogation. “Is that what this is all about?”

Taako goes quiet then, like he didn’t expect the counter-question. It’s the first thing all day to provide Kravitz with the smallest bit of hope that he might actually manage to get somewhere with this case. After all, out of everything all day, Taako has yet to give him even a hint of what he’s doing or why. This is the first time he’s faltered.

The wizard’s fingers dig into his shoulders, hard. “I don’t have to worry about you taking any of this to the police,” he explains, still quiet and smooth. “I know enough people that anything that ends up on their desks would go straight to the shredder. What I do have to worry about is some self-righteous tragedy-stricken widow running away with my work to play with it.”

That explains things--taking precautions when in work as dangerous as this is always the best idea, but it sounds like Taako has most of it under control. He evidently has connections within the police, is in close contact with some tech-wizard in control of doing extensive background checks, and god knows what else. The worst thing Kravitz could do with this data is use it for himself.

But it doesn’t make sense with other pieces of information, particularly, Taako’s involvement in the experiments of other magicians pursuing necromancy. Kravitz has even seen for himself now that he’s at the very least selling these people equipment for their own work. Would they not be doing the same thing, thus making it best to collaborate?

“No… I wouldn’t even know what to do with it if I did,” Kravitz says, hoping it might even come across as a joke from his floundering in the lab.

Taako releases his shoulders, but his voice remains the same. “ Someone would.”

The insinuation makes Kravitz think of his current client.

He can’t help but worry for her intentions, but puts his faith in her for now--he hasn’t done anything irreversible yet, either.

Taako leaves him to his work then, sitting at a computer just a few feet away and typing like a madman. Kravitz’s task is more complicated than before, but something he knows how to do. He throws himself into it entirely and tries not to think about the place he’s in and the things he’s doing. The help he’s providing, as small as it is, to a horrible criminal.

A small glance to the side lends him an eyeful of Taako. The elf is concentrated and stone faced with the light of the monitor illuminating his dark face. Like this, it’s easier to see the bags under his eyes and the bleeding of the gloss around his lips. He’s a beautiful man, Kravitz would never doubt that.

The image of Taako’s bloody hands flashes through his head.

How does a pretty man like him get into work like this?

They’re more similar than Kravitz first thought in this moment, both trying to decipher each other’s motives and character. Taako’s more direct, naturally, and has reason to be. It’ll take a while before Kravitz gets even an inkling of information out of this guy.

But this scene in and of itself is also useful. Taako does not appear to be some grand villain plotting the end of the world in the basement of his own home. He looks tired and worn out, working nonetheless and stifling yawns behind his hand. Kravitz decides, then, that his motive must be personal. It contradicts the information he had before in which Flip Wizard was proven to be the hub of a circle of powerful necromancers. He provides them equipment, sure, but is there any reason to believe they have the same motive? Perhaps Taako is just a distributor. Perhaps he’s innocent in some small way.

Kravitz tears his eyes away from the wizard before he can be caught staring again and continues to sort the papers before him.

It’s a natural part of being a private investigator to be curious, he says to himself. It’s his job to figure this guy out.

Once he’s finished, he stands from his seat and sets the sorted papers into clear piles on the edge of the desk. “All of these are organized,” Kravitz announces, “do you have anymore?”

Taako’s ears twitch up at the sound of his voice, as if he forgot Kravitz was here at all. He casts a look at him over his shoulder, then finally stands up. “No, that’s good for today. Shit, you actually did that pretty fast, dude.” The praise is somewhat fulfilling after everything he’s been through today, at least, and Kravitz watches on as Taako flips through the papers. “Yeah, you’re good to go for today--you coming back tomorrow?”

Like he has a choice. “If it’s all the same to you, then yes. Same time?”

Taako nods and reaches into one of the drawers on the desk for a pad of paper and pen. “Yeah, same time. I’ll have Angus let you in again. Mind picking some stuff up for me, though?”

“I… sure, write it down?”

“Step ahead of you.” He scribbles a few things in a list on the paper, folds it in half, and approaches Kravitz with another sly smile. He’ll have to get used to that look, won’t he? “In all seriousness, you didn’t fuck up today, and it’d be cool if you continued to not fuck it up. I wouldn’t mind seeing a handsome face besides my own down in this dank place all the time.”

Kravitz is unable to keep his face from reddening and hopes it isn’t visible under the low lights of the laboratory as Taako leads him back to the exit. Crude and horrid as he is, Taako is still an incredibly beautiful man, and Kravitz is a weak one. “I, uh, I appreciate it--I also hope I don’t fuck it up?”

Given fucking it up meant he would lose not only his lead but probably his life? Right, it’d be good to not do that.

Taako snorts a laugh just as they reach the bottom of the stairs. “Remember,” he murmurs, low and tempting as he steps directly into Kravitz’s space. The elf’s hands hook into the belt loops on the sides of his pants and hold Kravitz still while he looks up at him through thick, dark lashes. “Try anything funny and you’ll be the next piece of data on my table to chop up, hm?”

A chill runs straight down Kravitz’s back, followed by another at the feeling of Taako’s hands on his hips. “I’ll stay on your side of the experimenting,” he promises and watches the smile on Taako’s face spread into a grin.

“Maybe you are a bit of a good boy after all.” With a flourish of finality, Taako pushes him away and turns back to the lab with a wave over his shoulder. “I’ll see you then, Cheez-Its.”

Kravitz doesn’t bother trying to correct him and heads up the stairs.

For the first day on the job in the basement of a necromancer’s house, things went better than they could have. He’s still alive, still has a job, and a few suspicions about where to take this case. Taako is a wily, clever man, and he’ll be an entire puzzle in and of himself to solve. But this isn’t Kravitz’s first rodeo.

Only when he’s in the safety of his own home and doesn’t feel eyes watching his entire walk back does Kravitz breathe a sigh of relief. He heads to where he left his phone and picks it up immediately, ringing the same familiar number on speed dial.

She picks up almost immediately, despite the late hour. “How are things?”

“Good,” he says, not wanting to spare every detail. “I’ll be working undercover as his assistant for a while until I can get anything concrete. What would you like for me to be sending you?”

“Tell me about his current research.”

For some reason, it takes him by surprise.

Up until now this has just been about tracking the Flip Wizard down and finding him. Kravitz has always assumed his current client wanted to find and out him, get the man arrested for his crimes against humanity.

But she wants to know what he’s doing. It goes deeper than arresting a criminal, and suddenly, Kravitz has to separate himself from the law entirely. He’s never been a policeman. There’s nothing in his line of work that even guarantees an adherence to the law or justice. He just does as he’s told.

He has to tell himself that nothing is concrete yet, and things may not be as bad as they appear from the outside. Kravitz retrieves a folded paper from his pocket, the same one Taako must have slipped into his pants earlier. He opens it with one hand and reads down the list of top-secret necromancer materials he was given to retrieve.

Eggs (large dozen)
Pearl couscous (the big tricolored ones, if u cant read labels)
Ground beef (2lbs)
2 onyons onions

“I’ll send you updates when I can,” he says and puts his phone away as soon as she hangs up.

Chapter Text

In the twenty four hours Kravitz has before he’s to go back into work with Taako, he thinks a lot. This story only continues to grow larger and larger, and he looks over all the sides involved now that he has a better understanding of it. There’s Taako, naturally, and all of his customers. Kravitz’s own client whose motives he can’t determine. Then there’s the relative ‘good’ he’s been raised with, the ‘right’ answer by any other means.

The small task Taako gave to Kravitz isn’t a hard one. He’s able to pick everything up on a regular trip to the grocery for himself, save one item. It bothers him enough he considers and even attempts to email Taako about it only for it to come right back with an error about an invalid address.

Because nothing to do with Taako can be easy. Still, he’d rather not get off on the wrong foot this early on over something so small. There’s plenty of time before he has to return to Taako’s lab, and he had kind of wanted to check out more of the school. He figures there should be no problem with going to see him during school hours if they met there yesterday as well.

Kravitz leaves his home empty handed with the grocery list in his hand, his own notes scribbled on the back and a dark coat tucked around his shoulders. Though it isn’t raining today, the ground is still wet and the air just muggy enough to make wearing multiple layers unpleasant.

Students on the campus grounds are bundled up neatly in their robes with bags slung over their shoulders, paying no mind to the heavy air as they run from building to building. Older students mill about more calmly with books and binders beneath their arms or held tight to their chests. The more he thinks about his situation, the odder it gets--it’s completely normal, isn’t it? Today he isn’t meeting with a necromancer to discuss an ungodly collaboration; he’s just stopping by to ask a guy about some couscous.

A guy who’s also a necromancer. And also a renowned professor. And Kravitz stops himself from thinking before he can get too tied up in the same train of thought that’s been bothering him the past twenty four hours.

By the time he makes it up to the tower, he remembers he doesn’t really know Taako’s schedule all that well. Or at all. He settles instead with making a trip around the floor and looking into each laboratory once discovering he isn’t in his main office like yesterday. It’s nearly the next hour, and unless the class periods are especially long, Kravitz can only hope it means the period will be over soon.

Kravitz finds Taako easily enough on the third lab he peers into. The elf is at the head of the room near a whiteboard, jotting a few things down messily before looking over his shoulder and saying something to a student. The rest of the class laughs uproariously, likely at their fellow classmate’s expense, and Kravitz is the only one able to see Taako’s smile when he turns back to the board and away from class.

Most of the students are teenagers. They stand around tables full of lab equipment turned upside down and waiting to dry, signalling the end of the period. While some are grinning widely and chatting to each other in excitement, others appeared to be completely drained and pale when Taako continues speaking. Kravitz supposes there’s only two real responses to Taako’s eccentric behavior, and evidently, he’s up the majority of these teenagers’ alleys.

A student raises they hand with a question, and Taako stares her down evenly before the same cocky grin splits his face. He finger-guns the student with his answer, receiving more laughter.

Taako is a completely different man while he’s teaching. He’s light on his feet, spinning with every turn and smirking at every student he speaks to. His lab coat isn’t buttoned at all as opposed to last night where it was at least halfway done, and his highly decorated hat is tilted just enough to seem nonchalant, but Kravitz has a feeling is done on purpose.

He’s bright and charismatic, like the hint Kravitz got the day prior when they met.

In his own lab, he was completely different.

Just as Kravitz feels something like sympathy for the magician stirring, the elf’s eye averts and meets his through the window. He blinks, smile faltering for half a second, before returning to his class. They’re dismissed a good few minutes before the chime of the clocktower rings, and most of them begin heading out in a herd. Kravitz smiles as he notices Taako tap the shoulder of the kid who raised her hand earlier, handing her a paper with scribbled notes on it. The teen immediately brightens up and rushes out the door after her friends with the paper stuffed messily in her bag.

Taako follows the tail-end of the class out the room to meet Kravitz. “Couldn’t wait to see me tonight?” he says, in a way that’s just not-joking enough to know Taako’s only keeping appearances for the students within earshot.

He won’t let himself be embarrassed this time, though. Kravitz pulls out the list from his pocket, watching Taako’s brows shoot up to his hairline when he hands it to him. “I wasn’t sure about one of the items, so I thought I’d… ask?”

Taako stares at him blankly. “You came out here, to my work, to ask about groceries?”

“Well...put it that way, I guess so.”

Taako glances around the class at the students still filtering out of the room and the few faculty milling about. Then Taako takes a step forward and smooths out the collar of Kravitz’s coat with a leisurely smile. “Could’ve just texted me, babe--well, I guess not, huh?”

He won’t let Taako make a fool out of him in public, goddammit, he won’t give him the upper hand--and yet Kravitz feels his ears reddening, more at the odd intimacy than anything. More shame for feeling something when the elf touches him than anything. He’s a horrid, criminal man , he berates himself. “Figured it was best to come ask and get it right rather than fuck up this early.”

The corners of Taako’s mouth twitch, fighting back an actual smile behind his smirk. “I’ll give you credit for that,” he says, voice lower to avoid any eavesdroppers, “but you should really stay the fuck away unless I tell you to do something, yeah?”

Kravitz nods. “Yeah.”

Nonetheless, Taako gives him clearer instructions that are only just slightly teasing given the simplicity of the task Kravitz was given. The moment Kravitz says he understands, Taako puts his hands on the center of his back and shoves him towards the exit, telling Kravitz he’ll “see him at his place, wink” before returning to his lab.

Of course he’ll show, Kravitz thinks as if Taako could hear his thoughts, that’s the entire reason he’s putting up with him in the first place. He returns home with a good five more hours until he has to leave for ‘work’ and takes what time he has to try and relax and mentally prepare himself for tonight. He does the same before going out on a case or leaving to interview someone, but the mindset of a detective and a lab assistant are different.

After their earlier interaction, Kravitz feels slightly better when approaching the house this time. It isn’t quite comfortable, given it’s still a necromancer’s home and he’s very much so still in danger, but it’s easier than last time. Angus greets him at the backdoor, takes the groceries, and runs off to the kitchen as Kravitz opens the basement door. Everything is fine going in; he’ll do his work, talk to Taako about whatever he wants, and leave in a few hours.

Regardless of what he does, Taako is still a man; he saw it at the school. He’s a person just like anyone else. Every horrible figure in history and bad person still had a life, and sometimes they aren’t as horrid monsters as they’re made out to be. There could still be a chance Kravitz has only misunderstood Taako’s motives. But the only way he would be able to tell is if he opened up to the possibility of it. He has to believe in the teacher he saw earlier today, smiling and helping his students with a concealed kindness.

“I’ve arrived, Taako?” he calls once he reaches the bottom of the stairs, not seeing any immediate signs of life besides the lights turned on overhead.

A voice further into the lab responds. “Yeah, over here. Don’t touch anything, I swear to fucking god.”

If he wants to take this job seriously and make something of it, he has to change his outlook on it.

He isn’t a detective working undercover to trip Taako up; he’s his new lab assistant, ready and eager to help the professor out.

After crossing a few rooms, he can see where one has been left open and the eerie glow of a dim green light is streaming in from the edges of the entrance. He can just hear the sounds of small clicks and the sound of something light being dragged, and Kravitz rounds into the room without a second thought.

Taako is sitting in the middle of the room with his legs crossed and back turned to him. His ears perk up as Kravitz enters. Before he can speak, Taako snaps his fingers and points to a table against the wall behind him, not looking back at him. “Metal table, on top of the smallest box.”

Kravitz glances over in the direction Taako sends him and makes his way across the room. “Good evening to you too,” he says, and listens to Taako snort in amusement as he picks up the object on top of the only box on the table. The device has a good weight in his hand, and just from its bulky make he can tell it’s old. A very, very old phone.

“Burner,” Taako explains, as if he can see Kravitz despite his back still being turned, “only number in it is mine, you can text and call me through it. Don’t suggest using it for anything else though, it’s kinda shite.”

“Thanks, I’ll need it.” Must be something about the age that makes it easier to maintain, Kravitz assumes. It isn’t his first burner, but the first to be heavily monitored by whatever electrical mastermind Taako has referenced before. He stuffs it into his pocket without another thought; it’d look suspicious if he were to pick it apart now. He’s on the clock, and Taako will want to see him working. “What are you doing tonight?”

Just as he’s about to walk in front of Taako to face him, the elf tilts his head back to look at Kravitz, chin pointed up and to the side.

At this angle, he can finally see the number of cords and wires sticking out of the man’s face.

That same droopy eyed, empty smirk is back on his lips as he speaks. “Just arts and crafts.”

Half a dozen wires are connected to his face, three on either side of his face under his jaw, atop his cheekbones, and directly beside his eyes. In this lighting Kravitz can just barely see where they’re very obviously digging into the flesh and not just pasted on top of his skin--they’re deep in there.

Looking at the ground, there’s plenty more wires coming from the same large device across the room, running beneath his clothes to who knows where.

Taako lifts up his hand where another wire is running into the flesh on the back, not unlike an IV, and he points to the metal tower all the wires are streaming from. “I need another set of hands to monitor everything--you go stand over there, touch exactly what I tell you to. Try anything funny and you’ll get a couple of these guys running through your eyes instead, ‘kay?”

What are they ,’ Kravitz wants to ask, rendered unable by the twists and turns in his stomach that leave him incapable of speaking. As he walks towards the machine, he recognizes a few dark spots on the ground that are undeniably blood--and far more of it than he would like to see.

On the floor, Taako holds out one of his hands casually and inspects his nails as if he’s simply hanging out in a waiting room. “Only gonna say this once, but like, since also I’m the one on the receiving end, I can be convinced to repeat if you don’t hear me.” Kravitz inspects the board of switches and screens at the top of the machine while Taako speaks, nodding to show he’s listening.

The instructions he gives are simple enough, press this, adjust this, write down values at such and such increments. Disturbingly, it’s just like a regular science experiment--with Taako on the other side of the cutting board. The elf seems to pay the idea no mind, and Kravitz has to wonder if he’s done this before. To himself? To someone else? Smudges and fingerprints on the clean surface of the equipment suggests it’s at least been touched before.

Taako claps his hands and rubs them together after giving Kravitz a minute to adjust himself to the equipment. “Alright, big boy, hit that nice and shiny A1 lever, pretty blue button, and slowly bring it up to three-point-oh!” he directs once again despite his earlier words. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

Kravitz brings his hand to the designated lever.

And stalls.

He glances up to look at Taako over the top of the machine. The elf is sitting casually with one knee up now, arms crossed over it and chin leaning on top of them. From this point, Kravitz can better see the three wires that disappear beneath his sleeves, two in his collar, and a few more along his legs. When Taako notices he hasn’t done anything, his smirk falls and he quirks a brow.

“What’s the hold up, bub?”

“Uh,” Kravitz falters, looking between the lever and the man sitting before him. “Just, well… is this… gonna hurt you?”

Taako’s eyes widen twice their size and his mouth falls open. Those plush lips hang there for a few moments, closing a few times before he simply stops altogether, pinches the bridge of his nose, and then lets out a loud laugh. “You’re fucking something , aren’t you, Krav?”

“What?” His face scrunches up in disdain. “For not wanting to actively hurt someone?”

“Uh, yeah? Or more like… giving a shit in general.” Taako changes his position so only one arm is resting on his knee, and he grins up at Kravitz with crooked teeth. “Not very common in this business.”

Kravitz’s brows furrow together, and before he can be mocked further, he flips the switch, presses a button, and begins turning one of the dials in a few quick motions.

Immediately, Taako grunts, fingers tightening his hand into a fist before they relax again. His smile is strained but persistent, and if Kravitz takes a closer look, he can see where two of the wires on his arms lit up at the ends. The skin around the points of entry darken, and he can’t tell whether they’re extracting fluid, administering it, or something else entirely. But numbers begin to pop up on the monitor, and that’s what matters. Kravitz writes them down on the clipboard provided dutifully.

Once they’re down, he grabs the dial again. “Four-point-zero,” he says evenly and begins to turn. The moment Taako makes another noise, Kravitz has to swallow a lump in his throat. He writes down numbers. “Five.”

“Hit A4 through 12.” He does. He turns the dial again.

Taako curses under his breath, covering his face with one hand. More of the wires have changed now, with darker spots opening up wherever they pierce his skin. A drop of blood leaks out of one on the back of his hand, and Kravitz only just notices that there’s already a steady trickle of blood down either side of his neck from the ones on his jaw.

Though he doesn’t know what they mean, the numbers are increasing.

“Six-point-zero,” Kravitz says after he’s turned the dial, because he forgets, honestly. Even though he isn’t the one being experimented on, his hands and forehead are sweaty, stomach tied in full nets of knots. He glances back up in time to see Taako’s eyes clench shut as he groans, fists tightening and another trickle of blood coming out of the spots on his hands.

Slowly, Kravitz begins to turn the dial backwards, watching Taako’s face scrunch up in confusion as it’s turned all the way off. His head immediately snaps up once he’s noticed. “The fuck do you think you’re doing? We weren’t finished.”

“I’m--I’m not going to stand here and torture you--”

Taako cuts him off with a harsh glare. “We... weren’t... finished .”

There’s no smile he’s hiding behind, no playfulness or teasing in his eyes.

There isn’t any room for discussion here.

Before him, Taako is still sitting up, but hunched over his legs. His face is tired and gaunt with blood running down the sides and mixing with beads of sweat. Atop his knee, one of his hands continues to spasm, fingers curling in and out sporadically. Though he appears to have little power or control over his body, his eyes remain true, and they are steel.

Kravitz has to keep going or leave. And that isn’t an option.

Trying to be a faithful lab assistant alone is useless; he’s here to gain information. He has to stay here and keep playing by the rules.

With a nod, Kravitz turns his attention back to the board in front of him and begins restoring everything to where it was. He tries not to notice Taako’s leg curling up, kicking out again when he moves the dial, or the scientist’s groans and pitched whines of pain can only just barely be heard over the pounding of his pulse in his ears. Or the white lab coat hanging off Taako’s shoulders grows redder with every passing second.

He tries not to notice all of these things, and instead, Kravitz turns the dial, picks up his pen, and continues writing down numbers.

When he leaves later that night, he doesn't think at all the entire way home. He opens the door to his apartment, takes off his coat and shoes, vomits his dinner in the bathroom, and goes to sleep. It isn’t the horrific scene he just witnessed that follows him home, but the image of a professor, smiling bright and teaching his students with wild gestures and animations, a genuine phantom of a charismatic man that haunts him.

The burner phone in his pocket doesn’t ring for a while.

Chapter Text

The break Taako gives Kravitz is more than a relief. It feels like far more than just two days he’s had to deal with this man, and he spends as much of his time out and about as he can. Locking himself up in his room is impossible with so many thoughts running around in his head, and Kravitz has to remind himself the world is still normal.

He goes to parks, watches families interact and walking together. Couples hold hands. Children play and run around. It’s odd, how your life can so quickly be turned upside down and changed for the worse so quickly, and yet the world keeps turning. Part of him wants to scream at every person who passes by for not knowing what’s happening right now. How could they be unaware, how could they not understand what’s happening beneath their very feet?

Instead, Kravitz continues walking, repeating the names of every object in sight to keep himself from losing his mind too young.

Although he doesn’t return to Raven’s office (there’s no telling if Taako has some kind of eye on him or is tracking the burner), he helps her in what ways he can at home. He goes through reports, listens to calls, and gives people follow ups in Raven’s stead. Even if Kravitz is now full-time on this case, he still has an actual job, and he can’t just let the work pile up and rot. The monotony of it is comforting in a way. He’s relieved to read reports of Raven assisting the police--doing actual good work.

At least one of them is.

On the first full week without a word from Taako, Kravitz takes a different route on his usual walk. He takes to the direction of the academy, just because, with no intention of stepping through the gates. Without needing to see Taako, he has no real reason to enter the school, and nothing he would do even if he did. It’s a lovely campus to walk around, but the connotation associated with the place leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

Kravitz takes a turn down a different road as soon as the tall towers of Triple A are in sight. Even though he doubts it, school did just recently get out, and he isn’t in the mood for even a chance of running into that horrible wizard. Perhaps taking a different route than usual truly was a bad idea, given his head is already spinning back around Taako and his horrific experiments, thinking about all the red, the wires, the scalpels--

“Mr. Kravitz, sir?”

He snaps out of his thoughts at once, stopping in his tracks immediately. In front of him, the same child from Taako’s home is standing before him, looking up at Kravitz with a quizzical expression. What was his name again, that… “Angus,” he says slowly, watching for any disapproval on the kid’s face to indicate he’s wrong before continuing, “school just let out, didn’t it. Are you heading home?”

The kid shifts his book bag higher up on his shoulders before speaking. “Yes, sir! Taako has to stay at the school longer, if that’s why you’re here.”

It takes a good amount of effort to conceal the look of contempt on his face. “No, I was just taking a walk. Is…” Kravitz worries his lip between his teeth for a minute, looking away from the boy. Images of an elf bent in over himself, leaking red onto the floor, looms in his mind. “Is Taako… alright?”

If Angus is confused, he hides it well and simply nods. “Yeah, he’s great! Last night we went out for minigolf with his friends and he didn’t even snap the club when he lost this time!”

Kravitz can see the scene in his head quite clearly, from Taako’s reddened angry face to Angus laughing as he breaks some poor employee’s club. It’s another piece of the ‘Taako’ puzzle that doesn’t fit with any of the pieces he already has, but definitely goes somewhere. He sets it to the side in his mind for later.

Smiling, Kravitz pats his shoulder. “I’m glad to hear that--are you fine walking home alone?”

Angus nods enthusiastically, and takes off running down the street with a wave over his shoulder. “Just fine, thank you sir!”

He’s a bright kid. Kravitz can see how his backpack is stuffed far fuller than any of the other children running about; Angus will be going places. The only concern Kravitz has is his caretaker, and suddenly he’s remembering the normalcy with which Angus greeted him when he first arrived at his home. How much does he know about what his guardian does? How much does Taako tell him?

Kravitz heads back to his apartment after that. His head is by no means clearer, but any new piece of information or insight into what he’s working with is appreciated. It’s enough to sit with and try to digest the entire rest of the night.

But as he’s removing his coat in the entryway, the blinking light of a phone on the countertop gains his attention first. Immediately he reaches in his pocket to find his personal cell is right there, as it always has been, and then he understands.

It’s his ‘work’ phone.

[2:06:30] Taako: 6oclock. Front door.

Like receiving summons from the devil for his own soul.

Kravitz hopes he never becomes used to the sensation of his organs dropping to his feet every time he approaches Taako’s house. Not only would he prefer to end this charade quickly, but the disgust of what he knows and the horrified anticipation for what is to come is an unbearable recipe. It’s lighter outside, more so than usual, and the slight change in scene helps Kravitz as he approaches the front door for the first time.

Like usual, Angus appears at the door, his bright smile an offensive contrast against Kravitz’s thoughts. “Hello, sir! Taako’s almost done, we can go wait!” He holds the door open for Kravitz to step inside with a quiet ‘thank you’ for lack of any other reaction.

It’s different from coming in the back where the hall is dark and the basement is all there is. Here, it’s as if this is an actual house people live in, or something. The entryway is tall and bright with fancy light fixtures hanging at different heights from the ceiling. It’s open, leading from room to room without any doors besides for what he assumes are bedrooms and bathrooms. The walls are different colors in every room, and he can pick out Taako’s eccentricities in the decor.

Angus leads him down the hall while chatting about what happened after they met up earlier today. It takes a good amount of effort to at least act like Kravitz is listening while also inspecting the home for what he can.

Given what he expected from Taako’s personality, it’s… normal.

Disturbingly normal.

There’s no lab equipment, no godawful experiments, no ritual sacrifices or anything. Just some weird everyday objects splatted with ugly patterns and hung on the wall as makeshift interior design. But as they proceed farther down the hall, something else catches Kravitz’s attention, almost enough to make him stop right there.

He can smell something.

His stomach drops yet again as Angus’s words blur out entirely, trying to pick apart what it could be. It smells like… sulfur, maybe? Sulfur is a pretty distinct smell. Even if he doesn’t really know what it is. Anything beyond that is difficult to grasp, and he goes through his head trying to remember if any of the chemicals Taako used in the lab had any similar scent. There’s still so much he doesn’t know, and here he is, walking straightforward into the bear’s den, headfirst into--

Angus pulls him into the room at the end of the hall, and Kravitz looks on at Taako dumbfounded. His first thought is ‘how strange, he keeps this many lab coats,’ until he realizes it’s merely an apron.

And Taako is cooking.

For just a second, Taako appears just as surprised to see him standing there, but quickly masks it with Smug Smile #3, the casual ‘I expect everything’ one. He turns halfway to face the two of them and pats Angus’s head as the boy runs over to the refrigerator to pick something out. “Surprised you made it, handsome.”

“Did I come too early?” Kravitz asks in lieu of a greeting, despite having shown up at six on the dot. This is entirely different from anything that he knows should be happening, and the lack of mental preparation isn’t helping. He’s ready for blood and gore, disturbing labs and experiments, not… dinner?

“Nope,” Taako responds with a wave of his hand. He doesn’t stop stirring something in a pot as he speaks. “Hope you haven’t eaten yet, ‘cuz this is gonna be a good one.”

Angus pipes up across the room, now sitting at the table with a book in his hand and a glass of orange juice in front of him. “It’s my favorite!”

“I, uh, no, I haven’t.” Kravitz finally moves into the kitchen and comes to stand beside Taako, likely the closest he’s ever willingly put the two of them. He isn’t quite sure what the elf is making, but even he isn’t too proud to admit that it smells wonderful. Something with meat, lots of broth, vegetables, and… some other stuff he can’t identify. The most Kravitz is capable of making is anything with a “microwave instructions” label on the back.

It’s a wonder he didn’t smell what Taako was cooking the minute he walked in. Now, the aroma seems to be wrapping around him physically. As thick and almost constricting as it is, it makes his mouth water. Definitely not any home cooked meal that would warrant nostalgic thoughts, but sharp and delicious nonetheless.

He catches Taako staring at him out of the corner of his eye, and instead of backing down, Taako’s grin grows wider. “Think of it as a reward.”

“A reward?”

Taako nods, turning back to his cooking for a minute. “Most people try and run away with some goodies or data by now, and you’ve checked out alright. Which doesn’t mean I trust you by any means, but hey, not having to put you down is a good start, huh?”

He lifts the spoon to his mouth and tastes it, slurping the stew loudly before humming and putting it back in the pot. With just a look over his shoulder as a signal, Angus is already up with the three bowls that had been set on the table and handing them to Taako to fill. Meanwhile the kid pulls out a bowl of salad from the fridge and places it in the center of the table. That appears to be all Taako lets him do as he sits right back down when it’s set out and returns to reading his book.

“Grab that shit outta the oven for me, will you?” Taako asks, glancing at Kravitz, and there’s nothing he can do but comply. The oven mitt is right beside the oven, and Kravitz waits until Taako is out of the way to open the oven and retrieve its contents. He doesn’t know too much about cooking, but it looks like some kind of… flaky… quiche-y thing. Whatever it is, his mouth nearly gapes at the warm scent that flows out of the oven at once. The cold of the winter air from outside is entirely forgotten, and Kravitz nearly doesn’t close the oven just to continue enjoying the heat from it.

“Are we gonna invite Magnus and Merle over, Taako?” Angus pipes up, and Taako immediately pulls a face.

“Hell no--we’ll call them over another day, don’t worry.”

Kravitz tucks the unfamiliar names into his back pocket. Even if it feels like he isn’t getting much done just by sitting here and having dinner with the subject of his investigation, it may be the most useful opportunity to obtain information yet.

After his time alone thinking, Kravitz has divided this job into two parts; uncovering this mad scientist’s work and secrets, and evaluating his character. The two feed directly into each other, and thinking about it like this makes the work easier altogether. It’s simply a matter between switching his focus when obtaining information and learning to value anything he can pick up.

This is going to be an extended case. To settle in for the long run, he not only has to play his cards just right, but learn Taako’s tells as well.

Taako ushers him out of the kitchen and into the adjacent dining area after setting everything neatly on the table. It’s a circular table with mix-matched tiles on top in a variety of patterns in colors that really don’t fit at all. Taking a closer look at the silverware and dishes, Kravitz realizes that none of the plates or forks or anything match. It’s as if someone shopped for each individual piece of cutlery and dishes and picked them out by hand based solely on how they looked alone. He glances up at the elf portioning out the food, his hair tied up in a bun toppling over his head, a bright green undershirt, and a torn purple sweater on top. Taako doesn’t bother taking his apron off as he sits. He has a feeling that may be exactly what Taako did.

Even so… Kravitz examined the generously filled bowl handed to him. They’re pretty dishes.

He waits a moment longer, watching the family out of the corner of his eye to see if there’s any ritual to be followed before eating. Almost the moment Taako’s bowl hits the table, he picks up a spoon and digs in, Angus following suit. Kravitz does as well, nearly burning his tongue on the fresh-off-the-oven meal prepared.

Though it hurts, he doesn’t give any outward reaction.

Because it’s good.

Somehow, just like this, still so hot it nearly burns, it’s… wonderful. Angus and Taako dig in as if they don’t notice a thing, and Kravitz has to wonder if his tongue is delicate or this is intended. As odd as it is to comprehend, it’s as if the temperature of the dish in and of itself is a flavor, another ingredient. There’s some kind of pepper, some beef, thyme, and fire itself.

Kravitz surprises himself with the thought that Taako must be a good cook to be able to manipulate flames into being cooperative within a dish. He has to wonder if there isn’t any magic involved, and though the practice isn’t uncommon, he’s never heard of or even imagined it might be used in this way.

“Taako,” he says when he finally manages to tear himself away from his food, only to find the elf already staring at him across the table, “this is--incredible?”

“Don’t sound too surprised, homie, I’ve got way more up my sleeve than just this.” Taako punctuates the sentence with a wink before turning his head to Angus. “Kick ass at school, kid?”

“No, but I got to speak with one of my teachers.”

“Stickin’ it to your professors, huh?” He picks up a forkful of salad and continues speaking while chewing. “Screw authority.”

Angus’s brows furrow together. “But Taako, you’re a professor. Doesn’t that make you authority?”

“Yeah, and don’t you fuckin’ forget it.” Though the words come out harsh, Kravitz watches Taako wink at Angus briefly only to return to eating. Even if he’s trying to play the whole parent thing down by concealing his emotions, the smile on Angus’s face is much harder to hide. As difficult as it is to believe, all the evidence is laid out before him--the dinner, the nice home, the education--Taako is a good father. Parent. Guardian. Whatever it is, he’s good at it.

Angus glances over at Kravitz to find him staring, and he immediately works on swallowing his food quickly to speak. “Um, Mr. Kravitz, sir--”

“Just Kravitz is fine,” he reassures, earning a shy smile.

“Kravitz… well, you aren’t a magic user or anything, are you? A lot of the people who live in this city usually are since the academy is here.”

“My parents were,” he answers. “We moved here when I was young and I stayed ever since--but, ah, like you said, it’s hard for a non-magic user to find valuable work here.” He leaves out every reason and story as to why he’s remained here, simply hoping it won’t be asked upon. Not only does Kravitz very obviously not want to give himself away, but the story itself is rather personal.

He catches Taako staring at him across the table, and the elf holds his eye for a few seconds before returning to his food. “Angus here is gonna become the world’s most annoying arcanist once he graduates in a few years,” Taako provides, and from the flustered look on Angus’s face, it must not be too insulting.

“No, sir, I don’t want to be an arcanist!” is all he responds with. Guess the ‘annoying’ part isn’t too bad.

Kravitz dips back into the conversation. “What do you want to do then, Angus?”

Immediately, the boy’s eyes light up, and Kravitz knows he’s struck the right chord.

“A detective!”

And then he’s choking on his own food.

Taako naturally diverts the conversation with something along the lines of ‘look, he thinks so too,’ while Kravitz attempts to regain his composure. Right, a detective. Of course. Kravitz wouldn’t know anything about that, anything at all . It’s not as if Angus knows what he’s doing and is trying to smoke him out, though. But the mere coincidence alone is unsettling.

After apologizing, Kravitz returns to conversation with the child, speaking of academics and skipping grades. He knew Angus was bright, but didn’t expect him to already be taking high school level courses and soon to enter into university at Triple A. Taako’s attention switches between them as they talk, and Kravitz nearly forgets the elf is even there for a while due to his silence.

But Angus is a good kid. He’s more than happy to engage in conversation and tell Kravitz all about his interests and future, and Kravitz is more than happy to listen. He still isn’t quite sure just why he was called here tonight, or what intentions Taako has might lie beneath the surface, so he goes along with what he can. There’s no point in becoming worked up over something he can’t predict--and so far, the night has been just fine.

Angus breaks off to talk with Taako about something specific he mentioned about school, not even looking at Kravitz to do so.

Guiltily, he wonders if maybe there are no hidden intentions here.

What if Taako really did just invite him to dinner, and he’s been painting him as a maniacal villain the entire time?

Kravitz digs into the second dish Taako had him pulled from the oven earlier. Like the stew, it’s remarkable. The meal itself is delicious and home cooked, more of a treat than anything he’s had in months. He’s being allowed not only to sit next to Taako’s kid, but talk with him extensively. Nothing is being regulated or hidden here.

It’s just a normal dinner.

With that in mind, he tries harder to naturally enjoy himself.

To Taako, what he does is simply work. Kravitz is simply a coworker. This is just them getting to know each other without the tense backdrop of the laboratory. To him, they’re just two normal people, doing normal things, for whatever reason.

To Taako, this isn’t weird at all. So Kravitz has to pretend he feels the same.

“Are you from here as well, Taako?” Kravitz asks during a lull in conversation.

As if he forgot he was even here, Taako glances over at him with raised brows, hesitating. He clicks his tongue before answering. “Nope. Neither is Angus--but the staff here begged me to come and teach, so what can a guy do?”

Before Kravitz can come up with a response, Angus is already speaking again, correcting Taako’s history of how he got the job. It doesn’t provide many details though, and Kravitz can hear the unspoken implication of Taako’s words; you’re not getting anything else .

And he doesn’t get anything else out of him. They keep up casual conversation about where Kravitz is from and other places around the city. Naturally Taako has far more street smarts than him, filling him in on the reputations and rumors around any area Kravitz enjoys visiting. He all but dies laughing once Kravitz mentions a park he likes to take walks in, unaware it’s a popular hotspot for prostitution.

Even if it is at the cost of his dignity, Kravitz allows himself to be made the butt of every joke. It keeps Taako talking and smiling, and the conversation keeps going. Any lulls are filled by Angus with some bright question that Kravitz is more than happy to answer.

The food is good. The room is warm. The two sitting with him maintain smiling faces as they chat.

Surprisingly, it’s one of the better nights Kravitz has had this week.

At the end of it all, Angus jumps up with his dishes and offers to take Kravitz’s as well, though he simply stands and takes them to the sink himself. Taako is already running his under warm water and flitting about the kitchen as he packs leftovers into containers and bags, tossing them in the fridge with little concern for the rest of the food he knocks down on the way. Everything gets shoved inside, and that’s what matters.

Angus, pleasant boy that he is, bids Kravitz a good night before taking off upstairs to finish his homework. He keeps a book tucked under his arm, and only then does he notice Angus must have also been reading the entire time throughout dinner. Kravitz decides then that he’ll be a bright adult, far above the rest.

“Thank you for having me over, Taako,” Kravitz says while he’s cleaning out his dishes, just for the sake of doing something. Taako certainly doesn’t try to stop his guest from putting in his own work. “Your cooking is remarkable.”

“Ch’yeah it is,” Taako scoffs, but he’s smiling. “All we’re confirming is the fact you have tastebuds.”

Kravitz chuckles despite himself and sets the dish he’s washing down in the sink before reaching for a towel to dry his hands. “Angus is an incredibly gifted child. He’s definitely got a future for--what was it, detective work?”

Taako comes to his side and picks up where Kravitz left off washing his own dishes. “His teachers say he should remain in the arcane arts and become a professor. That he could be teaching seminars within a matter of years instead.”

“But he wants to be a detective, doesn’t he?”

Taako hesitates, the water falling like a curtain over the sides of his hand as it stills over a plate. “Yeah. He’s gonna show them all up.”

You’re proud of him , Kravitz wants to say, but holds back. The only way he survived tonight was by allowing his pride to fall, he has a feeling chipping at Taako’s won’t yield as kind results. Perhaps he’ll be able to joke with him by the next time they meet.

“I enjoyed tonight,” he says, straightening out his shirt, “thank you for inviting m--”

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Kravitz freezes where he had been turning to leave the room, the blood in his veins immediately turning to ice. Once he manages the courage to look to Taako, the elf is leaning against the counter, brows raised with only the slightest hint of amusement.

He pushes off the counter and approaches Kravitz, clamping a wet hand tight over his shoulder with just enough pressure to begin pushing him towards the back of the house.

Towards the basement.

“We’ve got work to do.”

The stairway feels colder than ever before. Kravitz allows himself to be led down, once again, and he can only pray the lovely home cooked meal will remain in his body--if not his stomach, then at least his mind.

Chapter Text

“I needed a lot of time to process some information, you know?” Taako says, hands behind his head as he marches them down the stairs. “Besides the work I’m doing, I have to put out results for other stuff I’m working on. This isn’t just one big ol’ lab for one big ol’ project.”

It’s good information to have, and regularly, Kravitz would be delighted for the info. Now he simply wants to leave as quickly as he can.

He anticipated this earlier today, mentally prepared himself and everything.

All that readiness disappeared once they had dinner.

“The work we’re doing… is your own project?” Kravitz asks once they finally reach the end of the stairs.

Taako nods without looking at him. “For now. Later on I’ll probably have you help out with the others, but a lot of the stuff goes hand in hand. It’s just a matter of having enough samples ready to do the same tests that day.”

“And you have enough samples today?”

They don’t stop walking, and the familiar turns through the lab make Kravitz’s skin crawl; they’re headed back to the same area as last time. As they move, Taako shrugs off the apron he’s still wear and pulls his shirt up and off over his head. They stop in the same room from Kravitz’s last visit, and Taako finally turns to meet him with an even stare. “Just need the one.”

The experiments are related, his ears hears.

There’s a combined motive between him and all the others, his eyes see.

This is valuable information, his head decides.

But Kravitz’s body, stone cold, cannot move no matter how hard he tries.

Across the likely once smooth expanse of Taako’s back, an entire orchard of neatly organized veins and welts are growing up and around his entire body. Like flowers before spring, the large bruises and openings threaten to bloom at any moment, as if they would simply reach out of his skin and continue growing up, up out of his body.

Taako turns to him and stares with a cocked brow, and whatever glamor had been keeping his face clean drops, revealing similar marks on his face. They’re in all the same places the wires from last experiment had entered his skin.

“Don’t say anything.”

Kravitz doesn’t know if he’s even capable.

Facing him now, Taako proceeds with the ritual Kravitz had missed last time. He sits on the ground where the covered ends of the same wires are scattered about, gently plucking the caps from their ends and organizing the tangled mess they had been left in. Without any regard for the injuries that are clearly present and no doubt painful, he hooks himself up with every other outlet he had used the week previous. His face doesn’t move the entire time, and Kravitz thinks that, if circumstances were just slightly different, the elf might even hum to himself with how casual this appears to be.

“Cheez-Its,” Taako says, voice catching Kravitz off-guard with how steady he sounds. He doesn’t even bother to correct the nickname as Taako waves him in closer. “Take a look, here--this is the head, it’s made up of a couple parts, mainly the needle, the clasp, and the probe itself…”

Kravitz kneels beside Taako to take in the impromptu lesson on the wire pushed into his hand to examine. He can hear every ounce of teaching experience in Taako’s voice and in the detail he uses to get the point across. Though he can’t understand the purpose or use of the equipment being described, the structure is simple enough, as well as the demonstration on how they’re attached.

“Make sense?”

He nods. “Yes, I think I follow.”

“Good,” Taako returns the nod with a click of his tongue. He takes Kravitz’s hand holding the wire, and Kravitz shamefully finds himself lost in some derailed train of thought about the warmth of Taako’s skin and his eyes this close up as the scientist squeezes his hands around Kravitz. And then he drags Kravitz’s wrist to his back. “Now help hook me up.”

The shiver that runs through Kravitz’s body drags every drop of blood in his veins with it, down to the floor and out his feet. He wants to ask why, or question any part of the situation he’s been put in. Kravitz wants to say he doesn’t deserve this at all, and he doesn’t know if he’s talking about himself or Taako. The wire between Kravitz’s finger is not so daunting alone, but now, with the pressure of attaching it to someone?

The image of Taako, trying to hide his smile around Angus and winking at the boy remains at the forefront of his mind. Kravitz can’t shake it for anything, and part of him doesn’t want to, given it’s somehow important to him.

Taako the beloved teacher, the secretly wonderful father, the genius, and the sample squirming under his own microscope.

The values behind each title don’t add up.

Kravitz nods, listening to Taako’s instructions on where they should be placed, as if the dark spots on his back are not obvious enough. He smooths his thumb over one of the sore spots and mentally repeats the process Taako just described in his head.

Although Kravitz didn’t come into this case with any impure intentions, it’s impossible to deny that Taako is the most beautiful man he’s ever encountered, for better or worse. After being on the receiving end of a few smiles, he’s ashamed to admit he may have thought about what a world where none of this is necessary could have been like. Perhaps they could have met naturally. Perhaps there could have been something more, allowing Kravitz to indulge in his shallow, boyish crush at first sight.

Perhaps his first touch of the man’s bare skin would alleviate pain instead of inflicting it.

(1.) Kravitz hopes the delicacy at his fingertips as he handles Taako’s back speaks louder than any of his words, given none of them seem to have gotten through before. He keeps his touch gentle, as if Taako himself is a mult-imillion gold piece of equipment. At the same time, he feels like Taako hardly cares what he’s even thinking, far more occupied on the experiment at hand.

During the third probe, he can see Taako wince from a slight jolt in his shoulders.

“Taa--”

“Keep. Going .”

Kravitz inserts a dozen wires into Taako’s back along his spine and shoulder blades. The flesh there is tender, and he has to force himself to ignore Taako’s pained reactions. There’s no telling which of them is being hurt more when Kravitz attaches the last clasp to his skin, and for the sake of apologizing, he runs the back of his knuckles up Taako’s spine just once before standing.

(1.) “It’s finished,” Kravitz says, voice barely graduate of a whisper. The room is different from before. Details Kravitz once noticed are now blurred, and he doesn’t wait for Taako’s answer before walking to the same machine he operated the week prior.

“Process is the same,” Taako explains as he repositions himself on the floor with his legs crossed. “Clipboard is there with the numbers to use. Get on with it so we can get out of here faster, yeah? This isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do.”

All the controls are just as they were last week. Kravitz runs his fingers over them without pressing anything, familiarizing himself with the equipment before picking up the clipboard and reading what Taako wrote there. Instead of just barking out the commands, he actually took the time to organize a data sheet with set values for Kravitz to follow and write down.

But the numbers don’t add up. His brows furrow, and he takes the chance to glance up at Taako who doesn’t appear capable of being bothered now. “Taako, are these instructions correct? Not that I’m sure what any of this does , but they seem significantly… different from last time.”

“I don’t make mistakes, sweetheart,” Taako responds without even looking up, far more fascinated with something found under his nails. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and talking like, a little as possible, would be really good actually.”

Wanting to protest and yet being unable, Kravitz nods, and slowly begins flipping switches. It starts off the same as last time, a small twitch in Taako’s fingers being the only indication the machine is actually on. He waits for a second, writes the numbers he sees, and doesn’t announce anything as he begins changing the values on the monitor before him. They increase in higher increments this time, the jumps between numbers more drastic than last time. The same place they stopped the previous try is only the third peg this time.

When he crosses it, Kravitz looks up at Taako. It isn’t as easy to conceal how he’s feeling this time. The elf doesn’t bother acting as if he’s distracted by something else and visibly scrambles his fingers along the floor for any purchase in the stone grooves above the drain to hold onto. His knuckles are white, and the wire leading into the bad of his hand is now a sickening purple.

He doesn’t stop though. Kravitz derives a mantra to help himself, don’t look and keep going, don’t look and keep going, don’t think and keep going , repeatedly in his head so he doesn’t collapse on the spot. Become stone, he tells himself. Don’t care. Don’t care at all for this man you hardly know.

“Hey, uh…” Kravitz clenches his eyes shut tight as Taako speaks up, and it takes a few seconds before he’s able to meet the other’s eye. “That uh, that park you mentioned at dinner--the one I like, made fun of you for going to because hookers hang out there at night?”

“Uh… what about it?”

Taako pauses to close his eyes for just a moment before continuing. The strain and effort he’s putting into simple conversation isn’t lost on Kravitz, and he has to wonder if this is the scientist’s own method of coping. “I’ve got a buddy who hangs out there all the time, says the dirt there is better for gardening than his place, so he’s got a secret uh… garden, shit, that he takes care of there.”

Kravitz amps up the dial once again and ignores Taako’s wince. Talking is helping the both of them right now. “Is that even legal?”

“Given he also grows weed there, so no, not really. But it’s like, kinda hidden in the trees, so he can get away with it until winter--you may have seen it, it’s covered in these bright red flowers, just off one of the roads looping around?”

“Now that you mention it, I actually might have.” It’s a good thing Kravitz technically isn’t police. Even so, the information goes right through one ear and out the other, and seconds later he can’t remember what they’d even been speaking of. It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re holding conversation and not focusing on the actual task at hand.

Kravitz remains steadfast in his work as they speak. While Taako shifts the conversation to another one of his friends, some carpenter in this day and age, Kravitz writes down another set of values and cranks up the dial. Taako stops for a minute to focus on his breathing. He lifts his head when Kravitz doesn’t immediately set to work on the next level, but before he can open his mouth, he turns the knob and watches as another wave of whatever sends Taako reeling.

Is it administering something to his body, Kravitz wonders? A probe is meant to test for something and send readings back, and that must be what he’s writing now. The only other part of the wire is the needle. He can only guess what that piece is doing, if it’s sending some solution in or taking something out. It could have to do entirely with magic, actually, and then he would really not know what they’re doing at all.

At the seventh increment, Kravitz thinks they might be approaching a limit. Yet there’s still five sets of data to collect.

At the eighth, Taako can’t hide the grimace on his face.

At nine, he pounds his fist against the ground, and Kravitz looks away.

Ten, he can hear Taako breathing heavily, controlled and labored to keep calm.

Eleven, Taako’s hands lift as if to tear the wires from his skin, but stops just short of taking action.

Kravitz doesn’t hesitate on the last set, knowing it’s the finale. The sooner they finish, the sooner he can leave. The idea is one he feels will stick as he continues to work here. He cranks up the dial to its final turn, far above the integers used last week.

A single, blood curdling scream echos off the walls of the multi-chambered lab, bouncing back and around Kravitz’s ears at every angle. At first he thinks there might be an intruder, that he will have to hide all the data and equipment before fleeing some secret exit.

But the sound is coming from the man before him, and Kravitz’s hand hasn’t left the dial.

In a rush, he hurriedly writes a slew of messy numbers that he’s only half sure are right, and then he’s turning off the machine entirely. The experiment is done, he should feel relieved. He should be running out the door now that his job is done. Across from him, however, Kravitz watches as Taako is already fiddling with the wires sinking into his skin, his shaking hands struggling to remove them with little care.

The entry wounds are deep purple, green at the edges, and more grotesque than ever before. Blood, half dried, leaking from the sides, and continues flowing freely once Taako unstoppers their exit.

The first thing Kravitz thinks to do is run to meet him. He’s at Taako’s side in a second, kneeling in still warm blood and trying to undo each probe before Taako can damage himself further. The dozen along his back are saved for last, given he knows Taako can’t take them out himself, but by the time he’s undoing their clasps, the elf is already stumbling to his feet. The wounds on his back are messier given the rush to remove them before Taako simply walks away with them still embedded, but done is done.

Kravitz is panting for breath by the time he’s finished, kneeling on the floor and hands cold as the air blows cold over his now wet fingers. He stares down at his hands in bewilderment, not expecting the blood to be there, and can only watch from the corners of his eyes as Taako continues to mill about the room.

“Why do you do this?” Kravitz asks with his head hung low. He can’t watch Taako, not like this, but he can hear him scatter around the lab like a bull moving equipment aside as he needs. ( 2.) Once Taako stops in one place, he hears grunting and a loud curse before his eyes trail up to follow a stream of red marching down the grooved floor and into the center drain.

“This wasn’t my fucking dream , you idiot. I have to.”

Taako exclaims another curse and doubles over across the table he’s in front of. His left arm is clutched tight to his chest while the right snatches his pretty apron from the ground to hold close. After fiddling with a variety of tools at the table, Kravitz watches as Taako moves just enough out of the way to see a glass disk. Inside, an indiscernible lump bathes in a pool of dark red, similar to that which coats the surface of a scalpel thrown haphazardly to the side. The pink apron is wrapped around his arm.

Before Kravitz can even consider retching, Taako continues speaking. “I have to… I have to--before he can fuck it all up, shit… Before he throws everything I’ve done in the goddamn trash...”

Taako is frantic. Part of Kravitz wonders if he even registers his presence at all and isn’t just speaking madness into whatever air will hear him. He’s more than a welcome audience, and now, more stressed and worried than anything, Kravitz presses forward. “ Who ?” he asks. “Why are you doing this to yourself, Taako?”

The elf murmurs something to himself, likely more cursing, as he clutches his injured arm to his chest for just a moment before finally throwing the apron back down to the ground. The once sweet pink frills are entirely soaked in waves of crimson, smeared at the edges. Taako is on the move again as he takes what “sample” he’s collected and moves to another part of the lab. Kravitz remains hot on his heels.

“Bastard thinks he knows what he’s doing… as if I’m not the one who was working with--god, fucking amateurs, fucking dumbass!”

“Taako, your arm--”

He stops, then, as if suddenly aware of Kravitz’s presence. The sudden halt nearly sends the investigator into him, and he quickly takes a step back as Taako whirls around to face him. “Yeah, real pretty, ain’t it?” He holds up his arm, showing off the jagged, mottled area he had experimented on. The red spot is surrounded in a crown of still bleeding bruises from where wires once stuck out. “What a beaut, right? This is the kind of shit I have to put up with, the kind of shit you couldn’t possibly understand. Why are you here, huh, Krav? You know someone in the business? Lost somebody you couldn’t bear to lose?”

(2.) He’s hysteric, Kravitz thinks, there’s little use trying to reason with him. The fire in Taako’s eyes isn’t like that of a predator seeking to hurt him, though.

It’s that of an animal backed into a corner.

He swallows harshly, taking a deep breath before he responds. “...yes, I have.”

Taako reels.

He takes a step back and nearly crashes into a small table with equipment on it, like he hadn’t expected Kravitz to actually have an answer. The tension slowly melts out of his body, enough to notice the dripping sound coming from his own arm as blood continues to present like a leaky faucet. The revelation seems to surprise him, and Taako finally moves to cross the room and pick out a first aid kit. Kravitz doesn’t follow him, but keeps a careful eye across the room as he watches Taako treat himself.

“Yeah?” Taako says after a few long, silent minutes, resuming the conversation as if they’d just left it off. “Well I haven’t.”

The response is loaded with as many answers as it gives questions. It’s far too much for Kravitz to attempt to pick apart, thus he simply nods and slowly walks towards where Taako is sitting at another table filled with papers and empty bottles. Cautiously, giving the scientist every opportunity to continue ranting at him or slap him away, he sits down.

And for whatever reason Kravitz cannot comprehend, he reaches out and pulls Taako’s arm towards him, then the medical kit. The elf watches him critically and Kravitz knows he hasn’t been fully accepted, that this is more of Taako obtaining information on him than any actual moment they could be sharing. Nevertheless, he proceeds, carefully cleaning each small wound on his arm and bandaging them before moving on to the next. The largest injury on his arm remains wrapped, though the bandages are already bleeding through, and Kravitz can only hope Taako has the common sense to get it treated the next day,

There’s no telling how long they spend in the basement of the warm home they’d just had a lovely family dinner in. Upstairs, Angus is likely in bed, sleeping with sound dreams of a bright future and his loving father figure. He couldn’t know about this, could he? Yet Taako appears unconcerned about the amount of bandages that cover his body at this point, all the way up to his neck in nude band-aids. All besides the few on his face and hands can easily be covered with clothing, and whatever else will likely be hidden with another glamor.

To reach one spot on the back of his neck, Kravitz gingerly gathers Taako’s long hair in his hands and pours it over one shoulder. The elf visibly shivers at the sudden rush of cold air to his neck, and Kravitz’s clammy hands must not help. I did this , he thinks, cleaning the wound with alcohol before applying ointment. The memory from not even an hour ago of leading the wire into this very spot remains vivid in his mind, churning his stomach with every replay.

Kravitz smooths the band-aid over his skin gently and firmly, not only to keep it clean, but so it might hurt if Taako tries to take it off too early.

They don’t exchange another word for the rest of the night.

Taako never tells him to leave as he eventually stands and returns to the task he started with his newest sample. Kravitz, given freedom for the first time, walks back into the previous room and begins to clean up. It’s one task he knows he can do without needing assistance, and it feels somewhat like redeeming himself after hurting Taako so personally. The professor returns eventually and continues his work in the same room, and Kravitz knows it’s only to keep an eye on him.

Taako opens his mouth at one point, eyes oddly soft, and once Kravitz thinks he’s going to say something, he closes it and turns away.

When he leaves, it’s feeling especially sentimental.

The warmth of tonight’s dinner has long since fled his body, though the mass of it remains heavy in his stomach, as if Taako had planted a bomb inside of him.

By the time he gets home, Kravitz is left to wonder who would have treated the wounds on Taako’s back if he had not offered, and if that answer is the same as the person he cursed all evening. Perhaps the lab is simply haunted.

Chapter Text

There’s hardly any sense of true morality in the world anymore. Somewhere along the line, people came together and decided on a few good ground rules to get them started: don’t kill others, try not to hurt people, and if you can help, well, that’s even better. Some might argue they were only created for the purpose of building a civilization and getting what today is known as ‘society’ going.

When did those lines become so blurred, and when did so much else matter? Money, fame, love, sex, friendship… things were never so complicated a few thousand years ago, and longer before that.

On his bed, Kravitz lays with his arms spread out, studying the ceiling above him and its random patterns. It feels like all he’s done the past week or so is think, and continue to think, and never act.

Taako’s experiments are wearing him down, and he’s only been to work three times. Sitting down, writing out everything he knows and all the information he’s gained--it isn’t even enough to give his client a call besides to inform he’s still working. The checks continue to come in the mail. It’s more than enough to keep him living comfortably aside from what Raven already pays him for helping with the agency.

It feels like this could go on forever. Kravitz knew what he was getting into when he decided to be a private investigator, and he was prepared for it. He’s been doing just fine the past few years as well. He’s hunted and staked out a good number of ‘bad guys’ and finished the job, got the reward, and the satisfaction of doing a good deed was enough to keep him coming back.

There’s a lot of work that the police legally aren’t allowed to do. Kravitz knows it better than anybody else, and that’s why he took on the duty of filling in those gaps. Somehow, nothing has ever been like this before. When he closes his eyes, the image of Taako and Angus laughing over dinner is burned into the back of his eyelids. When he opens them, the garden of wires sticking from Taako’s back and the roots of red blood streaming beneath him is imprinted on his ceiling.

This can’t go on forever. He won’t be able to bear it. People weren’t made to endure this kind of thing. If he were smart, he would pick up the phone, dial his client, and tell her he could no longer continue the deal. For her trouble, he’d also send back most of if not all the money she provided him.

But the moment Kravitz’s hand touches the back of his cell, he feels the elf’s marred skin beneath his fingertips, healing wounds that would have otherwise gone untreated.

He holds the burner phone above him now, watching time tick by on the digital clock for lack of anything else to do. It’s been another week without any word from Taako. Kravitz has conducted himself the same way as last and busied himself with a number of other jobs and tasks that have been waiting to be taken care of. This time he tries to focus more on his mental health as well, and the walks he takes now have somehow doubled in length.

Somehow, each time he decides to continue this mission, it isn’t his client or his promise to her that crosses his mind. It’s a row of crooked teeth, long hair swept to the side of his neck, and eyes beautiful in color that look straight through him. It’s a man whose life runs so different to his, hardly perpendicular as much as they are on other planes entirely. Someone whose motives he can’t understand for the life of him, who doesn’t let him in, who doesn’t see him as human.

Their name flashes across his screen suddenly.

[Taako]

The vibration of the phone in his hand nearly sends it dropped onto his face, but he sits up in time to answer it without event. Oddly enough, this is the first time he’s received a call from Taako himself--usually the professor simply texts him a time and a location without any other pomp and circumstance.

“Yes?” Kravitz says immediately upon answering, and he’s stunned by the snort he hears on the other line, lighthearted and not at all corrupted.

“No ‘good morning’s or ‘how’s your day been’ with you, huh? Guess that suits you though.”

It gives him pause, and he readjusts to sit on the edge of the bed for purchase on the ground before replying. “How’s your day been, Taako?”

“Oh, don’t even ask.”

Kravitz can’t help himself from smiling at the dramatic tone in his voice, knowing Taako is probably grinning that same lopsided smile. “Mine’s been rather nice, thank you for asking.”

“Don’t get cute with me--I need you over here immediately, there’s a situation, and you have to be here stat.”

His brows raise in surprise, and he’s already on his feet. “A situation? What’s--”

The dial tone of an empty line cuts him off.

It’s irritating just as much as it is worrying, given he knows ‘no’ isn’t an option. With just the smallest bit of reluctance, Kravitz pulls himself to his feet and straightens out his clothes. He has his day ahead of him now and starting so early, too.

In the daylight, the hurry to Taako’s home is much brighter and far less sinister. He’s never really thought about why they only worked at night, assuming it was simply due to the quiet of the evening providing cover, or some sinister magics under the full moon.

Now on Saturday, he realizes it’s just the elf’s work schedule.

The more banal and mundane this man becomes, the more exasperated Kravitz feels from being on edge all the time.

He approaches the house from the front and only slightly out of breath, rapping his knuckles on the door just once before it’s swinging open. Sure enough, there Taako is--pulling on a dark blue coat and stepping right past Kravitz.

“Oh, you really hurried over here, huh? Good, let’s get going, I’m hungry.”

On his way past Kravitz, he links their arms together and uses it to pull Kravitz right back down the steps at his side. Stumbling and stuttering in confusion, Kravitz looks back at the door where Angus pops up with a wave and a smile, then closes the door. At his side, Taako is yanking him unceremoniously down the sidewalk while keeping his arm elegantly crooked with Kravitz’s.

This job is just one big vat of shame and embarrassment after another.

“What… are we doing, Taako?” Kravitz finally asks once they’re well out of the vicinity of the house and now roaming city streets. He’s grateful for the nice weather today almost solely due to the fact he left in too much of a hurry to grab anything more than a light jacket. Everyone else in town seems to have had the same idea, as the streets are rather busy with no short amount of people milling about.

Still, Taako doesn’t let go of his arm and continues to maneuver the two of them through herds of people. “Uh, getting coffee? I told you I’m hungry.”

“You said it was an emergency.”

“I said a situation. And that’s my belly. And I’m treating you today so shut your pretty mouth and accept your fate.”

There’s no saying no to that. Kravitz concedes, walking faster to keep up with Taako until he’s no longer being pulled forcefully. He crooks his elbow so it seems more like they both want to be here with each other, walking in step and linked together.

Just like this, it’s easier to pretend they’re anywhere else in any other situation. As the winter makes its home over the city, it brings with it all the pre-festivities joy that comes right before it’s socially acceptable to be deemed Candlenights season. The only real indication they’re coming up on holidays is the weather itself, actual calendar days be damned.

Still, he enjoys it. The past week has been nothing but Kravitz working and taking long strolls by himself, so he’s had more than enough time to acquaint himself with the mood of the town. Although there are no overtly Candlenights decor hung up yet, lights are already being strung in the trees, and the townspeople’s full shopping bags would suggest it’s more than present in their minds.

Kravitz loves the holiday season, even if he has no one in particular to spend it with or anything to do. But it’s the nature of the time that he enjoys, the simplicity, the mundane easiness and casual happiness that dances from one shoulder to the next. It’s an excuse to be lighthearted and easy without an explicit reason. It’s clean, smooth, and carries an unapologetic good mood through the streets.

Suddenly, Taako is jerking him to the side, and Kravitz just barely catches his footing before they’re walking into a small coffee shop nestled between two much larger stores. He’s immediately greeted with the chime of a bell and a rush of comfortably warm air. Taako lets go of his arm finally to remove his coat and handing it to Kravitz as they take their place in line.

“Ever been here?” he asks Kravitz, and the latter shakes his head.

“No, I actually prefer tea.” Taako’s brows raise in a telltale ‘is that so’ look, and Kravitz is nearly tempted to hold his hands up defensively under the attack if he weren’t folding the coat over his arm.

“Really, tea? You seem so high strung I would’ve thought you injected coffee into your fucking veins like me,” he says, crossing his arms and turning back to the front to continue looking at the menu. “They’ve got your little leaf water here too, don’t worry.”

Taako actually does treat Kravitz like he said, taking care of both of their drinks as well as two small breakfast pastry looking things that Kravitz couldn’t name. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he has to wonder if they would be better if Taako made them, remembering the dinner they had, and decides that the fact the elf is even choosing them is good enough. Taako leaves to find a secluded seat by the window for them and instructs Kravitz to wait at the counter for their things, not unlike a dog, or a…

He looks over his shoulder at where the wizard has settled in a nice corner nestled in the back of the shop. It’s halfway between a window seat and an actual table, and sure enough, Taako has claimed the most comfortable spot on the windowsill atop a few pillows. The elf reclines leisurely, almost appearing like royalty as he pulls one knee up to his chest and stretches the other out. His eyes are that same droopy indifference he usually holds, lightening up when he notices Kravitz staring at him and sends a wave his way.

Like this, with Taako’s coat on his arm and waiting for their drinks after taking a nice stroll through the city, Kravitz can almost pretend they’re in another setting. That this is a different world entirely, and the beautiful elf watching him from across the coffee store has other interests in mind. That Kravitz is here because of his own volition.

It’s easy to picture. He would take their drinks back, walking briskly as they’re both counting the moments until their hands can touch again. He sets them on the table as he leans down to peck Taako’s forehead. Then Kravitz would sit across from him in a seat, waiting until Taako finally breaks down and gives a pout that would make Kravitz laugh and finally join him on the windowseat. They’d drink their coffee quietly, laughing in hushed tones with their backs to the cold outside.

Taako is a beautiful man, Kravitz tells himself to offer explanation for his out of line thoughts. But recently, he has learned there’s far more than just that. He picks up the tray holding both their cups and food, balancing it with the coat on his arm as he turns to join the elf in question. There is a dark mystery behind his cold eyes waiting to be discovered.

Part of him wants to uncover it, while the other prays the truth never sees the light of day.

Kravitz sits across from him, and Taako immediately grabs his food and digs in before even giving a thanks. He doesn’t bother with utensils either, simply holding the entire thing up and eating from his fingers. Kravitz instead occupies himself with drinking his tea in the meantime. At least it isn’t bad.

“So, why are we out getting breakfast?” he asks, watching Taako struggle to swallow before he can respond.

“Why not? We’re going to be working with each other for a while, thought I might get to know the mug I’m gonna be looking at for a long time.”

A long time? Kravitz thinks back to his dilemma just earlier and shivers. This experiment isn’t going to be done any time soon--and it’ll probably only get worse . He pushes down those anxieties behind another sip of tea. “Do I get to know more about you, too?”

Taako pauses, considering the question seriously, before he shrugs. “I’ll give you one freebie. What do you want to know?”

If that isn’t a loaded question. For a private investigator, he should be delighted to have the opportunity to question Taako freely. Hell, even being able to speak freely right now is more than he’s had this entire time. It doesn’t feel like he’ll be yelled at or criticized just for talking aloud.

He ponders over the question as he starts eating the pastry before him. It wouldn’t be good to just start right out the gate and ask everything directly. He has to be delicate. “Did you attend Triple A for your own education?”

“Sure did,” Taako responds readily, “and saw the transmutation department was absolute shit. Couldn’t just leave it like that, so I took it over myself and fixed the place up.”

“You said you weren’t from around here though?”

“Came here to study when w--I was young, but I lived somewhere else before that. Doesn’t really matter, New Elfington was shit anyways.”

His home isn’t what sticks out to Kravitz, but the small stumble he’d made. Had Taako been about to say ‘we?’ It’s a good piece of information, more specifically the fact he bothered to correct it. Otherwise Kravitz would have simply thought he was referring to Angus.

But he shouldn’t press it, and he doesn’t get the chance to anyways. Taako is already speaking again. “Alright, here’s how this will go…” He turns halfway to dig in his purse before he pulls a coin out and holds it up for Kravitz to see. “Heads you get to ask a question, tails I get one. Fair?”

And here he thought they would be having a normal conversation. Kravitz nods anyways, and watches the coin as it’s flipped into the air then falls on the table with a clatter.

Tails. Naturally. With a sly grin, Taako picks the coin back up and begins flipping it around between his fingers. “By now most people would have left with the data they took to make their own fortune. Why haven’t you?”

A fair question, and one he doesn’t mind answering. “I have no reason to; it benefits me more to help you instead, especially given I wouldn’t know how to make the most of that information.” A pause, and then he tests the waters. “That data from the first few times--was any of it actually real?”

“Guess you’ll just have to get heads and ask, huh?”

More mysteries after the other, it seems. But he holds out hope as the coin takes flight once again, whirling until it falls and--tails. Goddammit.

Obviously pleased, Taako snatches it right back up and continues. “For someone who doesn’t have a formal job, you seem to be pretty well off by your fashion forward duds. And I know you didn’t get your paycheck from me until last week. Where’d that money come from?”

Shit, now he’s actually getting to the heart of it. Kravitz tries not to stumble. “My parents left no small amount of money after they passed. I’ve been living off of that for necessities, and the rest from odd jobs I’ve picked up. Clothing is… what I like to treat myself with?”

Taako nods along in understanding. “Yeah, I like, dig the gothic poet thing a ton, actually. I’ll believe that one.”

Even though it isn’t even a lie, technically--but Kravitz doesn’t try. Instead, he just watches as the coins gives another few turns in the air-- “Are you kidding me? You’re using magic, aren’t you?” he says a little too loudly as it lands, picking up the coin before Taako can to inspect if it isn’t double sided. The elf lets out a loud laugh at his expense and leans over to pluck it from his hand while showing off the ‘heads’ side that does, as a matter of fact, exist.

“Sorry bout your luck, handsome! Where were we?” He drums his fingertips against each other, leaning his elbows on the table as he leers at Kravitz in a none-too-professional manner. “Let’s see… oh, right. You mentioned you’ve lost somebody before. Tell me about that.”

The air feels colder, all of a sudden, as if the window behind Taako has completely shattered and they’re faced with the outside wind. Kravitz doesn’t know what possessed him to let his guard down or think for a moment this was just fun between them, even while posing his answers carefully.

But there’s no regard or sympathy in Taako’s eyes despite the hard question he asks.

There isn’t an ounce of care.

Kravitz tries to answer with as little emotion to get in his way as possible. “My parents. I’ve mentioned they passed away, just now.”

Taako holds out his hands in a ‘go on’ motion.

He really is going to make him say everything? It isn’t like there’s any real downsides to giving his past, though. The case is entirely personal, there isn’t any information to be gained from it, and even if there was, it would only be leverage to try and manipulate Kravitz’s emotions. He’s been dealing with it for more than a decade now anyways; he’s hardened himself to this kind of thing. It’d be hard to use against him.

“They were murdered,” he explains after a minute. “They never found the killer, and there were no known motives anyone would have had to do it. A senseless killing for when I came home from school one day.”

It’s the reason he became a private investigator, but he leaves that part out. The injustice, the lack of concern and action the police took had all been so infuriating in its inefficiency. Raven had been the first one to take an interest in his case, and though she was unable to find anything concrete, it was more action than anyone else had taken.

Since then, he dedicated his life to the profession to save others from going through the same pain.

It’s why he’s here now.

Kravitz takes a deep breath to steady himself and keep from revealing anything unnecessary. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“I didn’t want to hear it,” Taako says, voice quieter than before. He doesn’t make eye contact with Kravitz and instead focuses on the coffee swirling around in his cup. “Surely you understand why it’s important for me to know these things. In this line of work.” When he finally does look up, Kravitz thinks it’s the most emotion he’s been able to find in Taako’s eyes since they first met.

He doesn’t apologize for asking, or give Kravitz any meaningless condolences. There’s no reason for him to, and they would just be empty words. Yet somehow, he can see in there an actual amount of concern, or some kind of sympathy he wouldn’t have expected. It’s worth more than any fake niceties the professor could give him.

Kravitz nods and finally tears his eyes away to take a drink of his tea. “Yes, of course.”

Taako, regardless of today, regardless of his other positions, is a necromancer.

His work is being used in the attempt to disturb the natural order of life and restore the dead from the astral plane. It’s far from being just a criminal--he’s a sacrilegious heretic, a threat to all of their safety and wellbeing.

It makes sense he would understand Kravitz’s past and history with loss, given his work revolves around it. But Taako’s words haven’t left his mind:

“Well, I haven’t.”

What business does someone who hasn’t lost anybody have in necromancy?

“Another question?” Kravitz asks once the silence has waned too long, gesturing to the coin still between Taako’s fingers. The elf looks down at the copper, turns it around in his hand, then stuffs it back into his bag.

“Your luck sucks,” he says, “so I’ll give you one more freebie. I’ll be pissed if you waste my generosity with some dumb shit like ‘what would you like for Candlenights,’ though.”

There’s no point in beating around the bush any longer. Kravitz leans over the table, huddling just a bit closer to where Taako is also hunched over.

“Why are you doing all of this?”

The question doesn’t provoke any change in Taako’s position. He doesn’t smile, his face doesn’t fall, he doesn’t… react at all. It almost seems as if he hadn’t heard Kravitz say anything. The moment Kravitz opens his mouth to repeat the question, Taako speaks up.

“My sister.”

Taako doesn’t look away when he says it, and Kravitz doesn’t either.

He knows he won’t be getting anything else besides those two words, but it’s enough.

The information makes Kravitz’s pulse quicken, and his blood begins to race through his veins to process the sudden plethora of thoughts from just two words.

A sister--he hasn’t seen anything about Taako Taaco having a sister anywhere in his research on the man. Where could she be, and what is she doing?

Why hasn’t he heard anything about her before?

Outside of his accelerated thoughts, Kravitz has the common sense to simply nod at the information given to him. “Alright.”

The answer is evidently sufficient to Taako, as the magician stands from his seat suddenly and stretches his arms above his head. “Alright indeed--let’s get headed back then, there’s more to today than just breakfast.”

If Taako’s expression is anything to go off of, Kravitz guesses the sudden drain in blood from his face is visible. The elf breaks into a smile, not too malevolent as it is simply… amused by his reaction. By the fact he has a reaction.

“No, no action today. Today is data day.”

‘Data day,’ as one would have it, is dedicated entirely to processing and storing the data that’s been collected over the past few weeks. It appears Taako has also been doing plenty of work without him on his own time, and he only calls Kravitz when another pair of hands is direly necessary. Some of the first sets he’s already input into his personal database already. However, the elf explains he has other people to see today, so it’s best to have Kravitz take care of it while he’s out.

Kravitz has no qualms with anything that involves not harming another hair on Taako’s head. The man could have told him to mop up the bloodied floors and Kravitz would have been fine with it given it didn’t involve actually hurting anybody this time. Inputting data, typing in numbers and just filing information? It sounds like a dream, almost enough to look forward to.

When they leave the cafe, he looks back over his shoulder as the door closes and wonders if it’ll ever open again.

“By the way, you were right to think the data I had you record was fake,” Taako says when they’re out on the street and no one is listening, “but I wouldn’t waste resources like that. The values were modified on every different machine, and only my computers have the components needed to unscramble them. It would’ve been useless to try and take.”

He doesn’t say much else on the way back, as expected, and doesn’t bother linking their arms like the walk here. Still, he has more light to his features than last time, and Kravitz assumes at least part of it is due to whatever glamor is keeping his injuries from showing. There’s no way they’d have healed by now; he bandaged them himself.

Angus is waiting in the living room once they finally arrive. He jumps up from his seat and slams some sepia colored novel closed as he rushes to greet his guardian. Taako is able to hold up a smile for the kid and pats his head. “Alright Ango, I’m off to go hang out with Merle and Maggie. You’re in charge, got it?”

Huh, that wording is a little odd.

“Got it! Tell Merle and Magnus I said hi!”

But as Taako leaves and Angus turns to direct Kravitz back to the room with all the computers in the basement, he finds Taako wasn’t lying.

“I’m gonna be sitting here,” Angus says as he pulls up a chair beside Kravitz’s, “reading. Tell me if you need any help, sir!”

Taako actually put Angus in charge of him.

He supposes it isn’t… entirely without merit. Angus is stationed here to keep an eye on Kravitz and make sure he doesn’t try anything funny while Taako isn’t around. Technically, Kravitz wouldn’t have done anything as it is, given he’s all too aware of the many cameras surrounding this place. All he can use is all he’s given.

For a good fifteen minutes, he works in silence. Just like Taako said, he watches as the numbers he inputs into some kind of high tech Excel file changes as he presses enter. They really are all different, and whatever increments or ratio being used to change them is different each time. It would be impossible to understand what any of this meant without the code Taako’s using--and even then, there’s no telling it won’t go through another level of decoding before it’s actually saved and away from Kravitz’s eyes.

His stare wanders over to Angus after he’s finished entering in the first set of fifteen pages of numbers. The kid is reading the same novel he was upstairs, some mystery story, with his legs kicking back and forth. Although he’s removed his uniform from school, he’s wearing a preppy sweater vest and bow tie, colors all bright and pastel. Every now and then, he’ll move to push his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose, then wait for them to slide back down.

Yet the room around them is as murky and dank as ever. The lights are brighter here than the rest of the lab, too bright, and threaten to make Kravitz’s head hurt from staying in here too long. Still, the harsh colors of the stone on the walls and floor contrast too heavily with Angus’s bright aura for Kravitz’s liking; it’s as if he’s being photoshopped into the scene every second. The tips of his shoes tap against the ground every time they swing back.

“Angus,” Kravitz finally starts once he musters up the strength. The boy looks up at him immediately, almost eager to answer. “If you’re going to sit here the entire time, why doesn’t Taako have you do this? You seem to know enough about it.”

Angus shrugs casually, as if the thought isn’t new to him. “He says he doesn’t want me involved in his work. Well, really, he says I’m annoying and I’ll eff it all up, but then he tells me to focus on studying instead.” He pauses, thinking on his own words, before his head snaps back up to look at Kravitz. “Taako’s actually a really good guy, Mister Kravitz, don’t get the wrong idea! He does care about me, I think he just doesn’t want to… you know. Want me to get involved in the bad stuff.”

Kravitz’s eyes soften. More and more, this boy continues to somehow warm his heart, even though the chill of the lab is still circulating through his feet. “Do you think what he does down here is bad?”

“I know it is, sir. But…” Angus turns his head down, looking back at his book. He holds the edges a little tighter. “But it doesn’t make him a bad person.”

He becomes all too aware of the stacks of papers waiting in his lap, and all the files laying neat and closed on the desk before him. Everything is cared for meticulously and precisely. There’s no small amount of data, and from the looks of it, many of the tests Taako has run have been repeated no less than a dozen times each.

In the significant figures of every number written down, in the precision of values across different trials, in the uncertainty carefully calculated on the side of each page, Kravitz can feel the intensity with which Taako performs and all of the care that goes into his work. There’s no error anywhere, between the cameras, the sentinel with brown curly hair swinging his legs at his side, and all the measures taken up to here. Everything is perfect. Everything is for a reason.

Flakes of a breakfast pastry are still lingering at the sides of Kravitz’s tongue, and the taste of tea leaves every breath with a distinct impression.

Kravitz has fallen into the one most crucial mistake a detective could ever make.

He’s become personally invested.

Chapter Text

“I… no. I can’t.”

Taako’s eyes tighten, all playfulness gone from his face. He doesn’t move from where he’s leaning against the brand new table filled up with equipment.

The bubbling of air through the large tanks of fluid in the back of the room fills the silence. He’s seen them before many times while walking through the lab to different rooms, but never has he had to remain in the same place. Although Taako has never addressed them, Kravitz has noticed small changes in them, like different numbers painted on the outside and different substances inside.

If that isn’t enough to make him uncomfortable, their conversation is.

“There is no negotiation here, bub. This isn’t about you --capiche?”

Kravitz has no other choice but to nod in spite of every bone in his body screaming out rejection.

Only a few days have passed since the last time he and Taako met up. There were no more coffee dates in between, though Kravitz was surprised at one point to find a picture from Taako on his phone one morning. It was just a picture of a box of tea, settled on the kitchen counter. And yet Kravitz knows the only Keurig Taako owns is in the laboratory. He uses the kitchen upstairs to make actual, professionally brewed coffee.

He thought he had mentally prepared himself for another experiment. That maybe it had been enough time. The wires he could do, he could get used to them in time, and after a bit of thinking and many long showers, Kravitz accepted his fate.

This, however, is something else entirely.

The table is immaculately cleaned, reflecting almost as well as a mirror. At one end, a block with two divots made for ankles is just a few inches away from a number of boxes and control systems. A variety of other wires and what appear to be hoses are attached to the side of the table and run along the entire length up to the head. There, by a neck brace, a large contraption with hooks and suction cups reminiscent more of a hardware store than a laboratory sits waiting.

Taako has already removed his shirt, an act that might be tantalizing in one universe now a harbinger of horror and heresy. He pushes himself up from the table once Kravitz finally agrees and walks up to stand in front of him. The scientist pushes down on Kravitz’s already straightened collar, holding him in place there for a few silent moments before letting go. The action doesn’t go without its effects on Kravitz, as he understands precisely the message Taako is giving; I’m in charge .

“This guy,” Taako says, patting the largest piece of equipment at the head of the table, “is an ungodly mix between the arcane and biochemistry. Buddy of mine has been working real close with me the past few years to get it up and running for this very purpose, and god damn it is an expensive piece of metal so please don’t fuck it up.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Probably. This thing isn’t commercial for a reason.” He undoes his pants as he speaks, and Kravitz has the decency to look away before realizing Taako is indeed wearing underwear. Thank god for at least that, though it doesn’t help that now he knows what the elf looks like almost naked.

And then the charms drop.

Before his eyes, Kravitz watches as every bruise and blemish grows back onto his skin as if being inflicted all over again. Smooth patches of dark skin are suddenly marred as they prickle up and crack at the surface, discolored and sore. They aren’t as bad as they were when they first occurred, but they don’t look good by any means.

Taako hoists himself up onto the table and leans over one of the control panels as he fiddles with it upside down. It changes shape in small ways, with small openings popping out of the surface of the top counter and small pieces of something rising up. Unless he’s given orders, Kravitz is in no hurry to do anything he doesn’t have to with this machine.

Is it really safe? Obviously Taako already knows it’ll cause him pain, but is it even functional?

“By the way…” Kravitz glances up as Taako continues speaking. As he does, the scientist slowly begins to organize his limbs in designation positions across the table. “After this, I’m gonna need you to stay after and process some other data. I finished up some stuff for the uh, other shit, you know?”

“Your… commercial experiments?”

“Yeah, the shit for other people. I’ll teach you how to do write up’s and send reports to clients later.”

“Is it not confidential?”

“It’s mostly numbers,” Taako shrugs. “I’ll go ahead and show you the rest of what I’m doing with that side of the business later. This experiment today is gonna be the last on my side for a while.”

Kravitz feels his eyes widen involuntarily more than anything. “Why’s that?”

The elf shrugs again, more pronounced this time, as he finally lays down on the table with his head halfway slid beneath the side of the largest box of cables. “People are paying me, they need results. It’s still a business. Like I said, the two are kinda related in a way, too.”

It seems Taako has become much more open to the idea of keeping Kravitz informed and close at his side. The weeks of loyalty may finally be paying off, though he doubts he’ll ever be close enough to get all the information. Still, his efforts are being rewarded, and that’s satisfying alone. As long as he can get through today, the rest of the trip will be much easier.

Kravitz takes his directed spot at the foot of the machine. Here, Taako is laid out directly in front of him, and it would be easy to become distracted by the long planes of his body if they weren’t connected in some… odd way to this machine. It doesn’t appear to be invasive, or at least not as much as the last, but there are still places where he’s attached. They look like no more than suction cups or monitor patches, however.

Taako clears his throat despite being buried halfway beneath a large plate of metal. Kravitz can still see the bottom half of his face, but only somewhat at this angle. “Alright, listen up, and know that my pretty little life is in your hands. There’s two things to keep track of and they’re separated on each side of the control panel…”

The explanation is surprisingly simple for what a complex piece of machinery it is. With just a few motions, the table moves and connects the rest of its arms and equipment to Taako’s body, like a hands-on MRI more than anything. The dashboard lights up and Kravitz’s attention is drawn to a small window which displays some kind of vial filled with a bright green liquid that begins to bubble as the machine is activated.

Taako’s fingers drum against the metal of the counter, his long, painted nails clicking against it. It’s a mundane distraction from what Kravitz has to do back here. He enters in the value specified on the paper and observes the vial slowly lowering in volume, the equipment whirring with activity.

It isn’t as gruesome as the last. He can see no blood here, no (new) disgusting wounds on Taako’s body. The set up is complicated and more fearful in the fact he can’t understand what’s being done, but it isn’t anything he feels might disturb him later. So Kravitz is able to continue.

They don’t speak the entire time. Taako is completely silent, and from this angle, Kravitz can only see his mouth and nose underneath the equipment. He figures if something goes wrong, the elf will be the first to notify him with a loud bark of orders and insults. Still, this is the first time he’s been able to stomach an experiment, and Kravitz tries to work as efficiently as possible while in possession of his wits.

The green liquid continues to drain through the bottom of the tube, not even a drop sticking to the side of the container. The moment it’s entirely empty, Kravitz follows the orders Taako gave him and presses a few other buttons. At once, it’s refilled, though now the liquid is murky and black. He tries not to think too much of it and looks back up at Taako--still as ever, though his chest is rising and falling with breath. There’s no reason to question anything or indication to stop.

At a glance, the experiment goes without a hitch. He receives the data needed and even makes it to the very end without event or word from Taako. Once the pen leaves the page, he even finds himself smiling and breathing a sigh of relief. If things go like this from now on, he might actually be able to see this case through. It’s good for both himself and Taako, who may not have to be harmed anymore.

“Alright, it’s finished, Taako,” he announces with a clap of his hands, beginning to go through the motions of turning the equipment off. “I have to say, you really had me worried, thinking all of this was going to be the same torture as last. You could’ve told me this one was easier.”

His eyes lift back up to watch the spot Taako is laying, his chest still the only movement until the table begins to detach itself and descend back into its place. The sections over his arms are the first to go, and the moment they lift--

Kravitz pales.

The moment the skin of Taako’s arms come into sight, Kravitz is able to see what’s truly happened. The once lovely, dark tones of Taako’s skin have become mottled and twisted into a nearly jet black hue, tinted a sickly green. The tips of his fingers are shriveled and wet, though the nail polish there is still bright pink. Immediately, his fingers scramble for purchase across the smooth table, and Kravitz watches in horror as the rest comes undone.

Across his body the same marks remain. As each piece is removed, the body part it was attached to twitches and begins to move in a panic until Taako’s entire body is convulsing on top of the table. Kravitz is by his side immediately, unsure what to do as he watches Taako’s face scrunch up in a horrid grimace, teeth clenched and eyes unable to be seen beneath the head piece. Kravitz takes it upon himself to help the piece up quicker, pulling it up and away--

Taako rolls to the side immediately, gasping for air before he falls off the table unceremoniously. Each inhale comes with a pained wheeze until the air is too much and he’s left coughing in a heap of messy, shaking limbs. His forehead hits the hard floor, unable to hold himself up with his hands, and Kravitz falls to his knees at his side.

“Taako,” he says for lack of anything else, hands hovering over his body, “what--what’s going on? What do you need me to do, do I--”

But the elf can’t respond. Taako continues to hack and wheeze for simple air, a shrieking, guttural mess on the ground. Now, no longer being contained or monitored, the disturbed patches of skin across his body seem to cause him pain, and he can just barely hold his fingers over one particularly nasty looking area over his heart to no avail.

Kravitz isn’t sure if Taako even knows he’s here. He pulls out his phone with trembling fingers, preparing to call for an emergency when the scientist finally speaks up.

“No… hospitals,” he croaks, head still down. “Get A-Angus to… call Merle…”

And then Taako’s body falls limp.

Kravitz doesn’t think; he acts.

He has his hands on Taako immediately, not wasting another second before scooping the man up into his arms. He’s surprisingly lighter than Kravitz would have expected, but he doesn’t dwell on the fact too long as he jogs out of the laboratory, past columns of liquid and carts of red bottles and all sorts of ungodly materials. The only thing he can pay attention to is the rhythm of Taako’s breathing against his neck and the fact it’s still there.

He doesn’t mean to frighten the kid, but there isn’t much else he can do. Kravitz finds Angus in the living room reading, just as always. Angus’s face lights up at once upon seeing him, but immediately falls white when he sees his father.

“Call Merle.”


Merle, it turns out, is a close friend of Taako’s. He appears within minutes along with another man, Magnus, just in time to catch a crying Angus in his arms. Magnus scoops the kid up immediately and focuses on taking care of him while Merle approaches Kravitz.

“Where is he?”

The only good place he could think of taking Taako was his own room where the elf now lays in his own bed, unconscious and sweating up a storm. His sleep isn’t peaceful in the least, constantly turning and groaning in pain. Merle ushers for Kravitz to come into the room with him and pulls a chair up to the bed for himself. Outside the room, Magnus peers inside warily with Angus still a mess in his hold. When he sees Taako, his face falls, and he forces himself to turn back to the child crying all over him.

Merle sets down a bag he’d brought over his shoulder and begins rustling through it as Kravitz watches from the side, still standing. “So, you’re the new assistant, huh?”

He fidgets with his hands. “Yes. I’ve been working with Taako for a few weeks now.”

“How is he?”

“You can see for yourself, can’t you?”

The dwarf nods to himself more than anyone else, quieting as he reaches to inspect Taako’s face. His hand carefully brushes the messy hair from his face and Kravitz can’t help but cringe when he feels the familiar hum of magic resonating from the two of them as Merle gets to work. Recently, he hasn’t been quite fond of magic, given the only association he has with it these days is from Taako’s school or the large, green pods in the lab that seem to always be flowing.

There aren’t any immediate cures for Taako’s appearance. Whatever he did to himself (whatever he made Kravitz do to him) seems to be more than just surface injuries at this point. The affected skin is crumpled up like construction paper after being wetted and dried.

Merle’s hand slowly comes down on a spot on Taako’s arm, and Kravitz winces at the reaction Taako gives. He tosses in his sleep, groaning with his face scrunched up in pain. It’s merciless of fate, he thinks, that even after all of this, Taako can’t even recover in peace. Regardless of what he’s done, nobody deserves the pain he’s suffered and continues to undergo.

But Taako does it to himself.

“I have to.”

“Why…” Kravitz begins, voice quiet as to not disturb the cleric. “Do you know… why Taako does this?”

Merle doesn’t respond immediately and allows the questions to stew in the air. “Yeah. Guess he hasn’t told you anything?”

“This isn’t the first time he’s done things like this,” Kravitz immediately responds with a step forward. “Every time we work together, he conducts these… harmful experiments on only himself and nothing else. It’s self-destructive, it’s--it’s madness.”

It’s cruel.

Taako inhales sharply as Merle’s hands come down to rest over the injured half of his face.

It’s simply cruel.

“Taako’s been like this for a while now.” Kravitz turns at the new voice to see Magnus entering the room, arms devoid of any child. He can only hope Angus is able to sleep or calm down enough to not panic at the situation--as if Kravitz currently isn’t doing the same. Magnus looks across the room at the elf laying in bed, stares at him for a few seconds, then closes his eyes tightly. “It’s… horrible.”

“You’re his friends, aren’t you?” Kravitz asks, louder now. “How can you know what he’s doing--why he’s doing it, and just let him continue? He’s sending himself to his own death, how are you just letting him?”

He can’t imagine it. Kravitz’s current network of friends isn’t vast, but he likes to think if he knew just anyone was hurting themselves like this, he would step in. The closest person he has is Raven, and the thought of her undergoing these trials by her own volition… it’s unthinkable. Moreover, it’s harder to imagine what reason one could have for not doing anything. From what he’s heard, Magnus and Merle both are close to Taako and Angus. And they’re here now to help.

It returns to his mind, then.

A screen with a million passwords opening only at a specific window of time. A number of named files in the cabinet, recording specific data and updates.

Taako’s second job--his clients.

All the people who seek to use his work.

He looks at the two men with different lens, returning to the mind of an investigator instead of a lab assistant. With just a glance he can see where both men have wedding bands--Merle’s is on his ring finger, as one usually would, while Magnus’s is worn on a string around his neck. Although neither appear happy to be here, they aren’t surprised, and they certainly aren’t making any urgent moves to stop anything.

They’re the same as all of Taako’s other clients, waiting to exploit his work and revive their loved ones.

Rather than anger, Kravitz feels something like a crushing sense of sadness and despair upon gazing at Taako’s profile now, and he steps closer to stand by the bed.

If not for the weeping child lying fast asleep across the hall, would anybody care for you, Taako?

Who are you precious to? Who holds you dear? Who would protect you, defend you?

“You can hardly call what he’s doing ‘living,’” Merle says out of nowhere, and Kravitz’s head jerks towards him. “Ever since--”

“Merle!” Magnus pipes in.

“It’s true, though, and you know it.”

“He didn’t used to be like this at first. It’s just because of Barry.”

Another name. Kravitz keeps still, remaining inconspicuous and unsuspecting as the two continue speaking. “They need to talk,” Merle says.

Magnus crosses the room to sit on the opposite side of the bed, watching as Merle continues with his work. The spots have lightened marginally, and Kravitz has to wonder if the cleric has any idea what was actually done to be able to heal it. “They’re both too stubborn. If Barry knew about this, he would just get more upset… we don’t need both of them getting hurt over this.”

Merle nods along, then turns to look at Kravitz. “Has he mentioned Barry?”

“No, I… I’m not familiar with the name.”

“Figures,” Magnus grumbles. “They used to be great friends, and now…”

Magnus stops there, and Kravitz doesn’t push it. That’s the most he’s going to get on this Barry character until Taako opens up about it himself, if he ever does. They don’t talk for the rest of the time, Kravitz and Magnus watching Taako’s face as Merle proceeds with his work.

While the cleric certainly helps, the effects aren’t immediately obvious, and the elf still looks like utter shite. The last thing Merle does before he begins packing his things is to lay a simple wet cloth over his forehead for the fever Kravitz isn’t even aware had risen. “I’ll come by tomorrow to check on him after work, I guess,” the dwarf mumbles, scratching his beard.

Magnus’s eyes widen marginally before squinting at Merle. He stands as well. “Don’t you have to take care of John tomorrow?”

Another new name.

“As if you could come by--just stay back with Julia.”

And another.

Kravitz tucks them into his pocket, wondering if the two have anything to do with what’s happening right here and now. All he has are fractions of pieces of a puzzle at this point, and yet, somehow… he doesn’t think much of it. Taako is lying before them, breathing heavily and sweating as his two friends argue over him. Across the hall, who knows what Angus is doing--likely still crying into a book of his.

“If,” Kravitz begins, cutting the two men off in the middle of their conversation, “it’s fine with you, I’d like… to stay and keep watch of Taako myself. I’m worried.”

Both their eyebrows shoot up to their hairlines, and they exchange a look of bewilderment between them.

Is it so unusual that Kravitz might offer to help? They might not know him very well now, but it isn’t like he could just leave here without doing anything. He has to take partial responsibility for what’s happened as well, as he was the one to pull the lever each time.

He realizes very quickly that yes, it is unusual, as even Kravitz can suddenly not place a reason for the words that just left his mouth. He has no place here between these friends, or in this house between a family he’s not a part of.

Magnus comes forward first and digs in his pocket for his phone. “I’ll give you both of our numbers. Just… text us if something happens or you need anything.”

Merle nods at Magnus’s side, watching as the two exchange information in their phones. “I’ll keep my phone on me--thanks, uh…”

“Kravitz,” he says with a polite smile. “It’s not a problem. I don’t have anything waiting for me at home, anyways.”

There isn’t a lot to do after that. With the matter of custody settled, Magnus and Merle agree to leave after checking up on Angus one more time, though Kravitz stops paying attention as soon as they close the door to Taako’s room. They might as well blip out of existence entirely along with the rest of the world once it’s shut.

Without anything else to keep him up, Kravitz wanders the few steps it takes to fall into the chair Merle left unoccupied, collapsing with a loud sigh. He doesn’t realize until just then how physically exhausted he is, from standing on his feet all day and physically carrying Taako around the house frantically until he found his room. The mental weariness isn’t to be trifled with either; all he can do is lean forward with his head in his hands and remember to breathe in deeply.

Why did he agree to stay?

In one pocket, his burner phone sits, while the personal cell in the other weighs his hip down with guilt. This is information worth calling his client about, but for some reason… the idea of telling her what’s transpired here today, what horrible thing has happened to Taako just makes him feel guilty. Even when he hasn’t done anything yet.

He could excuse his reservations when Taako was just a pretty face who called him flirty names. But now, that elf is nowhere to be seen, replaced instead with the husk of what was once beautiful and has rotted from the inside out. He’s hurt, tattered, and worn down from his work. He’s rude and crass. He’s completely self destructive.

Kravitz has a feeling very few people would care if Taako died--and that’s why he can’t leave.

He takes out both of his phones and sets them on the bedside table before slouching back in the chair and preparing himself for an uncomfortable sleep, if it can even come to him.

In the end, it never does, and Kravitz spends his night counting whatever freckles he can see on the clean parts of Taako’s skin, then estimating the rest.

His mind wanders on its own.

Who are you precious to? Who holds you dear? Who would protect you, defend you?

Who could care for a man like Taako?

Who could love a monster such as he?

Chapter Text

Sleep doesn’t come easy to Kravitz, so he doesn’t.

Once everyone has left, he only makes a point of checking on Angus to find the boy already fast asleep in his room, face reddened and puffy. He’ll have to try and do something for him tomorrow to make up for everything he’s been through tonight; no child should have to watch their guardian go through all of… this. Part of him has to wonder if he’s already been through it before. If this isn’t new.

With Merle and Magnus gone, Kravitz is left the only person awake. The silence in any unfamiliar place is eerie, and it’s made only worse by the fact he’s here to prevent Taako from suddenly dying in the middle of the night. Here, he’s directly confronted with all of his mistakes leading up to this moment.

Kravitz takes the opportunity to explore the house after making sure Taako wouldn’t be waking any time soon. Both bedrooms are upstairs, Taako’s at the end of the hall while Angus’s is right beside the stairs. A few more rooms line the split halls of the upper floor. Kravitz walks through a bathroom (separate from the one attached directly to Taako’s room), a guest room, and some other storeroom filled mostly with bookshelves and a couple of couches. Besides a closet, there isn’t anything else entirely remarkable besides the framed pictures that decorate the walls, detailing Taako’s friendship with the two men from last night and Angus’s childhood.

Downstairs is more of the same. Pictures of other people he doesn’t recognize, including an orc woman and a dragonborn on what appears to be their wedding day, and Taako standing next to a bespectacled man in a lab coat who appears bashful beside the elf. None of them are labeled and offer no other insight into his life besides simple snapshots of events.

There isn’t a lot to the downstairs, and Kravitz reasons most of the funding probably went into that giant kitchen. The dining room is gorgeous as well with all of its mismatched decor, though separate from the small table they’d eaten at just inside the kitchen for family meals.

Another room appears to be a more pronounced library with a larger ceiling and wider bookshelves. It wouldn’t be surprising to discover both Angus and Taako had their own separate reading rooms, but Kravitz can’t decide just which one would be whose. This room has only one couch and two armchairs surrounding a table in the center, more formal than the previous one. It’s a hint, but no confirmation.

Fascination is what brings Kravitz to the bookshelves, and curiosity that guides his eyes to their spines.

Chemical Kinetics and Thermodynamics

Modeling of Physiological Systems

Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry

Biological Neural Networks and Development

Medical Instrumentation and Biopotentials

His eyes catch on one that he can actually comprehend, and pulls the worn book out from its place on the shelf.

Intro to General Chemistry

Kravitz’s eyes squint as he flips through the tattered pages. It’s… all material he remembers covering in college, albeit vaguely. But that only goes to show how basic the subjects covered truly are. Out of the books on the shelf, it shows the most signs of use with chipped ink on the covers and yellowed edges to the pages.

As sad as it may be, this could be something like Angus attempting to understand his father’s work. To help him. With a twist in his chest and a deep breath, Kravitz slides the book back into place and tries not to think too much on it.

There’s a lot to unpack in this house. Between Taako’s experiments, his job, and his friends, the child living here can’t be ignored either. There’s no telling what he’s gotten involved in or if he plans on confronting Taako about his work at some point. Angus isn’t by any means dull; Kravitz is confident by now that Angus knows far more than he lets on, and likely more than even Kravitz knows.

It would be worth trying to talk to him, if not for information on the scientist’s behavior, then for the child’s own sake.

At night, the only light in the house comes through the slots in the blinds covering the windows. They’re closed off from the rest of the world entirely like this. The heater is on for the winter, but Kravitz has never felt colder, all too aware of the hall that leads to the laboratory in the back of the house. All the chill from that horrid places has crawled up the stairs and beneath the door, coiling around his ankles like snakes preparing to drag him back down.

But he doesn’t go to the lab. There’s another door on the way that he stops at, turning the handle only to find it locked. Nothing about the room seems different from the outside, as the doors are all the same, but its proximity to the basement is disconcerting alone.

He reasons it’s something like an office and turns away, not one to bother with breaking and entering this late at night.

The rest of the house is unremarkable. There’s a sitting room separate from the living room, a few closets, and a walk in pantry by the kitchen that would put a restaurant to shame. If he were to ignore the entire back half of the building, Kravitz could believe this is simply a regular house owned by some eccentric folk. It’s homely in a weird way, and one that can only be appreciated in the day time. Right now it feels as if some phantom of the laboratory might appear to silence him at any moment.

At this point, there isn’t anything left to do but return upstairs and check on Taako. There’s no noise from Angus’s room, thankfully, nor the elf’s when he enters.

Kravitz sighs.

Taako is lying exactly where they left him, though the blankets they’d pulled up to his neck are now thrown to his waist. He’s stopped making loud scenes in his sleep but continues to whimper occasionally, head turning to the side or clenching his hands into fists. Kravitz approaches the bed quietly and eases back into the wooden chair by its side.

Like this, all the marks on his skin are all too visible. The black spots haven’t dulled one bit, large pools of ink over his otherwise smooth skin. It doesn’t help that the injuries from the previous experiments still remain as well, though some have faded others remain more prominent. He can only go so long down his skin before finding another wound. It’s pitiful. It’s terrifying. And Kravitz has no idea where to go from here.

He leans over in his seat, holding his head between his knees with a deep breath.

There has to be a way to navigate all of this. After everything tonight, all the new information and current circumstances leave his head spinning in an overload of information. Were he not afraid of the chance of someone finding it, he would write everything he knew down just for some visual map of the chaos that this case has become.

For some reason, Taako started his experiments. It’s not quite obvious yet whether they began first for clients or his personal cause, and the relationship between them is likely important. If they began commercially first, then his personal quest may be a result of them beginning in the first place. If the other way around, his business is for some other reason as a result of starting the experiments for himself.

And then there’s all the other characters involved. Angus, who may or may not be aware of the extent of his father’s work but too innocent to take part. Magnus and Merle, the men who know what their friend is doing yet don’t stop him. The school, a possible cover to his work and likely uninvolved.

Barry, the driving force behind Taako’s work. A sister who started it all.

At the sound of rustling blankets, Kravitz lifts his head to watch where Taako is squirming in bed. His face has scrunched back up and is thrown back before turning to the side with a grimace and a groan.

He looks pathetic. Sad. The small bit of light that comes in reflects off the layer of sweat covering his body, and when Kravitz leans over to feel his forehead, the elf is burning up.

Kravitz stands without another thought and walks into Taako’s personal bathroom, large and lush. He’ll probably have to allot a good amount of time to exploring the entire area, but that’ll come later with the rest of the house he hasn’t thoroughly inspected yet. For now, he simply locates a washcloth and wets it with cold water before returning to his spot by Taako’s bed.

It isn’t immediately obvious whether or not the cold cloth over Taako’s forehead provides any relief, but as the minutes tick by without movement, Kravitz finally breathes. He’s at least stopped tossing and turning. His face isn’t the picture of perfect comfort just yet, his brows still furrowed and his eyes shut too tight. But any progress is something.

If Kravitz weren’t here, who would be sitting in this chair? Would it be Angus, crying to himself all night as he’s tasked with the sole responsibility of taking care of his father? Both Magnus and Merle were prepared to leave and come back for small checkups the next day.

It’s probably something like self indulgence. It’s definitely a lapse in judgement.

But Kravitz reaches out and touches just the back of Taako’s hand with his fingertips. The skin below his fingers is damaged, and though it’s initially unsettling to the touch, he lays his hand over Taako’s more firmly once he’s accustomed to it.

In response, he feels Taako’s hand turn and tighten around his in his sleep.

Somehow Kravitz gets the feeling he wouldn’t be here if it were anyone else lying unconscious.

His thumb moves over Taako’s knuckles, slowly running over the torn skin there soothingly until the creases between his eyebrows gradually ease up. It takes somewhere around a few minutes for Taako’s face to relax entirely, and when it does, Kravitz finds himself smiling in genuine relief.

What’s surprising is the fact he isn’t surprised. It feels like somehow, without his knowing, these feelings have crept up on him while he was unaware, simply waiting for their chance to strike.

But they never do assault him. They start at his ankles, cautiously climbing up his legs and sitting in his lap until he stretches out an arm for them to continue racing up. It doesn’t take long before he’s covered entirely in a mist, or a new pair of clothes that fits so well he hardly notices he’s wearing anything at all.

His heart comes to rest on his shoulder.

Taako’s hand in his loosens as he falls into a deeper, more relaxed sleep beyond a simple meditation. His fingers are still wrapped around Kravitz’s though, and for his life, Kravitz doesn’t imagine he’s physically capable of pulling them back.

Even after all the years he’s spent as a private investigator, putting himself in others’ shoes, his own suddenly become a mystery. It’s suddenly impossible to trace just how and why he’s ended up here in this place.

For lack of sufficient information to come to a conclusion, Kravitz calls it ‘fate’ and lets his eyes fall closed.


Kravitz is thankfully spared the shame of waking to Taako already fully aware of their joined hands. The first thing he does when his eyes open is search the elf’s face for any sign of wakefulness, only to find him fast and peacefully asleep.

He extracts his hand before he can be embarrassed and leans forward to crack every aching bone in his body. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he got awful sleep, given he was damned to a wooden chair and hunched over all night. He stands from his seat with a tired groan and stretches as much as he can without making any noise.

After ensuring Taako won’t wake for sometime, he leaves the room and begins to prepare for the morning.

It’s still early, well into the AM now and though later than they would have to wake for school, still too early for a weekend. There’s no other sound in the house to indicate Angus might be awake either. Kravitz figures he’ll give the kid a break and let him sleep in as long as he needs to recover from the previous night.

For all three of their sakes, he makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen. He might not be any Taako when it comes to cooking, but there are cookbooks all over the place, and he knows how to read. And look up tutorials on youtube. And google-define certain words.

There was never hope for any big fancy breakfast being made, but he still wants something nice for the other two when they eventually get up. They’ve all had one hell of a night, and if he can do just this to help ease them into a new, better day, then he’ll pay for the groceries personally for all the bad batches he has to throw out.

A half hour recipe ends up taking somewhere around two hours to complete within edible guidelines. It’s a pale imitation of the dinner Taako made the other night in quality, but it’s warm and tastes above average thanks to diligently following the recipe picked from one of the many books laying around. He makes enough pancakes and sides for six people, arranging them all on plates as fancifully as he can with drinks and fruit for appearance sakes.

By now it’s already twelve in the afternoon, and Kravitz decides it’s reasonable now to wake at least Angus up. With a tray of food balanced delicately against his hip and one arm, he makes his way back up the stairs while managing not to spill anything, miraculously. A few things become displaced and it isn’t as pretty and perfect as it was originally, but the kid’s a kid, and he’ll eat.

Kravitz is forced to knock against Angus’s door with his foot, hands full, and calls softly from the other side. “Angus? It’s Kravitz; have you woken up?”

There’s just barely the sound of movement from beyond the door. He can feel footfalls vibrating the floor from here, and waits the few minutes it takes presumably for Angus to get out of bed and take care of himself. When the child opens the door, it’s with glasses in his hands and still red, puffy eyes. He’s put on a nicer shirt but still has on his pajama pants.

Angus looks up at Kravitz in sleepy confusion, becoming suddenly more aware when he sees what he’s carrying. “Is that… Is Taako up?” he asks immediately while standing on his tiptoes to look around Kravitz down the hall.

Kravitz smiles sympathetically. “No, not yet. I might not be Taako, but I thought you’d enjoy some breakfast after… everything.”

The two of them aren’t really close. He’s only had a few interactions with the kid one on one, usually just greetings as he’s let into the laboratory and then a farewell when he leaves. Otherwise, their conversations have been incredibly limited.

Still, Kravitz can’t help but hold a fondness for the boy. Even if he can’t comprehend exactly what he’s going through, he has Kravitz’s sympathy and utmost respect for the strength he’s shown in spite of it all.

He’s a kid that’s worth caring for.

Angus returns the smile, albeit weakly, and steps aside to let Kravitz into his room. It’s not that much smaller than Taako’s, a testament to how much the boy actually means to him, and there’s a table he’s directed to to set everything down. Kravitz sits across with him and watches Angus begin to pick apart his meal, ignoring his own hunger for the meal he left covered downstairs for later.

“How is he doing…?” Angus asks after taking a few first bites and looks up at Kravitz over the rim of his glasses.

This is probably the hardest part about working with kids. And Kravitz’s has had to deal with it in previous cases before. Fortunately, Angus is incredibly bright, and he doesn’t have to worry about sugarcoating any of it or dumbing it down. “He hasn’t woken up yet--but,” he says quickly once Angus’s face falls, “he’s looking much better than last night. He’s calmed down a lot in his sleep, and his injuries look better.”

Angus chews his food quietly, nodding along while he stares at his place. “Alright… that’s good. What did Merle say?”

“It isn’t good, but he isn’t in any immediate danger. He’ll come by later and do some more healing. That’s all we know until Taako wakes up and tells us what all happened.”

Another nod. “Got it. Um… thank you, sir, I really appreciate your help.” He fiddles with something in his lap, likely just the hem of his own clothes, before looking up at Kravitz curiously. “Did you stay here all night?”

An odd question, and something that he doesn’t feel like Angus should worry about. Then again, it’d do good to reassure him Taako’s in good hands. “Yes, Magnus and Merle had to leave last night, so I decided to stay in case something happened. Sorry, I should’ve let you know a stranger was staying over, huh?”

“Oh, not at all, sir! Thank you for helping out my--helping Taako!” After clearing the majority of his plate, Angus begins rearranging the used silverware to be taken away. Kravitz has no doubt he’ll likely do the dishes himself once he leaves; he’s that kind of kid. “You’re hardly a stranger around here anymore, Mr. Kravitz.”

“Has it really been that long?”

“Well…” He looks away, eye caught by the only window in the house that isn’t covered by closed blinds. It’s easiest in here to see the time of day it really is, and the sunlight streams in through the window plentifully. He’ll have to open Taako’s curtains as well when he returns to his room. “It’s more like, it’s been so long since anyone has even been around Taako, so it feels like it?”

Kravitz leans his arms on the table and quirks a curious brow. “Do you not see Merle and Magnus often?”

“We do, but they’re… different.”

In that moment, Angus looks beyond his years. His eyes hold the same quality Kravitz finds in his clients, a quality that leads to his hiring for some personal case. A darker understanding.

And impatience.

“Magnus and Merle mean well, but they’ve gotten caught up in everything like Taako. They all have.” The reasons they haven’t stopped him, Kravitz presumes and nods. Angus’s chin falls into his propped up hand too much like an adult tired after a long day of work. It’s easy to forget, like this, that the boy is still wearing his patterned pajama pants beneath the table. “It’s like everyone else has lost their minds and gotten wrapped up in some spell. But you’re different, aren’t you, Mr. Kravitz?”

His blood runs cold when Angus’s eye finally meets his.

“You’re not under the spell.”

Kravitz remembers sepia colored covers and worn spines of books held in the boy’s small hands. The pages are kept cared for and clean despite the outer appearance displaying their age and use. On the cover, the silhouette of the main character holds up a magnifying glass and looks down on a table covered in papers.

The same book is on the table now, set aside with a stack of higher level papers expected of a high schooler. Beside it, other novels are meticulously organized and bookmarked in multiple places.

To be a Mastermind

The Psychology of Criminals

Conducting Investigation and Obtaining Information Like Sherlock

Perhaps he’s overlooked Angus too long. Even the pieces he didn’t think would be relevant have somehow jumped to the top of the stack.

Kravitz thinks carefully before he speaks, smile gone from Angus’s face. “I want to help Taako.”

He knows he’s being studied. He’s been in this business for long enough to see the traces on other people, just as much as he can mask his own intentions and investigation when necessary. More than hiding any ill motives, Kravitz must hide the fact he’s studying Angus right back.

After a moment of tense eye contact, Angus smiles again, and he nods. “I believe you, sir. I think you’re a good person and--I’d really like for you to stay and help Taako, too.”

Kravitz returns the smile, feeling much more at ease with Angus on his side. In reality, their motives align much more than either of them are aware of. At their core, both of them want this to end peacefully and with Taako in a safer place than before.

The difference is that Angus knows what’s going on, while Kravitz only has suspicions.

There’s a lot of work to be done.

Angus pushes himself from his chair and picks up the tray with his dirty dishes. “I’m gonna go clean these up and do my homework, Mr. Kravitz. How long are you going to stay?”

He stands up as well, following Angus out of the room and down the stairs where the other servings of breakfast are waiting, just slightly colder. He can see how Angus’s eyes widen in interest and feels his smile widen. “Until Taako has the strength to kick me out himself.”

Angus nearly drops the tray he’s holding, just barely managing to make it to the sink and set everything down. His eyes are large and bright, grinning from ear to ear when he turns back to Kravitz. “Thank you, sir…!”

Kravitz is unable to resist the urge to ruffle his hair as he walks past to retrieve two plates of breakfast. The sound of the sink running follows him as he balances both settings on his arm and makes his way back upstairs with all the care in the world not to drop anything.

He isn’t surprised to find Taako hasn’t moved, and it’s both a good and bad thing. Although he hasn’t woken up yet, he hasn’t been experiencing anymore discomfort in his sleep.

Kravitz sits back down in his chair, setting one of the plates on the bedside table while he digs into his own. He’ll likely end up eating both, then covering what’s left in the kitchen in case Taako does wake up sometime today.

Your kid’s got a good head on his shoulders , he wants to tell him. You’ve raised him well; brighter than any star and sharper than any blade. Maybe when all this is over, he can give the boy a referral at his own workplace.

Taako’s unconscious face doesn’t frighten him as much now in the daytime. Kravitz remembers to open the blinds when he gets back up, allowing natural sunlight to stream in for the first time in who knows how long. The entire room changes then, and it’s possible to forget that Taako is a necromancer working on some unholy experiment in the basement.

Right now, he’s an unfortunate, pathetic man who got caught up in the wrong business. He’s weak and exploited, not nearly as strong as he pretends to be.

Although Kravitz doesn’t reach for his hand, his eyes don’t leave the elf’s face, memorizing how his skin sits without any glamor or lies in his smile.

He only notices it’s nighttime when the sunlight stops reflecting off his hair in amber waves. But the moon plays its own games over his face as well. Angus knocks on the door and enters before Kravitz can fall asleep, both to check on Taako and give Kravitz his assistance. Together they drag a plush couch from the corner of Taako’s room (the entire bedroom is larger than the living room downstairs) and settle it by the bed so he might have somewhere more comfortable to rest.

Kravitz doesn’t say anything when Angus comes to stand by the bed, looking down at his guardian with a pregnant silence. He isn’t sure if there’s too much to say or nothing at all, but Angus doesn’t linger for long before he turns back to Kravitz with a boyish grin and wishes him goodnight. After that he’s bounding out of the room and back to his own, leaving Kravitz to situate himself in a comfortable position where he can still watch the rise and fall of Taako’s chest. On the nightstand, both his phones sit untouched.

Chapter Text

As time passes, Angus and Kravitz only become closer and closer. By the third day Taako’s eyes remain shut, and Kravitz has earned a more permanent place on the couch by his bed. He and Angus have to work together to keep up the rest of the house as well as the more pressing issue at hand: school.

With a bit of help from Angus on contact information, Kravitz takes it upon himself to contact the heads of his department or wherever Taako would report to with as little information as he can about the situation. He has Angus verify his legitimacy as a representative, and when Kravitz comes back from visiting Raven’s office with a forged hospital form and raises a finger to his lips, Angus just smiles. Probably the coolest kid Kravitz has met.

Kravitz doesn’t think about how long it’s been since he’s physically been in the office. Raven raises her brows in amused surprise when he walks in already asking for help and favors. She provides them, sure enough, and only asks the bare minimum to be content with his work before dismissing him with a couple bits of advice. Things Kravitz already knows, has heard before. Things like, ‘ don’t let your emotions influence you .’

The phone on the bedside table might as well dent the wood it sits on now. He’s touched it, picked it up and turned it around, but doesn’t dare even think of unlocking it for anything in the world. It’s easier to feel less guilty when his client doesn’t make any move to contact him either.

Not only are the events that took place five days ago horrific, but these past few days in and of themselves have been… intimate. As much as he knows it’s a mistake, Kravitz himself has become involved. He’s no longer simply spectating the life of a mad scientist--he’s become part of it. By now, his part in Taako’s life and the events leading up to here are intertwined, and they’ll likely only grow in impact from here on out.

But he can’t leave it here. He could never.

His cooking has improved for what it’s worth, though Kravitz is only good at following strict directions. The few times he decides to try and spice things up with some personal flair, it fails miserably. He’s already wasted enough groceries as it is and forces himself to be the victim of his own creation while Angus happily eats away the more ‘correct’ results.

Together, they work into an impromptu routine. Kravitz has to return to his old school days and sets an alarm for the early morning, the same time as Angus so they wake together and prepare for the day together. It’s a group effort making sure the kid gets breakfast, a packed lunch, all of his bags and books, and is off to school in time for class. Worrywart that he is, Kravitz nearly walks Angus to school himself on the first day after the weekend, and it’s only the elf sleeping upstairs that he would be leaving alone that keeps him back.

Kravitz takes to cleaning while Angus is away. He straightens up the kitchen until it returns to its immaculate order so Taako might not murder him upon waking. Though he can only clean the same few rooms in one house so many times, he does it anyways, more for the sake of having something to do than anything. After that he resigns himself to reading some of the many books in either library, switching between which he picks from. A novel about a detective, then an account of how certain drugs affect the nervous system. The psychology of child criminals, and an explanation of basic subatomic particles.

The entire time, Kravitz reclines on his now personal couch, books stacked on the floor for easy access when he finishes them. In the more technical reads, many words and phrases go over his head, but it’s more about the effort than anything. He’s able to pick up on a few words Taako had once mentioned or he’s seen around the lab in files. Slowly, Kravitz feels like he may be growing closer to understanding the data he took, though it doesn’t guarantee a comprehension of the experiment itself.

Taako sleeps.

Merle becomes a frequent visitor, and after the first assurance that he’ll be fine with rest, all they can do is wait for him to wake back up. It’s nerve wracking, and more than a little bit tiring how it curls in Kravitz stomach at all times, but there isn’t anything else he could do if he wanted. Right now, he’s already doing the most just by remaining at his side and taking care of Angus.

Medicine and magic, chemistry and biology, the arcane and heretic.

He waits for Angus to get home while he sits in the living room, just finishing up another one of the kid’s mystery novels. As a series, they’re a much lighter and more cohesive read than any of the textbooks on Taako’s shelves, and the time goes by easier with them. Admittedly, a few details of the detective work being done is a little off, but Kravitz’s line of work is a bit different anyways. He also isn’t a child genius.

“Mr. Kravitz, I’m back!” Angus calls as the door swings open, already removing his backpack as he bounds into the living room with a cheery smile on his face.

“Welcome back--how was school?” Kravitz asks as he makes his way up from the couch slowly, his muscles stiff from sitting all day.

Angus is by his side immediately once his bag is set down. “Fine, I got back one of my tests from last week.”

“You did well?”

“A perfect score!”

Kravitz can’t help but ruffle Angus’s hair as they make their way upstairs together. It’s become a routine now, in just the few days they’ve spent together. As soon as Angus gets home, they check on Taako, hang out in his room for a little while, then return downstairs to prepare dinner as Angus works on his homework.

Though the circumstances could be better, Kravitz doesn’t hate it.

“Taako will be impressed to see it,” Kravitz says, and Angus’s smile drops just slightly at the corners. It’s only been four days, he can’t expect the boy to be fine with everything immediately. But Angus is strong enough to act and doesn’t sit complacent when there’s work to be done. He’s just as active as Kravitz in taking care of his guardian.

“Yeah,” Angus nods, “I can’t wait to show h--”

Kravitz feels the crash in the ground before he hears it, and they both stop dead in their tracks.

Angus doesn’t bother looking at Kravitz before he takes off down the hall where the sound came from. Kravitz is right behind him, anyways.

The door is thrown open with little concern and slams into the wall beside it as Angus launches into the room.

“Dad!”

On the floor, Taako is rubbing his head, pose suggesting he hit his forehead on the side table while trying to get out of bed. The couch is in the way of the rest of his body, and the scene is quickly covered as Angus falls in front of the elf in a mess of limbs and teary noises.

Taako is finally awake.

Kravitz remains in the doorway, allowing the two to have their moment.

“Dad… I didn’t--I didn’t think you’d ever wake back up!” Angus whimpers, trying to help Taako sit up as much as he can, given he’s too weak from his sobbing to accomplish much. Taako makes it up somehow, and he’s only resting for a second before the kid throws himself in his arms and weeps openly on his chest. “I was--was so scared, that you were gone, and, and that…”

“Gee, shut it, Ango, your crying is so ugly,” Taako says, laughter in his voice, and Kravitz can just see his smile over the top of Angus’s head. His hands, still mottled and dark, lift up to run his fingers through the back of Angus’s hair comfortingly. “Your dude’s not gonna die that easily---seriously, get your snot off of me.”

He remembers the classroom, how easily Taako interacted with all of his students and stayed behind to help when needed. The rude, sarcastic man that he is with an unbelievable soft side. This is the truest picture he’s had of him besides those where he’s writhing in pain. Taako’s walls are down as he whispers something in Angus’s ear, and grins at the laugh the boy lets out between sobs.

Then Kravitz meets Taako’s eyes over Angus’s head.

And the smile immediately drops.

“What are you doing here.”

It isn’t a question. Taako’s eyes harden immediately, the soft care and concern in them gone in less than a second. With still gentle hands, he pushes Angus away from his chest and grabs the edge of the couch to try and stand.

He gets about four seconds before falling back down, and Kravitz is at his side in less than that. “You need to take it easy, you just woke up,” Kravitz insists as his hands hover over the professor’s body, unsure of if he should even touch him.

The glare Taako gives him makes Kravitz think that not doing so was the right decision. “What are you doing in my house? And where’s Merle? I need to hear what--” He stops himself with a grimace. Eyes clenched shut, Taako covers his eyes with a shaking hand. “Fuck, my head…”

“Merle’s been coming by everyday to check on you--”

Day ?”

Kravitz bites his lip. “You’ve… been asleep for the past four days. Give or take some hours.”

Taako moves his hand to stare up at him in bewilderment. “You’re shitting me.”

He shakes his head, and Taako lowers his eyes again, wincing at another headache.

“Fuck… I’m going to kill Lucas with my bare hands…”

Angus, hovering at the side, peeks around Kravitz with his brows knit together. “Taako… Mr. Kravitz has been helping you--and me too. He hasn’t done anything wrong…”

“At the very least,” Kravitz cuts in, “let me help you back into bed so you aren’t on the fl--”

“Fuck off,” Taako spits as he slaps Kravitz’s hand away, “and get out of my goddamn house?”

Angus holds onto Kravitz’s sleeve. “Taako…”

Taako hasn’t ever been this aggressive with him before. In fact, Kravitz has never seen Taako act this way before. His lips are pulled back in a snarl, a mixture of pain and genuine anger, and when he does look at Kravitz, his eyes are cold. Any light or soft comfort they may have once held has run away with Kravitz’s hope for an easy day.

The Taako who took him out for coffee, the one who invited him over for dinner--they seem so far away from the cornered animal in front of him.

Still, Kravitz has conceded too many times. When the experiments go too far, when he wants to stop, he’s never had what it takes to push Taako a little farther and say no. It was never an option then, and even now, the sharpness of his pupils leave no room for discussion.

But Taako isn’t the only one with his own personal agenda.

Kravitz is done being complacent to Taako’s suffering.

With a sigh, Kravitz kneels before the elf, earning him a quizzical look. Taako doesn’t get the time to continue yelling at him before Kravitz is leaning forward and wrapping his arms around the scientist’s shoulders and knees. He sputters in surprise, squeaking as Kravitz lifts his body into the air.

And then the tantrum starts. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he shouts, kicking and pushing at Kravitz weakly. It’s not enough to really do anything though. “What part of get out of my goddamn--”

Angus comes out from behind him to pull back the blankets on the bed, making a spot for Kravitz to set Taako down before Angus is pulling the covers back over him. Though he stops shouting, his expression is still sour, directed entirely at Kravitz with no holds barred. When he opens his mouth to speak, Kravitz cuts him off, looking to Angus at his side. “Angus, would you mind calling Merle for me? Tell him Taako’s up.”

“Will do!”

He bounds out of the room as quickly as he can, likely eager to escape the situation. The room is ice as soon as the door closes, all the warmth of the house fenced off. Without Angus to balance things out or mince words, Taako all but growls at Kravitz as he sits on the couch beside him. “How do your wounds feel?” Kravitz asks, gesturing to one of the black disks covering Taako’s hand.

The professor scoffs. “Since when are you my doctor? If Merle’s coming over, feel free to shut the fuck up and get out of here already, yeah?”

“I’ll go get you some food, no doubt you’re hungry.”

Kravitz crosses the room in a few long strides while ignoring Taako’s furious words and insults hitting his back. Leaving the door cracked open, the barrage of words don’t stop, and Kravitz just takes a deep breath as he makes his way back downstairs to the kitchen.

Usually if he was upset, Taako would manipulate the conversation his way with pretty words and lovely nicknames, sliding in a ‘babe’ or ‘handsome’ wherever was most convenient. He’d bat his eyes and smile lasciviously. But all the play is gone now, no flirting, no jokes, and no irony.

The makeup and glamors have been wiped away. Purple bags rest under his eyes, his face gaunt and cheeks drawn, fingers thin and shaking. The natural elven beauty has all but shriveled up and died, leaving only a fossil with hints that it may have once existed.

This is Taako in his purest, rawest form.

It doesn’t get uglier or truer than this.

Kravitz reheats the extra serving he’d made this morning in case Taako woke up. He and Angus have had to somberly split a third meal when it became apparent there would be no progress that day, and now it’s the end. There’s no telling if Kravitz will still be needed here, but if it was just time with Angus, he wouldn’t mind staying. Now that Taako’s awake, it’s different.

He makes his way back up the stairs and opens the door with his hip. Taako’s head snaps up when he enters, fight back in his eye, though he doesn’t immediately begin yelling at him. This time he watches him like a predator observes its prey--or perhaps it’s the other way around in his mind. Ignoring him, Kravitz sets the tray of food down on Taako’s lap and sits back in his designated spot.

“Merle and Magnus were both busy, so I decided to stay here and watch over you. Angus also needed someone to take care of him.” Kravitz leans back in the couch, dragging his hand over his face with a deep breath.

Taako looks like he wants to refute his point, but as soon as his son’s name leaves Kravitz’s lips, the argument dies back down. There’s no disputing the fact Angus would have been a wreck by himself, albeit still self sufficient. “What, are you waiting for me to thank you?”

“Not really, no.”

The answer doesn’t satisfy him, and Taako’s eyes narrow in Kravitz’s direction. At least Angus had been discreet about trying to study Kravitz for information; Taako isn’t discreet in his open suspicion. To make the time pass by, he leans down to retrieve the last book he’d begun reading and opens it back up.

It doesn’t take but a minute for Taako to suddenly curse, doubling over himself in bed. Kravitz looks up in surprise, watching as the elf nurses one hand close to his chest. From this angle it’s hard to see, but the red that trickles down his arm and onto the sheets is clearer.

He’s on his feet immediately. “What--what the hell are you doing?” There’s nothing around for him to have hurt himself with, and he hadn’t even seen Taako move from the corner of his eye. The only real difference is this small spark in the air, and--Kravitz’s eyes widen in realization, staring Taako down. “Did you just try to cast something?”

“Shut the fuck up and keep reading or whatever.”

“Do you really not trust me that much?”

Taako doesn’t say anything.

That alone is enough of an answer. The scientist turns away, looking out the uncovered window to purposely ignore Kravitz. He gets the message clearly, and with a sigh and shake of his head, Kravitz picks up his phones, two books, and leaves the room without another word.

If Taako was hard to deal with before, he’s impossible now. But this is exactly what Kravitz had expected; Taako is in his barest, most raw form. If he can get through to him now, he can get through any of this. It’s a fair turning point in their relationship and will likely affect any information he can get from him.

Kravitz spends the rest of the day in the living room with Angus, both minding their own business in silence as they read their respective books. It’s a comfortable quiet, though Kravitz’s presence away from Taako is all too palpable between them. Angus is smart enough to deduce something has happened but doesn’t question it, and they only speak when it’s time to make dinner together.

It’s naive to think after arguing earlier that Taako would be open to eating together. When they bring their plates up to his room, he glares at Kravitz until the man leaves and eats alone in one of the sitting rooms.

The next time he comes in Taako’s room it’s midnight and he’s already asleep, or if he isn’t, he’s a good actor. Kravitz settles back down on the couch as usual, and though sleep isn’t easy, it comes as a relief eventually.

He dreams of the academy, ironically, of tall towers with open windows and bright students running around with smiles on their faces. Other dark figures surround one light in the center, saying words he can’t understand, shouting and pleading until the man being crowded gives in. Kravitz looks down to find his body the same as all the rest, shadowy and ambiguous. He steps close to the crowd, and he blends in, but can’t make it through.

When Kravitz wakes up, he sees Taako’s eyes watching him for just a millisecond before they’re closed again, pretending to be asleep.

How does Kravitz look from here, he wonders? How had he looked when they first met, an interview to become the assistant of a necromancer?

He takes a deep breath and doesn’t even bother to sit up.

This has gone on for far too long.

“You know,” Kravitz says, voice groggy from sleep, “when my parents died, I didn’t think there was any way I’d be able to make it alone. They were the most important thing in my life, and without them, I felt… lost.”

He glances to the side, and though Taako’s eyes aren’t open, his breathing is very much conscious.

He continues. “I did everything I could to find their killer. I used much of my inheritance hiring investigators or anyone who could try and find anything to no avail. I thought revenge would consume me, that my despair would be my own downfall, and I’d run myself until I was nothing. I definitely didn’t make any effort to save myself or reach out for help--I thought my pain was mine alone, that no one could comprehend the raw anger and suffering I was going through. I still don’t know if anyone could, at least not the exact same way I did.

“They never found anything to go off of. Years after my parents’ death, I realized they were dead. I’d never thought about what it meant, and I was… ashamed, I think. I didn’t appreciate their funeral. I visited their graves for myself, to fuel my quest for vengeance.” Kravitz pauses to run a hand over his face, and he can see movement out of the corner of his eye.

He doesn’t make a move to look at Taako. “The first time I visited their grave for their own sake, I cried so hard I thought I would die. I missed them, of course, but I had never let myself miss them. I sat there for hours, sobbing, and by the time I got back up, my perspective on everything had changed. I saw all the graves around me, and I saw all of their stories and all of the emotions others left on the stone there. Love, happiness, and hope, bright flowers…

“I came to terms with their deaths. I think… even if the circumstances are unfortunate, death is not something to fear, especially for others. It’s close to me, and I’m always reminded of my mortality in everything I do. It’s different now, though; I’m almost comforted by it.”

When Kravitz does turn his head to look to Taako, he finds the elf’s eyes on his, and this time, they don’t tear away upon meeting. Kravitz holds his gaze, not in a challenge, but an invitation. An invitation to understand, to meet in the middle.

“I visit my parents’ graves every month now. I bring flowers, and I reminisce. I mourn, of course, but only for myself.”

Taako’s eyes are not cold and hard as they were yesterday. His pupils, wide and tired, are focused on him in an unusually open and sympathetic look that Kravitz can only hope is reflected in his own. They’re both laying down on their respective ‘beds,’ facing each other the same way children would share secrets beneath the blankets of a sleepover.

But it’s morning, and their legs are too long for the covers on top of them. Taako blinks slowly, and ever so cautiously, raises himself up into a sitting position. “I’m hungry,” he says, and a wave of relief washes over Kravitz.

“I’ll go make breakfast.”

Before Kravitz can leave the room, Taako pipes up again. “Stop using so much egg in the pancakes, it’s mega gnarly.”

“It’s your recipe.”

“Which makes you fucking it up even worse .”

Kravitz turns his back before Taako can see him smile, but not before he can see the one on Taako’s face.

The expression is new, one Kravitz has never seen before. He thinks of it while he cooks, so distracted he forgets to heed Taako’s warning and performs the recipe the same as every other time. Taako doesn’t kick him out of the room when Kravitz sits to have breakfast together after helping Angus out the door. Somehow, even though he’d messed up, today’s breakfast tastes better.

Chapter Text

Kravitz stays longer than he expected. Time spent at the Taaco residence stretches into another week, and by now he’s become used to almost anything either Angus or Taako could throw at him. There’s hardly been any much reason to leave the house, so he’s become just as familiar with the place itself, feeling almost like a second home by the time week two rolls around.

Taako stays awake for the most part, though he naps throughout the day. After the first visit from Merle when he got a chance, they came up with a plan for his recovery and have simply been doing what they can to adhere to it. He doesn’t move around that much for fear of irritating his already horrid injuries. The bed becomes his only home, the rest of the house outside of his room entirely forgotten. Kravitz can tell how much the placidity and stale lifestyle is killing him from how he tosses and turns in agitation nearly every day. No amount of outrageous decor and wild style in the bedroom could keep it from becoming boring after an entire week.

But things could be worse.

Taako keeps himself busy catching up on grading papers and contacting substitute teachers at the school. He teaches from his bed as much as possible, and once all the phone calls are finished, Kravitz gets every detailed complaint about the shitty job everyone at the academy is doing and how it’s no more than a ‘group of unbathed dogs--but like, the stupid dogs--let loose in the halls with one textbook and a single diploma between the lot of them’ without him. All Kravitz can do is nod along in agreement, biting the inside of his lip to keep from laughing.

At first, they didn’t talk all that much. Kravitz read, Taako worked, and that was enough for the first day or so. But the elf can only go so long without talking about himself--or anything, for that matter.

“Lucas is the guy who deals all my equipment,” he explains casually after Kravitz asks about the pictures scattered about the house. Most of them were self explanatory, a family photo, a gathering of friends, but Kravitz had expected him to close right back up when it came to the photo of the scientist. “We have an agreement, that’s he’s my most important client, and he provides me with everything an elven torture dungeon could ever need. He’s been studying the shit way longer than I have, but doesn’t have the means or guts to actually use any of it.”

Kravitz could ask what it is Lucas ordered, what happened to him, where and how they met. He could ask about the specifics of that previous experiment and what it meant, whether or not it had actually been a success or failed.

He opens his mouth, and “What about the picture of the two women next to it?” comes out.

Taako’s smile widens in spite of himself, trying to hide it behind a mask of irony. “Carey and Killian? They’re some gals that got married a year or two back. Cha boy catered the entire event, after being begged , and honestly? Only reason the entire thing wasn’t a dud, I tell ya.”

Kravitz’s brows raise. “The entire thing, by yourself? That’s an awful lot of work I didn’t know you were capable of doing without complaining about it.”

Somewhere in the air, something changes.

Taako keeps his eyes forward, glances down at his hands, then back up. “Nah. My sister and I did it together.”

Funny, how Kravitz can try so hard to avoid sensitive topics, and hit every single branch on the fall down.

He manages to shift the conversation back to something lighter in record time, trying to ignore the comment about his sister. It’s more than obvious that Taako doesn’t want to talk about her, whoever or wherever she is being the worst topic to bring up.

The fact Taako spoke about her to Kravitz without prompting, though, is much more important.

Angus is home soon enough, and the afternoon carries on normally. The boy’s stories from school are more than enough to keep them occupied for the rest of the day, no harsh topics breached or uncomfortable silences to be crossed. Kravitz can only imagine Angus has long since learned his way around Taako’s moods and minefields like an expert after living with him all this time. Sure, Kravitz has been getting much better as well, but that’s only with professional training under his belt.

Eventually, Angus scrambles downstairs to investigate the pantry for what they might be able to make for supper. By routine, they’ve gotten used to asking Taako what he wants, making whatever they can manage, and bringing it upstairs to eat together in his room. Kravitz is just about to join him downstairs when Taako speaks up.

“So, uh…” he begins, and Kravitz looks back at him to find Taako’s eyes anywhere but Kravitz’s face. “I’m kinda getting some cabin fever being trapped here all day and night--I also don’t really trust you two to cook on your own, god fucking knows.”

Kravitz’s mouth parts in surprise. “Do… you want help getting downstairs?”

“Ugh, sheesh , you don’t have to nag me about it--you’re gonna need to give your man a hand if you really want me down there that bad, though!”

It takes a great amount of effort not to smile as Kravitz crosses the room and back to his side. Even if he doesn’t ask directly, Taako is still openly requesting help. It’s far more than he would’ve given a week ago. Gingerly, Kravitz wraps an arm around his waist and they come to stand together. Although he has to nearly carry Taako down the stairs, he walks the rest of the way himself. Dinner is nice that night, as Taako takes over the entire event and makes the first more-than-just average meal Kravitz has had in weeks. And it’s far above average.

Days pass the same way into the second week of Kravitz’s stay. Taako isn’t yet well enough to move by himself much more than around his room and a bit of the upstairs. They suggest making a temporary room to stay in on the ground floor near the kitchen, but he insists it’s fine. It’s motivation to conquer those god awful stairs that suddenly he regrets installing. Angus tells him they came with the house. Taako elbows him aside and the boy laughs.

In a way, it’s almost… domestic. Kravitz would never go so far as to assume anything on Taako’s side, not with how his emotions change with the weather, but he knows how he feels. It’s a delight to take care of Angus, and spending time with Taako casually has taught him much just about sciences and the man himself. It’s been (and he knocks on the wood of the table) wonderful--in certain parts.

The power dynamic of a professor and his assistant has been dropped for the time being as Kravitz helps nurse him back to health, thankfully. They’re able to meet in the middle like this, like men on equal ground who interact normally. Kravitz talks about his upbringing and how he spends time in town, the music that he likes and his dream of being a conductor that never quite panned out. Though Taako snickers and teases him about it, he hints around a few of his own dreams within large stories of grandeur and drama.

The holes in Taako’s backstory begin to come together, slowly, but surely. He doesn’t speak much more of his sister specifically, but he does tell Kravitz about how they came to this city for the school. They got in on a scholarship, given their grand talents, and took the academy by storm. For once, Kravitz doesn’t take the embellishments for granted; he’s seen how well respected and powerful Taako is. He’s something special. Magnus and Merle came in with a few other friends somewhere along the way, and though Taako leaves out the significant details of where and when it all was, he tells the happy stories with fun punchlines.

Clouded and mysterious as the details of his history remain, he allows Kravitz insight on the emotional bits. And Kravitz can do nothing but eat what’s given from his hand and fall even farther down the rabbit hole he’s found himself stumbling in.

One day, Taako sleeps in a little longer than usual, so Kravitz lets him rest and decides to clean up around the house. He feels more like a maid at times like these, but it’s better than spending another full day just reading. Taako isn’t one for cleaning up after himself if he doesn’t have magic at his disposal, and while it’s slowly coming back to him, Angus and Kravitz both take it upon themselves to tidy up the kitchen after meals.

Most of the house is already well in order, as the only ones who get around are the two of them. All he can really do is waste time in dusting, straightening up items, and vacuuming the already clean carpets. He’s done it all a dozen times already. However… in the hallway downstairs, Kravitz’s eyes lift to the back of the house.

He hasn’t entered the lab once since that night. There hasn’t been any reason to. Taako’s health and having someone by his side has always been a much larger priority, but now… if there’s a place in the house that could probably use the time and care to be cleaned, it’d be there.

Kravitz takes a few steps back to the bottom of the stairs and cups a hand around his mouth. “Taako, I’m going to clean up the lab--you can check the cameras to make sure I don’t steal any beakers.” It’s better safe than sorry. No doubt Taako would feel betrayed if he found Kravitz digging around there by himself. For good measure, he writes a note and slips it under the door upstairs. Just in case.

Sleeves rolled up, Kravitz makes his way back to the basement door. For how cautious Taako is, it’s so out of place from the rest of the home. He supposes how secluded it is from the front of the house helps in hiding it, as do the locks usually clamping it shut. The door opens without a sound, unlocked from the last time it was opened, and the cold air that rushes up to greet him is none too welcome.

The creaking of the steps below his feet is familiar and uncomfortable. The chill as he braces his hand on the wall down the stairs is unyielding and offensive. The lights, still on and leaking through the doorway, make his stomach curl. For all the psychological torment this laboratory has given him, it manifests physically more often than not.

With how long it’s been, it feels wrong that the lab looks exactly the same. A few of the lights are still on, though most is coming from the large tanks where unidentified masses float around. A few papers are scattered about, a few things pushed aside from when Kravitz had frantically carried Taako up and out of this dungeon.

He finds the office room in the west wing first, locating a bit of cleaning supplies to get started. There’s enough of a mess in here to keep him busy for weeks on end, honestly. He can’t imagine the last time Taako cleaned this place up himself. It probably would’ve been Kravitz’s job at some point if they didn’t have to take such an extended break. He straightens up a few things as he travels back to the main room, mostly just clearing space on tables or throwing scraps in the trash.

As all the time he’s spent in the lab has been accompanied by Taako, he’s never gotten the chance to really explore or look around freely. Kravitz is all too aware of the many cameras watching, of course, but he doesn’t think Taako would throw him away for meandering about just a little. He takes his time in the rooms he’s more comfortable lingering in, looking around at the rows and rows of red strings growing in beakers on no less than a dozen tables he’d worked on the first time. Beneath fume hoods, capped off bottles are labeled in bright red letters and explicit warnings.

With a spray bottle and paper towels, Kravitz handles what he’s mostly sure won’t combust upon contact, like tables that are already clear or dirty spots on the floor. Some pieces of equipment--the scalpels and dissection tools Taako had once used--are easy to get lost in cleaning for a few minutes. It’s a good way to spend time as long as the other doesn’t kill him for even being down here.

He approaches the large columns of fluid in another room with a bit more caution next. Kravitz has never been told what they are, or what they’re for, and he can only attempt to connect the dots himself. In the past, they’d all been lit up with different contents. One just had what looked like veins inside. Another had a full mass of something soft, while one had some kind of rock. Another has been covered by a white sheet since the first day, though it still emits a soft glow from beneath.

There’s no telling whether or not they’re all being used for the same experiment, or if it’s some kind of process used for multiple tests. If the former, then the contents inside hardly make sense with one another. Kravitz could stand here all day and guess what they’re for, but he knows he won’t receive any answers this way. He takes a step back, mustering all his strength to tear his eyes away from the almost hypnotic light of the green tubes.

His heart begins to beat as he proceeds into the east wing. There, the room where they’d done the last experiment waits, and Kravitz thinks for a minute that maybe he should’ve mentally prepared himself before doing this.

But seeing it might hurt Taako even more. With that in mind, Kravitz gently slaps his face to get back in the right mindset. He’s just cleaning the place up and nothing more. It’s to help Taako. Old bucket of cleaning supplies in hand, he turns the corner into the room.

He doesn’t enter, stopping as soon as he can see inside.

“Taako?”

The elf doesn’t react to the sound. The papers in his hands ruffle, and his shoulders shake.

It’s amazing, how in the span of just a month or more together, Kravitz feels as if he knows Taako. Part of it is likely due to the fact that, as is his job, he studies the man meticulously, searching for motive and reason behind every expression and word. In this past week in particular he likes to believe he’s gotten closer to understanding him better. Kravitz steps into the room, and finally hearing him, Taako’s shoulders tense, and he stops moving. He’d like to believe he knows him.

When he turns around, Kravitz is only sure of one thing; those aren’t Taako’s eyes.

There’s something different about their… quality, something within them. He knows that physically, they’re the same as they’ve always been. But something is off, and it isn’t just his mood. And speaking of, how did he even get down here in the first place? The last time Kravitz checked, Taako could only make it down the hall and back while breathing heavily and complaining about his legs.

A chill runs down his spine as their eyes meet, as if for the first time all over again.

And then Taako jolts awake, out of his trance, and he’s normal once again.

“Kravitz? What’re you doing here?” he asks, voice too quiet to be assertive.

“Cleaning,” Kravitz answers easily and holds up the bucket of supplies he’s been toting around. “I told you so, and left a note--upstairs, where I thought you were. How did you… get down here, Taako?”

The elf looks around him, inspecting the room in confusion. He doesn’t look back at Kravitz while he speaks. “Guess I feel a bit better, huh…”

Guess so. Before Kravitz can be relieved that he hasn’t been kicked out or killed for treason yet, something else catches his eye, and he nearly drops his things while quickly crossing the gap between them. “Better? Taako, look what you’ve done!”

Much to the scientist’s obvious surprise by his sputtering, Kravitz kneels before him and at eye level with the dark wounds on his legs. From whatever exertion it took to cross two flights of stairs, a few of the patches have opened up and are leaking blood onto the floor. It isn’t too horribly much, but the number of them alone is disconcerting.

“What, don’t worry, they don’t hurt? I’ll take care of ‘em later.”

“At least let me cover them up,” Kravitz mumbles while standing, only having to walk a short distance to find a roll of bandages from the last few times.

“Why,” Taako asks, “too squeamish? Can’t look unless they’re hidden?”

That defensiveness is back again. He returns to Taako’s side and leads him to a chair to sit in while he works. “No,” he says while beginning to wrap one of his ankles until the white of the bandages is no longer red, “because I care about you.”

It shuts him up, and Kravitz supposes that’s all he can ask. He works in silence then, fingers gentle and deft as they circle around Taako’s legs to catch the bandage each round. Slowly, the wounds are indeed healing. More of his natural skin is becoming apparent from beneath the dark spots and recovering faster around the edges. Kravitz holds back the urge to touch them, but if his fingers accidentally brush the skin while treating him, he can’t help it. If he notices how smooth it is beneath his fingertips, it’s just coincidence.

Kravitz only gets the courage to look up once. Taako’s eyes are on his face, and they don’t immediately look away when they meet. He fingers pause on the back of his calves where he can feel the weight of the flesh there, not too unlike the weight of the air between them in that moment. Taako’s gaze is heavy with a look Kravitz has seen on others before, but can’t imagine has the same meaning coming from Taako himself. He couldn’t hope for so much.

Suddenly, Kravitz wishes he had undertaken any other profession, something more useful to convey his feelings in this moment. Perhaps if he’d been a musician, he could compose something to communicate the thoughts that sink and play in his chest, or maybe he needed the diction and tact of a poet to speak his thoughts of privacy into light.

But there are merits to the eye of a detective. Taako’s eyes, half lidded and exhausted, usually never hold his for more than a second, and it could be a minute now since they’ve met. His shoulders are loose and comfortable. His lips parted.

Before Kravitz can do anything, the leg in his hold extends until Taako is pressing his toes into Kravitz’s chest for him to continue.

It doesn’t take much longer for Kravitz to finish up, tying each bandage off simply until Merle can come over and fix them up himself. When they stand, Kravitz attempts to help Taako up the stairs with just an arm around his waist. It becomes quickly apparent it isn’t enough, and he changes their positions so he’s carrying Taako like a bride (the only way he’ll be held without throwing a fit) and taking him up both flights of stairs.

As soon as his body hits the mattress of his bed, Taako looks like he could sleep immediately. Kravitz can’t blame him, understanding the stress his body must be under. Especially if he somehow made it downstairs in the first place. But he doesn’t sleep immediately, actually going through the trouble of sitting up and rubbing his eyes awake to speak with Kravitz a little longer.

“Last time,” he begins, “I said I’d tell you more about the specific work I do with my clients.”

“Those are words you said, yes.”

Taako pauses, taking a deep breath before he uncovers his eyes and stares Kravitz down seriously. “Get me a pen and a few sheets of paper.” They’re easy to find around the room, and Kravitz hands over a book to write on top of as well. “This is for Lucas. But, I’ll teach you how to write reports and updates to send to my grubs coming up. For now,” he uncaps the pen with his teeth and keeps talking with it in his mouth, “take this to the post office when I’m done.”

Kravitz nods, taking the cap out of Taako’s teeth once he starts writing without regard for it. “Are you going to update them on your status? You haven’t done anything in the lab since then to report on.”

“That’s why I’m gonna --none of those fucking laypeople that rely on someone else to do their work for them have any business knowing about my personal life. We’ll get back in the lab tomorrow or the next day.”

“We’ll what ?”

Taako lifts his head to quirk a brow at Kravitz. He speaks slower this time. “We’ll get back… in the lab… tomorrow… or the next--”

“No, I heard you,” Kravitz says. “I just don’t get--how you think you’re in any condition to do anything. You couldn’t even make it up the stairs, you know.”

“I made it down the stairs,” Taako says.

“And nearly bled to death.”

Taako scoffs and rolls his eyes twice so Kravitz can properly see how frustrated he is. “You’re overreacting. Already tired of work?”

“I’m not worried about the work, I just c--”

“Care about me. Right. Don’t need to say it again.” His voice is monotone and dry when he says it, draining Kravitz’s chest of any optimism. Taako returns to writing his letter as if the conversation hadn’t happened at all and leaves Kravitz to wait on his haunches while he works.

Every interaction, it feels like Kravitz is fighting the tide. Sometimes Taako is cooperative and it feels they might get somewhere, anywhere that isn’t the shitty place they’re in now. Other time it’s like taking five steps back--or being violently pushed five steps away. There’s no telling what kind of day it’ll be with him. Although it makes their interactions interesting, Kravitz is hardly able to be at ease when it’s Taako’s own health and safety on the line.

“I’ll think about it.”

Kravitz only lifts his eyes to look at Taako who continues writing as he speaks.

Even now, he’s unpredictable. This time, Kravitz doesn’t stop the smile that plays at his lips, and catches Taako glancing at him for just a second.

Sometimes the tide is just playful, lapping at his feet in a way that’s more pleasant than it isn’t.

Once he’s finished, Taako folds up the two pages he’s used with a practiced eased and slides them into an envelope that Kravitz has to fish out of a random drawer across the room. Taako labels the letter with both of their full addresses and names, much to his surprise, with no proxy or anything. Chances are it’ll be burnt once Lucas has read it, but he has to wonder if they’ve ever corresponded recreationally as well. They seem to have been friends at some point.

“You know where the post office is,” Taako says, falling back in bed as if he’d just run a marathon. “When you get back, fuck off, don’t wake me up. I’m only getting up to shovel whatever nutrients are necessary to survive in my body before hibernating.”

“Lights on or off?” Kravitz asks once he’s in the doorway.

Instead of casting Magic Hand to simply hit the light switch, the astral hand appears and flips Kravitz off as Taako rolls over under his blankets. Kravitz turns off the lights without another word, and proceeds out the door.

The outdoor air is more refreshing than Kravitz could have hoped. He takes each breath with care, savoring what he can of the outside world before he’s forced back inside once again. He’s been out a few times since he’s become Taako’s live-in-sitter, out to get groceries or the time he’d visited Raven’s office, one trip back to his place to get a few pairs of clothes. Though they hang in the guest room closet, Kravitz hasn’t slept anywhere but the couch by Taako’s bed since he came, even after the professor has woken up.

The outside world is grounding in a way Kravitz hadn’t known he needed until taking this job. Just seeing other people, normal, regular people living their everyday lives, has become one of his greatest comforts. He certainly hasn’t kept up to date with any news, and he takes in every passing headline on each newspaper or TV he comes in contact with. It starts to set in just how much time he’s been away, how long two weeks really is.

By now, it’s full blown Candlenights season, and stores don’t hold back any shame in decorating the entire streets. Kravitz has the mind to take out his personal phone and snap a picture, first thinking that Taako might want to see how it looks since he can’t come out. He hesitates when he realizes Taako could actually very well not care at all and puts his phone away. Angus might like it later, though. Maybe he can take the kid out to see all the candle lights one night, the entire town all lit up for the holidays. If Taako wanted to see, he’d willingly carry him the entire way. It might do wonders to restore some of his vanishing humanity.

Kravitz snaps another picture of the decorated drop boxes outside the post office. Unfortunately, he has no letters for any mythical gift-bringing man, but he thinks Lucas might not be so different in how freely he seems to supply Taako with whatever he needs. Their deal must be important to him.

He doesn’t get very far down the road heading back when he’s disturbed. At a vibration in his pocket, Kravitz looks down to grab his phone--only to find the burner Taako gave him in his other pocket. The blood immediately drains from his face and he pulls out his own phone quickly, darting to the side of the street and in between two buildings when he catches sight of the caller ID.

‘FW Commissioner’

When he answers the phone, Kravitz has already prepared a full report littered with excuses.

His client, however, cuts him off. She answers the phone panting for breath, so heavy it catches him off guard until she speaks. “What… is going on over there?”

He’s surprised, shocked even, given she has never shown much emotion during their phone calls before. Kravitz looks around the street in a panic. He didn’t prepare for this at all, suddenly. “There was an--issue with one of the experiments Taako was conducting. He got hurt in the process, and he’s been out of commission the past couple d--”

“What kind of experiment?”

“I don’t know exactly--he usually doesn’t tell me. It was some new equipment made by a scientist he’s in contact with, and it used both magic and… chemistry, I think.” She’s never requested specific information like this before--she hardly requests information at all. Kravitz can only think of giving her everything he knows. “The test was on himself, it’s had some impact on his magic and his ability to cast spells as well as his general health. He only just recently woke up.”

The silence that follows is deafening. In reality, it’s more information than he wants to give, but it’s all things he would have given any other client on any other case. He doesn’t tell her he’s spent the entire week here taking care of him. He doesn’t tell her how Taako screamed on the floor in pain, how Angus cried when he saw him. They’re too personal.

But Kravitz has been doing so much more work, and it feels like the other things he’s discovered are infinitely more important than anything else he’s said. Like how he’s finally found that the softness in Taako’s eyes is only revealed past a threshold of exhaustion, how his lips fall open when he’s tired and quirk up for just a millisecond when he doesn’t want to appear happy. He’s so much more perceptive than he lets on, speaking to Kravitz about books he hasn’t told him he’s read and only seen in different piles by the couch.

Taako is brilliant, perhaps the most he’s met in his life.

And to be this insistent and spend this much money getting information on him, Kravitz has to suspect that this woman is already aware just how bright he is.

He listens to her breathe, waiting until it sounds like she’s finally calmed before she continues. “Okay, I think I get what’s going on… Keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll send another payment soon--”

“I can’t--” Kravitz speaks quickly before she can end the call, and waits until he realizes she hasn’t hung up before going on. “I can’t continue this… with a good conscience unless I know your side a little more. Just tell me--do you plan on using any of this to hurt Taako?”

He’s not so stupid to think this isn’t personal at this point. She’s never cared about the work leading up to this, focused more on the man himself. Bits and pieces here and there, but how much of this is about what goes on in that basement?

What are the chances someone would hire him to study a necromancer for nothing to do with his actual work?

“I would never harm Taako,” she says after a few beats. “Keep taking care of him.” And then she hangs up, par for the course.

The world continues to move around outside, people passing on the streets without regard for the man stuffed into an alleyway. All the Candlenights decor twinkles and sings, even jollier than the last time he’d been out with Taako. It takes Kravitz a minute, maybe two or three, before he locks his phone and stuffs it back into his pocket.

It feels like with every passing day, the world changes before his very eyes.

Kravitz likes to think he’s a relatively simple man. Instead of dwelling on what he can’t currently understand, he takes a deep breath, leaves the alley, and begins walking back down the street. Getting coffee for Taako from the cafe they’d visited makes for a good distraction as his thoughts quiet down, and after a nice drink, he might be able to think more clearly.

When he returns to the house, Taako is ironically awake and reading alone. Despite being asked not to be woken up, he’s pleasantly surprised by the gift. He doesn’t smile at first, eyes wide as if in shock before that toothy grin returns to his face. He even thanks Kravitz, and Kravitz can’t help but smile as he sits back down on his couch and picks up a book. It’s only a minute before Taako interrupts him, pulling the blankets off his legs.

“Hey,” he says, “I’m sick of lying in bed like a dying matriarch, help me up.”

“Where are you going?” Kravitz is already standing and crosses the small space to the bed. Slowly, Taako brings his legs to dangle over the edge, sitting upright as Kravitz bends over and prepares to help him up.

“We’re gonna find out real quick, aren’t we?.”

With an arm wrapped around Taako’s middle, and the elf’s arm over his shoulders, they stand together. Taako doesn’t make it farther than that before he holds a hand up to cover his eyes, cursing fatigue. But he’s still standing, which is enough to keep Kravitz from giving up and laying him back down. Though it may be presumptuous, he rubs just one small circle into his back before Taako is taking a deep breath and stepping forward.

Every movement causes him to grimace, and Kravitz winces for him. He doesn’t know what pain Taako is feeling, sharp or aching, but he can see it in the still-healing patches of damaged skin that cover his body. Though the wounds from the first few experiments have healed with the help of time and Merle, these have only just begun to recede. There’s no telling when he’ll be back to his full, healthy self. Nor is there any explanation for how he’d made it down to the lab in the first place, but Kravitz tucks that one away for now.

Taako makes it only to the couch a few feet before him before turning and falling back unceremoniously onto it. He drapes a wrist over his forehead daintily, and although Kravitz follows him down to sit, he can tell the elf isn’t out of breath or tired at all. He’s smiling too much to be in such pain that he’d be forced to stop here.

But Kravitz doesn’t question it, and he leans over to pick his book back up. He continues reading where he left off, though this time, he stops occasionally to ask the scientist drinking coffee and leaning on Kravitz for explanation. It takes much longer to finish the book, and by the time he does, Taako is complaining about having to teach on his day off. Kravitz thinks all the years training his perception for work has paid off just to notice the pink dusting over Taako’s cheeks.

Chapter Text

“Good fucking god, Krav, didn’t know you were such a tyrant!”

Kravitz furrows his brows together defensively and looks over the paper on the table in front of him. Sure, it’s marked up and down in pencil and errors, but they’re all for a reason. He glances over at Taako to see him only leaving red marks every now and then, or none at all. “What, this kid has a lot of grammar issues everywhere! Are you telling me you don’t count off for spelling?”

“I’m their prestidigitation three professor, not their ‘intro to common’ tutor,” Taako scoffs, snatching the essay from under Kravitz’s hand and undoing all of his work with an eraser. “Read which one’s I’ve already finished, that might help.”

Taako slides another stack of papers over for Kravitz to look through before picking up a piece of muffin with his fingers and lazily shoving it in his mouth. Kravitz can hardly be distracted by the slobbiness as he squints at the paper given to him. “All you did was put a grade on it--there’s no comments or marks or anything?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s like, a guide--that kid’s a real tryhard, so theirs is perfect. Just use it for comparison.”

Kravitz’s eyes narrow as he smiles. “Isn’t that some kind of breach of academic policies.”

Taako snorts, holding his hands up. “What, you expect me to use a fucking rubric? I came up with the assignment, I’ve never needed some guideline to know if someone mucked something up.”

“It’s a wonder you haven’t gotten fired yet.”

“It’s a wonder I haven’t fired you yet.”

Kravitz can’t help but scoff and give the other a side-eye look. He doesn’t say anything else, but Taako returns the stare with a grin. They both know he could never get rid of Kravitz at this point.

It’s been two weeks now since Taako became well enough to go back to work. Kravitz finally returned to his own home, the apartment feeling more empty than usual as he did. Though his body thanked him fervently for the proper bed he was finally allowed to sleep on, waking up to an empty room had never felt so… off. Even though it’s been years since he’s dated anyone, much less slept in the same room as them.

The journey to getting Taako back up on his own feet has been fulfilling in its own right. With the help of Merle and Magnus visiting to keep him in high spirits, it’s been a group effort getting him back to walking and functioning like the rest. By now only a few coin sized black circles remain on his skin, and what aren’t covered by his clothes are masked in a simple glamor. The moment he was able to keep the charm up for an entire day he decided it was finally time to return to the school.

Kravitz wasn’t needed much after that. He keeps in contact with Angus, as the two became something like texting buddies sending updates on Taako and trading pictures of books and Candlenights decor. He’s taken the kid out for snacks once after school and not much else since then. Taako didn’t make any effort to reach out to him. Kravitz couldn’t blame him; there’s no way around all the work he inevitably has to catch up on.

When he finally did call Kravitz for the first time, it brought him to the same coffee shop to help grade student lab reports.

Taako gathers up all the papers when they’re finished after no short time. The sun has disappeared behind the buildings in town in a mock sunset, signalling the end of their time together. Kravitz holds the door open with a flourish when they leave and Taako snorts, elbowing him not very gently though certainly in jest as they walk down the street. This time, they split up eventually, Kravitz turning down a different street to return to his apartment while Taako heads to his house. They part with a wave and a promise to contact soon. Kravitz tells him to say hi to Angus despite having texted the kid three times that day already. Taako rolls his eyes and walks away.

Once Taako’s face is turned, Kravitz stops walking, and he watches the elf’s retreating back.

It seems odd that after so many weeks of wishing to escape the man as soon as possible he would eventually feel sorrow watching him walk away. He had made mock complaints while they were busy, but in reality, Kravitz could’ve sat in that coffee shop grading papers until they closed. He had no idea what he was doing the entire time, but Taako helped. More importantly, Taako smiled --no longer the fake smirk he put on for show, something more genuine, something that didn’t immediately cause Kravitz to worry.

Even as his assistant once again, this meetup didn’t feel unbalanced. They were just two men coming together for work. Just two men hanging out at a coffee shop, grading papers and trading stories.

Kravitz waits until he can no longer see Taako’s figure before he finally admits it to himself. Or rather, the words stick in his mind, and he allows himself to accept it for the first time.

He likes Taako. It’s more than a feeling when they’re together, something Taako provides that he can take for himself and call a day. It isn’t something that sits in his chest that, though abstract, he can feel and define with his heart’s personal vocabulary. Even if it’s with the purest intentions and with no need for anything else, the feeling alone is selfish to keep to himself.

It’s something that weighs on Kravitz’s mind whenever they meet. A desire, a need to help and protect Taako from himself. After being alone for so long, it’s odd and new to care for a person in the way he is now. Kravitz once wasn’t sure if he had the emotional capacity to care for another, given the last time he did and it went wrong he ended up going through years of school to become a private investigator and stake his life on revenge for it. But that’s different. This is this.

Kravitz doesn’t face the newfound love he has for the scientist with anything new, nor does he approach him any differently. The only difference it’s made is in how he enjoys their time together, unabashedly indulging in his presence, and his overarching goal.

Life is easier to proceed with once he’s finally settled on a path to take in his current project. There isn’t any purpose bypassing his client; even if her intentions are still unknown, they aren’t malicious. That’s the most he can ask for right now, and soon he’ll have to turn to slowly easing her motives out until he can act. After that there’s two courses of action; one, in which he simply rejects her case and cuts everything off, which is arguably the safest and cleanest. Or he could tell Taako everything and do what he needs to help the most. Which could get him killed if he isn’t safe.

What matters the most for now is Taako’s safety and keeping him from doing anything drastic. Thankfully, the last experiment has shaken him--or if it didn’t, it shook everyone around him enough to convince him to take things slower. He’s been hinting recently at starting up something new, talking about how he’s already gotten back in the lab on solo projects without Kravitz. As long as there haven’t been any new injuries visible, Kravitz has no issue with it. After all, Taako has mentioned multiple times now that he wants to show Kravitz the real ropes of what he does.

He’ll act as subtly and cautiously as ever, discreet and composed for both of their sakes. The warnings of friends and others before him linger in his mind-- don’t get personally invested, don’t get attached --but there’s no way anyone has ever encountered anything of this magnitude before. This is different, and he’s more than confident these feelings that have taken root in his chest can only be an asset.

He only has to wait a few days before the call finally comes.

This time, Kravitz is fully prepared for whatever Taako could have to show. That readiness is simply embracing the fact that he knows nothing he could do would properly ‘prepare’ him for anything that’ll happen tonight, that Taako will always find new ways to surprise and horrify him. It’s being ready to move forward in spite of the horrors he’ll have to face. Sometimes one just has to accept that they will be scared, they will be terrified, and there isn’t anything they can do to prevent it. That sense of helplessness is freeing, in a way.

Angus lets him in the front door when he comes over, smiling as he does and talking about something from school for the short walk to the back of the house. He has to cut himself off when they reach the basement, and Kravitz smiles sadly and promises to keep talking if Angus texts him the rest of the story to pick up later. The immediate buzzing of his phone in his pocket on the walk down the stairs is the single comfort that makes the trek easier.

“I’m here, Taako,” he calls when he’s halfway down, already rolling up his sleeves.

There’s quiet only for a moment before Taako speaks up. “Sweet. Watch where you step.”

As if he wouldn’t to begin with. The main room at the end of the stairs is familiar to Kravitz now, and though things are moved around as Taako works with them, the layout is relatively always the same. Most of the space is taken up by rows of tables after another, but what is on top of them tends to change. Usually they’ll be nearly identical stations with multiple pieces of equipment by labeled beakers to be tested. In the back of the room, one lone pod, similar to those in the other room, stands by itself with the same glowing liquid within it. The rest of the room is filled with fume hoods, cabinets, shelves, and other areas for storing material and tools.

Although there are lights installed in every room in the laboratory, they usually never do testing in the main room and tend to leave them off. The light coming in from adjacent rooms, especially whatever luminates the green tanks, is enough to show the way to wherever they’re working that night. Tonight, however, is different, and Kravitz steps into an already lit room with the single bulb dangling from the ceiling turned on.

All the other rooms, however, are left dark. Except, of course, the tank room, which even for being lit appears dimmer than usual. Kravitz watches the ground as he slowly crosses the room and into the doorway.

In the back of the room, most of the pods are now dark and appear to be emptied entirely. A few at the end remain turned on and are the only other source of light besides what makes it past Kravitz’s silhouette in the entrance. He catches sight of Taako first, and Kravitz feels relief wash over him at the sight of his lab coat hanging loosely from his shoulders. For a scientist, it feels like he hasn’t seen Taako in proper garb as much as he should, always dressed down to mutilate himself instead.

But Taako is well now, standing in the center of the room fully dressed and unharmed. He turns as Kravitz appears and meets his eye--unreadable and serious.

Kravitz takes a step into the room without breaking eye contact and feels his heart skip a beat as his foot slips a little beneath him. He doesn’t fall, but it does remind him to heed Taako’s warning and watch where he’s walking. On the ground, the same green fluid that had filled the pods before now coats the floor like a layer of base paint. It’s hard to tell the difference between the green and regular water on the grey floor. As he walks through it, though, some areas where it’s more concentrated make it easier to distinguish.

His brows raise when the first speck of red comes into vision. Kravitz’s immediate first instinct is to look to Taako, and he finally sees the rest of the room for what it is.

Enough red coats the bottom of Taako’s lab coat to paint the same sunset they’d seen the other day. He can tell it isn’t his, though, and Kravitz’s ears are alerted before his eyes.

Splash .

Thmp.

Squish.

He looks down to Taako’s feet and doesn’t breathe.

(1) The creatures there are not human, and that’s all he knows for sure. In total there’s about four ‘formed’ ones while a scattering of pieces of another continue to twitch on the floor. The largest seems like it grew from the torso outwards, about the size of a child but without any coherent limbs. Another has a few too many, simple appendages sticking from their sides in any random number and order. Without any direction or sense for the situation they’re in, they all flail weakly about the lab floor, the larger ones rolling, the smaller spasming without control.

But the worst part of it all is their ‘faces.’ The most coherently formed one has an actual head atop a neck on its torso. When it moves, Kravitz can see what had hoped to become a face on the front of its head. There’s no nose, and if there’s anything within the dark socket that likely intended to be an eye, Kravitz doesn’t focus long enough to discover. A skewed slit at the bottom of their face opens and clothes, occasionally wheezing and gurgling as a child fresh from the womb might if the ability to cry were taken from them. Kravitz thinks then that perhaps children cry for joy, knowing in their biology that they have succeeded in being formed and living as opposed to turning out as these. (1)

“Don’t worry,” Taako says, eyes still hard on Kravitz’s face, “they’re not alive with souls or anything, it’s just muscle movement, sensory intake and response.” After he speaks, Kravitz watches as he lifts a boot (the same ones he was wearing just the other day) and brings it down on a small piece that looks like it could have been a leg without a foot. It easily crushes beneath the weight and splatters across the ground.

Kravitz lifts his eyes and finds a place on the wall across from him to stare as Taako begins moving around the room. He hears the sound of him taking out latex gloves from a box and snapping them on.

“This has been in the works for a few months now, off and on. Some have come and gone between these but I had hopes for this batch, y’know.” He comes back over to stand across from Kravitz, interrupting his view with a detached stare. “See, this one,” he says, nudging the largest with the toe of his boot, “I tried speeding up the process on, since shit, I don’t have all the time in the world to do all this. It worked at first--it’s got a torso and everything, like a real people would, but something got messed up along the way. Pretty messed up looking, huh?”

He had hoped that, maybe, once all of this is over, there would be hope for the two of the moving forward. Together. Even after all the experiments were finished, Kravitz thought he might be able to stick around and help Taako come to terms with whatever it is that’s been bringing him down for so long. The professor could focus on his career at the school first and foremost. He could hang out with his son more, like a father should.

Any hopes Kravitz once had slowly sink into the floor and through the drain with the rest of the blood and column fluid.

What kind of future awaits a man like this, a man capable of this?

“Please,” he finally says, voice quieter than intended as Taako continues stomping on the unlived hellspawn crawling on his floor, “just tell me what this is all for. What are you really doing down here, Taako?”

The other distracts himself with cleaning. The only sounds in the room are an occasional splash or squish as he collects the pieces of unmoving flesh into a container to be disposed of. Kravitz keeps his eyes away from the action, already feeling his stomach stirring unpleasantly. Anymore might send him over the edge.

“I told you I’d show you the commercial side of what goes on down here, so voila.” Taako leans against one of the tables and holds his arms out unceremoniously. “Welcome to the shitshow with your host, moi. Other less talented, less gifted people commission me to work with their loved ones or whatever who have kicked the bucket. They send a few samples, some information, and a shit load of money, and I work on trying to ‘revive’ them. Or something close enough to them, anyways.”

He meanders over to the pods in the back of the room, fiddling with some controls Kravitz can’t see from here. He would cross the distance between them if he could, though the prospect of stepping even one inch closer to those homunculi monsters on the ground is enough to keep him rooted in place. After a few beeps, the empty pods light back up with activity and a valve from the top opens, beginning to fill them with the same familiar fluid as before.

Taako keeps speaking over the noise. “They all know there’s high potential for all of this to be unsuccessful. But the people who contact me are the ones so torn up, so absolutely ruined by someone’s death, that they’re willing to go through anything to bring them back. Even if it’s impossible, or,” a smirk comes to his face, and Taako crosses his arms, “just incredibly sacreligious.”

It’s everything Kravitz could ever want to know.

The information is basic, all things he had already assumed before from the nature of his work, but nothing he could ever be sure of. It’s definite, now. All the people they’ve tracked down and arrested before, all the scientists and madmen with makeshift labs of their own, trying to raise the dead, all of it leads back to here.

But he couldn’t feel more unsatisfied.

At the confirmation, Kravitz’s heart falls to his feet, and he struggles to take a smooth breath of air.

There isn’t any redeeming this.

There isn’t any excuse for this.

“A while ago,” Kravitz finally manages to say, “you told me this… this all had to do with one thing. That this was about your sister.”

The smile falls from Taako’s face. He doesn’t turn away this time though, and the air between them suddenly weighs much heavier than before.

Over the sound of tanks filling, of splashing on the ground, of squirming from the failed experiments, Kravitz wants to pretend he hears Taako wrong. He’s held onto every word he’s said, kept them all in files in his mind, labeled and dated for perfect viewing. As much as he anticipates the words from his mouth, they run through his head, knocking down any evidence or theories he once had.

“My sister died.”


Angus: Mr. Kravitz, look at these lights I saw today! They were shaped like little candles, and had fake fire inside of them and everything! They even played music

Angus: [file attached]

Kravitz: Those are lovely, Angus. I haven’t hung lights in years, though it’s a little too late now that Candlenights is over. I didn’t see any lights on your house either?

Angus: Yeah, Taako was too busy this year, but we usually decorate the inside of our house a lot too. This year we only got to give gifts though, and he made a nice dinner one night.

Kravitz: I would’ve helped if you asked. It’s funner to decorate a house than an apartment building I share with three other people.

Kravitz: How is he doing, by the way? It’s been a while.

Angus: Not very good, I don’t think… don’t tell him I said any of this. But I haven’t seen him that much. He makes dinner as soon as we get home, puts it in the oven to keep warm, then heads into the basement for the rest of the night. I tried staying up real late to see when he came back upstairs, but I fell asleep around two… I don’t know if he’s sleeping down there or not at all.

Angus: Today I just packed my own lunch and left without seeing him at all. But he came back home later and talked for a little. I’m worried.

Kravitz: I am too. He hasn’t asked for my help in a few weeks now, at least not down there. He’s definitely been sending me papers to grade. I feel more like a teaching assistant more than anything.

Angus: Really? He usually stays after school a while to work, I thought he was at least taking care of his own grading there.

Kravitz: He’s probably staying late to help other students. I saw him do it once.

Kravitz: How about we go out and check out any houses that still have decorations up tomorrow?

Angus: That’d be super fun, sir! I would love to!


Kravitz does something different for the first time; he writes an essay.

With a case as sensitive as this, he would rather not leave any trail or evidence of what he’s been doing, but it’s for his own sake. There’s very little chance of anyone ever finding it, anyways. He sits at the desk in his personal office, both phones set to the side face down, and begins writing out a report.

It’s been months now since he’s taken on this project, and longer than that since he began tracking FW himself. He knew from the beginning necromancy was involved. He knew this was where everything was leading. Every clue, every trail they’d followed until the moment they found Taako’s information, was bound to lead them here. He details exactly where it began and where he jumped in. There’s no way it could have not leaded him to this very place.

And yet it still hurts. Kravitz, as professional and serious a worker he is, still got attached. It may have been optimistic, believing he could play any hand that might bring Taako out of whatever dark place he’s been stuck in for so long. But this entire time, that’s never been his purpose; he’s here to witness. To report. To do nothing.

He writes down every name, every person that’s been mentioned and everyone that he’s met along the way. They’re all rooted in this cause, this ungodly experimentation that never should have seen the light of day. Angus, perhaps the most innocent, is too young to make any moves himself. Everyone else is either suspiciously complacent or encouraging in some way. Lucas, the provider of equipment, must also have lost somebody and is working with Taako to restore that person. And Magnus and Merle, the two friends who let him continue this madness? It’s the kind of compliance that only grief over a loved one could justify.

Taako himself, who claims to have not lost anyone, yet his sister has passed away.

Kravitz puts his pen down and leans his face into his hands. Their time in the coffee shop together is still etched into the back of his eyelids, a sanctuary.

Chapter Text

He thought it was a joke at first.

“Lupty loop, surprise brother, you better not have eaten yet.” Taako opens the door to the lab with his hip, carrying two plates of food on either hand. Both are hot and nearly burning his fingers, so he quickly walks to the nearest clean surface and sets them down.

Then he turns and sees her, laying on the ground, and snorts.

“C’mon you lazy bitch, I just saved you from Barold’s fast food run. This shit’s primo, real top branch stuff, and I’m not gonna wait for you.” He walks to where she’s laying down and gently nudges her with his foot.

There’s no reaction.

He lifts a brow, lowering to kneel on the floor by her side and shakes her shoulder. “What, you fall asleep here? I’m serious when I say not to wait on this, it isn’t good cold.”

When he pushes her shoulder more firmly to turn her, Taako gets the first feeling that something has gone wrong. Lup rolls onto her back without any resistance, and now Taako actually takes the time to look at the rest of her body. Even though it’s winter, she’s dressed in just a tee and shorts, with an arm band connected to a million wires around one of her biceps. His eyes follow it up to some machine that continues to whir in the quiet room.

Near the spot where her hand originally was resting, her personal wand has rolled away.

Taako’s face scrunches up in distaste and he rolls his eyes. “Did you seriously knock yourself out, dummy? For fuck’s sake… making me clean your shit up…”

He reaches around her shoulders to hold the woman close, his other arm falling under her knees to pick her up fully. She’s just as heavy as he is, and it’s immediately apparent that he hasn’t spent enough time working out that it puts such a strain on him to carry his own sister. Given he knows she’s always been the stronger of the two of them, and he’s much more used to being the one carried than anything. She really will owe him later, making him miss out on this meal he cooked and everything.

He’s thankful Barry isn’t home right now, god knows the man would throw a fit over just this.

Taako manages to turn the door handle with his foot in a feat of flexibility, kicking it open so forcefully it slams back against the wall. All the loud noise could do is wake Lup up, which is exactly what he’s trying to do. Laying her in her own bed, Taako makes sure she’s beneath a few blankets and settled comfortably before he heads back into the lab to put the food away. He stores Lup’s serving in the refrigerator for later and brings his own back to her room, reclining on the open spot on the bed beside her and eating alone.

It’s only after he’s finished does he glance back over at his sister. This wouldn’t be the first time she’s fucked something up in the lab, and definitely won’t be the last. He reaches over to feel her forehead just in case. There certainly isn’t a fever. His brows knit together in confusion; if anything, she feels cold as ice.

Right when Taako gets up to fetch another blanket, he hears the door open and immediately rolls his eyes. He had just been thankful Barry wasn’t here, too.

“Barold,” he called, listening to the man hang up his coat and remove his shoes in the doorway, “your girlfriend did an uh-oh in the lab, come take care of her.”

“Again?” Barry says as he appears in the doorway. He looks to where Lup is lying and smiles with a shake of his head. “Is she… unconscious?”

“Yeah, I had to carry her over here. Wasn’t easy, either.”

Taako worms past where Barry is standing to cross over into the living room. He knows their place so well it might as well be his second home, and in many ways, it already is. Angus seems to think so, at least. It makes locating the chest with a number of blankets in it easier and Taako pulls out the largest from the bottom, messing up the order of all the rest on top and slamming the trunk shut.

“By the way there’s some actual edible food in the fridge if you want, it’s probably still warm,” he says while making his way back to the room before stopping in the doorway.

Barry is leaned over Lup, hand stretched out to feel the side of her face--no, her neck, and he stands completely still. The fact he isn’t running around like a chicken with its head cut off is the most worrying thing, given how he overreacts in these situations. He should be jumping up to adorn his mate in any finery and medicine he can find, if not already calling an ambulance.

But Barry stands still, unmoving, unspeaking.

Taako walks past him again, setting the large comforter on the bed by her feet as he begins to unfold it. Something must have happened between the two of them recently for them to both be acting odd like this. Lup usually waits for Barry before doing anything in the lab as well, and the fact she didn’t would be cause for concern if Taako weren’t so confident in his sister’s abilities.

“You gonna stand there all day, Barry? At least move so I can--”

“No.”

Taako almost recoils in surprise before he realizes that Barry isn’t talking to him.

“No, wait… wait a minute…” The human kneels on the bed, and just as suddenly as he had stopped moving before, he takes action now. At once, both Barry’s hands scramble for Lup’s face as he moves to climb up on the bed. His head shakes back and forth the entire time, and before Taako realizes he shouldn’t be seeing this, he understands.

Because he knew the moment he walked in.

He knew it before he knocked on the door, felt some change in the air as he was walking to their house.

At some point, the blanket falls from his hands and onto the floor, then he’s grabbing Barry by the back of his shirt and throwing him off. The man lands unceremoniously on the floor, immediately scrambling back up, though he doesn’t get in Taako’s way as the elf stands over his sister.

Just as simply as he knew when he first saw her, something changes in Taako’s mind, solidifying like instantly dry paint. Like cement.

Life was never particularly easy growing up. Many trials and tribulations kept him from pursuing the exact paths he once wanted, but he’d ended up making something of himself regardless. He fought hard for the place he’s at now, for the people he has now. The friends he has, he cherishes, and now he can look back proudly on all he’s accomplished in spite of the odds.

Taako realizes, in this moment, that he truly has had a successful and happy life.

And he cherishes it, knowing he never will again.


It takes every ounce of strength for him not to take the table between them and flip it into Barry’s angry face. “How can you think you have any idea what you’re talking about?” he shouts not for the first time, hands gripping the edge of the table so tightly his knuckles turn white.

Barry practically snarls in response. “Idea? I’m the one who’s been working with her all this time! If anyone doesn’t know what’s happened, it’s you.”

“I’m her twin brother.”

“That doesn’t mean you know everything she’s thinking!”

“I know her !” he yells, slamming his fist down in an attempt to not just send it flying in Barry’s face. “And I know she wouldn’t have tried to do anything like that, no matter what the fuck you think you were doing.”

“I have all of her notes, we wrote them together, Taako!”

“So what?! I have all of our old recipes we wrote together, you think all those shits are masterpieces? Fucking grow up, Barry, you think she would do something with this big of a risk and not leave anything behind?”

“All of our work… all of our work is what she left behind, what are you talking about!”

Taako takes a second to try and compose himself, though he only gets so far as a single deep breath before the need for rebuttal takes over. He tries to speak more calmly, using an even tone to try and talk Barry down. “Look… we both want the same thing--”

Barry is quick to cut him off. “ Do we?”

Taako is too surprised to respond, as the realization dawns on him; they don’t .


“Well, what do you think, kiddo?” Taako asks, clapping his hand over Angus’s shoulder. The kid beams, grinning ear to ear as he looks up at his parent.

“It’s amazing, Taako! Is this really where we’re going to be living, now?”

“We’re defos not renting the place, that’s for sure. I’m fucking that paint job right up immediately ,” he says while guiding Angus up the path to the new home. It’s only slightly larger than their old place, farther away in location. It’s closer to the school, though, and that’s what matters. The only real issue they’ll have to conquer is the decor, which Angus is far too innocent to understand.

As soon as the door is open, Angus is bounding inside and dropping his bags off in front of the stairs. He inspects everything with childlike amazement, eyes wide and open to the prospect of new opportunities. Taako tells him to take his time investigating the place for any clues, something Angus is more than happy to do as the professor makes his way to the back of the house.

The door leading to the basement isn’t all too inconspicuous, but that can be fixed later. This is the only place he could find with a large enough basement to suit his needs while meeting all of his other picky criteria. He makes his way down the stairs carefully, smile dropped now that Angus isn’t here to see.

This project has been a long time in the making. Taako settled on this house a while ago, had planned on moving here even before the incident, but this just sped things up. He paid extra just to get the construction done faster. Although not everything is set up yet, it definitely has the makings of a laboratory fit for a true professor. Large, open rooms with enough storage space to act as a bomb shelter, fully equipped drainage systems and electricity running through numerous outlets on every wall. Only a few hoods have been set up, some tables arranged and other cabinets or shelving units, but the rest will all come in time. In fact, he’ll be meeting with Lucas in just a few days to discuss the possibility of a collaboration.

He can’t help but scoff to himself.

To think, someone would just pay another person to try and revive their lost relatives. It sounded like a scheming necromancer’s dream.


Taako rubs at his eyes then slaps the sides of his face to fight the sleep seducing his eyelids. This’ll be the second night in a row without resting, and he’s perfectly aware he should sleep at some point. But there’s a chance he might not retain all the information he’s already worked so hard to study. He knows everything he’s covered now, but if he wakes up after eight hours, how much of that will remain?

The intro to biochemistry book on the desk before him is just as tired, its worn spine begging for reprieve as Taako relentlessly turns the page and picks back up.

Suddenly, he wishes he had paid more attention in high school. Or gone to class at all. Nothing from those years has stuck with him besides everything arcane, and that’s the exact opposite of what he has to focus on now. For the work he’ll be doing, Taako has to be an expert in not only magic (as he is already), but anatomy and biology, and chemistry to go with it. All three have to be perfect in order to make any progress, and to do so before Barry? He has to work even harder.

It’s difficult as much as it is ironic for him to leave his job at the academy and come home only to study. He’s eyed a few of the natural science professors, thought about consulting them. But any possibility of raising suspicion in his own school should be left out for now. Perhaps sometime he’ll consider talking to a few of them if need be, but he does already have a few contacts.

Taako glances at the computer in front of him. There’s no less than a dozen emails waiting to be read, all sent from prestigious wizards and scientists he’s met along the road.

He opens up one and reads what a mage he encountered during a conference last year has to say. There’s no mistaking the talents of Edward and Lydia either--and say, he heard just a few years ago how they were still mourning some sibling of theirs…


“Taako, it’s gonna burn.” He snaps out of his thoughts, glancing down at the stir fry on the stove that he hasn’t touched in minutes. He quickly shakes the pan around and turns down the heat. Angus stands beside him and peers up at him worriedly.

“Close one, huh?”

“Are you alright…?” Angus asks, not even pretending to be concerned for the food. “You’ve been spacing out a lot recently, and we haven’t spent a lot of time together…”

Taako reaches out and ruffles the boy’s hair roughly before he can finish. “Don’t worry about it kid, you let me take care of everything, alright?”

It is true though. Now that he’s finally got this lab off the ground and this new ‘business’ is taking off, Taako hasn’t had a lot of time or room for anything else. Not only is he now working with other people who need results by certain deadlines, but he can finally get to work on his own personal dilemma. Knowing that Barry is likely already so far ahead of him, not sure of exactly what the other is doing but knowing it isn’t good, is enough to fuel Taako for days on end without sleep.

He deals out their dinners and brings both to the table where he tries to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. Angus, bright kid that he is, catches on and goes along with it. They talk about school and the new friends he’s made with the upperclassmen. Taako tells stories about his own students. By the end, they’re making plans to hang out with Magnus and Merle again, to go out and watch a movie or something.

He can tell the concern isn’t completely gone from Angus’s mind. It probably never will be, the kid is far too sharp for his own good--but this is progress. Taako tells him to do his homework and cleans up the kitchen by himself, alone with his thoughts for a while to think about this outside world he’s neglected for so long.

There’s no way he can continue like this, ignoring his own kid and pushing him out. That isn’t parenting or whatever it is he’s doing with Angus--guardian-ing, or something. It isn’t what he agreed to do when he took the boy in at all.

But it isn’t like he can just stop working, not when he’s so close to making progress. Other people are waiting on him. His sister is waiting on him.

The next day at school, as he stays late to grade papers, another teacher on his floor stops by to speak. After glancing over the stack of reports piled high on his desk, they jokingly suggest hiring an assistant from the department.

It strikes a chord with him.


Taako’s legs, tired and weak, barely bring him across the room to grab his wand. He closes his eyes tight and tries to ignore the pathetic sounds of a half-living creature, a monster of his own design flailing about on the wet floor. He’s a good enough wizard to not have to look when he sticks out his wand and fires a few magic missiles, and he listens to the sick ‘thud’ of contact.

Only once he’s positive it’s stopped does he open his eyes and sigh at the mess. Blood covers the center of the room and has splashed up against a few of the desks and table legs. It coats the side of one pod, and his lip curls in an involuntary grimace. It’s not pleasant work in the slightest, and actually quite repulsive. Using the rest of his spell slots, he settles all the carcasses in one waste bag and sets them aside to be picked apart later to find what went wrong this time.

But that’s later. For now, he backs up against one of the only clean walls in the room and slowly slides down to sit with his back against the stone. Only once his knees are curled up to his chest does Taako allow himself to breathe, taking in gulps of dry, stale air that burns his lungs.

He can only give himself a minute. Just one minute.

The phone call he received weeks ago, back when he was still bedridden, hangs heavy in his mind.

“You can still change your mind, Taako. I could use your help,” Barry had said.

“Fuck off, you self-centered narrow minded bottom feeding piece of shit,” Taako had replied.

It was all the motivation he needed to immediately get back to work, and now there was no time to waste on trivial things such as this. Somewhere, Lup is waiting for him to fix the mess she has gotten herself into, waiting for her brother. She saved him so many times in the past, carried him to safety, defended him from trouble… Taako repaid each favor in his own way, naturally. But this is larger than that.

This is his responsibility as her brother, her own flesh and blood. If he can’t save her, then nobody can.

Taako tries to get himself back up onto his feet, but the strength doesn’t immediately come.

He sits on the ground just a few minutes longer, listening to the trickle of blood and carnage slipping down the drain. It’s only when he finally gets up and begins to clean that he notices Kravitz turned the light on before he left.

Chapter Text

The three checks laid out before him do nothing for Kravitz’s mental wellbeing and conscience.

He grabs the one from Raven first, as its both the most familiar and smallest in amount given he hasn’t done much work for her recently anyways. It’s no more than pocket money for all the assistance he’s had to give from home in the vast spread of empty time between meetings with Taako where he has nothing to do but live in fear.

The other two are much heavier, and he watches them carefully as if they might up and attack him at any moment. On the left, his regular payment from Taako is given. It’s printed, going through some anonymous trust without any indication of who might be sending or receiving the money. He would feel guilty for taking money from Taako if he weren’t actually working for him and reassured the man had plenty left over. Taako’s implied a few times that he has more money saved up than he lets on.

And then there’s the third check. It’s similar to the one from Taako in that there’s no identifying information on it. Kravitz is sure if he were to scan the thing for fingerprints on either, the only ones would be his own. His client and Taako seem to hold the same care for responsibility in their work. If they know each other, it would even serve as an explanation.

The woman’s payment has been coming in less frequently. If this were a regular case, he would remind her that payments are done by the deadlines they set beforehand, but it isn’t. He could care less if she sent this guilty money or not. Each hefty sum is more shameful than the last, and if he weren’t still needing to survive, he would simply throw them away. It might be best to just donate the funds somewhere else, as the weight of his conscience is too heavy to handle.

He can feel a headache coming on


Kravitz tries to keep his eyes shut at first, clenching them tight to hang on to any last few moments of sleep he can. It’s already too late by the time he does, fully awake as soon as he’s disturbed and unable to ignore the loud ringing of his phone. He counts each tone, waiting until the last one before he reaches out and brings it to his ear.

He doesn’t check which phone it is, nor does he get a chance to speak before he hears Taako’s voice on the other line. “Get over here right now. It’s an emergency.”

At once, Kravitz is wide awake. He sits up fast enough to make his head dizzy but continues jumping out of bed regardless. “Emergency? Did something go wrong, are you hurt, Taako?”

“What--no, no I’m fine, it’s…” There’s some rustling in the background, then Taako returns. “One of the experiments succeeded.”

Kravitz’s thoughts cut out there.

The next few minutes are simply action and muscle movement, quickly getting dressed and grabbing what he needs before running out the door. Only when he’s outside does he realize how early it is in the morning, the sun only just beginning to rise as he all but jogs across town. The walk had never been bad before, more calming than anything, but he suddenly wishes he had taken ten seconds to call a ride or anything else. The time it takes to get to the house is unbearable now, and he considers trespassing a few times just to make the trip quicker.

His thoughts pick back up when the building is finally within sight.

Taako succeeded. Kravitz doesn’t know why the possibility was so far from his mind at all times, why he never considered this happening. Of course Taako wouldn’t fail--he had already been so close before, already forming creatures that could move and everything. Creating a person isn’t so hard after that, and he’s had more than a few weeks now to perfect the formula.

There’s no telling what this means for them, what it means for Taako now who may be a dozen steps closer to his goal of restoring his sister. It might actually be possible for him to do it--to be one of the few successful necromancers in the world who might not even get caught.

Kravitz’s plan of ‘sit back and wait’ isn’t useful when Taako shuts him out for so long, keeping him unaware of his actions and only bringing him in at the end. Now it feels as if he’s missed a hundred opportunities--how many chances would he have had to talk Taako down the past few weeks if he had been involved? How could he have prevented this?

The back door is unlocked when he comes around, thankful Angus was at least allowed to sleep. He hopes the kid never has to hear about any of this, never has to accept what his father has become.

Noise flies up the stairs as soon as the basement door is opened.

“Listen to me--really listen to me!” Taako’s voice, angry and shaking erupts from the lab. Kravitz cringes at the sound of something crashing followed by hurried footsteps. He sprints down the stairs a little faster and turns directly into the same room as the last.

All of the lights are on this time. Although most of the pods are filled up and glowing, their contents are relatively small and likely just beginning to grow again. The rest of the room is in complete disarray from scattered papers to a table having been knocked over, broken glass covering the ground along with other instruments. Toward the other side of the room, a sheet appears to have been throw carelessly to the side. Kravitz eyes follow the end of it up to the tank that had once been covered, now empty and dark.

Then his eyes meet Taako’s. If Kravitz had to guess, he would put the elf at somewhere around day three without proper sleep. The bags under his eyes suggest madness if not complete lunacy, dark circles growing like the rings of a tree as it ages. His coat is disheveled, and Kravitz cringes at the dried bottom where blood had been stained. The rinsed orange hues at the bottom of his lab coat grow upwards, reaching up to grab Taako and pull him down.

Taako marches up to him and grabs his arm roughly. He yanks Kravitz into the room in one swift motion. “It took you long enough,” he says, ignoring that this is the fastest Kravitz has arrived at the lab. “Look--really, really look at what I’ve finally accomplished, Krav!”

Kravitz doesn’t want to look, not really, but his eyes fall down anyways. All the blood leaves his face as he does.

There’s no excuse for this.

Before them, laying naked on the ground and only propped up on her knees is a woman. She isn’t young, and the fact that she was just ‘born’ with wrinkled skin and blemishes across her body is a feat in and of itself that Kravitz cannot fully comprehend. She trembles with a few leaked whimpers every few seconds, staring up at the two of them with wide, fearful eyes.

This is the subject Taako has been growing ever since he started working here.

This is the culmination of his work.

“Is… this…” Kravitz begin, at a loss for words as he cannot tear his eyes away from the human before them. “Is this your sister…?”

Taako scoffs loudly and squeezes his arm a little painfully. “Of course not, we’re twins. This is a client’s work--Lucas, my tech man, has been waiting for her progress a long time now…” He lets go of Kravitz then, kneeling before the woman who instantly cowers back when he gets in her face. “Maureen,” he says in a loud and clear voice, “how much do you remember? Do you know who I am?”

It’s pitiful, Kravitz thinks, watching this poor woman look between the two of them like a mouse caught between two panthers. The floor is covered again in the same green fluid as last time, though devoid of any blood, thankfully. At least Taako hasn’t purposefully hurt her just yet, and he hopes it stays that way now that he’s here to prevent anything rash.

“Maureen,” Taako repeats, volume increased now. She flinches at the sound and turns away with her entire body shaking. He can’t tell if she’s cowering in fear or if it’s just the result of being ‘reborn.’ “If you don’t answer me, I’m going to have to get my answers the hard way.”

When he grabs her arm roughly, Kravitz feels his stomach sink at what could possibly be the ‘hard way.’ A spark of magic in the air catches his attention just as Maureen lets out a pained squeal. Though it’s difficult to see from this angle, Kravitz can just barely make out the sight of Taako’s fingers clawing deeper into her skin. If blood is being drawn, he can’t see it.

“I know you can speak, you spoke earlier. I’ll give you a countdown, alright? Then we can have a calm and civil conversation.”

That spark again, and this time he can hear a sizzle as she cries out again. Kravitz shuffles to the side to get a better look at what’s happening.

“Five…”

It isn’t immediately apparent, but from the magic, her face, and Taako’s grip, he must be using some kind of spell right now to cause her pain.

“Four…”

She shakes her head back and forth, mumbling something incoherent that Taako considers for a moment before his grip tightens. She flinches.

“Three, Maureen…”

There’s no telling what kind of person she once was from what Kravitz can see now. He knew she was a mother at least, and that her son grew up to be a successful scientist and engineer. She may have been just as accomplished, if not more--but none of it matters after death. Wrenched from the afterlife and brought back here, she’s the same as any newborn or elder on death’s doorstep.

There’s no dignity to her shivering, nude self being hurt again and again.

“Two--”

“Taako, stop!” Kravitz finally jumps in before anything more dramatic can happen. Taako immediately lets go, as if snapping out of a trance, and watches as Kravitz crosses the room in a few careful slides and grabs the dusty sheet that had been thrown aside. Carefully, he brings the makeshift blanket over to the woman crouched on the ground and gently drapes it over her. She clings to the fabric and brings it tight around her body with what little grip strength she can manage. “You’re being needlessly cruel, calm down and think for a minute.”

“Think?” Taako asks with an incredulous expression. “Kravitz, can you not understand me either, are you as fucking inept as she is? This is everything I’ve worked for, and don’t you dare think you can tell me how to perform my own experiments!”

He shakes his head and stands to his full height, stepping between Taako and Maureen. “I’m not telling you how to do things, I’m telling you to maintain your composure--what are you going to do if you’re too rough? If you hurt her, actually hurt her, if you’re already messing up her development or, or formation or whatever? You’re not approaching this with any tact!”

Taako looks like he wants to yell right back at him, even takes a deep breath to prepare before he cuts himself off. Though his eyes maintain their fire, he glances between Kravitz and his test subject and finally seems to give in. His hands, clenched in fists, lift up and hit the air in frustration before he simply sighs and turns to stomp away to the corner of the room. Kravitz doesn’t say anything and watches as Taako holds his head in his hands in the back of the room, shoulders rising and falling with deep breaths that likely take more effort than Kravitz himself could manage.

Never could he have thought of standing up to Taako a few months ago. Just the concept alone would be a crime, signing his own death certificate even. If he had done so back then perhaps he really would have been--but things are different now. Whether or not Taako openly acknowledges it, they both know that Kravitz has become an invaluable person in his life and his work here. Besides what literal tasks he can perform and help with, Kravitz is the sensibility that Taako’s lost along the way. And he’s determined to continue being that for him.

He approaches Taako cautiously and comes to stand by his side, not saying anything, and waiting for the elf to decide what kind of conversation they’ll have. Taako knows he’s there, waits for a few long minutes before he finally removes his hands from his face. As if dropping another charm, Kravitz’s stomach curls as Taako’s expression finally reflects just how exhausted he is. These current experiments have done more than taken a toll on him, have chipped away and stolen entire pieces of Taako as they went.

His fingers tremble as they lower to his sides and Taako takes a deep, shaky breath. “Give me a minute, just… yeah. Okay, yeah.”

“Are you going to be alright?”

“Going to be, yeah… thanks, I think, for uh…” He lifts a hand to rub his temples, eyes screwed tightly shut, “not letting me fuck up my own data. Or really hurt her. That was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”

Kravitz tries to shrug as casually as possible. “A little bit, yeah. But it could’ve been worse.”

Taako snorts, and Kravitz feels himself smiling. “Fuck, yeah it could’ve been… I called you over here to actually like, work, you know. Everything else aside, I am going to need you to help gather some information and data. Nothing painful for her or invasive for now, just… general stuff, at most some blood and at least just vitals.”

He’s relieved to hear Taako didn’t bring him here to perform an open dissection of his latest creature. Kravitz nods, reaching out to hold and rub circles into Taako’s shoulder to ground the man. “Sure thing. We’ll get this over with, get everything settled, and then you can sleep--”

Taako lifts his head to protest, but Kravitz cuts him off.

“--so that we can continue tomorrow. You’re already on thin ice with your health, you even acknowledged that, Taako. Just rest, one day?”

He’s obviously in opposition of the plan, his eyes tight as he holds Kravitz’s stare. But in the end, Taako is only a man, and certainly not a stupid one. His health isn’t something he can ignore for much longer. He lets out a low sigh and finally nods, and Kravitz feels as if he’d just finished running a marathon in first place. What would’ve gotten him killed months ago is working wonders now, not only for himself but Taako’s own sake. “Yeah. Alright, whatever.”

Taako doesn’t move just yet, and the moment is allowed to hang in the air for a while longer. All this time, Kravitz has been facing each situation as if he were dealing with two different people completely--Taako the teacher and father, the one he’s fallen for, and then Taako the mad scientist, the necromancer, the devil. Reconciling those two images is difficult when they seem miles and miles apart, like a pair of identical twins with completely contrasting personalities.

But the person before Kravitz now is the same Taako he took care of weeks ago. The same man who fell asleep on his shoulder, who joked and flirted to be distant and acted crass when he really desired to be closer. Here in the lab, it’s so easy to mistake him for another person entirely.

A gasp brings Kravitz out of his thoughts, and he looks over to find Taako wandering back to the center of the room where Maureen is--at least… what’s left of her. He stands silent and entirely still, watching as what was once a moving woman slowly deflate and melt into the ground, looking not too unlike the previous failures he had taken care of before.

The success was short lived.

Kravitz steps forward, ignoring the pained noises the ‘creature’ makes as it writes on the ground to confront him. “Taako, this…”

Taako lifts a hand to stop him. The entire time, he doesn’t meet Kravitz’s eye as he finds his wand from the floor and returns to the same spot. Even if it can no longer be deemed human, the subject still moves around the ground with a sense of direction--as if it is still sentient. Kravitz wonders if that woman is still there, somewhere, somehow inside of that thing, and turns his head when he hears Taako whisper an apology.

She doesn’t get a chance to cry out before any noise is cut short by a few swift shots.

Only once all sound has stopped does Kravitz finally lift his head. Taako is a statue in the center of the room, his wand at his side and his chin lowered to his chest.

He doesn’t get the chance to move before Taako suddenly turns and is walking towards him at a brisk pace. Just when Kravitz thinks Taako might either shove him aside or stop in front of him, he’s surprised for the umpteenth time that night as the man walks right into him. He only stops once he can lean forward and rest his forehead against Kravitz’s shoulder. It isn’t an embrace; he just stands together with him.

There’s no need for any words.

Kravitz is the first to move as he wraps his arms around Taako’s shoulders and waist, pulling him closer and relishing in the feeling of the elf’s sigh against his neck. A pair of hands grip the sides of Kravitz’s shirt above his hips and then Taako is leaning the full weight of his body into his. It’s the first warmth Kravitz’s felt since leaving his bed no more than an hour ago, and it feels surprising that it should come from Taako.

It’s perhaps a hug on at least one of their sides, only because Kravitz doesn’t know what else to do but embrace him. From his perspective, it’s nigh impossible to even imagine what Taako has been going through these past few weeks by himself. How long has he rested? How much has he eaten? The emotional strain of these dreadful experiments, creating and destroying life as if he were some off-brand god must be unbearable.

He pities Taako only because he can’t understand, just as much as he cares for him.

“Sorry,” Taako eventually mumbles into his shoulder, though he makes no move to leave.

How small his voice is for how close they are makes Kravitz’s heart stop, and he squeezes his shoulders just a little tighter. “Don’t be,” he says. Taako remains silent. All there is is the sound of each other’s breathing. How near Taako is, though, he doesn’t have to listen to it, feeling the warmth of his breath before the noise reaches his ear. For such an innate, instinctive act, Kravitz has never realized before how intimate it feels to simply experience breathing with another person. Now it feels as if he might suffocate if he were to try it alone again.

It’s a lapse in judgement that allows Kravitz to act. He couldn’t explain his reasoning later if he tried, only that it felt right in the moment. He doesn’t pull back more than an inch to lift his head and press a chaste kiss to the side of Taako’s hair, smoothing it down after. It’s entirely innocent, and so brief it would be easy to miss if he didn’t notice Taako’s long ear twitching in reaction.

Before he can apologize, the hands at Kravitz’s waist wrap around his middle and pull him even closer.

Kravitz knows for certain that he loves Taako then, and he has for a while. Whatever feelings he acknowledged before only increase in severity each time it feels they may be stolen away, lost in whatever darkness Taako is so intent on disappearing into. The urge to stay here forever, not speaking, not even saying his feelings aloud, but keeping Taako here where he might be safe is all to tempting. Right here, Kravitz can protect him from himself. Right here, he can be sure no one else will be hurt. Right here, they could actually be together.

But reality isn’t so kind, and the weight of what he must do comes crashing with the waves of his emotions.

If Kravitz wants to save him, to truly know and rescue him from this hell Taako’s designed for himself, he’s going to have to help both sides of him, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. They’re one and the same in his arms. It almost feels like, if he hugs him a little tighter, he could tie those two pieces back together.

Chapter Text

Kravitz doesn’t know why he had expected the school to have changed in the few months he hasn’t visited, but it comes as a surprise when everything's the same. Perhaps it’s the change in everything else, his own character and motives, his reason for being here that surprises him. No longer does he feel like he’s walking himself to the River of Styx going through the halls of the academy. The only monster waiting for him at the end is one he’s become rather good at taming.

It isn’t raining like the first time he came here, and Kravitz spends his time watching the students mill about outside as he waits for the professor to finish up whatever business he has so they can meet. All the classes have finished by now, save a few students who seems to remain in a couple of the laboratories to clean up or get information from their teachers. The room Taako uses today, as provided by Angus, is entirely empty once a lone student rushes out to catch up with their friends.

Once, it felt as if everyone’s eyes were on Kravitz when he walked through the halls, as if everyone could tell he was here for some horrid, unethical reason. Though it still remains true that he is, it feels less like he’s interrupting these people’s daily lives just by being here. His intentions are purer, more innocent this time around.

Kravitz is going against a dozen different protocols by being here at all, and a dozen more for what he’s about to do. It’s been a long time since he’s even thought about this like a job or any other work he has to do; his client has been calling less, and he has even less information to give her if she did. He does other things for Raven to fill the time and inactivity. It feels like it’s been forever since he first started chasing that ‘FW’s back. Sometimes it feels like he never stopped.

To his surprise, the door to Taako’s office doesn’t open before he hears his voice. “Krav?” Taako’s voice calls, and Kravitz turns to see him exiting the elevator instead. And here he thought he was being clever waiting outside his office. He glances up at the elevator before it closes to find he had come from the upstairs. And here he thought Taako had the highest floor to himself. “What’re you doing here?” Taako asks, not quite as angry as he was the last time he showed up unexpectedly. In fact, he seems more surprised than anything, not a hint of suspicion in his voice.

Kravitz follows him to his office where the professor sets down a case of files he had been carrying, waiting until he’s done to speak up. “My schedule is clear today, so I thought I might treat you to coffee? To pay you back for last time, you know.”

Taako’s eyes widen marginally at the offer, eyes averting to his desk. “Today, I, uh…”

Come on, Taako , Kravitz wants to plead, and settles instead for clenching his fists tightly. Just one day.

His contact with Angus hasn’t stopped, and secretly, the two have been mapping out ways to help Taako out of this slump he’s been in. Even after the previous failure, Taako never slowed his progress in the lab, and Kravitz is sure a pair of dark bags line his eyes beneath whatever glamor he has on now. No amount of flashy clothes could hide everything he’s done.

The incident with Maureen was beyond traumatizing for both of them. Kravitz has only been called over once more since then to help run simple tests on a number of specimens (not living, thankfully) where Taako hardly spoke the entire time. The scientist was like a zombie, shambling through the lab with his limbs hanging loose by his side and not a trace of a smile on his face. Like this, he’s no different than the homunculus creatures he’s been designing.

But everything isn’t gloom and despair, not yet. Kravitz holds the memory of Taako’s arms wrapped around him close, keeping it as proof that there might still be hope. The man is tired, more than any of them, and Kravitz truly believes that deep down he wants to be saved. Just like anybody else. But who could help someone like Taako, who is so powerful, so independent, and so far gone that he would never let anyone get close enough?

Maybe it’s fate that brought them together. Or maybe just a phone call from a mystery woman with suspicious intentions. Maybe the two aren’t that different.

Regardless, Kravitz clings to what he can, and watches as Taako now fights some internal battle with himself. He knows that if Taako rejects his offer, he’ll just go back home and hole himself up in the lab for the rest of the day. Angus says he hasn’t meditated in days and has been getting by with naps during his breaks and all kinds of wakefulness potions.

Taako’s hand lingers on a file he set down. Kravitz wishes he could get down and beg, do something more to convince Taako to come with him… but it’s his decision to make. He can’t help somebody who doesn’t want to be helped. All he’s going off of is a hint of a thought that Taako might want to be saved from this hell he’s put himself in.

The professor finally looks up at him and begins walking to the door. “No,” he says, and Kravitz’s stomach falls before he feels Taako tugging on his sleeve to pull him out as well. “But you can take me to dinner, I’m starving.”

Kravitz stumbles behind him, nearly falling at the harsh tug as he follows after Taako. Only once he’s walking beside him does Taako let go of his sleeve and grab his hand instead.

“Lead the way.” For the sake of discretion or pride or anything, Kravitz really tries not to smile as wide as he is. The corners of his mouth just pull up naturally, and Taako even rolls his eyes when he glances back at him. It’s not like he isn’t grinning as well.

They walk through the halls hand in hand as if it’s the most casual thing in the world, Taako chatting the entire time about his coworkers and outright pointing to some of them from across the room. It’s difficult for Kravitz to keep his laughter down to a snicker at all of Taako’s completely unethical comments about them, and he pinches his wrist a few times to try and stop him for both of their sakes. Even when he does, Taako keeps sending Kravitz looks whenever they encounter another person that tells Kravitz all he would need to know about them.

After their last emotional encounter, Kravitz hoped there was something to be reciprocated, that his feelings weren’t baseless or foolish. It’s one thing to develop a crush on the person he’s investigating, but it’s another to get rejected. Now that Taako’s hand is in his, though, he feels more confident in his decision to go forward with this new plan than ever; getting personally invested wasn’t a mistake. Taking a larger role in this case wasn’t a mistake. This is different, this has always been different.

He’s thought long and hard about where to go from here. Kravitz has spoken with Angus extensively about Taako’s behavior, and in his free time, he maps out all the possible options for any action. It’s impossible to predict where Taako himself will go or what he’ll do, but he can get a head start with his own intentions. Taking into consideration everything he knows and has learned these past months, there’s only one thing Kravitz sees himself capable of doing.

He has to stop Taako.

These experiments will never end well, and even if he were to succeed, by then he would be a full fledged necromancer. There’s no going back from a transformation like that, caught in the web of his customers and unable to fill the hole left by all the sacrifices he made for this power… Nothing can bring a man back from the depths of those dark magics--or sciences, whatever he’s doing.

The most Kravitz can do is try to slowly work him down from the edge. Taako is already incredibly far gone, has been for a long time, and it’ll take a monumental amount of work to undo a lot of the damages that have already been done. But this… hope, this once silly crush Kravitz has, if reciprocated, might be exactly what it takes to pull him back down. He has to show Taako that there’s more to living without his sister, as difficult as it may be.

Kravitz has to show Taako there’s still good in the world.

Once they’re out of the school, it seems like Taako suddenly has much less to talk about. His eyes droop yet again, as if the glamor covering his scars were about to fade. Kravitz squeezes his hand and picks up the conversation himself. “Have you heard of the orchestra that’ll be playing here in a few weeks?”

Taako’s brow quirks. “Do I look like someone who would know when an orchestra’s in town?”

“You had more than one vest in your closet. Maybe even a cravat, but perhaps I’m remembering incorrectly.”

“Are you offering to take me to this orchestra?”

“I was just making conversation, but I can’t say the idea doesn’t sound appealing now.”

Taako hums in consideration, drawing the moment out. It would be worrisome if Kravitz didn’t know him well enough by now. “Since you’re so well-versed in orchestra attire, I’ll go if you help me pick an outfit.”

Kravitz scoffs. “Please, as if I would be seen with someone not dressed accordingly in the first place.”

When he looks over at Taako, the elf is staring at him with wide eyes. Then his face breaks out into a wide grin and he’s laughing loudly, snorts and all as he lets go of his hand and latches onto his arm instead. “What, are you risking ruining your reputation by being seen with me ?”

“Sure seems like it, doesn’t it?”

Taako continues to snicker and shakes his head, turning his attention back to the sidewalk in front of them. Kravitz’s eyes linger on the other’s face just a few seconds longer, appreciating the introduction of light in his features once again. Taako once used flirting as a scare tactic, some kind of assertion of dominance over Kravitz. Now that he’s capable of spinning it right back at him, it’s more interesting. More genuine. There’s hope, he tells himself for the millionth time.

The flirting continues the entire evening. Of course Taako picks some hole in the wall place to eat that he’s never heard of and orders the most expensive thing on the menu. The only way for Kravitz to one up him is ordering the same in spite of his wallet. The conversation comes naturally now that the first barrier has been crossed, and Taako opens up to more light hearted stories and adventures. They’re more personal accounts, this time, mostly about Angus or his friends Magnus and Merle. But Barry and Lup feature every now and then, and before the mood can drop, Kravitz takes the wheel and drives them back onto steady ground.

Before their food can even arrive, Taako orders one alcoholic drink, then two, until Kravitz decides to just pay for the entire bottle and allow him to have his way. He has a few drinks as well, mostly to keep Taako from knocking himself out completely, and by the time their food gets to the table, they’re both pleasantly buzzed. It isn’t the ideal situation or what he had intended upon getting Taako out of his house, but he figures the professor could use a night to unwind responsibly. Angus has never mentioned anything about Taako drinking, so this could be the first time he’s had anything to relax in weeks if not months.

He loves him, Kravitz thinks, absolutely basking in the experience. Even if this is for some ‘plan,’ it’s still a date, and Kravitz is smitten with the man sitting across from him. Taako ridicules the food he got and explains exactly how they must have prepared it versus how it would be served best, then promising they’ll go back to his house where he can re-make the dish much better. Kravitz keeps a hand over his mouth as the giggles never quite leave, Taako always saying something outrageous or making stupid faces at conversations overheard at the table behind them.

The sun is just setting when they leave, and Taako happily takes his spot on Kravitz’s arm once more. With a little alcohol running through his system he’s just a bit clingier and louder, laughing without restraint at anything remotely humorous Kravitz says. They stop by a few stores that line the street on the way back and Kravitz is able to talk about the orchestra that will be coming in more detail. It’s hard to tell whether or not Taako is genuinely interested in what he has to say about the music itself, but he listens nonetheless and nods along. At the end of his spiel, Taako holds up a dramatically patterned waistcoat and tells Kravitz to try it on.

They both have equally gaudy, just barely matching outfits once they leave and are heading back to Taako’s.

Surprisingly, the elf doesn’t forget his promise back in the restaurant and makes them stop by the grocery store on the way back, picking up a few ingredients he doesn’t have at home to redo their entire dinner. Kravitz doesn’t want to tell him he’s already full, far too enamored to do anything but go along with whatever outlandish whim Taako chooses in that moment. It once felt like he was caught in the ocean during a storm, being whipped around to the sea’s will and slapped back and forth. Now that he’s learned the rhythm, Kravitz is more than happy to float along with it.

“And you know,” Taako says while tying on his apron once they’re back in his house, “you wouldn’t think it’d be hard to fire some narcissistic prick in my own department.”

Kravitz sits back at the counter and watches as he cleans off all the produce they’d just bought. “I wouldn’t, not with the run you seem to have on the place.”

Taako looks over his shoulder and winks. “Yeah, it isn’t .” He throws back his head with a single laugh, making Kravitz hide a snort behind his hand as Taako returns to his work. “So I got the bastard dumped, found out a week later he was asking a different department head for a letter of recommendation to work at a different school.”

“But he worked under you,” Kravitz says.

“Yeah, so I told the new guy to fuck off my turf or I’d get his ass fired too--and believe me, I could do it. No one gives a shit about ‘evocation’ magics, especially not when they’re evoking this wrath.” Kravitz can’t help but double over as another laugh shakes his body. Taako’s been coming through with everything tonight, hitting every note and leaving Kravitz at his mercy.

Thankfully, Angus is staying at a friends’ place tonight, so they have the entire place to themselves without having to worry about saying anything inappropriate. In reality, Kravitz wouldn’t mind having the kid around, as it would probably just help reinforce his plan if there were more people who cared about Taako here. But this is fine too; they’ve needed this time to work on their relationship, and if Kravitz can get close enough to truly matter to him too, it might be even better.

He feels warmer than usual, and as the conversation dies down, Kravitz is more than happy to simply watch the muscles in Taako’s back moves as he all but dances around the kitchen. Cooking really is his true element, as much as he appears to be a master wizard in everything else he does. Maybe Kravitz has only seen the negative sides, but he never seems as happy working with magic as he is while cooking. He’ll have to remember to keep incorporating food into whatever they do together.

If they can keep this up, at the pace this is going, recovery might actually be in Taako’s future.

At a buzz in his pocket, Kravitz retrieves his personal cell to find a text from Angus waiting. Naturally, it’s a picture of two books side by side with the caption ‘which one should I get?’ He smiles and types back a quick response, having already read one. Of course Angus and his friends would visit a bookstore for fun while hanging out together.

There’s a large role for Angus in all of this that he can’t forget. Soon, it might be best to come clean and tell the boy everything--well, maybe not all of it, but the gist of what’s going on with Kravitz’s side. Having his intentions cleared might help reassure Angus things will be alright as well as motivate him to really stand by Kravitz in this effort. It’ll be the first person Kravitz leaks his identity to, and he never thought it would’ve been a child, but Angus is clever. It’s a good idea to keep in mind.

“My sister and her husband have been doing private research for years.”

Kravitz lifts his head at the sound of Taako’s voice, mouth falling open in surprise. Taako keeps his back turned and continues to chop vegetables as if he were talking about the weather.

“She and Barry… they’ve always been different with what they were interested in. And yeah, I think it’s cool too, and I helped out every now and then, but never a lot. When they got serious, I had just gotten my job at Triple A, so I was way more focused on that.

“You could probably psychoanalyze our history and find the moment Lup became interested in necromancy--hell, I might even be the cause of it, something I said or did. Part of me thinks she was just wanting to make a breakthrough in a field not many people were brave enough to work in. Part of me thinks she was afraid of death--her husband’s death, that is. Barry’s human and all.”

The allusions to their own relationship aren’t lost on Kravitz. It’s something he hasn’t had much time to think about, if any of this goes anywhere; Taako’s a long-lived elf, and Kravitz is a human. It’s something they might have to face one day.

Taako keeps speaking. “We were always told to stay away from liches growing up, like any good magic school says. Necromancy this, blood magic that, don’t fuck with fucky shit, yadda yadda. That made us like it more, but I didn’t really mess with it too much. She was always the braver between the two of us. So she and Barry started working on it--a way to willingly become liches.”

Necromancy and liches are naturally tied close together. They go hand in hand, and it’s an honest surprise that this is the first time Kravitz has heard the word since he started working with Taako. It was only a matter of time, and suddenly, he feels his palms begin to sweat.

If necromancy is playing with fire, then liches are walking directly into a burning building covered in gasoline.

It’s harder to redeem.

“The idea was simple; they would cast their souls from their bodies and be able to live ethereally, then jump right back in whenever they wanted. It would take some time and effort, and they came across some hurdles like ‘oh shit bodies rot when they’re dead’ and ‘oh shit liches are like, dangerous.’ Neither had really done any tests themselves, it was all theoretical and way too dangerous to try on each other. But Lup told me they were making really good progress and wanted me to come check it out.”

He only stops for a moment, hands hovering in the air without a purpose before grabbing a saucepan from overhead and setting it on the stove.

“Something went wrong before I got there, and when I did, she was already dead.”

The flame beneath the pan flickers alive with a ‘click.’

“Barry and I fought over what to do with her for days, then weeks, and months, because, you know, shit, we’ve been studying necromancy this long, we can’t just let her stay dead. We both have different ideas about what happened, so we have different methods, and have been fighting about it since then. Barry thinks she succeeded--she’s a lich, or something similar, and he’s trying to do the same for himself while ‘fixing’ what went wrong with her work. See if he can help her from this side.”

“And, you…?” Kravitz finally asks. Taako turns to look at him over his shoulder, eyes tired, but not as closed off as they once would be. “What do you think...?”

Taako only turns his back to settle what he started, pouring wine and a few other ingredients Kravitz couldn’t name into the pan. Only once he’s satisfied leaving it on the heat does he face Kravitz and lean forward on the kitchen counter. “I think she’s not as perfect as he thinks, that she fucked up, and got herself killed. That’s why everything uh, down there ,” he points to the floor, “is happening. To try and get her back.”

With this, there isn’t anything left in Taako’s mystery. He’s covered his background, his sister, what happened to her, why he’s doing this, and every other thread. The only thing Kravitz could ask (and probably receive, albeit he wouldn’t understand) is how he’s doing all of it.

All he can think of is the woman on the other side of the phone, and if this is the information that she’s been waiting for.

“What are you going to do now, Taako?” Kravitz asks, only because he feels like he’s finally able to. Taako opening up about all of this isn’t just a display of trust, he knows that; it’s signing Kravitz up for a much rougher ride. The more he knows, the more involved he becomes.

“Well, using my own body as tests for her sake aren’t doing a lot of good,” he says while turning back to the grocery bags they brought back. He cuts open the wrapped pack of steaks with a long painted nail and pulls them out to season. “I’ve been working for a long, long ass time with just myself. Now that you’re here, though, I think we can get some real progress going. For that we’re going to need to take samples directly from the source herself.”

Kravitz feels a bead of sweat roll down his face. He digs his nails into his palm to keep from reacting outwardly. “You want… to go grave robbing?”

“Fuck no,” Taako scoffs, picking up the raw meat with his fingers and draping it neatly into another pan. The red bottom almost instantly browns with a sick sizzle. “We’re gonna break into my brother-in-law’s lab and get my sister back.”

Kravitz swallows.

Taako meets his eye, and the confidence there falters. “If… you agree, I mean. It isn’t gonna be a lot of fun and it’ll probably be, uh, messy--it’s safe though, there’s nothing dangerous.”

“Why are you asking for my help if you can take care of it alone…?” He’s learned by now that if Taako is capable of doing anything by himself, he will. Kravitz is only around as a precaution or to speed things up.

They don’t break eye contact, though he can see how difficult it is for Taako who begins to falter. He shifts his weight back and forth onto different feet and wets his lips. “You can pull out if you want.”

It’s not an explanation. It’s nothing, and Kravitz can tell that asking anymore will get him nowhere. He only knows that in the end, he needs to get Taako to stop, but how will that even happen? It isn’t as if he can tell him that here, not when they’ve only just started becoming close. He had only planned on introducing him to the joys of a regular life first and the rest… the rest would come.

He has to keep playing along. So cautiously, as if the action itself would not be as definite as it is, Kravitz takes the canister of gasoline from Taako’s hands and douses himself.

“Alright,” Kravitz says reluctantly. “I’ll help.”

The only reason he holds Taako’s hand as they walk into that burning building is the hope he can use it to pull him back out.

Chapter Text

“Barry and Lup have been married a few years,” Taako says while they’re waiting outside. He taps his foot impatiently on the pavement, looking up and down the street for their ride. “Met at a conference for nerds, back when Lup and I didn’t know what we wanted to do. We both got offered places at Triple A because of it, only I accepted. She fell for some dingy little douche in bluejeans and hopped on his research instead.”

“Power of love and all, huh?” Kravitz asks, doing up the next few buttons on his coat. It’s colder than he expected, though it is still the height of winter.

Taako scoffs. “Yeah, some shit like that.”

It’s the very day after their date, and Kravitz honestly wishes they’d had a bit more time to prepare. It’s impossible to tell how much of this is Taako’s impulse driven by emotion and how much is actually carefully planned. He’s been reassured that Lucas is on board and will be helping them along the way, though. Taako has a bag of ‘tools’ that are theoretically going to help them get in as well as collect data. It isn’t robbery if they put everything back in place, after all. As far as Kravitz knows, they simply plan to enter Barry’s lab, find where he’s keeping his sister’s body, take samples from her, and leave.

Kravitz is coming as manpower and emotional stability. He steps closer to Taako as a car appears down the street, and Taako raises his hand in greeting. As soon as he can see beyond the headlights, Kravitz realizes he recognizes the vehicle. The passenger window rolls down.

“Are you sure about this?” Magnus asks. Taako doesn’t answer as he approaches the car and opens up the backseat, waiting for Kravitz to file in beside him.

Taako makes himself comfortable and sets his bag by the other window so his and Kravitz’s legs are touching. It’s an anchor, as thoughtless as the contact is. “No, I actually just changed my mind, open the door back up, Krav. Yes I’m sure, Burnsides, let’s get on with it.”

Kravitz meets Magnus’s worried eye in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t bother shrugging, knowing they feel the same way. In all honesty, Kravitz wants to yell at Magnus for being here and helping Taako out in the first place. What kind of friend helps another commit heinous crimes as these, allowing them to get hurt? The kind of help Magnus and Merle provides isn’t that of friends; they’re selfish, counting on Taako to restore their own loved ones. It’s akin to buying the ingredients for the chef at the restaurant one’s dining at.

Kravitz wants to call Magnus a hypocrite, because he is. He wants to say, ‘don’t look to me for understanding, not when I’m here to help him,’ but isn’t he doing the same? Regardless of his intentions, Kravitz is still in the car and will be breaking the locks of Barry’s door alongside him.

There’s no telling if Magnus and Merle don’t have their own plan in place as well. Even if he’s here helping now, there could be a chance there’s more to him and Merle than Kravitz knows. They haven’t given him any signs that they might be trying to act, though. Either they’re really good actors or incredibly cautious.

Perhaps he should consult them in private as well. The only danger is if they are helping Taako for their own selfish purposes, they could attempt to thwart him.

“Barry isn’t a bad guy, Taako,” Magnus says after a few minutes of silence.

Taako keeps his eyes trained out the window. “I know.”

“You could talk this out.”

“Keep driving.”

It doesn’t take very long to arrive with silence fueling the ride. Kravitz remembers Taako had planned to move here before everything happened, meaning he didn’t plan to be far from his sister. Magnus stops the car at the beginning of the road, and Taako climbs out wordlessly with Kravitz behind him. He waits for Magnus to unroll the window to give him directions as to what to do while they’re inside.

Though separate from most houses, Taako’s home was still near enough to the school that it could be considered a suburb. There are buildings around it, only a few blocks from the outskirts of the city itself. Barry’s home is farther out. The area is much more secluded, consisting of a few different buildings off the main house with contraptions and gizmos whirring on the side that Kravitz can’t deduce for the life of him. These damned scientists and their complicated equipment. Being an investigator is useless if he doesn’t know the field his subjects are working in.

For being a secret operation, Taako approaches the house a little too casually for Kravitz’s tastes. He takes the stairs two at a time and doesn’t even look around the porch before glancing at Kravitz over his shoulder. “He’s not home,” Taako says, reading his mind. “Dude’s still got a job. Tonight’s a big convention, he’s presenting some of his more orthodox work at.”

“You don’t think his house would be… super secure?”

Taako shrugs while pulling out his phone and typing a short message. “It is. Lucas is better, though. We’ll have a few seconds to get inside, get downstairs, and fifteen minutes to work in the lab without cameras. Then we’re out.”

At least it wasn’t entirely impulsive. Kravitz follows along for lack of any other fight to put up.

They hang around the front of the house normally, as if they were simply visiting friends. Digging into his pockets again, Taako pulls out a ring of keys that Kravitz recognizes from each time they’ve entered his house together. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he and his sister were this close, given the lengths he’s now gone for her. The key to her house is right beside his own, as if it were his own. Something like this should be expected.

Kravitz allows his eyes to wander around the dark porch, covered in the last traces of sunlight. There is an entire history to this house he can’t imagine, an entire life Taako must have shared here. A place he and his sister, all of their friends, would gather together, basking in the joys of simple life and uncomplicated love of each other. Emotions would’ve been straightforward without any underlying motives or sinister plots. The house would’ve been bright and alive in its day as long as there were people living in it.

But the windows haven’t been cleaned in a while and are covered by thick curtains. All that remains here is one man.

Taako clicks the key in the socket, not moving until he hears a chime from his phone and turns it quickly. Kravitz doesn’t have to be told to follow him inside.

There’s not enough time to take in the surroundings of the place as they hurry in. Taako takes him through a winding hall, down a few short stairs, then is throwing a door open and tugging Kravitz inside. None of the lights in the house are on, and all Kravitz can notice before he’s dragged downstairs is the number of picture frames with a woman who has Taako’s face. She smiles in each one of them, an expression similar to Taako’s the day previous, only wider.

Once they’re in the laboratory, Taako tosses his bag onto a table without looking and reaches into his pockets for a pair of gloves which he quickly snaps on. “Fifteen minutes starts ten seconds ago. Pull everything out of that bag and set it down while I find where he hid her.” He moves as he speaks, already walking around the dim room and craning his head around. Kravitz does as he’s told and tries to work as quickly as possible.

To Taako, they’re visiting a home he once knew. There’s nothing wrong with running about as they please and messing up whatever.

To Kravitz, they’re stepping inside a grave.

This is the place where not only Lup died, but every innocent part of Taako as well.

The stench of formaldehyde claws its way up Kravitz’s nose until he feels he might be consumed with it, preserved from the inside out like a frog to be dissected later. Vaguely, he wonders if it isn’t simply the smell of a corpse, of Taako’s virtues, rotting in the back of the lab.

Here, there’s very little opportunity for Kravitz to make good on his vow to save Taako. With the limited amount of time, he can only do as he’s told and pray to make headway later on. Hopefully something goes wrong. Hopefully this plan fails. Hopefully, somehow, Kravitz doesn’t have to betray his own moral code and wash his hands of whatever happens in here.

He pales at every tool he pulls out of the bag and sets on the table. There are probes, forceps, scissors, scalpels, then just as many devices he can’t pretend to understand. One box holds what appears to be a set of test tubes with electronic locks on top. He sets them down carefully and doesn’t have to wait another moment before he hears Taako’s voice.

“Over here, Krav, c’mere!”

Kravitz stops immediately and jogs towards the sound. Barry’s lab appears smaller than Taako’s from the short distance it takes to find him, and he has to wonder how much is stored on other floors or buildings. He doesn’t look around much as he does, partly because he’s looking for Taako, partly because he doesn’t want to see. Once he reaches Taako, Kravitz stops in the doorway and has to compose himself.

Taako disappears behind the tank to fiddle with a number of wires and switches located on a console at the back. Out of sight, Kravitz is almost convinced the person in the tank is Taako, and he’s disappeared within it. But he’s still within his right mind, and he’s studied Taako’s features in detail for weeks leading up to this. He knows it isn’t him.

Lup, Taako’s sister, and the cause for all this disaster. The defining factor of Taako’s madness.

He never felt satisfied when he found Taako ‘Flip Wizard’ Taaco. Even then, Kravitz knew the case wouldn’t end there. He had much farther to go, and there was so much left to uncover.

Now, it feels as if he’s finally found the answers he’s been searching for, all in one beautiful woman.

Kravitz wishes he could feel contempt for her, as if everything would be fine if she didn’t exist. Everything would be easier if he could hate her and blame her for all that has happened. But looking on her form, naked and submerged in deep blue fluid, he can only pity her. Wires protrude from multiple spots on her skin along with a mask over her nose and mouth. They might be the only thing keeping her alive--no, preserved .

He wonders what kind of person she was. How did Lup act when she was alive? Was she bright and dramatic like Taako, or calm and demure? The professor never spoke much about the girl herself, and it only leaves Kravitz questioning. She is her own mystery, a fascinating puzzle of holes and missing pieces. If only he could simply speak to her, could ask her how things ended up this way.

Do you know what’s happened while you’re gone, Lup?

Do you know what your brother has become?

Taako said you were braver, the stronger of you two, and yet you’ve left him unprotected.

What kind of sister are you?

Bubbles appear around her face and float to the top, and for a moment, it feels she might open her eyes and begin to breathe. A few of the wires on her face loosen and detach instead, and in one sudden motion, the pod begins to drain of fluid from the bottom. It leaves the woman’s skin covered in a clear sheen, and her body follows the fluid until her feet meet the grate at the bottom. Only once it’s completely drained does a panel on the side turn from red to green, and Taako hops out from behind once again.

“Hold the door open and close it after me,” Taako instructs, opening the door and handing off the heavy panel of glass to Kravitz when he steps up. All Kravitz can do is watch as Taako gingerly removes the mask from his twin’s face, gazing at her body for only a second before he’s leaning down to pick her up. He doesn’t watch Taako leave and closes the door as carefully as possible.

No longer are they working with Taako’s body. He follows back to the entrance where Taako has already laid Lup out and is preparing which tools to use. This person is more important to Taako than himself, and it’s already apparent in the sheet he’s draped over her nude body and the care he uses to open her mouth and lightly scrape the inside of her cheek with a piece of plastic. It’s dumped in a test tube, set aside, and Taako turns to Kravitz.

“Do you need my help with anything?” Kravitz asks, and Taako stares him down silently for a few seconds before shaking his head.

“No, you… go ahead and explore the lab, just let me… do this.”

He doesn’t have to be told twice. Kravitz thinks for a moment of walking up to him and at least squeezing his shoulder, something to reassure him that everything will be alright, but thinks better on it at the last moment. Despite how far their relationship has come, Kravitz isn’t any priority to him right now, nor are his feelings anything that would give Taako relief. The entire world has narrowed to the twins separated by a thin sheet of death, respected not with prayers and flowers but needles and chemicals. The formaldehyde hits the back of his throat, and Kravitz turns away to keep from gagging. He steps out of the room and takes his own tour through the lab.

Surprisingly, he finds that much of the equipment Barry wields lives up to the prestige of Taako’s, despite his being personally ordered by scientists across the country. Barry must have just as many contacts and help in his own work. He’s still a scientist, and he’s still attending meetings and conventions for his work; of course he has the resources to do this kind of madness. He must have an entire story similar to Taako’s, and maybe even an assistant like Kravitz who carries two heavy phones in their pocket.

There’s a large difference between the arcane arts and natural sciences. They work together very often and come to brush hands in a few complex fields, but in matters like this, Kravitz can understand just how different Barry and Taako’s methods are. While Taako’s lab looks like it could support a small hospital’s worth of equipment with wires covering the ceiling, tanks and beakers and all sorts of relatively sciency things, Barry appears to be a sorcerer. Racks of glowing potions line the wall along with cabinets filled to the brim with oddities; plants in jars, crystals covered in torn cloth, and luminescent sigils light the way. There are stands holding multiple wands, each a different type of wood, and an entire room dedicated to housing gemstones and the respective tools it takes to shape them.

These are all the ingredients of necromancy. This is where the living bend the laws of the dead.

Kravitz falters as he nearly steps over a large magic circle painted over the ground. The heat drains from his face when he realizes what the red ‘paint’ it’s written in might actually be, and quickly hurries back the way he came. It’s worse than being a sinner in church; he feels like a mouse in the lion’s den. This place, this type of activity, is something Kravitz is uncomfortable with in theory alone. Being here in person makes him feel sick. Even if he’s able to wash the crimes of tonight from his hands, he feels they might be stained in the back of his eyelids regardless.

But Kravitz is a private investigator, specializing in tracking down the most mysterious and heinous of criminals. This isn’t the first time he’s been made uncomfortable, and it certainly won’t be the last. He takes a deep breath, grounds himself by his feet, and returns to the room where Taako is taking samples from his sister.

Except when he enters, Taako isn’t touching her at all. He’s crouched over a microscope, one of the larger pieces he’d brought over. His fingers hover over one of the dials, and he makes no note of Kravitz’s entrance.

Kravitz doesn’t think anything of the scene and comes to stand by Taako’s side, tidying up what little there is he knows. He sets filled tubes in their cases with tops, puts the covers on petri dishes, and glances at his watch. It’s been ten minutes now; they don’t have a lot of time left in this place.

He glances up at Taako who still hasn’t moved. “Taako,” he starts, suddenly feeling anxious with the time constraint, “there’s only five minutes left, we should come back another day if you need.”

But he doesn’t move. Only then does Kravitz think something might be wrong. His back is stiff where it’s bent over the table, and there isn’t even any tension in his face that might suggest he’s studying whatever is below the microscope. It’s more like time has stopped completely, but continues to tick on. Four minutes.

“Taako?” He lifts a hand to his shoulder and carefully give him a small push. “We have to leave, the cameras will be back on soon.”

He finally lifts his head, so slowly it feels as if he’s looking through Kravitz when he glances up at him.

Instead of yelling at him, instead of pushing him away, Taako takes a step to the side towards the table Lup is laying on. He raises his hands over her body. He puts them back down. “I…”

“We can come back another day, just tell Lucas to be ready to do the same. We could come back tomorrow, even, we just have to go now.”

Three minutes.

Everything is over if they’re found, and though Kravitz doubts Barry would contact the police with his own concerning deeds, it won’t go without punishment. The last thing he wants to do is anger an actual necromancer--a man who wants to become a lich .

Kravitz returns and grabs his shoulder, more firmly now. “Taako, what did you… find ?”

“She’s alive.”

He blinks. The words don’t register in the same way one might perceive a foreign language. It’s only then he realizes there might actually be a fate worse than death.

Taako’s hand comes down to cup Lup’s cheek, and he finally breaks out of his daze. His eyes are wild with enough life for two people.

“Lup’s alive.”

Chapter Text

“We have to go. Now.”

Kravitz knows this, he’s been the one saying it the past five minutes. Suddenly it doesn’t feel right, and he’s left speechless as he watches Taako wrap his sister in the sheet he covered her with. It only takes a second for him to break out of his thoughts and get to work throwing everything back in the bag Taako had brought. Once everything’s packed and closed, he looks to Taako, eyes widening when he sees the elf heading to the door with Lup in his arms.

“You’re taking h--”

“Come on, don’t say anything, just run!”

He doesn’t have to be told twice. At another chime on Taako’s phone, Kravitz throws the door open and runs out of the lab. He glances behind him the entire time, barely remembering the way out and more concerned for the scientist following him. Taako’s able to shout orders to get them out of the house. His body feels alive with urgency, blood replaced entirely with adrenaline he hasn’t felt since he was younger and a different, less composed man. Kravitz removes his mind from thinking to focus entirely on movement until his entire body is one tense muscle.

It only takes a minute for them to navigate their way out. It has to be, given the time constraints, but Kravitz feels like he’s aged five years by the time his foot slaps the porch and his face is hit with fresh air. He holds the front door open and allows Taako to dash out and jump down the stairs, taking off through the front lawn.

Kravitz is more than happy to slam the door shut and run after him. “Won’t Barry notice you stole his wife? Your--shit, our fingerprints are everywhere, he could use anything to find--”

“Don’t worry, just keep, uh…” Taako stops to glance around, waiting until they’ve turned and continue running to keep going. “Our relationship is complicated. He trusts me. It’ll be fine.”

‘Fine’ is hardly enough for Kravitz to stop worrying, given the severity of the situation. This is the most trust he’s had to place in Taako, now that they’ve directly offended another person with their crimes. He supposes they did Maureen wrong before, but she isn’t on this plane to still do them harm. Barry could pose a direct threat. He could do real damage by law or whatever powers he has.

But maybe it is complicated. Maybe it’s another twelve layers that Kravitz can’t understand. Even if he were to finally scratch the surface of the nature of Taako and Lup’s relationship, their bond, he’s yet to even consider the impact Taako brother in law may have on him. They must have known each other a long time. They must have been close, another bond that was broken by the disaster of Lup’s passing.

At the sight of headlights heading their way, Kravitz’s stomach drops until he recognizes the same car that had picked them up in the first place. It stops abruptly as Magnus opens the door and stands. He doesn’t get more than a few surprised syllables out before Taako is cutting him off.

“Back in the car, asshole, I literally asked you to do one fucking thing!” he shouts, maneuvering the back door open with his foot in a feat of flexibility. Kravitz and Magnus exchange a shocked and exasperated look as they both promptly scramble into the car. Kravitz sets the bag between him and Taako this time, and he gingerly props his sister’s body in the seat beside him.

“Taako,” Magnus starts when he’s finally in his seat and beginning to drive, “what the hell do you think you’re doing?! Barry never--”

“He doesn’t know a fucking thing he’s been doing, she’s been--Lup’s, fuck, she has… did I say slow down? Keep driving , Mags!” Taako kicks the back of his seat when Magnus yields to a stop sign, and the human holds a hand up defensively before flooring it.

Carefully, Kravitz reaches out, touching his fingertips to Taako’s knee. The elf jumps and turns to him with a start as if he’d forgotten Kravitz was even here. His eyes are wild again, a frantic animal unsure of whether it’s being targeted. “What’s going on, Taako? You said she was… you know, dead.”

Taako opens his mouth to speak. No noise comes out, and he glances to the side where his sister is, leans in to feel her face, fingers trailing down to her neck where they jump back and freeze in the air. His muscles at once have forgotten how to function and leave him just as stiff as the twin beside him.

The answer to Kravitz’s question suddenly doesn’t matter, and it sets in low and deep in the pit of his stomach, not as a rock, but sturdy cement. It blocks any chance of redemption, and grows harder with every second he spends looking in Taako’s eyes only to find his reflection missing in them.

He’s lost him.

After all this time and work, Kravitz has once again fallen just short. It feels as if they’re playing tug-o-war endlessly, day in and day out, and Kravitz’s outlook on the world is decided every morning with a coin flip. Some days he might be confident he can fix everything that’s been wronged, that he can begin to move forward and help Taako out of this burning building. Other times it feels the despair might consume him with how many webs and networks he could never try to untangle.

Now, he just feels… cold. Because it was always going to end here. He knows it, in the way one can only blame themselves for being unprepared for the rain. Kravitz has never had any playing hand, or any role in this story.

Magnus stops the car suddenly, jerking the three of them forward in their seats. Taako curses as Lup’s body is jostled, but doesn’t waste another second in hurrying out of the car with his sister in his arms. Kravitz considers staying back, and looks over at Magnus who has his head leaned on the steering wheel. No doubt there are a number of bonds that have been severed just between Magnus and both those twins. They were all friends, all close, and now Magnus is also burdened with his wife and taking care of one friend driven mad.

Kravitz leaves the car with a quick “I’ll speak with you later,” thrown over his shoulder. Magnus doesn’t follow after the two of them.

Somehow, Taako is already far ahead of him, and Kravitz has to sprint to catch up. They enter the home like they did Barry’s, running to the lab with no concern for the rest of the house. You don’t have to break into your own house, Kravitz wants to say, but follows him down the stairs anyways.

“Taako,” he calls.

“There’s no pulse, no breathing, nothing,” Taako says, more to himself than responding to Kravitz. He hurries to the first table in the main room and sweeps a tray of metal instruments to the ground that Kravitz just barely manages to catch in time. Taako pays him no mind for the act as he lays his sister out on the table, still wrapped in her delicate robes made from a sheet. He pulls the top of the material down enough just to keep her chest covered and is then whipping his head about frantically in search of something.

Kravitz retrieves a tray of freshly cleaned tools from one counter and raises his brows. Taako nods. He sets it on the table by her head, and Taako disappears inside his work. Kravitz steps back again.

As selfish as it is, Kravitz allows himself a moment to wish they had been caught, or something had gone wrong. Maybe then he would have been able to protect Taako or save him from another. He could have used his skills in a familiar field to help the two of them out of a sticky situation. He could have done something for him.

Kravitz watches from the back of the room as Taako tosses the bag to the side of the room, not even flinching at the sound of broken glass and metal inside. There’s no reason for Taako to use messy samples when he can take his time now. Even just that, even the bag Kravitz carried, was useless.

He knows it’s entirely self-centered to care only for his own part in Taako’s life, but it’s more than any romantic interaction they’ve been skirting along; it’s the absolute despair in trying so hard to save someone he cares for, only to amount to nothing every time. He’s a teenager again, young and standing outside his home as police officers trail in and out without looking at him. They turn their heads and speak in hushed whispers. They glance his way, then leave without a word.

Isn’t this why he became an investigator in the first place?

“Taako,” he says when the scientist stops moving for a minute. Although Taako doesn’t jump in surprise as he did earlier, he doesn’t turn until Kravitz is close enough to put a hand on his shoulder. The glamors on his face are down, and he can just make out the old marks alongside new ones. “What do you need me to do?”

It’s an opportunity if nothing else, a test for where they might stand after everything has happened. During the weeks prior, Taako rarely asked for Kravitz’s help even when he had been so busy he couldn’t meditate. It may have been forgetfulness, too busy to remember he had an assistant to call upon. It could have been secrecy. He has no doubt Taako will recede in on himself once again, more severely than before. But Kravitz is here now.

Taako watches him, eyes practically spinning as they search his face. They glance away only for a moment to look at his sister’s body, then return to Kravitz.

“...stay.”

His voice is so small, Kravitz thinks it might be an illusion he willed himself to hear. But he sees the echo of the word on his lips as they return to a straight line, and he reaches out to grab them.

“Do you need help down here?”

“No, I, uh… no. Not down here… it’s…” His words trail off into the hum of electricity behind them, and a trace of the person Kravitz knew lights back in his eyes. Taako blinks awake and tilts his head upwards, as if the ceiling isn’t blocking his sight. “Angus. You’ve been here a while, you know, uh, how to take care of him. I don’t think he’s had dinner, yet.”

Kravitz steps forward and keeps his fingertips on the edge of Taako’s shoulder. “Neither have you, right?”

His brows go up then twist in confusion. “I’ve been kinda busy.”

Kravitz claps Taako’s shoulder once and forces a smile over his numb face. He hopes it’s a smile and not some grimace. “Then I’ll make enough for both of you, just keep working.”

Taako doesn’t say anything but nods suspiciously, watching Kravitz until he turns away and heads back up the stairs. He walks up without stopping, and only once he’s closed the door to the basement does Kravitz take a moment to pinch the bridge of his nose and count to ten.

There’s no good explanation for anything that he’s doing on any side. He’s broken so many laws, so many rules of work and his own moral code. He takes a deep breath, holds it in, and keeps on his way to the kitchen. This far in, there’s no turning back now. It’s just a matter of rolling with the punches. As long as he has one thing to hold onto, as long as he has one motive--as long as he saves Taako, nothing else matters anymore. Work and the law be damned.

Soon, sometime, he’ll be able to stop this and finally save him.

Eventually.

The night above the lab proceeds with little other event and time continues to pass. Angus comes downstairs cautiously, looking at Kravitz in confusion when he finds him making dinner in the kitchen. All he can do is offer the boy a sympathetic smile and ruffle his hair. Angus doesn’t need any further explanation, already deducing what’s happened by Kravitz’s mere presence alone. He’s sharp, sometimes too much for his own good. It’s easy to be hurt with a mind as perceptive as his.

As soon as he’s finished cooking (which has undeniably improved since the last time), Kravitz sets the table for himself and Angus before picking up a third filled plate and leaving the room. Angus doesn’t say a word as Kravitz leaves to the basement yet again. It’s only been about half an hour since he left, but he knows what Taako is capable of. Although there’s no grand changes to the room itself, many pieces of equipment have been pulled from shelves and haphazardly spread throughout the lab on any clean space.

Taako is pouring some red liquid into a test tube when Kravitz finds him. He waits for a good minute, hoping to catch him for a word before heading back up. But Taako continues switching between tasks, jumping from one probe in a beaker to a dish with needles sticking out to a microscope. Kravitz could never keep track of information the way he is, scribbling numbers down on crumpled piece of unlined paper that is hardly legible.

In the end, he decides not to bother him and leaves the plate on a clear spot on the table he’s using and heads back upstairs without saying a thing.

Kravitz eats with Angus. He reads in the same room with him while Angus does his homework, answers what questions he can about it, and cleans the kitchen. He makes himself busy so he doesn’t have to think, so Taako has less to worry about when he’s given a moment to actually think as well. It’s more difficult to concentrate on reading a book once he’s done all that he can and is left waiting in suspense, his mind spinning quickly with everything that has and could go wrong. The only reason he stays put is because it helps Angus to work in the same room as another person.

It takes half an hour before the silence is broken, and surprisingly, it’s Kravitz to ask Angus a question first. Perhaps he should be ashamed of removing any illusion they had built that kept them from confronting the elephant in the room, but Kravitz’s resolve has been tested so far and so deeply today. “Are you worried, Angus?” he asks, a simple question that could be answered any way.

Angus turns the page of a textbook, holding the corner between his fingers and rubbing the edge with his thumb. When he looks back at Kravitz, he smiles, but there’s a wary exhaustion that only exists in the eyes of those who have lived three times his lifespan. “Not really. If you’re here, that means he’s letting someone help, right?”

Kravitz would return the expression if he could, and the corner of his mouth twitches up in an aborted attempt. Though he’s well aware that a child watching his parent descend into madness deserves far more support than anyone here, he can’t help but fall stunted to his own desire for comfort, suddenly. The loneliness and pain from being the only captor of these secrets and all the hells he’s stepped through weighs heavier than ever. Before he can break down and come clean, tell Angus everything, and lay his soul bare for judgement, Kravitz stands and ruffles his hair instead.

“Right. I’ll take care of your dad, don’t worry.”

In the end, he can’t do it.

Be it for himself or for the sake of Angus being overloaded by unnecessarily stressful information, Kravitz keeps to himself and proceeds with clearing their dishes after dinner. Though he never wore glasses, Kravitz thinks he might be able to see through Angus’s eyes the same way when he was younger. His own past was a moment of trauma followed by investigation, grief, and a quest for vengeance. But he can understand in a small way the helpless worry Angus must be feeling by watching his father lose himself to this.

Yet at the same time, he can cover one of his eyes and pretend he understands Taako’s sight as well.

There’s no way he could comprehend what’s going on downstairs, but in a way, Kravitz thinks he understands it. If he’d had an opportunity to save his parents, he likely would have done the same. Love is the greatest motivator of all time, especially when grief is there to ignite it.

He meets Angus’s eye on the walk back to the basement, and this time the boy doesn’t smile. Kravitz doesn’t try to either. He opens the door and disappears behind it.

Taako doesn’t notice him until he accidentally steps on a thin vial on the ground, effectively shattering it beneath his boot. The elf’s head turns to him weakly, and Kravitz thinks he hasn’t ever seen a living man look so tired before. He knows he won’t sleep for days now, either.

Kravitz takes a deep breath through his nose, cringing at the smell, and comes to stand by Taako’s side over Lup’s body. She’s still modestly covered, though the needle from a syringe in Taako’s hand is protruding from her upper arm. Once he removes it, Taako holds it up to the light and squints.

“What have you found out?” Kravitz asks, knowing Taako needs to report his findings to someone more than he cares for privacy at this point.

Taako’s fingers pose over the ends of his gloves as if to take them off, but pause. “She’s… not dead,” he says, reaffirming earlier information.

Kravitz nods to encourage him. “You said she was alive back at Barry’s.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t that accurate. She’s just… not dead . I don’t even know how to describe it yet, it’s just like--” He cuts himself off, and brings a hand to drag down his face. Whatever fluid covered his gloves is left in streaks down his cheeks and shines not unlike the trails tears might leave if he had the energy to cry. “It’s as if time has stopped completely. Like, it’s obviously some magic, and her body is just… frozen. Alive, but not moving, not even breathing or anything?”

Kravitz appreciates the simple terms he can understand. At this point, Taako doesn’t seem to know much more besides that either. He’ll likely spend the rest of the next few days viciously remedying that fact until he can pinpoint exactly what’s happened, all in words and terms that Kravitz can’t follow. This is different from the work built from scratch that he’s focused on for so long now; the case has been laid in front of him to dissect, all his other data and previous work be damned. His side business must be put on hold to determine what’s wrong his sister, and idly, Kravitz wonders if he’ll keep with it even after he’s saved her.

If she can be saved. Taako’s eyes are cast down at her still form, not meeting Kravitz’s. “Lup and Barry’s work had three parts to it. The first was preserving their bodies when their souls left, then actually casting their souls out, and finally being able to jump right back in. It’s like she got the first part done, but never got… out.”

“How do you know she didn’t succeed and is somewhere else entirely?” Kravitz asks.

Taako sends a short glare at him over his shoulder. “I know .”

He isn’t about to argue with that logic.

Taako continues once Kravitz holds his hands up concedingly. “Barry’s been keeping Lup trapped in this body like a prison, I told him he didn’t know what he was fucking doing… he must not have even checked anything before dumping her in that fucking pod and keeping her ‘preserved .’” Kravitz can see the emotions finally catching up to Taako as his hands clench into fists at his sides. Slowly, his shoulders tighten, head hanging down to his chest.

From here, he can’t see his face, but can watch the elf’s ears flatten back against his head.

“All this time… all this time , I tried not to hate him… My sister has been gone this long, all because of this--this,” and he doesn’t get the chance to finish. Though his words falter at the end, all the pain and malice in Taako’s voice drips from every last syllable, even when his legs give out beneath him. Kravitz is by his side in an instant and doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arm around Taako’s shoulders, steadying him.

“Taako,” he says pleadingly, “you didn’t even rest last night, did you? And…” Kravitz glances up to find the plate he’d left for him exactly where he left it over an hour ago. His brows knit together as concern and anger battle behind his eyes. Something in between wins out. “You haven’t eaten all day either, have you?”

“I did this morning, fuck off.” Despite the harsh words, his tone is more exhausted than it is fueled with the same ire directed towards his brother in law. Taako covers his eyes with one hand and shakes his head. “Krav, now isn’t the time to get preachy on me. You know how this works.”

“I know that I nursed you back to health for weeks after your last mistake,” Kravitz quickly inserts himself before Taako can continue. “I know how important this is, I’m not trying to stop you--we can work all day tomorrow, I promise.”

“Kravitz--”

“Taako, Angus is worried. He’s scared--”

Kravitz pauses to wet his suddenly dry lips, managing to keep his eyes trained on Taako’s face.

“--And I am too.”

He can hear Taako inhale a sharp breath at either statement. Slowly, the fingers lower from his eyes, and his gaze meets Kravitz’s. The fire in his eyes isn’t one to be deterred in spite of his physical condition. This might be one of the few times Kravitz has felt guilty trying to stop Taako from working, especially now that he’s gotten so far. His sister is in his reach, his fingertips just touching her. He doesn’t speak, but the flicker of the lights above in his eyes communicate enough. ‘I’m so close.’

“I’m tired,” Taako says, and the statement isn’t one of defeat. It’s an argument.

“You can tell me what to do. I’ll stay here all night and work to fill in the gaps--just take one night to rest, Taako.”

They don’t break eye contact for another moment once it’s established. At this point, locked between conflicting emotions on either side, all that’s left is for one of them to give in and break. They understand each other, their arguments and opinions, and though both are just skirting on the line of yelling at each other to see reason, they meet in a quiet space between frustration and rage. They’re on the same wavelength like this and ride the same thoughts in unison.

It’s why Kravitz isn’t surprised when Taako suddenly closes his eyes and leans in to where Kravitz is already holding him. His head falls into Kravitz’s shoulder, and he doesn’t hesitate to adjust their positions so he can more easily pick Taako up and off the floor. Compared to the adrenaline from earlier, Kravitz is far calmer as he stands and begins to leave the basement with Taako cradled close to his chest in a rare, comforting warmth he wishes he could savor. He’s far too acquainted with the walk to Taako’s bedroom by now. Angus is already in his room and hopefully asleep by this time, or at least Kravitz doesn’t run into him on the way up.

Taako doesn’t stir once in Kravitz’s arms, and Kravitz has reason to believe he’s actually fallen asleep already. When he sets him down and covers him in blankets, Kravitz remains in the room to watch Taako for a few minutes. If he doesn’t think about it, if he doesn’t think at all, he can see the same person suspended in blue fluid and wires in another lab. The man before him is not too different from the woman in the basement, and Kravitz has to remind himself to pay attention to the rise and fall of his chest, different from the statuesque, stationary form of his sister.

It easily could have been him instead, a voice in the back of his head whispers, looping between his ribs until the idea coils around and squeezes his heart.

Kravitz isn’t sure whether Taako is entirely unconscious or simply meditating. Either possibility doesn’t stop him from leaning down and pressing a kiss to his forehead, regardless of whether or not Taako is conscious enough to register it. He smooths his hand over his hair, indulging in the closeness that allows his nose to be filled with a softer, gentler scent than the harsh chemicals below. It’s a miracle that Taako can still manage to smell so soft and homely with all the time he spends directly in the lab.

Never has he invested so much of himself in a single person, only for it to be under these circumstances. Kravitz wasted all of his prayers on his parents in his youth, so all he can do is wish for better weather and the luck that it might be enough to ensure him a little more time by this precious person’s side. Whatever gods that might exist never helped him before; Kravitz has to count on his own power to save him.

Once he’s sure that Taako is settled comfortably and is rid of all his lab attire and dirty clothes, Kravitz closes the door to his room quietly behind him. Taako never gave him an actual job to do during the night, but Kravitz is fine with doing what he’s done more than enough of before and busy himself with cleaning.

Unlike the weeks he spent here before when he at least had Angus or Taako awake and bright at any hour of the day, the house is different now. It isn’t just the three of them anymore. He faces the intruder as soon as he enters the lab, his stomach curling at the sight of the woman laying on the metal table.

He’s never met her before. Kravitz approaches the table cautiously and doesn’t lower his head to look down his nose at her, acknowledging the contempt he’s planted in his heart that he so badly wants to grow. Even if she’s Taako’s greatest reason for being, she’s caused him this much pain and insanity. Still, he knows that, probably, she never would have wanted any of this to occur. She’s just another victim, as much as anyone else. With that in mind, he tries not to think on her presence ever near him as he finds the cleaning equipment once again and sets to work.

Kravitz has always acted on his utmost best behavior when in the lab, even while alone. He’s all too aware of the cameras that are set up in every corner of the rooms and makes sure to act as if he’s being watched at all times, knowing he technically is. Yet tonight feels different.

He picks up the bag Taako threw across the room and carefully unloads all the broken glass from within to its proper disposal container. His eyes focus on every glint and twinkle in the shattered fragments just to keep from glancing back at the body on the table.

He always acts as if being watched… but tonight, it feels like he really might be. Just knowing that Lup, this grand character and person he’s come to know through these stories and adventures, is laying in the lab is enough to put him on edge. Taako said it himself, that she’s imprisoned, that her body is virtually useless. Maybe it’s because of his accelerated pulse and nerves that Kravitz straightens the lab up better than any night before, until the place is spotless.

Turning to look at Lup over his shoulder, Kravitz feels a pang of longing in his chest he hasn’t even considered before. He sees in her a missed opportunity, a friend he may have made, someone he would have had to have met in order to grow close to Taako. Like this, the next best thing to get near him instead is to dig her up himself and help Taako reverse death. He thinks about it while wringing out a mop to lather the floor.

In another world, he and Taako would have met under different circumstances. They would have flirted from the start, both interested in each other by appearance alone until they realized they had perfect chemistry. There would be nothing in the way of whatever gentle thing was currently blooming between them, tossed about in a hurricane as it is now. He would meet Angus first--or maybe Lup? No, from the stories he’s heard, he has a feeling Lup would find him first and make his intentions towards her brother clear. Taako would be embarrassed by her, and try to hide it, but also flattered because of course Kravitz would openly declare his feelings for him.

They would go on simple dates and hold hands, and afterwards both proceed to their respective homes where they would text cute emojis and racy photos. Taako would keep Kravitz on the edge of his seat in a more pleasing way than now, and Kravitz, lovesick fool he tends to be, would be more than happy to match his game.

It would be a thrilling, intense romance, and it’s during this fantasy that Kravitz feels a vibration in his pocket. As he waits for the ringtone of his phone to discern which one it is, Kravitz remembers he set both to vibrate for discretion while breaking into Barry’s house. He reaches into his pocket to find his own personal phone alight with an incoming call. His brows raise at the name on the screen, then at the time of night, and back to the caller.

Kravitz answers the phone with one hand and keeps the mop still on the floor with the other. “You never call me this late.”

“I was thinking about you,” Raven says, “and how long it’s been since you’ve stepped into the office. How is everything going, Mister Extended Case?”

He bites his lip. “Well enough, the weather was nice today.”

“How long are you going to keep up with this?”

Still aware of the cameras in the room, Kravitz picks his words carefully. “It’s hard to tell.”

On the other line, Raven doesn’t respond immediately. Static crackles in his ear for a moment before he hears her sigh. “You’re playing with fire on this one, Krav. You kept me pretty well informed about what was going on while you were tracking FW, then nothing once you found them.”

“It’s… incredibly delicate.”

“I have no doubt; it’s why I’m worried. You’ve never had a job this large before.”

“Things haven’t been easy,” he admits, “but it’s going well.”

“It isn’t that I don’t trust your abilities, Kravitz. But sometimes new investigators never know where to draw the line when it comes to pieces this big.”

Kravitz keeps his eyes trained on the ground, watching the water leak from the head of the mop and down the drain in the center of the room. His lip is worried between his teeth. “What are you talking about?”

“You know,” Raven says, “the point you can’t do anything else. When to stop; you’re here to get information and report, not exact justice. And if action does need to be taken… well, that’s what the police are for.”

The taste of blood covers his tongue at once, and Kravitz finally releases his now punctured lip. He runs his tongue over it with one swipe to lap up the blood, straightening his back and looking over at Lup once again. The irony of his surroundings during this conversation isn’t entirely lost on Kravitz, and in fact sinks low in his stomach like a hard stone.

He can’t dismiss her words entirely, though. It’s been a while since he’s spoken with his client, and although she has no qualms with the work he’s been doing contacting Taako directly and staying by his side, this has gone far beyond what Kravitz had first been willing to do. This isn’t investigation anymore; he’s just a hired hand, a stand in for this mysterious woman whose intentions he still isn’t sure of. He knows by now, with how involved he’s become, he should worry more about what she plans to use all this information for. But their relationship is mutually beneficial.

Even so, he’s already settled on one clear goal--Taako’s safety.

There may be more routes to get there than he initially believed.

“I… yes, I think I know what you’re getting at. You’re right, I haven’t thought much about it, but…” He takes another deep breath. “Yeah. You might be right.”

“I’m always available if you need help setting things up,” she says readily, voice suddenly taking a gentler edge. “If you want to meet sometime and tell me everything that’s going on, perhaps we can decide on a better way to go about things. Consider getting the police involved with this creep.”

He doesn’t bother correcting her. “Yeah… perhaps. It might be best.”

Taako’s safety is most important. If the only place he’s guaranteed that is behind bars, it’s still an option Kravitz has to consider. It’d be bad for everyone involved, especially Angus, and no doubt Taako would hate him for the rest of his life… but he would be safe.

Kravitz’s eyes find Lup’s body and he watches her still form.

“Being on an active case like this is fulfilling in its own right,” Raven continues. “But I miss having you back at the office. I can hear it in your voice, Kravitz; we should get you out of there. It’s time to think about what will finish things most effectively and timely, before anything else can go wrong.”

He nods, forgetting momentarily that she can’t see him. “...you’re right. I appreciate it.” He pauses for just a few seconds, letting the conversation end before he attempts to cover up his one-sided responses from an outsider’s point of view. “We can catch lunch some time, it’ll be good to hang out with everyone again now that they’re in town.”

Raven chuckles knowingly. “Be smart, Kravitz. I want you back in one piece.”

 

Chapter Text

Kravitz doesn’t bother Taako anymore than he already has and takes his position on a couch in the living room instead of his regular spot in Taako’s room. He fishes a simple blanket out from one of the trunks in the room, lays it over himself, and finds sleep faster than he expected, given tonight’s circumstances. It took until his body hitting the couch to truly realize just how tired he really was, both emotionally and physically.

A lot happened tonight. A lot of options are laid out before him, and it’ll take a long time for him to just sort through them along with all of the new information he has. There’s Lup and Taako, talking with Angus, Magnus, and Merle, there’s Barry’s entire ordeal, and lastly, Raven’s offer. While he felt as if he were alone this entire investigation, suddenly a number of doors have finally opened before Kravitz, all leading to different people to turn to for help. They aren’t mere options he can decide to choose or not, either; he’ll have to pick one of them. It’s impossible to do this alone.

Fortunately, he has time, albeit not much. It’s unreasonable to believe he could make a sound decision this quickly, so when Kravitz opens his eyes to a new morning, he resolves himself to thinking the entire day; there’s a lot of it to be done.

Immediately upon waking, his eyes clench back shut, cringing at the bright lights overhead. Angus or Taako must already be up and not know he’s here, given he didn’t tell either of them he was staying. Kravitz slowly rises to sit up on the couch and shields his eyes to adjust to the lights before opening them again. At least it means he managed to wake early enough to talk with Taako before school.

There’s no other clothes for him to change into when he gets up. Kravitz settles for removing his jacket that he’d slept in in lieu of another blanket and tucks his phones into his pocket before heading towards the kitchen. On the way, he looks up the darkened staircase curiously; whoever came down must have gone right back upstairs to continue sleeping. Maybe Taako saw Kravitz and retreated back in on himself, disappearing to his room after disturbing him. It’s good that Kravitz is already inside the house, meaning Taako can’t avoid him forever.

The kitchen is empty, and Kravitz heads straight for the fridge once the lights are on. Funny how he seems to know this house almost as well as his own at this point. It doesn’t take much for him to switch back into caretaker mode, retrieving eggs and meats from the fridge and setting out all the fixings for three servings of breakfast. He glances at the clock on the wall; it’s still pretty early in the morning, and it’ll be a good while before Angus makes his way downstairs. He’s got time.

As he cooks, Kravitz allows his mind to wander back to the night previous. It’s very likely that Kravitz will stick around and resume his role as a guardian for both Taako and Angus, though the circumstances are different. But this is one he’s been looking forward to, to directly confronting and helping Taako in the midst of his research storms which tear them apart for weeks at a time. If Kravitz can keep himself in the house, he can keep an eye and a hand on Taako at all times. It’s best this way.

He’s caught off guard as a thick, sour scent fills his nose, and Kravitz looks over to find a single plume of dark smoke rising from the pan he’d just finished cracking eggs in. He grabs the handle and lifts it up high in the air, fumbling with it for a bit before he finally lands in the sink and is dumping the ruined omelette out and rinsing the pan with a satisfying sizzle as the water hits it. Only once it’s submerged well into the sink does he return to the stove and turn off the burner. Perhaps he’s more distracted than he thought originally, as he could have sworn he used a lower heat.

“Don’t let that smoke detector go off, Angus needs the sleep.”

Kravitz whips around at the sound of another’s voice, hiding the spatula behind his back when he sees Taako leering at him from the entrance. The elf is smirking, leaning halfway in before slowly stalking towards him. “Taako, I didn’t expect you to be up this early, I, uh… was making breakfast.” They both glance to the sink at the same time. “Or trying to.”

Taako snorts, reaching around Kravitz to grab the spatula from his hand. He inspects the edge which is still covered in burnt egg. “Takes a lot of talent to fuck up something like an omelette, my man. Didn’t you used to make them fine last time?”

“I must still be tired. Messed up pretty bad, huh?” Kravitz says with a cautious smile.

He’s surprised when Taako laughs and pushes him out of the way, retrieving a different pan and another round of fresh ingredients. “As to be expected of an amateur,” Taako says wistfully as he whips together the eggs and other vegetables so quickly Kravitz can’t even learn. Part of him hopes he never has to, if he could just keep indulging in Taako’s food. It’s wilfully ignorant optimism, but it feels more comfortable than wading neck deep in pessimism again.

The events of the day prior hang in the air between them, thick like the smoke that had been stopped from spreading minutes ago. Taako pours and prepares one omelette, then another, and sends Kravitz a self-satisfied smirk as he finishes a third. It should feel more uncomfortable than it does. He shouldn’t be able to smile at all--but Kravitz isn’t going to discourage the lighthearted behavior.

Kravitz shrugs his shoulders and leans back against the counter. “What do you want me to say, you’re better than me at cooking? I could’ve told you that without the cruel demonstration.”

“Yeah, but I actually want something edible for breakfast. Consider yourself lucky to be served--in both senses of the word,” Taako says, already cutting into one. Steam pours from the incision as soon as Taako separates a small triangle of the bright yellow sun he’d just plated. To Kravitz’s surprise, Taako holds the bite out in front of Kravitz, not breaking eye contact as he looks on expectantly.

Kravitz doesn’t back down from the offer. As he leans forward to close his mouth around the fork, his eyes remain locked with Taako’s, watching as the elf’s eyelids lower just marginally. It’s enough to make something in Kravitz stomach stir, different from the pleasant fall of the gourmet breakfast in his belly. “Yeah,” Kravitz agrees quietly after a beat of silence, “I am.”

Taako doesn’t respond, not right away. But he doesn’t turn away either. Kravitz would’ve hoped that the admission would bring some kind of light, some hope or joy to Taako’s eye, but it only seems to have been the vehicle to transport him to some far off place that Kravitz can’t follow. He just has to wait here on earth for Taako to make his way back, and by the time he does, a solid minute has passed.

“Before you came by,” Taako finally begins, speaking softer than Kravitz knew he was capable of, “I’d had a few assistants before. Most were wannabe clients who couldn’t meet the fees, hoped they could get some kind of discount from working with me. All the money I paid them looped its way back to me as they paid to have their loved ones added to the list. Some waited in the back, wouldn’t do shit unless I directly told them exactly what to do. I fired them because they sucked. Others were pushy, demanded I take priority in their case specifically. Fired them because they were assholes.”

“There’s only room for one asshole in the lab, right?” Kravitz asks.

Taako smiles in spite of himself, lips curling in as soon as the corners twitch up. “Two, evidently. I was being sincere for a minute, you prick.”

Kravitz motions for him to finish, and Taako rolls his eyes.

“Don’t go telling anyone about this, but… thank you. For being here, and… everything else. I don’t think I could’ve made it here if you hadn’t come along.”

There’s no small amount of irony in Taako’s words, although the elf isn’t aware of it. The walls of Kravitz’s throat turn sour and tighten, stealing his words so he can only nod until he reminds himself how to speak.

“Of course, Taako. It’s been my pleasure working with you.”

“Yeah.” Taako’s brows raise suggestively, though his mouth doesn’t curl up in that regular impish grin. “Mine too.”

He returns to the stove and begins cleaning up the small mess that’s accumulated. The conversation has obviously ended, and Kravitz remains at the counter in silence to keep eating the meal prepared for him. It’s delicious, wonderful and reeking of Taako, and yet…

Perhaps more troublesome than the options lying ahead of him are the ones behind him that he didn’t take. Kravitz’s eyes lose focus and stare at some small pattern on the plate as he eats quietly, lost in his own thoughts yet again. He knows, he knows one of the first rules of life is to never look back on the past and reconsider ‘what if’s or ‘maybe’s. It hinders the path to the future to continue looking back. And yet .

Had Kravitz not accepted this case… if he had said no to that woman from the very beginning…

Where would Taako be right now?

If Kravitz never stepped into Taako’s life in the first place, if their paths had never crossed, there’s no guarantee what kind of future they would be living in now. Taako may have continued to work alone or kept switching between different lab assistants. Maybe he would eventually get in trouble, either being caught and imprisoned or worse.

Kravitz lifts his head to watch the professor’s back as he cleans out the two pans and hums something small to himself. The man standing before him with this much life and capable of doing so many grand, brilliant things, could be dead. Such a marvelous existence spanning between just two different paths may not be here at all, his life as uncertain as the weather.

Although Kravitz once assured himself it would be best to remain by Taako’s side where he could keep track of and openly protect him, he can’t help but wonder how many of those dangers could have been avoided if they never met. The thought makes his chest ache with a burn greater than any imaginable heartbreak; being rejected might hurt less than being responsible for Taako’s downfall.

A poke in the side surprises Kravitz enough to drop his fork, the metal clanking loudly on the ceramic plate. He looks back to see Taako standing close beside him, his finger still pressed inside his side with a single brow raised curiously. “What’s got you so distracted, handsome?”

For an investigator, he really should be better as masking his emotions. Kravitz tries to perk up with a smile and takes a large bite of the omelette he’d completely forgotten about. “Nothing important, just tired. I made sure everything was tidy and in place after you went to sleep, znd then couch isn’t particularly luxurious. It adds up.”

“Could’ve slept on the couch in my room, it’s way better. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Kravitz shrugs. “Didn’t want to risk waking you up.”

The approval shines obvious in Taako’s eyes as they widen. He steps closer, forcing Kravitz to turn away from the counter and face him head on as Taako enters into his space. A pair of hands come up his shirt and land on his collar, pretending to straighten it out at first before holding on as Taako tips his head up to watch Kravitz’s face.

If he took another step forward, they’d be pressed together entirely.

It’d be so easy to lean down and finally settle what’s been growing so steadily, so agonizingly tender and careful these past few months.

Taako speaks before Kravitz can consider moving.

“You’re a real mystery, aren’t you?”

He wants nothing more than to meet in the middle, to come clean and move towards the future together. Kravitz could, so easily, tell his feelings to Taako right now and pour out his heart. At this point, he knows he wouldn’t be rejected, not outright, because of course Taako feels the same way. He can see it in his reflection mirrored in Taako’s eyes, the gentle tug of his hands on his collar, and every movement of his body when they’re together.

But Kravitz waits a single second too long, and the moment is broken.

Taako steps away as they hear the sound of Angus’s feet hitting the stairs, arranging their meals at the table by the time the kid has entered the kitchen. Angus looks between the two of them, not surprised to see Kravitz in the house at this point, and offers a wary smile. “Good morning, you two…?”

“Good morning, Angus,” Kravitz says with a softer smile while bringing his own half empty plate to the table to sit down. “Did you sleep well?”

Angus’s lips curl in, glancing at Taako’s back before returning his eyes to Kravitz’s. “Yeah.”

Once they’re all seated, an odd silence is cast over the table. Kravitz and Angus look between each other, each unwilling to broach the ogre in the room while Taako obliviously shoves his face full of food. Kravitz wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the first meal he’s eaten in two days, given he didn’t finish the dinner Kravitz prepared for him last night.

“Today is Monday, so you’ll be coming back later, right?” Kravitz asks after a few silent minutes, more to break the mood than anything. “Office hours and all.”

Taako doesn’t even wait to finish the bite he’s chewing and rolls his eyes with his entire face. “As if; my sister’s sitting right in my basement for the first time in forever, I’m not wasting my time by going to fucking work.”

Angus’s face falls, and Kravitz does his best to quickly remedy the situation before it gets worse. “Taako,” he begins gently, “I know this is important--the most important thing, but you can’t just keep skipping school. You’re the head of the department, they need you there, too.”

His expression leaves much less room for discussion suddenly, all traces of smiles and jokes having left the room completely. “And what, leave her down in the lab to wait? She’s waited long enough, we all have. That’s a big no-go.”

“If you keep skipping, no amount of credentials or experience is going to keep you from getting fired--or worse, maybe the rest of the faculty suspicious.”

That seems to do some damage. Taako’s brows knit together.

Kravitz continues before he can speak. “We’ve talked about it before, yeah? Letting me work while you’re gone, and you just give me a list of things to do? I’ve worked with you for months now, Taako, I know my way around the lab. This is the kind of thing having an assistant is for in the first place.”

If the silence was uncomfortable before, the tension is palpable now. Just minutes ago, they’d been inches away from embracing each other romantically and indulging in the kiss of finales they’d both been waiting for. Now Kravitz has set himself back down on the chopping block, watching as the gears turn in Taako’s head; he could decide to either kick him out and lock Kravitz out of this for weeks again, or agree.

Taako breaks eye contact first with a terse shrug. “Whatever, it’s not like I could get anything done without some housekeeping first. Place is messy as shit.”

Kravitz doesn’t bother hiding his joy, lighting up in a smile that he finds reflected on Angus’s face. The boy grins openly and flashes him a thumbs up from beneath the table, and Kravitz feels his heart swell in endearment for the kid. To think he’s been going at this alone for all this time. Taako doesn’t return the same expression when he looks up, but stands from the table and makes his way back to the sink to dump his dishes.

“Your first job is cleaning the kitchen. Wait here, I’ll go… make a fuckin list, I guess,” he mumbles while leaving the room. They wait for only a few moments before the loud creak of the metal basement door is opened, then slamming shut again.

Immediately, Angus beams at Kravitz, leaning over the table. “That was awesome, sir! He never budges, and especially for something like this!”

“I know, I know,” Kravitz says with a relieved sigh as he also stands and begins clearing the table. “You go finish getting ready for school, I’ll be here when you get back, alright?”

Angus doesn’t have to be told twice. In a chaotic few minutes of people running up and down stairs, slinging bags around and finding their wardrobes, Kravitz remains in the kitchen and tries to ignore all the sounds around him. It’s easier to wait until called upon after he’s tested Taako’s patience like this, though at this point, it feels like he can get away with a lot more. That power dynamic has taken quite a few good hits over the past couple weeks.

Angus is out the door first, yelling out a cheerful goodbye before skipping out with his bag strapped tight up on his back. Taako is up next a few minutes later. He approaches Kravitz more calmly, not having any sense for the time, and sets the erratically scribbled list he’d made on the counter to go over. None of the work is too daunting, simply straightening up around the lab, putting things back in place, and inputting what data Taako already has into the computer systems. Individually, they’re all tasks he’s done before, and he has to assure Taako he’s perfectly capable a good few times before the elf reluctantly agrees and leaves the house.

“If anything happens, just call my work phone,” Taako says. “My work phone, not my work-work phone at the school--you know what I mean. Don’t fuck up, please and thanks!”

Kravitz waves over his shoulder, and the door slams shut.

Just like that, he’s alone in the house once again.

Only once the upstairs is immaculate does Kravitz find his way to the back of the house, confronting the same door that’s led him astray so many times before. As opposed to other times he came down here to work by himself, he is no longer alone. Kravitz tries to get himself used to the idea as he descends the stairs, taking a deep breath before he turns the corner and sees her once again.

Lup, laying flat on the table where Taako left her, appearing just as dead as the day he found her.

If only Taako had gone to the simple trouble of covering her body with more than a sheet wrapped around her like a dress. It’s the reason Kravitz doesn’t drape anything over her face for his own comfort, knowing Taako might see from the camera footage and get mad at him. She’s still alive, after all--whatever that might even mean at this point.

He starts with the most glaring issues, all the equipment that’s been knocked over or fallen from tables. Lucas must have designed everything with Taako specifically in mind, given nothing is broken beyond a few small pieces out of place. He picks up the microscope that had been flung across the room the night before, levelling himself with it by kneeling on the ground to pick apart what all goes where. It seems like only a few knobs have fallen off, which isn’t necessarily out of Kravitz’s realm of expertise. He can tighten some screws if that’s all it takes.

He sets all the pieces on the table in order of size, working as if the undead sibling of his current love interest isn’t laying behind him at that very moment. It’s hard to keep focused when all he can think about is what being ‘alive’ means when one can’t move or function inside of their body. More disturbing than anything was the idea that he might potentially see her awake and walking around, someday. After only knowing the woman as some entity, some shadowy figure in Taako’s past, the idea of confronting and meeting her is… unsettling, to say the least.

Most of the microscope parts attach easily enough, though there’s a big enough crack in the eyepiece to require a substitute later. Kravitz has everything set in besides one small screw, and he turns to pick it up from the side of the table--

Clink .

His head whips around at the sound, just in time to see the smallest screw land on the floor and roll directly into the drain in the center of the room. It falls in with another few ‘tinks’ that mock him with every clatter, and Kravitz openly groans. He didn’t think he had touched it, but he’s unlucky enough for it to not matter.

Rolling up his sleeves, Kravitz takes a deep breath and approaches the drain. As large as it is, nothing is holding it down besides its own weight. It’s just one large piece of grated iron. There’s two indents on the side to grab, and Kravitz snaps on a pair of disposable gloves before bending down and securing his fingers beneath two indents on the side. It’s good, heavy iron, and in retrospect, was probably supposed to be moved with magic instead of brute strength. Unless Magnus came and went every time Taako had to open this thing, there is probably an easier way. Not that Kravitz possesses enough magic to do any such thing, though.

Eventually, he hears the low groaning of iron against cement as it finally gives. He only moves it an inch to dislodge it from its place in the floor, just enough to angle it up and then drag it along the ground until he can see down the drain.

Kravitz immediately covers his nose at the smell. Though there are large holes in the cover itself, removing it seemed to break the dam for whatever horrid waste has been sitting at the bottom. A small glint at the dark bottom catches his eye, and Kravitz is disappointed to find the screw is somewhere he can definitely reach and can’t just give up on. He sighs and finds a flashlight that had also been thrown on the ground within the bag. As soon as it clicks on--

Kravitz realizes it was naive of him to forget entirely about the other side of Taako’s work just because it was out of sight. It’s impossible not to physically recoil, and Kravitz takes a step back in surprise when he turns the light on and finds a number of smaller half-formed homunculus creatures at the bottom staring right back up at him with lifeless eyes (or holes where eyes should be).

For all the time it took to remove the grate, Kravitz is able to secure it back in place in record time. It’d be easier to just go out and buy an entire pack of screws instead of facing whatever horror is down there.

The lab has always been a mysterious place, full of secrets and horrors that Kravitz could never comprehend. He busies himself with cleaning a row of tables filled with beakers and bunsen burners all arranged in neatly numbered stations. It takes up a good amount of time, simply moving equipment and cleaning as he goes until he’s been at it for over an hour. As he leans down to pick up a crumpled piece of paper thrown behind one of the burners, Kravitz just barely moves his head back as a flame is produced at the tip without him doing anything.

He puts that task aside and moves on. He’s able to work freely for another few hours, though the feeling of being watched continues to crawl up his back.

It’s always been the fact that Kravitz couldn’t understand the lab that made it scary. Simpler, less complicated things suit him better, and he focuses on what he knows while washing out a number of beakers and flasks in one of the many sinks. Simple monotonous work like this may not be fun, and he’d never ask for it above his current job, but now it allows him to distract himself and think about anything other than the past few days. Perhaps it’s that distraction that causes the flask in his hand to suddenly shatter. Kravitz flies back immediately, holding up his hands and watches as the shards of glass fall to the ground and break into even smaller pieces.

His eyes lift to the sink, trying to find anything he may have accidentally bumped into while cleaning that may have caused the shatter when another sound catches his attention. It’s hard to distinguish over the running water as well as his own pulse drumming in his ears, but the scrape of something hard against cement, some kind of scuttle or scrambling makes Kravitz’s face turn white.

He turns around quickly to try and catch the source of the noise. Naturally, nothing is there.

Kravitz is prepared to chock everything up to nerves and lack of sleep when he turns around and watches the glass cabinet door above the sink break into a million pieces without a single touch.

He covers his face with his arms to shield his eyes, and the moment they’re closed, the same noise returns. As if an animal had fallen onto its back and was scrambling to get back up behind him. It stops after a good ten seconds, dies down low below the running water that now splashes off the sharp glass in the sink.

Something might be wrong, Kravitz finally thinks. He begins to lower his arms and leave the lab altogether when suddenly, the noise returns. It’s different now, directly in his ear, and not the same ruckus as before.

Scrtch… Scrrrtch…

In one dramatic movement, Kravitz throws his arms out around him to try and hit whatever might be beside him and making the sound. But nobody else is in the room besides him and a single corpse. Kravitz squints at Lup’s body, some small disrepancy catching his attention. She’s exactly where they left her, body covered, and eyes closed, yet something feels different. It feels like he might be able to put his finger on it when his attention is drawn down to the floor by his feet.

His blood runs cold.

Claw marks cover the floor, stained in red and leading up to his shoes.

Kravitz doesn’t waste any time after that. The rest of the lab, this whole job be damned, something isn’t right here--a few things aren’t right here, actually. He checks his pockets for both phones, the only things he’d brought over here, and crosses the room in a few long strides. Kravitz isn’t stupid, and he certainly isn’t suicidal. Something in this lab clearly doesn’t want him here, and funnily enough, he doesn’t want to be here either. It’s in both of their best interests for him to leave.

He turns, ready to run up the stairs and say goodbye to this nightmare--but it could never be that easy. Kravitz takes a horrified step back into the lab, clamping a hand over his nose. It’s the smell that gets to him first.

Although the sight of all the failed experiments from the past few weeks piled at the bottom of the stairs isn’t pleasant, either.

They’re all stacked together in one messy lump of deteriorating flesh, none alive, but all still terrifying in their own inhumane right. It’s all the small ones, the tiny chunks that were able to slip through the drain or were waiting on incineration. Maybe Taako dumped them down there to dispose of later, and never got around to it. Looking down where they’re all gathered, the breath is stolen once again from Kravitz’s lungs.

Fresh, dark red footsteps cover the cold floor. They aren’t his, no, he can clearly see toes and a heel from where the source hadn’t been wearing shoes. They also don’t mark where he’s standing or approach the pile of monsters directly. In fact, they seem to have stopped--right behind him.

It doesn’t even take a full second for Kravitz to make a decision. At once, he’s bounding over the pile of fleshy experiments, stepping on a few that leave a sickly residue on his shoes that cause him to slip as he stumbles up the stairs. With a tight grip on the rail, Kravitz doesn’t bother stopping and picks himself back up easily, charging up the stairs as quickly as possible. Faster than running through Barry’s house. Faster than responding to Taako’s emergencies.

Part of him is prepared to grab the door handle and find the upstairs locked completely. He’s read horror novels, he knows how this goes; he’ll be trapped here, forced to suffer whatever fate this thing in the lab has doomed him to.

But thankfully, the knob turns, and Kravitz is surprised when he steps out into the light upstairs and is able to slam the door behind him.

He collapses to the floor immediately, breathing harder than ever before. Only now can he feel the sweat on his body being cooled by the air, his chest heaving, eyes closed and face buried in his hands.

His mind can’t help but return to his previous thoughts--if he had never met Taako, if he had never encountered Taako… what would his own life be like?

Kravitz’s head snaps up at the sound of a door being opened, and he thinks for a panicked moment that it might be the basement door despite being pressed against it. But he can see where new light is streaming in down the hall and disappears with a ‘click’ as the front door is shut and sharp, heeled footsteps enter the house.

“Krav? You up here?”

Taako’s silly accent has never sounded so comforting before. Kravitz is scrambling to his feet in an instant as Taako’s head peeks around the corner. He’s holding his wizard hat in his hands, all dressed in his teaching robes with a bag slung over his shoulder. His eyes widen when they land on Kravitz and he steps out from behind the corner to reveal himself entirely.

“What… the fuck happened?”

Kravitz thinks for a moment it might be concern for him that he hears in Taako’s voice before remembering that his twin sister is indeed downstairs and technically in Kravitz’s care. This looks a lot worse than it is, actually. He holds up his hands and tries to catch his breath.

“No, it’s… something weird is going on down there, Taako, there was… glass, and noises, and the screw, and a, uh… the things, those, those…”

With every word that leaves his mouth, Taako’s brow arches higher and in even more suspicion. It’s clear he’s wary of everything Kravitz is saying, given how unintelligible it is, but he only asks one question. “What about Lup?”

Kravitz blinks. “She’s… fine?”

Taako gently pushes him aside and opens up the basement door before Kravitz can tell him not to. He comes up behind Taako to warn him when his eyes fall over his shoulder and to the bottom of the stairs.

There’s nothing there.

“Let’s see what’s got you so worked up.”

Kravitz follows close on Taako’s heels as they descend, eyes scanning the entire path down for anything out of the ordinary. There’s no gross creatures, no blood, or footprints, or anything from the past few hours… He’s directly at Taako’s back when they turn the corner and look over the main room.

The glass is still broken. Everything Kravitz ran into while he was trying to leave is out of place. But the claw marks on the ground, any trace that something may have happened, has completely disappeared.

Taako clicks his tongue as he approaches Lup first, touching the side of her face. “You almost fall asleep standing up and slam your head into that cabinet?” he asks while inspecting his twin’s body. Kravitz wanders over to the sink cautiously and finally stops the water. The bottom is still covered in wet, broken glass.

“I… no, it shattered right in front of me, it…”

He meets Taako’s eye.

Even Kravitz knows nothing he’s saying is making any sense.

With a deep breath, he braces his hands on either side of the sink and stares at the disproportionate reflections of himself in the glass shards. The person looking back hardly looks like himself, eyes blown, sweat dripping from his forehead, and hair in a mess.

“I suppose I didn’t get enough sleep, did I?” he tries again.

The footsteps that approach him this time are louder, clear and pronounced as Taako crosses the room to stand beside him. A gentle hand comes to rest in the small of his back, and when Kravitz turns to look at Taako, the expression on his face holds a sympathy he’s never seen him wear. “And you’re the one always telling me to rest.”

Kravitz gives a quiet, strained laugh. “Yeah, I… Man, I must be pretty fucked up right now, huh?”

Taako snorts and pats his back, stepping closer so their sides are pressed together. “Yeah, you look like shit--comparatively. I’m still kinda into this messy look.”

His chuckle is a little more genuine this time. Kravitz lets go of the sink to turn and fully face Taako, hands trailing down to find and hold the elf’s wrists. “Good to know at least one of us is enjoying this. I feel disgusting.”

“You reek, too. Go take a shower, go home and get clothes if you need to. We can talk about plans when you’re back.”

Kravitz nods, thankful for the reprieve. “I’d be more than happy to.”

He leaves the lab by himself, listening to the sound of Taako cleaning up the broken glass as he makes his way up the stairs. Angus, waiting in the living room and already doing his homework, seems surprised to see Kravitz’s appearance and waves a greeting. Kravitz only leaves after assuring the boy he’ll be back later today, then walks out the door and waits for the feeling of fresh air to grant him new insight into today’s events.

No, he hasn’t lost his mind.

What happened today was real. Nothing can convince him otherwise. Kravitz steps off the porch and begins to head back home.

The screw falling in the drain when he hadn’t touched it, the flame turning on in front of his face, all the glass shattering, the noises, the footsteps, the marks, the creatures… if he thinks about it, perhaps more of today’s events had been caused by the same thing. So many odd things he’s willingly passed off to make it easier on his mind.

Kravitz dives deep into his memories of the lab, searching his memories as if they were a crime scene. The only difference in things recently has been Lup, which could be considered an odd event herself. It could also be a result of them messing around in Barry’s lab; the man’s a necromancer, who’s to say they hadn’t picked up a ghost or two on the way back?

Still, it remains odd than nothing had happened to Lup’s body while everything was happening. If this thing wanted to get a rise out of him or scare him away, he was already perfectly afraid of her presence in the lab. It would have been easier to just use anything around her.

Except… it feels like they had. He remembers, distinctly, looking at her body and registering that something was wrong. He hadn’t been able to place it then, given he only had a moment to see her before running towards the door. The sheet around her remained in place. All the tools were in their correct spots. Her eyes were still shut…

It only occurs to Kravitz when he walks through his door and sees his bed, interrupted by the memory of watching Taako sleep. Even unconscious, he had curled towards Kravitz, laying sideways so that when he opened his eyes, Kravitz was the first thing he saw.

Kravitz removes his shirt and pants on the frantic walk to his bathroom in a desperate need to burn his skin with scalding water as quickly as possible. His shoes come off, the bottoms drier than before but still dirtied with blood and gore.

Perhaps it was the familiarity of the scene that made Kravitz believe that nothing was wrong. He’d seen it before, so many times, and it had been a comfort. The memory of Taako sleeping, allowing himself to show vulnerability in front of Kravitz was preserved in sweet honey like amber, fresh and pure in his mind. Now, those gentle moments have been tainted, overshadowed by a more disturbing image.

Her head was turned towards him.

Chapter Text

In the privacy of his own home, there’s no one to demand Kravitz’s attention besides himself. As soon as the hot water of the shower hit him, he knows far too well that he’s going to be in here a while. He turns the heat almost all the way up, in increments of ‘not enough’ until it feels properly painful.

No matter how hot, no matter how his skin protests against the barrage of scalding water and the rough scrubbing of a washcloth with soap, it doesn’t feel enough. The smell is lodged deep in his head. The grime is buried within his skin. The shame, the urgency, all the responsibility, cannot be separated from the backs of his eyelids, until Kravitz is scrubbing at them as well. The tears only come as a reaction to being rubbed as a child would when they began to cry.

Kravitz has changed since all this began, and no longer does he feel only despair at the mountain he must climb. Such feelings of helplessness won’t save Taako or anybody. Instead, there is only frustration, so raw and deep in everything he does now.

His wish is so simple, and yet nothing else seems to be. In this situation where not one single person can be blamed, he has to weave his way through so many extra burdens and hurdles. Oddly, he thinks this must be what Angus of all people has felt all this time. Perhaps even Merle and Magnus were the same, watching their friend from the outside while unable to do anything.

That’s the difference though, isn’t it. Kravitz finally turns off the water after god knows how long, stepping out to dry himself off.

Because everyone else has failed, Kravitz has to be the one to do something.

It’s refreshing to step into a new pair of clothes, and he throws the old ones to the side of the room to be taken care of later. After everything, it feels it’d be more efficient just to throw them away and go out shopping altogether. It’d be a chance to pick up replacements for all the shit that’s been broken at Taako’s place.

He walks to Taako’s house with purpose, just as every day, though that purpose seems to change every time he so much as blinks. Save Taako, turn him in, confide in others… the possibilities are endless, and yet it’s his entire job to make the correct decision. If he can’t even do that, he might as well turn in his keys altogether. Then again, it never should have gotten here in the first place.

When Kravitz sees Taako smile, he thinks his entire job may not have been important but to only bring him here. Everything in his life may have led up until now, as nothing seems quite as important as saving this man who is at the center of so many other’s lives. His own feelings aside, Taako is the largest case, the largest anything he’s been a part of.

His feelings taken into account, he’s even greater. It becomes personal, a desire to walk into the future, to protect that smile and goofy laugh that seems all too innocent for everything that surrounds him. No other case will be as large as Taako’s and no other person will be as important. With that knowledge, it’s easier to act without fear of consequences.

Much to his surprise, Taako isn’t working away in the basement like a madman when Kravitz arrives. He’s sitting on the steps of the porch, arms crossed over his knees and looking down. He’s changed out of his robes and is in simple sweats with a clashing shirts that hangs low on his shoulders, covered by a jacket. When Kravitz steps out onto the lawn, his head snaps up, and a smile comes to his face.

“Took your time freshening up, princess?”

“Only the best for you, your highness.”

The name makes Taako’s grin widen, and he stands to greet Kravitz as he approaches the porch. “Well good enough timing, I was just about to give up and go inside. Didn’t know it took two hours to change clothes.”

“Of all people, I think you do ,” Kravitz teased, and Taako laughs with a shrug. “Why were you waiting out here, though? You could’ve just texted me if it was important.”

His eyes raise, locked on Kravitz’s for a good silent few seconds. Kravitz thinks, then, that he hasn’t seen Taako look relaxed in the sunset like this before, not since they went on their date. That night he had been happy and satiated, all laughs and good times. It’s a precious memory, one Kravitz keeps tucked in his pocket when it feels life might be too hopeless after all. He brings it up often just to hold it to his nose and breathe again.

He thinks, maybe, the look in his eyes, different and delicate and soft, might not be that new after all.

“I want to talk to you.”

Kravitz comes up the final few steps to stand directly in front of Taako, not breaking eye contact.

“I do too.”

Taako reaches out and naturally weaves his arm where it fits perfectly with Kravitz’s. “Let’s take a walk.”

Every time they’ve been alone together like this, Kravitz always felt like he was burdened with some underlying motive. Get information out of Taako, convince him there’s good in the world, keep him from hurting himself. The only times it felt like they were two people acting on the same plane were when he was caring for him after Taako’s fall, or when they sat with Angus at the dinner table. The smiles they shared then were genuine and open, not having to look up or down at one another from different elevations.

Taako guides him away from town, passing the street they would usually turn on when going towards the cafe they frequented a few times. Just away from the buildings, Kravitz watches as the stores and companies turn to grass and trees, slowly merging into suburbs that they never delve into. He doubts Taako has a specific route in mind, and Kravitz is more than happy to follow the arm wrapped around his for however long he pleases. The warmth at his side is the only motivation he needs after a day like this.

Taako is the first to break the silence. “I already let some of it out this morning, but… I’ve been thinking a lot more about it. All of this, and everything. From your side, it must seem pretty fuckin’ messy, yeah?”

Kravitz hums in contemplation. “Are you telling me it’s clean from your end?”

Taako shrugs, head still set straight forward. “I’m used to it; this is just par for the course. But you’ve done more than help me in the lab. Like, Angus always seems to be talking about you, you’re the kid’s hero. He hasn’t always been this happy, and although recently shit’s kinda hit the fan again… he wouldn’t be dealing with it as well if you weren’t here.” A pause. “And neither would I.”

In lieu of an immediate answer, Kravitz reaches over with his free hand and squeezes Taako’s hand curled on his bicep. “I care a lot for Angus, he’s an amazing kid.”

“You can say that again,” Taako says. “You’ve done a lot more work than a lab assistant is really set up to do, and things have definitely gotten messier than they should, so, I guess…”

He stops, suddenly, tugging Kravitz to a halt beside him. At this point, they’ve left a row leading into different neighborhoods and are approaching a park that’s familiar to him. Kravitz has come here a few times on his walks when he needed to clear his head from everything that’s happened with Taako or in the lab. Now he’s here with the source of all of his stress and he couldn’t feel more at home.

Taako keeps his head down for a few moments before letting go of Kravitz and turning to face him completely. “I’ll pay you more if that’s what you need, I honestly didn’t expect anything like this to happen or at least this quickly, you’ve just happened to be there when I needed help so--”

“Taako,” Kravitz says, quiet but insistently. Slowly, he finds Taako’s hands in his own, and smiles at him with pure delight. It’s hard to hear his own voice over the sudden fluttering in his chest. “This isn’t about money. I told you, I’m here because I care. And, I’d like to think… I’d like to think there’s something happening here separate from work, and the lab, and any of this. With… us ?”

He watches as the elf’s eyes widen, not shielding any emotion he’s feeling at Kravitz’s confession. Albeit, Kravitz doesn’t say anything outright, but the acknowledgement of the tension built between them is basically the same as admitting it at this point in the game. In his hands, Taako’s fingers tremble, and for a moment Kravitz thinks he may have gone too far. That it was too early, even after all this time. But the surprise on Taako’s face is contagious, and it spreads directly to Kravitz as soon as the elf lurches up and drags him down by his collar into a kiss.

The fingers playing at the edge of his shirt are the same as earlier today, in just the same way. Had Angus not come downstairs so soon, had Kravitz acted faster, is this what would have happened? He could have been spared all these hours feeling worried and dismayed; yet at the same time, it feels more cathartic like this. The entire day, the week, all the months of hopelessness and chaos and uncertainty, after all of the horrible events and experiences that Kravitz might keep for the rest of his life, this is still allowed to happen.

He feels confident, then, in all the decisions he’s made up until now. They led him here.

Or maybe they were destined to end up here, no matter the path taken.

Kravitz doesn’t hesitate to kiss Taako back, hands delicately cradling the side of his face as if the moment itself might shatter if he were too rough. Part of him wishes to explode in all the passion he feels for this man, to kiss him silly against whatever surface they could tangle up against first. But the romantic, the sap and weak parts of Kravitz that have been so desperate for comfort and safety could not be happier than exactly where he is. They move in a wave of emotions, pushing and pulling in tandem so the other is not left feeling weak or unstable for more than a second. It’s the most effective communication they’ve established thus far, and for once, Kravitz thinks they might be on the exact same page.

He tries to pull away when it feels it’s been long enough, but the second their lips separate, Taako is making a disgruntled noise and yanking him back down. Their faces collide, and Kravitz’s lips hurts from the force, but he can’t help but giggle into Taako’s mouth at the ferocious kiss. This time, he keeps one hand on the back of Taako’s head while the other wraps around his waist and pulls him even closer. Taako’s hands on his collar let go and find a new home in wrapping his arms tightly around Kravitz’s neck, effectively locking him in place.

“Fuck,” Taako says, their lips still locked together. His tongue has no shame prodding at Kravitz’s mouth, and who is he to deny him anything? They’re already as absurd as possible, making out in the middle of the sidewalk at sunset when any person could just stop on by, Taako’s dead sister waiting for him at home. “I’ve wanted to do this for so fucking long.”

“Me too,” Kravitz says, moving his mouth off of Taako’s just to press kisses into the elf’s cheek. His heart feels so impossibly large and swelling with the sum of every emotion, every good thing in his life leading up to now. “For way too long now… I really, really like you.”

Taako manages to put some decent distance between them, though he’s still pressed against Kravitz’s chest. It’s just enough space that they can see each other, and the image of Taako, kissed so foolishly that his hair is messy, his face flushed, and lips fuller and wet, is one Kravitz feels will stay in his heart forever. Taako grins impishly at him. “Yeah… I really, really like you, too.”

Kravitz laughs, helplessly, and presses their foreheads together. He’s dreamed of, prayed for something like this if he could have nothing else. Right now, in this moment, Taako is safe and wrapped tightly in his arms, both smiling so wide their faces might split.

If only time would stop right here, and they could forget everything else in the world. Kravitz could keep him here where he’s safest, where nothing can hurt him, and be healed himself. They could work together to build each other back up from all the trauma and pain they’ve both endured their lives. If it was them, they could do it.

“Are you…” Kravitz opens his eyes at the sound of Taako’s voice to find the elf already staring back at him in evaluation. “There’s no returns on this. This elf don’t go halfway, and you already know all the shit that’s possible.”

Kravitz nods. “I do, and that’s why I’m sure.” He nudges forward, bumping his nose against Taako’s reassuringly. “I don’t want halfway; I haven’t wanted it for the last… month or two?”

Taako’s eyes widen, and he pulls back to stare at him in surprise. “ What , that long? I mean, I could tell you had hots, because to be honest who wouldn’t, but most people kinda lose the boner after a few failed necromancy experiments and adult fetus lookin’ things.”

“It threatened to go, it really did. Like you said, shit’s messy, but…” Kravitz smiles and brings his hands up to hold either side of Taako’s face. He doesn’t bring them closer together, just holds him where he can’t escape the full brunt of Kravitz’s hopelessly enamored stare. “I found something better than just hots.”

He sees the skin of Taako’s face go red just as the elf ducks his head down, letting out an ugly laugh. “You’re cheesy as all hell, how did you go this long hiding it? It’s horrible .”

“In all honesty?” Kravitz asks. “I was afraid of scaring you.”

He meets Taako’s eyes again, and this time they’re a little more serious. It isn’t a bad thing, though it’s usually indicative of impending anger. There’s no malice here. Kravitz treasures his smile, goofy and silly as it is, but these moments where Taako is fully concentrated on Kravitz without hiding behind any wall will always be his favorites. Times where it matters, where it feels as if they’re equally bared. Kravitz doesn’t feel afraid to open up when Taako looks at him like he’s the center of the world; it’s the only way he feels he can fully accept Taako as well.

“I’m not a kid, you know. You don’t have to worry about scaring me.”

“I know. But I couldn’t risk messing this up.”

“If anyone was going to fuck things up, it would’ve been me,” Taako says, and he lets out a small, self deprecating chuckle. “God knows I did just about everything I could to do that.”

“Things have been chaotic, haven’t they?” Kravitz hums. He runs his thumbs over the tops of Taako’s cheekbones and can’t help but lean forward and press another kiss to his forehead. “I guess the fact I stayed says something more about me.”

Taako doesn’t say anything in response. Instead, he seems to collapse emotionally, only allowing Kravitz a second to see his eyes droop before Taako steps forward and knocks his head against Kravitz’s shoulder. His hands lift to tighten around his shoulders while Kravitz instinctively wraps his arms around Taako’s waist and pulls him even closer, enough to rest his cheek against the side of his head.

There’s no doubt in his mind that Taako never expected any of this to happen, much less intend for it. Just how Kravitz has been puzzled how he managed to fall in love with this whirlwind who’s taken his entire world by storm, Taako must be feeling the same maddened confusion. In this delicate time in his life, where he’s been run so raw emotionally from loving too much and being hurt by it, he’s fallen in love with a man he met only months ago. Up until now, he’s probably done as much as he could specifically to keep people from getting in; he certainly seems to have closed off his own family.

But Kravitz got in--Taako let Kravitz in. After being hurt so severely, Kravitz’s heart being absolutely pummeled by the weight of losing his parents, he swore he would never love anything ever again if there was a chance he might lose it. In his youth, Kravitz avoided everyone he could, seeing all persons around him as potential pain he might one day endure. His heart was so weakened and barely held together at the seams, just staying in place with sheer will alone. It’s only through the care of others who took the time to reach out to him did he learn to heal.

Taako is different in some ways, and just the same in others. This pain, this agony Kravitz knows so well, is still fresh in his bones. At this point, Kravitz hadn’t even given up on avenging his parents; it took more time after he accepted their death to move on. Taako has a long road ahead of him if he’s willing to go anywhere, to try and recover--but he has allies on his side, ones he probably didn’t even want to acknowledge until now.

For so long, he must have been living alone in a burning building, allowing himself to be set aflame while trying to fight a fire that’s grown so far beyond him. Any other person could ignite the flames in his mind. It’d be better to remain alone and bear the pain by himself.

But Kravitz is too aware of his own burns that cover his entire body--and he won’t let Taako turn to ash.

He holds him now, knowing he can’t protect him like this forever, but accepting that it’s the first step. With this behind them, they can go so far together. His arms tighten around Taako’s frame at the thought; they can go so far together . To think, the keys to saving this world of his are so close now, and all Kravitz has to do is the one thing he’d pay to spend the rest of his life doing--standing by Taako’s side.

He feels like the luckiest man in the world, just to feel this beloved person’s attention devoted to him for even a minute. Now, he doesn’t know what to do with all the enchanted warmth that’s poured from his heart and fills his throat. The only reason he doesn’t speak is from  fear it might drip from his mouth if he were to part his lips.

A soft noise escapes Taako, almost like a hum or a cough that gets muffled by Kravitz’s shoulder. “I’m not kidding when I say there’s no way out of this,” Taako says quietly. “You’ve got two minutes to turn away and leave.”

Kravitz shakes his head against the side of Taako’s face, ruffling his hair in the process. “I’d rather spend them here, holding you. Every second with you is precious to me, Taako.”

“That’s literally the worst thing you’ve said. It just keeps getting worse.”

“I’m making up for all the times I’ve wanted to say something but didn’t. Speaking of which, you look beautiful tonight.”

Taako laughs into his shoulder. “Direct compliments is your best path. Still bad, though.”

“You’ve got two minutes to turn away and leave,” Kravitz says teasingly, throwing his words back at him.

This time, though, Taako doesn’t laugh. He lifts his head from Kravitz’s shirt with his hands still planted firmly on his shoulders. This time, this time , Kravitz doesn’t have to react quickly out of surprise. He’s able to enjoy the tension that builds, all the suspense that dances over his tongue as the shortened gap between their lips grows smaller. They lean in at the same time, drawn by equal forces, and find home in small space between their mouths as they kiss again.

Kravitz could happily lose himself in the slide of their lips against each other. They don’t meet the right way every time, nor are they always moving at the same speed. Taako speeds up more often than he slows down, and it takes a minute for Kravitz to coax him back into deep, smoother presses that don’t rely on frantic movement as if they were constrained by time. It’s easy to pretend they’re the only two people in the world, that they’re the ones who set the clocks for others to follow when Taako kisses him like this. The rest of the world will follow after.

But all too soon, he feels Taako sigh against him. He separates, keeping their faces together. “You should go home,” he says.

Kravitz’s brows furrow together in confusion. “You don’t want me to help you out in the lab tonight?”

“I would, but…” Taako finally pulls away completely until only their hands are held together. He takes a deep breath. “With something like this, I know how I’m going to get and it isn’t… pretty. I don’t really want you to like, see it? Don’t look at me like that, I’m capable of working by myself--I can’t go two seconds anymore without hearing your voice telling me to go meditate or get some food. I’ll be fine .”

“Will you? I don’t mind staying, honestly.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why you shouldn't. It’s been getting to you, I know it has. I should’ve been paying more attention, this morning shouldn’t have happened.” Taako offers a sympathetic smile and begins walking them away. “I’ll be fine on my own, I’ve got Angus. You can come back tomorrow, just… give me one night, yeah? I heard distance makes the heart grow fonder,” he says with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.

Kravitz can’t help but laugh, and he nods along. “Alright, I suppose I can trust you for one night. I’m leaving it to Angus to text me as soon as he gets the slightest bit worried though, alright?”

“God, between the two of you I can’t even piss in peace, can I?”

“If you could piss without potentially killing yourself or unleashing armageddon, perhaps we could relax our leashes a little.”

Taako rolls his eyes dramatically, but tugs Kravitz down to press a kiss against his cheek. “Go home already, I changed my mind and I’m tired of seeing your handsome face.”

“Well I guess I’ll do you the favor of getting rid of it sooner,” Kravitz says, mockingly holding his hand in front of his eyes. He can hear Taako laugh though he can’t see it, and his smile just spreads wider.

They walk together a while longer, right until the corner where they’ve not choice but to split up and go different ways. Taako has held onto his hand faithfully, and when it comes time to part, Kravitz hesitates. It’s just one night, his mind tells him. And yet it feels bigger than that. Taako doesn’t immediately leave and remains by Kravitz’s side, gazing at him curiously. Odd how he never noticed until now how in sync they really are. With their intentions aligned, they could probably do fantastic things together.

It’s darker now. They’ve been out a while. The moon will soon be hanging high in the sky, and Kravitz will be safe in his bed while Taako slaves away in the lab. In a way, this might be Taako spilling his emotions while he’s sure of them, before he ruins his psyche by experimenting on his sister. He’ll go mad, some part of Kravitz says. He’s his own greatest threat, and he knows it.

“Is there…”

Kravitz stops himself as soon as the words leave his mouth, reconsidering the question and turning it over in his head a dozen times.

It takes no small amount of courage for him to meet Taako’s eye and continue. “Is there a future for this, Taako? When all of this is over, and you don’t need an assistant, and everything has calmed down… Is there hope for this?”

The question doesn’t seem to surprise him, as if it had been rattling around Taako’s head just as well all night. He doesn’t smile or make a goofy joke, and the contemplative stare he gives Kravitz makes him feel bare and exposed. If only he could bare himself. If only he could openly ask what he truly means.

A small, slow smile creeps up on Taako’s face. “Yeah,” he says, “if I have anything to say about it. I don’t really, really like people often. Next time we’ll do something more romantic though, like actual grave-robbing.”

Kravitz laughs along and reaches out to hold his hand one last time. “I’d prefer to make our way back up with vandalism or mail fraud, but whatever you want.” Taako snorts at the cheesy sentiment and playfully slaps his hand away.

He turns his back, waving over his shoulder instead. “Come in tomorrow afternoon, and bring food.”

“Good night, Taako.”

Already waving, Taako simply stretches his arm out further in a larger arc as he walks down the road. This time, Kravitz doesn’t watch him leave and turns around to head back to his own apartment. He has enough memories from tonight already spilling from his pockets.

Given everything that’s happened today, with all the chaos in the lab and his own personal revelations… today was a good day. Nothing could overshadow finally being able to confess his feelings to Taako and have them returned in full. On the walk back, he finds himself pressing the pads of his fingertips to his lips and revelling in the slightly painful soreness there. Now that this has been established, they might be able to kiss even more tomorrow. There’s no telling what the future holds.

If Raven knew what he’s done, she would keel over dead on sight.

But things like that don’t matter when Kravitz’s head hits his pillow that night and he’s able to fall asleep with a smile on his face, giddy, and utterly in love. All those memories overflow and spill from his pockets, finding a new home spread across his bed like silken sheets.

This will work. He’ll make it work, just for the sake of that goofy smile.

Chapter Text

The next day, Kravitz sleeps in. He doesn’t wake up until it’s one in the afternoon, feeling more well rested than before. The incident in the lab has almost been completely forgotten at this point, and he rolls out of bed eager to pick out an outfit that might be visually appealing. After all, he’s dressing to impress Taako now.

His stomach stirs at the thought, and he’s smiling before he can help it.

Last night had really happened. He told Taako how he felt, and the professor returned his feelings. And they kissed, and kissed, and… did this mean they were dating now? Probably, but it might not be best to ask about it until he knows how Taako is doing today. The topic is more than a little fresh.

It’s been years since Kravitz has been romantically interested in anybody, much less actually involved. He hardly remembers how he used to act when he would date others, what the correct next step after confirming feelings would be. Dates, probably? Except they had already gone on those. Even if he weren’t going to act outright and do something specific, how is he supposed to act around Taako now? Differently? The same?

He decides all of his past experience is useless when trying to figure out how to work his way around this minefield. Taako is nothing like anyone he’s ever met before, and this situation, this relationship, will have to be navigated more carefully than ever regardless of feelings.

The idea of the elf rotting alone in his lab all night is the motivation he needs to finally step out the door, eager to see how everything went. There were no texts from neither Taako nor Angus to his phone, so he has no reason to be immediately concerned. Kravitz can only assume Taako stayed home from work today--or maybe he actually went? No, he probably did go to work, else Angus would have informed Kravitz himself. It’s why he told Kravitz to come in the afternoon when he would be home.

On the way, Kravitz takes a detour through town to pick up food for all three of them. Winter is just on its last legs now, and Kravitz thrives without having to bundle up in three different jackets before going outside. A simple long sleeved shirt is all he needs--but he keeps a jacket for aesthetic. It’s too warm for a scarf, and he has to keep up his look somehow, right?

He stops by the same cafe they’ve visited a couple times, and by the time he leaves, he has enough food and pastries for three stuffed in one bag while he carries a cardboard tray with three drinks in the other hand. Walking through town on an innocent errand is a luxury he’d completely forgotten, how nice it is to simply exist without a million layers or reasons behind every single action. The pure act of existence without any asterisks nor footnotes has to be cherished while he has it. One day, he wants to teach Taako this simple pleasure. He probably once loved it, too.

By the time he reaches the house, Kravitz has a skip in his step and knocks on the door while balancing the drinks on one arm. It doesn’t take long for Angus to open up, and the boy looks up at him with a smile. “Kravitz!”

“I told you I’d be back. Taako cut me off last night, but we got to hang out and talk,” Kravitz explains as he steps inside, immediately moving to the kitchen to set everything down.

Close on his heels, Angus presses him. “What did you two talk about?”

Kravitz pauses in the middle of taking the food out, holding one container of soup midair as his brain circuits.

Right… right. He forgot what happened between him and Taako would involve Angus as well.

“Uh… well, we…” In the middle of speaking, he turns to face Angus, only to see the boy’s face has split into a mischievous, toothy grin. Immediately, Kravitz’s face heats and he leans over to ruffle the boy’s hair. “I don’t have to tell the great detective Angus, do I?”

“No way, it’s written all over your face!” he giggles, taking one of the boxes from the counter and skipping over to sit at the table. Kravitz sets the smallest cup (hot chocolate) where Angus is sitting and watches his face brighten even more.

“Speaking of,” he says, “is Taako still in the lab?”

“He went to school today!” Angus reports happily. “He hasn’t come back yet, he’s still there.”

Kravitz raises a brow and glances at his watch. “Should’ve ended an hour or two ago, right?”

Angus simply shrugs and begins eating. “Sometimes he stays after school longer. He’s been doing it for months.”

A change in office hours, perhaps. Or maybe it meant Taako is actually committing himself back to his job and helping students, or meeting with other faculty… there’s a lot for him to catch up on, inevitably. After folding up the large bag he’d brought everything in and tucking it in the trash, Kravitz rounds the side of the entrance. “I’m going to go and check on the lab, Angus. Hold down the fort up here--and don’t tell Taako I told you what happened last night.”

“Don’t worry, sir!” Angus says with a mouth half full. He waits to finish swallowing. “I already picked it up from the look on Taako’s face when he came back last night, anyways!”

This little detective was going to give Kravitz a run for his money.

All he can do is shake his head and pretend to be exasperated, hiding a smile as he walks to the back of the house. At least he doesn’t have to worry about Angus not approving of anything, if his bright smiles and cheerful disposition are anything to go by.

There’s just one other hurdle to cross. Hearing that Taako went back to work is endlessly satisfying, and Kravitz couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a show of effort to try and get things back to normal, regardless of the monumental breakthroughs he’s had in the lab recently in getting back his sister. They’ve managed to keep Taako from retreating in on himself and living alone; he’s working, interacting with Angus, and going forward in his relationship with Kravitz.

Kravitz pinches his arm on the way down the stairs and is pleased to find himself perfectly awake. Despite whatever happens from here on, at least Kravitz knows that Taako wants to change. That’s all he needs to feel confident in his decisions.

He steps where the pile of bodies had once been, now without a trace of their ever having existed. It’s hard to act like that incident had never occurred, but there’s not much else he can do. It isn’t as if he can tell Taako what happened, especially if his hypothesis is correct and it’s Lup herself acting to get him out. Even if they’re together now, Kravitz has no doubt Taako would choose his sister over him every time. He can’t blame him.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary. He remains in the doorway, unwilling (or simply unable ) to move beyond the threshold of where he feels safest here. It feels as if he’d be stepping into the underworld by moving just a few inches forward, anywhere closer to that body laying still on the table.

At this point, Taako has put an actual robe on his sister and the sheet has been dumped aside in one messy mountain of now dirtied white, not unlike the aftermath of an avalanche having torn up everything in its path. If he were brave, Kravitz would enter the room just to straighten up, maybe fold the sheet and wash what has been dirtied. He can see the results of Taako’s work the night previous, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the lab is humming with consistent activity. Machines are turned on and are hard at work, collecting data for long processes while Taako is away. Jars and beakers are covered and labeled in rows on the desks at the back of the room, and even those large, fluid filled pods have picked up where they left off and light the rooms in a green hue.

But there isn’t any blood. And there isn’t any carnage.

Maybe that’s all he’s looking for.

Before anything can have a chance to go wrong, Kravitz takes a step backwards and starts heading back up the stairs. It should be enough to know that Taako went back to school today, but in the back of his mind, Kravitz can only think of all the other times Taako was ‘fine’ being alone and returned with new marks and scars from experimentation. It feels too easy to believe that all of those times are over now that he has Lup to use instead. Life typically isn’t that simple.

It’d be nice to believe that things could be getting better, though.

Two doors creak when Kravitz pulls up from the basement, and he cranes his head at the right time to see Taako looking right back at him from the entrance of the house, the front door still open. His eyes widen upon seeing Kravitz, then he returns to his usual carefree smile.

“Didn’t expect to see you first thing,” he says while setting down his bag and placing his wand carefully at a table by the front door. Angus is already at Taako’s side, a hand neatly covering his mouth as he tries to swallow down the food he’d been eating when he entered.

Kravitz joins them, happy to shut the basement door and leave the lab behind. As soon as Angus catches sight of Kravitz coming towards them, he gives Taako a small hug and runs back to the kitchen. “You said to come in the afternoon and it’s near evening. Was school busy?” Kravitz asks.

“You’ve got no idea. I mean, I haven’t missed a ton, like, recently, but we’re getting pretty close to midterms and my students are losing their little minds. It’s pretty hilarious actually,” Taako says while sliding off the robes that pour from his shoulders and hang them on a coat rack by the door. Below he’s only wearing a tank top and slacks, the picture perfect professor.

“Well, dear, you might be happy to hear then that I went ahead and brought lunch--though by now it’s closer to dinner.” The endearment slips without concern, and even when Kravitz acknowledges what he’s said he doesn’t think much of it.

Taako, on the other hand, appears as if he’s been struck. His body stiffens only for a moment, and by the time Kravitz realizes something is off, he’s already put back in motion as Taako forces a different kind of smile onto his face. A small laugh falls from his mouth. “Shit, I half thought I dreamed the whole thing.”

Kravitz takes a daring step forward, stepping into a space he was never allowed before, and comes to stand mere inches from Taako so the elf has to meet his eye directly. “Would you prefer me to not say anything?”

“No, that part was fine. I just didn’t expect you to go for the kill so suddenly, handsome.”

He chuckles and brings his knuckles to the side of Taako’s face to fix the hair that had been batted out of place when he removed his robes. “Like I said, I’ve been waiting a while for this. Tell me if anything is too much for you and I can stop, though.”

Taako tilts his chin up and raises his brows, looking at Kravitz through what he might only dream to describe as hungry eyes. “I can take whatever you’re willing to dish out, big guy. Don’t you worry about me.” He rests his hands on Kravitz shoulders while speaking, so close in each other’s space that he only has to mumble to be heard.

By instinct alone, Kravitz is drawn to settle his hands on Taako’s hips, but thinks better on it at the last second and holds his wrists instead. He rubs small circles with his thumbs into the joints at the base of his palm. “I’d like to kiss you, right now.”

His eyes flutter for just a second before the cool interest returns and Taako’s hands leave his shoulders to yank Kravitz forward by the back of his neck. Perhaps this small kiss isn’t as dramatic as the kiss of confessions and finales that last night’s had been, but it’s special in how simple it is. The mundanity is comforting in a way that promises this could become normal , that these sweet, short kisses could be what Kravitz has to look forward to from now on. A little taste of a possible future. Indulging and expressing these feelings he’s hidden for so long could be this easy and readily available.

He’s smiling like a fool when they pull back, and Taako rolls his eyes. “C’mon, I’m starving,” he says, yanking Kravitz to the kitchen by his hand. He follows along easily, probably more than he should be proud to admit, but how could he feel anything but pleased right now? The only person who seems more satisfied than him in this moment is Angus when they walk into the room. Immediately, he beams, flashing Kravitz a smile so bright he nearly fears going blind.

If Taako notices Angus’s suspiciously good mood, he says nothing and makes a beeline for the bags of food on the counter.

They distribute all the placemats, put drinks on the table, and arrange the chairs in a triangle without speaking. The three of them sit and eat together as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps it’s all done without speaking, and could all be excused as courtesy, but other possibilities feel so warm within Kravitz’s mind, like the idea that they’re making an effort to include him in what they do now.

Taako and Angus speak about their days, constantly pulling Kravitz in to react to their stories as if he’s the judge between who’s had more interesting occurrences at school. He remains completely unbiased, of course, which earns both of their favors more than picking a side ever could.

Slowly, a new family is forming. It’s different from the one he had before, and it can’t be compared easily as if one might be better than the other. Only two things remain the same between them; the lovely feeling of home Kravitz has when they’re together, and the knowledge that he would personally tear the world to shreds if anything happened to them.

“So, have you decided yet?” Taako asks while turning to Angus. “Abjuration or illusion, what’s it gonna be? Most kids usually get longer to decide because they’re stupid.”

“I know,” Angus says, face falling. “I kind of wish I had more time to explore each school of magic before choosing just one. It doesn’t feel like enough time.”

Kravitz cuts in after taking a drink. “Is it impossible to learn more than one? With a head start, I’d think you would get more time to study as much as you wanted since you’re beginning sooner, right?”

The question is more towards Taako, but Angus’s head lolls back and forth in thought. “Does it? I feel like I’m just making an uninformed decision right now!”

Taako scoffs. “As if, baby. Even if you do mess up and change your mind later, you’ve got more than enough time to pick up another instead. Took me a while to settle on transmutation, you know?”

Angus’s brows go up to his hairline. “I didn’t know!” he says, leaning over the table towards Taako now. Kravitz finds himself doing the same thing in interest. “What did you do before transmutation? I thought you chose it because of cooking!”

“I did,” Taako nods, “but before any of that, I dabbled in some evocation.”

“Why’s that?”

“Lup was into it first.”

Even though it isn’t said towards him at all, and Taako’s eyes aren’t even on him, Kravitz feels a pointed shiver run up his spine and settle into the back of his hair. It’s easier to hide his reactions when he isn’t being watched, but he keeps from making a scene by busying himself with food instead.

It’s more than a little unsettling that Lup is no longer the grand mystery he expected her to be. She’s a woman, a person like any other, and the discovery of everything to do with her makes Taako feel that much less mystifying. Of all the mysteries in Taako’s life, only Angus’s origin story has prevailed in its enigma. Everything else has been provided or pieced together. Even so, Kravitz doesn’t care to know the details of Angus’s past, nor does he have anything more than a slight curiosity; Angus is the best and most natural part of Taako’s life. It doesn’t deserve prying.

Taako continues, not noticing any change in the scene. “We were opposites, first. She did transmutation because I was interested in it, and I played around in evocation. She made some shitty traps, tried coming up with scams, while I just blasted idiots back and forth. All in all, it wasn’t really a good plan, since we got kicked out of wherever we went,” he says with a smile and a shrug.

Evidently it must’ve meant to be lighthearted as Angus laughs along. Kravitz swallows hard to get the food in his mouth past a lump in his throat.

Just the name alone brings her memory to the forefront of Kravitz’s thoughts, a constant reminder that she’s still just as present in this home. Speaking of her in detail, learning more about her, makes it feel as if Lup is right here with them at this table. In some ways, she might actually be; he knows she’s definitely present in some places more than others.

Kravitz knows that this new potential family of his can’t just be the three of them. Both Angus and Taako bring with them their own histories and every piece of baggage and trauma that comes with it, every single person in their lives as well. Lup is more than a memory or a fleeting conversation. Somehow, in some capacity, she’ll be worked into whatever he and Taako create.

Maybe Kravitz could work with incorporating Lup’s memory into their routine. They could speak about her, allow Taako the time to reminisce on good things and open up about all the bad. It’s the only option including Lup where Kravitz feels like he would be capable of actually helping Taako while maintaining his own mental health. But for Taako, moving on isn’t an option. It’s all in or nothing, and that ‘nothing’ isn’t even on the table anymore.

If, somehow, somehow , this works out, and Lup is revived, there’s no telling what her and Kravitz’s relationship will be like. She seems to have her mind made up about what she thinks of Kravitz, and he’s well past being afraid of her at this point. But is that something they could resolve, something they could ever move past? She would have no reason to be protective of Taako if she got to know Kravitz better, could understand he just wants to protect Taako.

Unless it isn’t just about keeping her brother safe from a new boyfriend.

Unless it’s something more serious than that.

He isn’t given much time to reflect on it before they’re all gathering what can be disposed of into the trash and cleaning up all the rest. Angus ropes Kravitz into a conversation about his hypothetical magic school if Kravitz could pick one, which ends up with both of them being corrected and given an entire lesson by Taako about his own. Kravitz texts Angus throughout the entire spiel, poking light fun at Taako and smiling each time the boy can’t hold down a snicker.

Times like these, it’s easy to forget everything else and pretend that this is all there is. That when Taako excuses himself for the night and tells Kravitz he’ll see him tomorrow, that he could just be going to bed instead of the basement stairs. Kravitz’s stomach churns as he watches Taako retreat to the lab, but Angus is quick to gain his attention again by tugging on his sleeve.

“Hey, Kravitz?” he starts, smile persistent even now. “Do you think we could talk? Like… maybe go on a walk, if you have time?”

Like father, like son. Kravitz returns the smile and nods, happy to leave the house now that he’s remembered just what lies within it. “Sure thing, Angus. They’re already starting to put out decorations for Suitor’s Day.”

They don’t hold hands as they walk through town, but they stand close enough that anyone might assume Angus is Kravitz’s son. They’re different in some ways, obviously, but adoption is more and more common these days anyways. For a weekday, town is busy in the early evening hours before the sun goes down and the lamplights are already shining.

With Candlenights over, capitalism has set its sights on a new victim and throws Suitor’s Day in the faces of the masses at full force. Already, each window of every store is lined with bright red ribbons and pink hearts wherever they can be pasted. Regular everyday items are priced up as a holiday gift by tacking a simple design on them. Kravitz can’t remember the last time he had a lover on Suitor’s Day, but he has a feeling the one he has now won’t try and make a big deal out of it--at least not the way couple’s are typically expected to.

His heart flutters at the thought of spending a romantic holiday with Taako, and as soon as the thought is in his head, Angus finally speaks up beyond idle chatter of decorations.

“My birth parents abandoned me when I was born.”

As Angus speaks, he remains quiet so only Kravitz can hear, but speaks with a tone too level for the words they’re painted on. Kravitz doesn’t want to have this conversation, he thinks, doesn’t need to know where Angus came from or what led him here. But he quickly brushes his own feelings aside, knowing that if Angus is coming to him with something as important as this, he needs to listen and understand. Angus doesn’t ask for much.

“We don’t know if it’s because they weren’t able to take care of me or they just took one look and decided they didn’t want me after all,” he says. “I was taken to an orphanage and grew up there. I never met my parents, but I knew a lady who worked closely with the kids there to help them seek better opportunities--Miss Lucretia.”

Kravitz has heard that name before. Taako’s mentioned her a few times offhand, never enough for Kravitz to acknowledge her role as something important to the case. It appears she might be more involved in Angus’s story than Lup’s.

“She introduced me to Taako at a magic lesson he, Lup, and some others agreed to do at the place. We had regular lessons, but couldn’t afford magic classes. It was a special day. They were all there on behalf of Lucretia, doing a favor for her. Taako was surprised by how smart I am, apparently, and he visited every now and then. I think he wanted to take me on as an apprentice at first, or help me. He came by and left gifts without saying they were for me specifically or just throwing them at me. It made every day a lot of fun, knowing someone out there cared beyond what they were obligated to.

“One day, a fire broke out in the orphanage. I was out with Taako to go shopping for new clothes when it happened.”

The street they’re on doesn’t change. The buildings, the lights, all the decor they already passed are still there, just behind them now. They’re no different than those they’re coming upon as they continue to walk. Angus’s voice remains clear and without interruption as he recounts his unwritten memoir. Kravitz could never interrupt him.

“Everyone--Magnus, Merle, Lup, Lucretia--they said they’d pass me around until they could find a home for me, but Taako kept coming up with excuses for having me stay with him.” On his face, a small smile finally begins to bloom, though Angus keeps his eyes set ahead of them. “He helped me get into Triple A, gave me a place to live and food to eat, and an entire family. I still get to see my friends from the orphanage, and visit the owner, Miss Istus, when I can.

She’s kind of like a grandmother to me, and when Taako gets really into his work, sometimes I’ll just go to her place for a few days. Sometimes she’ll have the other kids over; she’s since repaired and fixed the place up, but my home is permanent now. I still enjoy being with her though, and Taako hasn’t tried separating me from any of them. I was incredibly lucky.”

It sounds exactly like a Taako thing to do. What’s most interesting is how it’s never come up before; Taako has never denied that Angus is his son and his alone. They pick fun and tease each other constantly, but Angus’s history has never come up before. There is, by no means, any reason to believe Angus is anything but Taako’s child--because he is.

Kravitz is about to speak, about to thank Angus for sharing all of this with him, when the boy suddenly continues.

“Other kids weren’t as lucky. The day of the fire, none of the alarms went off. Some of them didn’t make it out, and over a dozen people died, kids and staff included. Others got out with injuries, but they never could determine how the fire had started or where it came from. So, Miss Lucretia, who was close to the orphanage, did some digging of her own. She and Miss Istus worked together to hire someone to look at the case where the police had called it an accident and moved on.”

Kravitz feels his heart stop, and when he looks down at Angus, the boy is staring right back at him, expression blank.

“Raven and Istus are best friends to this day.”

The street they are on doesn’t change.

But the cool, wintery air, certainly does.

As they come near a square wrapped in a number of buildings, Angus turns so that they can walk around the small rows of benches surrounding a fountain in the middle. They don’t sit, only coming to a stop in front of the cement enclosed pond and stand side by side. Angus doesn’t say anything else; he knows he doesn’t have to.

Kravitz always felt like he was underestimating the kid. He’s more than bright, he’s a literal and certified genius. If Angus says he wants to do something, it should simply be assumed that he’s already past halfway there. ‘I want to be a detective,’ he had said when they first met, and Kravitz was surprised, but continued without another thought towards the matter.

Kravitz isn’t the first detective to pick up this case and try to help Taako; one has been by his side the entire time. Angus has been fighting by himself for who knows how long, probably doing all he could to steer his father in the right direction.

“Do you want him to revive Lup?” Kravitz asks, neither of them looking at the other.

“I want my family to be safe,” Angus says in a non-answer. “I’ve already lost a lot.”

Slowly, as to not startle him, Kravitz lifts a hand to lay on the top of Angus’s back. A bit of water splashes up from the fountain and wets the knees of Kravitz’s pants, drawing the attention of the cold. “Me too,” he says, and it isn’t a lie. “You and Taako are the first I’ve had in a very long time.”

He only glances at him out of the corner of his eye, but Kravitz thinks he sees the sides of Angus’s mouth pull up. There’s never been any question as to whether or not Angus trusts Kravitz, given he’s known his identity for a while now. If he’d ever been suspicious or distrusting of him in the slightest, all Angus would have to do is tell Taako himself. There’s numerous ways he could have kicked Kravitz out or gotten him to leave his family alone.

Bringing Kravitz out here, speaking to him privately, disclosing his entire past--this is Angus accepting him. This is a child that’s been alone for so long finally crying out for help.

Angus turns his head to meet Kravitz’s eyes, and when he does, the investigator offers a warm smile. His hand remains firm on the boy’s back.

“Thanks for taking care of my dad,” Angus says, voice quiet and more thoughtful than a child before his teens should be capable of sounding.

“Thank you for letting me. I care a lot for your father, Angus. More than I ever anticipated.”

Angus nods. “I don’t think he ever expected it either or else he would have kicked you out sooner. It’s really impressive you made it far enough for him to even do this at all.”

“I know, right?” Kravitz says, brows raising in an incredulous, comedic smile.

Bright, bubbly laughter escapes Angus’s serious mood, and he grins happily. “He’s the worst when it comes to this emotional kind of stuff!”

“God, he’s so bad!” Kravitz agrees with a bark of laughter.

And yet Angus still cares for Taako more than anybody else in his life. They turn together and start heading back, walking on the other side of the street now to check out the stores they hadn’t seen on the way over.

Angus gets distracted by the book store he frequents, finding it now all dolled up in heart-shaped lights and red tinsel. Kravitz follows after him with his hands in his pockets and listens as Angus excitedly informs him of one of the books in the front window because “it isn’t labeled as a romance, so no one reads it for it, but it’s the greatest love story I’ve ever read!”

They stand closer to the window, Angus keeping careful not to touch it with his bare hands, but enough so they’re out of the way of others milling about the streets. It isn’t the right time to invite him inside and offer to look around, because this isn’t what they’re here for. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day, Kravitz will take Angus out to go shopping specifically for books or the exact knick-knacks that Taako hates.

But right now, Kravitz puts a gentle hand on Angus’s shoulder once again, and stares at the kid’s reflection in the window. “I’m not just here because of Taako, you know. I care about you , too, Angus.”

The boy meets his eyes’ reflection in the glass, holding it for a minute. It doesn’t seem to be the answer he expected in coming out here, but perhaps one he had hoped for somewhere along the way. Angus turns his body to look up at Kravitz directly, his cheeks delightfully rosy and smile so tenderly stretched it feels it might be contagious. They keep it up the entire way home, and Kravitz thinks that they both have the same idea of infecting Taako with their cheer.

Kravitz has lost his family before. He thought the pain might tear him apart so that all his pieces could search the earth for some answer, some reason for the torment he was going through. The discovery that there was nothing he could do, that he was merely a spectator to his own trauma, was perhaps more agonizing than the event itself. Half of his body, his soul and life, was lost to negligence.

He has a new family, now, people that he wants to protect and hold close. He’s in the best possible position to save them from this horror looming over him. This time, he can’t lose--there would be nothing left of himself to remain in the world if he did. Perhaps these are the very same thoughts that have brought Taako to where he is now.


‘Please leave a message, after the--’

Kravitz hangs up before the automated voice and finish its recording. He stares down at the phone in his hand, glaring at the disconnected screen as if his phone might apologize and go through after being scorned.

Two calls a day for an entire week. Nothing has gone through, sent automatically to voicemail as if the phone had been turned off entirely. The number is still in working order, but its user might not be.

That woman has been quiet for far too long, and now more than ever, Kravitz needs answers. The checks stopped coming in, which is of little consequence. Maybe it’s her way of firing him, but she would have to know by now that Kravitz wouldn’t just pull out because of that.

Somewhere, on a side Kravitz doesn’t know, something is happening. All he can do is pray that whatever is going on has as little effect as possible on what he’s doing now. The last thing he needs is another person who knows his identity running loose where he can’t keep track of them.

Chapter Text

Kravitz only wakes up when his phone vibrates off the side of the table and falls onto the ground. He winces at the clatter, knowing he has no choice but to retrieve it and extends a tired arm down to aimlessly search for it. The vibration stops, and his hand hovers in the air, prepared to return to sleep, when it starts right back up a few moments later. Kravitz sighs and finally retrieves it.

“Hello?” he says once it’s pressed to his cheek and his eyes still shut. God only knows what time of night it is right now; there’s not an ounce of light to this dark room. It makes pretending he’s still asleep a lot easier.

“What’s your address.”

He’s far more awake at the sound of Taako’s voice. Perhaps looking at the caller ID would have spared him the shock, but he’s fully aware now. Kravitz slowly pushes himself to a sitting position as he rattles off his location without a second thought for why he’d called or what he could be doing.

“Cool,” Taako says just as casually, “I’m coming over.”

The way he says it, a statement more than it’s a request, leaves no room for argument. But he doesn’t hang up the phone, and for a few seconds, Kravitz only listens to the crackle of static indicating he’s still on the line, waiting. It takes a full minute before Kravitz speaks. “Yeah. Come over,” he says, for lack of anything else.

Taako finally hangs up once he has the confirmation, leaving Kravitz back to the darkness.

He should be worried. He knows it. Eyes only half open, Kravitz glances at the screen of his phone--it’s 4am. The perfect time of the night that was too late to stay up and too early to get out of bed, and yet here he is. Something may have gone wrong in the lab, something involving either Taako or Lup--the problem could lie with Angus as well. With how far things have come, and how delicate this situation is, it could be a number of chaoses that’ve forced Taako to call for him.

But he isn’t calling Kravitz to the lab or some new heist. It brings him just a small sliver of peace and relief, enough to remain in his bed until the very last moment. It can’t be too serious if he hasn’t called Kravitz to some location and is the one visiting instead, right? There isn’t quite enough time to nap until Taako gets here, and Kravitz is left to stew in his own thoughts in a half dream-like state in the meantime--as if being with Taako isn’t like one big weird dream in and of itself.

By the time Kravitz has pulled himself out of bed after nearly falling asleep a few more times, he’s found it’s already too late to get ready. A steady knocking on the door leads him through the apartment as he continues to rub at his tired eyes, relying solely on the sound to reach the door and open it.

Sure enough, Taako is standing right there, arms wrapped around his middle and eyes tight on Kravitz’s face. He holds himself stiffly, the characteristic slouch unable to be found as he carries himself rigidly through the doorway without waiting to be invited inside. They both know it isn’t necessary at this point.

“I’ve never been over here before. Kinda dark, I like it.”

“I just haven’t turned the lights on.”

“Is this a couch? Whatever, I’m sitting.”

He hears Taako fall onto the cushions of his loveseat before his eyes have fully adjusted, and Kravitz makes his way over to a recliner tilted towards the seat so he can see the elf. It’s hard to make out his expression in this light, so he reaches for the lamp only for a hand to come out and stop him.

“Don’t, it’s fine this way.”

“Don’t want to see something?” Kravitz asks, somewhat playful though they both know there’s a serious question laying beneath.

Taako doesn’t answer him verbally. Silence melds with darkness in a dance of sensory deprivation, and then light is filling the room unexpectedly. Kravitz shields his eyes in surprise, looking from behind his fingers to see Taako’s hand leaving the switch on the lamp.

Taako’s eyes don’t meet his, rolling around to inspect the room instead. Kravitz had thought about inviting Taako over to his place sometime, but the only reasons he could think of would be dinner, which Taako is better at, or sex, which they haven’t broached yet. In reality he would’ve been fine just having Taako like this in his living room, sitting with his knees to his chest with a warm drink while they chat amicably. Maybe more ideally they would be sitting pressed together and sharing glances, smiles, and perhaps a kiss or two.

Nothing ever seems to go as planned with Taako--sometimes it’s a good, very lovely thing. Other times they end up here, far away from each other as the elf’s distant eyes find everything else in the room besides Kravitz’s face. He wouldn’t come here for no reason.

Whatever brought Taako here was not only large enough to bring him to Kravitz’s home; it kept him up at night, made him pick up his phone, and confront him. Each of those small actions alone is a miracle.

Finally, Taako takes a slow inhale and crosses his arms over one knee brought up to his chest.“We should talk about all of this.”

“Should we?” Kravitz asks automatically. “We never have before, we’ve gotten this far.”

As Kravitz speaks, Taako is already shaking his head, rejecting the notion. ‘This’ might be vague, but Kravitz isn’t so much a fool to think Taako would be brought here because of their relationship. Maybe their intimacy is what allowed Taako to come here, but it isn’t the reason. Only one thing truly keeps him up every night, and it isn’t Kravitz.

“Krav… if you were me, what would you do?”

Although the seats they’re in are facing the coffee table between them, they both sit turned towards each other. Taako’s gaze eventually meets his, evidently having taken all this time to garner up the resolve necessary to face him. As if Kravitz would think less if Taako had to talk to him through a confessional, grate closed off between them. As if Kravitz would care if he curled up in his lap and cried the entire time.

It’s been made clear from the very first day how much input Kravitz would have in Taako’s work, much less his motives and overall goal. To say things have changed since then would be an understatement, as it’s the people themselves who have shifted more than anything. Kravitz shed his naivety and willful ignorance to meet Taako halfway, and the scientist reluctantly dropped the weights keeping his feet down. They stand before each other, both nervous and afraid of this new ground.

Kravitz takes a moment to wet his suddenly dry mouth, unable to speak immediately. “I lost my parents. I felt that pain, that loss… I was in a horrible place for years in agony. I grew with it, I mourned, and I’ve moved on.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I don’t know enough to say--”

His voice suddenly raises, though Taako’s brows don’t knit together as they usually might when he’s angry. If anything, he stares Kravitz down in confusion. “What more do you need to know? You’ve seen the entire goddamn thing by now, you know everything! She’s my sister, my twin , I can’t just fucking leave her! This isn’t death, it’s different, it’s--”

“Justified?”

Taako stops speaking when Kravitz cuts him off, appearing surprised by the single word as if he hadn’t realized the truth behind it--hadn’t realized what he’s truly been seeking out. It only takes a few seconds for Kravitz to cross the gap and come to sit beside Taako, their legs pressed together. Slowly, Kravitz runs his hands up Taako’s arms to his elbows and starts to draw him closer.

“I can’t give you the justification you need if you’re making a tough decision, Taako…” Kravitz says, a gentle as humanly possible. “It has to come from you. The only route I prefer is the one which hurts you the least.”

Perhaps he should feel more guilt than he does about not criticizing Taako’s work in this moment. This is, after all, what he had been waiting for so long--the opportunity to get close enough to speak and convince him to stop. If he tried, if he sincerely and honestly spoke to him, Kravitz knows he might have a chance to end all of this right now.

But there’s no telling what consequences that would have on Taako. Not when he now knows how much more there is to this case, to Taako himself, and to Lup. If he could, Kravitz would throw any metaphorical badge he has for his profession from the window. It doesn’t matter here, not anymore, and perhaps not once since this began.

Taako doesn’t reciprocate any of the touches he receives, though they seem to do well on wearing down his reservations. His eyes fall into his own lap. “You really care about me, don’t you.” The words are spoken with clarity, but something about the way they’re said makes Kravitz think they’re too loud for the quiet emotions conveyed within them.

He tightens his fingers around Taako’s elbows. “Horribly so.”

“I care about you, too. It’s…” He quiets, pausing to lean forward and hide his face in Kravitz’s shoulder. “I’ve been so preoccupied with Lup, I haven’t thought about anything else in so long… I haven’t thought about other people, or love or… and then you just had to come waltzing in and mess everything up with that... tight ass of yours.”

Kravitz chuckles into the side of his head. “It was my intention all along, I just couldn’t help myself--or this ass.”

The conversation lulls back into silence then, humor forgotten. Kravitz has no qualms with sitting in quiet, running one hand through Taako’s hair while the other remains firm on his arm. He can’t see his face from this position and opts to watching his own hand stroking Taako’s hair instead. It’s calming for the both of them in the monotony of a repetitive motion, something normal they’ve both been deprived of for so long from another warm body.

It’s Kravitz who picks the conversation back up. He would feel guilty for allowing the topic to end with only this when there’s still so much more to discuss. “Do you think… trying to revive--or save Lup, is the best option?” he asks quietly, knowing he’s treading thin ice.

Taako looks like he wants to bite an angry comment when he pulls away from Kravitz’s embrace, fire flaring in his eyes before he manages to keep it down. “Like I said, this is different, I… I’m already so close, Krav. I’m not deranged, I can actually do this… I can get her back, so why shouldn’t I? She’d do the same for me any day. I know it. Just…” He takes a deep, steadying breath. “I changed my mind. Let’s not talk about this.”

“What do you want to talk about, then?”

Taako’s hands finally move, hovering in the air for a moment before they land on Kravitz’s shoulder. He doesn’t return to his position hidden in Kravitz’s chest, but he leans a little closer, so the air between them is shared more than before.

“We should talk about this , too,” he says, thumbs pressing lightly into the edges of Kravitz’s collarbone. “Or, well, I guess I have some things to say and if you want to say something then go off. Less of a conversation I guess.”

“But you prefer that, don’t you?” Kravitz asks.

He’s pleased to see the corners of Taako’s mouth rise up in the first smile all night. The sight doesn’t last too long as Taako leans forward, pressing that pretty smile to Kravitz’s lips in a kiss that feels uncharacteristically sweet for both of them. It doesn’t last but a second either, doesn’t need to be more, and Kravitz feels his heart swell in delight with each passing second they have together. Even in the midst of the worst situation imaginable, just having Taako by his side makes Kravitz feel as if he actually could just reach out and keep him from any harm in the world. That it might be so simple as holding him here in this room for as long as it took for the world to settle things out itself.

Taako pulls away, his forehead instantly finding Kravitz’s shoulder with an aborted breath on his lips. “There’s hope for this,” he says. “There’s a future for this, so… just wait. That’s all.”

“I’ll wait,” Kravitz responds all too quickly. “As long as you need me to, Taako. I’ll always be here, no matter what.”

“You’re too easy. What if I’m actually a horrible, mean wizard man, and I deceive you?”

“You aren’t,” he answers. “You won’t.”

Taako’s eyes soften, his breath coming out in soft puffs. Then his mouth twists up into a grin that makes Kravitz’s chest feel as if he’s been constricted by some force that keeps him from breathing. Nothing should feel as good as every moment they spend together. Nothing should feel easy, when he knows better than anybody that this has been the hardest battle of his entire life. It’s as if Taako is constantly radiating some kind of spell or illusion that sends Kravitz into a trance where he can believe everything is right and as simple as being in love.

“Where’s your bed?” Taako asks suddenly, ripping Kravitz from his thoughts. “I’m suddenly in the mood to give you the best blowjob of your fucking life . And maybe I also had these intentions from the beginning.”

If that doesn’t get a man going, nothing could. Taako snorts at the expression Kravitz pulls, one he himself can’t imagine, but doesn’t say anything else as Kravitz tugs him by the hand up from the couch and over the short walk to his bedroom. It’s all smiles and shy laughter as Kravitz turns around to face him, stealing a number of small kisses before Taako wrenches himself away and pushes Kravitz down by his shoulders to sit on the edge of his bed.

“So this wasn’t all business, but just mask for a four AM booty call?”

“I don’t see you complaining.”

Taako falls to his knees in front of him gracefully, and Kravitz only has the mind to grab a pillow for him after he sees the elf looking for a more comfortable position. Instead of thanking Kravitz, he just winks and begins unbuttoning his shirt from the bottom up.

“You could’ve just asked me to take it off,” Kravitz says, abdomen flexing on reflex as Taako presses his lips to every piece of skin that becomes visible as he opens his shirt.

Taako hums against his skin and tilts his head back to watch Kravitz’s face while his tongue licks a stripe up his abs to his chest. “What, you gonna unwrap my own Candlenights gifts for me, too? No sir, this is my job. It’s unfair you’ve gotten to see me dressed down and I haven’t gotten a taste of you yet. Don’t kill my fun.”

As if his experience seeing Taako undressed was anything like this. Kravitz chuckles and at least helps slide his shirt off his shoulders once all the buttons have been undone. He tosses it to the side with little concern, not paying attention to anything besides the man huddled between his legs right now. He watches Taako curiously, heart beating as if he were losing blood rapidly despite not having done anything yet. He supposes this is the furthest they’ve gone anyways, and this is the first time Taako has seen him shirtless.

His appreciation for Kravitz’s form is open and immediate. Taako lifts himself from his knees just enough to continue kissing his way up Kravitz’s chest to his neck, balancing himself with his hands on Kravitz’s thighs as he teeters forward. His nails dig into the clothed flesh there, just sharp enough to feel beneath his pants and strain up into. At a nip to his neck, Kravitz leans his head back with a satisfied sigh and lifts a hand to cup the back of Taako’s neck.

“Have I ever told you you’re the most lovely creature in existence?” Kravitz asks, Taako’s mouth pressed hard to his neck. He can feel the moment Taako’s lips spreads into a grin and the laugh that pours warm air onto the wet lines across his skin. It’s impossible not to shudder, though Kravitz embraces the reflex and moves his body with it as Taako reaches up to kiss his mouth emphatically.

“Krav, you’re gonna fucking kill me with the sappy shit,” he says, smile betraying any malice in his words.

Kravitz grins openly and without shame, and he brings his hands up to cup the side of Taako’s face. “I plan to drown you in endearment, love.”

“I’ll shut you up, first.”

“You’re gonna be the one with a full mouth.”

Taako’s brows raise challengingly. “Sounds like you don’t believe me.”

“Gonna need some evidence to support your hypothesis.”

The elf snorts, loud enough to pop the bubble surrounding them and burst the heavy mood. Kravitz couldn’t mind if he tried; if anything, this lighthearted, easygoing shift is even better. It makes it easier to act upon every small whim and impulse, planting small kisses wherever he can reach upon Taako’s face while the scientist tries to speak. “If I can get that dick down my throat, your ability to speak will be decreased by eighty-percent?”

“Try seventy-five.”

“Let’s find out.”

The conversation finds a mutual conclusion between their lips, kissing again, and sweeter than their words might imply. For all of his talk, Taako’s fingers at Kravitz’s shoulders, and the lips moving gently between his, tell the story of a different man entirely. Kravitz can read him not like a readily open book, but one he’s slowly learning how to turn the pages of. He can forget the mad scientist, the experiment driven lunatic, and lure out this timid man who has been afraid of others for so long.

Perhaps it isn’t reading a book, so much as writing a new one together. Kravitz lays one of his hands over Taako’s and feels the shift over his skin so their fingers can sink into the gaps between each other. Quickly, but softly, Taako pulls Kravitz’s bottom lip into his mouth, his teeth teasing a ferocity that never quite comes. The tease is enough for Kravitz to feel as if he’s already lost in a game he didn’t know he’d agreed to, but never has defeat tasted so sweet. He relents to Taako’s mouth, allowing the elf to take control for what few seconds he pleases before he can feel Taako grow bored--and then Kravitz returns in full force, receiving a pleased hum in response.

There’s so many things he could say, has been waiting to say. He’s wanted so long to tell Taako the extent of what he means, to wax poetry that might come close to describing the intensity of his feelings. Kravitz could spend the entire night just speaking without Taako ever responding, as long as he knew the man was listening and receiving every word.

There will be a time for it, Kravitz tells himself as Taako sinks back down to the floor and kisses his way across Kravitz’s abdomen. This isn’t the last night they’ll be together, no longer does he have to worry about Taako disappearing unexpectedly. Trust has always been important in a relationship, but Kravitz underestimated just how important it would be in his upcoming relationships. Now having finally received even just an inkling of Taako’s trust, Kravitz feels as if the world rests on his shoulders from the sheer responsibility of that role.

There’s hope for this ,’ he’d said. Kravitz’s chest flutters.

The role of Taako’s lover comes with a lot of responsibility in general. A person he can rely on, with such grand problems of his own, and a person who can even momentarily alleviate those unbearable pains. It’s Kravitz’s job to take the smouldering coals from his hands that he holds to so tightly, setting them aside just for a few moments. That’s what this is, too, along with whatever they may be finally communicating to each other in this space without words. Taako is here to rest, perhaps for the first time in weeks, and he’s come to Kravitz to find that solace.

Taako’s fingers trace along the edges of Kravitz’s sweatpants, the only thing he had on besides a dress shirt he’d been too lazy to remove yesterday. They tease him, dipping below the elastic and Kravitz inhales sharply as Taako’s nails skim along the sensitive flesh by his hips. Taako’s eyes glance up at him, a smile on his face that Kravitz can’t help but return with a bashful giggle that makes the edges of Taako’s mouth curl up even higher in a way he doesn’t think the elf expected, by the look of surprise that comes across his face next. As if maybe he had only come here to wind down and didn’t expect anything else of Kravitz. Whatever it may be, the expression is hidden as his face lowers and he returns to work divesting Kravitz of his pants, the entire concept of teasing tossed aside in favor of quick efficiency.

Kravitz, already feeling so hot it’s as if the sun itself is crouched between his legs, remarkably feels his face grow even redder as his pants are tossed aside. When he went to bed the night before, he hadn’t the mind to wear anything underneath after taking a shower. He had no reason to think anything would happen tonight of all nights. Taako doesn’t seem too disturbed by the fact, his eyes widening momentarily at the realization there isn’t yet another barrier to cross, and that sultry grin returns to his face. If anything, he might be pleased.

“I, uh, just do it for comfort--when I sleep,” Kravitz stumbles, hardly able to keep his eyes on Taako’s face as the elf leans his cheek against his dark bare thigh.

“I didn’t ask, bubba. And I’m definitely not complaining.”

Even if Kravitz wants to say something else in his defense, he isn’t given the opportunity before Taako’s tongue is teasing the base of his dick. He inhales, sharp and restrained as his fingers instinctively flex on the bedding. It’s hardly even a touch, just the tip of his tongue tracing delicious patterns along the underside and up the vein that drives him crazy. It doesn’t stop there, either. Even once Taako reaches the top, he hesitates, edging Kravitz on desperation before sliding right back down to keep pressing willfully naive kisses to the base.

For lack of anywhere else to go, Kravitz leans his head back and keeps his eyes closed. This may not be the most intense moment they’ve experienced together among death, crime, and confessions, but it’s intimate in a new and exciting way. Of course this isn’t Kravitz’s first time, but after so long, and with someone like this, it feels as if he’s a virgin once again--no, as if he’s feeling his entire body for the first time again. His arms and legs feel freshly born and weak to move as if the muscles, just formed, are unable to exert any force at all. He’s simply in Taako’s hands and complete mercy.

Yet instead of basking in his suddenly lovely helplessness, all Kravitz can imagine is how much better it would feel to help Taako experience the same thing.

He opens his eyes and looks down out of curiosity, fully aware of how bad of a decision it is the entire time. And it’s a horrible decision, given he lets out something like a moan just from seeing Taako between his legs with his tongue working just below the head of his cock. The elf looks up at the sound, and though his lips just twitch, Kravitz can see that cocky smirk in his eyes. He captures Kravitz’s gaze, staring up at him as he opens his mouth and presses a plush bottom lip to the underside of his cock. He doesn’t break eye contact even as he takes the head into his mouth. Kravitz, unable to look anywhere else, curses breathily.

How much of this is truly about sex, he wonders. Taako doesn’t remove any of his own clothes, makes no move to touch himself, and focuses all of his efforts towards pleasing Kravitz instead. It’d be nice to believe he’ll demand his own release afterwards, and he certainly hopes he’ll get the chance to return the favor. But even now, even just this moment for Kravitz, it feels he would have the same rock in his throat preventing him from breathing even if they were just sitting together on the couch. The eye contact is brutal and most certainly deliberate.

It can’t last forever, though. Kravitz holds his breath the moment Taako’s eyes finally close, preparing for an attack he knows he’s defenseless against. He can hear Taako inhale slowly through his nose, tilting his head down towards Kravitz’s abdomen to slowly sink down on his cock, not stopping, but not as fast as Kravitz needs. All he can do is lean back and moan as Taako’s nose comes to rest at the curls of hair by his abdomen, buried deep in his throat and unable to move if he wanted.

The only parts of his body that seem to be responding are his fingers which curl tightly in the covers of his bed--not for very long, though. Almost immediately, he feels a pair of slighter hands find his, wrenching Kravitz’s balance off-kilter as Taako tugs his fingers free from the blankets and into his own at the same time as he begins slowly pulling his head back up. He stops when just the tip remains in his mouth and lavishes attention on it with a skillful tongue swirling around the head and sucking artfully. Another moan is cut off from Kravitz’s throat as Taako pulls his hands closer, bringing them to the sides of Taako’s head and glancing up at him for only a moment.

The investigator doesn’t need any other clues to pick up what Taako is implying, and he feels his heart lurch in its cage as he combs his fingers through Taako’s hair. His palms rest firm on the sides of his head, fingers buried in soft hair that he’s only allowed a moment to appreciate before Taako is grabbing his hips and sinking right back down. This time, there’s no hesitance or delicacy, swallowing Kravitz’s cock with a sense of urgency that makes it impossible to not groan and buck his hips before remembering he’s already so far down his throat, he’s practically choking the elf.

Kravitz doesn’t get the chance to apologize, opening his mouth to speak right as Taako hums a pleased moan around his dick that effectively steals the words right from Kravitz’s tongue. Experimentally, his fingers tighten in his hair, and Kravitz is rewarded with a similar reaction. Taako doubles down then, any sense of shame that Kravitz might’ve had now miles away. Taako becomes messier, saliva pouring from the space between his lips and Kravitz’s skin and slickening the already wet glide of his mouth against his cock.

There’s nothing else he can do then. Not only is he being given permission, but can obviously see from Taako’s expression and reactions that Kravitz’s being encouraged to do as he pleases. I’ll apologize later , he thinks, and it’s the last cognitive thought he’s able to establish before his mind melts into the hot wetness of Taako’s attention.

The tips of his fingers dig into Taako’s scalp a little harder, and he just acknowledges the elf taking in a deep breath before Kravitz starts bucking into his mouth in earnest. Throughout, Taako allows Kravitz to ride out his pleasure and take what he needs, jaw slack and throat open. There’s just enough resistance to make the process of ravaging a challenge, and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Taako, and it wouldn’t be worth it.

Kravitz makes the same mistake of opening his eyes, looking down to find Taako’s stare already on his face. Tears line the edges of his eyes, and what may have been a turn on for some gives Kravitz pause--in fact, his hands not only stop, but pull Taako back from his dick entirely.

Obviously bewildered, Taako looks up at him in wide-eyed surprise, mouth still slack. “What’s up with that, big guy? I was about to suck the fucking soul out of you.”

“God, you were doing a pretty good job already,” Kravitz says heavily, unaware he was out of breath until he’s required to speak. It’s hard not to laugh when he gets a good look at Taako, opening his mouth repeatedly while rubbing feeling into his sore jaws. He lets go of his hair and slides his hands down to gently push Taako’s out of the way to take on the job for him, pressing circles with his thumbs into the corners of his jaw. Taako rolls his eyes dramatically at the sweet gesture and makes a show of wiping his mouth.

“Something wrong?” Taako asks, and the slightest flash of fear in his eyes makes Kravitz quick to lean down and wrap his arms fully around his shoulders.

“No--god, no, you’re perfect, always. That was the best blowjob of my life, I just…” It’s difficult, trying to think of the right words quick enough to not give Taako any time to doubt him. “I want to touch you, too. At the same time, preferably?”

Still hugging, he can’t see Taako’s face, but Kravitz can definitely hear and feel the amused snort followed by a snicker that shakes the scientist’s frame. “What, that’s your problem, casanova? Fuck, I should’a known it’d be some cheesy shit.”

“It isn’t cheesy if it’s true .”

“No,” Taako says, pulling back enough to see Kravitz’s face. The smile on his face is genuine just as much as it is something Kravitz has felt all night--utterly helpless . “It’s cheesy because it’s true.”

It’s all he can do to express a fraction of his emotions to simply bury his face in Taako’s shoulder and tighten his arms around him, rocking the man back and forth in quick bursts just to feel closer as Taako lets out a more hearty laugh. Hands push at his shoulders half-heartedly before he feels the elf give in and fall into the odd rhythm of squeezing each other’s arms until they’re climbing onto the bed and practically rolling around on the covers like children.

This innocent, pure feeling wasn’t one Kravitz expected he would be able to indulge in. He was prepared for Taako to push him away and tell him to stop, not fall even closer and encourage him with even more ridiculous games. Kissing every part of each other’s bodies they can reach, giggling and burrowing into necks, arms, and hair. Legs tangle just to be closer, and they wrestle to stay on top of each other until they’re inevitably rolled back over.

“This is the dumbest shit,” Taako eventually says between giggles, not bothering to keep fighting when he’s pushed back onto his side for the third time. Kravitz remains on his side, facing him with his lips split into a wide grin.

“You’re the dumbest shit.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m smarter shit than you, asshole.”

Kravitz pretends to weigh the options over in his head, eyes darting between two invisible spots above them before landing back on Taako’s face. He’s forcing exasperation which seems to be quickly wearing down the longer Kravitz maintains eye contact, and just as his bluff breaks and Taako laughs, he pulls Kravitz back in for a kiss to cut the scene.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to get back into the mood, given their detour. Kravitz doesn’t have to move much closer, their legs already tied together. Without breaking the kiss, he works on sliding Taako’s shirt up, appreciating all the revealed skin with gentle touches as he does. Taako tolerates the sweetness for all of a minute before breaking back away to remove all of his clothes in one hurried flash before ‘his skin fucking crawls off’ because of Kravitz. Still, he falls right back into place, and the kiss picks up with more fervor than before.

Funny how he’s seen Taako’s body plenty of times before, but now it feels like the first time all over again. It’s too dark to see any bruises if there were any, and his hands don’t feel anything but smooth skin as they explore his chest and back. Tonight, there are no wires, no pain and no blood; only the scars from those times as occasional bumps beneath his fingertips. He always thought Taako was beautiful, knew it from the beginning. It’s taken this long for him to finally be able to reach out and touch him as he pleases, at long last.

There’s nothing in the way. Their skin, already wet with sweat from wrestling around, slides against each other. Taako doesn’t wait a full second before he has a leg hiked up and over Kravitz’s hip. Kravitz is yanked forward, pressing their fronts together, and he revels in the involuntary hums that spill from both of their mouths and into the other’s.

With their hands so busy gliding along each other’s backs and tangling in hair, Kravitz can only move his hips forward to meet Taako’s. The simple feeling of being able to hold Taako in his arms so fully and intensely prevents him from letting go and using his hands, but he makes do with what he does have. Taako doesn’t seem to disagree either if the way he twists his foot around the back of Kravitz’s knee to lever himself into thrusting better is any indication. Like this, their cocks press against each other desperately. Kravitz isn’t sure what’s worse--being edged on by his lover’s mouth and being forced to stop, or never being touched all night until now.

Taako doesn’t fully remove his tongue from Kravitz’s mouth before speaking. “Man, just--fuck,” he pants, finally wrenching a hand out of Kravitz’s hair. He spits in his hand unceremoniously and Kravitz cringes for all of a second before he feels the same wet hand suddenly grasping at his cock. He gasps in surprise, and Taako takes advantage of his open mouth to pick up where they left off kissing. His hand does enough work for the both of them, though Taako continues to grind up against his leg while stroking Kravitz off.

Kravitz gives in, then, finally removing an arm from around Taako’s waist to join his hand in getting each other off. Taako hisses against his mouth at the first touch, hips stuttering into his hand before grinding more confidently yet again. Despite not being in exact time with their hands, Taako being much rougher and faster than Kravitz’s sweeter touch, it doesn’t feel as if they’re out of sync. Everything else comes naturally, their bodies perfectly in tune with each other at last. Every slide of their tongues and lips, any small movement of a leg or shoulder all comes with a perfect reaction as if anticipated ahead of time.

It feels as if, for the first time, Kravitz can not only predict what Taako might be thinking, but actually be in his head as well. In this moment, he can imagine that when they pull away from a kiss to look each other in the eye, they might actually share one mind. Like with just a thought, he could communicate the entirety of his heart.

It’s that peace of mind that allows Kravitz to be sent over the edge, never breaking eye contact as he comes into Taako’s hand at long last. Taako indulges him, stroking him through the entire thing until he’s too sensitive and finally pulls away. His messy hand doesn’t get far, though, immediately slapping back down on a dark thigh as Kravitz’s hand suddenly picks up the pace. Unlike Kravitz, Taako’s climax is far more dramatic, lashes fluttering with loud gasps and moans, arms scrambling for purchase at Kravitz’s back as his orgasm is wrenched from his body as if unexpectedly.

He watches Taako come down in his own haze, and he thinks the elf has never looked more beautiful. Taako lifts his dirty hand and brushes the hair out of his face before cringing when he realizes what he’d just done. Turning to the side, his eye meets Kravitz’s watching him. When Taako laughs, it’s at his own expense, and he probably thinks it’s the same reason Kravitz joins as well. In some sense, it’s true, as Kravitz can’t help but laugh at himself, either.

Chapter Text

“This better be super fuckin’ cool,” Taako says warningly.

“I think it’s super fuckin’ cool,” Kravitz calls in the same voice, “and if you care at all for me you’ll pretend it is, too.”

He hears Taako laugh on the other side of the door, and Kravitz rolls his eyes and keeps tapping his foot impatiently against the ground. Taako said he would be ready ten minutes ago, though it was probably naive to think that’d be an accurate statement. Every now and then, Angus’s head appears around the bottom of the stairs and he looks up at Kravitz questioningly. All he can do is shrug and smile as Angus sighs loudly in dramatic exasperation. He’s excited for tonight too, maybe more than both of them.

When Kravitz mentioned the orchestra coming to town that long time ago, it had been in passing, never with the intention of actually going out. He honestly didn’t believe he--that they would make it this far, even less that they would be together and this would be an honest to god date. For the first time in his life, things seem to be going in best case scenario. Not a moment goes by that he doesn’t thank god for every second, despite his momentary irritation.

“Can I help you with anything?” he tries again, and before he can step back from the door, it’s being flung open.

“Nope!” Taako says, standing tall and proud in the now open doorway with a hand on his hip. “Got it all covered over here, big boy.”

Kravitz takes a step back so he can fully appreciate the view. Even though he had been the one to help pick out Taako’s outfit what was now over a month ago, he never saw it on the man. If he had ever doubted the coordination of the gaudy pieces on their hangers, all his worries are immediately put to rest, because of course everything Taako wears is gorgeous. He thinks it might be the other way around, though, that they were actually hideous clothes and the elf himself is what makes them look so good. Or maybe it’s just magic.

Taako doesn’t openly ask for his opinion, though his eyebrows waggle suggestively as he turns about in a mock display of the outfit. Kravitz smiles easily and comes forward to hold his hands. “You look stunning , dear.”

Even though Taako had been looking for validation, the compliment still seems to fluster him just slightly, and his cheeks redden. The genuine expression of glee is hidden behind an obnoxiously confident mask that Kravitz has gotten used to. “Like I would be seen in anything less than perfect. And you …”

Taako shows his appreciation for Kravitz’s outfit openly on his face, slowly raking his eyes up and down Kravitz’s frame before landing on his face with a lascivious grin. Kravitz just smiles and shakes his head. “You’ve already seen how I look dressed up.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t get to see you dressed up next to me dressed up.” He turns and grabs Kravitz’s arm so they’re both facing the long mirror in his room. They have to take a step back to see each other fully, and Taako could not appear more satisfied with himself. “Now you’re even more handsome.”

Kravitz can’t help but snake both his arms around Taako’s waist and bury his face in his back. “Please, we have to leave soon, I’m not sure how much of this I can handle.”

Taako laughs. “Just that does you in? If I knew complimenting you was the way to your heart, I would’ve been doing more sooner.”

“Not complimenting me , it’s… us.”

That answer causes Taako to falter, the smile on his face dropping in surprise. It comes back in moments, sweet and dopier than ever. “It’s amazing you haven’t suffocated me with all this shit yet--come on, we’re leaving now .” His face betrays his words, and Kravitz can’t help but to trail after him with a laugh as they finally leave the room.

Angus waits anxiously at the bottom of the stairs, popping up immediately when they appear at the top. “Come on, it’s going to be starting in fifteen minutes!” he says, jumping back on his feet while looking between the couple and the door. “We should’ve left half an hour ago!”

As he passes, Kravitz puts his hand on Angus’s shoulder and gently leads the three of them out of the house. “Don’t worry Angus, it doesn’t start for another hour.” The boy’s eyes widen in surprise, and before he can ask anything, Kravitz continues. “I lied--look how long it took Taako to get ready, you think I would’ve actually told him when we were leaving?”

“You piece of shit,” Taako says while coming up behind Kravitz to take his hand. “You’re completely right, but I’m offended, anyways.”

“I’ll make it up to you later.”

With the knowledge that they’re no longer late but actually ahead of time, Angus’s nerves instantly drain into the floor, and a small smile is able to appear on his face. He joins Kravitz in lightly chastising Taako, as their conversations typically go. It doesn’t take long for Taako to turn the tables and sick both his and Angus’s forces on all of Kravitz’s menial flaws, though. Before he knows it, both child and father are snickering about every fashion faux pas and cooking mistake he’s ever made, and there’s nothing he can say to defend himself. As if he would even try.

Although Kravitz is aware of just how large this orchestra is in grandiose, he isn’t quite sure how popular the fine arts might be around the townspeople. Regardless of if they’re attending or not, he thinks the presence of the orchestra might still have some effect on the town; there seems to be some kind of air of significance about the streets, some quiet sophistication and peace. Though children continue to roam about with their parents as always, they’re better behaved. The couples are dressed a little nicer. The elderly stand a little straighter.

He doesn’t feel out of place walking through town as dressed up as they are, holding Taako arm in his proudly as Angus trots alongside them. His heart flutters at the image in his head of how they might look to outsiders--a picture perfect family. It wouldn’t be hard to believe Angus is Kravitz’s biological son, though Taako may not fit as the other half to his making. It isn’t appearance that matters anyways, as much as it is the way they fall into perfect step alongside each other and weave into easy, relaxing conversation that keeps him as calm as he is entertained.

Angus tells Taako of their trips to the town together, describing all the hobbies Kravitz and him have taken up over their text conversations with admiring all the decor and changes to the antique town. Taako simply snorts and calls the two of them dorks, but Angus and Kravitz share a knowing smile; they both know he’s incredibly pleased by their continued relationship. ‘It’s only natural,’ Kravitz thinks, as he and Angus have gotten along for a long time now. Even if, for some reason, he and Taako were to separate, Kravitz can’t promise he would break off all contact with the child anyways. They’re friends, in an odd way, as much as Kravitz would be willing to act as another guiding figure in the kid’s life.

They file into the theatre along with a crowd of just as well dressed patrons, ranging from suits and gowns to simple button downs and skirts. Taako holds his chin a little higher as they walk in, looking down his nose at every other family they pass by. Kravitz rolls his eyes, and with a hand on Angus’s back, pulls the two of them to their seats. There’s more than enough time for them to gossip about other guests when they sit down, having arrived early enough to ease Angus’s anxieties. As soon as Kravitz’s back hits the chair, Taako is staring at him with wide, bright eyes, immediately launching into some dirt on a few people he recognized on the way in.

When the performance actually begins… Kravitz is able to forget things for a while. It’s an odd feeling, having come here to spend time with Taako and Angus when this is a pleasure he has hardly allowed himself in such a long time. It’s been so long since he’s thought about music and his passion for the orchestra as a whole, when they were dreams that once consumed him when he was young. He’s been to performances like this, of course, but it feels different now with the new family he’s surrounded by.

Taako’s hand in his grips a little tighter, though they don’t make eye contact, both entirely captured by the movement on stage. It’s impossible to tell during the show whether Taako is genuinely interested in the arts or if he’s putting on a polite face for Kravitz’s sake, but neither matter; they’d both make Kravitz happy.

This is, for all intents and purposes, something a younger Kravitz would consider the ideal evening. His beloved family is by his side, he’s indulging in his creative passions, and there are no shadows lurking around the edges of his mind to capture him. He’s able to sink into his chair, enjoy the music, the warmth at his side, and relax with the knowledge that he’s safe from any ghosts--

Just the word brings goosebumps to his arms, concealed by his suit from Taako’s sight. Never did he imagine that ghosts would ever be a legitimate problem in his life, one he would have to so seriously and actively worry about. But even now, in this theatre far from home, he can’t help but glance around the large auditorium ‘just in case,’ as if the perpetrator of his fears and guilt might be crawling around the corner.

To assume everything is over or that he’s allowed to stop worrying would be naive, just because he’s able to sit here and enjoy a single night. These are the times a detective should be sharper than ever, he tells himself. These peaceful times are when the worst are able to strike, and with greater impact. At his side, Taako and Angus are focused on the performers on stage, unaware of whatever war is occurring within Kravitz’s mind.

Even so, there shouldn’t be anything he should logically be worried about. All that is worth being concerned over are the things in his vicinity he can immediately work to fix; it’s useful to stress over things beyond his power. Yet he knows most, if not all, of Taako’s secrets, and the scientist hasn’t been in danger of himself in a while. If he were to say that his work converting Taako to the simple pleasantries of the everyday man are fulfilled, then what is left for him to do? Angus plays no direct role in this work, and Magnus and Merle only act in reaction to Taako. Barry is a loose cannon, one he can’t afford to spend time worrying about.

Practically, everything should be alright at this point, and Kravitz should be able to fight the demons in his head beckoning him to take action, to go back to work. In reality,

it’s hardly a mystery at all. His free hand moves subtly to the pocket on his other side away from Taako, not reaching in, but feeling the outside. Even though he knows it’s there, just the feeling of his personal phone through the fabric makes his fingertips burn.

He can’t pretend he doesn’t play his own distinct role in this anymore, and that he hasn’t been affecting this narrative in a way besides being by Taako’s side. There’s another party, one he doesn’t know of, acting as they sit here and enjoy their evening. Though he can thank them for bringing him and Taako together, he can’t help but feel, down in his gut, he may have done more harm than good in working for the woman on the other side of the phone.

In the beginning, he thought Taako was a vile and evil creature, messing with the river of styx and the laws of nature itself. The elf was an unapproachable monster, a villain against the rules governing life and death, and an opponent for Kravitz for the sake of protecting what was right in the world. Things happened, people changed, and he learned the man was no such thing. While his actions may not be ethically sound by themselves, he knows at heart, Taako is no such villain.

But what can be said of Kravitz? Here he is, relishing in finally learning this lovely creature, selfishly holding him away from the world as if he himself has not been acting in the shadows against him. He’s a traitor, betraying this new family he’s finally found after years of searching. What good is a man who can’t protect his family, much less one who betrays them?

They applaud at the end of the show, a standing ovation and all. Angus is bright and excited to leave the auditorium, and Kravitz is thankful the boy has so much to say about the show that it isn’t noticed he falls into the background silently. If Kravitz were to open his mouth, he feels his entire life would inevitably tumble out, creating one excuse and plea after another until he feels free from whatever shackles he’s locked his heart in. He can hardly stand to look at the two of them, worst when they meet his eye and he sees nothing but the love and trust of a child, of a lover reflected back at him.

It’s torture, he thinks, but so befitting of one who has committed such a grave crime as he has. He deserves this pain, and it wouldn’t serve as half the punishment he deserves. Somewhere along their walk back, Taako must notice he’s gone into a mood, smile dropping just slightly before it’s back on for Angus. The two of them talk the majority of the way, surprising Kravitz when he discovers they aren’t walking back the way they came. When he has the courage to ask, Taako grins and grabs his hand.

“Angus is staying with Istus tonight, it’s been a while since they last got together. She’s--”

“I know,” Kravitz cuts him off, just barely managing to work up a smile of his own at Taako’s surprised expression. “Angus told me.”

The information makes Taako’s brows raise, evidently not having expected the boy to have as much stake in Kravitz to reveal his past. The expression only lasts a few moments before morphing back into a smile, and he nods, squeezing his hand as they continue their walk.

He remains on the sidewalk when they finally reach the house, feeling more comfortable not meeting Istus through what he knows of her. He watches Taako briefly interact with an elderly woman at the door, the two of the laughing like old friends as Angus hugs her and bounds inside. It only takes a few minutes to make the trade off before Taako is returning to his side, lacing their hands together, and tugging him back the way they came.

“So,” he begins, voice not quite as chipper as it had been on the trip here, “what’s bothering you, mister man?”

I wish I could tell you, his mind screams, I feel I might go crazy the longer it sits within me. This new anxiety buzzes about his chest, the butterflies from earlier this evening now turned to bees. They constantly sting at his ribs, only dancing up his throat when he feels he might actually speak.

“You know,” Kravitz says a full few minutes later, once the silence is more suffocating than his own conscience, “I wanted to be a conductor when I was younger.”

Taako nods slowly, processing the morsel of info he’s given. “Yeah, you talked about it one time when we were hanging out. You get down seeing the show tonight?”

“I guess you could say so. I just couldn’t help but remember that dream… it’s been so long since I’ve thought about it, you know. It feels like I’ve… betrayed my younger self, to have forgotten it.”

Taako hums thoughtfully. “Do you still want to? And I mean you now, not just what you think you want.”

“I don’t know,” he says honestly, “it feels like whiplash I’ve been struck with the memory. I’d have to think about it more seriously… if it’s even possible. Life is so strange, it might be a little too late for that dream to be realized.” Kravitz says it with a self-deprecating chuckle, both at the prospect of his young aspirations and his current cowardice.

It would’ve been so easy to just speak honestly and get everything off his chest in this moment. It would all be over, and perhaps they could move forward and try to work and fix what he’s damaged. Taako might be mad, would definitely be mad, but… the longer he waits, the worse the pain will be.

He glances over to the man walking beside him, noticing Taako’s eyes far from his. The elf appears in distant thought. “I get what you mean,” he finally says, “the same thing happens to me whenever I cook. Sometimes, y’know, I’m like, ‘oh yeah, I wanted to do this and only this forever…’ and then I go back to work at the academy.” He bites his lip. “Go back to the basement, yeah.”

The way his voice quiets to a near whisper at the second part sends shivers down Kravitz’s spine. How different Taako’s dream is from his current reality, how cruel life can truly be to the both of them.

Suddenly, Taako turns to look at him, a smile appearing on his face to betray his former words. “But you’ve got a whole lot more open room to do whatever you want, yeah? I’m bound by like four jobs, but I think you could still make it.”

The bees sting his lungs, and Kravitz struggles not to cough. “...right. If I even decide I’m still interested, and all… Thank you, Taako.”

A dream of being a conductor and devoting his life to an art with the intention of bringing joy and hope to the world was traded out for a degree in criminal justice. His hands aren’t reddened by revenge as much as he’s doused in crimson up to his wrists, his elbows, all the way up to his shoulders. Those simple dreams of happier times seem so naive now, but are they truly? Even after everything, after all he’s done and all he’s seen, could he still produce something to truly enrich people’s lives as he’d so longed for?

Although Taako may understand his sentiments, he’s oblivious to the fact Kravitz can immediately relate. They’re the same in this, for the first time. It isn’t that tragedy has changed the person as much as it changes their eyes, mutes the colors, and forces them to believe that the world is a crueler place than it may truly be.

But he knows color, feels its warmth in the hand holding his. Kravitz has forced happiness into his own two hands for the first time since his parents died, since he gave up his dream of music, and it hasn’t come easy.

This isn’t worth giving up. To keep this happiness alive, he’ll have to do the right thing--even if it’s hard, even if it’s unpleasant.

Taako smiles at him again, and he realizes all at once that they’ve arrived back at Kravitz’s own apartment. “Not your place, even though Angus is gone?” he asks somewhat jokingly, and Taako shrugs.

“I like your bed. Plus, the house is undergoing some renovations right now.” Yet I was there just earlier this evening, he wants to say, but instead settles for fumbling with his keys until they’re let into the apartment. Taako makes himself at home at once, dramatically casting his long coat to the floor in a show of grandeur, turning slowly for Kravitz to appreciate the outfit underneath. He does, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at every show or tug of fabric that Taako makes until the elf is pouring himself into Kravitz’s arms, laughing.

They find their way to the bedroom, same as the last time weeks prior, and fall into bed even easier. The clothes they had worked hard to pick out together are appreciated in fine detail as they’re removed, Taako practically purring as his fingers run down Kravitz’s suit jacket, tracing the gold details delicately. He should feel bad about wrinkling the expensive material when they’re thrown off, but all he can think of is how easy it is to forget all his worries when his mind is so busy untangling the overwhelming creature in his arms.

Taako looms over him, bare and grinning wide, and Kravitz feels free to melt in the bed and simply stare up at him, enamored. His hands do as they please without any cognitive thought or direction, just touching what feels best and right at the time. Taako leans into every piece of contact he’s allowed, then like a bomb, the fuse goes off and he attacks Kravitz with every ounce of passion that has been building up all these months. And who is Kravitz to refuse the most beautiful man in the world, who is he but to return everything he’s so graciously given in full?

Their mouths come together, and everything else is history. For fear of falling back into his thoughts, Kravitz throws everything he can into Taako’s arms, taking his mouth with fervor and heat that has the elf already humming against his lips. Their hands scramble across each other’s skin for purchase, exploring and curious to revisit lands once explored. Nothing has changed in the time since they last came together like this, but Kravitz is thorough, his fingers following every curve and dip of his body just in case.

Taako doesn’t put up any resistance when Kravitz rolls them over. He falls gracefully back onto the bed with his arms splayed out around him, his casual pose very deliberately chosen. He looks up at Kravitz coyly, unable to stop the lascivious grin on his face from spreading wider at the amused look on his lover’s face. All Kravitz can do is kiss the smug expression and make a promise through eye contact alone to remove it from his face.

His tongue carves an easy path down his body, hands never once stopping their tracks. He stops at his hips, takes them in his hands and rubs deep circles into the hard bone there. It’s satisfying to be able to return the same pleasure Taako gave to him, and Kravitz takes Taako’s now hard cock into his mouth leisurely. Taako immediately keens, back arching as he loses the constructed informal pose he had taken before. His hands find Kravitz’s hair at once, just as he’d bid Kravitz to do the same for him last time, and wastes no time in showing his lover just how much he appreciates the service.

Giving pleasure to Taako is more than easy, it’s hard not to do. Every noise that falls from his mouth spurs Kravitz on further, every twitch in his thighs or movement of his fingers in his hair enough to make Kravitz himself moan. Like this, he can forget the outside world and everything that exists beyond this immediate place where they are not always intertwined together.

He pries him open with slick fingers, the action just as much of a meal as it is an intermediate to a greater experience. Kravitz works his way back up Taako’s body to press kisses into the side of his neck, a leg hitched around his hip so he doesn’t have to strain to reach around for his backside and press one, then two, fingers into him. If Taako had been moaning before, he practically groans into the side of Kravitz’s face now, and by the time they reach three, Kravitz laughs as he’s cursed out.

When he does pull back, Taako does the same, knowing what comes next. They don’t speak, the only sound leaving their mouths being heavy breaths. But their eyes meet, and somehow that’s more than enough, more than any words could have said.

Kravitz finally presses inside, eyes never leaving Taako’s face. It feels as if, for the first time, that this might be theirs. He’s thought so much about how it might feel to make Taako his, to finally have the elf to his own, but not much the other way around. Now as their bodies move as one, he can see in Taako’s eyes the same possession reflected back at him. He knows then what he didn’t know before; all this time, he’s always belonged to him. Perhaps since the day they first met and he was signed as his lab assistant, maybe when he first cleaned Taako’s blood, or helped kidnap his sister. Maybe the exact time doesn’t matter.

The same revelation must be going through Taako’s mind, if the way he suddenly covers his eyes with his folded arms is any indication. Kravitz stops, concerned, before Taako lowers them and snaps at him to keep going. Just one moment by himself is all it takes to get back into his own head, Kravitz thinks. It’s far better than the weeks he would spend closed in on himself where he wouldn’t even speak to Kravitz outside of work.

They find their climax together, barely even moments apart. As they do, Taako clings to Kravitz’s neck, not letting go even after they’ve both come down and Kravitz has rolled them both onto their side. He still doesn’t say a word, and Kravitz certainly doesn’t complain about their current position. He feeds into it, wrapping his arms around Taako, and allows the day to come to a soft, gentle end that lulls him comfortably to sleep.


If only it could last in the morning.

Kravitz takes his time sitting up, like a vampire slowly raised from its coffin. He doesn’t doubt the intentions of the empty spot beside him in bed, not when he can hear noise from the kitchen. A familiar, kind aroma wafts towards him from the other room, and his heart is heavy with love and something else. He comes to his feet, dresses, and takes a good long look at himself in the mirror in an attempt to identify the man standing before him.

Taako is more than pleasant when he finally makes his way out of the bedroom, wordlessly cuddling up to him between cooking and not bothering to sit when they eat. They lean against each other, holding their plates in their hands and trading bites so often they barely eat from their own designated plates. If they were at Taako’s, this would be about the time the kid would barrel down the stairs and join them in some pleasant morning conversation before school.

But it’s the weekend, and the kid is currently with Istus. Taako stares up at him through thick lashes with an unashamed, open smile, lifting his face to Kravitz’s for a simple kiss. Now, in this wonderful moment after a lovely date, Kravitz knows how he should feel. He should be grateful, so thankful that Taako has opened up to a kinder world where good things are possible without the work of blood and necromancy. This moment in itself is a miracle, just like the fact Kravitz hasn’t fallen on his knees before Taako and began crying in glee.

Those thoughts run rampant in his mind, of course. The worst part is that he’s happy--happier than he’s been in a very long time. In reality, he’s all too aware of that mystery feeling lingering within his chest, and he only confronts it when Taako turns his back to put their dishes in the sink.

His personal phone is heavy in his pocket--guilt.

He’s been so naive, so selfish to believe that all he had to do was sit and wait for Taako to come around when he has been so horrible this entire time. All these months, unbeknownst to the scientist, he’s been studied and scrutinized at every angle, his privacy violated in every most explicit way. Taako has lowered his walls, put down his weapons to meet Kravitz in the middle so they might go forward together.

But how could Kravitz ever ask that of him when he himself remains armed?

“Something wrong, Krav?” Taako asks, cornering him against the counter with his hands on either side of Kravitz’s hips. Although a hint of that devious flirt remains in his eyes, his stomach turns at the overabundance of warmth emanating from Taako’s entire person right now. It feels like his own sins might consume him.

Forcing a smile, Kravitz lifts a hand and brushes a few strands of hair behind the elf’s ear, fingers continuing the movement down to curl under his chin. “I’m just happy.”

There’s no more if’s or but’s about it; he has to end this, now.

Below his nose, some other side has been moving, acting through Kravitz’s will and assistance. There’s no telling what they plan to do, or what they’ve already done. No longer can he sit back and allow some stranger he’s unaware of continue playing games with his delicate, fragile family. He’ll pay whatever dues he must as consequence later on, if this is even repairable, but for now, all he can do is act.

The woman on the other end of the phone can’t be allowed to continue, no matter whose side she may be on. It must end today.

Chapter Text

“Do you really have to leave so soon?” Kravitz asks, nursing a warm cup of tea in both hands. “Istus has Angus for the rest of the day, right?”

“She does,” Taako confirms while putting on his shoes. “But I told another professor I’d send him some of my old procedures for an experiment she’s trying with her class in a few days. She’s been on my ass all week. I’ll text you when I’m done, we can go get lunch.”

He nods and watches Taako rebutton the fancy coat he’d worn to the orchestra. While their attire may have been fitting for the event yesterday evening, there’s no doubt Taako would look out of place strolling the morning streets in his current ensemble. Kravitz had even offered to lend him some simple clothes to walk back over if he wanted, and Taako simply rolled his eyes and asked if Kravitz knew who he was talking to.

Once he’s all dolled up and prepared, Kravitz stands from the couch and comes to stand in front of him. Taako turns into him for a warm embrace. “Be safe, dear,” Kravitz says with a kiss to his forehead, and he can practically feel Taako rolling his eyes.

“I’m just going back to my place, geez, I’m stronger than you , Krav. How about you stay safe in your shabby little apartment from burglars, huh?”

He chuckles and pulls back to see the elf’s face. “It’ll be hard without a strong wizard protecting me, but I think I can manage.” Taako laughs as well, but his face shifts. Every now and then, Kravitz comes across one very specific expression Taako wears that he can’t identify. He’s learned to decipher all of his sarcasm and see through any of his masks besides this one.

Taako doesn’t meet his eye for a moment, still smiling, though not as wide. His eyes are nearly as glossed over as a corpse. Kravitz doesn’t bother with questioning it usually, attributes it to some result of stress he couldn’t understand or a healthy amount of uncertainty in their new relationship. This time, though, Kravitz brings his hands up to gently glide along the sides of Taako’s forearms.

Before he can say anything, he hears Taako take a breath, and turn to look him in the eye once again. The air stills around him as Kravitz focuses on his parted lips, simply waiting for the elf to speak.

For the first time, Kravitz thinks he understands it. It’s the same expression he wore after the orchestra, or in the mornings when they’re able to wake up together--reluctance. Taako closes his mouth, thinks for a moment, and smiles again. “I’ll see you later,” he says instead, and he presses a warm kiss to Kravitz’s mouth before turning to the door.

“Yeah,” Kravitz says, mildly confused and concerned, “I’ll see you.”

The door shuts, and he’s alone again. Kravitz waits at the window for a minute, just watching Taako until he can no longer see around the edge of the hall. He had been about to say something, just now, and changed his mind last second. Kravitz can’t imagine he did anything wrong in the few hours they’ve had together this morning, and he certainly seemed normal last night. Some optimistic, boyish part of him wants to believe Taako had been teetering on a big ‘L’ phrase, one they’ve both avoided for fear of going too far too quickly.

It’s something he can bring up later, he thinks. They’ll have time to discuss many things later today. His hand wanders absently to his pocket, feeling the cell that hangs heavily there. A great, many things.

Kravitz closes the blinds and sits on his couch with his head buried in his hands, laying both his phones out before him on the coffee table. He rubs his forehead as another migraine takes hold of him. Right now, it’s easier to think about the sweeter parts of their relationship, of Taako, than his current dilemma. Such bumps in the road of their relationship like restricting the use of the word ‘love’ seem so trivial compared to everything else, and so much kinder to mull over.

It won’t be long before they can use that word freely, as long as Taako can overcome that first wall of commitment it brings. But now, sitting alone in his apartment, Kravitz wonders if they ever will actually get there. The reflective surfaces of the two phones catch a ray of sunlight from the between the blinds and glare into his eyes, causing him to lower his face back into his hands.

Once this is done, he’ll be lifted of guilt, but there’s no telling what will happen to their relationship afterwards. It isn’t a matter of ‘if’ he’ll make the call as much as how long it will take to work up the courage to grab that phone. He’s already settled the resolve necessary to do this, all that’s left is the action itself. It just so happens that that same resolve takes an hour to act upon. He wastes the time pacing around the room, straightening up anything that may be out of order in the kitchen, and making his bed. At this point, it's useless to think of all the possible outcomes--it's going to happen one way or another, nothing can change that. And certainly nothing he finds while tucking in his bed sheets will change his mind.

Somewhere across town, Angus is enjoying a day with the woman who might as well have been his foster mother. Taako might even be back at his home by now, probably cleaning his room from the disaster of disorganized clothes he’d made yesterday evening. Kravitz can picture the elf picking up each piece of clothing, not having to grumble or gripe without anyone around to see him. Maybe he’s humming, just enjoying doing housework. Maybe he’s even smiling, thinking about Kravitz.

The thought causes a sting far too sharp in his chest to feel comfortable with, and he finally reaches out and grabs his personal cell. He almost forgets the contact he’d saved her under, not having used it in so long, and takes a deep breath before pressing the call button.

Somewhere in this town, a woman’s phone is ringing, and she will pick it up. It’s a mystery what she may have been doing before the call, but all Kravitz can do is prevent her from doing anything else afterwards. That’s his oath for having let this drag on so long.

Each ring echoes in his ear, louder than the last, as the anticipation curls like a snake in his stomach. Everything he’s planned to say leaves him the moment it stops. He waits, at a loss for what to say, until he registers the new sound in his ear--a woman’s labored breathing.

Kravitz’s brows furrow together. He had planned to reject her work, to yell at her and explain that he could no longer continue this charade. He would talk about how much better Taako has gotten and how he no longer needs to deal with people who might hurt him through that horrid business he’s now leaving behind. And yet, all that leaves his mouth is, “...what have you done?”

The woman doesn’t say anything for a few moments. He listens to the sound of her panting, and though he knows he won’t see her there, Kravitz brings himself to look outside his window and into the streets below.

“...nothing,” she finally says, voice low and raspy, “I couldn’t… do anything. You couldn’t… do anything.”

“What do you mean? I haven’t reported back to you in weeks, it--”

“I know it all,” she interrupts, “ever since then, I’ve… been able to keep a better watch on you idiots, and see for myself, even if… you didn’t call.”

It doesn’t make any sense. Kravitz closes his eyes, trying to imagine anything he may have let slip to anyone else, any way this woman could have gotten information. The only person who knows he’s working is Raven, and even she doesn’t know the details. Angus has learned through Istus, who heard from Raven. Even though he doesn’t know her that well, it’s hard to believe that Istus could be the woman on the other end. The woman’s voice is… young, and she doesn’t act at all how Angus has described Istus.

At this point, Kravitz can feel his hands shaking. He knew in the back of his mind something must have been going on somewhere else, but he had been too cowardly to confront it. Now, it’s grown this large, and he doesn’t know a single thing. “If you… so much as touch a hair on his head,” he growls, unable to prevent the anger from seeping into his voice.

A bitter laugh crackles through the other end of the phone, muffled by a sudden burst of static. Is the connection bad where she is? “I should’ve trusted you more… you really do love him, huh…” Of course, he wants to say, it was never a question. It takes a second for him to realize that it was a question; this is information she shouldn’t have, no matter who she is. The only people who know the nature of their relationship is Angus himself. “Maybe, if I had just… no, actually, I don’t think things would’ve changed.”

“What would have changed?” he snaps. “What’s going on ? I’m… not afraid to tell Taako the things I’ve done if it’ll stop you from whatever you plan on doing to him!”

This time, she barks a weak laugh that gets distorted by even more static. “Yeah, right. He’s the one you need to stop. Currently, there’s only one victim… but there’ll be two if you--”

White noise covers her words, and Kravitz slams a hand against the wall. “What are you saying--where are you?”

“With him…” she says, “like I always have been.”

Angus isn’t being picked up until later tonight. Unless Taako went somewhere else, the house should be empty. The only ones who have ever lived there, ever stepped foot in there are Taako, Angus, and himself.

No, wait.

There was one other.

“Ever since… you yanked my dead body from Barry’s lab…”

“Where is he?” Kravitz shouts, louder than intended. His blood, filled with adrenaline, has frozen like ice. He doesn’t bother taking anything besides the phone in his hand as he throws open the door and runs out of his apartment. All this time-- all this time

She tries to say something that gets covered again by the interference. Kravitz takes the stairs three at a time, nearly ramming into three people as he takes off down the street.

“What’s going on?!” he asks, breath labored. “Where is he?”

“Hurry,” she says, almost indiscernible below the sound of crackling. “Finish the fucking job I gave you.”

Kravitz nearly slips on the pavement as he turns a corner and avoids knocking over a few more people. It’ll still be a few minutes before Taako’s house is even in sight. How long ago did Taako leave? How much time does he have?

The woman on the phone was never an ally or an enemy; she was the main event herself.

“Please… save my brother--”

The call is drowned in noise, and then it’s cut.

All this time, she’s never been far.

Kravitz practically screams into the phone. “ Lup !”

First dead, then merely a corpse, and a ghost come to haunt him. But she had always been even closer than that.

This entire time, Kravitz had it all wrong. He takes off down the city streets at a run, faster than he’d sprinted for any emergency Taako ever called him for. It should’ve been impossible, and by all means it’s difficult to comprehend regardless. But right now, it’s the only thing that makes sense. There’s no way she would know everything otherwise, and why she never called as much once they’d brought her body back to the house. She didn’t need to do anything at that point.

There was never another side acting on the sidelines; she’s been next to them this entire time, working before anyone else. No doubt, she had been testing Kravitz for months before he even knew of F.W., determining not only his loyalty but if he would have the heart it took to save her brother. This has never been about Taako’s business reviving people’s loved ones and conducting experiments. He’s never even been working as a detective trying to crack a case.

It was just one overprotective sister trying to look out for her brother, and Kravitz was her guard dog.

Kravitz races up the stairs of the front porch to Taako’s house in record time, both hands flying to the doorknob to yank it open. It doesn’t give, however, and he curses. Taako had never given him a key to his home, never trusted him enough to let him have complete reign over his house. He never thought it was odd, always imagining the elf was too shy to make that sort of commitment this early in their relationship.

“Taako!” he shouts, banging on the door. “Taako! Let me in!”

He was so foolish to believe that everything could be settled so peacefully, that Taako might actually be recovering just because he’d fallen in love. Those ideals were so self centered, so naive. Kravitz had seriously thought that Taako was slowly drifting away from necromancy and that lab all together. But now, he knows better.

He never stopped working--in fact, it seems he’s been doing more than ever.

No response comes from within the house, and Kravitz drops to his knees and fumbles to pull a pin from his hair. It’s convenient now more than ever that Taako’s home is far from so many others now that Kravitz can literally be seen picking the lock of his front door in the open. Even if there were a million houses nearby, it probably wouldn’t stop him. This is more important than any petty theft he could be accused of.

Surprisingly, the lock gives within a few minutes, and Kravitz throws the door open without care for the loud ‘bam’ it makes against the wall. At the same time, he calls Taako’s number on his phone, pacing through the house for any sign of the elf. “Taako!” he yells, looking around every room. The phone continues ringing in his ear. “It’s me, it’s Kravitz--where are you, love?”

He knows the response he’ll get to both by now, though. Kravitz waits until the phone has rung the last time, shutting it before it can even go to voicemail. The only answer to his manic shouting is the creaking of an empty home. He knew it before he even left his apartment.

Taako is nowhere near this house right now.

He slams a hand down on the nearest counter, cursing himself more than anything. Just last night--no, this morning he had held the elf in his arms. They’d kissed, made love, and had a lovely time, yet now, mere hours later… The image of his smile is still so fresh in his mind--and even fresher is the somber expression on his face before he turned and left. What had it been he was truly going to say? And where did he leave Kravitz’s apartment to go to?

Many might give up where Kravitz stands, unable to reach him or the woman connecting him to this case. Taako isn’t a dumb man by any means; he’s done well hiding any information about himself from the specific people he needs to avoid. If he wants to keep his location and intentions hidden from Kravitz, he easily can.

Kravitz, however, is no ordinary man without a job as he’d told Taako when they first met. He’s a private investigator, and if he wants clues about where Taako may have fled, there’s only one place those hints would be.

It takes every ounce of strength in his body to walk to the back of the house. The lab door is thrown wide open for the first time, hints of light peeking up from the bottom of the staircase. It’s only natural this would be the first place anyone would check, but it’s also the biggest indicator of what Taako may have been doing before he left. If Kravitz can go through all the equipment, all the results, he may be able to piece the story together. Something down here changed Taako’s mind. Something he found caused him to leave, and if anyone knows how to decipher the mad man’s lab, it would be his own assistant.

Kravitz’s foot hits the cement floor at the bottom of the stairs, and he turns to walk into the room. He doesn’t get farther than that before he stops in his tracks.

He’s encountered the worst of the worst down here. He’s seen Taako beaten to an inch of his life by his own hand, seen the undead revive, creatures not quite human struggle to hold on to what little lives they’ve had. He’s met with the bad moods of ghosts, watched corpses move, and stepped in human remains.

And yet nothing has terrified him more than the empty room before him.

Every piece of equipment, every table, machine, cabinet, all of it has been removed. Traces of furniture remains on the floor, mere imprints of spaces once occupied that have now been uncovered. Wall to wall, ceiling to floor, nothing remains in the barren room. It is, in every sense of the word, completely empty.

Panicked, Kravitz quickly rushes to the wing on the left side of the lab only to come face to face with the same conclusion--cleared. He turns, stumbles, and runs to the room that once housed the large pods that gave birth to unholy life. Marks along the floor show where something may have once sat, now only a ghost of its previous owners. Except there aren’t even ghosts here anymore--Lup’s body, like everything else, is nowhere to be found.

He stumbles around the lab in a daze. Even if he wanted to search, there’s nothing down here for him to even go through. Taako was smart, far too clever, and knew this would be the first thing anybody did. He cleared it out ahead of time--and it couldn’t have been quick, either. Just the day before, while they were preparing for the orchestra, this lab must have been empty, too.

Taako prepared for this ahead of time. He went into everything last night knowing that he was going to flee the very next day.

In the last room, the office Taako had once kept all his documents and data, Kravitz finds the first piece of hope. Although all the desks and computers have been moved away, one item remains in this room. He approaches the slip of paper in the middle of the floor cautiously and picks it up with trembling hands. It would be best if it were left on accident, if he could use it to somehow trace where Taako may have needed to go. But immediately, Kravitz can tell it was placed deliberately--just for him.

His mouth runs dry.

“I know who you really are. I can’t let you get in the way of saving my sister.”

A single message left to him by his lover run astray.

It’s almost laughable. Even after deciding to finally do the right thing, it was all for naught. Kravitz should have known better to underestimate his lover who kept himself off the grid for so long, who he spent months tracking down in the first place. Of course he would already know Kravitz’s identity. His hands shake, nonetheless. Of course.

Slowly, he makes his way back up the stairs, feeling at a loss. He thought he had all the cards in his hands, that he knew more than Taako and Barry’s sides combined with his overview of the situation. He thought he was the only one keeping secrets when Taako had only shown him the tip of the iceberg.

As Kravitz emerges from the basement, feeling despondent and almost hopeless, he catches sight of the single room he has yet to check.

Not even Angus was allowed in the office Taako had on the ground floor, given it was for private academy information. He kept the room locked at all times, even when he was inside, and Kravitz had never been allowed to even see inside. He never really had any interest, simply believing in what was presented to him.

He pulls out the same pin he’d used to come in the front door and falls to his knees in front of the office. To his surprise, however, the door is already unlocked.

It’s a relief to see a room that hasn’t been cleared of all it’s information, and within this small room alone, there must be hundreds of things to go through. The office is simple, containing no more than a few cabinets, two desks, and a table where a number of frames are displayed face down. Kravitz approaches them cautiously and lifts one up.

Taako never kept photos of Lup around the house where anyone could see. All Kravitz saw of her was her corpse, still and cold in the laboratory without a shred of dignity. Here, the ghost of a woman slowly begins to take shape before him. He sees the two of them grinning from ear to ear, arms locked around each other with graduation attire fully customized as they hold their diplomas up. Another photo shows her with Barry standing at an altar, dressed in brilliant white while Taako stands behind her in an only slightly less showy gown. They’re surrounded by a number of faces Kravitz has seen from other photos--Magnus, Merle, their accompanying partners, even Angus.

He goes through them all, picking up each frame and setting them upright on the table. There’s a single photo of them as teenagers, some vacations, and all kinds of formals events. He can see her fit into the house, can picture her by Taako’s side in the kitchen just outside this office. Slowly, she begins to fill the empty spaces in the home, no longer a shadow any longer. Lup, Taako’s twin sister, his other half, had never truly left his side; Kravitz is the one who brought her to him.

“Hurry. Finish the fucking job I gave you. Please… save my brother--”

Kravitz stares one photo of Lup in the eyes and makes a silent vow to himself that he’d made many times in the past. He turns back to the desk, eyeing all the papers that have been sorted into folders and neatly stacked in uncharacteristic piles. What catches his eye first, though, is a notebook placed in the middle of the desk. Another piece of planted information that Taako is handing him.

He opens it to the first page.

“Lup is being preserved in the same pods they’ve been using the past year unsuccessfully. It isn’t necessary, since her body is preventing itself from decaying by acting frozen in time, but Barry doesn’t believe it. There would be more bad from good if I told him, apparently, but she said to keep this a secret from him. Any little thing could send him over the edge and make him try to ‘join’ her.

The lab in the basement is finally being put to use with a few renovations at her suggestion. I’ve started studying to keep up, since she can’t check in that often. Even though she isn’t gone, I’m doing most of this by myself.”

It’s immediately apparent the document he’s being presented is a journal or diary of sorts. Taako must have started keeping this a long time ago, evidently at the very beginning of his research. Kravitz turns the next few pages and begins to skim through. A lot of what’s written is records of experiments being tries and the equipment being used, meetings with Lucas, and the beginnings of his business to fund his research. Relevant information can be found between the lines, though.

He skips around pages, brain too scattered to read the entire book at this moment. It would be impossible to try and understand the complicated procedures or the implications behind them, anyways. While he had hundreds of notes in the basement documenting all the individual cases he had taken up in reviving others’ loved ones for them, this singular journal holds all the information about Lup’s case. Data is scribbled in the margins, plans for future experiments, all of it is here. Kravitz suddenly regrets not asking more questions about what Taako was doing; perhaps some information in here could’ve been used to piece together his current motives.

It doesn’t take long to reach the end as he’s simply flipping pages. One of the last entries, without a date, catches his eye. He’s seen his name before in a few other pages, but only ever in professional passing. This page, however, is dedicated to him.

It’s a biography.

“Kravitz is a private investigator employed under Raven. He’s been tracking my business down for over a year, but hasn’t done anything yet. He might act soon. He won’t.”

Below the first line, all the details of his past are laid out. Information about his childhood, where he was raised, his education, even his parents’ deaths are included in this small book. Raven’s name and agency get their own small blurb, and Kravitz’s fingers hesitate to turn the page.

At what point, he wonders, did Taako learn? It must have had something to do with Lup, surely--Kravitz has been so careful hiding his identity and any information that might give him away. Angus wouldn’t out him so simply, and there’s no way Taako would interrogate his own child. If Angus thought Taako had the same information from Istus that he did, he would’ve told Kravitz that day.

He reaches what appears to be the last official entry, and Kravitz takes a deep breath. Only one line stares up at him from the page.

“I got it.”

There’s no dates to indicate when this may have been, but enough entries to prove that it’s been on Taako’s mind without pause. All this time they’ve been together, Kravitz thought he might be helping the man into a world where this experimentation and necromancy may not be necessary. Instead he was played for a fool the whole time. Behind his back, all these careful weeks, months, together, how true was Taako being? What had he almost said this morning?

When he turns the page, Kravitz can finds a wedge that made this certain entry stand out from the rest, a bookmark of sorts. Nestled between the pages is a paper Kravitz recognizes all too well--the essay he’d written while sorting his thoughts out on the matter. Although he can’t remember exactly where he’s hidden it in his apartment, he knows it wasn’t obvious. There’s no way Taako should’ve been able to find it unless he was searching specifically for it. Not to mention, the only time he would’ve had to search while Kravitz was unaware would be while he was sleeping. The idea that it may have even been this morning makes him shiver. He picks it up to read over it, trying to guess what Taako may have assumed from it.

It’s only when he lowers the essay does he see what had been hidden behind the bookmark on the page below.

“Seriously, fuck off Kravitz.”

The ink is still fresh. Kravitz had made himself worry pointlessly over something that had never been an issue. This entire time, he didn’t need to stress over how he would tell Taako about who he was and what he was doing--somebody else had already informed him.

He pulls out the cushioned chair from the desk and falls into it gracelessly, hiding his eyes from the light. Had all of it been for nothing? No matter what path he would have chosen, would they have always ended up here? The idea he could fix Taako, that he alone could be the driving force behind his recovery was… naive.

What about everything in between, though? What of those careful weeks Kravitz spent acting as Taako’s nurse while he was bedridden? The subtle, kind flirting? The embrace from a scared and tired man surrounded by carnage in his lab? The confession, their first kiss, every date that came afterwards, each time they made love, all the meals Taako made for them, the orchestra night with Angus… Had those all been fake too?

Every time he noticed that look of reluctance on Taako’s face, what had he truly been thinking? Perhaps he was always on the verge of leaving, of ending this charade. He may have just been waiting until he progressed far enough in his research that he could leave Kravitz behind for good.

Or maybe it’s more complicated than that. Kravitz would like to believe that he did, in fact, love Kravitz just as much in return--no, he must have. The look in his eye every time they embraced or kissed, or his expression when Kravitz got along with Angus, it couldn’t be mistaken.

In reality, Taako may have been hurting far more than Kravitz in this moment, drawn out over however long he knew his true identity. Regardless of when he found out, he made a decision to pursue whatever this was with him anyways.

Kravitz feels the muscles in his face straining in spite of himself. There has to be a hint in here, some kind of clue that he can follow to find Taako. It can’t just end here, not like this. Something recently, something new changed things, and it caused him to leave this morning. Something made Kravitz no longer useful to him, or… the note said Kravitz would stop him. Kravitz hadn’t necessarily opposed the work he would do with his sister, so what is it he could be doing that would make Kravitz need to stop him?

The note was explicit; for whatever he’s doing now, Kravitz can’t be apart of it. But he is no longer the lab assistant who has to abide by Taako’s rules.

The only title left to his name is detective, and he’ll be damned if he lets Taako beat him at his own game.

He picks himself back up, takes the notebook in his hand, and steps out of the office. He should probably start by finding Angus, and the rest will hopefully… no, it must come together.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take any time for Kravitz to cross the city. He can distinctly remember the roads they took to get to Istus’s place from the orchestra, the memories dyed in amber and honey that crumbles and melts away as he travels it alone now. All the sweet, tender air he thought may be native to the region now suffocates him as the image of Taako in his mind, kind and attentive as they returned to his apartment, is nowhere to be found. Even his face, so distinctly beautiful in Kravitz’s mind, is a blur. He would go through all of this just to restore that memory to its true image.

It’s only natural that he would not be the only character involved in this event. As soon as Taako made his decision, it appears everything he had been holding until now has finally been set into motion. Kravitz approaches the kindly home only to find the front door already thrown open, Angus already on the front porch. Istus is standing by his side, comforting the boy as he rambles hysterics into her chest--but Kravitz stops when he makes eye contact with her second guest.

Raven’s gaze hardens on Kravitz, equal parts angered and confused. She turns to face him fully and levels him with a stare he can’t meet at the bottom of the few steps before the porch. “Kravitz,” she says, as if she had been waiting for him this entire time, “what is going on?”

Before he can even get the chance to respond, still panting from exhaustion running all the way here, Angus is pulling himself free of Istus’s embrace and launching himself into Kravitz’s chest instead. The boy cries openly and painfully, hands balled tightly in his shirt. “Kravitz!” he wails, knocking his head repeatedly into his sternum. “I didn’t know! I didn’t!”

For now, Kravitz elects to ignore Raven entirely. He sinks to the floor and opens his arms to accept the crying child in his arms more fully, shushing him quietly. He presses their cheeks together and rocks back with the boy. “Angus, Angus… it’s alright, it isn’t your fault… Don’t worry, I promise…”

He doesn’t expect it to calm him much, not when they’re in a situation as dire as this. It doesn’t help that Kravitz can’t even believe his own words, and if there’s one person who can see through his facade, it’s the boy detective himself. But perhaps, now, that intellect and analysis have taken a backseat to some innate need to be comforted. Angus nods into his chest as if he believes him, sobs dying into whimbers with each pass of Kravitz’s hand over his back.

He looks up at Raven and Istus, standing together, while Angus takes refuge in his hold. “Why are you here, Raven?” he asks, ignoring her question in favor of his own. “Do you know something I don’t?”

“Doubtful, given how much you’ve been hiding from me this entire time,” she says, malice dripping from every other word. It doesn’t sound like the same tone she might use when speaking to criminals or other degenerates though, as much as she simply sounds… tired, or irritated. There’s no doubt in Kravitz’s mind that she’s only ever wanted to help him in everything. “Istus called me over this morning asking for my help, saying there was a certain necromancer that needed to be tracked down.”

“Why didn’t you call for me?” Kravitz asks, looking around each face quizzically. Any of them could have done it--Kravitz is the one properly assigned to this case, and the one with the most information on Taako, especially recently.

At his chest, Angus shakes his head and composes himself with a few more sniffles. “If Taako… doesn’t want you to find him, you won’t. He knows you too well by now, he can hide it if he knows where you’ll look.” It was naive to assume Angus had gotten his knack for detective work from nowhere. It’s never been like Kravitz to purposely underestimate Taako, but he seems to do it more every day. “I thought if we got someone from outside, we could… do more.”

“Angus, dear,” Kravitz says as he pulls the boy’s shoulders away from him so he might see his face more clearly. He uses a hand to push back the messy curls covering his face and straightens his crooked, foggy glasses. “Did you know something would happen today? Did Taako tell you anything?”

His heart sinks as Angus nods, only for him to stop and shake his head instead. “No, it… it wasn’t him, it was… miss Lup. She came to me two nights ago, in...his body, and said it’d all be over soon. Then the next morning, dad wouldn’t say anything when I asked him, and then suddenly said I’d be staying with Miss Istus last night. It was too suspicious!”

Kravitz nods along, encouraging him nonverbally so he won’t have to overcome the rock that’s lodged itself deep in his throat.

Angus wipes at his eyes forcefully with the heels of his palms. “I knew something was wrong, and he… he knew that I knew. All throughout yesterday, he would pull me aside and tell me to be strong, and that… that you would take care of me ‘in case something happens’!”

“Do you know anything else, Angus?” Kravitz asks a little too forcefully, fingers curling into his shoulders. “Anything, these past few days that you’ve noticed, anything--you have to let me know now.”

“What happened, Kravitz? Something happened, didn’t it?” Angus starts as tears well back up in his eyes. “He hasn’t answered his phone, and he never ignores my messages-- never !”

Kravitz never doubted this was serious, but the severity of the situation continues to crash down upon him. More and more, the weight of Taako’s intentions and actions hold him down, and it only becomes more apparent how in over his head he truly is. Perhaps he was doomed from the first time he agreed to track down some all powerful necromancer at the center of some experimental crime ring. Somehow, none of that seems to hold a candle to whatever is happening now.

He swallows hard, unable to tear his eyes away from Angus’s as much as he so wants to. This may be the hardest thing he’s ever had to say to someone, and he’s had to inform parents of their child’s deaths, loved ones of the torture of their partners, and so on. “He stayed with me last night, and everything was fine… even this morning, everything was fine, but then… she called me--the woman who hired me in the first place, Lup, she...”

From the corner of his eye, he can see Raven perk up at the mention of his client.

“She told me to save him, that it may already be too late. When I got to the house, it… was empty. All the equipment in the lab was gone, any trace he had ever done anything in that home disappeared. He left the office open, he knew I would come looking, he planted his journal specifically for me to find, and he…” A crack in his voice, and Kravitz can no longer meet Angus’s eye as the crushing fear takes hold of the boy’s face. “He knew about me, the entire time… and he’s been acting on his own for months without my knowing. Today is the culmination of all that work, I think.”

For the first time, Istus speaks up. “So he found a way to revive his undead sister, you mean?”

Kravitz shakes his head. “No, I… I think it’s more complicated than that. On the phone, Lup sounded panicked, like Taako was the one in danger. Whatever he’s doing, it… he has to be stopped.”

“His dead sister has been calling you?” Raven asks, brows knit together in confusion. “It sounds like they already accomplished something, then,”

“She was never truly dead; from the start, she’s kept in contact with me to try and save him, to stop him from whatever he’s doing. Whatever it is, it’s dangerous enough for Lup to have gone through all this trouble without a corporeal body to find someone outside everything to help. She fought through death itself to reach me… to reach him.”

He lets go of Angus to dig into his coat, fishing out the journal he’d found in Taako’s office and presenting it first to Angus. It only takes a few minutes of him scanning the journal for the horrified realization to set in on Angus’s face. “Lup…”

From the entries in the journal, it’s apparent Lup was able to maintain some form of contact with Taako and inform him of events happening on Barry’s side where her body was being kept. It must be how Taako knew she was still alive in the first place, else he likely would have believed Barry. It’s no wonder he so thoroughly believed Barry was wrong--Lup had told him she was alive herself. Some bond between them allowed her spirit to reach him for whatever short periods she could manage, given it wasn’t tied directly to her body.

Kravitz bites the nail of his thumb and worries it between his teeth. If she had some control over her spirit, it might also explain how she was able to call Kravitz and keep in touch as well as send automated checks.

As time went on, those visits to Taako became more and more sporadic with larger gaps of time between them. These were the times Taako wavered the most and began to act on his own. He stepped outside the guidelines Lup gave him as he couldn’t wait so long for vague information.

Still, Kravitz thinks, there must have been flaws in communication. He can still remember the moment Taako realized her body was still alive, the horror on his face. Perhaps Lup herself didn’t know everything about her own condition, either.

A few more pages stood out beyond the immediately obvious ones. His own entry into the lab is documented, albeit there isn’t much about the event itself or him as a person. Some days, Taako only wrote facts and procedures. Others appear to be personal rants, much more like a diary. He isn’t surprised to find Taako was suspicious of him at first and had been testing him for weeks. But one entry, a month into his work, stands out.

“She hasn’t contacted me in weeks. When she finally does, all she says is ‘trust him’ and leave. What kind of bullshit help is this, it’s not like this is going to help me revive her dumb ass.”

She had been vouching for him in the simplest ways possible. It would be difficult to reveal Kravitz’s identity immediately, knowing Taako would scare like a rodent and immediately retreat. She more than anyone had known this, and she continued to help Kravitz from the sidelines without giving away their direct involvement.

That is, until, she changed her mind. Kravitz remembers quite vividly the haunting of Lup in the basement, and he’d never been able to figure out just why it occurred. Only now does he recall the phone call he’d had in the lab as well--right next to her body. If she had been able to relay information from Barry’s home to Taako just because she was in the house, he had practically revealed himself entirely to her. She knew he was a detective, obviously, but he’d practically admitted to nearly turning Taako in. To think, he never would’ve been able to prevent such a large error, not with the knowledge he had at the time.

“I believe Lup hired me to try and save Taako from the beginning. I don’t know why she chose me, or if there were others before me, but she tested me in every way imaginable in the months leading up to meeting him,” Kravitz explains, looking between Raven and Angus as he finally stands from the ground.

“She was protecting him,” Raven says with crossed arms.

He nods. “She knew that whatever work Taako was doing would ultimately end dangerously for him. It’s why he kept me away while he was working, why Angus didn’t know anything, it…” Kravitz has to stop himself, only just noticing Angus from the corner of his eye. By now, the boy’s eyes have welled up with tears once again as he stares at Kravitz incredulously. He opens his arms and drop down just in time to catch Angus as he flies into his chest once again.

Part of him knows that he shouldn’t be saying all of this in front of Angus, that he’s still so young, that he doesn’t need to know these knitty gritty details about his own family. But not only is he a valuable resource and partner in this, but Kravitz has a responsibility to protect him. They agreed to work together to help Taako; to shut Angus out now would be cruel.

“Kravitz,” Raven says, taking a few steps towards him, “I can’t do anything with just what you’ve given us. Don’t you have any lead for where he may be to do this… experiment?”

“He knew enough to see through everything from the beginning,” he explains, “there’s no way he would’ve given me any clues to where he would be. He was able to hide so much, he was so brilliantly ahead of me… always two steps beyond what I was thinking.”

There isn’t anyway that someone with full control and knowledge of the playing board would leave gaps for someone to crawl through. Knowing everything every piece knew, he could manipulate what everyone saw, especially being the only entrance Kravitz had to this mystery. It’s the same as a narrator simply not providing any of the necessary information in a mystery novel for the reader to solve the puzzle--there’s nothing he could do about it.

Unless there were times Kravitz had seen through the gaps. No, that’s right, Taako didn’t ever know everything ; there were plenty times when Kravitz was able to witness pure horror and shock on his face, a sense of surprise and urgency that couldn’t be faked easily. He was not the all powerful puppet master Kravitz thought--he was still just as mortal as them, weak and feeble enough to allow himself to let Angus in, to fall in love with Kravitz and indulge in it.

Not everything had been fake. Not everything had been a lie.

He recalls the simple smiles, the laughs that bubbled unexpectedly out of nowhere, the legitimate anger that shook the entire house, the wide eyed horror in the basement of another man’s lab--

That’s right.

Kravitz snaps his head in Angus’s direction and snatches the boy’s hands in his, holding them tightly. “Angus, I think I just had an idea about our next move.”

“You did?!”

He nods. “Yes, and I… You have been here just as much as I on this journey, if not even more so. You have every right to come with me if you think you’re prepared.”

Raven cuts in. “Kravitz, that’s--” And Istus is just as quick to hold her hand up and silence the other woman.

Kravitz continues. “You may come with me if you wish… but I can’t say everything is alright, and that everything from here will be okay. I’m going to do my best and damn it all if I won’t try everything in my power to save him, but it may be unpleasant, and it might be best to stay here with Istus.”

Angus considers his words, taking them in seriously, and eventually he shakes his head. “I’m coming with you, sir. It’s my turn to help Taako after everything he’s done for me--and help you too. You shouldn’t do this alone, either”

“Then that’s all there is to it.”

When Kravitz stands and faces the two women, he can tell Raven wants to protest. Istus has her hand held tightly in her own. She nods at him and a small smile comes to her face. “Take good care of him. Take care of both of them.”

“Of course,” he says, “I won’t let either of them get hurt. Raven,” he turns to her, and before he can even make eye contact, he has to let go of Angus and catch an object hurtling at his face. The keys jingle when they meet his palm, and he looks up to see Raven shaking her head. She nods towards a black car in the driveway.

“Get going.”

He doesn’t have to be told twice. Kravitz has never driven Raven’s car but once when they had gone out for drinks after a stressful case of hers and he had been in charge of getting them home. She complained at him the entire way home, slurring to not mess anything up, which of course he didn’t. He unlocks the passenger door for Angus who is quick to climb in and wastes not a second starting the engine up.

“What are you thinking, sir?” Angus asks as he buckles his seatbelt.

Kravitz practically skids out of the driveway and onto the street. “We need to know the actual contents of Taako’s research if we want to track down where he is. There must be some other location that suits his studies better than the basement, else he would have kept his secret and continued working there. There was no other reason for him to suddenly pick up and leave if neither of us had been suspecting him.”

Angus’s eyes brighten, immediately catching onto their destination as Kravitz rounds a corner. “Barry.”

He nods, glancing at Angus from the corner of his eye. Kid’s always been sharp as a tack. “They argued for a long time about what to do. If anyone has any idea what Taako’s next move might be, it’s him. Magnus and Merle likely don’t know anything, given he kept them at arm’s length at all times.”

“And he didn’t with Barry?”

“Probably not. If I know Taako, he probably made the same mistake with Barry that he made with me.” At a stop, Kravitz turns and gives Angus a mischievous smile. “He let his emotions get the best of him.”

Angus quickly mimics the grin. “He got angry at Barry, so he probably revealed something he didn’t mean to, you think!”

“I don’t think he meant to bring me to as many experiments as he did. I don’t think I was ever supposed to know about Lup at all , but he became too emotional to hide it. He probably wanted someone to talk to, some… comfort, I guess. Or maybe it was a cry for help.” Taako had brought Kravitz in with purely educational purposes, and had it been anyone else, it likely would’ve remained that way. But he found something in Kravitz that no one else could’ve provided--solace. Kravitz blinks away the sudden blurriness in his eyes. “Taako’s just as much of an emotional fool as the rest of us.”

It’s only a sliver of hope that leads them to Barry, just the smallest chance, but what matters is they have a lead at all. Kravitz takes a small amount of comfort in Angus’s smile sitting next to him. It must be enough for the young detective to feel more confident in this case and the fate of his father. Maybe it should be enough for Kravitz to feel hopeful as well.

Taako never had control of the entire playing field. Perhaps a better, more distant man could have kept Kravitz away, but they pushed and pulled at each other just enough to get the information they wanted out of each other. Kravitz had been doing his job just fine--he got answers from Taako the elf never wanted him to have. So what if he lost a few of his cards on the way? He had put up a worthy fight if Taako has to physically run away from him. It means Kravitz has enough to track him down, maybe even enough to stop him. They had always been far more equal than Kravitz gave himself credit for.

Taako wouldn’t hide if he didn’t think Kravitz had a chance of finding him.

He doesn’t bother pulling into Barry’s driveway and parks on the road as soon as the house is in view. The second the engine is shut off, both he and Angus fly out of the car simultaneously and meet each other running up to the front porch. He may not have all the hacking and security systems on his side to break in once again, but Kravitz figures his other skills might work.

Like being desperately persistent and banging his fist loudly on the front door. “Mr. Bluejeans!” he shouts, Angus’s voice joining him as the boy’s tiny fists pound on the door as well. “There’s been an emergency regarding Taako and Lup, open up!”

It only just occurs to Kravitz that he’s never met Barry in person, as the doorknob actually begins to turn. He’s seen pictures, yes, and heard so many stories that it seems unusual that they’re technically meeting for the first time. He knows so much about this man, this crazed scientist driven mad by the love he holds for the same woman who haunted Kravitz all this time. A pair of tired, bespectacled eyes look out from the crack in the door as Barry opens it cautiously. He can see his hand shaking on the frame, nails practically bitten down to a stub.

For all the weak fragility his physical person holds, Kravitz is caught off guard by his serious, demanding voice.

Where is he ?”

Kravitz takes a deep breath and reaches into the inside of his coat. He retrieves the weathered notebook and holds it out for Barry to take. “We were hoping you could help answer that.”

Chapter Text

Although he had been in a hurry the last time he was here, Kravitz is still able to make note of the differences between Barry’s home when he’d first broken in and now. Items are thrown across the room, a few chairs even turned over, and none of the lights are kept on. Most interesting, he thinks as Barry guides them to a couch in his horrific living room, is the equipment that seems to have poured out of his laboratory and into the rest of his home. Nothing is where it should be, as if the entire house has become one large experimental ground, as if Barry could never bear to part with his work.

He has to scoot a chair closer to the coffee table between them and slowly sits down with a long sigh. Barry holds his face in his hands, completely silent as Kravitz and Angus watch him try and gather himself. They’re the intruders, so it’s only right they let Barry get first picks on the questions here.

When he lowers his hands enough for his eyes to meet Kravitz’s, he finally speaks. “Have we met?”

Kravitz shakes his head. “No, but I know much about you. I’ve been working as Taako’s assistant for quite some time now.” He hesitates to say anymore, but he can’t help but sympathize with the look in Barry’s eyes. There’s been no end to the suffering he’s endured because of Lup’s condition. Not only has he been chasing answers for her this entire time and more, but it’s only gotten worse, and he’s never been allowed the knowledge of why. “I was here when Taako took Lup from your lab.”

Surprisingly, Barry doesn’t react at all. His eyes don’t even move, not a twitch in his face. He simply nods before looking over to Angus. “Why’re you here, bud?”

The boy immediately sits up. “We need help, sir. Taako and Lup are both in very serious trouble!”

The journal Kravitz brought sits between the three of them on the coffee table, untouched since it was first put down. Barry’s eyes drift to it now, though he doesn’t try to reach out and grab it.

“You know what Taako had been working on, don’t you?” Kravitz asks quietly. “He’s hid it from the both of us. Just when we thought he might leave his work behind and live normally with us from now on… he disappeared this morning, without a trace. He left this for me to find, and if you--if you have any idea where he may have gone or what he’s even doing, it might be a chance to save both him and Lup.”

“So he finally found a way to save her, huh…” Barry muses.

“I don’t think so,” Kravitz is quick to say, voice raised as he realizes the implications of Taako’s success for Barry. Why would Barry help them if Taako was just doing the job they’d both been struggling with for this long? “What Taako has been doing is not right. He’s harmed both himself and other people for this, attempting to revive the dead, failing, and falling harder into this madness that has consumed him… he plans to destroy himself today for the sake of this experiment.”

“And how do you know that?”

Kravitz hesitates. He shares a glance with Angus who nods, so he leans over and grabs the journal himself to offer to Barry.

“She told me herself.”

It’s the first thing he’s said that seems to stir something in Barry, albeit mostly confusion. Slowly, he reaches out, looking between the book and Angus warily as he opens it to the first page. There’s nothing they can do but sit in silence and wait as Barry turns the pages, thankfully a much faster reader than Kravitz. His brows furrow part way through, leg bouncing up and down anxiously as the number of pages read grows larger than the number that remains.

In this moment, Barry is forced to discover his wife was never truly dead this entire time. The body that sat in his laboratory for lord knows how long had been acting a spy, performing reconnaissance and relaying information to her brother. Unbeknownst to him, an entire other side of the story had been occurring, all leading up to the moment she was stolen from his basement, all up to today.

How did you sleep, Barry, Kravitz wants to ask . How were you able to live without her? How did you live knowing she was somewhere else, somewhere you didn’t know? How did you go through your day never knowing if she was safe?

Teach me, he wants to say , because it’s only been a few hours, and I don’t know the answer.

Barry puts down the journal much faster than Kravitz expected and returns to his original position, face crowded in his hands. He doesn’t say anything, and Kravitz has no idea what the right amount of time he should wait before asking is. It’s a lot of information to take in; Kravitz himself had taken a good while to collect himself on the floor of Taako’s office as well.

But they’re on a time limit here. Kravitz hunches forward. “I don’t know how,” he begins, “but Lup has been keeping in contact with me to keep an eye on and protect Taako.”

“Right,” Barry says, hushed, “you’re a private investigator. Taako knew.”

“At some point, yes, he found out.” Or was told by the same sister who hired him. “This morning… Taako and I parted ways, then I got a phone call from Lup telling me he was in danger, that I needed to save Taako before he hurt himself. Whatever he’s doing right now, he’s put himself--and likely Lup as well--in grave danger.”

As he speaks, Kravitz watches as Barry picks the journal up from his lap and flips through some of the entries a second time. There’s a different glint in his eye this time, not one of a man in mourning or fury as much as he looks like… a scholar. A scientist. For him to be able to recover from such drastic news this quickly is more than admirable, Kravitz thinks. Like a true researcher, able to separate work from emotions when it’s most necessary--if only Kravitz had been able to, he wouldn’t be here right now.

“His lab had been entirely emptied of all equipment and data, this is all he left for me to find. I don’t know where he could’ve gone, if there’s some other laboratory he could be working at, or if he even needs one--but if you… have any idea…?”

Barry stops on one page in particular and holds his fist to his mouth in contemplation. Angus gives Kravitz’s leg a nudge. That’s right; Barry has been working just as hard as Taako this entire time. They’ve dueled over their research no short amount of times. It feels as if Kravitz only just now notices all the awards and documents that have been framed on the walls, surrounding them this entire time.

Before them sits a scientist just as, if not more, capable than Taako. A flicker of hope lights itself in Kravitz’s chest as he realizes he made the right decision in coming here.

The journal closes again, and this time, Barry tosses it onto the coffee table. He adjusts his glasses before speaking, and for the first time since they’ve arrived here, Kravitz can see dignity and pride in how Barry holds himself. This is the man who has been working tirelessly in his lab for his beloved’s sake, the only competition Taako ever acknowledged.

“He found a way alright,” he says after a beat of silence. “He details lists of all the equipment he’s ordered from Lucas in here, I recognize a lot of it. Much of his research before this has revolved around biologically reconstructing a body identical to that of a person at their death--we spoke of it before things became too hostile. And yet, he stole Lup inside of her original body anyways.” He waits to see recognition on either of their faces, and when it doesn’t come, he continues. “He gave up on his original plan and moved on to something else.”

Kravitz’s hands ball into fists in his lap. “...yes. In fact, I could probably tell you the exact moment he did. I remember the experiments he did on himself, equipment that caused him to mutilate his own body in unbearable amounts of pain.”

Angus’s hand comes to rest over his, giving him a squeeze of reassurance as the boy scoots closer. They both know it very well.

And yet Barry stares at him blankly.

“Actually,” he says, “from the dates in here… it would seem he gave up on it before you were even hired. The equipment he lists and the titles he used for the tests run that day would all imply he was working on something else entirely. Tell me, the machine with the wires he had you run so many times--did he ever use it on anyone or anything else?”

Kravitz has to think. “...not that I know, no. But he only brought me in for work that he could not do by himself, so--”

“That device is more complex than anything he might use to study his own body and recreate it at a later date. The information needed to reconstruct a person is easy to gather; it’s the process itself that’s difficult.”

“Then what was it?”

“An endurance test,” Barry answers simply. His hands fold beneath his chin as he explains. “It overloads specific nerves across his body with certain strains of magic--what kind, I couldn’t tell you from just this. It’s designed to work his body beyond its breaking point, to test the capabilities of his own form and what it could handle.”

“Handle… magic?” Angus asks.

Barry nods. “Whatever his plan is involves a heavy amount of magic, one that might regularly destroy any other person’s body. It appears he was continually training and testing his form, training and testing, until he reached a certain result he was satisfied with.”

Angus sits back against the couch, face drawn. “But if he was training his body… it would be different from Lup’s results. He couldn’t figure anything out about her that way.”

“Because she wasn’t the subject.”

Angus grips his hand harder.

“What do you mean…?” Kravitz managed to choke out.

Barry opens his mouth, but closes it quickly. It’s as if only now has he put all the pieces together, conflicted as to what he should do or say before them. He looks off to the side by the doorway, his eyes lowered, his mouth pulled taut in a straight line.

Kravitz speaks louder this time. “Barry.”

“Where he’s going… he’ll need a lab,” he finally says, “but he’ll also need a lot of magic power--or rather, a place that could withstand a large amount of magic. On the days he writes the receipts for his equipment, they were all ordered in pairs. Whatever he had in his original lab is also somewhere else entirely. He’s likely already there, but there’s no telling how long it’ll take. If you can think of somewhere he may be, we might still be able to stop them.”

Angus looks up at him desperately. “ Kravitz .”

It always come back down to him, doesn’t it. Barry was able to provide a lot of information, and a good number of clues to the kind of place Taako would have to go to do… whatever ungodly thing he has planned. But it still doesn’t answer where .

What would Kravitz know that Taako hasn’t allowed him? They only ever met in the lab and small dates around town, nowhere that could withstand the type of magic that Barry implies they’ll be using. He’s been able to keep the playing field confined to his home so that Kravitz would be turned upside down once it’s left behind. Now the entire city is open game--hell, if he’s even still in the city .

No, he must be. Kravitz curls in on himself, eyes shut tight in concentration. He knows the answer, somewhere. Taako wouldn’t have run if he didn’t have a reason to. He wouldn’t have set up the journal, the office, all of it for Kravitz to find otherwise.

It’s already midday, approaching evening fast. There’s no telling what kind of schedule they’re on, but Kravitz is in the mind to assume they don’t have much time. So much of it has already been wasted just trying to find the puzzle pieces alone, and even now it feels like he’s still working with an incomplete hand.

He opens his eyes to look out the window, concealed by flimsy curtains that still allow light to come through. What happens when the sun has sunk below the horizon entirely? What could he have done to save time so that he might not have to waste it just thinking now? Would it be faster to just take to the streets and ask if anyone had seen him?

Unless this was all a part of it, too.

“The time…” he says beneath his breath, and Angus immediately jumps up onto his knees and leans into Kravitz’s space.

“You thought of something, didn’t you, Kravitz?”

“Wait, I… I think so.” The idea alone unleashed enough possibilities to give Kravitz more than enough to mull over. But it also takes no small amount of time to process and go through everything. “What if Taako set everything up today… so this would all happen?”

Barry doesn’t say anything, but he quirks a curious brow.

“Why would he leave me the journal to find?” he asks. “It contains all of his research, it’s not short, and he must’ve known I would either be able to decipher it or find you to help out.”

“It doesn’t include everything,” Barry says, “but you make a good point. If all he wanted to do was break your heart, he could’ve just left a note. He’s been preparing long enough, he didn’t have to reveal his grand plan to you unnecessarily. In fact, if he knew you were a detective ...”

Slowly, Kravitz can feel all the pieces that have been in his hand all along coming together. He’s had it all this entire time. “He shouldn’t have, by any means. But a note is too short,” he says quickly, voice raising. “What if he left the journal because he knew I would go through it? I could’ve searched the entire office if I wanted to, even. What if he left all of that information in the open, even if it gave away his location--”

“--to waste the time you could spend looking for him?” Angus finishes for him.

Kravitz nods, and before he’s able to continue, Angus keeps speaking.

“And he knew you would come to pick me up which wastes even more time. And if he expected me to look at the journal, too…”

“Then we’ve already lost a couple of hours,” Kravitz nods.

Barry, across the table, looks at the two of them in confusion. “I don’t get it, why would the time matter? It would be easier to not give you anything at all, then.”

“What it means,” Angus says, already getting up from the couch, “is that it’s somewhere we could have thought of without any other information.”

Kravitz stands up alongside him, already pulling the keys from his pocket and retrieving the book from the table. “Somewhere that’s close enough that it was necessary to lay out this many distractions--Barry, are you coming with us or not?”

Surprised, Barry scrambles up from his chair, knocking it back over in the process. “You think Taako went through all this effort… planning out every detail just to buy himself time ?”

“I know it,” Kravitz answers immediately. “Taako’s a brilliant scientist and an even more brilliant man. He’s clever, quick, and not half as dim as he would allow himself to be perceived.” He throws the door open for Angus and marches outside, steps gradually going faster. The sun is just beginning to skirt the edge of the town’s rooftops. As soon as the car is unlocked, they’re all climbing inside. Kravitz takes off before they can even get their seatbelts fastened.

In the backseat, Barry leans forward and holds the headrest of Kravitz’s seat. “I don’t know where you think he is--”

“I know where he is.”

“But don’t you think, if you’re right, it might already be too late? He left in the morning, he’s had hours to go through all of this preparation!”

“Taako is brilliant ,” Kravitz repeats with a hard finality to the statement, hardly slowing down to take an upcoming turn. “He’s one of the brightest minds I’ve ever encountered. He’s lovely in every way, and even more clever than one could imagine. As a detective, I’ve never been so intellectually stimulated or challenged in my life as when I have spoken with him. But as his assistant --”

He doesn’t stop for a red light, blazing through before any other cars could hope to even see him.

“He’s a dumb piece of shit who couldn’t have done anything in that lab without me!”

The city has always been constructed in such a way that kept Kravitz from venturing into much of the inner works of it. There truly is only one thing that keeps them on the map, and large enough now that the town has become a household title. Kravitz, of course, has only lived on the outskirts, never venturing too close to the busiest parts that never concerned him. Traffic was easier on the outside, as there were less commuters and tourists in general. Without magic, he had no reason to concern himself with their busiest market.

It doesn’t take long for the spires to peek up from over the rest of town. After all, the city was designed with the academy at its center.

Raven’s car with all its tinted windows and recognizable license is the only reason Kravitz doesn’t bother worrying about security or being stopped on the way. There’s hardly ever been an incident with how tight the security is, and it’s simply the knowledge of how difficult it would be to pull something off that prevents people from trying.

The moment he sees Taako’s car parked in a back employee lot, he curses aloud.

They should’ve thought of the school sooner; where else would he have access to powerful magic items, a plethora of laboratories, and the privacy for one of its own department heads to roam freely as he sees fit? Taako would have the same reign here as he does his own home with all the security over his department’s building under his control.

Kravitz is especially thankful they brought Angus with them when he’s able to swipe his student ID to get inside the building, knowing he couldn’t have picked an electronic lock. The halls are empty, as expected of a weekend nearing dark, without a single soul roaming about. Kravitz has only been here a handful of times, but he remembers enough to make his way up to the floor where Taako’s office and circle of laboratories is housed.

Except even on that floor, there isn’t a person in sight. Barry sighs as they round about the area, peeking into Taako’s office. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here all day--” he says while moving aside for Kravitz to kneel at Taako’s door. Thankfully this one isn’t electronic, and he sets to work picking the lock, too aware of every minute that passes by. It doesn’t take too long to give. “Where else would he be?”

At this point, Kravitz feels like it’s just another answer that he already has planted in his mind. Nothing in the office is out of the ordinary. If there was a way to tell Taako had already been here, he wouldn’t know where to look. There’s undoubtedly a number of labs used by other departments across the entire campus, but would Taako have the same freedom in those as he does his own building? But these are the only labs he knows about with his little knowledge of the campus, and the only ones in the building at all. The other six floors are classrooms, offices, and libraries. The only level above this one is…

Shit !” Kravitz shouts, snatching up whatever keys he can find on Taako’s desk before hurrying out of the room. It’s another piece that he had gotten from Taako accidentally. He remembers vividly now, looking for Taako in his office just to ask him out for coffee, something simple and innocent. It was always when Kravitz wasn’t searching that he found the most valuable pieces of information. Except the elf hadn’t come from his office, instead walking straight out of the elevator that had been heading down. He thought the surprise on Taako’s face was just seeing Kravitz unexpectedly, but had he been thinking of everything even back then? It hadn’t even occurred to him to think of where Taako had just been moments before, or what business he would have in the attic.

The two of them had been close back then, edging on the thin line of romance that didn’t break until weeks later. That day, they had planned a trip to the orchestra, the very same they had attended just yesterday. Kravitz’s stomach curls uncomfortably as he calls the elevator up, Angus and Barry hot on his heels.

Even after he let Kravitz in to help him, Taako was still going through all of this alone.

Even when they held hands, went on dates, or made love, the elf was suffering on a journey Kravitz could never comprehend.

The ‘attic’ does well to disguise itself as a simple storage room. Immediately, it appears as no more than a small, dark circular room with a number of cabinets and old equipment with signs explaining why they’re broken down. By now, Kravitz knows better than to assume anything by looks alone, telling both Barry and Angus to look around the walls; the diameter of the tower is much larger than the small space up here. It isn’t unreasonable to believe the entire rest of this floor belongs to Taako, hidden beneath the roof of the tower without any windows to peer inside.

Much of the walls are blocked off by the rubbish lining them. If he had already gotten this far, Kravitz has a good feeling that Taako would’ve been too anxious to begin his experiment rather than make his hideout perfectly concealed. He would have no reason to try and stop them at this stage if he was confident enough in his plan to distract Kravitz--one that worked unfortunately well.

Barry calls out for both of them, drawing attention to a door the same pattern as the walls with nothing more than a keyhole on its surface. Kravitz doesn’t feel anything but despondence when one of the keys on the ring he had grabbed from his desk actually fits the socket. This morning, Taako had been in just as much of a hurry, all for the sake of saving his sister. After going through all this elaborate planning to stop them this far, he’d given up towards the end to focus on his work; that was the extent he cared for Lup. Or maybe it was his confidence that they wouldn’t make it this far in time.

When the door opens, it feels as if Kravitz is stepping into Taako’s basement yet again. Large machines whir and fill the silence, cabinets filled to the brim lining the walls. It’s just as messy as his lab had been the first day Kravitz came before he tidied it up.

It doesn’t take long for him to notice the differences, though. This floor is more like an amalgamation of Taako and Barry’s labs put together. While a lot of Taako’s work relied on the physical, natural sciences, Barry had worked more in direct magics. Here, both are in equal amount. Kravitz is sure it isn’t an unusual occurrence to bring the two together in this day and age, but after knowing how both had been used in two separately horrifying cases, the marriage of the subjects makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Taako’s basement had been cast in hues of green from the fluids in the tanks he experimented with. Barry’s had been blue. This floor, in all of its splendid mystery, is coated in dim, red lights. They reflect off stained counters and glassware across the room, making their contents glow with a strangely ethereal quality. He only just notices that certain items float above messy tabletops where there would otherwise be no space. Across the walls, transparent pipes disappear between rooms as a strange, pink liquid flows rapidly through them. Glyphs fade in and out of sight on the walls, turning like clockwork.

This is the work of Taako’s magic. This is the power of the head of Prestidigitation.

Barry walks ahead, and Kravitz stops when he realizes Angus is frozen in the doorway. “Angus?” he says while approaching the boy, crouching down in front of him. Now he can see where his knees and hands are shaking, Angus’s eyes darting around the large room. “Angus, you can turn back and wait for us if you need.”

He shakes his head immediately. “No, no, I want to come, it’s just… you know, Kravitz? All those days where dad came back late from school… he was never just grading papers, was he?”

Kravitz’s chest clenches, and something intangible catches in his throat. He clamps his hands over his knees and has to force an unnatural smile to his face. “You know, Angus,” he says, “when all of this is over, I’d like to stay with you and Taako. Forever, really.”

It’s enough to bring a small light to the boy’s eyes, broken from their spell. “For real? Shouldn’t you be asking Taako for permission instead of me?”

“Taako couldn’t shake me if he wanted to; I don’t plan on ever leaving him alone. But I wanted to make sure you think it’s okay.”

Angus smiles.

“Yeah. I do.”

The boy takes a deep breath, releasing it shakily as he takes a cautious step into the room. Angus has a right to be here, maybe more than all three of them, as much as it may hurt. Kravitz has to trust both of them to make it out of here in one piece, be it physically or emotionally. When Kravitz finally stands and takes Angus’s hand in his, he looks up to find Barry inspecting a number of pieces around them.

“Did you find something, Barry?” he asks, but the question yields no answer from the other human. Barry doesn’t even seem to hear him, focused solely on the materials around them. The look on his face isn’t one of wonder or awe, like Kravitz feels at the sheer magnitude of this operation--it’s one of recognition.

“Barry,” Kravitz says, “you know what he’s doing, don’t you?”

Barry picks up a stray paper on one of the counters and doesn’t look Kravitz’s way.

“...we need to hurry.”

The top floor of the tower is sectioned into different rooms in one big loop. They have to travel through them one at a time to find where Taako may be, and though each so far has been empty, Kravitz only grows more anxious with the increasing knowledge that Taako is in this building. He has to be--this lab reeks of him in every corner, the furniture pushed aside, the papers crumpled up and thrown everywhere. There isn’t any other place he could be.

Angus doesn’t let go of Kravitz’s hand the entire walk around the building. It’s something they know is for the both of them, a point of mutual support only the other could provide right now. Kravitz couldn’t have expected Barry would be useful as a leader, given he’s the one opening all the doors and herding them into different rooms. But Kravitz takes a backseat in this laboratory tour, knowing the importance this holds to the other man as well; they all have a reason to be here, just as much as any other.

A loud crash, somewhere a few rooms over, stops the three of them in their tracks.

Angus’s hand in his tightens its grip. Barry looks back at the two of them, a shared image of horror mirrored on all their faces for similarly different reasons. Angus cowers at the unknown, Barry fears a tragedy he has already figured out, and Kravitz reads Barry.

Without a word, the three of them take off, throwing open every door on the way. Kravitz had subconsciously acknowledged how large the tower they were in was when he first visited, but now that he has to travel around its circumference, it feels like an eternity. Perhaps this had also been a deliberate choice on Taako’s end, put forth in motion from the very first day he started these experiments.

Although he knows he probably won’t hear him, Kravitz can’t help but call out, “ Taako !”

They’ve traveled about two-thirds of the perimeter when the search ends. Barry yanks open one last door, and Kravitz bumps into him in an effort to rush in. But he’s frozen in the doorway, silent as a weak sound escapes the room that Kravitz cannot see into.

He knows the voice well, though, and at the sound of Taako crying, he pushes Barry out of the way so he can step into the room alongside him.

There’s a clearing in the back of the room where all the equipment and tables have been swept aside except for one where Lup’s body is laid. She’s dressed modestly in clothes he recognizes as Taako’s own, though she remains still on the table. Like this, she’s identical to Taako, save for the life that’s been drained from her body. Beside her unmoving corpse, Taako sits crumpled on the ground, hands gripping the edge of the table with white knuckles. His shoulders shake, entire body being racked by unsightly sobs that fill the room.

Kravitz wants to step further in the room, to hurry to Taako’s side and pull him away from this ghastly place. He feels a shameful hope at the sight, believing the scene to be one of disappointment that the experiment has failed. Although it doesn’t feel good to enjoy his lover’s pain, in this case, it’s one that will save him in the future. He could only be happy that Taako has failed in this endeavor.

But something is wrong.

The feeling is familiar, although he cannot immediately place it, and as Barry slowly enters the room by himself, he searches his brain for the specific memory his mind is trying to recall. Cast in red, the elf shakes like a leaf on the ground. It isn’t as if Kravitz has never seen him cry before or hasn’t ever seen him overcome with emotions like this. It isn’t new by any means.

Kravitz’s gut knows better than he does, and as his feet move across the room, the feeling of familiarity only increases. Taako’s back, turned to Kravitz as he walks towards him. The hunch that is missing from his usually lazy posture. Even his voice, the way he cries now, does not seem right.

It only registers when the elf stops crying and turns to look at them.

A few feet from their weeping form, an intricate wand rolls across the floor, still sizzling with the touch of magic.

At that moment, the world stops.

Taako succeeded.

Barry rushes forward in an instant and falls to his knees. ‘Taako’ instantly falls into his embrace, and Angus’s hand falls limp in Kravitz’s as he makes the connection at the same time--because Angus has met her too, just the other night, as she tucked him into bed and told him that everything would be alright.

On the floor, Lup’s tear-filled eyes lift and meet Kravitz’s, not for the first time. She’s still wearing the same clothes that Taako wore this morning and the night before, the ones they had picked out together just months ago.

On the table, her previous body lies unmoving, glowing with traces of magic that Kravitz could never understand. Although the woman who once inhabited the broken frame is now freed and crouched in Barry’s arms, Kravitz cannot feel relieved for her renewed dignity.

He ignores the reunited couple, lets go of Angus, and slowly approaches the seemingly lifeless corpse laying on the table. His hand hovers over its--no, his face, unable to touch him as his fingers begin to shake.

There’s only one explanation for where Taako might be if not his body, and the answer petrifies Kravitz not unlike the statuesque form on the table, staring down at the body frozen in time before him.

Taako had trained his body for this day. He tested himself with different, horrific magics, all so that one single spell might pay off. If it hadn’t, what would he have done? The results for his ‘success’ could not be any worse than a failure, Kravitz thinks.

He needed a place to work that would be receptive of the high level magic he would have to use. The recognition on Barry’s face at all the equipment, all the papers, had not been one of a scientist who could piece together an entire experiment from mere clues alone; it was his own work to begin with.

Magic strong enough to potentially destroy a person’s body. Magic stronger than anything Lup and Barry had ever worked with. Magic stronger than what it took to trap Lup within her body. Magic stronger than she had ever intended on using.

Magic strong enough to rip two souls from their bodies and plant them in opposite vessels.

“I’m sorry,” Lup whimpers, voice high and muffled in Barry’s chest.

Kravitz doesn’t even look her way. Behind him, he hears Angus’s knees hit the floor.

She continues to cry, a wretched, despair filled sob. “Taako... I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

The lab continues to run. The fluids that flow from behind one wall to the other never stop, nor do the spinning of the glyphs on the floors and ceilings. The strange subjects that writhe in glass jars atop messy counters continue to undulate uncomfortably. All the noises, the whirring of machines as well as the wind that weaves between the shingles on the roof above them, are only louder.

Barry and Lup sit with their backs to a desk, his arms wrapped tightly around her as she leans her cheek against his shoulder. Her face is drawn, tired and puffy from all the crying that has now drained her system entirely. Eyes cast downwards, she remains limp in her husband’s hold as his hands work comforting circles into her shoulders. She appears almost just as lively as the corpse lying in the center of their group where Kravitz still stands.

His feet are cemented to the spot, not once having moved in the time it has taken for everyone to settle down. Angus sits against another desk beside Kravitz, watching his every move closely with a steady stream of tears down his face.

“He was right, at first,” Lup says quietly, voice no more than a hushed whisper. “If he had continued to focus on his work in cloning, perhaps we could’ve reached a better conclusion. I thought he was doing well, that it was the best way to go forward. But it wasn’t fast enough--he was always the more impatient one.”

No, he never really was patient, was he, Kravitz wants to stay. The words die in his throat. He couldn’t turn to look at Lup if he wanted to, too pained by her familiar face and the wrinkled clothes she wears.

She keeps speaking. “I thought hiring some help would do him good. I thought, I thought that… whoever it was would never agree with necromancy, yeah, and it might not be good for his research. But I didn’t want him to be alone.” She closes his eyes tightly, bringing a hand up to her forehead. “Barry, Angus, Merle, Magnus… he closed everyone out. It was all I could do to try and get help from the outside since he’d never listen to anyone he already knew at that point.”

“He listened to Kravitz,” Angus says. His voice shakes with sniffles. “Even if he still did all of this… he did listen to Kravitz--and then he listened to me, again, too. He was like the old Taako again for a while.”

“Of course I would give him some of my notes when he asked,” Barry chimes in, off topic, but it’s obvious he’s been thinking about it this entire time. “I never wanted this rift between us, I offered him to join me so many times before. I thought he just finally gave in and saw the truth in my work instead. I thought we could work together.”

Only now does Kravitz join in. “All of us thought he gave up. We could have never known what was going on.”

There’s a beat of silence before Angus speaks up. “You couldn’t have known either, Kravitz.”

“...I know that.”

Angus stands on shaking legs, taking the few steps needed to cross the space between them and grab for Kravitz’s hand once again. Together they stand in front of Taako’s still living corpse.

“You couldn’t have known, Kravitz.”

“I know that.”

“...It--”

Kravitz cuts the boy off, suddenly bringing his free hand to his face and covering his eyes. HIs lips pull wide over his clenched teeth in a pained grimace, and Angus immediately squeezes his hand. “I know, I know, I get it and yet… Even though it’s selfish, even though everyone here already did their best and got hurt, I feel like--”

I could have done something.

It was up to me to stop him.

I was the only one who could’ve saved him.

They’re all self-centered, horrible words that he cannot bear to say in front of this broken family. Kravitz purses his lips, curling them beneath his teeth to keep from speaking even though the others in the room already have an idea of what he might say.

But the reality is that those three had already done everything they could, and it had been a last ditch effort to bring Kravitz in for help. He was the last line of defense for Taako’s safety, and after coming so far, he had failed. There was no way he could’ve ever known that it would all come down to today, all to processing these small clues he’d been given consistently throughout these past months--but couldn’t he? As a detective, shouldn’t he have always been alert, always keeping track of everything at any given time?

If he had been smarter, things may be different. If he had been wiser, had separated himself more from the case, hadn’t trusted him so much, hadn’t fallen for all his traps… If Kravitz had come home earlier that day, perhaps his parents wouldn’t have been killed. It doesn’t matter how skilled or intelligent any man is when he’s racing against a clock he didn’t even know was ticking. He’s always just a little too late.

Now, the sun has been stolen from the world, and it doesn’t even feel right to cry, not when he has only known Taako this long and the elf’s family is surrounding him. Angus, his very own son. Barry, the brother he’d never had. Lup, the sister he had given it all up for. Who is Kravitz to even stand in the same room as if he could ever know what they might be going through?

He is nobody, once again, standing in the street as police officers crowd his childhood home.

Small arms wrap around his waist before his thoughts can get even further out of control.

Kravitz isn’t sure whether or not it’s for his sake or the boy’s own that Angus suddenly runs into him, clinging to his middle and weeping openly into his chest. It breaks him out of his trance and restores him to the moment they’re in and all those he’s surrounded by.

Without another moment’s hesitation, Kravitz finally moves away from Taako to kneel onto the floor and take Angus into his arms.

He really is selfish, not only to believe he was alone, but that nobody around him could ever understand his emotions (or vice versa) when his younger self seems to be standing right before him. Although the circumstances are different, Angus, crowded into his chest, has now lost the only parents he’s had for the second time now. Although he’s always had Istus, Magnus, Merle, and everyone else, nobody could ever be Taako to the boy. No one could be Taako to any of them.

“It’s alright, Angus,” he says into his ear, “I swear to you… everything will be alright.”

“But dad is--”

Still alive ,” Kravitz stresses through gritted teeth, tightening his arms around him. “Just like Lup was, and she’s better now. We’ll find a way, and… and even if we don’t…”

His throat tightens at the prospect, but it would do no good to lie to a child as clever as Angus.

“I’ll never leave you, I promise. I swear , Angus… I’ll be here for you.”

Behind him, he has no idea what Lup and Barry may be doing, how they might react to his words of naivety for saving Taako. Perhaps they agree and are already considering the possibilities. Perhaps they think he’s an ignorant fool who knows not of any the magics it would take to fix this disaster.

More than likely, they are wearing the same somber faces, wishing for the same thing.

Angus doesn’t stop crying for a few minutes, and when he does, the boy is too exhausted to speak any longer. He shows his gratitude in small ways, though, unable to smile, but sticking even closer to Kravitz’s side. They both need somebody to rely on now more than ever, and Kravitz is more than happy to take Angus with him on this new path they’re forced to walk.

He hears the sound of fabric shifting and turns to find Barry helping Lup stand. She has to hold onto his arm to keep steady, unused to walking or probably even being physical after all this time. She and Kravitz make eye contact, and he sees a similar feeling in her eyes that he knows all too well. Taako has made the same expression before when speaking of Lup herself.

Barry leads them to where Kravitz and Angus are. “We should get out of here,” he says.

Lup doesn’t look at him, eyes snapping over to her previous body. “But Taako is--”

“We’ll fix this,” Barry interrupts her, fingers curling over her arms. “You and me, Lup… now that we’re together again, we can fix all of this. But not right now.”

She shakes her head. “I’m not going to leave my brother--”

“I’ll take care of him,” Kravitz says. “Take Angus in Taako’s car, go back to the house. Barry needs to take care of Lup, both of you can’t carry Taako’s body, and Angus is too small. I’ll carry him to my car and be over in a bit.”

Lup’s eyes tighten on his.

Something rises in his throat, but he doesn’t back down. “I want to stay here and look around a bit longer. Please.”

It’s obvious that she wants to argue. In her eyes burns the same fire that led Taako to this very place, and he has no doubt that Lup would do all the same and more to restore her brother’s dignity as he had done for her. But he also knows her condition, how tired and disoriented she must feel, and the conflict inside her knowing all she does about Kravitz.

This is not the first time they’ve met under any circumstances. In fact, they actually know each other quite well.

She breaks eye contact first, pulling Barry along towards the door they entered from. “ You’re the detective, I guess. Do anything to him and you’ll be just like him next time I see you--come on, Angus, you’re with auntie and uncle now.”

Angus is hesitant to let go of Kravitz but is given an encouraging push away. Kravitz forces a smile for the kid and pats his shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you all, don’t worry.”

“...yes, sir. Please don’t take too long,” Angus concedes, and Kravitz ruffles his hair lightly.

“I won’t, Angus.”

With that, the three of them link together, Angus gravitating to Lup’s side where she instantly pulls him into a tight hug. Barry helps the two of them along out of the room, but not before Lup can look back over her shoulder and give Kravitz a serious look. Oddly enough, if he had to decipher it, he would say it was more pleading than an actual warning. He doesn’t have the time right now to be afraid of her anyways, not when greater tasks are at hand.

They leave the room, keeping the door open, and Kravitz waits for the sound of footsteps and quiet voices to disappear.

Even without its master to keep the processes going, the lab runs.

Even without one beloved to them all, life goes on.

Kravitz finally moves, walking to Taako and resting a hand on the side of his face. He smiles down at his still visage, just for a moment, before letting go and walking to the back of the room.

Life goes on, it has to, in spite of everything that happens all at once every day. Even when the pain is insurmountable, even when it feels impossible to move forward, time continues to tick on, and Kravitz won’t allow himself to be left alone as the clock turns once again. He’s already lost so many years to mourning and vengeance, and he’s no stranger to the damage that he’s done to himself in the past as he tried to find a way to overcome the passing of time.

He starts in the very back corner of the room and runs his fingers along the bottom of the boiler there, searching for any particular dips or dents. It’s unsurprisingly boring and unassuming, thus, he moves to the next thing lining the wall. The pipes are metal and thick, leading into another large piece of equipment he won’t pretend to understand. None of them appear to hide anything, no matter the angle he approaches them at. He wipes his hands on his pants as they collect dust.

There are people he has to support, now. People depend on him, and in turn, he is allowed to depend on them as well. It’s a mutual relationship that has been lacking from his life for so long, in spite of how hard some people, like Raven, may have tried to help him. It turns out all he needed to accept help was the desire to protect other people just as much. The love he has for Taako, the care he’s taken with Angus, this newfound partnership with Lup and Barry, even the weak bonds he’s recently established with Magnus and Merle… they’re all potential for greatness and warmth he hasn’t had in such a long time.

Even if Taako isn’t here, Kravitz can’t let himself close his own heart off once again.

He pulls on every drawer of a desk, only skimming through the papers and clutter in each before closing them once again. It’s for all of them that he’s stayed behind, knowing well the kind of person that Taako is. Although it is nice to have privacy with his emotions after the whirlwind that just occurred, there’s more to Kravitz’s staying back for a while. There’s more to this place--there must be.

Pulling up a heavy trashcan, Kravitz unceremoniously dumps the entire bin onto the ground. Some wet papers, broken metal pieces, and snapped pencils come tumbling out, along with larger shards of shattered glassware. It had been full to the brim and now spills across the floor.

Kravitz’s eye catches on an envelope that had been buried deep at the bottom of the trash bin, now laying neatly on top of the upturned heap of rubbish for him to see.

It’s a dull, pastel pink, lined in red with only one letter on the outside to indicate a recipient.

‘K’

A rush of adrenaline keeps Kravitz in place, buzzing with energy he doesn’t know how to exert. His fingers tremble, slowly reaching out to touch it gingerly as if it might disappear at the smallest contact, like a mirage. Even though he had assumed, he hadn’t actually thought about what it would mean to find something here. He should’ve known he was right from the start; Taako would never leave him alone.

The envelope opens in his hands. Carefully, he pulls a number of folded papers within to new light and takes a deep breath. It’s Taako’s handwriting.

‘Kravitz,’

He falls back from where he’d been kneeling, now sitting against the same desk Lup had been leaned against earlier.

‘Ha, I made you go through trash for this, sucker. You’re the only one stupid enough to go through all the shit here looking for something. You better clean my lab up, who knows what a wreck you made it.’

It was a wreck before because of you, dummy.

‘If you’re reading this, it means a couple of things. One, that I’m as good as I thought and actually succeeded in saving Lup, and two, that I’m not as good at getting you to fuck off as I had hoped. For that, I’m sorry--not for saving my sister, but for bringing you along all of this. I know neither of us expected anything when we first met, and we both had ulterior motives against each other.

Speaking of which, this is kinda the first time we get to talk knowing everything, yeah? You, the detective trying to narc all my hard work, me, the brilliant scientist who was just better than you thought. Nice to meet you again, cheez-it’s.

But seriously. I thought you would be deterred by what I left behind, get mad at me or heartbroken and call the entire thing off right there. For all you knew, I was just leaving you, or running away. Maybe you actually did fuck off, and I’m just writing this for nobody to ever read. I’ve got a feeling I know you better than that, though, and that you’re probably a lot smarter than I gave you credit for when planning all this out.

But since you’re good, and since I’m not really here anymore, you should get some kind of peace. When I lost Lup, it felt like the world had ended, and everything was just dust. Everyone I met could fuck off for all I cared, and at times, I didn’t even care about all my friends and family. All that mattered was saving her, and never knowing what she had been doing or thinking haunted me. Because what if she meant to do all that shit? What if she meant to leave me behind? I kinda already knew that was bogus, but you can’t stop your head from running.

I know you get it, too. You lost your parents. I never really had any to begin with, so I can’t super relate to that. But I wanted to leave you something anyways. Because I don’t hate you, even after knowing your intentions and everything. I wish I could say I knew everything the entire time, and I was just leading you along so I could pull a ‘a-ha, loser, I never loved you and your dick is tiny too!’ later when it came time to leave. None of that was true, though [get it ;)] (you can’t really put a winky face made with a parentheses between parentheses, pretty fucked up, right?).

Things happened before any of that, though. It sounds cheesy, and I hate to write all this shit out but I know I have to. I really, actually do love you. I don’t think anything could’ve stopped that besides finding out you were the very fiend who did all this to my sister--but we both know that’d never happen. Even being the villain you were to me, trying to stop all my work and ruin my plans, I never really thought you were malicious.

And you weren’t, were you? You and Angus both, and Barry, and everyone else, were all just looking out for me. Even though it seems like I was just a crazy masochistic madman, I knew all of that. I just didn’t want your help. I thought--and still think!--what I’m doing is more important than that.

So if you’re reading this, if you didn’t give up on me, if you kept searching for me, trying to save me… thank you. For everything. For taking care of Angus, and helping nurse me back to health when you didn’t have to, and making the world seem a little brighter when it’s been dim for so long.

Thank you for having me when no one else would.

Try to get along with Lup--I know she haunted your ass, but I think she kind of regrets that now. Obviously you two got along well enough to sneak behind my BACK FOR WHATEVER MANY MONTHS!!!!

Just chill out, take a load off, and hang out for a bit, alright? Cha boy will be back in working order soon enough, just down for repairs right now. And if not, well, maybe I’ll see you on the other side. Take care of Angus for me, too. He needs it now more than ever, and the kid really loves you. Can’t say I blame the little doofus.

-FW’

At the bottom by his trademark signature, the faint outline of a pink, glossed kiss paints the page. Kravitz can’t help but smile, though the feelings of despair and grief still remain in his system. He isn’t sure if this new feeling could be called hope, but it certainly does feel like some distant relative of it.

A glance at the other papers included in the envelope reveal two other letters, one addressed to the Barry and Lup duo, and one for Angus. Kravitz folds them before he can read a word on either one and stuffs them back into the envelope to take home. Taako truly had been counting on Kravitz finding it if he had left letters for all the others within it. Maybe he was just testing out his now known detective skills, or banking on the idea that Kravitz wouldn’t leave him behind. Perhaps this was Taako’s own hope.

Whatever the case, Kravitz stands from his spot on the floor and sweeps the fallen trash to the side so he can walk through the room. As kind as the words in the letter are, it doesn’t much help their current situation; the body he approaches is still silent and still, and though they may be capable, Barry and Lup certainly didn’t seem confident in any ability to remedy the situation. It’s their mourning that concerns him most of all in spite of Taako’s comforting words. The elf had been sure of himself from the start, and whatever his plan had been, Barry and Lup never seemed to approve of it all the way through, even now.

Kravitz had promised Angus he wouldn’t be too long, and yet it’s probably been more than twenty minutes since the others had left now. He’s taken his time with turning the room over for the letters, and he figures it’ll be enough to win the kid’s favor back. With the envelope stuffed and full in his pocket, he could leave now and join his companions back at home. There is a lot of work to do, and much more now to discuss.

The chances are more likely that they’re all tired and grief-stricken, though, and that possibilities for the future won’t come up for another day at least. If he were to take his time alone with the corpse of his beloved, who could judge him?

Before him, Taako’s eyes remain closed. Note warm in his pocket, Kravitz cups Taako’s face in his hands. He presses a soft, tender kiss to his forehead, and stays like that for a minute. It may not be the body he’s known, but the fact still stands that Taako’s soul is the one inhabiting it. That knowledge is enough for him to pretend he can feel any traces of warmth in his cheeks.

It feels like he should say something, or respond to the letter he was given in any way. Right now, though, the words don’t come to him, and all he can do is hope his actions in this coming chapter of their lives will do better to speak for him

Much to Kravitz’s surprise, this body is heavier than Taako’s original form when he lifts him up, held like a bride to his chest. There’s more weight in Lup’s stomach and legs than Taako had held; she was healthy, cheeks full and round where Taako had all been sharp edges. It only goes to show how much damage Taako had done to himself while working all those nights without rest. It would be nice to see Taako like this, Kravitz thinks, all his edges rounded out and allowed to look… alive instead of the walking corpse he’d once been.

For so long, Taako worked by himself, never allowing anyone into his space for fear of interference. Even if it may have helped his research, even if it may have helped him , he could never accept aid from others, no matter how close they were to him. In that cold, lonely world, saving his sister had been the one thing that mattered, the singular motive that kept him going. He pushed himself to his breaking point, broke, and then dragged his tattered form behind him as he persisted. Even up until this very morning, until just hours ago, he had been forcing himself through hell.

Now, for the first time, Taako lies still. His eyes are lidded, lips slightly parted, and all his limbs fall limp as Kravitz moves. Although Kravitz cannot take solace in the rise and fall of his chest like he might when the elf slept in his bed, he takes what comfort he can in the unchanging look of peace on his face.

Kravitz can’t stop himself from pressing another kiss to his forehead as he heads out of the lab.

He always let Taako sleep in.


The house he returns to is much less peaceful. Lup and Barry are waiting on the porch steps when he gets back, and Kravitz watches as Lup tries to stand up quickly only for her to fall back into Barry’s waiting arms. Kravitz doesn’t waste time in getting out of Raven’s car and retrieving Taako from the backseat as if showing a feral mother cat that her kittens are unhurt by their rescuers. She watches him with tired but still sharp eyes as the three of them return to the house.

At this point, evening has already struck, and not a trace of the sun remains in the sky. Angus sits on a couch in the living room with his knees gripped tight between his fists, looking up with a start as Kravitz walks in. The latter only smiles at him before continuing his path upstairs to set down the weight in his arms. He hears Barry invite Angus into the kitchen instead, and though there isn’t a verbal response, two pairs of footsteps trot off in the same direction.

With Taako in his hold, memories follow him with every step. He can see the wizard running around every corner, smells his food from the kitchen and hears his raucous laughter. It’s only worse when he enters Taako’s room to find the remnants of where he’d been trying on his entire wardrobe are splayed across the floor. It’s as if nothing had changed from that day, that they’re still preparing to go out and the orchestra is waiting.

But the concert has long since ended, and Kravitz sets Taako down in bed long before his bedtime. He hears Lup from behind as he brings the covers up and over his body.

“Was traffic bad?” she asks.

He doesn’t say anything as he finishes tucking Taako in, and then he straightens up and presents her with the envelope. She takes it, only retrieving the page addressed to her, and reads through it quickly.

“You knew he left something,” she says without looking up from the paper.

“I know Taako.”

Her gaze snaps up and she stares at him hard, and with the same face and clothing as the very man he’s mourning, it’s hard for Kravitz to remain composed. But he can see the small differences in the way she holds herself, especially in the way she views Kravitz with an ever judgemental stare that doesn’t yield to her own emotions.

She walks right past him and comes to sit at Taako’s bed. Her hand, weak and trembling slightly, comes up to brush the hair from his face, and a languid smile breaks the expression of stone on her face.

“You know, Kravitz,” she says moments later once Taako’s bangs resemble his usual style. Lup turns to look at the human over her shoulder, eyes just a little brighter. It isn’t much, still swamped in a pool full of sadness and despair, and in this home, it means even less. Below them, Barry cooks an instant dinner for four, and Angus trots alongside him for a distraction. They try not to think of what may be transpiring upstairs with the most delicate members of their family.

And Lup, in her physical glory that still seems a dream, smiles at Kravitz with her hand in the hair of her undead brother.

“I’m glad I called you.”

Chapter Text

Dozens of bags line the countertops, filling up the kitchen table and even the stove. Angus sighs as he sets two more down in his own chair for lack of any other space to put them. Barry doesn’t say anything as he enters the kitchen, sliding behind Kravitz as the latter brings in the last couple loads. Barry is already taking the food out of the bags that still hang from Kravitz’s arms and putting them away.

“Thanks,” Kravitz says when the bags are empty and he can fold them up and throw underneath the sink for storage.

“It’s about time we started filling this place,” Barry says with a small smile, and Kravitz nods.

Angus nearly bumps into Kravitz as the three of them run about the kitchen putting different groceries away. He holds open the pantry door for the two of them to fill, marveling at how empty it had been minutes before. “She really gave you a long list!”

“Not like she can go out herself.”

“I would’ve gone with you if you asked, sir!”

Kravitz pats Angus on the back as he walks back to the entrance of the kitchen. “Don’t worry about it, Angus.” He turns to Barry. “Is she…?”

He doesn’t say anything and nods as he continues to unload the groceries.

Kravitz gives Angus a smile before heading towards the back of the house.

It’s been quite some time since that day, now, and Kravitz couldn’t say with confidence what all has changed. The house is the same, although the pictures once turned down in the office have been brought out to the main rooms for everyone to see. Angus goes to school, comes home in the afternoon, and they have dinner together. Barry has taken to the guest room upstairs, though he visits his own house frequently to keep things in order.

The door to the basement creaks open, and Kravitz descends, lacking the same hesitation he may have had when he started this whole thing.

Kravitz hasn’t been assigned any new cases, hardly ever having to leave the house for anything these days. According to Raven, the one he is working on now isn’t finished until his client says so. Until then, he must continue his work playing the lab assistant for the most beautiful elven wizard in all the lands.

Well, one of them.

Lup turns to look at him as he enters the lab, offering a weak smile. “Don’t look so tired already, there’s a lot to do.”

“I can’t help it,” he says while snapping on a pair of latex gloves, “your shopping list gave me quite the workout.”

“If that’s all it takes to wear you out, you won’t make it to the end of this experiment,” she says with a glint in her eyes.

He meets the challenge. “No, I’ll be fine.”

Wherever Barry is, Lup typically can be found as well. She stays with him in the guest room, and apparently they’re so used to being over in the past that it had been set up specifically for them in the first place. The home had been designed with his twin sister in mind, and according to Lup, they have the same type of guest room just for him in their own house. That one hasn’t been used in a while, though.

It didn’t take long to contact Lucas and hear his side of the story after the events of that night settled. He practically fell at Lup’s feet when they knocked on his door, readily forking over all the information they could’ve asked for--and all the lab equipment the wizard had been keeping there. More than groceries, returning all of his equipment to the lab had been no easy feat, and it was up to Kravitz, Barry, Magnus, and Raven to do all of the heavy lifting. Lup claimed she was still too weak to lift a finger and watched on as they toted trucks to and from the establishment.

She was also able to make much better sense of all the notes and data left in the office and computer systems than Kravitz was. The first time she sat at his desk, Kravitz watched on from the doorway as she operated his computer and files with an ease that suggested she’d done this before. She sat back in the chair comfortably, as if it were her own, and when she lifted a hand to tuck a long strand of hair behind her ear, it had been over for Kravitz.

Although he had never been in the office before that day, he could picture the scene quite easily. He could see how he would have sat there, looking between documents and punching numbers into his files one key at a time. He was never good at typing fast. He’d hunch over in his seat, squinting at the screen at the slightest error, and exclaim his own praises once they were fixed.

He would turn his head to look over his shoulder, smile softly at Kravitz in the doorway, and say,

What ?”

Kravitz had blinked in surprise, feeling as if he’d just been splashed with cold water as Lup turned to him with a nasty glare from where she sat at his desk.

He tries to be more aware of himself when he’s alone with her, now. When they don’t speak and silence is cast over the room, it’s easy for his mind to wander in the familiar planes in her face. Try as he might, it’s impossible to completely forget the man who had worn the very same skin, and sometimes even the same expressions. As different as they are, Kravitz has only learned how much more similar they are, too. Her laugh is shockingly familiar, and that mischievous leer is nearly identical.

Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to just reach out and run his fingers through the woman’s hair like he may have done to him just a while ago.

“You’re doing it again,” she says, and Kravitz nearly drops the tools in his hands he’d been bringing to her.

Lup doesn’t look irritated as much as she’s… disappointed, or saddened, maybe. Kravitz has a feeling she doesn’t really care that he isn’t seeing her for herself as much as it’s the fact he can only see him . He smiles wistfully and sets a tray of dissection utensils next to the spot she’s working at. “Sorry,” he says, “I try to remember, but I find myself more often just not wanting to forget.”

She focuses on the sample in the pan before her, waving her hand and covering it in some magic aura before picking up one of the tools Kravitz had brought. “...I know. Go ahead and sit down, I’ll tell you when I need you.”

The lab has had a good number of improvements since its days under her brother’s reign. Although it remains dreary and haunting, more lights have been installed, Lup has brought down a few framed photos to cheer the place up, and they even retrieved an extra couch from Barry’s home for comfort’s sake alone. One corner now has a miniature living space, complete with a decorative lamp and a small table, originally installed so Angus could spend time together while the three of them worked.

Kravitz sits at the couch and leans back into the cushions with a sigh. For so long, his life had been centered around him, around figuring him out and fixing this issue, being together, and how they could build a life after all this. Now he’s been thrown into a new mess with everybody but him. This new life, without a clear objective that he can chase, is too confusing to manage by himself. As much as he’s one to preach to Angus about relying on those who care about him, it’s hard to practice himself. He tries to use the excuse of not knowing Lup and Barry all that well, but they’re far closer than any strangers should be, bonded by tragedy alone.

They’re good people. Kravitz trusts them not only with his life, but his lover’s. It’s their work that they’re trying to use to save him with, and not knowing anything about magic, Kravitz is only able to sit back and help out where he can. They work tirelessly, day and night, and many mornings he’s come down to the lab just to find the two curled up asleep together on the couch. He might be worried about them working as hard as they are had it not been for the fact they have each other.

In this lab that once housed many a horror that haunted Kravitz’s dreams, another ghost has taken root. Although all of their emotions may not coincide, they’ve all decided wordlessly to cope in the same way--never speaking his name. Perhaps it isn’t the best idea, not when Kravitz can see him around every corner and in everything he does, but it’s all that keeps him from losing himself every day. He sees the same sentiment reflected in Lup, Barry, and Angus’s eyes, a pain none of them are quite strong enough to confront.

They all know it’s wrong, but how could they try to fix it now? The longer it takes, the more it’ll hurt when it all comes crashing down. They’re four idiots trying to live without looking down at the thread they’re walking on, pretending they aren’t bleeding until they’re already dry.

To lose a lover, a father, a friend and a brother… None of their suffering can be compared, but he knows after everything she’s been through, this affects one person more than the rest. Lup’s been dealing with everything in well in stride, comparatively, but Kravitz can’t help but worry for her. She didn’t just lose her brother; she regained her body after who knows how long. She doesn’t speak of either, and if she never wants to, then he thinks they never will.

Kravitz lifts his head to watch Lup work from behind, only to find her already facing him, and his mouth falls open before he can speak.

She holds a sharp, long pair of scissors to the side of her neck.

“What--what are you doing?” he asks, horrified as he watches Lup step forward with the sharp object held close to her throat. He stands quickly, and before he can make another move, the scissors open, and he can see his terrified expression reflect back at him for a split second.

“Look at me,” she says, and Kravitz nearly jumps at her as her other hand reaches up. But she only gathers her hair together over one shoulder, and the scissors close with a ‘snip’ over her--no, her brother’s long hair. She throws down the fistful of freshly cut hair and holds the scissors tightly in her other hand. The locks float down to the drain she’s standing on and slip through.

Her hair falls short, not even reaching her chin on one side, lopsided on the other. The ends are jagged and messy and stray hairs continue to fall loose from her head. She stares at Kravitz with a grave expression that he doesn’t even try to trace back to her brother. There’s a passion, a fire in her eyes that he’s never seen before--not on him or anyone else.

She repeats herself with a hard tone. “Look at me.”

“I see you.”

“Look at me!” she shouts, voice reverberating off the walls, and stomps over to him. Kravitz steps back under his calves are pressed against the couch. “Stop staring at me like I’m him-- I’m here, and he’s… he’s not. Stop reminding me that I… that we fucked this up!”

“You’re right, I’m sorry, I was--”

She stomps forward, pointing the back of the scissors towards him as she marches into his space. “I’m already reminded every day I look in the goddamn mirror, but Barry won’t fucking talk about it! Do you know how much it hurts, to have his memory looming over me wherever I go, but no one will talk to me?!”

Kravitz swallows hard.

“Yes.”

“I… can’t stand it. I want to talk about him.”

“I do, too.”

“I don’t want Taako to be a ghost.”

“Me neither.”

“He’s my brother, I don’t… want to ignore him.”

Slowly, Kravitz lifts his hands to run along the undersides of Lup’s forearms, and he gently tugs her down to sit with him on the couch. She doesn’t resist the movement and lets her head hang between her shoulders, not letting go of his hands. “You know,” he says, as if letting her in on a secret, “I went into everything believing Taako was a villain, some bad guy I had to catch. I was repulsed whenever we spoke, and I did my best to hate him as much as I could to make the job easier.”

He leans forward, trying to get into her line of sight as he smiles.

“It didn’t work out so well.”

Though he can’t tell if she’s crying, he hears Lup sniffle. “You don’t have to tell me, I know everything--”

“But we got to know each other, and it surprised both of us. Neither of us wanted to know each other at first, just saw the other as tools and obstacles. Something kept pulling us together, though, like fate was vehemently against us being on opposite sides. Before I knew it, I couldn’t stop noticing everything about him. Instead of all the horrors and terrible things he did, all I could think about was his smile, or the dumb jokes he tells, or the way he tried to hide being nice to Angus when all of us knew the kid was his pride and joy.”

Lup finally lifts her head, not looking at Kravitz, but smiling.

“The moment he let me in, let me get close… it was like seeing the sun for the first time, and I wondered how I could’ve possibly lived all these years never knowing a warmth like that.”

“He does that to people… he doesn’t let just anyone in, only a few of us have really gotten a taste of what it’s like to be by Taako’s side. He’s so bright and brilliant, and yet he’s so… dumb .”

“The stupidest ,” Kravitz agrees.

She snickers. “He’s the absolute worst !” Lup lifts her hand, still holding the scissors, and wipes her eyes with the back of her knuckles. “You know, at my wedding, he wore the same exact dress as me. But he tore off the bottom and sleeves and dyed it bright purple--the colors for my wedding were red and denim!”

Kravitz lets out a bark of laughter while seamlessly taking the scissors from Lup’s hands. He nudges her shoulder for her to turn her back to him, and surprisingly, she complies without a word. He’s never cut anyone’s hair besides his own before, but it isn’t that hard to lessen the immediate damage that’s been done and even out the ends. The scissors open, closing around a jagged edge with a ‘snip .’ “He would do that, wouldn’t he? Every time I tried to cook, instead of helping me he just told me whenever I did something wrong and demanded I start over and--wait, red and denim ?”

More and more of her hair falls, and she lifts a hand to brush it off her shoulder and onto the floor. “Don’t get started, that was Barry’s thing. He’s got pictures of the wedding upstairs, I put them on the counter, didn’t you see?”

“I did, but I didn’t realize that was the same dress you were wearing.”

“Some detective you are, huh? Come on, I’ll show you-- and I’ll try and find our old albums. I know he’s hidden them somewhere. Surely his twin sister and a professional investigator could find them together.”

She doesn’t even wait until he says he’s done with her hair, and he just manages to snip the last offending piece that sticks out before Lup stands from the couch. She looks back down at him with a smile, brighter than the last, and offers him a hand.

Her hair is still uneven in places, longer on one side in an asymmetrical bob. All of Taako’s complex hairstyles, his braids and ponytails and buns, lie in a messy heap across the lab floor and drain. Kravitz stands to join her, taking her hand in his, as he’s led back upstairs. The experiment she’d been working on is forgotten behind them. They leave the lights on.

Instead of working in the lab and furthering the necessary progress to save Taako, the two of them crowd around his office searching every nook and cranny for the specific album Lup mentioned. It’s Kravitz who finds it, only after moving one of the bookshelves out of the way and checking a floorboard beneath it. She laughs at how well hidden it was and snatches the binder out of his hands, pulling him back to the kitchen where Angus and Barry finish up dinner. Neither mention her new hairstyle, but the surprise show on their faces for just a brief moment before they’ve adjusted.

The album is thrown open on the table, and they surround it with plates piled high with warm food, Lup leading the tour as she flips open the first page and describes every photo that passes by. There aren’t many pictures of their childhood, but there’s enough to give Lup all the prompting she needs to launch into ridiculous stories of their many escapades as young elves. Drinks are spilled a few times, and at one point Barry even chokes on the food he cooked as Lup recounts the tale of how they’d tricked an elderly couple into believing they’d adopted the two of them for three weeks.

For the first time since they all got together, the four of them invite Taako to sit at the dinner table with them, and they spend the night full of laughter and merriment. The house is warm as its original master is allowed back inside, his name no longer a hushed whisper to be kept a secret from prying ears.

They bring all their stories to the table like a hotpot and feast on memories, both good and bad, as if it were the singular medicine they’d all been depriving themselves of all this time. Something like relief is evident on Angus’s face the entire night until he eventually has to go to sleep. They promise to keep the album out in the open where it can be retrieved any time, and for the first time, Kravitz doesn’t feel guilty as he fills another plate for himself and climbs the stairs for bed.

This was something they all needed. This was something he needed, to confront so he can open that door without feeling ashamed of himself.

The door to the room he’s staying in creaks open, and smiles softly at the man laying in his bed.

“I’m back, dear.”

Taako’s body hasn’t moved an inch since the first time they laid him in bed, only ever scooting him to the side to make room for another. Kravitz sets his plate down on the bedside table and undresses for bed, throwing his clothes in the hamper across the room.

“Lup and I had a good talk, today,” he says, “and, you’re gonna be upset, but she cut your hair. I suppose it really is hers now. I think it was important to her, though. Like it was something we all needed.”

He climbs into bed and sits cross legged beside Taako, brushing the hair from his face and pressing a kiss to his forehead as is his nightly ritual. He’s been staying here with Taako ever since the first night, unable to leave him alone. Nobody has ever confronted the fact out loud, but with what they know about Lup’s condition when she had been trapped, they all know there’s more to Taako’s body than just a lifeless corpse. It’s why Kravitz insists on spending as much free time as he can in the bedroom, be it for reading or just filling out work. When the others aren’t here, he’ll bring his meals to eat in bed. Sometimes Angus joins him and will do his homework or reading with Taako.

They all know that, somewhere in there, to some unknown degree, Taako must be aware of them. Lup had said her processing wasn’t perfect in Barry’s lab, but she was able to hear, and when she concentrated hard enough, she could see. It took a long time to work up the energy necessary to move things in the lab, and for the most part she didn’t try; there were more important things to use her energy for. Electronics were much easier to operate as a spirit, and she bided her time as quiet and still as possible to contact Kravitz when necessary.

When it comes to everything else, though, no one can be sure. Lup had gone out of her way to possess Taako’s body from time to time, visiting him in dreams when she couldn’t do as much. Now, she says she hasn’t felt anybody reach out to her in any way, and there certainly haven’t been any other notable occurrences around the house. It makes Kravitz just the smallest bit anxious, wondering if maybe their situations aren’t the same, that Taako may be different from how Lup was, unable to do as much, and the cure they have in mind may not work. But what else can they do but go through with it anyways?

Even if Taako never responds, never reaches out to them, Kravitz can’t just give up on him here. He picks his food back up in his lap and eats as he speaks. “You might be more pissed that we found your old album and pulled it out for everyone. Angus said he’d only seen it once before, and even Barry didn’t recognize some of the pictures there.”

Taako doesn’t respond, but Kravitz pauses all the same as he would in regular conversation.

“Lup told some fantastic stories, but I think I should like to hear your side of them as well. We’ll have to remember to go through them again when you wake up. Maybe we’ll even add some pictures of our own--I have one from the orchestra that night, the selfie you took on my phone. I’ll see if I can get it printed and add it in.”

He pushes his food around on his plate absentmindedly.

“There’s a lot of things I want to do when you wake up. Lots of things I want to talk about. I can tell you how my day is, what everyone is doing, how Angus is… but it isn’t the same as talking together, you know?”

No response comes.

Kravitz smiles at his lap. “I guess you do, huh. Who knows how many nights you spent down there just talking to Lup like I am with you now. I think I understand you a lot better now, even though it’s only been five months. That’s nothing compared to what you had to deal with.”

He gathers up the plate and utensils in his lap and stands, glancing back at Taako’s still body over his shoulder.

“I’ll be right back.”

Even if he can’t respond, they have reason to believe he can hear, and maybe even feel. They’ve had no confirmation, but the idea alone is enough for Kravitz to keep all of this up. Knowing there’s a chance Taako might be the slightest bit aware, he can never leave him alone for too long, can never let him feel lonely.

But somehow, Kravitz has become the one who feels loneliest, even with a body he can move with and a mouth that can speak. He makes his way downstairs quietly, careful not to make any noise that might disturb his other three housemates. It isn’t that late, but between schoolwork and research, they all have more than enough to keep themselves busy. Kravitz is the only one who isn’t actively working, more like an assistant to all three of them. Or maybe he’s just Taako’s caretaker.

He’s surprised to see he isn’t alone when he walks into the kitchen though. “Barry?” he asks, walking past the other to set his dishes in the sink. “You forget something?”

“Thought I forgot to turn the stove off. Turns out I’m smarter than I gave myself credit for.” He turns to lean against the cooling stove and offers Kravitz a sympathetic look. “How’re you holding up?”

“Not quite sure, to be honest,” Kravitz laughs in spite of himself while rinsing off his plate. “I can’t imagine what any of you all went through, this is already so tough. But knowing that Taako, that you, too, went through worse kinda makes me want to do better.”

“You haven’t had it easy either, Kravitz. Give yourself some credit, only you know the extent of what you’re feeling right now, yeah? What I went through with Lup was…” He pauses, wetting his lips. “Unbearable. It went on longer, I put all my time and effort into saving her… but that doesn’t mean it was worse than whatever you’re going through right now.”

Before leaving the kitchen, Barry gently pats Kravitz’s shoulder and heads out.

“Don’t feel guilty for suffering. You wouldn’t tell Angus to bottle things up.”

Kravitz doesn’t watch Barry leave, but smiles down at the sink as he finishes putting everything away. The two of them haven’t spoken very much, and never quite in depth, but every time they do, he can see the potential for a good coworker in Barry--maybe even a friend. Their situations are quite similar, like this, although Kravitz doesn’t have the ability to throw himself into his work as a distraction.

He makes his way back upstairs. The bed is still warm from where he’d been sitting earlier, and when he lays down and curls up close to Taako, the elf is colder than the sheets he’s laid on top of. It’s uncomfortable, almost as much as how dry and mottled Taako’s skin is becoming, but Kravitz throws an arm around him anyways.

There’s a nonzero chance that Taako can hear, and maybe even feel. Kravitz can’t do a lot to help save Taako himself, but he can keep him from being cold. That needs to be enough for now.

A new day always comes with fresh light filtering through the window.

As Kravitz makes his way back down to the lab, he doesn’t question who had turned off the lights and cleaned the area up when Lup is sleeping soundly upstairs.

Chapter Text

‘Angus,

I’m sorry,’

He collects his books from his desk calmly, trying not to seem hurried as he stuffs them into his bag. A few other kids stay back to talk with Angus as they make their way out of the classroom while putting on their scarves, and he really does appreciate the company, though he hardly focuses on their words. He’s gotten closer with a lot of the classmates he has that are his own age recently, and has no shortage of interesting conversation with those that are older. A lot of them have even started texting. He goes out much more often.

One of his friends makes to invite Angus out that night for the holiday, but the time is up before either knows it. As soon as Angus’s foot crosses the threshold beyond the school gates, he cuts his peers off with an excuse and sets off running down the street without another word. It’s impossible to fight down the smile on his face when he finally makes out the specific silhouette he’s searching for on the street ahead, only feeling more bubbly when he finds Kravitz’s smile.

He skids to a stop at the man’s heels, practically giddy with energy. “Good afternoon, sir!”

“Hey, Ango. How was school?”

‘I know how unfair this is. Of all people, you’re the one who’s always helped me the most, and don’t start crying all over the page just yet, there’s a lot more!

I’m gonna be gone for a while. The only reason I feel okay with going is because I know you’re gonna have a ton of people fighting to keep you, because for some reason, a lot of people seem to go absolutely crazy over you. There’s no use in fighting, though, cuz I’ve got a feeling the people who wanna take care of you most are the ones you want to stay with. Funny how that works out.’

“Good!” he chirps, holding his backpack straps over his shoulders. “I turned in that history report you helped me with today! Other kids struggled to reach eight pages, can you believe it?”

“But there was so much information about the topic,” Kravitz muses. “Maybe they just didn’t know where to look.”

“Maybe they didn’t have a professional detective helping them!”

Kravitz laughs and ruffles his hair. Angus hasn’t stopped raving about Kravitz’s profession ever since he was allowed to say so in the open. Now that they can talk about it more freely, the questions have never ended, and Kravitz is more than happy to answer each and every one of them. On the way to school, in the kitchen, before bed--if Angus were a bad kid, Kravitz would make it the reward for doing chores or homework just to talk. He does all those on his own, though, sometimes before Kravitz even notices what needs to be done.

They walk back together as they do most days, given Kravitz has nothing else to do at this time, in a different world than the city had been just a month or so ago. The townsfolk, ever so festive, had started putting up decorations almost as soon as winter came, and now as the day arrives, all the lights and decor seem that much brighter. The music pouring from little shops is louder, people smile wider, and everyone hurries to finish their work so they can retire early for the night.

It’s rare for any establishment or academy to let out for Candlenights, much like Halloween in that kids check their calendars every year to see if it might land on a weekend. Though school was still in session today, tomorrow is Saturday, and they have more time to draw the celebrations out for an entire weekend. Angus thinks it’s better like this--school gives him something to fill the time spent anticipating the holiday evening, too.

Another voice interrupts them. “God, you two, so much for waiting, huh!”

They both stop their conversation and turn to wait for the wizard running to them, bags and books falling from her arms. No longer do Kravitz’s eyes gloss over when he sees her.

‘I wish I had told you more, but what could I have said? I didn’t want you to worry. You’re still a kid, you should be worried about pimples and homework and shit, not any of this. I guess I didn’t know how much it was really affecting you until Krav came in. Sorry about that, too.

Things are gonna suck for a while. You’re gonna be really sad, and probably really lonely, and it’ll feel like no one in the world could ever understand what you’re going through. And that’s some selfish BULLSHIT, so snap out of it and look around you at all the other people feeling the same way! Annoy them, bug the hell out of them like you did with me. They’re here for a reason--and I’m sure they’d appreciate having you, too.’

“You finished lectures by noon, what took you so long?” Kravitz asks as Lup catches up to them. She doubles over, out of breath, and waves her hand in the air dismissively.

“I’m still catching up on all of his work. Dunno why everyone thinks being twins means we share the exact same fuckin brain,” she groans and leans dramatically on Angus’s shoulders as they begin heading back home. He complains good naturedly and giggles when her arms wrap around his shoulders.

Well …” Kravitz starts, and Lup lets out a bark of laughter before her hand swipes out to punch his shoulder.

“Okay, so literally we might--but it doesn’t mean I know all his protocols and assignments and shit!”

‘You need to work together with everyone. Be a family.’

“Wow,” Lup says the minute they enter the house. Angus and Kravitz both look at each other and scrunch up their noses at a sour smell that greets them as soon as they step inside. “So you still suck at this!” she yells.

Barry calls back from the kitchen. “Excuse me for trying to make a lovely meal for my wife after a long day at work!”

She laughs and trots over to the kitchen where he’s focused at the stove, lifting and tilting a pan to and fro in the air as if trying to redirect the smoke pluming out of it. Kravitz and Angus trail right behind and begin wordlessly straightening up the kitchen as Lup teases her husband endlessly for his lack of culinary skills.

“It’s the thought that counts, babe,” she coos, and Barry immediately relents with a sheepish smile.

“I’m glad you agree--so…?” He holds out the spatula and pan to her.

Lup lets out an exaggerated sigh, still smiling as she takes the utensils from him and gets to work. Angus sets his bag neatly down at the table in the meantime, Kravitz sitting beside him and watching as all the books and papers begin piling up. Like always, they’ve got time to do homework while Lup and Barry finish some stupidly mediocre task and calm down enough for dinner.

‘They’re all hurting, even if they don’t show it. Lup, Barry, Kravitz, and everyone else are probably feeling just as shitty as you. It’s important you all stick together--and when you can, get over it! It’s not like I’m dead or anything. I’m just taking a vacay, so keep the house tidy for when I get back. Don’t fucking cry and warp the floorboards!’

Kravitz takes his time trading pictures with Angus before they start working on his homework. He’d made a point to take as many photos of the decorations around town on his daily walk as he could, and Angus is delighted to show off the school’s ornamentation. Lup and Barry both don’t really get what’s so exciting about holiday decor. But they’re not invited into the conversation anyways.

At the doorbell, Kravitz perks up and lowers his phone. “Did you invite someone over? I thought we were having a family dinner.” he asks, and Lup nods.

“Yeah, just a few, though.”

“I’ll get it!” Angus chimes in, already bouncing out of his seat and down the hall. He had noticed Lup and Barry were making more food than for just the four of them, and after that it became hard to focus, trying to guess who was coming over.

He unlocks and pulls open the front door with a loud creak, and his face splits in a wide grin.

“Hey kiddo!” Magnus says just moments before he’s shoved out of the way as a ‘let me see!’ pushes past him.

Julia comes to stand in front of Angus, instantly enveloping the boy in a tight hug. “Angus! Look at you, you’ve already gotten so big!”

Beside her, Angus hears Merle laugh, and wrenches his face out of her bosom for long enough to see their other visitors. Sure enough, the dwarf is next in line to pat him firm on the back, with his lanky human partner trailing right behind.

John smiles, though it appears to take all the strength in his body to do so. “It’s good to see you again, Angus.”

“What are you all doing here?” he asks, voice choked by Julia’s strong arms. Even though he knows she hasn’t fully healed, it doesn’t seem to deter her from unleashing many visits’ worth of hugs on him now.

“Lup invited us, said it was time we got together for a family Candlenights!” Merle says and Magnus nods.

“Lucretia, Istus, and Dav will all be here soon, too.”

Julia lets him go, but Angus is glued to the spot with a look in his eyes like childlike wonder. She giggles at his awestruck face and pinches his cheek. “Surprised?”

“Yeah!” he says, and finally turns around to run in the house. “I have to tell Kravitz!”

‘It’ll be scary, and I’m not saying it won’t be hard. But I know you’re a strong kid, and smarter than anyone on this dumb planet. If you reach out to everyone around you, it’ll be a lot easier. A lot of people love and care about you--and it goes both ways. Make sure they know YOU love them too. Auntie Lup and Krav especially are pretty stupid when it comes to their own pain. If they ever try and close you out, beat the shit out of them. They need it.

You’ll be just fine. So take a deep breath and keep your head up, kiddo. This isn’t the end of the world.’

It’s the first time they’ve used the actual dining room in a long time, and the first time Kravitz has experienced it. The full length table is used to its entire capacity as more and more people fill in, many of which he’s never met. Angus is the first to introduce him to everyone, making the transition much smoother.

There’s Magnus and Merle, who he’s already met before, and their respective spouses, Julia and John. The latter two have been experiencing some awful illnesses that have kept them from participating in a lot of ‘big family’ activities, and this will be their first in a long time. Lucretia, the director of Angus’s previous orphanage, even comes along with a gnome named Davenport who spends most of the year away at sea. Kravitz recognizes the two of them from pictures where only smiles lived, and he greets the two of them warmly. They all chat amicably while pulling decorations down from storage as dinner is being finished. Lup claims that Taako once had a specific order for how decorations were supposed to go up around the house, but given he isn’t here, she just winks at Angus and begins lining the walls with the first thing she can grab. Istus and, surprising everybody, Raven come in just as dinner is being set out.

The large room is full of warmth and laughter as everyone speaks, private conversations turning public as everyone joins in. As they all share stories about their misadventures to introduce Kravitz into their scene, he’s able to go back and forth with Raven and tell them all about their work as private investigators.

The only argument to be had is who would sit next to Angus, and Kravitz and Lup put up too much of a fight for anyone to have a chance. He sits happily between them, though he would’ve been delighted to be with anybody here. For him, it’s easier to listen than it is to partake in conversation, especially right now when there’s so many people over. There’s a lot that everyone wants to say and talk about, so much they’ve all missed from each other’s lives that they feel the need to fill each other in on. He’s more than happy to just take everything in and bask in the specific atmosphere only present when his family is gathered together.

Everyone besides one, that is.

Taako’s absence doesn’t go unnoticed, but no one brings it up directly. They’ve all been informed of the events that have transpired since they were last together, sparing a few gruesome details for everyone’s sake. It’s why no one bats an eye at Lup’s appearance, as identical as they may be; over the years, everyone had learned how to tell the difference.

The moment his smile begins to falter, thoughts wandering, Angus feels a gentle hand on his knee under the table. He looks up to see Kravitz smiling at him with an unspoken question, and Angus just shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says, and Kravitz doesn’t push the subject.

The first person to bring up Taako’s name, surprisingly, is Merle, mentioning him offhand in a story that just happens to include him. There’s a noticeable shift across the table as he continues his story, but it’s already dissipated by the time he’s finished talking. Julia is the first to jump in after, directly confronting the elephant in the room with a story about how Taako had helped teach her simple cantrips to impress her stingy coworkers. Barry follows suit, in spite of all their built up rivalry this past year, and talks all about how he helped work Barry into proposing to Lup when he had given the same spiel to her, ending up with them proposing to each other at the same time.

Just like that, whatever dam had been holding them back is unleashed, and all the memories come forth. It isn’t how one would talk after a funeral, and no one speaks with the air of pretending as if Taako is dead. They all know he isn’t, all doubts aside, and talk normally as if he were just outside this room. Technically, he’s just upstairs, and if his notes on Lup had been anything to go by, Angus thinks he’s probably listening right now.

It takes a while, but during a lull in conversation, Kravitz finally speaks up for the first time since Taako’s name had been mentioned that night. He talks about their first date, the time they went shopping for clothes for the orchestra, the event itself, and leaves out any of the negative emotions that persisted during those times. Like this, it would be easy to believe they’d just had a simple, normal romance, and that nothing else had gotten in the way besides their own obstinance.

Although they spoke about Taako, Angus and Kravitz never really talked about their relationship itself in depth. In a way, it’s cathartic to hear about it now, to think of how happy his father must have been with Kravitz by his side with everything else in his life happening at the same time. To know Taako had somewhere to go for release, had some peace in those awful months where he’d suffered more than all of them… it shifts something in Angus.

He doesn’t realize the conversation has stopped until a familiar hand is lifting his chin to meet Lup’s eye. She stares at him worriedly before smiling and wiping away a tear he hadn’t realized had fallen, and the room remains reverently silent for his sake.

The line is already crossed though, and Angus can’t help but break down crying right there, surrounded by the people who love him most. Conversation picks back up as Kravitz and Lup scoot their chairs closer to him to each wrap an arm around the young boy. Angus listens as the others keep talking, still crying as he laughs at all the silly stories and cliche jokes.

It hurts, so deeply and so raw, nearly a year since Taako has left them.

It isn’t that which causes Angus to cry, the same thing that prevents him from being able to stop.

It’s all the overwhelming love in this single room, so potent, gathered in this small space, that he can hardly bear it.

‘I’ll be home soon, pumpkin. Don’t grow up too fast, be good for Kravitz and auntie Lup.

-Taako, Professor Taaco, Head of Prestidigitation Department, Doctor of Higher Magics, Dad’


Kravitz sits on the side of the bed with an elongated sigh. Even though he’d been sitting for the past few hours, it feels as if he’s just run a marathon--an emotional marathon, maybe. It took a while for dinner to start, and even after they’d finished eating, everyone stuck around for a few more hours. It isn’t that there was any particular commotion or strain as much as it was an experience he simply wasn’t used to. Exhausting as it was, he can’t say it wasn’t one of the best days he’s had in a long time.

Everyone left with promises to meet back up soon. Lucretia had even pulled out a planner on her phone to schedule some lunches with everyone, forcing Kravitz himself to save time next weekend to meet up by themselves. He’ll probably bring Angus for all of their sakes, even though the kid made over a dozen plans tonight alone to hang out and sleepover at his family’s houses.

“Tonight was long,” Kravitz says as he begins undressing. He doesn’t bother putting on any pajamas and climbs into bed in just his underclothes. “Long, but good.”

Like every night, Taako doesn’t respond.

His body, still as stone, remains in the same place it has since it was first moved here, never answering. It doesn’t really phase Kravitz anymore. He turns on his side with his head held up in his hand to watch him anyways. “I think it’s the kind of event you probably like, though I bet it’s much more lively when you and Lup are there together. I’m not as rowdy though, so it was nice to have some semblance of peace. Besides when Lup and Magnus nearly broke a table arm wrestling.”

When Lup had been under the same spell, Barry had kept her well preserved and safe from the outside world. She remained unblemished and unchanged from the moment she first fell.

They had entertained the thought of doing the same to Taako. Lup did her own tests, compared it with data from Barry’s lab, and Kravitz was surprised to find that Barry’s pod he had been keeping her in did little to protect her body from any environmental hazards. They said it would be fine to leave Taako like this, that nothing would help what’s already occurred.

But Taako’s body, as unmoving, as lifeless as it is, continues to change.

Kravitz lifts his other hand to run it gently over Taako’s cheek. He’d noticed when his skin first started becoming dry and thought nothing of it. Now the dark skin over his cheekbones has cracked, flaking and mottled as time wears him down.

Barry and Lup haven’t figured out what to do next.

Kravitz picks up Taako’s hand, his fingers thin and wiry, his fingertips shattered. He holds it gingerly between their bodies and tries to ignore the worried beating of his heart, the anxious flush that envelops his body. Taako walked into that burning building with intentions to put out the fire, when all he had done was char alone and hand Kravitz a bucket.

Maybe tomorrow he and Angus will go shopping before the holidays are over.

Chapter Text

Kravitz settles into bed and sets his mug of tea on the side table. In one hand is a weathered, almost ancient letter that had been written to him a long time ago. He’s opened it and folded it too many times now, the writing where it’s creased now nearly illegible. It doesn’t matter if the words fade away, though; it’s been long since burned into his memory, every character of every word.

He came to bed with parchment and pen with the intention of rewriting the letter so he might always have a clean copy. By the time he is comfortable and looks to the side to see his beloved’s body next to him, though, he has a better idea, and presses his pen to the page.

‘Taako,

I’ve talked with you many times up until now, and only just realized I never wrote you a proper response. I thought it would be clever, thinking you couldn’t read my words if I didn’t speak to you, but I realize now how little I know about your condition. Maybe you haven’t even heard a single word I’ve said to you at all. Maybe you’re reading this now as I write. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Lup and Barry have been working hard the past year. A lot has happened, but I don’t understand much of it, so I’ll let it be a surprise to you. Most of it has come from your own work, after all. You’ll be excited to see what the two have done to the place; Lup says they might actually have a good shot at it now, and it’s all thanks to your work. It wasn’t for nothing. Isn’t that wonderful?

Watching your body become what it has is painful, and it seems to be worsening at a sickening pace. Barry says their method is foolproof if they can get it to work, and the only issue is beating the clock on your body right now. I hope you can hold out. I know you can, because I have been, all this time. Sometimes I think I feel the same way you look, flaking and falling apart from the outside in. But maybe you can’t feel it at all. I hope you can’t.

The waiting wasn’t that bad at first, but now, I miss you more than ever. It hurt the most that first day, like lightning, or knives, or all kinds of painful metaphors that can’t begin to capture that initial shock. Now it feels like that pain has returned, duller, more familiar now, and it has nested in my stomach at all times. No matter what I do, I find my mind wandering back to you in simple yearnings. I want to hold you, to speak with you, to hear you again… I can only write these things because it’s been so long since you’ve called me a stupid sap. This is what you have to deal with now.

Angus is growing up fine. Unsurprisingly, his studies are going well, and at this rate they anticipate he may skip another grade. Outrageous, isn’t it? I’m immensely proud of him. We talk about you all the time, and I know he misses you just as much if not more. Or maybe exactly the same. I’ve found that he and I are quite similar after all.

Speaking of similarities, Lup and I discovered we’re both in the same amount of a lingering goth phase that never left adolescence. It’s been an absolute nightmare becoming friends with her, but I’m understanding your love for her. She’s quite the fire; to lose someone like her after so long must have been devastating… and to an extent, I can understand, although I know I’ll never fully know the depths of what you went through. But you might never understand my feelings either. I guess that’s how two different people work and come together.

This has gotten long, I’m afraid of running off the page. When you wake up, there’s something important I want to tell you, something I’ve been hiding from you for a long time.

With all my love,

Kravitz’

He folds the letter tightly, as if doing so might shield a ghost with semi-permeable x-ray vision from reading it inside the drawer he stuffs it in. With a smile, he kisses Taako’s cheek, gently so his already mottled, crackling skin won’t break.


There’s a word to describe the realization that every person in the world, everyone walking by on the street, is living their own distinct, individual lives. Kravitz doesn’t remember the word itself, but the feeling he knows quite well. If he asked Angus, he’s sure the boy would know. Maybe Barry would too. It doesn’t roll on his tongue familiarly, but the definition nestles a home in the back of his head.

The world has continued spinning. They receive more visits from the others, have dinner at Magnus and Julia’s, go out with Merle and John, and see everyone else at events. The other employees Kravitz knows from around the office call every now and then, none the wiser to everything that has happened more than a year ago. It’s fine that way, he thinks, only for simplicity’s sake. One day he’ll introduce them all to his new family, and that’s all that matters.

Angus’s new school year starts, and soon, it ends. He flits about the house in the summer, running between floors to talk with Kravitz and Lup at the same time. Vacation suits Angus more than Kravitz expected, what with being out of his sanctuary the academy is for him, and he helps the kid continue his studies where he can. There’s only so many subjects at an arcane school that Kravitz can assist with, but he’s begun studying on his own to help out.

The more Kravitz learns, the more he can see through the crack in the door that Taako presented to him. The numbers on the papers may not make sense yet, but he can see the outline of an idea there, the barest concept of what Taako had been doing with his work. His brilliance shines more radiantly with every topic Kravitz comes across. His respect for Taako grows exponentially every day as he sits in bed reading textbooks by his lover’s corpse.

He flips the page, and time goes by.


Yesterday had been a day for reminiscing. Kravitz lifts up two framed photos on a table in the hall and sweeps the dust beneath before setting them back down. The day before that, too, and the one before that. Nobody has let Taako’s memory fall from their hands once since he’s finally been allowed back into the house. No longer is the conversation forced or rigid when it comes to the topic of the elf, nor is it deliberate. Sometimes they’ll go entire days without even saying his name just because it doesn’t come up. Kravitz will still sleep with him, and Angus will read in the same room, but they don’t have to talk about it.

Now two years since that day, they’ve settled into a new ‘normal.’

Barry and Lup have moved out and into their own home again, continuing their research in their personal lab. Kravitz doesn’t bother touching the guest room they stayed in, though, given they’ll usually stay over once or twice a week anyways while doing work specific to Taako’s lab. Even if they don’t stay the night, a few of their friends will come by on a set day of the week for family dinners anyways, and they always come along. Usually the others include Istus, Magnus, Merle, and the latter two’s respective partners.

Kravitz has gotten to know them all very well, hanging out with them in his free time of his own volition now. As kind as they all are, he still likes Barry and Lup the most. Perhaps it’s everything they’ve been through together and their shared pain, but he has the most fun when they’re around. Magnus, Merle, Julia, John, Davenport, Lucretia, Istus, and Raven, too--they’ve all become much closer than he ever anticipated.

Angus walks up behind Kravitz, already launching into a story about a book the two of them have been reading together. The kid carries a broom with him and sweeps the floor behind Kravitz as they make their way through the hall, exchanging theories about the mysterious culprit they just encountered last chapter as the last of a sunset peeks through the windows.

Somewhere during the first year, Kravitz gave up the lease on his apartment. At first he just moved most of his stuff in boxes into unused rooms on the first floor, but he gradually made his way up into Taako’s room. Even with Lup’s checks during the investigation, it was pointless paying for a place he never stayed at. Maybe Taako will wake up one day and tell him to leave, that Kravitz has no business being here. But when he begins to imagine such a scenario, Kravitz’s mind can only get as far as ‘Taako wakes up’ before he’s smiling.

It may be too soon to say anything just yet, but Kravitz knows his bond with Angus had deepened significantly since that day two years ago. They’ve grown closest to each other more than anyone else, dependent on the other when everyone else has left the house for today. Many times while reading or speaking, Angus has fallen asleep in bed alongside Taako. At first, Kravitz would take to sleeping on the couch like he did when Taako was sick. Now, he just climbs in alongside them.

It’s a good family, he thinks, even if one of them continues to rot while the others grow close.

This weird family, with so many different people not even related by blood, has become precious to him, more than anything else. As they make their way into one of the libraries, Kravitz arranges the books he’s read carefully back onto the shelves to dust the tables they were on top of. There isn’t a lot he can do for this family, but he does all he can. Although it isn’t much, he can finally understand what Lup and Barry say when they’re in the lab, now working as a proper assistant whenever he’s called upon. It’s surprising to find that the work they do is actually quite interesting, enough to make him reconsider his line of work.

But he’s taken that back up for his family’s sake, too. It didn’t take very long for Kravitz to return to Raven’s side in the office, starting with paperwork and working his way back up to taking on cases. Some he finished within weeks. Others are still ongoing. None are quite the adventure he’s had in the last three years here, though, and he’s rather fine with it staying that way.

For the first time in his life, Kravitz feels he has things in his life he never once appreciated. He’s always had work, but never has it been this fulfilling. He has hobbies, things he likes to do for fun again. Work hobbies too, like reading through Taako’s old publishings or giving Barry and Lup a hand. He has people he looks forward to seeing every day. He has a reason to get up that doesn’t revolve around himself and his own pain, one that he sees clearly whenever he opens his eyes in the morning.

That being said, it isn’t the prettiest picture to wake up to.

Taako’s condition has only continued to plummet. A cave has opened up in his cheek and neck now, his fingers and toes both brittle and dull. They move around the bed as little as possible as the life and plump skin of Taako’s form is gradually drained with the light. He’s a corpse, through and through, although his body doesn’t rot and return to the earth in the same way a dead person might. Where one would shrivel like an old fruit, Taako has grown… hard, like burnt paper that flakes away at the slightest touch.

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Angus asks as he takes the finished books from his backpack and sets them on the table Kravitz just cleaned. He looks up at the older man with bright, unwavering eyes.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to think it’s the same way he once looked at Taako.

Kravitz smiles and begins to lead them out of the room. “Lup said she’d come and teach me how to cook that one dish from last week tonight. If you don’t want that I can go out and get you--”

Just as they turn into the hallway, the front door slams open, and Kravitz and Angus stop as Lup doubles over in the doorway out of breath. Barry follows after her and nearly trips up the porch steps as she wobbles into the house.

Kravitz could be concerned at the sudden entrance, thinking something could be wrong. He could also get angry for her lack of manners entering his home. He could laugh at her disheveled appearance, too.

In the two years it’s taken for them to become friends, though, his words come out as a mixture between the three.

“Goddammit you freak, what now?”

By the time Barry catches up and is standing behind her, Kravitz can see the multiple trunks he’s carrying, two in each hand.

Lup leans on the staircase post, and Kravitz sees the look in Angus’s eyes before he meets her gaze.

She pants, “...Taako--”

He doesn’t need to hear anything else.

At once, the world closes in, becoming insignificant as he hurries up the stairs. The rest of the day, what he had been doing before, and what he planned to do, are wiped away from his immediate memory, filled instead with all the words he exchanged with Barry and Lup the past few months.

‘Not a lot of time left.’

‘Might be on the right track.’

‘If only we could…’

‘...but we might find…’

“I don’t get what you mean…” Kravitz lied, eyes glued to the floor beneath his face. He couldn’t look up, couldn’t bear to meet Barry’s face as he repeated himself.

“We’ve been monitoring the rate his body is deteriorating, and since he’s resisted everything we’ve tried to do… if nothing changes, we have a week at best before he’s irreversibly damaged and turned to dust.”

“But Lup--when she was in that same body, she was fine,” Kravitz argued, “why not put him back in that tank and--”

“The tank was temporary,” Lup intercepted, “and in the long run, only prevented outside harm. My spell locked that body in time--Taako’s magic only switched us. I think that magic may have… jump started it, and it now remembers all the time that has passed. Even though no one’s in control, all that time, those years… they’re catching up to it. If Taako is still inside by the time it fails…”

Barry must have said something to her in a whispered tone outside his hearing because she stopped there. Kravitz listened to their footsteps, to the door opening as Barry walked outside to their car. Some of that intrusive night air slipped inside behind him, and when Kravitz lifted his head to close the door, he met Lup’s eye.

Lup turned halfway, stopped in the doorway with her bag tucked under her arm. She gave Kravitz a small smile that betrayed the desperation that has reigned in her eyes for so long now, never not present.

“I don’t want to give you false hope, Krav… but in spite of all that? I think we’re close.”

He didn’t want false hope, shoving the thought of salvation from his mind as he focused instead on his day to day. Now, in the few seconds it takes to hurry upstairs, it all comes back to him, all the pain and yearning he hadn’t allowed himself to feel as he returned to today’s ‘normal.’

How much easier it was to focus on one day at a time, to go back to work, to live with Angus, to act as if they weren’t living on a timer. If he didn’t confront the reality of the labyrinth they were stuck in, he would never have to worry about getting out. Of course he missed Taako, of course he loved and thought of him every day. But the raw sting of ‘missing’ something is far simpler than the complicated back and forth prayer and disappointment of never being able to cure him.

Somehow, Lup manages to follow right on Kravitz’s heels despite her exhaustion, and the two slow as soon as they enter the bedroom. “It’s a risk,” she says while rounding the other side of the bed where Taako lays. “But today was the first time it responded well. We only ran one set of tests, and Barry wanted to do more but--”

“We don’t have time,” Kravitz finishes, and she nods.

“We have to do this now.”

He’s prepared for this, theoretically. It isn’t the first time they’ve transported Taako’s body, but once he began to flake apart on contact, they tried not to mess with him too much. Lup untucks the sheets as Kravitz does the same on his side, gently folding them beneath and on top of Taako in a single thin layer. She steps aside for him to scoop the elf up in his arms, and Kravitz can’t help but cringe at how easy it is to do now; Taako’s gotten incredibly light, more than he’s ever been. Pushing the thought and bile down, they make their way out of the room and back to the foyer.

Barry has already made his way down to the basement by the time they make it downstairs, and Angus waits at the bottom with one of the cases the scientist had been holding. Although the labs are very different with respect to their focuses in biology versus direct magics, the lines have become blurred as Lup and Barry go back and forth between them. Though there is more magical equipment in Taako’s lab, now, they still have to carry certain things to and from. This is more than they’ve ever needed. But this is also the end.

Angus follows the three of them down to the lab, not bothering to ask for permission anymore.

The lights are flipped on as Barry went before them into the room with the wall of tanks. Where they once all hummed with energy and fluid, only one tank is now free of dust. The green that once haunted the floors and walls has since disappeared, replaced with a dull, patient blue as one single pod bubbles consistently in the silent halls.

Kravitz gently lowers Taako’s body onto one of the two parallel tables in the room, unfolding the sheet around him and letting the fabric spill off the surface and onto the floor. He looks up to the one tank that they’ve been using, watching from the side as Barry removes an identical sheet that had been covering it. He can’t help but grimace at its contents, no matter how many times he’s been down here.

A third, identical twin floats helplessly in the blue fluid. Their eyes remain shut, hair grown long as Taako might have once worn it. Although Lup has been with them for this long living inside the body Taako once inhabited, the contrast between Taako’s current corpse and this experiment always makes Kravitz’s stomach churn more than anything.

The person inside the tank is beautiful, radiant even without the life that drew him to Taako. They aren’t exactly the same, as they’re much healthier than Taako ever kept himself. Their cheeks are full where Taako’s were gaunt, fingers not quite as spindly, no bags beneath their eyes. They’re everything Taako could have been--a blank slate to start anew.

With a loud ‘clank,’ Barry returns from behind the tank, and they all watch as a drain opens at the bottom of the column. The liquid begins to pour out, slowly, and the body floats down with the waterline until their feet touch the floor, knees bending as they begin to collapse in a heap at the bottom. Lup doesn’t wait for the fluid to completely filter out before opening the door to the tank, and Kravitz is by her side to help pick the lifeless specimen up from its crumpled position on the floor.

He sets the body down on another table just a few feet from the first, running parallel to the other corpse. While Barry and Lup go back and forth on the specifics of what they’ll be doing together, Kravitz busies himself instead with picking up the sheet that once covered the column and gently patting the new body dry.

A tug at his sleeve draws his attention away. Silently, Angus holds up an armful of clothes, neatly folded over his hands. Kravitz smiles, accepts them with a quiet thanks, and begins dressing the still doll lying before them. They’re Taako’s clothes, of course--the same flashy outfit he had worn to the orchestra that they picked out together. It’s a good choice on Angus’s part, he thinks. Oddly enough, they fit better on this shell of a person than they ever did on Taako, as if Taako continued to shop for measurements of a healthier version of himself.

Once he’s finished, Kravitz takes a step back and stands between the two bodies.

They’ve reached the deadline Lup and Barry once set, the expiration date for a shell since ruined years ago. Kravitz didn’t know how long this would take when it all started, had nothing to go off on besides Taako’s letters where he fully endorsed Barry and Lup’s capabilities.

Now, the two of them stand at the front of the lab bickering over the process they’re about to carry out. It’s delicate, he knows, and they will only get one shot at this before it’s all over. It has to be perfect; all four of them know that. At his side, Angus reaches up and holds Kravitz’s hand, just like he had when they first discovered Taako in the school those years ago. Kravitz’s squeezes back.

A chill runs through his spine that isn’t unlike the first time he met Taako three years ago.

On the night of the full moon, the experiment comes to a close.

They take a step back as Barry and Lup come to an agreement. He takes his place behind a machine Kravitz now knows the name of while Lup approaches the center of the room. She stands between the bodies, feet planted firmly in the middle of a magic circle that had been drawn many months ago. Many of the runes remind him of the same one they’d found in Taako’s secret laboratory that day.

Taako has been waiting for them, and at last, his suffering will come to an end through either the release of death or a second awakening.

All of their suffering will come to an end.

Kravitz feels his chest tighten, digging his nails into his other palm as Lup pulls out a book from one of the cases Barry brought.

With this spell, they’ll all be set free.

They have to believe that this will work, that everything they’ve done up until now wasn’t for nothing. The work of a trapped sister reaching beyond material planes to help her brother wasn’t for nothing. The ardent love of a desperate, brilliant son wasn’t for nothing. The year of trials and investigation, of fighting and coming together at last, of hatred and love, wasn’t for nothing. The time since then, the building of a new life that Taako might join them in, wasn’t for nothing.

Barry moves closer to the tables with cables in his hands and hooks both tables up to it, then taking the time to carefully attach small wires in specific places on both of the bodies.

It wasn’t for nothing, Kravitz repeats in his head.

The moment Lup’s mouth opens, wand in her hand, and the machine whirs to life, Kravitz can feel himself floating back into the past, again a child watching police block off his home with caution tape.

A small hand in his is the one thing that grounds him into this moment, into this new life that he’s worked so hard to create for himself--no, for all of them. He takes a deep breath and says a small prayer to their efforts.

The spell itself, like most magical things, is beyond Kravitz’s level of understanding. The two of them conjured it themselves through many months of never sleeping and pouring over old texts in different languages. The biggest risk they’re facing is never having used it before on anyone or anything, unsure of how it would translate into their very specific case. There wasn’t any time, either, and as he understands it, Lup may as well have put the finishing touches on this procedure just last night. Maybe even minutes before they rushed over here.

But this is what they have, and this is what they’ll put their faith in. Their work wasn’t for nothing.

The lab comes alive with magic as she recites the spell, and though nothing physically changes in the room, Kravitz feels something in the air shift. It blows past them like wind, the feeling lingering on his cheeks and fingertips as whatever magic lingers in the air becomes concentrated in the center of the room. He wonders if the others feel differently, being more attuned to magic, and looks to his side to see Angus with his eyes shut tightly as he shuffles closer to Kravitz’s side. It appears less as if he’s reacting to something in the room as much as he folds in on the fears he’s let build up all this time. Kravitz lets go of his hand and instead wraps his arm around the boy’s shoulders, pulling him close.

Barry calls something out from behind the machine.

Lup says a few last words and holds her wand out in front of herself.

And just like that, as soon as it started, everything comes to an end.

Angus collapses to the ground, already howling with sobs as he rubs at his face. Lup turns back to them all, looking more exhausted than Kravitz has ever seen her before. Barry leans against the machine, his head in his hands.

Regardless of the results, one thing reigns true.

It’s finally over.

Kravitz leans down for just a moment to comfort Angus, rubbing his back, before he’s drawn between the two tables where the bodies remain still. Barry takes his place at Angus’s side as Kravitz stops next to Lup.

Her eyes are wide, as if surprised by her own actions, and she doesn’t bother looking his way.

“That’s it, huh?” Lup says as she leans her back against Kravitz’s, watching her old body as miniscule flakes continue to fall from its face.

“Yeah,” he says, looking down at the new body whose face still drips with the fluid from the tube. “That’s it.”

There’s no saying what will happen from here. For these few minutes, all four of them remain silent, their futures hanging in the air as they wait for the results of whatever had just been done.

Taako may return. He could wake up, and they could all pick up their lives together, walking into a bright future where none of them have to get hurt anymore. There won’t be any need for secret labs and self harm, no more torture, no tests. Just waking up to a new day where the person they all love can also see the sun.

Taako might also die. They’ll continue as normal, ending the cycle of work and suffering they’ve been trapped in for these last few years. Kravitz won’t see the person he loves ever again, but probably go on living in this house that reeks of him in every corner. After all her efforts, Lup will lose her other half who they had fought against death to protect. Angus will lose a father. Barry will lose a brother.

But right now, there’s no saying whether or not the cat in that box will emerge dead or alive.

Just as Kravitz closes his eyes to make another prayer, he hears Lup gasp, and all of their heads snap up to look her way. She takes a step back into Kravitz as he turns around, and he holds her in place as her form begins to shake.

“No… oh, no…”

The body in front of her, the same she had called home for so long, begins to change. The flaking stops, and instead, they all watch in horror as all color is drained from it until it’s a pale sickly grey. All the life she had lived, and the soul Taako devoted to it, are lost as the first crack breaches the surface.

It doesn’t shatter like one may expect in a climactic moment, the result of a grand experiment gone wrong.

But slowly, it sinks in on itself, facial features and limbs becoming ambiguous as the body folds into its own dust until it is nothing but a pile of ash. It spills off the side of the table onto the sheet.

In his hold, Lup slaps her hands over her face and shakes her head back and forth. Kravitz can’t even take the time to see how Angus and Barry are reacting. “No, god--fuck, fuck…!”

“Hey, hang in there,” Kravitz tries saying, eyes glued to the pile of ash that had once housed his lover. “You don’t know if… it… If this…”

But nothing else comes out. He can’t argue with the scene before them, his fingers subconsciously gripping her shoulders tighter now. It’s like being in an elevator plummeting hundreds of floors, suspended above the floor and simply waiting for the crash that never comes.

Slowly, Lup crumples to the floor, and Kravitz can’t do anything but let her go. Angus still has his face lowered and turned away, and Barry rubs at his eyes.

No, Kravitz wants to say, this isn’t it.

It wasn’t for nothing.

It wasn’t for nothing.

Even though he had tried so hard not to get his hopes up, had prepared two years for this moment they all knew in the back of their heads was coming, he still doesn’t crash.

Not yet.

He turns to look over his shoulder at the new body.

It hasn’t moved.

Slowly, the burning building is smothered, leaving nothing but ruins and ash.


Lup and Barry went home without a word.

Angus had stayed in the basement for longer, only leaving when Kravitz was finally able to tear his eyes from either corpse. They don’t say anything to each other, not now, and Angus had retreated to his room over an hour ago. It’s past his bedtime, or something like that.

Kravitz lays in a bed that doesn’t belong to him, disturbed by how far he can unfurl his arm across the mattress without finding another person.

The moon, high and full in the sky, mocks him from the space between the blinds that he can’t entirely block out, the dim light that gets through nearly blinding him. Even now, he doesn’t crash. It doesn’t seem right to now, and he can’t muster up the energy to cry if he wanted to, not even enough to climb beneath the blankets. He takes up too much space in the bed, unable to find sleep until he’s delirious enough to forget how cold this room seems--or maybe it’s always been like that.

The morning doesn’t bring any relief, and Kravitz wakes feeling as if he hadn’t even slept. He sits up. He gets out of bed. He dresses.

Time goes by, even if it shouldn’t.

To wake Angus now would be cruel, and for lack of any other decisions he can make of himself, Kravitz decides the day will be spent giving Angus the space he needs until he finds his way to Kravitz’s side. He can’t hear a noise from his room when Kravitz leaves the bedroom, and he hopes it means the kid was able to get some kind of sleep.

The house hasn’t changed, and neither has the world outside of it. Yet every step he takes feels wrong, like he’s forgotten something, or isn’t supposed to be here even though it’s the house he’s lived in for two years now. The kitchen is empty, and the tables they cleaned yesterday have already begun collecting dust again. A framed picture of a smiling elven man catches his eye. Kravitz lifts his hand as if to turn the photo face down, but he thinks better of it before his fingertips can catch the edge.

Kravitz knows himself, and though it’s hard to decipher, he can just barely understand what he himself is going through. At these times where even his own emotions elude him, the only thing he can do is occupy himself until they come out of hiding and make themselves evident to him. Being a weekend, he doesn’t work today, but there’s always housework to do, right?

Right, they never cleaned up the lab after everything… The idea hurts, knowing what’s down there, but all he can think is that the scene will help reboot his emotions from the frozen, numb state he’s been caught in. Perhaps it will allow him to grieve properly.

It’s nostalgic, in a way, going down the stairs to clean up the lab after some experiment that has left him drained and half the person he used to be. It had never been like this though, knowing that this is the final time he will ever step foot in this basement. Never again will he have to clean the remains of failed projects or wash away the blood of the man he loved. Although that part is a relief, it had been something crucial in the building of their relationship. When he closes that basement door behind him for the last time, he’ll be closing out Taako for good.

There’s no more waiting, no more uncertainty.

Kravitz rounds the corner of the entrance to the lab. This is his personal funeral, a final farewell that he can give by himself while the others are away. For now, he need not reflect on Taako the father, the brother, or anything like that. In this moment, the only memories that come through to the front of his mind have Taako’s eyes directed at Kravitz and Kravitz alone.

Although their time together had been short, they were, undeniably, lovers. Kravitz would’ve given the world for him, and somehow, he has a feeling Taako would say the same in his own sarcastic way.

There’s so many aspects of their relationship they’ll never get to explore now, and so many sides of Taako that Kravitz never got to meet. He mourns a specific smile Taako had given him too many times, one that betrayed his intentions early on and truly expressed what Kravitz had hoped for when they came together.

The lab is empty, the deafening silence a knife in his ears as even the machines which were always running are turned off. He would prefer it be haunted, Kravitz thinks. Even now as he walks through the empty room, running his fingers along cold equipment, he waits for a pencil to be pushed off a desk, for glass to shatter, for a phantom hand to grab his. Nothing comes. He’s truly alone.

As he approaches the room filled with tanks, Kravitz can’t help but miss the green glow from the fluid that’s now since stopped. In a way, it was a sign of Taako’s determination, his work never ending even when he wasn’t present. With modifications to his design, Lup and Barry ended up changing the color unintentionally, ushering him out. Even that blue has disappeared, and the only thing that pours out of the open doorway is the overhead lights.

Kravitz’s hand stops on the wall, too late to realizing a crucial detail he had missed. Who had come down here to turn on the lights--and then he stops, the hope dying in his stomach. Right, no one had bothered turning off the lights when they left. The optimism of another mystery is smothered where it began and he chuckles at himself pitifully as he enters the room.

Only to be stopped in the doorway.

Raven had once told him that the greatest mysteries can’t be expected.

If deja-vu refers to the feeling of remembering something that has happened (or not) once before, he thinks there might need to be a new word for recurring mysterious encounters.

Again, his legs are frozen. Again, a strange person stands in the center of the room, their back turned to him. The ruffles of their extravagant shirt are kiltered, the elastic not properly pulled down to their waist.

They stand quietly, and though he cannot see their face, Kravitz is sure of two things.

This time, this person knows exactly why they’re here, the scene set intentionally for Kravitz to find.

This time, when they turn around, Kravitz knows exactly who their eyes belong to.

‘Sonder,’ Kravitz thinks, that’s what that word was; realizing that others are living their own lives just as vivid and alive as his. Though everything has happened, the world keeps spinning, and other people continue to carry out their own lives. No matter what cataclysmic event occurs in one’s own life, others will carry on.

But if even death can be beaten, he thinks it isn’t a stretch to believe that in this moment, time has stopped.

He takes a slow, deep breath, unable to hide the shaking in his hand that remains on the entrance of the room.

“I… don’t have a witty line,” he says.

The corners of Taako’s lips curl up into a wicked smile that he fights, trying to keep a straight face. He makes a show of turning back around, crossing his arms with an audible ‘huff.’ Standing silent, Kravitz watches as he looks over his shoulder every few seconds before tapping his foot.

With shaking legs, Kravitz walks backwards out of the room, clears his throat, and re-enters the same way he came.

Taako turns around again, eyes expectant.

“...boo?” Kravitz says.

Against his will, Taako bursts out into sudden laughter, doubling over at the waist. “What the hell? I’m the ghosty one, you fucking idiot!”

“I was only thinking of what you might say!” Kravitz laughs along incredulously. “You had two years to think of something, and you gave me first picks?”

“You’re goth and theatrical!” Taako practically shouts, throwing his hands in the air. “You’re supposed to say something natural that’s really cool and romantic!”

“Oh please, you were dead and also staged your own resurrection--that’s far more goth and theatrical than I am.”

“That’s it, I changed my mind, I’m going back to sleep!” Taako lets out an exasperated groan and stomps forward. “Carry me back upstairs!” he says with finality before suddenly dropping to the floor.

Kravitz is quick to his knees and catches the elf before he can hit the ground, his limp body nearly falling out of his arms. Taako’s eyes are closed again, his face unmoving as Kravitz gently nudges his cheek. His stomach sinks instantly, mind jumping to the worst as he tries shaking his body awake. “Taako? No, wait, Taako--!”

His eyes open almost immediately, surprise and disbelief warping his features. “What, that shitty predictable act got y--wait, woah, dude, Krav…” Any smile that Taako had been beginning to make disappears as warm, wet droplets fall straight from Kravitz’s eyes onto his face. He instantly shifts his position to sit up in Kravitz’s lap and lifts his hand to wipe the tears from his face before they can fall. “Hey, wait, I didn’t think you’d take it that bad, babe, mean it.”

“You… had two years to plan out our reunion,” Kravitz chokes out, voice shaking as he holds back sobs. He lowers his face so his dreads hide his expression from Taako, though the elf keeps a hand on his cheek. “And I… I couldn’t think of a witty line.”

Taako lets out a pathetic chuckle and lifts Kravitz’s face back up by his chin.

“Sorry I left you so long, Krav.”

The words come back to him now, though the feeling behind them is different this time.

It wasn’t for nothing.

It wasn’t for nothing.

He doesn’t realize he’s said anything until Taako speaks.

“You could’ve left at any time,” he says, voice hushed, “and you didn’t. You didn’t have to invest all of this here.”

Kravitz lifts a hand to cover Taako’s on his cheek. “You know that’s a lie; I’m goth and theatrical, I can’t leave my lover just because he’s dead.”

A smile finds its way back to Taako’s face. “And now that I’m not dead?”

He kisses him.

“I guess I have to wear more bright colors.”

Taako laughs, loud and delighted. Kravitz can't help but join him, their foreheads pressed together, arms wrapped tight around the other. Time has yet to pick back up, and Kravitz prays that it never does, as if this entire moment would disappear the moment another person miles away so much as blinked. He presses a hand firmly on Taako's back, feeling the firm, warm body that is held closely to his, real and alive.

It isn't just that he's alive, either. When they finally pull away from each other, Taako looks up at him with a smile that can only be described as devilish. It isn't the same smile that gave away his feelings so many times during their year together--but Kravitz can track that same feeling down in the bright eyes that stare up at him instead. Kravitz had prepared for everything; failure, death, losing his family, and even the idea that Taako might wake up and push him away. None of that is here though. A soft, warm hand trails down the side of Kravitz's face.

"Say, Krav," he says, his smile all teeth, "isn't there something you wanted to tell me?"

Kravitz is confused for only a moment before he stifles a laugh.

So ghosts could read letters--he'll have to get on Taako for that later. But the statement means more than just that; it proves Taako had been conscious this entire time after all. Every night, all the times he spoke to him, all the times Angus confided in his father's corpse for advice, when their entire family came over and honored his memory... it wasn't for nothing. It wasn't for nothing.

Kravitz can't help but chuckle, so horribly and utterly delighted as he straightens his back and takes a deep breath.

"I'm a detective."

When Taako pulls him down by the neck into a real kiss, he thinks it's the one thing Taako may have prepared for.

Chapter Text

They don’t make the introduction to Angus a large event. In fact, the first thing they do once they can somehow unwind their arms from each other is bound upstairs, both excited to see their boy. Kravitz can hardly keep up with Taako, in spite of essentially just being reborn, and by the time Kravitz makes it up the second flight of stairs, he hears them.

Or, rather, he hears Angus fall out of bed.

He waits in the doorway, watching Taako gather his son up tightly in his arms as Angus clings to him as if he might disappear any moment. He wails pathetically, and from this angle Kravitz can’t see Taako’s face, but he thinks it isn’t unreasonable to assume he might be crying too. The only words that coherently leave Angus’s mouth in a trail of sobs are broken “Taako”s and “Dad”s. The latter comes up more often.

A mere letter written hastily and left behind can’t do feelings justice when parting with one’s parent.

Try as Taako might have to prepare Angus for the worst while also reassuring him, Kravitz knows it would have never been enough if this all failed. They all tried to cope with the idea that Taako would never return, and now, Kravitz isn’t ashamed to admit he failed miserably at it. To experience the loss of a parent, to have their final words written to you knowing their fate, and then for them to return after two years… it’s nothing short of a miracle.

It may be the most sincere Kravitz has ever seen Taako with Angus, for good reason. This time, watching the two of them reunite and cry all over each other, Kravitz doesn’t feel like an outsider to their family. He isn’t Kravitz, Taako’s lover and assistant, and he isn’t Kravitz, Angus’s stand in father for the past two years. Kravitz only waits in the doorway for a minute before walking in and crouching beside them, wrapping his arms just as tightly around the pair who naturally fall into him as well.

Finally, they’re all three together.

The world keeps turning, and for the first time in a very long time, Kravitz feels the fullness of family. His hands tighten on both of their shoulders. Finally, they’re both here, and he can just hold them like this and know they’ll still be here when he opens his eyes. With good reason, he thinks both of them might be feeling the same way.

They hold each other for a long time without words, and it’s Taako who’s the first to pull away. He simply demands his stomach be filled, telling Angus and Kravitz his first meal in this new body has to be the best he’s ever had. Angus tells him that technically, anything would be the best, because he hasn’t had anything. Kravitz laughs as Taako sputters out an excuse and playfully berates Angus for getting technical.

The rest of the time feels as if it should feel like a dream, given everything that’s happened, and yet it’s so raw and real that Kravitz can barely have the time to reminisce. He’s dragged into every physical moment, as mundane as some are, Angus and Taako both pulling one of his hands each. All three of them gather in the kitchen, Taako sitting up on a barstool with a blanket over his shoulders as he barks commands to Angus and Kravitz on how to prepare exactly what he wants.

Kravitz has gotten good at cooking the past few years. He had to, since Lup was coming over all the time and Angus has been so used to Taako’s cuisine. He forgot just how good of a chef Taako was, and now he’s able to cook on command and think ‘ah, so that’s why he does this’ and truly understand just how good he really is. Just like with his magic. Just like with his teaching.

They present their meal to him proudly, and though Taako smiles endearingly at them, he doesn’t say anything for a long while, and he also doesn’t try and eat it.

Kravitz would feel worried if he didn’t know exactly what was going through his mind.

“Actually,” Taako finally says, “I decided I don’t trust you two after being alone for so long.”

“Would you like me to call a professional chef?” Kravitz asks, pulling the plate back to him and Angus on the table.

A small, satisfied grin rises to Taako’s features, and he nods. “It may be the only thing that can sate my delicate palate.”

Lup doesn’t understand why Kravitz wants her to come over and cook for Angus so urgently. She tries to pass it off, tell him she really isn’t in the mood to after everything that’s happened. Kravitz feels bad, honestly, having to lie to her, but across the table, Taako continues to grin mischievously and makes a ‘keep going’ motion with his hand.

The horrible things this scientist makes him do. Kravitz smiles.

He continues feeding her lies about how despondent Angus is, even providing a heartfelt talk about how he feels that what they all need right now is each other, and they shouldn’t close themselves off like this. For how unconfident Kravitz feels in his words, there must be some ounce of truth he’s able to use to convince her, because soon she sighs and just says that she and Barry will be there soon.

He really has to respect her for coming to help Angus in spite of everything that’s happened. Kravitz and Angus go ahead and dig into the single meal they’d made for Taako as Angus details all the classes he’s currently taking and how far he’s come in such a short time. Taako’s obviously impressed, and Kravitz can just make out a hint of regret in his eye as Angus continues telling him all about the last two years.

Even if he was partly conscious for the duration of his coma, it’s no substitute for being present in Angus’s life. How lonely it must’ve been, Kravitz thinks, grateful for his own sappy predisposition for demanding he remain by Taako’s side and speak to him for two years. Just sleeping in the same bed every night must have helped him immensely. All the dinners, the readings, the time they spent together just to pretend Taako was still there--it was never just for them.

It doesn’t take too long for the doorbell to ring, and Taako’s face, surprisingly, drops in lieu of the mischievous smile he’d had earlier. Kravitz stays by his side as Angus runs off to the front door, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Taako?” he asks gently. He had expected the elf to brighten immediately, to pose across the table in wait for his sister and her husband. He expected mischief and devious behavior like he’d displayed when Kravitz was on the phone. If anything, he almost looks afraid, or more accurately, nervous .

Taako opens his mouth to speak, but he doesn’t get the time to say anything before he hears the thick ‘thud’ of a bag falling to the floor.

Kravitz only has the mind to step back just in time to make it out of Lup’s line of sight. Taako doesn’t even try to dodge the sudden fireball sent hurtling his way, and thankfully, it isn’t aimed directly for his face. The magic just barely brushes past his hair, hitting one of the cabinets behind him.

In the entrance of the kitchen, Lup still has her hand extended, eyes wide.

It’s been longer than two years since the two of them have seen each other, Kravitz thinks. All the time Taako spent ruining himself in the laboratory before he was hired, all of it was devoted towards Lup. She had done the same thing the past two years, slaving over three different labs for the chance to chase her brother the way he’d done for her.

Slowly, Taako holds out his hands, and his new body has never looked as exhausted as when he waggles his fingers in the air with an anxious smile.

“Surprise.” Kravitz turns to see Lup’s reaction.

And another burst of flame is sent Taako’s way. This time, he ducks, nearly falling off of his seat as his cabinets get another hit of magic meant for him. He crouches behind one of the stools, holding it in front of him in preparation for another attack.

It doesn't, though, and Kravitz watches as Lup makes the two long strides it takes to reach Taako. She yanks him to stand by the back of his collar, and the moment he's upright, she wraps her arms around him. Taako’s hands come around her back to tightly grip her shoulders.

“I can’t believe you.”

“Me neither.”

She buries her face in his shoulder, and Taako quickly does the same.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she says.

Taako laughs weakly into his sister’s neck. “For you? No promises.”

She punches his shoulder, and he laughs again.

Across the kitchen, Barry and Kravitz make eye contact, and they smile.

There’s no way either of them could comprehend what’s happening before them, and that’s the best part about the twins. Even after working with both of them for the sake of the other and getting to know each twin very well, Kravitz doesn’t think he’ll ever understand how they work, especially when it comes to the other.

While the two embrace, Kravitz and Angus invite Barry into the kitchen to cook. They don’t disturb the twins as they have their own weird reunion in the middle of the kitchen and work around them.

For all of their meal and the rest of the night, Taako and Lup don’t let go of each other’s hands. They already make plans for dinner together, mocking the cooking of the other three as they make promises together of showing them how to really cook. Soon, Magnus, Merle, Lucretia, and everyone else have been invited over for an extravagant banquet that no one has prepared for in the slightest, but it hardly matters. Despite the short notice, Kravitz isn’t surprised to find every single one of them at the door when the time comes around.

The table is full, now.

Lup and Taako laugh loudly and obnoxiously, both of them bright as the sun as they lean over the table and argue with Magnus. Funny, how even when most of them were together, Kravitz never saw Magnus get this excited or worked up, or just how horrible Merle’s jokes are, or heard Lucretia deliver as many shocking burns as she does. He isn’t sure if it’s the fact that Taako is back specifically or just that they’re all finally together.

Led by Taako’s eyes, Kravitz finds himself launching into conversation and keeping up with everybody else in a way that’s completely new and just fun . He sits next to Taako during the dinner and receives no short amount of kicks beneath the table or shoves at his shoulder at a terrible joke, and he returns everything he gets in full force.

Kravitz has spent his entire life mourning his parents and the warm family he once had. He chased the idea for years, knowing he was suffering for lack of what he had lost, and yet it feels now as if he had never truly known what he was missing. The people he’s around now are very different from his parents, and the family dynamic they have is worlds apart.

Perhaps he shouldn’t even compare them. Perhaps he should just enjoy what he has now, and the hand holding his proudly on top of the table.


 

When Kravitz returns home from work in the evenings, one sound means ‘home.’

“God fucking dammit, she really messed up my entire fucking system!”

Kravitz smiles at Taako’s outburst and hangs his jacket by the doorway. “I’m home, love,” he calls, though he only gets a vague groan of acknowledgement in return. Kravitz goes to the kitchen to find Angus doing his homework at the table and pats him on the back, receiving a bright smile and greeting before he makes his way to Taako’s office.

The door isn’t only unlocked, but always open these days. Taako is hunched over in an uncomfortable position at his desk, face scrunched up as he presses one key repeatedly with a firm index finger. Kravitz comes up to the side of his chair and plants a kiss on the top of his head.

“I thought you fixed everything Lup did at work?” he asks, and Taako rolls his eyes.

“God, I wish. Look at this, she rearranged how the gradebook is organized completely. Who actually goes by alphabetical order?”

“What order do you go by?”

“Favoritism.”

Kravitz lets out a loud laugh as he pulls up his own chair to the second desk in the room. After all the lab work had been filed and moved to his private lab in the school, a lot of room was left in the office that needed to be filled or else it would be ugly. At least, that was Taako’s excuse for adding Kravitz’s own desk to the room. It may be a little cramped, their chairs close together, but he could care less. It’s a nice cramped.

He unpacks his briefcase and begins sorting out all the new paperwork he had gotten from Raven today. Things have been going well at work now that he’s officially back in the game, although no cases have required him to go undercover and live in enemy territory for three years. He had to go out of town a few times and Taako complained loudly about how he was finally abandoning them after all this time. Angus chastised his father very seriously and attempted to explain to Kravitz that it’s alright for him to leave and they’d be just fine. But they all know the kid is saddest about him leaving.

No trips ever lasted more than a few days, and every time he comes back, it’s to bright smiles and a new delicious meal on the table. He retells his usually boring stories with heavy amounts of embellishment that they’re all aware is fake but are interested in anyways.

Next to him, Taako lets out a long, exasperated sigh. He pushes his chair back from his desk and gets up just so he can yank Kravitz’s chair back and fall into his lap. He sighs again, louder this time, and wraps his arms around the detective’s neck. “Do you really have to go next week? You know I can’t take care of Angus by myself.”

“You took care of him by yourself for years,” Kravitz says as he drops everything he’s doing to hold his boyfriend.

“Yeah, but I got pretty used to pushing off all the work on you.”

Kravitz laughs and kisses his cheek. “It’s only a month, I’ll be back before you know it. You and Lup made a ton of plans anyways.”

“Lup is cool, but I’m not gonna fuck her.”

“Is that all I am to you?” Kravitz says and sighs dramatically just as Taako had before.

Taako hums as he runs a finger up Kravitz’s jaw. “Yep, three years in the making, just here for the dick. Don’t pretend you aren’t the same.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m only dating a single father so I can take care of his kid.”

Taako lets out an ugly snort and playfully pats the side of his face. “Angus this and Angus that, I see how it is. Why don’t you just go spend all your time with him before you leave?”

“I’m gonna spend a lot of it with him, not going to lie,” Kravitz says, and Taako smiles. They both know he loves it when Kravitz puts Angus as a priority. They both do, above almost everything else, and the kid deserves nothing less after everything he’s been through. But he isn’t the only one who’s had it rough. “I’ll call you as often as I can, alright? If you get lonely, call Magnus and Merle.”

Taako fakes offense and crosses his arms stubbornly. He still leans into Kravitz’s touch when the man’s hands come to cup his cheeks. “Lonely? Me? Never. I’ve got my hands full with my students and an entire kid, don’t worry about me. You’re the one who’s going to be lonely just hanging out with Raven for a month in fucking Rogueport.”

“It is going to suck and I am going to be very lonely,” Kravitz agrees. “But I’ll be alright as long as I’m coming home to you.”

“Gross. Mega gross. Just shut up.”

He does. They only stop kissing when Angus politely knocks on the door as he always does before entering. Kravitz gets up with Taako still in his lap, carrying the squirming elf to the kitchen to prepare dinner with peals of laughter filling the halls.


 

“You look like you’re dying ,” Raven says with a look of disgust. Laying upside down over the side of the bed, Kravitz narrows his eyes at her.

“You miss Istus, too.”

“Yeah, but I don’t act like a heartbroken puppy all day. It’s only been two weeks, how are you going to survive the rest of this?”

Kravitz looks at the phone that hasn’t left his hand for a moment since they left. No new missed calls or texts in the five minutes he hasn’t checked. He can’t help but let out a long sigh and he hears Raven tut at his behavior.

He could survive this if Taako used his phone more and called him every single hour. He could survive this is Angus facetimed more often and kept texting him candid photos of Taako around the house when his father isn’t looking. The two of them keep constant contact with Kravitz, but it hardly means anything when they aren’t all actually together.

He misses his family now that they’ve all been reunited after so long, and to be apart from them again for any period of time feels like torture. As much as he knows it isn’t likely, he can’t help but entertain the voice in the back of his head telling him that everything will go wrong when he’s not there. Even though he knows that nothing will happen, and that he’s hardly the reason any of this was fixed so what good would it do if he were there, the urge to return home only grows stronger every day. To have a taste of this happy, lovely family, and then to not be able to spend every day with them is the worst pain imaginable. He’s so full of love, so pleased with his current life and everyone he’s surrounded by, and the longing to be home is a physical pain in his chest.

Raven takes a seat next to Kravitz on the hotel bed and claps a strong hand over his shoulder reassuringly. “Your pretty husband and darling boy will be fine, don’t worry. I know they miss you just as much.”

“Taako can barely do anything by himself,” Kravitz says quickly. “He’s gotten too used to me helping organize his papers and calendar, and I know he’s not gonna make his bed in the morning. He can barely even reach the trashcan on his side of the bed when he has a piece of gum to throw away. And Angus--well, Angus will be okay, but--”

“They’re talking to you, right?” Raven interrupts. “You know they’re doing just fine, so stop worrying so much.”

“That’s so much easier said than done and you know it.”


 

At three weeks, Kravitz feels like he’s dying. This is by no means the first time he and Raven have gone somewhere, and certainly not the longest. But it’s the first time he’s left his family behind for it.

A few simple years ago, he would think nothing of taking a trip out of town for work, even if it took weeks. There was hardly any difference between living in town and living somewhere else, and some trips even made him consider just moving completely. The only thing that kept him grounded was the memory of his home with his family, unable to leave their ghosts in the past. Perhaps it would’ve been healthier for him to pick up and move somewhere new where he could craft an identity based only on himself and not his past. But if he were completely sane, he wouldn’t have taken on the job to track down a powerful necromancer for months on end.

Now there’s something waiting for him. There’s a place he wants to go, people he wants to see, and what’s worse is knowing that they so equally want to see him . To love and be loved is a sensation Kravitz has missed all his life, simply living so that he could output love for his late parents into the ground and his work. It wasn’t a life without love, but he’s certainly a stranger now for receiving it.

Taako was completely different from him. A man with so much love to give that it pained him, yet blind to all of it he was receiving from the people around him. He was never without love, either. But man, wasn’t he an idiot for being so immune to it? That it would take everything that had happened now to break through to him?

On the second to last day, Raven decides they can leave early. Kravitz isn’t in any position to complain and happily joins her in the car. He doesn’t text Taako or Angus, doesn’t tell anyone, and instead just vibrates in the passenger seat with excitement that Raven teases him constantly over.

But how could he be blamed? After thirty some-odd years of living like a husk to suddenly being so full, it’s impossible to contain himself. Now that he’s felt what it’s like to give love and have it returned, how could he want to do anything but give it to his family all the time, every moment, in every way with every fiber of his being? The warmth of his home, of Angus bundled up between him and Taako on the couch, of a smile shared in the dark… all of them individually are more than he’s able to take. But he takes, and takes, and gives, and gives, regardless of his capacity. To die from overflowing with this bliss would be the best way to go.

Being gone for just barely a month is enough to make him think. In the future, they could be apart for even longer. There will be accidents, inevitably, and it may not be as bright as the time they’ve already had together once things settled down. Kravitz will have to put himself in danger for his work as he did for Taako’s case again, and Taako may one day decide to return to some unsafe experimentation. This month apart was hardly even a test run of what may come in the future, and even then, he was assured every single day that everything was fine at home.

What if he doesn’t have that assurance in the future?

What does he do if something happens to one of them, if they have to leave for longer, if there’s an accident or an emergency that no one can foresee?

This month was planned. It was a safe trial run that took place under experimental, safe conditions, and even that felt like an eternity. To be able to make it in the future together, something is going to have to change if this is all it takes to shake them.

Kravitz has had the idea for a while, but they haven’t really talked about it.

As soon as he can see the house from his window, he finalizes it in his head.

He barely remembers to thank Raven and assure her he’ll be back to work next week as planned before he’s taking off out the car and up the yard. At this time, school has long since ended; Taako and Angus both should be home. He’s already received a few texts today from the two of them, all being too busy to call at any point today, so he knows they’re doing well. Today, Angus had a test that Kravitz helped him study for over the phone. Taako had to arrange a department meeting by himself, too. Angus immediately told Kravitz that the test went well, thankfully, but he hasn’t heard from Taako. Maybe it means he just got home.

With nerves piled high, Kravitz reaches the front door and relishes in the simple muscle memory of picking out the right key that fits the lock. The slight chill of an autumn’s almost-evening disappears as soon as he opens the door, flooded instead with the simple warmth of a lived-in home. It’s different from the hotel they stayed at, from the apartment he used to live in, and the easy feeling makes him smile on reflex.

Nothing’s changed. All the pictures are in the same place, the hideous artwork remains on the walls and everywhere else, gross carpet designs, gaudy furniture that doesn’t match the piece immediately next to it… He’s missed it all, relived it in every photo Angus has sent. It’ll be even nicer to go back through the rest of the house, but before that, a pointy eared face pops out of the kitchen to inspect the intruder.

Taako only gets halfway through a “what th-” before they meet eyes. There’s surprise, obviously, but Kravitz can just make out that initial smile on Taako’s lips that he tries to fight down. He seems to struggle for just a moment before throwing any kind of pretense or formality out the window and drops whatever he had been carrying to lunge for Kravitz. Already anticipating the movement, Kravitz is quick to open up his arms and envelop the elf in a tight embrace that’s overpowered only by the ferocity with which Taako pulls back to practically punch their lips together. It hurts, and it isn’t very comfortable, but neither is sleeping in the same bed as Taako or enduring his humor.

They pull away, and speak at the same time.

“You’re early,” Taako says, words immediately lost beneath Kravitz’s “Let’s get married.”

Taako’s face falls immediately, as do the hands on Kravitz’s arms.

It isn’t the reaction he wanted, but to anticipate anything else from Taako would just prove that Kravitz doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. So instead of losing hope at the blank expression on the elf’s face, Kravitz carefully reaches out to grab his shoulders.

“Let’s not leave anything to chance, Taako,” he says. “I don’t want to ever have to worry about you and Angus again, or if we ever accidentally pass our chance up after fighting fate to get here.”

“And… marriage is somehow going to protect all of us from the world?” Taako asks cautiously.

Kravitz winces. “I mean… no, I guess not literally, but--you know? It’s just like… you know? If something happens, then at least legally we can be together or if something like that happens… you know?”

It’s a lot of convincing to be done, especially since the only things running through Kravitz’s head were all the romantic and flowery reasons marriage could be used to assure their futures together and, well, he didn’t expect Taako to question him on it. He expected Taako to be wary, but maybe it’s been long enough to forget that the elf doesn’t view everything through the same rose colored lens that he does.

“Legal benefits,” Taako says, monotone.

“...and taxes?”

Another face appears in the kitchen entrance, then, and Kravitz is surprised to see not Angus, but the literal carbon copy of Taako staring back at him with wide eyes for only a second. Lup leans over to pick up whatever bowl Taako had dropped and tosses Kravitz a cheeky smile. The two of them had kept in contact over the month, too; she’s the only one Kravitz trusted to check in and kick the shit out of Taako if necessary.

“What in the hell’s going on out here?” she says, pretending to be unsurprised by his sudden entrance.

But before Kravitz can tell her that he’s home, Taako turns around in a flourish and wraps his arm around Kravitz’s neck to pull him close in the same motion. With their cheeks pressed together, Taako grins at his sister mischievously.

“You haven’t heard?” he asks, wiggling the fingers on his empty left hand as if there was a ring there. “We’re getting hitched.”

That night, they celebrate the answer Taako indirectly gave him. Kravitz immerses himself in the routine of chores and nightly duties like dishes, homework, and then the not-so nightly duty of trying to get Angus to stop crying. They’re happy tears, both from coming home early and learning his father was getting married to the other father he’d had for a long time now. He’s surprised he’s able to keep Angus out of their bed tonight, but he has a feeling the kid knows when they need their privacy.

Even when they’re alone, Taako doesn’t say anything but his ring size before rolling over so Kravitz can spoon him from behind. And he does.

It doesn’t do anything to protect them. No marriage or any kind of ceremony would be able to keep their family safe from whatever may come, be it from outside forces or their own hands. Taako may do something stupid again. Kravitz may overthink and overreact. A million things could go wrong.

This is the first thing Kravitz has had in a long time that’s worth protecting. He doesn’t need a ring or legal document to keep him at Taako’s side, or know that Kravitz is both Angus’s father and Lup’s brother. Those things will never change, no matter what happens. They’ve fought more than most people should to finally win this family, and they all know they don’t need anything more than they have right now.

But it’s also just nice to have an excuse for another celebration.