Actions

Work Header

Star Crossed Is One Way Of Putting It

Chapter Text

Congratulations applicate!

You have been accepted for the role of Arcane Researcher and Transmutation Specialist on the Extraplanar Research Mission for the Institute of Planar Research and Exploration. The submissions we received for this position were all highly talented and made the selection process all the more difficult, but you have proven qualified for this mission. The IPRE is excited to have you aboard the (ship name still pending) this coming August.

There were over ten pages of information after that initial paragraph, but Taako didn’t bother looking them over. He’d barely looked over the first page at that. He’d been planning to wait for Lup to get back to open them together, but his curiosity got the better of him, what else was new.

Once he’d seen he was accepted, he couldn’t keep himself from checking Lup’s too. And somehow his blood was running cold and boiling in rage at the same fucking time.

Greetings Lup LastnamesAreMandatory,

We are sorry to inform you that we will not be accepting you onto the Extraplanar Research Mission this coming August. We received many skilled applicants and unfortunately there were only a set number of spots for the (ship name still pending) mission. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you in the future.

The Institute of Planar Research and Exploration.

That was it. Just the one page rejection letter. Taako had reread it maybe fifty times at this point, having thrown his own letter aside.

This didn’t make any sense. This was wrong.

His mind going a million miles a minute Taako grabbed up both of the letters, making sure to grab even the envelopes. He couldn't leave any sign that they'd come yet. Okay, okay, he could fix this. Without thinking he jotted down a quick ‘back soon’ on a napkin in case Lup came back before he finished and headed out. The IPRE wasn’t far, and he was fucking running over there, clutching the letters so tight he’d ended up crumpling them.

This had to of been some sort of mistake. Lup had always, always been the more talented one, the one people were drawn to. It was a mix up, they were twins after all, it happened. He just had to go there and get them to fucking fix it and Lup would be recognized for all of her skill and determination like she fucking deserved.

Turns out, it wasn’t hard to get into the IPRE and talk with someone in charge when they thought you were one of the seven people chosen for the most prestigious missions the Institute had ever done. Normally Taako would soak this all up like a sponge, but he didn’t have time for that shit. It wasn’t his to soak up anyway, it was supposed to be Lup they were adoring and excited to have on board.

So, when he was let into the office of some important looking gnome dude (Taako remembered seeing him around during the application process, he was definitely one of the one’s in charge here) he was still furious. The look of pleasant surprise on the guy’s face only made it worse.

“Taako! I’m glad to see yo-”

“Fix this,” Taako snapped before he could finish speaking, slamming the letters down on the desk between them. The smile instantly fell from the gnome’s face, and he started looking over the two crumpled letters. It didn’t seem to take too long before he figured out what the problem was here.

“Taako, I’m sor-” he started again, but fuck no, he wasn’t having any of that bullshit.

“Look, I don’t know what kinda glitch you guys had in your systems, but it’s supposed to be Lup,” he insisted. The gnome sighed, putting the letters back down before turning his full attention back to Taako.

“There wasn’t a glitch. I advocated for the two of you to be accepted, I really did. You both were so incredibly qualified, but unfortunately I was outvoted,” he said, and Taako could tell when someone was bullshitting to try and appease him. This guy wasn’t. He was telling the truth about wanting both of them on the mission, and that was surprising enough to cool Taako’s rage some. Huffing, he slumped into the other chair in the room, actually bothering to glance at the nameplate sitting on the desk. Davenport, right. Taako was pretty sure he’d seen the name in the mountain of papers in his acceptance letter. He couldn't remember if he was actually going on the mission, or if he was in charge of it from the ground.

“Okay, fuck, I get it. We figured there was a pretty high chance some bullshit would keep both of us from being accepted,” Taako said, and it was true. They knew they both could do it, but they were painfully aware how unfair the world was. Even if you’re the best, sometimes that still ain’t fucking good enough, because people are assholes. “But that doesn’t explain why you didn’t accept Lup instead.”

Lup was smarter than him, and stronger than him, and better at magic. She was more sociable and people actually liked her. Taako had been prepared for her to get picked over him, but he’d never even considered the opposite happening, because you’d have to be a complete idiot to do that.

“You had a higher score on our assessment tests, it wasn’t by much, you two had the highest out of all the applicants, but you were still higher. Plus, your knowledge of transmutation magic and the components of varied substances seemed more applicable for the mission than her evocation specialty. We already have a security officer, so defense like that is taken care of,” Davenport explained, and all Taako could do was stare dumbly at him.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t a hard decision. I wanted Lup on this mission, I wanted to bring both of you along. The way you work together would be invaluable, but I don’t have sole power here. The other members of the committee felt choosing siblings would reflect some sort of bias, they refused to accept you both. We had to chose one of you, and Taako, it was you,” he finished.

There were several long minutes where Taako couldn’t fucking say anything. His mind was stuck going over what Davenport had said over and over again. They chose him. It wasn’t a mistake. They should’ve taken them both but when they had to pick, they somehow thought he was the better option.

(He was trying to fight down the feelings of pride swirling around inside of him. These people had no fucking idea what they were talking about. He was no fucking comparison to Lup. They were all fucking idiots.)

Finally he managed to find his voice again, taking a long deep breath before speaking.

“You have to take her. She deserves this,” he said, and Davenport immediately sighed.

“Taako, I told you I don’t have that powe-”

“I reject the position.”

That got his attention, Davenport shut right up and stared at him.

“I’m not going on the mission. You said you could only pick one of us, that we both got the highest scores out of everyone. I’m not going. Take Lup instead,” he said, not leaving any fucking room for argument here. He could see the surprise on Davenport’s face shift to disappointment, and finally to acceptance.

“If that’s your decision, I can’t force you to accept. I do need some assurance however that I’m not going to get another angry elf in my office tomorrow demanding I take her brother in her place,” he said, a smile forming ever so slightly on his face at the end there. Taako couldn’t help but smile back, relieved to have this fixed. Plus, he couldn’t help but like this guy, at least a little bit. He wasn't anywhere near as much of an asshole as he'd expected.

“Nah, don’t gotta worry about that my dude, I’ll make sure she doesn’t get any sort of idea in her head,” he said, and Davenport nodded. Taako took another glance at the crumpled up letters strewn across the desk in front of him, and right. There was one other thing he needed to set straight here.

“Lup can’t know about this, okay? Like, she can’t know I was accepted,” he said, and Davenport frowned again. He nodded after a moment though, and Taako found himself liking this dude even more.

“It really is a shame we can’t have both of you. The bond engine would never have to worry about fuel,” he said, getting up and putting together an acceptance letter identical to his, accept with Lup’s name instead.

“Your fucking loss my dude. Just know you’re getting the better twin in this exchange, whatever fucking test scores or whatever might say. This was Lup’s idea and passion and all that shit, she deserves it,” he said. Davenport finished the letter, making a rejection letter for Taako as well, before handing them both to him.

“I hope to work with you in the very near future, Taako,” Davenport said, and it didn’t sound like the normal placation for this kind of thing. It sounded both like he meant it and like he was trying to hint at something, but like fuck if Taako knew what that was. So he just nodded, taking the two letters.

“Yeah, sure thing my guy,” he said, and there wasn’t anything else to talk about here. He got Lup the space she deserved, she’d never know they tried to cheat her of all her hard work. Taako losing his spot was a small price to pay for that, and it didn’t bother him.

(He’d worked so hard too. He’d wanted it just as much even if it was Lup’s idea, and it wasn't fucking fair. He was good enough to get in, they both were. The fuckers in charge were assholes who felt like they couldn’t take twins no matter how good they were. It never mattered how good they were, there was always something there to go and ruin it.)

He wasn’t running when he went back home, and he kept both letters crisp in his hands, not daring to crumple them up like he had with the other ones. As soon as he came inside Lup was on him, looking kinda pissed. Which wasn’t too much of a surprise, Taako wasn’t usually the one to go off with no explanation like that.

“What the fuck bro? You know ‘back soon’ isn’t a very descriptive note,” she said, but Taako just shrugged.

“Yeah yeah okay, but I was kinda in a hurry,” he said before pulling out the two letters and waving them in front of her. “Look what I gooot,” he added in a sing song voice, the irritation on Lup’s face instantly replaced with excitement.

“Oh fuck, are those the results?” she asked, snatching the letters from him, glancing them over before handing Taako back his.

“Hmm, sure does seem like it. Might be junk mail though, I can throw them out if you want,” he teased, and Lup held her letter up to her chest before he could try to grab it.

“No way fuck you,” she said, only pulling her letter away from herself once she was sure he wasn’t going to try to take it. “Well, there’s no point in staying in suspense anymore right? Let’s open these bad boys up,” she added, and Taako nodded. It wasn’t hard to keep an excited look on his face, because he was excited to see how happy Lup was gonna be. The two opened up their letters simultaneously, and Taako scanned over his for show. Luckily, Lup didn’t seem to be paying him much mind, and there was a scream of excitement in his ear almost immediately.

“Taako holy shit I'm in! Oh fuck yes! This planet can kiss my ass, I’m outta here!” she said, and when she finally turned to look at him he guessed she could tell something wasn’t quite right. He was excited, so happy for her, but they still weren’t both in. They'd still be separated, and it was only for two months but that was still longer than they'd ever been apart before.

“That’s fuckin great Lulu, those fuckers don’t know how lucky they are to get you,” he said, and most of the unbridled joy had left her by now.

“Yeah, I… what does yours say?” she asked, and Taako handed the much smaller letter over. It wasn’t even half a second before her expression turned over to completely pissed.

“What the fuck! Where do those assholes get off not accepting you? That’s bullshit!” she snapped, but Taako just shrugged. He really didn’t want her to get too upset over this and do something stupid like not go.

“Whatever Lup, it’s their loss. Plus, I was kinda prepared for this, we figured they might only want one of us,” he said, and Lup was still fuming.

“Taako, I’m not leaving without you,” she said, and Taako kinda expected this too. They’d talked about what they’d do if only one of them was chosen, and most of that had been jokes about sneaking whoever wasn’t accepted onto the ship, but he knew they couldn’t actually do that.

“Listen, Lup I’m not letting you throw away this chance. You fucking busted your ass for this, who cares if I’m not there. You deserve it,” he said. He’d pick her up and toss her onto the ship himself if he needed to, but he wasn’t going to let her pass it up and then regret it for his sake.

“I’m not going to throw it away Taako. Like hell are they getting all that effort out of me without letting me cash in on it,” she said, and he instantly relaxed some at that. “But I’m not leaving without you,” she added, and now he was frowning again.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to change their minds on this, it’s all elitist and shit running the shindig. They don’t tend to listen when people tell them they’re wrong,” he argued. It didn’t seem to deter Lup any, who’d started flipping through the other pages of the acceptance letter. The ones with all of the information needed for the preliminary stages of the mission and such. The ones Taako hadn’t bothered to glance over because they weren’t going to concern him in the end. He wasn't jealous, because Lup deserved this more than him.

“Yeah, but you’re still coming along. Seriously Taako, we had a plan for this,” she said, and he just stared at her for a moment because she couldn’t be serious.

“Lup, we’re not sneaking me on board,” he said, but he knew he was going to lose this argument.

“Yes we are, now come read this shit over with me, you’re gonna need to know it too,” she said, and Taako sighed. He should probably argue with her, but…

But he was supposed to be on this mission. He’d been accepted, as dumb of a decision as that was to pick him over Lup. He wanted to go, and he was qualified for it and it was only dumb bureaucratic bullshit keeping him from actually doing it.

I hope to work with you in the very near future, Taako.

He was probably looking too much into it, but Davenport had been for him being a part of the IPRE. Taako figured he didn't mean ‘please sneak aboard my ship and infiltrate this incredibly important mission’ but if he wanted to work with Taako, then hell, he could work with Taako.

“Yeah alright, lemme at em,” he said, and Lup handing him the pages she’d already read through.

This was the dumbest fucking plan, but that wasn’t going to stop them.

They were a packaged deal, whether the IPRE knew it or not.

Chapter Text

The months leading up to the extra-planar mission were hectic, to say the least. She meant that in the best way possible of course, but it was hectic none the less. Sure there were a bunch of boring regulations to get through, but it was all leading up to something great. She could tell, and with every glimpse she got of the ship or the people who were gonna be on the mission with her Lup got more and more excited.

Everything she’d worked for her whole life was leading up to this, and it was almost perfect.

Almost .

Because Taako wasn’t there.

He was supposed to be beside her at all the orientations, at the training for the science they’d do out beyond the planes, as they toured around the ship. Sure, every day when she came home she explained it all in excruciating detail to Taako, insisting that he needed to know it too, but it was still wrong. She knew her brother was talented enough to be here, hell, more than talented enough. He caught onto some of the shit faster than she did, without actually even seeing it, just from her explanation. Sure, he downplayed his intelligence a lot and wasn’t the best people person, but that shouldn’t have mattered that much. They only had to deal with five other people besides the two of them after all. He could manage that.

So, shit was almost perfect but not quite, and Lup had a plan to fix it sure, but it didn’t make the whole thing any less annoying. It dampened her excitement some, but not enough for any of her new crew mates to notice. She was still pretty damn excited after all, that wasn’t changing.

And besides, her crew seemed cool. Like, a bunch of huge fucking nerds for the most part, but cool. She was totally like, fine, with all of them. Yeah. She liked some more than others, but all in all they were great and she was super impartial about her feelings towards everyone.

She wasn’t bitter about her brother not getting picked, and if she was she knew it wasn’t anyone else on the crew’s fault, not even Cap’n Davenport. She wouldn’t do something as petty as dislike the other chief arcanist/cultural expert or bla bla bla whatever his dumb title was, just because she was set to work closely with the dude for the mission and that was supposed to be her brother in that spot.

Nah, as far as she could tell, Kravitz whats-his-dumb was just kind of an asshole. That had nothing to do with her.

But she was a professional and she could play nice. Besides, the closer they got to the date they were set to leave the less Lup cared about the overly formal borefest she was supposed to work with instead of Taako , and the more she cared about getting the show on the road.

And most importantly, getting Taako on the road as well.

Getting him into the events wasn’t an issue, he was family after all, so free tickets hell yeah. They got several tours through the ship to familiarize themselves with where they were going to be living and doing their research. Knowing the layout of what they were working with helped a bunch when one needed to sneak around.

The issue was, trying to sneak him on when they were all boarding would be a major issue. First of all, all of the other crew mates would be there, and secondly the whole IPRE was gonna be around. It was kind of a big deal, there was going to be security everywhere. Lup knew her and Taako were kind of the best, but hey, it was better not to deal with those risks in the first place.

When she laid out her plan for getting him on the ship a week before they were set to take off, Taako had sighed, poured himself a very large glass of wine and then slowly downed the whole thing in one swig.

“You’re actually serious about this? Like, one hundro-percent on board for sneaking me on board?” he asked, like he even had to ask such a dumb question.

“Yes, what do you think we’ve been doing this whole time? I haven’t been quizzing you on all this junk for the fun of it,” she said. Taako slowly put down his now empty glass and got to his feet, scowling some. It was rare to see him so serious, but Lup wasn’t surprised.

“And if they find me? You’re cool with that? You really think it’s gonna be ‘oh well dern , I guess he’s here now, there’s nothing we can do.' Tell me right now that you’re alright with the option that I get caught, they turn the damn ship around and throw both of us off and you lose any chance of ever working with the IPRE again. Tell me that’s just fine by you,” he snapped. It wasn’t like Lup had never thought of that scenario, she’d gone through that possibility a million times in her head. It didn’t change shit.

“Of course it is,” she said. It was that simple.

Taako nodded before sitting back down and pouring two more glasses of wine, mage handing one over to her. The dead seriousness from before had completely melted away, but Lup knew for a fact that it had been genuine.

“Alright then hell yeah, just making sure sister. Let’s do this,” he said, and Lup let herself get excited again. Taking the glass of wine, she fucking chugged it before leaning forwards, a huge grin across her face.

“Okay, so it’ll cost a couple spellslots, but it should only take about five minutes to get from outside of the ship to my room,” she started. This time, Taako got into the planning, helping her work out a couple of the kinks and pick out an appropriately sized suitcase.

This could work. They only needed to pull it off for two months, they could handle that no problem.

She wasn’t leaving her brother behind when she knew how much he deserved to be there.

The day before they were to set off to their mission, they were told to come to the IPRE headquarters for a final press conference, and the head to the ship (the Starblaster! Fuck, Lup loved that name) to drop off any personal belongings they wanted to bring with them for the two months. Afterwards, a bunch of them we’re gonna go out on the town to celebrate their last night on Terra Firma. All in all, a pretty chill plan Lup was down with.

The press conference went pretty well. She could see Taako in the audience, which was cool but also made it even more clear how he wasn’t up on the stage with her like he should’ve been. She couldn’t make snarky comments to him like she wanted to, which yeah, Magnus was a cool stand-in for that, but it wasn’t the same.

Still, it was alright. She slammed Greg Grimaldis and yawned loudly while Kravitz was up at the podium. It was great.

Moving everyone’s shit in was a hassle and a half, and Lup was more than glad to slam a few drinks at a bar. Except her brother wasn’t there, and so she was kind of killing time until she needed to go and set shit into action.

She stayed until Magnus got a black eye and Merle had gotten Lucretia safely behind the counter before deciding to duck out.

“You’re heading out already?” Kravitz asked, catching her heading towards the door because of course he did. Still, she put on a smile and nodded, because there was no reason to be rude. Even if he was a boring rule obsessed stick in the mud who wore a goddamn suit to a shitty bar and sipped expensive wine while not talking to anybody.

“Yeah, realized I left a couple bags at home that I need to get on the Starblaster. Taako’s probably waiting at the door with them for me to come back,” she said, and that wasn’t a lie in the slightest.

“Ah, well, have a good night then,” he said, and it sounded forced.

“You too,” she said back, not bothering to sound genuine.

Thankfully, she didn’t actually have to go all the way back to her house. Taako was waiting her for a couple blocks down from the IPRE base, looking bored as shit sitting on a suitcase.

“Took you long enough. You know if you love hanging out with all your new best friends so much without me, I might as well not go,” he said, standing up off of the suitcase. Yeah, there was no way she was surviving this trip if she didn’t have his melodrama around. Or at the very least, she’d never survive the two months of pent up bullshit he’d hit her with as soon as she got back.

“If I left too soon they’d start to miss me, you know how it is,” she said, before tossing a pair of cute little cut off boots at him. “Won ya these,” she added. That shut him up, her dumbass brother quickly sitting back down to change shoes.

“You’ve been forgiven,” he said, very pleased.

“Mhmm, now let’s get going already if you’re so impatient,” she said, and the two started off towards the IPRE. They stopped once they were outside of the building where the Starblaster was, sneaking off into the shadows. “Alright, you ready?” Lup asked as he zipped open the suitcase.

“Lay it on me sister, I’m gonna need those spellslots in case you take forever, reduce only lasts a minute,” he said.

“We’ll be in and out in no time, you won’t come close to running out,” she said, but she went and cast reduce and then invisibility on him for good measure. The suitcase shuffled around a bit, and then tried to close on its own before falling open again.

“Uh, I’m in. Zip me up?” he asked. Lup rolled her eyes but quickly zipped up the bag before running towards the building where the Starblaster was. There was a guard stationed by the entrance of the ship, but Lup let out a smile when she saw him. Fuck yeah, it was Roland, Roland was cool.

“Hey babe! Got an extra bag I forgot to grab this afternoon. Think I could run in real quick?” she asked, all smiles and charm.

“It’s only two months, how many bags do you need?” he asked, clearly joking.

“This one bag was three before I managed to get done with it. You all have no idea the sacrifices I’ve had to make,” she said, and he laughed at that.

“I’m sure it must’ve been so hard. Try and be quick okay? The cleaning crew just got done and they’d kill me if they knew I let someone in after they closed up,” he said, and yeah okay, Lup could understand his plight.

“Man, we’ve barely even been on the ship yet. I don’t know what they got to clean,” she said, thankful was Roland opened the door for her.

“You’re the science girl, you tell me,” he said, and she shrugged as she yanked the suitcase through the doorway.

“Gotta protect space from all our germs I guess,” she said before rushing off to her room. By the time she got there she’d guessed the whole incident had managed to take maybe four minutes, tops? Slamming the door behind her, she quickly unzipped the bag. She didn’t see Taako tumble out of it, since the invisibility would still be up for a while, but she could imagine what it’d look like. Fucking hilarious was the answer.

“Fuck, even reduced that’s still a tight squeeze. You couldn’t have gone any faster? Just had to chat it up?” Taako complained, and Lup rolled her eyes, sitting down on the bed.

“You’re fine, I wasn’t gonna be rude,” she said. The only thing that had been in the bag besides Taako was a bunch of snacks, mainly for him to eat while he hid out in the ship until they took off. She could see them shift around as he probably stood up off of the ground.

She was about to say something else, but they both froze at the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Lup had never been more thankful that invisibility was an hour long spell when her bedroom door opened, her fucking captain standing on the other side.

“Lup, you know we’re not leaving until tomorrow, right?” he asked, clearly amused with finding her there. At least he was amused, not mad. She resisted glancing over to the spot of air where she assumed Taako was standing stock still.

“Oh yeah, just ya know, bringing a few things I missed this morning. What’cha doing here?” she asked, because she knew he wasn’t hanging out with everyone else tonight, but like, she didn’t think anyone would be on the ship either. Fucking Roland said the cleaning crew had just left, there shouldn’t be anyone else around.

“Just thought I’d do one last look around before I head home for the night,” he said, and okay, Lup guessed he had that right, being the captain and all. “You needed to bring fantasy dunkaroos?” he asked after a moment, glancing down at all the snacks littered on the floor.

“Do they have fantasy dunkaroos outside of the planar system? I’m gonna guess no, so yes, I did,” she said. Davenport chuckled a little at that, before taking a sweeping look around the room.

“I guess that’s a fair point, but please don’t try to sneak anymore snacks onto the ship,” he said, and she nodded. “Well, if you’re done here, I can walk you out,” he added.

“Yeah, yeah no I’ll just uh, clean that up in the morning,” she said, glancing at the pile of snacks on the ground before following him out of the room. She would’ve liked to say bye to Taako, but she’d see him in the morning. Walking through the ship was quiet and Lup was trying very hard to look like she wasn’t doing anything suspicious what so ever.

When they got outside Roland at least had the decency to give her an apologetic look. She guessed he really couldn’t say no to the captain if he wanted on the ship.

“Well, I’ll see you in the morning Lup,” Davenport said once they were off the ship, and she quickly nodded.

“Catch ya on the flipside Cap’n’port,” she said with a wink. The put upon sigh that escaped the dude was kind of hilarious.

It felt too quiet when she got back to her house, but at least she only had to deal with that for one night. She would gladly take that over having to go two months without her twin.

That night felt a little like it lasted forever, but the next morning absolutely refused to slow the fuck down. She had to wake up at the crack of dawn and the whole crew was dragged from breakfast to one last public appearance before finally heading onto the Starblaster to set out. Lup couldn’t wipe the smile off of her face as the ship lifted off of the ground before starting out toward the edged of the prime material plane.

“Hey, I’m gotta go do something real quick, be right back,” she excused herself from the excitement of everyone on deck. Thankfully everyone else seemed hyped enough about the mission finally starting not to be that bothered by her running off. She’d join in on the fun in full soon, right now she needed to check on Taako.

The snacks were mostly cleaned up when she got to her room, but she didn’t see her brother at first.

“Taako?” she whispered quietly, closing the door behind her. Almost immediately her closet door burst open and her brother fell out.

“Wasn’t sure if it was you or not. Are we up?” he asked, picking himself up from the floor. Lup smiled brightly and nodded.

“Up and heading out,” she said, and he laughed, collapsing onto the bed.

“Fuck yeah, this is so stupid,” he said, but he was smiling just as wide as she was.

“You’re psyched as shit, don’t even lie,” she said, and he shrugged, grabbing the pillow and stuffing it behind his head.

“Hmm, we’ll see about that. Anyway, you’ve told me a lot about all the bla bla boring science junk we’re gonna be doing, but gimme the real scoop. Whatcha think of the knuckleheads we’re gonna be stuck with?” he asked, and yeah, Lup had been expecting that question for a while.

“Well let’s see, Magnus is cool. The security guy? He got a black eye while we were out drinking last night, that was pretty sweet,” she said, and Taako nodded.

“Aw dunk, I’m gonna have to sneak a peak at that sometime,” he said.

“Uh, don’t got much of a read on Lucretia and Merle yet. Lucretia seems sweet and I might’ve overheard Merle arguing with Cap’n’port about whether or not he could bring certain choice plants on board. I really hope he won that argument,” she said, and Taako laughed.

“The old hippy cleric with the flowers in his beard? Yeah , I can see him trying that,” he said, before seeming to think for a bit. “What’d ya think of the ol’ captain?” he asked, and Lup chewed her lip as she debated how to answer.

“I’m not sure. He hasn’t been an outright asshole or anything yet, but he’s been awfully, like, professional , ya know?” she said, and Taako hummed thoughtfully.

“Yeah guess so. I like him,” he said, and that was a surprise.

“You, Taako? My very own brother, likes someone in a position of power?” she asked, and he just shrugged again.

“I don’t know, I saw him a lot during the orientation process. He seemed like a pretty chill dude overall,” he said, and she guessed that was fair. She got the feeling she’d have to rethink her opinions of their captain if he’d actually managed to get Taako to have some sort of positive emotions for him.

“And uh, who's left? Barry’s cool. I mean, he’s not cool, he’s a total fucking nerd Taako, did you see him at the conference yesterday? Holy shit, am I right?” she said with a bright smile.

“Grade fuckin A nerd right there, you’re right about that,” Taako agreed. “What do you think of Kravitz?” he asked. and right, she guessed he was the only one left.

“Ugh, fuck Kravitz,” she huffed. Taako pushed himself up onto his elbows, raising an eyebrow at her.

“I mean, if you insist ,” he joked, grinning sharply. She rolled her eyes, grabbing the pillow out from where he was no longer lying on it and swatting him with it.

“No, ew,” she said, and Taako made a face at that.

“What do you mean ew , try to tell me that dude is not hot as fuck,” he said. Which, okay, he was objectively attractive, she could admit that, even if he wasn’t her type.

“Alright fine, but he’s boring. And kind of a jerk. And has like, a really punchable face,” she said.

“Lup, don’t punch his face. That’s the only pretty thing I’m gonna be able to look at for the next two months,” Taako complained.

“Magnus has a charm about him? And uh, Barry’s actually like, I don’t know, he’s pretty cute, maybe? In like, a nerdy way,” she said, wondering if she could get her brother to oggle anyone besides Kravitz.

“Magnus is too rough and tumble for me, cha’ boy needs someone with a delicate touch. And like, any amount of fashion sense, just like, any at all,” he said, which yeah, she didn’t think she was gonna be able to get him to take that bait. “Also, how cute Barold may or may not be sounds like a personal thing you gotta figure out for yourself,” he added, and she swatted him with the pillow again.

“Whatever, he’s at least nicer than Kravitz,” she said, and Taako nodded.

“Yeah well, you’re the people expert so I’ll defer to your judgment on this one. I won’t bang the super hot dude I’m gonna be stuck in a tiny tiny ship with for the next two months,” he said, and it sounded like a joke but she knew he was at least telling the truth about trusting her judgment.

“Thank you, especially since we only got the one bed in here,” she said.

“He’s got a room too, I’m considerate I wouldn’t go and invi-” he started, shutting up when the ship suddenly lurched underneath them. And then veered sharply to the side, sending both of them flying off of the bed. “What the fuck ?”

“I’ll go see, stay here and just, stay hidden, okay?” she said, scrambling back to her feet. Taako nodded, taking her hand when she offered it to help him back up as well.

“Right. I’m here if you need me,” he said, and Lup tried not to think about how he wasn’t supposed to be here. Right now, she was just so thankful that he was . She was going to say something, but then the ship lurched underneath them again and she needed to go.

“I’ll let you know what’s up as soon as I can,” she said before running out of the room and back up to the deck where everyone else was. Davenport had just slammed the communicator down before turning the ship wheel sharply once again.

“We can’t save them if we die too! We’re getting out of here,” he said.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Lup demanded. Instead of an answer, Lucretia screamed in horror. Following along to where her shaking hand was pointing Lup saw it.

Their home. They’d already exited out of the prime material plane. That wasn’t what Lup was focused on though.

There was a black mass, shimmering with ribbons of red, blue, green and gold. Great pillars of it were shooting down into the prime material plane, destruction they could still see even as Davenport sped them away from the disaster.

They watched, and the black mass grew until it had devoured their entire planar system.

And everything was gone.

Chapter Text

Taako didn’t know what the fuck was going on. He was alone, in Lup’s room, on a ship he wasn’t supposed to be on. Said ship was thrashing about wildly and it was getting hard to stay on his feet. Something was going on but he didn’t know what and he couldn’t even try to help because he couldn’t let anyone see him. He didn’t know what the fuck he was supposed to do .

Lup had told him to stay here, and stay hidden. Okay, okay. He could do that, he could manage that much.

The staying there part was easy, Taako at least knew he couldn't fuck that one up without trying. He glanced around the room, looking for a way to fulfill the ‘stay hidden’ part of his goal. The bed was bolted down to the floor, which was pretty good or else it’d have gone flying across the room by this point. He considered crawling under there, but the ship lurched again and there wasn’t anything keeping him bolted to the ground. He only barely managed to stay on his feet that time, catching himself after a full stumbling steps. Before the ship could do another goddamn roll and send him sprawling on his ass Taako ran over to the closet, shutting himself inside once again.

It was the dumbest hiding spot ever, but he didn’t have a lot of options and he was too panicked to care anyway. Pushing past the suitcases and boxes Lup had thrown in there, he made his way to the back until he was up against the wall. There wasn’t anything he could hold onto, but it was small and cramped enough for him to sink to the floor and be grounded while the ship trashed around him. And he waited.

He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Well, he guessed for Lup to come back. For his sister to tell him if they were all gonna die or some shit.

Before that happened though, there was suddenly something . He was frozen and there was a million images of himself, alone and huddled terrified in the corner of the closet between a suitcase and a stack of boxes.

And then he was back to normal. Just the one him, hiding in the closet, the ship’s flight easing back into a smooth control. He still had no fucking idea what was going on, but it didn’t seem like they crashed and died a fiery death. The ship was still flying, they were okay. Maybe there was like, some weird shit going on when they left the plane and they were past it now.

Whatever it was, he just had to wait for Lup to come back and give him the details.

And so he waited.

And waited.

It’d been maybe a half an hour, and he was getting impatient and antsy but Lup had told him to stay here and stay hidden. She’d come back as soon as she could to tell him what was going on. He believed that. Lup was going to come back soon, and everything was going to be okay.

So he stayed huddled up in the dark, just fucking waiting .

It was edging closer to an hour when he heard running down the hall and the door to the room opening and quickly slamming shut again.

“Taako? Taako fuck, Taako where are you? Please you have to still be here please, fuck, fuck!” He heard Lup’s panicked yell-whispers out in the room and he scrambled to get out of the closet (god, he was going to get real fucking tired of the mental puns if he had to keep hiding in there).

“Cha’ boy’s right here Lup, what’s the scoop wi- whoa,” he started to ask as he came out into the room. Before he could finish speaking though Lup was across the room, slamming into his chest and nearly knocking them both to the ground as she caught him up in a frantic hug. It took a moment for him to register the way she was clinging to him, how fucking terrified she seemed and the way her shoulders were shaking. He didn't know what had happened, but he knew it had to be bad to knock Lup like this.

Getting his slow ass brain together, Taako wrapped his sister up in a hug before carefully moving them both to sit down on the bed.

“Hey, come on now, what the fuck’s up with you? We stranded in space or some shit? Since when do you let that kinda bullshit freak you out?” Taako asked, and despite the teasing words his voice was gentle. He wasn’t used to seeing Lup like this and had no fucking idea what could’ve freaked her out so much.

“It’s gone, Taako it’s all gone,” she said, and that didn’t explain much of anything.

“Gonna have to be a little more specific than that. Like, ‘all’ is a lot and can mean a whole bunch of different things Lulu,” he said, starting to take her hair out of the intricate braids it was in. She’d had them done up for all the cameras seeing them off on the mission this morning, and Taako wished he'd been able to see it.

“I mean all of it. Our entire planar system. It was- it was fucking devoured by something. We’re somewhere else now, we did a fly by and Taako it’s not, it’s not our world. That’s all gone,” she said, the horror of whatever she’d seen out there still so very clear in her voice. It was a little hard to comprehend, just the fucking scale of what she was talking about.

Everything was gone. When she said all she fucking meant all. They were alive but that was about the only thing they could claim. It seemed impossible, but he didn’t doubt Lup in the slightest. If she said the world had ended while he had been stuffed in the closet between a suitcase of clothes and a box of shoes, he believed her.

“Heh, well everyone back there was a buncha assholes anyway, right? Least we got out in time, huh?” he tried to joke, but Lup tightened her grip around him even more.

“Taako. Don’t,” she snapped, and she was practically shaking against him now. He kept meticulously undoing her hair, there was a lot of it. She usually kept it shorter but had been growing it out lately. He’d cut a few inches off of his in the meantime. They were almost perfectly identical. It seemed like a shallow thing to be thinking about when finding out about the apocalypse, but that was where he was at.

“That was gonna be you,” Lup said after a long moment of silence between them. Her voice was barely a whisper, shaky and terrified like saying it out loud made it more real. Honestly, it did. Taako had been trying, fuck he’d been downright refusing to think about that. Think about how he could’ve set Lup out alone. Permanently alone, him dying back with the rest of their world.

His hands were shaking as he pulled bobby pins from her hair, and he nearly gagged when he thought about the other option. Their original decision.

They were going to send him. Up here. Alone. Without his fucking sister.

“But it wasn’t,” he forced himself to say. It didn’t happen. None of it. They were both here, and that wasn’t going to fucking change.

“You’re here,” she said, and he could tell that a part of her was still trying to confirm that.

“Course I am. It’ll take a lot more than the apocalypse if you want to ditch me,” he said, running his fingers through her hair to fluff it back out from where it had gotten stiff in the braids. She laughed at that, but it was still a little broken, trembling at the way too fucking near miss.

“Figures, I’ll never be free of your drama,” she said, clearly not meaning a single word. She pulled back from the hug finally at that, a shaky and forced smile on her face as she quickly wiped away a few stray tears. “I guess we should go, like, tell everyone about all this now,” she said.

No!” Taako blurted out in a panic at the suggestion. Lup seemed to solidify a bit more into herself, pushing past the trauma of what had happened to try and figure out what was with his outburst.

“Taako, it’s not like it matters anymore. They can’t exactly send you back,” she said, but he was shaking his head before she could finish speaking. He knew she had a point there. It wasn’t like they had anywhere to go, apparently at least. Lup had said there was some planet out there, but they didn’t know what yet.

“I know, but fuck Lup. I can’t just waltz out there like it’s no big deal,” he insisted. It was stupid. He was being stupid, but the idea of going out there to face everyone like this made his stomach turn.

“We can’t hide you forever, and I don’t want to! We have to tell them,” Lup said, and she was right because she was always right. That didn’t stop the fact that his mind kept coming back around and catching on one fact.

“Lup I’m not-” he stopped himself from finishing that sentence when he saw the flash of pain across Lup’s face. The fact that he didn't go out and say it didn’t matter much though, the thought still hung heavy in the air around them.

He wasn’t supposed to be there.

“That doesn’t matter,” Lup insisted, shutting that down. Reluctantly Taako sighed, starting to pick up all the bobby pins he’d left scattered on the bed when he undid her hair.

“Okay, look okay, you’re right. We’ll tell them, just like, not right away? Give a bit of time for all of this to blow over and people to be cool about it?” he asked, and he was being ridiculous but Lup nodded.

“How long do you want?” she asked, and Taako relaxed instantly knowing Lup wasn’t going to make him go out there right that fucking moment.

“Uh, the whole world was destroyed and we’re on some alien plane with no fucking clue what to do?” he asked, and Lup nodded. Taako chewed his lip some as he tried to think of an approximate timeframe for that to ‘blow over.’ “A couple months? A year?” he asked, and Lup groaned, flopping onto her back and sending the bobby pins he’d gathered up into a pile scattering.

“I don’t want to pretend you’re dead for a whole year,” she complained. “You’re lucky I’m letting you fake your own death to get out of an awkward social situation at all, you really want to do that for a whole year?”

“I was going to say longer but I didn’t want to put you through that,” he said, and he was only kinda joking there. He was not feeling the whole 'interacting with people' thing at that exact moment. “Uh, why don’t we have some fun with this? We kinda need that right now, don’t we? Like, shit got real intense, and cha’ boy really doesn’t do intense like that, ya know?” he said. Lup smiled somewhat at that, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah alright, hit me. Whatcha got in mind bro?” she asked, and Taako could tell that her mind was still caught up in everything that had happened, but he wasn’t going to bring it up. He was trying to get her mind off of that after all.

“I mean, it’s not much different than what we started off this trip planning to do before everything went completely fucking pear shaped. Let’s just like, see how long we can manage it? Like, these people are supposed to be the best and the brightest, let’s see how long it takes em to figure it out,” he said, grinning. Lup’s expression had gone to pretty thoroughly unimpressed at that.

“Taako. I said I didn’t want to hide you for a year, I’m not waiting years, plural,” she complained, and he just grinned wider.

“Come on Lup, you got so little faith in your crew? You really think I’ll go years pretending to be you?” he asked.

“It’s not that I don’t have faith in them, I just know how damn good we are,” she said, and Taako managed to laugh at that. Yeah okay, that smile on her face was way more genuine now, he thought that would work.

“So is that a yes ooor?” he trailed off, and Lup sighed, but the annoyance in her voice was an act now. He knew she wasn't completely over all that bullshit, but he'd managed to cheer her up some.

“Fucking yeah alright, for now at least. Gods, you’re so dumb,” she said.

“You’d never make it without me,” Taako teased back, only realizing after it had slipped out that he shouldn’t have. They always joked about how hopeless they’d be without each other, but after what had happened it was too raw.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t,” Lup said, and Taako nearly flinched at how sincere her voice was just then. He’d been trying to distract from all that, but it was back to being front and center.

“Lup? Lup are you, well I guess okay isn’t the right word, but like, you holding up in there?”

They both flinched at the sudden knocking at the door and the voice calling in. Pretty sure that was Magnus, although he’d only heard all of them a couple of times. Taako frantically looked over at Lup, silently mouthing ‘what do I do?’ Lup, for her helpfulness, threw her hands up in an exaggerated shrug.

“Yeah! Yeah I’m fine Mags, just needed a breather is all,” Lup called back through the door. There still weren’t anymore goddamn hiding spaces in here since the last time he looked, so Taako fucking dived under the bed. This was stupid.

It was preferable than having to like, actually interact with anyone and face consequences , but it was still stupid.

“Right, right that makes sense. This is all like, pretty overwhelming. It’s totally cool if you need some more time alone but like, we’re all here for you. We all just lost a lot,” Magnus continued to speak through the door, and even without being able to see him Taako could tell that the dude was being genuine. He could understand why Lup had said he was cool.

“Thanks, seriously that’s- I appreciate it my dude. Look, gimme like, ten more minutes, and I’ll come chill with the rest of ya, cool? Figure out what’s going down with all of this nonsense,” she said.

“Of course! Take as much time as you need. I think Cap’n’port and Barry are checking out the engine right now anyway, so just boring science stuff. Wait no you like science,” he fumbled.

“It’s cool, they can get all the boring science fun for now,” she joked, and Taako could imagine Magnus visibly relaxing on the other side of the door.

“Alright, well, feel free to come hang whenever you feel ready. It’s gonna be okay,” Magnus said.

“Sure thing,” Lup said, and they both stayed still as they listened to the sound of Magnus’ footsteps down the hall until they were out of earshot. Once it seemed like he was far enough away Taako crawled out from under the bed, Lup snickering at his disgruntled expression.

“Was it really necessary to hide under the bed? He didn’t even come in here,” she teased.

“Look, I didn’t know if you were gonna let him in or not, I had to take some precautions. I’m not getting caught day fucking one,” he said, Lup rolling her eyes at that.

“I still think this is a dumb idea,” she said, and Taako couldn’t even argue with her on that. It was an incredible dumb idea, didn’t mean that was going to stop him from doing it.

“Whatever, go talk to your crew and let them know you’re not a complete wreck right now, only most of a wreck. Cha’ boy will be right here waiting for all the juicy details on this new world we’re stuck in,” he said, waving her away. She started towards the door, but he could see her hesitate some.

“You’ll be right here when I get back?” she asked, and Taako nodded, trying to make it look like it wasn’t a big deal. It was, but neither of them needed to address it.

“Course, it’s not like I got anywhere to go , since ya know, world’s destroyed and all that,” he said flippantly.   

“I’ll try not to be too long,” she said, and Taako hummed, letting her leave. Once she was gone though he tried not to regret it, because well, he was alone. Which wasn’t a big deal, Taako was one to value his alone time after all. He couldn’t even say he was like, terribly shaken up by the whole end of the world thing yet either. Like, he hadn’t seen anything, he barely even knew what happened. He’d have to ask Lup for the full details later, when she wasn’t as upset about it.

As it was right then though, he might’ve preferred having Lup around for a bit. If only for a distraction to keep him from thinking about the bullshit his mind kept trying to bring up.

It didn’t matter that they’d almost got separated, because they didn’t. It didn’t matter that he would’ve died. At least in that option he would’ve of been the one left alone.

God, how long did Lup say she was going to be gone for? He was getting real fucking tired of being stuck in this room.

Normally at this point he’d be tempted to cast invisibility on himself and do some light exploring. After all, he doubted anyone was going to be casually walking around while casting true sight on themselves, so it would probably be safe.

He promised Lup he’d be here when she got back though, and he wasn’t going to blow that off right now.

Which left him waiting for several long, excruciating hours. He spent most of it pressed up against the small window, trying to see what he could of this alien world they were apparently on. He couldn’t see much, but it looked like there were trees? Just like, a lot of trees, and plains, and like, grasslands and lots of wilderness in general. There was a very distinct lack of any sort of cities, or even towns or any people at fucking all.

It looked boring and it looked lonely.

When he finally heard footsteps coming back down the hallway Taako dived back under the bed. It was easier than going to hide in the closet again, and he was feeling lazy after so long not doing anything.

“Taako?” He wasn’t surprised that it was Lup, but he had to be sure. He was serious about not being found on the first day. Or the second, or hopefully not for a very long time. Sure, it would make the whole thing a lot more awkward when he was eventually caught, but that was a problem for future Taako. Present Taako was going to avoid, avoid, avoid, like his life depended on it.

“Please tell me you found something interesting on this planet oh my god I’m so bored,” Taako said, poking his head out from under the bed. He just managed to catch the worried look on her face before it flashed away with a flicker of relief, and yeah, it was a good thing he didn’t go off wandering. He didn’t want to scare Lup like that.

“I mean, we found a bunch of animals and we’re not too sure what’s going on with them but they don’t seem totally normal? But that’s the most we can tell so far. It's a lot to take in right now. Also there’s like fucking no one here, far as we can tell the world doesn’t have people,” she said, and that was about what Taako was expecting but he still groaned.

“Are you seriously telling me the only actual company I’m going to have for the rest of my life is Barold goddamn Bluejeans?” he complained, and Lup scoffed at him.

“What’s wrong with Barry? You’ve like never even talked to him before he’s a good guy. And no, there’s also Magnus, and the captain, and you know, me , your loving and wonderful sister who you cherish,” you said, and Taako just brushed that off.

“Not the point, still too small of a pool of people to matter,” he said. He was still joking around with all of this, and he was pretty sure none of it had truly sunk in yet, and he had no fucking idea when that would happen. If he was being honest with himself, he was hoping that it wouldn’t. That wasn’t something he wanted to deal with in the slightest.

“I’m terribly sorry but you might have to adjust some with the end of the world and all,” she said, sarcasm clear in her voice.

“Ugh, not fair,” he grumbled. “Hey, it cool if I go off sometimes? Like you don’t gotta stay in here, I can go invisible and shit,” he asked.

“Of course, I’m not gonna force you to stay stuck in here for however long you want to do this little charade,” she said, and Taako knew she would, but he figured it was best to give her the heads up first. “Just don’t leave the ship until we figure it’s safe alright? Especially on your own,” she added. Taako nodded, not about to argue with that.

After everything that had just happened, the last thing he was going to do was take a dumb needless risk.

Chapter Text

Lup was extremely grateful for the ridiculous amount of snacks and fantasy dunkaroos they’d hidden in her room when they snuck Taako in. Having those around meant that she didn’t have to leave her room for the rest of the night to get food. Sure, it wasn’t a full proper dinner, but after that whole day she wanted to stay with her twin and tell dumb jokes neither of them could properly laugh at and consume her weight in sugar and salt.

She’d figured that it’d be annoying having to share her bed and shit with Taako again like when they were struggling as kids, but after everything she was glad to have him so close by. Every time she’d wake up in a panic thinking he was gone he was still there, and she could reach out and poke his dumb face to make sure it wasn’t a dream. He’d ended up doing the same thing to her a couple times too throughout the night. They both played it off like they were fucking around, messing with each other for no particular reason.

They were both freaked, but they didn’t need to talk about it anymore than they already had. They weren’t in danger of losing each other anymore, and it might take a bit but their brains would get with the program sooner or later.

By the time morning came it didn’t feel like Lup had gotten much sleep at all, but that was fine. She didn’t exactly need a lot after all, and she’d gotten by on much less in the past. When Taako slumped up, he looked like he hadn’t gotten any, which yeah, Lup couldn’t be too surprised by that. He was always acting like shit didn’t affect him, but it was just that, an act.

“You look like death,” she remarked casually.

“I didn’t know death was so hot,” he mumbled without hesitation, rubbing at his eyes some to try to force himself more awake. Lup rolled her eyes, pushing herself out of bed and going through some halfhearted motions to get ready for the day. She didn’t know what they were doing now, but she guessed there was nothing to do but figure that out.

“Mhmm, sure,” she said, and she’d have to unpack some of her stuff at some point. Before she felt like two months was a short enough amount of time to live out of boxes, but well, that was out of the picture now.

Before either her or Taako could make some other quip there was a knock at the door and a very nervous voice calling her name. Lup rolled her eyes at Taako laying as flat as he could on the bed and covering himself back up with the blanket. You could still very clearly make out an elf under there if you looked.

“Yeah Bluejeans?” she called back, keeping the door shut for her poor idiot brother’s sake.

“Um, sorry if I woke you. Cap’n uh, Captain Davenport, he wanted to see everyone on the deck to well, figure out what we’re doing here, I guess. Are you um, you good?” he asked, and she’d say he sounded like a nervous wreck, but that was pretty much his constant state of being from what she’d experienced.

“Sure thing babe, let the cap’n know I’ll be out in a minute,” she said, and there was some sort of stammered affirmative noise from Barry before she could hear him shuffle off. Taako rose up from his extremely poor hiding spot, pulling the blanket off of himself.

“Looks like I gotta get to work,” she said, grabbing her IPRE robe up from where she’d kind of let it drop last night.

“Yeah uh, I might go take a look around some, since you’ll all be in one place and shit,” Taako said, and Lup guessed she didn’t have to say anything for Taako to see her hesitation with that idea. “I’ll be invisible just in case, and I won’t leave the ship, no worries. Lup I’m bored as fuck here you gotta let me do something,” he said, and she sighed before nodding.

“Yeah alright, just don’t leave the ship dumbdumb. No idea how long this’ll take, there’s probably gonna be a lot to unpack. We mostly looked around at the planet yesterday,” she said, and Taako didn’t seem bothered by it at all.

“Mhmm, go figure this out for the rest of those sadsacks, alright?” Taako said, and Lup nodded, giving herself one last look in the mirror before leaving the room. She still looked a mess, but that was miles above most people’s normal anyway.

When she got to the deck Davenport, Barry, Lucretia and Kravitz were already there. Barry had even more nervous energy about him than he usually did, and Lucretia was sitting curled up in a chair, two notebooks open that she was writing in furiously. Kravitz was kind of off to the side, staring off at the world below for seemingly no real reason. Davenport nodded at her as she walked in, and a few moments after sitting down Magnus and Merle walked in as well. It looked like they’d only just woken up as well. Davenport did a quick glance around at all of them before starting to speak.

“Alright, I know this isn’t what we planned. All of this, it’s not, uh, it’s not what we were expecting. Before we try and figure out what’s- what’s really going on here, I want to check in to make sure everyone here is okay,” he started, doing another sweep of the room as he seemed to try to figure out who to start with. “Magnus, Merle, how are you two holding up?”

“Well, I’m holding up, so that’s the important part,” Merle said with a tired chuckle.

“Yeah, I’m good. It’s a lot and all, but I’m alright,” Magnus added, and it seemed like they were both telling the truth, at least for the most part.

“Lucretia? Lucretia, considering everything, you can take a break,” Davenport said. Which yeah, it was crazy that the girl was still recording shit right now, but hey, Lup could understand the ‘throw yourself into work’ method of coping.

“I- I know, thank you captain. I’m fine, I just want to get down everything that happened while it’s still fresh,” she said, and Davenport nodded reluctantly.

“Barry?”

“I’m just thankful to still be alive, honestly,” Barry answered, and yeah, Lup could hear the edge of relief and disbelief in his voice. She was still having a hard time processing it all herself, it didn’t seem real. Not the fact that the world had been destroyed or lost or whatever, and not the fact that they’d managed to escape that.

“Lup?” she knew he was going around the room, but she still startled somewhat when he called her name. She guessed he noticed, the concerned frown on his face etching a little deeper. “Lup, is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, and from the way everyone was looking at her she got the feeling it was the most convincing. “Everything’s fine. We’re fine Cap’n’port, we’re good,” she insisted. He stared at her for a moment before slowly nodding and turning away.

“Kravitz? How are you doing?” he asked. The half-elf shrugged a bit, not pulling his full attention away from the world below.

“There’s not much for us to do but move forward, it’s fine,” he said. He didn’t particularly look in the mood to move forward, but Lup could be tactful enough not to go out and say that.

“Alright, so we don’t know what happened back there. Barry and I have been looking at the bond engine and it’s fine, but whatever happened when we exited our plane, we can’t recreate it. For the time being we’re stuck in this one, but we’re still on a mission here. We need to figure out what that was, and as much as we can about this world we’ve found ourselves in,” he said. Lup found herself nodding, that sounded good. It was something they could focus on and work towards.

“I’ve detailed everything about the incident when we were leaving. It’s not- I’ll spare you the details, but from what I saw it looked like that black mass had well, engulfed our plane,” Lucretia said, and yeah, that was about what Lup had saw. She didn’t particularly want to think about that, but they needed to if they were going to figure out what the fuck happened.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out what that could’ve possibly been. It was, it was bigger than the whole planar system. Something like that shouldn’t exist,” Barry said.

“What if it was because of us,” Kravitz said, and everyone immediately looked over at him. There was a quick moment where Lup could see he looked nervous at the attention before he started speaking again. “I just mean, it’s strange. It showed up right as we were leaving the plane, I’m not sure if that can be a coincidence. What if it was… what if we weren’t supposed to leave,” he said, and Lup felt a snarl form on her face as he spoke.

“Are you saying it’s our fault the entire fucking world was destroyed?” she snapped.

“I don’t know, we don’t know anything right now. I’m not saying we did it maliciously but there’s a chance we might’ve caused whatever that thing was to show up,” he said, and Lup found herself up and our of her chair before she could think.

“That wasn’t our fault! We had nothing to do with whatever the fuck that thing was! Don't go putting the blame of something like that on us,” she said, starting to stalk over to him, to do what she wasn’t too sure. Usually if Taako hadn’t pulled her back at this point her next course of action would be to light someone’s ass on fire. Kravitz for his part at least didn’t look like he was backing down any either, which was more invitation to fucking blast him.

He was wrong. This couldn’t be there fault. Lup couldn’t take the responsibility of destroying their entire plane. Of nearly destroying Taako.

Before she could decide what she was going to do there was a crash off to the side. One of the empty stools had gotten knocked over somehow, although no one was anywhere close. Or well, no one they could see. Lup had a very good idea about what was going on there, and gave the whole general area a very unimpressed look.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Davenport’s hand move in a quick subtle motion, and for a second she though he was dispelling the invisibility. Nothing happened though, and after a moment he sighed and turned back towards her and Kravitz.

“Alright, alright. Lup I agree, whatever happened to our plane back there, it wasn’t our fault. We’ve sent things out of the prime material plane before after all, unmanned vessels, but the difference isn’t so much that our ship would cause something like that to appear. We only left the entire planar system after it had already showed up, so it wasn’t that either,” Davenport said, and maybe Lup made a smug face at Kravitz then. If she did it was only because she deserved to.

“But,” Davenport continued, and Lup’s smug face might’ve dropped a bit there. “Kravitz I think you’re right, we can’t rule anything out here, there’s too much we don’t know and the timing was too close to feel innocuous.” There was the subtlest fucking mirror of her previous smug look on Kravitz’s face just then and holy shit yeah that settled it. Fuck this guy.

Lup went back over and sat back down in a small huff. She knew Davenport was right, they couldn’t rule shit out, but that didn’t mean she had to be happy about it. She wasn’t happy with any of this, and she was pretty damn sure none of them were.

“Okay, I think we should try to figure out about this world first thing,” Davenport said, changing the subject. Lup listened as they tried to think of a plan of action, and inputted her own opinions. Mostly they got down a few basic rules. No one go off on their own until they figured out exactly what flavor of fucked up this world was, try and preserve their supplies until they figured out what they were dealing with here, shit like that. It felt like a lot of busywork to keep themselves occupied until they figured out a real course of action.

She was relieved when they called an end to it and she was allowed to stalk back to her room. She needed to call Taako out on being a dumbass and knocking shit over while invisible in front of everyone.

That’s what she wanted to do at least, but then she heard footsteps walking a touch too fast to be casual behind her. She expected to see Magnus or Barry maybe coming after her to tell her something, but instead when she glanced back it was fucking Kravitz.

She started walking a bit faster.

“Wait, no Lup can you not…” He trailed off, sounding exacerbated and like he didn’t want to be doing what he was doing either. At least they could agree on that much. Rather goddamn reluctantly she slowed down. “Look, I’m not entirely sure how we got off on the wrong foot, but we have and I just,” he paused, sighing. Lup stopped walking, turning back towards him with her arms crossed.

“Just?” she prompted, wanting to get this done as soon as possible. She wanted to go back and check if Taako was still out exploring the ship, and then she wanted to get off this damn thing and get her mind off of the end of the world. She did not want to be here humoring Kravitz.

“I know how hard things must be for you right now, and I apologize for upsetting you earlier,” he said, right back to sounding all stiff and formal. She had to fight to keep herself from getting blindingly furious. If Taako really was dead, if she’d lost her brother and this asshole who’d gone and suggested not even an hour before that she might’ve had a hand in his death decided to offer her some empty, impersonal platitudes about it, she would’ve punched him in the face right then and there.

Instead, she managed to bite back the urge, nodding sharply and turning away. “Sure,” she managed to get out before stalking down the hall towards her room. This time Kravitz didn’t attempt to follow her.

At least he could do one thing right.

——

Taako was starting to suspect that he couldn’t do a single thing right.

He’d meant to go off and explore some of the ship. After all, Lup had showed him copies of the layout and described it in detail a bunch of times, but he hadn’t gotten a chance to see it in person yet. So, once he’d casted the invisibility on himself, he slipped out of Lup’s room and kinda started wandering.

When he heard voices, he knew the smart response would be to go in the other direction while Lup and her crew had their whole strategy meeting.

But he was invisible, and he wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to see more of the others too, since he was going to be stuck with them for fucking ever apparently.

Walking out onto the deck where they were all settled up, the first thing he saw was that Lup was yelling at Kravitz. He wasn’t able to hear enough to get the context, but he knew that look on his sister. That was her ‘light a motherfucker up’ look. Which, yeah, normally in this situation, Taako would attempt to stop his sister from attacking a coworker and one of the last few people alive. But he couldn’t do that without giving away the fact that he existed, and that sure as fuck wasn’t going to happen.

He moved to sit on a stool and watch to see how this unfolded, but he didn’t bother to look away from his sister and the handsome half-elf she wanted to fry.

He misjudged where the stool was, and he felt himself die a little inside when both he and the stupid goddamn chair went clattering to the ground. He barely managed force his mouth shut and not actually let out the squawk of surprise that was caught in the back of his throat.

Everyone was staring at the downed chair, and Lup was glancing over the area, looking a bit higher than where he was sprawled on the ground with a very unimpressed expression. Yeah, she knew it was him. He wasn’t even surprised by that.

Then he saw Davenport cast a quick and quiet spell, and there was a terrifying second where he thought he was visible again, but no one seemed to react. Merle and Lucretia actually stopped paying attention to the stool, and he was about to breathe a sigh of relief when he saw Davenport.

He was staring directly at him, not in the general direction, not at the chair. Taako would’ve hoped it was coincidence, but then the gnome caught his eyes and very slowly raised an eyebrow in question. Shit. Shit shit shit.

Careful not to jostle the downed stool next to him, Taako raised a hand and very slowly waved. Davenport sighed heavily, but there was this amused smile playing at his lips that he fought down before turning back towards everyone else and began mediating between Lup and Kravitz.

Once everyone seemed suitably distracted Taako slowly and quietly picked himself off the ground and got the fuck out of there. Welp, shit. Okay, Davenport knew he was there, there was no way he didn’t know he was there. He hadn’t said shit though, so maybe this would be okay. So far there was something about the dude he liked, and maybe he’d be cool enough not to give him away for now. Let Taako come out at his own pace and all that jazz.

God damn it, if he didn’t announce himself to everyone else with a ‘coming out’ joke eventually he’d have to hide himself again in shame for wasted goof potential. It was predictable yeah but he was fucking contractually obligated at that point.

He still had some time left on his invisibility, and they all seemed pretty deep into their meeting. He wasn’t going to sit in on that anymore after that goddamn fiasco, so instead he went to do what he’d planned when he first left the room and look around the ship. It was a pretty decent, especially considering the trip was supposed to be a short one. They were probably planning to use it for multiple missions and this was more of a first time test run.

The kitchen was nice, a little smaller than Taako would’ve liked to work with, but he could make do. He didn’t go looking around in cabinets to see what all he was working with, because that would make noise. He was very relieved to confirm that there were two bathrooms. Sharing one between all of them would’ve been a disaster, and he was pretty sure two was still pushing it. Lup had given him a thorough description of the labs they had on board, but it was cool to see them in person.

After that he figured it would be safest to head back to Lup’s room and wait for her to get back. Thankfully for his boredom he didn’t have to wait too long before he heard her stomping down the hall and into the room. His invisibility had worn off a few moments ago, and he could see the relief that flashed briefly across her face at the sight of him.

“You’re real fuckin bad at being sneaky bro,” she said once the door was closed behind her, going and falling in an annoyed heap on the bed. Taako was kinda surprised she was still all irritated from before, it seemed like she’d been calming down when he’d left.

“Yeah, yeah I kinda fucked up there. Davenport knows I’m here,” he said, and her head shot up at that.

“He does? I saw him cast something but I had no idea what,” she asked, and Taako groaned and nodded.

“Yeaaah, it was probably like, fucking true seeing or something. He definitely knew I was there,” he admitted. This was so dumb, he couldn’t believe he fucked up already. Lup seemed to think that over some before nodding.

“That sounds about right. You ready to go come clean yet then?” she asked and Taako was very quickly shaking his head. Lup sighed before he even started speaking.

“Listen, okay, he didn’t like, call me out on it. I mean, I guess I should uh, talk to him, but that doesn’t mean I gotta spill all the beans here,” he said, and Lup was rolling her eyes but shrugged, letting her head flop back down against the bed.

“Fine, do whatever you want you dork. I guess it’s not too bad of an idea to let people know slowly, if Cap’n’port doesn’t demand you tell everyone right away of course,” she said.

“I don’t think he will, he coulda called me out right then and there after all,” he said.

“Guess so,” Lup mumbled, and he raised an eyebrow at how pouty she was being.

“Whatsa matter with you? Don’t tell me you’re still pissed at Kravitz for whatever the fuck you two were arguing about earlier,” he asked, and Lup huffed again.

“He’s a jackass Taako. He thinks this is all our fault, that we somehow lured whatever destroyed the plane there by leaving,” she grumbled and Taako frowned. Yeah, that was pretty damn fucked up.

“We didn’t, did we?” he found himself asking though, because fuck, he didn’t know. He didn’t see what happened, he had no fucking clue what was going on. Lup seemed pissed at the mere suggestion though, shaking her head sharply.

“Of fucking course we didn’t. Whatever the fuck happened back there, it was just bad luck,” she said, and Taako nodded, despite not being sure how much he could believe that.

He guessed he couldn’t argue with her about bad luck though. For fucking sure, it seemed like they had that in peak supply.

Chapter Text

When Davenport had started planning this mission, he set out to be prepared for anything. His entire life had been leading up to this moment. When he walked onto the ship with his crew and sat down behind the wheel, he truly felt like there wasn’t anything that could shake him.

And then the world ended, and he could honestly say he hadn’t seen that one coming.

Davenport had thought he’d been prepared for anything on this mission, but he could admit that he was in over his head with this one. He didn’t know what they were going to do now, but he needed to figure it out fast. His crew needed some sort of lead right now in order to keep moving forward, in whatever way that meant.

And well, he might not know what they were doing yet in the grand scheme of things, but he knew one thing he needed to get into order.

Knocking on the door to Lup’s room, he could hear a bit of quick and frantic shuffling from inside.

“Kravitz, I swear to fuck if that’s you I will magic missile this door along with your ass. I do not give a fuck,” Lup’s voice called from inside, and Davenport gave a very long sigh.

“Lup, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t threaten the other crew members,” he said, hearing a few muffled curses in response. “Lup, may I come inside?” he asked.

“Yeah, course. Door’s open,” she answered, and she sounded tired. Davenport couldn’t blame her for that, and when he stepped inside of the room he made sure to shut the door behind him. It looked like it was just the two of them, and Davenport wasn’t about to waste another high level spell.

“Taako, please come out,” he called into the room, and it was a good thing he hadn’t wasted the true sight again. After a few seconds he heard some shuffling over in the closet.

“I’m gay!” Taako called without actually joining the rest of them, and Davenport sighed again, trying very hard not to break into a smile. It was a dumb joke, it didn't deserve to be encouraged.

“Taako, please,” he said, and thankfully then there was some more shuffling and the closet door opened, the other elf stumbling out.

“Uh, howdy Cap’n’port,” Taako said, looking about as sheepish as he had when he’d seen him while he was invisible. “How’s uh, how’s it hanging?” he asked.

“I’ll admit, things could be better,” Davenport said, which was about as close as he was going to get to admitting he had no fucking idea what to do.

“Right, yeah. Lup told me, world’s uh, kaput,” Taako said, and he looked more nervous than Davenport had expected him to be. He guessed that made sense, considering the circumstances.

“That’s one way of putting it, yes,” he said before looking the two of them over. With the way they were right now, if they hadn’t been wearing different clothes Davenport wasn’t sure if he’d of been able to tell who was who. He was entirely positive that was on purpose.

“I have to say, as a standing member of the council that set- that put this mission into action, what you two’ve done is- it was incredible foolish. And dangerous, not to mention illegal. I don’t- if things hadn’t gone so um, so off the rails, I don’t know if I could’ve smoothed this one over with the rest of the IPRE,” Davenport said, pacing in front of the twins. They both looked worried enough that Davenport wouldn’t be surprised if they momentarily forgot that there wasn’t any world to go back to that would punish them.

“That said,” he continued, “on a personal level, I’m really glad you’re here and safe Taako.” He could see the two relax at that, and in almost an instant the casual facade he was used to seeing on them was back.

“Yeah I mean, who wouldn’t be happy to see me, right?” Taako joked, going to sit down on the bed with Lup.

“Please, I could list a good twenty people right now off the top of my head who would be the opposite of happy to see you,” Lup said.

“Anyone important would be happy to see me Lup and that’s all that matters,” Taako countered. There’s something reassuring about seeing them joke around right now. He’d had his suspicions that they would try to pull something like this, and he could’ve done more to prevent them from going through with it. He couldn’t be more relieved that he hadn’t now though.

If he had stopped them, instead of having two productive and intelligent members of his team that he knew he could count on when he didn’t have much of an idea of anything, he’d have one completely broken person. That wasn’t a worst case scenario guess of how either one of them would take it, it just seemed like a certain fact. They’d done tests for the Starblaster mission, checked the compatibility of all the potential crew members. Davenport wasn’t too sure if the twins could survive without each other, in the grand scheme of things.

“So uh, we’re like, good now right? Like, the IPRE is gone, which uh, sucks. That majorly fucking sucks and shit, but also like, no one’s gonna get on you about letting one extra person on board now, right Cap’n?” Lup asked, and Davenport sighed again.

“I’m not going to punish you for bringing Taako on board, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said, and they both breathed a sigh of relief. “I was wondering when exactly you were planning on telling the rest of the crew about this though,” he added, and the reaction wasn’t quite what he expected. Lup shot an annoyed glare over at Taako, he was suddenly avoiding any and all eye contact.

“I was cool to tell you all yesterday,” she started. “But someone didn’t want to do that.”

“Listen!” Taako said, and he sounded pretty nervous again. “Just like, listen. We’re gonna tell everyone. Of course we are. Like, we’re stuck together now, right? No more people left, this is it, no point in keeping that many secrets,” he said, and Davenport nodded.

“Yes, I do think it’s best that we let everyone know right away,” he said, but Taako was frantically shaking his head again.

“I mean or we could not do that,” he said, and Davenport raised an eyebrow.

“You just said there’s no point in keeping secrets. If you’re worried the rest of the crew will be mad at you, I wanted you on this mission from the beginning Taako and you know that. I’ll smooth over anything they might be upset about,” Davenport said, although it didn’t seem to convince Taako any.

“No, no you don’t gotta, like it’s cool. Like I said, who wouldn’t be happy to see Taako? But uh, like, you don’t gotta have a point to everything, ya know? Sometimes you can do things just because,” he said.

“What he means is he wants to avoid talking to anyone as long as possible because he’s gay and afraid of confrontation,” Lup cut in.

“That is not what I’m saying Lup, be quiet I’m trying to make a point here about the freedom of making decisions for the hell of it in the wake of something as huge and pointless as losing everything we’ve ever known,” Taako snapped. Davenport sighed, running a hand through his hair.

“Taako, what are you actually trying to say?” he asked, because he didn’t have much of an idea of what he was actually trying to get at here.

“I’ll tell everyone about me but like in a bit maybe? Like uh, just gimme a bit, let this whole end of the world thing blow over some first maybe?” he asked.

Davenport stared at him, and he was pretty sure a lot of Lup’s words about him wanting to avoid confrontation were true here. He looked nervous and like he was scared Davenport was going to drag him out there in front of everyone with no say in the matter. Which, considering he was technically a stowaway on this ship and had no real right to be there, he had all the power to do as such.

But Davenport could admit that things were, well, they were scary right now. They didn’t know what was going on, and it wasn’t like answers were going to fall from the sky. Davenport wasn’t entirely comfortable keeping secrets like this from the rest of his crew, but he also didn’t want to force Taako to expose himself before he was ready and ruin some of the trust he’d seemed to have earned.

“You have to tell them eventually, and it’s best that you tell them before they find out on their own,” he said, and Taako seemed to relax some at that.

“Of course my man, we’re absolutely gonna let the beans spill soon, like, I don’t know, a year? That’s a reasonable amount of time, right?” he said, and Davenport couldn’t even pretend to be surprised.

“A year is a relatively long time for the humans on the crew Taako, I know you know that,” he said, and Taako pouted.

“Yeah but I’m not a human so like, it’s nothing to me,” he grumbled. “Listen, Lup and I were gonna, we were just gonna see how long we could manage it before someone found out. Uh, other than you of course, that one was a no-brainer,” he said, and Davenport had a feeling that his exception was not in the original plan.

“If everyone starts getting suspicious we’ll drop it, promise,” Lup said, and Davenport looked the two over again, trying to think this through.

“Alright, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you two can do this little charade for now if it makes you feel more comfortable,” he said, the two instantly perking up. He was pretty sure Lup was just in this because she wasn’t supposed to be at this point. “But,” he continued, and their expressions dropped, “I have some stipulations, as your captain. If you break these rules, I’m gonna have to let everyone know about Taako.”

“Right, yeah of course. You’re the boss Cap’n’port, lay em on us,” Taako said.

“Okay, first of all, Taako you have to interact with the crew. I know you two had something planned with the whole looks you have going on right now,” he said, gesturing broadly at them both. “So I don’t much care how you go about it, but you can’t use this to cut yourself off from everyone. I need my crew working together,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Yeah, uh, no problem. Taako’s great at working with people,” he said, and it sounded like a lie. Taako probably believed it was one, but Davenport felt that was true.

“Lup, I want you to- just try to get along with everyone here. I know you’re a nice person, something like this shouldn’t be hard for you,” he said, and Lup's look of surprise wasn't the most convincing.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Cap’n, I like everyone here,” she said, and yeah no.

“When you thought I was Kravitz you threatened to cast magic missile on me through the door. Not to mention the incident during the meeting,” he said, and Lup slumped a little at that.

“Okay but he started that shit,” she tried.

“Lup, please,” he said, and she groaned.

“Fiiiine, I’ll try. I guess. I promise not to knock his teeth out, alright?” she said, and Davenport nodded.

“I’ll take it,” he said, and Taako sat up some at that.

“Okay, so is that everything? Am I free to go wonder my own way?” he asked, and Davenport shook his head.

“No, I have one more thing,” he said, and they both looked a little confused. “Twenty gold says that Barry is the first one to figure you two out.”

The two just sort of stared at him for a moment, seeming to try and process what he was saying, before doubling over in laughter.

“You wanna- you’re making bets? Fuck yeah okay, I can get behind this, I am so fucking about this,” Taako managed to stammer out. Lup was nodding weakly, a huge grin still on her face.

“Forty gold Barold realizes before the year is up. Ten gold on Merle being the last one to figure out,” she said, and Davenport nodded. Those were pretty accurate guesses, he could definitely see both of those things happening.

“Aw, no fair, I know these people the least. Okay, ya know what fuck all y’all, I go my own way. Forty gold on uh, Kravitz figuring it out first,” he said, and Davenport wasn’t surprised when Lup groaned and rolled her eyes at that.

“Ugh, seriously him? Whatever, I’ll take your money,” she said, and okay, Davenport could handle this. This whole thing was rather dumb, but he kind of needed something dumb like this to focus on for now.

“Well, if you two want to make any more bets let me know, but that should be it for now,” he said, and the two nodded.

“Yeah no worries we’ll keep you in the loop Cap’n’port,” Taako said, and Davenport actually believed him on that. For the most part at least, which was reassuring.

“Alright, we’re going to have a group head down to the planet soon to figure out more about this world. You two decide which one of you is going,” he said, getting quick affirmatives from the two before he left the room.

He wasn’t too sure how the rest of the crew would react when they eventually found out about Taako, but he did believe in his ability to be able to smooth things over between his crewmates, at least for the most part.

He’d done about all he could for now though, so the rest was up to them.

Taako breathed a very large sigh of relief when Davenport left the room. He wasn’t going to tell anyone about him, he’d even gotten into the whole hiding Taako thing.

“See, I told you he was pretty chill,” Taako said, and Lup nodded.

“Yeah okay, you called that one. He’s a nicer dude than I expected,” she agreed. It was weird, Taako actually kinda trusted the dude on this. Like, just on this one thing, but that was still more than he could say about the vast majority of people he’d met in his life. “So, you gonna stay locked up some more, or are you actually gonna get out there? You heard the captain after all, you gotta interact with the crew or else he’ll spill,” Lup asked, and Taako groaned.

“What, we’re exploring the planet? I mean, you can go if you want to Lup, I know you’re not about being all stuck up in one place,” he offered. He was a little surprised when Lup groaned at the offer.

“Eh, I mean yeah sitting still is not my thing, but I think I could use a break from some of those people for now,” she said and Taako rolled his eyes.

“You can just say Kravitz,” he said, but Lup shrugged.

“I told Cap’n’port I’d try to be nice,” she said, and yeah alright that was fair. Well, it looked like he was gonna have to dust off the old Lup act now.

“Fine, I guess I’ll go get my not-so-formal introduction on with the rest of these nerds. Gimme your coat?” he asked, and Lup tugged off her IPRE robe before tossing it over to him. She hadn’t put on a lot of make up or anything super identifiable, which was good. Taako wasn’t feeling like putting in the work for all that right now. He pulled his hair up in a messy bun similar to what Lup was sporting, standing in the mirror for a moment to try to get back into holding himself like his sister did.

They hadn’t done much of the whole switcharoo act since they were kids, but every now and then there was a cause for it. One of them would get a shitty date they didn’t want to deal with or something like that.

“What do you think?” he asked, pitching his voice the slightest bit to match Lup’s, turning around towards her with a bit of a flourish.

“Like looking in a mirror, just like every other goddamn time I look at you,” she said, and Taako rolled his eyes.

“Whatever babe, they’ll never fucking know,” he said before leaving the room with a bit more dramatics than was appropriate given the general mood. As soon as he was out of Lup’s sight he toned it down though, he didn’t actually want to get figured out with this after all.

Now that he was out there though he didn’t actually know what the fuck he was doing. Okay, Cap’n’port had said they were going to go down planet side and check shit out. He hadn’t gotten to see much yet, but Lup had pretty much explained everything they’d found so far, it shouldn’t be that hard to go along with.

There was one issue in that he wasn’t too sure where everyone would typically meet up for this sorta thing. So he started wandering back towards the outer deck where they’d had that meeting, hoping he would get lucky. It was a bit of a relief when he saw Magnus come from around a corner.

“Oh hey dude! Uh, Cap’n’port said something about going down to explore some more? Try and figure out what we’re all doing here? When’s that uh, you got any idea when that’s going down?” he asked, his voice a pretty perfect imitation's of Lup’s if anyone was to ask him.

“Right, yeah I’m not sure. I guess we should go check?” Magnus said, and Taako nodded.

“Sounds good m’dude,” he said, letting Magnus start to lead the way to where everyone else was.

“So uh,” he said as they walked, and even pretending to be Lup Taako wasn’t too thrilled with that tone of voice. “How you doing? I know uh, you got pretty upset early, everything good?” he asked, and Taako instantly nodded.

“Oh yeah, shit’s- we’re good. Lup is good as shit right here,” he said, and that wasn’t too much of a lie. Magnus nodded although he didn’t look especially convinced.

“Well just remember what I said before. If you ever need to talk to anyone, we’re all here for you,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Yeah man, I uh, I appreciate it. Thanks uh, this shit’s pretty wack, ya know? But we’re all alive and that’s what’s important,” he said, because Lup was actually a nice person who would thank someone for trying to be there for her. It felt a little weird and foreign in his mouth but it seemed to work for Magnus.

“Cool, let’s figure out what this world’s got in store for us then. I’m sure there’s gotta be something cool out there,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Right, fucking, adventure ahoy, I guess,” he said, and okay, that sounded pretty forced but it didn’t seem like Magnus noticed.

After a moment they managed to find Cap’n’port, Merle and Barry, who all seemed down for heading down. Lucretia and Kravitz would watch after the ship in case anything went wrong, and once they were planetside they had to at least keep in pairs. Taako almost laughed that Kravitz wasn't even coming with them and that was part of the reason why Lup had ditched in the first place.

It hadn’t been long, but Taako could say he was pretty grateful to be off of the ship once he stepped foot on land. Maybe it was because he was stuck to one room, but it seemed like it could get pretty stuffy pretty quick in there.

This planet seemed nice though, if you were into like, nature shit. And not having any sort of civilization or people around. Which like, Taako could respect some, but he still kind of liked civilization for the most part.

They ended up splitting into two groups, Capn’port and Merle going off in one direction, ‘Lup,’ Barry and Magnus going off in another. They were to head back to the ship after three hours and report on whatever they managed to find.

Which honestly at first seemed to be a whole lot of nothing. They were in a field next to a forest, and they started into the forest hoping to get some idea of what kind of shit they were working with here. Luckily from what Taako could see so far, there was definitely edible shit on this planet. They could survive here without having to transmute everything they ate. They would have to do some experiments to make sure exactly what kind of stuff wasn’t poisonous, but there were options.

There were also animals, and the longer they explore the more Taako started to take notice of them. It wasn’t like, okay, it was weird. They were running away, but also kind of not. Not in the way Taako expected animals to. They kept their distance, but the longer they were out the more Taako started to feel like they were being watched.

“Hey uh, y’all notice something weird with the animals here?” he asked, both Magnus and Barry turning back to look at him. “Like, I don’t know, I’d say we’re being hunted, but I don’t think deer hunt,” he added. Magnus quickly started looking around their surroundings. As soon as he caught sight of the deer Taako had been trying not to look directly at it scurried off.

“Huh, that is weird,” Magnus said.

“Let’s try to keep an eye on that for now, we don’t know if these animals are exactly the same as the ones from our plane. Maybe um, maybe the deer here do… hunt,” Barry said, sounding terrified by that notion.

“Huh, we’ll that’s a horrifying thought,” Taako agreed, because it was. “Keep an eye on the animals, good idea,” he added, and he was planning to keep moving forward then, but Barry was just kind of staring at him.

Fuck, did something slip? He wasn’t sure what it could be, he’d still been doing his Lup voice, and Lup was definitely smart enough to notice if there was something up with the wildlife. Instead of breaking because hell no, he wasn’t getting caught on his first time out (and he wasn’t letting Lup and Davenport win on the whole ‘Barold being the first one to figure it out’ thing) he smirked.

“I said keep an eye on the animals babe, not me. You can stare when we’re all back at the ship,” he teased, and yeah that got him to look away all right.

“I wasn’t- uh, sorry. I was just, um, thinking,” he mumbled out, practically running forward again. Magnus was clearly trying to muffle some laughter, and Taako was kind of tempted to keep pressing it. He was Lup right now though, she’d let the nerd be.

Getting back to the actual exploring mission, now that they were looking out for it, yeah there was something up with the animals here. For one thing they were a lot more noticeable than back home, but maybe that was because they’d never seen a person before.

It’d take more observation, but something about them seemed eerily intelligent.

Once it got close to the allotted time for them to be out though Barry suggested they make their way back to the ship. Magnus had been kinda notching the trees with his ax as they walked, like he was a bear or some shit. Still, it gave them an idea on how to get back, and they managed it without getting too lost.

Davenport and Merle were already there and waiting for them once they got back though, so Taako figured they were still at least a little late. Well, they made it back at all, which was the most important thing.

“Did you find anything of note?” Davenport asked, and Barry pulled out a notebook he’d been writing nerd shit down in as they walked.

“The only thing we really noticed was something odd with the animals. They seem a bit more intelligent than we expected, but we’d have to get closer to test out what’s going on there,” he explained. Davenport nodded and they started going on about some things they could do to try and figure out what exactly was going on with the wildlife here. Taako was trying to pay attention, because he’d have to fill Lup in on whatever plans they’d made later.

“Hey, guys. Look at that,” Magnus cut in, and when they all turned to him he was pointing up. Glancing in that direction, they saw what he was talking about.

A brilliant white streak through the sky. There was something about it that Taako couldn’t place, but it was like he couldn’t tear his eyes away from it.

“What is that?” Barry asked, sounding more in awe then a weird streak of light in the sky called for. Still, Taako could get where he was coming from, but he had no fucking idea why.

“The light of creation,” Davenport said, with a certainty Taako hadn’t expected. The light continued to fall until it sunk below the horizon and out of sight. It was quiet for a long moment until Merle finally broke the silence.

“Well… shit.”

Chapter Text

“Barry, can you try and triangulate where that went? Everyone, onto the ship, I don’t know how the light followed us to this world but we should- it’s important to make sure it’s safe. It’s an incredibly powerful source of, source of power,” Davenport said as soon as they all finished staring up at the light of creation like dumbasses.

“Right, uh, right,” Barry said, and Taako followed along as they all rushed back into the ship. He figured he should try to slip away, get Lup and explain the situation so that she could come out here and do her job and junk.

“Lup,” Davenport said as he started trying to sneak off. When Taako looked back and tried to pretend he wasn’t doing exactly that he was pretty sure Davenport had figured at this point that he wasn’t Lup. “Can you help Barry triangulate the light?” he asked, and Taako nodded.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said, walking over (definitely not slinking like a scolded child or anything like that) to where Barold was already hunched over a table. Looking over the scribbled equations he had managed to write down by that point, Taako couldn’t help but frown.

“My dude, your handwriting is shit,” he said, leaning in and squinting to try and get a better idea of what it all said.

“Oh, uh, sorry, I don’t- I’m writing fast?” he stumbled out, but Taako just kinda waved the apology away.

“Hey, we for sure that this planet’s the same dimensions of our old one? That’ll change some things,” he asked, and Barry halted somewhat in his writing.

“Uh, shit. We’re not, I guess. Yeah that’ll- that’ll fuck us up. A lot,” he said, stopping in his writing all together at that point and turning to where Davenport was. “Uh, Captain? Do you think you could take the ship up? Like, high up? We need to figure out how big this planet actually is before we can make much progress here,” he said. Davenport nodded, heading over to the helm.

“Magnus, Merle, could one of you go grab Kravitz? He should help with this,” Davenport said.

“You got it Cap’n’port!” Magnus said before rushing off. Taako could barely pay attention to that, because Barry was going on about all the different factors that could mess with their attempt to find the light. Like yeah, there were a lot of things that could mess with finding it here, he could understand that. Barry started with reasonable concerned, things like even though they could breath here perfectly fine, they couldn’t be sure what the atmosphere was like exactly, and that could effect how far the light ended up going.

It quickly went from reasonable things like that to ‘and even if we do find where it went, what if- what if one of those weird hunting deers got it, and like, ate it or something? And then we’d have to figure out which deer, and what if the deer got super powers from the light? We don’t know what kind of powers the light of creation could give something. We could get killed by the super deer’ and Taako got the feeling that Barry was very skilled at worrying about things no sane person would worry about.

“Barold Bluejeans,” he said, cutting the dude off. “Chill, for like, ten seconds,” he said, and Barry slowly nodded.

“Right, no uh, you’re right Lup. It won’t do us any good to worry about super deer right now,” he admitted a bit sheepishly.  It was at that point that Kravitz showed up, obviously having run here and looking winded. Lucretia followed along after him, even though Davenport hadn’t asked for her. She was already writing down in her notebooks though and so Taako figured Magnus must’ve told her about the light too.

Taako nearly flashed Kravitz an easy smile before he remembered that he was Lup right now and Lup was not exactly fond of this dude. Which like, he should probably take that as a big sign. There weren’t a lot of people on Lup’s bad side after all, and she was always the better judge of character between the two of them.

“Magnus said something about the Light of Creation falling from the sky?” Kravitz asked, and Barry nodded.

“Yeah, it uh, we’re trying to figure out where it might’ve landed. Davenport’s taking us up now so we can get a better feel for the measurements of this world and-”

“You know how to use that brain of yours for more than just arcane shit? Time to get to work my dude,” Taako cut in, shoving a protractor into his hands for good measure. He wasn't even sure if they would need protractors, but it seemed appropriate. Kravitz seemed a bit dumbfounded for a moment before nodding.

“Right, I can- I mean, my arcane skills aren’t too- I’m a bard, but right, yes. Uh, good to see you Lup?” he stumbled out awkward as fuck.

“Mhmm, sure thing,” he said, and at least it wasn’t hard for him to act disinterested and vaguely annoyed. That was about his base mood with most things at any given time.

Taako had meant to leave as soon as he got a chance to, because even though Davenport had told him he needed to interact with people he figured the dude wanted the person who was actually officially on this mission to be the one working on this important shit. But like, it wasn’t like this was anything he couldn’t do. He’d been training right alongside Lup, even if his had been in their shitty apartment. He guessed it’d been enough though, because no one seemed suspicious in the slightest that he might not know what he was doing.

And more practically, he didn’t have much of a chance to leave. Even in the few too small moments he had, it would’ve taken too long to fill Lup up to speed on everything. Someone would’ve noticed he was gone before she would’ve been able to get back, and he wasn’t going to make it look like Lup was ditching on work. He would’ve have a problem with people thinking that about him, but Lup was all dedicated and shit.

By the time they managed to make a good estimate of the circumference of this planet (a little smaller than their homeworld it seemed. Still definitely a decent enough size that trying to find the light would be a big task) and some rough guesses on the trajectory it’d gone, it was later than Taako had realized. He guessed they’d gotten a pretty late start with all this, but still.

“Alright, you all should get some rest,” Davenport said when he came into the lab area and saw them still working. He’d been checking in every now and then to see their progress and seemed happy with what they had so far.

“Yeah, I guess there isn’t too much of a rush on this. We haven’t found intelligent life on this planet yet after all. Not to say there isn’t any, but where ever the light is it’s probably safe for now,” Barry said, sounding kind of reluctant to stop working.

“Well, in that case I’m going to take a fucking nap. Later,” Taako said, pushing himself away from the quick sketched maps Kravitz had been making of the areas around them. They were pretty good maps, and made it so they actually had something to plot the trajectory stuff on.

“Right, uh, goodnight Lup,” Barry said, still sounding nervous even though they’d spent the last fuck knows how many hours working practically on top of each other. Kravitz didn’t give any sort of attempt at a goodbye, and shit had been pretty awkward as they worked, so Taako wasn’t too surprised by that.

Giving a quick nod to Davenport as he left, Taako headed straight back to Lup’s room before anything else happened to get him distracted or whatever. As soon as he opened the door Lup sat up in bed, and Taako wasn’t too surprised that she’d been waiting at this point.

“Whoa, someone was gone for a while. I guess the scouting mission was more fun than I thought it would be,” she said.

“You know, if someone else came in here they woulda figured out there’s like, two of us,” he said. It wasn't the most important thing but come on. He didn’t want to be the only one hiding behind furniture whenever someone came into the room.

“Please, I could tell it was you from your walk,” she said, waving him off. Taako couldn’t tell if she was bullshitting him or not, both were equally likely. “Anyway, anything interesting happen?” she asked, and right, should be briefing and shit so she knew the whole deal.

“Uh, yeah actually. Light of creation fell, we spent a while triangulating it and shit. Don’t have a completely solid idea of where it is yet and we probably won’t, but we got a direction,” he explained, and yeah, Lup was instantly interested in all of that.

“Wait, seriously? Come on bro don’t skimp out on me, gimme the deets here,” she said, and so he did. He was able to sum up their work pretty well, and Lup could fill in what he didn’t explain outright because she was smart like that and they knew how each other worked.

By the time he finished explaining everything he was fucking exhausted, having gone more and more horizontal as he sat on the bed.

“Well, I’m getting some fucking sleep. You can go out and be you tomorrow, that was way more interaction than I intended on having,” he said, snatching the pillow before Lup could grab it. Hey, there was another good thing about Cap’n’port knowing he guessed. They could ask him for some extra bedding and shit so they didn’t have to fight over it. Tomorrow though, because right now Taako was gonna keep this pillow and nothing was going to stop that.

“Don’t even front, you had fun,” Lup said, but Taako ignored her.

“Sleeping now,” was all he said, and he didn’t have to look over at her to know she was rolling her eyes at him.

“Yeah yeah, get some rest, dork,” she grumbled, her voice fonder than she probably intended.

Shit was still too raw for either of them to pretend to be all that callous and cold yet, so Taako wasn’t going to call her out on it.

Lup had been bored as fuck when waiting for Taako to get back from his outing as her. Sure, at first it had been nice. She fumed some more about certain dumb crewmates, took a nap, only let herself eat one of the packages of fantasy dunkeroos because they weren’t getting any more of those ever again. She’d pretty much done everything she could do, and she figured Taako would be back pretty soon at that point. When she felt the ship rise up from the surface, she thought Taako would be coming into the room at any second. But he didn’t, and hours started to stretch by without any sign of him.

She tried to keep herself from being too worried about that. They were fine, she’d been out exploring the world a little bit already, there wasn’t anything she’d seen yet that she didn’t know her brother could handle. They wouldn’t leave him on the surface alone either. If something went wrong, someone would come get her and-

Well, no they wouldn’t. Because they thought there was only one of them.

No, no okay Davenport knew about them, so if anything happened he’d let her know. That was more of a reassurance than she thought it would be. If she thought there was a chance something could happen to Taako and she wouldn’t be able to know about it she would end the goof right then and there.

Eventually her dumbass brother came back into the room, looking unimpressed that she hadn’t hid in case he was someone else. She said it was because she knew it was him who was coming, but really she was still freaking out over how long he’d been out and had forgotten to.

He was fine though, and shit was starting to pick up so they actually had something to focus on besides a vague idea of ‘survive.' It seemed like they had a handle on the whole trajectory of the light thing. She was more interested in figuring out what was up with the animals here.

The next day Taako was just as insistent about staying in as he’d been the night before, so she got ready for the day and headed out of the room. It was early enough that she was able to head over to the lab to check over all the work they’d done yesterday and familiarize herself to it. Wow, they’d done a lot, no wonder Taako had been out for so long.

She didn’t get too long to look before everyone else was waking up though, and she was able to play it off as going over some of the math they did yesterday. No one questioned her, because no one had a reason to, if she was being honest. This whole hiding Taako thing wasn’t that hard when he wasn’t being dumb about it.

“Hey, do we want to do more work on finding the light today? Because I’m down for that, I really am, but I kinda want to look into what’s up with the animals around here,” she asked once everyone was up.

“Well, that depends. Do you three think you can get anything more precise than what we have now?” Davenport asked. Thankfully Barry answered, since Lup didn’t have too full of an idea about how precise their findings were.

“Honestly? From what little we were able to see and the fact that there’s so much we don’t know about this world, anything else we could be doing right now is guess work. I think right uh, right now the best thing is to you know. Start looking the old fashioned way,” Barry said, and Davenport seemed to think that over before nodding.

“Alright then, Lup if you want to take someone to go investigate the animals here you can. I might take someone on an expedition to start looking for the light,” Davenport said. Lup was almost tempted to volunteer to go with them for that, even though the animals were cool. But an expedition would be a while, and she doubted Taako would be alright with that.

“Hey Barry, you wanna go check out some spooky animals with me?” she asked, an easy smile on her face and she couldn’t help it, the dork was fun to mess with. All his emotions were hilariously plastered on his face and it was so clear he didn’t mean for them to be but couldn’t help it.

“Um, I mean, yeah- that would be- that sounds like a good use of our time. Uh, yeah,” he managed.

“If it’s alright, I would like to come too.”

Lup had to resist groaning when Kravitz came up to them. Nice. Davenport wanted her to be nice.

She was sure it showed on her face how less than thrilled she was with this though. After a moment she managed to put a less irritated expression. It wasn’t like he was actually doing anything she could reasonably be annoyed at right now.

“Yeah, sure fine, why do you want to come exactly?” she asked, kind of hoping he wouldn’t have an answer and would  decide it wasn’t worth it.

“I mean, I’m kind of like, the cultural expert? I know there aren’t really intelligent lifeforms that we’ve managed to find yet, but the animals and such that live here are still things I should be looking into,” he explained. Damn it, that was like, a pretty legitimate reason to want to come along. They all still had jobs they were supposed to be doing.

“Fair enough,” she said, significantly less excited about this than when she thought it would be her and Barry and maybe Magnus if he wanted to tag along. Well, at least they would probably actually get some work done now. She didn’t want to be chilling it with Kravitz unless she had something else to do.

By the time they got all of that figured out, Davenport and Merle had decided they would go on looking after the light with the approximate coordinates they’d managed to get. Magnus and Lucretia would stick back to make sure nothing happened to the ship while everyone was out.

Heading down to the planet, it didn’t take too long before they started noticing the animals again. Now that Lup was looking, she could notice what Taako had meant about them seeming off. A little too alert, a little too knowing.

The issue was that whenever they got too close, they’d run off, which was frustrating as fuck. It was never too far though, like they were as curious about what the fuck was going on as they were.

Still, there was definitely something up, and so this was a start.

And over the next week or so, Lup felt like they were making some headway. She was only there about half of the time, because even though Davenport wasn’t around she was making sure Taako kept up with his requirement of having to interact with people. If she was going to have to put up with Kravitz every time she went out, he could at least make it so she had to do that less. But still, there was definitely progress, they’d learned a lot.

Most notably, they learned that the animals here don’t seem to eat meat, and secondly that they seemed to have a language of some sort. They weren’t the stealthiest bunch, but the few times they had managed to sneak up on a few animals they’d definitely noticed some sort of grunting. It seemed way too deliberate and way too standardized to be meaningless animal sounds, especially because of the way it seemed to go between species.

Lup was so fucking about trying to learn this language, and when she told Taako about that plan he was just on board. Which wasn’t a surprise, Taako was fucking incredible at picking up languages. Like, they were both boss at it, but Taako excelled at these sorts of things.

So they were going to learn this animal language, and then they could know more about this world. They’d find the light, and then- and…

Well, she didn’t have any fucking clue yet, but that didn’t matter much right now. Things seemed to be settling into some sort of order, and as long as they had something to work towards they could figure the rest out later.

——

Kravitz knew he had more important things to focus on.

The mission had gotten, well, fucked , to put it lightly. Sure, they’d tried to be prepared for the possibility for things to go wrong. Most of the nightmare scenarios they’d been prepped for were more along the lines of ‘trapped out in a void outside of the planar system for all of eternity’ or ‘just fucking dying.’

They weren’t about the world they left behind being destroyed. They weren’t about surviving and being in a new planar system that was nice enough, but with no clue on why any of that had happened.

Even if he wasn’t trying to look at things quite so big picture (he really felt like they should though. Even if some of it was hard to think about while it was all still so raw) there were other important things about this planar system to figure out.

Captain Davenport was out with Merle looking for the light of creation, but they didn’t know how it had managed to follow them to this plane in the first place. They still weren’t very far into cracking the animal language used here yet, which would allow them to find out a lot more about this place. They didn’t know if humanoids used to exist here or anything like that. That could be valuable information.

(Kravitz had read a book once, about an explorer who managed to leave his world and crash land on another planet. It was ruled by a strangely advanced form of animal life. Only at the end of the book was it revealed that the other planet was actually his original, but thousands of years in the future. Kravitz wouldn’t say that was his current running theory for their situation right now, but he wasn’t ruling it out.)

So yes, there were many, many more important things for him to be focusing on, and he was focusing on them. It was just that sometimes his mind would wander, and sometimes it was too damn noticeable to ignore.

He had no godly clue how to handle Lup.

She didn’t like him, and he didn’t know what he’d done to cause that but it was definitely a thing. And honestly, he could deal with that. You can’t expect everyone to like you, and other than that one time on the deck it hadn’t hampered their ability to work together much. It wasn’t ideal, especially considering the fact that their ship ran on bonds of all things, but it wasn’t that big of an issue.

It was just-

He couldn’t understand her.

Kravitz felt like he was pretty good at reading people. That was kind of his thing, the main skill he had that ended up setting him apart from the other applicants and got him on this mission. He wouldn’t call himself particularly charismatic or anything like that, but he knew how people worked.

But gods above, he had no clue how Lup worked.

There were moments where he almost felt like he was making progress. Times where her irritation which him didn’t seen as harsh. Or where’d she’d actually participate some in small talk with him when they were trying to learn the animal language. Sure, most of it consisted of jabs at him, but there was something less bitter and more teasing there.

Always though, it was like a switch would flip and she’d be back to hating his guts and had no recollection of considering not hating his guts.

He knew she was going through a lot right now. They all were, but Lup especially so. He was pretty damn sure she wasn’t exactly processing anything and trying to focus on other things, which he doubted helped. Still, things would be a lot less frustrating if he could understand her.

“Hey Barry?” he asked. They had just gotten back from studying the animals here. Like pretty much every other time they got back from an outing Lup immediately fucked off to her room. Today had been a ‘definitely hates Kravitz’ day, so she hadn’t bothered any sort of goodbye to him. Sometimes on her nicer days she would.

“Yeah?” Barry said, sounding kind of distracted and flipping through their notes from today. They hadn’t talked much personally, but Kravitz could say he liked Barry. He was a pretty simple dude to understand, and he didn’t seem to shy away from thinking about the bigger picture.

“What do you think of Lup?” he asked. He knew Lup didn’t have the same animosity towards Barry as she did for him, but he felt like he needed a second opinion here. Davenport was still out looking for the light, and besides he didn’t want to bother their captain was some dumb personal squabble.

“Oh, she’s amazing. Scary though, kind of, kinda terrifying, but just... wow,” Barry mumbled, still looking over the notes, although with a bit of a faraway look in his eyes. Kravitz didn’t say anything for a long moment, staring at Barry until he looked up and saw the extremely unimpressed look on his face. It was only then that Barry seemed to process what he’d said.

“I mean, uh, she’s a real- she’s a very valuable member of the crew and uh, what do you mean exactly?” he asked.

“Do you have any idea what I might’ve done to get her to hate me?” he asked, figuring it was best to get straight to the point with this. Barry frowned, but at least he seemed to be paying attention to this now.

“Lup doesn’t-” he started, but Kravitz supposed his unimpressed expression was enough to cut that train of thought short. “I don’t uh, really know? I haven’t talked to her much, like, outside of work. I guess you super pissed her off that one time? Other than that I don’t got a clue, sorry buddy,” he said, and yeah, that was about what Kravitz figured.

“I know she lost a lot when we lost our world, we all did, so I’m trying not to take it too personally,” he said, even though Lup’s dislike for him was definitely there before that.

“Yeah, it’s uh, it’s rough. I met her brother a couple times during the tryouts. Even more- somehow even scarier than Lup is, but he seemed like a nice dude,” Barry said, and Kravitz nodded. He’d never met him, but he’d seen the two around a bit during training. It was hard not to notice those two when they were together.

“I just wish I knew some way to fix whatever it is I messed up,” Kravitz said with a sigh.

“Have you tried like, talking to her? She’s not- Lup’s not a hateful person. I’m sure if you like, talked to her honestly, she’d at least listen,” Barry asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“I did. It just seemed to make her even more angry,” he said, and Barry raised an eyebrow at that.

“When did you talk to her, exactly?” he asked, and Kravitz frowned, not too sure why that was too important.

“Uh, pretty soon after we got to this plane,” he said.

“Yeah, but when?”

“Right after-” Kravitz started, and he realized at that moment where Barry was going with this. “Right after she nearly punched me in the face,” he admitted, a bit reluctantly.

“Yeah, that uh- that probably wasn’t the best choice of timing there, bud,” Barry said, and all Kravitz could do was nod. “You should talk to her, but not like, when she actively wants to fight you,” he added.

“Okay, you have a point,” Kravitz admitted. “I’ll try to talk to her next time she’s in a good mood.”

The next good mood ended up coming a lot sooner than Kravitz would have liked. Not because he wanted Lup to be perpetually angry with him, but because he had no idea how to actually go about this. Still, the next day Lup was almost amiable with him. She wasn’t friendly, not by a long shot, but there was a difference.

He was waffling on whether or not to say something the entire time they were out trying to find some way to learn the language here. (Which was going well, Lup thought there was a lead with a small family of mongooses that didn’t seem quite so afraid when they approached).

When they got back to the Starblaster Lup actually included him in her goodbye (which was ‘later nerds!' Which still wasn’t stellar, but it meant him as well, which was something) and Kravitz figured now was his best chance.

“Lup, wait, could we talk for a moment?” he asked. Lup turned back towards him from where she’d nearly completely vanished from the front room, a look of serious debate on her face.

Barry had been in the room with them, just a moment before. Somehow though, he was now absent. Kravitz knew the point of this was for him to talk to Lup, not anyone else, and yet somehow he still felt abandoned.

“Um, I mean, yeah sure, if we gotta I guess,” Lup said, not sounding thrilled by the prospect. Neither was Kravitz, if he was being honest, but it was still something they should do.

“Thank you. Look, I know that things are difficult for you right now-”

“If you’re gonna try and get me to talk about my feelings I’m gonna stop you right there,” she cut him off, and Kravitz shook his head. This was honestly going better than he expected it to so far. She hadn’t tried to curse him out yet, which was a start.

“I’m not doing that, don’t worry. I know I’m the last person you would want to talk about those sorts of things with,” he reassured her, and she seemed to relax some at that. “Look, I know you don’t like me, and I don’t expect you to change your mind on that anytime soon. I just want to know why so that I can at least try to make it up to you,” he said. There, that seemed reasonable enough.

When he looked at Lup, she looked incredibly awkward.

“Do we gotta have this conversation right now? Does this have to be happening? Couldn’t I just fucking die instead?” she asked, and it was so done and awkward Kravitz almost laughed.

“I wouldn’t recommend dying. I wouldn’t know how to explain that to the captain when he gets back,” Kravitz said, and Lup sighed.

“Yeah, fair enough,” she grumbled.

“Can you please just tell me what it is I did? I know you’ve had problems with me from before we even went on this mission,” he tried. Lup sighed heavily, rubbing under her eyes and along the bridge of her nose.

“Face,” she mumbled, and Kravitz immediately frowned.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Your face. You have a stupid, punchable face, okay?” she said.

“You… hate me… because of my face?” Kravitz asked, and Lup nodded, not actually looking at him.

“Yep.”

“I can’t change that,” he said simply, his mind still trying to process what was happening.

“Nope, so I guess we’re at an impasse,” she said.

“I guess so?” Kravitz said, not sure what else to say.

“Well. Bye,” Lup said, and Kravitz was pretty sure she cast blink, because she was just gone.

Well, that happened. That wasn’t what he expected to happen.

Heading towards his room, he wasn’t too surprised to nearly run into Barry on his way.

“Hey bud, how’d uh, how’d it go?” Barry asked.

“Is there something wrong with my face?” Kravitz blurted out because seriously, what the fuck?

“No? I don’t- you’re hot? Um, a very attractive- you’re a real good looking dude. Not specifically my type, but I kinda doubt I’m yours so like- uh, why exactly are you asking me about your face?” Barry said, rambling a bit there with even more information Kravitz wasn’t sure how to process.

“I have no idea,” he said, before turning and continuing to his room without another word.

Maybe not understanding Lup was for the best.

Chapter Text

Taako crashed into his room and collapsed in a heap on the bed. Lup was already there but he didn’t care. He needed to muffle his agony in shitty blankets because holy fuck that was like seven different layers of hell. Out of all nine, that was a good seven, maybe even eight of the layers.

It had been a pretty chill day before that happened. He had a feeling they were close to a breakthrough with the animal language. There was this tiny mongoose that was more interested in them than afraid. Taako wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought about trying to talk to a baby animal before now.

So yeah, that had gone well, and keeping shit a secret was going well, and he was actively not paying attention to anything that might not have been going well. He didn’t need that kind of shit right now, so as far as he was concerned things were going pretty damn smoothly.

And then Kravitz had decided today was the day he was going to try to confront Lup about whatever weird hang ups she had about him. Taako was pretty sure that his answer hadn’t been the most eloquent in the world.

“Oh god, what did you do, who saw, and what weird shit do they think I’m into now?” Lup asked, sitting up and pulling her legs out from where Taako was uncomfortably sprawled on top of them.

“You are into weird shit,” he muttered into the mattress, not wanting to go into details about what had happened. Sure, Lup would figure out anyway, but right now he wanted to mope.

“True, but it’s different from your weird shit so I need to know,” she argued. He didn’t answer with words, giving an agonized grumble instead. This was the worst. Not even getting into his own embarrassment for the situation, he knew Lup wouldn’t be chill with him making her look like a dumbass in front of Kravitz. This whole thing was fucking awful. He couldn’t even say a normal reason why someone might not like him.

Which might’ve been because he couldn’t really think of one? He didn’t hang out with the dude much, but what he had seen didn’t seem particularly offensive or anything like that. He just seemed like an awkward, nervous dork with a bit of a stick up his very fine ass. In the grand scheme of things that wasn’t that bad. Definitely nowhere close to the worse he and Lup had dealt with, so he couldn’t not figure out what he’d done to piss her off so much.

“I need words Koko. Please, I gotta keep up with whatever insane charade you’ve the both of us into,” Lup insisted. Reluctantly Taako flipped around so that his face wasn’t pressed into the mattress and he could speak clearly.

“Fine, I’ll tell you but you gotta promise not to get pissed. It’s not a big deal and it’s not even gonna change how you need to act, I swear,” he said, which didn’t seem to inspire much confidence in Lup.

“Okaaay, I’m even more apprehensive now but I gotta know how you fucked up,” she said, which was fair.

“So, I talked to Kravitz,” he started and yep, Lup was groaning already. “Stop that, I told you not to get pissed. It’s not my fault he decided today was the day to talk through whatever problems you two got going on,” he said.

“Okay, fine just get on with it, what the fuck happened?” she asked.

“Well, Kravitz grabbed me after we got back from trying to talk to the animals. Oh, there’s a baby mongoose by the way, he likes me. You should try to stick to them next time you head out, I think there’s progress there,” he said, getting a bit sidetracked.

“Anyway, Krav wanted to talk and he asked why you hated him, which like, you haven’t even given me a real reason! So I didn’t know what the fuck to say! How do I respond to that kind of question when I don’t actually have an issue with the dude?” he said, and he was delaying somewhat. He was pretty sure Lup could tell he was too, because after a minute she sighed heavily.

“What the fuck did you say bro?” she asked, and Taako flipped back over again so that his voice was muffled when he spoke.

“I told him I hated his face,” he muttered. He was hoping that Lup wouldn’t be able to understand him, but it seemed like he hadn’t gotten that lucky.

“Holy shit. What the fuck bro?” she asked, laughing in what sounded like a combination of disbelief and extreme amusement. Taako groaned again, sitting back up.

“It’s your fault! I asked why you don’t like the dude and you said he’s got a punchable face. Did you want me to lie? Is that what you’re asking me to have done? Ruin my good morals by something as heinous as lying?” he asked, like he ever had a problem lying about things in the past.

“Uh, yes, exactly that actually. If it sounded even slightly better than ‘I hate your face’ like seriously. I guess you’re not wrong, but still,” Lup said, and he knew she had a point there but he wasn’t happy about it.

“Whatever, what’s done is done. I kinda doubt he’ll be asking about that again anytime soon, so it counts as a successful interaction,” he said. Successful was pushing it some, but he needed at least something close to a win here. Lup rolled her eyes, but at least she seemed more amused by this whole thing than actively pissed off.

“Sure, you can tell yourself that if it helps you sleep at night,” she said.

“That’s the fucking plan sister,” he said. She didn’t press him on any more details about the interaction after that, and Taako was thankful for that. He was kind of tempted to ask her what really was the deal with her dislike of Kravitz. He knew his sister enough to know that there was something there she wasn’t telling him about. But he also knew that would open the floodgates for her to start questioning him about why he even cared and shit like that. He definitely didn’t need that at the moment, so they were at a quiet impasse.

The next day Lup took pity on him and did the people-ing so that he didn’t have to confront his failures. She actually grabbed the next couple of days, and he appreciated it until he started to get antsy again. Like, he liked his privacy and all, but there was only so much a dude could take he supposed.

Plus, he’d told Cap’n’port he’d keep on with the interacting thing. Even if the dude wasn’t around at the moment that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find out later if he was skimping on that part of the deal. If no other reason than because he knew Lup would rat him out in a heartbeat, the traitor.

When he did show his face again, he guessed things had blown over as much as they were going to with Kravitz. It wasn’t like there’d been any noticeable gap from his end after all, he was still forced to interact with Lup on a near daily basis, so he was probably over the thing by now.

He seemed a little more awkward when ‘Lup’ was around, even more so than he’d been before. No one commented on it though so like hell was Taako going to say something. Ignoring the bullshit was the best plan he had anymore.

Lup had been helping him keep up on the animal language, and when he’d came out this time the little family of mongooses they’d found didn’t run off. They were still keeping their distances, but  they stuck around close enough for them to hear and slowly work out the language.

And it continued like that for a while. Taako wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole routine of it all, but he guessed it was better than it could be. It wasn’t as terrible as he could imagine, at any rate. He didn’t feel like they were wasting their time at least, especially once they started to grasp the language here.

They were stuck here after all, maybe forever. They didn’t know, but if they were then Taako figured they needed to learn how to interact with the life here. As much as he would be fine not having too many people in his personal life, having only seven other people to talk to ever was kind of daunting.

Less than seven, eventually. Humans didn’t last long, and Barry was a bit older than Lucretia and Magnus. Davenport would probably be around a while, and so would Kravitz since he was at least a half elf. Merle too, but for a dwarf he was already kinda up there in age.

That wasn’t even getting into the fact that only Lup and Davenport even knew he was around right now. Each passing day that he didn’t tell them kind of made it feel like he had less and less of a chance to without it being this huge thing. If he was being honest, he knew he’d gone and passed the point of it not being a huge thing the moment he hadn’t made it onto the mission. There was no way to be like ‘hey, I’m stowing away on your ship if that’s cool’ casually.

There were even less ways to be like ‘hey, I’ve been stowing away on your ship for like over a month, maybe two months now, is that okay?’

He’d cross that bridge when he got to it he supposed. Damn though was he was hoping not to get to it for a while.

As months started to pass, Taako guessed he was getting that wish. It was becoming weirdly normal now, getting into a pattern of hiding, responding to Lup’s name and all of that. This had definitely been the longest one of them had ever spent pretending to be the other, and the longer it went on the more Taako was pretty sure everyone had accepted Lup as the mishmash of the two of them.

Taako was kind of surprised that Lup was letting him keep on with this for so long, but he also knew how she got when she got into something. Practicality wasn’t an issue for her anymore now, instead she was focused on seeing how far they could take this.

It was also possible that she had realized how weird things would be to tell them now. Which yeah, Taako couldn’t blame her there.

They’d been on this new world for about six months now though, and Taako felt like he was starting to get comfortable. Or maybe not comfortable, but confident that no one would figure this shit out until they got bored enough and told them. There were a few times when Barry or Lucretia seemed to stare for a bit too long, even taking into account how people normally stare at them.

Neither of them had acted on that though. At this point it had been too long for them to say anything without it being completely awkward. Magnus seemed pretty oblivious on anything being strange with them at all, and Merle and Davenport were still out on their recon mission for the light.

After that one confrontation with Kravitz, the dude had been even more politely detached than he had been before. Taako was pretty sure he accepted that he had no idea what to do with ‘Lup’ and was choosing to not deal with her at all. Which, considering the reasoning Taako had given the dude was entirely fair.

So, Taako was getting comfortable. Maybe he shouldn’t be relaxing quite so much if he wanted to stay hidden, but he felt like he had a pretty good handle on how everyone on the ship acted by now and when they would be around.

And one of the things he’d noticed was that the people here were actually polite enough to knock on Lup’s door before coming in. So he’d stopped fucking hiding at every sound when he was in there and constantly locking the door. Whenever someone did show up when they were both in the room, one of them would cast a quick invisibility and let the other do the talking. It was a lot easier than hiding and honestly less risky, since he wasn’t running all over the goddamn place making noise like an idiot.

At the moment Lup and him were in their room, and it was pretty late so no one was probably going to be coming by. Six months since they got to this world and six months since their old one was presumably destroyed. It wasn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, not for them at least.

It was a decent chunk of time though, and Taako figured everyone was dealing with that in their own ways.

Him and Lup? They were dealing with it the good old fashioned way, with denial and alcohol.

“I wonder if we can learn to make our own eventually? We’re gonna run out soon, they didn’t exactly give us the supplies to booze up for life,” Lup said, taking a swing from the wine bottle she’d grabbed from the kitchen before handing it over to Taako again.

“I mean, it ain’t hard to conjure, but yeah probably. I bet Cap’n’port knows how to,” he said. They were about halfway through the bottle already, but that didn’t seem like too big of a deal.

“I guess conjuring the shit works,” Lup said and Taako nodded. Conjured was never as good as the real deal, but they’d had to made due with it before. At least this planet was suitable for growing shit and all that so they didn’t have to create all their food. Transmuting from something was always a bit better than making it from nothing too.

“You know, you still haven’t told me,” Taako started, and it was a topic he’d been avoiding but shit was easier to talk about when they were both thoroughly buzzed. “What the fuck’s your deal with Kravitz? He doesn’t talk to us much anymore but like, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy.” Lup sighed, grabbing the bottle back from him.

“He’s a jerk, what more do you want from me,” she said, but Taako wasn’t going to take that as an answer.

“I mean, so are we. We’re huge fucking assholes, most of the people we know are assholes, never stopped us before,” he pressed. Kravitz wasn’t even that big of an asshole, he just didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor and was pretty serious and uptight. Yeah, that wasn’t shit Taako was fond of, but it wasn’t shit he was going to cut off one of the few remaining people in existence for.

“He just rubs me the wrong way,” Lup said, but Taako could clearly tell that she wasn’t telling the whole truth now.

“Nope, it’s drunk twin honesty time. What the fuck’s your problem with Kravitz?” Taako asked, taking the bottle back from her. Lup groaned and flopped back on the bed.

“He took your spot,” she muttered, and it took Taako a moment to parse was she was saying.

“Huh?” he asked, wanting to make sure he had that clearly.

“He took your spot on this mission. You were going for that position, you were more qualified than he was, but they let him on instead and if we hadn’t snuck you on board you would have fucking died,” she said.

Taako was frozen for a moment, before sighing and taking a large swing from the bottle. Fucking- of course it was something like that.

“It’s not his fault he got picked you know. There were hundreds of people trying for these spots, it coulda been anyone,” he said. He could tell her. He should tell her. Him not being on the mission was his own choice, Kravitz hadn’t done shit.

But he knew how Lup was, and she’d blame herself if she knew that he turned it down and why.

“He’s still a dick,” she grumbled, and Taako nudged her shoulder with the bottle. She shifted enough to grab it and take a drink without choking before handing it back.

“Probably, but you could stand to take it easy on the dude,” he said. Lup grumbled wordlessly into the blanket, and Taako knew what she wasn’t arguing anymore because she knew he was right.

“And like,” he continued, because this was important, “I’m still alive. It’s dumb to think about what might’ve happened or whatever.”

“I know,” Lup said, sitting back up now. “It’s just- that was too close of a call Taako. I don’t ever want to risk something like that again,” she added and all he could do was nod in agreement. They didn’t talk about it much, but the thought was still there. Things could have gone so, so bad there.

Taako knew he was getting wrapped up in his thoughts, but he didn’t realize how much he’d been and how little he was paying attention at that moment. He guessed the alcohol hadn’t helped much either. Still, both twins were completely caught off guard by the door to their room slamming open.

There wasn’t any time for either of them to think long enough to past a spell or hide, and they both froze as they stared at Magnus standing in the doorway. He stared back at them for a moment, blinking slowly and after a moment it was clear that he was very drunk.

“Oh, shit, sorry Lup and uuuh… double Lup, wrong door,” he muttered, turning around and leaving the room. Both twins were silent and unmoving as the footsteps faded into the distance.

And then Lup doubled over, trying desperately to muffle her laughter and Taako flopped onto his back.

“Maybe he’ll be too drunk to remember tomorrow?” he said, although Lup didn’t seem to be paying him much mind at all.

“If not then I guess the jig will be up. Who do we pay if Magnus is the first one to figure it out? None of us bet on him,” she asked, and Taako huffed.

“I’d say we’d pay Mags but I don’t want to be found because someone was too drunk to remember which room was his after half a year on this ship,” he whined. Lup shrugged, not seeming too bothered by all of this.

“Well I’ll go out there tomorrow and he if he mentions anything about the ‘double Lup’ and we can go from there,” she said. Taako still wasn’t happy with that, but nodded none the less.

“Yeah, fine,” he grumbled, putting the near empty wine bottle down on the side table before lying down. “You think Kravitz knows modify memory?” he asked, and he couldn’t see Lup rolling her eyes but he could feel it.

“Maybe but I doubt he’d cast it on himself as well,” she said, and Taako guessed that was fair.

Maybe it would be better if Magnus remembered and everyone knew already. He’d hate it, but he’d have to stop hiding. He knew he was going to have to stop eventually, six months was kind of a ridiculously long time to keep this up to begin with.

If he didn’t remember though, Taako wasn’t going to say anything. He’d dug himself this far and there weren’t much signs of him stopping anytime soon.

If he dug far enough, by some logic he’d have to eventually come out the other side, right?

The next morning, Magnus didn’t seem to remember walking into their room. Or if he did, he didn’t mention it and didn’t mention the whole ‘two Lups’ thing.

Which wasn’t surprising to Lup, although maybe a bit disappointing. She knew things would keep being weird until Taako came clean, but she wasn’t going to force him to if he wasn’t ready. She knew her brother and she knew that while a lot of this was stubborn pride at this point, there was still a lot that was genuine fear.

And maybe there was a part of her that was afraid too. Sure, Davenport was fine with Taako being here, and he was still the captain, but they had no real way of knowing how the rest of the crew would react.

These were the only people left, and Lup genuinely liked most of them. Of course, if they didn’t like her brother she’d leave in a heartbeat, no fucking questions asked, but that didn’t make the whole possibility any less awful.

She didn’t want to lose anyone and she didn’t want to make Taako do anything before he was ready. Normally she pressed him a bit more, because she knew he needed that push a lot of the time, but right now she just… wasn’t.

Maybe she still wasn’t quite over the near separation. She guessed that was kind of obvious though, in more ways than one.

None of that mattered much though, because Magnus was just grumbling from a hangover in the morning and hadn’t mentioned the fact that he’d seen two of her last night. So Taako was in the clear for a bit longer, and Lup was trying to ignore what they’d talked about before that had happened.

Maybe her initial reason for disliking Kravitz wasn’t really his fault, but it wasn’t like he’d done much to win her over afterwards. Ever since that time Taako had said he tried to talk to her he’d been avoiding them. It made things easier for sure, the only time they really talked was when they were working out the animal language.

Which they had pretty much cracked at this point. Lup counted herself lucky to have such a knack for picking up languages. Her and Taako had been able to explain to the animals not to mention the whole two of them thing to the others, because it hadn’t taken them long to realize they were two different people. Lup blamed it on Taako always transmuting his shampoo into obnoxious scents.

Now that they had the language down though Lup wasn’t too sure what to do. They were still waiting on Cap’n’port and Merle to get back from looking for the light. They’d been talking to the animals more now that they could, learning that there’d never been humanoids on this planet. There was something about a royal court, but no one had explained too much about it yet.

This planet was nice, if strange, but Lup couldn’t imagine having to live here forever.

That wasn’t the plan though. Once they got the light of creation, they could figure something out. They could use it to unlock how they’d managed to get through the barrier between the planes the first time and hopefully get back home.

If home even still existed. They still had no idea what that huge dark mass had been, but they’d figure that out too.

There was so much they needed to figure out, but Lup couldn’t help but feel like they were trapped here. As soon as they weren’t completely focused on figuring out how the animal language worked she felt like she wasn’t doing anything anymore. She was just stuck waiting until they came back with some sort of news about the light. It was beyond frustrating.

She was in the kitchen on the Starblaster now, working her way through cooking dinner. Honestly, the worst thing about Taako wanting to keep himself a secret was not having a cooking partner. Working alone in the kitchen felt wrong, and she knew Taako wasn’t too fond of it either. It didn’t make their meals any less spectacular, but it did take longer. Taako could happily spend all day in the kitchen, but she could get impatient at times.

Now was one of those times, which was why she’d chosen to make a pretty quick stew meal. Plus, they were getting a little low on food, and stews were good for throwing whatever they had left together. Now that they could properly speak to the locals they’d have to figure out how to trade for some supplies and junk.

The food was nearly done when Kravitz wandered into the kitchen. She could actually see him hesitate at the door for a moment when he saw her before coming in. He went for the fridge and didn’t say anything and that was pretty normal. Sure, it was a little awkward, but Lup could deal with a little awkward.

Or at least she could normally, but maybe she was still a little hungover from all the wine last night too. Half a bottle wasn’t even that bad though. She’d rather blame it on that than admit that Taako saying she should give the dude a chance had anything to do with it.

“This baby’s gonna be done in like five minutes, so don’t grab any junk,” she said, catching Kravitz off guard.

“Oh, alright. It smells good,” he said, sounding confused and awkward.

“Well yeah, of course it does,” she said, spooning a potato out of the pot and sticking it with a fork. Nope, not quite done yet. She knew it needed five more minutes but now that she’d started speaking she was hoping it’d be done immediately. Kravitz nodded, and he was standing there like he had no idea if he should leave or not.

“Do you know if Captain Davenport and Merle will be back soon?” he asked, and yeah, that was a pretty safe topic. Usually the only time they spoke was when they had shit to work on together recently, so something like that would make sense.

“Hopefully, I want to get a look at that light,” she said, and Kravitz hummed in agreement. “Once we have that, it shouldn’t take too long to figure out how to leave this plane,” she added before tasting a spoonful of the soup. Maybe a little bit more salt.

“Right,” Kravitz said, and she could tell he was holding back something. Lup knew that she shouldn’t press, because chances were whatever he wasn’t saying he was keeping to himself for a reason. That reason probably being to avoid getting into a fight.

“What, you believe we’re gonna be able to leave this plane right? Like, that’s the whole point of this mission, to travel from plane to plane,” she said anyway. Biting her tongue had never been a skill she’d cared to learn.

“No, it’s not- I don’t doubt that we’ll be able to find a way to leave the plane eventually,” he said.

“But?” Lup pressed, because she could tell there was one there. This was the longest conversation they’d had with only the two of them in fuck knew how long. If they weren't careful she could see this careening quickly towards an argument.

“But, well, I’m just not sure if we’ll ever be able to get back to our original world, I suppose,” he said, and Lup guessed technically that was a fair thing to think. By all accounts it looked like it had been completely destroyed by whatever that mass had been.

But they didn’t know for sure, and they wouldn’t know if they didn’t try to look.

“God, you’re a real optimist, you know that? It’s a- you got a real sunny outlook on life,” she said, and Kravitz actually laughed at that. Which hey, was a better interaction than Lup could remember ever having with the dude. Still wasn’t a huge fan by any stretch of the means, but at least he wasn’t so uptight not to be able to laugh at himself.

“I know I can tend to be a bit cynical. I’m sorry if my ah, dour attitude has offended you,” he said. Lup frowned, looking over and staring at him for a moment. He looked like he was being genuine.

She hated it when Taako was right. He never lets it go.

“I guess given the situation being a little dour is understandable,” she said, turning the heat off on the soup. It wasn’t an apology on her part, but it was about as close as she was willing to give at the moment. "The entire world being destroyed isn't a chill thing to come back from."

“Right,” Kravitz said, and Lup could tell he was struggling to find the words again. “I know how much losing him must’ve hurt you,” he added quietly after a moment, and Lup felt herself flinch back at the words, immediately on edge again.

“Yeah, I’m sure you do,” she snapped, sarcasm dripping with every word. Kravitz sighed, and Lup figured she should get some food before this twisted into a fight. A real one, because fuck if she could handle this responsibly. She couldn’t deal with even pretending that Taako was gone in any serious manner.

“Lup, you weren’t the only one to lose family. I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to have a twin but I still had loved ones,” Kravitz said, and Lup froze in the middle of pouring herself some soup because… yeah.

She still had Taako, even if they didn’t know, but everyone else here had actually lost everyone.

“Sorry,” she muttered, finishing gathering her bowl and starting out of the room. Kravitz didn’t stop her, and she couldn’t help but be a bit relieved by that.

God, how the fuck were they supposed to tell everyone about Taako now?

Chapter Text

When Lup headed back to her room, Taako tried to steal some of her soup. She grumbled and swiped the bowl away from him before he could get her spoon.

“No, go get your own,” she said, shoveling soup into her mouth a bit faster so he couldn’t steal it. It might've also been so she could stop thinking about what her and Kravitz had talked about. It wasn’t like she’d never thought about that before, but it was just… it was the first time someone had been so blunt about it. Maybe she needed that for it to sink in.

“Not fair, I’m fucking dying here. Starving away into nothingness,” Taako whined at her.

“Guess you’ll die,” she said, not moved by his plight. Taako grumbled for a bit longer before finally pushing himself up off the bed. Lup was about to let him go before she realized something. “Oh, you should wait a bit actually. Kravitz might still be in the kitchen,” she said. Taako groaned, flopping back onto the bed full force.

“My life is the fucking worst,” he said, and Lup rolled her eyes as she finished off her soup. He didn’t complain anymore after that though, and it was quiet in the room for a bit.

“So,” he said after Lup had been scraping at the bottom of her empty bowl for a while. “Did you and Kravitz have another fight or something? You’re all bristly,” Taako asked.

“I’m not bristly,” she insisted. Taako only stared at her though, an unconvinced look on his face. It was enough to break her after a few moments, and she sighed. “No, we didn’t have a fight.”

“Then what’s up with you?” he asked, and damn it, she’d been wanting to avoid talking about this. At least until she had some more time to think it over for herself.

Talking shit out with her brother usually helped though. Sure, they were pretty big disasters on their own, but together they were basically a functioning person.

“I think I finally get why you haven’t wanted to tell everyone that you’re here,” she said finally. She could see the look of surprise that crossed his face before settling into understanding. She was supposed to be the one who really got people between the two of them, but he’d seen this problem from the very beginning. Maybe she'd been trying to ignore it. Her brother was still here and she didn't want to think about it any more than that. She had to now though.

“Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up when you think about it, right?” he said, and she nodded.

“I mean, I thought about it before, it’s not like I didn’t know or anything,” she said, and Taako nodded. It was one thing to know it and another for the reality of the situation to sink in.

“So, what are we gonna do?” she asked after a long stretch of silence. Taako raised an eyebrow in question, so she continued. “We have to tell them, I mean, of course we have to. We can’t hide you forever, that would be stupid. But…” she trailed off.

“But yeah,” Taako agreed. He shrugged, picking at the blanket some. “I dunno though, I guess we can keep up the same plan as we’ve been,” he said, and that didn’t surprise Lup. Keeping this from them even longer was a bad idea, but it’d already been so long the damage was done. It couldn’t get much more compounded than it already was.

“I guess so. At the very least we’d have to wait for Davenport to come back anyway,” she said, and Taako nodded in agreement. There wasn’t much else to say on that. They couldn’t get their world back, at least they had no idea how to yet. Maybe someday, but for now any talking about that wouldn’t help anything.

Eventually Taako got up and got himself some dinner as well, and Lup figured she’d spend the next day or so being the one hidden instead. Taako still needed the push to get out sometimes after all, and she could use the break.

She could use some time to think about all of this.

——

Taako wasn’t sure how to feel when Lup actually came over to his way of thinking. Sure, it didn’t change anything, not really. Their plan was still the same as it ever was, they were still digging themselves a deep fucking hole he had no idea how to get out of. The fact that Lup clearly saw how boned they were now didn’t inspire much faith though he supposed.

Whenever this shook out, it was going to go real fucking bad, and there wasn’t much he could do but wait for the inevitable.

There was one other thing that changed around the same time, and Taako wasn’t sure if it was because of his talk with Lup or not. Things seemed a little less tense with Kravitz. Not much, Taako knew Lup still didn’t care for the dude and he was pretty sure Kravitz was about as done with them as he could get.

Still, it was obvious that something had changed. It didn’t amount to much, beyond Kravitz not quite avoiding him as much. That was both a blessing and a curse. It was a good thing to have one of the few surviving people in the world not actively avoiding you, but that also meant actually interacting with the dude on occasions.

Things had been going steady along though. They had a hang of the mongoose language and were finally getting some useful information from the animals. There’d never been humanoids here, which answered that mystery. There was no hope of finding any lost civilization they could slot themselves into.

Their was some weird animal court thing off to the east. It was apparently what passed for a government here. The mongooses they befriended tended to stay out of the way of all that, so they didn’t know much more than the basics about it.

With that, there wasn’t much left they could do until Cap’n’port and Merle came back with some news about the light. The time spent waiting for them was the worst part of all of this so far. At least, of the figuring out this new world thing.

There wasn’t much to do without a goal, which apparently meant the only thing most of their crew could seem to think of to pass the time was trying to get to know each other.

Taako wasn’t exactly good at this shit on his best days, and sure, he knew Lup better than he knew himself, but that didn’t make it any easier. Thankfully most of the time the rest of the people here would fuck off if he implied he wasn’t in the mood for some pal time. They were probably still trying to be respectful of deep trauma from the apocalypse and all that.

As time went on though a few people seemed more and more willing to try and push their luck.

“Hey, Lup, how’s it going?” Magnus asked, bounding up to where Taako had been looking over some of their work on tracking the light of creation. They expected finding it would take a while, but he wanted to make sure that it hadn’t been so long that they should start getting worried. If they weren’t back in another month or so he might suggest they start out to look for them.

“Peachy keen,” he answered, not looking up from the research in a very clear ‘I’m fucking busy talk to me later’ move. It seemed like Magnus at least recognized the intent somewhat, because he shuffled awkwardly on his feet for a moment.

“Cool cool,” Magnus said, and it seemed like he wasn’t planning on actually leaving right away. Which, while not entirely unexpected was still pretty damn unwanted. “Whatcha working on?” he asked, scooting closer to the table. Taako knew Magnus wasn’t on board for his scientific knowledge. Dude could do some mean fighting and decent strategies but he wasn’t a researcher.

“Looking over some calculations to see where the light went. Gotta make sure the captain and Merle haven’t gotten lost out in the middle of bumfuck nowhere,” Taako said, and Magnus nodded.

“Right, right that makes sense,” he said, and Taako was waiting for whatever shoe to drop so he could turn it down. “How long you gonna be working on that?” he asked, and Taako shrugged.

“Oh, probably a while,” he lied. He’d finished like ten minutes ago, he’d mostly been dicking around trying to kill time when Magnus came in the room.

“Ah, okay then. Maybe we can hang out some other time then,” he said, and Taako shrugged, not giving any sort of verbal answer. That really wasn’t Lup’s style, but it wasn’t like these people knew her as well as he did anyway. “Alright, uh, later then,” he said, before kinda sulking out of the room. Taako almost felt bad. Under normal circumstances, he probably would’ve taken up the invite to hang.

These weren’t normal circumstances though, so he felt he was excused with that.

Now he had to spend at least the next hour in here though, which was a little frustrating. He could go invisible and leave to make sure Magnus didn’t see him, but if the dude came back and found an empty lab five minutes later then Taako would really feel like a dick.

So he sat in the lab, double-whatever checking miscellaneous research until he got bored. When he was all done with everything he could do he leaned back on his stool, carefully trying to balance a protractor on his face.

He was in the middle of that when the door to the lab opened again. Jerking all four legs of the stool back to the floor, the protractor fell off his face with a clatter. There was some saving grace in that it wasn’t Magnus who came in to see him fucking around. Instead Barry was staring at him in dumb confusion for a moment.

“Sup?” Taako asked with a grin, reaching down and picking the protractor up like this whole incident had been completely normal.

“Uh, not much. I was just- I’m getting some papers, for uh, science… stuff, you know…” Barry stumbled out. Taako nodded emphatically, watching as he shuffled around the room looking for whatever it was he was here for.

“Of course, don’t let me distract you,” he said, and Barry nodded.

“Um,” he muttered after a moment, and Taako raised an eyebrow in question. Lup was right about one thing, it was fucking fun to tease this dude.

“Something wrong babe?” he asked, and to Taako’s surprise that didn’t seem to fluster Barry as much as he expected. He was mostly looking confused.

“No, I just- how’d you get here from the kitchen so fast?” he asked, and Taako had to make a conscious effort not to completely freeze up. He still might’ve flinched though, just barely. Hopefully it wasn’t enough that Barry would notice.

“Blink my man, how else?” he lied. Barry was still looking at him like he was insane, which was fair.

“Lup, why did you blink in here? If you uh, if you needed something you could’ve asked,” he said. Taako forced himself to shrug as casually as he could manage.

“Nah, didn’t need anything, just bored and you know, gotta keep up the magic skills and all that,” he said. It definitely wasn’t the most believable lie Taako ever came up with. He started trying to balance the protractor on his face again to sell up the bored angle. He was pretty bored after all.

“Alright then,” Barry said, and he seemed to have everything he’d come in here for by this point. He still looked a little hesitant about leaving, and Taako tried his best to ignore him. When the protractor fell off his nose he cursed and picked it back up without looking over.

“You sure you don’t need anything?” Barry asked one more time. Taako went to nod but stopped himself, because he was actually getting a hang of balancing this thing.

“Sure thing my guy,” he said. He could see Barry nodding out of the corner of his eye before finally stepping out of the lab. As soon as he was gone Taako bolted out of the chair, letting the dumb protractor fall wherever the fuck.

He didn’t know why Lup was out and about. Maybe she went to get food and it was just bad timing? Still they’d been doing this for months now, they should be better than that.

He should probably wait longer, but his patience could only hold out until he couldn’t hear Barry’s footsteps down the hall anymore. As soon as he wasn’t in the hallway Taako cast invisibility on himself before heading out of the lab. Moving towards the kitchen, he wasn’t sure if that was where Barry was going, but if it was he sure as fuck hoped Lup had gotten out of there by now.

“Uh, is this some sort of joke?” he heard Barry asking up ahead. Taako flinched and rushed a bit faster to see what was going on. Despite all his hopes otherwise, he wasn’t too surprised when he came into the kitchen and saw Barry staring at Lup, looking even more confused than he had before.

“What do you mean?” Lup asked, and Taako could tell she was being genuine. He didn’t move from where he was standing off by the doorway, not wanting to draw any attention to himself, even while invisible.

“I just saw you in the lab,” Barry said, and Taako could see the quickest flash of panic across Lup’s face at that.

“Might be a joke, is it funny?” she asked, managing to recover pretty quickly. Barry still looked hesitant, and Taako was desperately hoping he’d take this as Lup fucking around. That was something they kept pretty consistent after all, teasing this nerd.

“I guess so?” Barry said, rearranging the papers in his arms some. “Um, if you’re bored you can um, I don’t know… you want to help me with this stuff? It’s some research on the light of creation I had from before we left our plane. I was thinking if the captain and Merle get back with the actual light again I want to have as much prepared as possible,” he offered.

“Uh, yeah sure, why the fuck not,” Lup said after a moment, quickly standing up from where she’d been sitting at the kitchen table. “I’ve been bored out of my skull, something to do sounds good right now,” she added. Barry looked like he believed what she was saying, and Taako figured it wasn’t even a total lie. They had been pretty bored for a while.

As soon as they left the kitchen Taako made it the rest of the way back to his and Lup’s room, hiding himself inside. It wasn’t until a few hours later that Lup came back.

“What were you doing out there?” Taako asked as soon as she shut the door behind her.

“What were you doing out there? I swear Barry almost figured it out before I distracted him,” Lup said.

“I thought I was supposed to be out today, you didn’t seem like you were gonna leave the room this morning. You saw me leave,” Taako said.

“I thought you said you were going to take a shower and were coming back,” Lup argued, and Taako guessed he had said something along those lines.

“I’d said I’d be back at some point, yeah. I was bored though,” he said, and maybe that wasn’t the best excuse. “Well, he didn’t figure it out, so it’s fine,” he insisted. They had to be more careful now, because Barry was gonna be more suspicious for sure. Taako wasn’t about to let him be the first person to find out and lose to both Lup and Davenport.

They were a little more cautious after that. Even Lup was, which was still something Taako was getting used to. It was weird that she was now pretty determined to keep this under wraps too. She’d gone along with it in the past yeah, but it was more now than just wanting to win a bet.

Time passed though, and it was starting to get long enough that Taako was getting worried when Cap’n’port and Merle finally came back. It’d been a day Lup had been out and about, but apparently they weren’t any worse for wear when they showed up. They didn’t have the light though, but they knew where it was. It was a big step up from what they had before though, and now they could finally act again.

They needed to convince the royal beasts who ruled over this world to give them the light. Before any of them could think of an appropriate way to appeal to these animals, or if they could think of some sort of trade for it or something Magnus was already running off the ship. They could hear him claiming he was going to fight the power bear and win the light.

Which, hey, more power to him if he could pull it off.

With that, they started packing up to take the Starblaster over to the royal court and talk to these animals. While someone went to go find Magnus, who’d taken off running for the beasts, Taako waited in Lup’s room. They’d already talked and figured at least for the initial meeting it would be better if she went out instead.

The door opened and Taako was a little surprised to see Davenport step inside. He probably should’ve been on higher alert to hide if he needed to, but everyone was busy getting ready to go.

“So, this is still- you haven’t told anyone else yet, have you?” Davenport asked, and Taako shrugged.

“Not our fault we’re so goddamn good at this,” he said. Sure they slipped up a few times, but it wasn’t even for anyone to put the pieces together yet. “Besides, we kinda figured whenever we do come out with it, better to you know, have you there,” he added. He was sure some people would be pissed at them for this, but hopefully having the captain around when it happened would make it smoother.

“I suppose that’s fair,” Davenport said. “We’ll be heading out soon. I just wanted to come and make sure you’ve been dealing alright,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Yeah, we’ve been fine. Keep me up to date on how it goes. Maybe try to keep Magnus from getting killed trying to fight a bear,” he said, and Davenport let out a sigh at that. Yeah, Taako wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t too fond of the ‘fight the power bear’ plan. Still, it was all they had at the moment so it was worth a shot.

“I’m not going to let Magnus die fighting a bear. I’m sure Lup will fill you in on all the details when we get back,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Sounds good cap’n,” he said, and Davenport nodded turning to leave. He stopped before opening the door though, and Taako was kinda nervous for a moment. “You know, it’ll be a year in less than two months. You have to tell everyone eventually,” he said, and Taako sighed.

“I know. I’ll start thinking about it, alright? How to break the news and shit,” he muttered. It seemed to be enough for Davenport, who nodded and left.

Lup did fill him in on what happened when they finally got to the royal court. Turns out it went better than expected. Magnus didn’t get his ass handed to him by a bear. Nah, apparently that was gonna come later, and in like, a training thing. They still didn’t have the light, but the royal beasts were willing to get to know them better and see if they were worthy of the light.

Maybe once they had the light, he’d finally let the others know about him. With the light, they could actually make some progress, and maybe find a way to get back home. Maybe with that hope, finding out he’d been hiding away this whole time wouldn’t be such a big sting.

That’s what he hoped, anyway.

——

They were so close to getting the light Lup was trying to remain patient. That had never been a particularly strong virtue of hers though, so it was harder than it should be.

Still, Magnus had been training with one of the royal beasts. They’d been trying to talk to the others too, explain what the world they’d come from had been like, tell them about how the light was their only hope of being able to get back home.

Taako mostly stayed inside of the ship. They didn’t want the animals to notice a discrepancy between them and tell the others. It wouldn’t be great with building up trust with these animals, and Taako had promised her he’d been thinking of a way to break the news. She wasn’t thrilled about the prospect, but she knew they couldn’t keep it a secret forever.

It’d been almost a year now. She honestly couldn’t believe they’d let it go on for this long. Despite everything, the time had seemed to pass so fast.

Taako was waiting on the Starblaster now. It looked like it was going to storm, and the rest of them were meeting with the royal beasts. Magnus had been training with the power bear for almost two months now, and the royal beasts were trying to decide whether to finally give them the light.

The power bear felt they’d earned it, he’d clearly seen something in Magnus during their training that he liked. The snow owl wanted to keep it for at least a bit longer, since it had brought so many advances to their world in such a short amount of time, and the wolf was undecided yet.

They watched as the three huge beasts argued, and as they did the sky began to turn black. It wasn’t like a normal storm or even like the night though, it was something they’d only seen once before, and not like this. They hadn’t seen it up close, slowly dripping into the plane like an oil spill.

“Please, there’s no time left we need to go!” Magnus yelled, trying to get the royal beasts attention. It didn’t work, and before they could do anything else a pillar of that blackness crashed into the court, taking all three of the royal beasts and the light with it.

“Back to the ship! We gotta go!” Davenport yelled, and before he could finish speaking Lup was running back. Whatever this thing, this force was, it was too fucking big for them to stay and fight. As they ran Lup burned through her spellslots, blasting any of the strange, dark creatures that emerged from the pillars.

It was chaos. She couldn’t keep track of who was nearby, other than Barry. He’d grabbed onto her coat, probably to keep himself from getting separated. She didn’t care, the only thing she could focus on was getting back to the ship. She had to get back to Taako.

As soon as they were on board Davenport ran to the helm, starting to get the Starblaster ready for takeoff.

“Are we even going to be able to leave? It didn't work last time,” Kravitz asked, staring out in horror as more half-mile wide columns dripped down out of the sky.

“We need to try, it’s the only option we’ve got,” Davenport said without any hesitation.

“Where’s Magnus?” Lucretia asked, panic in her voice. There was a moment of dawning horror as the rest of them looked around the deck and realized he wasn’t there.

“We must’ve lost him in the crowd,” Merle said, cursing under his breath.

“Someone needs to go get him,” Lup said, torn between staying here to see what was going on and running back to make sure Taako was still in his room. He had to still be in his room. He wouldn’t leave, they were being careful. It was fine, he was still on the ship.

“I’ll go,” Kravitz said, already starting towards the gangplank, surprising Lup. She never expected him to be the type to throw himself into danger like that. She couldn’t think about that now though.

“No you won’t,” Davenport shouted, and there was a loud crash as another tendril plowed into the earth, a little too close for comfort. “We can’t risk anyone else getting lost.”

“We can’t leave him!” Lucretia shouted, and it was the first time Lup had ever heard her raise her voice like that, especially to their captain.

“Five minutes,” Davenport said between gritted teeth. “If he’s not back in five minutes we’ll have to leave.”

The next five minutes they spent staring over the edge of the deck. Those strange shadow creatures had started coming for their ship, and whenever they’d get within range Lup would blast what she could. She could hear Barry shooting off spells on the other side of the ship. He hadn't ever focused in combat like this though, there was only so much he could do. She had to stay out here and protect the ship. Taako was safe, Taako was in their room. As soon as they were off the ground she’d go see him. It was going to be okay.

Whenever she’d glance back at their captain, she could see his hands gripping the wheel so tight his knuckles were white. He was staring up at the sky, and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

Five minutes passed, and Magnus wasn’t back at the ship. There were more and more figures coming towards them now. Enough that Lup was having a hard time keeping them back, and as they got closer she could see them more clearly. They weren’t solid black, but had these bright ribbons of colors shifting and darting inside of them.

“Uh, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep us clear!” she yelled, sending another volley of magic missiles at the encroaching army. She managed to get a decent number of them, but there were too many and they were getting way too close. They had to leave now. She had to go check on Taako. She felt her next shot start to go wide, and then she heard music. Just for a moment, and she felt her mind clear enough to blast the closest shadows before they started clawing at the ship.

Turning towards the source of the music, Kravitz must’ve gotten his fiddle out while she wasn’t looking. She knew he was a bard, but she’d never actually seen him use those skills in battle before.

“That’s it, I’m sorry but we can’t wait any longer,” Davenport said, starting to put the ship into motion.

“But Magnus-” Merle started to argue, but they were already rising up into the air.

“If we don’t go now we’ll all die. I’m sorry but we can’t-” he was cut off, jerking the ship violently to the right to avoid another tendril of inky darkness. “We have to go,” he said sternly, and it was obvious how much he didn’t want to do this. They didn’t have a choice though.

Merle’s fists were tight on the railing of the Starblaster, and Lucretia had slumped down on a stool in barely concealed despair. Lup couldn’t wait anymore, running back to her room.

“Lup, where are you-” Barry started to call after her.

“I need to check something!” she shouted back, stumbling somewhat as the ship rocked violently underneath her. It took a little bit longer to get back to her room because of it, but she managed. “Taako!” she shouted, throwing the door open. Her blood ran cold when she didn’t see him inside.

“Lup, what the fuck is going on?” her brother shouted, the invisibility dropping. Her knees almost gave out underneath her from the rush of relief.

“That thing’s back. The thing that destroyed our world, we’re leaving. I don’t even know if we can leave,” she explained. The fear on Taako’s face somehow got even worse at that.

“Fuck. Fuck,” he shouted.

Lup knew she should go back out to where everyone else was, she should probably fucking bring Taako with her. They couldn’t do that now though. Not after losing- they just couldn’t. She didn’t know what the fuck to do, so she slumped to the floor. As least she had the excuse that sitting was safer with the way the ship was swerving around.

Taako sat down next to her, grabbing her hand tightly in his without saying anything. She couldn’t tell if she was the one shaking or if he was, or maybe it was just the ship.

And then there were these bright strings of light, and she felt herself get pulled apart before being stitched back together again. When her vision cleared she was back on the deck of the ship, and Taako was no longer beside her. That strange black devouring force was gone as well, and Magnus was back. He had a black eye.

Lup had no idea what was going on, but she knew one thing.

They were in over their heads so much further than any of them had ever imagined.

Chapter Text

Taako felt as bright streams of light pulled him apart, and then felt as they stitched him back together again.

When he came to, he was huddled up in the closet.

It took him a second to process that though, because it certainly wasn’t something he’d been expecting. He hadn’t known what the fuck was going on until Lup came rushing into the room and explained that the world was ending. Again.

Taako didn’t know what the fuck was going on when the light started deconstructing them, but it was too sudden for either of them to do anything to stop it. He certainly didn’t know why it had put him back together in the closet. He slowly pulled himself out of the awkward position he’d been jammed into. It was a struggle not to trip over the stuff he and Lup had thrown in here with no rhyme or reason, but he managed.

“Lup?” he called out as he opened the closet door, trying not to be too terrified when he saw she wasn’t in there anymore. The light took him somewhere else, she must've gotten put together in some other part of the ship too.

Why, Taako had no fucking idea. He didn’t have a single clue what was going on anymore. The ship wasn’t rocking around violently anymore, and when he looked out the window it looked like they were heading towards the edge of a planar system. There was no sign of that pitch black swirling manifestation of the apocalypse though, so they were probably safe.

For now, at least.

Taako was trying to get as good of a look as he could from the small port window as they entered this new plane when he heard he door slam open behind him. Spinning around, he saw Lup throwing it back shut again before locking it.

“Lup! Please come back, we need to work through this together,” Taako heard Lucretia calling on the other side of the door.

“Just give me ten fucking minutes! Tell the others I’ll be right back I swear,” Lup yelled back. She was still facing away from him, and Taako could see how tight her grip was on the door handle. It looked like she might've been shaking.

“Alright,” Lucretia said. There was a moment where they both waited until it sounded like she was gone. Then Lup sighed heavily and turned back around towards him, and Taako could see the relief that ran through her when she saw him. Even though he knew that she had to be around here somewhere, he’d felt the same immense relief when she’d ran into the room.

“You’re still here,” Lup said, and it didn’t sound like a question but it also didn’t sound like Lup could 100% believe it either.

“Of course,” Taako said simply. Of course he was still here. Whatever was going on with all this, it sure wasn’t going to separate them now.

“Magnus came back,” she said, and that made Taako frown in confusion.

“Was he gone?” he asked, because he hadn’t heard about that. He knew that he’d been training with the powerbear. He’d known that everyone had been off the ship today, trying to get the great beasts to finally give them the light of creation.

“We had to leave him behind, when we left that plane. We didn’t- we didn’t have any choice Taako, we lost him when we were running back and we couldn’t wait anymore. He was gone,” Lup explained, and Taako felt a cold dread in his stomach at that. He didn’t have any idea that had happened. Lup didn't have any time to explain before. “But he’s back,” she continued. “He was just, on the deck along with everyone else when we reformed.”

“How does that even work?” Taako asked, and Lup shrugged wildly.

“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know but something like, put us back into place?” she said, sounding like she was guessing more than anything. “Where did you appear? Were you just in this room?” she asked.

“The closet,” Taako answered, pointing towards the still open door. He could see her trying to think it over, and he was too. “When we first left home I was hiding in there, I don’t know if that fucking means anything but it’s a thing I guess,” he said, and Lup nodded.

“I don’t know what else to go off of right now,” she said.

“You should get back to everyone else,” Taako told her. He didn’t want his sister leaving right now, of fucking course he didn’t. It was obvious her exit hadn’t been the most subtle one though, and the others were waiting for her.

“Yeah,” Lup said with a sigh, and she sounded tired. It was fair, he was fucking exhausted too. “Gods, Taako, what are we gonna do?” she asked, and Taako almost cringed at the question.

“I don’t fucking know,” he said, and it was the truth. The world fucking ended again. It wasn’t a one time thing. They had no proof that it wasn’t going to happen again.

They had to figure out what was going on, and Taako wasn’t sure they could afford to keep secrets anymore.

“We have to come clean,” he said finally. Lup didn’t look any happier about this than he did.

“Right. You’re right,” she agreed.

“Now, listen,” Taako said quickly, his voice a little panicked at the idea. “Now might not be the best time, since the world just ended again and all,” he tried to reason.

“We can’t put this off anymore, if we hold off we’ll chicken out again,” she said, and Taako let out an offended huff at that.

“Excuse you, I never chickened out of anything. I chose not to tell everyone from the beginning,” he argued. Lup rolled her eyes, and Taako couldn’t fault her that much for being annoyed with him right now. This certainly wasn’t the most important thing to focus on at the moment.

“That’s semantics, the point is we can’t ke-”

“Lup? Sorry, it’s- we know you told Lucretia you’d be down in a bit, but we really think we should uh, figure this out together, as a team,” Barry’s voice cut in through the door, and both of them froze. “Uh, Lup? Were you talking to someone in there?” he asked, and Taako winced at that.

“We gotta tell him,” Lup hissed at him in a whisper.

“What? No, not Barry first,” Taako insisted.

“Why not Barry first? Even if he got mad he’s not the kind of person to actually do anything about it,” Lup whispered.

“Because if Barry finds out first you and Davenport win the bet,” he explained, and Lup groaned loudly at that. Taako tried to shush her but it didn’t do much good.

“That’s not important right now!” Lup said.

“If it’s not important then tell Barry to go away and get someone else instead,” he said.

“No, he’s right there that’s stupid!”

“Um, Lup? I can hear you arguing with someone. I think? Are you talking to yourself?” Barry called in through the door again.

“Fuck off Barold!” Taako called out in his imitation of Lup’s voice.

“Don’t fuck off Barold, keep your ass right there,” Lup immediately contradicted. Taako made a face at her and wasn’t surprised when Lup ignored it. They really didn’t have a choice anymore though, they’d pretty much blown their whole deal.

“I’m very confused,” Barry said, and that was fair. Lup was staring at him now, and Taako let out a very long, frustrated sigh. There was no getting out of this and it was best to get as many people out of the way individually as they could before breaking it to the whole crew.

“Barry, are you a fainter?” Taako asked. Lup rolled her eyes again, but hey, it was a valid question. He wanted to know if he’d have to ease the dork into this stunning revelation or if he could rip it all off at once like a bandage.

“Uh, no? I don’t think I’ve ever fainted before, or like, not from uh, shock if you mean like that. Or from blood, or needles or you know any of those things,” Barry said, nervously rambling on the other side of the door. Taako guessed that was reassurance enough. Without saying anything else he walked up, hesitating slightly before finally unlocking the handle and letting the door swing open.

Barry looked like he was about to say something once the door opened, but then his eyes darted from where they’d been on Taako back over to where Lup was standing a bit further back in the room. Then back over to Taako. Then back to Lup. His mouth was still hanging open slightly, and the dude was clearly at a loss for words.

“Now, you said you weren’t a fainter Barold,” Taako said, because if he could make light of all this maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Haha, he’d been here the whole time, surprise! Now let’s get onto the actual important stuff because this isn’t anything we should worry about.

“We snuck Taako on board the ship the night before we left home. We didn’t know how to break the news to you guys after everything happened, so we just didn't, I guess,” Lup explained, and okay, that sounded a little better. They hadn’t meant for shit to go so south, and then once it had they had no fucking easy way out. It seemed to take a minute before the explanation clicked in Barry’s mind.

“Oh! You’re Taako!” he said, turning towards him now.

“Uh yeah, who the fuck were you thinking I was for the forty seconds it took you to piece that one together?” he asked. The look of revelation on Barry’s face quickly gave way to sheepish embarrassment.

“I thought it might’ve been a spell?” he said, sounding more like he was guessing than anything.

“Wait, lemme get this straight. You thought I like, cast duplicity or something and was arguing with a fake version of myself?” Lup asked.

“I mean, we’re all under a lot of stress right now,” Barry said. Which didn't help his case if he was trying to sound like he hadn’t thought Lup had completely lost her fucking mind.

“Okay, I’m not insane Barry,” Lup said, like she had to be extra clear on this fact.

“Yeah, we just lied to you all for a year, not quite as bad as all that,” Taako said. It really didn’t sound much better when he put it like that.

“Right. Right, shit,” Barry said, like the reality of the situation was coming back to him again. “Holy shit, you’re alive! And here! How did you- why didn’t you tell us?” he asked.

“Well, the apocalypse kinda happened. It seemed awkward to spring it on y’all after that,” Taako said, which was pretty much the truth.

“Oh, yeah I guess that’s fair,” Barry said, like he hadn’t thought about it that way yet. “But it’s still- we gotta tell everyone else,” he said.

“We knooow,” Lup said, groaning somewhat as she slumped down on the bed. “We were just talking about how we can’t keep this a secret from y’all anymore. Fuck if we have any idea on how to break the fucking news though,” she added. Taako was still kinda panicking about this, on the inside at least. No one on the outside needed to know how freaked he was. Except for Lup, but that was only because he couldn’t hide shit from her if he tried anyway.

At least Barry seemed mostly okay with this so far. Probably too surprised to be upset or anything like that.

“We should let Captain Davenport know first, at least,” Barry said, and Taako waved that concern away.

“Oh, no worries on that, he already knows,” he said, and once again poor Barold’s face was one of dumb confusion.

“He- he does?” he asked, and Lup nodded.

“He found out a while ago but agreed to let us figure out how to tell you all at our own pace,” Lup said, and Taako nodded.

“Oh. Well, I guess we should just go out there then?” Barry suggested. Which to be fair, it’d get it over the fastest, but it was also the most terrifying option.

“Or we could do it in literally any other way Barold,” Taako argued. Faster was probably better, but he didn’t know how the fuck he was supposed to rush into this.

“Maybe he’s right Taako. I can go out first and explain I guess but we really can’t put it off anymore,” Lup said. Taako started pouting at this absolute betrayal from his twin. Still, he guessed that wasn’t the worst idea. At least he didn’t have to walk out right away.

“Um, whatever you two decide to do, we should probably figure it out soon. I’m pretty sure the others are gonna start to get worried about how long we’ve been gone for,” Barry said.

“Or they could just think you’re getting a little action,” Taako said, and he was mostly joking with that. Barry’s face went bright fucking red despite that, and yeah that was about what he expected. At least he still had one thing he could have fun with despite all this.

“Taako, the world just ended. Again,” Lup said, unamused.

“What? People have fucked in worse situations,” he argued.

“No, they haven’t. Like, empirically, I do not think there has been a worse situation for people to fuck in,” Lup countered. Taako shrugged at that, because he wasn’t that invested in this argument.

“Okay, whatever. Let’s just- come on Taako, we need to explain to everyone,” Lup said, pushing herself up off the bed. Taako didn’t want to go in the slightest, but he knew they couldn’t exactly put this off any longer.

“So you’re gonna head in first and I’ll wait outside for your signal I guess?” he asked, and Lup nodded.

“Sounds good bro,” she said, and it did not sound good. It was the best plan they had, even if it wasn’t much of a plan at all. Hopefully at least they’d have Davenport and Barry on their side though. That kind of evened shit out if everyone else decided to hate their guts for this.

They couldn't count on Barry actually supporting them though. At best right now he didn't seem to hate them, but that didn't mean he was alright with this.

“Alright, let’s go,” he said, and with that the three of them left Lup’s room.

Taako wasn’t ready to do this.

But they were already long overdue to come clean, so he didn’t have any choice.

Lup told herself that the cat was already 1/4th of the way out of the bag with Barry knowing. Once everyone else knew things might be awkward for a bit, but it wasn’t like they didn’t have more important shit to focus on. They needed to get this out of the way so they could have all hands on deck to deal with all that.

So shit might be awkward, but this was for the best. As unfair as it might be it was a good thing that they had one more person on deck.

Everyone was still waiting for them when her and Barry walked out into the main deck. Taako was hiding out in the hallway and Lup was kind of worried that it would be difficult to actually get him to come out once the time had come. She couldn’t blame him too hard for that, but also she was doing all the hard work of actually explaining everything so he could deal.

“Lup, is everything okay?” Davenport asked as she came into the room. He looked concerned, and considering the way she’d acted when she left it was reasonable.

“Yeah, we’re good cap’n,” she said, and it was real fucking tempting to leave it at that. She kind of doubted Barry would call her out in front of everyone if she did.

Still, she gave Taako a whole talk about how they couldn’t put this off any longer, so she might as well hold true to that.

“Actually, no, we’re not good. There’s something we should tell everyone. Something we probably shoulda mentioned a while ago but you know how time flies when going through repeat apocalypses, some shit just slips your mind,” she said. Damn it, there was no way this was going to go over any way but extremely poorly.

“Oh,” Davenport said, and then exactly what she was saying seemed to click in his head. “Oh,” he repeated before pulling his composure back together and giving her a serious nod. “Yes, I think that would be a good idea,” he said.

Everyone’s eyes were on her now, and she could see confusion and concern on their faces in differing levels. She had everyone’s attention though, and there was no good way to go about it.

Might as well just do it.

“We snuck Taako on board the ship before we left home. He’s been here the whole time and we’ve been pretending to be one person. So if you noticed anything weird it was probably… that,” she said. It was more like she blurted it out as fast as possible while still trying to sound casual about the whole thing. She could tell everyone was still staring at her, although she might be taking a break from any sort of eye contact for the moment.

“Oh shit! I wasn’t just drunk off my ass!” Magnus yelled after a moment, breaking the almost suffocating silence that had been covering them. Lup was grateful for it, and it didn’t take her long to realize what he was talking about.

“Oh no babe, you were still drunk off your ass but yeah, you weren’t like, seeing double if that’s what you thought,” she said. Magnus was laughing now, which was good. That probably meant one more person who didn’t hate them over this.

“Holy shit, so that explains why you’re so different sometimes! Which one of you is the friendly one?” Magnus asked, and yeah okay, somehow he wasn’t upset with this.

“That would definitely be me,” she said. If Taako was listening in and wanted to argue he could come into the room at any time.

“Now hold on a minute here, I think you still need to explain a few things,” Merle said, and he sounded a lot more serious than he normally did. “First things first,” he continued. “Who’s Taako?” Lup almost wasn’t able to keep herself from laughing at that.

“My dumb twin bro, you’ll get to know what he’s like when he’s not trying to be me soon enough,” she explained. Merle nodded sagely at that, like she’d gone and said something of wisdom.

“Well, I guess that explains everything then,” he said. If Lup was honest with herself, Merle was the person she was least worried about getting upset about all this. Even with going through the end of the world it didn’t seem like there was that much that made him angry. At the very least, he seemed like out of all of them the one most likely to try and look on the bright side of things.

“Except it really doesn’t,” Kravitz cut in, and that… yeah, that was about what she expected. It was hard to read his face, but it also wasn’t like Lup had spent a lot of time caring enough to try and tell how he was feeling. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner? It’s- this is kind of a big deal. That’s a whole person Lup! You can’t just hide a whole person for a year,” he said.

“I mean, we kinda did so,” Lup said, which she guessed wasn’t the best response she could’ve had.

“Okay, technically yes I suppose you could but that’s not the point here,” he argued.

“Um, where is he now? He didn’t- he was on the ship when we left, right?” Lucretia asked, and it was honestly harder to tell what she was thinking than it was with Kravitz. At least she seemed concerned about Taako’s well-being. None of them looked to immediately resent Taako for being alive, and that was good. Lup didn’t want to have to deal with the alternative.

“Hiding out in the hallway. We figured it’d be best for one of us to break the news before he came out,” she explained.

“Well, now that it’s out in the open he should join us,” Davenport said, and Lup was pretty thankful that she could drag him out here now. She was not enjoying dealing with everyone’s reactions to this on her own, even if overall they’d been a lot better than the worst case scenarios she’d had floating around in her head.

“You got it Cap’n’port,” she said, before dashing from the room before anyone could say anything else. She found Taako pacing just inside the door, looking about as nervous as she felt.

“What’s happening? How much shit are we in right now?” he immediately asked her.

“Not too much? I think at least. Magnus and Merle seem alright with it, Lucretia’s hard to read but seemed glad that you weren’t left to die on the animal planet, and Kravitz is kinda peeved?” she explained rapid fire.

“Okay. Okay. Could definitely be worse,” he said, and Lup nodded in agreement. This definitely could have gone down worse. “So what now?” he asked.

“The captain wants you to join everyone since cat’s outta the bag,” she said, completely unsurprised by the way Taako recoiled at that.

“Shit, you sure that’s a good idea? Maybe we can let it, you know, really sink in for everyone before we throw it all out there like that,” he said. Lup shook her head in false sadness though, grabbing Taako by the arm before he could get away.

“Sorry bro, no can do. Captain’s orders,” she said.

“Fuck you,” he grumbled, fighting her until she managed to get him through the door. Once they were out on the deck he stopped instantly. Although the fact that she was still had to push him the last bit of the way through the door showed that he hadn’t gone super willingly. Unsurprisingly, everyone was staring at the two of them, and yeah, this was fucking terrible.

“Uh, sup?” Taako said, and he still sounded like her. He must’ve caught it as soon as he spoke, because he coughed awkwardly afterwards. “I mean, sup?” he repeated, sounding like himself again. There wasn’t a huge difference in their voices, but it was still there.

“Well, you’re alive, and that’s great news! I’m also alive, which is equally confusing,” Magnus said. Taako nodded very quickly at that.

“Hey, yeah that’s sure a thing that’s important to figure out and isn’t about this whole scam we pulled on y’all. How about we focus on that instead?” he said, and Lup was pretty on board with that plan.

“We’re going to have to talk about both of these things,” Davenport said. As fair as that was Lup could sympathize with the way Taako’s shoulders drooped at that. “First thing is first though, Magnus, you’re not hurt are you?” he asked, and Lup felt herself relax the slightest bit as the attention was drawn off of her and Taako. This was why it was best to explain while the captain was here, and why doing it when there was already so much else going on helped.

It didn’t change the way eyes lingered on the two of them before switching over to Magnus. All it did was delay inevitable confrontations, she was sure. Delay had been the name of the game so far though, and it seemed like it was going to be that way for a bit longer.

“I feel fine? I uh, I was definitely a lot worse off before I got brought back to the ship. A lot was going on at once, but I think I like, went down,” Magnus explained, and with that they started trying to get into figuring out what was going on here. Figure out how Magnus had been brought back, how’d they’d all been pulled back into the positions they’d been when they first left their home world, despite the fact that none of the actual items on the ship had reacted like that.

Davenport lowered their ship down into this new plane, and it was clear from a glance that this wasn’t their home world. It wasn’t the world they’d just spent a year in either. It was somewhere entirely new. They couldn’t make out anything else yet though. They needed to collect themselves before they began exploring a new reality.

Taako was quieter during the discussion than Lup knew he might normally be. She couldn’t call him out on it since she could feel herself hanging back as well. Even though it had gone better than they’d expected, it was still clear when people looked at them that they were still trying to process it all. That even the people who were genuinely glad to have Taako here didn’t know what to think.

It was for the best for them to be quiet and out of the way while people made up their minds about them. If there was one thing they’d learned growing up on the road, it was how to keep out of the way so that you didn’t piss anyone off. They hadn’t needed to fall back on those skills in a long time, but it was still as easy as breathing.

It wasn’t like they were completely silent either. Taako explained that he’d been moved as well. When Lucretia spoke up that Magnus had a black eye when they first left and that the cut over Merle’s eye from the same time had returned, Lup offered up a few theories.

They were just… quieter than they normally would be.

Lup wasn’t sure what time it was in this new world they were in, but it’d been well into the day when the hunger had arrived on the animal planet. They’d spent several hours out on the deck, trying to get their barrings before they could properly situate themselves in this new world.

Eventually though they were all exhausted, and Davenport called an end to the meeting and told all of them to get some sleep. As soon as he said that Lup was up and out of her chair. She didn’t even have to glance over to know that Taako was up as well.

“Yeah, sleep sounds pretty fucking good right now,” she said, trying to keep it casual. If they could pretend all of this was normal for long enough, it might just become normal.

“Uhuh, we’ll catch you all in the mornin,” Taako said, and before anyone else could say a thing they were out of there. It wasn’t like they ran, they just happened to be very fast.

They didn’t stop until they were back in their room, and Lup slumped against the closed door while Taako went and fell face first into the bed.

“That wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” she said, trying to stay optimistic about this. She wasn’t sure why she was, other than one of them should, and it sure wasn’t going to be Taako.

“Still fucking awful. Why did we do this?” he asked, voice muffled somewhat by the mattress.

“Because you’re an idiot?” Lup said, and she could see Taako’s shoulders shift somewhat in what was supposed to be a shrug.

“Asked and answered,” he said. It was quiet for a bit, and Lup really was exhausted. This had been a long fucking day.

“You think they all hate us?” Taako asked after a bit, and Lup slumped further onto the floor as she thought it over.

“Probably not all of them?” she said finally, and she actually felt pretty certain in that. “Cap’n’port doesn’t, and I think Magnus and Merle are fine too,” she added.

“And everyone else?” Taako asked, pushing himself up so that he could speak properly. Lup shrugged, not sure what to think of the others. She hoped Barry and Lucretia didn’t hate them. They both seemed like the kind of people who wouldn’t ever say if they did though, and were good enough at being professional that Lup couldn’t be certain. Kravitz, well, she couldn’t even blame him if he hated them.

“If they do, well, we’ve lived with people who hated us before. We’ll make it work,” she said, and Taako nodded. With everything else that was going on, a few people disliking them wasn’t really the biggest issue.

They’d make this work.

They didn’t have any other choice.

Chapter Text

Kravitz didn’t know what to think the first time the world ended. The second time the apocalypse came wasn’t any better if he was being honest. Somehow they survived both times, and he couldn’t believe it was a coincidence anymore. He’d never had much faith in that idea anyway. He didn’t know what to think though.

And that was before Lup decided to reveal she’d been two people this entire time. That she’d been hiding her twin brother on the ship for a year.

It was hard not to stare at the two of them, once they were finally both out in the open. Trying to spot the differences between them seemed almost impossible, although Kravitz wasn’t sure how much of that they’d done on purpose to keep everyone from noticing their switching game.

At least this did explain a few things. It certainly explained why he never seemed to be able to tell what Lup would be like from one day to the next. There had been differences there, and for a very good reason. Not that that was much of a comfort. Honestly, everyone else seemed more okay with this than he could understand. Maybe part of it was not wanting to cause a scene, or there being too much going on right now to really focus on it. Still, Captain Davenport didn’t even seem surprised.

When he called an end to the meeting and said they’d start to check out the planet below after everyone got some sleep Kravitz was relieved. It was hard to focus on anything too productive with everything else running through his head. Lup and Taako ran from the room as soon as those words left the captain’s mouth. There was a moment of silence in the room once they were gone, no one really knew what to do after that.

After a few painfully awkward seconds though Magnus coughed in a very forced way. “Well, I’m gonna go hit the sack too I guess. Dying doesn’t leave you as tired as I woulda guessed, but still pretty beat here,” he said, and with that everyone started getting up and leaving as well.

Kravitz wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do after all that though. He considered hanging around until everyone else was gone so that he could have a minute to talk to the captain alone. Though from the way Lucretia was hovering around, absently writing in her journals though it seemed like she had the same idea.

Figuring her patience would beat his by a long shot, he followed after Barry when he left instead. He waited until they were off a good distance from the others before calling out to him.

“Hey, Barry, could we talk a moment?” he said, catching the other man’s attention easily. It seemed like Barry hadn’t realized he’d been following him until that moment, startling somewhat as he turned around.

“Oh, uh yeah, sure thing bud. What’s up?” Barry asked, and honestly, Kravitz hadn’t quite thought ahead this far.

“It’s just… are you alright with all this?” he asked. Barry sighed at the question, and god, maybe he should’ve waited to have this conversation until later. They’d had such a long fucking day.

“I mean, a lot’s happened, so you’re kinda gonna have to tell me what you mean by all this,” he said, which was fair.

“What Lup, and I suppose Taako now, did,” he explained. “I’m just going to take it on faith that you aren’t quite alright with the world ending two times in as many years,” he added, and Barry laughed some at this. It didn’t sound particularly happy, but Kravitz hadn’t expected it to.

“Gods, right, them,” Barry said, and he sounded a bit dumbfounded as he spoke. “I mean, I don’t really know? I wish they’d told us sooner, but I guess I can understand why they’d be afraid to come clean. I don’t really get hiding for a whole year, but there’s not much we can do about that now,” he said. Kravitz supposed that all made sense. He’d certainly made dumb mistakes in his past and had to carry lies for much longer than he originally intended.

That was always for silly frivolous things though, for dumb bets and wages with people he hadn’t cared about and weren’t going to be permanent fixtures in his life. It wasn’t ever in something as serious as what they were in right now. It wasn't ever this big.

“You’re right, I suppose we don’t know why exactly they decided to wait so long,” he said, even though he was struggling to come up with a good reason to keep something that important from all of them for so long. “I suppose I’m just surprised at how… calm everyone was about it? Not that I expected anyone to get angry, but the captain didn’t even seem surprised,” he said, and Barry gave another awkward laugh at that.

“Right, yeah no, apparently he knew?” he said, and Kravitz raised an eyebrow at that.

“Wait, he knew?” he asked, because that wasn’t something he expected. Barry shrugged though, and he didn’t look too certain about all this himself.

“That’s what Lup said? That he found out a while ago, but let them come clean to all us on their own terms? I have no idea how long he knew or anything like that though,” Barry explained. Kravitz could understand why the captain would make that sort of decision, as baffling as all of this was for him. This whole thing had felt strained and uncomfortable, he could only imagine how bad it would be if they were forced to tell them. He wasn't sure if that would make knowing sooner much better in the end.

He didn't know what he thought about any of this, and talking about it didn't seem to be helping much.

“Hey uh, you doing alright there?” Barry asked, and Kravitz hadn’t realized he’d zoned out some. He quickly nodded, even though he didn’t feel particularly alright.

“I guess, it’s just… a part of me had always thought that part of the reason Lup had, well, acted the way she did, was because of losing her brother,” Kravitz said, sighing as he ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

“Go get some sleep bud, it’s been- we’ve all been through a lot today,” Barry said, which really wasn’t an answer to what Kravitz had been saying. He knew that Barry couldn’t give him that anyway though, and so he appreciated the sentiment of Barry’s response.

“Right, you too,” he said, and Barry gave a kind of forced smile at that.

“You do not gotta tell me twice, g’night,” he said. Kravitz nodded before turning to head off to his own good.

“Good night,” he called back. As soon as he was in his room Kravitz locked the door and went to collapse onto his bed. He’d have to get up to change out of his uniform before he actually went to sleep, but for now he laid there.

As he thought over everything that had happened today, his brain started leading further and further off into other things. First on important topics, on how the apocalypse this year compared to the one last year. On if this would keep happening, and what they were supposed to do about it if it did. Those thoughts led to what were objectively less important ones, but they still pulled at him just as strongly. Strange conversations he’d had with Lup (or Taako, there was no way to be certain anymore) over the past year.

There was just so much he had no idea how to feel about.

Despite how exhausted he was, Kravitz had a feeling he wasn’t going to get to sleep anytime soon.

——

After the day he had, Davenport wanted to go to bed and sleep for as long as his body was physically capable of doing.

Of course, he knew that wasn’t actually an option. He still had a lot to take care of, and as much as he wanted to, he shouldn’t let it all wait until morning. They’d be busy again tomorrow after all, best to get as much done now. Even once he managed to get to sleep, he’d have to be up early to start figuring out what was going on with this world anyway.

“Um, captain?” Lucretia spoke up once it was the two of them alone on the deck. He hadn’t been sure if she was waiting to speak to him or had becomes absorbed in her journaling again. He’d been halfway to telling her that she’d ought to go get some sleep too when she spoke up.

“Yes Lucretia?” he asked, and he wouldn’t be too surprised if some of his crew weren’t taking all of these revelations very well.  It was a lot, and certain things had gone on for far longer than he’d anticipated.

“Is everything…” she started, and then cut herself off. He could see her thinking for a moment before continuing again. “I know Taako had applied for this mission as well. You wouldn’t happen to have brought any of that, did you? I should draw up a profile on him like everyone else,” she said.

Davenport felt like he should tell her something about not avoiding everything with work. He wasn’t much one to talk though, so instead he nodded.

“I do. I had wanted him on the mission but it wasn’t- there hadn’t been enough room. Not that any of that matters anymore, and I'm sure having him here now will prove vital in the future” he said. It didn’t matter in so many ways now, but there wasn’t any point in thinking about that anymore. “I’ll get them for you in the morning, you should really get some sleep Lucretia,” he insisted, and she nodded.

“Of course Captain, good night,” she said, gathering up her notebooks before standing up from where she’d been sitting.

Davenport wished her a good night as well, waiting until she left the room before grabbing his own things. Once he was fairly certain he had himself in order he headed over to Lup and Taako’s room. Knocking, it was quiet for a moment he heard the click of a lock. It was another few seconds before he was fairly certain Lup called for him to come in.

“Well, all in all that could have gone a lot worse,” he said. Taako wasn’t looking at him, laying face first on the bed. The only reason Davenport was certain he wasn’t asleep was because he couldn’t imagine sleeping in such an uncomfortable position. Lup was sitting on the bed as well, slumped up against the wall so that she could at least face him. Neither of them looked particularly pleased with the recent turn of events. Still, Davenport was at least glad that they'd decided to tell everyone without anymore prompting from him.

“Of for sure, for sure,” she said, and it didn’t sound the most genuine.

“Just because something’s not as bad as it could be doesn’t mean it ain’t still a national fucking disaster,” Taako said. He lifted his head up just enough to say that before letting it flop right back down again. Davenport sighed, and even though he kind of felt like Taako had a point there he still had to keep a lead on the situation.

“I know you two were apprehensive about letting the rest of the crew know, but this is for the best. It seems like whatever’s going on it’s- the situation it a lot worse than we could- than anything we could have imagined. We’re going to need everyone if we’re going to figure this out,” he said. They both nodded, and Taako even gathered himself together and sat up, although it still seemed a bit reluctantly.

“You got it Cap’n’port, you can count on us,” Lup said, and Davenport let himself smile the smallest bit at that.

“Good. I expect to see both of you out with the rest of the crew tomorrow,” he said, and they both nodded. “Alright, not get some rest, we’re gonna- we’re going to have a lot of work to do tomorrow,” he added. He meant to leave with that, but then Lup spoke up.

“Oh wait cap’n, one more thing,” she said. Davenport turned around again, raising an eyebrow in question. “Barry found out first, so Taako owes both of us,” she said, and Davenport let himself grin at that. This wasn’t the most important thing to take care of right now, but he could use a small break to focus on something less important.

“Is that so? Now remind me, how much had we agreed upon again?” he asked.

“Now, now, now, wait a minute kemosabe,” Taako said quickly. He’d gone from moping and upset to up and energized much faster than Davenport would have expected. “Listen, you two had bet that Barry would be the first one to find out, but he never found out. We told him, that doesn’t count,” he argued. Lup quickly pulled a face at that.

“We never said anything about them having to find out on their own, Barry was still the first to know so fucking pay up bro bro,” Lup said.

“I’m pretty sure it was implied that they had to find out themselves,” Taako argued

“I’m sorry Taako, but the deal was who found out first, we never talked about how they needed to discover you. If you wanted something more specific than that you should have clarified, or gotten it formally written down,” Davenport said, his voice much more serious than the situation called for.

Taako huffed, fixing the two of them each with a glare before flinging himself much more dramatically than he needed to across the bed. Grabbing a bag off the floor, he reached around inside before pulling out a pouch full of money. He counted out an amount before handing it over to Davenport, who took it graciously. Instead of handing Lup her winnings, he tossed a scattered handful of bills at her, which she started to pick up with a grin.

“There. Happy now? It doesn’t even matter, our money doesn’t mean shit anymore, the world's gone, fuck capitalism,” he grumbled.

“It’s not about the money Ko, it’s about winning,” Lup said happily. As much as Taako was trying to grouch, they both seemed to be in a better mood after this, and Davenport couldn’t help but feel somewhat relieved at that.

“Now both of you get some rest,” he repeated, and the two twins nodded.

“You got it Cap’n,” Lup said, and with that Davenport left their room. As soon as he was out of the room and the door shut behind him the good mood that had come in those last few moments seemed to evaporate away. Sighing heavily, he started off to check on a few last things with the ship before letting himself get to bed. He needed to make sure nothing had been damaged when they escaped that plane.

Luckily, a scan over the ship showed no major damage, and the bond engine was running as well as it ever was. Somehow though, that didn’t help much with the sense of dread that continued to wash over him.

Davenport wished he could be more sure about what was going to happen next, but there was only one thing he felt he could say for certain.

Things were going to keep getting worse before they got better, and all he could do was try and mitigate as much as possible.

——

Waking up the next morning felt too calm to be the day after the end of the world. Sure, maybe it didn’t quite have the same punch as it did the first time, but Taako still felt like the apocalypse deserved a bit more fan fair.

But no, it was quiet when he got up. It seemed like every other morning they’d had since they’d gotten on this ship. Lup was already awake, sitting with a mirror perched precariously in her lap as she tried to do her hair. It was hard to tell what time it was, but Taako didn’t feel particularly well rested. That probably had less to do with the time and more to do with every fucking thing else.

“You know if anyone else is up yet?” he asked, stretching lazily as he climbed out of bed. Lup shrugged, not looking away from the mirror as she continued to do her hair up in several intricate braids.

“Probably, haven’t been out yet though,” she said, which was fair. Taako quickly got dressed, and it was kind of weird knowing they were both gonna head out there today. He didn’t bother to do anything but brush his hair and flip it into a lazy ponytail. He didn’t have to match Lup anymore. It was a bit of a relief, as unnerving as that was at the same time.

“We should get out there and get started on some breakfast. Show the rest of these fools the stuff they’ve been missing only having one of us around,” he said. Lup nodded in agreement, before cursing as part of her braid came out of place.

“Sure thing bro. You uh, you head out first and get started, I’ll meet you out there,” she said, and Taako reluctantly nodded. He didn’t think Lup would try to get out of seeing everyone today, but he also felt weird about them both coming out together after so long and-

“Aw damn it!” he shouted, which quickly got Lup’s attention.

“What’s wrong now?” she asked, only giving him a cursory glance before going back to getting herself ready for the day.

“I meant to make a coming out joke when we came clean to everyone and I fucking forgot!” Taako huffed, more annoyed with this than he should be. Lup let out a bark of laughter, rolling her eyes at him.

“Maybe we can ask everyone if we can have a do over,” she suggested, and Taako pouted some as he thought about it.

“No, it wouldn’t count. I’m just gonna have to find another opportunity to I guess. Dumb apocalypse, making me all distracted and shit,” he said, grumbling that last part.

“Yeah, that’s truly the worst thing to come out of the apocalypse, you missing the chance to make a stupid pun,” Lup said, her voice heavy with sarcasm.

“Hey, I didn’t come here to be judged by my family,” he complained. He stole one of Lup's extra IPRE robes out of the closet and threw it on. “Anyway, I’m gonna go get started on breakfast. Join me once you feel like actually helping out,” Taako added, starting towards the door.

“Perfection like this takes work, dear brother,” Lup called after him. He just waved her off as he left and then headed down to the kitchen. Thankfully there wasn’t anyone else out there yet once he arrived. He still didn’t know how the fuck to approach any of them now that they fucking knew. At the very least, people tended to be a bit happier to see someone if they were offering them food.

Unfortunately his luck didn’t hold out for very long. He’d barely gotten out the ingredients he wanted when he heard someone walking towards the kitchen. He tried to hold out hope for it being Lup, coming to give him a hand with the cooking, but those hopes were quickly dashed.

Kravitz stopped in the doorway when he saw him. There was an awkward moment where it seemed like he was considering turning back around and leaving without a word. Which Taako wasn’t even sure if he could blame the dude for, all things considered. Things had always been weird between him and Lup, he couldn’t imagine what he was thinking with everything that had come to light.

After several long, painful seconds though, he apparently made up his mind and walked fully into the kitchen. “Good morning,” he said, and it was about the most awkward and forced thing Taako had ever heard.

“Mornin my dude,” he said, trying to stay casual in all this. It was pretty fucking difficult, but like Lup had said, they’d make this work. And right now someone needed to stay casual, because it sure as fuck wasn't going to be tall, dark and awkward here. “Uh, me and Lup are gonna make a big breakfast for everyone, so try and keep your appetite,” he added when Kravitz started looking in the fridge.

“Oh, well that’s nice of you,” he said, pouring himself a glass of juice. He walked over to stand by the dining table, and it didn’t seem like he was planning on leaving anytime soon. Taako tried to go about his prep like this wasn’t an issue. He’d interacted with this guy plenty of times before after all, and unlike Lup he’d never really had a problem with him.

It was different now though. Kravitz actually knew who he was. He hadn’t exactly seemed like one of the people super hyped by the idea of having him around either. So he might not have a problem with Kravitz, but he had no goddamn clue if Kravitz had a problem with him.

“That’s how we do,” he said simply. There was another awkward stretch of silence between them after that, and god he wished Lup would hurry the fuck up already.

“So, you’re Taako,” Kravitz said finally, breaking the silence. It was mostly a statement but he could still hear the edge of a question in it, like he wasn’t 100% sure if he was right or not. Taako let out a bit of a forced laugh at that and nodded, breaking some eggs into a pan.

“Yep, got it in one,” he said. He wasn’t looking over at Kravitz, letting himself be fully focused on the food in front of him. Taako could still feel the way he was staring at him though. He wasn’t going to look to see if he was angry or not.

“You’re extremely casual about all this, hiding from all of us and the apocalypse and such. It’s pretty surprising, I have to admit,” Kravitz said.

“Defense mechanism my guy, I’m fucking terrified right now,” Taako blurted out, the truth spilling from him without a second thought. Most of the time it was best to keep that kinda shit tight to the chest, but sometimes catching people off guard with the truth helped.

“Oh,” Kravitz said, sounding surprised and a little dumbfounded. “I uh, I didn’t expect that kind of blunt honesty there, I’m sorry,” he added, clearly not having much of an idea of what to say to that. Taako shrugged as he shredded some potatoes to make hashbrowns.

“Sometimes you just gotta be open about your feelings, ya know?” he said. He chanced a quick look over at Kravitz, and okay, at least he didn’t look mad right now. A little confused for sure, but that matched up with how he sounded.

“I suppose so,” he said. It was quiet and tense again, and Taako couldn’t tell if Kravitz was sticking around because there was still something he wanted to say, or if he didn’t know how to leave without it being weird, or if the dude was just fucking waiting for the food to be done. After a few minutes of this though Taako sighed.

“Hey, so listen, I know this shit it like, real weird, and this probably don’t matter and I doubt you care but uh, as far as I go there was never like, any beef here,” he said. That wasn’t the best way to word it, but Taako wasn’t doing too great in the whole speech department right now so it would have to do.

“What do you…” Kravitz started to ask, but then it seemed to click in his head. “Oh. So Lup was the only one who hated me? I guess that does track,” he said, and Taako waved his hand in a sort of so-so motion.

“She didn’t hate you, she just kinda needed something to be angry at and you were the unlucky soul who got that privileged position,” Taako explained. He was sure Lup wouldn’t be too happy at him describing it like that, but it was the truth. "I mean, I'm not gonna lie you're definitely not her favorite person in the world, but she doesn't hate you.

“I guess that’s a little better? Honestly I’m not really sure,” Kravitz said, and Taako couldn’t blame him for that. None of this was especially great. “Um, which of- uh,” he started to say, before cutting himself off. When Taako chanced another glance at him, he only looked awkward now.

“What was that? Didn't quite catch you,” he asked, because he couldn’t help but he a little bit of an asshole. If these people needed to get to know him, might as well start off with himself as quick as possible.

“It’s um, it’s rather dumb, not important. It’s just well, once I asked Lup, or I guess I asked one of you why she hated me, and her answer was, um, rather strange,” Kravitz explained, and shit wait no. He hadn’t been expecting this guy to actually bring up that train wreck. “I was just wondering if Lup actually hated me because of my face, or if you said that,” he said.

“That was definitely Lup,” Taako said, answering a bit too quickly for it to pass as casual.

“For some reason I don’t believe you,” Kravitz said, and he sounded the slightest bit amused.

“Nah man Lup told me, she said you’ve got an extremely punchable face. Those were 100% my sister’s words and I had nothing to do with any of it,” Taako lied. It wasn’t a very believable lie and so he hoped that Kravitz wasn’t the most insightful dude.

“What fucking lies are you spreading about me? I swear you’ve been out here for five minutes,” Lup said loudly as she came into the room. She only seemed to notice Kravitz after she finished speaking, and the smallest bit of her enthusiasm faded away at that.

“I’ve never lied in my life Lup why would you say such a thing,” Taako said, tossing a pan to her that had been in his way. She easily caught it before heading over to see what he was working on.

“I haven’t known you for very long but that’s just patently untrue,” Kravitz said. Taako waved that away like it wasn’t very important.

“Why don’t you do us a favor and let everyone know breakfast will be done in a bit, alright my dude?” Taako asked. Luckily Kravitz didn’t seem bothered by the request, nodding and putting his mostly empty cup of juice down.

“Alright, I’m sure the captain will want us all up and ready to start inspecting this world soon anyway,” he said, before leaving the room. Once he was gone Taako let out a heavy sigh, and he intended to let himself get absorbed in the cooking again. Unfortunately it seemed like Lup had other ideas.

“Well, doesn’t seem like he hates you at least,” she said, and Taako shrugged.

“You were the one who had problems with him first, remember,” he said, but Lup mostly seemed to ignore that. “But yeah, I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re like, good, but it could probably be worse,” he added.

It wasn’t very long after they sent Kravitz off that the others started filing into the kitchen, and there was definitely an air of discomfort around the whole thing. Soon enough though they finished up breakfast and there were several genuine compliments on the taste of everything while they ate. Which, of course there was, their cooking was fucking fantastic.

Luckily, once they finished eating Davenport immediately wanted to get started checking out the world below them. No time for anymore attempts at awkward small talk here. They lowered closer down to the planet, and this was definitely another world. At first they worried they were dealing with another people-less planet, and who knew if there'd be sentient animals this time around. After a few passes though they did start to see traces of people in the barren and rocky landscape. They seemed to be centered around the mouths of what looked to be these huge cave networks.

Doing a few more sweeps, Davenport eventually brought the ship down about an hour walk or so away from the mouth of one of these caves. Close enough they could get there and hopefully figure out more about this world, but far enough away that they could get the fuck out of here if it turned out the people here were hostile.

Maybe this time they could figure out what they needed to do fast enough to prevent the apocalypse from happening again.

Taako wouldn’t really count on it, though.

Chapter Text

They spend the next few days trying to get a lay of the land in this new world, getting as many basic facts situated as fast as possible. The upside to this planet is that there are people, which Taako would definitely consider a big plus. He liked the animals just fine, but there’s definitely some comfort in seeing other humanoids.

The downside is that the only races that exist are the subterranean ones, drow and duergar and svirfneblin (fuck if Taako could pronounce that one. They’re spooky gnomes, what more do you want?). The forms they’d seen at the mouth of some caves were a couple of curious duergar who were pretty shocked to see their little group, their entourage.

Apparently a couple centuries ago the climate above ground had shifted into a sandy wasteland. The races that lived up there had already been hanging on by a thread at that point and that was the finally start before they ended up dying out.

Taako guessed it was interesting if nothing else, and it explained why everyone gawked at them when they first made contact. No one had seen sun elves or regular flavor dwarves and gnomes or humans in centuries. At least the reaction was more ‘holy shit who are you and how are you alive?’ than ‘attack the foreign ones!’

So, they spend a couple days talking to these fools, or well, Kravitz and Cap’n’port and Merle did most of the talking. Since there were other people here Kravitz could actually do his job, and Taako was chill as fuck hanging back for now. After all, they didn’t know what was going to happen yet. This world could be fucking destroyed in a year, there was no need to get all buddy-buddy yet.

He’d been chilling at the mouth of the cave they’d been spending the most time in. The Starblaster was parked not too far away, since Davenport was not cool with the idea of taking the thing underground. Taako couldn’t blame him for that, he was pretty sure spaceships weren’t supposed to be underground.

The sky was a dusty orange, and Taako wondered if that was the regular color of the sky in this world or if it was from all the dust in the air. The sun seemed to be slightly obscured, blurry in the sky, so his bet was on the latter.

It was probably because of the dimmer skies that he noticed it so fast. A brilliant streak of white, cutting across the sky barely above the horizon. Taako’s first instinct was to run and grab someone else, but he fought it back enough to keep watching the light until it disappeared so he’d have a clear idea of where it might’ve gone.

As soon as Taako couldn't see it anymore, he ran back into the cave to see if he could find Cap’n’port or Lup. Instead of either of them though, the first person he saw was Kravitz. He seemed to be pretty deep in conversation with some drow dude.

“Heeey,” Taako cut in, grabbing Kravitz's arm and shooting the drow a smile. “You mind if I steal him for just a second?” he asked.

“Um, we’re kind of in the middle of something,” Kravitz said. There was enough hesitation in his voice that Taako was pretty sure he didn’t know if he was Taako or Lup.

“You can get back to it in a second handsome,” Taako said, taking to dragging Kravitz away now despite any complaints. The half-elf didn’t seem happy about it, but he also didn’t struggle much either. The drow gave them an awkward wave before wandering off, but Taako couldn't give much of a shit about him anyway.

“Okay, what’s going on, um,” Kravitz started, and Taako could see the way his eyes sort of flickered over him looking for some tell.

“Taako,” he supplied helpfully, because as fun as it was fucking with people they had important shit to do here. If they had to reveal themselves to everyone might as well keep with it. “And I saw the light fall,” he added, which thankfully got Krav’s attention.

“Wait, the light of creation?” he asked, and Taako rolled his eyes.

“No, like one of those cool spinning disco light things. Yes, the light of creation my dude,” he said. Kravitz looked a little sheepish at that, but seemed to quickly put it to the side.

“Alright, fair enough I guess. Where did it go? Have you told the captain?” he asked and Taako shook his head.

“It was down by the horizon so I wasn’t able to get a super clear trajectory. I was looking for Cap’n’port but I saw you first, any idea where he is?” he asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“He’s further in. I’ll go grab him and anyone else, maybe you should head to the Starblaster and get started trying to triangulate what you can,” he said, which seemed like a good enough plan.

“Sure thing, send Lup and Barry my way if you see them,” he said. Kravitz nodded before rushing off, probably in the direction he’d last seen Cap’n’port. Taako had already started heading back to the ship when he caught sight of that drow from before stopping Kravitz for a moment.

He couldn’t hear whatever it was he’d must’ve said, but he very clearly caught Kravitz’s shout of ‘of course he’s not!' He sounded flustered, and Taako snickered some before continuing onto the Starblaster.

Soon enough they were all back on the ship and Taako was explaining where he’d seen the light fall. They were lucky one of them had been out to actually see it, or they might not have realized it’d come to this world as well.

Once was luck, twice was a coincidence, and three times was, well, they weren’t on three times yet. They’d tackle that problem once they got there.

A few days after that though, those weird eyes showed up for a flash in the sky again. Lucretia had been the one to see them. Since the light had come they figured it was best to have one person up above ground at any given time.

With that, they fully delved into the search for the light of creation. There was still- it was still fucking awkward, being out and about with everyone. It was obvious they had as little of an idea what to do with him as he had to do with himself. At least looking for the light gave them some direction. Since Taako had been the only one to see it fall, at least it looked like he was fucking useful.

“Hey Lup,” Magnus said, sticking his head into the lab where Taako was going over some of their notes looking for the light. Their best bet at this point might be to pick the Starblaster up and start off in the direction they’d managed to narrow it down to. The good thing about the land being so barren was that it might not be too hard to find shit.

“It’s Taako,” he answered without looking up. He couldn’t blame the rest of them for not being able to get them down quite yet. They’d spent a year making sure no one could tell the differences between them after all.

“Oh, sorry. Uh, hey Taako, you wanna come with us down into the caves?” Magnus asked, and Taako rolled his eyes some at that.

“If you want Lup I’m pretty sure she’s in the kitchen,” he said. It was pretty much the opposite of a surprise, people liked Lup more than him normally. Since she was the one they’d all ‘known’ for a year it was probably an even bigger bias. He wasn't even sure if he could call it a bias though if it was a correct opinion.

“I mean, Lup is great and all but we really haven’t gotten a chance to get to know you yet, you should come with us,” Magnus pressed. Taako grunted, moving back to his work. He wasn’t in hiding anymore so Cap’n’port had nothing to hold over his head to get him to interact with the rest of the crew.

“Uhuh, sorry my dude but I’m kinda busy here,” he said, figuring that would be the end of it. Taako did not expect to suddenly have large arms wrapped around his waist and lifting him up out of his chair. “Hey!”

“Break times are important! Need to give those science brains of yours a rest!” Magnus said, not bothering to put Taako down as he started out of the room.

“Fucking- where the hell are you even taking me? Some information so it feels less like I’m being elfnapped would be appreciated,” he grumbled, trying and failing to get out of Magnus’s grip. It wasn’t a surprise, the dude was a fucking mountain.

“Merle was talking to some of the duergar and they told him about this cool bar. I wanna try alien dark dwarf booze,” Magnus explained, and Taako slowly stopped struggling and instead let Magnus carry him.

“Ugh, fine. At least you’re doing the right thing and getting me wasted for forcing me to hang out against my will,” he said. His grousing only managed to get a laugh out of Magnus though, much to Taako’s eternal annoyance.

“Wow, you’re so much grumpier than Lup is. She really wasn’t lying about being the nicer twin,” he said, finally putting Taako back down on the ground. Taako scoffed, but he guessed he was coming along for this now.

“Of course she is, Lup got all the people skills, I got all the looks,” he said.

“But you two are like, super identical? We weren’t able to tell you guys apart for a year,” Magnus pointed out, but Taako waved that away.

“Only by our design. Trust me, when we’re not trying to sucker a bunch of fools I definitely come out on top in the looks department,” he said. He was pretty sure Magnus didn’t believe him, but that wasn’t too important. Merle was waiting for them once they got to the mouth of the cave, and Taako couldn’t tell if he couldn’t tell which twin he was or if he honestly didn’t care. Or if maybe he forgot there were twins in the first place. It was hard to know with Merle.

The bar ended up not being that bad. Alien liquor turned out to be just as effective as the shit they had back home, which Taako considered an important scientific discovery. Less important discoveries included the fact that Magnus was a touchy-feely and emotional drunk, and Merle vacillated between spitting out nonsense to spitting out words of what honestly seemed to be profound wisdom.

Or at least, things that sounded like profound wisdom to Taako’s drunk ass.

It was fun though. It’d been a while since Taako had fun, and falling over himself giggling as he tried to explain how he and Lup used to swindle people out of their shoes was fun.

When he stumbled back into his and Lup’s room much later that night he was a little surprised that she was still awake. It was hard to keep track on a new planet that was mostly underground, but it seemed pretty late.

“Where were you, you bum? I was stuck going over the trajectory of the light with just Barry,” she said. Taako flopped himself down on the bed, and he should’ve grabbed some water before coming in here because he definitely wasn’t going to get back up.

“Oh yeah, I’m sure that was just awful for you. Stuck all alone with Barry,” he teased. He was pretty sure Lup didn’t like, actually have a crush on the nerd. It was just fun to make fun of.

“Besides the point, what in the world were you up to?” she asked.

“Hmmm, male bonding,” he decided on after a moment. “Magnus and Merle wanted to go get drunk and elfnapped me,” he added. Lup let out a snort of laughter at that.

“Good to hear you’re making friends,” she said, and Taako huffed at that.

“Not friends. Just a way to get free drinks,” he slurred, starting to get real sleepy. He could feel Lup moving and getting off the bed after a moment.

“Yeah, of course. Don’t fall asleep yet I’m getting you some water you walking disaster,” Lup said.

“You’re my favorite sister,” he called after her. A few minutes later she came back and shoved a glass of water into his hands, and he managed to drink about half of it before passing the fuck out.

The next morning he was greeted with a nasty fucking hangover and more water, as well as a handful of painkillers. Taako once again praised Lup as his favorite sister because falling right back in bed to try and sleep the worst of it off.

They ended up doing what Taako figured they’d have to and heading off in the direction of the light. They’d stop at cave settlements along the way, ask around if anyone had seen a streak of light coming by here a couple months ago. It was rare, but sometimes they’d actually get a yes to that question and could hone their search a little bit further.

It was slow going, and it was awkward, but it was something. They were working towards a goal, and if everyone hated him they weren’t making a federal issue out of it.

They were making it work, and they’d figure out what the fuck was going on with everything else while they were at it.

Or at least, he hoped they would.

Kravitz wasn’t sure if he liked this world better than the last one or not. On the one hand, it was kind of a barren wasteland full of barely standing dusty settlements marking a civilization lost.

On the other hand, there were still people here. Other people, besides the crew he’d been stuck with for the past year. He cared about them of course, but it was still nice getting to talk to other people. Also to do the job he was actually brought on the ship for.

And this had less to do with the world they were on, but it was nice not having to be so confused around Lup anymore. Sure, there were still things he didn’t understand about either of the twins in the slightest, but knowing they were two people helped to clear up a lot of the day to day confusion. A lot of Lup’s rage at him seemed to have tempered since Taako came out of hiding, which helped as well.

Things were still tense though, of course they were. Kravitz couldn’t imagine things smoothing over from something so huge for a long time. Maybe that was just him though. Magnus and Merle both seemed glad to have someone else around for the trip. Barry seemed confused about why they’d kept it a secret, but not particularly mad about it.

He’d talked to Lucretia about them a few times. Apparently she’d had her suspicions, he hadn’t been the only one to think their personality was a bit unpredictable. She hadn’t said anything since there’d been no hard proof and it could have been some poorly handled grief.

It was enough that she hadn’t been completely blindsided by the truth though. While it was hard to wrap her head around, she could understand their reluctance to tell.

She’d also looked into the finals on Taako from the IPRE afterwards. It wasn’t- his qualifications for the mission certainly weren't an issue. Kravitz supposed that made sense, considering their never seemed to be any discrepancy between the work he and Lup did. Kravitz was an arcanist on this mission, but he wasn’t exactly a wizard. A lot of the stuff went over his head even.

Lucretia had honestly been shocked that Taako wasn't one of the people chosen for the mission. In the end it must've came down to available slots. Which, it wasn’t like Kravitz would have begrudged him for being here even if he wasn't qualified. The fact that at least one of them managed to make it out with some family was a blessing. It was still just-

It was a lot to get used to.

And even on his own, Taako seemed to be an absolute puzzle of a person.

In the end though, that wasn’t the most important thing they needed to focus on. He could figure out the twins and how he felt about them in his own time.

They needed to get the Light of Creation in this world, and they needed to see if the apocalypse would come once again. Kravitz doubted it wouldn’t come again, especially after that flash of eyes in the sky a few days after the light appeared. The idea of living in this world knowing that it was most likely doomed and not knowing if there was any way to fix it, or if they were the ones to bring that doom there in the first place was... it was rough.

Maybe if they could find the light though, they could start working on a solution for all of this. Or at least, he hoped that would be the case.

The one issue they had was that Taako had been the only one to see where the light had gone, and it had been so far on the horizon it’d been hard to get a clear look at it. Still, they were making progress, and from the scattered help they could get from the locals they could tell they were at least heading in the right direction.

They'd stopped by one of the cave settlements for the night, and Kravitz was trying to take some time to relax. He’d already been in the caves a bit, asking people if they’d seen a bright light streak through the sky several months ago. They didn’t get many new leads, the drow who lived in these parts very rarely came above ground. Apparently this area was prone to frequent dust storms, so the captain wanted to move on in the morning.

So he was in his room, humming as he tuned his fiddle. He hadn’t had much time to work on his music since this whole clusterfuck of a mission had started. So it was nice to have a little bit of peace and time to himself to do just that.

“Kravitz! Yo Krav, you in there?”

Or well, it was nice.

“Yes Magnus? Do you need me for something?” he asked, opening the door to his room.

“Uh yeah, come hang with us,” he said, like it was obvious.

“Um, I think I’m going to stay in for the night, but thanks for the invite,” he tried. Unfortunately it didn’t look like Magnus was set on leaving quite yet.

“Aw come on, I’m pretty sure it’s like, important for us to bond and stuff,” he said, pouting. It was kind of funny seeing someone like Magnus pouting and Kravitz chuckled a little.

“I uh, I feel like we’re all plenty bonded after going through two separate apocalypses together,” he said.

“Yeah that’s like, stressful terror and trauma bonding. I’m petty sure we need to do fun stuff too,” Magnus pressed, and Kravitz supposed he did have a point. He certainly cared about the rest of the crew but he wouldn’t say he was real great friends with most of them either.

“Alright I guess, uh what kinda bonding were you all thinking of? Like, a nice game of scrabble or maybe uno?” he asked. He wondered if the captain was the kind of person to get behind some weekly game nights or such for team bonding.

“I mean, mostly we were planning to go down to this bar the drows have down in the caves and get real fucked up. I guess we could do like, drunk scrabble too though,” Magnus explained, which was fair.

“Um, who’s all going?” he asked, still pretty on the fence about whether or not he wanted to do this. He didn’t have a problem with spending time with the rest of them, but well, things were still strained. He wasn’t sure if the lot of them getting drunk together would make it better or worse.

“Me and Merle and both the twins, Merle’s going to see if he can grab Barry now. Cap’n’port said he didn’t want to be hungover to fly the ship in the morning and I’m gonna go see if Luce is down after this,” Magnus told him. That was pretty much everyone, and since Magnus said that they wanted to bond with people it made sense.

“I’m not really sure if I’m feeling it tonight,” Kravitz tried, Magnus giving him another fucking puppy dogged look of disappointment.

“Aw come on, aren’t you like, a bard?” he asked and Kravitz raised an eyebrow at that.

“Yes?” he asked, frowning in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Aren’t bards like, party people?” Magnus asked. Kravitz gave him a very unamused look at that.

“That doesn’t mean we’re just down to party all the time,” he defended.

“Are you down to party now?” Magnus asked, a very hopeful tone to his voice. Kravitz stared at him for a moment before sighing heavily.

“Yeah, alright let me put some shoes on,” he said, ignoring Magnus’s cheer of success. It probably wouldn’t hurt to spend one night out with the rest of the crew. Magnus did have a point that they should probably try and get along more and such. Things were tense and Kravitz doubted this would change anything in the long run, but it could be fun.

By the time he’d thrown on his shoes and grabbed his jacket Magnus had run off down the hall to see if Lucretia would come with them as well. Kravitz normally wore the robe that came with the IPRE uniform instead, but it seemed a little too stuffy for a bar. He was pretty sure most of the rest of the crew had chosen one or the other, but Kravitz didn’t seem the harm in having options.

When he got out to the deck Merle, Barry and the twins were already waiting out there. Kravitz guessed Magnus was still trying to convince Lucretia to come along.

“They got you too huh?” Barry asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“I still don’t see why Cap’n’port gets to flake out on these chucklefuck’s ‘bonding experiences’ if the rest of us don’t,” Taako complained.

“I mean, he does have to pilot the ship tomorrow,” Barry offered, which made enough sense to Kravitz. It certainly seemed like a complicated thing to maneuver, he wouldn’t want to do it with a hangover either.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know our captain was such a party animal that he can’t go for a night out on a town without being guaranteed fucked up the next day,” Taako said, Lup letting out a snort of amusement. Or at least, Kravitz was pretty sure Taako was the one talking.

“Yeah, you definitely don’t know the captain then,” Merle said.

“Weird! Weird and gross! Gods this is exactly why I hid from you people for a year!” Okay, definitely Taako speaking. It was a little awkward, him being so casual about the whole hiding situation. Kravitz thought about what he’d said before about defense mechanisms and decided not to comment on it.

After another minute or so Magnus returned with Lucretia following behind him, looking a little out of place. When they headed to the ‘bar’ Magnus described it seemed to be more like a rave than anything. Which was a little less Kravitz’s scene. In fact, neither him, or Barry and Lucretia seemed all that comfortable here. They were sort of standing by the bar as the other four members of their group quickly got lost in the crowd.

“Anyone else feel like we were just tricked into getting out of the ship?” Kravitz joked, taking a sip of his wine. The bartender had looked at him a little strange for ordering wine, but he still gave him some.

“Yeah, I think you might be right about that,” Barry agreed, chuckling slightly. It was hard to hear over the sounds of the music, and both Barry and Lucretia were squinting hard in his direction. Considering the fact that this place was only dimly lit even to his darkvision, a few glowing stones set into the cave walls every so often and a few more concentrated behind the bar, he bet they could barely see anything.

It was about an hour of awkward, mostly shouted small talk between the three of them before the twins and Merle finally showed up again.

“Hey you spoilsports, come out on the dance floor!” Merle said, although before any of them could answer one of the twins shushed him. It was even harder to tell who was who in this low light.

“Merle we told you we gotta focus. So, good news and bad news,” one of them said, and Kravitz was going to guess it was Lup. He was pretty sure Lup was the one who wore her robe more often.

“Good news first?” Barry asked, sounding extremely hesitant.

“Good news! Taako got asked out by this hot drow guy and now owes me twenty bucks,” Lup said proudly, also confirming Kravitz’s suspicions on which twin was which.

“I really don’t see why we gotta keep making bets at my expense!” Taako complained, and Kravitz couldn’t tell if the red tint to his face was from alcohol or embarrassment.

“Because none of the rest of us got to join in on the first one, so it’s only fair,” Merle said, Lup nodding sagely in agreement.

“Um, what’s the bad news?” Lucretia asked, glancing around their group. Kravitz wasn’t sure what she was looking for until Lup spoke up again.

“Right, bad news. Soooo, Magnus is missing,” she said.

“Wait, what? How’d you lose him? He’s huge,” Barry asked, and Taako threw his arms up in the air.

“Fuck if I know! The dude just runs off! Are y’all gonna help us find him or not?” he asked, and Kravitz quickly nodded.

“We’ll help. It’s fine, we don’t- there isn’t an end of the world time limit this time at least,” he said, hoping they took that as the joke he meant it to be. “Um, meet back at the bar in twenty minutes?” he suggested.

“Sounds good, buddy system people,” Lup said, grabbing Taako by his sleeve before starting back into the crowd. “The power bear was a little bitch!” Kravitz managed to hear her yell as they left. He wasn’t sure if Magnus would actually be able to hear that over the music though, but he guessed it was worth the effort. Before they could figure out the rest of their buddy system Merle grabbed Lucretia’s hand and started leading her off as well.

“Come on little lady! Time to get you to loosen up!” he said as he pulled her along.

“Merle I don’t- We’re supposed to be finding Magnus,” Kravitz managed to hear Lucretia protest before they were also lost in the crowd. Barry chuckled, setting his empty can of beer down.

“Alright, let’s go see if we can’t figure out where he’d gone off to now,” he said, and Kravitz nodded in agreement.

It turned out not to be that hard to find Magnus. He was a significant bit taller than the majority of the drow in this place. They found him in a small crowd, bench pressing a guy who looked like he was having the time of his life.

“Magnus! Mags! Bud, the others were looking for you,” Barry called out to him. It took a second to actually get his attention, but once they managed it he put his living weight down and headed over to them.

“Hey guys! I didn't see you there, it's dark as fuck in here, right? Having fun?” he asked, pretty obvious he had no idea the rest of them had been searching for him.

“Yeah uh, the others were looking for you. I’m pretty sure drunken scrabble was mentioned?” Kravitz offered.

“Hell yeah, sounds good,” Magnus said, thankfully seeming happy enough to follow them back up to the bar. Lup and Taako were already waiting up there for them, although it took another ten or fifteen minutes for Merle and Lucretia to show back up.

“I heard something about drunken board games?” Magnus asked once they were all together, and soon enough they were all heading back to the ship. Kravitz couldn’t help but be a little grateful for that. He didn’t mind a good party when he was in the mood, but he couldn’t quite say he’d been in the mood for one of those lately.

Even still, once they were back at the ship they all ended up playing various board games. They also got progressively more drunk as they found ways to work alcohol consumption into the equation.

It was- well, it was fun. Or at least, what Kravitz could remember when hung over and dying in his room the next morning seemed like they had fun.

His head hurt way too much to say if they had bonded or not, but maybe things would be a little less tense from now on.

Or maybe they’d be a lot more tense. He couldn’t remember the details of what happened after all. Things could have been terrible.

He’d wait until his head didn’t hurt quite so much before going out to check the damage.

Chapter Text

When Lup woke up she was extremely hungover and not very happy about that fact. Sure, that was her own damn fault but she still didn’t have to like it.

“Ko, wake up,” she grumbled, pushing him slightly as she forced herself to sit up. Ugh, neither of them were smart enough to leave some water for their morning selves last night.

“Never, fuck off,” Taako muttered, curling up even further and pulling the blankets over his head. Lup rolled her eyes and then winced because fuck, god she hated headaches. Leaving Taako to his desperate attempt to cling at sleep, Lup slowly got out of bed. She had no idea what time it was, but she guessed it didn’t matter all that much. As much as she wanted to lie in bed and wish the pain away like her dear brother was trying to do, she’d feel better once she got some food and a fuckton of coffee in her.

The ship was quiet as she moved through it, and Lup guessed that the rest of the crew was also choosing to sleep off most of the effects of last night. It looked like they were flying though, so Cap’n’port had probably gotten tired of waiting for them to wake up and decided to head out anyway. She couldn't blame him, they still had a mission after all.

She was so sure that the rest of the crew was sleeping that Lup was surprised when she headed into the kitchen and saw that there was already someone in there.

Kravitz was slumped over the counter, clearly not having noticed her yet. It was hard to tell if he was awake or not actually, his head was resting on his arms and his eyes closed. The coffee pot was on and going next to him though, so he must’ve been at least vaguely awake not too long ago.

“Sup morning dove?” she said, stumbling in and loudly searching through the cabinets for a coffee mug. Kravitz jolted up, wincing at the noise and looking confused as he blinked at her.

“What did you just call me?” he asked, and Lup shrugged. The coffee wasn’t done yet but so she started digging through the fridge for something nice and solid to eat. She was pretty sure she didn’t eat as much as would’ve been advisable last night. It’d been a long time since any of them had let loose, so she guessed it made sense.

“You said something about dove being a nickname of yours as a kid?” she said, and Kravitz groaned, slumping back onto the counter at that.

“Did I? Ugh, can’t remember a damn thing that happened after we got back,” he grumbled. Lup snorted at that, not entirely surprised. Her memory was a little hazy here and there, but she was fairly sure she had the whole picture more or less. Kravitz had said something about not usually having more than a few glasses of wine, so this made sense.

“Yeah, you also said that Taako was the hot twin. So like, I was prepared to let bygones be bygones and all that, but unfortunately some things just can’t be forgiven,” she said. Lup was too exhausted to cook anything, instead she shoved a couple of slices of bread into her mouth as she poured herself some shitty cereal.

“I’m gay Lup, of course I think your brother’s hotter than you,” Kravitz said bluntly. Lup fell into a fit of coughs, trying very hard to swallow the bread in her mouth and not choke.

“Fuck, don’t you dare make me like you bird boy,” she managed to say once she was no longer in danger of dying.

“If I have any control of that I would’ve done it a long time ago,” he said. The coffee was finally done now and Kravitz pulled the pot out and started pouring himself some. Lup didn’t say anything, just holding out her own cup for him to fill as well. He did, because she guessed he wasn’t a complete and utter jackass.

“You’re getting better. That stick up your ass must’ve been stuck there so long it’s starting to dissolve,” she said. Kravitz rolled his eyes at that, but he didn’t look too offended.

“Mhmm, I’m sure that’s exactly how it works,” he said. Lup went to nod, but nope, that was till too much movement, let’s not do that.

“Yep, I’m a scientist, I know this shit,” she said instead, the utmost confidence in her voice. Kravitz chuckled before draining almost his entire cup of coffee in one go. Straight black, immediately out of the fucking machine.

“You’re gonna have to get Merle to fucking heal the burns on your insides,” she said, but Kravitz just shrugged. Lup proceeded to add some cream and sugar to her own coffee, not because she couldn’t handle the heat, but juts because she didn’t want to do that to her taste buds.

“It’s um,” Kravitz said after a moment, sounding awkward and hesitant now, which probably meant this was a conversation she didn’t want to get into. “Are we good, I guess? I know things were… uncomfortable, before,” he said, and yeah alright. This wasn’t a conversation she was thrilled to be having with a hangover, but maybe that was the best time for it. Both of them were miserable and not feeling up to beating around the bush.

“Yeah, we’re good. I still think you’re a ass, but if I didn’t there’d be no hope of us ever getting along,” she said, and he snorted at that, pouring himself more coffee.

“There needs to be some common ground if we’re ever going to be friends I suppose,” he said, and that got a laugh out of her.

“See? You’re starting to catch on,” she said, finishing her own cup. She still felt like shit, but marginally less so. “But yeah, I guess not everything was your fault. Might’ve been going through a hard time and taking some of my junk out on you,” she said, and Kravitz nodded.

“I’d be more concerned if you weren’t going through a hard time, honestly,” he said, which was fair. “It’s um, I’m glad we can reach some sort of agreement here though,” he added, sounding all awkward and polite again. It was still annoying when he got like that, but not as grievously as it had been before.

“Sure thing. Just you know, try not to be such a downer. I don’t think any of this is our fault, you know?” she said. Kravitz nodded, seeming kind of distraught about that. She guessed that was fair, it was a pretty distressing thing.

“Every world we’ve been to had been destroyed Lup. I know it’s only two, but that’s still- you really think it’s some sort of coincidence?” he asked, and Lup pursed her lips, trying not to get immediately pissed. It was- he had a point.

“Of course not. I’m not an idiot,” she said, which seemed to surprise Kravitz. She'd been so adamant that this all had nothing to do with them, she could understand why. “I know this is- this isn’t fucking normal. It can’t be us though, you know?” she said, and Kravitz nodded a bit reluctantly.

“I really do hope you’re right about that Lup,” he said. He sounded genuine, and she nodded. She hoped she was right too.

She didn’t know what they were supposed to do if she was wrong.

——

Barry felt that he really wasn’t qualified for well, any of this.

Sure, he was qualified for the mission they’d been set out on. He’d been so excited, it was something he’d been working on for years. Hell, it was something he figured he’d never actually be able to complete in his lifetime, but that hadn’t bothered him. Not too much, at least. He wanted to work as much as possible so that one day, someone would be able to see the kind of things that existed outside of their planar system.

Then they found the light of creation, and everything had moved so fast. They had the ship and engine designed in less than a year, and the crew picked out and trained almost as quickly. He’d been prepared for the mission, it had been his passion.

All of this though, the end of the world twice over now. He hadn’t been qualified for this.

But well, there wasn’t much he could do but try and make sense of it. Try and figure out how they could stop this from happening again, and to try to survive and maybe one day live a normal life again.

And there was one thing he knew could help them do all that. One thing that made discovery easier, made it so that problems Barry had never imagined being able to solve in his lifetime could be solved.

That thing was the light of creation, and they needed to find it.

Barry had never specialized in tracking or anything like that, but he was starting to get a hang of it. They were definitely getting closer, even if it was slow work. Luckily, even if he felt like he wasn’t all that qualified for all of this, the rest of the crew was willing and raring to pick up the slack.

They were really lucky with the people they picked for this mission. They’d been trying to get as diverse a group as they could when it came to skills. They were still pretty heavy on the magic users, but well, this was supposed to be a scientific exploration. The arcane was supposed to be the focus of it. Even with all that though, they were managing well enough.

They also got lucky with Taako. He wasn’t supposed to be here, but now that they knew he was Barry couldn’t help but be thankful for it. There was the added relief of having one extra person from their world, of knowing that someone else had survived with them. There was also the fact that Taako was as smart as his sister, just as qualified for this mission as any of the rest of them had been.

Then, there was seeing the two of them work together.

It had been a little hard to believe when they’d found out. Sure, Barry had thought there was something strange about Lup. Well, he thought there was a lot to Lup, she was a pretty incredible person. Still, sometimes there was something different about her, but he hadn’t wanted to be weird or anything, so he just kind of let it go.

Still, you’d expect to notice if one person you’d spent a year with was actually two. Sure, they were twins but even after only knowing them both for a short bit there were obvious differences between the two.

Not only that, but Barry had thought there would’ve had to be some sort of discrepancy in their work. After he found out Lup and Taako were two different people he’d looked over all the notes he’d seen ‘Lup’ take over the past year.

The biggest difference be could find was that he was pretty sure Taako’s handwriting was a little bit harder to read than Lup’s. Otherwise, the work was perfectly in sync with itself.

Seeing the two work together highlighted that all the more. It was honestly incredible. They didn’t even need to talk a lot of the time, or they spoke in quick, half thoughts and the other would instantly know what they needed to do.

It was kind of hard not to get lost watching the two of them, if Barry was being honest.

But that was probably the point where he was starting to get weird, or at least, weirder than his base state of weird. So he ignored that and would focus back on the work. Focus back on finding the light of creation. He was lucky to have the rest of his team, he could tell they were getting close. They’d been in this world for almost eight months now, and they had to be close.

Captain Davenport had landed the ship down a couple days ago, and they’d been scouring this barren bit of the planet since then. From what they could tell, this was the area closest to where the light might’ve landed. It was hard to tell anything exact from the angle Taako had seen the light falling from, but they were close. All that they could do now was look until they found something.

Which is what they were doing now. They were going out in small groups every day and trying to cover as much land as possible. Barry hadn’t actually gone out searching before this time. They needed some people back at the ship after all.

He was starting to feel a little useless waiting back at the ship though, and Lucretia and the Captain could handle themselves if they needed to. So he offered to come along today. It seemed like a good idea. This way they could have three groups searching instead of two.

Things had been kind of awkward though. He wasn’t entirely sure how he’d gotten stuck with Taako, other than the fact that they were the last two to be ready. By the time they were good to head out Lup had already gone off in one direction with Magnus, and Kravitz and Merle off in another.

So it had just been him and Taako in pretty awkward silence as they walked around the dusty landscape for the last hour or so. He still didn’t- Taako seemed nice. Or maybe nice wasn’t the right word, but he seemed like an interesting dude. Things as a whole with him had been a little less awkward since that night Magnus had forced them all to hang out.

Still, Barry was never all that good at small talk at the best of times.

“Uh, what about this way?” Taako asked suddenly, knocking Barry out of his thoughts. He looked over to where Taako was pointing, and he didn’t see anything particularly interesting about that direction at first. The closer he looked though he could see that the dry, dead sand seemed to be getting a bit darker off in the distance, and he shrugged.

“Sure, seems as good a place to look as any,” he said, starting off in the way Taako was pointing. The elf followed after him, having started to whistle tunelessly.

“So, uh, how’s it going Barold?” Taako asked after a moment, and wow, Barry might actually prefer the incredibly awkward quiet instead. Talking was somehow even worse. At least he couldn’t mess up silence too bad.

“It’s definitely going,” he said, which wasn’t the greatest answer. Taako just nodded though, not seeming too bothered by it.

“That it is, that it is,” Taako said, and if Barry had to guess it kind of seemed like there was something else he wanted to talk about. There probably was, he couldn’t imagine either of the twins being that interested in him like, as a person. “So…” he started, and yep, right on the money there. “Do you like, hate me?”

“What?” Barry asked, not expecting that one. Taako for his part didn’t even seem that worried about the question, shrugging casually.

“Just wondering if you hated me or like, if you knew if any of the others do. I get it if ya do, not everyone can handle Taako,” he said, with as little care as if he was asking what Barry’s favorite color was.

“That’s- no, I don’t hate you Taako. Why would you think that?” he asked, because it was- sure, things had been pretty awkward. None of them really knew how to deal with Taako at first, or the way him and Lup had lied to everyone for so long. Hate had never even occurred to Barry before this moment though.

“I mean, we kept some pretty big shit from you all. Like me, I’m some pretty big shit, ya know?” Taako said, and Barry couldn’t help but snort at that. “But yeah, ya know. We were kinda dicks about this, and like, none of you got to keep family,” he said. He was talking about this so casually, like it wasn't something so serious. It was hard to really comprehend.

Psychology had never been a particular field of interest for Barry, but if he had to guess it sounded like Taako had some pretty intense survivors guilt. They all did, if he was being honest, but he could see how it would be even worse for Taako. He was trying to blow it off as something so casual though.

“That’s no reason to like, hate you though? I’m glad you and Lup got to stay together. Sure what happened sucked like, major dicks, but it wasn’t your guys fault,” Barry told him. He was telling the truth too. He’d been shocked and a little hurt by the fact that they hadn’t told anyone, but he’d never felt like it was anything to be mad about. He certainly wasn’t going to be mad that they got to keep some family even if the rest of them didn’t.

It was pure luck that kept Taako with them. Barry wasn’t going to think of it as anything but a good thing.

“Uh, cool. That’s cool. I was just checking,” Taako said, and Barry couldn’t tell if he believed him or not. Lup seemed to be a little bit more open with her feelings and such than Taako was. Which would explain some about why Taako had decided to hide himself for a year.

“I don’t think anyone else hates you either, for what it’s worth? At least, not that I’ve seen? I know that um, Kravitz and Lucretia were both a little upset at the secrets, but they weren’t like, upset that you were here,” he added. He felt like that was an important distinction to make. No one was mad that Taako was here.

“Yeah, the secrets were probably a bad move on our part. I guess at some point we dug so far it didn’t seem like there was anyway out but uh, breaking through to the other side, or something,” Taako said. Barry nodded, it made sense. He couldn’t imagine a way to casually tell them all that they’d snuck Taako on board.

“You guys didn’t- like, it was just a coincidence, right? You didn’t know it was coming?” Barry asked, because it had been bothering him a little. He knew there was no way they could’ve predicted that, but it was still, ya know, it was lucky.

“What? You mean the fucking apocalypse my dude? No, we didn’t have any fucking idea that shit was coming,” Taako said, and he sounded offended, but also like he was telling the truth.

“So uh, why did you um, sneak on board in the first place then? It uh, it was only supposed to be a two month trip. Like, I’m glad you’re here and all, and I remember you trying out for the mission but it just uh, seems like a pretty extreme thing to do,” Barry asked. Taako groaned, and he almost looked embarrassed.

“It was Lup’s fucking idea. I mean, I’m not sure which of us thought of it originally, but Lup was the one who fucking insisted,” he said, which was kind of a surprise. It wasn’t that Lup didn’t seem like the kind of person to break the rules like that, but maybe not to such an extreme.

“Okay, but why?” he asked, and Taako shrugged.

“We just like, don’t do good apart my dude. And I was fucking qualified for the mission anyway. Like you said, it was only supposed to be two months. We fooled you fuckers for a whole year, you think two months was that big a deal?” he asked, and Barry couldn’t argue with that.

“Uh, fair point I guess,” he said. As they walked, the ground was definitely becoming darker, but not in a foreboding way. The sand was less of that bone dry wasteland they’d become used to, and  was clumping up as they moved forward. Soon enough it was actual soil, and where there’d been nothing but dry, dead desert plants and weeds had started to take root.

“You think we’re getting close?” Taako asked, and Barry nodded, starting to pick up the pace.

“It’s- we gotta be. The light is an incredible source of power, maybe it’s bringing some life back to this world,” he said. Taako followed along after them, and soon the occasional weed was giving way to an actual undergrowth of vines and bushes and the like. It all seemed to be relatively new. Barry wasn’t the horticulturist on this mission, but if he had to put a guess it couldn’t all be any older than a few months to a year.

They found the light in a dense field of green and bright colorful flowers. It was the most lively thing they’d seen since they’d gotten to this world that wasn’t below ground, bright and vibrant. The light was in the center of it all, thick vines curled around it.

Immediately Barry started rushing forward, only for Taako to grab a hold of his shoulder and pull him back. When he looked back, the elf was staring at the scene with suspicion.

“Careful my dude. We’re wizards, not fucking Magnus, rushing in  ain’t our style if you don’t want to get killed,” he said, and he had a point.

“Right, I uh, just got excited. We actually fucking found it this time,” Barry said, and Taako nodded.

“Still, we got magic my dude, no need to go risking our own asses,” he said, and he already had his wand in his hand. In an instant he cast bigby’s hand, the large spectral form flying over to the light, pulling away the vines that surrounded it. They seemed to almost try and cling to the light as he did, but with some effort he managed to pull the light out. Floating it back over to them, the large hand dumped the light into Barry’s arms.

“Tick tick boom, there we go. Let’s get this shit back to the others and rub our find in Lup’s face,” Taako said. Barry chuckled, holding the light close to him as he nodded.

“Right, yeah that’s- let’s get back to the others,” he said, unable to hide the relief in his voice at finally having the light. They could do this, with the light of creation. They could figure out a way to stop the apocalypse and save the world.

More so, they could do this working together. Barry knew it hadn’t been all that long, even if it had already been so much longer than the mission was supposed to be. Still, he was already finding it hard to imagine going through this without the rest of the crew. He wasn’t qualified for this, but maybe with all of them together they could figure something out.

All of them, including Taako.

——

The others were already back when Taako and Barry returned to the ship with the light. That made sense, they’d left beforehand, and Taako and Barry actually managed to find a lead to follow. Lup was waiting on the deck of the ship, and Taako saw her perk up once they came into view.

“There you two are, we were starting to worried you got yourselves lost,” she said, and Taako gave a big, smug as fuck smile as they got closer.

“Not a chance, check it sis,” he said, jabbing his thumb back to where Barry was following behind him. He could tell the exact moment she noticed the light, excitement and disbelief instantly across her face.

“Holy shit! Holy shit you guys actually found it?” she said, rushing forward. When Taako looked back Barry was nodding, still holding the light close as Lup ran up and started inspecting it. Neither of them had actually seen the light before they’d left their original plane. It was so plain but so fucking clearly full of power.

“Yeah, uh, Taako noticed that the last was getting more fertile in a certain direction, and we followed it until we managed to find the light,” Barry explained.

“Yep, I’m pretty much incredible. Anyway, let’s get this bad boy inside and tell the others,” he said. When they headed into the Starblaster there was a clear sense of relief from the rest of the crew at finally having the light. At having something that might actually be able to help them figure this shit out.

Of course, there was a fucking lot to tackle with starting to study the light of creation. It was hard to get much of a read on it, because it was hard to see anything past the sheer power that radiated off the thing.

Still, it was something, and it almost seemed like there was some hope between the rest of the crew. Taako guessed it was a pretty big deal, since the light was how they managed to make the bond engine and get out of their plane in the first place. Maybe they could use it as a way to get back, or things like that.

They spent the next few months with almost everyone who was inclined trying to research the light. They didn’t know what they were looking for, and they had a much smaller team than the original group who’d developed the bond engine had. Still, they had a good basis of research from then, and it kind of seemed like they were making some progress. Lup and Barry had a theory about how Magnus had reformed on the ship when they left the previous world, and why they’d all gotten moved around. It seemed like they were working towards something at least.

And almost as soon as it felt like they had gotten the ball rolling, shit fucking came crashing down again.

He’d thought about it before. The world ending once was unfortunate, twice was coincidence. Three times, well, they were at three now, and none of them were happy for it.

Taako had been in the lab, and thankfully everyone was on the ship already that day. He’d been trying to see if they could get any sort of structure from looking at the light. It seemed to be a big glowing light, but it was clearly solid. He’d been running some tests (a few of which were just hitting the light as hard as he could and seeing if it gave at all) and Lup had been writing down the results when Barry came running into the lab.

“Guys, it’s- the captain’s calling a meeting. Um, bring the light,” Barry said. Taako and Lup exchanged a quick glance, and without a word Lup grabbed the light off the table and they followed after the nerd.

Everyone was out on the deck, and Taako felt uneasy as he went out. It looked like it was storming, but there wasn’t any rain and the sky was unnaturally still. He could see a look of worry plain as day on Lup’s face at the sight.

“It was just like this last time too, it was- Lucretia, you have it written down, right? The sky went like this right before the apocalypse before, didn’t it?” Kravitz was saying, and oh. That- that explained a lot.

“Yes, it wasn’t just last time too. There’d been a stormy sky the day we left on the mission as well,” Lucretia said, her voice soft and worried. Taako hadn’t known that. He hadn’t seen a lot of things about either time they left.

“Okay, Kravitz I’m not arguing with you. If it’s coming again we need to get prepared to be in the air immediately. Lup, Taako, oh good, you two have the light,” Davenport said, his voice shifting from stern to relieved at the sight of them.

“Uh, yeah but what’s going on? It’s not happening again, is it?” Lup asked, and Davenport sighed heavily.

“We can’t be certain but it’s looking that way,” he said, and that wasn’t good.

“There had to be some way to stop it though. We can’t leave this world to die, there's all these people here,” Magnus tried to argue, but Davenport was shaking his head.

“We can’t get stuck here either. We have the light, we didn’t have enough time, but we might be able to save the next world now that we have it,” Davenport said. It made sense, they couldn’t do jack shit if they all died here too.

“Yeah, I’m with the captain, we gotta fucking bounce if that shit’s coming back,” he said. He noticed Lup’s offended look, and he wasn’t too surprised by that. She was never one to cut and run quite as easily as he was.

“We can’t abandon these people,” she said, which was about what he expected.

“We can’t fight that thing either. Let’s just get out of here with the light and figure shit out better next time,” he said. Lup wasn’t happy about that, but it wasn’t like the had any other choice.

“What if we bring some people with us?” Merle said suddenly, everyone’s eyes turning towards him. “Well I mean, this world’s toast, right? We might as well grab a couple folks before that big mean death cloud shows up for real, right?” he continued.

“That’s- we can’t. We don’t have the space for more people Merle. I know shit’s broken pretty bad here, but we still need to focus on the mission,” Davenport said. Magnus was up and nearly buzzing now though, wanting to run off and grab as many poor fucking souls as he could manage.

“Cap’n’port listen, this won’t be permanent okay? It’s just- we’ll ferry them to the next plane. Just until we can figure out a way to save a plane and then we’ll leave them there,” he argued. Kravitz was already nodding in agreement.

“We can’t leave people here if we can save some of them,” he said, and Taako was starting to see a majority forming.

“Can’t believe I’m saying this but I agree with Kravitz, cap’n we gotta do something,” Lup said. At that Davenport sighed, running a hand down his face in frustration.

“Okay, okay fine. This is not permanent though, we’ll need to leave them at whatever the next plane we get to is,” he said, and there was an obvious sense of relief in the rest of the crew. “We don’t know how soon it’ll arrive, you all have two hours,” he added.

At that it was a scramble, and they rushed to the nearest cave system. Lup left the light of creation with Davenport. Taako offered to stay and watch after the thing, but Lup was dragging him along to help people.

By the time the two hours were up the deck of the starblaster had a pretty large crowd of confused and worried drow and duergar and svirfneblin. The sky continued to darken, and it wasn’t much longer before columns of inky blackness started dripping down from the sky.

Davenport took off, and Taako held tight onto Lup’s arm as they headed towards the edge of this planar system. She was clutching the light of creation tight to her chest as they stared back at the retreating plane. That black enormous mass had started descending on it, but something strange happened this time.

It seemed to ravage and beat the plane, but unlike the last two times it almost seemed to back off. Lup had described to him the way it had sucked in the planes before, consuming them almost. This time it hadn't.

Then Taako felt when the strands of light started to unravel him as they passed through to a new plane.

In an instant he blinked, and he was back in the fucking closet. Taako didn’t waste a moment this time, climbing out and rushing out to the deck to make sure everyone else was okay.

The deck was so much emptier when he got there. It was just the seven others they’d started with, every single other person who they’d brought onto the ship was gone.

They all looked fucking heartbroken, and Taako felt his own face fall.

Then he saw Lup, slumped in a chair. Her arms were empty.

The light was gone.

They were back at square fucking one.

Chapter Text

They started to get into a pattern after that. As the cycles went on, and that’s what they were, just cycles, they started getting a hang of what they were doing. Of what rules they were dealing with here and what they needed to do.

They needed to get the light. It had taken them a bit to realize what had happened when they left that plane with all the underground societies. As they poured over what they'd seen though, they realized that the force hadn't been able to absorb it like the others. The plane was attacked, but it wasn’t destroyed the way they’d seen happen to their own world and the animal kingdom.

Which was at least something. They had a goal so they could figure out how to fucking keep the actual apocalypse happening to every single world they went to on a yearly basis. They got the light cycle three too, and just like the last time they watched as the world was attacked but not consumed.

Cycle four was when Lucretia came up with naming the thing the hunger. It was a good name and fit well enough, although Taako was pretty sure she was just tired of him and Lup continuing to refer to it as ‘the vore force’ and ‘a hungee boy’ and ‘my depression given tangible form.’

They didn’t get the light that cycle.

There was other shit they figured out over trying this a couple times. They couldn’t take people with them. That was obvious after cycle two. They always reset in the same places they’d been and the same way they been the day they left their world. Which meant every time Taako found himself shoved in the back of the closet of his and Lup’s room. Definitely not the best way to start out each year, pushing clothes and shoes out of his way so he could get back to everyone else and figure out what was going on with whatever new world they’d stumbled ass backwards into.

Maybe the most important thing they’d figured out was that dying didn’t mean shit anymore. That first cycle when they had to leave Magnus behind seemed to point in that direction. Magnus had said he’d gone down, but none of them had seen it. They didn’t know if he was really dead or not when they left. Maybe he’d been alive, even if he was on death's door, and the ship had pulled him back into place as they left.

It was cycle number five when they confirmed for sure that dying didn’t matter as long as they got away. It was a good thing to know, even if everyone fucking hated how they found out.

It’d been a rough fucking cycle. This world was harsh, full of craggy mountains and territorial tribes. They could barely fucking search for the light without having to block arrows and spears and shit. They’d even had to deal with the Starblaster getting attacked a couple times and had to make some scrambled retreats.

Because of all the fucking setbacks they weren’t able to find the light until almost the end of the cycle. They had about two weeks left when they finally discovered where it was. A slightly smaller group had it than the large tribes they were dealing with, maybe 25ish people in total.

Really, they should’ve gone in there and killed them all right away. Taako didn’t see why they had to try some diplomacy bullshit. The people here were awful, they should’ve known it wouldn’t work.

Still, the eight of them headed down. Strength in numbers and all that. Taako stood by Lup, both of them keeping their mouths shut, wands in hand. They both knew better than to say something and fuck it up right now. They were here to fuck people up if something went wrong, the more eloquent folks could try and work out a deal.

“You have to understand, we need the light to save this- to save you all,” Davenport said. He somehow managed to stand tall in front of the ruler of this group, despite the man being twice his height. The leader sneered, and Taako hated the way the rest of the group was circling them. It made it practically impossible to keep an eye of everyone at once. They were trying, but the terrain didn't make it any easier, and these people knew how to use it.

“We have no reason to believe you outsiders. How do we know you’re not spies from Crichens, trying to steal our glorious light,” the leader spat. Taako could see Magnus turn slightly and glare at one of the members of this group that adjusted the grip on their staff a bit too noticeably. He had his shield positioned in a way to protect their captain as much as possible without seeming obvious.

“I can assure you, we have no investment in the struggle between your tribes,” Kravitz said, stepping forward the slightest bit. It made sense to let him take the lead, he was the people guy. “Of course, we wouldn’t ask you to simply hand over the light for free. If you want, we can work out some sort of deal,” he added, and the leader seemed to pause somewhat, considering.

“What sort of deal?” he asked, suspicion still lacing his words.

“We could offer you, battle strategies, or perhaps some advanced weapons from the world we originate from in exchange for the light,” he said. Taako figured that had to be a bluff, or at least the advanced weapons part. They didn’t exactly have a bunch of fancy laser swords back on the ship. If Taako hadn’t known that though he probably would’ve believed him, dude was good at bluffing.

Taako had his focus on Kravitz. He was the one talking so he was the one the chief had his sights on. Made sense to keep an eye on him, he was the one most of the tribe had their sights on as well. Magnus was still doing his best to shield Davenport. Taako didn’t know what the others were doing, but no one had been looking when it happened. It was a smaller group than the others, but there were still too many for them to keep an eye on all of them at once.

No one had been paying attention to where Lucretia stood at the back of their group, the quiet girl taking down every word of the exchange happening.

Taako’s ears flicked back at the sound of a dull thud. He could see Lup's own ears move in an identical motion, and even Kravitz's smaller half elf ears twitch back slightly. There was a horrified silence as they all turned and saw Lucretia on the ground. There was a lot of blood already, spilling from multiple arrow wounds. How’d they even manage to get off multiple shots?

“There’s your deal. You leave and we don’t kill any more of you,” the leader sneered, the confidence in his voice making it clear he didn't have any idea who the fuck he was dealing with.

They got the light and left that fucking place a scorched, crumbling pit.

By the time anyone could get to Lucretia to heal her though it was too late. She was gone and there was nothing they could fucking do about it.

“She’ll be back. She’s gotta come back, right? I died and I’m fine,” Magnus asked, a clear panic in his voice. They’d just toasted the last of these fuckers and, gods, shit. Taako couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this pissed.

“Magnus we don’t- I hope so, but we don’t know if you were, you know, completely gone,” Davenport said, and he had his hands in fists. Taako could see them shaking, even though it was almost imperceptive.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, this is my fault. We shouldn’t of tried to make a deal. I don't know what I was thinking ,” Kravitz said, slumped down on a rocky outcrop. He looked fucking stricken, and Taako couldn’t blame him.

“Don’t- Don’t blame yourself. We were trying to be safe,” Barry said, although it didn’t look like his words of comfort were doing much good.

Taako spared a glance over at Lup, and he could see how the rage that had been there the moment they all realized what happened was gone now. She was just deflated, now that the cause was burned to the ground and there was nothing left to do.

It was weird. They’d spent five years with these people now. That was longer than they’d spent with any individual person in their family. It was longer than they spent with most people.

Lup had started to care about them, it was obvious. Taako guessed he had too, somewhat. Enough that he was fucking pissed that these asshats killed Lucretia and they couldn’t even be sure if they would get her back or not.

“We need to get back to the ship. One way or another, we’ll find out what happens in a few weeks,” Davenport said, and he sounded so fucking tired. He had a point, and Taako was about to start heading back to the ship without another word when he glanced over to where Lucretia’s body lay. Merle was still sitting close by, having given up his attempts at healing her at this point.

“What uh, what do we do with her? I mean, she might be back,” he asked. He didn’t know if they should have a funeral or what if they weren’t even sure if she was gone for good.

“I can- I know a few rituals, for uh, burial ceremonies and such. If we think that would be best,” Kravitz offered, and he still sounded so fucking broken. Taako wanted to say something, cause yeah, shit was still a little awkward between them. Even after all this time, there was still the fact that he’d lied to them all for a year. There was still the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be here, even if no one else ever wanted to bring it up.

He didn’t know what to say though. He wasn’t exactly a comforting type, and now didn’t seem like the time to try and crack a fucking joke.

“That might be for the best,” Davenport said, before turning to Merle. “Maybe uh, Merle, maybe you could help?” he asked, and Merle jolted slightly before nodded.

“Oh yeah, yeah no problem. Dig a big hole and say a few words, ain’t hard,” he said, clearly distracted. Barry had already grabbed the journal she’d dropped by now, and Taako figured someone should go through and make sure they didn’t leave behind anything else she might need if she did come back.

He let Merle and Kravitz deal with that part though. Probably better for someone who wouldn’t look like they were fucking looting her.

Taako didn’t pay attention much to whatever ceremonies they ended up doing for Lucretia. Hopefully it wouldn’t matter and she’d be back in a few weeks. Things had to work out here, he didn’t know how much they could afford to lose people like this. They still had no fucking idea what they were doing, let alone any clue on how to beat that fucking hunger.

They couldn’t be picked off one by one like this.

Thankfully, it turned out that ended up being a moot point.

Everyone was quiet as they left this plane. There was a nervous energy and they were all fucking holding their breaths. The hunger was ravaging the world as they left it, but Taako couldn’t bring himself to give much of a shit. They would survive, for all it fucking mattered. Taako was glad to leave this particular shitty fucking plane behind.

The strands of light began to pull them all apart, and Taako wasn’t able to see if they were stitching Lucretia back together again before he was torn away from the deck of the ship and rebuilt back in the closet.

He was up and heading back to the deck in record time. As he got close he could hear commotion, and then Lucretia’s nervous voice offering assurances. Taako had already let out a huge sigh of relief before he opened the door. It was still better seeing her though, knowing for sure that she was alive and here.

They weren’t going to lose her. As long as the ship made it out in time, they weren’t going to lose anyone.

Taako guessed he’d started caring about these people more than he thought. As soon as he realized that there was a relief that rushed through him that nearly knocked him off his feet. He disguised it by falling with a dramatic flourish into one of the nearby chairs, offering Lucretia a casual welcome back and some some comment about knowing there was no way Lucretia would die before Magnus did.

They spent the next few hours filling Lucretia in on as much of what had happened in the weeks she was gone as possible. It really wasn’t much, nothing exciting, but she still wanted to know it all. Was still taking it all down and immediately back to taking notes like she hadn’t just been dead for a couple of weeks.

Taako supposed it made sense. They always returned to the same state, it wasn’t like she’d be tired or sore from dying anymore.

It was nice, and there were a lot of really fucking shitty things about what was going on with their situation, but this was good.

They couldn’t bring anyone with them, but they weren’t losing anyone either. If Taako had to pick one, he’d probably go with keeping the people he’d started to care about.

As long as they all made it through, they’d figure out some way to stop this shit.

It was strange how someone could start to almost get used to the end of the world.

It was still horrible of course, every world they couldn’t manage to save chipping away at him. Every time they lost someone, even knowing they were coming back felt like a stab in his own chest. Especially the time they’d lost Lucretia. It had been his fault. Kravitz had known the likelihood that those people wouldn’t take any deal, but he’d still wanted to try.

She came back though, and time moved on. Two more cycles, one of which they hadn’t been able to save. Now they were in this world, and Kravitz had to resist the urge to tug at the straps of his mask keeping the deadly spores out of his system.

It really was a beautiful place, despite the ever present threat of death. The mushrooms were gorgeous, and he couldn’t help but be slightly taken by the soft glow of their light.

Of course, it hadn’t been enough for him to want to volunteer to go on the expedition most of the crew was going on to search for the light. He wanted to help of course, but he trusted in their abilities. Plus, there was a part of him that couldn’t help but want to stay in this settlement of Fungston. Merle had begun setting up a church of all things, and Kravitz had always been a certain level of devote to the gods.

It was strange, thinking of the gods in the circumstances they’d found themselves in. Making the smallest amount of progress every year and fighting against whole worlds being annihilated in their wake.

Over time Kravitz had felt less that this was something specifically following them, and more so that it was something they were unfortunately and irrevocably tied up in against their will. This was their eighth time doing it, and they were getting a bit better at it all, but it was still- it was rough.

So maybe he needed a cycle to, well, not rest. A cycle to try and recenter himself. Somehow, despite how odd it felt after having spent eight years getting to know the dwarf, he found himself listening in on Merle’s sermons for that. He was used to Merle being so casual and cavalier about his god that hearing him talk so genuinely with the inhabitants of this world about moving into the future despite the struggles ahead, it was quite a shock. Some of it was actually moving.

It was hard to remember sometimes how much this was hitting all of them. Merle in particular brushed it off so well, and Kravitz had never stopped to question why. Hearing him speak now though, so casually with the others as they’d started building a church, in made sense.

At first he just sat close by and listened. Helped with the actual construction of the church here and there. It was something to do and it was a strange sort of relaxing he hadn’t had in a while. Everyone else in the crew was off looking for the light, except for Taako. He spent most of his time inside though, working on some project Kravitz wasn’t sure about. Things had gotten less strained between them over the past few cycles, but Kravitz wouldn't say they were close friends or anything.

So, he left Taako to his work and let himself get immersed in this world and its people. Considering how harrowing a life the folks here live and how dangerous the mushrooms were it was bound to happen eventually. He supposed it wasn’t a surprise when once day the work they'd been making on the church was interrupted. The building was about halfway finished now, and Merle wasn’t an architect but thankfully the folks here seemed to know what they were doing.

Kravitz had been paying enough attention to notice when a few gnomes carried a man out of his home. Kravitz couldn’t tell what about it made it clear that the man was dead, but as soon as he looked at the limp form he was sure. The two folks who were carrying him out on some sort of stretcher weren’t crying, although a sadness was still there.

It probably wasn’t any of his business, he should leave people alone to mourn. Still, he found himself excusing himself from the dwarves he was helping with the church and headed over to the small group. They were heading straight towards the line of growth where the mushroom started.

As he got closer, Kravitz got a feeling about what might’ve tipped him off. The man wasn’t wearing a mask, and he’d yet to see a single person without one in the time they’d been here.

“Hello, I- I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” he said, speaking softly. The two gnomes paused, seeming to hesitate a moment before nodding for him to come along. With that permission Kravitz started following them towards the thick growth of mushrooms.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with the body?” he asked. Maybe it was a macabre thing to want to know, but there’d always been something about the different rituals and respects paid to the dead that fascinated him. He hadn’t had the time to delve into how too many of the worlds they visited dealt with death, and a part of him wanted to know.

It’d been on his mind somewhat, since they had lost Lucretia that time a few cycles ago. Death was- death was something he’d always been raised to view as important, and it was strange. How that didn’t really apply to them anymore.

“We need to burn it. The spores will grow inside if we don’t,” one of the gnomes said. Kravitz was fairly sure he’d spoken to him before, but he was having a hard time remembering the name. They just met so many people already.

He nodded though, because that made sense. He couldn’t see the people here much wanting to be buried and become fuel for the mushrooms that threatened them so much in life.

Kravitz wasn’t sure if he’d call it a proper ceremony, but there was still something of a ritual about it as he watched. These two weren’t members of the dead man’s family, this was simply a job they had. Still, they were careful and gentle with the body, setting it up in an area of thick mushrooms. They started the fire where they set the body in the center, and then burned for a wide swatch outwards. It was a two birds one stone situation. Take care of the deceased while also burning back a large section of the mushrooms.

The fire was warm, fighting back the perpetual cold of this rainy world. Kravitz felt like that was nice, almost comforting for the people of this world.

There were a couple more deaths in the following months, and Kravitz requested to come along for the burning each time. It was definitely rather grim, but it was just-

There was something about seeing death that still mattered to people. Of seeing life the way it was supposed to be, and not the twisted form they were all stuck with now.

It was getting into the back half of the year, and they still hadn’t heard back from the group that had gone off in search of the light. They still had a few more months before the hunger came though, so Kravitz was trying not to worry just yet.

“What’s with the face grim?” Taako said, jolting Kravitz out of his thoughts. He hadn’t even heard the elf sneak up on him. Over the last few cycles the crew had gotten a bit better at telling him and Lup apart. Looking at him now though Kravitz might not have been able to tell if he didn’t already know Lup was off looking for the light. The mask covered up the entire lower half of his face, so it was difficult.

“I mean, most of it’s covered so that I don’t die from inhaling fatal spores,” Kravitz said, sort of gesturing at his own mask. That got a snort of laughter out of Taako, which was kind of nice. Taako tended to be a bit more closed off than his sister. Not that Lup had warmed up to him that fast either. Things were probably still a bit awkward between them, but Kravitz liked to think the worst of it was behind them.

“Fair enough, but to that point you shouldn’t even be able to look so gloomy with that much covered,” he said, and Kravitz shrugged. He guessed it was a fair point though, although he hadn’t realized he’d been looking ‘gloomy.’

“I suppose it was just uh, I helped a few people with one of the deceased earlier today,” he explained. It hadn’t even been someone who died from the spores, which was rare. Kravitz didn’t ask enough questions to know exactly what it was, but it seemed to be a combination of old age and some other illness. They’d still burnt the body though. They didn’t have enough people dying like that to justify having any other method of disposal.

“Yeah I um, heard from Merle you’d been helping out with that. That uh, that treating you well?” Taako asked, and Kravitz actually laughed slightly at that.

“It’s a little morbid I’ll admit, but I like being able to help out where I can,” he said. He supposed he didn’t end up helping all that much, he was usually just standing by and watching. Taako nodded though, not seeming to question it any.

“Those are your two skills huh, music and dead things?” he asked, and even though things still felt a little strange with Taako from time to time he seemed able to relax and joke more often now.

“That’s pretty much me as a person I suppose,” he joked, before sighing and staring off at the line of ever encroaching mushrooms. “My mother ran a temple to the Raven Queen back home. Helping souls pass from this life to the next was something I just sort of grew up with,” he explained.

It was quiet for a moment, and when he looked back at Taako the elf was staring at him a bit blankly.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, and Taako quickly shook his head.

“No, no you’re good dog. You just uh, never mentioned any of your family before,” he said, and Kravitz blinked at that. He wracked his mind, trying to think of some time in the past eight years where he must’ve talked to someone about them. One or twice with Barry, but that was the most he could come up with.

“I suppose I haven’t. Too busy trying to deal with the end of the world to go musing on all that I guess,” he said, and Taako quickly nodded.

“Oh yeah for sure. Haven’t gotten a break since this whole bullshit started,” he agreed. It was kind of obvious that the topic was uncomfortable for him, and Kravitz could understand why. He remembered how Lup, or at least, he was pretty sure it was Lup looking back on it. It could have been Taako though, but either way the point still stood. He remembered the way one of them had reacted when he pointed out that they weren’t the only ones to lose family, way back during that first cycle.

Of course, the discomfort made much more sense once they found out about Taako still being around.

“Speaking of not getting a break, what exactly have you been up to all year?” Kravitz asked, and it was a pretty transparent attempt at changing the subject. Taako jumped on it though, and Kravitz could practically hear the smile in his voice.

“Oh, what have I been working on? Me? What has Taako been doing? Nothing important, I’m just gonna solve fucking everything,” he said, with a confidence that actually managed to get a loud laugh out of Kravitz. Taako didn’t seem offended by it though, and Kravitz figured he knew his claims were pretty ridiculous.

“Are you now? Well, that would certainly be helpful,” he said and Taako nodded.

“Hell yeah, you wanna see boychic?” he asked, and Kravitz chuckled a bit more before nodding.

“Of course, lead the way I suppose,” he said. Taako did just that, heading off into one of the small shelters the people of this town had offered them. Normally they would stay in the Starblaster if they could, but the rest of the crew had it out looking for the light.

When he got to the room Taako had been holing himself away in Kravitz had to blink and take a moment to realize what he was seeing. For a moment he thought maybe this had been Lup the whole time, despite the fact that he could hear the difference in their voices. If it was Lup though that would explain why they had the light.

Except looking further, he could tell it wasn’t the light. It was a very good replica of it though, and Taako went over and picked it up. Kravitz could see a bit more of the differences as it was brought closer to him.

“Hopefully the others will get the light back soon and I can look at it some more to refine some shit, but a pretty fucking good start, right?” he asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“It’s certainly impressive. This is pretty incredible Taako,” he said, and he couldn’t be entirely sure if Taako was smiling with the face mask on, but it looked like it.

“Hell yeah it is,” Taako said, tossing the fake light up once before putting it back down on his work desk. There was certainly a smugness to his words, but it wasn’t like Kravitz could say it wasn’t earned. Ever since Taako had started interacting with them as his own person he proved himself to be incredibly talented and intelligent time and time again.

“Taako, this is- I know that things were rather strained between us for the last few years. I want you to know though that it’s- I’m thankful that both you and Lup are with us,” he said, hoping he wasn't coming off as too horribly awkward. Taako wasn’t looking at him now, turned away and inspecting his fake light of creation.

“That’s uh- cool. That’s cool. Course you’re thankful we’re here, we’re fucking incredible and gifts,” he said, still not looking back at him. Kravitz laughed, not surprised by the bragging.

It wasn’t long after that when the rest of the crew returned with the light. Well, the rest of the crew minus Magnus. It was hard, of course it was hard, but he’d be back. They didn’t have much longer left in this cycle, he’d be back.

Still, there was part of Kravitz that wished he’d at least been there when he’d passed. That wished he could have helped, even if the permanence of death wasn’t an issue for them anymore.

Taako improved his fake light quite a bit with access to the real one, and it was genuinely difficult for Kravitz to tell the difference once he was done.

Soon enough the hunger came, and Merle stayed behind in the church while the rest of them left. Taako managed to use his fake to distract the hunger for a moment, which answered one question that Kravitz had had since this whole thing had started.

The hunger wasn’t after them, it was after the light.

Then they passed over into a new cycle, and it was time to start all over again.

Chapter Text

They were on cycle twelve now, and Lup figured they were starting to get a pretty good method to their madness. So far they managed to save about seven of the world’s they’d gone to, and the four where they hadn’t stung, but still, they were batting well over fifty percent. As long as they kept fucking working, they would figure this out. She believed that, she had to.

This twelfth world was pretty interesting, but that could be said for most of the world’s they’d been to so far. Even the objectively pretty boring ones were still whole other worlds completely separate from anything they had ever seen before. Sure, she didn’t get as nerd jazzed about it as Barry did, but she figured it was still pretty chill.

This world was covered thick rain forests, and when they said covered they meant fucking covered. The entire thing was a blanket of green and as they got down close they could all feel the sticky heat before even getting out of the Starblaster. It didn’t seem like there was anywhere to land the ship at all. The only parts of the world not covered in thick canopies were the huge rivers that cut through them like a maze. Sure, the Starblaster was technically a boat, but Cap’n’port still felt better putting the ship down on land.

Eventually though they managed to spot people moving through the treetops. Bringing the Starblaster down as close as they could, they could make out what seemed to be whole cities, suspended up in the thick, twisting branches. Davenport left the ship settling on idle in the sky, and a few of them used feather fall to get down there. Lup was hoping the people here could lead them to a clearing where they could take the Starblaster down.

Hopefully they would get a clear shot of the light in this world. Lup didn’t like the idea of having to search through such thick jungle to find it without a good idea of where it could’ve landed.

It was her, Taako, Magnus and Kravitz heading down at first. The rest of the crew was going to wait in the Starblaster until they figured out how safe these people were. Ever since the incident losing Lucretia they figured it was best not to have everyone go to a place at once if they could help it.

They still had a few more deaths since then, but Lup tried not to think about them too much. They were just lucky that none would ever be permanent, as long as they weren’t complete idiots about it.

“Excuse us, we could use some help,” Kravitz said, calling out to the two people they could see off on some sort of rope bridge between the branches. He was usually the one to try and handle first contacting people. It was a little ironic, at least in Lup’s opinion. She’d had such a bad first impression on the guy, but his whole deal was managing their first impressions. At least he seemed to be a bit better at it with people other than her.

Lup was fairly sure a good portion of the times he’d managed to do well involved some magical assistance. Which, hey as long as it got results she wasn’t going to knock him for it. That was pretty much the whole bard deal after all. Part of her could respect that.

The two people on the bridge froze, and it was hard to make out exactly what race they were from this far away. Before they could get any closer though the two fucking bolted, gone down the bridge and through the trees a lot faster than Lup had anticipated.

“Shit, should we chase after them?” Magnus asked, and Kravitz shook his head.

“No, that’ll definitely make them think we’re hostile. We probably shouldn’t stay in this spot either, in case they do come back with others to try and attack us,” Kravitz said. Lup supposed that sounded reasonable enough.

“Alright, let’s get moving then,” she said, starting through the thick branches and vines over to the bridge. Taako was almost immediately by her side, Magnus following along a bit more bumbling.

“Wait, where exactly are you going? I said we shouldn’t chase after them,” Kravitz complained, despite the fact that he still came awkwardly through the branches after them.

“We’re not chasing them, we’re just seeing where this goes. We need to figure out what’s going on with this world anyway. Might as well actually check out the civilized part instead of disappearing into the jungle never to be seen again,” Lup said. She could hear Kravitz sighing behind them, but she ignored it for now. As far as she was concerned, this was a pretty good plan.

“Should we go in the direction they ran?” Magnus asked, and mostly to keep Kravitz from complaining some more she shook her head.

“Nah, they had to be coming from somewhere too, we can check that out first,” she said, starting to head down the bridge. Now that they were up close Lup could see how the bridge was less built and more grown into the canopy. Branches weaving together and melded to form a sturdy walking path, with simple railings keeping them from stumbling over the edge.

It was honestly real impressive, and Lup got a feeling Merle would get a kick out of it once he got down here.

Lup wasn’t sure how long they walked for, but it was starting to feel like a long fucking while. She figured that was partially due to the heat, and she couldn’t even argue when Taako started complaining loudly about it.

“Are we sure this bridge actually leads anywhere? We’ve been walking for fucking ever and I’m tired of smelling gym rat over here,” Taako said, jabbing a thumb over at Magnus.

“Hey, it’s not my fault it’s so hot,” Magnus argued.

“Do you even remember the last time you showered?” Taako asked, taking a few steps back from where Lup and Magnus were walking up ahead, hanging back with Kravitz now.

“Yeah! It was, uh, I mean, it was before we reset, I guess? I definitely took a shower before we left home though. I think? Like, I must’ve, that was an important day, but we did get pretty drunk the night before. That could’ve been either an incentive or a deterrent, I can’t remember,” Magnus said, and Lup snickered at Taako’s groan of anguish. She could see Kravitz rolling his eyes, but he still looked like he was struggling not to laugh as well.

It’d been a while since they’d seen anyone else, and with Taako and Magnus fooling around, Lup must’ve let her guard down. Not by much, she’d still been paying attention, but not enough. She’d only been paying attention to what was in front of her, she figured Taako and Kravitz would be watching their backs.

It was only when she heard her brother yelp in surprise did she realize they weren’t alone anyone. She spun around, wand already drawn and prepared to blast anything that was trying to get her brother.

She’d only just managed to register the thorny vine wrapped around his arm and the wood elf woman who was the source of it. Before she could send a shot of fire to burn the vine away Kravitz had an arm around Taako’s waist and the two vanished with a quick, whistling tune, the vine falling limply to the ground.

“Please stop! We don’t want to fight you, we’re only looking for help,” Kravitz shouted. Lup’s head spun to see where they were, and she managed to locate them on a sturdy, thick branch close to the base of one of the nearby trees. His voice was layered in a way that Lup recognized now, the tongue spell in full effect.

It didn't always work, some languages were so odd they had to learn them the old fashioned way. It seemed to do the trick this time though, the woman halting in her attack and saying something back that Lup couldn’t understand. That went on for a few more moments, Kravitz and this woman having some conversation Lup could only understand half of. Neither her nor Magnus eased up from their positions ready to attack until Kravitz gave them the word that it was okay. By that point the probably-druid-woman had relaxed some as well.

Once it seemed like shit had deescalated Lup took the chance to look over where Taako and Kravitz were for longer than a quick glance. From this distance and with their robes, it was hard to tell how hurt Taako might’ve been from that initial attack. He seemed to be holding his arm kind of tenderly though, so Lup wanted to get a better look at that.

The other thing Lup could see was that Kravitz still had an arm wrapped around her brother, and must’ve for that entire conversation. If she had to guess, it was because they were in a more precarious spot than the bridge and Taako was injured. As a sister though that didn’t mean shit.

“So, are you two just gonna keep standing there cuddling or are you gonna come back over here sometime this cycle?” she called out to them. She could distinctly see the moment where they both realized how they were standing, as well as the momentary panic of wanting to move apart but not having anywhere to go.

“We’re coming! You could stand to wait longer than three fucking seconds,” Taako called, trying to mask his embarrassment with indignation. She rolled her eyes and watched as Kravitz cast another quick dimension door. The two appeared in front of them on the bridge in a flash of dark purple and soft whistled tune once again.

The second they were on the bridge there was a good three goddamn feet between the two, and Lup couldn’t blame Magnus for laughing. She would have too if she wasn’t instantly on Taako and trying to get a look at his arm.

“Fucking hell, you can chill it’s just some cuts. Won’t even need one of Merle’s shitty heals,” Taako said, not actually bothering to try and pull his arm away from her inspection. Kravitz had started walking over to the druid woman, Magnus following along as protection. It didn’t seem like he’d need it though, since it looked like Kravitz managed to get across that they weren’t a threat.

That was honestly a relief. Sure, they were fucking badasses and could handle themselves, but Lup preferred it if they could get through these sorts of things without having to fight. Typically the people they ran into were confused and trying to protect themselves, and she couldn’t blame them for that.

“Just checking bro bro. Kravitz sure seemed to think it was serious enough to warrant getting you the fuck outta dodge,” she said. She was feeling relaxed enough to start to tease again now that she could see that it wasn’t anything serious.

“Uh, we were being attacked? I’m pretty sure she was trying to pull me into fucking melee and you know Taako doesn’t do that hand to hand shit. He was just being smart, if that broke bad you and Mag’s coulda handled the up close and person business,” Taako said, which was fair. Lup was a lot more comfortable with close combat than most wizards. Kravitz was definitely on support whenever they did end up getting into combat.

“So, what about after that, huh?” she asked, letting a smug grin stretch across her face.

“I didn’t want to fall a hundred feet to my fucking death! We were on some tiny, slippery tree branch!” he argued, the tips of his ears turning red.

“I’m just teasing Ko, no need to get so worked up,” she said, starting to head over to Kravitz and Magnus now. She heard Taako grumbling indistinctly behind her before following along, but she ignored it for the most part. They’d been at this thing for twelve years now. She was pretty sure that if her brother wanted anything to happen with Kravitz, he would’ve gotten on that a long time ago.

“They’re going to take us to their settlement. She said she’ll have to talk to some of the other leaders but they should be able to clear a patch for the starblaster to set down,” Kravitz explained to the two of them once they were within earshot.

“Sounds good dog,” Lup said with a grin. They started walking again, and this time Lup made sure to keep a careful eye out, just in case.

“How’s your arm doing?” Kravitz asked, speaking in a quiet aside to Taako.

“Fine, god y’all can chill out, we’re not gonna need Magnus to cut it off,” he grumbled. Lup snickered, especially when Magnus ended up looking somewhat disappointed by that. “Thanks for the quick save though, I uh, ya know, appreciate it,” Taako added in a much quieter voice. If Lup hadn’t been paying so much attention she probably would have missed it.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you’re okay,” Kravitz said. It sounded like he meant it too.

——

Taako wasn’t sure if the first death was the hardest, but it sure felt that way. Maybe it wasn’t though, so far, 15 cycles in, they hadn’t had too many repeat performances.

There was Magnus’s death at the very end of the first cycle. He hadn’t even been there to know, but he remembered the pain in Lup’s voice as she explained having to leave him behind. He remembered the way, after the dust had settled from him and Lup telling them all the truth, how everyone seemed to keep glancing over at Magnus. It was like they were afraid he was just going to disappear again.

Cycle five was their first early death. The first one that gave them time to process that it had happened. Losing Lucretia and then wrecking their revenge in a flash of almost blinding rage. The fear and uncertainty not knowing for weeks if she was going to come back or not. The relief when she finally did.

Merle’s first death was cycle seven. They hadn’t managed to get the light, and it’d been a rough one. They finally thought they’d managed to track it down, but in the end they ended up coming out without the light and down a member. There hadn’t even been a body to bury that time, the beast they'd fought having all but disintegrated the dwarf.

Magnus again on cycle eight. Taako hadn’t been there either, having hung back at the Fungston settlement. The others had said it’d been in his sleep though, which honestly seemed about as good as it was going to get.

Barry, cycle ten. It was earlier in the year than they’d ever lost anyone before and they’d been doing so well. They already had the light that cycle, they were only halfway in. The planet was even fairly non-hostile, the population of dragonborn and lizardfolk and other reptilian people pretty solitary and happy to leave them alone.

No one else had even been awake, Taako sure as fuck wasn’t doing anything but sleeping. The sound of the explosion had woken up everyone pretty thoroughly. Barry had admitted later that he’d been concerned that the experiment was dangerous. That was why he’d done it out on the deck instead of in the lab, where he could have risked destroying a whole fucking lot of research.

Running out to the deck, Taako wasn’t surprised that he and Lup were the first ones to get there. It was old habit to be up and running without any warning the second something went wrong, no matter if it was the dead of night. Looking over the scene, they’d found the light of creation sitting there, perfectly unharmed. A few feet away was Barry’s body, slumped and charred against the railing of the Starblaster.

“Shit, what the fuck- Merle!” Lup called, still half asleep and running over to Barry. Merle came stumbling out onto the deck, wearing pajamas and looking confused as hell. Behind him came Magnus, in nothing but his fucking underwear with an ax in his hands.

“What’s going on?” he shouted. Taako shrugged, going and picking up the light of creation and pointedly not looking over to where Lup was frantically trying to find a pulse on Barry.

“No fucking clue. Guess Barold was trying something with the light,” he said. Merle was already heading over to try and do what he could, but it was kind of obvious that it was too late.

Taako held the light close to his chest, and his hands weren’t shaking.

Davenport followed by Lucretia and Kravitz showed up only a few seconds later. Taako could see the question on their faces, could see Davenport debating on running out to the deck or to the wheel of the ship to get them into the air, not sure if there was still a danger.

“It’s fine. Barry must’ve fucked up an experiment. He’ll be back next year,” Taako told them, keeping his voice carefully even. It was probably because of being woken up so suddenly that it was more difficult than he expected.

“What do you- oh my god,” Lucretia said, having spotted where Merle was leaning over his form. There was a loud sigh from the dwarf as he stood back up.

“Yeah, there’s nothing I can do. Damn idiot, what was he even trying to pull here?” Merle grumbled, taking a step back. Taako figured they’d start taking care of his body and cleaning up the deck now, and he wasn’t needed for that. He wasn't needed for any of that.

Taako didn’t expect the hand that gently grabbed a hold of his arm as he tried to move back into the ship. Taako turned with more of a glare at Kravitz than he meant. “What?” he snapped, but at least everyone else was out on the deck at this point and wasn’t paying them much mind.

“I just- are you okay?” Kravitz asked, and he sounded genuinely concerned and upset. Taako guessed that made sense. Him and Barry were close, they were always sitting around talking about boring nerd shit he didn’t care about. Of course he’d be upset.

“I wasn’t in the explosion dog, we’re all good here,” he said, not sure why he was asking. “Just taking the light back down to the lab,” he added. Kravitz nodded, but he still looked, who fucking knew, concerned or something.

“Would you like some company?” he asked. The offer sounded genuine, and there was a moment where Taako almost considered it.

Then he glanced back over to where everyone else was in various stages of shock and confusion on the deck, and he shook his head.

“Don’t you got some rituals to start prepping? Don’t let me keep you, Mr. Funeral Director,” he said, trying to sound light about the whole thing. This wasn’t a big deal. It was their fucking lives now, they were going to die, a lot. Kravitz nodded, carefully letting go of his arm.

“Right. No, you’re right. I should- later Taako,” he said, giving an awkward nod before heading out onto the deck. Taako didn’t bother saying anything back, heading straight down to the lab and putting the light back in its proper place. Then, he went back to his room.

Lup showed up a couple hours later, and she fell into bed without a word.

The rest of that cycle was rougher on Lup than Taako would have expected.

Taako didn’t know what a cycle was like without Lup yet. If either of them had any say in the matter, they wouldn’t find out for a long fucking time. Maybe never. Hopefully never.  

Cycle thirteen let him know up close and person how much dying fucking hurt though. He guessed he could be thankful that it was fast if nothing else.

The light had to be on the top of a goddamn active volcano. It was too dangerous to bring the Starblaster close, so him and Lup had gone up with Barry, Magnus, Merle and Kravitz. They figured they’d need as many hands on deck as they could after all.

They managed to grab the light, but there’d been a fight with some shitty earth and fire elementals. That wasn’t too bad, until the goddamn volcano started blowing like an overexcited kid with their birthday candles.

He and Lup had gotten separated from the rest of them in the fight. Taako wasn’t doing too hot, shitty pun not intended, and Lup was hiding more wounds than she wanted to admit.

“We gotta move!” Magnus shouted, looking between the two of them, and the lava coming in way too fast, and then back down at the light in his hands. Dude wore every emotion on his face, and Taako could see the idiot debating on dropping the light and trying to run back for them.

Not that it would matter, it was doubtful their group would be able to outrun a fucking volcano anyway. Taako knew he and Lup didn't stand a change. He was barely keeping on his feet as it was, and Lup's leg was twisted in a way that made him sick to look at.

“Hey bro, you got some ruby dust on you?” Lup asked, and Taako knew that tone of voice. He nodded, starting to dig through his bag of the heavy duty spell components.

“How much you need?” he asked.

“How much you got?” she asked back, and Taako rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the shooting pain down his side from the burns taken from the fire elementals.

“You’re just planning on bleeding me dry, aren’t you?” he said, handing over the ruby dust.

"I mean, looks like that earth elemental already beat me to it," she joked, and Taako winced when he tried to laugh. Fuck, this was a shitty situation.

“Taako! Lup! Come on!” Kravitz shouted, but Taako ignored him, sitting down while Lup prepared her spell.

“Y’all got an hour! Make it count!” Lup yelled back, and Taako watched as she cast a force cage around the rest of their party. It was unbearably fucking hot at that point, and getting real hard to breathe.

The others were shouting at them now, but Taako ignored it. He felt Lup sit down next to him, and was thankful when she grabbed a hold of his hand.

He couldn’t really remember what happened next, other than waking up at the start of the next cycle.  Apparently the other four had been safe from the lava in the force cage. The flow had slowed enough by the time it ended for them to get the fuck out of there with the light in hand.

It was always a production when someone came back after dying. When Merle came back he insisted he spent the whole rest of the cycle chilling it with pan, even though Lucretia and Magnus both insisted that wasn’t how it worked. When Barry reformed after blowing himself the fuck up there’d been a lot of shouting about maybe telling someone before you go doing experiments you think might have the chance to kill you Barold.

When Taako walked out onto the deck after climbing out of his re-spawn spot alone, Lup was wrapped up in a painful looking Magnus hug. Taako tried to just, oh, slip on back out, but before he could an arm was crushing him as well.

“You guys didn’t need to do that. We would’ve figured something out,” Magnus said. Taako shrugged and Lup patted him on the back.

“Hey big guy, it’s cool, we’re back now,” Lup said.

“If you keep fucking squeezing like that though you can see us next year. I’d really like to be able to breathe again thank you very much,” Taako complained. Luckily that got Magnus to put them both down. Less lucky, that led to the rest of the crew talking about how much they missed them and telling them to be more careful and all that nonsense. Taako knew that was what happened every time someone died, but it was fucking weird when that shit was directed at him. Sure, it was both him and Lup, which made it slightly more bearable, but it still wasn’t great.

As much as Taako liked being the center of attention, he didn’t like being the center of attention. Not like this.

Not soon enough people started to disperse, to check out this new world and all the other tasks they needed to take care of at the start of a new cycle.

Lup had gone off to check out some of the research they’d gotten done with the light last cycle. Taako watched as Barry followed after her, looking like he was afraid she’d disappear if he took his eyes off of her.  

Taako was kind of surprised when Barry did look away to give one last glance back at him.

“We really missed you bud, glad to have you both back,” he said, and Taako shrugged, not meeting his eyes.

“Glad to not be under a pile of fucking lava,” he said with a shrug before heading towards the kitchen. He knew none of these fuckers would have had any decent cooking in the four months him and Lup had been gone. Might as well get working on fixing that.

“They’re right, you know,” Kravitz said, and Taako hadn’t realized it was only the two of them now. He guessed Lup and Barry had been the last to split off. Kravitz hadn’t said much during the whole welcome back spiel. Despite being a fucking bard be always seemed to be one of the more quiet ones.

Or maybe he wasn’t as upset about them beefing it. Taako couldn’t really blame the dude, with all the grief they’d given him over the cycles.

“About what? There was a lot of stuff said in the goddamn twenty minutes I’ve been alive again. You’re gonna have to be more specific,” Taako said, looking through the cabinets and grimacing at the lack of ingredients inside. Oh well, he’d worked with worse.

“You two didn’t have to literally sit down and die, you know? We could have figured something out,” Kravitz said, and Taako paused in his debate on what to cook. He actually sounded kind of mad. That wasn’t the response he’d been expecting.

“My dude, you guys were a little far away so I’ll spell it out for you, we weren’t fucking making it out of there. Cha boy was already bleeding out, and I’m pretty sure Lup broke her leg at some point. I don’t even know how she was managing to stand. It was the easiest way to make sure the rest of you got back with the light,” Taako said.

That should have been the end of it, him and Lup were already going to die back there. Instead of wasting time trying to escape when it wasn’t going to happen, they made sure the rest of them would be able to get back. The rest of the crew should be thanking them for making the decision to not be selfish for once in their lives.

“We could have helped you. Merle can heal! I can heal!” Kravitz snapped instead. Taako was frowning deeply now, not sure why he didn’t get it. They were doing the right thing for once!

“You’re joking, right? There wasn’t enough time for any of that, just chill. It’s not a big deal,” Taako insisted, still trying to keep this light. If he got upset or pissed about it that would mean he gave a shit, which he didn’t.

“You could have at least tried,” Kravitz insisted.

“What would’ve been the point? I keep trying to tell you it was the safest option. What, are you just mad because we gave you more work Mr. Funeral Director?” Taako asked, rolled his eyes.

“No! Do you really not get it? You don’t understand how fucked up that was?” Kravitz yelled, and Taako knew he was mad. He didn’t fucking know why but it was obvious that he was pissed about something, but even still the tone of his voice caught Taako off guard. It almost sounded like he was fucking hurt by this.

“It’s not like this is the first time someone’s died. Did you get on Merle like this? Barry?” Taako asked, hoping to change the subject. Kravitz huffed in frustration, rubbing at his temples.

“As a matter of fact, yes, I did yell at Barry. His decision hurt too. You know how much it hurt,” Kravitz said. Now that the rage seemed to be settling he just sounded upset. Taako was kinda wishing he’d get mad again.

“It’s really not the same thing. Barry blew himself the fuck up cause he got too wrapped up in his own damn research. Lup and I saved your guy’s lives,” Taako said. He didn’t understand why Kravitz would even begin to put those two things on the same level.

“We were stuck in there for an hour Taako,” Kravitz said, and there was something in his voice that made Taako uncomfortable. “We were stuck in that cage and we couldn’t do anything, neither of you would even look at us. Do you have any idea how hard that was to watch? How fucking useless it felt trapped in there and just having to watch? It was fucked up Taako,” Kravitz said, and he wasn’t looking at him anymore, head in his hands.

Taako didn’t know how the fuck to respond to that.

“Just… please, promise me you won’t do something like that again,” Kravitz said. Taako wasn’t sure why it mattered so much to him.

“I mean, I’m not really one to give much of a shit if I break a promise Krav,” Taako said, and to his surprise that actually got a bit of a smile out of Kravitz.

“Then it shouldn’t be any problem for you to promise anyway,” he said, and Taako chuckled at that. He still wasn’t sure why Kravitz cared so goddamn much, but it wasn’t like Taako could deny that he was a good dude. Maybe he just cared like this about all of them.

“Yeah sure, I fucking promise,” he said, and it seemed to actually give Kravitz some relief.

“Thank you Taako,” he said, and Taako shrugged.

“No problemo my dude,” he said, starting to absently go through the kitchen again. He’d almost forgotten he’d been meaning to cook.

“So,” Taako said, a long stretch of silence passing between them. “You haven’t died yet, huh?” he asked, and Kravitz shook his head.

“No, not yet,” he said. There wasn’t much else to say on the matter, and things were quiet and awkward as Taako started making up breakfast. It was a little late for breakfast, but Taako couldn’t care.

“Glad you’re back.”

“Glad to be back.”

Chapter Text

The thing is, Kravitz always knew that he would die eventually. Sure, part of that was just a fact, sooner or later everyone dies. There isn’t some sort of grand eldritch mystery there, and considering his upbringing he was a little more aware of that than the other kids were.

It wasn’t something his mother had forced on him, but she’d always been open about the subject. He could remember her showing him old paintings, images of two other half elves that looked strikingly similar to himself.

He’d asked who they were, and she’d explained that they were his siblings. He’d never gotten to meet them of course, his mother was older, even for an elf. That was the thing with half elves, even with longer lives than humans, they still didn’t quite match up to elves. He’d listen when she’d talk about them though, about how proud she was of them, how he needed to meet some of his nieces and nephews at some point.

It was sad, obviously anyone dying was sad. Kravitz considered himself an only child, due to the fact that he’d never meet his siblings anymore than most humans would meet their great grandparents. His mother had never talked about it like it tormented her though. She said that even with the heartache of losing a child, there was something comforting about being able to be with them throughout the whole of their lives. About being able to help look after the family they had started, and continue to care for them.

Kravitz had always known that death was a natural part of life. That he was young enough that he might be the one who had to be around to one day bury their mother. That someday he’d have people who he cared about who would have to bury him.

It was sad, but he’d thought it was something he’d more or less come to peace with. Death was something that always made sense to him.

Until they started on this damn mission. Until suddenly nothing made sense and death didn’t matter anymore. When you could bury someone, watch them fall in front of you and morn them and then be sitting in the kitchen with them drinking coffee a few weeks later.

Kravitz had always known he was going to die.

He never figured he’d have to do it more than once.

He supposed he should count himself lucky, although a part of it was just his nature in their group. He managed to hold off until cycle 15. It was certainly later than most, the only one who’d yet to die besides him at this point was captain Davenport.

It was almost like the captain could tell it was coming though. That he knew sooner or later he’d end up broken and gone before the end of a cycle too. There was obviously some anxiety there. He’d started teaching Barry how to fly the ship, Magnus too. Kravitz had almost offered to learn as well, the more people with that skill the better after all. Then he’d taken a look at all of the complicated buttons and levers and knobs and thought about having to weave in and out of the tendrils of the hunger, of how everything would fail if he messed up and wasn’t able to get them out in time.

He’d quietly stepped out of the room at the thought. He’d learn eventually, but at the moment the idea filled him with way too much dread. There was no way he wouldn’t freeze up and get them all killed because of something as dumb as performance anxiety.

Still, he lasted 15 cycles. Of course some of it was because he didn’t head straight into the heart of battle. He always knew when he was hurt and could heal it, where as some of their more stubborn crew members tended to hide their injuries until it was too late.

It hadn’t been a world he’d expected to die on. He figured when his time came it’d be because of some large, vicious creature had taken him out in a bloody fight for the light. That was how a lot of the deaths went down after all. For as often as they were able to be diplomatic about the light, some creatures refused to give it up, even if it meant the whole world coming down around them.

In those cases, there was no choice but to fight.

This wasn’t that though, or at least, it didn't start out like that. It was still to get the light, so few things they did now a days didn’t have to do with that. But it wasn’t some great beast and it wasn’t in some bloody blow. Maybe that would have been better? It certainly would have been faster.

They’d be a magic user, for sure. This world was as beautiful as it was inhospitable. A large majority of the land was unable to support any sort of agriculture, made of great piles of crystals and gems and precious metals. As a result, the population was low, centered around the small pockets where food could actually grow and animals could be raised. Much of the food production was supplemented with magic, mostly conjuration and transmutation.

Taako has seemed quite enamored with the place. Not that that surprised anyone, both of the twins had always seemed a little flashy, at least once they started coming out of their shells.

It didn’t take long to realize that despite the obvious allure of the jewels, that wasn’t what truly drew Taako. They were basically worthless here, kicked around and disregarded as troublesome rocks.

Kravitz supposed he might have ended up gathering more of them than Taako had, despite the fact even than he was in this world for less time. Before he ended up falling he’d managed to gather a pretty large pile of them in his closet.

His excuse was that they were good for spell components. It was mostly an excuse though, he’d admit. His personal style wasn't quite as bright as the twins was, but he'd say it was the elf in him that liked to be just as eye catching.

Taako had seemed more taken by the transmutation magic used here. Kravitz supposed that wasn’t surprising either. It was his field of expertise, another reason why Kravitz was surprised he never ended up making the final cut for the Starblaster. That field seemed pretty invaluable for the mission after all.

Plus, Taako was a chef. It was obvious that the way the people here combined the use of transmutation with their food supply intrigued him.

No one argued when Taako had decided to stay behind with the town instead of going off for the light this cycle. Barry and Lucretia and Davenport also hung back, which was fair. They’d gotten a pretty good look at where the light had fallen this year, it hadn’t been very hard to track.

Someone else had already found it by the time they did though, and seemed to be using it’s power to transform the unyielding fields of gems into lush soil. The man who's found it seemed passionate and good-hearted. Trying his best to use this power to help the ones around him as best as he could. It was a good thing to do, it was obviously something this world struggled with, Kravitz couldn’t deny that.

But he also couldn’t deny that the whole world would be damned anyway, if they didn’t take the light with them.

The man wouldn’t hear it. Wouldn’t hear any sort of compromise. They tried to tell him he could keep it until the year was up, that they would help him with his efforts even. They wanted to help, but the light was so powerful.

Despite their best efforts, it ended up escalating. Kravitz didn’t typically stand at the front of the group for battle, but it had started as a simple negotiation, something he thought he could handle. Something he was supposed to be able to handle. He’d felt like he could have reasoned with this man, but he’d been wrong. It wasn’t the first time he’d been wrong, but this time the repercussions had landed solely on himself.

He wasn’t sure what the spell the man hit him with was. All he knew was that it felt like the strength had been completely drained from his body, and he collapsed. He’d spent most of the fight lying in a heap on the ground, not able able to get himself to stand.

They had thought he’d been dead for a moment. He only realizes that when they finally came to him at the end of the fight and had been shocked to find him still breathing.

He tried to speak, to sit up and ask what had happened, if they’d managed to subdue the man or if they’d had to kill him or what. All that he managed were some ragged coughs, and he couldn’t remember much as they frantically tried to figure out what was wrong with him.

Merle ended up casting a couple of spells, and it was at least enough to get him back to the ship and in his room. He wasn’t sure how much longer he managed to hang on for, although he found out afterwards that it was nearly three weeks. He guessed that made sense, between Merle’s healing magic fighting this enchanted disease none of them had ever dealt with before. That was the thing with going to new world after new world, there were always things they couldn’t prepare for. Things that would take them off guard and leave them struggling the pick up the pieces.

It certainly wasn’t a pleasant two and a half weeks, he could say that much. The others would check in on him, quite frequently once they were sure that it wasn’t contagious.

They must have headed back to the village where Taako was spending his time at some point. He remembered Magnus assuring him one day while he was lying in bed that they got the light, no need to worry about that. This world would survive, for whatever amount of survival counted.

Kravitz only figured they headed back because he remembered Taako showing up a couple times, mostly to try and get him to eat. As weak as he was, the food still tasted delicious. Even if it left his stomach sour more often than not.

He wasn’t sure when exactly he ended up losing it, but when he reformed the next cycle they assured him they’d all seen it coming. There was apparently at least two days where he hadn’t managed to wake up before finally giving up the ghost.

Kravitz tried to put into words what dying had felt like. For something that had been a core tenant of his life for so long, he thought actually experiencing it would feel like… more.

He was a bard, sure his focus was more on the melodies of the music than the words that accompanied them, but he certainly didn’t ignore the words completely. Something that huge, something he’d been thinking about for the past fifteen years as a looming inevitability, he should have been able to write soliloquies around it. Should be waxing poetics for the next fifteen cycles, to the point where he annoyed all his crew mates.

The rest of them always had something to say when they came back after all, even if it wasn’t as poetic. Even if a lot of it were jokes, a way to try and cope with the horror of everything they were facing.

All Kravitz could do when asked if he was okay though, if he’d been in too much pain the previous cycle, if there was anything he could have done better, was shrug. Assure them it was fine, they’d done their best.

Dying was just… so much more uneventful than he’d ever imagined.

He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about that.

All he could really tell was that some seal had broken. He’d been so worried about dying before that point. Had worried that it would feel wrong, sick, dying more than once. Profaning that thing his mother had impressed on his as so sacred.

He wasn’t all that afraid of it now though. It had hurt, sure. Everyone else had been sad, sure. He knew how hard it hit losing someone early in a cycle, he wasn’t about to throw himself away without thinking of that.

But he wasn’t scared anymore.

Once the usual catch up was done Kravitz had started getting ready to prepare for this new cycle. It was old hat at this point, taking a look down at the world, figuring out if it was populated, the kind of climate they were dealing with, if there were people were they hostile or not. They only ever had a day or so to get the lay of the land before the light shot down and they’d have to begin the search once again.

“Hey,” a hand had grabbed him by the arm as he’d stared heading out to the deck, and when he looked Taako was frowning at him with… something. It was honestly pretty hard to read. “You got a sec to talk bubula?” he asked, and there was definitely something guarded there.

Kravitz thought about the last time when Taako had died, and how he hadn’t exactly acted well. He wouldn’t say they were best friends or anything, but you don’t go over a decade of living through the apocalypse with someone without getting close. He didn’t think his death was anything like what Taako and Lup had done though, so he wasn’t sure what the issue might be.

“I suppose so, is something wrong?” he asked, stepping away from the deck. Taako didn’t say anything, starting off down the hall, so Kravitz followed him. They ended up in the closest lab room, and it had certainly been in use since the last time Kravitz had been in here. Which wasn’t surprising, they would have had a full three months with the light when he died.

When he died. Even though the act had been so much less than he’d expected that was still an utterly bizarre thing to think.

“Is everything okay Taako?” Kravitz asked once the door was shut behind them, kind of concerned about why he’d drag them off alone like this.

“I mean, that’s what I was about to ask grim. Like, are you good?” he asked, and Kravitz frowned at that.

“Yes? I mean, you’ve died before too Taako, sure mine might’ve been a bit um, slower, but it doesn’t like, hold over. I’m alright,” he said, trying to be reassuring. He supposed it was probably hard, having to watch over him and realizing that he wasn’t going to make it this cycle. It hadn’t been his choice to lay down and die, but having it dragged out like that. He guessed it must have been sad.

“Yeah, no shit I know you’re not sick anymore. That’s not what I’m asking,” Taako said, which took Kravitz by surprise.

“Uh, then what are you asking? I’m kind of lost,” he said, because he was. Taako sighed, looking frustrated.

“It’s- fucking hell, I shoulda just let Barry handle this. Dude, you’re acting weird. You talked about death like, ya know, it was a thing that’s important to you. Now, you fucking die and you’re acting like it was an inconvenient nap,” Taako said, and Kravitz blinked. He stood there for a moment, not really sure what to say to that.

“I uh, I didn’t realize it was that obvious,” he admitted and Taako rolled his eyes.

“You’re an easy read handsome. Your ears betray you,” Taako said, a hint of amusement in his voice. Kravitz reached up and felt how his ears were pointed down and laughed awkwardly.

“I used to be better at that. You and Lup have rubbed off on me,” he said, Taako giving him an offended look at that.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” he said, his own ears flicking back in annoyance as if specifically to betray him. Taako only looked even more frustrated at that, which got Kravitz to laugh even more. “Yeah yeah, have a fucking chuckle. You gonna get around to telling me what the fuck’s up or do I actually got get Barold on your ass?” Taako asked, and Kravitz forced himself to be serious again at that.

“No don’t- you don’t have to get Barry involved. He’ll just look all concerned and tell me that he’s here if I need to talk about anything until I feel guilty and say something,” Kravitz said. Taako smirked some at that, nodding in agreement.

“Exactly, so what gives?” Taako asked, and Kravitz sighed. He started drumming his fingers against a nearby counter as he tried to find the words.

“It’s just… you’re not wrong, about death being something that’s well, it feels weird to say it’s important to me, but I guess that’s how it is? It’s supposed to be this great, constant equalizer. No one can run from it forever. I don’t think I ever had delusions that I’d have some grand, meaningful death, but it’s just… it felt like there was supposed to be more. I’m acting like it was an inconvenient nap because that’s all it felt like,” Kravitz said, the words tumbling out what he got started.

“I mean, what were you expecting?” Taako asked, and despite the words the question didn’t feel mocking. It sounded like he was genuinely curious.

“Just… something. I don’t know what, I guess it’s dumb. I can’t even remember when I died though. I know you guys said I was asleep but I just… I feel like I never stopped sleeping,” Kravitz said, and Taako nodded, a serious look on his face.

“You think it would’ve been better if you were awake?” he asked, and Kravitz laughed, shrugging.

“Maybe? It’s a little morbid, but I suppose it’s not like it probably won’t happen eventually,” he said, and there that was again. This lack of permanence, this lack of importance. It still felt wrong, deep in his chest.

“That’s true,” Taako said, looking a little awkward now. Kravitz supposed that made sense, he’d honestly been a bit surprised that Taako had actually been the one to pull him aside for this. He’s like to think they’d gotten close after all of this time, he cared about Taako. Still, he knew he wasn’t too comfortable with these kinds of talks.

“I really am fine though, it’s just a bit strange is all. I guess I’m not as good at bouncing back as the rest of you,” he said, and Taako shrugged.

“It’s cool man, take your time. We’ve all got shit we need to deal with,” Taako said, and Kravitz nodded.

“Well, thank you. For talking to me about this, and um, everything else. I uh, I don’t remember a lot, I was pretty out of it, but I know you all tried your best to keep me going and I’m sorry for putting that on you,” he said. Even though sometimes Taako was hard to read that certainly wasn’t the case always. Right now, the embarrassment on his face was obvious.

“Dude you don’t gotta thank us for that you were literally dying. I mean I guess we coulda just fucking offed you as soon as it looked like you weren’t gonna get better and save the energy but it wasn’t fucking- we didn’t even do that much. It’s not like we could even do much, you just laid around until you beefed it,” Taako insisted. Kravitz was smiling wide now, and it took a moment before Taako noticed.

“Holy shit, you’re the worst. This is what I get for trying to be a good friend for once,” Taako said, turning and starting out of the lab. Kravitz followed after him, still grinning.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t say anything,” Kravitz said, and Taako groaned.

“It’s your damn face! Lup was right!” Taako called back. Kravitz stopped following at that, having to take a moment to hold himself up against the wall as he laughed. He could hear Taako grumbling off until he eventually went out onto the deck, and it was only then that Kravitz started being able to pull himself together. He was still smiling though, and it was so strange.

He knew they always came back to life after dying. He knew that none of them had really changed with their deaths, no more than they had with any of the other traumatic experiences they’d all been thought at least.

Somehow, he was still surprised at feeling so alive so soon after dying.

——

After 16 tries at this, you’d think they’d be getting better at it. Taako supposed they were, for a matter of better. They were still getting the light more often than not. They had a decent number of cycles where no one died. The only time they tended to have more than one die a cycle was when he and Lup went down. Taako figured that didn’t really count though. They’d always been a packaged deal, that wasn’t changing anytime soon.

There were some worlds where they just had to accept the L. Do whatever they could to keep the hunger from getting stronger, and try better next time. He didn’t see what was so difficult about that. They had a simple mission. It wasn’t the one that the job had started off with, but it was a fucking simple one.

Find the light. If they couldn’t do that, get out of there and fight another day. Rinse and fucking repeat baby.

When Taako had first made himself known as his own person on this ship, he’d still felt like he had to take a backseat. He wasn’t supposed to be here, not really. He gave up that opportunity, and he’d do it a hundred times over for Lup.

This was ridiculous though. He didn’t know how everyone was forgetting the fucking core mission here.

“Why am I the only pragmatist with you people? That’s happening anyway!” he shouted, frustrated and gripping his wand. He knew how Lup was, she was the better person between them. Sometimes they couldn’t afford to be good people. He’d have to remind her of that, whenever they were kids and Lup felt guilty about the amount they had to lie and cheat and steal.

And it looked like he’d have to remind her of that now, when it wasn’t just this one world on the line.

“Are we going to burn every world that we can’t save? Just to keep the hunger from getting its hands on it? How does that make us any better than them?” Lup fought back. Taako wasn’t surprised, he knew the kind of mood she was in and she didn’t back down when she got like this easy.

“If we don’t- if we let the hunger get stronger, doesn’t it make it harder to save the next world? I mean, we’re still figuring this out,” Magnus said, and Taako felt himself relax some knowing someone else was on his side here. Sure there was Davenport too, but Taako had noticed a pattern over the past 17 cycles. Davenport knew how they needed to make hard decisions, they needed to cut their loses where they could.

Taako had a good feeling about him from the beginning, which was rare for someone in authority. So far though, Davenport hadn’t proved him wrong.

The rest of the crew though, as much as Taako loved them, wasn't good at it. Was too damn bleeding heart to shut themselves off and make the tough decisions.

“I’m sorry, but I’m with Lup here. It’s- you guys can’t be serious, right? We can’t just go killing everyone here because it’s more convenient,” Kravitz said, stepping up with Lup. Taako knew that things had definitely gotten better between the two, after seventeen years it’d be pretty dumb to still be holding onto old grudges.

He could still see the moment of surprise on her face at Kravitz taking her side. Taako figured the same flash of confusion went across his face as well, but for a different reason.

Sure, they weren’t best friends, but Taako had felt like they’d gotten pretty close. Especially these last few cycles.

“I thought you were all ‘death is inevitable’ and shit? Weren’t these people supposed to die a long time ago anyway? And they’re going to die when the hunger comes. What’s the point?” Taako pressed. He didn’t get why they had to make this so difficult.

“It’s- that’s different,” Kravitz insisted.

“We don’t know what happens to the worlds consumed by the hunger Taako. They could still be alive in there! We could save them. This is the point where we get to decide who we are. I refuse to let us be the type of people who could destroy an entire world for any reason. This- this isn’t us! This can’t be how we do this!” Lup insisted, standing firm in front of the giant crystal that was the source of all of this arguing. Kravitz stood next to her, looking just as unmoving in his stance.

There was something Taako really didn’t like about having the two of them look at him like that. With Lup it was obvious why, of course he didn’t enjoy his sister being genuinely pissed at him.

It was a surprise having that same uncomfortable feeling with Kravitz though.

They kept arguing for a bit longer, Taako wasn’t sure how long. Long enough for him to think of a third option finally. Something that would keep the hunger from getting this power but wouldn’t result in killing all of the souls.

There was still an air of unease as they left that world behind, Taako holding the now much smaller crystal close to his chest.

Lup still managed to worm a smile onto his face though. That wasn’t a surprise.

Once they reset, Taako was pulled away from where they were all standing together in the center of the deck and back into the closet. He let out a sigh, sitting there for a moment and letting his head thump against the wall behind him.

It wasn’t a big deal, but it was always a shitty way to start off a new cycle. A constant repeating reminder that he wasn't actually supposed to be here.

Taako took his time getting up this round. No one had died the precious cycle, there wasn’t anything pressing like that. Besides, he had to find a safe place to put this crystal, now that he’d made it his personal responsibility.

He guessed he was taking a bit too long for the others though, a knock at the door after some time. He’d expect it was Lup if it wasn’t for the fact that they actually knocked.

“Sup?” Taako called, finally finding a large jewelry box that seemed good enough and dumping it out. The door opened, Kravitz peeking in.

“Just making sure you’re okay,” he said, and Taako nodded, placing the crystal inside of the box.

“We’re all good here homie. Just making sure our friends in the rock got a place where they’re not gonna fall off a shelf and get smashed or whatever,” Taako said. Kravitz seemed to accept that, staring at him, something clearly on his mind.

“Thank you for that, by the way,” he said after a moment.

“Well, you and Lup wouldn’t let me destroy it,” Taako said, faking whining. It got a laugh out of Kravitz though, who didn’t seem to buy it for a second.

“I’m very sorry for keeping you from murdering hundreds of souls,” Kravitz said, rolling his eyes and not meaning it in the slightest. Taako snorted, amused despite himself. They got the best outcome that they could with what they were dealing with. It was alright to joke about it now.

“I mean it though Taako. It’s just- you’re incredible,” Kravitz said, the sincerity in his voice knocking Taako off guard. He stood there for a moment, words not coming to him and his ears betraying him with how hot they felt.

“Natch,” he said finally, wanting to throw something at Kravitz’s stupid face when he started fucking smirking again. “Let’s get back to the others before I take this damn rock back out and smack you in the face with it.

“Please don’t hit me in the face with a gem containing the souls of approximately 150 people,” Kravitz said, not sounding like he took the threat very seriously. Which was fair, Taako wouldn’t actually hit him with this particular crystal.

He followed Kravitz back out to the deck, and there was still a heavy air hanging over them all, but they had shit to do. They had a new cycle to prepare for.

There was something different settled over all of them now. Despite how dark it had gotten, Taako figured it was a good thing.

The one thing they knew for sure was that they weren’t getting to that point again.

Chapter Text

Something had changed after that year with the robots. A few things had, actually. Of course there was that line drawn in the sand, that moment where they decided a limit they wouldn’t break. There was definitely some comfort in that decision, a slight difference in how they interacted with the worlds they continued to visit. Kravitz couldn’t really put words to it, but he was finding it hard to put words to a lot of things lately.

That was the big change, the one all of them had shared together. There was another one though, that was quite a bit more personal to Kravitz.

He guessed it was kind of silly. It certainly wasn’t like he didn’t know Taako was an incredible and talented person before this. It odd to say it took him a while to come out of his shell, but that’s really how it had been. Still, they had already become pretty close at that point, at least in Kravitz’s mind.

Still, Kravitz supposed it was pretty dumb on his part, taking seventeen years before noticing he’d started to develop a crush. He’d blame it on the fact that after having the same year on repeat for so long, having to do the same things over and over again while still adjusting to entirely new scenarios, time started to lose its meaning.

He had noticed it now though. He’d been incredibly frustrated with Taako at first, with how callous he was being about sacrificing that world. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the logic, because he did. It made sense, it was the safe option.

It felt wrong though. It was wrong. Yes, they’d killed before, but it was always to get the light or protect themselves. They did it because there was no other choice, because it was the only way to save whatever world they were on at the time.

That would have only been to keep their enemy from getting stronger. He knew that would possibly keep more from dying in the future, but if they were strong enough to defeat it in the first place that wouldn’t even be an issue. They weren’t though, not yet. They couldn’t sacrifice those people because they hadn’t figured out the solution yet.

Kravitz hadn’t expected any to be able to think of a compromise. Taako had though, and he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Taako had always been intelligent and resourceful and creative. Not that the rest of the crew wasn’t, they wouldn’t have gotten as far as they had or survived as well if they weren’t all working together, of course.

But as Kravitz watched as Taako carefully shrunk the crystal down so that the ones who chose to flee with them would have a chance for life again someday, there was something else there.

He supposed those feelings had been there for a while, he’d just never let himself stop to really think about them before. They were a bit too glaring to ignore anymore though. He couldn’t tell himself that he looked at Taako the same way he looked at Magnus or Barry. He cared about all of them, but this was different.

Of course, he didn’t actually bring any of this up with anyone. It wasn’t like they were in the best place to think about relationships. He certainly wouldn’t want to pressure Taako into anything with the idea that the eight of them were the only options any of them had for anything long lasting. Kravitz didn’t want this to happen because Taako figured he might as well settle for what was available.

Plus, this wasn’t a relationship that Kravitz could cut and run from if things went south. It’d be best if he didn’t completely fuck it up on his first impulse.

So he was just trying to be normal about it. It wasn’t even that hard, since at some point he supposed normal for him and Taako had turned the slightest bit flirty. He figured that was just how they ended up playing off of each other and it didn’t actually mean anything from Taako’s end.

If it did mean something then, well, there wasn’t anything stopping Taako from making that known.

The last few cycles after the robot world had been tough, but two out of three cycles they’d managed to get the light.

Davenport had died on the cycle where they hadn’t, and with that all of them had died at least once.

This cycle though, cycle twenty one, seemed to be a welcomed and needed break. They had the light, and they were just… resting. This world was an empty, calm beach. While Kravitz wasn’t the biggest fan of the water he could appreciate the scenery. Walking up and down the beach collecting pretty shells and such was relaxing.

Or at least it was before Merle had started also scouring the beach for little odds and ends to turn into craft projects.

It might have somehow dissolved into a competition over who could gather up the most stuff. A competition that probably would have resulted in a very depleted beach if Davenport hadn’t put a preemptive stop to it. Which was fair, but it still left Kravitz was little to do but practice his music.

Or at least, it did before an idea came to him. It was probably a dumb idea, but he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

He was pretty sure Lup didn’t hate his guts anymore at least. So at least she probably wouldn’t get too pissed off at him.

——

Lup was sunbathing on the deck of the ship, trying to relax as much as one could when trapped in an endless cycle of repeating apocalypses. She figured she was doing a pretty good job of it, since she was almost asleep.

After twenty years of running and struggling to survive with little time to rest, no one could deny that they all needed some fucking r and r. Taako had gotten bored of sitting around doing nothing after about a week, which was like him. She figured she could last a good while longer doing nothing but kicking her feet up and absolutely not trying to pick the arcane lock Davenport had put on the lab door to keep any of them from working this year.

Maybe cap’n’port had found her fiddling with it once or twice so far in the first month they’d been here. That was only because she was sure she’d left like, a hair tie in there.

She was relaxing now though. She was relaxing and was dozing off and wasn’t planning on moving from this spot for another couple of hours, minimum.

“Um, excuse me, Lup?”

Oooor not.

“If Merle’s doing another gifting ceremony I’m asleep,” Lup said, not bothering to even open her eyes.

“No, that’s not- no,” Kravitz said, and Lup put on a very put upon sigh before opening her eyes. With an exaggerated amount of effort she pushed herself up so that she was sitting up in the reclined chair she had dragged out here. When she looked at Kravitz the dude looked nervous, which wasn’t entirely uncommon for their interactions. They were friends now, family even, considering everything they’d been through.

She still had fun fucking with him though, and it be kind of hard at times to tell when she was joking or not.

“Alright then, what’s happening? Taako fuck himself up trying to stand on a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean?” she asked, and she was a little relieved when Kravitz shook his head.

“No it’s- I actually wanted to ask you a favor? Not right now, unless you wanted to I suppose, but maybe later if you’re not busy,” Kravitz said. Which, that was an intriguing one. Sure, it wasn’t like Kravitz hadn’t ever asked her for a favor before, but those were usually things for their mission. They weren’t allowed to be working on that this cycle though.

Unless the favor was for her to help him break into the lab. Which she wouldn’t strictly be against, but she would have expected Barry to be the one to break first.

“Well, considering we’ve got nothing but free time, why not?” she said with a shrug.

“Could you teach me how to cook?” Kravitz asked, and Lup felt her eyebrows raise up in surprise as a grin slowly spread across her face.

“Oh, so you wanna learn how to cook?” she asked, not bothering to mask the delight in her voice. It only seemed to make Kravitz even more nervous, which she wasn’t complaining about. She truly did appreciate him as a friend, and she could admit now that they were more similar than she would have ever thought when they first took off on this mission.

But as her friend, she liked fucking with him.

“I mean, it seems like a useful skill to have, and I just don’t really have a lot else to do. I’m not all that fond of the water and Merle keeps stealing all the good shells for his craft projects,” Kravitz said, sounding more than a little bitter at that last thing which got a snort out of Lup.

“I’d ask Taako, but him and Barry have been spending a lot of time together out in the water. Honestly it seems good for both of them so I didn’t want to like, interrupt that,” he added. Lup nodded at that, her amused grin shifting into something a little more sincere.

“Yeah, let those two nerds have their fun,” she said, and then she did a quick check of the time. It was too early to start on dinner, and she’d already had lunch before coming out here. Still, she could work with this.

Pushing herself up to her feet, Lup started heading towards the inside of the ship and the kitchen with determination. “Alright, how much experience you working with fiddler on the roof? What’s our baseline,” she asked, Kravitz sprinting to catch up with her.

“Wait, are we doing this now?” he asked, and Lup nodded, starting to throw some dishes that had been left out into the sink. She’d get Taako to clean those later.

“No better time to start than the present,” she said, and Kravitz reluctantly nodded.

“I suppose that’s true,” he said, and then seemed to think over her question. “I mean, I’ve watched you and Taako cooking before. I make myself simple things, like um, grilled cheese… oh! I make myself eggs a lot,” he said, and that was about what Lup expected. She’d lived around these dorks for long enough to know how much they each got into the kitchen.

“You throw some cheddar cheese into burned scrambled eggs, I’d hardly call that cooking babe,” she said.

“I like them a little brown,” Kravitz defended.

“And I like eating gummy bears with spoonfuls of peanut butter, we all have our flaws,” she replied easily.

“Aren’t you and Taako allergic to peanut butter?”

“We all have our flaws,” she repeated a little more forcefully, which got an amused snort out of Kravitz.

Since it was too early for dinner Lup figured they could make a snack, test the waters before they got into the real cooking. They had a lot of seafood on hand, considering the world they were in.

Showing Kravitz through the steps of making a simple spicy tuna wrap wasn’t as disastrous as she would have expected. Kravitz’s end result wasn’t exactly spectacular either, which wasn't a surprise. Definitely more of a spicy tuna pile once he tried to eat it and the wrap completely fell apart. It was pretty close to the right taste though, but that was only because Kravitz double checked with her on each step obsessively.

Taako had always had more of a knack and joy for teaching than she did, whether he would admit it or not. Even still, it started being a thing. Whenever it was Lup’s turn to cook she’d find Kravitz and drag him into the kitchen. If he wanted to learn how to cook then she was gonna teach him how to cook, and sometimes that meant being the one who got to peal a fuckton of potatoes for her.

It actually ended up being kind of fun. She had figured her and Krav had already moved past any weird issues they’d had in the past. They didn’t really hang out with just the two of them much before this though.

God, past her would be so pissed finding out the dude was actually funny.

She wouldn’t say that Kravitz ever got as good as her or Taako at the whole cooking say, not even she could work that kind of miracle. Still, by the time they were closing in on the end of the year he was actually pretty damn decent on his own in the kitchen. He’d even started tentatively experimenting with his own recipes. He was better at cooking than baking, but so was Lup. Taako was the one who’d really excelled at the desert side of meals between the two of them.

Reaching over, Lup tried a piece of the salmon he’d just finished cooking and nodded.

“Not bad. Next time me and Taako beef it y’all won’t be stuck eating cold cereal and sandwiches all year,” she said. Kravitz frowned at that, which wasn’t too surprising. He was never too happy whenever the topic of any of them dying came up, which was fair enough.

“Yep, you figured it out, that was the only reason I wanted to learn how to cook,” Kravitz said, sarcasm clear in his voice. Or at least, it was now that she knew what he sounded like when he was being sarcastic. “Oh, by the way, can you teach me how to make ceviche? I had some of the shrimp ceviche you had in the fridge the other day and it was great,” he added.

“I’ve never made ceviche, but sure,” Lup answered, going to check on the rice.

“You made ceviche. It was really good,” Kravitz insisted, but Lup shook her head.

“I never made ceviche, I don’t know why you would say that,” she said, and normally she’d be fucking with him but in this case she was being totally honest.

“No you- I ate- were those just raw shrimp I was eating out of the fridge?” Kravitz asked. Lup was about to fucking tear into this revelation when Taako walked into the ship from the deck, still looking pretty damp from being in the water.

“Oh shit, is food done?” he asked, heading directly towards them and grabbing a piece of salmon.

“Basically. Go tell the others before eating, lazybones,” Lup said. Taako ignored her, trying a piece of the salmon he’d grabbed. Lup could tell that he was really considering the taste before he spoke.

“Well shit, this is actually pretty damn good. I’m gonna have to steal your sous chef at some point,” he said, grinning.

“Take him if that’s what you want. I certainly don’t have any need for him, my shit’s baller no matter who I’m cooking with,” she said, very amused at the fake-hurt expression on Kravitz’s face at that.

“Lup, I thought this meant something to you,” he said. She smiled coolly as she moved across the kitchen to go check on the vegetables.

“Sorry babe, hate to break it to you like this but cha’ girl is a free agent in the kitchen,” she said.

“That settles it, you’re my cooking buddy now. Lup had her chance and she blew it,” Taako said, sounding very pleased with this. She could tell Kravitz was having a hard time not laughing at all of this as well.

“Well, I certainly can’t complain about that,” Kravitz said, more sincerity in his voice than Lup was expecting. When she looked at Taako his smile was honest and open in a way she hadn’t noticed before.

“Ko, are you gonna go tell the others dinner’s done or what?” she asked, and Taako groaned, taking another bite of salmon before nodding.

“Yeah fine, I should probably let Barry out of the water at least,” he said, starting back towards the deck.

“Wait, you left Barry out in the ocean by himself?” Lup asked, and Taako shrugged.

“Hey, he’s great at swimming now. I’m sure it’s fine,” he said.

“Taako!” Lup shouted, indignant. He didn’t answer her though, running down the gangplank off the deck. Kravitz was snorting with laughter besides her, seeming just as amused with this as Taako was. Lup rolled her eyes, and he seemed to get a hold of himself after a moment.

“I seriously want to thank you Lup. I know things didn’t start out great between us, but I’m so glad that’s in the past now. So I guess just… thanks,” Kravitz said, and Lup could tell that he was being pretty damn sincere and open right now. She was watching him though, followed along where his soft gaze was staring out the ship windows to where Taako and Barry were out on the shore.

The way he’d been looking at Taako a moment ago flashed in her mind, and it suddenly clicked into place.

“Oh my god,” she blurted out, Kravitz’s head whipping around to her.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked, looking somewhat panicked. It was fair, that was not a normal reaction to his little heartfelt speech.

“You’re fucking in love with my brother!” she shouted, and she was pretty sure they were the only two on the ship right now.

“What!?” Kravitz shouted right back, looking around like he was scared someone might hear them. “That’s not- I’m not- nooo, of course I don’t- Taako? Why would I? That’s- fuck,” he sputtered out, not sounding the least bit believable. His already dark skin was even darker after this year on the beach, so Lup couldn’t tell how badly he was blushing right now. She could see the way his half-elf ears were sticking up in panicked embarrassment.

“Holy shit. Holy shit, how long? I cannot believe I didn’t notice until now! Are you going to tell him? When are you gonna tell him?” she pressed, because this was her whole fucking day now. This was her whole week.

“I’m not- Lup fuck they’re going to come back soon and if you say anything I swear on the Raven Queen herself that I will use every spellslot I have to cast silence on you for the rest of this cycle,” Kravitz threatened. From his panicked desperation she fully believed it. When she glanced back at the window she could see Taako and Barry slowly making their way up the beach, happily prodding at each other.

“Fine. But we are talking about this later, Mr. Maestro,” she said. Kravitz groaned but nodded.

“Yes, okay fine, but don’t you dare say anything to Taako,” he insisted.

“Just relax, I won’t say anything,” she told him, and she meant it too. Kravitz seemed to realize that, relaxing every so slightly. The dude was still a bundle of nerves all throughout dinner, which was kind of hilarious. No one knew what the issue was, but no one directly brought it up either.

Lup didn’t draw any attention to it or comment any though. Instead she chastised Taako for leaving Barry out in the ocean and burst out laughing when Magnus got a reflexive slap from Lucretia when he tried jumping out from behind her. He then happily declared that Luce was the only one prepared for attacks at any moment.

Lup would have plenty of time to talk to Kravitz about everything later after all.

She was so glad they were friends now. She could give him as much shit for this as she wanted.

———

Dear gods, that had not gone how he’d been hoping in the slightest.

Not the cooking, the cooking had actually ended up being pretty great. He definitely was a lot better than he’d ever expected to be, and he genuinely enjoyed Lup’s company.

They had more in common than he ever would have expected. He had no idea that Lup could play the violin, although she still refused to actually play anything in front of him. They’d both started transitioning at the same age. They had an incredibly similar code of morals. They both liked those black licorice candies that Taako hated. It was a bunch of both little and big things, and Kravitz was genuinely happy to have her as a friend now.

He was also dying, because having her as a friend meant having someone very perceptive of the way he acted around Taako as a friend.

He should have realized that she would have caught on fast, but he didn’t expect it being that fast. His only solace was that she’d promised not to say anything, and so far she’d upheld that promise.

Sure, it’d only been a few hours so far. They’d had dinner and she hadn’t said anything, and then Merle had decided to give out some more gifts. As soon as it was over with Kravitz had rushed off to his room, because he was very done for the day.

A part of him was expecting Lup to come bursting into his room at some point that night. He was left pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen, and he managed to sleep mostly undisturbed throughout the night.

Kravitz supposed he should have expected her to burst into his room bright and early the next morning.

“Rise and shine loverboy we’re having conversations today,” Lup said, thankfully in a voice quiet enough that no one outside the room could hear. He hoped, at least. Kravitz buried his head deeper into his pillow at that.

“Can we not do this first thing in the morning? Can’t we at least like, have breakfast first?” he asked, pretty sure it would be a fruitless endeavor.

“Sure, I’ll make you some shrimp ceviche since you enjoyed it so much,” she said. Kravitz groaned, and he’d been hoping the one good thing that came out of that disaster of a conversation was that Lup would have forgotten about the ceviche thing. Apparently he was not so lucky.  

“No. Don’t do that,” he said bluntly, pushing himself up so that he was sitting cross legged on his bed. Lup had already dragged the chair over from his desk so that she was sitting and facing him, a very pleased grin on her face. “We can- I don’t even know what you want to talk about here. There’s not a lot to say,” he added, rubbing his eyes and trying to wake up enough to actually deal with this.

“So I was right?” she asked, and Kravitz sighed, nodding despite an incredible amount of reluctance.

“I mean, I figured that one was pretty obvious,” he said, running a hand down his face.

“Yeah it was super obvious,” Lup agreed.

“So, what? Is this like, a shovel talk? Because I can tell you it’s a little preemptive for that and entirely unnecessary,” he said. The look of amusement on Lup’s face softened into something a bit more serious and genuine.

“Nah, I know you’re already terrified of me enough to know not to go hurting my bro,” she said and Kravitz snorted. She wasn’t wrong. “Seriously though, how long has this been a thing?” she asked.

“Um, concretely? Around the end of the robot world,” Kravitz told her. Lup’s eyebrows raised in surprise at that, although Kravitz wasn’t entirely sure why.

“Huh. I guess that cycle was pretty big for a lot of reasons,” she mumbled, and Kravitz shrugged. “That was four years ago though, you haven’t said anything yet?” she asked, and Kravitz quickly shook his head.

“I mean, no, of course not. This is all- it’s not exactly the best environment to be starting a relationship in. I don’t want Taako feeling like he should because we don’t really have that many options,” he said. Kravitz was surprised by the look of genuine understanding on Lup’s face.

“Yeah, that’s- like you don’t want to ruin everything if it doesn’t work out, right?” she asked, and Kravitz nodded emphatically at that.

“Right, no matter what happens we’re in this together now. Changing a relationship like that after twenty years of it being the same is a big deal. I’m not gonna go confessing like an idiot and risk making shit awkward for everyone,” he said.

“Exactly! Especially when like, you don’t even know if the feelings are mutual. Like, obviously he cares about you, but we all care about each other,” she said, gesturing a little wildly as she spoke.

“Yeah,” Kravitz agreed, genuinely surprised at how well Lup understood this. “Sometimes it seems like there might be something there? But it’s hard to tell what’s a joke and what’s serious and it might all just be wishful thinking,” he said.

“No reason to go ruining a good thing because your heart is a fucking idiot who won’t listen to your brain about how there’s no way it won’t go wrong at some point! I mean, best case scenario is he politely rejects you. That way no one else finds out you ever made a move in the first place and it’s only awkward between the two of you. Then maybe in ten years he’ll forget and think you’ve moved on, even if you haven't,” Lup said, kind of starting to rant now.

“That’s… yeah,” Kravitz said, his words kind of trailing off some. It wasn’t like Lup wasn’t saying things he’d thought of himself, mostly while lying sleepless in bed. It was strange hearing those thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth though.

“And if you do end up dating, how long will it even last? A couple cycles? A decade, if you’re like, really lucky? We’ve been at this thing for twenty years now, and we’re nowhere close to having it figured out. What if he feels trapped and doesn’t break up because he knows it’ll be bad for everyone involved? What if I end up feeling trapped? What kind of idiot would-”

“Lup,” Kravitz cut in, quickly realizing what was happening here. She also seemed to realize the rant she’d just gone on. “Is there- are you in love with someone on this ship?” he asked, not quite able to keep the amusement and surprise out of his voice.

“I could kill you, right here, right now.”

“No one dies on the beach cycle.”

“Damn it,” Lup muttered, slumping back dramatically in her chair. “If you spill Taako will know within seconds, you hear?” she said, and Kravitz chuckled as he nodded.

“We have each other at mutual ransom, it’s fine,” he said. Kravitz had no intention of saying anything against Lup’s will even if she couldn’t easily do the same to him, but he was pretty sure they both felt a little bit safer with this assurance. “So um, who… wait no, I can figure this out,” Kravitz said, eliciting another groan from Lup.

“I’m not giving you that satisfaction, it’s Barry,” Lup said. Kravitz frowned a little at that, only because it did cut the wind out of his sails some for guessing.

“I was going to say Barry,” he muttered, which got a snort out of Lup. Kravitz felt himself smiling after a moment, and Lup was grinning as well. It was pretty ridiculous, but considering everything the two of them were pretty damn ridiculous too.

Without even looking over from staring up at the ceiling, Lup stretched out her arm and held a loose fist up in his direction.

“Lovestruck idiots?” she asked. Kravitz laughed, quickly reaching out and bumping her fist with his.

“Lovestruck idiots.”

Chapter Text

Taako had never missed the beach world as much as he did now.

This planet was so fucking cold.

It wasn’t the biggest deal in the planar verse, they’d been to planets with rough winters before. This wasn’t just a winter though, this was a constantly snowed over and icy hellscape. The life that did manage to survive here was sparse and adapted for the temperature.

Taako and Lup had never been big fans of the cold. The cold meant struggling to find shelter so that they wouldn’t get frostbite in the snow. It meant Lup struggling to teach herself evocation magic so that they could have a source of heat when all of the wood was wet and frozen with ice. It meant stealing extra clothes they couldn’t afford so that they had something to bundle up in and it meant being on their best behavior in a caravan so that they wouldn’t get kicked to the side of the road.

So Taako had taken one look out as the bright white, pristine world as they landed the Starblaster down, and promptly turned back around.

“Well, you guys can have fun, cha boy will be back in my room under as many blankets as possible. Lemme know if you find the light, good luck my dudes,” he said. He wasn’t entirely surprised when Magnus reached out and grabbed him, but he still wasn’t quick enough to avoid the huge dude. Taako huffed as he was forced to stay on the deck and start helping with the usual work for looking over a new world. It was snowing lightly, but there was no doubt that after a good amount of time in this world the deck would be covered in fluffy frozen fuckery too.

It was stupid, Taako didn’t see what they really needed his help with. There didn’t end up being much to go over on this world. It seemed like the hardest thing for finding the light would be picking it out among the already blinding white of the rest of the snow.

Whatever though, as long as no one forced him to go out on a fucking snowbound trek for the light, he was good. Lup seemed to be of a similar mind, giving Mags and Barry pats on the back and smiling brightly as she told em to make sure and pack warm.

And yeah, once they managed to track the light down to a pretty solid area the hard work was combing through the rolling hills of white to find wherever the damn thing got buried.

They had a good six months to work through the area and find it though. Plenty of time that no one would need ol’ Taako’s urgent help. As long as he had any say in it, he was staying right on this ship and he wasn’t leaving until they crossed over into the next plane thank you very much.

Or at least, that was his intention.

“Are you gonna give us a hand with looking for the light today?” Kravitz asked for fucking, probably the third time this week. Taako looked up from where he was curled up on a couch they had out in the common room that overlooked the deck. He had a blanket wrapped around him and a book he’d picked up from a previous cycle on some pretty interesting arcane theory.

With a blunt expression Taako lifted his hands up from where they were under the blanket and slowly clapped them.

“You got this my dude, go find that light. Go be that light, the light in all our lives, ya know. Another day another dollar, am I right? You feeling inspired enough yet or should I go on?” Taako asked, earning a laugh of out Kravitz. That was pretty satisfying, but that happened to be a thing Taako was actively trying not to think about lately.

“You know if you told me you were interested in learning some bardic skills I’d be happy to teach you,” Kravitz offered, and Taako snorted at that.

“Nah, Lulu’s the music nerd in this family,” he said, even though he figured Kravitz already knew that. Him and Lup had been a lot closer lately, ever since they started hanging out during the beach year. That was about three cycles ago, they were on number 24 now. The last two hadn’t been the greatest either. Magnus ended up dying for this third fucking time one year, and the other year Barry died for the first time that wasn’t his own goddamn fault.

This year was looking like it’d be a pretty clean one though, as long as they didn’t bungle anything while escaping the hunger.

Lup and Kravitz getting along had been something nice in those cycles though. It wasn’t like Taako could claim he didn’t care about the two of them a whole fucking lot. The fact that Lup felt like it was Kravitz’s fault that he hadn’t been on the mission in the first place had always sat wrong for him. He was glad that shit was behind them.

“And what? Are you saying I’m not inspiring enough as is?” Taako said, realizing how distracted he was getting and driving his mind back to the topic at hand.

“Of course not,” Kravitz said, and Taako rolled his eyes at that, feeling like it was a little less than sincere. Then Kravitz lifted up one of Taako’s hats he hadn’t realized he’d been holding behind the couch. “By the way, you left this in the lab,” he said, holding it out for him.

“Oh, thanks my dude,” Taako said, quickly taking it and flipping the hat onto his head.

And freezing in shock when a pile of cold, wet snow fell onto his head and slopped off onto his shoulders.

It only took about half a second for his mind to start working again and for him to look up to where Kravitz was. Unsurprisingly he wasn’t there anymore, laughing and running full sprint towards the deck of the ship.

“You mother fucker!” Taako shouted, throwing the hat off of his head and tossing the blanket and book aside. Kravitz was already out on the deck by the time he got up off the couch, but fuck it. Taako ran out after him, which Kravitz clearly didn’t expect. He noticed him still following once he was halfway down the gangplank, stopping his run.

“Taako, you’re wearing a t-shirt! Get back inside!” he insisted, turning back around. Instead Taako took the opportunity to tackle him right off the gangplank into what had to be a goddamn foot and a half of snow.

“Oh, so now you care if I get cold, huh?” Taako asked, trying to shove his face into the cold white hell as much as possible. It wasn’t too hard, Kravitz was laughing too hard to put up much of a fight.

“It wasn’t even a lot! Taako please!” Kravitz insisted between bouts of laughter and Taako steadily attempting to bury his torso.

“Any amount of unwanted and unexpected snow is too much fucking snow in my book,” Taako said. At this point Kravitz had managed to get a hold of himself and was starting to fight back, trying to uncover himself and squirm out from under Taako. “Oh no you don’t bubala, your punishment isn’t over yet.”

“Taako, you’re not even wearing shoes!” Kravitz said.

“And who’s fault is that?” Taako asked back. Instead of answering Kravitz managed to finally knock Taako off of him. Before Taako could scramble to his feet in the snow he was suddenly lifted off of the ground and hefted clumsily over Kravitz’s shoulder. “Excuse you! Put me down!”

“Nope. You’re going to get frost bite and I’m not having you blame me when we have to chop off your toes,” Kravitz said, starting to carry him back up the gangplank. Taako only gave a cursory protest for another few seconds before slumping over his shoulder and letting Krav carry him along.

“Could at least carry me nicer than acting like I’m a sack of potatoes,” Taako complained.

“Yeah, I could,” Kravitz said, not making any move to adjust the way he was carrying Taako.

“No fair. You can’t even see how much I’m pouting like this. It’s mad puppy dog eyes over here, would melt this whole shitty ice world with a single look,” he complained, getting another snort out of Kravitz as they finally made it to the inside of the ship.

“I’m sure it’s a sight to behold,” Kravitz said, sounding pretty amused and not at all moved. Then without warning he stopped in the doorway, and Taako couldn’t turn around well enough to see why.

“He deserves this,” Kravitz said, and Taako was squirming now to try and get a look at who he was talking to. Kravitz wasn’t letting go though, and Taako huffed, slumping down once again.

“That’s lies and slander, I’ve done nothing wrong,” Taako insisted to whoever it was.

“Right,” Davenport said, not sounding like he believed either of them. Which, yeah alright, that was fair. “Well, Taako we’d love for you to help us find the light but please put on the proper gear first,” he added.

“Yeah sure thing,” Taako muttered quickly, having no intention of actually helping then dig through a million pounds of wet cold bullshit. With that Kravitz stepped aside and Davenport headed out past them.

Moving fully into the common room, Kravitz went and dropped him down onto the couch with little care. Taako didn’t say anything, looking up at him with an exaggerated pout. Kravitz stared seriously back, and it was hard to keep from laughing from the way there were still clumps of snow stuck to his hair.

Kravitz broke first though. The slight frown on his face slowly curled up into a smile against his best effort, before he finally burst into laughter.

“Fuck you,” he managed to choke out between laughs, and Taako was grinning wildly now. He was pretty sure this meant he won.

“Don’t start shit if you can’t handle it bubala,” he said proudly. Kravitz was doubled over now, but after a moment he managed to stand up straight again and had to wipe some tears from the corners of his eyes.

“You’re the worst,” he said, no bite behind his words in the slightest. His little half-elf ears were sticking up in clear delight and adrenaline still. It was cute as fuck. He was cute as fuck.

“You know what else I am?” Taako asked, cutting those thoughts off at the pass.

“What?” Kravitz asked, still looking at him with a ridiculous goofy grin.

“Cold as fuck. Get me hot chocolate,” Taako demanded. Kravitz continued to smile even as he rolled his eyes at that.

“I’m the one who got buried in the snow and carried your ass inside so that you didn’t freeze anymore than you already were from running out into the snow in a t-shirt and pajama pants,” Kravitz complained.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Taako said, in a fake conspiratorial whisper. He could see Kravitz fighting off the urge to laugh again at the display, leaning in somewhat.

“And what’s that?” he whispered back.

“If you make hot chocolate you can also have some,” Taako said. It managed to break Kravitz once again, little bits of snow starting to fall from his hair as he laughed. It was harder than it should have been to resist reaching over and picking some of the clumps out himself.

“Fine, but only because you make such a compelling argument,” Kravitz relented after a moment. Taako grinned at his victory, giving in and reaching over to brush one large clump of snow out of his hair.

“Hell yeah, chop chop homeboy,” Taako said. Kravitz laughed again, but this one was a little different. A little more forced, or nervous, or something. Before Taako could think about it though he left to go presumably make them both some much needed hot chocolaty beverage.

Taako got himself comfy on the couch, pulling up the blanket he’d been using before and wrapping it around himself. He honestly was cold as shit, that hadn’t been the smartest idea. Under normal circumstances you couldn’t fucking pay him to go out in snow without at minimum doubling up on the layers.

He couldn’t deny that had been fun though. Or well, he could, and he was going to, but still. He could admit it to his own dumb brain that tackling Kravitz into a giant mound of snow had left him grinning like an idiot.

A lot of the time he spent with Kravitz left him grinning like an idiot. It was starting to become a kind of terrifying habit.

It wasn’t like Taako was stupid, okay. He certainly wasn’t the best at the whole emotions deal but he wasn’t oblivious either. He’d been able to see Barry’s feelings for Lup from a goddamn country mile, and even though Lup still refused to admit shit he knew she was feeling the same way. Taako wasn’t sure if he’d go so far as to say it was inevitable, but he meant what he told Barry.

They had all the time in the world to figure it out.

And Taako guessed he was just taking his own advice.

———

Kravitz had never minded the cold. The small town he grew up in before moving to the city to follow his dreams had always had rough, snowy winters. It’d been fun as a kid and frustrating as an adult, but in the end it was something he’d become pretty used to. This world certainly took that to a bit of an extreme, but it wasn’t much more effort for him to throw on a couple extra layers and dig around in the snow, casting thunderwave on repeat in hopes that eventually he’d see the light of creation go flying out with the rest of the snow.

It was obvious as anything that Taako and Lup on the other hand absolutely despised the cold and snow. It wasn’t new knowledge by any means, the two always complained when they were stuck in worlds with particularly bad winters. So he wasn't shocked when this cycle they barely left the ship at all.

Which wasn’t that big of a deal, there certainly wasn’t a lot to see out on this planet. They had a pretty good idea of the location of the light too, the hard part was digging the damn thing up.

And okay, maybe that was giving them a bit of trouble. Still, they had a couple more months to search the area, and if they started getting desperate Kravitz had no doubt that the twins would jump in to help.

Filling Taako’s hat with snow had just been a funny joke. He hadn’t expected Taako to come chasing him out onto the deck or tackling him into the snow.

He couldn’t complain about any of that either, not in the slightest. He just still didn’t know what he was supposed to do about it, if he should even do anything.

Kravitz wouldn’t say it was something him and Lup talked about often, but it was definitely a topic that came up from time to time. When it was just the two of them.

Barry dying again last cycle had been hard on her. Every death was hard on all of them, and each one sat like an ever so slowly growing pile of rocks at the pit of Kravitz’s stomach. He knew with certainty that the longer they went the and larger it got that he’d need to confront that someday.

Not yet though. He could put that off for a little while longer yet.

Right now, he was making hot chocolate and trying not to think about all of that. He was pretty damn cold after being shoved into the snow, not that it genuinely bothered him. Hot chocolate wasn’t something he’d practiced on the beach cycle, for obvious reasons, but he’d tried it once or twice in the cycles since then.

Handing a cup to Taako, he sat down on the couch with his own. Taako had the throw blanket he’d had before completely wrapped around himself, so no luck getting any warmth from there. Instead Kravitz curled up, kicking his shoes off and tucking his legs underneath him as he drank his hot chocolate. He meant to head out and help look for the light, but he could do that after he warmed up some from the impromptu snow battle.

“Not bad, but don’t be afraid to experiment my dude. There’s lots of fun junk you can add to hot chocolate,” Taako said after taking a sip.

“High praise coming from you, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for next time,” Kravitz said.

Then it was quiet, the two of them sitting in silence as they drank. It wasn’t an usual thing, after so long traveling together. There were a million little moments of sitting and existing with the other members of this crew. It was comfortable, and the more time went on the more Kravitz found himself cherishing those moments.

“Did you ever have plans?” Kravitz asked after a long stretch of silence, having nearly finished his drink at that point. He saw Taako give him a look of confusion, so he continued. “After this mission, or well, what this mission was supposed to be. Were there things you ever wanted to do?”

“Long term plans are for chumps,” Taako answered easily, downing the last of his hot chocolate. “Didn’t have any and fucking glad for it, since they sure as fuck wouldn’t have worked out with the apocalypse and all,” he said. It was a very Taako answer. “Did you?” he asked, sounding both curious and almost unsure if he should ask.

“I wanted to be a conductor,” Kravitz said, watching the snow fall past the large windows of the ship. “I know it’s a far cry from being the cultural consultant on an interplanar expedition, but I suppose that’s just how fate is sometimes,” he said.

“You think all this is fate?” Taako asked, and it was kind of obvious that he didn’t believe that, even if he was giving a good attempt at hiding it.

“I’d like to think so. I guess it could be a coincidence that we’d all been on this ship that day, that we managed to get out just in time to avoid getting swallowed by the hunger with everything else. I wouldn’t be surprised if it all turned out to be a string of incredible luck, but I don’t see any harm of thinking of it as fate either,” Kravitz answered. Taako just hummed, staring down into his empty mug and not saying anything. Kravitz had no idea what he was thinking.

“Well, I’m gonna go get some proper fucking clothes on. We should get out there and help everyone look for the light,” Taako said suddenly, untangling himself from his blanket and standing up. Kravitz stared at him, a bit dumbstruck for a moment.

“Wait, you’re going to help?” he asked, and Taako looked at him like he didn’t understand the question.

“Course I am, why wouldn’t I?” he asked back. Kravitz wanted to point out that maybe because he’d refused to take a step outside of the ship since they landed on this planet. Instead he snorted in laughter, shaking his head a bit hopelessly.

“Alright then, I’ll meet you outside love,” Kravitz said, uncurling himself and grabbing his shoes, shaking off the drips of water from where the snow had melted off. He realized the pet name as soon as it had slipped out, and it wasn’t like it was the first time he’d called Taako that. Taako wasn’t even the only person on the crew he’d called love before, but it was typically either a lot more joking or a lot more sarcastic.

When he glanced up at Taako, the elf just fucking winked at him before leaving the room.

Gods above, Kravitz genuinely didn’t believe he could get any more screwed, and yet here he was.

Heading outside, he only half expected Taako to actually follow through and come out to help. So he was pleasantly surprised when he making his way down the paths they’d laid out through the snowy fields he heard Taako calling out to him. Looking up, he saw him leaning out over the deck of the ship.

“What’s up!” he called, and Kravitz felt a smile form on his face as he watched Taako rocking forward on the railing.

“Oh you know, just looking for the light of creation so this whole world doesn’t get destroyed in a couple months,” Kravitz said, an overly casual tone to his voice. “Are you planning on coming down here to help, or what?” he asked.

“Nah, got a way fucking better idea bubala,” Taako said, holding up a hand and twirling his wand between his fingers. Kravitz had to bite down on the urge to tell him to go back inside and put some goddamn gloves on.

He was quickly distracted from that thought when Taako pointed his wand out, and Kravitz watched as a sixty foot wall of fire snaked its way through the snowy plane. Taako fucking cackled, blasting off a fireball at another spot in quick succession.

“Taako! Taako stop! You don’t have spell shaping!” Kravitz shouted, stuck somewhere between panicking and laughing.

“Oh, hey that’s a good idea,” Taako said, and then he pulled out a stone of farspeech. “Hey Lup! Get your lazy ass out here and help me blow up a billion pounds of snowy hell!” he said into the stone.

It was not long at all before both twins were out on the deck of the ship, burning an ever growing patch around their ship free of snow. At that point Kravitz sat back, watching in baffled endearment at how fucking delighted the two were.

It took a bit of explaining when the others came rushing back seeing great plumbs of fire shooting up at the location of the ship. They were able to confirm that the light was not in a 150 foot circle around the ship though. So that was something.

Kravitz did not blame Davenport from politely requesting that if the twins wanted to keep up this method of searching they should perhaps do it in a bit of a more controlled manner.

“You’re ridiculous,” Kravitz said once they were finally heading back inside.

“Don’t be mad that you didn’t think of it first my dude,” Taako replied, an incredibly smug look on his face. Kravitz shook his head, not able to stop smiling despite himself. He was sure Lup noticed and was thankful when she didn’t say anything. He would end up complaining to her about all of this later. About how completely impossible her brother was and how he was pretty sure one of these cycles it was going to fucking kill him.

In the end they managed to find the light with almost four months to spare. It was a genuinely good cycle in Kravitz’s book. No one had died, and it wasn’t a break like the beach cycle had been, but it was still a breath. A chance to slowly try and make some progress forward instead of a constant struggle to keep up.

They were prepared when the hunger came, and managed to escape with everyone intact.

Standing on the deck of the ship, Kravitz watched the icy world below shrink as they got further and further away. Soon enough he felt the white strands of light begin to pull them apart to set them back in their places.

Beside him he heard Taako sigh, saw his shoulders slump ever so slightly.

As soon as they were reformed, Kravitz slipped away, heading towards the twin’s room. He wasn’t surprised to meet Taako heading towards the deck on his way, it was kind of what he’d been expecting.

“What’s up my dude?” Taako asked, clearly confused at seeing him there and not back with the others.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. It was- you seemed a little upset, while we were leaving,” Kravitz said. Taako looked taken off guard by that, clearly not thinking anyone had noticed. It was possible that no one else had, other than probably Lup.

“Yeah, we’re all good dog,” he said, and part of Kravitz expected that to be it. “It’s just, always the worst part, ya know? Starting off alone,” Taako muttered.

“We should get back to the others,” Kravitz offered, and he saw Taako’s lips tick up the slightest bit in a smile.

“Sounds good Krav.”

Chapter Text

The thing was, Taako knew that eventually things would hurt. Things would hurt real fucking bad in a way he wouldn’t know how to close off. He wasn’t an idiot, he just played one on TV.

He hadn’t expected it to be so soon was the thing. Sure, 27 cycles wasn’t exactly quick, but he’s still figured… he didn’t know what. He never let himself think about it, even though he knew that just like, statistically it would happen. They all died.

Sooner or later, one of these cycles he knew Lup would die before him. He just kinda figured he wouldn’t be too far behind in that scenario. It’d hurt for a moment but then they’d be back on the ship again next year and he could pretend it was another nightmare he’d had about the scenario instead of the real deal. No big deal, more shit they had to repress sure, but that's just another day at the office.

They’d already been coming off of an absolute shitfest of a cycle too. 26 was one Taako would be happy to forget, and he told himself it was behind them anyway. No need to dwell on it anymore, they had a fresh start. Hell, they even managed to save that plane from the hunger, for whatever good it was worth. Merle had ended up beefing it while they were escaping, but as shitty as it was for the person dying the deaths when they were running were always the easiest.

There was hardly ever any time to even process that someone had died, let alone for it to sink in enough for it to hurt. In a couple minutes, they were back and everyone could pretend that it hadn’t even happened at all.  They could joke about those ones.

Kravitz’s death had been early enough in the cycle that there had been plenty of time to process it. Dude had been awake this time, so there was that checked off the old dying bucket list. He’d said later though that he wasn’t sure if it was better or not, just different. In the end still resulting in the same thing, that unsettling nothingness like sleep.

Taako didn’t get what the issue was with that, but he wasn’t gonna judge. He couldn't exactly blame a dude for not enjoying dying.

But it was all behind them now anyway. Taako wasn’t thinking about it anymore. Wasn’t thinking about sitting there with Kravitz, out of spellslots and knowing Magnus wouldn’t be able to get back to the ship to get Merle in time. About how he’d been trying to crack jokes to lighten the mood of him bleeding out. Especially not of the way Kravitz had tried to joke back before talking got too painful.

It wasn’t relevant anymore.

They were four months into cycle 27, and so far this one had just been grueling. Nothing particularly special though. Searching for the light was a monotonous slog through huge patches of swamp. Definitely not the most thrilling environment they’d been in. So far they worst they’d had to fight off were some big nasty lizards, which were annoying but not any real threat. Davenport insisted that they make sure to search in pairs anyway, just to be on the safe side. That wasn’t too unusual for most planets they went to, always safer to travel in numbers. Buddy system and all that.

It was just a normal, boring cycle. Taako wanted to use it to get over the complicated mess of bullshit he’d been during the last one. To bottle back up the absolute wreck of emotions he sure as fuck hadn’t been prepared to deal with back then.

Maybe one day he'd actually talk to Kravitz about it. He wasn't planning on that happening anytime soon though. They had all the time in the world after all.

He and Lup were out combing a section of the swamp for the light. The growth around this area seemed to be thicker and even more wild somehow, so it seemed like as good a direction to check as any. As much as he hated physical labor, the rough search was a real solid distraction.

Taako grimaced as each step he and Lup took made uncomfortable gooshing sounds in the muck. You’d think after so long he’d get used to that bullshit, but nope, still as horrible as ever. The sound of gooshing was never not terrible.

“Ko, how hard do you think it would be to completely eradicate mosquitoes on a planet? Like, with the light of creation helping,” Lup asked, slapping her arm again. Taako shrugged, climbing up onto a bramble covered tree trunk to get out of the muck for just like, a fucking minute.

“With the light? Doable, for sure. We’ll probably be leaving by the time we finish up though,” he said, trying to scrape some of the thick mud off his shoes. He gave up almost immediately, they’d get ruined again as soon as he stepped off the log anyway. Lup shrugged, not seeming bothered by that part.

“It could be an act of kindness for this planet, an apology for the hunger wrecking shop. And also, ya know, an act of revenge,” she said. Taako snorted, rolling his eyes and carefully balancing on the twisted tree trunk as he moved forward. He could see Lup wandering off on the other side of some more thick vines, checking over that section before they moved on.

“Sounds good then, for sure,” he called. There was a thick tangle of jagged thorns blocking the path he wanted to go down, so Taako summoned a quick Bigby’s hand to start pulling it apart. He was starting to lose patience and was halfway to blasting the block when his ears twitched back at the sound of a large splash.

For a split second, Taako had figured Lup must’ve slipped in the muck, and prepared to turn and laugh at his sister.

Then there was another splash, this one more like a crash, and a roar.

“Fuck! Taako go!” Lup shouted, and without missing a beat Taako started running back where he’d seen her going. The blast from her fireball was enough to tell him exactly where she was, and he moved as fast as he could in the shitty fucking swamp as mud clung to his feet and branches swiped and clawed at him. It wasn’t fast enough, and stopping he cast dimension door to appear in the right area.

He wasn’t sure what the fuck it was he was looking at when he got there. Lup had clearly gotten a good hit on it though, the side of its face and one long, ugly clawed arm charred black and blistering.

Lup was kneeling down in front of it, stuck in the mud and holding a nasty looking gash in her side.

“Fuck off!” Taako shouted, shooting the creature with several powerful beams of scorching ray, hoping to distract it. The thing looked like someone had taken an alligator, made it 25 feet long, mixed it with a rat and gave the things fucking arms and claws long enough to swipe someone’s face off.

The scorching ray got its attention on him, and Taako was preparing another when Lup cast sunbeam right on the fucker’s head. There was a beat where he thought maybe that would be enough to at least stun it long enough for them to get away. At least get some distance, wizards shouldn’t be front and center of a fight.

And then Taako felt his heart stop when it turned right back to Lup at its feet in a flash. His next spell wasn’t fast enough to hit the thing before it sunk its teeth into her, shaking her body around like a dog with a fucking chew toy.

His next spell hit. Disintegrate. He didn’t pay attention to the thing as chunks of it fell off and crumbled into nothing. He couldn’t think as he ran forward, picking Lup up from where it had dropped her in the mud. As soon as he had her he took off running in a panic to the closest bit of dry he could find. He wasn’t a strong dude, he wasn’t goddamn Magnus, but he was pretty sure that wasn’t why he was shaking when he finally put Lup down.

And he knew-

He knew it’d been too fucking late from the moment it had sunk its teeth into her.

But he didn’t know what the fuck he was supposed to do now.

He’d only been sitting there next to Lup’s limp, bloody form for a couple of minutes before his brain started working again, jumbled as it was. It still felt like an eternity when he finally thought to fumble for the stone of farspeech in his pocket. Turning it to Davenport’s emergency frequency, he didn’t even try to sound like he had a handle on his shit as he spoke.

“Help.”

It didn’t even sound like him, his voice choked and terrified. He heard Davenport start to speak, but Taako clicked the stone off. He couldn’t fucking explain what was going on. They knew where he and Lup had been planning to search for the day. They would come to get them.

To get him.

There was nothing left for him to do but wait.

——

Davenport had been going over the latest intel on the trajectory of the light with Barry when his emergency stone crackled to life. His hand immediately shot to it, his thoughts pulled away from the plans of where to next take the ship.

“Help,” Taako’s voice came over the stone, and if he hadn’t known his crew for over a quarter of a century now Davenport might have had a hard time identifying him. There was more emotion in Taako’s voice that he could ever remember hearing.

“Taako? Taako, what’s your status? Taako?” Davenport asked, but almost as soon as Taako had finished his message the stone turned off. Davenport quickly tried to get through again, but he couldn’t say he was too surprised when there was no answer.

“He was with Lup. They were going to look for the light together today,” Barry spoke up, and there had been a moment where Davenport had almost forgotten he was there. When he looked up at him Barry looked even paler than usual, clear worry and barely concealed panic on his face. Davenport nodded, changing the frequency.

“Lup? Lup are you there? Where are you? Lup, come in,” he asked, but once again there was no response. Cursing, Davenport shoved the stone back into his pocket and turned towards Barry.

“They were exploring the northern swamp sector right? Get Merle, they’ll probably need healing. Magnus too, we don’t know what they’re up against. Let Lucretia and Kravitz know we might have a rescue mission on our hands,” Davenport said, already starting out of the lab. Barry nodded, not saying a word before running off to spread the news.

It was hard to wait for everyone to show back up on the deck of the ship. Not hard enough for him to make a dumb decision and go off on his own, as much as the idea of leaving a part of his crew in danger tore at him. He'd have a better chance of saving them with back up, and a lot less of a chance of going off to die on his own.

It didn’t take long for them to show up though, everyone coming in a rush. Magnus was still pulling armor on even, Merle hopping on one foot as he tried to shove his other into his shoe.

“We received a distress call from Taako. No word on their situation or what kind of danger they might be in, and we haven’t been able to contact Lup. They only left a few hours ago but we need to leave now,” Davenport said, and then he took a look at his crew. Whatever danger they were going into, they might have jut lost two members not even halfway through the year. He turned towards Kravitz, Barry, and Lucretia. “Someone needs to stay back with the ship.”

“I’m coming,” Barry and Kravitz spoke up simultaneously. Davenport couldn’t exactly say he was surprised by the response, certainly not as much as they both seemed to be. Lucretia also didn’t seem shocked, sighing softly and nodding.

“I should be able to keep the ship hovering until you all get back,” she said, which Davenport appreciated. He needed to teach her how to properly fly the ship one of these cycles. There was always so many things he needed to get around to doing one of these cycles.

“Alright, we’ll keep you updated. Let’s go,” Davenport said. Without any other delays he started off of the ship, the rest of the party following him. Barry knew the area they’d been planning to search, and they made a beeline in that direction.

It took longer than he liked. The swamp made for difficult, slow travel, and they didn’t know exactly where the twins would be. The area they had been searching was still large, a huge patch and they couldn’t be sure which way they would go first.

Once they were close enough though, Davenport was able to cast locate object on the one thing he knew for sure Taako had last he heard from him, his stone of farspeech. That at least let them head in as straight of a shoot as they could manage, cutting through as much of the swamp as possible to get to them.

The good news was, Taako was still alive when they found him. In fact, he looked mostly unscathed, if a complete mess. He was coated in the mud from the swamp, which honestly did make it difficult to see how injured he was.

The bad news, and what was obvious, was Lup. Davenport didn’t even need to get too close to see what had happened. Or maybe not exactly what happened, but the end result was clear enough.

He had suspected this. Ever since they realized the temporary immortality they’d been granted, and how dangerous their mission was he’d wondered what would happen when eventually, they only lost one twin during a cycle.

“Taako, we’re here. Are you injured?” Davenport asked, because he couldn’t be sure from looks alone. Taako shook his head, and it seemed like he hadn’t even realized they had shown up before he spoke. They hadn’t exactly been stealthy, the large group blundering through the swamp.

“Where’s the thing that attacked you?” Magnus asked, still on his guard.

“Disintegrated bout twenty feet back,” Taako muttered. Magnus’s stance relaxed, slinging his ax back over his shoulder. Davenport let himself ease up some too, no longer on the look out for whatever it was to be drawn to their movements. He could focus on the situation in front of him now.

They needed to get Taako back to the ship. They could deal with everything else from there.

“Can you stand?” he asked softly. Taako nodded, but it took a few moments before he actually managed it. He’d almost stumbled back down when Kravitz was next to him and helping him get his footing.

Merle had crouched down next to Lup, Barry at his side despite all of them knowing there wasn’t anything to be done at this point.

“Can you carry her back? It’s- we can probably find someplace better than this to uh, to do things,” Barry asked Magnus, his voice nearly a whisper. Magnus nodded, and Davenport could commend him for waiting until Kravitz had turned Taako away and started leading him back to the ship before carefully picking her body up.

She’d be back. They always had the assurance that they would be back.

None of it made the cycles any easier to deal with in the meantime.

And this was going to be a very hard cycle to deal with.

———

Kravitz wished there was some way he could help.

The deaths were always hard, but this one seemed to cut straight through Taako like a dagger to his heart. No one could blame him, of course they couldn’t. Every loss hit each one of them in their own way, but there was no pretending that Lup and Taako were a bond the rest of them couldn't hold a candle to. Their motley crew had become a family over the many years, but Taako and Lup had never been without each other before. Not in any significant way.

That was never more obvious than when Kravitz was gently trying to lead Taako back towards the ship, very careful to keep him from looking back at where Magnus was carrying Lup’s form. It surprisingly wasn’t very hard. Taako was simply following where he was led, seeming almost in a trance as he walked.

It was so unlike the vibrant, stubborn person Kravitz had come to know him as over the years. It hurt almost as much as seeing Lup's broken form had.

The way back was quiet, the only sound their heavy footsteps working through the brush and muck. Kravitz almost wished for a distraction so that he wasn’t left alone with his thoughts. It was so temping to look back at Lup, to check if it was actually real, but he managed to keep himself moving forward. It wasn’t like they were unused to corpses at this point, especially him, but it still- it wasn’t a good thing to dwell on.

It hurt though. He’d spent most of the last cycle dead, still a thing he was both much less and more uncomfortable with than he’d ever imaged.

And now Lup was going to spend the next eight months the same way. Of course it hurt. After everything, they were good friends now. Family. He missed her. Already.

Kravitz told himself it was nothing compared to the pain that Taako was going through right now. He could focus on his own mourning later. It would be better to let himself make sure that Taako was okay first. He hated thinking of it as a distraction, but he figured Lup would rather they help Taako before bothering with a corpse.

So Kravitz didn’t stick around with the others when they got back to the ship. He’d come back when he could, help them do find some sort of proper burial place for her. Or maybe not a burial. They’d never had a burial for one of the twins before. The last time they’d died together there hadn’t been anything left to bury. He doubted Lup would particularly like the idea of her body being slung into the mud on some miserable swampy planet. Maybe it would be better to burn it.

That was later though. Right now he was guiding Taako away and back towards his room. He moved where Kravitz carefully and softly led him by the arm, and he’d been so compliant the whole time that it threw him when they reached his room. As soon as they were in front of it, before Kravitz could even reach towards the doorknob Taako pulled out of his hold.

Before he could even blink, Taako was through the door and it was slammed in his face.

Kravitz stood there for a moment in shock, but he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Of course Taako would want to be alone right now. They were close, but it wasn’t like- he’d just watched his sister die. Kravitz was not going to make this about him.

“Taako I’m- take all the time you need. If you ever want- if there’s anything I can do, or any of us can do to help, let us know,” he said through the door after a moment. He needed to make sure Taako knew he didn’t have to withdraw from any of them.

There wasn’t any answer, but he hadn’t expected there to be.

The next few days were hard.

It was like they’d lost both twins. No one saw or heard from Taako. If it wasn’t for the occasional scrying spell from Davenport to make sure he had was still in his room, Kravitz might have doubted he'd actually survived.

There was no arguments that the twins were a backbone for the mood of the group. Barry was clearly broken over Lup’s death so early in the cycle, and Kravitz could admit that he wasn’t exactly doing great either, beside himself with both grief for Lup and worry for Taako.

Magnus and Merle tried, but it was still too soon and too painful for them to lift many spirits. Davenport and Lucretia dived into their work. They still needed to find the light after all, no matter what else had happened.

They did end up burning the body. They wanted to ask Taako, he would know what she’d like better than any of them, but there wasn’t any answer. The only way they even knew he was eating was the plates of food they left in front of his door would disappear occasionally.

Kravitz told himself they could double check with Lup and make sure she was alright with this method for whenever this happened again. Because she’d be back in less than a year. This wasn’t permanent.

And this was going to happen again. None of them could pretend it wouldn’t.

Kravitz hadn’t quite resigned himself to the idea that he wasn’t going to see Taako again anytime soon, but he was still surprised when he did see him. About five days after Lup’s death, it was night. Kravitz had been laying in bed, trying and failing to sleep. He’d gone out searching for the light again that day, but had once again come back empty. He couldn't rightfully say his whole heart was in the search though. They still had a lot of time left to find it, so it wasn’t too much of an issue yet.

If it hadn’t been for his elven lineage, he probably wouldn’t have heard the soft knock on his door. There was a brief moment where he thought he must’ve imagined it, but when he looked under the crack of the door he could see someone’s shadow cutting through the hallway lights.

“Yeah?” he called, keeping his voice somewhat quiet. It had to be nearly 1am at that point, he should have been asleep already.

Instead of any sort of answer, his door creaked open the slightest bit. Kravitz could see Taako standing there, which took him off guard. He’d thought maybe Barry had finally broke and needed a shoulder to cry on, which he would have been happy to lend. He figured Taako would still be… processing, everything. Or if he did go to someone, it wouldn’t be him.

Even through the crack in the door, Taako looked exhausted. It seemed like he hadn’t slept in the five days since Lup’s death. Kravitz had figured he’d spent most of his time sleeping. Something in his heart cracked at the idea of Taako being alone in his room for almost a week and conscious the whole time.

“You said something about if I needed anything,” Taako said, and the tone of his voice was so careful. He almost sounded like his normal self, but there was a degree of control there that was clearly forced. Even still Kravitz nodded, sitting up some in his bed.

“Of course,” he said. With that Taako slipped into the room, shutting his door behind him. Kravitz wasn’t sure what he was expecting Taako to need, but it wasn’t for him to immediately cross the room and crawl into bed with him, yanking a good portion of the blanket off of Kravitz and around himself.

“Cool, g’night,” Taako said, once again sounding like this was some casual, everyday thing. It wasn’t that Kravitz had any sort of problem with this. Definitely, definitely not. It certainly wasn’t the first time they’d ever fallen asleep in the same room. There had been many nights over the years where various crew members had passed out together in the labs. Usually on the same couch, often slumped against each other. Even still he was staring down at Taako with flabbergasted confusion, because this was different.

“Um,” he said, because he didn’t want to drive him away. Not when he was finally trying to reach out to someone, even if he was very confused about the method. Taako must have noticed his confusion, sighing quietly after a moment. His back was towards Kravitz, so he couldn’t see his face.

“We always shared a room. It’s too quiet,” he muttered, his voice a whisper. Oh. That made sense. Of course that made sense. Kravitz nodded, even though he was sure Taako couldn’t see him either, carefully adjusting so that he was laying back down again as well.

“Right. Well, goodnight Taako,” he said, pretty sure he wasn’t in the mood to talk much more than that right now. He seemed to relax some in the darkness, and after a moment Kravitz shifted so that his back was facing Taako’s as well.

He wasn’t going to make this about himself. He cared about Taako. He could admit to himself now, after much badgering from Lup over the years, that he was in love with him. So if he needed someone to be there for him and not press, he could do that. Whenever he wanted to open up about all of this, he’d be there too.

And if he never wanted to open up to him, if he just needed someone to be another body in the room so he could sleep until Lup came back, that was fine too. Kravitz could be that temporary solution. As long as Taako actually talked to his sister about this once she got back, it was fine.

It took a long time for him to fall asleep that night. He couldn’t tell if or when Taako had fallen asleep, or maybe he was meditating. Either way, Kravitz found his mind more caught up in their problems than on the elf laying at his back.

The problems were only going to get worse. They were only going to keep dying. They had fourteen deaths between them in twenty seven cycles. Maybe it was bad luck, maybe they were getting more frequent. They still knew so little about the light, they knew nothing about the force, the hunger that was chasing them.

They needed to find a solution. They needed more power, and it was slowly eating away at Kravitz, being forced to stay at the sidelines. Being struck down so easily whenever he tried to put himself out there.

They weren’t going to be able to run forever.

Kravitz didn’t know what the solution was yet, but listening to the too even breath of Taako behind him, he was suddenly and painfully aware of the price he would pay to be able to find one.

There simply wasn’t a price he wouldn’t pay to keep his family safe. Not when it came to himself, at least. As long as he could make sure the rest of them could defeat the hunger and come out the other side.

He’d figure it out at some point. For now, he’d just focus on making sure they got through this cycle.

Chapter Text

He just wanted to be able to sleep. If he could sleep all the time then the cycle would pass before he even knew it and he could write the whole thing off as behind them. A bad dream, the past, just fucking dust.

But Taako couldn’t sleep. It was too quiet.

It wasn’t like he and Lup spent every night talking until they passed out, although that wasn’t a super rare occurrence either. Still, a lot of the time they were both too fucking exhausted, from looking for the light or surviving to do more than fall into bed and knock the hell out.

But they’d been sharing a room for cycles now. A while ago, probably like fifteen cycles or so, they’d finally dragged a goddamn futon into the room so they didn’t have to share the bed. Lup insisted it was his bed, but it was whoever’s got to the room last more often than not.

Taako hadn’t even realized how quiet it would be with her gone.

He told himself it was only for a few more months. Less than a year, and she'd be back like she never left in the first place. He could almost count down the days if he wanted to, although he knew that wouldn’t do him much good.

And none of it changed the fact that it’d been almost a week and he’d barely gotten some fitful meditation, and absolutely no actual sleep. It’d only been a week. He had months before Lup came back, over half a year.

Going to Kravitz’s room had been a desperate move he’d spent three days working up the nerve for.

Taako was pretty sure he’d managed to hide the desperate panic he’d been wrapped up in well enough. If he didn’t, Kravitz was kind enough not to say anything about it. He barely said anything about any of this. Definitely more accepting of the whole deal than Taako had feared he’d be. He just wished him goodnight after Taako gave him some half mumbled explanation of it being too quiet, and laid down to go to sleep himself. He was even being all courteous and keeping to his side of the bed and not even complaining about Taako stealing most of the covers.

It was exactly how Taako figured it would be.

Taako might’ve finally hit his wall, or maybe being able to listen to someone else slowly and evenly breathing behind him actually did the trick. Either way, Taako managed to focus on Kravitz’s breathing, lulling himself into deep meditation, and finally into sleep later that night.

He almost wished he hadn’t.

It wasn’t like any of them were strangers to nightmares at this point. They’d all been through some pretty existentially horrifying bullshit, and some straight up personally traumatizing scenarios on a fucking yearly basis. They were handling it, and Taako wasn’t going to fucking cry about it.

Normally he could shrug them off. He’d wake up or get woken up and tell himself it was another day at the office and be done with it.

Normally Lup was right there, watching to make sure he’d go back to sleep. Or she’d be a quick call over the stone, and he could hear her voice and steady himself back to reality.

“Taako, Taako wake up,” a voice said, a hand gently shaking his shoulder. It wasn’t Lup, and Taako didn’t turn around to face Kravitz. Instead jerking forward so he lost his grip on his shoulder before pulling the blanket up over his head. Taako had no idea how long he’d managed to sleep for. Definitely longer than what he’d been getting on his own.

“Taako?” Kravitz asked again after a moment, his voice quiet. He still didn’t answer, because there wasn’t anything to say. He had a stupid nightmare and it was nothing.

Maybe coming here had been a bad idea. He’d been so fucking tired, he wasn’t thinking right. He should have just grabbed some coffee and stuck it out a bit longer.

He felt the bed shift slightly, and then raise some as Kravitz got up. Taako didn’t have to move the blanket off his face to hear him walk across the room and the click of the door as he opened it and left.

Sure, he’d been giving every sign imaginable that he wanted to be left alone, but for some reason that still hurt. He couldn’t be surprise though, it wasn’t like they hadn’t lost people before. Taako couldn’t expect everyone to deal with his melodramatic bullshit when Lup was going to be fine. She’d be back in a couple months and call him an idiot for being so lost without her.

None of that could get the image of watching his sister die in front of him out of his head. Couldn’t keep him from thinking of a million and one ways he could have done things differently for them to both get out of there alive. None of the others had to put up with his moping though. They had more important shit to do after all, and he could deal with this on his own.

Taako didn’t expect to hear Kravitz come back into the room after a few moments, or feel him sit down sit down on the edge of the bed.

“It’s nothing gourmet, but I brought you a bagel, if you’re hungry,” Kravitz spoke up. There was a long moment where Taako stayed under the covers, wondering if he could convince Kravitz that he’d fallen back to sleep. At the very least maybe he could move a hand up to wipe at his eyes under the blanket without Kravitz noticing.

Gods, he was real fucking hungry though. He’d barely picked at the food left by his door, most of it ended up in the garbage. Reluctantly his stomach won out and he slowly sat up, pulling the blanket off of his head.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, taking the plate and a cup of juice Kravitz also handed to him. It was sweet. Kravitz was sweet.

But it wasn’t like Taako didn’t already know that.

It was quiet while he ate, and Taako wasn’t sure if he appreciated it or hated it. He appreciated Kravitz for not trying to force a conversation, because he sure as fuck didn’t feel like talking. He could do without the silence though.

“I meant it, you know that, right?” Kravitz finally spoke up. Taako had managed to finish the food, which was a first since Lup had- since he’d been a mess like this. It wasn’t even a lot of food, but it was all in his stomach. “Just, anything you need,” he added, and Taako nodded.

“I know man,” he muttered, putting the cup down on the side table and pulling his legs up to his chest. It was obvious as anything that Kravitz meant what he was saying. Taako just had no idea what it was he even needed right now, let alone what Kravitz could give him.

“Uh, you can tell Davenport I’ll fucking- help with looking for the light again later. Just need…” Taako trailed off, waving a hand in the air noncommittally. Kravitz was already nodding, seeming to understand well enough.

“Of course, don’t even- we have it under control. Don’t even worry about it, unless it’s- unless you want the distraction,” he said, and Taako shook his head.

“Maybe later. If this world wasn’t so shitty I’d probably take you up on that,” he said.

“Right. I’ll let Davenport know,” Kravitz assured. He started to move to stand up, but then he hesitated, turning back towards Taako. “If there’s… anything else,” he pressed, but Taako shook his head.

“I’ll let you know if anything comes up,” he said, and Kravitz still seemed hesitant. Taako couldn’t blame him, he was sure he looked an absolute wreck, not someone you’d want to leave on his own. “Promise,” he added, and Kravitz seemed to relax the slightest bit at that, finally standing up.

“Alright,” Kravitz said, and once again he hesitated. Kind of felt like he wanted to say something more than that, but whatever it was he didn’t end up following through. Instead he just nodded, turning and leaving the room.

Taako wasn’t sure how much longer it took for him to get up and head back to his own room. He definitely ended up staying in Kravitz’s bed for longer than he intended.

And he ended up back in it again the very next night.

He hadn’t meant for it to become a habit. Like, the last reason he wanted to end up repeatedly in the bed of a beautiful half-elf man was because he was sad. That was just fucking lame.

But that was exactly what ended up happening.

He didn’t even really want to sleep again. Sleeping meant nightmares, which were the fucking pits. But sleeping also meant he wasn’t awake and exhausted and thinking all the goddamn time. And he couldn’t sleep in his room alone. He just couldn’t do it.

Taako guessed he could have gone to someone else’s room. No one would have kicked him out. He doubted anyone would even ask that many questions, it wasn’t like it wasn’t obvious what was fucking him up.

He’d already gone to Kravitz once though, which made it easier somehow.

Plus like, even if it was the worst reason imaginable to end up in his bed, well, it was still a reason and he’d take it. Not even like that, although maybe a little bit like that, if he was in a better mood. It was just nice to be close to him. Even if for the first week or so it’d been silently sleeping on opposite sides. The only touching would be when Kravitz would have to shake him out of some nightmare.

The first night he hadn’t woken up by being jolted out of a nightmare was the night he ended up shifting in his sleep to curl up against Kravitz. Taako felt Kravitz’s arm wrapped around his shoulders holding him there loosely, obviously still asleep.

It was the first night he’d woken up before Kravitz too, and he stayed there for a bit. He didn’t think anyone could blame him for that one. Like, it was nice. Sure if he told Kravitz he wanted a hug or something the dude would give him one in a heartbeat, but this was easier. He didn’t have to try and use words with this one.

Taako immediately noticed when Kravitz woke up and realized the position they were in. It was pretty obvious, the dude stiffening up as awkwardly as possible, seeming very deliberate not to move a muscle. From what Taako could feel it didn’t even seem like he was breathing anymore.

“Either you’re awake or you’ve suddenly died. I legit can’t tell,” Taako blurted out after a few seconds, and Kravitz let out the breath he’d been holding.

“I’m awake,” he said, speaking much faster than normal and lifting his arm off of Taako as he sat up. “Um, sorry. About that,” he added, and Taako shrugged, pushing himself up so he was sitting as well.

“Hey, you won’t catch me complaining,” he said, and he really was trying to push himself back to normal. It shouldn’t be this hard. Even when he was saying the right things and doing the right things it all felt hallow. It was stupid. He was being fucking stupid.

But he missed his sister and he kept turning and expecting her to be beside him and she wasn't. Taako knew Kravitz deserved more than just being used as a distraction, but fuck if it wasn't a real good distraction at that.

“No nightmares this time?” Kravitz asked, a careful tone to his voice, like he was afraid of crossing some invisible boundary. He probably was afraid of that. They hadn’t really talked about any of this all that much. Taako shook his head though, because well, he hadn’t. “Good, that’s good,” Kravitz said softly. “Want me to bring you something to eat?” he asked, and Taako shrugged.

“Not gonna say no to a breakfast in bed,” he said, and Kravitz chuckled some at that before standing up.

“I’ll be right back,” he assured, and Taako nodded.

“Won't catch me going anywhere, no worries,” he said. With that Kravitz left the room, and Taako sighed heavily, slumping back down into the bed. He didn’t know why he was being like this, expect he knew exactly why he was being like this. Since he knew why, he should be able to like, he wasn’t sure. Fix it. Tell himself it was going to be okay, because it would be, and get over himself.

Kravitz took longer than usual to come back, but he had pancakes when he did, so that was acceptable.

It was quiet while they ate, like it was quiet most of the time they were together now honestly. Instead of pulling himself away though, Taako let himself slump up against Kravitz’s side after a moment, not saying anything and continuing to shovel pancake into his mouth. He felt Kravitz freeze for a few long seconds before slowly relaxing and starting to eat again.

Now wasn’t the time to be making changes. Taako wasn’t about to make a decision like this before consulting Lup first, but still. If Kravitz was offering comfort, then far be it for Taako not to take it.

———

Kravitz supposed all in all, Taako was taking this better than he expected.

It still wasn’t great, he was still mostly nonfunctional a lot of the time, holed up in his room. Not all the time though, and that at least was an improvement Kravitz was thankful for.

He’d figured the nightly visits would stop after a bit, but after a month it only seemed like Taako had gotten even more into the routine. Kravitz would still wake up more often than not to Taako tossing with nightmares, and he couldn’t help but wonder how frequent they were before this. It wasn’t like Kravitz was free of them after all, they were all plagued by them. With the things they’d been through, how could they not be?

This cycle had to be especially hard on him, without Lup here. So Kravitz didn’t mind helping to gently shake him out of the dreams when he could, and stay up with him if he needed it afterwards. They never talked about the dreams, and Kravitz wasn’t going to push him on it.

Taako didn’t tend to hang around much past morning though. At first it seemed like he would just go back to his room, and he definitely wasn’t leaving the ship.

Kravitz wasn’t sure about when he started hanging around Barry during the day, but he was thankful for it. Even without Lup in the picture, those two had become close in the past few cycles. It was good knowing he had someone else he could rely on, and the same for Barry. Sure Lup didn’t seem to think so yet, and she had other reasons for not wanting to pursue anything with it at the moment, but it was obvious how much he cared for her. This loss was hitting him hard too.

Davenport managed to find the light about seven months into the year, stuck in a thick, deep part of the swamp. The muck seemed to almost come alive with its desire to keep the light for itself, fighting them off. It was a bit of a struggle removing it, but they didn’t lose anyone else this cycle.

They came close, Kravitz barely managing to keep Magnus alive long enough with quick healing words until Merle could get close enough for a stronger heal. It wasn’t like they didn’t know it would be hard to retrieve the light though, since they were down both twins. Still, no one wanted to ask Taako to come out into a fight while Lup was gone.

At the end of the day though they had the light, and Magnus had to be tender on his leg until the cycle reset, but it was fine. They would be able to save another world.

With that though, a lot of the stuff Kravitz had been using to distract himself during the day was gone. This planet wasn’t a pleasant one to explore, and it was more obvious than ever how much everyone wanted this cycle to be over with.

By six months into the year Taako had stopped pretending to go to his own room to sleep, heading straight to Kravitz’s. No one had questioned either of them on it, but he was fairly sure they all knew. He almost wanted to ask Barry if he and Taako had talked about it any, but he hadn’t yet.

Tonight had started off like any other night, neither of them talking much as they got into bed. Kravitz had stopped trying to stay to his side of the bed a while ago. It took a lot of asking if Taako was alright with it and to say something if he’d like his space.

Eventually Taako just told him to shut up and cuddle him already, so that’s what he did. Taako seemed to sleep better that way anyway, and it was just-

Separating everything, it wasn’t like Kravitz couldn’t use the comfort either.

It’d been long enough now that Kravitz didn’t hesitate when Taako laid down, resting an arm around him before pulling the blankets up. They weren’t lying there for very long before Taako spoke up though.

“Hey,” he said simply, and it was a little unusual but not completely unheard of. Sure, they tended to talk more in the mornings than before going to sleep, but still.

“Hi,” Kravitz replied, letting his amusement show in his voice. Taako snorted, and even though they’d turned off the lights it was still bright enough for his dark vision to make out Taako rolling his eyes.

“Fucking dork,” he muttered, and Kravitz just grinned at him, knowing Taako could see it. “Listen, I’m gonna say something and don’t be weird about it and don’t feel obligated because of the whole ‘whatever you need’ thing you’ve been doing this cycle,” he continued. It was much too common to hear Taako upset or uncertain or broken this cycle, but this wasn’t any of those things.

He sounded nervous, and even a little embarrassed.

“Well, now I’m a little scared, but alright, shoot,” he said, trying to keep this light. It probably wasn’t even that big of a thing, maybe something silly that Taako was worried about doing in front of people. Gods above knew it had taken Kravitz ages to relax enough around these people to do a lot of things.

Lup had admitted that his insistence on wearing suits and other formal wear was one of the things that had rubbed her the wrong way about him at first. It had taken a long time for him to feel comfortable wearing casual clothes in front of everyone. Like, several cycles worth of a long time. Maybe this was something like that.

“You should kiss me, if you wanna.”

“Oh?” Kravitz managed to squeak out, suddenly wishing the room was a lot darker. He would prefer it if Taako couldn’t see the panicked surprise on his face right now. To be fair, Taako was looking fairly panicked as well.

This was very different from being nervous to wear t-shirts and shorts in front of people.

“No pressure! It’s not- fuck, no never mind, just forget I said that, bad idea,” Taako scrambled, and Kravitz quickly shook his head. The fact that he was still laying with an arm wrapped around Taako suddenly felt like it was almost suffocating. He couldn’t bring himself to move away and risk making everything worse though.

“Wait no, that’s not- it’s not that I wouldn’t find that, um, pleasurable,” Kravitz said, immediately regretting his choice of word. Taako groaned loudly, leaning forward and hiding his face I Kravitz’s collarbone, since there weren’t a lot of other options.

“Oh my shit. Kill me now, I did not think this cycle could get any worse but here we are,” he complained, and Kravitz couldn’t entirely blame him for that.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Kravitz insisted, Taako whining in annoyance at him in response. “It’s just- okay. Okay. Obviously, I wouldn’t be opposed to um, to that. But I don’t think, it’s- now seems like a bad time,” he managed to stumble out.

Kravitz had been trying very hard to be careful. He wanted to help Taako as much as possible, and he was in love with him. It was hard, trying to keep those things separate. He didn’t want Taako to feel like he owed him anything for the support, especially not anything romantically.

He was not going to take advantage of Taako while he was upset about Lup’s death. As much as he’d love to have something with him, he wasn’t going to do it like that.

“That’s not- I’m not asking to to fucking marry me my dude. Like, that’s sweet and all, but it’s not… yeah, it’s obviously a bad time right now, and I just figured it’d be a good… ya know. A distraction,” Taako said, still hiding his face against Kravitz’s collar.

“Oh,” Kravitz said softly, not sure what to think about that. It wasn’t like it didn’t make sense after all. He couldn’t blame Taako for wanting any and all distraction. He certainly couldn't claim that wouldn't be quite a distraction.

“Like I said, you can say no. If you don’t want a no strings attached thing it’s fine. I get it, I just thought I’d, ya know, ask,” Taako mumbled, getting increasingly quieter as he spoke. Kravitz was quiet for a long moment, thinking it all over even though there was no way it wasn’t all a horrible idea.

“No strings attached?” he asked, despite the fact that he already had strings. He couldn’t pretend he wasn’t attached, and neither of them were in the right states to be making these kinds of decisions.

They probably would never be though. How could they be when they were trapped in these never ending loops? When they were stuck bringing nothing but distraction or doom wherever they went, knowing they’d be forced to watch the people they cared about die over and over again.

“Yeah, just… this cycle doesn’t count. Like you said, now’s a bad time. Later, sure, we should probably figure out fucking, all this, but right now I want to kiss you and not think about what it all means,” Taako said.

There was so much there that made Kravitz’s heart feel like it was being jump started by the bond engine. So much he wanted to dissect, that he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about for cycles.

But honestly, not having to think and worry about the future for once sounded like a pretty good deal to Kravitz.

Instead of answering, Kravitz gently pulled back some, just enough so that he could get a hand between them, lifting Taako’s chin up towards him. Slow enough that Taako could have plenty of time to realize what he was doing, to pull away or say something if he changed his mind. He didn’t, and Kravitz closed his eyes as he pulled Taako into a relatively chaste kiss that slowly deepened.

Kravitz told himself it was just this once. It didn’t count.

And neither did the next time, a little over a week later. Or the time after that. Or the first time Kravitz stole a quick kiss from Taako in the light of day, or the time Taako had him pressed up against the wall of one of the labs, while everyone else was out gathering supplies.

None of it was real. It wasn’t like Kravitz ever had any delusions that these feelings would end up doing anything but hurt him in the end. He knew it wasn’t smart, but it was exceedingly hard to care about that with Taako in his lap.

They both knew it wasn’t going to continue once this cycle was over, and that was fine. They’d go back to normal, whatever normal was for them anymore.

And if it wasn’t fine, someday they could talk about it. It sounded like that was something Taako had figured they would do eventually anyway. As surprised as Kravitz was by that, it made sense. Taako was much more perceptive than he tried to give off, as much as Kravitz tried to keep everything close to the vest.

Even if Taako decided he never wanted to pursue anything, or even talk about all of this again, Kravitz still found himself nothing but relieved when the cycle was finally over.

Sure, they might have spent the majority of the last day of the cycle lazily in Kravitz’s bed. But it wasn’t like there was any harm in enjoying something for as long as they could. If Kravitz was trying to lock in as much of this to memory as he could, well it wasn’t like Taako didn’t seem to be doing the same thing.

Later. Someday they would talk about this, maybe in a couple cycles, maybe not. Once there was some distance and feelings could be properly sorted. Maybe someday they could start with something that counted, but Kravitz cared about him too much to be upset if they didn’t.

When they moved out to the deck of the ship with the others to finally leave, it was like Taako was vibrating. Grabbing his hand, Taako didn’t even seem surprised, squeezing his hand thankful for the support. No one else said anything, and it wasn’t long before they were passing through the plane and taken apart into bright strings of light.

Taako was gone when they were rebuilt, just like he was every cycle. Lup was in her usual place as well, her face quickly twisting into a grimace.

“Fuck. How bad was it?” she asked immediately.

“We got the light, you were our only casualty,” Davenport answered, still steering the ship down towards the new prime material plane.

“Wait, only? What-” she started to ask, and then it was like all the blood drained from her face as her head shot towards the door. “Fuck! Shit, Taako,” she said, already moving. Kravitz was fairly certain that was the only reason no one had tried to pull her into a hug yet.

She didn’t quite manage to make it to the door, Taako barreling through and nearly knocking her to the floor before she could.

Seriously Lulu? Yeah, I know what’s a good idea, sitting directly under the ratigator’s huge ass mouth while I attack it! Surely nothing will go wrong with this plan. I have three PhDs and they’re all from 100 percent certified clown school,” Taako ranted, clinging to his sister and not so subtly crying. Lup has her arms around him, rubbing at his back and seeming to check him over for anything noticeably wrong, despite the fact that they were all reset. Kravitz couldn’t blame her for the urge.

“Disengaging is for cowards bro,” Lup said, obviously trying to keep this light.

“Cowards live and don’t leave their brother on his own for eight goddamn months,”Taako snapped. Lup’s shoulders fell and she seemed to almost deflate at that.

“Shit, god it was that long, wasn’t it? I’m so sorry Ko,” she said softly.

They let the twins have the time they needed together. They were down at the planet by the time the rest of the crew got a chance to really start talking to Lup about the last cycle. Catch her up and joke around and start to fill up that absence that was always left when one of them was missing from a cycle for so long.

It wasn’t until the next week that Kravitz finally got a chance to talk to Lup alone, but that wasn’t a surprise. Taako was by her side almost constantly, and more often than not Barry was hovering around as well. Kravitz told himself he wasn’t exactly in a hurry to have this conversation, but he knew he also shouldn’t put it off either.

Taako had slept in his own room every night in well over seven months in that time. It felt emptier than Kravitz expected, but he told himself it was just an adjustment period.

When Kravitz finally caught Lup alone, it was because Taako was taking a nap and Barry was helping Davenport plot out the trajectory of the light. She was in the kitchen when he found her, and a smile spread across her face at the sight of him.

He remembered how that had at one time been a scowl or a sneer when he’d come into the room, and he was so glad that was behind them.

“Those look good,” he commented, leaning on the counter and looking down at the colorful cookies she was making.

“Yeah, Taako’s favorite. Figured it’d be a nice surprise when he wakes up, ya know? She said, and Kravitz nodded. After a moment Lup put a tray into the oven, and when she turned back towards him she sighed. “Was it bad? He keeps insisting he was fine, but it’s- we’d never been apart that long before,” she asked.

“It was rough. In a lot of ways it was like we lost both of you,” he said, and Lup was frowning at that, but she didn’t look surprised. “He managed better than I expected though, if I'm being honest,” Kravitz added, and Lup nodded.

“He said you helped. A lot. So thanks for that,” she said, the genuine gratitude obvious in her voice.

“Yeah, that’s um- that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about,” Kravitz said, and he was trying not to sound as nervous as he felt. From the look Lup was giving him, he didn’t succeed in that matter. 

“Oh? What about it?” she asked, the curiosity there leaking through. Taking a deep breath, Kravitz told himself he had to get it out there and then he could deal with the consequences later.

“I fucked up lovestruck idiots code,” he blurted out. There was a flash of confusion across Lup’s face, and before she could start asking he continued. “I kissed your brother while you were dead. A couple times. More than a couple times actually. Kinda a lot.”

He expected her to shout or something. Not in anger, he didn’t think Lup would be legitimately pissed over something like that, not unless he hurt Taako. But her face was carefully blank. Without saying anything she turned and started rummaging through one of the cabinets.

“Um, Lup?” he asked. She didn’t answer though. He could see her grab something after a moment, but before he could see what she blinked out of existence. “Lup?” he asked again.

The next thing he knew she was in front of him, upending a very large bag of flour onto his head.

“Are you fucking serious?” she hissed, and Kravitz slumped onto the counter, unable to keep himself from laughing.

“I deserve that,” he said, Lup nodding vehemently at him.

“Fuck yeah you do,” she said, and they were definitely going to have to talk about this more, but god, Kravitz was so glad to have her back.

Chapter Text

That was the first time Lup had died on her own.

And as far as she was concerned, that was the least important part of the equation. Dying wasn’t the worst thing when you were just going to come back what felt like moments later. You weren’t the one really losing anything. Sure it hurt, but so far her deaths had been fast. She could deal with a little bit of temporary pain.

The important thing about this was that this was the first time she had left Taako alone. They hadn’t even been halfway through the year, and instead of running she let her ego and rage cost her eight months without her brother.

The worst part was that in the pit of her stomach, she knew that this wouldn’t be the only time. As much as she liked to tell herself she would be careful, that she would be smarter next time, she knew it was bound to happen again eventually. She could never quite help going in guns blazing.

She’d been back for about a week now, and it was obvious that the year had been rough on Taako. Even if there was no physical signs with their continued reset, it was clear in the way he acted. He barely left her side since she got back, looking like he was afraid the next time he turned his back on her she’d go and get herself killed again. And sure, Lup knew she could be a little foolhardy, but she wasn’t about to put him through that again. Someday she knew she would slip up, but not so soon. She couldn’t hurt her brother like that with the wound still so fresh.

He hadn’t told her a lot about the previous cycle, although Barry had filled her in more. He seemed to be watching her almost as much as Taako, like he couldn’t bare to go more than a few hours without seeing her after such a long absence.

That thought made Lup feel like she had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep her feet on the ground and not start levitating away.

The point was, she didn’t know a whole lot about how Taako had been over the past eight months. Taako insisted he’d managed, and Barry had told her it had definitely been rough. Apparently Taako and Barry had spent a pretty decent amount of time together while she was gone. She wasn't surprised, they had definitely gotten closer over the years. It was something she was thankful for.

She also couldn’t be surprised when they had both said that Kravitz had been helping Taako. To say that was obvious would be an understatement.

So it was a relief when she finally got a moment to talk to Kravitz alone. Because one, as much as she loved her brother and Barry, she was starting to miss hanging out with the rest of the crew one on one.

And two, she could get a more honest idea of how Taako had been over the last year. It was funny considering how long she spent generally not enjoying the dude’s existence, but she trusted him to tell her the truth.

She might not have been expecting him to tell her that kind of truth right off the bat.

“I just- seriously? I wasn’t gone that long!” she said, and she was trying to sound mad but the dumb grin on her face was probably giving her away. Sure, she would have liked to have been there to give her brother and friend shit in real time, but she’d just have to make up for lost time.

“Can I go wash this off or are we doing this now?” Kravitz asked, trying and failing to wipe some of the flour off his face.

“Nope, we gotta do this now. Taako will wake up at some point and I’m not wasting these precious moments,” she said. Kravitz rolled his eyes but didn’t actually seem all that annoyed either. Definitely embarrassed though.

“I mean, there’s not really um, all that much to it,” Kravitz said, heading over to the sink to start wiping off the flour with a wet cloth. Lup gave an incredibly disbelieving look at that, slowly raising an eyebrow.

“Not that much to it? You broke code and started dating my brother while I was in the cold hard ground. I demand a freaking play by play Casanova,” Lup said. Kravitz had stopped trying to clean his face and had gone on to dusting off what he could from his clothes, so she was able to see it when he winced.

“I mean, technically we cremated you. We figured that would be more your style,” Kravitz said, and Lup shrugged.

“That or my skull turned into a decorative party cup. You’re deflecting babe,” she said, and she was starting to get a little worried now. There was definitely something making him nervous that he hadn’t told her yet.

“I’m not deflecting, I just meant it when I said there isn’t much. It’s not- We’re not, you know?” he said, and Lup gave him a blank look before shaking her head.

“Nope, can’t say I do know, you’re not what?” she asked, and Kravitz sighed.

“We’re not actually dating. It was just what I said, we kissed a few times. Maybe more than a few, but you get the point,” he said, his half elf ears pointed back as far as they would go in embarrassment and disappointment. Lup was frowning now, the excited giddiness she’d had before quickly dissipating.

“Okay but that’s- you still like, you still love him, right?” she asked, scared for a moment that things had gone worse than she could have imagined while she was gone. Kravitz swiftly nodded though, seeming almost offended by the very question.

“Yes! That’s- of course! If anything it’s only gotten worse,” he said, and Lup’s frown deepened. She was starting to get a theory on what was going on here, but she couldn’t be sure yet.

“So, you’re still stupidly gay for my brother, and you’ve kissed enough that you cannot in good conscious try and claim it was only a few times,” she said, and Kravitz nodded along. “Then why the fuck aren’t you two dating? I know we had this whole lovestruck idiots club, and like, there are lots of ways this doesn’t go well, but like, come on. At some point it just becomes ridiculous,” she said. Kravitz shrugged, and he’d stopped trying to fix his clothes by now and was leaning against the counter, staring down pensively.

“I just- the last thing I wanted to do was take advantage of Taako, especially while he was mourning you. He was very clear about what he wanted out of it, and I’m not going to go presuming a relationship when he only wanted a distraction,” Kravitz said, and Lup could feel his shoulders slumping and her expression get more and more distressed with every word.

“That’s what he told you? That he just wanted a distraction?” she asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“Yeah, basically. No strings attached, something he could not think about for a bit. It was- I know it was probably wrong of me, but I’m not going to make it worse now by pressing it,” he said. He looked so fucking dejected and yet so sure that this was the right thing to do. Lup’s distress was quickly starting to meld into anger.

“Krav, I want you to listen to me alright. You and the rest of this crew have basically been the closest thing to a family me and Ko have ever had,” she said. Kravitz looked nervous about whatever she was going to say, but he smiled slightly at that.

“Of course, I consider you all family too,” he said, and Lup nodded sharply at that.

‘Right, so that thing you said? About you not wanting to take advantage of Taako?” she asked, and Kravitz sighed, nodding and rubbing at his temples.

“I know, I know it was wrong of me. I shouldn’t have done anything if I already had feelings, it was stupid and-” he started, but Lup cut in before he could finish.

“Ah ah ah! I wasn’t done! Babe, you were so fucking worried about not taking advantage of Taako, you kinda missed the glaring fucking fact that he went and did that exact thing to you!” she snapped. She loved her brother, and she knew how much he fucking cared about Kravitz, about all of them.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t a fucking idiot sometimes.

“That’s not- no!” Kravitz said, a look of disbelief on his face. “Lup that is not how it went. It’s- he didn’t make me do anything, he didn’t trick me into thinking there would be anything else down the line. He just… asked. And I said yes,” he said, and Lup sighed heavily.

“Krav, bud, there’s no way he didn’t already know how you felt about him when he asked,” she said, and she could see him hesitate slightly at that.

“I still could have said no,” he muttered after a moment.

“Could you?” Lup pressed, and it was a genuine question. After a moment Kravitz sighed. When he didn’t try to keep arguing with her she continued. “I’m not saying he was being malicious or anything like that. I’m pretty damn sure he wasn’t even telling the truth about fucking ‘no strings attached.' God, who the hell does he think he’s fooling?” she grumbled.

“I mean, fooled me pretty well if that’s the case,” Kravitz muttered. Lup couldn’t help but wince at that, because yeah.

“I’m gonna talk to him. This is ridiculous, he need to either admit his feelings and take you on a proper fucking date or apologize for being an ass and making you his distraction,” she said, turning to storm down to her room where Taako was sleeping. Before she could get more than a few steps though Kravitz scrambled to get in her way.

“That’s not- god no Lup, please don’t,” he said, and Lup stopped, crossing her arms and frowning up at him.

“He’s my brother, I’m supposed to give him these kind of wake up calls,” she insisted.

“I mean, that’s fair. I just… I don’t know. If Taako really is interested I don’t want it to start like that,” he said, starting to plunk nervously at his shirt sleeve. “And it’s not- he kinda did say that he wanted to… talk about it all. Later. That he knew when he was hurting over your death wasn’t a good time to made decisions. I was just trying not to get my hopes up about that, I guess,” he said, and Lup felt some of the anger and frustration inside of her fade. She ran an exasperated hand down her face, sighing heavily.

“You’re both fucking idiots, you know that?” she said, and Kravitz smiled sheepishly.

“I figure it’s a pretty safe assumption,” he said, which got a snort out of Lup. “Listen, I promise I’ll talk to him. I just- I don’t want to rush this,” he said, and Lup raised an eyebrow at that.

“It’s been twenty-eight years Kravy,” she said.

“How are things going with Barry again? Any new developments on that front?” he asked, a cocky as fuck smirk on his face. Lup opened her mouth to snap a retort, but it died in her throat.

“Fuck you, I need to finish making cookies,” she said, turning around and stomping back into the kitchen. Kravitz was snickering behind her, and Lup couldn’t bring herself to be as annoyed at him as she should be.

“Glad to have you back Lup. It was hard for everyone, you know? We missed you,” Kravitz said, sincerity clear in his voice. Lup couldn’t help but smile as she picked back up in the cookie making process. They probably wouldn’t be done by the time Taako woke up now, but he could wait a little bit.

“I know, and thanks? Even though you’re both idiots it’s kind of a relief. Knowing he has you when I’m not around,” Lup said. She hoped Kravitz knew the importance of what she'd just said. There were precious few people Lup would trust to take care of her brother while she was gone, and all of them lived on this ship.

She actually trusted Taako to let Kravitz take care of him while she was gone too, and that was an even smaller list.

“That means a lot Lup,” he said, and Lup could tell that he understood. They fell into a comfortable quiet as Lup cooked and Kravitz occasionally handed her an ingredient or spoon or such. It was nice. Time didn’t feel like it was passing when they were dead, but somehow Lup still missed this.

“So, were you two like, just making out all the time, or did you, you know?” Lup asked, giving an exaggerated wag of her eyebrows and completely shattering the comfortable silence between them. Kravitz sputtered, his ears sticking straight up in embarrassment.

“That’s not- we- that’s private! I’m certainly not going to discuss it with you!” he shouted after a moment.

“Aw, what about lovestruck idiots club though?” Lup asked, all over the top disappointed and struggling not to laugh.

“You’re his sister! I’m going to take a shower, I’m covered in flour!” he shouted, starting to stomp away and Lup gave in, full out laughing out.

Yeah, time passed differently when you were dead, but Lup still really fucking missed this.

——

Kravitz knew that he told Lup that he would talk to Taako about well, them. Whatever it was they were and whatever it was they wanted to be. And he was planning on doing that.

Things were just… busy right now. It wasn’t the right time to go making that kind of life change. He was pretty sure Taako felt the same way too. The weren’t avoiding each other per say, although it was maybe a little awkward the first time they were alone together after Lup had come back. Kravitz liked to think they got over that little hiccup pretty fast all things considered.

They were definitely dragging their feet a little with actually moving forward. It was just-

He didn’t want to mess it up.

And it wasn’t like there weren’t more important things they needed to focus on anyway.

Cycle 28 passed relatively uneventfully. They were all thankful for it after the rough previous cycle. On cycle 29 they didn’t manage to get the light, and Lucretia died during their retreat from the hunger.

It was a little morbid and somewhat redundant since Lucretia recorded everything anyway, but Kravitz had started keeping a small list of how many times everyone had died so far.

Magnus: 3

Merle: 2

Taako: 1

Lup: 2

Barry: 2

Lucretia: 2

Davenport: 1

Kravitz: 2

Fifteen deaths in twenty nine cycles all together. A death almost every other cycle, or at least that was how it averaged out.

They were on cycle 30 now, and this world was a rich one. It was going to be hard not to immediately immerse themselves in all the culture, to remind themselves that they still had a mission to do here.

Or at least, that’s what Kravitz had assumed. When they met with the abbot about the light, they were willing to give it over. Or well, they would be if Merle managed to prove himself to their religious order. Which left the rest of them without much to do but get a chance to enjoy a world full of people and art and life for once.  

For a moment Kravitz was almost overwhelmed with the possibilities, but it didn’t take long for him to fall back on music.

The best way to describe the music of this world was peaceful. It was relaxing in a way that settled deep in the bones, in a way Kravitz wasn’t sure he could capture with his fiddle. That wasn't the only instrument he could use though, far from it. He supposed it had been far too long since he'd dusted off his skills for some of the others.

It took some convincing to get access to a studio space with a large grand piano. Luckily for Kravitz, he was pretty damn good at being convincing when he wanted to be.

And that was how he spent most of the year. Everyone was doing their own thing for the most part. Kravitz cared deeply for the rest of the crew, they were family to him. Still, thirty years living in the same ship with the same people, there was definitely some peace in spending time by himself. Talking to the locals and learning about the music here and hoping that Merle managed to earn their faith so that this vibrant world would not be lost once they had to leave.

Even after a year of studying the music here and practicing and creating his own, nothing he played could quite capture that lulling peace that was woven into the melodies here. Whatever he tried always ended up having a somber edge to it, but Kravitz supposed that was fitting.

Still, him and the rest of the crew were set to meet with Merle and the abbot in a week to determine if they were worthy of the light.

And he knew they still needed to talk.

This wasn’t quite talking, but maybe it would lead to something.

“Taako?” he asked, peaking his head into the kitchen. He wasn’t surprised to find him in there, he and Lup had been on a bit of a food bender this cycle. When they weren’t out scouring restaurants they were in the kitchen applying new techniques. Kravitz hadn’t thought the twins could get any better at cooking. He was wrong and his mind was still kind of reeling from that.

“Sup?” Taako asked casually. That’s how it had been between them for the past three cycles. Casual. Just like Taako had said, it was like the cycle without Lup had never happened. It hadn’t counted, and things had fallen back into their version of normalcy.

Maybe it would be smarter to leave it like that. Kravitz wasn’t sure if he’d ever done the smart thing.

“Are you busy? I had something I wanted to show you,” he asked, trying not to let his nerves betray him. This didn’t have to be a big thing. Chances were Taako might not even realize it was a big thing.

“Sure thing, just gimme half a sec,” Taako said, wrapping up the bowl he had and putting it into the fridge. “Needs to chill anyway. What’s up?” Taako asked, turning back towards him.

“It’s a little bit of a walk,” Kravitz said. That seemed to take Taako by surprise, but he untied his apron and put his shoes on, not seeming bothered any. It really wasn’t that far to the studio Kravitz had been using for this year, and it was a nice day out, almost a little too warm with their robes.

“I think I’m gonna miss this world when we leave,” Kravitz said. A bit to his surprise Taako nodded in agreement.

“I’m gonna miss this food. Lup and I have been stocking up on as many spices as possible but I’m gonna have to learn how to transmute it once we run out,” he said, and Kravitz chuckled some, nodding in agreement.

“I didn’t think two could get any better at cooking if I’m being honest,” Kravitz said, pulling out the key to the studio and letting Taako in.

“Hey, I feel ya, but it turns out you can even improve on perfection if you try hard enough,” he said with a grin. The room he was using was in the back, and Kravitz flicked on the light as they went inside. It was exceedingly bare, nothing but the piano with its seat and a few folding chairs. One of the walls was composed entirely of mirrors, but luckily it was at his back whenever Kravitz sat down at the piano.

“Starting to think you didn’t bring me here to see something,” Taako said, and Kravitz rolled his eyes at that.

“Semantics Taako,” he said, walking over to the piano and sitting down. Taako grabbed one of the fold out chairs, pulling it over and sitting down with a completely unnecessary flourish. Kravitz couldn’t help letting out a snort of amusement at that, a smile tugging at his lips despite the nervousness in his stomach.

Then it was quiet for a moment as Kravitz sat in front of the piano, gathering his courage.

“So… piano?” Taako cut in, and Kravitz had to resist the urge to roll his eyes again.

“I just thought you out of anyone would appreciate a dramatic pause,” he said, which got a surprised laugh out of Taako.

“Fucking fair enough, drama away,” he said with a grin. Kravitz couldn’t help but smile back, and taking a deep breath, he started to play.

His hands moved over the keys and Kravitz didn’t let himself look at Taako as he played. Instead he focused solely on the music, letting himself fall into it. He’d stopped trying to capture the quiet peace in the music of this world a while ago, instead weaving it into the repetitious melancholy and longing his own work shaped. The world seemed to fade away as he played, none of that sharp clarity it usually provided him with him battle. The scene around him only coming back into focus again slowly once the song came to an end.

All his nerves came back at once, and it took a shocking amount of effort for him to actually look over at Taako.

He was staring at him, an almost slack-jawed expression on his face. Then he blinked hard, and only realizing then that Kravitz was waiting for some sort of reaction.

“Pretty,” he blurted out, a still somewhat stunned look on his face.

Kravitz couldn’t help it, immediately dissolving into a fit of laughter at that. An extremely offended look fell over Taako’s face, which only caused Kravitz to laugh more.

“Oh fuck you! I don’t know music okay? It sounded pretty! What else do you want from me?” he snapped, and Kravitz was still grinning and holding his sides as he shook his head.

“Nothing, that’s perfect,” he said, and Taako just huffed. After another moment Kravitz took a deep breath, managing to get himself under control again. “I uh, I wrote it for you,” he said. The laughter had broken a lot of his nerves, but admitting that still felt big, even if it was probably obvious.

“Oh, that’s- thanks. I liked it,” Taako said simply, and Kravitz tried not to feel too disappointed by that reaction. It was about the best he figured he could hope for.

“I’m glad,” he said. It was quiet again, but before Kravitz could decide whether to stand or not Taako sighed heavily.

“Listen, Krav, it’s-” he started, but Kravitz quickly shook his head.

“No, no it’s fine. We can talk about it later, I just- I honestly just wanted you to hear it,” he said. Taako’s shoulders slumped some at that, a conflicted look on his face.

“You know I’m gonna keep putting it off if you let me, right? Cha’ boy ain’t good at this kind of stuff,” he said, and Kravitz chuckled some at that.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m clearly not all that great at it myself,” he said, moving to stand up. “Like I said, we don’t have to do this now. Let’s get back to the ship and-” he started to say, but then there was a hand on his wrist and Taako yanked him back down onto the piano bench.

“No, fuck that. We’re doing this now,” he said, sounding mostly like he was telling himself that. “Why aren’t we dating?” he asked bluntly, and Kravitz blinked at the unexpected question.

“Do you want to be?” Kravitz asked back, because despite everything that was still something he hadn’t managed to convince himself of fully.

“What kind of question is that?” Taako said, like the answer was obvious. Maybe it was, but Kravitz still had a hard time believing it.

“A sincere one,” Kravitz told him, which caused Taako to pause before nodding the slightest bit.

“I mean… yeah. Obviously, I refuse to believe you didn’t pick up on those signals man,” he said, and Kravitz shook his head.

“No, I noticed.”

“Then we’re back at the original question. What the fuck’s been the hold up?” he asked, and this really wasn’t the way Kravitz had envisioned this conversation going. He was a romantic at heart, so the whole thing taking place after playing a song he wrote specifically for Taako still felt right. It fell apart after that though, with a lot more romantic confessions of love and a lot less blunt questioning of their relationship status.

Kravitz figured he should probably be more disappointed than he was. Somehow he wasn’t, like this was the only way it could have gone.

“You said it wasn’t a good time,” he said, and Taako still didn’t look satisfied with that answer.

“Yeah, three cycles ago while Lup was dead, what happened after that?" he asked, and Kravitz let out a small huff of frustration.

“I’m not the only one involved in this you know. If you wanted something done you could have made that happen too. You know I would have said yes,” he said, and Taako shrunk back a little at that.

“I mean, yeah. That’s why I didn’t. Was shitty of me to put that on you the first time,” he mumbled. Kravitz wasn’t sure if Lup had actually talked to him about that, or if he’d come to that conclusion himself.

“It’s different now though, unless… you’re still looking for something without strings,” Kravitz said, and even though he knew that wasn’t it he was still relieved when Taako shook his head.

“We travel around on a boat powered by bonds, no strings is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe I said that,” Taako grumbled, and it got a laugh out of Kravitz. A smile was starting to force its way onto his face now that he couldn’t fight for the life of him.

“I’m pretty sure the stupidest thing is me believing you, but close second for sure,” he said, and this time Taako was the one to crack. He was smiling nervously now, a hopeful look on his face.

“So uh, dating then? Like, for real?” he asked. Kravitz frowned, a serious expression on his face, before shaking his head.

“No, no I don’t think so,” he said, Taako’s face immediately falling.

“What? Why not?!” he whined, and Kravitz crossed his arms and leaned back some.

“Well I mean, this whole thing just doesn’t feel very romantic,” he said gesturing between them. Taako sputtered at that, an absolutely incredulous look on his face.

“Not romantic? You played me a beautiful goddamn song you wrote for me! I almost cried!” Taako shouted. Kravitz was trying very hard to keep the serious expression on his face, but he couldn’t quite bite down the smile anymore.

“Maybe I would like to be romanced a little as well,” he said. Taako seemed as determined as Kravitz was to keep an annoyed look on his face, but his act was also starting to break as he let out a huff of frustration.

“Yeah alright, you want romance? Fine, I can do romance! How much longer we got here, a week?” he asked, and Kravitz nodded.

“Just about,” he said, and there was a look of determination on Taako’s face now.

“Yeah alright, I can work with that. Prepared to be fucking wooed babe,” Taako announced, and Kravitz felt like his heart was going to pound out of his chest. All of this was just pretense, Kravitz didn’t actually need anything from Taako.

It felt amazing that Taako was willing to do it anyway. More than willing from the look on his face, almost jumping at the chance to give Kravitz what he wanted. That alone was enough to almost make Kravitz say fuck it and pull him into a kiss then and there.

He managed to hold himself back though, if only because he really did want to see what Taako would come up with.

“I look forward to it,” he said earnestly, and Taako nodded.

“You better,” he said. Kravitz chuckled, standing up and holding out a hand for him to take, if he wanted. Taako stared at it for a moment, a small frown forming on his face. “Dude, what part of I’m romancing you do you not get?” he asked, and Kravitz grinned wider.

“You’ll have to be faster than that,” he said. Taako snorted, rolling his eyes but taking Kravitz’s hand and standing up.

A part of Kravitz was telling him that this was a bad idea. It was a pretty large part, it had kept him from doing anything for so long now. After listening to it for so long, he couldn’t rightfully say it was wrong.

He couldn’t rightfully say he cared anymore either though.

Chapter Text

Romance. Okay, romance. Taako could do romance. He was one of the smartest, craftiest motherfucker in some thirty odd universes. If Kravitz wanted romance then he was gonna get some goddamn romance.

Or he would as soon as Taako figured out what he should do. Oh fuck, he had less than a week to figure out what to do. He told Kravitz he was going to woo him and he had no idea how he was gonna do that.

Okay, okay he just had to be smart about this. If thirty years stuck on a small ship traveling through the apocalypse and dealing with Taako’s bullshit hadn’t convinced Kravitz to reconsider his choice of a crush, one date probably wasn’t gonna change his mind either.

But that didn’t matter to Taako. Even if he could do the most halfhearted shitty date imaginable and Kravitz would think it was charming, he wasn’t going to bullshit this one. He needed this to be perfect.

Once they had gotten back to the starblaster Taako gave Kravitz a wink, told him he needed to go work on the most romantic night of their freakishly long lives, and headed off to his room. On his way he’d grabbed a notebook, because this required some serious planning. He was pacing around now, writing down ideas and crossing them out again with almost alarming frequency.

At least this world was a pretty damn good one for a date. He had to get it on this world too, because there was no telling if the next one would be some deathplanet hell hole. They had plenty of options here, although that was almost an issue on its own because there could be higher expectations. Maybe he should just go traditional? Kravitz tended to like that traditional schmoopy romance junk. A nice dinner and flowers and wine and Taako trying to say how he genuinely felt for once in his life.

But maybe that would be too predictable? The last thing Taako wanted was for Kravitz to think it was predictable and boring. That he was boring.

Taako didn’t stop pacing as Lup came into the room. He could see her stop and watch him out of the corner of his eye, but he was too focused on this right now. He wrote down ‘bowling?’ and then frantically scratched it out because bowling was the worst date idea, what was wrong with him?

“Okay, I’ll bite. What the fuck are you up to?” Lup asked after a minute or two. Taako didn’t look up from where he was writing ‘flowers? - avoid Merle at all cost’ as he answered.

“Romance Lulu, you wouldn’t understand,” he said, because even in the midst of his very slight panic he could still tease his sister about the painfully obvious feelings her and Barry were still sitting on. He could see the fake offended look on her face as she moved to flop back on the bed, watching him with passing amusement.

“And you do?” she asked, and Taako scoffed.

“Of- I mean, of course I do,” he insisted, not sounding as certain as he wanted to. He could tell Lup was starting to get real fucking curious about whatever it was he was going on about, and well, he knew this wasn’t gonna be a thing they could hide for long. Or well, Taako could, he doubted Kravitz would want to though.

And what Kravitz wanted to do had started to really fucking matter to Taako somewhere along the line. It mattered a lot more than Taako's desire to keep on hiding everything, at the very least.

“So, what’s the sudden interest in romance? Also last I checked you need like, a minimum of two people for that,” Lup pressed. Taako knew for a fact she was fucking with him and would know exactly who was involved once romance came up. He considered trying to avoid the subject a bit more, but that would let Lup have too much fun trying to pry it out of him. So instead he was just gonna barrel on through it.

“Kravitz will only start dating me if I properly woo him, so I gotta think of some really fucking good date ideas,” Taako said, and Lup immediately pushed herself up on the bed. Her mouth was opened in a wide, confused smile, looking like she’d start laughing if she wasn’t so befuddled.

“What?” she asked, the word airy with delight. Taako had stopped writing down ideas at this point, but he was pretending to now so that he had an excuse not to look Lup in the eyes.

“Krav and I talked and we wanna start dating for real, but he said I gotta put in some effort in the romance department before we make shit official,” he explained. When he chanced a look at Lup she was grinning like crazy.

“I think he was joking bro bro,” she said, and Taako nodded, starting to go over his list again.

“Of course he was! I’m not an idiot Lup! You think I’m about to back down from that sort of challenge though? Handsome ass motherfucker’s about to get the most romantic night of his life if I have anything to say about it,” Taako said, trying to build up his determination again. Lup laughed at that, but she still looked genuinely delighted.

“Yeah, I can’t blame you on that,” she said, and Taako nodded. “It’s- I’m really happy for you Taako. You two deserve it,” she added, her voice soft and full of more emotions than Taako knew how to deal with. Even after all this time he was still pretty shitty at some things. He’d stopped pacing, lowering his notebooks some as he sighed.

“I really fucking like him Lup,” he said quietly. Sure, it was obvious, but he knew Lup could tell how much he meant by that. It was too much to say or even really think about, but Lup knew him better than he knew himself, so that wasn’t an issue.

“I know,” she said, and Taako let out a breath of relief, although for what he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t like he didn’t know Lup knew and would approve. That was pretty damn obvious. Even still, he guessed a part of him was still nervous. This was a change, a big one. After thirty years they kind of got into a routine, so maybe he was a little worried about how everyone else was gonna react.

Or well, he would worry about that once he figured out how he was gonna kick this whole thing off.

“So, whatcha got so far Mr. Romantic? I’ll give you a hand because I care about you that much,” she said. As much as Taako wanted to insist that he had this whole thing under control, he wasn’t going to turn down the help.

“So far, the only concrete thing is ‘definitely not bowling,’” he said, which got another snort out of Lup.

“Yeah okay, we got some work to do,” she said.

Taako spent the next two days planning. That felt like not enough time, but he was kind of on a time crunch here. A few times Kravitz had knocked on his door only to be shooed away by Lup, who insisted he be patient.

By the end of two days though he had a plan. It didn’t seem good enough, but Lup wasn’t letting him tear it all down and start from scratch, so it was gonna have to do. He went to Kravitz’s door, knocking on it loudly. It took a few seconds where Taako definitely wasn’t fidgeting nervously, but then Kravitz finally opened up.

As soon as he saw Taako a delighted smile spread across his face, and Taako could feel one trying to fight its way onto his face as well. God, he had it bad.

“I was worried you were going to spend the whole rest of the cycle locked in your room,” Kravitz said, which was fair, they didn’t have a lot of time left. About four to six days, depending on how slow the hunger decided to be. “It’s- you know you don’t actually have to go out of your way for anything, right? I appreciate it, but as long as its with you I don’t-” he started to say, but Taako cut him off.

“I know man, listen that’s not- I want to. We’re doing this,” he said, and Kravitz’s smile softened some at that.

“Is… are we doing this now?” he asked, and right, the whole reason he was here. Taako quickly shook his head.

“Nah, tomorrow. Just uh, thought I’d stop by to give you the heads up. It’s gonna be a full day thing, dress nice,” he said, and Kravitz nodded, an amused look on his face.

“Any particular theme we’re following here?” he asked, and Taako snorted at that.

“The usual aesthetic will do nicely, but don't be afraid to get fancy,” he said.

“Sounds excellent. I’m looking forward to it,” Kravitz said, and there was a pause as they stood at the door, neither of them doing or saying anything. When Kravitz started leaning forward slowly Taako took a quick step back, offering him a big grin when Kravitz looked at him with confusion and disappointment.

“Not dating yet, patience,” he said, which got a laugh out of Kravitz.

“If you insist,” he pouted. Taako winked, quickly turning to leave before the small bit of self control he’d managed to build up withered away. It was way too tempting to say screw it to the whole plan and pull Kravitz down into a kiss, but there would be time for that later. There was going to be a hell of a lot of time.

So instead he made himself wait, and pretty early the next day he was knocking on Kravitz’s door again. He’d sent Lup over an hour or so earlier to let him know to start getting ready.

When he opened the door Kravitz was dressed in a suit. A nice fucking suit, black with red trimmings and silver jewelry. He’d forgone his IPRE robe, all clean tailored lines. His hair was twisted up into an elaborate bun, and there was a thin line of silver eye makeup on that accented his eyes perfectly.

He looked fucking gorgeous, and he was smiling nervously down at Taako the longer he just stood there.

“You uh, you said to dress nice, but if this is too formal I can change real quick,” Kravitz said. Taako immediately shook his head, reaching out and grabbing Kravitz’s arm before he could turn back into the room.

“Fuck no, that’s perfect,” he said, just managing to catch himself before the words ‘you’re perfect’ slipped out. “It’s perfect,” he added instead, the nervousness in Kravitz’s smiling starting to fade some at that.

“You look amazing Taako,” Kravitz said, and Taako barely glanced down at himself again before giving him a confident smile. He certainly wasn’t underdressed when compared to Kravitz, since he had been planning for them to go to some pretty swanky places. He had on a shimmering blue and purple vest over a white lace shirt, with matching dark blue pants and a shimmering purple hat.

“Natch,” he said, adjusting the hold he had on Kravitz’s arm to start to properly lead him out of the Starblaster.

“So, do I get any sort of itinerary for the day’s plans, or is it all a surprise?” Kravitz asked as they left the ship. Their arms were linked together as they walked, and Taako was having a hard time not grinning like an idiot.

“Well, I was gonna tell you, but then you called it an itinerary like I’m some dad dragging their family on a road trip no one wanted, so nah, you get to be surprised,” he said, which got a chuckle out of Kravitz.

“I can do with a surprise,” he said, not sounding bothered by that in the slightest. Taako wasn’t real surprised by that, even though he’d kind of been expecting some sort of pouting.

The walk to the first destination wasn’t too far, but they still managed to get a lot of looks from people as they walked. That was to be expected though, dressed to the nines at 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.

God, maybe he had made the start of the date too early? This was obviously some evening looks they were wearing. He’d already made the reservations though, and if they didn’t go now it would ruin the rest of the plans and-

“I’m really excited Taako. You honestly didn’t have to go through all this trouble,” Kravitz said, breaking off his thoughts, which was for the best. They were getting close now anyway, he should at least attempt to focus.

“Man, if being stuck in an endless hell loop of repeating apocalypses has taught me anything it’s that we don’t have to do jack shit. Doesn’t mean it’s not nice to sometimes anyway,” Taako said, and Kravitz nodded softly in agreement at that.

They’d reached the restaurant now, so Taako pulled them to a stop. It certainly didn’t seem like the kind of place to require quite as fancy outfits as what they were wearing, but that didn’t matter much to Taako. Kravitz glanced between him and the place, an amused look on his face.

“Lunch?” he asked, and Taako nodded, moving to start into the building. Kravitz was still stopped though, and had started leaning towards Taako again. Before he got close enough to actually kiss him Taako put a hand up, blocking him and getting another pout.

"Gotta let the romance run its course first my dude," he said with a teasing grin. If Kravitz was insistent on waiting for a proper date this time, he was gonna make him wait.

"Alright then, romance away," he said, looking more amused than anything as he pulled back. Taako nodded, and this time Kravitz let himself be led into the restaurant.

“Any other planet and I woulda cooked for you myself, for sure. This shit is legit though babe,” Taako said as they entered. It was a little hole in the wall place, but Taako had been to a lot of restaurants this cycle, and after a lot of deliberation this was the perfect one for a date. It wasn’t the one with the best food, but it was the one with the food he was sure Kravitz would enjoy the most. Everything a little bit more sweet than one expected it would be.

“Um, reservation for Taako, I assume?” the hostess said, obviously a little taken aback by the two of them. Taako grinned widely and nodded, leaning on Kravitz’s arm a little more as he did.

“Got it in one bubala,” he said. The hostess smiled back, grabbing a few menus before leading them back to a booth. It was pretty slow right now, and as soon as they were seated she took their order for drinks and headed back to the kitchen. Kravitz immediately started looking through the menu, but Taako didn’t bother with that yet. He spent a while the other night looking over menus to figure out which place to go to, so he had a pretty good idea of what to get.

Kravitz was smiling as he read it over for himself though, and that was good. He definitely seemed interested in a lot of the food.

“Taako?” Kravitz asked after a moment, and Taako blinked, realizing that he was smiling all stupid and he couldn't bring himself to care.

“Yeah?” he asked, and Kravitz had a real amused look on his face, although Taako wasn’t sure why.

“Nothing, you were just, kinda staring,” he said, and Taako could feel his face heating up. He hadn’t even realized he’d been, nor did he have any idea how long he’d been like that. He tried his best not to look flustered though, leaning back in his booth some.

“I mean, can you blame me when the view is so fine?” he asked, which got an embarrassed laugh out of Kravitz.

“Fair enough,” he said.

“And so modest too!” Taako snorted, and a waitress came back with their drinks then. It didn’t take long to order, and they maybe ordered a bit more than was needed, especially because Taako had plans to eat again later tonight.

“So, do I really not get to have any idea on the day’s plans?” Kravitz asked as they waited for their food to get there. So far things were going good, but they were just that, good. Not spectacular, but there was still a lot of the day left, they’d only started.

“I think I wanna leave it a surprise my dude,” Taako said, and Kravitz didn’t seem bothered by that. He didn’t say anything else either, taking a sip of his drink. It was a nice quiet, they’d been on a ship together for thirty years, they’d long since gotten used to small stretches of silence. There was something else there that hadn’t been for a long time, at least not until after that disastrous cycle without Lup.

It was awkward.

“So,” Taako said, drumming on the table some with his finger.

“This place is nice,” Kravitz said, and Taako nodded in agreement.

“Cozy.”

“Mhmm,” Kravitz agreed, taking another sip, probably a bit sooner than he needed to. Okay, nevermind, this was the worst. They were ten minutes in and Taako was pretty sure he’d already messed up. “So,” Kravitz continued, and okay, maybe some more talk would fix this. “Lup knows, I guess?” he asked, and right, that was probably a thing to discuss.

“Oh yeah, Is uh, is that cool?” Taako asked, and Kravitz quickly nodded.

“Yes, no it’s fine! She’s known how I’ve felt about you for ages now,” he said, and Taako raised an eyebrow at that, suddenly very curious.

“She has? How long we talking here?” he pressed, and he could see Kravitz’s ears sticking up slightly in embarrassment.

“Oh that’s, not- not too long. Um, how long have you-” he started to ask, but Taako shook his head.

“Ah ah ah, nope. I asked first,” he said, and Kravitz was avoiding his eyes now. God, he was so fucking cute. Taako could see him debating on what to say before finally saying and taking another drink. He was gonna need a refill before the food even got here.

“The beach world. When she was teaching me how to cook, she kind of called me out on it,” Kravitz admitted. Taako snorted at that, only because he could imagine Lup hounding Kravitz until he admitted how he felt.

It was probably pretty similar to how he had badgered Barry, come to think of it.

“Well?” Kravitz pressed, and Taako blinked at that. The confusion on his face must’ve been evident, because he continued. “Did uh, did you ever tell anyone?” he asked, and oh, right.

“I mean, I’m pretty damn sure Lup knew. That doesn’t really count though, I don’t have to tell her anything for her to know,” he said, and Kravitz had a fond look on his face at that. “I might’ve mentioned it to Barry one or twice. And maybe Magnus cause you know how Magnus is. Merle was there but like, I doubt he was paying attention. Lucretia’s always asking questions…” he muttered, his voice getting quieter as he continued. Kravitz was looking at him incredulously.

“Is- Taako, was there anyone you didn’t tell?” he asked, and Taako shrugged.

“I don’t think I told Davenport directly? Just uh, vaguely gay in your direction,” he said. Kravitz’s bewildered expression was starting to crack some, a smile stubbornly trying to fight its way onto his face. “I didn’t tell you?” Taako tried, which got a laugh out of him. 

“I suppose that’s true,” he said, and Taako was worried he’d be pissed but instead he looked pleased. “I guess that means we don’t have to worry too much about telling everyone about this,” Kravitz added, and Taako nodded.

“Yeah, might not be that big of a surprise for everyone,” he agreed. Their food came then and like Taako had expected, it was fucking incredible. Some of the awkwardness had definitely dissipated with the talking and the meal, especially now that Kravitz could go on about how delicious everything was.

Shit had left awkward and had fallen squarely back into good, but it wasn’t great yet. Hopefully the next stop would help that some.

Leading Kravitz out of the restaurant once they finished, the next place was a bit of a walk. It was a nice day out, and Kravitz never seemed to mind walking places. Plus, it wasn’t going to start for a little bit anyway, so they needed to kill a little bit of time.

It was a nice walk too. Possibly a bit out of the way, but this way went by a river. There were ducks or some other kind of water birds swimming around in there, and it was nice. It'd been a long time since Taako had described things as just nice.

“You know, I wouldn’t do all this mushy shit for anyone,” Taako spoke up as they walked. Kravitz chuckled some at that and nodded.

“I’m aware,” he said, amusement clear in his voice. Taako shook his head though, and he reached over to grab Kravitz’s hand. After several goddamn decades, he could afford to be at least a little honest.

“No, just… seriously. We’ve met a lot of people, too fucking many if anyone asked me, but I’m, ya know. Glad you’re one of the ones I’m stuck with,” he said, and Kravitz was smiling softly at him as they walked. He looked like he was about to say something, but Taako continued, the grip he had on his hand tightening as he did. “It’s nice. Knowing that like, even when you die I don’t gotta worry about losing you. I know the situation’s fucked, but that part’s... reassuring.”

Kravitz was quiet for a moment, and Taako hadn’t been sure how he’d react to that. He knew he wasn’t really comfortable with that aspect of their journey, but it was true. He didn’t have to worry about losing anyone, and Taako was real fucking grateful for that.

“It is,” Kravitz said, and there was obviously something else he wanted to say, so Taako didn’t interrupt. “But it’s… you know it’s not forever, right? I mean hopefully, it’s not forever. We’re going to win someday, or- or I suppose one day we’ll lose for good, but either way, everything ends eventually,” he finished, a solemn tone to his voice.

He wasn’t wrong, but that thought was more terrifying than the apocalypse as far as Taako was concerned.

“Ugh, way to be a fucking downer my dude! I’m trying to be heartfelt here!” he complained loudly, needing to break the seriousness of this. It seemed to work somewhat, Kravitz giving him a sheepish smile.

“Sorry, you’re gonna have to start calling me grim again,” he said, and Taako snorted some at that. Taking the hand he was holding, Taako maneuvered them so Kravitz had his arm wrapped over his shoulders.

“Yeah, you’re lucky I like you so much. I'll just have to put up with your doom and gloom,” he said, and Kravitz beamed at that, looking like he genuinely did feel lucky.

It took Taako a minute to get his voice back after that, but it wasn’t long before they managed to get to the orchestra. This choice had been a gamble. He knew Kravitz had been studying the music of this world a lot, so it was clearly something he liked. Taako couldn’t exactly ask him if he’d seen the show they were going to now without tipping him off on the plan though.

When he looked over at Kravitz though, he seemed excited. Taako didn’t even have a chance to ask him if he’d heard of whoever the fuck was playing before Kravitz started going off about how he’d been inspired by their music this cycle, and Taako listened and nodded along as they went inside.

It was a pretty show. Taako didn’t know much about music, but it was fucking adorable the way Kravitz’z hand would twitch along with the conductor’s.

Taako was pretty sure he spent more time watching Kravitz than the performance. It wasn’t like he couldn’t still hear it, and that was the important part. It was good music. He didn't like it as much as Kravitz's, but he could hear some things that kinda sounded like stuff he must've picked up this cycle.

By the time it was over it was starting to get late. Taako hadn’t planned dinner too strictly, thinking they could walk along and get whatever looked interesting.

What ended up looking interesting was a small casino a few streets down from the concert hall. Taako had never been big on gambling in their home world, at least not without Lup by his side to help even the odds a bit. It wasn’t like the individual money of the planets they went to meant much the next world over though. They were gonna be gone in a week, so there really wasn’t much of an urgency to hold onto it.

Which was a good thing, because after several hours into the impromptu detour they were both flat broke and slightly drunk.

It was real fucking stupid, and Taako had to hold onto Kravitz’s arm as they stumbled out of the casino laughing. 

If he didn’t think about it too hard, let his vision fade away to just him and Kravitz, Taako could almost pretend that this was a normal date back on their homeworld. He could almost forget that in another few days this world would be nothing but a memory collecting dust, writing in a journal somewhere as the only proof it’d actually happened.

“We should probably get back to the ship soon,” Kravitz said. Despite how competitive he’d been while playing, he was always chill whenever the chips didn’t fall in his favor, which had been a lot. Right now he just looked happy, and Taako nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, before the others start to worry I guess, not that it’s any of their business,” he said. He expected Kravitz to start walking again, but after a moment they were still standing there. When Taako looked back up at him from where he was hanging on his arm, Kravitz was staring at him, a somewhat nervous look on his face. Nervous and excited and impatient.

“I suppose if we’re heading back home then that means the date’s nearly over,” he said, and Taako could feel a smile starting to form on his lips again as he realized what was going on.

“I suppose so. Well, what do you say? Was it enough romance for your taste?” he asked, Kravitz nodding before he even managed to finish the question. 

“Absolutely. It’s- I’ve had a lovely time Taa-” he started. Before he managed to finish though Taako cut him off, grabbing the lapel of his jacket and pulling him down into a kiss. He didn’t have to pull hard, Kravitz realizing immediately what he was doing and moving with him.

Taako had no idea why he’d decided to wait so long.

He had no idea why Kravitz had decided to pull away so early either.

“Back to the ship?”  he asked, a little breathless. Taako blinked, realizing they were still only a few steps outside of the casino and nodded, smiling sheepishly.

“Right, ship,” he agreed. Taako couldn’t give a shit that people were definitely staring at them as they clumsily made their way back to the ship, tripping over each other and looking significantly more drunk than they actually were. He also couldn’t bring himself to care that Lup was absolutely going to give him shit for never coming back to their room that night.

A part of him had missed spending the night with Kravitz. It was certainly a lot more enjoyable under different circumstances.

When they went to meet Merle a few days later, he spent the whole group meeting holding Kravitz’s hand. He’d been right about it not being a thing they had to worry about telling everyone. It was pretty clear that everyone just sort of knew.

And so Taako held Kravitz’s hand as they all talked about the first big breakthrough they could have in three decades of running. A chance to talk to the hunger. A chance to learn the true face of the enemy they’d been fighting for so fucking long now.

He felt Kravitz’s hand squeeze his tight as the smoke that had made up Merle’s form softly dispersed.

“Sixteen,” he heard Kravitz whisper, the word barely audible under his breath. Taako looked at him in confusion, but he didn’t have to actually ask before Kravitz realized and explained. “Our sixteenth death overall. Merle’s third,” he muttered, and Taako nodded, squeezing Kravitz’s hand back.

He knew how much these things bothered Kravitz, but what was one more death at this point? It was one step closer to finally figuring out a way to win.

They were getting closer, and even as they left the cycle and Taako was torn away from everyone else to be shoved back alone it did little to dampen his mood.

Taako didn’t care how long they had to work at this until they got it right. They had all the time in the world, and he’d waited too long to be fucking happy.

Rushing back to the others, he wasn’t going to waste anymore time.