Actions

Work Header

Echo and Narcissus

Work Text:

When they are born, they’re called something extraordinary. The midwife holds each tiny elf up to their mother and proclaims with a beaming smile, mirror image twins! We haven’t had a couple little ones like this in centuries! Their mother gives the midwife a blank smile, feigning interest, but doesn’t bother to listen to the explanation. The explanation comes years later.

Lup rests her head over what she thinks is Taako’s heart and panics when the sound isn’t loud like it should be. Taako almost loses it too, but when Lup rests her head on the other side of his chest by accident, there it is: the steady ba-bum, ba-bum of a (slightly accelerated) heartbeat. Where hers is on the left, his is on the right. The twins laugh, delighted by this strange difference, but other than a few jokes, it isn’t referenced much.

When Taako starts casting with his right hand and Lup with her left, they begin to notice the differences in their similarities. Taako had always thought that looking at Lup was like looking in a mirror but he doesn’t realize how true that is until he notices that Lup parts her hair on the opposite side of him – and so, when he looks at her, it’s like looking at himself in a clear pool of water.

As they grow older, they begin to change in subtle ways: Taako grows his hair longer, dyes it blonde, while Lup keeps hers short and natural. Lup starts taking hormone treatments and her body, while still thin and angular, develops a softness in the face that wasn’t there before. She trains with fire and has a first boyfriend long before Taako does. Taako starts changing ingredients in midair when they cook, at first to amuse himself and later because he’s interested. And lastly, where he grows sharper and more distrustful, she remains open to giving others the benefit of the doubt.

You are my heart, Taako, she says one day, a long time from this moment. What she doesn’t know is that she is his.

 


 

But before any of that happens, before the day of Story and Song, before the forgetting and the remembering: while waiting for their caravan to pack up and move on, a gnome man strides through the camp with purpose, flanked by a crunchy-looking dwarf with flowers in his beard. The gnome is handing out pamphlets to anyone who will take them, talking fast about some institute or another that is looking for specialists for an upcoming mission. The dwarf laughs and nudges him, saying, “Dav, you’re overwhelming them. Talk a little slower, we have time.” The caravan is unmoved and only old Betty takes one, winking at the dwarf who jovially winks back. Watching in fascination, the twins share a glance and follow the two shorter fellows without a glance back at the caravan they’ve been travelling with for months. They’ll find new kids to bully into making them a meal, after all. 

“Are you sure about this, Lulu?” Taako hisses, watching the two figures amble along the path, seemingly unaware of their new elven shadows. Lup just grins and puts a finger to her lips, winking. The sky is turning dusty, now, the soft lavender of day fading into a deep purple as first one sun, then the next, sets. Taako trudges along, scrutinizing the two shorter men ahead of them, wary and distrustful of their easy, ambling gait; only fools or dangerous men are this confident in the dark. He doesn’t often have to be talked into capers of this nature, but instinct is a powerful thing; his is screaming that these two aren’t to be messed with lightly.

“If you’re gonna follow us,” the dwarf says, so suddenly that Lup knocks against Taako’s side in surprise, “the least you can do is give us your names. I’ll start: Merle Highchurch, cleric extraordinaire and recent graduate of the Institute of Planar Research and Exploration.” The gnome turns around when his friend does, raising an eyebrow at them expectantly. The twins share a quick glance.

“I’m Lup,” Taako says immediately.

“I’m Taako,” Lup smirks, putting a hand on her hip, pretending that she wasn’t just startled enough to jump. The gnome watches them with a cool expression, eyebrows raised, while Merle seems to be trying not to laugh, as though he’s been let in on the joke. “And we noticed you left us out of your recruitment.”

“It was pretty rude, my dudes,” Taako says, mirroring her stance unknowingly. “I’m sure your fancy-ass institute or whatever needs good cooks. And we’re the best you’ll find.” Merle does laugh now, patting his friend on the shoulder.

“Well you’re not wrong,” he says with a wide, heartfelt grin. It puts the twins at ease – it’s hard to fake that level of sincerity. “Pretty damn rude of us, don’t you think, Dav?”

“Quite,” ‘Dav’ says, dry. “We’re only a few hours walk from our next destination. We can give you the full rundown on the way.” He introduces himself as Davenport and, well, that’s that. Lup and Taako trail after them, asking sharper questions than their companions expected, showing a knowledge of arcana and science that impresses Merle and thrills Davenport. These two raggedy elves, with clothes covered in various stains that “disguise self” only hides for so long, are soon arguing amiably with Merle and Davenport about everything, from fashion (“bright red? Really? You don’t think that’s a little conspicuous?”) to conjuration (“you’d think with magic they would have turned out tasting like actual beignets, but no dice; guess that’s what happens when you fuck up and summon never-melting snow instead of powdered sugar.”) It barely takes an hour for Davenport to offer them a scholarship and a place at the academy for training and after a brief glance between the two and a raised eyebrow (one on the left, one on the right), they agree.

Just before Merle and Davenport split off for the next town, Taako and Lup stop them, their ears twitching in unison. The twins clasp hands and turn as one, wands raised high, echoing each other’s movements with haunting synchronicity. A spherical puff of gas shoots from Taako’s extended hand, followed quickly by a bolt of fire from Lup, igniting the gas immediately and setting the man that had been creeping up on them on fire. Firelight dances eerily off the faces of the stoic twins, who regard the burning man with blank expressions.

“It’s not nice to sneak up on a girl like that,” Lup says haughtily.

“Guess we have to teach these hooligans a lesson, don’t we, Lulu?” Taako replies, another spell on the tip of his tongue.

Davenport regards them with renewed interest, helping to dispatch the small group of thugs that had apparently been tailing them. Lup and Taako are a whirlwind in bright, flashy motion, both elegant and feral in equal measure. It doesn’t take long for the sounds of the fight to dissipate like early morning fog. And later, as Merle is healing a wound in Taako’s shoulder from an errant arrow, Davenport clears his throat.

“What are your plans for the next few weeks?” He asks, calm and unflappable. Taako and Lup share a look that speaks volumes, if only Merle and Davenport knew the language.

“Well, kemosabe, we haven’t exactly discussed it,” Taako says, still looking at Lup. It’s not as though he’s waiting for direction; he’s got a pretty good idea now of what their future is shaping up to be like. But he wants Lup to say it, to step forward as she always does. She is brave while he is tricky; that’s how it’s always been.

“But it looks like you need some kickass wizard bodyguards,” Lup says, exactly as he knew she would. Merle smiles, and while the kindness is still there, the twins can see the hint of an edge that they can’t wait to exploit and twist to their advantage.

“What, you think the head recruiter of the IPRE and his cleric friend can’t fend for themselves?” He jokes, patting Taako on his now-healed shoulder and letting him stand.

“I’m not technically—” Davenport starts.

“That’s exactly what we’re saying,” Taako says, barreling right over him, the same grin on Lup’s face echoed on his own. “Plus, I’m guessing neither of you can cook for shit. Better if we do it and you avoid food poisoning.” Davenport remembers the “soup” Merle had attempted for lunch and shudders.

“You’ve got a deal,” he says emphatically, and shakes each of their hands in turn.

 


 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Davenport exclaims, six months down the line, far from where the twins can hear. He’s been poring over their personnel files in preparation for the upcoming selection process, but when he reached Lup and Taako on his “highly recommended” pile, he was drawn up short. “What do they mean, ‘no formal training’? I’ve seen them fight!” 

“I think it means exactly what it says,” Lucretia replies, voice quiet as ever. “They don’t have the stance of practiced fighters. And their understanding of magic is more theoretical than practical; Lup managed to reach the correct answer for the trajectory of the ship through a planar system without ever utilizing math, while Taako learned a whole new language in a week because it ‘sounded similar’ to Elvish. That kind of non-linear thinking is discouraged in more traditional schooling.”

“Lup learned a fifth level spell yesterday after reading the instructions once,” Merle interjects, looking pleased as punch by this information. “Then Taako did the same damn thing with a different spell while she gloated. They’re smart kids.”

“I know,” Davenport admits, putting the files aside. “They’re almost guaranteed a spot on this mission. We just have to convince the rest of the crew to work with them.” The room is silent for a long moment as that daunting task looms over the three of them before he makes to grab the next file.

“I did hear something strange the other day,” Lucretia says, voice halting. Merle and Davenport snap their attention to her; while she’s not one to talk much, being quiet has its advantages and she always has the best gossip. “One of the medics was doing their yearly physicals and Taako said something…odd. The nurse was looking for a heartbeat and he told her, ‘you’re looking on the wrong side.’”

“So…what, his heart is on the right, not on the left?” Merle asks, brow furrowed.

“Yes,” Lucretia replies, still hesitant. “The nurse simply…left the room and didn’t return. From what I understood, she left the Institute altogether. Apparently Lup and Taako are mirror images of each other, and that’s viewed as extremely cursed or extremely blessed, depending on which culture you ask.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Davenport says, frowning hard, wanting to track down this nurse and berate her for even the notion that his star candidates are anything but talented and worthy. “It’s simply a…a biological mutation, not something to be superstitious about.”

“That’s what I said to Lup when I saw her later, but she just laughed and told me not to worry about it.” Lucretia shakes her head, hands still flying across her journals as if they’re a separate entity, not mentioning the research she’d proceeded to do after this conversation and the magical and physiological properties that manifested in such a distinctive pair like Lup and Taako. “Like I said: strange.”

“Extremely,” Merle agrees, turning back to the files. “Now about this Magnus kid…”

 


 

Things, of course, don’t go as planned. 

Oh, they get on the mission, and they’re gossiping like fishers’ wives, but the descending black cloud almost eats them alive. For the first time in a long time, Taako and Lup feel as though, perhaps, they aren’t invincible. And that fear extends to their crewmates, their friends, their soon-to-be family. Their bodies knit into a new plane of existence with little fanfare and they learn quickly that “to die” doesn’t mean “to cease existing.”

And the first time one of them dies, it’s not Lup but Taako. Three days into the fifteenth cycle, surprising everyone, he pushes Lucretia out of the way of an incoming arrow and takes it right through the heart. Even if Merle had been standing right beside him, there’s nothing he could have done. Taako has one moment to make shocked eye contact with Lup before he topples sideways into the dusty road. And Lup screams. Before Magnus or Lucretia can reach her, fire envelops the scene, engulfing all four of them in a tornado of flame; even with spell sculpting, it’s still dangerously close to swallowing them whole. Normally her fires are red, warm, flashy and full of theatrics. This is different. Tendrils of burning blue arc through the air like divine wrath, slamming the locals to the ground and immolating them before they can even cry out. It seems as if the plane of fire is leaking through her fingers, a conduit for an elemental seeking to scorch the prime material plane out of existence.

“Lup!” Lucretia calls out, trying to reach her, arms outstretched. “Lup, that’s enough, stop!” The fire burns brighter and Lup screams – just once – before collapsing, the flames dissipating into smoke. Magnus is the first to reach her, immediately picks her up into his arms and holds her close. Merle is trying to do what he can for Taako, that long-ago conversation in Davenport’s office a bare hint of a memory as he sees the arrow lodged in the right side of his chest. What would have been a punctured lung for the rest of them is a deadly blow for Taako.

Lup does not speak for a week.

And then, all the mirrors in the Starblaster, simultaneously, explode as she howls “fuck this!” Barry is the one to gently lift her from the silver shards covering the floor and bring her to Merle, where she tells them all that having funerals is no longer necessary. Davenport takes a moment, then nods in agreement – they come back every time, after all – but Barry knows without being told that she refuses to peer down a grave and see her own pale face staring back up at her. Never again.

They spend a lot of time together, that cycle. He learns when she needs space, and when she needs someone to hold her, and when she needs to just blow shit up to get the impotent rage she feels out of her system. Quietly, Lup tells him about how she and Taako grew up, and in turn Barry tells her how they didn’t miss much with their unconventional upbringing – fantasy high school isn’t that exciting, he says, just to see her mouth twitch in an approximation of a smile.

Eventually, as always, Taako reappears on the ship, stitched together as if nothing had happened and holding Lup’s hand. Magnus somehow beats Lup to him, lifting him off the ground in a crushing bear hug.

“Dude!” Taako wheezes, weakly beating at Magnus’s arms. “Did you—did you take fuckin’—squeeze the elf to death lessons while I was gone? Put me down!” Magnus does just long enough to gather Lup up in the hug before hauling them both up, weeping all the while.

“It sucked without you,” Magnus says, clutching them to his chest while Lup cackles and allows it to happen, the first time she’s laughed in more than three hundred days. The others watching this grin in unison at the sound. “Don’t be the hero next time, that’s my job.”

“Maybe I just didn’t want to get stuck on journal duty for a year,” Taako grunts, using Prestidigitation to send a small spark over Magnus’s arms. This backfires and he lets out a terribly embarrassing squeaking noise as Magnus just hauls him in closer. Lup is losing it now, letting the joy of hearing Taako’s voice again manifest how it will. “Seriously, I will—I will fuckin’—Mags, I can’t breathe—”

“Deal with it,” Lucretia says dryly, sliding up to put an arm on his shoulder. “Also, thank you. I would never put my journals in your hands, but thank you all the same.”

“I hate this,” Taako grouses, allowing himself to be crushed and cried on by Magnus, wrapping an arm around both him and Lup. “If I wasn’t craving bruschetta I’d check out right—ow!” He scowls at Lup but quickly shuts his mouth at the glare she’s giving him. “Alright, put ch’boy down, I haven’t eaten in a year and I’m starved.”

And later, when they’re alone in their room, Lup will tell him in soft tones about the year he was gone. About the monstrous spider-like people of that plane that spoke in clipped mumbles and were so distrustful of outsiders that the IPRE crew had to land on a remote island and live in constant fear of an attack. How even when they found the Light, she couldn’t even be grateful that this world wouldn’t get swallowed whole. She’ll tell him about Barry caring for her, and how Lucretia drank three bottles of wine the day he died. She’ll explain that Magnus didn’t smile as much, that Merle was crotchety in a different way, that Davenport would look at Lup with an almost sick expression, as if he had personally failed her.

Lup will tell him to never leave her alone like that again. Taako knows better than to promise this, but does so anyways.

 


 

When Lup dies, it’s chaos. 

Taako watches her fall in battle and does not say a word – it’s not necessary, when the world begins to buck and shake as if it’s trying to upend itself in answer to his grief. The enemies they were fighting get swallowed whole by the churning gravel underfoot, and only by luck (or misfortune) does Lup’s body remain aboveground.

  


 

 

The twins find solace in themselves, but learn to find it in others, too.

Lup and Taako both go to Barry when in need of quiet comfort, and it’s not unusual to see Taako sitting beside him reading while Lup lays her head in Barry’s lap. But that’s not to say that he doesn’t join in their shenanigans – Davenport still remembers with horror the year the three of them tried cooking faster by casting Firebolt on everything with varying degrees of success (“it’s science!” Barry had exclaimed. “You have to test everything, and Lup can control the temperature, so—”) When Barry dies, it is a void they cannot fill, and no amount of incessant chatter or mad science covers the silence his absence leaves behind.

Magnus bolsters them, feeds off of and contributes to their energy: if Lup laughs, Magnus follows suit; if Taako cries, Magnus will pull him close and weep with him; and if they want to rob a store blind then by god Magnus is there for it, providing cover as the two sprint away, cackling all the while. When Magnus dies, it is as if a candle has been snuffed out; his time as a human is already so limited, and it is sobering to remember that when all this is over, they will be grateful for the extra years they had with him.

Merle teaches them how to care for plants, how to apply bandages and poultices, how to have faith in a future that seems too far away to grasp. Lup is better at having faith than Taako, but he is able to bring flowers to life under his hands. They both have middling success in the healing arts (which is to say, they suck at it.) He gives them someone steady to lean on, an uncle at least two feet shorter than them who dotes on Taako and Lup as if they were his own family. And when Merle dies (he dies again and again and again, vanished into smoke and then nothing, when will he stop dying) the twins feel his absence the way they never did with their own father.

Lucretia tempers their irreverent nature with a dry humor that they work relentlessly on exposing. She will sit with Taako at four in the morning with a bottle of wine and laugh brightly at every ridiculous thing he says. She will let Lup hide her face and cry, whisper words of comfort on those dark nights where Taako is gone. Sometimes, she even lets them bring her on their strange adventures – and half the time regrets it when they’re running from a mob (is the mob angry? Are they trying to get an autograph? She can’t tell over the sound of the twins’ whooping and hollering.) When Lucretia dies, Lup will quietly write the rest of the cycles’ journals as a sign of respect, and Taako will go in later to add moments of brevity, of silliness, to flat-out lie so Lucretia will not know how hard the time without her is.

And Davenport…well, he was the one who interviewed them, after all. He knows the brilliance they hide behind dick jokes and crazy get-rich-quick schemes they pull just for the hell of it. He never tries to douse their fire and their zeal for life, only temper it somewhat, alter it for the benefit of the mission (or for shits and giggles; honestly, he’s not a saint.) It takes a couple of years of training before they respect him as their superior officer. It takes two years on a ship together to respect him as both friend and Commander. The years they spend without Davenport feel empty of drive and direction – the twin’s dive headfirst into their work, desperate to find a way to stop this from happening again. He is their leader, and he is their driving force, and Davenport is sorely missed when he is gone.

The mirror image of the twins remains, but their personalities have separated completely. Their friendships and relationships with each of their crew members have changed and grown organically in a way that they never would have predicted they could. Lup and Taako, Taako and Lup, now separate but always together.

 


 

An incomplete list of how Lucretia’s plan impacted on the twins and those around them: 

  1. Lup is forgotten.
  2. Taako no longer trusts anyone.
  3. Mirrors are now a sign of vanity: Taako looks and looks and looks and falls in love with himself. A modern-day Narcissus. He does not know that the mirror should be speaking back and moving independently.
  4. Echo is an umbrella and Lucretia, you should have known, you should have known, those were my spells, not Taako’s
  5. Lup is alone for ten years before she hears her brother’s voice, but even the energy to listen takes up nearly all her strength.
  6. I literally wrote my name on the wall, Taako, this isn’t fucking rocket science, please, please, please
  7. Taako allows Lydia and Edward to change his appearance. He does not know the consequences of this. He would not have given this up had he known.
  8. Taako believes that he killed those people in Glamour Springs. He knows that he is careless and stupid – but untrusting, suspicious Taako never even considers that Sazed is at fault.
  9. Lup is forced to witness a Taako she’s never met: Taako-without-Lup, who will hurt other people for personal gain (and didn’t they learn, in the robot world, why that was unacceptable? Shouldn’t that be engrained in Taako by now?) He bullies a child, he sits outside while his friends face danger, he presses forsake, all so that he is never vulnerable. Lup, for the first time, is afraid of her brother.
  10. Barry looks at Taako in those first days and there is a name on the tip of his tongue, a faint echo of someone he used to love, before Taako opens his big-ass mouth and says something sharp to the driver of their wagon. Barry looks away and forgets. Everyone forgets.

 


 

The years without her are lean. Despite not knowing what he’s missing, there’s a phantom pain in Taako’s chest on the left side where a heart should be. Some days he clutches at the spot, wheezes, tries to fill the void with adoring fans and good food. But it’s never enough. Where a conscience should be, there is nothing, and so he has no trouble allowing others to hurt in his stead. “Taako’s good out here,” he says, all grins and showman’s flourishes, lounging against an elevator with a sandwich in hand, not hearing the boneweary sigh inside his (Lup’s) umbrella. 

But even in all this:

Taako finds himself watering Merle’s plants out of forgotten habit, spritzing them with a spray bottle so as not to give them too much, and ghosting out of there with a wink when Merle notices.

Taako lets Magnus hug him when things have gone wrong, only grumps about it a little bit to save face, hugs him back in a quick barely-there movement that he knows Magnus appreciates.

Taako falls in love with Kravitz, is honest and open in a way that he should loathe – but instead feels right. And he is rewarded for that love time and time again with patient smiles and quiet huffs of laughter, a chilly hand holding his at a dingy diner planetside while he rambles and Kravitz listens with thoughtful little hums and nods.

Little by little, kindness seeps back into his life – he tousles Angus’ hair when the kid perfects a spell; he makes an appetizer spread for Carey and Killian’s engagement party that shames the other offerings on display; he gives Lucretia a large bottle of wine and an offer to gossip and bitch if she needs it – she smiles warmly and tells him, “another time.” 

Taako does not see these changes. But some nights he thinks of these people he’s come to know and… care for? Love? God, anything but love – and his body seizes with fear. He does not know consciously what he’s lost, but his instincts scream all the same: to run, to hide, to cut this off at the source.

And yet, Taako does not run.

 


 

You took fucking everything from me!

Taako feels his heart now, beating rapidly and irregularly, a constant thrum under his chest that is both agonizing and wonderful. The memories of Lup, and the lonely road they walked, slam into him from all sides. He can’t even be grateful to Magnus for standing beside him after the fact, hand shaking on the umbrastaff and gripping tighter because of it. And the next fight is brutal; he is so tired. Living and breathing seem so…hollow without Lup.

And then like a fucking beacon, the umbrastaff arches in Angus’s hands and launches a fireball so big that Taako realizes, he knows and he snaps the umbrella over his knee—

Lup comes rocketing out, fire dripping from her incorporeal body. Taako’s heart lurches – she doesn’t quite have a face in this form, but the sheer joy when she turns her body towards his is mirrored in his own expression. There’s nothing to do but laugh when the first thing she says to him in a decade is, “you’re dating the grim reaper?!”

 


 

It is not easy, afterwards. The rebuilding is not done in a day, or even a year. Lup and Taako are no longer mirrors of each other; when one lifts a hand, the other does not match the movement. Pools of water are more accurate now than looking at each other, despite the ripples and the waves. But Taako does not feel the need to jump in and drown himself, looking for the echo he’s missing. Likewise, Lup no longer has to shout to be heard, is no longer the whisper in the wind.

In the end, their normal days are like this:

Lup and Barry head out with Kravitz and “do cool reaper shit,” as Taako puts it. Taako spends the day building his brand, whether that’s visiting the school or traveling and meeting fans. But all four return to the houses that sit side by side, separated by a little garden that both Kravitz and Barry tend to while Lup and Taako gossip in a kitchen (it doesn’t matter much which one.) They will sit down for a meal together and share the stories of their day.

Sometimes they share the table with their family and (vast) extended family – Angus eagerly recounting the day he’s had; Lucretia quietly telling Lup of the rebuilding efforts around the world; Magnus crying happily about a new puppy that’s come to stay with him; Merle telling a dirty joke while Mavis looks on in horror and Mookie in glee; Davenport showing pictures of his recent travels, maps always around his plate with places he’s been and places he will go.

And in the center of it all, Lup and Taako, sitting side by side or across the table from each other, gesticulating wildly, the life and breath of the gathering as they laugh or argue, together at last. Whole and wholly themselves.