We open on an office. Specifically, a headmaster’s office. It is, quite simply, something of a disaster zone. A year of responsibility hasn’t done much to mitigate the occupant’s inherent messiness and tendency toward what could be creatively described as organized chaos. The primary reason for its current state is the sheer number of fantasy Manila folders everywhere, each chock full of information on current students -grades, feedback from teachers, and so on- covering every surface (except for the filing cabinet, which is housing an experiment right now- but that’s not important). In fact, the only even remotely clear space in the room is the two foot circle on the very center of the desk. There’s only one file there, almost quarantined from the others. This file is also the only one in a binder, being considerably thicker than all the rest. It is labeled, “Angus McDonald.”
The door opens, and Lucas Miller, wearing a look that can only be described as existential dread, walks in. He moves the stack of folders on his office chair unceremoniously to the floor and sinks into the chair heavily, as though weighed down by something far heavier than his own frame. He can’t avoid it any longer.
Parent teacher conferences.
Angus McDonald, twelve years old, world’s greatest detective, former Seeker of the Bureau of Balance, occasional agent of the Bureau of Benevolence, magic boy apprentice to Taako, and current student at Lucas Miller’s Academy of Arcane Sciences, is even more nervous that Lucas Miller is about the school’s first parent teacher conferences. Because he, um, doesn’t exactly have them. Parents, you see.
Angus hasn’t seen Sir and Ma’am in years at this point, and he’s not certain that they would recognize him, if he were to be entirely honest. He’s grown a great deal since then (even if Taako still uses him as an armrest on occasion and Magnus can tote him around like a football), and, well, they… never spent much time with him to begin with. He doubts that, even if they knew, they’d deem it worth the bother to show up. No doubt something more important to do.
So Angus stands, fidgeting, alternating between shuffling his feet, bunching his hands in his sweater vest, and adjusting his glasses. It certainly doesn’t help that he arrived a whole half hour before his scheduled meeting with Mr. Lucas Miller. But Angus believes that being on time, even early, to meetings is important. Plus, he’s nervous enough that standing around waiting outside Lucas’s office sounded preferable to nervously pacing around his room. What if he forgot? What if he was late? What if, against all odds, and Angus knows this would never happen, Sir or Ma’am appeared, and when he wasn’t there for the meeting, they just left again?
So Angus waits outside the office, trying to stand up straight and not fidget too much.
A few minutes before 6:30, the door opens, and Angus starts as Lucas waves out a Drow girl and her parents politely. Angus recognizes her from his conjuration course and flushes when, after they greet each other, she looks around for his parents before leaving with her own.
“Ah, ah, Angus. You’re- you’re early.” Lucas sounds odd. And it’s an odd way to greet someone, certainly.
“Hello, sir. And yes, sir?” Angus responds.
“Er, well, why don’t you come in? We can, uh, sit until it’s actually time to, uh, get started.” Angus wonders what Lucas will say when it’s clear that no one else is coming to this meeting.
Lucas’s office is much neater than it was only a few short days ago, not that Angus knows that. There are three chairs facing Lucas’s desk. Angus sits in the middle one, so as to face Lucas head on. Lucas goes to a stack of files on top of the filing cabinet -and Angus wonders a moment why these aren’t in the cabinet itself- and carefully selects a binder, holding it almost as though he’s attempting to shield himself. He sets the binder on the desk in front of him, and Angus can read from upside down that it’s labeled with his name. Lucas sits in the chair behind the desk, across from Angus, and seems determined to look anywhere but at the twelve year old, rapidly drumming his fingers across the desk.
Time ticks onward. Angus fidgets. So does Lucas. Angus watches the clock, a look of apprehension on his face. Lucas watches the door, equally apprehensive.
At 6:34, Angus begins to open his mouth to tell Lucas that he doesn’t expect that anyone is coming, sir, and to apologize for wasting his time with this.
At 6:34, the door flies open with a bang, no knock of forewarning, and a familiar voice shatters the silence like, well, Shatter. “Hey, Agnes, looks like cha’boy’s right on time.”
Angus whirls in his seat to see Taako flip his braid over his shoulder, brandishing his new Umbra Staff and grinning widely.
“Sir?” Angus blurts out in bewilderment. A most peculiar mix of emotions are rising inside Angus: astonishment, nervousness, confusion, and, most prominently, joy.
Taako doesn’t respond directly to Angus, just tousles his hair before sitting in the seat to Angus’s left, leaning back and crossing one thigh high booted leg over the other, looking perfectly at ease and not at all like he’s just given Angus the surprise of his life (and that includes the time Taako pushed him off a train).
Somehow Lucas doesn’t seem nearly as surprised as Angus. Or at all, really. Perhaps a bit terrified, as he watches Taako much in the same way Angus would imagine a bird watches a cat from inside its cage. Taako, for his part, plays the cat well, nearly purring as he asks, “So, uh, we gonna get started or what, nerdlord? Your not-Ren said that you only had a fuckin’ hour on the books for this meeting, so let’s get going.”
“Right-” Lucas says at the same time as Angus asks,
“An hour? They’re only half an hour?”
“Uh, sorry, Angus, it was a last minute change, since, uh, since you’re… you.” Lucas gestures at Angus, who turns back to Taako.
“And you talked to Ms. Kathleen, sir? You planned to come, sir?” Angus is, by now, thoroughly confused. It is an altogether unfamiliar sensation.
“Hell yeah, Agnes, I fuckin’ told-” Taako pauses, ears twitching as he thinks. “…Oops.”
“Oops?” Angus and Lucas say in unison. Taako shrugs. Before he can answer, there’s a polite knock at the door that Taako left ajar with his rather dramatic entrance. Angus whips from staring at Taako to staring at the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Lucas stiffen up, looking even more uncomfortable.
At the door is a skeleton with glowing red eyes, a black feathered cloak, and a scythe that Lucas is eyeing. Fortunately, and still confusingly, it’s a familiar one. Kravitz returns to his usual form, dissipating his scythe and work attire, back to a mostly human looking form and an expensive looking black suit by the time he’s sitting in the chair to Angus’s right.
“Sorry for being late, Angus. Hey, babe.” He greets Angus and Taako.
“Don’t sweat it, Krav; nerdlord hadn’t even started yet. I wonder why.” Taako studies his manicure pointedly, blatantly ignoring the fact that he’d been four minutes late himself.
At that, Kravitz turns to Lucas, who is walking the line between flinching and cowering at notice by the Reaper. “Miller.” Kravitz says simply, settling back into his seat.
Angus looks between the two at his sides quickly. “Did- did you plan this, sirs?”
Kravitz looks from where he is icily staring down Lucas Miller, who is again studiously avoiding eye contact by flipping through Angus’s binder, to blink down at Angus, just as surprised as Angus seems to be. He looks up at Taako. “Did you forget to tell him?” By way of answer, Taako shrugs.
“O-okay, now that we’re all here.” Lucas starts, having pulled out a paper with handwriting that Angus recognizes as that of his planar physics teacher.
“Hold on, nerdlord. Just a sec.” Taako sounds rather like he’s enjoying this too much. “Listen, uh, Agnes here has a lot of people, uh, invested in his education, and just cause you said that you expected two parents-”
The door bursts open again, and Magnus Burnsides rushes in. With a puppy strapped into a Babybjorn on his chest. He takes one look at the scene and then huffs, “Taako, did you tell everyone the wrong time to make sure you could be late and still get a seat?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Maggie.”
Angus’s eyes are wide as he watches Magnus, who gives a big smile. “Oh, Ango, have you met Johann yet? He’s going to be the star pupil of my new school and business, Hammer and Tails.” Magnus declares proudly. Johann, for his part, yawns.
“Uh, not yet, sir.” Magnus grins even wider and leans in to let Angus pet the puppy.
“So, did I miss anything?” Magnus asks Lucas, moving to sit on a side table that is likely not meant to be able to support his weight.
Lucas has his head in his hands and seems to be muttering to himself before looking up. “Okay, okay. To start with, Professor Jennifer-” The door bursts open, even more forcefully than when either Taako or Magnus entered, and two more Reapers appear. In the blink of an eye, Lup, easily comfortable in her new body at this point, and Barry, wearing his ever present denim, appear.
“Hey, Ango!” Lup ruffles Angus’s hair just like her brother had, eyes alight with happiness. “Sorry we’re late!”
“Nice to see you again, kiddo.” Barry greets Angus with a warm smile. “Someone stuck us with all the paperwork today.” Both Lup and Barry acknowledge Lucas before moving to stand behind Angus’s chair, each resting a hand on the chair back.
“After the both of you left me with all of the paperwork on the undead fleet, Barold?” Kravitz responds pointedly.
At this point, Angus scarcely knows where to look. The sheer elation he’d felt when Taako had walked through the door has only been amplified with each additional person to arrive, who care enough to show up on his behalf, without him asking or even mentioning it. It’s baffling. It’s wonderful. Lucas looks like he’s getting a headache. Right now it’s 6:42, the meeting hasn’t even really started, and Lucas has three of the Raven Queen’s Reapers, a transmutation expert, a fighter with the Chance Lance strapped to his back and a puppy strapped to his front, -“It’s perfect for training, because even if he doesn’t fetch it, I can get it back without walking!”- and Angus in his office.
“Are we… expecting anyone else?” Lucas doesn’t look like he wants the answer to that question.
“Listen. Listen. Listen.” Taako says, waving to get Lucas’s attention. When Lucas finally looks at him, Taako grins, chaotic good nature shining through. “Yes.”
The door opens for a… fifth time, Angus notes after doing a quick count, and Merle is the next to walk in. At all of the faces looking at him, he blanches. When he sees the shock on Angus’s face, he blanches further. “So, uh, nerdlord said anything good about the kid yet? He set anything on fire? Getting kicked out?”
“No, and it’s cause all you fuckers came in late.” Taako declares.
“You really don’t have to keep calling me nerdlord.” Lucas mumbles under his breath. At a direct look from Kravitz, he shuts back up.
“Then I’m on time.” Merle ignores Taako’s comment and goes over to join Magnus on the side table. After some scrambling between the two of them and some comments from Merle about Magnus trying to rip his other arm clean off, Merle is sitting next to Magnus on the side table. It groans ominously.
“Sirs, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” Angus says, while Taako and Lup chat over his head, and Barry starts talking necromancy to Lucas and Kravitz, neither of whom look especially pleased about the topic of conversation. Angus knows that Barry knows that. And that he’s enjoying it. “That seems like it might… break.”
“Ango, please. I’m a master carpenter. I have carpentry proficiency. I understand wood.”
“Yeah, and I’m Pan’s favorite cleric. It’ll be fine.” Both brush off Angus’s concerns as the door quietly opens and Lucretia slips inside. She nods to Angus, smiling, and to Lucas, not smiling, before making her way to the corner farthest from Taako, pulling out a book in which to take notes.
“Surely, surely this is everyone.” Lucas looks desperately around the room at the seven adults present.
“You would be incorrect in that assumption.” Davenport says as he enters, bringing the smell of the sea and command of the respect of everyone in the room with him. He shakes Angus’s hand, then Lucas’s, before going to stand near Merle.
The door hasn’t even fully closed behind Davenport when a voice calls, “Are we late?” Carey and Killian make their way in, looking well-rested from their honeymoon and break from the new BoB, lighting up and waving when they see Angus, who waves back, still feeling a bit stunned, as every time the surprise begins to fade, someone else shows up.
So quickly and easily that it’s barely detectable, Carey is sitting at the top of the filing cabinet, her head now level with her wife’s. They join hands and lean into each other, looking expectantly at Lucas.
Lucas, for his part, is now just staring at the door, seemingly having concluded now, at 6:49, that he’s just going to have to accept that the fantasy occupancy limit on his office is going to be exceeded and that nothing is going to get done until seemingly every single person who has ever met Angus is going to show up.
Next to arrive is Ren, a familiar little red bird sitting on her shoulder. She passes a stack of paperwork to Taako, who grumbles about the effort associated with running his own, much better school, and a cream puff to Angus. “You deserve a treat after that necromantic theory test!” She says with a smile. Past Ren, Angus can see Kravitz glaring at Lucas, a hint of the Reaper’s work form coming through, while both Barry and Lup nod approvingly.
“Hello, Angus!” Roswell says as they land on Lucas’s desk.
“Hello, Sheriff!” Angus says back with a smile as Roswell makes themselves comfortable on one of Lucas’s desk toys. There’s another loud groan from the table Magnus and Merle are occupying.
Avi and Brad Bradson arrive with a swish of Brad’s ponytail, stepping to the back. Lucretia moves forward to keep a solemn gaze on Lucas while allotting them space. When she catches Angus watching, she gives him a wink.
“So, that’s everyone from the Bureau, so-”
“Ehhhhhhhhhhh. We might have a few more friends coming.” Merle shrugs.
“Literally, who is left who knows this boy?” Lucas gestures at Angus, a note of frustration in his voice.
“Calm down there, nerdlord. No need to get all explosive.” Lup says, tousling Angus’s hair again.
“You’re one to talk, Lulu.” Taako says breezily as he crosses in front of Angus to sit with Kravitz. Whether he’s decided that they need to double up to fit everyone or just that he wants to sit in his boyfriend’s lap, Angus isn’t sure. It could even be that he wants to keep Kravitz from yelling at Lucas over the necromantic theory class, just theory and why we shouldn’t do it, sir, as Taako is likely enjoying the current events immensely.
“Watch it, Koko.” Lup shoots back, she and Barry jumping into Taako’s vacated seat.
“Hey!” Merle objects from the table. “I coulda sat there!”
“Merle, you didn’t even move.” Barry says, wrapping his arms around Lup. They still don’t let go of each other much.
“But I could have!” Merle brightens up just before there’s another knock at the door, seemingly knowing who’s behind it.
Hurley and Sloane enter, spreading cherry blossom petals in their wake. Sloane takes one look at the table that Magnus and Merle are sitting on and dryly says, “That’s going to break.”
“Is not!” Merle and Magnus say in unison.
“Nice to see you again, Angus.” Hurley says with a smile. Killian and Carey handily pull her up onto the filing cabinet as well so she can see easily. The two dryads hold hands as well.
“So, nerdlord, what’s taking so long? We gonna start this or what?” Taako says. But he still has a particular look in his eyes. The only problem is, Angus has no idea who is even left to come. Jess the Beheader is off on tour. Cassidy is no doubt busy running Refuge. Short of Lord Artemis Sterling himself showing up, tricked by Merle in some way or another, Angus isn’t sure how many more adults he knows.
The door opens gently of its own accord, and a strange feeling passes through the room. Or rather, a series of feelings that are strange together. Cold and warmth at the same time, something like decay and something soft and cozy and something inherently… wild.
“Gods above.” Lucas stammers.
“More like gods below.” Merle says, and he and Magnus high five. A purple flower sprouts on his soulwood arm in approval.
“Um.” Angus says eloquently. “I wasn’t aware that I knew any gods.”
“Well, we told the grandparents, and they wanted to come.” Taako waves a hand, refusing to let Kravitz up to politely address the Raven Queen.
GRANDPARENTS? The Raven Queen tilts her head to the side, much like one of her ravens would.
“My Queen, I apologize.” Taako isn’t budging. Barry and Lup stand briefly to bow to their boss before sitting again. Tres horny boys all wave to Istus, and Merle waves to Pan as well.
THERE IS NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE, KRAVITZ.
Angus becomes very aware that Death and Fate and Nature are all staring at him as he cranes to watch them over the back of his chair. Well, he thinks. It’s sort of unclear what exactly the Raven Queen is doing or looking at. Istus’s eyes are on her knitting, though Angus suspects they don’t need to be. Pan is the only one clearly watching. Angus sees him glance quickly over to Magnus and Merle, and his grin widens when he meets Angus’s gaze again.
WE WILL ATTEND THE MAGIC BOY’S EVALUATION. The Raven Queen declares, seeming to settle in.
“Right, so pay no attention to us.” Pan says to Lucas, who is now visibly sweating. “Just as you have paid no attention to our rules previously.”
“We’re here as a personal matter, for the, ah, grandson. Grand-emissary? Your previous actions are… unimportant.” Istus glances up at Lucas.
“So, uh, nerdlord, gang’s all here, if you wanna finally talk to us about my magic boy.” The second emphasis Taako puts on the sentence is scarcely noticeable, probably wouldn’t be noticeable at all if you didn’t know Taako. But Angus does, and it puts a wide smile on the boy’s face.
“Right, so, uh, Angus excels-”
“In everything, right, we knew that, natch.”
There’s a final warning groan from the side table before a sharp cracking sound. Magnus and Merle drop to the floor, instantly complaining loudly. “Why didn’t God warn me?” Merle asks dramatically while Davenport helps him up, resigned look on his face.
Pan looks over. “The Dryads did though.” Merle continues grumbling under his breath while Magnus makes sure Johann is okay. The puppy didn’t even wake up from his nap.
“You were saying?” Kravitz asks. The clock now reads 7:03.
Lucas swallows but starts again with planar physics. “Professor Jennifer says that Angus is excelling in planar physics. He picks up on the concepts readily and is even able to explain them to other students. She thinks Angus is wonderful, though, uh, it might be nice if you leave the, uh, the extraplanar physics for the higher level course. Some of the other students aren’t… quite there yet.”
“I was the same way when I was his age. Sort of. A little bit older.” Barry shrugs. “So, uh, about that necromantic theory class?”
“Yes, about that.” Kravitz says.
YES. ABOUT THAT. The Raven Queen says. Istus chuckles quietly.
“It covers basic necromantic theory and how the magic operates. And why the students should never ever ever dabble in necromancy.” Lucas says the last part very fast. Angus, wisely, keeps his mouth shut about how little that particular fact is actually mentioned during class. “So, uh, about conjuration with Professor Marlee-”
“Finally, something useful.” Merle says, ignoring the look from Barry.
“Professor Marlee noted that Angus does not always immediately pick up on the skills-”
“Oh yeah, Mage Hand’s conjuration. Makes sense.” Taako interrupts, and Angus thinks back to his first attempts at magic.
“-But he works hard to improve, and she still considers him to be one of her most accomplished students.”
“We’ll work on that next magic day. Make you her most accomplished student.” Taako looks at Ren.
“Already on the calendar. So I’m sure you’ll ditch the next meeting you don’t want to attend for a spontaneous one.” She says. “You mentioned that Angus is in evocation as well?” Ren asks Lucas.
“Right. Uh, Professor Jem says that Angus is, uh, very talented. And knows a lot of, um, fire-based evocation spells.” Lup grins, leaning over to give Angus a high five, which he sheepishly returns.
“I noticed from Angus’s schedule that he’s taking music classes.” Angus can see Kravitz’s eyes gleaming at that subject.
“…Yes.” Lucas is still avoiding eye contact with Kravitz.
“I’m practicing the viola, just like when I visit, sir.” Angus tells Kravitz.
“Enough about classes. Does he have enough time to not work? Are most of the students taking seven classes?” Magnus jumps in.
“Yeah, is he getting to run and play and all that?” Avi tacks on.
“Well, uh, you already know about his soccer team, so there’s that.” Lucas says. It’s apparently not the right answer for Magnus or Avi, who each raise an eyebrow and cross their arms over their chests, Magnus above the puppy. “Most of them are in… five?”
“I’ve got plenty of free time, sir. I can even take on detective jobs when I want.”
“Oh, but there isn’t anything interesting right now.” Istus comments, still studying her knitting.
“And you’re still getting enough sleep?” Lucretia asks Angus.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m 12, not stupid.”
Lucretia ignores the remark. “If he’s going to stay here, you’re going to want to have someone check the library periodically at night.” Lucretia directs at Lucas, writing hand stilling a moment. “He has a tendency to ignore his own well-being.”
“I wasn’t the one who hired a ten year old, but okay.” Lucas mutters, very, very quietly.
“She did hire a ten year old.” Brad mutters, equally as quietly.
“And definitely doesn’t take care of herself.” Carey and Killian finish, still quietly.
“So are you going to make him pick a school of magic? When?” Lup asks. “Cause, uh, I know what I think about picking one school of magic, and what Barry thinks about picking a class.”
“Angus is in something of a… unique situation.” Lucas admits. “Given his age and previous experience, he’s in a kind of… home-brewed program. So that decision is mostly contingent on how Angus wants to address it.”
Taako nods. “Hell yeah, little man. Break the rules. Make your own thing.”
“Just… maybe not too much on the rule breaking.” Hurley says.
“I must say I agree with that statement.” Roswell chirps.
Sloane shrugs, a smile on her face as she says, “Definitely yes on the making your own thing though.”
“How much credit are you giving for Angus’s previous experience then?” Davenport asks. “You didn’t underestimate the boy and put him into any introductory classes, did you?”
“No, we, uh, all of the professors tested Angus to put him into the right classes.” Lucas is appropriately intimidated by the look on Davenport’s face.
“But did it involve robots or ogres?” Carey asks, joking, and Magnus grins at his best friend.
“No, uh, no robots or ogres. Though those were Miller Tech robots.”
“No wonder they fell apart so easily.” Magnus comments loudly.
“And you know Angus could beat those though, right?” Killian points out.
“Yes, we are aware.” Lucas sighs.
“I actually broke a few during the practical evocation lesson.” Angus says brightly. Lup gives him another high five.
“So, uh, who’s doing the catering around here? Cause cha’boy sure isn’t, and I don’t wanna worry about Ango wasting away because nobody here knows how to feed a growing boy.”
“It’s fine, sir.” Angus tries to skirt the potential issue.
“See? ‘Fine!’ My magic boy should never be eating food that is just ‘fine.’ This is outrageous.” Taako seems to be having too much fun to be actually irate.
“We can arrange for you to meet our chefs on another date.” Lucas says wearily. Taako goes back and forth before accepting that.
“And is the kid… happy?” Merle asks. Twenty pairs of eyes (well, nineteen pairs plus however many the Raven Queen actually has) look to Angus.
“Yes. Yes, I’m happy in school.” He fidgets under all of the attention, but the honest answer seems to please everyone, and the meeting continues onward a while longer. And going more than a few minutes over the hour Lucas had allotted.
Angus had walked into this meeting expecting nothing and no one. And certainly, that was perfectly reasonable for the family he’d been born into. He’d forgotten about the family he’d found, however.
“Right.” Taako stands up easily off Kravitz’s lap and claps his hands together once Lucas has finished talking, drinking water and pointedly avoiding eye contact with really everyone in the room. “Family dinner time. Come on, Agnes, have to make sure you don’t starve because food here’s inedible.” Most everyone files out, presumably to head to the Taaco-Bluejeans household. Lucas flops face first onto his desk as Taako and Angus, the last two, leave, Kravitz having left moments before after a whispered conversation that Angus had missed. Taako stops just outside Lucas’s office once the door swings closed. The hallway is empty.
“So, uh, Agnes, listen, there’s, there’s one last thing.” Strangely, it’s Taako who looks a bit nervous now. “Kinda, kinda depends on you though.”
“What depends on me, sir?”
Taako pulls out a scroll and tosses it at Angus without looking at him. “You, uh, so nerdlord mentioned that you needed an official guardian on file, so, uh-”
Angus doesn’t hear the remainder of the sentence. He’s too busy reading and rereading the words on the page in front of him. Sir and Ma’am agreed. How Taako learned about and found them or whether it took an offer or a threat or something else entirely (possibly a team of Reapers or Birds), Angus has no idea.
“Yes.” He says suddenly, too loudly, and oh no, he’s interrupting, and Taako’s ears are pulled back, but no, they were already pulled back, worried about what Angus was going to say, and they’re perking up now, happy, and Taako is happy, and so is Angus, so very happy.
“Right. So, time to go home, huh, pumpkin?” Taako asks, still leaving room in case Angus wants to change his mind. He doesn’t.
“Let’s go home, sir.”