I saw all of existence, all at once. I saw a dark storm, a living hunger, eating it from within. But I saw a brilliant light heralded by eight birds flying tirelessly from the storm. I saw eight birds.
The Twins. The Lover. The Protector. The Lonely Journal Keeper. The Peacemaker. The Wordless One. And the eighth, the Reaper, flying beside them.
I saw eight birds.
Kravitz McAllister always died young. He did not know it, but by a cosmic dice roll that some called Fate, his death was one of the few constants across realities.
Sometimes he was taken by illness, other times by the point of a blade. Regardless of how it happened, he would never go to join his ancestors in the sea of souls, would never be drawn back into the natural cycle of life and death and rebirth.
He died, and for eternity and no time at all he was no one, and nothing, drifting between light and darkness until the Raven Queen caught his soul in her talons. When he knelt before her she took the form of a woman, veiled and austere, and thought that she reminded him of his mother, and he loved and feared her in equal measure. It was this realization that brought him back to himself - he was Kravitz McAllister, he was thirty-one years old, he wanted to make music, and he was dead.
“Is that all there is?” He’d asked her. “Is that the end?”
IT IS AN END, she said. Kravitz was not a child but he felt like one, kneeling before her. At once small and scared, yet big and important with her attention directed toward him. He wanted to cry. EVERY END IS ALSO A BEGINNING.
“I… I understand. I think.”
YOU DO NOT, she said, neither kindly nor unkindly, BUT YOU WILL, IN TIME. YOU PROMISED ME SOMETHING A LONG TIME AGO, MY CHILD.
Phantom feathers brushed his cheek.
For a long time, their paths don’t cross, though their threads in Fate’s tapestry run parallel, nearly meeting and then diverging again. Fate takes her time, as she does in all things.
Taako finds fame, for a while. He has his stagecoach, the sturdy cast iron pans and knives that never lose their edge and the sign he painted himself. He’s loved, and if he doesn’t have much money, well, there’s a roof over his head and food in his belly which is better than he can say for most of his life. It’s good, if lonely, but he’s always been lonely so that shouldn’t be surprising - but it is.
He finds himself looking over his shoulder constantly for someone who’s never there. He avoids looking in mirrors. He isn’t able to wonder why.
He’s not really surprised when it all goes south. Things usually do, for him - he doesn’t let himself get used to any particular place. He turns to adventuring when the money from Sizzle It Up runs out, figures he doesn’t have much else left to lose. And anyway, the people he winds up with, the bumbling dwarf and the meathead human - he’s drawn to them, for some reason that it gives him a headache to think about. The same way he’s drawn to a recipe he can’t quite nail down, drawn to the umbrella they find in a cave.
Drawn to the golem made of crystal in a derelict lab.
Two threads tangle again, and Fate smiles.
Kravitz has been alone a long, long time, but that’s the nature of his work. He remembers life, long ago and short as it was, remembers his death and his family (a loving mother who passed too soon, a father he hardly knew, an older half-sister on the Sword Coast whom he adored and wrote to every month), but time causes these things to go numb. He is aware of his loneliness - goddesses do not always make the best conversationalists - but in a distant way. It’s just the way things are.
The interjection of Taako into his life, then, is blinding. Incredibly enraging at first, actually - his absurd amount of unaccounted for deaths, the teasing lilt to his voice, bright color and danger and empty laughter, a laugh that should be irritating but instead is charming as all hell, despite the hollowness behind it. The sound of his voice does something to Kravitz that throws him utterly off-kilter. It’s the oddest thing - how for a moment his heart swells like seeing someone he’s missed for so long, and he falters. It’s enough to make him nearly botch the whole damn job; he awkwardly explains it away as performance anxiety before he leaves to regroup.
The feeling lessens in intensity but it lingers in the back of his mind, pointedly ignored, as they work out their deal, as he lets some of the biggest bounties he’s ever hunted walk away. He doesn’t expect to see Taako again after the incident in the lab, and disregards the occasional thoughts of him as curiosity, his name still emblazoned in Kravitz’s book next to his death count. This man and his companions should be gibbering mad, should not even exist , and yet.
Then the number changes. Eleven additional deaths in the span of seconds. And that’s nothing compared to the thousands more that come pouring in, not one of them making it to the astral plane, a nightmare of paperwork. There is no protocol for this; they are at a standstill until he learns more, his other bounties on hold.
Taako, Kravitz reasons, is the best person to talk to about this issue, the safest option. He’s unpredictable, to be sure. Dangerous. But less aggressive and more cautious than Burnsides, less likely to want vengeance than Highchurch. And then the not-so-logical reasons that he doesn’t want to dwell on - not even attraction, but this strange sense that Taako is important to him. He can’t find another way to describe it, can’t explain it to himself.
It doesn’t hurt that he’d called Kravitz handsome, though how serious he was Kravitz can’t be sure. He is disarmingly easy to talk to, and he defends his case like he’s personally taken every last resident of Refuge under his wing, not to mention his companions.
“You’re not touching them. The folks in Refuge or Magnus and Merle,” Taako says mildly, swirling wine in his cup, tone at odds with his unblinking, golden-brown eyes locked on Kravitz. He had reacted the same way to finding Kravitz in his room as he had to all of their encounters in the Miller lab: by laughing at him, which only served to fluster Kravitz more. Smile sharp as a knife, but it doesn’t make it to his eyes, something dull and dead behind them, some drawn curtain that Kravitz can’t see past.
He’d hung up his hat and poured half a bottle of wine into a comically large mug before offering Kravitz the rest. The mug Kravitz holds now is green, hand-painted with images of cacti, and reads Plant Daddy in a cursive font ; he desperately does not want to know why. Taako is caked in dust from the desert and there are dark circles under his eyes and he keeps gnawing at his bottom lip until it’s raw. Kravitz fights the odd urge to wipe a smear of mud off his arched eyebrow.
“Just want you to know that; it’s not up for debate,” Taako goes on. “They don’t need to know you were here and you don’t need to go anywhere near them.”
Kravitz raises his eyebrows. Taako is not in a position to be making demands, but either he’s unaware or he doesn't care. Kravitz suspects the latter. Taako is cartoonish, absurd, but not a fool. But it is endearing, his cold ferocity, this protective streak. Kravitz is not here to fight, after all, only to understand what the hell happened down in Refuge. In particular, he doesn’t want to fight Taako, and the reasons behind that are becoming more uncomfortably personal by the second, but he’s first and foremost a professional, so - “As long as the information you’ve given me adds up, I won’t have a reason to.”
Taako takes a long, slow sip of his wine, watching Kravitz from over the rim of his cup, which might have looked either seductive or intimidating if he were drinking from anything other than a mug with rainbow stripes that reads Kiss Me, I’m Gay. Kravitz takes a drink too, mimicry to set Taako at ease. It’s not good wine - far too sweet - but he doesn’t complain.
Taako replies, tone brittle, “Good. Because they’re mine. And I will hurt you very, very badly if you try to take them from me. Capiche?” Gesturing sharply with the hand that holds his cup, sloshing a little wine over the edge and onto his mauve skirt - or it was mauve before the layers of red grime; it falls just above bare, knobbly knees that Kravitz can’t seem to stop looking at.
“I don’t want to take any of you,” Kravitz assures him, dragging his eyes back up; he hopes he’s imagining Taako’s knowing smirk. Taako, on the other hand, isn’t making any effort to hide the way he looks Kravitz up and down like he’s something he wants to steal out of a shop window. “I’m just - I’m not here to collect on any bounty, just looking for information. You have to understand, there’s no precedence for what just happened, there’s no - no protocol for this, the Raven Queen - and Istus too, probably - need to come to a decision. But there are no bounties on your heads as of right now.”
“And if that changes?”
He’s always been something of a gambler. Kravitz can’t help but flash a grin. “Then I’ll give you a head start.”
Taako laughs, and seems to surprise himself with it, his eyes lighting up for the first time this evening. It shouldn’t affect Kravitz as much as it does, shouldn't give him butterflies of all things. Taako appraises him for a long moment that makes Kravitz want to sink into the floor, but then he relaxes back against the couch, legs crossed. “Tight. You wanna get wasted?”
“Pardon?” Kravitz chokes on his drink.
“I got harder stuff stashed somewhere, s’not great but whatever, it’s all key lime gogurt to me -” he goes on before Kravitz can even begin to parse that statement - “and you’re cute, in a creepy kinda way, and this hell brain ain’t gonna let me sleep any time soon what with the extreme trauma I’ve just been through and all, sooo - whaddaya say we see how much liquor we can get through before sunrise? Cause this, uh, this is a long fuckin’ story, my man.”
He honestly has no idea what answer is going to come out of his mouth before he feels a familiar tug right at the center of him - a summons. His queen is calling and he is compelled to go to her, no matter how much he wants to stay. Stay and maybe try to help Taako, if he can, that bit about the trauma of death tugging at his heartstrings - it’s all too familiar.
“Tempting,” he says, and it is , because aside from his concern, he suspects that it would actually be incredibly fun to spend the evening drinking excessively with Taako. Maybe more so in a different context, when the elf isn’t blatantly trying to numb whatever it is he’s been through that he isn’t talking about. It's not often that a mortal has any interest in spending time with him, and Goddess help him, he likes this terror of an elf. Likes him entirely too much. “But I’ll have to take a rain check. Duty calls and all that.”
“Aww.” Taako slumps back into the couch, ears drooping low. He must be incredibly tired, that’s obvious from the dark shadows under his eyes, but trying valiantly to fight it off.
Kravitz has died before. He can only imagine the kinds of bad dreams that would come from eleven deaths in the span of what to the rest of the world was about forty-five minutes. Kravitz wants to ask if Taako is okay, wants to ask if he can help somehow, but he doubts it would be appreciated, and anyway, the answer is surely a resounding no. How could he be unchanged, what does that do to a man’s soul?
The call of the Raven Queen grows more insistent. He fumbles through retrieving his phone of farspeech, passing it to Taako. “But, ah - we do need to continue this conversation. Sooner rather than later, I hope.”
Taako’s crooked grin returns. He fiddles with the stone and tosses it back with a wink. “Then I guess I’ll be seeing you, handsome.”
“Is that a threat or a promise?”
Taako’s grin doesn’t fade but it turns sharp, a little wicked. Dangerous. “I don’t make promises.”
He leaves Taako’s room that night with Taako’s stone of farspeech frequency, a plan to call tomorrow, and this sudden and deep and uncomfortable knowledge of his own isolation. Wishing for more time, just a little more, in a way that is normally far removed from his current existence.
He spends the night’s work distracted, looking forward to a meeting with not quite an enemy but not quite a friend, more eagerly than he has any right to.
Business or pleasure, Kravitz asks, and Taako feels like there’s something bubbling up in him, threatening to overflow, something so overpowering he hardly notices the static that builds up between his ears when he looks at Kravitz, when their hands brush as they walk side by side.
It takes him far too long to recognize the feeling as joy. Pretty pathetic that he barely knows what to do with it.
“Yeah, I mean, a little of both, my man.” Taako nearly giggles, it feels ridiculous. And amazing. He almost hates it except for how he doesn’t at all. And Kravitz trying for restraint, this whole gentleman act, but he’s clearly just as thrilled to be here, just as nervous, fuck. “You know, it’s been a while out here.”
What the fuck am I doing? he wonders, taking Death on a date had been a joke, he doesn't know when this stopped being a joke. Maybe when Kravitz actually agreed to meet him at the stupid wine and pottery place. Maybe when he laughed at Taako's stupid jokes and smiled at him across the table, when he didn't move away when their knees bumped or when Taako touched his hand. He's gorgeous and funny and the weirdest person Taako has ever met (something like a person, anyway) and he wants... something. Wants to keep making reasons for Kravitz to smile at him. It's so gay he nearly gags.
Maybe it's just been too long, maybe he's just desperate for anything. But everything in him is screaming to chase this. Just like when he took the job with Magnus and Merle, just like when he picked up the umbra staff in that cave - a terrifying impulse, but one he felt he had to follow, one that whispers trust this, trust him.
His report to the Raven Queen regarding the undead presence that interrupted their evening is brief, and he doesn't have enough information to start hunting it down just yet. So after he departs from the Raven Queen’s audience chambers he finds himself in his quarters (hardly a bedroom, he hasn't slept in a hundred years or so, after a while it seemed like a waste of time) still holding his lopsided vase, unsure of what to do with himself, now, untethered. He sets the vase down on an end table, wonders if flowers could survive in the Astral Plane or if he will have to settle for fake ones to fill it. He wonders if he should buy Taako flowers, next time. He wonders if there will be a next time. He sighs and sits down, tapping bony fingers on the arm of his chair, all nervous energy and uncertainty and wanting things he’s not even sure he’s allowed to think of yet.
Kravitz touches the back of his own hand absently. It's maddening, but he can't for the life of him stop thinking about Taako’s hands on his hands on cool wet clay, standing much closer than was strictly necessary; Taako leaning heavy on his side as they walked together, wine drunk and warm and laughing; the first time in a very long time someone had touched him with any affection. Gods above. It has maybe been two hours since he’d seen Taako and all he wants in this world is to pick up where they had been interrupted, though he has no idea what trajectory they’re hurtling down.
He looks at his stone of farspeech like it has some kind of answer for him. They didn't have this sort of thing when he was alive and in any sort of position to date, dating as a concept didn’t exist, you would write letters and those took time, you really had to think about them, and then wait maybe weeks for a reply. He doesn't know what sort of nonsense he would spout if he just called Taako now, it would be absurd.
Was this even a date? It had felt like one. He’d stuttered through complimenting Taako’s hair, and Taako had seemed pleased with himself, grinned with all his teeth and flipped the shiny gold waves over his shoulder (Kravitz was captivated by the way it caught the light, like a crow with a stolen bit of jewelry). “Thanks, sweetheart. It takes a lot of work to look this good,” he’d said with a flutter of pale eyelashes.
Probably a date, then. Or maybe Taako is just like that with everyone?
What if Taako waiting for him to call? Is this some social faux pas he isn't aware of? What the hell is he doing, pining away like this, for someone he saw only a little while ago? Not that he’d known well what to do with feelings like this, the kind that well up in your lungs and your mouth and leave you breathless, when he was alive. He’d died young, and even before that - too sickly, and then too shy and strange, too focused on his craft, for most people to show him more than a passing interest. Terrified of all the time he had wasted, the end hurtling ever closer, and ever waiting for something or someone unknown, sure that when it came along he would know it, still searching until his last moments.
He hadn't known that it would feel like this once he found it, so all-consuming.
He nearly drops his stone when it starts to hum and glow blue, Taako’s frequency - who else would have reason to call him - and he stares at it for a moment in absurd panic before answering.
“Sup, Bones.” Unmistakably Taako, though his voice is tinny and high over the distance.
“Hi, Taako,” Kravitz says, smiling despite himself. Gods. He is so far gone it's ridiculous.
“Uh - I just wanted to apologize again for the umbrella thing? It’s going hangwire like constantly lately, I don’t know what’s up.”
Kravitz doesn’t know what to make of the umbrella either. It had seemed to have a mind of it’s own, flinging itself at Kravitz almost like it was trying to get his attention, eventually firing off some spell of its own accord - not aimed at either of them but at the ground, starting to burn a mark into the grass before Taako finally wrestled back control of it.
“No harm done,” he assures Taako. “You really ought to have it checked for curses, though, before it backfires and hurts you.”
“It’s just protective. Anyway, sorry again. I know it's probably too soon to call, but fuck it, y’know, live like you’re dying. Maybe this is weird. Is it weird? Well, now it is, damn it, sizzled this one right up.” His voice keeps going higher as he rambles, clearly nervous.
Any other time, Kravitz would be deeply interested in exploring what that umbrella actually is, but he’s entirely too distracted. “I was actually having a mild crisis about whether or not it was too soon to call you. I haven’t done this in a while. Not sure what the rules are.” Taako cackles; his laughter is not pretty but it’s charming in its own way, and though Kravitz can feel his cheeks growing warm he’s still smiling, so. “What’s so funny?”
“I don’t know! You’re a lot , you know that?”
Though there’s no one in the room to see him grinning like a fool, he can’t help but set the stone down and cover his face with his hands. “You’re one to talk,” he teases.
“I am generally baffled by your entire existence.”
“Mm. That’s what all the boys say.”
Kravitz can’t remember ever laughing as much as he has tonight. The night doesn’t feel at all like it’s over yet, feels like they should have had hours stretching ahead of them, the kind of night where you stay up too late just talking. “I want to see you again,” he admits quietly, before nerves can get the better of him.
A brief and devastating moment of silence buzzes over the frequency before the sparkle of Taako’s soft, nervous laughter comes through. “Like - right now?”
Yes, he wants to say immediately, yes yes yes. Yes, I want to see you, I want to know you, I want to know why I feel like I already do. “Well,” he says, and he doesn’t know how to continue.
“Cause, um. The boys are both out... somewhere, who fuckin’ knows, no one tells me anything - so. If you want.”
If you want. Kravitz swallows. It’s late at night in the material plane, he knows; it was late already when they stumbled away from the Chug ‘n’ Squeeze. And Taako was up, and thinking of him.
He asks, “Is that what you want?”
A puff of breath, almost a sigh. It feels like there’s something stuck to the inside of Kravitz’s lungs, crawling up his throat; anticipation, dread, desire. “Yeah,” Taako admits, quiet.
“Would your umbrella approve?” He can’t help but tease.
“ Gods , shut up and get over here before I come to my senses.”
He has a rift open before he even hangs up the stone. Bending space and reality to his convenience just to see a man he barely knows as soon as possible. He steps into the common area of the apartment Taako shares with the others, dimly lit except in the kitchenette, where Taako stands, blinking at him. A little radio sits on the counter, turned down low, playing some quiet song Kravitz doesn't know. He’s wearing oven mitts and an apron, both of which say Sizzle It Up! in a gaudy, carnivalesque typeface on the front, holding a wooden spatula; gone are the gauzy, near-transparent shirt and the too-short shorts he’d worn on their date. Home for the evening, he’s pinned his hair up into a loose, frizzy bun at the back of his head, changed into plain black leggings and a loose shirt, it’s sleeve hanging off one broad, sharp shoulder.
He’s stunning. Kravitz is absolutely fucked.
“You really meant now, huh,” Taako laughs, slipping off the oven mitts and tossing them on the counter. “Forgetting something?”
Kravitz fumbles to put away the scythe, letting it drift away into smoke. Catches sight of his own hand and swears under his breath; he hadn’t ever shifted back from his skeletal form - no reason to pay any mind to such negligible things as his body , in the Astral Plane - so now he’s here in full Reaper glory in Taako’s living room. “Shit,” he says. “I’m so sorry, here, I’ll just…”
He concentrates a moment on his body, muscle then skin then everything that makes that skin his, he could probably look different if he liked but this is the body he had in life, vitiligo and scars and all, and he can't bear the idea of giving it up. He’s still in the suit he wore to the Chug ‘n’ Squeeze and strangely aware of that fact, of the trace of clay on his pants leg and the way the smell of wine and Taako seemed to linger on him even through trips back and forth through the Astral Plane. More aware of his physical form, of himself as a corporeal object, than he has been in a very long time.
“Sorry,” he says again, suddenly sure than this whole thing has been a mistake, that he should have at least stopped to buy flowers or something. “I - you don’t want to see me like that, all… bones. This is foolish of me, I should just go -”
“Do you eat?”
“Do,” Taako gestures at him with the spatula in his hand, “you eat ?”
“Um,” Kravitz says lamely, startled out of his desire to run away. “I can? I don't have to. Undead and all that. But I can. I like to?”
“Undead,” Taako repeats, and nibbles at his lower lip. “Can’t die again, yeah?”
“Yes?” Wary, because he has no idea what that has to do with anything. Taako turns away from him, picks something up from the counter. He steps around the island counter and up to Kravitz, standing in the center of the room feeling utterly lost, no idea what his state of being has to do with whatever Taako is cooking.
“I like your bones, Bones,” Taako assures him with a wink that makes Kravitz’s knees turn to jelly, holding something out for him to take. “But I need your tongue for this - heh, that’s what she said - uh, tell me if the almond butter comes through, alright?”
It’s a cookie, still warm from the oven, dotted with chunks of chocolate. Kravitz takes a slow bite, tries to channel this horrid awareness of his physicality into something good, like trying to taste every hint of almond in the cookie. Taako watches, unblinking, holding his breath. Looking like he’s waiting for something terrible to happen. The cookie is gooey and sweet and perfect .
“That's amazing,” he says, mouth full, and the breath Taako was holding is released. He swallows the bite and adds, “I mean, I haven't had a cookie in… a long time, so I don't know if my opinion is worth much, but it’s really good. Almond butter?”
“Mhm. Allergic to peanuts,” he adds as he turns away, back to the oven to pick up a cookie for himself, taking a small, strangely careful bite. He thinks a moment as he chews, then nods, setting it aside. Delayed slightly, Kravitz’s face warms at Taako’s comment - probably unthinking, offhand, but. He likes Kravitz’s bones, even. Taako continues, “Wasn’t sure what that hot bod was made of, for all I know you drink blood or something -”
“I’m sorry, did you think I’m a vampire?” Kravitz snorts.
“You have a particular aesthetic,” Taako says, which, true. “Which I am very into, no doubt - so, uh, how long is a long time?”
Kravitz takes another nibble of the cookie, thinking back. “...Twenty years?”
“Jeezy creezy, you don't get out much, huh?” Taako half-grins at him as he says it, glancing over his shoulder. “What, you and your ghost buddies don’t go out for drinks after work? Basic social bonding activity, my dude, you ever go out for fucking brunch ?”
“Not a ghost either,” Kravitz mumbles. He thinks he’s blushing and he didn’t realize his blood circulated enough for that. Taako’s not wrong, Kravitz’s social life pretty much consists of a goddess of death and restless souls and not much else until very recently, but he can’t help but feel like he’s done something wrong.
Taako seems to pick up on his discomfort and pauses, glancing between Kravitz and the bowl of cookie dough, and softens a little. “Um. You wanna help?”
And so he finds himself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Taako in a kitchenette on the moon, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, making little hatch-marks on the dough with a fork as Taako places them on the baking sheets, just as he has been shown how. It is perhaps the most delightfully mundane activity Kravitz has participated in in as long as he can remember , watching each tray go into the oven, smelling the cookies as they bake, every light brush against Taako when they move. The radio plays on, surrounding them with acoustic guitar and a lilting Elvish voice. Conversation comes easily as they work together, just as it had earlier in the evening before they’d been interrupted. Softer here, though, alone in the dark apartment, no one but Kravitz around for Taako to put on a performance for. He doesn’t smile as much, but when he does it’s real instead of a shield to keep Kravitz disarmed and at a distance. It isn’t that they don’t joke together, but for Taako, Kravitz realizes, taking their time together seriously is something like a sign of trust.
“Don’t even know why I started making these,” Taako laughs at himself, shaking his head. They have to bake the cookies in batches, he made so much dough. “Just got excited, I guess? Stupid.”
“I didn't know you cooked,” Kravitz says, and Taako’s hands still for a moment before he goes on rolling the dough in his palms. He moves like he’s accustomed to sharing a kitchen with someone.
“I don't,” he says.
“No?” Kravitz looks at him sideways. He doesn’t know what Sizzle It Up is - he isn’t exactly up to date on popular culture - but he doubts that anyone who doesn't cook would own an apron with their face on it.
“Nope.” His ears laying flat, their tips twitching ever so slightly, nothing Kravitz would notice if he weren't looking. He rolls every single cookie exactly the same size with practiced ease, places them evenly spaced on the tray, like he’s done this hundreds of times. There’s something under the surface that Kravitz doesn't quite dare to dig for now, some crack in this veneer that Taako has put around himself. Kravitz wants terribly to know every single thing about him, doesn't know where to begin.
“You should,” Kravitz says instead. “You’re very good.”
He catches the hint of a smile before Taako bites his lips to hide it. “Ch’yeah, okay, mister hasn’t-eaten-cookies-in-fifty-years, you’re such an authority.”
“Twenty,” he corrects. “Ah, but you’ve reintroduced me to the world of sweets, now I can never go back. You’ve ruined me.”
“Mm. Flattery will get you absolutely everywhere.”
“Will it get me another cookie?”
“You can dream a little bigger than that, darlin’.”
Darling. Kravitz likes that. He likes it a lot. Before he can even process the impulse Kravitz ducks in, pressing the briefest, lightest of pecks to Taako’s cheek. The tips of Taako’s ears - standing straight up, now, he’s never known an elf with such long, expressive ears - immediately turn bright pink, a giggle bubbling from his lips before he can quash it. He grabs a cookie from the cooling tray and shoves it into Kravitz’s mouth, shoulders pinned up to his ears but fighting back a smile. Adorable. He would never have described the elf he met in the Miller lab as adorable - grating, frustrating, baffling maybe - but getting to see Taako like this, soft and open, feels like a rare blessing.
The last tray full, Taako slips the sheet into the oven, double checks the temperature, and closes the door. Silent, for a moment, glancing up at Kravitz through hooded eyes before he turns to the sink and washes his hands.
“I’m… glad you came back,” he says, carefully, like the shape of the words feel strange in his mouth, like he’s testing them out. Avoiding eye contact, all of the sudden, something in him trying to close itself off.
“I’m glad you asked me,” Kravitz says. He dares to reach breach that fragile wall between them, just a brush of fingers against the top of his hand like Taako’s fingers had brushed his as they worked the clay together. Taako looks to where their skin touches, the contrast of Kravitz's rich dark brown and Taako’s freckle-dusted bronze, and doesn't move away. His fingers curl slightly into the dish towel. “I like being here with you,” Kravitz adds.
He expects Taako to laugh at him, but he looks more serious than Kravitz has ever seen him, even in battle, even when negotiating for his soul. Searching Kravitz's face for any hint of trickery. “Yeah?” He asks warily.
“More than is probably reasonable.”
Taako shakes his head, turns his hand over so that he can clasp Kravitz's palm. Kravitz sees a dusting of flour in his hair, a smudge of it on his cheekbone, and something in his chest feels broken at that, somehow, and he doesn't have a clue why Taako affects him so much.
“I just - really want to kiss you, is the thing,” Taako says with a laugh and a shake of his head. Kravitz nearly moves to do so, he can’t stop looking at Taako’s lips, pink and a little ragged from being bitten so constantly. He wants so much. But Taako is watching him still, at once so carefully guarded and so vulnerable.
“Why haven’t you?” He asks. Taako's cheeks have turned a mesmerizing shade of pink.
“I - shit, I don't - I’m no good at this,” Taako says. His tongue darts out to wet his lips. “Wasn't lying when I said it’s been a while.”
Kravitz squeezes his hand. “Shockingly, the social life for an undead aspect of the goddess of death is practically non-existent. I don't know what I’m doing either. If this is too much I’ll back off, but I… I really do care about you, Taako.”
Taako has shifted closer to him, now. Only a little. He’s shorter than Kravitz but not by terribly much, and slight, long-limbed and bony but never fragile; his hair attempting to break free of its bun, a loose curl tucked behind his ear. His eyes dart down to Kravitz's mouth and linger a moment too long, stealing Kravitz's breath. “You wouldn't, though, if you knew me at all.”
“Hmm, too late.”
Taako does laugh, but it’s - twisted, bitter, and he bites down on it before it fully leaves him. “No, look, this isn’t - I’m not a good person, alright?”
“That isn’t true.”
“I'm - I’m selfish, I’m mean, I’m a liar and I’m fine with all that, I’m not the kind of guy that people - that you should -”
“Someone hurt you,” Kravitz says softly. Taako watches him and doesn't answer, face carefully blank. “Didn’t they? Someone taught you that there's something wrong with you, that somehow you're broken.” He looks down at where their hands are still clasped; Taako hasn't made a move to pull away, in fact his grip tightens. Kravitz continues, murmuring, “I’m sorry for that, truly. But you wouldn’t be trying to scare me off if you were as selfish as you think. You wouldn’t care what I think of you.”
Taako swallows. “You don't know anything about me.” His voice small, quiet, but he doesn’t tell Kravitz he’s wrong. He doesn’t step away, or let go of Kravitz’s hand.
“But I want to. If you’d have me.”
Taako’s mouth falls open, then closes without a sound, his eyes wide. Perhaps, it now occurs to Kravitz, that was all a little on the nose, but he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about what Taako had said, back there - I’m afraid no one else will have me. Kravitz hadn’t said so then but he’d understood exactly what Taako meant, has felt it acutely over his long existence. Knows how horrible a thing it is, to think yourself unwanted. I will, he’d wanted to say then, I will, I will. But the moment had passed and it was too soon anyway. Feeling too much, afraid of what it meant.
It’s only been a few hours. It’s still too soon.
“That was too forward of me,” Kravitz says, casting his eyes down to the floor. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s… It’s not,” Taako says quickly, drawing Kravitz’s gaze back to him. “It’s not.” His eyes fall to where their hands are still clasped, and he swallows. “I don't think I know, yet, what this is. What I want from you.”
“Alright,” Kravitz says softly. He thinks he can work with that. He thinks that he could give Taako anything if he asked.
“But.” Taako takes a breath, and meets his eyes again. Pupils wide and dark. “I just know I want something .”
That, Kravitz understands intimately, the uncertainty and the wanting and the tug on his soul. He doesn't know this man, didn't even know he cooked, until tonight, doesn't know what’s hidden behind his dead-eyed smiles or why he feels the need to lie so much or why he’s honest with Kravitz of all people. But Taako has smiled at him and laughed with him tonight and every time, every single time, his eyes have glittered like starlight and Kravitz has felt longing the likes of which he can't remember knowing; longing and recognition of something in Taako, old and deep and long forgotten, something that recognizes Kravitz in turn and reaches out to him.
He steps closer. Taako watches him, doesn’t move. Even from here Kravitz can feel the warmth of his body.
“Maybe we can figure that out together,” Kravitz says, quietly hopeful.
When Taako kisses him he tastes like butter and almonds and chocolate, and his lips linger still for too long as if fighting between pulling away and pressing closer. Losing the battle, he chooses the latter, head tilted up just so, an elegant curve to his long neck. A hand settles on Kravitz’s chest, fingers curled hesitantly in the collar of his shirt. A soft gasp or maybe the beginning of a laugh when he pulls away, just for a second, before diving back in.
He smells divine, sugar and vanilla and flour, the hint of something floral in his hair. Kravitz’s hands move up Taako’s arms, over pointy elbows and firm on his shoulders, finally, gently to his face, to cradle his jaw and draw him in closer. Taako moves forward and Kravitz steps back with him until he’s crowded back against the countertop, its edge digging into his back. Taako’s palms against the counter, a cage around his body. He makes a small sound against Taako’s mouth, lips parting, and Taako shivers under his hands.
“Cold boy,” Taako laughs, their faces still close, Taako’s breath warm on Kravitz’s mouth. His long nose nudges at Kravitz's cheek; instead of jerking away from the cold like so many do, he seems to instinctively move toward it.
“Sorry,” he whispers. Their lips nearly brush. “I know it's weird.”
“I like weird.” Taako tilts his head and kisses him again, his tongue teasing the seam of Kravitz’s lips and Kravitz is hungry for it, for all of this, for Taako’s body and his hands and his warmth, for the sound of his laughter, and grateful for the way Taako just accepts every bizarre thing about him, the bones and the cold. “Warm you up,” Taako mumbles, and a hand slides down to Kravitz's back, lower still to slip into his back pocket to shift him in even closer.
Kravitz cups the back of Taako’s head in his hand and kisses him hard as their hips slot together easy as breathing, easy as anything. Taako’s teeth nipping at his bottom lip and then the upper. A hot, hard length against his thigh. Carefully, testing the waters, he rocks his hips up and is delighted when Taako grinds into him without hesitation; he moans, broken, into Taako’s mouth.
“Oh, babe ,” Taako coos, slowly rolling his hips, the barest movement yet somehow absolutely maddening. He grins, heavy-lidded, pupils dark. “Been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Yes.” Kravitz doesn’t bother with reticence, figures it must be rather obvious. He’s dizzy with Taako’s closeness, the warmth and the smell of him, living and breathing and hot under his hands; he’d forgotten it could feel like this, that he could want someone so much. It’s been so long.
Taako pulls back just enough to look at him a moment, hungry and questioning, a question answered in the needy grasp of Kravitz’s hands. “Hoo boy, okay, think I know what I want from you after all, Bones,” he murmurs, a glint of white teeth in an almost cruel grin, the hand in Kravitz's pocket squeezing playfully. “Figured it all out, solved your sexy puzzle -”
“I don’t know, shut up , you’re too hot it’s making me stupid.” He ducks his head to press wet, messy kisses up Kravitz’s throat, nuzzling under his jaw.
“What do you want?” Kravitz’s voice is unexpectedly rough, and he wonders if Taako can hear the useless pounding of his heart. Taako hums in response, pulling Kravitz closer in a slow, almost lazy rut against each other, but he wants to know, wants to hear it from Taako’s lips; he kisses the spot below Taako’s ear, nips softly at his neck, all this skin, unexplored territory. “Tell me,” he murmurs in Taako’s ear.
“Jesus,” Taako gasps, going all shuddery and boneless at Kravitz’s breath so close to his ear and oh Kravitz likes that, nibbles at Taako’s earlobe just to hear him gasp again, and his hand twists at the back of Kravitz’s shirt. He expects coyness, expects to have to tease it out of him, but instead - “Whatever you’ll give me,” Taako says, quiet but sure.
Kravitz can't help but tighten his arms around Taako, crushing their bodies together, it's all objectively too fast, he didn’t expect this tonight, didn’t expect anything from Taako but it feels inevitable, somehow, that they have ended up here, every place they touch burning. Kravitz kisses him again because he can’t bear not to, tongues sliding and teeth clacking together until he nearly loses himself in it, but he gathers just enough presence of mind steady himself. To murmur, breathless, “Maybe not in the kitchen?”
“Shit.” Taako blinks, unfocused, like he’s only just realized where they are, that though they’re alone now that could change at any moment. He hesitates, considers Kravitz for a long moment. Eyes wide and round and dark, mouth red and wet; Kravitz can’t remember ever wanting anything as much as he wants Taako right now. “You gonna get called away again?”
“No.” He’ll beg another reaper to cover for him, if it comes to it. He hasn’t ditched work in a century, he can get away with it.
“So you could stay?”
He nods, too eager, embarrassingly so. Taako already has him, as far as he’s concerned, whatever he wants of him. Taako laughs, a moment of raw delight as his head falls forward to rest on Kravitz’s collarbone. Kravitz’s fingers travel up the length of his spine, eyes drifting closed. “You are... a lot,” he says, fondly this time, rather than baffled. He pulls just far enough out of the circle of Kravitz’s arms to turn the knob on the oven to off - lucky, because Kravitz had absolutely forgotten the cookies - and then comes back. “Think I like it.”
“I like you,” Kravitz says back, far too turned on to be creative. Something in Taako’s eyes turns almost sad; Kravitz wonders if Taako even realizes how much shows in his face.
But his hand is tugging on Kravitz’s tie, leading him away, and Kravitz happily follows. Follows through a doorway into a now familiar bedroom, the same room he’d met Taako in after his return from Refuge; still a wreck, clothes tossed over the back of his chair and the loveseat where Kravitz had sat and drank his wine, the bed more of a nest of pillows than anything. The lights are dim and Taako takes a breath. A long look between them, and Taako’s hand in his, and something fierce and determined burning behind his eyes.
“You’re so beautiful,” Kravitz breathes - and watches, equally fascinated and amused, as Taako face goes red, to the tips of his ears.
“I mean - yeah, natch, I knew that, took you long enough to catch up,” Taako rambles, refusing to meet Kravitz’s eye. “And uh, right back at ya, for the record, um -”
“No, shower me in praise, thank you very much. Just. You know. Been a minute since -” Taako fidgets and looks around the room, until Kravitz holds him still, hands rubbing up and down his arms. He laughs at himself and finally looks back up, back at Kravitz. “It’s been a minute,” he finishes, with that quiet honesty Kravitz is coming to treasure, shrugging one shoulder.
“For me, too.” Quite the understatement. It’s different, here in his room, than it was in the kitchen. The air feels thick with potential, with things Kravitz doesn’t know how to say yet. He brushes those stray hairs out of Taako’s face again, watching for any sign at all that Taako has changed his mind. “Can I - ?”
Taako doesn’t wait for Kravitz to move first, coming up on his toes and pulling Kravitz down to meet him, no preamble of chastity, none of the restraint that Kravitz now realizes they had shown before; Taako devours him, stepping back and back until his knees hit the edge of the mattress and they fall together in an undignified heap. Taako kisses him and kisses him and kisses him until there is nothing left but the heat and the ache of Kravitz’s mouth and the tangle of their limbs in the sheets and the heat, the sweet sounds that pour from Taako’s lips and the cries that Kravitz muffles in the crook of Taako’s neck. Wrapping himself around Taako and holding him tight, craving that living warmth that he had nearly forgotten, but longed for still, deep in some part of him he couldn’t reach.
Taako’s body trembles, after, and he closes his eyes tight and is quiet. But he tucks himself close, small in the circle of Kravitz’s arms. He lets Kravitz hold him, in his room, in his bed.
In that space between awake and asleep, for just a second, it all feels so familiar.
Always restless in meditation, as long as he can remember, Taako isn’t surprised when he’s called back to consciousness after a little while - a weight across his middle, a sigh as the man in his bed nuzzles his cheek against Taako’s bare shoulder and drapes himself over him. What does surprise him is how he simply curls closer to Kravitz like it hasn’t been ages since he had someone to warm his bed (well, not warm in this case). Like he always wakes up this way instead of alone.
It was late when they tumbled into bed together, still hours until morning now. Taako breathes in deep, once, twice, turns slowly so as not to disturb Kravitz’s embrace too much, to look at his face in the grayscale of darkvision - smooth in sleep, lips slightly parted, his lashes a fan against his cheek. Without a thought Taako touches his fingertips to the pillow-soft pout of those lips. He wonders how old Kravitz is, really. Wonders, morbidly, how he died. Who is he, under the feathered cloak, behind the scythe? He thinks he’d caught a glimpse of him last night - accidentally let Kravitz catch a glimpse of him too, standing in the quiet of the kitchen, flour caught in their hair, and Taako had quietly, equal parts hopeful and afraid, thought that he could be happy like this, just like this.
He hadn’t known, when he turned their business meeting into a date, that they would end up here. This is not what he does. Not the version of himself that he chooses to put out to the world. Somehow Kravitz had seen right through his bullshit, easily dismantled him, and he doesn’t know why he isn’t more afraid of it. He feels simultaneously more like himself and like a stranger, with Kravitz here.
“Krav,” he says, whispering and then louder, because his thoughts are getting too loud. He needs to do something. Kravitz stirs under the brush of Taako’s fingers over his lips, then his chin and the sharp line of his jaw. “I’m bored. You awake?”
“Am now,” he mumbles. Those lips curve into a smile and he turns his face, eyes still closed, touching feather-light kisses to Taako’s fingertips.
There’s a tightness in Taako’s chest that doesn't fit, sharp and aching longing, like missing someone long lost. He really had wanted to scare Kravitz off, last night, to keep him at that safe, familiar distance. Get the leaving over with before it had a chance to hurt.
Except for how he doesn’t want that at all.
He kisses Kravitz’s jaw and then sits up out of his embrace and slithers down the bed. The sheets and pillows are a tangled wreck that he kicks to the floor as he goes, as he settles on his belly between Kravitz’s long, naked legs. “Tell me if I should stop,” Taako murmurs, nuzzling his cheek against the inside of Kravitz's thigh for no reason other than that it’s another way to touch him. Palms smooth up his legs, tickling the dark hair there - endlessly fascinating to Taako, elves have very little in the way of body hair but it's everywhere on Kravitz, arms and chest and in a trail down to his soft belly. Kravitz’s breath hitches, his legs falling open in a silent invitation to continue. Taako kisses a patch of white skin on the inside of Kravitz’s right knee, then another higher on his thigh, delighting in how he tenses as Taako’s lips and teeth pass over a sensitive spot.
“Taako,” Kravitz sighs, voice low and nearly reverent. He continues his exploration, moving now to the other leg, tongue tracing the crease of his hip and making him shudder. “ Oh, that’s…”
“I’ve got you, handsome,” Taako breathes, nipping at the soft point of Kravitz’s hip bone. “I got you.” And all at once he doesn’t want to tease anymore, doesn’t want to wait. Just wants Kravitz, who had delighted in taking him apart last night with that gorgeous mouth of his, those musician’s hands. He wants to overwhelm him. Still moving slow when he finally takes Kravitz between his lips, the barely-soft length of him hardening quick in his warm mouth, and Kravitz gasps, quiet and broken and something in the sound breaks Taako’s heart. Eyes closed because he’s not sure he can bear it if he looks up, like something fragile will shatter if he sees Kravitz watching him. Like this, he can lose himself in the taste and the smell and the need. He can disappear into the weight on his tongue, all the planes and angles of him, hands stretching up to spread over abdomen and rib cage and pin him down.
Kravitz is quiet but his breath comes heavy, and his legs tremble as they cradle Taako’s body, his hips twitching gently up until he forces himself still. Such a gentleman . A hand reaches down and fingertips come to touch Taako’s cheek, feathery brushes across his brow and jaw as his mouth works around Kravitz’s cock, finally settling at his ears, a fingertip tracing the long delicate edge. Taako can't help but make a small sound, muffled, sensitive ears twitching at the touch, there's a moment when he’s afraid Kravitz will do something cruel like yank on them but of course he’s gentle, keeps running his fingers from the tip down, and Taako relaxes slowly, leaning into it.
“Is that good?” Kravitz whispers, voice rough, gods, just from this, just from what Taako is doing to him. His ears are so sensitive, Kravitz’s fingers on them sending sparks all down his spine. His own cock is trapped between his belly and the bed, and it twitches in interest; he rocks his hips for a little friction but leaves it at that. It’s not going to get him off - he’s not even sure he’s looking for that - but fuck, it’s just nice to be touched so thoughtfully.
His jaw is beginning to ache but rather than stopping he takes Kravitz deeper, swallowing down that bitter-salt taste at the back of his throat and drawing out a sharp gasp. Kravitz’s hand jerks, twists in the sheets and then settles over Taako’s where it splays out over Kravitz's belly, fingers threading together. He gives Taako’s hand a squeeze, and Taako squeezes back.
Taako knows that Kravitz is close when his abdomen begins to tense, when he holds himself still and his breath catches, but Taako doesn’t let up, holds him at the back of his throat until - yes, there. Sweet and bitter as he spills wet warmth into Taako’s mouth, quietly groaning Taako’s name, and fuck he wants to hear that again already, hear it every day. Taako swallows around him, sucking and licking at the head until Kravitz is twitching, trembling under his hands. He wipes his mouth on the inside of Kravitz’s thigh and rests his head on his belly, eyes shut, listening to Kravitz’s breath as it evens out. Kravitz’s hand, the one that isn’t still holding Taako’s, finds its way to his hair, nails dragging over his scalp. He shivers, lets his fingertips press into Kravitz’s hip bones where his hand came to rest.
“Do you want…” Kravitz begins, voice uneven and still thick with sleep. Taako shakes his head, presses a kiss to Kravitz’s belly, tickled by the soft dusting of hair curling there, so impossibly good, everything about him is so good .
“I’m okay,” he whispers. It’s pleasant to lie here, draped warm over Kravitz, more skin-to-skin contact than Taako has had in longer than he can remember. He’s… fuck, he’s content, and that’s a lot to take in; Taako can’t remember ever in his life feeling content. Realizing it sends him back into a spiral of uncertainty.
“Are you sure?”
“S’fine.” He stays still and listens to Kravitz’s heart as it beats needlessly, settling back into its rhythm, his balance tipped, world crooked on its axis for Kravitz’s presence in it. Wide awake, now, and afraid of how vulnerable he’s made himself - how fucking gay he is, holding hands while giving a blowjob, what the fuck is his life anymore. “Get some more sleep.”
Kravitz hums, hands still moving through his hair, scratching at his scalp like a bird preening another’s feathers. Silent, for a while, but not sleeping; Taako can tell by the pace of his breath.
“Do you ever…” Kravitz begins, then pauses, searching himself for the right words. He trails his fingers down the straight line of Taako’s spine, and starts again, carefully. Maybe it’s just the slight tickle of Kravitz’s fingers but a shudder runs through Taako, tingly like static. “Have you ever met someone, a stranger, and… somehow you feel you’ve known them all your life? Like… you’ve been looking for them everywhere, being guided toward them, even when you didn't know it?”
For some reason Taako thinks not of meeting Kravitz, but of the temple in Refuge, of endless tangles of silvery, multi-hued thread and the inexplicable touch of a goddess. He thinks of a meeting in a tavern with two idiots, and the last job he’d ever need and a skeleton holding an umbrella -
He thinks about how there’s this empty place somewhere inside him he can’t reach, that’s always been there, a quiet ache somewhere between his ribs and his heart, and it’s not that Kravitz fills it, exactly, but when Kravitz is here - it seems like he can set it aside, for a little while.
“Like fate,” he says. It feels like the words are coming from someone else, far away or long ago, a connection his mind won’t quite let him make. He doesn’t really know why he’s thinking of any of this, or why it fills his head with static.
“Something like that.” The odd waver in Kravitz’s voice matches Taako’s.
“Nah,” Taako lies, and somehow knows that Kravitz knows he’s lying, and that it’s alright. “Fuck fate, I’ve got too many prophecies to keep track of as it is.”
Kravitz chuckles, and Taako lifts himself up on his elbows just to watch the way the corners of Kravitz’s eyes crinkle when he smiles. To watch the curious way Kravitz always watches him, a gentleness in his eyes that feels familiar. Feels safe, even. He should never feel safe. He should not want to wake up in the morning holding Kravitz, he shouldn’t have even wanted to ask him to stay. This is what the world has taught him, that there is a kind of brittle safety in the solitude he’s cultivated, willingly or not, and yet.
And yet he wants this , whatever this is. And what's stopping him from having it, except his own self-sabotage? Why the hell not chase this, fuck the world and all it’s taught him.
He kisses Kravitz once, slow and sweet and putting into it all the things he can’t make himself say out loud, and he lays his head back down, right at the center of his chest. There’s a heartbeat, just there; he’d wondered if Kravitz would have one, wants to ask how Kravitz’s heart can beat, what really separates him from the living, he wants to know everything about this fascinating creature . He wants far too much from Kravitz far too quickly, but the only way Taako has ever managed to build some semblance of a life for himself - no matter how many times it has fallen apart - is by taking whatever he can get.
“I make a mean hash brown, if you can stick around for breakfast,” Taako says, knowing that Kravitz doesn’t even understand what that gesture means . It’s a bit ridiculous at this point how many times he’s extended their “date,” he probably ought to be embarrassed, but his heart isn’t in it. He doesn’t feel like he has to pretend, with Kravitz, and he doesn’t want this to end yet. He has no doubt it will, but he can stretch it out as long as possible. Until Kravitz tires of him.
“Lovely,” Kravitz says. Taako can practically hear the satisfied grin spreading over Kravitz’s face right now, the glint of white teeth in the real-moonlight creeping through the window. “Whatever happened to ‘I don’t cook’?”
“Heh. Yeah, that’s… hm. Bit of a story, there.”
“Not a fun one.”
Kravitz kisses the top of his head, a simple gesture that’s oddly disarming. “You don’t have to say,” Kravitz murmurs, though there’s obvious curiosity in his voice, Taako doubts he’ll leave the subject alone long. It takes everything in Taako not to blurt the story out, that honesty that Kravitz seems to effortlessly drag out of him, he wants to lay himself bare, to shed light into all the dark corners of himself. Here I am, if you’d have me. If you’d just stay.
Maybe another day. For now he shifts so that he’s snuggled up with Kravitz side by side. Kravitz hesitates for a moment, just long enough for Taako to think he’s done something wrong, but he’s just reaching for the blankets to pull them up around them before settling, knees tucked up together. A gentle hand smoothing down Taako’s bare arm and down to his waist before pulling him close. Taako sighs, closes his eyes and tries not to think of much except now, except here, except the soft body in his bed that will still be here when he wakes up. Startlingly eager for the morning, for waking Kravitz with hot coffee and home-cooked food. He’ll deal with reintroducing him to Merle and Magnus if he has to, he’ll follow this road wherever it’s leading them, hand in hand.
It feels less like a choice and more of an inevitability, but a choice he would make regardless.
“Get some more sleep,” he mumbles. Kravitz hums, his breath stirring the hair at the back of Taako’s neck, his body slowly warming.
It’s horrific when a goddess smiles. The Raven Queen has a flair for dramatics; her form, if one can call it such, is incomprehensible, and she does very little to make it easier, even for Kravitz she appears as bird, and woman, and shadow, and neither and all. After so long in her service, he’s finally stopped getting a terrible headache when he looks upon her. Her laughter, however, still sends a chill up his spine. She thinks his situation now is very funny indeed.
“Your Majesty ” he says, “The cases of Merle Highchurch, Magnus Burnsides, and Taako Taaco are closed. For the time being, at least.”
YOU HAVE DONE WELL, KRAVITZ.
He clears his throat. “If their cases should reopen for any reason, I humbly request that a different reaper be assigned to them.”
She’s very close to him, and though he shudders, her presence is not unpleasant to him. He can feel her fondness for him, in her way. He can feel her amusement at this moment acutely. WHY IS THAT, CHILD?
She knows, of course. Kravitz as he exists in undeath is an aspect of her, separate and yet one small part of a great whole, his mortal soul taken into her at the time of his death and shaped like clay into what he is now. She knows the machinations of his soul. She absolutely knows that Kravitz is fucking his bounty and that he’s not even a little sorry about it, and she’s going to make him say it aloud.
Carefully, Kravitz says, “I have become... emotionally compromised, and it would be inappropriate for me to continue working their case, Your Majesty.”
Her laugh is the clicking of a beak, sending shivers through his skeletal body, but she also softens, her smile benevolent, perhaps motherly. HE IS PRECIOUS TO YOU, THE ELF, she says, a fact, not a question.
Kravitz squirms; if he had flesh and blood he would be blushing. “Well, I don’t - that’s moving rather fast, isn't it?”
NOT SO. YOU HAVE WAITED A LONG TIME. MY LONELY CHILD, she says vaguely, and Kravitz has the distinct sensation that she knows things that he does not, sees things in his soul that are hidden to him, that he’s not sure he wants to know.
She does, however, grant his request.
“The Raven Queen is nervous,” Kravitz admits to Taako one day, sprawled together on his couch, Taako’s legs draped over his lap as he reads a book. An intimacy Kravitz had never expected to have with anyone after he died, but it feels right, with Taako.
Taako glances up, cocks his head to the side; a certain way he tends to look at Kravitz, like he’s a puzzle he hasn’t solved yet. “You can tell that, huh? Got a psychic link with Bird Mom?”
“Don’t call her my mom,” Kravitz winces, but, “Something like that.” It’s difficult to describe. An anxiety building slowly in his chest, in the part of him that is also Her. It’s not just him, which is both reassuring and troubling - everyone is on edge, the souls in the stockade, the other reapers, the ravens both mundane and divine. “It feels like something’s coming. A storm.”
Taako tosses his book to the floor and opens his arms, and Kravitz goes to him, wrapped up in soft warm arms and resting his head on Taako’s chest. They’re leaving soon, Taako and his team. They haven’t been given their mission yet but Taako says he just knows when they’re about to be sent out, that his boss is anxious too, working them to the bone to prepare. After Refuge, Kravitz doesn’t entirely want to let him go, but the work is too important to get in the way. World-saving levels of important. He hopes Taako will call, if he’s in danger.
“Good thing I always carry an umbrella then, am I right?” Taako quips, poking at a spot on Kravitz’s side that he’d forgotten is ticklish; it makes him squirm closer.
Kravitz doesn’t know for sure, but he has the feeling that there are few people in the world that Taako is comfortable touching like this, that perhaps he hasn’t held anyone at all in a long time. But he’s always touching Kravitz in some way, on the occasions they actually get to see each other rather than talking over the stone late into the night. Light brushes of their knuckles when they walk side by side, or a hand at the small of his back as he passes by, or holding him like this. Casual intimacy that feels natural, though he knows it’s actually strange for both of them; Kravitz has never been very comfortable with touch ever since he died. But it’s different with Taako.
Everything is different, with Taako.
He hides his worry with a kiss, pressed to Taako’s jutting collarbone where it’s exposed by his wide-necked blouse. Angular and lean, but still a softness to his body. Mortal fragilities. There are things he feels he should say, in case Taako is sent out tomorrow, in case he loses his chance, but they feel too big for this small moment, unwieldy, the shape of him and how he fits around Taako’s life still undefined.
But Taako so rarely lets himself be confined by any sort of definition anyway. Kravitz doesn’t try. He kisses Taako down into the couch cushions instead, his anxiety melting away.
“Been thinking,” Taako says, later. Still sprawled together on the couch, though he’d managed to convince Taako to let him up long enough to retrieve their trousers where they’d been tossed to the floor, in case someone wanders in. It’s rare to have time together at all, rarer still to have a day like this, when their free time manages to align, and they’re dedicated to the cause of doing absolutely nothing with it.
“That’s dangerous,” Kravitz murmurs.
“Shut up.” Taako grins as he pushes at Kravitz’s shoulder, making him sit up so that Taako can look him in the face. “So I’ve died. Allegedly .”
“Mm.” He tries not to tense up. He doesn’t love talking about work with Taako.
“How can you tell ? I mean, I know it’s all in that book, but. I don’t know, does it leave a mark or something?”
“In a way. There’s… a lot of data in a soul, and death certainly has an impact.”
“And you can see that?”
Kravitz shrugs. “Not just by looking at you. There have been occasions where I’ve had to poke and prod at a criminal’s soul to understand the circumstances of their death. Not often.”
“Huh.” Taako ponders that, a little crease between his brows that means he’s deep in thought, buck-teeth tugging at his bottom lip. “I don’t like that this - happened to me, and I know it happened but I still can’t remember it. Like, I remember Refuge and it fucking sucks but at least - you know? Same with the fucking voidfish. The fact that you can just get rid of memories, that fucks me up!”
Kravitz doesn’t like it either. There are gaps in Taako’s memory that he doesn’t even seem to be aware of, but that Kravitz can pick out, if he looks for it. He’ll start a story and get stuck on a detail that doesn’t seem to match up. He moves and speaks as if unconsciously making space for someone who isn’t there. And when he thinks no one is watching there will be a look on his face, so deeply mournful it makes Kravitz’s heart ache for him, but if Kravitz asks what’s wrong Taako won’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t know what to do for him - if there’s anything he can do.
“Just - morbidly curious, I guess,” Taako finishes with a shrug. “What the fuck failed to off ol’ Taako like eight times, y’know?”
“I… don’t usually look at living souls,” Kravitz says cautiously. He’s not even sure how much he’d be able to access. “It won’t be very… comfortable, but I think it’s possible.”
“We don’t have to,” Taako says quickly, reaching for Kravitz’s hand like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “It’s just - this is some big magic stuff, you know, you’re this fuckin’ - crazy powerful being, I’m curious.”
“It’s very…” Kravitz pauses, thinking back to the occasions he’s done this, truly only a handful. Always in the Astral Plane, with already deceased souls - rehabilitation can require delving into some deep, dark memories, sometimes traumatic enough that the deceased can’t even access them on their own. He doesn’t know if that’s what’s happened to Taako. “Intimate.”
“Oh really? ” Taako waggles his eyebrows.
“Not like that!”
“Mm, not with that attitude.”
He waves a hand. “Just messing with you, babe. Listen, if you’re not cool with it, forget it. No worries.”
Kravitz can’t deny his own curiosity. He’s been baffled, for a long time, by how Taako can remain whole after what he’s apparently been through. Most necromancers, those who take their mortality into their own hands - liches being the most classic example - are driven mad. Even resurrection by divine means has its consequences. Yet Taako and his friends remain, as far as Kravitz can tell, unchanged. What could have killed them without leaving a mark, what does his soul look like?
“It would be easier in the Ethereal Plane, I think,” Kravitz says. “Physical barriers are less important there, and, well, going all the way to the Astral Plane seems like tempting fate -”
Taako’s hand wraps around his wrist and before Kravitz can react he’s cast Blink, pulling them into the Ethereal Plane. Still in the Reclaimers’ suite, but it’s like looking at everything through a thin layer of fog, or a gauzy curtain - out of focus, not quite solid. Even Taako’s hand on his wrist is tingly and strange, though not unpleasant.
“Got about ten minutes in here,” Taako says, grinning. “Well?”
“You’ll tell me if I should stop?”
“I trust you,” Taako says. That shouldn’t make Kravitz’s heart swell the way it does, but - Taako doesn’t trust many people and yet he says it like it’s nothing. “What do I need to do?”
“Stay still, relax. Like you’re meditating.” Taako is corporeal, as much as you can be in the Ethereal Plane, but if Kravitz looks at him just so, a little sideways - there. Nestled safe at Taako’s core, a little yellow light that hums and glows. Beautiful. Most souls are. Kravitz is biased toward this one. It appears whole, but Kravitz knows he can only tell so much by looking.
Kravitz begins to shed some of the trappings of his corporeal form; they’ll only get in the way. There’s no way, really, to warn Taako about how this will feel, it’s beyond the physical, so he doesn’t try. He reaches out with his consciousness, imagines fingertips brushing the edges of Taako’s soul.
Taako shivers and tenses, shies away, as Kravitz expected. It’s alright, he thinks, sending soothing energy Taako’s way. I’m here. It takes a moment, but Taako softens a little. Opening up. Taako’s soul thrums as his proximity, a sort of - curiosity, reaching out to him too. Every soul is unique but there’s something about the distinct frequency of Taako’s that’s… familiar to him, in a distant way. Like catching a smell on the air and being transported back to your childhood, though the specific memory stays out of reach.
“Krav?” Taako says, an uncertain waver in his voice, but his breathing is slow and steady.
I’m here. Should I stop?
“No, just -” A high, nervous laugh. Kravitz can feel his hesitation, sends soothing back to him once again. “This is weird .”
I know. He delves deeper, carefully so; he doesn’t want to intrude on parts of Taako that he’d rather keep hidden. What’s surprising is how little damage there actually is. Even Refuge didn’t leave a permanent mark, it seems, but he knew that whole mess was an outlier. Are you getting a sort of… deja vu?
“...No,” Taako answers, but Kravitz knows he’s half-lying, and knows that Taako knows that he knows, a feedback loop. He’s afraid, but trying to shove it aside. Kravitz doesn’t push, and he feels Taako’s relief. “Alright, spill the tea, babe. What killed me?”
He looks and looks, at least on the surface, which should be enough, but the soul reveals nothing about Taako’s deaths. It’s completely at odds with the information in his book, which has never been wrong in the centuries he’s been a reaper. As if Taako’s soul has been wiped clean. That’s concerning in and of itself - Kravitz doesn’t know what could do that to him. I don’t know. Let me - He relaxes, opens himself further, guiding Taako to do the same. He knows that Taako can feel Kravitz’s emotions like this, his confusion and concern, just as Kravitz can feel Taako’s, no physical barriers between them - though he won’t delve as far as he did the last time -
Last time ? What was that thought? He shakes it away, puzzled but not dwelling on it.
The depth of a soul is breathtaking. There is so much to it, more than even someone like Kravitz can comprehend, and Taako’s is warm and bright and humming softly all around him. He still can’t find any evidence of death, but that doesn’t mean Taako is unmarred. It’s not - broken, but suddenly Kravitz feels like he’s looking at a hundred souls at once, and there is a deep wound, here. Taako shies away as he approaches it. It isn’t death, but it’s - Kravitz reaches out, touches the wound just as Taako’s soul flares, violently, repelling him.
betrayal, alone, missing
no NO NO
Taako pulls them from the Ethereal Plane with a sharp gesture, severing the connection jarringly. Kravitz pulls himself back together, bone and muscle and skin, as quickly as he can, as Taako stands up from the couch. He looks like he’s going to be sick, pale and trembling. He runs his hands through his hair.
“Fuck,” he gasps. “Fuck!”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I - I should have known it would be too much -”
Taako shakes his head. Slowly steadying his breathing. “What the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know.” He hadn’t seen enough to understand it, only a barrage of emotion, pain and sorrow and visceral fear that leaves his head pounding. “Darling, did I hurt you?”
“No. No.” He sucks in a deep breath, eyes closed. Kravitz dares to reach out, a hand on Taako’s arm. It’s the right choice; Taako relaxes almost immediately, leaning in to Kravitz’s body, shivering at the cold. “Fucking hell .”
“I’m sorry, love.” The pet name slips out but thankfully Taako either ignores it or doesn’t notice. He just makes a small sound, face tucked out of sight. Kravitz kisses his forehead. Salty sweat has gathered at Taako’s hairline. “What was it? A memory?”
“I don’t know, I can’t - I can’t even think about it…”
“What did you see? Or feel?” Kravitz urges.
“...Fire.” Almost too quiet to hear. He’s stopped trembling now, and he squeezes Kravitz close. Swallows heavily and says, “Fire and static.”
By some miracle Kravitz isn’t called away that night - perhaps luck; perhaps the Raven Queen can sense how much he needs to be near Taako, with the strange events of this day and with his mission looming ever closer. Taako is shaken, and Kravitz can’t help but fret, but he recovers, cooks them a simple dinner that they eat together quietly, subdued. Quiet until Taako sets his fork down with a clatter and says, oddly frustrated, “This is so weird. ”
Kravitz blinks at him. “The food?”
Taako shakes his head, gestures between them like that explains anything. “All of it, everything, you. Me. Like -” he shakes his head, huffing out a quiet laugh. “That we can have a day like this, just sitting together doing nothing, and it’s great? Or talk on the stone for hours and never get sick of each other? Because you just like me and want to be around me? What the fuck!”
“That’s not all we did, I also rooted around in your soul for a while -”
“Shut up, you know what I mean.”
Kravitz smiles. “I’m admittedly out of practice, but I think that’s what kids these days call dating.”
“It’s fucking weird is what it is,” Taako scoffs.
Taako shakes his head again and now he won’t look Kravitz in the eye as he winces, strangely, and rubs at his temples the way he does when his memory falters, a fogginess behind his eyes. Kravitz is ready to ask what he’s done wrong when Taako says, quiet again, “It is when you’ve never had it.”
“Never! And I’m still waiting for you to turn out to be an asshole. But I have to keep reminding myself of that, I keep forgetting, and as soon as I let my guard down -”
Kravitz stands, his food forgotten, and travels around the counter to where Taako is perched on his stool. Taako just watches him as he approaches, spreading his legs for Kravitz to stand between them and pull him into an embrace. It takes a moment for the tension to ease from his shoulders, for him to relax against Kravitz’s chest.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of me,” Kravitz says. “I don’t know what to do about that.”
“I’m not,” Taako says quietly. “That’s just it, that’s the problem.”
Kravitz nuzzles at the fine hairs that curl at Taako’s temple, and smooths a hand up and down his slender back. He knows that maybe Taako would not normally be so open, even with him. Not about feelings that are so obviously still tangled and messy and confusing. This day has been long, and strange, and they’re both very tired, both anxious; Kravitz can still feel the storm looming on the horizon, heavy and dreadful.
“I’ve never -” Taako cuts himself off, laughing softly, a strangled and bitter little sound. He holds Kravitz tighter. “I’ve never not been scared.”
Kravitz doesn’t know what to say, but he doesn’t have to. Taako sighs again, shakes his head and sits back to look into Kravitz’s face. That fog has faded from Taako’s eyes as quick as it came, and Kravitz has to wonder what it was that triggered it, and what other corners of his soul are so thoroughly wounded and locked away.
“Are you staying?”
It breaks Kravitz’s heart the way he asks, quiet and shy - ready to be disappointed, as Kravitz is so often called away in the middle of one of these rare meetings. If he had his choice he’d never leave. When he says yes, Taako’s smile is so wide and bright and real that Kravitz’s cold heart turns over in his chest, and his fingertips feel warm.
Taako’s room and his bed are familiar by now, and it’s easy to lay together, to find a place in this tangled nest of pillows and sheets. They don’t even have sex, just hold each other, and it’s all so easy and so good. Kravitz can’t believe that they’ve ended up here, like this, with the way it all started. He can’t believe how thoroughly he’s been folded into Taako’s life, even with all it’s difficulties, all of Kravitz’s strangeness.
“I’ve only known you for a few months,” Kravitz says into a lull of easy silence, hushed and hesitant. Taako’s hair stirs under his breath. “But I… I already can’t imagine my life - my existence - without you in it.”
Taako doesn’t reply, and Kravitz hadn’t really expected him to. It’s the kind of thing that could so easily scare Taako away, he could have ruined everything by saying that. But he has to say it, because it’s true, because Taako was honest with him and he needs Taako to know this means something to him. Because Taako is leaving for his mission any day and he might not get another chance.
Taako turns to him, and tucks his head up under Kravitz’s chin. In the split second Kravitz sees his eyes they’re wide and round, a flash of bright gold in the moonlight.
“I know what you mean,” Taako whispers.
Whatever Kravitz had glimpsed in Taako, this wound he didn’t even know he’s been carrying that’s been hurting him for so, so long - Kravitz doesn’t know how to reach it, how to soothe it, though he wants to, terribly. He wants to give Taako good things. To protect him from the world and everything that’s hurt him, though the thought is absurd, when Taako is one of the most powerful mortal creatures he’s ever met, even in his long existence. Easy to forget that, curled up small and close as they are, clinging to each other tight. Kravitz wants Taako to look at him, but knows he won’t. “That scares you,” he says.
Taako laughs, short and sharp. His hand rests at the curve of Kravitz’s hip. “Yes. And… no, but mostly yes. You?”
“Yes and no,” Kravitz says, “but mostly no.”
“I, uh. Don’t think I’ve ever trusted anyone this fast?” He laughs again. “Really hoping you won’t make me regret that.”
“I wouldn’t,” Kravitz says, and means it. Taako could absolutely ruin him, if he wanted to, and not just with his magic. He’s never been able to help but put his heart into another’s hands, and Taako could tear it to shreds and Kravitz would let him. Kravitz wonders if he knows that.
“Wild thing is, I actually kinda believe you.” Taako snuggles yet closer, falls silent for a while. Kravitz thinks he’s fallen asleep until he murmurs, “You know I’m coming back, right? I promised no more dying.”
Kravitz smiles. “You don’t make promises, if I recall.”
He doesn’t have to look at Taako’s face to know he’s grinning, hears the shape of it in his voice. “True.”
He’d asked the Raven Queen something else, all those years ago, as she welcomed him into his new existence. “Wait!” He’d blurted out, and then he was ashamed of himself, but she was ever patient. “Why me?”
She had smiled, or at least he thought it was a smile. WHY?
“Why did you mark me? I’m nothing special, so why me?”
IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO.
Before his eyes, silvery threads had faded into existence, intangible but real, and wrapped all around him. Some stretched from him to the Raven Queen, while others went seemingly into infinity, impossible to know what or who waited on the other side. He longed to follow them, to know, but he stayed still, kneeling before the Raven Queen’s towering form. “Where do they go?” He asked.
SO CURIOUS. The sound of a crow’s croaking, which must have been a laugh. BUT THIS IS FATE’S DOMAIN, NOT DEATH’S. I DO NOT HAVE AN ANSWER FOR YOU.
And he had understood then, without knowing how he knew, that he was bound to her and she to him, that no matter what happened in his short life, he was always going to come here. Why him? Because somehow, for some reason neither of them knew, it had always been him and always would be.
WE SHALL UNTANGLE THE THREADS OF OUR FATES TOGETHER, YOU AND I, she had said, and wrapped him in shadow and made him into something new.