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Red Blue Colorblind

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Something was wrong. Something was so, so wrong and Taako didn’t know what had happened. It had been going great. His show had been a hit, his magic had enraptured the crowd, and by the time he was done everyone was just about jumping for the free samples.

It had been after giving out the samples that things had gotten irrevocably fucked up. He’d been out in the front, chatting up folks and trying to push his cookbook sales when the first people started getting sick. Once that happened it was a quick fucking degradation of chaos.

Before anyone could try to grab him, before they could realize what was happening, make the connection that the food must've been poisoned, he ran to the back cart to get Sazed. They needed to go. They had to fucking go. He didn’t know what had happened but he’d fucked up. He fucked up somehow and people were sick and dying and they needed to go and-

When he burst into the back cart where Sazed was there was a sight he couldn’t quite comprehend. Sazed wasn’t the only one back there. Sazed also wasn’t on the ground, some invisible force holding him up against the wall where he was struggling. Taako couldn’t say shit, mouth opened in quiet shock. He should have screamed as some red robed ghost hovered there, arcane energy crackling off of him. Instead he stood frozen, too many things going through his head at once.

“What did you do?” the red robed figure growled, the voice echoing around them despite not being very loud. Sazed had stopped trying to get out of whatever invisible grasp was holding him in place, and he looked fucking terrified.

“I- I- I fuck, I’m sorry! Let me go!” he yelled, starting to struggle again. Whatever force was holding him seemed to tighten, and there was another wave of red bolts that shot off of the ghost.

“What. Did. You. DO?” it shouted now.

“I poisoned the food! I’m sorry! It was arsenic I put it in the chicken and I’m sorry! I didn’t think- I didn’t know he’d hand it out! Please don’t kill me!” Sazed said, speaking a mile a minute closing his eyes as he turned as much away from the red ghost dude as he could in his position.

Despite the panic that had gripped Taako, that was still gripping him, he was freaking out, that knocked him out of his frozen state.

“You did what?” he managed to say, his voice not even sounding like himself. It was at that moment that he realized neither of them had noticed him yet. Sazed’s eyes shot open and he still looked terrified as he stared at Taako. The red figure turned towards him as well, and he could see where his face should have been. Instead of a face there was darkness in his hood with a bright white light in the center.

“T- Taako I-” Sazed started to stutter. Even though that red robed thing was staring at him how it hadn’t dropped Sazed any.

“You did what?” Taako repeated, the reality of the situation starting to crash down around him. Sazed poisoned his food. People were dying and Taako had thought it was his fault and Sazed had been trying to poison him.

“I’m sorry, I-I didn’t-” Sazed continued, but Taako couldn’t remember a time when he’d been so viscerally angry.

“Get out,” he snapped, and he was fucking shaking now. Sazed stayed there gaping at him, and Taako was gritting his teeth and he could barely even see straight past the rage and the fear. “Get out!” he shouted again.

“I- I can’t,” he said, struggling some against the force that was keeping him in place. Which, okay, Taako might’ve forgotten about that for a second. He wasn’t sure how, but he’d been so mad. He completely forgot about the arcane force of power hovering between them.

Taako turned back towards the thing he could still only qualify as like, a fucking ghost. He didn’t know what it was or why it was here but it caught Sazed for some reason. So he’d go as far as saying it probably wasn’t an enemy. For now, at least.

“Hey, Red, think you could get rid of this fucker,” he said, trying to sound a lot more confident and casual than he felt right now. It didn’t work all that well, his voice was shaking, but the specter nodded.

And then with a fucking blast of energy stronger than anything Taako had ever seen before, Sazed was knocked out of the open back of the stagecoach. Which hadn’t been what Taako was expecting but he supposed he could take it. When he glanced out he could see Sazed slowly and painfully getting to his feet. So he wasn’t dead and that- that was fine. He didn’t have time to deal with Sazed anymore right now anyway. Being shot out of the back of a stagecoach would have to be enough.

The ghost was still here, and Taako could feel the panic starting to grip him again. He still needed to leave. He couldn’t get caught here, there was no way anyone would believe that he hadn’t had a hand in this.

The red robed figure nodded at him, and began to fade away and Taako jolted, stumbling in a panic over to them.

“Wait! Fuck wait a minute, don’t leave yet,” he said, and he wasn’t even sure why he wanted this creep to stay other than the fact that they had saved him. Sazed had been trying to kill him. He never would’ve told him what really happened. Taako never would have guessed it was him in a million years to even begin questioning. He never would have thought.

“I- I’m sorry Taako, but I need to go,” the ghost said. Before he had sounded terrifying and his voice booming, but now he just kinda sounded like a guy. He sounded nervous, almost panicked, and it wasn’t like Taako couldn’t understand the feeling.

“But you - fuck, okay I don’t know who or what the fuck you are but you just did me a major solid. I don’t- please just fucking help me get out of here, they’ll never fucking believe me,” Taako said, well aware he was basically begging right now. He didn’t have any other options. He was too proud to do a lot of things, but begging for his life wasn't one of them.

The ghost stared at him for a moment, and it was literally impossible to tell what it was thinking without a face. After a minute though it nodded, much to Taako’s surprise. He didn’t expect it to actually help him anymore than it already had.

“Alright, but we need to be quick, and then I need to go,” he insisted and Taako nodded, not giving a shit as long as he got the fuck out of there.

He wasn’t sure what this dude was gonna do to get them out of there, but Taako was impressed when he turned both of them and the whole fucking Sizzle It Up cart and even the goddamn horse invisible.

From the way he had effortlessly taken out Sazed, he figured the guy was strong. A show of magic like that made everything Taako had done in his show look like party favors. Fuck, they were party favors.

Taako wasn’t sure how long they were on the road for. He was pretty sure he passed out after some point, but when he came to consciousness again they were still moving. The red specter was sitting up in the front seat, and Taako could see bony hands holding the reigns. Literally bony, they were just bones with dried, thin skin stretched across them like a mummy or some shit.

They were moving at a much slower pace now, and the invisibility had dropped so he guessed they were pretty far from Glamour Springs by now.

“How long was I out?” he asked, trying to force himself completely awake.

“About five hours. You can rest more if you need to,” the specter said, but Taako shook his head. That was honestly longer than he expected, it’d have to be enough for now.

“I uh, I can’t really remember everything that went down, but uh, I guess I should thank you. You saved my ass back there, and like, it’s a damn fine ass that the world would be poorer for losing,” he said, slipping into humor because he was still terrified. To his surprise the ghost or whatever actually laughed at that.

“It’s pretty good, but I’ve seen better,” he said, and Taako didn’t even have to fake the offended look on his face at that.

“Rude! Okay, thanks redacted, fuck you ghost boy,” he said, and said ghost boy just laughed a bit more at that. Then he stopped abruptly, and Taako wasn’t sure how something without a face managed to look nervous, but somehow it did.

“We’re almost a two days straight ride from Glamour Springs now, you should be safe. I uh, I need to go,” he said, and Taako frowned. The panic of this thing leaving him alone was gone but he still didn’t- Taako didn’t know what the fuck was going on or why this guy had decided to save him. He wanted some fucking answers.

“Now hold on there kemosabe. I appreciate everything you’ve done so far of course, but like, I’m still pretty damn confused here. Like, who the fuck are you and why did you help me?” he asked.

“It’s- that’s complicated Taako. I’m sorry, I wish I could tell you everything,” he said, and that wasn’t an answer even remotely helpful.

“Okay, then how about not everything. How about a fucking name there, red?” he asked, because this fucker still hadn’t even given him that. He knew Taako’s name, and he’d assumed it’d been from the show but now he wasn’t sure. ‘I wish I could tell you everything’ wasn’t typically something you said to complete strangers.

“Uh, unfortunately that’s one of the things I definitely can’t tell you,” the ghost said, and Taako groaned. Of course not.

He should probably be scared of this guy. He was clearly powerful, more powerful than Taako considering what he’d done to Sazed. He wasn’t though, not at all really. He guessed it was because this guy had helped him and every time he talked to him he sounded like a nervous dork.

He’d been utterly terrifying when shouting at Sazed. Taako would rather not think about that though.

“Fucking fine, I guess you’re just gonna have to be Red then,” he said.

“Uh, if we’re going with a color actually blue would probably be more fitting,” the ghost said. Taako stared at him for a long moment, giving him a very slow and deliberate look over as he raised an eyebrow.

“Really? Blue?” he asked, his voice flat as a rug, and he swore the dude fucking snorted as he laughed.

“Yep,” he said, and he didn’t have a face but Taako could still hear a smile in his voice.

“That’s fucking stupid Red,” Taako said, and the specter burst out laughing again. It was a nice laugh, it was-

Taako didn’t know what, but he liked this guy.

“We can go with Red if you want. It’s- it doesn’t really matter,” Red said, and Taako guessed that settled that. Still didn’t tell him anything about this guy, but at least he could stop thinking of him as ‘the ghost’ and shit like that. Then he sighed, and pulled the cart over to the side of the quiet road they were on. Taako didn’t have any idea where they were, but he’d have to ditch the cart as soon as possible.

“Or well, I suppose it won’t matter what you call me since I really won’t be around anymore. Honestly, it’s best if you forget about this whole encounter Taako. Safer,” he said, and that wasn’t reassuring. It was the opposite of reassuring. It was ominous as shit.

It was probably because he had fucking nothing anymore. He just lost his show, and the only person he’d had with him for the past five years was gone. Tried to fucking kill his ass. He was alone, and that wasn’t anything new for him but it was still fucking terrifying.

He didn’t want this guy to leave him too.

“Dude, don’t- come on, you can’t expect me to just forget this shit. Tell me what’s going on. Why did you attack Sazed? What the fuck are you?” he pressed. If he was going to leave no matter what Taako figured he at least deserved some answers.

“It’s- I’m a lich Taako, to give you some idea of how dangerous this all is,” Red said, and Taako froze at that. He knew what liches were. Or at least, he'd heard of them. Couldn't remember where, probably picking up a random necromancy book when he meant to be studying spells for his show.

Liches were mindless sources of destruction, unrelenting evil magic users who got way in over their heads. There was no redeeming them, and they killed indiscriminately and with malice.

This guy made a joke about Taako’s ass and saved his life. He didn’t even kill Sazed when he had the chance, even though he’d seemed pretty damn pissed.

“You’re a fucking shitty lich my dude,” he told him bluntly, and Red laughed. Which was only adding to the weirdness of all this. Liches don’t laugh.

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that,” he said, and then he floated up out of the seat. He didn’t really have legs, and Taako hadn’t noticed until then how he’d been kinda phased through the seat instead of actually sitting in it. Which was such a fucking dork move, holy shit.

“Goodbye Taako,” the lich said, and he started fading away again like he had that last time. It was stupid, but Taako could feel the panic gripping his chest at him leaving.

“Wait!” he shouted again, trying to reach over and grab at about where a wrist would be in his sleeve. Taako’s hand went straight through him, but it was enough to get him to stop.

“Taako, I’m sorry but I-” Red started to insist, but he kept saying he needed to go but wouldn’t so it must not be that urgent.

“Don’t leave. I can- I promise I can make staying worth your while. I can, fuck, I don’t know if you can eat, but my food is to die for,” he said, and then winced. “Okay, fuck, too soon, even for me,” he added

“Taako, I-” Red started, and he actually sounded torn up about this. “I can’t stay, I wish I could but-” he started, and then he seemed to go almost deathly still. “Shit.”

“What’s up homie?” Taako pressed. He didn’t know what kind of shit could make a lich actually seem worried, but whatever it was he didn’t want to see it.

“I’m sorry. She found me, Taako I really can’t stay any longer, she’ll… I’m so sorry,” he said, and he was sounding kind of panicked now. Taako didn’t even fucking know this guy’s real name, he was a lich! Who fucked cared if he helped get rid of Sazed’s ass. By every right Taako should be terrified of this dude and trying to get him to leave, not stay.

“Alright. Okay I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but you can get lost if you need to I guess,” he said, and it almost looked like the lich’s shoulders slumped in relief.

“Thank you Taako,” he said with a sigh.

“But!” Taako cut in before he could go off on his disappearing act again. “Maybe like, check in? If you’re ever in the area. Or like, whatever area I’m in, I’m sure as fuck not gonna stay here either. But like you’re a lich so I figure you got boatloads of way to find people,” he said, and he didn’t know why he wanted to see this guy again but he did.

“I’ll… see what I can do. Goodbye Taako,” he said, starting to fade again finally.

“Later Red,” Taako said, and this time he was gone. The night road was quiet, and Taako was alone.

Sighing, he grabbed the reigns from where Red had placed them and starting pushing the horse forward once again. He had to keep on moving away from Glamour Springs after all. He couldn’t risk someone trying to catch him and put him in jail or fucking kill him for something that hadn’t even been his fault.

Hopefully he’d run into that friendly lich again, but he tried not to get his hopes up. He seemed pretty intent on leaving and not ever acknowledging that any of this ever happened.

Still, Taako found himself wanting it anyway.

He was probably just lonely.

——

Barry had several rules laid out for himself when it came to his mission. If he didn’t follow these tenets, it wouldn’t be long before everything else came crumbling down around him even more than it already had. He could not, no matter how much he wanted to or how dire the situation seemed, break these rules.

First of all, he could not lose control. That one always went without saying, if he lost himself then he had no hope of seeing this through. He wouldn’t be able to help anyone, and all the effort he’d put in thus far would be a complete waste.

Tied directly into not losing himself was the second rule. He could not give up, he couldn’t stop looking for Lup. He had to believe she was still out there somewhere, that he could find her. If he stopped believing there was some way out of all of this, gave into the idea that he would never see the love of his life again, he knew it’d only be a matter of time before he was lost. And if she was out there, something having gone horribly wrong, he couldn’t risk leaving her like that. He had to make sure, no matter what, that he did everything in his power to save her.

The next one was a little easier to follow than the first two. He couldn’t let Lucretia stop him. He loved her, she was his family, but there was no denying that they were on opposing sides right now.  Roles neither of them took any joy in, but ones they were in none the less. He understood her reasoning, but he couldn’t let her go through with her plans.

The last one was the hardest to follow by far. When he was busy, out in the world searching for answers or when he was clueless, lost and unaware in a living body, it wasn’t too much of an issue. It was in those months without leads, the agonizing long waiting periods growing a new body, that made it hurt the most.

In those times he could almost trick himself. Say he was checking in for their safety, and not to try and appease the crushing loneliness he felt.

It wasn’t like it would help. He knew that watching, even from a distance would only serve to make it worse.

He could not see his family. He could not talk to them, or try to make them remember. It would only make everything harder.

He’d managed five years. He got five years before he finally caved, before the opportunity was too close, too tempting.

It was a good thing, until it wasn’t.

Barry knew he should not under any circumstances interact with Taako again. It was bad enough that he’d seen him attacking his assistant. Even worse that he’d stuck around long enough to get him safely away from town and then have a full conversation with him. Long enough even for Lucretia to get a bead on him again, which meant more hiding before he could try any sort of outing at all.

It was all too risky. Taako didn’t even know who he was. Dragging him into all of this when there was no way to even let him know the full story wasn’t right. He couldn’t even tell Taako that he still hadn’t managed to find Lup.

It was too dangerous and too unfair.

So it was real fucking dumb that he was currently hovering hidden in the alley behind the inn Taako was currently staying at.

He wasn’t planning on showing himself. He just wanted to make sure Taako was still doing okay. That no one caught him and tried to pin all those murders on him.

It went directly against his last rule, not seeing his family. Not putting himself and them in that sort of risk.

But he couldn’t even fine Magnus or Merle anywhere. He had no fucking clue what happened to Davenport. Lup was still…

The least he could do was keep an eye on the one bit of his family he’d managed to find.

A part of him just really fucking missed his brother and wanted to be sure he was okay. Talking to him that night had been like a breath of fresh air after not even realizing how long he’d been drowning for so long. He fucking missed Taako, and he really couldn’t risk talking to him again but he could at least make sure he wasn’t going to be thrown in jail for a crime he never meant to commit.

Once he actually caught sight of his brother though that resolve not to interact began to waver.

If there was one thing Taako had never been, it was unremarkable. Taako always drew attention, was always calling all eyes onto himself. It was something that Barry had taken a while to really appreciate, but as it was now it was something about him and Lup that he wouldn’t change for the world. For any world.

So seeing him, slumped in a corner of a tavern, his clothes dark and subdued, his whole form blending into the background just felt wrong. He could understand why Taako was doing it. He couldn’t risk people seeing him and realizing who he was and trying to arrest him. It was smart, and if there was one thing Taako was above dramatic, it was smart.

It still fucking sucked to see, and even though there wasn’t anything he could do Barry wanted to help.

He watched invisibly as Taako hung around the tavern for a few hours before heading back up to his rented room. Barry hesitated before following him up. It was a bad choice, because seeing Taako sigh and collapse onto the shitty rented bed made his heart hurt.

It was a dumb, dumb dumb move, but Barry let the invisibility drop.

Immediately Taako sprung up from his bed, wand in hand and pointed at him in a panic.

Then he seemed to recognize him, and he lowered his hand and Barry hated that he was surprised to see Taako smiling at him. It shouldn’t be such a shock, but he had no reason to trust Barry anymore. He had no idea who he was or why he was here. If a lich suddenly appearing in his room freaked him out Barry couldn’t even blame him.

“My dude! I was starting to think you weren’t ever gonna show your weird glowy not-face again. It’s been like a fucking month,” Taako complained, and Barry laughed at that. Of course Taako wasn’t afraid of him. It was- he was his brother. Lucretia might’ve been able to erase their memories, but she couldn’t take that away.

If he still had eyes he probably would have just started crying.

“Sorry for taking so long. It’s uh, I really can’t come often. It’s complicated,” Barry apologized. He shouldn’t be coming at all, but as long as it was quick, it wasn’t like Lucretia could keep an eye on him all the time. She was obviously pretty busy with her new pet project after all.

“Yeah, I figured as much, what with you being a fucking lich and running off because someone was apparently after you last time. You gonna explain any of that by the way or am I gonna be in the dark here forever?” Taako asked, and Barry could understand why he’d want some answers. Barry wanted to give him answers. He wanted to tell Taako everything and ask for his help because Barry had been trying to figure this all out on his own for so long.

He couldn’t though, because Taako wouldn’t be able to understand any of it.

“Unfortunately I really can’t tell you much. Sorry bud, if it was up to me I woulda filled you in a long time ago,” he said. Taako still looked pretty put upon with that answer, flopping back down on the bed.

“Of course, don’t know why I expected anything else from you Red,” Taako said, and Barry couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

“So we’re really doing that? The Red thing?” he asked, and Taako nodded like it was a dumb question.

“Of course. You won’t tell me your real name and I’m not fucking calling you blue dude. That’s stupid,” he said, and if Barry had a mouth he’d be smiling right now.

“Well I think it’s rather fitting, but if you prefer Red I guess that’s fine too,” he said, and Taako rolled his eyes at that. “So uh, how’ve you been?” Barry asked, and it sounded awkward, mostly because it was. Still, he genuinely wanted to know how Taako was doing.

“Uh, pretty fucking shitty my guy. Everyone thinks I killed that whole town which like, I guess it was partially my fault but fuck. I didn’t know Sazed was gonna get that fucking crazy over not getting a part in a goddamn cooking show,” Taako said, and oh. So that was why he’d been trying to poison Taako. Barry had never actually managed to get a why out of him before Taako showed up and told him to get rid of the guy.

“I’m sorry, that has to be tough,” he said, and Taako shrugged, like he was trying to make it seem not that big a deal. It was obvious that Taako was a lot more closed off than he used to be, and that was saying something, but he could still notice his tells pretty well. This was bothering him a whole fucking lot.

“It’ll blow over eventually. It’s just a lot of bullshit in the meantime,” he said, and Barry nodded. “So uh, what about you? I don’t even know what liches do,” he said, and honestly that was a good question.

“I mean, I can’t speak for all liches, but I’ve been looking for something. Someone,” he said, and he could see the barely hidden interest on Taako’s face at that.

“Oh yeah? Anyone cha’ boy might know?” he asked, and  the irony of this situation felt like a knife in a chest he didn’t even have anymore.

“No one you would remember,” he answered. Taako gave him a look like that was a weird answer, which Barry supposed it was. It was the truth though, and it wasn’t like he could say much more than that.

“I mean, are they a floating red specter like you? Cause I’ll probably notice if I end up running into another. I could send em your way if you want,” Taako offered, and talking about this hurt but there was still something nice there. He’d been wishing for Taako’s help on this again for so long now. He knew he couldn’t really have it but the sentiment was still there, despite everything.

“She might be. She might not be though, it depends on what she’s been up to,” Barry told him, and he could see the look of annoyance on Taako’s face at the vague answer.

“Why are you looking for this person?” Taako asked, and Barry was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what he could say.

“She’s my wife, the love of my life and something horrible must’ve happened to keep her away for so long. She’d promised she’d be back soon, but it’s- it’s been almost six years now Taako,” he said, and he could see the look of awkward sympathy on his face at that. Of course this was a little much for a Taako who barely knew him to handle, but this was the first time he’d been able to speak to anyone about this since that horrible, horrible day.

“Shit, well I guess I asked so can't really fault you for answering. Uh, sorry dude. I’m um, I’m sure you’ll find her soon,” Taako said, and Barry hoped he was right about that. It still felt like he was running around in circles and barely making any progress though.

Which was probably why he was taking this risk to see Taako again. He felt like he was barely holding on, and seeing Taako still trusting him, it helped. Strengthened a tether he hadn't even realized had already worn so thin.

“I can’t stay long. I’ve been- someone is after me and when I spend too long in one place she’s able to find me. I just thought I’d help you out a bit though,” Barry said, changing the subject. Then he pulled out a small box from a pocket dimension and floated it over to Taako. The elf immediately scrambled to open it up and looked flabbergasted at the contents.

“Holy shit Red! And I was starting to run out of Sizzle It Up savings, hell yes,” Taako said, starting to count the about 100 gold pieces inside. He typically left similar money filled chests for his living self, but he still had enough time before his new body was complete to get another one.

“I figured you’d be running low by now, yeah,” Barry said, and Taako was smiling now. If there was any way to endear yourself to Taako Barry knew that paying for his shit certainly helped.

“You’re a life safer my dude, multiple times over now. I uh, fuck. Thanks,” Taako said, clearly not sure of what to actually do here.

“I need to get going soon, but it’s- would it be alright if I checked in on you sometimes? I can understand if you’re not comfortable with a lich around but…” he asked, and Taako scoffed at that.

“Hey man I don’t judge. You might be a lich but you’re nicer than most of the living people I’ve met. Feel free to come hang whenever, Taako could use the company,” he said, and Barry wished he could smile right now.

“Thanks Taako. I could too if I’m being honest,” he said, and then a thought came to him. “It’s- I just need you to promise me something though,” he said, and Taako finally stopped messing with the coins and looked back over to him.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“I need you not to tell anyone about me. It’s- it’s so important Taako. I can’t risk being found, you have no idea how much is riding on this,” he said, and he felt relief wash through him when Taako nodded.

“Sure thing Red. It’s not like I’m talking to a lot of people anymore anyway, and I doubt a lot of people would be thrilled to hear that a lich that might just appear at random,” he said, and Barry laughed some at that.

“Yeah, you got a point there. Um, I guess I’ll see you around then,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“See ya Red,” he said, and with that Barry went back invisible and floated down through the floor before leaving the inn entirely.

He was probably making a really bad decision, choosing to reveal himself, but Taako was his family. As long as he had his help, he could get through this.

It was a risk, but as far as Barry was concerned, the benefits far outweighed the negatives here.

Chapter Text

There was a part of Taako that had thought the ghost that had helped him the night of Glamour Springs had just been a hallucination. His brain freaking the fuck out over what had happened and offering him comfort in the form of a bright red spirit with a bad sense of humor and mismatched voice.

Then he showed up again about a month later, and it seemed like the dude was definitely real. Or at least, the money he’d given Taako was real and paid for food and nights at an inn just like any gold would.

Taako still didn’t know why this lich was helping him, or what his real name was, or anything useful really, but he wasn’t going to question it. He was having some downright shitty luck and if one single thing wanted to go right in his life he wasn’t going to jinx it. He had a shitty lich who would check in on him every couple of weeks or so, ask how he was doing, talk a bit while saying absolutely nothing useful about himself, and then head off again.

A weird arrangement, but Taako liked it. Friends weren’t really a thing he tended to do, and if this was as close as he was going to get in that regard, it was fine. It was a creature that should have been unrepentant evil, that could kill him without a second thought, that snorted when he laughed and would wax poetics about his missing wife.

It didn’t make any fucking sense, but Taako guessed his life had stopped making sense a while ago. Thinking back, he wasn't sure if he could think of a time when things had ever felt right.

Taako hadn’t realized how much time had passed going on like that. Red stopping in every so often to hang. Taako traveled a lot, he had to keep moving so that no one recognized him from his show and tried to turn him into the militia or whatever. Plus, it wasn’t like there was anywhere for him to stay even if he wanted to stick in one place. He was used to moving around. It was good for him.

Somehow it was never an issue for his lich buddy. He always seemed to be able to find him without any real issue. Taako didn’t think much about it, he was a spooky, powerful lich, the fact that he could find Taako didn’t seem that strange.

He was on the outskirts of some podunk backwater town when Red appeared this time. The place wasn’t even big enough to have an inn. It was easier to camp out instead of trying to find a room he could rent, especially since he wasn’t planning on sticking around long.

There wasn’t any big show of power or dramatic entrance whenever the lich appeared. One minute he wasn’t there, and the next he was, sitting as well as an apparition could on the log on the other side of the fire across from Taako.

“Sup Red, been a while this time,” he said, and he could see Red nod. It took a little while to figure out exactly what all his little movements meant. It was hard to make out body language in nothing but a robe, but Taako was pretty sure he’d gotten the hang of it by now.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve been- I thought I had a lead,” he said, and Taako didn’t need to ask him for a lead on what. There was only one thing Red ever mentioned specifically to be looking for. Dude was on some endless quest to find his wife, and Taako didn’t have the heart to tell him it was probably a lost cause. If someone had been gone for so long, they were probably dead or something.

Well, he guessed Red was dead too, so maybe that wouldn’t actually be much of a problem.

“Didn’t pan out?” he asked, and he could see some hesitation there now.

“No, well, not exactly. I’m still on the trail, technically. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I- well, I might not be able to stop by again for a while,” he said, and Taako frowned at that. It wasn’t like Red hung out every day, Taako didn’t think their meet ups were super common, so he probably really did mean a while.

“How long we talking here my dude? I get that you gotta keep up your spookums aesthetic but a time table is pretty cool for us regular people,” he said, poking the fire with a stick some to get it to burn a little brighter.  Red laughed and shrugged a little at that.

“I don’t really know. It’s uh, it’s-” he started, but Taako cut him off.

“Complicated. You’re always saying that,” he said, because it was true. He didn’t know what was so complicated because Red wouldn’t give him the first fucking clue on it, but apparently it must’ve been some fucking astrophysics level of confusing from how often he said it was complicated.

There was so much Taako didn’t know, so much this lich was keeping from him. Things that should by every account make him suspicious, worried that he was dealing with something evil. For some reason, it didn’t. Red didn’t seem like an evil guy. He was just trying to get his wife back.

“Sorry, I know you’d probably like something a bit more concrete,” Red said, and then it almost seemed like he was contemplating something. Taako didn’t say anything, cause maybe if he didn’t pressure him he could get a real answer out of the dude for once. It’d be a blessedly rare occurrence, but it was worth a shot.

“I’m going to go into a living body. Not like, possessing anyone, it’s my own body, I uh, I cloned it. While I’m alive though I won’t be able to remember you or anything I do when I’m like this. So like, I probably won’t be able to come visit you until I die again,” Red said, and okay. Alright, Taako had been hoping for answers, but he hadn’t quite expected something like that.

“Holy shit, you really are some necromantic fucking lich, aren’t you?” he asked, and that got a full laugh out of Red. Taako didn’t think it was his fault though, he didn’t act like some evil lich. Cloning bodies and shit was weird, he hadn’t considered that being a thing he could do. Well, maybe could wasn’t the right word. Would.

“Yeah, I told you Taako. People aren’t typically willing to you know, shoot the shit with me when I’m like this. I’m really glad you’re different,” he said, and Taako made a face at that. Red got all weirdly sentimental a lot, not that he could ever understand why. He’d be hard pressed to even say they were friends, let alone good friends.

Still, he guessed it made sense, if Taako was the only real interactions he was having with people.

He tried not to think about the fact that Red was also the only person he spent any amount of casual time with now a days. That was temporary. Someday the damage from Glamour Spring would blow over and he wouldn’t have to be running and hiding all the time again.

Not that he spent a lot of time with people before either. There was Sazed, but he’d been an employee. Taako had thought they were friends, but he’d clearly been wrong on that front. He couldn’t really remember a time when he’d had anyone constant in his life. He guessed it made sense that it wouldn’t change now.

“Death might take you a while, yeah,” Taako muttered, figuring it’d be a good long while before he saw Red again now. If he did at all. He wasn’t even sure what race the dude was, or how old he was. He would probably be gone for a least a couple decades.

Taako was pretty surprised when Red let out a slightly bitter laugh at that.

“It probably won’t be too long. So far the longest I’ve managed to go since I’ve started cloning was about a year,” he said, and Taako snorted at that.

“Fuck my dude, is that all? You had me worried there for a second,” he said, only realizing afterwards that was admitting to worrying about Red not being around anymore. Which was more care than he meant to have, but for some reason it didn’t feel as bad admitting that as he thought it might.

“I’m kinda an idiot when I’m in a body. I don’t know I can do magic, but uh, I guess being a little cavalier towards death manages to stick through. I’m not all that cautious,” he explained. Fuck, there was a part of Taako that almost wanted to see what Red was like when he was alive. It sounded like a fucking shit show.

“You sure you can’t tell me who you are? I promise I won’t use the information to figure out all the embarrassing ways you’ve probably gotten yourself killed,” Taako said, and Red laughed again at that.

“Nah, sorry bud. As tempting as that is,” he said, still chuckling.

“What about race?” Taako asked, because honestly he’d basically been friends with this guy for a while now. If he wasn’t going to see him in fuck knows how long he could at least give him a few basic facts about himself. “Like, I promise I’m not going to be knocking down every firbolg I meet trying to find you or whatever,” he added. Red seemed to think it over before shrugging.

“I’m a human. I guess that’s not really anything special or too descriptive,” he said, and yeah, he guessed that made sense. He’d figured probably human if he had to make a guess.

“So, what about your wife? She human too?” he asked, and Red shook his head.

“No, she’s an elf,” he said, which was a little surprising. Not that he was married to an elf, but maybe it was that a bit. More so Taako was surprised that he was actually answering his questions for once.

“You two planning on having some cute half elf devil ghosts kids whenever you find her?” Taako asked, taking a drink of his water to hide the amusement on his face when the lich actually started sputtering.

“What? Oh gods- No- that’s not- I mean. That isn’t really something we’ve been able to, uh, think about, in any sort of realistic manner, I guess. Maybe someday, if uh, if she wanted to,” he said, and Taako was still grinning when he pulled the water away from his face. Super deadly necromancer or not, he was still a huge fucking dork.

“Well, you’d probably make a good dad if it ever does happen. You got some strong dad energies there,” he said, not really thinking about it. Somehow, it was pretty easy to tell when Red was embarrassed, even if there wasn’t one single thing Taako could point to that showed it. The lich couldn’t blush or anything like that, but there were still little ticks, the way the energy crackled off of him showing his emotions.

“That’s- thanks, Taako,” Red said, and Taako shrugged. He’d only been saying shit that was true, he wasn’t even sure if ‘strong dad energies’ counted as a compliment. If someone told him he had that he certainly wouldn’t take it as one.

It was quiet for a moment, and Taako started to get the feeling that Red was going to head off soon. He never did stick around for too long after all, and after a bit he saw him rise up from where he’d been sitting on the log.

“I should get going,” he said, just like Taako figured he would.

“I guess good luck not getting yourself killed too fast,” Taako said dismissively. Red laughed and nodded, and Taako tried to ignore the part of him that wasn’t happy about not being able to see him for who knows how long. He was used to being alone, he could go a couple months without Red. Or a year, or however long he was off doing whatever the fuck he did when he wasn’t hanging around Taako.

It took a moment for Taako to realize that throughout all of this, he’d never had any doubt that he would see Red again. Even when he figured it’d be decades, the idea that he’d forget or decide not to check up on Taako again never even occurred to him. That wasn’t a certainty Taako was used to, and he sure as fuck didn’t know how he felt about it.

“See you later Taako,” Red said, and Taako just gave him a little wave, and then he was gone.

And Taako was alone once again.

——

Barry left Taako’s campsite, quickly heading off into the woods. He had a teleportation circle set off a good distance away, and he needed to get over there soon and head back to his cave. His new body had been done for a bit, but he’d been pushing his time in his lich form. He knew it was mostly so he could spend time with Taako, but he needed to get back on track. He had a lead, and he needed to see if he could find Lup.

Once he had her, they could take Taako and figure out how to save this plane and the rest of their family.

He must’ve stayed out too long. He always did whenever he went to visit Taako. He could feel it helping to keep his mind intact, helping to keep his tethers strong, even when cut off so completely from everyone else, so he couldn’t regret it.

Even still, he cursed in frustration when he heard the tear through the planes behind him. Thankfully he was far enough away that Taako shouldn’t be in any danger, and he’d already started channeling the teleportation circle.

“Barry Bluejeans, by order of the Raven Queen I charge you with profaning the laws of life and death, seventeen accounts of death without checking into the astral plane, as well as necromancy up to-” the reaper started, but Barry cut in.

“Up to and including becoming a lich. Buddy, you say that every time, I know why you’re here,” he said, and he could feel the irritation coming from the reaper at that.

“Well, if you know perhaps you could make this easy and just come with me for once. There's no need to be so difficult,” he said. He had his scythe out, but he hadn’t jumped straight into attacking him yet. Barry couldn’t blame him too much for that. They’d fought several times already, and well, he hadn’t managed to catch Barry yet.

“Yeah, sorry but the answer’s still no,” he said, because there was no way he was going to let himself get taken in for necromantic crimes now. Not when he was starting to feel like he could do this again. When he actually felt like he could have some help, even if Taako didn’t even realize all the good he was doing just by existing and trusting Barry.

“That’s what I figured you’d say,” the reaper said, and with that he attacked. Barry was already ready for him though, and as soon as he was within range set off a thunderwave he’d been silently preparing. It took the reaper off guard just enough for Barry to finish the teleportation spell and get the fuck out of there.

He’d made sure that there wouldn’t be any way to follow him back to the cave via the spell, and once he was alone Barry sighed. He hated having to piss off the reapers and god of death in this world even more than they already were, but he didn’t have much of a choice.

Well, they wouldn’t be a problem once he was in a body. It’d be much harder to track him that way, even if it was also harder getting shit done in general. Still, this was the best option he had.

Maybe one day, he could get Taako to help out a bit more. He would hate to drag him into anything too dangerous when he didn’t know enough magic to defend himself though. Taako wouldn’t be coming back if he died, and Barry didn’t think he could handle losing him too. Losing him permanently. He still had the chance to get the rest of his family back. He could still get Lup back.

He focused on that, and let the static take his mind as he sunk into his new body.

Barry ended up lasting a bit longer in that body than usual. Nearly nine whole months. It still wasn’t as productive as he would’ve hoped. The lead he’d been following had turned out to be a dead end, and flesh him wasn’t that great at finding new ones. He always got antsy and reckless when it started getting near the end of the year too.

He figured it must be some sort of residual memories that Lucretia couldn’t quite take. The feelings they all had couldn’t be stolen by fisher after all.

Whatever it was, it meant he usually didn’t end up spending too much time wasting away in a flesh body without any leads. Dying was still painful and frustrating and awful, but the rush of getting his memories back was always the worst part. And the best. Knowing what he had and knowing what he lost was such a double edged sword, he had to be careful not to let it consume him every time he died.

It was the slightest bit easier this time. He had something to look forward to, even if he had no new leads on Lup.

Nine months was a long time. He hoped Taako was still doing alright.

It didn’t take too long to find the elf. He was keeping a low profile, but Barry knew the kinds of places he tended to stick to, and once there he could search around until he caught the telltale signature of his brother, and then follow it.

Taako was asleep when he found him, which made sense. Barry had been killed in the night, some thief trying to rob him while he slept. Except Barry woke up, and then things went very bad for him, and then a lot worse for the thief.

He probably should’ve waited until morning to come visit Taako, but he needed to make sure he was okay. After not seeing him in so long, he didn’t want to wait any longer.

Barry let out a sigh of relief when he saw him sleeping peacefully in some dingy tavern. He wasn’t even in a room though, just curled up in a booth in the back corner, hat pulled over his head while he was out cold.

Barry went invisible, tried to mask his signal as much as possible, and waited.

The first few streaks of light were coming into the bar when Taako finally started to stir. There wasn’t anyone else in here. It was so out of the way that it was possible the barkeeper hadn’t even noticed Taako before heading in for the night as well.

He watched as Taako yawned, stretching his arms up over his head in an exaggerated motion. Then Barry dropped the invisibility, and Taako practically jumped out of his seat. It was hard for Barry not to laugh at that, even though he knew it wasn’t fair. A lich suddenly appearing in front of you would be pretty damn scary.

“Holy shit!” Taako yelled, and Barry put up a skeletal finger to where his lips would be. “Holy shit,” Taako repeated in a whisper, and that got a snort out of Barry. Then Taako was looking around, and when he stood up he sort of motioned for Barry to follow. Barry nodded to show that he understood before going invisible again.

He followed Taako out of the bar and down the street, until eventually they were alone and Taako hopped up to sit on some little stone half-wall. Barry let himself turn visible again, and Taako was smiling.

“I guess you fucking beefed it, huh?” he asked, sounding more amused by that than the subject probably warranted. Then again, death hadn’t been too much of an issue for all of them for a long, long time now, even if Taako couldn’t remember that fact.

“Yeah, I kinda hit a dead end anyway though. I can get more research done like this, so small blessings, ya know?” he said, and Taako laughed at that.

“Hell yeah dude, silver lining this shit, I’m into it,” he said. There was a part of Barry that was worried Taako would’ve realized the kind of danger he could be in by being friends with a lich. That he would come to his senses and be afraid of Barry whenever he ended up coming back.

But Taako actually seemed happy to see him. Relieved almost. Barry had a long time to learn how to see through both of the twins walls, and without Lup, Taako’s walls were all a bit off. A bit to the left of what he was used to, but he could still make out enough.

Taako had actually missed him, and that helped more than he expected.

“How’ve you been?” he asked, and Taako looked a little surprised at the question. Like he hadn’t expected the conversation to get turned to him.

“Oh, good, good. Just ya know, more of the same I guess. Nothing real exciting on my end,” he said with a dismissive shrug. If Barry had to guess from the fact that he’d been sleeping in the front room of a bar, Taako was probably only scraping by. He’d have to stop by with some money and supplies later on.

“So, how’d you kick it?” Taako asked, changing the subject. Barry let him, since it wasn’t like they were actually that close anymore. Not in the way Taako could remember and not in any way Barry could remind him.

“Pretty boring this time. I slept in the wrong place and when I woke up some guy was trying to rob me and uh, shit went south. First for me, and then for him,” Barry explained. Taako snorted at that last part, looking extremely amused by the idea.

“Holy shit, that must’ve been fucking incredible. Damn I wish I knew what you looked like. You sound like a nerd, do you look like a nerd?” he asked, and Barry couldn’t even try and be offended by that.

“I’ve been described as a nerd, yes,” he said, and Taako let out another laugh at that.

“Okay, okay so- fuck. This dick, he’s creeping around your camp, stealing whatever weird necromantic dork books you got or whatever, and then you wake up. And so he’s just like ‘oh I can take this nerd, no problem’ and fucking kills you. And then nope, it’s lich time motherfuckers,” Taako said, barely able to get through a sentence without dissolving into more laughter. It was infectious, and Barry found himself snickering as well.

“From the look on his face I’d say he definitely hadn’t seen it coming,” Barry said, and Taako was laughing again.

“Fuck Red, that’s so good,” he said, and if Barry could smile he would be right now. He couldn’t ever remember what was gone when he was in a body, but he still missed his family so much. His heart still ached to see everyone else, to have Lup back, but at least he wasn’t completely alone anymore.

“I just came to let you know I was back. I need to go and get some stuff done but god, it’s good to see you again Taako,” he said, and he wasn’t surprised when Taako looked a little uncomfortable at that. He knew Taako didn’t do all that great at the whole genuine emotions deal, especially not anymore.

“Yeah, chill seeing you too dog, I guess. Sorry you died? But you’re fine so I guess it’s not that big a deal,” he said with a shrug.

“I appreciate it, but yeah, not exactly the end of the world,” Barry said, not quite laughing at his own joke. No one else would understand anyway. “See you Taako,” he added, and Taako gave him one more casual wave. With that, Barry disappeared and made quick work getting back to his cave.

He really should’ve come here first, but a few hours hadn’t hurt anything. He quickly checked on the status of the latest clone, and it would still be a while before it was ready for him to inhabit. That wasn’t much of an issue though, he had a lot of research he could do in the meantime.

He needed to find some new leads on Lup, and on the relics. Also, it had been a while since he’d heard anything from Lucretia. She tried to keep her activities as secretive as he did his, but they were both pretty good at tracking each other by this point. He’d had almost no sign of her for a while now, it was worrying.

Well, he had some time to figure it all out.

Chapter Text

Taako knew that Red had said he’d be a while this time. That he wouldn’t show up again until after he died, and that probably wouldn’t be something he’d do all willy-nilly. That was fair enough, he couldn’t blame the guy for that. Even if dying seemed to be a minor inconvenience for Red at best, he’d guess that it was still like, painful and shit.

So, Taako told himself to forget about it. He had no idea when or even if he’d come back, despite the strange certainty in his chest that Red would, so it wasn’t something to mark on his damn calendar. He wouldn’t even if he did know how long it would be. It wasn’t like they were close friends, even if Red tended to act like they were sometimes.

If those nine months seemed to drag on like crazy, it was because his life was kinda shit right now. He had no consistent source of income, and he had to be careful of the jobs he did take. Couldn’t do too much cooking shit, or else people might start to get suspicious. He wasn’t good at anything else. He’d been better at the thievery stitch when he was a kid. People paid more attention to adults, and it was dangerous without someone watching your back.

So, he wasn’t having the best time trying to make it on his own. He wasn’t starving (yet) but he sure as fuck wasn’t doing great either, and he had to forgo inns for camping out in the cold most of the time.

Winter had sucked. Winter had really fucking sucked.

By the time spring came back around he had put the weirdly chill lich out of his mind. Or at least to the back of it. Taako had to focus on Taako, and anything else that happened could be dealt with when it became important.

When Red had showed up suddenly one day as he woke up after spending the night in a bar, he’d just been happy for the change of pace. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he missed the dude, but he couldn’t say having him back hurt any either. He wasn’t able to stay long, which wasn’t a surprise. He never was. This time was even shorter though, barely constituted an actual visit.

Apparently he wanted to make sure he was okay. For some reason he had decided to give a shit about some washed out chef and incredibly shitty wizard.

For the life of him, Taako couldn’t say why. He couldn’t complain either though.

He also couldn’t complain the next time Red showed up. The first thing he’d done was toss Taako another small chest. Opening it up, Taako grinned at the gold inside. He’d been camping instead of staying at an inn again, but maybe he could actually have a night fucking inside for once now. Okay, scratch the maybe. He was definitely spending the next fucking week in a bed.

“You know, a guy might start to think you’re just trying to buy my friendship,” he said, still counting up the gold. Red laughed, settling down on a tree stump.

“Is it working?” he asked, and Taako snorted.

“I mean, obviously,” he said, grin maybe a little too genuine. Taako quickly put the money away, not quite sure what to do now. It hadn’t been as long as usual since the last time he saw Red, but last time hardly counted as a real visit. “So uh, how’s it going?” he asked, suddenly feeling awkward.

“Not great,” Red said simply, and Taako just kinda nodded in an attempt at sympathy. Dude certainly seemed like he was going through some shit after all. “I just… I wish I could do more,” he added.

“I mean, you’re a lich. Kinda seems to me that you can do a whole fucking lot of shit,” Taako said, which got kind of a harsh laugh out of Red.

“Well, you’re not wrong about that,” he said, amusement clear in his voice. That vanished with a long sigh, and Taako wasn’t even sure if the lich breathed. He was pretty sure he didn’t. “But it’s not enough. I still can’t figure out a way to actually fix any of this,” he said.

“What are you trying to fix? Like, I thought you were just trying to find your wife,” Taako asked, curious despite himself. Honestly he shouldn’t care all that much, and he didn’t. There just wasn’t that much else to talk about and he wouldn’t mind getting some answers from Red for once.

“I wish I could tell you Taako, I really wish I could,” Red said, a solemn, hurt tone to his voice, not that Taako had the faintest clue as to why. He didn’t know why this guy wanted him to know shit or hung out with him at all, or fucking anything, really. Taako had to keep reminding himself of that. He didn’t know what his name was even, and everything he did know was suspect as fuck. Dude was some terrifying lich, a necromancer with power Taako could only imagine.

It should be setting off every single alarm bell Taako had in his idiot brain. He wasn’t a smart dude, but he had some pretty damn good self-preservation instincts.

“Ugh, fine, be like that. Fuckin- drama queen. I just asked a question,” he grumbled, pouting and being generally obnoxious about all this. He wasn’t surprised when it got Red to laugh. He was pretty fucking good at making the dude laugh.

“You’re calling me a drama queen? Really Taako?” Red asked, sounding incredibly amused by the idea. Taako huffed, an offended look on his face.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to imply by that, but yes, I am calling you a drama queen. You’re a ghostly red specter of death that speaks in cryptic rhymes and refuses to say their own goddamn name. I would say that is a little bit dramatic my good sir,” Taako said. Red didn’t have a face, but Taako was still pretty sure the dude was smiling.

“Yeah, yep, okay. Can’t fault you there, that is definitely a little dramatic when you put it like that,” he said, and Taako rolled his eyes. He could pretend he didn’t realize what he was doing was extra as fuck, but Taako wasn’t buying it. There was no way you go through with all of that without being at least somewhat aware that you’ve got an aesthetic going on.

“You know,” Red said after a moment, and it was hard to tell how the dude was feeling. His voice usually gave him away, but right now it was carefully blank. “You’re always asking me about my past, but I’ve never asked you about yours,” he said. Taako raised an eyebrow at that, not sure if he was chill with the turn this conversation had taken.

“There ain’t much to really talk about bubala,” he said with a shrug.

“Where’d you grow up?” Red asked anyway. It was a fair enough question, not that it mattered any.

“New Elfington,” Taako answered automatically and with ease.

“Bullshit,” Red said immediately, not sounding convinced for a second. Taako couldn’t blame him, although people didn’t usually call him out so fast. Taako tossed another stick into the fire in front of him, not appearing bothered at all by Red’s prying.

“It’s true. Built right on top of the ruins of Old Elfington. Knocked it down cause no one could figure out why it was called that,” he lied, which got a snort out of the lich across from him.

“How’d you get your cooking show?” Red asked next, apparently deciding to let the last one slide. Taako could tell he didn’t actually believe any of it, but it wasn’t like that really mattered.

“Hard work, natural talent and good old fashioned elbow grease,” he said. He wasn’t sure how something without eyes so thoroughly managed to convey the feeling of someone rolling their eyes, but Red had mastered it. It wasn’t like he needed to answer his questions, Red never answered his after all. Maybe it was time someone gave him a taste of his own cryptic medicine.

“Have you always been alone?” Red asked next, this question tinged with an air of seriousness that hadn’t been there in the others.

“Always,” Taako answered without hesitation, just like this others. It was the truth this time though, there wasn’t any reason to lie about that.

“There wasn’t anyone?” Red pressed. Taako shook his head, throwing another stick in the fire, maybe with a little more force than was necessary that time. A small burst of sparks flew up into the air, but Taako ignored them.

“Nope, cha’ boy works better alone. I guess there was Sazed for a while but fuckin, look how that turned out,” he said. The hood that Taako generally assumed was Red’s head cocked to the side in confusion at that. “The dickhead you threw out of the back of my caravan,” he explained.

“Oh! That douche,” he said, and that actually managed to get a snort of laughter out of Taako. Almost immediately Red's mood seemed to drop again, letting out a long sigh. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, and now Taako was frowning. Red got weirdly sincere all the time, and every time Taako really didn’t appreciate it.

“I mean, I guess you could’ve killed the dude, but I don’t really give a shit. If he fucking- I don’t know, tries and kill more people that’s on him, not Taako’s responsibility no more,” he said. Part of him would have felt, fuck, guilty? He guessed? If Red had killed Sazed. Sure, there was no reason for him to, the dude tried to murder him, had poisoned a bunch of people in the botched attempt. If anyone deserved to beef it, it was Sazed.

It was still kind of Taako’s fault though. If he’d been less of a fucking oblivious douche he might have been able to prevent any of that from happening to begin with.

“No not- not about that Taako,” Red said, and Taako really hated when he got like this. He guessed part of him had missed having the dude around, but yeah, he forgot about all the weirdness. Well, not all the weirdness, he didn’t mind a lot of the weirdness. The ghost junk and undead shit didn’t really phase him, although it probably should have.

It was the emotional weirdness he forgot about and wasn’t too pleased at being reminded of. The way the dude would talk with this pain in his voice and this care that was directed at Taako for fuck knows what reason. He didn’t know what the hell he was supposed to do with all of that. Probably nothing.

“Then I ain’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” Taako said after a moment. Red sighed but seemed to get the picture, nodding slightly. Then it was quiet, the crackle of the fire and a silence that really should have been more awkward than it was. Taako didn’t know why shit was always that little bit more relaxed with Red than he expected.

“Shit,” Red said after a moment, floating up slightly. Taako recognized the urgency in the dude, and he wasn’t disappointed.

“Gotta run?” he asked, and the lich nodded somewhat sadly.

“Yeah, sorry I can’t stay longer bud,” he said, but Taako waved him off. It wasn’t a big deal, sure as fuck wasn’t like Taako wasn’t used to being on his own.

“Sure, sure. Get lost, I don’t want you bringing whatever thing’s got you scared down on my ass after all,” he said. Red laughed at that, like the idea was a little ridiculous. Taako wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t gonna question it.

“See ya Taako,” Red said, and with that he disappeared in his usual fashion, and Taako was once again left alone. Which was fine. It was like he told Red, he’d always been alone.

Picking up the camp, Taako quickly put out the fire and started walking off in the direction of the nearest town. If there was one thing he was always pretty grateful to Red for, it was the cash. At least now he could spend a couple days in an inn and stick around in one place long enough to actually look for some half decent work.

He still didn’t get why, but he guessed it didn’t really matter. Whatever his reasons were, it wasn’t like he was ever going to tell Taako about them.

And honestly, that was fine by him. He was probably better off not knowing.

———

Sometimes it felt like Barry was barely making any progress at all. A lot of the time, actually. Sure, after so long at this he was well aware that it tended to be a one step forward two steps back kind of process, but it was fucking hard.

It was hard, sitting in front of Taako and watching him say with the utmost confidence that he’s always been alone. That he’d never had anyone before. That he’d never had Lup.

It wasn’t like Barry didn’t know what it was like, the way their minds had been shaped by Lucretia’s redaction. Every time he went into a body he lost all the memories he had of Lup and his family and their mission. He hated it, the unnameable emptiness it left in him.

He couldn’t even image how bad it must be for Taako, having something so constant in his life taken away like that. As much as it seemed to pale in comparison to the century he’d lived on that ship, Barry had lived a life without Lup or the others in it. It felt hollow and empty compared to the connections he had now, the bonds that held his soul together like glue. Still, he lived it before, and he could live it again.

Taako had never lived a life without Lup. Except now he was under the impression that he had.

There wasn’t any way for Barry to fix it yet though. He couldn’t do anything until he managed to find Lup and convince Lucretia to not go through with her plans.

He still had a bit of time before his new body was complete, and he needed to use that time wisely.

His last lead on Lup and the gauntlet had been a dead end, so he needed to find a new one. He was also trying to figure out what Lucretia was up to. The first few years, he’d seen almost nothing from her. There was a while where he had no idea if she had been effected along with the rest of them or not. She hadn’t and now he had a solid idea of her goals. It didn’t take a lot of guess work once he found out she was the only one who could remember. He knew she was trying to enact her barrier plan.

They’d been keeping careful tabs on each other since then. He knew she was still watching him, could feel when she managed to scry in on his location. Lately though, she’d been particularly secretive. It was obvious that she was working on something, and he had no idea what yet.

He could deal with that later. The most pressing issue at the moment was getting another clue on where Lup could have hidden her gauntlet. He knew she must have succeeded in hiding it somewhere. He’d managed to somewhat track the appearances of all other other circulating relics (Magnus’s never showed, Lucretia’s was back with its creator, his was… secure enough) and finding Lup’s should have been simple. Hers was always so obvious and telling when it reappeared, and it would do so regularly.

Ever since Lup left though, there’d been no sightings of it. She had to be the reason for that.

If he found where she’d taken the gauntlet, he could hopefully figure out where she was now. He needed to find out where she was now.

So, he started looking again. Started his search from ground zero just like he’d done so many times already. Pouring over his maps and diagrams, reading over reports and news stories and dissecting the local gossip. Anything that could give him his next path in his search.

His visits to Taako were still short and infrequent, but they were regular enough. As much as the elf tried to act like he didn’t care, Barry could tell that he appreciated the visits too. He hated being alone just as much as Barry did.

“I found another place to check out,” Barry announced the next time he stopped in on Taako. He was staying at an inn this time, and had been complaining to him about all the fucking dishes he’d been forced to wash all day. How he should be above washing dishes and gagging at the overwhelming smell of shitty pasta sauce. He was right of course, to say he was overqualified would be a preposterous understatement. Barry had nodded along and listened sympathetically until his complaints finally lulled.

“For your wife?” Taako asked, still trying to mask his curiosity. He knew Taako wanted to know more about the stuff Barry was keeping from him, and it wasn’t like Barry didn’t want to tell him. He just couldn’t.

“Yeah,” he said simply, and the part of him that insisted on keeping Taako as distant as possible for his own safety was arguing with the side of him that said fuck it, he’d come this far. After a moment Taako’s expectant staring waiting for more answers was what tipped the scale. “It’s some sort of ice dungeon, way up north in the mountains. Might be the kind of place that could hold her for so long,” he explained. Taako looked surprised, clearly still unused to Barry actually giving information, as little as it was.

“Ice dungeons sound pretty nasty, yeah,” he said, and Barry knew this stuff wasn’t Taako’s wheelhouse anymore. There wasn’t much he could say to really aid him on this quest. Still, there was something good about being able to share his plans with someone. To know that if he fucked up, if he really screwed himself and didn’t- didn’t come back like Lup hadn’t, someone would realize. Taako would know something was wrong. There would still be hope, however slim.

“You’d like her, ya know?” Barry said suddenly, before quickly shaking his head. “No, no that’s not- you’d fucking love her,” he corrected. It hurt, trying to talk to Taako about Lup. He couldn’t not though. He had to at least try and tell him something, even if he couldn’t understand it, not really. Taako didn’t have the words to even realize what was missing from his soul, Barry was trying to help fill a hole he didn’t know was there.

“You’ll have to introduce us when you find her then Red. If she’s had you searching for over half a decade she must be pretty fucking special,” Taako said, and Barry let out a slightly broken laugh at that, nodding.

“Yeah, she’s- I’ll do that,” he said, and there were some good parts to not having a face. He couldn’t freak Taako out with how serious his expression would be as he continued. “I’m gonna make sure you see her Taako, I promise.”

“Looking forward to it Red,” Taako said, more sincerity in his voice than Barry expected. There was a simple certainty there too, like he didn’t doubt it at all, even though all he knew was that he’d been looking for six years and every lead had turned up empty. It didn’t last long, Taako almost immediately changing the subject.

“So, this ice prison or whatever, you said it’s far?” he asked, and Barry quickly nodded, pulling himself back to the moment.

“Yeah, way out in the Nether Mountains,” he said, and Taako just hummed in response. It occurred to Barry that he probably had no idea where those actually were. Locations were always so hard when he was in a body, this wasn’t the world they grew up in.

“This another long term leave then? Last time you gave me any sort of concrete answers you were gone for almost a goddamn year. Gotta say, definitely missed the gold from my sugar buddy. Hate to lose it again so soon, but do what you gotta do,” Taako said, and Barry couldn’t help bursting out laughing at that.

“Sugar buddy?” he managed to ask in between bouts of laughter, and if he could smile he’d be grinning wide right now. He knew Taako more than well enough to know that was him being as honest and forthright as he could to admit that he missed him and didn’t want him disappearing off again for so long already.

“I mean, yeah. I listen to you wax poetics about your lost love, you get all this,” he gestured broadly at himself as he laid out on the cheap inn bed, “as some excellent company that you obviously need, and in exchange you toss me some gold for a dry room and a warm meal. Everyone wins,” he said, and Barry was still chuckling.

“I mean, okay, you’re not wrong,” he managed, and Taako lifted himself up onto his elbows and grinned at him.

“Of course I’m not wrong,” he said, and if Barry had eyes he’d roll them.

“But uh, no, I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as long this time. Probably still a little bit longer than usual so like, don’t worry if I’m not around when you expect, but I uh, I don’t anticipate lasting too long there,” he said, and Taako nodded, a small frown on his face now.

“You doing the body thing again?” he asked.

“Yeah, the new one's just about ready.”

“So you’re just expecting to die then,” Taako said, and it was straight to the point but it was the truth.

“Yeah,” he said, and it wasn’t like Barry enjoyed going on suicide missions. Still, it was better to keep himself out of sight from Lucretia and the enforcers of life and death in this world. He couldn’t look for things if he was constantly trying to hide, so he’d have to deal with it.

“That hurt, dying? I imagine it probably stings like a bitch,” Taako asked, and Barry chuckled some at that.

“It depends on how you die. It’s- the faster the better. Being left to bleed out sucks. At least for me, no matter how many times it happens and like, even when you know you’re gonna be alright you can’t help but panic, ya know?” he said. When he looked back over at Taako he had a grimace on his face.

“I mean, I wouldn’t know, but I don't doubt you on that one,” he said, and right, Taako wouldn’t know, not anymore. “And you’re just, throwing yourself into that? Knowing you’re probably gonna die if you go to this weird ice palace?” Taako asked, and Barry nodded.

“It’s the only way I have any chance of finding her,” he said, and Taako was looking at him with a somewhat disbelieving expression.

“She really means that much to you, huh?” he asked, that same mix of awe and incredulous in his voice. Barry knew why, knew he couldn’t remember, but it was still so wrong.

“Absolutely,” he said, trying to put forth how much he meant it, pack all his love for Lup into that one word and coming up so lacking. He turned to look at Taako closer, and not for the first time his heart won out over his head. “And- and as much as I love her, and I don’t- I couldn’t survive if she was really- if she wasn’t coming back, it’s not just her. I need to find her because I can’t- I’m trying to do something Taako. My family, they’re in danger, and I can’t save them on my own,” he said.

“Shit,” Taako said, and there was a conflicted look on his face now. Barry knew he was telling too much, this was exactly what he was worried about doing when he gave in and started talking to Taako again. He needed to be careful so he didn’t put him in danger. Didn’t hurt him by unintentionally drawing up too many memories that couldn’t exist in his mind anymore.

“I mean, like, okay I’m not exactly lich levels of power for sure, but I’ve been brushing up on some more uuuh, offensive spells and shit. If it’s that dangerous to go alone I’m not really, ya know, doing anything right now,” Taako continued. Barry felt his shoulders slump, hating how much he wanted to take him up on that offer. Still, he shook his head almost immediately.

“No, I’m sorry Taako but absolutely not. There is no way I’m dragging you into something so dangerous. I’ll be fine, this isn’t anything new,” he said. Taako shrugged, flopping back down on the bed like it wasn’t any big deal what he just offered.

“Listen you don’t gotta tell me twice Red, I just thought I’d throw it out there,” he said. Barry decided not to call Taako out on the fact that he’d just offered to risk his life to help him, letting him keep up the act like this was all not a big deal.

“I really do appreciate it Taako,” he said, and then he sighed. He always wished he could stay longer, but even if Lucretia was too busy to look for him at the moment, there was always the reapers to be worried about. He definitely didn’t want to drag Taako into the middle of that whole mess.

“Well, better get going and start on that whole family saving mission of yours then. You know how to find me,” Taako said, and Barry wasn’t surprised that he’d managed to pick up on the cues for when he had to get going.

“Right. See you soon Taako,” he said, and he started to disappear from his brother’s view.

“Try and die in a cool way this time! Strike a pose or something!” Taako shouted after him, and Barry couldn’t help bursting into laughter, which continued as he dimension door’d out of the inn and into a nearby alleyway.

As he started to head back to his cave, Barry pulled out his coin and began recording.

“Your name is Barry Bluejeans. You are afraid of the dark. Your very favorite thing in the world is swimming in very cold water on a very hot day…”

Chapter Text

Barry Bluejeans woke up in a vat of brackish green fluid. The panic that ran through him at not being able to breathe was short lived, whatever strange membrane that held the liquid ripping apart as soon as he thrashed against it. Falling to his knees, he didn’t spent as long coughing as he thought, his breath catching surprisingly fast. Within moments he was looking around, dazed and confused, at the inside of a cave.

Which… was probably weird, right? Like, he was no expert, but this didn’t strictly seem like something that happened to normal people on the reg. He had no goddamn clue how he got here, and even less of an idea of what to do now.

Well, first things first. He was naked as a jaybird and he would very much like to not be that anymore. Doing another quick sweep around the room he saw a white cotton shirt and a pair of bluejeans, both looking to be just his size, sitting folded up on a nearby chair. Getting to his feet and heading over he quickly threw those on.

When he patted at his pockets, it was more out of instincts than actually expecting to find anything of use in there. Still, he ended up coming out with a coin, a little larger than a typical money coin and not any currency he recognized. Thinking about it though, he couldn’t quite remember what the gold looked like here. Here? Where even was here? There was a map hanging up on the wall over a desk, and he started heading over there to get a better idea.

Before he could though, the coin in his hand started to speak.

“Your name is Barry Bluejeans. You are afraid of the dark. Your very favorite thing in the world is swimming in very cold water on a very hot day. You get ill when you drink milk or anything with milk in it. Your father Gregor died when you were too young to know him. Your mother, Marleana, had soft gray hair when you were born and was the most wonderful woman who ever lived.”

“You remember them but you have forgotten so much. And right now, in this moment, you feel a dull weight in your chest. It’s the weight of a love that defined and redeemed you but you’ve forgotten who that weight belongs to. Barry, I’m you, just moments ago and I remember who that weight belongs to, and I can help you remember it too.”

Barry was staring at the coin, a dumbstruck look on his face. What it said was true, and it sounded like him. It was him, he knew it with a certainty he couldn’t place or name.

His held his hand, the one not holding the coin, up to his chest and he took a deep, shuddering breath. Trying to feel the weight this him he couldn’t remember was talking about.

And he could. He should have been terrified of what was going on, panicking and scrambling to figure out where he was, how he’d gotten here, if he was in danger. The most he could drum up was a resigned confusion. And loneliness. He had no idea why, but he was real fucking lonely.

“Y-yeah. Alright,” he said, not sure if the coin was waiting for some sort of acknowledgment or not. Probably not, but after a few more seconds it started speaking again.

“I can’t explain much. The thing that is keeping you from remembering this, remembering who you truly are, is still in effect. There’s an item, something incredibly powerful. It should be able to lead you to where the one we’re missing is. There’s an ice dungeon way up in the Nether Mountains. I’ve secured us passage up north, but you’ll have to follow the map I’ve provided to actually get there. Keep this coin on you, I’ll keep giving you instructions where I can,” it said, and Barry found himself nodding along.

Looking around the room, it didn’t take long for him to find the right map or the train ticket. From the very clearly marked calendar, it looked like he had about a day to get himself situated and to the train station.

Barry wasn’t sure if he’d ever been on a train before. Maybe he had, but it seemed his memory was pretty spotty.

The rest of the packing was easy enough. There were a few more instructions he got before he left, the biggest being to leave a bit of blood in that weird pod that he’d come out of before. The only explanation he got was for ‘if shit went south.’ He guessed it would have to be enough. Before Barry could start second guessing any of this strangeness, he started off towards the direction of the station.

He managed to get there with almost no time to spare, despite having a whole day to manage it. Thankfully mysterious coin him had left plenty of money for him to buy food and shit, and he might’ve overslept the morning of the departure.

But look, he managed to grab a bagel and still get on the train before it left the station, so the coin could stop insisting how absolutely vital it was that he be quick on this thing. Thankfully, it did seem to be pretty quiet now. Barry wasn’t sure how he would explain a talking coin to people otherwise. That was something he was gonna try and keep under wraps if he could.

Looking over the route, it was a long train ride. There were a couple stops, but his was the last one. It would take about seven hours with all the stops too. His ticket hadn’t included any sort of sleeper car, so he couldn’t hide away from other people during the whole trip. At least the train was pretty empty at the moment, but Barry figured it would fill up some as more people got on at future stops.

Taking a seat by the window, Barry pushed his bag under the table in front of him and prepared himself for a pretty long journey. He was glad he decided to grab some books from the cave. Most of them were magic stuff he couldn’t make heads or tails of, but there were a couple novels that he’d snatched up. Picking one at random, he opened it and started reading.

Barry had been right about the train getting crowded as they stopped at more stations. At one point the attendant came around with a food and drink cart and by then Barry was very thankful for lunch. It was some sort of fish dish that he was honestly a little leery of, but tasted fine enough.

He wasn’t paying much attention at the third stop they made. There were still two more before his final one, and then he’d really have to take a look at that map he left himself. He wasn’t sure how good he was at following maps, but he’d give an honest crack at it.

“You mind if I take this seat my dude?” someone asked, and when Barry looked up there was an elf standing in the aisle, pointing down at the seat across from him. A frankly gorgeous elf, who was looking pretty uncomfortable with having to talk to him.

“Yeah,” Barry blurted out, before the question actually processed in his head. “I mean no, no shit, I don’t mind, yeah it’s- it’s fine,” he managed. The elf was frowning slightly, but he didn't do anything other than rolling his eyes before sitting down. He had a hat pulled down over most of his face, and started staring out the window. He seemed pretty intent on completely ignoring everyone else’s existence for the remainder of the trip.

Which, that had been Barry’s original plan as well. His thoughts still felt… cloudy. Not really in the best position to be making casual conversations with strangers, especially not when he was being sent on some strange quest to find himself and a lost love he didn’t remember having.

But for some reason, he kinda wanted to talk to this guy.

“So, where are you heading?” he asked, figuring that was a safe and normal thing to ask someone on a train. The elf’s eyes flicked over to him, before he went right back to looking out the window.

“Stilbank, up near the Nether mountains,” he answered, which was honestly more of a response than Barry was expecting. He couldn’t actually remember the name of the town he was getting off at, but he knew the mountains, that’s what the coin had been so urgent about.

“Oh yeah, same here. What uh- what brings you all the way out there?” Barry asked, hoping that was a normal way to refer to that place. It was a long trip, but god for the life of him he couldn’t remember which way it was pointed on the map. East? If he made a huge blunder the elf didn’t seem to notice it.

“Meeting a friend,” he said simply, which Barry supposed was fair enough. Couldn’t blame this dude for not wanting to share his whole life story with some complete stranger. He still wasn’t even sure what had possessed him to try and strike up a conversation with this guy. Sure he was like, objectively beautiful, but typically that would scare Barry off more than make him approach someone.

And besides, he was pretty sure whatever he was feeling, it wasn’t like that. It was just-

There was that weight in his chest, heavy and dull. As soon as he’d seen the elf, it shifted. It wasn't like it got lighter, but tightened into an almost physical ache.  

“Oh right, I’m Barry by the way. What’s your name?” Barry asked, figuring that like, introductions were a good thing to do. Maybe he was wrong though, because when he asked for the elf’s name he saw his eyes widen, a brief flash of panic running across his face as he sat there in silence for several long seconds.

“Justin. It’s Justin,” he said finally, and like, okay. Barry knew he was still kind of getting his head back on straight, but he was pretty dang sure that was a lie.

He didn’t know this guy though. He had no obligation to give Barry his real name. If he didn’t want to, he wasn’t going to call him out on the obvious lie.

“It’s uh, it’s real swell to meet you then Justin,” he said, and ‘Justin’ shrugged.

“Likewise,” he said simply, not actually sounding all that believable. Barry didn’t take offense though, it was pretty obvious this guy wanted to be left alone. So that’s what he did, opening his book back up and continuing to read. Every so often he would glance up at the elf, but for the most part he looked bored, staring out the window. And nervous, but it wasn’t like Barry had even the slightest idea why.

A little while after the next stop the food cart came around again, mostly for the new passengers. ‘Justin’ got some cheese and broccoli soup that had sorely tempted him before, but he figured it’d probably be best not to get sick right before whatever it was he was about to do. Even still, since the cart was here Barry grabbed a big cookie as well to snack on.

“So,” the elf said suddenly as they ate, “what brings you up to the mountains?” he asked. Barry blinked in surprise, not expecting him to try and strike up any kind of conversation after all that.

He hoped the blank stare he had on his face for far too long was taken as surprise like that, and not Barry frantically needing to try and think of a reason that wasn’t ‘a magic coin with my voice told me to.’

“Family,” he blurted out finally, and the elf hummed softly, not actually seeming all that interested. Barry figured that was most of a lie on his part, but not entirely. He figured, whoever this love of his he was missing was, he considered them family.

“Mhmm, you know the area then?” Justin asked, and Barry figured he’d have to get better at the whole lying this. That or die.

“Yeah,” he responded instantly, trying to sound confident. That quickly fell through when he realized that most people only asked if someone knew an area because they wanted directions. “I mean, no. Not uh, not really. Haven’t been here in a, in a real long time. Haven’t seen my family in a while,” he said.

“Uhuh, nevermind then,” the elf said, turning back towards the window and looking like he was all set on ignoring Barry again. For some reason he still wanted to keep talking to this dude though.

“I mean, I have a map! I have a- here, lemme get it, where you looking to go?” he said, quickly scrambling through his bag until he found the map he’d set out for himself. By the time he got it spread out across the table Justin was turned back towards him, slowly looking over the map now.

“Not real sure, gonna have some time to kill before my friend shows his ugly mug. Figured I’d ya know, see the sights,” Justin muttered, and so far this guy had seemed really aloof. Right now though he was looking over the map intently, like it was a puzzle he couldn’t quite figure out. “Where’s this go?” he asked after a moment, pointing at a very clearly detailed path drawn into the mountains. The path the coin had told him lead to some weird ice prison or something.

“Nowhere,” he answered, perhaps a little too quickly. Definitely a little too quick, if the raised eyebrow Justin was giving him was any indication.

“Why you got a path out there then my dear Barold?” he asked, and normally a nickname like that would fluster Barry at least a little. He’d barely even noticed it though, probably because of the panic.

“Jog- no, hiking. It’s a hiking trail,” he lied. Justin was still starting at him with a lot of skepticism, so Barry continued. “Yeah it’s just, real nice out in the mountains this time of year ya know? I’m a real outdoor- outdoorsy dude, so I figured, go see the wife and um, kids. And take em all out hiking,” he said, rambling and not even trying to stop the lies from building up onto each other anymore. Talking had been a very bad idea.

“The family you haven’t seen in a real long time is your wife and kids?” Justin asked, definitely some befuddled amusement in his voice now. It would have been nice if it wasn’t directed at Barry’s complete panicked bullshit.

“I’m a bad parent, and partner. Not really great at the whole person thing either if I’m being honest,” he said. Justin was shaking his head, and Barry was just praying that he didn’t try and poke anymore holes into this already lace patterned story.

“I mean, fucking fair enough my dude,” he said, and Barry tried not to look too relieved at him letting this whole thing go. Justin was still looking over the map, and it almost looked like he was looking for something. After a moment though he leaned back in his seat, seeming done with it.

“So uh, that help any or…” Barry trailed off, rolling the map back up. The elf nodded, seeming kind of surprised that he was still talking to him.

“Oh yeah for sure my dude,” he said, in an overly positive way that made Barry think it didn’t actually help at all.

They didn’t end up talking much for the rest of the train ride. Barry had finished the book after a bit, and felt kind of weird about immediately grabbing another one out of the bag. He didn’t want to look like a huge nerd in front of this guy for some reason. He guessed to be fair he didn’t like looking like a huge nerd in front of a lot of people.

Barry felt equal parts relieved and equal parts some emotion he couldn’t quite place when they finally pulled into their stop. He quickly gathered up his bag while Justin stretched and slung his own rather small pack over his shoulder.

“Well, it’s been real, and it’s been fun,” Justin said, looking ready to head off. The fact that he said anything at all caught Barry by surprise, who quickly nodded.

“Yeah for sure, it’s been a fucking laugh and a half,” he blurted out, which actually got the elf to snort in amusement. Giving Barry a grin, he pulled the hat back down over his face and made his way off the train.

Barry ended up standing there for a few more seconds than was necessary after Justin left. He knew he wasn’t the sharpest dude at the moment, or like, ever, but that still felt particularly dumb on his part. Shaking his head, Barry started off the train himself. By the time he got out he didn’t see Justin anywhere in sight, which was probably for the best. He had some weird destiny instructions he had to follow after all.

Pulling out his map, it didn’t take too long to find out which way was towards the trail he had marked out. Taking a deep breath, he started off to go find whatever it was creating this ache deep in his soul.

And then he stopped and turned back around towards the town. He’d get to the magical destiny soon. He just needed to buy like, a good coat first. And maybe some trail mix for the hike.

———

Taako wasn’t sure what the fuck has possessed him to catch a train and come all the way out to some cold ass mountains in the middle of nowhere. Maybe he wanted a change of pace, and it was far off enough that he shouldn’t have to worry about anyone recognizing him. He definitely never made his way out here with Sizzle It Up before, he tended to ignore the perpetually colder areas as much as possible.

Red had said no to his extremely generous and one time offer of some help, so it wasn’t that. Taako probably would have found a way to back out if the lich actually had accepted his offer anyway. He wasn’t gonna go all ghost if he died after all, and Taako wasn’t risking that for anyone, let alone some weird specter and his dead wife.

So that had absolutely nothing to do with why he was here. He just was. Even if the train tickets had cost a pretty copper. He had plenty from Red and actually managing to catch some work here and there.

Getting off the train, Taako didn’t think twice about the dude he’d ended up talking to there. He was a little weird for sure, but none of it was any of Taako’s business.

There was something familiar about his nervous stuttering and awkward laugh, but for the life of him Taako couldn’t place where it was from. At first he’d thought it might have been someone he’d seen at one of his shows. If he was, it didn’t seem like he recognized Taako either at the very least.

This town was big enough to justify having a train running to it, so it wasn’t too hard for Taako to find a cheap inn to stay at. Took a couple days before he managed to get some work, and laundry wasn’t glamorous but it paid. The worst part was how pruney and dry his hands were all the fucking time now.

Every so often he’d have a day off, and he wasn’t exactly a wood elf, but the scenery around here was nice. On nicer days it didn’t hurt to go off into the woods a little, wander up some mountain paths.

Maybe a part of him wanted to see what an ice dungeon looked like. He wasn’t going to go inside, even if he did manage to find it. Maybe he wanted to see what Red looked like as a person, if just so he could make fun of him when he came back to the dead.

He didn’t manage to find either thing of course. It was only two weeks later when he went up to his room one day after work only to open the door to a bright red apparition floating in the middle of his room, billowing sleeved arms crossed.

“Oh wow, you weren’t joking about this one being a quick run. Is that a record for you, or have you managed to speed run your death even higher tha-”

“Taako,” Red cut him off, a distinctly annoyed tone to his voice.

“Yeees?” Taako asked back innocently, making sure he closed the door behind him before anyone could see Red. He should be worried about locking himself in a room alone with an angry lich.

He wasn’t.

“Taako, I specifically told you I don’t want you getting dragged into anything dangerous,” Red said. Taako threw his hat to the ground, going and collapsing onto his bed casually.

“The only thing I’m in danger of is losing all moisture in my hands permanently. If you wanna protect me from that bud go right ahead,” he said. Red sighed, and when Taako glanced up he was pinching a skeletal hand about where the bridge of his nose would be, if he had a face.

“Don’t play dumb Taako,” Red insisted.

“But I am dumb, I’m friends with you my dude! Doesn’t get much dumber than that,” Taako said, with got a few crackles of that red arcane power buzzing around the lich.

“You’re not dumb! You’re one of the smartest, creative, most insightful people I’ve ever- arg!” Red shouted, throwing his arms up in frustration. This was honestly the most non-sad emotion Taako had ever seen from the guy. It would be hilarious if it wasn't directed at Taako, and if everything he said wasn't completely inaccurate.

“I think you might’ve mistaken me for someone else my dude! Not sure how, this face is pretty one of a kind, but you’re delusional if you think that shit describes me,” Taako said. Red looked ready to keep arguing, his robe all billowing around him and a skeletal hand held up and pointed at Taako accusingly.

And then the wind was knocked out of him. His cloak fell flat and his shoulders seemed to droop, and when he spoke again it was in that sad, wistful tone he’d get.

“Right. Right no of course. Of course you’re not- you’re just a chef. You’re just a normal person and I shouldn’t be- this was a mistake. I’m so sorry Taako, this was a huge mistake,” Red said. For some reason Taako hadn’t wasn't the least bit phased at all throughout the argument, but now panic was gripping at his chest because it sounded like Red was going to leave. Leave and maybe not come back.

“Hey hey hey, hold up now kemosabe, just relax a minute. I’m not sure what it is exactly you’re falling over yourself to apologize for, but it’s chill. There’s no problem here,” Taako said quickly, and it seemed to at least be enough to get him not to leave immediately.

“I shouldn’t be dragging you into this. It’s not fair,” Red insisted, which was fucking dumb. Taako couldn't understand this guy sometimes.

“You’re not dragging me into anything, alright? I don’t know what the hell gave you that impression but cha’ boy’s an adult. I can make my own damn decisions,” Taako said. It was true, Red had given him every possible opportunity to cut this shit off and never see him again. For some reason that was beyond Taako, he never let him.

He didn’t want to. Taako couldn’t do anything simple and have regular ass people for friends. He had to go with the creepy emotional cluster bomb of a lich.

“Listen,” Taako continued when Red didn’t say anything, still drawn in on himself and crackling with panic like the world was going to end and it was all his fault. Which might not be that inaccurate, actually. “I won’t… follow you… again, alright? That was my bad. Just figured it wouldn’t hurt to be close by when you beefed it, alright? I wasn’t going to go risking my neck without any back up, I’m stupid but I’m also selfish as fuck,” he said. He felt stupid admitting to have followed Red all the way out here, but it seemed like he was starting to calm down now.

“Yeah, alright,” Red said softly after a moment. “I’m sorry for all that. Things have been pretty stressful for the past, uh, decades,” Red said, and Taako nodded, trying to ease back into something more casual.

“Yeah yeah no, I can image. It’s cool. We cool, my dude?” he asked, and Red chuckled, nodding.

“Yeah, we cool,” he said, and Taako grinned at that.

“Good, good,” he said, letting himself relax back down on the bed since it seemed like Red was no longer at the edge of a breakdown. “Now that that’s out of the way, one, any new info on the whereabouts of the elusive Mrs. Red? And much more importantly, how’d you get yourself got this time?” Taako asked, the second question getting a laugh out of the lich.

“There was no sign of her there, unfortunately,” Red said, sobering somewhat as he did. Taako could understand why. “And uh, as for the death, it was uh, there was this ice ogre and- you’re gonna laugh at me,” Red said, cutting himself off.

“Yes, I am,” Taako said, which got a snort out of Red.

“At least you’re honest. Fine, okay so there was this ice ogre, and like, it tried to kill me? So I ran away because uuuuh, fuck that shit, but the ground and all the stairs were made of ice, who makes stairs out of ice?” Red said, and Taako could feel a grin spreading across his face.

“My dear, sweet Red-ginald, did you die by falling down the stairs? ” Taako asked, not able to hide the amusement in his voice.

“I was being chased by an ogre! You can’t blame me for trying to move fast and- did you just call me Red-ginald?” Red asked, breaking into laughter.

“Maybe,” Taako said, which only got more laughter out of the lich. “You still haven’t given me a name my man, I have to make due with what I got,” he added, and at that Red nodded.

“Fair enough,” he said, a smile in his voice. “I really missed you Taako,” he added, and Taako shrugged.

“It’s barely been three weeks my dude,” he said, and Red sighed.

“Yeah, I know,” he said, and it should have been awkward. There were a lot of things that shouldn’t be the way they were with Red though. Taako was learning to not give a fuck about how things were supposed to be anymore. “I need to-” Red started, and Taako knew that apologetic tone so he raised a hand and waved him off.

“Yeah, yeah, get going my dude. I'll see ya when I see ya,” he said, and Red nodded.

“See you soon Taako,” Red said, and usually with that he would be gone. This time he wasn’t though. “And… thank you. I know I got mad, but it really- it means a lot. So, thank you,” he added, and Taako sighed.

“Don’t be getting mushy on me. Get lost before you bring down the armies of the nine hells on us or whatever the fuck,” he said. Red snorted and nodded, and this time he disappeared from the room.

Red was probably right about this all being a mistake.

But Taako was past the point of backing out now.

Chapter Text

Barry wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. He couldn’t cry though, so that only left laughing as an option.

He couldn’t believe how shitty- how amazing? How cruel his luck was. It wasn’t enough that he ended up on the same train as Taako while he was alive, they even ended up talking some. It’d been awkward, Barry had no earthly idea what he was doing or why he’d wanted to talk to the elf, but he’d just… ran into him. So casually. Taako hadn’t even realized who he was.

Another dead end. Traveling all this way had been for nothing, and he almost dragged Taako into it too. He shouldn’t have told him where he was going, but it was just… he hadn’t thought.

Taako couldn’t remember. Taako without Lup was so obviously a warped shell of himself, closed off and cold to a degree he’d never been before. Barry thought that would keep him safe. That even if he let things slip here and there, the caution Lucretia’s redaction had amplified in him would make sure he wouldn’t stick his neck into anything too serious.

And he wasn’t entirely wrong. Taako didn’t follow him all the way to the ice dungeon, but he hadn’t known how to find it either. He’d told Barry, without realizing who he was, that he was going to meet a friend.

He might have been trying, that whole time, to find him. He probably was, as much as he wouldn’t admit it.

It had almost been enough to get Barry to back away from all of this. To go back to doing everything by himself and cutting off any connection he had left to his family. The thought of Taako wandering into some place, defenseless and alone, in a misguided attempt at trying to help was too much. Of losing his brother for good and one day finding Lup and having to tell her that Taako was gone because Barry hadn’t been strong enough to hold himself together on his own.

Maybe that was still the smarter choice. It wasn’t too late after all, all he had to do was not come back. There would be no way for Taako to find him after all. It would be simple enough.

The last thing he’d said to Taako was see you soon, and he couldn’t... he couldn’t make him go through that again.

He was going to be stuck as a lich for a while. He’d barely gotten a few weeks out of that last body, the next still had a lot of time before it would be complete.

It used to be that Barry would have had no problem staying in his lab, working on projects for months on end and barely ever seeing the sunlight. That had changed though, over the hundred years they’d spent searching for the light. Going out and exploring new worlds and seeing how much there was to actually living life and not just observing it.

It had changed when he met Lup, when she would complain about feeling cooped up and needing to go out and get something done. When she’d drag him out of his lab saying ‘I know necromancy is kinda your whole deal but you’re gonna start looking like a vampire if you don’t get into some sun babe.’

It changed when Lup left. When suddenly Barry couldn’t stand the thought of having to stand still, restless down to his very soul with a need to find her. To make sure she was safe, to find out what went wrong, what was keeping her so long, why she didn’t just bring someone along.

As much as he only wanted to be out searching, he couldn’t. These long stretches of being confined to his cave were torture, but they were also useful. He couldn’t keep searching blindly, he needed to try and have some sort of plan.

So as much as it pained him, it also forced him to sit down and to think. He had time to figure stuff out. Maybe not all the time in the world, not anymore, but he still had time.

And right now, he had the time to figure out what he was going to do about this. He wasn’t sure if he could keep moving forward the way he was now. He didn’t want to risk Taako getting it into his head to follow him again, but he wasn’t sure how well he would be able to keep his big mouth shut either.

The next time he visited Taako, he was no longer in that town at the base of the mountains. He’d started moving back down south again, much slower this time without a train to catch. Barry couldn’t blame him for not wanting to blow the money twice.

“Oh, you’re back,” Taako said, and there was an edge of surprise in his voice. Barry couldn’t exactly blame him for that either.

“I mean, if you’re gonna be like that I can just leave,” Barry teased, and instead of giving in Taako huffed, gesturing carelessly with a spatula. He was cooking something over his camp fire that looked like soup, and god, Barry missed the twin’s cooking. That was one of the worst things about this dumb lich body.

“No one’s making you stay dog, just surprised you actually came back after that meltdown you had last time,” he said, and Barry laughed awkwardly at that.

“Yeah, I really bugged out there, didn’t I?” he asked, Taako nodding before going back to stirring his soup. “That’s actually um, something I wanted to talk to you about, as much as I can that is,” he added. Taako raised an eyebrow at that, a cautious look on his face.

“What about it? Cause I had assumed we’d gotten shit all nice and settled,” he asked. Barry shrugged, sitting down as best he could by the fire.

“I mean yeah, but I just- I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into, and there’s something… preventing me from fully explaining it to you. From fully explaining it to anyone. But I want to try my best,” Barry told him. This was the best he could do. He needed to be open about all of this.

“Yeah alright, if that’s what you want I’m all ears Red,” Taako said, his ears twitching for emphasis, which got a laugh out of Barry.

“Okay, okay so let me just figure out my words,” Barry said. He guessed he shouldn’t be surprised that he wanted to actually listen, since he’d been so curious for answers ever since he they first ‘met.’

“Take your time,” Taako said, pouring himself some of the soup he had. Barry was pretty sure he was being sarcastic, but he didn’t comment.

“Okay, so you know I’m looking for my wife and my family, who are in danger,” he said, and Taako nodded, starting to eat as he listened with pretty obvious attention. “Right, so they’re in danger, actually the whole world, all of existence is in danger. If I’m not able to stop this thing that’s causing it, everything will be destroyed,” he said, and Taako’s eyebrows raised up at that.

“And that would be bad, right?” he asked, and Barry snorted at that.

“Yes Taako, that would be very bad,” he said.

“Well dunk,” Taako said, and Barry nodded.

“Yeah it’s- it’s not great. So I’m trying to stop it, I’ve been trying to stop it with my family for, gods, Taako, over a hundred years, we’ve been at this. And we almost had it this time. We had a plan and- and it worked. But it wasn’t- the consequences were terrible, but it was the best we had in a hundred years, we had no choice,” Barry explained, feeling himself starting to get carried away. He needed to stay focused, he had to be careful of how he worded things.

“It sounds like you all did what you had to,” Taako said, and Barry nodded.

“We did, but- but something went wrong. L- my wife disappeared. She went to go try and fix what we’d done, I know it. While she was gone I was separated from the rest of my family. One of them, I love her and I know she’s only doing what she thinks she needs to do, but she’s trying to undo the protection we had in place for this world. She thinks her plan is the only way to save everyone, but even if she manages to get it off before the thing that’s going to destroy everything gets here, it’ll just end up slowly… suffocating the whole world. Everything will still die,” Barry finished.

Taako was staring at him in silence, his mouth hanging open and his soup momentarily forgotten.

“I’m not gonna lie Red, that’s some pretty uuh, heavy shit, you just dropped here,” he said, and Barry nodded.

“Now you know why I didn’t want to drag you into all of this,” he said. To his surprise Taako shrugged, starting to eat again.

“I mean, I’m kinda already involved, aren’t I?” he asked, and Barry felt a twinge of panic and hope run through him at the casual tone. There was no way he managed to figure it out, right? Fisher’s block wouldn’t let him. But maybe... maybe there was some work around, some way he could get close enough to the thought without actually having it.

“What do you mean?” he asked, trying despite everything not to get his hopes up.

“I mean, this shit you’re talking about could destroy the world. I kinda die along with everyone else if you don’t manage to get a hold of this shit,” Taako said. Barry felt his form slump, trying his best not to let it be too noticeable. Right, yeah no of course. Of course that’s how Taako would take it, there was no other way for his brain to conceive of all this.

He tried to convince himself he was relieved and not painfully disappointed.

“You got me there,” Barry said, and he wished he could take a deep breath to steady himself. Instead he thought about the meals Taako and Lup used to make for the rest of them, letting the fond memories even him out. “God, I would die to have some of that soup right now. Not even exaggerating, I’d stick a fireball right down my throat if it meant I could taste for five minutes,” he blurted out, which got a sudden surprised laugh out of Taako.

“I mean, I certainly can’t blame you for that,” Taako said, obvious delighted pride in his voice. “You like, can’t right? Eat that is. I just kinda assumed, since you’re all phantom zone and shit,” he asked, and Barry shook his head.

“No, only when I’m alive,” he grumbled.

“Still not gonna let that happen, huh?” Taako asked, and it took Barry a moment to realize what he meant.

“Yeah, sorry bud no can do. It’s- It’s not even that I don’t want to, but flesh me is kinda disposable? And I don’t want you going to the places I send him. Plus, he wouldn’t even know you if you did meet,” he said, and Taako was frowning in confusion at that.

“You mentioned that before my dude, what the fuck does it actually mean?” Taako asked, and Barry sighed.

“It means exactly what it sounds like. When I’m alive I can’t remember who I really am, I don’t know anything I’ve done when I’m a lich, I don’t- I can’t even remember my wife, or my family at all. It’s all gone. The one who’s trying to undo our safeguard? She… did something, and now as long as I’m alive I forget everything. I have to leave myself trails and instructions to get any sort of work done,” he explained. Taako looked pensive, clearly thinking all of this over.

“So, let’s be clear it’s not that I don’t appreciate finally getting some answers, even if you are still being vague as fuck about it all,” he said after a moment, and Barry shrugged sheepishly.

“Sorry, part of the constraints. Even like this I can’t tell anyone anything too specific,” he said, and Taako nodded.

“Sure sure, it’s some magic bullshit, I get it. Like I said, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the explanation, but uh, kinda sounds like you’re trying to get at something here. If you wanna stop being around the end of the world bush,” Taako said. Barry sighed, and he supposed he should have expected this.

“What do you mean?” he asked, because he wanted to be absolutely certain he knew what Taako was thinking before speaking.

“I mean, you never explained any of this before. Figured there’s a reason you decided to crack open the floodgates now,” he said. Which was fair, he should have known Taako would be smart enough to pick that up.

“I’m not asking you to do… anything. I really meant it when I said I don’t ever want to drag you into danger you aren’t prepared for,” Barry said. Taako nodded along, clearly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I guess a part of me was just… tired, of not having anyone to talk to about this. It’s- I’m a lich, and to keep my mind intact, to keep me me, I need an anchor. Something to keep me grounded, and my family is that anchor. But gods, Taako, I haven’t seen them in over six years. It’s… hard, some days. Keeping myself together. Talking to you, just having a friend, it helps,” Barry said.

Taako was quiet for a long moment, and Barry wasn’t surprised. He should have known this would be too much for him to take in. Even with Lup at his side it had taken Taako so long to open up to the rest of them. Having all of this dumped on him was only going to make him draw away, and maybe that was for the best. At the very least Barry would know he was safe.

“I mean,” Taako started finally. “I’m not gonna go exploding into magic ouchy dust or whatever if I don’t get hugged often enough or whatever’s going on with you, but I guess there’s some mutually beneficial junk to this here arrangement. Can’t complain too much there,” he finished, and Barry couldn’t keep himself from perking up in surprise.

“Wait, really? You’re not totally weirded out by all this?” he asked, and Taako scoffed at that.

“Oh no, I’m completely weirded out my dude! This shit is freaky as fuck and honestly, I'm not a fan of the whole doomsday apocalypse thing either. No fucking clue why you decided to put all your mental health eggs on some outcast shitty cooking wizard either. That seems like a real dumb move, but that’s on you,” he said, and Barry snorted.

“Yeah, that’s fair, kinda a dumb move on my part, for sure,” he teased, wishing he could grin at the offended look on Taako’s face at that.

“Rude! True, but rude,” he grumbled, then he sighed, and Barry could tell that he didn’t exactly want to say this next part. “Listen, cause I’m only gonna say this shit once. If you don’t want me following you off into dangerous fucking, murder dungeons, you’re good! Don’t gotta tell Taako twice! We are good on that front,” he shouted, and Barry laughed. “We’re also good on the whole… friends front, or whatever you want to call it. It’s cool that it helps keep your soul from exploding and shit, but I'm pretty sure that’s just how most people work. But if you need to hear it from me or whatever, yes, we’re friends, I want to keep being friends with you, don’t you ever make me say it again,” Taako said.

“Thanks Taako, that- I really appreciate it,” Barry said, hoping the smile came through in his voice. Taako’s face was a bright red and his ears were twitching, and Barry was trying his best not to laugh at him. This was a level of honesty it had taken Taako literal years to work up to on the Starblaster, he wasn’t going to make fun of him for it.

Maybe after this all settled, when Taako could remember again. At that point it was all fair game.

“Yeah well, I really appreciate the world not ending! So you better get on fixing your family drama so that doesn’t happen,” Taako said. Barry couldn’t help it anymore, laughing at that.

“Fucking fair enough bud. Believe me, I’m working on it,” he said. Taako just rolled his eyes, scrapping the bottom of his bowl some with his spoon.

“Hey, shouldn’t you be getting gone soon? You usually don’t stay this long,” he asked after a moment, and Barry groaned.

“Shit, right. Sorry Taako, I really can’t risk-” he started, but Taako waved a hand, cutting him off.

“I get it, that one family member of yours, she’s the one you’ve been hiding from?” he asked, and Barry nodded, and then hesitated.

“Well, she’s one of them. I’ll explain later. I really don’t want the other ones to find you,” he said, and Taako looked curious at that, but didn’t question him on it at the moment.

“Sounds about right, later Red,” Taako said, and Barry rose up from where he’d been resting on the ground before.

“See you soon Taako,” he said, and with that he disappeared.

It didn’t take Barry long to get back to his cave, and when he did he immediately went and checked the cloning vat, just as he always did. And just as it always was, there was almost no noticeable difference from when he left it. He still had a long time waiting before he could get back out on the search.

There was still that restless drumming deep within his soul, but it was a little calmer now, a little more steady. He could do this.

He wasn’t alone anymore.

———

To say Taako’s life had gone off the rails was a vast understatement.

His life had left the rails in a running leap that night at Glamour Springs. He’d still been in a sort of grassy field though, so the train of his life was able to keep chugging along, and he figured hey, this might not be so bad. If he kept up this course surely eventually he’d find some new rails and things could go back to basics.

Now though, now he had left that grassy field. His life was hurtling down a craggy and broken mountainside with only pure luck being the reason it hadn’t completely tipped over yet.

So Taako’s new friend, because that was a thing now, was trying to prevent the end of the world. Or something. It was vague, shit was always vague with him. They managed to stop the end of the world before but one of them decided to reverse it, which was why he needed to find his wife, so they could stop that one from stopping their other thing.

It was really hard to wrap his mind around, especially without any specifics. Normally Taako would call something that grandiose and unclear bullshit.

Liches had a hard time keeping their minds in tact, Red even admitted to it being hard on some days. The whole thing could have just been the delusions of some unstable lich trying to cling onto whatever purpose their mind had set out for them for as long as possible.

But fucking, damn it. Taako believed him. Red claimed that the world was going to end if he didn’t stop it and Taako just nodded because, yeah, that sounds about right.

Maybe he was the one losing his marbles.

Taako picked up camp once Red left. He’d been here longer than usual, and he was always so paranoid about something finding him. Apparently multiple things, some of them worse than others. So Taako wasn’t going to take any chances, getting up and continuing his way towards the next town. He'd been lucky he’d come up here when it was getting onto summer. It was warm so he didn’t mind the trip that much.

As he walked, it was kind of hard to focus on what Red had told him. As much as he believed the dude for some fucking reason, it was also hard for it to feel real. The world ending, that wasn’t a thing that just happened after all. Trying to fix that shit certainly wasn’t in Taako’s pay grade.

Plus, Red wanted him to stay out of it. As far as they were both concerned, Taako was the emotional support elf. Here to make sure shit seemed a little less bleak and hopeless while Red did all the heavy lifting. Sure, Taako wasn’t typically a super peppy person, but if his brand of bullshit was what got the lich through the day, who was he to judge?

It took about four days for him to reach the next big town. There were a couple rinkydink villages scattered here and there, but he didn’t spend more than the night there before moving on again. In that time, Taako wouldn’t say he’d come up with any sort of plan per say. He figured it was best to leave that to the super powerful century old lich to figure out. He was just an idiot wizard and a washed out chef, it didn’t make any sense for him to be caught up in any of this really.

He didn’t think about that. For some reason, he wasn’t thinking about why Red would choose him of all people to unload this on. Why he had decided to save his ass that night in Glamour Springs instead of just moving on his way. Why he had even been there to begin with.

Was he a lich the whole time? Or had he eaten some of Taako’s food and been one of the first victims. He didn’t know, and frankly he didn’t want to know.

So he ignored all those questions that kept pulling at the edges of his thoughts before dissolving into static.

The world was going to end, and Taako was- what? He couldn’t fight against that, fuck no. He didn’t even know in what manner the world would end, maybe the whole shit would explode and it’d be game over. Maybe they’d all be sucked into a giant black hole or it’d be engulfed in fire or turned into a solid ball of chocolate for some god dragon to eat. Red wasn’t giving him the deets on this one.

The world could end however it wanted to, but there was probably still some time before it actually happened. Red didn’t seem to be in too huge of a time crunch yet, so Taako figured there was still plenty of time.

Time for what, he wasn’t sure,and honestly he didn’t want to die finding out. And as much as Red was trying to keep him away from all this, it was pretty obvious that just knowing the dude was putting him in danger.

Taako hadn’t been lying about brushing up on some more offensive spells, but really he only knew like, two. That probably wasn’t going to be enough to protect anything, let alone himself.

Like he’d been hoping, this town had a library. It was pretty small, but there was a section on magic. Sure, it was only one bookshelf, and about half the books were either theoretical bullshit or shit way out of his level, but Taako managed to find about three books with spells he could learn.

Holing himself up in a corner of the library, this place was pretty empty. Which Taako appreciated, he wasn’t exactly the smarted dude in the world, but magic came easy enough to him. Taako hadn’t thought to get a proper spellbook before all of this, so instead he started writing in the margins of one of the random books he’d kept from his caravan. It didn’t matter once he had the spell down, he tended to be able to memorize them after a few tries.

Maybe once he learned enough shit to not seem like a complete dumbass, he could ask Red to show him a thing or two. He’d love to learn whatever spell he’d used to hold Sazed up in the air like that. Had that been Bigby’s hand? Taako had been a little too panicked and furious at the time to really take note.

Well, he had some time to think about it. Red probably wouldn’t be back for a little while.

And until then, Taako guessed he was hitting the books like some kind of fucking nerd.

Chapter Text

The one thing about Red was that Taako could never tell exactly when he was going to show his ugly mug. Sure, he had down a general pattern, it was typically every few weeks or so. Sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little longer. Usually in the early evening, but that was far from a hard and fast rule.

Which was to say, Taako had no way to prepare himself for when the dude would show up. Sometimes he’d already be in his room before he came back, sometimes it was obvious he’d just showed up in the middle of Taako lazing about.

Now was one of those ‘showing up when Taako was kicking it’ moments, except Taako wasn’t kicking it. He was hunched over a spell book he’d found tucked in the wrong section of the library, focused intently on copying down the charm person spell inside. It seemed like it would be useful as fuck in his every day to day life if he was being honest.

“Charm person huh? That’s a fun one,” Red said, right next to his fucking ear. Taako jerked back, nearly falling out of his chair and throwing his pen directly at the lich. It passed right through, flying off until it eventually clattered to the floor.

“Holy shit my dude, sneak much?” he snapped, turning away and quickly closing the spell book he’d found. Red was chuckling, not seeming bothered by his outburst in the least.

“I mean, I know a bit of rogue shit. When you’ve been around as long as I have you pick stuff up,” he said, like that was even remotely the point. “Here’s your pen,” he added, and Taako’s pen was in fact floating across the room to hover in front of his face. He grabbed it, putting it back down on the shitty creaky desk they had shoved up here. Taako swore he thought the thing was going to fall apart from him looking at it the wrong way, but so far it was holding steady.

“So, how’s the whole stopping the apocalypse thing going?” Taako asked, wanting to change the subject. Red sighed, hovering over to the bed and doing his best impression of sitting down on it.

“Could definitely be better. I’m trying to get a few other likely places lined up before the next body’s ready. Nothing’s jumping out at me yet though,” he said, and Taako just hummed. There wasn’t much he could do on that front, he was always terrible with geography. “Why are you learning charm person? You’re not having problems with anyone, are you?” Red asked, sounding concerned.

“It’s more of a preventative measure. Can’t a dude just want to expand his magical repertoire some every now and then? I can’t cook anymore, besides my looks it’s all I’ve got left,” he said, trying to sound dramatic with that but maybe coming out a touch too sincere.

“I’d argue that you’ve got more than that bud, but can’t fault you for wanting to learn more, for sure,” he said. Taako rolled his eyes at that but didn’t argue, because then it would be a thing. “Ya know, if you want some stuff, I’ve got a bunch of like, spellbooks and shit. I can throw some your way,” he added.

“Yeah alright, how many of those books are suspect to rend my soul from my still living body?” Taako asked. Red snorted at that.

“Only like, two, tops,” he joked. Or at least, Taako was pretty sure it was a joke. “I’ve got stuff other than necromancy Taako, if you want I’ve got some transmutation and uh, evocation stuff I think you’d really be interested in,” he offered. Taako hesitated for a moment before shrugging.

“Sure, why not. Just bring em whatever you next visit, no rush,” he said, and Red nodded.

“Will do,” Red said. Taako wasn’t sure if he was going to say anything else, make some more book recommendations or something. If he was, he didn’t let him, barreling ahead with the conversation. Couldn’t have anyone thinking he was a nerd after all.

“So, when you left last time you mentioned maybe explaining what it is chasing you that’s got you so paranoid? You said it wasn’t just your friend, right?” Taako asked. It wasn’t so much of a wince, but Red’s form shuddered in such a way that got the feeling across pretty well.

“Right, that. I did say I’d explain that, didn’t I?” he asked, and Taako nodded.

“Mhmm,” he hummed helpfully, waiting for Red to make with the whole exposition business.

“Ugh, alright. So you know how I’m dead, right?” he asked, and once again Taako nodded.

“That does seem to be the case, my man,” he said.

“Yeah, so I’m dead, except I’m not, since ya know, lich. Sentient arcane undead like liches, ghosts, zombies, uh, vampires, those guys, they’re not really like, allowed? Okay, let's start- how much do you know about gods?” Red asked, and Taako shrugged.

“Think they’re kinda overrated honestly. I mean, they can do magic, I can do magic, what’s the big deal?” he said, which got a snort out of Red.

“Should have known you’d say that. Well, the god of death in this world really doesn’t like things like me that uuuh, kinda make a mockery of the whole dying deal. So, I’m kinda being chased by like, the grim reaper I guess?” Red said, and Taako’s eyes widened, and he could feel his damn ears perking up in shock.

“Wait wait wait, you’re being chased by Death? Like, capital D Death?” he asked, and Red shrugged, seeming all too cavalier about the whole thing.

“Yeah, I guess? He’s tracked me a few times now, hasn’t actually caught me yet though, uh, obviously. I’ll give him one thing, he’s a persistent asshole,” Red said, and Taako let out a laugh that was maybe just a little bit hysterical.

“I mean, I would hope so!” he said. It was- okay. Taako knew Red was strong. Conceptually, he understood this fact. He was a lich, he had magic Taako couldn’t ever dream of, even if he tended not to use it much around him. He knew that Red was not one to fuck with.

Hearing that he’d fought, had multiple fights with , the literal embodiment of death and won, it was- it was honestly a little intimidating.

“He’s just doing his job, I can’t fault him for that, but I’d really prefer it if you never end up meeting him. I can defend myself perfectly fine, but I wouldn’t want to put you on his radar or anything like that,” Red said, and Taako quickly nodded.

“Yeah, okay no. You do not need to tell me that twice my friend, I promise I’m not gonna go chatting up fucking death in my spare time,” he assured.

“I mean, you’re friends with me. I’m not sure how much I can trust your decision making skills,” Red said, and Taako rolled his eyes at that.

“Please, have some faith. So far having a lich as a best friend has had like, zero downsides. Couldn’t have been too horrible of a choice,” he said. Red didn’t say anything for a minute, and when Taako looked over at him he was just floating there, staring at Taako.

How in the world something without a face managed to have a shit eating grin, Taako would never know.

“Oh fuck you. It’s not exactly a steep competition! The only one you had to contend with was the dude who tried to murder me for my cooking show,” he shouted, and Red was just laughing. “There a point to any of this?” he huffed, and Red shook his head, floating off the bed and heading over to hover by the desk instead.

“Nah. Hey, hey Taako. Can I- can I tell you something?” he asked, leaning forward some and Taako did not like that conspiratorial tone of voice.

“I’m going to regret this but sure,” he said.

“You’re my best friend too,” he fake whispered, and Taako groaned, chucking the pen at him again. It flew right through and clunked against the window. Red was chuckling, and Taako turned sharply away from him. He could still see the lich moving a little out of the corner of his eye, going and leaning as much as he could against the window.

“I take it all back, I hate everyone and everything,” Taako grumbled. It didn’t seem to dampen Red’s mood any and well, he guessed that was a good thing. That was the arrangement they had. He kept Red’s spirits up, Red worked on a way to make sure they weren’t all going to die in the near to immediate future. Taako definitely had the easier part of the deal.

“I’d apologize but I’m not really… not really all that… s-sorry…” Red trailed off, a weird shift in his voice all of a sudden. Taako turned back, and he was staring out the window. It was hard to tell, but Taako was pretty sure he was looking up at something.

“Red?” he asked, trying not to show too much concern in his voice. Red had gone strangely still though, it was a little concerning.

“What… the fuck… is that?” he asked, definitely staring up at something now. “Taako, Taako come over here,” he said, and instead of opening the window the dude phased the whole front half of his body out of it.

“Nope, fuck no. Anything that gets that kind of reaction out of you cha’ boy wants nothing to do with,” he insisted. Red stuck his head back in, still seeming pretty insistent.

“No, no it’s not a danger, I think? It’s- I need some living eyes,” he said, and Taako winced at that. Even still he started walking over, very sure he was going to regret the fuck out of this.

“Hate the way you phrased that, but fine,” he grumbled. Red moved over the slightest bit so Taako could get a clear view out the window, and he looked up. He expected to see some giant beast or hellish storm closing in on them from the horizon, but the night sky was quiet and clear. “I don’t see anything.”

“Nothing?” Red pressed, and he pointed up towards the sky. “I mean it real literally Taako, tell me everything you see up there,” he insisted, and Taako shrugged.

“Uh, the sky? The moon, the uh, the other moon. Some stars?” he said, and Red seemed a little frantic now.

“Okay, okay, you see two moons, right?” he asked, and Taako nodded. “And how do you… feel about that?”

“Uh, no strong feelings one way or the other? It’s just… the moons,” he said, and Red got weird about a lot of things, but this was definitely one of the stranger ones.

“Odd question, but just roll with me here. Have there always been two moons?” Red asked. Taako went to answer, and then he paused, thinking the question over. It shouldn’t be a hard question. He glanced up at the moons again, and there were definitely two, and that felt… normal? He guessed. It did not not feel normal.

“Yes?” he said finally, not anywhere near as confidently as he’d hoped.

“I… cannot believe… did she just- what did she feed him to do that? Why- a moon! Why a moon? She knows right? She’s gotta know that if I died I’d be able to tell! It’s not- It’s not subtle! It’s a moon! Why is it a moon Taako? ” Red was rambling, not that it made any fucking sense.

“Buddy? You sound fucking insane right now,” Taako said, in as gentle of a voice he could manage while struggling not to laugh. This probably wasn’t something to laugh at, but it was still kind of hilarious. Red took a deep breath despite not having lungs, seeming a little bit more steady after that.

“Yeah, yeah I know. It’s fine. Everything’s fine,” he insisted, and Taako wasn’t sure how much he believed that but he nodded none the less.

“Okay, okay that’s good. Do you wanna like… go yell at the moon some more bud? We can yell at the moon if you want,” he offered, and Red chuckled and shook his head.

“Nah, but I appreciate the offer,” he said, and Taako shrugged. Then he sighed, glancing out towards the sky again. “I think I need to go though. It’s- I’ve got some stuff I need to check out, I guess,” he added.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Just watch yourself or whatever? Not sure what you’re planning but the middle of some lunar related breakdown probably isn’t the best time to be making decisions,” he said. Red seemed to laugh a little at that before nodding.

“That’s fair. I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” he assured, which was good enough for Taako.

“And don’t forget the books next time, you said it so I’m expecting them now,” he said, which got a laugh out of Red.

“I won’t forget. Later Taako,” he said, and Taako waved as he did his whole disappearing act.

“See ya Red,” he said, and then he was gone. Taako moved to pick up the pen he’d sent over to the window, and he found himself looking up at the moons again. He didn’t know why Red was freaking out about them. It was weird. Something felt off as he stared up at the sky, spinning the pen between his fingers. Like a nagging half formed feeling of forgetting something in the back of his mind.

After a moment he shrugged, heading back over to his desk to finish copying down the charm person spell. Whatever it was, it wasn’t coming to him, so he doubted it could be that big of a deal.

————

Barry had been wondering what Lucretia had been up to. She’d disappeared off his radar for quite a while, and he knew she was working on something. Her search for the relics seemed to be on hold for whatever it was, and that only made him more nervous. He knew she’d only gotten hers back so far, and he couldn’t risk her getting more and rejoining the light. He couldn’t risk her going after them on her own and not- and not making it out again.

They were on opposite sides right now, but she was still his family as much as the rest of them, even if she had torn them apart. It’d been long enough now, six long years, that he’d had plenty of time to think about her reasoning. To know that all of this, it was her attempt to fix things. To keep them from the pain of what they’d done by making them forget that pain was ever there at all.

It wasn’t that simple, ignorance wasn’t bliss it was just… hollow. But he couldn’t hate her for that, for trying.

A moon though. Barry had theorized, had tried to anticipate her next move. After living with someone for 100 years, you get pretty good at learning their thought patterns.

But a moon? As he stared up at it after leaving Taako, he started to laugh in disbelief. He couldn’t say it was completely out of character for her even, it was just that part of Lucretia that always took the rest of them off guard. That dry and serious delivery as she suggested that Merle seducing the Hunger could be plan F for Fuck It. That unexpected flair of dramatic that was done with so little fan fair everyone just accepted it without a second thought.

Fuck, he missed her so much.

And she’d made a second moon. Once the befuddled and panicked confusion had subsided, Barry felt a pang in his soul looking at it. Like a negative of the world they’d come from so long ago. He could see the symbolism in the act, and Lucretia had always been an excellent storyteller. He knew the meaning behind it had been intentional without a shadow of a doubt.

He promised Taako he wouldn’t do anything stupid, and he was trying very hard not to. It had been so long since he’d seen Lucretia though. She had to know if he was a lich he’d be able to realize where the sudden addition to the night sky had come from.

Despite the tracking and caution they were taking around each other, Barry had not gotten a chance to actually speak to her since before she had redacted their lives. Maybe… maybe if he could just talk to her, she would listen. She had to be just as lonely as he’d been, before he’d taken that chance on Taako.

It was worth the risk, and he started up to the fake moon.

It wasn’t as high as a real moon, and he hadn’t expected it to be. It was surprisingly hard to tell from the ground though, even without Fisher’s influence on his mind. He still wasn’t sure the exact phrasing she fed to him to get this to be unnoticed. From Taako’s reactions when he questioned him about it, ‘there is only one moon’ was probably his best guess.

Flying up over the construction of a moon for the world below, he saw a base. He guessed he shouldn’t have been surprised at the size of it, he saw how big the moon disguise had been after all, but it still left him a little speechless. There were large lawns and over half a dozen domed buildings, clearly the set up of something much larger than a one person operation. He didn’t see anyone around at the moment, but Barry felt what was left of his heart start to sink.

Gods, what in the world was she planning?

He had to talk to her before she did something stupid. Before she dragged even more innocent people into their problems. They’d already screwed up with world enough, and Barry wished it didn’t have to be that way, but trying to fix it would only make it worse. That’s how it’d been so far and he couldn’t really see that changing at this point.

He didn’t end up getting very far. Maybe a dozen feet from the base he slammed into something hard. It sent a searing pain through his whole form, like his soul was being burned. He managed to yank himself back, an anguished scream escaping him due to the pain. His form was an unsteady crackle for just a moment as it reformed itself from the blast of holy energy.

Barry wasn’t sure how long he stayed hovering there, trying to get a hold of himself. It couldn’t have been any longer than a minute or two before he heard footsteps running towards him, and he realized someone must have heard his scream.

When he looked back down at the base, he saw Lucretia, but she was wrong.

She was older, and it wasn’t like that wasn’t something he hadn't prepared for. After a century of not aging, he knew that even six years would result in so many changes. Even Taako, despite being an elf, had little differences here and there.

But this wasn’t six years. This was so much more than that. She looked older than him now, which was an uncanny sort of mindfuck he didn’t know how to process. This was his little sister, and something had happened to her. Something horrible, something-

He felt his form shudder as he attempted to keep himself together at the realization. There were precious few things that could do something like that to Lucretia, precious few that she would put herself in in the line of fire for. Despite his attempts to keep calm, he could see large streaks of red arcane energy curling off of him and hitting the barrier around the moon base with sizzling crackles of power.

This was his fault. All of this was his own damn fault.

Lucretia was staring up at him, a look of horror and regret plastered clear as day across her face.

“Lucretia… please. You have- you have to stop this,” he managed to stutter out, his voice broken and distorted as he still struggled to keep himself together after the hit from the ward and the wracks of guilt running through him.

He saw the pain on her face deepen as she shook her head, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

“I’m so sorry Barry,” she whispered, and then she was raising her staff. The Bulwark Staff.

The pain cleared in a flash as panic overtook him. He couldn’t be caught. Before she could set off whatever spell she was channeling, he teleported away in a blast of flames. Not far, just down to the ground again, but enough to put some distance between them.

He couldn’t get caught. He couldn’t. He knew she’d be trying to track him as soon as she recovered from his flash, and so he used was struggling power he had to get himself back to his cave where he’d be safe.

And once he was there, alone and protected with his wards, he let himself break down as much as he could without crumbling completely.

He couldn’t cry in this damn form, and gods he wished he could.

Barry knew he should have waited longer. It wasn’t safe for him out there right now, especially not with Lucretia surely on the look out for him after that stunt.

But it was so quiet alone in his cave. The only sound himself and the occasional bubble of air rising up in the tank in the corner. He felt suffocated in his thoughts, in the churning horror of what must have happened to Lucretia. In the panicked uncertainty of if she managed to pull it off, if they were already on a time limit.

So the very next day, he headed out again. First, to take a quick stop at the Felicity Wilds. Some of his fears were quelled at seeing the garish, flashing tent still standing in the middle of a large valley.

Then he went to go see Taako again.

“Whoa, you’re back early. Miss me that much huh?” Taako asked, and there was some worry in his voice. Of course there was, Taako was smart enough to realize something must have gone wrong if he came back so quickly.

“Yeah,” was all Barry managed to choke out though. Taako’s nervous smile dropped fully into a concerned frown at that, and he turned away from whatever it was he was cooking. Barry wasn’t even sure where they were, some kitchen in the back of a dingy inn.

“Hey, you okay man? You know I don’t mind the company, but you were acting weird yesterday and it ain’t like you to be back so soon,” Taako asked, and Barry sighed, trying to pull himself together.

“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m- it’s fine. Oh! I brought you that book you wanted,” he said, thankful at remembering that distraction. Waving a hand he pulled a lower level spell book out of a pocket dimension. He floated it over to Taako, who carefully scanned the cover. “Do- do you think I could just, hang here for a bit and watch you cook? Promise I won’t get in the way, you don’t even gotta walk around me,” he asked before Taako could say anything, trying for a joke with that last part. Taako laughed, but it was a little forced. He put the book down on the counter and nodded though.

“Of course,” Taako said simply, turning back towards the stove without another word. Barry stayed hovering in the corner of the kitchen for as long as he could, just watching as Taako worked. It was so similar to how he used to cook in the Starblaster, down to the pauses and way he would reach around for items, as if working around another person.

Like somewhere, deep inside, he knew that he wasn’t supposed to be cooking alone. Barry wasn’t sure if that thought helped or hurt him more, a sharp stab of bittersweet.

He managed to stay until Taako finished cooking, and it was nice. It was a calm and familiar scene that for a moment Barry could almost pretend that his whole world wasn’t slowly falling apart around him.

He couldn’t give up. He needed to keep believing that there was some way to fix this, to bring his family back and undo all the horrors they’d done. All the horrors he caused.

“I’d offer you some, but that just seems kinda cruel at this point,” Taako said as he started serving himself a plate of some delicious smelling pasta. Barry chuckled, moving from the corner for the first time since he’d come here.

“Yeah, food’s not really applicable in this form, but I appreciate the sentiment,” he said, and then he sighed. “Besides, I need to go,” he added. Taako just nodded, not seeming surprised or annoyed by this.

“Go get yourself lost Red,” he said, and Barry chuckled at that. “And if you ever need to hang like this, it’s- I’m down, not a bother,” he added.

“Thanks Taako,” Red said, and he just shrugged. Taking that as his cue to leave, Barry headed back to his cave.

It was still all too quiet once he was alone, but it was just that little bit less suffocating. And that was all Barry could ask for.

Chapter Text

Red was particularly withdrawn for the next month or so. Taako wasn’t sure what had set it off, no matter how much time he spent staring up at the moons trying to figure out what was so strange about them. Nothing he could put his finger on, and he guessed in the end it wasn’t technically any of his business. Sure, they were friends now and apparently in this whole ‘trying to save the world’ thing together, but Red didn’t have to tell him every aspect of his life. Not life. Whatever.

Point was, Taako was letting Red have his space to mope about the moon, even if he was kinda curious about what the fuck had caused all of this in the first place. It was kind of frustrating, every time he thought he was figuring this shit out it turned out there was even more he didn’t know. Still, Taako wasn’t pressing him on it. He was just that good of a friend, he should get a medal or something.

Over the last two visits or so Red was starting to get back to his old self some though. Which wasn’t exactly free of the occasional bout of emotional drama or deep sadness he sometimes fell into, but it was still better. He was talking more about his plans on how to find his wife, joking around with Taako, shit like that. To say it was a relief would be admitting that he was worried about the dude, so Taako wouldn’t go that far. Still, it was definitely an improvement from all the quiet moping.

In that time, Taako had started focusing on his magic more. It was something that seemed to distract Red from whatever drama was going on in his head while also benefiting Taako pretty well. Red had brought a few more spellbooks after that first one, and he hadn’t been lying about having shit other than creepy necromancy stuff.

Taako wasn’t real sure where he’d gotten these books, but there was something about the way they were written and explained magic that made sense in his head. More so than the spellbooks he’d been finding in libraries and such at least. The ways they explained magic reminded him of the bits and pieces he’d tried to pick up as a kid. It made it click more than the other ones he’d tried.

There was also the fact that Red could go on about magic for literal hours. That made learning quite a bit easier. Typically it was about stuff that was well fucking above Taako’s skill level, but he could hound Red into dumbing it down for him every now and then.

That’s what they were doing now. Taako wasn’t sure what Red got out of helping him through level 1 and 2 spells, but he wasn’t going to turn down the help or the free components.

Usually Taako wouldn’t be caught dead letting someone else teach him magic. He figured it didn’t quite count though if the one teaching him was dead. Or something like that.

“This one should be easy for you. You’re great at transmutation,” Red said, and Taako nodded as he read through the incantation for reduce.

“I mean, yeah natch,” he said, pointedly not telling Red that he’d spent almost every spellslot he had yesterday practicing before he managed to get it anywhere near consistent. Instead he said the incantation, pinching his fingers together and focused on the pot set out on the tree stump in front of him. It quickly shrunk down to half its size, and Taako grinned, leaning back against a tree.

“See? That’s what you call natural talent,” he said. Instead of rolling his not-eyes like Taako expected Red nodded enthusiastically. It was kind of weird how excited and happy he always seemed watching him learn magic. Taako was trying to learn to just accept the whole deal with Red being overly invested in his shit though. That’s how it’d been since they first met after all.

“Exactly, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you Taako that you’re good at th-” Red started to say, before cutting himself off, going very still. They’d been at this for a while, Taako hadn’t actually been paying attention to how long. Longer than Red tended to stay out though, if he had to guess. “Shit.”

“What’s up? I was enjoying the praise,” Taako said, trying to keep this light even though he could see Red starting to panic.

“Stayed too long, I need to go. You should too,”  Red said all in a rush. That wasn't exactly what he expected, and Taako pushed himself off of where he’d been leaning against the tree.

“Wait, me too? Where the fuck should I-” he started to ask, but before he could Red disappeared in a crackling arcane flash. Dimension door, if he had to guess, which meant he wasn’t too far. There was a part of Taako that was real fucking curious about where Red was now.

He’d been pretty damn spooked though, and Taako knew the guy had some downright nasty dudes after him. If Red was saying to get the hell out of dodge, he wasn’t going to ask twice. Scrambling around, Taako started picking up his camp as fast as possible. It was already pretty late in the day, he’d just gotten everything settled down to sleep for the night, which was frustrating as fuck.

Taako just about had everything when he heard a crash, from not too far away in the woods. He couldn’t see what caused it, but straining his ears he could faintly make out the faint buzz and pops of spells being flung. He was dumb as a box of rocks, but even he could put two and two together there.

Taako knew he should turn tail and head in the exact opposite direction. That wasn’t even a question, he needed to get the fuck away from whatever was going on over there. Red could handle himself. There sure as fuck wasn’t anything an idiotic magical chef like him could do to help.

“Oh god damn it,” he grumbled, grabbing his shitty wand and running off in the direction of the noise.

It got louder as he got closer, and he could clearly hear the sound of offensive spells being flung and crashing into trees. Hopefully trees. Taako picked up the pace, and he could hear the occasional clang and slash from some sort of blade only moments before he could see it.

Red was fighting someone. He was holding his own well enough, sending crackling blasts of necrotic energy at the guy. Said ‘guy’ was a skeleton, in a long, flowing black cloak with a feathered collar, a huge scythe in his bony hands. He spun the blade through the air effortlessly, Red obviously on his toes to dodge the attacks.

Red was fighting death, and he wasn’t doing half bad.

Taako should leave. Neither of them had noticed him yet, if he ran now he might still be able to get out of there unscathed. Red would probably be fine, this wasn’t the first time he’d apparently fought the grim fucking reaper after all.

It seemed like he was on the defensive though. It wasn’t clear if he was going to win or not

And for some reason truly beyond him, Taako didn’t want to take that chance.

“Hey thug fuck off before I barbecue your dick!” Taako shouted, sending a volley of magic missiles into the grim reaper’s side. It certainly caught his attention, his head spinning towards Taako, scythe still poised for an attack.

It also drew Red’s attention.

“Taako what the fuck are you doing?!” Red shouted, reaching forward and grabbing the grim reaper’s wrist while he was distracted, sending a draining pulse of necrotic energy through him.

“I don’t know!” Taako shouted back, trying to throw a fire bolt at the reaper and missing by a country mile. Shit. The reaper quickly managed to recover from Red’s attack, swiping at the lich with his scythe and managing to put some space in between them again.

“Taako, is it?” the reaper said, and Taako wasn’t sure what he was expecting the grim reaper to sound like, but it wasn’t that. He probably would have laughed if he wasn’t completely fucking terrified. Instead he stopped, and held up his hand in a half hearted wave.

“Hello,” he said, trying to sound a hell of a lot more cheerful and casual than he felt. It almost got the reaper to pause. He had the majority of his attention on Taako now, but instead of attacking he held out a hand, a large glowing book hovering above it.

“No- don’t even think about it. Don’t you touch him,” Red snapped, sending a blast of fire at the reaper. He managed to dodge though, even with his attention split between the two of them and whatever he was looking for in the book. This was a bad idea.

“Aha! Taako, here you are. That would be eight counts of-” he started to say, getting cut off by Red sending a blast of sickly green energy at him, the reaper having to dismiss his book to get out of the way, focused back on the fight at hand.

“Kravitz I said leave him out of this!” he shouted, and Taako had heard Red mad before. This was mad, but it was also mixed with something else, a terrible sort of desperation. Taako figured he should be terrified, instead he just sort of snorted.

“Death’s name is Kravitz?” he asked in disbelief. Neither of them payed his question any mind though.

“If he has a bounty then you don’t get a choice in what I do with him, my man. That’s not how any of this works,” the reaper insisted, sounding incredibly frustrated. Taako had no idea what he meant by any of that, but he didn’t like it. Red didn’t answer him, instead lunging forward in an almost animalistic attack, crackles of necrotic energy coming off of him in waves.

“Taako! Leave! Now!” Red shouted, slashing at the reaper with claws he’d definitely never had before. They didn’t quite hit their target, tearing at the reaper’s long cloak. Instead of leaving, when Kravitz moved out of Red’s range Taako sent a blast of burning hands at him. It clearly wasn’t doing much to the embodiment of death, Taako wasn’t exactly a ferocious magic warrior, but it was something.

“Uh, no? He’s trying to kill you dog!” Taako insisted.

“I’m sorry, in case you weren’t aware he’s already dead. Several times over even! I’m just trying to bring his soul where it belongs,” the reaper said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. He barely managed to finish his sentence before Red was lobbying a round of scorching rays at him. Taako saw at least two hit, knocking the grim reaper back some.

“Yeah, still not too cool with that,” Taako said. He started to prepare another spell, wishing that he hadn’t spent so many slots practicing today. Before he could get it off though there was a weird arcane buzzing sensation around him as Red basically grabbed him as well as he could.

“You’re a real stubborn jackass, you know that?” he snapped, sending one last powerful blast towards the reaper as he tried to rush for the both of them. Then there was a surge of arcane energy, and Taako stumbled slightly, disoriented as the scenery around them changed in a sudden flash.

It was dim, but his dark vision made sure that wasn’t much of a problem. They seemed to be in some cave, with a desk and maps hung all over the walls and some weird green glowing pod in the corner.

Most importantly, it seemed safe. Taako let out a somewhat hysteric laugh as he let himself slump down onto the cool cave floor.

He’d never been in a fucking fight like that. The most dangerous thing he’d ever been around was Sazed. Or at least, most dangerous thing that wanted to hurt him. The adrenaline was leaving his body in a rush, but he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Haha holy shit! Looks like we’re in the clear Red, good thinking,” Taako said, giving the lich a hesitant grin. Red just stared down at him, the ends of his robe flicking out in irritation like an angry cat tail. Yeah, he was not happy.

“What in the world were you thinking? You could have been killed!” he snapped, which was fair. Taako had been trying not to think too much about that, but it was kind of hard not to when one was literally staring at death.

“But I didn’t?” he tried, and Red sighed.

“I told you to leave, I would have been fine,”   R ed insisted. Taako figured he was probably right about that. After all, he managed to get the two of them out of the fight pretty dang quickly. It dawned on Taako that Red might have only been sticking around to fight the reaper so that he could have time to escape. He ignored that thought for now.

“But what if you weren’t man? I don’t know how to go about saving the world on my own,” Taako said. He could see Red’s frustration crackling around him slowly starting to fizzle out as he sighed.

“Do you have any idea how much more complicated you just made everything?” Red asked, and Taako shrugged because well, he didn’t.

“Not really, but I got a feeling you’re about to explain it to me,” he said, and he’d gotten his barrings enough to start looking around, slowly pushing himself back to his feet. He started moving towards the weird glowing pod in the corner but before he could get close Red was in front of him again, cutting him off.

“Nope, that’s off limits. So many things in here are off limits, gods, this is a disaster,” Red groaned. Taako decided to leave the pod alone for now, since this was honestly probably a big deal. It seemed like Red had taken him back to whatever weird base of operation he had. Considering how secretive he was about everything, that had certainly not been in his plans.

“Okay, let’s just take this one step at a time then, what’s so bad about me being here?” Taako asked. Red somehow managed to give him an incredulous look without a face.

“What’s so bad? What’s so bad Taako? So many things! It’s- you can’t know about any of this Taako. God, and now you’re on his radar!” he said, and Taako winced a little at that.

“Yeah, uh, so death huh? What uh, what’s that about,” he said, and Red sighed, going and slumping in a chair at the desk as much as he could as a ghost.

“I mean, I already told you basically. Bounty hunter for the Raven Queen, but now he’s gonna try to come after you too,” he said, and Taako felt his eyebrows raise at that, the blood draining from his face at the thought.

“Me? The fuck did I do? I mean, I attacked him sure, but does death really keep goddamn grudges?” he asked, and Red shook his head.

“No, it’s not- honestly, Kravitz isn’t that bad of a guy. It’s nothing like that. You’re just… associated with me now. And I’m kind of a super wanted criminal,” he said, and Taako winced at that.

“Well I mean, that makes two of us my man,” Taako said, and Red seemed to be staring at him in confusion for a moment, before chuckling slightly.

“I guess you’re not wrong about that,” he said, and Taako grinned before glancing around the cave again.

“So uh, where are we exactly?” he asked, and Red sighed.

“My hideout, lab, base… thing. It’s safe here, Kravitz won’t be able to find us, or anyone else for that matter,” he said, and Taako nodded. It was pretty drab, definitely giving off the dark necromancy vibe thing. “You should get some sleep. It’s- I’ll try and figure out what we’re doing about all of this in the morning,” he said. Taako nodded, glad he grabbed most of his shit before Red teleported him away, because he didn’t seem to have a bed in here.

“Sounds good my dude. Don’t be getting too attached to any of your plans though, cha’ boy would kind of like a say in what’s going down next,” he said. Red seemed vaguely surprised by that before shaking himself out of it and nodding.

“Right, yeah no of course. I won’t decide anything without your input,” he said. Taako had rolled out his sleeping bag by this point, throwing his hat down on a nearby chair and shaking his hair out.

“Excellent,” he said, lying down. It was quiet for a moment, and Red had turned towards his desk and seemed to be working on something. “So, death huh? Not what I was expecting. You think that accent was for real, or what?” he asked, which got a surprised, snorting laugh out of Red.

“Go the fuck to sleep Taako,” he said, not answering his question and causing Taako to laugh as well.

“Fine, miss out on this riveting conversation, see what I care,” he said. Red didn’t seem particularly moved, but Taako was getting pretty tired anyway. It wasn’t very long before he managed to get to sleep. Hopefully Red would come up with an idea of what they could do by morning, because as it was Taako was at a loss.

——

Barry could not believe this fucking happened. Except he could, because it was exactly the thing he’d been so worried about happening since he first decided to break his rule.

He’d stayed out too long, attracted too much attention while he was with Taako. It wasn’t from Lucretia, but it was arguably much worse. Taako could be in considerable danger now. The enforcers of death would never have a fondness for any of them in this world, but now Taako was linked to him.

Barry had shown himself to care about him. He didn’t know how dirty someone like Kravitz was willing to play, but he sure as fuck didn’t want to risk Taako’s life like that.

And of course, throughout it all Taako never seemed to understand how much danger he was in. He was obviously trying, but it didn’t quite seem to stick. As afraid as he was, he didn’t even hesitate to put himself back in the line of fire. He refused to leave while he thought Barry had a risk of being truly killed.

It was as touching as it was incredibly goddamn frustrating.

He’d managed to get them both out safe, but now he was in a whole other kettle of fish. He didn’t know where else to take them, where else they would for sure be safe.

So now Taako was sleeping on the floor of his hideout, just a hairs breadth away from every shred of proof Barry had managed to keep from a century of their family running from the apocalypse.

He had no fucking idea what he was supposed to do.

At this point, he might not have a choice but to let Taako help him. He didn’t want to put him in that danger, but he seemed pretty damn determined to throw himself into the fight anyway.

It might be easier to keep him safe if he could keep him close. Barry didn’t have many other options left.

The time it took for Taako to wake up seemed to drag on forever, but Barry knew he was just being impatient. He felt like he was impatient so often now a days. He always wanted to move forward, he hated being trapped the way he was. Still, eventually Taako started to wake, seeming confused as he looked around himself for a moment before his gaze fell on Barry and his memory started to jog.

“Morning Taako,” he said, and Taako nodded groggily, still blinking himself awake.

“Mornin’ Red, how’d you sleep?” he asked, and Barry snorted at that.

“Fucking terrible,” he said, and Taako just nodded.

“Yeah, figured,” he said, digging around in his bag and pulling out some sort of wrapped baked good. God, Barry missed the twin’s food. It was so unfair being able to see it and not have a damn mouth. “So, you figure out a game plan or what? And if you did, don’t tell me for like another twenty minutes I’m still tired as shit,” Taako added, and Barry wasn’t sure what else he expected.

“Not sure on anything too specific, but I’ll give you ten before we start hashing everything out,” he said, and Taako frowned, raising an eyebrow at that.

“Excuse you, I specifically asked for twenty,” he said, and Barry shrugged.

“That’s a real shame bud,” he said, which got an annoyed huff out of Taako. He didn’t seem genuinely mad though, which was about what Barry expected.

In the end, Barry ended up waiting about fifteen minutes before actually starting to talk. Split the difference.

“So like, you’re just not gonna listen to anything I tell you to do, are you?” he asked, and Taako gave him an offended look at that.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he insisted, and if Barry had eyes still he would roll them.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said, letting sarcasm drip from his every word. Before Taako could respond though he continued. “Look, it doesn’t really matter if you listen to me or not anymore. You’re in danger now, and so it’s- we’re in the shitter together. We gotta work with each other on this,” he said. Taako had crawled out of his sleeping bag now and had taken a seat on a nearby chair. He crossed his arms, frowning slightly at that.

“I mean, I thought we were already working together, but yeah sure. Guess we’ll start that now,” he grumbled, and Barry shook his head.

“No, not like that. We were, we are, it’s just- god Taako, there’s so much you don’t know,” he said, trying not to let himself get overwhelmed by the idea of it all. By how he was going to bring Taako into this without him even knowing. Without him being capable of knowing.

“I mean, tell me then? I’m already in this deep, and now I’m apparently fucking marked for death! Nothing you say, especially after the whole apocalypse bomb you dropped before is gonna be the thing to scare me off,” Taako insisted. Barry sighed, running a bony hand down his non-existent face.

“I wish it was that easy bud. It’s not- when I say I can’t tell you, I mean I literally can’t tell you,” he said, and Taako didn’t seem all that deterred.

“Yeah, you explained that already. Some magic bullshit your family member did. The bad one, the- damn, you really can’t give me names can you? How am I supposed to keep this shit straight,” he said, and Barry laughed at that, but it was a fair point. He couldn’t blame Taako for being annoyed and confused on that.

“I guess you could call her like a sister. She’s like a little sister to me. And she’s not bad, she’s just… trying to fix something that can’t be,” he said, his soul aching as he thought about Lucretia as she was now. He couldn’t let himself get distracted by that though. Someday, hopefully, he would get to apologize to her.

“Okay, the misguided one or whatever, still some bullshit your little sister did. What happens if you just try though?” he asked, and as much as Barry was worried about pushing things, he was kind of in too deep at this point.

“Let’s see I guess. Taako I’m from a̡n̸̢ot͢͝h̡͜͜ę͢҉r ̕͜w̡or̷̡ļ̕͝d̴̸͘.̵ ͏W̸e̡͜ ̡b̸ot͢͢҉h̡ ̴̷a̴͘r̵͝e.̶ W̢e͟͠ ̨c̶҉re͘a̧͞t͏̡e͞ḑ s̸̛e͢v̛ȩ̶n ̴̛p͡ǫ͏w̷̕e̕r͘͢f̸̨u̧̕l͏̢ ͠r͢͠el̛͢͝i̴̵̢c͢͞s̨͟ ̨u̸͞s͏̛͏in̵̢g ͜s̢̢o̡m̶et͏h̶i͝n҉g͢ ͏͟cą͡ll̛ed͟ ҉t͟h̢̡e͠ ̸͠͠L͏̡͟i̢g̷̷h̴͞t͏̷̨ o͏͝f͠ C͠r҉̸͜e̷̡a͟͞t̷i̴̕o̸n.͟ ̡͘You͜͡ w̷͘e̸̸r̷̡e̴ ̵̴͢o̢n̸e̛͠ ̴o͞f̛ ̢ų̸s̡,̛͞”̴ he said. Barry knew his words fell on deaf ears, Taako staring at him with confusion.

“Okay… so I got like, none of that,” he said, and Barry sighed.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” he grumbled. Taako still didn’t look any less determined to figure this out though, and Barry couldn’t help but appreciate that. It was hard sometimes, convincing himself to keep moving forward after all this time. It helped to see someone still certain they could figure out a plan.

“Well, that’s not gonna work then. I guess I just won’t know shit, not like that’ll be much different from how I exist on the day by day anyway,” he said. Barry couldn’t help but be frustrated at Taako continuing to put himself down like that, but he let it slide for the moment. It wasn’t exactly his fault after all.

“And you’re really okay with that? With putting yourself in danger, even if you don’t know the full story?” he asked, and Barry couldn’t pretend to be surprise at Taako’s hesitance at that.

“I mean, what kinda danger we talking here? Cause like, the goal in helping you is making sure I don’t die, ideally,” he said, and Barry nodded.

“I don’t ever want to put your life at risk like that. But like, death is kinda ya know, an active issue. In that he’s actively a pain in my ass all the goddamn time,” he grumbled, getting a laugh out of Taako.

“Fair enough. Yeah alright, fuck it. Not like I’ve got any better options, what’s the plan?” he asked. Barry couldn’t help but feel like he was smiling down in his soul hearing that. There wasn’t going to be any coming back from this. It would still be complicated, he would still have to be cautious in what he let Taako know, in how much he hinted at things. He didn’t want to overwhelm him, he didn’t know what would happen if someone pushed at the static too much, and he wasn’t going to hurt Taako in order to test it out.

“Same as it always was. We find my wife, and with her help we try and convince L- my sister that she’s making a mistake and we get her to fix the thing keeping my family from remembering,” he said. Taako nodded, seeming to follow along pretty well.

“Cool, cool. So, how do we do all that?” he asked. Barry was quiet for a moment as he thought the question over, his posture serious and calculating.

“I got no fucking clue my dude,” he said with a shrug, which got a loud, disbelieving laugh out of Taako.

“Awesome! Excellent! This is gonna go great!” he said, sarcastic and sounding just the slightest bit panicked. Barry couldn’t exactly blame him for that, they definitely didn’t have the most concrete plan for moving forward.

Still, Barry felt a hell of a lot more confident now than he did before. He had his brother helping him. One of the smartest, most creative and accomplished wizards in all of existence. The one person they could always turn to for finding a new way to tackle a problem.

“We’re gonna fucking die. Gods, Red, I’m gonna die and you’re going to double die,” Taako said, obviously starting to panic now.

It was going to be fine. He had one of the brightest people in existence on his side now.

Even if said elf didn’t know it.

Chapter Text

Taako was pretty damn sure he was going to die.

He guessed he shouldn’t be too surprised by that. He'd been on a road leading directly towards his doom the second he decided the best course of action was befriending the local benevolent lich. He couldn’t even blame this on Red, because like, the dude had fucking warned him it was bad news. Had tried to get him to turn back every single step of the way.

And Taako couldn’t rightfully put words together for why he decided to go along with all of this despite that. He had to have a reason, he didn’t do shit like this, not out of the damn goodness of his soul.

But instead of any answers, there was a vague feeling of static and a word on the tip of his tongue, wrapped up in the knowledge that despite everything, he trusted Red.

There wasn’t much he could do with any of that, so instead he tried to turn his attention onto some more practical things.

They needed a plan, but Taako couldn’t exactly contribute to that much with the weird block preventing Red from telling him literally anything of importance. So he’d have to leave that one to the lich.

“So uh, where exactly are we? We’ve talked a lot of big picture stuff, but I wanna get down to the details,” Taako said, starting to move about the cave now. He stayed away from the weird glowing pod in the corner, but Red seemed nervous just about everywhere he went. Which was probably fair, Taako had no idea the kind of freaky stuff he got up to in here.

“I mean, we’re in my hideout,” he said, and Taako rolled his eyes at that. 

“Yeah, knew that one homeslice, but where? Is this cave just floating out in space or we got a location on our hands?” he asked, and it seemed to click for the lich pretty quick.

“Oh! Right, yeah no that’s fair. Uh, lemme see,” he said, heading over to a map he had hung up above a desk. There were strings and pins connecting a bunch of different places, but to what end Taako had no fucking clue. “The closest town to us is Phandalin. It’s only a couple hours walk. From there it’s not too far to Neverwinter, maybe a day’s cart ride,” he explained, and Taako nodded.

“Never heard of Phandalin, but alright,” he said, and Red nodded. 

“Yeah not surprise. I think it used to be a mining town? Honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time there, other than when I’m alive and confused,” he said. Taako was still pretty damn curious to see Red in the flesh, but it would probably be a bit before he’d have that privilege.

“So like… what now?” Taako asked, not liking how much his voice betrayed how fucking lost he felt right now. He didn’t know what he was doing, he couldn’t know, and to say he was in over his head was the understatement of the century. Red sighed, seeming to understand how Taako felt and also how much he didn’t want it addressed.

“Right now, I think we lay low. My cave is protected from the Reaper’s sights, as well as my sister’s. As long as we’re in here, no one should be able to find us. It won’t be as easy for them to find you as it would be for them to find me, since you’re not like, a giant ball of necromantic energies, but it’s still best to play it safe for a bit,” Red explained and Taako nodded. That was something, at least.

“Okay, some hiding out, I can deal with that. For how long?” he asked, really wanting to know how long he was going to be confined to some dark, necromantic lair.

“Could you do a month?” Red asked hesitantly, and Taako groaned, throwing his head back.

“You’re killing me my dude!” he complained, and Red just crossed his arms, not looking particularly moved.

“This wouldn’t be an issue if you’d listened to me in the first place and ran!” he countered, and Taako just made an unintelligible grumble at that. Like, he wasn’t wrong.

“Ugh, this is the worst. Yeah, fine, I still prefer my head being attached to my body, if only barely,” he grumbled. Giving another look around the cave, it was in a very new light with the thought that he was going to be staying for a month. “But I demand a bed.”

“Oh, yeah no for sure. Didn’t really have much of a need for that, with the whole uh, lich thing,” he said, and Taako nodded, cause that was fair enough. “We’ll get you a bed, even though you’re a goddamn elf and can just meditate. You’re lucky I like you,” he added, and Taako gave a very offended look at that.

“Fuck you, like you wouldn’t sleep if you could!” he argued, and Red laughed at that.

“Yeah, yeah you’re right about that. I’m real fucking tired,” he said, and there was a heaviness to his voice at the end there. It was something Taako figured he couldn’t even imagine, going on with this impossible task for as long as he’d been. Still, he found himself nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, I know what you mean man.”

Red did end up getting him a bed pretty damn fast. Taako wasn’t too sure how he managed to get most of the shit he had, but it never seemed hard for him to pop out in flashes and come back with some basic ingredients so Taako could cook and such. He insisted on not doing it often. He couldn't drawn attention to himself again, but there was enough stuff that the cave was comfortable over the next few weeks of staying there.

Comfortable and fun were two totally different things though, and Taako was slowly losing his goddamn mind. There wasn’t much to do besides work on his magic, and like, he was doing that for sure. He was getting pretty good if he did say so himself. Red seemed pleased with his progress at least, even if he was still all insistent that Taako could do so much more if he put his mind to it. Taako didn’t take it as much more than vague encouragement.

There wasn’t anything else to fucking do though. Red spent a lot of time working on something, like fuck Taako knew what. There were books and notes and maps, but he couldn’t make any sense of the mess. There a lot of books he couldn’t read at all. Some of the were in other languages, he could clearly identify that. Some were just… off. There were bits and pieces here and there he could grasp, but the majority of it was indecipherable.

Red still wasn’t letting him sneak a peak at whoever was behind the glowing green pod of door number three. He’d tried to of fucking course, but even in the few times he’d managed to get a look at it when Red had to run out for food, the liquid inside was too thick for him to get much of a clue. The most he could confirm was that he’d been telling the truth about being human.

They were starting to slowly work out the next steps of a plan too. Nothing Taako could know too in depth, of course, but still something. Red had another lead, but it wasn’t on a place for his wife. Taako wasn’t sure what it was, he couldn’t understand it when Red tried to explain. The most he could get was that it was something similar to what his wife had disappeared looking for. One of the things his sister was after now. He needed to get out there and hopefully move it somewhere else before she could get it.

The month was coming to an end, and Red’s body was getting close to finished as well. Taako was going to leave first, Red would drop him off in Phandalin, and then the next day or so he’d go into his new body and go after this lead. Taako was just supposed to kick it and keep his head low until Red came back from the mission. Simple enough.

Boring, but at least he wasn’t going to have to stare at these fucking cave walls for much longer.

When Red had gone out to get them some last minute supplies, Taako had written down a note. He didn’t have anything as fancy as a magic coin, and he’d probably get chewed out by Red once he died again, but he couldn’t resist leaving something for the dude. If just because he was bored and writing some dumb letter to someone who would be even more confused than Taako had been during all this was kind of cathartic.

It was the day he was gonna head out, and Taako made sure to fold the letter up and stuff it in one of the pants pockets that Red was leaving himself. That was another thing he knew about Red now, some fucking tragically bland fashion sense.

“So, you ready to get going?” Red asked, and Taako nodded, checking his shit over for like the twentieth time. He had no idea how to find this place again once Red brought him out so he didn’t want to forget anything important.

“Yeah alright, free me from this fucking dungeon,” he said, holding out an arm for Red to take. The lich chuckled, and when he linked his robed arm with Taako’s he could feel the crackles of arcane power that made up his form, setting Taako’s hair on end. It didn’t last long though, Red quickly setting off the transportation spell.

There was that same sense of dizzying confusion at the sudden shift in surrounding, but it wasn’t as bad as doing it in the middle of a fight. Red only kept a hand on him long enough to make sure Taako wasn’t going to fall over before moving back. Looking around, they were in some back alley, and it was early morning, the air cool and damp, the sun just having peaked over the horizon.

“I’m dropping you off in Phandalin. If you wanna chill out here for a bit that’s fine, it’s a pretty up and coming town. If you wanna move on and head up to Neverwinter or some other place that’s alright too. Just please remember to be careful Taako,” Red said, and Taako nodded, throwing his hat back on. He didn’t want it to fall off during the teleport and end up on another goddamn continent or something. He had no idea if that was how teleportation worked. He kinda doubted it.

“I’m probably gonna chill out here for a bit. Might fuck off if you take too long, who knows,” he said and Red nodded, not seeming particularly bothered by that. He was still just hovering there waiting though, in a way that would be super fucking creepy if Taako hadn’t gotten used to Red’s spectral form hovering ominously by this point. “And yes! God, I’ll be careful, happy now?” he asked, and Red chuckled at that.

“Yeah, and remember your other promise,” Red said, and it took Taako a moment to actually figure out what he was talking about. Right though, he had made another promise that was kind of pertinent to this situation.

“Yeah yeah, I’ll stay away, won’t go looking for you. You’re officially free of all things Taako for as long as you manage to keep yourself from getting offed, congrats,” he said. He knew the vague area Red was heading in this time, but he meant to stand by what he said and not head over there. He wasn’t about to screw shit up by being in the wrong place at the wrong time again. Red seemed to believe him, or at the very least they were running out of time before he had to get back to the cave.

“See you soon Taako,” he said, and Taako nodded, tossing his bag over his shoulder.

“Hopefully not too soon, at least make an effort to stay alive dog,” he said, and Red snorted. He nodded after a moment though, which was good. Taako was pretty damn sure it wasn’t healthy for someone to be so chill with dying over and over again, even if it wasn’t that much of a problem practically.

“I will, later,” he said, and with that he was gone in another burst of teleportation magic. Taako didn’t stay in the alleyway long, checking his bags one last time before heading out into the town. He couldn’t help but be a little relieved at being back in the sunlight and around people again. 

Red was right about it being an up and coming town, although more on the start of the whole up process from what Taako could see. Moving out, Taako figured first things first. Red had left him with a cool chunk of cash, and so find a place to stay, grab something to eat, and maybe if he felt like it start looking for a job.

He just had to lay low for a while. He’d been doing a pretty damn good job of that after Glamour Springs. This should be a piece of cake.

————

Barry tried to convince himself that he didn’t need to worry. Or well, that wasn’t exactly true, there were so many things he needed to worry about. He didn’t need to worry about Taako specifically. He’d given him as much information on the situation as he could, and he knew what kind of danger he could be in if he messed up. He doubted Taako would get into too much of a mess immediately after having to hide in a cave for a month at the very least.

Thankfully that whole disaster had gone about as well as it could have. Taako didn’t get into anything that would try and jog too many memories, and hadn’t been able to get a clear look on Barry’s body either. At least, as far as he could tell.

He tried to shift his thoughts from his brother and towards the task at hand. He knew Lucretia was going after the relics, and he didn’t know what she was going to start planning with that new moon base. He’d heard word of impossible storm and trees so tall they seemed to stretch up into the heavens down in the South Woods. Pretty clear work of the sash if he had to make a guess.

He still couldn’t let Lucretia gather the relics. He had a feeling they were going to start kicking things into gear now that her moon fortress was complete. So the best bet he had now was to head her off before she could get there.

Barry spent the rest of the day setting up everything for his living self to find, and all of the explanations required. He wasn’t pleased with having to go after a relic in his living body, but he especially couldn’t risk it now. Not when he knew Lucretia and death’s agents were going to be on his trail for a while. He just had to have some faith in himself.

Well, at least it wouldn’t be too much longer before he could see Taako again, because he was absolutely going to die.

Barry woke up in a vast of brackish green fluid, inside of a strange cave, by himself with no idea how he got there or what he was supposed to do. A coin with his own voice spoke to him, described a loss he couldn’t remember but could feel in his chest as readily as his own heartbeat, and told him he needed to to follow its instructions.

And well, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

He had no real idea what he was doing as he gathered up maps and supplies he couldn’t remember setting out for himself. Had to go out to some forest down south and look for, he wasn’t sure. Some big trees? Bad weather? The coin sounded like it knew what it was talking about, and assure him he’d know it when he saw it too.

Slinging his bag over his shoulder, Barry started out of the weird occult cave he was in, waving his hand slightly to try and get rid of the sting from the cut. For some reason coin him was really insistent on leaving some blood in the weird pod, and well, he was already in this far. Might as well go all the way and do some weird blood sacrifice for good luck or whatever.

Shoving his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t keep messing with the cut, he felt something in there. Not the coin, he’d already discovered the coin a while ago. Pulling it out, it was a small folded up piece of paper. Stopping to lean against the cliff face outside of his cave, Barry unfolded it, frowning in confusion as he read the note inside. Or well not a note, more like a letter.

Yo Red,

Wait, that’s not your real name. Well tough luck, I’m stuck calling you that until you tell me that little secret. You’re probably confused which is a nice change of pace for once if I do say so myself. I’d say sorry about being boring with a letter but we don’t all have cool magic recording coins, some of us have to go the old fashioned way a la pen and paper. I’ll send you a goddamn postcard next time if you want something a little more fancy.

Anyway, you said you wouldn’t remember me once you’re alive again. I kind of just wanted to see how true that was. If you’re confused as fuck right now, I guess pretty damn true. Well Red, to alleviate some confusion it’s cha’ boy, Taako. You know, your best friend I guess? Shits weird, I get it.

I got this far and I don’t actually have a point to writing this, other than undying, crippling boredom. Be careful I guess? Try not to beef it too bad? Remember to wear sunscreen and always look both ways when crossing the street.

Just don’t be a dumbass, alright? That’s my job.

I hope you find her soon,

Taako~

Barry stayed there for a good long while, reading the letter over and over again, trying to make any fucking sense of it at all. So far he’d got nothing. The most he could get out was that there was someone named Taako, who knew him during those times he couldn’t remember and called himself his best friend, despite not even knowing Barry’s name. Even all that felt kind of tentative.

Carefully he folded the letter back up and stuck it into his pocket before moving on. 

Her. He had to assume her was the person he was missing, the one that left that dull ache in his chest. That didn’t give him much though, and the rest of the letter was downright inscrutable.

It was a long way down to the southern woods or wherever he was heading, and the coin insisted he try to move fast. Even still, Barry found himself with a lot of downtime. Most of his traveling was done alone, and when it wasn’t he tried to avoid the other people around him as much as possible. His brain felt like it wasn’t quite working right, like there was just nothing in place of common things he should know.

It was better to keep to himself than to risk looking like a complete dumbass.

Sometimes when he was off on his own he’d reread that weird letter. It never ended up making anymore sense than it had the first time.

Sometimes when he was around other people he’d keep his ears open, try and look around and listen in for signs of anyone named Taako. That didn’t seem to get him anywhere either.

He didn’t have much of a choice but to continue forward on the path the coin had laid out for him.

He’d been traveling for a good long while when he finally got to the edge of the South Woods. For most intents and purposes it looked like a regular forest. Or at least, it did other than the thing going on at what had to be around the center of the forest. It was almost hard to comprehend what he was seeing, it was like his head couldn’t crane up high enough to get the whole picture.

Those were some fucking big ass trees.

Well, the coin had said he’d know it when he saw it, and it hadn’t been wrong yet. Taking a deep breath, he tried to steel himself as much as possible before starting into the woods and towards the strange growth of fuckoff tall trees.

Moving through the woods was harder than he expected, but also not as hard as he feared. There were storms and wild animals every so often, but it still only took like, a day or so to get to the center. When he finally got there though, he wasn’t sure what he was seeing.

First of all, he wasn’t the only person there. There were three others, one up in the largest tree, two others trying to reach them. The one in the tree seemed to be the one in control of all of this, although Barry had no idea how. Still, they seemed embedded in the tree, the wood growing up around their legs and waist. The two others were climbing, clearly desperate to reach this person, weapons drawn.

Well, this sure was a shitshow he’d wondered into.

“Uh, hi everyone,” he called, not sure what else to do. Immediately three sets of eyes were on him, and he could see the people a bit clearer now. He couldn’t make out much of the person stuck in the tree, but the other two were a tabaxi and a gnome, both wearing matching silver bracers on their wrist. All three seemed equally surprised and confused as fuck at the sight of him. “I’m uh, I’m a little lost.”

“Lost!” the one in the tree bellowed, and whoa, that wasn’t a person voice. “This fool is lost! Wandering into my domain and-”

The wind had started to pick up as the person spoke, storm clouds swirling overhead. Barry had started taking a step back, rightfully pretty fucking terrified and not wanting to be smote by some scary nature god.

Their attention had been on Barry, and he hadn’t noticed the tabaxi use the distraction to climb around the back of the tree. Or at least, he didn’t until the tree person was suddenly cut off, a choked sound coming from them as a knife plunged into their back. In a swift instant the tabaxi pulled a wooden reed belt off of them. Barry hadn’t noticed it before, and immediately the storm clouds lessened and the winds died down.

“Holy shit, it worked! I can’t believe that actually worked! Whoever you are man, we owe you big-” the gnome started to say, clearly excited. Barry hadn’t taken his eyes off of the tabaxi though, who was staring down at that weird belt with a look he really, really didn’t like. As the gnome kept speaking the tabaxi slowly tied the belt around their own waist.

“Hey bud! I think something’s wrong with your friend!” he shouted. Immediately the gnome’s attention turned back to his friend, a look of terror and… and something like anger suddenly on his face. 

“What are you doing? Hey, stop-” he started to climb again, but the tabaxi just grinned, holding out a hand toward the gnome, a sudden large bolt of lightning hitting them. Barry watched as they fell off the side of the tree, a charred and unmoving form as they hit the ground. Shit.

And then their attention turned toward Barry.

“Shit, I uh, I think I’m gonna like… go,” he said, starting to take a few steps backward.

He didn’t get very far.

Luckily, once he was dead, they didn’t either.

Glaring down at the sash in his bony hands, he’d marked out a few places to hide it before coming on this mission. He had a feeling he wouldn’t have survived actually collecting it after all.

Barry didn’t have a lot of time before he had to get back to his hideout, someone sure to notice him. Even still, he grabbed a few things from his broken body before carefully going over to inspect the other two bodies, the ones from the people trying to get the relic.

Their clothes were similar, almost looking like some sort of uniform, and there was a marking on the matching silver bracers. He wasn’t sure what for exactly, but he jotted it down in his memory for now.

He headed out far into the desert, away from where most people would go, and stashed the sash away. Hopefully that would be enough to keep it out of Lucretia’s grasp for the time being. He wished he could do more, but that was the whole issue. There was so little they could do, they didn’t have any other option.

Leaving the sash hidden away, he started back to his cave. On his way he pulled out one of the things he’d grabbed from his body. The letter Taako had written. He should probably be mad, but all Barry could do was shake his head and laugh. 

Taako had always been real fucking shitty at pretending he doesn’t care.

Chapter Text

Taako really didn’t have much of a plan for while Red was gone, other than trying to reacclimate to fucking society. Phandalin was a simple enough little town to do that in. Kinda a shithole, but Taako was used to shitholes, so it didn’t bother him that much.

It was easy enough to get a room at an inn for the next few weeks, then look around town to try and find some work. He wasn’t looking particularly hard for a job, only grabbing something so he could have a thing to do. Otherwise he’d get bored as shit just waiting around. Red had given him enough money to live off of, but not enough to have fun, so he figured that would kill two birds with one stone.

There were a few listings for adventuring jobs, and Taako kind of filed that away for later. He’d have to suggest it to Red, but it could be useful. Maybe he could find something related to whatever it was they were looking for on a job like that. At the very least, Taako was getting better at magic and those jobs tended to pay pretty well.

For now though, he figured it would be best to stay in Phandalin. He got a part time gig at some new tailor place, and he wasn’t great at it but no one here needed super fucking high end shit. The prices were cheap enough that Taako didn’t feel bad about handing back the occasional garment with a wobbly hem or lopsided stitch. If he sucked too bad they could just fire his ass.

It’d been about a week after Red left on his latest mission when Taako was leaving the tailor shop. Someone was leaning back against the wall of the building outside, looking like they were waiting for someone. Their eyes glanced towards Taako as he walked through the door, and he perked up almost as soon as he caught sight of him.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, and when Taako glanced over at the dude he couldn’t help but pause. Hot damn, that was certainly a person who knew he looked good. Taako put on an easy grin as he turned fully towards the hells of handsome dude standing in front of him.

“Hello, my man, if you’re looking for a tailor you should just keep walking. That suit looks way too expensive for the idiots in this joint to get their mitts on. Trust me, I’m one of them,” he said, which got a laugh out of Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome, who quickly shook his head.

“No, although I appreciate the advice, as well as the modesty,” he added, and something about the smile on his face changed, but Taako couldn’t place what. “I was actually looking for you,” he said, and Taako blinked in surprise at that. He quickly scanned this guy, trying to figure out if he recognized him. Surely he’d remember looks like that, but something about the voice was pretty familiar, now that he was thinking about it.

“Well, you found me I guess?” he said, caution starting to build back up, especially as this guy took a step forward. Shit, shit. Was he a cop? Did he come from Glamour Springs? Taako needed to think of some way to fucking disengage, fast.

“That I have. You know, that little spectral ‘friend’ of yours has given me no end of trouble. I was hoping he’d be around too, but I guess I’ll just have to make due,” he said, and Taako felt his breath catch in his throat as he suddenly recognized exactly where he knew that voice from.

“Fuck. Kravitz,” he said, fear gripping his chest. The reaper reached for him, trying to grab his wrist. In a desperate fumble Taako grabbed his wand, shooting out a thunderwave. It knocked fucking death back, as well as the door to the tailor clean off its hinges, several people shouting in fear. Well, there went that job, not that it mattered. Taako didn’t stay to see the resulting chaos, turning on his heels and fucking booking it.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!” Taako shouted with every breath as he ran, turning down alleys to try and lose this guy. After one turn he heard something like a tear behind him, and then a few feet in front of him it looked like a portal was opening in the middle of the alley. Kravitz stepped through and Taako didn’t have enough time to stop himself, barreling right into the guy.

It sent them both tumbling to the ground, but before he could get back to his feet Kravitz managed to snap a cold as fuck hand around his wrist. With a look of annoyance Kravitz dragged them both back to their feet, snatching Taako’s wand away from him and throwing it off down the alley, the shitty thing clattering against some trashcans.

Taako might have been hyperventilating the slightest bit in a panic, struggling to get out of his grasp and kicking him when that didn’t work. It didn’t seem to be affecting Kravitz very much, the dude sighing like this was all just a minor inconvenience.

“Would you please give it a rest? You’re not getting away. Honestly, I expected this to be a lot more difficult,” the Reaper said, and Taako kicked him extra hard for good measure.

“Fuck off!” he shouted instead, Kravitz rolling his eyes in response. Taako was trying to look pissed and stay angry, but as it became clear that Kravitz wasn’t letting go, that no one was gonna come to save him, that Red would have no idea he was even in danger, the anger he’d been feeling quickly started dissolving into terror. Taako could feel his hands starting to shake, and he couldn’t bother to keep himself standing. He slumped to the ground, his one arm still held up by the Reaper. He wasn’t sure what his reaction was to all of this, not caring to look up at him.

It wasn’t fair, Red should have warned him death was fucking gorgeous. He would have at least tried to keep his guard up around beautiful strangers then.

“Um, are you alright?” Kravitz asked, and Taako wasn’t so despondent that he couldn’t scoff in anger.

“No! What the hell tipped you off genius?” he snapped. Kravitz sighed again, frowning down at him in confusion and what could probably pass as vague concern. He doubted death was too worried about his health though.

“Look, there’s no need to be so dramatic about all of this. I can understand it’s not ideal but-” Kravitz started, but Taako cut him off, trying and failing to yank his hand away once again.

“Not ideal? Yeah, it’s not fucking ideal! You’re gonna kill me and I haven’t done shit to deserve it!” he shouted. Maybe if he was loud enough someone would come save him. He doubted it though. Whoever came along would probably just get killed too. “And- and  ya know, neither has Red for that matter,” he added. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt important. Dude clearly didn’t understand how important the shit they were trying to do was, and sure, neither did Taako. Didn’t mean he didn’t believe it was still true.

“Red?” Kravitz asked, a befuddled look on his face, and Taako sighed. His arm was getting tired. This sucked. He wasn’t blinking back tears, his eyes just stung from running through this shitty dusty town.

“The lich. My little specter friend or whatever you called him,” he muttered. Realization seemed to dawn on Kravitz after that.

“Oh! Why are you calling him Red? I mean, other than the obvious reason,” he asked, and Taako figured this was stupid, chatting up death before being dragged to hell. Still, when all else failed Taako always had his charm. He really didn’t think it would work this time, but he had no other options. If he could keep them talking long enough, maybe he could think of some way out of here. 

“Cause I don’t know his name. He won’t tell me it,” Taako muttered. That seemed to surprise Kravitz, when he opened his mouth to speak though Taako cut him off. “Don’t! Don’t fucking tell me, that seems like some major invasion of privacy shit, and cha’ boy ain’t about that,” he snapped. Maybe all this angry grumbling and snipping wasn’t gonna do anything to get him out of this situation, but it felt good. Kravitz shut his mouth, seeming to think that over for a moment before nodding.

“Alright, I can respect that,” he said, and Taako rolled his eyes. And then he rolled his wrist, starting to feel pins and needles in his hand from having it raised up so long. Kravitz either didn’t notice or he didn’t care.

“Great, so good to know that in my dying moment I’m gonna be respected,” Taako grumbled. The reaper still didn’t look particularly moved by his plight.

“It’s not like you’re actually surprised by any of this, right? You had to of known the bounty on your head,” Kravitz said, and Taako raised an eyebrow at that.

“I don’t have a single fucking idea what you’re talking about. I know Red did some shit to get himself on like, Death’s bad side, with the whole lich thing. He had a good reason though, and I didn’t do shit!” he insisted. Sure, he was helping Red now, but nothing they’d done was like, necromancy. Except maybe Red possessing his own bodies, but Taako didn’t have any hand in that either. Kravitz was staring down at him skeptically.

“That’s- alright. Let me just…” he said, and with the hand not holding onto Taako’s wrist he summoned up that big shiny book again, the thing floating in front of him as he flipped through pages. After a few seconds he must’ve found what he was looking for, because he stopped and pointed down at a page. “Taako, you have been changed with nine accounts of dying without entry into the astral plane. You have died Taako, and I don’t know how you’ve managed to come back undetected so many times, but that certainly isn’t ‘didn’t do shit.’” Kravitz said.

Taako blinked in befuddled confusion at that. Using Kravitz’s hold on him he scrambled back up to his feet to get a look for himself. There was his name, in some shimmering golden light, with a charge of 8 deaths.

“That’s not… that never happened. I don’t know what the fuck that is,” he muttered, reading it over again and again to try and make sense of it. He couldn’t though, because he’d never died before.

“You don’t?” Kravitz asked, and Taako scowled at him, shaking his head fiercely.

“Of course I don’t! I never fucking died!” he shouted, and Kravitz was looking at him skeptically. “It’s- okay, I know it’s a bad look, what with my best friend being a lich and all. I fucking swear though, I’ve never done any necromancy,” Taako insisted, and Kravitz sighed. It wasn’t an annoyed sigh, but Taako was too distracted to really take note of what it was. There was something here he couldn’t think of, like a name on the tip of his tongue but stronger than that. There was something going on here but he couldn’t make the connection.

“Obviously I don’t believe you,” Kravitz said, and that was about what Taako expected. “But this matter is strange enough that I’m willing to hold off on taking you straight to the eternal stockade if you would be willing to explain as much of the situation as you can to me,” he added, which wasn’t what Taako expected. He didn’t say anything for a moment, making like he was thinking the offer over, which in a way he supposed he was.

It was probably a trap. Kravitz had never said that he wouldn’t take him off to spooky sounding death jail, just that he would hold off on it. He also didn’t say exactly what kind of information he wanted, and Taako wasn’t about to sell out Red, if that was the deal. Still, he didn’t have a lot of options if he wanted to find some way to finesse himself out of this one.

“Well, first things first then. If you want to hold a dude’s hand you should at least offer to buy me a drink first,” he said. To his surprise Kravitz actually glanced down at where he was still holding Taako’s wrist, before quickly letting go and taking a step back.

“Oh! I’m so sorry,” he apologized, actually seeming flustered. Taako should have taken the moment to run for his wand so he could at least attempt to fight back. Instead he was staring in shock that it had actually worked. It’d been a goof and he half expected the dude to get mad at him.

Kravitz must’ve noticed his disbelieving stare though, because his embarrassed expression slowly shifted to realization and then annoyance.

“That was- I wasn’t holding you hand Taako! I was detaining you!” he snapped, and okay, this was all too fucking weird for him to process anymore, Taako bending over in laughter. Kravitz huffed in annoyance, but he didn’t try to grab him again, which was a start.

Red had mentioned a couple times that Kravitz wasn’t actually a bad guy, just doing his job. It seemed like he was right about that at least.

“Alright, here’s how we’re gonna do this,” Taako started, leaning back against the alleyway wall once he’d stopped laughing. Kravitz was still frowning at him in annoyance.

“You’re not in that much of a position to barter, but go ahead,” he said.

“First of all, if you’re gonna ask me to sell out Red, tough luck. I don’t actually know where he goes or where he is now, and if I did I’m not that much of a scumbag anyway. Second, I want my wand, if you can’t deal with a couple second level spells being flung your way that’s on you for being a shitty reaper. And third,” he said, counting on his fingers as he spoke, “can we have this discussion someplace that doesn’t smell like back alley garbage. I just got off work so if you are down for buying me a drink or some lunch that would go down great right now,” he finished with a grin.

The reaper stared at him for a moment, if Taako had to guess in surprise at the request. After a moment though he actually started chuckling, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Alright, I suppose none of those requests are out of the question. It would be nice to get some work done in a nicer venue for a change,” he said. Taako grinned widely at that, pushing himself off the wall and trying not to show how shocked he was at how well this was going.

“Hell yeah. In that case there’s an excellent little sandwich shop not too far from here,” Taako said, heading over and grabbing his wand. The reaper didn’t stop him, and instead followed along politely as Taako started leading them off to grab some lunch.

There was still a lot of very obvious tension in both of them, each playing a lot more casual than they actually felt. Taako could see the way Kravitz was carefully eyeing him, as well as the surroundings, probably on the look out for Red to come dropping in at any moment. Taako kept an easy smile on his face, and his hand was gripping his wand like his life depended on it, trying not to let his eyes off the reaper for any longer than necessary.

Eventually though they got to the sandwich place, and when Taako ordered his food Kravitz actually paid. Not long after that they were sat at a table, secluded but not too secluded if Taako needed to start screaming. It was pretty damn awkward as they waited for the food to get there, and after what felt like an eternity it finally came. Kravitz hadn’t ordered anything, but he wasn’t really alive. As Taako started eating the reaper finally cleared his throat to speak up.

“So… Taako,” he said, and he nodded.

“Mhmm?” he hummed between large bites of his sandwich. If he was going to die he was going to die with a full stomach.

“Now, you’ve said you have no memory of dying, and you’ve never done any necromancy?” he asked, which was a simple enough question. Taako took a quick drink before speaking, because this was probably pretty important.

“Correct on all accounts,” he said, and at least the reaper wasn’t outright calling him a liar so far.

“In that case, why and how have you become friends with- with the lich you know as Red,” he said, clearly cutting himself off before saying Red’s name. Taako could actually appreciate him trying to follow through on his request there. He took another bite of food as he thought over how to answer that one.

“I mean, he kinda saved my life. I uh, I used to have a cooking show,” he started once he finished chewing. “I had an assistant, real big asshole. He poisoned the food I was cooking one day, and uh, shit went south. Real south. Red caught him though, helped me get outta there before the blame could be put on me, and like, we’ve just kinda gone from there,” he said. Honestly, it was more than Taako wanted to tell anyone, but if it would keep him alive then whatever, Kravitz could know. Kravitz seemed surprised by that, leaning forward on the table slightly.

“And did he ever tell you why he saved you?” he asked, and Taako shook his head.

“I don’t got any clue. I think he just needed a friend. Bonds and shit, they help keep him him, ya know?” he said, and from the look Kravitz was giving him he did not know. Welp, Taako had kind of figured that was basic lich stuff.

“Are you saying this lich manages to sustain himself on friendship?” he asked, like the idea was incredulous. Taako nodded, really hoping none of the stuff he was saying could be used against Red.

“That’s how I understand it. Friendship and like, love,” he said, and Kravitz raised an eyebrow at that.

“Love?” he asked, and he was staring at Taako carefully now, squinting a little like he was trying to figure something out. “Does that- pardon me for asking, but are you two well, together?” he asked, his voice obvious that he was asking if they were Capital T Together, and Taako choked on the next bite of his sandwich.

“No!” he managed between coughs. He quickly took a swing of his drink before speaking again. “Oh god, fuck no my dude. Guy’s my best friend, but floating, dark as the void and spooky ain’t really my type. Plus, Red’s married and like, hopelessly fucking in love with his wife, it’s actually kinda sweet,” he said. Kravitz looked equal parts amused and intrigued by the outburst.

“I just thought I’d ask,” he said, and Taako nodded, trying to get some bit of control back in the conversation.

“Fair enough, but no worries. Cha’ boy is totally single,” he said, giving him a wink for good measure. He couldn’t tell if the dude was blushing or not, or if he was even capable of blushing, but he still managed to look a little flustered.

“Irrelevant information, but I’ll make a note of it anyway,” he muttered, and Taako let his grin widen the slightest bit more. He really hadn’t thought he’d be able to talk his way out of this one, but he might have actually been wrong there.

“Anyway,” Kravitz said after a moment, clearly trying to turn the focus back to the topic at hand. “Your claim is that you have no idea how you got those deaths on your record, and you just so happened to become friends with a lich with very similar charges out of pure happenstance? And now you’re buddies with no ulterior motives? You must understand why that’s hard to believe,” he said, and Taako’s shoulders slumped a bit at that. When laid out in front of him yeah, it sounded like complete and utter bullshit.

“I mean, we’re not just fucking around for no reason right now. We’re trying to do some pretty important shit. Red’s been working at it for a lot longer than me, and I don’t understand a lot of it, but ya know, we’re figuring it out,” he said. Taako could see the curiosity forming on Kravtiz's face again.

“Alright then, just what are you trying to do?” he asked, and god, Taako wished Red was here. He had no fucking idea how much of the plan he was allowed to spill. Probably none of it, but also Taako wanted to live. It wasn’t his fault the grim reaper managed to find him so fast, he had to do what he had to do.

“Um, listen, I’ll tell you, but you’re probably not going to believe me,” he said. Kravitz didn’t look too impressed with that, simply letting his head rest on his hand, his elbow propped up on the table.

“Just humor me then,” he said.

“We’re trying to save the world?” Taako said, although it sounded more like a question than anything. Kravitz’s face stayed pretty impassive, simply raising an eyebrow at that.

“Oh? From what?” he pressed, and yeah, Taako got the distinct feeling that he didn’t believe a word.

“I don’t actually… know,” he said.

“You don’t know?” Kravitz asked, and Taako shook his head. “How exactly are you planning to save it then?” he pressed.

“Uh, we gotta find Red’s wife, she’s been missing for a couple years or something. Also some specific items, I think? Some real big magic boys,” he said, and Kravitz was looking less amused and more concerned by now.

“What items?” he pressed, and Taako gave him a big old shrug at that. Kravitz sighed, running a hand through his locks. “What do you know then?” he asked, which was a good fucking question.

“Not a lot my dude. I’m just an idiot wizard and a chef,” he said, and once again Kravitz was looking at him like he didn’t quite believe that, and so Taako sighed. “I know he’s telling me the truth, okay? Red and his family got separated a while ago, but before that they were working on saving the world. Something went wrong and now it’s in danger again, and his family is lost? He can’t tell me any specifics, because there’s a sort of magic block or something. Whenever he tries I just hear static, apparently only the dead can think past it,” he explained as much as he could.

Kravitz was staring at him, clearly thinking this all over, making connections in his mind that Taako couldn’t guess at.

“How can you be so sure he’s telling the truth if you can’t know the full story?” he asked, and Taako shrugged, picking at the last little remains of his sandwich.

“Fuck if I know. Can’t you ever just tell when someone’s telling you the truth? I trust him,” Taako said. Kravitz stared at him with suspicion for another long moment, before slowly nodding.

“Alright, I think that’s enough for now. I’m going to have to go back and double check some things with the boss of course, before coming to any final say,” Kravitz said suddenly, standing up from the table. Taako quickly stood up after him, not sure what was going on.

“Yeah no of course,” he agreed despite his confusion. “So uh, does that mean you’re not dragging me to ghost jail?” he asked, which actually got a chuckle out of the reaper.

“No, not at the moment, at least. You brought up enough unknown factors that I’m going to have to do some more research first. It might all be bullshit, but I feel like you’re telling the truth,” he said, and Taako couldn’t help but grin at that, following Kravitz out of the sandwich shop.

“For sure, for sure,” he said, his grip still tight on his wand, but Taako was actually starting to think he might get out of this one alive. “A deal then? You don’t try and kill me or my lich buddy, and we keep on trying to save the world and like, try and find some way to prove we’re telling the truth?” he suggested. Kravitz turned towards him, still looking a bit skeptical.

“I wouldn’t call it a deal so much as a temporary truce,” he said, and Taako shrugged.

“Good enough for me,” he said. With that Kravitz put out his hand, a large beautifully carved scythe appearing in it, and Taako couldn’t help but stagger back. Kravitz quickly noticed, pulling the scythe away from him with an apologetic look on his face.

“Oh no, this isn’t for you. I just need it to get back to the astral plane is all,” he said, and Taako nodded, still keeping his distance.

“Cool cool, well uh, later then,” he said, trying for a casual smile and probably coming across a lot more nervous than he wanted. Thankfully Kravitz seemed to take a hint, moving a few more steps away and turning his back on Taako before swinging his scythe, opening one of those weird portals that he quickly stepped through. As soon as he did it closed, and Taako was alone again.

That... 

That honestly went a lot better than Taako could have expected.

He might make a note to leave Phandalin in the morning though. He had no doubt that the reaper would probably be able to find him again, but still, better safe than sorry.

And besides, if the reaper didn’t end up killing him, Red sure as fuck would when he found out what happened.

Chapter Text

Once Barry was back at his cave, he started tracking where Taako was. He’d gotten real good at tracking people over the years, so it wasn’t hard to find him. He wasn’t in Phandalin anymore, but he had said that he might head out if he got bored, so Barry didn’t think much of it. Giving himself a day or so to make sure it was safe to go out, Barry went to meet up with Taako again.

It hadn’t been very long, but he figured he should let him know he was back. He would fill Taako in on everything he could, and they could start hashing out the next steps.

Plus, he needed to give Taako shit about that letter he’d written him. He wasn’t actually mad, but it would still be fun to tease the dude some.

When he appeared in the small room Taako was staying at in Neverwinter, he didn’t expect the elf to jump quite that much at the sight of him. It’d been a while since his presence had been the slightest bit startling to Taako, and it wasn’t much, and Barry knew Taako a lot better than he realized. The grin that made its way onto his face a few seconds too late wasn’t entirely genuine, and definitely covering something up.

“Oh hey! You got back fast,” he said, and Barry nodded.

“Yeah, told you it wouldn’t be a long one. Uh, a success though, as much as it could be at least. Didn’t find her, but ya know, did the thing with the item I wanted to do,” he explained, which he knew wasn’t much, but Taako nodded along anyway.

“Cool! Cool, we’re all good here too. Nothing, absolutely nothing of note on the eastern front,” he said, and okay. Barry recognized this, this was very clearly a Taako trying and failing at hiding something he knew someone wouldn't approve of.

“Uhuh,” he said, not very impressed. He did a quick scan of the room, and then a quick magical scan, to see if it was something physical he was hiding, but both things came up empty. “So, I guess you got bored of Phandalin?” he asked, and Taako nodded a bit too quickly, and he had kinda started to pace now.

“Oh yeah, total- total snooze fest that town. Left real quick. Not for any particular reason, just, ya know, wanted to mozey on outta there,” he said, and it was kind of a downside the way Barry couldn’t show how amused he was with Taako’s frantic attempt at deflecting.

“Right, of course,” he agreed, like he wasn’t suspicious in the slightest. Taako seemed to relax some at that, nodding in agreement.

“Yep, just… so bored. Nothing to do ever, totally uninteresting and uneventful,” he said. Barry kind of wanted to roll his eyes.

“Taako, what the fuck did you do?” he decided to ask bluntly, the method surprising Taako. His brother flinched, looking like he was caught red handed, which he kinda was.

“Nothing!” he insisted, and Barry wasn’t convinced in the slightest. Taako quickly realized this, his resolve fading as Barry floated there, staring at him. “It wasn’t my fault, okay? You didn’t tell me he was hot!” Taako broke suddenly, and that wasn’t what Barry expected. He couldn’t help the surprised burst of laughter at that, no fucking clue what was going on.

“Okay, you’re gonna have to explain this one to me. Causes I don’t know who you’re talking about, but I know it’s not me. I didn’t see you when I was alive, and I’m really not your type, I promise,” he said, which got a snort out of Taako.

“Yeah, no shit you’re not,” Taako said, with more confidence than he probably should have had considering the mind wipe. It was kind of nice knowing that Lucretia hadn’t managed to quite take everything away. Small bits still broke through every now and then, and each one felt like a breath of fresh air. 

“Okay, you’re gonna have to tell me who is though, and why I would have to warn you about them,” Barry said, still pretty amused by all of this. Taako was in front of him, and he could tell that overall he was fine. If something real bad had happened, he’d know, but Taako seemed more flustered than anything.

“Don’t freak out, okay Red? I feel like you’re gonna freak out,” he said, and Barry sighed.

“I’m not gonna freak out,” he assured Taako, who still didn’t look very convinced. It seemed to be enough to get him to come out with whatever it was though, taking a deep breath before speaking.

“You never fucking told me Kravitz was hot over all those bones! I didn’t have time to prepare myself!” he said, and all of the amusement left Barry in a cold rush. He could tell Taako noticed too, the dramatic flustered annoyance he had before suddenly a lot more subdued. “You said you wouldn’t freak Red,” he added quickly, glancing down at some of the small strings of arcane power starting to peel off of him, and Barry forced himself to nod.

“I’m not freaking. I’m very reasonably panicking over the fact that you saw death while I was gone. How- how the fuck are you still here?” he asked, floating over to Taako and starting to look him over. He was still solid and so very much alive, and Barry had to reign himself in more so that the buzz of arcane energy around him didn’t zap Taako too bad during his inspection.

“We kinda worked out a deal, I guess?” Taako said, and Barry paused at that, now suddenly worried in a whole knew way.

“You what? What the fuck Taako! I gave you one job! Stay away from this dude,” he snapped. Now that he was sure that Taako was still real and here he could panic in a way that was a little less likely to leave his soul in shreds.

“You didn’t say he was hot! I thought he was just a rich dude looking for some tailoring!” Taako insisted, and Barry shook his head, flabbergasted.

“I don’t know what he looks like Taako! I’ve only ever seen him in his reaper form! Or as giant elementals and shit!” he said, and he could see that got Taako to pause some.

“Oh. Huh,” he said, and Barry wasn’t sure what was so weird about that for a moment, but then it clicked. “Wait, you saw him like, as a normal person?” he asked, and Taako nodded. Then he paused a moment, a thoughtful look falling over his face. Or no, not exactly thoughtful. More distant than anything.

“I mean, I wouldn’t exactly call it normal. Like, listen, it takes a lot to get me distracted by looks, and this guy was very distracting,” he said, and Barry sighed, running a hand down the front of his hood.

“But he was a person? He wasn’t trying to kill you?” he asked, and Taako shrugged, looking a little more unsure about that.

“I mean, he kinda attacked me. He didn’t hurt me though, mostly seemed like he wanted to talk. He uh,” Taako paused there, a deep confusion and uncertainty on his face now. “He said I died? Like, a lot? Eight fucking times, according to his weird big book,” he said, and Barry felt himself freeze up.

That was exactly the kind of shit he’d been trying so hard to keep from Taako.

“Oh,” he said simply, and he guessed that wasn’t the answer Taako was looking for, because he was immediately looking at him with suspicion.

“What’s that mean? You’re smart, and like, know shit that I can’t. Is that fucking true? Because cha’ boy sure as hell doesn’t remember dying,” he said, and Barry groaned. This was not the conversation he’d been hoping to have first thing back from this mission.

He guessed he took too long to respond, because a look of certainty passed over Taako’s face. No answer tended to be a pretty good answer.

“Oh my god. It’s fucking true?” he asked, and Barry shook his head.

“No, no it’s- listen, Taako this isn’t something you should be sticking your nose into,” he said, which only got him an angry scoff in return.

“Do you even hear yourself right now? Not stick my nose into it? I don’t think I could get a topic that concerns me more if I tried!” Taako snapped, and Barry couldn’t blame him. He really couldn’t, but that didn’t make this whole thing any less frustrating.

“I know okay? And I've told you a million times that I want to tell you Taako, but I can’t! All of this, it’s too much, and if- if you try and figure it out, I know you will. You’re real fucking smart, if I tell you much more you’ll figure it out, and I don’t know what will happen to you at that point because you can’t understand it, okay? You can’t think about it, and I’m not gonna let you risk fucking up your brain trying,” Barry insisted. Taako just stood there, glowering at him the whole time and clearly not pleased with this answer. Barry couldn’t blame him. Of course it was frustrating! Of course he was pissed that all the answers were right in front of him and he couldn’t know them.

Barry was pissed too, but he couldn’t dwell on that. They had to keep moving forward.

Taako still didn’t say anything, and after a minute or so Barry sighed.

“What else did he tell you? Why did he let you live?” he asked, and Taako still didn’t look very happy, but he took the change of topic well enough.

“Not much, honestly. He was mostly asking questions. I uh, I tried not to tell him too much either? It’s not like I know a lot but ya know, I was very literally staring death in the face, so I had to give him something,” Taako said, and Barry could feel his panic starting to rise again at that, quickly looking Taako over some more. He genuinely didn’t seem upset talking about this meeting though, so Barry forced himself to relax some.

“I mean, it seems like you don’t really mind staring at his face,” he joked. He could see the surprise on Taako’s face at that, which quickly turned into a laugh.

“Yeah, fuck off, it’s a nice face. I can just say I can understand the appeal of wishing for death even more now,” he said, grinning. Then his face turned serious again as he walked over and sat down on the bed. “I mean, I don’t remember dying, and I fucking told him that. I don’t think he believed me? Um, what else. I told him how we met, and uh, that we’re trying to save the world. Don’t worry, I didn’t give him all the pressing details I know,” he explained, and Barry snorted at that, despite feeling a little bad.

“I mean, it’s certainly one way to keep a secret, even if I’d rather not,” he said, and Taako nodded. He seemed to be debating something, before finally speaking again.

“I uh, kinda told him about how you run on like, the power of friendship I guess? It just kinda slipped out. Sorry if that’s like, personal,” he said. He actually sounded genuinely worried about that, and Barry sighed, shaking his head.

“Nah. I mean, ideally I’d like for this guy to know as little about me and how I work as possible, but if that’s the worst you said well, it’s certainly not the end of the world,” he said, chuckling at the joke he knew Taako couldn’t understand.

“That’s pretty much it then. He said he needed to check in with his boss, but he thought I was telling the truth. Haven’t seen him since,” Taako said. Which okay, that was good. That could have gone so much worse.

He could have come back to Taako gone. Barry wasn’t sure if he would have been able to handle that. He didn’t want to think about it.

“I’m glad you’re safe bud,” he said, his voice sincere. Then he floated up some, doing his best impression of straightening a spine he didn’t have and giving a serious expression with a face that no longer existed. “But we gotta get serious now. We gotta be- we can’t risk him finding you again, so uh, we gotta take some precautions,” he started, and Taako groaned loudly, throwing his head back.

“Are you serious?” he asked, and Barry nodded emphatically.

“Of course I’m serious! Now, I could make another hideout, one specifically for you that’s not like, a cave I guess. Ugh, I’d really hate to have to get that much blood again though…” he said, and his mind was running now, trying to think of some way he could keep Taako hidden.

“Whoa whoa whoa, what blood?” Taako asked, but Barry wasn’t paying too much attention to him now.

“For the protection spell. To keep a place from being spied on, duh. Can't have people just scrying on you whenever the hell they want,” he said, and he was trying not to be to exasperated. It wasn’t Taako’s fault he lost all of his magical knowledge after all, and he was really coming along.

“Yes, I figured that my dude. Where did you get the blood the first time?” Taako pressed, and Barry waved the question away, moving to the other side of the room and rifling through a desk until he found some paper. He didn’t have a map on him but he could start to layout some potential good spots to hide Taako.

“Gerblins,” Barry answered, ignoring Taako as he leaned heavily on the desk he was using to work. Or well, if he had a body. He was kinda just fazed partway into the desk like this. He’d written out a few potential spots when suddenly the paper he was writing on was yanked out from under him. When he looked up, Taako was giving him an incredulous look.

“Where. Did you get. The gerblin blood. Red?” he asked, and Barry sighed.

“Looks, it’s- I’m not proud of it, alright? The cave I’m in now used to be some gerblin hideout, and well, now it’s not,” he said, because that was the long and short of it. He tried not to use that kind of dark necromancy often, but there were some things that simply weren’t strong enough without a little bit of a sacrifice.

They’d already been the cause of so many tragedies, what were a few more deaths, really? They passed the point of keeping blood off their hands way too long ago.

“That something you do often Red?” Taako asked, and there was something different about his voice now. When Barry really looked up at him, he could see that his whole form was a little more guarded than he was used to. “Cause like, I’m not gonna lie, I put in a good word for you with Mr. Drop Dead Gorgeous. Gonna feel like kinda a tool if you turn out to be evil homedog,” he said.

Barry forced himself to stop for a moment as Taako's tone cut through his single-minded focus on keeping him safe. Shaking his head he tried his buest to bring himself back in. God, he hadn’t even realized…

“No, no Taako, I’m not evil. I’m not-” he paused, sighing heavily. “Fuck.”

“Hey man, I don’t actually think you’re evil. That’s kinda just how it goes, ain’t it? You grind up by killing shit until you’re all ultimate wizard like you, it’s chill,” Taako said, and the thing was, Barry could tell he wasn’t just trying to make him feel better. That a part of him really did believe that whatever Barry had done was justified.

And it fucking sucked.

“Taako, I haven’t been totally honest with you,” he said, and Taako scoffed at that.

“Yeah no kidding. I know you can’t tell me jack or shit,” he said, but Barry shook his head.

“No, I mean, that too. It’s just… I’ve done some bad things. Some really bad things Taako. And I swear, every single one of those decisions was made with the hopes that they would save more lives in the end, but that doesn’t excuse anything. I need you to know that I’m not innocent in all of this. It's... a hell of a lot of it is my own damn fault,” he said. It was quiet for a moment, and Barry couldn’t bring himself to look at Taako. He didn’t know what he was thinking.

“God you just, never fucking quit with the tortured soul bullshit, do you?” Taako asked finally, and it was unexpected enough to get a laugh out of Barry.

“I guess not,” he said, and when he looked over at Taako he rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Listen, whatever bullshit you’ve done, it sounds like your heart was in the right place. Plus, I’m sure saving the world will make up for all that,” he said, and if Barry could smile he would be right now. “So just chill. As long as I know you aren’t casually murdering a fuckton of people on the reg for spell components, we’re good,” he finished, and Barry nodded.

“Yeah no, it was only the once,” he said, and Taako nodded decisively at that.

“Cool, and more good news, it’s only ever gonna be the once, cause I’m not letting you lock me up in some bloody cave dungeon,” he added, and right shit. Barry had almost forgotten the whole reason he’d gotten on this train of thought.

“I can’t just have you running around when Kravitz has already found you once! It’s too dangerous!” he insisted, but Taako shook his head, sitting firmly on the shitty bed.

“Krav and I worked out an arrangement. It’s fine,” he said, and Barry swore, his brother could be so fucking stubborn and infuriating sometimes.

“An arrangement? He’s death!” he said, not that it seemed to sway Taako in the least. “It doesn’t have to be a cave. I could probably do it on like, an apartment,” he tried, knowing even as he said it that this wasn’t going to work.

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to your cave soon? Before anyone notices you?” Taako asked, and Barry was left speechless for a moment.

“I’m a necromancer Taako, do not forget. If you die, I will bring you back to life just to tell you I told you so and then kill you again for being a jackass,” he said, which only got a smirk and a little wave out of Taako.

“For sure, I’ll hold you to that,” he said, and Barry sighed.

“Just be careful Taako,” he said, and Taako ginned and nodded.

“You got it my dude,” he said. With that Barry knew he really should be getting back to his cave, and he resisted the urge to drag Taako along with him. He wasn’t going to kidnap his brother if it wasn’t an immediate dire situation. If he said he had a deal with Kravitz, he would just have to believe him.

“See you soon Taako,” he said.

“Later Red,” Taako replied, and with that Barry cast a quick invisibility to leave. And then a thought came to him, and he immediately dropped it again, levitating a ratty pillow off the bed and chucking it at Taako’s head.

“And that’s for the confusing letter! I thought I was having a damn stroke trying to read that thing!” he shouted, getting a loud, delighted laugh out of the elf. Barry used one skeletal hand to flip Taako off before disappearing for real that time.

Returning to his cave, Barry still felt abuzz with worry for Taako’s safety. He’d trusted his family this far though, there was no reason to stop now.

——

Honestly the conversation with Red had gone a hell of a lot better than Taako was expecting. Sure, the dude had gotten a little overzealous at first with wanting to protect him, but they managed to smooth it over pretty well.

It probably would be easiest to let Red put him up somewhere protected by a bunch of less than scrupulous wards. He wasn’t real thrilled with the idea of being caged up though, even for his own safety. Maybe if Kravitz hadn’t become significantly less terrifying after giving into Taako’s demands for lunch, but as it was he was pretty sure he could reason with the dude enough. Still wasn’t safe by a long shot, but it would have to be enough because Taako was not living with the boredom of being cavebound or whatever. Not again.

The next few times Red visited they didn’t bring it up much. Taako just assured him that no, he hadn’t run into the grim reaper yet, he’ll be sure to keep him updated on that front. He could understand the lich’s paranoia, but shit really was fine.

After a while though, Taako figured that maybe it had been long enough for him to bring up that idea he’d had before. He was still pretty sure Red wouldn’t be super thrilled about it, but the worst he could do was say was no. Taako didn’t even have to strictly listen to him if he did too, because he was his own fucking person. Sure, Red was a super powerful lich who could probably kill him with a single word, but he wasn't ever going to so that was sort of a moot point.

The timing ended up being pretty good, as Taako was looking over a small notice the next time Red appeared.

“Hey bud, everything still- still smooth sailing over here?” he asked, and Taako nodded.

“Oh yeah for sure,” he said, and yeah, might as well get it over with now, or else he never would. He didn't ever know how long Red would be able to stick around after all. “Actually, I’ve been getting pretty fucking bored. Was thinking of going down a new career path,” he said, holding out the paper. Instead of reaching over with his not quite solid hand Red made the thing float over to him, hovering in the air above his face.

“An adventuring gig?” he asked, befuddlement clear in his voice. Taako shrugged, trying not to look too invested.

“Yeah, just like, escorting some people down to Hilltop, I saw folks doing that kinda shit all the time when I was traveling around with caravans. It’s typically an easy couple of gold,” he explained. It was true, from what he saw these level jobs usually weren’t that big of a deal. Sure, when they went bad they tended to go bad, but that was rare.

Red didn’t have a face, but Taako could still tell that he was nervous from the way his robes flicked about.

“I don’t know bud, it sounds like it could get kind of dangerous. You sure you don’t wanna try and find a job that’s less likely to make you run into like, dragons and shit?” he asked and Taako rolled his eyes at that.

“Please, I better be getting paid a hell of a lot more than five gold if there’s even the slightest chance of dragons,” he said, and Red shrugged at that. Taako bit his lip some, debating on whether or not to say this next thing. It would probably make Red even more against the idea, even though that was the opposite of what he was trying to do here.

“Besides,” he continued after a moment, “I figured it might be like, a good way to put some feelers out. I don’t got a single fucking clue what you’re looking for, but if I hear about any super dangerous shit out on the road or whatever I can always send that info your way,” he said. He saw Red’s immediate reaction to shoot that idea down, but he paused after a moment. Taako was kind of surprised by that, fully expecting him to not think twice about saying no.

“I don’t know…” he said finally, still sounding hesitant. It was still a lot more willing than Taako figured though, so he decided to jump on it.

“No, no listen, it’ll be fine! Like fuck am I gonna risk my neck on anything serious, it’ll just be easy shit and listening for, I don’t know, stuff I can’t understand? The chances of me actually finding something is basically none, but it doesn’t hurt to give it the old college try, right?” he said, and after a moment Red sighed.

“I guess I can’t physically stop you,” he said, and Taako snorted at that.

“I mean, you absolutely could. I don’t think you’d even have to move,” he said, and Red looked a little exasperated at that.

“Yes, okay but I’m not going to,” he said, and Taako just grinned, kind of surprised he managed to win so easily. He guessed they were trying to work together though, and he didn’t know why Red would ever want to go along with his dumb ideas, but he was. The dude was such a pushover. “Just try to be-” he started, but Taako cut him off.

“Careful. Yeah yeah, don’t gotta tell me twice my dude. I’m not that eager to get another look at Death’s handsome face,” he said, which got a little laugh out of Red.

“Sometimes I’m not sure,” he said, and Taako scoffed at that. Still, he got the message well enough. Red was going to trust him on this one.

Hopefully he wouldn’t screw it up.