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Of ill-timed choices and woven mistakes

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Irridescent, soft beams of light flooded down through white-paned arched windows, catching in brief flashes on long metal knitting needles that were furious in their work.

At her feet lay several balls of string - too many in number to count - of varying colors, varying sizes, varying tales. The woven tapestry that stretched long over her knees and far down the stairs that lead to oblivion was bright in its diversity and silken in its touch. From somewhere, faint music could be heard. Waterlilies and ginger filled the air with burning incense or, perhaps, from some hidden place, a kitchen, or a garden. There were certainly enough flowers in bloom to warrant such an ideal. Which ones were gifts and which ones were her own, who could tell? Certainly not her. They all grew the same under her care, be it as it may distant and long-suffering - you don't get many breaks when you're responsible (more or less) for the fate of the universe, after all.

Who else would rig the lottery numbers?

A thread of woven blue and red was deftly tucked into a loop, the quiet clicking of her needles the only response to the introduction. It was intended to be short. A brief detour, a small story enough to be interesting but never intended to harm, she never thought that. Of course that wasn't up to her; not usually, that's not how fate worked, she simply had a stronger hand in the matter than most. But at the very least, she would know when this story came to its end. Scissors of celestial steel sat waiting up her sleeve and itched to snip it short, to see what other adventures her birds would accomplish so bravely. So very sweetly. Istus wondered if she would be invited to the wedding.

An interruption shattered her relative peace with a short burst of white smoke and the fluttering of pages; a letter, filled with looped script that demanded her attention with a broken black seal. It wasn't the first she'd ever received, nor would be the last. The Raven Queen did love her dramatics. Letters, parcels delivered by crows, reapers baring warm gifts. She did know they lived right next door to each other, right? 

With hands working on automatic precision she read through the letter, at its words a glancing frown chiselling her features. Not from the Queen then, simply her domain. Why had this letter come to her? Yes, they were her emmisaries, but the content of the letter spoke more of concerns in regards to their own ladies domain, not her own. Though she certainly had her own undue influence in there, from time to time. More so on fridays when her tapestry was paused in favour of embarassing a certain someones favourite reaper. Kravitz really did need to work on his poker face. 

A sudden pop and the letter in question was suddenly gone - vanished into the eather as if it had never been there in the first place. Istus blinked. Odd. Very odd indeed. Perhaps she would speak with Raven about this, it was certainly something so vaugely strange that she would be more upset if she hadnt brought it up than if she did than if it turned out to be nothing.

It was, in fact, not nothing. Probably. 

"Oh, dear. That can't be good." She muttered, hands pausing for a moment - so quickly, just a second, for the first time in a hundred millenia - before continuing on. By now, the blue and red thread that was far too long for her liking and far too interwoven had far seeped into absolute, threaded black; creating a dark line that weaved throughout her story like a poisonous thorn. She had worked it too long. It had never meant to go like this. It had never meant to last this long.

This was not her favourite yarn.

 

 

Death...was a lot warmer than he remembered.  

More accurately, death felt a lot more like a tight, velvety embrace, more lukewarm in temperature and supportive while his legs buckled beneath him and eyes blinked as they adjusted to the light. Death smelt like vanilla and ozone, too, which was weird. Actually, vanilla, ozone, and  Kravitz . Which made a lot more sense because it wasn’t so much death itself, that smelt and hugged this way, but the physical embodiment of it.   

“Hey.” He mumbled into Kravitz thick wool cloak, patting him on the back reassuringly as he felt fingers dig tighter into his hips.   

“Hey.” Kravitz mumbled back, and pressed a kiss into the soft skin of his neck. “Just...just making sure you’re okay. Dying isn't fun.”  

“This ain't permanent, bones, I promise.” Taako backed off just a little so they were still held in the embrace but he could reach up to cup his cheeks, shimmering, silvery soul-supported hands translucent and fizzy when pressed against skin. It was a nice moment; soft, warm, and it would have been nice to stay like this forever if there wasn’t a cough from beside them.  

“Do I get a hug, too?”   

“Can’t touch soul forms.” Kravitz said, still clutching to Taako like a lifeline. Damian rolled his eyes and from their shuffled position, Taako could see him holding their soul-strings between his fingers in the same way he had the last time they tried this.   

“Thought we were past lying to each other, Krav, we went through so much together. Did this past week mean nothing to you?” He batted his eyelashes. Kravitz responded with nothing but a low growl, and it earnt him a pair of rolled eyes. “Jeez, okay. Can’t blame me for trying to get a little bit of a laugh before I, you know, go to eternal afterlife prison. And for also trying to lighten the mood before I do this.” 

And in a singular motion, he snapped the strings in half.  

It was the same body-wrenching, soul-tearing sensation as before; Taakos vision fizzled out as he clamped down a scream, having expected it this time, though that didn’t make the pain any lesser. His stomach – did his ethereal body even have one? – twisted itself in agony and his eyelids burned, and Taako could do nothing but dry heave as his legs gave out beneath him. For a horrifyingly long moment, Taako thought that maybe this time, he really had died, and that his life would end in a blinding flash of pain-wrecked sobbing.   

But Kravitz’s arms were holding him tight; pressing him into velvet cloak of his uniform and grounding him, pulling him out of the agony-induced haze and soaking up the involuntary tears flooding down his cheeks. His comforting, familiar scent invaded his senses and helped to calm his brain down.  Home  and  safety  and  love  were being broadcasted through and helping to combat his flickering soul, and briefly, Taako wondered if this is what it was like when Fischer sent out his message across the world.   

Behind them, Damian writhed on the ground, but neither Kravitz nor Taako really cared.  

“You okay?” His murmured words were soft in Taakos hair but he couldn’t do anything but nod and give an undignified grunt, feeling as Kravitz stood them up and helped to support his weight on still weak legs. After a few more moments his vision lost its fuzzy tint and he blinked, righting himself, breathing in deep with a shaky sigh and turning to look at their Tiefling friend.   

“You gonna finish this anytime soon, or?”  

“Give me a fucking moment.” Damian snapped, on his hands and knees as he tried to steady his breathing. “Not all of us have celestial boyfriends who can help us through tearing our fucking souls out, dumbass.”  

“And whose fault is that?” He quipped back, earning a glare in return.   

After a few more heaving moments he stood, holding the strings in his hands and delicately moving them to the same fragile position he had held them in last time. A slight of hesitation from his end made Taakos already tense shoulders seize, and he huffed, rolling out of Kravitz’s grip to tilt his hips and look at him expectantly. “My dude, how fucking hard can it be? You've already done it once.” 

Damian's hands were still shaking slightly and he closed his eyes, breathing in a sigh and strings achingly close but not touching. His face was uncomfortably blank and, in the weird, ambient black light of the astral plane, the horns that curled around the sides of his head shone in a foreboding inky color that caught slight flashes of light from the portals window and became eerily reminiscent of the hungers touch. He was still knelt on the ground wearing the fashionable yet still hobo-esque clothes Taako had strung together from nothing but three gold pieces, and he flashed a grin and looked up at the two. 

“You know,” he paused, worryingly, and beside Taao Kravitz’s grip on his scythe tightened, “this spell was never perfect. There were always a lot of variables. Gaps. Plot holes, if you will.” 

He recognized this tone, Taako recognized this tone; this snobbish, sly confidence, this obtuse  arrogance  that slimed his words and smoothed his cadence. This was his ‘I've got you right where I want you’ voice. The voice he used when he had just stolen his body, the voice when he had nearly escaped. It raised hairs on the back of his neck and sent an unnatural chill down his spine as his body begged for flight recognizing what was becoming an uncontrolled situation. 

“So you’re not a perfect necromancer, shocking news. Nobody was expecting you to be the next Bluejeans.” Taako scoffed instead to hide the growing panic and touched Kravitz elbow in an unspoken question. “You’re looking for pity points from the wrong person, buddy.” 

The chuckle, dark and warning, was loud enough to echo throughout the empty space, bouncing off of non-existent walls. “Oh, no, I would never. Pity isn't exactly my  forte , as I'm sure you're well aware.” He finally stood, rolling and cracking his neck as he did so, gaze focused on them rather than the precariously held strings in his hands. “It's just my severe lack of control over this spell lead to some, well, opportunities I don’t really think we ever explored. So many things could have gone wrong here, you know, so many...possibilities.” 

His threat was clear intended but cloaked in a layer of malice and hidden actions, sharp to match the glinting determination that fed the fire of fury in his eyes. A split-second warning in the way of a glance that was too late to act on but early enough to strike a panicked realization in his chest. 

“Like, say,” Damian said as Taako scrambled to move, fumbling and clumsy, “what would happen if I did this?” 

Hands don’t need to be still to let go. As the strings fell – rather gracefully, beautifully, even, not so much falling as a slow feather-like descent that matched nothing if the petals from a flowering tree – sound zeroed out and color leeched from the room until the only thing of note was the soft and entrancing glow from his broken lifeline. After what felt like forever but was probably only a second of watching his link back home disappear there was a sudden, overwhelming flash of white, soft and warm but unwelcoming and surprising, and in what was now becoming a familiar sensation the world warped around him and the surroundings around him had changed. Somehow, for the worst.  

This was a very surprising notion, considering he had just come from the astral plane that was holding a man who tried to destroy him and, before that, a cult room dedicated to a bloody ritual. But Gods help him he’d take red-lit candle walls, cut-open sacrifices or the chilled air of the undead realm over this horrifically  beige  office room. 

Really?  Beige ? Had he skipped over the formalities of death and been skipped straight to a personalized hell room tucked deep away into the Eternal Stockade? 

“You know, I kind of pictured a more fire-and-pitchforks kind of vibe. This has far exceeded my expectations.” 

Taako whipped around to face the frustratingly familiar voice next to him, Damian sitting at his side with a faintly amused but mostly curious look on his face. Behind his arrogant smirk, of course. The one thing he noticed before launching himself at the Tiefling was that he, and himself, were full bodied and flushed with color; no longer residing in their soul forms but at the very least recreations of their living selves. This, hopefully, meant his punches would land hard. 

Before his primed fist could connect to soft, very punch-able cheek tissue, however, a large and calloused hand was wrapped around his neck and lifted him up by the scruff. He was pulled away from Damian and into the air like a cat caught in the cream. His hiss of anger probably suited the scene too nicely if Damián's snicker was anything to go by, and he flailed his arms as whoever was holding him like he weighed nothing more than peanuts refused to put him down. 

“Piss off!” He tried to pull out of the grip and failed, miserably, falling limp with a huff. Damian was watching the scene with a shit-eating grin and Taako flipped him both birds. His heeled boots were barely grazing the ground from this height but his legs were long and gangly, and with a swift and sudden kick Damian earned a bloody nose. He was rewarded with being dumped, unceremoniously, on the ground, dulled pain of falling two feet and landing on his ass forgotten at the sight of Damian clutching his face. 

“Hey, watch it, you two.” Whoever had dumped him was now speaking and he turned to face them, glare settling into place ready for a long-haul stay. She was a woman, tall and broad with bundles of curls falling in waves down to her chest, chestnut and frizzled and smelling like pine. Her freckled face was soft in an amused but condescending frown and her hands, ringed on one finger but bared and worn on the others, were curled on her hips as she arched a brow and looked down at Taako. He felt like if there was a sun, here, she would have overshadowed it, bolder in her warmth and radiance.  

Also, if the suns had fists, she could probably take it in a fight.  

“He- he killed me!” He protested, struggling to his feet and gesturing to a placatory and waving Damian. “I have every goddamn right to magic missile the fuck out of his ass!” 

The bold accusation earned nothing from the woman but an offered hand to help him stand, retreated when he pridefully refused and instead tucked into the pocket of her pants. “I'm sure you can try, but I don’t think that’s gonna get you anywhere. Keep the fistfights to the stockade, alright?” 

The stockade?  

It didn’t take a genius wizard like Taako to figure out that yes, he was dead, and a bit more permanently than his previous flirts with the concept at that – but the  S tockade ? Damian sure as hell deserved to be here – dude was practically bleeding necromantic energy and probably jacked it to well-designed bloody sigils – but as far as he knew  Taako   Taaco , you know, savior of the realms, one of the seven birds, fiancé and brother to  three  different reapers, had been pardoned of whatever life-and-death fuckery he had gotten tangled up with over the years. At the very most he deserved a stern pat on the back and maybe a harsh word or two from the Queen herself. He was about to take his chances and demand his lawyer be present for any further discussion when a third, previously unnoticed party in the room spoke up. 

“Oh, Taako darlin, I can see those lil’ gears working hard as heaven up in that pretty head of yours, why don’t you take a seat for me and we can sort through this nasty little situation we got ourselves into?” 

The sickly, over honeyed voice that dripped with a patronizing, southern lilt. A platinum dyed bob that bounced when she tiled her sharp-chinned, red-smiled head to the side. Chunky fake-gems for jewelry. She reeked of brand perfume and bake-sale brownies, long, acrylic claws drowned in gauzy blood-colored nail polish running a tapped beat alongside her polished desk.  

The bane of Taakos existence. The office queen of management and fundraisers. First title  bitch , second title  in charge.  

Susan

She was sitting prim and proper behind her white-oak desk, manicured hands resting even and waiting atop a fresh white pad of paper she had set before her. He recognized the blouse. Last time he had seen it, the hideous thing had been soaked in red wine. Since when had the astral plane had dry cleaning? 

With a deft wave she gestured towards a door, smile wide and hideously genuine. “Thank you so much, Julia, you’ve been a sweetheart. I’ll see you for Fridays potluck?” 

Julia? As in, Burnsides Julia? Ravens roost Julia?  Could bench-press a bear with a smile  Julia? The muscled arms covered in flannel and dog-paw earrings that rested too delicate in the mass curls of her mane helped click into place a character  Taako  never thought he’d see until his deathbed – which, he supposed, he had by now long surpassed. The realization that this woman, this strong, capable, sweet-eyed and soft-lipped woman was  the  Julia, that she was Magnus’s wife, made his brain fizzle out and struggle to splutter anything other than a drop of his jaw as he watched her beam a brilliant smile. 

Because,  of course , this was Julia. Of fucking course it was. She was perfect for that meathead. 

“Corse, Suzy. Wouldn’t miss your lemon drop cake for the death of me.” The two women shared a laugh and before long the object of his best friends longing affections disappeared through the door and into whatever lay beyond. 

With her gone Taakos attention was snapped back to a still-smiling Susan, that  bitch  Susan, who signed something quickly on a sheet to her side before placing the pen down. She remained silent, looking expectantly at Taako and nodding slightly to one of the chairs beside him, Damian sitting in the other with a shit-eating grin and raised eyebrows. He let the quiet continue for a second more before sighing and folded his arms, sitting heavily in the chair with an unintended pout. Susan's grin didn’t crack. 

“Well now, darlin, you’ve got yourself messed up in a right ole pickle now, haven't you?” She said. With a dramatic – and definitely not needed – puff of white smoke a leather-bound book, heavy and worn, fell heavily into her hands, opening and flicking through pages of its own volition and resting somewhere in the middle. “Upwards of ten deaths not checked into the astral plane – pardoned, mind you, little rascal,” her teasing tone was like a fork to a chalkboard in his ears and he tried not to groan, “but one account of willing necromantic sacrifice! Taako, hun, what are you  doin ?” It was a rhetorical question and she quickly turned her attention to Damian, who sat up with a start  at her attention . “I don’t even  wanna  get started on  you  and your charges! Basic accounts of necromancy, necromantic spell tamperin’, necromantic sacrifices, rituals, soul tamperin’, my, you really went all out, huh? Taako why are you hangin’ out with these kinda people? You know those kind of influences ain’t good for you!”  

The overzealous but clearly and disgustingly genuine concern in her voice was sticky in his ears and gummed up his mouth, making it difficult to rebut her accusations. “It wasn’t a willing sacrifice, Susan,  darling , it was simply a matter of fixing rights that had been wronged.” 

“No, no, I remember it being pretty willing.” Damian cut off her answer and Taakos hands curled into fists again, shaking in his lap. “I'm pretty sure you even cracked a rope kink joke or two.” 

“If you weren't already dead, id threaten to kill you, but instead i swear to Pan ill find a way to do it again.” He hissed back, much to the Tieflings amusement. Susan had plonked her book down heavily on the desk facing the two by now to cut off any more sharp jabs. 

“Taako, sweetheart, it says right here, look.” A sparkling claw pointed to the looping script, black-inked and indeed reading out his name and listed crimes. His deaths had been pardoned, and were crossed in golden ink, but the sacrifice charge was loud and clear. Damian’s list ran for a whole page. “The book don’t lie, Taako, and listen I know you wouldn’t wanna do somethin’ like this unless it was under some kinda cooky situation, so how ‘bout you two tell me what happened and we can sort it out. Easy as pie.” The book slammed shut with her offered deal and vanished, leaving only her shining smile to answer to. “Don't make me zone of truth yall now! You’re in my department.” With a shocking waste of a cantrip she gestured with a flourish and sparks spat from her fingertips, ‘ Department of  extenuating circumstances’  lit up above her head in flashing pink lights. 

Oh dear God. She even knew magic.  

“You even seen Freaky Friday, Sus-bug?” Taako leant back against his chair with a faux-comfortable attitude, still highly tensed and ready to run at any second notice. Susan radiated French vanilla and report cards. “Basically that, but with a disappointing lack of Lindsey Lohan and my supporting actor fucking sucked. No personality at all. Barely sold the character.” 

“Oh give me some fucking credit, will you?” Damian snapped, arms folded tightly over his chest and glare heated enough to light the decorative candle sitting on her desk. “I pulled that shit off for a  week . The only reason it fell through is because you showed up and ruined everything.” 

He barely dignified that with a snort. “Yeah, sure, whatever helps you sleep at night. At least you know that charms your only asset, considering your necromancy fucking blows.” 

“I fucking tore your soul out from your body and replaced it with my own! How the hell is that not impressive?” He spluttered. “I spent  weeks  altering that spell! I did something literally nobody has ever done before!” 

“You ever been to camp Goodfriend, my dude?” 

“I - no, why would I-” 

Taako examined his nails. “Better lawyer up else your ass gets sued for copyright claims. Art don't fuck around.” 

A clap of hands cut off their bickering and with a start brought their attention back to Susan, who was clutching a blue gel pen in her hand and had apparently been writing down notes the entire time. “Well that’s all very helpful ‘n all, boys, but I think we got all that right sorted. You had to do another ritual to put your soul back in its original body, Taako? That what happened?” 

“Well yeah I mean, I guess, if you wanna get into specifics.” He said, shrugging.  

“Oh, well that’s easy peasy, then!” She folded up the piece of paper and vanished it into the ether, standing with a click of her heels. “That’ll only be five hundred years in the Stockade, visitation rights ‘n all included. I won't bother with you Mr naughty lil necromancer, I think we both know you ain’t getting out anytime fast.” Emerging from her desk as she spoke and ignorant of Taakos shocked noises of protests Susan poked Damian in the chest, pushing him back into his seat a little with a wink.  

Five hundred – what? Five hundred years? For what? 

“I believe that’s all, so it was nice to see you again Taako, I'll be seein’ you around in a few centuries! Oh, we’ll both laugh and laugh about this, wont we?” Susan tapped her papers together nearly on the desk and ignored his spluttering, mess of protests, unable to find coherent words in the blind panic state his head had dissolved into. “I'll pass on a word to Kravitz, don’t you worry about him. Ta!” 

With a quick wave of her hand their surroundings suddenly vanished once again, the  live, laugh, love  inscription on the office wall dissipating into cold blocks of grey stone. With a rather inelegant thunk, having previously been sitting on a now dissolved chair, Taako slammed onto his ass and fell backwards onto the floor with a grunt of complaint and surprise. Metal bars stopped his head from hitting the ground but rung his ears and fuzzed his vision for a split second as skull met steel. Thank god, you can't get concussions when you're dead. 

With the echoing silence reigned too much time to think, too many opportunities to panic, and so he busied himself with examining his surroundings; his cell was small, stone on three sides and metal bars the fourth in a makeshift gate that held no lock or chain. A square and barred off window faced the sea of souls that, from this angle and his cell, lapped so very far away at a black-grass beach. The sky was a desolate black and no stars winked back to him. Real comforting stuff. 

Groaning, he turned, reaching out a tentative hand through the gaps between his door and seeing how far he could reach. He could poke his head out, his arms, too, if singular; but some kind of powerful magic was holding him back from escaping which he, really, should have expected. In reaching out though, with silvery see-through hands, that was one thing he noticed; he was no longer sparkly. 

Which, first things first, that fucking sucked. He had been digging the Edward Cullen vampire-esque sparkly vibe that being in his soul form gave him – while not completely see through and entirely devoid of color except white, soul forms were shining and iridescent, and gave off a soft, warm, soothing glow that left light trails whenever he moved too quickly. It had been pretty dope. 

Now, though, still white and translucent, he wasn’t given that privilege. His form was dulled and tinted in grey, making him more like a faded-out photograph than a soul still warped in the shape of his living body. He guessed it was something to do with his ties to the living world which, in turn, lead to a far more depressing conclusion – that he was, well and truly, gone. 

Because yeah, fuck, Taako was  dead . Took a while for that one to sink in, huh? Permanently, this time. All ending. The final train stop. Last call for wills and testimonies. All of those shitty, shitty metaphors about death and its finality and those depressing songs that Johann would write that he never paid attention to finally applied to him – he was, and to quote, nothing more than a sweet whisper on a reminiscent wind, now but a willowed memory.  

A willowed memory. What the fuck did that even mean, Johann? 

Taako supposed he should be used to this by now, death, the afterlife, though by technicality he had never truly experienced it. Had only ghosted past that fatal slip n’ slide, given it a cursory glance before deciding it wasn’t worth the rubber-rashes. Death before had been – well, it had been shitty, sure, but he had never really stuck around long enough to suffer through the boring parts of it. The boring parts of it like sitting in a jail cell opposite the man who had put you here, readying yourself for this view for the next five hundred years, trying to dream up ways to torture him more than an endless prison sentence would.  

If there was one thing he could take comfort in, it was that this could not, statistically, get any worse. He was dead, in death prison, facing Faeruns number one asshole, and hadn’t even had a chance to smooch his beau – who would probably have to even guard him sometimes, and while Taako was down for the whole ‘guy in a uniform and nightstick’ kind of deal he never imagined it would be like this – goodbye. Hadn't even had a slim warning. So, yeah, it would be real fuckin’ hard to dig any deeper than this. 

As it turns out, just because  he  couldn’t do that, doesn’t mean other people didn’t own shovels. 

“Vell vell, now this is just vone juicy little pleasantry, iznt it! Oh train-boy, I do believe our  bestest   vizard friend has come to pay us a rather permanent visit!” 

Chapter Text

Kravitz had worked as a reaper for over six hundred years. 

Six centuries. Sixty decades. He had outlived kings and empires, seen the rise and fall of their great armies and the destruction of golden cities. He had seen things most people couldn’t dare dream to imagine. Beams of light glittering over forged glass bridges that spiraled down from the skies; massive hearts of flame forged deep in the hearts of dwarven clans that raged for millennia in spools of red and yellow fury; seemingly endless wars, civilizations, people, lost to time and built anew. Kravitz had seen it all, and then some. 

He didn’t really care for any of it. Life retains a pattern though as chaotic and random as it may seem, and if you're around long enough, watching, long enough, the carefully spun passages that made up the story of existence become clear for all to see. Death and birth and life in the middle. Sometimes a little bit more after that, if you're special. It gets boring. The first few hundred times he watches a city collapse in the midst of its own civil war it's entertaining but after that, repetitive, after that, the same boring plot rewritten a hundred times. Somebody will slay a dragon now and then. Maybe an assassination here and there, an affair of the heart, hopefully, those were always interesting. 

The point, anyway, being, was that somewhere in that six-hundred-year period, Kravitz had stopped caring. Why should he? There was nothing he could do to stop mass murders, to end famine, to bring about justice for those who had been wronged – why should he feel bad? Why should he be interested in the minor affairs of mortals when he knew how they all ended? How they always did? He was here to do his job, and that was the end of it.  

It wasn’t so bad. He had casual 9 to 5 hours, his coworkers treated him with respect and invited him to office parties or evenings out. Kravitz never really took much to being a social bird but would venture out sometimes to see plays or operas. One thing he had retained over his many years as the Raven Queens charge was his flair for the dramatics – if he was going to work in such a morbid scene, he justified to himself, he might as well make light of it when he could. He practiced accents. Learnt Michael Winslow sound effects. Gained a vice in gambling and learnt that, If he was granted the time, strategy was more fun in hunting than raw displays of power or violence. Kravitz relished in his one, honed, precious piece of individuality, the last clung-to aspect of his mortal life. 

Though, obviously, his coworkers gave him endless shit for it. 

He could never really count them as friends, not really; the Ravens queens' bounty hunter department part of her ensemble had only really increased over the past few centuries, and by then he was already irreparably used to working alone. But they were nice. They remembered birthdays and shared work stories and helped him with paperwork when his bounties piled up or he needed a few days' rest. But they were nothing special. Nobody was. Nobody had ever needed to be. 

In six hundred years, nothing and nobody had ever made him rethink his blasé attitude towards his job. 

Nobody except an elf in a spacesuit with a wand shaped like an umbrella. 

Because that was it, really, that had been the end for Kravitz right then and there. Hundreds, thousands of necromancers, wizards, warlocks had tried to bring down the reapers and their retinue, had tried with dark and powerful rituals and magic and sacrifices, but all of them had failed, all of them save for him; a bundle of shaken-loose blonde hair tangled and matted in his spacesuit and hurled threats of tentacles and rock salt. He could try and make a half-convincing argument that his walls had started to come down earlier with his budding friendships at work. Maybe even convince himself that the season pass he had accidentally purchased at his favorite opera house was forcing him to warm up a little, but, who was he kidding, who was he fooling, it was Taako, it had always been Taako. Taako had dragged him back into the mortal world with a pair of nice legs (which Kravitz had always been weak for) and a smile saturated in snark. 

The Miller labs had been chaos, but Kravitz’s still heart pounded long after the action was done and the rush of battle was long gone. 

He tried not to think on it, which was a rather hard thing to achieve when everyone you worked with was constantly giving you the looks of ‘we know’ whenever they thought he wasn’t looking. It wasn’t any better when he had clocked out. Days and weeks went by and he was constantly checking the ledger for updates in their names, business interest, he lied, purely professional concern. Nobody dies that many times and just forgets about it. He tried to focus on how they had tricked him playing cards and bested him in a fight instead of Taakos intriguing choice of spells and the way slander rolled so easily off his tongue. He tries and he fails. Does he give up? Yes. But does he give in? Absolutely not. 

And then the Chug n’ Squeeze happened. 

Kravitz’s peaceful and lonely world came shattering down around him the instant Taakos hand rested on his and how was he so warm? The  elfs  fingers were deft and surprisingly for a wizard, scarred, small slices that bared the nicks of tools rather than blades and the shadows of old burns in discolorations on his knuckles. And so soft – not his palms no, they were worn and loved, but in his touch, and Kravitz had both forgotten how this felt like and never wanted to forget it again. It was all he could do not to let out an audible gasp as forgotten emotions, feelings, sensations, aesthetics and needs slammed into his chest with the violence of a train collision and  even  as it was ,  his voice wavered. A strand of hair fell loose from behind  Taakos  ear and he could barely control the urge to tuck it back with a delicate touch. To run his fingers along his jawline, trace every freckle and graze over soft lips and was it suddenly getting very hot in here?  

‘Because I'm afraid no one else will have me,’ Taako says, and Kravitz finds he can't fathom the possibility.  

Even though the night ends worse than he had hoped – and he had hopes, about this, about it going well, a concept that was both confusing and liberating – there were more dates, more moments like that.  Again  and again after each fumble and forgotten social courtesy and misuse of slang words, after every failure of plans or crocodiles, after weeks apart because of their jobs, they always found themselves back together. Back in some stupid place or dining somewhere stupidly extravagant – and Taako would always refuse to pay because ‘my time is worth more than a few glasses of wine, bones’ and he could hardly refute that – or even just spending time in each other's company.  They weren't perfect. Kravitz was still learning how to be alive again and Taako was still figuring out how this worked, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered except how he would wind his arms around Kravitz’s neck every time he kissed him, pulling them closer as if he was afraid he would disappear beneath his touch. Nothing mattered except the way his nose wrinkled when he was trying not to laugh, or when he did, the snorts that were his tell between social-laughter and the real guffaws. Nothing mattered except Taako. His hands were warm and his hair was soft and thick and his tongue was sharp in wit – and other things – and Kravitz was irreversibly, undeniably, head over heels for him. 

Loving somebody, the way he loved Taako – it was weird, it was wonderful, it was overwhelming and so, so warm.  

Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning when the moon was riding low outside their window and Taako was draped loosely over his chest, it even scared him. It scared him at how fragile it was, how all-consuming, how he had gone from being so distant and detached from the mortal coil to being entangled so deeply in life and love that his own heart had stirred from its decade's old slumber and beat. Kravitz would trace his fingers In light patterns over Taakos back and marvel at his warmth or the way the light caught ripples of blonde in the hair that was splayed out across the pillow. He was scared because he knew that Taako was his endgame. There would never be anybody after him the way there was nobody before. He was it, he was everything. Taako was the first person he had ever loved or cared about and he was so wholly, absolutely enamored with him, a fact he tried to let him know every day – something he had the privilege to do so, because they had time. They had hundreds of years to make up for.

And then Taako died.  

 

When your soul is ejected into the astral plane through astral projection, its technically and scientifically wrong to say you died. Your soul is still attached to your body and, as a result, it's more accurate to say you’ve just been put into a form of coma rather than actually dying. From an outside perspective it's pretty easy to tell the difference between death and astral touring; standing in front of Taakos body, Lup could see that the faint white outline that halo’d him gave off a soft, white glow. He wasn’t slumped in the chair like he would be unconscious or dead but rather frozen in a weird in-between pose that was half slouch and half arch. Damian’s body wasn’t doing any better, not with its horns, of which were seemingly heavy and had slanted his head to one side in a comical tilt.  

Needless to say, when the white glow surrounding the two disappeared but neither of them moved from their slumps, Lup was a little bit worried. 

“Hey, dork. Wakey wakey eggs and bakey.” She eased, shaking his shoulder that felt limp under her grip. 

There was no response, and she shook him again, a little harder, trying to ignore the growing panic in her chest. “Wakey wakey vegetables?” 

By now Angus had put down his book and hesitantly made his way over to the trio, nervously wringing his hands and standing at her side. “Sir? Please wake up. Th-this isn't a good goof, sir.” 

The deafening silence was shattered by a violent tear through space and time, hurried and uneven as Kravitz stumbled out and landed on his knees. His scythe was still held white-knuckled in his grip as he, frantically, panting and panicked, raced over and barely made it to the chairs before holding himself up against them as if he would collapse without support. 

“I don’t - is he – Lup I didn’t -” He got out between breaths; free hand focused on checking for Taakos pulse while the other shook in its grip. She didn’t want to know what had happened. She didn’t want to know how it happened. She could guess.  

“Wheres my brother, Kravitz?” Lup asked, and was shocked by the eerie calm in her voice. “Where is he?” 

“I-” He couldn’t answer her, not with trembling hands and a look of confusion and heartbreak. But oh, how she didn’t care.  

“Where the fuck is my brother, Kravitz?” Because fuck the calm, fuck being civilized, fuck having an ounce of compassion for somebody who just got her brother killed. Her hands jerked off his body – his corpse Taakos  corpse, because  Taako  is fucking dead – and slammed into Kravitz’s chest, pushing him down and onto the floor without any resistance. “What the fuck happened, huh? Want to fucking explain to me why my brother is dead?” 

He wasn’t moving on the floor, not even looking at her, clutching his scythe to his chest like a lifeline. He shook his head numbly. “I don’t - I don’t know, I don’t know, I can’t - they just disappeared, I thought that maybe – Lup, I swear-” His breath was shuddering but he wasn’t crying, probably wouldn't, was more out of panicked fear and confusion and frustration. Mr perfect bird boy had never lost a soul before, had he, of course it must be disorientating. Must be a shame to break such a perfect record. It made  Lup  furious – this was her brother, how the fuck did he just lose him, how could he have been so careless, so stupid, so - 

Barry placed a calming hand on her shoulder, and from behind them, Angus began to cry. 

“What happened, Kravitz?” Barry took over with his calming tones, keeping his grip firmly on Lup to ground her. “Step by step, you’re with me, buddy. What went wrong?” 

Kravitz sucked in a deep breath to steady himself and try to click together the furiously working gears in his head, swallowing before nodding at what he said. “Everything was fine, I guessed, Taako wasn’t - he didn’t seem panicked, not until the end. There were these...soul tethers, that bound them to their bodies. The Tiefling snapped them in half, and,” he pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a brief moment, “and that was fine, too, until he dropped them. Then they just – disappeared. Gone. I don’t know - I thought that maybe they would have come back here, but...” His gaze flickered over to Taako, just for a moment, then jumped away as if he had been burned.  

“Huh.” Said Barry. “That's weird.” 

“That's - that’s far more than weird, Barry! This is a serious goddamn situation!” Lup jerked out of the grip and whipped around to face him, hands clenched in fists. Her husband simply shrugged and tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. 

“I mean, just because he's dead doesn’t mean it’s the end-all. Taakos got the favor of, what, three gods, now? He’s probably just hanging around the astral plane while they fight over who gets him as their charge.” Barry fiddled with his glasses as he spoke. “Damian probably severed their connection fully to their bodies when he dropped their tethers. It's just a matter of whether he’s in the astral plane or with a goddess. Or God.” 

“Yeah, but,” She flustered, gesturing wildly towards her brother's body. “Hes still dead!” 

“He’ll come back.” He countered. “We’re dead too, technically.” 

Kravitz stood, cutting off her response and was already sweeping his scythe through the air. “So we go to the astral plane then and find him. I'm sure the Raven Queen will find some way to – fix all of this.” He was halfway through the rift before he paused. “Are- are you coming?” 

“You check out the Sea of Souls, we’ll bump on over to Istus’s terf and see if she snagged him. Seems like her to snap him up without telling anybody.” Barry waved him away and, after a moment of hesitation and an apologetic glance to Lup, the rift closed behind the reaper with a pop, leaving them for a second in relative quiet. Barry's arms were around her the moment he could reach. “You good?” 

Lup clutched him back tightly, digging her face into the crook of his neck and blocking out her vision. “I'm just so fuckin’ - angry, babe, he let him die -” 

“You know that’s not how it went.” Barry was rubbing her back softly and undoing all of the tension in her muscles, and underneath his touch she relaxed. “Don't say that.” She conceded with a sigh. 

“I know, I know, it's just, he's gone, Bear, and I couldn’t - I wasn’t there, I should have -” With all of the anger leeched from her at the touch of his fingertips she finally dissolved, voice cracking and tears spilling easily over her cheeks. “I should have been there, I should have protected him, I should have done something.” 

“It's okay. You couldn’t have known.” He hushed her sobs with soothing words and touches, and somewhere along the line she felt a smaller presence wrap its arms around her legs and a sudden small dampness at her waist. Blindly, she fumbled backward until hands touched soft curls and began to ran her fingers through them comfortingly.  

“Hey Ango.” She murmured, hearing muffled sniffs. No response. “You wanna help us get this mess sorted out?” 

A beat, before she felt a small nodding. She kept with her soft motions. “Okay. How about you call the team and get them over here? Barry’s gonna need some help setting up a stasis spell.” 

Barry didn’t need any help with that. He could make stasis spells in his sleep. But she felt him pat her back knowingly, and Angus’s shakes dyed down just a smidge. “O-okay, miss Lup.” 

When the three finally pulled apart Lup took a deep breath, wiping her face and fixing the smudge marks of her makeup with a quick spell. She refused to glance over to where Taako was. Didn’t want to see him. Didn’t want that sight to be the way she remembered him. 

“Alright, babe.” She scythed through the air to create a rippling arc, shimmering and pink. “Let's go interrogate a Goddess.” 

 

He couldn’t find him, he couldn’t find him, he was gone, he was gone and he wasn’t here and he wasn’t anywhere -  

Kravitz forced himself to calm down, focusing on deep breathing and the constant hum of souls surrounding him. He hadn't been here too long, if Taako was lost or confused, there was a chance that he would be hard to find, he knew that.  

But it was so, so hard, because how did he explain what he was looking for without spiraling into a panic?  

Yes, Lilith, it was his boyfriend, no, fiance, now. Yes, it was recent. No, you can't be invited to be the wedding, but he’ll pass on a message.  

No, you can't come to the wedding, because his fiance's soul was currently missing and for all intents and purposes, the wedding was off. No, that was a joke, Carver, it was because that would be breaking you out of the soul plane and that would be illegal. We've gone over this, Carver. Please, Carver.  

Yes, like the food. 

No, he's not in trouble, are you hiding him? Please tell him if Taakos here. No, he's not in trouble. Please don’t make sex jokes about this, Johannessen. 

He waded through so much of the sea, frantically searched through so many souls, near drowned himself trying to find him. But he just – he wasn’t there. He wasn’t here. Kravitz couldn’t feel the pull of his soul anywhere, not to the material plane, not here, not anywhere. Taako was just...gone. 

Taako was gone

Kravitz fell rather than sat onto the black sands of the astral sea, head slipping into his hands as exhaustion flooded his bones and sank heavy into his heart. It was a concept his mind couldn’t wrap around, couldn’t comprehend, because how could he have? Neither of them had ever expected this. Death had always been hundreds of years away, hundreds of years of time that they could have spent ignoring the inevitability of fate that they could while away together. Even then, even so, there was always the reassurance of favors from Gods; Taako was in the good graces of both Death and Fate – and Party, for good measure – and so there had always been insurance.  So where was he? 

Kravitz screamed into his hands, muffled and broken. 

Where was he?  

The only hope that he had left and the only thing that made sense anymore was that he was somewhere in the realm of Istus or Reggie. His Queen would have let him know by now if she had taken him under her own wing and it was, frankly, the only possibility that didn’t make bile rise in his throat and threaten to send him reeling again. He had to be there. He had to be.  

Gods, please let him be there. Let him be anywhere except gone. 

One night on a date a few months, maybe over a year ago, a time that now felt like decades, Taako had taken him out somewhere in the slightly less charming parts of the Underdark. Not quite slums, exactly, but verging on the edge to the point where most businesses that popped up were a mix of fronts for local gangs or generational, centuries-old places that held recipes or blueprints handed down through the decades. It was the latter that Taako took him to – thankfully – with a sly wink and a tight grip of his hand.  

It was a small, tucked away kind of place, so hidden you'd almost miss it if you weren't being guided. Despite that it was busy; it was longer than wide and bustling with tables all occupied with families or lovers or even diners alone, and servers weaved between them with the steady grace of practiced steps and a fragile paycheck. More than busy it was loud. Louder than anything Kravitz had ever heard. The noise didn’t seem to bother Taako – if anything, he relished in it. He dragged him to a booth in the far corner and ordered for them both without even glancing at the menu.  

They could barely hear each other over the din of the restaurant but it wasn’t needed, not once the entertainment started, not once Kravitz understood the appeal. Their table wasn’t just a table and their booth wasn’t just a booth; a giant hotplate glowed when the fire beneath it was stoked, an elven man wearing a stained white apron who recognized Taako by name and order dicing, slicing, what could only be described as showing off as he cooked their meals right in front of them. Fire was used exorbitantly. He could see why it would have been a favorite of Taakos – or, Lups, really, that she had sold him on.  

He’d had to take off his jacket. Taakos hand that had linked with his own beneath the table gave a brief squeeze of approval.  

When the meal was finally over – fantastic, up to Taakos standards, surely, the man himself simply shrugging and saying ‘it was alright’ which was practically golden praise – the servers brought out a tiny glass plate alongside their bill, sweetened by two heart-shaped crisps. 'Fortune cookies,' Taako had called them as he cracked one open and pulled out a white piece of paper, 'see if you can nab the winning fantasy football teams for this season.' When he cracked open his own, crunching on the sweet biscuit as he read the paper, he’d been a little confused. 

Not all exits are made equal. Some are beautiful and poetic and satisfying. Others are abrupt and unfair. But most are just unremarkable, unintentional, clumsy.  

He’d shown it to Taako, who'd simply shrugged and draped himself over his shoulder like a sated cat. “Beats me, Hot stuff. They're always fuckin vague or weird – check out mine,” and he showed him his paper, which simply read  printer error; please refill ink.  

“I think it's telling me I gotta buy more wine.” Taako mused, and Kravitz had laughed, and tossed his own fortune aside. 

Now, he wished he’d saved it. Now, he wished he’d kept it somewhere, maybe in his pocket, ripped and covered in lint. If he had, maybe he could have brought it out now, so he could rip it in half and tear it into pieces and throw it into the sea with a frustrated scream. So he could bring it out and look at it an remind himself, hate himself, of just how unfair Taakos exit from his life was.  

Or, gods, the fact that there had been an exit at all. 

He didn’t even realize he was crying until his hands were wet and his breath caught into a cough, making him immediately wipe his face and stand. There was no use crying, it wouldn’t do him any good, it wouldn’t help him find Taako. He wasn’t in the sea of souls but there were other places in the astral plane, too, places he could have slipped out to or stumbled upon in the original chaos. Maybe he’d even gone to Kravitz’s old apartment. With a final breath to steady himself he turned on his heel -  

And was directly smacked in the face with a letter.  

It fell into his hands with a delicate  phink  after its facial assault, the remnants of its smoky entrance wisped away before he could grasp them. It was addressed to him in recognizable, blue-inked looping font. Susan? What did she want? 

He tore open the letter and read. And again. And again, trying to make sure he had read this right, hadn't mistaken any words, hadn't been hallucinating.  

The letter was stark white against the black sands of the Soul sea’s beaches, dropped as the reaper, Kravitz, ran. 

 

“But you zee it vill be  cave  themed, becauze zat is where we met, so I vaz vhinking maybe zome kind of crunchy crunchy bread? Ah? Maybe zome leetle, ah, bioluminescent cheezecakes? But vot do i know, you're the cook, any ideas – she vas gluten intolerant but I don’tvhink that will matter much once she is here.” 

Was there a place after death for if you died, again? Taako was beginning to think he was going to end up there soon. 

“No, you imbecile, why would you want cheesecake in a cave setting. It will already be as moist as diggity there. You want dry finger foods before all of your guests get sick from curdled cream.” 

Maybe you had to apply for a transfer. Get some paperwork done, sign it off from good ole RQ, descend into the pits of the earth.  

“Aw shit, you guys talkin’ about finger foods? Mini hotdogs are my jam! Love me some dogs!” 

Or maybe he could just get her to kill him herself. Surely the old bird was hankering for some action.  

“Where are you going to find a cave in the astral plane?”  

Damian’s voice of reason was met with a cacophony of boo’s, a rattle of metal as the spirits around them shook their cell walls. He rolled his eyes. “I'm just saying. The stockade doesn’t exactly have a decorative cave feature that you can just go off and get hitched in.” 

“You are too close minded, Tiefling boy. Ve are not getting married here, for obvious reazons.” Magic Brain through the gaps of his wall swept his hand glamorously through the air, as if this was a five-star hotel. “I am going to escape and zen I will get hitched with my beloved and then I vill come back and live out the rezt of my days here in peace. I have accomplished all I have ever vanted.” 

“But you're gonna bring us, right?” Barbra, in the cage beside his, was clinging to the bars and jumping up and down. “I want me some dogs!” 

He was given a blasé wave in return. “If you can make it.” 

“Aw, hell yea!” The man fist-pumped the air and Taako, already tired of this, groaned, slumping against the wall and putting his head in his hands. 

“Oh, I'm sorry, is this boring to you?” Jenkins’ voice slinked into his cell, hidden from view thanks to solid stone walls. “What a terrible tragedy, I can't imagine what it's going to be like trapped here for months on end – oh wait, I don’t need to.” 

“Maybe if you’d burnt a spell slot you'd get out of here.” Taako snapped. His patience was wearing thin and he was cold and somehow kind of wet and so, so, so bored. He missed Lup. He missed Kravitz. He missed Barry and his stupid fucking jeans and Magnus and Merle and Angus, he missed people, he hated this sensation of loneliness that didn’t actually exist because he was surrounded by assholes talking to him. 

He hated how cold his hands were, and wished they were someone else's.  

“Hey, hey Taako. Hey Taako. Hey, look at me. Taako.” Damian clamored for his attention, rattling the cage of his door. “Taaaaako. Taako. Taako Taako Taako Taako Taako Taako-” 

“What?” He whipped around to turn and glare at him, watching only his shit-eating smile. 

“You should probably give Brian some wedding advice, you know, considering you just got engaged and – oh, wait, guess that’s off the table now, huh?” Fake pity and condescending, barely concealed amusement oozed from his tone, and Taako slammed the bars of his cage, furiously trying to cast anything that would wipe that grin from his stupid fucking face. 

“Eat shit.” 

“If I'm going to Brians wedding, I might as well be.” 

“Hey!”  

They dissolved into a barrage of yelled arguments, Brian defending his food choices and Damian complaining how cliched they were, Barba chanting about hot dogs and Jenkins groan providing a sweet, sweet baritone for the symphony of disagreements. It was, both figuratively and literally, hell. 

What had he done to deserve this? Was this retribution for the spoons, RQ? Was it because of the fucking spoons? He'd find Angus’s silverware, he'd track it down all over Faerun if he didn’t have to deal with another second of this, please, give him a sign that he had an out -  

All conversation was cut off at the sudden slamming of a heavy door from down the hallway, steel colliding with stone and the rushed sound of leather-heeled footsteps. 

“Taako? Taako, are you here? Please, please let-” 

Kravitz? Kravitz! 

“Hey! Hey, yeah, through here babe! Waldos here! You found him!” Taako frantically waved his arms through the bars, hearing the footsteps become more frantic and hurried. When he came into view – in his full reaper regalia, usually ominous and omnipresent but now just making him look so, so good – Taako stood, pushing away from the bars. He walked through the bars without any effort. Because, of course, he did, of course it was some weird magical illusion bullshit.  

“Hey, th-” 

Any other words of his were muffled by the furious smash of Kravitz mouth against his own, desperate and needy and wanting and so, so good, his hands a grounding presence on his cheeks as thumbs ran over his jaw and Taakos own clenched the reapers shirt tightly. It delved into something deeper, longing and hopeful and broken as he pulled him closer and tighter until there was practically no space between them at all. It helped neither of them needed to breathe anymore. When they broke apart it was seconds before they fumbled back together again with practiced aim and calmer need, slotting together with hands going to places well-worn and Kravitz lips soft and warm and familiar. Tasting like home, like love and safety. Tinged with need and fear but still sweet and full-bodied. 

God, he’d missed kissing him. 

“Can you save the makeout times for like, any other time except now? Please?” Damian interrupted their moment from across the hallway, chiseling a deep glare into Taakos features.  

“Uh, yeah, sorry, let me just escape astral prison real quick so I can kiss my boyfriend, yeah, cos that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.”Taako flipped Damian off in response after breaking away, keeping close to Kravitz and still embraced in his arms. Damian flipped him off back and grumbled something to himself, folding his arms and pouting as he turned away. He rolled his eyes and turned to back to Kravitz. “Hey there, bones. Took you long enough, huh?” 

Taako.” His anguished expression and broken tone told him this wasn’t the time for jokes and he backpedaled, quickly, hands wrapping around his waist and tucking his head into the crook of his neck. “Taako, I thought – you were just gone, I didn’t know what had - I thought you were gone-” 

“It's all good homie, I'm right here, aren't I? A little, you know, dead, and in prison, but I'm here. Aint your fault.” He reassured, rubbing soothing circles with his thumbs on his back and feeling Kravitz’s breath hitch. 

“I should have done something, I should have seen what he was going to do, I should have, I should -” 

“Hey, shut up.” He pulled away from his comfortable nook and made Kravitz look at him, cupping his cheeks and running a thumb along those sharp cheekbones. “You couldn’t have done jack shit, okay? But you can do stuff now. Like, numero uno, breaking me out of this dumbass prison.” He pressed a soft kiss to the side of his mouth, watching Kravitz's brow furrow. 

“I can't just break you out of the eternal stockade, love, that’s - Taako, I love you, but I cant -” 

“Yeah, figured. Alright, plan B.” He glanced around before leaning in slightly more, raising his eyebrows. “Can you talk to RQ and get my dick back? This soul form doesn’t have one and if I'm gonna be here for the better half of a millennium, I'm gonna wanna bone down with the bone beau at some point.” 

A smile curled slightly on Kravitz's face, and he pressed their foreheads together in a gesture too sweet for the subject point. “I'll, uh, see what I can do, but hopefully we’ll get all of this fixed before it has to come down to that.” 

“Cool cool cool. That’s priority one though. Priority two is finding me something better to wear than this garbage because I am absolutely not spending my eternal damnation in cargo shorts.” 

“Hey!” Damian yelled from across his cell. “They're both fashionable and functional!” 

“What am I gonna use all these pockets for in the eternal fucking stockade, Damian?” He gestured wildly to the uncountable number of pockets plastered all over the beige piece of sin, a size large enough it went up high on his waist and still flirted with the bottoms of his knees. “What am I gonna keep in here, my prison shiv? Rocks? You had the audacity to pretend to me and you put me in fucking cargo shorts?”  

Fashionable and functional!”  

“If you think these babies are fashionable you deserve to rot in here.”  Kravitz was barely containing his laughter at this point, shaking and hiding his face in Taakos hair as the spat with Damian continued on until the Tiefling threw up his hands and went to go stand in the corner and sulk. With the battle won Taako shuffled in his arms until he could rest his hands on Kravitz's neck, who pressed a kiss to his cheek. 

“I have to go and sort this out, Love. I’ll tell Lup you’re here and she’ll visit, but I have to go and fix things, okay?” 

The thought of him leaving after having spent so much time without him sent a shot of panic through his chest but he quelled it down, put on a smile and shrugged. “Natch. You come back soon though, right? Gotta make up for lost time after that fucked up week.” 

“Of course.” He smiled. “We’ll have plenty of time.” 

He drew him in for one more lingering, soft kiss, one Taako didn’t want to end and clung to for as long as he could, before pulling away and tearing a rift through the air in his cell. Taako didn’t bother to run. Knew it wouldn’t make any difference. Just before he stepped through Kravitz looked back at him one more time, forlorn smile flickering before being replaced by his attempt at something comforting. “I love you.” 

And the words, they always did, they stuck in his throat and dampened his hands, hesitated on the tip of his tongue. Why was it so hard to just get them out when he already knew? When he'd already said them a hundred times? 

He’d let him go once and thought that he’d missed his chance. That wasn’t happening again. 

“I love you too.” Taako said, and the smile on Kravitz’s face was beaming and radiant. 

It lit up the room far after he had gone, far after he left Taako alone.   

Chapter Text

The celestial crossroads were a mishmash of gilded paths and carved stone arches, the center circular platform branching out in all directions to their respective Gods and disappearing beyond line of sight. Clouds blanketed the ground beneath them, silvery and pink-hued, a probably not-needed safety net should anybody take a tumble off the edges of the floating walkways. Some paths were blocked by gates, some were spiraling staircases, one, a singular elevator. Lup and Barry were standing in the middle of this impasse. Compared to this massive layout of bridges and branches, they felt tiny and insignificantant. It wasn't a pleasant feeling.

“Which way is Istus’s place, again? Is it the one with the glass tree fence?” Lup cocked her hips and frowned, pursing her lips as she tried to figure out where to go. 

“No, that’s Verenestra’s domain. Istus is next to RQs hangout.” Barry turned on his heel trying to find the entrance he wanted and squinted, shielding his eyes with a hand. “Ugh. it’s too bright up here to see jack.” 

Lup shrugged. “Yeah, not really digging the whole white pastel color look it's got going on. Bird momma’s got the better aesthetic on lock.” 

He hummed in agreement and spun in a slow circle, still not finding anything and giving out a disappointed huff. “You’d think the giant black sapphire staircase would be a giveaway, right? Where is that thing?” 

Going to Istus’s segment of the Celestial plane to see if Taako was being held there was the plan – or at least, had been, until Lup and Barry found themselves hopelessly lost in a maze of gateways and entrances. The Crossroads were empty, as they usually were; unless there was a meeting or something planned, Gods typically didn’t go out of their own domains, not enough, at least, for the Crossroads to usually have a few millers about. The paths were more for messengers than anything else. Messengers like Lup and Barry, who couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. 

You'd think, being Gods, they would have the sense to organize their place a little more orderly than just piling on top of one another like a wild game of celestial jenga. There wasn't any order to it at all - and granted, it was beautiful, the disorganized chaos of different domains giving it a very vibrant, lived in vibe, but fuck, the fact that it was pretty didn't make up for it being literally impossible to manage or understand. 

After a few more minutes of hopeless searching and frustrated grunts between them, Lup felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Barry, expression mournful, expression hesitant, and she knew. She knew with a cold, hard dread in her heart what he was going to do.  

“Barry, don’t you dare.” She warned, steel cold but underlying the betrayed resignation in her voice, and he shook his head with a sigh. Fear pierced her heart sharp and sudden. 

“I’m so sorry, Lup. We need to do this.” 

“Barry, please, we can make it without him. We can do this! I believe in us!” Her begs fell on unhearing ears as he stepped back and took a deep breath. Head held to the heavens – though, technically, he should be facing at his feet for that – and eyes squeezed shut, he yelled out to the one person who would answer. 

“I need some help!” 

With a soft pop and a broken groan from Lup, a small, fat cherub with grey-scale wings and a pair of socks with sandals suddenly appeared from the ether, hands clasping a quill and a thick notebook with a smile. “Hi there! My names CLIPPI!” 

“I will never forgive you for this, bear.” Lup hissed. 

“I’m the Celestial Link Into Pathways, Pursuits, and Information, and my job Is to help you navigate the Celestial Crossroads!” He flit around their heads with a speed much too fast for someone with such small and struggling wings, and Lup pushed down the urge to swat him out of the sky. “Do you need my assistance?” 

“No,” said Lup, at the same time that Barry said “yes.” 

“Fantastic!” With an overjoyed grin he settled to floating between them, still vibrating with contained energy. “What can I do you for today? Do you need an informational tour on the Archfey realms? A mortals guide to the afterlife? Top ten facts about the Gods that will shock you!” 

“No, we just -” Barry tried to interrupt CLIPPI but he steamrolled onwards, Lup shooting her husband an unsurprised look. 

“You’ll never BELIEVE which pantheons are merging! The pros and cons of multiclassing as a Warlock? Is your boss a Demon in disguise hell-bent on destroying the natural order of life and death? Garfield, an in-depth interview -” 

“Where’s Istus’s digs, Valentine?” Lup finally cut through his jabbering and he paused, processing the request before twirling and vanishing his book into the air. 

“Istus’s pantheon has been located and locked in as a destination! Would you like to begin?” 

“Couldn't you just like, give us a map, or something?” She huffed, arms folded over her chest and glare hot enough to have melted his wax wings. The cherub didn’t notice. Or, didn’t care, and simply shook his head with that same stupid, white smile. 

“Request denied! You don’t have clearance for those kinds of resources. Please follow me!” He chirped, and fluttered off down a path, leaving a spluttering Barry and a very annoyed Lup behind him. 

As the fat little baby floated down a path with the two of them in tow, Lup very pointedly didn’t look at Barry, choosing instead to examine the different gateways to other Gods and Goddesses realms. It wasn’t like she was here often, she might as well try and figure out which way was which in case she ever had to come back here. Bonus – she'd never had to summon this diaper-clad asshole ever again. 

“Lup,” Barry started, but she held up a hand to keep him in silence. 

“Another word out of you, Barold, I'm kicking you into the clouds myself.” 

“We needed him, babe, cmon.” He ignored her request, wincing at the use of his full name. “We would have gotten lost otherwise. I know he's annoying but -” 

“He’s so lame, Barold!” She cut him off with a half-hearted shove and a whine, folding her arms with a scowl. “He’s like if Angus read tabloid magazines instead of detective books. And then like, amped it up by a million degrees.” 

He couldn’t contain his snort at the image. “Please don’t say that ever again. Angus McDonald, the worlds greatest boy paparazzi is not the kind of thing I ever want to imagine in my life.” 

“Nope, you’re suffering with that now, this is your karma.” She nudged shoulders with him with her arms still crossed, frown faltering but still half annoyed.  “You deserve this.” 

“I deserve this.” He heartily agreed, still smiling, and he reached out a hand to her open palmed. After a second of fake hesitation she took it. Slipping her fingers in between his, he drew her closer, squeezing her hand. “We’re gonna find him, okay?” 

She sighed, squeezing his hand back, and focused on her shoes. “I know. It's just dumb. I hate that stupid baby.” 

“Fun fact of the day! I’m not a baby!” CLIPPI interrupted their moment, because fucking of course he did, whirling in the air. “I’m as old as the celestial plane itself! I keep up this appearance due to socio-religious expectations of what a religious guide should be! I also like it a lot!” 

“Oh Gods, he's sentient now. It's like the Terminator all over again.” Lup muttered, and Barry coughed to hide his snort. 

After a few more minutes of walking around and suffering from excruciating ‘fun facts’ about different pantheons and domains, CLIPPI lead them to a stop beside an ornate white gate, shimmering and rather small, especially when compared to the grandiose black sapphire spiral staircase of its next-door neighbor. The gates opened by themselves and lead to a path made from marbled pale-pink. CLIPPI, with a final flourish and a cheerful “We have arrived at your destination!” vanished into the ether, leaving Lup with a sigh of relief. 

“Finally.” She mumbled, still holding Barry's hand, and lead them both down through the gates and into Istus’s domain. It was mostly a long hallway, marble clicking beneath her heels until it dissolved into carpet, and cloud walls merged into wood and then, open space, as they entered into a large hall. 

Soft, sweet hints of lily and spices filtered in first, accompanied by beams of pale warm light that poured in through arched white windows and soaked into the thick cushions littered around sofas and tucked-away ottomans. The carpet was plush beneath their feet and they sank into it as they walked through the room, bushels of flowers bursting out of vases placed at random spots with wilder plants creeping up the walls and draping down from the stripped wooden roof. Sometimes they had to duck beneath a hanging tendril of ivy or two. There were some glass doors here and there leading out into white space with curved handles of patterned oak, and archways that lead to rooms of similar design, but this was the main lounge, and this was where Istus sat waiting. 

She was still knitting but, with a soft smile and a nod for them to sit down, she said hello, weathered hands still weaving her tapestry on automatic gears. It flowed past her feet and down, down, down the stairs that lead to her dais, hued in bright colors with no discernable pattern and bunched at the bottom before leading out through an archway and into another room. There was no doubt it went on far longer than seen.  

“Lup, Barry. I can guess why you’re here.” Istus greeted, the clicking of her silver needles ever present. Lup shrugged.  

“Not the first time I've had to pick him up from doing something stupid. He is here though, right? Just...hanging out somewhere in your sweet indoor garden thing you got going on?” She tucked her hands into the pocket of her cloak and fiddled with the red lining, pulling and fixing and pulling at loose threads as she waited for the Goddess to answer. She took an excruciatingly long time.  

“He’s not here, I'm sorry, Lup.” She accompanied her words with a honeyed tone and a consoling smile. “But I promise you that he’s safe. Wherever he is.” 

Shit. Shit. Shit.  

“Well then - where is he?” She asked, exasperated, folding her arms over her chest and hunching her shoulders. “He cant just – how can you say he’s safe when he's just gone? We have no idea where he went! He could be anywhere!” 

Despite her venting frustrations Istus seemed unaffected by her rage, weaving another color into her lineup. “Well, not anywhere. Its particularly hard to get into Reggies new years eve party, this year, or, so I've heard. It would also probably be very hard to get to one of the elemental planes in just his soul form.” 

Ignoring all of Lups spluttering's Istus stood, setting aside her needles and the woven tapestry from her lap and shimmering, iridescent dress draping down from its folds to pool around her ankles. Lup couldn’t understand how she didn’t trip walking down the stairs as the fabric flowed like water behind her, and endless train trailing off into the ether, billowy arms bunching in her elbows as the Goddess reached up and gently cupped her face. Her hands were warm and soft and smelt like baked bread. “I can't promise you much, Lup, that isn't exactly something that comes easily in my line of work,” her hands slipped down to take Lups in her own, linking their fingers, “but I can promise that whatever happens, he won't be lost to you again. The universe has taken...so, so much from all of you, but it won't take him from you. Not anymore.” 

Against her will, Lups lip quivered. “But it already has.” 

 

In another place, in another time, there was a letter.  

Not too long ago, just long enough for it to have been forgotten about. The Raven Queen gets a lot of letters – prayers and pleas in the form of handwritten notes, warlocks begging for deals, but she is much too integral in life's design to grant such power. Her reapers are enough, and of those, she has plenty. Most letters are tossed aside. Vanished into the ether. This one, however, was passed down, passed through the hierarchal structures  of the astral plane  as a warning. The man wanted power – specific power, the kind needed for actions unjust in her domain, the kind needed for revenge against her own emissaries, no less. It would have gone to the hands of those being threatened if it hadn't been intercepted – an accident, really, left on a table in a shared staff room in a moment of forgetfulness. It was picked up and read and, to the eyes of those around them, decided unimportant. Tossed. Ripped apart.  

Alone, it was pieced back together, and answered.   

 

“Oh, Lup.” Istus soothed, shaking her head and squeezing her hands tightly. “He's not gone. Missing isn't gone. Gone implies no way to be found.” 

“But missing is worse! I’ve done enough of that for the both of us, for both of our lifetimes, it's not like there's some fucking sick quota that needs to be filled, or -” 

She was cut off at an insistent, familiar tugging at her chest, and from behind her Barry grunted, feeling it too. The pull of the Raven Queen was undeniable, but she hesitated, clinging to Istus’s grip, not wanting to go. Wanting answers. Needing more. 

Istus offered nothing but a comforting smile, pulling away from Lups grasp. “You might get answers with Her. Tell Her that she really must come over for some tea sometime, please? Pan lent me some, uh, dope ass blends, and I think she’ll appreciate the break from her work.” 

Now there wasn’t time to unpack all of that, but her summons were getting more urgent, painful, even, so Lup nodded with a furrowed brow. Something like this was important; RQ was either impatient, or something had happened. Whatever it was, it was more of a lead than whatever they had gotten here. “Thanks, Tizzy. You’ll - you'll keep us updated if anything happens, though, right?” 

“That's not how it works, at all. But sure.” She waved them off through the rift, not letting concern deepen her features until they were both gone and all that remained was the faint smell of ozone, honeysuckle, and the clicking of magicked needles.  

Her steps up the stairs were hesitant, distracted. Her tea was cold.  

Istus needed to pull some strings. 

 

Alone in a dingy Inn, counting coins and curses, a  mans  prayers  were  answered.  

He’s practiced magic before, obviously, little cantrips or a few simple  level  one spells. He was never good enough at magic to make anyone proud. He’d made his living in the markets selling his families wares, the charmer of the family,  they'd  called him. Not much of a title now considering he was all that remained of them.   

He’d practice magic before, minor magic, so he knew what it felt like to cast something; to feel the raw power flow from your veins and spark out of your fingertips, the numbing rush of altering your appearance. There was never enough to be noticeable. Just slight sensations, here and there, enough to be passed off as interesting.  

But this .  

The second the unfiltered, powerful energy struck him, coursed through his body like his blood was made of fire, he knew his wish had been granted. He didn’t have the ability to commune with his patron, not yet – not while his body still adjusted to the sudden headrush of having access to a metric-ton of celestial given magic, not while he recovered, not while he learned spells. But he would eventually. They would want something in return; that’s how Warlocks worked, after all, and he’d taken a big risk in making a pact with somebody so potentially powerful.   

The power that flowed through him now was incredible, and all thoughts of what he would be asked to pay back with vanished from his mind.  

In a dingy inn, laughing as he spilled flames from his hands, a man began to study.  

 

The Raven Queens chambers were grandiose, intimidating, and very, very goth. 

Black sapphire pillars towered towards the arched glass roof, flickering in the light of the fire held by curled metal torches. It was massive, far too massive for one woman, though her presence seemed to dominate and fill the entire hall as if surrounded by an invisible army. The woman herself was perched on her throne. Surprisingly white and crafted from a soft birch wood it was stark against the rest of her surroundings, stark against the Goddess herself, but only served to announce her presence with aggravated vigor. Not that it was needed. 

You don’t enter the Queens court unless she delegates. 

Kravitz was already waiting for the two of them, knelt in front of her throne with his head low to the floor. He glanced up as they arrived, but didn’t greet them. Customary. Though Lup liked to think she and Queenie had become something of buds over the past two years, time-honored traditions and work ethic were compulsory during work hours, and especially during summons like these.  

Outside of work hours, though... 

She and Barry joined Kravitz in a kneel, it only lasting a second before she gestured for them to rise wordlessly. As they did so she nearly jerked in surprise as Kravitz brushed a touch gentle on her elbow, and she glanced over at him with raised eyebrows. 

He couldn’t say anything, but the slight nod of his head and near smile sent floods of relief through her chest, enough to make her visibly sag her shoulders and sigh. He’d found him.   

When she stood from her pedestal, and silently glided down the stairs of her dais to stand in front of them, though, Lup straightened, hands held neatly behind her back. The Raven Queen examined them with familiar cold formality before speaking. 

“I understand,” she started, heels clicking on black marbled floor as she strode along the trio, “that you have some grievances with Taakos punishment.” 

Taakos ...punishment? Lups eyes went wide and she glanced over to Kravitz in a panic, who was looking straight ahead with his jaw flexed and rigid. “Yes, my Lady.” He replied. 

She stopped in front of him, eyes as black as coal, face an unimpressionable mask. “Then beg your case.” 

Being in the presence of Death herself wasn’t exactly a common situation, especially for liches, but Lup had worked in her retinue long enough to know what to expect. The sudden chill in the air, her voice, echoing and smooth, the background caw of ravens, the smell of watercress and lilies. Despite all of that, Lup could have sworn that the temperature was a few degrees colder than usual, and her gaze - usually impassive – glinted with steel.  

“Well, my Lady, though he has technically committed a crime, it wasn’t willing, nor done with malicious intent,” Kravitz said, fingers fidgeting behind his back. “I thought that, well, since It was the same case for all of his other crimes that we vetted-” 

“That we could let this one slide, too?” She interrupted him, turning aside, beginning her pacing again. “Was I not clear in my last instructions?” 

Lup felt more than saw his shoulders tense. “Well, yes, my Lady, but-” 

“’ No more infractions, lest it be the apocalypse.’” She said, pausing now in front of Barry, who was already nervously sweating his way into a puddle. “Tell me, Bluejeans, are the heavens falling from the sky?” 

He choked on his answer, unexpecting. “No, ma’am.” 

“Have the planes shattered? Moved from their alignment? Have all the Old Gods died and left the world below in peril?” 

“N-no, ma’am.” 

“Then why,” she turned on her heel to face him directly, now seemingly a good foot taller, towering over him with a flurry of feathers that swept around them all in an enclosing whirlwind, “has not only he decided he was exempt from my already broken rules, but you, Barold J  Bluejeans  of another world, you as well, you, who completed a necromantic ritual in direct violation of not only my already bended guidelines but  the  very work that I granted to save his exist e nce?”  

Barry gulped. The three remained silent.  

“I will not pardon the crimes of a man who disobeyed orders and squandered his third chance. You are lucky my reaper retinue is staffed as poorly as it is, Bluejeans, lest you suffer the same punishment.” The Raven Queen stepped back and turned her back towards them, moving up the stairs of her dais to sit back on her throne. “You are all dismissed. I want to hear nothing more of this -” 

Her back stiffened, and her steps paused, frozen in place, a second before the doors of her chamber burst open and a man flew in and smashed into the floor. 

He was a blur of black feathers and bones, half-way through his transformation between reaper form and flesh, a mess on the floor that quickly tried to pull itself back together. Staggering to his feet as black smoke poured from his body and fixed his mashed-together parts, though patched and flustered on entry within seconds he was put together again and standing to attention in her court. Lup recognized him now that his flesh-face was on and his body wasn’t collapsing in on itself; Ferdinand, the half-orc who managed security around the astral stockade and, at a lesser extent, the staff-room fridge.  

Guy still couldn’t figure out who was stealing her Taako-made petit fours. She had a sneaking suspicion it was a group effort. 

“My Lady, a thousand pardons for the interruption,” he gasped out, seemingly exhausted from his rush over, “but there's been a prison break at the astral plane. Three souls have escaped.” 

“Who?” She still had her back turned to all of them but her voice was unforgiving and cold, and Lup really, really didn’t like where this was going. Ferdinand pulled a scroll from his robe and took a moment to collect his breathing before speaking. Reapers don’t need to breathe. What had him so panicked? 

“Magic Brian, Damian Goldcraft, and Taako Taaco.” 

Oh.  

That. 

Well, that’s not good at all.