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Sing It Again

Chapter Text

Dead flowers started blooming again, when Barry Bluejeans came to town.

They came back strange. They didn't return good-as-new. But the dried leaves on the ground turned plump and green, almost like leaves in spring, as he passed, and withered again as he left them behind.

Barry Bluejeans looked soft and middle aged. Barry Bluejeans would meet up with the wagons for a fortnight or two at a time, and then leave for who knows how long. Barry Bluejeans was awkward, and interesting, and honestly kinda hot, and Lup was fascinated.

The towns they passed through threw Barry parties, and Lup would play her violin, and Barry would smile at her, all awkward and shy. Lup would play as fast as she could, let her fingers find their places with what she'd been assured was almost preternatural accuracy, and absolutely shred the shit out of her bow.

Taako would roll his eyes and grumble when she did that, but he did appreciate that the celebrations around Barry's returns made people hungry for street food. He could hardly complain when he was both rolling out and in the dough.

Lup's brother had always been the more practical one.

Lup, on the other hand, could be swept off her feet by a bouquet of briefly-revived flowers. She watched Barry pick the limp brown dandelions from the sidewalk cracks, watched the stems swell green again and the bald heads bloom yellow.

"My brother's not gonna like this," Barry said, as she took a sweeping bow and he tossed them at her feet, like she was a virtuoso at a concert hall and not just busking by her brother's food truck. "But we. We don't hafta tell him."

Lup grinned at him, emboldened, twirled her bow before setting it to her strings, and said, "Now, why would a man of his own free will--"

Barry told her the next town he was planning on visiting, and Lup drove the food truck there if she could. Sizzle it Up! had a schedule, sure, but she could always bribe Taako.


 

The gods of death were brothers, or at least that's what people said. They didn't look much alike. They didn't match at all, not their faces nor their skin color nor their body types. They quarrelled bitterly, in public, more bitterly than Lup and Taako ever fought. Lup liked the awkward squishy one, the one who stuttered when she smiled at him, who wore the unfashionable clothes that had won him his nickname for so long that the knees and inner thighs frayed through, even though Taako knew he was rich enough to afford to get new ones.

Taako's pants were patched, sure, but he mended them whenever they needed it, kept them as nice as he could. Barry just didn't seem to care. Lup didn't seem to mind that he wasn't careful with his clothes.

Taako, on the other hand, well.

Mr. Kravitz was a mighty king, and he looked rich. He'd come to pick up his brother and bring him back home across the water, dressed in a sharp suit and cloak. He'd buy Taako's food, tip generously, smile with those shiny white teeth like he'd never had to worry about seeing a dentist.

It seemed like he owned everything.

And, well. Seeing all that kinda made Taako wonder how it felt. That kind of money, at your fingertips. Under your fingertips, dollar bills and silk suits and glazed wood coffins.

Enough money to pay double the price of the food you bought, to fill your belly even if you were dead.

Angus McDonald, who knew too much about everything and everyone, especially for someone who claimed to be a little boy as often as he did, told Taako that there were jobs for the dead. The gods of the cycle of life were rich because they had an endless supply of workers, and they paid some of those workers well. Some of the dead worked in factories or in mines, if that was what they wanted, or if they had done something in life worthy of punishment. Some of the dead floated aimlessly in a river of souls.

All you had to do… was die.


 

"I'm heading out," Barry told Lup about three days after his latest arrival. She had just finished playing Vivaldi's Winter, in deference to the snowflakes starting to trickle from the sky, and Taako was napping in his food truck, letting three pots of different soup flavors simmer on the stove.

"Already?" Lup said. "You just got here, and your luxe bro's not showed up yet."

Barry laughed, a sort of awkward snort he covered with his hands as fast as he could. "Luxe bro," he repeated.

"Babe, he's so class," Lup said. "Have you seen those suits?”

Barry laughed again. "He loves those suits," he said. "He gets them so dirty all the time, and he still straightens. He straightens his lapels in every window. Goop all over his knees and he won't wear jeans."

"I must look my best to touch this nasty dead body." Lup affected a posh tone.

Barry got a smile on his face that did things to Lup's insides.

"I really should get going," he said. "You, uh, c-can come with me, if you want? I think there's, ah, a conservatory in the city I'm heading to, if you'd like to work more on that composition you're… working on."

Lup wanted very badly to come. It would only be a short while, she justified. She did want to work on her composition. Taako had a strong survival instinct; he'd be fine, and anyway he'd developed enough of a reputation that she didn't need to busk as much to drum up interest.

"Okay," she said. "Fuck it. Let's do it."

She wrote a note, stuck it to the caravan door, signed it with a kiss in her best red lipstick.

"Back soon," it said.

 

Lup did not come back soon. She played her violin and talked to Barry and lost track of time.

The god of rebirth had sweaty palms. The god of rebirth was enthusiastic and a quick study, and he didn’t stay a bad kisser for very long. The god of rebirth took piano lessons specifically for Lup's sake, and they'd play duets for hours, just lost in the music.

It was … fun. It was a whirlwind. They'd been dancing around each other for so long, and spent every moment they could trying to catch up on the time they'd missed out on, being shy.

Eventually, Barry had to leave and Lup -- well, she intended to head back to her brother. She made it as far as a town two day's journey from  the conservatory. Another busker, a violinist like her, Gundren Rockseeker, thought that she’d make a good target now that she was all alone. He made a valiant attempt to mug her for her nice violin, and she handed his ass back to him on a platter but, injured herself, checked into a motel for recuperation.

Taako would be fine, she told herself. She tried her hardest to believe it.

She was bitterly lonely.

Barry didn't come back for her. She thought maybe he didn't know where she was, but had no way of contacting him. She was utterly alone.


 

Taako was cold all the time.

Not enough food, not enough wood. Not enough money for warm blankets when the winter came. Lup burned like a furnace lived in her chest, which made her impossible to sleep next to in the summer but was very nice when winter came around, a portable heating-sister.  

He and Lup had been alone so long, he thought they'd stopped needing anyone else. Now he was cold and hungry, and Lup was gone.

Weren't they birds of a feather?

He'd been annoyed, when he got her note. Annoyance had shifted to anger, and then worry. Now his emotions about the whole thing ping-ponged between grief and betrayal and anxiety. She'd left her umbrella behind, the one with the knife hidden in the handle. She'd left in a hurry, clearly.

How was she paying for food? Was she warm enough? Songs weren't enough to pay the bills. The wind cut through the walls of the caravan, and business was slow, in the cold hunger of winter. Taako rationed his firewood carefully, because Lup was the one who had always started the fires.

He didn't quite know what to do with himself without her breathing beside him at night. They'd never been apart, not since the instant they were conceived, and he felt strange without her, like he was a different person.

Food had become an issue. Taako had to choose, now, between food he could sell and food he ate. He didn't get many customers.

The god of death showed up one day towards midwinter, just past the solstice, as far as Taako could reckon. He ordered carrot soup.

He wasn't wearing winter clothes, just the same suit as always. His breath made no cloud of fog in the air.

Taako and Lup had gone to a free chemistry demonstration when they were children. One of the scientists there had frozen a banana in dry ice and then shattered it on his worktable. Pieces had flown everywhere, and one had hit Taako's forearm and left a patch of painful frostbite. The skin there had turned red, then dark purple, and peeled off, leaving a patch a darker brown than the rest of his skin.

When Taako's fingers brushed the god's as he passed the bowl over, it felt like that burn. Like the god was solid carbon dioxide given human form.

"Have you seen my brother recently?" he asked Taako. "I know he likes spending time mooning after your sister."

"Nope, sorry, kemosabe," Taako said, flipping his braid back over his shoulder. "She's fucked off somewhere too, i'unno where. Why're you lookin'? No offense, my man, but you don't exactly seem to get along all that great."

The god blinked at him, looking surprised.

"We don't?" he said, thickly, through the spoon in his mouth. "I guess we. We've grown apart. You know how it is."

"That I do not, my man," Taako said.

He didn't. Everything had been fine and normal with Lup, before she'd left.

Neither of them said anything for a bit. The god hummed a jaunty little tune as he ate.

"Thank you," the god of death said, putting his spoon down. He'd scraped the bowl clean."It was delicious, as always."

He paid Taako double, but double of a single sale wasn't anything approaching sustainable.

Taako shivered, as he looked at the coins. His stomach growled. He could feel how loose his clothes had grown on him, the way his hair had dulled and broken from malnutrition.

Taako's body didn't like being thin. Years of food insecurity as a child had turned his metabolism into something that held on to every scrap it could, and now it was very clear that there were few scraps to keep.

You can have your principles when you've got a bellyful, and Taako had neither at the moment. It was just him, and his hunger, and a god, and a choice. 

The god turned to leave.

"Hey," said Taako. "I'll make you a deal."

The god stopped, looked back at him.

"I'm gonna die soon, aren't I?" Taako asked. "I don't have food, or firewood, or blankets, or money. I'm tired and I'm cold. And I'm hungry."

"Yes," said the god of death. Not eager, like Taako had thought he might be. Assessing.

Taako was tired. He wanted to lie down, forever. He thought that a god must have soft sheets and softer lips. He thought that a god must have lots more gold, gold his sister could use to buy a better violin and a better life.

He thought that this god looked at him with a heat that could chase the chill from both their bones.

"Take me with you," Taako said. "I'll make your spooky death halls shine. I dunno if you eat regularly, but you sure like my food, huh? If you give me gold and a kitchen I'll make sure you're never hungry as long as I've got food for myself. I'll be the best damn cook that's ever died."

"You're willing?" asked the god. "You're choosing death?"

"I mean, it's not ideal," Taako said. "Not super thrilled about this whole sitch. But I've got nothing to lose."

He paused, looked around the clearing. "LUP!" he yelled. "I'M GOING NOW."

There was no answer. The snow was crisp, the woods hushed.

The god smiled, all slow and handsome, and held out a hand.

Taako took it.

He was suddenly very, very cold. And he wasn't hungry anymore.


 

The water crossing was easy. Passing the wall, guarded by a giant three-headed dog and a giant, friendly man with impressive sideburns, was also easy.

The whole astral plane was gray, and silent, and hushed, and absolutely obviously run by two people.

When the god (who had told Taako to just call him Kravitz, please, he wasn't all that fancy) opened the door to the house he and Barry Bluejeans shared, Taako gaped.

It was huge. It was fancy. There was a glittering chandelier suspended over a couch upholstered entirely in denim.

"This is some whack interior decorating you got here, homie," said Taako, hands on hips, arms akimbo.

"Oh," Kravitz said. "The jouch is Barry's. I have nothing to do with the jouch. I am not associated with it in any way whatsoever."

"You should burn that thing," Taako said. "Jouches are abominations. Goddamn."

"Oh, I certainly do damn it," Kravitz said, and his eyes crinkled up at his own joke.

Taako shoved him.

"You gonna show me your bedroom, stud?" he asked.

"I --" Kravitz stuttered. "I wasn't sure-- I didn't want you to feel, obligated or anything."

"My dude," Taako said. "That face of yours? Like ninety nine percent of the reason I'm down here."

Kravitz stared at him for a solid fifteen seconds, and then laughed.

"Right this way," he said.

 

Sleeping next to Lup was like sleeping with an angry furnace. She kicked in her dreams and half the time Taako woke up drenched in sweat.

Kravitz wasn't like that. He slept -- if you could call it sleeping -- perfectly still, not even breathing during the night. It wasn't the same at all.

He was fun to spend time with, too, but busy all the time.

Barry came back about a week into Taako's stay. He and Kravitz argued immediately. Taako eavesdropped, blatantly and shamelessly.

"It isn't right!" Barry said. "You, what, you took him back here because you like him? Lup will be so sad!"

"He's the one who offered," Kravitz said, defensive. "I'm not forcing him to do anything. And he would have died anyway! You know the Cycle, Barry. You want to mess with the cycle, because of a woman you 'like'?"

"It's about balance," Barry said. "You can't just kill people, just because."

"This is balanced," Kravitz said. "You need dead people, for there to be rebirth! You can't just make people live forever, just because."

Their conversation was itself circular, both talking past each other.

The other dead people were skittish and avoided both gods studiously.

Taako wandered around the astral plane, missing the sun, the moon, the stars. The air was so still, down here. He missed the wind.

There were people there, people like he was a person. And then there were shades, ghosts, whisps.

Eventually Taako found himself in a distant back corner, against the wall that housed people who'd died violently and carried that violence into death. People who needed rehabilitation, before they could be reborn.

He thought, briefly, that he might be hearing things, when the bricks started whispering to him. He traced his fingers over the rough edges and started backwards when the bricks' voices got louder.

"One of us," they said. "One of us."

Taako snatched his hand back. "What the fuck, no. I'm nothing like y'all spooks. It's different with me."

"Different than who? We all thought we were different."

"I chose this," Taako said. "I came willingly."

"I swallowed arsenic willingly," said a stone by Taako's shoulder, one by his feet, another in the ceiling. "I kicked a stool out from under my feet by my own free will. I held that knife in my own two hands."

"Taako?" said Kravitz, leaning around a building. "Would you like to run a bar? I found a bar you could run, if you want."

"Hell yeah," said Taako. "I've been bored out of my gourd. I'm 'bout to sell some moonshine, baby."

He left the stones behind.


 

The clearing was empty, Taako's wagon covered in snow and fallen seed pods. It didn't look inhabited. It looked like it was abandoned months ago. A number of Taako’s favorite pans, along with Lup’s red umbrella, were gone.

"Taako?" Lup called. "Taako!"

"Miss Lup!" said Angus, appearing from behind a tree. "How is your concerto going?"

"Where is he?" Lup asked, not bothering to clarify who she meant. Angus knew everything. He must know why Taako wasn't with his wagon.

"Oh, he left," said Angus, casually.

"Where is he?" Lup pressed.

Angus watched her, eyes too sad for a child of his apparent age.

"Why do you want to know, ma'am?"

"To -- to find him! I miss him. Where is he?"

"Across the water," Angus said, sadly.

"Across the water," Lup repeated.

"Crossed over the lake of souls," Angus said. "He left a couple of months ago, during deep winter. He called your name, before he went, but..."

Lup's hands went to her hair and tugged, hard.

"I guess you weren't listening," Angus finished. "I'm sorry, ma'am. It was a cold winter. Taako was hungry."

"Is there a body?" Lup pressed. "Did I miss my own brother's goddamn funeral?"

"No," said Angus. "He just left. I don't know if he's actually dead, technically speaking. He made a deal, with Mr. Kravitz. The particulars don’t matter,  ma’am, he’s gone. I’m sorry.”

Lup took a deep breath and screamed, letting her rage and grief and guilt pour out into the darkness. And then she took another deep breath, calming.

“Ma’am?” said Angus, warily.

“Ango,” said Lup. “I need you to tell me exactly where he went. I’m going after him.”

Angus frowned, his nose scrunching up and setting his glasses crooked. “How far will you go for him?”

Lup put both her hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes. “To the end of time. To the end of the earth,” she said.

“You’ll need to go to the Astral Plane,” Angus said. “I’m assuming you’d rather do it without dying, so--”

“Yeah, ideally,” Lup interjected.

“So you’ll need to take the long way around,” Angus continued. “You’ll have to find a way across the water.”

Lup gripped her violin case tight, her knuckles white on the hard red plastic. She thought, wistfully, of the knife hidden in the handle of her umbrella.

She listened carefully to everything Angus told her and then set off, face set.

Wait for me, Taako, she thought. I’m coming.

Chapter Text

It was surprisingly easy to fall into a routine.
Time passed oddly, for the dead. There was no sun and no moon, and no sky to speak of, just a gray mist that thickened the further you wandered away from the Sea of Souls. 
Taako didn’t always know when it was day or night. He rested when he wanted to rest -- and wasn’t that strange, feeling the need to sleep not just like the dead, but as the dead? Was he not already in his final rest? Kravitz seemed to accept Taako's opinion, whenever he's declared it to be “night,” so that worked out well. 
His bar rapidly grew in popularity. People came to get a little taste of life again, to eat and be comforted by both the food and the eating of it. Many came and asked for a single glass of water. They often cried as they drank it.
“It reminds me of the rain,” they would say to Taako. “It tastes like the outdoors.”
Some spirits were decayed enough that they couldn’t physically eat, but still, they would spend time floating gently in the corner near the record player. Taako had scavenged records from what everyone referred to as the “missing things pile,” a floating mass of junk, mostly lone socks, single earrings, and wallets and coerced Barry into bringing him the machine. 
All the spirits were eager for sensation, for little glimpses of life.
Taako made friends, and it was easier to do so than it had been in life. Somehow death had left him less guarded, softened him. Ren, small and cheerful, with her long white hair, had visited Taako’s food truck before; she idolized him, and he enlisted her help running his restaurant. Magnus Burnsides, who guarded the shoreline with his giant three-headed dog. Merle Highchurch, the god of nature, who appeared sometimes and either hung around Magnus or antagonized Barry; he also gave shockingly good advice for someone who had real moss and mushrooms growing out of his beard and at least three bugs on his head or tangled in his hair.
Taako felt Lup’s absence keenly. She would be proud of him, he thought.
How long had it been? He was so lonely, even still. Time stretched endlessly around him, and he could feel himself start to decay.


Lup walked for days. Normally she didn't stew over things; that was Taako's job, to overthink, to plan, to hover on the outside. Lup went with what her heart told her and rarely questioned her decisions; she planned meticulously but did not worry whether that plan was the right one.
But thoughts tumbled around her head over and over. She worried them into smoothness like she was the ocean and they were glass, but still, they stayed.
How could Taako have left her? This thought was always followed by the horrible guilt of having left him first, white-hot like freshly blown glass. And why wasn't Barry trying to find her again? He should have come back by now. 
Lup felt like crawling out of her skin. She felt so much that she almost thought her body couldn't contain it all, that her spirit would burn her physical form into ash. A conflagration; so many other ghosts were also women grieving. She could be La Llorona made flame, searching not for her children but for her brother, her other half. 
Eventually, she found herself up against the waters of the Astral Sea.
There was a small village on the shore of the sea. Lup asked around and discovered that for about thirty miles out, the sea was full of life, an average ocean ecosystem. And then the mists rose, and the sea turned gray, and you lost all sense of direction. Some people capsized their small boats because they could not sense which way was up. 
Nobody had ever sailed to the Astral Plane itself. It was an unknown. Was there an island, out there in the cold gray water? Or did it simply go on for miles and miles, until any living person who tried to reach the land of the dead circumnavigated the earth?
Lup needed the straight road.
The other main obstacle preventing getting across the Sea of Souls was the fact that she did not have a boat. A smaller problem was that she did not know how to sail, but she was certain that given a book and time she could figure it out. 
Lup and Taako spent their whole life figuring things out on the fly. Nobody to teach them but raw experience and their mistakes. Lup could sail, or at least she would be able to if she practiced enough. But she didn't think stealing a ship will be unobtrusive enough to let her learn.
So she needed to rent a boat, and maybe hire a captain to steer it. She had almost no money, but she had never had much money. She could pay in housework, or in food, or in music. She would pay almost anything. 
She therefore also asked about a captain, willing to take a risk, to explore. And she heard one name over and over again. 
Davenport.


Every week or so Taako closed his bar early and carried alcohol and a fancy snack to the shores of the Sea of Souls. The three-headed dog who roamed the shoreline always perked up and tried to lick his face when he approached, and Taako had gotten very good at avoiding the many giant tongues.
It brought a stick over to him this time and dropped it at his feet, hindquarters wriggling madly. Taako ignored it, and it picked the stick up again, held in the mouth of the rightmost head, and bounded over to its master.
"Johann, drop it," said Magnus Burnsides. He tugged on the stick, but the dog seemed to think that he was playing tug-of-war. The dog’s heads all had different names. Taako could never remember which was which. One was Fisher, and the last was Junior; Taako had asked why and been informed that Junior was the baby. Taako didn’t understand how that worked, developmentally; all the heads were attached to the same creature and therefore, presumably, were the same age. But he didn't question the logic. 
He flopped down on the beach and started pulling food out of his basket.
“Where’s Merle?” he asked.
“Off making plants grow, I don’t know,” Magnus said. He pulled a bunch of grapes off the vine and sat down next to Taako, his dog lying next to him and closing its many eyes.
"Too bad for him, he'll miss out," Taako hummed. “Say, Mango. When’s the last time you saw the sky?”
“Twelve years,” said Magnus, “Why?”
“Because I,” Taako said, pulling his prizes out of his basket, “Have a treat.”
He sloshed the alcohol around the bottle, dropped the little ball of light in, and watched it shine through the glass, dissolving until the whole volume glowed a soft white.
"Moonshine," Magnus said, awed. "Taako, where'd you get this?"
"I know a guy," Taako shrugged. He'd bribed Barry with promises of teaching the god Taako's Special Lactose Removal Spell, Trademarked, and gotten in return a bucketful of moonlight from the living world.
He poured the moonshine into two small cups and acquiesced when Magnus clinked them together. Years of cooking had left his hands and forearms scarred with small slips of the knife, oil burns, and metal burns. The light emanating from the cups made his skin look chalky and washed-out and lit up the imperfections, making the tissue shine.
The frostbite scar on his forearm stood out starkly.
They drank the moon down and poured themselves more.
"How'd you get down here, my man?" Taako asked eventually. 
Magnus tugged on his sideburns and heaved a sigh.
"My wife Jules died," he said. "And then I threw myself into a lot of fights without caring if I could walk away from them."
"Is she, you know," Taako waved his hand vaguely. "Here now?"
"Oh yeah!" Magnus said. "We've got the cutest little cabin, she made it all herself. She was real mad at me for comin' here so soon, though." 
That made sense. If Lup showed up tomorrow Taako would probably yell at her. She had to survive. There had to be at least one of them left.


Davenport lived on a houseboat down by the harbor. This close to the Sea of Souls, the mist rolled off the water in thick clumps and twined its way around buildings and Lup’s feet. She could hear the lapping of waves on the shore but the noise was muffled somehow. Lup herself felt slightly unreal, as though she was fading away and watching herself do it.
She marched up the gangplank of the Starblaster much more confidently then she felt and knocked on the door. The sound died immediately in the fog.
The door opened and Lup looked down. 
The man staring up at her was tiny and middle-aged, red hair going grey. His face looked weathered, and his tremendous mustache resembled what Lup would consider the prototypical sea captain. 
"I have a request for you," Lup said. "Please, hear me out."
The man regarded her stoically from behind his facial hair, and then stepped back to gesture her inside.
"No point standing out in the cold," he said, and she followed him gratefully.
She told her story as calmly as she could, trying not to let desperation seep into her voice. People took advantage of desperation, and Lup couldn’t afford any more delays, especially ones to avoid getting scammed. 
Davenport’s mustachioed face remained impassive as she spoke. When Lup mentioned payment, bringing out half of the money she had saved up, his eyebrows furrowed slightly but he made no other motions. 
"Sooo," she said, drawing the word out.
Davenport shrugged.
"I can take you," he said.
He reached over and took the money from her. Lup kept the shock off her face. She had been certain he would try to haggle the price up, and she had been willing to spend every cent of her meager savings. To have only lost half her money, instead of all, was a huge relief.
Maybe she and Taako wouldn’t starve this winter, she thought. She had to believe that Taako would come back with her, and they would eat hot soup at night and drink coffee in the mornings.


It appeared that something had happened while Taako was away. Kravitz was standing, still as a laboratory skeleton, in the center of the room,  while Barry paced the length of it, his feet several inches off the floor and his body phasing neatly through the horrible denim couch with each pass.
Taako wandered over to them and kissed Kravitz's exposed cheekbone, feeling the flesh fill in under his lips. He also smoothed his palm over Kravitz’s exposed hipbone, curving it along the ossified surface, a kind of intimacy he had never expected to have with someone. The bone was almost as good as the muscles that grew to cover it.
"What's up?" Taako asked.
Both men were in casual clothes; Kravitz materializing wearing a soft sweater, his hair tied up under a protective silk wrap, while Barry wore an over-sized red robe, the hood pulled up. Neither looked happy. They exchanged glances, and then Barry sighed.
“It’s Lup,” he said. “I looked for her, when I was on my trip — you remember, yeah? When I brought you the moonlight?”
“Uh-huh,” Taako said, keeping his face impassive. His heart no longer beat at all, but he thought he felt it stop in his chest.
“I just can’t find her anywhere,” Barry continued. “She’s not where I left her. She’s not by your wagon — ah, sorry, your wagon’s been left alone — and I, I’m worried.”
“I feel no pull to her soul,” Kravitz said, wrapping an arm around Taako’s waist. “She is not near death. She is simply — hiding, I suppose.”
“I just — I am afraid,” Barry admitted, sighing. His body filled in with color, becoming tangible and solid, and he sank down on the hideous couch with a sigh.
“She is mortal,” Kravitz said, stiffly, turning his head away. “They are unpredictable and strange. I know you … care for her, but really. And if she does die, as she will someday, that would make things easier, would it not?”
Taako stiffened, abruptly angry. Kravitz’s worldview aligned with his in many ways, the passive faith in nihilism, the inevitability of decay, that everyone would become dust in short order. But Lup was different. Lup was the most important creature in Taako’s universe.
He pulled away, Kravitz’s arm falling limply back to his side.  
“Darling, beloved,” Taako said. “For the sake of our relationship, I’m going to pretend you never said that. Don’t say it again. I’m going to sleep.”


Davenport took two days to make preparations, and Lup haunted his houseboat restlessly. Now that she had a plan, a goal in sight, she was filled with a mix of excitement and fear. It was as if the reality of her situation hit her all at once, and she was struck with the sheer audacity of what she was trying to do.
But she had never lacked confidence. She knew she was strong, and she had survived a world telling her the best thing for her and her brother to do was quietly disappear. 
She loved Taako. And she loved Barry; she thought of him often, wondering if she would see him when she reached those distant shores. Maybe he would help her. She knew he loved her too, had seen the soft way his face settled when he looked at her. 
She helped Davenport pack food, make sure his sail was sturdy, and trained with the oars he placed in the boat. As the sea stilled, the wind died down, and so they intended to use both techniques. Davenport was quiet and serious, but kind, and Lup felt safe when she slept on a pallet on the deck of his ship.
When they set sail, the wide gray sea opened around their boat. Lup felt very small, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the water. And as they sailed further and further from living lands, the mist crept closer and closer, sinking into her pores, suffocating her.
She felt like she could no longer tell which way was up. Her balance shifted, and only the pull of her muscles on the oars grounded her. She and Davenport did not speak much as their journey continued. And then, abruptly looming out of the mist, was land.


Taako didn’t sleep. Instead, he changed into casual clothes. He rattled around the bedroom listlessly, primped a bit in the strange sapphire mirror over the dresser, overturned his nightstand looking for a book, and then, still filled with restless energy, wandered back out to the living room. Barry was gone, vanished off somewhere, either to work or, as Taako dared to hope, to look for Lup again. Kravitz lay on the couch, statuesque and still. It made contradictory warmth bloom in Taako’s own frozen chest.
He wrapped himself in a blanket and laid down on the couch on top of Kravitz's immobile form. He felt the cold seeping through the god's unmoving chest and traced the line of his cheekbones and the icy silk of his headscarf.
He missed warmth.
Kravitz’s eyes opened, and he turned his head towards Taako’s. Taako kissed the corner of his mouth and buried his face in his shoulder, eyes burning.
But his belly was full. That was something, at least.  


The shores of the land of the dead were white sand,the water a shifting gray. The fog felt like a physical force, pushing back, watching. Lup was irrationally afraid of breathing it in, like it would settle in her lungs and grow ice crystals amongst her alveoli. 
Lup began to climb out of the boat, and then she paused to hug Davenport tightly. 
“Thank you,” she whispered.
The old man grumbled behind his mustache but she could see that he was pleased. Then she planted both her feet on the white sand of the beach. There was an oppressive sense to the air, a deep wrongness she felt in her core. Buildings rose out of the mist, dim and hazy. Each time Lup looked back at Davenport it grew harder and harder to see him, until finally she strained her eyes searching and saw nothing but gray.
There was nothing for it but to go forwards.