Chapter 1: Math
Taako was doing math.
His right hand was sliding steadily along the board, his fingers turning quick, dexterous marks of chalk into a string of coordinates.
He stopped, taking a step away from the chalkboard.
He put a chalk dusted knuckle into his mouth, eyes tracing over the last few lines of integers, before he darted his eyes to look at the board to his left.
With the hand in his mouth he counted decimal places.
Then he relaxed, before smearing the back of his arm across his mouth.
It's so freakin cold, why am I sweating?
The doors to the lab swung open, making Taako twist on his heels to see the newcomer.
Taako cringed as he watched the winter air blast in from the doors behind Barold.
As they swung back closed he shook himself out, unfurled to stretch the crick from his back.
Barry set a cup of coffee down and turned his wrist to look at his watch.
"Did you go home last night?"
Taako looked back to the black boards and realized that was probably why he was sweating.
Missing meditation was bad news for an elf.
"No," he said, like was surprised.
"Jeez," he said, ruffling a hand through his hair, and stepping close enough to read the boards.
"Taako, did you…?"
"All of it, whole caboodle,” Taako answered, dragging out the ‘o’ sound in whole.
Barry looked over the rows and rows of digits, before taking off his glasses and rubbing one of his eyes.
He flipped his glasses back on and switched to the other black board, scrolling down the rows of paired numbers.
"Taako-," he said, apparently not sure where to start, "this is… Taako there should be thousands of viable coordinates. If you used both sides of the boards, this is maybe eight-hundred."
Taako, leaning on Barold's desk and taking a hearty slurp of his coffee, nodded and motioned for Barold to flip the chalkboard.
Barold let out a small sigh and swung the blackboard to reveal the other side; completely covered in completely different maths.
"Wha-" Barold started
"Make the area surrounding outlier points into their own, little plane homie. Knock down the number of points by crossing out overlap, just hafta play fair with where and how."
Barold, still pouring over the back of the chalkboard, sighed.
"Pretty cool huh?"
"Taako it's six in the morning."
Taako, for a moment, stopped drinking Barold's coffee.
"Taako, go home."
"What? Why!? I did the math Barold, I solved the shit!"
"Yes, you did Taako, thank you, but this was not something you do in one night. If you created the wrong plane formula, we'll have to redo it all."
Taako slapped down the cup with a clack, but Barry continued.
"You know it makes more sense to just wait, odds are we're going to throw all this out."
The room was silent for a long time.
"What's going on Taako? You could have called me at two in the morning and I'd have been right there, you know I love this stuff,"
Taako coiled his arms around himself, and put his chin on his collarbone.
He muttered something.
"I can't sleep. I can't meditate. I can't… It started after Sazed, but it got worse."
Barry walked away from the blackboard to Taako.
"Jesus Taako, Sazed was months ago."
Barold sighed and scratched at the back of his head.
After a moment he tossed a burly hand onto Taako's shoulder.
Taako put his hand over Barry's and they stayed there for a while.
Taako was doing math.
He was home now, curled up on his couch-bed and marking a notepad.
The coffee he'd stolen from Barold coursing through his veins made it impossible to sleep and meditation was something he was severely out of practice with.
Taako was squinting at his notepad, trying to read his own handwriting.
He tossed the notepad by swinging his arm up and letting go, and pulled his phone from a pocket.
THE SYSTEM WON'T WORK WILL IT -Sent
He didn't wait for a response, sitting up to eyeball his armchair and pitch his phone to it.
It bounced off the deep blue back and fell onto the seat.
After that Taako flopped back into his sort-of-bed, a rich crimson square with raised edges of sturdy, slightly pliable material.
He burrowed into a nest of soft blankets, and wrapped around a pillow in his arms and legs, fighting to be as comfortable as possible.
Immediately after, Taako started to worm his way back out.
"Jesus Fantasy Christ, it's a hundred billion…" he muttered, first fighting out of his blankets and then his jacket, throwing his shoes and socks in a pile next to his pants.
Finally cold enough his teeth were chattering, he was chilly enough to properly appreciate his comforts.
Back around his pillow, back into his blanket burrito and back to humming peacefully.
He shut his eyes and tried to imagine himself floating out of his body, Winnie the Pooh style.
Taako felt restlessness pressing at the back of his eyes, but he kept at it, trying to float up into the cloud of shapeless relaxation that formed his meditation.
He stayed in his entrapping pillow fort for an hour, replaying a Fantasy Kingdom Hearts clip in his brain and wiggling.
He finally let out a breath and his body went lax.
Huh I'm rereading this as I publish it.
I'm not... crazy about it.
Chapter 3: Going to Merle's
Taako was going to Merle’s.
Merle’s greenhouse was not, technically, where he lived.
However, Taako could not for the life of him ever put a finger on where he did live.
Somewhere in downtown?
On a park bench?
Anywhere is a fair guess with someone like Merle.
Taako turned off his car.
Merle’s greenhouse is a squat, arch shaped building made out of metal framing and a sort of tarp Taako didn’t really understand.
It is lit at all hours with an internal light made to simulate the sun, supposed to do with an experiment Merle claimed he was doing.
Taako took a steadying breath.
Outside, the freezing neverwinter air blustered and bit.
He adjusted his coat to reach a little farther down his basically bare legs.
He really hadn't thought this through.
He kicked open the door, leaped out and slammed it behind him, before tromping quickly on combat boots over half melted snow.
He reached the one solid feature of Merle's greenhouse, the door, and yanked it open.
Hot air chased the cold from his skin, and he snapped the door closed just as he stepped in.
He shrugged out of his jacket, a bulky, fuzzy and purple mess he was more fond of than he could put into words.
He tossed it onto a random pot, feeling the heat and smell of Merle's reach into him.
Maybe shorts weren't a bad idea
Merle's always smelled like plants and various flowers, a dozen lovely aromas mixing with the overbearing smell of dirt, but today it was different; something smelled sweet and slightly disgusting.
"God Merle, you better be kosher!" Taako shouted, hearing some vague mutters from the back of the room.
Between Taako and, presumably Merle, were a half dozen rows of pots on stands, lit from above by grow lights Merle kept running at all hours.
Taako stepped through the rows, trying to use the gaps Merle had made for himself without thinking anyone else might need them.
He almost knocked over a tall stemmed plant with little purple flowers dotting along it, but caught it before it fell clean from it's stand.
"Oh je- Hey Taako!" Merle said, still just out of view.
As Taako bridged the last line of plants, he came into view of Merle.
And his guest.
They could not have clashed more if they organized it.
Merle is short, barely up to Taako's hips, rotund and brown, his hair is long and grey, a tangle kept loosely by a bundle of rubber bands he calls a hair tie.
Currently, he is shirtless, wearing only jeans hacked off at mid-thigh.
The man next to him looks like he just stepped directly off the cover of Forbes.
He is tall, taller than Taako, which is no small feat.
His hair is salt and pepper, and still mostly pepper despite the age he wears as wrinkles across his grey and stern face.
The man is flushed, and it's not hard to tell why: beneath Merle's grow lights he is wearing a blue suit, pressed underneath a black overcoat.
But more than either of them, what draws Taako's eyes is a large bucket holding a black liquid, swarming with life.
It's the source of the sweet rotting smell.
Taako immediately scrunches his nose and takes a step back.
"Taako, this stud is Mr.H. He sorta pays the bills here." Merle said, apparently unaffected by Taako's face.
"Hell of a bucket of R.L Stein goo you got there Mr.H" Taako said, now wrapping a hand over his nose.
The stranger snorted, before saying bemusedly, "yes, Dr. Highchurch's methods can be… odd, but I suppose his position has afforded him that luxury. Uhm, Merle is there anything else you want to discuss or should I leave you to it?"
"Ah, no no, we can discuss those things another time. Thank you John."
Mr. H, John, whoever, smiled at that.
He grinned and fumbled a moment before stepping through the greenery of sight.
Both Taako and Merle stayed there, quietly waiting.
They both heard the door click open, and then closed.
"Darn it Taako, I was about to get it in!"
Taako immediately winced, moving his hand from plugging his nose to slapped over his ear.
"Fucking grosserooni, old people butts."
"Ahh," Merle groaned, as if to say 'whatever'.
"Come on," he continued.
Merle clambered through the makeshift forest of his greenhouse and Taako followed, and as they moved closer to the door the smell receded.
"What is that stuff?"
Merle hemmed and hawed before just saying, "it's easier if you just call it slorp."
"Ugh," Taako groaned, face curling into an expression of disgust.
When they reached the middle aisle between the plants, Merle pulled a set of tea cups from inside a tool chest and set them on an upturned pot before setting an electric teapot to boil.
"So?" Merle asked, "what's happening?"
"Uh, no dude, priority one is obvious. You're a fucking doctor?"
Merle looked at the ceiling in a way that might have been a slow eye roll and sighed, "well, not a medical doctor."
"Well what do you want from me? Go to class for a few years, plant a couple trees and you get all sorts of stuff. I didn't even really mean to."
"Un-be-lievable, prodigy PDH Taako Taaco spent three years just on grad school for a double major in Sorcery and General Mathematics and you wander right into a doctorate,"
Merle offered a small shrug before saying, "Well I'm a little older than you Taako, dwarves kick around for a while, and school wasn't really something I was in'erested in, it was just somethin I did to kill time."
"Gods, one-hundred and twenty-seven pages on my dissertation, and Merle's just kicking around."
"Ah, hey, it beats moppin' floors,"
Merle flipped off the teapot, hearing the rush of steam out of the spout.
Taako picked a cup and one of Merle's teabags.
They were always nice, natural and herby, but you could never get the same flavor twice.
Merle poured him some water, filling his cup almost to the edge, before selecting another teabag for himself and pouring in his own water.
The pair of them sat on metal wrought chairs, a little far apart, and set their small mugs on the stone floor.
They stayed like that for a little while, just listening to the hum of the lights and the chilly Neverwinter winds.
Chapter 4: Caught in the moment
Taako was caught in the moment.
The peace, the tea.
It was all very… Nice.
Merle cleared his throat.
"So what's up?" He said, transparently worried.
Taako scooted in his seat, wiggling back and forth on the wrought iron chair.
"Do you uh-"
It was hot in the green house.
Taako leaned forward, putting his tea on the ground.
"You remember I.P.R.E life pretty well right?"
Merle nodded slowly.
"Pretty tough stuff, workin about… eighty hours in a week at the university."
"Me, Lup and Barry doing the math, you working out rations and shit, Lucretia being a nerd and Magnus as our dummy."
Merle nodded, before saying, "Davenport too,"
Taako started to say something but ended up just nodding.
"Yeah him too. We all got crammed into his apartment because he lived the closest and no one could drive after fourteen hours of work. So there were seven of us, eight if you count Dav's doberman which you should, and nine times out of ten we'd end up ordering pizza and passing out in a pile on his couch."
Merle nodded, "the Chuck Norris marathon was my favorite,"
Taako waved his hand to swipe Merle's comment out of the air.
"Sure whatever, but do you see what I'm getting at?"
Merle nodded resoundingly, "no."
Taako groaned, "oh fuck, ok: while I was getting a hundred hugs a second, I got hooked. I can't get shut eye without it."
Merle started combing a hand through his scruffy beard.
"I need a teddy bear Merle, someone I can use on demand."
He took a deliberative sip of tea.
Than another, slower this time.
Then a third, painstakingly slow.
"Have you asked Magnus?"
"No you old fart and I'm not gonna!"
Merle returned to his tea, taking another long sip.
"Why?" He asked
"Oh my god Merle, Magnus is man hot, if I sleep in the same bed as him I will have sex with him."
"Elves are very territorial just-"
"Ok, ok hum…" Merle said, turning his face into that scrunched up wrinkle ball that indicates he's actually thinking.
"Oh my god I-"
"No, no, no, ok I- it seems like you're after-"
" Clueless me."
Merle sat up as seriously as a dwarf with no shirt could be, and eyed Taako over.
"Are you sure? To Clueless someone is no small thing."
"Oh my god Merle, just find me someone to pile on the platonic affection."
"Are you- did you watch Clueless ?"
"Yes, I've watched fantasy Clueless , look Merle I jumped through all these hoops because I didn't want to say 'find me someone to sleep with', but that's what I'm asking."
Merle scoffed, "well why didn't you say that?"
Taako started to stand up, scooting back his chair and jabbed a finger at Merle.
"You know why."
"Yeah I do."
Taako started walking away, fighting through a row of Merle's plants.
"I've gotta blast my man, exciting world of math and physics."
"Lup called me!" Merle shouted after him.
"My phones at home," Taako answered.
"Are you coming to Magnus' party?"
"Uhm- shit, yeah I guess!"
Taako was by the door out by now, the lingering smell of Merle's slorp almost gone.
He struggled to get his tacky purple coat back on.
"Lup's gonna find you if she wants to!"
"No she won't!" Taako shouted back, "thanks!"
Taako, hand on the door knob, took a steadying breath.
He could hear the Neverwinter winds outside.
He opened the door.
Taako was sitting in his car.
It was snowing, light and fluffy enough it melted as it touched the concrete.
He shivered, trying to wiggle out of the last of the chill like a poor fitting pair of pants.
Taako huffed into his hands, trying to get some warmth back in them as the heating in his car kicked on.
He needed a kitchen, somewhere to cook.
The apartment was off the table, Lup might be waiting there.
This was a game now, cat and mouse: Taako trying to avoid Lup and Lup trying to worry about him.
It isn't a big deal, I just need sleep.
Taako pulled the phone out of his pocket.
He'd lied to Merle about not having it, and he had actually meant to leave it at home, but old habits.
A text from Lup, five texts from Lup, were in his notifications.
Problem was he couldn't read any of them without Lup knowing he had.
If I were Lup what would I do?
She probably got a call from Barry narcing about old sleepless and crazy Taako.
After she missed me at the apartment she would have gone back to Barry, gotten distracted by my shitty math, worried more and that means-
Taako's phone rang.
Taako tossed his phone in the back, flipped his car into drive and-
He took a breath.
It's ok. Use your grown up words.
He put the back into park and reached into the backseat and grabbed his phone.
He rejected Lup's call.
He took another breath to steady his pounding pulse.
And he communicated.
Im fine. Just need a little s pace -SENT
He took the chance to actually read Lup's texts.
Hey Ko-Ko puffs. Mag's party tonight? -9:57
Are you ok? -10:19
Bman mentioned Sazed, do i need to bust a creeps nose -10:32
Hey, im coming by your apartment -10:35
Ur not here but neither is ur phone. Text me -11:0 7
Taako slipped his phone into the passenger's seat and flipped on the wipers.
Cheap, thin Neverwinter snow caked the streets.
It was kind of beautiful.
Taako switched the car back into drive.
He needed a kitchen.
The Davy Lamp has a kitchen.
Hey im working on a sequel.
So yea, if you liked this one... Yup.
Also if you've commented I love you.