Taako plucks a bobby pin from his mouth and stuck it next to his ear, hooking the loose locks back in place. He finishes tightening the bun and turns to the pan. Thirty Garlic Clove Chicken. A simple recipe - he knows it like the back of his hand. He’s made this recipe three times since they returned from Refuge, but he hasn’t eaten it since before the last time on Sizzle It Up. He tosses the pan to flip the chicken, the weight of the pan familiar, easy, comfortable. The chicken’s almost done; he’s closer to finishing the twenty minute recipe than he has been in six years. He reaches into the cupboard for oregano, but he sees the bottle of vanilla extract, and it looks just like the bottle Sazed had, and he’s back in the wagon, and he sees Sazed’s hands tightening around the arsenic, and he closes his eyes and brings his shaking self back to the kitchen.
He turns off the stove and picks up the pan, with its familiar weight. Hands trembling, he walks over to the corner and dumps the pan’s contents in the garbage. He closes his eyes briefly and sees Sazed’s hunched shoulders, his grimace, before opening his eyes again and dropping the pan in the sink. Seems like he’s going to have a hard time meditating tonight. Again.
“It’s easier if you crush the clove first.” Taako took hold of Sazed’s hand, thin fingers around a large palm, and rotated the knife. “Push down with the broad side. That way it dices smaller.”
“I guess that matters, if we’re dicing thirty every other night,” Sazed said with a smirk. “Gotta speed it up wherever you can, right?”
“Well it’s not just about doing it faster, Sez!” Taako’s hand was still on Sazed’s, and he pointed the knife at the bits Sazed had already diced. “That’s fine, pumpkin, but here.” He guided the knife back over the whole clove and pressed the flat of the blade down onto it, crushing and breaking the clove to flatten it. “Try dicing that up. It gets really, really fine that way. Plus, then you can smell it when you’re chopping, and Oghma knows garlic is the best smell in the world.”
Their arms were basically interwoven at this point, Taako more between Sazed and the counter than off to the side. He barely noticed the closeness until Sazed moved the hand that wasn’t holding the knife, wrapping his arm around Taako’s waist. “I thought you were just going to observe tonight. Take note of my progress, and all that,” he said into Taako’s ear.
Taako released Sazed’s other hand and spun around slowly in the larger man’s grasp. “You should know by now that I’m hardly a man of my word.” There was a smile playing on Sazed’s lips, claiming no hard feelings, no annoyance, only this casual closeness, this comfort they’d both gotten used to having. Taako leaned in closer to Taazed’s face. “Lying and stardom go hand in hand.” Then he closed the space between them, beginning the kiss before he could notice the faltering of Sazed’s smile. It’s a long kiss, Sazed’s hands resting on Taako’s hips. When Taako pulled back, a lazy smile spread across his face. “We should finish this prep. Gotta be ready for my show tonight.”
“Right. Sure thing.”
Sazed jumped when Taako burst into the wagon, wide-eyed. “Drive!”
“What? The show-”
“Show’s over. Day’s over. Lives are over. We gotta go, Sez, I fucked up, we gotta go!”
Sazed shook himself out of his shock and hurried to the front of the cart, grabbing the reins for the horse and whipping lightly to get them moving. “Taako, seriously, what happened?”
“It - it must’ve been the elderberries, I think, I think I made them nightshade by mistake but I didn’t think it would - they’re just a garnish, they wouldn’t-” Taako was shaking, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Oh god, I’m gonna be sick.”
“What?” Sazed pulled back on the reins. “Taako, we gotta get you to a doctor. If you ate it-”
“ I didn’t eat it! Why didn’t I test it, maybe if I’d just - they wouldn’t have - forty people -”
Sazed blinked, processing what he’d just heard. “You didn’t…”
“I didn’t test it, I always test it, why didn’t I - I would’ve known before anything bad happened, if I’d just tested it, oh god, Sazed, I killed forty people today-” The words wouldn’t stop bubbling out of him with the hiccups and tears. “Sazed, we gotta go , this is a mass murder scene, oh god, what the hell do you do when you murder forty people?!”
Sazed cracked the whip again, and the horses set off. He didn’t eat it. “...I wouldn’t know.”
Two days later, Taako came out of a fitful meditation to see an empty cart around him. Sazed was gone. Taako had expected as much - who would ever want to associate with him now? Swallowing hard, he started fishing around in his belongings and pulled out a pair of long, sharp scissors. Lifting them carefully, he began to snip at his long hair, cutting it to his chin. Afterward, he checked his reflection in a nearby pan, and cast Prestidigitation to lighten the black locks. Red wasn’t what he had been going for, but he supposed it would work just as well as blonde.
Now it was almost like he didn’t have to look at himself in the mirror.
Taako’s been playing those last days over and over in his head. It still feels like his fault. Why does it still feel like his fault? It wasn’t, pretty definitively. Sazed just turned out to be a fucked-up dude. Not Taako’s fault! Taako’s free to go! … Even so, it feels like the blame still falls on his shoulders. What if he’d said yes to the program change for Sizzle It Up? Would it have been good for the brand? Would those people have lived? Would Taako and Sazed still be together?
Would Taako have ever known Sazed was capable of murder?
Taako squints his eyes shut and rubs his forehead. When he opens them again, he’s still in the kitchen. The garlic chicken is in the garbage, the pan is in the sink, the cupboard is still open. He closes it with a sigh and leaves the dorm to go eat somewhere else.