I originally wrote this in August of 2017. I relate a lot to Taako in different ways, so I ended up writing a few different fics about him; this is the first one that was from his POV. Taako is really great, so it was nice to delve into his character like this. I'll include the original author's notes at the end of this story. Thanks for reading, I hope you like it!
Come on, Taako. They're just fucking brownies. Brownies are easy, you can handle that much at least.
Refuge had done something to all three of them. That much was obvious. The Temporal Chalice had shown them things, things they could've changed, regrets they could've fixed, that all three of them had chosen to leave alone. None of them shared what they'd seen with each other, but they couldn't hide what it'd done to them. Merle seemed to be affected the least by it. Whenever he was asked about it, he'd just say something along the lines of 'what happened's happened', or 'it is what it is'. He'd appear deep in thought once in awhile, but nothing big. Magnus was a lot less talkative and cheerful than usual. The most he'd revealed about what he'd seen was just 'it's not what Julia would have wanted', but barring that, it seemed like Magnus would've wanted to use the Chalice. He could frequently be found muttering to himself, pacing across rooms, probably trying to hold himself back from taking some kind of action. Action was what defined Magnus. Whatever he'd seen, it must've been rough.
(That wasn't all, either. Ever since they left Refuge, Magnus seemed to be hiding something other than the Temporal Chalice's vision, even from Merle and Taako, which in itself was unusual as well. Something was going on with him, but Taako wasn't overly concerned. Whatever. Magnus is a big boy, he can take care of himself.)
Taako had no idea what either of them had seen. The only thing Taako knew was what the Chalice had shown him. Several years ago, when Sizzle it Up went to shit and several people died in the aftermath, he'd assumed it was his fault. Like, it made sense, right? It was his show, he made the food, and the food killed everyone. He easily could've made a mistake with his magic. He couldn't trust himself after that day, not with cooking, and especially not with cooking using magic. His career with cooking was gone, dead, and any desire to cook again after that was, well, cooked. The next time he tried to use magic after that, he lost control. The few times he got it to work at all, he accidentally transmuted everything around him. But magic was the only thing left to him then, so he kept trying. It took literal years to get enough control just to cast the basic spells again. Even then, he still didn't completely trust himself. He lost faith in his abilities.
The incident had been eating at him for years now. Hell, it still was. So much time spent trying to get a hold on himself, move on, find a way to be actually happy again. Only for it all to mean nothing. That suffering all for nothing. Taako didn't kill anyone that day. It'd been his assistant, Sazed, who poisoned the food that day. Taako had done everything right, and this entire time he'd thought he was a murderer.
This was the first time he'd really processed that fact since the Chalice had told him. This was the first time he really could process that fact. At the time, he'd played it off like he was glad, like he didn't care anymore. like things were fine now. Sure, he took some comfort every time he reminded himself of what really happened. But it still didn't really...feel like it. He still felt like it was his fault. He still felt like he couldn't trust himself. Not to cook, not to transmute things correctly. Not to cook something and poison everyone he cared about.
It still wasn't his fault, no matter how he felt about it. He hadn't made any mistakes, in his magic or his cooking. And the last time he'd cooked, for Candlenights, everyone that ate the presents he made were still alive. (He'd been able to get himself to bake then because he couldn't think of any better present, and he didn't use any magic at all then either. Plus, it wasn't like he really cared about any of those people anyway, and whether that was true or not, that's what he told himself.) Cooking certainly wasn't something Taako had to do in his current position, but cooking was part of who Taako was. It was something he wanted to do. So, Taako needed to grill it into his head that he could cook again without poisoning and murdering the entire Bureau of Balance. The best way to do that, he decided, was to force himself. Force himself to work in the kitchen again. He'd start small, make something easy, no magic involved, and work his way up to more grandiose meals.
A few hours ago, he'd made a Fantasy Costco run. Struck a deal with Garfield. A brownie mix (made by Fantasy Betty Crocker), some eggs, and some vegetable oil, all in exchange for a couple of strands of the dead ends in his hair. (...He really ought to go to the fantasy barber soon.) Taako enacted the actual baking part of his plan in the middle of the night, when no one would be around, whether it was to watch, get involved, or witness any feelings he might have during the process. And when it was over, just in case something went wrong, he'd keep the brownies for himself. The whole thing was foolproof. The instructions even came with the brownie mix, Taako couldn't get any simpler than this. There was literally no way to fuck it up.
So come on, Taako. You can do it. They're just brownies. Even if you do somehow mess it up, it's not like any real harm will be done, right? No risks. So stop being an asshole and go for it already.
Taako stood in the middle of the kitchen, frozen. He couldn't even look at the ingredients he'd put on the counter. He was staring at the floor, trying to convince himself to move, to grab the ingredients, to start baking. And after about ten minutes of mentally convincing himself, ten minutes of telling himself it'd be okay, he finally got himself to move. He grabbed the box of brownie mix and opened it up.
It was a slow process. He couldn't force himself to go too fast. The entire time, Taako watched his hands and every ingredient like a hawk, making sure that nothing went wrong, that everything was okay. Continuously, he reassured himself that things were going alright, to keep himself going. By the time the brownie mixture was in a pan that went over a fire (inside the fantasy oven, if you will), he was tired. Emotionally tired more than physically, though being up so late didn't really help. But he couldn't stop there, so he kept watching the brownies, made sure they baked for just the right time, and pulled them back out to cool. Brownies didn't take that long to bake. Once they cooled down, they'd be done.
After a few minutes of waiting, which Taako spent tapping his fingers against the counter, completely bored, he pulled out a butter knife and cut the brownies into small pieces. Jabbing the knife under one of the corner pieces (always start with corner pieces), he held one of the brownies in his hand. Stared at it.
Taako, you didn't poison your damn brownies. You were careful the whole time, you definitely didn't make any mistakes. Besides, like you said before, no harm done. Just eat it you wuss.
He took a bite. Not bad. Not bad at all for someone who's barely touched a kitchen since his show's end. He took a few more bites. Five minutes later he was still standing. Looks like they turned out alright after all. Without another moment's hesitation, Taako put away everything he'd used and tucked the remaining brownies into some deep, hidden part of his room.
The next day, Magnus commented that the kitchen smelled really good, and Merle noted that the kitchen looked like it'd been used. Taako feigned ignorance to both statements.
The Director started training the three Reclaimers personally a few days ago.
In a word, it was intense. She refused to let up an inch, refused to go easy on them. The Director almost seemed to know their limits better than they did, pushing them beyond what they'd thought possible. Intense as it was, Merle, Magnus, and Taako were all improving fast, but they were all proportionately exhausted, too.
From experience, Taako knew the best way to pick himself back up from fatigue. Whether it was from all these training sessions, a particularly rough cooking show, or working hard to make himself seem useful and valuable, the same pick-me-up always seemed to work: cooking up a good meal. So, as part of his continuing effort to be less of an asshole and to stop blaming himself for shit he didn't do, he'd do exactly that. Sure, it would just add more stress upon all the training going on. But, hey, he'd probably feel better once everything was put together, and if he didn't keep pushing itself, he'd never feel comfortable cooking again.
So, here he was, back in the kitchen again. Taako wasn't going to do this in the middle of the night. Of course not. He needed to be well rested for tomorrow, because he could make all he excuses in the world, but the Director wasn't going to take any of it from him. He'd already tried. Better to be actually well-rested and at his best. Plus, if he was going go try whatever he made, and if he was making an actual meal this time, better to do it earlier. It was earlier in the evening this time. Magnus and Merle had both still retired to their rooms, leaving Taako on his own which was, probably, all for the best. All of the ingredients necessary were laid out in front of him. This time, Taako was going to make porkchops topped with stuffing and cream of mushroom soup.
Baby steps. This wasn't just throwing together some brownie mix and a couple of other things, like the night he'd first started this whole cooking again thing. If he was going to get comfortable cooking the way he used to, he had to work up to it. It was a process. So for today, most of the ingredients weren't...what he'd need at all. Instead of pork chops, he had ham slices, dug out from the back of their refrigerator. His main ingredient for stuffing was some old boring cereal. The only things that were correct were the spices and the cream of mushroom soup (Fantasy Campbell's brand). Those few things he'd gotten at Fantasy Costco in exchange for something he stole in some old mission or whatever, obviously nothing important since he didn't even remember what it was, but Garfield was more than happy to take it. The rest he'd transmute.
This would work. The porkchops would be fine, the stuffing would be fine, you can't poison the soup if you don't use magic on it. Just go for it.
Mixing ingredients together wasn't as difficult as he'd assumed. Maybe this was working out after all. Transmuting was the hard part. Taako...hadn't transmuted food in his cooking since the...incident. The fear at this point was ridiculous, right? He'd never killed anyone by transmuting his food, right? It shouldn't be a big deal. But it wasn't actually that simple, was it? The first few attempts at transmuting the cereal missed completely, and then instead of getting his bread cubes, it was turning into other cereals. Not really what he had in mind.
Well, better that than the alternative. It could be turning into dirt, or flowers, or poison, or it could explode. It was turning into food, at least. He was definitely in better control of his magic than he'd been five years ago.
Carefully, watching every ingredient as it finally transmuted into what he wanted, watching everything he mixed and poured, Taako prepared the meal to be cooked. Once everything was finally transmuted into the correct ingredients, and everything was all set to cook, he stuck the pork chops over the fire. Just when he thought he could relax for the next half hour or so, he heard a door open.
"Alright, Taako." Merle waddled out of his room, rubbing his eyes. "I can tell you're casting a lot of spells out here, I can almost feel all the magic you're using, what're you-" He stopped once the kitchen and Taako were in range, and stared blankly at him. "Are you cooking?"
"No, I'm taking a shit." Taako rolled his eyes. "What does it look like?"
"Ah, well... You know..." Merle backpedaled. "It's just... I've never seen you cook before! I know you used to have a cooking show and all, but I haven't really seen you use this kitchen the entire time we've been here."
Taako leaned forward, leaning his elbows on the counter. "Yeah, well. I am now. Sometimes a guy just feels like cooking."
"Yeah, of course. Nothing wrong with that." Merle still hadn't moved from the door leading into his room, and he didn't look he was sure if he should or not. "I don't want to get into anything you don't want to talk about, but is there any reason you're cooking now? I mean, you've barely touched the kitchen in the past year. I think you baked something, like, once? It's been awhile."
You don't know the half of it, hombre. But whatever. Taako didn't want to get too deep into any conversation about his lack of cooking, and he was grateful that Merle was respecting that.
"It's just...comforting I guess?" he responded. "Cooking's always been the one thing I've always had going for me. It used to be fun. Figured that if I could get over myself, maybe it could be fun again, you know?"
It was weird. Cooking used to mean so, so much to him. But Taako couldn't remember why. He had all these warm, fuzzy memories of cooking, before Sizzle it Up even, but nothing about them seemed happy or special. There were some pieces missing in that puzzle, but he couldn't even begin to think about it or figure it out. He must be tired from all the training lately. It wasn't that big of a deal anyway. But if he could get that feeling back with cooking...maybe he could really start enjoying himself here. It's been so long since he's had a feeling like that that's really lasted.
As if he's gonna relay any of this to Merle, though. Get all emotional with the cleric while waiting on the pork chops? No thanks.
"Absolutely," Merle agreed. "Just give it some time. I'm sure you'll figure it out, buddy."
No response to that. The two of them sat in silence for awhile, Merle still not leaving his spot, Taako tapping his fingers against the countertop.
After about ten minutes of nothing, Merle spoke again. "So, uh, got enough for two there? Any plans on sharing?"
"No can do, buckaroo," Taako responded. This, of course, was a lie; there was more than enough for two, but like hell was Taako sharing. "Taako's cooking for one tonight."
The pork chops were delicious, and Taako was still up and kicking the next day, which was a plus.
Today was the first day in some time now that the three Reclaimers got a break from training.
With a day to do whatever he wanted with, Taako knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was early in the afternoon. Usually, around this time, he'd run down to the Bureau's cafeteria and grab whatever they had for lunch. This time, however, he wouldn't have to go far. He'd make his own lunch right in their kitchen. He already had everything he needed. Today's lunch would be a nice hot turkey with gravy and potatoes.
Everything was all set. But as Taako turned away from the back of the kitchen and towards the front, there was something else. Something unexpected.
Merle was standing near the kitchen's entrance.
"Hey, buddy," Merle called out once Taako spotted him. "Got enough for two today?"
Crap. Crap crap crap-
"Huh? What's going on here?" Magnus had been walking out of his own room, on his way to the cafeteria. Noticing that something was happening, he stopped. Now Merle was explaining what was going on, and Magnus wanted to try out Taako's cooking, too, this wasn't supposed to happen at all and instead of telling them to fuck off Taako was just standing there like an idiot-
Back when Taako was hosting Sizzle it Up, he always used to sample the food before giving it out for people to try. He had to make sure it tasted alright because he couldn't let himself going around with a bad reputation from serving bad food, could he? The one time he didn't, forty people died. If he'd sampled the food first, he could've stopped it from happening, prevented the show's abrupt end. Now that he thought about it, Taako hadn't sampled any of his dishes he'd made since he started cooking again at the Bureau. Maybe he was out of the habit, maybe he hadn't thought it was necessary. Maybe he just hadn't wanted to think about it. But if he tested this lunch before sharing it, then maybe it'd be okay. And if he could share his cooking again, maybe he'd get more comfortable with the whole thing again.
So he agreed. He could get three meals out of what he already had out.
"Wait, wait." Magnus held up a hand. "We gotta get the whole Taako experience with this. Eating the food is one thing. But you gotta give us the show with it, man."
Crap. "The show ended five years ago," Taako pointed out. "There's no 'Sizzle it Up with Taako' anymore."
"Come on, now, Magnus has a point," Merle argued. "You can bring it back for one day, can't you?"
"Ugh, fine," Taako groaned. If it'd shut them up and just let him make his lunch already. "Just turn around for two seconds."
Merle and Magnus turned around. Taako cast a quick spell, then told them to turn around again.
You can't do a show without a stage, or at least a stagecoach. So, Taako made do with conjuring a big, fancy red curtain in front of his working area, and opened it up for them to see. With a smile a little too big to be real but not enough to be noticeable, he greeted the guests and announced the beginning of the show. And with that, the show was on.
The Umbra Staff was great. It'd done Taako well in several battles up to this point. But the thing was big and bulky, a little too much so to be waving around in the kitchen. It was still present, of course, tucked away in the corner. But for cooking purposes, Taako stuck to his traditional wand, the original one he'd wielded when he joined the Bureau. (Thank goodness he'd gotten it fixed way back when.) And he'd need it for today's meal. He hadn't wanted to make another Fantasy Costco run, so Taako was transmuting just about all of the ingredients.
As he always had with Sizzle it Up, Taako made a big production of it. Made things look nice, and fun, and enjoyable to watch. And, as always, the audience absolutely loved it. Merle and Magnus laughed with every joke he made, clapped when appropriate, yelled out encouragement and positive feedback.
But it wasn't the same. Not even close. It was obvious to Taako with every spell he cast, everything he said out loud. Sizzle it Up had always been over the top, but this was even a notch above, and not in the good way. He was trying way too hard, every spell was more flashy than it ought to be, the jokes he threw in to spice things up weren't nearly as funny as his old ones, and he just didn't know how to do the show anymore. After this long, Taako had no idea how to follow Sizzle it Up's recipe for success the way he used to, and to him at least, it showed. Somehow, his audience didn't notice. But he immediately knew that he wasn't going to try to do this again.
He kept a close eye on everything he did regardless, and at the end of the show, Taako tested the dish he made. Hot turkey with gravy and potatoes, just like he'd planned before. It tasted alright, good enough to try out. Didn't seem like any part of it had been poisoned. So before he could stop himself, Taako gave Merle and Magnus their plates.
"This is really good!" Magnus said through a bite of turkey. "Like, really really good. Way better than the cafeteria food. You should do this more often."
Taako smiled. "Well, maybe not the whole show thing." Definitely not the whole show thing. "But I've been trying to cook more again, so maybe it'll happen."
"It should happen." Merle looked up from cutting his turkey. "I can't believe you've been holding out on us! You've been able to cook like this the whole time?"
"Seems so, my man," Taako replied.
Merle and Magnus kept talking and joking through their food, and as Taako listened to them, he realized something. When he said he might cook for these two again, there hadn't been any hesitation behind it. He hadn't wrapped that sentence in any number of layers of lies, like he did with about half the things he said. He actually meant it and believed it.
There was more to that itself than just getting more comfortable with cooking itself. Taako was willing to cook for other people again, which required a certain amount of trust in himself that he'd lacked a month or so ago. He trusted himself not to make any mistakes. He trusted himself not to kill the people he fed.
And then, as he stared down at his own food, it hit him. Taako'd lost trust on that day where his food killed forty people. But that hadn't been by his own actions. Everything he'd done on that day had been, as always, flawless. He didn't lose faith in himself over any mistake he made. Instead, this blow was dealt by the actions of the person that, at the time, he had trusted and cared about the most. He'd traveled with Sazed for years, and he was still betrayed in the end.
That was after years of companionship. Taako had only been working with Merle and Magnus now for about, what, a year? If Sazed could stab him in the back, what was stopping these chucklefucks?
Taako stuffed a bite of potatoes into his mouth as he watched Magnus and Merle laugh at their own joke.
He'd spent so long unable to trust himself.
But maybe, this whole time, the only person he could trust was himself.
ayyyy tried to keep this as canon compliant as i could, i think episode 68 may have kinda messed with this but that's okay. at first i just wanted this to be taako, like, dealing with his trauma and like, just moving past what happened and trying to get to a better place, and then it also turned into an exercise in exploring how the eleventh hour helped push taako to the point of declaring he couldn't trust anyone or believe anything at the end of suffering game. you know how it is. might also kinda be a venty fic in how i (try to) deal with my bad social anxiety, but, whatever.
disclaimer: i don't really cook, i know how to make like three meals, and i won't pretend to know anything about dnd and its magic mechanics. sorry for keeping that all vague, i did look at a couple of recipes for reference (one was definitely the betty crocker brownie mix, my memory's awful) but then i didn't even really follow them, but, you get the idea.
i think about taako way too much i love him and after purpureus my brain told me to write this it's a curse now