Taako guards himself carefully.
He has to; if he gets exposed he gets hurt. He isn’t young anymore, but he is still stupid. The only way to not let people too close is to not let them in at all. There’s supposed to be boundaries that someone has, to stop toxic people from burrowing their way to your center and clinging themselves onto you.
Taako figures either he never had those, or maybe those were restraints that were broken for so long that he can’t even remember when they were there. If he hadn’t been living this way for as long as he can remember it might have been concerning, but by now it was a steady pattern. Get in, get out, look after number one, and you had to be number one because nobody else was going to make you their number one.
This, of course, was before he met Magnus Burnsides.
Magnus rushed in, he used his body as a shield and took all the damage. Taako had never met anyone like him.
Or maybe he had, maybe in the back of his mind he could conjure someone like that, but he can’t imagine that they lasted long, not in this world. How Magnus has made it to thirty years old is fucking incredible, and there’s a stiff way that Magnus holds himself after the trio come back from a risky mission that carries the uncomfortable truth: Magnus was never expecting to make it this long, either.
There’s a conversation that could be had, an agreement reached, when its late at night and Magnus wanders into the kitchen only to find that Taako has already perched himself there. But they don’t ask why the other can’t sleep tonight, don’t remark on the frequency of these meetings, don’t mention that Taako always sits right next to stove, looking at it longingly but never touching it, that Magnus runs his hands over the chair that he plops into with a disappointed expression, as if he could do a better job. They don’t talk about anything, just listening to the steady beat of someone else’s breathe as they separately try to keep memories at bay.
Refuge brings back memories in everyone.
Merle seems the least affected, but Taako still sees the way he cradles his wooden arm. He sees how the dwarf rearranges himself so that his arm isn’t next to Magnus, as if he were afraid that the larger man would chop it off again. If there wasn’t a hollow look in Merle’s eyes Taako would laugh. Instead he helps the cleric, moves to the middle of the trio, and he pretends to not see Merle’s relief. He is not getting attached. He is not caring for anyone but number one. He just would have been annoyed if he had to listen to Merle huff and complain all day, he tries to convince himself.
Kravitz drops Taako off near his dorm. He had dropped the ridiculous accent early in the night, and was now speaking in a more natural tone. It was sweet, but also horrifying. It meant that they were being intimate. They were being honest with each other.
It had been way too long since Taako had told the truth, and he’s rusty at it, but it was almost nice? It made him almost...feel things. He’d been numb for a little too long.
“Can I-uh, would you mind?” Kravitz makes a weird gesture, and Taako’s fried brain takes too long to recognize what he wants. With his arms curved out inches from his chest and then moving inward, closing in and then reopening, for a second Taako thinks Kravitz was asking for his bowl, but shit, he wants a hug.
“You don’t have to!” Kravitz clarifies, and a red flush stretches across his dark cheeks. Taako smiles, despite himself.
“Come here,” he gestures towards himself and in a moment of intimacy that surprises both Kravitz and himself he initiates the contact.
It’s...nice. Damn, it’s really nice.
“I hate to break this,” Kravitz says softly into his ear, “but I have to be at work soon.”
And just like that Taako pulls himself off. He tries to pretend like he isn’t disappointed. As he walks back to the dorm, he tries to shove the hopeful thoughts out of his mind. This was nice. Nice things don’t happen to bad people.
Bad people can’t get close; and dammit, he was really close at this point. He was getting too fucking close.
He’s in the kitchen, singing off-key on purpose as he tosses some onions into a pan and sautees them. Kravitz is at the table, laughing.
“Your mother used to sing that to you?” Kravtiz says.
Taako puts the pan down and grabs some garlic. “My aunt.” He puts the food onto two plates, and carries them both in one hand to the table. He’s showing off. Kravitz is delighted.
“I hope you enjoy this,” Taako says as he sets the table and turns to grab silverware from the cabinets, “because this meal is fucking impossible to make. Do you know how many cloves of garlic it takes? Take a guess, buddy.”
Kravitz doesn’t respond, and suddenly memories burst into Taako’s head and he can’t breathe, he can’t believe he was dumb enough to-
He turns around and Kravitz is on the floor and Saazed is sitting where he was. The bastard smiles and Taako just freezes.
He’s surprised to find Magnus at the kitchen table. His red hair, usually stuck up in different angles, is glued to his head by sweat.
Taako tries to sneak by him, but he hits a creaky floorboard.
Magnus jumps up, eyes wild, hands balled up, but when he realizes who it is he smiles apologetically and moves to let Taako get to his usual position. They’ve done this before, a thousand times, but this time is different.
Magnus breaks the silence. “I had a nightmare,” he says, staring off at nothing.
“No shit, sherlock,” Taako mutters, but his voice is soft and sympathetic. There’s a slight pause as Magnus turns his head to look at Taako, and finally the elf sighs and replies. “Me too, buddy.”
“Was it about what the Chalice showed you?”
Taako can’t help it, he flinches.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Magnus says, his hands up in a placating gesture and his eyes wide. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to say anything.”
Taako nods, and they stay in silence for a while. When it finally gets comfortable Taako breaks it. “Was your nightmare chalice-related?” He’s piled all his bangs over his right eye, leaning back against the back of the kitchen, but his shoulders are tense.
Magnus nods. He speaks slowly, choosing his words carefully. “It was about someone...someone who hurt someone important to me.”
“Huh,” Taako lets out a shaky breath. He starts to tap his long fingernails on the counter. “Same.”
Magnus looks up at him, and there’s a look of sympathy on his face as he shakily laughs and responds. “Huh.”
It’s such a fragile moment, such a candid moment, and Taako can’t help but blurt out. “What’s even the point, right?”
Magnus scrunches his face together. “What do you mean?”
“Forget it,” he shrugs, and tries to sink further into himself.
Magnus shakes his head. “I wanna know what you mean.”
Taako groans. Magnus is a good guy, but he pushes people too far and he just won’t take no for an answer.
“I mean,” Taako says, softly, “why get near people when you’re just gonna get hurt?”
There’s a pause before Magnus adds “Or you’re gonna get them hurt.” His voice sounds broken, and he’s got that glazed over look in his eyes, but Taako doesn’t want to know what he’s thinking of even if his gut tells him to ask and to comfort the large fighter.
Magnus shakes his head and stands up from his chair. “You can’t live life without people, Taako.”
The elf shakes his head, dark hair flying everywhere, and he lets out a bitter laugh. “Watch me, kemosabe.”
Magnus looks at him with such pity. “It’s not safe.”
“Neither is being a human shield, Maggie.”
Magnus stops, blinks, and then in a moment that surprises Taako he smiles a sad smile and nods. “God, we’re fucked up,” he laughs, and Taako joins him, and they keep laughing as Merle sleeps through their moment.
When Merle walks into the kitchen next morning Taako is splayed across the kitchen cabinets, and Magnus is sleeping in a chair, hunched against the table. He smiles, rolls his eyes, and wakes them up. Things aren't okay-things have never been okay, but maybe, Taako muses as Merle tries to push Magnus out of his chair, maybe things are decent.