I think for awhile there... I gave up on everything. Miracles. Hope. Faith. None of it meant anything. I just... I hates everything. Rourke. Lundgren. The Endless. ...Myself.
And then it was all going to be over... And I think part of me was pleased about that, in a way... But, never fear, for when a Boy Scout's in trouble; his Top Gun shall appear. Heh, you can't hear me, but I'm laughing... I hope you are too, because I like when you laugh. I know you had few reasons to, for a long time... But soon, all that will change. I promise.
Time Escapes Me.
Taylor found himself lost in light, his surroundings no more than a blinding haze of white. A voice, resonant and strangely familiar, whispered to him through the emptiness. "You're beginning to understand, aren't you..?" The voice seemed almost to sparkle, flitting in and out of audibility. "Who you truly are..."
I know who I am. Taylor thought firmly, resisting the teasing lilt to the voice, telling himself he was his own person, not some pawn of fate or result of a manipulative tome traveller. I am not your toy. I am myself; and I will remain so...
"The more you experience, the more defined you become..." The voice continued, almost seeming to goad him slyly. Taylor squinted against the unbearable brightness, as the voice seemed to laugh lightly, fading into the infinite void. "We will meet again soon, Taylor. It is almost time." The voice whispered, as the bright light around him seemed to throb and intensify. "All that was, is, and shall be; depends on your choices..." The voice whispered faintly, as Taylor was overcome with light.
"Urgh..." Taylor groaned, cradling his head in his hands as it swam with residual pain. He took a deep breath, and released a shaky sigh, as he frowned at the floor, certain he'd just forgotten something important. He raised his head slowly and looked around the tunnel, deep beneath Mount Atropo.
Yvonne was aghast, staring at The Endless in shock, but quickly adapting. Uqzhaal, however, was clearly lost to the overwhelming sting of betrayal. And this is how you alienate those you care for... He thought sadly, understanding that no words from himself would ever repair the friendship he'd once had with the Vaanti shaman.
Taylor sighed as he looked back at The Endless reluctantly, his heart stopping in his chest, as he once again felt the awkward sensation of looking into a mirror, one which twisted his reflection to that of a much older version of himself. The Endless, stared back at Taylor fondly, clearly amused by his dramatic reaction to the removal of their helmet
"What sort of devilry is this?!" Yvonne demanded, her hand dipping to ChouChou's hilt, as she stared at The Endless in disbelief and fearful confusion.
"There aren't words for how bad I wanna punch you in your smug face right now..." Taylor sighed, shaking his head in dejection as he pushed away from the wall and scratched at the back of his neck, his stomach churning queasily. "But, that would just be awkward on so many levels. One because you're old, and that would make me a dick..." He said, raising his free hand as he curled his lip and raised a brow in consideration. "And of course there's reason two, because... You're..." He broke off, gesturing vaguely towards The Endless, unable to bring himself to say the words aloud.
"I'm you." The Endless chuckled, beaming a wide grin at him, as Taylor scowled back in response. "Yes."
"Urgh, why'd you have to say it aloud?" Taylor groaned, covering his face with his hands as his stomach lurched, threatening to spill whatever remaining contents it had. "Urgh, I have this sudden urge to get really, really drunk..." He sighed, suddenly understanding Jake's urge to drink whenever he was too overwhelmed.
"Don't worry, the suit will prevent a paradox from being caused by our proximity to one another." The Endless assured, and Taylor blinked over at him blankly.
"Uh, yeah... That's... Totally what I was worried about..." He said haltingly, clearing his throat as he looked away.
"You lied to us." Uqzhaal said brokenly, his eyes filled with betrayal. A slow flame of fury began to flare in his gaze, as his wizened face hardened to a hateful snarl. "Lied to the Vaanti... for generations!"
"I did not lie." The Endless replied simply, looking down at Uqzhaal calmly. "The Twelve are integral to preserving Vaanu." He explained, as Taylor flinched at a stab of pain in his brow.
"You used my people as mere pawns, fodder..." The shaman snarled, ignorant of The Endless's words, as his fury blazed to an inferno. "Caring only about your so called Catalysts!"
"You needed something to believe in, didn't you?" The Endless reasoned, cocking his head curiously, as he calmly met Uqzhaal's narrowing crimson eyes. The shaman's jaw flexed, giving his face an even more skeletal appearance, as he fell silent; glaring at The Endless in hate and disgust. "I know this must all seem very strange..." The Endless said suddenly, turning serious as he looked back at Taylor, who snorted at the enormous understatement. "Is there anything you'd like to ask me, Taylor?"
"You mean, other than 'why're you such an asshole'?" Taylor scoffed, scowling at The Endless, as they chuckled in amusement. Taylor sighed, attempting to sort through his chaotic thoughts, trying to dodge around the new memories in his head, from The Endless's long life on the island. "How are you able to manipulate time?" He asked suddenly, his eyes locking onto The Endless intently, as the older version of himself blinked in surprise.
"Most of the ability to walk the passage of time, comes from the suit..." The old man replied, hesitating briefly as he glanced away. "It is a skill I have nurtured over many years, through meditation and careful study... and a, uh, understanding with Vaanu..."
Taylor narrowed his eyes at The Endless, sensing the lie in the vague evasion, but choosing not to press the issue for the moment. Why cant this guy just answer a goddam question with a straight blood answer?! I'm not this annoying! He thought, balking suddenly at the worrisome thought. Am I..? He wondered, biting his lip nervously. He shook his head, determined not to let the elderly man throw him aside so easily.
"How have you lived so long?" He asked distractedly, resolving to return to the issue of controlling time at another opportunity. At least I have somewhere to begin my own 'careful study'... He thought with a snort, as he imagined Jake's expression if he ever caught him meditating. His amusement died however, at the thought of his pilot. Potentially hurt, alone or worse; both.
"By evading the ravages of time, just as you have." The Endless replied, seeming far more comfortable with the question, though still annoyingly evasive.
"Based on looks," Yvonne scoffed, shaking her head as she set her hands on her hips, and eyed The Endless speculatively. "I'd have to say the ravages have been far kinder to Taylor..." She sniggered quietly.
"This suit allows me to prevent my body from aging further... But, it took many years to perfect." The Endless said with a dry chuckle, breaking into a wide grin. "With time comes wisdom... and wrinkles."
"Oh my god, you are so annoying." Taylor huffed, running a hand through his hair as he bit his lip, his gaze tortured by fear, as he met eyes identical to his own. "You said... the others are still alive?"
"They've eluded Rourke and his henchmen so far, but I doubt they can keep it up." The Endless said, the first serious and firm response he'd given. "We must act quickly."
"First he wanted us in stasis tanks, now he wants us all dead?" Taylor sighed, shaking his head in dejection, as he huffed bitterly. "Well, except me, of course..." He said, narrowing his eyes at The Endless in sudden suspicion. "Why do I get the feeling you'd know why that is..?"
"Rourke isn't much for loose ends." The Endless said with a dismissive shrug, though Taylor could see the dark tint of hatred, deep within his eyes. "Now that he's discovered an energy source capable of powering his device, he no longer needs me... or you."
"Then why the hell does he want me?" Taylor demanded, frustration bubbling in his gut, as The Endless evaded his previous question.
"He's a collector." The Endless shrugged. "Just because he can't use you, doesn't mean he isn't still fascinated. I imagine some part of him wants to study you, but mostly, I suspect he just wants to own you."
"Oh, joy! The insane scientist slash dictator wants to keep me in deep freeze as a goddamn trophy." Taylor snarked, scowling petulantly at The Endless, as if it were his fault that Rourke wanted to capture him.
The Endless sighed, ignoring Taylors outburst as the flame on his bionic arm flickered in obvious concern, as he turned to gaze down the tunnel blankly. "As for our friends... It's only a matter of time before Rourke's Arachnid mercenaries locate everyone."
"Okay, but how is any of this even possible?" Taylor demanded, shaking his head in frustration as The Endless looked over at him curiously. "What are you? What..." The words stuck in his throat, grief suffocating him as he forced them out. "What... am I?" He asked sadly, his heart heavy at the mystery of his own mortality.
The Endless lowered their mechanical limb towards the floor of the tunnel. "My journey to self discovery was long, and difficult." He said slowly, his eyes sparking with the first true hint of regret Taylor could recall seeing in the aged version of himself. "Yours will happen much faster." He added, lowering his gaze briefly, before seeming to find some shred of determination, as he looked up at Taylor once again. "It's important, however, that you develop that understanding; on your own." Flames swirled from The Endless's metal fingertips, igniting a line of powder. Sparks travelled along the trails length, disappearing around a bend in the tunnel. "In the end," the old man said, smiling encouragingly at Taylor, while he scowled at the elderly version of himself distrustfully. "It's up to you, to decide who you truly are."
"Right. Gotcha." Taylor scoffed, rolling his eyes with a derisive snort. "Don't ask Taylor, because he won't give you a straight damn answer." He muttered, about to continue his grousing, when his eyes widened in shock; as a distant explosion echoed through the caverns.
"There. That should activate the crux. We'll-" The Endless's confident comment cut off abruptly, his own eyes mimicking Taylors wide gaze.
Taylor felt a slight tremor, so subtle, it almost seemed to be coming from his own heart; tight with anticipation, and dread. He raised his hand slowly, rubbing absently at his chest, as he stared at The Endless's confused expression. "What the hell did you just do..?" He whispered, fear nipping at his heart, as the strange sensation lingered.
"This is not as I'd expected." The Endless admitted, his face falling as he bit his lip nervously, exacerbating Taylors own rising panic. He was about to press the old man for more answers, when the tunnel pitched suddenly, sending them all sprawling to the ground.
"Ugh!" Taylor grunted, his shoulder slamming into the ground hard. He heard Uqzhaal wheeze in pain a short ways away, and he rolled to his side as the walls began to shake. "Uqzhaal..! Here..." He said, helping the shaman back to his feet carefully, his heart aching as the Vaanti refused to meet his eyes. "I'm so sorry..." He whispered, his eyes burning, as the shaman turned away without a word. Taylor took a deep breath, trying to centre himself, as a gust of wind, intensely hot, blasted through the area.
"The mountain is erupting!" Uqzhaal gasped, breaking his silence as shock and realisation consumed him.
"... Right now?" Taylor choked, looking around in concern. He gasped suddenly, slamming his arms against the sides of his head, as over the din, an ear splitting roar resounded from somewhere deep below.
"AAaAaAAaHHhhH!" It seemed to cry, and Taylor felt his heart throb in response, hammering against his chest as if trying to reach out to the crier.
"By the black depths, what..?" Yvonne choked, gripping her cutlass handle tight, as she glanced around nervously.
"Now, I understand..." The Endless mused, his eyes wide as he cane to some realisation. "The core is missing, destabilizing the entire structure..." He said, looking over at Taylor urgently. "We need to leave, immediately."
"I really don't like you..." Taylor muttered, as the others rushed off ahead of him. He sighed, and raced after them, running headlong through the caves to the temple's entrance.
Outside, a plume of of fire and smoke, billowed from Mount Atropo's summit. Streams of shimmering lava, wound their way down the slopes. "Oh my god..." Taylor gasped, staring at the destructive force bearing down on them. "What the hell did you do..?"
"Too late..." Uqzhaal murmured, shaking his head sadly as he stared up at the volcano in defeat. "It's all too late... Raan'losti has come." He said, and though Taylor desperately wished to offer the elderly Vaanti comfort, he carefully held himself back from resting his hand upon the shaman's shoulder.
Yvonne suddenly twisted, moving in front of The Endless and blocking the spacesuit clad figures path. "Arrete, demon!" She growled, scowling at him as she laid her hand warningly on the hilt of her cutlass. "You said if I brought you Taylor, you'd give me the fountain."
"And as we've just heard, Yvonne; he's nothing but a liar, and overall asshole... Considering what he did to the Vaanti alone." Taylor huffed, folding his arms and pointedly averting his gaze, as The Endless frowned over at him.
"You are unusually hostile. I do not recall ever being so-" The Endless began, only for Taylor to quickly dismiss his comment with a wave of his hand.
"Just shut up, and tell the woman what she wants to damn well know." He snarked, as The Endless sighed and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"The legendary Fountain of Youth..." The Endless hummed thoughtfully, turning to look back the way they'd fled through the tunnels. "It's inside the mountain, just as you and your fellow pirates believed... But, not in the form you expected. In any case, I wouldn't go back in there now..." He said, throwing a gesture towards the mountaintop, where geysers of lava rocketed into the night sky. "This is no ordinary eruption. The entire island is about to change... Just as it did when Rourke tampered with the crux."
"I knew that bastard did something!" Taylor cried, scowling at the volcano, before settling his ire onto The Endless. "You didn't know this would happen?! You saw everything else... but not this?" He demanded, half expecting the old man to evade his question once again.
"This is as new to me as it is to you..." The Endless replied, and for once Taylor was only able to sense honest surprise from the elderly man.
"Can't we just go back in time and stop it?!" Taylor asked urgently, eyeing the slowly moving lava with a growing sense of dread.
"These kind of eruptions cannot be reverted..." The Endless said, shaking his head as he bit his lip and glanced over, genuine fear in his gaze. "They shatter apart time itself."
"So, this is gonna make everything a whole lot worse, I take it..?" Taylor guessed, running a hand through his hair in nervous expectation.
"... During the last eruption, the Vaanti were pulled back hundreds of years..." Uqzhaal explained quietly, staring at the destructive lava hopelessly.
"And the world was turned into a primal hellscape..." Taylor breathed, looking at The Endless sharply. "Is this going to send everything further into the past?!" He demanded, dread coiling like a snake about to strike, deep within his gut.
"There's no way to know how far reaching the effect will be yet..." The Endless confessed dejectedly, shaking his head slowly.
"... So you're saying the fountain is lost?" Yvonne gasped, her breath catching as she gripped the hilt of her cutlass, her wide eyes locked pleadingly on The Endless.
"What you seek, can be found to the East." The Endless assured, pointing to the eastern side of the mountain. "There's another temple, on the coast. A place once known, as No'ox Naj. Your brother Patrice-"
A gout of lava crashed onto the nearby slopes, converging with a stream of molten rock, and rapidly flooding down towards them. "Oh god... I don't think we're gonna survive this..." Taylor murmured, eyeing the approaching lava with a growing sense of despondency. How many times can you shake death in a single day, anyway? He wondered, shaking his head as his heart filled with resignation. And really..? What the hell is the point anymore? I'm some sort of time manipulating freak, with a time travelling, alternate self; who is a manipulative asshole... He thought, looking up at the stars, as they were slowly obscured by smoke. Guys wherever you are... I hope you're safe. Diego... Michelle, Varyyn and Raj... He thought, watching the stars disappear before his eyes, as a curtain of smoke drew up before them. Quinn... Zahra... Aleister and Grace... He thought, knowing at least two of them were safe, if almost certainly, not happy. Craig, Sean, Estela... J- He swallowed heavily, his heart aching with desire and loss combined. Oh god, Jake... Wherever you are, be safe, and know that I lov- His thoughts broke off abruptly, as he shook his head and curled his hands into balls, frustration rising to bite at his melancholy. How can I say that though..? If situations were reversed, you'd have already kicked everyone's asses and you'd be fighting to find me... Wouldn't you? He thought fondly, a tiny tendril of energy wheedling it's way into his heart. Well, if I ever intend to be able to say that to you again, I better take a leaf outta your book, right, Top Gun? He thought, grasping the weed of hope and tugging sharply, fanning it to a great and mighty tree; with thick branches and roots, suffusing him with hope and determination.
As Taylor finally got a hold of himself, and focused his mind, The Endless turned to face him. "Listen to me." He said urgently, his dark eyes meeting Taylors intently. "You're the miracle I've waited for... You're the only one who could keep everyone safe..." He said, his face twisting with grief and hope so profound, Taylor couldn't find it in him to keep up his skepticism of the manipulative old man. "I need you to recover the Islands Heart from Rourke. With it, we can preserve La Huerta and protect our friends... Do you understand?" He asked urgently, as Taylors mind swam with reluctant understanding.
"Well..." Taylor hedged, unwilling to admit to his understanding anything about The Endless.
"Taylor," The Endless demanded, unusually sharp for the old man in his sense of urgency. "Do you understand?!"
"Yes! But... That doesn't exactly mean I like it..!" He said with a frown, finding the phrase 'preserve La Huerta' to be specifically ominous.
"Good." The Endless sighed, relief playing across his wrinkled face. He flicked his hands in a gentle shooing motion towards Taylor, a smile curling his lips. "Stand back." He urged, as he donned his helmet again. Taylor did as he was bid, though he scowled rebelliously as he did it, watching as The Endless extended both arms towards the approaching inferno. "Go!" He ordered, his mechanical voice filled with urgency, as Taylor took another step back in shock. "Find everyone! Find..." The Endless gasped, as he the blazing lava began to consume him. "Find... The Islands Heart!" He called, before vanishing beneath the rising blaze.
"What the-?!" Taylor choked, shaking his head in disbelief. "Wait! You asshole, get back here!"
"Laisse tomber!" Yvonne gasped, reaching over and grabbing his hand. "We must go!" She said, dragging him away. Before Taylor could even process what was happening, he found himself running for the rainforest with Yvonne and Uqzhaal. Upon cresting a hill, they looked back, panting for breath as they looked down to find a sea of liquid fire, gathering at the base of the volcano.
"We should be safe up here." Uqzhaal assured, as he wheezed and wobbled unsteadily. Taylor looked over, wanting to offer the Vaanti aide, but sensing the shaman's growing aversion of him. Just as he was about to look away, several flashes of light caught his eye, high above them in the smoky sky.
"A storm..?" Yvonne asked, her brow creasing as she looked up at the sky.
"... Not a natural one." Uqzhaal said ominously, eyeing the floating orbs if energy, appearing high above them, exploding into wild arcs of lightning.
"It's happening again..." Taylor gasped, staring up with wide eyes, at the familiar sight. He recalled the flight in to the island, Jake's frantic piloting, as he sat with Quinn and comforted her. "Just like when we flew in!" He choked, flinching and ducking low, as several strokes shot through the foliage suddenly, causing it to ignite.
"Zut alors!" Yvonne cried, jumping in shock as she whirled to see the flames begin crackling eagerly.
"... No longer safe!" Uqzhaal cried, hobbling away from the approaching flames. "We must move, quickly!" He said urgently, just as Taylor heard a crackle of splintering wood ring through the air. He turned, to see a huge tree trunk falling towards them.
"Uqzhaal!" He gasped, rushing forward as flickers appeared in the air around them. He grasped the strands of tine tightly, and pulled with all his might, slowing the trees progress and hurrying to help Uqzhaal forward, urging him out of the trees path. "You might hate me now, old man... But I'll never forget the friendship you once showed me." He said quietly, leaning close to the shaman's immobile ear. When the shaman was a safe distance away, he turned to see Yvonne, just at the other side of the tree.
Taylor raced back the way he'd come, but just as he made it back to the tree, his grip on time slipped. He gasped as time snapped back on track, and sprung out of the way, diving into the smoking brush just as the tree crashed down to the ground. A thick cloud of sparks and thick smoke, billowed outward and consumed them quickly, as Taylor rolled to his knees, coughing as his eyes watered from the thick smoke.
"Kff!" Yvonne coughed, trying to wave the smoke away from her face. "Got to keep... moving..!" She gasped, as Taylor struggled to hold himself up on his knees.
"Can't..." He choked, weakly trying to drag himself through the undergrowth, as the thick and cloying smoke overwhelmed him. "Breathe..." He gasped, falling to the ground as his arms gave out beneath him, coughing helplessly. Taylor rolled to his back, barely aware of Yvonne a short distance away, in a similar state to himself. Through the haze, the fiery glow became brighter, as trees and undergrowth were rapidly consumed. He heard a faint roar over the crackling of flames, as he felt his consciousness begin to flicker, slipping away from him once more; when a pair of hands reached out to him suddenly.
"I ain't losin' you twice, Boy Scout." Jake growled, grabbing him by the shoulders and hauling him to his feet determinedly.
"Jake..?" Taylor gasped between coughs, as the pilot wrapped his arm firmly around Taylors torso, and hurriedly dragged him out of the smoke. Through watering eyes, Taylor could barely make out Estela, helping Yvonne do the same. His heart hammered in his chest, his mind flooded by the surreal sensation of his pilots arm around him, his breath slowly beginning to come easier, as they moved through the forest, seeking to outdistance the spreading fire.
"You alright?" Jake asked nervously, stopping suddenly on the crest of a hill and drawing back slightly to peer down at him in obvious concern. Taylor had a brief moment of déjà vu, before he threw his arms around Jake and clutched at him desperately.
"Oh my god... I-" he choked, tears coursing down his cheeks as he hiccupped and buried his face in the pilots jacket. His heart raced, as Jake gripped him back, almost crushing him in his overwhelming relief. "Holy shit..." He choked,a hysterical giggle escaping him as he drew back to stare at his pilot in relief and wonder. "I think so... Well, much better now, anyway..." He said, swallowing thickly as Jake ran his eyes over him assessingly. "Nice timing, by the way." He added, gripping Jake's jacket tightly, as the pilot finally rested their foreheads together, his shoulders relaxing at last as he relished the closeness between them.
"Oui, the two of you really know how to sweep in at just the right moment!" Yvonne gasped, her coughs abating as she winked at Jake suggestively. "How do you call it when there are two couples? A 'double date'?" She asked coyly, moving to stroll over and join them.
"Ha. You wish." Jake scoffed, grinning widely as he stared down at Taylor in blatant, and palpable relief. "This is one reunion party you are definitely not invited to..." He said, winking at Taylor, who giggled giddily and bit his lip, as he tangled his fingers deeper into the pilots jacket collar.
"Can we save the flirting for when we're not about to be burned alive..?" Estela asked flatly, rolling her eyes at the pair, as they almost forgot the rampaging lava, and lost themselves to their relief.
"Right... Burning. Bad." Taylor said, swallowing heavily as he ran his hands through Jake's hair briefly, still stunned to see his pilot before him and unharmed, if slightly ragged. He tore his eyes free from Jake's intense gaze, to survey the area, trying to concentrate on figuring out where they were and where they could flee to; as opposed to the feel of Jake's warm body against his own. "Wait..." He murmured, frowning as he looked around their group, his eyes widening in alarm. "Uqzhaal!" He called, turning back to the fallen tree with a concerned gasp, only to find no sign of the shaman.
"He was on the other side if the fallen tree..." Yvonne said, frowning at Taylor thoughtfully, as Taylor fidgeted guiltily. He looked back to the fallen tree, his heart sinking st the sad certainty which flooded him; he would not see the shaman again.
"Grandpa Smurf knows these jungles better than we do." Jake said reassuringly, taking Taylors hands in his own. "We're gonna have to just hope he can make it out on his own." He said, as Taylor stared longingly after the shaman, before sighing and reluctantly nodding in agreement.
Ball lightning continued to appear in the sky, raining down arcs of electricity. "How did you guys find us?" Taylor asked, distracting himself from his misery over his lost friendship with the Vaanti shaman.
"The chopper went down right after you fell..." Jake said, swallowing heavily as something dark passed over his eyes. "We've been combing the forest," he said, tipping his head towards Estela, though his eyes never left Taylor. "Cap and Big Guy are searching along the eastern coast."
"So Sean and Craig are alright..?" Taylor asked quickly, squeezing Jake's fingers tightly, as his heart rose in his throat, recalling The Endless's assurance that their friends were all okay.
"We can only hope." Estela said dryly, shaking her head at the destructive force of Mount Atropo's eruption. "It's been three days since we saw them..." She sighed, before scowling over at him in irritation. "Just so you know, you owe me big time for putting up with your pilots crap for-"
"Ahem, didn't think it'd take this much time to find you," Jake said loudly, unsubtly cutting Estela off, as his cheeks dusted pink. "But, Michonne over here will tell I'm wrong, every great once in a while." He added, flashing a cocky grin down at Taylor.
"Three days?!" Taylor yelped, jerking back in shock, his gaze flitting between the two in disbelief. "We only got separated a few hours ag-"
"Stop!" Estela hushed him suddenly, her eyes widening as she stared in to the distance beyond them. "Something's up ahead!" She said, pointing to where rays of bright blue light streamed from a glowing rift, hovering in mid-air.
"The hell?" Jake murmured, his own eyes widening as he stared at the strange disturbance in awe and suspicion.
"It's... like a window." Yvonne gasped, peering through the rift in awe. "I see a place on the other side." Taylor swallowed heavily, taking an uncomfortable step back, remembering the similar memory windows he'd seen in his mind.
"Skreeeee..." A high pitched sound came from the jagged rear in reality, and Taylor frowned, cautiously stepping closer to look through for himself. He gasped, as he saw a herd of dinosaurs, roving through a prehistoric jungle; and, a huge pterodactyl, flying straight towards him.
"Everyone..!" He gasped, backing away hurriedly. "Run for it!" He cried, tugging at Jake's hand urgently as they launched themselves away from the rift as one.
"Skreeeee!" The leathery winged beast cried piercingly, as it emerged from the window and slowly glided over their heads, flying through the burning jungle around them.
"Good lookin' out , Boy Scout." Jake choked, his shock filled wide eyes glancing at Taylor to throw him a grateful wink, before locking back onto the prehistoric creature.
"C'est un monstre!" Yvonne cried, gasping in fear and surprise combined, as they stared up at the flying beast in awe.
"Dinosaur!" Jake corrected, as he pressed Taylor a tree, keeping him out of sight of the ancient being. "But close enough for my mustard..." He said, as hugh overhead, the pterodactyl disappeared into darkening clouds.
"Let's, uh, get out of the way of this portal..." Taylor suggested, running a hand through his hair as his heart hammered on his chest, concern for his friends nipping at the edge of hysteria. "Or, whatever it is."
"Agreed." Estela said firmly, bidding her head at him sharply, though her eyes remained locked on the window, ever watchful for more danger; as they backed away slowly, before turning as one to run on into the forest, leaving the rift behind.
"This kind of stuff didn't happen during the last storm... did it?" Taylor huffed curiously, as they raced through the undergrowth.
"Hard to say." Jake panted back, squeezing Taylors hand as he glanced over and winked at him. "I was busy trying to keep Delilah from making a swan dive into the Caribbean at the time."
"'Delilah'?" Taylor murmured, frowning as he raised a brow at Jake, who merely rolled his eyes and shook his head, as he dragged Taylor deeper into the forest.
"We were lucky. We were spared... along with the island." Estela said firmly, before her face crumpled in realisation. "And now, there's nothing to go back to..."
"Take it easy, Ripley." Jake barked, looking over at Estela sharply. "I ain't having you crack at a time like this." He said, his eyes narrowing in warning.
"I'm not cracking." Estela growled, scowling at the pilot, before pausing, her face falling as she swallowed her anger away. "I'm being honest with myself. Everything's gone. This, is all we have now." She said, unknowingly causing Taylor to flinch guiltily, his thoughts drawn to The Endless and the time travellers confessions.
A series of blue flashes filled the air suddenly, drawing him from his thoughts before he could be consumed by his guilt. Two more rifts opened before their eyes, floating amid the trees. "Look's like Rourke's about to get that prehistoric theme park he always wanted." Jake said, eyeing the rifts dubiously.
"Whoa!" Taylor gasped, his fingers clutching tighter where they laced with Jake's, pulling them to a stop to brace themselves, as the ground suddenly heaved beneath them. "Oh, that does not feel good..." Taylor groaned, his stomach roiling with nausea.
"Pour l'amour de Dieu..." Yvonne growled, scowling around the jungle floor in irritation. "What now?!" She demanded, her hand falling to the hilt of her cutlass.
A groan came from the forest floor, as it split apart, causing lava to rise from a network of fissures. "Figures." Jake sighed, taking a step back from the mess materializing on the ground before them. "My day was going well for once."
"Don't you dare start whining again, McKenzie!" Estela growled, throwing him a filthy scowl, before returning her critical gaze to the lava.
Taylor tactfully ignored the jibe at his pilot, his eyes focusing on the lava which was destroying the forest around them, instead of Jake scowling back at Estela. "... The lava's burning everything!" He choked, backing away from the approaching lava, fear trickling up his spine; as he recalled the horrific burns he'd received beneath the observatory.
He looked up, to see Estela pointing towards the floating rifts. "The time portals!" She urged, racing towards them. "We've got no choice! Go!"
"Copy that." Jake said, saluting her roughly as he and Taylor raced towards the rifts, just a few steps behind Estela.
"And, you guys are sure this is safe?" Taylor asked, immediately scoffing at his own idiocy. "Why do I ask stupid questions? First Diego's beard, now-" he broke off suddenly, his heart aching at the thought of his missing friend.
"Look's like some kind of bayou in this one." Jake murmured, stopping close to one and peering inside. "Moonlight... still water... Heh," he chuckled dryly, his eyes softening slightly. "Reminds me of home."
Taylor felt his heart ache, his pilots obvious pain and longing more than enough to make his choice for him. He glanced towards Estela, who raised a brow at him. "I see a room full of windows, and stars. It's actually... kinda beautiful..." She admitted shyly, before scowling over at him. "Just tell me where you're going, so I can choose the other one. I am not getting stuck with you two when you're-"
"See you later, Estela!" Taylor sniggered, lightly shoving the dark haired girl into the starry room, just as another flash heralded the appearance of a third rift. It slowly shimmered open in front of Yvonne, and the pirate peered inside cautiously.
"Hmm, well, I am content to follow where you lead, Ami's." She said, moving to step around the rift towards them. Jake huffed and stepped back, his hand rising to her shoulder as he grinned at her broadly.
"I told ya, Buccaneer Barbie..." He said, sniggering as he winked down at Taylor. "This is one party, you ain't welcome at." He said, lightly shoving at her shoulder and pushing her into the portal. "C'mon, Boy Scout." He said quickly, as the brush began to catch flame around them, tugging at Taylors hand and urging him into the bayou rift, following close behind him.
The rose of the eruption was suddenly gone, replaced by chirping insects and the gentle lap of water along a mossy riverbank. "Wow..." Taylor breathed, looking around in awe, instantly in love with the peaceful aura of the setting. "Looks safe enough." He said, turning to see the burning rainforest through the rift they'd just entered through. "Guess we'll have to pass the time here, until the fire dies down." He said thoughtfully, a soft smile blossoming on his lips, as as Jake's arms curled around his chest from behind.
Jake's warm body rested snugly against his back, his nose briefly brushing along Taylors throat, before he set his chin lightly atop his shoulder. "Guess so." He agreed, beaming a smug grin at Taylor, as their eyes met.
Taylor bit his lip, his body yearning for the pilot, as his emotions clamoured within him. Desire smoldered in his gut, while relief flooded his heart, and tears blurred his gaze. "I..." He choked, turning away from the pilots gaze to bury his face in his hands, shaking his head at his emotional breakdown.
"Hey," Jake said, his embrace shifting away briefly, as he turned Taylor gently, before once more enfolding him in his arms. "I know, Boy Scout... Believe me, I know." He whispered against his ear, squeezing his shoulders tightly, as Taylor wrapped his arms around the pilot, clutching the back of his jacket desperately.
He shook his head lightly, unable to voice the wretchedly swirling emotions within him. How do I even begin to explain..? What can I possibly say..? He thought, thinking back over everything he'd learnt, since his fall from the helicopter. "Jake..?" He asked tentatively, his voice small and muffled, as he pressed his face against the pilots shoulder, hiding the confliction which no doubt blazed in his eyes. "You're really here..? Right? I'm not still drow-"
"Don't say it." Jake said sharply, and Taylor felt a pang of guilt in his heart, considering how he might have felt if it had been Jake who'd fallen to the depths. "Not gonna lie, Taylor." The pilot said, swallowing heavily as he tightened his hold on Taylor and burying his face in the side of his throat. "Past couple days... They ain't exactly been my fondest."
"Doesn't sound like they've been Estela's fondest either..." Taylor chuckled lightly, pushing aside his turbulent emotions for the tome being, and instead focusing on his pilot.
Jake huffed and scratched his neck guiltily, drawing back as he rolled his eyes and cleared his throat pointedly. He snagged Taylors hand, leading him to the waters edge; where they sat together, their shoulders resting side by side for comfort. "Whatever this place is... it's a real dead ringer for Pearl River..." He hummed thoughtfully, changing the subject without even attempting to be subtle about it.
Taylor snickered fondly, but chose to play along, letting Estela's grumpiness go until he could talk to her himself. "Is that where you grew up?" He asked, his eyes tracing over Jake's face as the pilot stared out into the water; noticing the dark rings beneath his eyes, and the tangles in his long hair, before catching the tiny longing smile, playing on the pilots lips.
"Yeah." Jake said quietly, taking a deep breath as he stared out at the peaceful scenery around them. Taylor sat quietly, content to just watch his pilot enjoy the view; savouring every moment with him, after the terrible way they'd been separated. "We moved around a bit, before I headed off to Annapolis, but my grandparents always had their place out in the backcountry." Jake went on after a long pause, his cerulean eyes distant, as he thought about the past he'd hidden from for so many years. "That house, was the center of the family." He said with a fond snort, shaking his head slowly, as a wry grin formed on his lips.
Taylor bit his lip, hesitant to press his pilot for information, when he looked so serene and relaxed for once. However, he was also filled with bubbling curiosity, a desperate desire to know more about the man he loved. "What was it like there..?" He finally asked, as Jake's brows rose in contemplation, and he dragged in a deep, thoughtful breath.
"It's a different world out there." He said slowly, looking over at Taylor with a soft smile. "Simpler way of life." He said lightly, nodding his head in gentle appreciation.
"Simple, sounds pretty nice right about now..." Taylor laughed quietly, shaking his head as he thought about all the things they'd been through in their time on the island. His smile faded, as he considered the things The Endless had told him, and he almost fell victim to his melancholy, when Jake's loud snort distracted him.
"You're tellin' me." The pilot scoffed, eyeing Taylor pointedly, causing him to shrug his shoulders innocently. Jake shook his head, looking back out to the bayou, his eyes turning distant as a fond smile curved his lips. "My sister and I would spend the day swimming, fishing, and pranking the neighbour kids..." He admitted quietly, leaning closer conspiratorially. "Our favourite trick, was a little thing called 'Crabby Britches'." He said with a fond laugh, as he turned and beamed a great, mischievous grin at Taylor.
"'Crabby Britches'?" Taylor said suspiciously, his smile returning as his eyes crinkled in amusement. "You mean..?" He asked, sniggering as Jake snorted and nodded eagerly.
"Exactly what it sounds like." The pilot laughed, utterly unashamed of his antics. "Strategically placed crawdad, when you least expect it."
"You two were little brats." Taylor snorted, giggling as he imagined a pint sized Jake with matching mischievous sister; flinging crawdad down the other kids clothing.
"We were." Jake agreed, sniggering at the fond memory. "It was great." He said, sighing wistfully, as he stared off into the distance.
"Do you miss it?" Taylor asked hesitantly, biting his lip uncertainly, as Jake swallowed but forced the smile to remain on his face.
"All the time." He admitted, lowering his gaze to his lap briefly, before squinting back over the river. "My sister and I had free run of the place. Two kids; and the big ol' river." He sighed, shaking his head as he searched for more tidbits he could feed Taylors obvious inquisitiveness regarding his past. "Every day was a new adventure. Flying's the only thing that even comes close to that sense of freedom." He said quietly, glancing over with a crooked grin.
"Sounds like a really special time." Taylor said quietly, squeezing Jake's hand gently.
Jake merely nodded in response, his gaze distant a moment longer, before locking onto Taylor intently. "Hold still." He said suddenly, his cerulean eyes piercing as he concentrated.
"What?" Taylor yelped, immediately tensing, expecting to be consumed by lava through the rift, or snatched by Rourke's henchmen. "Why?" He asked quickly, his eyes widening in panic, as Jake reached up; and gave his neck a sharp swat. "Hey!" He yelped, drawing back as Jake sniggered at his startled expression.
"Maringwin..." The pilot said, winking as he leaned closer and stage whispered in Taylors ear. "Otherwise known as a mosquito." He said with a huge grin, sniggering and drawing back, as Taylor swatted his shoulder. "Got him though. Not to worry."
"My hero." Taylor sighed, fluttering his eyelashes at the pilot, as Jake snorted and chuckled.
"I do what I can." He said with resigned aplomb, puffing his chest out proudly, until Taylor jabbed him with a finger. He sniggered, before pausing suddenly, turning thoughtful as he turned away and gazed into the distance vacantly.
Taylor bit his lip, sensing the shift in atmosphere around them. He sensed Jake's reluctance to meet his gaze, and hazarded a guess that he knew the reason for it. "Something wrong..?" He asked gently, firmly enclosing his heart from the bitter bite of jealousy, refusing to allow himself to be so selfish; when Jake so clearly needed him to be supportive.
"I just..." Jake muttered hesitantly, as Taylor picked up the pilots hands in his own, and folded them into his lap, staring down at the pilots long fingers and tracing them gently with his own, as he waited patiently. "... I keep going back... to the moment I lost him." Jake finally admitted quietly, a short pause later.
Taylor was proud of the way he managed to resist the desire to tense, reasoning that after such a shock; it was only understandable that Jake be feeling so much pain, the wound newly reopened and raw. "You mean Mike..?" He asked gently, though they both knew he hadn't needed to. Jake squeezed his hand at the gesture, the show of trust and affection, to not abandon him to his grief alone; despite his own conflicted feelings about Jake's former military partner.
"Lundgren... got his claws in him. Made him into something... inhuman." Jake said slowly, shaking his head in disbelief, as his hands curled into balls. Taylor frowned, recalling the awful burns on Mike's neck, his mechanical eye, mindless obedience; and his blank stare, without even a hint of recognition. "I could have saved Mike from all of this... And I didn't." Jake said, the words spilling forth unbidden and unstoppable, as grief and self loathing consumed him. His guilt ridden tone drew Taylor from his musings with a jolt, and he squeezed the pilots hands tightly, his heart aching for the pilot, even as it fluttered with a weak stab of jealousy.
"And now," Jake sighed, freeing a hand to run it through his hair distractedly. "Whatever's left of him is in there watching, suffering..." He said, his clear eyes heavy with unshed tears, as he gasped and shook his head. "I can't take it, Boy Scout." Jake finally admitted in a hoarse croak, swallowing heavily as his gaze met Taylors, a helplessness in his expression which broke Taylors heart for a multitude of reasons.
Taylor forced his eyes to hold Jake's gaze, determined to wipe the grief from his cerulean eyes. He painted a confident smile onto his face, and reached up to gently removed the pilots free hand from his hair, which he'd begun to tug on harshly. "Jake..." He said, making pausing to capture his pilots full attention, as he kissed his fingers gently; one by one, while he locked away his own emptions into the deepest and darkest compartment of his heart. "We're gonna get him out." Taylor said gently, watching with an aching heart as something welled up inside Jake. The pilot nodded fiercely, swallowing away his pain, as he looked over at Taylor determinedly.
"No matter what it takes." The pilot said with a firm scowl, unintentionally breaking open the compartment of his heart where he'd hidden his own emotions.
Taylor swallowed thickly, pushing back against the bile which tried to rise in his throat. "That's the spirit..." He said quietly, looking down at the pilots fingers in his lap.
After a long pause, one of Jake's hands moved, settling on Taylors back comfortingly. His other hand rose to Taylors chin, forcing his head up to meet the pilots knowing gaze. "Only you, could inspire other people, while making yourself feel like shit..." Jake said, shaking his head in disbelief, as Taylor shifted guiltily. "Taylor..." He sighed, exhaling slowly, as he ran his eyes over Taylor in deep thought. "You don't understand at all, do you?"
"What..?" Taylor asked awkwardly, attempting to shift out of the pilots hold, as his heart splintered with small jabs of pain, only for the man to shift slightly closer to him instead.
"Taylor... I'm prepared to go to severe lengths, to save my best friend..." Jake said slowly, gripping Taylors wrist tightly when he tried to turn away, his heart hammering against his chest fearfully. "But that's nothing!" He added quickly, grabbing Taylors shoulders and forcing him to meet Jake's gaze, as he startled at the pilots sharp tone. "Nothing... Compared to what I'd do for you." He said slowly, his clear eyes pleading with Taylor to listen and understand.
Taylor bit his lip, pointedly averting his eyes, as he tried to regain control over himself. "I'm sorry," he muttered, his fingers tapping together nervously, until Jake gently smoothed his own over the top of them, lacing them together slowly. "I just... It's been..." He hedged, unable to give voice to the rapidly interchanging emotions in his heart. I have so much I need to tell you... The Endless, Rourke setting everything off, Aleister's ruse, Uqzhaal hating me... He thought, closing his eyes as his throat constricted, refusing to let him voice any of his thoughts. I don't know how to tell you any of it...
"Yeah," Jake huffed, his eyes lingering on Taylor, as his tense shoulders eased slightly. "Believe me, I know." The pilot said, shaking his head as his gaze turned distant.
Taylor was overcome with guilt, as he considered the pilots own emotions, having been searching for him for three days; as opposed to Taylors mere hours, since their separation. His heart swelled with guilt, and he sighed, as he tried to push everything aside.
"Helluva place, this island..." Jake sighed, shaking his head again as Taylor peeked up at him shyly, biting his lip nervously.
"You're telling me..." He said, glancing down as Jake's thumbs caressed the back of his hands softly. He looked back up, to find the pilots gaze had cleared and was locked onto him intently.
"We've been through a lot here, but, I gotta say..." Jake said, swallowing heavily as his eyes ran over Taylor slowly. "For you, Taylor, I'd do it all again." He said, reaching up to brush his fingers through Taylors hair, sweeping it away from his brow.
Taylor felt a rush of giddy affection, and he bit his lip hard to contain the grin which tried to escape him at the pilots words. His breath came quickly, as his heart fluttered in relief and love combined. He grasped Jake's hands in return, and pulled him closer, a tiny coy smile giving away his intention, as he leaned forwards. As their faces found each other, Jake grinned, and brought his lips to Taylors eagerly.
"Don't mind if I do..." He murmured, as his fingers brushed over Taylors cheek lightly. His kiss was soft and warm, caressing Taylor passionately, gradually; slowly stealing his breath away.
Taylor melted against him, his heart singing with love and affection for his pilot, as Jake gently tugged him forward and carefully brought him to sit in the pilots lap. His kiss remained soft, unhurried by lust or desire, an expression of his deepest affections. When at last they pulled apart, Taylor knew his cheeks were stained pink from a blush, feeling unusually bare before his pilot; raw and vulnerable, as Jake reached up to run his fingers through his hair with a beautiful smile.
Taylor bit his lip, clearing his throat as he slid out of the pilots lap to sit beside him, his heart light once more, at the intimate exchange of emotion between them. Jake's hand slid into his own, as the two of them gazed out over the water together, watching ripples cascade it's silken surface. "Hey, Boy Scout..?" Jake murmured quietly, drawing Taylors gaze to meet his own once more. "You ever think maybe... we were meant to be?"
Taylor felt himself smile slowly, and was surprised at the content purr which seemed to fill his heart. "I do think that." He said quietly, his heart rising to his throat as he allowed himself to let go, and live in this moment; alone with Jake, in their own private bayou. "Yes." He said, blinking slowly, as the words resonated within him, soothing his nerves, and his jealousy.
"All the craziness this place has thrown our way couldn't keep us apart." Jake agreed firmly, his fingers curling tighter around Taylors. "Even brought us to this Land Before Time swamp, that looks just like my old stomping grounds." He said, a light snort of disbelief escaping him.
Taylor squeezed Jake's hand, raising it to his lips and pressing a delicate kiss to his fingers. "I'm glad I could see it with you." He said warmly, his heart pulsing with love and affection.
"Me too, Boy Scout." Jake said, beaming over at Taylor, as he snorted and shook his head in exasperations.
"You're so damn smooth when you wanna be..." Taylor snickered, as Jake winked at him.
"Smooth is my middle name," the pilot said cockily, slowly trailing his hands up Taylors sides.
"Your middle name is Lucas." Taylor sniggered, swatting the pilots shoulder playfully. "But I think it's just a mis-spelling, because it really should be-"
Jake silenced him with a finger to his lips, grinning broadly at Taylors foolishness, before glancing over his shoulder at the hovering rift. Taylor followed his gaze, to see the sliver of visible rainforest was dark and smoky. "Fire's died down..." He said quietly, gently brushing Jake's finger aside.
"As we say in the South, 'tempus sure does fugit.'" He said, sniggering at Taylors blank expression. "You ready?" Jake asked instead, raising a brow, as Taylor slowly broke out in a mischievous and coy smile.
"Hmm..." Taylor hummed, slowly rising to his knees, only to lean forward against Jake and push him to the floor.
"Oof!" Jake gasped, his arms naturally folding around Taylor, as he held him close and peered up at him with a curious but amused smile.
"Five more minutes!" Taylor snickered, drawing a surprised bark of laughter from Jake, before he melted into another deep and passionate kiss with the pilot.
"That... was not five minutes..." Jake murmured sometime later, as Taylor giggled and winked, before moving back and helping the pilot to his feet.
"I learnt from the best." He said innocently, shrugging a shoulder as he bit his lip and peered up through his lashes.
"If you wanna get outta here, that ain't the face to be makin' at me, Boy Scout..." Jake warned, stepping closer, his eyes flashing with playful intent.
"Uh uh, Top Gun..." Taylor teased, backing away towards the rift with a giggle, as he wagged his finger. "Five minutes is over now..."
"There's only one good thing about that..." Jake said as he prowled closer to Taylor, a wolfish grin curling his lips, as Taylor raised a brow pointedly. "There's always... Five more minutes..!" He sniggered, as Taylor laughed, allowing himself to be captured in the pilots embrace for a moment. Taylor sighed, closing his eyes as he laid his head on Jake's shoulder, relishing the other mans close proximity. "You ready, now?" Jake asked quietly, sniggering when Taylor swatted at him blindly.
"As I'm ever gonna be." He sighed, finally opening his eyes to peer up at the pilot with a fond grin, before snagging his hand, and leading him back through the rift. The ground as they stepped through, was covered with writhing smoke. The lava fissures still emitted a dull glow, but the surrounding brush appeared to have stopped burning. Estela stood a shirt distance away, near the second rift.
"Welcome back." She said, a brow rising as she smirked over at them. "That was certainly quick, especially for you guys..." She said, sniggering as Taylor flushed at her insinuation.
"What can I say, Boy Scout was just so happy to see me, it was as if he-" Jake began teasingly, watching Taylors blush darken as his eyes widened.
"Wait, what?!" He yelped, looking over at Estela and waving his arms quickly. "That is not what happened! I, we... Oh my god... I hate you both so much right now." He groaned, covering his burning face with his hands briefly, before glaring up at Jake, as Estela laughed. "You, are supposed to be charming." He could see the pilots cocky reply forming, and rolled his eyes, shoving him mighty towards Yvonne's rift before he could say whatever amused him so.
Jake snickered, and hopped over a cooling fissure, peering into the third rift with a smirk. "Ground Control to Buccaneer Barbie." He called, as Taylor watched him with fond amusement, savouring the lingering lightness in his heart. He glanced at Estela, moving over to lean against her tree, bumping their shoulders affectionately, before she snorted and returned the gesture. "You can come out now." Jake called, stepping back as the pirate gingerly poked her tricorn topped head out, and checked the area carefully, before emerging with a satisfying stretch.
"A surprisingly pleasant sieste..." She said, smirking up at Jake fondly. "Shall we be on our way?" Her brows raising in confusion as Jake made a show of looking around for something.
The pilot frowned, scouring the area briefly, before smirking in glee. "Ah," he said, strolling over to Taylor and taking up his hand. "Boy Scout's. Never where ya leave 'em, always where ya least expect 'em." He sighed, as Taylor burst out laughing.
"Come on, you guys," he said, still sniggering, as Jake beamed down at him with a proud smirk. "Let's get out of here before that volcano comes us with a new way to kill us." He said, tipping his head away from the raging volcano. As the eruption continued to light up the night sky, the group set off, trudging on through the rainforest.
"So..." Taylor hummed, glancing at Jake slyly, before turning to Estela. "Did I hear you say something about Jake, and whining?"
"No." Jake growled, scowling down at him petulantly, as he tried to tug him further away from Estela.
"Yes." Estela groused, scowling at Jake, as the pilot turned towards her. Taylor snickered, comforted by the light banter and bickering between them, as they journeyed deeper through the forest.
Almost two hours passed in such a manner, with Jake and Estela gently bickering and teasing each other. Jake's hand remained firmly ensnared with his own, and Estela walked a short distance ahead of them, while Yvonne brought up the rear, until finally; the shoreline came into view. "Wow..." Taylor breathed, looking around in awe as they arrived at a wide, moonlit cove. Pillars if natural rock, risen from the sea like fingers, grasping for the stars. "Whoa... Where are we?" He wondered aloud, looking up at the glittering stars above them.
"Magnifique, non? Colonnade Cove." Yvonne said, grinning around the area fondly. "A treacherous harbor, that only master sailors dare traverse."
"So, now what?" Estela asked tiredly, her mood souring considerably as she stared at the sea blankly.
"Now, I guess we have a look around." Jake suggested, squeezing Taylors hand and winking at him suggestively.
"And what exactly are you expecting to find?" Estela groused, as Taylor swatted Jake's arm and gestured towards Estela, snickering when Jake pouted at him. "Look at the mountains. We're on the North side of the island."
"Sean and Craig were searching to the East, right?" Taylor asked, biting his lip worriedly, as he considered his friends and where they might be.
"Yes." Estela said shortly, looking down at the sand with an empty expression. "And the eastern coast is probably one giant inferno of lava, right now..." She said, shaking her head as she swallowed heavily and looked out to sea regretfully. "We took too long."
"We'll find 'em, Trinity." Jake assured, though Taylor saw Estela's shoulders tense at his words. "Just relax."
"Uh, Top Gun..?" Taylor hedged, as Estela grit her teeth and glared at the pilot in fury. "When have the words 'just relax' ever made you relax?"
"Well, there was that New Years party when we-" Jake began thoughtfully, before Estela's temper finally erupted, similar to Mount Atropo in its fury.
"Use my name, or don't speak to me again." She snarled, as Jake balked and leaned back, startled by her forceful reaction.
"Estela..." Taylor said gently, reaching for the dark haired girl, only for her to step away, setting herself down on the sand; facing away from the group.
"We were idiots, to think we could all make it through this together." She said bitterly, as Taylor bit his lip, fear and pain once more finding their way to his heart. "Honestly... I doubt anyone is getting out of here alive." Estela said quietly, her shoulders slumping, as she resigned herself to their fate.
"Ah, pardonnez-moi..." Yvonne said suddenly, ignoring Estela's meltdown entirely, as she stared with wide eyes at the shoreline. "But, do you happen to see something out by that cliff?" She asked, pointing to a shadowy outcropping of rock, a short distance away.
"More... beach...?" Jake offered unhelpfully, earning himself a distracted swat from Taylor, as he followed Yvonne's finger with a frown. He was just about to give up squinting into the darkness, when he finally noticed it.
"Something's over there..." He said quietly, a strange icy wind seeming to freeze his heart, leaving him cold and shivering, as he pressed himself to Jake's side. "I think... it's heading this way." He murmured, wishing he could go back and face the rampaging lava, as opposed to remaining in proximity of the approaching figure.
Taylor trembled beside his pilot, his fingers clutching tightly at Jake's, as a strange, indistinct figure approached slowly across the beach. The moonlight seemed particularly bright around it. "Is it the shaman?" Jake asked, squinting at the figure thoughtfully. "Jumanji, that you?" He called, as Taylor shook his head vehemently. There was no response from the figure however, it merely continued on its slow path towards them.
"... Wh-who's there?" Taylor called, his blood running colder, with every step closer the figure took. When it finally drew close enough to reveal detail, Taylor stumbled back a step, his heart lurching in terror as a lance of ice spread down his back.
"Hey, whoa!" Jake murmured grabbing him by the shoulders and steadying him, peering down in concern to meet Taylors frantic and wild eyes. "What is it..? What... Is this, like, another idol thing..?" The pilot asked suddenly, glancing towards Taylors bag suspiciously, unaware the idols had already served their purpose.
Taylor shook his head, unable to give voice his feelings, as he stared at the green light; ululating within a translucent, ghostly body. He choked, beginning to hyperventilate as he gazed at the featureless face, lost in the void within.
"Holy..." Jake gasped, upon looking up to see the figure for himself. "What the hell-?" He scoffed, drawing Taylor behind him slightly, as he stared in wide eyed awe.
"Oh, non, non, non!" Yvonne cried, her gaze turning fearful as she hurriedly backed away. "Yvonne does not do ghosts!" The pirate cried, whirling on her heel and rubbing for a cluster of palm trees, just as Estela turned to look.
Her jaw dropped, as the figure came to a halt, a few paces short of the dark haired girl, seeming to study her grief stricken face with a curious tilt of its head. "What is this?" Estela gasped, scooting backwards in the sand. "W-what's happening?" She demanded, as it raised a hand towards her, offering something. Taylor frowned, taking a deep breath as he trampled all the fearful emotions churning in his gut, and stepped forward to look at the small object, which was partially visible in its luminous grasp.
"Boy Scout-" Jake warned, as Taylor disentangled his hand from the pilots, overcome with the pull to see what the being offered.
"Is that..." Estela gasped, looking up at the being sharply. "How did you get that?" She demanded suddenly, tears pricking her eyes.
"What is it?" Taylor asked, drawn by an overwhelming desire to see for himself, as he fell to his knees in the sand beside Estela. "What does it have?" He pressed, the pull centralizing in his chest, now that his fear was obscured; drawing him ever urgently to Estela, and the object the being held.
"A... A photo I kept at home... in San Trobida." Estela explained haltingly, disbelief swirling in her dark eyes, as she stared at the object longingly. "It's me, my mother, and Tio Nicolas..." She said in awe, before shaking her head firmly, her face falling as her previous melancholy reclaimed her. "It can't be real. Everything out there is burned to cinders." She sighed dejectedly, as she stared up at the spectral entity fearfully, unable to reach out to it. The light within its body faltered, growing dim and seeming to swirl in growing frustration.
In desperation, the figure to Taylor, extending the photo towards him. Taylor swallowed heavily, his heart seeming to shiver nervously, at the close proximity to the being. He clenched his jaw tight, and looked down at the picture for himself, noticing that it was slowly darkening at the edges. It looks ready to burst into flames any second... He thought, his eyes widening at the implication. Taylor hesitated, the picture blistering at one corner, before he tentatively reached forward. As soon as he grasped the photograph, the figure disappeared completely.
"... It's gone!" Estela gasped, as Taylor stared down at the photo thoughtfully. His fingers delicately touched the burnt edges, which were still warm, but cooling rapidly. He looked up at Estela, who stared at the photo longingly. He swallowed, anticipating the worst, as he moved to hand it to Estela. Sure enough, the moment she touched it, everything was suddenly awash with light.
Taylor gasped, expecting to be flooded with dread, but was pleasantly surprised to find himself consumed by a comforting sense of contentment. As the haze of light cleared, he found himself in a cozy, yet sparsely decorated room. A man with tied back grey hair, was leaning over a desk, trying to fix an old typewriter.
"Come on, you tonto..." He growled, smacking the typewriter's cabinet with his fist. The machine emitted a sad and pitiful clang, as its keys clicked back into place. With a relieved hum, the man sat down, and got ready to resume typing. After a moment of hesitation however, he sighed. "... Now I've forgotten where I was."
A vibrant knock sounded at the door, and the man turned to see Estela enter the room, carrying a large box. "Ha." The man snorted, leaning back in his chair and eyeing her with obvious amusement, making no move to help her. "And there's my niece, who thinks she can fix everything, with her fancy college degree!" He teased, as Estela giggled.
"Hola, Tio Nicolas." She said, beaming the brightest grin Taylor thought he'd ever seen light her face. "I have something for you..." She said leadingly, as Nicolas eyed the box suspiciously, his face falling into a grimace when he found the image of a desktop computer.
"Estelita, I told you... I don't want that." He sighed, groaning in frustration as Estela promptly ignored him and set the box on a nearby desk. "Everything's traceable with computers." He protested, pouting over at her.
"You're not going to use it for planning revolutions, Tio." Estela snorted, rolling her eyes, as she leamd her hip against the door. "It's for your memoirs. You're never going to finish them on that rusty old thing." She said, gesturing to the typewriter with obvious contempt.
"It works fine enough!" Nicolas argued, scowling over at Estela's knowing smirk.
"Does it?" She asked, giggling as she tipped her chin towards a thin stack of haphazardly typed pages, sitting on the desk. "Tio, how are you going to inspire generations of San Trobidans, with your life's story, if you can't even get a single chapter done?" She asked gently, stepping away from the door as her uncle averted his eyes, and moving closer to embrace him lightly.
"Alright, alright." The man sighed after a few moments of confortable silence. "I know how futile it is to argue with you..." He said reluctantly, throwing a fond but baleful glare up at her.
"Good." Estela said with an amused snicker, beaming a wide grin at him and pressing a quick kiss to his temple, as she clapped her hands on his shoulders in excitement. "Now, help me unpack it!"
Nicolas rolled his eyes, as Estela dragged him from his chair to gather around the box. He watched as she eagerly popped open the cardboard flaps, shaking his head at her fondly. "You never give up." He said, ruffling her hair in affection. "Just like your mother... I should call you Livita." He huffed in amusement, as she placed a large bundle of packing material in his hands.
"I'm not a little girl anymore, Tio." Estela reminded him, winking up at him conspiratorially, before delving back into the box.
"No, you're not." He said, his smile turning soft as he watched her work, sorting through the box and removing packaging where necessary. "She'd be very proud to see you now. All grown up, and on your way to great things." His face twisted with guilt, and he shook his head as he sighed. "You should be somewhere exciting and full of promising young people. New York... London..."
"I like it here." Estela said dismissively, as she drew out the computer screen from the box and set it carefully on the desk.
"San Trobida is your past, Estalita." Nicolas pressed, his gaze pleading as his niece continued to ignore him.
"It's my home." She said simply, glancing up at him with a raised brow. "We fought for this place, remember?"
"I will never forget." He said softly, after only a brief hesitation, as he stared at her scarred eye. "But, we're free of Salazar's corruption now. And we've sent a signal, that fascism will not be tolerated here, ever again." He pressed, watching Estela pull wires and cables from the box eagerly.
"Yes." Estela sighed, pausing to take a deep breath and gaze out the window fondly. "And now, it's time to take care of ourselves." She said with a small nod, smiling back at her uncle with a small wink. "Time to rebuild, and plan for the future."
"Are you..." Nicolas gasped, his eyes widening at Estela's implications. "Thinking of starting a family..?!"
"Maybe I am." Estela giggled, beaming up at him with a wide grin, as her uncles expression clouded.
"Did you meet someone? When? Who is it?" He demanded, frowning down at his niece as she laughed at him. "Should I shoot him? See how he handles pain..?"
"Maybe, none of your business, and no." Estela snorted, eyeing her uncle fondly, as he released his stern expression and laughed, as he shook his head in fond surprise.
"Ha!" He huffed, ruffling her hair affectionately. "Didn't think I'd see the day..." He snorted, sighing as his gaze turned wistful. "Perhaps I'll even be a tio abuelo... Ah... how the time escapes me." He said, sniffling as his eyes turned misty with joy.
Estela rolled her eyes, as she plugged in the computer tower, and powered it on. She handed Nicolas the instruction manual with a grin, patting him on the shoulder gently. "Okay, you've got it from here, right?" She said, raising a brow as he scoffed and nodded confidently. "Give me a call if you need any help."
"Help?" He sneered, sniffing derisively at her offer, as he flipped randomly through the manual. "Hmph, I'll be fine." He said, frowning as he looked at the computer. He glanced at Estela, raising a brow as he lowered his voice and leaned closer to her. "Uh... where do I put the paper?" He asked quietly.
Estela burst out laughing, her joy infectious even to Taylor, who felt it radiate through him. "Oh, Tio..." She sighed, shaking her head as she looked at him fondly, sharing a crooked smile with her uncle, as another burst of intense light flooded Taylors vision; and a moment layer, he found himself back at the cove.
Estela was holding the photo tightly in her hands, tears streaming down her face. "You two okay?" Jake asked, as he crouched down behind them, his concerned gaze falling to Taylor; who smiled warmly in reply.
Estela locked her gaze onto Taylors, and he could see in her dark eyes, that she'd seen the vision for herself. "I... was that..." She babbled, shaking her head as she hiccupped a shaky breath. "How..."
Taylor smiled softly, hope flaring in his heart, as he reached over and squeezed Estela's hands gently. "I think... we were seeing the future. A future that could've been."
"Yes." Estela said, her gaze falling to the shore and lingering there, watching the tide wash in and out. She turned towards Taylor suddenly, and embraced him tightly.
"Shh... It's okay..." He soothed softly, smiling gently, as Jake rolled his eyes and huffed, moving away to lean against a tree and pout in the other direction.
"... I'd forgotten..." Estela whispered against his shoulder, as he rubbed her back and drew her closer. "How much I miss my home..." Taylor glanced down, to see her staring at the photograph over his shoulder. "When I was little, all I wanted was to have a family one day..." She said, drawing back and inhaling deeply. She glanced at Jake, and then back at Taylor. "We're going to fix this." She said determinedly, drying her eyes on her sleeve.
"Damn right we are." Jake said from his tree, winking down at Taylor as he grinned at the both and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"No more anger." Estela said, sighing deeply and seeming to release all her tension, relief and determination flooding her as she gazed at the stars. "No more despair. We owe it to ourselves, to fight for the future with all we've got." She said, swallowing heavily as she lowered her gaze and turned to them with a soft smile. "I think maybe I... I just needed to see it, to keep believing in it."
"Now that's the Estela I know." Jake said, pushing off fro his tree and ambling down to rejoin them.
Estela glanced at him slyly, a slow grin blossoming on her face, as she nudged him with her shoulder. "It's Katniss, cabron."
"Ha!" Jake sniggered, beaming a huge grin at the dark haired girl. He turned to look at Taylor, who rolled his eyes at the smugness radiating from the pilot. Jake frowned suddenly, his eyes narrowing in thought as he traced his finger over Taylors torso.
"Do I even wanna know what that look is for?" Taylor asked hesitantly, raising a brow as Jake glanced up and winked at him.
"I decided to scrap the label idea," the pilot explained, grinning as he drew Taylor against him. "Next time we're at the Treehouse, I'm just gonna get it tattooed..." He said, sniggering as Taylor burst out laughing, recalling his teasing from when they'd been in the burning world outside of La Huerta.
"You are so not doing that." Taylor snorted, jabbing the pilots shoulder affectionately, as Jake wiggled his brows and sniggered, drawing him closer to his side.
"Sean and Craig must've seen the eruption coming..." Estela said thoughtfully, ignoring Jake and Taylors banter. "Hopefully, they found a place to wait it out." She said determinedly, as Yvonne came running over to them.
"Ahem." She coughed, upon rejoining them. "While i was, ah, scouting... I found something else." She said, gesturing in the other direction along the shore, to where a cluster of huts rested in the shadow if a large cliff.
"A village?" Taylor said in surprise, looking the huts over thoughtfully. "Those look like Vaanti dwellings..." He said hopefully, his fingers curling into Jake's jacket, as he turned to his pilot excitedly.
"Maybe someone will know the whereabouts of the other Catalysts." Jake said, puffing out his chest and striking a heroic pose, as he peered down his nose. "We're kind of a big deal, after all." He drawled, beaming a huge grin at Taylor, before his heroic pose crumpled into a quiet huff of laughter.
Taylor smiled at his pilot, lowering his hand to Jake's, and squeezing gently. He grinned at Estela, who nodded eagerly, and he felt his heart soar with a rising wave of hope. "Let's go find out."