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if i could see your face once more

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He was seized by fear when the shard of glass pierced not just his body (though that was certainly the predominant concern, he couldn’t help but think weakly) but also his soul, cheesy at it sounded. Because death meant no coming back, even on this crazy, fucked-up island where seemingly anything could happen. The end of his unheroic, underwhelming tale. Forever.

It was kind of sad that he had to be on the very brink of it to really be seized by the staggering finality of death, but there it was. And there he was going, the life seeping out of him as he fumbled weakly at Taylor’s hand, whose outline was already blurring (not so fast, please, not yet).

He’d told Taylor that sidekicks never get the guy. He was no exception—he wasn’t determined or charming or clever like Taylor was, and he definitely wasn’t brave enough to tell, to confess…

Sidekicks just aren’t supposed to die either.

 

i. denial

Taylor finally knows what it means when they say that the first step of grief is denial. Because Diego can’t be dead. There can’t be a gruesome, jagged shard of glass piercing through his stomach, blood trickling languidly from the wound that’s so gaping and terrible that even with how much it repulses him, even with how much he wants to, Taylor can’t look away.

The Watcher seems guilty, sorry even, but Taylor knows all too well that being sorry isn’t enough, and when the Watcher grabs his shoulder, Taylor snaps .

It doesn’t matter that there’s an awkward embarrassment in the Watcher’s movements.

It doesn’t matter that the contact was really just a gentle graze, a feather-light touch.

What matters is that it’s (mostly) the Watcher’s actions that have resulted in his best friend’s death, so Taylor whirls around in an almost blinding rage and punches him in the face with as much strength as he can muster.

He doesn’t think to grab at the Watcher’s necklace, even though there’s a gnawing sensation in his hand and it feels like it would be right. Taylor chalks it up to the necklace’s glow and dismisses the mounting suspicion that it might be important (most everything on this island has given him that feeling, anyway. Taylor also ignores the consecutive thought that most everything on this island has also been fairly important).

Diego stays dead.

(Which, Taylor thinks with an uncertain squirm, should be obvious, right? Death is death, after all. Right?)

The Watcher gives him a look that’s both worried and threatening at the same time, and with a cursory “I’ll be back for you” in that strange tongue of theirs that Taylor still isn’t really sure how he can understand, steps out of his room with a broad stride.

Taylor spends an agonizing moment staring at Diego(’s body), though even now he’s already thinking about how he can possibly get to the others and warn them. He hopes it isn’t some kind of sacrilege to Diego’s memory.

He has to leave the body behind.

 

ii. anger

He doesn’t notice how much he’d been sobbing, ugly, wracking noises, until he meets up with the rest of the group again, and even then it’s only because of the raw feeling in his throat.

Nobody meets his eyes. He can’t bring himself to meet theirs either. Instead, his gaze darts across the floor like a trapped rat, which is a fairly accurate assessment of the situation.

It’s his fault.

His fault Diego is dead, his fault he couldn’t avenge him, his fault they’re all standing here doing nothing when the Watchers are on the move and planning who-knows-what, when they should be preparing.

Finally, after what seems like hours in the span of a few heart-pounding seconds, Sean steps forward (ever the leader) and tries his best to make eye contact.

“Taylor.” His voice is a quiet rumble, a reassuring, relentless, reliable mountain. Taylor doesn’t respond. “Taylor,” Sean repeats. He takes another step forward and reaches out to hold his arm, but Taylor jerks away and doesn’t miss the way everyone else seems to relax a little bit at his movement. He isn’t too ashamed to admit that it disgusts him.

Suddenly, there are warm, gentle, grounding fingers on his shoulder. He isn’t surprised to find Quinn at his side, though he’s not exactly sure how she managed to slink up to him.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, eyes flitting up to tentatively fix his gaze. “We’re all sorry. It really wasn’t fair… what happened to him, and… and… It should have been me.” The last part is mumbled and unclear, and Taylor doesn’t really comprehend her words until a second later.

“Quinn!” he blurts in an almost grating voice. Quinn visibly flinches. He mutters a hasty apology and falters, “Please, don’t… don’t say things about yourself like that.”

“It’s horrible,” Michelle puts in to fill the awkward silence that culminates. Taylor’s a little vexed—he’d really rather they focus on something else, do something practical , maybe, but before he can suggest that, Michelle’s already prattling on, “Especially when, you know, he felt that way about you.”

“What?” Taylor says sharply, all the irritation erased from his mind in favor of shock and maybe even a little guilt. This time Quinn isn’t the only one who flinches.

“You… You didn’t know?” Michelle asks uncertainly, carefully, and Taylor knows she probably doesn’t mean the stupidly sympathetic note in her voice or the expression that’s just teeming with pity, but he absolutely loathes it. A glance at everyone else reveals replicated characteristics, and for the second time that night, Taylor snaps.

“Well, jeez, Michelle, sorry if I’m not as familiar with what unrequited love looks like as you are,” he retorts. He’s fairly sure they all understand the implication, but just to be sure— “We’re not all as fortunate as to encounter the signs every time we look in a mirror.”

Michelle’s breath hitches. “Shut up.” Her words are a controlled and angry seething, but based on the face she’s making, it’s just a matter of time before the pot boils over. “Take it back!” Her voice crescendos in an unexpectedly vulnerable, almost desperate shriek, but Taylor just sneers and stalks away, leaving the others in shocked silence behind him save for Michelle’s indignant huffing.

 

iii. bargaining

The pounding in his ears makes it hard to focus on anything else, but Taylor forces himself to keep his mind on track. He darts through the doors like a beacon, outstripping anyone else and surprising himself with how much he can really use anger as a catalyst. He’s more than a bit satisfied at the fear-dusted shock on the Watchers’ faces.

His plan is a simple one, even if it hasn’t completely and explicitly formed, but the potential results eclipse the forefront of his mind. Which, he reasons, is probably for the better, as he’s not sure he’d be able to take anything else in his currently cluttered-up brain.

Anyway.

He knows that according to their plan he should be trying to carve a path through so they can get to the roof and escape, but there’s just something he needs to know about the island and its properties (or lack thereof).

And the people (or rather, creatures, he thinks not completely maliciously) who he’s presently surrounded by just so happen to be precisely the people who are best equipped to answer his questions.

The Watchers quickly get over their shock (they are seasoned fighters, after all), and soon enough Taylor’s got a couple of them on him. Thankfully, Taylor’s had a little of his own experience fighting Watchers, and his training with Estela and Jake definitely wasn’t for nothing. He uses a combination of their styles, darting in to deliver a lightning-fast attack to both of them before flitting out of their immediate range just as nimbly.

(Part of him hopes one of them is watching, but he shoves that part down so he can concentrate on what he needs to.)

As he fights, dodging and striking in a whirlwind of movement, he shouts at the Watchers, “Can you understand me?”

He’s sure he looks bizarre and possibly even a bit senseless, and he can’t help but recall that moment, weeks ago, when Diego had given him an endearing smile—one he’ll never see again—and teased him about his almost farcically philosophical jargon about taking the adventures that life gives you or something—he doesn’t remember the details too well, but the way Diego’s face lights (lit) up and his bright, unadulterated laughter and his roundabout speech that always seemed to circle back to him… he’ll never forget that. His taking for granted and ignorance is something he’ll never be able to forget.

He shakes his head. Mourning right now isn’t going to him any help— on the contrary, he’ll probably just get killed. He fixates his emotion and visualizes it conglomerating in an orb of energy.

Unfortunately, he realizes as he turns his attention back to the altercation that his shouting is for nothing, and not just because of the commotion around them. The Watchers don’t seem to comprehend what he’s asking and take his harsh tone for aggression instead, narrowing their eyes and charging with renewed energy.

Taylor lowers his chin and lets out a harsh breath. Obviously these Watchers aren’t going to be any help. For a second his heart leaps into his throat in anxiety—was his knowledge of their language only meant to be a brief dip into their world? He knows it only means that he’s on the same page as his companions, but he can’t help but lament that he’s lost one of his assets, that he can’t be a greater help to them anymore.

Thankfully, his fears are dispelled when he hears the commanding, decisive voice of the unmasked Watcher. Diego’s murderer. Taylor can’t even describe his gratification when his words are rearranged and translated in Taylor’s mind, a familiar and consoling sensation.

Perfect. (How ironic.)

Taylor feels his face twist into a sardonic, contemptuous sneer. He doesn’t have time to be concerned about it when his feet are already speeding up from a lengthy stride to a sprint.

“You!” he fumes, and the Watcher barely has time to turn and look surprised before he gets punched in the face. A laugh bursts out of his chest like a bubble, but the Watcher is already whirling around dramatically to take him on.

Taylor is forced to go on the defensive, but he’s also foolish and brash and snarls, “Have you no remorse? You killed my best friend. Don’t you think you should at least say something ?”

The Watcher grimaces and says solemnly, “He chose to resist. You do not have to.” The look in his eyes goes hard. “You must come,” he repeats.

“Like hell I will,” Taylor mutters, but there’s no point to snark, not with these people, so Taylor raises his voice to address the Watcher again. “Just… Just tell me,” he says, hating the broken, almost desperate edge in his voice, “This island…” The Watcher pauses, leaving himself vulnerable, but Taylor doesn’t move to attack. “It’s weird—lots of illogical, messed up things happen here, so…” He wrings his hands and can’t bring himself to continue.

“It is impossible.” The words are carefully detached and too purposeful for the Watcher to not understand what he’d been asking.

Even so, Taylor can’t accept it without an explicit affirmation, and he can just feel him setting himself up for terrible, crushing disappointment. It doesn’t stop him from snapping, “What?”

The Watcher flinches. Nevertheless, he composes himself swiftly enough and says gingerly, “He can’t come back.” Taylor senses him bracing himself for the explosion of anger and numbness that the Watcher is sure will come.

He doesn’t disappoint.

 

iv. depression

“You’re telling us… we’ve been gone… for over six months?” Michelle asks, downright flabbergasted.

“That is correct,” Iris says in a impassively clinical voice, but Taylor barely hears it.

(Six months…

“Damn, Taylor, six months!” Diego exclaimed with a sigh, resting his hands on the nape of his neck.

Taylor paused for a second to think. “Until what?”

Diego laughed and rolled his eyes at him. “The trip, duh!” He sighed again and continued, “Seriously, Taylor, how can you be so calm about it? I mean, just think! Wonder! Mystery! Adventure! ” Each of the last three words was accompanied with a theatrical, exaggerated gesture, and this time they were both laughing.

“Honestly, Diego, you’re ridiculous.”

“And you love me for it,” he replied flippantly, smirking and blowing Taylor a kiss. “No, but actually seriously. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get chosen together. Who knows?” He chuckled. “And what a ride that’ll be.”

Taylor huffed goodnaturedly. “Yeah, well, we haven’t been chosen yet.”

Diego turned around to smile up at him. “Come on, Taylor, stay positive! My grandma always said to keep your spirits up and destiny’ll be on your side,” he said sagely, and tapped his nose knowingly.)

“Hey. Taylor. You there? Get your head outta your ass.” Zahra’s irritated voice pushes through his thoughts and brings him back with a jolt to the present and back from the verge of tears he hadn’t known were there. He blinks, clenches his fists, and lets out a shaky breath.

“Yeah,” he attempts, but his voice warbles and breaks. He takes another breath and notices that everyone’s gone silent around him again. He grits his teeth and repeats, “Yeah. I’ll be okay for now. Thanks, Zahra.”

She mumbles out a “Don’t mention it,” but Taylor’s already pacing away.

None of them try to follow him.

 

His body goes on autopilot once he enters the hotel, his feet following the familiar path to his room. It’s only when he opens the door and discovers the ransacked interior that he remembers that no, things aren’t normal, or anywhere near normal as they can get on La Huerta. They’re more than six months in the future, and they don’t know what the situation is or who could be coming for them.

Taylor perches on the edge of the bed, which has now accumulated the slightest film of dust, and stares at the wall, trying not to think.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been (a few minutes? An hour? Two hours?) when the door creaks open. For a blissfully ignorant moment, Taylor perks up and trains his eyes on the door. Who else would come see him this late at night, who other than—

“D—”

“Hey, Boy Scout.”

Jake strolls in the room and stands in front of Taylor, but doesn’t do anything else.

Oh. Of course. He’d forgotten. How… how stupid of him. Taylor doesn’t lift his gaze, and the only change in his stature is an almost imperceptible acceleration in his breathing. He knows he should be devastated, knows he should be exhibiting more emotion than the deadened husk he is now, but ever since the actual death, Taylor seems to be all out of tears.

(With a jolt, he realizes that the blood probably hasn’t been cleaned up. He’s scared to check.)

Jake seems content to wait for a response, standing there with his hands in his pockets almost lackadaisically, but an inkling of guilt begins to creep up on Taylor, crawling up his shoulders until it threatens to wrap its impalpable fingers around his throat like a ghost. He swallows and manages to croak out, “I think there’s something wrong with me.”

“Hey, hey, don’t say that,” Jake hums. He crosses the short distance in long strides to sit down next to Taylor and lays a hand on his thigh, making him flinch. Jake clears his throat and says quietly, “Look. I know what it’s like to lose a friend— a best friend, actually, much earlier than I should’ve. If you want to talk to anyone, I’m here.” He pauses. “Well, I guess everyone’s here for you, but”—he lets out a bark of a laugh—“I always think it’s better if the person’s actually, you know, understands your situation.”

Taylor nods listlessly and finally turns his gaze on Jake. “Thanks,” he says weakly, then feels bad again and turns his eyes away. “I just— why can’t I feel anything? Isn’t that what makes us human, the ability to feel?” Jake seems to be contemplating his words, so Taylor keeps talking. “I mean, he was my best friend, but I—god, I’m such a terrible person, there’s nothing I’m doing that even suggests I’m—”

“No,” Jake interrupts firmly. “No. Look, what’s happening to you, it’s normal . At least for people in your situation. Sometimes when something really bad happens to someone, they’ll kind of—shut down, you know? There’s nothing wrong with you. It’ll take time, alright, Boy Scout? You’re fine.” Taylor doesn’t respond. Jake sighs. “It might not seem like it, but Diego’s death affects us all too. He was a good kid. Bright. Funny. Very on top of all that pop culture stuff. Gay as hell.” At this, Taylor stiffens, tuning out as Jake continues extolling Diego’s virtues. He’d known about Diego’s sexuality and the resulting tensions with his family, of course, but never had he thought, had he even fathomed that it was him that Diego had chosen to… to…

“Oh, jeez, Boy Scout, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” Jake’s face morphs into one of shock as he detects the distress on Taylor’s face again.

“No, no, it’s not your fault, I’m fine, I—”

Funnily enough, it’s now that Taylor finally breaks down, the tears finally, finally flowing as he leans his head on Jake’s shoulder, who awkwardly reaches around his shoulder to rub his arm.

It feels like relief.

It feels like freedom.

 

v. acceptance

“The man of the houuuur!” Craig yells upon Taylor’s arrival, clapping a large hand on his shoulder.

Taylor rolls his eyes, smiling, and says patiently, “You say that every year, Craig. I don’t even do anything much nowadays.”

Craig smiles toothily back at him. “Yeah, but it’s fun,” he quips, and pushes him by the small of his back towards the others. “So, Estela couldn’t make it, some super-spy whatever stuff, but everyone else should be coming. I think Zahra might be a little late though. Kinda funny, innit? Never thought she’d be late for a chance to get wasted, the old recluse.”

“About what you said about Estela… I… don’t think that’s what she does,” Aleister says, falling into step with them with a pained expression, but Craig has already wandered away. Aleister clears his moue and turns to face Taylor, reaching out a hand. “A pleasure to see you again, Taylor.”

Taylor tilts his head and gives a half-perplexed, half-amused smile, though he decides to humor Aleister and shakes his hand. “We’ve known each other for… what is it, six years now? There’s no need to be so formal,” he says, to which Aleister responds with a pointed sniff. Taylor grins and acquieses, “Yes, it’s a pleasure to see you again, as well.”

Aleister nods, satisfied. “How have you been recently?”

“Uh, fine? Do you want to talk about stocks or something?”

“It wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but if you would like,” Aleister replies smoothly, giving a noncommittal shrug.

Taylor catches up with everyone; their annual get-together is always nice, and this year is no exception. Finally, after dinner, when everyone’s sated but not too tipsy yet, they gather in a pensive, respectful silence around the table. He stands up to everyone’s gazes, which range from intense to proud to content.

He can feel his throat closing up a little, but it’s not the same staggering anguish it used to be. Diego’s death has changed him, but it’s a growth he doesn’t regret that much anymore. In fact, he can practically still hear Diego belting out Kelly Clarkson and cajoling, “Vintage!” He dips his head as he hides his smile and clears his throat.

“To Diego Ricardo Ortiz Soto. May he rest peacefully up in heaven,” Taylor begins sincerely. He can’t resist adding, “Preferably with cute cabana boys and all the adventure he could possibly want.”