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before it’s over

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Taako can’t stop touching his face.

It’s been hours since the sacrifice, and still he finds his fingertips lightly tracing his features, finds nausea curling his stomach as he probes and searches for familiarity and comes up just a little bit short. Just a little bit wrong and a lotta bit not Taako.

His glamours are on (and pretty fucking stunning, natch) but that doesn’t fix everything. The skin under the pads of his fingers isn’t as smooth as it used to be, and his lips seem thinner, and the tip of his nose no longer tapers to as delicate a point. Disguise Self, he remembers, encyclopedic as though he’s teaching Ango a spell, doesn’t extend itself to touch. Only sight. Not that Taako tends to let anyone close enough to touch him, besides—


Would Kravitz notice?

The two of them had only been on a handful of dates, and Taako curses himself for even thinking of how he’d react, for caring so goddamn much what the walking Fantasy Hot Topic thought of him. What did it matter?

Evidently a great deal, his memory insists, frantic and urgent and red-hot as their encounter in his dorm late after their last date. Kravitz had been too gentle with him. He’d wanted more, but the reaper had seemed scared he’d break beneath him like a porcelain doll, and who was Taako to protest being indulged like fine art? He remembered the look in those dark eyes as Kravitz had softly brushed his bangs back, murmuring sheepishly that he wanted to be able to see his face. He remembered watching the blush creep up the man’s neck even as he stared him down with such fierce admiration that Taako almost shoved him off. He remembered the cold touch of his lips against his collarbone and something in his gut told him that the man was definitely going to notice the difference. After that night Taako was sure Krav had tried his hardest to memorize his form and he didn’t seem the type to botch Investigation checks and his hands go into his hair in a panic at the thoughtandforfuckssakeitsnotasSOFTASITWASBEFORE—

The realization hits him like a train, and his hands leave his head for what feels like the first time today to steady himself on the handle of his umbrastaff, leaning heavily on it. His nose is prickling and his eyes are stinging and he’s not going to fucking cry, he’s not, he didn’t cry in Wonderland and he’s not going to cry now and Magnus doesn’t even have eyes to cry so he shouldn’t rub it in and—!

He feels something rubbing slow circles on his back, and it reminds him to breathe (he’s fucking gasping like a drowning man and wondering how long that’s been going on, because, uh, yikes.) A spell crackles between his shoulder blades, and the familiar tingle of enchantment runs down his spine.

Calm Emotions.

He doesn’t resist, instead allowing the magic to slow the rapid beat of his heart to a steady thrum. Another deep breath and his legs stop feeling like they’re going to buckle under his weight. He manages a glance down at Merle, who hasn’t taken his hand off him, and his brow is creased with concern.

In an instant, the wall around him is airtight as ever, and he gives an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Geez Louise, old timer, you finally learn how to cast a buff and you waste it on me? What about Pinocchio over there, don’t you think he could use some help?”

“It’s okay.” The dwarf rasps, and Taako is quick to interrupt with a short bark of a laugh.

“I dig the optimism, compadre, but I think even Mags would agree—“

“Taako.” Magnus interrupts this time, and it’s still creepy to hear his voice come out of that featureless face, but the gravity of his tone tells Taako not to argue. “It’s okay if we need to take a minute.”

The wizard bites his tongue, tapping his fingers uncomfortably against his umbrella. “We don’t have time, we have to keep moving.”

“So you don’t have to think about it?” The wood doesn’t move, but Taako can picture the expression Magnus would wear; nearly deadpan besides the quirk of a challenge in his eyebrow, his eyes staring, unyielding, right through him.

Taako, for once in his life, is speechless, and he clenches his jaw shut tight for fear of what might spill out.

“Let’s stop here for the night.” Merle suggests, and all Taako can manage is a jerky, violent sort of nod, staring straight ahead.

“I’ll keep watch. I don’t think I need to sleep anymore.” Magnus tries to force some humor into his tone, and earns another nod.

“Let’s try and find a clearing.” Merle says, turning away from the other two at last, and Magnus goes to follow, and Taako just nods.

The other two are a good ways ahead of him by the time he realizes his face is wet, and when he exhales, it’s shaky and weak and miserable. Magnus is back at his side in a second, and Taako’s head thunks forward onto the wooden shoulder and it’s weird and it sucks and everything’s weird and everything sucks and he’s crying now, sobs wracking his shoulders as he clings onto the mannequin and fuck, this is embarrassing but he can’t find it in him to stop.

“Hey, hey, you’re okay.” Magnus tries his best to be of comfort. Taako feels Merle’s hand on him again, but this time there is no spell to help him out. When he finally gathers himself enough to speak, his voice still catches.

“I’m so tired.” He whispers, and wooden arms tighten around his frame.

“I bet you are.” Magnus replies with his voice just as soft.

They stand waist deep in the silence for a while, the only sound around them Taako’s trembling breaths, and Merle is the first one to disturb the quiet as he starts to sing.

“Oh shit, sweet flip.”

And Taako snorts, jostling him away with his elbow. “Fuck you guys.” He mutters, but now he’s smiling, and he wipes away the mascara that’s smeared down his cheeks. When he looks down at Merle, he’s grinning, too.

“Come on, fellas, I think there might be a spot this way.” He says, starting to walk, and Taako leans over to whisper to Magnus.

“You think we’ll die if we follow him?” He asks, and Magnus claps a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“Only one way to find out.”

“You’ll definitely die if you tell anyone I cried.”

“You cried?”

“Good boy.” Taako smirks and he and Magnus walk, arms over each other’s shoulders, to follow Merle to a clearing.

Elves don’t need to sleep, technically, but Taako sleeps like a rock.