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Straightshooter is dying, he’s convinced it. He can't see, and the world is upside down, and he's going to die. He's trying to claw his way to the front of the ship but he keeps on being thrown off his feet and his eyes feel like they're on fire, and -

he hyperventilates, unused to not having his sight, and fuck - he doubles over, clutching at his face. He knows he shouldn't be reacting like this, shouldn't be letting pain control him. He's been trained, they taught him better than this, but oh my God, it just hurts so bad.

He straightens up, his body shaking violently. Clear your mind, he hears Sedona say, and breathe. Okay. In and out. One foot in front of the other.

He wants to fall to the ground and dig the heels of his palms into his eyes, but instead he takes another step.

The ship reels, and he cries out. He grabs for something to catch himself on and finds a doorway.

Okay. This must be the second corridor, then. Just a little bit more to go. Get to the cockpit and you'll be okay.

…He can’t see, but his cheeks are wet, so he must be crying.

His heart pounds against the inside of his ribcage. He heaves himself off the door and, just as he begins to continue his efforts, he stumbles into somebody.

He hears them swear. “Kid?”

His voice cracks, and he sobs in relief. “Atlas?”

“Oh, thank God. You-” The ground lurches beneath their feet. They stumble, Straightshooter almost falling, and Atlas grabs onto his shoulders.

“Atlas, what’s happening?”

“I don’t know. I- I don’t know. Come on,” and with that he grabs his hand and begins to drag him forwards.

“...Atlas?” he whimpers, as they make far quicker progress than he had on his own.

He only gets a tight squeeze of his hand in response.

He hears Christian Soldier yell something and his heart jumps to his throat. Thank God. They stumble into the room.

Atlas doesn't let go of his hand. “I’ve got him,” he rasps.

“Esteban?” he hears, and it is Samson’s rough, familiar voice, but Straightshooter has never heard Samson sound like that. He’s never heard him sound so... scared.

That’s when the ship hits the ground and his legs give out from under him.

 

 

Straightshooter wakes up to the end of the world.

He still can't see. He hears screams, although not very well. He smells fire.

He tries to pull himself up and immediately fails. His legs give out from under him and he crashes to the floor.

Fuck.

You need to get up, he tells himself pathetically. They need you.

He heaves himself to his feet again, successfully this time.

Okay. Okay. He quietly coaches himself. What next?

He remembers with a start. Samson.

Oh God. He tries to look around. Where is he?

He starts to stumble in what he thinks is the right direction, but somebody grabs his arm and begins pulling him away. He struggles against it.

“Kid, cut it out!” Sedona’s panicked voice rings through the air.

“No!” he gasps, struggling harder. “Uncle Samson -”

“Uncle Samson is dead!” he hears Atlas scream, the unwelcome sound barely pushing its way past the ringing in his ears, and… no. No, no, no, no, no. That can’t be true. As Sedona drags him away, lungs screaming and body aching, he begs the universe to tell him otherwise.

The three of them stumble out of the ship (where is Christian Soldier?) “Stay together,” he hears Atlas say, sounding as if from very far away, and then -

“What are you waiting for?” and oh my God. He hears that voice and oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.

Janet.

This was… he was…

His stomach plummets. (Through his horrified spiral, he catches the word ‘blind’ and no, he panics, like a small child in denial, no I’m not, no I’m not.)

And then there is a gunshot.

He hears Sedona scream.

(He doesn’t hear Atlas scream.)

(There is another gunshot, and now he is the one screaming.)

He is pulled to the ground, and

he hears the bones in his hand crunch.

He cries mindlessly and passes out.

 

 

He kicks. He yells. He struggles against strange arms that pin him down and drug him to sleep. And when he wakes up, it is to Tyrannosaurus Rathbone’s voice.

A cloth is laid across the top half of his face. He can't feel his hands.

His team is dead.

He feels as if he's woken up as a different person.

“I- Shooter, I… fuck. I’m so sorry.” And no, no, why is the commander sorry.

This is his fault.

He did this.

He is sorry.

He will be sorry for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

Off the coast of Miami, the still ocean is a shade of picture-perfect blue. The chatter of far-off animals makes for an unobtrusive layer of background noise. Calm, small waves lap at the shore. All is well.

Until a battered human man violently breaks the surface of the water.

He is ragged, he is dirty, his suit is stained with blood, and he has just been escorted to safety by a pod of dolphins.

He drags himself up on the shore and rolls over onto his back, gasping for air. Sand sticks to his clothes and his skin, finds its way into his hair and his eyes. He lays there for a minute, catching his breath.

He has been in a half-conscious state for hours, but now that he is safe, his mind begins to work again. He remembers.

They had been in Cuba.

They were targeting the Duke.

His men were more competent than they'd predicted, and...

And his team…

Crumpled corpses. Blood everywhere.

One's head smashed in. Another stabbed through the heart.

The Duke killed them off, one by one.

He chokes in disbelief, bringing a robotic hand up to cover his mouth.

 

They're gone.

 

He lost his team.

 

He lost his team, he lost his team, and with that the gates break open, and the full weight of the realization comes to him, and Esteban immediately breaks down.

Oh God. He can't breathe, he can't breathe, he can't breathe. The sobs wrack his body, overwhelming him. They are gone, they are gone, and his heart races and his vision blurs at the edges and he feels like a stranger in his own body, and he desperately tries to think of something he can do to fix this, but there is nothing. (His body is going through the motions, but he isn't actually crying - and isn't that funny, he thinks hysterically, how he can't even cry?)

His team is gone, and he is laying on a warm beach he is laying on a cold table. He is working for AEGIS, and he is wearing all black he is wearing stupid, vibrant colors. He is with his family, and they are the only people who know him they are under the public eye.

It happened again.

And Maria's lopsided smile and Harley's dry sarcasm, they are scattered to the wind the same as Atlas's stupid catchphrases and Samson's gruff words of praise, and Esteban buckles under the weight of it all.

Amara will never get over excited and almost kill him during training. Hermes will never play another stupid prank. Christian Soldier will never tell him to get out of the way. Sedona will never remind him to -

 

Breathe.

 

He hears her voice as clear as day, gentle and patient and strong. He doesn't want to disappoint her anymore than he already has, so, though he whines in grief, he obeys it.

In and out, he tells himself.

And, pushing up onto his elbows, he begins to regain control.

In and out.

He swallows thickly. There will be time to melt down later. He can't right now.

In and out.

He staggers to his feet, soaking wet. Just don't think about it yet.

In and out.  Think about what to do next. Think about the color green. Think about anything other than what just happened.

As he scans his surroundings, his mind races. Attempting to calculate his next move, he thinks logically. He thinks of consequences and of AEGIS and of Rathbone.

He doesn't think about his squad. He doesn't think about getting dragged down to breakfast and jumping off of buildings for kicks and making fun of superhero outfits. He doesn't think about his family.

Esteban knows what he is supposed to do if he is separated from his group. He has been trained vigorously on how to find civilization and make his way to an AEGIS base as quickly as possible.

That training will not be put to use today.

He can't face Rathbone.

What would he say? Thanks for saving my life, thanks for believing in me, thanks for everything - I got my team killed again?

No. He doesn't know what Rathbone would say to that, and he doesn't want to know.

He sure as hell didn't deserve his second chance, and he doesn't know if Rathbone would give him a third or try and kill him. He doesn't know which would be worse.

There is only one thing to do now.

 

Esteban runs.