"Tilt his head back, make him drink this… Yeah that’s it... No it won’t, but he’ll feel... less pain. "
You hadn’t realized there was still a problem until he started vomiting blood again.
In retrospect, it was obvious. There was no way that he would have been able to hold up under all this. You might have been able to handle it, but Taako… Taako wasn’t like you.
Taako was made of softer stuff.
You and Merle had pulled him into the Pocket Workshop, away from the prying eyes of the liches. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do, especially not now.
No healing in Wonderland .
You had suspected that their “Healing Game” wouldn’t fix your all problems, but you thought the penalty of Merle losing vitality for Taako to gain it would have been enough. Pain and suffering shared. But what you hadn’t suspected was that sharing the load would make the problem worse .
You had assumed Taako being healed meant he would be better. Not that he would simply feel better.
Now it was clear the healing was only a ruse, not meant to recover but to delay the pain. Now Merle was weak, and Taako had made what injuries he had so much worse. And you… you were still useless.
You sit on the floor of the workshop, the unconscious elf cradled in your arms, waiting for Merle’s potion to take effect. When the numbing had finished, you’d be able to do more. It was hard enough to do first aid without your patient writhing in pain at every touch.
You felt a little numb yourself.
Trying to be still, trying not to move him anymore than you already had, you realized that Taako was so small . In your giant arms, his withering frame was dwarfed to the point of making him seem even weaker. You always knew he was smaller than you but… you had never realized just how small he was. Curled in pain, breathing labored, you felt like he was getting smaller and weaker by the second.
“How long should I wait?” you muttered.
Merle could only shrug.
“I guess until it looks like he doesn’t feel it anymore.”
You wait, watching for signs of relief in his face. For the sweating to stop, for his brow to unfurrow, for his breathing to slow, for his eyes to open, for something .
Something does happen.
Taako stops breathing.
Stay with me Taako!
Your eyes flutter open, but you can’t see a thing.
Magnus is leaning into your face. Onto you. His mouth is on yours. You know it’s him. You’d recognize the feeling of his scratchy facial hair anywhere but…
He pulls away and he’s crying.
You try to clear your vision, but it’s like there’s a film hanging over everything. Things are blurry, shining. You feel blurry and shining too.
You want to lift your arm and comfort him.
It’s okay Mags, everything is fine .
But you can’t.
You can’t feel any of your limbs at all.
You realize he’s crying because of you . He leans in again and puts his forehead against yours. He’s so warm and it’s the only thing you can feel anymore. It’s the only thing you want to feel.
“Thought I’d lost you for a second there,” he whispers with a smile, putting a hand to your cheek, and it feels like a white hot fire compared to everything else.
You had known that someday you would have to deal with this.
You had always known.
His thumb is moving back and forth against your skin and it’s unbearable . You’re paralyzed in every way, and you can’t do a thing. In this moment of fuzzy thoughts and extreme heat, you always knew that you couldn’t keep yourself at arm’s length forever.
The attraction you felt was too strong.
You wanted this so bad.
He’s crying again and the tears are hitting your face and you feel your eyes crossing back into blackness.
You had been falling in love with Magnus Burnsides.
Not this. Please.
The look in his eyes was unbearable.
Did he feel... the same for you?
Not with every goddamn person who is kind to me.
You lean into his hand as much as you can. You didn’t know what was happening but…
You had wanted this so badly.
Taako’s eyes were unfocused, but they were open, and he was responding.
You were a mess, dripping snot and tears all over him, but at least you had managed to resuscitate him. A trickle of blood was coming from his mouth.
“Thought I’d lost you for a second there,” you try to laugh (it doesn’t work), cupping his cheek with your hand. You did your best to smudge the blood away with your thumb, and then you looked carefully over his face for signs of distress. Signs of pain.
It’s hard to see anything through your tears, but the danger seemed to have passed… for now anyway.
His head rolls slightly into the touch of your hand, and you take that as a sign.
Getting onto your knees, you position yourself above Taako. Your hand is still on his face for now, and he looks thankful for that. Some comfort in a dark time.
“Taako I…” you don’t know how to proceed. How do you ask this without scaring him? You look to Merle, who gives you a gentle nod. Only way forward was straight. “Taako I’m going to touch you. Nod if that’s okay.”
There’s a sound, a disgusting sound rattling around in Taako’s chest, like a bubble caught in his lungs where it should not be. He gives you the slightest nod, and you think you see him trying his best to smile. He can barely part his lips.
You take that as permission, and begin running your hands slowly down his exposed skin. Checking neck, the curve of his shoulders, arms for anything that seemed out of place. Merle had said to look for open wounds, or things that jutted in ways that didn’t seem natural. Looking for breaks, for things that they could fix now. Looking for anything.
He’s looking at you with an expression you can’t describe, and you just can’t handle it.
You feel so guilty. Taako should have never been in this situation to begin with. It’s not his place to take damage like this. That’s your job.
How had you all been so unlucky ?
“Taako I…” He’s looking at you with those horrible eyes . Those eyes you fell in love with because they looked at you with such concern, such care. You hate those eyes. You hate what they’ve made you feel . “Taako I’m going to touch you. Nod if that’s okay.”
You try to laugh, but something in your chest rattles instead. As if there’s anything you’d want more. As if you hadn’t been dreaming about being touched by this man for months. Holding you close, feeling every inch of you.
You aren’t sure why he’s asking now.
Not exactly smooth, huh Mango?
You try to nod but your neck suddenly feels stiff. His eyes dart over your face in concern, and you do your best to smile at him. Good man, waiting for consent. Unbearably good man. Fucking horribly good man.
You hate him.
It’s okay my dude. I want this. I’ve always wanted this, it’s cool.
You can’t say it, but he seems to hear it anyway because he proceeds with leaning in close to your face again, sliding his hands down over your neck, over your shoulders.
His fingers are barely touching you. He’s ghosting over your skin with the tips of them, and you wish he would just touch you. Put his hands on you, rush in . This delicate whispering was not in either of your nature. But when he did touch you, it felt like a jolt of electricity through your shell shocked nerves. His callouses catch with the slightest tug on the fabric of your clothes. His fingers are still so soft, so smooth. All the edges worn away with time.
Another jolt as he passes over your arm, and you flinch. You’re like an exposed nerve and everything Magnus does is magnified times ten. You feel his fingers carefully inspecting the spot on your arm, feeling around in small circles.
He’s not looking at that though. He’s looking at you.
His eyes are locked on you, and his breath is heavy but carefully measured.
He’s watching you for some kind of reaction.
You don’t know what to feel anymore.
“Is this okay?”
You have enough presence of mind to nod your head.
“Does it hurt?”
You realize that pain wasn’t really on your mind right now. Pain was just a memory at this point. You were numb. Numb to all sensations except the ones that he gave you, that prickle of skin from the electricity of his touch.
You shake your head again. He removes his hand from your wrist.
“I need to see your chest,” he whispers again. He’s such a tease.
You hesitate because you’re not sure if you want him to see you. You’re a mess. But you’d be lying if you said you hadn’t had this particular fantasy more than once. Magnus Burnsides, undressing you. It was almost more than you could bear.
You nod, and even try to make a move to help. Your hand twitches but doesn’t get far. He puts his left one over yours.
With his right hand, he carefully lifts your shirt from your stomach, pushing it up agonizingly slow. You feel your stomach drop out in fear at the realization that he’s looking at you and your whole deal down there. He’ll see the stretch marks. He’ll see the scars . You can vaguely feel his knuckles brushing against them, and you want to apologize. But you also want to touch him . You want to apologize for that too. Your body won’t let you. He’s straddled over you now, knees on both sides and his left hand pressing down on yours and his right moving slowly, so slowly.
“Mags-” you gasp, and it feels like the first breath you’ve taken in eternity. “Magnus please .”
A broken wrist, but nothing too serious. It was time to deal with the big problem.
“I need to see your chest,” you say calmly. Much more calmly than you actually feel. You can already see the blood pooling there, but you need to get a better look before you can know how to proceed. Taako hadn’t let you inspect him earlier when he had first gotten hurt. There was clearly something going on that he hadn’t told you.
You see the small nod of permission, and you position yourself over his pelvis. His hand seems to twitch (is he afraid?) and you put your hand over his. Even missing a finger, his hand was big enough to envelop his. He stills, and you move your free hand to lift his shirt.
There is a lot of blood.
You knew that already, since it had bled through long ago, but actually looking now you feel overwhelmed .
Most obviously, there’s a huge gash across his lower stomach. It’s bleeding, but it doesn’t seem to be as deep as it looks. It probably only just reopened. The blood is smeared all over, staining his skin and his skirt. You continue to move upwards, trying so hard not to accidentally touch him. Through the smears, you catch sight of the scars on his ribcage he thinks you don’t know about. They’d match the faded ones on his wrists pretty closely. Your hand slips and you brush against him and he shudders.
“Mags-” he gasps, and a wave of guilt passes over you as you realize you may have hurt him. His first words since waking, and he’s begging you to stop hurting him. “Magnus please .”
“I’m sorry,” you whisper, fighting back the tears, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
You don’t know what else to say.
Once his shirt is up almost all the way to his neck you see the problem.
A deep, dark bruise. Broken ribs.
“I need…” Your fingers are balling into a fist in his shirt. “I need to get rid of this.” You start to tear it, and a distant look of panic seems to cross Taako’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”
You don’t wait for permission this time. You shred the front of his shirt in two, pushing it aside so you could finally get a good look at what you were dealing with.
Broken ribs were bad. The gash was pretty bad too. And you had no idea what was going on inside . But you could only deal with things you saw.
“Start with the cut,” Merle said, handing you a needle, threaded with a heavy black thread.
You knew how to sew up a seam from back in the day, when you were a craftsman. It wasn’t always pretty , but it was strong, and it was functional. You also had the steadiest hands of the bunch (or at least, you normally did). It made sense.
You still didn’t want to do it.
“I need…” He’s pulling on your clothes in a desperation you haven’t seen before. “I need to get rid of this.” Your shirt begins to rip and you try to say something in a panic but all that happens is your eyes get wide. “I’m sorry.”
Magnus rushes in .
Your clothes are ruined, and he lets them fall on either side of you. Now you’re exposed to him and you want to cry. To apologize again for… this. For yourself. For this state you’re in. You weren’t the you that you used to be.
You would have given anything to have this happen to you before today .
You’re feeling delirious, head filling again with fog as you look above you into the skylight.
“You… you don’t have to say anything,” you choke out. “I’m hideous.”
Magnus puts his hand gently on your hip.
“No… No Taako.”
He’s leaning into your stomach and you don’t know what’s happening but you feel a pressure there that’s new and strange and you can’t see his face, just the top of his head, and he’s doing something to your stomach.
A dull pressure.
“You’re so beautiful.”
Something hot and wet is dripping onto his skin.
“You’re so fucking beautiful .”
He’s delirious from the pain.
“You… you don’t have to say anything.” The words bubble out from his chest thick, barely audible. “I’m hideous.”
Your stomach drops out. You’re not even sure he knows what’s going on.
“No… No Taako.”
You put your face close to the wound, carefully catching the skin with the needle. A few stitches in, you start to break down.
Another stitch, his skin pulling tight. You regret everything about this.
“You’re so beautiful.”
You’re crying and it’s not going to stop so you do your best not to let your hand slip. Your fingers are slick with blood but you hold onto the needle like your life depended on it.
“You’re so fucking beautiful. ”
You knot off the last stitch, breaking the thread off with your teeth. It’s not pretty, but it will hold.
Merle hands you a roll of linen and you do your best to wrap Taako’s stitches. You can’t wrap him too tight, but at least something will soak up whatever blood is coming out. You grab a handful of torn shirt to use as a cushion, and then slowly pull the roll over his stomach, and carefully do your best to pass it back underneath him without moving him too much. You take one pass. Two passes.
“Stay with me Taako,” you find yourself saying for the second time tonight.
He’s running his hands around you, over your stomach, around your back.
“Stay with me Taako ,” he whispers and you want more than anything to sit up and kiss him.
He’s still crying, his whole scene is a mess. You didn’t fully get the aging thing, but the grey that had creeped its way into his beard, into his sideburns, into his eyes … it looked good on him. The tears didn’t. The tears made the newly formed wrinkles seem so much deeper, so much more drastic than they were. He looked like he was in pain.
You hated that.
You never wanted to see Magnus in pain again in your life.
“Don’t know how much longer that potion is gonna last,” Merle said. “We need to set his leg too.”
You nodded, scooting down to look at the offending limb. They were both pretty bad, but one was clearly more wrong than the other. It was bent in a way that legs simply weren’t meant to bend. You push up Taako’s skirt, just enough to see the top of his stockings.
“Give me your hand,” you say, moving to his. You know he can’t actually lift his arms.
He moves his fingers a little, and you entwine yours in his. You place your other hand atop his thigh, holding it in place. Merle moved into place with a splint and more bandages.
“Look at me,” you whisper.
Taako sure is looking at you. He’s looking so hard at you it feels like he’s looking through you. You don’t pretend to know what he’s going through in this moment. You squeeze his hand gently and he inhales sharply.
You panic. Was this… You look around, but the reaper isn’t there.
“No Taako,” you try to reassure him, “It’s not time.”
Just as you say that, Merle pushes Taako’s leg back into position, and he gasps. You feel his body shudder and attempt to jolt.
All you can do is hold on while he struggles for air, holding his hips in place to keep him from thrashing.
“I’m so sorry.”
You can’t help but think he’s teasing you, pushing your skirt up, rubbing your thigh. You feel like you’re on fire.
“Give me your hand.” You try to, but can’t. He grabs yours, almost immediately. “Look at me.”
You never want to look at anything else.
He’s looking at you again with those eyes and you’re falling into them again. Falling even further into this hole. You were so easy. A man shows you a little attention, a little kindness… and you melted. Once upon a time, you had fallen for Sazed much the same way. And Magnus. And of course…
You choke his name out, remembering how you felt about him. You love him too, right? You love them both. And it was so hard to admit that, so hard after the first time. You didn’t think you’d be able to open yourself ever again and yet here you were, with two men you’d bare it all for. They’d fixed something you didn’t even know had been broken.
You loved them both so much.
You needed them both .
Magnus wasn’t really sure how to respond to the reaper’s name.
Right, he doesn’t know .
He looks around, and then squeezes a little tighter. “No Taako, it’s not time.”
But when ?
Suddenly your leg is on fire and you’re trying to twist away but you’re still so heavy and slow. Magnus is pressing down on your hip, keeping you still, practically crushing your hand as he holds on for dear life.
“I’m so sorry,” you hear him whisper, but you want to apologize too.
I’m sorry I’m like this .
I’m sorry I’m broken.
Please don’t let go.
Finally the feeling passes, and Magnus loosens his grip.
He does not let go.
After a while, Taako stops shaking. Merle is able to set his leg, and the immediate danger is dealt with. He still had broken ribs, but there wasn’t much you could do about that without getting out . You bandage up his wrist, and then Merle goes off to rest himself.
You don’t leave Taako’s side.
He’s still awake, looking at you with those confused and scared eyes. You’re rubbing the back of his hand with your thumb, and carefully brushing hair from his face with your other hand.
It’s been an hour. The potion had worn off, but he hadn’t moved much.
Finally he smiles at you.
“Hey big guy,” he whispers.
“Hey,” you whisper back. “You did a great job.”
He seemed to be coming around. He looked more alert. More aware. He was still staring holes through you, but you at least felt he actually was seeing you now.
“Got a little exciting back there for a moment,” Taako laughed quietly.
“If you wanted to undress me so bad, you just had to ask.”
You squeeze his hand again.
“Sorry about that.”
A moment of silence.
“I was so scared I was going to lose you.”
Taako made a face.
“Was I going somewhere bubbale?”
You nod. “You could say that.”
“Tough shit,” he coughed. “I’m like a bad penny. Can’t get rid of me that easy.”
“This penny is one I wanted to save,” you reply.
It’s cheesy as fuck, but it makes Taako smile.
You know you’re going to have to talk about it eventually.
You know that what you thought was happening in that moment… that crazy, blood deprived moment… was not reality. You had been on death’s door.
Magnus had saved your life.
It wasn’t special.
That’s just an average day for him.
You gingerly put a hand over the hastily wrapped bandages. The fucker had saved your life again , and you didn’t have the guts to tell him the truth.
To tell him how you felt.
You watched him washing off his hands, washing your blood down the drain. He took care of you, and you knew that he took care of everyone. But a part of you hoped, maybe beyond hope, that all those tears were more than just fear of losing a friend.
He looks up at you, wiping his hands on his pants.
“Magnus I…” You want to say it, you want to say it so badly , but you had been dying and you weren’t thinking straight. What would he say? What would he think ? That you fell for whatever man showed you a hint of kindness?
Well he wouldn’t be wrong.
Magnus raises his hand to cut you off. “You don’t have to say anything.”
He came over and made a move to hug you before realizing that wasn’t the best thing for your ribs. Instead, he put his hands on your shoulders.
“I saw the scars.”
You felt your face go white.
“Taako I just want you to know… I’m not going to judge you for whatever pain you’re feeling but… I care about you, and I’d never want to lose you.”
He smiles at you.
“I love you Taako.”
“I… I love you too Magnus.”
You don’t know if he meant it like that .
Suddenly you’re on tip toes, moving into him, kissing him like you’ve wanted to for so long.
He’s surprised, but he doesn’t pull back.
It’s chaste. You put a hand to his cheek, he moves both of his to your hips.
You feel like you’re on fire again, like a thousand little magic missiles are going off inside you. You did love him. You loved everything about him. You never wanted to be without him.
He breaks the kiss, putting his forehead to yours.
You’re smiling too.
Whatever happened next, you were going to get out of it.
You had each other.