The Face of Your Father


elliot2_icon.gif ff_tay_icon.gif wright2_icon.gif

Scene Title The Face of Your Father
Synopsis In the wake of the ambush, Elliot and Tay try to fix a damaged vehicle.
Date July 5, 2021

A tinnitus ring is deafening.

The walls of this horrible place are cream colored, the curtains are linen, the floor covered in a carpet the shade of coffee with milk in it. Rows of people either genuinely mourning or feigning concern sit in rows on wooden chairs like it was a wedding reception. There’s a wreath of flowers in patriotic red, white, and blue. It is a closed-casket funeral.

Taylor Epstein can’t hear the words of the decorated officer handing him a tightly folded flag. His world is muffled as though he were underwater, the ringing in his ears refusing to subside. He takes the flag with trembling hands, a medal his father earned by being shot and decapitated pressed to it like it’s supposed to mean something. Bile rises in the back of Taylor’s throat.

The officer handing Tay the flag says something. He’s smug. Something inside of Tay snaps and he curls his hand into a fist, drops the flag, and breaks the officer’s jaw.

Four men have to pull Tay off of the colonel

kicking and screaming.

Eighteen Years Later

Broadway Street
Ruins of Toledo

July 5th
8:48 pm

“Piece of shit!

Taylor Epstein slams the hood of the Humvee closed then bangs both of his hands on it. “Fuck!” He steps away from the front of the vehicle, running his hands over his scalp, then doubles back and looks over at the demolished semi not far away. “Fuck,” comes out softer, and Tay slouches forward with his hands on the hood, eyes clenched shut trying to calm down.

He’d been working under the hood for a while now, trying to repair a pinched fuel line. Now there’s a trickling stream of gasoline leaking into a plastic bin under the vehicle. Tay sighs and crouches down, pulling himself under the truck. He palms a roll of duct tape from his pocket, temporarily sealing the new crack in the line he just made.

It's impossible for Elliot to miss the verbal fireworks as he makes his way back to this side of the bridge. He'd been moving at an unhurried pace, but trots up just in case there's something time sensitive about Tay's vehicular fury. His boots scrape across the pavement to announce his presence before startling the man, who has in the past been known to fire guns unexpectedly.

"Wow, he's really Epsteining the shit out of that thing," Wright says. "Tell him not to shoot the motor or he'll have to row it to Alaska."

Elliot turns a laugh into a cough. "Need a hand?" he asks, unable to imagine anything other than Avi's face as the man furiously rowed the boat away from Kill Devil Hills.

Tay stands up straight, waving a hand at the car. “I dunno, might make more sense to wait for the lady with the magic, metal-bending hands to fix this.” He sounds discouraged, trying to pass it off as practicality. Up close and not in the middle of a seventh-day-advent style resurrection, Elliot notices two bullet holes in Tay’s shirt surrounded by blood and notably revealing uninjured skin. There’s been a lot of that going around with Natalie tending to the wounded. Though, now it’s turned to discussion as to where she should be buried.

“How’s everything on the other side of the overpass?” Tay asks, tugging a rag from his back pocket to wipe gasoline off his hands. “I ain’t heard any gunshots, so I figure that’s something.”

"Walker died at the wheel," Elliot says solemnly, readily falling into report mode. "But otherwise we took no losses on that side. Doc is under the overpass, but everyone made it out and we salvaged the supplies. Engine smashed flat. Three raiders survived out of a couple dozen, being held currently. They didn't seem to be prepared for all the special effects. I have eyes on that side if you need to know anything specific."

He looks over the Hummer, which is in surprisingly good shape considering the hit he watched it take. "Wright's got manuals on the table for all of these if you need a parts list," he offers with a gesture toward the truck.

Tay sighs, taking a moment of silence to pluck out the relevant bits from that and compartmentalize the rest. Elliot is familiar with the process. “He was a good kid,” Tay says of Walker. “I warned you all it was a shit show out here,” isn’t meant as a told-you-so but more an apology judging from his tone. Straightening up, he sets his hands on his hips and paces around.

“Manuals.” Tay mumbles under his breath, rubbing one hand at the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah that’s…” He looks back at Scout, the bullet holes riddling it. There’s five in the driver’s side door and two in the windshield. A white tuft of foam in the middle of the driver’s seat where a bullet went straight through it. “That’s probably a good idea.”

"We have a couple of options here," Elliot says. "The first is that you ask me questions which Wright will hear, she reads the manuals to find the answer, I remotely experience what she's reading and then relay the information to you."

"Option two is that we cut out the middle man," he continues. "I link you into my telepathic network and you experience her reading of the manuals directly, as though you are sitting behind her eyes as she does it. No need to worry about thought reading or other creepy telepathic shit, I can only do sensory, memory, and emotion, and only between willing, linked hosts." With Chess and Robyn having left the network for totally understandable reasons, there's room for Tay to join.

Tay slouches back against the semi, arms crossed. He’s quiet for a minute, mulling the whole thing over. “I ain’t usually one to pry,” he eventually says. “But since you’ve named-dropped somebody I don’t know—like she’s in the room with us—more than once? I gotta ask. Where is she?” He turns around and glances from left to right. “This Wright ain’t here,” he surmises easily enough, “which means she’s either back east, or further.” It’s clear that Tay hasn’t been fully read into the Travelers situation, or perhaps is just obstinate of the possibility. Both seem likely.

“And, I guess question two, how far’s this telepathic link of yours actually go?” Tay asks. “‘Cause car to car, that’s a neat trick. But we’re a few hundred miles from Oz right now, so I’m figuring I need to ask some more technical questions about what it is you can do.” He looks Elliot up and down thoughtfully. “I don’t… really like people getting around in my head, but I’m comin’ around a little on this after hearing everybody else. So… just explain it to me like I’m a kid.”

Elliot nods in understanding, it's a lot to take in. "I have to maintain physical contact while setting a link," he starts from the beginning. "Breaking contact breaks the link during that period. It takes a minute or two otherwise, during which I prompt you for sensory stimulus or memories that I can use to locate those parts of your mind. Once the link is set, you'll feel the presence of the ability in your mind like an additional sense you're not accustomed to. You'll always know you're a network host when the link is set, and at any time you can break the link and leave the network just by wanting to."

He settles himself against the vehicle, hands in his pockets. "From there I can open and close your access to the abilities the network grants, and you'll know when that happens to. You'll still feel the door there, but it'll be closed and only I can open it. Emotions will get through, I can't close that link but it serves as kind of an early warning system. So if a host starts to panic I can open the door back up so we can figure out what's happening."

"That's the basic shit," he continues. "The features of the network then are that a host can pull the sensory information or memories of another host into themself. It takes concentration, but you could experience everything around yourself and also everything another host is experiencing, like you're both on side-by-side TVs. Once the concentration stops, it's just you again. If another host is streaming your perception, you'll be constantly aware of it. There's some adjustment to figuring out who's who but everybody has their own feel. But there will never be a time where somebody is streaming something from you and you aren't aware of who and what."

"Memories are the same, but memory is such a complex thing that it's not possible to just go sifting through, looking under rocks. You can remember something, and use your telepathic sense to draw my attention to it so I can remember with you. Or if you have a skill set, we can spend some time exploring it so I can map it all and the raw, context-free knowledge can be used by another host. Like if I linked you, you could use American Sign Language for as long as you're linked, though muscle memory doesn't transmit so you'd be clumsy at it. I'm also an infiltrator and a hell of a cook. Good at math and computer sciences, some programming, so you could use my skill in those areas if the need arises."

"The thing most people are creeped out by is mind reading," Elliot says, quickly squashing further worry on Tay's part. "I can't do that. Just emotion, perception, memory. As for range, it is effectively infinite, seeing as my partner Wright is currently sitting in a conference room in the US capitol in the timeline that I come from. Which is in Kansas City." He adds the last as though that's the weird part. "The capitol of the US is in KC, not the entire timeline, obviously. 'Civil War Two' and all that." He smirks.

Through a lot of that Tay seems to be open minded, listening and nodding along. But then it’s the “Timeline?” wall. He makes something of a sour face, rubbing one hand at the back of his neck as he abruptly walks away, then doubles back. “You—” he starts off a little hot, pointing accusingly at Elliot. But he catches himself, curls that index finger back against his palm and presses his lips together into a hard line.

“Your buddy Richard tried that shit.” Tay explains, vaguely gesturing away from himself with one hand. “Treid to—He wanted me to believe that shit. Him? It felt like a fucking sales pitch for something I didn’t—” He reconsiders. “Something a little too good t’be true. Y’feel me?”

Tay sighs, rubbing both of his hands over his head. “You get where I’m coming from, having a hard time believing?” He looks Elliot up and down. “Man that flies? Alright, sure. Guy’s got gun fingers or something? I guess, alright. But you’re saying there’s a whole fucking world out there,” again with the broad gesturing, “where all this ain’t that.” He sighs loudly through his nose. “I dunno man. I dunno if I like that.” Suddenly, mind links aren’t the worst thing in the equation.

“Suffice to say that people who can travel through time also exist alongside Finger Guns and Flying Man,” Elliot says, going for the absolute simplest explanation he can. “When somebody goes back and makes highly significant changes to events, there’s a split. The original timeline continues on as it always had been, but a new series of events begins to transpire in the new branch. I’m from a branch that split off of this one in the early sixties.” Well, several branches removed, anyway.

“I totally get it,” he continues calmly. “It’s a lot. But it would be a lot harder to hide the evidence of it if you’re streaming Wright’s perspective. She’s in a control room, so you wouldn’t be getting the overwhelming grand tour either way, but she also has stable electricity and other modern amenities.”

Tay fixes a steady look at Elliot when he suggests streaming Wright’s perspective on things. He’d just been given the low-level explanation, and yet still it comes as a surprise that this is a thing Elliot can do. Rather than answer the question, he sidesteps it in a way that is so much like his father.

“You’re about my age,” Tay estimates, “you ever uh, watch tv like, in the 90s? Like, fuck maybe they didn’t have this show in your…” He struggles even saying it. “In your world.” Looking away, Tay struggles with embarrassment. “It was about this kid, built a machine in his basement, sucked himself and his friends in? They spent all this time tryin’ t’find a way home. Never finished watchin’ it. Dunno if they ever made it back.”

Sliders. Tay is talking about Sliders.

“So this is… it’s like that. All these shoulda, woulda, and coulda’s become their own little places.” Tay says, making a discrete hand-gesture for each.

Elliot doesn't want to admit that it's anything at all like Sliders, but it is so he nods begrudgingly. "Basically like Sliders, yeah," he says. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume there's no colossal bunny rabbit timeline though. I never saw how it ended either, I think they traded out most of the cast to milk it for more seasons than it could honestly support."

He tries to gauge Tay's comfort level. "If the sensory link is too weird for you," he says, "that's totally understandable. We can purple monkey dishwasher our way through the manuals for you. You just seem like more of a hands on guy."

Tay sighs. More like a snort that anything prolonged. A bullish huff. “Ain’t never been good at listening to instructions,” he begrudgingly admits. “Just irritates me. Always was better just watching or reading.” He glances up to Elliot, then back to the rig.

“Fine,” he says with a cardboard enthusiasm. “But if it gets weird I’m out.” He doesn’t specify what his weirdness threshold is. “So how do we do this, hold hands or chant or something?” He awkwardly looks down at his grease-stained hands. That was not a joke. He genuinely assumes both is true.

Elliot chuckles. "All you need to do to stop the process is let go," he reiterates. "So contact yes, chanting no. My practice has always been to call out a word and then view your memory association with it, which recently turned up a couple of unpleasant surprise memories, so I'm working on a new method. It's a little less efficient, but not causing someone distress is its own reward."

He straightens up, looking around for somewhere to settle in. "It'll only take a minute or two," he says. It occurs to him that Tay would probably be less comfortable doing this alone in a vehicle, so he figures he'll give the man more space to run away. He extends a hand and leans his hip against the side of the vehicle. He retracts for a second to crack his knuckles and delay while assuring himself that Tay is safe, then turns the hand. "For starters, I want you to try to remember something specific. You remember in as much detail as you can, and when you say 'go' I'll find the memory and remember it with you. The more complex the better."

Tay listens, nodding repeatedly as he does, which Elliot sees as a nervous tic rather than confident comprehension. The more he watches Tay the more he observes someone with an undiagnosed auditory learning disorder who has had it hammered into him that it’s a him problem to solve. Tay rolls his shoulders, like he’s limbering up for this, then awkwardly reaches out and grasps Elliot’s hand in an overcompensatingly bros being bros way.

But for all that he struggles to learn by listening, Tay does understand the basic concepts Elliot laid out. But when he says, “Go,” it’s a jumble at first. Elliot receives a muddied feedback of the last instructions he gave, Tay going over them trying to make sure he’s doing it right. It comes in fits and starts, gaps in the words Elliot remembers himself saying. Then, what Tay is really trying to focus on comes into view.

Tay’s hands move in quick, precise motions. One thumb to push back a pin, his opposite hand to detach the magazine. Lay the rifle down across his lap. Swift motion of his thumb to pop out the rounds from the magazine into his now free hand, set them down in an upturned cap on the bench. Magazine on top. He lifts the rifle up, beginning to methodically and swiftly disassemble it, glancing at his cleaning tools on the other side of the bench.

Tay’s recollection fogs when he concentrates on talking. “Is that—right? Can you see that shit?”

Tay is watching a video on a computer of a dog farting on a sleeping man. The man screams himself awake and falls out of bed.

“Shit can— sorry. I don’t know why I just—”

Gummi bears, bouncing here and there and everywhere! High adventure that’s beyond compare, they are the

“Fuck. Sorry. It’s like—try and not think about something and you can’t think about anything else.” Tay mumbles.

Elliot maintains composure through a combination of careful practice at the amount of focus it takes to do this and great difficulty. He pins memories where they emerge from the chaos of probably also having ADHD. Memories of being in a flow state would probably serve best here. When he speaks his words are slow and free of any judgment, he's well aware how much of a mess it can be in a mind. "The gun was good," he says. "Try remembering the whole process from the time they shouted 'go' until you set the reassembled gun down on the table." There's no way this man didn't go through boot camp. "The sounds. Smell of gun oil."

Tay nods, reassurance helping him calm. “Yeah,” he mumbles, “okay.” The memory comes clear this time, though the setting has changed. The previous one felt more contemporary, recitation of practiced experience from a lifetime of fighting. This one, however, is more structured and brighter.

A stocky man with a thick Texas accent shouts something, probably an inciting order. A table of young men in fatigues begin stripping down an assault rifle. Tay’s hands fumble, but he looks to the men on either side of him and follows their lead. His hands are less calloused, he’s thinner, younger. Elliot can hear the clatter of weapon parts snapping together, the subtle scent of gun oil, sweat, summer air. It’s hot, dry, the tent they’re in is guttering in the wind.

“Like that?” Tay asks, one eye squinted because he’d been shutting his eyes this time as if that would help him concentrate.

"Perfect," Elliot says, his own eyes closed to reduce distractions. The memory is solid, it's pinned in place and held with the others. "Think of the best meal you've ever eaten." That should get them further away from military memories, at least.

“Oh shit,” Tay says with a moment of excitement. It comes faster than the mechanical recollection.

There’s more gravy than is healthy for any one person to eat heaped on literally every single food item on an already overstuffed plate. Mashed potatoes, corn, thick slices of juicy turkey, roasted parsnips and carrots, a heap of stuffing the size of a toddler’s arm. The table is full, and there is a sense of elation that everyone is at it.

Avi Epstein sits at the head of the table, beer in hand, looking diagonally to a sharp-eyed blonde woman roughly his age, but probably a little younger. Across from her, at Avi’s right side, is a little wisp of a girl no more than four years old. Her hair is tied back into a ponytail and her eyes are ringed with redness, not from crying. It’s hard to discern. Crutches fit for a tiny child lean against the table.

Tay closes up a little as a bubble of emotion rises up in his chest. Loss, grief, love. Not so much for his father, but for the girl. For Emily.

Elliot is awash with emotion, and in his surprise he nearly misses the opportunity to find the root of those emotions and set the link there. He's glad that Tay can't yet stream his own memories, as in his distraction he can't help but think of Avi and Emily. He knows Avi better, and only to the extent that anybody can ever truly be said to know Avi. He still owes his life to the man many times over.

He breathes slowly as he holds up the threads of the growing tapestry, wasting nothing as Tay continues to broadcast the complexity of his emotions. He twitches his hand in the other man's just to pinpoint the touch response. He clears his throat to try to find the sound in Tay's mind. "Find three brightly colored objects in line of sight," he says quietly, not wanting to jar him too abruptly from his reminiscence.

It takes a moment for Tay to focus on what Elliot actually asked. But it’s just as easy for him to remember Emily’s bright blue hair tie, then a red convertible outside the kitchen window, and finally a kitschy yellow sun-face clock on the wall.

Tay sniffs, scuffing his thumb over his jaw. “This uh, a pass or fail sorta’ thing? Or is it gradients of can follow instructions?

Elliot feels the edges of a vibration, deep, Tay's voice in his own ears. The prickle of a breeze on his face. The threads he's collected align and the links take a hold in the reaches of the other man's mind. There's a popping sensation like a pressure change through his whole body and he tentatively retracts his hands. "It's done," he explains. He leaves Tay detached from everybody but himself, a single door making its presence known between them.

"There's a door in your mind you can feel now, right here," he continues, telepathically directing Tay toward a resource in his mind that's never been there before. "If you concentrate on this door and think about pulling it toward yourself, you'll pull my sensory information across the link and experience it simultaneously to your own. The side by side TVs effect I mentioned earlier, though it's possible they'll start overlaid before settling out into distinct sensations. As soon as you stop concentrating on the pull, it will end but you'll remain linked and can try again. Give it a shot." He purposefully differentiates his posture from the other man's to make the physical distinction clearer.

The grunt Tay offers means it’s working. He winces, flinches away and squints reflexively against the alien sensation. Bringing a hand up to cover his eyes only shields him from one sensory experience, not the other. It’s like closing his eyes to one world and opening them to another.

“S’it okay if I do this?” Tay says, hand over his eyes. “Think I’m gonna barf if I keep my eyes open.” Though he wouldn’t if he just followed instructions and let it settle in. But also, he doesn’t withdraw. It’s a mixture of hesitance and stubbornness.

"Whatever makes you comfortable," Elliot says. "I do that to limit sensory input myself now and then. But you can also let go and you'll stop receiving my sensory output without dropping from the network if you need a breather."

He drums his fingers against the side of the vehicle. "But if you're more of a learn by doing guy," he says, "drop what you're pulling and pull here instead."

Washington K.C.
Department of the Exterior

Prime Timeline

Wright’s hands crease the spine of the manual to lay it flat, and her eyes flicker back up to the room’s massive, wall-mounted television. A man with appreciated steady hands films beneath the hood of a vehicle functionally identical to the one Tay had beat his fists against earlier.

Her motions are reflexive as she reads the cues in Tay’s movements and her eyes move as his lead. She’s had practice being someone else’s eyes and ears, and as such she does what she can to make this as painless for him as possible. The video seems to be more useful to him, though the streamer’s familiarity doesn’t seem to include several of the names of specific features under the hood, so the diagram remains handy. Elliot has been quiet, lending his capacity to Tay so the effort of streaming her perspective doesn’t tax him while he’s focused on getting the information he needs.

“This is fuckin’ disorienting.” isn’t meant as sharply as it sounds. Wright can tell that Tay is absorbing the information she’s showing him, but she can also tell the unease he’s expressing is genuine. Mostly because he’s thinking about it too much, which is a hard thing to tell someone to not do.

“Uh, thanks, though.” He adds in a familiar way. “Now I get why Elliot just fuckin’ laughs at random about something. Y’know, watching television at the same time he’s doing something or whatever.” Tay’s observation isn’t entirely factual, nor is it meant to be. This entire situation is awkward for him, like wearing someone else’s clothes and they’re still warm from body heat. He’s trying.

"That tracks," Wright says, pausing the video while she takes a moment to flip between pages. She takes a second to look at a couple stacks of DVDs on the conference room table. "Don't have much to do in here other than watch TV and pump iron most of the day." She turns to some scattered barbells, wondering how much of the gym equipment she could steal before DOE employees lodge a complaint.

"It does get less disorienting with practice though," she assures him in case he spends further time linked in. "Lots of utility this. A strike team that can sense everyone else's perception in real time is super handy." She speaks from experience, even though it hasn't really gone according to plan very often.

"Also you're welco—" she says, caught by surprise by her phone ringing when it shouldn't be. She puts it in blocking mode when somebody is streaming her. She's certain she did today. What are the odds that one of the three people on her list of allowed contacts would be calling right now… Oh fuck, she thinks as she sees the screen of her phone before she can hide it from her own eyes. From Tay's.


It takes a solid moment for sensory input to trigger— there’s a sea of people gathered in the football field on folding chairs. Most of them in navy blue or white gowns and caps. People are clapping. But it feels like the field is empty. Every smiling or clapping parent is a moment of isolation and hurt. But then, standing by the chain-link fence, in a suit and smoking a cigarette, he’s there. He’s

Tay cuts the link reflexively, collapsing backwards from a standing position onto his ass. He scrambles away from his own thoughts—from Elliot—as if everything was on fire. It only takes a moment for him to aggressively snort and roll onto his side, quickly scrambling up to his feet before marching several paces away shouting, “Fuck!

Then, quieter.


Elliot grimaces against the understandable whiplash of emotions from Tay. He closes Asi's links for privacy, but doesn't affect anyone from the network. "I'm sorry," he says, "this wasn't intentional. We work for his PMC, Wolfhound, and they're looking for Wright's kidnapped daughter. If you want out that's fine, but…"

He sighs as he watches Wright delay accepting the call. "Wright can't tell him about you," he continues softly, "but if you want to listen in, you are welcome to take the opportunity."

Jesus Christ,” Tay exhales the words like vomit, rubbing a hand back and forth over his neck as he paces back and forth. “You—” he looks up angrily at Elliot, then looks away and paces more. “Fuck!” Tay’s hands ball up into fists and he snorts violently, then rounds back on Elliot with glassy eyes and lips pressed tightly together.

It takes Tay a solid ten seconds of intense silence to say “I can’t.” And it breaks his heart. Tay steps back a couple paces, dragging his hands down his face. “I can’t. I can’t.” He says more to himself. I want to, but I can’t, is painted on his face.

Elliot nods slowly, sympathetically. "I understand," he says. "And I'm sorry. For the surprise. For your loss."

He sighs, trying not to take on the other man's emotional burden as it radiates like a thrashing knife through the network. "I'm going to break your link," he says softly and, with a pop like a pressure change, the door in Tay's mind vanishes.

"If you ever want to talk about it," he continues with no illusions as to the likeliness that Tay will, "I'll be around."

“It’s just fucked up,” Tay exhales the words so quick it sounds like he slurred his speech. He’s still pacing, still heated from the moment. Barely notices the sensation of the link being severed. “He’s—he’s the whole reason I joined the Army. Whole fucking reason I had the god damned skills to survive in this shit.” He swallows, then exhales loudly.

Fuck.” Tay rubs at his face with both hands, then circles back toward Elliot. “He—you—you really fucking know him?” Tay’s jaw trembles a little, and Elliot can feel there’s something else going on here. Something more than just the face of his father. “You worked with him?”

Elliot turns to inspect the vehicle before hopping back into a seat on the hood. "I certainly wouldn't consider myself a confidant," he clarifies. He watches the man's actions keenly, but without the assistance of Wright for an edge as he also listens to her conversation with Avi. He decides to just remember what they talk about later, and focuses entirely on Tay.

"But yeah. He was involved in an operation that got me out of a government-funded mad science dungeon ten years ago," he says. "I was an infiltrator working for an underground railroad for people with abilities. We got out, a bunch of kids got killed by drones on live TV at the exit, and it started another civil war. Avi was leading a resistance group that came to be known as Wolfhound. Wright and I gravitated into it eventually, fought in the resistance. After the war, it became a legitimized PMC and we spent a couple years rounding up war criminals."

"Took a few years off, but he pulled us back in last year," he continues. So we worked for him until we deployed here, this is technically an independent contract job." He doesn't broach the topic of the man's other living family, of Emily, better to let him come to that question himself.

Tay is silent for a long time, but his expression isn’t so placid. He works through a number of permutations of responses, feelings, shuffling through them like person with a god-awful poker face checking their hand.

“Civil war.” Is the first thing Tay really says, rubbing a hand down his face. He takes a few steps away, considering the weight of that atop the other things he’s heard snippets of on the trip. His sigh is large and doesn’t give him as much relief as he’d hoped. And yet. “He always said he’d rather go down with a gun in his hand than behind a desk.” Tay’s vision of his war hero father neglects the years of retirement behind a desk Avi had in the CIA, but sometimes illusions are better than reality.

Clearing his throat, Tay returns his attention to Elliot. His quiet now isn’t for lack of certainty on what he wants to say, but more something like apprehension. The glance away is the tell Elliot needs. He’s scared to ask: “What about me? Am I… there? I—my sister?” He’s afraid he doesn’t even exist. Worse possibilities don’t even enter the equation yet.

Elliot considers the questions, wondering exactly how much alternate selfhood Tay can handle. “I can tell you what I know,” he says, “which is admittedly limited information.”

“The Taylor in my world died about fifteen years ago,” he says softly. “Afghanistan. I see Emily around work sometimes. She works for the agency that deals with resources for people with abilities. I'm pretty sure she duct taped a prank monster head to the ceiling of my bunk.”

And that's when Elliot sees Tay cry. It's the silent kind, the kind of defensive cry he learned to muster when he couldn't keep his feelings in check but was still too insecure to show emotion. It wells up in his eyes and spills off his lashes and down his cheeks. Tay turns away a moment too late to hide it, wiping a hand across his eyes and barking back a sob that turns into a nervous laugh.

“Traded places.” Tay rasps, scrubbing his thumbs over his eyes to try and dry them as he rounds about to face Elliot again. “Son of a bitch,” he mumbles as more tears come and he tries to fight them back. That nervous titter of laughter returns along with a bittersweet smile.

There's a prolonged moment of silence as Tay stares up at the sky, draws in a few slow breaths, and then finally lowers his gaze back to Elliot. “Whatever you need.” He suddenly says, and for a moment it doesn't make sense. But the context comes just as abruptly as the tears did. “Whatever it is you need, to make sure she stays safe. No questions asked. There's a world where she's alive.” His lips tremble. “That's all that matters.”

Elliot gives the man all the space he needs. He's more than familiar with keeping his emotions in check, though he's gotten better at expressing them in the last few years.

“You help us stay alive,” he offers, “we just might find a way home. There's no guarantee there, this was sold to us as a one-way trip. If we do, you're more than welcome to come with.” He doesn't immediately point out the possibilities there, that there's space for Tay with no alternate to worry about. He won't give the man false hope, but there's room for real hope anyway.

Tay allows himself to laugh at the absurdity of everything. A dead father alive in another dimension, a strike-team on a one-way trip across worlds, and the thought of going to a world that never fell apart like this one. The laughter turns into momentary tears, quickly scrubbed away as Tay catches his breath and doubles back on Elliot.

“Gimme the other headphone,” Tay says with a gesture to Elliot. He means the psychic link. “Put on some Credence or something and let's finish fixing this fucking thing.” Harsh words said with a smile to hide more complex feelings. There is so much of Avi Epstein in his son, and through Tay Elliot thinks he understands Avi a little more.

Elliot smiles, letting Taylor bury the feelings without comment. He’s glad it will take another minute to add Tay back into the network; it allows Wright the time she needs to get her own emotions back in check.

Elliot reviews her recent memories of the conversation she had with Avi while his focus was here. Without asking permission, without needing it. He'll remember it, though not as clearly, should he someday feel that Tay is ready to hear it.

She sniffles, but doesn't let herself get caught up in it, trying to stay close to the opportunity presented should they need to develop Tay as an asset. “The last thing I said to her was that I'd tell her where Elliot hid a bag of marshmallows if she promised to never fart again,” she admits. “She betrayed my trust literally immediately.”

There's a gruff laugh on the other end.

“Can I ask you something?” She doesn't bother adding personal, because if it was a professional question she wouldn't feel the need to check first.

There's a pause, but eventually she hears a permissive grunt.

“If you got another chance,” she asks quietly, “what would you say to Taylor?”

Elliot clasps the other man's hand. “You know the drill,” he says as Wright cues up Fortunate Son a world away. “I'll try to go easy on you this time.”

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