I should've known it wouldn't be easy.

Hell, I've got the experience. This isn't the first time I've had to pull a bright, young and hopelessly oblivious kid off the ledge; it kinda came with the territory of the Brotherhood, our 'live hard, die pretty' attitude. You can't be a good thief by being scared of the risks. Still, there's a thin line between confident and reckless. If I had a dollar for every stupid kid we watched try to commit suicide by cop, I wouldn't have to steal anymore.

'Course, I probably would anyway. It never hurts to have a hobby.

Anyway. Those kids, most of them didn't really want to die. They just wanted to be saved, picked up and dusted off and coddled. That mostly came from the society kids, who made up some bullshit story about their parents not loving them enough, then 'turned to a life of crime' so they could brag to their buddies about it later. They wanted the attention. At the first shot the cops fired, they were usually running home as fast as their expensive shoes could carry them to cower behind Mommy and Daddy to protect them from the real world. For somebody who never really had a Mommy and Daddy to cower behind, let alone one who could be counted on to be protective, it was really fucking annoying.

Pardon my French, as the humans say.

I saw too many of that type, so many that I nearly miss it every time the genuine article passes under my beak. So many blood capsules that you laugh when somebody's really bleeding out right before your eyes. The problem is that the ones who are hurting are the ones who have learned how to hide it. The Brotherhood lost more than a few people that way, apprentices with a hell of a lot of potential, because we missed all the signs.

It's easy to see them, in hindsight. They get this... look about them, a strain in their eyes like something in them is fractured and can't be put together again. No matter how much they smile or how loudly they laugh, it's there. You just have to look.

I was lucky, this time.

Mumbling something in his sleep, Dive shifts on to his side, cradling his ribs. They're probably hurting the poor kid, since he passed up the painkillers after last night. I don't blame him. As a regular connoisseur of screaming nightmares in the dead of the night, I wouldn't inflict that on myself either.

Then again, considering what he tried to inflict on himself...

Dammit. The stupid kid nearly gave me a heart-attack when he hit that tree. He just looked so... broken, so very much not the constant whirlwind of energy, lying in the mud without moving. I thought he was dead. I guess that was his point.

Pushing the hair out of his eyes, I sigh at him. "What the hell am I supposed to do now, huh?"

If he's got any answers, he's keeping them to himself. Typical.

I'm not sure how I get myself into these things. It's safer not to get attached to people, especially the suicidal. If I had any sense at all, I'd have cut and run back on Puckworld. The fact that I'd rather be eaten by Saurians than do something like this should tell you something. I was taught very well and very hard. In some cases, I've still got the scars.

Yet I'm doing this anyway.

If I'd known I was going to get all introspective here, I would've grabbed a cup of coffee first. I could use some. Trying to comfort the kid, even though he's hurting way too badly for it to work, took more energy than I thought. If it had been anybody else, I would've just sat still until he was done, then walked out. Crying is not a comfortable thing in the Brotherhood, which treats it like a weird social disease. When somebody dies, you drink one for them, and get over it, shake it off with the hangover.

Maybe that's part of the problem. None of us had time to shake it off, because everything kept coming at us. It was only a matter of time before somebody broke. Since the kid apparently got dragged straight from the coal mines into intergalactic war, it's a miracle he made it this far. He's a stubborn little bastard, stronger than he wants us to know.

And maybe that's part of my problem. He reminds me too much of a seventeen year old me, before I lost my eye and a couple pieces of my soul. A cleaned-up version of what I used to be.

Damn, but that should bother me more than it does.

Something beeps suddenly, yanking me back to the now and nearly giving me a heart attack in the process. Trying to ignore that my hand is clenched around the hilt of my sword without me even remembering that I moved, I look down at the flashing com unit and sigh. Fearless leader, checking in.

I press the button and ask, maybe a little shortly, "Sup, Wildwing?"

"Duke? Everything all right?" The faintly surprised note in his voice makes me relent, a little. It's not Wildwing's fault that he's completely oblivious while his own flesh and blood self-destructs. He doesn't know. He couldn't know.

Funny how I still want to smack him.

"Yeah, everything's fine. Sorry, you kinda interrupted something." I'm too tired to be tactful. "Everything okay on your end?"

"Yeah. We managed to go outside without getting attacked by the Saurians for once." I can almost hear the sigh he's trying not to let out as he adds, "Unfortunately, we did get mobbed by the fans, the religious fanatics and the xenophobes."


"Exactly. It's a good thing Dive stayed home." As always, the warmth in his voice goes up a few notches at the mention of his younger brother, making him sound almost like just a normal kid living just a normal life. It makes Dive half wake up, raising his head to blink sleepily at me. "How is he?"

"Dive?" Well, actually, Wing, he attempted suicide right under your beak, and you called it irresponsibility and sent him to his room like a five year old. How're things with you? "He's... okay. Sleeping now."

"No screaming tonight?"

Damn it. Every time I try to work up a good indignant anger at him, Wildwing goes and gets concerned on me. "He's sleeping like a hatchling, Wing." A drowsy snort I'm not supposed to hear from Nosedive's general direction makes me glance sideways at him, then turn my attention back to Wildwing. "Relax."

Wildwing blows a breath, then goes silent for a second. "If anything's wrong, you call me. Okay?"

"I can do that." Doesn't mean I will. His tense silence, so thick that I can nearly see the set of his shoulders and the too old look in his eyes, makes me add, "He'll be okay, Wing. He's a tough kid."

A soft, fond chuckle from the other end of the com, and whatever's left of my anger just runs through my fingers. "I know. Stars, but I know." Phil's sharp yipping cuts him off before he can go on. With a sigh, Wildwing mutters something distinctly un-leaderlike, then says, "Tell Dive I called if he wakes up, okay?"

"I will." If the startled eyes watching me through a veil of hair mean anything, I don't have to. "Don't kill Phil. We need him to file stuff."

"We could hire a secretary, and I'd be less tempted to put her through a wall."

"Don't kill him anyway."

And with that, the communicator goes off. I'm good at selective tactfulness. Folding my arms back over my chest, I look through the darkness at the kid and ask, "Catch all that?"

He starts, and I remember a few seconds too late that not everybody can see through the dark. "You knew?"

"I saw, yeah. Kinda surprised that you woke up for that, though." Calling him awake is a generous overstatement, but he doesn't need to be kicked in the pride right now.

For a second, he looks thoughtful, then glances up at me. It's not quite a focused look, but it'll do. His eyes are more than a little haunted as he asks, too softly, "Tough, huh?"

"Tougher than you know, kid."

"I tried to kill myself."

"If you weren't tough, you wouldn't have just tried. You would've done it, a long time ago. You wouldn't have made it through the mines, the war and all those fights with Dragaunus." The name makes him flinch, information I tuck away for later. "You never could have made it this far without being hard to break."

For once, he doesn't say a word. I'm not sure if it's sinking in or not, and if he'll even take it if it does. Reaching through the dark, I tug on the long piece of hair dangling in his eyes. "You look like hell, Dive."

"You don't look much better."

Point for the kid. "I'm not the one with a protective older brother waiting in the wings."

His smile turns bitter. "Want mine?"

Damn, now there's something I'm not getting in the middle of... Tapping his forehead, I manage to fake a smile. "Like he'd go."

"Good point." Making a face, he puts his head down. "And quit poking at me. I'm not a safe to crack."

"Nope. You're not." I know enough not to add that he'll be more dangerous if he blows. "Tell you what. You quit pretending that you're not about to pass out, and I'll quit poking you."


"Who taught you that word?"

His smile is all innocence as he ignores the question I know the answer to anyway. Thrash and Mookie - and what the hell kind of name is that for a kid anyway? - should pray that Wildwing never decides to get even for all the culture shock they've given us through Dive over the last few years. Personally, I'd like to shake their hands just for the horrified looks they keep putting on Wildwing's face. Somebody needs to keep the guy on his toes.

With a wince, Dive turns carefully on to his back to look up at me. "Don't think I could talk you into leaving this alone, huh?"

"No prob, if you can talk Wildwing out of killing me."

"You could have just said no, y'know." Putting his head back, he folds his arms behind his head and tells the ceiling, "It's not like you don't know what this feels like... Chronic insomnia, I mean."

My instinct to be suspicious as hell flips on like a switch. I don't like the look in his eyes. "What're you talking about?"

"Dunno, Duke, you tell me. Considering how many times I've been wandering around the halls to kill some energy and found you staring at the tv screen without seeing it..." His eyes flick up, fix on my face. Somehow I liked it better when he couldn't see me. "I'm not the only one around here who wakes up screaming, am I?"

The way he says it turns the words into a half plea. I can't think of a good reply to that, so I do the next best thing. Avoidance is my friend. "I'm gonna go grab some coffee. Will you be okay for a few minutes?"

He snorts and doesn't dignify that with an answer. Instead, he lets me get halfway to the door before calling, "Hey, Duke?"


"I'm young. Not blind. Okay?"

He says it like he's had to explain this a few too many times already. Just when I thought I wouldn't want to kick myself any more times tonight... With a nod that he can't see, I reply easily, "Yeah. Okay."

It's easy enough to act casual until I get to the safety of the hallway. Then, I give up on casual and slump against the wall. My head hurts. A lot. And I've still got a long night, a suicidal teenager and his obliviously protective big brother to deal with.

Damn. How do I get myself into these things, anyway?

And better yet, how do I get myself out again?

Non-Anime Fanfiction