AN: Last part! Woo-hoo! This chapter is dedicated to Justsomeone1, who left me what I'm pretty sure is the longest review of my career. The story is dedicated to Becks—a new friend who prompted me to post when I really didn't feel like it—and Catchfire—my twin who made me post this thing in the first place. So blame them. *winky-face*

Disclaimer: Dude, get a hobby.

                                Part six: Endgame

                                         Embracing the Knife

            For a long while after Justin finished, there was silence in the Pond. No one moved. The horror of what Nosedive had been through all by himself was surreal, and their minds refused to accept it. Although it explained a lot, it also brought to the surface each and every time anyone had ever teased the teen about terrors embedded in him since youth by an evil, sadistic monster.

            They had teased him.

            How had he been able to chuckle and joke back? Where had he gotten the resilience, the tenacity necessary to survive a situation like that?

            Of course, in one way it was self-explanatory. He had gotten resilience and tenacity because he'd had to have them if he didn't want to die. He had been able to laugh at taunts from ducks his age and older about his fear of the dark and needles and liquid medicine and spiders because, if he didn't, they would wonder, and he didn't want them to wonder. The situation itself had, on that one level, forced him to be stronger, which might have saved him in the camp.

            Then again, it also made him very vulnerable. Naturally he was terrified of Dryden. The very thought of him probably made the teen's heart pound. Since childhood, Dryden had been a hugely powerful, deadly being, to be feared and obeyed. Because of that, one of two things was very possible. Either the mass murderer would be able to get Nosedive to do anything he wanted or the teen would stand up against him, just to prove that he could. With the type of personality the kid had, it wouldn't be choice one.

            So Nosedive was going to face Dryden. He'd probably been planning to since he's shown up the first time. And he didn't expect to win. He was going into the battle knowing he would die, which was why he was trying to push his much loved older brother away: to save him the heartache of losing someone close. If he was angry with him, the teen reasoned, he wouldn't hurt as much. He'd already have been leaning on Canard and the others for a while, so leaning on them a little more would just be natural.

            Faulty logic, but it showed how deeply Nosedive had thought about the entire thing.

            They hadn't even had a clue.

            Canard winced suddenly, remembering his crack about the small fry's shaking every time he set eyes on Dryden. No wonder the twerp had been so mad. He really hadn't known anything.

            Damn.

            "Where is he?" Wildwing's voice, soft and low, shattered the heavy silence. When no answer was immediately given, he looked up and met Justin's eyes desperately. "Where is he?" the white duck repeated, louder and slightly more panicked. "I have to find him. I have to apologize and try to help! Please, please tell me where he is."

            "I would," Justin promised, shrugging helplessly, "but I don't know. He left after he told me everything and just said he had something to do. He didn't say what, but I…I think he's going after Dryden. Not now, but eventually. He's setting up his final strike."

            The brother skated woozily to the players' bench and sat, hunched forward with his head in hands propped on his knees. "I've failed him," he moaned, "I've failed him. He went through hell twice, and I'm such a terrible, worthless big brother, I never even knew."

            "That's not true," Canard snapped harshly. "You didn't know because he didn't want you to know, because somewhere in that shadowed mind of his he thought he was protecting you. It was a bad idea, but it's the reason. Not because you're worthless or awful at taking care of him but because he-"

            "It's not his fault!" Wildwing cried, leaping up. "Take that back, Canard!"

            The other duck narrowed his eyes at his friend. "I won't," he replied flatly, "because it's the truth."

            "Take it back!"

            "No."

            "Please!" Tanya begged, skating forward to place herself between Wildwing and Canard. She was shaking. "Please! Don't fight, we don't have time for it! We've got to stick together and find Nosedive before…before it's-" She couldn't finish the sentence.

            Justin strapped his helmet back on. "I'll check all the places we've ever had sessions," he assured. "I'll get Thrash, Mookie, Tiger and anyone else I run across looking for him. If we find anything, I'll let you know. What's a number I can reach you at?"

            "One of us will stay at the Pond in case he comes back," Canard told him, once again the leader of the group. "You can call us here."

            The teen pulled out a cell phone and opened the phonebook option. "Okay, what's the number?"

            After he had it, Justin skated away as quickly as he could, and Canard continued to organize.

            "Mallory, Duke, you take the Duckcycles and try to find him locally. Grin, you and Tanya take the Migrator to the city limits and look for him out there." He shot a look at Wildwing. "I'll take the Aerowing and scan the city from the sky. One of us is bound to find him. Don't let him know you see him until you've called in his location, then approach as gently as you can without being patronizing. Wildwing, you stay here, in case he comes back. If he shows up, call us all on our coms and let us know right away. Keep him here no matter what. Any question? Okay, team, let's hit it."

            They scoured the city for Nosedive, searched everywhere, but to no avail.

            Good news: At least he wasn't facing Dryden. Yet.

            Bad news: He could be doing any number of things that just weren't good for him.

            Wildwing was absolutely no use. Something in him seemed to have crumbled into worthless ashes, and he could only stare dismally and blame himself, which wasn't accomplishing anything. No one could make him snap out of it. Only Nosedive could do that, and things weren't currently looking very good for the teen.

            Finally, at about one AM, the search was put on hold for the night.

            The team slept fitfully.

            At two thirty-seven AM, Nosedive slipped into the Pond. Since he knew the access codes, his entrance went totally unnoticed. By four-o-five, he was done with what he had to do and was going to creep away again when he passed Wildwing's door.

            Therein lied his main problem. The Mask of Ducaine. Eventually Wildwing would be able to use it to find him. Then he'd come in like a savior only to fall dead just like everyone else.

            Just…like…everyone…

            Steeling his will, Nosedive snuck into his brother's room. The Mask was lying on a nightstand by his bed. Taking it was child's play and would have been even if Duke hadn't been giving him lessons on how to nab anything, anywhere, anytime.

            Now that he had the Mask, now that he'd replaced it with a note, now that he was finished, he should have left. But he couldn't. Wildwing was sleeping fitfully, wrapped in both his sheets and a nightmare.

            Nosedive was a connoisseur of nightmares. He knew what they were and what could make them finish pleasantly. Knowing he shouldn't, he moved forward silently and laid a gentle, light hand on his brother's forehead. Almost immediately, Wildwing sighed contentedly and stilled, his breathing evening out. Nosedive smiled fondly and very sadly. This was the last time he'd ever see his brother. The knowledge of that hurt way deep down in his chest. He'd never see Wildwing again. Never hear a lecture or see a smile or cause a laugh…

            It was terrifying, knowing you were going to die, but by God…

            He wasn't going alone. Dryden was going with him.

            His resolve firmed one last time, and he turned away.

            "Goodbye, brother."

            At five thirteen, Nosedive left the Pond for the very last time.

            Wildwing woke at five thirty. Something was not right. Or, rather, something had been not right for a long time. Then, last night in his dream, it was fine again only to become down right wrong.

            He reached for the Mask and froze when his hand landed on a folded slip of paper instead. A terrible suspicion made his chest tighten as he sat up and fumbled for a light.

            The paper read, in a woefully familiar script:

Borrowed until further notice

–Management

            Wildwing leapt from his bed yelling in a panicked voice, "Canard! Tanya! Duke, Mallory, Grin! He was here! Nosedive was here, and he took the Mask!"

            The Mighty Ducks, all still in the nightwear, gathered quickly in the Ready Room.

            "What's the problem?" Mallory demanded, arms crossed to keep warm.

            Wildwing waved the small paper around. "Nosedive! He was here, in my room, and he took the Mask of Ducaine!"

            There was a collective cry of "What?"

            Then Canard pushed forward and snatched the paper from Wildwing's trembling hand. He read it quickly. At the end, an eyebrow quirked. "'Management?'" he quoted. "At least we know he must have been ok since his humor is still intact."

            "That's all you can say?" Tanya squeaked. "Nosedive was here—right here!—and we didn't even know it!"

            "Calm down," Duke advised, "everything's fine now."

            "Fine?" she demanded, glaring at him. "Fine? Duke, we let him slip through our fingers! Oh, I knew we should have had someone on the monitors! I knew it!"

            "It's ok, Tanya," Canard promised. "Duke's right. Now that Nosedive took the Mask, everything's fine."

            Wildwing was starting to smile. It was weary and so very sad, but it was a start. "Now that he has the Mask," he repeated softly.

            "What's so great about him stealing the Mask?" Mallory asked, frowning. "It just adds to his list of bad ideas, doesn't it?"

            "Bad ideas that have backfired," Canard corrected, grinning.

            "What are you talking about?"

            The teen's brother strode away, heading towards the underground garage. Canard followed excitedly, not bothering to answer.

            "What he's saying, sweetheart," Duke explained, tossing an arm over her shoulders, "is that the Mask has a tracking device in it. And if we can track the Mask…"

            "We can track Nosedive," she finished in an awed whisper. "We've got him!" Mallory threw her arms around Duke's neck and smothered him in a hug.

            "Come on!" Tanya interrupted, grabbing the back of Mallory's small nightdress and dragging her along. "Let's go bring him back before he does anything stupid!"

            Duke and Grin followed.

            When the four reached the garage, Wildwing and Canard were debating which more of transport to take. Finally they decided upon the Migrator and pulled its startcard from its little pouch hanging on the wall among others, which were labeled according to what they started.

            Instead of a plastic card, Canard produced a small slip of paper. It said I'm sorry.

            For a moment, the two stared at it. Then Wildwing moved forward, panicked denial filling his chest.

            Aerowing: I'm sorry.

            Duckcycles: I'm sorry.

            In every slot I'm sorry.

            I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

            "No!" Canard growled even as Wildwing turned and ran from the room.

            "Wait!" Tanya called, and dashed after him. "What's wrong?"

            Wildwing didn't answer. He slid to a halt in front of his brother's room and slammed in the code. It was denied. Nosedive had changed it. Turning again, he pushed past Tanya silently and slipped into his room only to emerge second later. He walked back to his brother's door and faced it squarely. Stepping back, the white duck lifted his puck launcher and fired once, twice, three times. The door hung broken on the very bottom hinge only. Wildwing darted into the room and looked around for a moment.

            Tanya entered in time to see him pick something up from the younger duck's perfectly made and spotless bed.

            The Mask of Ducaine.

            A note was under the Mask.

            Wildwing read it. Then he took a deep, shivering breath.

            "May I?" Tanya asked hesitantly, coming up behind him.

            Without a word he handed her the note.

            To the best big brother in the history of history:

                        From you to me back to you, as it should be. I'm sorry for everything, for all the trouble I caused and all the headaches and everything…If Justin hasn't already explained things (which I bet he has) go find him and ask. I don't mind you knowing now. Please live a good and full life. Try not to think about me if you can help it.

                                                                                    All my love forever and ever,

                                                                                    Dive

            "No," Tanya whispered, but Wildwing was already in motion again.

            Whatever had shattered in him was now back together.

            He put on the Mask and strode back down to hall to Canard and the others, Tanya trotting after him, the note clutched in her hands.

            "Hey!" Canard exclaimed, pointing at the Mask. "That's-"

            "Yes," Wildwing interrupted, "it is." Walking right past his friend, he kicked a creeper in front of him all the way to the Migrator, at which point he sat on it and pulled himself under the large vehicle.

            After a few moments, it roared into life and Wildwing slid back out, standing and shoving the creeper away.

            "It's running," he said flatly, opening the driver's side door and climbing in, "let's go."

            Everyone obeyed. Only Tanya had enough presence of mind to ask, "What'd you do? Where're we going?"

            "I hotwired it. The Mask helped me figure out how. And we're going to find my baby brother."

            Canard hesitated a moment. "How?" he ventured finally.

            "We just are."

            Somehow they were all able to believe him.

            Six of the seven Mighty Ducks slunk quietly through the Raptor. The ship was in disrepair, lights dimmed and flickering occasionally, but why? Usually Dragonius kept everything in top order, preparing for an energy source and his following hostile takeover. So why was the whole ship a mess?

            Deciding it really wasn't important, they continued forward through the poorly lit corridors.

            Eventually the tight hallway opened into a large room, filled with huge boxes, crates and half-assembled machinery. It was a very tall room, maybe a quarter of the Raptor's full height. Two-thirds of the way to the ceiling, a small viewing deck stretched along the walls. Though usually it had a railing that ran with it, a huge chunk of it seemed to have been knocked out.

            Dryden was standing centered in the hole, grinning savagely down at them. "Welcome," he growled demonically. "Please do not waste any concern on the Saurians; I have previously dealt with them. Did you know Saurians have two hearts? One is much smaller and I think used only for backup purposes. Imagine my surprise, though!"

            "That's sick," Wildwing muttered, and the others agreed.

            No one deserved a death at Dryden's hands, not even Saurians.

            "Anyway, no doubt you're waiting to hear my brilliant master plan, which I intend to do now that you're all here. Well, let me assure you, it's pretty simple. It starts with this-" a large cage fell suddenly, capturing the Ducks- "and ends with this." A spotlight flicked on, illuminating a previously unnoticed figure crouched by a group of crates. It was clutching its left side, breathing hard. Blood seeped steadily through its fingers and it was staring fixedly at Dryden as it trembled. A puck launcher was held in the same hand that applied pressure to the side wound. Blond, short, scraggly hair hung limply in its eyes.

            It was, naturally, Nosedive. He didn't seem to notice that the others had come. Dryden took his full, terrified, determined attention.

            For the first time they realize that Dryden was wounded, if not as badly as Nosedive then at least almost as bad.

            "Aren't you going to get up anymore?" Dryden taunted, eyes narrowed very slightly at the teen. "You have been doing so well."

            Nosedive glared and would have retorted if he didn't need to save all his energy. Standing, he brought both hands up to steady his puck launcher. Just before he was ready to fire, he gasped and winced, his right hand darting back to his side. Then his expression hardened and he got Dryden in his sights quickly, firing twice.

            One shot Dryden dodged; the other hit his shoulder, knocking him over and back.

            The teen activated his skates and zipped over to a ramp that led up to where the other duck was.

            Wildwing was frantic by this time, trying everything to get out of his prison.

            "That's not helping!" Canard hissed at him, pulling him back. "Be quiet! You're going to distract him!"

            "That's my brother," Wildwing panted, both hands wrapped around the bars as he watched Nosedive skate towards Dryden's fallen form. "That's my baby brother. I've got to protect him!"

            "You can't."

            And that was the truth, laid out and unflinching.

            All it accomplished was to strengthen Wildwing's desire to get out.

            Everyone looked up at a surprised cry from Nosedive.

            Dryden had not been knockout as he'd hoped. Instead he merely acted the part, grabbing the teen's ankle and yanking when he was close enough, slamming him to the ground. His puck launcher clattered away. Then he scrambled over the fallen, dazed figure and straddled his waist to keep him from moving.

            The others could see the blond of Nosedive's hair as well as Dryden's face and torso but nothing else. It was infuriating.

            Dryden, grinning savagely, wrapped his hands around the terrified Nosedive's throat. "You have no idea how long," he purred insanely, "how very long I've waited for this moment. Feels like old times again, don't you think?"

            Nosedive gagged and the murderous duck laughed.

            "Quite right, quite right! You were always such a clever lad. I've been saving this a long time, you know." With his right hand, he drew from a pocket a syringe, topped with a very thin, very long needle. The left hand remained clamped on the teenager's neck.

            "Does this look familiar?" he asked, holding the needle between two fingers, his thumb poised to apply pressure and inject the serum. "I don't know how I've managed to keep it all these years, but somehow I did. Amazing, isn't it?"

            The teen's eyes were wide and horrified.

            "Nosedive!" someone cried, desperate. "Nosedive!"

            Who, though? There was no one in the world save him and Dryden.

            Right?

            "Nosedive, don't you dare let him win! You're stronger than him, I know you are! Without his mind tricks, you can take him! Don't you DARE die or I'll follow you and KILL you myself! Do you hear me? I won't lose you again, I won't! I refuse to! So you'd just better beat him or I'll…you'd just better!"

            Wildwing! That was Wildwing! He was here! If he strained, he could just barely see him, clutching the bars and…was he crying? Oh, dear, that wasn't good.

            Wait a minute, what was Dryden doing?

            He was smiling evilly, leaning forward to stick the needle into the teen's throat.

            But Wildwing…he said not to lose, didn't he?

            Didn't he?

            "After I'm done with you," the creature hissed in a low, merciless voice, "I'll move on to your brother. And after hours of that fun, I'll dispose of the rest of them."

            Something gentle and frightened in Nosedive snapped.

            He would…to Wildwing…

            "Bastard!" the teen growled, and reached up…

            Canard didn't know what to do. His best friend was a mess of desperate emotions. When he'd suddenly started yelling at his brother, lying still and terrified under the mercy of a killer, he'd surprised everyone.

            Then he'd been unable to yell anything else, overtaken with fear and soul wrenching desperation.

            "Please," he was whispering, "please," and nothing else.

            There was a tremendous cry of effort and Dryden came sailing over the broken railing, landing in a painful heap feet from their cage.

            Nosedive leapt after him, crouching between the demon of his past and the Mighty Ducks. Reaching to the side slightly, he picked up a Saurian blaster. He stood, face hard, and aimed at Dryden.

            "You're finished," he said in a cold, slightly frantic tone. "Finished! I won't let you hurt them!"

            "You can't stop me," Dryden growled, smiling cruelly. "Even if you do find the resolve in you to kill me, I still own you. I own your dreams and your fears and I will forever, no matter what."

            Nosedive was trembling, realizing the truth in the statement. He'd always be afraid of the dark and of stories in the shadows, of needles and medicine and knives that were too sharp, of small spaces and spiders. In that way, Dryden would always control the part of him that shook and screamed in the recesses of his mind.

            But now, here…he could destroy the creator of all those fears.

            He had the power. He could pull the trigger, shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot…

            "Nosedive," someone murmured behind him, making his hands stop trembling. Wildwing. "Don't."

            "Don't?" the teen questioned uncertainly, almost angrily. "Don't? Don't what? Do to him what he would have done to all of you for hours and hours? Don't do to him what he did to the Saurians and the ducks before them and me before them and his own family before me? Don't put a stop to it all once and for all? How can you tell me don't?" The blaster was shaking in his hands again, but Dryden was close. He'd still be able to hit him. "You know what he did to me!" Everyone could hear the note of hysteria in his voice, and Dryden began to fear. "You know! I deserve this! For all the pain, all the fear, all the screaming nightmares, I deserve this! It's my right!"

            "No," Wildwing argued in a calming voice, "it's not, Nosedive. No one has the right to take the life of another, not unless it's in self-defense. He's at your mercy now. You have to show him that mercy or you'll be no better than him."

            "Him?" Nosedive was suddenly indecisive. If his revenge would turn him into what he most hated, was it worth it? "Wildwing, if I killed him, would you still love me?"

            "I would love you no matter what you did," the older brother assured firmly, "but I wouldn't be proud."

            Nosedive froze.

            "I would think you'd lost the part of you that laughs and has always been free and apart from him, that you'd had it in your hands and killed it. I would mourn that loss forever. But, yes, I would love you."

            Finally, as though it cost him every ounce of strength he had, the teen lowered his blaster.

            Everyone in the cage behind him let out a relieved sigh.

            "I knew you didn't have the strength to kill me!" Dryden laughed. "Or the courage!"

            "It wouldn't have been courage," Nosedive murmured, tired beyond anything he'd ever known before. "It would have been your final act of torture, which would have tormented me the rest of my life. You know that. I…but now I'm over that, which means I'm over you. You still frighten me, and you probably always will, deep down where it doesn't really matter anyway, but I'm not afraid of you. You're only as strong as I let you be, and really…you're not that tough." He smiled cockily, on the verge of collapse. "You've lost your edge, old man!"

            "No!" Dryden hissed, eyes flashing, "No!"

            Nosedive turned away to smile at his brother and the team. "Hello," he greeted, "nice to see you."

            Wildwing smiled in return, hands wrapped around the bars, eyes filled with tears. "Hi, Dive."

            Duke was stepping forward to ask the kid a question when he saw it. Dryden had pulled himself to his feet and was rushing forward, the syringe held before him like a knife.

            It was Canard who called the warning first. "Nosedive! Look out!"

            The teen turned and raised the blaster in the same precise motion. A shot sounded; Dryden flew back.

            He landed and clutched his shoulder.

            Nosedive took a deep breath, lowering the Saurian weapon. "You have no power over me. Not anymore." The blaster clattered to the floor. "Never again. You can't make me kill you, can't make me do what you want me to." He glared at the stunned and bleeding older duck. "Go bother someone who cares!" Then he turned his attention back to the Mighty Ducks. "Let's get you out of there." After a moment he found the crane operating the cage, maneuvering it up and away. He ran back to his brother and smiled shyly up at him. "I, uh…see you found the Mask."

            "Don't you ever leave notes like those again!" Wildwing ordered, glaring slightly. Then he grinned widely at the wincing figure. "They were so corny!"

            With a tiny cry Nosedive launched himself into Wildwing's welcoming arms.

            There was a sharp sound accented by Dryden's laugher and Nosedive went ridged, still clutched in his brother's arms. The teen turned wide, shocked eyes on Wildwing as his knees buckled.

            "Nosedive!" his brother cried. "What…what?" He sank to the ground, supporting the much smaller duck's weight. Something fell fast and continually to the floor, wetting it. Wildwing sat the teen up and looked confusedly at his back. Then, in utter horror, he looked at Dryden who still sat, a needle protruding from the crook of his right arm, a fallen Saurian blaster in his hand. His laugher fell silent as he toppled back, eyes fogged and unseeing.

            Nosedive gasped thinly, his own magnificent eyes shifting in and out of focus. "Wildwing," he murmured, clutching at his hand, "Wildwing!"

            "Quick!" the older brother yelled at his shocked team. "We've got to get to the Pond! Nosedive's been shot!"

            He lay on the Medlab table, pale as death and barely breathing. His brother and teammates hovered over him anxiously, none of them willing to leave.

            Shot through the back, cut in the side, sprained ankle, bruised and beaten…

            How could they have dared to leave?

            Forty-seven hours they stayed watch, unable to sleep even when they wandered pointlessly to their rooms. Forty-seven hours until he stabilized enough that he wasn't in danger of slipping away at any moment. Forty-seven hours until Wildwing finally collapsed and had to be put on a nearby table.

            It was a week until Nosedive woke, and even then he didn't say anything. He opened his eyes and looked at Tanya, who gasped and put a hand to her cheek, smiling and crying suddenly. Then his eyes wandered slowly over to where his brother slept, and he smiled, dropping back into oblivion.

            Wildwing threw a conniption fit when he realized what he'd missed.

            Another week and Nosedive began to dream, horrible dreams that made him thrash against his IV unless Wildwing was there, murmuring comfortingly and running fingers through his short hair.

            Halfway through the third week, Canard entered the Medlab to find Wildwing sitting by his brother's bed, talking softly, the Mask on his lap. Nosedive was looking at him, tired but content. When he noticed Canard, the teen smiled hesitantly and whispered, "Hi." His voice was horse from lack of use.

            "Hi yourself," the leader returned softly, sitting on the other side of his bed. "How do you feel?"

            "Like shit," he assured, "only substitute a different word for shit, because cursing is what got us in this mess in the first place."

            Canard laughed. "Cursing didn't get us in this mess, a psychotic got us in this mess. And you can swear all you want. Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn."

            Nosedive snorted, closing his eyes and turning his face towards the ceiling. "Been watching Gone with the Wind?"

            "Hey, you've been out nearly three weeks and your brother has become obsessive and boring. I had to entertain myself somehow."

            "The movie's almost that long. What else did you see?"

            "Frodo Baggins, for one."

            "You saw Lord of the Rings?"

            "Is that what it's called? Yeah, I saw that."

            "I'm shocked."

            "Why?"

            "Because Lord of the Rings is cultured and you are not."

            "Hey, I-"

            "Don't," Wildwing mouthed, and under his glare Canard changed the subject.

            "Er…so, uh, how's the weather?"

            Nosedive snorted again. After a pause he asked suddenly, "Hey, Canard?"

            "Yeah?"

            "You know how…when this was all beginning to get really bad, I…I, um…quit the team? W-well, I was wondering…"

            Canard laid something over the teen's chest and he opened his eyes, blinking at it.

            The number 33 jersey.

            "We practice twice a day for two hours, once from 6 to 8 AM, the other from 4 to 6 PM. Once you're feeling better, you think you can make those? They're non-optional, you know."

            Eyes closed once more, Nosedive nodded, not trusting his voice. He was smiling as he fell back into a healing sleep.

            Duke arched an eyebrow at Mallory as they exited the Medlab amid gales of laugher and the sounds of a lecture. "He was only joking."

            "Hang his jokes!" she fumed, storming toward the kitchen. "He's got the worst sense of humor in the galaxy!"

            "And you missed it, didn't ya?"

            "Yeah," she sighed, smiling as her shoulders relaxed, "I sure did."

            Meanwhile, in the Medlab, Wildwing continued to reprimand his little brother.

            "Oh come on, Wing," Nosedive protested, grinning. "You have to admit, it was funny!"

            "I don't have to admit anything, even though it was just a little bit humorous. That's not the point, though! The point is…forget it," he sighed, massaging his temples. "I don't even remember."

            Nosedive was still sitting up in bed grinning when Canard entered to talk with Wildwing.

            "It's been almost a month and a half," he reminded the white duck in an undertone as the teen fiddled with a Rubik's cube. "The Raptor's cold enough to keep them from…you know…smelling and drawing attention, but we've got to handle them eventually."

            "How?" Wildwing asked just as softly. "The Saurians we can bury at sea in their ship, but what about Dryden?"

            "Burn it."

            Surprised, both Wildwing and Canard turn to Nosedive, who was watching them intently, his expression very serious.

            "Burn it," he repeated. "Scatter half the ashes in a volcano. Bury the other half in Antarctica, at the very base of the world where they can never be found."

            And that's exactly what they did.

            Justin came to visit Nosedive the day of his wounding but was turned away by a very uptight group of ducks that were practically foaming at the mouth about sterilization!

            Two months later, he returned a little hesitantly, determined to find out how the alien duck was doing.

            Everyone but the duck in question and his brother was skating on the ice merrily, having an impromptu practice session.

            The greeted him warmly, treating him like a hero for the information he'd given them what seemed like a lifetime ago, then they told him where the Medlab was and wished him the 'very best of days' before going back to their practice.

            "Weird people," the teen muttered, opening the door to the Medlab. The scene before him was so heartwarming it was almost sickening.

            Nosedive sat very still, bandaged but smiling, on one of the sickbeds, wearing an overly large old jersey that sported the number 00. His brother was behind him with a pair of scissors, straightening up the ends of the younger duck's ragged haircut.

            "Done?" the blond duck asked.

            "Not yet," was the patient response. Snip, snip.

            "Now?"

            "No, not yet."

            "Now?"

            "Almost, hold on."

            "No-ow?"

            "Dive, shut up, I'm almost done!"

            Nosedive snickered.

            After a few moments, Wildwing stepped back, scrutinized his work, then nodded, satisfied. "Okay, I'm done. Not that you can get up and cheer," he reminded, a firm hand on the younger duck's shoulder.

            "You're such a killjoy, Wing. You need to lighten up, go with the flow, let your karma leave the confines of your ridged life and-"

            "All right, that's it, no more visits from Grin."

            "But he's the only one who plays chess well!"

            "Get over it."

            Justin cleared his throat, stepping forward.

            Nosedive grinned. "Hey, Justin! Long time no see! What've you been up to?"

            The human teen shrugged, approaching with his hands in his pockets. "Nothin' much. Winin' competitions, getting major sponsorships, thinkin' about goin' pro. Y'know. Same ole same ole."

            "Sponsorships," Nosedive grinned, "awesome."

            "Yeah, kinda." There was a pause. "Tiger sent this," Justin continued, propping his backpack on the bed and pulling out a deck of cards. "She said to tell you she took out all the aces and is keeping them until you learn to play clean. Thrash and Mookie sent these." He extracted a huge pile of comics, setting them by Nosedive. "They wanted to know why you've been avoiding them. I explained things and they got kinda mad, cause you didn't come to them about it, so I explained a bit better and they say to get well or they'll hunt you down." He shrugged. "They don't believe in get well cards. For some reason, they always send get well threats by word of mouth. I don't understand it, but there you go."

            "Well, that's Thrash and Mookie for you."

            "Yeah."

            Another almost awkward silence. Wildwing busied himself with putting the scissors away and cleaning up the small mess he'd made.

            "Justin," Nosedive began hesitantly, "I never…y'know…thanked you."

            Surprised, the human looked at him. "For what?"

            "Finding my option B."

            Slowly Justin smiled.

            "Okay," Wildwing sighed as he reentered the Pond with his baby brother. "So I admit it. Inline skating isn't necessarily just for punks and your friend is good at it even though he's not a punk."

            "I'll show you my tricks tomorrow," Nosedive assured, limping only slightly.

            "You'll show me two months from tomorrow," the older brother corrected, keying in the code to the lower levels of the Pond and letting the teen in first. "Right?"

            "But Wildwing, I've been resting forever. I'm bored already. I want to do something."

            "Play with your Rubik's Cube," Wildwing suggested.

            "I already beat that weeks ago. I wanna do something physical. Why don't you let me help Tanya with the gateway generator?"

            "Why don't you go to bed? It's late."

            "I don't wanna," he whined even as he slipped into his room. "And it's not late."

            "Go to bed anyway."

             "You," he accused, "are no fun."

            "My life's mission," the white duck assured, going into his own room. "I can now sleep tighter."

            "Bah, you suck."

            "Thank you."

            Two doors closed.

            "I love this early bed time of Nosedive's," Tanya commented to Mallory, smiling.

            "I know," she agreed as she entered the code for her room and the door opened. "Everything's so-" silly string poured from her room in torrents, covering them both- "peaceful."

            Duke roared with laugher down the hall, making Grin poke out of his room to see what was going on. Snickering, he went back to his meditation.

            Yes, things were going back to a very pleasant normal.

            Wildwing sat up in bed, confused, when someone keyed open the door to his room. "Wha's goin' on?" he asked, words slurred as he glanced at his digital clock.

            Twelve-thirty.

            Standing in the door, looking slightly embarrassed, was Nosedive. "I couldn't sleep," he admitted, shrugging. As per usual, he was engulfed in one of Wildwing's old jerseys. "Um…actually, I guess I'll go now. You look tired. Sorry for bothering you."

            "Dive," Wildwing called, and patted the bed beside him when the younger duck turned back around.

            Grinning sheepishly, he slunk over and sat almost rigidly on the very edge.

            "Bad dream?" the older brother offered as a starting point.

            "Yes," he sighed, relaxing a little. "I think I'll always have nightmares. I hate them, but I can't make them stop. It's…it's frustrating. The room's just so dark," he explained, trying to make sense. "I dunno. Maybe I'm acting like a little kid. I should probably just tough it out, right? That's what Mallory would say for sure. Duke would shrug and be impartial, Canard would try to train it out of me, Grin would offer to meditate, and Tanya would build a machine to fix whatever's wrong with my brain."

            "And Phil would try to sell it, Thrash and Mookie would think it has to do with alien abductions, Justin would tell you to skate on it, and God knows what that Tiger person would do," Wildwing continued, shaking his head. "Everyone handles things differently. I, personally, would probably have done just what you did and sought solstice."

            "Solstice?" Nosedive questioned.

            "Sanctuary."

            "Yeah, I know what the word means, I just don't know why you used it."

            "Because that's what you did."

            "Huh?"

            "Look," Wildwing sighed, reorganizing himself on the bed and looking his brother square in the eyes, "you came to my room because you were trying to find a place where you felt safe enough to go back to sleep. That's okay. It's probably what I would have done, too. You and I have always been the most comfortable with each other, right?"

            "Right."

            "So that's why you're here. Not because you're too afraid, because you proved you weren't when you handled Dryden the way you did, but because you've got your first practice with the team tomorrow and you want to be fresh, which was a smart thing to do."

            "Yeah, but what now?" he questioned, frowning slightly at the bedspread. "This room is simply not built for two, but I kinda…I don't want to go back to my room."

            "What makes you think it's not big enough?" Wildwing challenged mysteriously, reaching up. He pulled on a panel above his bed that folded out to become an upper bunk.

            "Rock!" Nosedive cheered, examining it to discover a mattress, pillow and blankets already set up. He narrowed his eyes penetratingly at his brother. "Have you been planning this?"

            A noncommittal shrug. "It's always good to be prepared."

            "Yeah, but…" The teen seemed hesitant to climb up, standing on the lower bunk with his arms folded on the edge of the upper. "What if I have a nightmare and roll off?"

            "Don't you get it? That's why I picked the lower bunk."

            "Huh?"

            Wildwing smiled warmly. "I'll catch you if you fall."

            "Hey!" Canard entered Wildwing's doorcode as quietly as he could and stepped into the room. "You're late, Wing! You were supposed to help me set up for practice fifteen minutes ago!" He flipped on the light. "What's your excuse?"

            Wildwing, rubbing his eyes, pointed up. Canard looked above his head at the newly added bunk.

            Nosedive sat there, blinking owlishly and yawning.

            Oh.

            Canard sighed. "Fine, then. He can help to make up for lost time. Just hurry up, all right?"

            Wildwing grunted an affirmative.

            After a few moments, Nosedive slithered down from his bunk and dashed back to his own room.

            "You're good," Wildwing complimented softly seven minutes later when Nosedive showed up, hair dripping from a shower, completely dressed and grinning madly. Finally, he got to play hockey again. "Give me a few minutes and I'll be ready to go, too."

            "Okay," Nosedive agreed, flopping into a spinny chair and rubbing his hair roughly with his towel. "Just hurry up or Canard'll be back with a vengeance."

            "Yeah, yeah…"

            It took Wildwing nine and a half minutes to be completely ready. Nosedive twirled in his chair, waiting and letting his hair drip-dry all over the room.

            "Let's go," the older brother whispered, to which the younger replied, "I've been waiting on you."

            Nosedive's first practice went astoundingly well. All the energy he'd been quelling over the past few months came roaring to the surface and he seemed to be everywhere all at once, overflowing with contagious enthusiasm about everything from mundane drills to a mock game. His presence on the ice brought the flare that had been missing since he quit back in full force, and everyone was smiling.

            "Youthful enthusiasm," Duke sighed to Mallory, grinning. "Do you remember the days?"

            "No," she assured, grinning in return. "I don't think I ever had youthful enthusiasm. At least," she corrected as Nosedive zoomed past, "not that much."

            "Sweetheart, no one else ever had that much."

            "Don't I know it," Wildwing agreed as he skated up. "Wonderful, isn't it?"

            "Yeah," they both agreed, "it is."

            "Hey!" Nosedive cheered, skating circles around Canard. "Look, it's Justin, Tiger, Thrash, and Mookie! Guys, check it out!" Zipping around the rink twice, he suddenly cut across the ice and towards the wall, leaping at the last moment to grab his now inline skates and compete a 540 before landing and continuing to skate.

            The four applauded and whistled, cheering their approval.

            "Nice," Justin complemented when Dive finally came over. "How long did it take you to get that down?"

            Nosedive grinned. "Forever."

            Wildwing skated over, still on the ice, and glared at his little brother. "Nosedive!" he chastened. "That was dumb! You know your injuries aren't fully healed! Tanya's ready to kill you! Pull another stunt like that and we'll bench you from the first game of the season, get it?"

            "Aw, but Wing…"

            "Get it?"

            A sigh. "Yeah, I got it."

            "Good."

            After his brother skated away, the teenager grinned at his friends again. "So anyway, what brings you four here?"

            "Just to see how you're holdin' up, dude," Thrash assured, grinning.

            "Like, for sure," Mookie agreed. "It's been pretty nuts at Captain Comics, because a lot of people quit for no reason when the boss decided give us a boa constrictor as a mascot, and that's why we haven't been down lately."

            "Hey, Dive," Thrash interrupted, looking inspired, "you wouldn't happen to need a part-time job handling comics and a snake, would you?"

            "Nah," the hockey player laughed, "not really. How about these two, though?"

            Tiger shrugged. "I'm jumping at the opportunity, but Justin's about to go pro. He doesn't need another job."

            "And we're still pulling double shifts," Mookie sighed.

            "Sucks to be you," Dive said compassionately.

            "Not really," Thrash admitted, shrugging. "So what've you been up to, dude? Saving the world again?"

            "What, you didn't hear?"

            Thrash blinked at Mookie as Justin blinked at Tiger. "Hear what?" they asked.

            Nosedive grinned widely. "We beat the bad guys!"

            "Seriously?" Tiger smiled. "Congrats, man!"

            "So…" Justin frowned. "Does this mean you'll be going back to your home world?"

            "Back to my home world? Huh, never heard it phrased like that. Yeah, I guess, as soon as Tanya gets the generator up and running. I can't wait! Why do you ask?"

            The four humans traded gloomy looks.

            "It's like E.T.," Thrash sighed.

            "Yeah," Mookie agreed.

            "Does anyone want to make sense here for a change?"

            "Dive," Tiger explained, downcast, "you're our friend."

            "Yeah, and you're mine. So?"

            "So. God, you're dense."

            "What are you talking about?" Dive demanded, frowning.

            "We'll never see you again once you go," Justin said finally, slumped. "You'll zap home or whatever and that'll be the last we see of you."

            Nosedive blinked. "Dude, no," he corrected, "you've got this all wrong. The only way we'd ever not be able to see each other is if we're grounded."

            "Now who's not making sense," Tiger quipped.

            "Har har. What you guys don't understand is that Canard and the President—"

            "Of the United States?"

            "—yeah, him, and the head CIA guys had a nice long chat with some high-and-mightys from Puckworld. We're gonna set up an embassy right here in the Pond. Since the seven of us are already used to Earth, we're gonna be ambassadors!"

            "Seriously? All right!"

            The five began a celebration that lasted all day, sweeping the rest of the ducks into their merrymaking. Eventually they all migrated to the kitchen, where Nosedive dug up sodas and junk food and a pie.

            Justin finally proposed a toast to the new Puckworldian embassy, which everyone cheered wholly.

            "This reminds me of a quote from Casa Blanca," Nosedive said as they drank to the toast.

            "Which one?" Tiger laughed.

            " 'Here's lookin' at you, kid'," Justin guessed.

            Nosedive shook his head. "No. More like," he raised his glass, " 'this looks like the beginning of a beautiful' happily ever after!"

            "Lame," the humans chorused, cuffing him gently. Nosedive laughed with them, especially since no one else got the bad joke.

            Many hours later, Duke sighed contentedly, watching the kids flop on their stomachs in preparation for a movie. Wildwing hauled Nosedive back up when the teen winced and plopped him on the couch, which made the others snicker.

            "No one throws a party like a teenager," Duke observed to Mallory.

            And he was right.

                                        The End

AN: So! And that's it! What do you think? The movies date my story, because I'm talking about Fellowship of the Ring, not Return of the King. Anyway! Hope you liked. Drop me a review! Later days.