" Don't worry, NoseDive. Wildwing and the guys will take care of Morpheus."
NoseDive gave her a tight smile but inside, he was being eaten up by guilt. Too bad Wildwing's gonna pound on the wrong guy. Morpheus's words echoed through his mind: I can only influence what's already in the mind. NoseDive grimaced. I am worthless,he thought miserably. I get everyone worked up over these nightmares. If I had been stronger to begin with, Morpheus wouldn't have had anything to work with. The guys wouldn't be out risking their hides for me.
" NoseDive?" Tonya's voice broke through his train of thought.
" I said, got any three's?"
" Oh, uh..no. Go fish." NoseDive stared at the game in front of him. Suddenly Drake 1's alarms went off. NoseDive's cards flew out of his fingers as he bolted upright, swaying slightly at the sudden movement. Tonya put her cards down and planted her hands against NoseDive's chest, pushing him back down.
" Stay!" she ordered. " I'll check it out. It's probably the team returning." " But.." " Stay, NoseDive. I'll be right back." Tonya left NoseDive sputtering. She walked out of the medroom calmly, breaking into a run as she hit the hallway. Reaching Drake1, she hit a large flat button on the panel. Wildwing's face appeared in the viewscreen. " Tonya, how's NoseDive?" Tonya grinned in relief. " You guys are okay! Great! Oh, and NoseDive's fine, Wing. I kept him awake so he didn't have anymore nightmares." Wildwing gave her a large smile. " Tell him to go get caught up on his beauty sleep Ton!" " Morpheus is gone?" " For good, hopefully. Thanks to a brave and foolish stunt by Mallory, he's back in limbo where he belongs." Wildwing raked the hair out of his eyes. " That should be the end of the nightmares." " I'll tell him - he'll be thrilled. I don't think he could have slept anyway. He's been too worried about you guys." " I know the feeling. We'll be back in twenty minutes or so. Wildwing out." The screen went black. Tonya released the line and hurried back to the medlab, a lighter bounce in her steps. Then she paused. " Brave but foolish stunt? Better get the medlab ready. Mallory always has some new bumps after one of those!"
Tonya was right - Mallory did have some new bumps to patch up. But after being poked and prodded, she pronounced herself fit and then made a break for the recreation room. Wildwing smiled from his chair as he watched Tonya chase Mallory with her med scanner in hand. " Those two, " he murmered affectionately. He glanced over at his brother, sleeping soundly for a change. He ruffled Dive's hair gently and picked up his book and continued reading, still not comfortable with leaving NoseDive alone. Duke stuck his head in the medlab.
" Hey Wing - how's the kid doin'?" he asked casually, not meeting Wildwing's eyes.
" Sleeping like a baby," Wildwing replied. " What's wrong Duke?"
Duke shuffled his feet nervously, unusual for him. " I, uh, just wanted to stop by and ...ya know...apologize."
" Apologize?" Wildwing placed his book on the bed and gave Duke his full attention. " For what?"
Duke looked him straight in the eyes. " For over-riding you back there. I know how much you wanted to blast Dragaunus, and I pulled you away. I over-ruled your authority as our leader."
Wildwing chuckled softly. " Duke, I should be thanking you. I had no right to endanger the team by keeping us there after accomplishing our mission. You did the right thing, and if you apologize for it, then I'm gonna make you sit through one of Tonya's examinations to make doubly sure you didn't suffer any permanent damage!"
" Anything but that!" Duke laughed. Then he sobered. " Thanks Wildwing."
" Anytime Duke."
Duke looked past him, towards the bed. " At least the kid can get some rest now."
" We got lucky," Wildwing agreed. " But it all ended well."
" Wing? I don't think it did - look!" Duke's eyes had suddenly widened in surprise. Wildwing whirled around to see NoseDive's eyes squinted shut in terror, tears already welling up. With a surprised squeak, he grasped NoseDive's shoulder and shook him roughly.
" Wake up NoseDive! Right now!" Worry tainted his voice. NoseDive came awake with a violent yell, eyes panicked. " Dive it's me, Wildwing! Calm down!"
NoseDive gasped for breath, staring up at his brother in confusion. Wildwing took his gaze away long enough for him to bark an order to Duke: " Get Tonya. Now!"
Duke sprinted out of the room. Wildwing turned back to his sibling. " NoseDive?"
" Wildwing." NoseDive's voice was subdued. " You're back." Wildwing nodded and raked his hair back, thoroughly confused. Tonya burst through the door, scanner in hand.
" I thought sending Morpheus back would end the dreams!" Wildwing snapped at her, ignoring the small twinge his subconscious gave at taking out his frustrations on her. But Tonya merely shrugged it off - she knew it was the tension talking.
" It did! I think!" she rushed over to her beloved machines and checked the latest readings. " See? No other presences! It's all NoseDive in his head, no one else."
" Maybe it's just normal, leftover residuals from going through a tramautic experience?" Wildwing guessed.
" It's possible," Tonya allowed. She looked at NoseDive, who didn't look very surprised at the fact that he still had nightmares. " How do you feel?"
" Just great, " he whispered, twisting the blankets between his fingers. " Maybe it's 'cause I'm sleeping in here and not my bedroom." He pushed the blankets away and stood up. Wildwing rushed to help support him, but NoseDive waved him away. " I'll be in my room."
Wildwing watched him leave. Something was nagging at him. He replayed all the events in his mind, including the battle with Morpheus. Dive wasn't acting right. Granted, still having nightmares might not make one conducive to conversation, but NoseDive didn't even look surprised at the nightmares still occurring. He raised his wrist-com to his beak.
" Yeah boss? Dive okay?"
" For now. Look, when you were battling Morpheus, did he do anything, any spells or something that might have made the nightmares stay even after he was gone?"
" Nope. He was too busy having fun, `engaging in hand-to-hand combat'." Duke frowned. " But he wouldn't have done that anyway."
" Why not?"
" He said so - he said that messing with Dive wasn't his idea, and that he'd already rectified his mistake. I get the feeling that while he wasn't a nice guy to begin with, he didn't really wanna hurt him."
" He told you that?"
" Well, not that last bit. But I'm pretty good at judging people. I'm glad he's gone, but I think Dragaunus had more to do with such a personal attack."
Wildwing pondered this for a minute. " I think I'm going to go and have a talk with NoseDive."
" 'Kay Wing. Anything else?"
" Nah. Go relax - you guys have earned it." Wildwing cut the connection and stared at the door Dive had walked out of. What's going on? He rose and went to see his brother.
NoseDive counted. On three, there was a soft knock on his door.
NoseDive grinned faintly. " Come on in Wing. You're right on time."
Wildwing entered the room, steering clear of the piles of clothes and comics littered about the floor. " So, you think you know me, huh?"
" Well, guess what?" Wildwing sat next to him. " I think I know you pretty well too."
" Yup." He paused. " Why do you still have nightmares?"
NoseDive looked at him. " Do the words, `big nasty god with gnarly powers' ring a bell? Maybe I'm being punished from beyond the limbo."
" Duke said Morpheus didn't do any spells. He also apparently tried to fix what he did. And you didn't seem surprised at all when I woke you up."
NoseDive twisted his sheet in his hands. "Morpheus...told me some things. About myself, I mean."
Wildwing scratched the side of his head in confusion. " Yeah? Like what?"
Sighing, NoseDive confessed. " He stopped giving me nightmares after the one I had about Grin. Morpheus said that he can't create nightmares - he has to have something to work from that he can enhance, or something."
Wildwing gazed at his sibling. " So those nightmares basically came from your own head."
" Yeah." NoseDive couldn't meet his brother's gaze at first.
Wildwing closed his eyes. When he opened them, NoseDive was struck by the deep sadness within.
" I had no idea that...well, I thought you'd put all those bad memories from Puckworld away. I thought we both had dealt with them."
" I thought I did!" protested NoseDive. " And Morpheus did make it worse you know."
" But all the dreams after - the ones where you felt you were worthless, where you should have been left behind. Where did those nightmares come from Dive?"
Suddenly, NoseDive was very interested in the design on his blanket. Wildwing sighed. " Dive, why do you keep telling yourself these lies?"
" What do you mean, lies?"" NoseDive mumbled. " They're truths."
" No they're not!" Wildwing stared at NoseDive, worry rising within him. Apparently, NoseDive's insecurities went way beyond what he had originally believed. NoseDive didn't think he was important - he thought himself worthless! Wildwing suddenly stood up and stalked over to NoseDive's window. He watched a family of four cross the street in front of the Pond, laughing and talking. Where did me and Dive go wrong? he asked himself. He turned around.
" Would you still feel the same way if we went back to Puckworld?" he asked quietly.
" The camps?" NoseDive asked, horrified.
" No - our home. Dragaunus isn't there anymore. Puckworld was probably won back by our military after the Saurians lost their leader. Remember - drones made up the bulk of Dragaunus' forces and they were all powered by his headquarters: the Raptor."
" Which is here on earth!" breathed Dive. " You're probably right!"
" So answer my question. Would you feel the same way about yourself if we were to go home tomorrow?"
NoseDive frowned and he looked away. " Maybe."
" Why??" Wildwing asked again. " Who told you that you were worthless?" he was struck by a thought. " Was it...me? Did I make you feel that way?"
NoseDive rocketed out of bed and to his brother's side, staring Wildwing in the eyes with an angry look.
" Don't you ever think that!" he snapped. " It's not your fault your brothers a screwup!"
" Then who's is it?" Wildwing asked calmly.
" NoseDive, please. I want to know what's bothering you." He gave him a quirked smile. " I'll lose my big brother's license if I don't beat up whoever is picking on my little brother - says so in the handbook."
" There's a handbook?"
" Well, in your case, it was more like an instruction manual."
" Enough stalling." Wildwing stared levelly at his sibling.
" I....I can't say." NoseDive finally whispered, lowering his eyes. Wildwing looked at him.
" That's okay bro." NoseDive looked up in relief. " You just confirmed it."
NoseDive backed up a step. " Are you a mind reader now?"
" No," Wildwing sighed. "But I know you." He turned back to the window and leaned on the sill, a sad expression on his face. " Canard was my best friend, but he was never very nice to you, was he?"
NoseDive was completely floored. " Huh?"
" I mean, for the longest time, it was just you and me, surviving foster home after foster home. You were, and still are, my best friend." He glanced sideways at NoseDive who stared back with shock still written on his face. " When I met Canard, it was the first time I had someone my own age to talk to, someone to hang out with during class when you weren't there. I liked that." He sighed, and turned around, leaning back against the sill and resting his elbows on it, staring straight ahead, lost in memories. " But I was worried that I was neglecting you, whom I had the responsibility of protecting. So I introduced the two of you. Sparks flew all right, but not the kind I expected." He chuckled softly. " You and Canard were two polar opposites. He was the smart kid in class, the respected team captain that the girls all flocked around. You were the younger, rebellious tag-along kid that never put in the study time like he did, yet pulled off good grades without even trying. He envied you that, you know."
" Liar." NoseDive said with a weak grin, but motioned for Wildwing to go on. He had the feeling Wildwing needed to tell him this as much as he needed to hear it.
" It's true. Canard had always been the leader of the crowd, but I was the first person to like him for him, not because he got more goals then anyone else on his hockey team. You, on the other hand, always had friends around you, goofing off, and playing video games. I could never compete with that either. I think that's why Canard and I got along so well."
" I never knew that," NoseDive said softly.
Wildwing grinned at him. " You weren't supposed too. I can keep secrets pretty well."
" I'm beginning to see that."
" Let me finish. I knew Canard didn't really appreciate you being around. He thought you were too much of a showoff, and self absorbed. That just tells you how blind he really was at times. But then came the Saurians, and with them came the camps. When the bombs began falling, and we were separated, I almost gave up, Dive."
" What do you mean?" NoseDive's eyes were very serious.
" I didn't know if you were alive or dead. My baby brother was missing, and there was no way to find out if you were okay because I was a prisoner too." Wildwing's eyes closed as he relived the memories. " The drones worked us hard all day, and half the night. There was hardly any food, and people were dying every day. Sometimes they'd drop dead in the middle of a job and the drones would just leave them there. It was up to us to dispose of the bodies. I don't know how many exactly, but I had a hand in burying almost half of the upperclassmen from school." NoseDive was horrified, but Wildwing continued.
" But I kept on going. I had hope that you were alive. I knew I had to find you. But as the months passed and each survivor that was sent to our camps said they'd never heard of you or seen you, I began to lose that hope. I was planning my death when a nearby camp was demolished, and the prisoners sent to us. I couldn't believe it when I saw you Dive - I thought I was hallucinating." Tears were in Wildwing's eyes as he opened them to look at his brother. NoseDive had the same stricken expression. " You were back. That was all that mattered. And then I almost lost you again to sickness. During the time that you recovered, I never gave Canard a single thought, you know. Some friend I was huh? But all I could think of was making sure you lived. And you did." The relief in his tone was painfully evident and he reached out and ruffled Dive's hair gently. " But then Canard came back while we were being relocated. I was ecstatic that he survived too - my two best friends were alive and well. As well as could be, anyway." Wildwing's eyes darkened. " When Canard told us of his plan to take on Dragaunus, I was skeptical - until I saw the mask." He fingered the mask reverently as he went on. " I knew it was possible then. But then he said that you had to be left behind." His tone was very low, almost dangerous. " In that moment, I hated Canard. With every fibre of my being."
NoseDive reeled back. He hadn't expected this.
" Canard wanted me to go without you. And when I insisted you come along, he said it was my job to make sure you didn't screw up. And when we destroyed Dragaunus's headquarters and were about to leave, we saw that the Aerowing was missing. He blamed you, even when you flew it up to us. He never acknowledged the fact that even if you had left it alone, we'd have been killed. The blast came too quickly - we never would have gotten the engine up and running in time to escape. You saved our lives, Dive."
NoseDive choked. " Wing..."
" And Canard knew it too. But he never thanked you, did he?" Wildwing turned a calm gaze to NoseDive who was fighting back tears. " And you knew that, as well." He sighed. " Canard at one time was my best friend. But for what he put you through...on good days, I wish he'd made it to Anaheim with us so I could tell him what I thought of him, to clear the air between you two. But on bad days, I think that the electromagnetic worm was too good for him."
NoseDive's voice was very quiet. " How did you know?"
" That Canard was the one behind all your self-doubt? Dive, he's the only one you would protect."
" Huh?" NoseDive didn't get it. Him protect the guy who couldn't stand him?
" Yes. You didn't know that I hated him for what he did. At one time he was my best friend, and I will miss him - I'm not heartless. And sometimes I wish he would come back, because for all his faults, he was still a good leader. But you could only see that Canard was my friend and since it made me happy, you would keep quiet about your dislike for him. You didn't want to taint my memory of him. Right?"
NoseDive could only nod his head. Wildwing smiled gently. " And that's why you're the best brother I could ever hope to have."
Tears streaming down his face, NoseDive barrelled into his brother who wrapped his arms around him tightly. " Let it out NoseDive." There was no recriminations in his voice. " I hated him!" NoseDive gasped out, his voice slightly muffled. " He took you away from me!" He sobbed, shoulders heaving rapidly. " He wanted...he wanted to leave me behind!" There it was, the ultimate betrayal. Wildwing let his own tears come. NoseDive's body was wracked with sobs, his body trembling violently at his emotional outburst.
" I was so messed up that he wanted to leave me there! With all the death! He-" NoseDive broke off as he tried to catch his breath, tears streaking his face. Wildwing rocked him soothingly, as he urged NoseDive to let everything out. " He said I was useless! A liability! I had to prove him wrong, but I keep screwing up!" He buried his face in Wildwing's shoulder. " Even Mallory says I goof off too much, and Duke treats me like a little kid that should be excused for his mistakes because he doesn't know any better!"
" And they all got their impressions of you from listening to Canard first." Wildwing finished. " No wonder Morpheus got a hold of you so easily."
" There's another screwup of mine-" NoseDive began but Wildwing cut him off.
" Dive, he had powers to bring all these feelings and emotions together and make them worse then they already were. You couldn't do anything about that. And it was Canard who planted all these insecurities in your head to begin with." He forced his brother to look him in the eye. " You are not worthless."
NoseDive heard the strength and truth ringing true in that statement. It cut through him to the core and he felt a warmth spread through him as his doubts began to lighten.
" I know."
Those two words made Wildwing choke up and he hugged NoseDive even tighter.
" Why didn't you ever tell me all of this?"
" You know why," NoseDive shrugged. " Canard was your best friend. And since he's gone, disappeared into limbo to save all of us, I figured the least I could do was to leave his memory in peace."
" And that's just another reason why you're a special person, NoseDive. Even after all he said to you, you still tried to respect his memory. A more petty person would have been spiteful." Wildwing looked at him closely. " Feel better?"
NoseDive nodded. He did feel better. His doubts hadn't magically disappeared as he would have liked, but deep within himself, he could feel a spark of pride light - Wildwing was proud of him. NoseDive grinned.
" Good." said Wildwing. " And if you ever feel this way again, from anyone or anything, tell me please."
" 'Kay." NoseDive agreed. " You'll do wonders for my ego."
" With pleasure," Wildwing tried to sound lightearted. What ego? We'll have to work on that!
" How can you be so calm about it? You say you hated him but you don't sound like it."
Wildwing sighed. " I've spent more time alone working out my feelings regarding Canard and you and this team then you could imagine. I've destroyed my room on several occasions, working out my frustrations, and sometimes, I've cried myself to sleep. I've been through it all NoseDive, and I can finally forgive Canard for what he did. Now though, that I've realized just how deep he went with you, I think my punching bag is gonna get some extra time, but I've worked through it. And now that you're going to be okay, it won't be as hard."
NoseDive gazed up at him in awe. " I never knew that either." I'm not the only one who has problems.
" I know."
" Make you a deal bro. Next time I'm feeling depressed, I'll come to you, if you talk to me when you're the same way. Deal?" NoseDive looked up anxiously - he didn't want to see his brother end up as far gone as he himself had been.
Wildwing grinned. knowing what Dive was thinking. " It's a deal, little brother."
NoseDive suddenly grimaced as he put a hand on his stomach. Wildwing looked at him in concern when NoseDive smiled, a real smile for the first time in days.
" I was exhausted but my stomach has taken priority. I'm starving!"
Wildwing burst out laughing. He's back! " Come on bro. Let's see if the others want to order pizza for dinner."
" Oh yeah!" Wildwing helped NoseDive up and the two of them headed for the rec room. Wildwing felt lighter on his feet. He's going to be okay.