Author's Note: A Very Special Thanks to Dropzone, Pigeon and Audobon, for giving me back my muse!


3:03 AM

"Chris, where's the emerald?"

"I'm tellin' ya, I DON'T HAVE IT!" Christina stomped away from Wildwing's and Duke's accusing expressions and stared angrily at the blank screen of Drake One.

"Somebody's got it, and it ain't here."

The fifteen-year-old took a deep breath before answering, mostly to ensure her voice wouldn't waver.

"You said you trusted me."

Duke sighed. "Chris... Look, I know the klepto thing is hard an' all, but we can't help ya get over it unless you're willin' to cooperate."

She didn't turn around. "I swear to God, I don't. have it."

Wildwing frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "Christina, if we don't return the Quetzal Emerald before the museum opens, the authorities are gonna get into this mess, too, and there's only so much we can do to protect you after that."

"I don't have the damn rock, Wildwing."

"Christina—"

The human girl finally snapped, whirling around to face them, eyes blazing. "GOD DAMN IT, I DON'T HAVE THE DAMN THING, WILDWING! JESUS CHRIST, WHADDYA WANT FROM ME? YA WANNA STRIP SEARCH ME OR SOMETHING? FINE! GO AHEAD! JUST GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY!"

Furious beyond the point of clear thinking, she tore off her long leather coat and threw it aside, then grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt. She had it halfway up before Duke managed to grab her hands and stop her.

"That's ENOUGH, Christina! Just calm down!"

She fought him. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been this angry: she kicked and screamed and, at one opportune moment, bit down hard enough on Duke's hand to make him scream.

"AUGH!" He let her go. "Just what the HELL is wrong with you today?"

For a few moments, it became a face off between the two thieves, the older reformed and the younger addicted—the latter of which had to spit out a few small, gray, downy feathers. Christina was panting angrily, her glare shifting every few seconds between her by-proxy father figure and her by-proxy big brother and team captain. She was just plain pissed. There was no two words about it.

"Christina, sit down." Wildwing's remarkably calm voice broke into her thoughts.

"No."

His tone darkened slightly. "That's an order, Palmetto."

Chris squeezed her eyes shut and breathed deep; Wing had pulled out the big guns. A direct order. Using her last name.

Well shit.

"Fine." She stalked over to the nearest chair and dropped into it, staring dismally at her battle-gear boots. She'd been given the boots nearly four weeks ago, and there wasn't a scuff on them. And talk about comfortable. They weren't even as heavy as they looked. Chris found herself marveling, not for the first time, at Puckworld technology. Even at its simplest, it was amazing.

"What was that, Chris?" Wildwing interrupted her thoughts again.

Christina ground her teeth. "Yes, sir," she corrected herself.

"Thank you."

She just grunted slightly to acknowledge him. He didn't comment on it, but instead leaned against Drake One's control panel and watched her for a few minutes. She finally spoke up, just to break the silence.

"I don't have it, Wing. I swear. I don't have it."

"Look me in the eyes when you say that."

Christina looked up just in time to watch Wildwing remove his mask, revealing his face and transforming his eyes from an almost creepy glowing red to a soft blue. He had rather lovely eyes, Chris noted irrelevantly. With another deep breath to keep her emotions in check, she met his gaze with her own. Even though she was telling the truth, it was a hard thing to do. Wing was a really nice guy and fun to be around most of the time, but in leader mode, he could be incredibly intimidating.

"Wildwing, I swear. I don't have the emerald. I didn't take it, an' I don't know where it is. I swear."

Wildwing was silent for a long time, holding her gaze and considering her words. Finally, he nodded.

"All right. I believe you."

Chris let out a breath and nodded in return. "Thank you. ...Uh..." He cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Yes?"

"S-Sorry 'bout that whole almost flashin' ya thing. Um... You won't... tell anyone about that, will ya?"

He chuckled. "Nah. Forget it. Just... work on that temper, okay?"

Chris grinned, looking distinctly relieved. "Deal."

Wildwing looked up at Duke. "You're being awfully quiet all of a sudden."

"Yeah... listen, Wing, could I talk to Chris for a few minutes? Y'know, alone?"

Wildwing appeared curious, as if he wanted to ask something, but in the end he simply nodded. "Sure, Duke. I'm gonna wake up the others and keep trying to find that jewel."

Duke nodded, and Wildwing left the room. Christina swiveled her chair around to face Duke, and furrowed her eyebrows at his critical expression.

"...What?"

"Chris..." Duke crossed his arms over his chest and gazed down at her thoughtfully. "Chris, where is it? Look, I won't even tell Wing you had it if ya just hand it over now. I'll just tell him I found it, y'know, under a console or somethin'."

She stared at him. When his words finally sunk in, she shook her head incredulously. "You—You don't believe me! E-Even after all that, you still don't believe me! H-How... Of all people..." She stood and took a few steps away from him, retrieving her coat and then her saber—a gift from Duke on a much better day than this was turning into—which had clattered several feet away when she'd thrown her fit.

Duke sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Chris, I want to believe you sweet'eart, I do. I just... The emerald was here, and now it ain't. I mean, you tryin' to tell me it just grew wings an' flew away?"

"I'm tellin' you I don't know what the hell happened to it!" She pulled her coat on and stowed her saber safely back in an inner pocket.

"Chris, the emerald was here. Then you were alone—in here. An' now the emerald's gone."

"Bu—I was in here for all o', like, thirty seconds! All I did was come in from the rink an' walk across t'go to my room! That's IT!"

"Chris—"

She cut him off, putting her hands up in front of her shoulders, palms out in faux surrender, and huffed and angry growl. "Y'know what? Fuck you." She turned around and started toward the door. When Duke responded, his voice was low and held an odd sort of protective threat that Christina found rather confusing.

"Watch your beak, kid," he snapped, and Christina had to stifle the urge to snicker at the very Duck-specific phrase, only the most recent of many. She'd gotten into the habit of mentally translating them into 'human' just to save herself the trouble of correcting everybody constantly. Besides, she didn't want to embarrass anyone. The smirk, however, faded off her face as Duke continued.

"An' get back here. I'm not done with you."

She stopped in her tracks and turned to face him, but when she did, she was making a very rude single-digit gesture—with both hands.

"FUCK! YOU!" she shouted, then turned and ran for the door.

She never got there.

Having skillfully wrapped the cable around her ankles, Duke tugged sharply on his grappling hook and pulled Christina clear off her feet. She landed hard, with an audible 'oof', and lay there wheezing as Duke approached her, reeling in the cable as he walked.

"I said, 'I'm not finished with you yet'."

"And I—" she coughed and started over, "I said 'fuck you'."

Duke frowned at her as he knelt to untangle her legs. "I've had about enough of this attitude o' yours for one day."

The second her legs were free, she kicked his arm away and scrambled to escape. Stowing his saber back on his shoulder, he grabbed her by the ankles and simply dragged her back to the chair she'd vacated moments before. She struggled and kicked the whole way, but he refused to let go.

"You fuckin' bastard! Let me go! WILDWING!" Her hand shot to her wrist – to her disbelief, her com was gone. "You son of a BITCH! Give that back! Let me go, you fuckin' lunatic! WILDWING!" She felt stupid calling out to Wildwing, like a helpless little kid, but Duke was truly freaking her out, and she didn't know what else to do—Duke was older, stronger, and a much better fighter, and it was pretty obvious that she was going nowhere fast. Finally, she just screamed as loud as she could.

Duke grabbed the lapels of her coat in one hand and hauled her to her feet, clapping his other hand over her mouth.

"That's enough!" He slowly took his hand away from her mouth, and she gave him the dirtiest look she could come up with.

"Go to hell," she spat.

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, looking utterly defeated. "Fine. I didn't want to do this, y'know. I don't wanna be th' bad guy. I prefer bein' your friend. But damn it, one way or another, I am goin' t'get through to you."

She stared at him. "What the hell are you talkin' abou—whoa!"

He dropped into the chair and pulled her down with him. Too startled to struggle much, she suddenly found herself bent over his lap, her head on one side of his legs and her backside on the other. One of his hands kept her arms pinned firmly behind her back, and her eyes widened when she realized the implications of this incredibly awkward position. Her mind raced for an escape route as Duke pulled her leather coat out of the way.

"D-D-Duke, n-now wait a minute, I-I—!"

"Hold still." She heard a familiar electronic hiss as he switched on the blade of his saber.

Oh, hell, this was gonna hurt.

"D-D-Duke, now c'mon, man, y-ya can't do this! I-I mean, for God's sake, I-I'm fifteen years old! You-You can't—"

Her only answer came in the form of the whistle of his saber as it swung through the air.

She'd been right.

It did hurt.

A lot.

And it hurt nine more times before he finally stopped. It was only the flat of the sword, of course, but the blade had a lot less give than a hand, or even a belt would. And it stung.

It was a couple of minutes after he'd stopped striking before he actually let go of her, and she pushed up and away from him, scrambling out of reach and just barely avoiding landing on her backside when she tripped and fell. She reflexively wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand, but otherwise could only stare at him in shock.

The strange part was, he looked almost as bad as she felt.

"You brought it on yourself, Chris." She blinked at him. Had his voice cracked? Duke L'Orange's voice had cracked?

Well, her own voice wasn't exactly stable, but that had a lot to do with the yelps of pain she hadn't managed to contain, and the tears that were still rolling down her cheeks. God, it hurt.

"Th-that wasn't fair. I-I don't have the emerald. I don't have it! Damn it, why won't you believe me?" She scrubbed harshly at her eyes with her fist, trying to stop the tears that didn't seem to want to end. She didn't cry often, but once she started, it took forever for her to stop. There were some things about being a girl that really sucked.

Duke watched her as she climbed unsteadily to her feet.

"That wasn't about the emerald."

Chris scoffed. "Ch'yeah, right."

"It wasn't." He stood and came toward her. "It was about your attitude, an' your disrespect. We made a deal when we took you in, Chris. You follow th' same rules Nosedive has t'follow. That includes doin' what you're told an' bein' respectful."

"Why should I have any respect for you? You said you trusted me, but that was obviously a lie. An' then you hit me for somethin' I didn't even do. Why should I listen t'you at all?"

Duke narrowed his eyes slightly. "There's a difference between just hittin' someone an' disciplinin' them, Chris. An' you know it."

It was the human's turn to cross her arms over her chest. "Bullshit."

"Stop swearin'."

"Why should I?"

"Well, for one thing, I told you to. For another, you're too good a kid t'be usin' that kinda language."

She snorted. "I'm a middle-school dropout and a thief."

He laid a hand on her shoulder and smiled. "Who's makin' a lot a progress in both areas, these days." His smile quickly faded at the expression that took over Christina's face.

"Don't touch me."

Duke quickly lifted his hand, his eyes widening. "Chris, kid, look, I'm only tryin' to—"

"Don't ever touch me again."

He was too stunned by her utterly cold order to say anything else, and he watched helplessly as she strode away from him and through the door that would take her up to the rink, her black coat swishing dramatically about her knees.

"I'm goin' out."

That snapped Duke out of his shock. "Now, hold it, it's late, you ain't—"

But the door slid shut behind her, and a heartbeat later, Duke heard the soft hum of the elevator. With a sigh, he decided to let her go. She needed to be alone; he could understand that.

What he couldn't understand was her reaction when he'd touched her. Was she really so freaked out by what he'd done that she wanted nothing to do with him now? Frowning, he headed toward the opposite door. He was tired, and at the moment, he felt a lot older than he really was. And anyhow, he told himself, she was freaked out, sure, but she'd be fine by morning. She was a tough kid. Hell, she wouldn't have ended up on the team in the first place if she hadn't thrown herself into the middle of a puck laser free-for-all to protect a slightly wounded but very dazed Nosedive. That took guts, especially for a human with no formal training. She could take care of herself.

She'd be fine.

With that thought, Duke went to bed, too tired to even care if his teammates found the missing jewel or not.

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