AN: If I owned anything, Juniper Lee never would have been cancelled. Contains very slight spoilers for several episodes in seasons two and three. All feedback, including constructive criticism, is welcome and appreciated. Enjoy.
Dennis Lee had known for a while he was a terrible older brother. For a long time, he had managed to avoid thinking about it by burying himself in his own life, lame as it was, but after he nearly got the city demolished by incompetent comic book villains, outright denial just didn't work anymore. Not about a lot of things.
That was three months ago.
Now, he found himself sitting in June's bedroom at four in the morning, watching her sleep. She was so exhausted she had barely twitched once since her head hit the pillow. At least, he thought sourly, she's so out of it there's no way she'll remember me putting her to bed. Maybe.
Dennis frowned, tugging at the neck of his Superman pajama shirt and readjusting the necklace tied to the amulet that allowed him to pierce the Veil. The day he had found out his sister was the Te Xuan Ze, with real superpowers and everything, was without a doubt the best and worst of his life. He hadn't been lying to June: magic really was all he knew, even if Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was a bit off, and it was one of the only things he really enjoyed. The idea that he could use real magic to fight evil, even if he was just a sidekick, was just ... unbearably cool.
Part of him was still surprised he was never, even for a second, jealous of June once he found out she was like, the living incarnation of She-Hulk, without as much green. He smirked in spite of himself. And not just because of her temper. The stuff she can do ... wow. The half-grin fell away. If he was honest, the big reason he probably didn't get jealous right off was because too many things suddenly made sense: the apprehensive way she acted when she told him the truth, her badly hidden smile when the dog couldn't erase his memories (Again!), and all the times over the last year she'd disappeared, broken commitments and generally acted like a total flake with everyone and then been miserable afterwards. He'd never bothered to try to figure it out, or even admit to himself something might be wrong. No. If anything, I let myself be just as mean and nasty as any of her classmates. I didn't even want her in the same room when I had friends over, even if she was just coming to tell me it was time for dinner. Unbidden, thoughts of all the times he'd just stood there while Reggie and the others talked down to her sprang to mind. If that weren't bad enough, whenever Zach actually tried to be nice to her and invited her to game with them, he threw a hissy fit. Even though she would've said no. He resisted the urge to groan. All because I ... what? Because everyone else was doing it and I was trying to be cool? Because I was pissed and she was convenient? He suspected it was a bit of both, and the realization made him sick. She never seemed really bothered, though, and at the time he'd fooled himself into thinking she probably didn't really care. Like that made it okay.
Now he realized June just had much bigger problems, and that just made it all worse. Especially finding out the truth. He'd acted like a total prick for years, and June had still been absolutely thrilled that he knew. Even as they made plans to deal with Wrongness and his crew, he realized just how miserable and lonely she had to be to be willing to put the past behind them so quickly. She was a lot more like Peter Parker than Tony Stark when it came to the whole secret life thing. At least she probably won't become an alcoholic.
June didn't have nearly as many friends as she used to, either. Jody, Ophelia, and Roger were too close to her to give up easily, but he could see the strain, if he looked close enough. He had realized then, standing with her and staring out at a sky teeming with monsters for the very first time, that she was glad she wasn't going to drive him completely away with her weirdness, even as much of a jerk as he had been.
Dennis wished he could say that had been enough to crush any jealously he might have harbored, but the truth was he would never know for sure. His adrenaline and excitement forced him to ignore any potential emotional backlash as they headed downtown: watching comic book villains he himself had summoned destroy Orchid Bay did a lot to rearrange his priorities.
It wasn't long before the three of them and the dog were downtown, and it only took a few seconds for his entire world to flip over for the second time in one day. It was one thing to hear June talk about being the Protector and having powers, but he didn't really understand, until the moment June leapt at the villains, exactly what that meant.
There was no comic book panel, no movie, no cartoon, nothing that came close to the way June could move. It wasn't so much her strength or speed--and she had both in insane quantities--that left him awed. In every piece of fiction Dennis had ever seen, there had been an element of planning and arrangement and something indefinably artificial in even the most frenetic scenes. The people that planned them in movies were called fight choreographers, after all. But the way his sister leapt and spun and twisted and fought with the ease that he might bend to tie his shoes was so natural and the adrenaline and power reflected in her eyes so intense that he'd had to force his knees to stop shaking. It was all real, and however she might feel about it, he knew watching her then that he was seeing someone do what they were born to do.
Then they lost the element of surprise, and the bad guys started hitting back. However amazing June was, she only had two legs and two arms to dodge with, and he would never forget the panic that gripped him the first time he saw her batted across a street, or the terror that set in as they battered her when she fought back, feeling more and more like he was going to throw up when concrete and iron cracked and shattered as she was slammed into it.
Then she had stood up from taking blows that would've turned Dennis to very messy, very dead goop, and grinned, every inch of her face letting Wrongness and the rest know she wasn't anywhere close to giving in, not so much as a bruise on her head, which had just left a nice round dent in a bank wall. And in a flash of dour insight that would become increasingly common, he realized this wasn't the first time his sister had faced insane superpowered bastards that wanted nothing less than to put her stuffed head on their mantles. But no one had noticed. For more than a year, his parents, him, all of June's friends, and everyone else had been completely ignorant of what was going on. She could've gone out one night and gotten eaten by a dragon and none of them would ever have known what happened. Not like Ah-Mah would tell. June could have got put on a milk carton and grandma never would have said a word. And then there's the dog. He frowned. No help there.
If it hadn't been for the adrenaline pumping through his body and the effort involved in keeping himself from getting squished, Dennis was sure he would've tossed his cookies, then and there. At least Ray Ray was too young and naïve to think about it. He had no idea at all how June managed to deal, and realized he probably didn't want to know.
But yeah. Watching an evil giant floating head and his minions try to kill his sister had permanently, totally crushed any jealousy he might have harbored, and left guilt festering in its place. He had been practically useless in the battle, but swore to himself he do his best to help her. June didn't need him to baby her, but maybe, just maybe, if he worked hard enough at it he would be able to make up for being such a jackass.
He had no trouble admitting to himself that he would also be in a position to do his best to keep June's head attached to her body. He loved his sister, even though he never showed it, even though he denied it once or twice, and the thought of something happening to her--he shook his head. That way lie bad thoughts and nausea and excuses to his mother about expired milk at Reggie's.
Maybe he couldn't lift a bridge (he still boggled at the level of strength that implied...someday he was actually going to do the math to figure out how much she was lifting) there was plenty he could do f he studied hard enough. And despite what some of his teachers thought, he could be a pretty good student, if the material was interesting.
But trying to study under that dog had been almost as unnerving as watching June get beaten with a streetlamp. It was clear from the beginning that the pug only warmed up to the idea of keeping Dennis around when he realized he actually knew quite a bit about magic, for a normal human. He had been especially enthusiastic in pointing out to Juniper that her older brother probably knew more than she did. At the time Dennis didn't think much of it. but after the fight, he realized the dog was enjoying making June aware of what he considered her inadequacies. And not even in a tone that encouraged her to learn more. When he spoke to her, I could hear his contempt for me. In fact, he made it sound like an insult. The family idiot knew more than someone who was supposed to be the Great Protector. Dennis had never thought of it like that.
He figured June didn't bother with magical items and spells because she was insanely strong and wicked fast. She didn't really need magic as much, aside from a few odd little bits she seemed pretty good at, and why should she want to bother learning more when her so-called teacher was an obnoxious know-it-all that enjoyed lording it over her? He could have let it all pass and just thought the dog was a jerk, but then, later that night, after he, June, and Ray Ray had crashed in front of the TV in the basement with a few pizzas, the dog had taken time to lecture them all on how Dennis keeping his memories was highly irregular, and it was probably best if Ah-Mah not be told because she might not agree that it was a good idea. Of course, he was so wordy and overblown about the whole thing that he somehow made it sound like she would be angry about it and try to do something to take Dennis' memories away. Ray Ray and June agreed without thinking. Dennis agreed too, even though he thought it was complete crap. His memories couldn't be erased, after all, and their grandmother had dealt fine with Ray Ray finding out. Whatever his reasons for having them keep Dennis a secret, they were purely the dog's own, and his brother was too naïve, and his sister too trusting, or desperate, or maybe both, to realize it. Dennis had never brought up his suspicions with either of them, but ever sense that night had kept a very close eye on the pug.
Roleplaying depended on keeping a bunch of information in your head at once and being able to read people--especially the game master. And Dennis was so good at it precisely because he pick up a lot of small details when he wanted to, which really came in handy dealing with the mutt. He watched out of the corner of his eye, and he listened for a bit before he walked into a room or in front of a doorway. It didn't take long to pick up on the fact the dog didn't seem to give a damn about any of June's problems that didn't have to do with fighting the assorted whackos that found their way to Orchid Bay. Trouble at school, her double life's impact on her social life, just general stress ... he didn't want to ear it. Ever. The day after June had to ditch one of Jody's recitals to deal with some demons trying to kidnap the mayor's baby, Dennis heard the pug griping her out because she had the nerve to fret that her responsibilities were destroying her oldest friendship. Apparently, June didn't deserve to complain because Ah Mah had to work the decades their father should have been active. When June pointed out that Ah-Mah had just had to delay her retirement, but she, the youngest Te Xuan Ze ever, had her life totally trashed, her so-called advisor had started going ballistic, and there probably would've been a fantastic shouting match--or worse--if Dennis hadn't chosen that moment to barrel in with the biggest, most oblivious smile he could manage and see if June wanted to walk to the comic book store with him. Which would've been the world's lamest excuse if there hadn't been an ice cream parlor next door and he hadn't offered to buy her some.
Then there were all the times the runt shot foul looks at June when she failed to follow his advice because she had her own plan, or said she didn't need his help when he obviously thought otherwise. She just seemed to think he was bad-tempered, but from what Dennis could see, it only happened when June didn't act like the dog's puppet when he clearly wanted her to, or, worse, happened to show that she was a human, almost teenage girl and her life was about more than trolls and goblins and pus that came in thirty-one flavors of nasty. Whatever might or might not be going on, by the end of the second week, Dennis didn't trust the dog at all, and it was clear violent monsters weren't the only things that might hurt his sister if he didn't watch out.
Maybe he was being paranoid. But then again, maybe he wasn't. The thought that the little furball might be the only one June would have to fall back on in an emergency just ... didn't feel right. That was why he practiced simple healing spells that he hoped she never needed him to use. He made sure she never saw him doing anything but the more fun stuff, like fireballs and teleportation--if she ever caught him and asked him why he felt the need to learn magical first aid, he knew she wouldn't like the answer, if he actually managed to tell her.
He shook his head, scowling in the darkness. Damn, I'm on a roll tonight. And why shouldn't I be? He usually managed to not let himself get wrapped up in his darker thoughts to the point he started to brood, but that obviously wasn't happening. He looked at his sister, her small, moonlit body curled into a comfortable ball, hair almost completely covering her face, wearing her purple pajama bottoms and an oversized KISS Army shirt he'd found in the bottom of her closet, and knew exactly why he was acting like an emo dork.
All it took was waking up to the sound of a dull thud and opening his door to find June sprawled out on the hall floor caked in dirt, her clothes torn in places that would've had bile rising in his throat if he hadn't seen first hand that monsters didn't give a damn about anything but beating the crap out of her. Or at least that's what I'm going to think, so I can stay sane. What did terrify him was the way she didn't move, and for several long seconds before she curled up and started snoring into the carpet, some irrational, half-asleep part of him had thought she might be dead.
He was going to have to get creative explaining away the big mud pile outside his door, but at least he hadn't panicked long enough to find the Stone of Healing he kept under his bed and wave it over her. Its dull blue glow was enough to assure him that she was physically fine. Or at least wasn't hurt enough to activate the gem's magics. Whatever had happened (and he still wasn't really sure) it wouldn't be good at all if their parents found her like that, so he had taken it upon himself to get her back to her room and get rid of the evidence. Looking back, he was really surprised with how calm he was about the whole thing. When he scooped her up he'd been almost shocked at how light she was. With all the things she could do he sometimes forgot she was still so small. He really didn't like being reminded, especially not like that.
At least, he thought, it made getting her into the bed easier. Whatever had happened, she was dead weight, and hardly stirred as he fumbled around getting June out of clothes literally held together by a few dozen threads. Even her shoes were falling apart, and he'd seen them survive kicking something with really pointy scales. In an effort to make sure they didn't get caught, Dennis had left everything but a small nightlight off, and the darkness certainly didn't do anything to make things any less surreal. He was so focused on what he was doing that he almost managed to get his frayed nerves to settle.
Until he pulled her back against his stomach and started tugging her tattered shirt over her head. It was a clumsy way to do it--just ripping the already ruined shirt down the middle while she was on her back and pulling it out from under her would've been much easier--but June deserved whatever bit of dignity he could spare her, and this way he was far less likely to get punched in the face if she chose that moment to suddenly wake up. Unfortunately, staring at her back when he brought the green fabric over her head left him looking straight at the gigantic yellow-purple welt spread across her shoulder blades.
Dennis had nearly dropped June on the floor and had to bite his lower lip, painfully, to keep from shrieking like Jody Irwin at a monster movie. She just lolled her head against his shoulder and snored into his ear, and it had taken all his willpower not to shake her awake and demand to know what had happened. He had seen her tossed around by giant things, slammed through concrete walls, stomped on by some asshole's latest magical giant robot (Really, what the hell), and otherwise get knocked around on almost a daily basis, and not once had she walked away with a single mark. The stone glowed blue; nothing's seriously wrong. She's exhausted and doesn't need me waking her up, he had thought like a mantra until his arms had stopped shaking, and afterwards had done his best to look June over for other injuries, almost laughing in relief when all he could find were broken, dirty fingernails. He had just shaken his head, hard, and gone back to work. He would find out what had happened sooner or later.
Getting her into the pajamas was a bit more challenging. She had actually started to squirm and mumble as he wrestled the purple cotton slacks into place, muttering something about ceilings that just left him more curious. Wondering and worrying was actually useful then; it kept him from thinking about just how incredibly awkward it was to change June's clothes. He hadn't seen her in just her underwear since she had been old enough to dress herself. The one time he'd almost accidentally walked in on her in the shower when she was nine, she had thrown a shampoo bottle at him hard enough to crack the plastic and screamed until his ears were ringing.
Odd how he never thought that was at all strange. Obviously, screaming and running in terror from his ranting sister had been enough to derail his higher brain functions. He missed that, sometimes.
But he had gotten it done. Now, she was changed, and in bed, and the worst of the dirt and who knew what else was brushed off her arms and neck enough that whoever woke her up in the morning wouldn't notice the rest of her was still a mess. He would have to warn her not to let anyone see her before she got a shower, and he would be sure to wash her sheets once she was up. Wonder what Mom would think if she knew I was actually volunteering to clean something. He frowned. If I do this right, it'll never come up. He never could figure out how June kept them in the dark so easily. Every time he had to pull one over on them to help her out, he was terrified he would screw it up and blow her cover.
Dennis sighed, feeling himself scowl. Enough. I really am turning emo. I need to finish this up. He still hadn't washed June's face. If they were going to pull this off and fool their parents, she would need to not look like she had been buried face first in the flowerbeds. He'd put it off until the end because he knew the damp, now cold, washcloth would wake her up for sure, and he had needed the time to get his thoughts in order and calm himself down. He also wasn't sure June would have let him help her, stubborn as she was, and she was loud and clumsy when she wasn't completely awake. It would've been an entirely stupid, entirely avoidable way to get caught by their parents. Okay then, he thought, holding the cloth over her face, here we go. Some part of his brain whispered, you better wake up, but he resolutely ignored it. Of course she would wake up. She had to.
A few quick swipes with the cloth, and Dennis pronounced her face passable. She was still dirty, but she had been playing outside with Ray Ray yesterday after dinner. That'll have to be a good enough excuse for Mom and Dad. He didn't waste much thought on that, though: just as he guessed, June was starting to wake.
She yawned loudly, swimming in the oversized shirt as she stretched her arms and legs out, sleepy eyes fluttering open. Dennis was glad it was so dark. There was no way June would see the dopey grin he felt splitting his face. Then he realized she might not be able to see him clearly in the dark, and decided he better speak before she noticed him and decided he was evil and looming, or something. "Welcome back," he whispered, and his voice actually sounded calm. Awesome.
June blinked, large brown eyes focusing on him as she rolled back onto her side. "Bwa?" Her voice was scratchy, and he decided she needed some water. In a minute. "Dennis? What ... how did I get here?"
That is the question. He shrugged, willing himself to stay calm now that the crisis was completely over, and smiled thinly. "I woke up and found you collapsed in front of my door. Your clothes were torn to shreds and you were covered in dirt. I ... uh ..." he scratched the back of his head, suddenly embarrassed, "brought you here."
Obviously she was still very tired; she didn't even seem to think it was odd that he had put her to bed. Or she hadn't really thought about it yet, which was far more likely. "Oh." She rotated a shoulder and groaned as it popped loudly. "Aw, man. That sucked."
Dennis blinked. Was she talking about whatever had happened? Did she remember him manhandling her into her pajamas? "Uh ... what?" Smooth, Dennis. He cleared his throat. "What ... what happened? I was worried." He winced. Even though it was dark, he had the distinct impression June was blushing.
June groaned again, tucking her knees into her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. He thought she looked very comfortable. "Some demon I've never seen with six horns and three eyes and skin so bright and orange I was sure I was gonna go blind looking at him." She shook her head. "It was trying to steal one of the jewels out of the crown on that big statue in the lobby at the movie theatre." She smirked. "I kindly kicked him in the face, took the gem, and told him the green clashed with his skin, unless he wanted to look like a giant carrot." She giggled. "He didn't like that very much, and yelled that he would 'tear me a sunder,' whatever that means. It got a bit nasty after that."
Dennis twitched, and almost wanted to yell, but this wasn't June's fault. That's asunder It means he wanted to rip you in half. He tried reminding himself that stuff like this had probably happened to her before, but that didn't really make him feel any better. "A bit?" he heard himself say. "June, you were a mess. I had to toss your clothes, they were so torn up." He was exhausted. That had to be the only reason he wasn't shouting.
June blinked and looked at herself, and it seemed like she had just realized what she was wearing. "You mean you, uh ..."
Crap. Now she's definitely blushing. Why doesn't she look pissed? He cleared his throat. "Uh ... I couldn't just leave you like that. I'm not even exactly sure how your pants were still on. If Mom and Dad had seen you like that, they would've freaked. Like, police-and-ambulance style freaked." He smiled. And I was also scared to death. Somehow, he thought it would be better not to say that last part.
June winced. "Yikes? I looked that bad?" She smiled thinly. "Thanks for covering for me, I guess. I just stopped for a second to catch my breath, and then ... I guess I checked out. At least," she frowned, "it was you, and not Ray Ray. He would've probably totally spazzed out." She paused. "I guess you must've been pretty wigged out too, though. I don't collapse in front of your door that often."
Dennis scowled. Now she sounded guilty. Damn it to hell. "Don't worry about it. Like you said, better me than Ray Ray. I was worried, sure," he said, trying to keep his tone light, "but I checked you out with a Stone of Healing and it said you were fine, so I figured you were just wiped out."
He immediately regretted his words as her eyes grew impossibly wide. Admitting he had been so scared that he'd gone for a magical artifact that could mend broken bones and seal cuts and gashes probably wasn't the best way to put her mind at ease. "June," he said quickly, hoping to change the subject, "then what happened?"
June sighed. "I started kicking his butt. He was a total wuss." Dennis didn't see how that made any sense given how he found her, but didn't say anything. "He was losing, and he knew it. He snatched the gem from me and tried to make a run for it and--I don't know what the emerald was, but I knew if this guy got away with it I would regret it, so I threw a cash register at his arm. I, uh, kinda smashed the gem. Then this horn guy gets really pissed, and he waves this amulet at me and starts yelling in a language I've never heard. The next thing I know there's this giant bang and the ceiling is caving in." She groaned. "And the floor. Everything caved in. I fell and I guess I wound up in the basement and it was all coming down around me ..." Her eyes widened, and she moaned. "Oh, man. I didn't even think–the Whammy Elves will be pissed."
Dennis took several deep breaths before he spoke, ignoring his shaking hands. "Don't worry about that. He dropped a three story building on you? Holy sh--" he just managed to cut himself off when he saw her eyes bulging. He didn't need to freak her out. "You," he whispered, as several things suddenly fell into place, "had to dig yourself out, didn't you?" Oh, my God. He thought of the welt across her shoulder blades and knew now where it had come from. If all the wreckage had fallen just a little differently and hit her head she might have--no. Didn't happen. She just nodded, eyes still wide. She had never heard him swear like their parents before. Keep your cool. "June, why didn't you call for help? Ah Mah would've..."
"I lost my cell phone when I fell," she whispered, tightening her grip on her legs. "I don't know what I'm going to tell Dad. I had to beg him for months to let me get one and convince him I was responsible enough. So much for that." She had completely set up now, and stared at him with sad, brown eyes that he didn't like looking at in the least.
Dennis gaped. Why would she even be worried-- He stopped midthought. Now that she was more awake she was actually starting to think about what had happened, and she had been buried alive. He repressed a shudder. Why wouldn't she want to distract herself with how Dad's gonna feel about a phone?
Praying he knew what he was doing, he stood up from the spot where he was kneeling next to the bed, and sat on the edge of her mattress, leaning against her headboard before squeezing her shoulder lightly. He didn't want to aggravate her injury. "Hey, don't worry about it." He couldn't ever remember trying to be reassuring with her, and had no idea what he was doing. He just hoped he didn't sound patronizing. "We'll figure out what to do about it tomorrow. I'm sure we can come up with something. "
June nodded after a moment, and Dennis pretended not to notice the way she was starting to lean against him. Vaguely, it occurred to him that under normal circumstances she would never do that, and he was surprised when the realization left him feeling strangely sad. "Yeah, I guess." She shook her head. "Too bad we can't trick Monroe and Ah Mah into ignoring the fact I let the theatre get destroyed."
Dennis was glad it was dark, and she was looking out the window. She never saw the scowl he felt flash across his face. "You stopped the bad guy, and you're okay. That's all Ah Mah'll care about." As he talked, he felt her slide further against his shoulder. You're really not okay in there, are you? "As for ... your advisor," he smirked, and forced some humor into his voice, "if he gives you any crap you could always take him to visit Uncle Eddy at the retirement home on visiting day. You know how much he loves all those little old women that like to ... cuddle ... him. And their grandchildren." Okay, so he was being slightly evil. June let out a bark of laughter, and he knew it was worth it.
"Nice," she whispered. Her head came down on his shoulder, and once again, he said nothing. At least, not until her arm brushed his and he felt the way it was shivering. That wasn't right at all.
He frowned. "June? You sure you're okay?" Definitely in uncharted waters here. He felt her tense and wondered if he had pushed too far. His sister was tough and made sure everyone knew it. She might not want to be called out if she was feeling off.
After a moment, she relaxed again. "I'm fine," she whispered flatly, almost like it was a bad thing. "It's just ... a building fell on me." Her voice shook at the end, and he felt ill again.
Dennis felt his frown deepen. It wasn't like her to stick on things. Or maybe it is. Hell if I know. "Yeah." In a moment of courage, he wrapped an arm around the small of her back and squeezed, more than a little surprised when she relaxed in his grip. "But you got home. It's cool now." Right?
She nodded, still not looking away from the window. Not being able to see her face was a bit unnerving. She started to speak suddenly, words pouring out almost faster than Ray Ray could manage. "I know, it's just ... before I could dig myself out, I had to unpin my legs. It took forever, and even then ... there was crap everywhere. There was barely any room to move and every time I pulled something loose it all started falling again and I kept climbing up running into spots with twisted metal and stuff that I couldn't pass and having to start over because trying to rip it out made everything start caving in. A few times I punched through some concrete or wall pieces and almost choked from all the dust, and then all this stuff fell on my arm and I almost couldn't get it free and I thought I was really stuck ..."
Dennis swallowed. Hard. Shit. He had managed, so far, not to think about what it must have been like to be trapped like that. He had let himself think Juniper would just have been able to pulverize her way out. But even someone who could lift a suspension bridge needed room to move, and air to breathe. He tightened his grip on her and thanked whoever might be listening that she had made it home on her own. Wait a second. Sounds like she was down there a while... "June? How long were you, uh, underground?"
She finally turned to look at him, and he had to work very hard not to gasp at the tears brimming in her eyes. "I ... I fought the horn guy at 10:30," she said, her whisper so faint he had to strain to hear it, even though her mouth was inches from his ear.
A cold shiver shot down his spine and Dennis only managed to avoid another cursing fit by reminding himself it made June nervous. She had been stuck down there, without any way to call for help, for almost five hours. No wonder thinking about it was getting her so bent out of shape.
There were lots of things going through his mind then--chief among them finding a way for her to call for help without her cell phone or anything else that might break easy--but there was only one thing to say. "We would have found you," he breathed, his voice lower and more serious than he ever remembered hearing it. "If you had really gotten stuck down there, none of us would have stopped until we figured out where you were and got you out. I promise."
Even in the dim light, he could make out a small smile on her face, and he could almost feel the weight lifting off his shoulders ... until her expression turned completely upside down.
"Yeah, Dennis, I know, but by the time I got out there were police everywhere. One of them almost saw me 'cause I was too tired to hide quickly. If I had been trapped in there till the sun came up and they found me in the rubble ... think about it, Dennis. An eleven year old under all that with no big injuries? My secret could've been blown, or they might've thought I was some crazy arsonist or something, and who knows what Ray Ray would do if he actually realized--"
"That didn't happen," Dennis cut in quickly. Part of him was amazed that she didn't seem to be hanging on the fact she had almost been crushed. He wasn't sure if it was because she just didn't have any conception of her own mortality or because his grandmother and the dog had conditioned her not to care in the face of compromising the secret. He didn't like either alternative very much. "And even if someone else had found you, big whoop. Getting you out and making sure you were safe would be all that mattered. Besides," he smirked, "I'm sure Ah Mah has some sort of plan for goblin dusting entire city blocks at once if she has to." And for once it wouldn't bother me at all. June giggled shortly, and he smiled. "Don't beat yourself up over this. From everything you told me, you should be really proud. I know I am." Did I say that last part out loud? Damn it. No more deep, meaningful talking at suck o'clock in the morning.
June turned fully to look at him, but she didn't break his grip on her middle. "Huh?" She blinked, and he realized she was honestly confused.
Aw, what the hell. She's had a terrible night. I might as well be honest. "Seriously, June. You got buried under a building and trapped, and no one would've blamed you if you'd freaked out to the point you couldn't think straight. But you kept your head and didn't panic and worked your way out, even when you had to start over or had to deal with," cave ins that could have killed you, "obstacles. That's pretty cool, June. I don't think I could've done that." He smiled warmly at her. "If you want the truth," his smile grew thinner, "I've been watching you a lot the last few months. And as cool as all this stuff can be, I know it can really suck for you, and I'm not just talking about stuff like tonight. It's kind of taken over your life, hasn't it?"
"That's one way of putting it," June hissed, eyes narrowed.
He winced. Guess I walked into that. "Well, you do it anyway, and I really don't know why sometimes, or how. And you're really good at it, too. If you need to vent about it every once in a while to deal, no one should hold it against you." Damn dog.
"Monroe might disagree with you," June hissed, and from the look on her face, he wasn't sure if she meant to say it aloud.
He had to bite his tongue to keep from saying exactly what he thought about that, but Dennis couldn't stop himself from snorting. June raised an eyebrow, a wry grin crossing her face for the first time since he had woken her up. It was a familiar, welcome sight. "Does that bother you?" It wasn't the best thing he could have said, but he could think of lots of things that would have been worse.
She responded with her own snort. "I guess you're going to tell me it shouldn't, oh sage one?" she shot back, a hint of humor in her voice that made him grin. The Juniper he knew was finally back, even if she was exhausted.
"Do you need me to?" he smirked. She lifted her head and shook it slightly, shoving him playfully before returning to her resting place on his shoulder. Well, he assumed it was her version of playful; he almost fell off the bed.
"Nope," she said after a moment.
"You know," he said, compelled to get the last bit he wanted to say out before he lost his nerve, "if you ever need someone to talk to about ... anything ... you don't have to wait until a building falls on you." He scratched the back of his head and sighed. "I know you and I don't get along like you and Ray Ray, but you're my sister and ... well ..." He trailed off. He wasn't good at these deep conversations.
She didn't do anything for a moment, but then she smiled. "Thanks, Dennis. I'll remember that." She paused, furrowing her brow. "You know, since you found out about everything, you've been pretty cool to have around. What changed? Did all the magic stuff ... make you like me better?" she asked, sounding unsure.
Dennis tried to ignore the prickling sensation at the corners of his eyes and pretend he didn't know what it was. I guess she would think that. I did totally geek out, and it's not like I ever talked to her before. "June, I--don't get me wrong, the magic stuff is amazingly, indescribably wicked, but even on the first day, I saw the kind of crap you go through because some overpowered elves decided you had to be the Te Xuan Ze, and thinking about all the times I treated you bad for no real reason made me realize I was being a," douche jackass bastard, "total jerk. You don't deserve that, especially from me, and I'm ... I'm really sorry. For everything. If what I'm about to say leaves this room, I'll deny it vehemently," he smirked, "but I think you're pretty awesome, and I want to try to be a better big brother. At the very least, I'd like to get to know you better."
She was quiet for a long moment, and he wasn't good enough at reading her face to guess what she was thinking. Eventually, she matched his smirk. "I think ... that would be nice." She narrowed her eyes, but her smirk never died. "Just don't think I'll start going to the comic book store with you on Magic: The Gathering days or anything."
He grinned. Quest accomplished. "I wouldn't dream of it. Wouldn't that be kind of like fake work?"
She laughed softly, sounding far more like the June he was used to than she had earlier, and slid off his shoulder as she scooted down under the covers more. "Goodnight, Dennis." One of her hands gripped his arm in a hold he knew he couldn't break, and he realized suddenly she didn't want him to leave, at least until she fell asleep. That was fine. He smiled, deciding she didn't really need him to leave to get her water. He felt oddly peaceful.
What June did was more dangerous than any of them wanted to think about, and nights like tonight left him feeling incredibly drained, but as long as she came home safe, he figured he could deal with it. And if anyone ever tried to keep that from happening, well...
Not while Bandar the Enchanter doth live.